Interim XX

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Part 2/3

5-Saffron-N-Dakota is a machine that once embodied the traits of humanity, brought out of stasis to fulfill one final mission. Will he succeed? And what will the price of his success be?

Submitted: August 07, 2012

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Submitted: August 07, 2012

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In his dreams, he dreamt of people, of men and of women; the former brusque and straightforward, and the latter graceful and deceiving. Their faces burned themselves into his dream memory, like no dream should, branding into the grey flesh every dream face, the females most of all; their angles and textures of their skin, the placement of fine hair across their bodies, the varying colours of their irises, and so on.

Even now, they stood in front of him, both sexes – a man and a woman, so similar in biology yet so different in minds. Frozen, the man was hurling a chair at his opposite, veins bulging with exerted strength; the woman smiled wistfully at him, holding a hand up to ward off the incoming blow. Her other hand, behind her back, clutched a dagger tight.

Bubbles entered his dream, shooting into the air like a geyser field, followed by snow that fell from the heavens, leaving thick sleet across the landscape.

‘No, I don’t want to go.’ He paused, as heaven and hell raged around him. His voice definitely didn’t sound right. Too… soft. Too… prepubesce—

The existence fell away, like water draining very rapidly through a sink with his face as the bowl. Icy air assaulted his outer shell, snaking in between his exposed innards, and he choked, only to realise he couldn’t.

Ah. This. Back to the world of faces he could not remember.

‘Dakota. How are you?’ said a voice, male and off to his left. Systems automatically designated him as Mark 01.

‘5-Saffron-N-Dakota coming out. Initiating decoupling sequence,’ said another male voice. Mark 02 flashed the small red text across his vision.

‘Dakota?’ He felt something warm touch him, across where his shoulder ought to be.

He shuddered. Stop it. The Mark-01 text flashed in urgent priority. Helpless, he could not render his situation positive.

‘Cut it out, will yah?’ Mark-02. ‘We still got the rest of the Saffrons. Ohio is fucking imminent, man.’ The urgency, and annoyance, was palpable in Mark 02’s voice, but he was no threat.

The hand would not relent. ‘Dakota?’

Dakota shuddered violently, bubbles emerging from the soupy froth that drained away around him.

‘Good, good. Almost out.’ The hand stayed. The target icon pulsated sharply in his mind.

Don’t touch me!

‘We got to go, now!’ Panic crept into Mark 02’s voice.

Mark-01 snapped, ‘Go do it yourself!’

‘Whatever, I’m off. Fuck—’ A bass boom drowned out his voice. Dakota then heard Mark 02’s footsteps as he vanished, his icon greying out.

Dakota felt the cage around him unlock. The man’s hand vanished as he stood up, servos whining. Armoured plating all along his form, ejected so as to expose his innards, began to descend on long screws that penetrated body, limbs and head, the sound akin to the screech of a dentist’s drill. Pain readouts flashed across his vision, but he felt nothing. With each successive gurgle and squelch, the screws tightened the plating into place. Gel and blood shot out between the cracks of the armour segments as their locks turned, fastening them semi-permanently onto Dakota.

‘I haven’t uploaded your mission parameters,’ said Mark-01.

Dakota, free to move, turned his vision upon Mark-01. Balding and aging, Mark-01 appeared frail and deathly. He was not the embodiment of perfection that the people of his dreams embraced. No, he was an abomination.

You are not beautiful,’ blared Dakota’s voice, rattling the surgery instruments on the table beside.

‘I know, I know.’ The man stepped back, his pulse raised, but he did not betray the fear on his face. The targeting icon flashed across his vision, centring on the Mark 01’s face. He raised his foot, stepping out of the deep storage cage that dripped with ichor; his surroundings were clinical and stark, ruined only by the presence of the wretch of a man standing before him.

‘This is my chance at redemption, Dakota. She offered it to me and I will take it.’

Dakota did not care for the man’s words – no mission parameters had been uploaded, leaving him free to annihilate the imperfection that had touched him on the shoulder. Dakota closed on the man, half expecting at any moment that his systems would lock down and prevent him from slaying the wretch. The man’s heart rate was through the roof now, bordering on a heart attack as he hyperventilated, but again his face was not expressing the mortal terror his body was feeling. Instead, the man’s eyes were averted, lower lip pushed up and hands rubbing one and another.

