Where The Sea Meets The Sand
Ten days had passed since she had almost fallen into the deadwater pool in the sunken city. Ten days since Aran's arm regrew before her eyes to catch her. Tyillion still didn't know what was bothering her mind more: the fact that she couldn't understand what was happening inside Aran's body or what was happening inside his mind. Behind her came the soft, almost indiscernible sounds of footsteps.
“I don't care how good your dampening hardware is, I can still hear you,” Tyillion said. Kiiziiziixii sat down beside her with a tray of what could be loosely called food. The area of the ship they had converted for eating, an old luxury cabin, was empty except for the two of them.
“I spoke with the one they call Greasy. He says Ta-Kyn believes they will be able to reach the mainland soon.”
“Then we would be trading problems afloat for problems afoot.”
“I think we can handle the swamps. I brought two plates, thought you might be hungry.”
Tyillion regarded the metal plate of gray mush with distrust. She was used to meal packets and iron rations: mercenary food. Plain gray mush-of-the-masses may be able to taste like anything, but the appearance never set well with her.
“Perhaps. Old highways still litter the coastline, but none of them large enough for us to pull all that gear the Pure are carrying. They are going to have to leave a lot behind or find a way to move it all quickly. We can't sit still.” Tyillion tasted a fork full of the gray mush; it tasted like lemon chicken. “Ugh. Can't stand this stuff.”
“Maybe you could have your boyfriend turn into a vehicle and he could drive us all there.” Kiiziiziixii mouth opened in a wide grin.
“Yes. It is.” Kiiziiziixii laughed, sending her metallic hair shaking in waves. “You two have a messed up relationship. And this is coming from someone who dated one of the lowest, filthiest, lying sacks of slime on the planet.”
“Miss him much?”
“A lot,” Kiiziiziixii muttered. “The bastard can dodge pretty much everything.”
They both laughed at the joke for a few moments before falling into an awkward silence. Tyillion had been more or less in charge of the ship by default, but both Kiiziiziixii and Tyillion knew they were more or less on par. Kiiziiziixii could have taken command at any time, but had instead fallen in line with her mercenaries without question or complaint. They had acknowledged each other without actually interacting for the entire voyage.
"We don't have any kind of relationship,” Tyillion said finally, poking a fork through the mush.
"Hah. Listen, hearing people lie is part of my job. I'm good at telling when someone is lying.”
"We...had...a relationship. But not any more.”
"Ah. After the operation?”
"Operation? Oh. No. He was vat-grown. His base implants were there shortly after what would have been the second trimester.”
"Vat-grown?” Kiiziiziixii raised an eyebrow. “That explains a lot. Not many vat-grown tin-men around. It certainly clears up how he manages to move quicker than a lot of the ones I've encountered.”
"I also trained him in the ways of the sword, by hand.”
"So, no feelings left?”
Tyillion remained quiet. She had avoided a lot of subjects since the chaos had taken control of the island. Meeting up with Aran had raised questions that had been filed away, but now were at the forefront of her mind. They would have to talk, soon.
"I don't know.” Tyillion said. They finished their meal, talking about how they would transport the pure to the mainland.
"When we get there, where are you going?” Tyillion stood up and slung the rifle across her back.
"I don't know,” Kiiziiziixii sighed. “I got separated during the riots from the...people...I was traveling with. But I don't think I'll have a problem finding work. All I know is that—”
"LAND!” The cry from above was unmistakably Ta-Kyn. They both made their way quickly topside and found the sea had turned golden. Stretching out across the port bow was a pool of liquid gold, the rising sun illuminating the water which rippled and sparkled. A few miles in the distance the sea broke and turned to burning white sand.
"We're landing there,” Aran said, moving to Tyillion's side. “It's smooth enough of a beach to unload and prepare, with enough room to maneuver safely if there's any trouble. Ta-Kyn is going to run the Rusted Whale aground about there...” He gestured to the eastern side of the little cove. “And, Tyillion, we need to talk.”
Tyillion followed him to the side of the boat. Don't talk about us. Don't talk about us. Don't talk about us.
"Tyillion, we have a lot of unfinished business.”
