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Five People Seraphi Abrasax Did Not Recur As (Plus One)

Chapter Text

Pepper didn't stop screaming once the entire time Ibis and Razo were chasing her and then whisking her off the planet to Kalique’s palace. She only stopped screaming when Kalique, her supposed genetic daughter, showed up to offer explanations and a demonstration of Regenex (with an entirely unsolicited peep show).

Navigating the corridors of space bureaucracy calmed Pepper right down. She was right at home arguing with functionaries until they grudgingly granted her claim despite the byzantine rules that seemed designed to prevent anyone from doing so. Her appointed advocate, Advocate Bob, only needed to provide occasional bits of information and watch her in awe. Afterwards she offered to employ him, and he explained that she could buy his contract. The wording of the contract was uncomfortably close to buying him, not just his services, but Pepper could deal with that once she had the lay of the land. At the moment, she needed knowledgeable guides. Revolutionizing the space empire would just have to wait a few days.

When her previous self’s younger son abducted Pepper and her small entourage, she refused to discuss anything until he let her see Caine and Advocate Bob in person. Titus’s charm was as smooth as his disturbingly youthful face, but to a woman who had gotten Tony Stark to 76.4% of the occasions he was supposed to attend, Titus might as well have been as young as he looked. Her wolf-man bodyguard and her android were grudgingly brought to her, the former glowering daggers at Titus and the latter beaming ingratiatingly at him, and only then would she listen to Titus’s pitch.

The revelation of how Regenex was made horrified but did not particularly surprise her. She had suspected something like this ever since meeting Kalique. All this beauty and longevity and high technology (Tony would be the proverbial kid in a candy store once she brought him out here) couldn’t come without a horrible price tag, the universe just didn’t work that way. She also didn't buy Titus’s claim that he wanted to end the commodified mass murder. Yes, he looked sincere with those big soulful brown eyes, but physically he appeared to be about nineteen; everyone looked sincere at that age. And if he looked nineteen, he had to have used the Regenex quite recently. Not nearly long enough to trust his supposed change of heart.

Titus obviously would have preferred to make his suggestion alone, but Pepper was adamant about keeping the only people out here who she trusted at all right there where she could see them. When Titus made his proposal, Caine forgot protocol. “Don’t believe him, Your Majesty! He just wants your title to Earth!”

Titus started a wounded protest, but Pepper raised a hand to stop him. The best way to handle arguments like this was by not addressing them directly at all. She would simply pretend she believed Titus’s offer was in good faith - but reject it.

There has to be a simpler way to handle this than a dynastic marriage, Titus. By the way, is marrying your mother’s clone not considered… weird in outer space?”

Titus blinked at her, bewildered. “Weird? Whatever do you mean?”

Pepper spent a full second taking that in and filing it away for future reference. “Right. Apparently in space everyone is a Targaryen. So, this nectar. How many different brands are there?”

Titus knit his brows together, bemused. Advocate Bob spoke up. “One hundred fifty-eight thousand, five hundred and ninety-seven, as of the most recent update of my databanks.”

Thank you, Bob.” Pepper had to take another few seconds to grapple with that number before she addressed the Advocate. “Later today I’m going to need complete information about the demographics of this… civilization. Can you provide that for me, or find me someone who can?”

Advocate Bob looked almost orgasmically delighted at the question. Pepper hoped he wasn’t programmed to enjoy doing his bureaucratic job too personally. “I have extensive databanks that should enable me to answer all of your questions, Your Majesty.”

Good.” She turned her attention back to Titus and spoke briskly. “If the market is this crowded, why are we even bothering? All of the planets I own must have a wealth of other exploitable resources. I can tell you right now that Earth does. And not only natural resources, but locally manufactured products as well. A renewable ongoing source of income. With this many producers of nectar, the Abrasax family would do much better for ourselves by concentrating on other possibilities. Think of it as diversifying our assets.”

Titus stared at her. “But… the Abrasax family business has always been Regenex. Our fortunes have been made on it.”

And from what I’ve heard, your fortunes aren’t doing very well.” She walked past him towards the storeroom’s exit as she continued, words crisp. “If you want to rebuild your own fortune, I’m certain I can find a use for you.” Keep your enemies close. “But it isn’t going to involve selling dead people as bath water. Believe me, if I can turn an eight-figure profit while living on a single backwater planet, you’ll need to make up new numbers for what I can do out here.”

Titus spent a minute standing and cursing silently to himself before his shoulders slumped and he followed her. “Very well, Mother,” he said, resigned.

She ignored the title. “I suppose I’ll have to meet with your older brother as well. I want a full briefing about him,” she tossed back at him as the servants opened the door to the corridor that led back to her room.

Titus cheered up immediately at the thought of what Queen Pepper would do to Balem. “Of course, Mother.”

On reflection, it would almost be worth the recurrence just to watch.

