Tatter: Chapter 37 (Finis)

Previous chapter

Ryard woke, to a curious, faint humming coming from somewhere below. He blinked, blinded by the intense albescence which bathed the room and shook his pulsing head, groaning quietly. A pungent, antiseptic scent clotted the air and as his vision came back into focus, he realized he lay upon a cot within a great dome, partially composed of something that looked vaguely like glass, beyond which swam schools of small and colorful fish, thereafter departing to make way for an old shark, some twenty feet in length, whose back and gills were canopied with parasites and the remnants of abyssal battles. Ryard slowly rose into a sitting position. Pain throbbed faintly in his side and when he raised his hand to his wound he found it meticulously bandaged. He looked around in a daze. The ceiling of the dome was solid white and girded at each apex by small black dots; cameras on short, automated stalks. As his senses returned to normalcy, Ryard realized the cot was stationed within a sealed, semi-transparent chamber upon a platform which sat a great abyss, the bottom of which darkness rendered opaque.

Momentarily, the far humming grew in intensity as the twin portals to the chamber slowly opened.

Overtaken by curiosity, Vancing exited the chamber and strode out upon the platform.

The sound of footsteps reverberated throughout the chasm. A form moved in the depths. A man. The figure rose up from the lightless sink, pale and trim, with eyes like burnished heliodor, upon a floating bridge of argent, anthropodal machines, each offering itself in dutiful turn as a new step on a thriving aerial stair. The man stepped free from the flying extension and appraised the CAV-keep keenly as a whale bellowed beyond the transparent casing of the massive underwater dome.

“I hope your sleep was filled with pleasant dreams. I am Eidos Kryos. You are safe here. How are you feeling?”

Vancing was so surprised by the sudden visitation that, for a brief moment, he lost the power of speech and stood starring with bewilderment at the pallid, obsidian-garbed man before him as the aerial drones rose up out of the reach and drifted peaceably overhead.

“Much better. I barely feel any pain at all.” The CAV-keep turned and looked out the window at the aphotic expanse, lit only by the steady exterior lights of the gargantuan seacraft, “Where am I?”

“In the heart of The Progenitor, three kilometers under the ocean, fifty miles off the coast of Aecer. You’ve been asleep for three days.”

“No wonder I feel so disoriented. Not that I’m ungrateful for you patching me up, but… why am I here?”

“I wanted to meet you. I owe you. So very much. Your errant intervention saved not only my daughter and the city, but a bridge to the future.”

“I’m not really sure what you mean. I told her I’d help her get home. That was all.”

“A man of his word.”

“I try to be. What happened to the group that wanted her?”

“After you cut off the head of their snake, they scattered. I ensured the city would be sealed, and when they attempted to flee beyond it, found their way blocked and were promptly apprehended. Save for one, who my people will find, sooner or later. Aestival is no more. In no small part, thanks to you.”

“She told me you’d recompense me for my trouble.”

“And so I shall. What do you want, Mr. Vancing? Name it. If it is in my power to bestow, it shall be yours.”

“I just want to do my job. I’m never happier than when I’m ferrying fertilizer and fixing frayed wires. If you could make sure I keep my position after all of this blows over, I’d be immensely appreciative.”

“It shall be done.”

“And you – what do you want?”

Kryos looked off toward the abyss beyond, where phosphorescent jellyfish glowed in liminal drift.

“The firmament, gilded and baroque.”

Tatter: Chapter 35

Previous chapter

In the wide black holding cell, only a single ray of light; a woman there illuminated. A shackle upon her throat which meant pain should the shadows be tread. She sat upon a soft, dark cube, hands folded upon her lap. No sound save a faint mechanical groaning; rhythmic sheering of metal on metal. The hiss of the chamber’s handless door opening. Footsteps reverberated upon the pitch and polished floor as the thin slats which ran-parallel about the room faintly illuminated, casting wide a sombre bluish glow.

A slender female figure stood the space before the woman on the cube and carried a large case the width of her own back-lit body, which she set at her feet and opened, revealing a soft, dull-black oblong artifact. The shadowed woman removed a small, handheld device from the left inner pocket of her long elegant coat and pressed it to the object, prompting it to shift and grow. The case-borne object hummed and slowly assumed the form of a trim, elegant man, wan of complexion, whose eyes gleamed like young twin suns, filtered through the lattice-work of burnished heliodor. After a long silence, the man-form spoke, his voice low and measured, pooling in sonorous strands throughout the ambit of the penitentiary murk.

“Greater in inequity is the well-intentioned deceiver than one ill-intentioned. The former has conviction in the rectitude of their wickness. The latter labors under no such illusion.”

Soriya Haldeck looked to the floor, her lips writhing, face creasing with anxiety, unable to meet the man’s luminous and unwavering gaze.

“Would you say this is so, Doctor Haldeck?”

“What does it matter now?”

“It will always matter so long as we can exercise moral judgment.”

“Only God can judge me. He’ll judge us all. Eventually. Even you.”

“Convenient that the judgement of all should be raised in a discussion of your crimes.”

“Freeing a slave is a crime?”

“Your mouth moves, but it is the dead who speak.”

