Cataract

Pearls That Were His Eyes (2007): Part One

The first version of Pearls That Were His Eyes dates back to 2004; I began writing it when I was still at university. It wasn’t finished until 2006 and underwent several rewrites after that point. By 2007 it had almost reached a point where I was willing to submit it for publication, but then I began to fall away from writing longer fiction and revisiting this 10,000 word story was not a task I relished.

It’s a shame as I hold this story as among my favourites; possibly this is just a reflection of how long I spent thinking about it and working on it. The title, incidentally, is exactly the allusion you think it is, and as with that work it’s an allusion that held no intrinsic depth. Still, as with many stories where the title precedes the tale, some thematic connections began to be made.

As you might guess from the way I’m wanking on about it, the tone of the story can be quite pompous.

Pearls is being published in three parts as it is quite long. I hope you return to read parts two and three, and I hope you enjoy the story. Thanks for reading and I look forward to any comments you might have.

Pearls That Were His Eyes (Part 1)

To those versed in the art of murder, a gun is understood as an impersonal tool. However much they may vary in complexity, typically one part of it will rest in a hand, and a long hollow barrel is directed away from the wielder. When the trigger–surely the key part of any firearm–is pulled, a small missile is ejected from the barrel. The projectile travels at high speed towards the chosen target, and the impact does what the impact does. Perhaps a soft lead sheath flattens against a surface abruptly ridden with micro-fractures, as a needle-shaped tungsten core pushes through armour to seek vulnerable flesh. Perhaps a hollow-point bullet sends a rippling corona of destruction swirling through soft tissue. The possibilities are myriad in gruesome invention, but made banal through mass-production.

From two key elements of this general analysis–that the killer and the killed are divorced of proximity, and that the tools used are limited by the imaginations of their maker–is derived the understanding that a gun is an impersonal thing. The one who sets in motion the death of another at the point of a bullet is permitted no personal touch. There is no finesse. For those who are experts or students in such things, or even those who simply enjoy the process, such a form of murder can rapidly become mundane. For most beings there is little pleasure to be derived from the singular act of killing itself. The sense of accomplishment comes from the imposition of personality upon the act of killing.

This, then, was the principle behind the development of the Stalker and of the Friendly Gun, cutting-edge hunter-killer psychopaths extraordinaire.

#

They made for an odd couple; most observers would have noted the presence of only one man. Even then they would have walked quickly on by. That figure was not a comfortable sight: a pale, blue-skinned humanoid with sightless, milky-white eyes, clutching–no, his hand merging seamlessly into–an ornate and streamlined mass of tubes and cylinders that, however grotesque, was unmistakeably a weapon. There were many strange sights in New Ruenâlf, but its inhabitants knew–and visitors soon learned–that those appearing harmless often became dangerous if too many questions were asked.

In any case, hairless blind men two metres tall, carrying guns and creeping through dark alleyways probably belonged to the immediately dangerous category.

The man carrying the gun had no name, but was known as Bearer. It was his function: he bore the Friendly Gun. The Gun certainly lived up to one part of its name, and as to the other–perhaps only to Bearer. It was a narrow relationship.

‘Where are we?’ asked Bearer, his sightless eyes scanning from side-to-side, his voice carrying a whisper of nervousness.

‘We are near Rats’ Alley,’ hissed the Friendly Gun, ‘where the dead men lost their bones.’

‘It’s close, then. And stop being so bloody melodramatic.’

The Gun grinned inside Bearer’s mind.

#

‘You understand that we cannot be seen to be involved in this,’ the man in the dark suit had said, his voice cautious and neutral.

Bearer had nodded in reply. He was communing with his partner, conversing via their mentech link–the Friendly Gun’s only means of communicating anything other than destruction.

‘We understand,’ said Bearer. ‘The Stalker is a publicly known factor. Sending familiar operatives after it would indicate interior conflict. Weakness.’

‘Quite.’

The dark-suited man, Bearer and the Gun had decided, was a high-ranking secret policeman. His crisp and well-cut black-and-red suit indicated this; his fedora indicated a certain element of eccentricity. He knew about the Stalker, and he was presently speaking with another avenue of state research. That he offered no overt display of rank was a statement in itself.

A reticence to ask questions extended even to New Ruenâlf’s elite operatives. Bearer and the Gun were operating solely on experience, contextual assumption, and the near-certain knowledge that there was no avoiding their present conversation.