 

Chapter Text

Hannibal Lecter, genetic recurrence of Seraph Abrasax, stood before the array of viewing screens, intently watching the harvest of the planet Gorlois. His eyes drank in the swift, painless but nonetheless final death of the entire planet.

“Ascending to my previous self’s place has confirmed all of my darkest suspicions about the universe,” he mused. “I always knew we were at the mercy of ruthless, uncaring beings. I was only wrong in calling these beings ‘God’.”

“Does this make us God?”

The question came from Abigail Hobbs, one of the few companions he had taken from Earth when he had claimed his inheritance. She was hardly recognizable as the simply dressed teenager he had first met. Every morning her long dark hair was sculpted into some elaborate concoction by a robot, studded with flowers or gems of Hannibal’s choosing. Her jeans and sweaters of old were replaced with sweeping ball gowns out of every little girl’s daydreams, just as Hannibal’s perfectly tailored suits had given way to richly embroidered silk robes that might have been worn by kings in a bygone age of Earth.

Today’s gown, satin of emerald green, had a long train that pooled on the floor around her feet but left her neck and shoulders bare. The scar her father had granted her had disappeared in her first Regenex bath.

“I think making nectar out of them counts as honoring every part of them,” she remarked as the harvest concluded. Her voice was very calm.

Abigail Hobbs was nothing if not adaptable.

Balem tore his eyes away from the spectacle long enough to glare at her, as he glared at anyone who commanded Hannibal’s attention for even a moment. Hannibal noticed the poisonous glance and concealed a smile. Balem was one of the most fascinating people in his new life. Hannibal delighted in toying with him, alternating cool rejection with smothering affection, at times deliberately evoking Balem’s memory of his departed, beloved, hated father, at other times defying Balem’s expectations with equal deliberation. Balem could be taken from uncontrolled rage to rapturous infatuation in the space of seconds. Their fistfights were as exhilarating as their lovemaking, and almost as violent.

Balem was the most diverting of Seraph’s offspring. Titus fawned upon Hannibal, but it was clear he hoped only for financial benefit. Kalique, Hannibal believed, had been attempting to play him in much the same way when he had first arrived and she had spoken sweetly of another chance with her lost father, but his deft playing upon her psyche had made it true. It was all hugely entertaining. And rewarding, as all of the Abrasax clan were exquisitely beautiful.

Well, of course they were. They had his genes.

The harvest over, Hannibal took Abigail’s arm. “Let me walk you to your chambers, Abigail.” Balem sulked some more. One day Hannibal would leave the two of them alone together, but only when he thought Abigail was just as likely as Balem to be the one to survive the experience. Until then, she still required cultivation. “You can rest until dinner.”

“Are you cooking it?” Abigail gave him her best girlish smile, as if her anticipation were uncomplicated and joyful. Hannibal was certain it was an act, but it was one he enjoyed, so he was careful to always respond to it with indulgence.

“I am indeed. Loriel is teaching me to make a dish of roasted reptilian and those yellow fruits from the planet Mapiya you like so much.” Hannibal had bought one of the greatest chefs in the galaxy in order to learn from her. And it was satisfying to have a second sentient species to eat.

“Cooking with your own hands is beneath an Abrasax.” Balem strode to catch up to them. “My father never did such a thing in his life.”

“Cooking is an act of creation,” Hannibal replied. “It befits godlike beings such as ourselves.”

“But all humans cook.” Abigail looked up at him, earnest. “On Earth, anyway. Are all Earth humans godlike?”

“God was supposed to have made us in His image,” Hannibal reminded her.

“You don’t cling to that Earth superstition, stop pretending you do,” Balem sneered.

Hannibal wasn’t going to give up his cherished hobby because his pseudo-son was bothered by it. “If you disapprove, you do not have to attend. I am certain the servants will prepare whatever you request.” He held Balem’s gaze over Abigail’s high-piled curls as he said this. Balem glowered and then turned to stomp down the hall away from them, but Hannibal knew he was not going to absent himself from dinner that night. He was not going to be the only one who missed Hannibal’s creations. No one would have more of Hannibal than Balem did, not if Balem had any say about it.

Only one person had more of Hannibal than Balem did.

Hannibal saw Abigail safely into her chambers and then sought out Will, who would never watch a harvest. Will had only joined him in outer space on condition that Earth not be harvested. One day Hannibal would harvest it anyway, when he thought Will might be too attached to leave him even so and Hannibal was ready to test that, but for now Earth continued to teem with life.

Will’s chambers consisted of a single room, one wall simulating a window looking onto a peacefully deserted beach. He had demanded the simplest of furniture, all of which was covered with hair from the dogs. Yes, the dogs, all eight of the beasts. Will had refused to leave without them.

It was irritating, but Hannibal understood the need for the companionship of inferior beings.

Will was sitting on the floor, brushing one of them - Hannibal never had bothered to learn the animals’ names. He didn’t look up when Hannibal entered, but after a moment he spoke.

