Ferry O'er The River
“Move, move, move!” Tyillion shouted through the chaos. Her mercenaries shuffle past her on the sides of the wide hallway. Between them the Pure scream and wail in the flickering flash-fire of guns and smoky flares. It’s a mass of knees, and elbows, and clawing hands and horrified faces. Some of them are bearing scars, and there is more than a little blood. Her right ear, fitted with a transmitter/receiver screams.
“We got two men down! Men down!” Blake’s voice is stuttered by the fire of his repeating needle cannon. There are also other screams in the background, and the sounds of other battles.
“Blake, get topside now! Get these people onto the deck!” She bolted to the end of the line of Pure, where the swiftly fading light of the flares meet the darkness. Things creeping in that darkness were moving. She could hear them, even over the screams and cacophony of nightmares. Moving, slithering, in the places where you couldn’t see. And one of them lashed out. It moved so fast that she couldn’t see what it was. The only thing that her mind could discern was lots of bone and eyes. Tyillion braced her self quickly and pulled back on the barrel of her gun. A grenade made contact with the thing reaching out and the tunnel was filled with fire and death. She felt herself thrown backwards by the force, and her ankle screamed in pain from taking all the weight of her body during the firing.
The light flared and she saw them. They were stuffed down the corridor, moving over each other. Things creeping in the night roared at the light and pulled themselves backwards. The light from the flash grenade was fading fast, so she fired another. Lying on her back, the force rocketed her down the hallway. The things in the darkness screamed again, and retreated. The Pure were gone, her mercenaries with them, and the light as well. Tyillion rapidly pulled a flare from her pocket and held it aloft. The darkness was replaced with a fierce red light. Something dripped in her face.
Above her, on the ceiling, a wirewitch had been pinned into the support beams. Two empty sockets stared down at her. Tyillion put the flare on the ground and quickly laid all her weapons on the ground and began counting ammo, making sure everything was loaded. Down the hallway she saw a pinpoint of red light coming towards her quickly. Tyillion picked up the sniper rifle she carried and sighted down the dark corridor.
It was the modie. Tyillion breathed a sigh of relief and began to stow her weapons.
“They’re topside. We need to make our way up there, fast. They’re setting up a perimeter of lights before night falls. You okay?”
“Nothing I didn’t do to myself. Concussion and recoil bruises. What are you carrying?”
The modie shrugged, spilling rows of razor barbed locks over her shoulders. She also produced a belt of pistols.
“Energy? Good. I was carrying slug throwers for the riots. All our energy weapons are down two decks with the cargo. And the rest of our rations and lights. If those people are going to survive, we need to get those topside. The more people we have armed, the better chance we have of getting out of here alive.”
“Count me in.” Kiiziiziixii looked above her at the wirewitch corpse. “At least they didn’t play with that one.” The modie extended a hand to Tyillion. On her feet, Tyillion listened again to the radio static. Her men near the Pure were quiet, the entire deck was quiet. She could only make out whimpering in the background. She switched to the other channel and found silence.
Not the quiet still of the deck…but silence. Absence of sound.
There was a coarse static and a guttural chuckle.
“ThERe Is No moRE bLAkE”
A Stranger Among Us
Tyillion lit another flare and held it high while tossing the flickering remainder of the former one into the darkness before them. It clicked as it bounced off the solid metal floor and twirled into the darkness of the room beyond.
“Still nothing,” Tyillion muttered. She could hear the hair talons of Kiiziiziixii rustle in the still darkness. She knew that the situation was making the modie’s unnatural hair stand on end just like her own. Something wasn’t right. From the moment that unlucky bastard opened the door to the lower cargo hold, it had been like hell itself had poured from that belly of the ship. They had been relentlessly attacked, chewed up and spit out, literally. The creatures had even taunted her over the headsets…but now. Silence.
“Wires,” Kiiziiziixii whispered.
“What?” Tyillion queried. She looked at the ground around the flare. There were wires crisscrossing the floor in a mad jumble.
