This is a chapter from a partially-completed story which basically tells us how Marc DuQuesne (from Grand Central Arena) came to be the way he is -- how Hyperion MADE him that way. I think I previously posted these on my Livejournal a couple years ago, but they should really be up on my main site, here. I'll probably post what I have of this story; whether I'll FINISH it I don't know; it gets AWFULLY grim for my taste, even if the main character is going to survive.
By Ryk E. Spoor
He pushed his way up the hill, legs straining. Almost there.
But the other was coming up the hill too, and by the sound, slightly ahead. No way. Not this time.
Somehow he forced more speed from his aching limbs, hurdled one of the fallen logs. A subliminal flicker warned him, he ducked and rolled instead of letting the camouflaged rope take him across the chest or neck. Up, up!
He burst into the clearing no more than a step ahead, but with a supreme effort dove forward. Hands closed around the hardwood shaft and wrenched it free with the force of his movement, and he brought it around even as he landed, the point of the flag's spear-shaft directly in line with his pursuer's throat.
His father, taller even than he, craggy-faced, hard and grim as a mountain, looked down the spearshaft into his eyes.
Then the hard face wrinkled, creased into a smile. "Now that be the way to do it, son."
The rush of relief, that tonight there would be no punishment, was accompanied by a momentary pang of happiness. His father's praise was rare indeed. "Thank you, Dad."
"Don't thank me for that; was your doing, Marc." Pierre stood still suddenly, listening. Marc could hear nothing but wind in the trees, leaves rustling…
No animals, he suddenly realized, and tensed, listening even more intensely alongside his father. Birds have gone quiet.
Movement. Movement in the brush, downhill, near the stream.
He looked up, saw Pierre's eyes narrowed and teeth bared in a snarl, with the hard glitter he sometimes saw in his father's eyes when punishment was going to be severe. But this time it wasn't Marc who was the target of that terrible glare.
"It's happened…" Pierre breathed slowly. "They've come, damn them."
"What do we do, Father?"
"What we trained t' do, son. Give 'em hell."
The snares the two set now, as they began a long-practiced retreat that neither had ever truly expected to happen, were not tricks, were not meant to sting or trip or otherwise chastise; these were lethal, tripwires to homemade explosives buried beneath the pathways, deadfalls, spike-arms made of tree limbs with vicious stakes fastened to them, and others.
They made it to the compound, which was hidden from above by artful camoflage attached to every surface, and Pierre stopped for a moment by the tiny plot of graves near the entrance, then shook his head. "Leastwise they're not here to see it. Be glad of that.
"Now remember, boy," he said, as the two armed themselves with live ammunition, "some of them might show human faces, even voices, but they're no more human'n this rifle."
"I remember, Father." It was knowledge of the horror waiting outside that explained his father's fears, his unwillingness to leave their grounds and seek other people, though it meant that his line might end here, his son never have a wife or see another face besides that of his father, now that his mother had passed on, explained the harshness and sometimes, yes, cruelty of his training. "Maybe they won't come up. We've hidden our –"
The look Pierre gave him was one of anguish mixed with pity… one of the most tender expressions he could ever remember his father wearing. "No, son. I'm sorry, Marc, no. If they've gotten this far, they probably found the creek heat, know it runs a degree hotter. No way to hide that if they started looking, an' no way to live like men without the power." He placed the spare weapons next to him in order and took his position. "Get ready, Marc."
Marc tried to be strong and nod, but he couldn't. He just couldn't, even if he was a big boy, almost a man, of fourteen years. He threw his arms around his father, who stiffened in surprise, but then put one arm around the boy, and then another, and gave a quick hug. "I'm afraid, Father."
"So'm I, boy. An' you've been a good boy, better'n I've told you. But it's time for us to be good men, now."
Marc pulled back and nodded now, grabbed up his weapons and did not wipe his face.
Tears would dry on their own.
The explosion echoed through the woods, and in the distance were shouts of confusion. Shouts of voices that were not his or his father's.
"Ha!" His father's voice was triumphant. "One of the damn things not so smart, is it?"
Another explosion came, this one farther around the mountain, and Marc frowned. "Father, they're circling."
"Probably surrounding us, son. But we back on the mountain and there's no way to the top 'cept straight up or through us."
Minutes passed. Then more explosions, one after the other. "What, are they charging?"
"No such luck, son. They just been rigging them to blow, get all the traps outta the way. Machines are smart, that way. Not so inventive, but when they set us up for the fall, they knew the system."
Marc's grip tightened on his rifle with its armor-piercing rounds. Soon he'd see the footsoldiers of the machines, the ones that had triggered World War III despite the best efforts of the atomic defense crews – crews that had relied on their machines to tell them the truth, instead of lies.
It looked like a man, mostly – in shadows, and to someone without Marc's keen eyesight and experience in these areas, would pass without question.
