Cara ushered them out of the club, Drea looking back as two phosphorescent displays twisted and turned in what appeared to be either a florid mating display or a disco throw down that made Studio 54 in its heyday resemble a Victorian séance.
Gloria clutched her case to her chest and Olivia scratched at the skin of her forearm where Walter was housed. Drea took in a deep, calming breath and went with the insistent press of Cara’s hand at the small of her back.
‘Where are we going?’ Drea said
In the general direction of away, Cara thought, but she was concerned that her vocal inflections would betray her unease. She was, as a rule, more comfortable with Big and Weird, than this, which was Small, Unexpected and Nasty like her experience when dating the Quantum Intelligence Uiraa. The idea that Leviathan had an agent, of any description, was something that she had not been able to predict or calculate for.
She hid her concerns behind a stainless steel smile and platinum cool, ushering them away from the lounge.
‘A relative’s taking care of that.’ Cara said.
Cara seldom volunteered anything about herself that did not suit her purpose or bolster her reputation. She understood that the less someone knew about you, the more they projected their own fears and concerns onto you. She did not speak about her childhood, nor the litany of illnesses that forced her into a state of educated isolation, subject to a battery of treatments designed to arrest the inevitable decline that her familial unit had prepared themselves for.
The Esther was her preferred mode of transport. A pearlescent, shifting vessel, operating from a bacterial engine core, capable of light-speed jumps and armed with a passive weapons system that allowed it to wander freely between parallel universes and through blockades. If Gandalf had Shadowfax and Batman had the Batmobile, Cara had Esther which was why she was able to appear with the nihilistic gaiety of an extra in The Great Gatsby.
What no one knew was that Esther was far more than a mode of transport or even a sidekick.
Esther was Cara’s twin. A vestigial growth that had started on her soft palate when she was six years old, who managed to survive wave after wave of radio therapy, mineral injections and regimes of temperature variations until finally Cara established communication with her and managed to persuade her that her continued existence would be easier away from Cara’s body. When Cara showed her parents that Esther could communicate through pheromone signals, and photo-electric light displays, they agreed to Esther’s containment in a nutrient tank.
She kept growing but whereas Cara’s adolescence was breasts, menstruation and crying jags, Esther became something else entirely. She was educated and treated as an unexpected sibling, even as she grew into a shape that resembled a man o’war jellyfish carrying clusters of neural fibres, shielded by chitin that was as hard as diamond. Cara would spend hours in conversation without either of them audibly speaking.
On Cara’s twentieth birthday, Esther had started to moult, and had to be suspended in a liquid gravity tank on the outskirts of the familial estate, such was her size. It was whilst Cara visited her that Esther suggested a way that they could continue to work together whilst Cara was attending the Visible College.
Esther became her ship.
It took a cognitive leap that made Cara uneasy but as Esther demonstrated, it was no different than a need for spectacles or dental braces.
Just chemical ignition boosts and subsonic cannons, or a bacterial stack that produced zero point energy enough to keep them both flying and sustained through a decade of full tilt engine burn.
Esther floated in a shimmering, steaming bath of amino acids and nutrients, already preparing to receive additional passengers thanks to the sibling connection they shared. She lifted and extended a pseudopod of matter that hardened into a dense fibrous matter as it reached them.
‘Hey, you.’ it said.
‘Awright, sis?’ Cara said.
The three furies looked at one another and then at Cara, who shrugged her shoulders and bowed towards her sister.
‘I’ll explain on the way.’ Cara said.
They climbed aboard and Esther shot off strings of chemical information to indicate a full authorised diplomatic mission was underway, with all possible permissions granted without question. It carried the scent of a good Thai curry, if anyone were there to catch a whiff of it.
The furies sat down, suddenly very quiet whilst Cara slipped off her jacket and rolled her sleeves up to the elbows.
‘Now, the next part is going to be tricky.’ Cara said.
Gloria looked at her case and then back up at Cara.
‘I’ve got another problem that we need to consider.’
Cara frowned and asked her what she meant.
‘Whatever we trapped in there, it’s still alive. I can feel it, like deja vu or something.’
Cara squatted in front of her, eyes narrowed to slits as she pressed her palms together.
‘And what does that tell you?’
‘Whatever it is, it’s angry. Very, very angry.’
TO BE CONTINUED.
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