In Ruins

Xenocrates

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“Alert. System capacity nearing critical mass.“

No, no, no! Don’t you dare! Don’t you fucking dare! A solitary scientist was staring at a screen as red boxes flashed across it. Step by step, he was working through the issues, tapping away at other screens or fiddling with other devices to control the various semi-autonomous assistants.

Storage capacity overloaded; he took up a cellular-like device and drew lines between the symbols to reroute power flow. A majority of it went to electrical conversion before being dumped into the city’s electrical network.

Core Rift Support overheating; he pressed a button on the main screen and dragged the toggle down to increase power into the electro-thermal heat sync floor and ceiling. That would take a moment to be effective.

Rift expanding; could not solve that yet, move on.

Energy radiation is interfering with communications; he used his cellphone to disable the Wifi and run all communications through ethernet lines. Shit, that worked? No time for surprise or praise, time to move on.

Rift is expelling exotic matter, turning the walls into a black tar-like substance; What the fuck?

Electrical output is overheating the powerlines leaving the lab.

The air in the core is growing exponentially hotter, despite cooling attempts.

The rift is expanding.

The voices coming from the phone seem to be speeding up, growing higher and higher pitched.

Time dilation… No button for that.

IT finally came. The voice of the laboratory executive giving the world to pull the plug. This was the easiest part and the only real task that had been expected of this greenhorn. He returned to the main computer, kneeled down, and took hold of the wrist-thick bundle of plugs socketted into the wall. Power, Ethernet, output information to the Rift Breech Core, input diagnostics…

He yanked. Nothing happened. The communications computer still squeaked at him, but the speed of the voices became almost incomprehensible. He had no more readouts. Not that he needed them; the rift was constanty expanding. It soon passed through the walls meant to hold it in. It needed no power to stay open.

That lone scientist turned his gaze from the coming demise to the clock. 11:59, with thirty seconds to go till the new year.

10.

His seniors were supposed to be drinking an expensive whiskey to celebrate - he was going to have a big bonus on his pay for staying behind.

9

The young man, resigned to his fate, removed his labcoat. There was no running from this. The voices were barely high pitched beeps.

8

Leaving the time dilation would mean going from super slow to normal. Half his body would be exposed to slow progression. Blood flow, nerve signals, et cetera - all fucked up in no time.

7

I was supposed to be interviewed…

6

It felt like no time at all, but he knew those outside were probably minutes - if not hours in to the crisis.

5

It was surprising how calm the air was outside the rift. There was no pull of gravity, despite the time dilation. No radiant energy through the air - at least that he could feel.

4

The rift continued to expand, and the lone man found himself pressed against the elevator door. Death by dual time, or exotic exposure? Neither sounded particularly pleasant.

3

It was odd, his last thoughts. In the moment before the outer lining of the rift - a blackened void-like sphere - touched his chest, he could only think of how history would remember him.

2

I hope no one remembers me as the Second Chernobyl guy…

1

1

1

...

0

The impending wall of death made contact with the young man's chest. All at once, the world flexed and bowed, time slowly crept from a standstill and the exotic matter retracted. It was not back into the rift that had released it, but into the living creature it had touched.

The experience was brief, but it felt like ages. He couldn't remember what started this. In fact, he couldn't jot remember much at all. Why… am I here? What… is all of this?

The young man looked around and saw nothing familiar in the world. It was sunny out, with wispy clouds overhead. Upon a crumbling pillar of stone sat a large Bob tailed cat licking at its paw. The man heard nothing but crackling and roaring. Upon the vine pierced tile floor laid several small creatures, burned to death and in various stages of decay.

I… I'm… free? What am I free from? Why can't I remember? It felt like a distant memory: something screeching and waves of heat, the overwhelming sensation of fear. It was a broken memory, yet it was the most vivid memory he could recall.
 

Xenocrates

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The roaring, the god-damn ROARING! The amnesiac held his ears, trying to stifle the sound but it only grew worse. It was not painful, but he could hear nothing else. Each step he expected to hear the crunch of leaves and twigs, the skittering of animals fleeing from the sound, but he only heard the roaring of whatever energy surrounded him. A hand fell onto a stone pillar as he passed and upon contact it crackled and melted, blasted away from the touch.

This energy, he realized. It’s not natural. It was not an observation, but a gut feeling. He remembered the fear from long ago. Looking upon this had given him some sense of demise, something he had been forced to accept. Why did it linger? Why was he here? Why-why-WHY? This time, his hand struck out with the intention of hitting something. The sizzle and crackle of stone again fell on deafened ears, muted behind the roaring.

Lashing out felt wrong, it felt childish and silly but what other reaction could express the absolute frustration that grew beneath the maddening roaring. He feared bringing his hands to his ears, lest he become as the pillars touched. Just stop! Just-FUCKING-”STOP!” Somewhere amidst his internal yelling, the bottle had overflowed.

