023: Brothers Of Chrome 024: A Scrawling 025: Witchunt 026: Knight And Blade
Brothers Of Chrome
"Mommy, look at that man," The child said. Aran had been stared at more times than he could remember. Hatred, pain, sympathy, distrust, all of these stemmed from those who knew him, even those who were like him. To be a Technomancer was to bear them all and never care. But it was different to hear it from the small boy clinging to his mother's dress. As the child walked the path from the haven to the train not twenty yards away, he stared at Aran and the other Technomancers lined up to assist them into their transportation. Twenty minutes ago, riding back to this haven, nothing had been said between the Technomancers. Now he could feel their eyes on him. "Look at all of them, are they related?"
"We're brothers," Aran said softly, reaching down to speak to the young boy face to face. Pure, sparkling blue eyes stared at him from behind a face too young and too pure to know what it was like to hate someone. "And we're going to make sure you get home safely."
"Brothers?" the woman said, staring at the metal implants and wires on the war-machines, and Aran's bared wings. "What kind of humans are you?"
"We're more than brothers," Ta-kyn added cheerfully, "We are--"
"Brothers of Chrome," Aran interrupted. When they were out of earshot, Kreep and Ta-Kyn stared at Aran.
"Look at them," Aran gestured. "An entire group of people so pure they don't even know what a Technomancer is. A people who can't hate and fear us because they don't know the hell this world has spiraled into. Maybe, 'brothers', it is time for us to make a new beginning. Maybe the fall of cyberspace has served a purpose. We can never be what we were again. I'll never be a data-thief, never see cyberspace like any of you. But that doesn't mean we have no purpose. We can make sure they never have to suffer what we did, make sure that their children never have to bear metal on flesh just to have a chance of survival. We can help make a future that can build Mankind up again."
"No more Technomancers?" Ta-Kyn murmured. "History forgotten?"
"And the sooner, the better," Kreep snapped. Weapon and 7 nodded in agreement.
"Tired of fighting," Weapon rumbled. He looked at what had once been his arm, now a massive weapon grafted to what was left of his body. "Tired of Technomancer. Tired of being Weapon."
"Same," 7 whispered.
"Then let's make it a pact," Aran said, holding his hand out. "We are the Brothers of Chrome. And on our backs we shall bear the burden of the newborn world, and take the responsibility for each and every life inside of it."
"Agreed." Ta-Kyn said, holding his multi-tooled hand to the center.
"Yes!" Weapon roared, extending his weapon laced arm.
"Without doubt or regret," Kreep whispered, showing an open, unbladed, palm.
"Always," 7 whispered, placing his weapon-hand into the circle.
"But not sealed," came the voice of John Salan. The Brothers of Chrome turned to face him as he approached them.
"In our day, no promise was effective, until it was enacted." He drew his sword and held it aloft. "And you can't forge your own circle now, but you can join ours, join the fi--"
"My daughter!" The scream sent shouts throughout the crowd. The Pure were huddled scared around a woman kneeling on the ground, crying. Aran leapt in the air and glided over the crowd, landing beside the lady.
"My daughter..." the woman cried. "She...said she...wanted to...she her friend." A shaking hand motioned towards the ruined city not fifty yards away. Aran could see a flash of golden hair disapear down a distant alley. "She ran...away..."
"We'll get her," Aran said softly, and then was in the air.
"Kreep, Weapon, head to the east of where we saw her. 7 and I will head west. We'll go inward and try to sweep the area. She can't have gone far. Ta-Kyn, talk to them, there's more to this than we know. Try to find out anything about that city block, feed it to us over the line-modems."
"Got it," Ta-Kyn pushed his way inside the crowd of humans.
"You can't do this," John Salan stood in front of Aran. "It is not your fight."
"It's not our fight," Aran echoed. "It's our duty. It's our choice."
The Brothers of Chrome began to bolt towards the maze of alleys and streets in the now darkening twilight.
* * *
Susan clutched the piece of paper in her hand and the crude charcoal pencil in the other. Holding her thumb upwards, the way she had seen her father do when he painted, she tried to think about what good it was doing. But her father did it when he painted, so she had to do it to, if she would be as good as him.
