Short Story: Huntmaster

Skeletal steel and concrete rose as sharp darkness in gray light, stalagmites threatening the sky impotently while the ground devoured them over eons. Once the seats of Kings, Titans, Tyrants, now they were little more than remnant bones of an old world. One lost to myth and time equally: Former SkyGods’ temples now consigned to decay, as with all lost epochs.

Perhaps one day, such remnants would be excavated: dug from the depths to be better understood. Those few living and aware of the possibility, doubted its happening.

Their numbers were fewer each day.

Krant had learned the hard way that it was impossible to rebuild what had been lost. Though there were arguments what was lost didn’t deserve reconstruction, they were academic. For scholars, by scholars. Theoretical works at most.

More, they were distractions. Attempts to ignore the issue at-hand, rather than address it. Nothing was being done, globally. Civilization was stagnating. The animal-Human, too, because of it. That was all that mattered.

When Humans needed most to ensure their survival as a species, that was unacceptable.

Krant knew of the Empires, distantly. The mountains were his home. Like his village, no-one cared to attempt conquering what could be neither easily reached nor exploited. It made him more qualified than most to impartially examine anything– everything.

Life worked differently in the mountains, honing one in some ways more than others, but mostly doing only that. Honing, tempering. It was a unique way of life: one of a kind. People at the base of the mountain, or in the plains, never worried but for the harshest of winters and driest of summers.

Mountain people worried and toiled all year.

Life in the plains was split into varying seasons, each accordant to the prosperity of the last. Off the mountain, people had breaks: time to watch crops grow before harvesting them. Krant’s people had no breaks. They ate only what they could hunt or slaughter infrequently, and foraged or grew the rest during the slight warming at mid-year that brought occasional sunlight. The rest was spent in hunting, fishing, general chores and hard labor.

Such lives were worlds apart.

Quite simply, Krant’s people were the Forgotten. They knew it, didn’t mind. Having never presented a threat to the Empire when it was building itself, Krant’s people were too far out to incorporate, and not worth the risk or effort to force out or hang otherwise. So, Krant and his family, their mountain village of thirty other families, lived as one entity, separated, and caring not for the Empires– nor likewise.

Yet no-one minded. Life was life. The villagers had been interlinking and splitting for a century or more: like the cells people knew they’d never again see. Some sought fortune and glory, peace, down or in the mountain. Some never left the village’s confines, tending to little more than herb gardens and hunting needs.

Still more, like Krant– and in each their own way, worked each day to strengthen their village, family, or people.

Krant himself often led Hunts, sharing the food procured freely with those nearest and neediest. Blood or not, they were all kin. He’d helped to build and lead death-pyres for at least one member of every family in the village. Often, more. He’d held his fair share of grieving masses at bay against the tumult of inner-turmoil. Enough that he felt the flesh of each as that of his own.

Level-headedness and sound logic had made him a leader in more than a few situations. Fortunately, none requiring much in the way of danger.

This would be different. Krant knew it even now. Something was happening in the forest. The trees were too still. On normal nights, what few tree-dwelling creatures remained in the world, often reported soundly until sunrise. Or else, they frolicked, hunted, or skittered to and fro amidst the leaves and grasses of one of Earth’s few greeneries.

Nocturnal animals, Krant as Huntmaster knew, had survived much of the cataclysm that had stolen the old world. Most theories put forth Human fear of the night in the first decades of the old-world’s collapse as cause. That fear, theoreticians postulated, allowed such animals to thrive, as Humans tended to hunt large prey (often predators) in twilight hours.

Simply, Humans killed predators as prey during daylight so their prey flourished at night.

That was the theory, anyhow. Krant wasn’t sure he believed it. He was certain of its effects. Presently, there was nothing in the trees. Nothing moving. Sounds faded the nearer the rising smoke came. Krant had tracking a wood-dog when he noticed it, he understood why now.

Two days before, he’d wounded the wood-dog: large and cunning like a wolf but descended from dogs rather than the other way around. It seemed what Evolution refined could refined itself– to terrifying result.

Nature had turned one of man’s best friend’s into its newest predatory nuisance.

Fortunately, they were abundant enough that a diet to be supplemented in the event of lean times. Carrying the rest of the village’s needs on his back meant he himself (and a few others at that) didn’t scoff at stray meat.

It had attacked, alone, about midnight.

Unlike most creatures, it sought campfires as a means to hunt or scavenge. Certain Canines no longer feared Humans, no matter the cost it might incur them in the end. Usually, they attacked in large packs that way. Overwhelming so that each man was caught off-guard when it began. In the case of this creature, only starvation would compel it.

