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The Rebel (Khal's Story)
The first short character story of three in the Silver Ship module.
(the story opens during the city’s election powerball games to decide the next warlord)
“…finals! Stakes couldn’t be higher, citizens.”
“That’s right Eolfred! Sixteen rounds of election games all comes to a head here and now in the ball court of the Hylodrome.”
“It’s been an exciting election year, Nemora.”
“The teams are coming out now, look at them in their golem armors. Red-and-gold for the Carbon House, black-and-gilt for the Iron House. Those must cost a fortune, Eolfred!”
“Well, it’s the election finals, Nemora! No expense spared by either house. But yes, each of those suits would feed a thousand first circles for a year.”
“They don’t make them like that anymore.”
“They certainly don’t. Silver Ship work, custom made for our great city by the undying wizard Idrargo himself.”
“Look at them go, finest athletes of each house and the cyber patriarchs themselves, Eolfred!”
“Yes, they didn’t come out for all the other games, Nemora.”
“Well, there was the third round upset, when Sharl of Polyvinyl faced Wit of Carbon.”
“You know, Eolfred, that’s when I first started thinking House Carbon might have a chance of taking the title and the throne at these election games.”
“Oh, here they are now, lining up to salute the centimillennial mirror whence the Builders watch over us and our games.”
“Glory to the Builders, Eolfred.”
“Glory to the Builders, Nemora.”
“But I still favor Jorxe of the Iron House for this match, Eolfred.”
“He does have the pedigree, and the finer hereditary augments.”
“And he does have that classical marble cast to his features.”
“Yes, a beautiful plastic face. Mind, Wit’s record in these games has been astonishing, Nemora.”
“Indeed, quite the underdog story. Unusual to have a house patriarch play in every match.”
“Wit’s very old school that way.”
“He’s risked going through the mirror to meet the Makers in seven matches! Brave, that’s for sure.”
“But those augments. More wire than man, very uncouth.”
“Yes, definitely making a statement, Eolfred. That synthetic combat skin is so Feral Era.”
“Still, the match makers are 3:1 for Jorxe, Nemora.”
“If Jorxe wins, it’ll be a fifth generation for the Popular faction in charge of New Increase and a third turn for Jorxe as Warlord Elect.”
“Well, whoever wins, it’ll be another great twenty years of boundless growth and increase for New Increase.”
“Absolutely, Eolfred, glory and increased rations for everyone who supports our legitimate elected warlord!”
“Oh, here comes the electric priest with the god-rubber ball, Nemora! It’s about to begin!”
Together: “It’s the final countdown! Five … four … three …”
The null gong rang. A wave of silence dampened the cheers of the crowd and the screams of the injured. The final was over.
The silence washed out of the squawk box and into the packed eatery, like waste overflowing a latrine. Khal of the Iron House felt sick. The final score was seventy-four to seventy-two, election to House Carbon. A year’s campaigning and traditional election games had come down to ninety-eight minutes, including overtime, of nail-biting combat for possession of the god-rubber ball.
Both captains approached the altar of victory, their living machine suits battered and dusty from the ruthless match. Their teams limped and carried each other behind. At the altar of victory awaited the electric priest, holding the traditional first postmaterial machete over her head.
The silence burbled and flowed, filling up the hylodrome, flooding the eatery where Khal and his Popular friends now watched, queasily, as their eighty years of sometimes contested leadership of New Increase fell like the final grains down the gullet of a grand hourglass.
Jorxe took the postmaterial machete in his black-and-gilt gauntleted hands and sat on the altar in the transcendent position.
Through the squawk box screen Khal could read his father’s lips as he instructed the golem Feodor to execute the ritual self-sacrifice. The golem’s chest section unfolded like a golden rayed lily to expose Jorxe’s muscle-crafted physique. Despite his nearly hundred years, the lord looked as fine and smooth as a classic permadurTM alabastrite statue of a Builder. Certainly better than any low human youth might look, either in first flowering or later sculpting.
Khal briefly wondered why his mind was going into such pointless detail on the life enhancement protocols of his family, traditional flower varietals, and the traditional plastics found in the Notime Museum.
Then Khal threw up violently.
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The squawk box broke the silence, its tinny speakers reproducing Jorxe’s death scream as his own golem armor pushed the postmaterial machete into his chest, cutting skin, muscle, sinew and bone as though they were edible oil spread. As Jorxe screamed, the unperturbable living machine suit held its occupant stiff. With one hand it wielded the glittering machete, cutting out a neat circle of chest. With the the other hand it removed the chest and laid it down on the shipmetal altar. Then it cupped the heart and gently pulled it to the front, exposing the beating muscle for the zooming cameras of the watching throngs of New Increase.
Wit of House Carbon knelt in supplication before the altar. The electric priest approached the cross-legged figure. The golem, almost gently, severed the arteries and veins and passed the dying ex-warlord’s heart to the priest. Jorxe screamed his last.
Khal was staring in perplexity at a buckwheat noodle he had thrown up through his nose. Did it take that long to digest noodles? Hadn’t that been two hours ago?
