The wall’s entire surface was covered by a nest of cables and wires, some as thick as a thumb, others as thin as a strand of hair. Each of them was drawn towards the center and then inwards to some hidden destination.
“Hello,” he said again, and at his voice all of the fibers began to unfurl, sliding over one another to clear a way for their inner core to pass through their midst. Leading with her silver face, Ayla emerged from the center, her eyes blank and empty as her memory banks rebooted. She was fashioned of finest chrome, each piece custom-fit together in stark contrast to Kael’s eclectic construction of spare parts. All along her back, from her head to her foot, the immense web of cables and wires ran into her, leaving a flowing train behind at all times. Her hands were thin, with fingers so narrow they might be broken off at the slightest pressure. The grace she moved with was not required by her function, it was merely a serendipitous fluke in her intricate design.
Her memory banks finished replenishing themselves and she acknowledged the stranger before her. “Well hello there,” she said with a cheerfulness that, again, was not required by her station, it was simply a side-effect of who she chose to be. “What can I do for you?”
He cocked his head curiously at the question. “Well I don’t really know. What can you do for me?”
“Oh… you didn’t come to access the annals? No I suppose not,” she laughed kindly at the uncertainty on his face. Her face then took on a somewhat bland smile as she recited what was clearly a memorized definition. “Well, I’m the terminal to access all data that has been stored in the universal data registry. It is constantly updated both with information captured by surveillance sensors in each region, as well as manual entries into its library of Observation and Extrapolation… But if that’s not what you came for, what was it that brought you to my access point?”
He shrugged. “It just—somehow seemed familiar.”
“Familiar in a good way?”
“Well…” he considered, “yes, I would say so.”
“I’m glad,” she truly looked it. “I guess we’re friends, then.”
“Just like that?”
He thought for a moment, but it couldn’t find any reason. “Friends then!” he chirped excitedly.
She beamed at him. “Do you have a name, friend? I’m Ayla.”
“Ayla” he repeated, a strange recognition seeming to pass through his circuits. “And I am Kael.”
“Pleased to meet you Kael…this is our first time meeting, isn’t it?”
“I think so, at least on this plane anyway?”
“On this plane?”
His eyes contracted as if seeing something far in the distance. “I don’t know why, but I do believe there are other levels of existence, and cycles of time and experience.”
“Oh?” she said enthusiastically, apparently not perturbed by the strange admission at all. “That’s a belief that calls from within you?”
“Yes,” he said, focusing his eyes back on her. “You defined that quite well, actually.”
She nodded. “It’s because I have one like that, too.”
“A belief in another world?”
“Well—that’s one I had never thought of before, though I do like the sound of it—what I had meant though was that I believe in a second heart.”
“A heart vessel that is. I have one of my own, though I don’t know why. I’ve read my schematics and there’s no call for it, yet I have it all the same. It really is wonderful, it helps me to feel and enjoy so much more of this world than most automata are capable of.”
Kael considered this pensively. “I think I would like to feel more.”
“Oh, but you could. That’s what I mean about my belief that a second heart is out there. I can feel my own sending out a calling signal, and I can’t see why it would do so if there weren’t another to answer it one day. Maybe when I find the other it could be yours and we would both have one.”
“What would we do then?”
“Whatever makes us happy together. Like this,” she held out her hand and wrapped her fingers around his.
“What is this?” he stared at the gesture awkwardly.
“Touching. Isn’t it nice? Try curling your fingers around mine now. That’s right.”
He stood for a moment in silence, a bashful smile spreading across his face. “I don’t know” he said awkwardly and let go of her hand. Although he had not perceived anything special in the experience while it lasted, he couldn’t help but notice a sense of disappointment as it ended. “How about we try it again sometime?”
“Of course, Kael,” she laughed. “Whenever you’d like.”
“Ayla, why do you know how to build all of these things?” Kael asked as she instructed him where to solder the new husk they were working on.
“I’m connected to a whole library knowledge of information, aren’t I?” she stroked one of the cables running from her neck. “Sometimes I just spend hours perusing it and learn all sorts of things. There hasn’t been much else for me to do after all.”
“I suppose so. I’m sorry I haven’t been around all the time.”
“It’s alright, I know you have your own functions to fulfill. We all do.”
“But I would rather my functions kept me here.”
“You would?” she said gratefully.
“Of course, I like it better when I’m here.”
“I’m glad, Kael, I like it better, too. And one of the wonderful things about a heart vessel, it lets you define your own functions.”