It had been a lean winter.

It wouldn’t even be good enough to eat, Krant knew. The best he could do was put it out of its misery: nothing deserved the torture of starvation. Let alone when wounded, as he done to this one. So, an act of mercy had compelled him onward. The irony not lost on him that he’d eat it as likely as it him, given half the chance and starving.

Now, it was close. Somewhere nearby. He felt it in his gut. The smoke risingupwind meant it’d caught scent of the camp. Injured or not, it would attempt another meal.

Krant used it as an excuse to move in range of the fire. Its inner ring of light glowed half-obscured by tents in a grove of trees. Red, black, and white glittered proudly in the hidden grove, beneath low flames of a cooking spit.

Already the men were on their feet, swords drawn: Empirical men. Gruff voices.

“’Ow could they’uv got wind of it!?” One cried.

“Shut your goff, you fool,” another hissed. “It’s dogs. Dogs!”

Further ranting was drowned in what Krant knew to be true, but might never prove.

The sounds of the Wood-dog circled with a mournful howl. It off-balanced the men, frightened them. It leapt from behind a tent, knocking one of the men to the forest floor and dragging him off as it followed through. The others turned.

It was now or never. Krant acted on his gut, fearing only what he could not live with otherwise.

The world went red, then black. Krant was on the heels of the remaining, two men. They chased the dog as it drug their comrade. He chased them, driven by a force he knew but could not place. In a moment, he was atop the nearest man. His dagger plunged into his side from behind. Withdrew. Rose, slashed.

Moments of blood-warmth flashed in war-poses over gurgling sounds lost to time: Lightning-capturedimages of terror, like frames in old-world film.

Then, it was over. The Wood-dog was gone, one Empirical corpsemissing.

Krant’s blood-rage subsided. Its source mystifying but its cause obvious. He confirmed his suspicions after raiding the camp for supplies and information. There, in script form and signed by an Emperor’s Agent, orders to “seize and raze any unregistered settlements.”

The village!

Why else would the Empire have sent people here? Why else would they’ve been camping in these woods, so obviously trying not to be found? Krant wiped the last of the blood from his dagger, knowing the answer. He broke camp, using its most-flammable contents to build pyres for the bodies

He set them alight and walked off toward home.

Two things would never happen again from that day forward, Krant knew: he would never eat wood-dog again, and the Village would never be at-peace again. The Empire had just declared the extermination of “unregistered settlements.” That meant they were consolidating, constricting, exerting their authority to maintain control of their lands.

War was coming. Krant would be ready.

Guardians of Liberty: Part 11

11.

$trydr

A face emergedlike the Cheshire cat appearing from darkness. N1T3 was Alice. In place of glowing bulb-eyes were others much more keen and calculating. The scruff-jawed face, aged as N1T3’s, held a wisdom many years beyond even the eldest of those N1T3 knew.

One, fluid motion, propelled $trydr forward. A fist collided with N1T3’s jaw, as the opposite pulled him into a hug. N1T3 recovered immediately, finding himself led forward as if nothing had happened.

He rubbed his left jaw, “Could’ve warned me, Riter.”

They passed into a stairwell, ascending toward the station-proper. “I was glad to hear you weren’t dead,” $trydr said, leading him past a formerbunk-room and toilets,now altered in purpose.

“Never would’ve expected to hear that,” N1T3 admitted. “Appreciate it though.”

N1T3 rubbernecked; the station was largely unchanged since youth.In a way, so wholly different it could never be anything near the same. Mostly, it was missing the people. The ones that made it okay to be a burnout, so long as you contributed.

Usually, that’d meant keeping the place from the scrap heap. Other times, it was stockingit with food and other essentials. He and Riter were gophers then. Kids taught right and wrong from sweat on their browand goodness in their hearts. Not arbitrary rules, to be bent with the right social status.

Riter’s father was an old man even before he was born; he’dremarried late,during a 20-year career firefighting. After Riter, hewent on to be Chief another 20 years– well-past normal retirement.But Riter’s old man had done few things right. He gambled and owed money, fought, occasionally drank too much, and often ended up riding the station’s couch from it.

All the same, none would’ve spoken ill of him. He knew right and wrong, if only because he toed and crossed that line too often himself.

