Authors: Jon Sourbeer,
The Phoenix Fallacy
Copyright © Jonathan Sourbeer 2013
For my parents:
It would take a thousand authors a thousand lifetimes to describe what you’ve done for me.
The Phoenix Fallacy
Is comprised of three books:
Janus, Norm, and Magnus
And is also known as
Prologue: Trash and Treasures
Rarely had there been such a feast in the slums.
sighed happily before approaching the mountainous pile of new trash that had just been dumped into the wastes of Cerberus Corporation. A few trash fires burned here and there, granting a small measure of light to the constant, soft glow from the city above. The highest reaches of the cyclopean buildings that surrounded her were obscured by the smog and smoke that held the slums in an eternal twilight, but the garbage’s origin was clear. She picked her way through the mass, her youthful olive skin a sharp contrast to the longstanding filth and despair that surrounded her.
Her bright brown eyes glistened in the dark and her black hair fell to her shoulders, catching the light of the flickering fires despite the dirt and grime that caked her clothes and skin. Wrapping her rags tightly around her, she leapt up the base of the rotting mountain.
he was filled with satisfaction. The eternal dark of Cerberus’ corporate city seemed just a little less oppressive. Who knew what treasures existed in this bounty? And it was all hers. At least until some of the Rat gangs showed up.
There was a rustle behind her
. She tensed, peering over her shoulder. A figure emerged, clad in tatters and covered in dirt. It eyed her suspiciously. But it was weak and sickly, and so it quickly slunk back into the shadows and disappeared. It would wait until she was finished. Crowds attracted patrols, and friends were few here. Clara trudged her way to the top, wading and shifting as quickly as she could. Her eyes sparkled as she pulled a large hunk of sheet metal from the jumble.
Heavily rusted, the scrap was nearly as big as she was. Useful metal was rare enough, and the local mechanics would practically kill each other for a scrap this big. She hefted it above her; it w
asn’t too heavy to carry. Her eyes widened as she considered the possibilities: she might be able to go to E-level and purchase some real food! Her mouth watered at the thought – a few protein packs all to herself! Perhaps she would even splurge on a flavored variety – Clara had never tasted apple. She didn’t even know what an apple looked like.
plowed through the mush – she needed to get off the rotting pyramid and sell this treasure before the Rats came along. She was tough and still young enough to fend off some of the single scavengers, but the Rats were nasty. Rats would steal, lie, and kill to get what they wanted. And with the amount of territory they covered, several may have heard the colossal mound plummet into the depths of Cerberus.
As she scurried to
wards the bottom, however, there was a soft
Clara craned her neck back, hoping to catch a glimpse
of what had landed in the jumbled waste, but it was useless.
She bit her lip. Oppo
rtunities were not to be missed, but was it better to find something extra – or return with what she had?
a moment’s consideration, she placed her treasure carefully out of sight and struggled back to the top, slipping and sliding as she went.
She was disappointed.
Nothing remarkable had magically appeared. Or whatever it was had been sucked into the morass. Another noise made her freeze, and she dropped onto all fours. It had sounded like a cough.
She knew better than to say it aloud.
The thought of
the Rats flashed across her mind and she shivered. After a few tense moments she lifted her head up, peering around. Nothing.
Her mind was playing tricks on her.
This time she knew she had heard something. It was to her left, just over the back of the heap.
She crept to the edge, where an old machinery press formed a ledge upon the mountain.
A lip had formed, and Clara peered over it. There was nothing but a bundle of
Those might be val—
the blanket squirmed and she jolted in surprise.
It was a baby.
Clara stared at the tiny child lying in the trash for a few moments before pushing the twinge of pity to the back of her mind and turning her nose up in disgust. She had wasted time, energy, and safety climbing all the way up here.
But maybe there’s a reward
, she argued with herself.
Clara shook her head, s
he had seen this kind of deed before – usually when one of the elites wanted to remove evidence of an unacceptable relationship. The mother was hidden away, or became “ill” for several months. And after the baby was born, the child would be quickly and quietly removed.
But this child wasn’t dead.
