SEASON [1]

EPISODE [4]

"END IS NEAR" BY HILL STARTS AS INTRO MUSIC.

IVUOMA

My name is Ivuoma Okoro and you are listening to the fourth episode of the storytelling podcast Vega: A Sci-Fi Adventure. If you're just joining me, here's what you need to know. Vega Rex lives in a future where she hunts and kills the world's worst super-criminals. She's really really good at her job and also, for reasons you're about to learn very shortly, when the story got started she had an apprentice she really really didn't want. In the last two episodes, Vega's apprentice had gone missing and while on the journey to find her, Vega learned that way over in Nox on the other side of the world, though the God Wars were over, there was a new god in town, a god out here murderin' folks and streaming the kills on an app for the world to see, a god called Animus. On this week's episode, Vega's back in her home country of Petraxus and no offense to Mudbus and crew, but what's happening on the other side of the world is far from her concern right now. Because right now she's sitting in front of the League Council. Question. Is anybody feeling a little hot or is just Vega? Just Vega? Ok. That's ok. Why don't we just get into it, shall we? Please. After you. 

"COCONUT ISLAND" BY KING FLAMINGO STARTS TO PLAY.

IVUOMA

So you've been in trouble before, yeah? You're a human being who was probably raised by other older human beings so I'm just gonna assume the answer is yes. You've heard that tone. You know the one I'm talking about. When you did something you knew you weren't supposed to do and the older human, in a cruel attempt to shame you before the flogging proceeds to lay out the trail of false logic that led you into the exact nature of your foolishness. The shaming always starts the same way. With the same six words-

MUSIC STOPS. THE VOICES IN THE CHAMBER ARE ALL ECHO-EY AND AMBIENT. YOU CAN HEAR THE BIGNESS OF THE SPACE WHEN THEY SPEAK.

PARKUS

So. Let me get this straight.

IVUOMA

Behind her mask, Vega is closing her eyes and bracing herself because there it is. That tone. And the last few of her career Vega had become all too familiar with the sound of it in Prophet Parkus's voice. She can feel her heart beating under the gleaming gold pectoral that's draped across her collarbone and flowing down her chest. Each thin metal square of the decorative chest piece she's wearing has been bound carefully together. If you could imagine it, the fit is so exact on this chest piece that it fits her like a shimmering second skin, flexing and shrinking to even the most minute movements of her body. She can feel the weight of the ceremonial headdress on her head. The headdress, made of gold alloys and jade stones, consists of several interlocking pieces that are stretched up and fanned around her head. Unlike the pectoral, this headdress was not custom made for Vega. It had been handed down. It had actually belonged to the hunter who trained Vega before it had fallen into Vega's hands. In fact, a long line of hunters had worn this combination mask and headdress and with every breath she was taking, Vega could practically smell their history. That is, if history had the cloying, tarnished scent of ancient gold, nickel, and copper. There too was the fragrant hint of hyacinth rushing up her nostrils. It was coming from the rubbing elixir the historians had composed long ago to help preserve these ancient artifacts. The hyacinth smell was supposed to be a pleasant accommodation but together with the aging metal, it was honestly just making Vega's stomach churn. The plush camel skin chair she's sitting on keeps making subtle squishing noises as she shifts her weight. Parkus-

PARKUS

After you managed to get a video transmission of your kill decimated into the Nox neural cloud network, a place any common hacker in Nox could find it, by the way-

IVUOMA

On the outside of her mask, the expression is dreadfully blank. It was the same expression all hunter masks had here on the sacred floors of the Council Room. Altogether, these sacred artifacts with the ceremonial skirts she was wearing underneath them made Vega look like some kind of ancient priestess. But Vega was no priest. Actually, in the holy order of their country, hunters were ranked higher so ha! Remembering that, Vega sat up a little straighter in her chair and opened her eyes. 

"GRAND FINALE" BY YUNG KOOLADE STARTS TO PLAY.

