*Part five of a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.
*WARNING: mature content
*continued from A Tautology, Part II
Evening, Today: There are loud noises echoing from over the ridge and their origin is unmistakably machine. They are so loud and so many that Margerison and Elona have been crawling for the last mile. Both can smell the ocean, and the city on the other side of the ridge can be no other than Trieste. There is excitement between the two, but also fear. Though unsaid, the former British police detective and the former Russian dancer miss their friends greatly. It has been almost two days since they left the others during the incident with the scout machines, and they've no idea any are even alive. They miss the conversation, the debate, the company, and - perhaps most of all - the safety in numbers. A group large enough for companionship, but not so large as to preclude survival.
Margerison briefly considered turning around when they first heard the sounds, but Elona pragmatically reminded him that there would be no escape for them either way. One group of machines or another... neither encounter offering much chance of survival. And, besides, she wanted to see the sea at least one last time. What a tease to be able to smell it, but never again see the crashing blue and white upon sand and rock.
And this, they do see. It is a wonderful sight. It is what else they see that almost sends them into a panic.
Morning, Yesterday: Vorobyov tried to contain himself. He was raised with a healthy respect for women, but the situation was dire. He knew he saw the Pole give the device to the Italian woman. He knew it. There was no question in his mind. Why wouldn't she just give it to him? She probably didn't even know what it was.
"Box," he said again. Each repetition of the word sounded more angry than the previous, egged on by her repeated attempts at claiming ignorance. He knew that he was going to have to physically search her, but what little was left of his humanity was, as of yet, preventing that.
"Box!" The back of Rossella's head was bleeding, but the defiant terror in her eyes had gone nowhere.
"They're ignoring us," Margerison says. "All of them."
"Are you certain?" asks Elona, but even she already noticed that most of the machines barely even pause to acknowledge the human presence.
In a rare - and potentially stupid - moment of overconfidence, Margerison stands and begins jumping and waving, screaming at the top of his lungs. There is no reaction. Satisfied, Margerison turns and smiles at Elona. "See?"
She pushes herself off the ground and stands beside him, returning his smile. "You are an idiot."
They stand there, taking in the sight of what was once Trieste. Though what they see clearly eliminates any chance of rescue from the once sprawling Adriatic port, it is overwhelmingly beautiful, and the two cannot help but admire it.
Thousands upon thousands of machines make their way through Trieste, some destroying buildings and landmarks, while others collect and disintegrate the rubble. Still others appear to plant trees and grass, rebuilding the area in its youthful image, before human civilization settled the area nearly 5000 years ago. The famous port now absent, replaced by pristine beaches with no evidence of gathered vessels.
And among them all, there are no Mercury-scouts, no clumsy Mars-walkers, no sleek and graceful Minerva and Diana-hunters, and no nearly-indestructible Jupiter-tanks. Just machines created to clean up humanity's messes, and not humans themselves.
"Single-minded of purpose," Margerison utters, remembering the story the Pole told to them days before.
It is a haunting thing to witness. Though the graves of 200,000 are no doubt somewhere nearby, the renewed landscape fails to lend itself to the memory of genocide. Memory's murder observed firsthand. And the only thoughts Margerison and Elona can comprehend are the realizations that they are alone... truly alone... for the first time.
In context, the kiss that follows may seem a cold, callous act. Intimately, in the moment shared only by two people falling to the ground, it reminds them that they are alive. And in love.
There were mechanical whines in the distance, and Vorobyov wasn't sure what they were. Not that it mattered. He did not like being out in the open, but this woman was making things far more difficult than they should have been. It was taking too long, and he decided to end it.
Vorobyov grabbed Rossella and shook her, repeating his screams of box. Her attire was geared for winter, and while he consciously hoped that the device would simply fall out of her clothing, he secretly desired... something else.
What began as frisking had suddenly become groping. And what had begun as an act of cognitive thought had devolved into feral instinct.
Their bodies are dirty, but neither cares. The bunker in Ljubljana had afforded them their last experience with bathing, and to Margerison and Elona, the scent of the other only seems to further awaken subdued carnal desires. The lunar cycle is at its fullest, and the silhouette of her upper body reflects and refracts tiny pieces of broken moonlight through otherwise imperceptible beads of sweat. The effect is hypnotic, and his body continues to stiffen. A subconscious reaction within her stirs muscles long out of practice and there is a quiet internal embrace. Gasps crescendo into a song that quickens the heartbeat of the man beneath. He feels her once-trapped fluids free themselves and escape across the landscape of skin so rarely exposed.