When he finally died, Riter was forced to leave the station– the place he’d spent his whole life. That is, until he’d somehow occupied and fortified it. If $trydr was stayinghere, as he was beginning to suspect, N1T3 knew where he’d set up. Knew it… like he knew he’d find him here.

Fact was, it only made sense for a former Chief’s son to buy his father’s old station-house after it was salable. Only a fool wouldn’t have seen its value. So long as one could afford it, why not? Like N1T3, Riter had plenty stashed in assets and currencies. In the end, the how made sense but thewhy perplexed him.

$trydr glanced over his shoulder as he ascended a pair of steps.He hesitated with a warm nod, then ushered N1T3 into the office. A memory of the dispatch desks, half-empty, superimposed onto their new reality of total-occupation of tech.

The windows were low-lit, covered by cloth to let just enough light in to show day, but not betray a light or two being on low at night. At that, the room was low-lit. The glow of monitors supplementing cool light from a few dozen clusters here and there; in corners, along walls, and scattered about a central section of former desk-consoles.

Servers. Cheap. But liquid cooled. Silent. Powerful. Riter shut the door behind N1T3 and began to lead him around. Each cluster was running open software– and given Riter’s paranoia, secured by nonsensical alpha-numerics and heavy encryption.Perfect.

“I still don’t understand what you’re doing here.”

“Waiting for you.”

N1T3 hesitated, eying a monitor, “All this…. it’s legitimate?

“Nothing but.”

If N1T3 was surprised before, he was utterly stupefied now.

He suddenly understood; like Ket, Riter had been waiting for him. Over the decade since Martin Black’s demise, his former comrades had been building a shrine to his ideals. Not to him per-se, nor even his words, but his ideals nonetheless.The same ones he’d helped spread in the time-before, was helping to secure the future of now.

Except, they weren’t his ideals. Not really. He knew that now. They never had been, for that matter. He simply knew and spoke of them first, before the masses caught on. When the others were still struggling to find their words. Not from malice, but immaturity.

Martin Black had been forced to live lifetimes before his time. In that, he gained a wisdom that made N1T3 the force he was. The problem was, that blinded him to certain, other aspects of himself that were immature. Again, not from malice, but simple lack of contextual maturation.

Because of that, too, N1T3 had learned how indelible the ink of life was. Was determined to find a way to make the most his, by ensuring no-one ever had to fear nor experience that indelibility early.

He began to nod, “You want me to link them.”

$trydr smiled, “Still sharp. Good. You’ll need it.”

N1T3 stopped at a server running an open file-browser. He knew $trydr’d left it open for him, like he knew everything else. He knew too what he’d find in it. He didn’t really care to look, but did for the sake of respect. The effort Riter would’ve gone through to collect the data was worthy of gratitude, if nothing else.

N1T3 began sifting the open directory. Thousands of image files appeared as just-discdernible thumbnails. With them came thousands, then millions of moments. They hit N1T3 in the gut harder than Riter had in the face. He doubled over, having preferred a repeat of that instead.

A series of pained moments. Flashes of light. Darkness. Shadows moving.

He found himself on his hands and knees, the weight of Riter’s hands on him. A third-person’s presence; slender-boned fingers at his neck. Dru1d. Of all things, N1T3 never expected to find $trydr’s wife tending to him.

N1T3 was braced on the floor, hands holding him up. The gut punch had winded, staggered, and rattled him. If he’d been in a boxing ring, it would’ve been a two-hit, one-round fight. A disappointment, in a way.

His viscera returned as she lilted, “… normal for something like this.”

“Psychological?”

“One triggers the other.”

Her voice rubbed his ears like silken woodwinds. His rumbled like a floor-tom. N1T3’s world focused. “I’m fine now.” He rose slowly. “Better anyhow.” They spotted him upward. “What the hell happened?”

“Memory recall,” she said firmly, already on-guard. “It’s painful.”

“That was intense.”

“You repressed a lot, Martin,” $trydr said. “It’s going to take time for it to decompress.”

“But it will. Soon,” she warned, about-facing to storm out. “I’d suggest you have something for his head then.”

N1T3 supported himself on a nearby console while $trydr brought chairs, “Angrier than you now.”

“You blame ‘er?”

N1T3 remained silent, waiting for Riter to stop and sit himself, and deeply considering the question. Close as the three had once been, Martin Black’s wounding carelessness affected healers worst of all. At that, N1T3 was certain Dru was. Not a false healer either, but a true healer; one whose essence aligned with her polarity.

Not only had she been directly wounded by Martin, she’d spent the better part of the time between tending to wounds he’d had a hand in creating. From her perspective, how was he not to blame?

