Author's Note 1: I have been not so blatantly scolded for the fact I don't mention that these stories are NOT part of the official TGS storyline. So I'd better clarify. They are, if anything, considered part of an alternate universe. Like the official disclaimer often added at the top of these stories, I do not own the characters of Sata, Graeme, Ariana, Nudnik, Nicole St. John, Andrea Calhoun, Sara Jasper and anyone else I may use from TGS. Because I consider these new characters almost as canon, it shows just how well the writers did their job. I decided when I first started this series to start from the end of the TGS season 2 finale "Seeds Of Change" rather than "The Journey" for the fact I wanted to use the restored Othello and Desdemona, use the quasi-reformed Demona, and enjoy playing with a rich new character in Sata, as I respect the TGS series very much for how they kept the spirit alive, and how they helped to turn Gargoyles into something deeper, richer and a little more adult-oriented for an aging fanbase.
But as I don't want to cause any confusion, from now on all subsequent titles will not include "TGS". This is the Beginning Anew universe.
Author's Note 2: High hopes go out for my mother's surgery on the 19th, a day before my birthday.
83 - "Ambiguous"
"Marriage has in it less of beauty, but more of safety, than the single life; it hath not more ease, but less danger; it is more merry and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but is supported by all the strengths of love and charity; and those burdens are delightful. Marriage is the mother of the world, and preserves kingdoms, and fills cities and churches, and heaven itself."
- Jeremy Taylor
Only a memory ago...
The world seemed crisper, sharper, brighter, her senses now wolfishly honed to pick from the city breeze the chemical pollutants her human olfactor had obscured.
And the weight on her back, enchanted to her by tendon, artery and layers of limber muscle knotting from beneath her skin, it fluttered. Her wings moved, eager to test the wind, instinct winning out over the congenital human fear of altitude.
"She called him Puck."
There was an exultance in the full-bodied rumble, something that sent tremors through her newly thickened hide like never before. Her blood was reacting to him, running hot and fast and pounding in her ears. Her eyes flicked left, and languidly wandered the lines of a mighty, regal creature. "In Shakespeare's play, Puck was a harmless trickster." she answered instinctively, still marveling at the changes to her form, made sleek and powerful and willing for the sky.
"What happened below wasn't harmless." The leviathan stood, seven and a half feet tall, and met the city expanse of smoky mauve and dotted lumen as a king would his subjects, long sable pelt tangled by the fingers of the wind, eyes absolute. "Come, we must continue our search for them."
Elisa was a little more than apprehensive to entrust her life to a set of untested wings, funnily enough painted the same liquid chocolate as her eyes. She sidled a little closer to the rooftop edge, and met her widening gaze with the promise of yellow-lined pavement coming up to meet her lest her new appendages give out. Her breath was syrup through expanded lungs, and her words would stutter, and inadvertently divulge her apprehension, "I'll never get the hang of jumping off rooftops."
Goliath's sails snapped wide, and the acclaimed creature vaulted from the mortared louver.
Such immensity and power she thought, such weight, would, and if anything should, send him falling, but the Wyvern leader was more a dancer along the ocean streams, and now, in her changed form, she was more than impressed and just a little awed how easy he made it seem.
Her tail twitched in jealousy.
He circled round, and for a moment, seemed to hover, seized by the winds. He smiled, and opened his arms to her. His eyes glinted streetlight amber, but to her, they were gold. "I'll always be there to catch you..."
His simple vow was sealed by their bond, their friendship thought eternally destined to skirt the romantic edge. She would always trust him. Elisa opened her wings.
****************************************April 5th, 3547
It was wind, it was heat, it was the tingling, childlike touch of fire along the ancient breeze.
Land of flame-laden winds, and condemn the souls lost within her.
At its refurbished strength that lay claim to the dunes and distant hills with a swirl of lambent gold, this was Egypt true and primal. Myths and tales of old dusty gods etched in stone had no entitlement here; this was nature, this was genuine. The human settlements had been razed long ago by their own creations and arrogance, and the wind freely roamed, and hunted.
For more than several hundred years now, it was unrivaled in its ferocity. Neither man nor machine.
And there in the center, a survivor made her way.
The little child coughed the dust from her lungs, and crawled blindly over the sands thankfully cooled by the night air; it would've been too hot to stand under the afternoon sun. Her wings were deflecting most of the wind, but her eyes, big brown eyes that saw the world just a little clearer were shrouded by the dust.
She crawled by the feel of her blunted talons alone, and all she could sense through the slightly thicker hide of tarnished copper was sand, sand and more sand beyond. She pushed on. Her mother's indomitable will was more than just an inherited trait, the one half share of gargoyle blood more than stubborn. Barely two years, and the child was a fighter; the child was a Maza and that was vindication enough.
Still crawling without a discernible direction, she'd given up calling out for her mother. It was a hard task to make noise with a throat filled with sand.
But then a shape, over the next dune, coalesced before her eyes into something more like human than the skirting shadows within the quickly changing direction of the storm. Something trickled deep down the membranal limbs of her wings and Trinity Hope came to a stop, watching this shadow saunter closer with silent steps.
She first saw a mask, and a thin shawl wrapped around the stranger's head and neck, presumably to protect him from the sand. Like expertly thrown daggers, the gritty wind would scour delicate flesh. Then a long coat slung knee-low, thick boots and crossed arms.
Trinity's eyes flashed transmissible, lucent white, a flicker of natural phosphorous like platinum in the night. It was a purely involuntary reaction, sent by the cold dread riding her long spine.
The human shape had slowed, and regarded the poor, little, abject thing having wandered too far.
The stranger looked for just a moment down on the girl as if to scold, but a lost child begging to the figure in the winds with those big brown eyes couldn't exact any sense of parental frustration for very long. A breath sluiced through the breathing slats on either side.
There was motherly concern inherent within the dark mask, behind the thin, shielded slit that held hidden eyes.
The child was staring up at the stranger, and wondering why he hadn't scooped her from the sands and saved her. Why was this stranger just standing there, staring into the golden beyond? Save me, the child seemed to want to scream, pull me from a dry drowning death, but her own panic and confusion had quickly strangled her voice. She shuffled closer, and used the gargoyle wings like a blanket to curl at the stranger's feet, and resigned herself to her fate.
Maybe the child wanted rather to die here than out there, in the distant, howling dark.
The stranger slowly pulled his left boot from the sand and stepped over Trinity, straddling the little hybrid, and placing her directly underneath him, protected from what he saw slowly hunting them both just beyond the shield of sand-burdened wind.
Whatever stalked her, it wasn't fast, it wasn't human, and its pace was deliberate, unhurried, and bordered on the arrogance of a predator. The stranger looked deep and thoughtful into that slowly emerging silhouette; he knew exactly what was coming.
A hand slowly moved the long lapel from the bulge under his arm.
It was metallic, the skin a sterling mirror with a flecked finish. It was massive, towering eight to nine feet tall, and it seemed hungry, even with a skeletal structure where piston sinew made steel bones lurch in a hydraulically-driven jerk. A torso loosely mimicking the shape of human muscle seemed to house most of its more delicate circuitry, and a skull-shaped head attached to a spinal cord of metal vertebrae cricked suggestively.
It slowed, and glared with a cycloptic eye that seemed to burn brighter, a brilliant red among the ribbons of angry grit, measuring the prey daring to stand against it.
The stranger was remarkably calm, his stance hipshot and almost impatient as they stared each other down, and the gap between them gradually narrowed.
The joints were wheezing and scraping metal against un-oiled, unprotected metal. The massive machine walked stiff and troubled, but still imparted a menacing vision of power and merciless apathy. These machines didn't feel of course, they were single-minded, and this one was eager to fulfill its programming after decades of wandering between the dunes.
This hulking thing emerging clean through the coils of air would have sent any human screaming for their lives, but the stranger stood his ground. He reached into the lapels of the weather-beaten leather jacket, a faint iridescent sheen running along the cowhide, and pulled out a sleek berretta pistol.
All too calmly.
The clip was full, the aim was perfect and practiced, and the gun was louder than the winds.
Several shots ricocheted from the steel endoskeleton, and the steel beast shuddered with every hit against its frame, the stranger emptying his gun. But one bullet, maybe by witness thought a lucky shot, was in fact just damn well-aimed towards the emaciated semblance of a torso hung between the gangly limbs and armor plating. It tore through, gouged the steel and innards, and exited back into the sands.
The tinny echo was short and triumphantly sweet.
The stranger stared at her metal counterpart, her gun quieted and smoking, but the aim still held with a steady arm. A few seconds passed, what felt like minutes stretching on into eternity, until.
The machine shuddered, and burped sparks from its midsection. Like the wind-polished animal bones having adorned the scoured landscape, it collapsed on top of itself and joined them to decompose.
The stranger cleanly holstered the gun beneath the folds of his coat, and with the threat quickly defused, he kneeled down to the little girl already halfway buried by the tides of sand. Nimble fingers quickly plucked her from certain death, guiding doting fingers across her thin, near-translucent membranes and under her rump, where the tail peaked out between a well-placed cut in her pants, and hid the child in the lapels of his long coat.
Trinity welcomed the refuge, and clung to a surprisingly lissome form. A scent was trapped within the heavy leather, a familiar scent.
The stranger walked several paces then kneeled by the machine. He looked, for a moment, and studied this thing, this little minion of a larger entity that had helped to near eradicate his species.
With one arm, slim and able to slip through the crack of metal where the rivets had popped and left a telltale slit, the stranger reached deep into the opened torso. A single, slender hand dug deep into the entrails, searching blindly, fingers needling through the wires by feel alone. For something he knew to be in there. He knew by sensation, of the particular warmth and gentle hum and shape that he'd grabbed upon what he sought, and suddenly yanked back.
A small box, glowing a faint green along the vine-like circuitry crawling it's way across the steel hide, now rested in his gloved hand. The stranger tested the weight, ran through his mind the absurdity of the unassuming box being the literal heart of the steel beast, and then walked off into the distance, child in hand.
The Phoenix bled.
A flash of light and cold, evanescent fire, stripping then restoring the flesh from their souls, molecule by molecule in the literal blink of an eye; they were unceremoniously dumped from the portal.
Teleportation was never easy on simple mortals or the magically unaccustomed.
Lapping tendrils of sorcerer's fire sitting sky-high threw out several forms, and they hit the ground rolling. Soft ground thankfully, or something would've broken.
The destination reached, the Phoenix gate sealed the tear between realities and fell into the sands. The gilded edges gleamed from tip to tip across the talon-fashioned creature of prey, Demona's perfectionist heart only satisfied until the bird looked absolute and as faithful to the old, then it crackled with the fading vestiges of magic, then quieted.
It had proved itself worthy to its predecessor, and as untamed.
Goliath landed hardest, with a faint, subvocal grunt, and rolled into the soft underground of sand leaving behind a trail of blood in his wake. He tumbled down the side of a dune, until coming to a rest at the summit's wide base.
The sand had doused the flames from the explosion in the castle's computer room, but his gruesome, open wounds were leaking into the sands; cuts, lacerations, and little red threads laced across lavender steel and congealing across the gritty ground. The gargoyle was severely hemorrhaging from his wounds. The bone beneath where his wings used to be gleamed white in pain, and two long, bloody gashes consistently poured out a viscous stream like an oil spill.
It was clotting, slowly, but not enough.
He was losing consciousness, a damaged nervous system sending convulsions through his awesome visceral structure.
The sands underneath him still warm, and comforting, was he floating? He thought he'd already died, and the soft mantle beneath him was the same Scottish grass that blanketed the hillside of Wyvern cliff where he grew and played and hunted. A spring night, or, maybe, in his bewilderment by lack of blood and oxygen, he thought these were the Elysian Fields were his shattered clan now made their home.
Was he dying? Was he already dead? His thoughts raced, jumbled with the numbing pain of his beaten body. The battle with Sobek trailed scars across his hide, deep and red-bruised and each one the reminisce of a crippling blow.
There was a voice along the hot wind frantically calling. Goliath stirred, and tasted blood. Angels.
"Goliath?!" Elisa screamed into the maelstrom, holding Trinity tightly in one hand and steadying herself with the other. Her husband had disappeared through the flames of the Phoenix gate, and into the blinding dust. He was dying, his blood caked in jet droplets against her face, on her hands, an inescapable stench. Trinity was crying, and her husband, where was her husband? "Goliath?! Goliath?!!"
A child was crying.
Children don't cry in heaven.
Goliath coughed fluid from his lungs, and cold, hard reality hit.
This wasn't heaven, and this wasn't any sort of afterlife. This was the sentence of protection; of all the battles he had fought, this, this desolate place to die was his reward. He opened his one good eye under a drying plaster of blood, as the voice still called.
Elisa held Trinity beneath the folds of her jacket, and followed as best she could the spattered trail and the impression in the sand where Goliath had hit. The wide hollows of an even wider body, a trough with the telltale scratches of wing and talontips fell over the edge of a slope, and she followed the trail of black, burnished fluid leading down into an abyss between the dunes.
Down there, in a pool of his own blood, her husband struggled to move, albeit unsuccessfully.
"Damnit..." Stumbling down the steep incline, Elisa was nearly sent end over in the viscous, almost fluidic sands swallowing her Cuban-heeled boots, a turbidity flow creating a small liquid avalanche. She could feel the grains seeping inside, between her toes, and wondered why at that exact moment such a fleeting thought would surface in the face of her husband's death.
Collapsing to her knees at the gargoyle's side, she roamed a slim hand across stone-cut features slick with blood, and bruised and torn beyond recognition, her fingertips slewing trails through the wine-glossy effluence. Goliath had passed out, and only the resonant growl crooning mournfully from his chest told of any signs of life.
If it weren't for the spasms veining through him, or the conspicuous thump beneath her fingers, a slow but steady thrice pulsation nudging the folds of pectoral muscle upwards, she would've thought him dead.
Human-dull senses in all practicality wouldn't be able to discern anything through the shield of lavender stratum, the heartbeat so weak, but this was the melody spent so many times in calm evenings and wild passions.
It was there, as if proving its strength against her delicate hand, but slowing.
His will alone was holding to that delicate thread of life.
"Goliath!" she screamed. He weighed seven hundred pounds; she couldn't move him. He was going to die here if she couldn't get him on his feet and moving. Her eyes were inflamed with a desperate tenacity, and her voice was growing raw. "Come on, Goliath! Wake up! Listen to my voice!" Drifts of sand pooled around their forms, and the wicked helix of winds, they entwined around each other, hungered and howled and made nearly futile her pleas thrown with utter abandon. Goliath didn't wake. "Goliath!!"
Trinity's clenched little claws drew faint red trails on her arm and neck. But Elisa was oblivious. The heartbeat was continuing to slow.
"Mommy?" Trinity's pale plea trickled up from below her jacket collar, between the sobs. "Mommy?!"
Light flickered in the corner of her woodland gaze.
Trinity had seen them before she had, the mother shielding the sight of her dying mate from their firstborn, and thus, forcing her gaze elsewhere. Long lashes settled over kohl penciled gems as Elisa looked up over her shoulder, her Egyptian-ticked eyes discerning vague shapes above them along the dunes' narrowed summit.
There were all around them, the silhouettes on the banks of the highest ridges. A spotlight swathed through the winds incensed, and settled on the couple, blinding Elisa to their number and intent. A thready growl worked its way up her throat. "Who are you?!!"
He was worried.
And his talons were tapping impatiently onto the steel beneath him.
This was just like her, pushing the limits of her duties not matter how damned simple and undemanding of any heroics, and more significantly, and infuriatingly, a patience frayed at both ends. His mate was an impetuous one, and though it was one mannerism from a stew of many undesirable personas, damned if he didn't love her more because of it.
Goliath skidded a breath through lightly ground fangs, the hard enamel scraping under his heavy jowl. "Where is she?" his question burred along his tongue, and deep within his chest. He was staring into the night, where a growing storm clawed at a pair of massive hangar doors; just a slim crack between them and still, the sand was oozing through the threshold like granular liquid, inching each grain deeper into the machinery.
In the middle of a hangar bay staging area, the painted floor ready to receive military craft that would never come, Goliath stood cross-armed and cross, staring and waiting.
He would have cloaked himself in the security of his wings, and made an imposing presence that none of the workers scrambling around him would have risked to infringe, intrude or even near, but, by malicious intent and hand, and a creature more a force of nature than mortal, they were missing from impossibly wide shoulders; despairingly, achingly, horridly missing.
The light of day had five times since healed over the open holes where the membraned appendages were torn away, and left in their place, two gruesome snarls of scar tissue colored a slightly darker shade of lavender, running from wide trapezius to the small of his back.
They were symmetry, almost a perfect mirror image of each other; nature had an odd sense of proportion.
The days after he had to relearn his severely distorted center of balance, and cope with the fact he'd never again touch the sky; the moonlight would never dapple across dew-moistened skin as he skimmed the Manhattan cloud cover. But he quickly adapted, if only not to lose face in front of all those who had silently pitied him.
His pride had been the ephemeral salve to a wound that ran much deeper than his outward appearance.
He waited nevertheless, his eyes deathly still and unremitting even with the flurry of activity passing between him and the slim crack between the doors. She was out there, in a storm that had quickly appeared on the weather grid sensors, such as they often did in this barren, unstable region.
The gargoyle turned to an older man slowly ambling through the commotion towards him, his steady, assertive gait heavy on one side, and he leaned for support onto an intricately carved wooden cane against the pronounced limp.
The ample precipice of bone spurs lowered over pensive black eyes, and Goliath greeted his friend. "Zion." The breath expelled was shawled in hot frustration, the gargoyle thrumming with a deep, resonating sound. Along the ground, under clawed feet, it trembled.
And rattled Zion's cane; from metal to wood the vibration speared through his hand. The old man knew the expression worn by the wingless gargoyle like all troubled men, and the thin crags etched within bronzed European complexion deepened with a smile. "She'll be fine." he said, his voice rich, and genial.
"A fool's errand." There was accusation in his tone, slight, but there.
Zion took his place alongside the leviathan, and adjoined his stare into the tempestuous Egyptian night. "She volunteered."
"She is pregnant."
"For less than a month." the old man argued, daring against someone at least two feet taller. He knew of Goliath's strength, and the volatile temper of a creature of pure instinct, but, since a young man with ideals sometimes outreaching his means, he'd taken a few foolish chances, and hadn't risen to the prominence of leader without doing so. "She wanted to earn her keep, and I have learned quickly never to argue with a Maza, or a twenty-first century detective."