“There are wires…everywhere.” Kiiziiziixii held her flare aloft. There were wires draped across the ceiling, held in place by strange spikes of dull metal, like crude pitons. They ran down the walls, along the floors, and into the cargo hold beyond. In that room they became a tangle that looked like the web of some mad spider. Tyillion lowered her gun as she stepped inside. Curious, she dropped to the ground and ran her hands over the wires. Sure enough, a thin residue rubbed off. She held it to her nose.
“We’re safe here,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“These wires are wiring filaments. Rolls of it. Kilometers of the stuff, must have been in those boxes…” She gestured to the broken crates nearby. “…it’s been dipped in thermal coolant. Get a charge running through them right and this whole room will glow like it was broad daylight.”
“And these things don’t seem to like light at all… But who did this? This is where your man was, right? Did he do this?”
Tyillion held her flare out and walked to the middle of the room.
“He had to. And he has to be alive…” She swore under her breath, whipping the condensation from the large cargo case she and her mercenaries had been guarding. In the dim light Kiiziiziixii could make out words, printed in large bold letters. The kind of lettering used only when a point was meant to be made very clear.
“You were carrying…”
“Yes,” Tyillion snapped.
“How many canisters?”
Tyillion remained silent, opening the lid slowly.
“How many canisters?!” Kiiziiziixii snapped. Tyillion’s face went white as she peered inside. The wires were running into the case, to a small object in the center.
“The case was full…” Tyillion paused. “Now it’s empty, except for a remote trigger hooked to these wires.”
“This is a trap?” Kiiziiziixii's hand moved quickly to her gun.
“Yes, but not for us… and it’s already been used once, by looking at this trigger. Whoever built this made a trap for those…things. Flash fried them with intense light. That’s why we didn’t encounter anything here.”
The two warriors were silent.
“There’s a computer…” Kiiziiziixii said finally. "I can hear it…over there, near the crates."
Sure enough, there was a small terminal, its screen humming after a long dormancy.
“S.S. Leviathan, Cargo Hold 4b.” Tyillion read the grime covered plaque above it.
“Power has been restored to the main deck. The Pure are safely lit by the ships exterior light systems. Power has been restored to the lower decks, where we just came through. But everything down has been…activated, but purposely disabled.” Kiiziiziixii pressed a few buttons, bringing up images. “All the other cargo decks, look…”
“They’re all wired…”
“Something is herding them towards the port side main cargo bay,” Tyillion said. Then something clicked in her mind. Something that made perfect, hideous sense.
“Which direction is our port side?” She whispered, dropping her gun. Tyillion began to unbuckle the pack from her back and walking towards the door.
“East?” Kiiziiziixii answered. She dropped her gun as well and heard Tyillion moving closer towards her.
“And it is—“
“—almost sunrise,” Kiiziiziixii finished.
“Do you think we can make it back up topside?” Tyillion said, breaking into a run.
There was no response. Talking while running wastes breath, Kiiziiziixii knew that, and Tyillion did too.
In the main port cargo hold, a thousand things slithered in the darkness. They gnashed inhuman teeth and roared in a guttural tongue. They were held at bay by the thing before them, shining in the darkness.
“SucH things YoU dO,” hissed a voice amongst the mass of creatures, “OnlY delay oUR VicTOrY”
The luminescent being replied only with a series of clicks and snaps. There was silence, followed by thunder. A gaping hole was torn into the side of hull, and the breaking sun streamed in. In the cacophonic sounds of pain and screams, the water rushed in, pulling the dark things back into the sea with the stranger.
The sun rose on the ocean, black water glistening and churning in a mild wind. The smoke of the island could still be seen rolling in the sky far behind them. Its lower port hull partially filled with water before the bulkheads could seal, the mighty boat sailed at an ungraceful angle across the murky waters. Tyillion and Kiiziiziixii emerged from the lowers decks into the sun to be greeted by a mass of faces.
"How did you--"
"Flushed them out to sea--"
"--lots of things in the water around the--"
"Loudest bloody noise I've ever--"
Tyillion raised a hand. Kiiziiziixii looked around at the mob in returned confusion.