But the blank glass-lensed stare under the helmet was not that of a man. It was only 400 yards away, at the clearing's edge. Marc sighted, exhaled slowly, then held his breath just long enough to pull the trigger.
The bullet struck right between the figure's eyes and it went down instantly. Hopefully not to get up. If the brains are in another part of the robot…
"Got one, Father!"
"Good boy! Good boy! We'll make 'em pay for us at least, maybe the last free men on Earth, but they'll pay, that they will. Ha, there's one!" His father's rifle spoke, and he knew another invader was done; Father never missed.
Sporadic fire was returned, some of it blazing bolts of energy, not bullets. "Plasma packets, Father!"
"Don't worry 'bout the fire, son. Wood's wet as hell, after last week's rains. Won't spread far enough t' matter to us, not before it's all over."
A line of figures appeared now, hustling forward with some covering fire, trying to get closer, holding shields in front of them. Marc fired twice, saw his bullets couldn't penetrate those shields, reached into the nearby bin and pulled the pin on a dual-grenade, held until they were nearing throwing range, pitched it up and outwards.
The combined EMP-Fragmentation grenade scythed through the attackers, dropping most of the line instantly.
His father repeated the maneuver on his side, and then unlimbered a mortar, shelling the forest edge systematically. "Come get it, you mechanical sons of bitches!"
The woods went silent for a long while. Almost, Marc began to hope that the invaders might have given up, deciding that two refugees were not worth the risk.
But then he heard the humming in the air.
"Damn them, damn 'em all!" His father threw down his rifle, grabbed up the antiaircraft launcher. "Got to get a visual on them, son; they're scrambling everything else!"
But now there were low chuff noises, a series of them, and through the camoflage and canopy ripped multiple canisters that popped open, discharging gas. "Masks, son!"
His father pulled on his mask, almost getting it tight, but his fingers slowed, became unsure. His eyes, wide, horrified, met Marc's through the half-fastened mask, and with a last convulsive movement he yanked the pin from the grenade at his belt.
"NO!" Marc screamed, even as he felt his own breathing tightening, his vision fading.
The explosion was the last thing he heard before blackness and silence took him.
Consciousness slowly returned, with surprise that he still lived, and along with it the aching knowledge that his father was dead. There was a small soupçon of relief that no longer would there be the harsh canings for failure, the silent nights of study of apocalyptic Biblical verses alternating with engineering texts for building weapons and fortifications, but a greater pain for the loss.
He tried to sit up, realized he was restrained. His eyes snapped open.
He was in a room whose white, sterile color scheme screamed machine at him, and he knew with complete horror that he would have been better off dead. He struggled against the bonds desperately. There was no one else in the room; if he could manage to break free quickly, maybe…
But the door opened, almost instantly, and two figures came in. His panicked eyes could still register that these two did look very human. One of them was saying, "Whoa, come in, kid, settle down…"
The hands were trying to force him down. "You damn machines!" he snarled, redoubling his efforts. "You killed my father, you killed the rest of the world, why don't you just finish me?"
"Machines?" The second figure looked like a woman – a very pretty woman, and he hesitated. But then he heard his father's voice in the back of his head: "Right, son, and what better to use to trick a boy than some pretty face? The face don't matter, it's what's behind it that counts."
He reminded himself of that. "You think I don't know? Father told me all about it. How you fed misinformation to the Technos' screens, on both sides, so that they destroyed their own people, leaving you untouched!"
"What?" He had to hand it to the designers, the expressions of dumbfounded confusion on those artificial faces were note-perfect. But the hands had loosened just a bit, and he lunged upward.
His forehead struck the figure above him with an audible crack, and it staggered back, clutching its face. Marc wrenched one arm free, clawing at his restraints.
"Damn it!" the one said in a muffled voice. "He's broken my NOSE! And I think one of my teeth!"
Marc froze as he saw the hands come down and red blood – blood! pouring down the man's face. The woman glanced at him, saw he had stopped struggling, and went to help her partner. "Are you all right, Jack? Stop moving, let me look…" She shook her head and helped him back up. "Get yourself to the infirmary."
She turned, anger written across her face, but her expression softened as she looked at Marc.
Marc felt as though the world was dropping away below him. That was a human being! Not a machine! And that means…
He remembered aiming carefully, pulling the trigger…
"No.. no, how, Father told me…"
He was barely aware of the hand that touched his shoulder gently, as he began to cry.
"Scenario and Deployment complete."
"Past to be kept secret. Suspicion of others; suspicion of artificial intellects. Difficulty in connecting. Rejection of religion and irrationality. Extreme competitive nature. Need for others but only on equal level. All within 0.1% of projected requirements."
"Excellent. Balanced Stimuli must be achieved in next cycle. Generate sequential experiential matrix."