Seven Days: The Unwelcome Guest
Posted By: SeverianofUrth
Date: 26 June 2009, 5:59 am
The conversation died sometime around noon.
We sat doing nothing, said nothing,
uncomfortable in the silence but capable--of nothing.
The helplessness and the numbness
that sat heavy on our hands stilled the air
until all the doors had the look of tombs.
Thunder of approaching calamity
met with silence, not out of some dignity
but rather the meek acceptance of the wary.
Weary, we sat and waited. In the silence
the dim gloom of the tomb--the doors
leading to nowhere far enough, the approaching
hand, fate, whatever, disaster heading our way,
to fall, fall back again, then onward.
The optimist that he was, he sat up and said.
Something. May have been nothing.
I wasn't listening.
Art Holstein: Custard & Ego (Ravel Publishing, 2315 LLTP)
Seven Days: The Unwelcome Guest
I watched Kassad die, and I watched what he saw. Fragments of memories emerged from his cooling head like bodies floating head-down in the ocean. They stayed up only for a short period of time, just enough for me to get a glimpse at them. Some things surprised me—and some did not. It was all oddly human.
He felt strange, to be so excited. Kassad sat up on the couch, his hair tussled from sleep, and thought again about the ruins discovered beneath Honolulu. About the trip he would make tomorrow, down below to where the miners had found strange monoliths in their search for veins of gold, tall buildings in artificial caves inscribed with strange, alien glyphs.
He called for the light to be turned on. The sudden brightness made him blink; then, the trophies of his career stood on shelves all around the room—a plaque here, medals there, a piece of the Loss after the destruction of the prison-asteroid—his history in display for all to see. Kassad had once felt pride about such things, but now, he felt nothing. He wondered if he should have the golden ones be melted down for ingots or something. They might come in use, he thought, as he looked around. Turn them into cash, and hide them all over the planet, in case of emergency... then Kassad laughed at himself, for being so absurd. Those days were gone, and he lived now in a peaceful time.
Still--tomorrow, he thought, with a childlike smile. Aliens. So strange, to feel so excited.
Kassad remembers. Blood dots the earth behind him, a little trail of red marking his path towards the excavations. He's losing strength. And in the bitter clarity of thought afforded by his own impending destruction, Kassad thinks—why was it not enough?
Because it never is, he thinks. It never is enough; the present always lacks satisfaction, and we look towards the future in search of a better solution. And his solution in this case had been to doom the rest of mankind, and to do so with gleeful finality. But while he expected triumph, he feels only a hollow lack of it, a emptiness in his heart that refuses to go away. It's a curiously familiar feeling that serves only to make him more bitter.
He's heading to the excavations, where the ruins of a civilization long past gone sit, in their strange and silent glory. He never was able to figure them out, and he knows that he never will. Save that they were harbingers of doom, and their discovery coincided with the first death—a fisherman missing on his own boat, his emergency comm relay emitting a SOS over and over into the Hawaiian night—and that these unwelcome guests would now be unleashed upon them all. A week ago, such thoughts had made him smile. Now, as he walks to where it all began, dying on the way there, who knew that he had such a big heart, to accommodate such emptiness? Like a cavern, emptied of everything but air.
He never does get there. It starts with his right foot. He tries to take that step but all strength leaves it, goes numb, and he stumbles and falls forward. Kassad reaches out but can't stop his face from crashing into the dirt. He tastes dirt and blood, and something like tears, bitter salt on his tongue. Now the rest of his body goes numb. All feeling, gone, and in the absence of feeling he lies on the ground, and before he blinks for the last time, he can't think of anything important, only the sheer disbelief that he is dying like every other man. It occurs to him that he had, after all, believed himself immortal.
"Good god," said Kassad, as the Golden Fool slowly braked to a stop. "This is... rather amazing."
Before him stood a giant monolith, a strange tower that stretched all the way up to the roof of the cavern. Perhaps fifty meters high, and half that in width. There were no visible doors on it, and although it glowed yellow under the pale artificial lights, there were no signs of it actually doing anything.
"Nothing coming out from it, sir. No heat, no energy, it's pretty much just a piece of rock as far as function goes."