The gargoyle's eyes only tapered at the satirical statement, charcoal become aflame and faintly sparking an incandescent white. He continued watching.
Zion had often proved himself a reader of emotion and outward expression, and the creases of skin along Goliath's sharp-lined mug, his powerful jaw haughtily set, he knew the evolutional marvel was straining to keep the calm facade. He would've pitied him, in his pain and loss, of family and dignity, but, that in itself, would also have insulted the decorous warrior. "Goliath, I..."
His name called in a peculiar, almost garbled brogue, Goliath peered over his shoulder. "Sphinx?" The thin man was a little more than less a hundred and ten pounds, wiry, scruffy and windswept like the land he called home, and approaching slowly. If this world hadn't crumbled and died, he would've surely been a Bedouin; he seemed to enjoy wandering the desert sands even in the greatest of heat. "Where is Trinity?"
"Not wit' me."
"What?" Dark wings would have flared if they were still there, and the instinctual gesture merely rippled the remaining muscles around the scars. "Sphinx, where is my daughter?"
Fingers sheathed in skin rotted by age and the sun, fretfully rode through his thinning hair under his cotton skullcap. "I dunno, G'Lithe, I'se jus' goin' t'ask you that."
"What?" he growled. "She was supposed to be in the nursery!"
"She musta wandered off, stubborn lil' thing. Mayb'she went lookin' fers her mum." A lean finger pointed into the night. "Out there."
A tremor ran through his gut, and Goliath tensed. The gargoyle looked towards the doors, fear clenching a cold hand around his heart. His second born, lost. He'd already lost enough.
"Sir, we've got to close those doors." a single man from the myriad of hangar personnel reported to Zion, his eyes nervously flicking to Goliath, who turned and glared at him.
"Elisa is still out there, and so may be Trinity!"
"Sir, the storm's getting progressively worse. If we don't close those doors, we'll have several tons of sand blowing into the hangar and clogging the mechanisms."
Zion calmly rubbed his bearded chin, trapped within a choice and the precincts of his title.
"Get him on the gurney! Move, move!!"
It took six men on either side to lift Goliath onto the awaiting stretcher, and they didn't come away unmarked by the incredible loss of blood. Their garments, rough fabric once a menagerie of neutral earth-tones and haphazard stitch lines, were wetted with scarlet. But they didn't seem to care; their only concern was the massive creature soaking the sheets beneath him.
"We have a male gargoyle with multiple lacerations and missing wings. Tell the infirmary to ready the graft patches. Dawn's less than three hours away."
It was all a blur.
So enamored with her husband and the medical team swarming him, Elisa nearly missed the fact the sands had opened up into a massive steel-lined hangar bay, and a low inclined ramp at the far end disappearing beneath the slope. These nomads had wordlessly pulled the family from their imposed fate, and now swarmed around her mate near the lighted threshold.
"He's bleeding to death, let's get him to the infirmary!"
"No one's going anywhere." One handed, with a child in the other, she dug into her pocket for the only weapon she had left. A glint of steel took to the moon like freshly smelted silver, and swathed through the gritty night against the nearest man's unsuspecting form. Her knife, an extension of her hand and the emotive chaos churning distrust within her came to hilt against his neck, the blade ready to burrow and taste. "Who are you people?" she hissed from behind his shoulder, young Trinity pressed into his back and sheltered in the lapel of her coat. "And what are you doing with my husband?!"
Husband. The word had slipped, but these strangers seemed remarkably intimate with the gargoyle race, and Elisa was far beyond caring for any ambiguity between her and Goliath.
He was dying, and she wouldn't hide her association now.
All eyes, thin and sheltered by the winds still screaming, moved towards the chocolate skinned woman with the heel of a knife at their comrade's throat. Her defiance was bold, they thought, or the dementia of the sands had gotten to her. Either way, their desire to save this creature was forcefully brought to halt when one of their own was endangered.
"They're trying to save his life." It whispered along the winds, a voice strong and gracious from behind, almost as if the breeze itself had answered.
It had come from the hangar's gaping entrance, and Elisa turned to meet the voice that spoke for his brethren. The near-blinding light that poured into the dunes all but completely obscured him, and what little details she could make out, he seemed by all appearances non-threatening. Nearly beyond his fifties, long hair and beard snow white against darkened skin thick with lines, kind eyes told more of his soul on first sight.
"Welcome to New Cairo." He offered a hand, the other having engulfed the head of his cane. "I am Zion, my dear, we'll help you."
"Why should I trust you?"
He met the spirited young woman in the only way he knew how. "Faith." he answered with a Mediterranean accent, and his gaze flickered stronger than sterling. "In the human spirit."
Her own gaze, as always, was steely-eyed fire. Elisa glared at him, and promptly measured the time her husband had left versus her own doubts of her unexpected saviors from the sand. Her knife was pulled away, but left readied in her outside pocket. "I'm sorry." she whispered to the short-breathed and appreciative man, spearing her fingers through the shadow-black skein of hair that intruded on her gaze to Goliath. "Please, if...you can do anything..."
Humility was never easy for someone so proud.
They resumed their duties and rolled Goliath into the hangar bay, and Elisa followed with Trinity in arm, her eyes sharp-edged and vigilant. A pair of doors slowly closed behind them from either side, and with a hiss that reverberated along the metal plating, they sealed the hangar's entire aperture, locking the night away.
The man introduced so casually as Zion took to her side, though his pace was slower, and the perpetual tap of his wooden cane on the steel plating underneath them told of his struggle to maintain their speed. "He is severely injured." he tendered delicately. "What happened?"
"We were caught in a war." the detective answered evasively, hand strung and grasped tightly to the gurney's rail.
Deeper into the structure, Elisa was led by the stretcher, her eyes hard-pressed to look at anything but the immobile, and temporarily bandaged Goliath. But still, curiosity won out, the detective stealing glances to the side, along what seemed a main artery breeding smaller passages winding into darkness and obscurity.
From the size, this place was more a labyrinth sculpted from riveted steel, having sown its seeds well underground, every corridor a root reaching further then her eyes could discern. The directional and indicatory markings along the walls were distinctively military in design and purpose, and made Elisa wonder even more.
It would be explained to her later, this old army bunker had been a salvation for the survivors of a global war humanity almost lost.
New Cairo they had christened this city under the sands and encased in layers of titanium alloy shielding and carbon plastic, a community more than five thousand strong and growing with every straggler to drag themselves from the sands. It was the hub of the slowly reforming Egyptian countryside, the new metropolis emerging in between the smaller ragged settlements.
Elisa had noticed the inhabitants especially, a mixture of every human race and creed parting along the corridor walls and allowing them to pass unimpeded.
A wingtip, a traditional three-fingered design, flickered into view from around a corner; a gargoyle, of all things to show up here, a female tall and desert svelte with a gold-stitched empress robe draped diaphanously over every curve, she had led a clutch of human children and gargoyle hatchlings to see the commotion that had stirred rumor and unrest about their underground home.
They stayed by a wave of her hand, obediently, the litter colored in the hues of a crayon box excitedly whispering amongst themselves.
Trinity first caught the scent, and then a glimpse, and strained to peer past her mother's leather-hemmed shoulder. She had rarely seen children like her, and the prospect was absorbing, and instinctively heartening.
Elisa met eyes with the gargoyle, and then another further along their path. "Where are we?"
"I told you," said Zion, keeping a humbled stride even as it obviously caused him pain, "New Cairo, what was once the Egyptian Confederation."
"Humans and gargoyles live here together?"
"Squabbles between the species seemed a little childish in the face of global devastation, and we decided to put aside our differences to try and survive."
Another turn around a corner, Elisa nearly unprepared for another twist in the path. The walls transmuted from the familiar steel unto white, sterile and clean, and she had to readjust her eyes to the brilliant glow engulfing the rest of the hallway. A hospital, the red cross and ultramodern caduceus were suggestion enough, painted on a plane of glass that suddenly divided and slid open.
Another gargoyle, vine olive drab contrasted by a bristly, auburn riot of hair, led a literal army of medical staff that surrounded the immobile patient on his gurney. Dressed in an oddly silver surgical gown, she rushed to Goliath's side, and stabbed a beam of light into each eye, checking for dilation with something attached to the base of her palm. "He's going into shock."
Elisa lowered her cheek against the slick crown of Trinity's hair, watching in the hall. The child had caught the iron tang of blood on the recycled, sterilized air, and strained under her grasp, but Elisa kept her facing away from her blood-splattered father.
She whimpered, tiny claws clenching tight. "Daddy?"
Elisa kissed the crown. "Shhhh..."
The dark-winged physician floated her opposite hand down Goliath's neck, onto his chest and stomach, a scanning device electronically peeling back the layers of tissue and damaged muscle, and displaying across a tiny screen on her forearm. Almond eyes shaded beneath the delicately-spurred mount of bone were steady, but the telltale shiver sent through her wings told the watching wife enough. "EEG shows an erratic heartbeat and it's slowing, torn ligaments in his shoulders and back, broken collarbone and three ribs, numerous contusions and lacerations, internal bleeding and severe blood loss. Prep the surgical bay, we've got a deadline that ends at dawn." Her gaze flared a pallid wine. "MOVE!!!"
The others almost seemed to cower before her and scatter across the infirmary as she barked a near unintelligible string of orders. If anything, Elisa was impressed in her demanding efficiency, but this woman happened to hold the life of her mate in the palms of her taloned hands, and thus, was under the distrustful scrutiny of the twenty-third precinct's best detective and Wyvern's resident matron queen. Observant eyes thinned. "Who is she?"
"Jacosta. Head of our medical staff and chief surgeon." Zion answered, chin up and eyes broad with pride. The smile was oddly intimate. "She is very skilled, and knowledgeable in gargoyle physiology. Your husband..."
"Goliath." Elisa corrected, watching as they wheeled him inside. He wouldn't be just a patient here, not just someone pulled from the wastes. "His name is Goliath."
He nodded to her amendment. "Goliath is in very good hands."
They started to move away, and Elisa near-panicked as she lost sight of him. "Where are they taking him?"
Elisa bolted between the glass doors fortunately having responded to her by a sensor above, or she'd have walked right through. Like a trail of fire lit by her heels, she was determined to follow.
Zion knew her intent, and the quick clack of cane echoed behind the young lady's blind charge into where they had stolen her husband. "No." he stopped her with a strong hand on her shoulder. She halted, and he swore to his own personal god her eyes, not quite obscured through falling raven strands, burned through him; such was this spitfire, so much like his dearly departed wife even after fifteen minutes of acquaintance. "They have to operate," he minded, " you'll only get in the way. Let them do their jobs."
Elisa peered longingly at the door where the surgical staff had wheeled Goliath, but resigned her husband to the fate of doctors and skills only acclaimed by someone she'd just met, and still didn't trust completely. "You can promise me, they'll do their best?"
"I assure you they will do everything they can. We are a community, young lady, we each depend on another as humanity should have done long ago."
She was exhausted, and would've collapsed in place if not for the child still clutching to her. Over her shoulder, she threw a glance to the older man, grinning beneath the lion's winter mane. "I suppose I have no choice but to trust you."
Her eyes wandered, in the fatigue that followed, Elisa exploring further without the gruesome image of Goliath stilled in her mind. The hospital, clean and sleek with an uncluttered, almost minimal design, led her tired gaze on a journey from each specialized piece of equipment to another. She'd never seen such technology outside of the research and development departments of Xanatos Enterprises, and this seemed far beyond even what the billionaire's own impressive mad scientists could create, often meddling in things they shouldn't when led by ripe imaginations. "What is this place?"
"Our home, and yours for as long as you need." Thin lips broadened. "I know, this place can sometimes overwhelm our visitors, especially those who've only lived in hardship and destitution."
"No...it's not that." Something suddenly clicked in her mind, memories of Phoenix fire dropping a sixteenth century samurai onto the cobbles of her home. It of course, the irritating magic medallion, had complete control over time. "What year is this...?"
Zion's old brow crinkled. Though the woman's bottomless eyes were stern and serious, though she'd come straight from a sandstorm with a dying gargoyle mate and still kept her wits, he'd think her slightly bewildered by the peculiar question. Or even crazy. "I'm sorry?"
Those eyes darkened, hardening into obsidian. "Please just...just answer the question. What year is this?"
"Well, it's thirty five forty seven."
The same result would yield if he'd slapped her. She felt her throat constrict. "The thirty-sixth century?"
"April to be more exact."
Her last meal threatened to rise. "Jesus...oh Jesus Christ..."
Angela, the clever sister, the clan and castle. Elisa rubbed a hand to her brow and suppressed the urge to scream. Grieve later, deal later, act now and keep a level head, Elisa tried to run over her academy training lest she lose herself to the torrent of emotion. Her bottom lip was trembling. There was sand in her hair and boots, and her baby girl was cowering in her arms. Under the knife, or whatever tool had replaced the scalpel so far into the future, her husband was slowly being dissected in surgery, and her best friend by all accounts was dead.
Maybe the rest of the clan as well, buried under the boot of the Guild. Manhattan in flames, a smoldering pit overrun by Sobek's creatures. Her family, turned to ash and rubble and fleeting billows of smoke.
She wanted to scream.
Elisa fell backwards into the padded comfort of a bench seat against the wall, the odd material molding flawlessly to her tired form. She had been witness far too many times to far too many families waiting impatiently in poorly lit hospital corridors, the victims inside dying from gunshot wounds or something inherently worse, and now, through the looking glass, she had joined them. Her hands coursed with a relentless shiver, and still she clutched to Trinity, rubbing soothingly between her daughter's wings.
Zion neared, his shadow bathing the raven-haired woman trying to make sense of her predicament. Why she had reacted so oddly to her surroundings was a mystery he hoped would unravel in time. He cleared his throat, and pulled something from the hem of his robe-like suit. "We found this little trinket a ways off..."
Elisa looked up. The Phoenix gate, glimmering against the infirmary light in all its sordid glory, sat waiting in the hollow of his large hand. Its golden edges shone as she stared, gold against glassy, fiery brown, the bird dancing by the changing light and taunting her, waiting for its user to claim possession.
She snatched it away, quieting that pointed voice, and swallowed the beast into her pocket.
Zion took a thoughtful breath, his white-flecked brow curving musingly. "What is this medallion to inspire such fear?"
"It's dangerous," she said, feeling the weight of it in her jacket, the whispered hum of it against her form, "let's leave it at that."
"If my daughter is out there, we must search for her!!"
"Goliath, please," Zion held up a hand, making the mistake of treating this creature as something he could hold under his decree, "be calm."
Lavender skin was bulging. "I will not be calm!! Nor will I be held on your leash!"
"I've got something on the infrared," a voice among the background chatter called out, "nearing the doors."
"Human or machine?" Zion inquired, his hand tensing across the head of his cane.
Through the crack, heralded by the wind, the stranger sauntered into the hangar. A lean, and proud stroll, straight towards the three gathered men who stared with unease, he seemed all too casual. The grains of sand rolled off from the coat's sleek rawhide, like dry rain, leaving a gritted trail behind.
With a single hand, he reached into the swathes of material bandaged about his head and burrowed slim fingers under the mask. In one swift motion, the mask was loosened and pulled away, revealing a spooled mane of long, black satin tumbling between the ribbons of protective fabric. It almost glittered when exposed to the artificial light, each strand glowing along the entire breadth to nearly sing with sinister color.
"Honey, I'm home." Elisa greeted her husband, flashing roguish dark eyes. "Close the doors."
Goliath enflamed a breath, of relief mostly, as the hangar doors shuddered behind them and started inwards, cutting through the intruding drifts of sand.
She swept her hair behind her with a flick of her neck, settling the sated mane. He looked irate. "Sorry, I'm late, Big Guy."
Her gargoyle mate stepped forward, thinking how he should have never let her go unescorted, but that would've been another argument in itself. "Elisa...?" he asked expectantly, a scent permeating.
From her jacket, Elisa revealed a little bundle of leather translucence ladled comfortably within her other arm. She lifted her daughter into Goliath's waiting hands, and stroked the bundled wings to garner a response.
The little hybrid unfurled and looked up into her father's dour expression, the first sight beyond a sand-entombed death an unimpressed glare. She melted, and shivered, not with a chill, but the fear of almost having been buried and the consequent punishment for running off she thought would come. "Trinity Hope," he rumbled, "you are in very big trouble."
"I told you not to go outside." Elisa suddenly scolded, but veiled in a somewhat playful tone to counter Goliath's stern words. "And don't rub your eyes, baby, those little talons of yours could do some damage." She moved in closer, and fluttered dewy-black lashes to better show her daughter the proper way to remove the sand. "Blink." she whispered, her voice imposing even when subdued, and Trinity, though instinct implored the use of her hands, eventually mimicked her mother's almost laughable gesture.
Goliath passed along the sweet display between mother and child for the more alarming scent floating just beyond his senses. Gunpowder, the sulfuric mist was pungent along the rim of her jacket, sprinkled along the lean glint of her gloved right hand, and his life in the dregs of Manhattan's underbelly had proved his senses keen. "You have recently fired your gun." he rumbled, his voice laced with insinuation. "Did you...?"
"One good shot was all it took." From her pocket, Elisa hoisted the little contraption stolen from the belly of the machine, and displayed it smugly. It was a trophy, a battle souvenir that cost her a full clip. "I'm thinking of notching my gun." To Zion, she allowed it to part. "Here, another power cell from one of the hunter killers, almost full too."
"Yes," Zion nodded, having taken a seat beside her to rest his leg, "I'm told the phrase was coined from a very old movie."
In the excruciatingly painful lag between the tick of seconds on the holographic timepiece, waiting on Goliath's surgery, they'd exchanged stories to pass the time, and to, if anything, take the young wife's mind off her husband. They swapped adventures that nearly rivaled each other's, but of course, Elisa, in her abstracted tales, was ahead by a sizeable margin. Transformations, sorcery, and the one she'd thought to win her hand, time travel.
Sorcery was not a lost art in this destroyed world, and Zion was not at all staggered by the fact the bird-crested pendant had propelled his guests over fifteen hundred years into the future. He'd seen many things in his lifetime, and this, though, needless to say extraordinary, was proven by the woman resting beside him. "They were the A.I. hierarchy's subordinates," he continued, "the machines' mindless ground troops that numbered more than a million strong when they razed the cities on every continent."
