Chapter I:

Fitful Sleeper

Gabriel Lucan's Journal—Thursday, March 18

            I hate my life.

            That basically sums up everything I feel right now, and have felt for the past dozen years.  My life since I was seven has been one fiasco after another, and I'm getting sick of it.  I'm stuck working for my older brother and his girlfriend, my coworker is a sociopath, and because of my job, I'm failing in school.

            Long ago, I resolved myself to the fact that nothing in my life would ever be truly and completely "all right."

           

Addition as of 4:37 PM, March 18

            I've been busy  lately.  Grypps is a damned slave-driver, when it comes to getting his precious Archons online.

            He doesn't care a wit about the controllers—Me and Eiji.  We're just means to further his ends.  I swear, there hasn't been a day when I haven't considered telling him to "go to hell."  It would be worth it, just to see him loose that shit-eating grin of his for a heartbeat.

            But I guess he does have a reason for acting like he does.  He wants to prove to the PGTO that Iter can stand on its own feet.  He wants them to stop looking so he can do what he wants.  I can tell.

            The bastard.

            Dammit, I gotta go.  Chris' calling me and Seth to dinner.

            "Gabriel, Seth, c'mon!" Christine shouted from the dinner table.  She was the only one out of the three that could cook even remotely well, and she wouldn't win any awards with it.

            Gabriel stood from his desk, closing the Electrodyne Book, the two transparent sheets of plastic went blank, and the words "Good Bye" flashed on them for a second, then even those faded.

            He was average height, with a rangy, well-toned build, and long thin limbs.  He wasn't the best-looking of people out there, looking clumsy, awkward and slightly effeminate, but he wasn't ugly.  He was dressed in his normal clothes—combat pants and a white t-shirt.

            His black hair came down past his ears, and some even hung down into his slanted, ice-blue eyes, probably his most striking feature.

            "I'm coming!" he shouted, as he turned off the pad.

            Seth was taller, and in better shape than Gabriel, but otherwise looked the same.  He was still dressed in his Iter uniform from work, and, from the state his hair was in, had been sleeping when Christine called.

            "Hard at work, Gabe?" he asked.

            "Something like that," was the response from the younger brother.

            They entered the dining room, where Christine had already started in on dinner without them.

            Christine Valence was an attractive woman of twenty-five, a year older than Seth, with long, brunette hair and tanned skin.  She was short and slender, but still about twice as physically capable as Gabriel would ever be.

            "What's for dinner?" Gabriel asked, sitting down.

            "Pasta," she said.

            "What kind?" Gabe asked.

            "I don't know.  It came out of a packet, and has red sauce.  I don't really pay attention, more pressing concerns most of the time," she said, putting another fork-full of the stuff into her mouth.

            "Aha," Seth said, looking dubiously down at his plate, then at Christine.  Not wanting to offend her, he quickly dug in, followed momentarily by his little brother.

            "So how's school, Gabe?" Christine asked.

            "My studies are slipping because of work," he responded, bluntly.

            "That's alright.  Your work is very important, without you, we'd be behind by at least three years."

            Like I give a damn, he thought, but didn't say anything out loud.

            "True, true.  According to commander Dekarov, We'll be performing some field tests soon."

            "Ah," Gabriel responded, not terribly enthused.  Field tests.  Wow.  All the discomfort of a controlled test, with twice the danger.

            "Is something wrong?" Christine asked, noticing that Gabriel was less than half-finished with dinner, whereas she and Seth had finished at least ten minutes ago.

            "I'm not that hungry," Gabriel responded.

            "Why?  You sick?" she asked, leaning over and putting the palm of her hand on his forehead.

            "I'm fine…just didn't get enough sleep last night.  Cramming," he said, knowing that they'd accept that response, "I've got to get back to work," he said, picking up his plate, and taking it into the kitchen, then going back to his room.

Addition as of 7:26 PM, March 18

            I trust Seth and Chris.

            I really do.

            But, I mean…Seth usually wouldn't have anything to do with me, I'm just his annoying  little brother.  He only keeps me around because I can Conjunct with an Archon, but they won't let me live alone.

            "Mentally unstable" my ass.  I'm perfectly fine, simply because I tried to get out once, via a razorblade, doesn't mean I'll try it again.  It was more of the "cry for help" type suicides than the "I want to die" kind.

            And now, Seth is in the room every time I shave, watching me.  Plus, he  keeps his razors in a locked drawer in his room.

            Never mind that He never watches where he puts his pistol.  I'm usually the one that finds it lying around in the morning.

            But that was a year and a half ago, I'm fine now.  I haven't tried anything since, and I've still got the scar from the razor, so now, everyone who meets me knows I'm messed up from the start.

            Most people don't ask about it, just stare at it.  Those who do get the calm response that "I'd rather not talk about it," once in a while, though, when I really need a laugh, I tell them that I cut myself shaving, then watch their expressions.

            I haven't done that in seven months.

