Loyalty from the Aons is absolute, even when Fatality is told by Horizons to destroy the literal forces of nature that keep the Earth alive.
Hello and greetings!
FORCE OF HOPE is a little bit of Splice, a dash of classic mythology, some Animorphs because shapeshifters are fun, and one good-but-actually-evil corporation who might start the next Geostorm. Packaged into a 88,134 word science fiction/fantasy novel, FORCE OF HOPE is a unique blend of futuristic escapism. A chance encounter has the Horizons Corporation realizing that their want to control the weather means accounting for literal forces of nature, gods. By creating the Aons, they plan to use them to chase and destroy these powerful beings. There is a small catch. Their first Aon, Fatality. Being told her only function is to live, die, hunt, kill, she can only want for something better, a world where nature doesn’t bow to man, nor to Horizons.
This is my first foray into the world of professional novels as an author. My literary contributions have been through aiding others, particularly in editing and documentation. I have a stronger presence as an artist as I have been commissioned to do a few independent and self-published related books covers. When I am not flexing my creative talents, I am honing my skills as a professional QA, breaking code, finding bugs, and upholder of quality.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
It is believed that the mantra of every scientist, every doctor is to do no evil. In 2204, Horizons had made artificial life, the Aons. The first of these individuals was wasting away before their eyes, her misery brought on by their own hands. For all the great medical advances made across the centuries, those involved were forced to confront that they had created suffering.
It was not their fault. As aspirational as Horizons alluded the project to be, it was marred in secrecy. Why most of the scientists were sold on Horizons’ Aon project was for the pay, some for the prestige. They worked on it until it reached its natural conclusion. The two remaining members, Roston Klaus and Kristopher Bronwell, were the last posted to the Aon project. One out of duty as the project’s lead researcher, the other because he wanted an exotic soon-to-be cadaver to play with.
Lunar Horizons had failed its first creation, tasking the pair to examine the aftermath of a series of biological errors. It was something few in the team were proud of. At least there was another Aon who was thriving. Nameless, though sometimes referred to as “2,” he rounded out the team of three.
“You go first. Talk to your sister.” Roston left the unpleasant task of socializing to the only family the Aon had.
The metal-clad hospital room was stark, devoid of much contrast except for the solitary patient and her pale, IV-stabbed arm sticking out from under the sheets. Having anyone visit would be deemed refreshing for some, but for her it just meant it was time for the usual round of whatever treatment the small group could think of to relieve her suffering.
The humans buried their faces in their tablets to clarify that their patient’s vitals corresponded with her physical appearance. 2 needed no such technology, taking up position with the medical drips. He noted the oxygen tank as well as its current oxygen saturation levels. There had not been a single thing his sister had not raised to threshold. He proceeded to give her a long stare, making certain she could focus prior to waving his arms through the air.
‘At the rate you’re going, I’m not sure what is going to happen. You will either stroke, go blind, or go insane. Whichever happens first.’ He communicated to her in ASL while also verbalizing the translation to the researchers behind him. The gloom in her eyes was catching.
His sister Aon was unable to hear. Despite all of Lunar Horizons’ attempts to correct it, the titanium of her skeleton making certain of that. Bone become mental, it resulting in stunting and disability.
Little of the Aons was not an unsettling representation of humanity, yet its call to the familiar made it that 2, the healthier Aon, was not quite as weird in appearance as his sister. Their faces were human with the exception of their ears, which flared out into a variety of benign, elegantly-pointed shapes. His sister’s were more distinct, taking up slivered crescents to frame her face. Pretty, but useless, with very few exceptions.
Even with an oxygen mask on her face and low muscle mass, she still had some means of communication, albeit a skill the Aon’s could share in, their psychic abilities. While implants could imitate telepathy and mind-reading, theirs was natural. Such an ability was viable in the smallest of situations.
“Just get it over with,” she mentally hissed, verbalizing it with her mind as best as she could. She waited to see if 2 felt like humoring her. He flicked his long tail-like appendage, contemplating her needs. While they both had tails, he sported a dark tip-to-tail mane embedded with removable spines.
