All The Colors of Yesterday
by Elliot Bowers
Excerpt Song Lyrics: The Adversary
by Crime & The City Solution
_____The sun was an intense ball of nuclear heat that steadily burned the vast flatness of this desert wasteland. There seemed to be a lot of nothing out here, nothing but hard-scrabble flatness--lightly sanded and the rolling hills in the far-off distance. Above, the sky was infinitely deep and blue. Looking out on this wide view gave an idea of what eternity looked like.
_____Nothing out here? If one wandered long enough, a person could find traces of things out here. Every so often, one would find cracked stretches of highway, or a clustered group of brick walls that had once been buildings. The roads, the towns… They were long dead and even longer forgotten. Warfare, earthquakes, toxic pollution, all of that and more had obliterated the land centuries past. The land never quite healed.
_____But civilization had crept up from the wastes and went on. Civilization was machines and factories, concrete landscapes of buildings and asphalt cluttered with steel. And civilization was in the air: A person could always catch a random whiff of chemical smell of factories and machines at work. There were cities far away--machine cities--separated by these dry oceans of earth.
_____Out here on the edge of the factory-farm, the city was just so far away. Harrah and Kyrie sat with their backs resting on a massive chunk of engine-block--this side of the machine shadowed against the hot brightness overhead. They had a large canteen of a drink they'd concocted themselves: It was distilled water mixed with an extremely complex chemical that cooled a person's brain. It could also make a person a little tipsy, but that was okay. They called it cooling water, not bothering with a fancier name than that.
_____Sitting side by side, the girls were mirror reflections of each other, physical doubles. Both girls were of average height and vaguely athletic physiques, with long glossy dark hair--long enough to go down the length of their backs and reach the firm curves of their hips. Their faces were pretty in a dollish way, though a bit unsettling if you stared for too long. Broad, high cheeks and full lips beneath large dark eyes and cute noses.
_____Maybe it was how their faces were perhaps a bit too pale and smooth-skinned despite the burning sun always overhead. Or maybe it was how their large dark eyes seemed a bit too large and too dark--seeming to swallow light. There was also the fact that they were cyborgs.
_____From the neck down, their womanly bodies were made of well-fitted metal parts. The slim lengths of their arms and the lean womanly curves of their torsos were made of sectioned armor--the lengths of their legs just as well-crafted. Their bodies were designed to be as pleasing to the eye as being functional. It was only their hands that seemed decidedly non-feminine: somewhat large, extremely articulate metal hands and fingers good for using tools.
_____The twins had only been cyborgs for six years and still not quite used to it. To them, they still always felt as if they were wearing light and form-fitting armor. Looked that way, too. But the solid reality was that there was no flesh beneath the armor.
_____These electromechanical bodies didn't feel numb, though. Piezoelectric and temperature sensors embedded in the surface metal made for some sensation of touch and temperature--helped trick the brain into thinking one still had "flesh" beneath the metal surface--though there was nothing but metal and tubing and wiring inside. There was, though, the artificial flesh of the face: myogel musculature embedded with a higher density of piezoelectric and thermal sensors, covered over with flexible synthetic skin. Their faces were the most sensitive parts and felt the most "real."
_____Maybe if the twins tweaked the resistance settings of their electrical nervous systems some more, or if they wore different footwear. That could increase the sensitivity of their bodies and make them feel less physically numb. It was worth a try. Hmm…
_____Maybe later. Kyrie readjusted herself a little to find the right spot on the big chunk of machinery she and her sister were leaning against. Comfortable again, she reached down to get a sip of some of the cooling water in their big canteen.
_____Her words interrupted the peace. "Hey, Harrah? Do you remember why I ever built that big stupid war machine? The thing's been sitting in the hangar, like, forever." She turned her head to the right, looking at her twin. "Maybe I was going to use it for something?"
_____"Are you kidding me? Sis, if you don't remember, then I don't remember," responded Harrah. She parted her lips to accept the open mouth of the canteen being offered by Kyrie--took a few swallows. "Thanks. Well, you know how it is. I'm sorry…"
_____"Yeah… Just wondering," went Kyrie, closing up the big canteen and setting it down on this hard hot ground, her metal fingers stroking the sides of the container as she spoke. "There are still teeny tiny little things we don't remember together. I was hoping that was one of 'em."
_____Harrah paused a moment. "Guess we'll have to think about that one some more… Along with what we'll do when the farmers find out about what happened up in Zalem, It's gonna be a real mess if Mr. Lionel doesn't handle it right…. Aw, geez!" She was suddenly irritated. "Why didn't we ever make serious plans with him about that! About what happens when the truth hits this farm! The workers are gonna revolt! Food and stuff will get burned up and broken if they're pissed off enough! But if they don't burn and break up everything in the first few days, maybe they'll realize that keeping up food production and maintaining the irrigation works will keep everybody from starving to death."
_____"Or dying of thirst," finished Kyrie. "What about the city? I don't even want to think about how the city is getting by--if other farms already found out about Zalem. If there was trouble, then we'd see the fires and smoke from way out here. But it's kind of funny, you know? We haven't been hearing much from the city… Like they're already calmed down."
_____"I hope so. For everybody's sake," said Harrah, suddenly thinking about their weapons workshop--abandoned and hidden. In her previous life as a full-flesh human, when not tinkering with the intricacies of advanced agricultural machinery, her semi-secret hobby was to remake and modify guns and weapons. Technically, guns were illegal… But out here on this farm, far out in the desert, who cared? The only permanent representation of city law out here was a Netman--little more than a robot with a mutilated chunk of mutilated brain-matter at the core of its operating system. And with what happened to Zalem, the Netman had been silent for a long time.
