Copy Cat, Part 2
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Last time on Nexus:
Copy Cat, Teil 1

"And then the general cut off his head," Mang finished her little anecdote.
She was in no way affected or shocked. She could have told about how she had bought a house and the tone would have been no different.
Elli and Dean listened to her intently and both thought the following:
Luckyly, Chloe hadn't stayed to listen to this….
A servant waddled up and bowed.
"Mistress, you have another guest."
Mang frowned.
"Who else? Sorry, Elli, but I guess I'll have to take care of him. Try to remain undetected. You know what kind of questions your appearance can trigger."
She stood up and followed the servant.
Elli turned to Dean.
"Did she just tell me to hide from the visitor?"
"You waltzed in here unannounced, Elli," Dean pointed out.
Elli rolled her eyes.
"I guess, but that's a little rude. Am I embarrassing her?"
"I can only speak for myself," Dean began. "But I think the answer to that is an unlimited yes."
"You little-"
A scream rang out.
"That was Chloe, wasn't it?" Elli asked the empty space Dean had occupied just a moment before.
He himself had jumped up and was already hurrying to get to the source of the sound. Elli followed him, but had to learn how to walk again after all that kneeling.
She followed the sounds of an ongoing scuffle until she found Dean, who apparently didn't quite know what to make of the situation.
It was to the same degree disturbing as it also was absolutely adorable.
Chloe was on the floor, trying her hardest to keep another Chloe on top of her from rubbing her cheek with her own. The Chloe on top seemed to be having noticeable fun with it.
"Rrrrrrr!" the one above purred.
"Dean, now don't stand there and help me, please!" gasped the lower Chloe.
Her doppelganger only now seemed to notice that more people were present and turned into a large dog. It was strange to watch. It was as if the creature first transformed into something entirely different before taking its desired shape, something white and furry with definitely more than four legs.
The attempt to escape failed, however, because of Dean's absolute lack of amazement. He grabbed the thing from behind by the neck while it was still trying to run away and lifted it up. It turned into a giant eel, which only caused Dean to tighten his grip. The creature then bit him on the arm. He didn't even flinch.
Elli, meanwhile, helped Chloe to her feet and stared at the shape-shifter like a child who, after an exhausting visit to the zoo, finally arrived at the elephants she was dying to see.
"A Nun-Di!" she breathed delightedly.
She tickled the eel tentatively. It twitched rather violently before transforming again after persistent tickling.
This time it took on an appearance Elli had expected. The wedge-shaped head with the black beady eyes and the long neck reminded of a bird, even if birds always had a beak and not a barely visible mouth. And they didn't have white fur. Attached to the neck was a spindle-shaped body with five long pairs of legs extending from it with no visible joints or feet. The creature ended in a short tail that made it about a meter and a half long. The legs, however, hung down even farther than the tail.
"Elli, what is that?" asked Chloe.
"An excellent question," Elli praised. "This one is a Nun-di, also known as copycat."
"And why can he turn into Chloe?" asked Dean, trying to slide his free hand under the creature to make it a little more comfortable.
"It's its natural defense strategy," Elli explained. "They're closely related to cephalopods and can take on the appearance of any animal they've ever seen. The ultimate disguise artists, able to take the form of anything predators don't want to mess with. I never thought I'd get to see one in the flesh."
"This thing is an octopus!?" asked Chloe, disgusted.
"It's an amphibious mollusk," Elli corrected. "For some reason, they've evolved lungs as well as gills. They actually live deep in the ocean, but the young are raised near the surface. This one must have been separated from its mother."
Chloe demonstratively stepped behind Elli, while Dean finally managed to grab the Nun-Di in such a way that he did not decapitate it with the aid of gravity. The animal thanked him by wrapping its tentacles, because nothing else could those legs be, around him without much success and tried to crush him unsuccessfully.
"A young animal?" Dean asked. "How big are these critters when they're full grown?"
"I don't know," Elli admitted. "They're thought to grow their whole lives."
Elli had forgotten to mention that Nun-Di were downright intelligent. Dean realized too late what the animal was actually up to, because now that it had anchored itself to Dean's body, it suddenly pulled its head out of his grasp as it seemingly contracted and took the shape of an octopus before sliding off his body and becoming a dog again on the ground.
Which tried to hide behind Chloe.
Elli knew Chloe disliked snails and other mollusks. Mussels and squid were still okay, but only as long as they were ready to eat on a plate in front of her. Accordingly, she tried to get away from the Nun-Di with disgust on her face, but it just followed her.
"Rrrrrrrruuuuh!" it let out, pitifully.
Then it turned into Elli.
Almost, that is.
