Chapter 224: Veneer
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The bench is fucking cold, Alicia thought, her head in her hands as she waited for Garth’s message to make it’s way to whoever it needed to make it to.

Not how I thought I’d be spending my time here, butt freezing off because they couldn’t be bothered to get me a pair of pants. Bastards, all of them, but especially Garth.

“May I ask your business?” the guard’s voice came from around the corner, his voice dry from boredom.

“I’m here to talk with one of your prisoners.” Alicia heard Cailtlyn’s voice come through the hall, and it wrenched her head up. Was this word that she could leave, or was Caitlyn just here to mock her?

“Right, let me unlock the gate.”

The orc came up to the steel door and jammed a crude key into it, unlocking the door with a clunk. He nodded to the person behind him.

“Have a nice day.”

“I will, thank you.”

Caitlyn slid past him and into the jail cell, peering down at Alicia.

“Why didn’t they arrest you?” Alicia looked Caitlyn up and down. Caitlyn was wearing an exact copy of Alicia’s sign, effectively covering her front and her back. The redhead’s face was crimson as a cherry pie. If she blushed any harder, Alicia thought she might look like she were being strangled.

“I-It’s normal for me to wear this.” Caitlyn said, shifting in place nervously. Alicia thought about it for a second, and her fellow apprentice’s words did have an air of truth. There was nothing out of the ordinary with Caitlyn wearing that sign.

“I suppose, so why did I get arrested and not you?” Alicia tried to muddle through it…but she kept arriving at mental dead ends, her thinking foggy and confused.

Why would my thinking be foggy? It’s never been sharper in my life.

Alicia thought about that for a moment.

It happened whenever she tried to think about…

What was I thinking about again?

“I’m not sure, but I am here to get you out.” She leaned close to Alicia and whispered. “After I get the door open, stay quiet.”

“Get me out?” Alicia demanded. “I could get out whenever I wanted to. I choose to stay in this cell because it gives me a break from running around the streets naked, screaming at the top of my lungs and making a scene!”

That and I don’t want to cause Garth trouble with the local government, but Caitlyn doesn’t need to know that.

“I promise I won’t make a scene.” Caitlyn turned and waved at the reclining orc around the corner. “Hello, Mr. jail guard?”

 There was a startled snorting around the corner. “Ack, I kinda spaced you being there.”

“it happens. Can you let me out now?”

“Sure,” he came up to the door, keys rattling in his grip. Caitlyn’s freckled hand snaked out and snatched the keyring out of his hand.

“Hey! You can’t…you shouldn’t….What was I doin?” The guard’s gaze went from hostile as he reached for his weapon, to upset, then confused as he slowly relaxed.

“I’m here on official business to release this woman.” She pointed at Alicia.

“Oh. Riiight. That must be why I gave you the keys.” He nodded sagely.

Caitlyn giggled. “Works every time. I’m loving this.” loving what? The one strange thing was that absolutely no part of Caitlyn’s behavior was out of the ordinary or unexpected. She was supposed to snatch the keys away from the jailor, she was supposed to be standing there, addressing her in nothing but a signboard.

Alicia tried to work around the problem. The context.

Caitlyn was supposed to be here, but what was the context? Alicia hadn’t heard anything from anyone about her coming to her rescue – not that she needed one – and no one ever said anything about breaking her out.

What breaking me out? She’s supposed to be here. Everything’s official.

But WHY?

Alicia was stewing on these thoughts, frustrated as her suspicions slipped away like so much sand, disappearing grain by grain while Caitlyn threw the lock open.

“Come along then.” Caitlyn said, reaching into a bag hung on her other shoulder, previously hidden behind the sign. She pulled out a pair of pants.

“Garth said we did good, so we can get dressed.”

Alicia grumbled as she snatched the fabric out of Caitlyn’s hands, tugging the clothes on with a haste that even surprised her.

“What about you? Why aren’t you dressed already?”

“Umm…” Caitlyn frowned and glanced to the side. “It’s not important.”

Alicia scoffed. “Let’s get out of here. I’m done with this planet.”

“Not until we deliver this,” Caitlyn said, pulling a transporter out of her bag, “to someone who identifies themselves as Doctor Daniels. In the meantime, Garth said you had a Hildaven flower for me?”

