Important: This is a short story set in the world of our unpublished novel, “Delirium.” following a group of side-characters who play a crucial role in the main story.
“Here, it’s just up the stairs and around the corner.” Hime chirped loudly, competing with the noise of the club as she bounced up the steps two at a time. “I can’t wait to see everyone again! It’s been too long!”
“I think a year is the perfect amount of time between visits.” Sam scoffed, “Maybe even a touch too little. You sure you don’t wanna just stay in tonight?”
Hime turned to give her partner a sour glare, “Don’t be like that please. Not tonight. These guys are our family, I just wanna have fun and not worry about whether you’re having a good time.”
“I’ll do my best.” Sam sighed, “For you.”
Hime smiled, “Well thank you. That means a lot to me. I promise if you’re good tonight it’ll be worth your while.” She finished with a wink before starting back up the stairs. She was wearing heels and that ruby red dress with the gold trim; the one that cut her curves with an exacto from hips to shoulders. She knew it was Sam’s favorite, showing just enough thigh to keep her lover off balance. Sensing hungry eyes on her well toned buttocks, Hime turned once more, “Are you coming?”
Sam blushed, knowing they were caught in the act, “Uhh, yeah I’m right behind you.” Compared to Hime, Sam was dressed as conservatively as ever, wearing an off-beige blazer over a light blue button up, pressed khakis and a pair of sandalwood brown dress shoes with a one inch lift.
Hime chuckled but said nothing, instead heading for The Atrium’s entrance at the top of the stairs. She punched the room code into the security panel and the doors swung open, revealing a place that never failed to leave either of them in awe. It was an artificial forest, complete with babbling brooke, built into the top floor of the nightclub using the most state of the art arborization tech Valencia Futures had to offer. They’d figured out how to turn the natural world into paints on an artist’s pallet, playing God in in a deeply superficial manner. Apparently the owner of the club designed this himself.
“God damn it’s cool up here!” Hime’s eyes were wide like a kid on Christmas. The Atrium was an open air gallery of Mother Earth’s greatest creations; elms, firs and oaks, a monkey puzzle and two South African cucumber trees, all cohabitating the same path. “It’s like, everything from everywhere. Like the people in the Arcs.”
“Feels a little pretentious.” Sam grumbled, trying their best to seem utterly nonplussed by the whole thing. “But that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of it like that before. How long’s it been since you saw greenery like this out in the world?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this in nature.” Hime responded, heading down a gravel path that lead to a huckleberry bush. “Look! There’s even fruit you can eat!”
“I always forget how much younger you are. You never got to see Earth when it was still beautiful.” Sam half-joked, suddenly feeling their age.
“I still think the Earth is beautiful.” She replied casually, picking a particularly plump berry to inspect, squish gently between her fingers, and pop into her mouth. “I mean it’s not what it used to be, but it’s still magical! The sky, the ocean, the Northern lights!”
“The irradiated wasteland between here and California.” Sam interjected.
“At least it’s peaceful now…” Hime pouted.
And it only took a third of all life being wiped out for them to stop killing each other. Sam thought but chose not to say. Best to avoid starting a fight right as they arrived.
They walked the paths a while longer, fresh dewy grass beneath a canopy of evergreens. Birds and other critters introduced to the environment greeted them into their humble abode as the twinkle of false stars lit their way ahead. After a while they heard what sounded like singing coming from somewhere unseen.
“That’s 100% Emile.” Sam stated, recognizing the voice from the first note.
“Eeeeee! I haven’t heard Emile sing in so long!” Hime practically squealed before running off in the direction of the dulcet tune. “Emmmiiiiillleeee! Akaaaame!!”
Sam sighed and followed but refused to pick up the pace, savoring the moments of silence before they joined their all-too-much friend. They emerged from the dense cropping of trees to find Hime and Emile in a tight embrace, standing by a campfire.
