Lucien Riviere stood in the middle of North Point Transit Station and closed his eyes. The voices were whispering at him again over the din of the crowd. Anxious, terrified voices that spun like a whirlwind, tracing the length of his body. Some passed by, while others cut right through him. His skin crawled at every utterance. The moment one left, another took its place, leaving him gasping on the verge of panic. This affliction had gone on ever since he was a child.
He recalled quite well the memory of standing there in the cold dark of his father’s museum, his mother clutching him tightly as the tears froze onto his face. She was blood-drenched and warm. He was clean, soft, and yet rigid in place—a melting ice sculpture. In that moment, it seemed the presence of his mother had been enough to calm the voices. Other methods over the years did comparatively little to quell their burning rage. Alcohol, huffing the occasional cologne, and swallowing capsules of morphine were but a temporary fix afforded by his Level One clearance. This time, however, he had decided to pay a visit to Constance. If nothing else, perhaps she could jog his memory regarding the events of that fateful day.
Lucien concentrated hard on the sounds of the station—the father behind seeing his daughter off at the platform, the intercom spouting off destinations overhead, the familiar ding of the train doors as they opened. The lanky boy opened his eyes and gazed upward to the right where his mother’s office stood atop an outcropping that overlooked the entire station. The lights were on. And inside, there she was, pacing back and forth with her telephone. In some ways, it felt like coming home. But in others…
“Sir, you look lost. Can I help you?” Blast. He’d forgotten that her platform guards were paid ridiculous amounts of money to question and apprehend potential stowaways.
“Ah yes, I’m here to see Director Renou,” Lucien mumbled. The sweat on his back grew cold as he snapped back to reality.
“You have the appropriate clearance, I trust?”
“Yes sir,” the boy said, handing the man his security pass. The guard looked it over.
“Lucien Riviere…seems to check out. This way, please.”
The man led him through the bustling crowd and over to the west stairwell, where a security checkpoint had been set up to control the flow of employees and visitors on business. Lucien yawned and waited in the queue, resisting the urge to close his eyes again. He pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. 2:04 PM. Thank god the line was processed in rather quickly. At this rate, he’d have about ten minutes with his mother, which was just enough to hop the A-train out of the Metropolies and make it back to the safe house in time to check on Igor. Igor, that evil menace, he thought. And yet in some ways, the words that boy had said before he left stuck with him. “Don’t think for a second that you and I aren’t alike, chicken. I can smell it all over you. I’ve tasted it in your blood. You’re just one crack away from turning full Outlander. And when it happens…I’ll be waiting.”
“Sir…sir, your papers please!”
“What? Oh, of course,” Lucien stammered.
“Are you feeling all right?”
“Fine, thank you.”
The guard eyed him suspiciously and stamped the papers to let him through the gate. As Lucien plodded up the concrete steps, his thoughts ran rampant as to what he’d say to his mother once he entered her office. It had been months since they’d seen one another—at least in so informal a capacity—and there was no telling how she would react to him barging in unannounced. The last time was little more than a “here’s your security clearance, now get out.” But this was different. He was beginning to feel unsure of himself for whatever reason. Perhaps it was Igor’s words, or maybe doubts about the direction his plans for the city were taking. Either way, he did need information on his mother’s recent projects. And morphine.
Lucien made a right at the top of the stairway past an array of offices before settling on the center one. He was sweating again at the sound of her voice as she paced about, throwing a fit. He put his ear up to the door to listen.
“No…no, I don’t care what you do, just keep it under wraps! If the papers find out, we’re bloody finished…no, you fucking imbecile! And in the meantime, I want at least three squads patrolling the Barreau district to keep an eye out for anyone skulking about. And keep Pontius at the precinct…I see. Has anyone apprehended Tomas yet? Well get on it!” She slammed the receiver down. Now certainly didn’t seem like the best time to knock, but it was the only time. Lucien held his breath and went for it.
