Aran Lives [s096]
The flickering light from the candles was enough for him to see what he was doing. Phoenix's hands moved slowly up and down (2)syl's naked back. Her skin glistened with oil, her black marking shining bright. He fanned his fingers out, trying to trace all of the lines at once. She gasped at that.
Without breaking contact with her body, he put his two middle fingers together and traced the line down the base of her spine, down to the where the towel covered her buttocks.
"Something's in the way," he whispered.
He bent over, keeping his hands where they were. He grabbed the towel with his teeth and flung it off.
Just stop it. Just stop it right now.
For the past two weeks, Phoenix had been struggling, trying to push these types of fantasies out of his head. They were getting worse, deeper, more explicit, and it getting was harder for him to resist them.
I gotta get rid of her before…before what? Before something bad happens. You know, these things wouldn't pop in to my head like this if it wasn't for that glitched book. Glitched woman.
"syl," he said suddenly, hoping to cover up his lapse of attention. She was leaning against a tree with her eyes closed and a slight smile across face. Her skinsuit was glowing bright red then it suddenly flashed blue, then, back to red again. Finally, it burst into a rainbow swirl of color. Her face suddenly flushed.
"syl?" he asked a bit louder when she didn't respond. Her eyes blinked several times quickly and then opened.
"Good, I thought I had lost you for a second. I know you're tired. You feeling all right? You're all, well...flushed. And I've never seen that color on the skinsuit either."
"What color was it?"
Phoenix glanced away. "You know, it's weird. I'm not really sure. It was...unique."
* * *
"Don't let go!"
The wall towered above Phoenix. There was nothing he could do to help, except be there to catch her if she fell. (2)syl dangled from the wall dangerously with one hand, desperately trying to grab the top with the other.
"No glitch," she said, between labored breaths.
Finally, (2)syl was able to get her other hand up. She gradually pulled herself up, each limb scrambling, making progress, in turn, toward the goal of the top of the wall--one step in the overall objective of gaining entrance to the city beyond--the city they had been traveling toward for the past week or so--a city that would offer them food, water, and shelter, they hoped.
"You okay?" Phoenix asked. (2)syl straddled the top of the wall. She wobbled for a moment. "You look like you're going to fall off."
"I'm fine," she said. She swung one leg over, as if trying to lower herself down onto something. Suddenly, she disappeared behind the wall.
A loud crunch from the other side told him that she wasn't fine.
Phoenix's heart started racing.
His hands were suddenly clammy.
"syl, are you all right?"
He wiped some cold sweat off of his brow.
"Stop glitching around, syl. You're all right, aren't you?"
Oh glitch! Oh glitch! She slipped and fell, and now she broke her neck. Either that, or she landed on her head, and--
Phoenix tried to avoid the mental image. The thought of (2)syl's body lying in a lifeless heap was too much to bear. His heart was pounding. It felt like it was going to burst.
No! You can't die on me like this, syl! You just can't!
For a moment, he saw an image of Jazon's body lying on the ground, knife sticking out of his chest. Then, suddenly, it was his father's headless body lying there, twitching.
Not you too! You mean so much…
Phoenix frantically looked around for something to stand on, to give him a chance of reaching the top. He knew he wouldn't find anything, though. The only way for someone to get over the wall was to have someone else give them a boost, like he had just given to (2)syl. A Steed would have probably been tall enough to stand on and reach the top. Unfortunately, they abandoned them some days ago to get through some dense vegetation.
Phoenix jumped up, reaching for the wall in vain, his hand missing the top by at least a meter. For a brief instant, he considered running around to the front of the city and getting in the front gate. The city was spread out, and it would take too long to get there--if they let him in.
By that time, she'll be…Glitch it, (2)syl! You can't die on me!
Phoenix ripped open both backpacks, looking for something that would help. There was a large knife. He grabbed it and tried to stab the wall. It bounced off, making only the smallest of scratches.
In desperation, Phoenix pulled out both of his pistols and started firing at the wall. Each blast took a small chunk out of the wall's smooth surface.
He paused for a moment to let his pistols cool down. The hole in the wall was small, not even through to the other side yet.
Glitch, this is gonna take some time.
He slid the PLE battery out of one of his pistols to check the level.
That is, if the energy holds out.
He slid the battery back in with a click.