Why he even remained was because he was the only one that could cater to her needs without lengthy diagnosis and risky shipments. Some poisons could hurt while others could heal. The Aon plucked a spine from the middle of his tail, jabbing it into his sister’s bicep. Each of the roughly thousand spines led to a gland full of one different compound or another, making it hard to guess what he selected.
The staff were not necessary for the drug administration, just observations and recording. They made few remarks before leaving, giving the Aons time alone.
The parting was swifter than usual. While she waited for the drugs to sink in, she could not help but notice how queer the behavior was. Something was being planned or changed that she was not told about. Her brother was still there, waiting for the men to go. It was not unusual for her to be left alone with her sibling, but the way in which the men exited bothered her, making her wonder.
“If you could look any more pathetic,” 2 glowered, speaking into her mind. She just glared, not wanting to start on something that she knew was obvious. “Even though you’re a druggy, there should be enough to tie you over.” She followed his line of sight to the bags strung around behind her, trying to understand where he was going with the statement.
“Tie me over for what?” It came across as if he was going away, his massive grin not offering her reassurance.
“We already know when you’re going to die. The last thresholds set were all pre-fatal.” He was sneering, appearing proud. “There is no reason for me to hang around anymore.” Shock, anger, and despair combated with one another, thus resulting in startled silence. If she was not emaciated and strung to a bed by all likes of tubes and wires, she would have slugged him. She was nearly immobile, staring bewildered at how uncompassionate he could be. In her entire universe 2 had always been there for her. 2 had just announced he would abandon her to her deathbed, and he was happy about it. Her mind was numb.
“There is nothing to worry about. We have everything you will need here.” The sarcastic tone of the statement meant the pat on her shoulder did not console her. “You already knew this was going to happen. I don’t see why you’d be upset about it. You die, and I get to go to Earth. Isn’t that great!” His excitement was less restrained as he enthusiastically jumped onto the bed, straddling over his sister to further justify why she should be happy for him. He leaned in, teasing the least bruised part of her neck with his lips, partially a threat to bite, partially something loving, but almost always hovering around sinister.
“I can finally fulfill my purpose, live up to my design! Be what I am meant to be and not just your caretaker.” He was elated. She was his sister, a relative, a loved one. He should not have been happy, he should have been miserable, sobbing! Instead there was joy, and for her it was tears.
“I didn’t mean to!” She had no choice in how she was made and cared for. She could acknowledge that her brother’s function was not to look after her. “I did not want to stop you from going to Earth.”
“But you did because you are useless!” He snapped, sharp teeth razing her neck. “I could be doing so many better things down there than up here. Things that your worthless ass will never understand!”
Anguished, she moaned, “Brother… stop…” How she wished she could reason with him in his moment of cruelty.
The lack of a name annoyed them both. It was an act of control, to dehumanize and cement their inferiority. Successful projects received names in such a place, just like any other product, and the way to earn it was through leaving alive. The greatest honor to an Aon was the day they could leave and award themselves their own name. Her unintentional mistake was corrected.
“It’s not ‘2’. It’s not ‘brother’. It’s ‘Acid Trip’. Got it? Not like it matters anymore. Pray as you might, nothing now will save you. Not that the gods live here anyway.” With that haughty deliver he rose to leave, though not before signing, ‘Goodbye, ungrateful, selfish bitch.’
The room was the sort of stillness of a morgue, one in which the Aon herself lay. All she had left to occupy her time was to long for death. Long for the moment to be splayed out on a table, no concern given to her dignity as the physician spread her nakedness wide, skinfold by additional skinfold.
Tears unabated, she shivered into her mask, unable to scream out her anguish. Atrophy had set in, her vital organs shriveled and incapable of keeping her alive on their own. She choked and hacked, struggling to burn through the emotions. The muscle wasting made it almost impossible to brush the tears away. Her grief drenched the pillow around her head, leaving a lingering wetness to remind her of everything she could not have.
Every potential precious memory was dredged to the surface by Acid Trip, forgotten before then. Denying in its existence was what kept her sane, going through the days, never dreaming, no wants nor desires to be fulfilled. It was not her doing that she was ill and that he just so happened to have the skills to look after her. She was not trying to deny him anything. Such a level of denial was cruel.
