I wrote this back in 1994 as a test for a story idea I was working on. I found it again back in 2012 and found inspiration from it as I embarked on my current writing projects. Here it is, in its largely unedited format:
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A skull crunched under the gleaming boot, crumbling spontaneously into a cloud of black dust. Servos whined within the armored leg as balance was readjusted, and with just the slightest hesitation the trek was continued. The power source was tantalizingly close, a faint ebbing echo that hinted at life on a world over ten millennia dead. There were no buildings left, just endless, black vistas of desolation and rubble.
Yet, impossibly, life existed here, or a form of life. At least the figure poking through the ruins desperately hoped so. The search has taken centuries, and he was getting tired. Another crunch, and another step, in a lonely pilgrimage to find what was lost, and regain what no longer existed.
The Maelstrom was all that lit the sky above him. Not even the stars were visible for all the malevolent brilliance it put out. He had not been able to search this sector until now, and was no doubt the only being to stand on this world since the End. To be the only living creature on this empty world gave the traveler an odd sense of comfort.
A building appeared out of thin air, then a city, interrupting the Seeker’s reverie. The mirage was solid, yet it seemed to float around him in a surreal manner. An even, blue sky with a single star in a noon position hung above him. There was a whoosh, and he turned to see a strange vehicle flit by. Somebody asked him something in some dialect he didn’t recognize, waving some map in his face. Was he asking directions, or trying to sell the map?
Then it was gone. The azure sky and glittering metropolis that had materialized out of time vanished like a ghost. Yet they were real. His scanners verified that much. Looking around nervously, he began to regret coming here this soon. The temporal distortions were still very intense here, even with the afterglow of the End slowly receding.
A spike in his detector regained his attention. He was too close to turn back now, and with renewed urgency the Seeker resumed his search. It wasn’t long before the source of the power fluctuations became apparent. His heart sank – it was not her.
A massive, dilapidated hulk of a battle android lay before him, a bare crusty shell of what it had been. They were all over this place that fateful day of the End, and he was surprised this one survived intact. The immeasurable burst of radiation at the End had rendered the hull of the armored machine to a state of false rust, crumbling to dust at a touch.
In a distant hope of regaining a valid archive, he narrowed his scan to find the power core and its adjacent memory processor. It would be irresponsible for him to pass up a chance like this to obtain original archives, no matter how unlikely that chance was.
His scan took longer than usual, and looking at the heads-up display, he saw a pattern that did not belong. Cerebral reactions, faint but apparent, existed in a large portion of the android, outlining a mass that had not succumbed to decay. It didn’t match anything he had seen before. Curiosity piquing, he focused the instrument even finer. Another spike occurred and he leaned closer to the machine as if the closer proximity would help his scanner.
An explosion of dust and decayed armor erupted around him and without warning a hand shot out of the husk and gripped his armored neck, stopping just short of killing him. The hand and its arm were a sharp contrast to the surrounding waste. They were perfectly smooth, a pearlescent chrome, and not a speck of dust could adhere to it. But the most remarkable feature was that it was obviously the arm of a woman. Femininely shaped, it was human appearing, delicately contoured all the way to the long and nimble digits of the hand.
The Seeker forgot that his life presently hung in the balance as the arm became immobile, fingers crimping his armor as if it was foil. The servos in his neck-piece resisted vainly, screeching in response to the abuse put upon them. His heart filled his constricted throat, and it was all he could do to call out to the creature within the decayed android.
“Vanessa!” The name felt like water in his parched mouth. It was her. There was simply no other explanation. Would she recognize him? After over ten thousand years, buried in this place and until recently within the event horizon of the vortex above, it was a miracle that she still existed much less than to remember a face she had seen only once. Her fingers could easily rip through his environment suit and kill him, if he could be killed. The thought of suffering again and not falling past the threshold of death made him uncomfortable. Yet the fingers merely held him fast. His mind became jumbled as ancient hopes overwhelmed him.
“Vanessa.” Softer this time. She had been his every waking thought and occupied his every fantasy until he fell asleep each night for centuries. At first he had hated her. But after time as the search became more and more futile he grew to adore her, grasping her in his mind as the search consumed him. She was like a beautiful viper – deadly, and yet lovely at the same time.
Another energy spike, massive this time. A sonic burst instantly filled the air with an impenetrable cloud of dust, and when it cleared her face was mere inches from his. His breath caught as he gazed into her eyes. Her countenance matched her arm, flawless and unsoiled by the dirt. Yet there was life in there, in spite of the chromed finish.
“Vanessa is having… problems.” The voice was precise, every syllable perfectly enunciated. Her lips seemed to embrace each word as she spoke. “You are the Chaser.” The fingers stiffened, and he could sense that the goddess before him was processing memories eons old.
“I came to stop you, Vanessa.”
“Why?” She seemed to be struggling to organize everything in her mind and to only half listen to him.
“Look around you.”
“Who did this?” She scanned the horizon, and he could see her sectorizing the entire scene. Emotion was totally lacking in her voice. Vanessa wasn’t back yet.
She opened her mouth to speak then stopped, preoccupied. She seemed to be struggling with something inside her. She looked back up at him, her expression confused. It was the first non-neutral expression she made since she woke.
“You are the Chaser,” she repeated, apparently oblivious that she had said that before.
“I came to stop you.” He was patient.
“You… failed.” Her grip lessened as she tried to process the consequences of her actions so long ago. “The tricontinuum…”
“No longer.” He sighed. Her tone was warming, becoming less perfect. He hoped that was Vanessa.
“Not quite.” He could almost grasp her pattern of logic. “Vanessa?”
“Yes?” She seemed to come out of some meditation, and for the first time acknowledge him. Her eyes appeared to come alive, in spite of their reflective nature.
“Are you back?” Her dualistic nature confused him.
“Was I gone?” Vanessa recognized him emotionally this time, and her breath caught in surprise. “You… you are the Chaser.” She withdrew her hand and backed away from him a little. “I killed you.”
“Yes, yes, and… yes.” This was going to be a long day. His crimped armor began to de-crimp around the neck, and he felt a little burst of cool air on the sweat beading across his face.
“You can’t stop me.” She looked confused as she took in the wasteland around her. “Am I dreaming?” She almost seemed human now, except for her reflective appearance.
“You have been asleep for a very long time.”
“I don’t hear any voices.” Worry clouded her face.
“The Net no longer exists.” How long was it going to take for her to put everything together? “Things are quite different now.”
She closed her eyes, reaching out. He could almost feel her attention rest on him, then press on, sifting for answers. Slowly she opened her eyes, and looked at the hellish glow in the sky. Night was falling, yet the brightness had not given way.
“That is stopping me.” She furrowed her brows as she struggled to recall something. “I don’t remember that.”
“You did that.” Was she finally coming into the now? “I came to stop you.” He smiled wistfully. “And I have found you.”
“I’ve seen you.” She looked at him intently.
“And then you killed me.” Such an old memory, yet the pain still existed.
“No. Before that.” She shook her head, looking away, then met his eyes again. “Lyson.”
“Howard P.” Lyson had not thought of his name in thousands of years. Being separated for so long from regular life and its usual accompaniment of individuals requiring a handle to jerk on every time they wanted his attention, Lyson had gotten used to thinking exclusively first person.
“But, how..?” How had he lived so long?
“That…” he hesitated, “is not important now.” He wasn’t entirely sure himself, and didn’t like to think about it. “What is important is that you recover. I need you.”
“Why, to save the universe, of course.” He smiled. This was not going to be easy.