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SIREN SONG (CHAPTER 15)

Yes- I know it has been 21 or so days since I last updated Siren Song and erm, hah, I don't really have an idea why. Time flies by when you're as old as Methuselah. I had a literature project (my points can be found in the reviews aspect of my website) and other things came up. I sincerely apologize and would really like your suggestions for chapters at my instagram: divinitylitland. Or if you don't have that: dihaank@gmail.com. Thank you!

STORIES

Dihaan Khan

10/24/202312 min read

The note still in her hands, Vienna glanced from the door to the crude letter on the parchment, and crumpled it in her hands, stuffing it up her sleeve before assuming an impassive expression.

“Come in!” she called.

The door was slammed open by two of the burliest Blue Badges she had seen so far. Both looked somber and stared her down for a few seconds before advancing and quickly snatching up the package in which her clothes (and the note) had come, and making quick work of investigating it.

“Ve are zreadfully sssorry for ze interruption, Miss Alcestis,” one of them spoke up in their strange Siren-ian accent as they folded up her clothes again. “We were informed of a certain…”

The other Siren shot the one who was speaking a warning glance and they bowed, melting away into nothingness, teleporting away.

Vienna took a deep breath once they were gone. Someone had tipped them off about the note? And the note, who had sent it? Dimitri, no, he couldn’t have had access to the package at all, Eleanora, probably not. Elliot was the most likely candidate, but what was he even warning her of?

She shook her head. Get dressed first. Get dressed and get the test over with and then just mull over it later.

Vienna gathered her senses and sorted through the clothes. A dark burgundy full sleeved jumpsuit. She had been wearing a lot of jumpsuits since she came here. A double silver necklace, the shorter one with a star and the longer one with a moon, sort of cutesy grunge. No earrings, she’d allowed nobody to change her earrings since she came to Niflheim. It was one of the last reminders of her life back in Terra, where she wasn’t allowed to change them either. Her earrings were gold hoops, pure gold, 180 dollars worth of gold. And the last outfit item- a pair of black platform heels.

Sighing, she dipped her hands into the package to see if there was anything else. Oh, yes, a pamphlet, describing exactly how to put everything on. Did they think she was an idiot?

She assembled everything onto herself in the changing room, then ducked into the vanity room to brush and style her hair exactly how the pamphlet said. There had been no more Blue Badges dressing or styling her after she asked for a chance to do it herself the third day at breakfast.

Carefully, with inexperienced fingers, she maneuvered her hair into a reasonable look, keeping it just the way it was- wavy and thick-and curling the end into slightly more concentrated waves. Then the makeup. She checked the pamphlet- a simple eyeliner wing- okay, did that, although her hands were trembling. A little blush, moonlight carmine. What was that? She finally located the blush and smoothened it, then highlighter, and just clear lip gloss. There, all done.

She stood up and twirled, feeling stupid. Then she slid on her boots, swallowing down the horribly intense trepidation, and made her way to the Throne Room.

But not before slipping the Teleportation Token, which had been lying forgotten in a drawer, securely into one of her heels. You could never be too safe.

***

Elliot’s eyes met Vienna’s as she entered the Throne Room with that slightly hesitating aura, that aura that suggested she didn’t belong to confidence entirely, that she could still be won over with a compliment or a few words of affirmation. It was in the way she entered the room, giving Elswyth a bow, Eleanora a smile, and him a slightly more nervous one.

She didn’t seem completely self-assured as she greeted the Queen. Maybe because everyone’s eyes were on her, as they had been since she first arrived. Why not? She was the main attraction, as all the other 15 girls had been before her. But there was something about her. She hadn’t seemed eager to team up with him, although he had displayed all the trustworthy qualities he had shown everyone else. She didn’t seem… glad… to be here. Even though this place, Niflheim, was a thousand times grander in magnitude to her simple house back in Terra, where she had to go to school every day and go through social interactions and comply with societal regulations. Here, she had everything she wanted, could do everything she wanted to.

