"The Flavor of Barbed Wire" by Sonic Gunmetal.
The band that won "Most Likely to Die from Accidental Evisceration via
Their Own Instruments" award from the Emo-Goth festival in 2097.
Lead singer went to the emergency room eight times from complications from
clogged pores. Twenty-seven layers of full body black make-up before stage acts
will do that to a person.
Back-up vocalist sings through a synthesizer; the piercings in his mouth
have deadened the nerves in his lips and jaw to the point where he drools better
than he talks. He eats and drinks through an IV lodged inside one of the larger
tattoos on his back.
Drummer and audio mixer are in and out of online lawsuits from twelve
different wives, and five husbands. Each.
Nevertheless, Sonic Gunmetal's "Flavor of Barbed Wire" is the BEST
shocking song ever screamed and growled and drooled by a metal band.
And my intravenous CD player agrees with me.
"This is the worst cacophony I've ever had the misfortune of bleeding to
Okay, maybe "agrees with me" is a little optimistic.
"Listen here, you curdling pile of cow intestines," I mumble mockingly
at the microscopic player swirling through my bloodstream,
"that song is the greatest piece of music ever. And if you
don't bow your nanites down and worship the ground I'm walking on just for
letting you carry that work of art in your database...."
I smile lightly, holding up my left hand -- one finger in particular -- and
let technomantic fire and razor wire orbit in an aura of nothing less than pure,
violent magic. The best kind.
I point the gesture toward a SHIELD agent standing in the middle of the black
training room. It explodes into a cloud of sawdust that peppers the dark floor.
The IV CD player catches a glimpse of what I've done to the floating cardboard
cut-out as the player travels through the blood vessels in my eyes.
"...you're bluffing." It whispers nervously.
I smirk and let out a giggle. There's nothing I like more than making
living technology nervous.
I slowly extend my middle finger toward another cardboard cut-out, one of the
twelve life-sized SHIELD alumni set up in a circle in the middle of the room. My
fingertip smokes with lively technomantic equations. "Wanna bet?"
Suddenly, the melody of techno-music and intermittent drumbeats surging
behind the screaming voices of the band are interrupted by a different host of
voices. But these voices are cranky. And pushy. And for once, not arguing
The Bone Machine.
Figures they have to interrupt the greatest song ever made.
"Kirkpatrick!" He used to be a football coach in the early twenty-first
with a hard-on for young cheerleaders with night lives as gothic sorceresses.
Learned some good spells till one of the black make-up patrol shoved a
dimensional shiv through his eye. "Hut-to! The alarms are sounding! Get yer
ass in gear, NOW!"
I'll tell him where he can put his "gear".
But before I can, a nanotech daydream hits me like a double-decker freight
train. Unconnected images of a frantic man running like mad from a mob
and he's tossing out technomantic equations like crazy. Some inspired
stuff: dimensional folds and loops, force-field walls -- but he's not focusing
Maybe it'll make things easier when we go to stop his ass.
Using a magnetic strip to get the IV CD player out of my veins and back into
its designer slip-case, I head out the door of my Goth-black training room and
slip down the mansion halls in a state of disorienting shock and total
I mouth obscenities to the orbiting skull of that football coach and activate
a teleportation spell.
The Bone Machine bobs lightly atop my aura as we walk toward the Nerve Centre of my custom technomantic mansion.
Y’see, this nice little mansion I’ve crafted for myself exists in the Dream Zone. The Zone is this other-dimensional world I’m hiding out in till the ‘Machine can finish my training to become their physical eyes and ears in the solid world, so I can prevent the misuse of the occulttech for them. It’s their little mission statement, of sorts, keeping the technomystical world a sane place. Course, since the shit that went down at the old Mantic Gallery, I’ve been … well, you could say damaged.
Getting the shit kicked out of you by some psychotic bitch from a hell dimension wielding untold centuries worth of black magic-tech and vengeful sorcerer minds might do that.
To save my life, John bonded the Bone Machine into my nervous system to heal my ribcage and booted me out into the Dream Zone dimension, while he went off to play hero one last time in the real world.
The Dream Zone is a shaping dimension. Assuming you can wade your way here through a few thousand pockets of tesseracts and imploded one-dimensional folds it likes to hide in, you can pretty much mold this weird little exception to the laws of physics to your heart’s content.
Like sucking air? Just think, and the dimension molds the oxygen for you through a flurry of unseen automated occult equations.
Like a nice place to sleep? Work those neurons and suddenly you have a bedroom that becomes whatever you want it to.
Like getting drunk? Bang; instant mini-bar.
Me? I kinda missed the Mantic Gallery, John’s old floating mansion in the desert. So I made my own mansion – but this 2.0’s more in-line with my tastes and desires.
The Machine and I push through an elaborately-decorated doorway into the Nerve Centre, passing by a few free-standing holo-mated posters of Sonic Gunmetal, Sheets of Spinal Fluid, Blowtorch Visine and my other favorite bands that also serve as my automated doorway guards. Naturally, the Machine and I pass the standard scans as we enter the ballroom-sized centerpiece of the mansion.
Old school Hellraiser puzzle-boxes and bleeding Rubik’s Cubes float in wild clusters throughout the room, hovering and spinning as they solve themselves only to mix themselves up and start over again. Gothic arches line black walls littered with sparkling silver glitter and blood-red arcane designs I’ve etched out into the breathing fabric. Anatomically-correct gargoyles and statues stand erect in a loose circle around the room. Some of the stone figures, I’ve melted into the ceiling and walls at jagged angles; for effect of course. The one on the top right with the thirteen-foot bat wings is my favorite.
