My name is Malkeith and it has been given to me to tell this story, to sing the last song of a sad cadenza in the history of my tribe, the WraithenClan who cleave still to the underbelly of Perfectcity. I can tell it now for the great change is upon us, the wind is all awry and great doors are unhinged at the world’s four quarters. Soon the Beast will be among us. After that even I cannot say. And I am a Timewalker, and the gift is strong in me, as strong as my seed is thin. No heir will bear me forward and keep faith with my memories, I am the last of my kind. That knowledge has always kept me distant from my clan, detached from them, alone. They think I am arrogant with the strength of the gift, nothing could be further from the truth, I am humble with it and it is always a source of pain, to see a child born and number its days, to scent the first star-rise and know that evil comes. It has been a dark journey and only Tisane has ever seen into the complexities of my heart. One day my name will be set among the stars, that was Tisane’s promise, and she never lied. It is some small comfort to know that I might cast this story into the heavens, for such things can be read there if you know that language, that in some unimaginable future a child will look up and read there something of what the WraithenClan were, of their beauty and their peril. Of the light they held to against the ravages of the dark.
It was Tisane who first set this story upon me, she forged it with iron links, a chain of remorseless memory and she claimed me through the strength of our shared gene heritage and set my feet upon this path. Sometimes I have wondered if I was merely a brilliant ornament for her, a cipher for her passions, her memories but that is a thought unworthy of both Tisane and myself. She was a woman shaped by brutal forces and still retained compassion. It is said that as a young girl she walked out of the devastation of the cities destroyed by Firstbomb, left the legend of the great King, Zip, who loved her despite himself and travelled through the wasteland of mutants and Timesickness and came to the vast desert where she journeyed and survived amid the tribeless. It was in the desert that she found the last mystics who worshipped the voyage of the stars. She learnt their arcane magic and suffered much in its making. She rarely spoke of it, once I remember her remarking that starcraft was an old art when the wind itself was young. But everything she did was informed by this teaching in the desert. She came east and journeyed to this place, Perfectcity, and became the first Matriarch of WraithenClan.
Tisane set her stamp upon all of us, she gave us a sense of place, of clan, she shaped us always to resist the lies spun in Perfectcity for she knew the art of their lies well. We were meat to them, outcasts and aliens, creatures whose only conceivable purpose was for experimentation. They were perfecting their techniques of cloning and engineering genetics. It sometimes amused them to use the outlawed of Perfectcity as raw material for FreakZoos. There was also a demand, although this practice was supposedly illegal, for meat that had been sexually enhanced, pleasure dolls. They were apparently much in demand by the Elite. All such experiments began with the erasure of consciousness and then the product was re-engineered for specific market demand. It was an old technique even then and it has now been entirely superseded by NewIntelligence which is more deadly to us than any of their previous science.
The WraithenClan are not technophobes, Tisane would not permit us that luxury and in this she was wise though even she could never have foreseen the consequences of her vision. Although members of the Clan resisted the intrusion of technology, Tisane ruled that only through our own technology could we be free. Or as free as any subjugated race can be. She permitted the stranger, Deuteronomy, to come among us and install the Roguecomputer. He was much feared by the Wraithen though I liked the man, he was quiet and he had little of the static dissonance that characterised him as ‘other’. But for the Wraithen he spent too much time above the ground to be trusted. He found our world too dark he said. I tried to teach him how to read gradations of colour in the caves, the crystal qualities of tone but he had lived long in full sun and he never really adjusted. The Wraithen can go abroad at dawn and eventide easily and the country of night is their truest domain for they understand starcraft and the moons but full light is cruel to them. Once I went out in the mid cycle of day with him to read the colour he saw but it blinded me. It was as white to me as our world was as black to him. But Deuteronomy taught me many things, he was an envoy to whole worlds of knowledge that fascinated and intrigued me. Some of this knowledge gave meaning to the strangest of my visions. He bought a set of lenses for my eyes which would disguise their Wraithen pupils and diminish light blindness and with him I sometimes traversed the Perfectcity almost as one of them.
They horrified me, these people of caprice and endless power, they killed for no reason and would turn vicious on each other if there was no lesser creature to torment. Birds, animals, all nature abhorred them, these people who walked casting no shadow. I did not go often among them, it was a great risk, even with the subterfuge that the Roguecomputer had given us, I was not certain they would not detect my genedensity and I would never have survived a full blood scan.
For the Roguecomputer changed much in our tenuous world, we gained access to their programming, we knew their plans, the movements of their Killingsquads; more importantly we knew how little they knew about us. If they had ever suspected that beneath their perfect white world we crawled and writhed, exalting blood and wine, reproducing in the old hallowed ways, our women lactating and bleeding, our men rejoicing in their seed spilling onto the earth, cultivating food using by-products from the human body, allowing illness to take its course; they would have moved their sun to annihilate us. We are a living heresy to them. Perhaps I make my Clan seem brutish to you, like mindless animals, it is not so, the Wraithen have a quality of beauty that is hard to describe. Deuteronomy once described the Clan as a marvel of harmony, a perfect cadence he called it. He was a man much beguiled by music and tougher spirits than his had fallen under the spell of the Wraithen’s hymn to Urbanstar.
