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Paying The Change

A Wasteland Short Story.

By Kerry WilliamsPublished 3 years ago 15 min read
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Delbev

Delbev stood close to the sight glass, watching Chalmar floating in the catalyst tank. Murky yellow fluid swirled and bubble momentarily clouded his vision. He peered closer, inspecting the body of his soon to be life partner, looking to see if he could make out specific body parts from its prior combinations.

Shaking his head, he stepped away from the tank quickly. It was a foolish thing to do, with absolutely no benefit in mind other than the satiate simple curiosity. Delbv smiled. Curiosity was an admirable trait. One that often led to discovery and advancement, but it could also lead to destruction and downfall.

Just a year ago they'd lost six such researchers to "curiosity" related disasters. While curiosity had led the Techma to rediscover and utilize old world technology such as zero entropy surface coatings and flat space atomic reorganization, it had led to some terrifying downfalls as well.

Delbev sat down at his desk and ran his second set of hands across the cover of a thick tome. He closed his many eyes and repeated the holy mantra of Techma, both in his mind and through his vocal cords. "Knowledge is light. Knowledge is the ultimate weapon. With knowledge, light can fight darkness. With knowledge comes the responsibility to entrust only those worthy of such knowledge. Knowledge, trust, worth, and secrecy. I know, I trust, I am worthy. These secrets are mine and mine alone, to keep."

With a deep sigh, Delbev opened the tome of technology and began reading, once again, from the start. The tome was multi-media, a form of technology in itself, powered by a small crystalline reactor set in the spine, it utilized written word, holographic projection, audible sound, microcrystalline displays and a synaptic interface port. Delbev read the warnings outlining the genetic recombination and sequencing event, and then watched on one of the displays as two naked beings, one a gigantic hulking form and the other a much smaller, purely feminine form, stepped into a catalyst tank. Delbev pressed his ported finger against the interface.

The display switched from visual to synaptic, and Delbev closed his eyes to eliminate the overlapping images and the slight delay caused by lag in the microcrystalline display. The catalyst tank closed and attendants connected tubes and sensors to various ports before turning a large handle on the side of the tank, sealing it off against all outside influence. The tank filled with the bright yellow fluid, pumped in from an outer holding tank, until the catalyst chamber was completely filled. Delbev knew the liquid contained enough oxygen to sustain life, but the thought of breathing it in still caused Delbev a bit of anxiety. He shooed away the apprehension and continued the download. Images and recorded footage flashed through his mind faster than anything he could read, hear, watch, or experience in real time.

Once all the checks were done and the tank was deemed stable, the recording switched to the sight glass and the scene inside changed to a frame rate of 100x, speeding up the lengthily process so that a casual observer could see the combination in action. The smaller woman, Chassine was her name... had been her name, he thought, struggled to take the fluid into her lungs, and as Delbev watched, she pounded on the side of the tank, doubled over, straightened back up, turned around. She was panicking.

Delbev paused the synaptic interface and had to remind himself that this was normal. Chassine's recombination had gone off flawlessly and nobody doubted the results. They were a great leader, a great source of supreme knowledge and wisdom. The catalyst tank, the genetic fluidity of their race, it was their key to survival. It was the key to everything. He re-engaged the interface and calmed his twin hearts.

Chassine, seeming to overcome her animalistic impulses, opened her mouth with her fingers and inhaled forcefully. Dropping her hands and balling her fists, she exhaled the liquid, and then did it again, and again, and a moment later, she seemed to adapt to the new form of breathing. The hulking body behind her seemed oblivious to her distress, and her overcoming it. It stood stock still, liquid drew in through a large mouth positioned at the top of its chest, which opened and closed much like an aquatic fish, and slightly darker oxygen depleted liquid spurt from no less than six smaller openings on each side of the body's chest cavity, somewhere under the arms.

Delbev wondered what would become of his additional appendages once he began the recombination process. Would his life partner find them too much? Would his armored skin grafts be sloughed away as unneeded and immature attempts at self-improvement? Surely his secondary set of arms themselves would be preserved. He knew his organs would be incorporated into the body of the host; his twin hearts would surely be a much-needed asset. His entire body would melt and morph, grafting onto, into, and sometimes through, the larger being. He would turn into something greater than either individual could comprehend.

Delbev cut off the synaptic replay. He already had a copy in his database, but viewing it from the tome of knowledge always seemed more visceral, more real. It made sense. Almost imperceptible errors occurred during the process of copying and recording. A copy of a copy of a copy, was not a true clone. There were always differences. Always.

