The Fifth Chapter
What is it that I regret…? Not being the first man to scar your face, I suppose. Never shall a day pass without you recollecting your hate for him. - The last words of Gideon Gipfel.
The amorphous, black vestige that was the Abyss rippled over Deicide’s skin, causing him to shift and roll over in bed; the tiny red lights at the tips of his antennas were extinguished, the telltale sign that an Abstrusian was dead or in a deep sleep. Lacking the ability to manipulate the man’s state of consciousness mentally, the Abyss needled his feet with her oily tendrils and watched him flinch, waking up the woman who was dozing next to him. The lights in his antennas instantly came on.
Deicide turned in near darkness to find the Abyss’ enormous yellow eyes smiling back at him, like two great moons hanging in a starless night. He tossed the covers away and caught sight of the ship’s Plan of the Day displayed on the wall ahead of him. It had also begun to stream itself on his optical implants, and he cursed the redundancy before switching the wall display off with a hand gesture. Already the Amanuensis Array was sending him an endless stream of information to the Forward parts of his external mind. He became aware that he wanted to know what time it was and then it faded in briefly on his optical implants, and then disappeared. As he plodded to the bathroom, he was briefed top-secret material on the climate of the cities he would visit on his tour, not that he really needed to know any of it, the rebels’ previous assassination attempts had been humorous, and lightened the mood of these normally dull routines. It was then that his companion twisted under covers and poked her head out; it was covered in thick, tight, brown curls that framed her tan face.
“It’s early,” she said, her voice croaking. “Let me call the girls so I can get ready.”
“No need to wake them,” Deicide said quickly, for if Senandra was allowed to go, he would be flooded with requests from every civilian when he made his trips to the city platters, with no trace of doubt their desire to visit would be fueled by some racist curiosities about full-blooded humans. Besides, there was sure to be some curvy, oval-faced darling in his entourage somewhere, in a variety of shades, no less, as Hellmouth had constantly preached to him: The need for redundancies must be minimized. Deicide grinned to himself, thinking about which way Hellmouth’s lips would curl if it was mentioned how he was corrupting her edicts.
“I’m just heading to the Districts,” Deicide said.
“Oh,” Senandra said, her hurt might have snuck under Deicide’s high threshold, if not for the Abyss.
“Well make sure you eat breakfast,” Senandra said.
Deicide nodded and then returned to the bathroom. Many centuries ago he had been totally against extramarital relations or concubines, but his wife had insisted as they grew increasingly sexually incompatible. Nott’s preoccupation with work had always made her difficult to love, but at her core she had always been such a warm person, supposedly even the first time he had been her husband, if one could consider a clone the very same man, of course. He had guessed that was why she had been so adamant about shoving him into the arms of other women, perhaps she had simply gotten bored with him, and he had heard the same complaints from other long-living couples he had met in his travels. They continued to love each other, assuredly, but after several hundred years that lasting love had become increasingly platonic in nature, perhaps even maternal. Deicide shuddered to think of it, but when their journey began he was just a boy, and the hurt of losing his biological mother, rather, all of his mothers, was still a raw wound. He sighed and supposed this strange relationship was inevitable, it would seem that Nott had known what was best for him all along, in schooling and in matchmaking of surrogate lovers.
Selection of these women involved several algorithms developed by Nott, as they had to meet Deicide’s needs concerning attraction and Nott’s desires for superior genetics and temperament, which would fortify the new Abstrusian race, but many women were appalled by Deicide’s odd sleeping arrangements; there existed a very small group of women who could comfortably sleep near the Abyss, a creature that never actually slept, a vigilant, alien sentinel, always observing, judging. Even the most hardened Deathless soldiers thought it disturbing that Deicide could sleep with something that watched him tirelessly as he slept. He himself liked the idea and considered the Abyss the most important member of his entourage.
Deicide smacked his lips as he studied his image in the vanity display projecting him, removing crust from the corners of his eyes and mouth. The bathroom, as well as the rest of his estate was an example of the amount of wasted space onboard the Aeolipile. In her infancy the glorious vessel was a claustrophobic’s hell, though still quite large it had been filled with supplies and resources Nott would use to outfit the very first of their company. Its only two crew members at the time, Deicide and Nott, did not even have a berthing to sleep in, let alone a Stateroom. Presently, a Stateroom was doled out to even the freshest of boot camp graduates, with lavish condos given to junior officers and entire mansions to the heavy brass. The Aeolipile will provide was the saying onboard, of course it was only given to those that had provided for the Aeolipile.
The Abyss had twisted her shape into something cute, but still blacker than a devil’s heart roasted in hell, and shrank herself to the size of a basketball; she waddled around the bathroom with egg shaped feet, feigning an uproarious march and tooting one of the Aeolipile’s more nationalistic themes. Meanwhile, Deicide gargled with a red cleaning solution; the partially acidic solution burned away any plaque or germs as well as food particles betwixt his fangs. Then he dashed into the shower and punched in a value on the holographic menu, immediately drenching him in a cool blue liquid from all angles. He twisted and turned his limbs so that all portions of him would be covered, brown skin particles peeled away and headed toward the drains. Other options were available, deep peelings or with a stronger solution one could render himself completely hairless. He removed himself from the shower, and padded across the floor, the tile instantly absorbing the moisture dripping from his body. He palmed some shaving gel and spread it across his jaw and chin, then immediately washed it away leaving his face smooth and lubricated. The Abyss increased her mass and flew toward the man, wrapping him in her silky folds, drying him thoroughly.
He reentered the bedroom to find the lights on and his rack of uniforms extended from the wall. With a small remote in hand the clothes began to cycle through the U-shaped frame from which they hung. It had slipped his mind what he had told his staff to wear to Quarters this morning; a brief mental query to his Amanuensis array gave him the answer. The sensation of receiving a mental answer not from his own mind had just now become commonplace. He recalled how strange it had been at first, speculating on some corner of dark philosophy, when a train of thought which was not his own burst into his consciousness. He had looked upon these feminine intruders as carpetbaggers who were here to sway his authority as captain, but he eventually grew to accept their perspectives. Like the Abyss, their concerns dealt mainly with Deicide the man and not his legacy or his campaigns. Nott meant the Amanuensis as being a tool for his own self-reflection and study, not a means of boosting Deicide’s intelligence, though some thought that it did. He would never be smarter than his best Amanuensis.