“Why do you want to know the DNA sequence of everybody in the universe?” He ran a hand over the dog’s fur, looking for tangles. “Are you looking for another you?”

Hannibal went still for a moment as the pieces fell into place. “You fear I will find another Will Graham. Another man with your exact genes. You fear what you will see in that other you, in such a perfect mirror.”

Will made no reply, only patted the dog and scooped up another one, a small brownish one, and pulled it onto his lap to be brushed.

Hannibal stepped closer, put a hand on the back of Will’s neck. Will went very still at the touch.

“It never occurred to me that I might find a recurrence of you,” Hannibal said after a moment. It was the truth. “It should have crossed my mind, but I was intent on my objective.”

“Which was?”

Before Hannibal had decided on his reply, the gentle chime which requested entry sounded. “Come in,” Hannibal ordered, and the computer which operated the door slid it open.

The deer splice entered and bowed low, antlers almost touching the ground. Hannibal concealed his amusement at Will’s flinch. He had bought the splice specifically because it unnerved Will for some reason he had yet to discover.

The splice straightened. “We have found the genetic signature you had us searching for, Your Majesty.”

Hannibal seized the tablet the splice held out. “Pack our things. We will depart for this planet immediately. Oh, make sure to buy it before we get there. Price is no object.”

Will looked up. “‘We’?”

“You, Abigail, and I. And some servants. My brood is not coming on this particular trip.” For this, he did not want the distraction of the beautifully neurotic Abrasax siblings.

Alone in his study, as the servants packed his clothing to his exacting specifications, he activated the tablet and scrutinized the hologram it projected. The genetic pattern he had sought since his ascension. His second chance.

The image was of a young woman, her expression denoting a sweet disposition and an unclouded past. He raised a hand despite knowing better, and it passed through the image.

“I am coming, Mischa,” he whispered.

 

Chapter Text

The recurrence of Seraph Abrasax was reclining on a floating silk-upholstered golden chair, reading his way through a pile of electronic documents, when the last son of Krypton burst through the wall into his chambers.

“Luthor, I’ll-” Superman began, but promptly froze, unable to move, as a gossamer green net settled over him.

Lex didn’t even glance up. “Humans who aren’t Earthbound have a long history of dealing with Kryptonians. I fear you’re going to learn how the other 99% lives now.”

Superman glared at him. “I’ll still find a way to stop you, Luthor. I might not have been born on Earth but it’s my home and I won’t let you destroy it.”

At this Lex raised his head, faint incredulity in his eyes. “Clark, you of all people should know that I’m on the side of Earth, the side of humans.” With a nod he indicated the viewing screen that took up one entire wall behind him. It was projecting a succession of vistas of stars, spaceships, and human civilizations on various planets. “You might recall the small matter of my having devoted years of my life to preventing your people from conquering mine.”

“There is no we! I’m the only one left!”

“Well, I didn’t know that then, did I?” Lex put the document he’d been reading on the stack to his left. His chair lowered itself to the floor without his visibly directing it to and he rose, moving in a leisurely fashion to the tray of Neptunian wine being offered to him by a human-rat hybrid who looked at Lex as if he were the Second Coming. “Thank you, Mr. Night. Why don’t you offer some to our guest?” At Lex’s words, the net loosened enough that Clark could have taken a glass if he’d been willing. He wasn’t, he just folded his arms and glared some more. Lex sighed. “We might as well get to the heart of the matter. No, I’m not going to allow Earth to be harvested. You should know that.”

“There’s still the other planets you ‘own’ that you’ll destroy in order to profit from them!”

Lex gave him an eyebrow. “Clark, you’re cute when you’re in a self-righteous lather, but it does get tiresome at times. Those planets are inhabited by humans. As in, the species I believe can accomplish anything without the excessive genetic gifts some species have.” He gestured grandly at the viewing screen, which at the moment was displaying tall dark-skinned humans moving regally among monumental buildings beneath three glowing moons. “Do you think, now that I’ve been proven right about my species, I’ll allow anything to harm us?”

“Are you saying you’re going to stop the harvesting?” Clark couldn’t prevent the tiniest bit of hope from entering his voice. He never knew when Lex was going to be worse than he’d ever feared or better than he’d ever hoped.

Of course I am. Why do you think I’ve gathered the best scientific human minds from a hundred worlds? Well, of course, you only know about the ones I took from Earth.”

“They… can they….”

Find a way to create Regenex without murdering people? They perfected the technique yesterday. It turns out that the brain is not required to create the serum. All we need is samples of human tissue - from actual living humans, to avoid the genetic pitfalls of clones - from which to grow skin and certain glands in vitro and we can synthesize the serum without killing a single human.”

Clark’s shoulders slumped in relief. Lex made a small gesture and the green net vanished.

“Also, with this method the serum can be harvested continually, instead of waiting for each planet to reach its carrying capacity. Not to mention that now the worlds which were destined for harvest can be invited to join the interstellar civilization, opening up new exports and new markets for the entire galaxy.”