IVUOMA

The Council Room appeared as it ever was. A wide chamber of black marble that made every voice and sound bounce off the unseen walls. Vega and the six prophets that made up the League Council were sitting on a raised platform in the center of the room. Unseen overhead lights were shining straight down on them, making it feel as though they were sitting inside a beam of light. Outside this beam of light, a soft blackness seemed to stretch on until forever. It doesn't, by the way. That stretching abyss is only a trick of the light. Like every room, this one has walls. It has a time and place that belongs to it. And just a night's ride, Vega had left the country of Nox and traveled across an ocean to get here. She was one of the 1.2 billion people privileged enough to call the country of Petraxus her home. But not everyone in Petraxus had the luxury of traveling over this wondrous country in a personally owned skybus. And a smaller number still were allowed inside the walls of the Holy City. It never failed that the closer Vega drew to this room inside the temple complex, the more magnified she felt, riiiight up until those Council Room doors closed and the overhead lights kicked on. This chamber really did have a way of making one feel so small, like all space and time had really just fallen away. The chairs they were sitting were elegant, hand-crafted with oak and upholstered with camel skin. There were eight of these chairs forming a circle around the platform. With Vega in one of them and the six prophets occupying the others, that means that one of chair is empty and since it happens it happens directly across the circle from Vega, her eyes can't help but rest on it. I repeat. There are eight chairs in the circle and there are seven people. Which means--say it with me now--one of these chairs is empty. Moving on. 

PARKUS

You then decided you would step out of the skypod-

IVUOMA

Oof. Parkus's voice is really starting to take on that edge now. Don't really want to but I should go ahead and describe him. Homeboy is sitting in the chair to the left of the empty one. He is also wearing a mask. While hunters wear blank expressionless metal faces in the Council Room, the six prophets of the League Council had always taken on the masks of the sacred beasts. Are you ready for the list? We got one for the crocodile. One for the bear. One for the robin. One for the guppy. One for the lemur. And one for the snail. For real! A snail. What could ever be sacred about a snail? You know, in a different life Vega might have dreamed of being a Council League prophet. Instead of inheriting this hunter mask, she might have been elected by Petraxus's governing body like these six had been and inherited one of their ancient masks instead. Then she would be the one sitting there in that uniform of black silks, the short collar standing at her collarbone, the silhouette of her fitted bomber jacket cutting her trim, the flowing material of her skirt pooling in a little circle around her chair. The outfit would have been enough to entice her. The power to call the shots over every single one of the hundreds of hunters that made up League staffing at any one time would have been added bonus. For millennia, the prophets who had worn these masks had guided the hands of the League wherever they felt the will of SiVo directed, wielding the kind of influence Vega had always been attracted to. BUT! She would walked away from it all without looking back if she had to a put a snail mask on her face everyday. Hell naw!! You won't catch her! Lucky for Parkus, his voice is grating out from behind the crocodile mask. The shape gaping mouth doesn't extend nearly as far as a real crocodile's, bt dubs. Though it's meticulously detailed the mask design is more stylized than realistic. And it covers just the front of his face. Which means the perfect, glossy lay of his hair against his scalp remains intact. And hey! His ears aren't flush yet so that's a good sign. He goes on-

PARKUS 

And decided to announce at the top of your voice to over sixty Nox troopers, nine common security boys, and whoever else may have been strolling by in the distance, your real name, your association, and the listing number of your bounty?

IVUOMA

Vega clears her throat.

VEGA

It wasn't...at the top of my voice.

SOLANA

Ooo! Was it the middle??

IVUOMA

This playful, sing-song voice is coming from the lemur, a long skinny woman called Prophet Solana. Solana steeples her fingers and presses them to the lips of her lemur mask. Her manicured nails are the same orange color as her long, wispy hair.

SOLANA

Now I forget. At what can the human ear no longer register government secrets?

PARKUS

I believe that would be none of them.

IVUOMA

Says Parkus as he drops his holoscreen in his lap, apparently having reached his limit on reading Vega's report. 

VEGA

No, I know they could hear me. 

IVUOMA

Vega fights to keep the irritation out of her voice.

VEGA

But that was also kind of the point. I think we're forgetting there were over sixty semi-automatic rifles pointed at me at the time. I thought the most effective thing I could have said was the truth and I was right. They stood down immediately.

LILA

And she didn't tell them his listing number. That was a report error, I think.

IVUOMA

All eyes turned to the petite robin now. Prophet Lila. Vega feels a rush of gratitude sweep through her when Lila looks her way. She senses that under that mask Lila is smiling in the subdued way she always does and that the expression on her face no doubt spoke of a word of encouragement and fidelity. You should know that, in addition to functioning together as a unified council, each of the prophets in this room was assigned a selection of hunters with whom they were to carry on the more personal tasks of mentoring and supporting. Every hunter had an oversight prophet. Lila was Vega's. But it wasn't the trust between the two women had come overnight. On the contrary, Lila had won Vega's affections mission by mission. She'd cared for Vega and ways she didn't know she needed caring for. She'd offered Vega gentle words of council when she really needed to be slapped and told she was wrong. She'd learned how to make Vega laugh when it proved just the medicine she needed to get back into the field. It was probably because Vega liked her so much that Lila's voice sounded so much more silvery and pleasant than the others. And her black locs were so much more stylish than anybody else's hair in this place.