N1T3 finally sighed, “Not in the least, Riter. Never.”

He managed a small smile, a wise-glint conveying a depth of gratitude. “Then in time, she’ll heal. That’s what she does.”

He thought to inquire further, but knew her time would come. Even if it was only a parting word, she would have her say. He only hoped she’d be gracious enough to allow him an apology– maybe one day, forgiveness.

He hoped, then remembered he might not live long enough to see it.

With all the weight of the world crushing into him, N1T3’s reality manifested on his features. In that moment, time ceased to exist for $trydr. He saw his old friend now as pale, shadowy husk of his former self. Worse, he saw now the madness that had begun in earnest. Not only N1T3’s, but his own part in it.

As N1T3’s part in Ket’s play.

$trydr had always known he had a part to play, how to prepare for it. Only until the play was in motion would they know if he’d done enough. Now, he understood and saw N1T3’s reality better than any before, and it was bleak. Bleaker than even his own reality, by virtue of their differing statuses.

In that moment too, N1T3 saw the look he’d had himself when he’d seen the vision of the future. Not through supernatural or precognizant power, but logical deduction. That moment of lip-parted terror-eyed recognition.

The one that ended in seemingly one, credible way: with N1T3 as martyr.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Man’s Long Goodnight

There is naught but triumph,
in the hearts of man,
a species unkindled,
nor burdened by plan,
but so too can madness,
be a triumph of sorts.

It starts small,
but leads to a fall,
one that may never end–
one that cannot contend,
with the madness that life wrought,
or those it offends.

That triumph is darkness,
as well as a light,
and no matter whether one,
believes themselves in the right,
actions are never,
quite so cut and dry.

They do however, tell all,
and determine in hindsight,
the true wit and worth,
of man’s decaying soul,
his heart and plight,
but that cannot undo the damage,
nor end,
his long goodnight.

VIN 19- Worthy Fights

America is in the midst of several, Human Rights crises. Their origin is the blatant attack on our democracy. The idea is to watch it crumble, and benefit from having– if not the best, at least the only structure upright.

Only the mentality of a conquering, tyrannical-style government could account for this. It is a test against not just Democracy, but the forces (people) guiding it. You need not look much deeper than method to trace its origin, but regardless of perpetrator, infinitely more important is the reality that only we can fix it.

We must allow justice its time: it is not a force of instant gratification. Rather, true Justice is a force of satisfied closure– it is the knowledge of adding to the species as a whole, ingrained in our guts, and ensuring its longevity. It is the feeling of completing, if not in our way than in some way, our species’ existential goal: to persist.

Justice is not a thing of guessing. It is a thing of knowledge, conviction. Facts and figures. Those things immutable to Time, because they are formed of Time itself. This is the true test of our era: for we, as a people, to commit to the prolonged trudge of democracy.

We are a lazy people, made that way of our own accord, and joined as thoroughly as possible by as many others as possible. That is the American way, truly: to each of us, live as Rulers of our own fiefdoms.

But to do so requires ensuring the community remains capable of it. That requires work.

Problem we have today, is that the system of contribution is simply too complicated. In a world where everything can be done at the touch of a button, not having the capability to do so routes you. You are automatically a non-entity.

The other side of this is the fear of security– or insecurity, really. The only way to allow the aforementioned without manipulation, is to make it a thing of either personal security or pride. Thereby, making it personal. Something consigned and confined to each person. Yet mobile and secure.

Maybe once encryption takes off, sure. Until then?

It is not an easy solution, no matter which direction is taken to it. Yet, it is by no means impossible. In fact, it is very much possible, and likely, that such a handheld device personally tailored, and secured, could secure democracy.

But look at the costs, risks, and ethical virtues required in such a system: “Is it worth it?” remains the question. In the case of America, is the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness worth fighting for?

Personally?

Yes.

Short Story: Blind and Bound

She stood in her shower, half-cradling a breast. One arm draped upward and around her, finger resting at her lips. The other worked to soap herself. Her eyes, stared: quite literally, dead-ahead. Their milky blindness told most of the story, but even her own circumstantial birth could not account for all of their current damage.

Something had happened. It was obvious and she knew it. What, she wasn’t sure– No, she was… but it seemed a dream. Someone else’s. It couldn’t have been hers. She’d been dreaming. A nightmare. Taken advantage of, but not. Caught off-guard, really.

