The following is an email correspondence I discovered while searching through the Glaucus Department of Justice files. It was located in the evidence logs, meaning this email was likely used as part of trial proceedings. I believe I may be discovering a greater connection between Okane and Nightshade.
to: [email protected] 18 March 2100
from: [email protected] 1045
I’ve reviewed the security footage, or what was left of it. Two hours were deleted from 0100 to 0300, and not just in your office. The entire command sector was wiped out, including all connecting hallways. I interviewed the personnel on staff during that time, and Lisa Firelli informed me of a young woman she’d never seen before enter your office around 0200. I asked why she was let in, and Ms. Firelli said she was an aide sent by Colonel Bouchard to deliver some reports. According to Ms. Firelli, she received this information on comms from Colonel Bouchard himself, but I asked the Colonel when he came in and he had no recollection of sending an aide or calling the command sector last night.
I didn’t get a reliable description of the woman from the office staff, but Sergeant Prashad and Staff Sergeant Kelter were on guard duty, and they saw her briefly. She’s of African descent, likely in her mid-20s, with long curling hair. No one present in the command center saw her leave. We’ve inventoried your office and swept three times for bugs and traps. Nothing is out of place and nothing has been planted. At this time, it seems the intruder’s only objective was to deface your office, but the effort and expertise involved says to me that something larger is going on. If the intruder really did imitate Colonel Bouchard’s voice on the comm, then she is also too well equipped for vandalism. I asked the colonel if he knew what the graffiti meant, but he had no ideas. Does it mean anything to you? We only found the one message, repeated on every wall:
“Where are the children?”
I will be at the security center reviewing entry and exit logs. Your office has been cleared and you may return whenever you wish. I will have more information for you by 1200.
to: [email protected] 18 March 2100
from: [email protected] 1051
Forget the security center. Go to the census bureau and find out if anybody accessed the hard copy transfer logs from 2095 until now. Get me names and IDs. And don’t repeat that message to anyone else. See me in my office soon as you’re done.
-Suspicious indeed. Here’s the next chunk of testimony from Mrs. Beshimov.
Mrs. Beshimov, would you like to rest? We can continue whenever you’re ready.
No. I thank you, Counselor Martinez. I come to speak it all now, and I will not speak it again. I drink more water.
You were saying that Nightshade pursued the Family on horseback. How could she possibly catch up to them?
I tell you, this is not a woman like me. This is not a human person. The Dust Witch, she have the shell of a woman, but inside is the spirits of fire and wind and blood. These spirits, they control the desert. Fire, it beat down from the sky and dry the land, the land, it shift and move with the wind, and the blood, it wet the sand and drip into the bones of the Earth and make the desert human. The desert is human, sirs. And this human, Nightshade, she is the desert.
We ride her horse, Uriah, he to glide across the sand as if sand move to serve under us. I do not see the Family vehicle through the dust. I feel we are not go north still, but there is no chance to tell. I do not see Gulnara behind. I do not see anything but the wind and the rough fingers of the desert that sweep at our cheek and clothes. I think maybe this woman come to steal me as well, for to sacrifice my blood and satisfy her spirits.
But then I see a shadow in front, tall and flat at top like a mountain. We fall under this shadow and I see it, fist of rock rise up from the sand. The fist, they follow like fifteen hands lay down by a rock giant. Nightshade, she take her horse around the face of knuckle cliff and over sharp red hill. We find a path up to the back of the hand. Nightshade, she tie her horse Uriah to a rock and she walk up this path. I slip and tear at my abaya, but the Dust Witch, she climb the rock fist like a goat.
When I come to the top, she kneel at the edge of the rock, and the rifle on her back now cradles in her arm. As I watch, it slide out in front and the back. This rifle, I never see anything like it before. It is blue like the night. There is no barrel or magazine for to load. It have two fork that slide out in front, and a screen like a tablet on the side. I see word paint in white on the rifle, two word.
Could you read the words, Mrs. Beshimov?
No, but I try to write for you. Give me paper.
Does that say…Tom…Fury?
Ah, she write his name. What does this mean?
Hell if I know.
This is new to us. As of now, you are the closest living witness to the individual that calls herself Nightshade. Anything you can give us will help our investigation considerably.