We are so utterly alien to Perfectcity. They do not understand the delicate webspan of the stars. Darkness. They cannot concede that death, too, has a dominion and if they come to it despite all their intervention in the natural processes of decay they find it a source of shame and humiliation. We will never understand them, nor they, us. I know, I have walked in their minds, the endless golden maze of their unspeakable deities appalled me. There are no cycles in their beliefs, it is one eternal linear progression, it moves towards an ever shifting horizon; nothing that is past has any value only the sun-drenched future. It should never have surprised anyone that they welcomed the arrival of Opal and her contingent of cybertechs. She would become the Queen of the next horizon. Soon after we heard the first scream from the city.
For a city is an organic entity despite what artificial constraints are laid into it. It has nerves and arteries, bones and muscle, its sends its own messages through unintelligible neural pathways, it exists above and beyond and beneath its denizens. It has its own law of being, a logic peculiar to its own existence. It evolves and decays, it nurses its wounds and bares its scar tissue, more importantly it desires to exist beyond its makers. Opal sensed some of this but not enough. She began with the citizens, the Elite who ruled Perfectcity were ecstatic with the new vision that Opal brought, it was for them the zenith of cultural and scientific achievement.
In truth we should have paid much attention to Opal and her cohort of technicians but we did not. Tisane was dying and we were more preoccupied with her transition. Tisane had always been a small woman but death rendered her almost child like, egg-shell fine, age etched almost unwillingly across features that seemed too fragile to contain her strength. She had been Dreamkeeper to the Wraithen for time out of mind. She kept our future woven into our hearts. To lose her was very hard for she had no woman to follow after in her path. Her dying was long and we kept the vigil with her, she said little until the last when she called for me and gave me her dream of what was coming. Even though much of her spirit had taken the path to the silent country she had enough strength to speak it in the old way of Dreamkeepers.
‘Malkeith’ her voice trembled with fatigue ‘It is the dream and the dreamer must dream it. Out of the past we have travelled pursued by memories. We carry the map to ourselves to set out against the stars of infinity, to track in the pathless dark the shadow of ourselves. In the desert the wind will rise like an omen to haunt the sands like the memory of the sea. The Wraithen must learn to dance again, to shape the empire in the heart and spirit, dancing the language of the stars, the sun, the wind, the shifting floor of the desert sands. Do you understand ?’
I understood too well, for she had confirmed the future I had seen, the Wraithen would soon be driven to wander again. And we feared nothing more than the desert country with its implacable light, the white sun burning, heat, shimmer visions, the bones of earth aching for water. Tisane had often warned us that living in darkness we would come to fear the light. But we knew so little of sanctuary except our caves beneath their world. We had been hunted by light for too long. So Tisane died and left us this difficult legacy and I saw no way I could convince the Wraithen of our need to travel outside. They would not hear of it. The city was screaming in agony now, even we could not ignore it, it shuddered and groaned as if its tissue was being rent apart, it permitted no rest, few of us would venture above ground. What we saw in the distance frightened and confused us, it was as if the great edifice of light shrieked under a continual assault of strange colour. Roguecomputer hissed and spat at us as if it too was in pain, it would not transmit for us. Unease and discord spread everywhere, an infection in the heart. I walked in the future when I could beset by visions of unending, seamless landscapes of dunes. The desert ruled my heart and grated on every nerve, my eyes ached and I felt as if the winds that buffeted my spirit would carve me slowly, inexorably back to the bone. The Wraithen avoided me, I had never had Tisane’s particular charisma, I inspired nothing in them but despair. And then suddenly, unannounced, Deuteronomy returned with the news that I had dreaded for so long.
‘Malkieth’ Deuteronomy was distressed ‘The Clan must move and fast, Opal knows you exist, you have little time, she can track anything through cybertechnics and Roguecomputer can’t resist her..’
Even as he spoke Roguecomputer suddenly flashed into existence again with a music so strange we turned to it as one. Then slowly Opal coalesced onto the screen.
‘Ah Malkeith’ she drawled in a voice that had a flat metallic edge to it. And then she laughed. It was ugly that laugh and promised evil. ‘I cannot believe that Perfectcity has so long neglected its most precious resource. Have you any idea how valuable you will be to me. Flawlessly and totally human, no markers, no enhancement, fed on excrement and still sexually capable. And all mine.’
It is difficult to describe her, she had become more machine than human and nothing of humanity lurked in her eyes. Fine metal flanges seemed to grow from her brow, she was all blinding silver, a creature of chrome and intricate chips that she had decorated with glyphs of strange design. But there was a symmetry to her, something that was terrifyingly like beauty. And her voice was metallic but it held an unleashed music in it, her tonal qualities ranged over an impossibly human scale. She was, in total, nothing short of breathtaking, she literally had the power to stop our hearts. But she chose to invade our souls.
