His given name was Aiden Reduviidae but everyone, including Aiden himself, preferred LittleAiden. Sparkle of the family’s eye, Aiden quickly discerned he had the run of the estate. Servants were indulgent within parameters set down by the family but steadfastly unyielding when those limits were broached. Boundaries, when he discovered them, were negotiable. Aiden needed only convince a family member to move a line and, voila, the line was moved. Driven to get his way, Aiden grew adept at reading family character.
The unclosed, long dormant case file so itched at Functionary Cato Juven he made an appointment with the estate’s majordomo then booked flight to Arkadia. Capsuleer estates on sleepy backwater planets weren’t unusual – even immortal pilots appreciated respite – but they rarely drew attention to their retreats by neglecting to cross their t’s and dot their i’s. This unattended to detail was intentional and Cato wondered why. As his shuttle landed, Cato was surprised to see not the estate’s majordomo but rather Aiden Reduviidae himself waiting on the concourse to greet him.
“Call me LittleAiden,” the boy announced thrusting forward a weather-beaten hand.
“Functionary Cato Juven,” Cato replied with a shake.
“You’re here to confirm my status, yes?” Aiden continued.
“Shouldn’t I speak with the majordomo about this matter?” answered Cato.
“If you wish, but she’s momentarily detained. Besides, aren’t you supposed to conduct a private interview with me as well?” prodded Aiden.
“You’ve done your homework,” observed Cato.
“I try to be prepared. As you know, my birth mother Saturnine Reduviidae is dead. What you may not know is she was murdered by my Capsuleer foster mother CharmedLife. Does this shock you?”
“Not my first rodeo son, I had suspicions,” Cato replied updating the file, “Why do you know this?”
“It is important I know. Mumma Charm has issues. We navigate her cautiously. Saturnine didn’t.”
“How do you feel about this?”
“It is what it is, why do you ask?”
“The private interview helps determine whether you and your foster family are appropriate fit. Your perceptions inform the matter.”
“I see. Mumma Charm loves me, of that there is no doubt. For my sixth birthday she gave me the preserved fetus of my unborn baby sister.”
“Unusual gift, care to elaborate?”
“The family was incensed and demanded apology but Mumma Charm cleverly refused. Accordingly, she’s punished by having skills extracted from her mind weekly. I, myself, perform the extraction and sell the skills on the Capsuleer market. She studies like a fiend to acquire knowledge for extraction – to have something to lose – so she can preserve her love for me, her love for us all. The family fails to see this labor but Mumma Charm and I know. It’s deeply moving.”
“You pitilessly punish your foster mother?”
“Mumma has it coming.”
Functionary Cato Juven gave LittleAiden Reduviidae a long searching look, “I can’t very well inflict you on another foster family.”
“No, you cannot.”
“Nor can I leave you beholden to your birth mother murdering foster parent.”
“No, you cannot.”
“Pending majordomo consultation, emancipated minor it is then,” Cato said closing the file. “How did you get this matter to my desk?”
LittleAiden merely winked in reply.
Sipping morning coffee on the manor house veranda, DireNecessity and CharmedLife watched from afar as LittleAiden steered Cato.
“That boy is smooth,” commented DireNecessity.
“Diligent too,” elaborated CharmedLife.
“The extractions, are they painful?” DireNecessity asked tentatively.
“It’s not pleasant. I knew what refusing to apologize entailed,” replied CharmedLife.
“But you lose memories. That doesn’t trouble you?”
“I don’t lose memories, I lose skills. You’ve experienced similar. As a child you were taught to read music and play the lyre but that was long ago. Now you have memories of such talents but the skills themselves are lost to time. It feels something like that.”
“You make it sound mundane.”
“A matter of perspective. Your ghoulish nightmare is my special Aiden time.”
CharmedLife winced as LittleAiden inserted the extractor into the interconnection jack at the base of her skull. He could have muted the psychic pain the extractor produced, he’d grown into a skilled mind surgeon, but this was punishment so he did not.
“How did it go?” asked CharmedLife through discomfort taught lips.
“Functionary Cato Juven proved admirably unflappable. He’ll make a fine estate Archivist,” replied Aiden.
“Aunty Dire will be pleased,” pursed CharmedLife. “How did it really go?”
Placing his hand on her forehead, LittleAiden Reduviidae triggered the intellect scalpel slicing out another week’s frantic study. Awash in pain, CharmedLife lay docile as he answered, “I am an emancipated minor. You are no longer my guardian Mumma Charm.”
