Read Faces Online

Authors: Matthew Farrer

Faces

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Faces

Matthew Farrer

In the end Jann couldn’t stay away, and so here she came again creeping back into the tower’s red-blurred shadow, hunched over with a rusted torque-stave in her hand. The shouting, drumming storm was two days gone now, and no matter how hard Jann listened all she could hear was the soft crackle of her footsteps in the sandflake drift and her own breathing, dry and frightened. At this hour, at this angle, the depot tower was a lightless block of black against the blood of the sky behind it. No movement, no voices. Even the great metal bulk of the pipeline was inert.

The storm’s trailing winds had smoothed out the ground, and the only footprints in front of the south door were Jann’s own. They staggered and lurched out from the little storm-hatch and disappeared behind one of the giant pipeline buttresses, the spot where she had crouched and shivered all through the night at the mercy of strange, taunting dreams. Now the slower, softer prints stalked back out of hiding and up behind her, padding steps, trying for a stealth that she knew would make no difference. She would have to go in there and find them, all of them. She would have to show her…

…face.

She took light steps towards the hatch, holding the stave this way and that, trying to think how she could best swing it if one of them were waiting just inside. It would be dark. The only parts of the tower that were ever properly lit were the control room at the top and the living deck. For a moment that thought almost soothed her. She thought of the dark rooms and halls, dark country she had never seen, riding high and quiet over it, and strange mountains kissed with silver light, but that image split and twisted her thoughts and her strength fled her for a moment. She moaned, softly, and craned up to the sky, but there was no white moon there to help her. There should have been a white moon. Jann had never seen a moon, not of any colour, but there should have been a white moon.

She dropped her eyes from the sky and stood swaying in the doorway for a moment. It seemed as though she were about to break through to some understanding of what was happening to her, but a blink and a breath and it was all gone like

(moonlight)

smoke through her fingers and she found herself stepping through the storm-hatch, breathing hard, trying to force her eyes to dilate, gripping the stave so hard that the corroded texture of its haft bit into her palms. She held it closer to her, like a walking-staff, and found a little comfort in that. No moon-gems, but it would do.

The engines embedded in the tower’s thick foundations sent their rumbling beat through the walls. A deep beat, a walking-beat, for a slow promenade before the dance began. The implications of that thought gave her chills but her steps, already in time to the engines, began to quicken. The emergency lights shone in their little cages high on the rockcrete walls, red like blood that washed from the sky, yellow like the sparks flying up from an anvil. Jann didn’t know whose thoughts these were any more.

Staring into the light, she thought she heard a movement somewhere in the dimness, but the accessway behind her was empty. Jann turned her

(or was it really her)

face inwards towards the red-lit corridors, and pressed on.

She found Gallardi in the machine-shrine, as she had expected to. He had broken the bright blue-white floodlamps that Tokuin had always kept bathing the hall, and now worked only in the same dim red emergency light that Jann had walked through. He had thrown open the maintenance shutters to the enginarium crypt below them and the machine-noise was louder here, a furnace roar. Conduits and energy sinks glowed cherry-red and added their light and heat. The air was clear, but Jann’s senses brought her the faint touch of smoke.

‘Brother?’ she whispered. Gallardi was standing with his back to her, his slabs of shoulders working, his thick body swaying and folding where the fat overhung his belt. From the other side of him came the ring of metal on metal.

‘Brother?’

In the racket of the shrine, the engines below and half a dozen of Tokuin’s workshop machines running, there was no way the sound of her whisper could have reached him. But his body shivered at the murmur of her voice and he turned. Good Gallardi with his callused hands and soft voice, who’d liked to watch the sunset with her from the tower’s roof. He’d sung songs with her (but what songs? Why couldn’t she remember them?) and… and danced… under six white moons…

There was no white moon. Jann had never seen a moon. She sobbed and took a half-step forwards. She wanted her friend, so blessedly familiar. His thin legs, of which he was so self-conscious. His belly, with the old runnelled scar from the solder-splash accident years before they had met. His grizzled, shaven head and his, his…

…face.

There was a hammer in his hand, and he raised it.

