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Gage

By Ryk Brink All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Scifi

Porterville

Now for the sake of brevity and accuracy, I don’t want to put words into his mouth. So I’ll try to relay his story the best I can, it was twenty years ago I heard it after all. Thus trying to repeat his exact words would be impossible. But I’ll do my best to tell the story as I and my comrades remember it, athough their accounts like chinese whispers may differ. I’ll try to tell it as straight as possible sticking as best I can to the bare facts keeping flowery description and interpretation to a minimum.

Gage’s story was ordinary enough. He was the firstborn of five to Jesse Eaton Gage and Hannah Trussell Swetland Gage of Grafton County, New Hampshire July 9th in 1823. At the age twenty five he was a strapping healthy young lad who worked construction on the Hudson River Railroad near Cortlandt Town, New York.

He was a blasting foreman, a whip cracker, ‘cracker’ for short. Although it was a term that was ceremonial as he did not actually have a whip, nor would he use it if he did. He organized the men to work in tandem with the lugs and of course pitched in as he could. A man who lived a life of hard labor was not afraid to pick up a shovel or a pick and muck in with his men. In fact he relished the chance to roll up his sleeves as that was the look that fit him best.

He was overseeing a bunch of luggers cutting through the rocky ridges so they could lay tracks. At the time he was known to be quite capable, efficient and shrewd, never losing his temper, never striking his workers or saying a foul word to anyone. He was a stalwart worker, a man of focused purpose and when he set his mind to a job it would be done come hell.

Regardless of these traits he was still a slave, although his chains were not physical but mental. He was subject just as the luggers were to the Cyclon powers of suggestions as we all were I came to learn later, be it at varying degrees.

At present he was working on construction of a railroad running through Porterville California through the san Juaqim valley. As he tells it was a damnable place, as empty and wide as the barren floor of an dead ocean. And as hot and arrid as he imagined hell itself without the flames and demons with hot pokers.

The construction was looked over by a general foreman named Lydia Souchang. She was the child of a rich Cyclon house in the north and the railway project was the first trusted to her by her family. An inconsequential task compared to what she had hoped for but this was the task she was given. She was sure to see it through and make sure even this mere duty was fulfilled above and beyond what was expected. Thus she encouraged Gage to push the luggers to a point he found distasteful. He pointed out that it would do no good to lose workers due to exhaustion and privation in the middle of construction. Only to have to send for more at greater expense and time. They had something of a cordial relationship but had butted heads frequently over little things where she felt they swapped position. Where in he knew better than her. This frustrated her greatly and strained their relationship as she would have to concede to his greater experience and the loyalty the men felt for him.

The luggers aside were just labourers only really good for lifting and carrying. They felt no loyalty but to the hand that fed and housed them, doing such tasks as you could train an animal to do. The real work was done by skilled foreman and craftsman like Gage and his second Dram Johansson, a stocky swede with boyish features and light coloured waify hair.

He worked closely with Gage and they forged something of a friendship. Although Johansson was of a more soft disposition but also very shrewd if sometime a little wooly headed. He made a good partner for the few conversations that Gage was willing to engage in that didn’t involve work. Needless to say Lugs aren’t much good in that department. Not having much of a grasp of English nor the intellect to engage in a conversation at the level of a human.

Many a time Lydia had relented to Gage’s advice. As although she may have been a Cyclon, she was still a woman and felt some twinge of regret and fear of using a control rod to gain the upper hand. Something her male counter parts would not hesitate for a second to do.

*Note to the reader, we believe a ‘control rod’ was an alien device used for direct suggestive prompts. It allowed the user to control the directed humanoid with simple verbal prompts.

She was better than most in that regard, that she had some misplaced motherly instinct towards the worker. Not having children herself she felt some manner of empathy for them. Despite as I was later to learn her kind commonly look down on humans and deride them as lower beings or such as cattle no different from the luggers.

And apparently as Gage described her she wasn’t too bad to look at. Now at the time of hearing this story I didn’t think I’d ever seen a Cyclon as they mostly kept to the cities where they felt most at home melting into a crowd of busy faces. In a place as rural as this they would stand out, they prefer pushing papers to mopping floors or farming so the city is where they belong.

I knew they had businesses in town but they were all run by humans so I never saw their hand. I must have seen and heard them on the tubescope but they did a good job to hide their features. Which wasn’t very hard, they looked mostly human, only having slight Asiatic features and names to give them away but also commonly used pseudonyms. They were also notably incapable of growing any facial hair so had long waged a campaign against it trying to link it both with a brutish aspect or the inverse homosexual behaviour. Then also promoting a clean shaven appearance with that of respectability and modernity citing such civilisations as the greeks and romans. Needless to say their love of pederasty was not mentioned. So then men who clung to such practices of facial hair were an oddity or spectacle of a bygone age to be viewed with suspicion into his manhood and his intentions.

