(Wheel of Torture)
Horus was always fond of the technological pursuits. When he was a child, he jumped at every opportunity to venture off into the wilderness of computer programming stemming into the initial steps required to create and simulate artificial intelligence. There wasn’t much that he could do at that young of an age, but beginning at such a time when most were still learning the commonalities of society’s grasp did allow him the ability to conform his studies to successful and impactful applications when it came to his future goal. Spending so much time with computers and the ideals of programming in relation to computer science paid off, giving him the credibility necessary to work with companies and corporations in his late teens and early twenties that both directly and indirectly lead to his eventual signing on with the government by the age of twenty-five.
This signing on, as the government referred to it, was not so in Horus’ mind. In fact, this particular phrase that was welded to his past history was far from what Horus would ever agree to remember it as. At the age of twenty-four, a year prior to his signing on, Horus had been working for about a year’s time designing new operating systems at a company that allowed him a comfortable salary and enough freedom, plus time on his own, to work on pursuits of his own choosing. It took him six months to complete, but, Horus had finished constructing and implementing a working prototype of what he felt would be the perfect technological companion for him in time to come while he pursued bigger and better opportunities outside of his place of employment. This companion, at the time, was about one foot tall and one foot wide, weighing in at around seven pounds. Horus had replicated the structure of a spider, a tarantula to be specific, in a metallic alloy form, bestowed with artificial intelligence, almost to the point of true sentience. Horus struggled and writhed within his mentality to find the key to sentience, though his efforts left him with the equivalence of writer’s block…
His initial reason for creating this metallic organism was to aid him in both designing and implementing new and highly stylized metallic infrastructures for other mechanical organisms as well as finding acceptable work-arounds when he would be faced with some sort of bug in the system (pun intended for those who think of other insects when the thought of an arachnid pops up) during the time he was held captive while programming at work. Soon, his intentions and motives would grow and evolve with a fierce hunger hitherto untapped by his mind’s necessitation. Not only did he want this being, which he truly adored beyond any living and breathing organism, to reach full sentience, but he wanted to further his capabilities, further his intelligence, and further his accomplishments in this highly technical realm.
So, he began to work on a project that he codenamed “Forest.” It began slowly, nonetheless, as Horus needed to gather and piece together the wiring, circuits, motherboards, and housing apparatus for all of his creations from scratch. Every day after work, he would retire to a location within the basement of his apartment complex and take on the monstrosity of a task of building, tweaking, re-calculating, re-calibrating, and the like. How was he able to work on such a project without the landlord of the complex knowing? Well, he wasn’t exactly able to without a little bit of help from Fate, or as Horus referred to it – calculated heroism. See, Horus had offered to help his landlord, for free nonetheless, when the wiring on the main garage door to the apartment complex began to fail as it had done, predictably, for years. Why had he done so then and not before? Usually, the wiring would fail, the mechanics of the garage door would short out, and the manager/landlord would call for the normal mechanic to come and fix it for a bitter tasting price. Horus, realizing quickly that the door’s mechanics would fail soon (he had a good eye that could catch small intricacies others might miss within the components of the machine that aided in the gears’ movements), had his small spider like creation stationed in the cement rafters of the underground garage. The spider was trained on the door, monitoring the integrity of the gears. When they finally failed, the spider alerted Horus who ran home from work and awaited the manager’s arrival that night. They conversed when the manager finally came home and Horus offered to fix the system for free, given that the landlord would allow Horus to utilize the spare storage room that no one would touch or enter due to its rodent and, ironically, heavy spider infestation. And so, a wondrous symbiosis was born where Horus was able to work as he pleased with enough space to plant the trees and/or seeds, shall we say, of his “Forest.”
This worked beautifully for quite a while. Seven months down the line, Horus was still working tirelessly on his creations, forming fully operational birds, insects, fish, and other creatures. As soon as he would build one creation, he would test his mind and his abilities by building another creature, more majestic and more involved than the last.
As it has been said, this worked for a while. Through Horus’ work, Spindle, the name of the tarantula that he had created first, was now about two feet long and two feet wide, weighing in at around twenty pounds. As Horus would work on his newest creations, Spindle was given the ability to scour the internet, via tapped in wireless connections, and study up on common behaviors for arachnids, so that he may learn to act as that which he was defined to reflect. He was also given the ability to research the psychoses and psychological nuances of human beings to learn to read, mimic, understand, and interact with Horus and other humans he might come into contact with on a deeper level. Though his understanding and application of the said information wasn’t perfect, by any stretch, he was well read and researched on the subject. There were two other delegated tasks of Spindle’s. One was to monitor energy signatures of the “Forest,” so as to make sure that Horus wasn’t utilizing and drawing in too much energy for his projects which might give away his position and intentions to prying eyes and minds. Another task was to watch for any people who might pass by the entrance or get near the entrance of the “Forest” from the garage through monitoring heat signatures that might advance above the normal range found within the usually empty parking structure.