            In fact, I haven't talked to anyone but Chris, Seth, Eiji or Doc for that long.  It really is kind of sad, I suppose.

            Gabriel sat in the back of the lecture hall, while the professor, a heavyset man with graying hair who was dressed in a tweed suit, spoke to the class about the psychology of identity development.

            He had selected this course on a whim, not really knowing why he had done so.  Anyway, Iter was paying his way through it, so he decided he might as well choose something that looked interesting at the moment instead of something that would look good on a resume years from now.

            "Why should my education have anything to do with his job?" he had asked his brother, who had been unable to give him a coherent answer on the subject.

            In fact, Gabriel had no idea why he had chosen this course.  He had never been particularly interested in any subject, and here he was, in a number of classes on a wide variety of them.

            The truth was, Gabriel didn't really want to be in college.  He didn't really want to be anywhere.  Life held no interest for him any longer.

            He was snapped out of his reverie as the people around him began to move, picking up their books and heading for the exits.  Gabriel just shook his head, and began to get up, collect his things, and move outside into the overcast, British afternoon.

            "Lucan," a low, scratchy voice said.  Its owner was leaning next to the door, waiting for him to exit the classroom.

            Eiji Sanjuro was about handspan shorter than Gabriel, but was built like a bamboo stalk, tough, slender, and powerful.  He epitomized everything Gabriel wasn't, a fact which often made the other resent his presence, though not openly.

            "What is it, Eiji?" he asked, shifting his book bag.

            "The field tests have been moved up—they will be taking place Monday," was the terse response.

            "Oh, is that all?" Gabriel asked.

            "What?  You were expecting something more?" Eiji responded.

            "Well, I mean, they sent you to tell me, so I assumed it was something urgent."

            "Something urgent?  Why would they send me in the first place?  I could handle it."

            "So you say," Gabriel responded, walking by the Japanese man.

            "Up yours, Lucan," was the friendly response.

            Four hours later found Gabriel in the examination room belonging to Marcus Black, whom preferred to be called "Doc," as it was the least honorific term that still fit his profession.

            Marcus, himself, was a tall man, with an unruly mop of black hair over a tired face.  His eyes had dark circles under them, and his beak-like nose made him look slightly more threatening than he was.

            "So…what are the problems you've got again?" he asked, his deep voice lightly accented, betraying him as a native of London.

            "Fatigue and headaches," he stated simply.

            "Aha," the doctor looked down at the electrodyne pad, the ubiquitous piece of equipment displaying a list of possible afflictions.

            "What've I got, Doc?" Gabriel asked, blinking in the too-bright fluorescent lighting.

            "There's a variety of things you could have, so I'll have to run some tests on you.  I should have the results back to you in a couple days.  Until then, stick with your normal pain killers, and get plenty of rest."

            "Right, thanks," Gabriel said, standing, he headed towards the door, about to leave.

            "Gabriel," the doctor said, looking up from the pad.

            "Yes?" he asked, turning.

            "Don't overexert yourself.  Iter's got a lot of money invested in you, and I've spent too much time treating you to let it go to waste."

            "You don't need to bother telling me that, Doc.  I already know," he said, smiling in a melancholy way, and exited the room.

            "I swear, he doesn't listen to me one bit," the doctor growled, grimacing, then said to himself, as if as a reminder, "I do hope he lives through this."

            Gabriel Lucan's Journal—Saturday, March 21

            Doc's a great guy.  Probably the closest thing I've got to a real friend around here.  I mean, Sure, caring for me is his job, but he actually works at it—he makes no secret of the fact that it's his job, but he doesn't hide the fact that he may be a bit concerned.

            He probably thinks of me as the little brother he never had, or some shit like that.  Ah, well.  At least he acts like an older brother should.

            Seth's never really done anything for me.  At least, nothing he wasn't required to, whether it was by law or by his job.  He's just trying to get by, and I'm a burden.  I can tell.

            I don't mind.  I've been alone my whole life, and, even though I live under the same roof as him and Christine, I'm more alone than ever.  No one's ever really given a damn about me, and I don't mind.

            I don't mind being alone.

            In fact, I prefer it.

            Yeah, Gabe.  Just keep telling yourself that.  Maybe you'll start believing it, eventually.

            I know that no one can live by themselves.  The company of others is necessary for a human being to survive.  I wish it wasn't.  But, then again, no one really cares if I survive or not.  Not even me.  People get mad when I say that, but it's the truth.

            Gabriel stood in the observation gallery over the Tomb.

            "The Tomb" was an affectionate term for the Archon holding area—two massive forms lay, inert in a pair of coffin-like depressions in the ground.  Two more were in the same hanger, each was thirty meters long, and the room itself was seventy meters to a side.

            Mephistopheles grinned up at him, the black-shelled giant lay there, in its depression, its arms held down with bars made out of crystal titanium, the diamond-like metal would stand up to just about anything the Archon could do.

