Sunday, 5 November 2017

The fifth of my many entries for this year's Pod and Planet. The first eight are all very short fictions, entered in the 'Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden' category. This one is 750 words.

For the authors of the chronicles at CCP, who are far too devious and far too clever, a scenario they left implied, but that deserves further interrogation.

A companion piece to The Paths They Chose, though I would ask that you read this work first.

The Thunder That Announces His Passage

The artists have outdone themselves, he acknowledges. A hint of dark bristles around the jaw-line, a salt-and-pepper crew-cut and thin black eyebrows. The cheekbones, moulded to hint at some Caldari ancestry. He pauses, examining one half-closed eyelid. The Deteis features are stronger there, and across the nose. The jawline is similarly strong. It is, he reflects, excellent work.

“Thank you, gentlemen, but we'll take it from here.” Mustn't forget your manners, even in the midst of a crisis. He gestures, moving to the side as his attendees step forwards. They surround the casket, and, as one, lift it. He directs them with a gesture: turn, and bring it into the shuttle. They do so. The payment is transferred, and he turns to leave.

“You must keep it at exactly the right temperature”, one of the scientists calls. “It wouldn't last, otherwise.” The commander nods, externally gracious, but inwardly exhausted. There hadn't been much rest since the event that drove them to do this. To secure the right assets, to prepare. The shuttle door closes, and, as he takes his seat, he examines the musculature of the asset. How, even within the casket, it remains visible. That the flat stomach and chest are carved to a natural likeness. Ah, the demands of the powerful, to gift them what they never earned. The man cracks a tired smile.

The shuttle exits the station, and enters warp. Within the system, it takes less than a minute to arrive at its destination, a far warmer planet than the one they had previously orbited. All through this, the leader is briefed on ship movements in the Caldari Border Zone, a frantic attempt to provide certainty in the inescapably upset world. He takes a call from a director as frazzled as he, and sends off directions to a grand admiral. Unthought of events, once upon a time.

Gradually, the shuttle descends, and, as the pilots begin to guide it into the bay of the crystal dome, he disarms the automated defences. Tracking arrays cease their relentless pinging, and the railguns withdraw into hardened silos. He is, for a moment, as still as the asset itself, then he hauls himself up and into motion. The guards shift outwards, into their assigned spots, and he is for a moment, alone with the asset.

Four attendants sweep forwards, gathering it up between them. He directs them to the climate-controlled medical center, then makes his way to his office here, beneath the canopy of the trees. Along the way, his datapad pings: the preparation for the performance are almost complete, for all the essential assets have arrived. Within his office, he’s briefed again, on pirates residing within the furthest extents of his domain. They’ll remain, he knows, even after all around him has turned to dust. As if to echo that thought, a hawk strikes, carrying an unsuspecting songbird to its final purpose.

Finally, when all is done, he makes his way to the medical center. The dead man’s needle is being assembled in the corner, but he’s here for the asset itself. They remove it from the casket, and lie it upon the operating table. Outside the casket, he can see the preciseness of the scars, the strength of the jaw. Osteoplastic materials moulded firmly and precisely.  Vat-grown muscles glisten in the soupy air. The chest rhythmically rises and falls, and the neck pulses. The doctors bustle, preparing it. It must look real; it must be real.

Finally, they’re finished. The incisions are made, the cannulae are inserted, and the lines are stoppered. He nods, and dismisses them. This, he knows, must be his own work: the work of a monster.

Once the center is empty, he breathes deeply, pulls back a fist, and sinks it deep into the cheek of the clone. His hand stings: the clone doesn’t move. He strikes again, and again, and again, each hit the thunder that announces his passage. Both bodies begin to sweat and redden. His left hand tightens around the throat of the clone, to grip it. He hits it until he can’t hit it any more, until the blood is red-raw on its face, and the stomach is a mosaic of welts; until the legs are pain-bent and the arms are sore-swollen. Still, the clone doesn’t move. He calls the Doctors back in, and steps out into the cold.

His hands are stiff, his body is tired, his mind is blood-red-raw. Tomorrow comes the test; the performance of a lifetime.

No comments:

Post a Comment