Kryos leaned slowly toward the woman, her eyes yet averted, hands working together as if covered in nettles. The avatar assumed a rigid posture and gestured to the attendent behind him, who withdrew a telepad and held it nine paces before Haldeck’s anxious face. On the screen a shaky video feed of the central sector played. A pile of smoldering rubble. Screams of men and metal. Weeping. Officials rushing, frantic, to and fro, some cursing under their breath, others subsumed in focus. Civilians rooted to their shades, dumbfounded by terror. A elderly woman on her knees, covered in dust and blood, a old man before her, silent and still as statuary. A child, no more than seven years of age, broken and battered beneath a mound of rubble, one arm missing, replaced by a phantasmal sanguine trail. Haldeck’s eyes grew wide as she took in the carnage. Her lower lip quivered like a water-soused worm. Abruptly, she looked away, vainly attempting to quell the rising sense of terror that writhed within.

“That footage was taken directly after the destruction of the central reactor.”

“I’ve seen it before.”

“A teacher and her class from the local school were on a field trip. That’s her body there. In the red. The dress, a gift from her husband. They’d been married three days.”

Soriya began to weep.

“Why are you showing this to me? I didn’t do it. I didn’t set the bombs.”

“If your mind was guiltless, you’d not offer defense.”

“I was only doing what I thought was right.”

“This I have addressed. Your actions aided the group responsible for the destruction of my reactor. Central sector’s reactor.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I selected you to oversee the DS program due to your intelligence. Deduce.”

“You mean Vangr? Vangr was working with Aestival?”

“Well done.”

“I… I didn’t know.”

“That is obvious. Had you the full picture, you’d have blown the whistle on the entire enterprise and would likely now be dead. In this way your treasonous folly was fortuitous. For you.”

“Where is she? Did you find her?”

“She’s safe. Due some unexpected intervention. And my director’s perseverance.”

He turned emotionlessly from the woman, speaking into the hazy azure reach.

“The partisans planned to turn her into a weapon. One which Grazen planned to sell to the Eastern Federation. Were the scheme successful, millions would have died. Instead, only hundreds.”

Kryos then melded into the penumbral expanse as the woman’s sorrow echoed throughout.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 31

Previous chapter

The sound came softly at first, a faint, fast, rhythmic pattering down the long, damp corridor, growing steadily in volume with every second that passed. Then, as before, the necropolis fell to silence. The men within the hall shifted nervously from foot to foot upon the dust-clad flooring.

“What was that?” Elliot asked his compatriot softly, hands flexing restlessly at his sides.

“Rats. Probably.” Gerard responded tersely, his harsh visage scanning the murky tunnel.

“Haven’t seen any rats down here. Sounded too big to be a rat.”

Gerard shook his head and lowered his weapon, turning to his companion with a look of reprimand.

“This about Angela?”

“No.”

“You’re getting paranoid.”

The moment Gerard finished speaking, a dark, multi-legged shape dropped from the ceiling and pinned the man to the floor. A maintenance drone. His compatriot whirled, hands shaking upon his weapon. Like giant insects, more of the robots fell from the ceiling and leapt upon the men as their screams trailed down the dank and declining corridor, swiftly replaced by silence and the sound of boots on damp earth.

Ryard Vancing cautiously approached the downed duo as the insectal robots formed up around him, awaiting his command. He knelt, felt for a pulse, and found two. The man plucked both of the weapons off the ground and briefly examined them. High-capacity waverenders. Lethal and extremely expensive.

Whoever they were, they had well-heeled backers, he thought briskly as he adjusted his hand upon the matte grip of his newly acquired weapon.

He examined his affin module; Tatter’s signal gleaming ghost-blue against the surrounding darkness.

“Getting close. Roll out.”

Upon the man’s command the machines beeped and scurried down the pulverulent hall, into the heart of the grim necropolis.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 29

Previous chapter

The room in which Tatter awoke was brightly lit and devoid of sound save for the gentle tapping of busy fingers on the keys of a computer pad and the gentle hum of a portable generator. The walls were barren, composed of aged, yet finely burnished metal. Numerous pieces of medical equipment lined a desk to the left and to the right, several crates of varying sizes were stacked one upon the other. Two figures were half-visible from the open-faced diagnostic pod upon which she lay, a man, at the desk, typing, and a woman, staring observantly at the occupant of the medical calyx. Tatter tried to move but found her body secured at the throat, chest, arms, legs and ankles by tight flexile straps. Significant motion was impossible.

“What do you want with me?” Tatter asked the moment her voice returned.

The woman, cruel-faced with a long, gray streak in her short-clipped hair, bent over the pod.

“I thought you gave it a sedative?”

“I did. A potent one.” The man replied with surprise. “It must be due the… peculiarity of her neuronal system. Soriya told me she was unique, but she failed to impress upon me the extent of that uniqueness. No matter. Its all the same for the procedure.”

“I trust you’re not becoming distracted.”

The man sighed with exasperation.

“I’m prepping the sample now. It will be ready for injection soon.”

“What are you doing to me?” Tatter queried emphatically.

The source of the male voice, a balding, clean shaven man wearing a light suit, stepped into view. He had a broad shrunken face and walked with a marked limp and leaned a little towards her, his mouth formed a gentle smile but his eyes were cold.

“Running some tests. You’ll be able to go home very soon.”

The man looked up toward the anxious, gray-haired woman with severity.

“Isn’t that right, Moreno?”

The woman forced a brittle smile.

“That’s right.”

Tatter stared at the woman a long moment and attempted to withdraw as the gray-streaked creature leaned down toward her.

