The Divorcee is a Wicked Black Belly Chapter 100: The Magus Gene

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The story of Benjamin Franklin and the lightning rod had always fascinated Hank Crane since he was young. It informed the choices he made while growing up, enrolling in science school, working for the government after graduation, starting a prestigious private research laboratory that allowed him to make weapons of war. It had been a great life. All that success and privilege at the mere age of twenty three.

Hank Crane was a prodigy who lived his life enclosed in tight boundaries. His parents were ordinary people made extraordinary by his talents and accomplishments. His friends were his colleagues, his enemies were his friends. His life ebbed and flowed in the circle of this small stream, never varying from high or low and vice versa. Everything was predictable, as predictable as the salted caramel flavored coffee he drinks every morning.

The only thing that varies from his life were the subjects that passed through his microscope: steel, metal, electricity, radiation, bacteria, diseases. These had lives of their own that helped break the humdrum pattern of his own life. Radiation was not predictable, nor was bacteria and diseases. Steel and metal were plausible and therefore malleable to heat and suggestion.

Hank Crane developed a weapon of mass destruction he perfected through research and frying thousands of white mice with. His research company later sold it to the government for millions of dollars, netting Hank a sizeable fortune, which enabled him to buy his parents a nice house in a nice neighborhood with several famous actors as neighbors.

The government used the weapon to later hunt a famous terrorist and destroy his hideout. The result was splashed in several magazines and newspapers and the internet. Everyone celebrated the win but Hank Crane saw a picture of a child running away from the carnage and his world crashed.

The child was naked, his skin peeling off his body as the acid ate at his bones. Hank looked at the picture like he would a picture of a flower, marveling, somewhat stunned. That night, he woke up in a sweat, crying and sobbing for no apparent reason. He thought it was his body's reaction to the stress and decided to take some time off from work and go on a long-dreamed of vacation.

He was walking off the plane after disembarking, dragging his luggage behind him when he suddenly realized where he was. He was in that small, unknown town that the government destroyed to find and kill that infamous terrorist. He hired a car and had him drive him to the spot but it was as if everything in there was flattened then erased. The town didn't exist anymore. There wasn't even a house, only the remains of a building the driver said used to be a school. The hospital three towns away teemed with the sick and injured, the smell of something burning thick in the air.

Hank Crane stood in the middle of this chaos, his mind reeling. He made the weapon in two years, perfected it in another year. It was the size of a pellet, very convenient for putting in water reservoirs, in air-conditioning vaults, carried onboard a drone flying over thousands of miles. The harmless looking pellet garnered him praise, several awards, and unbelievable amount of money he couldn't even spend in two lifetimes.

But nothing could prepare him for the sight of so much devastation such a tiny weapon could bring. Hank Crane went home shattered. He sold his company, bought himself a house in the suburbs and tried teaching as therapy but none of it worked. The image of the burning child stayed with him even in his sleep. The smell of something burning from the hospital miles away from the devastation never removed but entrenched in his memory.

He bought a fish pole and drove to a vacation house he rented for the summer. In the middle of fishing, he caught a big fish and stared at it with unseeing eyes. After a while, he let the fish go and walked over to a tree. He tied the fishing rod up on a branch, then tied the other end around his neck and jumped. The fishing rod tightened, breaking his neck in five seconds after his body dangled up the tree.

Hank Crane thought it was the end. But he discovered that his soul was that part of him that never slept, never grew tired, that part of him which wandered around and continued to mourn. He was a suicide so he expected to be dragged down to hell and punished but he never expected that his hell would be at the site of his greatest accomplishment, where 20,000 men and women perished in one night, and where he would spend the next sixty years bound to as mortal punishment.

Hank Crane never expected to be rescued from this hell either. Until one day, when Nian Zhen found him and convinced him god and the devil had abandoned him and that he was out on his own because his punishment was self-imposed and there was nobody who cared whether he was punished or not. Sixty years of enduring, sixty years of maybe finding redemption in his pain. All of that gone after he realized that it was all for nothing, that Nian Zhen was right and nobody cared really if he redeemed himself or not.

But what else was there to do except to wander about and wait and hope? And wait for some form of redemption that never came, his soul weighed down by grief, remorse, regret day by day, year by year.

"What happened afterwards?" An Ning asked.

"Nian Zhen came to me one day and talked about an unknown energy source," Hank surprisingly said.

