Kryos: Chapter 38

Previous chapter

As Eidos’ face faded from the airborne projectors, Illander Rehdon side-eyed his companions amid the graveyard copse. The chill wind had swept to a roaring gale and fallen leaves danced about the trio as if agitated by their presence.

“My my. What a showman. You know, I had heard he was a most taciturn fellow. Yet it seems, when the fit seizes him, his perspicacity rivals my own.”

Ryard did not respond to the other man’s observation, for his mind was consumed with dark misgivings. His body bent, brows furrowed.

“You see now how the matter lies, Mr. Vancing?”

“Dimly, I begin to.”

“The Board was in his way. And the seizure of his facility was the final straw. He could suffer no more obstacles. So.” Redon’s voice grew solemn. “He killed them all.”

“You’re wrong.”

The declaration tore both men from fixation upon the other to Tatter, whose curious visage was uncharacteristically wracked with emotion.

“Father would not do that.”

“Were you at his side when the blast resounded?”

Tatter said nothing.

“What is it you think I should do?” Ryard asked wistfully.

Rehdon took a few steps between his companions and turned his back to the woman, eclipsing her from the CAV-keep’s view.

“Kryos casts a shadow over the whole of Aecer. If his designs are not interrupted, he’ll mire the land in a red cloak of iron. After the death of their envoy, war with the Federation is inevitable. But war with the deep colonies is not. He trusts you, Ryard. You have sway with his lieutenants.” Rehdon reached forward with his bandaged hand and caught a leaf twisting in the wind. “You can get close. It lies within your power to bring him to heel.”

“Madness mushrooms in your brains,” Tatter protested fitfully as she pushed past Rehdon and strode to Vancing, her large dichromatic eyes boring into his being with plaintive despair. Rehdon looked on with a diffident air and leaned, once more, against one of the nearby trees of the ill-kept grove, twiddling the brown, brittle leaf between his fingers.

Knowing now what he must do, Ryard shifted toward the docks, where black smoke writhed above rooftops. The alarm of his affin module sounded. He looked to the screen. An incoming message: “We’re being overrun. Come to the docks at once.” Signed: Vera Straker.

“Ryard, look at me.”

“I have to go.” The man adjusted his collar and made for the overgrown footpath they had taken through the gorse-ringed forest.

“Ryard!”

In a matter of seconds, he was swallowed in the swaying foliage. Without hesitation, Tatter followed.

Rehdon watched them decant and crushed the dead leaf in his palm.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 37

Previous chapter

Screams painted a crepuscular sky.

Sonderon’s acolytes and a ragged souther band, composed principally of young, frenzied men, broke from melee amid the rubble-strewn streets of Central as whirring static issued from a thousand airborne vessels. An amplified voice thundered above and through the deteriorating metropolis. Filling mechanized arteries and crowded byways.

“… Denizens of Aecer. This is Eidos Kryos, Premier of the Association of Deep Colonies. I bid you listen…”

High above the city in Fabrdyn’s flying fortress, Astrid Sodabrucke harked to Kryos’ message and clutched at her elegant skirts as her attendants and members of the mayoral convention huddled and muttered. She turned, eyes wide, to Amberleece.

“He’s broadcasting to the entire city.”

Devik strolled to the console and sifted through Fabrdyn operated frequencies. Eidos’ words seeped through them all. He issued a grunt of impressed vexation. “So it would seem.”

“Cut the feeds.”

Devik shook his head. “I can’t, Madam Chancellor.”

“Why in the calcite mines of Karkonne not?”

“If I do that the CAV-way will lose all guidance. It’d be giving license to mass murder.”

“So jam his signals.”

He sighed and rubbed his face with ill-constrained impatience. “That doesn’t allay the problem.”

She gulped and looked to Secretary Slate for guidance. Finding none, the Chancellor cast her senses to the window and the gathering ruin below.

“… A path expands, for those with eyes to see it. Diverging from the present, sordid state. In which red tongues lap at buildings and brood. In which your ostensible leaders, absent responsibility and scurry to the clouds. Governance here has rested upon a bloated bureaucracy. Whose sclerotic sinecures work tirelessly to ensure very little is accomplished. A decadence assiduously constructed. For a system’s character is derived from its architects and operators…”

Wasil barged into his dreary South Block apartment and plunged through the short low ceilinged hall to a sparsely furnished stucco room where his young daughter stirred a pot of aromatic broth. The sound of the wall-mounted affin system contested the clatter of utensils, the shuffling of feet and the hissing of steam. She turned and offered a hollow smile.

“Papa. I was getting worried.”

“Trouble at the waystation. That CAV-keep I had told you about wasn’t around. Had to skip the CAV-way altogether. People swarming all over it. Its madness out there.” He rubbed his perspiring brow. “How is your mother?”

“Much better today.” She stopped stirring and turned to the aural emanations washing over the makeshift kitchen. “Papa, who is that man?”

Wasil paused and turned from the child to the source of the oration. The longer he listened, the more the color drained from his face.