One of Delbev's fingers twitched as he pulled up the historical archive file in his mind's interface. He'd have to troubleshoot that, if he had time, before the recombination. He ran the file in his subconscious and initiated a sleep protocol combined with a cellular regeneration phase. He set his interruption parameters at maximum. He didn't want to be woken up by sudden clanging noises, or someone dropping something on accident. With the settings as such, nothing short of a life ending event would wake him before his regeneration phase was complete.

The file began to run the information database, starting with the great undoing.

At the end of the previous human occupation of the planet's surface, great advancements in technology and information were made. The relationship between magnetism, gravity, and space time, allowed for atomic reconfiguration at temperatures and pressures lower than those required for nuclear fission and fusion. With a new limitless source of energy and raw materials, provided by the Walmoth atomic crystalline reconfiguration process, the world jumped headlong into the next phase of human despotism.

With limitless energy, comes limitless weapons and limitless threats to use them. With limitless material, comes limitless resources, and while certain things can be made from raw elements, higher order materials such as food and water required one resource that was found to be both limited and invulnerable to all attempt of influence. Time.

The process of oxygenating hydrogen to produce clean drinkable water requires time. In addition, certain salts must be added to make the water appeasing and palatable. This requires time. Providing water to plants so they may grow and produce fruits, vegetables, legumes and seeds, requires time. Feeding and raising livestock to maturity, and providing for their reproduction and gestation periods, requires time.

A secondary resource quickly ran out as well. Space. Space to grow plants became more and more constrictive until new laws were passed, giving the government the ultimate authority to restrict and predesignate specific areas as the sole property of the united growing alliance. Real sunlight became a luxury. Companies began offering honeymoon flights above the cloud cover, or day time trips above the towering superstructures where human beings could bask in the natural warmth and radiation of their mother sun.

Synthetic sources of sunlight were utilized in towering farming structures that blocked out the natural sun. Humans grew used to the perpetual shade and the atomic recombinators that sucked in CO2 gas and belched out fresh Oxygen and Carbon pellets for any who wished to take them.

Restrictive space was not just a problem for growing food, or raising livestock, but for living as well. The human need for "space" to live, became a heated topic between those who had space, and those who did not. Corporate owners with power and influence controlled their commodities with a stranglehold, and pushed back against any government restrictions, threatening an immediate removal of time-consuming products, social systems that occupied residents, or provided an outlet for the population, other than simple, mindless, procreation.

Government regulation kept humans with basic unalienable rights to fresh air and clean water, and to some extent, basic nutrition. With most systems being completely automated, and the only real need of human intervention being maintenance and brainstorming, the human population was reduced to nothing more than a basic, mundane life of leisure and gossip, and vice. Despite their best efforts, including mandatory sterilization for any person convicted of any crime, population numbers continued to expand at an exponential rate.

The creation of a stable, extremely high nutritional food source, also knowns as Super Food One, lead to an immediate decrease in required space for farming, however, this also led to an immediate and drastic increase in human overcrowding.

As population numbers soared, previously unknown or non-existent social and economic factors came into play. Atomic crystalline reconfiguration modules struggled to provide fresh air and clean drinking water for the masses. Daily life quickly became nothing more than waiting in endless lines while droidits, robots with a simplified android artificial intelligence specifically programmed to carry out a specific task, raced up and down the lines delivering water and bite sized nutrition.

Public outcry continued and humans organized into specific social groups with singular motives in mind. M-A-R-R, which stood for "Mother's And Reproductive Rights" was a female only organization fighting the governments mandatory sterilization efforts which targeted not only convicted criminals, but females who had already given birth to two babies already, regardless of mortality, and women over the age of thirty. "Hu-Man For Change", was a male specific organization trying to get working age males back in the workforce, doing absolutely anything, or nothing at all, as long as it involved getting up and going somewhere other than the bathroom, or a food line, or back to bed.

Health and exercise, placed second behind a gigantic pharmaceutical push, reduced human beings reliance on hard work and wellbeing. "With "Regen-it-all" you can have that seventeen-year-old body you've been missing out of for years! Simply adhere to our strict regimen and sign our "reallocation of basic sustenance rights" form, we'll do the rest! Please note; there are significant known and unknown side effects, and by agreeing to our terms and conditions, you waive all rights to compensation..."

Delbev felt his mind slowly regain consciousness, and the synaptic replay of historical events faded into the background. He opened his eyes and looked down at the monitor on his arm. It blinked with a dull green light, indicating his regeneration phase was complete. He turned it off mentally, and then stood up, stretching his form, making sure everything was in working order. Physically, he was ready. Mentally however... he wasn't a hundred percent sure.

"Are you having doubts?" Yorkund asked, as if able to read his mind.

Delbev turned to regard his friend and longtime associate. They were both scientists, researchers of the highest order. Delbev was also a tinkerer, one prone to bouts of scientific self-experimentation, self-improvement, and... he had a little bit of a superiority complex.

