HOMECOMING

by John Dodd

They built us to destroy things, that's all we're supposed to do, they don't want us to think, to question, we are here to destroy things.

Imagine their reaction when one of us began to choose a path that they had not given us.

My name is Maestro, I am a 313 malice variant stormer from the laboratories of Karma, I am currently in the employ of SLA industries. My title is Operative, and I was initially trained for a position within a Kick Murder squad. Upon graduating from the academy at Meny, I found this position not to my tastes, and so I began to learn, to read where I could, to go beyond what they had planned for me.

My first step was to remove the name they had given me, no matter how good you are, having a name like Scud will only result in scorn from all those who consider themselves to be above you and those like you. I am informed from the books that the title given to those who orchestrate is Maestro, and that is the name I choose for myself. There are those who treat me with scorn regardless, as if the very idea that one of my kind could rise beyond the shackles is worthy only of their humour.

I rise through the ranks slowly, advancement is not smiled upon for our kind, I wear a suit at all times, it costs me, but I know that the effort I make will pay off at the end of the day. I work with whoever will work with me, and always carry myself with honour and integrity. I have no time for those who think I should work as a mobile tank, I will instead make certain that they will not underestimate me when next we meet.

It takes many years, but I finally achieve some degree of recognition, and set myself up as financier for some operatives, I am good at what I do, and now I find that I have the tasks and responsibilities for which I find myself wanting.

Ten years pass since the date of my creation, I have all the things I ever wanted, all the things that I have worked for, and now there are even those who speak my name without a smile upon their face. All my life is devoted to work, and the betterment of myself, I have no time for anything else, nothing else is important, I have to prove that my kind can rise above the limitation set upon them from birth.

One day, as I relax after a hard days work in the office, I decide to visit the Pit, I am informed by many that it is one of the better places to find relaxation. I am not so sure. As I enter the main doorway, I am assaulted by a cacophony of what others might define as music. I go to the third level, to a place my friends have often told me about, Red Crowleys. The atmosphere is quiet, and reasonably subdued, there are only a few others in the bar, and they are all human. I sit down and order a large platter of steak, with gravy and a loaf of bread to enjoy with it. I acquired the taste for bread a long time ago, while out on patrol when the meat ran out. The staff appear quietly surprised that a stormer would order such a thing, even more so that the stormer in question wears a suit and dines using a napkin and handkerchief.

The Food is good, hot and well prepared, the gravy you could cut with a knife, and the bread is fresh and hot, I find myself relaxing in the serene atmosphere, enjoying the platter before me. The noise from outside is muted, and it is nice to find myself in the company of others, doing what they are doing.

The quiet contemplation that I was enjoying vanished as several of my kinsmen stride through the door. Just as everyone always said we were, they are larger than life, drunker than sin, and thoroughly out of control. Two of them wander over to the bar and begin hassling the staff there, while three more move to the table where the humans are sitting. The staff try and leave the bar to get help from the pits security forces, but are stopped by the two at the bar. I rise up from my seat and move to leave, the two run over and place themselves in front of me, I shrug mentally, they're obviously looking for trouble and will give it to anyone who they find resisting them. I go back to my seat, not wanting to start anything. There is a brief noise from the humans table, one of them has drawn a pistol from somewhere and is aiming it at the stormers.

I stand quickly and move to the table, palms down in a gesture of peace.

"Let's not do anything stupid here." I say, knowing that the time for words is long past even as I speak.

The human with the gun, a large specimen by their standards, switches his point of fire to me.

"I don't care how you dress, you're all the same, up against the wall with the rest of them!" He snarls

It would appear that the time spent away from the streets has dulled my instincts, behind me, the other stormers are growling quietly and preparing to attack. The human switches his field of fire back to them, and as he does so, I make my move, lunging in to take his gun. I manage to knock the barrrel away from the other stormers just as he pulls the trigger.

The round lances through the air to take his companion in the chest. She doesn't even have time to scream as it explodes inside her, she flies backwards to land in a twisted heap on the floor. I tear the gun from his hand and smash my fist into the side of his head, leaving him sprawled next to her.

I become aware of my error a few seconds later when the pit security bursts in through the door and clubs me down.

