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the latest installment of my book
Chapter 11-Requiem for a Nightmare


tRASH-FILLED ALLEY, STICKY SCUM PASTED OVER THE ROTTING BRICKWORK. pUDDLES; FOUL, ROTTEN, DISTURBED BY THE PASSAGE OF RED PUMPS. tHE EXCHANGE OF DRUGS, MONEY. bEADY EYES FLICKING NERVOUSLY TOWARD A SLIGHTLY OPEN DOORWAY DOWN THE STREET.

tHUD. bRAINS, LIQUID SPLATTERED ON A GRAFFITI'D WALL. aBSTRACT IMPRESSIONISM. A RED-HAIRED TEENAGE BOY SLUMPS LIFELESSLY, EYES GLAZED; SKULL CRACKED. sLURP... cRANIAL CAVITY EXPLODES, THICK FLUIDS SPRAY. a RED PUMP EMERGES FROM THE BLOODY MESS, DRIPPING GREY. pLOP. pLOP. tHE SUCCESSIVE TAP TAP OF HEELS CLICKING UNHURRIEDLY AWAY. a LIPSTICK-LACED CIGARETTE BUTT FALLS TO THE MOTTLED, LEPROUS SKIN OF THE STREET, STILL BURNING. cAMEL wIDE.


.....

Thump...thump. Kali started into wakefulness, an aluminum film on her tongue. Her candy cane-painted fingers curled around sweat-soaked sheets. overhead droned a lazy yet noisome fan. Just a dream.

She sat up, staring around the cramped space of the hotel room. Awake. A yellowed bulb, attached to the base of the ceiling fan, swung in a mockery of concentric circles. Shadows shifted like waves being pulled toward the moon. And Ebon was gone.

Thump...thump. The noise widened her eyes, made her jump; she clutchedeven tighter onto those soiled linens. She saw a shape move near the source of the sound. "Ebon," Kali called, attempting vainly to dilate her pupils farther, pierce the shifting shadows.

There. A face. Gone. Thump...thump.

Again the face. His. Pale, fringed by curls of starless twilight. Vanished.

Thump...thump.

His body swung, stiff with glass-eyed death, a morbid pendulum. A thick rope was tied around his neck, fetal hangman's knot. Attached to the elliptical light fixture. The body hit the wall, turning slowly, and arced back to the bed. Like some scene from a slaughterhouse. 20/20 special. Her lover was the meat in question.

Thump...thump. Blood trickeled from fileted wrists, pooling in clumps and lethargic puddles on the once-beige carpeting of Room 213. She lit a cigarette and turned away. Draw a blank.

What a mess that would be to clean up...

.....

Sunlight filtered through shabby eggshell-hued curtains, turning the backs of Kali's eyelids crimson. She blinked at the intrusion, pulling a pillow over her face and groping blindly with her free hand for the smokes. After a fruitless search whose highlight was the spilling of half a shot glass full of whiskey and butts, she resignedly threw the pillow into a corner and looked around. No blood on the carpet, just curdled ash. No lover's corpse placidly swinging. Just the curtains.

Just a dream.

A sudden tidal wave of nausea flooded Kali's consciousness and, dizzy with withdrawal, she tottered naked and filthy to the unlit bathroom. Volcaninc vomit erupted from her throat. Haggus and cabbage, trimmed in cherry. Breakfast of champions. Shower; steam, water, soap. Good. She stood under the hot torrent for long minutes, fighting the urge to be sick again. Oblivious to anything but her splitting headache. An eternity of dizzied retching later she stepped out, dried off with an overstarched hotel towel. She felt better.

Nemore dressed slowly in fishnet/leather knockout combo, absently picking at a large lake of puss and scab on the inside bend of her elbow. No pain, no pleasure.

She noticed a note on the chipped pressboard nightstand, accompanied by a tar-stained ashtray overflowing with crushed cigarettes. Kali raised a skeptical eyebrow, edging towards a sneer. Since when did Ebon leave love notes?

Stenciled in flowing black ink on the small slip of paper, the words: Tonight. Black Chrome. BYON.
-Ebon

Kali dug an unfinished cigarette from the ashtray, soaking it between still-damp fingers. "Bring my own needle, huh?"




chapter 12-Hollywood

Ariel woke. Daylight struck, armed with blue skies and sunshine. She lay sprawled on the side of the road, grass soft and spry against her back. It was hot. Hot was just a concept before this moment in Ariel's existence. Too bad it wasn't real.

Slowly the girl clambered to her feet, staring around wistfully. It was perfect in appearance, like an old 2-d parody of life and interaction before the Wars. Her father used to watch shows with scenery like this in the ancient archives of telnet sensocast. She would stay up as long as she could, plugged into the same program, until she'd fall asleep with her helmet still on. The scene in front of Ariel now raped that little girl's fantasy world. Anything that would destroy a child's dreams just for aesthetic pleasure was evil. Plain and simple.