"Hold still Illie," the young girl smiled. "I'm trying to draw you hair, but it keeps moving."
"Sorry," came the reply. "It's natural for me, but I'll try."
Illie kept her hairstalk as still as possible while the sun-haired child drew her picture.
Aran arced over the alley-ways, high above staring through the maze from overhead. He could almost see Weapon and Kreep to the east, and below, the war-machine known only as 7 was moving at blinding speeds through the derelict alleys. I wonder if he was a child, or was he grown in a vat. What was it like to have a childhood? Aran flared upwards to widen his range of vision. Seer. Yes, Aran? I'm going to need your help here. We're trying to find a kid in this mess, can you handle my scans while I run my flight paths and communications link? Do you trust me? You told me you had problems before-- I've gotta trust someone, sometime. Go for it. And by the way. Yes? This is a top priority. Work as fast as you possibly can.
Aran felt his control slide away from the scanning software, and a list of information began to scroll over his visor, movement of things he couldn't have every noticed. He tapped into his line-modem and began to unravel his security software, trying to intercept anything from the others.
"Aran?" The voice of Ta-Kyn entered his ears. Audio receptors turned digital information into crystal clear voice only he could hear.
"I've got a little bit of information. Apparently this girl, Susan, is some kind of reckless free-spirit. She's always doing stuff on her own. Her father was a painter, and she wants to be an artist. She said she had to paint a picture of her friend Illie to remember her by. No one knows who Illie is, and her mother admitted that she knew that Susan had broke the rules and found a way out of the haven. So Susan probably knows every nook and cranny of this city block, and there might be a REAL Illie out there. Anything else you need?"
"Yeah. If you've got time, go through those data-drives I recovered from the Tower. Find anything that might prove a good offense or defense and build it as fast as you can. Those computers were from a weapons research corp, so there has to be something."
"Well...uhmmm..." Ta-Kyn murmmered. "I'm already doing that."
"You went through the disks?!"
"Sorry, I just have to build, it's my purpouse. That information is priceless, Aran, I don't know how you got it all. This Dr. Tsano was a genius. But a good poriton of them deal with something called Technacattamine22, and they're locked. Any idea what it is?"
"Yes. But can't talk now, finding the girl is more--"
"ARAN!!!!!" Kreep's voice made him falter in mid air. He scanned downward and saw 7 running to a small clearing, what may have once been a park. Spiraling downwards rapidly, he also saw information - four figures running north at rapid speed.
"We've got company," Kreep snarled, holding up a piece of paper. As he landed, Aran stared at the paper in absolute horror. The lines, crooked and scrawled on a piece of dirty paper were the very picture of a child's drawing. And the smiling face of a young girl drawn with innocent hands held a darker meaning the artist could never understand. For though the drawing was smudged and barely distinguishable as human: the hairstalk was all too clear.
"All right. We made a promise. We're getting her back."
"What are we going to do?" Kreep looked up at Aran.
"Witch hunt," Aran growled. He charged the brilliant blue energy, the lost weapon of Technomancers ages past, through his entire body, wings glowing in a radiance that semed to trail his movements. "We're about to knock a species out of the food chain."
Aran soared above the city, a burning light of energy that illuminated the streets below in a blue light. Kreep, Weapon, and 7 were following his lead down the alleys.
"Aran." Ta-Kyn's voice came over.
"We've got problems. Wirewitches, don't tell anyone. We're going to get the girl back."
"I can help. Send me your position, trust me, please! I finished what I was working on, I can help!"
"Seer, give Ta-Kyn an update feed through my line modem." That would leave me operating all of your cyberware. What would you be doing. I've got more than a few tricks up my sleeve.
"If you're going to get here, get here FAST!" Aran snapped.
Below, he finally saw the four figures, growing and shifting in the moonlight. It took a minute to realize what was happening, they were fighting a wirewitch.
Aran's two hundred foot plunge took less than a second, and the shockwave sent pavement in showers around the perimiter. The fighting stilled as he forced more energy through his hands; streams of essence jumped between his fingers as he held his hands out. The translucent walls of energy threw the four wirewitches across the square, Kreep, Weapon, and 7 burst out of the alley.
