Sunday, January 20, 2013

Vermilion Years, Chapter 1






IM

Patchwork aluminum airships chugged steadily across the dust clouds. Helio, the smallest of Earth’s three purifying ‘moons’, reflected off the tinfoil balloons keeping the ships afloat. Bursts of steam sporadically shot up from the boiling tides below.  Just as nature itself had practically vanished, my time for romance seemed all but over. As I peered into the uncertain dusk, I longed for my earliest memories.  A time before the Vermillion Years.

“Jean-Luc, what are you thinking about?”
 “Hues in the air,” I answered. “The fumes of commuters add welcomed variety.” 

The eternal evening was the one aspect of this era that I preferred over the past. Melancholically painted by splotches of cinnabar, burgundy and aged orange peel, the sky stayed a constant vermillion, tinting virtually everything in a moody orange glow. For all its beauty, the citrusy atmosphere was, for the most part, toxic, forcing mankind indoors.

“That’s a strange thing to say.”  The girl’s voice was muffled under her fancy oversized collar. The frilly poof that topped her equally bloated chartreuse dress was actually an expensive respirator that allowed her to breathe outdoors.  
Strange? For one of her limited years, yes, maybe it was. To her, orange was orange and nothing more. She didn’t have eons of lifetimes at her disposal to analyze color. For me, it was but one of the countless mundane observances that governed my sullen existence. My finger slowly drew the slider down on my bronze mask, forming a frown.
“Nothing is strange, as strangeness is defined only by the limit of one’s experiences,” I replied after a spell of contemplative silence. “Struggling to understand the world, we cling to sameness to feel safe— not realizing that shelter is a sin. When wrinkles set, your pale skin will regret its lack of scars. Appreciate the uncanny now. Age robs you of wonder.”

I could feel the girl’s eyes fixed dreamily upon me. Despite the girl’s beauty, the loving gaze had no chance of reciprocation.


“I’m not sure what you mean,” she replied hesitantly, shuffling in place. “But the way you just said that was positively breathtaking. Everything you say astonishes me, Jean-Luc. Your words stick on my mind even weeks after they’ve been spoken.”


Mankind regarded my ilk as beacons of wisdom and power— a perception I found utterly tiresome. Speaking trifles in passing and having them regarded as profundities always reminded me just how isolated I’d become.  
I reset my mouth to neutral. Removing my ornate brown top hat, I ran my cold, cast iron claws over the charred, barren scalp where my hair once flowed. After exposing my ugliness to her, I returned my cap to my head and said, “Beautiful?  If you paid any real attention to my words, you’d commit suicide.”

The girl’s eyes welled up with brine and she dashed off.  I purposely upset her and felt not a shred of regret for doing so. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand sadness. In fact, that emotion was the one I’d been most acquainted with. Rather, just as the suffering of a fly does not concern the horse, the girl’s corporeality made her fleeting feelings of no consequence to me.


Just can’t help yourself, can you?”


A young woman sharing several of the tearful girl’s features approached me.  I recognized her as ‘Fleurette’ but I could not recall as to whether she was the previous girl’s sibling or acquaintance. Despite being chastised for it, I purposely ignored this type of information. While the storage capacity of the human brain was indeed infinite, I had an issue with thought manageability. For this reason, the newer something was, the less care I had for it. But with life droning on as endlessly as it was, I began to develop nostalgia for nostalgia— caring for nothing at all.


“You always treat them with such cruel indifference, and yet the family graciously continues to tolerate and support you,” Fleurette scolded me. “Etienne doesn’t mind your appearance much, and she worships your harsh words as if they were spoken by a god. A gentleman would show gratitude, not fangs. You can’t handle a girl blushing, but tears are certainly right up your street.”

 “Tell me this- if a man cannot freeze, what need does he have of shelter? If he does not sleep, why would he require a bed? If he cannot eat, why must meals be prepared for him? And if he cannot relate… what need does he have for a companion?”

“You are an insufferable egotist, Jean-Luc,” said Fleurette, her disapproving eyes attempting to stir regret in my heart. “I curse the day you were sent to live with the masters.”
Ah yes, she was a maidservant.

“I doubt the others behave like soulless animatronics,” she continued, growing increasingly flustered. “The Pasiphae’s deserve a better Im than the scoundrel they’re stuck with.”

I pressed the button next to my temple that drew the tinted black glass away from my bloodshot eyeballs. I locked eyes with her, projecting the pain behind my aggregate acrimony.  Unable to look away from the horrors reflected in my pupils, her dirty skin turned pallid. Her eyes dejected. With a quick click, the shades snapped back into place.
 Saying nothing, I headed to the gate and pulled the lever on the intricate mechanical fence. Pistons chugged and gears shifted. Steam whistled from the narrow exhaust pipe, signaling the sturdy barricade had completed unlatching its various locking mechanisms. Unfortunately for the maid, an arthro-pod scuttled up just as the gate closed behind me. The eight spider-like feet that propelled the tiny carriage retracted. In a burst of hot yellow vapor, the pill-shaped vehicle locked into place in its docking bay, and Lord Yves Arlow Pasiphae popped out.


