“Um Trace, how are we meant to climb the chute?” Elix asks hoping she doesn’t have to spread her body out like a spider and climb up one inch at a time.
“Don’t worry, when I cracked into the mirror room it set in motion an escape program that lets me access emergency protocols, like…”
Trace flicks a switch on a panel by the base of the chute that’s not normally there
“…This ladder” She says, as a portion of the wall slides to one side, revealing a very narrow shaft leading upwards. Trace and Elix climb the ladder to the top where Trace pushes even more buttons and yet another door slides open to the bottom of the elevator shaft where the two rest and reflect on what has just transpired.
“How did they find us Elix?” Trace asks with a thwarted accent; even though she knows Elix won’t have an answer for her.
“To be honest…” She continues “…I’m surprised we even lasted this long without being found…” Trace looks up to meet with Elix’s eyes, her tired face breaks with a smile.
“…We’ve been pretty lucky so far, haven’t we? I mean, if I was in charge of the Encephalon I would have made the Assims sweep through every crevice, every tunnel, everywhere, to flush us out”
Elix squints at Traces comment.
“So why didn’t they?”
“What do you mean?” Trace queries.
“They’ve had all this time to find us and they only send a troop of Assimilated to kill us? No… Somethings not right, the Encephalon must be conflicted…” Elix stands with new found energy.
“Trace! We have to get to Davis; he needs to know we’ve weakened the Encephalon”
“I can’t fucking believe that man…” Trace stands too, and begins an angered pace around the tiny room. Elix has never seen her act this way and is intrigued to see this side of her.
“…He just fucking leaves us, in the middle of everything, he knows…” She stops and points her finger in the air looking directly at Elix.
“…He fucking knows we’ve all got family out there” Trace’s anger wanes, her lips quiver then gurns with sadness, as tears flee her ducts for the first time in a very long time. She collapses at the knees and sobs into her hands. Elix sits down next to her and reaches her arm around Trace’s shoulder. Trace’s head flops into Elix’s embrace. Elix combs her fingers into Trace’s hair.
“Let it out Trace, don’t you dare hold back”
Elix’s statement causes her to think of her own lost loves, but instead of taking her own advice, she closes her eyes and holds her pain tightly to her chest as she does Trace, to comfort her. Trace howls her sadness into Elix’s shirt without restraint, until its wet with her expelled misery.
Trace lifts her head; her stressed-red eyes meet with Elix’s, Trace can see Elix held onto her tears. She doesn’t thank her out loud, it would ruin the gesture, instead she says:
“We’re going to need more supplies to have any chance of helping Davis”
Elix smirks, and the two of them stand again together.
“I’m going to need a new shirt too”
They both look down to the patch of moisture on Elix shirt and share a giggle.
“Well, he can’t be more than a few hours ahead of us. Come on I know a dead drop on the way”
The two women ascend the ladder up and out of the elevator shaft and embark to meet Davis.
“Did you see that?” Blister rhetorically asks before darting ahead of Malcom and Abishua.
He turns a corner in the caliginous sewer and spots two retreating Assims; confirming his suspicion. Malcom and Abishua hobble along trying to catch up. The Assims pace around another corner, Blister is gaining on them; his thick legs far superior for sprints. He turns the corner right behind them but is stopped in his tracks. The slower Assim has turned to face Blister with a pistol aimed directly at his head.
“Kill him” The other Assim barks.
Blister is filled with adrenaline and fear, but he noticed. The Assim spoke to the other one.
“I’ve come to join the Encephalon, my days with The Uprising are over” He says calming his breath and realising these weren’t the same Assims that he’d been at war with all these years.
Blister begins backing away slowly to the corner he had only just passed. The Assim with the gun is sweating, Blister sees it, and it’s not from the running. The Assim is conflicted.
“I can be valuable to you; I know things about The Uprising”
The Assim steps slowly in pursuit of Blister, taking his bait.
“Kill him” The other Assim squawks again, scrambling for his weapon, but by now Malcom and Abishua have caught up and Malcom is aiming his EMP gun, with his offhand steadily on Abishua’s shoulder
“Exhale slowly Doctor” He says.
Blister stops just as the Assim follows him into Malcom’s sights. He watches the Assim hesitantly squeeze at the trigger, Blister closes his eyes and thinks of Charlotte and Jacob.
Blister flinches and opens his eyes to see the pistol wielding Assim shudder with electricity. Now is Blisters chance. He launches forward at the falling Assim, grabs his pistol and fires it at the last Assimilated.
The weapon echoes:
It dissipates to silence.
The second Assim drops to the ground with a hole through his head. Malcom and Abishua walk to Blister; he’s frozen with the pistol in his hand and staring blankly at the corpse he has just created.
“I wouldn’t have…” he pauses to swallow his saliva.
“…I couldn’t get to my pistol in time”
Malcom and Abishua say something reassuring to him, but Blister didn’t make out what they said, or perhaps the gunshot deafened him briefly. The weapon he just fired sounded like cannon fire compared to the soft POP of their EMP weapons.
A feint ‘e’ sound rings out in his ears for a few more seconds before he turns to Malcom with a look strewn upon his face; a face of defeat, of regret, of shame and abandon, one Malcom had not seen on anyone’s face since he left his home to find The Uprising.
Terror and fear squeeze Blister, he’s afraid, but not of anything the world could show him, Blister was terrified of himself.
“I killed him” He says in a haze of disbelief.
Malcom places his hand on the pistol in Blister’s; Blister looks to it and drops it with hasty disgust into a puddle.
“It was him or us Blister, we have to continue” Blister stands and falls onto Malcom wrapping his arms around him.
“I’ve never killed a man before…” He whimpers.