"Hang on, syl. I'm gonna be there in a minute."
He let loose with another barrage of fire. He held his pistols close together. They were warm in his hands. His fingers were pulling the triggers as fast as the actions would allow them. So fast were the shots, that they almost seemed to form a solid beam of silver energy focused on the wall. Finally, the beam broke through.
Phoenix ran up to the wall, almost slamming his head against the hole. It was not quite large enough to put his head through.
He wasn't prepared at all when a young man's face looked back at him through the hole.
"Move," the man said.
Phoenix took a step back.
Suddenly, there was a loud thud. Whatever event that had just occurred was so powerful that it shook the ground. Several loud pops and crackling noises came from the wall. Large cracks were starting to form on its surface. Chunks of material were leaping off the wall.
Phoenix dove out of the way. Boom went the wall, behind him. Debris flew through the dust-filled air. Phoenix didn't see exactly what happened, but, where there once was a section of wall, there was now a section of nothing. Beyond the nothing, stood two somethings--someones. Much to Phoenix's relief, one of the someones had blue hair.
She's alive. Thank God!
Much to Phoenix's chagrin, the other someone was a Technomancer.
Aran. He's still alive, curse him.
Unstable Trio [s099]
She means something to me? Did I actually think that? Ridiculous.
* * *
The tattered sign above the door read:
Finally, they had reached the city, their journey's end, and Phoenix couldn't have been more annoyed.
He, along with (2)syl, lead a very drunk Aran into the bar. The establishment was not crowded. Everybody sober person in the place turned and looked. Phoenix didn't like the extra attention. He didn't like attention if he wasn't planning for it.
Phoenix and (2)syl struggled to guide Aran, his head dangling, into one of the booths. Aran's great mass was finally situated in a seat, and the other two sat down opposite him, their backpacks lying at the foot of the table.
Phoenix scowled. He wasn't sure what he was most annoyed about: the fact that (2)syl had almost killed herself, the fact that he had reacted to it in the way that he had, the fact that he was once again in the presence of Aran, or the fact that nobody in their trio seemed to have any money for food or drinks.
The three sat in an uneasy silence.
Well, at least one I can do something about.
Phoenix glanced back at the booth behind them. A man in a stunning new white dress suit sat sprawled across the table, his half-finished drink in hand. Phoenix got up and went over to his table.
"Ah, excuse me, do you have the time?" Phoenix asked. "Oh, You're passed out, aren't you? Sorry, I…ju…a…a…CHOO!" The man didn't react as spittle sprayed over him. Once again, everyone in the bar was watching.
"Oh, man…I…ah…sorry about that, sir," he said quickly. He pulled out a white cloth from his breast pocket. "Let me just…ah…clean you off, here." Phoenix dabbed the man's suit with the cloth, then took a moment to quickly straighten it out. He slipped the cloth back into his pocket before he sat back down next to (2)syl.
"All right," he said in a low voice to Aran and (2)syl, patting his pocket, jingling the coins there. "This one's on me."
He smiled. The Maia Special--tricks 'em every time.
* * *
"You survived the island," Phoenix said, secretly dismayed.
"Obviously," Aran said, sarcasm in his voice. "When it comes down to it, there are easier ways to kill a Technomancer than by blowing up the island he's on."
"It didn't blow up," (2)syl added "It was dissolved. By The Bleed."
"Sure," Aran said. "Whatever. I don't really remember. Literally, I wasn't myself."
"What happened to the others?" (2)syl asked
"They're safe. Got most of them off with the Rusted Whale."
"What about JACK?" she asked
"Who?" Aran asked, a puzzled look on his face.
"The wirewitch," she said.
Aran leaned back and scratched his chin, as if trying to remember something. "We did have some wirewitches on board. Had a time keeping them away from the Pure." He glanced up at the ceiling and squinted. "Oh, and that modie."
"Kiiziiziixii?" (2)syl asked.
Phoenix choked. A piece of food was stuck in his throat. He started coughing. In an effort to clear it, he downed the rest of his drink. He set the empty glass down hard and fast, but not quite squarely. It fell over, rolled off the edge of the table, and landed on the neoplastic floor with a thunk.
While (2)syl continued to pepper Aran with questions about the whereabouts of wirewitches and such, Phoenix was in his own world.
