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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tuesday Serial - Clockwork Heart 9

This is part of a Wolf & Raven Serial Story. See all the parts that have been posted here, tune in Tuesday and Friday for more, and see all my free fiction here.


The new guard--she had to remind herself that the old one was called Wolfe, that he had a name and was her partner now, at least in this--stood with his back to her, facing the gate, but between the generators and the wilderness. But the static in her head made her feel a bit like a wilderness herself, and she'd been given the job of taking him out so Wolfe could cut the power without destroying the island. She'd seen what could happen when a dimensional gate that sliced through the Laminae carelessly was depowered without the right steps; a chunk of Bolivia and a chunk of her thigh were missing now, adrift in the spaces between the layers of reality.

She didn't really want to have any more of her lost to the Aetherium. There were things there that liked the taste of humans, and the less she left for them to find, the more peace of mind she had. Now, if only she could clear that piece of mind so she could concentrate.

The new guard didn't have a gun that she could see, but he did carry a long metal stick that looked like some modification of a cattle prod, and blue sparks the color of the ones thrown between the generators and the gate jumped erratically from its end. A regular cattle prod was as bad as a taser to something as not-cow-sized as a person; an Aetherically-powered one could also have mental and spiritual effects.

She was already experiencing mental and spiritual effects.

Raven didn't have a knife, though she sorely wished she did, so she moved extra-carefully, and when she was square with the man's back, she leapt the way she'd once lept from a trapeze when she was a kid, and landed with her arms around his neck and her feet planted in his lower back, and rode him down to a rough landing in the gritty dirt beside the generators. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Wolfe dart out of cover and crouch by the closest of the bank.

But the new guard was tougher than he looked and better trained than most. The fall should have knocked him out, but instead, he was only momentarily stunned. She had just unwound her arms, her elbows and hands tingling from where she'd hit the ground along with him, when he rolled suddenly and tried to pin her.

She was closer to the gate than she wanted to be, and the whispering voices were cresting and crashing like waves against her skull, her consciousness. But she didn't need to think--or even be able to think--to react quickly. She kicked away from him, managing to connect enough to slow him down so she could get her arms free, and lashed out at his face the same moment she brought her knee up under him. He ducked to avoid the heel of her hand jabbing at the bridge of his nose, and it raised his chest off her legs just far enough that her knee could jab into his solar plexus instead.

It wasn't elegant, which she usually aimed for even in fighting, but it got him to roll away to regroup, gasping for air and scrabbling for his prod. She got to her feet and saw the prod the same moment he did, but he was a full body-length closer than she was, and he rolled for it before she could pin his closer arm to the ground to keep him from doing so.

His hand wrapped around the handle, and the whispers crested again. This time, the static blocked her vision for a moment, but it was long enough that he was much too close when she could see again. He wasn't close enough to reach her himself, but the prod was another two feet longer than his reach, and that was enough.

She threw herself backward, but the static was a weakness and he'd seen it; he was closer than she'd thought and the sparking end of the prod connected with her leg.

For a split second, she exploded out of her body, trailing blue sparks, and saw the underpinnings of the world around her. The staging area was a vast whirlpool of terrible dark energy with stolen lives trapped in the undertow, circling forever. The gate was a monstrosity of tangled power, natural and artificial, stolen and homegrown and sacrificed, and it drew on the tow of the whirlpool to attract the attention of the horror that drifted up from the depths, and served simultaneously as a rope to climb, a key to open the Laminae, a door to reach our level, and a beacon to show the way.

But it was worse than that, too. The gate had cracked the world, leaving fissures in the orderly layers of nested realities, and a glowing trail from the deepest parts of the Deep Aetherium straight to the world of science and man.

Already, other shadowy things were surfacing, drawn to the light--light was the closest she could label what the crack did--of the trail. And all around her, the voices proved to be the hazy outlines of people without bodies, true ghosts and ghosted lives, pressing closer all around her. She screamed in the space between worlds.

Back at her body, the new guard pulled his prod away, and she slammed back into her skin with the force of a building-jumper hitting ground. It felt like all her bones shattered on impact, but she was alive and conscious, so it must've been something else that broke. The voices where everywhere, clearer, but no less like an ocean of sound in her ears, her eyes, her mind.

"Help me," most of them said. Some of them said more terrible things.

She rolled, blindly, but with force, and avoided getting another prod before she'd learned how to breathe again after the last one.

Somewhere farther away than it should have been, the sound of the generators shifted down a note, then took on a sickly whine as the remaining generators tried to compensate for the loss.

Tune in Friday for Part 10! Stuff's getting serious now!


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