"Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the
"Have the messengers been sent?"
"Yes, my lord. But with the distance between outposts, it is estimated
that it will be at least a week before they hit even the nearest outposts.
I fear that it is too little, too late."
Uttering a soft curse, the general raised his hand, allowing his hunting
falcon to take flight. "Of all the times.. I knew we should never have
gone so far afield." He absently stroked his horse, eyes on the falcon.
On the other horse, his aide shrugged helplessly. "It seemed necessary,
though.. after all, we needed more living space, and had to reclaim it
from the wilderness; and there were all those monsters.."
The general snorted in disgust. "Leave the stupid place for a hundred
years and the whole place goes wild.. if it hadn't been for the Great
Plague, we'd never have allowed it to happen." He absently continued to
stroke his horse. "But now.. we're on the brink of civil war, and we
can't even notify our outposts about it." He shook his head angrily.
"Light, they'll all be slaughtered before they can blink. Dedicated men
they are, but they're still just a step up from the town militias. Sad day
when the king's soldiers can get beaten by a poorly trained farmer." He
looked up, a faraway look in his eye. "And now we may all pay the price."
The aide nodded. "I just wonder why they'd choose to challenge the king
now, of all times.."
Scanning the skies for his falcon, the general did not immediately
answer. When he did, it was in a quiet tone. "That I can answer, if you
will keep it strictly confidential."
The aide stared quizzically at his lord, but merely nodded.
Still watching the skies, the general spoke. "You know of our king's
fascination with technology, do you not?"
"Of course. It's what put the rebels into opposition with him in the
first place. Ironic that they themselves use that the same technology with
no complaints." The aide paused. "So why now? Why would they suddenly
choose to start a war?"
"It's the king's latest experiments that have the rebels in an uproar.
The king.. is a good man, but he gets a bit carried away at times.."
The aide, with an expression of acute dread on his face, asked the
expected question. "What did he do now?"
"He.. has begun experiments.. on something he found in the older
data-files. Something to do with a test subject that went mad." He turned
to his aide. "The experiment was on the creation of a cyborg."
The aide's eyes widened, but he said nothing.
"The original test subject apparently developed an unholy fascination
with cats, and felt strong urges to torment them in... imaginative.. ways.
He was to be terminated, but escaped using the laser implanted in his
chest. The experiment was written off as a failure."
"So why would the king choose to pursue a failed experiment?"
"Because it wasn't a total failure. The test subject survived, but his
neural synapses could not be rewired sufficiently to both accept the
implants and retain his own sanity. What was important, though, was that
the test subject survived." The general, with a faraway look in his
eye, watched the path before his horse. "So the king theorized that an
inert neural network could be rewired sufficiently to accept implants
without risk of insanity." He fell silent for a moment, awaiting his
"But... are you saying... he's experimenting on corpses?" the aide
whispered in an incredulous tone, dread colouring his voice.
"It's.. it's..." The aide ran a gauntleted hand through his hair. "It's
monstrous! Experimenting on the dead.."
"It's no such thing! Think of it," the general said, staring fiercely at
his aide, "If it worked, when it worked, the cyborg would be
essentially restored to life. Where is the horror in that?"
The aide nodded slowly. "I suppose so..." He tilted his head
speculatively. "But obviously the rebels don't think that way."
The general grimaced. "Yes, their 'Freedom of Thought' movement. As if
using technology would suppress free will.."
"As if they don't use technology.." the aide wryly added.
The general grinned. "True, true.." He whistled for the falcon to
return. After a minute, the general cursed softly.
"Damn.. lost it. And one of my best, as well.. never had a problem with
it in training.." the general growled.
The aide addressed his lord in a somber tone. "Let us hope it isn't a
bad omen, my lord Orakio."
Orakio jerked at the reins of his horse, setting it to a canter. "Let us
hope so, Shiren. Let us hope so indeed."
"..Things fall apart, the center cannot hold Mere anarchy is loosed
upon the world."
Within weeks, the Alisa III was deep in the throes of civil war.
The armies of the king clashed repeatedly with the rebel forces, both
sides augmented by their own creations, juggernauts of metal or monsters
from the darkest night-terrors of young children. Town after town was
dragged into the war; even those of no alignment soon allied themselves
with one side or the other to save themselves from being crushed in the
rolling wave of war. The conflict soon spanned the bridges between
worldlets, bringing the fires of war to those who had never known
violence. The delicate equilibrium was upset, irretrievable; and within
weeks, all had fallen to chaos.
A thousand years ago, the ship had first set off from the wreckage of
its doomed home planet. Having no other form of government, the Palmans
had elected to resurrect the monarchical system on the strength of a few
old records of the reign of Alis Landale. Somehow, they had managed to
thrive in this environment never meant for Palmans, retaining the old
technologies, awaiting the day they found a new home under the reign of a
just king. And within weeks, it all came crashing down.
