DISCLAIMER: This short story includes some instances of violence. Reader discretion is advised.
The transfer was complete.
Another body, another land. Anywhere but home.
Now began the hard part – suppressing the mind and dominating the body I had borrowed.
Groggy and disorientated, I finally waded out of the storm of transference and felt able to take control. Electric tendrils of consciousness spread throughout; it was mine. I would win the mental battle, like every time before. It wasn’t even a challenge now, I’d lost count of how many minds had shattered, retreating into the recesses of their own bodies. Bittersweet; my own, a burnt cripple only able to shit itself, lay comatose wasting away wherever. Not that I cared. I want to live.
Like a beacon of fragility, this mind called out. And yet, despite summoning me, inside he fought with everything, resisting every breath I seized with his lungs. Too late.
Eyes opened and a blurred world emerged, a flicker of the host’s thoughts betrayed victory at the petty attempt to stop me. But I had control. A moment later a rough wooden bed came into focus, cramped up into the corner of a cluttered bedroom. I frowned. It felt more like a cupboard. To one side threadbare curtains were drawn closed but hung loose, barely hiding the deep orange sky. With caution I took a step closer, unveiling the raging inferno outside. There, looming in the sky like a stray balloon, was a meteor. I froze, I could not survive another transfer so soon. A cold sadness emanated from the man. His world was going to end. He wanted his family by his side and for it to be over. A mind so desperate to escape, no wonder it had been calling out.
We were the same.
“Caelan?” A female voice yelled. Caelan’s wife, Idella.
I stepped to the doorway. In the hall bustled a woman, teary brown eyes snapped to mine with a face streaked of anger.
“That woman has returned.”
Behind stood another woman, a loose braid of auburn hair fell from the side of her head, and grey eyes watched my every move. I glanced down to see dull layered leather covering her torso, blanketed with a long sky blue jacket.
‘Ivie,’ Caelan’s thoughts whispered. ‘She’s devious. Stay away from her.’
“There you are,” she smiled. “I have returned as promised, I am here for my answer.”
“He won’t go with you, he belongs here—”
“I’m asking Caelan,” Ivie snapped, cutting Idella off. “Not you.”
The floor wobbled as I lost control for a second, Caelan fought back while my mind floundered with my choices. Rough hands gripped the doorframe sending splinters into the tough skin. Both women watched with concern.
‘It’s futile, stop fighting me. What does she want, Caelan?’
‘I’ll never stop, this is my body. Your moments are limited, intruder.’
I focussed harder, prying into Caelan’s mind. Ivie wanted to take him to a new world. If I made him go I could switch to another body. It was an easy decision.
‘You are not dying today, neither am I.’
‘No! I don’t want it. My place is here with my wife.’
“I will go with you,” I managed, forcing Caelan to silence.
Idella shrieked, begging him not to leave, but I closed my mind to it. My focus was on Ivie. If she could take me away from this doomed world then so be it.
A white hot fury rose from the depths of Caelan’s mind assaulting my every fibre. I would not bend or break. I was in control. There was no stopping me.
‘Idella. Don’t make me leave her.’
“Very well,” Ivie smiled, stepping close and taking Caelan’s free hand. “Hold tight, or you’ll die.”
“Caelan? Please don’t leave me. Please, Caelan. I love you. I need you here.”
Idella’s pleading drowned away as all vision faded, replaced by a choking darkness. In the moment between worlds, all I could feel was Ivie’s hand. The temptation to desert Caelan in the nothingness and search another body eked, but curiosity stopped me. I had never known of anyone moving worlds, and Ivie seemed more than adept; it was fascinating and yet terrifying. And so was she.
A swathe of emerald sky beckoned, the new world was much brighter and the crisp air chilled around me. Slushed snow gathered in clumps, melting as a far away sun blinked on the horizon. Despite the cold beauty, I could tell something rancid lingered in the air. An acrid smell, like rotting meat.
“The second sun will rise soon, and when it does the attack will continue.”
I stared at Ivie. Her boots pounded on the stone tiles, my own stuck as I tried and failed to avoid crimson patches littering the floor. With each step the stench intensified. A cold shiver ran through me – I knew that smell too well. The courtyard ahead was stained red with drying blood, and as I hurried on the source became clear. To one side sprawled dead bodies burning. Vomit started to rise in my chest, I clenched my eyes, there was nowhere free of the bloodbath.