She walked, higher around a winding bend, noticing the yellowed letters splayed across the hillside above llike broken teeth. Hollywood. Once, she remembered, they made films here. Once laughter and love, sorrow were created here. Now, all Hollywood held was death. The factory was here, an epicenter for the sinister brooding of technology. A limb of the great Cthulian nightmare right in front of her.

And then, she saw it. Sweat and tears burned her vision as Ariel looked down towards the Leviathon. A steep descent leveled off into a series of barren valleys. Smokestacks and blistered warehouses squatted menacingly amongst the hills, seeming to suck the very life from the land surrounding. Overhead whizzed strange contraptions, bulletlike and shining in the blinding technicolor alloys of modern science. Among the cars flew even stranger creations, 8-legged drones of huge proportions whose carapaces were lined in ferro-fibrous barring. Black netting clung to limbs like spiderweb parachutes, rustling and whipping against the self-generated wind.

These creatures of haunted hallows flew on condensed carbondioxiheliotide pressure currents toward the loading docks of the mills. Their cargo:homo-sapien-sapien.

"AAAAAAAhhhhh!" Rage caught the skeletal girl mid-stride and she sprinted down the steep incline at devil-may-cry speeds, barely slowing when she twisted an ankle on an oxygen purifier vent, one of many that catacombed her city. Her nemesis was in sight. She would gain vengeance for those innumerable wrongs done against her and humankind, no matter the cost!


.....

The Vagabond, robes billowing in the artificial breeze, set his face in stoic lines over the scene below. Foolish child. She would throw herself uselessly at the processing mills, incurring a suicide wish granted. Should prove engaging.

Stepping off a precipice, the man? plummeted toward the valley floor.He would aid her...For curiosity's sake. He was only mildly interested in her grand cause, whatever the goal of this futile gesture. Maybe a suicide sit-in for the emancipation of condemned criminals? He caught sight of attack droids, wasplike flitting robots armed with light gatling weaponry. They rose from the factory floor in v formation, answering the miniscule threat tokenly.

The warrior scanned the field, adjusting his descent path slightly. It would be most profitable to intersect the female child's path, silmultaneously targeting several of the approaching offensive drones.

.....

Ariel set her jaw grimly as half a dozen retrieval drones rose out of the dust, steel exoskeletons glistening blindingly in the sunlight. Whiplike electrified nets cracked around menacingly in the open air. Small faces in the belly of the beast stared out hopelessly, crammed by the score into the large torsal cavity. All human and behind bars. A mobile jail cell.

Behind and above the skittering forms of the drones flitted dozens of bladelike flashes. Annodized ultrium, no doubt. The factory's first line of defense. And still Ariel walked, strong and proud. She passed the meridian line of green-to-brown, entering the cracked mud flats of this valley. From ground level the processing plant shimmered like a grim mirage, seeking a firmer hold on the sane world.

And she saw Him. He floated down, arms extended, on a wave of shining air. The Being looked like a worldly angel with his flowing and fluttering dun robes and perfectly bronzed features. His seamless pate shone in the textile sun, casting a bright white light about his visage. He was barefoot.

The girl, rags swirling in individual miniature whirlpools, fell to her bony knees and wept. She cried tears of joy. Salvation was at hand!


.....

The enigmatic monk landed in a defensive, cat-like crouch. Dust settled about his immobile form in a light haze. Cold, emotionless eyes studied the scene before him. Calculating. Working at fifty-five percent capacity, the warrior was perfect-targeted on five of the approaching attackers. Six more were within minimum efficiency capacity. He would be able to deal with the remainder with minimum spend and optimal proficiency.

Now, for the girl.

He performed a periphery reference on the weeping, tattered figurine. This "ally" would prove mosre hindrance than aid in a dogfight. So he whispered, "Hush," in soft and sibilant undertones.

Doe-eyed, the filth-encrusted transient stared up...up..to his face, mouth working with minimum efficiency to form communicative language. "W-who are you?"..."What are you?" Religious experience was a common coping tool for the average human psyche. He noticed a sheen of madness in her black-ringed eyes. Common enough among the indigenous peoples of this world.

"A friend," he stated for the purpose of optimal positive feedback. "Stay behind me and no harm will come your way." The drones had crawled well into range, and the fluttering weapons on the near horizon soon would be. He raised a completely unwrinkled hand toward the nearest drone, as if to motion "halt."


.....

Too late. Ariel's realization of the strange man's identity. Too late. She screamed for him to stop what he was doing. There were people in there! People that needed to be lifted from their shackles!