Feeling giddy, as if he was once again a child, Kassad stepped off the Fool. The 'hog was named as such for the purple paint job the Vehicle department had given it; it wasn't royal purple, as had been intended, but instead was candy-purple, the same shade as that of cartoon dinosaurs. Kassad didn't know where the Golden part of the name had come from—probably some inside joke, all governmental divisions had such things.
"And the ruins stretch for... thirteen kilometers, you said?"
"Yes, sir." The tech in contact with him was obviously in high spirits. He responded efficiently to Kassad's questions. "At least, that's what we've been able to uncover so far. We only stumbled into the cavern when the diggers accidentally lit a Semtex mining charge near a gas vent."
"What happened to the diggers?"
"Uh, no clue, sir."
He shrugged—nothing to worry about. Kassad turned back to the ruins, and once again, the spectacle awed him. It lit something in his heart—like a candle, a lantern, a torch? Curiosity blazed once more, and a smile lit his face. Something, finally, to be excited about.
Climbing back into the Fool, he looked around in awe again. The 'hog, remote-controlled, approached some kind of a cliff, ringed with gray railings of an unknown metal.
"You know," he said to the tech, "I don't exactly see a bridge there." For the Fool was gaining speed, as it neared the edge of the cliff. He could see on the other side of the gap more strange buildings, but between them lay a giant crack, a hundred meters long, stretching deep into the earth.
Not again, he thought, as he prepared to jump out. Kassad sprang out of the Golden Fool tut-tutting at the sheer amateurism of the assassination attempt. It was laughable, how they expected to drop him over the edge, when it had been so clear what would happen--
He watched as the car continued to roll over the air, and reach the other side. Too late, he saw, in the faint light, something glimmering where the Fool's wheels has passed. A force-field of some sort.
Feeling foolish, he jogged over the abyss—feeling under his boots the firm surface of the force field—back to the vehicle, where it stood, idle. The tech was laughing his ass off, and Kassad felt a grin stretch over his face as well. The laughter bubbled out of him, and it felt good as it ran echoing through the ruins.
The memories churn up with the darkness around him. He remembers struggling through the streets of Utica, his legs forcing their way through knee-deep snow, his teeth chattering and in his ears the sound of the gunshot, still ringing. That had been his first time, like losing his virginity, almost, and it's funny how he's remembering it all over again, the twelve pounds of pressure applied to the trigger, then the bullet punching through bone and meat. Lots of pulp and blood. Waste matter seeping out of the corpse, soaking the once-white sheets. Funny, how some memories don't fade but rather grow sharper, thanks to constant recollection.
What was it that the man had said to him? Old guy. White hair crowning a bald spot on a shiny red head. Eyes wide. Pleading. Kassad remembers enjoying the sudden rush of power. There had been him and his gun, and he had, for a little time, been the sole focus of the victim.
You have it wrong.
And he had replied,
Not my concern, sir.
That had been the extent of the conversation. Then the pistol raised up, aimed at the forehead, the gun barrel steady, the sights set in the spot right above where the man's eyebrows nearly met--then the pressure applied to the trigger, the feeling traveling up his arms as he watched the aftermath. The dead man falling ungraciously back onto the bed, still in his bedtime clothes, a neat little hole in his head, the stink of his last gift to the world staining his shorts brown.
Kassad wonders if all men died this way; slowly, with too many memories.
Some space-cults venerated the Stranger. He was, they said, the avatar of the void, the spiritual representation of the unimaginable distance separating the children of Adam and Eve—the god, they said, of the dark and the unknown.
Remnants of that oddball faith still existed on New Hawaii, and a few of them worked for the Securidad as well. Kassad stalked out of the meeting, steaming still—to think that otherwise reasonable men and women would rely on supernatural explanations for what was inflicting such damage to their outlying settlements—sometimes, or most of the time, the human race as a whole exasperated him. The Stranger, they had muttered to themselves; he has come to harrow the human race.
Personally, however, Kassad could not help but think of the alien ruins deep underground. Research on them had been going slow—not enough resources or the knowledge to handle completely unknown artifacts—but still, something about them bothered him. He remember seeing in the deep of space a sleek nothingness that contrasted with the dull black of the space around it; no one else had, but there also had been reports of lights on the moon, bright purple lights gleaming like stars on the icy surface.