“… Purity was corroded by compromise. Creativity was forsworn for popular delegation. Verity was vitiated by consensus. Having taken leave of that triad, order has taken leave of you…”

Danzig Kleiner bent to his portable affin mod with confusion and annoyance as Kryos’ speech filled the auditorium of the old theatre in which he sat. He manipulated the device in an attempt to switch it off, but to no avail. A man sat upon the stage, garbed in black fatigues. He peeled a pomegranate and chuckled. Kleiner returned his companion’s mirth with ire and kicked the seat in front of him. The man on the stage looked up.

“Break that, and he’ll be collecting a pretty sum.”

Kleiner removed his hijacked transceiver and folded it in a length of cloth in his pocket to muffle the sound of the erudite orator. “Its me that’ll be collecting, next I see the liar.”

The man on the stage laughed once more. Kleiner muttered a curse and stormed from the garish red-gold chamber.

“…Yet, no situation, however dire, is without promise. Fire consumes itself, but clears the diminutive vegetation which strangles the towering flora, and leaves, in its wake, a useful char…”

The members of the East Federation Bureau listened to the message which poured from their table projector in uneasy silence.

“… With that brittle, black residue, this mazy sketch shall be mantled in more elegant lines…”

Within the foyer of Northwing Detention Facility, Acelin Syzr strode amid a massing crowd of newly sprung prisoners. The woman he pursued had given him the slip. He paused and peered skyward, through translucent glass, to the aerial facsimile of his master. A cry from near distance broke the strands of his attention.

“He’s with the KSRU,” a familiar female voice intoned with feigned discomposure.

Syzr cast his gaze right and spied, between the shifting swarm of inmates, a bob-cut wearing plain-faced woman of aecerite and federant extraction, her right hand extended in a theatrical accusatory gesture. He knew her as Sia Kandor. The prisoners crowded round the designated man and began to shout as Kandor crept toward the door.

“She’s right. Its Syzr.”

“KSRU dog!”

“He’s the one who put me away!”

“Get him!”

Blocking the exit, outbound prisoners waylaid the colonel with murderous intent. Four at once seized him, straining dire arm against arm, and four in turn were forced back by Syzr’s ferocity. Mad panic overtook the mob, and swiftly the internecine broil expanded until it wracked the entire penitentiary. No longer did the freed convicts fight solely against the automated guards, but turned upon each other with unmitigated, directionless savagery.

“… From this day forward, Aecer is no more. The ADC shall assume direct control of the city to be named…”

Holleran Meris sheltered in an abandoned automat. The mechanical attendants that had previously labored in the thankless ferrying of vittles lay smashed upon the floor. With an oath, the old man caught the side of one of the hewn machine servants and dropped to the scuffed tiling as dire disquisition spooled discordantly from the damaged wall transceiver. From his perch upon the floor, his eyes meet those of a small boy, who held his knees to his chest beneath one of the far tables; his mouth was bloody and his left eye was swollen and purple.

“… The Progenitor debarks, and will soon make landfall. When it does, my men will march upon our new demense. Whether greetings be cold or warm, they shall be returned in kind…”

At Vera Straker’s order, her armor-clad soldiers cleared a path through a horde of rioters besieging the docks in an attempt to flee the fraying conurbation. Cutters flared, and in red bloom, severed limbs peppered the ground. Sirin surveyed the carnage as the voice of the man who had made the oppidan scape his pulpit reverberated through her helmet and steeled her resolve.

“… My valiant emissaries prepare for our arrival. See that you do the same.”

Kryos’ thousand projected visages rippled, then diminished. Thereafter, the skies of Aecer stilled. Clouds, dark and pregnant with storms, drifted above mountainous aircrafts and contorted souls beyond number. The people watched for a moment. Waiting for some further word. Only the peal of thunder followed.

Beyond the crane-thick harbor, far from the violence laced labyrinth, a great shape moved beneath the waters. Too large to be a whale.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 36

Previous chapter

Tears fell in tandem with the casket. The vessel bore no body. None remained from the blast. In place of Julian Salis, one of the man’s cherished, antiquated hats, a tan and crumpled thing, had been lovingly placed by the departed’s wife, whose aged, yet regal face bent from the burial with a sorrow too great for words. A primly garbed psychologist stood by the edge of the pit and spoke of Salis’ deeds in a cursory manner, suggestive of genuine respect but little intimacy. All the while, Ryard Vancing stared blankly at the gathering tomb and the lobster-back case within, shimmering with the pale light of an aircraft-veiled sun. He felt perplexed by interior vacuity and waited for a percolation of emotion. Only a tight-coiling anger rose within him. He pondered whether it was the absence of a corpse that afforded hollowness, something tangible and dreadful to rouse and anchor memories, or his own dearth of feeling. As dirt closed about the dark, gleaming cask, he felt a soft, cold hand twine about his own. He looked left and beheld a slender woman with dark hair and heterochromatic eyes, garbed in a coat of KSRU fashion, akin, by his lights, to Vera’s own habiliment.

“Tatter,” he uttered with tender surprise.

It had been nearly a year since he had seen her, though it felt longer.