A wall of two-dimensional holo-vid big-screens line the front of my beautiful plush-leather couch, smack in the center of the Nerve Centre. Lining the back of the couch, is a heavy-stereo system that could give an earache to God.
Heavy stereo; a molecular surround-sound stereo system hard-wired into my dreams, designed to alert me of ratsucker intruders and other vermin that would rain in on my parade. This AI security system, tied into the posters that line the entrances to the Nerve Centre and the outside doors, is wired to progressive scan throughout the mansion and audio input me if anything stops being the way I crafted it. The system also scans the portals to the other local dimensions, and gives a shout-out if there’s anything I need to keep an eye on or anyone whose ass needs a thorough kicking.
I decided against the Living Pictureframes this go-around – those were more John’s thing. Course, it’s not so much of a coincidence that the avatars for the security system are members of Sonic Gunmetal.
Topless. And ripped.
Hey, what can I say? I’m a horny little perv.
Of course, instead of their usual topless dancing, they’re more or less chattering incoherently about the imminent threat they’ve detected. The back-up singer isn’t quite chattering with the rest of his band mates…it’s more of an agitated drool…but I get the message. I turn down the volume and close my eyes, searching the alarm-dreams they’re sending into my skull for clues on a location.
The magic-user’s not running now; he’s hiding behind a brick wall. Brick wall; old school brick, before the density add-ins and fiber plastics they throw in there nowadays. Maybe that ‘Downtown’ area of New York? Or Latveria?
No, Latveria’s been liquidated. No one left alive…
Okay, he’s trying a cloaking spell, bouncing light waves off of himself. But he’s seriously injured, sporting bruises and bone fractures amid a blood-stained sweater. He’s in an alley, REALLY old-school architecture. The Bone Machine recognizes a lot of the elements of the scene. It tells me the architecture is definitely twencen. Or at least, twencen-inspired…
The American Midwest, the Machine voices hum, is the home of a certain preservation of people who denounce the ‘rapid progress of the corporate machine and seek to preserve the flavor of American culture by living without the niceties of latter-day twenty-first century life.’
The football coach cuts in... “Reminds me of those Amish people in Pennsylvania. They used to stick to their guns, living like eighteen-century prudes in a world of football, women and television. At least now the bastards’ve come to their senses. Not any of that, ‘electricity is the devil’ and ‘chastity till marriage’ bullshit anymore. They’ve got good ol’ beer and Nachos, and have old-school football games every weekend! Goddamn beaaautiful place they got there. Like an update for the backwards-folk. It’s glorious!”
“At the expense of technological progress, comrade?” A Russian scientist killed in the Great Purge counters.
“Shit, who gives a rat’s ass about technology,” the dead speck of testosterone shouts in my mind, “When you can get ass in those good ol’ whorehouses they’ve preserved in the place? And I’m not talking about all this ‘cybering’ and ‘interwebspace’ crap either. These were the good times, when the ladies were ALL real, except for maybe their big ol’…”
“Shut. The. Shock. UP!” I punch one of the orbiting skulls in the eye, right where I imagine the dimensional shiv ended his physical life. He gets the message.
I clench my fists, feeling the surge of energy crackle and melt in fractals along my wrists, “Just tell me where this Preservationist town is. How bout that? Can we do that, please? Can we? Without maybe, bursting into a stupid little bitchfest and losing the chance to catch this techno-mantic ratbiter? Any chance of that?”
Tails tucked in-between their eye sockets, they finally start nailing down which Preservationist town the technomystical echoes are coming from. I get pinpricks on my skin as molecules dance their guided dances around me.
Reality warps as I whisper the spell once more.
I end up in an alleyway, replete with dusty litter and the squealing chatter of rats.
I dust off my black denim jacket and glance around the place. His footsteps are coming towards me, slapping the pavement in full stampede. I hide around the edge of the corner I hear the footsteps coming from, my magic charging in a flurry of geometric symbols.
The techno-mantic ratbiter doesn’t disappoint. He whips the corner, just as my leg shoots out to trip him. He gets a mouthful of gravel.
“Hands up, sorcerer!” I blurt out, holding up a hand of mini-chainsaws orbiting a fiery blue chaos equation. “If I see a magic surge in your aura, you’re dead. Now get up nice and slow...”
“Wait…you don’t understand…!”
Suddenly, I feel a freight train smacks me into the ground from behind. Like a sacked-quarterback, (Thank the shocking football coach for that reference) I fold into the ground as a herd of old-school policemen and SWAT teams treat me like a well-worn doormat. They rush around me and crowd around the technomancer in front of me, spouting angry curses and growls in their wake.
I see a dozen nightsticks become a dozen blurs and I start hearing the sickening wet sounds of thuds and smacks. Looks like the mob’s taking care of things for me.
I groan, trying to lift myself up when I hear another set of boots skid to a stop and I’m in the air, being yanked up by a pair of grabby little hands. Ten officers are holding ten shiny little pistols, red targeting lasers trained on my glistening forehead between the shallow orbits of the Bone Machine’s skulls. The two cops that picked me up are behind me, backing up as the Bone Machine’s orbit speeds up, surging with glowing goldenrod energy. As it primes itself, I take a defensive position, looking left to right and weighing my options.