Cyclon were ususally much smaller than humans and with pale skin that they hid with makeup or tanning or some aspect of racial mixing which was frowned upon in the higher families. As such you could tell a high born by the hue of their skin and if they had the shadow of a beard. In Lydia’s case her face was as white as porcelain and she went to great lengths to protect it with ointments and parasols, athough she wasn’t ashamed of it, why should she be? Her people dominated all aspects of finance and media and the super structure of the government. She hid it purely for the fact it was of course sensitive to harsh sun of the desert. Although Cyclon power was inherently hidden, never being the one in front of the curtain but behind it pulling the strings of everything. The hidden blade is the one that cuts the deepest as they say.

Lydia had very delicate features and a pert upturned nose which could have been a product or surgeries of which the Cyclon were somewhat addicted to. To a cyclon having any kind of surgery was as routine as a trip to the dentist. Some vicious anti-cyc propaganda had illustrated their true features as almost rat or beaver like. Picturing them as some kind of rodent offspring, perhaps this was why they were so obsessed with beauty and perfection or the tearing down of it.

She looked almost like a doll complete with black motionless eyes and a parasol whenever she was in the sun. Her dresses of the finest quality silk, but usually altered with a whale bone corset that had the sleeves cut away with a shorter dress length. So as not to pick up dust, finished with a high silk collar and a broach with her family crest on it which was a picture of coffee beans and a sword as that was how their family made their fortune. She was very pretty so I’ve heard but it was a caged malicious beauty and her face was always tainted with such scorn and derision that might make a sweet face sour over the years. She undoubtedly resented her position, feeling out of place in the working world. She was prone to rages and as I’ve heard it she was the product of a classical education that involved horse riding and swordsmanship and she was known to carry a duelling small sword at her side. Although it was mainly for decoration and ceremonial purposes but it worked to make the Lugs fear her and maybe Johansson too.

But Gage had never known fear, his parents having never played Peekaboo with him. He was the oldest and was responsible for the others therefore his work was cut out for him. Although he never went into great detail about his family, not at this juncture anyway. Needless to say going into his entire life story would get us lost in the weeds. And as I tell this story to whomever may discover it I don’t intend to outline the ongoings of Gage’s average work day, or picking corn out of his teeth.

So I will cut to the chase as he did himself, although his actual wording escapes me. For the story centred around an uncommon day.

September 13, 1848. Lydia was surprised by a visit from her brother who was some kind of official from the city come to inspect her progress. Gage by her side as he had all the technical progress data and a good feel for the men.

Her brother Count Marcus Souchang was a taller thinner almost perfect copy of his sister. With hauntingly similar features differing only in the pencil thin mustache and hair so lacquered it looked painted on topped off with a pair of large spectacles that made him look like a stick insect. Or this was how he appeared in the papers, his real life appearance was somewhat different.

His arrival had noticeably shaken Lydia. For there was some form of rivalry there for certain. She had necessarily taken this visit as a some kind of inposition she had to grit her teeth and bare through. He was the second born but had nevertheless secured his place in the family business operating out of new york in the high rise offices. A positon his sister no doubt coveted above all else. He and he alone was set to take the reigns from his father; Duke Aldridge Souchang. Lydia was destined to always be his second and it struck her as a curse to be born first but as a woman. Unfit to take power from her father and having still to work twice as hard to only achieve half the prestige as her brother. He coming after and getting all served to him on a plate as a necessity of his birth.

This had lead her to revile her brother and sort to outdo and shame him at every facet, be it swordmanship or horse riding or in business. But also an unhealthy relationship was formed in which she was taught to respect him as her father and so too a sick need to impress him also developed.

The day in question he’d arrived with an escort in a carriage drawn by mechanical motors that had been elegantly decorated to resemble horses. In the city horses were being phased out for more advanced and economic forms of travel but they still liked to herald the old age. In these parts we still used horses as fuel is hard to come by despite the fact this is where it’s farmed from the earth. But it’s taken many a mile and processed somewhere else.