Alicia’s eyes narrowed as she considered telling Caitlyn to go fuck herself. She didn’t exactly want her fellow apprentice to keep up with her, especially given the girl was more talented at magic, and her insanity matched Garth’s so closely.

There was a strange burning sensation in her guts as she noted the two’s similarities.

 but the word had come from Garth himself. She didn’t exactly have a way to tell Caitlyn no without Garth getting involved.

“Yeah, I stashed it outside the city before this whole debacle.”

“Cool, let’s go make the tea while we wait for this Dr. Daniels fellow to approach us.” Cailtyn looked like she thought of something as she handed the bemused guard back his keys on their way out.

“Oh, Garth said we could wait a few years on the Hildaven if we wanted more Epiphanies to choose from.”

“What does that mean?” Alicia asked.

“He said something about your magic gaining a flavor?”

“That’s cryptic.”

“Fuck waiting. Waiting is for plants and animals,” Alicia said, rolling up her sleeves.

She wasn’t going to meekly sit and wait when she knew she could ascend to a higher level of being. Power and prestige were in her grasp, on a scale that would make the Inquisitors of Earth shit their pants.

Munasei, please don’t make me hump the floor, she thought, crossing her fingers where Caitlyn couldn’t see them.

***

They found the bag with the hildaven flowers outside of the city, and it was a simple matter to find a safe place, conjure drinkable water for the tea, Alicia using her perfect memory to replicate the preparation of the flower, which amounted to a simple grind and strain.

Once she had a cup full of the mildly murky tea, she knocked it back.

“Gah, that’s gross.” She said.

“Agreed.” Caitlyn said, grimacing as she looked at the newly empty cup in her own hand.

“You drank it too!?” Alicia demanded, her anger ebbing away rapidly. “One of us is supposed to look out for the other.”

“Why didn’t you say that?” Caitlyn asked.

“I didn’t think I’d have to.”

“Huh,” Caitlyn glanced at her cup. “Whoops?”

“Why didn’t I notice that?” Alicia demanded, her mind going fuzzy. “What is up with you?”

“Nothing.” Caitlyn said, a little too quickly. Which was perfectly normal. No reason to be upset.

Alicia’s thoughts swirled around and around one fact that she simply wasn’t able to pin down over the course of half an hour. Her head was starting to hurt when she cracked through the fog like the delicate shell of an egg, and got to the juicy insides as she pinned down one suspicion.

“You did something!” Alicia shouted, tackling the startled bookworm to the ground and straddling her.

“No I didn’t!”

“What did you do!” Alicia demanded, the reason for the question disappearing as quickly as it came. No, fuck that. I’ll just repeat the question until she gives me the answer.

Alicia leveraged her short-term memory, chanting the question as the reason for it completely faded from her mind.

“Whatdidyoudowhatdidyoudowhatdidyoudo – “

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you!”

Alicia frowned. “tell me what?”

She assessed the situation. She was mounted on top of Caitlyn, whose eyes were wide with fear. Her posture was aggressive, and she was only mildly tingly. An interrogation.

Caitlyn’s eyes darted to the side evasively, and Alicia pinched her, hard.

“OW!”

“Tellmewhattellmewhattellmewhattellmewhat!”

“I’m an apostle now! I’ve got an aura that makes everything I do seem normal. I can get away with almost anything.”

Alicia raised a fist. “You do anything weird to me and make me think it was okay?”

“No! Why would I do that!?”

“Then we’re cool. Welcome to the club.” Alicia slumped off of her and rolled to the side, the canopy around them spinning.

“Think some bugs will eat us while we’re high?” she asked, glancing over at Caitlyn, who was panting, also staring at the canopy.

“Not on my watch.” A rather handsome, bronze-skinned man wearing strange, flattering clothes approached from the wilderness. “I’ll make sure you two break through the third tier safely.”

“Dr. Daniels?” Alicia asked, squinting. He didn’t look like the one she’d met outside Santo Descanso, but who knew?

“In a matter of speaking. I’m one of his offshoots with their own personality, name of Veneer. I’m in charge of operations on this planet.”

“Veneer…means façade.” Alicia said as the trees started to wiggle. That was a stupid pseudonym.

“Sure does,” he said with a friendly grin. “So, one of my fellow offshoots got a message for my creator. Emergency clone meeting?”

“Caitlyn.” Alicia said, poking the redhead, who blinked, looking away from her hand superimposed on the canopy. “The thing.”