"--there's a lot of movement in the waters--"
"--what were those things, where they--"
"--it me, or is the boat tilting a bit--"
"--how did you two manage to--"
"--VERY loud explosion--"
"ENOUGH" Tyillion roared. The crowd quieted down and all eyes looked on her. She cleared her throat and looked towards the rising sun.
"And we didn't do it," Kiiziiziixii admitted. The crowd looked around confused. "Someone else is on the ship, and they herded those things right into the cargo bay and blew it all to glitch."
"What kind of explosive did THAT?" Davis asked. Tyillion shot him a look, only to find herself staring right into the narrowed, piercing gaze of the Modie.
"Yes, you might as well tell them what did that. Tell them what's missing from your cargo trunk."
Tyillion put her hands on her hips slowly. "First of all, the explosives listed on that trunk could NOT do something like that. If THOSE were detonated, the ship would have been vaporized. Not to mention it would have caused a chain reaction with all the others."
"Boss, we didn't have anything that could have put a hole that size in the boat..." Davis added in. Tyillion's expression could have caused brave men to jump over the railings and take their chances with the creatures surrounding the ship. But Davis wasn't a brave man, he was just stupid (and, consequently, her best mercenary). The crowd turned to face Tyillion as one again. She sighed.
"What made that hole was a .4 gauge longpistol firing an impact grenade."
"An .4 gauge longpistol? Those things are myths. 4 gauge micro canons are mounted on vehicles, the rumor of a handheld weapon of that caliber has no truth to it. No human being could fire that thing without breaking half the bones in their body."
"Well, not unless you've got several layers of Triadium bracing built into your body, in that case it just hurts like HELL."
Every eye turned towards the port railing where a hand was waving frantically.
"Little help here?"
Tyillion went over to the side and pulled a waterlogged figure over the railing. Most of its body was banded metal, the rest was what appeared to be scar tissue and implants. The figure's silver hair hung just below his shoulders, drenched in the dark water and an unknown residue. His body was covered in the phosphorescent residue used to light up the cargo holds below.
"It's dark, it's cold, I wake up and there's thousands of Dwellers all around me and the only thing you leave me is that bloody stupid long pistol? I TOLD you I hate firing that thing, my ARM is out of shape for DAYS after I fire it, and I only get one shot and the least you could do is--why is everyone staring at me?"
"Lemme rephrase that. Who the hell ARE these people, why are they all staring at me like that."
"Aran, we REALLY need to--"
"Wait, wait. I think I have it now... WHERE the hell are we? WHAT the hell am I doing waking up in a cargo trunk? WHEN did I get this Arm, WHO the hell are all these people, and WHY are they staring at me...?" Aran turned to face the crowd, "...cut that out, it's just plain freaky."
There was silence before a voice in the back whispered:
"What happened to his wings?"
"You can't be Aran!" Kiiziiziixii finally broke the silence. "We saw you over the square!"
"That's right!" one of the wirewitches snapped. "You're dead."
Aran stared blankly at the wirewitch before turning to Tyillion.
"Why wasn't I informed of this?"
Skeletons In The Closet
There are truths, and there are lies. Aran had decided long ago. The consequences of each are often too painful to bear. He stood in the corner of the room with his arms folded. His right arm was still giving him problems, still out of alignment. Tyillion must have installed it herself; she had never been able to apply any finesse when dealing with delicate machinery. He looked across the mess hall of the Rusted Whale, once the Iron Whale, once the Leviathan, once countless other names. Years of randomly accumulated tables and chairs had been pushed into a semi-circle around Tyillion who was still explaining the situation.
Or, to put it nicely: lying through her teeth.
Do you see the consequences of this, Tyillion? He wondered. A brief check of his internal systems had revealed more than a few modifications to his cyberware and bioware. For instance, the inclusion of a spinal terminator wired directly to his central nervous system. Also, a device he had never seen before. Probing it, trying to access it, was an activity in futility. From what he could guess, it was some sort of transmitter. But it wasn’t transmitting anything at the moment.