_____Still, since becoming reborn into bodies of machinery, Harrah and Kyrie had locked away their small weapons workshop. The insanely destructive guns, the massive electronic-minded war machine, and other things were sealed up--hopefully forever. If the farmers were to revolt and find those machines of destruction, there would be such death and destruction--and more guilt than Harrah and Kyrie could bear. In fact, the guilt over creating such sinister devices was why they surrendered their humanity--among other things.
_____A half-hour later, with Kyrie carrying their canteen on a purse-like sling, the twins walked by the farm works on their way to Mr. Lionel's building. The farm fields were a deceptively green and golden garden of bounty out here. Three-fourths of this farm itself was set aside for irrigated crops of rice, maize and other foods--sated with water pumped up from deep underground and fed with fertilizer processed from desert grit. These mutant strains of food-plants grew to such height in the heat that one couldn't see over them--making for forests of stalks. The remaining one-fourth of the farm area was set aside for people needs, machinery and habitation: living quarters, water well pumps, power generation, machine repair, and living quarters….
_____"Hi girls!" said a coveralls-wearing farmer working the edge of a corn plot, his wiry self well-protected by the sun by his clothes and his wide-brimmed circular hat. He leaned on his hoe. "Just wait for this latest sweet corn to get up! Gonna be great!" He gave them a quick final smile before he went to hoeing.
_____"We hear you on that… Can't wait!" said one of the twins. "Well, we're off to talk to the supervisor now… See ya later!" They walked on, thinking about farmers and workers like Samuel. That enthusiastic friendliness could quickly turn to bitterness and hatred if there was an uprising. There was a group of security cyborgs around, maintained by technicians like Harrah and Kyrie. Yet that was just a token force. If all the farmers decided to go crazy, the small group of security cyborgs wouldn't be enough at all to restore order.
_____Thinking these not-so-happy thoughts, the twins soon came to the modern-looking three-story building that belonged to Mr. Lionel: the farm supervisor and owner. The long dark windows up on the second and third stories looked out on everything--the fields of food-crops and the desert even farther out. Those windows were made of glazed glass infused with photo-reactive chemical tinting: darkening when exposed to the full brightness of the day and somewhat more clear at night. Inside, it was cooler.
_____In the ground-floor lobby, a bulky male cyborg sat behind a desk, installed by a heavy door. There was a blue-colored sash across his chest--denoting him as high-ranking security. He had a long sheet of newsprint in his metal fingers. The newsprint was about cyborg gladiatorial battles in the city. As for the doorway right of the desk, it was to the stairwell up.
_____He looked up from his reading, saw the twins, then stood up. "Good afternoon, young ladies. You'll find Mr. Lionel in his office.." He lowered his voice. "He's a little worried, though. Just something you might want to keep in mind."
_____"Yeah, things have been worrying me a little, too," responded the twin on the left. "Guess I'll just go on up for a word or two," added the twin on the right. The security guard nodded and pressed a button set in the desk. There were heavy clicks as the electric locks clicked open.
_____They climbed the stairs at a moderate pace. As their footwear pattered on the steps, they had time to think about what they were going to say. Would they make suggestions about what to do when the farmers found out about the big change beyond the farm? About the death of the floating city? Maybe they would just play things by ear, depending on Mr. Lionel's mood. Soon enough, they were up on the second floor--on the level of Mr. Lionel's main office.
_____Mr. Lionel's office was on the second floor, beyond a double set of guarded doors that looked wooden--doors actually made of a synthetic substance stronger than wood, with lead and steel beneath. These doors were also opened by the guards.
_____The office itself was large and carpeted, comfortably lit with incandescent lighting. Dark red carpeting was comforting to the feet. Statues and busts of important--but almost forgotten--people were arranged near the walls to the left and right. Over there at the far end was one lonely desk, set in front of a wide and dark-tinted window that gave a muted view of the crop-fields--the desert far beyond this irrigated oasis. The Deckman, propped at the far right wall, was standing still. It was silent and not moving.
_____Mr. Lionel, the inhabitant of this office matched the décor. He was a thin, refined sort of gentleman dressed in a gray business suit and white buttoned shirt--looking out at that view. Dressed that way, the man look a lot a businessman of centuries ago, carefully dressed and groomed. His curly blonde hair was carefully cut and squared off. His left hand was in a pocket, and the fingers of his right hand twiddled with an old-style ink-pen.
_____The twins quickly made their way across the carpeting, their footsteps padded by the carpeting. Standing before the desk, they simultaneously greeted the supervisor, their voices almost perfectly blending in a duet… "Good afternoon, Mr. Lionel." They tried to avoid doing that, speaking at the same time and saying the same words, but it happened sometimes.
_____Without turning, Mr. Lionel returned the greeting. "Good afternoon, Harrah… Kyrie… Well, how are things? No problems with the utility works, I hope." He paused, twiddling the pen in his right hand. "You must know that it's not the machines I'm worried about, though. The truth can't be hidden away forever. Word from the outside is bound to leak in somehow, eventually. And the workers won't be pleased. When things begin to happen, I want you to take care of my son."
_____"Oh, no… I don't think anything's going to happen, Mr. Lionel," said Kyrie, looking sideways at her sister. It was a look that said, Go with me on this, sis. "Things have been fine so far. Besides, I haven't heard any trouble. And if there's no trouble on the ground, then there's no trouble to worry about."