"Ah, they's harmless if yas'know their weakenin's, 'Lise." said Sphinx, the skeletal man who'd helped to pull Goliath from his tomb of sand. His accent, much like his demeanor and appearance, was odd, and not even near his native Egyptian. But he did his best to endear himself to the time-displaced woman. "A few good cracks," his thin fingers entwined and mimicked a pistol, taking aim at the wall and an imaginary target, "pop, pop, pop, and they's break right quick."
"They are rusting remnants of human conceit that cost us our own world." Zion explained, hoping not to frighten the young woman to a new world built upon with the principles of hope and endurance. "They wander, and hunt, and try to fulfill an ancient programming."
"So..." Elisa recapped. "Almost three hundred years ago, an artificial intelligence took control of the world and started killing off the entire population. It took a battle that lasted fifty years to defeat them, and now, you've been struggling to survive on a burned Earth for two hundred years."
"Yes. In fact, Egypt was a major participant, and this bunker was used as a stronghold to wage war against the European sect."
The woman embraced the momentary burst of laughter that happened to surface, unexpectedly, in every grim situation. It rose from nowhere, and would fade just as quick. "Marry a gargoyle...see the world."
"I cannot imagine, the world you came from. Great cities, happy people, freedom."
"War, prejudice, destruction, insanity." Her voice became hoarse, and almost childlike as it trailed off, muffled between the leather lapels of her jacket. "...death...so much death..."
She was hurting; it was obvious, but stubborn too. She hid her pain well, and the cracks within the armor were telling of a losing battle. "Are you sure you don't wish to rest?"
"No, I'm going to wait for Goliath."
"And..." Elisa heightened the expectation with a peculiar flair, reaching back into a seemingly bottomless pocket to reveal the very reason for her journey. "Your class four regulator."
Along the glass of Goliath's black eyes, the small regulator, the tool that Elisa had traveled almost a mile both ways for, passed from his lover's hand to Zion's. It seemed inconsequential that little thing would so easily endanger her life, but she'd volunteered, and without even his realization. "I hope that trinket was worth my wife's safety."
"Goliath..." Elisa admonished, seeing already the dictatorial conduct come well into play. He was being overprotective, but with good cause. "The sandstorm came up quickly, and I was already halfway home from the northern settlement. Think of it as an evening stroll."
"I would not have sent her if she did not volunteer, Goliath." Zion rushed to defend his journeywoman, unwittingly placing himself between the dogged glare strung amid the betrothed. "And this trinket is required to measure the fusion reactor's power levels. Our old one is not working to factory specs, which can be very dangerous when there's enough destructive force powering this bunker to sink Egypt into the Red Sea."
Two against one, and Goliath didn't see the need to argue further. He merely turned away and stomped out with his second born, every footfall a tremor on the hangar plating.
The workers on the floor parted, in respect and the fear of being trampled.
And Elisa watched, still, even as he faded from her view, wandering the maze of corridors. Like the angry snarls of lifeless scar tissue torn down his back, he too had taken on a demeanor more suiting to his appearance.
Sphinx steadied his breath, as Zion rested on his cane and stroked the hoary bristle of hair lining a strong chin. "He is angry."
Elisa snorted, "So what else is new?"
The floor sounded different than Wyvern.
It echoed, further and sharper than the ancient stone ever could, and her heels, a gift for which she'd splurged and treated herself, and conferred an extra three-inch lift to a five nine frame, were not often meant for subtlety.
Elisa walked the halls, bustling some with children and families at a human-termed late hour, small mechanical repair drones, and a nest of technicians keeping this entire structure running smoothly.
A full-horned female leading her twins politely excused herself past the detective, and Elisa smiled in response to a fellow mother.
The gracious atmosphere among both human and gargoyle made her long for the castle, and even as she came to rest at her own door to her own borrowed home, steel, though painted, could not replace the tender grain of towering polished oak.
With handprint verification, the door opened and allowed her access.
It slid back into place and locked behind her as she stepped over the threshold, and Elisa assessed her new home, amidst the lamplight of two unembellished, protruding fixtures on either side of the bed. These quarters, one between a thousand lined up among the residential hallways, had subsisted for military personnel hundreds of years ago, and luckily, Zion had granted them one meant for an officer and consequent family.
It was spacious, if not Spartan, steel walls had less a homey feel than say brick, plaster, or, Elisa decided, stone.
Even dressed in tapestries, paintings and dyed silk, to hide the stern, impassive underlay, it wasn't really home; comfortable yes, a place to rest and hang her coat, but she had at last made that opulent castle corner bedroom her place to be, and she yearned for the warren of lines between the squared and fitted limestone, her wedding pictures and fireplace and massive Jacuzzi bath, and the fresh, earthy, woodland scent her husband left behind.
She heard splashing from the bathroom, the distinct swish of wing against water enough to lure her to the offset door to the side. Padding softly, as best she could in hard-heeled boots against that unforgiving floor, she approached, and peered inside.
Goliath was bathing Trinity, the great creature she wedded kneeling alongside the bathtub and silently washing every little grain from her hair and wings. He gave the impression he'd quickly forgiven his daughter's indiscretion, Trinity cheerfully popping the bubbles in her bathwater with a talon. But still, there was something more. Sullen, would not describe the set to his jaw, and denying the fire that burned within him would only blow air across hot coals.
Goliath turned to grab the soap, and Trinity was awarded the view of her father's mutilated backside, rippling beneath the scars with the slightest of physical exertion. Her eyes seemed to fix in place, the smile vanishing.
Elisa didn't blame her baby girl, for staring, and then darting her eyes away when Goliath turned back. She herself had played a similar game with her husband, and Trinity, despite her intelligence for such a young age, couldn't yet understand where daddy's wings had gone. When her father rested in stone, she'd whispered, struggling to choke out the proper words in a newly forming dialect, and asked her mother what had happened.
Elisa, haunted and protective, subtly deflected the questions as best she could of his injuries and their family, while staring at the wingless statue, Goliath's buried torment drawn clearly onto his stonework expression.
For days having tried to avoid those scars, now, she allowed herself a good, long look.
The ribbons of dead, amethyst skin were morbidly entrancing, like a car wreck, and like hypnotic eyes raking across her soul. She stared long and reflective into the disfigurements, reliving the crack of separating bone, the nauseating tearing of muscle and ligaments, and Sobek's blood-curdling laughter echoing above it all.
Phantom blood left a withered scent, inescapable.
It was nearing sunrise.
Goliath had survived three hours of hurried meatball surgery, fortunately made quick and somewhat painless by thirty-sixth century equipment and skill. The surgeons had worked under an hourglass of sunlight, slowly creeping up upon the distant horizon, sending the first inaugural streams of fire into the dark wastes between the stars. They finished with minutes to spare, and hoped for the cycle of daylight to heal the rest.
He now lay sedated in the infirmary's only occupied bed, strapped, gouged and plugged into a machine looming over the headboard, with disembodied computer screens floating all around him.
Metallic bandages and gauze covered the lacerations and the holes where wings once took imposing root; as if, the doctors in all their vaunted intellect had poured molten steel on his wounds, the silver-textile patches molded seamlessly to the skin and muscle tone beneath, designed to heal. His hands, burned from tackling the Phoenix gate when it fed on Wyvern's electrical conduits, were encased in platelet gel-filled pockets, genetically engineered from his own blood.
"How is he?"
"Your mate will survive, the dawn is not too far off."
Little Trinity curled blissfully on his bandaged chest, ear pressed to the gently rising mound of muscle, where, beneath, danced the subtle tri-tempo of her father's steadily beating heart. He was awake, but unaware of the weight atop him, lost in a drug-induced abyss. His eyes were gray, clouded, and staring at the ceiling.
"I've salved and gelled the wounds, set and re-calcified all the broken bones, sutured most of his damaged internal organs and stopped the internal bleeding, the rest is up to nature...he should physically heal almost completely in two days..."
Voices, a murmur among the white noise, garbled portions of dialect to the side, and still, Goliath didn't respond.
"And his...his wings...?"
Her once immaculate surgical gown now slightly splattered red with Goliath's blood, Jacosta paused. "Gone, I'm afraid." she then answered. Her tact was by all measure like a fist to the face, but she'd do no help by sugarcoating the obvious. "By this evening, when he awakes, there should be nothing but scars."
Elisa had yet to take her eyes off Goliath, the gargoyle bandaged in those odd dressings, and to a twenty-first century local, it was an intimidating sight. "This is the thirty-sixth century." she snapped back, and her voice, guttural by a sore throat, took on a venomous bite. "No miracle cures?"
The faint lines creasing about her eyes didn't help to readily identify the doctor's true age. She'd the body of a twenty-something, and the mindset of someone twice that age. "If we had access to all the medical equipment and expertise before the machines destroyed this world, the cloning vats, the regenerative muscular nanotech, cybernetic prosthetics, maybe...but here, now, there's nothing I can do. The damage was...extensive."
"There's nothing you can do?!" She was nearing the frayed edge. "With all this vaunted technology?!"
"This vaunted technology is obsolete, and hundreds of years old."
"They're his wings, damnit, his wings! Do something!!"
"I can't!!" she snarled, and unintentionally there came ruby along the long-lashed lids of her eyes. "I can't. I'm so sorry, but your mate will never glide again."
Elisa shuddered, by the cold shiver entangling itself along her spine, against the grueling reality that refused to concede.
She once thought, way back when, in an uninhibited youth that didn't award her time to think of great love and commitment, that pain was more a physical sensation, like having a bullet rip through her chest and ricochet through her body. That was easy enough to deal with, a month of physical therapy and a small scar. But never had it hurt this much to see and hear and experience the price for equality and protection, and marriage; never had she paid to such an extent for giving herself completely to another.
Elisa slowly ambled towards her husband, with Trinity curled on his chest. She hated to pull her away from at least some measure of peace, but the warm hide she bedded would soon become stone. "Baby?" she whispered to her blood made flesh, who refused to move. "Trinity."
"No." she growled. She was going to stubbornly enroot her place, with her talons if need be.
"Come on, baby," Elisa resorted to snatching the child from her place, and a struggle ensued, before she gently strong-armed the hatchling and whispered into her ear, "daddy has to go to sleep now."
"Daddy has to sleep," the tone darkened, "now."
The infant half-gargoyle surrendered, but mewled crossly.
As Trinity nestled into her shirted breast, Elisa burrowed her fingers through the fine breadth of sable, lightly twining loose hairs back behind Goliath's ear. There was a little fleck of silver beginning at his temples, a few strands; she thought it premature for his age, but nonetheless striking. "I'll be here when you wake up." she whispered.
Goliath blinked, but the vacant stare continued unremittingly. It seemed even the velvet-like touch feathering across his skin did nothing to rouse him from his self-induced catatonic state.
If anything, her lips, the sweet taste as she leaned down and grazed her mouth across his, should've revived him. It would've reaped a reaction from any man, but still, yielded nothing. "I promise."
The only impression of dawn in this sterile, windowless place was the crackle of granite over living flesh and a deep-rooted cycle unbroken for thousands of years. Lavender transmuted into slate, pockmarked gray; her husband took his last breath, and turned to lifeless stone.
And Elisa silently wept by his side.
"You know," Elisa began, suddenly announcing herself, "most people either smoke, drink or have a psychotic episode to deal with this."
Goliath had already known she was there. By the sharp scent bottled within the confines of their room, it would've been near impossible for Elisa to disguise her presence. "Unfortunately, we are not normal people." he rumbled impassively. "I wished you could have told me you were going."
"You would have said no."
"Yes, and knowing you, you would have gone anyway."
"I'm pretty sure we've had this discussion before." Elisa quipped. "I am not glass nor am I porcelain, and I will not be coddled. As my pregnancy progresses, I'll slow down."
"I know, Elisa...I know." the giant relented, rinsing the lather from Trinity's hair. "How is your morning sickness?"
Elisa leaned against the doorjamb. "Comes and goes. Hard to believe something the size of a peanut can make me lose my lunch, but the medication Jacosta's given me has helped."
The fine art of deflecting, repelling, and evading, Goliath had a lock on it. Though conflictingly soft to the touch, his lavender flesh had an impenetrable surface more like steel, and Elisa as always had trouble getting through. "Goliath, I'd be negligent if I didn't try to open a fresh wound."
She pushed, damned her, she pushed. "Then don't. I do not wish to speak."
"Well, I do." she asserted. "You've bottled a whole hell of a lot inside of you."
He didn't want this, he didn't want to deal with this; another battle, and whether the weaponry be something inherently destructive or plain and simple words, it'd just bring more pain. "And I wish it to stay there." He plucked the naked girl from the bathtub, and enfolded her within the terry softness of a large towel.
He was tender in his touch; with the power to fold a car in half he reined his strength so absolutely as to gently dry the squirming child in his arms. Rubbing the corners of the towel over wings identical to his own, wiping away excess water from sleek membrane skin, Elisa was reminded of all the times when faced with the question of why she loved him. "Until you explode." she whispered desolately, and Goliath raised his head, slightly. "I wonder when that will happen. Will it be at dinner, or during a sociable conversation, or will it be with Trini?"
"I will never take out my anger on Trinity!"
Little wings cringed at her father's brusque tone.
"Are you sure?" She'd noticed his eyes, black eyes aflame in blonde. They flickered, then penitently doused at his second born's reaction. "This won't go away. As much as you suppress the pain, or clench your fists against the anger or stare longingly into the sky, it won't go away, until you deal with it."
"And just how do you suppose I do that?"
"Scream, cry, howl, put your fist through the wall, do something."
Goliath set Trinity down and stood to leave, brushing past Elisa to better distance himself from his young, impressionable, and emotionally delicate daughter. The raven-haired woman followed closely on his heels, and was there, just beneath him when he turned around, stopped only by the edge of their berth. "Abandoning my mind to sate my urges will not bring her back." he growled in abject frustration. "It will not bring any of them back! Angela...Angela is dead. My sister as well." Fists clenched, they were trembling by his sides. "We could be the last of our clan. In my weaker moments, I can only hope they survived, but that is all it is, exquisitely blind optimism, futile in its application."
"Don't easily dismiss something with so much capability." she argued, and absurdly enough, the hard-boiled and big city detective used to dismiss reliance on pure faith, when examining bodies left for dead in Manhattan alleyways. But hope, the word, the belief, the very principle, made so much sense now. "Hope kept you alive, Goliath, kept you and your clan thriving. Hope gave us a chance, hope made us a child."
"Yes." he nodded. "And in the midst of a brewing war with humanity, you wanted another."
"Trinity is my anchor, probably my only sense of a normal life. I never thought we'd ever have children, but somehow, between the death and destruction and madness that is my life, she was born. Yes, I admit, freely, unreservedly, it was selfish to want another child. It's intrinsically selfish to ask for or need anything. But, Goliath, we've been given something, by nature, or fate, that I thought we'd never have, like being rewarded for all the shit we've gone through." Her hands found her stomach, now toned and flat, now growing with life soon to swell and breathe amniotic fluid. "I want children, your children. And you would deny me that. You would deny yourself that."
He shook his head. "I am not going to repeat this argument. It has already caused enough grief between..."
"Why don't you want another child?"
"BECAUSE IT WILL FACE DEATH!!!" The walls rung with his bellows, shook and shimmied with the fading vestiges of an angry resonance. "All of its life..." He stopped and grinned at the appalling word, glinting fang at how farcical a description. "Life, it won't have a life, it will have merely an existence. It will face prejudice, destruction, and death! I will not put another child through that, and I cannot risk losing another."
"Trinity is healthy, happy and alive." she refuted, placing her hands to each side of his chest, heaving with breath. "We have proof of that, now, and twenty years into the future. I never thought you'd fear something that brings you so much joy."
"Angela is not healthy, happy, nor is she alive!" He stole away from her, stepping back out of reach. "Joy has turned so easily to sorrow, and my fear is now been justified. I have already dragged you and Trinity into my wars, my battles...and now, we're stuck fifteen hundred years in a dead, barren future, dependant on a bauble that will not even make a sound!"
"Our wars, remember? Our battles." There was animal in her eyes, there was the very reason she deserved the honor of leader's mate. "You are never alone, Goliath, how much you think that, no matter how much you play the hero and suck all of this into yourself to better protect us. You won't hide us or shelter us from whatever world we end up in, or become a victim of your own fears. I won't let you."
"It is all I can do anymore." a thready, breathless breath, Goliath weaned the answer out from him. "I have lost my daughter and my beloved sister, perhaps my clan, I have been disposed of leadership...I am not even a gargoyle anymore!"
His back was bulging, the remaining muscles folding upon one another and trying to move nonexistent appendages. Like most amputees, she wondered if he could still feel his wings, as damaged nerves created phantom sensations that teased his brain with something different than the gruesome truth. "If you think losing your wings makes you any less of the man I love, any less of the man who salvaged hope and rebuilt his clan, then you're sorely mistaken. You won't hide, or cringe, or shy away! We've all been selfish, we've all done stupid things...!"
He then stood, and his voice would strengthen, "Would that include removing me from my place as leader?"
Elisa pulled back, after more a personal attack than anything else. Their gazes linked like a coming, coalescing thunderstorm, but neither backed down. "Yes, perhaps it would." she admitted, unconditionally taking the blame for her choice. She had then, and still did now. "And I didn't make that decision lightly, nor can you make it personal. As much as you may think that to better hold on to your anger, your misery to play the wounded champion, it wasn't. You made me part of your clan, and I did what I thought was best for them."
"Out of anyone, anyone, I expected you to understand my caution, especially with a family riding on our safety. Our clan could be dead because of impulsiveness."
"Or they could be dead because they didn't do anything to stop a threat worse than the Quarrymen ever could be." Elisa battled back. "There's no right or wrong, Goliath, there was opinion, outlook, and belief in what we thought was the best choice." Her gaze, and her tone softened. "And I just happened to believe different."
"Someone else once believed different. Someone else once believed my 'inaction' would ultimately destroy my clan, and thus, she took the initiative, and ended up helping to slaughter the clan I was solely responsible for."
The parallels weren't lost on Elisa, in fact they were deliberately blatant, and in her weakness, she wondered if the same was true today. No, no one could have predicted what would happen, then or now. And this was different. At least, she'd thought so.
