Copy Cat, Part 1
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Last time on Nexus:
The Others, Part 3

Somewhere in the western Pacific Ocean, 1595

Somewhere in the blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean lies a small island. It rose out of the sea like the top of a mountain. Many reefs surrounded the island, so it was hard to approach. The people who lived on it had come to the island thousands of years ago, and had developed their own culture and language independently of the rest of the world.

The Mui, as this small community called itself, lived in constant alert, because the island housed a valuable and powerful treasure.

Many had tried to seize it, but they had all been beaten back by the creatures of the sea, the unforgiving reefs, and the Mui themselves.

Until today.

Five Chinese junks had landed at the island, spewing death and fire onto the land and sea.

Soldiers had swarmed all over the island, burning villages, stealing art treasures, and massacring the population.

Huahua, the high priest, looked on in horror from the temple at the top of the island at what was happening to his people. He was tanned and weather-beaten, and only his long beard showed that he had white hair.

A sword was put to his throat.

He didn't understand what the Chinese man was trying to tell him, but he could guess what he wanted. He clawed his fingers into his blue toga as he watched the plain stone house that was the temple being searched.

And they came out with the box.

Huahua stared hatefully at the robbers while an order was yelled.

And the high priest's throat was cut…

Germany, Dresden, Present

Elli had her first parents' evening.

The problem was that she found herself in a rather disadvantageous position. Namely that of the teacher. Most people were normal, happy about the successes their offspring had with Elli, and apparently took Elli's advice seriously. But some parents could get upset about anything, she noted. Except about their own children. She almost had to laugh at the incredible explanations some fathers and mothers could come up with about misbehavior and bad grades.

"Your pop quizzes are way too strict!" a stocky gentleman with a mustache like a shoebrush roared at the moment.

Mr. Klete, as Elli knew by now.

"No wonder our Ferdinand can't keep up. That's the kind of trash you teach people. He's a hands-on boy."

"Mhm," came an annoyed, curt reply from Elli. "Would explain how he managed to fill the biggest test tube he could find with hydrogen in chemistry. Seriously, if I hadn't caught him, he would have blown up his desk."

"You should have given him clear instructions!"

"I can't get much clearer than 'use only what's on your table', Mr. Klete," Elli replied dryly. "I'd love to blame it on the fact that he's as daft as a brush, but unfortunately he's actually relatively smart. It's just that he doesn't apply his intelligence when it comes to getting ahead in school. In short, he is a lazy sod and only obeys when I step on his fingers, Mr. Klete. I suggest you take away his video games and change the wifi password without telling him. If he's mad, I'll deal with him easier and the class will have something to laugh about. Let's see if that flips the switch in his head. Goodbye."

She smiled sweetly, while Mr. Klete rose with a huff and grumbled as he left the room.

Her next "patient" was not much better.

"I don't see why Lydia got such bad grades in PE!" a relatively young mother with a face that suggested that she had all the answers raged.

Elli liked women like her. They were always as entertaining as they were noisy.

"Mrs. Paschulke," she began slowly, secretly looking forward to the outcome. "I can only refer to what Mrs. Kessel told me, since I don't teach physical education myself, but her explanation seemed as simple as it was plausible. It was, if I remember correctly, and I quote: 'The lass is as fat as two porkers'. From a health point of view, I am inclined to agree with her opinion, even if I wouldn't voice it as direc-"


Elli was amazed at the organ that could manage such a volume. She was also sure, that it had generated enough wind to make her hair fly.

"Mrs. Paschulke," Elli noted carefully, "your child is developing primarily in width. A whopping 110 kilos, Mrs. Paschulke, that's more than double what she should weigh at that age."

"So what?" the mother replied, undiscerning. "Some children grow differently than others."

"Quite, but even Lydia herself noticed a while ago that something was very wrong. She's been asking me, her biology teacher, for diet tips after my classes."

"Wha- you're the reason she doesn't want to eat right anymore? Are you out of your mind!? My kid is going to starve to death if this keeps up."