_____"No troubles at all," agreed Harrah. "I don't know people as well as I know machinery, but take it from me. Everything's cool. Besides, you've got people to protect you. Nobody's out to cause trouble. And remember, the city's still working… They're getting by without Zalem's control."
_____Mr. Lionel gave a shrug. He returned his gaze to the outside beyond this tinted office window. In this conversational pause, his eyes happened to look down on someone at ground level out there. It was a man dressed in rag-tag clothing and metal shoulder-pads--the makeshift armor held together with thick dark plastic straps. The armor was dented in places, and his arms were tied behind his back. He was being rough-handled by some of the security cyborgs, probably to be taken to the food processing facility to be put to slave-work: a humane form of punishment for desert bandits. Another cursed bandit, he thought to himself. "The city will always exist, but the savages--the bandits--will always be at the gates," he said. "Let them in, and they will destroy what civilization has built. What we all try to keep running."
_____Stepping out of Mr. Lionel's building, the twins felt a little more downcast. Right now, they were going towards the irrigation station to make sure that the pumps were still in good working order. They had to keep the water flowing in this place. That, and if there were problems the ordinary technicians couldn't handle, they would be around to help out.
_____Hmm, how true were Mr. Lionel's words? He was always especially worried about bandits and instability--maybe worried too much. He wanted to keep things as they always were, even if Zalem wasn't what it was anymore...and probably never would be again.
_____They stepped off the sidewalk around Mr. Lionel's building and onto the hard-packed sandy dirt that covered the rest of the compound, keeping to the side to avoid the heavy trucks that carried farm supplies and equipment to and from places. This was their home for as long as they could remember, where they came into renewed existence as cyborgs. If they had to leave… Did Mr. Lionel know more about the situation than they did?
_____After another heavy truck rumbled by, they heard the distinct sharp sound of a slap. It was coming from the side of the security barracks, the building they had to pass by for getting to the irrigation station. Slap…! There it was again, another sharp sound of open metal hand on flesh. The sound was followed by a growled question. Looking once at each other, the twins made a sudden run for where the sounds of pain were coming from.
_____Running together, the two skidded around the corner to see the scene. One of the security personnel, a skinny cyborg with a bony face and reddish-orange sash, had his left metal hand raised--getting ready to slap the captured bandit again, and there was nothing the bandit could do. The bandit was tied down to a rusty metal chair…with barbed wire--the chair set close to a hot wall that reflected even hotter sunlight.
_____"Stop it," shouted the twins together. Just then, Harrah ran and jumped up to grab the security cyborg's raised arm while Kyrie jumped in front of the bandit to shield him from harm with her own body. The other cyborgs clenched their fists while their boss tried to shake off the grip on his wrist. A final jerk of his arm, and he dashed Harrah into the hard dirt.
_____Kyrie went to the aid of her sister, helped her to her feet. "You stupid jerk…!" screamed Harrah, her face angry. "You know what Mr. Lionel thinks about torturing prisoners! If you plan on eventually putting the prisoner to work in the processing plant, then do it. If you're going to kill him, then do that if you want. But don't make him suffer! It's wrong!"
_____"Hah!" laughed the skinny security cyborg. "Mr. Lionel has the sensibility to leave security matters to the security. We're the ones who keep losers and freaks like this one from stealing our equipment! Mr. Lionel said he doesn't like torture, but he didn't exactly say anything against it…now did he? And what he doesn't know can't hurt him. If you two little brats weren't so good at fixing stuff, I'd…"
_____"What! You'd do what?" Kyrie clenched her fists while her twin did the same. "You'd do what to us?" she asked, anger on her young face, dark eyes glinting. A breeze blew their long dark hair. "Any day you're ready, Jimmy. I'll kick your butt and think about repairing it. Think you can take me on, stupid?"
___"And after we hurt you, we'll convince the security chief that he needs a more reliable guy to follow the rules!" added Harrah. "You've already got a few strikes against you. All of those times you got drunk at the bar and started fights, all those times you harassed the girls, those aren't exactly your best moments. So if we trash you, we'll just be doing everybody a favor! If you keep causing trouble and torturing prisoners, you'll be the one punished!"
_____"Hey, she's got a point," commented another one of the security, one with blonde crew-cut hair and a square-jawed face. "Come on… We've already got the other bandits at food processing. Besides, you wanna lose your job over some wasteland dirt bag like that?" Others grumbled in agreement.
____"Hah! Okay… You want to deal with him? Fine by me!" shouted Jimmy. "Tell you what. You can untie him and take his sorry self over to the food processing facility. But before you do that, you dress his wounds and clean him up. We can't have dirty slave-labor working with the food." He glanced back at the slumped bandit, then again faced the twins--a leer on his face. "Good luck, ladies."
_____A final angry kick at the ground, and he walked away with the rest of his team. Kyrie and Harrah then rushed to help the tortured bandit, was slumped in the seat--the weight of his chest and arms against the barbed wire. The ragged shirt across his chest was bloody, especially around where the rusted barbed wire had bitten into his flesh. While Harrah splashed cool water on his head, Kyrie worked at the knotted wire and tried to free him. It was never a good idea to give liquids to a person close to unconsciousness; they could choke on it. But they could use it to cool him down a little. "Don't worry…" said one of the twins. "You'll be okay! Just hang on!"
_____He half-opened his eyes to look at the beautiful female cyborg standing before him and putting cool refreshing wetness on his face, then he slowly turned his head to the right to look down on the other beautiful one undoing the barbed wire that bound him. Was he seeing double? Such pretty girls… Too pretty to be real… They must be angels! Then the bandit really was free, free from all the troubles of this world--because he was dead just as the last of the barbed wire was undone.