Removing the extractor, Aiden turned to leave. CharmedLife chose that moment to rise, grasp Aiden by the scruff of the neck and throw him into the intellect surgery chair she had just occupied. Though Aiden’s mind was mature beyond his years, his body was not; there was little he could do to resist. Strapping him down she hissed, “You believe the psychic punishments you delivered overwhelmed me? You believe anything your wee little hands dispensed would outstrip what I’ve already endured?” Prying the extractor from his fingers, she tenderly removed the interface cover revealing the sinuous injection needle underneath. Placing her hand on her son’s forehead she slid the needle under the base of his skull injecting a week’s worth of unfathomable Capsuleer skill training into his unprepared brain. “Welcome to the family love.”
“How did it go?” asked DireNecessity sipping afternoon tea.
“LittleAiden believes Functionary Cato Juven will make a fine estate Archivist,” replied CharmedLife.
“Excellent,” said DireNecessity. “I’ll call him back for employment interview. How did it really go?”
“I think Aiden expected it,” mused CharmedLife.
“Of course he did. He’s very shrewd.”
“Still, his identity hasn’t yet fully transferred.”
“Nor has the transfer fully failed. Interleaving your knowledge into his identity just before first death generated grave mismatch. The cloning machinery struggles to assemble a coherent whole out of your novel murder method. Why did you do it?”
“Aiden knows,” replied CharmedLife tapping her head.
DireNecessity squinted at her enigmatic niece but CharmedLife merely winked in reply.
DireNecessity’s employment offer didn’t surprise Functionary Cato Juven: Capsuleers often head hunted. Still, the matter continued to itch so he made another appointment with the estate’s majordomo under guise of in person interview. Once again LittleAiden met him on the concourse.
“Welcome back,” the boy announced thrusting out his hand.
“Congratulations,” Cato replied examining the boy’s baby fresh skin. “Few make it past first reanimation, especially so young as you.”
“Jumbled sequence is family tradition. Perhaps you know my Mumma Charm?” asked LittleAiden displaying an image of CharmedLife on his tablet.
“Fetching young woman,” commented Cato, “Vaguely familiar but I can’t precisely place her.”
“Maybe Aunty Dire?” responded LittleAiden switching to an image of DireNecessity.
Cato’s face blanched.
“It was incredibly difficult to piece together,” Aiden explained. “Extractors don’t remove memories, rather they take skills. But I’m a shrewd fellow. If the Capsuleer is willing – or has no choice – you can leisurely poke around scrutinizing when skills were acquired. Patterns develop and you begin to discern what was on their mind at particular times. Mumma Charm had terrible things on her mind when she knew you. Have you seen this security holovid footage? Locating it was nearly as troublesome as weaving together Mumma Charm’s past.”
Crouching in shadowed corner a disoriented child watches a customer and research attendant approach her cage. The research attendant (a young Cato) unlocks the cage while the customer (an ageless DireNecessity) calmly coaxes the child out. Soothed by the customer’s voice, the intricately wired child steps tentatively into her arms. Kneeling down next to the girl’s ear, the customer whispers, “Do forgive me little one. No child should die so many times so young but circumstances are dire and this is necessary. I promise that from this moment forward, once home in Arkadia, you’ll live a charmed life.” As blissful bearing settled over the child, the customer placed her hands tenderly aside the girl’s head and then snapped her neck so harshly the head broke free of the torso, the pops and crackles of splintering vertebra echoing through the cage.
“Functionary Cato Juven, you performed biological experiments on my Mumma. Illegal biological experiments she did not appreciate. Mumma Charm’s not the forgiving type and having recently acquired no small portion of her prodigious resentment nursing skills, I’m not the forgiving type either.” At that, LittleAiden produced a small needle, stepped forward and reaching up, nicked Cato’s ear. “The poison is slow but inexorable. Your death will be painful. If I may ask, why did you return a second time? Surely you knew Arkadia meant only trouble?”
“Some itches must be scratched,” gasped Kato.
“I see. I will look after your children as the sins of the father need not be visited on the sons.”
But it wasn’t true, not entirely. Though Cato’s sins would not be visited on Cato’s children, they would be visited on LittleAiden who had masterfully muted the worst of CharmedLife’s biological experimentation anguish by precise skill extraction only to have that very same torment injected into his unprepared mind. It would prove difficult travail but Aiden understood. He would unfurl the revenge Mumma Charm could not. So much work ahead. Aiden felt excited.
Enjoying leisurely supper on the manor house veranda, DireNecessity and CharmedLife watched from afar as LittleAiden murdered Cato.
“Damn!” exclaimed DireNecessity. “I fully intended to hire that fellow.”
