14 - "Dawn"

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen...

J.G. Ballard

Light.

There was light.

Pouring through the traditionally styled panes, lighting the tiny apartment and screaming to the night.

There was light!

Lucas had stood in that alleyway, staring at the window, until he realized he hadn't moved in over five minutes.

As the shock gave way to rational thought, he knew why.

He couldn't quite escape the little ball of rage over the deception of identity. His good friend and the woman he'd silently pined for were one and the same; they'd played against each other throwing themselves abruptly into his life on either ends of the spectrum.

But, still, it was her.

He could still taste her on his lips even days after their last, lingering touch...

Lucas took off. He hit the street, dodged a car and got an angry horn in the mad dash for Adrian's apartment foyer. The doors were probably locked this late at night so, without even thinking of the repercussions, thrust shoulder first and broke the dead bolt with two hundred and fifty pounds of momentum.

He wasn't even winded when reaching the top; adrenaline and that slim chance of hope had lifted him five flights of stairs. But as he threw himself over the last step, an unmistakable change in the air hit him like a semi.

Blood.

Like a punch to the face reminiscent of his old boxing days the tinny stench assaulted dull human senses, enough to make him pause just meters from the open door. His breath caught up to him, fire in his lungs and he hunched slightly, shoulders heaving. Suddenly, the morbid thought (that could only occur to a biology teacher) of what exactly flowed through Cybersix's veins trickled into forefront.

He wasn't even sure she bled red.

"Cybersix...?"

He didn't want to see what could lay behind that door. A boneless pile of limbs, raven hair, torn and charred flesh, blood and Sustenance seeping between the floorboards, it was a chilling thought that hit the base of his spine, crept underneath a sweat-soaked collar and embedded into the mop of dirty blond.

But something drove him on, curiosity a hand on his back, and he slowly made his way towards the door.

No sound, no wheezing breath, no blood-gurgled cry for help, only the creak of the floor beneath him to alert him to his own numbed body moving forwards. He peered into the apartment, gasped, and ran inside.

A massive black form was huddled underneath a window left slightly ajar, lying in a pool of blood and every so often distended with a breath. Lucas fell to his knees and onto the body. Where he thought leather, he felt fur. It wasn't a cape.

Data-7.

The panther had patches torn out of his pelt, from where fire had licked his escape from the explosion that took half the seaside cliff. Half an ear was missing, whiskers were singed.

"Jesus Christ..." he whispered, running his hand along the sinewy form.

The panther opened its eyes, mewled, and then, with a failing gasp, groaned and passed out.

Lucas made a quick scan of the apartment, and assured no one else was here, grabbed one of the sheets from Adri--Cybersix's--bed and wrapped it around Data-7. He heaved the cat onto his shoulders in a fireman's carry and, "...urgh...", lurched out of the apartment. "You've really got to lose some weight."

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She was one of five thousand Cybers, the sixth in line, and as far as she knew the only to survive. The last.

In Von Reichter's own words, a profound experiment that had failed, spectacularly. Power, potency, will, free will; a dangerous combination that no amount of confinement could quell the soul he'd inadvertently imbued onto his creations.

Thus, like all madmen, he feared shards of possible futures structured within his head and decided to wipe out the lot.

She remembered the day they were corralled, thrown together in a room with dark-spattered walls and small chunks torn from the concrete in a perfectly parallel line to the floor. Bullet holes. There was death here. The floor had traces of dried rivers running towards several drains, but with so many children packed into the windowless chamber no one really noticed.

Several larger Fixed Ideas, the prototypes, the precursors to the Technos and Data series, lined up at one end with automatic weapons. Without a word of explanation, they aimed, and fired. Thunder and screams split the air, blood went everywhere and the children were heartlessly mowed down.

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She woke with a scream.

Her skin crawling, her nervous system alive, her seizures nearly tore her body in half under the rubble. It was only when she was assured reality, such as it was, was far better than the recesses of her mind that she was able to calm herself.

She hadn't had that dream for a long time.

She took a wheezing breath, and then another, and tried to make some kind of sense of her surroundings before arcs of electricity suddenly danced up her arm, the only light she'd seen for hours. Everything was so dark and ill-defined, and only shot into focus for seconds at a time as her body spasm and vomited energy. She could feel a great weight on her legs, stomach, chest; she was pinned down by debris from the observatory and lost within the rubble.

Half the cliff had been obliterated by the explosion and fell into the sea.

She and Data-7 had reached the doorway just before a crack of wind rammed them from behind. Their forms were tossed like rag-dolls and thrown through the door, before the temperature shot up several hundred degrees in less than a few seconds and a wave of flame and wreckage eclipsed the sky.

Her memory had stopped there, and the gap only closed when she'd woken into darkness and deep, stabbing pain.

