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|We meet our two final major players as the circle of hours begins anew.||
At First Sight IV: Zero-Fourteen
Ahrakis was nervous. She knew it wasn't all that common, but she loved the night. As a child, her brother had always stormed and growled when it came time for bed. Even at that age she welcomed it. What better time, at the edge of sleep and with a full day completed, to truly relax and reflect back on everything that happened that day. It wasn't the same though. The night was warm and she had set the air conditioner as cool as it would go, but she still wrapped her blanket tight. The clock next to her bed glowed 23:47 in bright green.
If she wasn't so scared she would have laughed. She spent all night worrying about what made her father so upset. She just wouldn't rest until she knew. Knowing only made it worse. Not that she was really sure she could have expected any other reaction. If her father was frightened by something, how could she feel any better about it? And Revenon was just the most pressing concern, if the most remote. On most nights it would be bad enough torturing herself, wondering how that stupid speech had gone. Now there was the thing with Ulbrecht, whatever it was, and bringing him to see her parents. She could only begin to wonder how Taurisin would react to him. Taurisin! She hadn't seen her brother all night, had seen him last before morning classes in the cafeteria. What had happened, why hadn't he shown up? Mother would be so worried and… Shut up and go to sleep already! Worrying about it would only make things worse, but she couldn't help it. She sighed, and rolled over. She readjusted her head and neck on her pillows, trying to get comfortable. Ahrakis would be happy to get any sleep at all.
He checked his watch again. It still said the same thing, 23:52. He sighed. Taurisin had known he would be late, he had no idea it would be this late. In his defence, it didn't seem nearly so late. But then, spending the whole night running for your life will do that to you. He pulled the stick from his mouth, and felt the smoke down his throat, through his lungs and out his nose. Taurisin knew it probably wasn't good for him, and knew everyone around would just love to point it out to him. It was worth it though, the taste of a good cigar was so sweet, and besides what could Father ever say to him, he smoked way more than Taurisin ever would. And he needed something to steady his nerves. He knew they wouldn't believe him, but it didn't matter. He knew it was true, and he had to at least tell them.
Taurisin sat on the step. It was so simple, he refused to believe there was anyone who couldn't do it. One moment, he was sitting on the sofa in front of viewing screen, the next on the back steps of his family's ancestral manor. The stair was cold and carved out of stone. Shoots of ivy climbed up at sides, the green offshoots of the walls. His back was to the manor proper, and he faced an ornate fountain, some hero or other spraying water out of his mouth. A pretty thing. That was a decent description for the whole place he guessed. He really hated it. No point worrying about it now.
He walked slowly up the stairs, breathing deep. Oh man, Ahri'd love this "Oh Taurisin I told you what they'd do, you can't even breathe anymore!" He of course would have just smiled in response and introduced the fact of his running. And just how much every muscle in his legs ached. It really had been a long night. A damn fun night. As the stairs ascended towards the walls enclosing the gardens at the back of the manor, they turned to the right. Looking up towards the large wooden back door, Taurisin saw a shape. A shadow stood right at the top of the stairs. He scratched the stubble of his chin, and furrowed his brow. Surely by now the party had wound down. It was only the first night, and many would not have arrived yet. Still, raising his voice would only cost him a sensation of silliness if he received no answer, so Taurisin decided to speak. "Hey, anyone there? Awful late you know."
"Wha?" It wasn't much of a reply, but it did the job. Taurisin now knew he wasn't alone, though he wasn't certain how clearly his new interlocutor shared this awareness. The other moved towards the sound of Taurisin's voice- first marked by a growing shadow until their form was perfectly visible. By the light of the evening star and florescence, Taurisin saw a vaguely familiar shape. He looked around Taurisin's own age, with distinct blonde hair and blue eyes. One of the Moonblades… but which one? Why's he here? It took him a few seconds of silent watching, and of putting his thoughts together. By the time he was ready, Taurisin was the second to speak. "Taurisin, is that you? What are you doing here…"
Taurisin knew it, the voice of Ulbrecht. "Dude, it's my home. I'd say the same, only with an 'out so late.' in there somewhere. Probably near the end. Is it still going on, did Dad find a secret stash of Dragontears or something?"