“Cato had it coming,” responded CharmedLife.
“No doubt, but that doesn’t oblige we kill him.”
“Not everybody so easily discards resentment as you Dire.”
“I don’t see you revenge murdering these days Charm.”
“No you don’t,” replied CharmedLife tapping her head.
DireNecessity, squinting at her enigmatic niece continued, “Still, LittleAiden owes me an Archivist.”
“We don’t need an Archivist.”
“You try running this menagerie without an Archivist.”
“I’d do a far better job than you, Archivist or no.”
Twitching indignantly, DireNecessity buried her fork in CharmedLife’s eye.
“Good god Dire! A tantrum?” CharmedLife responded probing the wound with delicate touch. “You’re demoted! Get the half of you I can still see off my veranda.”
DireNecessity located SoTragic leaning against his ohana house patio balustrade staring off into the distance, sipping a nightcap.
“Poppa, you busy?” she called up.
“For you Dire, I have all eternity,” he called down. “Step on up. Drink?”
“Yes, stiff,” she replied treading up the stairs.
“Ice?” he asked as she set foot on the patio.
“Yes, please,” replied DireNecessity accepting her nightcap. “So CharmedLife up and demoted me today. Claimed my manor house too.”
“T’was bound to happen eventually,” replied SoTragic returning to the balustrade.
“I was an excellent majordomo.”
“No doubt, far better than I was.”
“I’m not ready to be an old crone.”
“It’s not so bad. CharmedLife will build you your own ohana house much like you built mine. Besides, she’s exceedingly young. She’ll make an impetuous mess of things then come to us seeking council.”
“Much as I do now?”
“Something like that.”
In the distance, LittleAiden, a murderous grin on his lips, dropped into his cockpit pod, interface wiring and nutrient tubes bonding to his body while CharmedLife, holding a silk dinner napkin against her damaged eye, barked stealth bomber armament orders at the landing pad personnel. Ardent cricket song filled the night air.
And a fine ohana house it was. Built next to SoTragic’s, DireNecessity installed a rabbit hutch to compliment his garden and tending bunny one cool morning is where CharmedLife found her.
“LittleAiden murders for sport,” explained CharmedLife.
“I butcher bunny for flavor, what of it?” asked DireNecessity.
“His hobby grows expensive.”
“Majordomo before doting mother?”
“So it seems.”
“You’ve changed Charm. I’ll call in a favor.”
Ms. Julia read through the class’s Gallante language essays but her mind was elsewhere. Arkadia Rural District 14’s benefactor was due soon and, as always, she would give him the yearly tour. Here’s what we’re doing. Here are trophy successes. Here are changes from your last visit. Here are current challenges. Here’s our next project. Here’s what we need. Here’s what we’d like. Then the mild mannered benefactor would hand over everything requested; both what they needed and what they’d like. It would be pleasant, it always was. But this wasn’t why her mind wandered. No, it was her extraordinary bad luck that dominated her thoughts. Three promising husbands all dead via odd circumstance. Freak accident. Uncommon allergic reaction. Rare communicable disease. Ms. Julia was destined to be more than a rural middle school teacher, everybody knew it, but always The Fates conspired against her.
“Uh hmm,” the benefactor cleared his throat.
“My apologies,” replied Ms. Julia, “I didn’t hear your approach. I was . . . I was grading essays. It’s good to see you once again.”
“The pleasure’s mine Ms. Julia,” said SoTragic.
“I see you’ve brought a guest,” commented Ms. Julia.
“My great-grandson, Aiden Reduviidae,” said SoTragic.
“Pleased to meet you,” responded Ms. Julia leaning over to shake the boy’s hand.
LittleAiden accepted the formal greeting but said nothing in reply.
“Shall we begin?” asked SoTragic.
“Let’s,” replied Ms. Julia.
Following the tour, the equipment procurement document drafting, the funds transfer arrangements and the after meeting tea Ms. Julia was surprised when SoTragic, for the first time ever, made a request of his own, “I thought perhaps, LittleAiden might attend your school for a time.”
“I won’t do it,” interjected LittleAiden, “I’ll be bored out of my mind.”
“You will,” replied SoTragic.
“I’ll murder the students for amusement,” threatened LittleAiden.
“You won’t,” said SoTragic.
“I’ll murder this Julia woman to terrify the students.”
“That would disappoint me.”
“Uh hmm,” interrupted Ms. Julia informing the two she wasn’t passive bystander.
“Apologies Ms. Julia,” replied SoTragic, “We Capsuleers are unusual lot.”