The hulking robot burst into flaming shrapnel, along with the 20 meters of ground below. Metal fused with circuitry, flesh sizzled and evaporated, boned melding to machinery in a large molten hunk. Food... No! The only sound was the woosh of incredible heat, a heat which sucked the sickened scream right from her mouth. That bastard was no angel! He was the harbinger of Sin, as bad as the machine itself!


.....

The Vagabond's impact detection systems identified the pounding of small, meaty objects on his right forearm. A shrill octave snapped his olfactory receptors to stiff attention, causing him to shudder involuntarily. "What are you doing? You murdered those people! They were innocent! You demon..." He automatically blocked the frequency of her mindless utterences from the receptors. Just for sport's sake, though, he would avoid unnecessary casualties from this point on.

Boom! Boom! The echoing blast of mortar rounds launching as the factory's defensive systems kicked into full swing.


.....

Ariel stared dully past the electrified cords of the closest retrieval drone. They snapped and twisted toward the oblivious girl, flinging static charge through the air. Whoosh! The matte black tendrils now flopped along the ground, severed cleanly from the main body. The whirring whine of turbineschurned through the valley's acoustical curves as the drone rocketed into the air, mechanical forearms ticking counterclockwise as nucleotides activated.

In the next instant it dropped to the earth like a thrown rock, cracking with a boom and sendinga cloud of brown and clinging dust into the tepid air. The faint smell of oils wafted into Ariel's flaring nostrils. A moment later, a huge half-sphere of metal and circuitry crashed to the earth in the shadow of the Stranger.

Crrrrnch! The man landed on top of the relatively enormous dome, veins pulsing in downward motion. The drone's severed head burst into a million glasslike shards, glittering in slow motion through the dirty air.

As the Stranger sprang forward into the reaching pistons of his next opponent, Ariel scuttled woodenly toward the collapsed metal husk of the headless drone. The rich aroma of cooked meat filled her sucking nostrils and triggered salivary production. As she approached closer, the smell got stronger, until as she was climbing the cylindrical torso, she barely remembered to note the small round smiley face logo. Neon yellow. "Have a Nice Tomorrow" was the pitch, "L.C." the signature.

She'd remember. Ariel continued clambering up the precipitous and slippery surface towards cage bars. The smell of food drove her to climb harder, faster, to the very limits of her endurance. Food!


.....


The blue flicker in his peripheral sight warned the Vagabond of overheating in his infrastructure, indicating the necessity of a profitable core-purge. He accepted the system command rather than face significant losses in efficiency.

Great blasts of chaff radiation, proven harmless to organics but fatal to any electronics system, erupted from his semi-porous epidermal layer in a 360 degree blast, tremor after tremor of electromag pulses preceding and following. The remaining active drones swizzled to atrophy, slumping to the earth lifelessly. Their internal workings were fried beyond hope of repair. A white readout flashed on the corner of his vision. Purge complete.


.....

Ariel let loose a broken wail, torn from her chest by the sight beneath her. A dozen bodies, charred to a crisp, cracked skin stretched taut over brittle muscles. The nameless, gruesome corpses seemed to scrabble at invisible boxes. Hands frozen, twisted charcoal faces looking a lot different from the smiley logo she'd just seen. Just can't trust advertising.

There wasn't enough meat left to feed a small rat! Death without purposewas one of the greatest evils. And she was even more starved than before, equally sickened by her desire to EAT! She slumped, stoop-shouldered, letting herself slide down the cracker barrel chest. A dozen people or more, all dead. Inedible. Those infernal drones must have some form of extermination device as a failsafe from freeing captives upon dissemination.

In that moment of utter horror, she knew. She could finally see clearly the face of the horrid mechanism that sought to subjugate and destroy mankind. Technology's true name was....Mother.


.....



Pistons pumped, thighs erupting across the corpse littered grounds, churning toward the metal-laced sky. Past husks of lifeless robots, whose cracked shells spilt the macabre prize of burnt bodies, jacks strewn across the sidewalk. The grim mercenary charged. A blur of mind's-eye conception passed and he was there. His targeting systems pulsed the living indigo of lethal lock, and incendiary cannons pumped corrosive stars, backblast scorching the riven earth to wormholed mud; then glass.

Burning debris filtered to the ground like falling torches, all that was left of those waspish attack droids.

And then the first wave of mortars hit, churning the world to chaos.


Under this paraplegic waste of life
We cry for a reason
To end the contempt, the bitterness
And claw now at our self-made iron cages
Humanic waste of rectangles
Imprisoned in our bitter sins
We fall into inane nightmares
And why don't we push it away?
And why don't we chop it all down?
Brush it into our fires of lack of diversity
Fear the unknown
And flee from the animal inside all of you

Excerpt from Magdalena's "rEvolution Frankenstein Revelations"




Chapter 13-big macs are made out of people! People!