His mother had always tried to teach him that interrupting others was rude. Taurisin certainly did disagree… but damn it's funny, one of the brightest minds of our Academic times and he got nothing to say. Taurisin was sure Ulbrecht would understand. While they didn't spend a lot of time together, they'd always gotten along decently, and Taurisin had no trouble calling him a friend. Besides, he mulled, what better chance will I have to prove if the rumours are true or not? "Sorry, you're right. I'm just here for the party, I drove your sister here and…"
Taurisin decided the most mature and reasoned response was a quick laugh. It helped he found Ulbrecht's awkwardness hilarious. For a guy so known for his ability to remain calm, he was bombing. And Taurisin had his answer. "I hope you didn't tell my Dad. Very protective of his kids you see."
Ulbrecht seemed confused. At least Taurisin assumed that's why his face contorted. "I don't understan.." and suddenly his face turned bright red. Taurisin grinned, and it grew. He tried to hold in the laughter. He really did like Ulbrecht. He soon failed, provoked by Ulbrecht's own. It was the long lasting, driven to his knees laughter, and he was delighted for once someone shared one of his jokes. When it was finally over, for Ulbrecht at least, he shook his head with a grin. "Taurisin, you're a jerk sometimes."
Just go to sleep already…She knew it wouldn’t help, and that the constant cry of mental protest only served to further root her in wakefulness. Her eyes burned, brimming with salty liquid and her head ached. Only aware of how tired she was, how late and how much she wanted to sleep, she lied at the brink of restlessness. The closer she came to sleep the further it seemed, she couldn’t help but feel something wasn’t right, couldn’t help but…
Short, shallow regular breaths bore the only witness to the changing of the green numbers: 0:00, 0:01 as the circle of hours began their spin anew.
“Honey, where are you going? It’s ten past Deep Night! It was already a long night tonight, and tomorrow’s just going to be busier. Please, just come back to bed!” Amy called from beneath the covers, eyes blinking in the newly-lit florescent light.
Rain ignored his wife’s pleas. He didn’t like to think of it in such blunt terms, but he knew effectively it’s what he was doing. He didn’t doubt that he needed the sleep, but he just didn’t want it. He wasn’t a man who much leant himself to fear, and to fear the threat of a dream seemed irreconcilable with everything he believed about himself. But in dreams it was much different. In the day it was easier- to bury himself in work, in conversation and even in family. But under the cover of Deep Night, the only hour of the day when both suns rested out of sight Rain couldn’t hide. It waited in his dreams, taunting like a malignant whisper, laughter from across the room when he didn’t know the source but could ascertain the sentiment. The legends claimed this was his hour, and indeed many called Revenon the god of Midnight. Rain just wanted an hour of piece without having him haunt his dreams. “I’m just thirsty, I won’t be five minutes.”
With that he wrapped the bathrobe tighter, flicked the light switch and carefully closed the door. Please gods don’t make me too big a liar. Rain made his way to the small kitchen kept near the housing wing of the manor, placed for just such an emergency. It wasn’t uncommon for Rain to work later hours, and having a small setup with a fridge and basic pads for cooking and heating was far more convenient than walking all the way to the main kitchens. As he walked down the hallway connecting apartments, kitchen and the rest of the mansion, Rain suddenly stopped. He heard voices, well after everyone should be asleep. It came from the direction of the kitchen. Cautiously he walked to the kitchen door, being sure to regulate his breath and readying his muscles for action. When he reached the door he looked down, and saw a small line of light.
Rain swung the door open, and eyed the two intruders. “Revenon… what in all Balatara are you talking about man? This is a stupid joke, or are you just trying to tell me you’re crazy?”
The blood drained from Rain’s face. The speaker was Ulbrecht, and he surely had no way nor business of knowing anything more than old stories about that name. Worse, the second and the provoker he knew immediately. Cigar in his right, a glass of red liquid in his left, Taurisin smiled at his father. “Good, I was hoping you’d be up. You’ll never believe what I learned…” Taurisin was cut off by a sudden, piercing scream. Unwatched the clock behind Rain’s head continued its silent march. 0:14.
