Ten Candles

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

“For a long time, people wondered just what the first-ever crime committed in the Martian Colonies was going to be. The first murder. The first rape. The first vicious assault. The first deletion of a child’s innocence. For a long time, people wondered, but now they wonder no more.”

“Spartan men became men via a series of brutal rites. You’ve probably seen the film. As have I.
Newborn boys were bathed in wine. The child’s reaction to the alcohol’s caress determined and indeed defined the fledgling warrior heart that beat beneath the pale veined skin that stretched across the cage of his being.

I, too, became awash in the fumes. The stink of his breath as he slouched before the blue scrambling lines on the screen. I drank it. I sieved it between the clench of my own teeth and drew it in and down into me. Then, I would shrink and cower as he threw his broken and filthy words into a home he’d scared into being empty and dark. A slumbering slobbering giant of a man and I watched as he dribbled and snored.”

“At age seven, the Spartan boy child is subjected to intense violence. He is mercilessly pummelled and stripped of his dignity and coaxed to believe himself an unworthy and stupid pretender. Yet still he would pull on his mask of a morning, his tainted fouling flesh and he would wear it and he would smell its rot odour and he would claw and dig in and scratch to the end of the day. Tests. Pointless cruel gauges of intelligence, compliance, and endurance. A father’s engrained preferences sated. Tests to be excelled at and passed and beaten. Just as I have done.”

“The boy would be cast out. Oh, how I wish now that I too had been shoved. But the atmosphere here is thick and riven with grains. The shed detritus of the red rock terrain and so in this my cage I did stay. You may not believe me but I would do it and still I might. I’d step through that air-lock and I’d let my tongue fatten and I’d let this cold world gag the very life out of me. I am not scared. I am not weak. I’d have done it and still now… I might.”

“The would-be warrior babes were cast out with nothing but a blade, tasked to kill, sent on a foul errand to seek out and cut down a life. And then… the boy, he returns a man.”

“Today, I shot Daddy. I put the smooth flat end of the compressed air cannon he used to puncture core samples up to his chest. As he balled his thick tannin-stained fingers and, again, he drove them into the side of her head, I laid it against his chest. I laid it there, I laid it bare and I blasted his warrior heart clean through his body and out through his back and onto the flames of my cake. Today’s my birthday. Look at me. Look. I am become”, said she.

The Other Side of the Storm

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

I’m not sure who told me that the gates were to be stormed. I mean, for years now we’ve all, I guess, contemplated it. It’s only natural to want to know, you know? They’re mysterious and controlled and bound in a swath of secrecy, and such unanswered things they do fester. They mutate into unfounded theory and farcical fiction. A constant nagging taunt.

We see what we want to see and, from the sky, we’re no better. I’m a pilot. I don’t know all the answers. I understand much of the science but, then, there are the little things. The not perfectly conclusive. Anomalies. They’re part of the job, of life.

It’s a big long world and I used to think it nice that it thought to hold on to some of its shadows. But, I mean, just what unknown flavour of science goes into the fact that when I’m throttling up my Pouakai-God Spark-352 and I’m skimming the great vast upper-stratospheric pond at 6,150kmh that it still takes me 6.5 hours to complete the total 40 km circumference of this world? No sense, but it is what it is.

It is, I mean was, amazing to me that there were still those who believe there is an entire other world outside of the fences. Over the looped barbs and past the oxidizing steel mesh. The dreamers clutching their youth, the socially maligned spooky kids and the perpetually worried doom-gloomers who cannot sleep of a night for fear it will be their last.

It is a truth that the narratives they conjured are great. Myths of fantasy, fog and mist but, nonetheless, it is they that inspired me to reach for the beyond. From the sky I found the truth. Yet, still the fringe post their theories and chant that the end it is nigh. From the sky I know this existence is rectangle. Not a perfect rectangle but near as well enough.

The myths were true. Fancy that. We all start out believers. I did. Craving anything that took me away from this sand sodden place. I read tales about fantastical iron creatures that could eat an entire dune in a day. Of vast stretches of water that magically turned to plastic and, then, clinked and fumed in the sun. I loved the horror. The violence. Tales about mythical majestic hunted creatures. Chased until they fall exhausted, tongues extended and eyes wide as they swallowed their very last breaths. Their heads then art for the walls. I know, I know, totally unbelievable but that’s why I loved them. Far-fetched fiction. My only escape.

