Heartbeat

Posted: December 25, 2012 in End of Times, Fiction

The scan lines on the screen betrayed the age of the surveillance camera. Why there would be a camera in this particular basement was still up for debate, but the woman watching the playback put that question on the back burner in her mind. It wasn’t her first time watching, and the subject was fascinating.

The playback is black and white. A workbench in a dark room. A basement. The basement where the DVR with the recording was found. No outside light sources, just a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling by its own wiring. On one wall, a board covered in pegs. From those pegs hang all manner of hand tools. Beneath the pegboard, a workbench. There is a vise mounted to the bench. Beneath the workbench, drawers. Lots of them. No matching handles on any of them. Clearly a homespun affair.
A shadow moves in from out of frame. The dark blur takes the shape of a man. The man is carrying a stool. His features are indistinct; the singular light source provides piss-poor illumination. Dressed in some sort of jeans and a t-shirt. Medium build. Clean shaven. Shaggy, unkempt hair. The observer cursed the placement of the camera relative to the light for the umpteenth time. The man onscreen puts the stool down in front of the bench, then walks out of the frame again. He returns, dragging a length of cable. The observer found this length of cable, one end stripped, the other plugged into a wall outlet – a 220v, suitable for larger home appliances. The entirety of the thing had been patchwork. An electrical fire trying to happen. Somehow, it didn’t.

The man loops the excess cable over the bench vice, then disappears once more. The scene remains still. The observer ran the playback at high speed for a moment. During the first viewing, there had been concern that the file was corrupted or that the media player had encountered an error. At length, the man returns to the frame, carrying a footlocker. He drops it heavily on the floor in front of the stool. He reaches down and unclasps it. He rears up, straightening his back. He kicks the lid of the footlocker, and it flops open. The observer failed once again to ignore the surreal quiet; an action like that should be loud, but there was no audio recording.

The watcher’s gaze involuntarily flickered to the shelves beyond her workstation. The footlocker was there, empty, inspected, tagged. She looked back to the screen. The man is seated on the stool, bent double, pulling things out of the footlocker and out of various drawers. Bits of plating are piling up on his left, tools piling up on his right. The last item he pulls out does not resemble any of the plating. Even with the monochrome eye of the camera, it is startling to see such impenetrable black. The man gently sets the object on the workbench, much more gently than any of the other items.

He picks through his pile of tools and produces a socket wrench. He sets the wrench down, then strips off the t-shirt.  He wads the garment up and sets it on one of the suddenly rare clear spots on the bench. A large, vertical scar in the center of his chest. He digs his fingers into it. Not a scar – a seam. He pulls and the flesh peels away, exposing a gleaming plate rimmed with bolts. He picks up the socket wrench and begins removing them one by one. He carefully deposits each one on the crumpled shirt.  After eight bolts, the metal plate falls away.  Its absence reveals a tangle of wires and circuitry.  The watcher’s eyes widened.  She pushed her glasses back up her nose. True, she had seen the scene a hundred times, but it still amazed her.  The research team had gone over the file with every tool at their disposal.  No signs of editing.  

The man lets the plate fall to the floor.  Once again, the lack of audio seems ineffably wrong.  He sets the socket wrench down with the bolts. He reaches over and grabs the spooled wire that has been hanging on the bench vise.  He teases the end out.  The end has been spliced onto a pair of small alligator clamps.  The ends touch for an instant and the light dims at the same moment that the clamps spark.  He splits the clamps further apart with his fingers as he spares a glance at the light bulb.  The man, for even now the watcher still referred to him as such, grips one clamp in his teeth.  He parts the wires in his chest, much more gently than with his skin, and reaches into the cavity. 

The watcher paused the video at this point.  She pulled her glasses off with one hand and rubbed her eyes with the other.  She always had this problem; she forgot to blink, or possibly suppressed the reflex.  She didn’t want to miss anything.  She shook her head.  Hadn’t she seen it enough times by now that she should have gotten past that?  She gingerly placed her glasses back on her nose and pushed them back into place.  She let out a heavy sigh and resumed the playback.

The man reaches carefully through the mess of wiring and slowly pulls on something.  As it emerges, the wiring seems to glow, but it’s an artifact of the low quality of the surveillance camera.  The hand emerges, trailing a pair of cables and some hoses and clutching a luminescent something about the size of a softball.  Once again, the watcher cursed the camera.  The object sheds enough light that the camera cannot capture any detail.