Before the woman could respond another voice intruded upon the scene. One low, gruff, male and unfamiliar to Tatter.

“Route is secure.” the man declared matter-of-factly, strolling into the room, hands swaying loosely at his sides, hard, dark eyes roving over the medical equipment hastily arrayed about the spacious, antiseptic chamber. The newcomer was short, stocky and clean-shaven with a bandaged arm. Tatter recognized him as one of Vangr’s men.

“Good.” Grazen declared. “And the Director?”

“Holding on to her. Least until we’re clear of the city. Bartering chip, n’case we get boxed in.”

Grazen nodded approvingly and gingerly hefted a small tube of liquid from a thawing chamber and swirled it in the light. The bandaged man waited for the Grazen to respond and, finally exasperated, took a step forward and spoke emphatically.

“Grazen.”

“Hm?”

“He’s expecting you to keep your end of the bargain.”

“Of course.”

Moreno turned to the bandaged man challengingly.

“His daughter will be released. As promised. Though, we should let her rot given your utter incompe-.”

The bandaged man did not even turn toward the woman as he spoke, “Wasn’t talking to you.”

Rage starkly colored the woman’s face, her jaw clenching, brow quivering, fingers flexing. For a brief moment Tatter thought the woman would rush the man and tear at him with her bare hands.

“Tell him I will make the call shortly.” Grazen declared flatly, his attention fixed upon the large console before him.

The bandaged man nodded briskly.

“Do you not understand the gravity of what we are doing here? Moreno inquired, whirling to the bandaged man with sudden agitation, “Take a moment to consider the coming change. One you helped to foster.”

“That’s none of my concern.”

The bandaged man turned slowly and left off. Moreno watched the man depart and spoke softly.

“Ignorant, greedy fool.”

Grazen ignored the woman and deftly manipulated the pod’s control-panel and shortly a mechanical arm descended upon its occupant, producing a long syringe and sinking it deep into the prisoner’s exposed arm.

“Comfortable?”

“No.”

“That’s good. We are never more aware of what is important to us than when we are in pain.”

Tatter: Chapter 28

Previous chapter

Bioluminescent plankton basked the cloistered bar in dim azure glow from wall-bound tubes which ribboned the length of the square, low-ceilinged chamber. Blue-lit patrons sat around the semi-circular retractable table as drinks were ferried by server drones, payments automatically deducted from affin modules upon reception. Aecer Digest played across the numerous, wide wall-screens, information relayed to the onlookers by a prim woman in a suit.

Holleran Meris listened to the feed despondently, his eyes fixed upon his glass.

“Breaking news: Members of Aestival, the terror group responsible for the destruction of Starglaive One, have been detected within city limits. The Consortium, after considerable deliberation, has voted on a complete shut down until the criminals have been apprehended. If you see any suspicious activity, we encourage you to report to your local Consortium authorities as soon as possible.”

A young man with short, unkempt hair, and a complexion incongruent, sipped his half-empty glass and shook his head.

“Wish Aestival had blown up the Reiks Hall instead of the reactor, not that I mind them taking out that ugly hunk of junk.”

Men surrounding the speaker laughed derisively. Meris leaned towards the younger man with severity.

“That ‘hunk of junk’ powered the entire sector.”

“Seems we’re getting on just fine without it.” The man gestured flippantly to the chamber lights.

“Same people that built the reactor built this place.”

The man shrugged.

“You shrug.”

“Yeah.”

“The reactor isn’t running. There will be outages. Outages mean death for those on life support.”

“What’s your problem?”

“My problem? You’re sitting there celebrating terrorism and you ask me what my problem is.”

“Terrorism is a matter of perspective. If anyone’s the terrorists, its the Consortium. Detaining people without a trial. You know they locked up kids?”

“They detained the monsters that destroyed the reactor and everyone suspected of supporting them.”

“So? I say fuck um all. Consortium, and the damned reactor.”

“Many of my friends died in that explosion.” The old man stated with rising emotion, his visage pocked with wrath and despair, knuckles white about his jittering glass.

“And how many people have died because of the Consortium? Because of Kryos?”

“You tell me. How many?” The young man fell silent, brows knitting. “You’ve no idea, do you?”

“Whatever.”

“How about every mother and father, daughter and son slaughtered in the blast? You think they deserved to die? Or does it not matter to you either way?”

“Take it easy.”

“Easy…” The old man slammed his cup upon the table. “I should take it easy while a Souther celebrates the murder of my friends?”

“You got a problem with Southers?”

“No. Just Southers like you. Consortium gives you all the handouts you demand and what do you people do? Spit in their face. In our face.”

“You’re starting to piss me off.”

“You people are parasites.”

The young man rose from his seat and grabbed the old man by the collar and threw him from his seat as the other patrons watched warily, the closest jumping from their perches and backing cautiously away from the scuffle. As the young man drew his arm back to strike the old man, a hand caught his forearm.

“That’s your elder, not your sirloin.”

Meris looked up from the ground to behold a middle aged man, battered and bruised, with a sling about his right arm and messy hair that spun up from his head in short, slick whorls. The face was familiar.

“This is none of your concern, CAV-keep,” the souther snarled, observing the monochrome Vilar Corp jacket and pulling his arm free of the interloper’s grasp.

Ryard Vancing surveyed the man calmly, stolidly.

