<h1>After the Giant's War</h1>
<h3>by Emily McCosh</h3>
<h4>art by David Demaret</h4>
[[START THE STORY->once upon a time...]]
No one keeps dates anymore, no one except the elders in old London, hundreds of miles away. They keep time: centuries, decades, years, months, weeks, even days. [[But no one else->again.]]
I hook my fingers around the metal ladder rungs and climb.
It is so old. This giant. The Cyrrack. Older than anyone alive, older than everyone except me. The numbers inscribed into the stone-metal of its body say 3037. A marking of time, [[a date.]]
No one keeps time since the Giant’s War ended.
It ended over a century ago, and [[I can remember it.]]
Once upon a time, they came from the sky, from the ground, from the last places we would expect. Big and small, anchored to the land or launched into the air. They took our people, and [[some of us became like them.]]
And somewhere, in the midst of the madness, the planet we called Earth fell. I have forgotten at what point we found our bravery again. But we took weapons to them, ripped their machines from our bodies, and held on.
No one is alive to remember the war, no one except me, and now the Cyrracks stand as empty and solitary shells marking the landscape. [[Reminders of broken lives and old courage.]]
Half alive, half machine, incapable of looking out at the world with colorful [[eyes->I can remember it.]].
I pull the rope to tighten it around a beam of shredded stone-metal above my head. The Cyrrack is the largest of its kind, body long and rounded like a cucumber, with a dozen legs planted firmly into the ground. Its pointed, spear-like head lays fragmented and half buried in the dirt hundreds of feet below me. The technology of the giants has been forgotten with the war, so I use rope to lower myself down, looking into the vast cavern of its body.
[[Eeki is with me, and that is a comfort.]]
I catch myself on the railing of walkways crisscrossing the Cyrrack’s inner shell, standing inside its body, over a hundred feet in the air.
[[Eeki clicks and hisses in my ear.]]
She clings to my back, a relic of the war like me, a little flesh and machine creature with ten legs and cat-like body. Her kind were used as sniffer dogs, hunting down the injured in groups and carrying them away to safety with a flurry of legs and ticking hums. I love her, continually nursing life out of her aging mechanical body. She settles under my cloak and in-between my shoulder blades, [[purring gentle clicking noises->Reminders of broken lives and old courage.]].
She remembers these giants like I do.
[[She remembers Iden.]]
Before the war was won, in the middle of it, in the dirt and the blood and the misery of it, just before Iden was taken, we gave each other two presents. We exchanged gold rings, and we gave half our hearts over to machines, so that no matter how many unmarked years passed we could only die together.
It’s been over one hundred years since I met him, and now, long after everyone I know is gone, [[I can still remember him, still remember how he was]] before the Cyrracks took him, before he was ripped to pieces and put back together again.
The Cyrracks tore him to pieces, put their own machines in him, and made him their toy soldier. And when the time came, he ripped those machines back out.
Now half my old heart ticks to a stop, and the other half ticks it [[back on again.]]
He was the boy who held my hand but was too afraid to kiss me. Who took my breath away with his crooked smile. Who gave me half his real heart so we could be together for an eternity if we wished. Who saw his younger brother and older sister taken by the giants who fell from the sky. The boy who went away to war and one hundred years ago [[promised he would come back->She remembers Iden.]].
There is something still alive in the Cyrrack. Every step down its body sends whispers though the air, a metallic hiss that wraps itself around my spine and squeezes. Eeki thrums two of her hind legs against my back, her little body showing all her indignant anger. She hates them as I do, and her little mind still remembers a century ago. Still remembers the other half of me that is somewhere in this giant. There are no signs of life in the great creature, but [[its words]] still ring clear enough.
Have you read
About the Cyrracks
Your husband’s not here
To his [[fear!]]</i>
It sings to me, long forgotten nightmares that haunted Iden, and now my own dreams as well. I crouch and press my palms to my ears, squeezing my eyes shut until red dots swim in the darkness. If I don’t find Iden here, if his body has long surrendered to death, then I am no better than the monsters. An empty shell.
I grab the railing, hauling myself up. The catwalk groan and shrieks under my weight, as if latching on to my weakness. My stomach drops as it gives out entirely, depositing me onto the level below with [[crushing darkness]].
It sings to me, long forgotten nightmares that haunted Iden, and now my own dreams as well.
And I tell it that <i>it</i> is dead, that it has been dead for so long, and that I’m still here. Eeki and I are still here, and soon Iden will be as well.
After all, he made me [[the promise.]]
Before the war was won, Iden promised to come back.
“Do you remember my brother and sister,” he would ask, “I will not be like them. I will be strong for you. This heart beating in my chest is strong enough to always return. I love you.”
I loved him too, and I believed him, but he never made it back. So I made a promise to his half-beating-heart wherever it was that I would be the strong one. I would be the strong one and someday <i>I</i> would find <i>him</i>. No matter what they did to him, I would always find him. I prayed his half-beating-heart [[heard me]].
I breathe, straighten my shoulders, and walk on. We're almost to the end of [[it]].