Elli put her hands on hers, looked her firmly in the eyes, and smiled an icy, pain-promising smile that she usually saved up for serial killers and child molesters. It was enough to make Frau Paschulke's features fall asleep.

"Look, Ma'am," Elli said in a voice as sharp and cold as a scalpel. "I may not be able to stop you from overfeeding your daughter, but if she dies of a heart failure because of her obesity, I'll sic the police and Child Protective Services on you for premeditated murder or maybe just denial of assistance. All right?"

Mrs. Paschulke literally fled the room.

Elli chalked this up as a good deed and decided to call the police on the case soon for possible abuse if things didn't improve.

The next thing she faced was a couple. She had a similar getup to Elli herself, though it was obvious from her face that there actually wasn't much behind it. He actually looked quite normal, if overdressed, with graying hair and a business suit. He was probably cheating his wife, Elli guessed.

"So, what concerns do you have?"

"We're asking you that" came from the man.

"Well, Mr. Ullich, your son is doing quite well as far as grades in my subjects are concerned, there's just this tiny thing about his behavior. Last week, one of our janitors had to help little Tim from fifth grade get his backpack out of the trash can. Guess who put it in there?"

The woman took a breath to answer, but the father was quicker.

"He was framed for it!"

"Possibly," Elli replied, shrugging her shoulders. "But when I look at the number of offenses he was 'framed' for, as you put it, I think it's very unlikely. The graffiti in the stairwell was just the most innocuous thing. I took him to task after he tried to take our Chloe's lunch money, since then he's been behaving himself around me at least."

The mother raised her finger and was about to say something, but was again nipped in the bud.
"Were you the reason he was so upset the other day? He still gets anxiety attacks when he sees mince pies. What did you do?!"

Now that were some good news…

"I don't know what you're talking about," she lied without blushing. "I'm just good at coaxing kids, that's all. Makes my job incredibly easy."

The mother took breath for the third time but her spouse puffed up.

"Well, do you have any evidence for your accus-"

"Hababap!" Elli interrupted him.

"Cut the crap, I-"


"What are you-"



"BAP!" Elli croaked unimpressed.

The man glared silently at her.

"Thank you," Elli said smugly, pointing both index fingers at his spouse. "You had something to tell us, Mrs. Ullich?"

"Uh, yes?" she said, taken aback at being asked to speak.

Elli gave her an encouraging nod.

"Well, um, can't you do something about it? I mean, you said yourself that he's decent around you."

"I certainly won't do anything about it," Elli replied refusing and slightly offended. "Raising the lad is your job. I'm just supposed to hammer enough knowledge into him so that when he goes to college or vocational training, he won't get kicked out right away. And as for me being around, if he knows it won't affect me, he'll get going right away."

"Agathe, surely you will have more confidence in your son than in this woman."

"Well, what she says might be true, after all, my mother complains about him all the time too."

"Oh, your mother…"

The whole thing gradually built up to an argument, until Elli emphatically complimented them both out. For once, this wasn't going as planned…. She would probably have to pull a few legal levers to ensure that the boy ended up with the less dangerous influence, i.e. the mother, in the event of a divorce.

She leaned against the wall, sighing. Had she really been working over ten hours straight? And the one she had actually been waiting for had not come. She had volunteered for absolutely nothing…

"I need a vacation," she moaned plaintively.

China, Macau, 1597

It did not understand. It had only followed the call, but now it was trapped. These huge creatures with four arms hurt him. All it had left was some sand in a thing made of transparent stone. It was afraid. It wanted to get back on land.

One of the giants came into the cave where it was trapped. It tried to back away as it reached into its prison, but it was no use. It was grabbed.

And thrown out of the cave through a small hole?

Macau is a Chinese port city about 50 kilometers west of Hong Kong. It is known for its gambling halls and is a tourist magnet, mainly because of its proximity to Hong Kong.

Now, relative to Chloe given the year she was in, Macau would become that in the future.
Macau was like a beehive.

