Brotherhood, Betrayal and Redemption: Part I
Memories and Malefaction
By Stephen Harris
I put these memories to disc in hopes that others who follow my path find consolation and understanding in their decision to leave the clans.
I am an Atrox.
I was born into servitude in the mines, lacking the ideas and ideals of the higher borne Solitus, but comfortable in my station. Despite my genetic limitations, I excelled at the use of Omni-Tek machinery, but was branded as a troublemaker in my youth. When a young miner by the name of Adrianos Cornelius had made the mistake of misinterpreting my breed's lack of gender, he was attacked by several of my disgruntled brethren. Realizing the young Solitus had never worked with our kind before, I came to his aid. The ensuing brawl was fierce even though I was reluctant to help the boy, but the injury that the shift captain had inflicted upon me was unforgivable.
Maxwell Thadok was enormous, even for an Atrox, and a monster to boot. It didn't help his reputation that he had a proclivity for brightly colored clothing. Thadok was by no means an intelligent Atrox, but then, what is? Cornelius had come to the mine as a transfer and had caught a glimpse of Thadok in the shadows. Unfortunately, the captain happened to be wearing his favorite work attire: a pink smock. Cornelius had apparently called him "Miss" by mistake and that was when the calamity began. As I stood in front of Cornelius, who lay humped into a pile at the side of the Notum basin, Thadok was enraged. I knew his dislike for me and my skills with the OT drilling rig surpassed his own, furthering his contempt. "You no Atrox!" he slavered." You side with soft Solitus! He call me woman and you defend?" he barked, the spittle dripping from his lip, giving him the look of a rabid pitbull. I bit my lip and felt ashamed, but at the same time, I knew that if no one acted, the Solitus was as good as dead. If this came to be, the repercussions throughout the OT mining facility would have been catastrophic. Before I could open my lips to speak, Thadok had shut them with his blackjack. The sheer force of his blow had sent me reeling several feet backwards, dislocating several teeth and almost caused me to trample on the poor unconscious miner. As Thadok drew closer, spouting insults of every derogation imaginable, his other crewmates joined in. Fearing for my own life as well as the young Adrianos, I struck back. I had gotten into spats before, but this time I was enraged. My blow had managed to shatter the lower jaw of the towering Atrox and the bone of his overgrown maw had cut several deep gashes into my fist. The blow didn't budge him. He stood there, face sagging like a bag of flesh; moist with spittle, blood and bone. I realized then that my life was forfeit. I looked back at Cornelius, who had managed to pry one of his swollen eyes open. He looked at me with terror, apprehension, and fear. He started to cry. Not the wail of a coward, but of a boy, who realizes that he would never see manhood. The realization that his fate was grim was present in the tears that streamed from his gray eyes. For the first time in my life I had experienced what the Solitus call "regret" and found myself galvanized to action. Thadok was over me now, his blackjack replaced by a pylon he had ripped off the mine scaffolding. Brandishing the length of wrought iron like a saber, he came down upon me.
I pushed myself into him, ramming my head into his chest with all the force I could muster. The escape of air from his lungs was a high pitched whistle that sent his cohorts back apace. Realizing I had the element of surprise, I wrenched the pylon from his numb fingers and came down upon his skull with all the force I could muster. His head split like over-ripe fruit rotting in the sun. As his body sagged to the floor, the others attacked. I don't remember much of what happened next, only a flurry of blows, the stench of sweat and the grit of sand and blood in my mouth. I remember slumping onto the pylon, tattered and beaten, five bodies littering the floor. I wasn't panicked, only tired and sore. I waited for the security detail to arrive but there was no sign of the guards anywhere. I looked back at Cornelius, who had lost consciousness during the fray and frowned. Not knowing what else to do, I picked him up and slung him over my shoulders. The rest of the mine was humming with its usual activity, none the worse for wear at the bloodshed within. As I came to the checkpoint on level 3, the duty officer stopped me. Without going into detail, I told him that there had been an accident and that I was taking a survivor to the medical unit. He let me through and I quickly left the facility with Adrianos, limp as a rag-doll, over my shoulder. I knew that my life as a simple miner had come to an end.
The next morning, I expected Omni-Pol at the dormitory, but was greeted by more thugs instead. Barely rested from the previous engagement, I strapped Adrianos, still wrapped in his cot, to my mining harness and made egress from the camp. It took me eight days to travel from Argentum to Tir County, nearly losing Adrianos to a pack of Grey Wolves in Varmint Woods. The Solitus was firmly in the grips of a coma and had made an easy target for the dogs. Whether it was the concussion, shock, or some other malaise, he was dead weight, but I had managed to injure one of the beasts enough that his companions fell upon him. For several of the nights we spent out in the wilds of Rubi-Ka, I thought myself mad. Attacking and killing several of my own kind at the defense of a mere youth, a Solitus no less. He should have had the mind to keep himself out of our company in the first place. Now here I was hundreds of miles away from the place I once called home. For what? Principle? These episodes of self-inquiry would only leave me exhausted, and on the morrow, even more confused. I was only nineteen at the time, and a stranger in a strange land.