"Who, exactly, is Tobias Lusk?" The question of the hour; paradigms anonymous.

"Mr. Lusk happens to be a former security networks design engineer for the Lumier Corporation. He wrote the code." Rose, seductive in her jawbreaker lipstick and matching skirt, red as usual, smiled across the M-engraved tabletop. The remnants of a Quarter Pounder, cumplete with crumpled yellow wrapper, lay rather ominously on the table in front of her. She'd just eaten somebody.

"And this guy wants to give us the code...why?" Race, ever the skeptic, spoke as sardonically as he could around a mouthful of Big Mac. Common knowledge: hamburgers, fries, even the sesame-sprinkled bun were formed of reconstituted human tissue. Good stuff, too. A step up from the congealed grease that passed for meals in the previous century's fast food enterprise.

"Think how you'd feel," Rose countermanded. "Create the most secure firewall in known netspace out of a fossilized trinary codal set, nurse it to life exobyte by endobyte; and, finally, just as your greatest masterpiece is completed you get kicked to the curb with nothing but a residuals income to show for it." She pursed her lips an raised an eyebrow, a personal declaration of her superior wisdom. As if saying, 'Brevy that, Racey-boy.' "What would you do?"

Atkins nodded reluctant assent (reticent only because he knew she was keeping score). "I'd find the first auctee who wanted the info and pawn off everything I know at a premium, right down to the name of the I.T. guy who spilled coffee on the plug-in domain blueprint." Despite his acknowledgements, still he had the nagging suspicion that this whole thing could be an underfire Fi-guy operation to bring him down. The savvy servo-junkie wasn't taking any chances. That was Harold's bag. After what had happened with Angel and her "associates", Race had begun carefully counting his half-lifes. There's only so far a man can crawl before he runs out of mud. Didn't seem luck was his department anyway, what with the ergonomically insubstantial swirling cesspool his narrow skull had been suddenly shoved into. Where was that lucky die Harold had given him, anyway? Thoughts scattered before the roaring dischord of his mind.

Then: look, look out of the plate glass window that lined their wall booth in precision overscores. He wiped grease-spattered fingers on his grime-smeared t-shirt. An errant thought emerged from the morass: I should have this thing Neutrino-cleansed. Maybe I'll just use the incinerator. It was a bright, clear day outside, a halo of cascading sunlight striking the trademark yellow double arches, fading to a sussuration of cerulean in the cloudless skies.

Hard to remember it was all just a big holograph on days like this, stretched thin across the sprawling E-matrix of L.A.'s business and residential districts. He didn't like remembering. Made him feel claustrophobic. "And this guy wanted to meet us at McDonald's?" A smirk creased Race's concave jowls.

"Can you think of a more inconspicuous establishment? For Man's sake, sacker moms take their kids here after stim-sessions." Again, the data-jack had to concede the point. His eyes glanced to the multiplaned chronograft rising like a puckered mountain from the skin of his left wrist. Thought: Damn, I'm bony. He could barely see the sutures where vat-grown epedermal layering had been stretched and skeined over the complex pneumonics and metalwork of of an artificial arm. His entire left hemisphere had been reconstructed from sample tissues and ritzy engineering. He should be dead. Regrets...

A fuckload of nifty little upgrades had come part and parcel. Pretty cool, barring the downside: his worst enemy was now a magnet. A serious disadvantage given the fact that his entire habitat was electromagnetically contained. One glitch in his government-mandated EMP disruptor injections and no more cyber freak. Add the fact that he'd been laced with more tripcords and booby traps than an old Indiana Jones flatframe, and he could give or take the razor filament wrist weapon, infrared/UV optical boosters, and pistonlike power that came with mechanized fingers. A dubious boon, weighed against his figurative HELL! Besides, Race didn't spend much time in the world where they'd do him any good. The cybersphere was the place to be.

Everything he had was illegal, of course. He didn't give a fuck. In a day and age where it was an hourly, legal ritual to consume human flesh yet still taboo to engage in mass-market stem cell production (taboo meaning punishable by a scenic tour of the inner workings of the recombination vats of his city's beloved processing plant), Atkins found some slight difficulty in holding any nature of respect for the Law.

"He's thirty minutes late already," moaned the thoroughly disinterested core-jockey. "And I need a cigarette." Standing up, he grabbed the crinkled pack of Lucky Strikes from his junk filled jacket, thrown over the rigid backbone of a stainless aluminum stool/chair halfbreed. It swiveled.