I awake in a holding cell, not knowing what has happened. One of my friends, a young ebon called Cloud, versed in the ways of the law comes to visit me

"You're being framed for the girls murder." she tells me.
"But why?"
"Well, the one who drew the gun has a higher SCL than you, and the stormers who you were defending haven't come forwards to tell the truth."
"So how do you know what happened?"
"I spoke to the bar staff, they confirmed that you were just trying to break it up."
"So I should be in the clear then?"

Cloud looks down for a second, when she gets up, the tell tale look of despair is in her eyes.

"If they were coming forwards to stand as witnesses for you, as it stands, they've received several threats from the Operative who had the gun, and they seem more afraid of him than anything."
"Can we do anything, offer them protection perhaps?"
"I don't think so, a few of them have quit their jobs rather than be forced to testify."

I sigh, my heart lower than it has ever been.

"Very well then, It looks as if I will have to rely on all the things I have always stood for to see me through this, my thanks to you Cloud, may all your dreams be calm."

She me in the cell, alone with my thoughts. As night falls, I drift to sleep, and as I do, visions assault my senses, a shining city in the desert, a mighty storm all around it, and winged creatures circling lazily in the air above it. Again and again I move towards it and see a single figure in the doorway beckoning to me, I begin to run, but always the storm swallows me up and I find myself back within the city of Mort.

The visions fade as I wake, and I find myself wondering what the visions meant.

The day of the trial arrives and I find myself revolted by the way in which the truth is twisted and distorted to serve the needs of those who would have it so. As the day wears on, a catalogue of lies is brought against me, I find that the Operative's friends have all turned up as "witnesses" to my brutal slaying of the young woman. The stormers whose lives I saved do not come forwards to clear my name, and I am in despair at the end of the first day. Is this all it is worth at the end of the day, have all the things that I have done counted for nothing? Is it all for naught?

I am returned to my cell at the end of the day, there to contemplate what will happen the next day should no-one step forwards to help me.

Night falls, and sleep takes me, and with it comes the visions once again. Again and again I throw myself against the storm, again and again it throws me back, and still the solitary figure at the gate beckoning me.

I wake the next day with a sense of impending doom, the final part of the trial is mere showboating for the opposition, I am tried, and judged.

Guilty.

Guilty of trying to be better than what the world told me to be, Guilty of being a caring person, Guilty of trying to help where others let people die, Guilty of living in a world not meant for me.

Guilty.

The word echoes through me over and over, a testament to all that I thought I could change, to all that I thought I could prove them wrong about. Was it all for nothing?

Are we nothing more than killing machines, is that all anyone can see us to be?

I am returned to my cell, there to await the execution that everyone feels that I deserve.

The door opens and a figure stands in the doorway, a stormer like me, but this stormer is different.

I fall to my knees without question.

Taarnish.

He motions for me to rise, I stand with head bowed in front of him. He speaks, his voice deep and resonant.

"I know what happened in the bar."

My heart soars, no one would doubt the word of the first, my salvation is at hand!

"But I cannot save you from what has transpired."

He must see the shock in my eyes, as he continues quickly.

"There are things here that you do not understand my son, I cannot stop what has happened here, but I can give you a chance to go and live elsewhere."

I do not understand what he means, I stand mutely before the lord of my race, hoping against hope that all of this is but a nightmare from which I will wake.

"Come with me, my son."

He walks from the cell, no doubt in his mind that I will follow. We walk through tunnels for what seems to be an eternity, deeper and deeper into the ground, far below the surface of mort. We rest periodically, and eat from the pack that my lord carries with him. Days pass and we begin to journey upwards again. More than a week has passed since we left the cell, and I find myself curious as to where we have travelled to.

After what seems like an eternity, we arrive back at the surface, my lord beckons to me to follow him again. When I get to the surface, it is not what I expected. We are at least a hundred miles from mort, I can see the city In the far distance, the weather is cold and wet, the rain is still constant even out here. Taarnish places his hand on my shoulder and points away from the city

"Your destiny lies that way my son," He takes the pack from his shoulder and passes it to me "I hope that one day we will meet again."

I nod, not trusting my voice, I extend one arm towards him and he takes it in the warriors grip, wrist to wrist "Hope is out there if you look hard enough." he says, and then he is gone without another word.