He selected a dark blue officer’s uniform, his was cut to look more like a suit, already adorned with his rank insignia, correct color and length of cordons, which were ornamental loops of fabric, hung on both sides of the belt. These acted in place of formal medals, and told the story of an eater’s career. With easily discernible patterns, shapes and colors anyone onboard could read each other’s military biography with a glance. Nott had once sought to outlaw the practice, because of rivalries and cliques that had formed within the military, but the enlisted soldiers’ and Deicide’s protests had silenced the bill. He slipped on his pants and sat down on the bed as The Abyss retched up the shoes she had selected for him. Senandra rose up and lay upon his shoulders and kissed a large scar on his neck, a blow that had nearly decapitated him centuries ago.
“You don’t want anything before you go?” she said. Deicide shook his head.
Senandra squeezed him tighter. “I won’t be here when you get back. Rotation,” she said. Deicide gently freed himself, stood up and finished dressing himself.
“No. I had a good time,” he said.
Senandra made a sound that caused the Abyss to bristle. “That’s all?” she said.
“What are you getting at?” he said; the Abyss was buttoning his collar, two of her tendrils had formed themselves into gentle black hands, the rest of them were caricatures of ancients weapons, daggers, swords and rastikulas, an Abstrusian blade that resembled a giant, sharpened cricket bat.
“Aren’t I your favorite? Lady Nott had a talk with all of us,” she said, ignoring the Abyss’ overtly hostile gesture.
Deicide’s gaze went cold. “There is no woman that could replace Nott. Even the pretender god couldn’t make another,” he said.
“I know you love her. I never said I wanted to take her place. But you’ll need someone after she’s gone,” she said reaching forward; she stopped just short of touching him as each eye of the Abyss was looming over Deicide’s shoulders. The Abyss knew of the man’s weaknesses, even if he would not admit them to himself. Deicide’s face went slack and a grief he had tried so hard to hide began to force its way to the front of his mind. He tightened his lips; slipped on his coat and fled from the room, as the Abyss followed so closely she absorbed the sound of his footsteps. He cursed the woman for feeling beyond the boundaries between them; it was not her place to speak to him in such matters so frankly, at least not yet.
In fact, he was beginning to sense that everyone around him could not wait for Nott to step down, too die, he finally said to himself. He could further admit that Nott was the main reason for all of this, or more correctly her indifference to naming a successor, perhaps the Aeolipile and her entitled society within; but lately common citizens, and even ranking officials not in his staff seemed to be acting as though this elbowing and jockeying for power would not have repercussions. Why? How could an eater of the highest grade, the captain no less, be powerless to stop this? It would seem that even the Abyss had limitations in her ability to protect her darling.
Deicide thumped out of his estate, through the courtyard and into the Officer’s Plaza, its lights still dim because of the early hour, but the muted illumination bouncing from the polished floors, lit the massive space a great deal. He decided to drop by one of the enlisted mess halls on his way. Being the early hour it was mostly empty and only serving continental breakfast, Deicide did not bother with grabbing a tray. He nodded and waved to soldiers still half asleep, chucking pastries onto their trays hoping to fill their bellies before going on watch or a patrol in the Districts. The dining hall was decorated with spotless gray metal, possibly for easy clean up, Deicide could not say; he had long forgotten the mandatory galley duties of his youth.
“Hey sir! You want eggs or something?” A young culinary specialist said.
Deicide’s antennas curled closer to his head. “I’m fine, thank you,” Deicide said, wondering what kind of hold eggs had on these humans.
“Oh C’mon. How about a breakfast wrap? I know you want one,” he said.
The Abyss cooed softly. “Alright,” Deicide said, his mouth had already begun the Pavlovian response. The man put on his gloves and reached his arm into the darkness of some strange contraption. His hand came up with a steaming pocket of dough stuffed with meat, looking as delectable as if it had just been made just seconds ago. The device enabled food to be kept in the same condition as when it went in. The item Deicide held might have been made hundreds of years ago, its ingredients, greater still. Nott had applied the same process on many numbers of departments, such as ammo stowage and transport. Experimentations on living subjects had all failed, the insides of these sorry creatures unraveled and putrefied until it was no more than a black soup, similar to the Abyss.
Deicide thanked the man and walked on with his breakfast. The act of mastication was a strange thing to an eater, especially Deicide, who with his umbilical units, did not necessarily need to eat with any sort of regularity. He was constantly provided a gruel-like substance that warded off hunger and malnutrition. Eating was still very pleasurable to the soldiers, but was more psychological than an act that was bolted in absoluteness. To eat was to be social with one’s peers, to military personnel, eating alone was seen as drinking alone.
Just after leaving the mess hall the Abyss alerted Deicide that another set of eyes were on them. He whirled with his mouth full of food, finding no one, then as he turned back he nearly ran into a man who barely came up to his chin. He stepped back and scowled at the man, as he swallowed with great difficulty. He was a spy; as he was wearing the dark gray Weaver’s uniform, underneath it, a tight fitting multi-layered suit called a Skid, filled with the same oily substance the Abyss was struck from, save for its inert status. His face plate was down, as Weavers always hid their identities in public; the clandestine circumstances of their missions afforded them with knowledge which was desperately sought after. The focus of their work remained in the Districts, but there had been cases of rebel espionage that extended even into the Aeolipile’s Chiefs of Staff. This particular Weaver carried a pair of spine blades; a rarity which was completely unheard of, as one spine blade was enough for all eaters.
His reason, was that he was stricken with a birth defect that had sent his spine askew, splitting it into a ragged ‘X’ on his back, living in the impoverished ghettos of the Districts did not lend him the care he needed. This ailment crippled him before he ever began any formal education and his mother had decided to homeschool the youth. Though he lacked the full use of his left arm and right leg, his mother encouraged him to exercise, and would not allow him to stagnate inside. It was on one of his daily walks did he come upon Deicide and his entourage, wanting to get a closer look at the famed captain, he set about inching forward using the ever-present shadow within the city without daylight.