The rift had been a small one to begin with; to follow the path old
Palma had been on, that of increasing mechanization, or that of old Mota,
which had been that of increasing use of biological constructs. Those who
led the second faction were largely embittered by the loss of their
planet, and wished nothing more to do with the trappings of
hyper-technology; content to remain as they were, to improve only on their
creations and their own genetic codes. To others, who had lived their
lives surrounded by the cold comfort of technology, it was unthinkable.
Unfortunately for the biologists, the king had been of the technological
school of thought, and thought little of their Luddite frame of mind.
Perhaps, had they been allowed a fairer chance to present their case, the
war might not have happened; but the future is rarely considered by
And so it began, and the facade of Palman brotherhood whirled away,
crumbling into ash, it's fragile, false center destroyed.
* * * * *
Elsewhere, in Landen Dome, an experiment ended.
Orakio stared, unblinking, at what was left of his aide. Caught in an
ambush by the rebels, half of his face had been torn away by the claws of
some biomonster, sending shreds of bone into his brain. Those bone shards
now lay in a disorderly pile on the bloodstained metal plate beside
Shiren, as did most of Shiren's brain. Much of his body had also been
devoured afterwards, probably by the hellspawn before their rebel masters
could call them off. Rigor mortis had already set in, but the body
had been recovered quickly enough that decay had hardly begun.
Staring at what was once his aide, Orakio tried to summon anger, but
could not. Shiren had been close to him, but he had gotten careless; now
he was no more than just another casualty. The spark of anger would not
come; no oath of vengeance escaped his lips.
Instead, he said, "Activate."
The apparatus hummed to life, and blue currents of energy ran down the
wires connected to the reconstructed body. First the duralinium
endoskeleton, then the artificial muscle fiber twitched, before the first
systems came on line. Slowly, the energy feed activated system after
system, first the systems regulator, then the targeting link, then the
exoskeletal armour controls, and then the bio-regulator, which began
feeding nutrients and fluids into the few remaining dead, cold biological
parts. Finally, the rewired neural net booted up, slowly gaining full
operational status, and the cyborg's eyes opened. Orakio idly noted that
the cyborg's eyes did not flutter open, like a Palman's, but rather
flicked open in a single, quick movement-- but then the cyborg sat up, and
turned to Orakio.
"What are my orders?" Shiren intoned, eyes fixed on his general, his
lord, his master.
Orakio looked once more at what was left of his aide and could not
"The blood-dimm'd tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of
innocence is drowned..."
The king and his general looked up as the guard entered.
"My king, my lord.. there are three civilians who wish to see you.. do
you wish to admit them?"
Orakio frowned. "This is a time of war! We have no time for--"
The king held up a hand. "Wait, Orakio. I wish to see what is so urgent
that they must barge into the castle thus." He turned to the guard. "Send
"Yes, my liege." Bowing, the guard turned smartly on his heel and strode
out. A moment later, he reappeared, accompanied by three people dressed in
plain, worn clothing that wore the dust of many days' travel.
The man was large of build, with a build that spoke of years of toil in
front of a forge, or perhaps in a quarry; though most hard labour was done
by machines, some poorer towns chose to use manual labour instead. As for
the two women, they must have been twins, for they looked exactly alike;
the same calm, blue-gray eyes; the same fiery red hair they shared with
the man, their brother--
--And the same carefully emotionless expression, also shared with their
"King Ledoronthos, we ask to join your army." Short, clipped, precise.
Minimal speech. Business-like tone. Every appearance of being
professionally emotionless. Orakio didn't believe it for a second.
They were villagers. Of that he had no doubt. If the man had been a
blacksmith before, he might be comfortable with a warhammer or the like in
his hands, but swinging at moving, armoured objects was very different
from swinging at an immobile lump of metal. And the other two.. they
looked agile, but also as if they had never touched a weapon before in
their life; which they probably hadn't.
By their expressions, they're running on rage alone, Orakio thought.
Best go for the direct denial--
Weariness makes a fool of the canniest man. Orakio had never read others
wrongly before, but this would be only the first time in the times to
"And what makes you think you are qualified to join?" the general
queried in a deliberately mocking tone.
Surprisingly, the man just smiled. "We aren't." His two silent sisters
came forward. "But you can make us qualified."
With regret, the king spoke. "If you speak of training, I am afraid that
we cannot dedicate any trainers to you; all of our qualified trainers are
already training a few thousand recruits, all of whom who at least had
some military background prior to this. We have neither the time nor the
resources to train you; I am sorry."
One of the sisters spoke up. "We do not speak of that. We are not fools;
we have eyes like you and can see the state of this land for ourselves."
