The Thirteenth Chapter
Darkness was just the gown the Abyss chose to wear. On the day she divided her lightless mass before me, I was stunned at her true form. Everywhere I turned she was there gazing back at me, millions of eyes and fangs writhing around the light swallowing void that was her mouth. The rest of her was a disgusting assemblage of fibrous muscle that consumed the horizon and all of the sky. – Deicide.
Upon awaking the Abyss dragged Deicide to his feet as if he were a life-sized puppet, disoriented by the slight increase in his dimensions the first few steps he took were measured and cautious. He closed his hands, cracking the knuckles of his great brown fists. As he flexed his muscles he felt he could hear the tightness of the muscle fibers contracting beneath his skin. His tongue quivered inside his mouth making him aware of the growth of several new teeth, like rows of saw blades. The Abyss swirled around Deicide, admiring his completed physique, cooing and moaning as she made her inspection. In her eyes Deicide could see his reflection; his irises remained like brilliant diamonds, as did the battle scars he received in his youth, ancient mementos of misplaced trust.
Long ago, Nott had wanted Deicide to have his scars removed, but Hellmouth and Great White, who had many wounds between them, felt that their pup needed the reminders, and so along with information of how to reassemble Deicide if he should pass, a string of code was set aside to reform him with a certain set of scar tissue. Many of the people that had taught Deicide his most valuable lessons had also hurt him a great deal, though he supposed he had done the same, perhaps greater. He could still remember Ecocide raking her claws across his face, her tears stinging as they fell into his fresh wounds.
Stuffing the dark memories to the back of his mind, Deicide began to wonder about his location, the wet and rusted decay surrounding him did not appear as old as before. Suddenly he was made aware of the presence of his Amanuensis routing eaters to his position, but he could hear booted feet attempting to slide silently across dusty and warped deck plates. The Abyss absorbed sounds that would seem nonexistent to the sharpest hearing and echoed them back to Deicide’s ears. Deicide spun slowly as a man in an old duster swung a lead pipe toward him, before Deicide could fully face the man the Abyss had already disarmed him and began to peel open his carcass as if his skin was the rind on some demonic fruit. The man screamed as his ribs were snapped from his spine, a gush of foul gray air escaped as one of his tar filled lungs was torn open like a half full vacuum bag. A warm pool of blood and urine was formed underneath the spectacle as the Abyss began to devour the corpse, noisily and carelessly spattering the walls with blood.
Several others emerged from the shadows, brandishing antique automatic weapons and hatchets fabricated from scrap. Deicide shifted into the center of the display as the guns began firing, a single umbilical swipe removed the lower jaw of a man who was screaming before him, and as the man gargled the blood in his throat Deicide ripped his tongue out, nearly by the root. Then he whirled and vaulted over the man gushing blood from the top of his neck. The Abyss charged through the fray like a black tsunami, amputating limbs and absorbing hot bullets into her oily folds. Deicide reached out with his sharp fingers and plucked a collar bone from a man only to twirl and jam it into the eye socket of another, the jagged bone speared through the man’s brain and shattered against the inside of his skull. The carnage on display reminded Deicide of the early campaigns he had led personally, when he lacked the numbers to discourage drawn out wars, back then, the only way he could convince a nation not to fight was to reveal to them just how horrible he could be.
A sputtering battle cyborg peeled away from the shadows and with the sovereignty inside Deicide’s killbox, the cyborg fell upward and was impaled on a broken support beam high in the overhead. Then Deicide allowed him to fall back to the ground as he pressed the cyborg into a crumpled sphere, when he was finished with him he looked like a wadded ball of aluminum foil. The hollers produced from the suffering band excited the wicked pair, making grins where there had recently been scowls. As a few of the men attempted to retreat, their path was blocked by the Abyss, child-like giggles from an array of voices emerged from her darkness. The Abyss coiled around their bodies after she had gouged them to tatters, squeezing their pulverized, red innards out of the ragged holes.
