I awoke groggy and fearful, with dust in my mouth and harsh sunlight searing my flesh thru the bars of a cage. Amazingly, I was still alive in an awful futuristic landscape, captive and being towed along a bumpy path thru the heaped up ruins of a civilization whose memory had long faded into superstitious myth. Attached to my mobile cage was a creature fully armored in metal-plate and covered with innumerable buzzing, blinking gizmos, it rode a wheeled machine like a knight on his stallion from olden times, only this thing was more like a fiend from a science-fiction nightmare.
I scoped the area we trundled thru and could not see my dog Butch anywhere and was afraid this cyborg-monster had destroyed my beloved companion, for he would never have allowed my capture without a ferocious fight. My rucksack still clung to my back and I quickly rifled thru it till I found one of those wondrous cans of the ancients marked with a pictogram of fish and inset with a ring that allowed you to open it easily. I tore off the lid and flung pieces of sardine onto the path behind us, a smelly trail for Butch to follow if he was still alive and hunting for me. I gobbled down a few scraps myself as I was starving and I sucked thirstily some water from my canteen, as surrepticious as I could, for I didn't want to alert the machine-man to the fact that I was awake and computing the chances for my escape.
It sat as if conjoined to it's tank-like motor-bike, unmoving and silent except for the gadgets whirring, beeping and twinkling across it's metal carapace and, scanning the radio-waves emanating from it, I realised it had mass and movement sensors that would warn it of any approaching enemies, thus it seemed detached and unharried, ignoring me as a possession that had been permanently defeated. I saw machine-gun attachments and rocket-launchers in it's armour and knew it was impervious to most kinds of attack in this broken-down world of sub-humans and I relaxed the fight or flight syndrome tensing my body for there was no escape as yet, I could only be dragged along to meet my fate at the end of this derelict road.
We saw few signs of intelligent life, most creatures smart enough to still be alive gave my Cyborg captor a wide berth on seeing his terrible form lurching thru the ruins. There were a few times when brainless zombies or mutated monsters tried their luck and crept hungrily upon us but they were fried in mid-leap by laser beams that shot out of the Cyborg's armor, he was fully cognizant of whatever breathed and schemed near us and didn't even have to lift an arm to beat off any would-be interlopers.
For days and nights we droned inexorably along without rest, me sustaining myself from the scavenged goods in my backpack, the Cyborg fueling it's existence from storage units inside it's mildewed carapace, never seeming to sleep or maybe dozing while I slept, it's machinery on auto-pilot. There were times in the dark night I despaired in my loneliness and whistled in subsonics for my dog Butch to come to my rescue but all remained deathly silent, my canine soul-mate was gone, gone with the rest of loving life and only my iron-clad master existed, enigmatic in his grim silence.
Eventually we came to that awesome natural phenomena, the ocean, known to me only from the history-chip embedded in my brain, but not blue-green and breaking in white-frothy waves as in the recordings. It was more like a heavy brown/gray sludge that stretched to the horizon, a vast sewerage pond, viscous and undulating slightly like an enormous dead jelly-fish that I imagined one would sink into slowly, suffocate and dissolve, instead of swim freely, joyfully as people did of old.
The Cyborg dragged his caged prize along a dirty beach littered with dessicated corpses, wind-blown flotsam and putrid vegetation and, rounding a bend, I saw in stunned awe what must be our destination, a fortress standing up out of the oceanic muck, linked to the mainland by a causeway that was covered in razor-wire barricades. A fantastic, futuristic castle, it consisted of high, thick crenelated walls with the cones of missiles peeping from countless portholes, and inside soared a pile of architectural wonders that seemed to defy gravity, slim minarets topped by bloated domes, inverted pyramids and leaning skyscrapers, and at the centre of it all a sleek tower piercing the heavens like a shining silver spear, aero-dynamic in it's curves, unscathed by the hurricane winds that howled around it.
Scanning the structures I matched certain details to those stored in my library chip and flashed they were microwave towers, television antennas, radio-telescopes and radar dishes, as maybe a chunk of old-time civilization had been preserved and was still functional amid the sea of polluted muck. As we crawled onward I could hear and feel a low mechanical thrumming vibrating from the bowels of the fortress as if it was built upon an enormous churning machine, foul smoke vomited from tall chimneys and clung heavily about the towers till the winds shredded it into pennants that wavered and slowly drifted out to sea. The stronghold stood upon an immense concrete platform at the base of which huge upturned vents sucked in the oceanic muck, there was much sloshing and churning and I supposed this was the Keep's source of raw material for food and manufactories.
