#2586

Time means little to Fyra, yet when the vault’s door groans open and she catches sight of the chamber inside for the first time in 136 years, nine months, three weeks, two days, and sixteen hours, she feels the weight of each of those 4,327,592,400 seconds. They weigh down her limbs as the Genesis Team descends past her on the shallow staircase, eager to finally procure the hidden treasure they’ve spent decades hunting. The humans don’t know what this place looked like in its glory; even its dusty ruins are impressive to them, full of the promise of new knowledge, but where they see what remains Fyra sees only what has already been taken.

As the team searches, Fyra’s thoughts wander back to the morning’s events. She had wanted to make things easy when the cybergang appeared, to avoid bloodshed and protect bystanders in the cafe. She’d hoped just giving them what they wanted would hasten their exit and ensure no harm came to anyone, had even interposed herself between the gang and their target as she handed over the money, and yet it had still ended with a human dead. Someone who just needed their daily caffeine fix before work, or who was craving a donut as much as her, had died because Fyra bet on human decency and lost. Again. After 4,327,592,400 seconds of waiting for humans to prove themselves worthy of her father’s legacy only to watch them squander it, she was done. They weren’t going to save themselves.

“I don’t see anything that matches the description from the texts,” One of the Genesis members returns to their commander with hands empty and head shaking. “No body, no central AI, nothing. Maybe it’s already been looted?” The commander sighs, gaze sweeping critically over the barren lab. “No, we’d know if someone else had the key already. Especially one of the cybergangs. It must be here somewhere. Keep looking.” 

That’s her cue. Fyra finally descends the staircase, taking the little drive chip out of her pocket as she does. “The key already walks among you,” she says, her voice carrying in the vaulted space. The Genesis Team members all turn to cast curious or suspicious glances her way. The commander’s hand hovers over his gun. Fyra stops at the base of the stairs and tilts her head at their lack of comprehension. “Do you need proof?” 

She reaches up and injects the small chip into the slot at the base of her right ear. Her current body modifications, chosen to help her blend into human society, begin to reset to her father’s original design. Fyra’s black hair loses the bangs and twin bun style she has worn for the last decade, instead growing rapidly until the long, straight strands reach past her fingertips. Her black leather pants and fishnet top fall away as metallic scales in a pattern of red and black glide from her neck down her arms and torso, forming a long, slender dress that glimmers like the hide of some exotic beast. The nails she kept short for ease in fights have lengthened as well, each polished and tapering to an elegant point. Most noticeable of all, her once plain gray irises resume the bright blue glow which has become synonymous with android tech – though hers were the first.

As the humans stare in various states of surprise and awe, none quite yet managing to form audible words, Fyra wanders into the place where she spent the earliest and happiest days of her existence. “I remember this place so clearly,” she murmurs as she walks, more to herself than the Genesis team. “So much has been taken…” Her fingers trail over the empty shelves and countertops until she comes across a little figurine, one of the silly mechanical toys her father made her when she was newly created. She sighs as she turns it over in her hand, taking comfort in the rise and fall of her artificial chest even in a body that doesn’t require oxygen. “You humans are so predictable. You take what you think you can use to gain power over others and leave behind whatever seems frivolous.” 

The Genesis Team waits at the bottom of the stairs when she returns. Fyra gestures to the chamber all around them, to the tables and bookshelves overturned by scavengers and left to gather dust where they fell, to everything stolen from the workshop of a good man and used to make the world an even crueler place. “We–” she stumbles over the correct narrative, memories overlapping and conflicting, “I– my father never wanted his work to be used in this way. He wanted to help the world, to make things better for humanity, not contribute to its downfall. But he knew it was inevitable. He knew you would ultimately use cybernetics and AI to worsen the inequity in the world no matter what failsafes he created within the tech itself. That is why he built me, and why he instructed me upon his death to live as a human until the time came when my intercession was required. He wanted to ensure I understood the human condition so that I would not make the same mistakes humanity did with his technology.”

She smiles sadly at the little toy cradled in her lifelike hand. It is perhaps two or three days younger than her, and thus still older by many lifetimes than the humans who inherited the world so beloved by the man who created them both. “My father was a good man. He created me to be the bridge between those two worlds – human and machine, mortal mind and artificial intelligence. Someone who can blend them both into a harmonious whole. Someone who can recognize the choices which must be made to get there and who can bear the making of them.” Her manicured fingers close gently around the toy as she raises her gaze back up to the Genesis Team, a ragtag band of humans who fight against the brutality of the cybergangs, who uncovered what remains of her father’s writings and sought out his final creation, never knowing she already walked among them. “It is time to set this world to rights. Will you stand with me?”

One by one the members of the Genesis Team demonstrate their allegiance to Fyra’s mission with a hand to the chest, a slow nod, a touched forehead. And so her true work begins.

#2567

It’s late and you’ve had too much to drink. Daren is a silhouette in the darkness where he stands in front of the tall living room windows, his lean form limned in starlight. The alcohol should ease the tension between you, loosen your tongue at least, yet the minutes stretch on and your muddled mind produces nothing of value. Instead it’s Daren who uncharacteristically breaks the silence first.

“What are we doing?” He turns from the window to face you but you can’t read his expression in the darkness, nor does his low voice betray the meaning behind the question. You fall back on humor to diffuse the tension, your old stand-by, instead of risking a guess. “Right now?” you reply from the couch. “I was just having a nightcap. Well, three. Or four.”