"I really don't think now is a good time to--”
"Now is the ONLY time. We need to finalize your outline for the convoy, because we need to have it half built BEFORE we land. Once we hit the beach, we have to start moving inland FAST. Kreep is already preparing to scout out the nearest highway.”
Tyillion tried to form words, but her mouth kept moving up and down without saying anything.
"R-Right.” She recovered. “Now get out of my way, kid, I have work to do.”
Tyillion walked away, blushing furiously. Stupid Aran.
"Look Upon My Works..."
The air inland was much different than the air by the shore. The intense heat and humidity created a stifling, almost palpable thickness in the air. Breathing was labored, even with synthetic lungs and recyclers.
"This won't be easy. We're going to make less time than I thought.” Aran brought his makeshift machete down through a tangle of vines and undergrowth. The forest outside the beach front was far more difficult to navigate than he thought. He and Kreep had made their way through looking for a highway system or a marker to establish where they had landed. Four days of travel had taught them to scout ahead before moving the caravan. Aran and Kreep scouted out, being the most likely to deal with any surprises, and marked a trail they would take the next day.
"At least you can see the sky,” Kreep said. The wiry Technomancer slashed his way through the undergrowth with just his hands and fingers; he seemed to be enjoying it. “Never could see the sky on that island.”
"No. But seeing the sky here isn't going to really inspire hope.” Aran's machete, fashioned from part of the hull of the Rusted Whale, swung out in another arc to widen their path.
"It's not a blanket. They'll get used to it.”
Aran's right arm still felt odd. It responded, if anything, faster than it did before. Almost like an organic limb. He couldn't shake the feeling that the delay he normally compensated for was growing increasingly shorter. I really need to find somewhere with some decent bio-medical facilities so I can check this out. Something about it worries me.
"When did you pick up the keepsake?” Kreep ask.
Aran stopped in mid swing. "What?”
Kreep gestured to the amulet hanging around his neck. The amulet Aran had found beneath the statue of himself in the sunken city.
"Found it back in the city. I don't know why I picked it up, but I think it's important...somehow.”
"Only because it looks a lot like the one this guy is wearing...” Kreep said, tearing back a mass of thick gray vines. As it peeled back, a statue became visible. Aran moved across to where Kreep was and helped him tear down more of the flora that had overgrown the statue. It was three statues in truth. Each facing a different direction.
"One's gone missing.” Kreep said, pulling dirt away from the base. One other figure had stood amongst them, but had been torn down and smashed into tiny fragments now littering the soil.
"They're wearing amulets like this one,” Aran said. “Wait...look at this.”
Aran tore at the film covering the statues, who knew how many years of dirty rain and filth had gathered. Each amulet was engraved with a symbol.
"Directions. They each point a different direction. This one is east...so...this guy is south...and this one is west. But that means the one that got torn down is north.”
"And look, their names are carved at the base... Jared Gillencrest... I know that name. He's the one who refined the Technomancer operation years and years ago.”
"And on the south, Nathaniel Myris. His name sounds familiar... but--wait, the one on the west has Ellis Nammol. I'm not sure, but I think he was one of the pioneers that helped create the foundation of Cyberspace...on the north, the nameplate has been torn out. But there's another plate underneath.”
"Boss!” Kreep snapped.
"Just a minute, it says: 'The only thing we can do is make the world a better place, safer for ourselves and our descendants, to advance mankind beyond his limitations and pave the way for a perfect tomorrow.”
Aran stood up and looked down at the decimated statue.
"Hmmm. That's laying it on a bit thick. I wonder who that fourth statue was.”
"I have an idea,” Kreep said, and tossed something at him. Aran caught the object, a large stone and turned it over in his hands.
"Found its head.”
Aran stared down into his own face again, the stone chipped and beaten but the likeness still there. The word "LIAR" was carved into it's forehead.
"Let's not take the Pure this way, Kreep,” Aran muttered. “Let's backtrack and head north, we should hit a roadway in a few hours with any luck.”
"Sure thing. My lips are sealed, Aran.”
Aran didn't doubt Kreep's loyalty. But he doubted himself now more than ever. The mainland was bringing more questions, more dilemmas of self. But he couldn't start on these; he couldn't even begin to unravel all the other problems till he unwound the one at the center of them all.