“Oh, that’s good,” Kael said awkwardly, the same awkwardness he had each time she mentioned the possibility of him getting another heart vessel. Of late she had wondered whether he had become disenchanted with the idea, but if so he never outright expressed it. “Of course,” he said slowly, still developing an idea in his mind, “you could have more company already if we were able to activate all these automata.”
“Well yes, I thought that was the idea.”
“I mean, even before we have that second heart vessel available. Perhaps we could get them activated now.”
“Well, you know to build so many things, perhaps you could build some sort of network linker. Something that could let one being power all similar others as an extension of itself. Then only a single root activating stimuli would be necessary”
She was puzzled at the specificity of his idea, it seemed as though he must have been developing this idea for a while, but here he was trying to play it off as a new thought. Instead, though, she simply asked “And what would that similar attribute be?”
“We would find one.”
“Hmm, so all of these husks would come to life as drones?”
“Essentially, and they could be with you when I can’t.”
Ayla paused for a moment. “But I’m not looking for others to be with me. I want you to be with me, Kael.”
He smiled and reached out to take her hand. “As you said, perhaps when I have control of a heart vessel I’ll be able to redefine myself that way. But for now, could you look into whether that device is possible?”
“You’re really serious about it?”
“I’ll look into it, then.”
“Look, I made us a new friend!” Kael beamed enthusiastically, his hands on the shoulders of an automaton.
“You made this?” Ayla said with a mixture of awe and confusion.
“Well this was one of the husks that we built together, you remember, but I got it self-actuating.”
“I found another animating stimulus. I’ll tell you about it later, but it does have its limitation, as I think you’ll quickly see.”
“Can he speak?”
“Yes, mostly. Go ahead Cee.”
“You are Ayla?” Cee piped up.
She smiled warmly to him. “That’s correct.”
“And you possess the heart vessel?”
“Yes,” she said slowly, a little confused that that would be its second question.
“I am Cee,” he pointed to himself.
“So I see. And what is your purpose?”
“He’s here to keep you company,” Kael spoke in quickly, “and assist you with your work. He doesn’t have to go anywhere, so whenever I’m not around he’ll be able to stay and help you.”
“You needn’t make him my servant,” Ayla laughed. “Tell me, Cee,” she craned her head down to look him directly in the eye. “What would you choose your purpose to be?”
“What would I choose?”
“To follow a preference, that is to choose something,” Kael explained.
“Such as to prefer not to be reverted back to a lifeless husk?”
“I suppose so, though that’s a very somber thought!” Ayla exclaimed. “But you can choose more than to just continue existing, Cee. You can choose things to make you feel happy. Choose things that you like.”
“But—what do I like?” Cee wondered aloud.
“That’s for you to choose.”
Cee’s eye began to contract and Kael realized he was following another recursive loop. “Stop! Stop!” He cautioned, “That’s a non-terminating cycle again.”
Cee shook his head lightly. “I do not believe such cycles are logical.”
“You might be surprised,” Ayla smiled, “but you have time to figure it out.” Then, turning her attention to Kael, “He certainly has a unique way of speaking doesn’t he?”
“Yes, as I said, he has some limitations. It’s possible he may learn nuances with time.”
“And you’ll learn what you like in time, too,” she turned back to Cee. “I’ll help you to find it.”
“I can stay with you?”
“Yes, if you want.”
Cee looked to Kael who nodded, and then he walked over to join Ayla.
“There is another in this one, too,” Cee announced, turning the open chassis so that she could see the parasite larva nestled inside.
“None of the first generation, over half of the second, and almost all of the third,” Ayla recited aloud. “I wonder how they got in.”
“Got in?” Cee queried. “That phrasing would suggest they were the active entity in being placed within the husks.”
“Well of course. How would you phrase it?”
Ayla paused as the meaning and its attending extra meaning sunk in. “But I didn’t put them in,” she said quietly.
“Of course not, seeing as you were unaware of them.”
“Kael must have.”
“Why would he?”
“That is unclear,” Cee closed the chestplate of the husk he had been examining. “Though the only reason to do something in secret would be to deceive.”
“How dare you!” she suddenly shouted. “Kael’s not a liar!”
Cee’s gears spun, trying to make sense of the spike in emotion from her. “What is wrong in my logic?”
She glared, but slowly her face softened. “I’m sorry, Cee, it isn’t your fault. Your mind works differently from mine.”
“How does mine work?”
“Coldly,” she said, though without bitterness.
“Is that worse?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it better?”
“Cee, I don’t know!”
A pause, then “How can I help you to be less distressed right now, Ayla?”
She smiled at his stilted attempt at thoughtfulness. “That’s alright, Cee, it’s not for you to solve these things.”
“Frankly? You don’t have what I need.”
“Perhaps. One day.”