SILAS

I...just...killed-

IVUOMA

The snail, Prophet Silas, begins his characteristic drawl. The only time Vega was actually grateful for these masks was when Prophet Silas started talking. Her eye rolls could not be contained otherwise.

SILAS

The most...wanted...criminal....in the world...........Perhaps...She meant...number two?

VEGA

If I may-

IVUOMA

Vega cuts in.

VEGA

I really do feel like we're focusing a little too much on the negatives here. If you could just take a closer look at my report you would see that there were a number of variables that slipped out of my control far before I got into that skypod. The fact that I was able to complete this mission at all is- in my humble opinon- rather note-worthy. I thought...I thought you might be proud of me.

IVUOMA

The deep rumbling of Prophet Vox comes out from behind the mask of the bear. He was bald and his big, black beard sticks out from behind his mask too.

VOX

Variables. Which ones?

IVUOMA

Vega looked around. Vox is staring into the open space between Vega and Prophet Snail-- sorry, Silas. His question comes out more like a proclamation. He had a way of speaking that made Vega think of an old-fashioned actor on a stage. But he must have been talking to her.

VEGA

Pardon? 

VOX

What uncontrolled variables are you referring to? 

IVUOMA

Vega thought for a moment.

VEGA

Well...I guess it really just would amount to the one. The apprentice.

LONG PAUSE.

IVUOMA

As you just heard, there followed an awkward silence. The guppy coughs.

VEGA

I told her, before the kill attempt had even begun that she was to stay on the skybus out of the way until I returned. But instead of obeying the command of her training master, as was her only responsibility, she showed up looking for the mark herself. You think I nearly blew our operations? She had a loaded Killshot up her sleeve. She would have murdered that man in the middle of a crowd. It was a mercy that I restrained her. And it wasn't like I didn't tell the troopers exactly where to find her when I was done. 

VOX

Not before you broke her arm.

VEGA

Yes, but after I saved the mission. You--

GONG SOUND.

VEGA

You don't agree.

IVUOMA

Ok. Pause. Cuz I need to explain what just happened. There was a sound effect I inserted there in the middle of Vega's sentence to represent that the sequence I'm about to describe to you happened in Vega's head in like .07 seconds.

QUIRKY, STYLIZED MUSIC STARTS.

IVUOMA

The first thing that happened was that Vega stopped talking. She had been on the cusp of mounting the most convincing argument she could think of but on instinct the sentence dropped right out of her mouth. Because she learned that it was best to be silent when the details started to present themselves. Then followed the details. Vega noticed four things happening at once. Parkus's foot was jittering against the floor. Solana's body, perpetually full of motion, was being held perfectly still in her seat. Lila's fidgeting hands were tugging at her clothes as if she was letting out hot air. And nobody in the room was looking in Vega's direction as she was speaking. Then followed the natural conclusion.

VEGA

You don't agree.

IVUOMA

And remember, this all happened-

GONG SOUND. MUSIC STOPS.

IVUOMA

Like that. Yes. Vega was coming to conclusions this quickly and this correctly. Parkus clears his throat. He may have been trying to take on an understanding tone but Vega could tell he was going to enjoy this.

PARKUS

Look. All missions have there variables. Yours have had their fair share. But, even so, this one seemed less...tidy than usual.

VEGA

Less tidy.

IVUOMA

Vega repeats in a voice that has no emotion in it. Everyone in this place had their way of talking, making the worst insults sound like something just shy of a compliment. But she knew what he meant by less tidy. He meant sloppy. And Vega had never in her life been called sloppy before. 

VEGA

I suppose...I didn't have to give them my name.

IVUOMA

She makes a gesture but stops before it's complete.

VEGA

I've...I've b- I've got a false profile on their network for just that reason actually. If anyone tries to look me up, they'll find photos of a woman who looks enough like me to satisfy curiosity but different enough for me to maintain my anonymity. And in a country of, what, four billion, on the slim chance that I run into the sixty or so who heard my name and saw my face at the same time, they'll just to remember me the old fashioned way which is pretty unlikely, I think.

IVUOMA

Nobody says anything again. The guppy coughs again. But Vega can't hear the sounds. Because the voices in her head are talking. She rubs her ear, readjusts her mask. 