She is not of Minerva? I think, when I see her suit and her rifle Tom Fury, I think she is perhaps soldier of Aegis.
We are currently determining where and how Nightshade acquires her technology, but she is not a member of Minerva and her actions have not been sanctioned by the regents or any governing body within our organization.
I do not know where he come from. Maybe Tom Fury is djinn of fate. She conjure him for to harvest the life of the bandit and the raider. She tune him and prepare his bed like a ritual. Then she lay down flat and press him to her shoulder. Tom Fury, he lay like a blue metal lizard on the rock, hanging nose over the cliff. I see there is no scope on his back. There is no iron sight at all. I take the old rust scope from my abaya.
“You can see?” I ask, holding my scope to her.
“I can see,” she say, and she look up quick at me. Her green eyes glow with spirit fire, then she turn to look across the desert. Suddenly, I hear electric sound, like a hreeeem. I hear a sound like this when Journeyman Hakim, he fall in the marketplace and grab at his heart. Baktin, he run to him with electric paddle and press to his chest. The noise, right before Hakim, he jump up from the ground, it sound like Tom Fury taking his breath.
Then, a whisper. Then electric hreeem, and a whisper again. She shoot into the desert, but I see no fire or bullet, and I see no Family vehicle below us. I hold up my scope and look, but there is nothing. I ask her what is she doing.
“Planting eyes,” she say. “They show me where my bullet go.”
I do not understand. She shoot two, three more time. Then she touch the screen on side of Tom Fury and it change to a glow of red.
“This is where you kill the Family?” I ask. I do not ask how she knows they come this way. To ask how the Dust Witch know is to see into power that I do not want to understand. This kind of power, it see back into you.
“No. This is not to kill the Family,” she explain to me, and she sound too patient, like speaking to a child. “There are two men that I must kill. The rest must run to their home so that I can follow.”
I ask her who she come to kill.
“The men in the suits,” she tell me. She ask me if I remember the bald man. I nod silent. She tell me his name, it is Amon Kelter. She say she try to kill before. She destroy his suit arm. The other, his name is, I think, Bongani Ndaiye. He still have a full suit, so she say she kill him first. This make it easy to finish the rest in their home. I ask how she kill a man who wear a tank, and she laugh at me.
“Tom Fury make short work of all men,” she say.
I ask her who is Tom Fury. She pats the top of her rifle.
“My familiar,” she call him. What is ‘familiar?’
Are you sure you understood her correctly?
No, I think a familiar is like a kind of servant for a witch.
Yes, Sergeant Outwater. This is exactly what Tom Fury is. She say he sells lightning rod in his past life. What is lightning rod? Is this a sort of weapon?
Then she make him a weapon in her hand. She command this djinn of fate, and she keep her word. Tom Fury, he make short work of all men. But I go ahead of myself. Nightshade, she take a strange thing from her pack. It look steel blue at the bottom, like Tom Fury, but the top, it look like a spear. She set the spear on a rock.
“What is this?” I ask.
“A quick escape,” she say. I know she will not tell, so I do not question more. We wait, Nightshade on the belly with her cloak that turn red with the rock, I at the cliff next to the small spear. We wait until the dust clear, and we say nothing. I feel my hairs stand, like the electric Tom Fury charge the air with his lightning.
Then, in the sun and clear blue fire, I see a cloud on the desert. I raise my scope and see the Family vehicle. The second APC, it have a large box strap to the top. Hamid Beshimov traitor gift to them, may his asshole tear apart by the thorned cocks of a hundred thousand demons in Jahannam.
I tell her I see them.
“So do I,” she say.
I watch with my scope, and the Family, they drive across the sand. Then, I hear electric gasp and Tom Fury whisper. The first APC, it is too far away, but I see it rock on suspensions. It fishtail, and the second APC, it smash into the back. Tom Fury whisper again, two more time, and then I see the launcher on the first APC, it fire into the sky. I follow with my scope, and I see a hawk come to us on solar wing. The AUV circle once and follow the hawk toward us.
“They come for us,” I say. I tell her they send a hawk.
