The Library And The Ladybird (Part III)

“YUCK. What did you put in this?”

Libel put down a magazine she was reading and put on a smug face.

“It’s instant oatmeal prepared with water because you forgot to buy milk again.”

Nellidae nearly threw her plate across the living room at Libel’s rather tasteful signed portrait of former plus size model Amanda Gilded; she stopped only because of the terrifying glare she noticed behind Libel’s horn-rimmed glasses. The girl’s soft bronze features were beginning to turn ghastly blood-red. Knowing Libel to be skilled in hurting people, Nellidae put the bowl back in its place and stewed in silence. She decided to release her aggression instead by giving the plate a soft slap. A bit of the oatmeal spilled out of the bowl.

This gesture reduced Libel’s bloodcurdling murder-mask to a simple frown.

“You got some on the couch, you big baby.” Libel shouted.

She raised her health and fitness magazine over her face again to tune out Nellidae’s temper.

Nellidae stuck out her tongue. Resigned to go without breakfast, she gave the same cold shoulder to both Libel and her disastrous oatmeal. With a snap of her fingers, the apartment’s Telekinetitron television screen appeared from behind a sliding wall panel and turned on to a local channel, playing a cacophonous variety show.

“What is this garbage?” Libel said brusquely, unamused by the programming.

“It’s reality TV.” Nellidae replied just as brusquely. “It’s the future.”

“Hah. Of course you’d like it. Turn down the volume, I’m reading.”

Nellidae muttered curses under her breath but ultimately complied.

On the day’s Bawdy show, James Bawdy mediated between dysfunctional couples who constantly tried to kill each other over petty things. Attention seized by the show, Nellidae watched a couple literally come rolling out from opposite sides of the stage, taking cover behind decorative palm trees for tactical advantage, and coughing pistols they’d hidden in their stomachs. The audience gasped and then clapped as the couple aimed laser sights.

“Are you really going to do this right now?” James Bawdy asked, chuckling at the intensely dangerous tactical situation unfolding on stage. The audience cheered: Bawdy, Bawdy, Bawdy.

Laser dot picking out a choice location between her eyes, the lady from stage left cried out. “Bawdy, I’ve been looking for this man for 8 years. He always forgot the milk! And I’m going to kill him!”

The audience roared. The man, laser dot circling tightly in the middle of his forehead, “Bawdy, she’s insane! She demanded that I go on this whacko diet and nearly starved me! I’m gonna kill her!”

“Oh my. Looks like you’ve got a bit of unresolved tension.” James said, winking. “After this commercial break, we’ll take a look at the insignificant event that ruined this couple’s domestic life, forever.”

Nellidae clapped her hands in horror and immediately shut the TV off.

“Okay!” Nellidae shouted. “OKAY!”

She dropped to the ground and nuzzled up against Libel’s leg.

“I’m sorry Libel, okay! I’m sorry! I admit that I overreacted! I have a temper problem. I’m sorry Libel! I am very fond of your companionship!”

Libel peered out from over her magazine and stared at Nellidae. Watching her plead, she dropped the magazine entirely. She had been paying no attention to the TV. “Are you molting again?”

“No.” Despite the quick affirmation Nellidae was suddenly unsure. She casually tugged on one of her antennae, causing her left eye to reflexively raise up almost back into its socket. She found it quite tightly affixed to her forehead and came to a fortunate conclusion. “No, I’m not. I’m just very sorry for offending you! You’re great!”

“Oh, I’m not– you don’t have to– it’s fine.” Libel flushed. “It’s fine, Nelly, you don’t have to–” She turned her head, unable to meet her apartment-mate’s eyes. “Oh gosh, I’m so happy you think so.”

Nellidae smiled. She waved toward her plate. “Now please make me breakfast in a non-revolting fashion.”

Libel, still gushing enough to overlook the coarse wording, took Nellidae’s plate and skipped happily across the living room toward the little kitchen. There was a warmth in her heart and a spring in her step that was somewhat unlike her. She cast the oatmeal into the garbage with ease and set about to work on a new, love-filled breakfast.

