flicker/mode: download 08 previous node
| what is this?
When I next awaken, I am in a bed. Although I do not move for fear of the restraints, they turn out not to be there.
I flicker mauve in uncertainty.
Unbidden, a smile comes to my ruined face. I flicker blue, deliberately. Flicker is back. It is still mine. Mode – here I probe as at an ache – Mode is gone, still. The City has taken it back from the aether into which it fled. I sit up.
The room is small but comfortable. Standing from the bed causes the lights to rise. I wait, immobile, near the bed, until the door opens and two blands – Men – stand there; two of the scientists who were with me at the last encounter. One is holding a tray on which lies food.
I haven’t eaten in longer than I can remember. The light is my food; I feel it drizzling onto Shell, captured in a trickle of photosynthetic sugars moving inwards from my skin. I watch as they approach; the one with the tray sets it down on a small table near me and moves back.
We regard each other.
I slowly bring flicker up and wash the background, vanishing into the camouflage just to watch their reactions. One starts as if to move, but the other reaches out and holds his wrist until he subsides. They wait, watching. Trust, or curiosity overriding fear? I cannot tell. I cannot die. I cannot heal.
I fade back in and move slowly to the small table. Looking at the tray, I look at each of them before moving my hand over the table lamp and removing the shade. I cup my hands around the bulb, feeling the incandescent with its far richer spectrum than the fluorescent tubes that grace the ceiling.
One of the scientists murmurs excitedly to the other. I ignore them, feeling the slow energy move from Shell into me, feeling the myriad small repairs and movements that feeding brings. The blands are scribbling on notepads, now, recording this piece of useless information for their own dark purposes. I stretch, slightly, to bring more of Shell into the light; flicker goes negative, sucking in photons with a greedy voracity. The others stop talking and turn to look as my color fades to a featureless black, almost dimensional in its complete lack of albedo.
“Can you do that at will?”
It takes me several seconds to realize the bland is speaking to me. I turn to face him, let flicker shine out from my eyes in a stream of gold. He moves his head to watch my face from different angles, apparently fascinated; I oblige by following him with my eyes but remaining otherwise still. He straightens, asks again: “Are you doing that?”
I wonder what happened to my voice, those many eons ago; memories of knives and pain are all that remain. In answer, I flicker green, once. He steps back in surprise, then cocks his head. “Does that mean yes?”
I flicker green again.
He smiles (strange to see on a bland this close; were Mode here it would be laughing as it waited for the kill) and gestures to a chair. “May I sit?”
He sits, dismissing his partner, who leaves promptly. I move to the side of the bed opposite him and stand there, locking Shell to avoid tiring. We stare at each other for most of the lifespan of an elementary particle.
“Who are you?”
That’s a foolish question, but nevertheless, one I can’t answer. I shrug, point to my eyes. He shakes his head.
“That’s who you may have been, or whose eyes you have. Who are you now?”
There’s really no response to that. I just look at him; he laughs. “Sorry. Right. Okay, then, are you human?”
I flash red, once.
“No. If you’re not human, what are you?”
Flicker answers for me, washing scenes of blands dying at my hands, Mode visible in the sleek elegance of the killing moves. I wince, look away. He watches carefully, until Flicker stops and reverts to negative, storing energy.
“Did you do all that?”
I shrug again, point at my head and wash flicker poison red in one quadrant of my skull, then wash the rest of me green. In the emerald glare, he appears to be intrigued.
“A part of you did this?”
“Is that part of you here now?”
“Why not? What happened?”
I unlock Shell and move forward to sit cross-legged on the bed. He watches this movement with interest. Flicker obligingly washes imagery of my last confrontation with the bland from the tunnels. As my internal battle with Mode arrives, flicker paints struggles of red and green within my frame, finally exorcising the red into the air but leaving the green dim and faint in the bronzed statue that I shudder to remember.
My interrogator appears fascinated. “You’re saying some part of you is gone?”
“Where did that part come from? Was it always part of you?”
He draws back slightly. “Do you mind me asking these questions?”