She say “Thank you,” and she tap the screen again. Tom Fury whisper, and one AUV explode in ball of fire. I see the chassis spin over the dune, it throw bodies burned into the sand. I look up to see the hawk, it fly over us. Nightshade, she look like the rock, but I look like afraid woman in a dirty abaya. I wish I do not come with her. There is three, maybe four more explosion, and the Family, they are closer. I hear the screams and roar of flames and the twist of metal. There is another sound, this sound from Tom Fury. It is angry, electronic sound.
Nightshade, she look down at Tom Fury and she call him names like I call scum dog Hamid. The fork barrel, it bend from inside like it is hit with a hammer. Nightshade say, “Now we go.” She push down on the fork and force it back to short length, then she grab the spear head and slide it into the fork. The bottom, it fit and snap into the barrel, and I see that Tom Fury become a spear gun.
I hear the yells and I look at the APC again through my scope. The door, it burst open and Amon Kelter…he step out. He carry a dark metal box, size of coffin. It hang from his giant machine hand. There is blood on his face, it streak like paint across his head. He stare at us, and I feel…I feel like he see me, look me straight into the eye through the other end of my scope. Then fire shoot from the back of his coffin-box, and I know what this is. I work on them in the hangar. This is missile launcher from a Minotaur tank. I let go my scope and I try to run. Nightshade, she grab me and throw me over her shoulder with a man’s strength. Greater than man’s strength. She carry me to the other side of the rock fist and set me down. Uriah, he stand in the dirt far, far below.
Then, the missile hit. I go deaf, I hear only a ring ring ring. The explosion, it throw us forward, and my feet leave the rock. Nightshade, she grab me and we fall together, weightless. I know that we must die. The ground and the rock wall, they rush to meet us, the Earth to swing its fist at us. But the arm hook under my belly, it go tight and choke me so to squeeze hot burning spit into my throat. I stop. I hang in the air, and Nightshade, she hold me to her. I think that she fly, I think that this is the wind spirit she summon.
She lower us slow down the rock wall, and I watch as the ground get close. When she let me go, I look at her and see her hold up Tom Fury. A silver rope reach from the barrel up to the top of the cliff, and I watch as she press a switch and the rope, it slide back inside. The spear head return and lock in, but I still cannot hear except the ring ring ring. She look over my shoulder and run to her horse. I do not need to hear – I can smell the machine oil and the garbage stink of the Family brothers. I follow Nightshade and I climb to her horse.
Uriah, he kick off and we ride against the side of the rock fist. I turn my head to see, and there are three AUV behind us. One man, he lean out of the roll cage with a rifle. He shoot, and again I feel I must die. But the Family, they are far, and the suspension is too hard, so I think the Family brother cannot to aim correctly. I look forward and see more rock to the other side, and we enter a canyon. Nightshade, she take a tube from her belt and she pull Uriah close to the wall. I see a sharp end of the tube, and she push the tube into the rock as we ride.
I look back and see the tube split, and half, it fly to other side of the canyon. There is tiny wire across the canyon, and the AUV that shoot at us, it run into the wire. The tube explode, and the canyon fill with black dust. I think this is called sh…shrapnel?
What happened to the men in the AUV?
They come through the cloud, and they are cover in blood. The man that lean out with the rifle, he fall to the ground and roll. He lean into explosion, and he miss part of his head.
That was shrapnel, alright.
Good. The AUV, it turn and smash into the rock wall. The two other, they drive through the cloud, but they are not hurt. I feel metal press into my hand, and I look to see Nightshade, she give me a tube. She tell me to throw, then she press a button and the tube start to beep. I turn and throw at the AUV close to me, and the tube, it does not explode. It flash, and both AUV, they start to slow. I can hear the engine to shut off at sudden, which I think is because of electrics failure.
A Family brother, he rise up and lay his rifle on the roll cage of the AUV. He take his time, and the machine slow to steady drive. He fire, and I hear Uriah cry. His backside drop, and I slip from Nightshade waist. Uriah, he spring back up, and he throw me to the ground. I land on my side, and I hear the rifle fire again and again. I hear the horse run on the dirt, and his steps, they are hard and fast, but they slow down as they become more distance. Then, I hear heavy thump, and no more steps.