There were people everywhere, delivering goods, doing shopping, or building or fixing something.
Something like laziness seemed to be a completely incomprehensible concept here.

She was amazed that the anti-attention talisman worked here, because despite the era-appropriate clothes, basically better bathrobes, light blue for Elli, black with white trim for Chloe, and deep green for Dean, Chloe and Dean stood out like sore thumbs among the Chinese. She because of her white hair, which stood out clearly against the black hairdos near her, and Dean because he was almost twice the size of the average Macau citizen.

"Elli?" she asked, "Why are we here?"

"I've organized a little relaxation vacation," Elli explained. "I know someone here who's going to take us to some high society. With great food. And view of the sea when the area was still somewhat clean."

"Are you sure we should be here? I mean, we don't look like most people here. If the AAT fails-"

"It won't, as long as you don't lose it, Chloe," Elli interrupted her. "And even if it does, you just say you're from Portugal.

"Portugal," Chloe made sure.

"Yes," Elli confirmed. "They have a diocese here."

Chloe didn't look too thrilled. In general, she had found that she preferred to be in European or American areas. There, people didn't look at her as if she were some rare species. Well, at least they eyed her less….

Dean abstained from any comment.

It was not long before they reached a Chinese villa near the sea.

Two guards, their armor made of more cloth and less metal than Chloe had expected, stood in front of it, and the one on the left was visibly startled when Elli tapped her on the shoulder.

"HA! Who goes there!"

He adjusted his egg-shaped helmet and looked in confusion at the newcomers he was only now becoming aware of.

"Howdy," Elli greeted him. "Could you send for Li Mang?"

The guard put his hand to his sword, but did not draw it.

"Hmph. Even if I did, who would I even announce?"

"If you don't, my colleague here will give you a new and completely unnecessary intestinal outlet," Elli explained kindly and politely. "Just tell your mistress that Elli is here. She knows me from way back."
The guard looked first at Dean, who just shrugged, then at his colleague, who also shrugged, and then at Chloe, who shrugged because she too wanted to belong. The trend-setting seemed to work, because the guard also shrugged and walked through the front yard into the mansion.
"You didn't announce us?" asked Dean when he was gone.
"Don't worry, Dean, Li knows me. She's rarely here and I can't get into the Forbidden City easily. Remember our tête-à-tête with Emperor Hóngwǔ1. Leaving aside the fact that I would have gotten Li in trouble with an announcement no matter where I sent it from."
"The thing with old man Hóngwǔ was your own fault. You tried to buy imperial liquor from a eunuch. And to get it on with him."
Chloe frowned her brow.
"Uh, didn't Eunuchs get their-"
"Yes, Chloe," Dean replied dryly. "But that's never stopped Elli before."
Chloe turned slightly pink and an awkward silence followed.
"Dean, who is this Li anyway?" whispered Chloe then.
"I don't know," Dean admitted. "Elli always goes roaming when I'm not looking. Usually I just get called in to clean up something gross."
Chloe bit her lips….
Then the guard returned.
"You can come in," he said grimly.
"What did she say?" asked Elli.
"Excuse my choice of words, but she literally said 'Holy shit, did it have to be her?!'."
Elli turned to her companions, beaming.
"I told you guys, she knows me."

Scholar Hé, an old man whose bald head was hidden under a black, trapezoidal hat, looked with a level-headed face at the empty aquarium. One could not see it through his loose black uniform with white trim, but the researcher of the Abnormality Institute of the Empire of China was aghast and quivering with anger. With him in the room was his servant Min and the two soldiers Zhèng and Wu. Min was a young petite woman in a plain servant's costume, who watched the whole thing with the indifference characteristic of servants. Zhèng, who to his shame was noticeably shorter than Min, was probably already expecting to be fired for failing to guard this creature by the look on his face. Wu, an in Hé's opinion intellectually challenged giant, looked at the glass box which was empty except for the water and sand, apparently still trying to determine what was missing in the first place. Presumably, he had been admitted to the Abnormality Institute only through the influence of some powerful acquaintance…

The glass case rested on a heavy table, next to it stood an operating table with all the cutlery that belonged to it. Otherwise, the gray room was empty except for a bucket of water.

