|Equilibrium Fan Fiction
by Judas Austin
will be completed in a series of installments)
Halls stood to attention with the rest of the acolytes. It was the
first graduation ceremony he'd ever attended and personally, he
couldn't see what all the fuss was about.
sandy haired young man stepped forward to receive his new ID as the
others applauded mechanically, then bowed to the Vice-Council and
returned to his place in line.
was the other thing, Kevin thought irritably. It was an unusually large
class, with thirty two acolytes in all. Although there were fifty
people chosen to become Clerics every year from the hundreds of
thousands in Libria, most classes never had above twenty by the time
graduation came. Those acolytes that weren't efficient enough to learn
or perform optimum Gun-Kata didn't tend to live beyond the age of about
mean, it's not like we don't have anything better to do than stand
around watching a bunch of smarmy gits get IDs,
Kevin's treacherous mind whispered.
This is a waste of time. I could be
practising Gun-Kata, or studying, or...or Christ, just doing something
else besides this!
head of one of the acolytes lined up for graduation snapped around
suddenly, focusing on him. Dark hair, darker eyes and with a face that
might be called coldly handsome, Kevin supposed, although he wasn't
really qualified to judge such things.
abruptly blanked his mind. He was getting really good at that now.
older acolyte's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, then he returned
his gaze to the front. Kevin started paying attention, not because he
was interested in the ceremony, but because he wanted to know who that
acolyte was. He was definitely someone to watch.
again, keeping half an eye and ear on what was going on, Kevin let his
mind wander. What would happen when he graduated? What would happen to
his assigned partner? Working side by side with a veteran Cleric
trained to detect the slightest fluctuations of human emotion probably
wasn't the safest place to be.
deal with that when it happens, he thought. One
thing's for certain; I'm not going out like that poor guy in the
furnace, even if I have to put a bullet in my own head.
Yeah, a treacherous little voice inside him whispered, that
worked out pretty well the first time, didn't it? You can blast hell
out of the targets, and you even shot that offender, but you can't turn
the guns on the one person they would do the most good on, can you? You
can't kill yourself.
can damn well try, Kevin thought savagely,
applauding blankly with the rest.
Kev. You keep on telling yourself that, why don't you? No, I think you
want to continue living even if it is
hell, because you have some quaint notion of...what? Atonement?
Absolution? And you know damn well that a dead man can't atone any more
than he can do anything to atone for.
sudden jolt of fear, Kevin noticed that the other acolyte in line was
looking at him again, dark eyes narrowed suspiciously. Kevin returned
his stare, face a mask, mind empty. The other continued to hold his
gaze for a few minutes, then looked away again.
line progressed, Kevin found his own gaze drawn repeatedly back to the
older acolyte. That one could easily be trouble, particularly if Kevin
himself was partnered up with him later. Given there was a seven year
age gap, it seemed entirely possible.
watched, waiting to hear the name, until finally:
Preston, Kevin thought. The name meant nothing to him, but then,
there was no reason why it should.
trickled into his mind, a slight itch. Fear. Kevin glanced around,
searching for its source, and his eyes met those of George Turner, one
of his yearmates.
combination of relief and joy shot up Kevin's body like a geyser. If
Turner was feeling, he, Kevin, could report him and alleviate
suspicion. The one seeming weakness in the Council's attitude towards
sense offenders was their belief that those off the dose looked out for
each other...a belief that had saved Kevin's life more than once.
on, Kevin thought with an inward
sigh. How many more damn acolytes could there be in this year?
his answer as the line dwindled and groaned inwardly. A lot,
that was how many. He supposed it was good that so many had made it to
graduation, but it was still a damn nuisance! And to top it all off,
his back was playing hell with him again.
pain continued to increase through the rest of the ceremony, and having
to remain at attention didn't do much to alleviate it. By the time the
last acolyte went through, stars were starting to flash in and out at
the corners of Kevin's vision, and by the time he and his yearmates had
been dismissed, the throbbing was making him a little light-headed. He
reached out and collared Turner. Literally.
the Vice-Council I may be a little late, will you?" he said as
impassively as he could. "I have to report to the medical wing."
waiting for a reply, he released him and started off. Acolytes in the
same year did not officially have ranks, but there was a definite
hierarchy starting with the best students down to the worst, and Turner
fell broadly into this second category.
are you going?"
turned, coming face to face with acolyte-no, he corrected himself-Cleric
wing, sir. I sustained certain injuries while in the Nethers and was
told to report every day before commencing training in the Gun-Kata."
eyes narrowed very slightly.