Realizing that more than her life was at stake, Rossella tried to crawl away. The back of her head hurt and she was unaware that it was bleeding. In retrospect, that ignorance was a mixed blessing, lest she have fainted from the knowledge. She managed to kick Vorobyov away when she felt his hands fumbling for her belt. Still, in the sheer violence of that moment, he had torn part of her waistline, exposing the pale skin of her buttocks.
Vorobyov's mind had shut off, his concern no longer with the device nor even the possibility of approaching machines. He was angry. Angry at Rossella for lying to him. Angry at the world for being destroyed. Angry at himself for being unable to control a woman. Without any thought, he dropped his pants below his knees and threw himself on the Italian. She cried out. It was a cry full of more anguish and despair than Vorobyov had ever heard. But it was not enough to make him stop.
Elona moans and it carries into the distance. Margerison listens in futility for its echo as Elona repeats her moans, louder and louder. He smiles at his lack of control and revels in it. Elona shifts her body in what seems every direction as she rides his hips. There is no question as to whom has taken the lead. She grabs his left hand and softly spits on it, cleaning his fingers with her own. Confused at first, all is quickly revealed as she guides his hand to her clitoris, forcing his fingers into a gentle circular motion until he begins to recreate the motion on his own. He has already come, evidenced by the pooling of ejaculate between their bodies, but the stimulation of his psyche is so complete, he has no intention of letting his lover come down... she desires him inside of her and deserves her pleasure. Right here, right now, in the midst of apocalypse, he lives only to serve the Russian woman, feeling her way towards ecstasy above him.
"No," Rossella cried. Then again, louder. "No!"
Vorobyov penetrated her, and Rossella's dryness irritated him. It should not have felt the way it did. She must be a deceiving woman. She must. He grabbed her hair and pulled back on her neck, prepared for a second thrust.
He did not see Argent, much less heard him, when the American's body slammed into him and rolled him a few meters down the foothill. He was also unaware that Argent placed a gun to the back of his head.
"Put it down," said Kuznetsov. "I will deal with my own men."
Argent turned toward Kuznetsov and glared. "This motherfucker's gonna die."
"Maybe. But not yet." Kuznetsov motioned for Vorobyov to pull his pants up and then asked the would-be rapist a question, all the while maintaining his aim at Argent. Vorobyov responded, fastened his belt, and recovered his weapon. Kuznetsov pointed at Argent, and Vorobyov leveled his rifle at the American. Kutznetsov then walked over to Rossella, who was visibly shaking and clearly terrified, and tried to place a hand on her shoulder. She smacked it away and tried to hide herself in the ground. It was a sad thing to see - a woman trying to will herself to disappear within such rocky terrain - and Argent wanted to reach out to her, but knew that Vorobyov would shoot for any reason.
"The device," began Kuznetsov. "Where is it?"
Rossella did not respond.
Elona squeals with delight - screams, actually - as her body quivers almost uncontrollably. This is a moment she has wanted and waited for. The right lover at the right time. Serendipity brought them together - a cold, hard, tragic serendipity - and she can't help but thank it.
Morning, Yesterday: There was a loud crack combined with a muffled splash. Vorobyov's body fell limply to the ground, his head disintegrated. For Rossella, the action did not register. Argent and Kuznetsov, however, knew immediately what happened.
Nearly a kilometer away, Calvin lowered binoculars from his face. "Dude. His head is gone."
Juin, prone and not happy about having killed a fellow human, grimaced.
Behind them, the scattered and burned remains of Zaitzev still smoldered across the landscape, under the shadows of the Mercury scouts. In front of them, Marciszewksi rested dead, a ballistic entry wound in his back and its exit wound in his chest.
Calvin returned to examining the Pole. "You're sure this is Russian caliber?"
Juin nodded, never taking his aim from Kuznetsov's head. On the foothill, the Russian dropped his weapon, knelt to the ground, and raised his hands over his head. Argent rushed Kutzetsov and hit him in the face with the butt of his carbine.
The Frenchman looked at Calvin and stood. "Let's find out about this cat."
Evening, Today: Two lovers breathe beneath the night sky, amid the sounds of machines rebuilding a world once lost. Elona places her head on Margerison's chest, listening to his heartbeat as she blissfully falls asleep. They are lost in the magic.
Unbeknown to them, four soldiers and a woman make their approach across European terrain as quickly as their legs can carry them. One soldier, the Russian, runs with his hands tied behind his back and tethered to the mulatto. The woman runs blindly, hiding her consciousness somewhere within her own mind.
Nightmare and daydream begin their slow collision, threatening to reawaken their dreamers into what's left of the real world.
*continued in Gray Matter