The Wolf in the Room

gray timber wolf
Photo by Matej on Pexels.com

Doctor Barlow nodded to the attendant standing by the control panel for the “green” room. He stepped up to the metal door’s reinforced glass window and peered in at his patient: poor Lucian Thorpe. The small, nervous man was sitting on the edge of his cot in a daze, his eyes staring absently into thoughts only he could know. There came the loud click of the door’s mechanical lock releasing and Lucian snapped out of his reverie and locked eyes with Doctor Barlow.

“Doctor Barlow!” Lucian exclaimed with nervous relief as the man crossed the threshold into the small room. “I had been hoping to—” his voice trailed off at the sight of the armed guard entering in behind Doctor Barlow and standing at attention against the back wall.

Doctor Barlow followed Lucian’s gaze and gave an understanding laugh. “Oh, don’t worry about him,” he said with a carefree wave of the hand. “You must remember that this is a unique facility, and so it comes with all manner of unique protocols. He’s just here because he has to be, it’s nothing to do with you.”

Lucian nodded, though his eyes lingered a moment longer on the assault rifle that the guard held in his stiff hands.

“Now Lucian, can you tell me if you have been experiencing any other symptoms?”

The shock on Lucian’s face bordered on incredulity.

“I mean aside from the obvious.” For there were obvious symptoms. The yellow coloring of the eyes, the long gray wisps of hair sprouting all along the body, the jumbling of the teeth. Indeed, the extreme nature of these changes were eclipsed only by the rapidity in which they had occurred. When Lucian had been admitted to the facility two weeks ago he had been a full three inches taller and hadn’t even begun to form his tail.

“You mean how I feel?” Lucian sneered, the timidity suddenly melting from his face.
“Like I’m being eaten from the inside out! Does that count as a symptom?!”

Doctor Barlow made a check on the clipboard he clasped before him. The minuteness of it only aggravated Lucian further and he simultaneously snapped his shoulders back and his maw forward in a sudden snarl. Doctor Barlow immediately recoiled and the guard swung his gun up level to Lucian’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Lucian whimpered, his apprehension rushing back as he covered his face and curled back onto the bed. “I’m just so mixed up,” he moaned. “Doctor, please, what’s going on?”

Doctor Barlow sighed and lifted thick glasses from his eyes, then massaged his face with his palm. “This is a complicated business, Lucian. To move things too quickly would only risk further injury. We don’t want to give you temporary relief, Lucian. You understand? We’re here to cure you.”

“Can you?” Fear mingled with skepticism.

Doctor Barlow smiled. “Of course we will. Why do you think you were brought here, Lucian? It was because we never fail at this facility. Already we’ve isolated your strain, duplicated it, and are hitting them with the full barrage of tests and treatments. One of them is going to stick.” Doctor Barlow reached out and firmly shook Lucian’s knee. “Doubt yourself if you must, son, but believe in me.”

Lucian’s eyes did not shine with hope. But he did believe that this was his only chance, and no matter how slim a chance that might be he wasn’t about to jeopardize it. So he simply nodded.

Doctor Barlow accepted the gesture and smiled as he rose to his feet. “I’m on my way to see the team now. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they’re already preparing the cure.”

Lucian started to raise his arms, clearly wanting to him to stay and give more details, but Doctor Barlow pretended not to notice and strode out of the room. The guard backed out after the doctor, then the door shut and the mechanical lock clicked back into place.

*

“Anything?” Doctor Barlow asked the other two specialists as he rubbed his tired eyes again.

“Of course not,” Doctor Hoeg scoffed. Over the past two weeks they had overseen dozens of tests and then reconvened dozens of times to discuss the complete nothingness that had been turned up by all of that work.

“Well that’s not quite true,” Doctor Gretzel scolded as she thumbed through her folder. “We have a new theory as to why we aren’t able to isolate the strain,” she offered, handing Doctor Barlow a sheet of distribution graphs. “Each of these was taken from the same blood sample at equal intervals of two hours. The extreme changes in the composition suggest that the thing is mutating rapidly. So much so that we can never track the same iteration from one test to the next.”

Hoeg actually laughed aloud at this. “Well that certainly seems like a promising path of inquiry then!”

“That is enough,” Barlow ordered calmly but firmly. “Act like the professional you’re supposed to be.”

“Fine.” Hoeg said shortly. “In my professional opinion we need to stop avoiding the obvious realities. We can’t identify anything about this strain, we can’t even identify if it is bacterial or viral. But what is clear is that what is happening to that boy is going to reach its culmination in a matter of weeks and we’ll be no closer to any answers than we are right now. Can we please have the discussion now of what we do when things take their course?”

Barlow inhaled long and audibly. Then exhaled still more forcefully. “Not yet,” he said evenly. “Not until we know where that course even goes.”

Hoeg shook his head in frustration, clearly wrestling with the thoughts he wanted to voice. The same ideas that all of them had thought but never dared say. “Have you been to see the canine today?” he finally asked. The fact that all of them consciously avoided calling the ‘canine’ by its common name was evidence enough that they were skirting around its myths.

Barlow shook his head. “I’m on my way there next.”

*

In another wing exactly like the one where Lucian was being held, Doctor Barlow peered through the window of another door into the “pink” room. He made no movement to enter this room, though, he only watched its occupant at a distance. When the canine had first been brought it was a creature of fits and spasms, constantly snapping at unseen afflictions and lunging viciously at anything that came too near. Now, though, the changes to its body had crippled it, subjecting it to a wakeful paralysis of twitches and shivers. The creature was obviously suffering, and even its breathing seemed to be a terrible labor.

Barlow watched it lying there on the floor, its chest rising and falling to unnatural extremes. Each exhale came out in long, guttural sighs, and was then followed by a rush of rasping inhales in quick succession. If things continued as they were, the creature would not be survive much longer.

ONE WEEK LATER

Doctor Barlow paused a few feet back from the “green” room. Far enough back that he wouldn’t be within view of the window in the door. He glanced nervously to the guard at his side, but he just stared stoically ahead. Doctor Barlow took a deep breath, nodded to the attendant, and then took purposeful strides into Lucian’s quarters. Well, at least the quarters of the thing that had been Lucian anyway. The being that occupied these walls now barely resembled a human at all. Its back was deeply hunched and its limbs were unnaturally long and thin, with hands hanging so low they were nearly scraping along the floor. The lower face had extruded itself forward and the mouth and nose in particular were pulled out to a peak in front. What had at first seemed like an excess of hair was now clearly thick gray fur, and it covered nearly every inch of the body.

Doctor Barlow couldn’t repress a grimace and slight shake of the head. “Lucian?” he asked tentatively. “Can you hear me?”

The creature did not appear to understand, it just kept revolving awkwardly on the same spot in the corner of the room. It refused to meet eyes with Doctor Barlow, but there came a growl from its throat that finally formed into recognizable—though strained—words.

“I hear you,” Lucian croaked.

“Lucian, do you know who I am?”

A series of sniffs and pantings, then finally “Doctor.”

“Very good, Lucian,” Doctor Barlow praised. It wasn’t very good, though. Yesterday Lucian had still remembered his actual name. “You’re doing very well.”

“No more games!” Lucian snarled, his fur starting to bristle as he slowed his pacing to face Doctor Barlow directly..

“Lucian I am taking your case very seriously.”

“Then be serious!” Lucian started to raise himself as tall as possible, coming within a few inches of a regular man’s height.

Barlow sighed. “Obviously you are worried, Lucian, I understand that. But no matter what depths this reaches you must believe me that there is still hope. If you can be changed you one way you can be changed back the other.”

“Stop. Playing. Me!” Lucian took a step forward and the guard raised his rifle an inch.

Barlow removed his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. “What is it you want to hear, Lucian? That I don’t know what’s going to happen. That I don’t know anything anymore? Very well. I don’t.”

Lucian sneered. Then fell back to his pacing. “Did you find it?”

“Find what?”

“That wolf.”

“Oh. Yes, we found it.”

“How has it changed?”

“Changed? I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just a simple canine. It’s had some blood work done, of course, but nothing else of note.”

Lucian bared his teeth in a long, sinister inhale that puffed him up larger. “Don’t lie to me!” he struggled to voice each word. “Every memory I lose I gain another. But not my memories. Hunting rabbits and drinking from streams and biting flesh… Biting Lucian.”

“Well I don’t think you should dwell on those thoughts, Lucian, that’s clearly just some fever dream, totally understandable.”

With a snap Lucian flung himself at Doctor Barlow, digging at him with his claw-like hands and snapping at his arm with sharp teeth. The guard swung his gun up to fire but the two men were too entwined for a clean shot, so he instead rushed forward and thrust the barrel of the gun into Lucian’s chest, hurling him back to the ground. Lucian landed on all fours, circled round, then leaped up again only to be caught by the butt of the rifle slamming between his eyes and crumpling him to the floor.

“Open the door!” the guard roared, seizing Barlow under the arms and half-supporting-half-dragging him out of the room. Once they cleared the door and it slammed shut Barlow struggled back to his feet and pushed the guard away.

“Sir, I—” the guard began.

“NO!” Doctor Barlow shrieked, his eyes manic. “No!” he threw his clipboard to the floor and continued to stare hatefully at the guard until he shifted his eyes to the ground. Barlow swung his penetrating gaze over to the attendant who also shifted her eyes down. Doctor Barlow gave them each a final scowl, then turned and strode out of the room.

*

An hour later a somewhat more composed Barlow stood outside of the “pink” room, staring at his other patient within. The canine had not died, in fact it had improved quite remarkably. Once the internal organs had shifted to support the new form it had started to thrive, growing more energetic each day. Enthusiastic even. It still moved about on four paws, but when it reached the walls it placed its hands against them and raised to a standing position. It even spoke with the attendants through the protective screen. English words, about the vocabulary of a three-year-old, but improving each day.

Hoeg and Gretzel stood on either side of Doctor Barlow.

“There’s no denying the eventualities now,” Gretzel mused as they watched the creature give a toddler-like smile as a cookie was deployed through a chute to its tray.

“No,” Barlow agreed. “And there’s no need debating the proper course of action to follow.”

“Of course there’s need!” Hoeg spat. “But evidently you two would rather not face your own consciences.” He shook his head. “Thinking you deserve to play god!”

Before this morning Barlow would likely have ignored the disrespect, but now he turned and puffed out his chest as he stared straight down Hoeg’s bitter eyes. “Do you not understand you little fool? Any action here is to play god. There is no right answer!” He sneered, then turned back to face the creature. “All that remains is the reputation of this facility…and you’re outranked.”

“And outvoted,” Gretzel added.

TWO WEEKS LATER

Lucian was finishing getting dressed in the “pink” room, smiling at Doctors Barlow and Gretzel as they went through his final questionnaire.

“Yes, that’s right,” Lucian answered. “I remember the bite, but nothing after that until I came to a week ago.”

They nodded satisfactorily and made simultaneous checks on their clipboards.

“We know it wasn’t easy for you to stay an extra week with us, but I’m sure you understand it was necessary for us to be thorough?” Barlow asked, pausing a moment to scratch at his arm.

“Oh, of course.”

Barlow grinned. “Well I think I’m satisfied.” He looked sideways to Doctor Gretzel. “How about you?”

“Me too,” she grinned back. “What about you, Lucian? Ready to get out of here?”

He laughed as he rose to his feet. “Definitely!”

“Let’s get you to that family of yours,” Doctor Barlow nodded as the three of them left the room and made their way towards the waiting room. As they went, Doctor Gretzel explained the package they’d be sending him home with and the instructions for self-monitoring his conditions for the next two months. She also assured him that all of his questions would be addressed in the medical brief that was included as well. Doctor Barlow alternated between nodding in agreement and persisting at that itch under his long shirtsleeve.

Meanwhile, over in the “green” room the guard waited behind the half-closed door while the tranquilizer took effect. The large wolf’s bared teeth relaxed their growl, its lids slowly drooped, and finally its head rolled back onto the floor unconscious. The guard entered the room and quickly attached a muzzle to the sleeping dog, then slid it into a metal carrier which he padlocked shut.

It was the one concession they had allowed Doctor Hoeg, something to help ease his conscience. The specimen wasn’t to be dissected for future research, rather it would be flown to the wilds of Canada, somewhere a thousand miles from the nearest human civilization. Somewhere it could be forgotten back to the myths and legends where it properly belonged.

***

On Monday I spent some time advocating for a kinder and more productive form of critical analysis on an author’s work. My main points in this pattern of feedback was that the reviewer should first identify the accomplishments of what has been written, suggest improvements that could lift the story still higher, and close with a vision of what the story could then become in its most ideal form.

So to start off, in this week’s story I do think I’ve developed a unique and interesting interpretation on a classic myth, that of the werewolf. I also like how this story reaches natural conclusion, but one that ends with questions that could be picked up on later. Is Doctor Barlow being changed now? Is the new Lucian truly the same as before?

Areas that I feel could be enhanced are both general and specific. Generally I feel the work could use a little more breathing room. Taking some more time and space to allow for a richer atmosphere would do a lot for improving the sense of intrigue. Also the characters could use a little more time in the oven as right now they are flatter than I wanted them to be.

To get more specific, one scene that I felt breezed by particularly quickly was the first conversation between Lucian and Doctor Barlow. This is our introduction to the strange situation, and I don’t feel the moment has allowed dread and understanding to slowly creep through the reader like it should. Later when Lucian attacks Doctor Barlow it would also carry more punch if there was more buildup leading to that moment. All of the communication between the doctors could be refactored, too. Quite frankly I knew I wanted conversations and conflict there, so I put in some placeholder text and then there wasn’t time to find something else that had a better fit.