When we approached the ramp that reached out into the ordure sea klaxon horns shrieked from inside the fortress and cannons exploded from the high ramparts, whether in warning or triumph I could only imagine the worst. The razor-wire fencing peeled back magically on our approach, other lethal barricades sank into the concrete pier and we soon sat under colossal spiked iron gates as doomsday bells donged ominously. My enhanced eyes caught the play of lasers between the Cyborg and consoles high in the wall, a code was exchanged and slowly the giant gates chundered open, just wide enough to let the Cyborg wheel thru, dragging my cage behind, the iron walls clanging shut only a hair's breadth from crushing me.
The buildings which loomed over me as we scurried along were in a hotch-poth of ancient styles that I designated as Gothic demonic, Soviet brutalist and Bauhaus functional, all of it ugly and intimidating with noxious gases belching from grates and windows. The denizens of this mechanist citadel came out to ogle me as I was carted by like a prize freak, they were of the cyborg type with robotic limbs and L.E.D.s for eyes, amplifiers for ears and metallic plates gleaming from skulls, computer chipped at every joint and endocrine-node. They spied the gold and platinum cables extruding from the back of my skull like a pony-tail and cheered and clapped as I passed by, their warped heads nodding in satisfaction.
I was paraded down grimy alleyways and thru garbage-strewn courtyards towards a fabulous palace hugging the base of the colossal silver tower that I'd seen from afar, web-like scaffolding connecting the two structures. The palace was all pink and white porcelain like an architectural confection from an old-time fairy-tale, surprisingly beautiful compared to the hideous industrial cityscape piled about it. Up a ramp we creaked, thru a foyer and into some kind of reception hall, at the far end there was a dais upon which sat a large jewelled throne, bright lights glaring upon it.
My cage was dumped before the throne and I was dragged forth as a crowd of courtiers gathered around me, all dressed ridiculously in fluffed up plastic ballgowns and cardboard penguin-suits, whirring gizmos scintilating like jewelled medallions on their throats, chests and wrists. With zen-like efficiency my Cyborg master unclasped his chest armour and armaments and handed them off to lackeys that ran to and fro at his every gesture, and last of all he slowly unhinged and lifted the helmet from his misshapened head to gaze upon me, my flesh prickling in horror.
He had only one eye, a swivelling video device that zoomed in and out as he looked me up and down. Where the other eye should have been was a cavernous hole that covered half his face, no nose to speak of, and inside the wound could be glimpsed the wet slush of his brain peeping thru the skull-case with innumerable tiny chips wired into the grey-matter. His mouth was a cruel gash full of pointy steel teeth and from some device planted deep in the ceramic throat issued a machine-voice that croaked, "Creature of polluted flesh, alien from the Outsider Tribes, you are mine by right of Salvage and Retrieval to do with as I see fit!"
I tried to squeak out a protest but was drowned out by fanfare as a gaggle of cyborg aristos traipsed across the dais above me, in their midst an horrendous grotesque that I took to be their King for his robes were more elaborate, flashing machines and shrunken skulls hung about him as decoration and he wore a scintillating diadem towering upon his macro-encephaletic head. He held the hand of a beautiful girl who he seemed to be carefully leading behind him and, as he seated himself upon the throne, she sat at his feet, her blank face turned to the light, her eyes empty and uncomprehending. She had the appearance of a normal, human female, dressed in a flimsy silk neglige with no mechanical augmentations obvious upon her body. But when the King spoke in authoritative tones she turned to look adoringly up at him and I saw a pony-tail of gold and platinum cables issuing from the the back of her head amidst her blonde tresses, computer cords very similar to my own.
I sat up in shock, kept my mouth shut and listened attentatively for I was the centre of attention and my life was being decided. The King's patronising voice echoed thru.out the throne-room,
"You have accomplished the great Quest that was set you and brought back proof that indeed Enhanced Lifeforms exists beyond our walls. But what designs could you have upon this Outsider that I myself would not have need of?"
The Cyborg warrior harrumphed and cleared his throat mike, then rasped,
"I would harvest him of organs and flesh so that our genius surgeons may complete my Being. And I would salvage his chipped enhancements to gift them to the Princess Royal in the hope that implanted in her she may recover her Fitness, be rebooted to full Awareness and thus take her place beside me as my wife, the prize you promised for my success, to be Queen to my future King."