The Stranger—quite an unwelcome guest, if he indeed was here; obviously, being just another product of religious fantasy, he didn't exist, but the concept of just a stranger appealed to him. It clicked together: the ruins, and now, people dying in mysterious ways, bodies left in pieces, all of them severed with surgical precision.
"Sir! Hold on, there's a message for you!"
Kassad turned to see a young woman struggle to catch up to him. Her tight shirt meant what was underneath were doing interesting things involving physics. "Yes?"
She caught up to him; her name tag, in bronze with black lettering, read Omel. "Sir, the... the Consul, sir. Said he'd like to talk to you after the meeting."
He recognized her—she had been in the room, assisting councilman Evans. Kassad supposed that she reported to the Consul as well, and that this fact probably wasn't unknown to Evans. Perhaps it was done with tacit approval from both sides; one side content to have a spy, and the other, content to be spied on by someone they knew. "The Consul? Did he tell you what for?"
"No, sir. But he did ask you to be prompt and on time."
He frowned, but nodded. "Well, take me there then—or I guess you'll have to get back to your real work, huh?"
"Ha, yes, sir." She had finally caught her breath, and bowed before jogging back in the other direction. Definitely, Kassad thought, someone tolerated not for her abilities. He reminded himself that it was also a very sexist thought, but then, hadn't his rise in the ranks been triggered by his looks, as a child? Such a pretty young boy. He squashed those memories, for they weren't necessarily pleasant, and went to visit the Consul.
It was sunny outside, and the light shone through the blinds and cast a serrated glare. They striped the Consul's bald head, as he toggled the personal A.I. on. Kassad noted the model: M.J. Fischer, Mark One. A ball of inky black that peeled open with a mouth whenever it spoke. It looked like a Pac-Man, almost, one of the old revisionist models.
"And tell him to stop fucking the mail boy," the Consul said to the A.I. "It's unhealthy, and it's bound to cause a scandal, which he certainly can't afford—and that will be all for today."
"Good afternoon, sir."
The Consul was a big man, bald head and all. His muscles were fast on their way to becoming flaccid from lack of use, but they were there, all the same, and old age and fat couldn't obscure his once-formidable bulk. "Think I called you here for a reason," he said to Kassad.
"Right. I want you to stop obsessing over it. It's unhealthy—and it's bound to fuck you over, which you can probably afford, since you don't really give a shit—but still, I'd like you to let the professionals look over it."
"With all due respect, sir, we have no professionals, unless you're talking about the pair of dimwits over in S-Sec."
The Consul paused. "That's a thought—Rubashov, correct? Wasn't he a killer like you?"
"Never as good. Or smart, for that matter."
"I'd call you arrogant, if I didn't agree with you. Still—it'd give the impression that something is being done."
Sighing, Kassad said, "if you intend on making the pair of them investigators, you should wait a bit—until it becomes absolutely necessary."
"Necessity—I'm going to assume that would be when shit hits the fan. Or when it hits in near proximity to Honolulu itself. Hopefully, whatever the fuck this is, it'll stop soon."
"I highly doubt that, sir."
"Didn't take you for a loony, Kassad. You with that cult? Christian or whatever?"
"Certainly not. However, I'm beginning to favor the view that it's the aliens."
"Ha!" The Consul slapped his desk, laughing. "All the years we've worked together and this is what it comes down to, huh?"
"You the power-hungry diplomat and I the lunatic conspirator?"
"Exactly, exactly. We'll become, in the end, just like everything we thought we were against... oh, the good old days."
Kassad grinned. It had no mirth in it. "You seem to be suffering from selective memory—or maybe you have no memory to choose against."
"We all did, back in Utica. Still, let's get back to happier things—"
It was a few months down the line, when the decision to put together the Dekanet-relay was made. The killings had reached a point where even the most stubborn of men were forced to admit that something inhuman was at work. The religiously inclined were inclined to believe in religious explanations, and those believing in extraterrestrial origins were inclined to believe in that. Yet they were only that, beliefs, until, one day, a rare footage of the slaughter was found.