The Aon’s head flopped to one side, the same side that held the view that had always captivated her, at one time giving her hope. Earth was another world away. Maybe she should have been happy for Acid Trip who would get to make that journey and fulfill the purpose set before them by Horizons. It was a purpose they never gave her because she would never survive long enough to see it. Dejected, she turned away from the blue orb, forever out of reach.
A month had passed since Acid Trip had departed, leaving the last remaining Aon alone with the humans. Without his practiced aid, her condition deteriorated, putting her on a ventilator. It was obvious to Roston that she was suffering, maybe not to Kristopher, who kept calendaring anticipated time of death. Still, they had their responsibilities.
Roston and Kristopher traced into the room, not because they feared startling their patient, but that human nature dictated that respect go to the dying. Their electronic devices informed them that she was alive, so they were not expecting a dead body. They still were unable to tell her state of mind at the time.
What medical texts they had regarding the terminally ill and expected behaviors given the medication were not all that informative. Euthanasia had long since been the practiced method of dealing with those with her condition. She was suffering from multiple organ system failure, starting with the lower GI tract, followed by the upper GI, then the lungs. It had taken years to get to that stage, with the first hint being the stunting caused by nutritional deficiencies. Having to basically feed her paint did not help. When making new life there were a lot of unknowns, the end result summarized by the particular Aon.
The pair stood at the doorway, observing. Roston was carrying a tablet with a high-contrast alphabet program present on it. They were about to ask the most awkward question in their careers and neither quite wanted to go through with it: What did the Aon want to be known as on her autopsy report? Roston retyped the question, unsure of the wording to use.
Kristopher glanced at the Roston’s latest sentence and muttered, “You could just ask her bluntly.” Roston deleted the phrase and tried another one.
“I just don’t want to come across as cold,” Roston murmured, reviewing the question. It read, ‘What should we call you?’ He looked back to his colleague for his opinion, who nodded. They would present it to the female. “I hope she can read it. She couldn’t read the third line on the Snellen chart yesterday.”
“I wouldn’t worry about her reading it.” Kristopher took the tablet and moved his way over to the side of the bed that she was facing.
The Aon perked up a little as the medical doctor took his seat next to her, rolling the chair up so he could get as close to her face as possible. She stared, at first perplexed as he raised the tablet in front of her face. Roston stood over, watching her eyes as they darted across the sentence. He could see them narrow, not from squinting but from anger.
“C-O…” Roston started off saying, watching as her right hand spelled out a series of letters in order to make a word. It was expected that all who interacted with the Aon know at least how to spell the alphabet in sign language. The other man turned the tablet around and began writing out the words. The first word was ‘corpse.’ It became apparent what frame of mind the Aon was in as she began spelling out more and more words pertaining to death, bodies, and other macabre terminologies. None of them were names.
The normally giddy Kristopher’s shoulders started to sag as he read over the list he was writing out. It was a somewhat colorful list, with nouns such as ‘zombie’ and ‘cadaver’ having made their way onto it. Roston was not enjoying his translations of her sign language, hoping some word she spelled out was something not as derogatory. At that point they both wished they had not been instructed to ask her. The Aon was in no mood to humor them with any pleasantries. As it went, she would leave in a body bag.
“Fatality. We already have that one.” The tablet was turned to the Aon again, with Kristopher pointing out to her that she had repeated herself. The spelling stopped with her looking somberly at the list. Together the men went over it for themselves, scrolling up and down the names she had given herself.
After a minute, Roston spoke up. “These are all pretty bad.” He pointed to a few words.
“Thought ‘coffin stuffer’ was pretty clever,” Kristopher chuckled, his attempt at sounding peppy failing.
“You want to write that in the reports? I’m not.” There was silence as they continued to look over the list, both wanting to opt for something better. Eventually, even the list had to be submitted in a report. Given the theme, anything more suitable to her pale appearance such as ‘Ivory’ was going to receive some criticism. Such a lie would be obvious. Aons never wanted to give themselves a human name, anyway.