Two Spine had learned to use the darkness and shadow to avoid the more sadistic neighborhood children, those that wished more than to call him names. When Two Spine emerged within the Abyss’ kill range, the man only smiled and beckoned him to come closer, the boy still had not been noticed by his personal guard of Risk Eaters and Deathless. Deicide began to nod as he looked the boy over. He seemed to possess the natural ability of becoming ambient; Deicide doubted he would have noticed the boy without the Abyss on his back, ever watchful, ever deadly.
Deicide forcefully swallowed another bite. “Be damned, Two. What is it?” he said.
“That food production plant we’ve been eyeing?” Two Spine said. Even with his voice modulation activated, the man spoke in a breathy, hushed tone. As if rebel spies had already infiltrated the Aeolipile and were lying in wait as food service attendants.
“Go on,” Deicide said; he hesitated taking another bite, looking at his breakfast curiously. He could still remember the rebels striking through purposeful contamination, the fiends. The poison had not been enough to kill even single person, but did cause numerous people, including himself, to embarrassingly excuse themselves to their quarters.
“Cyborgs,” Two Spine said. Yes, only mechanization could put humans on par with human eaters, certainly no one with his blood, Deicide thought.
Deicide looked around and urged the smaller man to walk with him. “That was only in your District, correct?” Deicide said.
“Yes, sir. They’re pretty primitive though. They’re still using designs from their home world. They don’t have the materials to make the stuff we saw on Chalybes,” Two Spine said.
“I still don’t like the idea of having unregistered cyborgs running around. Even if they’re only using them to exploit each other, they’re still using my plants to power them. Tell your chief I’ll have it busted up immediately. And order some more Grief Givers if you have too,” Deicide said. It occurred to him that Weavers always worked in pairs; his eyes suddenly began searching for the female partner who must be watching close by.
“Sir, they’ll just cause trouble,” Two Spine said.
Deicide chuckled. “That’s what they’re for, my boy.” He said, clapping the man on the back as he glanced over to a Trash Recycling System and waved his breakfast at it. He dragged the shorter man over to it, squeezing him tightly to his chest.
“Why don’t you ever say hello, Solemn?” Deicide said. Immediately a small killbox was retracted and a female Weaver appeared crouched on top of the TRS can, her hand never far from her Spine Blade. Her pale blonde hair was cut to an even length.
“The mission only required one speaker to engage the target, sir,” Solemn said; her voice modulation made her sound like a robotic overlord.
“Engage the? Who exactly do you work for?” Deicide said.
“Even a briefing is a mission, sir,” Solemn said.
Deicide rolled his eyes. “Come down off of there. Come here,” Deicide said. When she did Deicide draped his other arm across her shoulders. Many mistook Deicide’s displays of affection to be just that, but the closer he and the Abyss were, the more they could glean from those signals pure humans and those born inside the Aeolipile, had grown accustomed to hiding. A gentle but awkward hug during a personal conversation was much less accusatory than spreading a killbox, which was tantamount to an inquisition. “Now what about that Darwin kid? War?”
“Just territorial disputes. He wants to be the sole ruler of the District,” Solemn said.
“His family is already the richest, how does that benefit him, exactly?” Deicide said.
“It doesn’t. He just wants to impress you,” Two Spine said.
“We can kill him if you wish, sir,” Solemn said plainly, the indifference Weavers displayed to making death had always disheartened Deicide, she may well been asking to remove a hair from his lapel. Knowing the depths of Weaver efficiency, poor Darwinian could already have a Spine Blade to his throat as they walked, and Weaver operatives were waiting on a particular sniff from Deicide to release him from his privileged status as a prince of the city.
Deicide waved his hands. “As long as he doesn’t hurt us, let him play. It’s just a District,” Deicide said. “Carry on.” The two Weavers seemed to blur out of physical existence, but Deicide felt them slip from beneath his armpits and leap over the railing.
Killing this prince would do nothing but restart the turf wars amongst the gangs and their Griefer officers, Deicide thought. Not that he cared that mobsters and gangbangers killed each other, but they were less precise in their attacks than a centralized power would force them to be, not that they cared either. However, civilian deaths and power input were all that Deicide cared about concerning the Districts, it was best for large forces to be seen fighting it out, blame could be assigned for blunders, people could be punished, exterminated.
Deicide continued on to the transport hanger after a hop through a few space folding gates, he stopped before he turned the corner to straighten his uniform and wipe his mouth, moving on once the Abyss chirped with approval. He put on a smile and tried to emit a pleasant aura as he emerged from the darkness and into the brightly lit hanger. He clasped his hands behind his back, pausing briefly to make certain he was in the right hanger.
“Attention on Deck,” someone said; screaming it so loud they would probably need a lozenge.
He stepped into the hangar surprised that his entourage and staff were actually standing at attention, let alone in actual ranks. Many of the Risk Eaters and Deathless soldiers apart of his personal staff had been criticized as being graceless derelicts, and in his own opinion many of them were, which, of course was the way he liked it. Numerous reports had been filed against them for excessive violence and naked threats of it. Some even went as far as suspecting Deicide of having a secret police force within the Risk Eaters, absurd because he would never pull troops of such a high profile, especially his favorites, for his own underhanded schemes, even Weavers, who specialized in clandestine activities were never abused in such a way. Still, he had people who would fit the description of such a gestapo, men with faces most could not recall, and it went against self-interest if one did recollect.
Deicide shot them all an odd glance and was saluted by the Chief Commanders of his army, their fists leaving their lips nearly in unison. He then looked back to his special division, surprised to see them all shaven, showered and in the uniform of the day. He plodded over to one of the Officers in Charge, her hair in a perfect bun, lips tight and eyes at a thousand yard stare. He continued through the ranks, coming to a grouping of his favorites. Baby Sister narrowed her eyes as he approached. Her hair, which normally had a wild and random quality about it, had been tamed back into a reddish brown bun. She leaned toward him slightly.
