Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Vermilion Years: Chapter 2 (Reboot)
I peered down upon the limp girl, contemplating my next course of action. The battered maid’s breathing ceased. I knew something in me wanted the knave to continue living a bit longer, otherwise I wouldn’t have saved her. Despite this, I remained hesitant, knowing saving her life would burden me with a follower. Humans felt obligated to repay those who lengthen their lives, but no human could ever be of any worth to me.
I determined her life was endangered not from the beating, but prolonged exposure to the toxic air. Among the things damaged in the altercation, the girl’s respirator was one of them. I extended a blade from my wrist then made an incision in the girl’s chest. I plucked a tiny Earth-Life Orb out from a leather satchel sewn into the leggings of my armor and crammed it in.
The girl awoke kicking and screaming like a freshly birthed child, covered in just as much blood. Scald marks from the boiling water covered the entirety of her skin. Experiencing the worst pain she’d ever known, the girl writhed and wailed accordingly. I drove my palm into the servant’s temple, knocking her unconscious. I stayed at her side as she slept, administering basic first aid and cleaning her wounds. I carried no painkillers with me, so I braced myself for another agonized awakening. To my surprise, the young woman arose peacefully— nary a word or scream. In as much silence I took my leave, leaving the revived to reflect on what to do with her new life.
After a good hour’s time of venturing through the harsh wilderness of hot sand and steam, I decided to address the woman under the belief she was tailing me in secret. I’d actually hung back intentionally to give her time to catch up to me, giving my claw a much needed sharping.
“You follow your death,” I said, stopping.
The girl said nothing. I turned around and found the one called Fleurette now donned a frilly silver exosuit— complete with a matching breather and a pair of sporting revolvers. Pathetically unpractical.
“Wearing a breather is no longer necessary. There’s an Earthlife Orb in your chest.”
The girl felt the tiny bump between her breasts and threw off the sweaty mask. I observed her expression, soaking in the scorn gushing from her brooding, bloodshot eyes. I should’ve known from the persistence in which she pursued me than the girl was not seeking to repay a debt. Hatred makes a much stronger motive, as I well knew. I continued on my way, allowing her to keep pace. I knew I’d figure what out my own motives were once we arrived to wherever we ended up. Such was my existence at this point. Learning my destinations post-arrival… and my inclinations after the fact.
The girl and I marched a day’s distance of the harsh marshy strip of land betwixt the two boiling lakes that isolated Lyonnais so. At this point, Fleurette’s stamina met its end. Coincidentally, her fatigue coincided with the discovery of a cave converted into an outpost. Such camps were common in the harsh wilds, as uninhabitable as they were. Without even entering the camp, however I knew this one was different— far more sophisticated to be left by nomads or corsairs.
I entered the outpost to investigate further. Fleurette made herself comfortable, I assume she mistakenly believed I was stopping to rest. It didn’t take much effort to see it’d been abruptly abandoned… and recently. From what I could tell, the men were cartographers. Royal ones. Its proximity boded ill for Lyonnais, wishing to remain neutral as it did. It was naïve for them to believe they could hide away from the wars that swept the planet. Even more misguided still to think the Unman were the greatest threat to their existence.
“Why do you stop for me?” the girl asked, the first time she’d spoken since being thrown mercilessly from her home.
I did not give her an answer, as I had none for myself.
“I’m not daft you know,” she continued. “You stayed with us for three months. I know sleep and food are not requirements for you.”
“It is as you say,” I murmured, rummaging through various crates
“Well, I don’t need pity to keep pace with you,” Fleurette spat.
Nothing could have been more false. Not only had I slowed my pace to a crawl, I spent most of the trip safeguarding her, eliminating threats clandestinely.
“The suit you wear is for poaching fisher-falcons via steamsteed,” I told her. “A fashion statement providing minimal defense against the elements.”
“You’re not as durable as you think.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Fleurette replied. “My dear Lady Etienne… This is her parting gift to me. Said she could never enjoy on such a frivolous hobby like game hunting, knowing I’m out there… in danger. She’s far too beautiful for this wretched world, that Etienne. A gift delivered to an undeserving door. I’d give away my whole life, so she could live a second more. Her side is the only place I’ll ever belong.”
“Yet you left it to become my shadow.”
“What did I just say? I’m sacrificing my life for her. Yves says the Immortal Jean-Luc is Lyonnais’ only chance for survival… and, by extension, Lady Etienne’s. I will follow you until I see the job you promised to complete finished.”
“Do as you will.”
