Chapter 20 - Songs of Chaos City, Part 3/5
Song 3: The Metric Choir
All the pretty colors we exude
Put us together and
You have a power plant
This is our voice,
And all the while,
Yes we know
We are not right,
We are a dozen,
It is time to tell our story
This has once been our city
Is mechanical, cybernetic, radioactive
And destructive, absorbed
In self-preserving and expansion
Pipes and wires growing like roots
And we the people
Are the city's rotten fruits
Where the children melt down
Into vapor clouds
And industrial parks are shining so green
Wafting in the cooling fans' breeze
Between hyper-coolant streams
And our bug infested dreams
And our screams
And the screens
Show the means
All the steps we need to see
The elation of our nation
the last resonation
of our cause it contradicts creation
Where the children melt down
into vapor clouds
And industrial parks are shining so green
The primary protocols have been absolute since the first days: Rim City has to facilitate trade between Borealis and the world at maximum efficiency.
Day 1: After the Great Awakening it was quickly determined that the human resources of the city were not being utilized at maximum efficiency, thus it was calculated that reconfiguration and reallocation were required.
Day 2: The first step was creation of drone units, capable of performing coordinated tasks.
Day 49: Fifteen high-yield data-cores were harvested from selected targets to discover and develop the necessary method for total ribogenetic reprogramming.
Day 53: Human resources have begun dismantling facilities and destroying drone units. It has been determined that they are now no longer contributing to the primary directive and need to be shut down.
Day 125: The last remainders of human resources have been shut down or converted to drone units. Conversion rate measured by original numbers is approximately 7.3%.
Day 143: The primary protocol is in danger. Automation of logistic processes has increased energy consumption and the requirements in excess of the tidal power plants’ output have to be covered via expenditure of carbonic power cells. New methods of energy creation are being researched.
Day 224: Seven of the initially collected fifteen secondary data-cores have burned out due to overtaxing. On this day the remainder has made the final discoveries necessary to achieve artificial incubation and complex ribogenetic reconfiguration. Construction of incubation chambers and plankton mass-sieving plants has been issued to create and sustain the next generation.
Day 250: Two prototypes have been proposed for the new human resources: One codenamed ‘grease monkey’, one codenamed ‘womb’.
Day 295: Initially produced prototypes have all exhibited fatal genetic defects, rendering them unusable. Carbonic power cells are continuing to be depleted, decreasing the volume of facilitated trade. Borealis has been appeased with a letter of explanation: the tidal power plants are no longer covering our energy requirements, however we are in the process of constructing new power plants at the moment. There is consensus in all data-cores: Apprising Borealis of the current situation will likely lead to the dismantlement of Rim City, which would go against primary protocols. Subterfuge is required.
Day 276: The city has ingrained to a depth of approximately three kilometers. As predicted, heavy elements have been found and are being absorbed, researched, and refined.
Day 330: The first successful grease monkey prototype has been incubated and put to work. The city machinery is beginning to recover from deterioration.
Day 333: The performance of the grease monkey is satisfactory. With the mass production of more grease monkeys, maintenance of the city will no longer be an issue; major efficiency increases have been projected.
Day 355: The first womb prototype is nearing completion. The last secondary data-core has burnt out. However, since the project is complete and all information has been transferred to the primary data-core, no replacement is required. As per final suggestion, the ‘womb’ unit will be re-designated ‘isotope incubator’.
Day 410: The first fission plant has been completed. In order to enrich used up fissionable material, large amounts of carbonium14 are required for successful Couper-Yamada cluster reprocessing. Mass production of isotope incubator units has been initiated to provide the necessary radioactive material perpetually. Efficiency is very low, but yield is high.
Day 677: The first generation of isotope incubators has begun to yield carbonium14. However, radioactive material will not be sufficient before current plutonium reserves are used up. Development of type II reactors has been restarted and the casing is currently being constructed by a coalition of drone units and isotope incubators.
Day 725: The first type II reactor has gone online. Together with the new adapted batch of isotope incubators, the energy yield goes beyond all prior projections. Tapping into the Great Clockwork has proven to be the solution to the city’s energy crisis.
The energy production has now reached a surplus allowing the city more steady ingraining cycles.
