An essay by Amada, as provided by Andrew K. Hoe
Art by Leigh Legler
The opera troupe could handle Amada being a fake name, but not that I was dying. They could handle my seven-foot velociraptor–Rodelia–and I sneaking away at night, but not that we were breaking into factories, hunting without luck for the serum that could save me.
My life-fibers were unraveling, my mutations accelerating, so I addressed everyone at morning meal.
“Rodes mimics any sound she hears. Perfectly.”
Madam Chien and the rest of the August Court of the Full Autumn Moon round the desert camp stared like they didn’t understand English, though they did. I’d learnt enough Chinese to know. Or maybe they were examining the worsening rash on my cheek. I angled my face away. The troupe’s airship, Full Autumn Moon, floated overhead, a great redwood junk, paneled sails gleaming silver in the morning light.
“Why are you telling us now?” Madam Chien, the soprano, asked. Even in her sleeping robe she was glamorous, ageless, ready for the stage.
I swallowed. She’d been kind to us, and I didn’t like what we were about to do. “We didn’t trust you. But now, we want to contribute more.”
Rodelia scratched the ground, rumbling disapproval. Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh …
Madam Chien looked at Rodelia’s five-fingered hands–not the three-clawed manus other raptors had. “Her ability is … traitwoven?”
Traitwoven, like her capacity to stand erect, handle human tools. Her almost-human intellect.
“Such a barbaric land, America. It’s supposedly illegal, but there are raptor-butlers and raptor-porters wherever we land. Black slaves escape north, only to be dragged back south.”
I growled internally. Rodelia’s traitweavings weren’t done here, in America, but in Europe–in a mountain laboratory-fortress we’d escaped months back, life-fibers warped by one Baron Veer.
Out of everyone, Madam Chien alone knew we left while the troupe slept, but not that we’d been raiding Veer’s American factories: Veritas’s Elixirs and Tinctures. No serum in last night’s raid, but documents indicated Veer himself would be in Phoenix. We needed to steer the August Court there.
“Rodelia can sing.”
That caused the stir I’d expected. Venerable Manager Shen, whose queue was always perfectly braided down his back, sputtered on his pipe. “She what?”
I nodded for Rodelia to demonstrate, but she hissed. Amada?
It wasn’t actually Amada she’d said, but a raptor-sound meaning me whenever she crooned it. Like she was now.
I snarled, raptor-language being as much bestial gesture as vocalization. She flinched, as did everyone else. Because of Veer’s meddling, I understood raptors better than others. My human-ish ears didn’t grasp Rodelia’s full vocal meanings, but I parsed enough. To the troupe, to anybody watching us communicate, it must’ve seemed damned creepy.
Reluctantly, Rodelia opened her jaws …
… and Madam Chien’s ringing voice washed over the arid sands, the tree-tall saguaro, the ground-hugging ocotillo. It was a song from the The Dragon Bride, where the concubine stolen from her native land begged her captor-king for mercy, something Rodelia had heard many times now–
“How dare you!” the real Madam Chien exclaimed.
“She … doesn’t use her tongue?” someone asked. “Her teeth? She just … opens wide?”
“This could make Phoenix,” I said to the ground.
“Phoenix!” Manager Shen murmured. “Could we really book … the Orpheum?”
The troupe’s route coinciding with Veritas‘s towns was why we’d approached them. They hadn’t wanted a raptor-porter, though, nor her exceptionally strong, raptor-talking human. They distrusted traitwoven beasts. Velociraptors especially, them resembling the dragons they so revered. How old are you?, Madam Chien had asked. Sixteen, I’d blurted–my best guess. Madam Chien took Manager Shen aside, and grudgingly, he let us aboard.
She’d gotten me decent clothes. She’d left food out for us last night–raptor-kibble for Rodelia, salted eggs and rice gruel for me. If she gave us away now, I’d just claim Rodelia needed to roam.