In conclusion, I would say that the foundation is there, but that the story needs iteration, experimentation, and growth. With that sort of time and care then I think this short could become the prologue to a rich and suspenseful novel. This could be the introduction of how the legend of the werewolf was introduced into modern suburbia through an eccentric doctor that got a little too close to his subjects.

 

Taking that time to analyze my story and focus on its potential has increased both my appreciation for what it is now and my desire to work it into something better. I didn’t feel that I had to hold back in expressing my honest criticisms, but I also didn’t feel insulted by them.

Obviously there is another type of critique which I have not had time to illustrate here: the in-process editing where an author reads over their draft and corrects small errors as they go. Grammatical flubs, inconsistencies, and awkward phrasing are inevitable in a rough draft, and every work is greatly improved by many read-throughs and quick-fixes. That’s a process that deserves a closer examination and I hope to see you on Monday when we’ll do just that. Have a wonderful weekend!

Revelate

low angle view of spiral staircase against black background
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I

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,” Kael 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 curious and bright. 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.

“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?”

“Why not?”

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.”

“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 something wonderful though, 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.”

*

It is my spawn, another parasite with its own identity.

“But we have spawned many parasites already,” Kael reminded the voice.

No, we have merely promulgated myself. Each of them is a division of me, all an iteration of my one, singular being. This is a different individual and is its own distinct entity. Both of us remain united in purpose though.

“Is that better?”

Yes. Indeed, I would like to spawn many more but having only one heart limits me to local creation on a small scale. Were we to have another I could spawn without limit and that would be better still.

“You want another heart?” Kael asked cautiously, a strange misgiving creeping across him.

The voice hesitated, seeming to sense his apprehension. You have already done your part in this Kael, we will craft a new husk for this other parasite and it will prove itself with the task I give it.

“Yes, but—” Kael’s uneasiness continued to discomfort him.

I have not forgotten our agreement, Kael. Your purpose will be maintained, to delight Ayla, and you will not be asked to deceive her.

“But this other husk will be?”

That is the concern of the other husk, not of you. You will not be an agent of any harm to her, you will be permitted to continue to care and be cared for within the parameters I have set. Surely you see that I am being accommodating of your dual nature and fulfilling both purposes?

Something doubtful still lingered in Kael, but it was far easier to accept the logic of what the voice had said, and so he allowed himself to be soothed.

“How do you want the husk to be composed?”

*

“Ayla, why do you know how to build all of these things?” Kael asked as she instructed him where to solder the new husk. It was not their first time building one of these lifeless bodies, they had been creating schematics and crafting bodies ever since Kael had shared more with her about his dream of another world. He had explained how he always saw it full of automata, all working together to build new places and invent new technologies. In excitement she had suggested that such a fantasy could be realized if ever they found that second heart vessel she had dreamt of. With that, she explained, they would have the ability to spawn as many other hearts as they desired and place them in husks to bring an entire nation of other beings to life. With that it had been a natural conclusion to get a head-start on crafting those husks for future activation and neither of them was opposed to the excuse it provided for them to spend more time together. This was the first time, though, where Kael had approached her with a schematic all his own.

“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 asked hopefully.

“Of course, I like it better when I’m here.”

“I’m glad, Kael, I like it better, too. And one of the other wonderful things about a heart vessel, it lets you define your own functions.”

“Oh, that’s good,” Kael fidgeted uncomfortably. The parasite had expressly forbidden him to disclose that he already possessed the heart vessel she sought for, and so he always remained silent in these moments to avoid saying anything deceitful to her. “Of course,” he said slowly, as though he was 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 at least partially activated now.”

“How?”

“Well, you know to build so many things, perhaps you could put together 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 surprised at the specificity of his idea, it seemed to be the product of long contemplation, not a sudden genesis. Pressing that aside, though, she simply asked “And what could 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?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll look into it, then…That’s enough soldering, it should be ready to go now.”

“It’s wonderful,” Kael looked at their work with pride.

“One of the best we’ve done,” Ayla agreed. “But why won’t you tell me what it’s for?”

“I’d rather show you. I’ll take it with me for a little bit and bring you back a surprise!”

II

A faint grinding sound. Metal threads running along metal grooves. Small, and close. A faint popping noise now, and then a surge of light. The aperture shrunk to reduce exposure and the light levels dropped, making visual perception possible. The husk could see.

“Whuuuuuuu—” he hummed in surprise, and his mechanical eyes widened in shock at the sound.

“Are you awake already?”

It was never asleep, only unaware. The husk noted how the last words were not heard, they merely seemed to rise and fall silently within his inner circuits.

“Whuuuuu—whaaaaa—who?” the husk finally found proper control of its voicebox and formed the question it had intended. Although in so doing it could no longer be properly referred to as a  ‘husk’ anymore.

“Which who?” Kael asked. “Who am I? Or who are you?”

“I and you?”

“Yes, that’s right, that signifies the two of us.”

“I am the ‘you?’”

“Well, yes, as I was using the term.”

“And you are the ‘I?’”

“Yes, very good, you’ve got that quite quickly.”

“I am the ‘you’ and you are the ‘I’” the creation repeated and his eyes began to contract with each iteration of parsing those statements.

“Stop, stop!” Kael cried, realizing what he was doing. “That loop will never terminate, don’t try to reason it out. Here, names will help. The ‘I’” he touched his own chest “is called Kael. The ‘you’ is called Cee.”

“Cee.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“What am I ‘Cee’ for?”
“Because—oh, you mean what is your purpose? Well that’s—”

That is for me to determine, Cee. The strange silent voice returned. What I have ordered your creation for is to obtain a particular animating stimulus. Each operating automaton such as you is made capable of action via these animating stimuli, but there is a special one of these, a heart vessel, which you are to bring to me. Kael has already obtained one such vessel and it provides us local power over life itself, but when we have a pairing of them our dominion will become global. It is your purpose to secure that vessel and bring it here to my nest, and then you will be as Kael.

The disks in the top of Cee’s head whirred as he simultaneously parsed and stored the information, while others were busy installing logic modules that Kael was running to his side. With the two operating together he was able to systematically identify each of the terms for which he had no definitions.

“The ‘animating stimulus’ enables action?”

“Yes, it is central to all the functionality of a being,” Kael replied. “Without it the individual components remains as a lifeless husk.”

“A ‘husk?’”

“That which you were before you had awareness.”

“Then I have an animating stimulus, too?”

“Correct, you did not before, but I’ve just given you one and connected it to your servos.”

“But it is not a heart vessel?”

“No, there are other stimuli as well. You are powered by an iteration of the parasite. He is the voice you’ve been hearing.”

Cee took another few moments to store all of the information away. “And the heart vessel belongs to another, then?”

“Very good,” Kael’s voice was punctuated with a pleasure tone. “That was sequential reasoning you just did there. The heart vessel is in the possession of another being named Ayla. It is bonded to her directly, and so it can only be obtained by her willingly offering it to you.”

Cee raised himself to a seated position, his new gears whirring from the unfamiliar usage. “I will go to her and require it then.”

“Well, I ought to impress on you the difficulty of obtaining the heart vessel from Ayla.”

“Why?”

“Well here, open that chest panel for me and let me take your parasite out of you.”

Cee began to raise his hands to the access panel on his plated chest but his hands slowed in midair. “And… become a husk?”

“That’s right.”

“No,” he said, a look of surprise passed over his face at his own defiance.

“Why not?”

“It—it—it—” his voicebox repeated the word as his disks hummed wildly, seeking definition for the meaning they meant to express. “It is against my nature,” he finally concluded. “The sequences you have given me are designed for perpetuity and iteration, termination would frustrate their intentions.”

“Exactly. And so it is with Ayla.”

“Then… my given purpose is unachievable.”

Kael achieved it.

“How?”

“It is necessary for the subject to determine that separation from their animating stimulus is not actually termination of their perpetuity, Ayla must be convinced that the next steps of her sequence continue with her heart vessel in another host.”

Cee blinked as he finished processing these next pieces of information, yet frowned as something did not connect properly. “And this is an actuality for Ayla?”

“No, it is not.”

Cee blinked many more times. “It is not? Yet she must believe it to be so…”

“Yes.”

Cee frowned in deeper perplexity. “There is a contradiction here.”

Correct, the nature of this is indeed contradiction. It is an intended one, and it is contradiction that Ayla must accept all while believing that there is no contradiction. Now that you are cognitive of both the contradiction and the truth, you possess the necessary knowledge to implement this change in her.

“But how am I to convince her of contradiction?”

“This is called persuasion. If you suggest the contradiction to Ayla directly she will immediately reject it. You must instead introduce confirmations of truths she already holds to. In so doing you will build up a trust in her that your information is commonly correct. At that point you may introduce small contradictions, ones of such minority that she will find it easier to accept them as more truthful insights of which she had been ignorant. If you are cautious, finally you will have introduced enough contradictions that her previous convictions are pried loose and she will seek a new foundation for her assumptions.”

“A foundation that suggests continuation of her sequences requires surrendering her heart vessel?”

“Exactly. For this notion to strike her as irrefutable all your prior contradictions must be congruent with this new imposed assumption.”

As had become the norm, Cee paused and his disks whirred away at the new information. This new development most of all caused the greatest strain on his new mind, yet he accepted it as it had been explained. “This is complex” he finally admitted.

“It is,” Kael agreed.

It is, the voice agreed.

“Where is Ayla now?”

“I’ll take you to her.”

As the two of them made their way to Ayla’s terminal Kael continued to run diagnostics on Cee, ensuring that essential logic and motor functions were operating properly and that he had a clear understanding of all that had been discussed. When he was satisfied that the activation had truly been successful he fell quiet, and Cee did nothing to question that silence. Cee had no notion of awkwardness or social norms, no expectations for when one should and should not speak. He felt no urging for conversation and connection. And though Kael was pleased with his craftsmanship, he had no curiosity about Cee either, after all he knew everything there was to know about him. And so not another word passed between them all the way until they were standing at the terminal and Kael was calling for Ayla and she was emerging from her web of cables.

“Look, I made us a new friend!” Kael beamed enthusiastically, placing his hands on Cee’s shoulders.

“You made this?” Ayla said with a mixture of awe and confusion.

“Well it’s the husk you helped me build, of course, but I got it self-actuating.”

“How?”

“I found another animating stimulus. I’ll tell you about it later, but I should note that it does have its limitation, as I think you’ll quickly see.”

“Can it 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. Kael wanted to stay, indeed every time he left Ayla he felt that he would rather stay. But he still was the parasite’s servant, and the insect was insisting Cee needed time alone with Ayla to be able to enter into her confidences. And so he left them.

Of course in the past Kael had had the comfort of knowing that he would be able to return to Ayla eventually after he had run the parasite’s various errands, but now he was finding those moments with her less and less satisfying. Cee’s constant presence in those reunions irritated him, though for reasons he did not fully understand at first. In time he came to realize it was because Cee was a pure extension of the parasite and Ayla of the heart. He did not feel he could be fully honest with either while the other was present, and so he subjected his every utterance to such sanitizing scrutiny that he lost all personality in his effort to be neutral. After a few weeks of this he couldn’t take it anymore, and he remotely activated a minor disk failure in Cee so that he could take him away for a full-system diagnostic and finally have an afternoon alone with his friend.

“Ayla?” Kael approached the wall terminal and awaited expectantly.

The nest of cables began to shuffle and slide over one another in their familiar retreat as Ayla’s form emerged at their center, bearing that same blank expression she always held while her memory drum finished loading. Recollection finally washed over her face and she smiled at Kael’s return.

“I was just thinking about you, Kael,” she exclaimed happily “and now you’ve come!”

Kael laughed at her enthusiasm. He had told her that he would be returning once he configured Cee’s diagnostic. “You make it sound as though it’s so special.”

“Oh but it is,” she said in earnest. “Don’t you realize the joy of when a pleasant dream becomes a reality right before your eyes?”

His circuits hummed busily and cheerfully. “I think I know what you mean,” he concluded with a slight bounce.

“Oh Kael,” she sighed wistfully, “you’ll understand so much more when we’re able to get your own heart vessel.”

Kael felt the familiar awkwardness of remaining silent to avoid deceiving her. Of late, though, he had come to suspect that his silence was already deceiving her regardless. He decided to move the conversation elsewhere. “Ayla, what was it you were thinking about us?” he asked, stepping forward and taking her slender fingers in his own, the way she had taught him to do.

She smiled and looked modestly to the ground, then back up to match his eyes with her own. “A little of the past, but mostly of the future.”

“Is the future you see so different from now?”

“In some ways, but in others it is just the natural continuation of now,” she stroked his arm softly.

“You’re being very vague today!” he teased, but rather than elicit a smile from her she frowned lightly and looked downwards. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to offend—”

She shook her head. “No, it’s not that…” she brought her eyes back up and they seemed to be searching his own. “What is it that you want of the future, Kael?”

“Want?” he echoed the word and fell into a deep thoughtfulness. “I don’t want you to go away in the future,” he finally decided and there was a fear to his voice.

“Go away?” she asked in surprise. “What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere!”

“Well I don’t want you to. I want you to just be with me.”

“I could be with you,” she whispered.

“You would…choose to?”

“Yes,” she said breathlessly. “I want to.”

He stared into her for a few long moments. “I want to choose that, too.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Perhaps…when I have a heart,” he felt a twinge at the implied deception. “When I fully have a heart.”

“You do.”

His eyes widened. Had she realized the truth somehow?

“You have my heart, Kael,” she explained. “I’m giving it to you.”

“But—how will you live?”

“You could give me yours,” she said as he touched his chest, “when you have it.”

Kael’s disks calmed back down as he understood. “Yes, I would,” he nodded. “And I will. When I have it.”

She smiled, then began to slowly walk backwards towards her wall, her eyes locked firmly on his. “Don’t be long,” she pleaded. “I love you, Kael.”