Now I thought of just laying this out straight as Gage did but for a long time hearing this story I had it pictured in my head a certain way. Almost like the way he told it made me think of a play like on the tubescope and I couldn’t help playing it out in my head like some little girl pretending her dolls are having a tea party. Although I think if I were to read it out it might make a fool of me I really have no better way of depicting it that makes any sense unless I make a play out of it. So here goes, if someone finds this long after I’m dead, please don’t laugh.

The day was as hot and as dry as any in that god forsaken desert of California. The carriage appeared on the horizon as if it was a mirage riding the crest of a wave of heat distortion, coming out of a dream or nightmare on that bright cloudless day. The carriage was crafted in gold and ivory and was large and opulent which contrasted the divine nothingness of it’s surrounding and the small ramshackle coach house it was pulling up at.

The carriage stopped and was immediately descended upon by it’s escort. A division of men riding motorized carts that hovered a foot off the ground pulling behind them large trailers.

They stopped and descended the small vehicles known as Penny farthings because of the large steam wheel in front and a smaller one in back for direction and breaking. Although it emmitedd a lot of steam, the power source was actually something entirely alien and not seen in any human technology to date. The Cyclon were very covetous of their technology and only shared it with humans who were directly in their employ.

The men who were humans, it must be noted that Cyclon were not fighters. They were thinkers and talkers but rarely did they do their own fighting due in part to their size and relative frail physicality but also in part to their numbers. They were small in number and counted their worth as ten times a human, so humans were of course expendable, luggers even more so.

This detachement was a particular unit known as Lugtroopers, specialised to work in tandem with lugs. Combining the combat capabilities of a lug and the intelligence and strategic capabilities of a human. Connected as they were by a neural link bored into their skulls. They were permanently linked and if either were to die the other would be of no further use and would most likely die themselves. One of the questions in screening candidates for the program was whether or not they liked dogs as a child because the relationship was not too dissimilar from that. A bond of an emotional and mental nature, trained and engineered to work in tandem.

As the penny farthings idled and turned their engines off the crates they were carrying landed with a thud. It opened quickly and a larger much larger than average lugger lurched out and stood to attention like a trained daschund.

Not only was it much larger than average no doubt through some kind of genetic manipulation or selective eugenics but it had a number of biomechanical enhancements namely on it’s head centring around the eyes and ears and mouth. It’s teeth seemed to glint as covered in some kind of metal and it’s limbs were actuated with some kind of metal framework.

The humans too were wearing some kind of loosely fitting metallic frame around their bodies, going all the way along their arms and legs and heads and they carried advanced weaponry. Some kind of side arm that Gage had never seen before and who knows what else.

At present there was only one visible. A lean well built man of average height with a shock of white grey hair although he looked to be no older than in his mid thirties. His face was scarred with what looked like claw marks and he was smoking an electronic cigarrette which were very popular in cities these days. It cut down on the overall air pollution that had reached critical levels in the lower wards. It was so bad that the more wealthy dwellers in the cities had taken to living in helium airships literally living above the smog that engulfed the cities. And if they ever had to go below it they would wear breathing apparatus or filtration systems.

Marcus descended the carriage a few moments after it stopped allowing the dust to settle bowing his skeletal frame. He then looked down at the human who was putting out clouds of the vile steam from the little smoking box and he said “Ryan, put that out” He hissed. “It’s obnoxious, you look like an idiot.” He cursed him with an odd gesture and the man slid the box in his pocket, saluted and then whistled. His whistle rallied the other lugtroopers who shambled around the carriage. Although the others were relatively indistinct mostly wearing helmets and ballistic face shields. Their lugs too were uniform in most respects, although it seemed that their outfitting might have been different. Marcus turned away looking unimpressed.

Marcus was uncommonly tall for one of his race and there had been rumours of leg lengthening surgeries or stilts or high shoes being worn throughout his childhood. But his form of dressing being long thick coats hid him from all common scrutiny in this matter and gave him an almost comic appearance like a large hunched scarecrow. His movements, rigid and almost mechanical, giving off a distinct whirring which he attributed to a pacemaker he had implanted recently. He would mention it off hand as surgeries were as common for this race as getting a tooth pulled for his people.

“Lydia, darling sister” His voice was light and slightly feminine.

“Marcus, it’s good to see you brother” She said through a tight jaw.

“Yes it is quite isn’t it” He chuckled to himself.

Lydia said nothing but propped up a mechanical smile her hands daintily clasped at the folds in her dress. Her dress which was silken deep greens with a floral pattern with a tight reserved bodice with lace on her shoulders.

After an uncomfortable silence Marcus for a moment as he neither looked at Gage or acknowledged his presence at Lydia’s side. He just put out his boney hand which was covered in a dark glove and said “Well shall we take a look?”