With a sigh, Kristopher returned to the keyboard portion of the program and retyped one of the words. He held it up to Roston for his approval. “It is the nicest sounding of the words and a better replacement than what we originally had in mind. If you repeat it long enough, it starts sounding like a name.”
With his arms crossed, Roston bobbed his head. “She picked it twice… Might as well.” With a name decided, Kristopher turned the tablet back to the Aon.
They had stuck with the word ‘fatality,’ an unfortunate death. Her eyes went down, head bobbing a bit as she accepted that as her name. With the name established, the men went on to the easiest of the questions they were expected to ask.
‘Would you like some company?’ the message read. They knew she liked to be left alone, but with her body failing her, maybe her preference had changed. The answer was quick, as had most of her responses been that day. Resentment motivated her more than any other emotion.
Roston and Kristopher moved away and out of Fatality’s sight. There was not much they could do other than leave her as she was. The self-perceived dead body was not willing to compromise and make her situation better, having committed long ago to being miserable. The thing they knew, that she did not, was that she would be dead within the next twenty-four hours; and of the biggest of human fears outside of dying itself, it was dying alone.
The day had stretched into the imperceivable night with Fatality at the point where her body was struggling to live and her mind wishing it would just die. She noticed then because she could no longer breathe.
Everything diaphragm and lower was a screaming symphony of pain, alternating between a melodic hum to a cacophony. With high oxygen levels combined with lethally high doses of pain medication, Fatality had not noticed her predicament. In the last few days she was partially aware of the world around her, but in that moment it was at the forefront of her mind, reminding her with every forced struggle to inhale.
Fatality was not even sure what would kill her first. She was pretty certain that, even with the dysfunction of having almost no working organs, she would survive. Her heart still pumped the drug cocktail around her body, which managed to keep at least some of the sepsis down. The drip feed was still on, dehydration was staved. As much as she was hoping she would have overdosed on something, it did not look like it was going to happen. Acid Trip might have lied about the numbers so she would suffer longer, which she certainly was.
The ventilator strangled her airways, forcing exhales but making the inhales pointless. A single, fulfilling gulp of air was a distant notion. She could not breathe on her own and even the ventilator was not helping. As complaisant as she was, the urge to struggle on the tube running down her trachea was acute. The muscle relaxant she was on stopped her from wasting what little energy she had to try and heave it out. It still did not quite stop her from writhing.
Every second was a combination of agony, exhaustion, fear, and distress as the dying phase dragged on for hour after eternal hour. The night was lost in a perpetual hell briefly broken by the false rise of the Sun casting its glow on the room’s back wall.
Mindlessly, Fatality stared at the glow revealing itself, inching its way as the automatic shutters lifted to imitate a sunrise. The Sun was a pinpoint in her vision as the blackness closed in. Its very existence mocked all that died before it, all that had ever lived. It was watching, judging. It was actually someone.
Fatality blinked, the hallucinations having progressed from blurs to shapes. Outside of the window was a glowing man dressed in silken robes, and for all she could tell must have been an angel. Of course in her dying moments she would believe in anything divine. Angels answered prayers, So maybe, she thought, embracing the unreality that at least kept her from travestying her life.
“Please, save me,” she threw her mind out to the illusion. Surprisingly, it answered back, its head shaking from side to side, a clear no.
“Only Forces are deserving of my gifts.”
Inside, Fatality raged, the delusion vanishing from her fading vision. Either a trick of the light, or mind, or both, that she even hoped made her wish she could still scream. Certainly it had to be a hallucination. No healthy mind would tell themselves such senseless garbage. At the same time, she feared lying to herself, that all of these demolished wishes and dreams lay outside the window, outside with the Earth and the Sun. She needed to stop it. She needed to stop lying to herself.
There was a remote for the shutter somewhere. It had to be close by. The staff of Lunar Horizons never left it out of reach. Fatality realized that she could not even lift a finger. The light continued to mock her, daring her to try harder. The Sun was eternal and forever, and she was dead.
