Science!

Norene was grinning in her usual cheerful manner as she skipped into the kitchen, several bags dangling precariously from her arms. “I got it!” she chirped. “Everything they had. Vincent thought I was completely mad.” She paused. “Though, I think he thinks that about me all the time anyway. He’s just usually better at hiding it.”

I snorted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought everyone but himself was a little crazy.”

Norene giggled. “Maybe it’s true. Maybe we’re all crazy, and we only think we’re sane because that’s the only way to get through the day.”

“Possible,” I agreed. “But hardly a theory that can be tested.”

“Like our experiments? Oooh, that’d be fun, doing an experiment about if everyone’s crazy.” Norene dumped her bags on the nearest dusty counter, only dropping one on the floor.

“And what would that experiment look like?” I raised an eyebrow.

“I dunno.” Norene set the wayward bag on the counter with the others. “You’re the expert, not me. I’ve never done a proper experiment before, remember?”

“I guess we’ll just have to change that, then. Though for today, we’re just going to get some baseline data, not trying to prove or disprove a theory.”

Norene tilted her head to the side in a gesture I had come to think of as her questioning face. “What’s the difference? Isn’t it all experimenting?”

“Well, yes.” I joined Norene at the counter by the bags and began unpacking them, placing the varied containers in neat rows as I explained. “There’s different kinds of experimenting. There’s playing around with things and trying things out just to get information, like we’re doing today. Later on, I hope to do some more controlled experiments that should help us determine the rules for what works and what doesn’t work.”

“Playing sounds fun! The other kind sounds interesting too, but I think I’ll like this better.”

I laughed. “You would. You don’t like rules.”

“Rules are meant to be broken!” she agreed with a grin.

“Technically, some rules can’t be broken. You know, the ones that govern what’s possible and what isn’t.”

“Pssh, lame,” Norene retorted, wrinkling her nose. “How are you supposed to find out what’s really possible if you’re too certain you know what isn’t?”

“Exactly. The rules are there, but we have to test them to know them. And just because something’s never been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

“Yeah! Let’s show those rules who’s boss!”

Well, not quite what I meant, but close enough. It was hard to argue with Norene’s enthusiasm.

 

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So Far So Good

Once Norene had finished making faces at my accurate (if uncensored) explanation of how-Aldith-the-lich-ordered-me-not-to-eat-brains, her expression shifted into one more thoughtful. “So it worked, then?”

I shrugged. “Too soon to tell, really. So far so good, though. The idea of eating—” I grimaced as a wave of nausea made me a little light-headed for a moment. When I recovered, Norene was watching me with concern.

“Are you okay?”

I brushed her concern aside with a wave of my hand. “Anyway, the physical response is rather dramatic, and certainly not conducive to consuming…anything.”

“So what now?”

Realising we were getting some rather odd looks from the dead, undead, dead-adjacent, or otherwise outcast inhabitants of the dead side waiting to get food (or…well, best not to go there, since I rather preferred my stomach not attempt to climb up my esophagus), I gestured for Norene to follow me back onto the street in the direction of home.

Huh. I had just thought of a dusty, next-thing-to-falling-apart house on the dead side of town as home. Even more surprising? Thinking about it didn’t really bother me. For all that it looked like nothing so much as a ghost town (there was an undead joke in there somewhere), the place certainly wasn’t boring. Not that my life on the living side had been boring, per se, but it had been rather predictable. And after being here for a few days—had it really been almost a week?—I was no longer convinced I’d actually want to return to my normal, routine life on the living side.

My life was more interesting now that I was dead. If that wasn’t ironic, I didn’t know what was.

“Maaaargot…” Given the way Norene elongated my normally two syllable name into at least four, it didn’t take a genius to guess that it wasn’t the first time she’d said my name.

“Sorry.” I grimaced in the banshee’s direction. “Lost in thought. What were you saying?”

“I asked what you were planning to do next?” she asked, shooting me a grin. Only Norene would think being ignored was amusing.

“Wait for a few days, monitor my reactions, that sort of thing. Get an understanding of what exactly the effects of Aldith’s command are in the long term, maybe test some things.”

“Oooh, like experiments?” Norene actually bounced with excitement.

I couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. “Yes, exactly like experiments.” Feeling sarcastic, I continued, “So exactly, it won’t just be like we’re performing experiments, we’ll actually be performing experiments.”

“This is exciting!” Norene exclaimed. “I don’t think I’ve ever done a proper experiment before!”

I sighed. Of course she hadn’t. These things really shouldn’t surprise me anymore.

 

That’s Disgusting

For a moment, it seemed as though nothing had happened, and I began to wonder if I would even be able to tell straight away. I opened my mouth to say as much, thinking that the vague feeling of hunger that had been plaguing me for several days now hadn’t gone away.

As soon as I remembered the uncomfortable ache in my stomach, my zombie hindbrain kicked in, and I thought, for just a second, that the lich’s head might be tasty. As soon as that thought crossed my mind, however, it (and everything else) was overwhelmed by an intense nausea. Clutching my stomach, I doubled over and retched.