One could tell the doppelganger apart from the original, because the former only reached up to the latter's chest.
"What the-" escaped Chloe.
"I think he can only disguise himself as creatures that are about his size," Elli speculated.
Then she had a flash of genius.
"Chloe, I think he thinks you're another member his species. Because of your white hair."
"Oh, really?" Chloe gave back, who was obviously starting to feel nauseous about the transformations. "Then why is he turning into you?"
"I guess he wants you to have the same trust in him that you have in me."
Chloe continued to look at the Nun-Di with disgust. That didn't get any better when he turned back into her.
"Ew…" came from Chloe.
"Hunn?" the Nun-Di went on, putting on a questioning expression.
"What's he doing here, anyway?" asked Dean. "I can't imagine they're common, I'm sure they would have written history in that case."
"Ask me something easier…" Elli replied, shrugging. "They usually avoid human settlements, probably because they know we can see through them."
Footsteps approached behind them.
A small servant approached.
"Oh, here you are. If you'll excuse me, Madam Mang sends word that-"
Only now did she notice that there were two Chloes.
"Um, you'll excuse me, but didn't you have just one child with you?"
The fake Chloe had immediately hidden behind the original and was peering curiously over her shoulder.
"Rrruuh?" it cooed in confusion.
The servant's features fell asleep.
"Oh- Oh dear…"
She was about to turn around, but Elli put a hand on her shoulder with a friendly smile.
"You seem to know something," she said kindly as she stopped the servant from leaving.
The woman bit her lips. Ellis's smile changed by a tiny nuance, making it seem lessasking and more threatening.
"Uh… If I talk to you, will you promise not to tell my master? I'm dead if Master Hé finds out."
"Our lips will remain sealed as long as you don't pull the wool over our eyes," Elli promised. "You won't get a better deal than that."
The servant gulped.
"What's your name, anyway?" asked Elli encouragingly.
"Uh, I'm-I'm Min, I serve under the scholar Hé."
"Very good, Min, and what exactly is troubling you about our little friend here right now?"
Min opened and closed her mouth a few times in exasperation, looking like a fish out of water.
"I, uh… I released him. Master Hé had captured him to extract his essence."
"Essence?" Elli asked, before shifting gears properly. "Oh… That's what you mean… Typical…"
Chloe and Dean looked at her like two question marks. Elli deactivated her translation sticker.
"There's an obscure myth about the Nun-Di, so old and irrelevant that it's been completely forgotten in Chloe's time," she explained. "The ancient Chinese believed that its blood, the essence of the Nun-Di, gives eternal youth to whoever drinks it. They refer to the fact that no dead Nun-Di has ever been found, so they assumed they lived forever instead of perishing, say, thousands of meters below the surface."
She activated her patch again.
"Um, excuse me?" asked Min, who was obviously trying to make sense of Elli's German just then.
"Based on your presence here, I assume Hé maintains a good relationship with the honorable Mang," Elli said matter-of-factly. "Furthermore, I assume that whatever we tell Mang will sooner or later reach Hé's ears as well. Is that correct?"
"Your powers of observation are remarkable," Min slurred with the sense of duty that only lifelong servants possess. "Yes, Venerable Master Hé is a good friend of Mrs. Mang. He is her liaison to the Abnormality Institute, she his to the court."
"Abnormality Institute?" asked Chloe.
"A research institution in ancient China, it studied supernatural phenomena," Dean explained to her.
Elli raised her eyebrows.
"Then you're risking your head if you release the Nun-Di, aren't you? Why?"
"Would you let such a fascinating creature die?"
"What are you up to, Elli?" asked Dean, furtive.
"I want to send the Nun-Di back to the sea. However, there's a problem…"
She pointed to the pond, in which…. nothing was happening…
"I can't open the Nexus here. If Hé is here in the house, he probably has something with him that stabilizes the local reality, a talisman or something, the Chinese were pretty smart about that sort of thing."
"Well, let's go then," Dean suggested.
"You guys might get out, but I won't," Elli countered. "If we all suddenly disappear after showing up unannounced, Li is bound to get suspicious. Or at least really, really offended. I mean, really hard pissed off, throat-cuttingly offended, in a way, you know?
"But she was so nice," she defended Chloe.
"I know, but there are things in old Chinese high society that can literally cost you your head, Chloe, regardless of how close you are with each other. This is one of them."
"So what do we do?" asked Dean.
"I stay here and try to distract Hé. You guys disappear for a minute and throw the Nun-Di into the ocean. All right?"
"Shouldn't I go alone, maybe?" Dean asked.
"Chloe's the only one the Nun-Di wants to be around out of his own free will, so she'll have to come along. And she's safer with you than here anyway."
"I have to stay here as well," Min said, "I can't just leave my master, but I will support you."
"Then so be it," Dean growled not very enthusiastically. "Come, Chloe, let's get this over with."