The squawk box broke his meditation on stomach acids.
“By the Builders, we promote the eternal growth of humanity!” exclaimed the electric priest and held aloft the beating heart of the defeated warlord candidate Jorxe.
The silence was broken by the acclamations of the cheering crowds at the Hylodrome as the electric priest anointed the newly elected warlord of New Increase with the heart blood of the old warlord.
Behind them, Feodor the golem quietly put down the postmaterial machete and replaced the section of cut-out chest, then patiently waited in the pose of the acquiescent immortal for the cameras to stop rolling. Jorxe would be buried in a replica suit of dead metal, while Feodor would be repainted and continue to serve the Iron House.
“Isn’t it exciting? A new warlord!” spouted the matron.
“Oh, my, yes. Been so long since we’ve seen a new face at the swearing-in parade,” agreed the cat-faced elder.
“Maybe now there’ll be some hope for the little person,” moaned the callow maintainer.
“Heh, don’t bet on it, its just shuffle-chairs on top of the house tree,” chuckled the nine-fingered computer-smith.
It was crowded on the Glass Avenue. The air off the Gyrade was humid as usual. It was only the third hour of the day, but it felt like the sixth. Khal wiped his sweaty face.
“Water, mister?” asked a grickle girl, offering him a gourd.
“Wha … No, no I’m alright,” replied Khal.
“It’s just you look ready to faint,” continued the grickle, her whiskers twitching.
Khal shook his head, lank hair flopping.
“My ma’s a columba picker, so I know about heat exhaustion, and you’re really looking ready to go,” the grickle wasn’t giving up, “You should be careful in the summer. You must have been here since sun-up. I can tell by the coat, dawn must have been cool with the breeze. Big fan of the Neobios, I suppose?”
Khal looked at the mousy girl. Well, young woman. Grickles were slight and the malnutrition always made them look like children to him. How wasn’t she hot with that fur?
“Bioadapted. Radiator ears and different metabolism,” she must have noticed his stare.
Khal wondered what else she had noticed, then she simply pushed the gourd into his free hand with a gesture.
Khal struggled to drink one-handed. His heart beat a thunder in his chest as his other hand clutched a military grade fryer grenade under his autumn coat.
Khal was ready for them when they came for him.
He heard the commotion in the entrance hall. The outraged voices. The majordomo’s synthesized voice. The off-key ding that announced armed intruders.
Khal adjusted his black and gilt suit, cut in the latest common fashion, and strode out of his apartments onto the mezzanine, aiming for a louche, insouciant air.
His sister, Elle, greeted him and he started to smile, the prepared quip ready.
“You little fool! What have you done?” she spoke in a low, sharp voice.
“As a …” Khal started to recite his line. He’d worked on it, combining a quote from the dialectical revolutionary Andantes with a pun implying that the warlord was a corpse-fornicating snail.
“Shut up. They have you sewn up tight. Plotting. Attempted assassination. Attempted mass murder. Fomenting rebellion.”
She made a gesture, and his house implant overrode his voicebox.
“I don’t need another word out of you, I don’t need the Iron House implicated, I don’t need our designated origin withdrawn, I don’t need rumors that we’re sore losers. This was your damned foolish mess, you and those other hotheads pretending you were living in your historical fantasy novels.”
Khal’s eyes bulged, but before he could move, Elle’s garou had his upper arm and was marching him down the stairs to the waiting electric officers. Their mechanical suits and billy sticks proclaimed their role as neutral custodians of the electric priests’ will and the common good of the undying city.
“Wait,” said Elle and the garou stopped, the post-human a living statue with Khal pinned in its taloned grasp.
Elle came up, unzipped his coat and withdrew the electromagnificent pulse device. She held it up between them and looked into Khal’s eyes.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice the unfashionable bulge? That I’d just let you make a damn fool martyr of yourself? Samuel, search him in the second visitor’s lounge, then give him over to the electric priests.”
Khal gesticulated with his free arm to catch her attention. If she saw, his sister gave no sign she cared. She took three slow breaths, fixed a steely smile on her face, and went to talk to the skull-faced electric officers.
“Good officers, I acknowledge your warrant and domain over the errant you seek. Please, accommodate us as we check his psycho-corporeal form to ensure he can cause no further damage to the relations between our humble house of designated origin controlled and guaranteed and the ageless institutions of this city.”
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Dear reader! Patient, long-waiting reader who puts up with my erratic publishing schedule. I confess, I had this story ready to share days ago but I wanted to synchronize it with a post on my patreon (the wizardthieffighter patreon).
Alas! As often happens, the work I am preparing there for this month’s update is past schedule. But you are in luck … I have another link that I can share with you.
Ten years in the making, the BREAK!! rpg is finally arrived.
On kickstarter till mid-May 2023.
It’s spectacular, pretty, detailed, long … and takes me back to some of the best times I had in the long ago when G+ had a lively and creative rpg community and before that disintegrated into squabbles and the omnipresent politics of 2016+. But, seriously, don’t listen to me blather. It’s a beautiful book by great folks, and they deserve your attention.
See? I don’t just share my own links on this substack!