“Hope you’re enjoying this,” she said, through her sharpened teeth. Deicide straightened her collar, but snatched his fingers away when she snapped her jaws at him; it was just one of the hostile gestures an eater could perform, though Baby Sister meant it in jest. Dueling was common amongst the eaters, even the regular soldiers, but anyone calling out Deicide would be crushed on the spot, the lord had not been challenged for centuries and he was eager to test extreme conditions of his killbox on a living participant. He turned around to see if anyone noticed the exchange, then saw Hellmouth craning her neck as she moved between the ranks of soldiers, hand pressed firmly in her back, the woman could smell dissent and horseplay.
“I actually prefer your nappy, just-got-out-of-bed look,” Deicide said before moving on. He stopped again when he had come to another one of his veterans, Hash, a man whom he had never seen with a clean chin; he wore the same patch as Baby Sis, the throne and sleeping wolves. Deicide grinned slightly, and then brushed the man’s brown chin with his finger. The man grumbled and shifted his jaw. Deicide nodded and squeezed the man’s arm. He possessed the same temperament as his mother, who had also been a career soldier.
“I don’t know what they had to do to you to shave this,” Deicide said. His grin only grew wider when he saw the bite marks on Hash’s left ear.
“Ah, you’ve been chosen, I see,” Deicide said. “And why have I not met this young lady?”
“She just went out on deployment, sir,” Hash said. “She’s a periphery scout.”
“Scout, eh?” Deicide said, chuckling at how similar their tastes were. His mother had been a scout as well, her love nearly as mean as her hate was of the enemy. Deicide rubbed his left ear, remembering the day she had bit it, restarting this ghastly tradition. Unfortunate, that she had to become a traitor, they might have still been together, but would she tolerate the naturally birthed children, or would she devour them whole like Kronos?
“Carry on everyone,” he said. Immediately the eaters exhaled and began chatting with each other, falling out of ranks to lean against the cars in the motor pool. He removed himself from the now ragged columns of eaters and approached the front. Ichor, the Weaver Chief Commander, a Grade Three Eater, gave a knowing nod; then came to his side. His skin was old, but taut, pulled across his lean body like a leather upholstered skeleton; arms like chiseled limestone racked with vines. His teeth, like many high ranking eaters, began to take on a predatory quality and he spoke in a sort of hushed growl. Even though the man was a Weaver he had been out of the field for decades, and had no need to conceal his identity.
“Did my people speak with you?” Ichor said. Because of the man’s height, many were surprised at his career choice; most Weavers were of an unassuming stature. Even their faces were non-descript, Deicide had never seen a Weaver that he thought of as anything but plain. Ichor attempted to dip down slightly, but Deicide, who was a tall man himself, still had to crane his neck to look up at him.
“Yes. Are the vehicles ready?” Deicide said.
“They’re good to go. Are you sure you don’t want to reschedule?” Ichor said, eyes scanning the room. Weavers and Risk Eaters never seemed to look directly at the person to whom they were speaking, defense mechanism or nervous tick, it had always annoyed Deicide.
“I’ve already rescheduled twice. I have my political responsibilities,” Deicide said.
“The boy I remember training was a warrior, not a politician,” Ichor said.
“True, old friend, but he was also a naïve to the realities of the world. The people we’re meeting today are like minded, rational,” Deicide said. He playfully punched the man and then stuck his finger in the air, and made a circular motion. The signal was repeated in the form of Hellmouth’s voice and everyone hurried to their designated vehicles. Deicide hopped into a car that could only be described as a shiny, long floating-tank. Inside everyone was already seated and he crouch walked towards the back where there was an empty spot between Hellmouth and the Great White. He nodded to his political theorists Destra and Sinistra, twins of one of his recent late Admirals. Like their parents they were of a conservative sort and though they always dressed mildly, their natural beauty hindered their attempts to downplay their features.
“Nobody wants to sit with the old people, I guess,” Deicide said, falling into his seat. The Abyss had slunk to his front; she curled into a multi-eyed sphere and sat on his lap. Hellmouth cocked an eyebrow and leaned away from the creature. There were very few onboard that thought of the alien creature as anything pet-like or even remotely cute, especially after an urban legend surfaced that the vile thing was cancerous. Yet inert samples of this very same creature flowed inside the bladders of the Skids they wore beneath their uniforms; guarding them from varieties of physical attacks, including numerous calibers of ammunition.
The Apartheid Gate technicians used a one-for-one system in operating the gates; two gates could never be opened at the same time, the previous door must be closed before the next would open. It was a tiresome process, but Deicide felt Nott had put the system in place for a reason. He continued molding and prodding at the Abyss, a matching game the two played when idle. She would form a shape and then it was up to him to mold her into it again. The members of his entourage not paid to think, spoke of the new season of shows that would be broadcasted soon, celebrity rumors and other benign but thoughtless topics. Deicide thought that if he closed his eyes, he could imagine he was in a car with a group of normal, well-adjusted young adults, but Baby Sister’s shrill voice and Great White’s morbid humor would not allow him to forget that he was surrounded by passably sociopathic, war mongering scoundrels.
When they had pushed through the Apartheid Gates they were inside a sort of foyer, there were more technicians running about, dressed in orange and blue jumpsuits, waving hand signals which meant nothing to anyone but them. Then they all felt a surge of power as the space was folded between where they were, and the District which they were headed too. A gate technician with a gold helmet waved to several red hat technicians with glowing sticks. Then they began a strange dance and the caravan began to move. It always made Deicide feel rather insignificant when he came upon a subject which he knew nothing about. Even when he was fed information from his Amanuensis array it was not as sufficient as him learning it himself, it was why Nott had stressed the importance of his core curriculum at an early age. It would be embarrassing to bear the pause of mentally dialing the Amanuensis for a math equation, but fatal if he had to query the margin of error on an E.P. Rifle.