Cee thought about this. He had been parsing her reactions and understood that she probably did not want to continue this conversation. Still, he decided it was appropriate to pursue one last matter.
“Kael does have it, though?”
She considered before answering. “He’s closer.”
“And that is why it is so hard to hear me make accusations of him? I am sorry, I had not considered that. I will be more careful in the future.”
“It is hard, but you don’t need to censor what you say to me, Cee. It’s up to me to receive what you say fairly… Just for now, though, why don’t we talk about something else?”
Cee watched as she lowered the device into the center of the beacon’s concave underside.
“How close would it need to be?” she asked.
“It will draw power from the beacon once it has been activated,” he responded, “and should be able to fly out as far as an arm span.”
She nodded grimly. There were no worries with range then. She slid the outer panels along the frame’s grooves, snapping them into place and bringing the device to its completion. During this construction she had had the dexterity of the work to keep her mind occupied, but now that they trap lay in front of her the magnitude of what she had done crashed over her like a wave.
“This is wrong,” she shook her head.
“If the alternative is that he destroys you—”
“Then maybe I should let him!” she interrupted fiercely.
“Let him?” Cee repeated in utter bewilderment.
“I don’t know how to explain it to you, Cee,” she shook her head. “It’s something I don’t think you can grasp. But—we made a promise to sustain and even give our lives to one another. I made that promise because I love him, and I still do!” She clenched her fists and dug her nails tightly into her palms to disseminate some of the tension mounting in her. “If he wants to collect on that promise, I don’t know that I have the hate to break it.”
“If he comes to collect,” Cee began slowly, “he has already broken his end of the promise. Has he not?”
She buried her face in her hands and trembled a little. “What if we’ve read it all wrong anyway? What if we’ve just misunderstood him? He shouldn’t lie, but what if the lie is for something irrelevant?”
“If you would rather I be the one to administer the device to him, I completely understand.”
Her had snapped out over the device and it rapidly disassembled itself into her arm receptacles. “Only I have the right,” she strained firmly.
Cee nodded. “Perhaps you are right and we have misread him,” he offered hopefully. “And then he may never even come asking for the device. All will be as it has been before.”
She smiled grimly. “I’ve built it, Cee. That’s enough. Things will never be as they have been.”
Cee didn’t understand, but he knew it helped her when he nodded anyway, so he did so.
Ayla watched Kael’s retreating form for as long as she could. A slight twitch began in her hand and as he distanced farther her every chrome plate began to vibrate and shake. She was quaking as she stood, her motors spinning forward and back simultaneously from conflicting commands. There was a voice raging within her that she must call out to him and save him. It insisted that if he meant to wrong her, yet she could not do him any wrong. It would be better to seal her love with her own death than to save herself by destroying him. Him over her, that had been her promise, hadn’t it?
Of course another part of her had long since concluded that this was nothing more than him falling upon his own sword, a sword by which he meant to do destroying of his own. It would be his own choice to wield it, and his own folly that push him onto it. If that was what he chose, well he deserved all that followed that decision. Even now he had the freedom to recant if only he would decided to do so.
But as the two raged within her something cracked and from that a third voice arose. Her trembling quieted into perfect stillness as she realized it did not matter. She simply didn’t care anymore. Her diminishing had begun and she wasn’t going to be around for either resolution. Things were broken, and her heart could no longer send its signal in search of its other. She finally exhaled. No shrieks of anguish, no explosion to rip the air. No thunderous bell to ring in the end of the world. Life didn’t end in the crash, it ended in the silence of an engine stalled.
On Monday I shared a post which included a section about the role of a love interest in a story. In that post I suggested that generally a love interest is meant to represent the complement to the hero, all the good things that the hero is not, and that this is based off of our natural perception of being flawed, incomplete human beings. In this short piece I attempted to emphasize that idea with designing both Kael and Ayla as incomplete characters, ones that possess the attributes that the other needs to be whole. Kael lacks the passion and the will that Ayla holds, while Ayla craves a relationship where she can both love and be loved, a need that can only be answered in Kael. Of course, in this short piece, that fundamental incompleteness is to tragic effect, as the complementing union that these characters require can’t seem to connect, and thus frustrates them in all of their purposes and breaks Ayla’s heart.
At this point we have taken some time to cultivate each of our characters in the story of Revelate. We have seen examples of a villain, a hero, a mentor and now a love interest. Each of these has their own unique function and their own miniature story. With all of these arcs and functions defined, it is then the task of the author to take all of these threads and weave them into one great whole. That will be the focus of my next post on Monday, and then on Thursday we’ll undertake that exercise by compositing together a completed version of this Revelate story. I’ll see you there.