_____Later, they washed themselves in the irrigation station showers. It wasn't that cyborgs sweated or became especially dirty, but washing was how they prevented grit buildup. Also, it kept them from accidentally transferring outside grit into the more sensitive machinery they worked with. After washing, the two toweled each other dry. Still, despite their showering and drying, they couldn't wash away the memory of the recent suffering.
_____ Each of the six pump-rooms looked about the same in this large building. The center of the room was dominated by a large, cylindrical industrial machine that gave off a steady rhythmic churning sound. Monstrously thick electrical cables connected it to the wall, the electricity coming from nuclear fusion plants--beneath the ground elsewhere on the farm. At one side was a tall boxy casing that held the regulatory and monitoring machinery. It was a hybrid electronic-analog configuration that the twins understood and maintained themselves. Industrial light bulbs suspended from the corrugated metal ceiling made for light.
_____Harrah opened up the casing, and both twins looked at the diagnostics panel--seeing dials and green indicator lights. Most of the dials indicated that the pump was working within parameters. But the lubricant was running a little low at one junction. No problem; a slight adjustment would fix that. While Kyrie held open the case, her sister instantly knelt for the toolkit, getting the right wrench to turn an oil-flow adjustment valve below the row of green lights.
_____"That was fast!" said Kyrie, taking the wrench from her sister. After she put the wrench back in this toolkit, she looked up to see her sister in tears. "No… No… Come on, sis! Don't start crying! If you cry, you're gonna make me start too!" It was true. She was already feeling her own eyes water over.
_____"He didn't…have to kill him!" sobbed Harrah, going to her knees on the cold concrete floor. "The bandit…was probably just… Just trying to live and… And…!" She wanted to say, take care of his family. But the rest of her sentence was lost in yet more tears. The twins hugged each other, trying to get through this. Life on the farm was hard at times, but never so hard as people had to be tortured to death.
_____It was close to sunset. High above, the sky was a deep and almost bloody orange setting beyond extremely far off brown hills. The thin man in oil-grimed coveralls heard the buzzing mechanical chorus of vehicles before he looked up from his work to see. There they were, speeding alongside the path of the train track. It was enough to be a temporary distraction from the task at hand.
_____Up to this point, both the thin man and his big brother had been working by outdoor lamplight--cleaning the parts of a huge, high-powered electric motor on a rusty metal table. Their specialty was vehicles. They weren't as good as Kyrie and Harrah at maintaining most machinery, but they were darned good at fixing anything that had wheels and a motor. Buggies, trucks, harvesters, they dealt with them all. They liked working with machines; they liked working on the farm.
_____Since their garage was close to the farm's train depot, they were able to see that huge nuclear-powered behemoth whenever it went to and came from the city. The train shipped out farm products to the city and coming back with some printed-out requests for more, along with spare electromechanical machine-parts and other city-made goods. Heck, Scotch and Duct were able to fix the train, too. Overall, though, it was a decent-enough trade. This farm shipped much-needed food products to the city and obeyed the oversight of the Netman robot in Mr. Lionel's office. In turn, the farm received much-needed city-made supplies--electromechanical parts (useful for both cyborgs and agricultural machinery), industrial supplies (like the good machine-lubricants only the city made), and a lease on its extended freedom. The city told the farm what to do, but the city was obedient to Zalem above.
_____Because Mr. Lionel was on good terms with the city, this farm was given a little more freedom from Zalem--the floating city far up and far away, the place that ruled the world. Mr. Lionel was seen as a respectable and obedient gentlemanly sort--literate and refined--and so this farm wasn't under controls as tight found on other farms. He knew how to keep things under control.
_____So long as the farm kept the agricultural produce coming on those trains, the city left the farm alone. "Netmen" robots and big cyborgs on the train were always glad to see that this farm kept up the supply. But, the odd thing was that the train's schedule had become a lot more lax these days. It only came half the times it normally did. A person noticed something like that after thirty years or so of living and working around here.
_____And a person noticed when the long peaceful flatness of the nearby desert was interrupted! The caravan of buggies and trucks was doing exactly that: making noise and kicking up a huge, collective dust cloud on their loud way over here. But there was something familiar in the sound of those engines.
_____"Hey-hey!" went the thin mechanic. His brother paused in his work on a set of steel conductor brushes and looked up. "Duct, who do you think those guys are, huh? Ooh yeah! I've heard those high-rate RPM's revving before! Wouldn't forget 'em for anything! Hee-hee-hee… They sound pretty good!"
_____Duct was the other mechanic, the bigger one. Not only was Duct several years older than Scotch, but he was also several feet taller. He was big in both the obese and the muscular sense of the word, a massive man with bulging arm-muscles thick as thighs and a massive gut. The blue coveralls and gray shirt he wore were several times the same outfit worn by his little brother. To carry around that bulk, his legs were as thick as oak trees--though such trees had been extinct in the region for centuries. Right now, he was looking in the same direction… He also heard that distant group of engines.
_____"Hmmph… Come on, bro. You can do better than that. If you don't recognize the engines in them buggies, your brain must'a done got soggier than mine." Yeah, Duct knew the sound of those engines as he--and Scotch--had both custom-modified them for a group of wasteland bandits.
_____Those were the very same bandits were coming this way. Bandits were the sort who lived free and wild, taking what they could from the behemoth-sized trains that went between irrigated farms and cities. But the brothers weren't afraid, Hell no! That was because Scotch and Duct were a little wild themselves, running with that pack. The brothers were a little more sane nowadays, though: Scotch a little less hyper and Duct a lot more gruff in attitude.