Trying very hard not to be insulted, and somewhat intrigued despite the
insulting tone, Orakio addressed the group through clenched teeth. "Then
of what do you speak? Talk, woman!" Okay, so maybe his temper
wasn't under control.
The other woman now spoke. "We have heard.. rumours.. of a certain
process you have developed between the two of you-- one that.. changes
Artfully schooled expression, as if chiselled out of cool marble. "We
have no idea what you speak of." King Ledoronthos said, silently
challenging them to say more.
"If I may speak so plainly, come of it, your majesty," the man sneered.
"Shiren al Torienthis was the nephew of Renan al Torienthis, our mayor.
Did you think we would not recognize him when he marched through our town
on the way to the front?"
They were silent a moment. Then, clearing his throat slightly, the king
The three of them turned their gazes at the king, staring daggers at
him. "And why not?" one of the two sisters asked in a cold voice.
"Because of several reasons." It was Orakio who spoke this time. "First,
the cyberization technique, so far, only works on corpses. Second.." He
looked the sister who had spoken in the eye. "Second.. the process is
irreversible. There is nothing you can go back to if you are subjected to
the cyberization process. You will have nothing ahead of you, nothing but
an eternity of existence as a military cyborg." He continued to watch
them, a dark, serious expression on his handsome face. "It is for this
reason that we have not begun experiments on living subjects, and we have
no intention to begin now."
"Bugger your intention!" The three were completely unfazed by Orakio's
impromptu speech. "Do you believe," the man snarled, biting off every
word, "That we would be here had we anything to go back to?! Do you
think us idiots to think we would not understand what we asked for?!" He
lowered his head, trembling with emotion. "Torien was nothing more than a
farming village, where we perfected the technologies of agro-farming. And
now? It's gone. Everything. Every man, woman and child; every robot, every
microchip, every scrap of metal. Razed in the fires of blazing techniques
and crushed in the maws of the ravening creatures they set upon us. All
gone, but us."
He raised his head, eyes empty. "Better we lose our
humanity than remember what can never be regained."
Orakio and the man stared at each other for long moments. At length,
"What are your names?"
Not taking his eyes from Orakio's, the man replied. "Sirenos al
Toriengal, and my sisters are Mieu al Toriengal and Miun al Toriengal."
Orakio turned away, eyes shadowed. "It shall be done tomorrow. My king,
by your leave--"
* * * * *
The boy crouched in the rubble, silent. His arms encircled the
whimpering girl in his arms, one hand absently brushing the locks of pale
green hair from her wide, unseeing eyes. Expressionless, he stared
sightlessly at a charred structure of wood and metal; one of a few hundred
Metal. What an incongrous symbol of that demonic curse, the boy thought.
Pliable, useful, ductile. He had liked metal, once, as much as he had once
wondered in the clean, stirring breath of a spring breeze, and the light,
gentle sunlight that shone over his youthful face. By the age of five, he
had learned that all of this was an illusion, an artificial environment
maintained by the systems that were the brain of the Alisa III as much as
the engines were its heart. It had not stopped his joy in all things
around him, though; with his sister, he enjoyed many an engineered spring
In an odd, distracted mental voice, he wondered how he was ever quite so
The metal men had come, that day. Tens upon hundreds of combat drones,
on their way to the front, stopping to destroy the place that was nothing
more than a supply station before moving on. Cold, methodical. Enemy
destroyed, moving on.
What the boy remembered, though, was not the horrible, faceless maskes
of the drones, or their lancing lasers, or the echoing screams of his
parents, or the sight of his house collapsing into a pile of smouldering
cinders before being completely vapourized by a stray laser. All he
remembered, all he could remember, was red hair. Flaring, red hair
atop a mechanized countenance, metal plates mockingly coloured the colour
of dead flesh fused to the metal man's cheeks. And all he could feel was
Tomorrow, he would go to the east. Tales of the ruthless lady general
who served under the revolutionary king Resthenes had spread even here,
some months ago. Though young, the boy already had extraordinary skill
with a slasher and a reasonable repertoire of techniques; he had no doubt
he could secure a place in Laya's army. And he would hunt down that
red-haired abomination and destroy it.
Tomorrow, he would scavenge a pair of monomates and an old suit of
armour, as well as find his father's old, magic-imbued Terran slasher, and
he would set out with his sister to Refeil Castle. But for now, the last
echo of innocence remained as Lune sat in the ruins, seeing nothing,
absently stroking the limp form of his catatonic twin sister.
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate
"You asked to see me, my liege?"
The proud general genuflected to his liege, before straightening and
facing the wreck before him. The war had not been kind to Ledoronthos; a
tinkerer at heart, a good king for no reason but his care for his people,
being forced to be the figurehead for a civil war had taken its toll on
the young, bright twenty-year old who was now a sad, introspective
thirty-six year old.
Such was the price of war, Orakio thought to himself. But still it must
"Orakio.. my general, my friend..." the king spoke, his voice little
more than a whisper.