Clark huffed a little laugh. “Of course as soon as you save billions of lives you’re thinking about selling stuff to them.”

Lex didn’t dignify this with an answer.

“But wait. Some people won’t be so quick to switch to the more humane-“

“And that’s where you come in. Unless, of course, you aren’t willing to help your archnemesis put a stop to galaxy-spanning genocide.”

Clark rolled his eyes. “I’m thinking the Abrasaxes are going to be our biggest problem. Makes sense, given that they have your genes.”

Lex snorted. “My previous self should have chosen their mothers with more care. Kalique is in prison for trying to murder me after our wedding.”

“Your track record with wives is running true to form.”

“Don’t try to be sardonic, Clark, that’s my bag.”

“Maybe you should have thought twice before marrying your own genetic daughter.”

“I did. I concluded that she would try to kill me in order to claim my property, and by the Interstellar code, I would control her property while she was incarcerated. That’s fifteen billion more humans who can’t be harvested without my consent for the next century.”

Clark blinked. “What about your ‘sons’?”

“Pretty sure they’ve killed each other by now.” He looked to Mr. Night for confirmation and received an enthusiastic nod. “I knew it wouldn’t be long, once I destabilized the Abrasax corporation by claiming my property and incarcerating one of the heirs. I’m only surprised it took them this many centuries to do each other in.”

“I’m thinking you nudged them a little more than that.”

“Have some wine, Clark, it’s from Neptune. We have a lot of work to do.”

 

Chapter Text

Titus attempted to murder Jamie Moriarty, recurrence of Seraphi Abrasax, one hour after their wedding ceremony. Didn’t want to get his own hands dirty, of course, so he’d had one of his servants, a tiger splice, programmed to attack her. But she was Jamie Moriarty and had already ordered a specially altered splice of her own, a cobra hybrid, and he bit the tiger and then Titus for good measure.

Jamie pressed an unobtrusive button, summoning security - reptilians whose hides were not easily penetrated by cobra fangs. “The splice attacked my husband and one of his servants,” she informed them.

The cobra-man was blinking. “I… I don’t remember anything….”

“Take him away.”

Manchurian candidates complete with amnesia of their orders. What a lovely idea. Jamie was going to fit right in with the galactic empire.

Widowhood made her only slightly richer than she had already been, but Titus would have been bothersome.

 

Jamie had planned to play on Balem’s wildly conflicted feelings for his mother to goad him into a murder attempt, but the man was already so primed that all she actually had to do was walk in looking like herself. It took him less than ten minutes to work himself up to throttling her with no prompting on her part. The sims present could testify that it was self-defense when she gutted him.

 

Kalique wasted no time in visiting her reborn mother - with a heavily armed escort and several sims as witnesses. Jamie listened to her genetic daughter’s clearly rehearsed words of condolence and received the intended underlying message from them: Kalique, more cunning and less ruthless than her brothers, would prefer to curry favor with Jamie than assassinate her.

That was all right. Jamie always needed allies as well as victims.

 

As on Earth, most humans were unable to deny themselves what they wanted but were also too squeamish to face the reality of what they were willing to do to get it. So they just left a handful of humans on a hostile new planet, just enough of them to reproduce, and then ignored them for thousands or millions of years, until they had overburdened their planet of their own accord and the planet’s owner could frame the harvest as putting its inhabitants out of their misery.

It was terribly inefficient. Earth was only now becoming ripe for harvest, and it had been sixty-five million years since humans had seized the planet from the reptilians. What kind of turnaround was that?

Jamie promptly demonstrated what an intellect unclouded by sentiment could do with the harvesting system. After claiming her property she wasted little time before retrieving her actual daughter, the girl’s foster parents (she still wasn’t going to look after Kayden herself), and two unwilling but cherished companions from Earth. Their efforts to prevent or dissuade her from harvesting Earth were of course futile; in the mid-twenty-first century, human life on Earth was brought to an end.

The sandy blue detritus of the harvesting process took about two decades to decompose so that the Earth could be seeded again. Jamie utilized a much larger starting population than was customary, transporting it from another of her planets, members of a sect which strictly condemned birth control and nonreproductive sex acts, thus launching the seeded world with a high fertility rate.

It was customary to abandon the seed population to bootstrap themselves out of the caves, all part of the laissez-faire policy which helped maintain the polite fiction that the eventual harvest was an act of mercy. Jamie instead stationed game wardens who took a more hands-on approach. Their eternal youth and advanced technology caused the population to revere them as gods. They instructed their charges in agriculture and other technologies which would allow their population to thrive… and to increase quickly. When plagues occurred, the wardens administered effective medicines. When wars grew fierce enough to make a dent in the population, they were firmly halted by nonlethal means that primitive humans could not possibly combat. Scientific advances likely to eventually allow them the means of decimating themselves were also nipped in the bud.

