The First Chapter
Men have fear and reservations. Men have honor. Men have sensibilities. Look into my eyes. Do you see a man in there? - The Great White
Among them, mostly the young, were the parents of humans who would never see the sun that had nursed their civilization into existence. The descendants of the sun worshipers were still in shock at how thoroughly they had been beaten. First contact with the crew of the Aeolipile had been hopeful, it emboldened one’s sense of self to see creatures that came from across the universe that owned similar faces, but when those familiar faces spoke perfect English, Chinese, and Latin, a cloud of suspicion touched down and spread fear and hysteria throughout yet another Earth. Relations had broken down quickly when it was explained exactly what these intruders wanted, for every man, woman and child to take refuge inside a vessel they insisted upon calling an ark.
The reason given for this exodus was thoroughly chuckled at by Earth’s scientific and skeptic community. How could the Universe be shrinking so fast that it threatened the present generation? But the Executive Officer of the Aeolipile explained at length the situation that was upon them and even provided video footage, all while the Aeolipile’s Captain slumped in unrestrained boredom. And this is what they disagreed on; the universe was not shrinking, but being consumed by an unseen force.
Some believed, and rushed to be taken aboard the alien ship, others simply wanted to get away from Earth, to escape whatever life they had ruined there and start anew, but as always, no Earth would part with her children so easily and a short and ugly war followed.
The combined strength of Earth, now threatened by the alien menace, rose up, only to be thwarted by a seemingly impossible number of troops; faceless soldiers all cut to similar dimensions, wielding only black blades. In only a few hours the assault was complete and there were still billions left to be herded onboard the alien ships beneath a muddy sky. Many would never doubt, even hundreds of years after, that the absurd war was by design, to soften them up for life in captivity, to make them fear the black blade, so that only the strongest and most fearless amongst the humans would dare to rise against the one that had condemned them.
All over this cratered and ashen planet were portals which led into the starship Aeolipile, so large its Navigation Officer would not risk maneuver through such a tightly packed galaxy as the Milky Way. Instead, smaller ships, by comparison, had dropped the troops used in the assault, and similar ships were used to recover the refugees, their own portals leading to their quarantine decks. The process the Aeolipile crew used to divide the humans by class and station was not lost on the humans, especially those that benefitted from the division; colonialism seemed to be a natural evil, like slavery and war, it was an event that a nation worked through and had never passed over by foresight or moral courage, not even the Aeolipile.
The captain of this vessel, Lord Antino Elias Myann II, had led his forces across the reaches of space to bring exoneration from the punishment handed down from the Fates, for what transgression exactly, it was doubtful anyone could say. Against their will, these humans would be rescued from a horror no one would understand until thousands of years into their future, if anyone survived the calamity. Soldiers and paramedics gave as many explanations as they were allowed, but many civilians were still in shock from the attack. Only hours after Earth had fell, refugees were then told their very existence was collapsing and their planet would be consumed by the Aeolipile for fuel and building materials. With the loss of so much already, many shrugged at the soldiers’ stories, for what would they gain from the lie and even if it were the truth, why would it matter now? Earth was dead without all of her children and animals to populate her. They knew any of those strange accented words which came from behind their shiny, black faceplates had been passed down from a person they would never meet, a man the soldiers referred to as Deicide.
From a great distance Deicide appeared as any other human, only in close vicinity would one notice that his large lips barely held back several sets of edged teeth and that his dark brown skin was covered with ancient war wounds, many on his face and neck. His nose was long and wide, as if the corner of a lost pyramid had been grafted to his face, above it were two sad eyes that sparkled like colorless jewels. At the front of his close cropped hair were two long hair-like antennas, each tipped with a tiny red bulb which gave off a faint illumination, even in daylight; they seemed to react to the bodies moving around him, independent of his gaze. Deicide strode between the seeming endless columns of people filing into the portals ahead. He nodded to his soldiers keeping watch over their new guests; they saluted Deicide by placing their right fists to where their lips would be behind the masks, a gesture stating that their fists were his fists, that his strength was theirs.
The black faceplates of the soldiers reflected the tired faces of the masses. Deicide seemed unconcerned with the numbers of refugees, for he knew they were beaten; no leader could rouse the fighting spirit of this many disheartened people. He knew trouble would come soon, but not until the first generation of rebels had been born on the inside, after they had been emboldened by the fanciful stories told by their parents and grandparents as bedtime fairytales. It was always the wonderment of the sun that did it, humans did love their fire, he thought, chuckling to himself. However, his lips tightened and his forehead creased when he thought back on why anyone would worship anything, especially the sun, had not his existence showed them that all things were inevitably mortal? People forget, but they would be reminded.
Deicide ceased his advance when a strange group met his gaze, their heads were not bowed and they did not look away when the noble approached. They looked as though they were fighting the urge to spit on him, and Deicide’s humanoid appearance could only frame this event as a grotesque betrayal, but Deicide was not from Earth, and many historians would argue whether he was human at all. He and his wife Nott were the last of a people known as the Abstrusians, a civilization that strived for the evolution and immortality of their species above any goal. Their work now involved collecting species with genetic similarities to their own so they could begin to fill out their ranks once more; it was humans and their numerous mutations that happened to be their closest genetic relatives. At the same time that Deicide admired the passion and ingenuity that humans possessed, he despised their irrationality, their jealousy and greed. He was sure that if he did die, if such a thing was even possible, the humans would start a war over who would get to carry his head on a pike.
Deicide continued his walk, looking upon the shuffling masses with listless eyes. He had seen these faces countless times before, even in sleep he could not escape them, always desperate and pleading, yet he could no longer be moved to care for the civilians if their basic needs had been met. They were the meat of the squalid floods which populated the Districts that would power his starship. Comparatively, only a few had access to break free from their designated station, just outside of their rat wheels was Aeolipile Citizenship; a chance to live a long and productive life. For someone to move through the class system they would need to be not only special, but useful as well. Beautiful girls, fools and ruffians had their places, but as always, those who had ears thirsty for knowledge or hands that remained clean, despite their exposure to filthy unspoken deeds, were coveted in the courts of the powerful, as they had been since the beginning of civilization.