I wanted to live! All I wanted was to live! To have agency. I can’t even close a window! Even the smallest victory, just to be able to move. She would take anything to not let her last fading thought be marred by anguish and defeat. Rgh! I--
It was mid-morning on a weekend. The Moon base and its many corporations spread across it did follow some basic employment practices and standards. While those posted to its subsurface were expected to predominantly work, they were still entitled to days of rest. The pair of men overseeing the Aon project were in no rush that morning to get anything done.
Roston flopped over in his bed to see a message displaying Fatality’s time of death at 7:14 am. Kristopher likely wanted to be the first in the room to look over his dead toy, which meant Roston could stay in bed a little longer. It helped when your coworker was a late sleeper, allowing for plenty of leisure time before the litany of documentation had to begin. Besides, dead bodies do not go anywhere.
Light poured in as it did for half of the lunar cycle, and the response was the same from anyone who was caught staring straight at the Sun, immediate disengagement. The room came alive in a flurry of downed utility poles, spilled baggies, tubes, gauze, and bedding. The noises were a grotesque combination of groans, and squelches, and further things clattering as they were strained and brought down by unnatural movement. On the floor was Fatality, unsure of what was happening. A few minutes ago she had been fighting to find the remote to stop herself from seeing angels. At that moment she was on the floor, a wave of discomfort filling her, spurred on by the sensations brought on by a mass of foreign objects embedded inside.
With a mindless viciousness, she started purging her body. Hands to face, she retched on the ventilator, vomiting it out of her mouth. Next was the uncomfortable catheter, unceremoniously expunged from her urethra. In an action of almost suicidal mania, feeding tubes were torn from their insertion holes in the abdomen, from her chest, her arteries. Any and all intravenous tubes were removed, not by pulling in the direction away from the vein but vertically through the skin. The removal of such an extent of medical devices, a process that would take over an hour and then require follow-up medical treatment, was done in minutes. Jumping in still apparent alarm, Fatality scrambled to her feet, wiping away any further monitoring equipment. It took her a moment before she came to her senses, eyes looking down to her arms and naked body.
Fatality disregarded that she had injured herself, instead noticing that she was standing. The weeping puncture wounds from her torso left a trickle of white, titanium oxide-rich blood soaking down her legs. She found the fact her limbs were not bowed and that there was actual muscle to be much more interesting than the blood loss.
To Fatality’s bewilderment, she seemed well and had no explanation for it. Without the aid of a mirror, she used her hands to feel over the unexpected, still ignoring the slickness as she roved over her waist, her chest, arms, and head. It was a bit too hopeful of her to expect breasts and childbearing hips, but she had no complaints about the toned physique of her arms and abdominal area. While her mane and tail were similar in design to Acid Trip’s, with their thick bases, tapered ends, and substantial length, her wide-paneled titanium feathers of sorts were no longer diminutive and mangy. Her ears, on the other hand, had not changed and in fact had solidified even more. She gave a flick to one of them, noting how stiff it felt, then proceeded to snap her fingers next to both sets of ears, realizing she could hear nothing.
It was not long before Roston was ejected from bed by the excited Kristopher. While he preferred to follow protocol, Kristopher had skipped breakfast and security checks in favor of getting the body prepared. Roston was less eager to perform the morning protocol and check on the body at the same time, thus he shuffled along, cereal bowl in one hand, spoon in the other. Kristopher was ahead, sauntering down the hallway. Roston had no desire to enter the room first. The thought of a gaping corpse made him shudder.
“What the fuck!” The other man looked up from his cereal, noting his hypothesis as Kristopher vented his disbelief. “What. The. Hell. How are you up?!” Kristopher flapped in wide sweeping arm waves. The commotion had Roston intrigued, he standing next to Kristopher, just out of striking distance.
He could not believe it either. Fatality stood there naked and in a pool of her own fluids. She looked back at them, confused and unable to explain herself. Kristopher made his approach with the intention of treating the damage Fatality had caused, his displeasure visible, having hoped for a corpse to tinker with.
“Sit down and let me take a look at those,” sighed Kristopher, facing her and gesturing at the bloody wounds. The pointing brought the injuries to the Aon’s attention, she seeming not to care as they stitched themselves over. She presented her repaired, completely unscarred arms to the astonished staff members.
She smiled for the first time in years. “I think they are better now.”