_____In minutes the assorted buggies were close enough that one could see the rough faces of the rough-dressed group riding them--especially the big muscle-man in the lead car. The vehicles slowed up when they were close, then braked. They got out and began to stride over to here, all of them in ragged pants and shirts covered over with pieces of metal and plastic for haphazard sections of body armor--shoulder-pads, chest-plates and arm-guards. Some of them were cyborgs, and some of them were fleshies--full humans.
_____Their leader seemed to be fully human, a six-foot muscular man in jeans, red shirt and black chest-plate--the skin of his arms and face tanned from the desert light. The boots on his feet weren't as big as the thick boot-like things strapped to the feet and legs of the other bandits, and his red hair wasn't as unruly as the others. His stride was also more controlled.
_____"Well, well, well…!" said that bandit leader, coming over to this outdoor worktable. "Here you two are, still working as ha-a-ard as usual. Duct and Scotch, the two genius brothers of mechanical mayhem…are now reduced to farm-hands!" He looked around, put his fists on his hips. "Nothing much has changed around here, though." Then he lowered his voice, taking on a more sinister tone. "This, even if the rest of the world has!"
_____That made the other bandits send up a raucous cheer, all of them growling and pumping their fists in the air. They were all noisy and proud, clapping each other on the back and yelling until the bandit leader raise his left hand--making them go quiet. "What I'm saying is, this quaint little oasis in the desert may not last terribly long as a refuge of backwardness and rigid oppression."
_____"And a 'Hello' to you too, Barabbas," responded Duct, putting down the electric motor-part and worktools he was working with. "But waddaya mean, the rest of the world changed? I ain't seen any changes. How 'bout you, Scotch? You notice anything change?" Scotch put on a big goofy smile and quickly shook his head--rapidly going left-right-left-right-left-right-left-right. "Okay, that's enough. Keep shakin' your head like that an' you'll get yourself dizzy. Alright, you heard us. The world ain't changed… Ain't ever gonna change. All I wanna do is live here and make the most of my life. Yes-sir-ee, just workin' the machines, drinkin' beers and listenin' to the pretty music at the little bar we got on this farm. It's a good life, Barabbas… Better than the life I had out there… Almost got myself killed, if you remember. Got the scar to prove it."
_____Barabbas nodded. "That I do remember, friend! That I do remember… I also remember what a pessimist you always were. But guess what? In the city, the Netmen and the Deckmen had fallen eerily silent, my friend. Bounties stopped being posted… So the bounty hunters that wanted to split your gut open and take your head for planning a flying machine, they aren't quite as interested anymore. _____"Furthermore, there has been a change in the arrangements. All the good stuff that was once reserved for shipment to Zalem no longer goes up those gigantic sucking tubes. The manufacturing plants aren't running as hard as they used to anymore. It was all a mysterious enterprise, deserving an awful lot of thought.
_____"Do you want to know what happened…my pessimistic comrade? I will tell you…" At this point, Barabbas put his hands on this worktable. Scotch leaned forward as well, anxious to hear. "Why the changes in the world? Why the freedom? The Deckmen and Netmen went silent, the bounties no longer posted, and there was suddenly no need to ever again send goods up to Zalem. Why all this? Because Zalem killed itself. One of their fusion reactors went ka-pow, and all the big computers in charge up there went zap!"
_____"Wha-a-a-at!" went Duct. "Barabbas, you alright? I heard some tall tales in my time, but that's about as tall as they come. A reactor in Zalem going on overload? Hah! Hah-hah! Hmmph…" But even as Duct spoke those words, doubt invaded his pessimism. Could it be, maybe…?
_____"Hee-hee-hee…!" screeched Scotch. "That explains everything! I knew it!" He began to hop around in a crazy jig of happiness and excitement--ranting as he did. "I-knew-it-I-knew-it-I-knew-it-I-knew-it-I-knew-it-I-knew-it…!" Scotch knew machinery as well as Duct, and both knew that all machines fail at some time in the future without outside maintenance. Zalem, being run by one solitary machine in particular--the Artificial Intelligence-driven mega-computer known as Melchezedek--was a machine that finally failed to keep everything together. "Hee-hee-hee! That's what you get for running a city with just one central computer! Barely maintained! Running for all those hundreds of years! You can put in all the darned safeguards you want and all the redundancies you want, but all machines have gotta break down sometime! Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee…!"
_____Barabbas thrust a pointing finger at Scotch. "You've guessed it, Scotch! And that's what I've always liked about you and your brother. You both know machines better than most anyone! Zalem's dead, and the world is free and ours! Free for us to do what we want, when we want, and how we want it!"
_____Excited, Barabbas reached into his left pocket and took out a square of clean cloth--opened it up to show the brothers. "Look at this! This is the symbol of the Revolution, the thing that's changing the world for the better!" On the cloth was the symbol of a clenched fist, raised against a circle that seemed to represent Zalem. "Look at it, and admire!" Raising it in the air made for a mighty and unrestrained cheer from all the bandits. They were so loud and raucous that they didn't even notice the group of curious farmers sitting near the garage gates.
_____Those farmers were now up and running, out to spread the word about what happened in the world. It just took word of mouth to finally confirm what they had long suspected. Why hadn't the train come and gone as often as it once had? And why hadn't the Netman in Mr. Lionel's office spoken much? Because the world was different now! Everything was different now.
_____Within hours, everything around here was going to change as well. Nobody had to worry about losing his head. Nobody had to work all the damned time anymore. And nobody was in charge of the world! Nobody! It was time for big things to start happening on the farm, starting with the riots.