"When we get back, I want you to get the convoy organized. I'm going to have to talk to Tyillion.”
Whispers From The Past
The world was a sea of green and brown, so different from the city. Kreep leapt from one of the trees with ease, landing on the ground silently behind the creature. Kreep wasn't versed on the wildlife of the mainland, so he couldn't identify what the creature was or what it might have original mutated or evolved from. But he could tell predator from prey, and instinct told him what was dangerous to the caravan.
Kreep leapt before the creature could even register another presence and a sharp, quick strike to the base of its neck sent it to the ground, limp and lifeless. He stared at it for a minute, thinking it more or less resembled a cat were it not for the enlarged jaw and rows of blood stained teeth. This creature killed anything; he could smell the blood on it a mile away. Behind him he heard the faint sounds of footsteps.
“Another one?” Aran stepped into the clearing, glancing over the creature. “We're lucky we haven't found a pack of them.”
“They don't travel in packs,” Kreep said, returning with Aran to the trail they had been cutting through. Aran shouldered a massive blade Ta-Kyn had made a few days ago from parts the Pure were told they would have to abandon to move faster. His arm had apparently regained its old strength, and he swung the heavy, four-foot blade with ease. Kreep enjoyed outpacing him, still using just his hands.
“Did you tell them about the sign we found?”
“No,” Aran said. “No sense in getting hope up if we have no proof.”
“Did you tell Tilly about the statue?”
“No. And you know she gets absolutely pissed when you call her that.” Aran grinned.
“Of course. But if you want me to stop...”
“I do,” Aran said. Kreep stopped in his tracks and glanced back at him. Aran was fairly easily to figure out, most of the time. He and Kreep shared similar problems with their technology having a mind of its own, and both of them had been more or less forced to fight from childhood. But something about the "no" was unusual.
“Her middle name is Geraldine.” Aran laughed, and Kreep felt slightly relieved. “You think Tilly pisses her off? Call her Geri or Geri-dean. She'll go ballistic.”
Kreep and Aran laughed out loud.
“Douglass,” Kreep said. Aran glanced over at him. “I don't have a middle name, but that's my first.”
“I didn't think your mother named you Kreep.” Aran swung the blade and a four-foot arc of forest went up in a shower of splintered wood and foliage. “At least, I hoped your mother didn't name you Kreep.”
“Nah. She didn't want to name me after my father.” Kreep grinned. It was good finally getting a chance to talk to Aran. After they had run into him in the city, Kreep was unsure of what he thought about him. Then there was the whole end-of-the-island chaos and the death of "Aran." Kreep still didn't understand it fully. His instincts, however, the same that could tell the predator from the prey, could see that this Aran was more real than the one in the city.
“At least you know your father.” Aran sighed.
“Yours ran off, too?”
“Never had one.” Aran shoved the blade into the ground and sat down, flexing his arm. “This thing still doesn't feel right.”
“What do you mean you never had a father?” Kreep asked, crouching on top of a fallen tree.
“I was vat grown. Just cells and DNA, mostly synthetic.” Aran clenched his fist a few times, his brow furrowed. “I...” Aran looked up suddenly and sharply, gray eyes boring into Kreep's skull. “I'm going to tell you something I haven't even told Tyillion. You will not tell anyone.”
Kreep nodded. He also noted Aran didn't ask him not to tell. They both understood.
“I've been Aran a few times.” He sighed. “A process they call C-life. Cyclical reuse of a human being. Patterns of thought and memory can be stored in organic material, and can be read by machine. As each Aran before me, all vat grown, died he was collected and reset. I get a new body each time, and retain innate skill, but no memory.”
“So that statue was you?”
“Sort of. Who knows how many lifetimes ago. But something doesn't fit right. Takiyoma was the one who started the C-Life process on me, but apparently I was being recycled LONG before then. Their records only showed about five or ten cycles. The statue would be about a hundred years older than that.”
“Mysteries on mysteries. Don't worry, there's going to be plenty of answers on the mainland. You just gotta look for 'em.”