Suddenly I had an epiphany, flashing on the import of the whole ghoulish scenario and the chance I would have to take if I was to survive my master's callous ownership. I screamed aloud at which the robotic throng froze and stared at me in dismay,
"I am no mere dumb animal to be devoured by your inhuman needs, I am a thinking, feeling man who would be a boon to your society if left whole, much better than a smorgasboard of parts to be scavenged. "
"Ignore this creature, he has no rights, he is mine with no use but what I make of him!"
The Cyborg ogre moved to clutch my thoat with his piston-powered robotic arm but I ducked and shouted my response, "I know I have the means to return your daughter, the Princess, to her wits, but destroying me might lose that chance forever. Give me a go, I beg you!"
The King hesitated, contemplating my proposal, and the courtiers buzzed with amusement while the Cyborg Warrior swung at me, buzz-saws sprung from knuckles slicing at my head. Taking my chance I weaved around the Warrior's flailing arms and leapt upon the podium, raced over to the Princess and flung myself into her lap, taking her soft hands and placing them against my face. She did not flinch but seemed to welcome the humanity of my embrace, feeling out my features and caressing my cheek. As she did so I quickly sorted thru the gizmos twinkling on the ends of the gold cables slung over her shoulder within the blonde tresses of her hair.
It was as I surmised, several of them dovetailed with the ends of my own cables, female ports for my male plugs. The Cyborg warrior was trying to heave himself up onto the dais but his machinery was too cumbersome and he floundered on the edge, buzz saws and razors clattering terrifyingly. I deftly coupled my cables to hers, pressed a few buttons and closed my eyes, willing my chip to reboot hers and information to flow freely. I saw a kaleidoscope of patterns and images pour in a torrent across my inner-movie screen and I felt the presence of another awaken and rejoice, a consciousness flowered in my heart like a lotus of white light and a I heard a song of thanks reverberate thru my soul.
I opened my eyes to find gorgeous violet-hued irises drinking me in, love beamed forth and it felt like we had become as one, twin souls that infinity couldn't seperate for mental telepathy flashed between us. The Cyborg had managed to crunch up onto the stage and he now ratcheted towards us, fingers of sharp blades reaching out and red video-eye gleaming malevolently. Clutching my hand, the Princess cried aloud, "Stop! Father, I have returned! My implants are renewed and my faculties are sharp. Years of suffering are over and it's to my brother here that we owe our thanks."
The Cyborg roared in hatred and frustration as the King disclaimed, "May the Kingdom rejoice, my beloved daughter has been delivered from insanity at long last! There are now two supplicants who deserve the honour of claiming her hand in marriage and then possess the keys to the castle, for both contributed to her well-being. I can only leave it up to her to choose the suitor who pleases her the most for I would not have her unhappy in the years that are left her."
The Princess Royal took one look at the Cyborg Warrior's ghastly disfigured face and shuddered. She glanced down at the lethal weaponry extruding from his robotic body, slicing at the air and she grimaced. Then she turned and gazed down upon my wholesome face and at the youthful robustness of my physique, and for a few moments she closed her eyes and felt the knowledge, bliss and love that flowed from my inner-being.
Her face luminous in delight she called,
"There two kinds of warriors in this world, the warrior for love and the warrior for power. It's no contest, I choose the Outsider, he is brave, he'll fight when he has to but he is also caring. He could be my soul-mate thru eternity! He represents co-operation, equality and reciprocal love while your chief warrior stands for competition, heirarchy and violence, the very things that brought us to this impasse, the possible destruction of our species. Thus I choose survival, knowledge and harmony, for that is the reason I believe humanity exists."
The Cyborg shreiked his dismay, his machinery jittered and clunked, he seemed to be shutting down in confusion, smoke hissed from his ears, the diodes stopped flickering on his chest, the wheels and cogs juddered to a stop and he collapsed into a steaming heap, stymied and crashed, he was out of the race, for awhile. The rest of the court applauded and the King stood from his throne to lift us two hugging teens from our crouching position at his feet and kissed each of us upon the forehead. Information flowed freely thru our connected cables and I knew the next necessary move. I quickly spliced two of our matching gold cords and plugged their ends into a bracket in an arm of the golden throne, jewells flashed and strobed, whistles blew and the King announced we were ready to ascend to the joys of the bridal chamber. He gave us one last embrace then, with the rest of his court, hurriedly left the hall, as if danger threatened.