And now, she didn't even know how much time had passed. She couldn't see the sky, couldn't measure the days and as she faded back into unconsciousness, a single, comforting thought flickered in the oblivion as a beacon. "Lucas..."

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There wasn't any school today.

Meridiana had been scarred.

The death toll was in the hundreds and climbing towards a thousand with every piece of rubble and statuary plucked from the path left by that moving island. Everything was closed, people (the surviving people) were kept off the streets and traffic was kept to a standstill, and sirens pierced the night.

Thus, Lucas had resigned himself to playing nursemaid to a creature that could rip the bumper from a truck with its teeth (and considering no veterinarian in their right mind would treat a genetically enhanced panther without asking questions and perhaps making a report to the police, he'd lugged the creature home). He'd given Data-7 his bed, after washing and bandaging the comatose panther and dumping him into clean sheets.

Blood was on his floor, shirt and pants, but the ostensible neatfreak didn't seem to notice. He mind was reeling, thoughts overlapping each other and in his hands, the gossamer weight of the glasses seemed to weigh on more than just his heart.

Index fingers rubbed the rims of Adrian's glasses.

"I bet you're not going to tell me where she is?" Lucas whispered to his silent companion.

But the beast didn't move, just took another breath.

He folded up the glasses, placed them carefully to the bedside table and sighed, "You'd think Von Reichtor would be smart enough to give you human vocal cords."

Wham, wham, wham!

Lucas nearly had a heart attack. "Jesus...!" He shot up, bewilderedly looked around him before his thoughts focused enough to identify the sound as knocking, and raced towards the door. He grabbed for the knob and opened up to find...

Nothing.

Until someone below his field of vision cleared his throat. Lucas looked down.

The kid was sopping wet, standing in a pool of water and the mane of faded orange hit a chord somewhere in his memory. Cybersix had mentioned him a few times. "Julian? You're Julian aren't you?"

The boy stared back at him with old eyes, too old for someone his age. "My boat sank." he said succinctly.

A thick brow rose; that was the last thing he expected. "Your boat sank?"

Julian heaved a breath, blinked and wringed a lock of hair. "Aftershocks, big waves. Flipped it over. My home's now sitting on the bottom of the bay."

Lucas nodded.

"I couldn't find Cybersix, so I thought she might be here."

He opened the door a little wider and sidestepped to allow him in. "Come on." he motioned inwards with his thumb. "The streets aren't safe anymore."

Julian trotted in and quickly, as old habit would persuade, scrutinized his new surroundings with a leisurely sweeping gaze and ended on the bed. "Data-7!" He took off towards the heap and tail and immediately clamped himself to the panther. Looking over Data-7's wounds, he quickly swiveled and screamed, "Where's Cybersix?!"

"I don't know."

"We gotta go find her!"

"I've tried." Lucas tried to calm him. "The police have cordoned off the detonation site. I can't even get close and no one's been recovered, alive or dead. I've been back to her apartment several times but no one's been there."

"Then she must have gotten away." Julian turned back and leaned into the cat. "She must have..."

Lucas grabbed one of the clean towels he'd used to dry himself after Data-7's bath, walked forward and draped it over Julian's shoulders; the kid was beginning to shiver. He dropped to his knees alongside and like his companion, started stroking the ebon pelt. "I'd like to think if Data-7 made it, so did she." he said quietly. "By the way, my name's Lucas Amato."

"Julian."

"No last name?"

He shrugged. "Never needed one."

"Right."

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The bead of water rolled from the slope of her cheekbone, hit her lip and she unconsciously licked the moisture away. She woke to another in a continual pattern, running along a piece of sheared steel and trickling onto her face. But she noticed as the next droplet formed on the edge, it started to tremble. Vibration.

Was the structure collapsing?

Something creaked, which, here in this haphazard dungeon, wasn't an infrequent sound. But this was different, the sound was rhythmically successive, deliberate and moving from one end to another.

Voices...

Someone was above her.

Debris shifted, her cage started groaning and splitting with shafts of light. As more and more of the rubble was cleared away, her gaze adjusted to the color seeping through the remaining beams and stone.

"Be careful with her, gentlemen." The voice was clearer this time, a ripened tone. "She is the jewel of our breed."

An entire wall was lifted away, and she was drenched in warm, bronze light.

Morning.

The sun was rising; the sky had been painted in fire and tangerine and she narrowed her eyes at the sheer brilliance.

There were men standing over her, at least three, silhouetted against the rising sun and an oddly ethereal halo illuminating strange forms. One was far too large to be human, and she thought, at first, panicking, it was a Fixed Idea.

Maybe her eyes were playing tricks. "L-Lucas...?" she struggled.

"No, child," one of the shadows reached down for her and gently squeezed her free hand, "my name is CyberOne."