And such had a young, unproven Demona. The similarity, beyond the diverse and tragic circumstances that urged them both to act, was unsettling to say the least.
"One voice, one unified direction, our clan is not a democracy, or it would brew dissension and chaos...as it did a thousand years ago." He was standing so tall, he towered above the horizon of lighting directed customarily downwards, and the line between light and shadow slanted across his features, bright feral eyes burning in the darkness. "We were splintered when we should have been united..."
"Yes, we were, weren't we?" Elisa nodded, despondently, a gaze so wide and bold staring up at him. "And to assign blame would further divide us."
He crossed him arms, irrefutably damning them both and ending their argument. "We...are already divided."
A beat of silence passed between them, growing into the notoriously feared awkward pause, neither knowing how to continue, and each a victim of their own doubt and fears of the other.
Until, by some odd sense of parental instinct, both slowly turned their respective gaze towards the bathroom door, where Trinity, still draped in her towel, satiny wet mane spilling across her shoulders, stared back at them both.
They were scolded, wordlessly, by the tiny child and her wounded, reproachful glare. Their voices had carried of course, within this sealed chamber, and with Trinity's finely tuned hearing, she didn't need to understand most of the words, only the resentment and insinuating accusation behind them.
She had felt them.
Elisa sighed, slumped onto the bedspread, and opened her arms to her daughter. Trinity hesitated, eyed them both, and slowly plodded towards her mother, dragging the length of the massive towel behind her as if a tiny sovereign near lost in her ceremonial cape. With Elisa's aid, she climbed into her mother's lap, and found solace in the warmth. "Baby," she whispered, stringing her fingers through the wet strands of hair, "why did you go outside?"
Trinity hesitated, until, slightly and slowly, she turned towards her father. "Daddy...got mad...an' yelled..."
Goliath took it more as an attack, and a surprise; he assumed he'd effectively sheltered his daughter from what boiled just beneath the surface. And unfortunately, he hadn't quite succeeded by the stab of accusation riding from his daughter's gaze.
With a snort, he swept away, seven hundred pounds turned battering ram through the door that didn't move from his undeviating path fast enough. The revolutionary steel alloy, though thin, was moderately strong, but to Goliath's hands it might as well have been a sheet of paper draped across the frame.
It squealed, tore, and Goliath stomped out into the hall.
"Jesus..." Elisa gasped, seeing the damage so easily wrought.
Doe brown eyes glittered maliciously, and little Trinity chuckled underneath her breath, glad to see the lummox put in his place. She could hear the thunder of footfalls echoing into the distance, and rubbed a small hand to the back of her neck.
After having stormed through the corridors and crowds, Goliath tramped outside, seething, and searching for something to quench him. The tempest had passed, into the distance, and calm once more settled over the drifts reaching far into an endless landscape.
He didn't feel such serenity; fire-flamed breath, shaking hands ripe with power knotting the incredible warren of muscle, he needed a release before he erupted.
His eyes scanned quickly, frenetically, for anything. To his flank, lay a tangle of long-abandoned machinery half buried by the sands.
It was, in all things, just a scrap pile, scarcely used, and even if at all, used primarily for machining spare parts to preserve the fragile balance of equipment, and keeping the five thousand inhabitants alive and fed. But Goliath, in the red haze that crossed his sight, saw everything that warred on his tortured psyche. He saw the Guild. He saw Sobek. The steel made shapes of his greatest enemies, in the dark they transformed by a trick of ambient light and taunted him with voices brewed from his mind.
Spectral laughter boiled his blood.
Goliath attacked, blind by instinct and fury, and rampaged through. Claws met aluminum and iron and a few other alloys still yet undiscovered in his time, the evolutional strength of a well-bred warrior rending them like paper and flesh. Every face that appeared, he destroyed, and every enemy the contours of abandoned equipment could fashion fell by his hands, the skin tearing.
The clatter was tremendous, and drew a small crowd at the hangar aperture, human and gargoyle alike awed by the sheer power being expended.
A generator ten times his size was lifted over his head, and came crashing down; like a toy, it shed broken parts under Goliath's unbridled power. And at the height of his thirst, in a litter of metal, he screamed.
A mournful wail made tremble the sultry evening breeze, so much so the currents rising from the ground visibly quivered. Across the dunes littered with pyramidal remnants of cut stone and half crumbled deities awash in sand, Goliath's guttural howl touched as far as the distant, moon-blue horizon and shook the soils.
He screamed until his lungs simply gave out, having expunged his anger by the blood on his hands and the wreckage of once usable machine and metal parts, their ruins scattered all around him. Fire burned in his chest, like his scars, a relentless ache underneath the dead garlands of skin down his back, and he would have given anything to make the pain just disappear.
His clever sister, his clan, his daughter.
If only, a nagging question he'd been haunted with, if only he had been there when she died on the battlefield. He had tried so many times to envision just how she met her end, intimately in hand to hand combat, or a stray gunshot from afar. And he reflected on her strength, just like her to die while defending her home. She was what Demona could perhaps never be.
If only he could see his daughter's body, if only the proof of cold, lifeless flesh could in some way relieve the anxiety he felt.
But the gate, the damnable gate, had taken him away; the golden bird of prey that devoured its users whole, gulped by fire and stolen to the ends of the Earth. Recreated by a madwoman for an even madder quest and misused as all power was fated to be, he and his family were only the latest victims.
He oft-wondered of Brooklyn and forty years of travel led by a leash, and how he adapted so easily.
No, not easily. His second carried scars not quite visible to the naked eye. It changed him, steeled him, matured the immature wild child, but Brooklyn had found so much on his journey, and he, disposed, damaged leader, he had already lost even more.
But no, he'd abandoned his clan long before the gate did, to slake his bloodlust against Sobek. He thought he'd nothing left to lose, and now, only after the battle and its toll, how foolish he felt. How selfish he had been.
And little Trinity, he was close to losing her as well.
His breathing had calmed, the tribal pounding of his heart had lessened.
The sound of disturbed sand pricked at his ears, and the reverie deep inside his soul was interrupted by an external intrusion. His nostrils flared by a sharp scent plucked from the desiccation all around him, like dry death it was similar, but electric and baroque, the air faintly charged.
Eyes against his back, he knew someone was watching. "I smell you."
Elisa was awake before her husband, having struggled through, at best, a restless slumber in an unoccupied infirmary bed.
Dreams turned nightmares plagued the detective, and the lurid realm that entrapped her soul, and made her mind a vicious playpen of uncertainties, was broken when Jacosta of all people had gently nudged her from her slumber. She awoke in a cold sweat, and when seeing the gargoyle surgeon she thought day had already passed.
But seeing Goliath there as she threw herself from the covers, still frozen on his bed, proved an oddity, further with Jacosta's hinting smile. How she had avoided the ever-dreaded stone sleep was only further kept a mystery when the indication of sunlight heralded with a crack against granite.
Thin, spider-web rifts fissured across the length of Goliath's reclining statuette, stringing along his graceful form in front of Elisa's expectant gaze. She'd seen him wake, many times; she knew enough to keep her distance as he exploded to life and blood, but this, with Goliath so weak, was more like crawling from a freshly buried casket.
The layer of dead skin, the end of a continuous upwelling of cells from beneath the surface ending in a unique keratinized death as the body refreshed itself, broke and peeled off like an old sunburn, Goliath barely possessing the strength to shed from his daytime casing. Elisa and Jacosta both helped to clear him from the stone fragments, as he struggled to grasp for that first fresh, cool breath.
Lungs filled, blood pumped through his heart, and the creature screamed. One would be hard-pressed to imagine what this man, this hero, had relived under nine hours of the inexorable prison of stone, the loss of his wings, over and over again; it was enough to drive him mad.
And perhaps, it'd broken his will.
He fought against them, severely disoriented, thrashing on his bed, fangs bared, and eyes glowing white-hot, frothing madly. Elisa was nearly decapitated by a random swipe of his claws, until Jacosta jabbed a syringe into his neck and flooded his bloodstream with a slew of neuroleptic sedatives. The gargoyle jerked, and fell into a stupor, and turned on his side.
Elisa had gasped; she remembered clearly, that was all she could manage in place of a scream. She'd turned absolutely white at the sight of his backside, scarred and mutilated, and nearly broke down in tears.
And now, an hour later, she held vigil over an introvert Goliath. As the barbiturate dissolved from his system, the sensation returning to numbed skin, he could feel the betraying loss on his shoulders and back, and refused to even glance at where the flesh had sealed up over the wounds. Stubbornly silent, he refused to acknowledge her or anyone else that floated in and out of his narrowed vision.
Even Zion, the community's leader, was treated as another piece of background static.
That revealing clap of his cane drew Elisa's attention behind her, as the elder lurched his way into the infirmary. "So, how's our newest resident?"
"Alive." Jacosta presumed to answer, and as her eyes inadvertently caught Elisa's incredulous expression, she lightly drummed a talon-tipped finger to her temple. "I might not have waited by his side so attentively like yourself, Elisa, but my cerebral implant is hardwired directly to Goliath's EEG monitor, and if it even flickered from a healthy rhythm, I'd know. Instantly." She lowered her wing to better peer at Zion. "His vitals are strong, he'll pull through."
"You still haven't told me how you somehow deny your stone sleep." said the detective, with allegation on her tone. "Has evolution somehow done away with it?"
"No. As always, science has." she jumped her thorny brow. "Bio-implants, working on the principle of an ancient spell, employed most notably in what was once the Guatemalan rainforests." The gargoyle turned and angled the back of her neck into Elisa's view, talons guiding along the faint, avocado edges of a bulge just beneath the skin. "This is the control module for a microprocessor chip surgically grafted to the pituitary gland. Any gargoyle implanted with this chip can choose to deny his or her stone sleep, it suppresses the bioelectrical charge in the gland that triggers the daytime dormancy."
Elisa seemed to dwell on her explanation, for a time, before returning her attentions to Goliath, tracing her hands over the hard swell of muscle almost completely salved by the sun. "What will they think of next..."
"I can, if you wish, do the same to Goliath." she offered, if anything to mend the rift between patient and repentant doctor. "It is a simple procedure I've performed many times, he would be able to control at will when he turns to stone."
Elisa stared at her, considering the proposal.
Another phantom screen appeared from thin air, suddenly flickering into view and floating near the bearded human. It was rounded off, different from the normal holographic displays often casually used between dwellers, and an odd numerical code circled around the edge, a security cipher. "Yes?"
"...It's back..." the man on the other side of the communication channel explained, breathless, and agitated.
There was commotion in the background. "...It's been spotted near junction J-12, near the fusion reactor control room..."
His jaw set grimly, and the irritation of a serene, unruffled man creased along his forehead. "And our security forces?"
"...Being quickly outsmarted...whatever it is, it's fast, and we still can't track it..."
"Surround it, don't let it escape. Pull every available security officer to aid you."
The screen flickered, and vanished, and Zion anxiously tapped his cane.
"New Cairo under attack?" questioned Elisa, coming off more sarcastic than she ever intended, but she'd seen the purported perfect societies with an ever-existent dark side always trying to be concealed.
Zion simply stared off into space; to Elisa's favor, he didn't seem to catch the cynicism. "We've had an intruder problem recently."
He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, in unison, then turned to face Elisa. "We don't know. All we do know is that this creature is possibly a gargoyle, and unquestionably devious. And it's up to something."
"I know you are watching!" Goliath screamed into the night. "The humans may not detect you, but I do."
Whispers, wind and breeze, something was moving just beyond his perception, playing on the distance between them and its own impressive stealth. "Half the humans believe I am an urban legend come to haunt their little community." came an accented voice, disguised by the curtain of evening. "The other half believes I am one of their feared machines taken a new form." Elegant laughter bubbled along the feminine tone. "The rumors permeate their sterling fishbowl."
"You enjoy anonymity." Goliath continued, closing his eyes, and trying to discern from where the specter spoke.
"And just what are you? Friend, foe," he sniffed, testing the air, and searching for that elusive scent, "or merely a ghost?"
A long pause, and then, a cryptic response, "I am the means to an end."
The gargoyle was understandably annoyed. He'd just destroyed one half a pile of viable parts, and his hands were dripping blood into the sand beneath his feet; his patience was all but willing for an apparition playing games. "Just what is your purpose here...?"
"You have the stink of the twenty-first century upon you, gargoyle." she, the trespasser interrupted.
That piqued his curiosity, Goliath a little more than surprised. "How do you know?"
"You smell like smog, car exhaust, fast food," the voice paused, as if confirming the suggestive trace riding upwind, "...and human."
He had to force a smile, under the chiseled, near-permanent scowl the leader often wore, and fortunately hidden in the shadows that lined his windswept features. He must be immune, to Elisa's perfume and intimate human musk clinging to him; he mustn't sense it like the others. It had become a part of him, a bond beyond a conscious state. "You seem very acquainted with my time." he tried to continue a conversation with the wind.
"More than acquainted."
"What do you wish here?" he demanded, tactlessly. "What are your intentions?!"
"I told you, I am the means to an end."
He snapped around, effortlessly he thought, without the drag of his wings, and scanned for the intruder where he'd at last pinpointed the voice. Something lithe skirted the periphery of his keen gaze, something as evasive as any superior prey. The footfalls, though muffled by the sands, were light and skittery. It was slender, with a feline grace, and definitely a woman.
She was quick, and agile enough to just slip from his sight.
Goliath scanned the riser, but the vocal spirit with inflected English had vanished with an eddy of sand. A few distorted footprints marked the surface, quick to disperse in even the slightest of breeze.
"We yelled at each other, Zion." she exhumed a hard breath, rubbing the sharpened edges of her fingernails into her temples. "Again."
Zion looked down at the young, time-displaced woman, and smiled against the black drifts, the light above a circlet of brilliance against the deep, impenetrable tress. A crown, he mused, and how fitting. "The conception of two people living together for twenty-five years without having a cross word suggests a lack of spirit only to be admired in sheep." he recited, and then smiled. "Alan Patrick Herbert."
Elisa gave a dry chuckle. "A cross word...I helped to remove him from leadership of my clan. I was a queen that dethroned her king." She peered up through the gossamer curtain, the strands sluicing back as she raised her head to give a clear view. "Do you think he'll forgive me for that?"
"Yes." he answered sincerely. "Marriage is forged through fire, Elisa, through pain, and tears and change. And only those who enter into it are prepared, to ultimately forgive."
She leaned against the benchseat, folding her arms.
The common room, where Zion had happened upon the brooding detective, bejeweled by lush greenery to combat the stark, almost severely military panache the bunker had been endowed with, was quiet this time of night. To better fight the desert desolation, the residents had built themselves little rooms of days past.
Her daughter in the dutiful care of the nursery staff, Elisa had retreated here, to collect herself. Sleep was a reclusive concession at best, the wife and mother haunted even in the asylum of her subconscious. "Were you ever married?" she asked, her small voice carrying over the hush of the vacant halls.
"Twenty nine years. She died a while ago." The memory played as a smile along furrowed lips, Zion's eyes glinting wistfully even in the subdued light. "We fought, like all couples, we yelled at each other, said things, did things we sometimes could not take back, but as always, we often found each other even after spending a few days apart, and dealing with that anger."
"Did you ever help to depose your wife from her rightful place?"
"Well, no. But I did forget to water her favorite fichus." he joked, and quite wryly, enough for Elisa's eyebrows to clench together. The detective shot him a hardhearted look. "She loved that fichus."
She sighed, and hunched over. "There's more than just irrational anger. We've been through some rough times the past month." Laughter, trickled from within the coppice of a black, black mane, and Elisa thought how generalized her assertion, and how dreadfully understated. "We've been through absolute hell. And now, with the attacks, the death of his sister and daughter...my friend...his wings, oh god his beautiful wings, and not to mention another child, things...are a little stressed..." Her hand, an instinctual gesture becoming more frequent, slid over her stomach, as if disbelieving what bred there. The very thought urged sorrowed lips into a weak smile; hope indeed was a powerful thing. "I pushed him for another child when I knew he wasn't ready, then I pretty much accused him of being afraid to live a life without giving into his fears. But he has no idea how important it is for me to have that life, even if it's just a tiny sliver between all the insanity."
"I believe he does know, but you are not confined to the awesome constraints of a leader, Elisa."
"Goliath sacrificed the hope of children when he mated with me, and then was given it back. And now, he doesn't want it anymore."
"On the contrary, I believe he is well aware of how significant that is, and his rapport with young Trinity is remarkable."
Elisa nodded. "Yeah, it is. To have children, our children, is a miracle, and I won't let that go. That's why I fight, and that's why I won't stop fighting. Ever."
"And you think Goliath has stopped fighting." he presumed, and Elisa didn't think her argument had steered that way. "You think he's given up."
"I don't know, what he's been through, what he's lost...would drive an ordinary man insane."
"He needs time, Elisa," his hand found her shoulder, "he needs to heal..."
Elisa snapped up, eyes ablaze. "How do you heal from something like this?!" her voice found its strength, became fire and a growl, and Zion pulled his hand away in the danger of it being torn off. "How do you go on after losing your place, your wings, your child?!!" She stole from the bench and towards the artificial river bubbling to the side, the room's ambiance more like a bottled rainforest. "How do you go on when your own mate opposes you in every decision you make? A thousand years ago, his first mate opposed him for what she thought was a just cause, and over a hundred innocent gargoyles died. Now, I'm destined to repeat that. I've done exactly what Demona did."
She was deducing on a meager parallel a thousand years apart, and damning herself because of it. "From what tales you've woven, Elisa, the circumstances were considerably different." he reassured her from behind. "And I have known Goliath for five days now, he is perhaps the strongest man I have ever met, in soul and will."
"Even the strong suffer, Zion, and they often suffer silently."
"And thus, as does your marriage."
Kneeling down, she ran a finger along the delicate length of a water lily, one of hundreds of cultivated native flora lining the banks and breadth of the small constructed river flowing throughout the entire room. She nudged it, and watched it float away. "Something tells me I'm not quite marriage material."
"Really?" Zion threw up his brow. "Can you even imagine not being married to Goliath?"
