The Sixteenth Chapter
It hurts me to set my gaze upon her, the beauty wets my eyes. I am looking at her as I walk backward into the shadowy arms of my first lover. I am sure, as the gap widens between us, that this woman could love me if I spoke my heart. Yet, I remain silent. In the recesses of my mind I have already kissed her, walked hand in hand on the deserted beaches of my home world. I have made love to her and consoled her every worry, but, I have also told her goodbye, forever. - Last journal entry of Antino Elias Myann I
Fawn squirmed around in the black recliner, which moments before had been extremely comfortable, but somehow the space seemed less inviting now. The ever-staring eyes of the Abyss, though high above, were crowding her, passing judgment. She began to calculate her odds of leaving this room alive, wondering if Alpha knew what was happening, and if he had enough influence with the noble to stop this execution. She promised herself she would give him no satisfaction by screaming or crying, having already dodged the deceivingly hot clutches of death so many times before; she felt this ending was probably appropriate. She looked up to meet Deicide’s eyes gazing back at her, finding no malevolence in them. To Fawn he looked nothing like the man she saw hours ago, she had prepared herself to be sexually assaulted, ravaged by him and the black tentacles of that alien monster, but now he looked as though he was about to tell her she had an inoperable cancer.
Deicide sat on the desk that was facing her. “Did you ever meet my wife?” Deicide said.
“The egg thief?” Fawn said. “Yeah, I met her.”
“Did she tell you why?” Deicide said. “But I suppose it doesn’t even matter why, I’m sorry.” She could see that there was hurt in his eyes, but not from anything related to her.
“I really don’t know if I’m supposed to forgive you for something like that,” Fawn said. “Is there a reason for any of this talk?” Fawn said.
“The Abyss wanted to devour you,” Deicide said. “But she has reservations about harming the family.”
“Oh, is that what I am to you now?” Fawn said. She wondered how they would look, those children that grew from the eggs they had stolen from her, and then, why should she care, but she did. She hoped they would be better people than her, kinder, wiser, and gentler, if that was even possible from the stock which they came from, but there was something soft in this man, a part within him that the Abyss protected most of all, perhaps he had given it to a few of his other children as well as Rodela, and maybe that was why he favored her so much.
Deicide sighed and then nodded. “Yes,” he said. “If humans can believe they remain one race after all the mutations, then yes.”
“I don’t want any part of this,” Fawn said. “And neither would Alpha if he was paying any attention.”
“Even if I could return something you had lost?” Deicide said. “As payment for your genetic material.”
Fawn’s lips parted slightly and she began to shake her head slowly. “What…what do you mean?” she said.
“Come,” Deicide said; she followed him down a dark stairwell which opened to a dimly lit gallery much larger than the library it was attached to. It was filled with enormous tapestries and hand painted frescos, depicting great battles. Columns of massive stone statues lined the center of the space, heroic faces of men and women, defiant, haughty, all in triumphant poses, eternally cast in the role of hallowed knights and martyred warriors. In front of each piece was a tome holding an individual’s biography or the history which led up to the battle displayed, below this was the subject’s dying words. Fawn watched as he walked ahead of her with strangely renewed good spirits, addressing the statutes by pet names, tickling their feet; as if he were amongst friends. Fawn imagined their deaths being extraordinarily bloody and exceedingly public, with her assumptions being confirmed as she browsed a few of the biographies, filled with large color photographs.
“Gideon Gipfel. The judge who wanted me charged for war crimes because I aided the armies of his enemies,” Deicide said.
“Did he?” Fawn said, scanning for a more interesting profile.
“Yes. I served a single day of the sentence, to enlist some new soldiers, of course. Then Ichor rescued me. I was just a pup then, and the Abyss was just a shadow,” Deicide said; arms clasped behind his back.
“That’s it? You just left?” Fawn said.
“Oh no. We headed to his palace, right after that, marched the staff of his whole estate into the Aeolipile as he watched from the courtyard. Then I sawed his head off with a breadknife, after I told him I was going to ravish his daughters,” Deicide said. Fawn continued to keep her distance as she carefully moved through the statues.
“Classy,” Fawn said.
“I never touched them. If you read the military handbook, you would know we frown on such things,” Deicide said.
“And how does that make you any less of a murderer?” Fawn said. Deicide appeared before her in an instant.
“It doesn’t, but aren’t you a little less nervous?” Deicide said. Fawn shrugged and moved on, somehow relieved that her children would not grow up in a society where consent was optional.
“Black Brian. He was like you and your brother, an Intrinsic. He could generate power just from the food he ate,” Deicide said.
“Which was?” Fawn said.