Perhaps his note hadn’t been clear enough. Lose everything…he himself hadn’t known what he meant by that as he jotted it down in a despicable hand before paying a Blue Badge to sneak it into the package Elswyth had compiled for Vienna. Perhaps it was losing her identity as a human, as Vienna Ellery Alcestis Hawthorne. Perhaps it was losing her family back on Terra, her mind, her abilities, her appearance, her thoughts. They were wiped of all those after they were transformed, becoming a new person, a clean slate, with a completely different personality. They were made into a Blue Badge.

The very first one brought to Niflheim was…he had almost forgotten, he was maybe 10? Melanie, then Deborah, Scarlett, Valerie, Amani, Lyla, Phoebe, Clementine, Ophelia, Gayatri, Demaya, Aria, Elle, Xiomara, and the last had been Daphne. And now, of course, Vienna. All of them black haired, first generation immigrants, literature nerds, tumultuous childhoods, younger brothers, and an approximate height and age of 5’5 and 15. He could almost remember all of them.

And now they were all Sirens.

God, the ritual was so crude. Just let the idiotic place self-destruct and find out a way to escape before then. Elswyth had the brains for that. But she wouldn’t, she was being all fine and noble like she absolutely had to save a race of cloaked weirdos soaked in the color black. He hated them. He hated these…creatures…to which Elswyth had pledged her life, these strange things which ambled and talked and laughed and sang in a mix of Latin and Serenian.

He watched, he stayed silent, and he hoped someone caught on.

***

Vienna’s eyes went around the room, taking in the new influx of guests and the Big Three. The Three E’s, Elswyth in a pear green A-line gown, Eleanora in a dainty ombre grey evening gown, Elliot in a full tuxedo complete with tie. He was the only one who looked like he had been maneuvered into the clothes- his sisters looked quite at ease. All of them looked stunning. Vienna couldn’t help but wonder if they were siblings at all- you couldn’t get so lucky with genes thrice, could you? Perhaps they were just special. The guests, however, weren’t human ones. Five new Sirens, seemingly intellectuals. Vienna noted with some amusement some of them even had machinery similar to glasses perched on their white noses. In any case, it looked ridiculous.

She performed the customary bow for Elswyth, flashed Nora a smile, and gave Elliot a slightly more hesitant one once she saw him staring. It must’ve been him with the note, she was sure of it now. And now she knew what he meant. Lose everything- lose her identity as a human. He knew, too, and he was decent enough to warn her, even if it was a late warning.

Huh. Weird.

The steady background of voices melted back into clarity as she withdrew from her thoughts and again into reality. Elswyth was clearing her throat, and Eleanora shot her a look.

“Y-yes, your Majesty?” Vienna supplicated quickly, almost stammering as the words spilled out of her mouth.

“I was saying that the test will go on for about two hours. Do you feel you are sufficiently fed, watered, and mentally clear?”

Talking about me like I’m a plant, Vienna thought, vexed, and forced her features into a smile.

“Of course, Doyenne.” Vienna said, and curtseyed again.

“Then we must begin at once.” Elswyth gathered up her A-line gown, swept down from her throne, and nodded at Vienna as all the judges hurriedly picked themselves up from their own seats and hastily fell in line behind the queen.

Vienna raised an eyebrow. Walk…beside you?

A swift nod from Eleanora cleared her suspicions, and she swiftly fell into place beside Elswyth as they advanced out of the Throne Room, the Siren Judges following them meekly.

“The judges are Iudiciam Pneuma’s, a rare genre of Sirens not commonly found.” Elswyth said by way of conversation as they exited the room, moving along the corridors towards the stairs. “I’ve summoned them specifically to examine you, Vienna Alcestis. You are…fascinating.”

As the other 15 girls have been before me, no doubt.

“Thank you, Doyenne.” Vienna replied. “But…how so?”

“For one thing, you aren’t over-talkative. Your words don’t plague the mind. You speak only when necessary. Then you read. All the time, like my younger sister. And you tidy your room, you’re kind to the subjects, and you’ve made good friends already.”

Yes, with an hybrid outcast and your bedridden sister. You must be so proud.

“And you haven’t lashed out at Elliot, which is…” Elswyth rolled her eyes. “A miracle. He’s both irritable and irritating.”

Vienna first felt like laughing and then felt sympathy for Elliot.

Wow. I’ve changed. Maybe I’ve finally grown a heart. Now maybe I won’t laugh at sad scenes in movies and maybe I’ll even start donating to charities. Maybe I’ll even help people up when they trip instead of viewing from a distance and snickering mentally.