Deicide leaned over onto Hellmouth to get a better view of the city. She grinned as she remembered how excited he would get as a boy, when they would visit anywhere that was not the inside the skin of the ship. She caught the Great White looking at the two of them; a wry smile was on his face. The old eaters shared a knowing glance; neither of them had ever had any children of their own, but had always treated Deicide like a son. It was why they had continued to help Deicide in his mission to find a creature the Abstrusians called the Demiurge, Pretender god.
Hellmouth blew towards the man’s antennas and Deicide turned his head sharply, puzzled at what she was smiling at. He then turned back to the tinted window and watched the city roll by, a towering skyline backlit by rays of artificial sunlight. Every building gave off a bluish hue, which could either be some state mandate or the work of some rogue Somnus architect applying his overt and repugnant stamp. Just as well, so many great and lasting decisions had been arbitrarily chosen for these people, what more could a choice of color harm?
Many Districts were totally urbanized; as greenery, modified to grow in half-light, was only doled out to those Districts that assimilated with the rest of the ship. To achieve this, the city would have to pull together to increase productivity, lower crime rates and fight back corruption. Cities that accomplished this were seen as Edens, where even many of Deicide’s more malevolent troops were prohibited. In such a status, residents were allowed to lie on flower beds of Eve, freeing them from any fiscal responsibilities. All occupations within these artificial heavens were totally creative in nature, expression through artistic venues were highly encouraged. A complete inversion of the Fringes, populated by washed up Griefers, cyborgs and other graceless miscreants; these lands were seen as the front lawn of Hell, because once fallen from this position it would be the next stop.
Onward the caravan hovered across bridges, passed stadiums, and into the sprawling metropolis; a glimmering labyrinth of impeccably polished mirror and glass. Construction materials within the Districts were heavily restricted; everything built must be easily destructible by common means, such as explosives and rams. The rebels were constantly on the lookout to fortify their underground bunkers, which they did so with multiple layers. Though this technique was quite durable, it was nothing like an Apartheid gate, which could withstand a direct blast from an E.P. Rifle.
Roads had already been blocked off by local police and Risk Eaters; they littered the corners of every street, their faces like that of the eternal sentinel. The Risk Eaters, those people who sought to prevent chaos and destruction by severing the head before it spoke. Their unique training made them sensitive to the mood of a crowd, to assess the threat level of multiple enemies in an instant, enabling them to defend their VIP from punishing onslaughts. There existed little the Risk Eaters could not defend their target from.
They were waved through dozens of frozen intersections until they came to a heavily guarded parking garage where the symposium was being held. They all piled out, with Deicide being pushed to the side until he and the Abyss were all that remained inside the car. At first he had resented the overbearing treatment inside the Districts; Deicide had strolled around battlefields his entire life, but those encounters were with a confused enemy who had never been exposed to his methods. The rebels within the Districts were hardened by their humiliating defeat and capture. Stewing in a pot that Deicide had provided only strengthened their resolve, it was best not to taunt them by walking about carefree.
Deicide emerged from the hovering vehicle and allowed the Abyss to return as an accessory to his uniform, a cape which draped over most of his form, touching ground and spilling about on the floor around him. He joined Destra and Sinistra as they filled him on the details of those who would be approaching him, he could not afford to pause every time he wished to check figures from his Amanuensis. His entourage scanned the area once more and then fell on Deicide. They walked up a red carpeted ramp until they were in a lobby filled with hundreds of representatives from each county and even more security. A few of Deicide’s staff began to fan out, while the oldest and toughest looking Eaters remained by his side. They pushed further into the banquet hall where refreshments were being served. It was there that his group was approached by the Chief Executive of the District, President Holcrin, just one of the political figures which gave the illusion of democracy within the District.
Deicide grasped hands with the tall man, both smiled as they were photographed, but Deicide’s edged teeth and scarred face gave him a sinister quality. The Abyss also did not photograph well, even though she had formed herself into a silky cloth, the digital image would be that of a moon-eyed wraith, hugging the neck of Deicide. Of course any civilian media would have this creature edited out; even on some of the archived footage of Deicide, the Abyss was always altered to somehow be more endearing, more cartoonish, though everyone knew what she could do, and how she would do it.
“Welcome to Altura, Lord Deicide,” Holcrin said, unnerved by Hellmouth and the Great White as they loomed on either side of their captain, werewolves beside the wolf god.
“Thank you. I’m sure you’ve met Admiral Aquatilis’ daughters. And my military advisors, Shaygora Doric and Joshua Leliel,” Deicide said, very stiltedly, realizing most of his Cabinet was known to the public by their true names. He continued on, greeting, smiling and chattering with politicians whom he would never again meet, whether the District was accepted or not. All were trying to cull his favor for pet projects which had little to do the Aeolipile’s mission. Many were concerned with Nott’s famed Somnus Engineering Corps, a group of engineers at the center of all material fabrication that took place on the ship. In a state of lucid dreaming these persons guided machines to create seemingly impossible structures, entertainment, and all types of weaponry. However, the science behind some of their products had led to swift prohibition, such as atomic weapons or the more sinister, Negation Theory, which told of an apocalyptic reaction where, once begun, all matter would cease to exist in the plane it once resided. This was hyperbole of course, Deicide professed a strong distaste for Negation weapons; he knew that the reaction could be quelled; it just was never fast enough for him to consider their usage rational or reasonable.
Several hours later Deicide was touring the city, impressed by the cleanliness and modernized look of the metropolis, which spoke of the supposed harmony and uniformity within. Public trains glided silently on rails high above, weaving in and out of mirror faced skyscrapers that seemed to merge into the simulated sky. He recalled the brief time he had spent on his home world as a child, the cold grays and blues of urbanization washed in pale light; the sun strained harshly through a filter of gloomy clouds. The Abstrusian Empire had acquired a severe mistrust of nature and her cruel rational. Abstrusians had long defeated natural diseases and had extended the lives of even the most common a great deal, but the biological meddling they had conducted had left their people barren, leaving Deicide as the only true heir.
