The Adventures of Little Pinecone
rating: +12+x

One day, a child opened his eyes, and he found himself alive.

The child floated inside a tube of emerald liquid, the consistency of molasses. The child was blind and mute, and could barely move his webbed, malformed hands. Still, he could hear the words clearly, even through the ooze and the glass, past the metal barriers and the two sets of plexiglass separating his tank from the voice of someone who he didn’t know well but would soon enough.

“He is beautiful.” The voice said, and although he could not understand feelings, he found something warm in those words. “My little pinecone.”

The man pressed his hands against the plexiglass, and smiled, tears rolling down his eyes, fogging up his golden spectacles, being caught up on the rim of his prosthetic jaw. Even if the entity in the tank was ugly and broken, he saw opportunity.

“You will become my dear child.” The new father declared, and informed the research chief that they would proceed with him. The chief nods, then presses a button, which unlocks a second button, which he then presses. Unbeknownst to the child, twelve other children just like him have the ooze within their tanks removed, and they asphyxiate to death.

The father’s father was a boatmaker. And he would say that the first step to making a boat was to get the wood. It did not need to be the best, just the right one for the job. Oak and cedar, he’d say. Oak and cedar. And oh boy was this wood beautiful. Even as the father brought his tools upon the flesh, and scraped and scraped, the wood would not cry. The wood would not turn ugly, or bleed. The wood would simply move his little arms towards the father’s face, and touch his gentle cheeks, his grayed out moustache, the golden spectacles, still clinging to his face like the child wished he could do. It was adorable, and so the father took the little arms and cut into them, and broke bone and separated ligament and tore into muscle, and with a pair of long tweezers, he carefully connected wiring and metal plates together, injecting iron pellets and the nanomachinery required to fuse said pellets into building blocks, and connect the blocks within each major organ, and carve the child into the perfect boy, the one the father needed to have.

And the child smiled, because as his flesh was broken down and assimilated into steel and silicon, he received love.

The surgeries occurred once a week, then once a month, then once every two months, then three, and then they continued on each three throughout many years. In this way, the father made sure the child grew healthily, like a master gardener trimming his beloved bonsai. And this bonsai, he was a thing of wonder. At age four, he could withstand the attacks of a martial artist. At age six, he could survive a car falling on top of him, and dropping twenty meters into concrete slab. At age seven, he could do all of it without a single tear on his exterior skin. Then, at age eight, he was ready for formal education.

The father was not only a father, not only a carver, a scientist, but he was also a professor. He was the director of the most prestigious kaiju learning center in all of Toscana. Ah, Toscana, the land of good wine and even better art. The land of white marble towers and edifices, so tall they blocked out the sun. So tall they became the firmament. And soon, the father knew, it would be the land finally recognized for its war colossi; the one his son will pilot.

It was here that the son learnt of art and history, of the many kingdoms that once existed here, and the many more that will someday be created. He learned of mathematics and algebra and economics, of how margins and ratios dominated the world, and yet, man had broken past them, proving themselves above it all. Of biology too, yet the father scoffed at it, for the son proved wrong everything they could teach him. Finally, he learnt how to fight, how to main, how to kill. How to breathe the same air the colossus breathed.

At age ten, he was ready to fight. And yet, there was opposition.

“I cannot let him join the other pilots.” A man with a short beard and even shorter of a temper spoke to the father, and the father wished he could grab him by the neck and twist it like licorice. Break it into pieces like rock candy.

“You’re not the one with the power to decide here.”

“I am not, but you have to reconsider.” His voice, like a cricket, was high pitched and sanctimonious. He wished nothing more than to stomp him like the insect he was, and yet he couldn’t. He was too valuable as an individual, and, besides, he was right. That, the father knew, but mere righteousness would not stop his life project. Nothing would put itself between him and his magnum opus.