“That man is my friend. I’ve business with him.”

“You didn’t hear what he said.”

“You can return to bashing each other’s brains in after I’m done talking to him,” Ryard plucked a glass of alcohol off a oblivious, nearby server drone and handed it to the man with a smile as the payment was deducted from his module. “In the meantime, drinks are on me.”

Reluctantly, the souther took the glass and, with a final glare at the old man, turned and strode back to his seat as his companions eyed the scene furtively, muttering amongst themselves. After the attacker departed, the CAV-keep pulled his friend from the ground.

“You trying to get yourself killed, Holleran? He’d have taken your head off if I hadn’t come in when I did.”

“Probably. And… I appreciate it. Just… had a lot on my mind lately,” the old man sighed and ran a hand through his unkempt hair, matting it back from his prominent brow, “Thinking about Hal and Carol and… well, that souther son-of-a-bitch was praising them.”

“Who?”

“The terrorists.”

Ryard’s eyes narrowed and a dark expression passed across his face and was gone just as swiftly.

“What happened to you anyways?”

“I don’t have time to explain. Do you still have your priority lane pass?”

“Everything’s been hectic after the attack. Don’t know what deal the company is gonna work out with the staff, higher ups probably don’t know yet either. Whatever they’re doing or decide, I still have full CAV-way privileges – but so do you, why do you-.”

“I don’t have my lev-han.”

“Let me guess – you wanna borrow mine?”

“Yes. Its urgent.”

“What is?”

“There’s no time.”

“If whatever you’ve gotten yourself into is that bad,  you had better go to the Security Commission.”

“They’ll pull me in for questioning and…” he lowered his uneven voice to evade the prying ears of the bar patrons, “Lives are at stake.”

The old man surveyed Vancing for a long moment, his critical eyes roaming over the battered, yet wholly determined face.

“Alright. I trust you. And Vancing.”

“Yeah?”

“Would be nice if my han returned in better condition than you arrived.”

Ryard smiled.

“Will do, sir.”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 26

Previous chapter

Tatter supported Ryard beyond the southern exit of Northwing Detention Facility. Half-dragging him, his good arm round her shoulder. He was barely able to stand and grunted in pain with every jolt of movement that torqued his mangled limb, which dangled awkwardly at his side. Tatter paused and leaned the man against the sun-warmed concrete wall of the facility’s smooth, ornateless exterior as a gentle breeze caught her tessellated locks, stygian and agate coiling about a supple alabaster rind. A dance of fire and shadow over a field of shimmering snow. He wiped his bleeding face with the coat-sleeve of his good arm and closed his eyes.

“Fractured?”

He shook his head minimally, not wishing to cause further movement to his searing limb.

“Dislocated.”

“Shall I relocate it?”

“You know how?”

“Yes.”

“You’re sure about that?”

“Father taught me much about anatomy. You trust me, don’t you?”

Ryard thought at first it was a rhetorical question, but quickly realized, from her open, honest posture and the eagerness in her bicolored eyes, the earnestness of the query. The man opened his eyes and moved away from the wall, took a deep breath and nodded.

“Do it.”

She gingerly rolled up his sleeve. Ryard ground his teeth and shivered, initially from the pain, then from the shocking frigidity of her touch. Icy as a corpse. She briskly took his arm at a 90 degree angle away from his body and pulled firmly. The CAV-keep gave a muted howl as a dull snick issued from his joint. Humerus returned to socket. Tatter removed the thick scarf she had obtained from the warehouse, tied it together, tested the knot, draped the interim sling about Ryard’s neck and gently rolled his injured arm into it as he groaned.

“Better?”

He nodded.

“You fixed me, its only fair I do the same.” She smiled broadly and the man, despite his woe, could not but smile in kind.

At length, he adjusted the makeshift sling with his good arm and broke away from Tatter, eyes fearfully scanning the surrounding lot.

“Come on. We need to keep moving.”

The pair passed through a high, fenced passage that lead from the exit of the penitentiary to an adjacent multi-leveled shiftyard, characterised by large square mechanized lifts, which moved with muted metalline thrums, ferrying automated detention shuttles and supply CAVs to appropriate levels, some vanishing beneath street level, others rising to upper transport lanes. All moved in a regular, orderly hum.

As the duo arrived at the bottom of the ramp, Ryard stopped his companion, gesturing to the proliferation of detention shuttles patrolling the perimeter and withdrew a small obsidian chip from his coat pocket.

“They’re shuttles everywhere. They’ll be under the control of whoever Vangr brought in to hack the complex.” The man’s face grew somber “Unlikely we’ll make it out of here together. Take this. Its the tracker from my vehicle. Swallow it. If they take you, wherever they take you, I’ll be able to find you with this.”

“You want to split up?”

He nodded resolutely.

“I’ll distract them, get them chasing me. Create an opening. Run to the south. Don’t stop until you’re outside of the HEZ. If I can shake them, I’ll meet up with you in central sector.”

Tatter looked to the man with grave concern, brow creasing.

“Hey. You trust me, right?”

In reply, Tatter suddenly and wordlessly tossed the chip into her mouth, swallowed it and stared at her companion intently. Ryard offered a lopsided grin and then bolted down the ramp and out across the lot as the sensor stalks of the detention shuttles writhed to life, bending confrontationally in the runner’s direction. The silvery vehicles sped after the hasty figure and vanished amid the architecture’s cloying convolutions.

