Two days, it should take me two full days if I walk the whole way. She calculated. But if I catch a train I can probably cut that down to about thirty hours or so.
I didn’t want to do that so soon. Maybe I’ll try a different train line.
Most of the older transportation systems of the 21st century was still in use; they’d been modified to run on solar power to eliminate a dependency on fossil fuels, which came in handy when the Assimilated needed to relocate anyone over a long distance, and in this case take Elix into the Mid-City: An even more treacherous place to skulk than a packed train.
Elix’s mind wanders off to her last encounter with Artemis, as she power-walks through the empty streets. What used to be an entertainment district full of arcades, shopping centres, cafes and bars; is now dilapidated and long since abandoned by the last of the Hûms opposed to Assimilation.
“So how far have you come with your journal?” Artemis asked her.
His voice still fresh in her mind from yesterday when she left him
“It’s going pretty good, after the intro, I’ve decided to start with the day I ran away, everything before that is kind of fuzzy and also kind of boring. Do you want to hear it?”
“Of course, I’d love to”
Elix flicked back through the pages of her haggard, brown leather pocket journal and cleared her throat.
“I was eight years old when the world was Assimilated. I remember the day clearly even though the sky was messy with rain clouds. I remember it as the last day I walked somewhere without pretending to be someone else. My mother was calm and composed; she wore her favourite midnight green dress, the one she’d only wear when my father and her went out for dinner or dancing.
Her raincoat was a deep blue often mistaken for black, just like her hair; which was just long enough to curl around her jaw and tickle the top of her neck. I had a coat that was identical to hers in every way except size. She helped me in to mine, as she always did, making sure I was neat and my buttons weren’t miss-matched.
My father wore his cobalt blue suit, with a tie to match my mother’s dress. He told me this was his power suit and when he wore it he was able to achieve anything. It’s only now I realise how silly it sounds, but I sure could do with a cobalt blue suit of my own. He slicked his hair back that day and he was clean shaven. Somehow, his nose seemed more crooked when his face was shaved.
“Are you ready Hun?” My mother asked him.
He looked at us from his spot in front of the mirror by the front door.
“Ready” was all he said.
He looked at me and winked his right eye, then he just stared at my mother and me for a while. I could have sworn I felt the world stop still in space. His eyes absorbed us, we were floating in his gaze crystalized forever in his mind. He turned back to the mirror for one last look, or perhaps he was consoling with himself. Maybe telling himself to be strong, and brave for what was to happen next.
We got into the car and drove for about ten minutes, we passed by my old primary school, a small shopping strip and huge outdoor playground before parking on the street near a building I had never seen before. It was a huge concrete block as grey as the clouds with no windows and it was perfectly sharp at its corners with only one visible way in.
I could see a lot of other cars around, some were familiar
“Are my friends going to be here?” I asked.
“Yes dear, everyone will be here”
“Ooh cool, like a party?”
“Like a big sleep over party” My mother assured.
We exited the car and locked the doors.
“But mum, I can’t sleep without my bear”
“Be brave sweetie, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of bears inside”
I didn’t believe her I wanted my bear; he knew my secrets, my dreams and my fears.
“Why are we having a sleep over on a Wednesday anyway?”
“This is the only way we can have a future” She told me.
Her words confused me and also gave me an odd sense of dread
“What’s going to happen to us in there?” I asked.
My mother hesitated with her answer; she had no idea what to say. We kept walking towards the building.
“When we go in there Elix, they’ll give us a bed and we’ll sleep and dream the most wonderful dreams and when we wake everything will be okay, we’ll all be safe again” She finally said.
I didn’t want to go to sleep, I didn’t want to dream until IT, whatever IT was, was over. I wanted to go home and play and read and learn and laugh. I started crying and screaming.
“Take me home mummy” I demanded.
We were right outside the front gates to the complex, when my father turned around and knelt in front of me.
