Monday, December 2, 2013

Lake Agassiz Memories



Janus’s body was broken upon the wheel. Her legs shattered in a dozen places, her arms and shoulders too, she only existed as a thread now, woven through the spokes and twisted. Around and around. If the pain did not impair her thoughts like it did, she would have marveled at what the body could do. Anything really, given the aims of any creator. One twisted of spirit—like her body was now.
With every painful revolution of the wheel she witnessed desolation. Villages and families murdered where they stood. First, forced to march, then to strip naked. They stood in front of ditches and were shot. Wails and lamentations soured the airs. The pleads of mothers, the surrender of fathers. The children hacked and thrown to the winds. The ash of burned bodies scattered and shifted, like dunes they rose and fell, and buried each massacre. Until another one arrived every a thousand years.
Janus could not tell what century she inhabited. She just knew, as a witness, they blended into all. She knew, and she recognized, the blight on the seasons. The superstitious. The backwards. They all suffered now. Their idols smashed at their feet, their temples pulled down and smashed to dust. Their shrines desecrated, then turned into churches and cities. The place names erased. New names now built on death and fear.
A moan escaped from her lips. She did not know when death would come. But she yearned for the escape from pain.
A person with a white hood prodded her awake. Red eyes peered out. She heard it speak from beneath the hood. Muffled, but fully understood.
Where are the pagani engineers?
She said nothing.
Where are the pagani engineers?
She tried to open her mouth. Her jaw did not respond. A thin moan escaped. A tear fell down her ruined cheek, all that she could muster.
The image of just opened eyelids passed through her mind. Strange it felt, for she could see the hooded figure. What she now felt involved her eyelids. She could feel it. The more she thought about the sensation, the more she could see. Really see. First foggy and shadowy, then the dim light become brighter. She saw moving colors, and more vague movements. Something existed behind her eyelids, so she slowly opened them.
She did not find relief.
She faced a bank of computers. Not dumbputers, she thought. That told her something about her location. The cold surface of the table she laid on told her more.
Janus now knew and truly dreaded. Edessa. The feared inquisition chambers. They now probed the depths of her mind for her secrets. With wires and implants, they had their devices. They wanted to know. The Pagani Engineers. Defenders of the countryside.
-Where are the Pagani Engineers?-
A robotic figure passed in front of her. A crusade-bot. Linked by construct-appendage with the giant banks of computers, it controlled the process of query. Unless she supplied an answer, the torture would continue.
She would not, and the pain began anew.
Burning fields assaulted her vision again. She turned once more on the wheel. Her broken body had the best vantage point anyone could ever want. A view of the hole, wherein, a skull named atrocity resided.
I can’t take anymore. I can’t take anymore. I can’t…
Janus!
She heard a voice, unformed by robotic non-lips.
Janus! Come on!
She remembered. Somewhere, sometime. But when?
-Dive in!-
She remembered it now. The voice. It was real. Realer than this, she thought. A way out.
-What are you scared of? Dive in!-
I’m not scared of anything. Nothing.
She followed the voice and dove in.