“I have a lot more questions every day,” Aran said. He took off his jacket and exposed his arm to Kreep.
“Cut it off.”
“Cut my arm off at the elbow,” Aran said. He didn't blink. Kreep hesitated only for a few seconds before lashing out with his hand. The razor-like skin on his fingers sliced clean through Aran's arm. Blood, albeit blackish-crimson, poured from the wound. It looked more like oil than blood, but less like the hydraulic fluid and synthetic blood that normally runs through a Technomancer.
“Watch.” Aran said. He closed his eyes and moved the stump of his arm, stretching it out. Kreep nearly missed it, but he saw it at last. The fluid was moving outwards, building on itself. The arm was regrowing.”
“I had to find out,” Aran said. “Took forever to convince Tyillion to cut my arm off. Been doing it every now and then since then. It's getting faster, and I can almost will it now.”
“Tech don't do that, Aran,” Kreep said. “Not even lost technology.”
“No. No it doesn't.”
The paused for a moment.
“I'm losing. You know that, right?” Kreep asked. “I'm losing the battle with what's inside me. That's why it's you and me out here, alone, in the woods. In case I go ballistic again, it's just you and me out here: alone.”
“Yes,” Aran said. Kreep shook his head. At least Aran won't lie to me. “But there's another reason.”
“I think, if we can find a decent lab, whatever happened to me may be able to help you.”
Kreep stood up and looked down at Aran who was staring at his forearm as the wrist regrew.
“There's a lot more to it than that.” Kreep leapt down to where Aran was standing. “You will not tell either.”
“It was me, mom, and my sister. Living in the burned out husk in the west of the city. It was hard, but it was so hard only the stubborn humans lived there. No Technomancers or monsters, just humans. No money, no home, all we had was each other. When mom got sick, I walked ten miles into the city limits and volunteered at a research center. Let them experiment on me for cash.”
“Takiyoma.” Aran frowned.
“Yeah. Good money. Enough to feed us for months. I went back, not knowing exactly what they had done. I was a G12 Technomancer.”
“Experimental. Bio-technology. That's some high end hardware,” Aran said.
“And when I got back, I found the witches.” Kreep felt his hair raise on the back of his neck, felt the nails on his hands curve and grow. Anger, keep the anger down. “They killed my mom because she was standing between them and their new member. They turned my sister into one of those...” Kreep stopped. He was shaking.
“And then they went for you.”
“Yeah. But something about the G12 technology in me is fighting off the witchkiss. When I get angry, I lose control, the witch inside comes out. When I can regain control, I can push it back...but not as far back as it used to be.”
“That explains why you're able to make complete sentences now.” Aran grinned. Kreep remembered the fight between him and Aran on the island when Kreep had degenerated almost to a beast.
“Well, I don't know if it can be cured. Doc's tried. He says it's possible, but not even he can figure out what's going on.”
“I think together we can figure it out. But, I have a selfish reason for it, too.”
Aran sighed, flexing the fingers of his regrown hand before pulling his shirt over his shoulders.
“If we can figure out what's causing this in me, and isolate it, it might cure you. But I need to find out if something in your body can stop it, or at least slow it down.”
“Why would you want to stop it?”
“Because, I'm losing too.” Aran turned around and exposed his back to Kreep.
Kreep staggered backwards a bit, tripping over the log and sprawling on the ground.
Purity In The Fire
Greasy wasn't used to the humidity; even at night it was smothering. The Haven he had spent most of his life in was environmentally controlled and sealed. There was no such thing as a heat wave, or rain, or blistering sun. But since the caravan left the Rusted Whale and moved inland, where the clouds broke and the sun shone all day, he and the rest of the Pure had become acutely aware of the harshness of their new home.
“Is the rest of the world like this?” Greasy asked. Ta-Kyn sat next to him, whistling a nameless tune. The two had traveled together most of the way, partially for the company of a similar mind, but mostly because they were the only two who could fix anything that broke.
“No.” Ta-Kyn smiled. “Some parts are a lot worse, but there are some a lot nicer.”
