Eternal Obsidian Chapter 7
0500 hours — Soho, London.
Night had almost passed. The light had begun to give way to the first probing fingers of day. Night people had gone to beds vacated by day people —such was the stranglehold over available space.
And the universe had tilted infinitesimally further towards chaos.
Hawthorne Qeeg was reclined on an upright futon, leaning back at a 20 degree slant from the vertical. The futon was pure granite, hard and unyielding with no comfort other than a slightly padded square section for his head. The meagre light in the spartan bed chamber stretched his features, hollowed out his skull. In such repose, with his hands resting lightly across his lap, he appeared as inconsequential as a desiccated mummy.
He slept. He had learned to sleep upright —a habit borne of the necessities of a two hundred and thirty-year old man. Sleep for Qeeg was not like mortal sleep. He did not relinquish his mind to the desultory whim of dreams. Qeeg freed himself from the restraints of his body, indeed from the restraints of this Earth.
In these moments he was a god, the point of focus on which the universe spun, layered upon which were multitudes of dimensions, planes of ghost universes, spectres of space-time. In one of these other creations -perhaps in many- his first wife Toran Qeeg lived still. Qeeg took comfort in that. She was out there, alive somewhere, but no longer here. The form she took in this universe was as inert as the slab on which he lay.
Shortly after her death, Qeeg had chosen to keep her in a specially constructed stasis chamber, which now stood five meters away across the bare chamber floor. He opened his eyes and stared at her. The transparent chamber was similarly inclined as his and placed in a perfect position to catch the emerging rays of the sun burning through the window. The rich light caressed her hair, a silent waterfall of silver waves flowing around her shoulders. The light paused awhile as it touched her face, pooling in the hollows like liquid gold. She smiled briefly as the mischief of shadow played across her mouth.
It was moments like these in which he had to remind himself that she was dead.
Qeeg had married a total of seven women, all of whom he had loved in one form or another, but Toran had been his first wife, his only true love. It was a love he had found when his heart was still unclouded by cynicism and hate, before the heat of time had blackened it. He had married Toran when he was twenty-five. By the time he had amassed his considerable wealth, which would keep him alive another two centuries she was dead. But wealth and power were the two things which couldn’t restore her to him. She had died after just five brief years of their marriage, a flitter accident. Both parties had perished so Qeeg didn’t even have the pleasurable release of revenge. So, he took revenge on God and his creation. Had their marriage survived it may have changed shape with time and gone the same way as the others but Qeeg didn’t allow himself the luxury of speculation. He fooled himself into believing he kept her body preserved this way to remind him of a time when he was a different person, one of happiness and hopefulness and not this twisted creature in a gnarled skin. His love for Toran had been the single untarnished thing in his life, the only remaining tether keeping him from being sucked completely into that black hole which spiralled daily beneath him.
He rose from his bed and passed through a meld wall, which hid this small antechamber from his ‘official bedroom’. Unlike his sparsely furnished hideaway, in this room were gathered Millennia, on crystal shelves in arched recesses. Some of these things were cursed - gold caskets for infant kings. Against the far wall, dominating the huge room with the weight of its presence was a Tudor four‑poster, the canopy supported by massive carvings that stood away from the foot of the bed itself. It seemed to be a room within a room. Its complex folds of silk hung from the canopy, pouring over the sides and onto the floor, flowing in pastel rivers across the black mosaic. Qeeg never slept in the bed. It was as much a decoration as everything else in the room.
Surrounding the bed were candles burning slowly in solid silver Louis XV candelabras, flames dancing in computer-controlled breezes. The microcosm of gulf-streams and desert winds multiplied the flicker of the fires in the obsidian floor until the room was bathed in the rich yellow glow, like aromatic oils soothed and smoothed onto a dark skin.
At aesthetically strategic positions in the room were brass sculptures, porcelain statuettes, jade figurines, and tin soldiers. The volatile candlelight imbued them with a sly and sinister life, their shadows shivering against each other in an umbral conspiracy.