"This is not your fight," roared the warlock. "We want our member back, the child means nothing to us."
"SHUT UP!" Aran snapped. He walked forwards, towards the end of the park. A crumbled brick building offered shelter, two small girls trapped underneath. One was the golden haired Susan, unharmed. The other was a wirewitch. She looked to be ten or so, but that meant nothing. A blue hair stalk fell over her shoulders. What in the glitch? The hairstalk only fell to her shoulders, and faint waves could be sent in it. On closer inspection, his eyes discerned brown wires in it. And her eyes, the blue orbs had soft, white pupils showing. The two girls were huddeled together, and though they were touching, Susan was not becoming a wirewitch. What in the glitch is going on?!
"They want to take Illie," Susan whimpered, a tear pouring down her face. "They want to take her back to the cove in. But she doesn't want to go."
The alley was motionless. Aran heard Kreep's blades retract, individually, slowly, but they were retracting. The wirewitches, despite their facade of emotionlessness, were stunned. Their bladed arms were melting into hands. The blue orbed eyes of the warlock were locked on the young wirewitch.
"Her name is CORR. I am 2-08. I made her, she is of our coven."
"Illie," The young wirewitch murmered. "Illie."
"It's begun," Aran held his arms out and the push-fields faded away, allowing the wirewitches to advance to the small building. "Our age is over! There will be no more Wirewitches, there will be no more Technomancers, there will be no more hatred or anger, humanity will not be ripped from our children. They will be free to embrace it, to have the chance to. But this new age. This new age is not strong, it is new born. It's birthcry was the fall of Cyberspace. And with it's birth came a rebirth. Those who survived, Wirewitches and Technomancers alike, have been changed. I'm not who I was before, I am Aran SeTaal, but I am not a data-thief. I am Aran SeTaal, Chrome Knight, and Guardian of The New Age Of Humanity. We will make this world a chance for a new generation to rise above the endless stream of violence and hatred we've been sinking in. But this new era, it is in it's infancy, it's childhood. And to usher it in, we must push past our old differences. We must break what was, and only by doing so will we survive. Because our past, our history, and all those who cling to it.....will be OBLITERATED!"
"No!" The scream came from one of the wirewitches near Aran. "We will continue! We are the future. We are the ones who can survive. We can adapt."
"REOL!" 2-08 sneered. "NEEA, KAHI." He gestured to the wirewitches. "Kill him."
He could hear Weapon and 7 began to power up their rifles.
"No!" Aran hissed. He could only hope they would listen, and a few seconds later he heard the weapons power down.
"You are a mistake," Aran began. His voice was like ice, another man's voice, another man's passion. "You were made to help humanity. Your kind were designed to make sure humanity could adapt, but not change themselves. Your kind were to be the selfless, the ones who would sacrifice their normal lives to be a tool to make what was impossible livable. But you were changed. In your technological womb, the technology that made your kind was poisoned. Tainted by something that was made before you. And you were not what you were designed to be. But you CAN be! You were not designed to strip humanity, you were not designed to fight! You were to be the builders of a new future. To usher in an age of cooperation and peace. You can be made whole. Forsake what is, this new future can be a place for you. Look around you. Do you think this nightmare is going to change? No, it will eventually feed upon itself and die. Only by forging this brave new future, this dream, can we, can ANYONE hope to survive."
"You speak lies. Our birth into this world was out of desperation for humanity. We are humanity's future. And we will survive and we WILL build a world. Our world." 2-08 glared at Aran, his body growing the bio-organic blades of the Wirewitch.
"Coven." NEEA calmly lifted a razor sharp finger and jabbed it at Aran. "Kill the tin-man."
As they advanced, he heard the Technomancers behind him ready for battle. But Aran stood still. The plates on his arm opened up and he pulled one of the vials from it's housing. Aran held aloft the glass bottle and stood his ground. The coven fell to their knees.