That was amazing in itself, considering the fall. That the babe appeared to be well cared for, despite its predicament, was more intriguing. It couldn’t be more than a few weeks old. But what did she know about babies? With a shake of her head, she grabbed again for the blankets.
er hand stopped as she felt a small object trapped within the folds.
Carefully tugging it free, her hand opened to reveal
a jeweled locket in the shape of a bird with tiny lettering that Clara struggled to read:
To Natalie, From Magnus
Clara frowned at the locket and fumbled to open it. A small clasp held
the locket together, and after a moment’s struggle, it popped open, allowing her a glimpse inside. A picture of a woman rested within, carefully painted in deep hues of red, green and brown. She was beautiful. An innocent smile accented her softly angled face, long flowing hair and deep brown eyes.
As Clara studied the
mysterious woman, she realized that the opposite side of the locket also held a picture.
It was a person
– but now the colors splotched together into a mess topped by a blob of white. Pulling the locket ever closer, her finger traced edges on the back, and she flipped the jeweled bird over to find more writing. The engraving, however, was deeper and rougher, as if scrawled with a small knife:
may Janus remind you
Puzzlement reflected on Clara’s face, as she rolled the odd word over in her mind,
She did not dwell on it.
Her sheet metal treasure waited. Placing the locket around her neck with one last look at the infant, she sighed and left the blankets. Scrambling down the heap, she made her way as fast as the loose and shifting garbage would allow.
A high pitched whistling echoed around the dark walls surrounding her.
Clara crouched low, peering upward in a struggle to fathom the dark smog above her. Something was plummeting through the haze. Straight for her.
leapt out of its path just before it made a sickening impact on the hard-packed earth at the base of the mountain of garbage. The charred and smoking armor of a former Corporate Security officer lay broken at her feet. Her mouth hung open in wonder, but her eyes reflected no pity.
Cerberus’ Corporate Security
. The enemy of every slummer. Heavily armed and armored, Security Troopers, or S.T.s for short, were a force to reckon with. Their strength-enhancing armor inspired terror, and their Zeus rifles could cut through steel. Seemingly invulnerable, the S.T.s controlled the power structure of the lowest level of the city. Above all else, they demanded absolute respect from the slummers.
sergeant controlling this section of Cerberus was a man named Martel, a particularly nasty specimen of a creature. Any slummer who assaulted one of his patrols would be subject to the strictest of military discipline: death. Even the Rats avoided crossing Martel.
Clara was not particularly saddened by the loss of one of Cerberus’ finest.
This trooper’s armor was only identifiable in its shape. Its occupant and markings were burned beyond recognition. But it wasn’t the special modified variant that Martel wore, just standard Cerberus issue.
She peered into the open visor,
wondering what could have happened. But the stench of burning flesh that struck her was nauseating and she was overcome by the need to escape the odor. Backing away, she struggled up the mountain of garbage.
Her ears perked up to the sound of Carrion Eaters
, their engines shrieking as they flew through the alleys.
She searched for an escape route, scolding herself for her stupidity. A soldier had fallen into the slums in a fiery blaze – she could think of few things that would attract more attention.
As the whine of their engines intensified,
the bile rose in her throat. There was nowhere to go but –
! Her prize forgotten, Clara scrambled upwards. A cry sounded from nearby; the patrol had found the poor creature that had slunk into the dark earlier. New urgency overtook her as she clawed her way up the greasy waste, the whine growing louder until it filled her ears.
The Carrion Eaters roared as they raced into the clearing
, and she tumbled out of sight over the top of the hill.
She kept quiet, listening
as the Rats sped around the small space and then raced off as another cry sounded from afar.
A chill ran down her spine
and a new thought flooded through her –
If the abandoned child hadn’t stopped her, she would have been running down the very same alley that— she wiped the thought from her mind, but compulsively twisted to her left. The blue blankets peeked over the wrapping of a protein pack. She looked away, shaking her head.
A whine of engines echoed s
oftly from between the alleys.
But as she stood, the jeweled locket brushed against her chest, and she stared at it for a moment.
With a final growl of frustration, she hustled over to the bundled child, scooped him up in her arms, and took off running down the other side of the hill.