His voice cut through the roaring, and on command, it stopped. There was a breeze as the vibrant yet malignant energy penetrated his flesh and vanished. He could see his skin and hear his ragged breathing and the chirping of birds. The roar of that horrendous energy left the amnesiac’s ears ringing, but the cacophony of new sounds and even that ringing were a welcome relief.

I thought I was going to go crazy… The calmness of the world gave way to a clearer mind. Frustrations with no origins became disgruntled questions of foggy memories. They were momentarily shunted off. Though things like names and events were lost, there was a basic understanding of functions, of needs. His mouth was dry, his stomach ached with hunger, his muscles were stiff and weak as if he had just awoken from a twenty four hour nap.

“Oh, would you look at that?” The voice was soothing, almost hypnotic in its deep lul. “The Old One awakens… Finally.” The man peered around, looking for a source. He saw no one, only the bob tailed cat. His eyes continued on from the feline only to hear; “No, you were right… Just you and me, Old One.” His eyes fall back to the feline. It… smiled.

“Yes… I can talk. No, I am not going to eat you. Now that we have that out of the way…” The feline rose, stretched upon the pillar, then hopped down onto the ruined marble ground. “My name is Bakeneko.”

“Bake… a neko?” His brow furrowed.

“Only if you’re Chinese!” That just sounded offensive… “But all jokes aside… What is your name? Or shall I continue calling you the Old One?” The bob-tailed Bakeneko padded forth, silent in every movement. The creature began circling the nameless amnesiac, eyes scanning the man with growing curiosity.

There was no malice felt. Though this creature was easily the size of a lion with eyes of shimmering amber that glowed even in the sunlight, he felt no fear. Caution, maybe, but it was like he was speaking to any other stranger. “I don’t… really remember anything.”

“Xenocrates. I read your flesh-tag, I was just hoping for a more formal introduction.” Flesh tag? “Regardless… What was that large ball you ate? It looked like you swallowed the sun. Did you swallow a sun?” The deep purring voice that spilled from the creature’s motionless mouth was nothing less than a lulliby.

In between the desire to drift back off to sleep and the growing pains of hunger and thirst, questions were piling up. “Xeno…. I ate a sun?”

A rumbling growl-like chuckle resonated from the bob tailed felone’s chest. “Why, yes… I found you some days ago, frozen in time in fear of this fiery orb of destruction. Any creature that came close was burned. The supply of roasted beast was a delight while it lasted…” There was a hint of sadness as this was said. “But I digress. The sun roasted the beasts - I ate the beasts… but you ate the sun. I suppose that means you are far higher on the foodchain.”

“Well… Humans are high on the food chain, I guess.”

“But are you even human?”
 

Xenocrates

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“What? Of course I am human. I think…” What else is there? He remembered humans… there was a distant memory of fantastical things - creatures he knew to be of stories and mythology - but the only solid fact was that he was a human.

The feline’s circle stopped in front of the amnesiac. It sat, head cocked, questioning the man loosely named Xenocrates. “Can humans catch fire? Can humans stand motionless for days without breath? Can humans--”

“Stop!” Though the line of questioning was well in suit for his own, Xenocrates could not bear even similar questions to pile atop the mountain he already sifted through. “Alright… I might not be human anymore. I was human once, before… whatever happened recently.”

“Recent to you, Old One. To the rest of us, it has been days at least - but only because I was roaming far from home did I come across you. You could have been here for months, for years. You could have ascended with age, much as I have.” The amnesiac took a breath to deny, but the baritone lul just chuckled. “I only jest… It might just be something you ate.” It was odd, but the bob-tailed feline’s amber eye winked almost playfully. “Full circle.”

He was starting to understand the idea. That energy that had flooded into him lingered. This Bakekeno was suggesting he had become something more. “Something I ate? Are you saying I’ve synthesized with a sun?”

There came a tilt to the head of the curious beast. “What about the size of sin of the sun?”

It seems I’ve hit the wall when it comes to intellectual answers While the feline was friendly enough, it seemed as enlightened as one might expect of a beast that bathed itself with its own tongue. “Thanks, doc, but I’m going to seek a second opinion… Can you take me to the nearest human settlement?”

If a cat could grimace, Bakeneko would absolutely scowl. “No… I can tell you how to get there… but last time I ventured to close, I lost a tail. Ever hear that old phrase? Curiosity killed the cat?” It sounded familiar, at least.

“Walk with the sun. Have it at your back in the mornings, and stride towards it in the evening. Best to rest when the sun is at its peak, guessing could have you lost.” The feline’s head leaned to one side before it moved to follow, showing an excessively lazy stride. “It might take me two days walk… but I am prone to excessive naps and backtracking, so… who knows?”

As things stood, Xenocrates felt like he could stay awake for the next few days straight with no problem. There was a deep wellspring of energy that ran deeper than caffeine, deeper than just being well rested. “I think I can manage. Anything else I should know?”
 
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