As Deicide continued to pass among the queues, a woman broke from the line and dropped down before him, groveling at his feet; he sighed as she recovered something from the queue and passed him a crying infant. He took a moment to look over the child wrapped in the gray bundle; even if it was misshapen or deformed the Aeolipile possessed technology that could cure it, but Deicide would not accept just any child into his legion. He let his hair-like antennas dangle beside the child’s face to mesmerize him, and stared hard into his eyes. As his mind worked the lights on the tip of his antennas began to flicker. Children, through their innocence, possessed none of the barriers that adults acquired through the trials of life and their brain’s network was open to all who knew how to navigate it.
Once a soldier had asked him what he was searching for in the children, Deicide had jokingly replied:Some resemblance. In truth, this was exactly what he was searching for, a similar tempered child that could be trained as a military officer, politician or spy; kept close he could use the child to gauge the temperature of the Districts, which were nests of terrorists and rebels. Prodding and goading them into a froth when required, making brutal suppression or outright war a necessity, as his wife Nott had always told him: Strife means progress.
Unable to find any of himself in the child, Deicide settled on the darkness he could see, the carnal leftovers from a time before civilization, when a man could easily be mistaken for an ape. Many would call this instinct, others, a will-to-power, a deluded few would deem it original sin, but Deicide called it potential. He watched as the child’s pupils opened wide as his new lord peered inward to the core of the child’s psyche. Nott and her team of scientists were unable to explain the hold that Deicide had on beings that possessed the baser of human traits; people who would develop a strong taste for vice and ruination, cruelty and malice. He was able to view these attributes as easily as one saw a mole on the face of another.
Deicide handed the baby over his shoulder without looking back and into the arms of a staff member he knew would be there. The child would be raised as a member of his army, the Deathless Array. Made up of artificially enhanced soldiers, they were suited in an armor called a ‘Skid’, it was as thin and flexible as a warm-up suit, yet still able to withstand an onslaught by modern weapons. The Deathless Infantry were known to fight only with their hands because of their superior strength, or with the alien weaponry known as the Spine Blade, sheathed inside the crevice that rode along the center of a soldier’s back. Created from inert vestige material, the black blade solidified when it was unsheathed from the railing along a soldier’s vertebrae; every time it was drawn, its edge was sharpened to perfection.
Along with the ground and aerial armor divisions they were a vicious force that steamrolled every form of opposition they had ever come across. World wars and intergalactic skirmishes came to swift truces when the Aeolipile broke into their realities; Deicide’s presence had a way of spreading unity amongst his enemies. Wealthy merchants and politicians who cared only for their livelihoods the day before the Aeolipile descended, suddenly found new perspectives once it had. Religions, some thousands of year’s dead, were revived with new vigor, sermons and masses were given in the street as the Earth was subjugated.
Deicide strolled between the columns of stone-faced refugees as they marched toward their new existence as a number in his machine. He was stopped again by a pleading family; his face became a mask of apathy. A child grabbed the bottom of the black cloak wrapped around Deicide’s neck and shoulders. As the boy turned the material over in his hand, the cloth began to bleed a writhing black ooze. The creature emitted a choir of unintelligible whispers as a pair of yellow eyes emerged from this black oil and took hold of the boy with its tentacles.
The boy’s father lunged toward Deicide; Deicide’s living cape began to emit thousands of feminine giggles as the needled tentacles began to bleed from her perimeter. With only a thought, Deicide held his creature at bay as the father was accosted by Deicide’s Risk Eaters, military police who upheld the law onboard the Aeolipile and held authority over District civil servants. Deicide narrowed his brilliant eyes; his irises were like diamonds. Deicide approached the man; the alien creature, now out of its dormant state, bubbled and screeched from his shoulders. It seemed to possess some level of sentience; its chatter disturbed onlookers, already shaken by the Deathless attack.
“The war is over, old man, accept fate,” Deicide said; his veins were black with the vestige that ran through his system. The man continued to look at Deicide with hate in his eyes, not realizing Deicide could snatch his spine through his chest like a bone plucked from a sardine. Deicide glanced over the man’s body, he was old, but he looked strong, especially fit for his age. He sighed and ran his tongue over his edged teeth.
“Release him,” Deicide said; his voice reverberated through the chests of those surrounding him. Deicide removed the black creature from his shoulders; it protested this separation and wailed as he tore her from his uniform. This seemingly sentient creature was known as the Abyss, unexplainable and deadly, she added to the mythos surrounding the noble. In his youth, this creature had manifested itself as Deicide’s shadow, whispering threats and taunting his enemies, but as he grew so did his bothersome shade. Before Deicide had reached adulthood she had manifested herself into the physical world; acting as an extension of his limbs and an indicator of his temperament. Most knew to avoid the captain when the Abyss’ oily blackness began to churn.
No longer draped by his guardian, it enabled the masses to see that Deicide had two appendages running from his lower back like two black tails, umbilicals that ran through small portals which folded space; they were connected to a fully automated life support system inside the Aeolipile. These were a more organic, less clandestine version of his soldiers’ plug units; they were lined with a skin like material, wafting behind him like two serpents. The old man before Deicide licked his cracked lips, then quickly removed his thick coat and gripped his blade. He surged toward Deicide like a dart and entered his killbox, it was other-worldly; a plane where cosmic law could be altered or rewritten, bindings that had held mortals since the beginning of all, were less than a trifle to one who had mastered their own sovereignty. The man seemed unnerved at Deicide’s laxity as he moved freely about the space, while his own steps were measured and slow as Deicide pressed his will against the man without touching him, the knife rattled in the old man’s weathered and dusty hands.