‘Do not look long upon her’ warned Deuteronomy ‘She has a power I do not understand.’
The Wraithen were already succumbing to the vision she offered them: peace, freedom, a traditional life honoured and unmolested in our caves. But there would be a price, there is always a price for such as us. She made it sound so simple, so logical, for all that she would give us she required only twelve of our children and myself in exchange.
I walked into Opal’s mind unhindered and found that she had merged into the labyrinthine structure of Perfectcity, she had enmeshed herself with the hardmind infrastructure of the Kingcomputers. Whatever Opal was it was very far from human. Even as she spoke she annexed the database of Roguecomputer, analysed it and re-formatted it, she erased lives and memories, she rewrote our existence as that voice rose and fell offering the Clan their deepest dream of freedom. Inside that mind I heard the city screaming and clawing against her dominion and I knew that in time Perfectcity would prevail though Opal would not. She would become its vehicle, its medium even as she believed she controlled it she would become its slave and never know it. I saw her plan for the Clan’s unblemished children and their unholy destiny. I also saw my own and marvelled at how little she knew of my gift that she could demean it with such purpose. It would all become redundant as the city consumed her for Perfectcity had its own designs and it had no thin neural pathway I could navigate. There was no way I could access its sentience, no common linguistic shared inheritance. All I could feel was the strength of its contempt for human intelligence. I walked out of Opal’s madness untarnished and picked up the Clan’s hammer which had been used to signal danger since we had come here.
I drove it through Opal’s screened face and then I smashed Roguecomputer’s casing and ground its technics into slivers of crystal. The noise was horrific, the Clan screamed and ran for cover as bolts of light flew randomly through the cave. Someone was calling out my name over and over but I would listen to nothing until the last chip had been destroyed. My hands were bleeding and I was crying with rage when Deuteronomy finally stopped me.
‘It is done, Malkeith’ he said ‘It is over, she has gone, she cannot come again.’ ‘You are wrong Deuteronomy, even now she is preparing to attack us, we must leave, the cybertechs are moving fast and she will destroy anything to modify the children, they are her master plan, they are her only defence against the power of Perfectcity. She doesn’t even know that yet.’
Although he didn’t really understand me he saw the need for action, that is what I had always liked about him. And he had come prepared. He gathered the remnants of the Clan and distributed his lenses for light blindness. But they were angry and confused, half of Opal’s work had been done like this.
‘What have you done, Malkeith’ someone shouted
I stood up and towered over them.
‘I have delivered us from perversion’ I said ‘Would you sell the Clan’s children into eternal cyberchrome mindlessness for the slim promise of that monstrosity, a promise she neither would nor could keep. Even now she is disintegrating into something else, she is no longer human, she has no blood allegiance to us, she has no allegiance to anything. Answer me, will you sell the children’
Silence yawned in the cave. Finally a small voice broke the darkness.
‘We choose not to be sold, elders.’ It was Janev, a boy distantly related to Tisane, a brief vision of him as a man suddenly touched me, he would be a man that others followed through eternity.
‘We will follow Malkeith, no one may gainsay a Clanmember’s choice and I am no mewling child. I will not cower in this darkness waiting for death or worse. I have finished with fear. The other children come with me, the chosen twelve will not wait for a sacrifice that the Clan seems only too happy to condone’
His words shamed them into something like sense. Though they continued to argue.
‘We have no time for this’ I shouted ‘Those who follow come now, we take the tunnel of snakes, we leave now’
‘Malkeith’ some one cried ‘We cannot survive the desert, we will die there’
‘You will most certainly die here’ said Deuteronomy.
I turned my back on them all and led the way. Janev came with me and the children, I heard Deuteronomy cajoling and forcing the others. Some would remain regardless, there was nothing more I could do. When the last of them were through Deuteronomy blasted the entrance to the tunnel. And then he turned the blaster towards himself.
‘Deuteronomy’ I screamed
‘Leave be, Malkeith, Opal has tampered with me in some way, she will track you through my presence, let it not be said that I brought the Wraithen to their doom. Remember me at Urbanstar.’ And then we ran as his blood and shattered bones drove us further through the tunnel.
Night, endless night we endured until we emerged into the glittering light of full desert sun and crept back into the tunnel our eyes streaming under its assault. But we were free of Perfectcity and Opal. Free to survive or succumb to the savagery of the desert’s laws. Years later I can barely remember our first years here, so much of it was driven by death or light madness, only the ritual of Urbanstar sustained me, the memory of Tisane and Deuteronomy’s sacrifice. I made myself live although there was little joy in it. But I endured and watched Janev grow to manhood. In time the Wraithen adapted and grew strong again. I am old now, the clouds have covered my eyes and the wind whistles through me as the threads of memory weave through my dreams. The children come each eventide to listen to the old stories of Tisane and the caves, of Opal and Perfectcity for Janev has insisted that we will not forget the place where the real darkness lives. I have not the heart to tell them of the dream I have seen coming. And there is no Timewalker to follow me.

Kate McNamara

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