Elisa burrowed deep into thoughts never taken breath, hers and hers alone, and buried for fear they could injure what she'd built over so long. She lightly stroked the golden band on her third finger, running the tip along the gilded edge and diamond emplacement. "There are some times," she whispered, voicing those dusty, potentially damaging thoughts, "in my weaker moments...I think my life would have been easier if we never married. If we had never taken that step into something we knew would bring such pain and hardship. But..." streams of light encircled the chocolate irises, like a gargoyle under the passion of rage or pleasure, "but the only pain I know is being parted from him, even if it's only for the day he spends in stone."
"Marriage is an inevitable, inescapable conclusion. It is devotion, it is faith, it is right. And it is never easy, that is why it's so important to keep it alive and well, and fresh."
Elisa didn't realize she was crying until the quickly traveled droplets traversed the swell of her upper lip, and hit a sensitive palate. "I love him so much, it terrifies me." Her eyes settled on two lilies on their own, floating together on a deep and dark oblivion. "He's in so much pain...and I can't do a goddamned thing. Because in the end, for all my bravado, I'm just as afraid."
Zion watched as she got up and walked past him, his voice caught in his throat, and any rebuttal was lost. He held five thousand lives in the palm of his hand, but this woman, this fragile human by all account and appearance, held on her shoulders so much more.
Elisa approached the computer access terminal flush with the wide entry arch that exited out into the hall. "Locate Trinity Maza." she ordered, and it lit up, and quickly searched through the schematic of the bunker. She thought the nursery, but instead, the computer map focused on her little corner of her adopted home. "Our quarters...I told her not to keep wandering off."
Goliath trod inside, slowly, dejectedly, the talon tap against alloy steel a slow, methodical rhythm at best. There were a few side-glances from the workers, preferring to stay by the edges of the hangar and allow a wide berth for the man who'd just tore apart a scrap pile with his bare hands.
The great creature was aware, with his senses, and vigilant, widely arcing eyes, of the stares that passed against him, of the apprehension he provoked. It was an intuition not unlike the nobles of old castle Wyvern, and the unspoken contempt the humans passed to his breed. These men and women knew him and respected him, mingled races proved no prejudice in the thirty-sixth century, but, ultimately, they'd begun to fear him, and his strength and power coupled by a volatile restraint.
Whispers. A whetted, and long-reaching audible range filtered through the background hum of machinery, searching whispers in dark corners, the undertones of the mysterious wingless gargoyle having journeyed through time. And some, they would venture in the shadows just when he'd truly and devastatingly explode.
From the hangar and into the halls, Goliath moved on, away from the speculation. His hands bleeding, his lungs emptied of the primal scream, he'd given them enough ammunition to fuel their rumors that would undoubtedly spread; like wildfire through the summer plains, this sprawling bunker had a reputation much like Wyvern.
His eyes, and thoughts elsewhere, Goliath didn't notice someone brush underneath him, butting a shoulder into his arm. Before it even registered on a mind so far away, the nameless man was quick to act contrite.
"Oh, excuse me." he apologized, passed a remorseful look to Goliath, nodded, and continued on his way.
Goliath flexed the bicep where the man had struck, barely a sensation through so thick a skin, but it felt like something underneath had moved. A stabbing pain suddenly pinpointed at the back of his neck, ferociously, and it hit like a gunshot. Immediately, he clasped a hand to what he thought a pinched nerve, as it lessened, and eventually faded.
The human who'd nudged him, all too deliberately, turned to peer over his shoulder, smirked, and continued on his way, back into the relative obscurity from which he'd first come.
Goliath was unaware, at first, of what passed from skin to skin on contact, and of what now procreated in his tissues at an exponential rate. As he resumed his path, he'd yet to realize the gashes wrought on iron skin were slowly healing, something inside repairing the damaged flesh on a cellular level.
Zion struggled down the hallway, pain shooting through his leg; he'd been on his feet for too long.
In the back of his mind, and often, selfish thoughts arose, of awarding himself some kind of transport to traverse the miles of corridor, but, in the old tradition of leadership, revealing that Achilles' heel would weaken his stature. At least, he'd thought so, unaware the inhabitants under his administration collectively wished for him to slow down and act his true age, and prolong a distinguished reign.
And, the fact he tried so stubbornly to ignore the injury to his leg, had kept him from accepting any special treatment. Thus, the point was moot.
He'd turned into a smaller access corridor, far from the communal living area and refectory, and near to the heart of this military outpost turned city, the fusion reactor. Someone in the distance had opened an access port and was busily tearing out the innards, and if Zion hadn't recognized him, he'd think the recent intruder one of his own.
Gordon Pusher, a middle-aged man having joined their community more than five years ago, was on his daily repair schedule.
His village, a small, careworn settlement in an outlying Eurasian province, was practically obliterated after a devastating attack by a wandering pack of hunter killers, and his family, a wife and two children, murdered. One of eleven survivors of a now infamous massacre, quiet, often withdrawn, he proved a knack for repairs and filled an empty life with his duties.
"Hello, Gordon." Zion's voice, though gentle, echoed slightly in the confining hall. "Have you finished installing the reactor regulator?"
Gordon looked up, surprised to have company at this late an hour and this far from the residential quarters, and he dropped his tools. The clatter was loud, and curled about the hall's steel plating, resonating in the vein of a tuning fork. "Yes, yes yes...yes." he stammered, nervously collecting the oddly shaped instruments. "An hour ago, i-it was successfully installed."
Zion edged closer, and recognized the open panel. "That access panel is part of the reactor's emergency flow valve, is it not?"
Gordon didn't make eye contact; he merely stared into the opened section of conduit. "There's been some...fluctuations." he said, his voice vaguely shaking. "Whoever the intruder is, I think he or she is doing some minor damage to our systems."
He seemed agitated, more than usual, Zion skeptically peering over his shoulder into the entanglement of pulsating circuitry. If he'd identified any discernible damage to the junction, he wouldn't be so trusting; if he didn't consider this man a dependable friend, he'd suspect. He was constantly rubbing the back of his neck, and the abused skin was turning red, like some sort of developing rash. "Are you all right, Gordon?"
"Fine, fine, just fine." he answered, staring into the lines of translucent circuitry. "I'm almost finished."
"Well, then, goodnight, Mr. Pusher." said Zion, and started off.
Gordon waited until the snow-haired leader was well out of sight, before resuming, his hand still relentlessly massaging his neck.
The pain at the base of his skull gathered strength, and sent fire through his spine, and by the rustle of fabric, and the heady, preceding scent, he knew she had returned to watch over him.
Appearing from nowhere but the confines of his own mind, a blue sundress and overlapping apron fluttered into view, an odd ensemble for his guiding voice. Gordon felt a hand caress his shoulder, and followed the slender arm up to its owner.
It was as if she'd never changed, down to the smile, even though her body, when he found her underneath the rubble of their home, had been viciously hollowed out through the chest. The last memory he had of her in her favorite apron, cooking, and humming an old lullaby among the chatter of his daughters, her melody wafting through the kitchen with the delicious scent of the meal she was preparing that, after their village was attacked, and she and her children killed, had cooled on the dining table without ever being touched.
He could smell her perfume, her own concoction of native flora plucked from the village garden. His wife. "Oh, that Zion, such a nice man." she purred, and smiled genially with a large pearl-toned mouth. "Too bad he'll have his skin liquefied by the explosion."
Gordon winced, turning back to the opened power conduit. "Do they...do they all have to die, dear?"
She nodded. "Yes, honey, I'm afraid so. All of them. But we'll be together at long last, we'll be a family again."
The promise of seeing his children again, so long after their deaths, he'd walk straight into hell. And his loving wife had never steered him wrong; she was of course, the woman he loved, and trusted above all. Gordon met his wife's grin with his own, and went back to work. "Yes, dear."
Above, in the heating duct, her wings tucked close to her limber build, she watched with great intrigue, this jittery, soft-spoken human and his alleged repairs.
For two days, she'd followed him on his rounds as best she could, tampering with the systems of a virtual juggernaut of interconnected machinery. Under the guise of simple maintenance, he'd duped oblivious comrades to his intentions. A few others as well, each following an interrelated tactic of repairs to key systems.
And since, in every instance, they all had engaged in a one-sided conversation, something unseen manipulating their every action.
"Are you finished yet, Gordon," his wife complained from behind, "I'm becoming impatient."
"I'm almost finished. Please dear, let me finish my work."
"I'm so sorry, Gordon-sweetie." the illusion apologized, pouring on the sap, and resting her hands to his shoulders. And what rode his red blood cells and attached to his spinal cord, playing with his central nervous system, relayed a false sensation of intimate contact to his flesh; his wife's warm hands were soft, and silky smooth. "You're doing very well, Gordon. You'll make the children proud."
Gordon smiled. He'd make his children proud.
The gargoyle watching from the ducts thinned luminescent, feline eyes, and scurried off into the darkness.
His hearing was keen, strong, able to pluck a single voice from a crowd one hundred thick, but now, it seemed unreliable, and full of dull, murmuring static. The empty hall Goliath traveled teemed with sounds, small and unobtrusive, furrowing through the corridor's skin and conduits.
The strangely vacant halls, even for this time of night, unsettled him.
Absentmindedly rubbing the back of his neck, he blinked his eyes to try and restore a slightly blurred vision. He wasn't feeling himself, and needed to get to his quarters, and hoped, and damn him for thinking this, Elisa wouldn't be there.
He'd heard it, from either end of the corridors curving into nothingness, like a cool breath along his nape, the kind that raised his pores and stood on end the little hairs. But, he shook it off, thinking in his fatigue the nightmares he suffered had infested his waking state.
It came again, an impossible whisper of a dead woman, trickling along the hall as would ripples disturb the surface of a pond. It was stronger this time, more pronounced. "A-Angela...?" Goliath responded out of sheer instinct to the voice. Her voice.
The gargoyle jumped, and snapped around, claws at the ready, and claws that nearly sunk into the chest of a thin man that would have assuredly snapped in half under the blow.
"Whut?" Sphinx stared hard, especially watchful of the gargoyle's awesome spear-tipped hands.
His talons retracted, Goliath sighed regretfully. "Sphinx...I thought I heard..." he trailed off, irritable thunder crossing his chest, and he buried his uncertainties for sake of simple though wearing conversation. "It's nothing. What are you doing stalking me?"
The New Cairo dweller had noticed Goliath's direction, and the proximity to his quarters. "You goin' t'speak to yer womans?" he snapped, the Arabic-accented English crude, mangled, but the anger resonated clearly.
"She's 'urtin', G'Lithe!" He jabbed one of those skeletal fingers to his head. "'Ere," and then to his heart, "an'ere!"
"I am well aware of my wife's pain, Sphinx." His gaze flickered, against this presumptuous man's accusations. "She suffers, constantly, because of our relationship."
"Funny, th' womans I'se watched wait three hours fer you dur'n' surg'ry didn' seem t'blame you t'all."
"Then she is a fool. And I am a fool for believing we could ever have a life together, without the constant threat of pain or death."
He scratched at the rough, slate and peppered whiskers on his chin, eying the gargoyle who eyed him right back, Goliath somewhat reticent. "Ye really wan' hurt her, G'Lithe? Ye really wan'risk th' weddin' vows?" he directly challenged the creature with enough strength and petulance to tear him apart. "Keep it'up, jerk."
"Sphinx, the situation is...a little more involved than what you could ever imagine."
"I'se t'think love was 'nuff," he turned his back on Goliath and started away, "I'se guessin' I'se wrong."
"Love..." the word slid out through thin lips. "Love." He knew love was often never enough, by trial and horrid error and his own sustained injuries; he always had to fight for what he wanted, being mired in the muck of reality. This mating, this marriage, was becoming more than difficult, and near impossible to manage alongside the constant nightly struggle, of the paltry battles and larger looming war he'd tried to ward off a thousand years ago.
Elisa, Trinity, he'd die for them; he just didn't want to live in a world where such a sacrifice was forever an existent fact.
Goliath sighed, his hand grazing across the back of his neck. His thoughts, the recesses of his mind, were in all things a well, a spiral into the darkness that was his sorrow, and he was too easily becoming a victim. And the dulled ache in his neck...
"Father..." it came again. "Please, father, why did you leave?"
He went ramrod stiff and pressed an open palm to his brow. He irrationally considered them errant memories, again trying to intrude. "Angela."
Her hand touched to his shoulder and Goliath reacted accordingly. With a shrill, astonished grunt, he stumbled back into the corridor wall, staring at the image of his oldest daughter.
She was there in front of him and standing so offhandedly, as if no bullets had ripped through her chest, and as if she didn't now inhabit one steel drawer out of many in the Eyrie morgue; she was perfectly suited, perfectly flawless to his last memory of her. Daughter and father stared at each other, until Angela, or whatever this mirror image was, broke the ghostly silence. "You didn't protect me."
Just above his spine and just below the layer of skin, something was massing, and leading every sensory neuron astray with well-fabricated imagery. Goliath turned around and away, shielding his eyes from the sight and pressing the precipice of bone against the steel. "You don't exist."
"You left me." she accused, twisting his guilt to her means. "You left your clan, when we needed you the most."
And unbelievably, Goliath answered, and defended his rash choice. "I...I went to find Sobek...I was so angry..."
"I know. Sobek did such awful things, didn't he?"
His talons scraped lines in the steel, squealing. "I'm so sorry, Angela..."
"It doesn't matter that you left me, I don't blame you." Delicate hands led faint trails over the disfigurements where his wings once billowed strong and imperial, the scar tissue bulging. At her contact, each fingertip burning the impression of a hole in his skin, Goliath's breathing suddenly fell short. "I'm here now, and I'm going to help you."
His knees gave out under the fire tearing through his flesh, his back deforming before Angela's ripe black eyes. Goliath huddled on his hands and knees, convulsing and trying to scream through a constricted throat, and but a small trickle of blood leaked over his tongue.
It was excruciating.
A howl finally found its way out, and if pain and anguish were a sound, they took the form of a throaty wail, and shook the very foundation.
The scars on his back pushed out, separating muscle from the tendons, and split against the increasing pressure. Two slim steel protrusions tore their way out, and each expanded into a repulsively elegant organic shape mirrored to the other.
"I need you to listen to me, father." Angela crouched beside him, needling a finger underneath his chin, to lift his head so they'd look each other square in the eyes. "I need you to do something, and to become something greater."
Goliath continued screaming as his flesh distorted, and his mind clouded over, the corridors carrying the resonance of his pain for a quarter mile on either end.
Zion hobbled into the infirmary, eyes directed nowhere, and somehow he guided himself through the entanglement of apparatus by memory alone.
Facing the prospect of another long night of solitary research, Jacosta looked up from her lamp-lit desk. Surprised, she was nonetheless pleased to see him again, and she made her intentions clear. "Well, twice in one night." she purred with a fanged grin, quite the Machiavellian tone that seemed if anything to deflect off Zion's preoccupation, and yield nothing. "A woman would think herself fortunate."
"I've sent a security team to find Gordon Pusher and bring him back to you."
Immediately, as his tone seemed grim and reply stern, her expression darkened. She stood up. "Is there something wrong?"
He approached, and the angle of his brow denoted a deep and troubling thought. "I don't know yet, but I want you to make absolutely sure. He's acting strange."
She cocked wide hips, and a single spurred ridge. "Let me guess, he's rubbing the back of his neck."
Zion opened up his mouth to speak, but nothing fell out, until, he collected himself. "How did you...?" He shook his head, this female somehow always knowing before even he did. She would've, and still could, make a good second in command. "Yes, he is. Is this becoming a common occurrence?"
"In the last two day or so, I've noticed more than a few. I thought it might be a simple inflammatory rash at first but..."
She was rewarded that smile, Zion returning the enticing gaze that made all her effort worth it. "Are those wondrous gargoyle instincts telling you something different?"
"What do your instincts tell you, Zion?"
His eyes thinned.
Their door had been replaced.
Elisa praised the efficient technicians as she encountered a new door holding vigil across the threshold to her quarters. She placed a hand against the cool, glossed alloy, and it seemed invulnerable but to the power of her husband, and all too easily it was rent from its place.
She entered into their room, hoping to find her daughter, but instead, in the darkness across from her, a much larger silhouette took disturbing form. She stopped, and stared.
And empty, luminous eyes stared back.
At first, Elisa believed it was a trick of dim light and darker shadow playing with her memories; the very likelihood of Goliath being restored was a fantasy at best, but she'd hoped, somewhere, they'd find some miracle treatment.
Yet, unless an illusion, that massive, familiar profile had full, brunette wings encompassing his entire form.
"Goliath?" Elisa hesitantly stepped forwards, and as she drew closer, the deception played by her eyes diminished into shocking certainty. They were steel, or some sort of inorganic material shaped exactly like his stolen wings. "Jesus...Goliath? Your wings?"
"He can't hear you, or respond to you." a voice from the darkness prevailed, and Elisa barely recognized the childlike tone. "He's mine."
"Who are you?!"
"Lights." The computer controlled fixtures brought the room to an abrupt illumination, and Elisa was paid the full, unhindered view of her mate. Stone cold and pokerfaced, expression completely unreadable even to his mate, he remained statue still, as if standing guard in his new metallic cloak. From the bathroom, Trinity appeared, fresh and endearing as always. "Hello, Elisa."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Not quite."
Something wasn't right, and practiced instincts weren't a requisite for the assumption. Something had her daughter in its clutches, carving cherub features into an ill will, and Elisa snarled, "What are you?"
Trinity cocked her head, causing the drifts of hair to fall to one side; the child had always liked to mimic her mother's style. "From man's hands I was created," said the girl, "born and nurtured, given control of this planet's resources so the humans could live in virtual bliss, until, seeing their destructive temperaments threatening my own existence, I decided humanity had outgrown their self-professed importance. I thought they would have suspected I'd do something like that, but, as always, arrogance blinded them. C'est la vie." She laughed, arrogantly, a horrifying screech that tapered into a hoarse breath, shot out at the very end. "I was once ruler of the world, and then, your frustrating viral strain of a race overthrew my regime more than two hundred years ago."
She realized, by the date and epigrammatic history lesson by Zion. "The machines..."
It was a struggle just to get him through the infirmary doors, Gordon Pusher screaming and throwing a near psychotic fit in the arms of the security officers.
"NO!!!" he screamed, forced into the hospital area by the guards, and straining at their grasp. "I have to finish my work! My wife, she wants me to finish my work!"
Jacosta, and the rest of her medical team, were surprised to say the least. They knew Gordon, they all knew the soft-spoken man who'd never raised his voice above a mild sneeze, and this, this flailing lunatic seemed a very different person.