Rose watched him go silently, sucking on a cup of New Coke (now more dopamines with every sip!) in lieu of response. Whirlpool eyes tracked his progress.

Once through the swirling blue vortex of her stare, (the door swiveled, too) Race sucke din a breath of oxygen-enriched recirculated air. The breeze wafted the ozone stench of electric charge. Well, it was better than being around the girl.

He stuffed A crooked, filterless smoke between chopped-up lips, letting his saliva trigger the tailor made autolight mechanism, and took a long drag. Sometimes he just couldn't figure Rose out. Just this morning they'd made love in her townhouse. Just now she was strictly business partner attache. Blow out, a cloud of steam emerges, edged by a sigh, thins out and disperses before the sound. Hapless manling tilts domepiece skyward. He should be used to it by now. After all, they were part-time lovers, as she liked to explain. Whatever the hell that meant. He just didn't get it. In his world, the world of sanity, there were lovers and there were business partners. Rose was both and none, and never at the same time. He'd never got Schroedinger's Cat. Dead? Dating? Alive? Not? What?

Women.

Ash filtered toward the gravity well from the burning tower of his addiction, and Race wondered absently if he were just her metaphorical cigarette. She'd use him 'til he burned her fingers, then snuff him out and light a new one. Burning Man brand.

Inwardly, he congratulated himself for wittiness.

Why not use him? Everybody else was doing it. Even fucking downtime chat programs managed to find a way. He smiled ruefully as the cigarette seared his own orange-stained fingers, fore and middle. Flick. It sailed, end over end, scrambling through smoke-hazed mid-afternoon. He hated waiting.


.....

Short, thin, bespectacled and bushy-browed, all Tobias Lusk seemed to be missing was the proverbial pocket protector. His overlarge nose and wiry brown mop of hair, characteristic of stamped and certified Semitic lineage, only enhanced the Poindexter reminiscence. He was very solemn, dirt-dauber eyes bloodshot and ringed by blue-black circles. Atkins vaguely recollected a rotating baggage circle, childhood airport memory.

The man was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Race knew the symptoms. The shakes, twitches, nervous chuckles. Oh yeah. Lusk was gonna blow..and soon. The only remaining question was 'how'.

He'd seen it happen once before. First person perspective. Maybe he'd enjoy the show better from the stands...




Chapter 14-gunmetal

Dr. Randy Jones stared at a blip on a screen. Strange as hell. Regular as clockwork. Blue.

Ever since he'd been commisioned to MilSat 1, he'd gotten used to strange.

Here he was, moving around in .5 gee, near-center of the spinning hodge-podge of scrap metal that comprised the base's exoskeleton. More flotsom drifted outside like bleached bones, dancing in camouflage space-waltz to the symphonic direction of a deaf government. A hundred thousand miles from Earth. A hundred thousand miles from Jeanne and the kids.

Damn if he didn't miss his family.

He felt sorry for Her in a way. Project EVA, hanging near-vertical in a suspension harness. Young enough to be his kid. A test puppet for the Lumier pyramid. Yeah, almost a damned shame. Except when she came in, she'd been loopier than the planetary ring.

His distraction was intercepted by another blip on his control monitor. This one was red. And rapid. Somebody was entering the airlock to his apartments. Someone with authorization. Just what he needed.

Seconds later, the chamber door let out a hiss of depressurization, revealing...the caricature of a bulldog (one of the multifarious extinct indigenous species of Earth). Crew cut, starched and pressed white-on-black United Arms uniform. Silver eagle above the zig-zag lapels. Welcome to the world of Colonel Isaac Avery. Small, ain't it? The man was military intel through and through, right down to the swooping brow and undeveloped prefrontal lobe. "How's it going, sir?"

Avery was now absently perusing the pages of charts on Jones' discarded I-vid. Military intelligence, the theniosurgeon thought offhandedly...now that was a classic contradiction of terms. He rewarded himself with a smug inward grin. Avery grunted as he finished looking through the grids. "Looks like she's stabilized rapidly since we initiated cyclical curving procedures now, doesn't it doc?"

Jones managed a slight nod and a good job sir without bursting into laughter. Cyclical curves? No, shooting concetrated blades of gamma radiation at the girl's head was definitely not what made her mentally sound. He was quite sure of that. "It appears there is only one remaining psychological anomaly. So far it has proved unplottable, unsourced despite my best efforts."

What had helped were the treatments of superimposing slight shades of transience on her physical mind he had so delicately constructed and applied daily. Gradient levels were necessary. Like applying fresh skin to a burn victim. This had accomplished the beleaguering task of of balancing neurowave impulses to both hemispheres of her brain. Speaking in layman's terms, it corroborated logic and passion. From that point her own mind would be able to put the pieces back together.

