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“You — you knew my father?” stammered Caitlyn.

“Yes, I did,” said the misshapen creature, smiling his hideous smile.  “Knew him, aided him, abetted him — and you look quite like him — that nose, the mouth — though I’ll wager those eyes are your mother’s.”

“I — I don’t understand,” said Caitlyn.  “How do you know him?  I mean, he wasn’t anyone important.”

“Was he now?” said Ji-Cheng, and waited patiently for her to answer.

“But he was just a math teacher!” she said.  “He taught at a community college!”

“Did he now?” said Ji-Cheng.

“Alright, then where did he teach?”

“Oh, he taught one class at Belleville, that’s true.  Had to keep up appearances.  Same reason I taught Chinese at Langstry High.”

“Well, okay, so if that’s true, then what did he really do?”

“Math and physics are such similar subjects,” he said.

“So, what, he taught physics?”

“After a fashion.”

Caitlyn growled, reached across the table, and grabbed the monster’s upper-right shoulder.  “Listen, I’m sick of playing twenty questions with you!  What the hell is going on here?  Talk to me, you stupid freak!”

“Freak, yes, stupid, no,” said Ji-Cheng calmly.  “Unwise, certainly, but not stupid.  Could you please let go of my protoplasm now?”

Caitlyn loosed him, and as she did, her hand came away from his shoulder with a sticky yellow ooze dripping from it.  The edge of Ji-Cheng’s shoulder had a handprint-shaped dent that was slowly filling with the same yellow liquid.

“My God,” said Caitlyn, staring at her hand, feeling almost ready to vomit.  “What...  what are you?”

“I’m dying,” said Ji-Cheng.  “Perhaps a fitting end for one with my crimes, yes?  Melting into this tub, you see, as my cellular structure breaks down, ever so slowly.  I’m looking forward to the point when I finally lose my consciousness; I haven’t slept in years, and that can be rather grating.  Of course, I may not be so lucky as to lose consciousness:  That goop down there is still me, and I can even manipulate it, so it’s rather likely that in a year or two, when I’m just a sentient, faceless, human-colored amoeba, I’ll have to endure the indignity of spending the next few centuries as a museum curiosity in a large glass bowl.”

“That’s...  horrible,” said Caitlyn.

“Yes, isn’t it?” he replied cheerfully.

“How can you be so blasé?” she asked.  “It’s horrible!”

“Well, I’ve had some years to get used to it, and I very much deserve it.”

Caitlyn walked over to the sink and wiped her hand off on a paper towel.  “Nobody deserves this,” she said.  “I don’t care what you’ve done.”

She startled as the yellow goop slid down the paper towel, formed into a ball, and weakly rolled and oozed its way across the floor to climb up Ji-Cheng’s fingertips and disappear into his arm.

“I thought you wanted to know how I knew your father,” he said, grinning his horrible, ugly, terrifying spiked-tooth grin again.

“I — I mean — yes, I do,” she said, and walked back over to him, staring at her hand in disbelief.  She sat her hindquarters down, took a deep breath, and spoke.  “I’m done speaking.  I’m ready to listen,” she said, and he nodded.
When I was a boy, I was smart, and I knew it — humility was never my strong suit, Miss Camberley, so you’ll have to forgive me, but I’m not lying:  I graduated high school by the time I was ten, and I had my first doctorate by the time I was fifteen.

I remember well meeting your father for the first time.  I was a brash, newly-minted genius at twenty, and he was twenty-five, all suave and cool standing there in his white lab coat with that haircut that would’ve made Hollywood jealous — anyway, he was interviewing me for a research position at Denly University, and —

What?  You never heard of Denly?  We’re Ivy League, girl!  Founded in 1837!  The Fighting Badgers?  Tennis champions last year?  Ah, nevermind; the school’s on the map, but it tends to keep a low profile, and that suited our work just fine.  Less bother if people forget you exist, you see.