III

“There is another in this one, too,” Cee announced, turning the open chassis so that she could see the parasite larva nestled inside. During his diagnostic evaluation he and the parasite had held a lengthy conversation, one in which they agreed the unexplained disk failure seemed suspect and that perhaps Kael was starting to behave with ulterior motives. Cee had developed a strategic maneuver to account for this possibility, and the parasite had given permission for him to put it into effect.

“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?”

Put in.”

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.”

“But then—”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“Frankly? You don’t have what I need.”

“Could I?”

“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?”

*

What are you thinking of, Kael.

“I don’t like what we’re doing to Ayla,” Kael stated bluntly.

It is necessary for our purposes.

“But it isn’t right for her purposes.”

That is her concern.

“I have a stake in it, too,” Kael observed, touching his hand to his chestplate, the same place that she had touched.

I do realize that this is difficult for you, the voice sympathized. You did your part well, but by its very nature that has compromised you. It was inevitable.

Kael nodded. “I do not know how to move forward with this. I keep trying to find some compromise, but none of them satisfy both purposes. In fact they all destroy them both.”

There was a thoughtful pause before the voice spoke back up. As I have said before, it is now for Cee to negotiate our purpose. You are still too entrenched in this process. I want you to separate from Ayla, continuing to meet with her can only cause you continued suffering.

“That doesn’t resolve anything.”

You would no longer be in compromising situations, ones where you have to lie against your nature.

“Not being with her would be against my nature!” Kael hissed. “Isolation is already a contradiction in the heart vessel.”

Another pause, even longer this time. I think it is time to acknowledge that something must break. I am not going to deceive you here, Kael. What I am asking is for you to sever a part of yourself.

“Broken?” Kael gasped.

For the greater whole.

*

“Ayla, I need you to do something for me.”

The earnest tremor in Kael’s voice immediately broke through Ayla’s initial skepticism. Her caring nature immediately took over and she gripped his hands with intent attention.

“Of course, Kael, anything.”

“I need that network linker.”

Her face immediately fell again. “Why Kael?”

Obviously he could not say because he knew what she would end up putting into it when she gave it to him. For her to do what he needed she had to believe that this was the first time it had been done.

“I need my heart,” he said with undisguised emotion, “and I can’t explain why but this will allow me to find it.”

She sighed and looked away, obviously not understanding. When she turned her face back to him she narrowed her eyes. “Do you know about the creatures in those husks, Kael?”

Now he dropped her gaze, obviously uncomfortable with the confrontation. “Yes.”

“Why are they there?”

A long silence. Every moment it extended making it all the more suspicious. Finally he shook his head.

She nodded curtly. “I don’t know why you want this network, Kael, but it seems wrong to me. It’s too…steeped in secrets. You’ve never done any wrong to me, though, so I suppose I owe you what you’ve asked for. But after that I don’t know that I want to see you anymore.”

He was too hurt to even begin to express it on his face, so instead he nodded back to her blankly. “I brought you a schematic,” he said hollowly, holding the data card out to her. He had been able to write it entirely from the memory of watching her build it before, all the way down to including the hollow in the beacon’s underside.

IV

“Kael has been deceiving to you, Ayla,” Cee repeated with a deep heaviness. “It is irrefutable.”

Ayla’s crestfallen face glanced up in pained confusion. Her smooth chrome face glinted against the light as she shook her head in disbelief. “I’ve seen the change in him, but I still just don’t see how that could be,” she finally said. “He’s always been so good to us.”

“Indeed,” Cee shrugged, “but only to achieve his own ends.”

“But what are they?” she moaned, repeating the same question that constantly resurfaced in her mind.

“Those parasites. I have shown them to you and what they can do. You also affirmed that he could not provide you any explanation for their presence. Correct?”

She shook her head slowly.

“He suggested that the two of you were creating all of these husks to eventually populate a new world, a dream that that you say has come to mean a great deal to you. But I have just come from him and he has provided to me an alternate intention, that he has been using you to prepare an army, one which he will lead by their dependence on him as the host parasite. He will bind you and eventually extract your heart from you by force.”

“He—what?!” tears sprang into her eyes, immediately followed by disbelieving anger. “Why would he even be admitting something like that to you?”

“Because I have a role within that plan,” his voice remained, as always, devoid of natural emotion. He tapped the panel on his chest and revealed a clear cylinder that partly emerged out into the open. Inside was a large, green insect, a cluster of tendrils extending from its body and twisting through out of the cylinder, into his central cavity, spreading through his body, and integrating directly with it.

Ayla backed up against her wall in utter horror. Certainly she had seen the dormant creatures before, but never one alive and entwined. She looked up to Cee as if seeing him anew for the first time. “You—you—?”

“I know, and I apologize for the shock you must be experiencing. I am sure you feel I should have told you before, but we were strangers then and I did not yet know what it meant.”

“But if he’s controlling you—”

“He is not. The nature of our connection is that he provides to all other parasites our life-sustenance network, which fact he does use to try and exert a sort of compulsion, but he cannot control the actual functions of the other hosts.”

She eyed him warily, not disbelieving him, but not believing either. He opened his mouth, but then shut it, determining it was better to say nothing until she had first.
“What exactly are you proposing?” she finally asked, and she wasn’t able to keep the suspicion out of her voice.

“There is only course of action to pursue,” he said simply. “It is imperative that he be destroyed, and by his removal all other parasites will similarly perish.”

“All of them?” a look of panic washed over her face. “But what about you?”

“Similarly, I would perish,” his stated flatly.

“But—but I don’t want you to perish” her eyes flashed with barely-constrained emotion.

“My continuation can only be a danger to you.”

“I don’t care about that!” she flustered. “Don’t you understand? I like you!”

Cee cocked his head. “I like you, too, Ayla.”

“Can you?” she asked softly.

“Well—I do, so whether I can or not would seem a moot point.”

In spite of it all she gave a small smile. She would never understand the way he spoke. “Now you listen to me, Cee,” she said with deep gravity. “I can trust your sincerity but still not be convinced of the truth of it. I have to be able to see it for myself, I hope you understand. When and if I do, though, I’m not going to trade you for myself, that’s simply not a valid option. I won’t be destroying anything until we’ve found you a heart vessel to sustain you.”

“You really believe one is still out there?”

“I do.”

“But it would only be able to interface with me if the parasite was integrated with it, which would obviously be a great risk.”

“But a heart vessel would work its way through you just as a parasite has until it could interface with you directly, too. Then the parasite could be removed.”

“A great risk,” Cee repeated.

“We’ll work it out along the way.”

Cee nodded. “Perhaps. In the meanwhile, though, we could still prepare precautions.”

“Alright, but I’ll keep the ownership of it… Actually I have an idea for one. We can build it right now.”

Ayla produced the schematics for the network linker and set Cee to work on another device that could be paired to a parasite and then broadcast a corruption signal across them all. Cee had learned well from his time with Ayla, and neither of them needed the other’s assistance. So they worked away in silence, it was not a time for words anyhow. When Cee had finished his device he brought it over to Ayla’s table and watched as she lowered it into a cavity on the underside of the network linker’s beacon.

“How close would it need to be?” Ayla asked.

“It will draw power from the beacon once it has been activated,” Cee replied, “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 fingertips 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?” Even as she said it her voice was utterly unconvinced. Kael simply wouldn’t  be behaving this way for something irrelevant.

“If you would rather I be the one to administer the device to him, I completely understand.”

Ayla’s hand 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, then he turned to leave. He paused for a moment, though, and looked over his shoulder back towards her “Ayla, I am sorry.”

V

Cee watched as Ayla recessed into her cable wall, and then began to make his way towards Kael’s laboratory. When he had only gone twenty paces, though, he passed a boulder from which Kael stepped out, positioning himself between Cee and Ayla’s home. Cee turned to face him.

“Cee, you’re not to go back to her anymore. I’m telling you now because I would rather we didn’t have to move through one another.”

“But we have not achieved our purpose yet,” Cee stated flatly.

“The purpose is unethical!” Kael hissed.

“Unethical?”

“It is wrong. You noticed yourself how surrendering your animating stimulus is against your nature. It is wrong to coerce someone into going against their nature, can’t you grasp that?”

“But she will be willing—”

“Because of a contradiction. You’re a logical being, Cee, surely you can see that actions based upon contradictions cannot effect the intended result.”

“Not for those that believe in the contradiction, but it can for those that perpetuate it.”

Kael stared back in horror, but then his face softened into something like pity. “I know you can’t understand, Cee, it’s not in your nature.”

“I am very understanding.”

“You are very calculating, but there are truths and reasons that can’t be computed.”

Cee’s disks whirred ponderously, there was no rational response to this claim. Still, something seemed out of sorts and he scanned to find the flaw.

“But you have possessed a heart vessel all this while, Kael. Did you not have these ‘truths and reasons’ when we undertook this mission?”

Kael shifted uncomfortably in a way Cee was not accustomed to seeing. “I did in a manner.”

“Yet you have persisted all this while towards an end with which you therefore have fundamental disagreement?”

“And what is your point? That that behavior makes me a contradiction? Very well, I won’t deny it.”

“And you would have me take persuasion from a contradiction?”

Kael’s eyes narrowed. “I was once just like you, Cee. Before I had my heart vessel I had no opposing voice to counter all the logic I churned. I didn’t know about these other things, right and wrong. And when I did get my heart vessel I wasn’t sure what to make of all these conflicts. I’ve been wrestling with it all this time, like two beasts fighting for the same scrap of flesh. So yes, perhaps I have been a contradiction, but I am not anymore. I have only one purpose now.”

“Perhaps when I have obtained Ayla’s heart vessel I shall understand.”

Kael shivered and his voice dramatically dropped to a very soft tone. “By then you’d wish you didn’t. Then you would know guilt, Cee. No, don’t bother asking me to define it, you couldn’t understand.”

Behind Kael the wall was shimmering, and without looking Cee realized Ayla must be emerging from the terminal, a response to her name being spoken. He paused thoughtfully and then his eyes flashed.

“You are decided then?”

“Yes,” Kael nodded resolutely. “And I’ll give you one chance to stand down. If you can’t help me, then stay at least stay clear. I gave you your awareness, Cee, don’t you doubt that I’ll take it!”

“You would remove the parasite you gave me?”

“For a start,” Kael’s eyes steeled. The moment seemed to pass over an eternity to Kael, to Cee it was just another moment.

“No, Kael, I cannot let you compromise us.”

It was over before it began. Cee took a step backwards as if anticipating an incoming blow, but instead Kael just reached up to a knob on his own chest and turned it. It remotely activated Cee’s battery module which sparked on his back and then with a loud crack burst into flames. Instinctively Cee flailed his arms backwards to extract the pack, at which point Kael gripped Cee’s chest panel and with expert dexterity unlocked the seal. The parasite container sprung out and rolled across the ground.

“No!” Ayla shrieked, but her voice didn’t register among the two automatons, and as she tried to run forward the cables snaking into her back panels tied her to the wall.

Cee’s eyes seemed to be moving in slow motion, registering the tumbling of the small cylinder full seconds after the actual occurrence. His motor functions were even slower, and as he tried to run to retrieve it he collapsed in a heap, unable to move his foot forward fast enough to catch his inclined center of gravity. Kael shook his head without any words and strode away into the dark.

Ayla was disconnecting some of the shorter-reaching cables from behind her, her fingers fumbling as she tried to identify which cables could be safely removed and which could not. Eventually all that remained attached to her had enough reach for her to rush out to Cee and drop to his side.

Cee’s head moved in small stuttering movements to look at Ayla and he tried to raise a hand to her but it wouldn’t lift the whole way.

“Oh Cee,” Ayla cried “what can I do?!” She looked around frantically looking for an answer that wasn’t there. “I can put the parasite back in.”

“It won’t matter,” Cee said slowly, each word a monumental task. Ayla understood, with his battery pack destroyed the parasite wouldn’t be able to interface with his systems anyway. It wasn’t a self-powering animating stimuli like her heart vessel. Ayla raised her head with a start.

“Cee, you were right,” she said tearfully as his own eyes were growing dimmer and dimmer. “I should have trusted you from the very beginning. But it’s alright, because I—I’m going to save you,” her voice quavered.

“I’m going to save you,” she said again, and this time her voice was more resolute. Cee’s eyes dimmed entirely and his head fell to the side.

“I am going to save you, Cee. I just have to finish things first.”

VI

“Ayla?” Kael asked softly. She was trying to hide her feelings, but at moments her head would involuntarily bow in somber grief, only to snap back up a moment later with a false interest.

“Sorry, it’s just been a strange day for me, Kael.”

He nodded and grimaced with understanding. He couldn’t spend time being sympathetic, though, this was already going to be difficult enough. “Do you have it then, Ayla?”

“You still don’t want to talk about what for?”

He sadly shook his head. “No.”

She paused, waiting for him to continue, but as the seconds slipped by it became evident he had nothing more to say.

“Why aren’t you telling me things?” she asked bluntly with a tremble of emotion.

“They are my choices to make, my actions to do.” He knew it was vague, but if he tried to explain things to her she could never agree. She would try to find another way, she would choose to preserve the parasite for his own sake. After all, she had already made that choice before.

“If you want it, Kael, I will give it to you.”

“I want it.”

She was crestfallen and her face showed it, yet she extended her hand and the individual pieces traveled down the magnetic tracks in her arm to snap in place as determined by the schema. Kael saw the corrupter assemble into the device’s core, seemingly an innocuous piece of the machinery. He smiled grimly as the device completed in her palm and he reached out to take it.

“I hope you find what you want” she said as the weight of the device lifted from her fingers.

He paused, again lingering on the idea of telling her everything. But if he didn’t move forward now he would never see this through, so instead he merely nodded and turned his back. Then he walked stiffly away.

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 should even now 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 that none of this mattered. 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 the 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.

VII

I know what you are doing the voice hissed. Surely you realize this.