Many of the outside townships on New Hawaii were isolated, disconnected from the rest of world by choice. A lot of the people valued privacy; they had suffered much under bureaucracy, and trusted them no longer, no matter who was at the helm. This meant that often, security footage did not exist, for there were no surveillance networks to take advantage of.
It happened at a sleepy town, half the planet away from Honolulu. The town was called Golden. Footage recovered from the ruins showed a woman crawling away from the wreckage of her home, bleeding, blood chugging out from the carved stump of her leg. Then something stepping on the small of her back, and crushing, until at last she died, back caved in, the pressure forcing a fresh stream of blood to erupt from both her severed leg and her nostrils, her ears, her mouth.
Whatever had killed her—it couldn't be seen. Invisible.
A few select individuals within the Securidad were informed of a presence in orbit; some craft, not of human origin, that passed in and out of visibility as it drifted around and 'round New Hawaii. All attempts to communicate with it had failed.
Moreover, 'shooting stars' were starting to be seen in great numbers. Many of the calculations pointed to them landing near the equator, around the Isa jungles.
The news of the killings, however, were suppressed and the general public went uninformed. Yet, the truth was, they--whoever, whatever they might be—were drawing in, closer and closer, in a swiftly cinching ring. It was like a slow-moving sweep, or a hunt. Certainly, the corpses left revealed a ruthless satisfaction in their manufacture.
Kassad had, over the last few weeks, given away all his possessions. It wasn't because he wanted to make friends or valued the idea of charity—it was because he wanted to, and wanted to prove, too, that he could. And who was he proving it to? To no one, but himself. But to him, himself—or the idea of self—was too abstract to truly satisfy, so to whom did it matter? No one, but himself.
He chuckled. Philosophically, he was a mess; he couldn't make heads or tails out of what he considered philosophic babbling, and what he couldn't understand, he condemned. As something unworthy. Kassad recognized that about himself—knew well that to dismiss such a vast thing was foolish—but he was human. Being foolish, was to be human. He savored that thought; to be human.
His office was empty and his affairs were all neatly tied up. Moreover, all of his pieces were now in play—the men were sent, the knives were on their way, their destinations the dark places in the city. All the fine men and women of the ruling elite, condemned by him to die. He'd used all his authority and all his contacts for this one final task. Death, in such numbers. It wasn't human to take joy in such things, he knew, so he tried to be solemn about it. But sometimes a smile broke out on his face and it'd widen and tighten up his lips until they arched up in a U.
Another memory, of a distant time.
The conversation between the two died sometime around two o'clock. By three, one of them died as well. He blinked as he tumbled to the ground, then it hit him that he had just been seperated from the rest of his body. Then the lack of oxygen and everything else registered up in his brain, and his consciousness cut away.
The spool of razorwire in Kassad's hands were free of blood, so sharp they were that not even water clung to them. He liked them. Not much cleaning was required for something like that. Guns were messy. Not that decapitation wasn't, but there was something symbolic about it. It sent a message, which was more then what a bullet to the head said. It was also like a calling card, like a playing card left at the scene, or some graffiti scrawl painted on the walls. I was here. Then the corpse. How dramatic.
Kassad, big and dark, with dark hair and a big nose. He thought about the other man, the one whose head was on the ground. Not a bad guy, he thought. Not a bad guy--no, he hadn't been a bad guy at all. He thought about the conversation they'd had, which had started with the coffee crisis and had ended with discussions about the validity of Terran rule.
Imperial ambitions, Kassad had said to the other man.
No, just common sense. Some hand-waving. We're all humans. No point in this, you know? Crazy shit some people here are trying to cook up.
Kassad had looped the razorwire around the man's throat before cinching it close. The wire had cut through the meat and bone like they had been soft, wormy cheese. He had felt almost no resistance as the wire bit then sliced through.
What do you mean by 'crazy shit'?
Rabble-rousing, you know? The thing is, you know it and I know it--it ain't going to work, because--
Because we're too small and they're too big. Pure logistics.