One man, done with witnessing the horror, placed a pistol in his own mouth only to have it torn away by Deicide; he smashed the gun in his fist as if it were made of putty. He clamped onto the man’s arms and held him at arm’s length, watching him shiver under his menacing glare. The Abyss screeched an unintelligible noise only understandable to Deicide. He remembered the horrifying future which lay before him, knowing that it was his weakness that had caused it. With teeth, he quickly tore open the man’s throat, nearly decapitating him, his head hung to the stump of his neck by a few red ribbons. The Abyss watched like a proud mother as Deicide chewed the flesh without reservation or shame. Tendrils surged from her black mass onto the carcass and gently pulled it away from Deicide who had seemingly slipped into a maddening trance. Even with the halcyonic cider Deicide still felt the cannibalistic urges, leaving him wondering what was awaiting him on this tenebrous path. He refused to allow someone to steal his empire because of his own complacency, according to Nott’s words, saving the Aeolipile meant allowing himself to listen to the voice he ignored the most, his own.
His eyes detected movement and he felt the Abyss winding up the alien anatomy inside her lurid bulk. When Deicide heard the voices of his Risk Eaters he relaxed and the Abyss began to soften. As much as the Abyss seemed like an individual entity she was actually just a part of Deicide, linked within the hollows of his subconscious the Abyss acted as an external nervous and immune system, but the medical staff continued to propose that she was a cancer that acted in Deicide’s best interest. She wrapped herself around his neck and slid down his shoulders and back, pouring herself to the floor, once more becoming a cloak. Deicide was agitated at the way she prominently displayed her mass, all except his head was completely draped in her organic cloth. Attempts to push her behind him were met with a choir of feminine giggles, the fabric turned to oil as he heaved her up over his shoulders and she flopped back down on top of him. The older he became the more it seemed that he was chained to the whims of this tangible Id, no longer was she the whispering umbra of his childhood.
“Lord Deicide,” an eater said. A group of Risk Eaters peered carefully at the blood stains on the deck and mumbled amongst each other. Ichor stepped out in front, just as medics on Deicide’s personal staff rushed to the noble’s side. Immediately they began tapping the bleed pits in his umbilicals, drawing samples of chemicals that had already circulated into his blood stream. He was annoyed that the Abyss stood aside so easily when Nott’s colleagues muscled their way through. Deicide shooed them away once they had collected what was required for their ongoing research, his personal EMT’s showed him much more concern and tact, while the extremist Sicariis watched in silence.
“Shay’s been borderline psychotic, everyone was on call. No off days,” Ichor said. Deicide had never seen the man look so tired. In fact they all looked frazzled; most of them probably were not used to combing through the Fringes, which was only comparable to wandering in a vast desert, no circulated air, or any other convenient facilities such as running water, or water period depending on the length of time it was separated.
“She didn’t think I could handle myself?” Deicide said.
“You’ve been gone nearly a year,” Ichor said. Deicide rubbed the back of his neck as he stared at the ground.
“Why didn’t they just rebuild me?” Deicide said.
Ichor shifted on his toes. “Lady Nott left orders to block the procedures,” he said.
Deicide shook his head. “Left orders?” Deicide said, his antennas were already blinking rapidly. Ichor placed his hands on Deicide’s shoulders.
“What happened?” Deicide said.
Ichor shrugged. “She went into the Machine,” he said. “She told her staff to consider her terminated.”
Deicide pulled away abruptly. “And no one went to go get her?” Deicide said.
“No one has access, not even you,” Ichor said.
“Then cut the damn door down!” Deicide said.
But Deicide already knew the answer to that. No one entered the Machine itself; it was the single place on the ship that Deicide had never been able to explore, though it was supposedly connected to every major space within the ship, and every District power plant. Everyone had been told that the engineering plant of the Aeolipile was maintenance-less, but Deicide just knew that Nott had a special group of Somnus Engineers that controlled its functions, or had bred some deaf-mutes to deal with the physical repairs, how could a plant not need a crew, but what of the early days? As far as Deicide could remember there had only been rations for the two of them.
“She’s gone, Ant,” Ichor said. Deicide began shaking his head slowly; the Abyss gazed at him from behind his right shoulder with a pair of cheerless eyes. Deicide plopped down into the Abyss, head in hands. Tears dripped down onto her oily hulk, only to be reabsorbed and sent back into the umbilical system where the pure water would be extracted. Deicide summoned a cloud of anxiety as he began to tighten his fists and strain his muscles, the sound became frighteningly audible.