"And so Aran’s brother, Chian, kidnapped Aran while he was going to get The Pure...," Tyillion continued.
Another Lie, Tyillion. Be careful. Truth is a flimsy foundation for trust as it is, and Lies infinitely harder to build on. In the time Tyillion had been lying to the unidentified group of strangers Aran had taken the chance to regroup. His internal hardware showed to have been offline as of the early morning after cyberspace fell. From his best guess the street doctor he had gone to had betrayed him. The spinal terminator had been installed precisely, delicately. It was professional work, the caliber of which that particular doc had been known to do. The other device was installed, but it wasn’t attached to him: it was entwined. Messing with it could cause irreparable damage to his system. And with no facilities, no parts, and most importantly no surgeons around...Aran wasn’t taking any chances.
"...put modified hardware in Aran to draw from his memories...," Tyillion lied again.
Draw my memories? Hah. I don’t think so. I was transmitting. Aran closed his eyes and let his brain immerse itself into his own tangled network of machinery and memory. He could fit the pieces together. Someone was imprinting me...someone was wanting a copy of me. Sifting through old information, he began to shuffle through the contents of his long term memory. Various long-term storage devices fitted along his spinal column began to filter information through, some for the first time in many years. The fall of cyberspace had thrashed a lot of his temporary storage. Everything from that time was a blur, even his memory. But long-term storage had remained fine. The information came up. Another piece of the puzzle.
Golem Soul. Aran felt the information flood into his mind, scanning over it rapidly. This is old stuff. Looks like something before the fall? Not much of that survived. "A procedure to imbue an Artificial Intelligence with an almost exact copy of a subjects personality, using a series of neural interfaces and a...neural net compliant transmitter..." Aran’s internal systems turned once again to the strange device now nestled at the base of his neck. His eyes opened into narrow slits.
"...and Chian was fighting Aran above the crowd; Aran had found out his plan to turn you over to the--"
So you’re not just lying to them, are you? You’re lying to me. Aran saw the pieces of the puzzle beginning to slide together. Someone modified him. The modification had allowed Chian to operate using Aran’s brain as its own. Aran gained no memories of these events, as they were imprinted on Chian's brain. Chian had been grown in a vat, just like Aran, from the same base material. They were identical in everything but their installed cyberware. His brothers, Chian, Delcraux, and the others had been perfect. Aran had been flawed, possessing a spark of life stronger than they intended. He didn’t follow orders, he didn’t operate at "optimum efficiency." Which is what allowed Tyillion to "buy" his freedom. Someone wanted Aran’s strength of will, his personality, his tactics, his experience; but in a body that would take orders without question. Who? And why? Tyillion was wrapping up her "explanation" to the group. Aran turned to look towards the nearby port hole.
Staring into the reflection of the room in the glass, he saw no eyes on him. His hand flicked briefly into his coat pocket and pulled out a thin, blue ring. It was wire, coiled tightly into a cylindrical band. That wire had fallen from the sky and had penetrated his frozen prison. That wire, that ring, burned with intense pain and had wound around his finger, had woken him from the state of transmission back into thought. It had disrupted the "Golem Soul" process. The ring pulsed a faint blue aura, glistening in the dim light from the port hole. Tyillion didn’t know what woke him up from the hibernation. But Aran did. He recognized monofilament fiber, and he knew without being told what it was: Chian’s collective memories of that time, bound into that wire ring. As soon as he got to a decent lab, he could activate it, gain back those memories. Chian’s selfless sacrifice had also been a parting gift to Aran.
Tyillion is lying to me. People claming to be The Pure, all of whom died years ago, have been brought aboard this ship. Hah, and this ship that sank generations ago to the bottom of the sea now carrying us to some unknown destination. Wirewitches and Technomancers side by side. So much happened in those days. Tyillion, the consequence has unfolded. I can’t trust you either, it seems. I can trust no one until I can get this ring deciphered. So many secrets. Aran looked outside, eyes picking up a creature that had been shadowing them unaware. So many skeletons in the closet. A slight ripple betrayed the presence of something unseen. But they're not the only ones with secrets...