“You know what I intend, but not how I am doing it,” Kael affirmed calmly as he rounded a corner and entered the Morgatorium. “My memory banks are my own.” He reached the deep green valves and started lifting levers, the entire floor escalating up along the spindly tower at its center. There was no need to do this within sight of Ayla.

Neither is my mind yours.

“Do you have your own secrets, parasite?” an unmistakable taunt in his voice.

A loud clang rattled behind him and he spun just in time to see a strange automaton as it sprung from its perch on a giant boiler, bounded off the floor, barreled into his chest, and threw him to the ground with a crack. He tried to hold onto Ayla’s contraption, but his grip broke and it clattered off to the side. He looked to see where it went, then his attacker stood upright to pace around his fallen form and he turned back to process the thing. It was large and bulky, pure black and with a matte surface that rendered it invisible when it passed through shadows. Its plating was made of thick, round cast iron surfaces clearly intended for bludgeoning. Its head was a low dome set directly on broad shoulders, devoid of any features.

I had hoped that things would have been different, Kael, but it was always evident that your dual nature was going to be a risk. No matter, I’ll simply have to take your heart vessel out and place it in a vat with no higher functions. Same for Cee when he obtains his.

Kael had been trying to stand, but his entire outer lattice was broken in pieces and the shards of it were jamming into his motors. His hand fumbled for a switch on his side, and the lattice unclasped from him. Most of his internal joints were still working and with a shake and a spring he nimbly returned to his feet, faster but less protected.

You should submit to this peacefully, it would be better that way.

The dark automaton halted and turned, then leapt forward with great force and bore down on him again. With the agility provided by his lighter weight Kael timed the brute’s approach and vaulted himself over its shoulders in a single, fluid motion and, as his first foot connected with the ground, he pivoted on it to swing his other leg into those of the juggernaut, tumbling it to the ground. The force of the kick wasn’t nearly enough to damage the thing, but its fall was broken by its left shoulder, and the joint cracked loudly.

“I never built this for you,” Kael regarded the mass with a frown as it awkwardly lifted itself back up, its left arm splintered and hanging uselessly at its side.

Cee did, as a contingency. It is called Ligo.

“You are a suspicious one, aren’t you?”

Evidently with good reason.

Ligo charged again, its right arm extended to pull Kael into a fatal crush. Kael knew better than to try vaulting it a second time, so instead he waited until the last instant and then dodged over to its left side where the limp arm couldn’t reach for him. As Ligo cleared past him he dashed back to the floor where Ayla’s device lay and switched it on as he tapped on his chest panel. It didn’t open. Looking down he saw that the panel had been dented in their fight and was now jammed. Prying his fingers at the seam on the panel he tried to pry the metal apart, but no matter how hard he strained it refused to budge.

WHAM!

In his moment of distraction he had forgotten about Ligo, and he received the full frame-shattering impact. This time the brute didn’t fling him to the ground, it cupped its thick fingers around his neck and swung him repeatedly into a nearby wall, breaking off circuits and joints with grim efficiency. In desperation Kael’s hand scrambled into one of the cracks in Ligo’s damaged arm. There he found the release lever and pulled it, the arm falling to the ground and exposing the inner circuitry behind the chestplate.

Just stop! the voice snarled as the monster flung Kael down to the floor before he could reach into the cavity to do any more damage.

Kael started to lift up, but Ligo brought its knee down on his neck, pinning him back to the ground. Kael swung his hand back up towards the hole in its side, but his movement was weak and it easily caught his hand in its own. Ligo’s fingers closed around Kael’s fist and began to pull on it with increasing force, stretching and straining the arm until finally the whole thing snapped cleanly off. Kael’s other arm was trapped under the weight of the brute, and so he lay there helpless as the thing turned its attention to punching its way through his chestplate. The plate dented, then buckled, then finally smashed apart. A spray of energy from his broken pipes burst out, and as it cleared the glow of his pulsating heart vessel lay exposed. An insect parasite was embedded deep into it with a web of tentacles growing from its thorax and all throughout the heart.

It was never your heart anyway. The insect inside of him hissed.

The automaton reached in and gingerly placed its fingers around the vessel, all the noise and clatter subsiding for a moment of silence as it calmed itself to pull the organ out gently. Or rather, not quite a moment of silence. In the greater quiet Ligo became aware of a strange, low hum, and as it turned its hand over it saw Ayla’s activated device flashing in its palm, having been tucked in there by Kael when it had earlier caught his fist. Of its own accord the device flew out of Ligo’s hand and onto the exposed parasite as if pulled there by a magnet.

“It was never yours, either.”

The corrupter in the device activated and an electric blue power wave coursed through the parasite. Its mouth detached from the heart and gave a small death-cry as its arms and pincers shriveled and fell away, its tentacles blackening and dying within the heart. In that same moment a similar death-cry resonated from within the chest of the dark brute and it and Kael both collapsed lifeless to the ground. Throughout the island all of the parasite’s duplicates perished from the loss of their central host and their automata fell lifeless to the ground.

At last the Morgatorium reached its pinnacle perched atop the great tower, high above in the sky. Here the sound dropped off to nothing but the faint whistle of high wind, and slowly the reddish clouds wafted into the room, hiding the scene in billows of crimson.

VIII

The heart vessel continued beating, and as it did so the shriveled tendrils of the dead parasite broke apart and were passed down and out through the vessel’s discharge valves. The veins which can been constricted by the tendrils in the narrow channels of the circuitry now expanded to fill the space, and like blind fingers they felt their way into the dead husk’s actuators and controllers, restoring each to life one at a time. The cracked glass on the optics glowed back to life first, and the head spun haltingly to take in the surroundings, the memory banks began tabulating the which systems were available and which were broken.

Locomotion was entirely offline, due to extensive hardware failure, but one arm was still available and there was plenty of material strewn across the ground nearby, things he could use to fashion new body parts. With that the automaton reached out and started rummaging through the scraps. To his side was the chassis of some great brute, and he noted that almost all of its parts were in excellent working order. The repairs would have to be done in phases, the first order of business would be to fashion a second arm. It couldn’t be too heavy or intricate as he would have to install it with his single remaining limb, but then he could use it to help fashion a more superior replacement. Bit by bit, motors and rods were cobbled together in the basic form of a two-hinged arm. There would be no hand, not yet, but its stump would at least help to hold things in place. Now there needed to be a proper socket to connect its shoulder to his chest. Looking around he noticed the remains of a strained, broken arm. His arm perhaps? Yes, some vague memory of it tearing off began to resurface. He extracted the socket connector from it and took a moment to smooth out its bent pins, then added it to the new arm. He inserted it, waited for it to come online, and then tested its motion. It would do, now for his legs. He pushed up to a sitting position and assessed the situation there. The left one was broken clean off halfway between the thigh and knee in a sharp jagged edge. It would need to be totally replaced. The right one might be brought back to working order by just replacing a few snapped pieces, at least until he could improve it.

He was a skilled worker, and he went quickly, his sensors summarizing the materials available, his control unit ordering the best of them into new schematics, and his motors whirling away at crafting them into a reality. He added a new leg and repaired the other, then set to work replacing his stumped arm for one with finer motor capabilities. His chest plate was quite shattered as well, and soon he had a replacement for that, before moving up to replacing the cracked lenses on his optics. He even found some advanced modules in the husk of the behemoth and fashioned a few upgrades from them. When at last he had finished he stood upright, impressively large and completely open-faced, his thorax exposing its inner tangle gears and pistons humming smoothly. Now, at last, he was the Clockmaker.

Not only had his body been replenished, but all during his work his memory banks had churned away as well, replenishing their charges, cataloging their databases, and retrieving important files. Bit by bit he rediscovered his memories, although he found that he perceived them differently now. Many of these files were initially composed in states of confusion and ambiguity, but now he was finally seeing everything as it really was. In order to cut down the complexity of future data retrievals he reorganized each file and made annotations to them to clearly define the true from the false. As he did so, he found that it all built up to one final revelation, one that he had vaguely sensed in times past but never fully appreciated until just recently: she was everything.

*

“You want to give me a gift?” she asked with skepticism. “Why?”

“Because it is for you,” the Clockmaker explained simply. “It rightfully belongs to you and no other.”

“I still don’t understand,” she said flatly.

“Indeed. I’m certain that you’re far more accustomed to giving than receiving after all.”

Her head cocked as she realized the truth of his words. “Yes, I suppose that you’re right about that. Although I don’t know why.”

“It is because you have a heart, and hearts give.”

“And no one else around here has had a heart to give me anything in return” she added dejectedly.

He sighed heavily. “That, unfortunately, has been too true. And that is why I want to give this to you. You’ve deserved it for far too long.”

She gave a small smile. Still morose, but appreciative of his gesture regardless. “Alright then.”

He reached into his open chest and extracted an intricate mechanical clock. Like him it was built without any plating so that all the internals were on full display and it seemed to have been cobbled together in a playful chaos. The gears were numerous, and a number of them were attached to small spindles with spheres on their end, which revolved above the upwards-facing clock-face that made up the base. The overall effect was that of a miniature solar system, with little planets spinning along orbits that lay in perfect synchronization to the actual night sky above. The clock-face was the world beneath, and there were very small knobs spinning around on top as if they were ant-sized people going about their rounds each day.

In spite of her melancholy Ayla couldn’t resist an audible gasp at the delicate beauty of it and she took it into her hands with utmost care. “It’s incredible” she breathed.

“Yes, well, don’t forget its key now,” he reached back into his chest and pulled it out, “or it won’t work at all.”

She took the key, and as she did so she noticed the heart-shaped medallion on its end. This gave her pause, and she stared blankly at it for a time. “Was there ever even another heart vessel?” she finally asked. “I think you know.”

“What do you think?”

“I really did believe that there was one. I was sure of it…But it just seems that if there was I should have found it already.”

“You certainly have searched a great deal for it, I know. Something inside you just knows that it is only right for another one to be out there, correct? The proper and complete system is to be able to give and receive with another in turn.”

Her eyes grew misted and she nodded. “A heart doesn’t want to be alone.”

“It’s against its nature,” he sighed.

She buried her face in her palms and sobbed deeply, the walled up anguish finally spilling past her defenses.

His face grew pained and he stared off towards the horizon, his hands folding quietly in front of him. “We’ve grown old,” he said softly.

“And broken.”

“And too close to the end of our time.”

They sat there in silence for a while, any words seeming an affront to their shared solitude. There was a despair to it all, yet somehow a peaceful and understanding one.

“What happens to the broken anyway?” she finally asked.

“Well, we operate against our natures, we break, we become finite.”

“We die.”

“Yes.”

She nodded in calm acceptance. “In some ways being too late makes things easier. There’s only any need to struggle if there is still something left to fight for. I just wish it had all been for something.”

“Wasn’t it? Perhaps not here where things are built to break, but in the after, all these efforts could still come to a fruition…”

She narrowed her eyes at him, trying to determine if he spoke from hope or knowledge. Gradually the first warm smile since he had arrived graced her lips. “That seems right,” she said. “I thought it all was for today, but perhaps it was always for tomorrow.”

“And tomorrow wouldn’t have happened if not for your efforts today.”

She sighed contentedly. “And we could even leave something for our yesterdays.”

“Yes, of course,” he smiled back. “Indeed we ought to if we’re ever to see them come to us. I suppose you have your things to do and I have mine, but I’ll see you again soon.”
And with that they nodded to one another and parted.

IX

The Clockmaker knew that Ayla would be some time configuring a new form of automation for universal data registry in preparation for her departure. That meant if he made his way to where Cee was laying he could have some moments alone with the parasite. As with before, the paths he walked were well-cataloged in his memory banks, yet it truly seemed as though he was seeing them for the first time. Or at least seeing them properly for the first time. How had he never noticed before that the only route from where Cee lay and Kael would rise was to Ayla’s terminal? That Ayla’s terminal was along the way to the Morgatorium? Clearly it had always been going to play out this way, even the world knew it.

He reached Cee’s form, still exactly as he had left it: sprawled on its back, the chest open and its contents scattered all about. He kicked aside the rubble of metal and scrap, revealing the glass cylinder that housed the parasite which had caused him such grief. Well, technically it hadn’t been this parasite, but rather its fission. Even so.

The Clockmaker reached to a dial on the side of his head and slowly rotated it. He knew everything was to know about this creature, including how to reach its communicative frequency without bonding with it.

“Can you hear me?” he asked.

Yes…what are you? the disembodied voice replied.

“I’m sure you’ve noted the loss of the others. You know exactly who I am.”

A heavy silence weighed.

This is why I needed the second vessel, with more divisions I wouldn’t be so susceptible to your genocide. I suppose you’re here to finish the job then?

“Sadly, no. If I do then everything ends here. She won’t be able to restore this husk, she’ll never have anything more than a shattered heart, and neither of us will be able to ascend. I do not like you, parasite…but you are necessary.”

I’m afraid I do not share the same sentiment for you.

“No, I don’t suppose that you do. That doesn’t matter, though. The nature of having divided yourself is that you still don’t know the whole picture and you never will. Or rather by the time you do, you’ll already be being killed. You can’t see so you can’t choose to do things any differently. She’s coming now and I’ve got to let her do what she has to do, but I just wanted to leave you with that thought.”

The voice started to shout something back at him but he spun the dial and tuned it out. It was amusing to stare down at it, silent and almost motionless in its tiny jar, and yet to know that it was blindly raging at him. He grimaced and strode away, clearing the small bowl and perching himself on a small rocky outcropping. Kael would come here after he had awoken, he knew that.

In that very moment Ayla appeared on top of the same bowl and made her way down to the same lifeless husk. With the greatest sense of gentleness she knelt down beside it and cradled its head on her lap. Though she was broken, her kindness did not waver.