The elder man took a few more steps and then the knife fell hard through the dusty earth leaving a tiny hole. The man’s breathing was intensely labored and his knees looked as though they would buckle at any moment. Deicide continued to increase the gravity inside the killbox. The man paused; his eyes were wet and his teeth clenched, shoulders sagging as if he had just relieved Atlas of his eternal duties. Deicide nodded slowly as the old man collapsed to his knees. Deicide crossed the space between them and crouched down beside the old man’s ear. The Abyss returned to Deicide in a high arc, folding herself around Deicide’s neck and shoulders, pooling her extraneous length around his feet, until most of his body was incased in liquid darkness. Soldiers behind Deicide stepped back to avoid touching the alien fabric.
“You can allow me to save you, or I can have you separated into materials that would be of more use to me,” Deicide said, grinning wide, wearing the ominous smile of an ancient wolf god. The Abyss began to emit child-like giggling and hushed, mocking voices.
The man could hardly breathe. “You…You’re a monster,” the man said. He released a long, sour breath. Deicide’s nostrils flared as the scent met the membranes inside his nose; he was always encouraged to breathe through his umbilicals when off the ship, even if there was breathable air. The smell of the man’s breath told him the ingredients of the man’s last few meals and that he was in poor health after being subjected to Deicide’s sovereignty, he would never make it through the indoctrination process now, Deicide thought.
“Those of us with lofty goals tend to be regarded so,” Deicide said. The old man looked up to the churning blackened sky, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes. Deicide turned his gaze upward as well.
“Why, why does He hate us?” the man said, letting his chin fall on his chest.
Deicide squeezed the old man’s shoulder. “I’m sure it’s not hate old boy,” Deicide said. “He just doesn’t care enough to stop it.”
Deicide stood and then bellowed down to the old man. “Your answer?” Deicide said. The man nodded and Deicide shrank his killbox down to his person and turned away. He hoped this display would encourage other humans to join him without the need for further violence. It was far easier to control the civilian population when they had been indoctrinated into the culture of the Aeolipile, those that became full citizens would quickly learn that their new master was somewhat merciful. It was a much better option than to be antagonized by his military police, forced to live in the urban entanglements of lesser Districts, a forest of skyscrapers and high rises, all centered around an immense power plant that supplied the Aeolipile and the Deathless with a constant flow of energy. Each District was the metropolitan embodiment of the world its people were taken from, each one sat upon a metal disc far less than the size of their home planet, each civilization stacked onto, or adjacent to one another. Housing; residential and industrial, was provided through construction machines loaded with artificial intelligences. Once the city was established, it was up to its residents to manage it through local governments and civil servants, with assistance from those acting as law enforcement overseers, the Risk Eaters. If a District seemed to be failing, those who applied for asylum were escorted through the Apartheid Gates that separated each city, there they would be allowed to continue work in another power plant or whatever their chosen profession. A failed District was then shuffled from its position and down into a place called the Fringe Zone, or the ‘The Fringes’; there it was to become whatever the residents chose. A select few ran by organized crime syndicates thrived in the Fringes, but most became rotted and forgotten ghettos, where violence was commonplace to all those within.
Deicide made his way uphill toward his old friend and mentor the Great White; a Grade Three Eater and Chief Commander of the Deathless Array. He had known the man nearly all his life and owed much of what he knew about fighting and warfare to him. Deicide stood next to the taller man and overlooked the throngs of the dejected and weary people below. White’s face was stern, as always, his skin the color of chalk, his eyes were dead, blue disks and his slicked backed hair was a dark gray. When the two met many centuries ago, White was a political prisoner. He had been sentenced to a life of servitude on the mines of 2302 Vergessen, a large asteroid that held a temporary mineral refinery for the few investors still occupying Earth.
White had been a legendary war hero caught on the wrong side of a power struggle, and rather than let the prideful man have an honorable death, the Earth Separatist party handed him a slow and humiliating demise on the corners of the galaxy. As an adolescent, Deicide had been tasked to commandeer the ship transporting White through a desolate stretch of space. The veteran had been one of the first officers to join Deicide’s ranks. Before White’s arrival, Deicide’s army was composed of mainly of mercenaries, runaways, and some of a more sinister element, those with dark desires of bloodlust, war lovers and pirates. However, even after the cleansing fire of the military law was applied, certain traits remained which seemed impossible to breed out of the soldiers. Their indifference to violence and the suffering of others made them an excellent fighting force, but a callous culture would rise inside the Aeolipile, one that cared little for the neighbors they were supposed to be rescuing.
Deicide folded his arms. “Would this have ended differently if you had remained in Earth’s good graces?” Deicide said.
“Sure would,” White said, his growl escaping between his jagged teeth.
Deicide cocked his head back, genuinely surprised. “How so?” he said.
“I’d rather blow it up than let you have it,” White said, turning to Deicide with a slight grin.
“Yet, you’ve only preached against scorched earth tactics,” Deicide said.
“How else do you spite an enemy that wants to steal the whole Earth?” White said.
Deicide gnawed on the inside of his lips as he reached for an answer. “Then I suppose I should thank them for ridding themselves of you,” he said.
Deicide grinned, but found it hard to keep his smile as his eyes fell on White’s left wrist; a silver bracelet was there, with the inscription: Do Not Revive. He remembered approving White’s request some time ago, but this was the first time he had seen the man wearing it. Deicide wondered if White had really had enough, or had he somehow been spooked by the stories of humans losing their minds after numerous recycles. The Great White had always seemed indefatigable, never once showing any signs that his health, mental or otherwise was degrading. It was only when that chit came across his desk, did Deicide remember that White had started his life as a human, and in the space provided for the reason for termination of services was only: I’m tired Ant. Still, Deicide would begin savoring his time with White, and prepare his speech for the inevitable ceremony, as well as having a proper place built to house the memories and the possessions that captured his life; for he believed that anyone of any value deserved to be remembered, friend or enemy.