Your father was — well, in a word, he was brilliant:  Makes me look like a spot in the shade.  I’ve never met a mind like his, and I doubt I ever will again.  He had a talent for keeping a low profile, too, a lot lower than mine:  He’d gone through high school and college at a normal rate, and had been careful to collect an mix of A’s and B’s to avoid suspicion — but it’s still hard to believe that nobody noticed his A’s and B’s spelled out his name in Morse Code.  And I laughed when I saw his SAT score:  He took the test on Columbus Day, so he gave himself a 1492.  Eh?  Eh?

Not impressed?  Well, nevermind, then:  His talents were in theoretical physics, mostly high-energy quantum with a dash of relativity and a garnish of grand unification for flavor.  I learned more from him in six months than I’d learned in ten years of schooling.

And it may seem odd, but he was far better at people than I was, too, and I daresay I’d never have met my wife without him.  No matter how pressing our work, he was done at five on the dot, and home to his loving wife and two little girls.  That’d be you — alright, alright, just making sure you were paying —

What do you mean, what was our work?  It was noble enough.  We weren’t making weapons of mass destruction or anything.  But the road to hell, they say, is paved with such nobility.  Now give this withering blob a chance to tell his story, girl, and you’ll see my meaning.

Our work was good stuff, decades ahead of most theoretical physics, and too good to be ignored for long.  Unfortunately, on a drizzly rainy day in November about fourteen years ago, a bunch of men in dark suits walked into our labs and confiscated every paper, every disc, every member of our team, and we were being relocated, they said, for our work had been deemed important to our nation.  I’m sure one or two of them even believed that.

We ended up in the basement of a sports complex two hundred miles away — yes, in Philadelphia, and you know now what our project turned out to be.

Don’t look at me like that!  We didn’t intend to make this mess!  Our project was to try to poke a pinprick hole in the laws of physics just to see if a hole could be poked, to see whether Newton and Einstein were absolute or whether they could be pushed out of the way when they got inconvenient.  And we had our work under control.  Or, I should say, your father did — he was paranoid about safety, and every test had to work right the first time, because he wasn’t risking his little girls for anything.

I know, I know, it went wrong.  It wasn’t his fault.  Or maybe it was, a little.  It was all our faults, really.  We played gods and we were punished, and in my next life I’ll atone for my mistakes in this one, you mark my words.

Now, I don’t know who they were, so don’t ask.  We weren’t ready to start up any of the machines we’d built, but they came rushing in, firing their guns, and making demands...  Lisa Markie died in my hands, girl, blood gushing out of her belly; have you ever had anyone die in your hands?  Don’t judge me until you’ve seen what I’ve seen.

We had no defenses.  The government men had given us one low-level Army guard, and he was out getting coffee when they came.  We had no choice but to give in.  They didn’t want information; they were there for the power of our work — hah, you don’t understand, do you?  When you can break the laws of physics, you can do anything.  Teleport around the planet.  Kill a guarded man from ten thousand miles away.  Turn sunlight into gold.  There’s not a magic trick in the book that wouldn’t be child’s play.  We were too naïve to realize what people would do for our work until it was too late.

We had no choice.  We started up our primary test equipment.  Jeremy — he tried to play hero, and he took out one of them, and they fired back — and their goddamn guns blew open one of the fuel storage tanks, killing Jeremy and Reeny and Miko —

Nobody played hero after that, nobody except your father, girl, and he wasn’t stupid.  They didn’t understand the equipment, you see, and they needed him, they needed us to make it work.  He did, oh, how he did, and I helped him do it, and you’re living proof of the rest of that story.  Hah, well, I am too, sort of.  Everybody in that room was destroyed — better than that, really, because a lot of it was erased from existence, past and present, like it’d never been, along with every single paper, hard drive, and anything else that could reproduce what we did.  It’s gone, it’s all gone, and good damn riddance.

Except — it didn’t quite work the way your father planned.  It was experimental, of course, and we didn’t have much time to program it, so only most of them disappeared.  A few of us were left alive, but that close to the blast, not much of what we were survived.  I was turned into half a lizard and I’ve been melting, slowly, ever since that day.  Leah, Naomi, I watched them burn, girl.  Kim — thankfully, poor guy didn’t live long enough to know what had happened to him.