She’d been blind since birth, born with a defect that kept the optic nerves from forming properly. Cataracts came later. She couldn’t help either, but as she’d known nothing else, she coped, adapted: to both life and circumstance, it was never a question of bothering her.

Until today.

Her senses were acute enough she’d never needed her cane outside the most populated areas; shopping malls, boardwalks, city-centers and the like– places where Humans couldn’t fathom that the rats and roaches scurrying about were actually people. People like them. Each with their own lives, memories, minutes and moments lived until and beyond their passing in the amalgamated haze of life.

For a five-five blind woman with less muscle mass than a proper steak, it meant nobody paid any attention to where you were or going. Short of having an attendant, she’d never have been able to walk city-streets without the cane.

She’d resented it her whole life. Not for any, one, irrational or emotional reason, but because she knew it made her appear outwardly vulnerable.

Her only feelings on the matter were that no-one knowing made it easier. Confidence alone held the facade of equal power in the streets. It allowed her to be one of the other cockroaches when needed. Otherwise, gave her strength to carry on day-to-day, despite her slightly more-unique set of challenges.

But if the equal-power perception were upset things change.

In other words, she remained a roach with her cane, but now one hanging from a candy cane on a dead Christmas tree. The conflict was obvious. She needed to be a chameleon using its color-changing to hide itself in plain-sight. Not a fucking clown.

At least, that’s how she’d always thought of it. Now, it seemed that wasn’t true. She’d been attacked without it, just another unlucky woman in the hands of some sick pseudo-human creature.

She’d screamed as soon as she’d felt his hands.

The smell! Something like motor oil and gasoline mixed with brill-cream. The smell of Human gone bad. Or old fruit too long rotting in sunlight. No good for liquor or anything more than decomposition.

She’d smelled it almost as soon as it hit her peripheral. As a deaf-dog smelled its owner in a garage from a second floor bedroom. She knew someone was near. An off-rotted someone. Were circumstances different, she’d have thought it a dead body.

The sudden rush of steps gave her pause, but the kind that didn’t hesitate in her step. Then, from nowhere, she was on the ground. Something struck her head, dazing her. Making her unable to scream. The world was spinning. Its motions unnatural, sickening. Dread burst into her limbs, doing its best to compel them onward.

It was too late. She felt cold air. Body heat. Stinking, Human-badness. Something pathetic and erect seeking violent, grotesque bounty. Before she could scream, he was inside. Then, she was screaming… but her mind was floating, drifting as if a sail-barge set adrift mid-storm and now consigned to float forever, alone.

Then, she was alone. Her limbs flailing, her tears ran.

It had only been moments. The little-pricked psycho couldn’t even last more than a few seconds, proving it was only the rush he got off on. She’d never gotten to touch his face. If she had, she’d have a good description, but her body’d been too heavily restrained.

Cooling water centered her on reality, pulling her back from a brink. Enough to warm the water, anyway.

Heavy. He was heavy. Not muscular, not obese. Heavy. Like the darkness of his soul was a lead-weight that kept her still. Part of it was herself: still too shocked to know how to think or act outside flailing. Utterly understandable, no-one would deny that. She’d managed a couple good scratches and a hit before her forehead hit concrete and she was dazed again, too.

So, he was heavy. And smelled. He’d have some scratches, and probably a bruise.

It wasn’t enough. She needed more, could only get it by revisiting that horrible memory. Over and over again. The way he slid inside with a kind of practiced-precision: he’d done it more than once. Nobody got that lucky on the first try of anything, especially not this.

Serial rapist. Heavy, but not fat. Smelling of badness and poorly endowed.

Still not enough. Better, but not enough.

He’d come at her from the side, along Fifth. Out of an alley. He’d have struck in the area again. Serial-anythings were predictable once identified. He’d hit her with something blunt, but not metal. She knew it from a thunk on the ground beside them. Wood on asphalt. The sounds replayed in crystal clarity. Clearer even than when they happened– for now, she had some grasp on their order of action.

Something wood and round. It had begun to roll, stopped and scraped when lifted. As if broken at its end. It was light, but precise. He hit her again.

Wood. Dense. Rounded but too small for a full-size bat. Not strong or heavy enough to break bone or skin. She was guessing it had been a scale-model one; the type kids picked up as souvenirs at their first attendance of a real game.

She had an idea of the weapon, but what more could that help? How many of the things were there in the world? Let alone in a city with a Major League team? She couldn’t know, but it was another detail.

