Kryos: Chapter 44

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Carmine coils of smoke and pungent fumes choked the air of Aecer’s market district. Fearful citizens ran in reptilian haze. Some missing eyes, others, limbs. Consortium distress flares speckled the perimeter of the commercial nexus and in the middle of it a government transport had been overturned, smashed, surrounded by wild howling reavers hefting pipes and knives and other lethal oddments. The armed mass corralled a number of Consortium petty officers and heaped detritus upon a great bonfire that blazed beside the upset vehicle, upon which one man stood triumphant and led those surrounding in chant. His face was contorted with ferocity which taken with his prominent brow, flat nose and wide mouth lent a hideous simian aspect. The red light of the flares made the ghastly face appear all the more alien and dreadful. His voice, as that of his hollering comrades, was lost to the bedlam of the blaze, the hiss of the wind and the liquid rumble of government klaxons.

Two hundred feet off, in the middle of the eastern thoroughfare that ran from harbor to bazaar, Eidos Kryos watched the primal display through the shifting pall of the vain distress signals and lifted a hand, as if tossing away the wind, his gilded black scaled vestments fluttering like the fins of a great channel pike. His vast regiment arrayed behind him, awaiting orders. The riotous canting band within the far market square took no notice and continued fueling the crackling bonfire, taunting their captives, pushing them closer to the inferno.

Smoke cleared and a pile of corpses was rendered visible before Kryos’ host. Five men were sprawled upon the left side of the thoroughfare, their bodies mangled, the head of one so brutally crushed, brains painted pavement. In the center of the grisly ring lay a large man decked in vermeil plate. He was sprawled on his side as one who had dropped from sheer exhaustion. The deep colonists recognized the gear as distinguishing a colonel of their number. The front of the man’s helm and breastplate was scorched and fractured and blood pooled thick on the ground beneath him.

Straker’s hand flew to her mouth and tears formed in her eyes. “Syzr,” she gasped, the name flying like a phantom to the cacophonous gloom.

Sirin rested her hands on her belt and bowed her head. Stifled sobbing resonated from beneath her helm. Raimer cursed and turned away, unable to weather the sight. Ryard looked on in shock, Sonderon, in confusion. Kryos’ soldiers murmured among themselves, their vocalizations lost to the district’s mounting aural acidity.

Kryos alone retained his nerve and walked to the silent figure, knelt and placed a hand upon the man’s immobile chest. Kryos sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them he stared for a long moment at the distant cavorting figures arrayed about the bonfire and recognized the man atop the vehicle. “Its him,” Ryard declared bitterly, eyes to the simian faced man. “Kleiner.” Kryos turned and spied a faint trail of bloody footprints leading south from just beyond the corpse pile to an alley strewn with unallocated scrap unsuitable for reprocessing. He returned his heliodoric gaze to the prone armored figure and softly spoke. A slight tremor to his words.

“Valor was your want. Valorous was your end. It shall not be forgotten.”

Kryos rose and followed the sanguine prints into the alley. The passage ended in a blind. The prints vanished in a heap of discarded machine parts. He drew a line through the red material with his right heel. Uncongealed. Fresh. Whoever passed did so recently. He stilled and listened. Labored breath sounded from behind the twisted pile of metal. He turned full toward the junk mound and spoke cordially.

“Danger wanes but you are not yet safe. I can make you so.”

Several seconds passed. Sibilation of metal on metal issued from the jumbled edifice. A large panel shifted, from behind it a woman emerged. Her leg was cut deep at the thigh and wrapped with a piece of cloth soaked ruby-brown. The source of the trail. She was dark haired, plain faced and sported a long jacket with the collar half-upturned. Kryos judged the woman’s wares expensive and unfashionable. Behind her crouched five children. The youngest of them, a blonde with a thick beige skirt, held her skinny left knee and rocked unsteadily, red faced, weeping, neck veins bulging. “Mama,” the girl cried. “Mama.” The dark haired woman limped cautiously to Kryos as if to shield the youth, unable to muster words.

“The children are not yours. You work for a near orphanage,” Kryos stated without diverting his gaze from the dark haired woman. The children looked on with wide, fearful eyes. The woman raised a brow, surprised by the man’s knowledge.

“I know of you, Ms. Kandor. And your works. Do you know me?”

“Yes.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper, for well she recalled the man’s airborne message that had blanketed the whole of the city.

Kryos walked to the woman, placed his hands upon her collar and folded down the upturned end.

“One of my best lies dead due your defense. I would like to know why.”