As a result of his delicate procedures, #0001000, acronym EVA; showed a huge spike in mental activity and logistics capacity, potential I.Q. well above genius level. The result of Avery's procedures, on the other hand, were a series of cancerous cists and lesions developing on the epidermis of her cranium. A few vital organs had developed tumorous growths as well. Luckily, Jones had been able to blast the cancer out with a fine-toother cathode lazor-comb, but EVA would still suffer from early heart problems and bone marrow deficiences later on in life. If she was given one at all.

"Right," interceded Avery. "You work on that problem. Send me a dossier on her progress. We need her operational in 720 hours."
Again, the words military intelligence came to mind. Chuckling to himself, Jones bade farewell to the boorish colonel and wandered along the hospital-harsh corridors of his "private" apartments. It was dinner time, just about, but he decided to make a final check on his daughterlike patient before moping to his quarters for the evening.

It was a lonely life, up here. Especially considering everybody you know and love thinks you're dead. And you might as well be for all you'll ever see them again. An unbidden tear stains the starched white of well-pressed lab coat. Might as well be dead.


.....

A small room, silver patina, demarcated by a single plastic chair and single comchord. Secure thin-fin directly to the man himself. Only two people knew of this room. The first entered quickly, silently, through a wall that simply wasn't there, and sat. Too dark to make out who.

The second man flickered to staccato life as the first shoved a thin wire directly into his eye. It was dark there, too.

"How proceeds Project Gunmetal?" Man #2 gestures as a shadow, the motion meaningless in half-light.

"Phase Two is nearly completed. Prep for Phase Three has begun. Notify your staff to keep interest in consumer export/import increases. The bidding will commence once the market caps at domestic limit."

"Very well, then. Proceed."

The suttle grey of excommunicado...



chapter 15-tearing at the seams

Click. Click. The sound of heels against cold, checkered tile. Flourescent lighting, blank, glaring, gave a cheap feel to it all. One tub flickered constantly, buzzing in annoyingly random rythmic undertones.

Pepsi. Smokes. The exchange of cash with one of those gawky, awkward school boy types, pimple-faced and squeaky. Out the door before he could try to strike up conversation. Repulsive little bugger.

Within moments the cigarette pack has been breached, lucky flipped, and a Camel Wide droops from black-smudged lips.

Snikt. Snikt. Two quarters drop into the coinslot of a payphone screwed to the brick wall storefront. Half-remembered digits flow through polished fingertips, resulting in a dial tone, then ring. After the fourth such an answering machine skips haltingly to life. "Hey, this is Bernie. If I'm not here and just trying to avoid you, I'm either dead or trying my damned hardest not to be, so it's your gamble if you wanna leave a message. Don't be stupid." Beep.

A sudden chill swept through Kali's nerves. Dead. The wide-gauged Camel tumbled unnoticed from nerveless fingers. Had she really killed him? Bernie always answered the phone. She gave him good head. That was one of the reasons why she got stuff from him so much. Not that she cared, other than the convenience.

Then, she shrugged. He was just a dope dealer. Fuck it.

.....

She had to run. Someone was chasing her. Something. A heel snapped, and she kicked off her shoes. There was too much blood on them, anyway. Car lights danced dizzily ahead, zooming past to reveal, for an instant, faces. Nobody cared. She was painted crimson, but nobody cared.

Rain, pelting away rivulets of red, soon soaked her shivering form. Still, she ran. Her overcoat opened, revealing the glistening ivory curves of breast and thigh. Still, nobody cared.

Finally, she fell. The rough wet sand of the Chesapeake Bay clung to her quaking body, accompanied by the acrid odor of brine and rotting wood. She would be safe under the dock. Safe.

Curled into herself, a tight ball of mascara and flesh, Kali sank into dark slumber, swirls of blood eddying in the breakwaters behind her eyelids.

.....

Yellow sky, streaked in great gashes of crimson cloud. Silver streaks flitted among shaggy cumulous. Occassionally a bright flash would harvest a swath amongst winged combatants, sending a few hurtling in flaming cacaphonic silence toward the crumpled ground. The ground which revealed the aspect of brittle metal, forged in the heat of a furnace sun, still roiling as the star died. Frozen into iron folds and seams ranging from gargantuan scale to nigh invisible. Then one fell near her. *Blink.*

Now, she stood in front of the angel. Kneeling down, she knew it wasn't. What she had perceived as armor from a distance was now revealed as bone. Metallic bone, laced with fried circuitry. The placticky flesh had corroded quite a bit in the acidic atmosphere of this cruel plane, laying bare the anatomy of a perfect post-human life form. Beside the twisted figure lay its sword, jarred from the corpse by impact with the unforgiving surface of this strange world.