What? They know of Kiiziiziixii? No. They know her. In fact, by the way syl's talking about her, it's almost like they're all friends. That would make sense. Yet another one of Aran's friends that won't leave me the glitch alone. Maybe it's someone else with the same name…another Kiiziiziixii…yeah, and maybe I'm a three-legged eoa. Does syl know that she's after me? Is she still after me? After all, she didn't kill me, thanks to a little help from Lady Luck. That's reminds me, I need to ask Aran about my boat.
"You owe me for the Lady Luck," Phoenix blurted out.
"I don't know who the glitch this Lady Luck person is," Aran retorted, "so I don't see how I could owe you for her. Not my fault you have trouble with women."
Phoenix opened his mouth, but the clever response never made it.
"Drop it, Phoenix," said (2)syl, gently touching his arm. "Now's not the time."
She's touching me again. She's acting like she did back in Die Droid Die, except that time it was just that--acting. What is it this time?
"Phoenix," Aran interrupted. "How...unique. Interesting name. Kinda grabs you by the throat, doesn't it? Reminds me of a more utopian world." Aran locked eyes with Phoenix, who wasn't sure how to interpret his expression.
What? What's he talking about? Back on the island, I mentioned that I used to be with Utopia, but why would he bring that up now?
"...oh whoops, I didn't mean to run off at the mouth like that. You'll probably want to shut me up. Again."
Run off? Yeah, I got the glitch out of Utopia, but so what?
Phoenix smiled. I guess he's just trying to make conversation with me. Sometimes I forget that talking is actually difficult for some people.
"So, you don't know where they are right now?" (2)syl asked, ignoring the small talk.
"With witches, you never know anything for certain," Aran said.
"They say the same thing about Technomancers," Phoenix added.
"Yeah, they do," Aran admitted. "Sorry...syl, I don't know where they are."
"Can you help me find them?"
"How am I gonna do that?"
"Can't you fly with those wings?"
Of course he can fly with those wings. Back on the island he flew. He's just stalling.
"Look, are you going to help her or not?" Phoenix asked, harshly.
"Phoenix..." (2)syl started, trying to calm him.
"I never expected to see you again," Aran said, distantly. "At least this guy hasn't gotten you killed."
"Hey, I saved her butt more than once!" Phoenix said. "It's not easy keeping her alive. She's prey. Everybody wants the flesh of a beauti--ah, young girl."
Woah. Careful there. I don't need to be announcing to the world that I think syl's an eyebuzz. I shouldn't even be thinking about that, anyway.
"Without me, you would be dead, Phoenix," (2)syl said though clenched teeth. "Don't ever forget that."
"I can take care of myself," Phoenix snapped.
"Right, we all can," (2)syl said. "That's why the three of us are sitting here at this table. Because we can all take care of ourselves. We don't need anybody else."
Well, I don't.
But then, what was that about syl meaning something to me? Nothing. That's what it was.
An awkward silence ensued for a few moments.
"I don't know how I can help you," Aran said. "I'm not going to be here long."
"Neither are we," Phoenix said.
"So, Phoenix, what's your part in this?" Aran asked. "Why are you with her?"
"I told you, she's prey," Phoenix spouted off the top of his head. "Somebody has to watch out for her. Besides, she's pre--OW!"
Phoenix winced, (2)syl's heel jamming into his shin.
"Oops. Muscle spasm. Did I hurt you?"
"Of course not!" Phoenix said through gritted teeth.
"You're what?" Aran asked, not missing Phoenix's partial remark.
"I'm pretty. That's what he was going to say. Right, Phoenix?"
"Not exactly, but it's close enough."
It's related. One probably leads to the other. Besides, she is…
"How sweet," Aran said.
"It was a nice thing to say, wasn't it? I didn't think you'd noticed how much of an eyebuzz I was."
"Glitched woman," Phoenix said under his breath.
Yeah, you're an eyebuzz, and you know it. People who get off on their own looks are nothing but cocky little…
"It's not like you have an obligation to help me," (2)syl said to Aran, "It's just that--" (2)syl's eyes rolled up in her head, and she breathed in sharply. She shot upright, almost standing, her entire body stiffly torquing to one side, then the other. She clutched her head with her hands, let out a gasp, then a loud shriek. Aran was holding his head too, groaning. (2)syl screamed again, and then collapsed on the table with a bang, only to fall on the floor immediately afterwards with a thump.
