Its night time now, but Blister doesn’t know that yet. He blinks himself into consciousness. His groggy thoughts bounce heavily inside his damaged skull.
I’m, I’m inside somewhere; it’s warm, who the fuck jumped me?
Looking around, there’s only a small slit of light coming in from underneath the single doorway to the room. Blister tries to move his arm to rub his head.
“Fucking tied up; this is great, just…”
His rant is ended by a spot light powering up, aimed directly into his eyes; reminding him of the crippling headache he still has.
“HOW DID YOU FIND US?” A commanding voice behind the light booms
“Umm… Ahh…” Blister mumbles trying desperately to remember the password.
“You guys hit me too hard, I forgot the password, I’m here to relay a message from Davis”
Blister can hear whispers behind the light, he can’t quite make out what they’re saying but he recognises one of their accents. It’s the same accent he grew up with, the very same as his beloved Charlotte’s, and then the familiar voice asks Blister clearly
“Why would Davis break protocol?”
“Korvo? Is that you man?”
“Answer the question!” The man replies immediately.
“Come on Korvo, it’s me Blister, at least turn off the light man, I’ll tell you what’s going on”
The light powers down. Blisters eyes have a moment of peace in the black room before the room’s overhead lights are turned on.
“Korvo, I knew it was you man. I’m glad you’re alright”
Korvo’s permanently stern face doesn’t reciprocate Blister’s pleasantries.
“Tell me everything you know and tell me now Blister” He demands.
Blister looks to his bonds and rattles his arms within their restraints.
“Not even gonna untie me? Ugh, alright, we’re making a move on the Encephalon. I’ve been sent here to personally inform you of your role in the mission”
Korvo crosses his arms and furrows his brow, somehow further than it was already furrowed.
“Yeah? So where’s Davis? Why isn’t he sitting here, telling us to risk our minds?”
Blisters looks down, breaking his eye contact.
“He, he’s not in charge anymore”
“What?” Korvo asks genuinely.
“We were attacked last night, our base was destroyed and our Cluster was forced to scatter, we couldn’t find Davis when we were escaping. So I’m in charge now, and that’s why I’m here”
Korvo swiftly begins untying Blister.
“Oh fuck, man” He apologises without apologising. Blister stands from the chair with Korvo’s help.
“Hey, about knocking you around earlier, it’s just when someone breaks protocol like that our first instinct is to treat them as an Assimilated spy”
“Don’t worry, I would’ve done the same thing if it was you creeping around my neighbourhood…”
Blister rubs his head “…Maybe not so excessively though”
“Well the first hit was meant to knock you out, and when you didn’t, I thought of what you let happen to my sister, so I hit you again, I guess you can call us even now Blister”
“No, were not even yet. I owe you a sister and what we’ve got planned will get us one step closer to me honouring that debt”
Korvo could sense sincerity in Blister’s tone, but he’s cautious still, as that same tone was used by Blister to convince Korvo that his sister would be safe with him.
“Come into my office Blister, we’ll go over your plan”
Korvo opens the door and Blister charges past him straight for the map situated to the right of Korvo’s desk.
“Here…” He points “…The north bridge into the Encephalon, that’s where you, Cluster A and C are going to attack. I’ll be getting Cluster’s H, I and J to attack the East bridge exactly after your attack is recognised by the Assimilated”
Korvo starts stroking his almost un-stroke-ably short goatee as he tries to rap his head around the endgame of this plan.
“Okay, so we attack them head on and then what, we just get Assimilated, sure, we’ve got the numbers now Blister, but it’ll be like throwing a hundred ants at a whale, we wouldn’t even get through the skin before getting squashed”
“Between you and me…”
Blister turns from the map to face Korvo.
“…And I mean only you and me…”
Blister starts, and then in a lower voice says:
“…This is the only way we can get into the Encephalon. I’m sorry Korvo your attack is only a decoy”
Korvo’s reply is halted as he tries to think of another way around this problem, but no, he can’t.
“There isn’t another way” he states, knowing full well what he has to send his men into.