"An unknown energy source?" An Ning looked at him completely at a loss, not comprehending the sudden change in topic.

"He said he discovered it by accident. He found traces of it around a time machine that had been used years before. He said that the people who used it never came back but that he discovered a rift the size of a tunnel and wanted to know what energy was strong enough to power such a machine, to create such a rift."

"And?" An Ning prodded after a short silence.

"I didn't believe him, of course. Look, I'm a scientist. One of the greatest that ever lived during my time. Time machines were the creation of Hollywood. Time rifts were an episode in the Doctor Who series. But Nian Zhen began calling this energy source the magus gene," Hank laughed. "He didn't even know how to describe it to me. He said it was because the energy was created using
the magic core of a powerful warlock and the elemental energy of an immortal warrior."

Hank grinned at the thought.

"I laughed at him, of course. Can you imagine what we must have looked like? Two wandering souls without flesh and blood talking about energy and time machines and rifts as if we were still alive. Like we were colleagues discussing a dissertation before a panel of judges considering us for a Nobel prize. It was funny and comical but then Nian Zhen arrived and proved me wrong."

"How?" An Ning asked.

"By following the rift and entering another time."

An Ning was stunned.

"He followed it by not using the time machine at all?"

"I assumed he walked or flew or glided or whatever. But he came back and told me he was able to penetrate the time continuum and came over to this side using a physical body he suddenly acquired through transmigration. He proved that the soul can travel through time and space and can even acquire bodily form through possession. It was not able to do so in its own time and space but in other tines, yes."

"What about from this side crossing over to that side?"

Hank shook his head.

"We tried it but the magus gene is too unstable. It's not perfected yet and is basically a raw form of energy. Nian Zhen was able to pass through in his spirit form but even he became affected by it."

"The transformation?" An Ning asked.

"Maybe. Maybe not. As I said the magus gene is too unstable. It could be that the energy affected his emotions since he was more exposed to it than we were. But it happens only in extreme cases. The last time he transformed was two or three years ago and that was because his children were born and the mother had a hard time giving birth to them. He felt guilty and tried crossing the rift in his physical form but his body couldn't stand the pressure and the body almost got incinerated because of it. It was then that we knew that we couldn't cross it without leaving the body behind."

An Ning remembered going through the pain of that hard labor. It went on for eight hours, the twins refusing to be born until she went to Hippolyta's grove and stood in the warm waters of the waterfall and waited until its magical effects calmed her aching body and the twins were finally born. She didn't know that Richard was with her, suffering through the agony of childbirth as painfully as she did.

"Why not make some protective gears to enable you to pass through physically?"

Kari, the lone girl of the group who had been silent for a long time, finally spoke up.

"It's not that easy as you think," she said. "As Hank said, the magus gene is unstable. We don't know what it is yet except that it can blast through space and create a time rift. But we don't know what it's made of, the components that make most of it up. We tried using the protective gears available in our time but they don't seem to be able to hold up against this unknown energy. Even the gears used by the astronauts going to space were of no help. For some unknown reason, a naked soul can pass through it without any problem but try wearing gear made from earth and it doesn't work."

"And what were you before you died?" An Ning said, suddenly curious about the girl, who looked to be about fifteen, thin as a rail with large eyes and lanky hair.

"Gray and I were brother and sister," was Kari's surprising answer. "We were the legitimate son and daughter of a rich man and his wife who lived in China some one hundred years ago. We were pampered, spoiled and lived a good life until our mother died and our father remarried soon afterwards. The woman was our mother's younger sister. My mother's family arranged the marriage because they didn't want all those money going away to another family. We didn't like her, she didn't like us and when she got pregnant and gave birth to their first child she deemed it a necessity and her duty to protect her child's rights by murdering us."

"Typical," An Ning said without heat. "Obviously she succeeded."

"Not entirely," Gray piped up. "Turns out there was something wrong with the birth. The child was suffocated for several minutes inside the birth canal and the brain deprived of much-needed oxygen. He lived but he was about five when they discovered that his brain was totally fried. The woman couldn't have any other kids so our father divorced her and married her bestfriend who gave him three kids before she died. He never remarried again and died on what could have been our sixtieth birthday."

"You were together that long?" An Ning was surprised.