Two eaters grabbed Deicide under an arm pit. “C’mon sir,” one said, but Deicide did not move. His new body was extremely heavy, even for two eaters and they looked to Ichor for help. The hard-faced Weaver had his arms folded in front of Deicide, glaring down at the man, indifferent to his brooding.
In a calm voice he spoke down toward him. “C’mon, Ant let’s go,” Ichor said; tightening his lips as the suggestion was ignored. Then he berated the man.
“Ant, get the fuck up!” Ichor said. Everyone paused and tried to pretend they were inanimate objects. Deicide stirred and rose without the help of his subordinates, while Ichor grabbed the scruff of Deicide’s neck as if he were a pup. He pressed his forehead against the top of Deicide’s head and began to whisper.
“Stop, alright? Clean your fucking face. These knuckleheads need you strong, or else all this shit is gonna fall apart. Okay?” Ichor said.
“Ich, she-” Deicide said.
“Shut up! There’ll be time for that. Right now people need to die, and those that live need to be afraid that they’re next. Understand?” Ichor said, watching his favorite pupil nod, knowing hate was spinning inside Deicide’s head.
Back inside the Aeolipile Deicide was waiting for his children to be brought to him. His estate inside the O-Country had been remodeled since his disappearance some months back, perhaps a project to keep the housekeeping busy while he was away. He was fully reclined in his study watching flames from his simulated fireplace, when a door slid opened behind him. Five children walked in on their own while another two were carried by Nott’s aides. Deicide looked at their eyes, some purple, brown or some lighter shade, skin the color of khaki. They each had a short umbilical plug extending from their lower backs, though nothing was running through them, certainly not vestige material.
“They’ll be bigger than their Dad in a few years. They aren’t showing an aversion to the treatments.” A woman said. The children sat down on the floor in front of him. He felt sorry for the lovelies, as they would have very little time to actually be children before they were commanding their own armies. It was a relief to him though; that they would not grow up exactly how he did; hopping from planet to planet scheming for money and influence to fuel his war machine. His offspring would be tasked with the upkeep of his legacy, ensuring his ivory tower never crumbled.
“There’s the oldest two, Silex and Caissa. Then there’s the little monsters, Eldora and Asotus. Capella and Gue’guerre my cuties. And this sad little guy is Amicus,” she said, the tiny boy in her arms was the only one that had Nott’s gray complexion and yolky eyes, but on his face was the morose stare of his father now looking back at him. He wondered, did Nott really do it, did she manage to birth them a child from both their genetic material? Either way he would cherish the boy, if only because he reminded him of Nott.
The eldest children, Silex and Caissa were surprisingly well spoken; he discovered that they had already read through the Ship’s archives several times. All of them were being trained by many of the same grizzled instructors that had taught him during his youth. Hellmouth and Great White popped in as if Deicide had willed them into the room, they immediately came over to the children and encouraged them to show their father what they had learned. Deicide was excited to see that all but the youngest two could spread a small killbox around themselves, even if they were only able to slightly manipulate gravity.
Deicide laughed as the crimson headed Eldora already well-muscled, was busy wrestling his free arm, unable to pin it down. He smiled as she grunted and strained against him. All of the children already seemed set in their own personalities and he spent the rest of the night guessing amongst the other adults which bad habits they had picked up from him. At first his cubs had lessened the pain of the blade driven through his heart by Nott’s departure, but as he woke to their faces every morning he realized it would never be taken out.
He continued to plan his response against the Districts which had struck down his men and women, members of his entourage whom he considered his blood even if a few were not, people who watched over his children; people he shared meals with. The message would be elaborate and exceedingly violent, but he knew not how, bombs, and even full scale raids would not exhibit the magnitude of his rage. He sat on the floor of the great stone coliseum that Great White used to exercise the children; it was located on the lower decks of the Aeolipile, a recreation of the crumbled Abstrusian Empire. Deicide looked on the place not as a symbol of power, but a crude memento of his childhood. Hard lessons were learned here, much of the old blood stains here were his own, put there by his mentors Hellmouth, White and Ichor. He held his youngest boy Amicus in his lap as they watched his older children spar with legends of fight craft.