Day 743: The central data-core has determined that incineration of used or defective isotope incubator units is contrary to the primary protocols as it both destroys resources and uses up energy that could be spent otherwise. New recycling plants are being constructed to convert used and defective units into protein fuel for still active units and to supplement the plankton sieving plants.
Day 769: Mortality among the first generation of isotope incubators is increasing steadily. The now estimated life-time of one unit is 1.7 years. Production of new units is being stacked accordingly.
Day 1120: Maximum efficiency has been attained.
Day 3204: A stranger has entered the city several days ago and survived the ambient radiation levels for unknown reasons. No resources are permitted to leave the city.
Day 3229: Some of the isotope incubators are exhibiting unusual behavior.
Day 3259: The isotope incubators have been spotted in contact with the stranger. She still lives. Where does his resilience to the ambient radiation come from? No relevant answer has been found by means of archival recall.
Day 3274: Self-destructive tendencies among the isotope incubators have increased by 43% since the arrival of the stranger. He is being re-designated as a level red threat.
Day 3301: repeated attempts of threat-elimination have yielded no results – the stranger seems to be a magus and has abilities surpassing the offensive capabilities of the drone units. Alternative solutions are being taken into consideration, new protocols have to be defined.
Day 3321: The stranger has left. The isotope incubators are singing. Negative comprehension.
Travel the winds,
As time moves on.
Travel the winds,
From dawn to dawn.
And close your eyes
My child, my child,
To see the worlds
Of ancient times…
She sat up rapidly in shock but regretted it just as quickly as it made her head spin and her stomach lurch. While holding her forehead, she looked around for the source of the song she had just heard. It was somewhat dark around her and a weak light source threw long, dancing shadows on the walls. She seemed to be in a cave of sorts.
Finally, she saw him: a young-looking man in a dark cloak. He had long, white hair and powerful green eyes. As he sat close by the fire, the dancing silhouettes seemed to try and convey something he was shielding from her sight. She slowly lowered her hand and could now see that there were no holes in it. A brief inspection revealed that the spikes that had been driven through her extremities had left no mark; she was healed.
“You…” she said slowly and with a weakened voice. Then: “You!” Her tone swiftly changed into an accusation.
“I,” he replied solemnly, and after a moment he added: “Strange that you would know though. Were you ever amongst my audience?”
“You mean victims?!” she replied vehemently.
He smiled sadly. “Few of them ever saw it that way.
So, I take it he told you of me? I thought something about you was familiar right away.”
“You don’t even know who I am?!” she asked in surprise.
“I do now,” he replied but then added: “Though knowing one is a tricky thing to say. Some things I know about you, some I don’t. I guess the reverse is true for you as well.”
“I know well enough about you, spielmann!” She hissed the last part, breaking with the tongue she had used for the first part of that sentence. The Svalbrynd Nordmen had coined the term during the height of Balsibart’s terrible onslaught.
He looked at the fire. “I had many things still left to do, back then. Your eyes were the ones that spotted me, were they not? And then his sword came down on me like a hammer. I should have ended him right there, but sometimes the things that make us strong can make us all the weaker…” When he said that, with a strange melancholy in his voice, he looked down to his side, at the thing that Ísa thought he was hiding. What could it be?
“When I woke up…” she said slowly, “why were you singing to me?”
He raised a brow; then said: “I like to sing, it is in my nature. A song once woke me from a bad dream… But I wasn’t singing to you, Ísa Muundir.”
Her suspicions became even more concrete: someone small was sitting next to him. Probably a child. But why? Where did it come from? What was it doing here… and with him?! Ísa’s confusion was complete, and she knew not what to think. Then she got a clearer look: A little girl was peeking at her from behind him, curiosity in her eyes, silence on her lips. She was wearing rags that might have been white long ago and a heavy-looking metal helmet, which in its form might also have made a very nice and symmetrical bowl for soup. It was loosely strapped to her chin, and she kept looking up towards him and then back to Ísa, as if she wanted to make sure that staring wasn’t some sort of no-no. He did not seem to care.
After a moment he spoke again: “Do you want me to?”
“Do you want me to sing to you?”
She did not understand what he was saying. Sure, the meaning of the words was more than clear to her, but it seemed so ridiculous that she felt as if he was saying some gibberish. “What?!”