Shrug. There’s not much choice.
“Do you want to ask me anything?”
I wave around us vaguely, look at him quizzically.
I turn away from him, recline on the bed, thinking of the whispering freedom of the outside with the colorstorms that wash through me as I run. Brick, concrete, the lonely green of the pulped leaf whose texture I can recall.
After a time, he leaves.
I cannot sleep.
Further disguised by a crust of dried mud, I crouch just beyond the sight of the humans inside their wire. The Other is considering them, as I consider it. There appear to be a great number of them, perhaps over a hundred. I fight from thinking about the question of their supply just as the crackling roar of another dropbox settling from ballistic makes the fight moot; at the rate those have been landing, they’re no doubt well-armed and fed. The dropboxes, being little more than a metal shell with some retros and a minimal brain – are useful for everything from storage to shelter, be it from the elements or small arms.
With a lurch strange to me because I haven’t done anything, I’m in motion, sliding through a rent in the wire. The Other has decided, apparently, and there’s not much to do about it. I scream silently, watching the fortifications approach; rant, rave, try to turn myself aside. Nothing. My body (its body) is moving crablike in a scuttling motion, random, jerky; no pattern to betray us.
After perhaps three or four minutes, I am exhausted from the psychic burn of protesting helplessly, and succumb to watching, a passenger only. With more of my few mean powers turned to observation, a difference becomes apparent; one that takes me several minutes to identify. There is a sensation on my skin, which is hard to discern due to having no control over my limbs; however, with concentrated attention, I come to realize that the strange feelings are apparently the result of the camouflage field going about its work. This must be, then, what it would be to see after blindness- stimulation I cannot identify.
This new thing consumes me, starved for input; looking up, I find that I have reached the base of the fortifications, mere inches from my nose as I lie on my side in the mud. I don’t know how capable the camouflage system I wear is (yes you do, a voice chuckles somewhere within) but I’m positive that it can’t handle hiding me as I crest the fortifications feet or inches from the defenders with the glare of the wastelands at my back.
Too late to wonder, though; I’m in motion upward.
Coming over the top, there is a single scream before the woman there has fallen and her hot blood coats my torso. I would gag but cannot; the Other grabs her weapon (not a Steyr; something more lethal looking) and we are gone back over the barricade before her companions can react. I stagger in midstep, the power of my revulsion and loathing overcoming some invisible barrier; the Other responds with a storm of pain that is magnified for my inability to even whimper.
Rounds strike around me as I flee across the flat, pursued by death and harm.
I cannot die, however.
It won’t let me.
The trip back across the shattered swamp is one of dreams of oblivion.
Some hours of stillness pass. I rise silently from the bed, flicker waking with a wash of confusion before settling into a neutral shade. The door is closed, and locked; try as I may, I am unable to detect the presence of guards on the other side. How far does the trust extend? How far.
Breaking the lock is troublesome only for the noise; the groaning snap of metal shouting to the night. I open the door, wide; darkness greets me. Darkness is my friend; the ‘changers adapt and show me a hallway cluttered with small sleeping trolls of medical hardware. There are no blands in sight.
A direction at random; I slide off, instinct crowding me to the wall with flicker muted to darktone suggestives in conservation. Corners, stretches of floor, machinery and silence in quicktime order with no real pause. I turn at random, lost in this maze of Humanhattan. Occasionally I can tell there are blands behind closed doors; in all cases, asleep or otherwise quiescent.
The world is quiet, too quiet, and it takes me several seconds to realize that this is because the bands are quiet. No radio chatter from City; no management sideband or traffic encoding or even the forlorn state signals of streetlights crying for power that will not come.
Have the Blands shielded this area? Is it underground? Is City simply unaware of it or unable to penetrate? I am unsure if I should be grateful or not, and settle on simply unnerved.
Unmistakable, that. Sliding doors, two, grey, metal. Button alongside which does not respond when pushed. I push again experimentally to no avail. Force will out; I grasp the faint seam between the portals and shove them back into the walls. A pit below is revealed, a shaft leading up into gloom. There is no light visible anywhere save the faint ambient from the hallway in which I stand.