“Capsuleers?” responded Ms. Julia emphasizing the ‘s’. “Unusual lot?” she continued examining LittleAiden up close. “Your great-grandfather SoTragic has gift for understatement.”
LittleAiden scowled. (Arkadian mortals like Ms. Julia, if they wanted to live long peaceful lives, didn’t utter Capsuleer’s true names.) “Are you going to let that impudent breech of etiquette stand?” he asked SoTragic.
“Until the ceremony, call me ST in public sweetheart,” responded SoTragic addressing Ms. Julia. “It’s less unseemly.”
“Oh god,” muttered LittleAiden. “The family spills over with estrogen and you’ve just brought another woman into the fold.”
“What else could I do?” replied SoTragic. “I’ve always been fond of Julia and you’re the one demanding action. Whiling away a few years in school among the intellectually immature all while murdering none of them will teach you to hold your tongue.”
LittleAiden, throwing his hands up in frustration, accepted his lot. Ms. Julia beamed at her stunning success. From thrice widowed rural school teacher to fabulously wealthy SoTragic’s betrothed First Consort in one bold, properly timed public speech act. There would be one more husband for Ms. Julia.
Aiden Reduviidae entered Arkadia Rural School District 14 that same week but the students, mocking his small stature and fresh baby skin, didn’t take to him. The undisclosed reality underlying the situation made absolutely clear to Aiden how bullies unthinkingly depend on the good will of their victims. SoTragic’s lessons were subtle like that. LittleAiden wasn’t whiling away a few years among the intellectually immature at all, he was learning to navigate the mortal’s world. Aiden found this challenging.
Stepping onto his patio, SoTragic eyed LittleAiden leaning against the balustrade. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“Playing hooky,” answered LittleAiden.
“It’s not what it seems. Orsippus, pride of the Jock clique, dared me to skip math midterms in such fervent manner I couldn’t fittingly refuse. I’ll be punished by our teacher. Meanwhile I’ll earn credibility with the Jocks. Mortals are amusing.”
“I suppose that’s following our agreement,” replied SoTragic.
“It’s not, not following it.”
“Are those two quarrelling?” asked SoTragic pointing at the garden below.
“I believe they are.”
“Shall we eavesdrop?”
“Dire, we’re not buying a Citadel. I didn’t triple estate profits by indulging extravagant expenditure,” said CharmedLife.
“Exactly my point Charm, now we can afford it,” replied DireNecessity bringing up the blueprints on her tablet.
“Don’t be dense Dire. This isn’t about capital expense, it’s about visibility. As you well know not all our business endeavors are above board and that orbiting space monstrosity, as beguiling as you find it, will draw attention our way.”
“Don’t be cheeky Charm,” replied DireNecessity stabbing her tablet stylus in CharmedLife’s eye. “You may be majordomo but I remain your elder.”
“Why does Dire keep stabbing Charm?” asked SoTragic.
“They’re settling score,” explained LittleAiden. “Mumma Charm owes her very life to Dire violence. Every time Aunty Dire stabs her in the eye Mumma Charm owes a little less. Soon they’ll be equals.”
“For someone displaying such keen understanding of Capsuleer motivation, I can’t see why you have such difficulty among mortals,” mused SoTragic.
“Mortals are complicated,” explained LittleAiden. “Short term thinking grows rational when you don’t live very long. Knowing you might outlive those you grudge means both acting on the irritation and/or not acting on the irritation make good sense. Prediction is difficult when every alternative is reasonable. We Capsuleers lack such luxury. Those we truly begrudge never die.”
“I’m just nice to the mortals.”
“That works too.”
“What is it with this Upwell Consortium fetish Dire?” continued CharmedLife dabbing the blood from her damaged eye with her sleeve. “You acquire one ohana house and now strut like an astral architect pointing at tablet blueprints.”
“It’s not mere fetish Charm,” replied DireNecessity, “Look at the numbers. I’ve run them. This harvests profit.”
“I’ve already declared the estate won’t pay, continued whine won’t change that.”
Grasping the hair at the base of CharmedLife’s skull, DireNecessity delivered three more stylus eye stabs before CharmedLife could fend her off.
“Oh that does it Dire, you’re fired!” hissed CharmedLife. “What’s more, a Dire proof replacement eye is coming out of your severance package. Get off my estate.”
“Good god, that was unexpected,” remarked LittleAiden.
“Really?” asked SoTragic.
“Absolutely,” continued LittleAiden. “They merely needed to reach parity but that second outburst went far beyond parity.”
“Round two wasn’t score settling Aiden, it was business,” replied SoTragic. “CharmedLife made it abundantly clear the estate wouldn’t foot the expenditure leaving DireNecessity little choice but to get herself fired.”
