Authors: Michael John Grist
Copyright © 2014 by Michael John Grist
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No part of this publication my be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.
Cover art by Matias Trabold Rehren.
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MOVEMENT 1. SUNKEN WORLD
The explosion doesn't make a sound, but it blows all my thoughts to shreds.
I'm sitting in a train running high along the tsunami wall, looking out of the glass at the gray Allatanc ocean. It's endless, I sometimes think, it goes on forever now that all the ice is gone, with so many secrets hidden underneath.
My own face is reflected back palely in the window, like a ghost, worn with the lines of an older man. What's happening, I wonder, is this even me? There's some kind of disconnect between my thoughts and my reflection, like I'm looking at a thinned-out imitation of myself, a fraction of what I really am.
I look down at my hand and see there's a node ringing there. My hand is mired with dust and blood, several of the fingers are battered and crooked with old breaks, and I don't remember why. A name flashes on the node's screen, but my eyes are too bleary to read. I blink to clear the fuzz, and the node answers with a woman's voice.
"Ritry, is that you?" she says. "Are you coming home?"
Something goes off inside me, like a dry-ice bomb, but I don't know what it is. I know this woman, I'm sure, but it's so hard to think. She sounds worried and I want to tell her everything will be alright, but before I can do that another silent BOOM rings out and I'm back where I started.
A young man sitting opposite me, he's dressed like a candy factory worker, his blue jumpsuit embroidered with red and white sweets, slumps to the floor. There's blood pouring from his nose. He jerks on the beige vinyl flooring, smearing the red all round like thin jam on warm toast.
This barely affects me. I look up and down the train and see the aisles littered with twitching bodies just like him, like worms sprawled after a rain. It should be horrific but I feel numb, and on some intellectual level I begin to understand, because I've seen something like this before.
It's a mind-bomb.
"Fuck," I mutter under my breath, barely audible with my volition blasted inward, stuffy and fogged like the pressure in your ears at 1,000 feet deep. I can barely move, but faint memories of surfacing from the longest EMR dive ever come back to me, having sacrificed half my mind to the Lag, waking through corridors and rooms filled with fallen bodies, dead like automatons with their off-buttons punched.
Ven, Heclan, Ferrily, Tigrates, all winked out.
"Fuck," I say again, more loudly now, enough to wake myself up and get control of my own thoughts before the next bomb drops.
More bodies fall.
"Fuck!" I shout, then lurch to my feet. I look up at the white-metal train ceiling, as if I'll be able to see the next one scatter-burst in the air overhead. The bombs must be dampened somehow or I'd be dead already. They must be calculated, enough to daze, and only kill weaker minds.
The young man at my feet is dying. Poor bastard. I Lag his pain and panic away and hurl them upward like a shield, which instants later takes the brunt of the next mind-bomb burst. I feel the anesthetic backwash of it rinse over my thoughts like spray off a broken wave, and then I see them.
There's three of them, black-clad figures padding down the adjoining carriage like skirmish-marines in a sieged hydrate mine, clearing corridor by corridor. On their heads are tight HUDS and I can just hear the tinny thump of the miniature EMRs inside thumping away, beating into time with the clacking of the train wheels over metal rails below.
They have adapted Kaos rifles with large-gauge barrels, probably tranquilizer, and there is no doubt in my mind that they're coming for me. Their barrels are pointed at my chest, and they're advancing so slick they don't even look down to tread over bodies wriggling underfoot.
With a splash of cool thought in the fog, Mr. Ruins' final words come back to me, before I flushed the mind out of his skull.
"They'll all come for you, because they all know you now."
But they don't know me. That's what I said, and it stands true now. I reach out through the numb fog and Lag the suffering and panic of the whole fucking train.
The wriggling of bodies stills, strength floods into me, and I throw everything I've got at these three marines, slashing at the bonds that hold them up and keep them together.