"You can smell it can't you?" Aran asked, looking into the eyes of NEEA, the coven leader. "Your bodies can tell you what this is. This is your past. This is what made you. You are an abomination of nature, an unplanned freak. And for years you have defiled the very purpose of your existence by stripping away what you were to protect. This is your lifeblood, this is Technacatamine22. You can feel it, you can even talk to it can't you. But this blood wasn't drawn or collected. It knows no body, it never flowed through veins or coursed through cell walls. It's the purity of what you once were. But look at yourself, you can listen to it's history. You've already changed so much through the years. Spiraling downwards with us all. But I give you a chance. It will be the hardest decision you will ever make. But right now decide. Will you forge the future, or will you die here with the past?"
There was silence, but the rage could be felt. Realization broke walls, broke all the foundations of the worlds created. Technomancers and Wirewitches looked at each other in stony silence. The future would be decided by the decisions made at this time. Aran closed his eyes. Blades were drawn and cries rang in his ears. Decisions had been made. But what decisions, and by who?
* * *
Inside the hollow of the building Susan and Illie were huddled together. Outside the shouting had stopped and the noise had ceased.
"Do you think it's safe?" Susan whispered. Illie let go reluctantly and crawled towards the opening. Her gasp drew Susan forward.
"He's dead," Illie blubbered. "He's dead."
Knight And Blade
The street lead into oblivion, but the journey was the destination. Aran had given up trying to understand what seemed ages ago. With one stride, the empty, dead buildings would fly by, with another, they would hold as still as if he were never moving. A sky of black, voidless emptiness stretched forever forward and back, a mass of swirling gray clouds racing ahead of him, but going nowhere. It was like walking through the pieces of memory you had forgotten. If Deja Vu was a place, he was in it's heart. His footsteps echoed, loud and hollow, along the street. Empty windows howled with unseen winds, lights burned from inside, but no one was sheltered within. The Dream held all the reality of the Mindscape Void, but none of its signs. Aran could exercise his control over it; if he had only wanted to.
He walked through a courtyard carved of ice. In the middle were the statues of the wirewitches, fighting each other. I should have seen it. They'd been tampered with, all of them. Something changed them. Aran kept walking as the statues began to move and relive the memory. The icy wirewitches drove icicle spikes into the warlock, shattering him into a thousand shards. The entire scene melted and Aran began to walk through the water.
He stepped forward and the world raced ahead faster than he could see. He was being called. Each step took him infinitely closer to his destination, without ever moving him. Something was here, there, everywhere. His stride never faltered.
The city crumbled with a step. Aran kept moving. Trees tore through the cement, Aran kept moving. Grass devoured concrete and steel, Aran never slowed. Lightning tore the sky apart, Aran never blinked. The voice called his name, and Aran froze.
"I'm not real, you know." The voice whispered.
"I was hoping you weren't," Aran answered. He turned and the world spun through years, ages, moving in its own will. He was in a park, a place that had been earth before the fall. Acres of green grass stretched in the distance, fading into a haze of mist and swirling gaps of memory a few yards away. A figure sat on a bench, it's back to Aran, gray hair moving slightly in the wind.
"As well you should. Carrying someone else inside you, what a burden that would be. Especially for you."
Aran moved forward and sat on the bench. A drop of water fell from the sky, splashing into the ground and soaking the grass. It rippled outward, a lake growing from the microscopic puddle, racing towards the horizon as waves crashed not ten yards from their feet.
"This...this is how I remember it." The man sighed.
"Where is it?"
"Where?" The man let out an exhausted laugh. "It's here. That's the only place it exists anymore, here. This memory, this memory of a man long since dead, is nothing anymore. A memory stolen and passed along."
"This is before the fall?"
"The ocean..." Aran fumbled for the worlds. "...was it always blue?"
They sat in silence, listening to the waves pound upon the shore. Crests of white foam spilt in patterns he could never even trace along the million myriad sparkling waves. Somewhere, he was dreaming. Somewhere, a digital heart kept a steel body functioning. But he wanted to stay here.
"It was a good speech," the man said. "I'm sorry you had to make it."
"......" Aran closed his eyes. Memory, wirewitches, a battle, a blond haired girl. Wirewitches that weren't wirewitches.
"He did this. You know that," the man said. From the water, a figure emerged. A nightmarish memory of two men combined. They both thought of the monster known now as PYLE. The death's head was split in an inhuman grin as he towered hundreds of feet from the waves. A predator who devoured worlds before them.