Phoenix's heart pounded.
Glitch! That fall must have hurt her pretty badly after all! Is she all right? syl...
Lattis And Theron
"syl!" Phoenix said. "Are you all right?"
(2)syl didn't respond.
He gently tapped her cheek a few times.
"Stop fooling around."
Aran rubbed his temples and groaned.
"She's not fooling around," he said. "I felt that too."
"Felt what? What happened?"
"I'm not sure."
"Is she all right?"
"How the glitch am I supposed to know?"
Phoenix softly touched her neck, feeling her gentle heartbeat. He looked down. Her breasts were slowly rising up and down.
"Well, at least she's still alive," he said. "What about you?"
"Still alive," muttered Aran, continuing to massage his temples, "…more or less."
"Listen, Phoenix, as long as she's out, I gotta tell you some--"
"Where the glitch is my money?" the now-conscious white-suited man asked, loudly.
"Quiet down you drunk vootch!" shouted another drunk from across the room.
"Ha! So, it was you!"
"Nobody stole your glitching money. You glitching drank it all," said the man across the room.
"I had enough money in my pocket that I'd be dead by now if I drank it all! Someone stole it!"
"Well, don't look at me. What about those three right next to you?" he said, gesturing in the direction of Phoenix, Aran, and (2)syl's table.
"You can't possibly mean us," Phoenix said pointing at Aran. "My friend, here, would never try and pull something like that." Phoenix patted Aran's arm, right on his sleeve pocket. Something jingled.
"What's this?" Phoenix asked, pulling out a few coins.
"Aha! So it was him!" the white-suited man said.
"Wha--? Aw…naw!" Phoenix shook his head, astonished. "Aran! How could you?"
"Blondie was in on it too," said another man across the room.
"What? Me? How could I possibly have--"
Phoenix never finished the sentence. The white-suited man, which Phoenix now noticed was rather stocky and muscular, lunged toward the table where the three of them were sitting. Aran stuck out his arm. The white-suited man bounced off of it. He staggered back.
"Get them!" he yelled to the four white-suited individuals that had just walked in the door. They immediately started towards Phoenix and Aran.
Aran and Phoenix looked at each other.
"Guard syl," they both said, simultaneously.
"No! You guard syl!" they both responded.
Glitch. It's gonna be one of those fights.
* * *
"She's a lot heavier than she looks," commented Phoenix.
Aran and Phoenix gently lifted (2)syl up a flight of stairs. Their rooms were on the second floor of the hotel.
"At least she didn't get hurt during the fight," said Aran.
"Yeah, it's a miracle she didn't even get touched, with as many people flying through the air as there was. Nice job, by the way." Phoenix grunted, lifting (2)syl's body up another stair. He wasn't sure if it was his full stomach, the alcohol, or just the fact that the two had just fought shoulder to shoulder, but somehow he wasn't so mad at Aran, anymore.
"You weren't too bad, yourself," Aran said, pushing the button to open the door at the top of the stairs, "but there wouldn't have been a fight if you hadn't stolen that guy's money."
"He had enough to drink. If I hadn't taken his money, he would have drunk himself to death. I'm fighting alcoholism--one pocketful of money at a time. It's my quest in life." Phoenix readjusted his grip on (2)syl's legs. "Besides," he continued, "you were the one who started the fight, throwing around those punches like that. I had everything under control until then."
"He ran into my fist," said Aran.
"And his four friends? They just ran into your fist too?" Phoenix asked.
Aran muttered something about them being directionally challenged.
* * *
Aran was standing closer than Phoenix liked, but (2)syl's cramped room afforded no alternatives. The two stared at her, lying on the bed unconscious.
"Do you think she'll be all right?" Phoenix asked.
"I'm a Technomancer, not a doctor!" Aran said.
"Surely you must have some medical knowledge somewhere in those memory banks of yours."
Aran sighed. "I just might." He paused for a moment as if in deep thought.
"Phoenix," he said suddenly, "don't be alarmed at what I'm about to do."
Phoenix looked confused. "Well, uh…,"
Aran didn't wait for the rest of his reply. Aran's body seemed to shimmer for a moment. Then, it melted. His arms, legs and torso all shrunk, becoming thinner and shorter. His silver hair also thinned and shortened and turned from sliver to jet-black. More black hair sprouted from his face, becoming a neatly trimmed van dyke.