Destra and Sinistra began to pour over the latest figures from the embassy. The District of Altura had done more than enough to make themselves eligible for assimilation. Deicide regretted not having this visit much sooner, as the quick turnaround would convince more Districts to rally. Merging with the Aeolipile’s civilian population brought far more privileges than being a part of a recreational or a resort District. Somnus Engineers took special interest in these cities, turning them into something worthy of amazement.
“Crime rates at .3%. The entire District hasn’t had a murder in fifty years,” Destra said.
“Their energy input is unmatched,” Sinistra said. Deicide nodded rubbing his chin, the Abyss chirped in agreement, eliminating any need Deicide had for a poker face. Hellmouth sniffed in disapproval, she folded her arms and narrowed her eyes at the city, as if she was scanning the rooftops and windows for a suspected sniper.
“That’s some bullshit,” Hellmouth said her gold glinting in the artificial sunlight.
“It does seem a bit out there,” Great White said. Deicide’s antennas stood up high on his head surprised that his mentors’ were in agreement.
“A bit?” Hellmouth said. “In the past year alone, we’ve had more slip and fall deaths in the Engineering Department. Slip and falls, you know how rare that is with the safety codes? You mean to tell me everybody’s keeping their shit together here? Bear in mind, most of these people are the descendants of people we defeated.”
Deicide pursed his lips. “Hmm,” he said. Hellmouth tugged one of his hair-like antennas causing him to flinch in pain.
“Don’t ‘Hmm’ me, Ant,” Hellmouth said. The entire car chuckled uncomfortably.
“She’s right. There isn’t a spot in the universe where everyone gets along,” Great White said.
“Not even in this car,” Baby Sister said.
Deicide’s eyes were watery. “True,” he said.
“And we should be wary of those places that do,” Hellmouth said.
Their inspection continued at the center of Altura’s power plant structure. Every District in line with the Aeolipile’s energy array had a plant that encompassed no less than ten percent of the city, employing nearly five percent of the cities’ work force. Though many other citizens took up career’s in countless industries, they all, in some fashion aided the cities’ overall productivity. If every road led to Rome, then every drop of effort flowed back to the Aeolipile. The caravan was led into the massive plant and the exit procedure from the car was done exactly as it had been done before. Deicide was handed a white hard hat by Hash, who slapped on his own while wearing a stupid look on his face. The Abyss separated a portion of herself and mimicked the shape of the hard hat, then crawled up onto Deicide’s head; he quickly tossed his unneeded hat to a random plant employee.
Nott’s representative scientists took the lead while Deicide and the others followed behind pretending to know what was happening around them. Deicide always took his wife’s word when she began to explain the Engineering plant, after several mathematical conversions during the first and second rings he was through with trying to understand. Even his Amanuensis array could not help him as their main function was aiding him in self-reflection, helping him remember subjects he already knew or those that he could grasp quickly. In truth, having more than one consciousness inside his mind while acquiring new knowledge only degraded his understanding further, it was enough that the Abyss was there with her incessant chatter, though he was fond of her dialogue, adding the Amanuensis array and constant message traffic was like listening to several radio stations at once. It had taken many years of meditation before he could hear individually, without mentally fiddling with the dials of the firmware in his Forward mind.
They were led across catwalks that hung over reactors several miles wide. Deicide looked over the edge and into the gaping void at the reactor’s core, unsure as to how it generated any power at all. He watched as great rings spun in opposite directions inside the massive structure. As they headed through the control room Deicide laid his eyes on a fuel pipe that ran through the space. It was completely transparent and shown the black fuel flowing inside. He ran his fingers across it as he passed, to anyone other than Deicide it would be achingly cold to the touch, but to him it felt slightly below the body temperature of a human.
They arrived in front of the fuel treatment plant, where everyone except Deicide was told to don masks as a precaution. This material had been treated, but it was not yet inert. The scent of this place was like syrup laden gasoline, it turned the stomachs of those new to its odor. Deicide breathed in deep as Baby Sister groaned and threw her head back in disgust. Even Hellmouth and the Great White, who had done many of these visits showed their displeasure at the smell. The vestige material did not begin to stink until after certain chemicals had been added, the Abyss however, had no smell at all, not that anyone other than Deicide wanted to be close enough to try.
The next several weeks were filled with car rides, security sweeps and hotel stays for Deicide. He trudged around his lavish suite like a bored child; the Abyss formed herself into a stout, oily caricature of a Deathless soldier and followed Deicide throughout the hotel, the two feigning a death march. He opened the room dividers and came upon Hellmouth and Great White playing some ancient human card game, as well as the rest of his staff lounging around trading jokes and stories. Deicide sighed loudly to make his presence and his mental state known to the rest. It was said that the longer an individual’s life span the quicker they perceived time, but given the gift of eternal life from his wife’s research, Deicide’s own perception of time seemed to be frozen as that type of man he appeared, a man in his late twenties. He plopped onto an ottoman and stared up at the ceiling.
“Hey, sir, let’s watch a movie.” Baby Sister said, attempting to appease the man, before he began to brood, knowing that a bored Deicide would eventually wish to wrestle, an act that was guaranteed not only to upset Hellmouth, but the furniture, as well as the joints and muscles of those on his staff.
Deicide groaned. “I’m sick of movies,” Deicide said.
Hash threw his hand in the air. “Some ladies waitin’ down in the lobby,” he said.
“What did I say about picking up strays? If Ant wanted his toys, he should have brought them,” Hellmouth said. Some time ago it had become apparent to Deicide, that Hellmouth had not just been thinking about his security when she made such comments, what seemed to be self-hating misogyny, was actually an older women looking out for her fellow sisters, in actuality she wanted to keep as many innocent women out of his clutches as possible, benign as they were. Though he possessed the right to wantonly pluck any women up that he fancied; Hellmouth had instilled in him the concepts of consent and boundaries, causing him to discard potential lovers that seemed in any way indifferent or lacking in enthusiasm.