“Look Korvo, we can either keep growing our Uprising and hope we one day outnumber them, or we can attack now and attack hard”
“We’re all going to be Assimilated, you know that, right Blister? What guarantee can you offer us that this will work?”
“During the attack on our base, we thought the perps were regular Assim’s, just militarised. But when we fled through the sewers we caught up to a couple of them who were running away, and one of them told the other to kill me”
“Wait, one of them spoke? But nobody’s heard an Assim speak since their last mass reprogramming, what do you think it means Blister?”
“Me and Malcom were talking about it, he reckons it’s a sign that the Encephalon is having some internal conflict”
Korvo returns to stroking his goatee and scowling in deep thought.
“We’re actually making them squirm…” He smiles.
“This is great Blister, they don’t know what to do with us, part of them wants us dead but the majority wants us unharmed. Alright Blister, we’ll give em hell for ya’s, for Charlotte”
“Hell?…” Blister scoffs and raises his voice loud enough to penetrate the thin walls of Korvo’s base.
“…We’ve been in hell since they started Assimilating us, Nah. These fuckers like hell, they like order, they thrive on controlling everything we do. Give em emotion, give em humanity, make em feel fear, despair, regret. Give em joy before you give them hell”
The base is quiet, Korvo’s crew have gathered to Blister’s enthralling vocals. He hasn’t broken eye contact with Korvo; whose heart is racing. Blister looks to the clock in the office.
“Fuck its past night fall, I have to go meet I Cluster, you’ve got three days to prepare your attack”
“You sure you don’t want to rest a bit? We beat you around pretty good”
“No Korvo, this has to be done now, I’ve already spent too much time here”
Korvo’s mood has changed, he feels compelled to facilitate any of Blisters requests.
This is happening, this is really fucking happening. Korvo thinks to himself, with a poorly hidden grin on his face.
“Let me at least send someone with you to carry the supplies I’m sending you off with”
“You’re giving me a goon?” Blister asks.
“Well yeah, how else are you going to navigate our tunnels? It’s a real maze down there…”
Korvo walks to his office door mid-sentence.
“…Jack, get your arse in here”
Blister curiously waits for someone to enter. Within a few seconds a boy of about fifteen, built like a marathon runner sprints into the room, his green eyes stare intently at Korvo.
“What’s up boss? You got a job for me?” He asks.
“I need a travel pack for Blister and you’re going to escort him through the tunnels to I Cluster, got it?”
Jack runs out faster than he entered to retrieve the gear.
“You mother fuckers have tunnels?” Blister asks with raging jealousy.
“Yeah, we started them a few years ago; they’ve made travel and communication a whole lot easier, Artemis didn’t get you guys onto it?”
“We use the sewers and some of the old subway lines”
“Right, I guess it would have been a waste of resources to have you guys digging the whole time”
Jack races back into the room, stopping the small talk dead.
“Got your stuff boss” He states. Blister inspects the gear thoroughly.
“Guns, food, water, nades, good man! Now, lead me to Cluster I”
“Done” he replies and the two of them leave Korvo’s base.
“I feel bad Trace, this whole time I’ve been with the Uprising I haven’t even asked you anything personal” Elix says.
The pair reach an empty part of town on their way to Davis.
“Its fine Elix, I’m… I’m not really one to share personal things, my motives and past are mine to keep”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to, Haha, well I guess Blister has been more of an influence on me than I thought, I kind of just wanted to talk about anything really. It’s been a long time since I’ve interacted with another girl”
Trace feels as though she shutdown Elix’s attempt to bond.
“He seems to have that effect on people, doesn’t he? I’m sorry Elix. It’s hard for me to open up, the more I talk about why I’m here there harder it makes it for me to exist, to fight. I know it sounds stupid, most people shout out their motivations behind their war as if it empowers them, but with me, I’m crippled by them. I can’t think straight, I can only think about the task at hand, otherwise…”
Trace pauses just long enough for Elix to finish her sentence.