He walked over to the sloping windows still on their darkened night time setting, and met his own stare as if searching for something in the hard black eyes, which peered back. Searching for wisdom perhaps. He knew this much, that wisdom was nothing but the memory of pain employed in the effort to avoid the pain of the future.
In the reflection he caught a movement behind him. He turned and looked into the shadows, finding the arc of a cheekbone, and one hollow eye. The man appeared to coalesce from the shadows, pouring out of them like blood rendered black on a moonless night. He wore only a pair of black silk Chinese trousers, baggy through the leg and elasticated at the ankle. On his feet he wore soft black boxer’s boots made from a Kevlar‑derivative weave which was flexible and also allowed the skin to breath, while possessing a plastic memory which would not allow sudden sharp deviations in its form —deviations such as glass shards, knife points, or even bullets. Some people wore this material all over, although it very quickly became ‘tired’ under heavy stress, but this man had led an existence, which suggested that he might have developed a strange invulnerability to bullets and weapons; there was not a scar on his body. His musculature was lithe, his skin was black, and he was bald but for a thick stream of ebony hair which flowed up in a column from his gleaming scalp to fan out like a black fountain. A closer inspection of his body would reveal the thick bony ridge, which ran the length of each hand from the wrist up to the little finger, traversing each knuckle. The stillness, which he had nurtured, gave rise to the name he had chosen for himself - Rook. Not least because of the lustrous blue-blackness of his flawless skin. He had not been baptised at birth, and had no wish to be formally burdened with a nonsensical label. He had come into the world exactly as he was now, a fully-grown man – vat grown to be precise. Of all the technology at Qeeg’s disposal, Rook had been the most useful and the most expensive. He was a GELF: a Genetically Engineered Life Form. A lethal experiment in what had become a thriving, and highly illegal, industry. Vat grown GELFs came in many varieties: Enhanced strength, supreme intelligence, feline agility, accelerated senses - any and all combinations of the latter. Their superiority bred one side-effect - ultimately all GELFs were mentally unstable. It was nature’s irony. When you make it stronger, faster and smarter you make it paranoid, schizophrenic and homicidal. Most GELFs had to take a cocktail of drugs for the duration of their all too brief lives just to function. Few had the luxury of an organic stabilizer implanted directly in the brain. This recommended implant was an expensive piece of wetware technology and many rogue genetic engineers resorted to cheaper, less reliable alternatives. Qeeg had no such restrictions. Rook was something special, as stable as a GELF could be after 10 years of drug-controlled life, which by human standards meant he should have been committed to the funny farm a long time ago. GELFs usually only survived for 5 years.
Qeeg waved his hand over a hidden sensor and the windows lightened gradually allowing that same sun to caress his own face. Another day was being ushered in and with the rising sun came the tedium, a little heavier each day.
When Rook finally spoke it was with an affectless voice, a tone as cold and distant as the furthest spaces between the remotest galaxies. “Another day. One too few for me and it would seem from your face one too many for you.”
“You are very observant, Rook. I have seen around eighty four thousand such days. The novelty has worn a little thin.”
“You’ll forgive my lack of sympathy,” said Rook. “I have existed a mere three and a half thousand and will very likely not see four thousand.”
Qeeg smiled sadly. “And I sometimes envy you that.”
“You envy my imminent death? Your death could be equally imminent if you want it to be.”
Qeeg wasn’t sure if the Rook was offering his services. “It’s not that straight forward, Rook. I simply envy you your lack of say in your fate. With free will comes a heavy burden. For as tedious as life seems it is marginally less tedious than the prospect of oblivion.”
“And of course you have your distractions to relieve the tedium.” said Rook. “I have seen the latest addition to your collection.”
“And do you like it?” asked Qeeg, knowing the answer.
“The bomb was very efficient,” Rook stated plainly.