As she entered, the computer hidden in the kitchen island quietly raised one of its touch-monitors and displayed a wave graph that grew ever more violent with each second. Libel ignored the graph entirely and with an entranced and placid smile she seized a box of  pancake mix, some dairy creamer, and some mixed fruit. With a renewed flame of blissful domesticity in her heart, she would cook Nellidae her special love-filled fruit pancakes.

Containers and tools on the began to rattle ever so lightly along with the countertop, but Libel pushed them back into position and began to mix the batter. She caught the blueberries and apple chunks before they could bounce off the counter and dropped them in. Soon the bowl gyrated so much on its own that Libel barely had to do any more mixing.

“I’ll be done in a second, Nelly,” Libel said in a pleasant, sing-song tone.

“What’s all this shaking?” Nellidae asked.

Placidly, Libel took a peek at the outstretched monitor. “Oh, just a magnitude 7 earthquake.”

“Oh, well that’s unfortunate, we live on a high floor. We could be hurt.” Nellidae said.

There was tense silence as the two struggled to accept the ever more obvious.

Then Libel’s pancake bowl flew off the countertop, followed by everything else.

The walls warped, and the floor shook, and Nellidae was cast from the sofa and thrown face down unto the living room coffee table, splitting the proud salsawood in half. Libel tried to hang on to her computers, only to snap off the seismograph monitor and fall with it unto the floor. The refrigerator vomited its contents and tipped over; various gewgaws on display shelves launched toward the floor. A most tasteful portrait of Amanda Gilded shattered.

As the earth twisted and jerked under them a stuffed platypus rolled with such ferocity that it smashed the glass sliding doors to the balcony and rolled off the edge to its second demise.

“LIBEL!” Nellidae shouted over the rumbling, struggling to raise herself on all fours, “STATUS?”

A metal rattling noise responded before Libel could. The knife cabinet burst open.

Libel rolled unto her side, flat as she could against the counter structure, watching knives pile over the lip at the edge countertop and only slightly overshoot her. Butter knives bounced off the ground ineffectively, ginzus likewise, meat knives and vegetable cutters fell in deadly piles. A vibromachete hit a crack in the floor dead-on and split it an inch farther, and various throwing stars and kukris leaped from their hidden compartments and gleefully embedded themselves near Libel, several pinning her pleated skirt to the kitchen floor. A butcher knife blunted the elegant tip of her red ponytail.

“I’M NOT OKAY!” Libel shouted back.

Nellidae finally raised herself four-legged and tried to crawl to Libel. She heard a sharp, close cracking of cement. The ceiling ripped and the bronze light fixtures fell in a rain of ore and glass, crashing like bombs around her. Glass shards embedded themselves in her antennae, and her vision grew blurry and senses weak. She struggled out of the living room and toward Libel, but a larger roof fixture split from the ceiling and crashed on her back, pinning her.

“AH! NEITHER AM I!” Nellidae screamed, her wings struggling to open against the weight.

Curiously, she could hear herself now.

Soon as it had come, the earthquake stopped.

Libel gingerly reached behind her back and removed the knives pinning her clothes. Nellidae remained on the ground, a bit exhausted and more than a bit annoyed from the impalement of a chandelier bit into her lower back. She traced the tiny cracks running throughout the walls and floor, and breathed out in relief. Everything seemed to be holding up and the building never seemed to have come close to crumbling despite the violence. The floor, however, was littered with glass and clay and porcelain from all their broken possessions.

“Are you hurt, Nellidae?” Libel asked, her voice quavering.

Nellidae reached a trembling hand to the chandelier and found yellow blood on it.

“Yeah, big sharp thing going through the crest of my ilium. It’ll be fine though.” Nellidae said. “Did you make it out okay? Nothing meaty to replace? My health insurance is kinda abysmal.”

“I’m okay. Remind me to buy less glassware when we redecorate.” Libel said, sighing. She helped herself to stand up to the island countertop, her legs still shaking. Shallow cuts into her legs stung her as she straightened out. Several of the island’s monitors had broken in some way, but a survivor remained, flashing an earthquake alert. The system sound in the operating system had been set to a muted level, so they never heard the proper alert.