***

They came from all over the Lands of Unsheathed Community to lay on the shores, bask in the sun, and bathe in the waters of Lake Agassiz. In caravans they traveled, ever since the days when Brigda the Conscious walked the Earth. Their numbers had decreased in recent years, the long duration of history had altered many things. But the ones who did still had the same passions and same energies. And the stories never changed. They might have new additions, and there were many. The end of the golden age had produced many things. New masters now ruled the Earth. But in their covered vanagons and buggy-cars they still arrived like clockwork. The children of the vanished Commonrealm, those called the Pagani People.
While the parents set up their camps, and talked to families they had not seen since the last summer, the children ran down to the shores of the melt-water lake and looked for the friends they had not seen in a year too. When they did, they renewed their contests, their battles, their rivalries. Ones who had not seen each other noticed the changes in one another’s bodies. They were growing up, yet for one more summer, they hoped to halt the changes. Just one more time.
A peninsula jutted out into the waters of the lake. Some said the place had a pre-classic name. Wakan Takan, the birthplace of a vanished people. The children liked to jump off the cliffs, and with glassy-goggles, explore the depths of the lake. Some said a cave system lurked just beneath the water. But others knew that something even more incredible existed, just out of reach, except to the daring and the adventurous.
The kids of the countryside now dove off the cliffs. They splashed down into the chilly waters. They screamed in midair, and screamed more when they hit the water. Mostly to get other kids to make the same jump, to join them far below.
A whole gaggle of them paddled in the water, the air filled with taunts and other screams from below. A lone child, not more than 10 years old, stood far above on the cliffs. She had yet to make the jump, her toes stood over the edge. Brown-haired and scrawny, she clutched her arms to her sides, and waited to go.
The kids in the water yelled at her. This went on for minutes and minutes. Right when they thought, she would give in and not jump, she did. And for a few seconds she flew like a bird. They did not know what a bird looked like, but they could imagine they now knew, when they saw her fly through the air. She landed with a splash, disappeared for a few long seconds, then returned to the surface.
A group of boys splashed over to Janus.
-You look like a dog when you swim!-
-She is a dog. Last cycle we caught her howling at the moon!-
-How do you know she isn’t a he?!-
Seasons had passed since her last contact with them. She barely kept her above the waters, and paddled furiously. But inside she was the model of the calm waters these melted glacial waters.
-You don’t even know what a dog looks like….-
The boys laughed. Even in the water, she could tell who was who. A long time had passed…
-Do too know! The colonials have robots that look the kind.-
-Robots…-
One of the boys splashed her, and behind the wall of water jumped on top of her, and held her head down. She could not resist. She dove underwater and remembered her true calling. Weightlessness. Where her true skills lay.
She dove deep into the water, and like that, the long legs and arms that made her ungainly, gave her the greatest advantage. With her glossy-goggles on, she swam deep into the water. The other kids followed her graceful lead. She left them in her wake. On she swam.
Janus knew this was peace, this was her element. Without weight, she felt like she had escaped gravity, even the Earth itself. She always imagined her life as one of a classic astronaut, an explorer of the depths of the universe. Just as her ancestors had done. During the first wave of the settlements that broke out over the Outer Planets.
Janus dove deeper and escaped. She kept notice of the cliff wall she had jumped off, with knowledge that it extended deep into the lake as a submerged set of hills. She knew what she looked for, and what others had told her. She only needed to dive as deep as she could, until she felt her lungs about to burst…then dive just a little deeper. When the sunlight could no longer reach this far, and the darkness threatened to take over, Janus stopped. She waited.
Only a brief time permitted her to float here, up against the cliff wall. Her lungs felt ready to give out. With the last of her breath, she looked at the cliff wall until she could make out the features. Human features. A giant human face carved out of rock stared at her. It dwarfed her, and she felt like a fly compared to its size. Since she knew what a fly looked like in these 8Fold days, she could make the right comparison. So she buzzed for a last few seconds in front of its face. In awe.
She made a note of her location, and where the other stone faces should be. Success. She had seen the first of the four presidents, and swam upwards as fast as she could. She popped up to the surface with a loud exhalation of joy.

***

When the nights on the shores of Lake Agassiz ended, the lights from the campfires still burned in the eyes of Janus. The stories she learned by those fires though, they burned brighter. She would learn new names, and the next day talk about them with the other children. They always waited for each other beneath the cliff walls.
Every year, Janus felt more uncomfortable in her new body. Everytime she met back up with the children she had played with before, she could feel their eyes. The boys had begun to look differently too. Some in not so spectacular ways. Fleshy, and much more hairy. But with more pronounced muscles, which they showed off whenever they could.
They walked down to the waters, and more than once, someone commented on the level of the lake. It seemed to lower each year. So too, did they see more debris in the water. The kids from the eastern lands explained. Apparently the refuse-choked lagoons of the Strait had begun to spill over into Lake Agassiz. Some stories involved mechanical spiders that disturbed the lake.
Nights on the shores of Lake Agassiz were spent with campfires and story telling, of which the children would re-enact the next day. What the elders told them the night before, served as the material for new adventures. They would fight over the roles they wanted to play, but in the end, those decisions could sometimes come down to simple reasons.
Today, they saw olden plastic in the waters, mostly beams and a few sheets of filament. They ran over to the debris and pulled it onto the beach. Then, Janus thought about a story from the night before.
-We should pretend its the Frederick Hermes.-
The boys began to scream. For once she liked their display of muscles. She just wished they would keep their shirts on.
Once lashed together, the plastic raft drifted on the surface. Janus took the helm. The other boys took their positions.
-Spacemen! Where is our position?-
One of the boys feigned a look at a space that doubled for a dumb-puter.
-2 days out of port of Venus!-
Janus nodded. She liked this.
-Give us our flight path.-
Another boy looked preoccupied with an invisible machine.
-Approaching the storms of the Sun!-
Janus nodded. The sun beat down on her head, and she could almost imagine what space travelers had endured in their close proximity to the sun.
-Its hotter than a picnic on Mercury!-
The boys giggled, except for one.
-That was never said.-
-How do you know? Besides, don’t countermand your chief engineeri!-
The boy shook his head. Another boy made motions at that blank space where technology should have been.
-Solar activity on the Sun is at its worst that Ive ever seen. Worse storm in years!-
Janus held stern.
-Just stay behind Mercurys gravity, fellow pagani, and welll make it out.-
Another boy began to point.
-Rogue solar flare coming towards us!-
Janus pointed at another boy.
-Take evasive action!-
-Its too late!!!-
All the kids fell to the floor of the raft. The made crashing sounds and klaxon bells. The alerts of danger. Janus knew this part of the story by heart.
-Status report!-
The tallest boy began to stand up.
-Engines don’t work. Life support on back-up. Navigation and communications are out.-
Janus walked around the craft and helped each crew member back onto their feet.
-Reroute all power to auxiliaries.-
The boys began to labor on their invisible machines. Janus waited for a bit.
-Status report?-
The boys began to rattle off ship operations. Janus knew what came next.
-How about the navigation systems?-
A boy turned around to face her.
-Its been burned out. If we cant plot a course, the Sunss gravity will pull us in and welll be destroyed!-
The other boys began to ask Janus what they should do. She knew this part well.
-Back before our people left Antarctica, the biggest star in the sky was the Southern Cross. Look there…!-
She pointed to the sky. Somewhere in the daytime sky lay her namesake. Just not here.
-…that’s the Southern Cross. If we follow that star, we should be able to plot a course back to Earth.-
The boys pushed imaginary buttons. One by one they began to raise their heads.
-Its working! Its working!-
The began to cheer. Janus just stood there, lost in thought to her namesake. The hero of campfire tales. The Children of the Southern Cross would soon arise.

