Title: Onyx After
Rating: PG-13, T
Characters: Neji, TentenFuturistic, sci-fi AU. I had fun making up the world. So much so that I might continue this...later. As for now, it can stand as is.
i'm a slave to a Wheel
and there isn't any stopping
what mistake could i have made?
i'm a slave serving time for a life that i've forgotten.
- Splashdown, Karma Slave (Titan AE soundtrack)
The year is 120 OA – Onyx After.
What's Onyx? No one alive asks that question – everyone knows what it means. It's what made the world what the world is, today. It's part of the things babies just breathe in, like learning what colors are and that milk is good and water is boring, so that by the time they reach school they're expected to know it and only study its implications and technical specs – but what it is, they should already know. How could they not?
What's Onyx? Onyx is the plague that swept the earth – the plagues, actually, different strains of bio-engineered virii and germs and bio-agents that the various factions of earth developed and unleashed upon each other. By the end of it, fully two-thirds of the planet's population had perished. The governments had begged for peace from each other and banded together in the United Earth Sphere – the only way they could have kept power, individually they were too weak to rule any longer.
Onyx – they called it that as a flashback to the Black Plague of the medieval period in earth's past, which had only killed one-third of populations in afflicted areas – and then only in Europe. In other regions its effects had not been as noticeable, which could not be said for Onyx.
What had Onyx left? It left a significantly reduced population composed mostly of the privileged classes – the ones who had been able to afford the means of survival. It had left behind a unified government, who simply could not tolerate any dissension lest its fragile hold on power disintegrate. It had left behind vast strides in technology – most noticeably in the areas of biology and chemistry.
It had left behind a massive labor shortage.
It has been one hundred and twenty years since the last of the Onyx plagues were reverse-engineered and cured. It has been long enough that the memories of Onyx are fading – it is still a thing of fear and of caution-inducements, but no one living now (save for a very, very small number) has lost anyone or anything to Onyx. People live grouped up in domed, shielded, walled city-states called 'enclaves' – only within these carefully terraformed areas was it safe to live in relative comfort; the rest of the earth was in shambles. Onyx hadn't been the only weapon wielded in the last of the world wars; there had been chemical strikes, too, and huge land battles – minefields, and artillery strikes, and even here and there the irradiated wastelands from where tactical nukes hadn't been immediately destroyed by defense systems.
It would not have been possible to continue living in this world except for one thing: the creation of the Limited.
Limited were creatures bioengineered to serve mankind. There were many kinds of Limited: four-legged things, six-legged things, winged things and so on, bestial-type creatures to carry and transport and move things; there were half-men half-animal creatures, who walked upright on two legs but were barely sentient – they were used for heavy labor; and there were those who looked almost human themselves. Of course, you could easily tell them apart – because all Limited, or Limits for short, were branded with 'control marks': strips of nanotech material burned right into the skin of the forehead (or wherever was visible and close to the brain). The color and designs of the control marks proclaimed rank, ownership and type to any who cared to see; and it also allowed a Limit's owner to control him, either by inputting commands directly into the less developed-minds, or to induce pain – negative reinforcement, the process was called – to force the obedience of the more sentient types.
Because of the vast strides taken in technology, it is possible to produce special effects and traits in these creatures – special genetic abilities coded into the bloodstream itself. These special creatures are known as Bloodline Limits, and they are highly prized.
And Tien ru Jian (called Tenten by friends and family) has just received one for her fourteenth birthday.
"Designation 012587, Bloodline-enabled Limited," the salesman rattles off, bowing and scraping enthusiastically before the matriarch of the powerful Shan family, somehow able to keep his voice steady despite the frequent bobbing of his head. "Aged fourteen years – well-trained already, mature enough to take complex commands, but young so you'll have all the best years of his service ahead of you. We usually do not sell Limits so young, but this is obviously a special case – he's specially bred for such high-level positions, and of course you are the Shan..."
Jianghu sniffs audibly, which immediately silences the salesman. He trembles on the Persian carpet (a silky, luxurious thing preserved from OP – Onyx Prior) as Jianghu gestures to her granddaughter to come closer. "Come here, Tian," she orders in a thin, clear voice. "What do you think of your birthday present?"