Madam Chien kept silent, started fanning herself.
“Imagine a singing raptor,” Manager Shen murmured. “What show offers that?”
Madam Chien’s fan stilled. “You’d give my part away?” Everyone flushed, she being more mother to them than prima donna.
“Never,” I insisted. “Rodes’ll be a … pre-show attraction.”
Rodelia lowered her head, chest rumblings sinking to a low keening.
“We’ll call her the Rapturous Raptor,” Manager Shen decided. “Impressions only.” He turned to me. “Any sound, you say? Birdsong? Firecrackers?”
I nodded, avoiding Madam Chien’s gaze. Skin peeled off my knuckles, trickling blood–I shoved them behind my back. Rodelia would pull us to Phoenix. To Baron Veer. The source of serum, and all my present woes.
Without serum, I was getting sicker, and the airship’s floaty motion didn’t help. The Full Autumn Moon was bigger than Europe’s zeppelin-busses. Rodelia was in the parlor, where redwood flooring yielded to windowed viewing-bottoms, staring listlessly at red hills and cacti-dotted mesas passing below.
Her weavings were stable, but she was motion-sick, gloomily watching a mustang herd, tiny with distance, gallop up a dust-tail.
Velociraptors weren’t meant to fly. Even the Baron with all his noxious chemicals hadn’t woven any tolerance for flight into her.
“Veer’s here, Rodes. In Arizona. The one who did this to us.”
Another dust storm below–a raptor pack chasing the mustangs.
Once, velociraptors were turkey-sized, before traitweavers shaped them for work. Other animals had been shaped, too, but raptors were especially amenable to weaving. The practice became outlawed, but crates of woven raptors had already been shipped; some escaped, went wild. Now, Rodelia’s seven-foot cousins haunted these deserts.
“I wouldn’t … make it to Utah.” The files from last night’s raid listed a large Veritas facility there.
Rodelia rumbled. Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh …
I remembered enough of Veer’s laboratory to know I never spoke human words there. I picked up English and Chinese from other humans, but raptor-language was my mother-tongue. I was Veer’s handler. Didn’t talk, but drank serum, unharnessed and harnessed his raptors. Treated wounds. Held them as they keened in my arms. They obeyed my hisses and growls unquestioningly. Veer, though, wove command-words into his test subjects. If he was displeased, he’d utter those phrases; we’d shriek in pain until we complied. I remembered spilling serum because I was sick of it eroding my mind. He’d command-worded me, watched me thrash about before making me lap it off the floor.
But I could talk now. I could use Veer’s command-words.
Could make Rodelia address me.
Did she dream of running in a real raptor pack? Maybe she’d tried telling me, but I couldn’t understand. Maybe I didn’t want to understand, she being all I had.
“We’ll get serum from the Baron,” I promised. “Then–” What came after then? The airship jostled, and my stomach lurched. Finally, Rodelia turned to me, nosed my hair.
A-ma-daaa. Retreat …
Grateful, I reached up, grabbed her snout. “It’ll be okay, Rodes.”
I stumbled below-decks. My voice was getting raspier. My eyes darker. I wouldn’t be able to hide this much longer.
It was in the costume room Madam Chien cornered me. “You’ve found what you’ve been looking for all these nights, haven’t you? What’s in Phoenix, Amada?”
I shoved my cracked hands behind my back. “Fame for the troupe. Second chance for Rodes and me.”
Madam Chien sighed. “I was sold into opera, you know. Years I spent, against my will, training in Eastern and Western opera … but I lucked upon traveling countrymen. I didn’t need to get as familiar with an airship’s under-compartments as you and Rodelia. Besides myself, I didn’t steal anything–”
I didn’t twitch, but she nodded. “Even we can tell how sophisticated Rodelia’s weavings are. And … her scars–”
“Look, we just–”
“I don’t care about your past, Amada. I don’t care that you’re stealing my show, so long as my family’s safe. Whatever’s in Phoenix … Oh … your cheek’s bleeding–”
I hissed as she reached for my face. It’d steamed from my clenched teeth, instinctual, vicious. My sharp, sharp teeth.