Greasy turned his attention back to a box of parts. They hadn't been able to take everything from the ship, despite his protests of it all being necessary. Ta-Kyn hadn't objected, oddly, and wasn't really concerned. Of course, Greasy was convinced the Technomancer could produce cold fusion from toast and duct tape if necessary. He seemed to thrive in impossible tasks.
“Did we get the materials from the Quartermaster for Aran's little project?”
“Not yet.” Greasy removed a moisture condenser from the box and began attaching it to the device he had been working on, something he had heard Ta-Kyn talking about once on the boat. “Although there's really not much for us to do, it's just a coat.”
“No. The other project.” Ta-Kyn leapt off the box he had been sitting on and took a look at what Greasy was making. “The Water Purification system. We're going to run out of Hydration Kits soon, he wanted something to extract pure water from whatever water source we find. Hey, that's a moisture pump. I thought you didn't know what those were?”
“I don't. I'm just going off what you told me.”
“Ah.” Ta-Kyn picked up the item in his hands and turned it around. “You know, this could work for what Aran wants. It'd be portable, too. We could make several and distribute them to each group of the caravan. That way wouldn't have to worry about things being stolen. And we could even process the sludge.”
“Ta-Kyn, how can you defile yourself so easily?”
Ta-Kyn turned to Greasy with an expression of confusion.
“What do you mean?”
“Sludge is sludge. You can't make it water. Once it's contaminated, the contamination spreads equally among all the molecules. Why aren't we building a water production unit?”
“Well. Several reasons. For starters, it would use up most of our available parts. And if it broke, we would be in a lot of trouble. Second, the principal is exactly the same. A WPU would just take hydrogen and oxygen out of the air to make water. But the air is polluted too, right? The WPU just does a lot less work filtering airborne particles and radiation than a purification system. Besides, in the long run a purification system would be better. True, it won't take out all the impurities, but your body needs those impurities.”
“What?! That's defiling of self. Our ancestors locked us away so we could be pure, and rebuild once the toxins went away and the earth healed.”
“Most of the toxins are gone, Greasy. Look around you. The earth IS healing. But it doesn't heal like we do. It's not a machine. When it breaks, you can't just restore it or rebuild it. Everything that changed it caused side effects. Species are gone, never to come back, and new ones have risen up in their place. Your purity IS important, but if you don't adapt to the land, you will die. The purity you have is not just your genetics. Your bodies have antibodies and defense mechanisms long passed from the general gene pool. But your bodies aren't used to this world.”
“So how will defiling them--”
“Your purity is not in your genetic makeup,” Ta-Kyn snapped. “Listen to me closely. You know how many years have passed while you were locked in that Haven? The common genetic makeup of mankind has changed. More resistant to the world, more adept to here and now. There are things in the world your body just cannot fight. You WERE genetically pure, once upon a time, now you are just a minority--a fluke. The purity that is important is the KIND of people you are. You have hope, knowledge, wisdom, and experience with things the world has long forgot. If we can keep you alive long enough, you guys just might be able to start taking back the world for mankind.”
Greasy looked down at the incomplete purification engine.
“We're a lot like this...”
“Exactly.” Ta-Kyn grinned. “Trying to recreate the world is a fool's quest. But we can purify it, and we can grow stronger through that.”
“So how does it work?”
“You're missing a piece. You need a heat source to vaporize the water halfway through, it drops the heavier particles into a collector which you have to filter out. Then cycle it a few times to sift through most of the junk in the water.”
“It passes through fire, and comes out in a purer form...” Greasy looked at the device. The caravan is a lot like the purifier for us, with Aran leading us through the fire. Greasy through for a minute. “...I wonder, if the same thing could happen to humans.”
“Cycle them through enough times. If you could live the same life several times, would it filter out the impurities inside a person.”
“Eh, you'd have to ask Aran about that. I haven't come back from the dead yet, myself.”
“He didn't really come back you know, he was never really dead...”
“Nah, but I figure that was close enough. Now c'mon.” Ta-Kyn began juggling parts out of the box and tossing them to Greasy. “If we hurry, we can have a few of the purification systems done by sunrise.”