The woman gazed silently at the doleful burial for several seconds before speaking.

“Salis once told me, he hoped, after he was gone, they would not raise a statue in his likeness, for fear its proportions should be made absurd. He said, ‘I am a frail and ugly man, and I ought be presented as such. I could not abide the dishonesty of a handsome presentation.'”

Ryard watched a thin smile play up the side of the woman’s unnaturally pale face.

“He gave much thought to posterity.” Ryard frowned and turned full to face the woman. “What are you doing here? Its not safe.”

“Nor is it in the colonies.”

“Why?”

She put her hands in her pockets and spoke softly. “Another attempt was made on my father’s life.”

“What? When?”

“Don’t fret. The assassin found no purchase against Father’s designs. But there is something else.”

As the psychologist finished his eulogy and made way for Salis’ wife to speak, Ryard took the woman by the arm and moved to the back of the grief-stricken congregation. He didn’t think Salis would hold it against him. He hoped his wife wouldn’t either.

“What’s happened?”

“I believe I saw the man who planted the bomb.”

“At the aerospace complex?”

“Yes.”

“Why were you there?”

“I was keeping apprised of the government’s actions for Father.”

“And this man, who is he?”

“Danzig Kleiner.”

Vancing waxed grim. A chill wind swept through the funerary wood, rattling the branches like desiccated bone. A charming voice followed.

“So very sorry for your loss.”

Tatter and Ryard turned to the crowd, at the back of which stood a man with a chartreuse coat and gleaming blond hair. He alone amongst the multitude faced from the casket and the flower-strewn furrow into which it had been placed. The chartreuse-coated man smiled enigmatically as the wind tousled a few errant auric strands about his soft, boyish features.

It was Illander Rehdon.

A woman began to weep loudly as the eulogy continued. All attendants save the trio were fixed upon the rite. Ryard focused on the man, his posture raptorial.

“I hoped to see you here, Illander.” His voice assumed a hard edge. “You’ve much to explain.”

Rehdon pursed his lips and cocked his head. “Why Ryard, whatever are you talking about?”

Vancing scoffed, made for his wrist-wound affin module but paused as he saw a missed message on the screen. “Need to speak to you, urgently.” Signed: Holleran Meris. He wondered what trouble the old goat had gotten himself into, then tapped and tilted the screen toward the entrant. A portion of the security recording taken before Casja Fawnell’s death ran without sound. Fawnell and a hooded man walked toward an automat. Ground slick. Sky gray. After the clip finished playing Rehdon tossed a casual query.

“I presume this is prelude to an accusation.”

“In addition to the fact that you had a personal connection to Fawnell and were the last known person to see her alive, the figure walking next to her on the recording is your height and build.”

“My proportions are not uncommon.”

“You’ll note that the man in the recording is wearing gloves.”

“And?”

“It was neither cold nor raining. So why wear gloves?” Before Rehdon could answer Ryard pointed. “Your hand is still bandaged.”

For a long moment both men exchanged unwavering stares. Discomfort wormed in Rehdon’s bosom; in Ryard’s there was only wrath.

“I know it was you.”

“And what was my motive?”

“She was getting close to Sodabrucke and Sodabrucke was getting close to the Chancellorship. Getting rid of Fawnell left an opening in a congealing cabinet.”

“Very thoughtful, CAV-keep.” Rehdon turned to Tatter, his charming smile quick reforming. “Would you excuse us?”

Tatter took a step back from the man and half-hide behind Ryard’s body.

“Unlike you, I don’t keep secrets from those whose confidence I’ve won.”

“How noble.”

“My patience is wearing thin. You can explain yourself here, or in a cell.”

Rehdon cast his keen gaze about at the congregation. “Not really the place for such a discussion, however much it is the time.” Ryard gestured impatiently to the nearby forest. Rehdon smiled broadly and motioned for Tatter to lead their egress. “Ladies first.”

At a brisk clip, the trio traversed the patchy, clay-thick soil to a tangled grove in the heart of the cemetery, assuredly out of earshot. Rehdon crossed his arms and leaned against a tree and inhaled deeply before speaking.

“I am a Federation agent.”

“What?” Ryard’s features contorted with amazement.

“Allow me to finish. It will not make sense unless I explain it all at once.”

Without a word, Ryard gestured for the man to continue his narrative.

“Five years ago I was approached by some men from the Security Commission’s Interior and Foreign Office. They told me they had discovered an East Federation spy ring. Wanted me to infiltrate. Find out what the foreigners were up to. What those fine aecerites didn’t know was that I had already been approached by men from the east, for much the same purpose, only, of course, the federants wanted me to help grow their Aecer-based operation, and keep it from being sussed out.”

“Why’d they come to you?”

“Through my philanthropic ventures, I had, at that time, accumulated a considerable network of acquaintances, including members of state, domestically, and in the east.”

“What’s this treason have to do with Fawnell?”