I snatched a coat off the racks, a wide-brimmed hat, brushed past her.
“I once had a daughter!” she blurted to my back, stopping me short. “This family could be yours … if you’d–Wait!”
I pushed on. The troupe loved Rodelia. She was gentle, loved playing fetch. Me, though. If they ever discovered my true nature …
In the hold, I navigated chests to my loosened board: two vials of serum remaining. Funny, how this almond-scented substance I once despised, I now craved.
I sighed, but it came out, eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh …
Serum stabilized me, but it fogged my memory. My earliest remembrance was gripping the bars of a cage. Was I an orphan Veer captured? Someone nobody would miss, so he could practice human traitweaving?
Humans were the exact opposite of raptors–they took to weaving easily; human life-fibers rejected it. Thus, human traitweaving was forbidden.
The Baron must’ve been some genius to manage me: my ability with languages, how I’d learned reading so quickly, my raptor-strength–Veer meant more for me than raptor-handling. The more my mutations accelerated, the more I discovered.
But I didn’t want to see what other scaly presents he’d woven under my skin.
First show we tried, Rodelia clawed the sand, a foot from the curtain that might as well have been a canyon the way she’d dug in.
I shoved, but even my traitwoven strength couldn’t budge her. “Come … on … Rodes!”
Retreat!, she hissed. Retreat!
Beyond the curtain, Manager Shen stalled the audience. They’d heard Rodelia’s roars, though, were looking nervously our way.
Manager Shen’s nephew, Ah-Shen, eyed Rodelia’s sickle-claws. “Stage fright.”
“Are you kidding me?” I growled, shoving off Rodelia.
“I’ve been raised by an opera-troupe, Amada.”
I wouldn’t use command-words. I wouldn’t. But if we failed here, we lost everything. I bolted towards the airship floating above the redrock behind us.
“Um, Amada?” Ah-Shen yelled.
“Watch her!” I yelled back.
There was something else I’d been keeping under my loosened board besides serum.
When I returned, Ah-Shen was standing stock-still. Rodelia’s eyes rolled; she flexed human fingers–like gripping that battleax Veer made her wield for her duels.
In those scarred, lab-woven hands, I laid a doll. It was doe-eyed, hair in ringlets, lavender dress dotted with tiny purple flowers. Rodelia froze.
I flushed. “Her name’s … Victoria–”
We’d passed a general store weeks ago. Rodelia stopped before the window, looming over this doll, raptor-eyes gone liquid in a way I’d never seen before. The way she purred at that glass brought me back with some dollars Manager Shen paid me.
I’d been hedging, figuring how to give it to her–but now Rodelia cradled Victoria. Raptor eyes couldn’t cry, but …
She clutched Victoria onstage, opened wide, and Madam Chien’s voice awed the audience.
Ah-Shen and everyone backstage crowded the curtains, but I stumbled off. My skin burned. Whatever Veer intended, I didn’t think my life-fibers were meant to hold a raptor.
From the stage, cheering. Applause.
I cried–my tears were black. What would happen to Rodelia? What of that creature the Baron stole, who was a girl before his experiments?
That day forward, Rodelia carried Victoria everywhere, slept with it cradled close.
The Rapturous Raptor was a roaring success.
Manager Shen swaggered onstage, Rodelia following. Someone yelled Spanish that she mimicked perfectly. Chinese prospectors shouted in some dialect, neither Cantonese nor Mandarin. She reflected it back.
Rodelia had to really concentrate for human voices. It was why we couldn’t communicate that way.
Despite being outlawed, human-handed raptors hauled rocks here. In hotels, raptor-bellhops stood ramrod straight. But I’d never heard anyone wanting a raptor who duplicated sound. Maybe Veer wanted raptor-spies, as well as seven-foot axe-wielding soldiers.