‘I can’t greet you the way I want to, my beautiful little sister,’ he said. Was his mouth moving? One moment Jann thought so, and then thought not. ‘You’re welcome and safe in my home, always, you know that. But I must work.’ There was a shrieking hiss from behind him. The steelcutting press, left to run unsupervised, had overheated and was trying to shut itself down.

‘We aren’t safe, brother, either of us!’ Now she found proper voice, although her words sounded strange to her own ears, high and singsong, almost not her own. ‘It’s happening again. I heard them fighting up on the operational deck.’ Her memories seemed to float and split. The brawl between her crewmates splayed out and overlapped itself like a pict-screen trying to show half a dozen images at once. But every image horrified her. There was nothing she wanted to see. ‘He knows! He…’ She stumbled over the name. Crussman. He reared up through every one of her memories, stinking of lho-smoke and of the blood that slicked the front of his coveralls and dripped from his hand. The simple picture of him sent a killing scream through her thoughts, and still she stumbled over his name, because couldn’t she also remember…

(Crussman twisted around the edge of the driver’s seat in the high, cramped little cabin of the crane-rigger, looking down at them. ‘Lifts like a dream!’ he shouted over the engine and the winches. ‘Easy to see how beat-up it got. Who knows how far the storm threw it to get to here?’ There was a huge, cheerful grin on his face. This was the best bit of storm-scrap they’d ever…)

‘Crussman,’ she managed to say, although somehow she thought she had mangled the word again, made it something shorter, guttural. ‘He knows about… about you. He knows you’re here. He knows…’

Knows what you did. Knows where we are. Knows what he has to do. Knows what has to happen. None of the answers that sprang to her mind made any sense. From somewhere around them she thought she heard footsteps, light as rushing air, and faint laughter. If Gallardi heard it too, he didn’t show it. The red light shone steady from the emergency lamps but seemed to flicker on the man’s

(that’s not his real)

face as he hefted his hammer again and turned away. Jann followed him around the machine-shrine, stepping over Tokuin’s corpse without looking down at it.

‘He was too strong for me,’ Gallardi said in a voice gruff with sadness, and let one hand drop to point to his leg. ‘Too strong. I forged my very breath into my steel, and what did it aid me? No, no. It’s done now. I’ve given the last one to Sabila, but that path is not mine. Bloodletting is his. His soul is there. And mine is here. Bound here.’ Jann looked where his hand pointed. Her vision swam and doubled. She saw Gallardi’s bare, pale foot beneath the cuff of a standard-issue rust-brown crewman’s legging, and she saw a leg thick like a pillar, muscle-packed, anvil-heavy, riven and bent under the scars of the terrible wounds that Crussman had dealt when he had dragged Gallardi back here, mutilated and bereft, and picked up his chains.

Crussman had never been down here. This place had been Tokuin’s. It had been sacred to him. A place where he came to work as a supplicant, a priest, where Gallardi had come as a master. Jann understood why they had fought, but she couldn’t understand what she was seeing now. The dark-skinned man with the big scarred belly was as true as all her memories, but yet she knew the limping master of the anvil as truly as she did the shining features of her own

(but is this really my)

face. She cradled her stave in one hand and reached the other out to him.

‘I ran and hid,’ she said. ‘I… I think I slept. I think I dreamed. I dreamed about us. I don’t know if I dreamed about you and… him…’ she pointed back to the body behind her, unable to think of the name of the enginseer with whom she’d lived and worked for two years, ‘…or if I remembered. I saw you fighting him…’

(‘Gallardi!’ Tokuin had screamed. Augmetics covered the adept’s eyes and nose but his mouth was flesh, not a vocoder, and there was ugly organic fear in his voice. ‘Stop it! Stop what you’re doing!’ He had coughed and doubled over as a fist had found his belly, then arched the copper-inlaid utility-arm that sprouted from the base of his spine, arched it like a scorpion’s tail to block the downwards swing of the pneumatic clamp that Gallardi had loaded his other fist with. The clamp bounced away with a clang and the arm shot forwards snake-fast into Gallardi’s chin, but it was only a push, not a blow. Tokuin didn’t really understand what was happening, he had not done the thing that the rest of them had done that Jann’s memory couldn’t quite piece together. Tokuin didn’t understand the wrongness of this, didn’t understand that Gallardi had to take mastery of the forge or everything was false, in a way even she struggled to understand. Tokuin pushed Gallardi and held him, and Gallardi thrashed for a moment in the eight-fingered mechanical grips as they held him by the jaw before he battered the slender end-joints of the arm with the clamp and shook it loose.