“Samael!” Emile called as soon as he marked Sam’s approach. His thick Romany accent sounded like he was chewing his words as he spoke. “It is without a doubt my greatest pleasure to see you here tonight! Finally this party can really get started!” The man looked as odd as ever, wearing an open circus leader’s jacket with nothing underneath but a pair of jeans so worn and destroyed they looked like shorts. His chest was unnaturally hairy but it almost suited him, particularly as it juxtaposed the meticulously kempt handlebar mustache he’d had as long as they’d known him.
Sam glanced around the fire. Akame was unconscious and shirtless, stirring every once in a while to scratch his hefty gut. He had a new tattoo since they’d seen him last, the word DELIRIOUS written across his chest. “This party seems…” Sam started.
“Where’s Imani?” Hime interrupted.
“Ahh, our silent companion is around here somewhere. He came despite his year of meditation you know?” Emile explained. “And still he managed to get here before you.” Imani was a mystic, what you might call a monk of a faith long since lost to time. He had powers none of them quite understood but respected greatly.
“So lemme get this straight; Imani’s taken a vow of silence and Akame is already done for the night. Remind me why we came?” Sam complained.
“That’s my Sam!” Emile laughed, embracing them in a firm hug. “Always acting too cool to like anything ever! These soiree’s would be so dull without you!” His eyes were kind, experienced and sunken but youthful despite his centuries of life.
“Seems pretty dull right now.” Sam replied, forcing their way out of the hug, “God, your chest hair is like sandpaper, it’s disgusting.”
Emile only laughed harder, and then, without warning, delivered a swift but powerful kick to Akame’s ribs. “Eeeh! Wake up you lazy oaf! Our friends are here!”
The huge man rolled onto his side and slowly opened his eyes in a daze, “Wha-? Sam? Hime? What’re you guys doin’ here.” He asked before sitting up, nursing his temples with thick sausage-like fingers. “Where is here?”
“The Atrium. We’re here for the reunion? It’s the third year in a row we’ve had it here. How do you not remember this?” Hime teased.
“You need to stop smoking so much God’s Bane.” Sam added.
Akame nodded, seeming to agree, “Yeah, yeah. I’ll stop smoking. I just gotta take the edge off right quick. My head is killing me.” He said, pulling a small glass pipe from his bag and taking a long drag. He held the smoke for several seconds, and then, with a guttural grunt, flopped back onto his back unconscious.
“Honestly I think he has a problem.” Emile commented, only half-serious as he took the pipe from the living giant’s hand. “Ilith shouldn’t blackout, particularly not one his size.” He tapped out the pipe’s contents and refilled it with a dried black substance from his bag.
“You’re literally smoking right now.” Hime teased.
“Poppy! Not God’s Bane! I am a responsible adult thank you very much!” He defended through a lungful of smoke.
“Right, a responsible adult with an opium addiction.” Sam rolled their eyes.
“I’ll have you know I’ve been smoking poppy since before you were even born!”
“It shows.” Sam finished, causing Emile to crack and burst out into a mixture of laughter and coughing. “You got something to drink?”
“Ah yes! A toast!” Emile managed to sputter between hacking fits. Quickly he went for his tanned leather satchel bag, pulling out a bottle so old the label had faded into obscurity. “I’ve been saving this for just such an occasion!”
“Alright, well pop it open.” Hime said, grabbing a trio of rocks glasses from the wooden bench next to Akame. “What are we toasting?”
Emile crafted a cheshire grin and began to pour two ounces of the rust coloured liquid into each glass, “Tonight we toast to friendship!”
“We toast to friendship every year.” Sam chuckled, clinking their rings against the authentic crystal glasses.
“Ah, but this year it is for more than just our friendship. Tonight we toast to this new friendship between Ilith and the humans.” He raised his glass high.
“You’re not supposed to call them that anymore.” Hime sighed, “Saying human emphasizes the fact that they’re different from us, use Edenian or just say friendship between all peoples.”