Nothing came out, thankfully, but it wasn’t terribly surprising. I hadn’t eaten since…I hadn’t eaten since I was human. Now wasn’t that a depressing thought.

“That’s disgusting,” Aldith snapped, lip curled. “Find me in a few days after you’ve tested the command.” She turned away from me.

I just stared at her. I could feel the force of this newest command in the strange weightiness of the words, but didn’t feel compelled to immediately run off and experiment. It was strange, really, how simple it was for me to differentiate between the lich’s commands and normal speech. The words and the way they were spoken weren’t any different, at least not in any way I could explain, but there was still a certain…something to them. What that was, I had no idea. Well, I had some idea, but ‘magic’ wasn’t much of an explanation.

“Why are you still here?” The lich had turned back to look at me again with a distinctly hostile expression. “Go away.”

I had already turned and was several strides away before I even managed to open my mouth to object. I snorted to myself as I directed my steps back toward Norene. Wasn’t that just typical? Didn’t even give me a chance to apologise for something that wasn’t even my fault.

“Well? How did it go? It looked exciting. Did she do it? Did it work?” Norene babbled as soon as I came into earshot. Well, maybe she had started before then, but I wouldn’t be able to tell, since I wasn’t watching her mouth.

“That,” I teased, stopping alongside her, “is entirely too many questions as once.”

Norene pouted. “You know what I mean. Spill!”

As we walked away from the Distribution Center, I thought it was probably a good thing Norene wasn’t a lich. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know how my body would interpret a command like “spill.” Which led me to an entirely different train of thought about the language of a lich’s commands and the importance of the words used as opposed to the intent behind them.

“Margot!” my banshee friend whined, dragging my attention back to the here and now.

Oh, yes. I was supposed to “spill.” “Well, Aldith agreed to do it,” I began.

“And?”

I laughed. “I’ll get there, if you let me tell you!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll hush up now.” Norene grinned at me expectantly.

“Aldith commanded me to explain, which I did, rather eloquently I thought for being put on the spot, and seemed intrigued. So then…Aldith commanded me to ‘never consume a human brain, be it living or dead, magical or mundane.’ Then I nearly vomited, and probably would have if there’d been anything in my stomach to come up.”

“Eww!”

 

Sorry, No Post This (Last?) Week

Writing was attempted, writing was not achieved, and this is the result. The road of good intentions and all that…and yeah, that’s not how the saying goes, yadda, yadda. It’s far more fun to quote Wicked.

Long story short, Kiley’s a hot mess, but she fully intends to pull herself together in time for this coming Friday.

See above about intentions.

The Tone of Command

“Aldith,” I called out in a deliberately neutral tone, stepping up to the lich.

If the lich ‘hadn’t been looking too grumpy’ as Norene claimed, when she…she? Yes, I decided, she. That was how Norene had referred to her until that ridiculous conversation with Jane. When she turned to face me, her expression darkened to a scowl.

“I have a favour to ask of you,” I began formally.

The lich just snorted and turned away.

Well, this was going well. Recklessly, I continued to speak as an idea popped into my head. “It’s an experiment of sorts. To see how far your ability to command the undead goes.”

Aldith turned back to look at me, and despite the raised eyebrow and expression of distaste, I could tell she was intrigued. “And, what, exactly, do you think any experiment of yours could tell me about my abilities that I do not already know?” she drawled.

“Can your commands overcome a biological imperative?” I challenged. If there was one thing I knew about creatures so deeply entrenched in magic as Aldith, it was that they tended to overlook the more physical aspects of the world.

The eyebrow went down and the lich’s eyes narrowed. “Explain,” she demanded, her single word a command.

The words spilled from my mouth before I could even think to stop or even regulate them. “Zombies are compelled to eat brains, to the extent that if they don’t, they descend into a mindless state termed ‘brain crazy’. My proposal is this: you command me to never eat human brains, and we see what result it has. If it’s successful, we might experiment with more specific commands to see if we can eliminate the drive to consume brains entirely.”

The lich’s eyes were sharp and piercing as they scanned over my face, noting how my mouth snapped shut when I finished speaking, how I couldn’t help the way my eyes widened in horrified embarrassment at my helpless response to the command.

“Perhaps I underestimated you,” she admitted after a long, awkward pause.

I swallowed around my suddenly dry throat. “And what do you think of my proposal?”

Another charged silence passed between us, and I resisted the urge to fidget. As much as I forced myself to maintain an optimistic attitude toward my goal to find a human brain-alternative for zombies, I knew perfectly well that the entire project—potentially my entire life—depended on the lich’s answer. Scientific breakthroughs took time, and I had a rather limited supply of it.

“Margot Lucas,” she began, her tone so unmistakably a command that I didn’t even have time to wonder how she knew my last name before she continued, “you will never consume a human brain, be it living or dead, magical or mundane.”

 

On Delusions and Denial

Despite my casual stance leaning against the side of the Distribution Office, I felt antsy. Norene’s complete and utter calm was not, contrary to what one might expect, helping anything. Her words from yesterday kept bouncing around in my head. Hers and Jane’s.