“Elix, I need you to be a good girl and listen to me. Nobody wants to do what were about to do, but we must do it to preserve what we have and who we are”
I couldn’t tell before but just then, when his face was close to mine I could see the tiny cut-like wrinkles of worry along his sharp cheek bones. He must’ve been really nervous.
“Dad, I want to go home, I left my bear, I want to go and get it”
I wanted more than anything for us all to go home, not just to get my bear, I think I knew that even if I had it, I wouldn’t want to go to sleep in that murky cube. There were so many conflicting feelings in my head, my stomach was turning and my heart was racing.
My father sighed and stood to greet the man at the gates, he handed him a slip of paper and his I.D. before being escorted inside by a couple of men in grey military suits and these really weird looking monocle-like things covering one of their eyes. My mother stepped up next, holding my hand in her left, she passed me my I.D. with her right.
“Do exactly as I do Elix, Okay?”
“Okay” I whimpered.
The second she let go of my hand to walk inside; I ran, I ran so fast, my mother made it a few steps forward when she turned and saw me running. She screamed out my name, and I wanted to turn around and run back but before I knew it I was out of breath in front of my old primary school.
From my school it was easy to get home, I was looking over my shoulder every few steps just to make sure I wasn’t being chased. I haven’t stopped looking since I left my parents that day.
I was home in no time but it was locked so I crawled through the obsolete dog’s door into the kitchen. I found my bear sitting neatly on my bed waiting for me. I grabbed it and almost squeezed the stuffing out of it. I was about to return to my parents with my bear in hand and apology neatly rehearsed when I heard the horrific scream of a young boy. I hid behind the curtains of my front window and peered out to investigate.
The boy wasn’t much older than me being chased by men in the same uniforms as the ones at the grey building.
“NO, DON’T TAKE MY BRAIN, YOU CAN’T TAKE MY BRAIN” He yelled as he fled.
Within steps of his plea he was caught. They shot him with a Taser gun, he fell and flailed on the ground stiff under his skin, and then they simply picked him up and walked away with him; probably back to the grey building I ran from.
I wondered if maybe those men were looking for me as well. If that was my fate, then I certainly wasn’t going back to that nasty bland building. I turned on the television to see if there were any other people being hurt like that boy.
It was worse than I could have imagined, every news channel was reporting riots and chaos people being taken from their homes, their jobs, and any place they were hiding. The news anchors were calling it ‘Assimilation’ and today was the day we gave up our humanity.
I decided I wasn’t going to be ‘Assimilated’ not even if my parents were. So I packed as much food and clothes into a back pack as I could carry, and I left the inevitably dwindling safety of my home.
There weren’t many places I could go; no one would take me in because they were likely in the same position as me. So I went some where I knew was empty.
I went to the old high school library around the block; it had been abandoned around the time they built the big grey assimilation building. I hid in the bushes across the street until I was sure the Assimilated had finished searching it for any straggling Hûms, when I knew no one was around, I made a run for it. Nobody seen me enter and I stayed there, reading every book I could, until I ran out of food. Actually, I stayed until I was nearly starving. The outside world still scared me, but by that time I was desperate for a feed.
The sun was going down. I figured the night would be the best time to travel and I was right, but there were still people un-assimilated; pockets of them, everywhere. I thought perhaps it wasn’t urgent to assimilate people anymore, maybe they ran out of those eye pieces.
I couldn’t think much further than those theories; my hunger was crippling.
I found an old store with a few apples nearly rotten on the display stall. I took them and ran into the closest alleyway to eat them. I only got a couple of bites through one of them when a group of three bigger kids came out of the shadows.
“Hey if you wanna eat in our alley there’s a price. Give us your apples” One of them squawked.
There was no way I was giving them my apples, so I force fed myself to the point of nearly choking. I finished one of them before they started hitting me and kicking me. I didn’t let go of my apples, I cried out for help, the kids kept yelling at me but I was blocking their voices out, just like I was trying to block out the pain, and then I heard it; a deep scratchy voice sawing through the alleyway cutting into the kids hitting me. The pain stopped and I could hear them flee.