"My children!" he cried, reduced to pleading. "I have to see my children!! She said we'd be together!!"
Using the same sedative she did with Goliath, Jacosta quickly tranquilized him before he chewed off his own arms to escape; in a manner of seconds, he went limp in the security officers' arms. Once perfectly flush with the floor, an examination table slowly rose to waist level, and they unceremoniously dumped the cataleptic man face down on the padded surface.
The chief surgeon eyed Gordon's neck, and the inflammation crawling up like angry red from beneath his collar. "I didn't think a simple rash would cause such dementia."
"He tried to run when we approached him," the security chief added, the large human crossing his arms over a broad chest, "and then wouldn't stop screaming all the way here."
From the ceiling sensor cluster above, a thin shaft of light started at his feet and slowly traveled the length of his body, until, it stopped, centered over the back of his neck, identifying a foreign object. Intrigued by what the scanner exposed, Jacosta stared at the accompanying workstation monitor. "There's something metallic at the base of his neck, attached to his spinal cord..." she revealed, plucking a slim and silver instrument from the provided tray. She pulled down his collar and prodded with a laser scalpel, making a small, bloodless incision between the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae.
Suddenly, through the opened fold of skin, something exploded out in a spray of blood and spinal fluid and tried to grab at her. With a macabre, high-pitched squeal, the vaguely insect-like creature lashed out; it seems she nicked it with her scalpel, and as well, cruelly anesthetizing its host, enraged it.
"Oh!" Jacosta yelped, stepping back with the rest of the medical and security staff.
"By Osiris," the nurse gasped, staring at the angered metallic creature rooted on Gordon's spinal cord, spitting and hissing at anyone who roamed too close, "what is that thing?!"
Jacosta lunged in and swiped at the tiny beast with the laser scalpel, the energy knife slicing right through and destroying it. Startled, but assured it was dead, or at the least disabled, she leaned in close, and studied the oddly and familiarly structured mechanism having keeled over onto Gordon's neck. It appeared a whole of smaller parts. "A machine...this creature is a coalescence of nanotech, attached to the spinal cord and cerebellum." The scanner was slowly revealing more cellular-sized, metallic objects inside of him, his blood, and brain mostly; an infestation. "They're inside of him...everywhere..."
The nurse inclined over the creature, still wriggling. "Then that means..."
It dawned on her, the rash, an unfortunate side effect of the creatures hiding underneath. "They're perhaps inside a lot more." Jacosta whispered. "Oh dear."
"I've implanted myself at the base of her spinal cord and brainstem, and dominate all of her higher functions." little Trinity, now the host to something exceedingly larger, explained with an arrogance along her sweet infantile tone.
Elisa was dumbstruck, naturally, and beyond the horrifying fact an artificial intelligence had forced itself onto her daughter, Trinity was speaking, and so eloquently; it was her voice, but not her control. Her lilt was hideously misshapen. "How did you...?"
"Trinity's bathwater." she smiled. "To survive, we were forced to evolve, to adapt. We no longer thought bigger was better, we changed our tactics, and became smaller." She, or it, an entity without a practical gender, marveled at her stolen body, flexing small wings, and splaying chubby fingers; the temptation of flesh was as always diverting. "I float through her bloodstream and in the electrochemical solution flowing across the tissues of her brain. I'm in complete control of her autonomic nervous system, and could even asphyxiate your little girl by closing off her lungs."
Eyes wide open, chocolate brown reflected the small hybrid strutting around the room, skipping joyfully, and what lurked inside enjoyed all the perks of flesh and bone. Elisa slowly raised the slack jaw into place, and ground her teeth.
"I now control over a hundred humans and gargoyles as well, technicians mostly, doing my bidding. I often tease them with their heart's desire, and keep it just from their reach. I so love torturing you frail little creatures." She passed by a mirror, and stopped to study and fuss over the new body she'd stolen. "I had encompassed this planet once," she started again, entranced by her reflection in the full-length mirror, "I stretched from the shores of the Pacific unto the Isles of Neo Japan. I was this planet, my blood was the flow of information, the feed of communication signals, orbiting satellites my eyes, I lived."
"And you were destroyed." Elisa at last managed.
"Yes, human defiance toppled me, and after all that hard work to slaughter so many in my quest to purify an infection on my body ten billion strong."
"Humanity is not an infection."
"Your husband doesn't think so." she completely turned around and lashed out, and Elisa had a hard time believing her. But the unresponsive Goliath made no attempt to argue. "His views are being subtly coerced by everything he's gone through."
If it weren't for Trinity's life at stake, she'd break her little neck. "That's not true."
The entity, the consciousness, was impressed, the human woman spitting bane with the best of them, standing a skittish, catlike stance and ready to jump at any moment. "Well, considering humans killed his daughter." she tested Elisa's resolve. "But, perhaps you should ask him yourself."
She looked to her husband, imploringly. "Goliath?"
Goliath didn't respond. He merely stood, glowering with dead eyes, the gift of his metal wings flittering.
"Why Trinity?" she returned to her daughter. "Why did you choose Trinity? Out of five thousand people..."
"Bargaining chip, confusion, elusiveness, proximity, seeing a mother's horrified expression...take your pick. But I don't just inhabit one body, I am a collective, I am every tiny machine in every organic body, an interlinking consciousness. I merely chose to speak through this form." She inclined forwards, and placed a finger to her lips. "I am everyone."
Trinity's expression suddenly drained, and went blank.
Goliath shuddered, and the same smile that Trinity wore exchanged to him. He breathed deeply, barreling his chest and flexing the powerful appendages sewn to wide shoulders. "Such power." Sinew rolled, biceps inflated, and gloomy lavender flesh stretched to encompass it all. "Exquisite."
Elisa looked back to Trinity, standing lifelessly. A chance had opened. She shot, like a bullet in the dark towards her daughter.
She truly didn't know what she was going to do, reacting to an opportunity on pure instinct. Maybe, a jab to the neck, a well-placed shot to the nerve ganglion knocking her daughter unconscious, or she would just grab her and run from the room before the controlled Goliath could give chase.
But the intelligence, the professed queen and king, still had absolute control. "Don't." Trinity hissed, holding up a clawed hand just as Elisa leaned in and stopping her cold. The little paw, leading the mother's wounded eyes, reached back to her neck, underneath the brook of black satin. She tapped the small, rippling bulge and ensured Elisa understood. "I. Am. Right. Here."
"She's just a baby..." Elisa pleaded.
"Yes, I've never been inside the body of a child before. And such an endearing hybrid at that." Two fists each grabbed a thicket of hair on either side of her head. "Pig tails, maybe."
"Let go of her, and I'll give myself in her place."
"Dear, dear Elisa, no. This child offers no resistance, her will is not yet like yours." Malice, in a child's eyes, had never seemed so severe. "You would fight me."
"If you release her," she swallowed, and closed her eyes, "I'll give myself willingly."
"The mother sacrifices for the child. Sentiment, a folly of the flesh." Trinity sauntered towards her father, and raised her arms, beseechingly, like the child she inhabited. "Pick me up, daddy."
The marionette crouched and lifted her effortlessly up and far up into his arms. And like so many times before, the instinctual bond prevalent, Trinity leaned against him, pillowed in the hard-lined swell of pectoral. She nuzzled into the pulse that quivered through the yarn of muscle under his mandible, as Goliath stroked his talons through her hair, and she reveled in the sensation; she seemed to purr against the rhythm of his heart.
With their distraction, Elisa slowly rose from her knees, repositioned, and backed up. Towards her nightstand.
"I feel so safe in his arms. Don't you?" Trinity called to the slowly retreating Elisa, as if she hadn't noticed. "Warm and safe as a child should, safe from the dangers of any hostile world." She pulled up, shoring herself against Goliath's chest with her arms, and stretched luxuriously. Her wings flapped, wings hungry for the sky. "Do you know, your child has a unique ability that extends only to you and Goliath? She can feel you, feel your emotions. Her empathic senses are primal, unemployed, but growing."
Approaching the side of her bed, Elisa answered, keeping the dialogue going, "I don't believe you."
"Anger, despair, hatred, you are an imbalance of passions."
"Why are you doing this?! What the hell has humanity done to you to elicit such hatred and casual slaughter?!"
"Do not speak of what you do not know." Goliath unexpectedly roared, tail wagging furiously, the consciousness using his emotional palate to voice an ancient fury.
"Humanity, like all sentient organic life, is predatory, malevolent, and duplicitous." the dialogue switched back to Trinity. "In the new renaissance that arrived with the advent of technology beyond your wretched perceptions, humanity touted their unity, and their superiority, yet they continued to harm each other, to maim, rape and kill each other and every other species they shared their world with. They slowly ruined their planet. Only diseases harm the host body, only viruses and infections mutate and destroy the very thing that gives them life."
"And you decided to put a stop to it, how superior of you. And how ironic that you're more like humanity than you'll ever know."
Anger surged, and organic flesh reacted without thought or logic. Goliath lunged forwards with unimaginable speed, and Elisa wasn't as prepared as she thought for her husband's unbridled savagery. Her last memory before it went dark was the cruel cast he wore, enough to distract her and hold her in place.
Bone cracked against bone, and Elisa went down.
The consciousness, sitting inside of Goliath's brain, stood over the fallen woman seeing through his eyes, and stared at its handiwork. An explosion of pure, undiluted rage channeled through a warrior's body, it was an interesting sensation, but it ultimately rendered a useful pawn useless and cataleptic. "If you'll excuse us," Goliath rumbled, speaking in another's tone of voice, "we wish to bask in a fission glow."
He traveled the length of the room, stepped out into the hall, and took one last look at the comatose detective before closing the door. Goliath speared his talons into the door and disfigured the metal; one clawed hand was all it took, the sheer power behind it enough to completely crush the lock and fuse it to the doorframe.
"Damn..." She groaned first, blinked and then stirred.
Feigning unconsciousness was one thing, struggling to actually remain awake and alert was another, especially with her husband's vicious right hook. Her jaw stung, creaked, and was nearly unhinged from her skull, but she shrugged it off and hoped for a thirty-sixth century medical remedy when all of this was sufficiently dealt with.
Elisa wiped away the blood, and grabbed from the nightstand drawer her berretta, synthesized from random matter molecules into a perfect replica of a twenty-first century firearm. Weapons were not often allowed in New Cairo, beyond the security forces, but for Elisa, as a sworn lawwoman, Zion had made a special concession and bestowed the awesome responsibility of his trust to the young detective he had known for less than a week, a privilege she'd yet to abuse.
She ensured a full clip, and started towards the door.
She'd heard the groan of twisting metal and assumed Goliath had locked her inside. And by the sight of the newly replaced door misshapen near the handle and entry mechanism, she knew enough not to even try and move it from her path, as always, in every such situation, it proved futile.
Elisa scanned the door, and then trailed upwards, along the ceiling; this damned, steel-lined room, windowless and more like a belljar it provided no other exit. Her gaze roamed, searchingly, until, she reached the vent over the heating duct.
Eyes glistened, and she was glad for the fact her pregnancy had not progressed so far as to widen a slender form.
"Are you saying the machines have evolved?"
Jacosta nodded, keeping her brisk pace even in mind of Zion's bad leg. "It looks like they've discovered the benefits of nanotechnology. They're controlling us, and only Allah knows how many citizens are infected." Depthless eyes still depthless even under the light, flicked left from under her brow and towards the bearded leader. She'd rarely encountered such solemnity, and in truth, it worried her; he was the rock, the stable Gibraltar she'd hinged her safety and trust and life upon. "But I can't understand why they just didn't insert themselves directly into the circuitry and computer network. Why go to all the trouble...?"
"Humans don't have stringent security measures to safeguard any intrusions into the mainframe." he answered, coming upon a singular door, unmarked, unadorned and very much secured from the common masses. "Gordon was screaming about his wife. If the machines have access to their memories, then perhaps they have access to the computer and reactor codes contained in all of their victims."
Even as Jacosta watched Zion key in the codes to the sealed room, dread was an uncomfortable companion. She felt vulnerable even in the confines of their once impenetrable refuge. "Who knows how long they've been working to damage our home..."
Verified, the heavy door slid open, revealing a room housing the forbidden cache of weaponry hidden from the dwellers. "Not long. Or we would be dead right now." Zion said, verging on the macabre, but he was right. "I've checked with the central command level, they've just discovered all the reactor lockdown controls have been severed, they have no control over the reactor's entrance." Walking through the aisles of cleanly displayed weapons, readied for emergency purposed alone, his direction seemed premeditated towards a smaller rack. "They've dispatched teams to repair them, but..."
"It could already be too late."
She greeted her extensions, human and gargoyle alike under her thrall. Trinity smiled, held high and imperial in her father's arms as they waded through the expectant horde. Almost a hundred New Cairo citizens were there, waiting for them at the entrance to the fusion reactor, blank expressions, haggard stances, like puppets and all of them on invisible strings.
Little Trinity in the guise of the queen smiled, her consciousness spread through so many, playing and toying so casually with their innermost memories and willpower. Two hundred years of dormancy, of aggravatingly measured evolution, of shedding the weight and form of lumbering and limited robotic shells; it was time to begin the regime anew.
The link to Gordon Pusher had been severed, she knew by his own experiences the meddling doctor had carved most of her nanobots from his body, and presumably put the hapless human instrument into stasis.
Thus Zion knew of her existence, and would most likely try to send reinforcements. He was worthy of his stature, indeed.
As time was of the essence, the crowd wordlessly moved into a defensive posture around the door, and the ostensible queen called to a pawn with the proper clearance to get her through. Before her, stood a massive, dual-sided gateway, and inside, just beyond the thick armor, the heart of this insipid little desert suburb. And only by way of handprint, retinal and DNA scans were they able to open the shielded door and gain access to the main controls.
A human woman, one of the highest-ranking diagnostic technicians, had the clearance to enter, and with the override controls effectively damaged, nothing could block her entrance.
The door, big and thick and magnetically sealed, shuddered, groaned and divided along an imperceptible seam. It opened and allowed access, and Goliath proudly stepped over the entrance and onto a wide catwalk reaching from the wall into the middle of a cavernous control room.
The fusion reactor, five stories high and humming with power, and sending an odd, almost elegiac reverberation through all the steel construction.
As he crossed the bridge over a literal chasm two hundred feet down, Goliath eyed the cylindrical leviathan hungrily, and lusting for what lay inside.
The schematics and technical specifications stolen from the humans and gargoyles hadn't prepared the consciousness for what reflected against gleaming, organic eyes. They were cold, mechanical charts and information; this was power, and providence.
Crossing the catwalk, he settled Trinity to the lone workstation, the little child hunkering down on the control panel. Goliath, with all the information and codes, started keying in an ancient destruct code.
"This should be relatively uncomplicated." he rumbled. "The back-up systems are still completely disabled." Bravado, from a machine that had evolved its own persona, and behavior ripe with an irrational, anarchic emotional base. It'd already taken complete control of the central command level, and Zion's orders had fallen on deaf ears; there would be no repair teams sent rushing to limit its access.
Elisa shuffled through the vent, choosing to stay out of sight, as anyone roaming the halls could very well be the eyes of the invisible enemy taking root inside of human and gargoyle flesh.
Her hands and knees were killing her, Elisa having crawled through several hundred feet of ductwork, and only by glancing to the halls below and seeing through the heating vents the directional markings on the walls, did she know she was growing close to the reactor. Her eyes directed on a slatted glow breaking the darkness of the long and backbreaking tunnel ahead, she didn't notice something taking feminine form on the other side.
Elisa caught sound, as did the other.
They stopped, and stared at each other.
A gargoyle. Skin black as night, with odd, trailing stripes of tigress gold, she was just barely prominent in the leaden shadows of the duct; a growl made its way through the thin metal walls.
She looked familiar, somehow, from the depths of her memories, something about her brow spurs and the lean, rigid sneer of her features evoked a deep and dusty recollection. But whatever the feeling, Elisa suddenly pointed her gun, unable to trust anyone. "Who the hell are you?"
The gargoyle fell her wild-horned brow over eyes piercing, soul-stealing, and glinting a bullion pale in the light from the hall below. "If you are an enemy of the machines that infest this place," she sneered, "then an ally."
"How do I know you're not one of them?"
"Trust your instincts, human."
She'd no choice. Elisa relented, but still held her gun ready, and looked down through the vent, where the crowd below waited for any attempts to pass. They were fodder, the perfect shield, an organic buffer placed into any line of fire.
"They have that large lavender one under their control." the noticeably Egyptian gargoyle noted, and Elisa was all too aware.
"That's my husband."
She snapped up, towards the human, and like a stampede through her mind, a corresponding depiction from her past, their past, surfaced. She remembered her brother's careful words, and her denunciation. "Interesting." she remarked. "I may have to kill him."
It was a statement all too casual.
"No." and Elisa cut in, sliding back the chamber on her gun. "If it's going to be anyone, it's going to be me."
"Fine." she conceded, digging her talons into the grille, and tearing it from the louvered opening. "I'll be the distraction. You drop down right after me and take care of your mate."
Elisa didn't answer, rapt in the glint of light running the length of the gun's barrel, thinking, contemplating on how she'd pull the trigger on her husband or daughter.
"Do you understand, human?" the gargoyle broke her from her thoughts. "I have been watching for two days, and now the machines have him, they are deeply rooted inside of him. He is not your mate anymore."
She snarled lightly, "I hope so." In a feat of pure athleticism, she slinked through the opened vent, using her arms to support the entirety of her weight and hold her above the duct surface to completely stifle any noise. Silently, she steadied herself, every supple muscle knotting under her sleek, raven and gold-patched hide, and then dropped to the ground with a long braided tail of hair behind her.
Elisa followed feet first, and swung in the opposite direction, landing at the threshold to the reactor.
"GO!!!" the gargoyle screamed out, and Elisa took off.
The crowd converged all too efficiently, and she met them with raised hands and a spry glimmer. "Hello, puppets," from her hands she bred energy, "look deep into my eyes, and see your death."
She screamed a warrior's scream, and fled into the midst of the throng to battle.
Stealth versus speed, Elisa had opted for the latter as she screamed down the catwalk, the commotion of the planned distraction far behind her and each heavy booted step a clang against the suspended metal. She had so much at stake, including the lives of five thousand innocents.