“Right, the thing.” Caitlyn dug through her bag for a moment, and held up the golden triangle pin.

****

“A Transporter,” Veneer chuckled to himself as he stooped down to take it. “It sure is Garth. This will be fun.”

One more opportunity to finally free myself from the creator’s grasp and wreak my vengeance on the spheres.

Veneer internalized his maniacal laugh. He was undercover right now.

“How do you use this thing?” he asked, glancing up at Caitlyn, but the slender redhead was already drooling.

“Hmm..”  He glanced at Alicia, who was idly pawing the ground and watching the dirt tumble through her fingers.

“I’ll figure it out,” he said, turning it back and forth in his hand.

 

***Garth***

“And that’s how I learned about self-control after I banged my coworker’s wife.” Garth said, putting the finishing touch on the presentation on the white-board. “Any questions?” he asked the assembled audience, including Nubeya and her men. Bel had changed her form to look like a Corio and was currently sitting in Veyer’s lap.

Despite the thin fur coating, Garth could see the sweat beading around the man’s eyes.

“She looked like a frog.” Tad said, raising an eyebrow.

“Not a question, but what can I say? I was in my early twenties, and willing to jump at anything that came my way. An experience I’m told not everyone has.” Garth put the cap back on his marker with authority. “Any other questions?”

“What did that have to do with rooting out the Calamity on Kurm?” Nabeya demanded.

“That was to waste time,” Garth admitted. “I sent someone I strongly believe to be the calamity you speak of, a message in text, let’s call it a text message. This person has strong ties to me, and I’d like to speak to him before we get underway with the whole…bombardment thing.

“Useless! Transport me and my men to the surface at once!”

“Calm down, there’s plenty of time to blow everything up later. I’ve gotta see if my evil twin is willing to neg – “

Space mana warped around Garth and his surroundings were swapped out with the swamps of Kurm.

“otiate.”

Garth glanced around. Swamp in every direction for miles, with critters from Critters nowhere to be seen, a bit of movement caught his eye, and Garth spotted his two apprentices flopped down on the ground.

Caitlyn was chuckling, long, extended chuckles that spoke of inappropriate behavior, while Alicia simply humped the ground.

“You summoned me?” he asked, facing the man standing in front of him. the fellow was deceptively young, clean shaven, square jawed, and wearing an incredibly snazzy three piece suit. He was also wearing what appeared to be a flat gold chain necklace around his neck like one of those mafiosos from TV. Dr. Daniels in a different body, perhaps?

“Garth. Nice to finally meet you, officially.”

“Officially?” So…not Dr. Daniels?

“I’m Veneer, one of the personalities Dr. Daniels created.” he said, offering his hand. “I got your message. Although I thought the Transporter would take me to you, not the other way around.”

“And introduce you to an isolated population of civilians? Have you met yourself?” Garth said, catching the abomination’s hand with his own.

“Fair enough.” Veneer said, grasping his hand hard, but not hard enough to bother the reinforced boned of the Garth Mk 3.

As they were shaking, Garth pointed his other hand at the handsome man.

“Are you the supervillain? Veneer sounds like a supervillain name, and Dr. Daniels mentioned making one of those.”

Veneer’s charming smile twitched.

“Why would you say that?”

“You been around the block a couple times, specifically in a place where a powerful diviner says there’s going to be a calamity, and you…kinda start to expect supervillains.”

“I’m a lot more boring than that, unfortunately. He made me a cliché’ of an attractive young businessman, nothing more.” Veneer said, releasing Garth’s hand.

“So, no maniacal laughter?”

“Nope.”

“No plans for world domination?”

“None.”

“No nanoscopic worms burrowing into my hand, with the express purpose of hollowing out my brain and replacing it with yours?” Garth asked, holding up his hand.

Veneer blinked, his smile slipping.

"Listen," Garth said, putting his hand on Veneer's shoulder and clamping down until he felt the creature's shoulder bones begin to creak. "Every brilliant thought you've ever had, every plan, every cultural reference, it stems from us. Me and Dr. D. If you can think of it, I can think of it. So, are there worms?"

 “No sir.”

“Good,” Garth put his hand down. “Because if that happened, it would violate the truce, and your Pappy and I would be very disappointed with you.”

The slight itching in Garth’s palm went away.

Enjoy!

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