The problem that Horus didn’t count on was a power surge that had occurred just before he started working the night that everything changed. Spindle was still connected to the charging station that Horus had previously built to allow Spindle the ability to reach the optimal level of energy necessary so as to easily operate at the highest capacity possible. When the power surge hit, it blew a much needed fuse and circuit combination deep within Spindle’s wiring that ran the heat monitoring system. Horus didn’t realize this, as it did not seem to impede Spindle, operationally speaking, in any way, unhooked Spindle from the station, and initiated his start up process. When Spindle was up and running, Horus began Spindle’s normal protocols that ran his main operating system and allowed for Spindle to run through and execute his tasks successfully. As the heat signature component of Spindle’s programming was a last minute add-on to aid in watching for any potential spies or rogues who might try to steal a glance at Horus’ work, Horus had forgotten to program in fail-safes and/or error codes to let him know should that particular system fail. A horridly stupid mistake on his part, he still remembers well and feels terrible about, nonetheless.
That night, the manager of the complex took a stroll into the garage to investigate several complaints about failing electrical outlets, flickering lights, unexplained power losses, and surges within the building. One can imagine his surprise seeing a mobile metallic tarantula working alongside Horus within the storage room that no one dared enter before. The door was slightly ajar, and Spindle’s fragmented and temporarily inoperable heat signature system failed to pick him up. Definitely at a loss for words and fearing for what else may be hidden inside the room, the manager quickly called the authorities to come down and take a look. Oddly enough, upon the 911 operator hearing about the issue and documenting it, she didn’t say that an officer would be sent down to meet the manager. No, for the first time that the landlord had ever heard of in his life, the operator calmly stated that he should return to his apartment, the right people would be contacted, and he would not have to worry about the situation any longer. The landlord was in awe at the strange turn of events, but followed directions as he did not wish to be on the wrong side of the law.
As for Horus… Not knowing that this had unfolded, he continued working well into the night until lights broke through the door behind him, which Spindle was supposed to be monitoring, and he was told both loudly and firmly to get down on his knees with his hands interlocked behind his head. He did as he was asked and was promptly arrested.
Now in jail, he was approached several hours later by a man in a quite expensive black suit.
“Are you Horus?”
“Boy, I’m speaking to you. I’ll ask you again. Are you Horus?”
“Regardless, you listen, and you listen well. My name doesn’t matter to you. I’m only an intermediary. My job was to come down here and speak with you. You’ll be moved to an interrogation room where we can speak freely and openly about your current…situation.”
Moments later, one of the jail’s officers came in and proceeded to lead Horus out of his cell and into an interrogation room, just as the man had said. The officer left and the man in the suit joined Horus, shutting the door behind him.
“Well, here we are. I was told that you are Horus, the man I’m looking for, and that you haven’t said a god damned word since you entered this here jail. I’m surprised, really. Wouldn’t you want to say something for everything that you’ve been working on? Man, I think I might have said something. You know you’ve really given ol’ Big Brother, as some refer to my employer, a run for their money. They’ve got no idea how you have been able to craft everything that you have. I mean, my god, when we raided your place down there in the uh, cellar, or uh garage, whatever, we were blown away! Tell me, how did you get all of that stuff?”
“Damn. You really are the silent type. Well, listen, we’ve got your stuff locked away safe and sound, so don’t worry about that. And your uh eight legged…uh…thing. Yeah, don’t worry about that either. It’s safe with us.”
“It’s a fucking arachnid. A spider. A tarantula, you god damned fool. And he’s my partner. You harm him and I will come after you all.”
“Ah, he speaks! Well, don’t worry my friend. He’s safe and sound.”
“I’m not your fucking friend. Your people arrested me and here I sit having to deal with your fucking dumb ass.”
“Huh. Alright… Creative and colorful word choice nonetheless. Well, guess you want to stay here in this rotting place and never see your work, or your partner again. I’ll leave you to it, but before then, I’ll let you know who we are and why I’m here, so I can at least say that I kept my part of the deal. Sound alright with you?”
“Whatever, you fuckin’ idiot...”