“What the!” his mother began to bark, but composed herself. “Enter!” Her son opened the door.
“Hello, Mother.” Her eyes widened.
“What the bloody hell are you doing here!” she seethed, rushing over to the door to close it behind them for privacy. “This really is not a good time!”
“Since when is it ever?” Lucien sighed. He stepped across the room to draw the blinds. “I know you don’t take the greatest pleasure in seeing me. What was it you called me again in the mayor’s office? ‘Riffraff’?”
“The art of theatre is obviously lost on you,” Constance rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “I know it’s been rather difficult on us over the years, and for that I apologize. You think it’s easy for me, knowing you’ve grown up in that shithole of a district-”
“Oh, save it!” he cut her off. “Everything always has to be about you, doesn’t it? You should be happy to know I’ve made my way just fine, with little help from you. Or the remainder of Dad’s assets for that matter, which by the way is the only reason you continue to live in the lap of luxury! So don’t try to tell me it’s been anything less than easy. You seem to be doing just fine without me.” Tears were beginning to flood his eyes, and as they streamed down, they seemed to stop cold. No…
“Why did you come here? Oh, shit…” his mother breathed, stepping over to him. She put her hands up to his face and caressed those frigid crystals with her fingertips. “It’s happening again, isn’t it?”
“I’m sorry, Mum…I don’t know why. I can’t remember the rest of that day in Dad’s gallery. But you looked so frightened, so upset. All I want…all I ever wanted was to ease that pain…to be the son you always wanted me to be.”
“Oh, Lucien,” Constance sighed, hugging him tight.
“But I’m not, am I? And both of us know that.” The tears he cried now felt warm, soft, even as his mother’s body grew rigid and cold in his arms. It was as if he’d breathed his own tension into her, using her emotion as a pillar of strength. “You’ve lied to me this entire time.”
She let go of him, her arms stiff. Lucien backed away to face the wall. He considered this newfound power a moment, and all the possibilities it might entail if he chose to seize the full force of it. To kill his mother right now if he chose, assume his birthright, leave her like a frozen statue in his father’s museum. No. Igor had it all wrong. Lucien was nothing like him. He was better. Stronger. Able to feign emotion and drive the entire stone-cold stake of it through the hearts of every last citizen in Cavarice. But today was not that day. Today, he needed grounding.
“I did what I had to,” Constance spoke, shivering as she crossed her arms again. “To protect you, and the future of this city-”
“By abandoning me in that goddamn orphanage?” Lucien spun around. “Oh yeah Mother, you’ve done a stellar job!”
“I watched you die!” Constance shouted. “Marco Corcini and his men, they came for us that night. He cut my own son’s throat right in front of me! Then he left me all alone in that gallery of misery, mourning your…my son’s…death. And then out you came, in all of your cloned glory, the only piece of Lucien Francois DuPont I had left! So I hid you as best I could, hoping that monster would never find you. But you, Lucien Riviere, are still my son!”
“What…” the boy shuddered. A tightness was forming in his chest. “That can’t be true.”
“What can’t be true? I thought you remembered-”
“No…no, I remember you taking me into your arms, telling me everything was all right. I remember you talking to Dad on the hologrid, I remember sneaking down the secret passage to his lab, I remember waking…fuck!” He was a getting a splitting headache. How could this be real? He felt these memories were a part of him, and yet…it was as if they belonged to someone else. Blades and fragments cut through his mind. Images of what he remembered—sneaking around display cases, watching the boy get his throat cut, but also being that boy—it was too much to process.
“Darling? Darling, stick with me, all right?” Constance wrapped her arms around him, but he shoved her away.
“NO!” Lucien roared, smacking the lamp off her desk. It flew against the far wall and shattered. His mother jumped. “I am not your son. I never was. And this image, this face that you love so much…it’s just the mask of a dead boy. Your child is gone.”