"No," Delbev replied.

"Mmm. It's only normal to have some level of apprehension. Self-doubt is fine. Even a bit of self-loathing."

"I do not loathe myself," Delbev said, flexing his arms and puffing up his chest. He cracked his neck bones loudly and shook his head. He checked his testosterone pump while his friend waited. "Too much residual testosterone in my system from the regen cycle."

"Expected," Yorkund replied, accepting the information as truth. "When are you scheduled for recombination?"

Delbev withdrew into his mind and found the time synchronicity ledger. "Twelve minutes."

"Hmmm. Want to play a game of Termottle? One last time, just me and you?"

Delbev nodded quickly. It would be the last thing he did... by himself.

Yorkund grabbed the board game hexagon and placed it on the table next to the tome of knowledge, and set up the pieces. A moment later, they sat across from each other, facing off. Yorkund made the first move without asking.

"Hmm. That's fine," Delbev said, allowing his friend the slight of due process. If he wanted to go on the offensive, Delbev had no qualms about making him pay for it. He calculated the possible outcomes of the next move, even though it was only the second move of the game, out to the sixtieth probability. He eliminated all outcomes where a win was easily obtained for either of them, and then moved his own piece. Yorkund smiled.

"Playing it safe?" Yorkund commented, grabbing a tribal figurine, one of the most prolific in the game, and one of the most expendable. He moved it forward one hexagon, and then forward and right, as was allowed on the first move. It was deliberately reckless.

"You know me," Delbev said, speaking the words out loud as he thought them. "Always calculating the risks." He ran the calculations again, to the same depth and level as before. If his partner was especially reckless, Delbev could win the game in just two more moves. He ran the time synchronization again. Ten minutes left. He moved his Arcon, a hefty fighting unit able to self-sacrifice and take out all the units around it. Two paces forward, one pace away from the tribal.

"You know this is only a tribal?" Yorkund spoke with a hint of mirth. He grabbed another tribal and moved it into position next to the first. Delbev watched. His calculations showed victory for him in as high as ninety-five percentiles... unless... this was a trap. Would Yorkund sacrifice two of his tribals for one Arcon? Delbev expanded his sensors and then made deliberate decisions to eliminate his reaction to the information he obtained. He moved the Arcon forward, just as Yorkund expected him to.

"Tricky, tricky," Yorkund said, grabbing the Aegis Commander and sliding it forward into the gap. Delbev watched and recalculated. It wasn't the move that concerned him. It was everything else. He reassessed the situation, checked the time synch again. He swiveled one of his eyes independently of the others and looked at the catalyst tank. Chalmar stood within. The door slowly rotated open.

"You know, it's sad," Delbev spoke, moving his Arcon one space forward, bringing it right in front of the two tribal units.

Yorkund raised an eyebrow and furrowed his brow, trying to figure out what Delbev had just done. "You know the Arcon cannot attack in the same move. You've just-"

Delbev yanked the table out of the wall supports and threw it sideways. His secondary right arm shot forward and he grabbed Yorkund by the throat. His left hands grabbed Yorkund's right wrist, one crushing the bones and preventing movement, the other twisted it upwards and open, making sure not to damage or break the vial of liquid held there. Yorkund's left arm punched forward, but Delbev grabbed it easily and held him tight, using all his strength to hold his friend immobile.

"You thought to kill Chalmar?" Delbev accused. Yorkund tried to speak, but Delbev was cutting off his oxygen. Yorkund was trying to find a bypass route... Delbev put his mind to work, employing the same electro-chemical processes possible, just like the fastest thinking creatures that ever existed, had done. Before Yorkund could find breath, Delbev had his answer.

"Traitor," Delbev spoke, and Yorkund's eyes, both of them, showed surprise and then quickly changed to a masking look of confusion. "Memory lapse from recombination is standard. Three minutes. Time synch is current at five minutes and seven seconds. You have... two minutes left." Delbev loosened his grip around Yorkund's throat, allowing his to breathe once again.

"I... I discovered a plot," Yorkund croaked. "Chalmar means to kill you. Your position is no longer appealing. They mean to eliminate you. Waste your knowledge."

Delbev let the information sink in and deciphered the truth from the lies as quickly as the sound reached his auditory receivers. He ran a separate calculation using past experiences, the subtle hand and head movements of observers during his speeches. He ran a third calculation against speech patterns, hidden word meanings, subconscious mutterings of truth while attempting to deceive.

"I'm your friend," Yorkund said.

Delbev cocked his head to the side, regarding Yorkund for just a split second. He added a modifier to his calculations. An extra one one-hundredth of a percent in Yorkund's favor. Compounded out to the sixtieth power of cascading calculations, it was a significant bias, and yet still...