“Patience, patience, my dear man, I’m coming to that. And it wasn’t treason. Not really. You see, the federants had come to trust me, so when they asked me to spy for them, how could I refuse? I’d no interest in being a tangle snipped from their skein. You will I trust, understand the tremendous pressures laid against me in the decision. So I pretended I was for their cause. Quite convincingly, if I do say so myself. But I tell you sir, I am aecerite through and through. And so began compiling evidence against them. Now we come to your query, to Fawnell. It is as you said, I was there, but I took no move against her. I was there to protect her. Like me, she was going to testify. Had gotten close to Sodabrucke, as you probably know, who even then was likely to be the next Chancellor. If Fawnell had lived, it would have caused all kinds of problems for the Federation, for in short order, she would soon be able to move against them with the backing of the city government. I suspect they poisoned her by way of the automated food dispensary. All I know was that she got up suddenly and ran into the street. And then… But you are right to be angry with me. I failed in my duty. I-” The man shook his head and looked wistfully off into the distance. “I could not protect her.”

For a moment the trio sunk to silence as Ryard mulled Rehdon’s words.

“What of the bombing?”

“You think I had something to do with that as well.”

“The complex itself was seized at your behest.”

“At my suggestion. I am not in so lofty a position I can give such orders. Besides, the whole point of the venture was to promote an economic merger of East and Aecer aerospace. The majority of the Board was behind it. Why would I go after all the Board members save for the one who presented the only stolid opposition to the plan?”

Ryard didn’t answer. He bent his head, hands in his jacket pockets, eyes studying the ground. Mind whirling through a diagram of recent events.

“Like so many intelligent men before you, you seek phantoms when wind and shadow suffice.”

“And what shaded gale have I overlooked?”

“See for yourself.”

Ryard followed his companion’s hand up to the sky where drifted a colossal com-link aerostat and on the machine’s exterior a projection of Eidos Kryos from chest to head.

The great visage spoke and the world fell silent.

Next chapter

In the halls of Khaerrezal

Beneath the lake, a shimmering lair:

a hallowed house, of starless sky.

Therein, athwart a darkening stair,

on muses’ bone, The Lord did lie.

Dimensionless, yet swiftly twined,

round foundations, weakly braced;

crushing all to worthless rind,

that gave to His ravenous haste.

His seat, a cromlech of gods,

His scepter, a chasm of heart;

crowned clad in amber odds,

high spheres cower to His art.

Hear now his multifarious subjects,

who from chitinous shade decant,

their aspects to dream an annex,

and with swelling fervor chant:

He is the wind beneath the lake.

Key to hidden door.

He is the storm that endless breaks.

The iron in the ore.

Cartographers

Hail to the land-sea bridgers,

who on icy bosoms made their bed.

To the riders of the stinging foam,

by Venus’ boon was Neptune tread.

To the wringers of Ceres’ womb,

who conjured loaves of steaming bread,

to feed the craftsmen of many a tomb,

and so inter the valiant dead.

Though their dark rest be eternal,

in Vesta’s arms, their final peace;

of them, there lingers kernels,

clarion dreams that never cease.

Their gifts echo as from a well,

swelling with music, as ink and line;

now the map fills with precious stars

and by their lights we’ll boldly shine.

A brumal kiln

In privation, I am no dolorous Sappho,

to, in warm frenzy, tear at my breast;

her whose wild-leaping ardor to lasso,

cast herself from a kestrel’s nest.

More wyrmlike am I, and writhing

and so from fallen idyll strayed,

to coax cruel tongues to cinder,

in malfest pits thy body made.

Hades would elide the geistly aspect,

to which my rushing venom’s poured;

to gore more than its sin can deflect,

that mazy torments may be scored.

Nameless thou shalt be in this mission,

of liniments, unworthy, even of shame;

in the algid kiln of attrition,

thou shalt feed a boreal flame.

Kryos: Chapter 35

Previous chapter

An unctuous sychitin-garbed retainer of middling age led Zarya Cece from the massive vessel’s docking bay, up an expansive industrial lift where the floor was scuffed by constant transit of mining slag, through a series of short and twisting halls, to a wide, palatial gallery lined with albescent statuary of exquisite men and women in majestic repose. The ceiling was high and fluted as the folds of a rooted collybia and from them beams of illumination fell with singular focus upon each icon. Tributary baubles lay upon the pedestals of the effigies. Necklaces and bracelets, ornate vases and funerary urns and polished slipper shells and notes on sheafs of codium fragile. On the base of a cenotaph in the form of a solemn man in streamlined armor was a delicate blue flower. The woman strode to the monument, took in the masterworked contours of the proud, solemn face, and lifted the flower. A petal fell from the stem and floated to the plinth. Zarya frowned.

“Why must beautiful things be so fragile.”

The guide surveyed the woman’s elegant raiment. “You must be very fragile if that is so.”

Cece rolled her eyes. “How often do such lines work for you?”

“You’d be surprised.”

“I wonder. Tell me.” She looked to the name painted below left collarbone on the man’s ashen plate. “Audo. What do you do here?”

“I work on the docking module. Watch the ballast, pressure, which ships come and go. That sort of thing.”

“Don’t your systems do that automatically?”