“Yeah, I know, it’s great. But seriously man we have important stuff to talk about, and it’s already late.” Taurisin knew if he let himself slide too steadily down the slope of humour, he would completely forget the point, and leave his entire day’s work forgotten. He glanced down at his watch again, 23:57 now.
“Like what? I don’t really see what else there is to tell you, at least what you don’t know already. I could give you a play by play of the entire night if you’d like… but that’s kinda creepy.” Ulbrecht smiled like he’d cracked some clever kinda joke.
For the greater good of the gods! It probably wasn’t Ulbrecht’s fault he had no idea just how serious Taurisin was, or that he couldn’t shift his focus to something more important. Probably wasn’t, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. “No, nothing like that. If it’s real important we can always talk about it later. No, this is far more important. You see, while you,” he held the ending, letting it carry like one of those operatic interludes he always heard people saying were so good, “were partying it up with my sis and my parents, I was running for my life.”
That did the trick. For a moment Ulbrecht stood with his mouth an open fly trap. He shook his head then, and furrowed his brow. All the while, a smile seemed to play on his lips. “I don’t get it, what are you talking about?”
“Exactly what I just said. Running, with my life being the obvious thing at stake. That it really was at stake is no exaggeration, believe me I know exactly how at risk it was. But that part’s a little ways off.”
Ulbrecht still seemed confused, or at least unwilling to fully commit himself to belief. That was fine, Taurisin had no problem taking him through the whole process. “How was your life possibly in danger? Who in this city… or even all of Balatara would ever think to threaten you?”
“I don’t know that it was personal, at least not in respect to myself. Guess you could say it was about who I am, but not about me qua Taurisin. And what I, I and my colleagues it must be said, discover what just might be the most important secret our Empire’s ever held. First the background: you know I’m good with computers. May not be the programmer my sis is, but I know how to run a good network. You know just how much Yimil loves to keep all the jobs in house, give us cadets all that work place training?”
“Yes Taurisin, I am well aware of the great secret: you help administrate the Yimil network. I still don’t see where this is going.” Sometimes, people had a miraculous talent for denseness. Not that Ulbrecht had any evidence or reason to think of what Taurisin knew.
“Well, come on inside. I’m thirsty, and it really is getting too late to be out here. I’ll explain on the way to the secret kitchen.” Taurisin led the way, not really needing but still glancing over his shoulder to ensure that Ulbrecht followed. “It started this morning, with a percom message from Katy, needing to seem me asap about some strange file she intercepted.” Taurisin began his recollection as he passed through the door, the unwatched timekeeper on his wrist reading 0:00.
Taurisin raced up the steps two at a time. He hated being late, punctuality was one of the few things that mattered to him and it was just unprofessional to waltz in even a minute later then he was supposed to arrive. Not that he was truly late, in terms of his shift start he was still a good couple of hours early. Not like he’d need to show up for that tonight. As he turned with the steps at a landing he allowed himself a quick glance at his watch, 14:46. Not good! The message came around 8:00, and he’d missed it. He left his percom on silent, as he didn’t really want to be interrupted at breakfast. Taurisin made the effort at least a few times a week to meet up with Ahrakis, and it just happened that breakfast this morning was an opportune time. He remembered his sister had been worried about something, an assignment of some sort. Probably finished by now, he wondered how it went.
He brought his mind back into focus, replaying his co-worker’s message in his mind. “Hey Taurisin, it’s Katy. I know you have a class this morning, but it’s kinda important. One of the protocols just intercepted a stream of packets going into the network hub. I was able to put the data back together, but no matter what I try I can’t break the encryption. With the climate lately in the Jeltorax crowd being what it is, we’re all a bit concerned here, so if you could come in and work on it, or even get in touch with your father or sister, it would make us all feel better. You know how to reach me.” A hint in Katy’s tone that she didn’t feel like saying everything about this file over so public a medium of communication didn’t make him feel any better about the message. That he forgot to check his messages until after his class, at noon, only made things worse.