Various pop ups had accrued over the course of the quake as her RSS trackers, oblivious to the carnage, worked to keep Libel informed of the situation. She glossed over them mindlessly, her insides still shaking discomfortingly, a feeling nausea and a prickling restlessness brimming just under her skin. Once the shock began to subside, she expanded an RSS pop-up of particular interest, and played its video out. She went back over one section, over and over.

“Nellidae, a structure just burst out of the ground from beside the Library of Congress.”

“Yeah, I know, right. They’re gonna need a whole new Fed to pay for this crap.” Nellidae replied in jest, completely unaware of the magnitude of everything that had just transpired.

* * *

“Oh, I think that was an earthquake. I’m a bit sensitive to those. I even feel micro-quakes sometimes.” Amanda Gilded hugged herself, slightly frightened for the outside world. She silently prayed for those who did not live in millions of dollars worth of earthquake-resistant superconstructions, hoping they would be fine and that repairs could be swift and inexpensive and that their insurance would cover it. She then proceeded with her five star sushi meal.

Dr. Cruciere shared the same table, exquisitely made from the shells of Berlanga Giant Turtles, and scoffed at the notion that there was anything to fear from the shaking. She’d cast a quick glance at her portable holo-processor under the table, and it had only been a magnitude 7, its epicenter only 25 miles away. Who’d be troubled by this?

“I didn’t feel anything.” Dr. Cruciere replied. “You need to relax more. Hillberry Manor is quake-proof anyway. The advanced design of the lower levels can stifle anything below a ground-altering magnitude 9 or 10 quake.” While the sounds of authentic shamisen players, performing over a satellite feed, eased her into the mood of the meal, she carefully picked out a choice lobster roll wrapped in a gold leaf. She dipped it in a gold sauce and ate it in one go.

The chef presiding over the table clapped.  “Good technique! You are a natural Miss Gilded.”

Cruciere nearly corrected him, but recalled that she’d changed her last name to Amanda’s in order to make it slightly less obvious that she was the scientist known widely as “The Enemy Of Civilized Humanity.” She’d even pinned her red hair to the back of her head, using little silver sticks to keep it in a bun. A different hairstyle always threw people off.

“I’m impressed with your food engineering skill Mr. Hayashi.” Cruciere tipped her head toward the Chef. “I’m an engineer myself, but food engineering was the one skill I could never wrap my head around.”

“It’s all mathematics.” Chef Hayashi said proudly. “Everything in the world is.”

“You’re quite right.” Cruciere replied. “Even world domination is all mathematics.”

Amanda laughed politely, and then reached casually across the table to tap on Asmodeus’ plate. “Asmy, you’re not eating.” She said, drumming a little tune on the expensive salsawood board upon which a line-up of sauces and rolls had been arrayed especially for their fake daughter’s enjoyment. Asmodeus, pressed into a bright red and gold dress, appeared slightly more indignant than indifferent, but only just so. She expressed little interest in the food.

“Mr. Hayashi is well-renowned for his artisanal gastro-engineered Sushi!” Amanda added.

“I don’t really have to eat to sustain myself Miss Aman– Mom.” Asmodeus said bluntly.

“Teen diet craze hit her too?” The chef asked. He appeared offended at the refusal.

“Asmodeus, eat.” Cruciere ordered. “We paid incredibly good money for this.”

“Yes, doct– Mom².” Asmodeus replied. She picked a salmon roll and ate it whole.

“Great technique.” Chef Hayashi said. He clapped for Asmodeus, and Amanda joined him with great glee. Asmodeus returned a blank stare that was slightly more disconcerted than her usual blank staring.

“We need to do breakfast like this more often.” Cruciere said, watching the shamisen players break out into a traditional manzai comedy routine over the satellite video feed as an intermission to their exquisite playing. She was so enchanted with high-class domestic bliss that she, too, entirely missed some quite ominous events.

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