“Rehdon wanted me wormside. He sent one of his creatures, Kleiner, to put me thus, he’s the one who led the rabble. Syzr held them off, we ran. There were many. Too many.”

“Do the little ones know the cause of their distress? The nature of your trade?”

“Please don’t.” The woman’s lip quivered. “Please don’t tell them.”

“You will testify against Rehdon after I’ve dealt with this situation.”

Kandor wished to protest, but the terrible wrath which lurked behind the man’s forbearing visage stayed her tongue.

“Until then, you and the children will be kept safe.” He looked into her eyes. Through them.

“Mama,” the inconsolable girl continued to cry. Over and over.

“Is he going to hurt us?” One of the boys asked trepidatiously.

“No, honey,” Sia replied, her voice trembling. “No, he’s here to help.”

“Quite so. Observe.”

SIKARDs drifted down from the sky, and with their pointed composite limbs, widened the entrance to the children’s flotsam hostel. The youths gasped with excitement as the precarious roof of the slag heap was carried to the air like cream spooned from coffee. The spectacle tore even the tearful blonde from her reverie.

“What are those?” One of the boys asked with wonder as the SIKARDs began gingerly depositing the rubble only a few feet away.

“My friends,” Kryos responded, removing a band from his coat of similar color and texture to the machines which floated through the air.

The woman swallowed hard and turned back to Kryos. “Your offer is… acceptable.” She lowered her voice. “I only ask for one thing in return.”

“And that is?”

Kandor’s expression darkened. “Kleiner’s head.”

Kryos walked several paces away from the woman, his face dipped in consideration of the request. At length he replied.

“If as much remains when I’m finished with him.”

Kandor’s mouth parted as nearby SIKARDs swirled.

Kryos departed, leaving orphans and caretaker to one of his corps and returned to the thoroughfare. Syzr’s body had been removed to a transport. Faces were grim. Kryos explained the situation to Straker, then turned from all and raised his voice.

“I will return shortly.”

Kryos made for the bonfire prompting a query from Sonderon.

“What are you doing? There must be at least two hundred insurgents down there.”

Kryos tilted his head skyward. “Two hundred and thirty three, discounting the Consortium officers they’ve imprisoned.”

Sonderon grimaced in puzzlement. “My men alone could subdue them.”

“I do not doubt it. But your men have risked much.” He turned to the transport where Syzr’s body had been laid. “I’ve no desire to put them in harms way without cause.”

“Without cause?”

Ryard broke from consolation of Sirin and made to join Kryos, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned to see Straker shake her head and watched as Kryos vanished into the ruddy pall.

Within the stinging veil, Kryos raised the slender half diadem device he carried and affixed it to his brow. Left and right seam of his collar began to glow and carried the light down his shoulders, thereafter the dull lines of light splintered and ran across arms to the thin indentations on the back of his gauntlets and down his chest, back and legs to the soles of his boots. A subtle hum reverberated, signaling synchronicity between anatomical signs and the temple bound telesoma interface. A SIKARD dipped from a nearby rooftop clutching a black sphere, and released it. The orb struck the ground like an oil spill and recongealed to the form of a man. Soon it walked toward the site of commotion, to the red palled plaza, the high bonfire and the chaotic throng.

Kryos was now close enough that Kleiner’s voice was audible. “Chests aren’t so puffed when you’re on the receiving end of a raid. Are they?” Some of the crowd laughed, others nodded, all looked to the Consortium officers huddled near the high central fire with scorn and fell anticipation.

“Mercy,” a female Consortium officer whimpered as the mob pressed closer. “I beg you.”

“Please, I have children,” another woman wailed.

“These tyrants want mercy. Have we any to spare?”

“No,” some of the crowd replied discordantly.

“That’s right. No more than they had to lavish on us.”

Kleiner’s simian face twisted with mirth as he overturned a bottle of spirits into the bonfire, causing the flames to leap and spurt near the woman. She screamed and fell to the ground. The woman’s tormentor guzzled down the remains of the vessel and shattered it at the officer’s feet. Then he looked up from the spectacle around the fire, for something was moving in the smoke. In the air. A burble went through the crowd. All stilled.

“What’s that?”

“What?”

“I don’t see anything.”

“You hear that?”

“Huh?”

“There, there!”

A magnified voice rang from all directions. “Danzig Kleiner. You’ve learned well your master’s art.”

Kleiner looked around, but could not discern the source of the voice, for it echoed from sky and earth alike and enveloped the whole of the smoldering plaza. “Master? I have no master.”