“I lost many soldiers yesterday. We can’t even bury them, it’s too dangerous.”
“How?” I spluttered out, repulsed. My eyes met hers, a dangerous glint stared back.
“When Ancha rises, you’ll understand. We must head inside now, for our safety.”
‘I told you to stay away from her…’
Ignoring Caelan, I hurried after Ivie into a building as bloody as the floor. Inside seemed the opposite; flickering lights shared charcoaled walls coated in dust. It was not homely at all. Nothing here seemed to be. We stopped outside a plain door; Ivie unlocked it and entered. I followed with caution, wondering why I wasn’t running far from her. The click of a lamp lit the windowless room, revealing a dark wooden desk covered in drawings and plans. I eyed them with curiosity.
“I suppose you are wondering why someone like me would need your help?” Ivie smiled and inched closer, her breath tickling my face. “I need something from you.”
Shivers rolled over me as Ivie’s hand stroked up my arm. Long fingers wound around my wrist. Glancing down, her other hand joined the first, snapping a bracelet around my skin. A jolt surged through me. I gasped for breath.
“Now, Caelan, feel free to regain some control. They cannot silence you now.”
The words were not mine. Control had vanished. And I was now relegated to what—an observer?
I floundered, sinking in a sea of Caelan’s soul; every ebb of the waves pulled me under.
Panic seized my mind and left me breathless.
Once again, I was helpless.
“… Thank you?”
“You’re welcome,” Ivie said, shadowed grey eyes piercing straight through Caelan, to me. “What is their name? Where do they come from?”
‘No! How can this be? Nothing should stop me… It doesn’t make sense…’
‘Well?’ Caelan growled.
It couldn’t be the end, I would not believe it. I sent an onslaught of mental probes, but met with iron walls.
“They call themselves Ashi. But I don’t understand what is going on—”
“Your body was a vessel for another mind. I made you irresistible and they took the bait. I will have to find other ways to thank you… But for now, let’s get rid of the audience.”
I watched through Caelan’s eyes as Ivie bent down beside the desk to retrieve a glass jar from a small cupboard. She placed it down with care, alongside a silver pipe which glinted in the lamplight. Caelan showed curiosity, but I knew exactly what this was. Ivie hoped to separate us. I had fought against this before, and won. I would do it again. The trick was timing and strength – thankfully I knew what I was doing now, having hopped around many heads.
Caelan flinched as the silver pipe pierced his skin, slipping into a vein. Pulses of magic jolted through Caelan’s body trying to disconnect me from his mind. Instead I dug deeper, my consciousness clawing onto anything it could, clinging to every fibre, grasping at every corner.
“Natou porufo telemi,” Ivie called, reaching to hold the bracelet.
Despite everything, I could feel parts of my mind slipping away, being dragged from hiding. With my last ounce of strength I held on… and failed.
Ivie’s voice echoed sweetly as my senses dulled, “you and I have seen the end. Now it’s time to show you…”
Ancha burned overhead with unyielding power, forcing soldiers from both sides to seek shelter or be baked in their blood-soaked armour. Its midday position killed any who dared to oppose it. Keid, the first sun, brought light. Zosma, the third, gave peace from Ancha’s ferocity. Light, death, peace. The cycle of the day bore great similarity to life itself.
My finger hovered over a button, one press and today’s skirmish could be won. Not that it would help in the overall war. The enemy had hundreds of soldiers lined up for the slaughter. Their will was almost as great as my own.
I would not bow before anyone.
All my years of discovery and patience turned them against me. Hatred clouded their minds, fuelled their war against me.
And yet I would win, or I would destroy everyone.
Quick explosions shattered windows and collapsed the ceilings of surrounding buildings. Ancha’s relentless intensity bore down and men wailed in agony.
Silence broke through as each life was snuffed.
A gleeful smile curled at my lips. I turned away from the floor-length window and returned to my desk. Twinkling in a jar sat Ashi – helpless, alone, and mine. Things were finally falling into place. Behind me, Lumi struggled to carry a large sleek ball. I helped her place it down and marvelled at our contraption. It was perfect.