“…Why didn’t he shoot me… I wish he’d shot me… I don’t want this Malcom, I don’t want this feeling anymore” His eyes leak all his sorrow and his cries get muffled into Malcom’s coat, and then within a second Blister was silent and suddenly he grabbed the pistol from the ground and aimed it to his own head, stepping away from Malcom and Abishua.
“We were wrong, I’ve fucked up, I can’t, I fucking can’t…”
The weapon doesn’t fire. Malcom jumps at the gun in Blister’s hand and yanks it from his grasp; he drops it and slaps Blister with his free hand.
“Don’t you get it?!” Malcom annoyedly asks “We’re winning Blister, we’re forcing the Assimilated to divide…”
Blister looks only at the ground, he’s feeling ashamed at his recent actions, but he’s listening.
“…That man you just killed was a mercenary. He, like the others that ambushed us were most likely chosen by someone inside the Encephalon because of their violent pasts. No Assimilated we’ve encountered has ever tried to kill us. The fact that this one told the other to ‘Kill you’ should be all the evidence you need… The cracks are forming Blister, are you going to help me break through them? Or are you going to cry on my shoulder in this sewer?”
Blister’s mind has also begun to show cracks. Imperfections on the inside of his eye lids that would never be remedied; any attempt to hide them would result in a flash of his victim’s face.
Blister blinks and turns his head away seeing the face many times before looking to Malcom for him to say:
“This will all make sense when it’s over Blister, I promise”
Blister breaths in through his nose and exhales quick.
“I…” Blister was going to say that he hopes so, but knew that it wouldn’t make sense; there’s a mark on his soul now.
“…Let’s get out of here, I’m sick of these fucking sewers” he concludes instead, and the three embark to their exit in silence.
Elix is walking a few paces behind Trace as the sun rises upon them. The Assimilated are leaving their homes to start their long day of robotic motions and barren thoughts.
Trace turns a corner into an alleyway as if she’d been programmed to; Elix follows, identically emotionless, appearing to any onlooker as a routine action. Trace turns again down a tighter alley with very little vantage points to be spotted from; Elix copies. Trace takes a few more strides down the alley between tall buildings before stopping. She scopes ahead, then behind, past Elix. She’d tell Elix no one’s around but would rather not risk the added noise. Trace kneels in front of a half-sized door with what looks to Elix like the small claw marks of a bird next to the key hole. Trace picks at the lock until it gives way and reveals a tiny room, housing a water pump, a small generator and a few pouches of supplies to hide under their clothes.
Trace passes Elix three quarters of the pouches, her slender frame can disguise more, Trace loads up too, she then pulls at the lever to the pump, some water fills her cupped hand, and she drinks a few handfuls then urges Elix to do the same with a head movement in the pumps direction. Something in Trace’s eyes told Elix they might not be able to get another drink for some time.
Elix slurps as much as she can without making herself sick, and the two resume their machine-like pace out of the alley and towards the reprogramming station.
Blister breaks his party’s silent trudge with:
“Okay Malcom, this is where I leave you and Abishua…” as they stand at the ladder to an exit manway.
“…And about before, that…”
“No need for that Blister, I was just doing what you would’ve done if I was in that state”
Blister smiles, all these years with Malcom and it is when it counts that Malcom steps up to his potential. The three of them stand within a metre of each other, just looking, neither of them knows when they might see the other again and having a clear if not dirtied vision of their faces could be just enough to get them through a tough situation.
“Oh, here, you better take all my gear, the last thing I want is to be scanned with any of it on me when I go through the flow tubes” Says Blister.
Abishua perks up:
“You’re going through the flow tubes?”
Blister disregards his concern.
“I have to, it’s the fastest way to get to the other Clusters, and now that we know the Encephalon is dividing, they really need to be told what’s happening”
Abishua reaches into his pockets searching for something while Malcom says:
“I was about to ask you to wish us luck, but I think you’re going to need all of it”
“He’s going to need more than luck…” Abishua has found what he was looking for.
“…Here, this is a pill I’ve been working on, for dire situations” He places the pill in Blister’s hand; Blister looks at it suspiciously
“Dire situations? Like a suicide pill?”
“Oh goodness no, no. Well… Best case scenario: it will numb your emotions and dull your brain activity so that you won’t have to worry about hiding your humanity”
Malcom scratches his bullet wound
“So, it’s like a temporary Assimilation?” He asks.
“Yes, that is precisely what it is” Abishua replies.
“And?” Blister questions Abishua, who looks at him as though he didn’t just leave an important part of this invention out.
“What about the worst-case scenario Doc’? What kind of side effects am I going to suffer?”
“Right, of course, hmm, not sure really, you might pass out, you might die, you might turn into a vegetable, or worse, it might do nothing and you’ll be Assimilated for real”
Blister sighs before asking:
“How long will I have, if it works?”
Abishua looks to the ceiling moving his eyes and bobbing his head in calculation.
“If it works as I’ve designed, you’ll get a couple, to a few hours of faux-Assimilation, and it might take twenty to thirty minutes to kick in”
Blister stares at the pill, he could have sworn it grew bigger in his hand as he recounted the side effects and potential shortcomings and by the time he put it into his pocket he imagined it as the size of his own fist and when he felt it drop in, he thought it was going to shoot straight through the seams and thud onto the floor. Blister sighs once more and looks to his friends, stretching a smile through his dread
“I’ll see you soon” He states, hoping his words will be true in the long run, and not his last ones.
“Real soon Blister” Malcom says, patting Blister’s shoulder as he mounts the ladder.
“When we see each other next I want to know all about your experience with the pill” Abishua’s words both comforted and terrified Blister.
On one hand he knew he’d see them again, one way or another and on the other hand was his pessimism. No one said goodbye as they parted ways.