Tatter steeled herself and then began to jog briskly down the ramp, turning to the left exit whereupon she spied the bodies of several KSRU officers laying upon the ground. As Tatter gasped, something hard collided with the back of her head and the world blurred to black.

Tatter: Chapter 23

Previous chapter

One chair remained empty in the flickering Reiks Consortium boardroom. Ermin Gild stood attentively behind Chancellor Richter, silently observing the chamber occupants. Environmental Commissioner, Ponos Akantha. Economic Commissioner, Garlan Hayl. Security Commissioner, Galton Raka. Vilar Corp CEO, Julian Salis. Stellarin CEO, Telfyr Vays. Numerous secretaries, carrying capsule drinks and printed biscuits, moved in and out from the table, keeping their voices low and doing their best not to intervene in the council’s burgeoning discussions. Tensions simmered and discontent was clear-writ upon every creased and somber face.

Kryos was late.

Momentarily, the doors to the dim-lit chamber were pushed open by a young woman who held in her hands a firm yet pliable obsidian globule. Upon her belt she wore a small, silver scanner. She placed the globule upon the lone empty seat and removed the device from her belt. She pressed the machine to the amorphous mass upon the chair and held it there until a low and peculiar beep sounded from the scanner, whereupon the woman straightened, respectfully inclined her head to the council and retreated from whence she had come, hands behind her back. As the chamber doors hinged closed, the thing upon the chair twisted and quivered and rose, assuming the form of a man with a slender frame. Steadily, the obsidian coloration of the entity gave way to the pale palette of the human.

The spectre opened its eyes.

Terminated heliodor, lambent in the denim murk.

The chancellor raised her hand slightly, a call for silence, and turned to the porcelain spectre.

“Thank you for joining us, Mr. Kryos. I do appreciate how valuable your times is, given your commitments to the colonies. I take it your emissary briefed you on the nature of this meeting?”

Kryos’ avatar placed its hands upon the arms of the chair, palms down, and stared at the gleaming finish of the table.

“Few are the hours to act. No time remains for trivial, internecine dissent.”

“Errant disregard for law and order is hardly ‘trivial.'” Raka contended dourly, his hands flexing with agitation.

“Nor is your company’s rapacious extraction. The people demand more environmental oversight,” Akantha enjoined, leaning over the table with considerable animation.

“There are no resources that are not created. Order foremost among them. So it is order I prioritize. Inter arma enim silent leges.” Kryos responded evenly, without glancing to either of his detractors, his hands moving slowly over the tabletop, as if memorizing the subtle curvature of its dark and polished surface. He paused and looked at the domed ceiling. “What you decry shall be your salvation. Should you choose to listen.”

A murmur went up around the table. Raka shook his head as Vays arched a brow curiously.

“Salvation? What hubris…” Akantha proclaimed with a disdainful tilt of her graying head.

“Enough.” The chancellor shouted suddenly, straightening in her seat. “Let him speak.”

“Indeed.” Salis enjoined calmly. “We can’t criticize what we’ve yet to hear.”

“If we cannot govern ourselves, how can the public expect us to govern a city?” Vays interjected sardonically.

“I said enough. All of you. Now – Mr. Kryos – explain yourself.”

The spectre of Kryos looked from the tabletop to the surrounding faces, taking the measure of each with dispassionate perspicacity.

“The partisan grid attack was a diversion. Disruption of energy flows was not their aim – rather, the procurement of a synthetic virus. This event coincided with the theft of an object from one of my research bases. When combined with the aforementioned virus, the object would produce a bioweapon of considerable potency. One capable of eradicating all human life upon the continent.”

“W-what?”

“Why did you not come to us with this sooner?” The chancellor inquired, her stoicism giving way to grave concern and something else, twisting in her visage. Something that looked to Ermin very much like fear.

Kryos looked toward the woman without emotion. “I needed time to verify.”

“Time to verify what?”

“That the virus was manufactured by Vekt Corporation.”

Kryos held the chancellor’s gaze as the other members of the council looked to each other and then to Ermin Gild, who stood in the corner, hands in his pockets. His face bore faint traces of annoyance, but was elsewise impassive.

“Don’t look at me. I’ve no idea what he’s talking about.”

“Is it true?” The chancellor demanded.

Gild shrugged. “I don’t run the institute, I just fund it. Professor Grazen is the lead researcher there. I’ll speak with him immediately.”

“How can you not know?”

“I’m not a scientist, chancellor. I try to keep out of my researcher’s hair. Obviously, a investigation will need to be carried out. You shall have my full compliance, of course.”

“Good.”

The chancellor returned her attentions to the machinic phantom.

“You said this virus had the potential to wipe out all humans on the continent if it was combined with a piece of your technology. Explain.”

“That which was taken from me was a synthetic organism, purposed for prolonged deep space exploration. The nanites developed by Vekt specifically target living human cells. The cells of my creation are incompatible for replication of the nanites. The organism would thus prove a reliable long-duration carrier. Though it is not needed to transmit the nanites, which suggests the partisan’s goals are not continental, but global.”

“I don’t follow your reasoning.”

“If Aestival merely wished to infect the city, they would not have bothered stealing my creation.”

“Why is it you believe they stole it?”