“Right!” He corrected. Shameless as he may have been, Emile did try his best to keep up with the times. “Then we toast to friendship! To Valencia Futures and their impossible dream come true! A world without nations, working together through the five Arcs for the betterment of everyone. ” He continued, shooting Sam a sly glance, “Not so impossible now it seems hmm?”
“All hail our corporate overlords.” Sam said with a sneer, tossing what tasted like bourbon down their gullet, “And their, peace.” The last word was dripping with venom.
“You can’t possibly still doubt them.” Emile scoffed.
“There’s a reason we live down here and you’re up there, with them.” Sam shot back. Emile lived in Delta Arc, one of the five colossal structures constructed by Valencia Futures in the mid 21st century to house refugees displaced by war and ecological catastrophe. They offered food, shelter, work and better human rights than near anywhere on Earth, all for the cost of your flag and your nation. Once you were in the Arcs you could keep your language and customs, but any claim to sovereignty died at the door.
“For this project to work the citizens of the Arcs must set aside their differences and work together, even if we must force them to do so.” Eva Valencia, visionary CEO, once famously stated. Today nearly 92% percent of all life resided in one of the five Arcs.
“Samy you promised not to make a scene…” Hime started, putting a hand on her partner’s knee in an attempt to defuse the situation.
“I live in Delta Arc because it’s a utopia!” Emile teased, antagonizing Sam further, “It’s everything you could possibly want from the old world with none of it’s bigotry and violence. And besides, if our kind all hide in Delirium like we’ve always done how will they ever get used to us? They need to see Ilith are nothing to fear after all.” Delirium was a chain of social clubs established in the 1700’s to give wayward Ilith a place to go, receive a hot meal and rest their heads in a room of their own as long as they needed. For a long time it was the only place Ilith could be themselves.
“And why the fuck is it up to me to prove I’m not a threat to them, huh?” Sam started in, voice raised, “They hunted us for centuries, calling us monsters and telling themselves how dangerous we are. If we were a threat to them they wouldn’t exist. Valencia could have just done nothing and they’d be extinct.”
“It’s not that simple mon cheri…” Was all Emile was able to get out before the back of Sam’s hand met his jaw. The blow caught him completely off-guard, knocking him well over a meter back to crumple to the floor in a heap by the fire.
“Don’t fucking call me that! Not if you’re going to apologize for them!” Sam spat before storming off into the woods.
“Sam! Wait!” Hime called, checking to confirm that Emile was okay before chasing after her emotionally distraught partner. “Just talk to me!”
“No!” Sam insisted. “You’ve all forgotten why we’re even celebrating! What we escaped from to get here!”
But Sam could never forget, and it seemed forgiveness was out of the question.
The memory always began with a smell. Sterile but musky, like formaldehyde covering up an atrocity. The walls were polished steel, the floor, cheap linoleum, devoid of the life or personality you’d hope for in an evil laboratory. Sam was strapped to an operating table with short metal hooks piercing the flesh of their back, capable of emitting a charge of several thousand volts should they attempt to wriggle free.
Footsteps marked the arrival of someone unseen, but Sam knew it could only be one person. “Dr. Middleditch. I was concerned you’d given up on the interrogation.” They said, taking a guess.
“Samael.” The doctor acknowledged, “Feeling more talkative today?”
“You know I’m always up for a conversation with my favorite person. Hard to think properly with all these restraints though. Maybe loosen them up a bit, lemme lay back on a couch and I’ll tell you about my childhood.”
Middleditch chuckled so gently it sounded like an exhale, “Your sense of humor is admirable, I hope you’re able to retain it. But no, today I’m not looking to pull answers out of you. At least, not answers you are qualified to give.” He’d been administering daily interrogations for what had to have been a week now, though it was hard to tell the passage of time without any natural light. “I was thinking we could do something a little more, educational today.”
“I’m always excited to learn.” Sam mocked as the doctor stepped into their field of view, suddenly noticing the high-tech piece of surgical equipment in his hands. “What is that?”