Tenten steps from behind her grandmother's chair, looking over the boy – no, the Limit – kneeling in front of them. He is almost entirely bare, clad only in a white loincloth with decorative gold roping – she wonders why they did not just give him underwear, then realizes it is for aesthetic effect – trying to give the whole process a touch of the unreal, of the ritual.
He is very good to look upon, she concedes, her eyes wandering over his form. Pale-skinned, long-limbed, his hair long and dark, pulled into a low tail and restrained by a ring of beaten silver. He is not muscle-bulked, like many of the Limits – built for maximum strength – nor is he slender, effete, like the pleasure-slaves that many favor. He is lithe, his muscles clearly defined – bred for speed and grace as well as power. But she's seen others as alluring, some human, some Limits, beautiful boys and handsome men who crowd about her to woo, to court, to serve. He is nothing special...
Then he raises his head, and his silver eyes – wide eyes, deep eyes, tinged ever so lightly with lavender hues – catch the light, and Tenten loses her breath in a quiet gasp. Something like shock and something like remembrance and something like ice injected into her spine hits her, and she has to blink and look away.
They don't take out his old control mark – they just brand the Shan logotype over it, because his control mark is already one of the more efficient ones developed. And Bloodline Limits are rare anyway, there's hardly more than three or four like another at any given time, so the basic type/rank markings wouldn't apply to him in any case.
His brow is a billboard, carrying information for the world to see – a crooked cross and two straight lines arrowing across its horizontal axis, and a more elaborate, easy-read Shan dragon – black edged with silver – with its tail in its jaws, forming a circle around the crooked cross. The nanotech material glitters faintly when he moves his head and it catches the light.
Tenten also has the Shan dragon – not a ringed dragon, this time, but a dragon that twines about her left forearm, beginning at her elbow and ending with its long, fanged face on the back of her palm. It's a piece of quality work, with the silver antlers that signify a member of the actual clan rather than one of their employees or lower branch members, and an eye that shifts color according to what use she is putting it. It is the opposite of a control mark – it gives her power, of myriad sorts – recognition by others, access to her family's deepest secrets, communications capability. It is also how she will, if there is need, access the control mark – any Limit with the basic Shan dragon branded on their body has to answer to her will. And her new personal Limit has her personal brand – the first to ever be so branded – which means only she can control him.
She is sure, of course, that her grandmother took measures against that, and is actually capable of ordering him – it – around, but that is what they told her. And she plans on modifying the control mark until that is true, anyway.
"What is your name?" she asks him, later, when they are alone in her room and she has done the usual sweep for bugs and watchers. Her family actually respects her privacy, mostly – it's more of a punishment for being forgetful when her grandmother bothers to actually surveill her.
"My mistress may call me anything she desires," is the immediate answer, delivered in a voice that is surprisingly deep for one so young, and steady, and measured. Tenten is impressed by the voice, but not by the answer. He is still in the loincloth, and Tenten lets herself enjoy the sight – but she already knows that this is the last time she will make him wear something so revealing. She mentally puts together a picture of the uniform she will have made for him – something with long sleeves and creased trousers, military in appearance. Something that covers him. The colors will be Shan colors, of course – black and silver.
"That's not what I asked," she points out , slowly making her way to her bed – a unnecessarily large slab of temperfoam, set onto a recess in the floor and covered in sheets of Egyptian cotton. Stuffed animals take up what would be a significant fraction of the bedspace in any normal-sized bed, grouped carefully at the head of the bed, on top of pillows. It is the only childish touch in a room that is otherwise precisely neat, filled with technology and weaponry both archaic and modern, the only hints of color in a room otherwise white, grey, and black.
"..." The Limit's only response is silence, and Tenten sighs and flops backwards onto her bed. She grabs her favorite stuffed toy – a red-and-gold cartoony creature, something like a cross between a cat and an archetypal western dragon, which has onboard motors and sensors and an AI so that it can act as self-aware and lively as a pet animal – better, even, with voice-recognition software and sat-access to lower-level data-nets. Ryong cost as much as a small vehicle, and it was an old birthday present – much like how her new Limit is. It activates at her presence and cuddles up to her – she pats it on its velvety head and it purrs.