Funny. They remind me of SHIELD agents…
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” One of the men-in-blue asks.
I grit my teeth. I flash back to when the fascist SHIELDs blew apart the Mantic Gallery and shot my best friend dead in the Arizona sand. I can hear the buzz of mini-chainsaws in my head – my magic aura beginning to surge with hate – when the Bone Machine buzzes in my ears.
“Child.” A voodoo priestess. She’s speaking for the Machine. “These are Neo-Menonite policemen. Not the SHIELD agents that killed John.”
“Doesn’t look like that from where I’m standing,” I mutter absently.
“Doesn’t look like what?” A tensed sergeant questions, her brow furrowed in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Looks like she’s nuts, honey.” Another one mutters, “Talking to those skulls floating around her. She’s a techie too.”
‘Techie’? Shocking crazy paycops. What the hell does he mean by that?
“They aren’t paycops, dear.” A voodoo priestess in the Machine whispers to me from behind her rotten visage, “They don’t serve the public for money. They serve the public to keep people save. The Neo-Menonite community preserved the twentieth century down to the finest detail in this little town.”
“I can’t even imagine policemen not being contracted to save peeps. And not taking preference for those with bigger wallets either. So weird…”
“Well believe it, tech-user!” The leader of the pack yells at me through a thick, graying mustache. He must think the Bone Machine’s a hologram or something. Explains the ‘techie’ remarks, at least. “And this is one community you corporate goons aren’t going to annex. Stand down!”
“Yeah, get on the ground, lady!” A thin blonde woman snaps, “We don’t take kindly to corporate thugs who violate our technological by-laws around here. So it looks like you’re pretty damn screwed.”
I throw my hands up in acquiescence. “Well, hey! As long as you guys are taking care of that technomantic sorcerer I came to reign in, I don’t give a shock what you do.”
“Techno-mantic?” One of them asks in wonder.
The magic-abuser the Machine sensed shapes several ineffective force-shield spells; all of which the crowd ignores as the people pile on top of him. I watch with content as the lambs apparently beat the crap out of their would-be slaughterer for once, when the Bone Machine starts shouting and yelping in my ear. They’re agreeing on something again. What a banner day. The voodoo priestess speaks for them.
“Things are not as they seem here, child.” One of the orbiting skulls thinks at me.
“What?” I whisper at the orbiting Machine, confused. “What’s wrong here. Jerkstore’s getting what he probably deserves—“
“Lay down on the ground, and put your hands behind your head!” I’m interrupted by the mouthy leader of the bunch. I pretend to acquiesce, listening to the Machine broadcast in my skull.
“His magic aura is benevolent, Litany.” She continues from hollowed eye sockets and smiling teeth. “Or at least it was until this crowd attacked him. He’s attacking them in self-defense, not in malice. Has been since we sensed him from the Dream Zone.”
“Shit.” I grit my teeth, my contentment at justice being met-out at the hands of the cops quickly bleeding away. “A false alarm.”
She speaks. “So it would seem.”
One of the officers approaches me, twirling a set of antique-style handcuffs around his index finger. He stares at me, perplexed, when he gets close enough to hear my whispers.
“Jesus, they’re killing him…” I mutter, listening to the sounds of the mob surrounding the defenseless man. “I gotta stop this.”
The Bone Machine hums in acquiescence. I clear my throat and lift my fingertips to the air, spouting bright fires of magic from my fingertips. The crowd of policemen step back, suddenly blinded. I hurriedly put up a shield as a few of the blinded men spout off a few rounds on reflex.
“Everybody back off him! NOW!” I yell.
The crowd of thirty or forty stumble and sway back and forth, squirming as their eyes scramble to adjust to the fire. I make my way to the center of their circle, discovering the shuddering form of the beaten and bloodied sorcerer as I do so. He spits up some blood, falling back on his elbows. They really worked him over.
“Just back off till we sort things out!” I yell again reassuringly. The lively, fearful crowd starts murmuring to itself.
“What the hell--?”
“Who is she? What the hell does she want?”
I run between the remaining whispering weirdos to the sorcerer on the ground. He’s choking for breath, shaking his head back and forth violently. I look at his dilated eyes, and realize he has a pretty nasty concussion. Around us, the officers are beginning to shake off the effects of the flash-bang spell.
“…use of high-technology is against the law…”
“…sent by the corps to annex us…
“…backup! We need backup!”
I don’t like the way their conversations are going. I stand my ground, skulls bobbing in a light orbit around me as I extend my shield to encompass the downed man. “Back off! Just back the shock off!”
“She must be the doctor’s accomplice!”
“Take her down!”
“TAKE HER DOWN, NOW!”
A hail of bullets slams against the shield. Endless explosions of gunpowder pelt at us from all sides. I can feel the concussive shockwaves from every bullet curving the shield inward in a hundred different places. A migraine starts creeping into the back of my brain – I start to plan strategies for escaping this nightmare, but only one springs to mind as being even remotely feasible.
I need to drop the shield to teleport the both of us somewhere safe. But we’d be cut to pieces by gunfire before I could spit out half an equation-string. We’re trapped.
The Machine was right. These guys are nuts.
I try not to think about how the sorcerer below me is faring. I’m blocking out the groans, trying not to concentrate on the internal injuries I allowed him to receive.