When I thought it was all over I looked up and there you were; slender, scraggly hair, feint smudges all over your face, staring down at me with your hand reaching for mine.
“And that’s where I decided to end it”” Elix says, a little self-conscious about bearing her soul.
“You make me out to be some kind of saint, all I did was yell out to some punk kids”
“You didn’t have to save me Artemis, and you didn’t have to look after me either, but you did”
“I…” He pauses to re-think his words
“…Despite what you think Elix, I’m… I’m the bad guy, I know I am, and I think in an effort to save the last piece of my humanity I screamed out at the top of my lungs to scare some kids and I ended up saving yours instead. Still doesn’t make up for what I’ve done though”
“Hey, you know that was out of your control, the Encephalon hijacked your brain. We both know you wouldn’t do anything like that if you had control of your own mind”
Artemis turns away to hide his abashment from Elix.
“At first I did… At first, we all did. I knew, without any doubt that this was what we needed to do in order to survive. We were going to save the world, we had our plan and it was going to work. We would have found a way, in time, to make it work…
But the Encephalon decided to take our plan and twist it, they needed me to alter the Intelliguise to subdue all brain functions, instead of just mask them. I refused to do it, I tried to get out but the other inventors had already conspired against me.
I woke up a few days later in my house with an Intelliguise strapped to my face. I’m just thankful I caught on before they got to me and put some nanites in my bloodstream. They were set to periodically eliminate foreign technology that interfered with brain activity. It took them a few days to kick in. But Elix, those were the worst few days of my life. I was both awake and asleep, but not dreaming, nor thinking, just watching in white noise solitude as my body did whatever the Encephalon commanded…”
Artemis ended there; he could have talked for days about the maddening blank of being Assimilated but decided to purge his thoughts of such torture.
“Artemis, you okay?” Elix asked.
“huh? Yeah, I’ll be okay. Are you alright for food? I can’t send you away hungry”
Sometimes Artemis would end his sentences with a subtle suggestion of what he wanted from someone, in this case, he didn’t want Elix around to see him drink away his regrets and already solidified memories.
“I could do with a snack” Elix’s stomach rumbled.
Artemis chuckled and left the room, soon returning with a bag full of all kinds of foods; sandwiches, ration packs, fruits, some vegetables, and bottled water.
“Artemis this is too much, I can’t take all this, what will you have left eat?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, you’ll take it. Besides, I’m getting old, I don’t eat as much as I used to”
Elix looks him in the eye as she takes his generous offering.
“Thanks Artie… I think it worked by the way”
“What did?” he asked
“Saving me did save your humanity, as well as mine”
They shared a smile; pure, like the taste of honey.
“Go on, get out of here would you, I’ve got some work to do”
Elix’s daydream is broken, not by her Intelliguise overheating, but by the realisation she had made it to the Raven’s Tongue. Her excitement nearly produced a smile at the sight of the Raven’s body bolted to the top corner of the building’s roof.
Huh? Where’s the head? She thought, only a few small blocks away from the pub.
By this time, it was broad daylight and there were a large amount of people travelling around the outer suburbs of the main city where the Pub is located
Where are all of you going? She asked herself, suspiciously squinting inside her mind.
What task could you possibly have left to accomplish?
Elix often thought these thoughts. Since the Assimilations began the world has turned down an interesting path, everything is now powered by renewable sources of energy. Ninety percent of the oceans have been covered by a self-sustaining desalinisation plant; providing a massive forest on top with clean water.
Artemis would tell Elix about the wonders that humanity had achieved after being Assimilated. He had a hand in designing the organic desalination level of the ocean’s crust; he said it would essentially drink the salt water, send the salt to one of the many collection stations to be added to drinks or used for preserving food, then the fresh water would be passed into the level above it, where the roots of the forest would be waiting eagerly to drink it.
It’s been years since the crust project, what could they be working on now?