“After Aestival’s first attack, they starkly laid out their desires. An end to civilization. All civilization. The single most extensive transport system is the intercontinental hydrorail, which finds its nexus in the deep colonies. Given these facts, I concluded their plan was to utilize my creation as a international carrier; infecting it with the virus, then releasing it into the city, given its sentience, under its own power, it would be swiftly discovered by my operatives and transported back to base; from there, infection would rapidly spread to all of the colonies, and once that happened-”

“It would be a global pandemic.”

“Yes.” The spectre paused, raising a hand to its left ear. Mask-like face creasing momentarily with intense focus. “Fortunately, my director has just located the aforementioned organism. I will have her forward all of you a brief of the situation.”

The chancellor nodded. “That would be helpful. Tell us, what course of action do you recommend, Mr. Kryos?”

“Keep the city open and the matter quiet.”

The chancellor opened her mouth to speak but was waylaid by Akantha, whose face bore traces of rising vexation.

“I’m surprised you’d pass up an opportunity to advance marshal law. I thought you liked playing God.”

“Human action is chiefly framed by ancestral duolithics. Natural, or Unnatural. Authentic, or Artificial. God, or Devil. Yet. Seldom are those revelatory spaces between known and unknown so mythopoetically enshrined.”

“I’m not talking about the history of human action, I’m talking about yours. Your hubris, your blithe effrontery to Nature.”

“Eyes preoccupied by looking do not see, Commissioner.”

The woman’s visage clouded with perplexity as the lights flickered once more and failed completely. Darkness fell across the room. Vays cursed under his breath as Akantha shouted to her attendant to see to the generator.

The spectre calmly observed the ire-contorted woman and gestured through the gloom, spreading his hands, visible only through the illumination of his wide, heliodoric eyes.

“This sightless pall, a paltry imitation of cosmic predilection. Shorn of the demense of Man. No eyes to spy the firmament. Nor hands to scrap it. No tongue to taste the ichor. Nor will to shape it.”

Moments later, power returned, bathing the room in azure luminescence.

Kryos was gone.

Fides Quae Creditur: Chapter Two

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Grinning skulls greeted Harrow upon his return from the promontory’s edge. Hunter’s trophies. He observed the grim, sunfaded relics and smiled at them and laughed. His isolated mirth far-echoing across the high ambit. When he had satisfied himself he turned from the cranial statuary and beheld Hunter standing before his shack, furs girding his shoulders, a dark leather hood shading his eyes. Harrow paused, surprised by the sudden appearance and tipped his threadbare hat to the man but recieved no reply and stood a moment, perplexed. At length, Hunter spoke, gravely and deliberately.

“Hase says you’re fixin on heading down to The Spine.”

Harrow nodded matter-of-factly.

“I suggest putting that notion out your head, if you wanna keep it.”

Harrow, unsure whether Hunter’s words were warning or threat, said nothing. The sky cracked and rain poured fat and fast, turning the soft clay ground into a transient mire. Hunter seemed unconcerned and stood looking critical and disturbed at the would-be itinerant. Harrow raised an arm over his head and, vexed at the man much as the weather, passed beyond the promontory margin and followed the thin, twisting cobblestone path that let out to a irregular plain where lay the borough proper. He made his way back to his cramped and windblown house and found his bow, carving knife and rucksack and made for the door once the rain had passed. The townsfolk peered at him from behind shutters, whispering with suspicion and sorrow and disdain and disbelief.

Harrow pulled his hat low over his head and flipped up his collar against the chill wind and quickened his pace, turning to the left and descending the wending path that let down the cliff. When he reached the bottom of the eroded sedimental exposure he found a stick from a decaying tree along the plain; he withdrew his knife from the sheath at his belt and carved it as he walked until it was slender, smooth and even to the touch and sharply pointed at one end.

Come nightfall, he bivouaked in a cave among the hillands which rolled out like great xanthous whales from the base of the bluff. He awoke at the break of dawn and caught a rabbit for breakfast, roasting it over a small fire with the stick he sharpened. When he had finished his meal he cleaned the lightly charred stick best he was able and continued toward the vast, stygian partition that slit the sky; a brand of esurient providence.

He traversed the hills to the north and emerged into a patchy and blasted heath were a faint trail was visible through rootrotted frass. At midday the wayfarer spied the form of a packhorse and a man atop it, moving steadily and slowly along the road. They stopped beside a large and withered tree where swarmed innumerable beetles, humming thick and black and cloying. The old plant bent towards the distant wall, as if drawn towards it by some eldritch compunction. About the trunks and the poor, course soil into which they slithered, lay the skulls of various animals and a curious totem.

Harrow hailed the man on the packhorse and the man waved and pulled the wide-eyed beast to a stop, dust hissing bout its hooves.

“Morning.”

“Morning,” The man on the packhorse said. He was stout, with a frazzled bread and a starchy hat, titled jauntily upon his head.

“Strange land.” Harrow declared, starring at the obsidian totem that appeared as a synthesis between centipede and serpent.

“Yes, sir. Dieback every which. Ground’s full-up with parasites. Ya haven’t drunk water hereabouts?”

“No, sir.”

“Recommend you abstain from doing so.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You headed to town?”

“Didn’t know there was no town up here. I’m headed north.”

“Towns along the way. Haven’t seen another soul in weeks. Not opposed to some company.”

Harrow considered the proposition and then nodded pleasantly. “Alright. What’s your name?”