“People,” Deicide said. Fawn turned away to face another statue located on a circular dais toward the room’s center. “And you’ve never had the urge?”
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Fawn said.
Deicide shrugged. “I’ll drop it then,” Deicide said.
“Who’s are these? The nameplates are all blank,” Fawn said. She watched Deicide’s mood dampen.
“One of the Lionesses, Ecocide the World Eater,” Deicide said. “As well as her sisters, Genocide and Vivicide.”
“Damn, does she really look like that? She looks like a badass bitch,” Fawn said.
“She is. She fears nothing, except maybe that I’ll go on living. I received these from her,” Deicide said, as he gestured to the three diagonal scars across his face.
“But they aren’t finished,” Fawn said.
“They aren’t dead,” Deicide said, pausing. “I’m showing you this because if you fail to heed my warning you’ll be going right here,” he said; pointing to the very center, there was a platform, but no statue. Fawn made her way over to Deicide and gazed at how large the foundation was. This was obviously the center piece to his museum of heroes; the stone he had chosen for the foundation was twinkling in the soft light from above. She hopped up on the circular slab and swung her feet.
“I hope you realize you’re sitting on your own grave,” Deicide said.
“And how would you know?” Fawn said.
“This hall is filled with people who were just like you,” Deicide said. “Those gifted individuals that rise to the top of every society. That’s how your world works, isn’t it? The naturally superior monkeys rule the stupid and the weak?”
“Isn’t that how every world works?” Fawn said.
“No. Not my world,” Deicide said.
“Aren’t you the god of all eaters?” Fawn said.
“Only because I was the first,” Deicide said. “Time is only a friend to the eater.”
“Enough. What does this have to do with what I’ve lost,” Fawn said.
“The privileged on this ship only die because they choose too,” Deicide said. “Or I allow them.”
Fawn clenched her fists. “Just…just say it,” Fawn said.
The Abyss rose up from behind Deicide, and then placed herself before Fawn. Countless voices were heard from behind her maw and then she wretched up black mannequins, which twisted and jerked themselves into a standing position. The vestige dripped away to reveal the tormented faces of Hirsch and Doe Dearborne, their name tags and badges still attached to the lapels of their shop coats.
“It was you?” Fawn said. “I saw the Fossas’ ship-“
“It must have been empty, the station was scheduled to be scrapped in a matter of hours,” Deicide said.
“Where are they?” Fawn said. “Why haven’t I seen them? Or my little brother?”
“Sleeping, all of them,” Deicide said.
“Asleep?” Fawn said.
“A gifted engineer and a gunsmith, my wife would not allow any of that to go to waste,” Deicide said. “They were sent to the Somnus Engineering Corps.”
“Well? Wake them up,” Fawn said.
“If it was that simple to bring someone out of a vestige coma, then everyone would be a dreamer,” Deicide said. “Just know that they are alive, and I have them.”
“What is it you want from me?” Fawn said.
“To not war with me,” Deicide said. “But I know you can’t ignore this. Somewhere inside you there is a voice that’s telling you what you’re beginning to believe is the right thing. My wife told me this feeling was normal. Most of the time, when conditions are livable, it can be ignored, this is also normal. Those who were unable to suppress it, end up here. If you’re lucky you’ll end up as one of these lovely statues, or somewhere on my wall.”
Fawn gripped the corner of the slab she was sitting on. “I’ve never met a man who could put fear in my heart,” Fawn said.
Deicide turned so he could face her squarely; he exhaled a cold breath as his antennas lightly probed her face, she could feel the heat from the tiny red lights at their tips. Fawn watched as the Abyss flared behind him, reaching around with her black tentacles to intimidate her. Fawn held herself firm, not allowing a single eyebrow to betray her; she was a wolf maiden and he was a lonely stray that happened to come across her in the forest. Her eyes never left his, even as he closed the gap between them. She was ready to lash out with all the strength her body could manage, even if it was in vain, she would show this beast her warrior’s pride.
Now that the Abyss was closer she could hear the whispers that many other soldiers had mentioned, at first she thought she heard children, but they were the giddy voices of women. This wild cross talk was hard to follow and Fawn could only determine that it was gossip. Fawn was stewing behind her steady eyes, how could this creature know what it did? It knew about the cute Risk Eater cadet she was hoping would notice her; that her anger stemmed from her disgust with the wars she forced to take part in, even the heaviness of her menstrual cycle. She could feel that the Abyss’ eyes saw through her mask, even if Deicide did not.
“The Abyss wants to force you through a series of progressively smaller holes,” Deicide said.
“Does she make all your decisions?” Fawn said.
“When their outcomes are trivial,” Deicide said.