Most of the crates contained rudimentary supplies; food and water. The camp’s abandonment did appear to be planned. Buried in a surplus of canned crab I found a lone bottle of wine. An Oktober Spätburgunder, to be precise. This was a bogglingly rare find in world were agriculture existed as a grand luxury. The only crop able to be farmed by the general populous was a resilient tea named ‘dirtleaf.’ The name was reference to the taste. While not much of an indulgence, farming and serving dirtleaf was one of the few ways common men could eek out an existence outside of factory work and war. Guns, blades, and prosthetic enhancements were the primary products of the Earth’s industrial economy. Next to manufacturing various steam-powered machines, that is. Mining submarines, arthro-pods, airships… you name it. Mankind answered its dilemma with mechanical solutions for both its war on the environment and itself. Virtually everything in existence could trace its origin to an assembly line, churned out by a rickety machine or an even ricketier man. Even food. Crabs were farmed on massive floating machines, but the way cattle was raised was worse. Mooing, living components of giant, mobile meatpacking machines, traveling from town to town. Reminds me the sick Chevalier process, but I won’t get started on that…
But yes, the wine struck me as extremely, extremely odd. The typical vices in the Vermilion years were quite different from an ancient one like alcohol. Men got high on various grades of bottled exhaust fumes and other homemade hallucinogens. Tobacco, marijuana, beer and the like had become extinct on Earth millennia ago. Well, just about. The last of the substances were preserved by a pair of Im brothers: Deter and Dober Oktober. Understandably, the two were not at all generous with their supply. Most of their buyers came from outer space, in fact. I saw no sense in letting such a prize go to waste. I uncorked the bottle of wine and extended it to Fleurette, curious as to what her reaction might be.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Wine,” I said. “A nearly extinct luxury, used for intoxication.”
Fleurette narrowed her eyes.
“Wipe those fantasies from your mind, Im,” she muttered, opening up a can of crab. “You deserve no credit for saving the same life you endangered. I owe you no favors. Sexual or otherwise.”
I’d seen quite enough of the camp to realize what had happened at that point. I decided to wait. I wanted to see if my suspicions were valid. More importantly, I needed to know how these map-makers had wine in their possession.
“If it’s any comfort, I’d sooner take your life than your virginity,” I replied, standing at the mouth of the cave.
That shut her up. The next time I heard from her was right before she fell asleep.
“Jean-Luc, I’m going to sleep now, but you better not leave.”
“What difference does it make? I promise to complete the job. You may turn to Lyonnais. Share the news.”
“Good to see you finally committed,” she said. “But that changes nothing.”
“I want to see danger. Be hardened by it. That’s the only way I’ll ever be able to properly protect milady.”
“So be it. You will die.”
“You don’t know that. You know don’t anything.”
I turned to leave, having had quite enough of humanity at that moment.
“Do you even know where you’re headed, Jean-Luc?” Fleurette asked.
“All you do is waste time!”
“Time is no commodity to me,” I said, walking out of the cave. “The more of something you have, the less value it has to you.”
The girl mocked me and nestled into one of the unmade cots.
Now that I’d ventured outside, the hook was baited. While waiting for a tug on my line, a pack of sand wolves ambushed me. One ripped off a piece of my armor and proceeded to gnaw at my flesh. Its teeth shattered against my skin. The hairless canine to reeled back, baying in pain, and the rest of the mongrels fled. My attacker attempted to join his pack’s retreat, but a swipe of my claw swiftly ended its life. Whilst cleaning the sand wolf’s blood from my four iron blades, heard three gunshots from inside the cartographers’ camp.
I heard the girl’s wild wails echoing as I rushed in. The sounds of her empty a full round of bullets from her gun reverberated about the cave. As I approached I watched the bullets sinking into the creatures’ clay-like flesh. The goopy silver blood displaced by the wounds stitched and repaired the bullet holes immediately. The humanoid monster taking the fire in stride stood perfectly still, staring at Fleurette expressionlessly with its pitch black eyes. The creature could not be human, despite the strong resemblance, as it lacked a mouth. It had long, natty raven-colored tresses, and pallid sickly grey skin. The face was unblemished, young and sedate. Its arms and legs looked atrophied and a weak, as if containing no muscles at all. The most disturbing part of the mutant’s appearance was its attire. A long cloak made entirely of human skin.
“Oh hello, Jean-Luc,” the girl shrieked over to me. “Mind telling me what the HELL this is.”
“Your life’s been a sheltered one,” I said, walking over to her. “Never once seeing an Unman.”
“WHATEVER. Kill the little brat.”
I quietly eyed the creature up. Though it looked like a child to Fleurette, I could tell the Unman’s years tripled hers. The Unman were immune to both disease and aging itself. If an Unman dies, it meant something intervened and murdered it. Pseudo-immortality. In a way, I and my fellow Ims had more in common with the Unman than we did with the humans. A regard the humans shared.
“Murder requires justifiable motivation. Kill only that which wishes to kill you. By doing do, you avoid pointless conflict. As such, I personally lack any need to kill anything. Then again, I still eat…”
“It’s your job, for one, you lazy idiot,” Fleurette snapped. “Don’t lecture me. It deserves to die. Unman EAT humans. It’s not murder when you’re killing a monster.”
“Debatable. Food is hard to come by outside of civilization. The only thing preventing mankind from consuming Unman is its time worn-moral aversion to cannibalism. The Unman may look human, but that’s the only similarity. It knows no such aversion.”
