Sunday, May 11, 2014
The Vermilion Years: Chapter 1 (Reboot)
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— recollections of a time before the Vermillion Years.
“Jean-Luc, what is that you are observing?”
“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 with splotches of cinnabar and burgundy, the sky stayed a constant vermillion— tinting all the exposed world moody orange. For all its beauty, the citrusy atmosphere was deathly toxic, forcing mankind indoors.
“That’s an odd thing to do,” the girl said.
The girl’s voice was muffled under her fancy oversized collar. The frilly poof that topped her equally bloated chartreuse dress hid the respirator that enabled her to breathe outdoors.
“Perhaps. It’s means to chip away the time I cannot kill.”
“Hmm. You always say such strange things.”
Strange? For one of her limited years, perhaps. To her, orange was orange and nothing more. She did not have eons at her disposal to overanalyze the accepted mendacities of existence. She ignored the intricacy of simplicity— as all humans do. Counting the colors in the sky was but one of many mundane time-killing techniques that governed my continued 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. Often times, I’d employ eloquence and philosophy to scare the flies away, but this particular bug was not repelled.
“While I’m not sure of what you meant,” the young girl began hesitantly, shuffling in place.
“The way you worded 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 tiresome perception. Speaking trifles in passing and having them be regarded as profundities reminded me of my isolation. I reset my mouth to neutral. Removing my ornate brown top hat, I ran a cold, cast iron claw over the charred, barren scalp where hair once flowed. I could feel the girl shutter in my own bones.
“I don’t care how you look… Your words are beautiful.”
I returned my cap to my head.
“Beautiful? If you paid any real attention to my words, you’d commit suicide.”
“W-why is that?”
“My words mean that life has no purpose. Youth is marked with lies that make the world look livable. Appreciate your stupidity while you have it. That’s the take away.”
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’d forgotten the feeling of sadness—the emotion I’d best acquaintance with. Rather, just as the suffering of a fly does not concern a horse, the girl’s corporeality made her feelings of no consequence to me. Though I’d be lying if I denied harboring any ire for her mortality.
“You simply cannot help yourself, can you, Im?”
A brute yet refined young woman with short, mousy brown hair approached me. I recognized her as ‘Fleurette’, but beyond that I had no recall for what her relation was to the other girl. I’d committed myself to forgetting such information. The storage capacity of the human brain is infinite, as I can attest, but I my issue lied with memory manageability. For the sake of not losing that which was relevant to me, I drowned out basically everything new. With life droning on as it did, I developed nostalgia for nostalgia, in a sense, caring for nothing at all.
“You treat this settlement with such cruel indifference, and yet Lyonnais graciously continues to accommodate you. Not only does Lady Etienne look past your horrid appearance, she worships your every word. A gentleman would show gratitude, not fangs. If you cannot handle a girl blushing for you, tell her so. Or do her tears soothe you so?”
“A man who cannot freeze requires no coat. If a man needs no sleep or sex, he takes no bed. When a stomach needs no food, a man eats none… and if he cannot love, what need does he have for companionship?”
“You’re an insufferable pighead, Jean-Luc,” Fleurette, her disapproving eyes attempting to stir regret in my heart. “I curse the day you were first allowed to live here.”
“I was not allowed… I was begged,” I corrected. “Lyonnais required the aid of man of my years.”
“Yes, and I think they’d best seek another,” the crass maid retorted. “I doubt the others behave like soulless animatronics. Lady Etienne deserves better, as does Lyonnais.”
“So you’d think…” I murmured.
“This settlement is filled with good natured people. They rest their hopes in you, but you look down on them as if they were Unman. You don’t care for a single one of them, do you?”
“It is not my job to care.”
Fleurette hocked a large wad of spit from the deepest recesses of her hatred and propelled it onto my metal mask. I wiped it off, then 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. The girl looked straight into the horrors undaunted, much to my surprise. A glimpse into my suffering brought most men to their knees. Such was the extent of her irreverence.
“I shall be going then,” I said stiffly.
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 at its docking bay. Lord Yves Arlow Pasiphae, master of the estate, popped out.
“Ah, Jean-Luc! Going for another stroll, I see.”
The surly nobleman blocked my way. As a result of a severe steam burn, half of the fellow’s face had been grafted with metal. Instead of a right eye, an Earthlife Orb laid in its socket.
The tiny sphere of technology was not of the Earth, manufactured on the distant Colony-K, a place even I’d never been. Merely touching skin allowed the Earthlife Orb’s bio-tech to integrate with the connected organism, giving red-blood cells the ability to create their own oxygen and turning the heart into nanomachine-pumping factory. The orb itself served as a conduit to pull in the air’s toxins. Once absorbed, the pollutants became materials to sustain the orb. There’s much more to the process than that, but to put it simply, the orb eliminated the need for a natural respiratory system— giving any human the ability to exist on Earth. Of course, this was outdated tech, replaced years ago by Spacelife Chips… but that’s neither here nor there.