“I will not. You know what will happen if we fail again.” And the cricket man went silent. Like crushing a bug under the weight of the whole world. The father continued on, the weight of his own words worrying him. Would his perfect son be enough for the duel? The question was scary, but meaningless. He had to be more than enough. There was no other option. He had carved him with care, with love, with joy, and he had been stern and heartless at times, but it was all a calculation on the father’s part, the logical side of his brain working overtime, engineering degrees and classes at the university auditoriums and laboratory reunions condensing into a decades-long project, the script of which had been typed out the moment he saw the shine in the son’s eyes, still inside that bubbling ooze.

And the father walked away, busy with more surgeries, with more planning, with the rebuilding of the colossus, but the cricket man, he remained behind.

As with the father, he too had a plan in mind.

“Have you ever been to a place like this before, child?” The cricket man asked, and the child barely heard him, because he still was in awe at the view of the blue sky, and the view of the pristine, green and yellow and orange grass (Was it grass? Some other plant? He didn’t know! He had to know!) of the valley del Santerno, a few miles outside the Kaiju learning center the son had known as his home; as his entire world.

He ran his hands through the rough stone slabs that composed the floor, and the sensors on his skin told him the feeling was unlike anything else he’d felt before. It was not smooth like the white corridors walls, or rupturing like the broken pipes and metal shivs that were used to test his strength back at the center. These had a certain ruggedness to it, but it didn’t have repeating patterns in its construction, like the stonework back home. Pores and cracks sprawled randomly, following no path the seven-cores computer replacing his frontal lobe could calculate with ease. This was unlike anything he’d seen before, and it was no more than common gravel he stepped on with his own two feet. Like insects, his father would have commented.

“They say this place has existed for thousands and thousands of years, mostly unchanged. Sure, man has built a house or two; planted a field of poppies or two, but the gentle mountain range here is natural. The real deal, unlike the ones from the city.” The cricket man explains, and the child cannot fathom the idea that something isn’t made by man. Who else could build but man?

The cricket man guides the child down into the fields, and the child runs his fingers through the fields of wheat and malt and poppy and he stops at the cattails, observing their odd, fluff-like shape. “You like them?” The man who was meant to teach him of bloodshed but instead chose nature asks, and the child once again remains silent, enthralled by the tubular form of the millet.

“Here, let me help you.” The cricket man says, and pulls one of the cattails, handing it to the child. The child is at first fearful, but takes the dying plant in his own two hands, and continues staring at it, his eyes automatically readjusting to the change in distance; something that the child was meant to do in picoseconds, but a firmware lock made him much slower, a gift by the cricket man such that leaving the center would not overwhelm the child.

The child entertained himself with his new toy, and the cricket man realized he was not in the presence of the fighter who would pilot a colossus in order to defend their land from oblivion. No, he was in the presence of a kid who had been isolated from everything and everyone by the single person who had absolute control over him. A husk made to live someone else’s life. Fight someone else's battle. A most unfortunate soul.

For a time, the cricket man considered taking the child’s hand and running, running and never stopping, never looking back, until the valleys and vineyards were replaced by deserts and mountains and jungles and tundras and they could not see the towers of Toscana no more. Yet, he knew that wasn’t possible. Something within the child was set to kill him were he to be too far from home, and even if that wasn’t the case, the father also had a trick or two that would end the child’s life if he became unneeded. There was no escape from the strings cursing the augmented puppet.

Instead, the cricket man took the child’s hand, and walked him down towards a small clearing, where the apple trees and the plum trees are grown, and he sat down under one of their shadows, signaling for the child to sit beside him. The child follows the order, like every other that has been given him before, and sits down.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

The child remains silent.

“This is what the outside world looks like. The one you were born to defend.”

The child plays with the cattail millet.

“You know you were made to become one with a monster the size of a marble tower, and fight a monster just like it, correct?”

This time, the child turns around, and nods.

“Do you know what will happen once you’ve won?”

The child shakes his head.

“Do you know what’ll happen if you lose?”