Eventually we managed to make it to the frontier city of Tir, which was becoming a bastion for the disgruntled miners who now called themselves the Clans. Not skilled in the arts of medicine and frustrated at his condition, I left Cornelius in the hands of Kimberly Armstrong, one of Tir's finest physicians. With my charge in good hands, I set about trying to eke out a living in this new land.
It had been ten months since I had journeyed into Clan territory with the comatose Solitus miner, Adrianos Cornelius, in search of solace. In that time my simple life had taken a most unexpected twist. While my mining skills were saleable, I felt the urge to strike out across the frontier, so I became an armed escort for hire. Though how I actually became an enforcer was a rough tale indeed. The back streets of Tir were a good place to learn the finer points of mauling, and my uncertainty hadn't abated since I had fled 4 Holes. After leaving my companion in the care of trained medical staff, I felt that I had served my purpose, but I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. The depression had set in and I wasn't prepared for it. I squandered my last few credits on whiskey, washing away my life in the shadows of The Happy Rebel. Being an Atrox has its advantages, as after finding that I wasn't so easily shooed away, the barkeep offered my a job as a bouncer and a place to live. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had purpose again. The Happy Rebel was one of Tir's finer drinking establishments and that's an overstatement. Though the more refined guests had private studios on the premises with which to host their extravagant parties, the real riff-raff hung about outside the club, harassing the paying patrons in the most vulgar ways possible. I got into my fair share of scraps in the OT mining camps, but the Clanners fought harder and with more resolve and tenacity than a speckled Bloodcreeper. My first engagement in my new post had me humbled by a young woman who insisted on staying after hours. She was obviously intoxicated, but still enough in her faculties to execute her nanoprograms. I woke up hours later lying in a puddle of my own vomit. I realized that my lifelong aversion to doctors wasn't instinctual on accident. My first tango with a metaphysicist left me with a pretty outline of eyeteeth across my waist from where his pet had decided I was little more than an hor d'oeuvre. Well, after 3 months in the school of hard knocks, I was one of the most respected bouncers at The Happy Rebel and a budding enforcer.
I still kept tabs on my fellow OT employee though, and it seemed that Adrianos had been the lucky one. Though unfamiliar with the Solitus infatuation with their opposite gender, I had noticed the young Cornelius, having recovered from his reverie, had taken a liking to his caregiver, and she, him. The last I had heard, Adrianos and Dr. Armstrong had moved into the same living quarters and were quite happy in their cramped apartment. He had taken up a job as a merchant and had just opened his own specialty shop less than a block from my place of employ. With the tension between the clans and Omni-Tek increasing weekly, weapons' dealing was turning into a very lucrative market. Cornelius used to come and visit me every evening after closing the shop and we'd sit outside and share a beer, talking about the old camp. Even though he was little more than a stranger to me before our flight, he was becoming more like a little brother every day.
Well, I could wax nostalgia until I fall asleep, but to the tale at hand. It was during one of those rare sandstorms blowing out of Newland that had whipped through the savanna of Tir County and had begun to bear down on the city itself. Business was slow that evening and most of the other bouncers had been sent home before the storm set in. I was relaxing at the bar when I heard a loud crash against the plasteel entryway. Wondering who or what could have made such a noise, I went to investigate, only to find a bundle of dirty rags had crawled through the door. Alarmed as hell and suspicious to boot, I grabbed the mass of swirling cloth only to hear the cry of a girl. Pulling the tattered wrapping from the now shaking body, I saw the classic markings of cybernetics and almost ritualistic tattoos. A nanomage! Out in a storm like this? Madness! The velocity of the sandstorm would have flayed her soft flesh to ribbons. From the sheer silicate crust on her overcoat, I could tell she'd been weathering the storm for much more than a few hours. She looked at me with bewildered eyes and through cracked, quivering lips kept repeating the same phrase..."save them, please save them... save them from the storm... the storm that marches..."