A Flash Of Light, A Swiftly Fading Dream
When she had been a child, Tyillion would have what she would later call "silent dreams." In the middle of the night, she would wake up suddenly with such a start that it seemed she hadn't been sleeping. Every muscle was tense, and her lungs felt like they were filled with fire. The world was dark, her room, her house, the city outside. But it was visible, even the shadows illuminated somehow. And the sound of life was muffled. She could hear the voices of her parents: sharp, staccato tones, crisp and clear...but undecipherable. She could hear them argue, could hear conversations, but the words never came. Just the intense audible emotion cutting into the silence of the night.
She could also hear her heart beat. It was a metronome to the dream, a constant thumping magnified by the seemingly endless silence.
The dreams had stopped in her childhood and had not returned until a few moments ago. She stared up at the ceiling of one of the many cargo holds of the Rusted Whale. Around her The Pure brave enough to risk staying below in the environmentally regulated shelter of the cargo hold were sleeping. But she could hear them breathing, couldn't hear the rustling of sheets. It was just silence, broken only by the sound of repetitive tapping. One. Two. Three. Four...silence.
And silence again. She stood up, facing the strange feeling of vertigo familiar to those who wake suddenly. The Pure were soundlessly sleeping around her. Slipping through them, she picked up her rifle and sword from the door frame. Her armor was folded neatly in a footlocker nearby, and would take too much time to put on, so she crept out into the night in the long robe-like garment The Pure had given her to sleep in. The corridors were lit only by the dim golden emergency lights, conserving the remaining power of the ship. But it was still like a dream, the only sounds that existed was the repetitive tap-tap-tap-tap that seemed to come from everywhere, and the beating of her heart. Up ahead, the moonlight spilled into the corridor, seeming almost brighter than daylight. She emerged cautiously onto the deck.
The tapping sounds seemed to echo across the tilting deck of the ship. The Rusted Whale for all its age and disrepair, gleamed a silver white under the full moonlight. Blue lightning split the sky, and she looked to the heavens. The sky was rolling with rapidly moving clouds. The moon shone through them eerily, as if the storm clouds were avoiding it. A strong wind was fluttering environmental shielding draped over machinery long fallen into rust. Streams of shimmering white film whipped rapidly in the wind, casting quickly shifting shadows across the deck. Tyillion couldn't tell if she was asleep or dreaming. She placed her rifle on top of a crate, securing the shoulder strap around the crate's housing to keep it from falling off as the ship tossed. Drawing her sword silently, she crept towards the sound of the tapping.
Her heart beat.
The sound of the wind.
Tyillion moved through the world, dream or real, towards the endless tapping.
Lightning tore across the sky, and illuminated a figure at the bow. Electric blue light danced across metal and chrome, skittered across silver-gray hair. Aran stood against the railing. She could see the fingers of his left hand strumming over his right arm, the one she had replaced. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Slow as molasses, his actions seemed to be drawn out. His expression was intense concentration as he stared into the water. At his feet were weapons, tools, large pieces of scrap metal, all arranged in some strange assembly. Then she first heard the sounds. Conversation. Aran's voice, or rather, the sound of his voice was unmistakable. But the other voice...it...sounded like water. It rolled, and heaved, it spun and twisted as it spoke, falling and crashing through the sentences. Tyillion looked to her right and saw one of the emergency lamps they had set up for The Pure. She reached out for it, gently, pressing the toggle switch.
There was a click that seemed to draw out forever, and a dull roar. She turned and saw Aran looking at her, his face nothing but pure rage and anger. She heard the low rumble of machinery, the whine of electricity beginning to flow.
The other speaker shrieked, the rage in its own shrill cry unmistakable.
At the edge of the boat, a demon began to take shape.
The lights came on.
The darkness rose from the horizon all around them, wrapping around the Rusted Whale. The moonlight was broken, shattered instantly with the ascending ebon shroud.
The world became as darkness.