Debatable.

“You could try to understand him.” Vienna said, miffed, but somewhat quietly.

“Believe me, I’ve tried. But he’s past that stage. He despises me.” Elswyth finally sounded like a human being, not just an intricately assembled robot with perfect grammar and no feelings. “I can’t make him think of me as his sister anymore. I…messed up. I wasn’t ready for responsibility.”

But then you try to redeem yourself, right? I’m an oldest child too, and I know what it’s like to be pressured, to have the entire world on your shoulders and yet to not know if you’re doing enough, to have to do everything your parents are too busy for, to babysit all day every day and still get beef for how you treat your siblings even though you’re doing your best!” Vienna insisted. To her it was stupid how Elswyth had given up without a second attempt. Elswyth’s eyes flashed, and for a second, her blue eyes weren’t ice, they were liquid water. Then Vienna blinked, and the illusion was gone.

“I never knew how to…care.” Elswyth went on, in a lower voice, almost apologetic. “And I couldn’t bring myself to learn.”

Vienna chanced another glance and saw Elswyth once more striding along, so she kept quiet, thinking about schizoid syndrome and how Elswyth might just have it. She wasn’t even sure whether the words were meant for her.

Between the walking and the conversation, they had climbed two more floors and now were on previously untrespassed territory, at least for Vienna. The doors were unmarked, but the interior was much like the lower floors. Just switch the muted carpets with black shining linoleum, and the wallpapered walls with glowing white marble ones, and you got it.

They stopped in front of a door, unmarked like the rest, but with a specific jade doorknob. Vienna could feel the Pneumas coming to a halt behind her, but didn’t look back. Better to maintain an aloof but friendly persona, if that was possible.

Elswyth drew out a gold key from the folds of her gown and turned it in the lock, opening the door. Vienna peered inside; it was so dark she couldn’t see anything. She was only aware of a slight blue glowing tank- thing. In spite of that, Elswyth and the Pneumas advanced inside. A Blue Badge appeared behind her and handed her a pair of night-vision goggles, she clumsily strapped them on and instantly felt her vision improve, but instead of the stark green and black vision earthly goggles provided, she instead saw the room through a beautiful neon violet and indigo.

The room was composed of a huge tank against a wall, a huge, transparent water tank you saw scientists keep aliens in in those old space attack movies. The water was a pure blue and glowing, it lit up the whole room in a ethereal light. Other than that, there were six black wing chairs.

“You should get into that tank, Vienna Alcestis.” Elswyth said nonchalantly, nodding at the tank, Vienna’s eyes flitting from the tank to Elswyth and the Pneumas, who were gravely nodding.

“Get in the tank?” Vienna repeated stupidly, bewildered. “I…can’t swim.”

“That doesn’t matter, it’s not water. It’s a substitute…” Elswyth trailed off, now looking confused herself. “It’d take too long to explain, Vienna Alcestis, all you need to know is that it’s oxygenated, which means you can breathe, but it also deprives you of all your senses, except for hearing and speech. And your clothes will remain dry, rest assured.”

Vienna, not completely sure of her actions, took off the goggles and placed them on a table, then walked up the steps to the tank and after a moment of hesitation, lowered herself in.

The instant feeling was of floating, floating in nothingness. She closed her eyes and suddenly, she could feel nothing, and it was amazing. Complying with Elswyth’s words, her jumpsuit was completely dry. Only the Parcae necklace swayed as if in a breeze.

She could hear nothing, see nothing except the azure glow of the substance she was in. Outside was a completely alien concept- Elswyth and the Pneumas could be non-existent for all she knew, there wasn’t a hint of them in here.

For a few minutes, nobody said anything. And then there was a projection on the inside of the tank, a picture. Of herself. Ah, so much for self-consciousness.

“Say the first thing that comes to mind.” A voice said, almost sing-song, robotic.

“Myself.” Vienna said, feeling idiotic.

A random order of pictures started flashing on the screen, from horizons to seascapes to scenery to various people in her life. She said the first thing that came to mind, which were most often feelings she felt while looking at them. Then the screen stopped, and she was once again ordered to keep her eyes closed.