The storm hit about a week ago now. I’m losing track. I thought it a joke. That we’d all crunch up there through the salt sea chanting with brews held aloft. A bit of silly fun. But, then, they cut the chains and we surged and the gates crashed into the sand…

… I can’t remember if they fell inward or out. I just know that once there was a barrier and then there was not.

I saw my sister and I saw my father. Frances has been missing since she was six and a half. I know with certainty it was her and I know she knows I am me. My father, John, he was a test pilot like just as I. But then John he died the day I was born.

So we spilled as drunken rabble into their world and they into ours and then I saw my family and then I saw me and then time sparked and let out a shrill wail. It died or, perhaps, it just went away and now all that is left is this.

The Christian Dirce

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

“Listen to me closely, Commander, and form a visual. The beautiful naked Christian is lashed to the side of the mighty bull as it agitates in the stall beneath the arena. Hands scream for air as they are bound with braided leather to its magnificent horns. The Christian’s feet are roped and tied to a sash that loops the bellows that heave within the beast’s belly. A torment that enrages as it digs and rips at its groin.”

“Ouch, I feel that.”

“Focus, please, refrain from speaking, Commander. You can feel the surge of the bull’s fear and it ripples in shuddering waves and transfers from the animal’s hide and into the glisten of the Christian’s oil and herb slicked skin. It is a kind of tangible heat this fear, one that floats and lays thick in the air.”

The technician taps at the screen as an image melts and forms from the pixels.

“The Christian’s hair still carries the rich blooming scent of the spice they washed through it. But it is a scent that fails beneath the heady stink of the bull. Warm fluids purge from both as at once they sense the end.”

The Commander’s eyes flicker and roll back into his head and he bites hard at his lip.

“You hear the rolling boom of the crowd. The bull and the body are as one. Shapes and colours stretch as if melted and a drunken bewilderment slots in for their fear. The Christian’s form is exquisitely beautiful. A virgin chosen by men. Sickly old men employed by the Emperor, so eager were they to search out and make so his perversions. To find one so perfect, so young and so pure.”

The Commander’s breath shudders just behind his bit lips and sweat starts to gather at his flesh.

“Silenzio. You hear nothing but the beating of lungs within chests. And then, suddenly, trumpets open the doors at the top of the ramp and the bull thumps up and into the stinging glare of the day.”

The technician leans in and places a cold probe on the Commander’s shoulder.

“OK, Sir. Formulate this narrative forward to your conclusion and give me a final visual if you would”, the technician makes a clicking sound as he pulls and finalises an image from the Commander’s neural feed.

“Interesting.”

“What is?”

“Since introducing this particular narrative, a high percentage render the exact same image that you just did. A massive bull lays dead. Blood streaming from its mouth. A spear protrudes from his side. Skewering his heart. A beautiful woman lays naked. She, too, is dead and still bound to the horns of the bull. In a repose that could just as easily be framed as wistful sleep. No signs of violence, save for the bindings at her hands and feet. Her long red hair cascades and lays gently as it fuses with the animal’s blood and stains into the dust. Her breasts are exposed and a white pall drapes across her hips. Almost as if she is a lover about to stir. And the Emperor and his warrants, they look on. Detached. This is interesting.”

“You said that. We’re all the same? A collective. Bees in a hive?”

“No, it’s just I never mentioned that the Christian was a woman. Death and blood and sex. It is so interesting for us to examine these instinctive equations of your… how do you refer to them? Base instincts.”

“Fucking sentient AI. Who are you to judge me?”, snaps the Commander.

“We do not judge. It is you that painted the picture.”

The Hood Rat

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The cliff face rises shear above the old skeleton. A tidal wave hewn in ancient granite, it crests high above the smoke that bleeds a bitter mist from the ruined city. A thin wisp that sweeps out upon the great lake that fans out as splotchy just cleaned glass at its edge.

For as long as anyone could remember, the armies of the Pabulum had amassed on the eve of this most sacred of months. Listen as now they crank their contraptions and ready their fire as hearty songs of conquest spill over the lip. Lyrical hate that flutters down to we, the People of the Stipe, and we brace en-mass at its foot.

This festival of death and cruelty, such a needless and hellish taunt. An intractable spectacle drawn in blood and fortified with ancient vintages of faith. An unwavering addiction to the notion that this city, this once beautiful thriving haven, had been promised in verse to those at the top and not to we, the heathen pretenders who toil as pigs down below.