Tyillion woke up to the blue sky above. Sapphire skies stretched endlessly above, broken only by a few wispy clouds as white as pure ash. A cool breeze blew over her, stirring blades of vibrant green grass around her. She pulled herself up and stared around the strange world around her. Fields stretched forever in all directions, unbroken by roads or paths. No cities stretched into the sky, no ruins littered the horizon. There were no storm clouds in the sky, no blood red sun.
“You’re the first to wake up.” A voice drifted beside her, carried by the wind. She looked around desperately, reaching for her gun. It wasn’t there. She looked down and found herself in a flowing garment that reached to her ankles, made of some soft airy fabric she hadn’t seen before. The voice sighed, or the wind stirred. “You are not as you were when you were swallowed up. You are now part of the dream.”
“What dream?” Tyillion asked, standing on unsteady feet. The wind moved again, sending waves of grass rippling across the plains, like waves upon the sea. Before her a form materialized, smoky wisps of air pulling themselves into the shape of a man. The long, sad face marked by years of worry. Although the figure was clothed in a uniform she didn’t recognize, its face spoke volumes. “How…how old are you?”
“I don’t know how old I am now. Time is meaningless in this place. But so you might be able to guess…” The figure paused thoughtful. “I saw the comet fall.”
Tyillion staggered backwards. “That was almost two hundred years ago!” The figure’s face seemed to grow even more remorseful.
“I was a captain of a ship. We were coming from Britain, had made it halfway home when the comet lit the night sky like it was as bright as day. When it passed over, we lost all engines, set adrift aimlessly. The comm. system brought reports of the world dying. The sky turned red. I remember my first officer saying the ‘gates of hell had opened onto the world’.” The figure was silent. “We were almost dead. And there isn’t a moment I don’t wish we had died. But at the last moment, we were approached by a creature. Looked like a jellyfish, we thought. But it rose out of the water and folded us up…darker than the night. Pure darkness.”
Tyillion had a flash of Aran’s
face, full of rage. I caused
it to swallow us! What was Aran
doing?! What did he know about
“We’ve all been absorbed. Me, my crew, your ship, and countless others. This creature scavenges the sea for vessels to eat. It digests not our bodies, but our memories. This world is a patchwork representation of my memories, and the memories of others. The creature is dreaming about the plains. I think this is where my first officer grew up…”
“Where are they? Your crew? Where is everyone?” Tyillion looked around. “The Pure! The wirewitches! ARAN!” She spun around the figure.
“They are not conscious yet. The strong ones wake first, and are then taken to a place deep within the creature where their minds are ripped apart. The few that survive have to endure living in the jumbled memories of others, the dreamscape of a soulless beast. My crew is dead. Your crew, your friends…they may not survive. You woke quickly, you have an incredible spark of life…you, like me, will survive. You have to. I must remember my crew, I must keep their memories alive until the day this beast is destroyed. I must remember them all.”
Tyillion looked frantically around the horizon.
“He has to be here!”
“None have awoken before you.”
“No way. Aran is a thousand times stronger than I am. He was communicating with that thing when it was about to swallow us…I saw it. It was afraid of him!”
A spark erupted in the ghostly eyes of the man.
“It…afraid?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Ye--….yeees. It would have come for you by now...it would have...yes. Child! It is important you do something for me! Watch closely!” The figure held out a hand and closed his eyes. The winds stirred, and a ghostly image rose from the ground…a shape much like a man. It gained more and more detail, until, with a strained voice the captain cried softly, “This is my first officer. A man I trusted my life with. He named his son after me. Because I can recall him, and I can concentrate, I can make this dream world show him to you.”
The captain dropped his hand and the figure broke into wisps of curling smoke. He turned to Tyillion with pleading eyes.
“Show me. Show me the man this creature fears! Show me the man who could end this hellish mockery of life!”
Tyillion concentrated…brought the images of Aran to the front of her mind. She remembered seeing him the first time in the Vat System growth lab. Where he was being re-grown for perhaps the hundredth time. Remembered seeing the face. She remembered working with him that first time, a construct with actual emotions. She remembered stealing him away, raising him, helping him learn to live beyond the rules of a constructed being. She remembered Aran standing over them all, Aran the Data Thief, Aran the—“ A scream broke her concentration. She opened her eyes and fell back, the image of Aran almost solid in front of her. The captain had fallen to his knees and was crawling backwards, his eyes wide in….terror?