"Yue," she decides aloud. "I'll call you Yue until you tell me your name."
Yue is a multi-purpose Limit. He can do any housework she tells him to do – he can even cook, which is a third-tier function and enough to designate a Limit as 'specialized', although he has a limited range of dishes. He is very fond of tempura and herring noodles, both of making them and eating them, and it is one of the first hints of personality that Tenten discovers he has. He can also serve as her messenger and go-fer boy, running her errands with swift efficiency. He has limited medic-training. He has a sharp memory and – even better – an electronic to-do list coded into his control mark that she can modify at will, so he can serve as a living memo-pad.
But it is for his battle capability that Yue is so highly prized. His Bloodline-coded abilities include not only the usual enhanced senses, strength and speed – and those jacked up to the theoretical maximum – but other things, experimental things, things no one's thought of before. He has energy emitters built right into his skin – all over his body, but concentrated on his fingertips so that with a brush of his hand he can send an assailant to his knees, screaming in pain. His eyes are high-level scanners – infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray, telescopic, to see the threats to his mistress before they can harm her.
It's not only his inbuilt capabilities, but his high-level training that make him so dangerous. He has his own specialized hand-to-hand combat style, capitalizing on the energy emitters in his hands and his X-ray vision – using them to deliver fatal or disabling strikes to nerve clusters and pressure points. It is very effective. He's skilled in the use of every weapon Tenten knows of, even of some she's never heard of – which she hadn't thought possible.
He saves her life five times before two months are through – replacing the ten-man squad she had previously been scrupulously guarded by prior to Yue's arrival. She has more freedom now, able to head into areas previously designated as much too risky.
Yue gives her freedom.
"Train me," she demands one day, sprawled on her bed and playing electronic games on the flatscreen set into her ceiling. Ryong is curled up beside her, eyes closed and mouth moving now and then in an entirely endearing, if also entirely animatronic, yawn.
She turns onto her stomach and just looks at him. "Train me in weapons. In fighting. So that if ever I were attacked and you weren't there ..."
"But mistress, I shall always be at your side. I am your Limited, and..."
"No." She shakes her head. "I mean, yeah, you're supposed to be there, but...things don't always go the way we plan, do they?" Her voice is wistful for a second, and Yue stares at her – but he does such things often, puzzled by his odd new mistress's whims and wants, and she's used to it by now.
"Train me," she insists again. "I want to be strong. I want to be able to fight." I want to be as beautiful as you are, in battle.
Her father is surprisingly enthusiastic about the whole plan; he thinks it will help Tenten live longer, and any such plan is therefore approved automatically. Jian, the CEO of the Shan Group and doting father, is himself a highly accomplished martial artist, and he knows that in order to properly train, the Limited needs authority over his daughter.
This is what he tells them: "Yue, teach her what she wants to know. Tenten's a smart girl, and she'll learn best if she's interested. But once you step into the dojo - " There's one in their house, of course. "Tenten, you are completely under his authority. Do you understand?"
Tenten answers yes.
The Limited finds it very strange, but adapts quickly enough after Jian – proving that the control mark does not, in fact, answer only to Tenten – punishes him for being too soft on his daughter. Moderate genetic modification – to eliminate genetic defects, susceptibility to diseases, and a more limited version of the enhanced physical abilities given to Bloodline Limits - is also sometimes given to heirs (and only heirs - such treatment on humans is even more expensive than Bloodline Limits) of the less conservative clans. Tenten proves nearly as quick as he, and even better with a number of weapons.
(Tenten immediately resets and modifies the control protocols coded into the nanotech.)
Still, after a while, the Limited discovers that this forced equality between them is – enjoyable.
"Neji," he says, suddenly, and Tenten freezes. She turns her head, slowly, from her persocom's holographic screen, which is frozen on the funny video she had just been insisting he watch. Her eyes rest on his, and both sets are very wide.
"Neji," he says again, and he does not bow his head. "My real name is Neji."