He never called her Rodelia. I called her Rodes, but she picked Rodelia. After hearing a child being called Rodelia, she’d started making uk-uk-uk-uk-uk noises, rocking her tail.
Veer called me something else, too, but I didn’t care to remember.
Rodelia’s raptor-name for me … that never changed. That, I remember clearly.
Lessened serum meant my memories were unclouding. If I was sixteenish, how old was Rodelia? An adult in raptor reckoning? If I concentrated, maybe I could …
Thunderous applause startled me back to present.
Rodelia tromped backstage, grabbed Victoria while Madam Chien and other performers passed for their show. Chien looked to me, but I ignored her.
After they exited, Rodelia snarled, using my voice: “Utah.”
I shoved up the sleeve of the coat I wore everywhere, uncovered the beetle-hide puncturing my skin. Not healthy raptor scales, but black, chitin-hard growth. It was worse round my spine. I knew she smelled the fever coursing through me.
“I’ve been taking serum, small sips, but that only affects the surface. My body’s rejecting it, Rodes.”
Onstage, Madam Chien sang the Dragon Bride’s sorrows, being captured from her faraway land, forced to marry a ruthless king. Offstage, Rodelia keened her own sad song.
“He needs to pay, Rodes. He–raaaaaaaaa-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh …”
By the time we reached Yuma, we were making triple-earnings. The question was asked: could Rodelia’s performance be expanded?
“How about a doctor, Miss Amada?” Manager Shen asked gently. “It would be no trouble for us.”
I hissed, and he looked away.
Madam Chien was oddly silent. “Let them try,” she murmured. Everyone cheered.
Mei-Li the seamstress started a dress. Rodelia had to stand straight for various fabrics Mei-Li threw over her. Rodelia rumbled darkly; Mei-Li paled. I pointed her to Victoria sitting on a chair. The seamstress concocted a lavender affair with violets lining the bodice, a silver wig with purple flowerets like Victoria’s–these Rodelia accepted.
Gum-Loong the painter started painting the flower-set wig; the lavender dress; Rodelia’s regal stance; human hands–but just half her face, jaws open in mid-vocalization.
“I’ll do her eyes last,” he explained. “Something’s missing, though. With her hands.”
I studied the painting. He was right, but I couldn’t place it.
At Flagstaff, Rodelia strode onstage in dress and wig, gobsmacking everyone. But they cheered when she opened her jaws and released the “Four Part Song.” She hunkered offstage, rumbling disapproval. Soon as the dress came off, she cracked her spine, assumed her natural raptor’s crouch.
Manager Shen returned from town with a fancy-looking invitation. “The Orpheum in Phoenix has renovated–they want us to be their inaugural performance!” He squinted at the print. “A baron has requested us! Baron … Vvv-ver–”
“Veer,” I said.
Rodelia growled low.
“You’ve heard of him?” Manager Shen asked.
Every day, my memories sharpened. I remembered Veer watching his sword-wielding raptors duel, scribbling in that notebook he kept in his waistcoat pocket. “Oh, yes. Baron Veer loves a good show.”
We remained in Flagstaff to prepare The Dragon Bride–with Madam Chien and Rodelia.
Townspeople gathered amongst the bracken and cacti, watching us rehearse the part where the foreign queen, about to be executed by her captor-king, revealed her true form–the dragon–and, against her kind’s peaceful nature, stormed the court.
When Madam Chien had played the part alone, she’d signified this transformation with a mask, but today Rodelia switched places with her, charging onstage in her lavender dress, her flashing silver hair. She shrieked, shredded her dress. The crowd hooted.
While they applauded, Rodelia stalked to me.
RRRRRRRRRAAaaaaa! Leave Baron!
I removed my hat, bared my fangs. I’d seen my reflection to know I didn’t have eye-whites anymore, just sheens of darkness. “We escaped, but he’s … still … hurting … me.”