"Like Terri here, we thought we stuck around because of some idea for revenge. But when the woman died and we were still around basically living in limbo we finally understood that we were really stuck and would probably have spent another sixty years in the same place if we hadn't met Nian Zhen. He was very convincing, especially when he said he found a way where we could acquire a physical body and live again as normal human beings."

"How many of you are here in Chengdi?"

"Almost half of the population," Hank answered.

"That many?" An Ning asked, surprised.

"Turns out there are lots of lost souls out there," Kari said, shrugging, "and all of them wanted to live human lives again. Wouldn't you after wandering as a lost soul for decades?"

"But how do you survive in here? I mean do you work? Do you have a government?"

"Some of us work in the fields," Terri said. "We've learned how to grow our own food. And believe it or not, we do trades with other communities."

"Other communities? Who?"

"Chengdi exists in this time and era as a kingdom. It is the center, the capital so a lot of people stop by here everyday to gossip, find work, trade, seek justice, and other stuff. The head of the government is the king, which in this case is Nian Zhen. He was already the prince when all of us got here. He was the heir to the throne and when the old king died, he took over. Nian Zhen takes care of all of us. He goes out to the outside world once in a while to procure stuff. I don't know how he does it but he's the only one of us who can."

"Buy things like ammo, huh?" An Ning scoffed.

"We had to," Gray defended. "We don't have much of an army in here and we had the occasional raiders to fight against. We're close to the sea so we're vulnerable to pirates and believe me, they're the worst. And lately, we had some demons come down the mountains and attack a village or two."

"Demons?" An Ning was somewhat amused.

"As I said, this is a different time and place than 21st century earth," Hank explained. "Civilization hasn't caught up with the thinking just yet so everybody believes if a pig or two has gone missing or a child kidnapped, it's the work of demons when in reality it's a simple crime committed by another neighbor."

"And Nian Zhen? What about him?"

"As I said, he's been exposed to too much of this magus gene and it affected the stability of his soul. Under extreme pressure and deep anger he changes and transforms into this monster but I have yet to see him become destructive. What we're primarily worried about is the harm he could do to himself."

"Like seek out other demons and maybe start a war?" An Ning suggested.

"I don't know about that," Hank said. "This demon thing is also a murky topic. We have yet to see proof of it so...," he shrugged.

The door suddenly opened with a bang and two young men hurried inside. One of them was already very familiar to An Ning. Kang Jun stopped dead when he saw An Ning then he hurried forward and bowed his head, putting the basket he held in one hold on the floor beside him.

"Your highness, I am very glad to see you safe and sound," he said, looking up at her with a smile.

"I should give you a kick and throw you out," An Ning said acidly. "How dare you betray his highness?"

"Forgive me, your grace," said Kang Jun, prostrating himself on the ground. "I wanted to help my mother. I couldn't just stand by and not do anything for her especially when his highness the king told me about a doctor who might be able to help her."

"Excuses," An Ning scoffed. "Get up and greet the emperor."

Kang Jun gracefully came to his feet and bowed before Gu Sheng who offered him his empty water bottle. Kang Jun received it gingerly, looked at it, at the emperor then pressed the water bottle on his forehead.

The boy with him suddenly burst out laughing. The laughter was so infectious that everybody in the room joined in, even An Ning who took the water bottle from Kang Jun's bewildered grasp then walked over a small can sitting at a corner and dumped the water bottle inside.

Kang Jun blushed beet red, suddenly realizing his gaffe.

"Serves you right," An Ning said with a smile. "That should teach you to betray your emperor ever again."

"You are the empress?" Hank voice suddenly asked. "Empress An Ning?"

"You know me?"

"I've heard of you. You are not Nian Zhen's girlfriend but his wife. And you are the granddaughter of that lady warrior who originally built the time machine."

"Her granddaughter?" Kira asked surprised and excited at the same time. "So, you know where she is?"

"How could she? I thought she was lost in space somewhere," Gray said.

"What I want to know is, what happened to Zhen Zhen? The guards told me he's been sleeping for hours. I leave the palace for a few days and the king suddenly becomes ill? Anybody want to tell me what happened to him?"

The question came from a young boy whose eyes bore grimly on the people who suddenly shifted so they're not looking at him anymore. But before anybody could think of something to answer him with, Kang Jun's voice was again heard, shrilly this time.

"Ban Chao! I told you to stop eating my apples! I was going to take these to my mom so she could make sweets out of them. Now you've eaten almost all of them. Get back out there and get me some more!"
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