The giant is long, and through the broken entrance the sun moves down a finger’s width in the sky by the time I’m nearing the end. There are still no [[life signs]], and I search whatever bodies remain for something familiar. It’s no use to call out to Iden, even if his half-machine-heart has kept him alive all these years, he will be far from conscious in his ruined body.
The last of the rooms to search is mostly glass, and here the rebellion is still present and ugly. It is a weapon’s room, with three large guns hanging uselessly out the window. Sunlight drifts in, and machine bodies with their old, no longer living flesh lay on the floor, in the chairs, and leaning over the weapons. They have long since rotted away, but Iden will not have. His heart will have kept him alive all these years, even in a half-dead state.
Eeki launches up off my shoulders and floats almost weightlessly to the ground, scurrying off to find Iden. I walk the bodies, searching for one still mostly intact. Eeki screeches and clicks, [[calling me to her]].
[[...despite the whispering...->it]]
I leap over a chair and fallen stone-metal beam of the giant to where Eeki is. She is spinning around and around on the back of a man draped limply over fallen debris. I pull the wreckage away from his body and roll his lifeless form face up.
[[He is not as I remember him.]]
Eeki gives a shrill cry of worry and jumps to the control panel next to me, pressing buttons as she dances across. It powers up weakly and [[a voice—not the whispers of the Cyrrack—vibrates in the air]].
Half the face, the right side, has been replaced by stone-metal. When I peel that right eye open it is not the lovely color of his green, but a blue-white organic-machine material like our half-hearts. The right leg is completely stone-metal, and only veins of flesh run through his arm. Most of the right half of his torso is the same. His left arm has bands of stone-metal running through it. The mechanical parts of his face have been ripped to pieces, [[but the rest of him still seems to be intact.->calling me to her]]
<i>Soldier Number 1,396. Deceased December 7, 3037. All machine and organic organs failed. [[Half-heart: still functional.]]</i>
I breathe a sigh of relief; the panel should be able to bring him back on its own. Eeki does her dance across it, and Iden gasps, his good eye flying open, and then he collapses back limply, breathing ragged. The panel fires up again.
<i>Machine organs: [[not functional]]. No support for half-heart. Organs operational for minus two minutes.</i>
I punch the panel, my knuckles stinging and leaving a dent in the soft metal, then pull open the worn cover on Iden’s torso. The shell covered the damage, his insides have been ripped apart like his face. [[For the first time, I notice his left hand]].
I smack the panel again—it only [[replies with infuriating emotionlessness]].
<i>Half-heart needs outside support to function. Please supply outside support. Organs operational for minus one minute, thirty seconds.</i>
I mumble and swear to myself, overturning the weapons room in search of something, anything. The whispering walls of the giant taunt me, but quiet when I throw a piece of debris out into the cavern of its insides. The panel reminds me at irregular intervals that he is dying, my Iden is dying <i>again</i>.
<i>Minus one minute, fifteen seconds…
Minus one minute…
Minus fifty seconds…
[[Minus forty seconds…]]</i>
I lift it, still flesh as it should be, and his fingers have been shredded and burnt. [[Even after a century the wounds still show of what he did to himself to escape this creature.->not functional]]
I sit down and stare at him, at what’s left of the boy and man I used to know, slowly and unconsciously dying. One hundred years—my half-heart kept me alive one hundred years just so I could <i>watch</i> him die. In my chest the real half of my heart ticks off, and the organic stone-metal ticks it back on. I stop breathing and grab my chest, fingers digging into my skin.
<i>[[Minus thirty seconds…]]</i>
I overturn the panel, yanking one of the glowing energy-transfer plugs out of it, and scramble back to Iden, sitting in his lap. I rip my cloak back, pulling my shirt away to expose [[my chest]].
I fumble to open my own small cover to my half-heart, unlocking my chest to expose the blue-white half of the heart, coated in a blood-like slime to keep it moist and warm. The energy vibrates against my fingers when I push them in, trying to secure one end of the chord to the life filled machine.
<i>[[Minus ten seconds…]]</i>
Most can’t come to terms with what’s in my body. It is both ancient and advanced, but I was alive for it, and my father and mother taught me all about it when I was a child, when things like this were the way of the world. I learned first-hand when I bound my life to Iden’s, but now anything resembling me is like the Cyrrack, a lifeless shell. Iden, Eeki and I will be the three survivors of our age. [[We will be miracles->Minus thirty seconds…]].
I growl at the panel and claw at the cover over Iden’s heart. His breathing has slowed to only one labored breath every few seconds as I finally get it open. Even after a century of disuse, the blue-white half of his heart looks healthy enough. I push my fingers with the chord into the opening.
<i>Minus five seconds…
I scream at it again as I twist the cord against his heart. His breathing fades away.
<i>[[Organ systems: failed.]]</i>
[[Not today. Today, our hearts connect.]]
I look up, praying, listening, for anything. The world is silent. Not even Eeki creaks as she turns her head between the two of us. I rest my head against his chest, too exhausted to cry. His ribs dig into my cheek, silent and unmoving.