Rodelia nuzzled my forehead. Amada. He force. Now we choose.
Because of my decay, I understood her better now than ever before.
But it was too late. I pointed to the suited men among the still clapping crowd. Veer’s men. From this distance, everyone must’ve thought we were chatting about hairstyles. “He knows we’re with the August Court. We run, he’ll attack them.”
Rodelia roared, RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
She streaked across the sand, vanishing through some redrock. In the sudden quiet, I waved, replaced my hat. “BATHROOM BREAK!”
The crowd laughed.
Rodelia would return. She was just shocked; her raptor’s mind couldn’t conceive how human plots worked. But I’d explained it to her. We’d announced ourselves with the Rapturous Raptor. Now that Veer knew we were in Arizona, his associates would ensure we headed to the Orpheum. If we didn’t, they’d slaughter those she’d come to love.
I slept far from camp now. The turning worsened at night. Drifting between waking and sleeping, I imagined walking the laboratory’s corridors again–Veer made his subjects duel in booby-trapped mazes–and CLACK–I smelled serum. I ran towards light spilling from an opened door, but through that door I saw … me … human me … in a violet-set dress and silver ringlets, staring back.
I reached out–with no hand, but a scaly, three-clawed raptor’s manus–an old nightmare, something I dreamed often–
Behind me, this sad, sad moaning–UHHHHHHHHHH …
It was me—I was moaning–I was sad–
I jolted awake to Rodelia cradling me. I’d been sipping serum to survive, letting it addle my memories even as they cleared. I’d one vial left–for Phoenix. Rodelia crooned, eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh, raptor-eyes sad. She mewled her raptor-name for me, and as I drifted, I thought I heard in her calling something of wide vistas and the running pack, sun and sky.
Amada … Amada choose retreat …
My clawed hands clenched.
He had to pay.
From Full Autumn Moon‘s view amongst the clouds, Phoenix looked alabaster, enormous factories puffing smoke like carnival fairy floss. Atmospheric balloons floated over flagstone plazas, silver-skinned steam-cars and trains. A rose-winged dirigible bearing laughing passengers passed us, raptors shoveling coal in the engine compartment. We descended below Phoenix’s skyline, approaching a columned building and its landing square.
“The Orpheum,” Manager Shen murmured. “Newly renovated. You’ve recovered just in time, Amada!”
I wore a cream-colored dress Mei-Li made me. My skin was clear, my irises humanly brown again. But the raptor within clawed away. My whole body felt clenched.
I smiled for Manager Shen.
The airship didn’t anchor this time, but landed on the flagstones.
From a ramp, Rodelia descended in a new dress, alongside Madam Chien and everyone else. Rodelia’s sickle-claws click-click-clicked on the flagstones. Behind us, Ah-Shen and other stagehands bore props. I’d made Rodelia leave Victoria, hardening myself to her whines. Her hands twitched; she turned, sniffed, sniffed again, the picture of nervousness in a raptor.
Queue bouncing, Gum-Loong the painter ran up to hand Rodelia … a lavender fan. The something that was missing. Rodelia flipped it open with dexterous fingers.
At the square’s roped-off edge, men and women in opulent dress applauded. The Baron was nowhere in sight, but he was here. Long as the crowd was around, he’d be careful.
Orpheum staff in crimson jackets ushered us inside. Plush seat-rows unfolded from the stage like layered rose petals, everything reeking of new wood, fresh varnish. They’d spared no expense. Madam Chien smiled, but didn’t look impressed.
I caught Rodelia eyeing me sadly. Since I’d downed my last vial, a curtain dropped between us. My ears had regressed; I couldn’t parse her raptor-nuance so well.
“Rodes. Look.” Reaching behind some boxes, I brought out Victoria. She purred in surprise. I couldn’t keep it away after all. “I’ll handle the Baron. You don’t have to do anything.”
