Sunday, September 23, 2007

"For those just tuning in..."

"Select and detail."

Ravyn stared at the screen, a small landfill of empty coffee cups on the table next to it. He had been at this for hours. Long, painful hours. In that time, he had discovered quite a few things and learned how much more he had left to learn.

The first thing he had discovered was that computers were considerably better than he'd remembered. He had overheard a pair of Arbiters discussing Arachnet and made the assumption that it was a data storage network he could access and learn about other people in this vast organization.

Technically he was correct. The sprawling database that was Arachnet deserved its web-suggestive title. The network was gargantuan and rarely organized in any cohesive fashion. Between encoded files, directories that dead ended with nothing in them and password-protected subnets with seemingly nothing in them, he was essentially swimming in a murky pool of information with a blindfold and ankle weights.

The night had not been entirely wasted. He was far better at using a computer than he had been and had caught up to speed on his technical skills far faster than he'd thought he would. When he'd sat down at the keyboard nearly twelve hours ago, the network admin on duty had obviously considered him less than a beginner. Eight hours later when the young man went off shift, there was begrudging respect in his eyes. Ravyn had gone from knowing nothing about the network and the computers in the lab to programming search fields and rewriting his graphic interface to better suit him.

Exactly how he knew how to do these things he was not entirely sure. There was virtually no instruction time being spent in anything he tired to do. He would look up a command or a technique and then put it into practice, even expanding on it intuitively. He was basically teleporting across his learning curves.

While this was fascinating in theory, in reality it was not getting him very far. Bloodravyn only knew slightly more about the Fortunatas and their Chosen Ones than he did half a day ago. He had names but when he tried to look them up, he got almost nowhere. He was at least grateful that knowledge about him was equally difficult to come by. A search on himself had yielded nothing more than he could find on the other Destinae.

He already knew about Lethane. He was the Chosen of Seer Marina, a former rising star in Arachnos. About a year ago, she stopped pursuing her goals and furthering her career for reasons unknown. Retaining her title as a Fortunata Prime simply because no one wanted to replace her under Mako's command, Marina was as big a mystery as Lethane himself.

Another competitor, the Chosen of Oracle Tyma, was well suited to Scorpion, his aligned lieutenant. Panzerfaust was apparently a technical genius with all the social skills of a hungry warthog and the tenacity to match. As encased in battle armor as Scorpion himself, Panzerfaust was known for his ability to charge at incredible speed and deliver a kinetic blow powered by micronized mass drivers in his arms. Beyond that, Arachnet offered nothing.

That left Bedouin; a more perfect a match for her lieutenant Scirroco could not be imagined. A trained knife fighter with naturally honed skill and 'powers' of misdirection and disguise, she was apparently a freelance assassin who failed to kill Vespe, her Fortunata Prime, and was offered the choice between execution and serving as Spiritus Destinae. Again, there were no details beyond that.

Ravyn sighed and crushed another cup in his tired right fist. Twelve hours and this was all he had to show for his time. While those three were out making names for themselves and competing against each other for the right to be Recluse's true second in command, he was alone in a room with computers and an old boombox with cracked plastic and a bent antenna.

An old radio that wasn't even on...

That he could fix. Ravyn stood up, stretching weary legs as he crossed the room and turned on the almost-antique stereo. No amount of fiddling with the tuning knob could change its one, vaguely static filled station. Still, any sound was better than silence. He headed back to the crackling strains of a Hank Williams/Hank Jr duet, sitting down carefully so as not to break the poor overtaxed metal chair.

As he began another search routine on Panzerfaust, the music warped slightly, echoing a bizarre feedback that almost hurt to hear. Moments later, the reverberations faded away and, over the still audible melody in the background, Ravyn could clearly hear a strange, oddly metallic voice.

"This just in, true believers! It would seem that that some of you out there are living in the past. Grooooovin' it Old School, you know? Well, time to wake up and smell the annum, boys and girls. Ya might wanna start by finding out what the annum actually is! Just a thought... and now, back to a guy in the grave and a son whose lousy voice probably put him there!"

And just like that, the oscillations stopped, the feedback faded away and the song returned to full volume. It was even clear now; there was no longer any static. Bloodravyn stared at the old radio, blinking for nearly a minute...

...and then checked the date and time function on the network terminal...