“Get the shock BACK!” I yell futilely as they slap and pound and toss shit against my weakening shield. This is not how I saw this going down in my mind.
“Bullets are having no effect! Use the riot guns!”
No effect? Are you shitting me? I think incredulously, I feel like I’m having a goddamned aneurysm for Thor’s sake!
I extend another arm, ignoring the moaning of my muscles as I double the strength of the shield. Just in time, too, as a shotgun-shell pounds into the transparent bubble from behind us. I glance around my shoulder, staring down the annoying little blonde bitch with the smoking shotgun and cursing at her through sweaty raven bangs. The din of the firefight drowns out my shouts – too bad.
I curse again, feeling the intensity of more riot guns pelting against the shield. Veins and arteries start bulging in my head. Only a matter of time before they start popping and the both of us become target practice.
I clench my teeth, shake the pain from my mind. Only one chance. One slim little chance…
I decide on one of the newer spells I’ve been learning.
“Sleep.” I murmur hypnotically. “Sleep…”
The shield swells inward with every explosion of gunpowder as I repeat the calming command. I bite my lip hard, concentrating on keeping the protective sphere from shattering around me from the sheer weight of the ammunition. I try to block out the pain I feel every time a hard shell or a flurry of semi-automatic rounds slam against us. The sorcerer below me rolls over, shuddering. I don’t even know if he’s aware of what’s going on.
We are so shockin’ screwed.
One-by-one the crowd seems to let up. One-by- one, the impacts seem to lessen against my shield.
One by one…thankfully…they go to sleep on their feet.
The pops and pounds against my shield die away, and I breathe out. I didn’t even realize I was holding my breath until now.
The last of the policemen relax their stances, guns finally drooping to their sides. They sway a bit, caught up in their own, private dreamscapes. Their guns clatter to the ground as I relax the shield. I watch as their eyelids flutter and their lungs breathe heavy – in-and-out, in-and-out, in-and-out – slow and steady in a full-on deep sleep.
A few even shudder with the fear of night terrors.
A glance at the collection of shell casings on the ground and at the beaten man below me strengthens my resolve. I hope they have nightmares for a good long time.
“Will he…will he survive teleportation?” I ask the Bone Machine, looking at the bludgeoning magic-user fluttering in and out of consciousness.
“He will die if you do not.” The Russian scientist responds.
“No choice, then.” I murmur. “Get us to a hospital.”
The two of us disappear in a whisper of smoke. The sleeping zombies continue to dream in our wake, dreaming angry, miserable little dreams.
I’m drained when we re-materialize – I collapse to the ground beside the poor schmuck below me. He’s in the fetal position coughing up wet, red loogies on the … rooftop?
This isn’t a hospital.
I cough up a lung when the dead guys start bitching at me to get up. The coach barks at me to shake off the throbbing nuclear warheads going off in my skull. The voodoo priestess does the same, only a lot nicer. Then, the Russian scientist goes off about how feedback from shields is nothing compared to a winter in Siberia, and that I’m fine.
Like he would know.
I need a shockin’ Aspirin.
I need a truck of shockin’ Aspirin.
“Where are the shocking doctors?” I grumble, getting to my feet.
“You’re it, honey.”
“What?” I yell angrily back at the floating skull, “De-cobweb the skull, lady. Do you see a med-degree on me?” I motion exhaustedly at my all-black gothic ensemble.
“I see a healer.” The priestess continues. “I see a town full of people – doctors included – who think this man is the Devil Incarnate. And I see a man laying on a rooftop, half-dead from a head wound.”
I look down at the beaten man, my head throbbing, vision too blurred to concentrate another teleport spell. His eyes are fluttering – he can’t see straight either. He’s writhing on the ground, probably making it worse for himself.
“Shit.” I mutter. “You’re right.”
“Damn right we are!” The football coach chimes in. Too cranky for the usual pedophile retort, I punch him in the skull and get to work.
Kneeling beside the dying technomancer, I listen to dead men whispers a half-dozen spells through my consciousness. Healing spells. Good ones. A nice little list of possibilities.
They start to bicker over which ones are the best. I choose for them.
Hypodermic needles and medical waste containers appear alongside technomantic vector equations, my magic conjuring up images of the insane and impossible. I bite my lip and try to tunnel my focus on the man, working the complex spell. My aura flashes with blue and gold and puke green – my skull pounds as the technomantic equations refuse to fall into place.
I gesture my hands overtop the technomancer, shifting positions and focusing my entire will on fixing his damaged insides. Enough sweat to fill the Grand Canyon drips across my forehead. The horizon tilts a good thirty degrees. My head pounds and throbs – so much so that I almost don’t notice the yelping and howling of the Machine.
I can’t stand the pain any longer and break the spell, plopping down hard on my ass. The orbiting skulls can’t help but chuckle morbidly. Predictably, they add insult to injury in full-on reprimand mode.
“Dammit, Kirkpatrick!” Doesn’t he ever shut up?
“Coach, swear to God…”
“He’s right, Litany. Some of these spells are intricately complex. They require a clear mind and a centering of the spirit. A disruption of this equilibrium, as your blurred vision may tell you, will skew your ability to perform it.” A calm, centered voice. A Zen Master who dabbled in the art of the technomantic. The arguing voices in my head calm, somewhat.
I, however, don’t.
“You never told me that, jammit!”