My heart pumps my life into his motionless chest, weakening slowly. I curl into his lap, pulling his arm over my shoulder, closing my eyes. I feel drained already, shaky, my muscles tired. Eeki prods me, clicking softly.
“Eeki, sleep.” I order, offering my arm for her to tuck under.
She curls against me, purring as she powers down permanently. “Good girl.”
Power surges between the two of us. A shock runs through me, but it doesn’t hurt. I can feel his life, more than ever before, and unique from anything I’ve ever felt. Different than lying on his chest to hear his heart going ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom. Different than hearing his breath when we kiss. It’s like nothing I’m ever felt, and it’s like listening to a music so beautiful it erases everything else.
[[I listen]], and wait...
...taking his half machine, half human face in my hands and staring at the heart in his chest. And, after long breaths, the muscle of that stone-metal heart finally moves.
I count them until they’re steady, until the pulse between my heart and his is a gentle rhythm. He breathes, and his eyes open, the mechanical right one just a slit. They focus on me, then on Eeki when she lands on my shoulder, then back to me. His breathing chokes and a tear slips out his good eye.
I kiss him, pulling his limp and ragged body into my own and cradling him against me. He can’t kiss me back, not really, half his mouth is organic stone-metal, and limp from the damage, but his real hand hooks around my neck and clings to me. I kiss him for a long time—until he has to struggle from lack of air—and his lips are still warm and soft.
“The War…?” he asks when I let him breath. I can hear the worry laced in his voice, “Is it…?”
“It’s over,” I whisper, “We won, somehow…It is long, long over.”
He sighs and closes his eyes, and I kiss him gently on all the skin he can feel.
When his face is free of mine, Eeki lands on it, buzzing excitedly and twirling circles in his hair. The real half of his face curls up in a crooked smile, and it is <i>so</i> good to see. He realizes he can’t smile all the way, and his hand falls over the stone-metal in his face, [[and the smile falls out of his eyes]].
“Evie…?” he asks, [[“Are you…going to leave me?”]]
[[I would do anything to bring it back.->“Evie…?”]]
I hold him tighter. “No my silly love, I am going to take care of you, and when I’m done with that I am going to love you very, very hard.”
That earns my favorite smile back, mixed with relief and affection, and I kiss his still-human nose. [[The giant rumbles and whispers]], and Eeki’s legs go ramrod straight like a spooked cat.
“Evie…did you…tick off the giant?”
The Cyrrack begins to shake, and one of the guns breaks out the window, debris falling from the ragged ceiling. This thing is still alive, just barely, and it’s intent on burying us with it. Its last victims.
Iden coughs and chokes out, trying with all his strength to even sit up, “Run…”
I know inside we will never make it back to the broken entrance, but this windowed room is very close to the top of the giant’s body, and it is already starting to tip this way. We can jump from the window when we reach the ground. [[We are together, and there’s nothing left to lose.]]
I kick the straps on the closest gun free, and it rolls out the window, smashing more of the glass away. I pull Iden’s human arm over my shoulder, dragging his limp body to the one good leg he has. It’s atrophied after all this time.
[[Together, we manage.]]
[[Even so thin, he’s too heavy for me to handle.]]
Eeki screeches and settles back between my shoulder blades under my cloak. I grab Iden and hug him tightly against my chest—most of him is just as warm as I remember. I hope everyone who can see this giant watches it fall, the biggest of its kind, as we bring it down. No one believed I could find him, but they never felt his heart beating in mine. I kiss him with all the passion I have in me. When he looks me in the eyes, they say I love you.
<i>I love you too.</i>
We hold tightly to one another, and wait for the giant to fall.
We crumple to the ground in a heap, me cradling him like a child. I don’t know if we’ll make it like this, but wrapped around him, [[it doesn’t matter so much->Together, we manage.]].
Birds rest atop the stone-metal giant, a silence too heavy to measure penetrating the landscape down to the last blade of grass. Something so large should not be so silent, yet it stands—an erect and broken monument to something old and sad.
In my chest, half my heart ticks to a stop, and the other half ticks it back on [[again.]]
Eeki chirps above me, floating down like a spider on its string. My bones ache when I sit up, protesting the hard fall, and I settle the panic in my stomach with shaking breaths.
“Stupid,” I whisper, picking myself up, “stupid fool.”
Eeki lands in my hair, and the light from her little eyes offers some guidance in the darkness. Enough to see ladder rungs leading back up to the catwalk. I touch them, the cold seeping into my fingers. The Cyrrack moans, cheering at my fall.
“It’s just a machine.” I whisper, and the darkness hisses. I climb. Quickly. Faster than before. “You’re just an old machine.”
Eeki hums as I find an unbroken section of the walkway to pull myself onto.
We’re nearing the end. [[I won’t be so weak again->it]].
The Cyrrack is singing again, wordless, senseless noises. There is no anger in my heart, no fear. I’ve known this for a century: that living or dead, Iden and I would always be together. I’ve lived a lifetime to die beside him. And under that knowledge, the giant’s voice sounds less like victory, and more like a lullaby.
Singing of a different type of miracle.
<i>[[Back to the beginning->Title Page]]</i>.