...and then forgot how to breathe for a while.

Eleven years. Eleven years?!?

He was only brought out of his shock by the warble of the radio. Another burst of feedback, sharp and loud, shook him back into the real world.

"It's good to know that you really can teach an old barker new tricks. And since some of you out there have finally decided to drop into this decade with the rest of us, why not go the extra mile and look up the rest of the puppies from your kennel? Give it a shot! What have you got to lose, after all? Just remember, when in doubt, mum's the word!"

The music faded back in, revealing itself to be something rhythmic and harsh with someone talking in rhyme instead of singing. Apparently an eleven year nap hadn't been long enough for rap to join the dinosaurs. Pity.

Bloodravyn had no idea what was going on with the radio but the suggestion was obvious enough. So obvious he wondered why he had not thought of doing it before. Was it because he did not really want to know? If they were live, if he discovered where they were, he would have to confront the darkest part of himself. The part that had awoken in that cell back at the Zigguraut.

The part that wanted to kill those he used to love.

He was making a life for himself here. It wasn't the life he'd ever thought he could have or even want, but it was real and it was all he had. If he took the radio's advice, strange as it was in delivery, and looked up the other members of the Vigilants, would he be able to keep himself from hunting them down right now?

He had duties here, patrons that would not look kindly on him leaving the Isles on some personal mission of revenge. He had already heard stories of what happened to villains who went against the will of Arachnos and struck out on their own. Most of those stories ended... poorly.

He brought up a new data search window.

If he did this, could he turn back? Could he learn about the others and not act?

He raised his hands, murmuring, "Manual Input" just loud enough for the computer's voice circuits to recognize his words and activate the keyboard. His fingers came down to touch the glowing letters.

Would they even be alive? Would they still be together as a team? If so, had they replaced him with another fool?


Part of him had to know.


Just a quick search on one of them, the one whose face was haunting him every time he closed his eyes...


Would that be so bad? Surely he could do this much. He wouldn't look them all up.


Bloodravyn closed his eyes before typing anything else. He breathed deeply, trying to regain control. Was this a mistake?


Already the memories were returning, overpowering him with sights, smells, touches. Emotions were welling up, threatening to break free. At the edges of his eyes, a glow of red was starting to build. They were tears, but not of saline. In his eyes, sorrow was taking a more magmic form.


He held his finger over the entry key, hesitating. Once he saw this, there would be no turning back. What appeared on the screen could never be unseen. He would see it, he would feel it and he would have to act on it. Part of him needed to know. Part of him was burning, literally and figuratively, to discover the truth. Around his eyes, lava was beginning to flow and fire was beginning to ignite.

Part of him need to know...

...but the rest of him forced his hand to hit the abort key instead. The screen went back to a system prompt. Ravyn typed in his shutdown command and turned the terminal off. His custom interface would erase all his activity from the network now. What he had discovered and what he had kept himself from discovering would leave no traces for anyone else to find.

Rising to clean up his workstation, eyes closed and superheated tears turning to vapor and dust on his cheeks, Bloodravyn left the computer lab as quickly as he could.

But not before hearing the radio squall again as he walked down the base corridor towards his room. He had shut it off before leaving but that didn't apparently matter to the damnable thing.

"Hello all you out in radioland! And a special hello to our blast from the past, the sunder from down under, quite probably The. Worst. Villain. Ever! Bloodravyn. Don't you worry none, son. Your secrets are safe here at Radio! Free Opportunity! We won't tell anyone how you flinched at the last second. How you managed to lose at playing Chicken with yourself."

"No sirree, we'd never do that. But we might just have to let a little bit slip to the right ear at the right time about how a certain Chosen One is stuggling with ghosts from his past when he should be embracing the here and now! Capishe, brother? Do you hear what the radio is blasting out?"

"But don't fret, vet! That's what we call a worst case scenario. To avoid that sadness, let's make with the madness. You can start by putting a sound system in your room. A certain retro chic, if you catch our analog drift!"

Ravyn growled under his breath. If he understood the blasted thing correctly, it wanted him to take it with him to his quarters.

"I don't believe this," he glowered under his breath. "I am being blackmailed by a boombox."

Twenty minutes later he was in bed, sleeping fitfully to the sound of Mozart on the nightstand...

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