Apex Universe

Chronicles - Chapter 6

VARANDA BLACK

by Fernando Kornijezuk

Varanda liked the new color of his eyes, black as night. Black as his family’s African heritage. Black as his name. Dark as his personality. Whatever had been white in his eyes, which God had built, had been replaced by two obsidians, built by technology, which seemed perfect for someone who had two mechanical prostheses instead of arms. Unlike his appearance and behavior, Varanda’s movements had an odd subtlety to them; he was an undetectable figure through the deserted and shadowy streets of what had once been a big city.

His boots kept him from getting wet in the puddles of water he could not avoid. Most would say he was lucky to have boots, but Varanda knew that everything he owned came from his skill rather than chance. A promising university linebacker, prepared to be the fastest, the strongest, the smartest. Possibly the number one player in the NFL Draft of 2053, which ended up not happening when the world went haywire. In the following years, a college athlete became a getaway driver for a group of freaks who tried to make a living by stealing while the police ran like headless chickens. It could only end up going wrong, and that lifestyle worked out only until it didn’t.

He wished prisons still existed. The law of the courts had already been replaced by the law of the streets, and punishment came much faster now. The loss of his arms seemed appropriate for being a criminal driver, and he should even feel grateful they had dropped his bloody carcass near one of the few hospitals that still worked. However, it was not gratitude he felt. It was the desire to not forget the faces of any of those “UNITY” bastards who had done that to him. Many years had gone by, and when a debt was paid, it was necessary to take interest and monetary indexation into account.

The constant lightning bolts at night and the giant skeletal structures of the desolate skyscrapers provided a show of light and shadow through the streets. Everything that was still productive in the world belonged to the Corporations. When someone tried to build something outside the walls, it was soon confiscated. That meant very little was left for the majority of the people, which provided a fertile ground for a religion of madmen to get many followers. Corporations tolerated UNITY because it kept the people under control. However, they must have other hidden interests. There were always hidden interests.

Varanda turned right around the corner and spotted his destination. Outside the old public library stood two lions at the foot of the grand staircase leading to massive wooden doors. The head was torn off one of the imposing beasts, giving it a comic and tragic air. Lining the steps were hundreds of beggars and homeless people, hoping to get food crumbs, medicine, or hope. Beside the door, a few people were dressed in white. Around their necks were gold scarves that bore a symbol formed by two interlocking chain links – one positioned horizontally and the other vertically. They concerned themselves with distributing leaflets and inviting passersby to the worship service that was about to begin.

Facing the steps, Varanda thought about the time it had taken him to track down his first target. Though his mind knew where he had to go, at first he had no idea how to carry out his revenge without either arm. Later, with the first prosthetic arm in place, he was able to feed himself and do little more than that. His discipline from the time he’d been a player kicked in and showed him the way to salvation, and Varanda focused his energy on keeping his body and mind healthy through a daily and strenuous exercise routine. His body was his temple. His mind, his shepherd. He was in top form when he received the unexpected invitation to be a driver once again. A driver without arms in a truck without fuel. He had not laughed in many years, but that joke was really funny. Except it was not a joke. “Are you blind or crazy?” he remembered saying. But the man with the slow, steady voice answered unblinkingly.

- A little madness is what the world needs. But the blind man here, Black, is you. I can help you see again, from a new perspective, if you let me. And I know the right woman to fix those arms. For a price.

No price would be too high. Not for what he had in mind. What came after it was better than any miracle. First, the cybernetic implants, and then the truck powered by kinetic energy. As if by magic, Black felt cured.

Running against the Corporations, stealing all kinds of resources, made more of a difference than those idiots with their leaflets. The merchants thanked him by paying well those truckers who came back alive and brought cargo from their missions. Hence the boots. And his reputation had given Varanda access to the people who had information that had finally brought him to that moment.

The doors began to close and the black figure hurried to enter the building at the last moment, dodging the beggars like one dodges puddles. The great hall was lit by hundreds of candles on the sides and on chandeliers. Where bookcases had once stood were countless pews, with hundreds of people jostling each other for an inch or so of butt space. In the center, a round pulpit covered by a dark red carpet rose a few meters higher than the ground, surrounded by flights of steps that allowed access to it.

The figures dressed in white stood around the pulpit as a bald figure, dressed in the same clothes but wearing a red scarf, took the highest seat. Varanda stood in the background, positioned between the rows of pews, so that his access to the pulpit was unobstructed. Silence fell as the show was about to begin. However, Varanda had a different idea about how it would end. The preacher began his sermon and his voice intoxicated Black, taking him back to that fateful night. There was no doubt in his mind; it was time for payback.

His walk began slowly, but quickened at the sound of each word the false prophet uttered as the dark avenger became more determined. When Black was halfway down his path, his black glass stones peered into his target’s eyes, which reacted as if they were seeing the Devil incarnate. At that moment, he really was the Devil. Before the bald man could utter his next word, Varanda sped up and leapt over the steps, landing and grabbing the opponent's skull with his huge left hand in one continuous motion.

Varanda looked deep into Donavan Bale’s eyes:

- It’s funny, your head is smaller than a basketball.

The mechanical fist began to close and the preacher uttered a muffled scream. The moment his legs and arms went limp, a horrible odor filled the place. Varanda already knew what it was, but many who were there didn’t. When someone dies, they shit themselves.

Everything had happened in a flash and the crowd took a few moments to comprehend what had just happened. At the first shrill scream, the hall became an inferno, with flying pews and running people all around. Black looked at the other members of UNITY and noticed that after the moment of surprise, they were searching for something under their clothes. One of them was the first to draw a pistol. Varanda threw himself behind a small pulpit in time to evade the shot. At that moment, Hubcap flew through the closest window, blowing the stained glass into a thousand pieces. The drone, which weighed a ton, knocked over the first attacker, crushing him to the ground. Suddenly, all the weapons turned to him, as planned.

Varanda Black took advantage of his cue and dashed, lightning fast, toward the side door he had identified as his primary escape route. He used his shoulder as a battering ram to make his way to the street. It had begun to drizzle. He ran a few more meters to where his truck was hidden. He opened the door and took a fright when he saw her inside, smiling, cross-legged, cigarette in hand. “You have shit on your boots,” she said languidly. He shrugged and stepped into the truck’s cabin. As soon as Hubcap settled into his nest, he fired the kinetic engine of his truck and started his escape. Black stretched in his chair. Reptilian arms wrapped around him from behind, caressing his cyber-arms. “So? Do they work?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

One down. Five more to go.

© 2018 by Old Pirate Studio