“Course. But there’s always a chance of system failure. Its Kryos’ policy for all workers to create a secondary record, by hand, of all pertinent activity, in every module, on every deck.”

“Lot of extra work. Explains why there are so many people here.”

Groups of men and women, clothed as the guide, moved down the pass, talking with staid incision and inclined their heads to the newcomer. Cece watched her usher return the gesture and did likewise.

“You came at a busy time of day. A busy month, really. So many new kelp farms to install. But tell me, if you don’t consider it indelicate, what does Sodabrucke plan to do? Has a new government been formed?”

“I can’t answer that, handsome.”

“You mean you won’t. I shouldn’t have asked.”

The woman looked up to the ceiling where shifted small black clusters.

“What are those?”

“We call them SERIA sensors.”

“Sensors? Like cameras?”

“Not exactly.”

Audo dipped a hand into a pack at his belt and removed a thin length of material whose composition eluded Cece’s ken. “The wearer senses what the array senses.” She reached forward for the artifact, but Audo withdrew it from her grasp. “That wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Why?”

“To use it, one needs to undergo a tuning process. Those that don’t are at risk of seizure.”

“Goodness, why even bother with something that dangerous?”

“Direct telesensory inception has unique benefits. But frankly, I was of much the same opinion when Kryos and Straker came up with the idea. I was part of the original development team. When it became clear it was feasible, I told him it wasn’t worth the risk. He disagreed. He said: ‘Only the malformed are without fear. Only the cowardly shrink from it.’ Then he put the device on.” The man lowered his voice and leaned toward the woman. “Nearly killed him.”

“Really?”

The man nodded gravely. “Scared me half to death. Scared all of us. His whole body convulsed, and he made this… horrible noise. But then, right as his vitals we’re going south, he became quiet and slowly pulled himself up on the edge of the work bench. I asked him what he was thinking, told him it was crazy.”

“What did he say?”

“‘One cannot wring crops from halcyon earth.'”

The woman furrowed her brows and shook her head.

“Ah, but I’m taking up too much of your time with my stories.” The man pocketed the device and gestured down the corridor. “Shall we continue?” Cece assented and followed behind her guide beyond the crowded memorial chamber. When they were near the end of the corridor a boy at the threshold of maturity came plunging about the corner, bearing a object some three feet in length in his arms.

“Graf! You nearly ran into the good lady.”

The boy halted just short of the duo, his eyes low.

“Sorry.”

“No trouble. What have you got there?” Cece inquired, bending to the bundle.

Graf shifted the lump, prompting Cece to gasp and draw back in horror, for in the boy’s arms was a large, pale chitinous creature, with triangular charcoal eyes and four bony antennae that rose up nervously. Its many-legged underside was paler than its shell and at its rear was a thick mass of fins, wider than its head.

“What is that?”

“An isopod.”

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Mr. Kryos gave it to me.”

The woman looked to her guide with utter bewilderment.

“They’re popular pets in the colonies.”

“I see.”

“We put them in the reservoirs to keep them clean. They’ll eat just about anything that falls to the bottom.”

The woman took a step back as the isopod raised its upper limbs in her direction. The boy laughed.

“Well, not anything. Don’t worry, lady, it won’t hurt you.”

The man gave the boy a reproachful look. “If he gave you that, I take it you’ve dispensed with the fighting?”

The boy worked his lower lip back and forth. Jubilance subsiding. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Well, be on your way, boy.”

Graf adjusted the bottom feeder in his wiry arms and absquatulated.

The duo walked on.

Past the artful ossuary was a long, dark hall. The steward pointed to the recess at the far end of the protracted corridor. “His study is straight ahead. Be mindful of the water.”

Zarya Cece raised a brow, smiled and curtsied. The man nodded, turned and left off; footfalls and form swift-receding to shadow.

She watched him and paced into the black. A high aperture embowered by caliginous strands opened to an ersatz grotto. Long, high and pale as bleached bone, awash in dismal azure light. The blanched walls were composed of unreflective translucent material that revealed the complex clockwork of the great machine. High above, argent forms floated in torpid circles. At the center of the hollow, a pool, and dark shapes within it. Opposite the entrance, across the water lay a pale expanse of what appeared as variegated sand that rose up by subtle degrees to a brassy mass of jagged, scintillating scale-like structures, between which a man sat an ashen chair fused to the surrounding material. He wore dark, laminous clothes trimmed with gold that shone like his eyes. His posture bespoke detachment, yet his voice carried across the chasm with restrained intensity.

“Expectant of a wolf, I receive a fox.”

“Commissioner Kryos.” The woman curtsied.

“I am a commissioner no longer.”

“Chancellor Sodabrucke is reconstituting The Board. She thought that might interest you, given that your ship is still on the mainland.”

“It is where it belongs. For now.”

“That may be so, but by law its still under SecCom control. You want it back. Work with us.”

“As it was not Richter’s to take, it is not yours to give.”

“That’s not very diplomatic. We’re offering you aid.”

“Spermaceti is a pearly waxen substance derived from the head cavities of cachalots.”

Cece’s face creased with confusion. “And?”