“That is because when we told you, you were severely, ah, ‘inebriated’.” The Master says simply.
“Ah, bite off.” I mutter, gritting my teeth. “Just tell me what I need to do.”
“Your disrespect notwithstanding,” I resist the urge to give him the finger. We don’t have time for this shit. “I suggest you pick a simpler spell to use.”
“The simple ones don’t heal as well.” I point out.
“You’re on the verge of collapse yourself. You don’t have much choice in the matter.”
Jammit. I’m getting sooo sick of them being right all the time.
“…fine.” I acquiesce finally, eyeing the Zen Master’s skull. It takes me a sec to realize the twin skull next to him is just me seeing double.
Crankily, I go to work. Flashes of aural light, swirling orbits of Periodic Tables and chemistry sets weaving in and out of my gesturing fingers. The head hurts. I fight vertigo. But the equations fall into place...
I sit back, not happy with only repairing the cosmetic damage. The technomantic still has the brain damage, and most of the internal injuries – but it’s all on quick-heal. He won’t have a bruise to his name, come tomorrow. For now though, he’s being held together by our simplistic spell of magic convalescence. And, luckily for him, the spell comes with a special morphine drip latched onto his circulatory system.
The Machine suggests I start a recuperative spell for myself as well, and so I do. The stress on my brain diminishes. The horizon line shifts back to its correct position. Nausea passes.
“Cripes.” I huff.
“You said it…”
“Huh?” I do a double-take as the technomage I saved sits up, slightly groggy from the morphine, but not-too-worse-looking-for-the-wear.
“Be careful, dammit!” I yell at him, gesturing for him to sit back and relax. “You’re still wrecked on the inside. You need to take it easy for a bit.”
“Hmmm…” He nodded in assent, looking down at himself. “I sense the technosorcery coating my system. I must have been in a really bad way.”
“You still are.” I remind him. I shift my position, focusing my body towards the convalescing sorcerer, resting my head on my knee. “So, tell me…why is everyone after you?”
“Why do you have a bunch of skulls floating around your body?” He asks, turning toward me.
“Don’t try to change the subject.” I point my finger at him, letting a magic flame flare along my fingernail.
“Well, it’s a long story…” He begins predictably.
“Ditto.” I nod toward the skulls, then rub my still-sore temples. “But, we’ve got some time to kill.”
The wind picks up, slicing at us atop the archaic rooftop as we tell our stories.
“So, you’ve been pretending to be a Neo-Mennonite doctor for years, healing the sick of…’Paradise City’…? Izzat really what this place is called?”
“Yep.” The doctor, he calls himself ‘Gary’, grins warily.
“Corny ass name.” I snicker.
He just nods his head, waving a hand through short brunette locks and smiling.
“And after ten years of not-being-detected, a patient sees you summoning a healing spell on a cancer-ridden patient.” I continue, “And before you know it, the cops are bursting down your door.”
“Pretty much the size of it.” Gary says with feigned modesty. Almost-charming feigned modesty, but not quite. Passion fills his voice as he continues. “You see, the Neo-Mennonites are a culture completely centered on a comparatively rural life from the corporate infrastructure. They want no part of this future, and instead, have latched onto the ideals of the twentieth century to protect themselves. To ‘preserve their cultural innocence.’”
“Living in the past.” I say aloud, glancing to the sky. “I can dig it.”
“Well,” He continues absently, idly running his fingers across the dust covering the rooftop, “Unfortunately, living in the past involves clinging to clinical knowledge and medical care a century out of date. I mean, people still die of brain tumors in this place, for God’s sake.”
“Christ.” I shake my head, burying my face in the crook of my arm.
“Exactly.” Gary gestures, beginning to move about.
“Careful” I look up at him. “The sutures I gave you are not the best.”
“I’ll be okay.” Stubborn pain in the rear. He shifts around for the hundredth time in thirty minutes. I wince at every movement he makes until finally, he finds a comfortable spot. The mystic sutures hold, thank Thor.
“Anyway,” The doctor goes on, “when I looked into the culture, being a medical doctor, I couldn’t ethically let these people die of diseases that are readily curable. So I’ve been hiding out here for the past two years, keeping them healing. They…heh, they call me ‘The Miracle Worker.’”
“So you’ve been lying to them for the past two years, basically.” I glare at him mischievously.
“Heh. Not like they’ll seek out help on their own. A small price to pay, I like to think.” He glances off across the rooftops.
“So, who are you to decide what’s best for them?” I ask bitingly, glaring at him. I hope I’m intimidating, seeing as how I’m a seventeen year old Goth chick debating morals with a late twenty-something med-tech. With doctorate.
Still, Gary’s pretty disturbed at what I have to say, though. He sounds almost desperate to convince me of something. “Look. These people are…are terrified of technology. Petrified of it. They believe that things like air-cars, and holograms and nanotechnology will lead to nothing but the downfall of society, and have since completely isolated themselves from anything remotely technological. Standard micro-molecular tissue scans and genome mapping are considered illegal to them. In fact, any technology introduced after, say 2010, is illegal to them. Anyone who even breathes of such advances are considered ‘tech-users’, and immediately imprisoned. No trial. No appeals. Then you disappear from your cell. For good. And no one bats an eyelash.”
“One of them called me a ‘techie’ when I ‘ported in.” I say. “I figured he thought my Bone Machine was a hologram.”
