Authors: Alex South
Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Copyright 2014 Alex South
Published by Alex South at Smashwords
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Proofread by FiveJsDesign
Cover art by Amanda Mills
For Dave Sutherland
Table of Contents
Episode 04 - The Tired Storyteller
Episode 07 - Reflections of the Past
Episode 08 - A Hat for all Occasions
Episode 09 - Heart of Resistance
When I first began this journey I had no idea it would engulf my life the way it has. To all of the family and friends who put up with my obsession, thank you.
From the books inception, my good friend Julien Folstrom has been there to listen to my ideas. He worked with me to shape the overarching plot of this book, and has been a general source of encouragement. Special thanks goes go out to him for being part of the driving force that helped me get started.
My parents have been supportive since the beginning, reading my rough drafts as I churned them out, albeit with grimaces at times. They have been there to watch the story grow and mature as it has gone through the rigors of editing. I cannot thank them enough.
As this adventure neared its close, Rachael Wenzel joined in to run a fine tooth comb through the dialogue. This was one of the toughest edits I went through but I believe it has created a story you will better enjoy, and for that I cannot thank her enough. She gave me the boost I needed to sprint to the end of this project.
Finally, no book would be complete without a cover, and what a cover Amanda Mills has created. Her skills took the vague concepts out of my head and set them in painted art form. The cover art is by far my favorite part of this book. Thanks for the hard work, Amanda.
Without further ado, I cease my yammering and allow you get to the story. Enjoy.
But now at last the sacred influence
Of light appears, and from the walls of Heaven
Shoots far into the bosom of dim Night
A glimmering dawn. Here Nature first begins
Her farthest verge, and Chaos to retire,
As from her outmost works, a broken foe,
With tumult less and with less hostile din,
— Paradise Lost, II, 1034-40
life form detected.
Activating memory banks.
Retrieving most recent log.
Initiating playback …
Footsteps crunched up the steep slope, upsetting the sharp gravel. Ohm marched on, leaving behind soft depressions in the ancient soil. The ridge was barren with only the wind as its companion. At his intrusion, the wind whipped over the ridge with a vengeful jealousy. The fury of the current caught Ohm’s coat and threw it open to reveal a worn body of alloys and plates, seemingly ravaged by time and wearied by life. Deception lurks in appearances, for his stride was sure and quick, filled with purpose and a will that could outlast the alloys and energy veins that gave him form. Cresting the hill, Ohm refastened the buckles that had come undone on his coat. He reached over his shoulder and lifted a tarnished metallic pack off his back. Ohm knelt and rested the pack on the coarse grit.
Then he stood to face the mountain, an endless peak that sprawled out into all of existence. As high as Ohm was on the ridge, the mountain stood, still taller. The pinnacle of the monolith was shrouded by the sky: a sea of churning clouds, dark and heavy. He lifted his face up toward the roiling gray ceiling. Streams of energy coursed through the clouds, heavy white crackles that moved slowly, leaving behind a burning trail of color. The peak pulsed numerous times, sending out a new wave of color with each flash. Ohm allowed the plates on his face to emit light in a rare display of emotion, mimicking the ever-changing beauty of the sky. Each new flare of color was full of unique character, fleeting and haunting. The story in the sky amended itself as it found more ways to express its glorious nature. Ohm, the observer, stood still as stone in somber reflection, paying respect to the glory that the sky displayed for all who would look.
Many waves of light passed overhead before Ohm finally moved again. Involuntarily, his hand reached up to grasp a chain hanging from his neck. Ohm’s hand closed around a beautiful white crystal—a soul ember that had once held the spark of life, now lifeless and dim. So much had come before to bring him to that desolate ridge. So many experiences culminated in the obsessive desire for the future to reconcile the past. As Ohm stood, his faceplates returned to their usual expressionless grey. Only his single remaining visual receptor stayed aglow. The ocular plate was angled sharply and it burned with a cold blue fire. Ohm watched the mountain with keen focus. His bandaged right arm rested on the pack while his left hand clutched the soul ember. Ohm maintained his vigil, an enigmatic plea for the universe to remain still. The future need never unfold. The past could be preserved forever in the lone figure standing before the mountain under the ever-changing sky. But it was not to be.
The ground rumbled briefly; and a light began to grow rapidly in the center of the sky, brighter than all the previous pulses of the mountain. A lone object streaked out in a brilliant white arc. It flew far over the land toward the edge, toward the Void. Ohm turned around, watching the object until it disappeared from sight. He knelt down next to his pack.
“Will you track the cell for me, Fred?” Ohm asked softly.