“This?” He replied nonchalant, “Is a high-frequency surgical saw. It’s blade vibrates at a frequency so high it can pierce almost anything.”
The snide mirth drained from Sam’s face. “Sonofabitch. You have no idea what you’re doing!”
“Perhaps not, but I’m a quick study, and there is no time left for anything less. Your kind, Ilith, present an existential threat to the survival of mankind that cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. We had thought that fighting Valencia and her Arcs would buy us more time, but alas it’s come to this.” He finished, replacing the blade in the tool and inspecting it for use.
“You’re insane and wrong! We’ve existed as long as humanity and you’ve always been worse to each other than any of us could ever be to you!”
The doctor’s face became grim, “Individually perhaps. But as a species you represent the end of us. Your DNA is not only more complex than our own, it seems to adapt, endlessly to the internal and external stimuli of its environment. Cut you once and your flesh adapts to become stronger than the blade, poison you and you gain a new immunity. You never stop evolving, perpetually modulating on an individual level to be the most efficient version of yourselves at all times. And yet on the outside you look virtually indistinguishable from humans. You could replace us and few would even notice.”
“Replace you? You’re the ones destroying the fucking planet!”
The doctor removed his glasses and nursed the bridge of his nose before responding, “I’m sure you won’t believe me but what I’m doing here is in the service of stopping that, really. The generals, they, feel that there’s no way left to win this war. They figure leaving Valencia with nothing to claim for victory is better admitting defeat. Vyzhzhennaya zemlya the Russians called it. Scorched Earth. But I believe there is another answer, one that lies in your genes. If I am able to find a way to bridge the gap between Ilith and human, a way to make us strong and fast and durable like you are. Maybe then we could truly be equals.”
“What the hell are you talking about! Ilith don’t think we’re any better than you are! It’s all your own paranoid goddamn delusions! That’s all it’s ever been! All this bloodshed because you can’t handle not being on the top of the food chain!”
“Hmph. I’m sure you really believe that.” The doctor scoffed, “Now, I’ll need silence for this next part.” Middleditch finished, placing a gag in Sam’s mouth before beginning the surgery. “We’ve never had a specimen anywhere close to as powerful as you are. This should provide more insight than all that came before.”
Sam roared despite the gag, a deep visceral hatred let loose from the very pit of their being. The saw screeched louder still, and as the blade bit through Sam’s ribcage, the smell of scorched bone and straining engine permeated the air. The doctor placed forceps every few inches to keep Sam’s chest from closing up while as he went, before using hydraulic jaws of life to pry the ribs apart. Sam drifted in and out of consciousness through the whole process, but after some time seemed to black out.
They woke near the end of the procedure, still flayed open like a spring trout.
“You’re awake.” The doctor commented, removing the gag as he packed up his tools. “I commend your recovery time. Hopefully with this data I’ll be able to reproduce such an effect.”
Sam groaned and tried to speak, but found themselves too weak to do so.
“Just rest. I wish I could do something about your, condition,” He said, referring to the fact that Sam’s still-beating heart was exposed for any and all to see. “however I fear if I seal you up there will be no chance of getting back in there. Hopefully you understand.” He finished, grabbing his toolkit and starting towards the door.
“Doctor!” Sam managed to scream. They couldn’t see him, but heard his footsteps stop as if waiting. “You’re going to die violently.” They assured the man.
Second crept into the double digits before he quietly and without emotion replied, “I know.”
Several hours later Sam was awoken by an explosion and a gust of cold air. Gunfire could be heard on the wind, but only a pair of footsteps entered the room.
“Gods almighty, what have they done to you…” A friendly voice gasped in horror.
“Wh-who?” Was all Sam was able to utter.
“We’re friends, and we’re here to help.” The man assured them as he moved to remove the restraints. “Hime! I’m gonna need a hand over here…”
“You’re… from the bar…” Sam groaned. They’d met a couple weeks back, he’d tried to get Sam to team up with his cause. “Emile.”