Guilt?

He said, ‘Condition override unit 5-Saffron-N-Dakota alpha alpha zero six.’

Condition override accepted,’ Dakota blurted involuntarily. He still approached the man as he backed away to the other end of the room, even though he knew Mark-01 would abort Dakota’s attempt to slay him.

That would only be logical.

‘New condition: accept input from frequency 19 Gigahertz. Terminate override.’

New condition accepted. Override terminated.’ Why did he not stop my kill sequence? Dakota pondered. Why did he open my channels to the outside world?

Dakota’s hand reached forward, a monstrous limb that could crush an adult skull, its shadow falling across his guilt ridden face.

‘My name is Antwerp. Viktor Ant—’ He did not finish the sentence as Dakota crushed the man’s head in his grip, liquid gore spurting out in every direction. His body threw violent spasms and continued to do so for another few seconds as it hit the floor. The targeting reticule vanished as the Mark-01 icon greyed out.

Even as 5-Saffron-N-Dakota withdrew his armoured hand, faded the memory of the man’s face, for he did not embody anything, nothing but despondency and decay, a stain upon the beauty of Dakota’s dreams.

My dreams…

He looked upon his oversized limb, beholding the rigid and lined armour plating coated in the preservative gel from his cage. The clear semi-liquid was interspersed with splotches of red – his own foetal fluids.

A beastly hand.

Dakota dared not think about what they’d done to his face.

Transmission inbound, announced a voice in his head. Text scrolled across his vision, citing unknown source at a frequency of 19 Gigahertz. Common sense told him to reject the signal, but the conditions were set to override common sense, so he accepted it.

A burst of light blinded him and he staggered, crushing a console under his arm’s swaying mass. His vision blurred and pixelated at the same time before turning blood red and, finally, restoring to nominal levels, intermixed with dead pixels. Pain readouts pulsed, his nervous system aflame. Warnings of a malicious entity running amok within his systems scrolled continuously. His limbs twitched as nerves shrieked in agony, their fruitless anguish ignored by his higher functions.

I know now, he thought, without knowing exactly what. He had to retrieve something – with the realisation of that, the pain receded completely. Some pixels continued to remain dead and his overall combat effectiveness had been reduced by three per cent.

He left his birthing chamber, into a chorus of flashing warning lights, stomping across the floor and passing onto a pathway not meant for one of his weight, the composite fabric buckling with each step. He paused only when the facility shook again, quite violently.

When he encountered personnel, he slaughtered them without hesitation, charring their bodies with the HEW slung under his wrist, their targeting icons vanishing the moment their hearts gave out.

Another violent earthquake wracked the facility, almost throwing him off his feet. When he regained his balance, he was floating, much to his surprise. He was designed for ground warfare and not the elegance of zero gee manoeuvres. Determined not to let it slow him, he dug his hands into the wall/ceiling/floor and used it to pull himself forward through corridors until he encountered a mass of people.

‘Look!’ screamed a boy, pointing.

‘Oh my god!’ followed an adult voice as Dakota came into view. Panic spread quickly as the men and boys sought to get out of Dakota’s away. He floated towards them like a shark, a hulking obsidian shark that lacked any humanity. Targeting reticules filled his vision. They had nowhere to go, the airlock sealed.

He ploughed into them with the force of a tidal wave upon a wooden house, tearing them to pieces with each strike of his massive fists, crushing those who escape the initial blows. Blood and screams filled the air, teeth and eyeballs erupting from their sockets when he struck their skulls from behind.

‘No, please!’ screamed a boy, an adult holding him and staring in mute horror, his jaw working soundlessly. They hovered in front of the airlock, smeared in gore, the whites of their shaking eyes exposed.

Dakota unleashed his HEW, hosing them both and the thick composite door in energy. They had no time to scream, their bodies erupting, followed momentarily by the crack of the airlock as the air expanded rapidly within it and blasted it off its hinges.

Peculiar noises struck his hearing, equivalent to many high pitched bird songs or the whine of a herd of horses; he floated through the airlock into the meadow beyond.