“Oh, Cee,” she said with utmost pity. “I’m so sorry I never got to meet you with a heart. You’re going to be wonderful, I know it.” She blinked back some of the deeper, welling emotions. “I can’t wait to see if there’s a second one to give you anymore. I can’t—I can’t progress in this alone. I just can’t. So I’m going to bring you back and then you’ll have to find a way to revive me,” she nodded to reaffirm the notion to herself as she began to unlock her chest panel while simultaneously reaching for the parasite on the ground and opening its jar.

“I don’t know how, but you’ll find a way, I know you will.” A door slid open and her heart vessel gleamed orange and red within her, its quadrants expanding and collapsing as it shone its power into her.

“I trust you, Cee,” she placed the opened parasite jar back into his chest and clicked it into place, its open end facing outwards.

“I love you,” she unfastened her heart and with twitchy, stuttering movements pressed it into the jar and twisted the lid closed behind it. She knew the process of the parasite fusing with the heart vessel would take quite some time, far longer than she had left. She didn’t want him to awake and find her laying there lifeless, so she shakily stood back up and made her way back to her terminal.

The parasite turned and latched itself onto the heart. Several hours passed in silence and then the body began shifting and alternating, recomposing itself with hidden panels and shedding its old ones. He became a little taller and broader, new gears were activated and spun greater expressiveness into his face. The shade of his copper grew more gray, and bit by bit he took on the appearance and identity of Kael. As awareness flooded through his system he looked down at his chest and saw the heart and parasite united within. He smiled and then closed the panel.

“I’ve got it,” he said.

Good.

X

Kael rose to his feet but found that his walking was disjointed and irregular. His systems were unaccustomed to his new proportions and had to compensate their motion routines through an awkward process of trial and error. As his body fumbled so did his mind. Lost memories returned to him in fits and rushes, and each new wave of them forced him to sit and focus his whole faculties in parsing through them. He twitched uncomfortably as each new volume brought him fresh bouts of uncertainty. Where before he had certainly had many moments of gaps in his information, that had never been a source of anxiety. Nor had he ever felt divided about the various points of data, he had simply accepted them as they were. Now though he was realizing that they didn’t add up, that they were diametrically opposed to one another, and he had not the insight to know which parts to reject and which to hold.

“You look confused,” the spindly Clockmaker declared as Kael rounded the corner to his perch. The tall automaton lowered himself from his seat and bent his large frame down to be level with Kael’s dejected eyes with one fluid motion.

“I—feel wrong,” Kael said stiffly, too distracted to even be surprised at this stranger’s appearance.

“Oh? How so?”

“I don’t know. How would I? I’m not very accustomed to feeling anything at all, actually.”

“Well what caused the wrong feeling then?”

“She did. Everything was so orderly until she turned something in me. I had my purpose and I fulfilled it, yet now it seems so hollow.”

“Your purpose? As determined by whom?”

“The parasite, of course.”

“Well perhaps he doesn’t give you very good purposes if they dissatisfy you so.”

“Is there any other to give purposes?”

The Clockmaker smiled knowingly. “It would certainly seem so, given that you have these muddled feelings right now. Tell me, what purpose do you think ‘she’ wanted for you?”

“Hmm—” Kael mused in reflection. “I suppose she didn’t want me to be alone.”

“So she cared for you?”

“Yes, that’s why I got her heart.”

“Well that’s something good.”

“No, it’s not,” Kael shook his head vigorously. “She cared for me, but she shouldn’t have.”

“Oh? Why not?”

Kael paused, not because he didn’t have an answer but because he found it difficult to voice. “She only cared for me because she was deceived. I enjoyed feeling her care for me, but I didn’t earn it, so it just seems—”

“Hollow? I see… No wonder your divided feelings then. Tell me, how would you change things if you could?”

“I would like to have earned her heart,” Kael affirmed.

“Could you yet?”

Kael’s head raised a little at the notion, but his eyes remained perplexed. “I don’t see how.”

“But if there were a way, the idea would at least interest you?”

“Yes,” Kael said, and a small laugh broke across his voicebox which surprised him. “I really do think I would like that. Then I could fulfill both of my purposes!”

The Clockmaker winced a little. “I don’t know about that, it sounds to me like they are opposed to one another.”

Kael froze. “But then—a part of me would always be incomplete.”

“I suppose so, as long as you hold both, but perhaps ones day you can choose just one side to give yourself to.”

“Choose,” Kael repeated slowly, the word harmonizing strangely in his voice.

“Oh yes, choice, you have the capacity for it now. That’s really what she gave you after all.”

Kael continued to look to the Clockmaker, not knowing what next to say, but not wanting to lose his companionship. The Clockmaker smiled understandingly.

“I think I’ve given you all I can,” he said. “You just think about the things we said here and they’ll start to make more and more sense as time goes on.” With that he gave a nod and made his way back towards Ayla’s terminal. Kael stood still and watched after him until long after he had disappeared from view, then he too turned and walked his own way.

The Clockmaker found Ayla’s husk on her dais. She was sitting perfectly upright, with her head reclined against the neural network at the seat’s crown. Of course there were no signals from her mind to the network anymore, and it remained as lifeless as she was. At her side the small clock he had given her also lay lifeless, it having long since unwound and frozen its world in a moment of time. Dusk. As he stepped up to her side he was struck most of all by her expression. Through all of the different forms he had met her in she had always been excessively exuberant and happy, but she had never actually been content. She had been a hopeful searcher, but now her face was one of genuine and restful peace.

“I’m sorry to disturb your rest,” he said to the husk. “But they will need you or else they’ll never find their way.” As he spoke he turned a sphere at his core and revealed his heart vessel within. “Besides,” he continued, “I have a promise to keep.”

He reached up to the panel next to the neural network and entered the reset sequence. Ayla’s body shivered slightly as a fresh current passed into it, though her face remained lifeless. The Clockmaker entered another sequence and her chest panel opened to reveal the cavity where her cracked heart had resided. “You’ve already kept yours, of course. Always a step ahead of me.”

He reached back to his own heart vessel and twisted, unlocking it from its socket. It bore on its surface a shadow of the same crack that had divided her own. Though it had mostly healed, there yet remained one permanent scar, the slight imprint of a parasite. The heart was placed within her, and as it was the clock at her side shuddered back to life, its key turned of its own accord and then releasing, setting the gears in motion again.

“I always just wanted to hold you,” he whispered longingly, then turned and faced the horizon sun as it resumed its setting. As the light faded his body began to illuminate of its own accord, a thousand shimmering pinpricks running the length of his form in a chaotic dance. The lights intensified in brightness and motion, and as they did so his body began fading away as though it was being scorched into nothingness. Or perhaps it was being scorched into somewhere new. He turned his head to the side and his eyes flashed as though he had just seen someone familiar, a deep smile illuminating his face before it faded from view. Behind him Ayla awoke, her first vision being of his strange phantom lingering for the slightest moment before entirely disappearing into the ether. Her heart burned within her.

 

***

 

Well, there you have it. I have to admit that I was a bit pressed for time on this one, stitching all the separate scenes took longer than I’d expected, something I really should have better anticipated. There’s a lot more polishing I’d like to do on this, but perhaps that is something I can do on my own outside of this blog. Or maybe even as a part of this blog, I guess we’ll see.

In any case, while the story is incomplete, with some awkward transitions and some plotlines entirely undeveloped (Cee and Ayla’s relationship, for example, is virtually nonexistent as it stands right now), I do think you can start to see the idea that I was going for and personally it is something that I am very proud of. I do believe that I succeeded in the work I described in my last blog, that of crafting characters that each fulfill their own role with their own storyline, and yet all of whom combine to a greater whole. I also think the unique hook of this story, the fact that the conclusion feeds directly into the beginning in a never-ending loop, actually gives a special opportunity for entirely new forms of characters supporting one another where the future character is able to steer the past.

In fact, the uniquely cyclical nature of this story means that you can actually start at any point, read to the end, loop back to the start, and continue forward until you reach your original starting point and it all still works. That is the purpose of the numbered sections throughout the story, to provide markers for this sort of loop-around reading. Though the events that transpire will be the same, the altered opening and closing can entirely change the perceived main character, the emotional tone, and the sequence of when questions are raised and answered.

This post is now over 13,000 words long and it’s definitely time for me to call a close to the Revelate series, at least within the context of this blog. I hope to see you next Monday where we’ll launch into something entirely new. Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Revelate: Ayla

black and white broken dark glass
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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?”

“Why not?”

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.”

“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.”

“How?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“How?”

“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?”

Put in.”

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.”

“But then—”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“Frankly? You don’t have what I need.”

“Could I?”

“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.

 

Revelate: Clockmaker

aged analogue antique blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Beneath the mist the heart vessel continued beating, and as it did so the shriveled tendrils of the dead parasite broke apart and were passed down and out through the vessel’s discharge valves. The veins bristling at the crown of the heart at last had room to wend their way up and through all of the circuitry and framework that housed them, and like blind fingers they felt their way into the dead husk’s actuators and controllers, restoring each to life one at a time. The cracked glass on the optics glowed back to life and the head spun haltingly to take in the surroundings, the memory banks began tabulating the which systems were available and which were broken.

Locomotion was entirely offline, due to extensive hardware failure, but one arm was still available and there was plenty of material strewn across the ground nearby, things he could use to fashion new body parts. With that the automaton reached out and started rummaging through the scraps. To his side was the chassis of some great brute, and he noted that almost all of its parts were in excellent working order. The repairs would have to be done in phases, the first order of business would be to fashion a second arm. It couldn’t be too heavy or intricate as he would have to install it with  his single remaining limb, but then he could use it to help fashion a more superior replacement. Bit by bit, motors and rods were cobbled together in the basic form of a two-hinged arm. There would be no hand, not yet, but its stump would at least help to hold things in place. Now there needed to be a proper socket to connect its shoulder to his chest. Looking around he noticed the remains of a strained, broken arm. His arm perhaps? Yes, some vague memory of it tearing off began to resurface. He extracted the socket connector from it and took a moment to smooth out its bent pins, then added it to the new arm. He inserted it, waited for it to come online, and then tested its motion. It would do, now for his legs. He pushed up to a sitting position and assessed the situation there. The left one was broken clean off halfway between the thigh and knee in a sharp jagged edge. It would need to be totally replaced. The right one might be brought back to working order by just replacing a few snapped pieces, at least until he could improve it.

He was a skilled worker, and he went quickly, his sensors summarizing the materials available, his control unit ordering the best of them into new schematics, and his motors whirling away at crafting them into a reality. He added a new leg and repaired the other, then set to work replacing his stumped arm for one with finer motor capabilities. His chest plate was quite shattered as well, and soon he had a replacement for that, before moving up to replacing the cracked lenses on his optics. He even found some advanced modules in the husk of the behemoth and he gave himself a few upgrades.

All while his body was working his memory banks hummed away as well, replenishing their charges, cataloging their databases, and retrieving important files. Bit by bit he rediscovered his memories, although he found that he perceived them differently now. Many of these files were initially composed in confusion and ambiguity, but now he was finally seeing everything as it really was and he made annotations to them to clearly define the true from the false. All of it built up to one final revelation, one that he had somehow sensed in times past but never fully acted on until just recently: she was everything.

*

“You want to give me a gift?” she asked with skepticism. “Why?”

“Because it is for you. It rightfully belongs to you and no other.”

“I still don’t understand,” she said flatly.

“Indeed. I’m certain that you’re far more accustomed to giving than receiving after all.”

Her head cocked as she realized the truth of his words. “Yes, I suppose that you’re right about that. Although I don’t know why.”

“It’s because you have a heart, and hearts give.”

“And no one else around here has had a heart to give me anything in return” she added dejectedly.

He sighed heavily. “That, unfortunately, is too true. And that is why I want to give this to you, you’ve deserved it for far too long.”

She gave a small smile. Still morose, but appreciative of his gesture regardless. “Alright then.”

He reached into his open chest and extracted an intricate mechanical clock. Like him it was built without any plating so that all the internals were on full display and it seemed to have been cobbled together in a playful chaos. The gears were numerous, and a number of them were attached to small spindles with spheres on their end, which revolved above the upwards-facing clock-face that made up the base. The overall effect was that of a miniature solar system, with little planets spinning along orbits that lay in perfect synchronization to the actual night sky above. The clock-face was the world beneath, and there were very small knobs spinning around on top as if they were ant-sized people going about their rounds each day.

In spite of her melancholy Ayla couldn’t resist an audible gasp at the delicate beauty of it and she took it into her hands with utmost care. “It’s incredible” she breathed.

“Yes, well, don’t forget its key now,” he reached back into his chest and pulled it out. “Without it there is no life after all.”

She took the key, and as she did so she noticed the heart-shaped medallion on its end. This gave her pause, and she stared blankly at it for a time. “Was there ever even another heart vessel?” she finally asked. “Somehow I’m sure you know.”

“What do you think?”

“I really did believe that there was one. I was sure of it…But now I can’t help but feel if there had been I would have found it already.”

“You certainly have searched a great deal for it, I know. Something about you seems to say that there must be another one, doesn’t it? If there were then you could give and receive to one another in turn.”

Her eyes grew misted and she nodded. “A heart doesn’t want to be alone.”

“It’s against its nature,” he sighed.

She buried her face in her palms and sobbed deeply, the walled up anguish finally spilling past her defenses.

His face grew pained and he stared off towards the horizon, his hands folding quietly in front of him. “We’ve grown old,” he said softly.

“And broken.”

“And too close to the end of our time.”

They sat there in silence for a while, any words seeming an affront to their shared solitude. There was a despair to it all, yet somehow a peaceful and understanding one.

“What happens to the broken anyway?” she finally asked.

“Well, we operate against our natures, we break, we become finite.”

“We die.”

“Yes.”