“If you don’t want me to fight for you, then what do you want?” Fawn said.
Deicide gently took both of her hands in his; it was then that she noticed his sharp fingers. Fawn lowered her chin, in case the man grabbed for her throat, but as she saw the pleading look in his eyes she doubted he would. He desperately wanted something from her and Fawn was sure that she could never give it. She would rather kill herself than live as some man’s concubine. He could never have her, no matter what he offered.
“Your brother’s one of my finest Risk Eaters. My people’s families are always cared for. Nothing you desire will be kept out of your reach,” Deicide said.
“In exchange for what?” Fawn said. “Be happy in our little fishbowl? What if I want to feel the sun on my face, wind in my hair?”
“There are worse alternatives,” Deicide said.
“I’ve heard. Is that how you deal with people who don’t agree with you, shove them in those ghettos?” Fawn said.
Deicide lifted her chin with thumb and forefinger. “I would never do that to the sibling of one of my people. Besides, why waste such beauty? There should be more faces like yours around,” Deicide said.
Fawn snatched her face away from his grip. “Your monster showed me some puppets in my parents’ image,” Fawn said.
“Nature has made you pretty and strong, but I have mastered Nature. A person who has been handed the tools for success will never beat me,” Deicide said.
“Then why fear me if you have all the cards,” Fawn said.
“For my children,” Deicide said. “Our children.” And then Deicide began to spread his killbox.
“To hell with you and your fucking magic,” Fawn said.
Deicide jerked his head back. “I admire the gutsy attitude of your family, but after you’ve pissed and shit yourself and your eyes are bulging out your skull because I’m squeezing the life out you, your death won’t be any less pathetic when they factor in your bravery. Your brother won’t be comforted because you were strong until the end. You’ll just be another mindless voice in the Abyss,” Deicide said, dropping her hands.
Fawn held her stare for another moment before she slid off of the stone slab; her fists were tight as she passed through the subtle killbox Deicide had spread. She could feel the Abyss behind, mocking her retreat. She wondered, if that was all the Abyss was, just the mindless ghosts of people that had fallen by his hand. She felt weak, as if Deicide had somehow drained her energy through touch. Her brow was moist with a cold sweat and her lunch was churning violently through her intestines. With every step her foot wavered before it hit the floor and she began to wonder if she had been drugged.
The doors to the library slid open and she was faced with Rodela, from behind them, Deicide waved her away. Fawn turned down Rodela’s offer to help her back to her room; she believed the young soldier was a genuinely kind woman, but there was an unmistakable scent on her that she doubted would ever come off. The smell offended her and made her sick even after she had been on board for several months, it seemed to be everywhere, but stronger around people closest to Deicide. She lacked the patience to deal with it at the moment. Fawn retreated to her room and fell into her rack, wondering what was to happen now. She thought of escaping, but this place was always buzzing with activity, and her face was bound to end up on the corner of every display and terminal within the next few minutes. As her mind raced and her pulse quickened Alpha burst in with a bewildered look on his face.
“You fucked up!” Alpha said, as he dropped himself down in a chair in the corner.
“What am I looking at?” Fawn said.
“The best thing that can happen is they send you to a decent District filled with Arbaronians,” Alpha said.
“Or they kill me?” Fawn said.
“I don’t think they will, but motherfuckers have been killed for less. I’m not gonna let them kill you. You’re my blood,” Alpha said.
“I’m not afraid of dying, Alfie,” Fawn said.
“What the fuck are you talking about? You’re not dying. We just have to go plead our case to Legal department, then dash over to Mental Health. Tell them about Mom and Dad, that you’ve got anxiety about-” Alpha said.
“Alfie!” Fawn said.
“What?” Alpha said.
“I can’t,” Fawn said.
“What about Mom, Dad and Buck?” Alpha said.
Fawn threw her hands into the air. “I can’t be here. I can’t do this,” Fawn said. “And if they could wake them up, wouldn’t they have done so already?”
“I…I never really thought about that,” Alpha said. “To tell the truth, I never think about it at all. I just do what our family has always done.
“We never enslaved people,” Fawn said.
“But we’ve always killed them,” Alpha said. “You’ll get over it. I did. The people at the bottom want to be there. They don’t care about rules, or the future. They just want to be taken care of. Who cares how they live?” Alpha said.
She could hardly believe those words had come from his mouth, he sounded more callous than Deicide and this time the words were his own. He was one of them; he had thrown away his ideals in order to hold these wicked beliefs closer to his chest. The wars they had witnessed had been different for the both of them; they fought for their own agency, for their country’s sovereignty. Now Alpha cared for nothing except his own comfort, the misery he caused enabled him to own more things. If he snuffed out the rebels in his county he was sure to be promoted and given an estate. It was then that she realized that the Aeolipile’s main function as a machine was to transfer agency back to Deicide, for what, she did not know, but she knew that the only way to free these people would be to break down their toxic culture.