Really, how could Balem have been careless enough to allow nuclear weapons to proliferate? One fit of temper from some head of state and millions of years of waiting for Earth’s population to exceed the planet’s capacity would have gone to waste. But it was part of what allowed those Entitled with residual scruples to reassure themselves: civilizations which advanced enough to join the Empire were spared. It had happened only a handful of times in the long history of humanity, but it was enough to quiet many consciences.

The wardens did have to be carefully chosen. They had to be people like Moriarty, not prone to sentimental attachment to their charges. Titus would have been ideally suited if not for his aversion to work in all forms.

Her approach was a smashing success. Earth was ready for another harvest within a single millennium.

The Moriarty Method was hailed as revolutionary and was soon adopted galaxy-wide.

 

Chapter Text

1953, August 20 (Thurs).

I am writing this on a separate bit of paper as my diary is miles away just now. When I fetch it I shall paste these pages within. But I must record it all now so that I shall not forget any detail when I tell Deborah everything that has happened. Today has been a day of great moment. Today I entered the Fourth World.

I was in the back yard hanging clothes on the line when I was suddenly attacked out of the blue by the strangest pair I have ever seen, a man and a woman in the most bizarre clothing. Later I shall draw them as no words could do justice to the strangeness of their appearance. I tried to run but found myself caught up in a whirlwind and then was floating in the air towards an enormous plane, after which I knew no more.

I woke up in a room so grand that even the Hulmes would have been impressed with it. I don’t think anything in sight was not made of the finest marble, gold or silk. I myself was arrayed in a magnificent gown of pale pink with a flowing train and was floating in midair as if it were nothing. As soon as I opened my eyes I knew that this was the Fourth World, as nothing else could be so beautiful. But Deborah and I believed that we would have to die to reach it. Which is why my first words were, “Am I dead?”

Just then a woman walked in and smiled at me and said, “Oh, my darling. Your life is just beginning.”

She was too old to be pretty but was wearing a magnificent gown of creamy iridescent sequins. Her name is Kalique Abrasax and this is her alcazar, which is like a palace. It took a while as I was so dazed by the grandeur I saw all about me, but she very kindly explained everything. The Fourth World is not something we have to die to get to, as Deborah and I believed, but exists throughout the universe, just not on Earth, which is a backward place as Deborah and I always knew instinctively. It turns out that there are people all through the galaxy, like in Buck Rogers.

Kalique explained that I was a reincarnation of her mother, who was a queen of rare beauty. She showed me a statue of my previous self - my name was Seraphi then, and I believe I shall resume using this name, as it suits me even better than Gina. I always knew “Pauline” and “Yvonne” weren’t right. Now I know that I was unconsciously mourning my true name and identity, which I always knew about in my heart.

These space people have the most amazing abilities, far beyond the clumsy science of Earth. If my leg had been hurt out here it would have been fixed in a jiffy, and poor Deborah wouldn’t have had to spend all those years marooned in the Bahamas or in that hellish sanatorium filled with old people. Kalique herself demonstrated to me how their healing magic works. Two of her handmaidens removed her gown and she submerged herself in a pool of what looked like the purest water, but was in reality much more. When she emerged she was young again, and quite beautiful. She says she is over 14,000 years old! The legends about the Fountain of Youth were quite true, only they were wrong about where it was.

But I haven’t even got to the most exciting part yet. My previous self arranged an inheritance for me. I am now the owner of FOUR ENTIRE PLANETS as well as various trusts and estates. And you’ll never guess what else: one of those planets is Earth. The entire world is all mine, to do with as I please!

My mind is racing with plans but I must talk them all over with Deborah before taking any steps.

 

1953, August 22 (Sat).

I have spent the last two days occupied with affairs of state. Kalique and several of her servants helped me go to all the hundreds of offices I had to in order to claim my rightful inheritance. It’s the most tedious thing I have ever had to do, even worse than conjugating French verbs or scrubbing floors. Kalique has been ever so kind to help me with all this, and has also offered to put her servants at my disposal to administer my estates so that I don’t have to train them all myself. She says it is only her duty as my daughter and that she wants us to be close as we never really were in my last life and that it’s the least she can do.

At first I thought there might be some trouble as I am not twenty-one yet, but when I told Kalique this she only asked if I’ve bled yet. In the Fourth World, a woman is considered of age when she gets her period, rather than the foolishness of spending years having to pretend to still be a child when she can actually have a child herself. The Fourth World is much more sensible than Earth.

I told her about Deborah and Kalique is eager to meet her. I told her about the book we’re writing and even recited one of my poems for her and she was ever so impressed. She says that now that I’ve claimed my birthright I can bring my dreams into reality and all I have to do is close my eyes. She also told me of the many great artists whose work Deborah and I can enjoy now that I have taken my rightful place. Just as Deborah said, the Fourth World is an absolute paradise of music, art and pure enjoyment.