He placed himself before his guards with his arms folded under his wide sleeves. In his right hand, not visible from the outside, he held a golf ball-sized jade bead, a small trophy from his work. It could hold everything in equilibrium, perfectly balanced. Hé already noticed how even his anger began to subside very slowly, and his state of mind matched his expression.

"So, Zhèng, explain how anyone could pass through the only entrance this room has…" the scholar said with the composure of a Buddha. "While you and Wu were on duty…"

"Uh, my lord, the room also has windows," the guard noted in his rasping voice. "We're on the second floor here, is it possible that someone outside climbed up the wall and came through the window?"

Yeah, just squirm out like you always do, you little rat, Hé thought to himself. Ever since he was hired, this eel had been trying to reach as pleasant a post as possible. But not on his watch.

"None of the windows have been smashed, and you can't open them wide enough to climb through. Especially not from the outside. You two have failed in your only task."

Hé bethought himself. Of the rest of the Abnormality Institute, none knew about this little…. project. So he couldn't just send people out to look for the thing. Although, maybe he could just get a new one. And shake a few millstones off his neck in the process…

A good idea came to his mind…

"But lucky for us, Zhèng and Wu, I want to be gracious again," he said with that thought in mind. "Provided you two recapture the animal."

Zhèng licked his lips uncertainly.

"Uh, sir, you know that this being-"

"I know it, and I don't care, Zhèng," Hé interrupted him. "Either it comes back or you go. Or be carried away, if I can arrange it. We understand each other?"

Zhèng turned white as a sheet and nodded stiffly.

"Good," Hé said. "Come, Min, let's leave the two gentlemen alone to come up with a plan.
The servant nodded with her head bowed, and they both left the room.

Zhèng and Wu were alone. The little man waited briefly until the footsteps had faded away, then a little longer, until this unspeakable balance was also gone, which accompanied the scholar at every turn and smothered emotions as if with a pillow, wherever he was.

Then he exploded.

"By the gods, Wu, what have you gotten us into!"

"Uh, why?" Wu asked.

"It could only have happened while I was gone for a pee. Who did you let in?"

"No one," the tall one replied.

Zhèng knew he was lying. Had probably been bribed with something to eat. Or a nice smile, if it had been a woman.

"What are we going to do now?" asked Wu.

"We?" growled Zhèng strained before relaxing. "We, Wu, see about recapturing this thing. It usually lives in the water, it can't be far yet.

"But where do we look for it?" asked Wu.

"Anywhere this bugger might be. Use your head."

The interior of the house was ornately decorated with vases, flowers and Chinese paintings. Chloe looked around curiously, while Dean regarded the brightly polished wooden floor with an appreciative glance.

Meanwhile, a servant showed them around the premises.

A magnificent garden stretched out in the courtyard. A woman in a red robe and artfully pinned-up hair was kneeling on the veranda when Elli and her entourage entered.

The woman stood up and gave Elli a mild smile. Chloe saw that she must have once been a true beauty. However, the ravages of time were beginning to show on her. The first wrinkles had dug into her face and she thought she could make out a gray hair or two in the deep black of her hair.

"Mistress, I bring the visitors," the servant announced, bowing.

"Thank you," Mang replied in a voice that must have been music in the ears of men. "Please leave us and tell the kitchen to prepare some food."

The servant bowed wordlessly and left.

"Chloe, Dean, this is Li Mang," Elli introduced her. "One of the concubines of His Majesty Wanli, the reigning Emperor of China."

"Your manners are much better than last time, Elli," Mang commented with amusement. "I was afraid you'd burp in the presence of the servants. You should travel with company more often, I think."

"The effect is minimal, m' Lady," Dean remarked dryly.

Mang waved it off.