Be more specific."
your dreams, asshole, Kevin thought, then
clamped down on that hard and said, "I was led to believe the details
were filed with the relevant authority."
suspicion on the young Cleric's face was obvious now, and he opened his
mouth for what would probably be the last words Kevin ever heard, at
least outside the Palace of Justice.
That was the Cleric's newly assigned partner. "Are you coming?"
hesitated for the barest fraction of an instant, then nodded coolly to
Kevin and turned away.
took one or two deep and silent breaths to try and calm his heart down,
then started towards the medical bay.
froze rigid, not daring to move, one thought pounding over and over at
his temples as he turned.
Oh Christ, they know! They've found out.
Clerics who had been present at the ceremony strode into his line of
Halls, isn't it?" the more senior of them said.
sir, it is," Kevin answered, snapping to attention. He recognised the
Cleric immediately; DuPont, the highest ranking Cleric in the Tetra
Grammaton and rumoured to be next in line for a seat on the Council.
doing exceptionally well, acolyte," DuPont said. The other Cleric
remained silent, clearly willing to allow his partner to do all the
talking for him.
remained motionless, at attention.
ease," DuPont said, and Kevin relaxed very slightly. "Your instructors
report that you've been almost at the top of all your classes since
first joining the Monastery," the Cleric continued.
wouldn't know, sir," Kevin answered. "I've been informed that they're
not permitted to discuss such things."
glanced at his partner, then back at Kevin.
sir; we were all informed at the start of this semester." Why is he
asking me all this? Kevin wondered frantically.
dawned on him that DuPont was standing there with the air of one
waiting for an answer. Kevin shook his head.
your pardon, sir?"
tone was calm, polite.
asked you what those dark glasses are for, acolyte."
relaxed inwardly. About that, at least, he didn't have to lie.
reasons, sir. My eyes are very light-sensitive. The glasses help me to
see more clearly."
you have a medical record of that, acolyte?"
sir, I do."
extracted the laminated card from his pocket and offered it to DuPont,
who took it, making a show of examining it closely before handing it
back with a nod.
seems to be in order, acolyte. Dismissed."
Kevin snapped to attention, then turned and walked briskly away,
waiting until he was out of sight before slumping against a wall. Too
many more encounters like that one and the Tetra Grammaton wouldn't
have to arrest him; they could just wait for the coronary to hit.
looked at his chronometer, wincing as his clothes rubbed against the
injuries on his back. Yep. Definitely time for a visit to the medic.
said nothing?" the medic persisted.
Kevin told him, bored. He was sick of repeating this to everyone who
asked...particularly boneheads like this one who seemed to need to hear
the answer about five times before it sank in.
you've no idea who they were?"
that six. "If I knew that, I would have-aah!" Pain bit into
Kevin's back as the medic splashed ethadine onto the raw lacerations.
It's just if they said something-" now the medic was helping him sit
upright and wrapping new bandages around his back "-the Tetra Grammaton
would need to know."
kept quiet, mostly because he didn't trust himself to open his mouth
without saying something he'd regret. The agony, which had now mounted
into a series of screaming throbs, was doing shit for his
self-discipline, not to mention making his head pound to boot.
you at least give me some Talrium?" he demanded, his teeth
clenched so tightly with the pain that his entire jaw was aching.
medic shook his head.
sir. We're not permitted to give you Talrium so soon after a Prozium
dose. The effects of mixing drugs could easily result in a coma."
by me, Kevin thought bitterly. That would be
good. No more pain.
give you some in approximately two hours, if you'd care to return then."
rightly understanding this as a dismissal, slid stiffly off the bed,
his uniform rasping against the injuries like sandpaper. The medic had
botched the bandage job and the dressing would have slipped off by that
evening, but he hardly cared anymore.