“NO! NOT HIM!” The captain screamed, he began to claw at his eyes with his fingers. NOT HIM!!!! NOT THAT BEAST!”
Tyillion opened her mouth, but she was drowned out by wails. From the wind around them, screams erupted. Shrill cries of fear, terror. Echoing through the endless world, rolling over the grass, the wind became wild. Rain fell, as bitter as salt, rain that hit her lips with the taste of tears. The ground split and crimson blood began to seep from beneath the surface. The skies rolled with dark clouds, split by lightning and thunder.
“What’s going on! What’s happening?!”
“The dead remember him! The dead remember! They can’t even manifest in the dream, they can’t communicate…they can’t even know they still live! But they remember him! They remember…THEY REMEMBER!!” Before her, the image of Aran began to twist, pulling itself into another shape…hideously similar, but far more frightening.
Tyillion began to feel the memories of thousands of people pour into her mind. Of ships, and refugees, explorers, soldiers, all who had been swallowed by the creature. Images of Aran poured through her mind. Images of Aran cutting through armies, images of blood and bone, images of Aran as old as the captain remembered him: a machine of murder. A voice as cold as ice pierced into her mind, whispering, crawling across her brain like knives.
issss feeear…wiiiithooouuut question. It
is not fear ‘of’ Aran, it is not fear ‘in’ Aran…it is…just…the
feeeear he brings out in them. But…yoooou,
yoou doo noot haaave ssssuch memorieeees…cooome…let usssss sssssee whaatt
iissssss iinn yooour minnd.”
And once again, the world disappeared. Tyillion came to stand before the gates of hell opened upon the world.
Tyillion opened her eyes to an army of nightmares. The world was endless red, stretching as far as she could see. Floating in the crimson haze were the men and beasts known as "Aran." Most of them stirred dim memories. Before Aran came to be with her, he had been a Cycled Technomancer. Built to do a job, stripped down to component parts, and recycled and regrown. No memories, no childhood, just most appropriate skills and information. Killer, Assassin, Mercenary. He had been whatever was necessary to his employers. But there were others. Faces she didn’t recognize--in armor and clothes she couldn’t place. Hard, cold faces like iron, with those silver eyes staring out. There were hundreds. She couldn’t see the Aran she knew, the Aran she had rescued and helped to enter the world. She couldn’t see that Aran at all. But she saw the devil.
Sprawling in the middle of the mass
was a sphere of brackish liquid from which a creature she had never seen
before swirled. It was wormlike,
twisting over its endless length in an infinite movement. This is the shape
of the voice, this is the monster that swallowed us.
“Yes…,” a voice loomed next to her. “This is the fifty-fifth creature of our master, this is CORPSEREND 1, or as your kind have commonly called it The Blood Ocean. It was designed to gather data on your kind by converting them into biomatter stored in its body and processing their alpha radiation.”
She spun in the water to see the creature, but couldn’t make out a shape.
“It is best you did not see me. My appearance alone has killed many stronger than you. Take temporary comfort in this truth: my master has no concern for you. If all goes well, and you can give him the information he requires, your demise will be averted.”
“What are you talking about? Who is your master?”
The voice was silent for a moment, and then spoke in a dead whisper, as cold as ice. “You would be wise to learn to choose your questions, and the moment of your questions. The situation, since you seem unable to grasp it, is simple. In terms even your kind can understand: We require information on this collective you all know as "Aran." In return for which, the CORPSEREND experiment will be aborted, and you will be returned to the sea. If you do not provide this information freely, we will gain it by raping the minds of all those here, replacing you all with meat puppets to play out our purpose. Do not ask why we are doing this the hard way by requesting it of you. Suffice to say only that my master has a keen interest in the creature here, and the creature regards you all as important. Tampering with that psyche is not in our wishes, nor, clever being, in yours.”