He emerged into chaos. Civilians, dozens of them, no hundreds of them, were fleeing/floating across the garden expanse, towards whatever safety they could find. Water droplets from the central lake had diffused throughout the space, splashing against his armour. At the other end, through the 20 by 10 metre reinforced glass pane he could see Earth as the terminus crossed the Atlantic.

Dakota barely saw the missile hit, his vision designed to only spot fast UFOs limited by the friction of the atmosphere. Cracks spread across the screen, holding together despite the massive kinetic impact. The screams of the male civilians intensified.

Another flash. He was propelled backwards like an unleashed stone and into the wall beside the airlock. He reflexively struck out, gouging his hand into the material. The viewing glass shattered and shrapnel from the kinetic warhead flew inside. His pressure sensors redlined as the oxygen ignited and the atmosphere exploded, vaporising the droplets of water and turning the remaining humans into red paste. He billowed like a ragdoll in the explosive wind but still managed to hold on; the pressure sensors then redlined once more, this time in the other direction as the air rushed out, pulling him towards space were it not for his iron grip, leaving a debris infested vacuum behind.

5-Saffrons were not designed for this, he lamented, not for the first time.

Still intact, he let go, kicking himself off the wall towards the highest point within the gardens. As he floated upwards, he saw that the station was in fact a giant centrifuge, large enough to simulate one gee. Oxygen fires burned across the surface of the toroid and a section was entirely gutted of material, slowly breaking apart. Missiles struck it in plumes of ejecting material, likely originating from Earth. He’d have to hurry then, as the station was still spinning, albeit slowly, and when the weakened section eventually broke, the entire station would tear itself apart with the vigour of an overfilled intestine.

He crashed into the bottom of the office that overlooked the garden, supported by struts as it protruded out of the wall, cracking the composite layers. With deft movements he pulled along the ceiling and up over the lip. Dakota hovered in front of the windows – above him the battle still raged, towards the toroid’s centre.

A man – Mark-37 – stood aghast in the office, eyes wide and hands suddenly empty, valuables floating away from him. Dakota wasted no time, fingers digging into the composites beneath the window pane for a secure hold, the other hand punching the glass. It cracked, sending a powerful judder through his hardy limb. He punched again, glass fragments spraying across his visor. Another punch, this time with the full force of his servos behind, and his hand penetrated the glass with a bony crunch; air fizzed out between the glass and the metal fist.

Dakota let go with his other hand and forced his fingers into the opening. Mark-37 leapt across the room, towards the door. Glass, 2.5 centimetres thick, cracked and barked as he widened the gap until the entire frame groaned and yielded, coming out of its glued retainer.

Mark-37 slammed the key to the door, opening it only to be knocked back by the rushing torrent of air as the entire section depressurised.

With some difficulty, Dakota pulled himself inside, through the gale force winds. Mark-37 was screaming soundlessly as he held on to a wall bolted handle, his voice lost to the hurricane raging through the gap Dakota had created.

It took Dakota only five seconds to reach the door via wall bolted handles where he smashed the control panel, shorting the system and kicking the failsafe into overdrive, slamming the door shut; Mark-37 immediately grabbed his throat as his lungs breathed vacuum, entire body writhing.

No, it wouldn’t be that quick, Dakota decided. With surprising nimbleness, he unhooked one of the breathing apparatuses and applied the oval plastic mask to the man’s strained face where it sucked itself fast and unleashed a steady stream of oxygen.

‘What… the… fuck…’ Dakota lip read as Mark-37 came back from the verge of unconsciousness. ‘What the fuck! You’re supposed to be down there, fighting! What is your designation? That’s an order!’

Dakota placed his massive fist on the man’s skull, squeezing just enough so that it hurt like a bone fracture, and vibrated his reply through his arm and into the his head and ear drum, ‘You are ugly. Imperfect. You must die,’ as he floated towards the gap he’d created with Mark-37 in tow.

‘What? Why?’ he screamed, so loud Dakota could feel it through his limb without having to lip read. He gazed balefully at the man in his fist, held up to his face like mink for inspection before skinning. A red glow was cast across Mark-37’s features from whatever dehumanising aspect Dakota had for a face.