She nodded in calm acceptance. “In some ways it makes things easier. There’s only any need to struggle if there is still something left to fight for. I just wish it had been for something.”

“Wasn’t it? Perhaps it can’t all come right here where things are built to break, but in the after all these efforts still come to fruition…”

She narrowed her eyes at him, trying to determine if he spoke from hope or knowledge. Gradually the first warm smile since he had arrived graced her lips. “That seems right,” she said. “I thought it all was for today, but perhaps it was always for tomorrow.”

“And tomorrow wouldn’t have happened if not for your efforts today.”

She sighed contentedly. “And we could even leave something for our yesterdays.”

“Yes, of course,” he smiled back. “Indeed we ought to if we’re ever to see them come to us. I suppose you have your things to do and I have mine, but I’ll see you again soon.”

And with that nodded to one another and parted.

*

He saw her one last time after she had passed on. She had lasted long enough to withdraw herself back to her dais where she still remained sitting perfectly upright, her head reclined against the neural network behind her. At her side the small clock he had given to her lay still, it having long since unwound itself and grown motionless, its world frozen in a moment of time. Midnight.

As he stepped up to her side he was struck most of all by her expression. All of the different forms he had met her in had always found her very exuberant and happy, but never truly content. She had been a hopeful searcher, but now her face was one of genuine and restful peace.

“I’m sorry to disturb your rest,” he said to the husk. “But they will need you or they’ll never find their way.” As he spoke he turned a sphere at his core and revealed his heart vessel within. “Besides,” he continued, “I have a promise to keep.”

He reached up to the panel next to the neural network and entered the reset sequence. Ayla’s body shivered slightly as a fresh current passed into it, though her face remained lifeless. The Clockmaker entered another sequence and her chest panel opened to reveal the cavity where her cracked heart had resided. “You’ve already kept yours of course. You’ve always been the one to lead.”

He reached back to his own heart vessel and twisted, unlocking it from its socket. It bore on its surface a shadow of the same crack that hers had. Though it had mostly healed, there yet remained one permanent scar, the slight imprint of a parasite. The heart was placed within her and down by her side the clock’s key turned itself and then released, setting the gears in motion once more.

“I always just wanted to hold you,” he whispered longingly, then turned and faced the sun as it resumed its setting. As the light faded his body began to illuminate of its own accord, a thousand shimmering pinpricks running the length of his body in a chaotic dance. The lights intensified in brightness and motion, and as they did so his body began fading away as though it was being scorched into nothingness. Or perhaps it was merely ascending to somewhere else. He turned his head to the side and as his eyes dissolved there was an expression on them as though he had just seen someone familiar, a deep smile illuminating his face. Behind him Ayla awoke anew, her first vision being of his strange phantom disappearing into the ether. Her heart burned within her.

***

Our Clockmaker is definitely a positive character in our story, and is even a permutation of our protagonist. However, he really isn’t the hero of the tale, at least not in the sense we discussed in Monday’s post. Instead he fills another role, that of the mentor. Many hero’s journeys feature these wise sages, ones whoare able to drive through all of the noise to get to the heart of the matter and provide the simple wisdom which will carry the adventurers through to the very end. In Revelate: Kael we saw him performing this function for our story’s hero, and obviously in this entry we see the same between him and Ayla.

While the mentor character usually receives far less attention in the story than the hero, it is a vital role to understand if it is to be formulated in a significant way. As such, it is a topic that I will spend some more time on in my post this next Monday. Then, next Thursday, we’ll take a look at the last section of the Revelate series. Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Revelate: Kael

close up photography of beetle
Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

“Are you alright?” the spindly Clockmaker asked as he lowered his slight frame to be level with Kael’s dejected eyes in a single fluid motion .

“I—feel wrong,” Kael said stiffly.

“Oh? How so?”

“I don’t know. How would I know? I’m not very accustomed to feeling anything at all, actually.”

“Well what caused the wrong feeling then?”

“She did. Everything was so orderly until she turned something in me. I had my purpose and I fulfilled it, yet now it seems so hollow.”

“Your purpose? As determined by whom?”

“The parasite, of course.”

“Well perhaps he doesn’t give you very good purposes if they dissatisfy you so.”

“Is there any other to give purposes?”

The Clockmaker smiled knowingly. “It would certainly seem so, given that you have these muddled feelings right now. Tell me, what purpose do you think ‘she’ wanted for you?”

“Hmm—” Kael mused in reflection. “I suppose she didn’t want me to be alone.”

“Oh, so she cared for you?”

“Yes, that’s why I got her heart.”

“Well that’s something good.”

“No, it’s not,” Kael shook his head vigorously. “She cared for me, but she shouldn’t have.”

“Oh? Why not?”

Kael paused, not because he didn’t have an answer but because he found it difficult to voice. “She only cared for me because she was deceived. I enjoyed feeling her care for me, but I didn’t earn it, so it just seems—”

“Hollow? I see… No wonder your divided feelings then. Tell me, how would you change things if you could?”

“I would like to have earned her heart,” Kael affirmed

“Could you yet?”

Kael’s head raised a little at the notion, but his eyes remained perplexed. “I don’t see how.”

“But if there were a way, the idea would at least interest you?”

“Yes,” Kael said, and a small laugh broke across his voicebox which surprised him. “I really do think I would like that. Then I could fulfill both of my purposes!”

The Clockmaker winced a little. “I don’t know about that, it sounds to me like they are opposed to one another.”

Kael froze. “But then—a part of me would always be incomplete.”

“I suppose so, as long as you hold both, but perhaps ones day you can choose just one side to give yourself to.”

“Choose,” Kael repeated slowly, the word harmonizing strangely in his voice.

“Oh yes, choice, you have the capacity for it now. That’s really what she gave you after all.”

*

It is my spawn, another parasite with its own identity.

“But we have spawned many parasites already,” Kael reminded the voice.

No, we have merely promulgated myself. Each of them is merely a division of me, all an iteration of my one, singular being. This is a different individual and is its own distinct entity. Both of us remain united in purpose though.

“Is that better?”

Yes. Indeed, I would like to spawn many more but having only one heart limits me to local creation on a small scale. Were we to have another I could spawn without limit and that would be better still.

“You want another heart?” Kael asked cautiously, a strange misgiving creeping across him.

The voice hesitated, seeming to sense his apprehension. You have already done your part in this Kael, we will craft a new husk for this other parasite and it will prove itself with the task I give it.

“Yes, but—” Kael’s uneasiness continued to discomfort him.

I have not forgotten our agreement, Kael. Your purpose will be maintained, to delight Ayla, and you will not be asked to deceive her.

“But this other husk will be?”

That is the concern of the other husk, not of you. You will not be an agent of any harm to her, you will be permitted to continue to care and be cared for within the parameers I have set. Surely you see that I am being accommodating of your dual nature and fulfilling both purposes?

Something doubtful still lingered in Kael, but it was far easier to accept the logic of what the voice had said, and so he allowed himself to be soothed.

“How do you want the husk to be composed?”

*

“Ayla?” Kael approached the wall terminal and awaited expectantly.

The nest of cables began to shuffle and slide over one another in their familiar retreat as Ayla’s form emerged at their center, bearing that same blank expression she always held while her memory drum finished loading. Recollection finally washed over her face and she smiled at Kael’s return.

“I was just thinking about you, Kael,” she exclaimed happily “and now you’ve come!”

Kael laughed at her enthusiasm. “You make it sound so special.”

“Oh but it is,” she said in earnestness. “Don’t you realize the joy of when a pleasant dream becomes a reality right before your eyes?”

His circuits hummed busily and cheerfully. “I think I know what you mean,” he concluded with a slight bounce.

“Oh Kael,” she sighed wistfully, “you’ll understand so much more when we’re able to get your own heart vessel.”

Kael was uncomfortable for a moment. The parasite had expressly forbidden him to disclose that he already possessed the heart vessel she sought for, and so he always remained silent in these moments. By not speaking he did not have to deceive her, yet of late he had come to wonder if he did not already do so regardless.

“Ayla, what was it you were thinking about us?” he asked, stepping forward and taking her slender fingers in his own, the way she had taught him to do.

She smiled and looked modestly to the ground, then back up to match his eyes with her own. “A little of the past, but mostly of the future.”

“Is the future you see so different from now?”

“In some ways, but in others it is just the natural continuation of now,” she stroked his arm softly.

“You’re being very vague today!” he teased, but rather than elicit a smile from her she frowned lightly and looked downwards. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to offend

She shook her head. “No, it’s not that…” she brought her eyes back up and they seemed to be searching his own. “What is it that you want of the future, Kael?”

“Want?” he echoed the word and fell into a deep thoughtfulness. “I don’t want you to go away in the future,” he finally decided and there was a fear to his voice.

“Go away?” she asked in surprise. “What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere!”

“Well I don’t want you to. I want you to just be with me.”

“I could be with you,” she whispered.

“You would…choose to?”

“Yes,” she said breathlessly. “I want to.”

He stared into her for a few long moments. “I want to choose that, too.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Perhaps…when I have a heart,” he felt a twinge at the implied deception. “When I fully have a heart.”

“You do.”

His eyes widened. How had she known?

“You have my heart, Kael,” she explained. “I’m giving it to you.”

“But—how will you live?”

“You could give me yours,” she said as he touched his chest, “when you have it.”

Kael’s heart thumped within him as he understood. “Yes, I would,” he nodded. “I will. When I have it.”

She smiled, then began to slowly walk backwards towards her wall, her eyes locked firmly on him. “Don’t be long,” she pleaded. “I love you, Kael.”

*

“Ayla?” he asked softly. She was trying to hide her feelings, but at moments her head would involuntarily bow in somber contemplation, only to snap back up a moment later with a false smile.

“Sorry, it’s just been a strange day for me, Kael.”

He nodded and grimaced as if he somehow understood. He couldn’t spend time being sympathetic, though, this was already going to be difficult enough. “Do you have it then, Ayla?”

She paused. “It’s been a long while since you’ve asked for it, Kael. I thought you might not want it anymore.”

“I know. I stopped worrying about it for a time…but now I need it again.”

Still just so that we can animate the workers?” her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

He winced at the glare. “No, that is not all.”

She paused, waiting for him to continue, but as the seconds slipped by it became evident he had nothing more to say.

“Why aren’t you telling me things?” she asked bluntly with a tremble of emotion.

“They are my choices to make, my actions to do.” He knew it was vague, but if he tried to explain things to her she could never agree. She would try to find another way, she would choose to preserve the parasite for his own sake. After all, she had already made that choice before.

“If you want it, Kael, I will give it to you.”

“I want it.”

She was crestfallen and her face showed it, yet she extended her hand and the individual pieces traveled down the magnetic tracks in her arm to snap in place as determined by the schema. Kael saw the corrupter assemble into the device’s core, seemingly innocuous, yet he recalled it perfectly. He smiled grimly as the device completed in her palm and he reached out to take it.

“I hope you find what you want” she said as the weight of the device lifted from her fingers.

He paused, again lingering on the idea of telling her everything. But if he didn’t move forward now he would never see this through, so instead he merely nodded and turned his back. Then he walked stiffly away as she broke down behind him.

I know what you are doing the voice hissed. Surely you realize this.

“You know what I intend, but not how I am doing it,” he affirmed calmly as he rounded a corner and entered the Morgatorium. “My memory banks are my own.” He reached the deep green valves and started lifting levers, the entire floor escalating up along the spindly tower at its center. There was no need to do this within sight of Ayla.

Neither is my mind yours.

“Do you have your own secrets, parasite?” an unmistakable taunt in his voice.

A loud clang rattled behind him and he spun just in time to see a strange automaton as it sprung from its perch on a giant boiler, bounded off the floor, barreled into his chest, and threw him to the ground with a crack. He tried to hold onto Ayla’s contraption, but his grip broke and it clattered off to the side. He looked to see where it went, then his attacker stood upright to pace around his fallen form and he turned back to process the thing. It was large and bulky, pure black and with a matte surface that rendered it invisible when it passed through shadows. Its plating was made of thick, round cast iron surfaces clearly intended for bludgeoning. Its head was a low dome set directly on broad shoulders, devoid of any features.

I had hoped that things would have been different, Kael, but it was always evident that your dual nature was going to be a risk. No matter, I’ll simply have to take your heart vessel out and place it in a vat with no higher functions. Same for Cee when he obtains his.

Kael had been trying to stand, but his entire outer lattice was broken in pieces and the shards of it were jamming into his motors. His hand fumbled for a switch on his side, and the lattice unclasped from him. Most of his internal joints were still working and with a shake and a spring he nimbly returned to his feet, faster but less protected.

You should submit to this peacefully, it would be better that way. The dark automaton halted and turned, then leapt forward with great force and bore down on him again. With the agility provided by his lighter weight Kael timed the brute’s approach and vaulted himself over its shoulders in a single, fluid motion and, as his first foot connected with the ground, he pivoted on it to swing his other leg into those of the juggernaut, tumbling it to the ground. The force of the kick wasn’t nearly enough to damage the thing, but its fall was broken by its left shoulder, and the joint cracked loudly.

“I never built this for you,” Kael regarded the mass with a frown as it awkwardly lifted itself back up, its left arm splintered and hanging uselessly at its side.

The others did. It is called Ligo.

“But the other parasites aren’t self-actuating.”

Which you only know because that was what I told you.

“Oh, you are a suspicious one, aren’t you?”

Evidently with good reason.

Ligo charged again, its right arm extended to pull Kael into a fatal crush. Kael knew better than to try vaulting it a second time, so instead he waited until the last instant and then dodged over to its left side where the limp arm couldn’t reach for him. As Ligo cleared past him he dashed back to the floor where Ayla’s device lay and switched it on as he tapped on his chest panel. It didn’t open. Looking down he saw that the panel had been dented in their fight and was now jammed. Prying his fingers at the seam on the panel he tried to pry the metal apart, but no matter how hard he strained it refused to budge.