The man’s face is washed out by the added brightness, but his actions remain visible.  He takes the first clamp out of his teeth and affixes it to one of the cables coming from the light source.  He attaches the other clip to the other wire.  He slowly lowers the mess into his lap.  He picks up the socket wrench again, and paws through his pile of tools until he finds the attachment he needs.  He plugs it onto the wrench and begins removing bolts from the glowing object resting on his legs.  As soon as the first wire falls away, the man spasms involuntarily. The glowing grows brighter and the bare bulb in the ceiling dims. The man keeps going, pulling free the other cable. He sets the wrench down and reaches for the black mass on the bench. It’s roughly the same size as the light source, and the watcher surmised that it’d be the same shape. The man pulls the first tube free of the light, spilling a thick, dark fluid all over his lap. His pants glisten in the half light. He jams the loose tube into the black object, then repeats for the other tube. His lower half is essentially soaked in whatever was contained in those tubes. The discoverers of the footage had yet to determine what it might have been. The site had been contaminated by time and nature had largely reclaimed the basement before it was uncovered.

The man places the tiny star he’s removed from his chest on the bench and sets to work attaching the cables to the black lump. Once again, the camera fails to pick up the finer details of the scene. He quickly finishes, and drops the socket wrench on the floor beside him. He gently lifts the stygian thing in his right hand and removes the alligator clamps from leads. He clamps one onto the edge of the workbench and the other dangles freely. He feeds tubing and wire back into his chest as his open chest cavity engulfs the man’s new jet black heart.

The watcher pushed her glasses back up on her nose as she leaned closer to the monitor. This part fascinated her. Things got weird when the End of Days came, and nothing exemplified it more than this recording. The man stands up, pressing the seam in his skin shut. As he does, lumps appear all over his torso. Anywhere that bone is closest to the skin, these lumps push through and force out sharp spines. These spines continue to emerge, popping into segmented tentacles. These new appendages flail around for a moment before they start reaching for the pile of metal plating the man has spread on the workbench. Each tentacle seems to search for a specific part before latching on and pulling it onto the standing form of the man. The tentacles retract: an imploding cloud of metal that turns the shirtless man into an armor-plated monster. The hands have become talons. Long blades run along the forearms and don’t end until far past the elbows. Spurs from heels and knees. Scarred and pitted plating cover every inch of skin, but flex when he moves. A clawed gauntlet picks the bright star up from the workbench. The man kneels by the footlocker and picks up a helmet. He kicks the footlocker away, and it skitters off camera with a bang. Wait, what?

The watcher jumps. She hits the pause button. The man keeps walking this time. She can see the red glow from the star in his left claw. Red. The monochrome is gone. “I know you’re watching me.” His voice is deep. Cold. The watcher puts her hands over her mouth, bites back a scream. “Over and over, trying to figure out what I was. What happened to me.”

“Yes,” she whispers through her fingers. She drops her hands, just a bit. “How are you doing this?” He holds up the red star. She can see the connectors for tubes and cables. It is an engine, a pump. It looks molten, shot through with fiery white veins of light. “That’s… your heart?” She looks into his eyes. They are pale green, but black veins are surfacing in the white, obliterating it. His skin is blood red in the light of his heart. There are smile lines around his eyes, but nothing in his grim, flat line of a mouth indicates he would ever smile again. He stares back.

“It is. Is in my time. Was in yours. It’s eternally bright and warm. But the seals have been broken. The world is ending. In my timeframe, there is no place for bright and warm. There are monsters coming for me and mine.” His voice is going colder, flatter. “Every action has its price. They want to take my world from me?” A subterranean rumble, from his chest. His next words are spoken by a pack of snarling wolves: “I will make it VERY expensive.” The watcher flinches at his sudden harshness. He lifts the helmet toward his head. It is intercepted by more of the black segmented tentacles. His face disappears behind solid chrome. The faceplate is nothing but predators’ teeth.

“What happens next?” she whispers to the beast on the screen. The light from his heart makes the steel demon look as though it’s already covered in blood.

“In my time, the Horsemen will find themselves hunted by monsters. In your time, if you haven’t found this,” It holds up the red star. “If you haven’t found it yet, find it. Protect it. I may need it again someday.”

The screen went black. The progress bar on the playback was still going. She jumped the feed back two minutes, pressed play. The fierce armor gathers onto the man. He retrieves the white light source. Picks up the helmet of steel fangs. Kicks the footlocker. It disappears in silence. He walks off. Not even a glance at the camera. The watcher repeated this action over and over. “Where are you?” she whispered. She slammed her palms down on the tabletop. She pushed her chair away, standing up. The chair’s castors let it skate all the way to the far wall. She rubbed her eyes, adjusted her glasses. She took off toward storage. Maybe they had already found the star. Or maybe she needed to go back to the dig site. Protect it. I may need it again. She broke into a run.

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Comments
  1. hk akasse says:

    You could definitely see your expertise within the work you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

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