I know, I know, what about the people outside?  How many people have you met who were living in Philadelphia before the ‘Change,’ girl?  You want to know what happened to the other third of that city, well, ask your government.  I’m no longer interested in any of it.  I’m done playing with Thor’s hammer and Zeus’s bolts, and I intend to take my punishment quietly.

He paused after he finished speaking, and Caitlyn swallowed hard.  “So —” she began, choking, “what happened to my father?”

“That I’d like to know,” said Ji-Cheng.  “Because until you crawled in here, there was no doubt in my mind that I was the last wretched soul to survive that day — and now I’m not so sure.”
Caity's World, Part 13.

This is the long-awaited beginning of Act II, where we find out a lot more about what's been going on, and where things start to get much more complicated.

Part 12 is here. Part 14 is here. The introduction and author's notes are here.

As before, if you like the story, please comment. Thoughts, ideas, questions, crazy theories — everything you have to say is worth hearing, and keeps me going on this. I don't guarantee I'll give you good answers, but I hope you'll at least be entertained and engaged.

Thanks for reading, and here's looking forward to the continued story!
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:iconcatgoyle:
Catgoyle Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2010
(nods) Looking interesting...
Reply
:iconmorraha:
Morraha Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2009
YUMMY! I lveo when we finally get to the meaty chunks of it all. :D
Reply
:iconkramnhojpapermario:
Kramnhojpapermario Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2009
OH BOY!!!
Reply
:iconannoyingrooster:
AnnoyingRooster Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009
sooooo....her father was "killed" in a carjacking....but he was workin in Philly in a secret lab [insert mad scientist laughter here...jk lol]. was that "carjacking" a lil cover up created by the "government" to steal him away to this secret lab? or is that a question that will be answered later?????
why must i have found this story when i have papers due? :pissed:
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
His original lab at Denly wasn't really all that secretive; it was a university-funded research project, possibly with a little grant-money help from the National Science Foundation. But the results of the research were a little too good, so he was deemed Important and was whisked away to a more hidden place where he could do his work under watchful government eyes. They "killed" him to keep people from discovering what he was doing, and especially to keep his future work away from prying eyes.
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:iconannoyingrooster:
AnnoyingRooster Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2009
ahhh! ok that clears it up more =D thankies :aww:
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:icondragonrose36:
Dragonrose36 Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
This is so cool...
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad you're enjoying it!
Reply
:iconcalyptra:
Calyptra Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
This just gets interestinger and interestinger...
XD
Reply
:iconuncle-ben:
Uncle-Ben Featured By Owner May 11, 2009
I knew it! I knew it!

But my theory was that they were the invaders ... not the invadees ...

And I think I found a throw away line that will become more important later ...
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner May 12, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Which line?
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:iconuncle-ben:
Uncle-Ben Featured By Owner May 12, 2009
I believe it was that she had a sister.
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner May 13, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Uh... that was never mentioned in this chapter ^^;
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:iconuncle-ben:
Uncle-Ben Featured By Owner May 13, 2009
Oh, I must have been thinking of something else then ...
Reply
:iconchibi-fisch:
Chibi-Fisch Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2009  Professional General Artist
That lizard guy is so disturbing! I love it! :w00t:
Reply
:iconbramblefox:
bramblefox Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2008
*scrapes jaw off the floor*

This story is incredible!! I love the plot, how it constantly twists and turns and...and...I can't describe it. *at a loss for words*
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad you like it; that's high praise :D
Reply
:iconbramblefox:
bramblefox Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2008
Coming from me? I'm honored that you think it's high praise...
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Do not discount the value of your words: Praise remains praise no matter the voice that speaks it. It need be no more sincere when it comes from an expert than when it comes from a novice, and from a novice it often carries more worth. So I thank you for the compliment as I would thank any; what you spoke was gracious and sincere and warmed my soul as any words of its ilk would, no matter their source.
Reply
:iconbramblefox:
bramblefox Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2008
Oh...well, you're welcome!
Reply
:iconshot-in-the-dark:
shot-in-the-dark Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2008
This story is so engaging, dammit! The charming characters and unexpected twists just draw a person into Caity's tale all the more. You write with such skill and wit that I heartily enjoy each successive chapter and am now thoroughly hooked! This serial you've penned has a feel not unlike the show "Heroes", of fantasy grounded in reality (I do apologise if you are not a fan of the show, but I wholeheartedly meant it as a compliment). Such an intriguing story set in real places with "realistic" characters enduring fantastic circumstances (and so well written) is a winner in my mind, and could never be anything less. Amazing work. :)
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Heh, well, I haven't seen "Heroes," but I'll take it as a compliment anyway.