The creature was silent. Tyillion didn’t say anything. Twenty years of being a mercenary had given her the ability to know when someone was bluffing. The voice, was not.
“What do you want to know?”
“Its most recent incarnation…the one you know. It is the freshest memory. But you do not know these others, correct?”
“How did you…?” Tyillion began then snapped the question short.
“CORPSEREND,” the voice began, “has an archive of your thoughts and memories. Remember that. There is another figure…more recently. It is… not this creature, but it is. You called it "brother." Yet though you do not know…it was Aran nonetheless, much as all the others you do not recognize. Last question.”
The worm in the black sphere began to uncurl itself rapidly.
“Why do you trust in this creature?”
Tyillion stood shocked.
“CORPSEREND has taken your answer from you. Well enough. You will all be released.”
Tyillion found herself back on the Rusted Whale, suspended in the air in a thick viscous liquid. She raised her head slowly. Muscles atrophied…how long have we been like this…? She looked past the deck and saw hundreds of other ships around them. Again, she could not see Aran.
* * *
“And, last but not least…you.” the disembodied voice said, bemused.
Aran spun in the black liquid, turning inside the looping coils of the worm as it opened.
“You’ve got exactly….” Aran saw all of the others like him surrounding the sphere.
“Be proud, you have captured the attention of my master. He gives you two gifts.” The blue ring around Aran’s finger began to glow eerily, and the hundreds of Arans around him began to pull inward, tearing into ribbons of light and feeding into the ring. The ring then uncoiled itself into the tiny monofilament wire it had once been, and dug into his hand, wrapping around metal shrouded bone. Aran felt like his brain was on fire.
“There you go. All the memories, all the heartache, all the pain, the pride, the power, the hope, and the despair of your many lives. The distilled memories of hundreds who bore your name. That is our first gift, that you know what you are getting into. The second is this…”
The brackish water pulled back, as did the ruddy body of CORPSEREND. Aran saw the sea beneath, heard something rush up from the ocean floor, snaking its way through the icy depths of the ocean. A tendril of dark light, as cold as ice, and dark as night, but glowing so bright as to give birth to shadows even in the darkness. It reached up and stabbed through his chest. Aran felt cold fire race through his veins, course through his heart.
“Feel the touch of my master's mighty hand. Know you are the first of this world to bear his gift. You have been but a pawn in a game you cannot comprehend. Now we give you the power to make your own moves. Feel the power of my master. Rise, Aran…know you are now known to my master as MAERO, for the infinite sorrow you have borne, and have yet to bear.”
The fire gave way, his eyes blurred and vision became white. Cold light erupted, and he found himself flung upwards. He felt the air burn his lungs, and he screamed. Somewhere, outside his blind vision…the sun rose.
Dead In The Water
CORPSEREND, The Blood Sea, had erupted from the ocean. Its reddish body and murky black core spilled and mixed into the dark waters. Aran stared up into the gray skies.
The skies…they should be blue.
Thoughts were rolling through his head so fast he couldn’t keep up with them. His body hurt more than it had before; every single nerve, real and synthetic, screamed in agony. The sun was rising, stabbing reddish golden light through the dense barrier of cloud and ash overhead.
Should be blue skies.
The air around him became thick with the scent of decay. He heard the cracks and groans as ships emerged from the ocean, some for the first time in a century. CORPSEREND’s collection, the library of humanity, sprung from the surface of the dark water.
The dead rising from their
The air too seemed to erupt. Voices screamed, wailed, cheered, and cried. Those who had been imprisoned for years and had not gone mad found themselves back to life. The rush of water came nearby, and another ship loomed overhead. Aran stared at the clouds roiling overhead.
Somewhere in the distance, he heard Tyillion crying his name. Then he heard other voices. Voices he recognized, and didn’t. He heard them crying his name. Some cried in fear, some in terror, and some in awe.
The skies overhead were still gray.
Where is the blue?
Aran continued to stare up into the sky, cold wind whipping across the waters. Slowly, realization crept back into his mind.
“I can’t float…”
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