It hardly makes a dent, and they barely waver in place. They are like the Don's bunker-skulk, targeted to withstand the tsunami I'm hurling. I focus harder, sucking stolen strength off the thousands of old bonds left through this space over the years and frag it at them, prying to get in and rip them apart from within, but it's like they are built out of iron. I can scarcely see more of them than the burning outer rings of their Molten Cores.
Then one of them shoots.
The impact takes me high in the left shoulder and spins me back into my seat. For a second only I sit there dazzled, looking at the tiny black metal dart as it pumps its toxin into me. For the moment I'm out of their line of sight, but I can feel the three of them advancing like blips on a radar, and grit my teeth against a sudden wave of dizziness.
They're a chord. They're working together in ways I've never felt before. They're shielding each other, and I'm sinking. I was so close to something and almost free, but now I'm sinking under again. I reach out, but there's nothing more to hold onto. All my friends are dead, all my loved ones have been taken from me.
The voice is still talking on the other end of the node. The woman's voice is panicked, screeching if I'm OK, am I OK, and I remember that I do know her. For 10 years I've known her, and loved her, and even now she's waiting for me to come home.
Her name is Loralena, and she is my wife. Art and Mem are our children. They've been waiting for me to come home for all the time I've been away.
I don't Lag that love, because I don't need to, it's so strong I can use it like I surfed the godships. All the love they've been holding for me and I've been holding for them is banked up like a swollen reservoir, untouched by Mr. Ruins because all he could take was their pain.
I seize the love and fuse it in the Molten Core of my mind. I've been waiting for a year to see my family again, and I'll not lose that chance to three EMR-helmeted fucks dressed like wannabe skirmishers. I open the flood-gates and suck the love down.
They're standing in front of me now, barrels in my face, looking down. They think I'm out, and they should be right. Any normal human would long be gone. I feel them probe at my mind, their thoughts like cold scalpels.
They shoot me again. Dull thuds impact my body, but that doesn't matter. Poisons flow in my veins, but I'm doing alchemy here and nothing can stop the bondless gold from bursting out. I redirect the poisonous molecules in my blood, fuse them into clumps like chum for the Lag, and focus.
They're standing in front of me, snapping out some kind of wrist-ties, and only one of them has his rifle still leveled at my chest.
I throw everything I've got at him. I focus it tight, not to knock him down or blow him apart, but like the chord with only their QC guns on Napoleon's battlefield, enough to chip out a divot and veer his aim just a little to the side.
It's enough, and the black eye of his rifle barrel turns. I burst to my feet and hammer my elbow into the side of his HUD, hard enough to crack the plastic and jolt the rhythm of the EMR inside. He staggers off to the side, and I swing my elbow back to catch the one to my right full on the visor, buckling the plastic-glass inward and shearing through his eyes and into his optic nerve.
I feel his pain, but my elbow is stuck and that hurts me more. I spin him around to take the full brunt of three more darts shot by the one marine left, holding up his rifle.
He unloads five more shots into his fellow, dropping him to the ground and dragging me down with him, pulled by my elbow. As I go down I swing my left arm and hurl the now-silent node at the third marine's head.
It's enough to make him flinch, which is long enough for me to prize my bloody elbow out of the fractured helmet and snatch up the fallen marine's rifle. Three thick shards of dark plastic glass jut through my shirt sleeve, blood is pouring out of it, but that's not important now.
The third marine's rifle trains in on me, the trigger depresses and the guy unloads straight at my stomach, where I'm holding the rifle I snatched up. Two of the darts crack sharply off it, and only one contacts with my skin.
I feel woozy instantly. It's one too many, I can't redirect them all while fighting like this. I have just enough strength to bring up the rifle and fire at him, at the faceplate of his HUD.
The darts plink-plonk off harmlessly, but he can't see clearly to aim as I lurch to the side. Somewhere in the distance the one whose EMR I jarred is pulling off his helmet and coming-to, the guy behind me is convulsing, but for now only this guy in front of me matters.