VEGA

And sure, maybe if I had given the apprentice a little more attention, she wouldn't have acted out the way she did. Maybe I'm not the greatest training hunter that there ever was. I- I mean, I can't hunt. That's for sure. But training...I don't know. I don't know if I could be good at both. I don't know if that's even...possible.

PARKUS

Aaaaaah.

IVUOMA

Parkus leans back in his high-back chair and folds one leg over the other.

PARKUS

Now we get to the heart of the matter. The apprentice problem.

IVUOMA

Lila began.

LILA

Vega, you've been through six apprentices in seven months and at this point you're only going through them faster. We understand it can take time to adjust to life with an apprentice after five years of solid solos--and such quality solo work such as yours. But it is an adjustment that every hunter has had to make since the apprentice clause first went into effect. And we have full confidence that you can make it too.

SOLANA

No one expects you to be the next Redux Acoste, by the way. 

IVUOMA

Solana chuckles in her chirrup-like little way.

SOLANA

You don't have to train champions, not just yet. All we need is for you to hold onto one for a minute or two, to commit. 

IVUOMA

Vega held up her hand. 

VEGA

Oh, I've committed. I've been open. Enough. I didn't let any of them go. They quit on their own. Are we so sure the fault is all mine?

SOLANA

Whose fault would it be?

IVUOMA

Solana asks.

SOLANA

Theirs?

VEGA

Some could say...

IVUOMA

Vega says. She uh...whoo. She's going to choose her next words carefully.

VEGA

And some could even say...that their hasn't been a single one of these apprentices that has been a good match for me.

IVUOMA

Another silence. The guppy doesn't cough this time. Now he speaks.

FENN

Well I do wonder who this "some" could be.

IVUOMA

He's so rarely spoke that Vega had almost forgotten what he sounded like. Maybe there was a voice in this chamber that she hated more than the snail's. The guppy, Prophet Fenn, rolled one of his large shoulders. 

FENN

We give out close to two thousand apprentice assignment a year.

IVUOMA

He goes on.

FENN

And over ninety five percent of them continue through the end of their apprenticeships last we checked. Am I wrong, Parkus?

PARKUS

Numbers don't lie, Fenn. 

IVUOMA

Said the croc.

FENN

And could you tell me, Lila, what percent of Vega's old apprentices have stuck with their new training hunters after reassignment?

IVUOMA

Lila cleared her throat.

LILA

(hesitatingly)

Something like a hundred.

PARKUS

Exactly a hundred. 

IVUOMA

Says Parkus.

PARKUS

Strong figures.

FENN

Strong figures in our favor. 

IVUOMA

Continued Prophet Fenn.

FENN

Miss Rex, one bad match is unfortunate. Two is a possibility. Three is highly coincidental. But six? Six is is is is-

SOLANA 

A gross anomaly!

IVUOMA

Says Solana.

FENN

MMMMHMMM!

IVUOMA

Fenn agrees pointedly, looking down his squat fish nose at Vega. 

FENN

The likes we have never seen before.

HERE STARTS A LITTLE ORCHESTRATION PRODUCED BY YOURS TRULY.

VEGA

Oooooooooh.

IVUOMA

Mmmmm. That was Vega. Because at this, Vega hitherto scrunched over in her seat as she listened intently to Prophet Fenn had just had a majorly gratifying realization, as though someone had taken a block of unintelligible text she'd been struggling to read and flipped it right side up. She straightens herself until she's leaning back in own high-back chair. She slowly crosses one leg over the other, touches a finger to her chin.

VEGA

Oh see now, that's very interesting.

IVUOMA

They couldn't see her face, but they could her it in her voice. Cuz she wanted them to. A new train of thought had just occurred to her, so obvious she wondered why it had taken her so long to think of it. Aaaah! I wish this episode could be longer but I am going to stick to my rules and we're already over time. You're just going to have to hear the rest of this next time because that is where this episode is going to end.

OUTRO MUSIC STARTS TO PLAY. "GRAND FINALE" AGAIN.

IVUOMA

I imagine this'll be better bingeable content later on than it is listening from week to week. As it is, the next episode will be dropping two weeks from the release of this one, that is Thursday November 29th. This episode featured music from Hill, King Flamingo, and Young Koolaide. More information on these tracks can be found in the show notes. Thanks again for checking out this podcast. I'm here every two weeks. You're listening four episodes in. And I'm grateful for that. If you want to follow the show on social media, you can find it @vegapodcast at Twitter and Instagram. How we doing? Are we feeling good? We're definitely making our way toward something. It is coming. But don't just take my word for it. You can catch me next week. Bye.

END OF EPISODE.