“Ah, yes of course, if you’d be so kind as to follow me”

“Naturally” He smiled.

Gage awkwardly cut across them to introduce himself nervously “Phineas Gage, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you sir” He said as he outstretched his hand which was covered in a thick work glove encrusted with filth.

Marcus looked at the hand and a moment passed when they said nothing.

“Oh forgive me” Gage laughed and took the glove off and tucked it under his arm before outstretching his now bare hand again.

Again Marcus looked at the hand down his nose and said nothing, a moment passing and then turning to his sister.

“Lydia, is there something this creature wants, food perhaps?”

Ryan and his men stifled sniggering behind them.

She swallowed and almost coughed and said “Erm no, he’s uh, he wants to shake your hand brother”.

“Really? Whatever for?” He said looking at Gage like he was an exhibit in a museum of some long dead archaic tribe out of new guinea.

“To make your acquantaince”.

Marcus had obviously lived a very sheltered life in the city only being around his own kind. Or humans that wouldn’t dare to attempt to touch him or even greet him on the same level above bowing and scraping.

“I see” He said narrowing his eyes with an almost mechanical glare at Gage.

Lydia cleared her throat and directed him on. “If you’d be so kind brother”.

“Yes of course” He sneered, his eyes following Gage as he passed.

Gage followed them silently, feeling no great sting to his ego. The lugtroopers pushed passed Gage rudely shoving him out of the way to keep pace with their charge, leaving the lugs to guard the carriage. Gage was a little burnt by this and stayed rigid not letting one pass and the man who was much smaller bounced off Gage’s much larger frame and landed in pile of dust and lug shit. The other lugtroopers laughed as the younger smaller trooper got up and started to dust himself off all his gear clanking as he did so.

He stood and pulled off his helmet and threw it down revealing the red face of an angry youth with a shaved head and a tribal tattoo around his right eye. “You wanna go farmboy?” The kid yelled.

Gage said nothing looking down at the lad.

Ryan was watching a grin in the corner of his mouth. He whistled “Gable, stop rolling around in the dirt with your boyfriend and get over here!” The young lad not taking his eyes off Gage put his helmet back on and fell back in with his regiment.

Lydia lead them to where the work was being carried out. Twenty or thirty luggers moving and placing posts and lying the iron tracks while handful of human workers went over and bolted them in place with nmeumatic guns that layed superheated rivets bolting and fusing the metal tracks to the wooden posts set into the ground. The work was fast and tiring and back breaking but it had to be done to for it was essential they said ‘to enter the modern age’.

I didn’t know what they meant then but I think I do now. I think I know all too well what that meant.

“Would you care for a spot of tea brother?”

“I would enjoy that but unfortunately I’m on a tight schedule and I’m here on important business from the capital.”

“Oh, what kind of business?” Lydia asked nervously her jaw tightening as she looked at the lugtroopers standing idly just out of ear shot.

“It is in regard to your current progress.” There was a sudden change in his demeanor as if he’d been eagerly awaiting his chance to pounce. He took out some sort of device with a screen and cogs moving with wooden keys and looked at it adjusting his glasses with a dial on the side which seemed to move the lenses into place. “By our current calculations you’re over budget and by our current time frame it won’t reach completion until the end of the financial year”

Lydia quickly chimed in “But we had to wait on the iron import from England and it’s the best quality. It’ll allow the trains to run much faster and more efficiently.”

He moved closer to her, the odd sounds under his coat increasing and getting faster, almost like a chugging or a pumping of pistons. “You were not asked to procure the iron from England” He said raising a long gloved finger in front of her face. “You were supposed to source ore locally from the United states, the quality is not our prerequisite, the budget and time frame are.” He dropped his hand and turned away from her to walk a little. He placed his hands clasped behind his back awkwardly under the large hard looking hunch that made his back and sighed. “You’ll never get ahead in business if you don’t understand that following orders is key.” His voice was low and shrill and condescending.

“I’m sorry, I was just trying to, father would-?”

“This is why Father sent me here. He’s very disappointed in you and he expects you to complete the project within the next quarter. Or all your funding will be cut and I will be forced to take over construction do you understand?” He’d turned now and was looking down at her with a shielded sort of smile, hiding his glee at her failure behind a mask of businesslike indifference. He was undoubtedly enjoying this. Lydia on the other hand had almost shrunk entirely into her own footfalls, her shoulders knotted and her head hung.

“It’s my fault” Gage said awkwardly bounding into the conversation.