The Aran that Phoenix had known was a different person now. The new Aran immediately turned to examine (2)syl's unconscious body.
"What the glitch just happened?" asked Phoenix.
"You see," said the new Aran, who was gently touching (2)syl's forehead, "the mind of the individual you know as Aran contains memories of many others in addition to my own. Furthermore, my body is now capable of manifesting these memories. In effect, I can become, to a certain extent, any one of the people whose memories I carry."
Phoenix activated his internal scanner. It was a top-of-the-line model that he managed to acquire from the Nation of Utopia. He had wanted it for its ability to penetrate holomasks.
"A man named Dr. Tsano is whose memory I'm using right now. He's…friendly, for lack of a better term. He allows me to use him this way, but some…" he paused for a moment, "well, there's at least one that can take over."
Phoenix initiated the scan.
With his eyes closed, Aran slowly passed his hand over (2)syl's body, hovering a constant distance of a few centimeters away from her skinsuit.
"I never thought I'd be using my medical scanner for anything. When I get into fights, people usually either live or die--nothing in between."
Phoenix's scanner indicated no holomask activity in the area.
Aran furrowed his now blue eyes. "I can detect nothing physically wrong with her," he said. "She appears to simply be sleeping."
"sy--" Phoenix started in a loud voice.
Aran raised his hand, silencing him. "It would be best if we just allowed her to wake up on her own."
Aran's body shimmered and shifted back to the Aran that Phoenix had met on the island.
"Listen, Phoenix, I need to tell you something."
Aran took a deep breath. "Phoenix… I'm…I'm sorry."
Phoenix's eyes grew wide. "I thought you said she was going to be fine!"
Aran waved his hands. "She is. It's…it's not that. I don't know how to say this. I didn't have one, so I don't know what it's like."
Phoenix thought for a moment and then smiled and nodded.
"Well, Ta-Kyn sure did a number on my boat, but we made it to the mainland in one piece anyway."
"I'm not talking about the glitching boat."
"My Firehawk, then? That was more K'Thos' fault, really. Your friends--"
"Would you lay off the transportation! What I'm trying to say is…"
Once again, Aran's body contorted and melted. He became thinner and taller. His hair darkened several shades of gray, and, when his eyes opened, they sparkled blue.
Oh glitch, it can't be! He's…
Phoenix gasped. He took a step back, steadying himself against the wall.
The man before him looked exactly like someone he once knew. He was one of the few people besides his father and Maia that Phoenix ever considered a friend. They joined Utopia together. They escaped together. Then…
"Lattis," he whispered.
"Remember how Aran said one of his personalities could take control?" he said softly, with a smirk. "Well, it's me."
Phoenix quickly activated his scanner again. No holomask.
"Listen, Theron, we don't have much time. I took control of Aran's body for two reasons. One, so you'd believe what I'm about to say, and two, because I'm the one who needs to say it."
"Theron…I killed your father."
"That's ridiculous!" Phoenix said. "I know who killed my father, and it wasn't you."
"Listen, I realize how it must have looked from your vantage point."
The two had moved to Phoenix's room, so as not to disturb (2)syl's sleep.
"My vantage point? I know what I saw," snapped Phoenix.
"I know what you saw too, but it's what you didn't see that's important."
"I saw what that keetcha--"
"Yes, yes you did, and, she deserved to die for that," Lattis spat. "He wanted me to protect him. He asked me to be there just in case the situation got out of hand." Lattis shook his head. "I tried to kill her…I failed. They were all using some kind of personal force fields--like pulse shielding, but much more advanced."
"You really were there," said Phoenix.
"But I didn't see you."
"That's because I was on the top of a building that was two-hundred meters away. Plus, I was hidden. I didn't want to be seen."
Phoenix pondered this for a moment.
"Well, I suppose you at least tried," Phoenix said, slowly.
Lattis's head hung low, shaking. "No," he whispered. He took a deep breath and locked eyes with Phoenix. His voice was trembling. "I…killed…him."
"No! You listen, Theron! Just listen for once."
Theron. I haven't gone by that name in years.
Lattis took a breath. "When I realized I couldn't help him…I shot him."