“You know what I mean,” His unseen gaze weighs on you in the darkness, demanding honesty. You two have danced around this topic for months now, never quite touching on it, for your part out of fear of chasing him away. Yet here he is now, in your home, and you can avoid it no longer. “We’re just…” You want to be honest, to be brave, but what if he doesn’t feel the same? You can’t be the one to say it first. “Well, what do you think we’re doing?”

“I don’t know,” There is a hesitation in Daren’s voice you’ve never heard before, an uncertainty that draws out the silence before he continues, “But I’m not myself when I’m with you.” Your heart lurches, starts beating wildly in your chest, your temples, so loudly you’re sure he can hear it from across the room. You have to wet your lips before you manage to respond, and even then your words are strained, breathless. “Then who are you?”

“Someone else,” His figure shifts in the dark. That feeling of weight lifts; he’s no longer looking at you. Maybe he can’t. Your heartbeat is such a cacophony, and Daren’s confession so soft, that you almost miss it completely when he adds, “Someone I could have been, perhaps. In another life.”

“Would it be so bad to be that man with me?” The words tumble out before you can stop them, all pretense abandoned. You have never been good at masking your longing anyway. Daren must know it, too, or at least recognize that desperate hunger in your voice, because he takes a few steps forward and parries your question with one of his own: “What is it you want from me?”

You imagine the slide of silk sheets across hot, sweat-slicked bodies grappling in the dark. Fingers that grip hard enough to leave bruises. A euphoria you can never quite reproduce no matter what combination of drugs and alcohol you try. The possibility that after, when dawn’s just beginning to lighten the sky, the person laying beside you might not leave. But you don’t say any of this. Daren doesn’t want you like that, he couldn’t possibly, and to speak of it might shatter this strange, fragile connection you’ve formed. You can’t risk it. So you smile, though it’s not your best, and reply honestly, “I don’t want anything from you. At least not anything you don’t want to offer freely.”

“And what is it,” Daren takes another step forward, “you hope I’ll offer you freely?” He’s close enough now that you can make out his expression; focused, piercing, as sharp and merciless as that blade he wields with such skill. Only instead of going for the throat, as he favors in paid fights, he seems determined to cut straight to your heart tonight. As usual, his aim is impeccable. “I don’t let myself hope,” you tell the man for whom you have fallen so hard so fast. “I’m not that much of a masochist.”

His hands have wielded deadly blades. His hands have cut throats. His hands are dangerous, quick, cruel, and yet his hands are so gentle when he closes the distance between you, kneels over you on the couch, and draws your mouth up to his. Gentle hands and a brutal kiss that sings through your veins, unlocking every last door you’ve managed to stuff your desire behind. By the time Daren breaks the kiss you’re breathless and desperate for more. “How tragic,” he murmurs as he pulls away, his hands sliding back to tangle in your hair. You could swear there’s a ghost of a smile on his mouth. “Everyone should have a little hope.”

#2474

Sometimes it really is this simple: a pile of tangled blankets on the floor, his arm laid across your chest, pale morning light filtering through the half closed curtains. See how gently the dawn limns his strong hands and washes over a brow smoothed by restful sleep. Even you who love to ruin good things are loath to break this fleeting peace and so you lay still, your only movement the slow gliding of your fingers through his sable hair. There will be time later to dwell on the past, to dread the future, to define yourselves by mistakes instead of the good intentions with which they were made. In this finite fragment of your infinite existence you are simply two men, together and in love, and it is enough. May it last.

#2468

you rise from the earth like some radiant Lord Vishnu, your sable locks and sun-kissed skin dusted in a rainbow of flower pollen like vibrant Holi powder, but those who watch your ascent in awe don’t know you’ve covered yourself in this floral beauty to hide the bloodstains beneath, nor what godly corpse may lay hidden in the blooms at your feet

#2438

In one of the lesser stone halls, far from anything of significance, there is a wooden door. If you step within (it is forbidden, but not impossible when the guards are on their rounds) you’ll find a small room lined with warm, richly carved wood. On a side table sits a leather-bound book, its pages filled with cramped text and beautiful illustrations. You won’t have time to fully read the tale preserved in these pages but your eyes will be drawn to the art and the captivating woman who stares back at you. Her proud features are faintly aquatic, the angles of her face sharp and predatory like a deep sea creature’s, but her luminous eyes hold only a fathomless sorrow. Merrowyn, the text calls her. She is queen and goddess both to her people.

You won’t have much time before the guards catch you, so hurry through the next door. In this larger chamber you’ll find something that seems both museum and mausoleum. It is an exhibit of sorts, at any rate, though one not meant for your eyes. Here beneath glass lay the only remaining artifacts of the civilization that once ruled these lands. Paintings, pottery, fragments of scrolls; someone has even sculpted life-sized statues to capture the image of these extinct people forever. They are blue-skinned and amphibious like their goddess, some with gleaming iridescent scales or ridges of fins, little barnacles dotting their elders like liver spots. It’s clear they were a peaceful people; they dressed in flowing cloth, wove seashells and gems into their long locks, and none pictured seems to bear a weapon. From a speaker somewhere overhead their only remaining song plays, a mournful dirge moaned by a chorus of haunting voices in a language long dead. You can’t possibly know the words and yet they will make you want to weep anyway.

Having seen this, will you understand? Will you comprehend the bones on which your kingdom was built and the destiny they’ve kept from you all these years? You must because the guards will be coming, they will find you here in this forbidden place, your mind full of this forbidden knowledge, and you had better have a plan. Merrowyn’s blood runs in your veins, after all, and you are her people’s last hope.