Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Eight

The Nick Of Time

(and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III


The sunrise was like a beacon, he willed himself towards it. The numbness receded as Vagabond's body solidified, the flesh re-congealing into familiar patterns. He watched fascinated as their surroundings fell into focus. The little details became apparent first, the shoots of sickly grass poking up through the wide cracks in the ravaged pavement, the faint rotting smell that hung in the air, the low-pitched moan of the wind.

They were in the Verge, the borderlands between the barrens and the what little was left of the untainted world.

Fog hung low in the sky, casting the ruined city into twilight. The skeletal remnants of toppled skyscrapers surrounded them on all sides, Vagabond didn't have to look inside to know that everything of value had been scavenged long ago. Lily broke the circle, he released her hand and her mother's stump.

Lily said, “Mother, you shouldn't have-”

Rhea stumbled behind a section of wall that had collapsed, the sound of her retching echoed through the ruined city.

As Lily moved to help her mother, Vagabond looked down at himself, afraid to see what shouldn't have been done to him but had.

He was clothed. Boots, jeans, t-shirt and a leather jacket hung from his previously bare frame. “Foolish woman,” he said to himself. She had simultaneously moved them across the wasteland and made clothes out of the thin air. All with a few mumbled phrases and a flick of her will. The sound of her being sick was enough to remind him that in reality it hadn’t been so easy.

Holding her daughter for support Rhea stepped out from behind the collapsed wall, he noticed now that Rhea was no longer dressed in his castoff shirt but in a simple dark gown and boots. Rhea dabbed a trickle of blood from her chin and glowered at him. “Maelstrom exposure syndrome,” her voice was hoarse, “symptoms started showing themselves a few months ago. That's another one I owe you.”

He sighed heavily, “You knew the risks, we all did.”

“Then I guess it's time we discuss what we’re going to do now,” she eased out of her daughter's arms and after a few woozy moments regained her posture.

Lily crossed her arms and nodded with satisfaction, “Finally. Maybe now we can-”

Rhea cut her off with a word, “Orchid.”

The face on the monitor screen was instantly replaced by the words
DIAGNOSTIC IN PROGRESS. Vagabond darted to Lily's side, “What's the matter? What's happening?”

“I thought we should talk privately...” Rhea found a seat on a rock and motioned for him to join her.

“So what is she?” he asked, “and why the Hell does she look like Lily?”

Rhea fished around in her robes and finally producing a cigarette, “She's a homunculus.”

“A homunculus?”

“It's a kind of robot.”

“I know what it means, but she's so real.”

Rhea lit her cigarette and began to puff away, “Thank you.”

“Could I have one of those?”

“I forgot you smoked.”

“So I do too.”

She tapped her ashes and watched them be carried away by the wind, “I was going to try and use the Xenon Splinter to escape to the Shard Worlds, I just had to figure out how to do it.”

“And now?”

“The Myrmex will have brought the Splinter right to Adiramled.”

“He’s alive?”

Rhea walked over to her daughter and whispered something.
DIAGNOSTIC IN PROGRESS disappeared from the screen and was replaced by Lily's familiar face. “-stop arguing and get something done,” Lily said, “Between the two of you we should be able to get the Splinter back.”

Vagabond smiled, “You know I think you're right, what do you say Rhea?”

“We can't do it with just the three of us,” she said, “but if the gentlemen hiding in the ruins over there would come on out maybe we could see if they're interested in helping.”

Following her gaze, Lily and Vagabond saw a party of five armed men creep out a nearby demolished building. They were dressed in ragged homespun clothes. The leader of the armed men carried an AK-47, the rest were armed with pistols. Their features were rough and pasty, their eyes burned with equal measures of curiosity and fear. They advanced slowly, their weapons at ready.

Rhea raised her arms and smiled, “No sudden moves now, just raise your hands and make friendly.”

Lily and Vagabond raised their hands and tried to look harmless.

Once they were surrounded, the leader searched them each carefully. His eyes widened appreciatively at the sight of Rhea's Desert Eagle. Once he had pocketed it and searched the others Vagabond lit up with a crazy smile, “Take us to your leader.”

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