The decline of the Pagani People. In some ways, the descent had began as a slow and steady process at the end of the Age of Brigda. While they never faced extinction, they did live in a precarious balance between feast and famine on the high plains of the Americas.
Octopi Incorporated changed all this, and pushed the Pagani People over the cliff, so to speak. The technocentrists argued that the incorporated imperium’s progress relied on the extraction of natural resources, and this made required a final solution to the Pagani Question. The 8Fold Lords proposed the thesis of a dying race. The citizens of the imperium, and the government of the world-state, agreed. Most chose to look the other way.
The Pagani Re-Allotment Act was passed, and from high-earth orbit Octopi Incorporated gave the go ahead to the Crusaders, their kindred from Eurasia. As a reward for their loyalty, the Crusaders received the Lands of Unsheathed Community. They went to work. Relocation began. Behind the removal of the Pagani People laid another reality.
Termination.

***

Each year Januss family returned to Lake Agassiz, they found the levels of the glacial waters lower than the time before. More of the land revealed itself, just as it had looked before the Endless Summer and the melting of the ice caps. The Pagani People took advantage of the changes in the land.  As they had for generations, they adjusted and looked for advantages. Janus’ family joined the others and mined the leftovers of Modern America. Where the waters had once covered the black hills, they entered the old mines for leftover iron. Some even found gold.
Janus returned to the place of her earlier adventures, only to see the place as one of bare survival. The declension in the land no longer looked the same as she remembered. She could stand on a raft now and see each of the four heads of the American Presidents, as they stuck out of the water.
         She saw the same boys she had seen every year. They had changed and looked more like her brothers. The fat of boyhood had changed into muscles. And the once shy gazes that passed over her body were now steady looks of interest. At various times they would touch her. Each time she pushed them away. One time a boy tried to catch her alone. He pushed her to the ground, put his face in herss, and asked for a kiss. She said no. He persisted. With older brothers, she knew how to throw a punch. She landed one on his face. He never tried that again.
Along with the other children, she swam into the tunnels near the four presidents.
They brought whatever scrap they could find to the surface, and labored from sunrise to sunset. And when they finished, Janus like the others, collapsed on the former beaches of her youth, now drowned by strange chemicals, and fell asleep under an unchanged moon.
Everyday, that waited for each other on the rafts before they began another dive. They usually worked in pairs, but the end of the summer approached and the caravans would soon disperse. To speed things up, they dove individually. This had terrified Janus. Along with the other boys, they hauled their collections onto the raft and waited. Janus had a thing for numbers.
-1…2…3…4…5….-
They waited. Janus felt time begin to waste.
-Who was with him?-
The boys shrugged. She needed an answer.
-No one saw him?-
No one. Janus felt the terror well up. But she could hold her breath longer than any of them. She squirmed, then was furious. She shook her head, put on her glassy-goggles, and dove backwards into the water. The waters were no longer as deep as she remembered, and it did not take her long to swim into the tunnels beneath the American Presidents. She switched on her beam-lite. Still too dark, she tried to push back the fear, and swam on. Right when she wanted to quit, she knew to press onward. Somehow her fear instructed her to find the boy.
She could only see a few feet in front of her. She followed the ropes that others had placed. When the ropes stopped, she knew she should continue. When she found a split in the tunnels she did not recognize, she continued. Her fear grew more intense. Since no dig work had begun on this section, she realized how close she must be.
She flashed her beam-lite around, and there in the gloom, she found the boy. He had gotten his hand stuck between an iron bar and the rock. Still alive, his eyes widened with terror when he saw her. She clenched her beam-lite in her mouth, and grabbed his hand with both of hers. And pulled. No luck. She floated sideways and put her legs up against the rock. With added leverage, she pulled. She pulled. She pulled….