“Probably.” He concurs. “They aren’t even aware I’m a technomage. They think I’ve been using nanomachines in aerosol form to do what I do. And they aren’t too forgiving to techies, as you’ve noticed.”
I nod silently.
“It’s that kind of fanaticism, that paranoia – that absolute fear of the unknown – that caused such things as the Great Purge in the first place.”
“Or so you say.” I grumble. “Who the shock knows what happened back then?”
“We don’t know a lot of things about that time.” The doctor continues, eyes glazed over with passion, completely lost in thought. “But I know that’s what caused the Purge. The genocide. The murders of countries. It’s the only thing that fits.”
I don’t say anything as Gary glares at me, desperately trying to make me understand.
“I couldn’t let that kind of fanaticism spread, just as I couldn’t let people die for no reason. So, I intervened. I used my magic to shield myself from prying eyes. To fix their incurable diseases. To prolong their lives. To make the sick well. It was beautiful. It was…it was everything medicine should be. It was helping people. Truly. Helping. People. And eventually, I thought…maybe….just, maybe….I could desensitize them to the technology of this century. I knew I couldn’t sneak any equipment in…but my fascination with the technomantic arts in my youth made such technological niceties unnecessary.”
“I see.” I said.
“You…don’t approve, I imagine.”
“I can see wanting to help people, I really can.” I look into his green eyes. “This was a shocking stupid way to do it.”
“It was the only way I knew how.” He said breathless.
“Yeah…” I muttered, gazing out at the scenery, listening to the Bone Machine chatter away in my head. I feel sorry for the loser, I really do.
An explosion below us shakes me out of myself. I jump up out of my sitting position, relieved not to feel pain. I cast a glance over the side of the building. The mancer darts up too, following my gaze and looking over into the street. I’d tell him to sit his ass down and let the spells nestled in his circulatory system work – but I’m too distracted by what I’m seeing.
A gas station fully engulfed in flames…and the distinctive skid marks of a police swat van veering toward the burning structure.
But of course, that’s not the worst of it.
The streets are a mass of bodies. Moving, shifting masses. Angry shouts. Random gunshots.
Terrified men and women fleeing from their homes amidst secondary explosions and fully-involved vehicles parked all over the street. A full-scale riot has popped up beneath us – the both of us were too caught up in our tales to realize…
And the instigators are none other than the police-zombies I left gibbering in their own nightmares.
“What the shock…?”
“You said it, girl.”
The Bone Machine and I get to work analyzing the insanity when Gary drops a nuclear shocking bombshell on my head.
“The policemen are still sleeping.”
“What?” I mutter incredulously, ready to slap the silly bastard senseless for not making any shocking sense before the Bone Machine dances morbidly in agreement. Before I can ask why, it ‘helps’ me cast a twelfth-century spell at the crowd behind the growing pangs of thick black smoke issuing up from the street. The people turn into almost-infrared versions of themselves…
Except that it’s not infrared. Not exactly.
It’s their aura colors.
The red, erratically-pulsing ones are running around; very much awake and very much terrified. It’s the thrumming, semi-steady blue ones that are causing all the damage. Thrumming, semi-steady blue people smashing windows, firing off shotguns, and slamming their squad cars into everyone and everything in blind panic. The thrumming, semi-steady blue ones, that are sleepwalking.
“Sleepwalking while having night terrors.” I breathe, the realization hitting me like a planet colliding into a small sun. “They’re experiencing their worst nightmares here, in the waking world. And they’re fighting to survive against their deepest, darkest fears. With anything that’s handy.”
“And thanks to that ‘sleep’ spell you gave them, they can’t even wake up and realize what they’re doing to the town.” The doctor breathes. “Christ.”
“We’ve got to do something.”
“I don’t have to do anything.” He murmurs bitterly, rubbing at his stomach, where the worst of the internal bleeding’s gathered. “I’m tired of cleaning up other people’s messes. I’m tired of trying to save everyone and then getting shat on for it.”
“What the shock are you talking about?” I scream at him – half-panicked with an adrenaline rush that could take out the Hulk. “We need to stop those guys before they destroy the city fighting against imaginary monsters or whatever the hell they’re dreaming! I need your help!”
“No, you don’t.” My fists are so tensed up, I’m afraid I might break my fingers. I listen to his cold reply as he walks toward the door leading downstairs – he never looks back. “This is your mess. Clean it up.”
“Goddammit, Gary!” I shout out at him. “GARY!”
The second I blink, he’s gone.
Is it fatigue? One of his cloaking spells? The fact that the swirls of heavy smoke and the waves of heat from the gas station explosion below me have finally traveled to the rooftop and are playing havoc with my vision? I don’t know.
But I do know I could wring that slimy little pusbucket’s neck right about now.
I scream, letting my frustration fill the burning evening air. My aura is surging frantically with vector-chasing mini-chainsaws once again. The murmurs of the Bone Machine, the ones that are blaming me for this tragic turn of events, only add fuel to my fire.
I’m primed, and pissed, and ready for action.
I take a defensive stance as I disappear, aiming myself for street level.
The teleport spell chucks me up in the street with a heave. My reservoir of energy for magic is all but gone.
The first thing I notice is the heat. I’m only half a block away from the gas station inferno and I feel like my skin’s on fire. My eyes water as I look about the street, noticing the dreaming cops walking about the street. They’re almost like hyperactive zombies with ADD - shouting at the tops of their lungs against their worst nightmares.