“Affirmative. Relaying the projected coordinates now,” Fred replied.
“It landed very close to the edge,” Ohm said, sighing at the distance.
“Calculations place it close to but not past the edge,” Fred confirmed.
“Funny. It would have been in keeping with Creator’s character to let us watch our hope hurtle into oblivion,” Ohm griped with mock humor.
“I do not hope,” Fred replied bluntly in his monotone voice
“Of course not; that’s why I keep you around,” Ohm retorted.
“I have identified the reason to be your lack of friends,” Fred’s robotic voice quipped.
Ohm chuckled slightly. “Quiet, you! I’m supposed to be the clever one. Now let’s move. Whatever that thing is, it couldn’t have landed any further from us,” he said, less than excited at the distance they had to travel.
Ohm shouldered his pack and slipped the soul-ember necklace back behind his coat. Turning from the mountain, he walked off the ridge, leaving it to the solitude it was accustomed to. The wind was appeased; and it calmed as Ohm’s figure moved away from the ridge, walking towards a distant idea waiting to be realized.
Episode 01 - The Edge
Then there was Oa. He was awake in an instant, emerging into consciousness. He had awoken—he was
of the Awoken, the identity originating from an unseen corner of his mind. What had he been doing up until this moment? Where was he? Oa’s mind raced, trying to keep up with the sudden influx of questions and sensations. The most important uncertainty he needed to settle was whether or not he had a body. Almost as if in response, two triple-fingered appendages appeared in front of his face, rotors whirring as the digits extended in the dim light. Oa sighed in relief, listening to the sound of his own voice as it projected from the vibrating cones implanted behind his faceplates.
Hands are a good start,
Oa thought to himself.
Maybe now I can explore. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.
He realized the relative humor of his thought and began to wonder how long he had been awake. Then he wondered how long he had been asleep. He felt an instinctive need to measure the moments flying by his awareness. The urge to create a method of time measurement pulled at Oa briefly, but it soon bored him so his mind brushed past it. He was more interested in his surroundings and in the individual moments he kept encountering.
The entire universe is either a cylindrical pod with a cracked window looking out at nothing, or I’m just stuck in some strange capsule,
he thought to himself.
Oa peered through the window. He realized the dim light was coming from outside the window. It had been a deep red, but now it was a burnt orange. The light allowed Oa to see a panel to his left with three buttons; the button on the left was pressed flat into the panel while the others were still protruding from the metallic plate, tempting him to push them. After a moment of indecision, he pressed the center button, enjoying the new experience of using his hands to accomplish a simple task.
White lights flickered to life in the pod, and something hissed as a seal was broken. The hatch in front of Oa fell forward to reveal a hard rocky ground that extended outwards away from the pod. The barren rock continued for a short distance before it ended in nothing. Oa was bemused and a little disappointed as he stepped forward, trusting his legs to work for the first time. The motors in his legs whirred quietly, smoothly propelling him out of the pod. He took three more cautious steps to make sure he understood the concept of walking. Feeling ready, Oa began to stroll toward the edge. He enjoyed the excitement of his first excursion. He walked in a straight line; and before the trek grew dull, he found himself on the edge of the rock which dropped off below into nothing. Oa stood on the fringe of the sheer cliff, staring out into empty air. Then he noticed it: an oily black so deep he felt he could reach out and touch it.
A great desire grew in Oa. The emptiness was so close it appeared to be only an arms length away. He slowly reached out toward the
The spot he was about to touch pulled back, and the rest of the vacuum seemed to push forward. Oa moved his hand side to side; but existence clung to him, never allowing his hand to enter the inky black wall. The impenetrable vacancy swelled out around his arm, attempting to either engulf it or escape its touch. Unsettled, Oa pulled his hand back and the depression flattened, receding slightly. He noticed that to either side of him, the emptiness was touching the rock, softly eating into it. Only around Oa did the darkness refuse to push forward and grab hold of the rock.
Oa stood for a moment pondering what he was witnessing. He decided to let the darkness be and explore elsewhere. He glanced down over the bit of cliff where he stood to see the abyss hovering below waiting for him to leave. Oa obliged; he turned around and stood with emptiness at his back, the world before him. The young Awoken was amazed, wonder and excitement returning to him. He gazed upon an endless expanse of rock, faceted yet smooth. The stone was organically random in shape and size, but each slab fit perfectly together. It was as if the floor of the world had been cracked and was about to shatter.