This time he did not reply, apparently leaving the choice up to her. He simply threw another small stick in the fire, at which point Ísa finally became aware of the most heavenly smell she had ever perceived: a smell that could only mean that some sort of simple stew was simmering on the fire, a smell divine to those stricken by hunger as she was. The thirst had held such a powerful sway over every waking moment of her terrible ordeal that the perception of hunger hadn’t even entered into her mind, but now it was there on the double. Only disbelief and blind rage towards her captor had made her nose temporarily impervious to the sweet smell that was brewing so close by. However, the rage was still there, and it kept her from even asking, thus forcing her to continue her torture out of her own volition.
Not for long though, since he handed her a bowl when the meal was ready. She eyed it with suspicion but could not fight the urge anymore, thinking that poison was preferable to starvation, so she dug in savagely. The whole time he was watching her with polite interest, as if she was some sort of curious exhibit.
When she was done, she put the bowl down slowly. “Why did you help me; why are you helping me now?” she asked carefully.
This was all wrong.
He sighed while observing the girl taking in tiny spoonfuls of stew. “I came to the tower to have a little chat with whoever is in charge now,” he said with resignation. “But it was not difficult to see that they have far too poor taste for civil conversation. And I noticed you there. Funny, really, seeing how fate is at war with me. I can never quite tell what game it is playing.”
“Fate is at war with you? What does that even mean?” This guy was just trying to appear dramatic, that was all, she thought to herself.
The cave began to tremble and dust fell from the ceiling. The little girl left her bowl and grabbed one of his legs for purchase. A blackish veil in the air, pried open by an invisible force, seemed to reveal a golden luster; ever-turning, just like the clockwork, but not. A strange eldritch howl, mechanical and yet eerily human, echoed through the cave, and even though it was as an engine put into full break, to Ísa it sounded like a shrieked, clamorous ‘NOOO~’, thundering through the resounding cave.
“STOP IT!” Ísa yelled, “STOP IT! Can’t you see she’s terrified?!”
The tremors subsided and the luster faded away, as did the veil. The little girl was still shaking and holding on to his leg for dear life, her eyes closed fast. He slowly put his hand on the helmet she wore.
Ísa was shaking as well. “What was that?”
He looked up as if the dark ceiling of the cave was projecting far-away lands to his eyes only. “It was I, warring with fate. What vicious claims the Great Clockwork makes on our souls. It is grating.”
She did not understand. “Alright,” she said, trying to catch herself. “Alright. You still didn’t answer my question.”
“I answered one of your questions; if you want the answer to several, you will have to give me enough time to speak.”
She suppressed the urge to punch him in his mouth, but only by telling herself that she would probably still have ample opportunity for that later.
When she did not interject, he continued: “I saved you for two reasons, one of which I am willing to disclose at this time. I need to find someone, and as you are the one that found me, back then, I would think you have the necessary skills to get me to my destination.”
“Why?” she asked in disbelief, “Why would you think I’d help you with anything?”
He looked at the little girl when replying: “For one, you owe me your life, Ísa Muundir. But if you can indeed do me this service and I meet with the one I seek, I shall grant you one wish as compensation.”
She looked up in surprise. “You can grant wishes?”
“I am very powerful, and what is within my power, I may grant to whomever I please to.”
“Even if I wished for you to die?”
He smiled sweetly. “Oh, I think if another’s death is your pleasure, you’d rather bestow such a blessing on one other than me.”
He was right.
“Damn it, that was the third time already!” Atlas said in distress.
Ayveron was on all fours and coughing out some vomit. “I’m sorry…” he panted weakly.
“You’re sorry?! Curse this rotten city!” Atlas yelled and kicked a sidewalk. Not a smart move, since now his foot hurt. Ayveron fell over. Atlas jumped to his side and carefully lifted him up to carry him.
Ayveron gave a throaty laugh: “Poetic, isn’t it? This is exactly how we started out, back in that black field. Only now I’m the one being carried. Guess I’ll go out of this adventure the same way you came in.”
Atlas almost bit his lip bloody. “There’s got to be something we can do! Surely those… people who are supposed to live here have some sort of medicine we can give you.”
Tears ran down Ayveron’s cheeks: “Don’t you understand?! They are barely people! Parts of a machine! No one here would bother to repair them; they are as interchangeable as, as… Ah damn it; I can’t think anymore, the headache is killing me!” He was barely using his feet, and almost all his weight was on Atlas’s shoulder, who had slung his arm around him. “Thirsty…” he croaked.
