FINALIST Submission by By Seungoh Chung
Whispers of the Dawn - I -
Twilight of the gods: Part 1 [ Part 1 of 2 ]
Silence. It hangs over the dark chamber like a thick fog - a stifling stillness of frozen time and life of a graveyard or a morgue. Pale, green lights shines coldly from the black, metallic panels above, onto the walls lined with rows of pale, glass tubes weaved with several massive, black veins that throbs soundlessly like something that ought to be dead, yet alive. On the glass surface of the tubes, intricate symbols in dark, green lights flashes, shifts and changes before the silent figures that float inside - insectoids, reptilian, humanoid – each of them, utterly still.
A large, black creature slowly creeps into the chamber, lumbering past the rows of still figures until it stops at one of the tubes on the far-end of the chamber. In it, floats a female human figure with countless wires, needles and thin pipes piercing through her body. Young and petite, even for her race, with long, auburn hair framing a round, delicate face. It pauses to read the lighted symbols, then slowly reaches with its bony hands to touch one of it.
The young human woman shifts restlessly in the tube. It is the silence that is disturbing the precious sleep so infrequently granted to her - a sleep filled with troubled dreams and nameless dreads. And pain. It is always there, a constant backdrop to her life ever since she had been taken from her home in her tenth birthday, a life that now seemed so distant, so unreal. She can feel the wiry tendrils that pulse within her, feeding things into her, changing her somehow.
Already, she can do things, a few of which not even her captors suspect. Most importantly, she can understand the words of her captives; words not directed to her but spoken among themselves. Through their conversations she came to understand that she is the sole successful subject in their experiments, out of thousands that came here. The final product - as final and as advanced as her captors dared make her, a mere slave, whose life they could and would take at whim. A most precious prize, a trophy: this is what keeps her alive in this hated place.
That thought passes through her head for a moment, and fades away, a soft, constant yearning. She does not remember her home or her family - a father and mother, brothers… she cannot remember their faces. If she could have, she would have shed a tear. A name. She has a name… that somehow seem very important to her.
Lucia. Her name is Lucia.
Still in her slumber, she frowns with unease. It is too quiet; she cannot hear her captors, nor the screams nor chitters nor howling of the other captives. She has not heard them for a long time now. She begins to stir, coming awake, struggling against the chemicals and hypno-commands her captors placed on her, and succeeding.
Suddenly, wires and needles disengage from her body sharply, retracting themselves into the thick, black veins that grow around her glassy prison. She gasps in pain and opens her eyes, seeing before her one of her captors, a large, spidery creature whose form, like always, is shrouded in shadows; her captors never let their slaves see their true form.
Before she can react, the glass tube lifts up, and she collapses onto the cold, metal floor, along with the oily liquid that gushes out all around her. She lies there for a while in fetal position, shivering in the cold. A ragged, gray cloth is thrown over her by the creature.
The creature says, in words that are not words, but thoughts, ideas, feelings and impressions in her head. Yet, it has a voice, a deep, low voice as if echoing from a deep, bottomless well, yet grating and scathing like metal. Still shivering, she pulls the ragged dress over herself, and gingerly gets up. Oily liquid drips from her body, and from the damp hair, onto the wet floor. The creature watches for a while as her shivering stops, and speaks.
Follow me, human child, if you want to live.
Then it lumbers away.
Lucia looks around the room, at the rows of other silent figures. She cannot leave them behind, she thinks. It would be wrong.
They are dead, the voice suddenly says callously.
Or dying. Only you survived all the tests and enhancements we made.
Her eyes regard the others sadly for a moment, then with grim determination etched on her face, she follows after the creature, her wet bare feet making little noise.
"Wh…" she begins, then shakes her head. It is difficult to speak after such a long time. But, words and thoughts are coming faster to her now, her head is clearer, perhaps more clear than it has ever been. "Where are you taking me?"
That is not your concern, human. The deep, grating voice says, then after a while, adds,
I shall take you to the place where one of your people awaits, who shall take you home.
Home. With that word, hope wells in her heart.
They are already out of the room, walking along the long, black corridor, again lit with same pale, green light. Even here, there is no one, nothing but utter, stifling silence. The entire complex seems devoid of any life.
"Why?" Lucia asks again.
The creature pauses, and for the first time she has ever seen, her captor seems troubled. Finally, it speaks.