The black vestige hanging from Deicide’s shoulders perked up as a female eater made her way to the two men. She was a petite, but muscle toned woman belonging to Deicide’s staff, known as Baby Sister to everyone, including her enemies, she was a Grade Five Eater and the youngest of a family of a dozen children, she wore a patch on her left arm, a throne surrounded by sleeping wolves. Deicide preferred an air of informality amongst his troops, at least from top-down, a nickname of an enlisted or officer amidst one’s peers allowed him to see more than the stuffiness of a performance evaluation would show.
The little round faced Glebula passed behind the Great White, clapping him on the back as she came to Deicide’s left side, making sure she avoided touching any part of the Abyss that hung from Deicide’s shoulders. Baby Sister was likable enough to interrupt two of the highest ranking personnel without a rebuff; and though Deicide found her coarseness endearing, many of her peers waited for her to fall out of favor. She saluted Deicide with a quick peck on her fist, a salute that was done more for the discipline of the lower ranks than out of any sort of honor.
“Lady Nott sent me,” Baby Sister said; her voice was unnaturally raspy for a woman her age.
Deicide’s voice was laced with annoyance. “Since when did you become my wife’s messenger?” Deicide said. “You’re a Non-Commissioned Officer.”
“Since you started ignoring the Lady’s messages,” Baby Sister said. “She said they went straight to your message traffic. Didn’t they clog up your HUD?”
“Hmm,” Deicide said. “The Abyss’ salinity levels must be causing malfunctions with my ocular implants. I can’t get picture or sound,” he said, almost believing the lie himself.
Baby Sister returned a puzzled glance. “What does the vestige have to do with your implants?” she said.
Deicide shook his head at Baby Sister missing the hint. “Your job is to hurt things Baby Sis, not mediate my marriage,” Deicide said. The Great White chuckled, still amazed that a man with so much power could be irritated by so little.
Deicide sighed and motioned for her to carry on. Baby Sister turned her palm up and activated the media output switch on the wrist of her glove. Hovering above her palm was a holographic image of Lady Nott. After a half second delay the image began to move and Deicide was looking into the mustard yellow eyes of his wife. Her form perplexed many, those exposed to any new alien race tended to say that they all looked the same, but Nott and Deicide shared few similarities besides the sharp fingers and antennas. Her skin was a pale gray, like the surface of a marble statue weathered by time. Her face seemed to be drowning in the river of black strands that poured from the top of her head. Nott had explained that some of the differences could be attributed to Deicide’s constant exposure to alien worlds, but those who knew Deicide in his youth had never noticed much of a change in the man’s outward appearance. And those few that had access to all visual files concerning Abstrusians, had they permittance to speak on the matter would mention that Deicide looked just as much Abstrusian as he did Human.
“Are you trying to upset me?” Nott said, her tone was jovial, but Deicide gathered she was angry by the slenderness of her eyes, which normally took up a sizable portion of her face. She was speaking in the ancient language of their people, it sounded like a strange, rhythmic, throat humming; only Deicide could understand it, but his throat anatomy did not allow him to speak it. Instead he spoke back to her in the Aeolipile’s official language, Circum, a compiling of languages and dialects brought by crew members who were plank owners of the ship. The original crew members were assembled mainly from many of the human mutations living on the outskirts of the countless Milky Ways they came across. The squat Glebula, the long limbed Arbaronians, with a sprinkling of the fair skinned Homosoliums. Deicide had come across humans and their offshoots in his first recruitment phase as they crisscrossed through the universe and multiple dimensions, he found they were closely related in anatomy to Abstrusians, mostly even tempered, and frankly, easier to look at than some of the species he had come across in his travels. He was sure other races of people thought the same of him; even when the language barrier had been eliminated by his wife’s research, he could never get some people to trust him because of his appearance; jewel-eyed Ant-Man he had been called. It was the first time he had felt self-conscious about his antennas.
“It certainly wasn’t the goal dear, but I was willing to risk some collateral damage,” Deicide said.
“You think of my values as collateral, my love?” Nott said, cocking her head to the side, her flickering blue-tipped antennas drifted across her eyes.
“At times,” he said. “We already treat these people as cattle, why should you care if I bash a few?”
Nott authorized a digitized order form that popped up on her desk, “Because refugees become citizens,” Nott said.
“Or rebels,” Deicide said.
“I never denied that,” Nott said. “Just remember, we’re here to rescue them.”
Deicide raised an eyebrow and one of his antennas, before remembering that footage was transmitted back to the ship through hovering cameras and from the soldiers’ ocular implants. At that moment some studio inside the Aeolipile was dicing this exchange up for some television show for bored stay-at-home parents. Deicide nodded, but he was uncertain whether Nott could say that they were trying to save everyone. Rescue of certain species was merely a byproduct of saving themselves; they needed the humans and the other aliens onboard just as badly. Deicide and Nott could not rebuild their own race by themselves.
“And who was it that sent me here?” Deicide said. “Who said we needed a higher ratio of humans?”
“I told you to show a bit muscle, not humiliate them. If only you’d extend the same fist to your army...” Nott said.
“They do as I ask, nothing less,” Deicide said, putting his arms around Baby Sister and Great White.
“They’re knuckle dragging clods,” Nott said.
Deicide squeezed his companions tighter. “Don’t talk about my beloveds like that,” he said.
“I was referring to the rest of your ranks.” Nott said.
“As if your button mashing zombies are any better?” Deicide said, knowing that she had bred out the traits which she disliked in her staff. He felt it was unethical to engineer with the wild variables, though he would admit that some personality types were unlovable.
