I’d been spoiled in the Capital, because I hadn’t felt pain. I’d felt pain in the military base, and I’d felt pain when the rite knife had slipped into my flesh, but for the most part, everyone else had been more than willing to be hurt in my stead.
When the wires turned on, and Dean sent the file over to me, I saw and tasted static. The universe was static, and ungodly winding thread of corruption and data swimming through my thoughts, just barely kept at arm’s distance by the protections etched into my Omoi
and my own willpower.
Because I’d been spoiled in the capital, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have my strengths. My mind whirred, and old things, things I’d forgotten drifted to the surface. Half erased and half formed images of sigils in labs, mouths moving without words, classes I’d taught on how to avoid being touched- in another time, it might’ve been too little too late, but at this time, I was strapped to the greatest defence Humanity had ever created for this exact circumstance, so the learning curve was way lower.
But I’d been spoiled in the Capital, because I hadn’t felt pain.
Dean gave me a thumbs up, which I saw from the bottom of a great well, the well rimmed with teeth and squirming flesh, a well that I dimly recognized as my own eyes. He took a few careful steps back, then went back to looking over the equipment. My Omoi chirped out corruption, static, faint images of eyes and things squirming in the areas of the brain that are all too easy to ignore. I wished I still could.
“Ready?” I read his lips.
My limbs were lead. Boneless, but lead. It was less of a triumph and more of a solemnity that I managed to twitch the fingers on my right hand to give him a thumbs up.
What was I even doing here?
Why did it feel so familiar?
“Alright. We’re putting power into the systems,” Dean said. “Give- give us a warning before you cast the signal off, alright?”
I didn’t know if the words came, but I thought I said I would. A great many wires straddled my head, tucked in close enough that I could smell copper and aged greasy streaked metal, like someone had forgotten to let them rot.
Dean nodded. Jay stood at my side. I could feel the heat rising off of his body as he stood guard.
“Ready?” Dean asked again. “Three-”
I felt the systems slowly start to turn on, and Omoi chirped as they did so. The city swam with ghosts, nauseating and complex, old memories from buried databanks.
“Two-” I could hear them, hear their suffering, hear their endless cries for liberation, for someone to save them and I could, if I listened close enough, hear them burning, their last messages rendered for all to hear, but none to see.
And I wished I could reach out and save them, because the only thing that was left of them was their voices, and hopes of maddened insects, and plans, and mass murder, and I was so scared to finally figure out what was happening here that I was terrified that it might actually be possible to save them, and I was throwing it away to let them stay dead to defend a race of bird people I’d known for a month, but I knew full well that any transgression that we cast that grand had to have a cost larger than anything we could provice.
There had to be offerings for rituals to work. I’d tried to offer my memories, my loathing, my self doubts, and I’d been rejected.
What would we have to trade to bring everyone back? Where would we get that from?
And it all revolved around a stupid fail safe.
“Starting,” Dean said. The wires crackled with power- aided power, for this was now a rite. Omoi reported successful connections with the world around me, and signals connected to other stations, and soon enough, I stood at the very center of all of the networks, half crumbled, ornate, beautiful. I could swim through them, search through them, see everything the Crows had made in their amazing attempts to build a single city.
One by one, the systems crackled into life, their generators burning and churning, solar panel fed batteries giving up their charge.
I closed my eyes.
Omoi reported that its temperature was rising. I tasted static and breathed out clouds of ash.
“Starting,” I agreed, and I sent out the signal.
The static poured out of me like blood, and I flowed out with it. First, the outer speakers. They burned, hot ash pouring out of them even as the music flowed like sweetened honey. Drums, voices in the mist, and I thought I could recognize them if I tried. Old USEC security codes and whispered hymns and a taste like sugar and a smell like burning flowers and a sight that rose like snow speckling a volcano and I could hear it, hear it, even this far away, and omoi reported its temperature was rising.
The Fey around the distant towers stopped moving. Their signals cut off and they fell to the ground like puppets.
And I tugged myself closer to myself, cutting off the old power, letting the building burn as fire sprouted from the heretical manipulation, the buildings themselves trying to deny the emanation flowing through them, and it was so very familiar, and I was so very close to remembering, but I tilted to the next, and the speakers burned, and I thought I could recognize the voices in the mist, but it turned to static before my memories could complete their circuits.
And the Fey fell like puppets.
Omoi burned like a brand on the side of my head and I opened my mouth and static fell out and tiny daggers whirred through my head and the wires gleamed with heat. Sweat ran down my temple. Jay spoke but I couldn’t hear over the bees, the wasps, the screams, the horrible static.
And the next ring of Fey fell. Grenades detonated in hands, rifles toppled from numb fingers, and tanks ground to a halt.
Something wet ran down my face. I was crying- no, it stung. I was bleeding. My eyes were bleeding, and it ran like water down my face, carving a furrow through the dirt and grime. Omoi reported a rise in temperature and I could smell my own skin cooking.
The next station refused to tune to the call of the static, and the music, the sounds of the old world demanding that things be normal, the recombinated mess that had once been man. I forced it to bend to my call and blood pooled in the crook of my collar and then rolls down my chest, slipping under the lab coat and across the tattered things I wore underneath of it. Omoi burned, and I could feel my flesh melting. I could smell it, like fetid pork.
The station played and the Fey fell like puppets.
Fleeing crows stopped moving and spiralled to the ground, placid and tame. They hopped along the frozen Fey, pointless, clueless, without a care.
And I forced myself to the next, and closest towers, where the fighting was in the streets, and the last fleeing bastions of resistance were engaged in impossible fights, and the speakers and everything answered my call like fingers to a piano, and blood continued to drip out of my eyes and then my nose, and smoke rose from my temple as the omoi screeched and pleaded with me to stop.
And the static poured free frothing and angry, angry at being chained in something so petty as a computer file, and then the Fey fell silent and dropped their arms, their minds snuffed out. The crows fell to the ground and cawed to the heavens because the forest was burning, but all hints of fear had long been bred out of them.
And I turned my attentions to the last tower, which even now was starting to be overrun, and Crows carried nests and the injured up stairs to avoid the flood of insects pouring inside, and gunfire marked a line that was shrinking, and fast, and Teri turned to look at me and Dean reached for the wires to pull them free and-
Omoi’s temperature reached a critical level and static poured out of the tower.
The Fey stopped moving. Teri scattered. Dean scattered. The whole of the Crows scattered.
Jay remained, standing at my side, completely surrounded in the horrific static that ate at my thoughts and begged to take up every last nook and cranny of my brain, but I wasn’t good, I was a scientist, stealing fire from the gods. His eyes gleamed red and smoke poured out of my lungs, my burning lungs, and I was on fire and I was melting and-
The assault was over. The war was over. I had forced a stalemate.
Jay touched the edge of the Omoi and I slammed the static out into the speakers that were still working, that even then were melting from the rage and indignation of carrying that last scream, the scream of something hurtling down through the atmosphere and
It was out of my head.
I sat there, clueless, incoherent, but breathing, and Jay stood at my side and his beak was moving but I couldn’t hear over top of the static still blaring out of the speakers.
It was over.
Tiny birds danced out of the corner of their eyes, and heavy things fell off of buildings and soldiers toppled over and tanks cooked themselves internally, unable to adjust their internal processes to take into account their changes. Eldritch things sizzled into hunks of flesh, and the world was quiet.
It was nice.
Two people sat at the end of the world, staring out into the distance. One bled, heavily her mind full of static.
The last two people in the city stared straight dead ahead as the door to the room opened.