“Walter Hoskins, and this here is Marybelle,” the man patted the neck of the horse, which whinnied and flicked its head. “And you, sir?”

“Ebner Harrow. Pleased to meet you.” He walked up to the horse which leaned down towards him, sniffing curiously, expectant of food. “And you too.”

The two men struck out together on the heath-bound road as morning passed to midday. The few trees which were visible upon the infertile plain were stag-headed as the former specimen, surrounded by droning hordes of tunneling beetles who seemed dedicated to unmake the world in their ravenous image.

After an hour and a half, the clouds coagulated and the wind blew in, as from an astral horn, harbingers of a hailstorm which grew so intense the itinerants bolted from the path to a ruined shrine to the north-west and there shut up against the savagery of the sky. Their skin stinging from the impact of the hailstones. The shrine was large and composed of cracked and sun-leeched stone that had sunk unevenly into the ground such that the left half was lower than the right. Around it were large stone lanterns, where fire had long since absented. As the storm raged, Harrow searched the inner sanctum of the shrine and discovered another totem, identical to the one by the tree he had previously passed. He brought the small statue from the sanctum to the outer veranda where Walter stood, starring out into the ice battered plain. The hiss of hail and the irregular clacking of the horse the only sounds.

“What’s that?”

“Dunno. Some kind of… idol. Found it inside. Seen another one along the road.”

“Thinkin its religious?”

Harrow shrugged.

“Could be. Was in the sanctum.”

Walter extended his hand for the thing and turned it round, studying the dark object. Then he grimaced and handed the statue back to Harrow.

“I don’t like the look of it.”

Harrow gazed down at the artifact and smiled slightly.

“I think its fascinating.”

Fides Quae Creditur: Chapter One

The sun beat down the crumbling, moss-covered stone against which the two men leaned, looking off into a great recess. They stared idly from the outskirts of the docile, decaying hamlet of Kraevn at the misted distance of the declining wilds, and as they did, a chill wind swept in from the south, jostling their tattered, patchy clothes and carrying with it a fulsome insectal drone, which swallowed up the village’s juvenescent melody, as if appetent of joy’s consumption.

“What’s beyond The Spine?” The young man inquired, gesturing to the great stone bulwark which jutted from the horizon like a monstrous, antediluvian carcass.

“Ain’t nothing there.” The old man declared firmly, his raspy voice half-lost to the zephyr’s rising hum.

“There must be something.”

“How’d you know? You aint never been beyond The Spine. No one has. Ain’t nothing there.”

“No such thing as nothing.”

“How’s that?”

“Nothing is something we don’t have other words for.”

The old man turned and spat and looked towards his younger companion with sympathy and disapproval mingling in the frosted gray of his fading eyes.

“Fool notions rattling round that head a’yours, Harrow.”

“Maybe. But consider this: You can’t make a fool of a plant.”

The old man shook his hoary head and shambled haggard back to town. Harrow remained; gazing out across the skyline’s sanguine sprawl. His gestures pregnant with rising ambition.

Rain began to fall and somewhere the deathrattle of an animal sounded as dead thickets thrummed into the chasm beyond the low stone fence; as smokestack clouds roiled and cracked above the scene of slow calamity. The abyssal castanets tore the man from his obdurate perch and sent him trudging back toward the bluff-born borough’s paltry warmth.

To Harrow, the ether’s fomentations were as a malediction.

A black mark upon his soul.

Tatter: Chapter 14

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The skytech adjusted her coat against the chill night air, fingers moving with practiced ease over the wires athwart southern block, connecting com-links and checking the mini-generators that kept the sector running. Her craft ejected a sharp, slow beep. Power low. End of shift. She pocketed her scanner and multi-ratchet and steered the vehicle to street level. She docked the modular hovercraft in the local shift-garage, which lowered beneath the ground after vessel-securance. As the woman left the garage, she checked the time and prospective night weather patterns on her wristband, whereupon a boy, lost deep in thought and moving with great animation, nearly collided with her.

“Careful!”

“Sorry. I was looking for you.”

The boy’s voice was instantly familiar to the woman, though his face was shaded in the dimness of the shiftyard.

“Graf. What are you doing walking around at this hour? Haven’t you heard about the attack? I called you earlier. I was worried sick.”

“I’d heard. I’m fine. Alder doesn’t like me taking calls when I’m learning. Didn’t mean to worry you.”

“You know its dangerous to be walking alone.”

He looked away a moment. Contemplative.

“I know. I was waiting for the director.”

“Director?”

“Vera Straker. Haven’t you heard of her?”

The skytech arched a brow and crossed her arms below her breasts.

“What have I told you about fibbing.”

“I’m not fibbing. I met her today.”

The skytech walked a little down the road, the boy following and looking up to the moon with a faint smile. Lind furrowed her brow. He did not appear to be lying.

“What was the director of Kryos Industries doing at the docks? Their higher ups rarely go topside.”

“I dunno. She didn’t say.”

“Why do you look so pleased, little scamp?”

“Because, she’s gonna show me her ship. I just didn’t know when she’d be returning. Forgot to ask.”

“Her ship?”

“Its a cruiser class shuttle. From the Progenitor.”

“Well, lucky you.”

Lind smiled broadly as the boy looked longingly off towards the docks, obscured by the cloistering residential district. She knew how much this meant to the boy, fascinated as he was by all things nautical.