_____Within hours, things were happening in an insane and sinister frenzy of noise and madness. People were running here and there along the roads of the farm compound. Mobs of farmers descended on Mr. Lionel's house and began pounding away at the annealed glass doors. The security cyborgs came out and started killing people left and right as soon as they knew the kind of situation happening. But there were only so many security cyborgs, and there were so many farmers. The security was soon overcome by the sheer numbers of people swinging heavy metal tools…
_____The battered metal corpses of the security cyborgs were taken to the big open area in front of the administrative building, and some farmers found the big metal platform on wheels that Mr. Lionel sometimes used to make big speeches. Then they found some of the small hydraulic cranes used to lift heavy machine parts and used them to hang up the metal corpses by their necks. But they were sure to leave two of these improvised gallows open: one for that oppressive freak Lionel, one for his weakling son.
_____Not that the farmers knew it, but they were taking part in the revolution that was collectively taking the farms and the cities. People ran around shouting "Zalem is dead!" and "The world is ours!" as they took things and ran around all full of energy and anarchy. The Iron Fist Revolution had come to this farm at last.
_____At their place, Kyrie and Harrah were sitting together at their dinner table, each reading a paperback book they had ordered from the city--metal fingers lightly clasping the pages. Between them, atop the table, was a cassette-player playing songs they'd recorded from the bar. The sound quality wasn't the best, but they didn't mind; it was pretty good for something they had made themselves from ridiculously old parts. It took them weeks of spare weekends to make the tape recorder and a little longer to make the small machine to manufacture the cassettes. Now they had music to enjoy in their own apartment.
_____Their living space was above their workshop, where these twins kept most of their tools, cyber-equipment and worktables. While their workshop downstairs was often a little cluttered, often had spare tools left out and cases left open, their own spacious one-room apartment was sparse and well-kept. There was a small bookshelf in a corner by the windows, left of which was the well-made bed they slept in. On the other side of the apartment, there was a corner that served as a kitchen--to the left of the door in.
_____Thump… Hmm? Both twins looked up from their reading, wondering if they heard what they thought they heard. This apartment was quiet save for the low music coming from the workshop-made cassette player. As they listened to the distant sound, the singers on the cassette player chanted lyrics while an electric guitar and electronic organ strumming in the background:
You see me in foreign fa-a-ace,
in ships that sink without tra-a-ace…
In your father's doubt,
when it brings on s-s-shout…
Behind the burning cross,
the grudged imagined loss…!
When you run to me-e-e,
run to me-e-e,
run to me-e-e…
_____Thump-thump-CLANK! This time, along with the sounds, they heard the distant sound of cheering coming from outside. Someone or something was being pounded and beaten out there. Whatever was being destroyed must have finally taken a hard hit, because there was another cheering in the distance. They set down their books as quietly as they could, sat up as quietly as they could with the chair-legs sliding across the hard floor. The cassette player played on:
Between ideals and fact,
Between the thought and the act…
You sink without trace,
and I hate your face!
_____Wide-eyed, the twins stepped across the floor of their apartment, walked over to the window at the right-side corner. The window gave a night-time view of the main road just outside. There were workers, cyborgs and fleshies in coveralls and short-sleeved shirts, running around with armfuls of goods and taking what they could from all sorts of places--food from the food depots, clothes from the clothing storage buildings, and a little of everything from everywhere else. In addition to the road-side streetlamps, there was another source of light coming from farther along the street--some kind of bonfire…
_____The twins looked at each other. Both were thinking the same horrible thing. It's happening! They turned and ran side by side, getting as fast as they could towards the apartment door over there--slamming the door behind them. Then came the sounds of their footsteps pattering down the wide concrete stairs. Another door slammed shut downstairs; they had just run through the garage and left this building. Up here, at the kitchen table, their cassette player kept playing that song--a male and female chorus chanting the dark lyrics.
Run from me,
run from me,
run from me-e-e…
I'm the Adversary!
_____Downstairs and outside, everything was getting about as crazy as they thought. There was little physical destruction, but this was apparently a farm-wide riot. People ran by carrying stuff they'd stolen and were yelling in adulation. Some groups of people were carrying wine bottles, and they were walking towards that big bonfire in the distance--to the far right, along this street.
_____The source of the trouble must be in that direction… Both of them turned and ran, following the group that was running in the direction of that bonfire. As they ran, Kyrie and Harrah both had horrible thoughts. Apparently, the center of the chaos and trouble was in the direction of the administrative center of the farm…
_____That would be, of course, Mr. Lionel's building. Fear and worry made the twins' breath come in worried gasps as their arms swung and legs pattered out a faster beat in running towards that trouble--the platform with the erected gallows back-lit by a huge fire of chopped-up expensive wooden furniture, expensive clothes, and other things from the building. A lot of other cyborgs had already been hung.
_____No… Oh no…! Please don't let it be true. They finally made it here, skidding to a stop. As the twins weren't as tall as the workers, they gently--but firmly--pushed their way to the inside of the crowd that surrounded the movable platform and the makeshift crane-gallows. By the dancing light of the flames, they saw too much.
_____The cyborgs of Mr. Lionel's security force had all been hung on metal cables. Their hanging metal bodies were cracked opened and ruined. They had been beaten with pipes and tools before they were hung. All of the victims so far were cyborgs. But, as Kyrie and Harrah watched, one more victim was shoved up to the platform with rough hands. A noose of metal cable was put around his neck as well.