A thin coat of ash filmed the shattered doll, and a gust of warm, stagnant air blew the soot into fitful dust devils. Miniature black tornados danced along the rippling gunmetal surface of the frozen ocean.

Then, movement. Turning quickly, Kali wrapped her fingers around the angel-cyborg's discarded sword, sweeping outward in an arc of sudden momentum. What she saw then, horrific beyond sane thought, caused madness to swell upon her breast. Death would be a pleasant alternative to looking upon this creature of darkness.

She saw herself.

.....

Shuddering at the memory of her dream, Kali wrapped the flower-print comforter closer about her form. She had awoken in the hotel room, her sole companion the familiar wounded thump of the overhead fan. There was sand all over the carpet, grit between her toes. She wished Ebon were here, with his easy smile and mysterious eyes. Then he could hold her. And keep secrets. She liked that.

Taking a long drag of a neglected cigarette, Kali stared in hollow-cheeked ferality at a cobweb hanging from the ceiling.

Cobwebs of dreams...

.....

She crouched, ferocious, leering balefully at herself under a sephulcheric sky... More aptly, the remains that she occupied. Flesh, mottled and paper-thin, stretched tautly over withered sinew and jutting bone, giving her the aspect of a molested cadaver. Blisters and sores, angry reds and greens, laced her emaciated structure like some lecherous disease. Her eyes, rolling sickeningly and filmed with milky calcium deposits, oozed a strange brackish ichor. What was left of her blackened and shriveled lips broke and tore upon grinning rows of decaying teeth, sharpened to razor points. The horrified scream she attempted sounded thin and distant. Bits of tracheal matter dislodged from her corroded throat as black growths on her death's head face popped with muscle tension, spewing yellow-white putrescence in cappillaries and streams to the valley of her collarbone. Her a tendon snapped, there another tightened and distorted. Her scalp, alternating flesh and bone, clung loosely to a few shreds of violet hair. WHY?

The mirrored surface she stared into stretched out and up, overlapping itself in platelike crescents. Unbelieving, unwilling to understand that this could be her, Kali staggered on sticklike legs to beat futilely at the polished metal of the carved escarpment. There was no pain. She watched in dull shock as the fragile flesh of her clawlike fingers crumbled away upon each blow. WHY?

"Disturbing, ain't it?" A hollow, demoniacal voice rasped against her decomposing eardrum. She felt the released air pressure as one popped. "Get's me every time, ya know." A dry, scraping chuckle. Sinister.

Kali, or the hollow shell of what she once was, spun too quickly. She felt a bone in her ankle crumble under the pressure. It wasn't in the least painful, but she was unable to do anything but moan as she collapsed to the iron-colored plane. Scrabbling in the dust for the false angel's sword, she gazed in hatred upon the putrid form before her.

White, gaunt and macabre, the figure possesed a near-full head of shock-white hair, appearing completely at ease with its advanced state of decay.

"Wh..who are you?" She stammered despite her best efforts to act the tough bitch. An unhealthy puss frothed forth from her diseased maw.

"What's the matter? Don't recognize the man you love?" The disgusting skeleton procured a menacing grin that would have curdled the blood in her veins...if it hadn't long since coagulated into gelatinous tar.

She shrank into herself, scrambling backward along the leaden waves and rivulets of the valley floor. A trail of stringy flesh and thick, pale fluids squirmed as if alive as they were torn from her hips and legs upon retreat...Then the ungiving surface of the mirror-structure pressed hard against the thin viscera of her back. Nowhere to go...

.....

Ebon (apparently occupying her counterpoint animated corpse) and Kali had become scavengers, of sorts, for a fiberrobotics company, comprising just one several scout teams. She recalled noticing a few of the wraiths in earlier dreams; or consciousness shifts, as Ebon claimed.

Apparently in this 'alternate universe' several breakthroughs in unified field technology had led to advanced interstellar 'travel'and the eventual colonization of space. This planet was dubbed Purgatory Sea, and was classified uninhabitable by any form of life and unable to be terraformed due to the peculiarly resilient nature of its crust. So, its post-holocaustic nature had made it perfectly suitable grounds for a feud between the dueling families of Waega and Rios. Both, seeking an end to the dispute without bloodshed, consigned the aid of Lumier to create androidal soldiers (dubbed androghels by their painstaking inventors) to fight a mock war on this planet.

Each unit was quite costly to produce, and consequently provided enormous profits for the relative upstart corporation. Both families were in possession of incalculable wealth, and spared no expense in seeing that The Lumier Corporation's vast majority of revenue derived from these mock wars.