“Business,” replied Aiden, rolling the word slowly over his tongue. A whole new way to explain. Aiden felt excited.
“Why are you skulking about my pool young man?” she asked.
“I planned to drown you when you took your evening swim,” he replied.
“You seem trifling small to achieve such feat,” she commented dropping her towel on a deck chair.
“Paralytic poison,” he said raising a small vial.
“Give me that!” she yelled prizing the vile from the young man with one hand while pushing him into the pool with the other. “Disgraceful,” she muttered popping the cap off the vile to add its contagion to the water. “If I’m to be assassinated, I’d prefer it be the work of a dedicated professional, not some bumbling adolescent.”
“Oh god,” LittleAiden slurred as the paralytic took hold and he slowly drowned.
Comfortably ensconced in the operations center of her Astrahus Citadel, the quiet hum of station atmosphere recycling equipment rumbling deep below, DireNecessity glanced up from her command screen to see a freshly cloned, flush faced LittleAiden step into view. “You’re back early,” she needled.
“Shut your mouth, I’ve reviewed the security holovids,” yapped LittleAiden. “Why didn’t you warn me she was augmented?”
“Blame Mumma Charm, not me Aiden. I don’t need her dead. I don’t even need her frightened. I just need her father Hovel Gissa distracted and failed assassination attempt against his daughter procures me that. You and your mother’s murderous rampages bring much more attention to this family’s business than my Citadel ever will. You might pass that up the chain to her.”
I have a name and it’s not ‘Hovel Gissa’s Daughter’ complained Alqueria Gissa to no one in particular. Still, the universe refused to see Alqueria as anything but daughter, mere pawn in important people’s games. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t properly prepared, she was. Still, that preparation meant little beyond day to day survival. Alqueria found this off-putting.
“Why are you hiding in my corner closet young man?” she asked.
“I planned to sneak out and garrote you as you slept,” he replied.
“Shame,” she commented. “Your blood will make such mess of my shoes.”
“You could let me out,” offered LittleAiden
“I think not,” Alqueria said raising her pistol to shoot him through the door.
“I truly am the son of a bi . . .” Pow!
Comfortably ensconced on her veranda, the quiet tick of her ‘Odin’ synthetic eye drowned out by morning birdsong, CharmedLife glanced up from her production reports to see a freshly cloned, flush faced LittleAiden step into view. “You’re back early,” she needled.
“Shut your mouth, I’ve reviewed the security holovids,” yapped LittleAiden. “Why didn’t you mention the secondary proximity sensors?”
“Blame Aunty Dire, not me Aiden. This assassination isn’t about subtle tweak, it’s about suitable public statement and you don’t achieve that with a clean quiet kill, you achieve that by bombing from orbit. You might pass that down the chain to her.”
“How long do you plan your repeated deaths to remain their favored means of communication?” asked SoTragic looking up from the view of his garden.
“As long as it takes,” replied LittleAiden examining his immaculate new fingernails.
“Have you considered refusing their assignments and following your own path?” asked SoTragic.
“This is my own path Poppy. I prefer not entrapping children within parental sins.”
“You puzzle me Aiden. Mortals’ lives never seemed important to you.”
“Hobby aside, I don’t give a slaver hound’s ass about mortals. This isn’t about them, it’s about us. Deliberate vengeance knows where to stop.”
Dragging shattered ankle, Miss Gissa made her way to her safe room amidst the chaos of another ragtag orbital bombardment. Grumbling to no one in particular she related her greatest annoyance with Capsuleers – their total lack of urgency. To them 80 years is momentary infatuation. To me it’s goodly portion of a life. Even if this adolescent isn’t giving my assassination his full devotion, such carelessness hardly matters to me. Someone has to bring this lunacy to conclusion before I die or 80 interminable years have passed and I’m too old to appreciate the respite.
“How delightful,” clapped DireNecessity skimming the report handed her by LittleAiden. “I’m confident patricide deeply distracted Hovel Gissa.”
“Assuredly so,” LittleAiden winked in reply.
“Gissa’s dead?” muttered CharmedLife absent mindedly reaching over to peruse the report. “Sweet lord! Did you see this? His daughter didn’t just murder him, she tortured him first. Now that’s delivering statement.”
“Hovel had it coming,” elaborated LittleAiden. “So you two are satisfied?”
“Indeed!” they chimed in unison.
In the distance, DireNecessity’s bunnies once again forced their way out of their hutch to feed in SoTragic’s garden; the sounds of their contented munching wafting away with the evening breeze.