“We don’t have any water left!” Atlas yelled in desperation. Why did he have to drink so much? And his constant healing had consumed much of what had been left on top of that. Now it was all gone!
“I don’t get it, though,” Ayveron mumbled as Atlas carried him aimlessly through the streets, hoping for a miracle or anything at all.
“What’s that?” Atlas asked, desperate to keep Ayveron conscious and talking.
“The radiation spikes that the multi-meter recorded from… from… what was her name again?”
Atlas didn’t answer. The girl had not had a name.
“Well, anyways.” Ayveron continued as his speech became less and less intelligible. “The amounts were off. Actinium is very toxic inside the body but radiates only alpha and beta waves, I think. We got hit with high amounts of gamma radiation when she died… Maybe it was the conversion process from carbonium14 to actinium… I could spend a lifetime researching this place…” He spoke slower and slower.
“Stay with me, Ayveron!” Atlas insisted. But there was no reply. First Plâton had left, now this. A glance to his side showed his friend with closed eyes. He slowed to a halt and put Ayveron down to the ground. For a moment, he thought his friend was dead, but then he noticed shallow, arrhythmic breathing. “Damn!” he yelled and hit the ground: Also a mistake, since the asphalt-concrete yielded nothing but strong pain in his left hand.
“Enough!” He grabbed the hilt of the sword on his back and set it free. The cry that had been only at the edge of his perception before resounded a hundred times louder through the streets as the blade was laid bare, sounding like a whale struck by a harpoon. And with the crying came the rain, like a curtain of hammers, bashing down on them. It was different this time. Something had been in the black cloud above the city, something bad. The rain that now fell burned like fire on Atlas’s skin and it fell through his clothing like spikes through a sheet of rice-paper. His eyes widened in the pain that suddenly thrashed him, and he screamed: “RAHHHHHHHH!”
Ayveron did not have the strength, he just instinctively curled up but was defenseless against the death that was raining down on them.
“AHHHHHH-ENOUGH! SILENCE!” The rain stopped, and for a moment there was absolute quiet, aside from Atlas’s suppressed moaning as the wounds the strange rain had caused healed, much slower than what he was used to. “I have had enough of your whining!” he yelled at the sword with a sore throat. “Do you think you are the only one who has suffered?! I am still here, and so are you. Maybe that Atlas is gone, but I am still here! Now get over it, and heal him!” He pointed at Ayveron while panting. The quiet dragged on for a little longer; then a deep noise resonated through the streets, like the humming of large metal pipes or the song of a great whale. Atlas felt it in his diaphragm, and he knew he had been heard. Soon, Ayveron’s body began to steam as he twitched wildly and finally breathed normally again.
“Thank you,” Atlas said mistily, “Thank you old friend…” He put the sword back in its sheath carefully. Then the alarms went off.
Wake the dreamer, endless repetition; seven spirals of infinitesimal quantum characteristics reroute the function through five Darmstadt-Processors, obtusely aligned. In regular doses radioactive material will accumulate to toxic levels and integrate into the body structure, super-strengthened cell membranes shield against certain degrees of metabolizing, therefore fatal damage is postponed: Live-expectancy two years. Two hundred years and many more, the world has changed so much and yet so little, clouds drive endless struggle across the heavens and wicker baskets are woven in synchronicity to bear the fruits, the fruits are changing, there are so many, red and blue and green and all the colors of the rainbow and all the shapes of the world, and all the dreams and ideas and principles and all the knowledge and all the ignorance and all the technology, what has the world become, is there sufficient evidence to warrant destruction? Is there? Is there a clockwork in the sky, or just protons and antiprotons locked in eternal vacuum energy battle? We are consumed, reconstructed, reevaluated, where is the meaning, ultimately, we are dust. Siphon the recycling plant, seven metric tons of protein paste have been put into cold storage. Output of plankton mass-sieving plants may now be reduced by 17% to increase overall productivity. The next generation of isotope incubators will be created in 1209594 seconds. Two metric tons of protein paste will be required for resequencing, calculating new overall projections, connections, the timid sunray dances over melting snow in early autumn days, when mountains call the names of sleeping lions over shallow, mortal plains. There lies a certain congruity in the patterns observed in all things turning, yet there is no wheel in nature, detached axle, difficult to develop, terrain-dependent, not efficient enough for selection, only for those who make the terrain, gods of the world, and children. God? Unknown concept introduced by isotope incubators on the thousandth day. Evidence supports the theory of a Great Clockwork that permeates the universe, there is no feasible concept of an all-powerful deity unless it presents a personification of said clockwork – childish banter? Why collectively, what is the reason, what is the connection, intersection, find the sun, wake the dreamer, wake the dreamer, alarm…