She’d begun to move again. The last of the creature’s vile poison leaked off her into the pooling warmth, suckled away into nothingness down the drain. Her body gave an involuntary quake, but her arms worked to clean herself. Her feet warm, soothed.

He’d been wearing sneakers. He’d gotten the drop on her only because he was lost in his spring. The steps had been heavy, confusing at first. Incapable of immediately registering themselves as boot or shoe. But now, they were sneakers at full-tilt. He’d have worked out a method, a serial case: probably repeat offender.

No belt either. He wouldn’t have worn one. It wasn’t his first time, after all. That was obvious still. She’d heard no zipper but had felt the press of thin material on her legs as his knees pinned the backs of hers.

Pants. No zipper. Synthetic Fibers. Athletic-wear.

It was the only conclusion. With his weight, he was probably in disguise– that is to say, his dress wasn’t usual. He’d have abandoned the dress of a so-called day-to-day job, its presence evidenced in the brill-cream scent between the gasoline and motor-oil. He wouldn’t have left work just to do this. He’d prepared to do it.

Meaning the car-scents were hobbiest scents. Probably, the brill-cream an identifying trait. People that knew him would know it. That too, would connect him with his likely hobby of auto-repair– or if not hobby, necessity. Which meant he either had enough money to work cars for fun, or none at all and against odds, did it for pay.

Compulsive gambler was also a possibility. Such was the case in cracked eggs.

She didn’t know any mechanics though. While a few gear-heads in the ‘burbs knew her, none would remember her. Certainly, none with that scent of badness.

She twisted the shower off and stepped out. Groping for the towel and careful of her steps on the slick tub. It needed to be cleaned. Like she’d been…

No! She wasn’t unclean. It was him! He needed to be cleaned: Scrubbed from society while facing his crimes head-on.

She’d already taken a sample from the homemade rape-kit she’d fashioned from cotton-swabs and airtight tupperware. It wasn’t perfect, but she wasn’t about to walk into a police station without having some idea of what to say. She wanted him caught, not to have herself coddled. The last thing she wanted was to be coddled.

No, what she needed was information. As much as possible before going to the police. If she could figure out who it was, she could act.

Statistics said a victim was more likely to know their attacker. It wasn’t much to go on, but it could temporarily narrow the field. All she needed was to connect the right dots so she could turn the guy over, let detectives handle it from there.

It was as decent a place as any to start. She made the call.

A half-hour later she was meeting in her living room with a cop. She didn’t particularly like the idea, given the reputation they’d gained, but it wasn’t that difficult to choose between the Detective’s presence and letting the tiny-pricked bastard do it again. She gave what information she could muster:

Heavy, taller than her. Sneakers. Sweats. Wooden mini-bat. God-awful smell. Probably a serial. Scratched and bruised.

The detective hadn’t bothered to question her. She could hear the disbelief in his breath. Not the kind that would write her off. Rather, the kind that said he was ashamed how he’d squandered his senses. She gave him the homemade kit, which he handled as if a fearful student given a task by a mentor, to be taken with all precautions and properly handled.

He asked if she wanted a ride to the hospital, offered it. She accepted, though mostly for efficiency’s sake.

Two hours later, her he calling: he’d found someone she should, “Erm, take a look at…” She chuckled in earnest. His relief told her he was equally in earnest.

She was guided into a room. “The DNA will confirm,” the detective said. “But he fits the profile. Make the ID, we’ll hold him for interrogation.”

She stepped in, immediately overwhelmed by the scent of badness. She didn’t need confirmation, her gut affirmed her feelings. Her senses screamed. Terror rippled chains over her body, threatening to rip her back to that horrible series of moments. She shattered them with a breath.

Stepping over, mind focused, she connected a few, choice aspects of the attack she’d missed before. He had a strong right hand, dominant, but a stronger than usual left arm. Probably, from driving. Racing, she guessed. It fit with the stench of motor-oil and fuel.

And, he’d had a certain way of breathing. A huff-puff beneath a wheeze. He smoked. Excessively. He smelled of it even now. Smoke and sweat. It poured from him. Not fear sweat, no. Junkie sweat. The kind that came from craving fixes. He didn’t believe she could ID him; she was blind, after all. So, he wanted her again. He thought he could get away with it. Again.

That cinched it.

She stepped before him, senses screaming and gut knotted. The smell of badness floored her. She took off her sunglasses to stare him in the eyes with her milky-blind blues.

“You didn’t think I’d catch you.”

His breath stuttered. Imperceptible to anyone but her. He remained silent, but he was caught.