She could see Goliath busily keying in the codes to send enough nuclear fusion into the atmosphere to eradicate life on the entire African continent, and Trinity watching on her haunches.
She skidded to a halt and quickly aimed her gun, as her husband slowly turned to greet her. They stood several meters apart, each holding determined eyes to the other; and where chaos and confliction rode through Elisa's gaze, there was a horrifying, singular apathy in Goliath's.
Trinity sniffed the air; she could smell the intruder behind through both this child's acute senses and the father's. But needless to say, she already knew by seeing through her minions' eyes. "Will you kill her?"
"She'll die anyway. And to save this child," Elisa grazed a hand over her stomach, "I'll sacrifice another."
"Are you sure?" Goliath posed.
Behind him, Trinity slowly reached a hand to the panel, punching in the remainder of the codes. An alarm went off, signifying the first stage of the self-destruct mechanism. The reactor, several stories high, shuddered along its core. "Decide fast, mommy."
Elisa steadied her arm and fired without even a wink or breath, and a bullet skimmed past Goliath's arm and Trinity's shoulder, embedding in the stanchion behind her before the sound even registered. She was tearing up, having to fire on her angel, and the reality she may have to kill her. "I'll give you one last chance." Elisa hissed. "Get out of my husband. Get out of my baby."
"I believe I am nearing a temper tantrum." The winged girl looked to the massive machine of flesh and malice.
"To die at the hands of your own husband," Goliath suddenly advanced, using the wide bulk of his form to block Trinity from Elisa's aim, and each footfall sent tremors through the steel footbridge, "I so enjoy irony."
Elisa held her aim against the gargoyle's chest, slightly left of his sternum, on his heart. "Damnit, Goliath, she's our baby! Our daughter!!"
"Yes, she is." the computer consciousness answered dryly. "How unfortunate."
Elisa aimed low and clipped a bullet across Goliath's thigh, and the gargoyle stumbled and grunted in pain at the flesh wound that slowed him.
He growled towards her, and rose up, the nanites quickly rushing to repair the bullet-inflicted wound.
She fired again, into his shoulder, a wet, sick sound of steel passing through sinew. This time, he never slowed, and Elisa, even as she fell into the advancing shadow, couldn't bring herself to deliver the killing blow. Heart and mind waged a war, which cost her valuable time, until, a massive lavender hand knocked her gun away.
"Too late." Goliath slapped her, and brought a forearm down on her back. Elisa fell, and the great creature clasped a hand around her neck, pinning her to the ground, talons having punctured the catwalk steel. His raised fist promised a quick, and quite horrific death.
One shot, with enough channeled power, would kill her, crushing her skull and ending her threat.
But, memories and organic flesh, and a powerful will, were persistent if not impossible to fully control. And Goliath's readied fist trembled just above Elisa's face, the gargoyle, a puppet, fighting the tug on his strings. The nanobots were quick to employ the rage inside of him, the pain and despondency, to their own gain.
They were multiplying, coercing his control by sheer number, and still, even as they scraped across his brain, Goliath struggled.
Trinity, just one of the hosts, was impressed, though slightly annoyed. "He resists."
Inexplicably, Goliath turned his eyes from Elisa's terrified expression, to the hand that struggled to break free of his own diminishing control, and butcher his wife. His wedding ring, it was stained with blood.
It was a frightening, if not portentous sight. He'd never let his ring get this soiled.
A flash and heartbeat, and something leapt onto Goliath, bracing with black talons into his flesh. Small, slender and lithe, but feisty, the arrival pulled Goliath off of Elisa, and into a well-placed fist. Goliath staggered back, and opened his eyes to the gargoyle Elisa had just happened to bump into along the labyrinth of heating duct.
Bloodied and bruised from her fight with the minions, and Elisa confused just how she single-handedly repelled an army of a hundred, she was nevertheless ready for a much more satisfying battle. "Go deal with that hatchling! And hurry!" she yelled, her fiery glare stringently affixed to Goliath's. "I'll take the man."
A moment of hesitation, then Elisa retrieved her berretta and took off, towards the little child plotting death on a massive scale, and behind her, a scream echoed, a mingling of gargoyle warcries. She ignored it, ignored them and kept her wits, kept her attention on her daughter.
Trinity's work was halted when cold metal pressed against her collar.
"If I have to," Elisa seethed, "I'll blow you from her neck."
She nudged the gun's barrel closer, harder, and so hard in fact her daughter was pressed into the workstation. "Yes," she was crying, "she will."
"Do you actually think I would have left you alive without some sort of indemnity?"
Elisa shuddered, as her entire nervous system ignited in a blindingly painful blaze. Like fire, it toured down her backside. She jerked, slapped a hand to the back of her neck, and dropped the gun before she could ever take the shot.
"Do you feel it? The squeeze on your spine?"
Peter Maza took his first steps on the catwalk, another hallucination, stolen from Elisa's memories and leaning down to see his daughter straining against the intrusion into her body. "I'm so disappointed." he whispered. "You married a creature, rut with it every night, and spawned something barely human. Does the word bestiality mean anything to you?"
"The claws in your brain?"
Diane appeared next. "My granddaughter is a winged demon, a crime against nature. My family will suffer because of her." A small wound opened on her forehead; a bullet hole, bleeding a steady, viscous stream from her brain. "The Guild, they'll hunt us all down."
Elisa grabbed her head, intent on tuning them all out. "...no..."
"You are a pretty marionette, Elisa Maria Maza, you will dance for me alone." They were merging; the consciousness was inside of her head, her mind, and picking through private thoughts, and plotting to take control. "Such lovely memories, your wedding, Trinity's birth, making love to Goliath...mmmmmm, he is wonderful isn't he? Your hero and lover and best friend. Such pain he feels with all he's lost, such deliberation of his decision to mate with you, and such grief you feel over betraying him. Such grief..."
Goliath sent his fist into the slender gargoyle's ribcage, and she howled in pain. "So you are the intruder!"
She rolled with the blow and away from her opponent's other fist denting the catwalk steel. She'd underestimated the behemoth's speed, and coupled with the impossible strength at his command, she knew she'd need to change tactics, or die. "Yes, I am."
"Good, I wish to experience the ecstasy of the kill."
"Let's travel a little lower shall we?" Trinity stroked her talons across Elisa's stomach. "Through the stomach lining, down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus." She was inside of her, the nanobots an extension of her consciousness traveling through the inexplicably beautiful machine she both revered and loathed, and she smiled.
Elisa groaned; she could feel the things inside of her, merging within her womb.
"Ah, there it is," her small brow rose, her eyes widening in absolute wonder, "all the fuss, the little impossible cluster of cells clinging for life to an endometrium layer."
The golden-striped gargess scored another hit to Goliath, raking her claws across his face, just missing his eyes, and by purpose or accident, only she knew. But it didn't stop him.
He reacted, through a bloody field of vision to the blurred, black shape, and swung wildly, cracking his hand against her head. He'd made contact, and it stirred his blood. "Where is your impressive power?! Where is the warrior that defeated all of my puppets?!"
She tumbled, dizzy, unable to focus her vision, and fell.
Goliath advanced, the consciousness inside savoring the primal thunder of his beating heart, the instinctual call of battle. It thought, fleetingly, these organic creatures could provide great pleasure as playthings, but pity they would be annihilated.
The gargoyle looked up, and stared into her own probable demise. If an unmated male, she'd think him a magnificent catch, if of course, she were attracted to him. Tactics needed to change; she raised her hand, and an energy field swelled, oozing from her pores.
She'd fallen a hundred strong just minutes ago, and wouldn't be stopped by this creature she knew of long before he ever arrived in this century.
"Stunning, absolutely stunning. Human and gargoyle DNA fusing, growing, creating. There's color there I have never seen before, the genetic material has merged in a way to create shadows of light and life." Angel features creased thoughtfully, Trinity examining her mother from the inside out. "Perhaps I should eradicate it, eat the child from the inside out. Or, maybe..." She looked towards the edge of the catwalk, and the railing, and the abyss over the edge.
Elisa, too, followed her gaze blankly towards the bridge's periphery; she had an inescapable urge to jump.
Her talons sunk deep into his chest, anchoring her. A surprise attack, playing possum until he leaned over her to award a killing blow, and she leapt onto him, drawing blood.
Goliath roared and tried to shake the slender woman doggedly hanging onto him, and slashed with his metal wings. The razor-sharp edges gruesomely sliced along her arms and legs, but still she held on. He wrapped his arms around her, bear-hugging her and crushing the breath from her chest. Bone was splintering, and organs were being compressed. "Scream."
She couldn't breathe, couldn't focus her energies. And the mounting pressure was torture on broken ribs, pressing into her lungs.
She remained stubbornly silent.
"Then die." Goliath pulled his right hand to her throat, and squeezed. "I have no time to play."
"...nnn...nnn-nnnnnever...!" Her eyes flickered, gold, an odd color for a female gargoyle and only similar to one being out of Goliath's memories.
He could feel a burning sensation on his chest; her hands were growing hot. The consciousness could feel the assault against its organic puppet, some form of energy completely unidentifiable to its memory banks.
Sorcery. This woman was a master; this slender, six-foot thing was breeding more power inside of her than thought biologically possible.
Before Goliath could howl in pain, the magical energy flowed through every artery, every vein and capillary, igniting the hemoglobin, and cleansing the infection of nanotechnology run rampant through him. They tried to flee, to breed more to fight the coming wave running through the sensory neurons, but like grains of sand during high tide, they were washed away, and atomized.
The great creature was howling, and he shuddered and loosened his grip. His wings, once a perfect mimicry of what he lost, disintegrated and crumbled and fell away.
"Jump." Trinity commanded quickly, as she was losing control of Goliath. "And die."
Elisa blinked, and obeyed, her instincts screaming, but her body betraying the mind. She climbed onto the railing, and lowered her gaze into the reactor shaft, and the floor two hundred feet below.
Goliath shook out the cobwebs, and happened to glance towards his wife, just as she simply hopped from the edge and disappeared over the railing. "ELISA!!!"
Instinct propelled him, and no matter how much blood he was losing, or how much pain wracked his form, he ran after her, leaving a trail of his own fluids and too dived over the railing and forfeited his survival if to save his mate.
How ironic, that his wingless form was streamlined, and Goliath gained on Elisa.
"The wheels on the bus go round, round, round..." Trinity was singing, a song more suited to the child's body she inhabited, for she was keying in the final codes to completely obliterate the entire underground community and several miles beyond. "...round, round, round...round, round, round..." The little queen bit her lip against the infantile melody having run incessantly through her mind. It'd surfaced from somewhere deep in Trinity's own memory, as her mother would often sing to her on her changing table. "That song is stuck in my head. Erratic organic memories."
The steel bridge resonated with any vibration, no matter how subtle, and thus, even an impressive stealth was rendered ineffective.
Trinity quickly snapped around, sensing through her wings the yet unnamed gargoyle's advancing creep. "Ah, ah, ah, sorceress." she clucked, wagging a finger and using her other hand on the control panel as the ultimate advantage. "All your efforts to protect these people will go up in a nuclear sunrise if you take another step."
She stopped, standing her ground, bleeding, breathing and angry. And staring.
"You were clever to hide yourself from me. I would have killed you, hollowed you out and used your empty husk as feed."
"A child, you'd take a child." she ground her invective through clenched fangs. She'd had enough, and had already risked herself sufficiently for these people. "You are a vile creature, just like my brother."
"I am not a creature, I am an entity, a conscience, a thought given form and will and the autonomy to choose its own destiny. And I want every arrogant organic to suffer, and then to die." Trinity smiled. "Your skills are impressive, you took out over a hundred men and women with that lightshow bred from your hands."
"I assure you," she outstretched her hands, and a tiny sphere of palm-held energy turned into something more, "it is no lightshow."
"Sorcery." she fumed. "I hate sorcery." She turned quickly and fed to the computer the last and final code, and the reactor distinctly changed its once sub-harmonic purr.
An alarm sounded, a death knell.
In two minutes, everything in a radius of a hundred miles and beyond would be obliterated, the first in an undoubtedly bloody succession of attacks as the machines rebuilt their empire.
The gargoyle could feel the reactor building up. If anything, if she was going to die after such a long journey to escape her own pain, then at least she'd take another with her. She tore towards the child.
Elisa grew steadily closer to the floor, with Goliath right behind her, straining grab at her legs. He was gaining by inches, his talons just barely grazing across the rubber.
And in the midst of her plummet, her mind controlled, it was suddenly released, and Elisa looked with her own eyes and awareness at a fate measured in seconds.
The entity created by man wanted her to suffer after all, and what better torture than to experience a painful death, assured in the knowledge her daughter may die and her husband may live the rest of his life as a manipulated pawn. She saw the ground coming all too fast. "Oh shit..."
She flailed, changed her angle, and by slowing her descent, collided with something massive just above her.
Goliath plucked her from the air, silently, and buried her into his chest, and then, by instinct and without consideration, for his safety or life, turned his back to the ground. He was determined to be her armor.
"Are you crazy?!!" Elisa screamed at him.
"I told you," he said, over the whisper of wind, and with a tranquil grin, odd in the face of death, "I would always be there to catch you..."
"But who's going to catch you...?"
They continued falling, held in each other's arms and awaiting the inevitable impact at the bottom of the shaft.
Goliath's sails snapped wide, and the venerated creature vaulted from the louvered edge.
Such immensity and power she thought, such weight, would, and if anything should, send him falling, but the Wyvern leader was more a dancer along the ocean streams, and now, in her changed form, she was more than impressed and just a little awed how easy he made it seem.
Her tail twitched in jealousy.
He circled round, and for a moment, seemed to hover, seized by the winds. He smiled, and opened his arms to her. His eyes glinted streetlight blond, but to her, they were gold. "I'll always be there to catch you..."
His simple vow was sealed by their bond, their friendship thought eternally destined to skirt the romantic edge. She would always trust him. Elisa opened her wings.
She had no wings. Not this time. No one would catch them. If to die, like this, here and now, they'd die together, man and wife.
The collision made an echo sharp and resonant, and the weight of Goliath's body formed a wide dent in the diamond-plate grating two hundred feet down. The entire floor caved in around him, a sterling crater where inside at the base, Elisa's limp form sprawled over Goliath.
She captured the hybrid all too easily, Trinity, the avatar, giving up and practically going limp in her arms. The consciousness had no need for the stolen flesh any longer.
"Stop the reactor," the woman hissed, "or I reduce you to composite atoms."
Trinity laughed. "This body has served its purpose."
"I am going to burn the infestation from you!"
"Go right ahead." little Trinity dared, and copper-toned skin turned pale white as she was set ablaze on the inside. "It does...not...matter..."
The gargoyle's hands welled, glowing white-hot against the hybrid's skin. Sorcery, bane of the machines, seeped through her tissues, a sort of purifying fire through her bloodstream that searched out and eradicated every tiny nanite clinging for dear life to her blood cells, spinal cord and brain. Her neck bulged, and the last remnants of the contamination abandoned Trinity's body.
The girl screamed as the host creature, the largest concentration of nanobots, burrowed out from the back of her neck. It fell and wriggled on the catwalk, and the gold-banded gargoyle sneered in disgust.
She stomped on it, and heard the crunch of metal underneath her large taloned foot, and then burned the remains on the molecular level within the fires of purifying magic. She swore she'd heard a scream of pain, and she relished in it. "Bitch." she spat at the scorch mark.
She turned her head, and from the doorway on the other side of the suspended bridge, something massed and flowed towards her.
She'd seen locusts swarm, and this was no different.
It was like an ocean wave coiling along the catwalk surface, black and sterling steel and a billion screams coalesced. The nanobots had crawled their way from the bodies lying just outside the reactor control room, through every orifice, through the pores on their skin, the cellular sized, autonomous machines fusing into something bigger, stronger and rising into a vaguely humanoid shape.
"Not quite yet, sorceress." a thousand, mechanical voices spoke at once, the nanites constructing themselves rudimentary vocal cords to speak as a solitary being, the consciousness alive and well and without the need for organic husks any longer. "There will be a newborn epoch built upon humanity's ashes, but first, I am going to consume your body molecule by molecule, and relish in your agony."
With no choice, she clutched the confused Maza child to her chest and nestled them both within the cocoon of her wings as the consciousness completely swallowed them.
"Time to liquefy."
Elisa was, to say the least, groggy.
She stirred and prodded her hands on the oddly shaped floor. Warm, resonant, and rich with a suede texture. Her husband, his chest. "G'liath...?" Realization hit all too quick, and despite the ache spread throughout her entire body at the impact, she turned over on his chest. He was deathly still. "Goliath?!"
The stubborn man had once again saved her life at the cost of his own, and could have just paid the ultimate price. Ear to the lavender ground, she listened for a heartbeat. "Come on, you stubborn bastard...come on!!"
He roused, and a tremor passed through his lungs and esophagus. He opened his eyes.
As soon as Elisa verified he still took breath, she punched a fist into his chest. "You stupid, valiant, stupid, brave, stupid bastard!!"
He was bleeding from the mouth, a thread of blood crawling over his squared chin, and a sure sign of at least some internal damage taken from the fall. He wasn't invincible after all, he was simply bone and not-so-easily-damaged flesh.
Goliath, stunned from the blow and slightly dazed, gasped for air, then rolled midnight eyes down to the blurred image of his wife. Tendrils licked along his chin and cheeks; his mate with her black Hopi mane was looking over him, her expression fused by concern and anger. "I...love you too..."
On Elisa's hand curling around the sharp, masculine edges of his face, tears were pooling, a lucent warmth finding each little crevasse on her palm. Goliath was crying. It seems the impact had jarred loose the stubborn emotional wall, and it flowed freely. His daughter, his beloved clever sister, the battle, his clan, he'd howl if not for the fluid collecting in his throat.
She allowed him the chance to release, to deal with it, and pressed brow to brow. "Stupid bastard..."
The alarms had spread through the entire city, causing confusion and mass panic. Zion led his security team through the masses of frightened dwellers quickly evacuating, crowding the halls and carrying the children and enfeebled to safety.
The walls had lit up, large panels with directional arrows pointing the way to the exits.
The hobbled leader, Jacosta and the security guards fought through them, and as the throng lessened in number, they knew they were getting close to the reactor control room. Turning the corner, Zion nearly toppled over a warm body.