It must be a word that is difficult to communicate to other races, for she could not understand what it was. But, the word echoes in Lucia's head for a while, until it transforms into a word she can understand. Redemption.
The creature looks at her, its eyes no longer glowed with baleful eyes, but with thoughtfulness.
You understand. It says.
Our experiment was more successful than we planned.
It begins moving again, continuing to speak.
To cleanse heart… to be ready… To gain the state… of Freedom… to see the… X'hann. My sect believes… freeing those like you is a part of the bargain.
Again, the alien word lingers in her head. Then, a word - three words actually, simultaneously emerge in her head: 'Realness/Ultimate/God.' God? She never knew her captors were religious - could be religious.
They enter another chamber, with a large, circular crystalline floor and ceiling, glowing with amber-green light. Intricate, alien symbols flashes along the dark, black rods that frame the walls. As Lucia walks to the center of the room, the creature reaches out and touches several symbols.
- This will take you to your people, and my Khra'nem fulfilled…
Suddenly, Lucia gasps, and falls to her knees in pain.
Immediately, her captor turns its face and lets out an alarmed hiss. – The seizure… now?
Shaking with pain, she slowly brings her hands to her face. They are no longer there; in its place are two shining rods of light, so bright she cannot bear to look at them. Then, there is a small piercing scream that echoes in the black corridor beyond, followed by blazing white light floods through the entire hall. It shines for a while, then wavers, dims and dies.
Images. They flash through her head rapidly, quicker than she can count them. Lucia remembers seeing these images long time ago: from her home? She cannot remember. There is a hill, and three crosses with people nailed to them. Then, another image – an immense, shining being whose right foot stands on the mountains and the other on the seas. It has six wings, a pair covering its face, the other its torso, and the last two stretched up into the heavens. A man stands, but not a man, shining, standing high up into the heavens. A woman, with twelve stars under her feet. Then… darkness once more.
There is a sound in the distance. Voices that sound as if coming from a deep well, grating, and hideous. Words, yet, not words, that echo in her head in her sleep. She struggles to wake up, but cannot. It is all she can do to stay afloat with the deadening weight that threatens to drag her into unconsciousness once again.
One of the voices is speaking.
You will still dare let the human child go free?
The voice Lucia recognized as her liberator replied,
It is my final act of Khra'nem.
The child went into the final state… without our intervention! This was not in the plan.
The other voice speaks, its voice cutting through the rest.
Your fool-hardy experiments and enhancements have already brought her body to merely one sequence away from the final stage. I myself know she has successfully reached the threshold and survived several times… the last on her own. She must not be allowed to return to the Orion slaves… she must not be allowed to live.
Are we not Kon'yann, a sect chosen from others? Set apart from those who foolishly believe mere physical transcension can achieve the X'hann? It requires cleansing of the heart… will you deny me the right for Khra'nem?
Another voice interjects.
We worry too much. Is it not true that the sequence to behold X'hann has been gleaned from our research on these Orion slaves themselves? Why be afraid of the powers these fools have already had for ages yet were unable to realize? The human girl will make no difference…. and if they do realize it, when one can behold the X'hann, what matters what race one it is as long as it is worthy? Or, at least is this not the special teachings of the Kon'yann?
There is a pause, then a voice, which seemed to be the leader speaks. - She must remember nothing!
She has been made so. She remembers nothing… and the enhancements encoded in her body has been masked. There shall… be no… uncontrolled outburst from now. None but a worthy race… worthy to follow us may discover it… and no Orion slaves are worthy.
With that, the heavy hand of sleep drags Lucia into the depths once more.
Lucia blinks, finding herself in a dark, subterranean hall, hewed from granite. How long has she been unconscious? It was the first time in years she has seen anything but black and green of the laboratory. Wincing, she picks herself up from the rocky floor and looks around her, as once again, dead-silence greets her. Nothing – not even her captors.
From far below where she is, there is a deep rumble. Startled, she looks at the floor; everything is shaking, growing more and more violent. Small rocks and dust starts falling all around her from the ceiling, and jagged cracks begins to appear across the wall. She runs, with no particular direction, but led by pure, blind instinct to survive.
As she runs, she can hear behind her the distant, faint voices of her captors. They are screaming. Not the deep, grating voices she is accustomed to – but sharp, high-pitched ones. She never knew why they were screaming, but their sounds would be etched in her memories as long as she lived.
[ CONTINUED... Part 2 ]