He had phoned Katy right after hearing the message for the first time, not even bothering to stop for lunch. He received no answer, and left her a quick message in response, promising to head to the office right away. He phoned the office too, but this only resulted in more worry. Despite several attempts, he always received the same answer- the sound of the call connecting, and then a click. Something had to be wrong at the office, and so he ran through the streets of Yimil as fast as he could against the flow of the ever growing crowd. He was almost there, and could see the large metal and glass tower which housed, amongst other things, the administrative office for Yimil’s network. It seemed even more crowded then usual, with a large number of vehicles parked in front. Great, just what I needed. A pre-break crowd to wade through, because they couldn’t take care of administrative work earlier…that and stupid recruitment tours. He felt his percom shake. He stopped in his stride and raised the personal communicator to his ear. Now well past hints of concern, Katy’s tone was enough to confirm Taurisin’s worries. “Taurisin, are you there! Come on…”
“Katy, was is it? Just calm down, I’m right outside the building, I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Taurisin had always tried his best to remain calm in situations like these. He didn’t always succeed, but he was very much proud of his ability to fake it.
“No! I mean, not right now, it would be best if you stayed away. I’ll meet you though, but not right away. I’ll be in touch, just… just take your lunch to your room like you always do, and, and yeah you’ll know what to do from there.” It was crazy, her tone was crazy and the whole situation made no sense. He didn’t want to discount the possibility that this was just revenge for all the pranks.
He immediately set that possibility aside. It didn’t explain the genuineness of her concern, or why he couldn’t connect to the office’s phones. He sighed, and answered his friend, “Okay Katy. Just phone me if anything’s wrong, I’ll be in touch.”
He disconnected as she finished saying goodbye, and something about phone messages not being a great idea. He sighed again. Either it was a prank, or everything was going wrong with work. Why did things have to unravel right before the long weekend? He’d walked home, stopping only for some food at the cafeteria. Everything in his dorm building seemed normal. Already near empty because of the break, most of his floor mates were in the process of packing, with isolated individuals using the study lounges, and a concentrated group watching the televiewer in the common room.
Everything was normal, until he started walking past his floor mates, down the corridor past the common room to his side of the floor. Every head in the room turned to him as he past. Normally he’d stop to see what the problem was, but he just continued on his way. When he reached his door, as he reached for his key he felt a hand on his shoulder. Joslin, one of his floor mates, gave him a solemn look. “Taurisin hey, how are you holding up? You’ve heard the news?”
The next ten minutes, even so close in time were so hard to make clear. He’d dropped his key, and Joslin had helped him get it. He then let himself be led to the common room, where he joined his neighbours in silence, and watched the screen, shocked.
The report was obviously not entirely correct. It claimed the entire staff of the administrative network was killed, which was just barely not true. He, and most likely the colleagues on his shift were very much alive. As was Katy he hoped.
He hadn’t stayed long in front of the screen. He couldn’t bring himself to watch as oddly shaped lumps on wooden boards were carried out the door, covered in white sheets. He retreated to his room. Where he found the letter.
He didn’t remember it word for word, but the general gist stuck with him. It was hastily scrawled, and signed in Katy’s name. Taurisin was willing to concede the lettering resembled his coworkers, though stretched and twisted, like it was rushed. Like the script, the basic structure of the letter was fractured. Words and phrases tumbled in their frenzy, free of order or coherence. Anijuana Pavilion Computer Lab 3497 14/45. After several readings this was the basic info he gleaned, and he could only hope it was accurate.
That was it, up to now. And he was late. Anijuana Pavilion was one of the largest buildings on campus, hosting 46 floors. It was devoted to technological studies, engineering and the sciences. He was somewhat surprised he hadn’t seen his sister. Of course, she probably had the common sense to just take the elevator. At the same time, she wasn’t given to the suspicion Taurisin felt, and though it may have been but a touch of paranoia, he just couldn’t bring himself to trust the elevators, not today.
He paused for breath as he stopped at a landing. He read the sign on the door in front of him, 34. Finally. He opened the door, and stepped into a silent hall. The lights were dim, and the air cooled. Something seemed off. Perhaps more than just one. He walked past deserted classrooms, each black as the Abyss. He felt and heard a wind passing around him, chilling him to the bone. This made no sense at all. He could find his way only by stray glimmers of sunlight, cast blue by the tinting of windows, and the light of a single room. He walked towards it, and was not surprised to see it’s number, 3497. He tried turning the door knob, but nothing. The wind howled around him. What joker left the window open? What’s with the lights and the stupid door. This better be a damn good prank, because otherwise…The door swung open.