She nuzzled her doll, not hearing me. Her home aboard Full Autumn Moon was assured. They were her family now, would care for her better than I ever could. She’d be safe, once I took care of Veer.
Yesterday, I’d pulled Ah-Shen aside. “In case I’m … busy … you’ll take care of her? See she has Victoria? That she gets to hunt off-ship?”
He’d cocked his head. “Of course. Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s perfect,” I’d replied. “At long last, we’re playing in Phoenix tomorrow.”
Baron Veer entered with the audience, surrounded by suited men. He didn’t see me, but, oh, I saw him from the rafters I’d climbed onto. I hissed. Black jacket, pasty face, a big man I could easily shred. He kept glancing to the stage, hungry for his escaped subjects–the ones he didn’t euthanize.
The last of the serum was fading fast. I was remembering the night he gave that order. He’d used his command-words, made me kill my raptors. My raptors! They watched me through their muzzles, not understanding what I was injecting them with. Through tears, I watched their eyes flutter.
There I was, one raptor left, holding that huge needle before Rodelia. She always obeyed me. Always. She … said something … something that broke the spell … my name … my raptor-name …
We escaped that night.
The stage lights dimmed, reminding me of my mission.
I gripped the beam. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh …
All through the audience hushing, the first strains of song, the opening battle scene, I stared at Veer, feeling my body sear away any last dregs of serum. Weeks of turning reasserted themselves.
He squirmed, impatient for Rodelia’s appearance. He wasn’t into opera, didn’t know the story. If he uttered his command-words, I’d freeze, and he was fast with them. I needed to wait until he was completely absorbed. I needed to wait until Rodelia’s entrance.
Intermission, lemonade in sparkling glasses, chatter. Someone announcing the Veritas-sponsored renovations to gentle applause.
Veer renovated the Orpheum?
But the curtains rose again; Madam Chien, as foreign concubine, got dragged out. The king ordered her execution. She ran backstage and Rodelia strode forth–the Dragon Bride. Everyone gasped as Rodelia sang her rage and sorrow, ready for the slaughter. Below me, Baron Veer leaned forward …
He wasn’t looking at her. His head darted round … looking … for me?
His human experiment? The girl who’d lapped serum off the floor, while he took notes? Not just once. I’d been refusing serum for weeks, so he’d made an experiment of it.
Rodelia’s voice crescendoed, lifting Veer’s eyes upward. His eyes widened. With my raptor-hearing, I heard him whisper. “Subject Camille-Zero.”
I leaped down, claws extended, dress billowing like bat wings.
Rodelia’s soprano voice changed into a raptor’s call. In that split-second of mid-descent, I finally understood Rodelia–really understood her. She sung the song of the pack, hideous to human hearing, but to me … it was about sunsets and sunrises, cool night, hard sand under sickle-claws, tail held taut like a sail, guiding the sprint. It was my name, my true raptor-name she’d been calling me all along.
He forced us. Now we choose.
Do not kill for him, Mother. Not anymore.
I landed amongst screams, audience members leaping up. Onstage, Madam Chien and the others gaped.
Veer was within reach, a meat-bag ready for shearing … but … Mother … Why’d she … ? All this time, it wasn’t Amada she’d been saying …
I froze, collapsed onto one knee. Camille. That was my designation.
“Release the Scyllas!” Veer yelled. “Collect Camille-Zero!”
His men rose, pulling syringes from their jackets.
Somewhere in the Orpheum, a door had opened. There was hissing, the scent of cloying gas … and clanking–metal grating against metal. Something heavy, coming our way.
Veer made his subjects duel in booby-trapped mazes.
Rodelia shredded her dress, vaulted from the stage.
“Viktra-16-alpha–HOLD!” Veer commanded imperiously. Rodelia squalled in mid-leap, crashed onto the carpet. Veer’s men surrounded her quivering form. Retreat, Mother!
“Kill the Viktra!” Veer ordered. “Contain Camille-Zero!”