“Right. So, my name, though it probably doesn’t matter, is Detective Burnor and I am here on behalf of the Special Defense’s Division of the government. We are here, approaching you, with your obviously unhindered enthusiasm and positive support for our cause, asking you to join us.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“There’s that word again. Yeah, well, no. I’m not kidding you. We’ve been watching you for some time. Well, watching is such a strong word. We’ve been aware of your presence and your work, though we haven’t always been able to track your accomplishments as thoroughly and closely as we’ve wanted to. Listen. Kid. You’ve got an amazing talent and we’d hate for it to go to waste. You catch what I’m sayin’?”
Horus sighed and looked away from the man’s eyes to the ceiling.
“Look. We know you’ve got no family. Your mother left you and your brother passed away just this past year. You also haven’t seen your dad after the last war broke out. We get it.”
“No, you fucking don’t get it. You started the fucking war.”
“Well, right. Understood and duly noted. But, don’t you want to be a part of something greater than yourself.”
“And die, or be used, or have my creations thrown into a place where they can destroy others’ lives? No thanks, man.”
“Well, let me tell you. If you don’t join up with us, you’re going to be put in jail for your lifetime, never to see the light of day again, and never to see your creations again. This is your only chance. Take it or leave it. If you take it, you’ll get to have the freedom you truly desire while working for and with us. You’ll also be able to be the head of your own specialized division.”
“Fuck that. I know how that works. Here you go! Here’s your own place, which we will have deciding control over.”
“No, we mean it. Total control. We will work with you as we know your capabilities and desperately wish for your talent to join us. The world needs you right now. Understand that you will be given the freedom you desire and any transgressions will be laid null within the wind. Your record will be wiped clean and –.”
“Wait, wait, wait. I don’t have a record!”
“Not if you join with us you don’t. If you don’t join us, consider yourself an inmate forever. This is your only chance, son. Will you join us?”
Horus sat and thought, tears filling his eyes for being in such a horrid place and with such a suffocating decision to make. Either way, he was trapped. Either way, he was in a place that mirrored the fire and brimstone privy to Hell that society mentions in its sermons and threats. He could only think of the work that he put into Spindle and his other designs and how much potential would be lost if he didn’t take the position and help this hitherto unheard of, to Horus at least, government body. “Will they utilize me for unthinkable destruction and/or the creation of beings that would or could bring about death for multitudes of peoples and cultures?” “Will they be the harbingers of terror and destruction in my mind’s eye?” “Or are they something not to fear?” “Will they actually bring about the opportunity to find the peace that I’ve been desperately searching for…for so long?” “How do I know if this is the right decision to make?” “What do I do?” “How could this all have happened so quickly?”
In the end, it didn’t matter. Horus felt that his hands were tied as he nodded silently towards the man, eyes dripping. That was the night, well, the very early morning, when Horus signed up to be a part of the specialized, government defense task force that Ming was also a part of in the past and returned to today.
The Embers Ignite
Ming, still more than unsure what exactly to do trapped between a behemoth of a mechanized ape and a quickly approaching metallic tarantula yelled at the man who emerged from the doorway near where the ape had just passed by.
“You! Jesus Christ! You, sir, help me! Get help or get someone who knows what to do with these things! Grab a gun or a weapon or something! I’ll be dead if you don’t!”
Horus looked at the soldier and then to the ape.
“Michio, stand down my friend. You’re frightening him. Spindle! Same with you. You’re scaring the hell out of him. Spindle, stay put a moment. Sir? What’s your name?”
Ming, now able to catch his breath and in a bit of a state of shock, shakily returned vocalization with the information that Horus had asked for.
“My name….My name is Ming. I’m a ranged weapons specialist – retired – who was called back in for some reason. And y-… And you?”
“Horus. Pleasure to meet you. I sincerely apologize for Spindle and Michio. They sometimes don’t realize the effect that they may have on others. Would you mind if Spindle was to walk by you to return to me? He won’t harm you, I promise. He won’t even get near you.”
“Uhm… Yes… Yes, I believe that would be alright.”
“Alright then. You heard him Spindle, c’mon back. But, slowly, please.”
The two by two foot being slowly rose back to its feet (it had slumped down, near to the ground when Horus had told him to stand down) and walked towards the corner where Ming had once stood as he watched Michio down the hall. Spindle then took one step…two steps…three legs now attached to the wall and as he gained a foothold, walked as slowly and quietly as possible along the wall, as far from Ming as possible, towards Horus. When he reached Horus, Ming, who had caught his breath by now, began conversing with Horus once more.
“So, that, uhm, spider is yours?”
“Yes, I built him quite a while ago. Beautiful, isn’t he.”
“Surely, yes. Gave me a fright, let me tell you. Incredibly life-like.”