Zhèng and Wu walked haphazardly through the streets, like people faced with an almost impossible task in the face of death.
"But Zhèng, why do we have to-" Wu began for the fourth time by now.
His colleague was beginning to burst. Again.
"Again, Wu, it doesn't matter what we or the Institute think about it, if Hé says heads should roll, heads will roll. Look, it's a fucking slug, you're going to have to-"
"Please excuse me," pleaded a man who had bumped into Zhèng in a hurry.
The guard, against all Chinese custom, was about to hurl some very mean things at the guy before he realized that the man could probably headbutt him into the ground. What a stupid foreigner.
Grumbling, he watched the man drag his two daughters behind him. Funny hair they had.
"Stupid Portuguese," he muttered.
"Uh, Zhèng?" asked Wu cautiously.
"By my ancestors, Wu, you still can't get your head around that? We-"
"Uh no, Zhèng, have you ever seen white-haired girls?"
The little man rolled his eyes.
"Wu? Does it really matter if some foreign girl is running around here with white hair?"
"But two that look exactly alike?", Wu echoed, raising his arms to ward off the ensuing explosion.
Only, it didn't come. Zhéng's jaw dropped before he regained his composure.
The two immediately ran after the trio. The tall Portuguese seemed to notice the two, because he suddenly jammed the two children under his arms and began sprinting.
A chase ensued across the streets of Macau. Two old women watched the goings-on from their embroidery work.
"Oh, since these foreigners have been here, life is getting more and more hectic."
"Yes, if it goes on like this, soon there will even be carts that are faster without horses."
"Don't be ridiculous."

Many a person who knew what he was doing would have been shaking like a leaf. Elli was fortunately too multidimensional underway for that and also too drunk. To keep it that way, she took a big swig from her flask before Min led her into the room where Li was, along with two guards flanking the door. Also in the room with her was a man dressed in the garb of a Chinese official. He seemed to be hiding a bald head under his trapeze hat, and there was an infectious air of balance and inner poise about him with which he could probably tap dance on a spearhead. Provided he wore the right shoes.
"Ah, Elli," Li greeted her forcedly warm, glancing briefly worriedly at her other guest. "May I introduce you to Hé? He is a scholar from the imperial court."
The man eyed Elli skeptically until Min approached him, bowed, and whispered something in his ear. His expression took on a puzzled expression.
"Well, I'll be damned," he said.
Then he said, calm again, "Arrest her!"
Elli was pushed to the ground and held down before she could react.
"Hé!" thundered Li angrily. "How dare you! This woman is my guest!"
"She is also the cause of our little…. Problem…" the scholar replied, unimpressed. "She's hiding the Nun-Di."
Li's features fell asleep. Elli, for her part, looked at Min in confusion.
She said nothing, but Elli realized she had been lied to.
"What's a Nun-di?" she asked, tentatively. "I haven't touched any alcohol from here, honest."
"Hé! Is that true?" asked Li in alarm.
"Min has never let me down, I'd lay my head on the line for her," was all Hé said.
Acting, then…
"What's a Nun-di?" asked Elli, with mock panic. "Li, you're not going to believe that office sitter over me!"
"I'm sorry, Elli," said the concubine composedly. "I've known him longer than I've known you. And I ask you, where are Chloe and Dean?"
"Stretching their legs, they're come-"
Li stepped in front of her.
"Outside the garden? It's been brought to my attention that they've left the property."
"Sounds more like a conspiracy among the servants, if you ask me-"
Elli broke off as Li pulled a long knife from her sleeve.
"Do you know what we had to expend to catch this animal?"
She jammed the blade into the ground in front of Elli.
"Uh, Li?" asked Elli, a little confused.
The concubine seemed to get angry at first before suddenly calming down.
"You may not mind but the rest of us are aging, dying. Wouldn't you, too, do everything in your power to at least delay the inevitable?"
Oh, so that's what it came down to….
"No," Elli retorted bitingly. "I used to think like you, but now I know that some things can't be changed. The Nun-Di won't give you eternal youth. On the contrary."
"Oh?" said Li, again slightly angry. "Hé, go catch their cronies, surely they are on their way to the sea. And you, Elli, better have a solution ready for my problem if you want to keep your head on your shoulders, immortality or not."

Next time on Nexus:
Copy Cat, Part 3

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