I look to the distance and see a storm on the horizon, I begin to walk, the ground soft and moist beneath my shoes. The suit that I was always so proud of is being ruined as I continue in this atmosphere. I rest in the open air, the rain soaking through everything, I eat sparingly from the pack that my lord gave to me, and continue in my quest.

Sleep comes to me, and with it, the same dream, this time, the figure calls my name, and I can make out details, it is a young woman, ebon in appearance, and still she beckons to me.

The clothing that I was wearing now hangs in tatters from my unyielding frame, I hardly notice them anymore as I near the storm.

On the periphery of the storm, I can see indistinctly the outline of the city within it. I move to the edge of the storm and see that it has a clearly defined edge to it. I place my hand within the storm and snatch it back instantly, the hand is skinned and bleeding heavily. I wait as my natural abilities repair the damage and begin to plan how to get through.

That night, the dream returns to me again, this time I can see her face as she beckons me to her again. I wake from the dream, my heart pounding in my ears. Not metres away from me, the storm ruses past me silently. I pause, then begin to dig, knowing that the ground should be able to protect me from the worst of the storms fury if I can somehow dig my way under the storm to get to the city. My plans come to naught, the storm has long since taken away all the ground beneath it, and extends many feet below where I am standing. I stop digging, and kneel in the wet earth, roaring my rage to an uncaring sky.

And at that point, something snaps within me, I no longer care wether I live or die, all that matters is that I will achieve my dream or die in the attempt. I charge headlong into the storm and am swept up by the tornado strength winds, shards of metal tear at me as I fly through the air, uncontrolled and uncaring. I see the ground rush by me and see my own skin flayed from me as the dust lashes into me. I am beyond caring as my blood mixes with the storm and I know that this is how it ends. Darkness falls upon me like a warm blanket.

Consciousness returns to me with the sharpness of a light being turned on, I am on the edge of the storm again, my wounds not there. For a second I wonder what is happening, but then I remember the dream and begin to understand, paradise was never given, every person must earn their own place.

I dive into the storm again, knowing that I must succeed or die, knowing that nothing less will satisfy me now. Again the storm lashes at me, again I am tossed around like a childs plaything, and again, the darkness falls upon me.

I awaken at the edge of the storm again, unsure as to what keeps me alive, not certain as to wether my sanity has fled or not, again I hurl myself into the storm, having to believe that I will succeed in what I am trying to do.

Time loses all meaning to me, all that matters is the storm, and the dream, I cannot remember when last I ate, I dare not sleep any longer, I know that she will be there, waiting for me, and I can disappoint her no longer.

I don't know how long I tried this, but I eventually made the connection, it was the storm that was stopping me from reaching what I searching for, and so the storm was my enemy. I would break it, and I would do this by defying it, it only had power over me as long as it could take me where it willed. I started to crawl through the storm, keeping clawfuls of earth in my hand as I inched forwards. The storm lashes over me, tearing chunks of flesh from me as I move through it. I can feel the pain like a living creature running over me, but I refuse to give in, there is no longer any sense of direction, there is no time, there is only the city, and the knowledge that something better waits for me there. I move forwards, inch by torturous inch, no longer thinking, now a creature of instinct, the only instinct to move forwards.

Once again darkness takes me, and the dream rises up with it.

This time it is different, the storm is gone, the young woman beckons to me from the gate. I crawl to her, my broken body breathing it's last, I can no longer feel my legs, my arms are shredded masses of bone and sinew, but I know that even though I am to die, I will die knowing that I have succeeded. I look up to her and see that she is joined by others, not like her, some of these are almost like stormers, one of them, a giant creature with a hide like stone, moves towards me. It picks me up like a child and carries me to the woman. She reaches out to me with one hand and I strain as I will my arm to touch her.

She touches me, and I know that my life was not wasted.

Something from a long time ago leaps unbidden to my mind, a thought from some ancient philosopher.

"If I sleep, never let me awake, If I am awake, never let me sleep."

I realise that I am muttering those words as the darkness takes me again.

Light returns and I find myself on the floor, whole and alive, the storm is no where near, and as I sit up, the woman looks down upon me. I stand and look down upon her, not certain what is happening. She reaches one hand up to my face, stroking the skin there.

"I am Hope." she says, her voice soft and musical "Welcome Home."

My heart soars as she takes my hand and leads me to the promised land.