“I’ll be in your office.” She said; then cut the connection. Deicide pushed Baby Sister’s hand away from his face as the screen faded. He hoped by the time he arrived in his office Nott would be in a better mood. Deicide began to form rebuttals for possible arguments she would throw at him. He enjoyed the mental sparring most times, but never on issues concerning combat or the treatment of hostile civilians. It was the one subject he felt his wife could never best him at; her total battle experience might have involved a vicious pillow fight, or two, but little else. What would she know of killing an enemy, watching the color drain out of his eyes, feeling his hot blood pooling around your knife and fist? No, Nott was a smart, pretty thing who knew nothing of cruelty and malice, only cold numbers and theory.
“Tomorrow still a day off?” Baby Sister said. Deicide nodded as he had a hundred times that day to the same question. The advancement of instant widespread communication did nothing to change the military, still rife with rumor and hearsay, so the lowest still doubted the word of everyone but the Commanding Officer.
“Oh, Quarters is still the same time,” Deicide said, jabbing her in the shoulder with an index finger.
Baby Sister scrunched her freckled nose. “Aw, what the hell? The only thing good about a day off is the sleeping in part,” She said.
“You can sleep in, just after you wake up normal time,” Deicide said, making his way to the closest portal.
Baby Sister cupped her hands around her mouth. “Can I come in pajamas?” She said.
Deicide turned and yelled back. “Ask Chief Commander Hellmouth,” he said, knowing the hard-faced woman would slap anyone who approached her with such a silly request, even on her best days. Deicide had seen the woman belt jaws for considerably less infractions, including his own, adolescence was the harbinger of great disequilibration and he was glad he was done with it. He plodded up the hill and slid through the fold in space and into the Aeolipile. He shivered at the change in temperature, the decks of the Aeolipile were cool and sterile, not like the muggy, stale atmosphere Earth had attained from years of poor maintenance. He wondered what sort of backwards government felt that they need not hold mastery over the elements.
A loud voice sounded from the 1MC speaker: “Aeolipile returning.” It signaled that Deicide was onboard.
The ship possessed technology that allowed it to fold space multiple times over, thousands of Quarterdecks all over the ship were receiving and processing each individual, from the smaller ships situated at Earth. Petty Officers of the Watch, Corpsmen and Supply Department personnel were just the beginning of the pipeline; the masses were briefed, documented, immunized and given rations and clothing for their next monotonous thirty-six hours, which equaled a full day onboard the Aeolipile. Over the next few months stringent testing would be done to separate future citizens from the rest of the chaff. Those who held worthy positions of power were given special privileges once they entered the Districts. For some, mainly politicians, shrewd business people and those with a high degree of skill in any field little changed but the scenery outdoors.
Deicide passed a loudspeaker that was spewing garbled noise from his wife’s language program; it was a sort of command-speak, which all sentient beings could understand, a guttural drone that rooted itself in the inner workings of the mind, like the crying of a baby, or the beat of a drum. It explained to the refugees their situation and gave them instructions on how to handle their new living arrangements. Deicide nosed around the in-briefing desks, waved to a few Corpsmen and slapped the backs of a few Petty Officers before continuing onward. He was extremely well loved by the military, crew members and privileged citizens of the Aeolipile, he set aside time to eat at least one meal a day in an enlisted mess hall, of which there were thousands and made sure he was seen throughout the ship with daily walks and friendly, non-inspection visits to each department.
Abruptly the voice of Hellmouth, his Risk Eater Chief Commander, a Grade Three Eater, came from behind him. With it being so early in the day, he knew her to be wearing her warm-up suit, with an empty Skid underneath, mildly transparent from the lack of black vestige running through it.
“Ask me what, Ant?” she said. The gold toothed woman was very direct with junior officers to enlisted personnel, and even Deicide. Besides his wife, she was the only one who called him by his nickname consistently in public. The diminutive of his birth name did not bother him, especially when he was told what an ‘Ant’ was. He was proud to be linked to a creature that could lift more than ten times its weight.
Quickly remembering what he had said to Baby Sister earlier, Deicide answered. “Nothing,” he said, quickening his pace.
“You gonna go to PT tomorrow?” she said, catching up to him.
“It’s holiday routine, Shay,” he said, not wanting to be lectured on the evils of sedentary lifestyles.
“And? If you don’t train everyone else is gonna think they can slack off,” she said.
“You can still workout your people out,” Deicide said. He glanced over his shoulder and waved to a group of young eaters that had immediately stopped goofing off, not at his presence, but that of Hellmouth’s; for their sake he hoped she forgot their faces, but not likely. Hellmouth continued to speak of transgressions made in Deicide’s youth as if they had happened only a week before.
Deicide stepped onto an express moving-walkway and hopped up onto the railing, an act forbidden to everyone onboard for safety reasons. Deicide watched as Hellmouth’s thick lips tightened as he made himself comfortable on the rail, then he glanced over the side and through the transparent decks of the plaza. The interior architecture of the Aeolipile was a marvel of design and technological advancement, as well as aesthetically pleasing; the insides appeared to be completely seamless and sleek. Swooping white arches of amazing curvature never seemed to find angles or sharp corners, reflective surfaces always maintained a mirror finish and glass, or some substance much like it, was polished until it was virtually undetectable to unassisted eyes. Items such as emergency procedures, directions, and bull’s eye markers only appeared in the event of an actual emergency or the prompting of a resident without optical nanomachine implants. If a member of the crew or passengers fell under any sort of duress, or most likely, a state of bewilderment, the machines monitoring their functions would automatically lead them in the right direction to safety with neon guidelines along the walls, floors, ceilings.
Hellmouth cleared her throat to capture Deicide’s attention. “We’ve talked about this before, Ant,” Hellmouth said. And they had, at length, but Deicide felt that after living more than a few thousand years he was man now, even if Hellmouth would never think so.