Phoenix winced at the memory of an explosion of blood.
"I'm sorry. I had no choice."
Phoenix grabbed Lattis by the neck and slammed him into the wall. The thin plasteel surface flexed against the Technomancer's weight.
"Why did you do it?" Phoenix yelled. "After all he did for you? Huh? You were just gonna put him out of his misery like some kind of mutant? My dad was a genius. Did it even cross your mind that he might be able to get out of that situation on his own? He could have figured something out, so why, why did you do it?"
Lattis shook his head. "Because he asked me to."
"What?" Phoenix whispered, staggering back. "Why…why would he ask you to do that?"
"Because capture had to be avoided at all costs. That's what he told me. Even death would have been preferable." Lattis sat down on the edge of the bed. He pulled out a revolver and shifted it from hand to hand.
"Your father told me he was about to do a very big, but very risky deal. He said he was meeting with some very dangerous people. He wouldn't tell me the details, but he needed my help. He wanted me to watch the exchange from a distance…and if anything went wrong…" Lattis looked away. "If anything went wrong, I was to make sure that he didn't get captured. 'There are some fates worse than death,' he said."
Why would death be better? Why? Dad could have at least warned me of the possibility.
Lattis shook his head. "I guess you know the rest. I'm so sorry, Theron."
Phoenix stared at his feet, shaking his head. "Why didn't you tell me about this before?"
"I promised him that as long as I lived, I wouldn't talk to anyone about it, not even you." Lattis half-smiled. "It's funny what death can do to a man." Lattis grinned. "You should try it sometime. It's enlightening."
Phoenix smiled. "Your dark humor. I always liked that about you."
Lattis nodded. Then, the smile faded. "It tore me up. Break my promise to him or keep it a secret from you--those were my options. I was planning on telling you eventually, but…" Lattis looked down and placed his hand on his chest. "I got into a duel…which I lost."
So, there was a logical explanation for Lattis's disappearance. What if Maia also…?
"Well, that would explain why you disappeared so suddenly after we left Utopia."
A faraway look crossed Lattis's face.
"Aran wants his body back. I've kept control of it for too long as it is. I just had to talk to you one last time. I'm glad fate afforded us the chance."
Phoenix nodded. "Me too."
"It was good to see you."
Phoenix smiled a bit and nodded. "Yeah."
Lattis smiled. "Goodb--" His last word faded as his mouth started morphing along with the rest of his body. In moments, Phoenix's friend was once again suddenly taken from him--this time, there was a goodbye, at least.
Aran immediately stood up.
"I hate it when he does that," he said, replacing the revolver and brushing himself off.
"I'm leaving," he said to Phoenix, and proceeded to walk out of the room. He stopped at the door. "Take care of the girl," he said, and walked out.
The door slid shut. Phoenix activated the privacy shielding and sat down on the bed, holding his head in his hands.
I just can't believe it.
Phoenix spent the next hour or so just sitting there on the bed, not knowing what to think. It was good to see Lattis again, but he felt a sadness, like he had just lost him all over again. And then there was his father. He wasn't sure what to think about him dying by Lattis hand. It all made sense, and yet it didn't.
Why would dad go off and do something crazy like that anyway? He was pretty cautious about things.
It was that thought that was racing through his mind when something in his pocket started moving. Phoenix leaped out of bed, grasping at his pocket, trying to picture what sort of mutated creature might be hiding there.
In seconds, the offender was out and on the floor. The cube that Jazon had given to him was now buzzing and flashing.
Suddenly it felt like someone had jammed a stiletto straight through Phoenix's skull. He gasped at the sharpness of the pain. He partially collapsed over the cube, holding his head. Blood ran out of his nose and dribbled to the floor.
Then, as suddenly it all stopped. The cube was lifeless again, and the pain was gone.
All was silent for a moment.
"Activation parameters fulfilled. Braingram initialized," a disembodied woman's voice read the words that had just appeared, hovering in the air in front of him. "Message to follow."
The voice stopped. The words faded. Suddenly a life-sized image of a man appeared, hovering in the room. He was tall and had dark hair and a goatee. He smiled.
Phoenix's jaw dropped.
"It can't be…"
The man spoke in a gentle voice. "Hello, son.”
this page and its contents copyright (c) by mike uchida