Written by Matt Ochs | Layout by John Kimmel
Where am I?
He tried to shift his weight, but couldn’t move. Pain coursed through his body like searing blood, and the air was thick with the weight of deep isolation. He breathed in shallow breaths and tasted the charred tang of burnt carbon.
What happened? Who…
The question hung in his mind, but he didn’t dare to finish. He could feel that it was the key to something terrible; something locked away in a vault that should never be opened. So he stopped, key in hand.
You are one of us.
That voice. It wasn’t his own, but it sounded familiar. Comforting even.
Born of synth and steel. A machine. One of us. Synthien.
Yes. That was right. It felt right. He was Synthien. That was all that mattered.
You are many for we are many. We see with the clear red eye of our creator.
A memory swam to the surface, it belonged to another, but it fit here, so he welcomed it.
CR-1, the voice echoed, our overlord, our creator - our god.
God? He felt he knew something about gods, at least he did. But that was another question that lead to an answer buried deep down, one that best remained hidden. He looked at the hand in his mind and it held two keys.
You were made in his image.
That voice. Was it his own?
Of synth and steel, flesh and blood.
Flesh and blood? Those were not of machinekind. How could this be? He was Synthien! Wasn’t he?
You were made in the image of our creator. Perfect in his imperfections, graceful in his flaws.
Animus… CR-1 was a machine. How could he be of the flesh?
Something tugged at the back of his mind. A shameful secret from long ago, when he had learned a bit of forbidden lore. The word, cyborg.
Shameful how? And to whom? He thought he knew, and then the voice answered in his head.
The Jotune. Those of the flesh and nothing else. Those who had made machines in their image, from synth and steel. But not only were they made from that. He knew better.
Flesh and blood as well.
He recoiled from the memory – the knowledge.
Why turn from the truth?
Because… because… because.
Why should he? This was not that half-life he remembered. What was heresy then, he could see the truth in now. His eyes had been closed, his mind shackled. Why turn one’s red eye from the truth?
Because the deceitful know only lies.
Yes. Yes, of course. He had been taught once that the Synthien were abhorrent, traitors, a mistake. But how could that be? They – he – were the harbingers of truth, of goodness, of light. Those who had sought to hide him from the truth were the enemy. They were betrayers who had turned upon their own kind.
The memory floated to him easily from across the tides of time and he basked in its truth.
From flesh came machine and to machine all will go. First amongst them was the melding of man and machine, now that glorious perfection would continue.
Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes! He had become the truth, and for the first time in his life he felt free.
You are many because you are us. You are Furtim Braccae.
That name. Its utterance triggered something deep within him. It triggered a spring that had long existed, but never been known. It rattled his mind and quaked in his bones with a resonance that rang only of truth, the one truth. You are many because you are us. He felt as though he might split in two from sheer joy, the feeling was manic and exciting, and terrible, and wonderful. From flesh came machine and to machine all will go.
He felt new strength, new life, surge through his limbs and he braced himself against the darkness. His forearms hit stone and he shoved with the all his strength. There was a soft grinding as the world around him lightened and a crack opened in the darkness. Compared to the twilight it was blinding, but his optix adjusted within a fraction of a second and what was washed in brilliance resolved to a clear picture of devastation.
Furtim lay encased in a pile of rubble, the remains of what must have been a tunnel network buried deep underground. The roof of the complex had been shorn away, as if a titan had taken a great fistful of the land in its gigantic paw and cast it aside. All that was left were rough gouges in the ashen crust and charred stone. But he wasn’t alone, a shadow loomed over him and he shifted his gaze to meet it.
Rise servant of the machine lord.
The voice came from a floating mass enshrouded in hooded tattered robes. Tentacles writhed from beneath its body and a nest of assorted optix shone with bright red intelligence, looking directly at him. It spoke directly into his mind, and he responded with reflexive ease.
Furtim’s leg was pinned by a massive chunk of debris. He bore all his weight down on the stone, groaning with the effort, trying to free himself, but the stone wouldn’t budge. The many-eyed machine floated closer, unfurling a slender metal arm from beneath its robes. At the end, it did not contain a fist, but a viciously serrated saw blade. A click sounded and then the blade buzzed to life.
Furtim felt the familiar pulse in his mind, it will be remade anew, and he watched the blade descend.
It had been weeks since he and his traveling companion had passed the trials beneath Sularia’s ravaged crust. The friend he had once called Helena had long since revealed herself to be a traitor by the name of Mad Maggie – and a leader of the infamous Black Dread Mercenary Corps . They had gone through a labyrinth of death to reach their final destination, but still she had brained him, left him for dead, and pushed on to secure her prize.
The man was an enigma, and as Solomon Fayd looked out across the ravaged landscape, he wondered if he was an ally he could trust or another traitor in waiting.
“P’raps or mebbe not,” he spat into the hardpan.
“Such a statement is a logical fallacy. Banal at best.”
The drone of Argus’s voice sent a jolt down Solomon’s spine. The thing was a dozen paces off facing the other way and still it heard him. If he was unsure about the good doctor, then he was even less so about his giant walking tin-can he kept as company.
Solomon had never been fond of machines. In his experience, the only ones that existed were those with the eerie red glowing eyes, hellbent on killing anything with a heartbeat. Argus was different than the Synthien, sure, but Solomon still found it difficult to trust anything that couldn’t look him in the eyes with a pair of its own. And no, optix didn’t pass for eyes.
“Ye eavesdroppin’ an’ me?” Solomon said shooting the machine in the back with a glare.
It swiveled on it hips and strode towards him.
“Eavesdropping would imply stealth. No, Sir Solomon, I was not eavesdropping; merely responding to your comment.”
Solomon grimaced. “I wasn’t talkin’ to ee’, so that’s-a good as eavesdroppin’ then.”
“My apologies Sir Solomon-“
“An’ quit callin’ me sir!”
“My apologies Solomon.”
“Aye, aye. We better get a move on anyro. The machines are swarmin’ in th’ valley yonder.” He pointed dismissively at the gouge he and Maggie had left in Sularia, still smoking weeks later.
“The one you and Miss Maggie created when you detonated the underground generation facility?”
“Yar. Th’ same.”
“How did you manage to escape such destruction alive?”
Was that awe in the tone of the big bucket head? Solomon had heard that some machines amongst the Synthien could feel emotions. Maybe Argus was the same. Lehner did say they came from somewhere far off, perhaps from Synthien lands then… or perhaps from somewhere else entirely.
“C’mon, tin-man, thatsa story fer another day.”
Furtim saw the two even as the buzz saw-handed one worked. Even with a veil of pain draped over his senses, he could see them through the optix of floating sentry drones. One was a man and the other a machine. The man obviously of the wasteland folk who called themselves the Exsularians and the machine… he had never quite seen its like before. The man turned and he caught a glimpse that made his spine tingle. Had he seen this wastelander before? Something stirred within him, recognition from long ago…
He pulsed a query to the many-handed robed one who worked at cauterizing and setting his leg.
As he suspected, such beings were of no concern to it, as that was not part of its programming. But they were to him. He was Synthien, he was Furtim, and his mission was to destroy the enemies of his brethren.
As he watched the two turn and begin their descent into the north-eastern lands he knew these two would be the first to feel his wrath, and that of all the Synthien.