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Flicker
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-421-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 152 Pages
Published: July 2018

From inside the flap

Gratification is the new religion. Countless temples cover the last remaining city, Scelus, filled with sex-bots to accommodate the faith. Mira, the figurehead of the resistance, is awoken by her long time team-mate Horatio as a bot. This confirms their worst suspicion, that humans are somehow being used to create the lifeless machines. In their escape, Mira finds a terrifying power within herself that doubles her will to fight against the tyrannical Council of Luminescence. As they continue their journey to destroy an unbeatable enemy Mira and Horatio must look within themselves to find what forms true power can take.

Flicker (Excerpt)


Chapter 1

Imprisonment

The soft beep repeated itself, a beacon summoning Horatio. He moved slowly. A ghost haunting empty, dimly-lit corridors lined with processing machines. His watch stuck at a lost moment in time, he had no idea how long he had been searching. The immensity of it all gripped him with equal parts despair and trepidation. Hallways hummed endlessly as he passed. It faded into normality, and the chill of the super-cooled air had finally lost its sting. The fog of his breath provided a reminder that he couldn't continue his search forever. Though he would.

His leg muscles writhed painfully beneath his skin. Only sheer willpower forced him towards the solitary beacon. A faint whisper when he started, now drummed into his head. The fiery pain finally relented when the rows of electronic archives opened into a large store room. Fifty metallic egg-like pods sat perfectly aligned in five rows. Only one was active, the beep called out its monotonous song, echoing in the space. Horatio let loose a long sigh, he moved quickly to the container. The touch of his fingers on the front panel and the silvery surface cleared. A diagnostics display appeared in a transparent green hue. Horatio stepped back at the sight.

He lingered for a moment, seized by doubt. Should I tell her? Does she want to know? Is that even her? The last thought sent a jolt of guilt down his spine. He moved quickly, shrugged off his backpack, and pulled out a crowbar. He pondered only momentarily the dangers of prying open the high-voltage device, but the constraints of time had forced his hand. Red triangles, and ominous warnings filled the screen. The harder he pulled the more the screen glitched with static. A thin seam down the middle of the egg gradually began to give way. Horatio continued his struggle. Crack. A sudden electric jolt coursed, and Horatio felt his marrow sear. Pain rippled throughout his back as he hit hard against the egg behind him. Thin tendrils of smoke wafted from his body.

The left side of the pod continued to extend open, letting wisps of cryo-air skirt out along the edges. Horatio fought to maintain consciousness, slumping to his hands and knees. The pain traveled at lightning speed over every inch of his body as he tried to breathe. Horatio fell to his side. Stuck, unable to move. He groaned, writhing painfully as the smoke began to dissipate. The acrid odor of his flesh caused bile to dance feverishly in his stomach. "Mira," he coughed out. "Mira!"

"Horatio?" Her voice soft enough that it could have been his imagination, he questioned her name again. "Yes, I'm here, where are we?"

"We're at a processing center."

"The Processing Center, still?"

"No, a different one. . . " Horatio trailed off for fear of her response.

Mira looked down at her body, covered by a white cloth. Slowly she lifted her right arm from under the sheet. Smooth almost ivory-like skin greeted her view. She felt no sense of weight. Her breath caught, her eyes began to sting. Please, no please, she thought as she raised her left arm from under the sheet. Mira hesitated before finally turning her wrist. It wasn't there. Disbelieving what her eyes told her, she uttered, "Where's. . ."

Horatio knew he was too late to stop the process. He hobbled to the container, using it to prop himself up. "I'm sorry Mira, I tried, I swear to god I tried." He faced her now, peering into the snow-white interior of the egg, against which Mira's aquamarine hair stood in stark contrast.

"Where's Lao? Where's Neikia?" Horatio broke eye contact, and his silence only served to stoke her growing anxiety. "Gwendolynn? Jason?" Oil began to well in the corners of her eyes, sliding down her cheeks in branched black rivers. Midnight tears traced their path onto the white sheet. "Oh, God. . ."

"It's just us," he said as gently as he could muster, but Mira only vaguely heard his words. Melancholy had already begun to consume her thoughts. I'm one of them. Moments passed, the tears stopped, but the thought stabbed her repeatedly. She raised her head and her luminescent eyes bore into Horatio's like radioactive emeralds.

"You mean it's just you. I'm dead Horatio! Whatever computer, AI, technology that's running here, in me, is just an imitation. You may as well be talking to yourself right now. For all we know this is a trap, they could have complete control of me, just waiting to infiltrate," her eyes narrowed at being cut off.