‘You two,’ the officer had continued, ‘are the product of a sister program to that which produced the Stalker. You are also a prototype and thus remain unrecognised. You have the potency to destroy the rogue and the anonymity to protect our credibility.’

He had gently scratched his nose at this point, and had looked down at the Gun, then back to Bearer’s milky eyes. ‘You are trusted not to betray the confidences of the State. Your operative profiles and support staff assure us that this will not be an issue.’

Bearer and the Friendly Gun conversed rapidly. The speed of their datalink was such that it was impossible for an outsider to even recognise that an exchange had happened.

‘It is likely that our possession of this information means that we too will be destroyed,’ the Gun had told Bearer. ‘Our obscurity is their strength, and our weakness.’

‘Yes,’ Bearer had agreed. ‘This is dangerous. We are only a prototype, as he said. Expendable once proven.’

‘Still, we have little choice here. We and the Stalker are hardly their only operatives and disobedience invites faster annihilation. And… to hunt the Stalker! Such a challenge! We can but accept.’

‘My brother, we cannot accept, just as we cannot refuse. This simply is.’

Bearer had tilted his head slightly to one side, a motion made for the benefit of the officer. ‘What provoked the Stalker to turn?’

The officer’s eyes narrowed by a few millimetres, then softened back into neutrality. ‘We don’t know,’ he had replied, refusing to drop his gaze from Bearer’s sightless visage. ‘Our analysts have ruled out environment stimuli and programming errors, but an external influence is possible. Be on the watch for third parties.’

Bearer nodded then. ‘We are ready to begin. The Friendly Gun is glad of this opportunity.’

The officer had grinned, exposing a neat row of yellowed teeth. His eyes were inscrutable; whether his rictus was the product of nervousness or communion with the Gun’s bloodlust was unknowable.

‘Excellent. The city-state applauds you, of course, though they do not know this. I will leave you in the capable hands of my colleagues. They will brief you on the minutiae of the Stalker’s known activities since its going rogue.’ He had stood, and, now able to look down at Bearer, an element of arrogance had entered his posture. His eyes had roved over the black jumpsuit Bearer wore and come to rest on the New Ruenâlf insignia chiselled neatly into one of the Gun’s few flat surfaces.

‘We’ll also have to see about your appearance. You’ll never fit into a crowd, of course, but we can at least disguise the fact that you’re our constructs.’ The officer with the fedora waved a hand then, affecting airiness. ‘My subordinates will see to all that.’

#

The exact reasons for the Stalker’s construction had been lost with the deposition of a past administration–the isolated city-state of New Ruenâlf tended to experience periodic upheaval in the extreme upper and lower strata of society, where people were most inclined to struggle for power, justice, or mere greed. The project had never been abandoned, with the potency of the technology easily demonstrable. Once completed, it represented a potent terror weapon to suppress dissent. The Stalker was almost impossible to shake or hide from. It had eliminated a number of high profile enemies of the state in the past, once or twice in a very carefully arranged and public manner. The presence of overt radicalism in the city had declined quite rapidly thereafter.

Although exact specifications were of course kept concealed from the general public, it was common knowledge that the Stalker was tall, fast, and extremely resilient. A few photo stunts and inadvertent eyewitness accounts revealed that its figure was studded with jagged edges, spikes, and blades, carefully arranged in order to shroud the interior figure in shadow. These inbuilt implements served as both weapons and tools, allowing the Stalker to burrow through many substances and scale most vertical surfaces. It was also near-silent when it chose to be. The material of its construction was unknown, but the Stalker most certainly did not emit giveaway clanks or rattles. Whatever it was made of, it was either light, or the Stalker itself extremely strong, as the weapon could move at speeds that almost defied the human eye.

Its hunters, Bearer and the Friendly Gun, relied on no such primitive organic lenses. Distortion field and sensor data from the Gun’s systems was piped into Bearer’s nervous system via their link, and provided a far more detailed and responsive environmental display than the reflection of light could have managed. Bearer’s eyes did not function, for to see would have been a distraction from the perfection of vision–though his brain, born of man, interpreted best those signals which corresponded with what his field of vision should have been. Like all man-made idols he shared their flaws.

This sometimes gave Bearer pause for reflection, for there was something inside him that clung to the ideal of his humanity, but it was a frail and very private dream. It was one that he did not choose to share even with his brother and comrade-in-arms.