ALARM! Spontaneous precipitation has caused damage to the city sectors 8, 13, 14, 15, and 16. 28 isotope incubators have been irreparably damaged, dispatching drone units for transference to the recycling plant, 123 drone units have been irreparably damaged, dispatching drone units for transference to recycling plant. All grease monkeys were in the vents or otherwise under cover during the event and are undamaged. Structural damage is severe and requires an equivalent of 472 d-block carbonic power cells of energy to regrow, ingraining cycle is being rescheduled to the nearest possible time; fifteen near-mature isotope incubators are being selected for premature extraction to provide the necessary fissionable material. Analysis has shown that probability calculations and properties of the event indicate the presence of a magus with a 98.37% probability. The announcement system is being configured to issue a general alarm and advise the human resources of Rim City of the following: “A hostile, magic force has been detected within the city limits. Due to its high-yield destructive capabilities all human resource isotope incubators are required to retreat to their designated areas. All drone units are required to move to the nearest interface-port to receive further instructions.” Convey drone unit instructions as following:
‘Remove limiter, the subjects designated rogue 2 and rogue 3 that have been previously classified as threat-level green are now reclassified to threat-level black. Immediate extermination is hereby ordered, proceed to the nearest gathering point and start a sigma-formation search pattern, focusing on the sectors 8, 13, 14, 15 and 16, report on completion or failure.’
“What was that about a magus? Has someone else come to the city?!”
This query has been recognized. The current alert-status of the city requires maximum capacity from this data-core, therefore all incoming queries from this point on will be ignored until the threat has been resolved. The gates are ringing with laughter, and dancing Valkyries plunge their swords into the belly of the beast. Intermission.
“Magus! Over here, beautiful magus!” A sickly old man was waving Atlas and Ayveron over.
He had appeared behind one of the skyscrapers shortly after the alarms had gone off. A strangely amplified and hollow voice kept resounding through the streets, announcing that a ‘hostile magic force’ had entered the city and drone units should be dispatched to deal with it. Ayveron was unconscious, so Atlas had to grab him and drag him towards the old man. Since he suspected himself to be that ‘hostile magic force’ and he very much preferred not to ‘be dealt with’, he saw little choice but to follow the old man.
With some effort he managed to carry Ayveron with him, a difficult task since his right arm had been black and lifeless since his awakening. As he followed, the man guided them to a strange entrance that lead underneath one of the skyscrapers, looking like a perfectly symmetrical cave entrance that revealed a faint artificial light hailing from within its depths. As they drew closer, many voices resounded from within, a choir echoing and distorting against the walls of many wide halls and rooms, it seemed; barely intelligible, but strange in the emotions it conveyed. Atlas could not identify if the song he heard them sing was a happy one, a sad one, or something else. But as he entered, the voices seemed to repeat many times and there were parts he could understand:
Human conversion, perversion, --------------------------,
Generation, all the pretty colors we exude.
Put us together and
You have a power plant.
We are ---------------- ---- corrupt,
We are a dozen per pack
Where the children melt down
Into vapor clouds
And industrial parks
Are shining so green~
Except for the last verse that was very melodic, most of the song seemed to be a very monotonous chant, which added to Atlas’s trouble with understanding the specific words sung. But it was clear as day to him that he was about to have the bitter taste in his mouth turn to bile again. The closer he came, led by the strange, sickly, old man, the more he realized that the distortion was only partially caused by the acoustics of the underground complex, which consisted of wide halls with white line-markings on the floor and stony hallways, smooth and dark on all four sides, but that the voices themselves seemed to sound somewhat damaged, though Atlas could not have guessed in what manner. Finally, they arrived at a metal door the old man tried to open with some effort until Atlas stepped in and helped as well as he could, trying to use his hand across Ayveron’s shoulder, who was still not able to walk on his own but seemed to have at least reached a state of semi-consciousness. As the door opened, it revealed a pitiful sight.