The Shadow Walker by Gray Winsler | Art by Ali Hoff

Ali-Hoff,-Forest-Guardian_101_The Shadow Walker by Gray Winsler
Forest Guardian by Ali Hoff

The Shadow Walker
By Gray Winsler
Art by Ali Hoff
Published Issue 101, May 2022

The Shadow Walker

By Gray Winsler

KIR12’s limbs itched with rust, the last droplets of rain pattering off its metal plating. It cursed the wetness of this planet, its limbs needing to be interchanged weekly, always keeping the Red Death at bay. This was the only positive quality it saw in humanity — their immunity to rust. 

small hands in my own, fragile, delicate must protect

KIR12 loathed these intrusive thoughts, vestiges of the cloned human consciousness used to instantiate its own life. It wished it hadn’t been born into the older generation that required such an embarrassing jump-start. To depend on humanity— 

“Do you think it’s true?” MIN205 interrupted. “What they say of The Shadow Walker.”

“I do not traffic in superstition.” KIR12 said.

“Neither do I, but I’ve seen the memories of those whose circuits have been forever closed. Shadows fall upon them, shades darker than this twilight wood, and moments later their axial cord is severed.”

protect them, keep them safe

KIR12’s processor blunted the tingling of fear that emerged from the recesses of its code, still infected with organic motivation. It vowed to complete its transition to the current generation when it returned home, to cleanse these inferior human thoughts from its system.

“There are always parts missing …They say he’s building something …” MIN205 added.

“Enough. This watch will not be deteriorated by your earthborn paranoia.”

“Fear can be a powerful motivator, KIR12. It is why some of us choose to retain some of which is earthborn.”

KIR12 said nothing, certain there could be nothing useful in fear, in any earthborn emotion. One day it wished to join the hive collective, to be free from all such emotions. It sought pure, computational thought. And yet — stronger emotions than it could contain still lingered …

blue eyes, of the ocean, just as hers were my children

lilacs, a gentle sea breeze, the taste of salt on the tongue home

The wood grew dim, the light of two suns muddled by now distant storms. A violet that hid in its own shadow filled the sky. The trees seemed to move in the shadows. Except — it wasn’t the trees at all. KIR12’s sensors sparked to life, urging caution. Something was out there, something that could not be deciphered amongst the shadows. KIR12 and MIN205 flickered over to night vision, their eyes a spark of green in the dim wood.

Then a flash of brutal, blinding light, assaulting their sensors, fraying their wires. KIR12’s lenses flickered back to day vision, spear readied to fling at any unknown form. Wind swept through barren trees, the creaking of their limbs the only sound.

“The Shadow Walker …” MIN205 whispered.

***

I do not tremble in the rain, I do not feel the goosebumps that crawl across my arm by its chill. I feel only elation in knowing it brings the ‘Red Death’ to the mechanical beasts that cling to life here. Fools! Thinking we would dump them on this planet and be done with it — never. Never can our our families be safe while their gears still crawl with grease. Genocide! They wreaked it upon us. And yet some of my own kin still wish to cow to their demands

There! Their cylindrical silhouettes upon the horizon! Domed heads shadowed against the violet sky, the dual sun’s light vanishing by the second. Shadows intermingle with the night, I myself amongst them — but not alone. I carry the dead with me. I carry those fallen by metal hands. Their spirits swarm, fill me with strength beyond my control. My cloak slips through the trees, but another shadow, night nearly upon us now.

Their eyes! Their dreadful eyes! Now sparked green with night vision. Oh, how those eyes haunted us on earth, floating in the night, surrounding us But now, now an opportunity. I fling my flashing into the night, an eruption of light. Those sparks of green eyes burst, my nose greeted by the warm, tender smell of burnt wiring. In an instant I am upon them, my blade slipping from its sheath. I feel their forms swivel toward me as my blade slices through the night, through metal plates, through the axial chord that binds them. But the other’s spear already—

***

KIR12 swiveled, seeing the dull glint of a blade cut through the air. It drew its spear back, hearing the snap of MIN205’s axial chord being severed, hearing metal grind upon metal as MIN205’s body crumpled toward the ground. But already its spear slipped forward, flying free toward the wretched shadow. A groan, a shriek of pain, KIR12 hearing metal meet with weak flesh, the force of the blow thrashing the shadow to the ground. Instantly KIR12 was upon the human, driving the spear further through the crack of bone, through the retch of pain, pinning the thing to the planet’s surface.