Deicide stood up and went over to the table where his chief commanders were playing their card game, totally uninterested in the human pastime. He put his arm around Hellmouth, squeezed into the chair she was sitting in and then placed his head on her right shoulder, sniffing at the barely detectable traces of perfume she wore. He had always wondered who she kept as a lover, her rank and the fact that she was a woman, no doubt made her cautious about her private life, though it mattered little to anyone, but Hellmouth was from a time where women were judged for irrelevant criteria concerning their work, and it seemed she had held on to this archaic prudence. Still, he was curious, and he hoped his old girl was happy.
Hellmouth gave a sidelong glance at Deicide resting on her shoulder, and then placed down her card. She continued to adjust the cards in her hand and was soon unable to resist affection from the man should could only think of as a boy, and leaned her head so that it was touching his.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Hellmouth said without looking at him.
Deicide lifted his head up. “But I heard they had this wonderful singer-" Deicide said.
“No. If it wasn’t in the itinerary, we can’t go. Nott’s orders,” Hellmouth said.
“Nott? I’m the captain,” Deicide said.
“Of course you are. You’re such a cute captain too,” Hellmouth said, digging her finger into his cheek. Deicide huffed and looked to the Great White for some support, only for the man to shrug him away.
“Don’t pout. This is why you pay us,” Hellmouth said.
“I pay you to crush my enemies, not hold me hostage,” Deicide said.
“Lady Nott pays us to hold you hostage,” Baby Sister said.
“What were the lectures for, the training? All those pushups and flutter kicks...?” Deicide said, recalling his younger years spent under the supervision of Hellmouth, Great White and Ichor. It had been their job to make the eater program become reality, more than a pet theory. It had not been until he became a man did he realize how they could love him, yet push him near the borders of madness; they had grasp the importance of the mission long before he had.
“Children need structure,” Hellmouth said. “And we were fighting conventional enemies back then. Strength alone won’t save you from terrorism.”
The woman was right, Deicide thought as he glanced at the fanatics in the corner; different from the normal ranks of Deathless and Risk Eaters; these eaters had no lives at all; they socialized little, even amongst themselves. They were a twisted combination of every type of eater that existed. They possessed the self-righteousness and sense of duty of the Risk Eaters, the single-mindedness and indifference to pain, displayed by the Deathless, and the cold precision and willingness to do harm in exchange for good, as a Weaver would.
They treated their mission as a religion, and Deicide and the Aeolipile were its idols. They carried necklaces which contained instructions of how to revive Deicide if he should ever fall, even if his body were to be completely eradicated. The amulets also contained a select portion of his memories, though incomplete, they would be enough for Deicide to rebuild the machines which would rebuild the Aeolipile. The Abstrusians had made sure Deicide would be immortal, but even Deicide was not so sure. He being a clone himself, and from the archived memories of this man, he could see that Antino Elias Myann I and the child soldier that had become the Deicide, were completely different men. Their eyes were the same, but the feelings behind them were nothing alike.
Deicide rose and went over to the display window and changed the scenery to a prison scheme, then shuffled back to his room. He fell onto his bed, while the Abyss chirped and cooed all around him before settling down next to him in the shape of a giant black teddy bear, attempting to cuddle next to him with stubby round nubs. Deicide angrily tried to push her and her condescension away before finally giving up with a sigh and slacked limbs. She giggled at his annoyed consent, which was always inevitable. He turned so that his back was to her and then loosened his collar, before drifting off to sleep.
He woke to dozens of people milling around him in the dark. The security shutters had covered the windows and the emergency lights were warming up. He squinted in the darkness for a few moments before his nanomachine implants did their work, allowing him to see in the dark, and then it was like day to him once the security lights came on. The cloth uniforms of his staff were off and their normally gray Skids had gone black, filled with inert, vestige material. Baby Sister was directly in front of him, silently motioning for him to follow her.
It surprised him how mature and fearsome Baby Sister had gotten without his knowing, he could still remember her and her other eleven siblings playing in his office as children. The smallest of the Ruthasurg clan had become a woman, being from a family of loyal killers she had become one herself. So Deicide only nodded and followed the woman’s direction as she escorted him to the other side of the building, he had no reason to worry, Nott made sure he was surrounded by those that had quicker tempers than his own. They crept to the back entrance of the suite where Hellmouth and the Great White were crouched at the door waiting, listening to information being passed over their network by units below. Then they nodded and grabbed hold of Deicide, rushing from the room. Eaters were already in the hall, their black Spine Blades out, held firmly, even the pommels of these blades was lined with vestige, one did not let go of a Spine Blade until it allowed you to.
The group moved down the hall silently, slightly touching so that they could communicate through their subtle movements. It was a latent trait that all social creatures seem to possess, but it had been heightened in eaters through repetition and time spent amongst their brothers and sisters. There were even those like the Weavers that had warped this trait into an almost telepathic power, it was said that an active Weaver pair were closer than lifetime lovers, or even twins. Nott had admitted, when the program was in its infancy, that having such a relationship with anyone or anything was unhealthy, that everyone must be allowed to have their secrets, everyone except Deicide. If he was as transparent to his lesser, then perhaps the resistance was gaining ground, he hoped that he was awakened for an actual cause.
Through the hall they went without any trouble, until they saw the body of a Risk Eater torn in half in the stairwell. The ruined remains of his brain were leaking though the top of his face plate. Hellmouth nodded to Great White and they moved to the front of the formation. The silent eater fanatics clustered around Deicide. As they shuffled down a few more stairs a fist crashed through the wall, dust and grit obscured its owner momentarily. Hellmouth shoved her Spine Blade through the mechanics of the cybernetic arm and dragged the rest through, widening the hole. She repeatedly slammed the cyborg’s head against the metal railing, before it eventually recovered and then they were both sent rolling down the stairs. The Great White caught the submachine gun that was being raised from the darkness of the newly created hole. The gunman impotently spent the magazine into the floor as his throat was torn out by White’s jaws. Deicide smirked, he had not seen the Great White in action for some time, and it was good to know he was still a shark god.