Were she asked, Ahrakis Aryanna Stormheart would call herself a woman of science. Disconnected from magic, she identified with the unshakeable principles of science, of the certainties imbedded in the execution of specific strings of code, or the perfect results granted only by unquestionable mathematical formulae. Those very principles of science, at least as they were currently understood, rendered it exactly impossible that she was dreaming.
Nothing of her setting was familiar. There was nearly no light, and it was bitterly cold. The roof, rusted and rotten, had collapsed and lay at her feet. Lines of conveyer belts, forever unmoving stood, with browned cranes lofting the remains of parts intended for collapsing frames. Looking up, she could see the stars. She couldn’t recognise a single one, and were these stars charted they wouldn’t match the plot of the sky of any world she’d ever treaded upon. The specific formations and clusters she could see failed to resemble a single constellation she was familiar with. Laughter broke her silence. “Perhaps I have invited the wrong guest. Everything I know of you, every moment of your life has led me to believe you are well aware: there is no answer for you in the stars.”
She wasn’t nervous anymore, she was scared. She didn’t recognise the voice, couldn’t tell the accent she had never heard an accent like that. She looked all around her, but there was nothing but conveyer belts, and a single lofted office raised above what seemed to be the manufacturing floor. Her breath was rapid and shallow, and she felt so cold. “Who are you? Where am I?”
Her voice was weak and shaken. No one came forth, and for a time no one answered. Wind started blowing through the abandoned factory, a wind of chill, of death. Particles of dust blew in the wind, and Ahrakis sheltered her face with her arms. “Who are you? Where are we? Why, isn’t this your very dream? Tell me where we are. This is the land of your dream. This is your every desire given breath. You stand in the shrine built around you, the temple consecrated eons before your birth. This is where you belong. Welcome home Ahrakis.”
A man appeared before her, as if out of the wind. She knew it was by way of magic, but of course she couldn’t see it or even feel it. “Get away from me! Your tricks won’t hurt me, but my father can most definitely hurt you!”
She didn’t even bother to ask how he knew her name. It simply seemed inevitable that he did. She didn’t know the man, and had never seen him before. He wasn’t very tall, around her own height. Nor was he of any particular build, rather he seemed somewhere between slim and muscular. His hair was long and of the darkest, blackest blue, as were his eyes. His face was alien- like a Balataran, but formed of specific features unlike anyone she actually knew, save the faintest resemblance in his jaw and forehead to her father… and in turn to her. “Hurt me? I do not think so, and why would he? He has already helped me so… he has given me so great a gift, my own freedom. And even that was not a gift enough, though I doubt he had any awareness or comprehension of the other, his gift to all creation itself.”
“What in the Empire are you talking about? Just let me go, if your problem is with my father than deal with him, I have nothing…” She wanted to kick him in the face, or run away and cry. This couldn’t be a dream. She rarely dreamt and never endured nightmares.
“Why does it have to be about him? I already told you, this is all about you. This is all for you. This is my gift to you… and yet you do not see. Perhaps now?” The wind grew stronger, and Ahrakis stepped back. She felt cool metal on her back, as she collided with one of the conveyers. The place was filled with the sound of a whirlwind, though she did not dare to look. Through her grasped hands she caught a glimpse, of metal flying and dancing in the wind. Dust rose off the floor, particles colliding into strips of rust. The rust danced with each other, to each other and formed panels of metal. The panels flew into the sky, bridging the gap of void and stars. Just as the wind died, the air filled with the sounds of machines rising to live, belts turning and sparks flying. Florescent light shone from the panels above, illuminating the largest factory Ahrakis had every seen. Though Ahrakis had seen but few factories in her life, she suspected the same would true if she had toured all the factories on any planet in all the Empire. Belts stretched as far as she could see. “This is how it was meant to be, and now what it truly is. The gift I build you before any even knew your name. A thousand-thousand stations, each preparing a particular part to the perfect degree, the perfect assemblage of the perfect body. The perfect machine awaiting your animation, your perfect direction. Awaiting the spark…”
“Wait a minute, I’m just a programmer. I haven’t a clue of your ‘perfect’ anything. You still haven’t told me, what’s going on? What are you building, the ‘perfect machine,’ a robot? You want me to program a stupid robot?” Maybe it was a dream, a dream becoming ever more stupid. Why couldn’t she just wake up?