“Do you know how many lumens a seventy six gram candle of this material affords?”

“No one uses candles anymore.”

“One. Each algae light-vessel in this chamber affords two hundred and thirty lumens. There are ten thousand five hundred of them. How many candles would I need to light this chamber?”

“I don’t know.”

“One needs knowledge of dimensions. Two million four hundred fifteen thousand.”

Luminance filled the cavity in tandem with his voice. Phosphorescent went ceiling and walls. The woman raised her hand, squinting against the sudden bluish glare until her eyes adjusted.

“That’s all very fascinating, but I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”

Kryos stood. “A single adult cachalot produces around one thousand nine hundred litres of spermaceti. One million nine hundred thousand grams.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “That’s roughly twenty five thousand candles per whale-head. Or, twenty five thousand lumens per whale. Seventy six grams of my algae produces seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty lumens, over half that of an entire adult cachalot, so tell me, Ms. Cece, what need have I of whales?”

“That’s an awfully long-winded way of calling us dim.”

“I did not say dim.”

“What then?”

“Inefficient.”

Argent machines descended from the ceiling and arrayed themselves across the reservoir that separated host and visitor. Kryos moved from the ashen throne toward the pool and gestured for his guest to ford the watery expanse. The woman tested the metallic carapace of the first of the temporary platforms, which gave but slightly beneath her boot, then made her way across the wide pool. Striding with easy confidence toward the opposite shore.

“If we are candles,” Cece began with a tinge of ire as she forded the makeshift bridge. “To continue your analogy,” she stepped off the last SIKARD and tilted up her head at the black garbed man before her as the insectal machines crested the edge of the tranquil liquid and spiraled in the air about the speakers. “Its only a matter of quantity and time before we’re brighter than the sun.” The woman reached for her affin module, the top half detaching to a hand-held device which she raised and clicked. The SIKARDs trilled and spasmed and fell from the air. Kryos grit his teeth and fell to one knee, muscles twitching unnaturally.

The woman raised the device to the beleaguered man’s head. “The woman who attacked you in Gild’s office had an orbital implant. I saw it all. Your telesoma. The good chancellor, foolish girl that she is, let me into the Board archive. I read your file.” She gestured to the downed SIKARDs. “Knew about your little friends. So I had a field disruptor installed in my cutter and the cutter fitted to my affin module, in case you had your men search me.”

Kryos, inhaled sharpely, rose and surveyed the woman’s device briefly, before his heliodoric gaze returned to her face.

“I ordered them not to.”

“Huh?”

“A snow-buried blade is useless if the fox cannot lick it.”

“I don’t see a blade.”

“You are preoccupied by looking.”

“Forgettable, far as final words go.”

Without compunction, Cece raised the modified cutter and fired a pulse through Kryos’ chest. He looked down at the void where his heart should be and spun to the pale throne, which bubbled with the residue of the blast. With a muffled cry, he wavered unsteadily on his feet and slumped against the unadorned chair, his head lolling lifelessly.

The lights dimmed. Murk re-enveloped the chamber.

The woman looked to the corpse with triumph.

“Should have pulled your magic trick.”

The corpse’s eyes swiveled to the woman, its mouth forming a thin smile.

“What prompted you to think I hadn’t?”

In tandem with the woman’s breathless gasp, the pale-throned figure contorted and dissolved to an amorphous mass and seeped to the floor as a voice echoed from above.

“Revenge is a greater motor to man than amity, for the latter is a burden, and the former, a pleasure.”

The woman cast her eyes up to the ceiling and took a step backward. There, Eidos Kryos stood. She looked to the left wall and beheld, some fifteen feet up, another Kryos, then to the right wall, where, at similar height, yet another facsimile of the man gazed down upon her, his irises glinting in the gloam. The Kryos upon the left wall continued where the ceiling-borne one had left off.

“I induce this wolf you’ve bound yourself to does not desire vengeance against my person, but the whole of society.”

The Kryos upon the right wall spoke next. “This person was the same who slew The Board.”

The Kryos on the ceiling continued the oratory cycle. “This predator weaves a grand tapestry. Perhaps, from it, your master sought to pluck an errant strand. And so sent you here.”

“He would never-” Too late she realized the error.

“So it is a man.” The three visages spake in unison. Those left and right began to walk down from the walls toward the woman as the spectral orator on the ceiling dripped piece by piece to her feet. Recomposing.

The woman backed away from the apparitions toward the pool. Mind reeling. Hands quaking on the useless cutter.

“Stay away,” she howled, as the figures closed the distance.

From the depths of the reservoir a dark hand emerged, gripped Cece by the ankle and tore the balance from beneath her. She shrieked and fell to the floor, weapon flying from grasp, brow colliding with a small mineral tumulus in the sandy expanse and dripping red. She clawed blindly at the silt-strewn floor, vision blurring as the sound of a surfacing form and dripping water preceded a rippling shadow.