WHAM!

In his moment of distraction he had forgotten about Ligo, and he received the full frame-shattering impact. This time the brute didn’t fling him to the ground, it cupped its thick fingers around his neck and swung him repeatedly into a nearby wall, breaking off circuits and joints with grim efficiency. In desperation Kael’s hand scrambled into one of the cracks in Ligo’s damaged arm. There he found the release lever and pulled it, the arm falling to the ground and exposing the inner circuitry behind the chestplate. Just stop the voice snarled as the monster flung Kael down to the floor before he could reach into the cavity to do any more damage.

Kael started to lift up, but Ligo brought its knee down on his neck, pinning him back to the ground. Kael swung his hand back up towards the hole in its side, but his movement was weak and it easily caught his hand in its own. Ligo’s fingers closed around Kael’s fist and began to pull on it with increasing force, stretching and straining the arm until finally the whole thing snapped cleanly off. Kael’s other arm was trapped under the weight of the brute, and so he lay there helpless as the thing turned its attention to punching its way through his chestplate. The plate dented, then buckled, then finally smashed apart. A spray of energy from his broken pipes burst out, and as it cleared the glow of his pulsating heart vessel lay exposed. An insect parasite was embedded deep into it with a web of tentacles growing from its thorax and all throughout the heart.

It was never your heart anyway. The insect inside of him hissed.

The automaton reached in and gingerly placed its fingers around the vessel, all the noise and clatter subsiding for a moment of silence as it calmed itself to pull the organ out gently. Or rather, not quite a moment of silence. In the greater quiet Ligo became aware of a strange, low hum, and as it turned its hand over it saw Ayla’s activated device flashing in its palm, having been tucked in there by Kael when it had earlier caught his fist. Of its own accord the device flew out of Ligo’s hand and onto the exposed parasite as if pulled there by a magnet.

“It was never yours, either.”

The corrupter in the device activated and an electric blue power wave coursed through the parasite. Its mouth detached from the heart and gave a small death-cry as its arms and pincers shriveled and fell away, its tentacles blackening and dying within the heart. In that same moment a similar death-cry resonated from within the chest of the dark brute and it and Kael both collapsed lifeless to the ground. Throughout the island all of the parasite’s duplicates perished from the loss of their central host and their automata fell lifeless to the ground.

At last the Morgatorium reached its pinnacle perched atop the great tower, high above in the sky. Here the sound dropped off to nothing but the faint whistle of high wind, and slowly the reddish clouds wafted into the room, hiding the scene in billows of crimson.

***

On Monday I discussed the importance of a hero being defined by the villain, and in this story my intention was to create a hero that was composed of two halves, one of which was the villain itself. Thus as Kael strives to overcome the villain and become all the things that it is not, he is literally overcoming those same failings in himself. The confidence and surety he exhibits in the final section is meant to illustrate his growth from the nervousness and confusion he holds at the beginning, and it all hinges upon an influence of good driving him to the point of decision. This is not at all a unique template for the literary hero, of course, and as you may have assumed this is the topic I will pursue next week. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you then.

Revelate: Cee

gray and gold steel gears
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A faint grinding sound. Metal threads running along metal grooves. Small, and close. A faint popping noise now, and then a surge of light. The aperture shrunk to reduce exposure and the light levels dropped, making visual perception possible. He could see.

“Whuuuuuuu—” he hummed in surprise, and his mechanical eyes widened in shock at the sound.

“Are you awake already?”

It was never asleep, only unaware. Those last words were not heard, they merely seemed to rise and fall silently within his inner circuits.

“Whuuuuu—whaaaaa—who?” the automaton finally found proper control of its voicebox and formed the question it had intended.

“Which who?” the operator asked. “Who am I? Or who are you?”

“I and you?”

“Yes, that’s right, that signifies the two of us.”

“I am the ‘you?'”

“Well, yes, as I was using the term.”

“And you are the ‘I?'”

“Yes, very good, you’ve got that quite quickly.”

“I am the ‘you’ and you are the ‘I'” the creation repeated and his eyes began to contract with each iteration of parsing those statements.

“Stop, stop!” the worker cried, realizing what he was doing. “That loop will never terminate, don’t try to reason it out. Here, names will help. The ‘I'” he touched his own chest “is called Kael. The ‘you’ is called Cee.”

“Cee.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“What am I ‘Cee’ for?”

“Because—oh, you mean what is your purpose? Well that’s—”

That is for me to determine, Cee. The strange silent voice returned. What I have ordered your creation for is to obtain a particular animating stimulus. Each operating automaton such as you is made capable of action via these animating stimuli, but there is a special one of these, a heart vessel, which you are to bring to me. Kael has already obtained one such vessel and it provides us local power over life itself, but when we have a pairing of them our dominion will become global. It is your purpose to secure that vessel and bring it here to my nest, and then you will be as Kael.

The disks in the top of Cee’s head whirred as he simultaneously parsed and stored the information, while others were busy installing logic modules that Kael was running to his side. With the two operating together he was able to systematically identify each of the terms for which he had no definitions.

“The ‘animating stimulus’ enables action?”

“Yes, it is central to all the functionality of a being,” Kael replied. “Without it the individual components remains as a lifeless husk.”

“A ‘husk?'”

“That which you were before you had awareness.”

“Then I have an animating stimulus, too?”

“Correct, you did not before, but I’ve just given you one and connected it to your servos.”

“But it is not a heart vessel?”

“No, there are other stimuli as well. You are powered by an iteration of the parasite. He is the voice you’ve been hearing.”

Cee took another few moments to store all of the information away. “And the heart vessel belongs to another, then?”

“Very good,” Kael’s voice was punctuated with a pleasure tone. “That was sequential reasoning you just did there. The heart vessel is in the possession of another being named Ayla. It is bonded to her directly, and so it can only be obtained by her willingly offering it to you.”

Cee raised himself to a seated position, his new gears whirring from the unfamiliar usage. “I will go to her and require it.”

“Well, I ought to impress on you the difficulty of obtaining the heart vessel from Ayla.”

“Why?”

“Well here, open that chest panel for me and let me take your animating parasite out of you.”

Cee began to raise his hands to the access panel on his plated chest but his hands slowed in midair. “And… become a husk?”

“That’s right.”

“No,” he said, a look of surprise passed over his face at his own defiance.

“Why not?”

“It—it—it—” his voicebox repeated the word as his disks hummed wildly, seeking definition for the meaning they meant to express. “It is against my nature,” he finally concluded. “The sequences you have given me are designed for perpetuity and iteration, termination would frustrate their intentions.”

“Exactly. And so it is with Ayla.”

“Then… my given purpose is unachievable.”

Kael achieved it.

“How?”

Kael smiled. “It is necessary for the subject to determine that separation from their animating stimulus is not actually termination of their perpetuity, Ayla must be convinced that the next steps of her sequence continue with her heart vessel in another host.”

Cee blinked as he finished processing these next pieces of information, yet frowned as something did not connect properly. “And this is an actuality for Ayla?”

“No, it is not.”

Cee blinked many more times. “It is not? Yet she must believe it to be so…”

“Yes.”

Cee frowned in deeper confusion. “There is a contradiction here.”

Correct, the nature of this is indeed contradiction. It is an intended one, and it is contradiction that Ayla must accept all while believing that there is no contradiction. Now that you are cognitive of both the contradiction and the truth, you possess the necessary knowledge to implement this change in her.

“But how am I to convince her of contradiction?”

“This is called persuasion. If you suggest the contradiction to Ayla directly she will immediately reject it. You must instead introduce confirmations of truths she already holds to. In so doing you will build up a trust in her that your information is commonly correct. At that point you may introduce small contradictions, ones of such minority that she will find it easier to accept them as more truthful insights of which she had been ignorant. If you are cautious, finally you will have introduced enough contradictions that her previous convictions are pried loose and she will seek a new foundation for her assumptions.”

“A foundation that suggests continuation of her sequences requires surrendering her heart vessel?”

“Exactly. For this notion to strike her as irrefutable all your prior contradictions must be congruent with this new imposed assumption.”

As had become the norm, Cee paused and his disks whirred away at the new information. This new development most of all caused the greatest strain on his new mind, yet he accepted it as it had been explained. “This is complex” he finally admitted.

“It is,” Kael agreed.

It is, the voice agreed.

“Where is Ayla now?”

*

“Kael has been deceiving to you, Ayla,” Cee repeated with a deep heaviness. “It is irrefutable.”

Ayla’s crestfallen face glanced up in pained confusion. Her smooth chrome face glinted against the light as she shook her head in disbelief. “I just don’t see how that could be,” she finally said. “He’s always been so good to us.”

“Indeed,” Cee shrugged, “but only to achieve his own ends.”

“Which are?” she snapped suddenly, the clear meaning being that he’d better be able to prove what he claimed.

“Those parasites. I have shown them to you and what they can do. You also affirmed that he could not provide you any explanation for their presence in so many of the husks?”

She shook her head slowly.

“He suggested that the two of you were creating all of these husks to eventually populate a new world, a notion that you have explained is very wonderful to you. But I have just come from him and he has provided to me alternate intention, that he has been using you to prepare an army, one which he will lead by their dependence on him as the host parasite. He will bind you and eventually extract your heart from you by force.”

“He—what?” tears sprang into her eyes. “Why would he tell you that?”

“Because I function in a role within that plan. You see, I have a parasite, too,” his voice remained, as always, devoid of natural emotion as he tapped the panel on his chest, and revealed a clear cylinder that partly emerged. Inside was a large, green insect, a large cluster of tendrils extending from its body and twisting towards the back of the cylinder into his central cavity, spreading through his body and integrating directly with it.

Ayla backed up against her wall in horror. Certainly she had seen the dormant creatures before, but never one alive and entwined. She looked up to Cee as if seeing him anew for the first time. “You—you—?”

“I know, and I apologize for the shock you must be experiencing.  I am sure you feel I should have told you before, but we were strangers then and I did not yet know what it meant.”

“But if he’s controlling you—”

“He is not. The nature of our connection is that he provides to all other parasites our life-sustenance network, which fact he does use to try and exert a sort of compulsion, but he cannot control the actual functions of the other hosts.”

She eyed him warily, not disbelieving him, but not believing either. He opened his mouth, but then shut it, determining it was better to say nothing until she had first.

“What exactly are you proposing?” she finally asked, and she wasn’t able to keep the suspicion out of her voice.

“There is only course of action to pursue,” he said simply. “It is imperative that he be destroyed, and by his removal all other parasites will similarly perish.”

“All of them?” a look of panic washed over her face. “But what about you?”

“Similarly, I would perish,” his stated flatly.

“But—but I don’t want you to perish” her eyes flashed with constrained emotion.

“My continuation can only be a danger to you.”

“I don’t care about that!” she flustered. “Don’t you understand? I like you!”

Cee cocked his head. “I like you, too, Ayla.”

“Can you?” she asked softly.

“Well—I do, so whether I can or not would seem a moot point.”

She gave a small smile. “I’ll never understand the way you speak.” Cee shrugged. “Now you listen to me, Cee. I can trust your sincerity but still need to see the truth of it for myself, I hope you understand. When and if I do, though, I’m not going to trade you for myself, that’s simply not a valid option. I won’t be destroying anything until we’ve found you a heart vessel to sustain you.”

“You really believe one is still out there?”

“I do.”

“But it would only be able to interface with me if the parasite was integrated with it, which would obviously be a great risk.”

“But a heart vessel would work its way through you just as a parasite has until it could interface with you directly, too. Then the parasite could be removed.”

“A great risk,” Cee repeated.

“We’ll work it out along the way.”

Cee nodded. “Perhaps. In the meanwhile, though, we could still prepare…precautions.”

“Alright, but I’ll keep ownership of them.”

“Of course.” Cee turned to walk away, but then he paused and half-turned back. “And Ayla, I am sorry.” She smiled at the empathetic statement through her tears.

*

“But we have not achieved our purpose yet.” Cee stated in utter bewilderment.

“The purpose is unethical!” Kael roared.

“Unethical?”

“It is wrong. You noticed yourself how surrendering your animating stimulus is against your nature. It is wrong to coerce someone into going against their nature, can’t you grasp that?”

“But she will be willing—”

“Because of a contradiction. You’re a logical being, Cee, surely you can see that actions based upon contradictions cannot effect the intended result.”

“Not in those that believe in the contradiction, but it can for those that perpetuate it.”

Kael stared back in horror, but then his face softened into something like pity. “I know you can’t understand, Cee, it’s not in your nature.”

“I am very understanding.”

“You are very calculating, but there are truths and reasons that can’t be computed.”

Cee’s disks whirred ponderously, there was no rational response to this claim. Still, something seemed out of sorts and he scanned to find the flaw.

“But you have possessed a heart vessel all this while, Kael. Did you not have these ‘truths and reasons’ when we undertook this mission?”

Kael shifted uncomfortably in a way Cee was not accustomed to seeing. “I did in a manner.”

“Yet you have persisted all this while towards an end with which you therefore have fundamental disagreement?”

“And what is your point? That that behavior makes me a contradiction? Very well, I won’t deny it.”

“And you would have me take persuasion from a contradiction?”

Kael’s eyes narrowed. “I was once just like you, Cee. Before I had my heart vessel I had no opposing voice to counter all the logic I churned. I didn’t know about these other things, right and wrong. And when I did get my heart vessel I wasn’t sure what to make of all these conflicts. I’ve been wrestling with it all this time, like those two beasts fighting for the same scrap of flesh. So yes, perhaps I have been a contradiction, but I am not anymore. I have only one purpose now.”

“Perhaps when I have obtained Ayla’s heart vessel I shall understand.”