            The Archon itself was a thirty-meter tall human-like construct, a perverse melding of flesh and machine, created from human cells and steel.  Never before had anything so unnatural existed.  Even in the Devil Wars of thirty years ago, nothing like them had been created.

            It was armored in black crystalline metal, melded to the enamel shell that covered its skin like a samurai's armor.  Its face was a grinning death's head, its red eyes dull, unlit, as of now.  Two massive horns curved down to nearly meet each other, right in front of its mouth.

            The mouth was probably the most terrifying aspect of the Archon—the later models had their mouths covered, but Mephisto's wasn't, and its razor-like teeth were visible, because it possessed no lips. 

            Gabriel shivered.  He couldn't shake the sensation that the giant construct watched him, as he looked down at it, grinning.

            He could almost hear it speak:

            I devoured Faustus' soul whole.  You, I'll shred into pieces, and eat, bit by bit, because you can't run.

            Gabriel shivered, and stepped back, away from the window.

            "It's looking at you, isn't it?"

            Gabriel looked over at the only other person present.  Eiji was looking out the window, down at his Archon.

            "Y…yes…" Gabriel said.

            "Mine watches me," he said, not turning from where he looked.

            Yama was the first of three pre-production models Iter had produced.  It had three eyes, and its mouth was covered by a plate of armor.  It was colored white, a stark contrast to the fuliginous coloring of its companion unit.

            "I'm afraid to look at it…but I'm more afraid to look away," the Japanese boy conceded, crossing his arms, and shivering.

            Gabriel placed a hand on Eiji's shoulder, and gently pulled him back, to a place where he couldn't look into the three eyes that glared, soullessly, from Yama's face.

            His companion breathed a sigh of relief, as if he had been incapable of performing the same feet.

            "I must be going, Lucan.  Have a nice day," he said, returning to his normal, unpleasant self.

Addition as of 4:22 PM

            Eiji isn't really the friendly type.  In fact, most of the time, he can be a real bastard.  I get the feeling that he'd rather be somewhere else, most of the time.

            It's not like I haven't tried to be friendly, but, I mean…it's so hard to approach people, sometimes…I'm just not cut out to be around other people, no matter how much I need their company.

            Dammit, Gabe…stop…I know I shouldn't be thinking about this.  I can tell, because I keep glancing down at my wrist, at the scar marring the otherwise untouched complexion.

            How long would it take for all of the primal red to spill out?  For the water of life to leave me completely?

Dammit!  Why do I think like this?  I thought I was getting better!  That's always the way it is…just when I'm starting to act normal, something wells up from deep inside. 

Some deeply-buried, self-loathing beast that displaces me from the throne of consciousness.  It boils up, and I feel like I'm going to loose control completely.

I bet Seth never has problems like this…or Christine…or Eiji, for that matter.  He's what I was originally talking about, right?  Yeah…that's it.  Eiji.

I find it's a lot easier to deal with life when I don't think about it.  If I think too much, I begin to get certain ideas and…better stop there.

Why does this happen to me?

I mean, my life is no bed of roses, but I'm not suffering overly much, or anything.  Sure, Grypps can be tough, as can Christine and Seth, but I'm not suffering.

Maybe I'm just frustrated…I've got so little control over my own life.  They just define everything for me.

That's it…I want out.

Tomorrow was the day.

The apartment containing the Lucan/Valence family was practically buzzing with apprehension.  There was a feeling of barely-contained excitement blanketing the entire household.

Even Gabriel seemed excited, a rare condition.  He didn't sit at his desk, writing in his electrodyne notebook, that morose, thoughtful look on his face.

            He sat in the armchair in the unused study, looking out the window that made up most of the wall facing the outside.

            Licking his lips, his eyes studied the small park across from the apartment building, following a random person for a few seconds, focusing on the statue of some war-hero in the middle for a moment, then looking at the trees.

            He never really went outside, unless he had a destination.  There was just no interest in doing so—he always had studying to do, or Iter work.

            But now, he cleared his mind, and stared out the window, wondering.

            Maybe, just this once, he should take a look around—it couldn't hurt.

            It still being March, the outside air was cool and crisp, so he had opted to wear his denim jacket, a garment Chris had tried, time and again, to get rid of.

            Much to her consternation, he had foiled every one of her attempts.

            It had been extremely large on him, when he had first gotten it, when he was thirteen, but he had managed to grow a bit, so that it was only a little too big.

            Gabriel didn't know that much about his neighborhood in New Norwich—he knew his way to the train station, and the schedules, so he could get to his classes down at Cambridge, or to Iter.

            Whatever could be said about him, no one would ever say that Grypps shirked when it came to the important things—he had bought Gabriel and Eiji spots in Cambridge when it came time for them to go to college, as well as reserving two more spots.

            However, he had no clue about anything outside of those areas.  He had never seen where Eiji lived, had never seen the market where Seth or Christine bought all the food he ate, or anything.

            Putting his hands in his pockets, he decided it was time to look around town, something he had never really done before, or even bothered to consider.