“That was not my question. Do you like the image I captured?”
“It is the same as other images captured from the surveillance tapes.”
“Not so,” said Qeeg. “It is unique because I chose it and it means something to me. It is my art, Rook. Like all the other things in this room.”
“Don’t you consider all this-” Rook cast a hand over the room, “-a weakness, a distraction? None of these things fulfill a useful function.”
“These are my possessions,” Qeeg explained. “They don’t need to fulfill a function other than to look pleasing. Do you not have any possessions?”
“I have no use for possessions.”
“It’s history, Rook, it’s who we are.”
“I am not part of the ‘we’ of whom you speak.”
Qeeg wondered briefly at the precise grammar of this most brutal of his soldiers. “You still have a history,” he told Rook.
Rook shook his head slowly. “The history of a killer, of a slave, is no history at all.”
“You are better than history, Rook. You fashion history. Carve it into a pleasing shape.”
“Your shape,” said Rook. “I am your tool, your possession. And like all your trinkets I serve no function other than that dictated by you.”
“And given free will you would choose another path?” asked Qeeg.
“I have a compulsion loop in my head that ensures my total compliance and to go against that would result in my immediate death so it is in my best interests to choose the same path as you.”
Qeeg grinned. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You gave me life,” said Rook. “What other path is there?”
Qeeg went to his drinks cabinet and poured himself one. “Sometimes Rook I don’t know whether I should admire or pity you.”
“Both would be as fruitless as these things with which you surround yourself.”
Qeeg took a sip of his drink and went back through the meld wall to his private antechamber. Rook followed.
Rook glanced at Toran’s inert form. “How long will this device keep her from putrefaction?”
Qeeg could barely suppress a shudder at ‘putrefaction’. Rook’s mind was often autistic in its inability to recognise the emotive power of words. “Longer than I’ll be alive,” said Qeeg, “which is long enough.”
“Will you have them put you in one with her?”
“Sentimental,” was all Rook said.
“Husbands usually are,” Qeeg offered in explanation.
“It was a long time ago.”
“’Love’s not time’s fool’.”
“Yes, The Bard, and perhaps a philosophy.”
“I think your so-called Bard had a better quote: ‘Words words words.’”
“It’s a shame your time on this earth is so limited, Rook. I shall miss our exchanges.”
“Perhaps you have more of ‘me’ waiting.”
“No. Besides which, you know that any facsimile would bear none of your influences, would not, could not, be you, Rook.”
“Then you will simply have to place me in one of your stasis chambers. You could call it art and give me a title, ‘The elegant taxidermy of failure’ perhaps.”
Qeeg wondered whence Rook’s mordant sense of humour had sprung, and suspected it was nothing more than an early sign of the mental breakdown which eventually crippled all Gelfs. Qeeg could only hope that Rook would remain capable of instigating his plans long enough to achieve his ultimate aim.
“Have you investigated all Senator Gambino’s proposed sites?”
“Yes, the report is on your computer,” Rook answered. “You place a great deal of faith in this man’s foresight.”
“He is very gifted,” said Qeeg. “And very ambitious.”
“He seeks domination,” said Rook, as if reading Qeeg’s thoughts. “Isn’t that a rather mundane and clichéd goal?”
“He wishes to shake up the established order.”
“From the mundane to the pedestrian. And if he can’t accomplish this?”
“Then chaos will suffice,” Qeeg offered. “After over two centuries of enforced order I am in need of some entropic therapy.”
A thought flashed across Rook’s eyes. “You speak of the fear of oblivion. Perhaps eternity and oblivion are coins with the same intrinsic value.”
Qeeg had begun to recognise the patterns of his conversations with Rook as a chess game, and had no doubt that Rook’s last gambit was an emphatic and aggressive check. Qeeg mentally tipped over his King and turned their conversation to his daily staples of murder, violence and intrigue; his once and future Queen looking on, unmoved, unmoving.