Posted on June 30, 2005 by Monica Valentinelli
Fiction written for the Obsidian: the Age of Judgement setting.
Part II: Absence
Written by Monica Valentinelli
Tara sat at the edge of the abyss. She glanced briefly around her, wondering if something more menacing than the Law guards were lurking in the earthy shadows. Hours earlier, her team breathed a sigh of relief when the Law’s automated attack vehicles returned from the depths of Zone subsector three without a scratch. The Law then pushed her team forward, forcing them to tread where only machines should have gone.
Tara’s team was given only a few pieces of rudimentary equipment to mine in the area. Her skinny arms clutched her rusted pickax tightly, she wasn’t sure it would be enough to protect her from whatever it was she was supposed to do here. She felt her body jerk, and heard a popping sound. Tara swore under her breath. Her helmet light went out.
“Watch out for daemons,” a male voice whispered in her ear. “Especially the kind with tentacles.”
Tara turned her head toward the voice, but couldn’t see anything in the shadows other than blurred lines of light. How was she, a scientist, supposed to fight something that the Unity claimed didn’t exist? She sighed then, her breath escaping from her chest. If something like that did exist, she knew she was not expected to win. She gave everything that she had to her corporation. They repaid her loyalty with exile. All twenty-seven members of her team were labeled outcast Citizens for one crime or another. Tara snorted. Did anyone care whether or not she lived or died? She didn’t think so.
She felt her job was in jeopardy months ago. BioChem Antibodies, Inc. (BCA) was, at that time, the number one producer of cures and anti-toxins in the Zone.
In her wildest dreams Tara never believed that her research on the Hemochole virus at a modest corporation would lead her to BCA. Something she did must have struck their interest, however, one of BCA’s neobellums hand-delivered a credbase with a large sum of money to her apartment. At first, she was awestruck that someone in that position would take time out of his day to beg her for a job. Now, she understood the horrible truth. BCA never intended Tara to find a cure for the disease – they wanted her to fail.
“Something is on its way,” a female voice crooned behind her. “Lots of somethings.”
Tara turned again, and watched as a luminous thing wandered away from her huddled form. She wondered if the Citizen’s strange coloring came from the cave itself, or if her eyes had not yet grown accustomed to the dimness surrounding her.
“I’ll keep watching,” Tara said aloud.
Soon, she found her attention drawn to uncovering how far BCA’s plan to sabotage her research went. Her research assistant, Jakob, couldn’t have known that a cure was never the goal. Jakob was zealous in his preparations, ensuring the controls were always set properly for even the most mundane of experiments. Then again, maybe he was too eager. Rachel, on the other hand, could have been in on it. She was the financial wizard for their project, a woman who could make a million credits out of Zone junk. What was it that Rachel said to her…wasn’t it that BCA made more money finding a cure for diseases than they did doling out cures? Tara remembered arguing with the woman, explaining that it was her duty as a scientist to find cures for people – not corporations.
Something cold brushed past Tara’s face. She jerked backward, scrambling her legs up over the edge of the hole.
“Miss? Miss! Over here!” a voice cried out.
Tara flung herself in the direction of the voice. Things moved forcefully past her, she instinctively shrunk away from their potential touch.
“Don’t let them touch you!” another voice yelled. “You get touched, you die the final death. I know. I’ve seen it.”
She headed in the direction of the voices, and looked up. Another mist-filled breath escaped from her lungs. For now, she would put her faith in the blurred, luminous images of a group of Citizens standing against a ledge. Twenty feet separated them. Tara pursed her lips and charged, trusting these kindred spirits would guide her light footsteps.
Was she dreaming? Blue lines and white blurs moved slow and purposefully. Some of the entities were more defined than others, but surely all of them were human. The beings before her stood with outstretched arms, welcoming her to their group. Something cold gnawed inside her belly. These things, these people were not real. If she could see things that were not real, that meant that maybe they were the unnatural ones. She did not know what daemons looked like, or if they even existed.
It was a chance she had to take.
Tara crossed the twenty feet quickly and effortlessly. She scolded herself then, realizing her boots never touched the ground. Gliding slowly toward the far side of the group, several voices clamored to greet her. One, in particular, she recognized.
“Are you alright?” a man, tall and fair, asked her.
The scientist part of her tried to rationalize her condition. “I’m dead, aren’t I?” she responded matter-of-factly.
“Yes.” the man chuckled.
“I don’t see what’s so funny about that,” she retorted, expecting her face to feel flushed. All she could feel was a cold, intense sensation.
“We died. All of us in our ‘mining’ group,” the man continued. “I remember you, your hands obviously were never blistered from a hard day’s work. Some of us placed bets on who betrayed you.”
“Was it that obvious?” Tara lowered her head. She wished she could feel something other than the cold. But even if she still lived, the cave would offer her no warmth.
The man shrugged the outline of his shoulders. Tara squinted then, realizing she could see the cave wall behind him.
“Yes, someone betrayed me. In truth, it was a lot of ‘someones.’” She turned to the man. “What was…I mean…what is your name?”
“My name is Adam. And yours is Tara, if I remember correctly.”
“Well Tara, I don’t know how much longer we have here…”
“What do you mean?”
Adam gestured to the cavernous ceiling. Claws, horns, and spiked heads writhed free from the earthen ceiling. Rocks and chunks of hard clay tumbled beyond Tara’s line of sight and into the abyss. Something drew her glance to the spot where she once sat. A pair of talons clawed up from the abyss.
“Daemons,” Tara stated, drawing her form back against the cave wall.
“Yes, which means we won’t last long here.”
Adam’s luminous head tilted backward. “That was what they wanted.”
Tara nodded, accepting the truth of her betrayal. “I did what I needed to do, and was branded an outlaw.”
Adam closed his eyes. “We all serve our purpose.”
The words stung her deeply. She would go to that other place then, but on her own terms. Tara stepped forward from the group, and walked out into the open.
Adam called out toward her, “There are worse things then living daemons.”
Ignoring the threat, she flung her arms wide. She felt something then, a gentle pressure drawing her towards a flickering, yellow light. She turned her fading vision toward the cave’s gaping maw. Several Law officers stood at the entrance, hovering over a candle. A man in brown robes stood next to them, with his hand extended.
A soothing figure, dressed in a Law uniform, walked toward her.
“Do you want peace?”
Tara merely nodded as the candle’s just light embraced her.