Because of their privileged birth they would be taught the advanced techniques of a martial art that was prohibited to the general population of eaters. Dreadfully translated to The Pathless Journey, these secrets kept the inflexible power structure of their military-oriented society intact. Money could only purchase so much power for a civilian and a soldier could never buy. Status was wealth and it could only be garnered by specific and exemplary services rendered, doled out by someone who sat aloft in this infallible structure. It was a system so rigid that it barely appeared to change when looking through the long range records; families were shuffled in and out to give the elite some genetic variety, but the hands holding the reigns never changed, even in the military.
“Eldora, if you’re going to use that punch, you have to use your entire body, from the furthest knuckle to the very tip of the toe. See?” White said, demonstrating the attack. The children were gathered around in a loose circle as White instructed the children individually. Hellmouth was making her way toward the group, causing Asotus to squirm, already knowing the fate which lay ahead.
“Uh huh, thought you were gonna miss out on PT?” Hellmouth said, gold teeth glistening in the simulated twilight. The children groaned and marched toward her with their eyes to the ground, dragging their feet against the stone floor. Deicide winced as he remembered his own PT sessions with the woman; he could guarantee there would be some vomiting and teary eyes tonight. As he bobbled Amicus around in his arms he was approached by the Twins, Destra and Sinistra. He wondered if Nott had warned them about their possible futures as lumbering freaks. He gave them a small grin and decided to keep quiet.
He had kept his adventure a secret from everyone, even the closest of his staff, explaining away his disappearance as a malfunction with the eccentricities of the folded space within the ship, even if they were privy, they would dismiss his sightings as delusions caused by his transgressing into his final phase. The genetic amuck had torn him apart and reassembled him into something familiar that looked back at him in the mirror, but he felt very different. The desire to complete his mission was swelling deep within his mind, causing the Abyss to increase her size and roughen her texture. Amicus turned and poked at the alien creature with a tiny finger. The Abyss swirled around him and giggled, pulling at his gray cheeks with her inky tendrils. Deicide spoke to the Twins without turning away from the suffering of his children that he found so amusing.
“How are they?” Deicide said.
“Nott would be satisfied,” Destra said.
“That’s a bold claim,” Deicide said, remembering his wife’s pride in her craftsmanship.
“Which precinct has the raid?” Sinistra said.
“None of them,” Deicide said.
“We have to strike back; it’s been far too long already,” Destra said.
“Ichor briefed me. I’ll have a small entourage,” Deicide said.
“We understand you wanting to participate, but that’s foolish, Ant,” Sinistra said.
“Do Hellmouth and White know?” Destra said.
Deicide turned around to face them. “Who’s the Captain of this ship?” Deicide said, alerting the instructors nearby. The Twins were silent, staring back at him with hard eyes, their demeanor had changed and they began to speak harshly.
“You still retain the mind of a child, don’t you Prince?” Destra said. Deicide’s eyes turned to white slivers. The gall, Deicide thought, but attacking them with harsh words would only prove their point.
“Now that your oedipal queen has rescinded you feel the need to assert yourself,” Sinistra said.
Destra looked to her sister. “It’s understandable,” Destra said.
Sinistra nodded to Destra. “Yes, perfectly understandable,” Sinistra said.
“But you have your place,” Destra said.
“As our lovable Prince,” Sinistra said.
“I’m not a figurehead,” Deicide said, letting Amicus run to his nanny. He stood and tried to keep the Abyss from winding herself up, an act that every creature understood, even if not from her world. In the half world that bore her, there was no word for violence; one may as well tell another person that one is living.
“For the ship, you are,” Destra said.
“Abstrusian custom,” Sinistra said. Deicide turned away at that, having no records on how his culture was originally ran. He had never seen the Twins act in such a way; it saddened him and he wondered if there was a coup forming in his executive branch. But then he remembered how the men were treated, with so few numbers of them, and all hopes of reproducing naturally dashed away, men were simply sexless helpers of his home world. It was only the other male clones of Antino I that were revered, and many of them died only a few years after birth. Yes, it had been only him, finally christened Antino II, prince of Abstruse, a useless title as Abstrusians had eradicated the nobility millennia ago.
