Author’s Note: Machinae Supremacy, my favourite band for years now, have put their brand new album up on its website to be listened to, for free. This story is inspired not only by one of the new tracks, but by all of their tracks, working together to form a setting and characters in my mind.
Each step was laboured from the agony of his injuries, a faltering gait that had him veering from side to side down one of many bleak, broken corridors. Gaping holes in the roof had let snow dust the floor, his way of passage being marked by footprints and blood.
A shudder ran through him as he heard the sounds of activity coming from too close behind him. In his state, escape had been a narrow chance previously. If he had to get free of them again? He grimaced and quickened his pace. Recapture would be a slow, bad end.
He wasn’t sure if it was the loss of blood that made his limbs shake, or if the bitter cold had finally seeped through the padded leather and armour plating of his combat outfit. Bereft of his weapons, taken by his captors after he had been dug out of the wreckage of his ship, it was the only thing that offered him some psychological point of protection.
Even if it was in as poor a state as he was.
Thoughts flickering back to the crash, a heavy feeling had settled in his chest. While the globe-spanning religious organization ‘Grand Link’ had picked him up, they had said nothing of the others. His band, his team, his girls. Perhaps no news was good news. They hadn’t spoken as they had not been found. Or perhaps they were keeping information from him, using details and notes as chess pieces, waiting to play the right move to break him.
Worry and weariness worked with the terrain to catch his foot, sending him stumbling towards a frosted window overlooking the ocean. The clash of flesh on glass, the sting of the cold in his already red-cheeks, and the mixing of blood and ice served to jolt him awake once more.
His renewed awareness came too late. The thick glove of one of a Grand Link soldier grabbed the back of his neck and pressed forwards with zeal-borne strength. The chilled window pane creaked in protest, a mottled spider-web of cracks beginning to form as its integrity failed.
“You are resilient, and unrelenting.” The soldier said in sonorous voice, a flex of his grip drawing a ragged gasp of pain from him. “But such traits would be better served working in the name of God, as part of the Grand Link.”
“I prefer to… work for the tangible.” He cast defiance heavy in each word. “The real. The fact.”
The laugh of the soldier set him on edge. It wasn’t quite the reaction he was expecting.
“How bland a life you must live, Steve. There is more to this world than what we can taste, or touch. To live without belief… I pity you.” The soldier explained in a gentle manner, at odds with the tight grip on the back of Steve’s neck, face still pressed against the glass, fire-orange hair matted with sweat and blood.
“Who said I don’t believe in anything?” He uttered, fingers gripping the powder-laden window sill to try and gain some leverage to kick back. It was a feeble effort though, and for his trouble he was lifted as easily as a child before being slammed through the window. Shards of glass stuck to the black leather of his combat jumpsuit, glistening like diamonds in the low winter sun.
The soldier calmly dropped him the short distance to the bank of snow below, effortlessly vaulting down before Steve could even try to move away. At least he could see his attacker properly now, looming over him. In the glory of white leather, red trim and gold plating, the soldier of the Grand Link was more foreboding than any grim spectre drenched in shadow. The faceless helmet didn’t help matters.
“You have a rare gift, Steve.” The soldier preached. “A talent for unification and inspiration that would serve the world well, channelled correctly. You loathe the Empire. We dislike the Empire. You feel the corporations are decadent and corrupt. We concur. You have seen the chaos of the criminal groups scar innocents. We have tended their wounds.”
With weak limbs, he pushed himself up and spat a mixed wad of saliva and blood in the direction of his tormentor. “You left out all the problems I have with you.”
The way he shrugged off thousands of years of criticism, controversy and pain made the bile rise in Steve’s throat. His body was running on fumes but he still found the strength to stand.
“Your Digital Nation Front will fall. It is a case of when, not if. You could join us, save them, save yourself. Redeem yourself. We can grant you redemption for your sins.”
Fists clenched, Steve felt the familiar surge of power rolling through him. The back of his neck steamed in the cool air, the metal plates affixed just under his skull starting to glow hot as flames licked around his gloves. “No, you can’t. Redemption isn’t granted or given. It’s earned through effort and pain.” He snarled through gritted teeth. “I’ll be my own redeemer.”