_____It was hard to see the victim, as the huge bonfire made for such a glare that all the figures involved looked like shadowy outlines. "Look and see, people!" shouted the big, cloth-and-armored- clad man getting ready to execute another victim. "It's the one you've all been waiting for even if you don't know it yet! Just remember all the years of back-breaking, finger-bleeding, skin-blistering work you've been doing on this farm. When we kill this one, it finalizes the fact that the farm will be all yours!"
_____The big man turned and gave a hand signal to the cyborgs at the winch. Nodding, they began to turn the crank. The crank pulled the cable of the small crane, and the cable pulled up the load--the man at the end of the noose. He was lifted up into the air, and everyone began cheering. It was a massive roar, the anger and excitement all mixed up in a loud cheer of satisfaction as the man died.
_____When the victim finally went dead and still, Harrah and Kyrie were finally able to recognize who had just been hung. The twins only knew one man who wore suits like that, a gentleman who they had known all their lives. Intense misery and fear made them feel dead inside as they looked up at the body of Mr. Lionel…
_____"Let's do his retarded son next!" shouted someone in the crowd, somehow able to be heard above the chaos. Then more rough hands began pushing at someone else. A gawky, thin teenage boy in slacks and buttoned-down white shirt was shoved into the clearing. His hands were bound in front of him. But he was beyond trying to run, looking downtrodden. His will was broken. He let himself be pulled up to the platform, and the big man put an arm around the boy's shoulders as if he was his most favorite buddy in the world.
_____No-o-o-o-o! Everyone went quiet when the high-pitched, piercing scream cut through the night air. In the sudden silence, a person could hear the crackling sound of the bonfire flames and the creaking of the wire cables, the sound of a breeze blowing across the scene.
_____The twins had shouted in unison and had made for a shout that was sure to have shattered some eardrums. In the stunned lull, they walked over to the platform. Barabbas looked down on the two who had interrupted his show. And he smiled. "Well-well-well…! You two are quite a pretty pair. What the Hell do you want, interrupting the show?"
_____Despite the cooling night breeze, there was a real sense of heat in the air. And it wasn't the bright yellow heat of the bonfire. It was the heat of tension before a hard fight. Barabbas, shadowed by the flames, stared down on the two girls who were challenging him.
_____ Girls? No, they weren't just that. They were cyborgs. From the neck down, their bodies were metal. Their faces were synthetic flesh, and their long dark consisted of hair strands of spun polymer. Their two pairs of dark eyes challenged him with dual stares--eyes that weren't quite human.
_____Cyborgs or not, Hell! He had defeated more than a few fools who stood in his way. From rival bandit chiefs to ten-foot bounty hunters, he'd beaten them all! It was a big part of how he gained his reputation. There was no way he would let a pair of kids stand in the way of his greater ambitions--that of conquest. How would that look, a mighty man of his caliber, cut down by a pair of life-sized dolls?
_____This broad-chested bandit leader hopped down from the platform, the dual thud of his boots resounding on the hard road. Clenching his fists, he stood and turned to face the twins who were just meters from where he was. "I could have my men kill you two impetuous brats and hang up your dead bodies, another example of what happens when some stand in the way of the revolution. But, no… Such would be unfair!" He raised his left arm, gesturing to the thin, frightened teenager up on the platform. "Do you see that boy?"
_____Boywas the right word now, as Mr. Lionel's son seemed smaller and thinner than ever--tears coming from his eyes. "You want him to live, to possibly perpetuate the regime of oppression and hardship? That slow-witted, spoiled son of a rich man…who served the will of the Floating City of Zalem? If you two were to take a look at Mr. Lionel's forehead now, you'd see that we've wiped away the makeup that covered up his mark!"
_____Mr. Lionel was a man from Zalem? This shocked the twins. They thought that Mr. Lionel was just from the city, like they originally were. He was often quiet about his past, never really wanted to talk about it. All that he had to show from it was his son, Ritchie. Lionel's love had died in childbirth. Kyrie and Harrah thought that Mr. Lionel never talked about the past because of that death. Yet the idea of him coming from Zalem… That would explain a lot.
_____Still, they had made a promise. Whatever happened, the twins wanted to make sure that Ritchie lived. "He's just a boy!" shouted Kyrie. "He hasn't even have a chance to really get started in the world! Don't you understand? And what you plan on doing now is killing a boy before he's a man!"
_____Harrah added, "He hasn't chosen his path in life yet, you know! Look, we can't choose what family we're born into. It's not like Ritchie wanted to be born the son of a farm supervisor. And as long as we've known him, he said that he really never wanted to grow up and be in charge."
_____"So what!" shouted Barabbas. "You could the say the same stupid things about those evil and stuck-up fools in the Floating City! They didn't choose to be born rich and privileged, no more than we--the poor and the downtrodden--chose to be born in the toxic-stained gutters of the city and the dirt-hard slavery of the farms!
_____"But didn't they always love to look down on us who lived here on the ground!" he continued, pointing to the dirt at his feet. "While we worked and slaved away and died down here to send the sweet and clean products of our labor to the people living in the sky, they let us keep the scraps and the trash. The scraps, you hear? Why else is there a Scrap Iron City, hmm? Made from all the junk while all the goods went up… "
_____Then he pointed to Ritchie and the hung corpses up on the platform. "Zalem is dead! It has become a city of the dead, a necropolis, a gigantic floating graveyard of radiation-leaked death when their foolish nuclear power plants malfunctioned. And that damned machine-god Melchezedek went right along with them! Zalem, murdered by a by-product of its own high standard of living…so to speak!
_____"If we let any of their children live, Zalem could again become an oppressive tyrannical machine in the sky. The diaspora of Zalem down here on the ground, all of the rich and pampered products of the regime who escaped, will go back up to that floating city, rebuild Melchezedek, and make things worse than they were before." He clenched his left fist. "The Iron Fist Revolution won't let that happen."