I have two sons as well, but I haven’t met them yet. Kalique says they’re both terrible scoundrels. One is named Titus and has frittered away most of his fortune on fast women and orgies. The other is called Balem and he was the owner of Earth until I was reincarnated and she expects him to be very cross. She’s hired an entire bodyguard for me in case he should try to kill me to take the Earth back, but I expected such things from writing the history of Borovnia. To be royal is to be always in danger.

Tomorrow we shall return to Earth, but only to fetch Deborah, who must be horribly worried about me. She will be so glad to see me, and to learn that we are going to the Fourth World now instead of having to wait until we are dead.

 

1953, August 23 (Sun).

Deborah and I are reunited! I went with my bodyguards to rescue her from the sanatorium on a spaceship and took her back to my daughter’s alcazar. Deborah recovered from her surprise in record time and said that she always knew it. She’s already started calling me Seraphi.

Deborah and Kalique took to each other right away. Kalique is so wise and good. She didn’t even have to ask what was ailing Deborah, she just took her to the Fountain of Youth in her alcazar and had her go in, and when Deborah came out she was able to breathe without coughing for the first time in ages. We both had a good cry we were so happy.

Then Kalique explained how the Fountain of Youth works. The Fourth World is brilliantly unsentimental. They understand out here that some lives matter more than others. The Fountain of Youth is made from harvesting planets full of people to prolong the lives of their betters. Every few thousand years each planet is harvested. That’s what happened to Atlantis. This is why people on Earth didn’t know about the Fourth World, because they’re the cattle who sustain it, but Deborah and I understood the truth instinctively. A few people, the Saints, always do and are meant for better things, and now I am in a position to make sure they get them.

My dutiful daughter showed us a film of my own alcazars. They were most splendid, but Deborah and I immediately thought of many improvements we could make. I asked Kalique if unicorns are real in the Fourth World and she explained that while they don’t grow wild, there are people called splicers who can create them, and anything else we want. On the spot Deborah and I made a list of all the magical beings we want for our alcazars, chiefly unicorns and pegasi, dragons for hunting, and also mermaids and possibly centaurs. A horse which could understand English would make riding a breeze.

Deborah and I spent hours making our plans, and Kalique’s famulus sat by and took notes of everything that will have to be done. The first thing will be to rescue all of the Saints from Earth. The same pair of bounty hunters who rescued me have already been dispatched to retrieve the Hulmes, Mario, James Mason, and Orson Welles, with more Saints to be added shortly. While they’re at it they’re going to pop by and fetch my diaries and all the drawings and figurines Deborah and I have made, as well as her entire collection of Mario Lanza recordings. I can hardly wait for Kalique to hear him, I know she will love him as much as we do and be ever so grateful he could be rescued from this miserable planet. Then Keepers - sort of elf people - were also sent to wipe out the memory of anyone who sees anything.

And as soon as all the Saints are living in our alcazar, the Earth will be harvested, adding to our riches.

 

1953, August 25 (Tues).

Kalique has persuaded us that it would be better to wait another fifty or a hundred years before harvesting Earth. She had her accountants show us the numbers of how much more money we’ll make if we continue to allow Earth people to breed in their current reckless fashion for a little while longer and the argument was compelling.

We almost didn’t agree even then, because the thought of the miserable people of Christchurch and the Bahamas continuing to infest my planet is unbearable to us both. But when we confided this in Kalique, she understood perfectly, and had a brilliant solution. We will send in a crew of sargorns, who are like dragon men, to wipe them out, and then Keepers will tidy up the mess and blot these miserable people even from memory.

Deborah and I agreed that this was a brilliant plan and commanded that it be set in motion immediately. Soon my parents, all the teachers at Christchurch Girls’ High School, and the wretches Deborah had to endure during her ordeal in the Bahamas will all cop it.

 

1953, September 16 (Wed).

James Mason has been most difficult. He keeps insisting we rescue his wife and children as well as him. Of course we’ve refused. Kalique says that rescued people often feel this way at first but they get over it before long when they see how glorious the Fourth World is and know that the ordinary people they used to associate with are not fit for it.

Mario doesn’t have a wife, thankfully. Kalique’s doctors examined him when he first arrived, as they do everyone, and found that he had a heart condition that would have killed him within a decade! His brilliant talent would have been lost to the universe. The Fountain of Youth fixed him right up, though, and he will live forever just like we will. Kalique suggested we not tell the Saints how the Fountain works for a while. She says some rescued people take a while to get used to the idea.

We’ve left Orson on Earth for the time being because he’s rehearsing to be in King Lear on American television right now and we wouldn’t interrupt that for the world. He’ll be so brilliant as Lear! We’ll snap him up as soon as it’s finished.

 

1953, September 20 (Sun).

I confess I am disappointed at how things are coming along between James and me. He still thinks far too much about his old family on Earth and has not yet adapted to his new life. Kalique is very comforting and says to just give him time and he’ll see my stellar qualities and we’ll become the bosom friends we were always meant to be and probably fall in love too.