One’s shooting off his revolver at a brick wall, thinking he’s attacking a corporate raider. Another is choking the life out of a parking meter, screaming defiantly at what he thinks is his wife’s secret lover. A third is running around in circles, brushing off what I guess must be a bunch of tiny little bugs. An arachnophobe, I guess…or something similar. They just keep running around, yelping randomly, completely unaware that they’re acting out their nightmares in the real world.
Under different circumstances, this might be funny.
That’s about the time when I hear the screeching of wheels.
My head darts to the side just in time to see a land-based car barreling towards me at seventy miles an hour.
I gasp in surprise, sucking in a great deal of soot from the fire. I leap onto a parked ‘Cadillac’ beside me, catapulting myself over its hood as the speeding vehicle skids along the side, kicking up sparks and polluting the air further with the deafening squeal of steel rending steel. I miss the speeding bludgeon by inches.
Did I mention I suck at catapulting?
I land in a painful heap on the sidewalk, inertia slamming me into the wall beside me. I shake the dizziness from my head. Just like a hangover – push past the pain, push past the pain…
The heavy revs of the car engine are long gone by the time I pull myself back up. I see the blur of the car several blocks down the road.
Another sleepwalking cop. Maybe he was chasing someone. Maybe he was the one being chased.
Take that mentality, times thirty or forty…
And give them all an hour and a half head-start.
Thor help us…
“Guys…” I whisper to the Bone Machine, watching arson fires begin leaping from windows and looters make off with technological treasures. “I’m gonna need a counter to that sleep spell. Like, right shocking now.”
The Bone Machine hums and whirs – I pull out my Alphaglock Model Twelve. I set it to low-velocity fire and proceed to shoot the whirling zombies I see in the knees. The guy strangling the parking meter and the one wiping imaginary bugs off himself go down quick enough. The last one gets a few shots off at me before I take him down. None of them actually hit me, of course. A skew spell sends them into the sky – not without a touch of nausea on my end, of course. I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel with my magic pool.
‘I hope that counter spell won’t be too difficult to pull off,’ I think, handcuffing the incapacitated sleepwalkers to a bench – a ways away from the raging fire of the gas station. That’s three zombies I won’t have to worry about.
Only three dozen more to go.
I spot a dozen or so more sleepwalkers scattered further down the street, clustered near a long-evacuated school building. I eject the empty clip of my Alphaglock, locking a fresh case of plasti-steel bullets into place. Out of the frying pan…
I rush down the street, pumping my heavy arms and feeling very happy about the two other handguns I’ve got hidden inside the two mounts attached to my wrists. I’m still having a hard time concentrating on spells despite that convalescence spell I etched onto myself earlier – not that a street-turned-battlefield is the best place for concentrating. The guns oughta come in handy till my head heals from that mental feedback I got when these guys decided to play “Who-Can-Shoot-at-the-Damn-Force-Field-the-Most” earlier.
I stampede through the sidewalk beneath me, dodging rumble and debris. I ask the Bone Machine if it’s done figuring out a jammed counter spell when a hail of gunfire rips through the air just over my head. I duck and roll; using what the football coach tells me is a ‘mailbox’, whatever the shock that is, for cover. I peer around the side and see, not twenty feet in front of me, a school bus driving through a chain link fence; the madman at the wheel clutches a live AK-47 in his other hand and barks like mad about aliens come to take over the planet.
His eyes are glazed over, almost as if he’s hallucinating.
Such vivid dreams he’s having. Such vivid dreams they’re all having…
I slide my finger along the side of my Alphaglock and set the trigger from ‘low-velocity’ to ‘high-velocity’ firepower. The lowest velocity setting gives me the power of a nasty bee-bee gun, good for stunning enemies instead of killing them. The highest velocity setting gives me the power of a ten gauge shotgun with the pin-point precision of a high-powered rifle. Also gives the shockin’ thing one hell of a kick.
I kneel forward, pointing the barrel of my lovely little Alphaglock directly at his front left tire, and squeeze the trigger. The bullets leap voraciously from the chamber and tear themselves into the rubber of the tire.
Beautiful fireworks happen in the tire casing. The bus veers left and crashes into a nearby building, sending the madman’s face into his steering wheel. The twencen machine-gun topples out of his hands and smacks against the wall, sending bullets flying everywhere. I wait behind the mailbox until the cacophony dies down.
I stand up, dust myself up, and almost jump out of my skin when the Bone Machine chimes in my ear.
“We have a working theory.” The skulls whisper to me.
“’Bout time!” I reset the Alphaglock to ‘low-velocity’ rounds and pace towards the yellow wreck wrapped up in the broken edge of the building. “Let’s hear it.”
“Your application of the spell was flawed.” The scientist’s skull says to me.
“Flawed?” I shout. “Are you kidding? You guys taught me that spell!”
“You still have not mastered the nuances, child.” The condescending priestess backs him up. I’m about to protest when she adds: “But there may be a way to fix things.”
“That would be good.” I mutter, noticing a glow beneath the bus.
“But be warned, it will be dangerous to attempt with the injuries you’ve received.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout…”
Fire. Underneath the bus. I stop speaking as I notice the trail leading toward the back. Toward the gas tank.