"Yes, my liege?" Back straight, always at attention; relentless in
battle, remorseless in slaughter. It was no different now.
Ledoronthos was silent. After several moments, he spoke haltingly, some
unidentifiable emotion behind his words. "I.. I need the friend right now,
and not the general.. if you please." He fell silent again.
An unvoiced sigh on his lips, Orakio relaxed slightly, letting some of
his hardened facade slip. It had to happen sometime; he'd seen it coming
for ages. Well, he'd just have to help Ledoronthos through this-- the
people needed their king, no matter how he really felt about it.
A small, bitter smile crossed the king's lips, and he addressed Orakio.
"You can't let go, can you? No, it is you now.. no matter. I must
still speak with you nonetheless."
Orakio silently cursed whatever capricious deity had turned his
once-accurate judgement on its head as Ledoronthos rose from the throne
and crossed to the window, staring down at the streets below. The general
knew what his liege saw; the once-lively streets that now teemed only
with liveried soldiers and battle drones that moved with unnatural,
jerking movements, and the dark pall set over the city by the smelters and
factories working overtime to produce more drones. Lately, drones with a
more advanced AI had begun production; but in one corner of the city, in a
white-walled building next to the barracks, more and more conscripts were
waiting their turn to be "enhanced" into cyborgs. A pale shadow of it's
former prosperity, Landen lay before them.
"My general? Do you ever.. regret?" A volume of meaning lay concealed
within those words, Orakio thought. But Ledoronthos' words compelled an
answer. After all, he was the king.
"No, my king. Regret has no place on a battlefield."
"I thought so." Facing the window as he was, his expression was hidden
from Orakio's view. "I regret. I regret every day." He lowered his head
slightly. "I regretted every bad decision I made, I regretted every
execution I ordered." He placed his hands on the curtains. "And now I
regret developing the cyberization process."
"My liege, if you refer to the rebel claim that they went to war over
your experiments, then rest assured that they were merely a convenient
excuse. It had been building up for ages; comes from being stuck on this
ship, I suppose."
Ledoronthos laughed softly. "You mistake me, Orakio. I speak not of
that, but of what it became."
Orakio tilted his head curiously. "My liege?"
"Don't play games with me, my general. You know perfectly well of what I
speak," Ledoronthos spat in an uncharacteristic snarl. "It was to be a
medical science, a possible restoration of the recently deceased through
partial cyberization. Instead, what is it now? Used to accomplish
that!" The king gestured at something outside the window, but
though Orakio could not see what he gestured at, he knew that it was one
of the cyborgs, probably one of the more openly mechanized ones.
"My liege, they are vital to the war effort--" he started.
"I know! Just as I know that without more, we cannot stand against the
enemy forces!" Ledoronthos was practically shouting now, his shoulders
trembling with emotion. "But.. but I can take it no more! I.. I have not
the strength to send so many to their deaths, or to a life worse than
death! I.." The king, shuddering heavily now, gripped the windowsill for
support, momentarily unable to speak.
A dark suspicion crept into Orakio's mind, and he spoke before thinking.
"My liege, you cannot mean to cease the cyberization of conscripts!
Without the added strength, we cannot hope to even hold Landen, much less
what territory we do occupy! That is madness!"
"I know. I know only too well." The king's soft, shuddering whisper
brought Orakio up short. Ledoronthos turned around, and the general was
astonished to see the tears running freely down his king's face. "Which is
why I choose to run away instead. As of this day, Orakio, you lead the
people of Landen, and of the Alisa III. I cannot perform this farce any
For once, Orakio found himself at a loss for words. "But.. you are the
king," Orakio started lamely.
"It matters not. Call yourself king if you wish; I care not. I have not
the conviction to lead my people to their deaths any longer." Ledoronthos,
king no longer, began to turn away.
"They will not accept me. I am not of royal blood.."
"And my distant ancestor was? Already they have more respect for you
than they hold for me; they speak of your bravery in battle, of your
genius, and pay lip service to the throne. But it matters not; even had
they naught but loathing for you, still I would pass the leadership on to
you. Because no one else can endure this burden and remain unscarred but
one who can destroy his own emotional baggage. You." Orakio failed to
notice the bitter, ironic smile that crossed his former king's lips at
this. Instead, his mind filled with images of glory, of victory over the
rebels, of the exultant, victorious shouts of his people, of the new,
technological society they would build on another planet. The last picture
that blazed in his mind was that of Palma reborn.
His voice trembling with passion and raw with the intensity of his
feeling, Orakio spoke, not knowing that two domes away, in Refeil Castle,
Laya, with Lune by her side, spoke the same words to old King Resthenes.
"I will lead. For our people, I will lead. For Palma, I will lead, and
And that day, the Devastation War truly began.