An almost unearthly music commenced. It wasn’t Bach or Mozart, nothing of Terra material. The melody dipped and swirled like gymnasts on a trapeze. It was the type of music people cried after listening to, taking you on an emotional rollercoaster. Vienna could’ve cried, but she didn’t want to. It seemed like 10 minutes had gone by, with the music in her ears and an inner voice in her head warning her not to get in her feels too much. She succeeded.

“You may exit the tank.” The voice piped up.

Vienna nodded to nobody in particular and with some difficulty, grabbed the corners of the tank and hoisted herself up. Arms weren’t her forte. She ran, not lifted.

As she descended the steps from the tank, six pairs of eyes followed her.

“Verry vell, Miss Alcesstis.” One of the Pneumas said, their tone almost approving. Their hair was twisted into a bun and hidden by the cloak. Vienna noticed the clipboards they all clutched, as if they had been taking notes. “That was only the first sstage. Then we have a few written exercises…”

Feeling grateful that that was at least something she knew, she patted down her hair, feeling self-conscious in the ambiguity of those gazes. Thank God she knew how to read and write, she thought, waiting for someone to initiate something, anything.

Elswyth finally moved to another part of the room and flipped her hand in a ‘Come hither’ gesture and they followed her, standing behind her gowned figure, her blonde hair falling in a perfect sheath down her back as she tapped away at a screen embedded in the wall, which slid open to reveal a starkly lit room, so bright it almost hurt the eyes. The judges stood back this time with Elswyth, and only Vienna entered the room, almost hesitantly.

There was a massive Davenport desk smack in the middle of the room, with a plush chair right against it. A sheaf of paper rested on the Davenport. The rest of the room was blank, almost jettisoned.

“Write whatever you’d like.” Elswyth said as the walls closed behind Vienna. “Tap the desk twice when you’re done.”

Jilted, Vienna turned stood before the now wall for a while, feeling that the light hurt her eyes. Then she decided to persevere and as she walked to the desk, the light automatically dissipated to a pale blue light, perfect to write in, but also soothing at the same time.

Well, heck. They can read my mind now?

She seated herself on the chair, grabbed the pen on the table and twirled it between her fingers for a while.

Whatever I’d like. Well, I’d like to get out of here. But that won’t do. That’d be terrible reading material.

In the end, Vienna wrote a short story about a girl who’s brilliant at robotics and stuff (‘and stuff’ basically being Vienna admission that she wasn’t educated in the world of robotics and coding) and neglecting everything else to work on…

Nano-bots… Vienna scribbled, applying extra pressure on the pen to ensure the rounded, slightly cursive hand she considered her best, but which also wore out her knuckles. She shook her hand to get rid of the pain before she resumed, slightly hunched over the desk, her fingers clutching the area just before the nib, her eyes pinned to the words as she inked them down.

Wish I brought my glasses, she thought with mild irritation.

And the nano-bots are a substitute for…siblings! She has no siblings and nobody to talk to and gets bullied at school for being a nerd.

Vienna giggled to herself as she gave her character a tragic backstory- something she gave almost every character of hers.

A well written character must have something or other tragic embedded in their background- tragic backstories are like spice, moderate is fine, but without one they’re too bland, and with too much of one too intense.

Vienna swung her legs back and forth as she scribbled away, feeling oddly at home as she wrote. She wrote stories all the time at home as well, cooking up new characters and plot lines. All she needed was for her family to walk in and it’d be complete. Just hearing their other-room chatter’d be enough too.

Don’t think about that.

And she spun her pen between her fingers with a flourish as she finished the story with a long natural description of how the sun played upon Elena’s AI handheld as she finally took a good look at it and broke it in half, promising to make more of what she had than what she didn’t.

Right bit of nonsense for somebody who’s always inside her own mind.

Throwing the pen down, she took one of the varying colored felt pens and jotted down a few flowers and arbitrary decorations, then wrote a excerpt from a poem she remembered writing herself.

To hate what millions have,

In my nine to five job, I'm overworked

And overwhelmed with the beef I cause

Between my conscience and my impulses.

Feeling pretentious, Vienna signed her name and tapped twice on the desk.

In the brief moments before the door opened, she wondered if she had been right writing the story.