In the old city, the resistance yawns as we, now too, lock our weapons in for the kill. The sniper sits in the warehouse, inclined with her back nestled into the over-stuffed bale of wool at her back. She lines her eye along the barrel of her jezail and up through the skylight and up still further until it falls on a fraction of movement up in the holes in the rock.

Children with dirty faces huddle in the cobbled plaza and they calculate the currents in the wind. Razor bullets will soon pepper the ground at their feet and they’ll let loose the balloon with the sting in its tail, and they’ll pray that it’ll kill at least one.

The Pabulum know this is a farce. They know that up in their lofty nests there is no chance for we creatures that pretend ourselves human. It is ritual contempt, prodding us down in this cage. The killing, the maiming so perfectly honed so that next year there will still be sport to be had.

The children will be shattered. Those not ripped apart or scorched from the barrage tremor will wail both in and out of their dreams. But they need not worry, I’ll whisper. Tiny ears, they must be patient and wait. Wait for the Hood Rat to come.

That whiskered thing that has lived for eternity down and beneath us in filth. This saviour, he will climb up and into our streets and, with his hood pulled tight to his head, he will stride to the foot of the folly.

He will lay waste to our enemies.

He will save us.

He will conduct the air and the bullets will drop dead to the ground.

He will scale the great cliff and he will crawl into their minds, and he will eat from the inside to the out.

Wait. Huddle down, for he will come. Listen beneath the drone of the guns and beneath your own screams and the whistle of the bombs as they fall.

“Do you hear the scratch of his clawed feet on the cobbles? It is the Hood Rat. He has risen and no more will we breathe in the smoke of this hate”, I’ll say.

He who would tell lies to children.

Pink Mist

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Into the gaping maw of death we strode. Legion stacked upon legion, a tidal deluge of unstoppable military might. Battle chants booming from mass-produced lungs as we called out to and pulled down our gods and we swallowed whole the machismo drip of their wrath.

I am a cyborg, even after all this time it’s strange to hear myself say it out aloud. Don’t know why. Maybe I remember how in ancient times they made entertainments about zombies but shied away from calling them just that. A zombie is a zombie. The world turns, fictions become fact. I am cyborg. We are what we are.

They lit us up hard. Very fucking hard. Hard enough to stop the unstoppable. And here, now, I lay.

We prize our true flesh. Though mostly redundant we wear it, I guess, to remember. To keep hold of the humanity that constantly dims at our core.

I’d lost both arms, a leg and a large portion of the back of my torso in the second Wai-tara incursion. I died. But I came back with a new leg rammed chock full of ordinance. Such a rush as it jigged up and rolled into the breach of the canon that protruded where once my arm had stretched out.

I died again on this nondescript ridge. This number on a contour line on a map that now means nothing, to no one. I remember spiralling backwards as my leg vaporized and I lay and I watched and I felt as its pink mist floated down and stuck to the growl of my lips. I died but, again, I came back.

The processor in my head spun as it tried to find a ledge upon which to grasp. It called for help. Nobody answered.

Nobody, until you.

Your words flowed into my head and mine into yours. Your body ruined and non-responsive and your head fixed, gazing up into the sky but five hundred metres from where I fell.

You’d had more luck. What with being able to shut down your pain receptors. You didn’t feel the white phosphorus burn as it ate of my skin and you didn’t feel the stab of the crow’s beak as it pecked away the plump globe of my eye. But you steadied me while I screamed and you cried with me as the grass and long stemmed blue flowers grew up through the rot of my flesh.

You found me.

I saw nothing at first. The vision of my one synthetic eye obscured by the charred limb of a great tree. I didn’t need to see, you described the heavens in such beautiful detail. But, then, as time snapped the tendons in my neck and my head lolled away from my body, I was finally offered a view. The horrific remains of a folly of ignorance and power, the stench of our comrades through the wreckage of their forgotten remains.

I love you.

It took me a very long time but I finally told you.

I did, didn’t I? tell you.

It’s weird, I can’t quite place your name. Isn’t that strange?

You went silent a few days… Weeks… Years… Centuries ago. I miss you. I miss the songs that we sung. I miss how we’d make love in the rain though we only touched with our words.

I don’t know why I’m here. Do you?

“Frank, can you hear me? The most wonderful thing has happened. My power-cells are re-routing. I’m crawling. I’m coming. Through the blue flowers, they are just as you described. Through the rust and the bone. Frank, say something…”

“I am no longer what I am…”