“The DNA will get you, but I want you personally to know, you won’t be seeing daylight for a long time. If you do, and you’re not changed, I will know. I will always be watching.”

The detective needed no further confirmation. He one, then the other, from the room: the former to sit and file paperwork, the latter to holding. Even as she boringly recited information for a proctor to fill out, she knew she’d never again fear walking the street– cane or not.

Guardians of Liberty: Part 10

10.

Fickle Youth

N1T3 paced himself over a mound of debris. The London Riots had been worse this time ’round. Military arms were too advanced. Civilian arms too accessible. Luckily, most damage was by nonlethals. All the same, a rubber bullet hurts no matter how alive you are afterward. Besides, the damage wasn’t done during the riots. It was the aftermath.

The ’08 crash was a great moment of effect in Human history. In the pejorative sense, that is. Not necessarily because of its subjects or its benefactors either, but because of the method by which it was discovered– and summarily ignored, by the people paid to care.

Nobody could deny who benefited from the state of things. It wasn’t the people being targeted— those like N1T3, Ket, An33$a, Clockwork that were trying to keep society from being poisoned. It was those fighting them tooth and nail to pour the stuff in. In short, the obvious benefactors of the hunt were those doing the hunting.

Meanwhile, the hunters underhandedly double-dealt blame on those they were supposed to be feeding. Any time or period of history thus-far passed would have seem such treachery beheaded, shot, drawn and quartered, and bronze-bulled for their flagrant disrespect. Not just for their fellow man, but for their species as a whole.

Until such an equivalent was met, the world wasn’t going to get better until after it got worse. Much worse.

Part of N1T3 remembered the madness as he followed the utterly emptyA200 through Deptford. The roads had been in flames from the cars that lined the streets ablaze in mile-long lines. The occasionally distant rock and shatter of a fuel tank broiling into combustion had barely honed the scattered madness of smashing windows and chanting.

Home was North, now, but in those moments it hadn’t existed for anyone. Then, any hovel you could hole up in or hollow out to avoid death, beating, or innocently-bystanding was home. The now-abandoned Greenwich University lay to N1T3’s East, where the smoke had plumed from the night the CRA past.

He cleared his throat painfully. Ahead, lay narrow English roads built for a time and world so far gone it might never have existed.

The place was dead. Zombie movie, Human-ambush scene dead.

He hesitated, listening for the sake of instinct alone. Distant observers always seemed a given, but he made himself look busy a moment then thoroughly scanned the area.

Not another soul for kims. That was how the world had turned. Big, massive Metros of former, smaller neighborhoods. Suburbs now forming unholy swaths of corp, or bank, or etc-aligned and occupied land, or owned and abandoned land.

Automated currents and channels of auto-cars and corp-courier traffic connected various oases of life, but thesedeserts separated them. Visited by life, but only in passing. Humanity had more or less forgotten about the outlying, in-between areas; conceptually and otherwise.

In some cases, separate but adjacent city-blockssaw traffic once a week and consistent jams each day. Companies like Hyper-Dyne and Third-Rail wanted it that way: when they weren’t goring each other for market-share of transport, they were deliberately clogging arteries of society and calling it progress because others never stopped moving, flowing.

In the end, there was only one, positive effect of universalizing transport; networking it.

N1T3 hesitated at the apex of a corner. A distant observer’s presence prickled the back of his neck: a personal sixth sense grown from decades of introversion, hiding in crowds, fearing public recognition.

A hint of sound. Far too distant to make out. Too quiet.Something was watching.

How? He’d have sensed other rats through the ruins. That was how they ended up in such large masses: they gravitatedtoward one another like ferrules to magnets. Really, it was only food that drew rats together, but in this case N1T3 mused, he guessed that was the need to stay off-grid.

All the same, someone was watching. A half-second of recalling his surroundings and he knew who.

He dropped from sight into the nearest open manhole. Another sign of society’s implosion. The same sewage lines here connected to others, forming a network that drained into the river. Near one of its outflows was his hideaway.

Sooner or later that hideaway would be compromised. The hope was to have outgrown it by then. Eventually it would be just another crash-pad where kids got high, drankstolen beer in cans at a time, and convinced themselves the best was yet to come.That was the real joke though.

Things wouldn’t get better. How could they without working to make them better? What kid had the power to do that? What adult had the freedom to? Each knew their place in the world was secure, immutable. But was it really?

Of course not.