I fought so many times in the skirmishes. I fought for real in the confines of other subglacics or drop-stations we'd boarded, then when they ranked me up to graysmith I fought a thousand battles in other people's heads, refighting all their old fights one by one to leach out the stress and the fear, turning every loss to a victory. I became an expert in it, a steady hand at all times when everyone else would spike with adrenaline and lose control.
It's why Ven loved me, why Heclan and the others gathered near, because I was stone-cold in a fight. It's how I Lagged my scientist-parents to death when I was four years old, how I breached my own Solid Core and reached across the aetheric fucking bridge to break Mr. Ruins, it's why I'm still alive when everyone I once fought with is dead, and it's why I'll walk away from this alive too.
I hit him with all those thoughts so hard the shell of his Molten Core flexes, even as I hammer the butt of the rifle into his gut and faceplate in quick succession, following up with a thrusting kick at his knee. But he's already stepping back, and the blow glances off. His mind wavers but won't break, my element of surprise is gone, and in a moment he won't be alone.
I dive at him, grapple him round the midriff and drive him up against the train window. The glass spiderwebs with a shocking CRUNK, and I feel the sharp blade of his elbow hammer down into my back. I feel a rib crack inward, but I rock back and heave him into the window again, turning the spider web pattern into a complex fractal.
He drops another elbow in my back, another one of my ribs cracks inward, and this time I push off him. He staggers for his footing against the low seating, and I throw all I've got into a thrusting front kick against his solar plexus. It catches him full in the chest and he hits the glass again. This time shards shear outward, and the sharp whistle of the wind fills the air with salt and rotting kelp.
He throws a kick in return, off-balance, and I drive into it. With one hand on his thigh and the other on his throat, I thrust him into the glass. It shatters and he goes through.
And down, all the way down the wall. He screams and so do I, and as the train rockets on his wail Dopplers to bass. I feel the distant crunch of pain from his mind as he hits the slope of the wall and friction begins to burn him down to raw meat.
I stride to the first one I struck, on his knees now and still struggling to get his helmet off. Panic is rising off him, despite the toxin-fog turning in my own mind. He's terrified, but not of me. His pulse is broken, and there's something different now, some kind of bond stretching out from him I hadn't noticed before, arcing off into the far distance thicker and broader than any I've ever seen before. It feels cold and immensely powerful, like hydrates trapped in the ice, and as his HUD slips off I begin to feel something of his thoughts.
I kick him in the face, stamp on his chest, then drop to his side to tear off his helmet. His eyes are staring up, but not at me.
"Who sent you?" I ask. With the EMR gone I catch a glimpse into his Molten Core, filled with atrocities and genocides I can barely comprehend. Hundreds of thousands dead, and sucking the marrow out of their suffering. I try to dive deeper and yank at the bond encircling him, but something rebuffs me effortlessly.
I recoil, dive harder, then the man's eyes focus on me, and he smiles.
"It's good to meet you, Mr. Goligh," he says. Then his eyes roll back in his head, and he screams. I feel something changing in him, vibrating like a piece of metal in the microwave, and I pull out of my dive. The thick band of thought stretching into him goes blindingly hot for a moment, more powerful than anything outside the aetheric bridge, rising to a crescendo.
Then his mind implodes. There is nothing physical, bar a sigh and the sag of his dead head against the blood-slicked vinyl, but I feel it like a dry-ice bomb in my own head. It stuns and terrifies me, even as the thick band of thought dissipates.
I reach tentatively to the dead man's mind, but it is gone, more surely than a pulped orange. Inside his head there is nothing but soup, every thought, memory and bond instantly atomized.
I've never seen anything like it. I do not know if it is that or the drugs in my system that makes me stagger as I head back to the one whose visor I staved in. His mind is pulp too. I think of gory fruit mulched in the blender, and I want to be sick.
I stand there swaying and look around me. Everyone else on the train is Lagged by the mind-bombs or dead.