Hours later Deicide was ready to unleash havoc upon the District of Privy; rebels from there had aided the resistance in the Altura attack. The Abyss had wound her dark innards as tightly as she could compact them. At the moment he was ignoring emergency transmissions routed through his Amanuensis. He was waiting for the small entourage he had ordered to arrive. He had been notified earlier that they had captured a high ranking leader in one of the resistance groups. Deicide wanted the chance to punish the man himself, but the pair of Weavers, Two Spine and Solemn, had insisted that he simply speak to the man first. As Deicide heaved a sigh and turned in the other direction he saw a group of Risk Eaters headed toward him.
“Well, how is it?” Deicide said, opening his arms to Rodela, but she never entered his grasp.
“It’s alright, I guess,” Rodela said. Deicide was hurt by her coldness, and knew everyone else had noticed. Hash spoke up to ease the awkwardness.
“You sure you want to do this, sir? We could just bring him to you,” Hash said.
“No. Let’s move,” Deicide said, as they turned toward a smaller set of apartheid gates for personal on foot. This would enable them to warp directly to any Risk Eater station. As they made their way through each gate Deicide moved closer and closer to Rodela.
“What’s wrong?” Deicide said; the Abyss aped his empathy.
“Nothing,” Rodela said, folding her arms.
“I know it’s not exactly what you expected it to be,” Deicide said.
Deicide shifted even closer to the woman and sighed, wrapping his arms around her. Everyone else tried to ignore the pair, but there were sure to be rumors after this showing. Deicide kissed the top of her head and rubbed her shoulders.
“Can we talk later?” she said.
“Sure,” Deicide said. Then they all strolled into the receiving area of the Risk Eater precinct. He stopped short of entering when he saw the state of the place. TRS cans were spilling their contents all over the checkered tile floor, their mechanisms clogged, hindering it from completing their work. Deicide had no guess as to when the filters for the ventilation covers had been cleaned; it was as if the entire building had been abandoned for years. He expected a leather skinned squatter to emerge from behind a desk at any moment and ask them for spare change.
“Damn, couldn’t someone have thrown some of this in some filing cabinets?” Deicide said.
“It was probably last shift, sir.” Hash said, scratching his scruffy chin. His collar was unbuttoned and his uniform wrinkled. Deicide sighed and thought how useless some of his soldiers actually were outside of a battle situation or a bar fight.
“Oh please, Hash. Retirements a little far off to be thinking like a short-timer,” Deicide said, shaking his head.
“This is deplorable. Little will help you if Shay finds you all working in this sty,” Deicide said. He was shown into the interrogation rooms below and found two young Risk Eaters guarding a door at the end of a long and dark hallway. Two Weavers emerged when he knocked on the door. It was Two Spine and Solemn, the shrewd pair that had dived into the secrets of this District after Deicide and his entourage had been attacked. Deicide placed a hand on each of their shoulders, his normally dejected pout, stretched into the grin of a wolf god.
“So?” Deicide said.
“He refuses to speak to anyone else,” Solemn said.
Two Spine pointed a thumb at the door. “Some gamey meat in there. Even Sol, couldn’t make him talk,” Two Spine said.
“He doesn’t have any cybernetic parts, but still, watch yourself, sir.” Solemn said. Deicide nodded to them both and then strode into the room. A single light hung from the overhead, illuminating the cramped gray room. There was an aluminum desk welded to the floor and a prisoner was shackled to his seat on the other side of it. He wore the pea green coveralls of an inmate and his regal looking face had been brutality beaten. Had Solemn been given enough time she could have cracked the man before she had reached the end of her protocol sheet, but Deicide had demanded to see the prisoner. Deicide plopped down in one of the empty chairs, leaning back with his hands in his lap, smug grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. His chair squeaked as he pulled it closer to the table and folded his hands underneath his chin.
“Well, speak man,” Deicide said.
“Only if you’re ready to listen,” he said.
“What the…do you know who I am?” Deicide said, thumbing to himself. The Abyss spread herself throughout the room, so that she could listen for inflection and inconsistency.
“A man who has been entrusted with countless lives,” he said.
“That’s new for a rebel. I see you wear the garnet rag. You’re a part of the Apocrypha?” Deicide said.
“I am,” he said.
“You all have risen to the top of my list. Starting today soldiers are ordered to kill all Apocrypha on sight, preferably in public,” Deicide said.
“Yet I still breathe your air,” he said.
“We want to extract as much from you as possible,” Deicide said.
“That is only partly true,” He said.
“What?” Deicide said.