Vice-Council gave him the option to sit out that afternoon's training
on medical grounds, but Kevin declined his offer. He had a feeling that
in the future, he was going to need all the Gun-Kata knowledge and
ability he could attain, and then some.
acolyte's resolve lasted all of ten minutes, the time needed for one of
his yearmates to take advantage of his weakened state and slam him hard
onto his back.
white pain exploded in Kevin's entire body and his vision went grey,
his senses temporarily dulled by the agony now thundering through him.
He heard, as if from a long way off, the acolyte responsible saying
something about his failure to block, then his entire world went dark.
he came to his senses again, he was sitting-or rather, had been
propped-on a bench to one side of the gym. The other acolytes were
still going through the afternoon's lessons.
you feel sufficiently recovered to rejoin your class?"
words, at first, meant nothing to Kevin, were mere nonsense, then the
events of the last few minutes crashed back into him and he shot a
killing stare at the Vice-Council who was seated next to him.
recovered'?" he hissed, too softly for any of the other acolytes to
hear. "What the fuck do you think?"
constricted Kevin's chest as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
For a few seconds, he literally couldn't breathe. Oh shit. That was it.
forced himself to sit upright, ignoring the monstrous pain the action
caused him with a superhuman effort, and cleared his throat, striving
for a properly impassive tone.
apologise, sir. I believe my injuries may be dulling the effects of my
Prozium. Naturally, I'll speak to the Monastery proctor and medics
about increasing my dose." To Kevin himself, he sounded anything but
was a silence. Then Vice-Council Barrett said very softly, "Bullshit."
assure you, sir, it's not."
know what you are."
didn't react in any way.
It's my job to know what you're thinking, just as it'll be your job in
seven years. If you survive that long."
made to get to his feet.
believe I'm recovered enough, sir. With your permission, I'd like to
rejoin my yearmates."
denied. You're nowhere near recovered." Barrett reached up and pulled
the boy down, not roughly but firmly.
continued to try to stand.
fine, sir. Really."
not." Barrett increased the pressure. "Sit down." When Kevin made no
move to obey, he stared hard at him, piercing the boy's eyes with his
own. "That was an order, acolyte."
sat down again irritably, then wished he hadn't as the violence of the
motion sent a new flash of pain up his back.
You can sit the rest of the afternoon out." When Kevin opened his
mouth, Barrett raised a hand, cutting him off. "Don't even think
of arguing with a Vice-Council, acolyte. That's something nobody
on the dose would even contemplate."
wasn't going to argue, sir," Kevin lied.
course you weren't."
sat in a cantankerous silence for a few minutes. Kevin was itching to
get back onto the exercise floor, but didn't quite dare to disobey the
Vice-Council. He didn't know if the Monastery was watched like the rest
of Libria, but he wasn't about to take that chance.
know," Barrett murmured very softly, "I'm surprised the painkillers
don't seem to be working."
painkillers?" Kevin said sullenly. Catching sight of the old man's look
he added, "sir?"
told me you were late to training because you'd been in the medical
was. When I asked for painkillers, the medic pretty much told me to go
stick my head in the Nethers. Some crap about the Talrium reacting with
Barrett said again, sharply, then caught sight of the acolyte's
expression and waved a hand. "Oh, it's been known, of course it has,
but no more than any other allergic reaction. There have been people
allergic to Prozium before now, but that doesn't stop the Council
dishing it out."
They got a bullet through the head, all of them." Barrett shook his
head. "Such a waste."
wasn't entirely sure whether the Vice-Council was referring to the
lives or the ammunition, and didn't dare ask. Instead he settled for,
"Yes sir." It was a pretty good rule of thumb; when in doubt, always
agree with the senior officer.
shot him a sharp look, one which said he wasn't entirely ignorant of
this, then shook his head.
your feet, acolyte."