Regardless, the Earthlife Orb was a symbol of Yves’s high aristocracy, as oxygen tanks were seen as gauche and a sign of low social standing. That being said, such orbs were a rare commode, as with all nice things on this orange excuse for a planet. Small, air-filtering breathers were far more common among the rich. Personally, I preferred the look of the poor’s tanks, but as one who required no air at all… my opinion hardly mattered. In fact, I had quite enough of humanity at this point, and I’d decided be far more comfortable outside Lyonnais’ walls.
“It would seem this will be my last walk through these parts,” I said to the man.
“I see,” Yves said shakily. “Will you be sending for anything?”
“No, nothing,” I answered. “Any belongings of mine left behind should be burned. Judging by her opinion of me, I’m sure Miss Fleurette would gladly volunteer for the task, should you ask her.”
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. Have you found another orb yet? Your daughter is complaining of headaches again.”
“You’re the source of headaches,” Yves replied cantankerously.
“My lord? I do not underst— AYYYAAAAAH!”
“Do not play yourself fooler than you already are, wench,” Yves burst as the sound of his metal glove smacking across the girl’s face resounded throughout the large courtyard decorated with intricate sheet metal sculptures. “I passed Jean-Luc on his way out.”
“You did not hear the terrible things he bid the— AHHHHCK!”
“I do not care if he had his way with her and made the city watch. My allegiance is to Lyonnais now. Governess Godiva entrusted his care to me. In breaking that trust, she will shatter my spine and throw me to the lowlands… if not into the steaming seas.”
“AACCHHHKK. OWWW. STOP. PLEASE. I’M BEGGING YOU. AYYYHHHHH!!”
Though a high metal fence obscured my view, the violence was simple to infer. The sound of beating and screams stopped.
“He’ll crawl back… just watch,” Fleurette panted. “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.”
“We don’t need an Im’s help, certainly not Jean-Luc’s. Who knows if he’s truly unable to die? I bet it’s just another of this world’s myths, perpetuated by crooks like him looking for a place to crash and a cow to milk. ”
“His immortality is not to be questioned. Ims have existed for as long as time can be remembered.”
“Then it is the unman I question…”
“Have you yet to lay eyes on the horrid things?”
“Never seen one, but I doubt it’s much to be afraid of,” Fleurette answered. “The traders from El Soledad say those brainless things are less of a threat than the air itself. I’ve never seen an Unman breech these walls once, how dangerous can they be?”
“The ignorant truly do have better quality of life,” Yves scoffed. “We fell from the castleship, so the myths of Unman we’d are now the reality we face. Unlike El Soledad, Lyonnais refuses to pledge loyalty to a monarchy. We cannot depend on the security of chevaliers to stave off those insatiable zombies.”
I could make out the sound of something smashing into a sculpture, presumably Fleurette’s body. Yves now spoke with a chillingly calm demeanor. From my short stay, I’d seen this behavior many times before. Anger soothed the man, as if it was his natural state. The greater his fury, the more fine-tuned his focus.
“Aren’t there… others?” the battered maid asked between sobs.
“Ims are scarce; fewer than a thousand chose to remain on Earth,” Yves said calmly as he continued to pummel the girl. “In that number, even less spend their eternity as a mercenary for hire— or even associate themselves with humanity. And in that handful, only one is in Lyonnais’s price range. Take a guess as to whom that may be, girl.”
“I’m- I’m sorry,” the maid bawled. “I’m pleading with you… Stop.”
I could no longer hear the man’s voice, drowned out by the maid’s bloody wailing. I decided I’d heard quite enough and began to walk away.
“I’m on the edge of the island, don’t come any closer… My lord, please…”
What followed was a screech so heart-wrenching that it pierced right through the pulmonary barriers constructed over my eons of existence. The horrible cry waned steadily before ending in a sizzling splash. I pushed my ear back against the shoddy iron fence.
“Please do not look at me in such a way, milady…”
“Fleurette, my sweet flower…”
“Etienne, why mourn so? She was in your service, and died for her failure.”
“That woman was more sister to me than my actual siblings. She died for your anger and nothing more… She served you well, and earnestly, Yves. Yet you murdered her all the same...”
“Pardon me, milady, but I must disagree. I saved her from a worse fate. Without Jean-Luc, our doom at those monsters’ hands is evitable.”
“Then shall you kill me as well?”
As I plunged into the boiling water below, the humans’ uninteresting conversation cut off. A singular thought remained in my mind as the scalding water seared my skin beneath my armor and the opaque grey water stung my eyes under my masks…
‘Why am I doing this?’