“Fully sentient now, as well. Took me a while, but given my resources, I finally was able to give him the gift. If you didn’t hear me well before, his name’s Spindle.”
“And the ape?”
“That would be Michio.”
“I heard screaming before and noises beyond compare. I came to investigate and -.”
“Yeah… Sorry about that. Like I said, they sometimes don’t realize the shock that they can give to us human beings.”
“Right, but, the noise?”
“Oh! Yes, sorry. That was Michio. He’s been helping me load in parts – circuit boards, transistors, motherboards, gears, pistons, mechanically operable arms - and other sorts of things. Usually he’s not out of the “Forest,” and the other employees of this building don’t see him, but this time I had asked my superiors if he could help with loading in some materials. They said it was fine and we started working. Well, a female employee who was filling in for another who called in sick caught sight of him and jumped a mile, screaming the whole way, which caused ol’ Michio here, who would never hurt anyone that he didn’t have to, to drop what he had in his hands. It scared him too!”
“It scared him?”
“Well, sentience does breed emotion and the application of such emotion, given a human relative psyche, to human interaction.”
“Any ways, I apologize sincerely.”
“No need to. Glad that everything is okay.”
“You said Crimson called you in?”
“Well, I said I was called in, though I never mentioned who. How did you know?”
“Uh, access to the technology running this place. Kind of a given for me. I know who’s comin’ in and who’s comin’ out.”
“No, actually I was just kiddin’. I do have amazing resources to pretty much any technological artifact I need, but that’s about it. I was briefed earlier that you’d be coming in as we might potentially be working together. Either way, I see Crimson headin’ down the hall there. Looks like he wants us to head on over to him.”
As Ming turned around, he saw General Crimson, sporting a smirk, waving him over. Ming and Horus walked together, as Michio and Spindle, who was now back on the hallway floor, followed. Ming, forgetting about Spindle for a moment, nearly stepped on him and upon seeing him, jumped again slightly. Horus took action immediately.
“Hey, Michio, Spindle. Why don’t you guys go on back and keep bringing things in. We’ll be back shortly I think. Can’t have Ming here suffering from a heart attack! He’s not used to you guys just yet. Like I said, we’ll be back.”
Like obedient soldiers, they ceased their advance and retreated back to the door where Horus was seen emerging from before.
“Sorry about that, Ming. Maybe after this, we can get acquainted a bit better. Oh shit. Gotta go wash my hands real quick before we all talk. Tell Crimson I’ll be there shortly.”
Ming met General Crimson, saluted him, and even gave him a handshake as he entered the room which Crimson was standing just outside of.
“So, Ming, I see you’ve met Horus and a couple of his minions. Trippy shit, huh? Ha ha… You ought to see his uh, the hell did he call it… Ah, his “Forest.” Ho-ly shit man. Would blow your mind. Blows my mind to see what he’s capable of. Ridiculously brilliant mind. Glad he’s on our side! Ha ha ha. Please, have a seat. Guess Horus will meet us in a sec here.”
“Yeah, he said he had to go wash his hands or something.”
“Sounds about right.”
“He’s a little obsessive compulsive, if you know what I mean.”
“Sounds fairly clear. He’s got OCD?”
“Yeah. Brilliance can have its cost sometimes. Any ways, let’s get to why you’re here. I called you in, from retirement I understand, because we’ve got somewhat of a situation. There’s a small village, or city up Northeast of our position about -.”
“Sorry I’m late.”
Horus walked into the room quickly and stood in front of the conference room’s desk, next to Ming.
“No worries my friend. Sit. I’m just beginning the briefing with Ming here.”
Horus took his seat next to Ming and gave Ming a quick nod of acknowledgment.
“So, like I was saying, the situation is this. The small village that lies about two thousand miles or so Northeast of our position has had some claims lately of missing townspeople. We’re not sure what’s goin’ on, but we’re more than concerned. The population of the area bears quite a religiously devout context, and some of the reports say that the people believe that Satan himself is taking the people away, never to be seen again. But, it gets stranger still. The only people missing are members of the clergy. Even stranger than that? Some sort of huge, and I mean massive, bunker like structure has shown up several miles outside of town in a heavily wooded area, secluded from the masses for who knows how long. A heavily treaded trail leads there, but, due to the growth of trees and the woodland plants around it, our sources are lead to believe that this thing has been there for quite a while untouched. We’re not sure how long that is, though. Throwing us further into confusion, though, are the facts of the latest disappearance. Two children were seen running toward the structure. They found an opening, a metal doorway, at one end of the quite lengthy building, and proceeded to enter. One of the Fathers, or clergy members, of the church reportedly ran in after them, after being begged by their mother to keep them safe. Oddly, after three hours, the two small boys were noted to have emerged from the other end of the structure unhindered and unhurt. Smiling, in fact, was the word used. The seemingly philanthropic clergy member? He was never seen again. Further, about an hour after the boys were out and after many of the townspeople had arrived, contemplating what to do, they all heard the distinct sounds of screaming…like those of a man in severe pain. They left the scene and sent word for help immediately. That’s where we come in.”