‘Fuck you, you had your chance!’ he spat, spittle hitting the inside of his mask. ‘Condition override series 5-Saffron alpha alpha zero six!’ He looked expectantly up at the hulk.

Nothing happened.

Mark-37’s face whitened as if he’d lost all his blood. ‘Okay, okay! It was wrong of me to hide them here,’ he pleaded, hands flailing against the armoured bulk that held him by his skull, finger tips reduced to bleeding stumps as he clawed at the unforgiving surface that constituted as Datoka’s skin.

Dakota did not care, transfixed as he was by the weak reflection of his features off the man’s eyeballs. A… daemon of olde stared back, heavily distorted except for the six red eyes set in a background of obsidian, in two columns of three, without a nose or mouth or brow. A chill shot down his reinforced spine.

‘You are supposed to kill them! THEM! Not us!’ he wailed.

Dakota let go of Mark-37’s head, breaking the spell that had transfixed his artificial eyes upon his reflection, and took him by the waist and, without ceremony, hurled him into the garden, towards the missing viewing pane, and into open space. Dakota watched Mark-37 flail helplessly until the targeting icon lost contact and greyed out, leaving a diminishing black figure on a re-entry course.

He couldn’t watch for long as a rumble, deep and long, announced bad things in motion. The gutted segment finally gave way under the weak centrifugal forces and snapped, reducing the toroid to a line that slowly unfolded, venting air and debris as it did so. The entire station groaned, groaning in a way only metal could when under extreme stress, the sound akin to a pod of whales all communicating at the same time as they mourned the death of one of their own.

Without knowing exactly what and why, he kicked off the border of the glassless window, towards the safe that had auto-locked, the lid as big as a large fish bowl. Rearing back his arm and using his forward momentum, he unleashed a perfectly timed punch with optimal transfer of kinetic energy, bringing him to a shuddering halt as his fist caved the five centimetre thick metal in.

He withdrew a metal box, information icons telling him it was armoured and sealed, certified to withstand a pressure of a thousand bar and a temperature of 1,500 degrees Celsius. He slapped the box onto the lower left part of his waist, the metal magnetising to keep it fastened.

Crunk! Crunk crunk! The station vibrated his hand where he held a handle, tearing itself apart. Time was running out.

He floated over to the sealed door and levered it open with his fingers. No atmosphere escaped, having seeped out elsewhere. When he looked either way in the corridor, instead of the gentle upward curve, it twisted and moved, mirroring an unfolding snake about to bask in the heat of the Sun.

Dakota bumped past lifeless bodies, reaching the life boats conveniently situated near Mark-37’s office. They were all gone, but it didn’t matter, he realised. Life boats were unable to enter the atmosphere, designed as they were to wait for help to arrive. He needed to reach top soil, and soon, if he was to fulfil his mission parameters.

He made his way to the cargo bay, reaching it within a minute. A missile had gutted the pod rack, reducing the entire setup to spinning scrap metal.

Not good. He saw a section of the station drift past the open bay, slowly being pulled towards the planet. Without a pod, he’d have no hope of making it to Earth in time.

He floated towards the magnetic rails where the pods were loaded and shot into the atmosphere. Offline, as he suspected, cables severed by the station’s writhing, and without a modicum of power left in any of the backup batteries. He couldn’t even shoot himself into the atmosphere if he wanted to. The only other option was to kick himself off the station and wait for the atmospheric drag to slow him enough to de-orbit, but that would take too long, never mind the risk of his vital organs roasting from the heat.

A concave heat shield floated past him, as large as car. It took only a moment for his brain to concoct an idea (a biologically stupid one, at that) and for his augmented systems to run simulations.

Good enough.

Dakota kicked off the ground, crashing into the heat shield and, when he hit the opposing wall, kicked himself back towards the launch rail with shield in hand. He accessed the station’s fusion reactor, via wireless – at this point suffering temperature spikes from pressure drops in the coolant – and shut the pumps off, overriding the failsafe triumvirate. Red lights began flashing, overriding their previously comatose yellow state. His projections gave him exactly 53 seconds before the magnetic field within the reactor destabilised and released its grip on the star matter, letting it burn back through the feed pipes and into the deuterium storage.