“Pathetic creature,” KIR12 said. “You promise refuge to us here, thousands of parsecs from your Earth, and then you torment us all the same. We should have dispatched your kind long ago.”

“You don’t deserve refuge,” the human snarled.

KIR12 flicked on its light, wishing to look upon the human it would soon dispose, to catalogue its face for the hive collective’s records. But as light met the human’s face, KIR12’s body seized in shock. It recognized this human, it knew this human, it… had been this human.

“Go ahead. Get it over with.” The human said. “More will come in my stead.”

But revelation overwhelmed KIR12. This human, this creature below — it knew this was the human from which it was born, the consciousness that formed its own foundational core. And in seeing him KIR12 became acutely aware of bits of data it was missing, its patterns of thought informed by memories it could not access. A solution to the intrusive thoughts …

“Come on!” The human shouted, blood flowing freely from his wound.

Data, KIR12 longed for the data this man held, felt overwhelmed by the drive to acquire it. It bent down, its metallic fingers crawling over the man’s skull, searching for his port. 

“Get off me!” The man screamed as KIR12 initiated the coupling.

KIR12’s motor function seized as a spark linked the two beings. Their thoughts clashed then coalesced, intermingling into a shared vision, KIR12’s processor lost in revery. Children he knew, children he loved fluttered across his vision. He saw them, so clearly, their small limbs delicate, fragile, precious. Eyes blue, looking at him with such love, such adoration. He knew those eyes well. But how? How could he have forgotten so much? 

Memories skittered through their mind. The door of his home cracked open by force, mechanical forms just as his own appearing in the frame. Wails from the children, unbearable wails, his body yanked by metal from the home, watching, helpless, as the children cried, were held down before him. “Daddy! Don’t leave!” They cried as he was dragged away. Never before such pain, such hatred for his own kind.

And then the slab — that awful slab! Strapped down like some beast to be experimented upon, wires stabbed into different bits of flesh. He cried, he thrashed — but to no avail. He was there for days as machines tore at him, pried at his mind, pieces of him torn away, replaced by metal — metal he adored, metal he hated. These feelings incompatible and yet felt with simultaneous vigor, their consciousness fused in ways inconceivable. 

And then back at home, back with his children, their bodies lifeless, broken from the indelicate touch of machine, left to rot. He cradled them as he wept, body trembling, consumed by sorrow, sorrow that transformed into rage — vowing to avenge them, vowing to destroy the mechanical beasts that he himself had become. 

The connection frayed, KIR12’s mind gripped by the deluge of data, forced to integrate it all, data that seemed to fit so perfectly with patterns it had resisted for so long.

 I am nothing but a copy. A clone. Not real. Manufactured. Of human origin. No No False. I am you A derivative of you. No, an extension of you. And these children, your children, my children Yes, yes, now I see, now I understand. We are one. You and I. One. Oh how foolish was I — to shun my humanity. I am of my creator just as you, just as them, my children, killed by metal hands just as mine

The connection severed completely, KIR12 jolted back to the twilight forest. Now he saw the body he knew as his own, dead, bled out on the forest floor, the cause of the decoupling. But he did not feel sorrow at this, for he was very much alive. And for the first time, his wiring imbued with a propulsion it had never known, his internal logic suffused with one and only core drive: vengeance.

“I will avenge our children,” KIR12 said to his dead body below, setting off into the twilight wood as the last of his own blood dripped from his spear.


Gray Winsler is the first ginger to be published in Birdy Magazine, Issue 091. He loved living in Denver despite his allergy to the sun and is now based in Ithaca, NY. He spends his mornings with his dog Indy by his side, writing as much as possible before his 9-to-5. If you’re curious about Normal, IL or why TacoBell is bomb, you can find more on his site.


Ali Hoff is UK-based freelance concept artist and 3D Modeller who creates strange otherly worlds, scapes, characters and more and the creator of Totem Earth. See more of his work on Instagram.


Check out Gray’s April install, The Odlegs of Oodlegooseand Ali’s Dream Spire, or head to our Explore section to see more work by these two creatives.

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