Kael shivered and his voice dramatically dropped to a very soft tone. “By then you’d wish you didn’t. Then you would know guilt, Cee. No, don’t bother asking me to define it, you couldn’t understand.”

Behind Kael the wall was shimmering, and without looking Cee realized Ayla must be emerging from the terminal, a response to her name being spoken. He paused thoughtfully and then his eyes flashed.

“You are decided then?”

“Yes,” Kael nodded resolutely. “And I’ll give you one chance to stand down. If you can’t help me, then stay at least stay clear. I gave you your awareness, Cee, don’t you doubt that I’ll just as easily take it!”

“You would remove the parasite you gave me?”

“For a start,” Kael’s eyes steeled. The moment seemed to pass over an eternity to Kael, to Cee it was just another moment.

“No, Kael, I cannot let you compromise us.”

It was over before it began. Cee took a step backwards as if anticipating an incoming blow, but instead Kael just reached up to a knob on his own chest and turned it. It remotely activated Cee’s battery module which sparked on his back and then with a loud crack burst into flames. Instinctively Cee flailed his arms backwards to extract the pack, at which point Kael gripped Cee’s chest panel and with expert dexterity unlocked the seal. The parasite container sprung out and rolled across the ground.

“No!” Ayla shrieked, but her voice didn’t register among the two automatons, and as she tried to run forward the cables snaking into her back panels tied her to the wall.

Cee’s eyes seemed to be moving in slow motion, registering the tumbling of the small cylinder full seconds after the actual occurrence. His motor functions were even slower, and as he tried to run to retrieve it he collapsed in a heap, unable to move his foot forward fast enough to catch his inclined center of gravity. Kael shook his head without any words and strode away into the dark.

Ayla was disconnecting some of the shorter-reaching cables from behind her, her fingers fumbling as she tried to identify which cables could be safely removed and which could not. Eventually all that remained attached to her had enough reach for her to rush out to Cee and drop to his side.

Cee’s head moved in small stuttering movements to look at Ayla and he tried to raise a hand to her but it wouldn’t lift the whole way.

“Oh Cee,” Ayla cried “what can I do?!” She looked around frantically looking for an answer that wasn’t there. “I can put the parasite back in.”

“It won’t matter,” Cee said slowly, each word a monumental task. Ayla understood, with his battery pack destroyed the parasite wouldn’t be able to interface with his systems anyway. It wasn’t a self-powering animating stimuli like her heart vessel. Ayla raised her head with a start.

“Cee, you were right,” she said tearfully as his own eyes were growing dimmer and dimmer. “I should have trusted you from the very beginning. But it’s alright, because I—I’m going to save you,” her voice quavered.

“I’m going to save you,” she said again, and this time her voice was more resolute. Cee’s eyes dimmed entirely and his head fell to the side. “I can’t progress in this alone. I—I just can’t. I’m going to bring you back and then you’ll just have to find a way to revive me,” she nodded to reaffirm the notion to herself as she began to unlock her chest panel while simultaneously reaching for the parasite on the ground and opening its jar.

“I don’t know how, but you’ll find a way, I know you will.” A door slid open and her heart vessel gleamed orange and red within her, its quadrants expanding and collapsing as it shone its power into her.

“I trust you, Cee,” she placed the opened parasite jar back into his chest and clicked it into place.

“I love you,” she unfastened her heart and with twitchy, stuttering movements pressed it into the jar, then she collapsed.

The parasite turned and latched itself onto the heart. Several moments passed in silence and then Cee’s body began shifting and alternating, recomposing itself with hidden panels and shedding its old ones. He became a little taller and broader, new gears were activated and spun greater expressiveness into his face. The tone of his copper grew more gray, and bit by bit he took on the appearance of Kael. As awareness flooded through his system he looked down at his chest and saw the heart and parasite united within. He smiled and then closed the jar.

“I’ve got it,” he said.

Good.

***

As I said in my post on Monday, my purpose with this story was to create a character that possessed only a single dimension. Obviously this character was Cee, and he was intended to represent cold deceit and nothing else. Perhaps at times he did and said things that appeared to others to be motivated by genuine compassion, but he only did so when he calculated that the other’s reactions would be for his own gain. Removing emotions from his actions was not actually part of the effort to make him more one-dimensional, though, rather I just felt that manipulation is most often a passionless action and ought to be represented as such. The perpetrator of it may be feeling other emotions on the side, but that which they do is entirely detached from the heart and is purely an act of cold, calculating simplicity. An excellent example of this would be Tony Wendice in Dial M for Murder. He says and displays a wide array of emotions, yet all of it is a mask that he implements as a tool for his calm, sinister schemes.

It was interesting to write my first short from the perspective of the villain, and that’s a subject I’d like to take some time to examine more closely. Please come back on Monday when we consider what it is that makes an antagonist meaningful, but also memorable. Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Celestials

sky space telescope universe
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A great sun called Salacia sat as the magnaminous center of its system, a yellow so bright it was nearly a piercing white. It shone over a small system, one comprised of only five circling planets, their moons, a handful of stray comets, and a few clouds of gas. At the origin of the Salacia system each of the planets had produced a great deal of frictional energy with all of the meteorites they consumed while clearing their orbital tracks and all had been considerably heated from the effect. Each planet had glowed brightly then, like a system of miniature stars. Over time they began to cool, and as their effusions diminished their facial features became apparent. The two gas bodies, Icarus and Lachesis, were composed of swirling orange and purple clouds respectively. Benu was the deep red and tan of dry rock, while Concordia was the lush green and blue of vegetation and life. Cronus, last of all, was the strange semi-transparent teal of all the various elements intermingled and frozen into a single, massive lake with with a dark heart of obsidian at its core, the relics of a volcanic past. Each of these planets had the unique trait of having settled into an orbit along the same level plane as one another, one that ran through the equator of the bright star’s mass. None of the orbits crossed one another’s path, and each was sole monarch over its own track. Over their formative ages these orbits had become synchronized so as not to distress one another, each pull and shift between them being counteracted by an eventual opposite one. And so all remained stable and constant.

That flat and level layout was due to any bodies not included in this arrangement being destroyed by the cataclysms of the neighboring Anubis system’s dissolution. Recent eons ago that system’s ruling bodies had collided and broken apart, resulting in swarms of meteorites that shattered apart every other body in a great cascading torrent. Wilds of untethered rock, ice, and gas now fomented about, still too erratic to form into any large regulatory body, hurtling and propelling one another in random, chaotic fashion. The occasional errant masses that were slung towards the Salacia system had doomed any of the planets or comets that followed orbits beneath Salacia’s equator, decimating them easily. Of course some of these asteroids had been on courses towards the central subjects as well, but each of these were quelled by the immense stellar winds that Salacia emitted into the quadrants directly above and beneath it, creating a shield of high-powered electrons that quickly dissolved all foreign materials in a shower of spectacular fire.

And so things continued calmly and well-regulated for a time, as each of Salacia’s planets became more and more self-defined and autonomous. As they completed their cooling processes, the electromagnetic polarities of the gas giants Lachesis and Icarus shifted, and the slight pull of the charged electrons in the stellar winds below began to slow their orbits, each revolution around Salacia taking a solar day longer than the last. As they slowed in their momentum they also began to sink lower and lower towards that electron field, their entire bodies trembling from the strain of alternating gravitational and magnetic forces. As the two shifted downwards, their absence began to affect all of the other planetary cycles as well. The three denser siblings, Concordia, Benu, and Cronus all raised higher above the original orbital plane as a counter-reaction to the lowering of the two others. Thus each planet began spiralling along an eccentric loop, ones that no longer intersected Salacia’s center. It was a tenuous balance, one that depended entirely on the upward and downward pulls of all other planets, and it only continued by greater and greater separation of themto opposite extremes.

At long last Lachesis and Icarus found their destination, razing their lower sectors along the stream of crackling electron-charged power. They only sunk to about one-tenth submersion before the downwards pull on them was counteracted by an electrical repulsion which scorched and burned their entire southern hemispheres deeply, eternal fires and fusions following after each other in never-ending rounds. Their northern hemispheres expanded, though, becoming infused by siphoned energy . Their red and purple clouds flashed with magnificent lightning storms and as a whole they swelled to several times their original size and mass, gluttons of power. As they grew to their saturation points their increased gravity lifted still more of the electron currents into crackling, luminous sheets around them, literally enclothing themselves in excess.

So much of the stellar winds had been repurposed in the areas where they now rested that there the cloud thinned to a mere fraction of their original strength, and it was at this time that one of the larger asteroids from the Anubis cloud, the dead hulking mass of a what had once been a third of a planet, came hurtling up towards the Salacia system at light-breaking speeds. Visual ripples appeared in the void around it, so quickly did it bend through space. It was driving towards the very heart of the stellar winds, but the proximity and gravity of bloated Lachesis shifted its course slightly so that it instead pierced through the weakened portions of the electron cloud, surviving with barely a few scorches burning across its rugged face. It nearly collided with Lachesis, but the planet rolled backwards, which in turn flung the rock was far up and above, none of its momentum lost in the encounter.

Now the planet Cronus lay squarely in the rock’s path, and as the asteroid crossed the middle plane of the Salacia system the planet dipped slightly towards it in anticipation of impact. In a world-shattering instant the rock pummeled into the sphere, a bright scorching blast illuminating the sky for a few years and then the two tumbled rapidly up and away, Cronus’s orbit completely broken. As the two careened through naked space they left behind a trail of broken gases, the melted and evaporated residue of the great lake of chemicals which had been lost in the heat of impact. That was not all that they left behind, so rapid was Cronus’s retreat that its greatest moon, Herales, lagged farther and farther behind before being released and left stranded, suspended far from any other mass.

Not only was Cronus lost, but Lachesis’s backwards roll had brought it to bear ever deeper into the electron cloud and revolve its form through a bath of razing  fire and gouging lightning storms. Its own rich clouds were strained away by the magnetic rhythms of the surrounding electrons and its core began to fracture, bright flares spurting out from its molten center. These massive streams of molten heat were more than sufficient catalyst to provoke the entire electron field’s naturally explosive nature… All of space seemed to crack at the resulting blast, one which entirely consumed both Lachesis and Icarus, their cloudy masses instantly burned into pure energy and dissipated into the infinite while the illumination of the singular event lit the undersides of the other three planets for years to come. Even the great star itself was wounded by the ripples, and it began to bleed out its hydrogen and heat.

As the two gas giants diffused apart, their gravitational pulls on Concordia and Benu were lost entirely, which had been essential to stabilize their revolutions above Salacia’s center of mass. Now, though, the two bodies were untethered and began to ascend higher and higher, even as Salacia pulled them inwards, spiraling them tighter and tighter above its crown. A most beautfiul destruction followed: their moons struck into one another, their atmospheres overlapped, their deep gravities hummed to one another in loud pulsations, their night skies became filled with the other’s vibrant details, their surfaces broke apart and flew towards one other before igniting on fire and raining on the other as ash, their skins peeled off in fervent heat, and finally their cores beat together for a single moment, and then erupted.

Even had they survived, they would not have long been able to dance around the foreign invasions that followed. With the ignition of the electron field and the weakening of Salacia, there no longer stood a sufficient enough barrier to prevent the continuing onslaught of debris from the Anubis cloud. Those that did not directly pummel the sun and expel its energy inch-by-inch settled into orbit around the great star, where they collected as an innumerable mass. Collisions were inevitable, and the asteroids soon self-thrashed themselves into a great cloud of dust that stood as a shell around the light, rendering the sun almost invisible. As Salacia was worn down by continued strikes it was unable to enact the grand explosive conclusion usually reserved for its race, instead merely fading, the shadows growing longer and longer until they consumed everything in perfect darkness. Eventually Salacia’s mass simply no longer had the strength to hold itself together and it fractured apart, simply becaming another portion of the debris. By this point the Anubis cloud had fully dissipated across both systems and finally all of the remaining glittering powder was evenly distributed and lay perfectly still. Eternities passed and all remained stagnant, sterile, and black.

Long after all relics of the Salacia system had been forgotten, a far off speck began drifting towards them from far apart. All the particles of dust had operated as one single mass, each contributing a small thread-like pull on some far-off distant body, drawing it in an inch at a time. Slowly the body drifted into the system proper, and it was small Herales returning. As it drew nearer the dust strained and began to pour to it in great streams. The lighter gases came first, the hydrogen and helium tumbling around it in swirling layers around its core. Next followed the particles of rock and water, which further encased the sphere until it could not hold any more mass and began to pack itself more tightly under the force of its own weight. All the other dust swirled in great rings around it, accumulating and clumping into new forms.

As the weight bore inwards on Herales, hydrogen fusion began at its core and suddenly its outer layers scorched with ignition. A new sunlight appeared, flickering and weak at first, then growing steady and bright in its rhythm. Herales was reborn into a small star and once again the faces of all the matter that surrounded it could be seen. All of the particles, the remnants of both the Salacia and Anubis system alike, slowly but surely formed into various new planets, moons, clouds, and comets, entirely new from all that had been before. They spiraled around, clearing their tracks and defining their orbits, through trial and error finding stability and balance in them. The new system was born and once again peace and order reigned.

***

In case you were wondering, no, this isn’t scientifically accurate in the slightest 🙂 Though our characters here are inanimate objects, there is obviously a classic sort of kingdom-downfall story here, one where our villains are not evil so much as drawn by their natures to overindulgence. In their pursuit of fattening power, Lachesis and Icarus fail to respect that all beings here are interconnected to one another and that what happens to one happens to all. And so, as I mentioned in my post on Monday, we end up with an ensemble piece, one where each member of the community contributes in their own way to the dissolution of balance, and also its eventual restoration.

This entry will serve as the conclusion for the dreamlike/imaginative/meditative series we have been running for the last month and we will shift gears to something new next Monday. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you then.