"The storm?" I muttered as I held the weary nanomage in my arms. With her cryptic message delivered, she drifted into unconsciousness. "Who... are you?" I asked breathlessly, shaking the worn woman, hoping to bring her back to consciousness. Her milky white eyes lolled in their sockets as iridescent pupils contracted sporadically. "Save him... save my husband, save... my.... Koji..." and with her last plea, she fell into darkness. I plucked her desert visor from her head and tapped on the smudged display not expecting a response. I was almost frightened when the computer lit up with life. My heart leapt with hope; she had been recording her travel coordinates within her navigation software. Looking over the pulsing liquid display my mouth hung open at the sheer strangeness of it all. The young woman had been traveling some distance, having begun the log in Hope and traveling by foot with her companions: easily a week's journey without muscular augmentation and a matter of seconds via the Whompa system. What took them out into the middle of the desert, on foot, and into a storm?
"The storm that marches..."
None of it made any sense, but something within me told me that I had to go. I had to find out what had happened, if at least to quiet the feeling of dread that had crept over me the moment I heard her collapse against the storm shutter. If her companions were alive, I would find them, if not, then they were most likely lost or dead. I wasn't of much use dealing with the later, even with cellular scanning. Uploading the data into my deck, I picked the nanomage up in a bundle and brought her to the kitchen. Emil, the cook, was still performing his nightly ritual of inspecting his culinary devices and kitchen utensils when I kicked in the door toting a sleeping package. The unusually high-strung Opifex chef had jumped out of his skin, sending his tools tumbling out of the cabinets and onto the floor. His tuned reflexes had allowed him to grab several of the more fragile instruments before impact, but wasn't much use with an object of great mass. The strain had unbalanced him so that he fell square on his ass when the blender in his lap. Ignoring the flatware skittering along the tiles he came up to me, raging. "Joo eediot, louk vhat joo mahde mi do! Eh, vhat is dat?" He had trained his eye from me to that of the slumbering young woman. His color had improved dramatically and his grimace turned into one of slack-jawed wonder as he looked at my charge. The Opifex had always amazed me with their profound curiosity. "Take her upstairs Emil. Get her bathed and her wounds tended. Put her in Magdalene's room; it will keep her from being disturbed." As I handed the limp form of the nanomage to the confused chef, I gritted at the sand that somehow found it's way into my mouth. "I'm going out. Lock up the bar and pull the Schuyler off the wall. Pray you don't need it," I warned. " I probably won't be back until morning. Until then, wait the storm out and keep your eyes out for trouble." With that, I grabbed my desert parka and hammer, and set out into the city.
Tir was a phantom of shapes and shadows in crimson plumes of dust amid scorching showers of sand. The storm had only grown in intensity and the bark of the environmental warning sirens were muffled klaxons in the ebb of the stinging tide. I flipped my face-shield into position and shivered as my optical implants synchronized with filtered visual data. The coordinates of my trail were mapped onto my HUD, looking like a haphazard game of connect-the-dots. Only when I had completed this particular puzzle, the picture would become all too clear; the feeling of impending disaster was well founded. "Sandworms!".
The West Gate watchmen had taken cover from the storm, their posts ignored. For that I was thankful, as they would never have permitted a citizen out into a storm of such ferocity. With a sigh of relief I passed through the gate shield, feeling the cool static of the pulsing membrane excite the hairs on my forearm. The young woman's path, at least into Newland, would take me the better part of three days to complete. With one last look at the obscured city, I turned my back on my home for the second time. Little would I have suspected that I would never see the stucco and adobe homes of Tir again.
"I hate sand..."
The storm had raged for the better part of two days and nights, having lifted on the morning of the third day. I woke up coughing. The sand had piled into my makeshift tent, covering everything (my tongue included) in its tenacious wonder. Emerging like a mummy from his desert tomb, I burst through carbon-filament fabric in a seizure of claustrophobic coughs. The sun was blazing across a clear azure sky and for a moment, I was in awe of the size of Rubi-Ka: captivated in its majesty, dwarfed by its grandeur, scalded... by its heat. I quickly shut my mouth for fear of losing any more moisture and stuffed my desert parka into my pack.
The tent was unsalvageable, having had the harsh sandstorm winds corrode its air filter. The tent would never re-inflate nor would it cool or humidify. Ah well, less baggage. It was a day's walk at most to Newland City and thus far my journey had been uneventful. As I strode through the desert, I was amazed at how resilient my old metaplast jumpsuit had been. While I looked little more than a desert vagabond, I was surprisingly comfortable. Praise-be to the corporation for my breed's robust engineering. While I had occasionally brushed upon the desert in some of my expeditions out into the savanna of Greater Tir County, I had never been so engulfed by nature. The dunes stretched out into eternity. Rocky outcroppings littered the horizon and the scant flora: bizarre and disfigured. The fauna was equally strange. The usual Rubi-Ka rodentia where en masse, even out in the sands. The leets of the desert were just as curious and just as expendable as their forest dwelling cousins. At midday I ate my fill on desert leet meat before rechecking my bearings and continuing NW.