‘You’re deranged, Gallardi!’ Tokuin was a man of the machine-cloisters, no brawler, and he had staggered back through the workshop jerking with feedback as his battered arm malfunctioned. ‘You’re damaged! Jann! All of you! Where’s Merelock? Make her take command again! You’re all damaged!’ He was retreating deeper into the forge and Jann wanted to call to him to stop, to explain how much more wrong he was making it, with his alien voice and his strange half-and-half face, but Gallardi was closing in again. ‘It’s those things, they’ve driven you mad! Gallardi! Jann, talk sense to him!’ One of the mechanised pallet-jacks came to life and rolled forwards, Tokuin trying to manoeuvre its drive-block in front of Gallardi’s body, its tines under his feet, but he spun and danced around it, lurched, caromed off the pipe-lathe and closed in. ‘Take it off, Gallardi, it’s wrecking your mind, Gallardi, listen–’ And she had run away, then, because her friend was about to beat the enginseer to death and she had already watched Crussman snarling as he hacked at Crewman Heng’s arm while Heng grinned and giggled and looked on, and she knew Sabila was going to try to make everything right and she already knew what would happen, even though beneath that she didn’t know what was happening at all. She had covered her eyes with her hands and staggered away as behind her Gallardi began the murder.)

‘There are two of us,’ Jann said. She padded around Gallardi, walking a slow circle around him as he leaned against the welding cage, his head hanging. Jann could see the sweat and grime coating his skin, and the way his shoulders sagged. He must have been labouring all night, unsleeping. She couldn’t imagine how exhausted he must be – but he couldn’t be exhausted from working here, could he? This was his place, he and his forge were part of each other. How could he tire from this labour?

‘We are at war within ourselves,’ she went on. Gallardi didn’t move. It had been a stupid thing to say. He knew they were at war. Had he not forged that war’s weapons with his own hands here? But that didn’t make sense either, she could remember that Gallardi had only taken possession of the forge a day, two days ago. Every answer was wrong, every question was wrong. She continued in her circle, her steps careful and rhythmic. It soothed her, seemed to move things towards familiarity again. ‘Not between us but within us. Can you feel it? Two things in you? Have you dreamed it? Do you feel yourself to be… not your own?’ She was three-quarters of the way around her circle, and movement seemed to be helping the words come, as her thoughts drifted into alignment like moons in the sky. She thought back to how Gallardi had spasmed and struggled as the half-forgotten other had put out a metal hand and seemed to push his

(but it didn’t look like his)

face, push it almost loose from his skull. That meant something. She was sure of it. She let her eyes drift half-closed, started to turn in circles as she finished her orbit of Gallardi. Even as she was thinking how ludicrous the movements were, the circles within circles quieted her, helped her thoughts ride soft and quiet in courses that felt familiar.

She opened her eyes and saw clearly. Only for a moment, but enough. Gallardi was standing in the middle of an idiot chorus of rattling, over-revved workshop machines, all Tokuin’s engines with their controls jammed into working positions with crudely glued or soldered fragments of metal or plastek trash. One had already overheated and failed, two more were rattling ominously. Tools and debris littered the floor. Panniers and slider shelves where Tokuin had reverently arrayed his tools and spare components were tipped and smashed, their contents piled up at their feet. And in the middle of it all, here stood Gallardi, half-naked, dull-eyed, animal-filthy, standing at a work plinth and crashing his hammer down as though he were an old smith from the hive-fringe shanties working an iron blade. But instead of a hammer he swung one of the heavy subsonic solid-reader wands they used to test the strength of pipeline segments, the gauge in the tip (which could look like a hammer to a blurred eye in dim light) already with its casing split and the smashed internal components visible, and on the plinth no glowing-hot metal bar but the shattered remains of a running-light assembly from the crane rig.

Gallardi brought his improvised smithy hammer down again, sending plastek chips scattering. He had always been too big, too heavy for grace but Jann had always admired the powerful, confident economy with which he moved. Now his movements were empty, jerky, like nothing living. She tried to read his expression in his eyes but when she cast her gaze up to his

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