With that declaration, he thrust his hands forth. A crackling torrent of flame erupted from his palms to engulf the soldier. The effort buckled his knees and sent him sinking down into the snow, unable to sustain the attack for long.
“Pitiful.” The soldier sighed, brushing blazing embers off his relatively unscathed outfit. “You think we wouldn’t come prepared for your abilities?” One look at the freedom fighter let him see the despair in his eyes, and the soldier pressed the advantage.
“You could join us. Be one of the Links that will unify this world and lead it into grace and glory. Or you could die here, alone in the snow. Your body paraded on the media to break the will of your followers. And for you? No heaven. No peace. No angels.”
Lifting his head up, Steve’s eyes widened a little. With a gulping breath, he spoke: “No.”
“No to dying?”
A weak chuckle escaped the injured man. “No to you. You’re wrong. My angels are right here.”
The soldier peered around before laughing at the lack of anyone else present. “I told you. Delusional.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so.” Steve managed a grin. “You got a little something on your jacket.”
Technically, it was two little somethings. A pair of red dots. The soldier’s head shot up before two shots rang out across the winter sky, the snow behind him splattered in blood before receiving his tumbling corpse.
Rapid footfalls drew close from behind him, before two pairs of arms were drawing him up. One pair was slender, girlish, and clad in a puffy purple jacket with faux-fur trims. The other pair of arms were surprisingly bare and very toned.
“Hope you didn’t miss us too much, Steve.” The older woman grinned. She was in her early twenties, with anthracite-black hair, pale scars dotting her face along with black ink tattoos and the softest lilac eyes he had ever seen on any one.
“It took us a while to track you here.” The younger girl said, throwing her arms around him and hugging tightly. Steve didn’t vocalize the pain that action caused, the pre-teen with the bright pink hair already looking scared enough.
“I was just about to break out my special, final move on that guy.”
“Bleeding vigorously all over him?” The dark haired woman grinned, adjusting the sniper rifle slung over one shoulder.
“That very one. Nice look you’ve got going there, Action Girl.” Steve teased, blue eyes drinking in the sight of her in black combat boots and trousers, and a white tank-top. “You’re dressed appropriately for the weather.”
“The choice was warm jacket or sniper rifle. I stand by my choice.”
“I had time to get both, Sis.” The younger girl spoke, showing off her smaller rifle.
“That’s because there’s less of you, Lil.” Sis grinned. “We should get moving though, rejoin the others. The Grand Link group here are out of the picture, and we looted the hell out of them.” She paused, eyeing her partner. “You good to walk?”
“I wouldn’t say no to some help.” He said, holding out an arm.
She slipped under it, draping it over her shoulders as they started to walk back.
“What did he want with you, Steve?” Lil asked, glancing back at the man she had shot moments beforehand.
“The usual. Work with us, redeem yourself, be part of the Great Link.” He rolled his eyes as he gave the spiel, limping heavily as they moved through the ruined building.
“And we’re now your angels?” Sis asked with the amusement clear in her voice.
“Yeah. Angels with sniper rifles. Just not the book-kind.” He was in good spirits now, the fleeting moment of hopelessness that had chilled his veins more than the frigid climate passed as soon as he was in their presence.
Lil, the young psychic who was the little sister to everyone in the resistance group, had slipped her hand into his and was squeezing it gently. Even through her knitted cream gloves and his battered leather ones he could feel the warmth of her touch spreading through him.
Sis, one of many test children for the Empire’s genetically engineered soldier experiments, carried his weight easily as they walked. She was Sis to almost everyone in the DNF except Steve. She was the epitome of the ideal soldier with the exception of those eyes in private. Soft for him, for her little sister. Warm and bright.
And with himself in the middle, worn out and injured but still very much alive, Steve remembered some important facts: in spite of losing their ship and his being captured, their little trinity was still alive and strong. The rest of the little band they were travelling with were alive. They could take the Grand Link’s ship as well as their supplies. In the grand scheme of their campaign this was one minor setback.
And as long as their trinity remained, anything was achievable.