***

She pulled and pulled. The hand would not budge. The more she pulled, the angrier she became. The muscles in her arm came alive. She pulled and pulled until something had to give.
Janus never could have done this in a wakened state. She never could have willed her separated shoulder to rise above the pain, if not under the influence of a deep dream. The master of the subconscious had spoken. Somehow, her injured shoulder could wiggle in such a way, as to create an impossible angle, and pull her arm up and out of the metal restraint.
Janus knew immediately what to do. The crusade-bot noticed her movements and turned towards her, prepared to ask more questions. She had an answer. With her free arm she slammed its head on the interrogation table. It soon stabilized itself. Janus was prepared. She grabbed the construct-appendage that connected the robot to the computer banks and crashed the bot into the computers. Lights shattered in showers of sparks. For a brief second she could reach over her body, and with her freed hand, pull the bolt out of the second restraint. Her other freed hand grabbed the crusade-bot. Again, she began to beat the robot against the interrogation table. Over and over. It still responded, still stronger, and came at her again.
She reached down and removed the bolts from her feet restraints. With not time to spare, she kicked the crusade-bot to the ground, then jumped to her feet. The robot tried to rise up, but much too slow. She smashed it repeatedly with her feet, then pulled the construct-appendage out of the robot. She only saw a weapon. She tore the other end loose and plunged it into the metallic side of her enemy. Over and over. Sparks flew out and momentarily blinded her. A moment might have passed when she ceased her attack, no longer adverted her eyes, and looked down upon the smashed, and quite dead, robot at her feet. She kicked it and howled.
She only had a few minutes.
Her separated shoulder throbbed with pain. Her use of it had only aggravated the nerves. Soon her muscles would begin to swell up. She could not let that happen. With only a second to think otherwise, she charged the wall. Her shoulder landed squarely on the wall. She howled in torment. No luck. She would have to try again. This time, the aversion to this tactic stayed persisted. She thought twice about her tactic. Rise above, she thought. Ignorant to the instinct of pain avoidance, she crashed into the wall with her shoulder again. She felt the joint pop into her socket. The intense pain she felt gave her a clue. The procedure had succeeded. With a heart-wrenching yell, tears fell down her face. But she had fixed her arm. She felt full use begin to flood through her arm. Her left and dominant arm.
Southcross….
Janus looked around the inquisitor chambers. The computers flashed an irregular sequence of light patterns. Afraid that the tumult had alarmed her captors, she went into overdrive. She frantically looked around the room for items she might use. After she upended items in the room during a frenzied minute, she found an autopsy sheet. Once wrapped around herself, she stood briefly at soldier’s attention.
Seconds ticked.
A square box half her size received her attention. She ran over to it and opened each drawer. Each one was empty. She continued. Each drawer she opened, and nothing. This made her angrier. She flung the drawers open faster now, and plenty angry. Only a few remained. She kicked the box over on its side. The drawers flew open and fell out. Nothing, but a few pieces of…
Janus scrambled through the pile. She held an object up, and smiled. Tears returned to her eyes. But these were tears of joy, and more distinguishable. The object felt right in her hands, as it should. She had received this from…she could not be sure who he was, if he was…her father. Right now, she held in her hands a weapon of her ancestors. For some incredible reason, her Baalist short sword had returned. Why, she could not guess why. She would have to thank the sephiroth much later.
For now, she read the inscription on the side, and knew the weapon truly belonged to her.
CHILDREN OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS, ARISE!
Janus Southcross exited the inquisition chambers. Her plan to get inside the nuclear center of Edessa had succeeded. She escaped into the halls of her enemies, prepared to wreck vengeance, filled with purpose once again.

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