Mario is giving us no such trouble and he and Deborah dance together every night. I think they will likely be a match once he gets over the silly Earth idea that a woman of fifteen is a child. Kalique says that after a few decades of knowing some people who are in their first century and others who are thousands of years old, people stop caring about age. Anyway, in two months Deborah will be 16.

I was right, Kalique loves Mario’s voice as much as we do. He was most excited to hear music from outer space and is learning fantastic new songs which he performs for us every evening.

The Hulmes are already installed at one of our alcazars, and we shall join them there with the Saints once the new furnishings and the unicorns and pegasi we’ve ordered are ready. They were rather cross because they haven’t had time to get used to us being the authority figures now, but as I’m a queen and Deborah is my destined co-queen they’ll have no choice but to adapt.

Deborah has designed an entire new wardrobe for each of us and it’s already been made by Kalique’s servants. Some of Deborah’s designs were based on ones we made up for the citizens of Borovnia and some are inspired by the gorgeous clothes worn by people here in the Fourth World. I have never understood why people on Earth consent to wear such boring clothes most of the time. All of our new dresses have long sweeping trains and are made of the brightest most glorious colors imaginable. Kalique was very complimentary and asked Deborah to design some for her, and since they were made she has worn nothing else.

It is lovely to finally be in a place where we are appreciated.

 

1953, September 22 (Tues).

Today the dragon-men wiped out Christchurch and the horrid town in the Bahamas where Deborah was once stranded. We watched the entire thing on camera as it was happening and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. It was a very satisfying sight.

I wanted Kalique to watch with us but she had to attend to some of the business of our estates.

 

1953, October 17 (Sat).

Such a lot has happened since I last wrote. To begin with, I have met my sons. Titus, the youngest, is quite handsome, but not to be trusted. Kalique’s spies uncovered a plot he had to kill me and take my inheritance. I wondered if we should call the police, but Kalique kindly explained that ordinary police can’t interfere with the doings of royalty, which is quite right. Her advice was to double my guard and stay on my own estates far away from him at all times, but Deborah and I thought it would be tidier to have him assassinated. Once she saw we were in earnest, Kalique was most helpful. Royalty in the Fourth World has its own way of dealing with inconvenient people like Titus. We order up a splice who is designed to kill one particular person and nobody else and then all we have to do is make sure that splice gets near them and they’ll moider them automatically. Best of all, they can’t even give us away because they don’t know who designed them to carry out the moider. Titus sent a wolf splice after his brother Balem a few years back - Kalique knows it was him even though it can’t be proved - and Balem’s voice is still all hoarse from having his throat ripped out. If he hadn’t been so close to his Fountain of Youth he’d have copped it for sure.

Kalique knows a good splicer and we chose a tiger splice because they’re much more vicious and certain than wolf splices. Unfortunately it will take an entire year for him to grow up so he can be used, so in the meantime Kalique has hired more guards. At least it doesn’t take them years to grow up as a normal human does; they have ways of speeding the process up so that they can be useful sooner.

Balem is another matter. I met him yesterday. Kalique warned me he’d be cross because the Earth belonged to him until I was reborn, and apparently the Earth is worth a lot of cash even if it’s not much to shout about if you’re stuck there.

But when he saw me, he was clearly thunderstruck. He’s most magnificent to behold, very tall with pale freckles and a lovely figure and a graceful yet masterful way of moving. Even his hoarse voice was somehow compelling.

He beheld me for some time, ignoring Kalique and Deborah and our many bodyguards and servants. I stared back, for I really feel that something in my soul recognized him even though I don’t directly remember any of my past life.

After a time he came closer and touched my cheek very gently and whispered, “There are times when I almost missed you.”

A hundred responses went through my head but some uncanny instinct made me touch his cheek in return and whisper, “I’ll always return to you.”

He was even more shocked then and left shortly after, and Deborah and I immediately called for our materials and spent hours making sculptures and drawings of him. (We are no longer using plasticine as it doesn’t exist in the Fourth World but there is a far superior substance called loess which sculptors here use. It responds far better to our hands than plasticine ever did.)

 

1953, October 19 (Mon).

Balem came to visit me again. At first things were rather civilized, with all of us drinking fine wine. (I hate the taste of the stuff but Kalique assures me that it’s the best and most expensive that can be bought and that I’ll develop a taste for it. Deborah claims to love it but sometimes she can’t help making a face so I think she’s only pretending.)

We were talking about my main alcazar, which is almost ready for us, when something set him off and he threw his little table just like Diello would have and started shouting at me. I can’t remember everything he said, but some of it was “You should have stayed dead!” and “You once believed we would rule this universe together! You swore it to me!” and “How could you leave me?”