“Shay, refusing to work out on my day off isn’t a political statement,” Deicide said. “I’m not telling you how to run your department.”
“And I’m not telling you how to run your ship, but they follow your lead, don’t they?” she said, jutting her thumb back to the group of the loitering eaters, laughing in a semicircle. Deicide shrugged, an eater soldier was only expected to be fearless and unmerciful in battle, he cared little of what soldiers did in their personal time, they owned it; unlike non-eaters that were kept busy every moment of the twelve-hour workday. If the eaters were the lions, then the non-eaters were the hyenas, jealously waiting for their turn to enter the brutal examination period.
“And about your little speech before the Earth-jump,” Hellmouth said.
“Hmm?” Deicide said, glancing at a violet-headed, eater behind them on the walkway.
“I don’t think the Females appreciate being called girls,” Hellmouth said
“I’ve heard they don’t appreciate being called Females,” Deicide said, speaking more to the woman behind them, than Hellmouth, a person he felt had strong-armed more than enough of his attention over his unnaturally long lifespan.
“Rather be called a female than a fucking girl,” Hellmouth said, shooting a discouraging glance at the violet adjacent to them, and she knew full well the type of women that Deicide was weakened by, a subtle nod from Hellmouth as she glanced at the top of the woman’s left breast; she had memorized the name on her tape.
“You know I didn’t mean it like that,” looking back to Hellmouth. “And I remember saying girls and boys. I was trying to play the friendly father figure,” Deicide said.
“From the youngest face wearing the heaviest of brass?” she said.
Deicide let out a small chuckle. “Genetics. You should have Nott do some work on you. I hear it’s cheap,” Deicide said.
“Tempting, but I don’t want to live forever, sweetie. You’d have your answer about God much quicker if you didn’t,” Hellmouth said.
“The mission; I don’t want to die before I’ve seen the end of this,” Deicide said.
“Sometimes I think it’s the only thing you see,” Hellmouth said. Deicide turned his gaze away from her. She pinched his cheek and then hopped over the railing onto an adjacent walkway heading in the opposite direction. The violet had ceased beckoning with her matching eyes, now specifically forbidden from interacting with her Captain in any informal setting, she turned away and found an interesting section on the sleeve of her uniform. Deicide thought of penning a convincing appeal and sending it to his wife Nott, she was pretty enough and being an eater she obviously had superior genetics, but it was never wise to sneak around the backs of women that truly cared for his well-being and safety, even if that love was at times stifling and a bit possessive.
Deicide slipped from the railing as the end of the walkway came closer. Soon after doing so he was accosted by crew members and Aeolipile citizens, all needing things, all talking at once. It was why his personal staff of Risk Eaters and Deathless troops usually accompanied him, even on the ship sometimes in the Civilian sector, though some of their notoriety was just as bad. Some of the more dashing Risk Eaters were constantly mauled any time they strode in public areas. Deicide waved them away politely, while the Abyss narrowed her giant yellow eyes that swam in her unending blackness. All it would take is a thought from Deicide for the Abyss to spear them all into the air, like a demented black menorah. As Captain, Deicide always had to hide the fact that he was a brooding misanthrope; he loved the company of his entourage, degenerates that they were, they understood his moods and knew when he was prone to his fits of anger and melancholy. In the most extreme of either emotion, Deicide was known to barricade himself in his estate with frightened socialites or unlucky officers, practically holding them hostage with the Abyss. As Nott had written in her notes long ago, that the Abyss was a cannon always loaded, and forever pointed at everyone and everything, except for the boy she coveted.
Deicide came before a row of Gates, they were similar to the portals he had used to enter the ship, but these were permanent unlike the Dynamic Gates and could not be modified without a technician. It allowed quick access between decks like an elevator without the trifles of buttons, doors, or close quarters flatulence. They were only located on certain regions of the ship to allow quick access to forward, aft and amidships spaces. Instantly, Deicide passed through the warped reality and was inside the Officer’s Plaza, commonly referred to as O-Country. It housed the living spaces and common areas of all officers onboard, as well as their families. These were no modest staterooms, to which even the lowest, unmarried enlisted man was accustomed to; these were luxury condominiums fit for the high born and dignitaries.
Deicide had decided to take a short cut and strode through the narrow hall which led to side door of the office complex; he was bombarded with multiple levels of security with each step, all without impeding his movement. Robotic arms shot out to prick him with needles, green laser beams scanned his eyes, while he recited his name. Many had laughed at the multiple levels of security, for this room especially, as only two fully sentient beings had access to this room, one of them was Deicide and there was only one Deicide, but there were those onboard that, with some hi-tech finagling, were close enough. The black doors ahead slid open silently and he passed over a lighted walkway inside a dark room full of females, what some would guess to be secretaries, their faces lit by the blue illumination beaming from their holographic displays. It was known as Amanuensis Alley and remained a mystery to nearly everyone onboard, even to Deicide somewhat.
From behind the glass Deicide caught the eye of one of the women working closest to him, as she raised her head, so did all the others, with frightening synchronization, they smiled in unison and continued their work. Unlike husks meant for combat, which were as disposable and recyclable as a sheet of paper, the Amanuensis were permanent, as they learned just as any other creature would, all connected to thick umbilicals that hung from the ceilings, nourishment and oxygen was supplied to them for they would never move from their desks, or move at all, seeing as they had no legs. They filled the giant blind spot of even the most advanced AIs, dedicated organic thought; a computer could never appraise art, or assign values to abstract concepts.
The idea behind an array made sense to Deicide when it was applied to other fields, he used it to artificially multiply the size of his army, to increase the power of his ship, but it evaded him when he was told these women would make his external brain, forward and aft, more efficient, though not necessarily smarter. His wife had strongly discouraged speaking with any of them, as this would cause a condition called disjecta membra, causing a steep decline in his synchronization with his external ship memory and his vestige, the Abyss.