Still, City’s minions are not to be stayed by construction, even when in mufti. I move into the shaft and begin to climb, smashing edged hands into the shaft walls for purchase. Leaving a trail of cracks and pitted holds, I ascend into the indoor night.
Reaching the top of the shaft, I feel about for the doorway and force it open. A faint trail of light, brilliant to my hyped senses, slices through to widen into a river of glare as the doors slide back and I climb out.
I move perhaps ten paces across the smooth marble floor before realizing I am not alone. The ten blands arrayed about me all clutch Proscription with the muzzles pointed the wrong way. Looking into ten maws of death, I slowly sink to the floor, crosslegged, and force flicker into a flat mauve tone so as to appear in high contrast, unthreatening.
They close in slowly, but when they reach me, they bind me firmly. Gently but cautiously, I am borne further up several sets of stairs and left in what amounts to a sitting room save for the prodigious quantity of armor, sensors and security systems focused into it.
I sigh in resignation; move to a lotus position in the center of the floor, wash flicker to full blend (if they’re going to watch, let them have to work) and close my eyes, invisible eyelids sliding down over the lambent gold the ‘changers have assumed.
I remain that way until the lights dim, and then I fall asleep.
The East Side is mostly as I remember it. The Other is less apparent, now; it only seems to want control when I balk at its commands. Since most of its recent commands have only involved wandering about, we haven’t come into conflict.
Seeing the other side of New York is something I’ve wished for these past years. It’s ruined but neat; City’s ongoing maintenance deteriorating slowly. It’s a sad thing to watch. I reach the burnt remnants of Gramercy Park; nothing left of the trees save blackened trunks. The grass and shrubbery have returned, though, and the grass is meticulously trimmed, sign of a functional maintenance bot somewhere.
I seat myself beside a bush. The Other doesn’t object. Finally, I have time to examine the weapon I hold, taken from the woman. I shut off that line of memory before I reach the end scene.
It’s definitely a human weapon. Form follows function, and this one’s function is quite obviously to kill. Stock, receiver, scope, barrel; the latter is short and stubby. I turn it to look down the muzzle and am surprised to note the miniscule dimensions of the aperture. It doesn’t even look round, really.
The Other is watching, now, I can tell. It feels just like someone hovering over my right shoulder. The fact that it’s not interfering means that it’s likely this is why I was sent for the gun, to explain to City what it does.
There’s no way to determine that without firing it, however. I stand and take aim at the nearest dead tree. Before I can begin to figure out the safety, however, there is a wave of pain, horrendous in its intensity. I sink to my knees. Almost immediately, however, the pain lessens; I can feel the Other fighting it, fighting the searing noise that is coming (I realize) over City’s bands.
The argument that occurs would be really, really interesting if I wasn’t wishing I could cry from the agony. City is shouting about Proscription; the Other is responding with the concept of intelligence gathering. Thankfully, the pain eases as they edge deeper into conflict. I can’t move; the Other has apparently immobilized me before turning its attention to the debate. I can look around at the gun clutched in my fist against the ground and the various forms of bushes and grass surrounding me. That’s about all, though.
As I lie there, I spot movement from the corner of my eye. It’s a bot, a cleaning unit probably. It’s moving slowly across the remains of the grass, with a mowing blade occasionally whining up and lopping off some blade of greensward that has transgressed over the prescribed limit. It makes its way from one side of my view to the other. I watch in a detached fashion, trying to ignore the conflict and pain raging within me. Little bot, if only you could help.
It stops. The mower blade spins slightly, and it turns a slow circle before settling on me; lurching back into motion, it approaches my frozen form and stops, blinks an indicator twice and…waits.
Bot? I don’t even know how I’m talking. Probably radio. It blinks again.
Interesting. I’ve almost managed to forget the pain. Bot, get help that can move me. It blinks again, once, then spins away across the grass, not stopping to cut the few fronds that slap against its front as it goes.