…a diet that known facts deem impossible… She was right, of course. All the evidence we had at present indicated that zombies who don’t eat brains go brain crazy, then die, in a matter somewhere between days and weeks. I believed in facts and evidence. And the fact was that no one did research on the eating habits of zombies. Human brains worked, yes, but if anyone had ever tried anything else, they’d left no record of it.

…loads of people think you’re delusional for thinking you can get away with not eating brains… I was many things, but I was most certainly not delusional. In denial for a lengthier amount of time that I’d thought myself capable, yes. Denial had gotten me exactly nowhere, so I moved on. I wasn’t delusional. I knew perfectly well that it was possible everything people believed about zombies was true. If that were the case, I could always deliver myself at the draugr’s door in full brain crazy mode and let him kill me. On the other hand, he might just feed me brains to spite me, so maybe I’d be better off showing up at the banshee compound. They certainly seemed to despise me (and, to be honest, anyone who wasn’t them) enough not to muck about.

Long story short, I would make sure I died before bending my morals and stooping so low as to eat human brains. I shuddered in disgust. If my mouth watered or my stomach rumbled at the thought, it was surely a coincidence.

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t as over the whole denial things as I’d like to think. Who could blame me, though? I’d been turned into a damn zombie. The whole situation was preposterous.

“Ooh, look, look!” Norene exclaimed, actually bouncing in excitement. “There sh- they, I mean, are!”

Speaking of preposterous. They, indeed. Either the lich had female sex organs or male ones. It was simple biology. And people had done plenty of research on that subject. Sure, there was the rare exception, but it was just that: rare. I highly doubted Aldith was one such.

And yet, I hesitated to approach…Aldith, hesitated to use male or female pronouns, even in my head. What if it had little to do with biology?

I gave a sharp shake of my head and tuned back in to Norene’s chatter. My goal was to get the lich’s help with my little brain problem, not debate the relation between gender and pronouns.

“…they don’t even look too grumpy! That’s a good sign! Aldith always looks grumpy, you know…” Norene was saying.

I pushed off the side of the building, listening only vaguely to Norene, and headed toward the lich’s dark figure. I was on a mission.

 

Who’s Delusional?

Jane’s expression sobered with rather alarming abruptness. Apparently once she’d released her mirth, it didn’t take long to dissipate. “Now, what’s this about you being hungry? I hope you’re not still insisting on a vegan diet. As much as I want to commend you for sticking to your beliefs, I do have friends here who aren’t zombies that I’d rather not see in danger from someone too stubborn to stop herself going brain crazy.”

I sneered at the woman, not feeling particularly amused myself anymore. “Of course I am. I’m vegan. I don’t eat meat. That won’t change, and do you really think I’d let things get so bad I’d put others in danger?”

“I don’t know you all that well, do I?” Jane replied mildly, one eyebrow raised. “And so far as I or anyone else knows, there are only two ways to prevent a zombie from going brain crazy: eating brains or death.”

I sniffed. “I have a plan.”

Jane merely raised her other eyebrow.

“Margot’s going to ask Aldith to order not to go brain crazy!” Norene explained with her usual exuberant smile.

Jane frowned at that, but nodded, seeming impressed. “It could work, I’ll admit. I assume you haven’t spoken with them yet?”

“Them?” I repeated, confused.

“Aldith,” Jane clarified, her tone bland and guarded.

“And?”

“And what?”

“And who else?” I demanded.

Jane raised her eyebrow again, clearly unimpressed. “No one else.”

“Them is a plural pronoun,” I lectured.

“It’s also a gender neutral singular pronoun. I was using it in that capacity,” Jane retorted, her face still carefully expressionless.

“I didn’t know that!” Norene chirped. “So Aldith doesn’t have a gender, then? Is it because she’s a lich?”

“Of course not,” I scoffed. “Everyone has a gender, male or female.”

Jane’s lip curled in a sneer. “Aldith is non-binary, and prefers singular they/them pronouns. I would think someone choosing a diet that known facts deem impossible wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss such a thing.”

“So what, you’re equating my determination to develop a diet for zombies that doesn’t involve cannibalism with someone’s delusional insistence on ignoring human anatomy?”

“This conversation is over.” Jane turned on her heel and took several steps away before pausing to look back over her shoulder. “Good luck with getting any help from Aldith. They are not so patient as I am.”

“Ridiculous,” I muttered with a snort.

“Why?” Norene countered, and if she had been anyone else I would have doubted her expression of innocent curiosity. “Even if you disagree, it’s not like it’s hurting anyone.”

“I’m not in the habit of pandering to delusions,” I retorted stiffly.

“That’s just a matter of opinion, though, isn’t it?” Norene countered, still without actually trying to argue with me. “I mean, loads of people think you’re delusional for thinking you can get away with not eating brains.”

“So what, you think I’m the delusional one now?” I snapped, unable to keep the hurt out of my voice.

“I didn’t say that. I’m just saying, maybe no one’s delusional.”

I just sniffed at that and remained silent, ignoring the tiny little voice in my head that suggested maybe, this time, I was wrong.