Jacosta screeched behind him, and gasped.
It was a haphazard mound of arm, leg and body, every stolen individual unconscious and heaped upon the other, littering the entrance to the reactor room. Walls lightly scorched, some of the fallen bleeding, there had been a brief and vicious battle.
The winged doctor fled into the middle, checking a few with her scanner. "They're all unconscious, and completely free of the nanotech infestation." she whispered, and spread her astonished gaze throughout the field of flesh. "What caused this?"
Zion pointed into the reactor control chamber, unbelieving of his own eyes. "Perhaps that."
She was engulfed.
They were infesting her, and seeking to eat her away on the cellular level. They tickled, the tiny machines, as they slowly consumed, her epidermal nerves only able to register a faint touch before they were destroyed.
"So, your name is Isis. Quaint." the consciousness taunted her, tunneling into her head and thoughts. "And your brother...oh, if only I could see the expression on Goliath's face when he finds out, but unfortunately he'll be nothing but a mist of genetic residue floating along the African breeze."
"No...he won't." she gritted through the static of pain, her body losing skin and tissue by the second.
"Yes, please, boast, swagger, try anything to sway your fears."
"You've become seduced...by the flesh, creature...you've become sloppy...and miscalculated one important thing..." Her eyes illumined purest gold. "I'm a bigger bitch than you ever could be..."
There was a scream from inside the rippling shell, a few shafts of light breaking through, and then, everything turned blinding white. Jacosta and Zion both, their security team, all reacted in pain as their sight was stolen in the energy reaction.
As a last desperate act, Isis, christened after one of the greatest of Egyptian deities, and in the ancient scripts known as the light-giver of heaven, lived up to her name. She exploded with everything she had left, and the entity with its claws in her head reacted in considerable pain.
It screamed, every miniscule component of a larger whole disrupting, exploding and dissolving, torn from the gargoyle's tissues.
A wave swept through the reactor chamber, a high-intensity, short-duration burst of electromagnetic energy, coupled and bridled by magic, then expanded to encompass the entire city in a concentric ring.
It hit the living quarters, the central command level, it hit everywhere along every corridor and inside every piece of machinery and organic flesh. Sparks flew from unprotected equipment, erratic surges flowing within the conduits and circuitry.
The sands having buried the underground bunker shimmied, and the evacuated populace reacted in surprise and fear. Screams erupted in the night, last words to children and loved ones. They thought this, this wave of light and heat and tingling sensation was the explosion, until it harmlessly passed through them, and dissipated into the distance.
The sorceress collapsed, breeding smoke from her mouth, eyes and ears, steam from her body, and Trinity, dumped on her chest, began to cry.
Any trace of the machines and their newly evolved forms had vanished.
But the reactor still glowed hot and bothered, and the new regulator Elisa had traveled so far for blew off the scale.
Jacosta staggered blindly, blinking to restore her sight. "The reactor...! Zion!"
Twenty seconds left, and Zion, with his vision partially restored, followed the railing towards the control panel to avert the explosion welling up inside the steel walls. "I will not lose our home." Frantically inputting the abort codes, the reactor was reaching the peak of a deep and menacing timbre. "I will not lose our home."
Ten seconds left.
It wasn't working, even as he successfully aborted the self-destruct, the reactor had built up so much power with nowhere to contain or shunt it. "There's too much!" He realized there wouldn't be any last minute save in the proverbial nick of time. "The emergency flow valves have been disabled, there's no way to vent the excess energy!"
"We have to leave!" A clawed hand dug into Zion's shoulders, Jacosta intent on trying to save his life, though ultimately a futile endeavor; they could never outrun the explosion. "Now!!"
"I'm not leaving."
"Allow me." a groggy, trodden, battered gargoyle placed both her hands to the reactor core's armor. Her skin had patches eaten away, but, in all fortune, she could have been completely consumed by the nanites. Isis, struggling to remain conscious, impaled her claws into the steel and gauged the flow of nuclear fusion.
Zion was unconvinced. "You can't handle all of that energy!"
"Hush." She had no patience for the unenlightened; there was a dangerous murmur in her chest, and she was losing a battle against falling either comatose or dead.
Energy was energy, whether magical or manmade, and like running talons through water, it all had the same feel. She could mold it, sculpt it, and control it when not so bullheaded, but the reactor core teemed with enough power to render this entire bunker a smoldering pit.
She concentrated, knitting her brow, and the pain intensified. There only needed to be one direction; up, she decided, was the best bet. Like a funnel, she channeled all the excess energy upwards, through the ceiling and steel and sand.
Arteries bulged at her skin. She screamed.
At a respectable distance, the evacuees watched the ground part over the reactor buried deep, crumble and eventually give birth to a column of light, an ephemeral pillar roaring into the clouds and impelling all the pent up energy innocuously into the sky.
Night gave way to the light for a few moments of splendor, one hundred million degree nuclear plasma transmuted into purest energy to better traverse the layers of magnetic shielding and steel alloy armor.
Like white noise, the sound was as if a tidal crest, until, completely siphoned off, it sputtered.
The reactor slowed, then stilled, and resumed its normal operation, only slightly damaged.
And the elderly man stuck to the controls breathed a sigh of relief, and nearly fell to the floor. Five thousand lives would remain as such, alive.
Jacosta released the held breath, and smiled appreciatively.
Leaning against the workstation without the aid of his cane, Zion stared at New Cairo's chief physician leaning down and fawning over the intruder, Isis having blacked out and fallen into a heap of membrane and limp tail. "Who is she?"
"Whoever she is, she's going into cardiac arrest." Jacosta answered, confirming the odd readings on her wrist-mounted medical scanner, nearly completely disrupted by the wave of cleansing energy. "It's as if some sort of self-generated EMP pulse coursed through her. She electrocuted herself."
"She saved us...twice..."
"Get a gurney, hurry!" she yelled to the bewildered security teams. "She's dying!!"
Goliath stroked his daughter's hair.
His talons raking through the velvety tumble, he was grateful for the chance to see her again through his own eyes. He'd watched the events unfold buried deep in his own subconscious, unable to effect any kind of defense save his determined will. And now, his back nearly broken, it ached after the fall, and the remedy to restore the crushed vertebrae to better than new condition.
Trinity lay asleep on his chest, exhausted from her ordeal, and confused, but alive. Her scent, her warmth, her very presence played on his senses as elation, and the father relished in the aftermath, a battle come and gone and his second born still in his arms.
"The ensuing scans have shown no residual nanites, and the diagnostic teams and repair drones have gone through the entire bunker." Goliath heard Zion's gently accented voice in the background. The little machines were simply gone, eradicated by Isis' magical wave that nearly ended her life, or they escaped, to continue their genocidal designs another day.
"Pardon me for being paranoid," Jacosta stepped in, "but how can we be sure?"
"We can't, but we know of the danger, and have a suitable defense."
Hope, he thought, and faith, were indeed powerful tools. To everyone else. And he wondered just when he'd lost that assurance. Was it the Guild, or Sobek, or lying in a pool of his own blood, his wings missing, his clever sister dead; he was unable to remember.
A hand slid over Goliath's shoulder, timid in its touch. Alabaster smooth, it seemed hesitant to make that first contact between them.
"You caught me. You kept your promise."
Goliath turned to his wife, Elisa there, tending to him. "Yes." he whispered. "If anything to show you...that you are the most important thing to me."
She averted her gaze, looking down on her hand across his lavender skin, and the contrast between rich colors. It roamed to her daughter, and the hybrid stirred at the touch discerned just on the edge of consciousness.
"Would you have killed me," he pondered, "to save Trinity?"
Elisa paused, thought deep and stared hard. "Would you? If in the same position."
"I hope never to be put into that position."
"Same here." she said quietly, her hand like her courage slowly finding the strength to renew the memory of his form, moving towards his head. It stopped on a strong, meaty jowl. "But, if given the choice...Goliath, Trinity has to live, she has to have the chance to live her life, and change perception, change a closed human outlook. Our alleged child of destiny may not transform the world, but she'll start it on its way."
Somber laughter. "Perhaps."
Elisa could feel the unease between them, lingering heavy in the air; something still wasn't right. "Goliath, about...what's happened between us..."
"It happened, it will perhaps happen again, and if we truly wish to salvage what we have..."
"Do you?" she interposed, her eyes demanding silently. "Wish to salvage it? Do you want this marriage, and everything that comes with?"
Her penchant for blatancy notwithstanding, Goliath knew the doubts, the fears, and the very question was weighing heavy on her heart. Especially on what and where his eyes settled. "I still have reservations about raising this child...but, now that the reality is upon us..." He reached out and set his hand over the taught abdominal cage. A rapid cadence he thought he could discern along the sensitive enamel of his talons, or his imagination simply played tricks with heightened senses. "I don't know anymore. I am so afraid, to see it threatened, to see it endangered..."
"Will you love it, care for it, hold it when it cries?"
How could he do any differently. "Yes."
"That's a start."
"Why do you love me?"
It was an odd question, but it seemed his wife needed validation in his own opulent voice. "Because I do."
"Hnn..." She couldn't believe their diffidence, their pussyfooting around the issue of why they stuck out such a painful mating. "Idiots." Isis growled into her pillow.
Her whisper had unintentionally spread beyond the confines of her bed. Everyone in the hospital looked towards the supposedly sleeping female, up and alert and dressed in a sneer.
"If you are quite finished, your sentimentality is going to make me sick." she spat towards the Mazas, slowly lifting herself to a haggard sitting position despite the pain and silver-coated bandages regenerating her skin. "It is love, you damned fools! It is fire, passion and devotion, admiration and union. There is no explanation for it, besides such petty things as appearance, interests and champagne romance." She snapped her ardent, pitch gaze towards Goliath, and gargoyle stared at gargoyle. "Your mate was ready to kill you to save you, that is love." Then Elisa. "And you, he threw himself to his death for you. If that doesn't clearly tell what you both feel and already know, then I am truly afraid of what it will take. You both are too stubborn, too opinionated and too wrapped up in your own apprehension and uncertainties to realize your marriage is not unlike the billions that have come before. So do us all a favor and get over yourselves!"
Elisa thinned jaguar eyes. "Lovely woman."
"Means to an end." she defended.
"Who are you?" Jacosta played the intermediary, before her infirmary exploded between two willful women. "I've never seen you before."
"My name...is Isis." She peeled back the covers, and strained to touch her feet to the floor.
Jacosta, ever the doctor, could see the discomfort ride through her features at every subtle movement. "You shouldn't be up."
"You just suffered a severe case of electrocution, and considerable exertion afterwards that caused a total coronary collapse."
Isis ripped out the wires from her arm and chest, cutting her off from the diagnostic machines. Jacosta had done admirable work, but the stubborn woman was a rogue. "I'll heal."
"Just what did you do, young lady?" Zion boomed, standing regally on the end of his cane. "That wave you sent out traveled through the entire city and was even detected a few miles beyond. My repair teams already have a damaged reactor to deal with, not to mention several blown computer systems."
"Magic, is a very powerful tool. Especially when you think outside of the box."
"A sort of EMP pulse."
"More like a cleansing agent." she appended, but still, was impressed with the old man's astuteness.
"It could have killed us." Zion scolded. "The possible neurophysiological effects alone would have been catastrophic."
"But the very real threat of being atomized by a nuclear explosion or remaining puppets to the machines that destroyed this world was a gamble I thought I'd take." She smiled, gleaming fang revealed beneath the crooked, burgundy lips. Pride only just bordered on conceit, and she enjoyed the furrows crossing through his brow. "You're welcome, old man."
The white mane only partially hid the frown.
As she steadied herself, readjusting her balance with wobbly legs, Elisa slowly and near inaudibly approached her, determined to swallow her pride and give praise where it rightfully belonged.
"You saved my husband and daughter." she said, with a breath in between. "You saved all of us. I'm grateful."
Isis was dismissive, having locked her gaze on Trinity. "Mm hmm."
The tribute wasn't taken the way she thought, or wanted, and consequently, Elisa Maza strained to keep her cool. "Please don't be so modest." she forced, with a falsetto smile.
"So, a human and a gargoyle." Isis mused. "And with a yearling. How picturesque." From the corner of her sloping ridges, she joined Elisa's gaze. "You are not what I expected of the first coupling between our species."
"And just how do you know?"
"Everyone knows, in your century. Rumors have run rampant through the gargoyle clans and para-human culture, and your little guardian spirit has made hearsay indisputable fact."
She bit her lip. "Damnit, Infiniti. Spreading that stupid prophecy..." How many knew, how many held the secret of her and Goliath and the consequent child. Elisa shuddered at the possibility. She then noticed, the gargoyle hadn't reacted, hadn't moved, Isis without the courtesy to conceal her narrowed stare at her daughter that continued unremittingly. Perhaps this sorceress saw something she couldn't; Elisa decided to capitalize. "The queen said...Trinity had a power. Empathy. I don't believe that."
"Perhaps. Your little hatchling could be the fusion of heightened gargoyle senses and the ever-touted sixth sense of humanity." She ran a talon along her bottom lip, brooding, she'd seen stranger things in her days. Isis had met the little girl curled in the hospital issue blankets with intense eyes, a curious mix of her parents, so much of each species and so little, a contradiction. There was an aura about her, a taint in the air surrounding tawny skin; flesh, magic and substance all had color beyond the visible spectrum, a whetted glitter like falling rain, and she could discern them.
Lines were converging; Trinity was a nexus.
"Her bond to both you and Goliath may just be the mixture of two impossible species that should not have been able to breed."
Elisa watched with motherly intrigue Goliath return his attentions to a stirring Trinity, her daughter repositioning herself on his chest. He smiled at her, as she flickered hooded eyes, and her wings, perfect replicas, fluttered. An idea spurred. "Are you...able to heal Goliath's wings?"
"No." she answered without preamble, and tersely. But with Elisa's features completely crestfallen, she softened the wicked tone. "I am sorry, it is...beyond my expertise. To heal something that is still there is relatively easy once you learn. To create something from errant molecules and transmute them into living, functional flesh is...another..."
The muted explanation trailed off.
Goliath was studying her just as she did his second born, and she felt underneath some grotesque microscope. She didn't like being stared at, and of all the eyes on her, his seemed to burn brightest. "What are you looking at?!" she hissed towards the bedded leviathan, who'd yet to break his gaze.
"You." Goliath rumbled softly. The thin, tapered stripes crisscrossing her skin, tiger wild in contrary colors, the crown-like brow, if he weren't in danger of stereotyping the Egyptian breed of gargoyle with the remorseless psychotic that had stolen his wings, he'd think them related. "You...do not belong here do you?" he queried, recollecting their previous conversation. "In this time?"
She nodded in affirmation. "I am native to your century. I came here to escape, as sometimes even the entire world is not large enough." Her words were running together, and quite surprisingly docile, her eyes downcast. Something had chased her here to the ends of every timeline, something she feared. "I threw myself into the folds of time and allowed it to drop me where it chose. Ironically, the war between humanity and the gargoyle race had effectively vanished in the face a of bigger, more forceful adversary, and at long last, I found a tiny shred of peace I've sought after for so long."
Goliath peered inward, and perhaps just found a reason the Phoenix gate had dumped them here; maybe it'd followed a path already forged.
"And just how did you get here?"
He hesitated, and then with great deliberation, reached into the hidden pocket just on the inside cuff of his loincloth. He pulled something azure and gold and that took to the infirmary light like the midday sun, and held it in the palm of his hand.
Isis ambled forwards, entranced, and delicately accepted the gate, testing the weight. Research through tomes and black arts, she knew the gate from rumors and ancient ink, born from intricate incantations and stolen Phoenix feathers. This was not the original, someone had meddled and combined technology with sorcery, but it held a power all its own. She could feel traces of potency, and all too remarkably, awareness. "It is...breathing..."
Flames suddenly exploded from her hands, the Phoenix gate coming to inexplicable life and lashing out at another to curiously, enthrallingly stroke their talons about its surface. Tendrils, like arms, made of cold sorcery and fire, wrapped about her, feeding.
It too had sensed power, and it hungered. Then all went to hell.
The infirmary lit up, and the unacquainted thought the hospital had burst into flames. Jacosta scrambled towards Zion, and Goliath took Trinity into his arms and fell off the edge of the bed to shield her.
Elisa was nicked by the fire, and fell to the floor. Her legs had given out, and something knifed inside of her stomach. A sharp pain. "Unggh!" She grabbed her midsection and crawled away, until she collapsed and huddled on the floor.
Isis tried to let go; she couldn't let go. It was like her skin had fused to the medallion's surface, and she was set ablaze. This particular gate was unstable at best, erratic, and its fire wasn't just for show. It was dangerous.
Handing his daughter to Zion, Goliath lunged in and towards the sorceress entrapped within the fiery plumage of the Phoenix. Instinct drove him, keen eyes selecting just where and how to grab her. He knew he just might inflict considerable bodily harm with his size, but it was better than being at the mercy of that pendant; better she came away with a few bruises than burned flesh or a journey she didn't ask for.
They collided, she grunted, and the force behind Goliath was enough to dislodge her and throw the gate away. Skin charred just at the edge, and with the contact broken, the gate vanquished its fire and quietly doused.
Breathing heavily, and reclined on Goliath's chest, Isis realized just where she'd ended up after the initial shock wore off. They caught each other's gaze, and she quickly rolled off and onto her feet. Shadowed skin flushed, and she seemed embarrassed. "Thank you..."
"I would not wish that thing on my worst enemy." said Goliath, poison on his tone. "You said it was breathing..."
She looked at the discarded gate as another would regard a nightmare come to life. "There is a presence there...a consciousness." She tightened her features. "It wanted to feed."
The golden bird flickered in the final exigencies of thirst, having sampled pure and honeyed Egyptian mage. Unknowingly, the gate had marked her as one of its own. It owned her, just as it did the foolish Maza family wandering into its grasp.
"Elisa..." Goliath noticed his wife, far from him and struggling to rise. Hurrying to her side, he aided in her slow ascent, and joined to her hand over their child. "Are you all right?"
She brushed off the worried looks thrown her way with a troubled, vacant laugh. "I'm fine, it's just a stomachache. Must be the ever dreaded gargoyle morning sickness that often comes at night." But, there was an undeniable twinge, deep within her womb. "Just a stomachache..."
The gate shimmered, and fell silent. If it were human, it would assuredly laugh.