Kryos stood at the edge of the artificial pond, a breathing apparatus affixed to his face. He reached up and removed the mask with methodical familiarity, revealing a slender silver device that wrapped about the left temple. He surveyed the female placidly. Eyes and half-diadem gleaming. As footsteps closed upon her, Cece scrambled for her weapon. A dark heel descended upon it. With bloodied brow and locks in disarray, Cece looked up to behold the dour face of Ermin Gild gazing upon her with reproach. The man retrieved the device from the ground and switched it off. The SIKARDs hummed to life and rose into the air as Kryos knelt and took the woman’s face in his hands.

“Ash is more beautiful than a painting scourged. For it is pure as the fires that birthed it. But to purify iron, mere flame is not enough. A furnace is required. Whose glow illuminates the slag of the soul. It is a pity that you shall never see it.”

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Kryos: Chapter 34

Previous chapter

A yawning corridor the hue and texture of anthracite arced over Ermin Gild, who progressed at a harried pace across gray-scaled tiles. The man’s footfalls echoed off the disorienting ceiling, from which hung long autochthonous tangles of curved, compressed carbon, the ends of which were fitted with a series of small translucent orbs that glimmered when the walker passed within fifteen feet of them, thereafter dimming and falling to darkness once more. At the far end of the sable pass was a great tripartite door, the lower portion of which retracted into the floor as the upper segments withdrew to the top of the portal; beyond it, another hallway, shorter than the one preceding, that let out to a massive, multi-tiered cavity, composed of a circular walkway of corded material that wound the length of the chamber.

In the center of the room was an abyss from which rose a circular mechanized platform containing a complex armature holding a massive sphere affixed with multistage ion collectors that extended from the contraption with perfect symmetry. From wall and lift, interlocking mechanisms and assembly arms wound with musical regularity around the nexus, giving the room the appearance of a vast, alien clocktower. Before the platform-borne device, manipulating a series of electronic touchscreen panels, stood Eidos Kryos, garbed in his habitual dark-scaled coat; overhead, his ever-present metallic guardians drifted in placid circles, some crawling upside down on the ceiling, the tapping of their insectal legs lost to the shuttered factory’s rhythmic clatter.

“You said you were leaving.”

“Sonderon was just attacked. He’s in critical condition. Souther leaders suspected. SecCom is completely absent. Whole market district has gone sideways.”

Several of the drones flew down and spun about Ermin’s body. Sensors tracing thermal patterns.

“I know.”

Ermin sized up the strange sentries and prodded one on its underside. Kryos twitched with discomfort.

“Would you mind not doing that?”

Gild’s brows creased as he took a step forward. “You can feel that?”

“You were speaking of the city.”

“Sodabrucke hasn’t formed a new government. The surviving members of the convention are with Amberleece, hiding in the clouds. There’s open warfare in the streets. Power grids are shutting down.” Gild gripped the railing of the walkway. Knuckles going white. “Why haven’t you done something?”

Kryos answered flatly. “I have.”

“The KSRU? You think they can handle this? With Syzr in custody? Its too far gone for that. You have enough men here to take Consortium Hall, or whatever is left of it. If it takes a war to reestablish order, so be it. Something must be done.”

The large, yet delicate robotic appendages of the dais grasped one of the cylindrical amassers extending from the spherical device and, rotating with inhuman speed, screwed the cylinder into place. Kryos gazed over his shoulder at his distant guest.

“My war is not with men.”

“You tinker with that ridiculous contraption as the city burns.”

“This ‘ridiculous contraption’ is the bridge to a future long disclosed.”

“What is it?”

Kryos turned to face his questioner. “An engine. To my ship which lies interred in Aecer. Come. Observe.”

All of the argent drones descended from the ceiling and formed a walkway from the inner engine platform to the outer walkway.

“You want me to cross on those things? Isn’t there a gangplank?”

“This chamber was designed so that none but I could navigate it. Only the SIKARDs allow access.” Kryos raised his obsidian-gloved hand to his pallid temple. “And they answer only to me.”

“SIKARDs?”

“Vera has a fondness for acronyms. Are you going to cross?”

Gild looked toward the hovering mass with trepidation. “What if I fall?”

“Desirous of war. Yet quivers to cross a span.”

Gild’s face twitched with annoyance, swallowed by apprehension as he peered down into the gulf, the bottom, opaque to shadow. Momentary glimmers of light radiated from the void, all moving in thin vertical lines. His fingers flexed. He inhaled and stepped out into the frigid chasm. Foot firmly planted on the flexile carapace of the autonomous aerial drone before him. Then the next and the next until he stood on the last and gasped, arms wind-milling and, with a panicked cry, tumbled backward. He steeled himself for the long plunge and closed his eyes. A firm hand clasped about his forearm, foreclosing his fall. He opened one eye and saw two heliodoric irises staring back at him. Amusement there shining. Gild grabbed the machinist’s black-clad arm and Kryos hauled him up. For a moment the bureaucrat bent, hands on his knees, panting as his heart thrashed and his legs trembled. Kryos paced toward the machine as the panels of the array below it displayed a silent feed of recent news coverage.

“I do not intervene directly because the people of the city have yet to offer sufficient supplication.”