“Is it over?” Lumi asked, coiled brown hair falling from the ribbon at her crown; dark eyes darted to the rising smoke outside full of worry.
“Yes,” I replied running my fingers along a panel edge. “Ancha provides, once again.”
“Good. Now we can concentrate on soldier numbers. We are getting dangerously close to breaking point… Is the next batch ready?”
“Not yet. Give me until Ancha has set,” I said, my frown deepening; my stomach had barely changed shape.
Lumi lingered a moment before continuing, “it’s getting harder, isn’t it?”
I didn’t answer. It was shameful. I was regenerating my body enough after each time, it should be working; after all procreating was the main function of a human body.
“Perhaps I could—”
“No,” I stopped her. “It would take too long to sequence your data. Only mine can ensure our survival now.”
“What about the golem? Perhaps it could be placed as a guard for now while you make more soldiers.”
“It’ll be useful soon enough, Lumi. You don’t need to worry about guards. As soon as we have word where it needs to go, it’ll be sent. I want to kill the bastards and end this war now. Our prototype ensured this will work.” My eyes rested on the jar, “this one is enough. They have the strength we require.”
“I’m sorry, I just worry too much. I mean it’s been so long and all the blood is just so…”
“Messy?” I took Lumi’s hand and squeezed it, “I know you hate it, but it will be over soon. You are key to our survival, I can’t process the soldiers without you. And once it is done—”
“I’ll be getting as far away from this place as I can. Another world, if you’d take me. I’ve had more than enough of my share of death,” Lumi said pulling from my grasp. “Everyone around us keeps dying.”
I paused. Her words stung, but I would not let the hurt spread. She would just be another who abandoned me. Like everyone else.
“You may do as you wish.”
The eerie silence suited my foul mood. Ancha had set hours ago and finally I was ready to bring forth the newest soldiers. My boots thumped along the tiled corridor as I passed empty rooms; it was only me and Lumi left now to man the laboratory. There were rooms filled with the men I had saved, ones who helped to provide what was required for more soldiers, but given the chance they’d flee. I didn’t care what happened now, there would be no need for them once the war ended. Their data, however, was much more valuable. From that I could spawn the perfect humans needed for my tasks; children who grew up to adulthood in days and lived for years. A smile crept on my face. It would be glorious.
I paused to turn. Caelan walked from the doorway. His brown dishevelled hair had been combed backwards and a new life seemed to glow in him; gone was the slightly hunched overworked farmer. Caelan’s green eyes sought mine.
“Ah, Caelan, you are looking good. I trust you are well since I plucked out your invader?”
“Well? My body feels like it is twenty years old again…” his smile faded as his words turned bitter. “But I don’t care. I didn’t want to survive, I wanted to be left alone on my world with my family. I had accepted my fate, but now I am here.”
“Surely here isn’t too bad. You have as much as I can give during the midst of war and I only ask—”
“I will give you no more, Ivie. What have you done with the other children you have taken from me?”
Furious, I hissed, “I am creating an army. We are under attack and our only survival is to keep taking down their soldiers and removing their leaders. I even changed my data to make the perfect fighters to combat loss of life. I have taken nothing; in fact, you have given a lot to my cause.”
“You take my children and send them to die; you tricked me.”
I paused. It was true, in some strange way; their data did come from him and could be called his children. He didn’t understand though. They were needed, expendable. Nothing but more data. The other men were becoming unusable and Caelan’s body wouldn’t last much longer. I needed more. I was, after all, fanatical about exploring how to make the perfect data, and the perfect soldiers. I could make bodies free of illness or defects, give them keen eyesight and night sight. My soldiers battled on until the very end; my own data within them ensured loyalty.
“You may believe that, but they protect me, protect us. Without them I would be dead right now.”
“And so would I, as I wanted.”
“Enough,” I snapped. “Please return to your quarters. I have work to do.”
“My prison, don’t you mean? As I’m sure you want to keep me here,” he growled, stomping closer. “Hide all you like from me Ivie, one day you’ll realise the morality of your actions.”