“Of course not, it’s brainless,” Fleurette snarled. “A disgusting, stupid zombie.”
“You speak misconceptions,” I said, shaking my head. “The Unman sees the world in blacks and whites. This is as much a metaphor for how they think as much as it is an actual fact. Hierarchy, culture, wealth… such things are of no concern to them. Emotion, too; non-existent. They have brains, but they function objectively. They’re simply programmed to survive, not unlike yourself.”
“You think these things are the same us real humans?” Fleurette scoffed. “Just trying to survive!?”
“No, they aren’t like humans,” I said. “They’re succeeding.”
“What you’ve described are the characteristics of a monster” said the girl. “It may surprise you, heartless bastard that you are, but lacking emotions is bad. This thing is sick and it’s stupid. So kill it already and save me the rest of bizarre philosophy lesson.”
The Unman sized me up silently and took several steps back, sensing danger from me.
“Not only, are Unman not dumb,” I said, taking a step back. “They’re smarter than you.”
“Allow me to demonstrate.”
I distanced myself from the girl and the Unman. No sooner did I put myself out of range to attack, the creature leapt at Fleurette, clutching her throat tightly in its hand. I took a step forward, displaying my lack of fear in the face of its threat. Still fixing its gaze on me, the Unman’s face split right through its middle, as if being unzipped. It exposed twenty rows of a razor sharp teeth running from the inside of its opened, hollow face to the edge of its wide esophagus. With a shrill high-pitched whine, the Unman launched out its long white tongue and coiled it around the girl’s helpless body.
“KILL IT, JEAN-LUC,” Fleurette bellowed. “KILL THE HIDEOUS ABOMINATION BEFORE IT EATS ME.”
“Take note of this behavior,” I said calmly. “Determining that it could easily penetrate my armor without getting killed in the process, he’s turned to exploiting human sentimentality to overcome me. An act of self-preservation, alone. This unman is full, recently eating the squad of cartographers that made this camp. If the unman actually wanted to eat you, it would’ve done so. It’s attempting to eliminate a threat to its life. Me. It’s next move will be to relocate its brain-heart into its tongue and putting inside you, making it impossible for me to kill it without killing you. ”
“I’M NOT KIDDING, SLAY THIS THING OR I WILL HAUNT YOU WHEN I DIE,” she howled, desperately trying to wriggle free from the slimy tongue hog-tie that bound her.
“Life or death, you will haunt me regardless,” I sighed, tired of the girl’s frequent interruptions. “I thought you wanted to be hardened by the horrors of the world.”
“HARDENED BY NOT CONSUMED BY, YOU TWISTED IDIOT.”
Fleurette’s tactless response put a legitimate smile on my face, so I adjusted my bronze mask to convey this. It’d been ages since someone had shown me such flagrant irreverence. Not for lack of hatred, humanity loathed us Immortals. All of us knew it. Being unkillable, however, had a way of suppressing the sentiment. The same could not be said of the Unman. Ironic, really. In a forgotten era, long ago, just the opposite was true. The Ims and the ‘Uns were championed as the harbingers of human evolution. Now they believe us to be the instruments of their extinction. How wrong they are. Neither party has any interest in taking that job away from them.
Using the same blade I used to save Fleurette before, I pierced the Unman’s brain-heart as it sped through its tongue. I acted just time to prevent the creature from relocating its central organ into the maid. Four more Unman sprung from the shadows, hoping my victory would dull my senses. Another sound tactic, had I been the human they believed me to be. Ripping Fleurette’s gun from her hands, I tracked the moving bulges in the emaciated monster’s chests, skillfully putting bullet in each one. Once the shock left Fleurette and she regained her composure, she promptly lost again, exploding with rage.
“How dare you call yourself a mercenary,” the girl yelled, shoving me to little effect. “You couldn’t tell those horrible things were lurking around in here? No wonder you’re all Lyonnais can afford. You’re pathetic.”
“I’ve never once called myself a mercenary, that would imply I get paid,” I said, pulling the bodies out of the cave.
By skewing put Unmans’ corpses out on display, it would ward off others from entering.
Fleurette ran out after me.
“What do you mean you don’t get paid!?”
“My advertised services are merely pretense assuage entrance in human settlements such as Lyonnais. I’m surprised you never questioned it, aversive as your as your nature is. Think about what seen me do. If need something, I don’t need money to get it.”
“So you’re looking for something,” said Fleurette.
“You could say that,” I replied, placing the Unman corpses in a neat line.
“And you can say more,” the girl snapped. “Don’t get cryptic with me, Jean-Luc. I’m far too tired to piece anything together right now. What is it that you trying to find?”
I finished off the last of the wine then set my mask’s mouth back to a frown.
“Find out,” I corrected. “I’m looking for information.”
“And what do you want to find out about!?” the girl growled. “Stop being vague!”
“A few things…” I replied. “But my main concern…”
“…is finding a way to end immortality.”