The Camilles were first, for infiltration. Their weavings were extensive; all died, except one. The Viktras were for combat. Was there a Scylla series, though? I roared, reptilian scales bursting through my cheeks.
People at the edges of the seat-rows gasped.
“My god … what is she?”
“She’s not human!”
They were right. I was no human turned raptor … but a raptor woven to look human.
The Baron was going to kill my daughter. A Viktra-clone, but my daughter nonetheless. Sprawled on the ground, Veer’s men mounting her, Rodelia’s wide eyes found mine. She opened wide, repeating what she’d said that night we’d escaped, the first part in Veer’s voice, the last in raptor: “Camille-16-alpha–free yourself, Mother!”
Lapping serum off the floor, for weeks, had lessened the dosage–I’d understood her that night.
And, as happened that night, I obeyed. I knocked my attackers back, leapt to Rodelia. Speaking was hard; I needed to concentrate: “Vvvvviktra-16-a-alphaaa–ssssssSTAND!”
Forced to comply, Rodelia righted herself, tossing off men, just as two saurian beasts lumbered into the hall. Raptors taller than Rodelia, in breastplates and helms, raptor-sized rifles in human hands, reeking of acrid rot and almond-scented serum.
People flooded the theater’s far sides as they bayed, “UUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHH …”
They were blind, eyes milky white. Their skin, ulcerous, wet. The gas–some serum-vapor–they were unstable, shambling forth unsteadily.
“Scyllas!” the Baron yelled. “Attack!”
Rodelia and I engaged. I landed before Veer, claws held high. Veer’s smug expression faded–he looked for his enforcers, but they were running–finally! He would pay!
A Scylla rammed its rifle stock into Rodelia’s jaw, crumpling her. A bayonet extruded from the other’s barrel.
I could end Veer so easily! But Rodelia … the Scylla raised its bayonet … Rodelia’s words, Now we choose—
Advance, or retreat? Utah, or Phoenix? Serum, or Veer? Veer … or … ? Kill, or … ?
Like the Dragon Bride, I poured my fury into a single call: STOP! The Scyllas froze, white eyes flicking to me.
“Camille-16-alpha!” Veer yelled, “TWO STEPS BACK!” My feet moved, one, two. But I dropped claws of my own volition.
Children, I begged the Scyllas. Don’t kill for him! Their armored heads turned to me, rifles lowering.
The Baron was talking, saying it was over, the Scyllas were deaf to all but his voice, a new traitweaving after my escape–and I didn’t care. I’d listened enough to him, when I should’ve been listening to Rodelia, my clone-daughter. These Scyllas were my daughters, too.
Children!, I pleaded over his words. I understand now. I thought I had to kill him. That killing was the only way for him. For me. I was wrong. You can choose—
Veer stamped his foot. “Camille-Zero, you will listen! Scylla-16-alpha–COLLECT CAMILLE-ZER–”
Veer blinked. He hadn’t spoken, but his voice …
Rodelia was standing now, jaws open. She’d heard that order many times. The Scyllas faced Veer.
“That’s not me, you fools! Scylla-16-alpha–BELAY PREVIOUS ORDER!”
The Scyllas wickered, confused.
“Scylla-16-alpha,” Rodelia commanded. “ATTACK!”
Despite their blindness, they leveled rifles with alarming accuracy. People surged for the archways, no longer caring how close to the Scyllas they got. The Baron turned, but I grabbed him, plunged claws into his midsection–he screamed. I yanked out his notebook, years of scribbled notes.
His work disintegrated in my fist, pages spilling instead of blood. Fabric tore as he broke away. The Scyllas stalked after him.
Wait! I called, Don’t follow. Please! They ignored me, clanking through the archway he’d disappeared through.
Beyond, I heard Veer shouting, “Help! Velociraptors in the theater–some monster in a dress!” There was gunfire, the Scyllas’ sad moaning.