"I was afraid," Aran said.
"As you should be." Dr. Tsano turned to face Aran. Tired eyes and a face that radiated sorrow pierced through his thoughts, as if staring into his soul. Aran saw his reflection in his eyes and faltered. Something...different. A body...a human body he couldn't remember. Things began to flood his mind...a knee that always threw out. A pain in his right wrist, his hair growing too fast. Who is this? Aran paused as he looked up at the ocean. A colossus version of his body, as he knew it, towered beside PYLE, wings flared and face set in stone. Dr. Tsano was thinking of him, the reflection mirrored in the shared memory of the dream.
"Why does he do this?" Aran asked. The statues vanished into a thousand waves again as if they had never been there.
"He's a warrior, Aran, a knight. He's also a weapon, a blade. He was the product of our dreams, a Knight and Blade fused into a machine of war."
"But he could think." Aran shuddered. "He could comprehend his own existence."
"And he couldn't reason. He has no ability to decide, or care, or nurture. The Stringman, PYLE, has no love of anything. He only exists to bring pain, destruction, death. His mission is Terracide, the destruction of an entire planet. Why? We don't know. Whatever made him so, we never found. I died before I could try."
"I know. I...remembered it."
"So what did he do to them?" Aran asked. "The wirewitches?" Dr. Tsano turned his face back to the shore. A horizon of steel towers sprung in the distance, a city growing from nothingness.
"He does not understand them. All he got from my mind, was what they were. He's been closed up, inside cyberspace, for so long. We all have. Inside...inside him. But they have changed, as have all things. Well," Dr. Tsano stared at Aran in a peculiar manner, "most things. He wants to know how they work, so that he can change them. Beware, Aran, he observes every change he makes. He is close, very, very, very close."
Aran's skin crawled as he realized: If PYLE had to remake himself, and if he was trapped in cyberspace...who put him there? And how?
"How did he get trapped in cyberspace?"
"You put him there."
Aran's mind reeled from the statement. The silence screamed through his mind with a million questions that nearly shattered the world before.
"Me?!" Aran stood up and turned to the old man. "How?!"
"This is not your first life, troubled one. Nor will it be your last. You have no idea how many times you've been rebuilt, have you. You're older than I am. Older than almost every living thing. And you are certainly older than that pompous airbag, John Salan."
"How could it be me? How?"
"Aran. The bodies change, eyes, hair, your technology. But every time, in no matter what you did, you were ALWAYS what you are. They could never change the soul within you. They found a way, at the end, to supress your mind. They thought you would be theirs, finally. Their perfect little machine. Aran, before you were Aran, you were someone else. You were the first."
"The first what?"
"The first Technomancer."
"This is impossible." Aran faltered. A wall circled the horizon. "This is impossible! I am Aran." The wall began to crack. His mind felt like it would explode.
"All souls are to live once, then, to pass to their rest. Pass on to their eternal reward: heaven or hell," Dr. Tsano began. The wall crackled under the strain of his agony. "But you were snatched, tortured by things human and not. You were forced to live again, and again, and again. Living without dying, then living again. Recycling your body, recycling your mind." The wall snapped. Aran screamed as a swarm of Technomancers came out. They were of all ages, some showing the fire of a distant struggle, some showing the hollow uncaring of a manufactured killer. But they were all him. And behind them all was a boy with gray hair and steel gray eyes. Aran screamed. "The mind may forget it's memories, but the soul, the soul remembers it's life."
Aran fell to the ground, pain running through his skull. It seemed his entire body was burning, a thousand experiences weaving themselves into his skull, old lives, old names. Aran screamed and the world exploded into darkness.
"Aran?!" Kreep was by his side.
"What?" Aran sat up and stared from the top of the building.
"You woke up like someone shot you."
Aran stared from the rooftop where he and the other Technomancers had slept. Kreep had the watch, and the sun was almost up. The train would depart soon, and the Pure would be taken to the ship.
"He's here." Aran growled.
"PYLE." Aran looked below. Every shadow seemed to twitch, every alley to move. But he wasn't there.
"He's among us, Kreep. He's inside one of the pure."
this page and its contents copyright (c) by ben thornton