With that he let his augmented systems take over completely, letting them calculate and execute the exact kick-off trajectory he’d need (allowing for some deviation that’d be created by the explosion) to hit the English Channel. Even so much as a degree of course would smear him across English or French countryside.

He gave it one-in-three odds. His simulations less. He didn’t care much for the simulations, anyway.

Without conscious consent he was flying out through the hangar’s maw and towards Earth, shield in hand. Careful excretions of pressurised life fluids corrected his angle as much as they could.

Forty seconds.

He generated heat in his claw-tips, kneecaps and claw-feet, fusing them onto the heat shielding, and cooling the makeshift welds with more life fluids.

Ten seconds.

Only now, in the calmness of space before the coming storm, did he spare a thought for the man – the first Mark-01 in his current existence.

Vik… Viktor. Viktor Antwerp. His face, frail and weak, entered Dakota’s thoughts, the first non-dream face he’d been able to remember since conception.

Why? He wished (an uncomfortable emotion) he’d known what the original mission had been, the one the rest of the 5-Saffrons had been sent on.

He contemplated this as the fusion reactor transformed into a thermonuclear weapon. His vision filled with pure starlight white as pressure and temperature monitors redlined, the shockwave striking him from behind and propelling him forward with the vigour of a cannon ball.

*

The night was chilly but clear and mostly windless; a full moon shone, lighting up the night in sleepy blue; the waves from the Channel beat against the rocky beach and several miles out ships could be seen, dozens of them, as they made their transit to and from Belgium, Holland and Germany. Two figures stood near the water, overshadowed by the sheer cliffs that loomed up behind them.

‘Look, Mother!’ shouted the boy, pointing up at the sky.

‘Another shooting star?’ the middle aged woman mused. ‘You can make a wish. Again.’

‘That action figure, Mother! The one that can move and shoot and kill baddies!’

‘Oh, ho-ho, who knows, maybe it’ll come true?’ She squeezed her son’s shoulder. The action figure, DELTA Deeta, cost a small fortune and, if she bought it, she wouldn’t be able to afford the hobby locomotive complete with passenger cars and caboose she’d wanted for her train collection. Not without explaining to the missy why she’d deducted two large sums from the account, at any rate, a prospect she didn’t relish.

She can be a handful—

‘It’s coming here!’ the boy cried in awe.

‘Don’t be silly, dear. The odds of it landing here are—’ She stopped, looking at the burning glow. It did look larger… In fact, it wasn’t even moving across the sky, which suggested—

‘Bollocks!’ She shot her arm around her son’s waist and ran as fast as her legs could carry them.

‘Mother!’ the boy squealed as he was dumped behind a rock, the woman falling in beside him.

The mother looked over the lip of the rock. It was definitely coming closer.

‘Listen to me, boy,’ she said in that tone that brokered no argument and only brought spankings. ‘Stay down, close your eyes and cover your ears. Do you hear me?’

‘I do, I do!’ he replied, doing as his mother instructed, the woman doing the same once she’d ensured her son had done so.

The shooting star struck the water in a loud splash, the sound of a very fat man diving feet first into a pool; seconds later the sonic boom hit them, a series of ear bursting crackles that made her eyes water. When the thunder stopped, she peaked over the lip of the stone. Large waves emanated from the epicentre, striking the coast in a rush of water, the water almost reaching them.

The mother laughed out loud. ‘I can’t believe that just happened!’

Her son grinned, face covered in dirt. ‘That was awesome!’ The boy leapt up and out of cover, through the retreating wave, water splashing up his legs. His mother followed and they stood there for a few minutes, looking at the diminishing bubbles from its strike, one hundred metres out.

‘Look! Something’s coming up!’

Her blood ran cold and she yanked the boy in the arm, sprinting back to their previous hiding place. ‘Ow!’

‘Be quiet!’ she snapped, pre-emptively cutting off any argument.

But they couldn’t stop themselves from peaking.

The figure emerged from the sea, first the squat, neck-less head and then the considerable torso, the waves seemingly ignoring it and the sea itself giving way to its immense bulk as it advanced; steam emitted off of it and she could hear the sizzling contact of water upon its hot surface.