Constance huffed, the familiar pink hue returning to her skin as the blood rushed back to her face. There was that staunch look of determination again in her eyes, the kind that Lucien had resented for years. Perhaps everything she wanted had come to pass by sheer will alone. Such a personality could topple empires. Maybe that’s why he hated her so—he could never muster up a similar courage. Every action he’d taken thus far was based on the fear of failure, as if it were woven into him from the moment he had awoken on that work table. Something in him was weak, subpar, flawed. And he was reminded of it every time he looked at her. From his exile to the western districts to the stony gaze that pierced him. It was obvious she did not care for him as she had her real son. The distance she kept was destroying him.
“Here,” she sighed, snatching a piece of paper off her desk. She scrawled down a list of items. “I want you to take this to the chemist at 4th and Main. He’ll know what to do.” She threw down her pen and handed it to him.
“What the bloody hell is this?”
“Medicine. It will keep you intact…for a while, at least. It’s stronger than the morphine, with no side effects. Dr. Kotzias is a personal friend of mine from Helias, so you can trust him. But you must ask for him, and only him.”
Lucien paused. “If this formula should lead to my death-”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” his mother cut him off. “There’d be nothing to gain by that, now would there? If you really want to go through life believing I don’t give a rat’s arse about you, that’s certainly your prerogative. At least I know my conscience will be clear.”
“…You’ll be next.”
“Great to know we’re on the same page.”
Lucien paced around the front of her desk, aimlessly thumbing over her work papers as he went. Their heated exchange had almost made him forget what he came here for in the first place. He needed access clearance to his father’s old airship hangar for the next phase of the revolution. Mayor La Cour’s welcome gala presented them with the perfect opportunity.
His mother, of course, would again be forced to answer to the esteemed citizens of Cavarice, who would soon enough be screaming for more blood. Such a plan would accomplish two goals in one—bringing the city to its knees, while utterly destroying Constance Renou. He wanted to leave her as weak and powerless as she’d left him, alone in a crumbling house, starving to her very last breath. Perhaps he’d even serve her up on a platter to Igor and watch him devour what remained of her flesh.
“Perhaps there is something I can do for you in return, since you’ve been so gracious,” the lanky boy smiled. “La Cour’s welcome gala is being moved to Verdevale, yes? I assume there will be an air show to entertain the new arrivals.”
“That’s correct. Bit of a nightmare to organize on such short notice. I’ve been calling pilots all morning. Half of them have yet to respond, and the other half are still soiling themselves over the attack on the wall. I’ve arranged for telegrams to be personally delivered to them with access codes to the hangar, should anyone grow bollocks enough to show up. All my couriers are out on other runs. If you and your Barreau boys wouldn’t mind delivering the telegrams, it’d certainly take a load off my back.” Constance stepped over to her box of outgoing mail, stamping the appropriate envelopes before handing him the stack. “Just be as discreet as you can, yeah?”
“And Lucien…do take care of yourself.”
“Not to worry, Mother. I do a better job of that than you ever have.” Lucien moved for the door, but she stopped him.
“You think you have all the answers, don’t you?” she smirked. “You wouldn’t have come here today if you didn’t require my help. I know you’re not about to listen to anything else I say, but I certainly hope you keep in mind that others out there will not be as forgiving as I am. Fact is, you’re only around for as long as anyone needs you. My advice? Stay useful and don’t be such a cunt.”
“Funny,” the boy chuckled. “Being a cunt seems to work just fine for you.”
He stormed out, slamming the door behind him. The uncontrollable wave of voices returned in her absence, growing ever louder again as he descended the concrete steps back to the station platform. Something about her last words stuck with him like a cut from Igor’s dull blade. They mixed with the din of the crowd below, penetrating his skull and swirling around him in a cacophonous roar that threatened to send him over the edge. Still, he held fast to the stack of telegrams under his arm and made haste for 4th and Main.
“I can’t wait to watch you die,” he muttered to himself.
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