The man smiled, “I told you you could trust us. Now save your strength while we try to get this off you.”
Sam was confused but grateful, doing their best to not thrash around too much as the pair removed them from their gruesome predicament. It took almost a full 15 minutes to get them loose, and a wound this severe would take days to recover from.
“Hime, carry Samael here back to the others. I’ll make sure none of this research sees the light of day.” He requested as he removed his jacket and placed it over Sam’s shivering body.
“The doctor. Middleditch.” Sam sputtered, “I want him…”
Emile smiled a moment and chuckled, but the look in his eye was deadly serious when he replied, “I promise you mon cheri, not one of them will leave this place alive.”
Moments later Sam was outside, cradled carefully in Hime’s powerful arms. The pain only increased as the shock wore off and Sam used what little willpower they had left to hold back a complete meltdown. Still, in her arms they found comfort and security; a peace in their complete and utter vulnerability.
Hime looked down at Sam; her eyes were brown like chestnuts. She pursed her lips and said, “You’re safe now.” And for the first time in their life, Sam believed that.
When Hime finally caught up to Sam, they were sitting on a mossy boulder by the riverside, skipping any flat stones they could reach across the simulated waterway.
“Hey babe.” Hime announced, approaching cautiously.
Sam looked up but said nothing.
“Are you feeling okay?” She continued, taking her place at Sam’s flank.
“I’m fine. Or… maybe I’m not, I don’t know anymore.”
Hime placed her hand on the back of Sam’s neck and rubbed gently, releasing the pent-up tension hidden within. “I understand love. It’ll take time to get used to the way things are now. Everyone’s working through in their own way. Just, try to ease up on the people who are trying their best, alright?”
Sam sighed, “Emile…”
“Yeah. You really got him good there.” Hime teased. “I think that’s the worst wholopping he’s gotten in a good decade or so.”
Sam hung their head in shame, “Fuck. Why am I like this? I always treat him like shit and I don’t even know why. I know he means well.”
“Who, Emile?” An unfamiliar voice responded, startling them both. “He’s a pain in the ass on the best a’ days.” The couple turned to see a pair of people approaching from what must have been South, judging by the moss. “You folks don’t happen to know where he might be?”
The speaker was a large man, bigger than Akame even, but tight across the belly where their friend was not. He stood well over seven feet, with fiery red hair tied up in a ponytail to keep it out of his face and a shaggy, untamed beard.
“Jackson Malone.” Sam uttered without thinking, feeling starstruck in the moment. They’d only ever heard about Malone from stories and rumours, and while he was around the club pretty often, he had the kind of stand-offish vibe to him that you didn’t just go up and introduce yourself to.
“Call me Jackie.” He replied in a deep, gruff voice. There was an air of lightness to him that caught Sam off-guard. This man was a living legend, one half of the sibling duo than ran all things Delirium here in Delta Arc. “Soooo, about Emile?” He reiterated.
“He’s just up ahead, in the clearing a bit North from here.” Hime answered on Sam’s behalf. “What do you need from him? Does he owe you money?”
Jackie laughed, “I mean, yeah. But that’s not why I’m here. I just need him to watch someone for a bit.”
Hime cocked her head, and gestured to his companion. “You mean your friend here?”
Jackie nodded, “Just for a couple hours. I know you guys have a party or whatever tonight but she’s pretty easy going.” He finished before whispering something to her that sounded like, “Be cool.”
Sam realized they’d been so distracted by Jackie they’d paid no mind to the girl at his side. She was tiny compared to him, barely reaching his navel even with her voluminous curly hair, but she had a presence Sam was surprised they hadn’t noticed before.
“Heya! My name’s Faye.” The girl smiled, pushing her locks out of her warm, caramel skin. “Nice to meet y’all.”
“Holy shit.” Hime gasped. “Faye Valencia.”
Faye looked to her shoes, embarrassed, “Uh, yeah. I’m – uh – her daughter.”
Sam didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, “Guess it’s gonna be an interesting night after all…”