Tearing my eyes from the fury in his, I hurried onwards, hoping he didn’t follow. The door slammed behind me and I keyed in the code to lock the door. Nobody was getting inside. The incubating room had the best defences of all the rooms in our location. One disturbance could halt the production and cause catastrophe, it couldn’t be allowed. Especially now. Tanks filled every space from floor to ceiling. Processed amniotic fluid, mixed with artificial waters, provided a womb until each soldier had reached maturity. As they grew, memories collected and passed on from others before them were placed into their minds. Each soldier stronger than the one before.
Lumi perched in a corner assessing their progress; she knew how every machine worked and created them herself. I moved towards one and sighed. Would I even survive the process this time? I lifted my shirt, my rounded belly now fitting perfectly into the concave portion of the machine, though it had taken much longer than I planned. One press of a button and the whirring began, suctioning my belly until it formed a perfect seal.
I counted; one, two, three.
Biting back a squeal, a sharp pain seared through my body. From the newly created hole the children were removed and sent to tanks.
Each transference was harder.
Black spots clouded my vision, I could feel myself fading away.
The whirring slowed as the machine gently freed me. The hole closed with neat, perfect stitches, another for my collection of silvery scars. With heavy steps, I found my way to a chair and fell into it.
“The golem is ready for setup, when you have recovered,” Lumi said, passing me a foul drink to heal.
Perhaps those children would be the last I created; any more and my death was certain. My eyes flicked across the desk to my newest creation, charging its batteries. It would be our saviour. It had to be.
Unfamiliar eyes opened, sharing a detailed view of the world. Colours more vibrant, very clear and focussed. A face moved into view and stared back, grey eyes and chestnut hair in a side braid. I knew her, she—
A black hatch opened at my new chest revealing circuit boards and tubes; slender fingers pushed an ignition capsule inside. I wasn’t sure how I knew that. New thoughts circulated, routes planned, a destination set.
Her eyes lit up with fervent lust, “do you hear the fire burning? It will call your name. Bring me a new tomorrow… Win my war.”
I opened my mouth to speak… no words came forth. Eyes moved downwards, catching the light glimmering off the glossy black exterior. What had I become? This wasn’t human…
Grey eyes found mine once again, pink lips whispered, “and remember, you are dangerous… but so am I. Now go.”
Dawn’s light sent streaks of yellow through the sky, illuminating a path to my enemy. I remember now. My name is Ashi. I should be far away from this place. Instead, I fought the mechanical contraption which held me, travelling towards her enemy. The clacking of metallic footsteps kept calling my name.
To what end?
You and I have seen the end…
Ivie’s words burned in my mind. This prison would be my last.
I glanced around with robotic eyes, assessing each detail that passed me. Being inside a machine was different, everything more streamlined and fluid. I thought jump and the machine soared high in the air, but it only worked if it forwarded us to the destination. I had tried to override it all. There was nothing my consciousness could attack; no circuits, no code. As with our arrival to this world, I believed it to be magic.
Fire littered the ground slick with oils; columns of smoke billowed to the green sky. Every detail now shone in my eyes, life given to every last thing. We – the machine prison and myself – searched for something, perhaps someone; this whole land was foreign to me. All night we’d been propelled forwards, sneaking into vents away from armoured soldiers hacking each other to death. Now we had reached a new area, grass grew high in the places fire hadn’t touched. Upwards we’d climbed walls of polished stone, our shared eyes taking in a view of a war-torn land. And yet, we continued. Fire became the cover, roaring to our drum beat. I could feel the end now.
Nimble legs pulled us down a pipe, navigating the tubes with expertise. I looked down at the prison I inhabited: sleek and black, with short armoured legs which now tucked into the round machine. A purposeful design. This was made for war. I almost looked like…
I need to get out!
New voices echoed along the pipework, we stopped and the machine churned faster.
Ashi. Ashi. Ashi.
Plates moved, folded inwards to spikes; the core began to heat and bubble. One last push and we fell to the ground. For a second, faces of horror filled my vision as metal projected throughout the room.
And then they were gone.
None left but me.
Paralyzed, unable to free myself of the machine which now didn’t exist. Tethered to nothingness. I couldn’t fight, there was nothing to battle.
All I could do was be.