The Friendly Gun had dreams of which it made no secret. It desired permission to hunt, locate and terminate the most potent adversaries of New Ruenâlf. It also hoped to hunt xenos, which in turn hunted men. It had no desire to leave the city, its killing field mapped out in its memory banks, but it did hope that alien predators would come to New Ruenâlf of their own accord.

To the Gun, the opportunity to hunt the Stalker surpassed all of these dreams. What better prey than their predecessor and antithesis?

#

‘This cage is inhibiting my vision,’ grumbled the Friendly Gun.

‘That is precisely the point,’ Bearer replied, picking at the anonymous tunic he had been given. ‘If we cannot see out, then it is quite impossible for anyone or anything to see in.’

‘I am perfectly aware of that. I was expressing discomfort, not confusion.’

Bearer sketched a mental picture for his brother, the equivalent of rolling his eyes.

‘We will be there soon,’ he told it. He ran his free hand over the rough area where the New Ruenâlf insignia had been filed away from its surface.

They were another thirty minutes in transit before they felt the cargo hauler grind to a halt, the minute trembling of their lead cage on the heavy vehicle’s suspension quite apparent to the Gun’s fine senses. Then there was a series of beeps. Bearer’s free hand darted over to a keypad, the sole adornment of the cage interior, and typed a short code. There was a sharp tone and one of the cage’s walls swung open.

A squad of Ruenâlf’s elite peacekeepers surrounded the cargo hauler as the duo climbed out of their cage. The peacekeeper commander–a captain–nodded to them, nervousness leading to a motion composed of sharp jerks. He offered them no salute. Then he pointed to a drainage grate, set in the floor of the dingy warehouse the cargo hauler had parked inside.

‘This is your deployment zone. I was informed that you would be able to proceed to your objectives from here without trouble.’

‘That is correct, captain,’ Bearer replied.

The peacekeeper nodded, glancing around at his command. One of the troopers glanced over at the Friendly Gun, then quickly looked away as he saw both the captain and Bearer staring straight at him.

The captain scowled and, still watching the trooper, said, ‘You know about the hegemonics, right?’

‘No. We are an elite secret weapon project designed for operation within the confines of this city and its underground, and as such have been kept entirely unaware of the devolved mutant amalgamates which populate areas of the sewer network. Why, without your warning those pathetic creatures would have devoured us before we had walked four paces. Yes, captain, we are aware of what you call “hegemonics”. They pose no threat.’

‘Right.’ The peacekeeper captain looked halfway between embarrassed and scared shitless. He shuffled his feet, continuing to avoid Bearer’s dead eyes. He gestured over to a subordinate, and the man dragged the lid off the sewer grate. ‘Proceed and we will withdraw.’

‘Excellent,’ Bearer said, and slid down through the hole, pausing only briefly at the lip to allow the Gun to sound out what lay beneath. Then the grate ground shut behind them.

‘You shouldn’t have acknowledged what we are,’ the Gun told Bearer, in a tone of discomfort.

‘And why not? The unfortunate captain and his men will all be dead or mind-wiped within the hour, packaged up and sent away like Hamlet but lacking the wit to escape their fates. They will have no opportunity to use or abuse what little knowledge I imparted. Brother, you can be terribly naïve at times. I have told them nothing that can hurt us in any way.’

The Friendly Gun replied by belching out a pulse of microwave radiation at something directly in front of them. Its target glowed incandescently for a second before dissolving into a fine ash. Eyelids flickered over blank eyes, an instinctive reaction, as Bearer’s mind interpreted the visual stimuli.

‘Amalgamate,’ the Gun told Bearer after a moment. ‘It didn’t run away.’

‘So I gathered. How was the takedown?’

‘Sloppy. There’s a substantial amount of fine debris remaining, not to mention a few shreds that I did not sufficiently bathe to vapourise. There is also residual heat in the walls and pipes surrounding the target. My blast was poorly focused and overpowered.’

‘But within our parameters for initial fieldwork?’

‘Oh yes,’ the Gun crooned, almost joyfully. ‘I’m quite pleased. There weren’t any limbs left or anything.’

Bearer smirked despite himself. ‘Do the surrounding tunnels match your maps?’

‘Yes… only minor aberrations. Looks like our overlords know the tunnels pretty well.’

‘They know everything pretty well,’ said Bearer. ‘Let’s go.’

#

[‘Pearls That Were His Eyes’, Part One, Shaun Green, 2007. Cover image appropriated from Google Images. Yarr.]

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