One heading read “KSRU needed, now, more than ever.” Another, “Eidos Kryos’ ADC must be part of Sodabrucke’s new government.” Yet another, “Chaos ingulfs the city; the Association of Deep Colonies must intervene.”

Kryos scanned the feeds placidly. “But their insouciance swift subsides. Slowly they realize their raft is the flood.”

Ermin surged forward and caught Eidos about the collar, slamming him against the blue-glowing control array before the voluminous, furcated motor. Kryos’ brow furrowed with discomfort, his previously immaculate hair falling about his face.

“Bastard.”

Kryos, tilted his head. Saying nothing as a disconcerting humming reverberated from near distance. The Oversecretary ignored the sound and tightened his grip on the obsidian coat collar, his face inches from the magnate’s own.

“You don’t give a damn about anyone, do you?”

“Were that true, I’d not have caught your arm.”

Ermin’s wrath faltered. Slowly, Kryos raised his aphotic laminated hands to the Oversecretary’s shoulders.

“If I had not caught you, my SIKARDs would have.” It was only then Gild realized the argent drones levitating several feet away. The source of the ominous sibilation. Spiny limbs primed for violence. “They can be somewhat overzealous in their drive to protect.” Kryos gave the isopodic wardens a curt half-wave with his left hand, as if brushing dust from the Oversecretary’s shoulder, whereafter the automata scattered and spun out into the cyclic, alloyed expanse. Gild relaxed and released his grip. Then, a buzzing. Kryos tapped one of the adjacent panels.

“Yes?”

“Vessel approaching, Sir. Pilot says she’s an emissary from the new government.”

“Her name?”

“Zarya Cece.”

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Kryos: Chapter 33

Previous chapter

Holleran Meris moved alone through Southern Block market, groceries to hand, as Kreizer Sonderon’s steely voice knelled in the distance through a portable sound system hastily established in the bustling plaza, guarded by a band of subtly armed soldiers in gray and black, partisans of the politician’s cause. A red ensign of stylized flame emblazoned upon their armored shoulders. Surrounding the man was a thick crowd, ebbing and flowing, yet maintaining a transfixed core of men and women, of various ages, whose faces and gesticulations displayed rising passion. As the minutes mounted, so did their numbers.

“We know the truth.” Sonderon declared, jabbing the air toward the Fabrdyn airship, which loomed to the north. “No matter what candied words the Federation’s propagandists and their accomplices in our own traitorous government might spew, they hold nothing but malice in their hearts for the Aecerite people. They view us as inferior stock. Cattle. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Cattle. Read their papers. No. Not the ones they publish on the affin, but those they publish in their internal memoranda. Listen to their lectures. No. Not the ones that recieve a public showing, but those in their own symposiums, in the halls of their universities and council chambers, wherein they digress upon, with a chuckle in their timbre and a twinkle in their eye, their fanatical hatred for our kind. Even if they themselves should be Aecerite. Look to portrayals of our people in the popular fictions. We are always depicted as villains, or as archaic and outmoded. Relics of a bygone era. Things to be cast aside. Replaced. Is that what we are? Look, friends, and you will see the verity of my words. Isn’t it curious that just before the election, the self-styled leaders of our so-called government are blow to pieces at an event attended by the Eastern Bureau’s envoys? Isn’t it further curious that my principal opponent, Astrid Sodabrucke, who is scarcely more than a child, has been appointed as the new Chancellor under the emergency powers of the mayoral convention and the security commission? Coincidence? I think not. You may be asking yourself: Do they think we are such fools? Allow me to answer, brothers and sisters, for I know well enough the sordid shape of their minds to do so. Yes. That is precisely what they think of you, of us. Of every man, woman and child of Aecerite blood. And will we accept it? This perpetual denigration of our people? This foisting upon us of souther savages? This coring of our industry? This outsourcing of our security? I ask you again: Will we accept this coup of our birthright?”

“No,” the mass hollered in unison.

“Gods below. If he keeps on like that, there’ll be a riot,” Meris exclaimed to no one in particular.

A young man, arms crossed, expression hard, who had participated in the chant, turned to the solivagant. Red sigil visible on his right shoulder.

“Maybe. But maybe there should be.”

Meris cautiously withdrew as the younger man turned his back and rejoined the swelling chant of his brethren.

“Sonderon! Sonderon!”

A shot rang-out. Meris bucked with fright, dropping his supplies to the pavement of the pedestrian walkway. Sonderon slumped from his banner-laden podium. Blood splattering the rostrum. Face contorted with shock and pain. A thin rod of metal through his shoulder, close to the neck. The crowd scattered with cries of terror, as the politician’s security team rushed to their master’s aid.

Meris looked up in the direction from whence the peal had come and scanned the rooftops of the surrounding and broken tenements. Atop an adjacent residential complex overcast by one of the manifold drifting aerostats that peppered the sky, he spied what looked to be a large man, all in grey and black, crouching and holding in his hands something long and dark, which he dismantled and shoved into a bag. The shooter rose, slung the pack over his shoulder, turned and vanished from view as bellows of impotent wrath rang below.

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