Ventus – Day 73 of 135


“You’re crazy,” said Axel Chan later that night. “He’ll kill us.”

“We have to try.” Calandria stamped the dirt near the fire in an attempt to warm her feet. “Every day we wait he’ll get stronger, and nearer his goal.”

“But without the Desert Voice…”

“He’s not invincible, Axel. None of them are.”

“But we can’t guarantee his destruction. You’ve said yourself every molecule of that body has to be vaporized.”

Calandria patted the large case they’d taken from the Pan Hellenia. “This should be enough to incapacitate him. Then we get him offworld, and take care of him once and for all there.”

Marya watched them bicker wearily. This had been going on for hours now. She was beginning to wonder whether it wouldn’t have been better to throw herself on the mercy of the farmers. At least she had studied them. These two were galactic citizens, like her, but they were also foreign mercenaries with completely alien priorities.

They had made camp in a hollow beneath a windswept hill. It was very cold again tonight; Marya could see her breath. She had never been so cold, for so long, in her life. Privately she was amazed and proud that she was still alive, much less mobile. Every day she battled bone-numbing cold, agoraphobia from being on the unprotected surface of a planet, and the onslaught of so many minor physical inconveniences that she was sure they were going to drive her insane.

To make matters worse, Axel had told her he thought it would rain tonight. Would it hurt? she wondered. The very thought of countless tiny water-missiles plummeting down at her from ten thousand meters made her shudder. But he seemed quite unconcerned. Show-off.

She scratched at the heavy, binding cloth garments Calandria had stolen for her the day before. She had been taught that clothing was primarily an invention for sexual display, but the people who told her that had like herself been raised in an environment of perfect climate and hygiene control. She wouldn’t abandon the cloth now, uncomfortable as it was, because she needed it to keep her warm.

The argument across the fire had shifted back to whether they should continue with their mission, and attempt to stop Armiger, or whether they should try to escape the planet. Axel wanted to use their implanted radio to signal other ships that might be in the system; Calandria was adamant about retaining radio silence. She seemed frightened of attracting the attention of the Winds. And yet it was she who proposed that they confront this Armiger, whom Axel said might be hiding in the depths of a besieged fortress. The argument went back and forth, back and forth, and nothing was resolved.

Axel had told Marya the story as they walked, though he glossed over the extent of his and Calandria’s interference with local affairs. Covering his ass, apparently. But this General Armiger was an off-world demigod, and somehow a young man named Jordan Mason had gained the ability to see through his eyes.

“I heard about the war with 3340,” said Marya. “So Armiger is really one of that monster’s servants?”

Axel nodded. “And devilishly dangerous, for that. 3340 corrupted entire planetary systems. He seduced people by offering them immortality and almost infinite power,” he added with a glance at Calandria May. “Then he absorbed the resulting entities into himself. Armiger may have been an early victim.”

“He was human, once?” She was surprised and disturbed at the thought.

“If he was, there’s nothing left of that personality,” said Calandria. She hugged herself as her gaze dropped back to the fire. “3340 absorbed millions of individuals, and then mixed and matched their consciousness as he saw fit. Anything he absorbed became part of the single entity that was him. He was ancient when the Winds were just being designed. Maybe aliens designed him–but he claimed to have made himself.”

Axel harumphed skeptically. “So did Choronzon–our employer,” he added in an aside to Marya. “An ex-human who had himself genetically rebuilt and made himself into a god. He’s a few centuries old. It was his war with 3340 that got us involved in all of this.”

Marya shook her head in wonder. “I’ve never met a god, unless you count the swans.” She kicked at the wilting grass near the fire for a second, then added, “The Winds are gods of a sort. But damaged. They’re fully aware, even if they’re not completely awake. That’s the tragedy of it.”

“They’re not gods,” said Calandria with odd vehemence. “They’re just machines. Idiotic. Mechanical. You can see it in everything they do.”

“What do you think they do?” asked Marya.

“She’s thinking of the Heaven hooks,” said Axel. “They acted like a horde of dock robots gone amok. As far as we could tell, that’s what they were too–the aerostats are just big cargo carriers for the terraforming operation.”

Marya nodded. They’d seen one that afternoon, a vagabond moon as the locals called it, moving as slowly as a real moon through the sky, but from north to south. It had glowed gorgeous red in the sunset, and Marya had almost cried to think she might never have seen that, had she’d stayed out her term here in orbit. Being on Ventus was affecting her profoundly, in ways she hadn’t begun to figure out. All she knew was she was an emotional wreck.

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