The androghel cpu, self-replicating and essential to the infrastructure of the entire machine, could only be formed of a metal found in abundance on the outlying hive world of Hephaestus Seven, one of nine static planets in the galxy known as Forger's Arm. Hephaestus Seven was the opnly planet so far known to possess the near-priceless metal.

As a result, the hiveworld quickly became vastly wealthy, universally famous for it's rich and fantastic catacombs and galleries. Nearly as quickly, the neighboring planets became jealous. This, in turn, rapidly grew into spite and hatred. Within the past 5 years the situation had degrades to open war. Trading routes had been the first defenses attaked, and Hephaestus Seven was cut off, left to fend for itself against the savagery of its brethren.

Due to the cold star galaxy's distance from any military base or completed trade fortress, the time-debt would approach 10 years in sending any military aid. This posed an unforseen predicament for the Lumier Corp., who's backstock of the metal was barely sufficient to last two years.

In danger of losing their most lucrative business partner, the Corporation bent it's full R&D capabilities to finding an expedient solution. Other metals simply would fail to produce the correct output in the androgel design, and an attempt at completely redesigning the soldiers would take decades. Productivity could not afford decades.

Solution? The scavenger program. Literally millions of decommisioned or destroyed modules lay discarded upon the fantastic surface of Pugatory Sea. They piled miles high in places. So, with the upcoming shortage looming on the near horizon Lumier had organized scout teams to collect discarded androghels. Ebon and Kali had been on since it's genesis.

Unfortunately, two years hence, the planet's surface had been picked clean. The half-life of hephatite dropped drastically with each programs exchange. After the third recharge, the metal had proven spent. Now Kali and Ebon found themselves in danger of losing their jobs, as the company was laying off more and more teams by the week. The androghels dropped infrequently now, recoverable by a single team using the grey holes in space/time which interlinked across the planet's formiddable surface. 6 years remained until the fastest of the interstellar ships reached the Forger's Arm and could set up a new grey hole to reconnect the cold-star system into the intergalactic web that comprised After-Earth civilization. There were no natural holes left after the Insurgent's Blow of 78AE.

Lumier was in trouble, and so were its Scavengers.

Kali had laughed at the first relation of this story. Sounded like something out of a bad Star Trek Revival to her, and it still didn't explain why she found herself walking around in zombie bodies. She said as much.

"Simple," replied undead Ebon with a grin that would make Freddy Krueger quake in his stripes. "Using similar technology to that which animates the androghels, our minds are temporarily projected upon actual cadavers, from within.." he tapped on the mirrored surface with a fleshless hand... "our containment globe, where we find ourselves safely tucked away in hydrogenic stasis. The atmosphere of Purgatory Sea is instantly fatal to any life form. Too toxic, even, for all but the most advanced containment suits. So..." another lepric grin, "we get meat suits instead."

Wowwy. This was one fucked up dream...Fuckin' stupid, too. She'd suddenly forgotten why she held interest in the pointless thing.

.....

Back in the waking realm, Kali sighed. She studied curves and soft, silky skin. She had a new vanity for her figure after viewing her mind in a less...appealing form.

"It wasn't a dream, you know. The girl jumped as her lover's handsome figure seemed to detach itself from the shadows. "It was..is...as real as this."

Kali raised an eyebrow. "What the fuck are you talking about, man?"

Ebon, dressed in flowing midnight garb, sat next to her on the bed, nursing a cherry cigar. "Wasn't a dream," he repeated placidly, ice-blue gaze locked coolly upon her own.

"Okay. Then what was...is it?" She figured she'd humor him. Give her a reason to unleash some pent-up sarcasm.

"Have you ever heard of the multiverse theory?" Ebon started, and Kali immediately rolled her eyes. Oh, Lord. Here we go.

"Well, it's true, sorta, just inverted and turned on its side a little," the man continued undaunted. "There are infinite realities, all of which you exist or have existed in, in some way shape or form..."

Blah, blah...Kali lit another cigarette. Guy had watched way too much t.v.

"Now, say the barrier that locks you into only consciously experience one life at a time has begun to waver, and during dream states you become aware of the parallel convexities of existence you participate in. Soon you should be able to grasp more than one simultaneously, and even shift your temporal existence onto surrounding facets...Like me."

Great. Just when she thought things couldn't get kinkier, she finds out her boyfriend's a possibly schizophrenic wack-job. What was worse was that he was a wack-job dorkus maximus. "Yeah. Okay. I think I'll stick with the idea that they're just dreams, thanks." Of course she didn't believe him. It was humorous, but not believable.

"Then explain my knowledge of your dream," he probed softly.

"I don't know. You're a fucking psychic?"

Where was Bernie when ya needed him?





© Copyright 2005 Nicolae Glas (cyclicpandora at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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