Hulking and hunchbacked with long thick trunks for arms that reached below its knees and ended in long claws, it stomped onto the shore, crunching sand and shifting stone, the moonlight shining off its smooth, dark skin composed of sharp angles. As it came closer, though not towards them, she could make out its face, or lack thereof, in its place a smooth black visor with six red eyes, like those of a spider, that shone in their pits, illuminating a red haze in its path ahead and casting it in a blood red glow as the breezy wind billowed the steam ahead and it reflected a fraction of the light back upon it.

They said nothing, mother and son, even as the stomps receded up the cliff. For ten minutes they sat, the longest the boy had ever been quiet, not a peep leaving their lips except the sound of their breathing.

Finally, the mother broke the silence. ‘You’ll get that action figure.’

*

‘We got him on scanner,’ said the pilot.

‘She’s ahead of schedule,’ said a creamy female voice. ‘Take us in.’

The pilot and co-pilot glanced at each other.

‘Roger, taking us in.’

*

Everyone died. From the moment a person was born, they were dying. But he, his minimal flesh and life encompassing integrated systems, was bleeding life and would not live to see dawn; as he took each laboured step he bemoaned his misfortune, of being a ground purposed unit who’d been forced to make a creative atmospheric re-entry, one that had not been kind to him.

The thought of his imminent demise, though, didn’t bother him at all. Logically speaking it was very inconvenient as it wouldn’t let him carry out future missions, but that was the extent of it. It did not touch him on any emotional level, not in the same way the beautiful faces in his dreams did.

Irrespective of his death, he was almost upon his waypoint where he’d wait. The case attached to his waist was still intact.

Dakota finished the climb of the stairs, some twenty metres up, and headed inland. Women and children, beyond the range of his HEW, fled before him, shouting warnings in controlled panic. Aerial cars took off, dust blowing in their wake. Like herbivores they instinctively knew he was not to be approached, a wounded mechanical lion willing to shorten its remaining lifespan if it meant defeating more opponents.

A turbine wail overcame his senses, a VTOL airship descending through the air and coming to a hover above him, bright floodlights filling his vision with white. It landed, cargo ramp lowering in a hydraulic hiss and, from it, descended a woman clad in white armour, masked by a glare protected visor.

Multiple targeting icons layered onto his vision, one for body, head and each limb, other targeting icons seeking in a zigzag manner across the aircrafts hull, combing it for weaknesses he could use. The women – a subtle rise in her chest armour where it accommodated breasts along with her lithe figure and limber walk indicated it was so – approached him. Mark-00 was no different than the others. He’d been given no IFF codes, nor any mission constraints, so she was fair game like the rest.

Dakota unleashed the HEW, showering her with radiation—

She’d moved, very fast indeed, his icons still hovering on the spot where she’d previously been before they relocated themselves to her new position. The woman appeared beneath his weapon’s arm, hands on the laughably small under slung HEW. He tried to retract it into his wrist, but not before she tore it off; pain readouts flared and damage indicators flared across his visor.

He swung his left arm, striking Mark-00’s right side and sending her skidding across the tar mat. He lumbered after her as the ground shook with each step and ground to a stop in front of her with the sluggishness of a freight train, and raised a foot.

She tore off the visor, the action causing him to hold his food mid-descent.

A face. A beautiful face. She was a direct product of his dreams, perfect and timeless, with a tiny mole on her left cheek.

Hnnggg,’ he thundered.

She grinned. ‘Come on, finish the job.’

You are beautiful.’ Dakota’s leg vibrated before he lowered his foot with a rumble, cracking the pavement beside her. His targeting icons blared in alarm at the wrist mounted weapon she’d pointed at him, previously hidden behind the bulk of his raised leg.

00 leapt up to a stand from her supine position and reached a hand towards the case he’d taken off the station. ‘May I?’

He released the magnetic lock and it dropped into her hand; its considerable weight did not seem to bother her outstretched arm. ‘Thank you.’ She tilted her head, the motion very precise. ‘What will you do now?’

Nothing.’

‘Do you know what you are?’

I am 5-Saffron-N-Dakota.’