He was angry. Nothing registered on his face, but she knew. “Stupid? I assure you, there is nothing stupid about them. I told you, they are the perfect machines… the perfect weapons. And they are all for you, each and every work of perfection awaiting your final touch.”
Ahrakis sighed. “This dream is boring. Why would I dream about programming… it’s what I do all day? Why would you pick me, I mean I may be the best… but if you know that, you know I’m not even close to being finished my AI models and…”
“Dream? Dreams are for fools, for the lesser ones who believe in their magic and in their gods. If I wanted a programmer, I’d have brought any hack, any fool. If I want mere programming… I had your brother but hours ago.”
Fingers of ice seeped down her back. “Taurisin? Oh gods! What have you done with him?”
He growled, and she wanted to run, though really she knew there was no where she could hide. “I see you are not ready yet. It is a shame…” Ahrakis heard the sound of crashing, of metal tumbling. She watched the illusory factory torn down before her eyes. All was as it had been when she first arrived. “But the time will come. Ask your brother… Revenon is never late.”
A look of horror spread across her face, as last he spoke his name. She closed her eyes and screamed, and opened them to the glare of green light. 0:14.
Taurisin opened the fridge door, and pulled out a green bottle. He poured the wine into a glass, and took a quick drink. It was a sweet red wine, faintly spiced. The taste was beautiful, and the warmth spread through his blood. He needed it, to steady his nerves and warm himself, as even in retelling his story he felt the chill. He poured himself a full glass, and offered one to Ulbrecht. The Moonblade shook his head to decline. Taurisin glanced up at the clock before continuing his story, and watched the minute hand sneak past 0:10.
“I just figured she saw me coming, I mean no one else was there, no one else wanted to be there. That close to the end of the day I just figured all the classes were done, and who would be studying today? I should have known right away, she didn’t seem herself, but I just figured it was shock. I mean, I was still shaken up myself. Her clothes were a bit bloody, and her eyes seemed darker, but there really was no warning. She just wanted me to look over that file.”
He paused for a moment. Ulbrecht had been a good audience, but he expected questions. Azagul’s sores, he’d have been more worried without them. “No warning… blood? Are you saying Katy killed…?”
Taurisin shook his head quickly, then took a drink. “No, no I’m saying nothing of the sort. Katy was no murderer. So anyway, I go over the file. It’s encrypted real good. Like, I’ve never seen any encryption like it before. Whole time she’s real anxious. And I mean, this isn’t some quick job. I’m working on it fast as I can. I figure there’s something in there from some enemy power, and she makes no effort to deny it. I keep working, two hours or three I dunno. The daystar is starting to dip, when she just turns to me and tells me to call my sister. Now I raise my eyebrow and wonder, what’s she want with Ahri? She’s good with computers and all, but not at breaking down codes or encryption, that’s what I do. Crazy part is, I’m making progress on this thing.”
“Taurisin, what was it?” Ulbrecht’s question surprised him, or at least the tone. Maybe it was the way he was communicating it, but Ulbrecht sounded worried.
“No idea. I just said something like Ahrakis is out of the city and keep working on it. She keeps pushing me though, and I keep telling her that Ahrakis isn’t available. Finally, just as I crack it she screams at me to bring my sister immediately. Crazy thing, she doesn’t sound like herself anymore, and I’m scared. I read the message and… and it says crazy stuff. It says that Revenon’s back, that he’s free somehow.”
The momentary silence was broken by the opening of a door, ignored by both he and Ulbrecht. “Revenon… what in all Balatara are you talking about man? This is a stupid joke, or are you just trying to tell me you’re crazy?”
Taurisin didn’t answer. He looked past Ulbrecht, to the new arrival. His father seemed pale, as though he were ill. “Good, I was hoping you’d be up. You’ll never believe what I learned…”
Before he could finish, Taurisin was interrupted by a scream of horror. “Oh gods, was that mom, or Ahrakis?” He didn’t receive an answer. There was no other scream, or voice. Just the clock ticking, 0:14.
|At First Site 2||At First Sight III- Out of a Child's Story|