The child shakes his head again, and the cricket man looks towards the horizon, towards the center, imagining the father had already sounded the alarms, and teams of armored guards were rushing to their armored vehicles, driving all over town, trying to figure out where the child had wandered off to. The cricket man wondered what would happen to him. What would happen to the boy. It barely mattered, however. He had made a choice. In a bit of an irony, he had chosen to take the boy away in order to allow him to enjoy one day of freedom. Perhaps it was cruel and unfair. Perhaps the cricket man had done this only to satisfy himself, to feel like he’d done one good thing before the end. Maybe he wasn’t any different from the man who had employed him to make sure his homunculus child was prepared to lose it all for the cause.

But as the two stared at the mediterranean sky, a gust of wind carried dandelion seeds off towards the sea, and the child stuck out his hand forward and grabbed a couple of them, and as he stared at the fluff-like pieces, a fox whistled far into the wheat farms, and the child quickly got up, dropping the seeds and began walking towards the fox, who remained quiet, staring from a distance, and it was here that the cricket man felt that he had done something right.

The feeling would not subside, not even as he took the child back to the center, not even as the father walked up to him and slapped him, before ordering the armored guards in the armored vehicles to beat him, before he was fired, all his titles taken. Before he was extricated from the world he knew.

The cricket man would never see the child again, at least not in person. Years later he and many others would see the father’s son fight for Toscana. He hoped the child would remember his one day of freedom then.

But the child could not remember anything, anything at all. The father made sure of it. As the cricket man was beaten, and his nails were pulled one by one, the father shoved three cables into the child, accessed his memories, and through precise electrochemical manipulation, eliminated the memories of that entire week off the child’s head. A terrible solution, for the child had to lose a week’s worth of training. The father was fuming; how could the cricket man be this stupid?! It was his revenge, he realized, and it made him angrier. The wishes of a single man against the will of an entire country… Inconsequential brute.

But it didn’t matter. He knew things needed to change, and so they did. From now on, the father decided, no more help from professors, only from professionals of the world of the kaiju. No more art, no more history. They would focus on the fights with the colossus. And to this end, a last surgical procedure.

At age eleven, the child swapped arms and legs for interconnecting tissue that would directly fit him inside the piloting unit of the kaiju he was meant to use, and his face would be replaced with a holographic interface that would allow him to see that which the colossus would see. The child and the machine now truly were one and the same. And from then on, the father began training the colossus in fighting strategies and war-related drills.

Each tumble was much harsher than before, for now the child’s falls signified millions in repairs, and a misstep would cost buildings and vehicles and human lives, all crushed under the weight of rapid progress. And when some programming issue arose, it would affect the child directly, and it was risky, the engineers and other professionals would say, but the father knew better. A father always knows, and eventually, the child was twelve years old.

The child was hundreds of feet tall now, and made mostly of steel and biofuel. Some flesh still remained, but was no more than connecting tissue; his body was that of a beast. Gallons and gallons of fluid were inserted into his cortex, and put the child to sleep, and while he slept, the colossus was moved into a great arena, a small ruined city built inside, half a million seats outside of it, ready for the fight of the century.

The child wakes up, and once he does, an announcement rings out.

The child’s name rings out, and he is presented as the hero of Toscana, and the child understands that this is what he’s been prepared for, and gets ready to fight. Then, his enemy is revealed, a massive entity made of white flesh, with eight legs and a long body, ending in a massive maw with a million sharp teeth. He with the name of Pequod, the enemy of Toscana.

The beast growls as the child raises his fists, ready for battle. The two stand still, and then a sound only the two of them could hear is raised, and the fight has started. The moment of truth.

The child rushes towards Pequod, which seemed like a brutish creature, flailing around as it tore through buildings and ruins designed to appear used, even though they were brand new. No weird pores like… Huh, like what? The child wondered, and as he wondered the giant beast jumped at him, opening its maw and the child realized what the strategy the Pequod utilizes to defeat its enemy.

The child falls to the side, and he realizes his left arm has disappeared, cleanly removed at the elbow, courtesy of the Pequod, who spits it out, removed to small flakes of shredded metal. The beast screams again, and the child prepares for round two.