"Never mind the honorifics, we're among ourselves here. Let me look at you, Elli. It's been quite a long time."

She took a good look at Elli and frowned in confusion.

"Good heavens, you haven't aged a day," she said with unhealthy-sounding awe. "Actually, I had assumed it was just drivel told by our religion, but now I see that you are indeed an immortal."

She knelt down in front of Elli.

Elli grimaced involuntarily for a moment and gave Dean and Chloe a look that said "Just play along."

"Uh, yes, Li, however it's nonetheless been many years for me since we last met. I may be an immortal, but I am still nothing more than an ordinary woman."

Mang stood back up, somewhat confused, seemed to think for a moment, and then leaned in close to Elli.

"If you could give me some tips on slow aging, I'd appreciate it," she whispered.

"I should have some skin cream in my cupboard," Elli murmured back.

It occurred to Chloe that she had never asked Elli her age. Or about Dean's. She put off such inquiries until later. What concerned her more was Mang's office.

"Do take a seat," the concubine asked in an emphatically friendly manner.

Everyone obediently knelt down. For Chloe, however, as a European, this posture was extremely awkward. Mang seemed to notice.

"Hmm, you don't seem to be used to it. You'd best sit down in whatever way seems comfortable to you. You have such a lovely daughter, Elli."

Again, Elli made an involuntary grimace as Chloe sat down in relief.

"Chloe's not my daughter, Li. I picked her up."

"Oh, does that mean that fine gentleman there is still available?" the concubine asked, looking at Dean.

"You would have less fun with me than you imagine, Mrs. Mang," Dean replied forthcoming.

"Can confirm," Elli added sullenly.

"Can I ask you a question?" Chloe inquired.

"Sure thing," Mang replied with a smile.

"As a concubine, is it even permissible to take another man?"

Mang waved her hand again.

"Wanli has chosen new favorites over the years. That's why I can travel to Macau so freely right now. For government business, of course. He'd probably behead me if he heard anything like that, but I have the necessary connections to prevent such a thing in case of emergency."

"Government affairs?" Chloe verified.

"In China, eunuchs and concubines can gain and wield tremendous influence, Chloe," Elli explained.

Apologetically, she added for Mang, "Chloe is from a faraway land where concubinage is rather disreputable."

Chloe just took that as how it was.

"How did this acquaintance between you actually come about?" asked Dean. "Elli didn't tell us anything about it…"

"She helped me reach my current position," Mang explained. "Managed to enter the Forbidden City unnoticed, at the time I took that as proof of her immortality. She helped me dig out a ring of soldiers that withheld taxes from the state and food from the people."

"I suppose she made you pay for that."


The conversation revolved around Ellis's detour for a while and then gradually drifted off. In between, stuffed dumplings were brought. Chloe excused herself after a while and decided to explore the garden with trail provisions. It was a real work of art. Flowers she had never seen before were blooming everywhere, in a wide variety of colors. Huge ferns, grasses, and alien-looking trees also made the garden perfect for playing hide-and-seek in.

Chloe found a small bench that had been placed so that sitting down one could look at a pond full of colorful water lilies.

Chloe sat down and bit into her dumpling, lost in thought.

Her hearing registered a soft rustling sound, but decided to pass the message on to her eyes first, before informing her brain.

Her gaze fell to the floor. Something just disappeared from her peripheral vision and hid behind the bench.

Chloe stood up and peeked behind the seating.

It was a dog. It bore a distant resemblance to a German shepherd, but was larger and fluffier. He stepped slowly backward when he saw Chloe watching him. And drooled.

He seemed hungry.

Chloe looked critically at her dumpling. It was filled with ground meat. Presumably it was not poisonous to dogs.

She held it out to the animal.

The dog eyed the meal from several angles, sniffed it, and finally licked it out of Chloe's hand. She tickled him behind the ears while he chewed.

Then a strange thing happened.

Chloe's jaw dropped. That was all she was capable of before she was thrown to the floor.

Next time on Nexus:
Copy Cat, Part 2

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