I holster my Alphaglock and waste precious time running around the side of the bus to the folding doors. I pry them open and hop inside. The policeman’s fully unconscious now, no longer in a sleep-walking state. But he’s pinned inside by the seatbelt. Wish I’d brought a knife with me.
Precious magic used. Mini-chainsaws and manifest razor wire surgically cut the seatbelt in half. I grunt painfully, hefting the heavy man out of the driver’s seat over my shoulder and escorting him out of the front doors.
My legs hurt like hell. How much does this guy weigh?
Then, a sudden flicker of light on my right.
I whirl my head around, looking at the gas tank. And the orange flickers directly below it.
No way to get clear in time – not with this guy on my shoulders.
On reflex, I think up a shield. And immediately regret it.
The whole bus goes up like a supernova. We tumble end-over-end in the suddenly fiery air. My brain feels like it’s going through a thresher. Agony floods my senses, overwhelming me. My world is a million white-hot pokers against my skin. My shield cuts out as we hit the ground thirty feet away or so. Blood rushes throughout my body in painful bursts – the world, a spinning carousel.
I open my eyes and barely stay sane as the vertigo grips me. My body and brain ache in ways I didn’t think were possible. I vomit.
The Bone Machine is yelping and howling in my head. Surprised. Confused. Terrified. I let them duke it out, forcing myself to sit up even though my body’s not ready for it.
Again, I vomit. It’s blood this time.
I crawl the few feet between me and the cop I pulled from the wreckage of the bus. I force myself up to a slight kneel, extending two fingers to his neck. I hold my breath searching for a pulse.
…he’s alive. Thank God.
Me, on the other hand…
“Litany.” The Zen Master. His words are calming. “You must return to the Dream Zone now.”
“What…whatcha talkin’ bout?” I grimace, wiping blood from my mouth. “Still got to…reverse the sleep spell…”
“It was a valiant effort, but you’re no good to anyone dead.” My head’s swimming in molasses. My vision’s getting hazy with exhaustion. He prattles on. “You must return now.”
“No.” I grunt. I force my back to straighten out, readying myself to stand. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’m fine.
My stomach lurches. I heave yet again as my body involuntary falls back to the earth in the fetal position.
“No...” I whisper pathetically. I listen to the noises around me. The shouts and screams and flights of terror as the sleepwalkers wreak havoc on the town. The sickening crackle-pops of fire bursting in waves from the molten wreck that was once a school bus.
I finally give in. I begin a quick-heal cosmetic spell on myself – the crock-pot of convalescence spells – too weak to immediate-heal anything. The rest of my energy fades when I initiate the teleportation spell.
I spend the next few hours on the Nerve Centre floor, drifting in and out of consciousness, watching the sleepers murder the peaceful town in my dreams.
By the next day, the boys of Sonic Gunmetal’re no longer broadcasting nanotech alarm-dreams of the mystic rampage into my brain. The spell must’ve worn off, thank God.
...that, or everyone died.
As it turns out I had opened up a lot of the damage I’d taken during the fight with the Painqueen in the Mantic Gallery when the exploding bus destroyed my shield. I managed to pull myself off of the Nerve Centre floor after twenty hours or so. It took a few days of spell casting to get rid of the worst of it, slowly increasing their potency every few hours when I regained the strength to do so.
By the time I’m strong enough to return to Paradise City, I only feel like I got hit across the face with a hammer.
When I get there, there isn’t a trace of human life left. It’s a burnt-out ghost town.
The sleepwalking cops stayed in action through the night. They managed to burn down more than half of the buildings; most thankfully unoccupied, during their mystic sleepwalking. Luckily, their psychotic ranting and raving must’ve been kind of a tip-off to most of the normal-folks to ‘get the shock out of Dodge’, so to speak.
Some buildings, though, were occupied.
It takes me an entire day to bury the dead.
I run some trace spells, trying to find any survivors of the onslaught. No such luck. It’s like they never existed.
Using my renewed techno-mysticism, I erect a monument in the middle of the city. An enormous, all-black grid of light-hungry crystal lattice spanning half the square. In memory and remembrance of the dead.
And of the sleeping.
Night’s fallen when I finish, and the sky is littered with shining white diamonds in the blue-black curtain of the sky. The moon casts an eerie, lingering twilight on the town square.
I power down the Bone Machine, leaving me in blackness as I sit cross-legged in the square, my back toward the monument as I stare towards the town. I sit with my head perched atop my hands, and I cry.
I weep. I sob uncontrollably. I damn near puke.
I just can’t help myself.
Four hundred ninety three. I kept count as I shoveled them into the earth. Four hundred ninety three. Twenty-six were children.
A few of them were even my age. Seventeen years old, now six feet down. I could’ve seen any one of them in my old school, if I didn’t drop out to do magic.
All dead now. All because I shocked up some spell.
I sit there, salty somethings streaming down my face and I wonder what the hell makes me any better than murderers like Necrosis? Or would-be ones, like that Santa Claus I trapped in a teddy bear doll? Or revenge-drunk bitches like the Painqueen? Or even the Red Hermitage, ready to kill a whole world with their techomantic churches in order to recreate it in their image?
I mean, I just murdered a whole town of people who wanted nothing but to live free. A whole town. Jesus…
What makes me qualified to pass judgment on those who misuse the occulttech? What gives me the right to, after what I’ve done?
What makes me any different from them?
I sit there in silence the whole night. The Bone Machine never says a word.