I crawl my aching body to the rock wall and put myself behind a cover. I wait with my face press to the dark. I expect to feel the heat of Dust Witch anger, the electric hatred of her djinn Tom Fury. I expect to hear the screams of the men and the whisper of fate. Instead, I hear APC drive through the canyon and I feel hard fingers grab my abaya.
A man, a Family brother, he drag me from the wall and lay me on my back. He press his boot to my throat and I start to choke. For the third time, I feel that I must die. My face, it run with tears. He hold a hot rifle that smoke and sting as it brush my wet nose. Then, a shadow block out the sun. Giant with a machine suit and a bald head. He tell the man to let me go, and then he…then he…
Tom, will you get Mrs. Beshimov a sedative, please?
-Some of that tech is OBVIOUSLY Minervan. What game are you playing, Kubek?
28 November, 2099
I believe I was too quick to condemn the heady lure of words. As far as addictions go, I now realize that writing is rather tame. The failings of my second father were his own; they were a result of his obsessive personality, rather than a result of the obsession itself. Most importantly, my writing may spell the end for General Fionn Okane.
Today, I re-read Mirage for the first time since I’d dropped it into Minerva’s mail servers. That sounds quite vain, but I must remember that I had a purpose. I was looking for a reference to expand my arcane repertoire, and I ended up losing myself in the memories, filtered raw and violent through the immediacy of that first month following the destruction of Terekat. Those moments and feelings are polymerized now, preserved in amber long after I have split and shed them like scabs. I felt as if I were reading about a stranger. I suppose I was. Her name was Thalia Gordon. My name is Nightshade.
I didn’t understand the scope of my discovery at first. I put it aside, as I’ve learned to put aside my desire for justice (the concept that, in my rage, I’d once mislabeled as revenge). It’s been so long since General Kubek promised me we’d go to work on Okane. Instead, I went to work on my tribute to the Domani Khel-Duna, cutting the fabric and sketching the icon with help from my manuscript.
Summerland returned just as I’d finished painting the pupil.
“Is it arts and crafts today, my love?” she asked, slinging her pack onto the floor by the table. I would have taken that as sarcasm once, but now I know that this is just her way of dressing up her words.
“This is the symbol of Kassyki-Ulpa,” I explained. “Moon goddess of war to the tribes that called themselves the Owl Hunters.”
“Oh, do you believe in this moon goddess?” Summerland moved immediately to the kitchen and began heating a pan. She must have killed someone recently. I’ve noticed that she cooks whenever she feels guilty about something – or, perhaps, she cooks in lieu of feeling guilty.
“No, but I don’t believe in witchcraft, either. I don’t have to believe it. I just have to practice it.”
“You have a very spooky reputation around these parts,” she said, throwing two pieces of flatbread into the pan. “From raiders to Minervan-educated townspeople, they all think you’re some kind of summoner. Some even think you’re a djinn yourself. You’ve got the bandits so scared, they’re making animal sacrifices before they leave their holes in the hopes that you’ll spare their lives.”
“Witchcraft has its uses, doesn’t it?” I asked, smiling her predatory smile right back at her.
“You are legend, my dear,” she purred, flipping the flatbread with a practiced flick. “The names they have for you. Shaytan, Zehir, the Four Winds of Death, the Dust Witch. Men who would laugh in the face of an Aegis spec ops team skitter like cockroaches if anyone mentions just one of your nicknames aloud. What’s your secret, love?”
“Psy ops,” I grunted, painting the tail of Kassyki-Ulpa’s eye. “That’s all it is. Symbology. We ascribe names and icons to the unknown, believing that this makes them knowable. It doesn’t. It just gives power to the unknown, because you’ve conjured up a form for something that may not even exist.”
“If names are power, then it’s no wonder you’ve become such a menace to the wasteland,” she said, sauntering over to the table and leaning on the back of a chair. “I know why you chose that name for your horse. But why on Earth did you name your rifle Tom Fury?”
It struck me today, as she said those words, that Summerland reminds me of an actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood. A sort of Mexican Grace Kelly. Now I can’t help but think of her as a tragic princess.
“Ain’t that a fine name for one who sells lightning rods?” I asked, putting on my best imitation of an American Midwestern accent.