Kevin obeyed as best he could, wincing slightly as he did so, and took
a step towards the floor, only to find a hand drop heavily on his bad
shoulder, sending a new wave of pain through him.
of his feeling must have been evident on his face, because Barrett
withdrew his hand abruptly.
apologise, acolyte. I don't want you back on the training floor."
to report to the medical wing immediately."
moistened his lips almost unnoticeably.
I just came from the medical wing and they were determined not to give
me any painkillers. Why should it be any different now?"
coming with you, that's why. If they want to pull rank on an acolyte,
that's fine, but I'll be damned if I'll let them get away with it with
me. This way."
sir, I'm fine-"
who are fine don't pass out in the middle of training," Barrett said
crisply, "and those who want to stay fine don't argue with a
Vice-Council in front of eighteen witnesses and two security cameras.
Now come on before I decide to drag you down there myself."
started to say that he'd like to see Barrett try, then caught sight of
the look on the man's face and bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood.
If the expression on the Vice-Council's face was anything to go by, he
might do just that.
sir," he said instead, and followed as Barrett strode down the corridor
and pushed open the doors into the mediwing so roughly that they almost
bounced back to hit Kevin in the face. The medic started, taken aback.
it is not," Barrett said flatly. "I just received a report that
you denied an acolyte medical treatment."
medic shot Kevin a look that was far from friendly.
effects of the Talrium and Prozium together-"
according to the law of averages, so unlikely to react that frankly I'm
more concerned about the boy being struck by lightning. Give it to him
now and that's an order!"
sir." With a certain amount of reluctance, the medic inserted a syringe
into a flask filled with a clear, pale green substance, filled it, then
withdrew it and injected Kevin with it.
And now, would you care to explain the state of this child's health?"
Child!? Kevin thought hotly. EXCUSE me?
not permitted to access such files-"
however, permitted to access the medication needed to treat him
effectively." The sarcasm in Barrett's voice was very slight, but to
Kevin's keyed up mind, the man might as well have broken into an aria.
Oh crap oh please please don't let him
blow it now...
treatment can lead to physical problems in later life," Barrett
continued, his voice as close to anger as someone on Prozium would get.
"If this acolyte is subject to such problems as a result of your poor
medical capabilities, I will personally see that it gets traced
back to you. Do I make myself clear?"
sir." Now totally cowed, the medic started to remove the bandages, only
to find his hand gripped at the wrist.
Kevin told him softly. "I don't want you. Not after you messed up last
time, and all the times before." He released him. "Go find me a proper
man's eyes flickered towards the Vice-Council, as if seeking
are you looking at me for?" Barrett demanded coldly. "He gave you an
order. Do it."
The medic snapped briefly to attention, a courtesy aimed somewhere
between the man and the boy, then turned and strode from the room.
shouldn't have dismissed him like that," Barrett said.
narrowed his eyes.
not a child, sir."
eleven years old, lad, and don't call me sir. At least, not when
there's no chance of being overheard."
I'll bite." Now Kevin sounded almost sulky. "How should I have
dismissed him, then?"
on the dose-get, shall we say, upset at implications that they don't
know their job."
said anything about implying? I told him straight. The guy's a shitty
now he goes off in high dudgeon and he just might decide to wait a
while before sending anyone else to see to you. You didn't pick a very
good time of day to report to the mediwing."
with the boy's eyes hidden behind dark glasses, the look he turned on
Barrett was enough to silence even the Vice-Council momentarily.
not report to the mediwing, sir. I was practically dragged
you were," Barrett said unashamedly. "People on the dose don't have any
feelings or desires. They would have reported here immediately upon
encountering the kind of problems you did in the training."
on the dose, sir."
course you are," Barrett answered, his tone completely neutral and
causing Kevin to wonder just who was kidding who in this strange
conversation. "Though you seem strangely...emphatic."
I said, sir, I believe that to be a result of my injuries."
believe you're lying, acolyte."
faintest of sneers flickered over Kevin's face before it returned to
its proper impassiveness.
if I was, sir, do you honestly think I'd tell you of
happen to not want to die, sir." Kevin glanced around surreptitiously.
Where was the bloody medic??