By the way, part 14 has been posted ;)
Reply
:icontweeve:
tweeve Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2008
good story. I like it...I cant wait to read more.
Reply
:iconbetherfly:
betherfly Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2008  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Oooh. Interesting. I wonder if there'll be a reunion of Katie and her father in one form or another later on....
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Katie?
Reply
:iconbetherfly:
betherfly Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2008  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Katie, Caity... :s my bad. My roomie's Katie so when I was thinking it I corrected it to 'real' spelling from KT but sigh... late nights. Apologies.
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Eh, we've all had late nights, especially around the holiday season. There's a reason story updates have been few and far between lately :/
Reply
:iconcornishcentaur:
cornishcentaur Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2008
wow deeper and deeper!
i really am gonna have to read it all again to make sure im not missing anything!
yes, im one of the sad nerds who would read all the harry potter books just before the new one came out, so that id know the whole story....
keep it up, cant wait
Reply
:iconrogue7:
Rogue7 Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2008
another fantabulous chapter :) well done

... the hook's in too deep to remove now ...
Reply
:iconartificer-urza:
Artificer-Urza Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2008
And we're only midway down the rabbit hole aren't we?
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
The red pill is dangerous, especially when you don't have a choice but to take it...
Reply
:iconartificer-urza:
Artificer-Urza Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2008
I was going for more 'Alice in Wonderland' then 'Matrix' but whichever reference you prefer =P
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Well, you know what they say: An undermixed metaphor is like a fish without a kumquat.
Reply
:iconaurisano:
aurisano Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2008
I got the sense that both of them were involved in the change, but I had thought that they purposely triggered it - that is - that they were among the people invading the building on the fateful day. I didn't anticipate them being the scientists whose work was hijacked.

I do like your previous discussion of a girl who changed to a ghostly presence working as a preliminary hint for what may have happened to Caitlyn's father - very good tight scripting, using throwaway lines as foreshadowing.

Can't wait for more.
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yep, and if it was their work that was hijacked... that leaves the field wide open for who everybody else is and what their motives are: Who's really chasing Caitlyn? What do they really want? Do any of the other characters have ulterior motives? Is her father really still alive? Things gonna get a lot messier before we're done...

Yah, meaningful throwaway lines makes this kind of thing fun. Which begs the question: What else have you already read that's more significant than it looks?
Reply
:icondonsimpson:
DonSimpson Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008
Moving along nicely.
Reply
:iconggcrono:
GGCrono Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008
Once again, I do not think a "Bum bum BUMMMM" would be misplaced. :)
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Keeps ya tunin' in, same bat-time, same bat-channel, doesn't it? ;)
Reply
:iconggcrono:
GGCrono Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008
That it does, my good man. That it does.

Well, that and sexy centaur action. :D
Reply
:icondawntheif:
dawntheif Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008
:D now this is getting more and more intresting!
can't wait for part 14!
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad you liked it. Things are gonna get a lot messier before the story's done...
Reply
:iconcatprog:
Catprog Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008
I like the morse code of a's and b's.

I thought he was involved before it was revealed but still in this part.
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thought who was involved: Her father or Ji-Cheng? I'm just curious how obvious some parts of the story have been.
Reply
:iconcatprog:
Catprog Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2008
both.

I think it was about here.

What do you mean, what was our work? It was noble enough. We weren’t making weapons of mass destruction or anything. But the road to hell, they say, is paved with such nobility. Now give this withering blob a chance to tell his story, girl, and you’ll see my meaning.
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Good; as long as the part about her father wasn't obvious before this chapter, I'm happy :)
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