The twin suns had set and the night chill was setting in. The stars of the clear night sky were breathtaking. So many worlds out there, so many wonders and so many dangers. Their crisp sparkling in the velvet sky was intoxicating; the serenity of the scenery accentuated by gunfire... "GUNFIRE!" I whirled around and snatched my IR goggles from my satchel. The muffled sound of cordite and teflon was unmistakable. I worriedly scanned the horizon, looking for the source of the calamity. I didn't search long. "WEST!" I yelped. 500 meters from my vantagepoint, amid a rocky outcropping, was what seemed to be a fierce battle. "There's no way I'm going to miss a good fight!" I muttered as a slight grin crept its way across my face. I stuffed the night goggles back into their pocket, slid the pack off my back, activated the locator and broke into a run. Destination: danger.
Though the soft sand made it difficult to maintain much speed, I reached the outcropping in short order. The sounds of discharged shells clattering on stone echoed through the pumice of rock. I climbed up and onto a ledge and gingerly maneuvered along the ledge towards the sounds of combat. I realized just how heavy I was the moment I feel the ledge give way, causing me to trip over my own feet. I swung my free foot outward, then drove the titanium-enforced boot into the rock. I hoped that the elements had weakened the integrity of the wall enough for me to force a foothold. I was doubly surprised when the entire wall gave way, causing me to tumble forward into an amphitheater of stone. Dazed more than anything, I brushed the crumbling sandstone from my shoulders only to be forced to the floor by something big. "GET DOWN AND STAY DOWN!" A voice bellowed from across the way. Try as I might, I couldn't sit up, the sheer weight on my chest was unbearable. "GET THE HELL OFF OF ME!" I yelled, opening my eyes to a jaw filled with gleaming death.
The sabertooth looked at me with disgust and snorted a very human snort and moved his massive paw from my chest. "KOJIYAMA! BEHIND YOU!" the voice from beyond cried out. The feline was already moving, batting me to the side before leaping across the stone arena. The stench of rotting carrion was filling my nostrils as the shrill vibration of something massive crashed into the rock. The disembodied voice came into full focus as a male Solitus grabbed me by my collar and dragged me across the room. "This is not a time for sight-seeing… you trying to get yourself killed!" he spat as he fired off another round at the cumbersome thing that tried to crush me. All I could reply with was a grunt as he pulled me up to my feet. "Are you armed?" he cried, rapidly reloading and firing at the behemoth that wallowed in the wall. I pulled out my collapsible blackjohn and quickly snapped the alloy rod into place. The young adventurer looked at me, then my weapon and couldn't help but laugh. "You're either brave or stupid, Atrox, but I salute you!" He chimed and then whipped another pistol from his harness and continued to fire without breaking stride. "He's vulnerable while he's trying to escape from the rock, hit him when his underside comes into view!" he spat as he circled the seizing sandworm. I gave a quick nod and his eyes shone with understanding. I swallowed a dry gulp of air and charged at my target. The stench of the beast was almost enough to make me stumble, the fumes from toxic pores stung my eyes as I waited for it's pale underside as it attempted to wring itself free.
"WAIT FOR IT!" my new ally cried...
"WAIT FOR IT..."
"HIS BELLY IS CLEAR, I MUST STRIKE!" I screamed over the collapsing rock.
"WAIT FOR HIM..."
In the instant the soft pale underbelly came into view; the sabertooth charged over the worm, brushing me to the side and raked a knifed paw across the exposed flesh with blinding speed.
"NOW!" yelled the Solitus, and I swung with my eyes closed.
The blackjohn landed with a sickly splash, the vibration of flayed flesh barraged by projectiles made me jump and I felt the acrid moisture of gore flung into my face. I brought the rod up for an upswing only to feel the staff snap from the flexion of severed muscle.
I was dead.
The beast would roll onto me and my candle would be extinguished. I was frightened beyond words and angry. No. I was furious. I was enraged at this creature that would undoubtedly kill me as well as these adventurers. I would not freeze. I would not calmly accept my death. If I was to be crushed, then so be it, but not before I ripped out the bastard's insides and left them sizzling in the sun.
With my eyes closed I pulled back the jagged stump and began to stab into the pouting tear, screaming with fear, terror and hate. The deafening gunfire, the sickly acrid odor of blood and bowels and my own enraged screams swallowed me up until all was dark. As I felt the last of my strength ebb from my muscles, all I could hear was the sound of bones breaking.
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