By J. Aurel Guay
Lucien stepped off the plane and into the Carter Companies Airport. A week ago he would have been ashamed to have set foot on anything owned by one of the lesser rivals of Gamma Comm. But, since his experience in the unfinished wing of the Ursus Center, much had changed. He had felt liberated when he left Gamma Comm. after that day. He felt even more so now, for though he carried nothing more than the clothes he was wearing and a backpack containing a small, secret artifact, he knew that nothing could restrain him. He had entered the airport back in the city with nothing but what he now carried, and yet everything that he needed had been provided for him. A man flying north to the mountains had unexpectedly met his wife, who was not at all pleased that she had not been told about his secret rendezvous. He had watched as the man tried to hide his ticket, and eventually left with his head hung low under the weight of the tongue-lashing that he was still receiving. That ticket had borne Lucien here; far north into the Rocky Mountains to a small and seemingly insignificant town. The airport was tiny and there was no public transportation to take him anywhere. He wasn’t sure what he should do. All he knew was that this was where he had been instructed to go.
It was raining outside when Lucien stepped out into the street. He began to walk down the road. He didn’t like the rain. It slowed him down and made him feel cold and alone.
But Lucien knew he was anything but alone. His skills in using the substructures had increased greatly. Mercury had led him in discovering methods of thought and concentration that expanded his awareness far beyond an ordinary human’s and he could now easily detect macrobes in any environment. Mercury had in fact introduced Lucien to other macrobes like himself bu subordinate to him, and they were now together working to bring their plans for mankind to their final fruition.
The key to Mercury’s plans lay in the use of very special artifacts. All artifacts from times gone by carry with them memories of where they have been and what they have done. The effects of environment and use etch the experiences subtly into its form and forever seal it in its substructures. Sometimes, when the deep powers of the substructures are involved in their use, simple objects can inherit elements of the works they were used for as substructural powers.
In Lucien’s pack was one such artifact. But this tool was not one needed for their plans directly; those were much harder to come by. The ancient bone knife he carried originated in North America and was used in many religious ceremonies. This trip and the knife were actually a detour from their main plan, a way to bide their time and build their strength while they waited for contacts to find the artifacts they genuinely needed.
Lucien soon found himself on a lonely stretch of road in an empty part of the old city. Lights from behind suddenly lit up the rain ahead of him like a shimmering wall. There was a vehicle quickly speeding down the road. Lucien could see from the height of the lights that it was a small truck and his Cyberneural Algorithmic Interface Network (CAIN) quickly determined its speed by the change of his shadow as the headlights drew near. By use of the implant in combination with the substructures he could tell that the driver was likely a young woman and that she likely couldn’t yet see him. Without the slightest hint of fear Lucien stepped directly into its path.
There was a sudden wet squeal of tires and a spray of water as the driver swerved and tried to avoid the pedestrian that seemed to appear from out of nowhere. Lucien was able to dodge the old, beat-up vehicle buy I few inches, as he knew he would, but for good measure he gave the front corner a solid thud with his fist as it passed by.
Lucien let himself tumble to the ground as the rusty old truck screeched to a stop. He rose back to his feet slowly when he heard the driver’s door open.
“Oh, my god! Ar-are you OK?” shouted a petrified voice through the rain. Lucien guessed her to be about 20 though he could barely see her from the opposite side of the truck.
“I think so,” he replied feigning amazement at the near miss. He felt a little bad being deceptive like this, but it could have taken all night to bum a ride any other way.
“What the hell are you doing out in the rain in the middle of the night?” Lucien was surprised that though her voice betrayed anxiety from the near miss the girl seemed to have little fear of him as a stranger. All the same he modified his posture and voice such as to portray a small unassuming presence.
“I’m just lost, I’m trying to get to the far side of town. I was supposed to meet someone but they never picked me up.” This was not exactly a lie since it had been his plan to find someone to drive him where he needed to go. “Do you think you could give me a lift?”
The young woman got back in her truck to avoid the rain and rolled the passenger window down to finish speaking with the poor stranger that she had nearly killed.
“I really shouldn’t,” she said biting her lip. Lucien could see her better now, her blond hair was mostly pulled back by a loose elastic at the base of her neck. The wet stranger waited patiently in the driving rain as she thought. “I guess I can’t leave you here. Hurry up and get in.”
She reached across and opened the door for him. Lucien obeyed and got in quickly, glad to be out of the cold miserable rain.
“Thanks,” he said, “I really appreciate this.”
“Yeah just don’t tell anybody,” Lucien watched as the girl continued to drive. She was clearly an “outsider”. Outsiders were those who did not work for any particular corporation but instead made a meager living away from the security of the corporate protection zones. She was very nervous as she drove them on, but Lucien’s heightened perception told him that it was not him that made her nervous but someone else whom she feared. Lucien tried to make conversation to lighten the mood.
“My name’s Lucien, what brings you out on a nasty night like this, uh..”
“Katie,” She replied quickly, “ and I just needed to get out and take a drive.”
