Retrograde

Rayner stepped into Sentire with trepidation and came out into a frostbitten world, with power at her fingertips and the word Goddess on everyone else's lips.
Anthony stepped into Sentire with purpose and came out into a war-torn world, with horns on his head and the word God on his tongue.

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Author's note

My entry for Round Two of the Movellas Talent Show, and the sort of sequel to Coloured Errors (can be read as a stand-alone though).
AA

2. Where the lovers begin her story

 

Act 1, Scene 2

 

(Memories, like dreams, are fickle fragments. They are often forgotten once the eyes take in the real world, the present world, the world they had made for themselves. But nevertheless, the brain choked the present with recollections of the past, full of De Ja Vu and concurrent emotions.)

 

She remembers a time when she was less than she is now. When she walked amongst flowers instead of stars. She was Rayner Abernathy, a researcher and a woman who didn’t know her place in the world. Her husband had left her, crawling to another when she was away on mental trips to theories and calculations in her lab. She had a heart made of fragile mirror shards and hummingbird wings when she entered Sentire looking for a release.

A shack at the edge of town, surrounded by blinking lights and echoed laughter, Sentire stood proudly and it looked inviting to someone with a sentimentality held together by masking tape. She thought she was there for a job but she knew she was there for a simulation, a door into another world, another life.

Her steps were laden with trepidation as she made an appointment. Her worry was cement in her stomach as she looked at the photo of two smiling men on the wall. They were dressed in suits, hands held between them. One of them looked like Mrs Littlewood when she entered, but their smiles were different; Mrs Littlewood’s was made of tree bark while her sons were made of gold.

Her worry did not shatter or abate when she was led into a room the next day and Mrs Littlewood’s voice solidified in her ears. “The world created is based entirely on your imagination, completely individual and unique to you. Your payment permits you six hours of simulation and if your vital signs drop even a minuscule amount I will pull you out.”

Rayner nodded and allowed wires to be sewn into her veins, her elevated heartbeat sounding her panic as the monitor was switched on. Mrs Littlewood smiled, whispered her assurances and dripped eye drops into Rayner’s eyes. “This is the implant, it will present a QR code that will be read by the hologram, once read it’s up to your brain to create the world, the virtual reality you go to.”

The drops were cold, and the liquid smeared the room into one blue blur before reality made sense to her again.

“Should I be feeling tired?” she slurred out, not wanting to surrender her limbs to something she barely knew. Mrs Littlewood only smiled on the edge of her vision. Rayner slumped to the side, her head resting just outside the blue gaze of an overhead hologram.

(There is bravery in struggling and there is a victory in remembering. Memories may be fickle but they are the foundations of their personae, the very atoms of the young gods they know themselves to be.)

 

//

 

(Time means pennies when it comes to artificial worlds and she doesn’t sense how little it interferes with her plans.)

 

She wakes to her cheek pressed against the snow. She feels like the word retrograde, moving backwards even though she is standing still. Her skin is thick of snow as though she has been lying there for hours but she doesn’t feel the cold; the bitter bite of it against the dress she wears. The hem falls to her feet when she stands, shaking the snow away and onto the park bench.

Her name is Rayner and her hair is the colour of an angels arrow; finely woven gold. But that is who she is. She knows nothing about herself, except the fact she stands barefooted in three inches of soft snow and she does not care about the plummeting temperature.

She is on the borders of a forest, a few metres away from the first break of trees, and the park bench stands alone in a peaceful clearing.

Then sounds overtake the silence and the trees surround her before she can make sense of the ground against her feet.

Two lovers stand poised against an old tree, lamenting love songs into each other’s ears. “This ancient day wanes! She lingers too much for my desires, my desires for you my dear.” A man of tall stature leans over an innocent girl and says his need to marry her. The pair does not notice Rayner on the edge of their conversation. They are young and out of place in the world but they have each other and that is enough.

The cold winter breeze means nothing to them, even when a copper arrow wrought its way through the still air and embeds itself into the soft skin of the man’s shoulder. Chaos is made out of peace. The man stumbles and falls to the snow, red blossoming on white. The innocent girl wrenches her hands over her lips in horror and sinks down to her lover, her eyes snatching between him and the creature making their way towards them.

It is a creature, an abomination forcing its way through the snow, made of cogs and copper rings. With leather instead of skin and lenses instead of eyes, it did not belong in the natural world.

Rayner knows that every gamble has a price and yet she makes one without thought, moving in front of the lovers with an outstretched arm.

She doesn’t know what it will do but she is not shocked when ice emerges from her fingertips and rips towards the creature, slicing through leather and machinery. It screeches in a high pitched tone, a sound that implants itself into the leaves, but Rayner does not hesitate. The powers of winter’s cold and bitter bone are with her and she freezes everything the creature is.

When it splinters apart, cogs and gears folding inwards towards the snow, she breathes out and turns to the lovers. A hand against the man’s wound solidifies his life, “Get to a healer, but for now, your life is saved from Death.”

The girl nods, dumbfounded, “Thank you Angellus Bellum.” Rayner does not know what the name means but she does not ask. Instead, she sees more creatures amble their way towards her and she prepares for the fight. The lovers live another day and escape with their love still intact.

The day may wane but the war is still young.

Time passes and she does not know the measurement of it. She slaughters more creatures, who she has come to know as the Copper Soldiers, and she saves more lives.

The people she saves call her the very same name the innocent girl once did and she smiles when she hears it. She has a purpose, a story to tell, and she does not mind the black oil that coats her hands after a killing.

When the people tell her that her story is said on every storyteller’s lips, she grins. At least her story is not built in the stars, for then she would have to tear them all down so she could forge constellations of her own. At least on lips, her story is touched by a warmth she will never fully know.

Her story travels far, far past the forests she will never leave.

The forests are her refuge, the silent listeners to her battles, and the hearth does not call to her as much as freshly fallen snow does. Her home provides a silence she never knew before, in the old life that still echoes in her heart, but it is never fully quiet. There is always life; the whistle of leaves, the flutter of wings, the huffs of deer, the skittering feet of mice. She is never alone.

Frost digs into the creatures during her battles and they finally surrender a name; Cogito. The creator of all Copper Soldiers.

In the end, she does not go to him, he goes to her. He arrives with the sounds of fireworks and the people in a nearby village scatter, faces made out of fear. He tries to be a man but is a creature underneath it all.

He stands with three faces on one head, three chins meeting on one neck. But he sees with one pair of eyes and senses with three lips and three noses. His faces are written in flesh like skin but his body fails and wraps in copper metal. He is a formidable enemy and he smirks in arrogance.

“You kneel before my throne unaware that it was gained by killing people like you,” he says in a voice wrapped in whirling gears.

“I don’t kneel before your throne, I sit on my own.”

But before she could write another story, one made of history-defying words, she felt herself falling. The snow melted beneath her feet, her skin itched with the feeling of cold and the sounds of the nearby forest crashed into beeps and pumps of her heart.

She can do nothing to stop it because this world, this fabricated, wonderful world, is virtual and fictional.

Rayner emerged back into the real world with a lurch on the bed in Sentire. She felt the wires in her veins and disappointment in her throat and she knew who she was. Her six hours was up and she hated time for doing her wrong.

 

(There is something bitter about failure but you cannot avoid it and sometimes you have to crash before you can soar.)

 

 

 

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