Right! You know it, that's good, you know? No matter how much you--or, that is, them, well, no matter how much them may want it, it just isn't going to happen.
Yet, Kassad had replied with a lazy smile on his face, we must all strive for the impossible every once in a while.
Shit, son, tried fucking without my pills the other day. That was impossible enough, I'd rather not kick the bucket for this shit.
Figures, he thought.
The thrill of the hunt was gone. He stood in the darkened room, holding in his hand the modded G5A, and pooling around his feet was blood, trickling from the half-skull ruin of Engineer Berle. His corpse lay half on the bed and half on the floor, arms flung out, legs all limp and tangled like the ruins of a spider's limbs.
Before him, on the bed, was a little girl. She was naked and light from the little orange lamp pooled on her chest, gathered up by the mixture of sweat and oil. Berle had been mounting her when Kassad has shot him from the back. The bullet had punched through the Engineer's head before ending up right between the little girl's eyes.
Bitterly, he wondered—why? Why bother?
Such a human moment, for such a monster. Because monsters feel no remorse, for other monsters. He stood still as his world tumbled down around him, and the unwelcome guests made ready for the final push. The gun was heavy in his hand, too heavy, and he let it tumble from his limp fingers. It dropped with a solid, wet thunk into the pool of blood. Still, Berle was dead--along with any hopes of reconstructing the Magellan. The Dekanet relay would never again be rebuilt. Perhaps, one day, in the distant future--but not now, not with such a dearth of time.
He left them in there. Closed the door behind him, and walked through the dusty shelves stacked with scraps from busted commsats. Berle had not kept a neat shop. His passage stirred wisps of dust to swirl in his wake, like snow disturbed by the passing wind. Kassad had set out that afternoon with the intention of getting his hands bloodied once again, and he had certainly achieved that goal. But it had lacked the thrill of old, and killing, he now knew, no longer appealed to him. It wasn't that the thought of shooting people disgusted him, but rather, he had dulled himself to it over the years. In the few years since the colonization of New Hawaii had begun, he had ordered a fair share of clandestine murders and casual executions, by agents he knew only by their ID numbers. All those dead, combined with those he had buried in Earth, in Reach, then to Utica and the asteroid hell--a butcher of men.
Truth was, he had gone there to kill one man and had come upon the little girl by accident. The files had mentioned the pederast's special appetites, but Kassad had not known that the man was still indulging himself with the occasional treat plucked off the streets. But--not many children running around the city. Where had the little girl come from? The empty eyes, the lack of... feelings as he shot her. He wondered if the little girl had been a flash clone. Readily made to indulge old men and women, to cater every taste and every whim.
Curious now, Kassad accessed Securidad's database of genetic laboratories, or more specifically, the cloning vats. Honolulu had been built with feeble clone hands, and the farms were staffed with replicas of the ideal Frontier man. Although the production of clones for prostitution purposes was outlawed on Hawaiian soil, he knew that what inspectors he had checking over the labs often kept their silence thanks to a well-placed appeal to their own appetites.
Hong, Alice. Hono, Alex. Honpokuwo, Nzih. Honpute, Souta. Honroe, Henry. So on and so forth the long list of those working as geneticists and vat-men. Kassad logged out of the database, giving up on the search. After all, it would be a pointless task. They would all die. Every single one. Harrowing the human race, indeed--the detachment of the executioner. Perhaps there was some justice to be found in all this.
The pain roars at him.
What he thinks of as 'the beast'--it continues to lurch through his head, marching with earth-shaking steps through the folds of his brain. Mind-shattering and bone-aching, the pain continues to parade outside the edges of his consciousness--it roars, yet it can't break through the soporific haze of the numbness creeping through his veins.
This is what it means to die.
This is how he died: eyes open, staring at the ground, tears and snot mingling with blood on the dirt. So much regret in a human heart.
I'm tired, Ben. I stepped away from his corpse, and the memories that bobbed up out of the waters faded out of my sight.
I wished him rest, and a not-so-fond farewell. One more day, I thought. One more day, and for forevermore, the oblivion, the void which awaits me at the end of my dreams--the rest of those that do no longer exist.
A fond farewell for you, in advance.