Oa’s gaze extended outward, looking toward the horizon. There were canyons and jutting spires, and the ground sloped inevitably upwards toward the center of the horizon where a single point stood out to meet with the sky. The sky gripped his attention like nothing else had thus far. Oa had wondered about the strange light before, but now he understood. Brooding dark clouds churned above as rippling strands of energy crackled and slithered through the clouds, burning incredible hues of color and casting an ever-changing light on the ground. Oa basked in it, enjoying how his surroundings constantly changed, becoming beautiful in a new way every moment in the changing light. Veins of glossy material in the rocks reflected the light, allowing for the ground itself to glow. The veins of light in the sky crackled and built to a crescendo. Oa loved it. Overjoyed to be witnessing such beauty, he watched as the leading strands of light crashed into the darkness behind him, disappearing into it forever.
The brilliance faded, leaving the landscape in dim light. The remaining strands of energy wound through the sky, slowly burning out. The glow was not gone though from Oa’s face. His visual receptors radiated pure wonderment as he looked toward the peak on the horizon, the origin of all sky light. It gleamed brighter than any other spot. From it, the lights crawled outwards to the ends of the world. Oa knew he wanted to follow the glittering trails above; he had a strong urge to be at their source, to be in the midst of the far-off storm.
Oa returned his gaze to where he had started. A fair distance away, his pod lay at the base of a gradual hill. Looking closer, he realized that other Awoken were scuttling around it. Intrigued, Oa decided to be impatient and attempt running instead of walking to get back to his pod. His feet were swift, and he enjoyed the thrill of speed as he raced back toward his pod. When the Awoken noticed him coming they backed off his pod a few steps. They stared at Oa as he sped up to them, halting just in front of his pod. There were three Awoken: one short, one tall, and one that would be a normal height if he wasn’t slumping over. They all looked worn and were clothed in threadbare rags. Underneath the tattered fabric, Oa could see that they were missing pieces. Strange oily black veins streaked from their hands up their arms, spreading across their bodies. He heard them whispering amongst themselves as they stole occasional glances at him.
Amazing! So they talk,
Oa thought to himself.
Maybe I can, too.
He decided to listen to them for a few moments before joining in. He noticed that as they spoke certain panels on their faces glowed pulsating rhythmically with each syllable, the intensity and color of the glow seemed to accent the tone and emotion of their voice.
It’s like the sky
, Oa thought to himself. He enjoyed the parallel as he listened closely to decipher their whisperings. At first, it was all babbling and gibberish. Then gradually the sound cleared and sharpened into words—like the ones in Oa’s mind, the language he thought with.
“How did this open?”
“I dunno. We’ve been trying to break open the stupid thing for a while now. There’s no way he opened it himself. No cell opens from the inside. I must have loosened it!”
“The only thing you’ve been loosening is my patience!”
“Wha …?” One of the strangers gasped as they did a double take at Oa. “He has no soul ember!”
All three heads stared in astonishment at Oa before the short one refocussed them sharply.
“Shh! We’ve got nothing left to barter, so let me do the talking. He just woke up. He’ll be easy to control.”
Oa looked at the Awoken before him, then down at himself. Despite differences in appearance and design, they all were made up of some sort of plates, energy veins, alloys, gears, and motors. Then he saw the difference that alienated him from the group: there was an empty cavity in his chest. Oa looked at the other Awoken and realized that they each had a bright white shard in their chest.
, Oa thought.
No, I’m unique
, he affirmed himself.
“You remember your name?” asked the short one, stepping toward Oa. The face and limbs of the short one were angular in design, slim with sharp features.
“I-I,” Oa stuttered slowly as he emitted words for the first time. “I am—Oa.”
Not the best of starts, but it will have to do,
he thought to himself.
“Did you come from this birth cell?” The voice was light but raspy around the edges. A new part of Oa’s mind involuntarily activated, identifying the Awoken as feminine.
“I did,” Oa replied evenly, listening to his own voice out of curiosity. His was deeper and smoother than the high, scratchy voice of the Awoken in front of him.
“Where am I?” he asked.
“You are on the edge of the glorious Great Planes, or what’s left of them anyways. Just a bunch of rock and dust really,” the female Awoken said with disinterest.
“I ask because just woke up. I was over there looking at that black mass. I can’t seem to touch it though,” Oa explained as he pointed behind himself.
She laughed, and her faceplates flashed slightly. Then she replied, “We try that sometimes, too, when the shaking starts; but you won’t sleep that way. If you want to dream, you gotta have something to trade with the distributors.”
Oa was puzzled by her statement. He wanted to ask more, but the trio had grown impatient. They shifted about in agitation.