“Vices would remain without Rehdon. So too would thralldom.”

“I know that voice. This about the colonel?”

“The act was not your sole construction. All gathered are guilty of Syzr’s blood. So all gathered shall indemnify their own.” The congregants spun, vainly searching for the sequestered elocutionist.

“Is that so?” Kleiner bent defensively and withdrew a sychitin blade, holding it in a tight reverse grip. “Was foolish to come alone.”

Eidos Kryos’ voice resounded in Kleiner’s ear, no longer magnified. “I am never alone.” Kleiner whirled and spied the speaker standing three feet before him, backlit by the blaze. Expunged cinders danced around the man’s streamlined form and glinted in his helidoric irises.

“There, the invader,” one among the mob shouted, pointing to the smoke wreathed entrant upon the auto.

“Get him!”

The crowd surged. Kryos did not move. Challenging in his stillness. His pyre bright eyes fixed on Kleiner.

Kleiner held out his free hand to the assembly. “Here stands the killer of the Consortium. The man who murdered our Chancellor. Who seeks to shackle us, as they once did.”

“We both know that is not true,” Kryos replied, a crease forming at his brow.

“I’ll deal with him myself.” He resecured his grip on the knife, bent to the ember clad intruder and lowered his voice. “Just as I dealt with Syzr.”

Kleiner’s blade arced through the air and bite into Kryos’ right eye. The industrialist’s head pivoted with the force of the blow. Despite the savagery of the assault, Kryos did not fall, but tilted his head slowly back toward his waylayer as ashes danced in the wind. Kleiner looked on with unapprehending alarm, cursed and took another swing, this wilder than the last, and cleaved through Kryos’ body, which dissipated as the vapor surrounding, and as it did Kleiner’s momentum brought him free of the vehicle, to the flames he had raised. Before he made contact with the inferno, one of the drifting chilopodic machines secured the folds of his ratty coat and bore him above the blaze. There, limply, he hung.

“Oh god,” Kleiner shrieked as the flames lapped at his legs. “God. Somebody help me!”

“Flap if you must. Fancy affords no flight.”

Kleiner screamed and flailed precariously beneath the drone. His coat tore against the SIKARD’s limbs, his lower body falling into the tip of the bonfire. Boots treading flame. He howled louder. Half the crowd broke from their stupor and fled, the rest continued to watch in awestruck horror.

“You can no more escape me than your sin. For you fumble amidst gelid clockwork, whose sequestered gears wend lucid and warm beneath the ministrations of an unintended host. Those who’ve not the lay of the mechanism are incapable of its navigation, and so are ground between its teeth.”

Tears streamed from Kleiner’s eyes.

“Move me up! Please!”

From the effervescing haze, the voice came again. Harsher than before.

“Confess.”

“I killed them. Alright? I did it.” His eyes bulged and his tenor ran to a quivering mewl as sweat beaded on his forehead and his soles began to melt. “I jumped Fawnell. With those worthless southers. I blamed it on Syzr. I killed the board. I put a bomb in the aero complex and lit them up. It was Rehdon’s idea.” He looked with panic left and right into the shifting curtains of smoke. “Its him you should blame. Him, not me!” Steadily the drone retracted the man from the serpentine effulgence. Soles scorched, craggy skin thick with perspiration. Chattering arose among the mob the moment Kleiner stopped speaking. He looked around expectantly.

“You’ll let me go now, right?”

For the last time, Kryos’ voice roiled from the putrid smog. “One need sow no vituperation in the barbarous heart’s estate. For its harvest is as enduring as its field is fallow. What castigation to levy on those who’d scorch a seeded plain? One need raise no hostile hand, to treat with worms, their own shall suffice.”

The drone bore Kleiner to the ground, released him and flew off, vanishing within the dense sooted curtain that obstructed the sky. The Consortium officers the mob had detained stood beside the bleeding man. The woman whose face had been burnt by Kleiner’s previous antics held a jagged fragment of glass from the bottle of spirits and drew it across his cheek. Kleiner sucked air in pain and staggered backward. With a grunt of rage he kicked the woman in the gut and brought her low. He retreated from the circling Consortium officers and turned to the crowd, seething. “Get that bitch!” The crowd met his command with diffidence. “Kill her! Kill them all!” Whispers of dissension and disdain went up throughout the multitude. He spun from the mob to the officers and back. “What are you doing?” There came a shout. A metal bar was swung and connected with the side of Kleiner’s skull. As he fell, the crowd descended upon him and hewed his head from his body and held it up toward the callous vault of heaven.

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