Baby Sister and Hash followed from the rear, while the elder eaters slaughtered the cyborgs with a hate that was only reserved for rebel combatants. Eaters thought little of rebels who had failed to recognize their place in the chain of power, they had nothing, owned nothing, that had not been given or stolen from Deicide, and what parent would allow their child’s toy chest to be pilfered? Hellmouth and White saw no better way to pay tribute to their little prince than with the blood of his enemies. Their black spine blades tore through the simulated flesh and metal skeletons like a needle through a swath of fabric. Coolant and blood speckled the walls in the eerie glow of the emergency lights.
Once in the garage, Deicide was hurried through ragged columns of hard faced soldiers extending to the caravan of armored vehicles. Deicide’s uniform was smeared with blood and brains that were not his own, and the Abyss had begun to extract bits of it through pores in her strange flesh, not for any sort of cleanliness, but a light snack. She attempted to feed Deicide some of those gray morsels, holding it in two of her tendrils which had become delicate, womanly hands. Deicide shoved it away, as well as her hand that was caressing his head and twirling his antennas. Not that Deicide had never tasted the flesh or blood of another, nor was he embarrassed to be seen doing so in front of his soldiers, only irked at the Abyss’ perverse mixture of violence, sensuality, and cannibalism. Even on their first meeting as children, when Deicide had witnessed her true form, she had been naked, save for the blood covering her tiny frame, atop the corpses of an army, whose innards she was scarfing with delight.
The rest of Deicide’s camp had reemerged amongst the cliques of those guarding politicians and socialites of the Districts; Hellmouth and the Great White dragged themselves out of the darkness of the stairwell. Their Skids were covered in blood and coolant fluid, Deicide watched as they wiped blood from their sneering lips. He looked around at everyone’s graven faces, the twins, Destra and Sinistra looked more angry than rattled, they had seen more than few assassination attempts. The civilian children of an eater still held their parent’s qualities in some form, though latent and dull.
Deicide had become annoyed that the Abyss had wrapped him entirely except his eyes; Deicide pulled the Abyss away from the bottom of his face as he approached the twins. She still loomed over him, creating a hooded, black cloak.
“President Holcrin was assassinated,” Destra said. “There was a message: Puppets corrupt the word of the wolf god. Speak to us no longer through your figureheads, and your bastard princes and princesses can never defeat us all. Our quarrel is not with you rightful eater, but with fate. Heed the words of the Queen and we will war no longer. Ignore us, and those of us that have bred into your family will destroy you from within.” The twins gave a quick glance to each other before looking at Deicide, their minds working backward to uncover any radicalism they had seen within the ranks.
Deicide’s face began to mimic the twins’, he too was wondering who amongst them could possibly be a traitor, those humans taken from the dredges of the Districts had been screened thoroughly and carefully monitored. Those positions that held any real power were held by plank owners, and children of those who had been a part of the Aeolipile’s original crew and that of his military. Nearly a third of Deicide’s officers were his own children, or grandchildren, through Nott’s revival program or natural birth. No, this threat was meant only to distract; if they had no qualms with Deicide, then what could they possibly be after?
When a quick muster had taken place, Hellmouth gave the signal to move out, but before everyone could pile in the vehicles an explosion went off underneath them, sending the cars into a long free-fall. With nothing for the Abyss to grasp onto the car slammed hard into the ground below, cracking the chassis in half. The cars slammed into the maintenance decks below. Deicide burst from the car, using the sovereignty of his killbox to peel back the now twisted armored vehicle. There was dark blood all around, screams and violent fits of coughing stuffed his ears. Heavy machine gun fire laced its way across the scene, a flaming tongue licked rapidly from the barrel, its wielder only illuminated in sputters; Deicide barely flinched as the large caliber bullets were absorbed by the Abyss. A cyborg emerged only to have his cycling innards torn out by Deicide’s bare hand; it collapsed in a haze of ozone. Many more broke through the dust and smoke; their focus only seemed to be aimed at Deicide. The Abyss found her way to their spines and instantly deboned them like fish. In the madness surrounding this bedlam, Deicide thought he heard Hellmouth shouting something from above.
“Get-" she said. Then Deicide felt the most intense physical pressure of his life, as if the pretender god were reaching into him to take back the soul which he had loaned him. He watched as a shell of an enormous size had breached through the Abyss’ black dome which did nothing to shield him and soared into his killbox, he was unable to control the object, as it seemed to be warping reality itself, passing through multiple dimensions to slow systems used to track and defend against it; an E.P. Rifle. Deicide’s body was nearly cleaved in half and he was sent whirling before crashing into the wall behind, immediately he was unconscious and the cyborgs swarmed his battered body.
When Deicide was woken by the pain and the violent jostling, he was being carried by a group of rebel cyborgs, he struggled to move, but his body needed a few more moments to repair itself, then he would have his revenge. The tunnel they were running down was barely lit, covered in mildew and grime; cables that had probably been hung thousands of years ago were still clamped neatly in their brackets. He waited impatiently as he watched his muscles sew themselves back around his bones. The round had missed his head, but had struck his umbilical units that connected to the base of his spine, it would grow back, but it was taking far too long, he was paralyzed until it had. The Abyss was the size of a small dog; her mass was only an inkling of what she once was. She had used nearly all of her girth to halt the negation reaction the shell had begun. She had recovered some from the pure vestige leaking from Deicide’s umbilicals, but had to maintain most at their severed tips to stop the man from bleeding out. The umbilicals, now severed from their connection with the life support systems, were now major arteries that could not be closed on their own.
The Abyss scurried under what was left of his uniform top, knowing she was unable to aid him. Deicide could feel a burning sensation in his limbs again, letting him know that his body was almost whole. He heard someone screaming ‘Ant’ and he yelled back, causing the cyborgs to quicken their pace. Hellmouth, enraged at the loss of her pup, would no doubt be leading this murderous charge. He knew it would only take his eaters a moment to sprint to their position, even the lightest of cyborgs would lose to one of Deicide’s enhanced eaters in a foot race. When he had regained control of his limbs he spun just as the cyborgs hurled him into a tunnel running perpendicular to the one they were in, but instead of hitting some type of floor after an endless moment, Deicide continued falling into the darkness.