“Your emotions get the better of you and your humanity gets in the way of your mission”
Trace agrees: “Yeah, it’s bullshit; we have to supress our emotions, our humanity, to fight a war against those who’ve done exactly that so we can reclaim our emotions and our humanity”
“Bullshit, I couldn’t have said it better myself” says Elix.
“Elix, I’ve got family, I know it’s kind of the cliché motivation for a Hûm in a Cluster, but there’s people out there waiting for me and I want to say thank you. We, all of us were pretty sceptical of you when you first came to us, but you’ve pushed us out of the sewers and I know Artemis would be proud of what we’ve accomplished together. So, thanks”
Elix is getting that feeling in her belly and chest, the one that makes you feel warm, tingly and important, it’s brought a film of tears to her eyes, not enough to drop to the ground but enough to make her reflect on her actions thus far, and think:
Wow I am making a difference.
“Thanks Trace, it’s been a long time since someone has said anything like that to me”
Trace and Elix share a moment of blissful quiet as they pass a street into one of the many forests now littered throughout the world.
“I’ve wanted to see a pocket forest since I first heard about them” Says Trace.
“Artemis told me about these; he called them ‘Weecosystems’” States Elix.
“Are you serious?” Trace asks holding her laughter in. Elix giggles.
“Yeah it’s amazing right? Probably the only time he ever named something so aptly. Looking back, I probably should’ve told him how good it was, he probably felt ridiculed when I laughed at it”
“Weecosystem. Haha” Trace laughs, then snorts and immediately goes silent. She clears her throat and starts a new conversation, attempting to kill her embarrassment.
“Despite their lack of imagination, the Assim’s have made a really nice forest”
“Are we not going to talk about the pig in the forest Trace” Elix simultaneously asks, and lets Trace know she failed to kill the embarrassment.
“It’s been a while since I’ve laughed alright, don’t tell Davis, and don’t you dare tell Blister”
Elix zips her mouth shut, locks it and throws an imaginary key away.
“Only us two will know this secret, don’t worry…” She reassures “…But yes, they are beautiful”
The trees are tall and have forged a canopy with their long stretching limbs. The dying light struggles to push through its tightly woven blanket. Shrubs, bushes and flowers grow freely at the tree bases forcing Elix and Trace to constantly change the trajectory. Dark greens and browns provide a perfect canvas for the vibrant blue, pink and yellow of the wild flowers sprinkled throughout.
A rustling of bush leaves stops the women in their tracks; Trace’s head immediately flicks to the direction of it. The skin between her eyes wrinkles with focus as she listens for more noise. Elix places her hand on her pistol, her trigger finger is ready.
“Come out, we’re armed” Trace requests.
The rustling continues and whatever is behind it is closing in on Trace and Elix’s location. Trace reaches for her weapon too; Elix aims hers and patiently awaits the mystery rustler to show itself.
Unexpectedly; a small boy comes running full speed out of the shrubs; both women are shocked and nearly fire wildly at the young kid. Instead Elix takes one step in his direction and smacks him hard to his muddied head with the bottom of her gun-free palm. He drops instantly and lay on the cool dirt; unconscious.
“Holy shit Elix, I almost shot that kid” Trace says holding her chest as her heart races.
Elix steps closer to the boy to inspect him.
“He’s got an Intelliguise on, maybe he’s an Assim. What the hell are we going to do with him Trace?”
Trace walks back and forth pondering.
“We, we have to leave him here, if he’s an Assim he’ll wake up and continue his programming and…”
Elix finishes her sentence:
“…And if he’s not, what then Trace, he just gets picked up by the next Assim patrol to come through the forest?”
Trace is visibly flustered.
“We don’t have any time to spare Elix; we have to get to Davis. The sooner we do, the sooner we can end this and this little boy can go home to his parents”
Elix drags the boy into the bush he came running out of and places a ration pack from one of her pockets on his chest.
“I don’t like this Trace” She states.
“Me either” Trace adds.
They leave the boy, and can’t help but look back on him every few steps as they continue their mission through the pocket forest.