"Infiltrate what? There's nothing left! Game over! My only duty was to save my leader. I just wanted to stop this, I thought I could reach you in time. I didn't, but whatever is happening here, this is different. I forced the egg open mid-process." Even as he spoke he couldn't help but let a portion of his thoughts be swept up by her eyes. Vibrant concentric circles that moved in little bursts, their clock-like rotations mesmerized him. He released his grip on the egg, finally able to stand on his own and a take few unsteady steps backwards.

Mira's intensity was all-consuming. Unable to resist the pull, her eyes probed his as he continued to protest. The distance he had just put between them made no difference. His pupils stayed still, and her consciousness flooded with new thoughts, insights that could only be likened to intuition. She knew he was being honest. Mira sighed in her head, and assessed him anew. He still wore his usual tattered black suit coat, green t-shirt, and jeans. Grey dust caked over most of his body. "You're right, maybe all's not lost. We've never been able to demonstrate that the Apothites have consciousness, or something that resembles consciousness." Horatio's doubtful look wasn't lost on her. "We have to be realistic Horatio."

"We can debate your personhood status later. Right now, we have to get out of here."

"If this is a typical Processing Center, it should be connected to a Temple. Given my current appearance, blending in shouldn't be a problem. Neither should blending out."

"Right out the front door?"

"You don't think we look like the Temple type?"

"Fortunately for us, there's no longer any type. Let's go."

Clutching the tear-stained cloth against her body, Mira stepped out of her egg. There was no feeling of gravity to her body, she felt nothing. A limitless pool of strength was at her disposal, but the cost was a terrifying sense of disassociation from her own body. There was no anchor to prevent her from floating away from this imitation of reality. She could feel herself in a million places, a million versions of her coalescing into one, before scattering out again. Her memory was now utterly comprehensive, so much so that she risked losing herself in time. Mira closed her eyes, her legs wobbled and she clutched a nearby egg for support. A swirling vortex of thought threatened to whisk her away.

Horatio reached his hand to Mira's shoulder. At his touch, her eyes opened, the swirling eddies of her consciousness calmed, and everything focused. A smile crested her face to reassure him, and herself, she was indeed in control again.

"Here, I found a Temple uniform for you. It's not yourclothes, but it'lldo the trick." Mira stretched out an arm to accept a uniform-tight pink dress and neon-blue flats. Horatio turned his back to allow Mira to dress. She thought the modesty a little ironic considering that her current body had already been seen by most of the world.

Once properly attired, the two made their way through the dystopic labyrinth. The broken egg had alerted the facility, and frequent small security patrols forced them to duck in and out of corridors to evade detection. Before long, a chiming sound claimed their attention. "An elevator," Mira noted. A small nod from Horatio. They rushed toward it, clinging close to the walls, allowing a patrol to pass by without being detected. Mira waved them forward, and they crept behind the patrol as it continued forward.

Mira glided with ease soundlessly. Horatio, however, felt waves of anxiety that hampered his movements. He held his breath, and didn't dare touch the beads of sweat that tracked his cheeks. The patrol clicked on their lights as they moved into the rows of process servers. The elevator doors closed behind them.

"There's a walkway to the Temple on level ninety-six," Horatio said. as he hit the corresponding number, short of breath as if he had just run a sprint. Mira looked at him puzzled, she wasn't out of breath. Mira realized she wasn't breathing at all. Her eyes stung as she moved quickly to the window. She forced unpleasant thoughts from her head, and began to plan.

Horatio felt overwhelmed with doubts. She seemed like the Mira he knew, but was she? Did it even matter? He had nothing left. As the elevator ascended, they rose over the majority of buildings. The light of the moon added faint illumination, and he could see her reflection the glass as she peered out. For the first time, the changes in her appearance became apparent. Flawless skin, oversized digital eyes, and pony-tailed blue hair. He could no longer pretend otherwise. Mira was clearly an Apothite, one of the millions created. There were variations, but she was the most sought-after model on the market. Had he purchased her in a forgotten and misguided impulse? Could that have happened? Worse, could I have been the captured and brainwashed one? Finally, Mira returned his gaze. Her eyes, and brows furrowed in determination. An expression unknown to the Apothites.

"I feel wrong."

"Wrong?"

"I feel like I'm going crazy."

Horatio crossed his arms, and backed against the wall to stare out the window looking at the buildings and lights of Scelus, home to all. "If it makes you feel any better, so do I."

***