The Princess then disconnected us from the throne and led me gently by the hand, whispering,
"Hi, my name's Lilly, what's yours?" "TeeZee, what's happening? Where are we going?" "To the bridal bed stupid! I've waited for you for what seemed like aeons. The Void was so cold and lonely but I swear at times I felt your presence existing somewhere over the horizon and coming for me. But quickly, we must get to the safety of the Control Room for the Warrior will soon come back to his senses and I'm sure he will demand retribution, he's not one to give up so easily, he's hard-wired for hatred and destruction."
She led me up a long spiral staircase and across a dizzy walkway high above the ground in the scaffolding that connected the candy palace to the silver tower. We came into a strange circular room whose walls were lined with much glittering machinery and in the centre of which was a large couch. The bridal bed no doubt and I cringed as she sat upon it and pulled me down to join her. It was yet another repeat of that terrible imperative here at the end of history, the urgent need to procreate and preserve the species, with great pressure on me to perform. I blushed and stuttered my protests.
"I'm sorry but I'm not really up for carnal lusts with females, your gender actually terrifies me, you're so different, so demanding, I can't be fucked nesting, I'm too selfish, I live in my head too much."
"I couldn't give a fuck about propagating the species either, I'm just as selfish as you are."
"Yeah, well, I've been irrevocably queered by this world, I've actually opted out of the human race, all the destruction is proof that we did a lousy job as caretakers of the planet and the species is not worth promulgating. I prefer my own sex and don't see why it always has to be such damned problem. But I'm open to new experiences, and making love is so sweet, no matter with whom, so all I ask is that you be gentle with me."
She giggled and replied, "Don't worry, I'm not interested in fucking, it's quite gross, all those icky body fluids possibly shared, it makes me ill to think of it. But it would be nice to hold you in close embrace, yeah? Then we can share knowledge and experiences, an orgasm of the soul while conjoined electrically, that's the evolutionary turn on that I've been training for! And it'll take two of us to get this show on the road, that's what you're here for, so get cracking!"
She sat facing a huge video console, pressing buttons and throwing switches till the wall-screen came to life. On it was a view of the gantry leading to our chamber and staggering towards our door was the Warrior Cyborg, weapons slashing out in front of him as the walkway swayed under his weight. She moaned and quickly plugged our cables into various sockets on the console and threw several more switches.
The Cyborg was relegated to a side-screen, replaced by another image that astonished me, the giant metallic head of a female smiling enigmatically, rotating in slow-motion, behind her a river of stars twinkling upon the deep black of outer-space. I referenced it and matched it to the head of the seventh wonder of the ancient world, the Statue of Liberty, only the spikes of it's crown were made of missiles and antennae. The idolised face was a jigsaw of modules and platforms, cones, pods and labs, boosters and rigging, satellites and solar panels, with huge windows for eyes, the open mouth a landing bay for space-craft, all of it looking like an agglomeration of space-junk that had been gravitated together on purpose to form the semblance of what I imagined must some type of Goddess of Science and Technology. And I realised we were viewing the space above the planet via a video link to a telescope, it was smiling down upon the earth like the Queen of the heavens, but in reality just another damned machine.
"This is the Goddess we have long made obeisance to and we must now pray for Her succour, to rescue us in our time of dire need from the forces that would destroy us. All we have to do is follow the protocols, certain rituals of command and reply, and we will be taken to paradise, far from this earthly purgatory!"
Lilly quickly buckled us into harnesses and shouted for me to mimic her panicky movements. A computerized voice then boomed out instructions which she followed by throwing switches and pulling levers, encouraging me to follow suit, pushing buttons in time to a count-down of numbers that was echoing throughout the chamber. Our entwined cables linked to the consoles flashed and flickered as if our implanted chips were following the pattern of the fireworks exploding on the screens around us. On one screen I saw the scaffolding supporting the silver tower fall away, the Cyborg on the walkway catapulted into the tower and smashed to bits like an old-time car in a head-on crash as flames leaped up and appeared to engulf the whole structure in which we sat.
The silver tower in whose nose-cone we rode lifted majestically from the ground amid storms of smoke and fire and launched itself into the heavens, a spaceship of the ancients claimed my reference chip, and up on the wall-screen I watched the face of the Goddess smile cryptically as we flew towards Her, the mouth growing ever larger, eventually we were to be swallowed whole for what future adventures I dared not dream.