Barrett remarked. "For someone on Prozium to openly admit to having
you don't want to die is the same thing as claiming you want to live,
acolyte. You'd know that, if you paid more attention in your Emotional
shit," Kevin said, to nobody in particular. He'd clean forgotten about
that essay on hate cadences that was due in the next day.
raised cold eyebrows.
heard me," Kevin muttered, not quite under his breath.
there is, unfortunately, no laws against the use of profanity from
younger people, my hands are somewhat tied on this matter," Barrett
said crisply, "but for both our sakes, you will at least put on some
semblance of respect when you address me, acolyte."
turned a smouldering look on him, one that surprised even Barrett into
I'm sorry," he said mockingly. "I meant, 'oh shit, sir'."
Vice-Council glanced away. To anyone watching, the gesture would have
seemed to be one of displeasure, but the real reason behind it was that
he was trying desperately not to grin. He'd found and helped three
sense offending acolytes in his time on the Council before meeting
Halls, none of which had possessed a sense of humour-or at least,
sarcasm-and all of which had been terrified of him. In a peculiar sort
of way, it was refreshing to meet someone, even an eleven year old
someone, who didn't seem to give a shit one way or the other what
you're wrong," Kevin added.
Barrett said, very politely.
Kevin repeated in an overly loud tone.
turned back to regard the boy, anger warring with curiosity. He'd sent
acolytes to the technicians for less than this-while the Tetra
Grammaton wouldn't injure its agents any more than it had to, there
were several forms of corporal punishment-but something about Halls
encouraged you to listen.
shrugged, then wished he hadn't as fresh pain sparked in his back.
you said about claiming you don't want to die. That's like saying that
not hating someone is the same thing as loving them."
raised his eyes.
interesting point, acolyte. Tell me, have you any firsthand experience
Kevin snorted. "Not bloody likely, sir, pardon my Entropian."
door hissed open, revealing the same medic that Kevin had dismissed so
rudely earlier on.
sir; my colleagues are occupied at present. If you'd like to-"
raised a hand, cutting him off.
are they likely to be available?"
about four hours, sir, at the next shift change."
slid to his feet.
I'll come back then." He noticed with some satisfaction the brief flash
in the man's eyes, a flash that was as close to anger as it was
possible to get on Prozium, turned his back and walked into the
corridor, then paused, glancing at his chronometer.
fifteen. The acolytes were probably getting to the end of their first
break; while they couldn't get bored, even the Tetra Grammaton had to
take physical limitations into account. Just enough time, then.
looked around, seeking a Cleric, any Cleric, and his eyes fell on
DuPont, who was talking to his partner in a low voice. Something
similar to a mental smile slid through the acolyte's mind, causing
Barrett, who was already halfway down the corridor ahead, to half turn.
feel a little...unsteady," Kevin lied. "I believe I can make my own way
back to the dormitory."
I should accompany you," Barrett said in similar neutral tones. His
mind was anything but neutral; there was a strange look in the
acolyte's eyes that unsettled him, and there weren't many things that
had that effect.
shook his head.
you for your concern, sir, but it really isn't necessary. I believe my
yearmates have already been deprived of enough education on my
account." The words were almost by rote, and Kevin was as fluent in
them as the Vice-Council.
opened his mouth to refute the acolyte's comment, but Kevin flicked his
eyes very briefly to DuPont, and the Vice-Council shut up. Acolyte
Halls might have no authority to get him committed for a test if he
behaved...oddly, but Cleric DuPont had no such restrictions.
Barrett said evenly. "I want a three page essay on the application of
katas one through thirty six in enclosed buildings on my desk tomorrow."
mouth fell open and he started to argue, but Barrett nodded almost
imperceptibly in the Clerics' direction and the acolyte reluctantly
subsided, much to the Vice-Council's personal satisfaction. Let the kid
see he wasn't the only one who could make veiled threats.
snapped to attention, and Barrett strode away. The acolyte waited until
he was out of earshot, then walked up to DuPont, and waited for a
suitable break in the conversation.
turned a cool look on him.
me for interrupting your conversation, sir," Kevin said smoothly, "but
I have urgent information regarding one of my yearmates."