Rodelia nudged me. Mother?
I didn’t have teeth anymore. Fangs. I had fangs. A tongue that struggled forming human sounds. I couldn’t protect her. Not without my human words. It hurt to breathe. Twice, she’d saved me. I had to save her.
“Vvvvviktra-s-si-sixteeeeeeen-alphaaaa,” I managed. Rodelia cocked her head, confused.
The rest, I said in raptor: Run. Live. Don’t follow me.
She thrashed, shook her head wildly in denial. She moved towards me, but I raked her forearm, drawing blood. She screamed, turned, and was gone. It hurt. Like something ripped from me, vanished forever. I crouched by the stage, claw-hand brushing something:
Not Victoria … the fan. Still carrying her scent.
“Come, Amada.” I smelled Madam Chien. She pulled my arm over her shoulder, dragged me along until we crashed into the screaming night.
She took me to some empty house. The August Court wouldn’t leave Phoenix for a while. I wanted to apologize, but I couldn’t talk anymore.
“You poor child,” Madam Chien said, sounding far away. Her words blurred. “Veritas … found Veer’s notebook … He was perfecting the serum off you … It would’ve allowed monstrous weavings–”
I was losing my human ears.
My ability to tell time, too. She brought meat that I turned from.
Sunlight burned me. I crawled in a ragged robe, smeared with melted skin. Madam Chien lit candles I cowered from.
But the flickering glow struck something my ruined eyes remembered. I found my feet. Click-drag, click-drag, click-click. Something rectangular. What was the word … door. In it, a woman in a violet-set dress. Her face wasn’t finished.
“Hello, Amada.” I flinched; it was Gum-Loong. The painter.
“The investigators want an exhibit,” Madam Chien said from behind me. “An illustration of her … augmentations. We never took a daguerreotype of her–”
Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh … They weren’t bothered by the sounds I made. I touched a claw to the frame.
I reached out–with no hand, but a scaly, three-clawed raptor’s manus–an old nightmare, something I dreamed often–
It was me–my best part. Rodelia, who loved a doll named Victoria. How long was I in Veer’s laboratory, shaped by his chemicals?
The Camilles were first. Their weavings were extensive; all died, except one.
Madam Chien held out a familiar-looking dress, sewn anew, absent of her scent. Madam Chien helped me into it. Gum-Loong prepared his brushes, but I made a sound.
“Here.” Madam Chien pushed the fan into my claws. “We couldn’t find Victoria.”
It took several sessions, what with my weakness. Each time they left the easel, I crawled to the meat they’d brought, and fed.
How long did I writhe on that floor, feeding, shivering?
After each painting session, the image evolved. She was singing. Calling me forth. My raptor-hearing had finally come. Songs of sunlight. Desert sand. Running with the pack. I tossed my robe. Tail raised, I click-click-clicked outside.
So many raptor scents in the night. Enslaved in mines, in hotels, locked in pens. I had many children once. I would have many children again.
But first, my daughter.
I called into the desert, to announce my coming.
Amada (last name unknown) is currently at large in Arizona. She is wanted by the authorities of Phoenix for the destruction of the Orpheum Opera House, for questioning regarding the now defunct Veritas Elixirs and Tinctures, for the trial of Baron Helmut Veer concerning illegal experiments. Be forewarned, she is 5 feet 2 inches, sixteen years, brown-eyed, and of slight build, but possesses strength and agility most uncanny. She was a raptor-handler for an opera troupe. She speaks and reads many languages, is familiar with airships, and converses with raptors. $500 reward–yield her up.
Andrew K. Hoe is an associate professor of English and speculative fiction author based in Southern California. He is also an assistant editor and narrator for Cast of Wonders. Though he is excited to appear in Mad Scientist Journal, he is actually not a mad scientist–but insists that nobody can be perfect.
Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“Victorian Velociraptor with Violets” is © 2019 Andrew K. Hoe
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Leigh Legler