The tasks put before the Amanuensis were varied, devouring volumes of history, cracking codes Deicide had tripped over hundreds of years ago, tallying essential figures and statistics, one of them might have even kept a log of every meal Deicide had ever eaten, all information could be useful at some time, as was a belief held by his wife. It was the reason she had assembled the Amanuensis alongside Deicide’s combat array, both male and female husks were subservient clones extracted from Deicide’s DNA. However, to say they were clones was not quite correct; they all resembled him to some degree, lighter or darker variants of his brown skin, seemingly jeweled irises, and his sharp fingers, but the spiritual machine that drove Deicide could not be replicated. They were empty, hence their names, organic machines bred to do a singular task.
Finally arriving at his office Deicide found the expected queue waiting out front, it disappointed him how so many had access to rooms so close to confidential data. He sighed and stuck his hand out of the Abyss, which was wrapped around him like a cloak, so that he could press his thumb against glossy digital-ready forms and chits. He was still unsure why he was signing any of these, especially for Supply Department; there were dozens of people with the authority to sign casualty reports and production confirmations. Finally, he came to a woman sleeping in the front of the line; she was wearing the patch of Deicide’s entourage, a throne with sleeping wolves at its feet. Her chit was sitting on top of her bob-cut hair; Deicide picked it up, and without looking at it, crumpled the glossy digital-ready and flung it at her, waking the young woman. He turned and burst into his office, and the woman was directly behind him, protesting loudly.
“Why not?” Rodela said.
Deicide kissed his wife as he passed the long black corner couch and shook the Abyss away from his shoulders; the creature then spread herself across the ceiling in black webs. Pieces of Deicide’s desk emerged from the walls and floor as he came closer to it; in mid-stride he changed his mind and fell into a recliner in the adjacent corner, the desk pieces returned flush with the surfaces from which they came. From the arm rest a holographic display shot out a control panel and he selected his display windows to show him the view outside, an endless spread of stars divided by a fluorescent road of dust, like crystallized moonlight. Deicide paused to reflect upon the boundless radiance before turning back to the dark haired woman berating him.
“Why? Why can’t you just take an assignment inside the ship?” Deicide said, stretching his arms out. Even with so many speech lessons he had not rid himself of the habit of talking with his hands. Any agitation or excitement would only increase his animation; it caused many to jokingly mimic his gestures. A poor impersonation of the Captain was looked down upon, but good ones were often rewarded with laughter and cronyistic backslapping.
“All that training was for what exactly?” Rodela said. “They made me a Velveteer, a body guard for rich brats.”
“It’s a good job,” Deicide said. “And I think they’re offended by that term now. I think they prefer to be called-
“It’s boring. I want a career,” Rodela said. “I’m not trying to hug a desk or be an armed nanny,” Rodela said.
“If you’re in the Districts you’ll still be someone’s bodyguard,” Deicide said, shaking his head. “Just come work for me again.” Deicide knew what her answer would be before she could move her lips to speak; and it was his fault, he knew it, he had insulated himself with his favorite soldiers and felt little guilt from the decision. He would much rather be dead than bored. But those he surrounded himself with, mainly the younger ones, were from good stock and ambitious, along with their penchant for being bull-headed.
“So I can get soft?” Rodela said. “I just got out of secondary training; I could run with the new taskforce Hellmouth wants in the Districts.”
“She’s not looking for friendly faces,” Deicide said.
Rodela bared her fangs unconsciously. “And I am?” she said, curling her pointy fingers inside her fists. With the hostile motions she was making any eater would be within their right to challenge her to a duel. Deicide, being The Eater, could strike her down and receive little more than a chiding from the more sensitive hearts amongst the heavy brass.
Deicide waved away the menacing gesture. “If you were any sweeter I’d put you on toast,” Deicide said, turning to Nott, who rolled her eyes and turned away.
“Can you look at me as an adult for one minute?” Rodela said. How could he when she had just gotten out of her Milk Tooth phase, Deicide thought.
Deicide let his hands fall into his lap and held Rodela’s gaze. He thought it was unfair for her to use that against him, it was she who had broken every link in the chain-of-command by coming here. Few people were even allowed to enter this office, let alone barreling through the doors screaming at the person who owned it, a person who also happened to be the captain. Yes, she was coming from a position of privilege and entitlement, and how could she not; knowing who her mother was that is? And did she not resemble her mother? So much so that it hurt him to look at her straight in the face. Needlessly reminding him of her honeyed skin, lips that interlocked into a melancholic pout when not formed into a timid smile, at least it had been timid, in the beginning.
“Everyone shouldn’t know that side of themselves, Rody,” Deicide said, sinking back into his chair. “The Grinders will make sure you do, they won’t go easy on you just because I favor you.” In fact, they may be much worse, he thought, remembering his own training in his younger days, when the Eater’s program was someone’s baby, just as terrible and novel as any other passing thought, but this child of invention had the fortune to be born to a parent that had the courage, or perhaps the sadistic desire to see it through. Deicide had been one of the first, and the only to survive the practices, and they made sure he understood why, that he was different, having the ability to detach himself from the fight; the perfect vessel for revenge.
Rodela crossed her arms. “I don’t need your help,” Rodela said.
Deicide pushed himself up with his elbows. “Yet, you’re here begging,” Deicide said.
“You know what I meant,” Rodela said. “I’m not asking for a favor. I just want to be treated like anyone else. I know that’s hard for people like you.”
“And why is that?” Deicide said.
“Cause you feel like you own everybody, even people you care about,” Rodela said. “Especially people you care about,” finishing with her eyes gazing at the floor.
“What? How is that even fair?” Deicide said, but he knew deep down she was right, not in any slave-master sort of relationship, but his people had something of his in them, nearly all of them. How could he not feel overly protective or scared for them and their fragile human features, but there would be others, many, many others, maybe one even more special than Rodela, but he doubted it.