The taller one spoke up gruffly. “We have been trying to steal your gear from this cell; but it’s locked to anyone but you, I suspect. So how about you show us what’s inside?”
Oa noted that the Awoken stood on a shaky leg that looked ready to buckle at any moment. The trio did not seem very threatening despite their tone.
“Why would you want things meant for me?” he questioned, too innocent to understand theft.
“We will decide who it’s meant for. Now open it!” the tall Awoken barked.
The harsh words grated on Oa and for the first time he felt irritation at the unfriendliness of these strangers. He pushed the unpleasant feeling away, hoping their tense moods would lighten if he remained friendly.
“I didn’t mean to make you angry. We can all see what’s inside,” he replied diplomatically.
Oa walked back up to the birth cell. Inside, he saw no visible mechanisms other than the three buttons. Only one remained unpressed. He reached in and pushed it.
The three Awoken huddled in closely to watch as a panel in the back of the cell slid down to reveal a stack of cloth. Atop the clothes rested a silver metallic sphere with intriguing markings carved over it’s surface.
Oa waited for his mind to reveal the identity of the objects in the same strange way it had attributed meaning to the Awoken’s words and gender to their voices. Nothing happened.
I guess some things I must figure out myself
, he thought in confusion.
“What are these?” Oa asked the three Awoken surrounding him.
The feminine-voiced Awoken responded, “Just clothes. Use them to cover up that chest of yours. I don’t want your deformity to scare the distributors off. You shouldn’t even be alive without an ember.” She pointed to the silver sphere greedily. Her hand trembled slightly from some unknown ailment. “That looks valuable. We’ll be keeping that.”
Oa instinctively grabbed the orb and took a few hasty steps back away from the trio. He perceived innate ownership over the silver sphere. Instantly, he felt as if he had discovered a piece of himself that he had been previously unaware of. Oa noticed a sudden rush as his mind became more conscious, transcending his current understanding. He sensed more now. It as if his visual receptors had been off or not fully activated and were only now seeing properly. He was able to peer into his surroundings. Oa’s altered sight permeated everything, turning the environment around him to a string of symbols. He looked at the figures in front of him. Oa could see another image, a faint aura of white light, emanating from them like a projection. Their auras were tainted, blemished by a murky darkness. The moment was brief and fleeting. All at once, the vision was gone. The young Awoken shook his head, wondering what had just happened. He turned toward the three Awoken who were attempting to stand threateningly around him. Oa now had a sense of how truly tired and worn they were.
“Don’t take this from me. It feels like mine. When I am holding this I feel …” Oa paused, searching for words, “more complete.” He decided it was time to stand his ground on the matter. “I can’t quite process all of this yet, but I believe I can help you.”
“Yeah, everyone everywhere has felt the same way too. Now hand it over,” the female Awoken said jadedly as she reached for the sphere. The orb began to hover and glow with a white-hot light, searing the greedy Awoken’s hand. She recoiled sharply, her comrades face plates flashed in surprise.
“Fine,” the Awoken hissed. “Keep it, but you’re coming with us.” She smoothly regained control of the situation. “We will see if you’re of any use to us. Put those clothes on and come along.”
Oa was surprised that the Awoken didn’t want his clothes since theirs were ragged and patched. The Awoken seemed to put little value in their appearance.
Perhaps clothes don’t make a good trade with these distributors
, he thought in realization.
Using the appearance of the other Awoken as a guide, Oa figured out what to do with the first article of clothing he grabbed. The piece was composed of two long cloth sleeves merging together at the top. The sleeves slid over his legs and the whole thing buckled around his waist.
s, the word popped into his mind, followed by a sudden realization of how to use the remainder of the pile. Oa accepted the information his mind had revealed, and he continued to dress. He draped a heavy cloak over his shoulders, it hung loosely. He buttoned the tunic up over his chest, conveniently covering his empty ember socket.
Next, Oa knelt down and slid a pair of sturdy boots over his metal feet.
These seem unnecessary,
he thought as be buckled them. Oa considered removing the shoes. Then he heard a faint grinding noise coming from the gears and motors in the Awoken’s bare feet as the trio walked off. The metal skin of their feet had worn away in parts, exposing the joints. The rusty Awoken didn’t seem to care as they plodded on drearily. Oa looked at the hill they were heading up. It was full of jagged rocks and fine sand just waiting to scrape through his alloy skin. He decided the boots were a decent precaution. The last article of clothing was a simple bag with a strap. Oa placed the metallic sphere in the open satchel and then looped it over his shoulders. The strap was snug and held the bag tightly to his side.