"I believe you," Delbev said, nodding his head and smiling. Yorkund smiled too, but it was an uneasy and unappreciative gesture. Delbev could tell his "friend" was unsettled by his appearance. His mouth was overly large, filled with razor sharp teeth genetically gleaned from a ferocious man-eating shark, taken from pre-extinction samples of course. Delbev smiled again, flashing his pearly whites.

"Le- let me go," Yorkund said then, realizing Delbev hadn't released his grip on either of his arms.

"Mmm. No," Delbev replied. He tightened his grip around Yorkund's neck and carried him to the catalyst tank. Yorkund's eyes bulged even more than normal when he realized what Delbev had in mind, and Delbev smiled again. "Two minutes left to go," he said, looking over the tank, the dials and the many sensors positioned at critical points. "A minute and a half. You can hold your breath, can't you?"

Regardless of whether he could or couldn't, Yorkund couldn't draw breath or exhale. His face was red, turning purple, and his eyes bulged. Delbev thought his friend might now be regretting not partaking in any of his own biogenetic enhancements. Oh, surely he had to be regretting it now.

Delbev looked up at Chalmar, and the hulking form turned to look at him. The body was prepped, ripe for the recombination. The multi-mind was whole, knowing, calculating. It observed Delbev and Yorkund, and everything that they were, and everything that was happening. Chalmar nodded.

"As a traitor to your own kind, you'll find the recombination quite refreshing. You'll have a completely new outlook on things. And Chalmar, along with the other elders, will have a unique insight into the inner workings of your little group. Oh, don't be sad. The only sad part is that you won't remember any of this. Thirty seconds now."

Delbev stepped forward, pushing Yorkund's body into the doorway of the catalyst tank. Giant hands reached out and grabbed Yorkund's forearms. Delbev snapped Yorkund's one good wrist, eliminating his ability to fight back with more ferocity. Delbev let go of Yorkund's throat as he was dragged into the chamber.

"No! Don't do this!" Yorkund screamed out, but was silenced a moment later, Delbev assumed, from one of Chalmar's many arms. Without a word goodbye, Delbev rotated the chamber door. To his credit, Yorkund was able to get a single hand outside the chamber, in what was obviously a last-minute desperate grab for freedom. Delbev slammed the door closed, severing the hand, and sealed it, cranking the long handle downward and locking it into place.

"Enjoy your reconfiguration," Delbev said lightly as he went to the large handle on the recombination agent tank, and spun it counter clockwise. The rush of liquid could be felt through the connecting tube as it filled the catalyst chamber with fresh oxygenated gene-splicing agent. Yorkund's cries of protest echoed inside the tank once again. Delbev hurried over to the sight glass, eager to watch the process once again.

"Delbev?" someone called from the doorway.

"Yes?" Delbev replied, swiveling one eye in the newcomer's direction. It was a young female acolyte, fully human with very few modifications but, she was eager to witness the event. He watched her as she came forward, curiously. He saw the way she looked at him, not with the standard curiosity and revulsion, but with a unique standard of intrigue and... something more. Was it... awe? "Come. Watch the process."

"Are you sure?" She asked, stepping forward eagerly. "What about you?"

"I've seen it before. Many times. It's like... joining your life partner, forever and ever." The young woman's eyes sparkled and she eagerly stepped close and peered into the sight glass. "What's your name?" Delbev asked, watching her closely.

"Tarmiss," she said quickly. "Tarm if you... want."

"Tarm. Tell me Tarm, does Yorkund look like he enjoys the process so far?"

"Oh, he's not too happy. He's thrashing around but... Chalmar is holding him close. Ooooo! I can see them melding already!"

"Good, good. The genetics are meshing well. This was a bit, unplanned..."

"I thought you were..." the young woman's words trailed off. "Well. Things change," she said quickly. "We've all got to learn, change is inevitable. There is only one route to true immortality."

"Adapt, Cope, Change... or die," both of them spoke at the same time.

The young woman turned away from the catalyst tank to face Delbev. "Your teeth," she said, peering more closely, ignoring his smallish nose and his six eyes, two human, two eagle like, and two multifaceted. "How can I get teeth like that?"

Delbev smiled and so did Tarmiss. "Come, let us discuss the finer points of biogenetic enhancements. First, you'll need to prepare your body through a series of treatments, and then..." The two of them continued talking as they left the room, leaving Chalmar and Yorkund to get much better acquainted, in private.

Sci Fi
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About the Creator

Kerry Williams

It's been ten days

The longest days. Dry, stinking, greasy days

I've been trying something new

The angels in white linens keep checking in

Is there anything you need?

No

Anything?

No

Thank you sir.

I sit

waiting

Tyler? Is that you?

No

I am... Cornelius.

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