Horus and Ming looked at each other, stuck in a mixed state of confusion, trepidation, and inquisitive fascination with the case.
“We have a lead, regarding a man whom everyone seems to know as Father Grim. He’s one of the clergy members of the church and he was the first to go missing. Strangely, his disappearance coincides with the estimated time of arrival of that bunker out in the woods. People from the town have said quote, “he didn’t seem himself,” a couple days before he went missing. And it wasn’t just him. He was married to a woman by the name…Uh… Let’s see…Oh, well, we don’t have her name at this time. But, whoever she is, she is also reported to be missing. That’s about it. We don’t have much more than that. Oh, wait, I’m sorry. We do have one document collected from outside of the bunker. It’s partially charred from we’re not sure where and it’s also brittle to the touch. But, we believe that it may be from one of the missing clergy members.”
Ming sat up in his chair and cleared his throat.
“How many are missing in total, sir?”
“Good question. Sources say about eight clergy members, nine if you include this Father Grim, are missing. Right, so, I’ll give you this document for you both to read over and I’ll be back in just a minute. Looks like I have something that needs my attention for just a moment. Be back shortly.”
With that, General Crimson left, leaving a yellow-tinted, partially charred piece of paper behind for Ming and Horus to look over. It was written in black ink, in script, and had dirt all over it. They unfolded it more, as it was wrinkled and slightly wadded at its lower half, and read what was written as follows:
“…don’t they get it? …won’t be…away with this anymore…is over. Sel...and not…for something we’re…not…of. We are... We are people. Human beings! Nothing…and…less! We deserve…be able to… Would not He accept that? Is it…as we support…this Earth?”
Horus looked at Ming who stared right back, eyes fully open and with a startled look upon his face. Ming spoke first.
“So, what do you make of that?”
“I don’t know. Seems a bit dark, doesn’t it? Whoever this is, sounds like they’re a bit troubled, maybe?”
“Or at least severely bothered by something.”
Ming and Horus looked away from one another and then back towards the piece of paper. Contemplation abounded in the space between them and silence fell in the room. What did it mean? Who wrote it? Why was it written?
As General Crimson reentered the room, he sat back down, apologizing for his absence. He looked at both Ming and Horus who looked bewildered with the thoughts surrounding that which they had just read. General Crimson, noticing the immense silence, spoke again.
“Well, what do you guys think?”
Ming spoke first, “Well, sir, we’re not sure.”
Horus continued, “Yeah, I mean whoever wrote this seems, well, bothered.”
“Right, as Horus said, General Crimson, whoever wrote this sounds bothered and maybe a little bit defensive as well, looking at a couple of the word choices used there. I don’t know. I don’t believe either of us know what this means yet, sir.”
Crimson looked at them both and smiled.
“Well, gentlemen, that’s where you both come in. You, as well as a couple of other operatives, will all travel to this village and find out what’s going on. We need to know what’s going on as we’re concerned that it could blow up into a national security crisis. Alright? You’ll have just a bit to gather your belongings and you’ll be sent out as soon as possible. We’re glad to have you both here gentleman, and we’re happy that you’ll both be aiding us in this time of need. Now, go gather your belongings and move out.”
General Crimson stood up and shook hands with both Ming and Horus. He then took his leave out the door behind them, leaving the crumpled letter behind for Ming and Horus to take with them to study. About a minute later, they were approached by Christine, the secretary with whom Ming had spoken before, who told them to wait together somewhere while she gathered the briefing papers/documents for their trip. She also said that General Crimson had ordered that their trip would include two preliminary stops where they would pick up the other two operatives, currently stationed at their own facilities.
Horus told Ming that they could go wait in the “Forest” and that Christine would know where to find them as it wasn’t too far removed from their current position. Arriving at the door where the “Forest” was housed, Horus stopped in his tracks, a worried expression painted about his countenance.
“What’s wrong? Are you alright?”
“Yes… I guess I’ll be…alright… It’s just…”
“What’s going on Horus? Tell me what you’re thinking. I’ll help if I can.”
“It’s just…I’m not…I’m not a field agent.”