“I want this,” Rodela said. Her eyes were steady; burrowing into his pair. Deicide glanced over to Nott who was staring into infinity, purposely avoiding his eyes; the Abyss had snaked around his arms and legs and was speaking to him in a language only he could understand. Then Deicide opened his hand to receive the digi-ready; as Rodela smoothed out the crumpled request chit against her thigh. As he planted his finger firmly on the shiny ragged, sheet, Rodela hugged his neck; and then she hurried from the room.
Deicide eased back into his chair with a half-smile across his face and accessed the holographic panel once more and turned on some music from his home world. To any other listener it would sound like a woman singing sad and beautiful notes, but an Abstrusian’s ears would be filled with a woeful sonnet narrating the tale of the birth of their people’s last child, eerily prophetic and pleasing to the ear, Deicide liked to think the song was written for him, even though it was written nearly 200 years before he was born. If Nott was successful, Deicide would not have to be the last full-bloodied Abstrusian; their people had beaten the indifferent goddess of nature before, with diligence and creative technology. However, when they could cheat their biology no more, cruel, but necessary sacrifices had to be made.
Nott had removed herself from the couch and seated herself on Deicide’s lap; the enormity of her hair nearly covered both him and the recliner, he hated seeing her with her hair tied back. He recalled the early days of the Aeolipile when she had ceased to be his tutor and schoolmarm, when they had become lovers, but now, some thousands of years later, she was as cruelly chaste and motherly as she had been when he was child, at least toward him, anyway. Not that he would fault her now for taking a lover; in fact he wished she would, the woman seemed to live only for the mission, she was the savior of their race, he only the protector.
He reached through the black forest of hair and to her back where he ran his fingers over the numerous cables and plug fittings that ran down her spine. Nott’s umbilical apparatus, while being far more of a physical hindrance than Deicide’s lighter, clandestine tail-units, boasted far more features; enabling her to be completely in tune with the Aeolipile, her legion of techs, operators and A.I.s Nott had personally developed to keep the massive ship functioning.
The umbilicals also provided her with a crude sort of telepathy, which Deicide abhorred for its messy and stilted flow. It was extremely difficult to understand and decipher messages from her, as they were copied and translated thousands of times over into dozens of machine languages before it ever arrived into his internal memory. Often times, a message would come out the other side unraveled and smashed into a single indescribable emotion, or even worse, his mind would process this signal as a strange combination of cravings or flavors.
Unbeknownst to Deicide this was happening because their bodies were now on different evolutionary paths and every day that passed they grew further apart. Deicide perceived none of these changes in himself though, as easily as his memory could be supplemented with information, data, at least minor things, could be deleted without causing any stress. Through Nott’s handiwork, Deicide would be the picture of the Abstrusian male all civilizations would know, that of a fanged, muscled warrior; in truth Abstrusian males had lost their teeth, as did the females, and much of their muscle mass through thousands of years of selective breeding.
Nott placed her hand on top of Deicide’s; as it slowly crept up her leg. She smiled and pushed it away gently, then blew sharply at his antennas causing him to flinch. He playfully bared his fangs and she gave him a toothless grin. Without teeth or gums her mouth was little more than a tiny slit used only to speak the Abstrusian language to Deicide, as her umbilicals provided her with all necessary nutrients for a healthy existence. She could still manage speech in Circum, the official ship’s language, but only with a strange accent that many not a part of her corps of scientists and technicians could understand. Her long spells of silence and use of hastily scribbled notes and messages had given her the undeserved reputation of being an ice queen, adding this to the fact that her intelligence grossly outstripped that of anyone onboard, including Deicide’s.
“How’s your work coming?” Deicide said. Nott shrugged and looked down at him, her large yellow eyes seemed as though they saw everything in the room at once.
“Still nothing.” She said. Their people’s curse continued to follow them across the reaches of space. Since Deicide had come of age the two had struggled to have a child, it had taken precedence over Nott’s other projects, but their efforts had been fruitless. Tragic, as the Aeolipile and her exertions had provided countless people with wonders and miracles only inscribed in Holy Scriptures and ancient tomes, even eternal life only required a couple of years of adequate service and a few signatures.
Deicide grabbed both of her hands, trying to ignore the Do Not Revive bracelet on her left wrist. “You’ll do it. I know you can,” he said.
“I don’t know. I can’t see myself doing this forever, Ant,” Nott said.
“Don’t start talking like that again,” Deicide said.
“I’ve already trained the team that’ll replace me,” Nott said.
“You can’t be replaced,” Deicide said, gripping her tightly.
“You have your children and your women, you don't need me anymore,” she said. Then she tugged at his left ear scarred by tooth marks, showing that he had been claimed by another woman, an eater woman. The man’s mentors had always told him to keep his scars, to remind him of his mistakes, though Nott could make them vanish with a gadget she had invented in her spare time.
“But they’re not OUR children, and those women aren't you,” he said.
“You’ll have to part with me soon, my love,” she said.
“As if I’d ever allow you to leave,” he said.
Her tiny shoulders bobbed as she laughed. “You would lock me away? I control every door on the ship,” she said.
“Then I’d build a tower in the shaft of the engineering plant and place you at the very top,” he said.
Nott stared down at her lap. “The last half is your mission, not mine,” Nott said.
“You would let me bask in glory alone?” Deicide said.
“If you knew what I knew you would see no glory in this fool’s errand,” she said.
“You insult me and yet you’ve held me up this whole journey,” he said.
“I would rather aid a foolish man that thought of me as an equal, than a much greater man who treated me as a child,” she said.
“I’m uncertain of what I should feel at the moment,” he said. Then she kissed his face repeatedly, instantly leaving love bites all over; almost as if his blood longed to be inside her.