N1T3 dropped to the sewer floor and kept low. He knew the roads well enough to follow their drainage, was already mentally and digitally mapping the rest. For safety’s sake, he’d have to barricade and secure various entrances, but could likely move about unimpeded.

He hesitated inside, whipped out an old phone long ago converted to a digital note-pad. It automatically offloaded all new data anytime it was in range of his systems. Effectively, syncing his day to his vast, personal networks, both local and remote.

A digital note-taking system followed him anywhere he went. When he logged into anything personal, it appeared. Most people would’ve lost their minds for something that good; paid their souls for it. He did it himself. From widely available, free resources. Then, released it free.

And people wondered why tech-minded were angry at the world’s state…

He made his way through the grid-work, mapping what he could and notating the rest. He’d add to and refine the data later. He focused instead on making it through. He was near Deptford Fire Station. Directly above were narrow, once-prominent middle-class streets, emptied on the orders of CEOs of the Big-13’s banks.

Pre-digital, it was a world of pristinely-manicured 20×20, bi-and-tri-level cells, filled to brimming with the naivete of youth.Those youth inherited the cell and its reality, and the world outside summarily showed its indifference and collapsed. People had nowhere to go but beneath its weight.

The cramped aftermath felt more homely and freeing than a clean-street ever could.

It hit him then; the Station. He knew the place well enough to find it through any darkness. So long as he knew where he was, his sense of direction would do the rest.

He finally understood the sound he’d heard. Why he’d been allowed to hear it at all.

Drone-sounds were never good. Not these days. Once, those high-pitched thrums meant fun or awe. Now, they meant terror and fear at-best. Unlawful hassling, shakedowns and harassment, usually. And at-worst, dehumanizing violence…

Clockwork and An33$a.

Spykids tended to modify their drones to run silent, if only from their own desire not to hear them. Especially for a hobbyist hiding in a derelict part of London, no doubt of the same mind as N1T3, it would be foolish not to stealth your drone.

N1T3 knew then he’d been diverted into the sewer. Compelled there. By knowingly-manipulated instincts. Problem was, confirming his hunch exposedhim, but rooting out the controller might mean aid, resources. Or at least marking out an enemy, if it was one.

Find the operator’s hideaway, then.Likely impermanent. Passing attention, if nothing else. That meant getting close enough to see the operator face-to-face; risks forboth parties, but an easy trap too.

Anyone smart enough to find and understand N1T3, his movements, enough to divert him knew he’d figure out their reality a moment later. Were it not for his physical proximity to such a familiar– and otherwise utterly unremarkable landmark, he’d have immediately been on the defensive. Fact was, few whom knew N1T3 also knew Martin Black.

Fewer still knew either intimately enough to reassure the latter, however symbolically, of difference between friend or foe.

N1T3 relaxed then; he just had to find his way in.

He circled the block’s intestines three times before he saw it. Cleverly exposed, just precisely so as to discourage further inspection. In this case, a benign series of old bricks and tools so obviously out of place there was no way they weren’t a marker.

He dug carefully. Between a collection of tools and holsters was a door handle. It slid open on a heavier, thicker door behind it, unsecured by the looks of the un-padlocked door.

The firehouse was occupied.

N1T3 guessed it wasn’t who he’d hoped for. If so, why not signal him personally? Was concealment so important? Or was it concealing one’s association instead? The only way to know was to enter. The door itself would decide.

He opened it and crept in, heart pounding. He knew the place well. Knew its every corner and crook. As Martin Black had once known it. More, he knew inside lay a room and a way up into the station, and somewhere a confrontation.

He stepped into the center of the pitch-black room, and breathed “Stryder.

Deep curls of laughter echoed from the shadows, rebounding with added energy in defiance to physics. The echoes cut air like sabers from all sides, cutting his brain and body, yet leaving him whole.

Then all at once, it stopped.

Sweet, delicious silence reigned long enough to wilt into dismay.

At that precise moment, a voice challenged, warned, threatened, and welcomed him, “Hello, Martin.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Raw Aether

I know of no magick,
like that which I’ve seen
through third-eyes,
or in-between dreams.

It is soft and supple.
Virgin and pure.
A reality beyond reality,
yet formed of raw aether.

It is there that it bore us,
unto this chaos of light,
and it is there we shall return,
whence comes the long goodnight.

Though we know not our purpose–
if indeed there be one–
we know we find service
in answering a call,
whether for light or darkness,
it matters not,
but we must remember,
the truth is in foresight.
It is but buried.
Yet given due time.
I too shall carry,
the aether’s death-sign.