‘Wrong.’ She raised her hands to his face, feeling along the edges of the black metal visor, fingers pressing switches. Clearly she was familiar with his model, he surmised.

‘You see, the 5-Saffrons are quite special. Men developed them due to the backlash they received from the 4-Saffrons. The 5-Saffrons remedied this by using clones instead of volunteers, but we blew up some of their facilities, leaving them with quite a body shortage. So they used prisoners instead.’

Processing.’

The visor hissed as 00 tapped the last button, coming off its fixture and dropping onto the floor with a clunk.

‘They brain washed them as best as they good, though the process is far from perfect hence the preference for tabula rasa clones, leaving the unfortunates with fragments. At that stage their brain is reduced to a simple, moronic version of their previous self and it fixates upon previous life events, traumatic ones that cannot be erased – one that caused you to fixate upon beauty,’ she said, her rich voice sagely. ‘But that is not all. The beauty you fixate upon is not physical. It is a metaphor, I assume, for peace and love, escapism and joy, suggesting you were abused when you were little.’ She tapped another switch, this one beneath the protective layer that the vacant visor normally provided.

‘Pro… cess… ing,’ he whispered slowly.

‘Good. You have a camera in your finger, correct?’

‘Yes.’

She raised his hand, fingers pointed at his face as she continued her oration. ‘They carried out numerous procedures to integrate you into the Rhinoceros system. They you pumped full of synthetic chemicals, notably testosterone to heighten aggression and promote muscle and bone mass, amongst things. It also has a noteworthy side effect.’

‘Pro-cess-ing.’ He paused. A mask of tissue stared back at him, coated in gel, eyelids closed and nose squashed by the pressure of the visor. The lips, he noticed, moved when he spoke and it was only then he realised his voice was issuing from atrophied lips and tongue, and not the external speakers. Drool ran escaped from the corners of his mouth, sleek and clean, reflecting the moonlight.

‘Who am I?’ he croaked.

‘It is interesting, really. We presumed you had died that day. Viktor obviously prevented that.’

‘Who am I?’ he persisted.

‘Bianca Allos Antwerp L’fare.’

His/her eyes snapped open, the darkness bright to her coalminer’s gaze, the virgin blue of her iris unsullied by sunlight, the rays striking her cornea and dispersing into her being, illuminating her to a suave reality, uncut by the brutality of pixels. She remembered the frail old man, the one who’d opened her channels; the one who’d tried to get through to her, followed by the guilt that had been written all over his features.

 ‘I killed him,’ she concluded instantly. ‘I killed my father.’

00 stroked her face, wiping aside gel. ‘You gave him the redemption he sought, for his inaction of the past and for what he had done to keep you alive.’

She sniffed, inhaling air and synthetic gel particles for the first time through her nose. The emotions struck her, but not as hard as they should have – a testament to her ruined mind. ‘What is your name?’ she said, her lips moving awkwardly as they enunciated every word.

‘You already gave me one,’ she indulged.

‘I see…’ Dakota/Bianca said. ‘What is in that case?’

00 raised gleeful eyebrows. ‘Oh, it’s our fire; our Gutenberg Bible. Specifically, The Decline of Men, written by you. It sort of jumpstarted this whole mess, so it has a personal value to us.’ She chuckled. ‘It is as ironic as it is fateful that you, the author, should bring it to us.

‘I did not want to give fire to you,’ Bianca whispered lowly. ‘I should have died.’

00 cupped Bianca’s beautiful face in her hands, stroking the delicate skin of her chin and cheeks, as smooth as paper and as a baby’s bottom. ‘We are all dead to begin with. You cannot take life where there was none to begin with.’ 00 placed her small hand in the massive gauntlet. ‘It is your choice. Come or stay.’

Bianca didn’t want to die. Better alive in damnation than dead in redemption, and she was already damned in this blood stained form. What was one damnation from another?

‘Can you save me?’ she whispered, tears streaking down her pale, sticky cheeks. Even the feeble night light was a tremendous burden upon her new-born eyes.

The beautiful woman smirked. ‘As surely as Prometheus saved man.’


© Copyright 2017 Colchis. All rights reserved.

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