“Oh I see,” replied Lucien compassionately. She was clearly hiding the whole reason she was out, but Lucien needed other information from her and didn’t want her to close up if he asked more questions.
“So what brings you here?”
“Well, I heard that there was something unusual going on in the far end of the old town, and so I thought I would come check it out,” the truth was that Lucien wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for. The macrobes typically had a way of being vague about things. One of Mercury’s companions had come up with this little mission while they waited for elements of their main plan to fall into place. All that Lucien knew was that he was to purchase the knife, which he now carried in his pack, and travel to this town on the edge of the mountains to get something that would help him.
“Oh you mean all the bums that’ve gone missing. That’s been going on for a while now but there’s no real mystery to it,” Lucien’s super keen senses told him that Katie was very bright and physically strong. In spite of these strengths Lucien could see as she spoke, the remains of bruises and old injuries that caused her to move and hold herself differently that she would otherwise. She had clearly been through a lot.
“Oh, really?” he encouraged her to go on.
“Yeah, it’s not uncommon for animals to come down from the mountains and take a few of the homeless. Not many notice, I mean so many die all the time anyway from fighting or sickness. It’s only the weak and useless that get taken by animals anyway so it doesn’t much matter, or so my Daddy says…”
At the mention of her father Katie’s eyes dropped down and to the left, and her breathing rate increased slightly. Lucien now knew what it was that she feared, he himself looked down at his lap, and reminded himself that he was on a greater mission; one to stop all of the sorrow like this.
Through the vents that were blasting warm air into the cab of the old truck a faint smell that was quite out of place for this deserted neighborhood caught his attention. He suddenly he needed no reminder.
“This is the place,” he said abruptly.
“What?” Katie quickly slowed the truck.
“Thank you for your service Katie, you won’t be forgotten,” Lucien spoke quickly as he simultaneously reached into his coat pocket and opened the passenger door of the still moving truck..
“You are strong Katie, you might be able to help me again if we ever meet. Here, take this,” he handed her a pendant on a cord that he had prepared for just such a purpose.
Before Katie could respond Lucien was out the door of the rolling vehicle and disappearing around the corner of a dark alley. The young girl was amazed and bewildered. The pendant was made of flat metal smooth on the edges with a warm luster. It was shaped like a spiral with six points each engraved with a unique symbol.
Katie drove home that night and was met by her father at the door. The tall man was more slender and lean than looked healthy. He was dirty and always wreaked of smoke and alcohol.
“Morton tells me that you were out driving with a somebody. Who was it?” he started before she even entered the door.
“No one,” she quickly entered and made for the stairs.
“No one eh? Who gave you that pretty necklace then,” he stepped closer and Katie stopped in her tracks and stared at the floor with her back to him as her face flushed and her heart began to pound.
“Answer me girl!” the shouts filled Katie’s ears so that her mind was consumed with them until she could not respond.
“I bet he was real nice to you. I bet you were real nice to him too, ya little slut. Did you think he would take you away from me? No, no little girl, this is where you belong, you’re only good for one thing. Now tell me who it was!”
Katie felt his strong hand grip her arm violently. At the same time the pendant on her neck began to feel like it was on fire.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!!” she yelled, and returned her fathers force with a shove that sent him off balance and against the kitchen counter.
Katie was instantly gripped with fear. She had never fought back before. She hadn’t meant to do it. She hadn’t meant to do anything. She could see the rage in her father’s eyes and at the same time she felt the increasing burning of the pendant in her hand as she clutched it and backed away in fear.
The evil man’s rage poured out of his mouth as he cursed her. When he had stumbled backward his hand had landed on his hunting knife that lay on the kitchen counter. He took the blade from its sheath, and cursing moved towards Katie who still held the now scorching and smoldering pendant tightly in her fist.
“You’ll never make another mistake like that again little girl, NEVER AGAIN!”
Further away, Lucien stooped in the back corner of an alley as the rain diminished. No other human could have detected the smell he noticed from the truck, but any man could have seen and identified the immense print left in the city grime at his feet. It was wider than two of his fists, and the claw marks reached well beyond the four toe prints where they sunk deep into the mud.
Lucien was scared. This was an immense creature, and it carried with it the smell of human blood. He understood more clearly now, the companion of Mercury was Artos a pagan god of animals in times past, and his plan involved reviving a little of his former might and giving Lucien some power related to this massive rogue bear.
“You have done well Lucien,” a voice came, projected by his CAIN. His cyberneural implant was interpreting it from of the rustle of nearby leaves. Lucien recognized the signature pattern of Artos hidden in the chaos.
“And now what do I do,” Lucien asked the leaves as he looked at the immense paw print filled aninch deep with fresh rain.
“I suggest you draw out my knife. I have been feeding this child of mine on man flesh for this full year in preparation for his sacrifice. He is tired of the tough sinewy meat of the lame; he desires fresh strong prey. Beware, he will not go down easily.”
“You mean for me to kill this thing?!” He rose quickly to his feet from where he crouched and un-slung his pack to retrieve the ancient knife. He had thought that he was somehow meant to tame the creature, not fight it.