The bedraggled man chuckled. “We?” he said. “I live only because there is something YOU wish to know.”
Deicide crinkled his brow and smiled while leaning back the in chair, but the eyes of the rebel leader never left his own. As the two stared at each other from across the table, Deicide noticed just how disheveled the man actually was. His beard was dirty and patchy; there were fresh bruises on the corners of his face and blood in one of his eyes; yet he still retained an air of a gentleman, even a lord. A moment later the smile on Deicide’s face had vanished. He brushed his fingers across the aluminum table and lowered his chin as if to protect his throat.
“Our shepherd shall guide us out from under this veil of ignorance. No longer shall our fates be determined by superstition and invisible gods. It is you who shall lead the way, God Eater,” the man said.
“What is this nonsense?” Deicide said.
“We will be led unto a new Existence, by way of our Lord. A man of flesh and blood, forged into the image of a true God, by his own yearning and desire. You were the son of a man such as this, but he lost his way, as men tend to do. As you have yourself. But in the new world you will create on the other side, you will be the Divine. And finally we can be ruled by rational thought and science,” he said. Deicide rose and glared at the bound man.
“I am no god. I have no such plans,” Deicide said.
“You must complete the circuit before opening the way to paradise,” he said. “The end will come, through you or through another. Short or long, death is making his way down the path.”
“What if I refuse it, if the circuit is left incomplete?” Deicide said.
“But you must. To refuse would mean throwing your beloved ship into ruin and all the lives that have made this possible would descend into a world of strife. Hell; brought to life by your doing. I’m sure you’ve seen it,” he said.
“How? How can you know this?” Deicide said; his scowl had been transformed into lament and gloom. Sweat began to bleed out of his skin, and his long antennas drooped down on his head.
“Just know that I do. The Apocrypha looked to you, because you are the only man who could truly alter his fate. It is only you who can decide for certain where this road shall end. We, your people, are hopelessly shackled to your decision,” he said.
“Listen. I am no shepherd. I am a man of blood and steel, a war child; those who refused to kneel before me perished in the fires of my rage. Would you leave the wolf to tend to the sheep?” Deicide said.
“If the wolf has eaten the shepherd, what choice do the sheep have? Redemption awaits your acceptance. True, by your hand were those who rose against you slaughtered, but, you spared the children, the weak, and the feeble. Why?” he said. Truthfully, Deicide did not know why he spared the humans of so many worlds when he had simply annihilated others on a whim countless times. Perhaps the features they shared allowed him to view them as more than thinking animals as he did so many other races. When he looked at humans, especially their children, he saw his own pups, the same curve of their cheeks covered in soft nearly invisible hair. Yes, it had been more about their appearance than genetics with him.
“If you are my allies, then why do you war with me?” Deicide said.
“Because we must make you see how much we want to live. Do not allow us to perish in the clashing of gods. In time, our descendants will come to understand your choice. Trust me, the internal wars will be savage, but we will survive, save us, and may you never lament your decision,” he said, before finally relaxing in his seat. For some time Deicide was unable to speak. Thousands of years it took to become this lurid figure known as Deicide, with his army, even just his own strength and the Abyss, there existed little he could not take by force. Yet, as happened many times in his life, he realized that it was only a single decision he made that was monumental. Somewhere within this ship, or perhaps on the other side of the great divide, there were more complex schemes at work. Even as he rose from his seat he could not help but think that he was just another machine in the array that propelled the Aeolipile forward.
“Speak of this to no one,” Deicide said. The man nodded and Deicide fled from the room. His posture was rigid when he came through the door. Two Spine tried to straighten his collar before Deicide swatted him away. Everyone else on watch was gathered around him, their eyes seemed to be begging for information. The Abyss murmured and cooed, musing only to Deicide her thoughts on the situation. Even she, a ravenous, princess warrior held back on devouring the man.
“The man is a fool,” Deicide said as plainly as he could manage. “He has no information to give, but I want him under surveillance, in case a rescue attempt is made.” Deicide tried to mask his apprehensions by flagrantly exhibiting a cheerful manner, but the Abyss divulged the man’s inner turmoil with her incessant whispering. He clapped his hands together and demanded for the entire station not on duty to take the day off. He also urged his entourage to join him for lunch. Though the meal was exquisite, Deicide had to fight down every bite.