“Excuse me? I don’t believe I was addressing you” Marcus said coldly looking at him with a sideways glance as if staring at a bug crawling into a picnic basket.

Gage cleared his throat and approached Lydia’s side putting his hand gently on her back and said “It was my idea to import the iron from England. I’d heard about a new formula that they were using that was much stronger than any we could produce here, it’ll prove a great investment, I assure you.”

“Oh you assure me?” Marcus nodded and turned his head to look at Lydia. “Is this true?”

“…”

“Is it true that this ‘man’ was responsible for ordering the iron?”

“Yes but”

“Yes but what?”

“Yes but I validated it”

“So whom is responsible is it you or this ‘man’” he looked at Gage and there was something in voice in the way he said ‘Man’ as if he was trying to say ‘dung beetle’. His men stood at the side on a dusty outcropping next to a bank of grass and dry weeds watching silently.

Lydia bit her lip and her dark doll eyes got glassy and she couldn’t speak her voice choked in her throat.

“I see” Marcus tutted.

“I accept full responsibility sir, I promise you we will complete the project, we just ask for an extension of one month.” Gage sputtered,

“Do you always allow this creature to do the talking for you Sister?” He looked her up and down. “Perhaps I need to tell father a great many other things that may have been going on here.” His voice got sly and cool and he said “I think there might be a great deal he’d like to hear about”.

“No please, you can’t!” “Oh I can’t why can’t I?”

“Please, I beg mercy.”

“You have no control over your men and I sense some fraternisation is going on, this creature is running the endeavour and I suspect has been in your bed.” Lydia let out a shocked gasp and there was a harsh chuckle given by Marcus’s men. “You’ve allowed it to go above the orders of the ceo of this company our father and it cannot stand.” He turned to walk back to his carriage, his hands clasped in front of him as a whirring noise could be heard under his coat. The sound of a chain moving and then a tiny metallic claw came out from under his collar and poked out a small pencil. He took as if he was about to jot something down immediately “I’ll have to send him a telegraph directly and-“

“Wait!”

“Yes?” He said turning with a smile that had sharp corners as he held the pencil out.

Lydia breathed in harshly, her face halfway between tears and bitter shouting rage, she fought them back. “I can control them”

“Show me.” He said his eyes staying hard and unmoving.

She swallowed hard.

“Lydia, I’m sor-“ Gage sighed.

“Silence!” She screeched.

Gage stopped talking almost instantly, as if it was an autonomic reaction, he was frozen.

She breathed heavily the control rod twisting in her hand, she raised it to her mouth and just breathed.

“Is that it?” Marcus said. “You’re not going to punish him?”

“Punish him?” She asked.

Ryan and his men watched on snickering.

“Yes, it was him that made that order wasn’t it?”

She closed her eyes and tightened her jaw as if a tear might come out but nothing did and she spoke with the device pressed to her throat.

“Phineas” She said, her voice laden with a strange buzzing tone.

He stood up to attention his eyes dull and hollow and empty looking, his mouth slack and wordless.

“Yes mistress” He said in a dull harmonic tone as if reading it from a card.

“Pick up the rivet gun”

“Yes mistress” He said again, moving over to the construction bowing almost without looking as he picked up a large rivet gun with one muscular veined and hairy hand.

She swallowed again.

“Well” Marcus said. “I don’t have all day”.

She gritted her teeth almost hissing as she said “Place the hot end under your chin.”

“Yes mistress” Without hesitation with both hands he lumbered the hot end of the device under his chin. The sweat from his brow hitting the precipice, hissing as the droplets hit the steaming barrel.

Lydia sucked her lip, her eyes glazed not looking at anything, a far away voice that sounded like her own said “Now fire the device.”

“Yes mis-“ His voice was cut off by the hissing mneumatic pumping noise and then a vile hot searing gargling noise as the hot rivet was driven into his skull. The smell of his flesh burning and his brains boiling was instant.

Marcus walked over to look over Lydia’s shoulder and said “I would have thought a good hiding or a strong talking to would have done it, but that seems quite effective.” He sighed looking at Gage’s lifeless body on the ground and almost winced at the damage it had done to his face. “You could have just had him shoot his hand.” There was a brief moment of silence and then he let out a brief tinny laugh and said “Well you were always one to jump to extremes, I’ll see you have your extra month.”

He turned and patted her on her head with his large skeletal gloved black hand and said. “It was good seeing you again sister, I wish you good day.” He left her there as she stood staring off into the distance with her mouth agape.

His men trailing after him smiling like jackals as they returned to accompany the carriage.

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