He broke down crying when he said the last one and I put my arms around him and let him cry on my shoulder. Kalique was terribly alarmed but everything was fine. She and Deborah left us alone and Balem and I spent the rest of the evening together, just sitting with our arms around each other talking about how much we’d missed each other. It’s true, I missed him all my life without even knowing what I was missing.

Deborah was cross when I retired to our boudoir very late. It’s the closest we’ve ever had to a quarrel, a bit like how she felt when I told her John was in love with me and I’d been late answering her letter. I didn’t think she was being altogether fair, as things between her and Mario are progressing nicely though he still hasn’t taken her virginity, while James Mason is still mooning after his Earth wife and is barely civil to me.

In the end, Deborah and I made it up and stayed up until dawn practicing for when Mario gives in to her charms so that she’ll know what to do. I think I imagined exactly how he’ll make love in bed, though I wish the love scenes in his movies had been more detailed so I could be more sure.

 

1953, October 21 (Wed).

Today Balem and I became much closer. He and I were walking along the balcony of Kalique’s alcazar and talking about our business affairs. Deborah wasn’t there because she was with Mario. We’ve agreed that whatever men we might take to our beds won’t change things between us, because our amazing mental telepathy and our soul bond are a completely different thing, so there won’t be any more foolish jealousy between us over Mario or Balem or any other man.

Anyhow, I told him how I had wanted to harvest Earth right away but Kalique had explained how much more money it would be worth if I waited just fifty more years, and how I sent sargorns to wipe out all the people whose existence I couldn’t stand. He was so impressed by this that I let it slip about the splice I’ve ordered for Titus. He was thrilled - he can’t stand Titus - and immediately offered to help me arrange to get my splice near Titus when the time comes. He’s ever so much more experienced at these things, and more than Kalique too because she generally prefers to use other means, as Balem explained to me. He admitted that he was planning to order a splice to kill me, but now that he sees that I truly am Seraphi restored to him nothing will make him give me up ever again.

He was so impressed by my handling of Earth and of Titus that he became most affectionate and masterful. I wasn’t a bit shocked when he kissed me on the mouth because Kalique already explained to me that caring about incest is for commoners. For royalty in the Fourth World, it’s best to keep to our own sort, as the kings and queens of ancient Egypt did, rather than mixing with peasants.

Balem is much better at sex than John and is clearly madly in love with me. When it was over he kept clinging to me and sobbing about how much he had missed me and I comforted him. He made me promise we would always be together from now on and I did so wholeheartedly, knowing how pained Deborah was at the way her family kept sending her away for the good of her health, but now they can never do that again.

Balem and I made many plans. We are going to rule this universe together, just as he and my previous self were going to. He outlined some of my last life’s plans and I recognized them immediately as just the sort of thing I would come up with, if I had needed any more proof. I am so terribly clever at this sort of thing. This is why the intrigues and wars Deborah and I dreamed up for Borovnia were so realistic. I have a knack for such things from my previous life.

Right before we went to sleep Balem told me that some traitors in the Fourth World believe that harvesting should be stopped so that royalty has to die after one short life just like commoners. This treason obviously caused him great pain and he begged me to promise never to entertain such foolish thoughts. I promised without hesitation and we slept in each other’s arms. It was almost as cozy as when Deborah and I do it.

 

1953, October 28 (Wed).

Today my largest alcazar was ready and all of us went to it. The Hulmes were waiting for us and Deborah and I were most happy to see them. Dr. Hulme looks so handsome now that he’s young again, and Mrs. Hulme is almost as beautiful as Deborah. I think they’ve gotten used to living in the Fourth World. At least Dr. Hulme has been spending a lot of time in my library here and he’s so excited to have new languages to learn and advanced Fourth World science and mathematics to study. In any case, they were most attentive to Deborah and me.

The unicorns were exquisite and Deborah and I rode them for hours. We’re saving our first pegasus ride for her birthday next month.

Mario sang for us as we had dinner. James is still complaining so we didn’t invite him to join us on this night. Balem did tell him off fearfully for speaking disrespectfully to his mother, and it seemed to make an impression, so hopefully he’ll come round soon.

Balem and Deborah both wanted me to spend the night with them, and I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of either of them, so at last we agreed that all three of us would spend the night together. Deborah enjoyed it most thoroughly, though we’re saving her virginity for Mario. We spent a hectic night. It was wonderful! Heavenly! Beautiful! and Ours! We felt very satisfied indeed. We have now learned the peace of the thing called Bliss, the joy of the thing called Sin.

First thing this morning I consulted my famulus about what sort of gift to give Kalique. He suggested a share in one of my planets, along with some dazzling blue-green jewels from a planet whose name I forget, which he says were always her favorites. I hate to think what would have happened to me if she hadn’t rescued me from Earth.

 

Chapter Text

The bees swirled in formation around Buffy and the next thing she knew Stinger was down on one knee, bowing his head.

“Your Majesty,” he said. He then looked up and was clearly about to explain, but Buffy put up a hand.

No,” she said. “Just, no.