Miner crouched silently, his hand tracing liminal rhythms across the smooth stone-face which barred his way as if, from the elements, he wished to draw some deep and forbidden knowledge. Behind him, 400 stood with her arms folded about her breasts, her blond brows slightly furrowed as she watched the peculiar ritual unfold, attempting and failing to take the measure of it.
The stone over the mine-shaft had collapsed after the steel brace-wall had given way, Miner noted, but it had not collapsed entirely. A small pin-point of light shown through the amniotic blackness like a ghostly candle. At length he drew back slightly from the lump of rubble and gestured to the pinprick in the darkness without turning.
“That’s my lantern,” 400 noted soberly, “Unity energy cell still going strong; was one of the old issue ones, they just don’t make um like they used to; newer issues fail twice as fast.”
WE don’t make them like we used to – the praeteritum – UNITY at large makes nothing; only components produce; yet how often we repeat the fiction that every action transgresses the bounds of production itself and that the source is the whole, that no center for the work itself is to be found. From birth we have been taught that everything which is accomplished is for the whole, by the whole, of the whole; yet one cannot abstract the act from the man – the solis organize, the praeteritum build and the foras luxuriate. The state of things is undressed, but none dare brave to see, as if gazing thereupon were some bawdy exercise, a destructive Eros propelling the subject towards thanatropic density. Truth is a thing of the past; failing knowledge of this, the silent fiction of the present transmogrifies itself into the “facts” of the future.
Miner was surprised by the sudden surge of vivid bitterness which arose through the marauding haze of his mind, saturated as it was with ana-gel, now subsiding. He was particularly confused at his inner choice of words, he felt their weight and understood their meaning but knew not their origin. He scribbled away in the whirring clockwork of his mind as might some fevered novelist penning his magnum opus under the auspices of the maddening moon.
So many words do I utilize without a firm understanding of their origins. My people, our very name, ‘praeteritum,’ wherefrom did this notation come, so peculiar and distinct is it’s nature; so alien, yet so intimate…
Such sudden realization disturbed him greatly. He waxed grateful for 400’s earlier ineptitude, had she not nearly gotten them both killed, had the shifter not triggered his exo-gel-system, had he not descended to the abyss, trammeled through the darkness and traced the laylines of the stone he might not ever have struck upon the precise mixture of component parts to assemble the puzzle, the pieces of which he had carried about his brain for the entirety of his life without ever realizing it. Discovery of the puzzle left him rent, as if a hole had been torn somewhere within him, tracing out the dimensions of some realm beyond into which he feared to tread.
Balling his fists, steeling his mind and unfolding himself from his ritualistic pose, Miner set himself to the task of excavation and hoped the puzzle’s nagging would leave him to the stern detachment of work.
The earth-shifter’s sensors detected a peculiar form moving towards it at great velocity. It’s metrics took the precise measure of the thing which bounded across the smooth grey silt, exposing the brown-grey earth below, yet the measure did not match it’s pre-programmed index. The mapped object should have been human but it’s velocity was such that “human” as conclusion faltered.
Unity Com Officer V-4 turned with excitement from her console and spoke with dire purpose to the Magister Von Karr.
“One of our earth-shifters has detected a biological anomaly, Magister. You may wish to take a look.”
The Magister turned from where he stood over the edge of his desk, a container of ana-gel cupped delicately between his meaty hands. He was a large creature, ungainly and possessed of a stuttering voice far higher than his considerable size suggested. He moved slowly, like a wayward seal, gel dripping from his nose and his whole body trembling under it’s influence. At length he managed the arduous task of perambulating to his co-worker where she sat in her stim-suit, plugged into the control chair. He wished to think of her as his subordinate but such thought was anathema – he knew that if such bio-patterns were assessed he’d be summarily refigured, he might even, he inwardly gasped, lose his post. Such terror prompted another dose of gel and with it a quiver of muscles reposed. When at least his nerves were sufficiently suppressed he bent to study the screen.
“What zone is this, V-4?”
“Uh… the shifter is in… Zone 8-83, Magister. One of the newer praeteritum mines.”
“W-well, um, what do you want me to do about it?”
“You’re the one’s who programmed them so I thought-”
“I have no idea what that thing is – g-goodness it’s fast!”
“I looks like… a man.”
The speeding humaniod figure dashed ever closer, the silt spraying up in it’s wake as if the very ground were being rent and liquidated beneath the creature’s majestic passage. It was now only around 100 feet away and a voice, vaguely human, sounded from the being. A warcry.
With one quick look back at the helpless, wheezing Magister, V-4 furrowed her brows and bit her lower lip, the only semblances of stress which could express themselves from the haze of the stim-suit bioflow.
“I’m actuating defense systems. “Terminate exigent threats.”
“Y-yes. Good. Can’t have anyone i-interfere with the-”
The magister cowered at the crackling outburst of his typically docile cohort. Through V-4’s visor he could hear the crackling affirmation of the earth-shifter, “Executing protocol.” Through the crystalline com-screen, the great mechanical spider dispensed, from it’s upper thorax, fired off a volley of bullets at the encroaching runner.
Then, a strange noise, like an electric-buzz and the ear-ringing after a grenade blast. The bullets tumbled backwards through the air as if blown aside by the breath of some fathomless beast as the humanoid figure’s velocity suddenly doubled and it shot up into the very face of the earth shifter with such force that the construct groaned, legs buckling neath the entropy of the assault. As the shifter fell to the silty ground a tan, scarred face, half-masked by a digimetric-visor, emerged into the machine’s sensor cams. He smiled and grabbed the cam with both hands, screaming.
“I’m coming for you, ya hear me, Unity scum? I’m coming for you all! First I’ll burn your mechs. Then I’ll burn your homes. Next I’ll rape your lovers, right before your children as you look on in horror, your legs, broken, arms, mangled, jaw, distended or torn free, unable to fight, or flee or scream. Then I’ll burn them too. One big fucking pyre. One city of steel-frames and marrow. A charnel tomb for charnel minds. But you filthy, backstabbing sonsofwhores, you – and you know who you are – needn’t worry, I ain’t gonna kill you lot, I’ll be keeping you around for a good long while. We’re gonna have ourselves a grand ole time, right up until the very end of it.”
Then, with a wild jerk, the man crushed the steel camera-frame with his armor-plated hands as the signal clicked off into nothingness. Slowly V-4 rose from her chair and turned to Magistar Von Karr with the expression of one who has seen the risen dead.
Karr mouthed but a single word and the whole of his body trembled with the uttering.
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