She guided the mirthful youth down the street to the southern quarter where her tenement lay. For the past three years, the high, gray block had functioned as Graf’s temporary home. They moved up inside, past the old security guard who wished them good night, to the second floor and from there to the tenth door to the left. Lind unlocked the door to her cramped apartment whereupon the automatic lights whirred to life, casting the sparsely furnished abode in bluish glow. Scarcely was she through the door before her transmitter began ringing. As the boy made himself instacake from the rehydration cupboard, Lind spoke into the device.

“Hello?”

“Is this Lind Howell?”

“Yes.”

“This is Martha MacAllen from Vilar Corp. I’m calling concerning Ryard Vancing. Our archive shows he’s a friend of yours.”

“Y-yes. He is. What happened?”

“He did not return after his shift was over. Nor has his lev-han returned. Which suggests its protocol was overridden. His vehicle and personal transmitter were also untethered from the network, so we’ve been unable to contact him. Do you happen to know where he is?”

“No. I haven’t heard from him since yesterday. But Ryard wouldn’t do something like that without a good reason.”

“If you learn anything I hope you’ll let us know. You can contact me through this number.”

“I will. I… I’ve gotta go.”

She closed out the line and scrolled to Ryard’s avatar on her affin module.

She called.

No answer.

She turned to behold Graf watching her with concern.

“Is Ryard alright?”

“I don’t know, but I intend to find out.”

Tatter: Chapter 13

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Vogel adjusted his body armor and checked the drone-links as the sun vanished beneath the silhouette of the city he had dedicated his life to. Units East, West and South showed no anomalies. Street and sky were quiet. He flipped to North Unit. Heat signatures at warehouse N-E-03. Unusual. He accessed his wrist-bound nexus module and checked the local history: Former Stellarin property, now abandoned, awaiting demolition. Currently owned by Vekt Co. Someone was trespassing.

The man turned to his partner and tilted his forearm, proffering the screen.

“Weber, take a look at this.”

“Think we should check it out?” Weber asked languidly as he surveyed the screen from where he leaned against the wall of the local credit processor.

“Yeah.”

“Think it could be Aestival?”

Vogel shook his head, “Seems unlikely. Place is too out in the open. Heavily trafficked. If I was planning a terror attack, and I was looking for a cache or temporary base, I’d select somewhere more secluded.”

“Maybe they’re just stupid.”

“Execution of the grid attack was evil, but it wasn’t stupid. No. Its not Aestival. Probably just vagrants. Migrants from Eastern Federation, or orphans.”

“Probably.”

“Leaning isn’t very professional.”

Weber sighed and pushed off the wall, “I bet you’re great at parties.”

“I am, actually. Wife’s planning one this Friday. You should come.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Allie wants to meet you. Two months we’ve been together and you haven’t even come over for a drink.”

“Just didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes.”

“Pff. No chance.”

The men turned down the sidewalk towards the old industrial district where the warehouse lay.

“Now that I’m looking at this closer… one of the signatures is a person but… I don’t know what the other one is.”

“Looked like two people earlier.” Weber replied casually.

Vogel furrowed his brow and frowned, “It moves like one but-”

“But what?”

“Its cold.”

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Tatter: Chapter Nine

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Tyser Lanning woke with a start and spat blood. Pain pulsated irregularly throughout his body. His face, swelling and slick with red. Hands, bound with synthetic ties. A man leaned back on a chair, feet up on a wide wooden table set before the prisoner, carving a pomegranate with a glistening combat knife.

“Well, my sucker punchin’ Tangerine’s finally awake. Have a nice nap?”

The speaker leaned forward into the light splayed across the center of the table from a portable lamp hung from the ceiling. The face, heavily scarred; half his teeth, metal. Hair cropped. Eyes the color of rusted blood.

“You’re Farlige Vangr.”

“Well, how bout that. My reputation proceeds me.”

“The reputation of a traitor.”

“Don’t get too sanctimonious. Heard yours ain’t all that lustrous either.”

“Why am I still alive?”

“Dead men make poor leverage.”

“So I’m to be bait?”

“Better to be a worm than fodder for ‘um.”

Lanning cast the net of his gaze left, then right; the room was completely barren. The only entry and exit point, a locked metal door. A loud whirring and faint male voices emanated from near distance.

“Wasting your time looking for an exit. You’re not going anywhere. Presently, neither am I, thanks in no small part to those company friends of yours, who’re almost certainly relaying word of your failure and disappearance to Straker as we speak. If I hadn’t known bout them – hell, things really coulda went sideways. Thirty men? Overkill, don’t ya think? Straker was always thorough. Never one to take extraneous chances. She’d probably have deployed more if they could be spared. Thing I wanna know is, why you went in to retrieve the specimen alone? Why not wait for backup. You knew it was comin’. Looking to earn something? Glory?”

“Wreckage from the grid attack blocked the fastest CAV-lane. Had to loop around. Didn’t know how long the courier was gonna be there. Had to make a move. What’s it matter now?”

A scream erupted. Male, high and sustained. Then silence. Vangr licked the pomegranate juice off his blade and gestured to the door with the slick, sanguine utensil.

“That medical operator messed up one of my men. Jones. Told um to reset his bones. Make sure they heal properly so he can take off that courier’s head next time they meet.”

“He’s a nobody.”

“Then he won’t be missed.”

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