The base camp had dwindled over the last few days into only a handful of tents and a few crates of non-vital supplies. A ruined city, surrounded by a high ridge that created a shaded hollow, had seemed the best place to stop. Aran and Kreep had found an old power generator nearby, and the ridge had turned out to hide a pool of water fed from a deep spring. It would be, they had decided, "home." Kiiziiziixii sat outside that new city in the now defunct base camp, on one of the crates, carefully reassembling a pulse displacer that Ta-Kyn had modified for her.
“I find it interesting that you remain here, in the wild, when our little town has sprouted.”
What? Kiiziiziixii drew the other displacer pistol and leveled it where the voice had come from. Doc, the ancient Technomancer, stood beside one of the tents wrapped in his layers of clothes. I didn't hear him?
“Just making some final preparations. I'm in for a long walk.”
“Which you will, of course, postpone until after dinner this evening?” Doc moved without sound to a nearby crate and sat, sending layers and folds of cloth cascading down to the ground.
“Sorry. I have things to do. I got separated from some people in the riots, now I need to find them.” Kiiziiziixii finished assembling the displacer. She leveled it gently and fired a few rounds into the trunk of a dead tree nearby. The bursts were far more rapid, but a little less powerful. Still, in the wilderness between here and wherever the blue-haired girl was, it was easy to find yourself outnumbered. Being able to get off another three or four shots would be the difference between life and death.
“Yes. Yes, of course you do. Your help with our journey is, of course, most appreciated.” Doc smiled. He stood up slowly, the layers of cloth shifting before a rusted metal hand extended, holding a small ornate armband.
“How did you get that?” Kiiziiziixii stared at the little band, which flickered blue and silver in the setting sunlight. “That's ancient tech.”
“The technology is old. This is not.” Doc said, tossing it to her. “Over my years I have managed to learn enough to cobble together the occasional useful piece of technology. It will dampen any sound you make. Helpful, I think, for traveling through these wasted lands.”
Doc turned away and moved back to the woods. Kiiziiziixii watched him go, gathering up her gear and fastening the band onto her right wrist. Suddenly, a thought crossed her mind.
“Was it worth bringing them this far?”
“Because,” Doc said. “Tommorrow they will build their city. Tomorrow you will leave, Tomorrow the world will change a little bit. But from here on out, all of you will have a place and a time to call 'home.' You will always be welcome here.”
“Thanks. But I'm going to have to be moving on.” Kiiziiziixii holstered the pistol and slung her pack over her shoulder. “Tell Aran and Tyillion thanks for the ride.”
“Safe journey, Modie, and may you find your friends.”
Kiiziiziixii made her polite farewells and made her way to the highway they had discovered outside of town. It headed east, broken but easy to travel. And there would be camps and scattered villages along the roadway. Someone, somewhere would have seen the blue-haired girl. She made a last glance back towards the new city and began walking east.
* * *
Doc watched Kiiziiziixii go, standing in the base camp for a few minutes until she was completely out of sight.
“The wirewitches left earlier today, did they not?”
“Yeah.” Kreep leapt from the high oak limb to the ground. “They lit out of here like someone set fire to them.”
“Someone did, if I recall.”
“Heh. Yeah. Aran's going to have to work on his diplomatic skills.”
“You overheard them talking?”
“Yeah. They mentioned that 'Seal' person.”
“Interesting. I believe that is who our young mercenary friend is seeking as well. It would be a shame, after all she did to help us, if those witches found this 'Seal' first.”
“I agree.” Kreep said. His cracked his knuckles and flexed his fingers. Three inch razors grew from each fingernail.
“I don't think a more permanent solution would benefit any of us. But maybe you could slow them down a bit.”
“I'm sure they'll bounce back.” Kreep grinned. “Or at the very least, we'll find out if they bounce.”
Kreep disappeared into the trees silently. Doc turned his gaze back to the fledgling city.
“Now, Aran. It's your turn. Where does the world go from here? Decide very carefully, young man, you've managed to tie all of us to whatever fate is within you.”
The sun faded from red gold to pale yellow before slowly turning to grayish blue. The night fell quickly upon the city, and tiny points of light sprung up in the ruined buildings.
“Decide very carefully.”
this page and its contents copyright (c) by ben thornton