The child grabs a long pipe, weapons modified for combat between titanic beasts, and brings it into the mouth of the creature as it jumps again to bite down into him. The pipe pierces the creature, but it barely flinches, reducing the rest of the pipe to nothing, and taking the child’s remaining hand with it.

The child can picture the father’s face, filled with disappointment. With shame. With a desire to reduce his life to nothing, because the child knew it all depended on his victory, and if he couldn’t win, then his life, and that of his father meant nothing. It made him worry. He was a bad child, he realized, because he knew all of this because of… Of something that had happened before. And as the child remembered, two fuses blow up back at the control room where the father stood, and as the staff ran back and forth, he thought of how memories cannot be deleted, only locked away, and as the machines controlling the colossus shut down one by one, maybe there was the chance he was remembering something he shouldn’t. Something like the death of his brothers, or when he got rid of his teachers, or how painful it was when the father burnt out his nerve system, and replaced it all with copper wiring and titanium reinforcing, and how much it took him to learn how to walk again, and how excruciating it all was. The father wondered if the child was in pain right now. That would be terrible, he knew, as pain would make his decision-making harder to accomplish. He quickly ran off somewhere, and as the child regretted, the father made sure the pain suppressors were still at work for as long as possible.

The Pequod stared at him from far away, and the child was reminded of the wolf, even if he had never seen one before. One of its legs seemed broken, and the child realized the pipe stab had cut off a tendon or something of that kind. The child saw another long metal stick, and he knew that he had to fix this all. Despite all his preparations, the child felt alone; he felt afraid, like a child his age, and yet, he had a plan that may work, and enough will to go through with it.

The child was proactive, and punches the stick with his remaining arm, piercing it all the way through, turning his hand into a lance. It stings, and it scares the child again, because pain is not a feeling he knows well. And as he does this, the Pequod begins running towards him, and the child readies the lance, taking a step back. The child focuses, something hard as his vision begins blurring, and the cheers of the audience made all auditive cues useless. The great white beast broke through buildings, all hubris going into the endless maw, and once the maw is open, the child runs into it, and jumps in to stab him. The stick goes through the beast again, but it barely inconveniences the Pequod, who instead bites down, consuming the upper torso of the child and grinding it into pieces.

The audience goes silent, not because the Pequod has won, but because they are waiting. They have this before. And soon enough, the Pequod stops on its tracks, and the cheering returns. The Pequod coughs up magenta blood, and the cheering grows larger, and then the beast is torn in half, the stick cutting through its fat easily, and guts and metal shrapnel explode as the child manages to kill the beast from inside.

The announcer quickly calls off the fight, and announces that the victory is that of Toscana, which will not join Italy anymore, a decision fifteen years in the making. Finally, the father rests at peace. It was all worth it.

The engineering team quickly rushes to the center of the stage, and as the clean up crew begins picking up pieces of the blown up whale with excavators and dumped into special trucks, the emergency crew breaks into the piloting cabin, and slowly retrieve the amputated son, whose circuits have fried, and who cannot move anything below his head, and who is quickly connected to a respirator machine that helps him breathe, and three tubes go into his body, and an electric impulse reinstate the battery he has in place for most of his organs, and the child can see and speak again. And as his eyes turn back on, he sees the father, and he is smiling fondly at his creation. The child attempts to speak, but only turquoise liquid comes off his mouth, his lungs still in the process of being cleaned. Still, he pushes through, coughing out the tubes connecting through his throat.

“Did I do it?” He asks weakly, and the crew scurries to reconnect his body back to the machines, but the father reassures him.

“Yes, you did.”

“I’m… I’m glad.” He attempts to chuckle, but it moves the tubes again, and so he is stopped by the crew. “Are you glad?”

“Of course I am, my little pineconePinocchio” The father smiles, and pats the child’s head. It burns his hand, the acidic nature of the Pequod’s entrails still at play, but he doesn’t care. Right now, all that mattered was the child.

For as the two stared blankly at the blue Mediterranean sky, the father realizes the puppet he had made had died, and in his place, a real boy had appeared. And that real boy was his son, and he was proud of him.

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