“Ah Jean-Luc, going for another stroll, I see,” the surly nobleman greeted. Due to a grease fire that broke out in one of his factories, half of Yves’s face had been grafted with metal plating. Instead of a right eye, he had an oxygen orb in its socket. Such devices worked the same as the 
Earth’s enormous purifying moons but on a smaller scale. It was a symbol of Yves’s aristocracy, as oxygen tanks were seen as gauche and a sign of low social standing. Personally, I preferred the look of the tanks, but as one who required neither, my opinion hardly mattered.

Despite my lack of saying, the man immediately understood the situation.

“Will you be sending for anything?” the man asked somberly.


“Only my books,” I answered. “They are to be sent to my library. All my other belongings should be burned. Judging by her opinion of me, I’m sure ‘Fleurette’ would be more than happy to volunteer for the task.”

Fleurette… ” he echoed.

 Once the gate was resealed with Yves on the other side, I hung back for a listen.




“Good day, my lordship,” bid the voice of Fleurette. “Apologies Lord Pasiphae, but I am much too busy to converse with you. I came to check the insulation on backside of the manor. Lady Etienne is complaining of headaches again.”

“You’re a bloody headache,” Yves replied.

“My lord?”
The girl’s attempt to feign ignorance was as poor as she.

“Do not insult me with your knavery,” burst the nobleman as the back of his gold glove collided with the servant’s cheek. “I passed Jean-Luc on his way out.”

“You don’t know the terrible things he said to the young mistress,” Fleurette protested.

“Do not speak out of turn,” Yves ordered, his tone dry with discontent. “I do not care if he called her a harlot and had his way with her. The Governess entrusted his care to ME.  Breaking that trust, she will shatter my spine and then throw me into the wastelands.” 

The enormous wall obscured my view, but judging by the shrieks, shatters and grunts, the violence was simple to infer.

“He’ll crawl back, just watch,” Fleurette assured. “No one can survive the extremes of the lowlands or withstand the boiling waters of the Searing Ocean for long.”

“Do you know that little of the world?” Yves asked. “Of course he can. Why do you think we needed him? His presence was our protection.  The unmans…  At the rate our militia is dwindling, I should be surprised if this settlement shall remain afloat by next solstice.”

“My sisters in El Soledad say an ‘un’ is just a sad fraction of a human,” the bruised girl said weakly. “We don’t need an Im’s help.”

“The ignorant truly do have better quality of life,” muttered Yves. “Unlike El Soledad, Lyonnais refuses to become the pawn of a monarchy. We cannot depend on the security of chevaliers to stave off those mindless monsters.”

I could make out the sound of something smashing into a sculpture, presumably Fleurette’s body. Amid the violence, however, Yves maintained a chillingly calm demeanor. I’d observed this behavior several times during my stay. The industrial tycoon always dealt with anger oppositely from how one expected. The greater his fury was, the more reserved and focused he was.

“Aren’t there… others?” the maid posed between sobs. At this point Fleurette had to have taken considerable damage.

“Ims are scarce; fewer than a hundred or so are on the planet,” the head of house explained as he continued his merciless assault. “In that number, only a few offer themselves up as mercenaries. And in that handful, there is only one in Lyonnais’s price range. Jean-Luc L’Estrange.

“I’m- I’m sorry,” the maid bawled. “I’m pleading with you… Stop.”
I could no longer hear words from Yves.
“Look at me, my lord. I’m bruised, bloody and in tears. I will take all the blame, you won’t be accountable…”

Her begging did not appear to have any effect as it sounded like Yves had tossed her yet again. At this point I decided I’d heard enough, and so I began walking away from the estate.
The quarrel had become loud enough that I could still hear it in the distance.

“I’m on the edge of the island, don’t come any closer!”
Whatever the man’s reply had been, it was followed by a screech so harrowing that it pierced cleanly through the time-fortified pulmonary barrier around my heart. The girl’s horrible cry waned steadily before ending in a sizzling splash.


“Do not look at your father that way, Etienne,” said Yves coldly.

“You- you k-killed her,” stuttered the nobleman’s daughter. “My best f-friend…”

“I saved her from a worse fate.”

“Then shall you kill me as well?”


...


Fully submerged in boiling water, I could no longer hear their voices. All I could see were brown bubbles and all I could feel was the scalding, oily H20 seeping through my leather and copper ensemble.  My only thoughts were…


‘Why am I doing this?’