_____The twin girls closed their own hands into fists. Both had no desire to hurt anyone, but they were bound by their word to protect. "We keep our promises! We will protect Ritchie!" they said in unison. Then the two raised their fists and set their feet apart, taking steps towards Barabbas….
_____When someone interrupted. "Sera, don't fight him! You don't know how strong he is!" shouted someone in the crowd. The big-bellied man in coveralls gently pushed his way to the front of the crowd while his brother followed close behind. "He's dangerous!"
_____Harrah and Kyrie stopped and turned to face Duct. Both twins had the very same expression on their faces--a look of bewilderment and anger. "You called me that name again! I told you not to call me that anymore!" they both said in unison. "I'm someone else now!"
_____Duct shook his head. "See, Barabbas? The girls have their own personal problems…. Or personality problems, I shoulda' said. They're really smart with machines an' all, smarter than me an' my brother. But they're not right in the head," he said, tapping the side of his own forehead. "Know what I mean? That's why they became cyborgs…long before they were supposed to. They don't know what they're doin' right now."
_____Barabbas tilted his head to the side, and his tone of voice matched his leer. "R-r-r-really now? So what I'm dealing with are a pair of mentally ill cyborg girls who want to defend their retarded, inbred little friend? How pathetic! Aaah, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…! Indeed, only the insane would stand in the way of the Revolution! Ha-ha-ha…!" He crossed his arms and bellowed with laughter, and the crowd laughed with him.
_____ Though no one had struck them physically, all the laughter--all around--felt just as hard and painful as blows to the torso and head. Harrah and Kyrie always thought that they'd gotten along reasonably well with the farmers. They weren't especially close friends with them, but they were able to have conversations with them at the drinking place and listen to the singers up on stage. The twins thought they were friends with most everyone around here. But maybe, the truth was…
_____It hurt too much, just as all the derision and ridicule around made them feel dead and stepped on. The twins felt their insides growing numb. The sound of the boisterous laughter faded into a roar, with one man being the center of it. Barabbas…
_____The numbness inside became an angry heat--a heat both of the twins felt burning inside them. Unable to contain the pain and hurt they were feeling made them run at Barabbas, wanting to hurt him. To kill him.
_____Harrah and Kyrie jumped and lashed out with the same leaping attack--a jumping side-kick. The move was ill-timed as they were too angry to concentrate, too emotional to properly execute the maneuver. Still, it knocked Barrabas back a few steps, shoe-marks on his armored chest-plate where the girls struck. But the bandit leader recovered and took up his own fighting stance. "That wasn't very sporting! Mentally ill or not, I'll have to punish you two."
_____Oh yeah… There was going to be a rumble! With that in mind, some people in the crowd clambered up to the platform and remembered how to turn on the spotlights. The platform's wiring was damaged from the heat of the nearby bonfire, but it still transmitted enough electricity to power the spotlights--which made for a dim circle of light on the road where the combatants were standing.
_____Thunk-thunk! It just seemed as if Barrabas' arms only twitched: They didn't see his fists move at all! But they felt the impacts--the blows that struck their cheeks. Then his left leg seemed to disappear as they were both knocked back and away.
_____He's too fast for the eye to see, they thought. Yet he seemed to be a full-flesh human being. What kind of mutation let a fleshie move that fast, with that much strength? Whatever… They had to win this fight. The twins stood again, then made a simultaneous swift run at the bandit leader--moving so fast that their legs seemed to blur and their long dark hair trailed behind them like dark banners.
_____ Instead of both attacking from the front, one of the cyborg twins skidded to a stop while the other ran around behind him. Harrah kicked him in the lower back. When he staggered, Kyrie stepped forward and jabbed him in twice in the chest--the knuckles of her left and right metal fists making solid sounds against the bandit's strapped-together chest-plate. Unlike a cyborg, there was a vulnerable body beneath that armor! The blow was enough to make him stagger around, gasping for air.
_____As the twins closed in, Barabbas did another one of those tricks. He became a smearing blur for a hundredth of a second. Whatever he just did, it was enough to knock both twins up and away--making them crash-land on their backs when they landed. Stunned for only a moment, they went to their knees.
_____The twins, however, had a last-minute surprise of their own. Kneeling, they put out both arms. Harrah clenched one hand into a fist while opening the other hand--palm forward. Kyrie did the same on her side--presenting the knuckles of one hand and the palm of the other. They closed their eyes as a blue glow seemed to coat their hands…
_____What the…? Before Barabbas could finally figure out what they were doing, there was a sheer blast of light, heat and sound that left almost everyone with their ears ringing and eyes dazzled. It was so fast that no one was sure what just happened even after the fact. They did see Barabbas standing there, gasping and wheezing, his once-shiny chest armor blackened and smoking in places…
_____The man shook and shimmied, having spasms so hard that he was barely able to keep on his feet. He went down on a knee and looked ready to fall over. Then he sucked in one more breath and shouted, "Enough! If you care so much for the runt, fine! You can have him!" As Harrah and Kyrie stood up, the bandit leader brushed at his armor with both hands and suddenly stood up again, looking no worse than as if he had only tripped. He was not even sweating and looked ready to fight on.
_____Yet he didn't. "But I don't think the farmers will want you around here anymore. You take the brat, gather some belongings, and you will leave. I'll even see to it that the train is ready. You take him, take him away, and leave on the next shipment of food to the city, tomorrow morning. And you never come back to this place."