yes?" Now DuPont looked a little more interested. "And what 'urgent
information' would that be, acolyte?"
almost moistened his lips, stopped himself just in time. There was no
room for error in this.
wish to report acolyte George Turner for sense offence, sir," he said,
every bit as calm as those lucky enough to be on Prozium.
certain as I can be without testing him, sir. However, since I don't
have the authority for that, I decided it would be better to report the
matter to you."
not Vice-Council Barrett? He is your mentor, isn't he?"
cursed inwardly. He'd been hoping DuPont wouldn't ask that
question...which, he admitted to himself, was probably the very reason
was in a hurry, sir."
hurry," DuPont repeated, his tone so neutral that Kevin didn't know if
the Cleric believed him or not.
it doesn't concern you that by coming to me with this information, you
have effectively sentenced one of your colleagues to an early death?"
privately thought that given Turner's Gun-Kata ability-or lack
thereof-he probably wouldn't survive the next big exams, but kept that
particular gem to himself.
sir, why should it? I dose regularly, after all."
You've never wondered about coming off the dose, about what it must be
like to feel?"
sir," Kevin answered truthfully. He'd wondered plenty of times about
what it was like to not feel, but as far as being off the dose
went, he could have written the book. If it hadn't been illegal, of
not an offender yourself?"
floundered very slightly. DuPont was famed through the Tetra Grammaton
for his so-called unique questioning methods, but to the acolyte they
seemed to be nothing more than bloody stupid.
was an offender sir, would I report my yearmate?" he said calmly.
"We're taught that all sense offenders look out for each other, after
Yes." Something in that idea appeared to amuse DuPont; a slight smile,
too quick and subtle to really qualify as sense offence, flickered
across his face. "Alright, acolyte. You're dismissed. I'll deal with
jerked to attention, then spun on his heel and strode away.
dormitory was deserted when he got back to it. It was hardly crowded at
the best of times-there were only two other acolytes living in the
Monastery besides Kevin in this year-but right now, the acolyte was
more than happy with the empty mattresses.
down on his own with an inward grimace. God, for all the comfort these
things offered, the Tetra Grammaton might as well have dragged a block
of wood in for him to sleep on.
freezing as well. The Monastery was a place of extremes; you baked in
summer, froze in winter and had, on average, about two nights a year
where you were actually comfortable. Pillows and blankets weren't
allowed either; what you saw was what you got.
glanced at his locker. He had an unexpected free afternoon, and there
hadn't been any assignments that day; the morning lessons had been
given over in favour of watching the ceremony, that was one
good thing to come of it at any rate, the acolyte thought sourly. He
considered. The most productive use of his time would be to write both
those essays, one on hate cadences and that other Gun-Kata (and just
what had Vice-Council Barrett been on when he came up with that
idea? Kevin wondered) and then he could utilise the rest of his time
catching up on back issues of Colonies, one of the few
magazines that wasn't rated EC-10, and which dealt with civilisation in
the other regions besides Libria. Most articles said exactly the same
thing-ie, all other regions were comprised of barbaric, violent
hedonists just waiting to march in and take over Libria-but Kevin
didn't think that was necessarily a bad thing, and if he was honest, he
didn't think it was all that truthful either. After all, how many of
the writers had actually been to Xylyx, or Entropia?
if it was true, Kevin still planned to visit one day. Maybe if
he ever got a seat on the Council, or...hell, if whoever he was in the
Nethers with at the time was stupid enough to turn their back on
him...maybe then he'd be able to find out for himself.
acolyte shook his head irritably, fighting to clear it. At least the
Talrium was starting to kick in now; his back felt less like the skin
had been ripped off it and more like it had just been stung to death.
glanced up at his locker again. Yes...it would be better to get both
assignments out of the way first, then relax. He reached out
for the relevant textbooks and then, because even in Libria there were
conventions which ran deeper than the threat of being processed (or at
the very least, severely disciplined) Kevin grabbed the latest issue of
Colonies and settled down to read that instead. Let
the assignments take care of themselves, at least for the minute. He
had tastier fish to fry.