“He doesn’t really sell them so much as jam them through skulls at Mach 5.”
“All the same, I thought it might fire him to his occupations,” I said.
“I feel like you’re quoting something. Have you been reading behind my back?”
“Not for years, ma’am.”
“Then you just have an indecently vivid memory.”
For some things, perhaps. “It hasn’t worked, anyway. Tom Fury is a stubborn git most of the time. He keeps arcing, and the rails won’t stand for it. I get two, maybe three missions out of him before he’s bent literally out of shape.”
“They’re working on that,” Summerland muttered over her shoulder, having returned to the stove. I heard the sizzle and pop of things that fry. “On the bright side, our friends at Glaucus want to take out that humongous scope.”
“They want me to use iron sights? At that range?”
“Better. They’re rolling out these smart glasses. Very chic, supposed to link with the gun’s targeting computer. You’ll be able to see the bullet trajectory in real time, and with a couple remote cameras, you can even watch your target from different angles. If they weren’t afraid of you before, they’ll be acojonado once they find out you have eyes in the back of your head.”
“And one more on the front,” I said, picking up my tribute to the Owl Hunters and tying it around my mouth to check the fit. Summerland looked over her shoulder and burst into laughter. “It’s supposed to be intimidating.”
“Not in cargo pants and an undershirt, my dear.”
I dropped the bandanna, and she pressed her sandwiches into shape. It seemed as good a time as any to share my discovery.
“I know you don’t want to talk about Okane, but I had a thought today,” I said, more sheepish than I would have liked. It seems silly, to fear her after all we’ve been through, but I hadn’t realized how badly I still needed to take him down. I had put it aside, but I still needed justice for Terekat.
“I always want to hear your thoughts. They’re often as lovely as they are brutal and direct,” Summerland said, pushing one of her sandwiches on me. I took it as a matter of course, but I didn’t even look at it.
“There was something he said when he visited me in hospital. Okane. Don’t worry, I was re-reading my manuscript, my memory isn’t quite that good. He said that Mark West accused him of murdering children, but he claimed his men pulled the children out of the shelter before he executed the insurgents at Terekat. I know he didn’t save the children. I…saw it.”
“Go on,” Summerland said, and I felt a leaden hope jump up into my throat. She’d never allowed me to get this far on a theory before.
“He must have stated publicly that his men spared the children. West hadn’t made his accusations in private. So where are the children? How did he prove that they were still alive?”
“I have an idea, but I can tell you’re really excited about this, so I’m gonna let you finish.”
“Thanks. We know that Okane has friends in every branch of Minerva. We know that nobody, not even the Oculus agents at the census bureau, would look too closely at the records he provided them.”
“So you think he falsified the records.”
“I thought you were going to let me finish.”
“Now you’ve got me excited.”
“It’s not much. It’s just the slightest thread. But if I can find those records and trace them back to the towns where he supposedly relocated those children, this thread might unravel it all.”
“That’s how these things always start. Very small,” Summerland said. She’d finished her sandwich, and I realized I was waving mine about like a pointer. There were bits of beef and onion on the tabletop.
“So what do you think? Will Kubek allow me to tug on this thread?”
She looked surprised. “Why should you have to ask for permission?”
“Because…” I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t fucking believe it. “Because you’ve denied me for years! Why?”
“I didn’t deny you because you had to get permission from some higher authority. I denied you because you didn’t have a clue and you would have gotten yourself killed. I’m still not sure you won’t get yourself killed, but at least you have a clue and a skillset.”
“Okay,” I said. I’d finally gotten what I wanted, and that was all I could say. “Okay. When do we start?”
“We?” she scoffed. “Why did I just spend the last four years cultivating you? This is your fight, love. You know what to do.”
She’s right. I know exactly what to do.
-Reading the private thoughts of Thalia Gordon as she becomes Nightshade, and ultimately this Dust Witch, is extremely interesting. And it ties together all the information I’m gathering from these other sources quite nicely. A very impressive individual indeed.
[Essence of Nightshade was written by guest contributor Josh Connor, author of the webcomic Steel Salvation, with Dan providing story guidance to make it canon along with writing the archivist commentary. Art by Robert Jackson.]