They could hear a crowd forming on the plaza; Fawn looked to Alpha and then moved to the door. It slid open to reveal a group of Sicariis, the hard-faced extremists that looked at Deicide like a living god. They had no name tapes on their uniforms, but from their faces she could see that these were the soldiers that very few ever saw regularly, Deicide’s secret police. Recruited from a pool of the secular believers, these personnel very rarely circulated in the general population onboard the Aeolipile unless on official business. Their veins were black from the vestige in their systems, faces scarred from thousands of confrontations with Deicide’s enemies. They wore no Skids, their skins and muscles hardened from the toxic chemicals consuming their flesh. It was said, that when one had absorbed enough untreated vestige material that they could never refuse an order from Deicide, their minds were imprisoned by his words.
Fawn thought about fighting, she was sure she could catch two of them off guard, but even if she escaped there was sure to be hundreds of other idle soldiers waiting outside.
“Come with us,” one said, black smoke spilling over his teeth. Fawn could smell the sickening odor once more. Her head hung low as she swallowed the saliva gushing into her mouth. She closed her eyes and belched, hoping her stomach would settle if she took deep breathes.
“You too Lieutenant,” another said. They walked with the nameless men out into the plaza, through the crowd of questioning onlookers. Fawn only saw faces filled with pity staring back at her as she walked in the center of the men, Alpha whispered advice on what might happen next, but Fawn was focused on keeping her stomach from turning inside out. They took a Gate into a hanger filled with ships and maintenance personnel running about and then out into a dark passageway. Fawn strained her eyes in the tricky lighting, thinking she could see the Toy Box at the feet of a dark figure. As the darkness began to waft around the passageway, she knew it was Deicide and the Abyss. As they approached the smell grew unbearably stronger and Fawn wretched several times before emptying the contents of her stomach. A thick gray paste surged from her throat and clung to the wall, she had no memory of eating anything even close to its texture. She spit what had not made its way out of her mouth and glanced up at Deicide, who was only a few inches from her. He seemed concerned, but Fawn thought it was because she had just puked into a communications box.
Deicide gestured to the open door. “This planet is occupied by your allies,” Deicide said. Fawn looked to her things in front of him and then to the glowing red tips of his antennas.
“Why?” Fawn said. “Just kill me and be done with it.”
“Destroying life is not as easy as you believe,” Deicide said, reaching out to touch her, but stopped short. “Even those that you know would slash your throat if given the chance.”
Fawn spit once more and stood up straight, feeling slightly better now that the slop was out of her system. She noticed the three of them were alone; the nameless soldiers had slipped away without her notice, even then she was still guarded, her eyes constantly checked Deicide’s shoulders, watching the Abyss watch her. She tossed a quick glance to her brother who was standing completely still, probably thinking that Deicide would not notice him if he did so. The hold Deicide had on some of his soldiers seemed almost godly; only the most outspoken of them were not cowed in his presence. She knew now that those soldiers who were grossly familiar with the Eater were his blood, all of them brown, beige, and yellow, freckled, wide-eyed or narrow, no matter their mother, they all had his cynical smirk, though none of them possessed the sad look of his eyes.
“Alfie?” Fawn said, looking toward her brother. He avoided her gaze, and instead looked to the ground and then to Deicide.
“We have to stay together,” Fawn said. Alpha said nothing. “Alpha! We’ll be alright, you don’t need this.”
“Soon there will be no place where the Aeolipile is not,” Deicide said.
“Fawn, I can’t go. I’m sorry,” Alpha said, before he turned away.
“You condone this? You allow a man to turn his back on his sister? On his blood?” Fawn said.
“Alpha proposed I keep you here against your will, because he thought that I would execute you otherwise,” Deicide said. “It is you who is abandoning him. Do you really believe that you’ll survive another Deathless rush?”
“I’ve survived worse,” Fawn said.
“Only because we were looking for you,” Deicide said. Fawn took a deep breath and her eyes found their way to the portal that was being activated in place of the door. Deicide grabbed her gear, as well as some supplementary survival equipment.
“You’ve been lucky your entire life, until I became aware of your existence,” Deicide said, tossing the Toy Box and her gear through the portal. “Now you live in a fragile shell made of my patience.”
Deicide grabbed both of her arms and pulled her close. “Pray that it holds.” He said, as he shoved her through the portal and into the darkness.