“Is the Great One afraid?” mocked the macrobe as its invisible pattern flowed through the environment.
“You mean for me to kill this thing?!” He rose to his feet quickly from where he crouched and un-slung his pack to retrieve the ancient knife. He had thought that he was somehow meant to tame the creature, not fight it.
“Is the Great One afraid?” mocked the macrobe as its invisible pattern flowed through the environment, “It must be done and done with skill and speed. Trust the knife; it knows. He cannot escape wounded. Do not waste his precious lifeblood with more than one blow. You will need every ounce of his strength in the future. One strike to the heart will do fine. I must go try to bring him to you, but I will be there to assist you with the ritual once he is down.”
The macrobe’s trace vanished, and Lucien was alone with nothing but a bone knife with which to hunt a giant bear. (Keep Reading!)
The blade was thin and slender but long. Its once white color had been stained with blood from days long ago and ages of disuse. He looked at it in his hand and wondered what use it would be against such a beast as he now hunted.
The bear wasn’t far and Lucien knew it. He followed the tracks through the maze of alleys and abandoned streets. As he went he moved silently in the shadows, using his CAIN to show him the most quiet and hidden paths.
The tracks ambled along for a ways, but soon Lucien noticed their pattern shift.
“This must be the point where Artos started leading it,” he thought to himself silently. Ahead of him was a large dumpster abandoned for years, and beyond that a dimly lit intersection. Lucien peered cautiously around the dumpster.
Suddenl,y Lucien’s implant brought to his mind a subtle sound that came from behind him. He could see in his mind without turning that less than 10 paces behind him a very heavy foot had crunched a leaf that he himself had earlier avoided stepping on.
“Shit!” the hair on the back of his neck stood on end as he spoke under his breath, “I didn’t think about how they can smell! The damn things must have been tracking me the last quarter mile!”
There was a loud huff of breath and Lucien leapt to the other side of the street. An instant later there was a deafening snap as enormous jaws closed around the empty air where his head had been. Before Lucien could regain himself, his CAIN was nearly forcing him to jump as the dumpster he had stood beside a moment before came hurtling towards him.
Lucien’s agility had increased almost as much as his senses thanks to his cybernetic implant and the tools he had gained through the natural substructures. His strength also had increased with his other skills. He could now control each muscle individually, using them at the perfect time to maximize his strength and speed. But even with all of this he knew that he was hardly a match for this great beast.
He caught a quick glimpse of the monster as he landed gracefully on top of the now overturned dumpster. It was much larger than he had even imagined and its rippling muscles could be seen even through its thick dark fur.
The beast lunged again and missed. This time Lucien landed behind it and had a moment to focus while the bear roared in rage and sent the metal dumpster further down the alley with a swipe that left a large dent and deep gouges in the hard steel. The bear had missed him three times now. It was clear now that though the beast could see equally well during night and day, its vision was still the poorest of his senses.
Knowing that his only chance was to exploit this weakness and somehow strike deep into the murderous flesh to the bear’s heart, Lucien quickly came up with a plan. He dodged another snap and a lunge. Leaping and rolling down the alley he made his way towards the streetlight at intersection ahead. One swipe caught Lucien off guard and sent him flying to the ground at the base of the alley wall.
On the ground beside him Lucien found an old broom. He snatched it as he rolled away from another deadly swipe and stood up to find himself staring into the small black eyes of the beast. He could feel its hot breath on him. He swung quickly and cracked the end of the broom off across the creature’s nose.
This infuriated the bear, which roared and charged again snapping its jaws and spitting foam in rage. Lucien ducked and dodged again; he managed to remove his overcoat as he fled. One last roll and he found himself crouched directly beneath the light; his coat and the broken broomstick in one hand in front of him and the bone knife in the other.
The beast charged quickly at the man that it finally could see clearly in the lamplight. As it drew within range the bear saw the man’s coat leap high into the air. It rose to its feet and snapped at the garment. As the bear’s teeth closed around the empty coat the broom handle concealed inside struck the streetlight creating a sudden darkness. At the same time the bear felt a white-hot pain in its abdomen and a sudden ache in its chest.
Lucien’s up-raised arm was buried up to the shoulder into the rib cage of the beast. Using his unique skills he had cut the bear’s abdomen vertically as it rose and used all of the strength of his legs and his cybernetic vision to thrust and direct the knife tip straight into the heart of the mountainous beast.
Lucien stood for a split second with his face pressed against the ribs of the animal. The knife was clearly empowered, as its seemingly dull blade had no problem piercing the flesh of the beast. He could smell the dirty hide and feel the blood running down his shoulder. He heard its beating heart falter.
As quickly as he had made the strike Lucien withdrew his arm and rolled away as the bear fell clawing at the burning pain in its stomach. Its body hit the ground thrashing, but when its head followed, it struck the earth heavily and the bear moved no more.
“Quickly, son of men,” came the voice of Artos, generated from the reflections of the warm blood pooling on the ground, “dress him, take his hide and repeat these words as you draw…”