Davis has been devoutly working his brother’s motor skills and hand eye coordination for as much time as Mac could squeeze, and luckily Nox’s grip has grown firmer, he can now keep track of Davis’ movement without much strain.
“Come on Nox, ask me something man, anything, please” He requests.
The others in the cramped room have decided to rest in the bunks and conserve their energy. Elix, instead walks over to Davis and Nox. She pulls from her pocket the jerky she placed there earlier.
“Here, I was going to save this for myself for later, but maybe it’ll lift his spirits a bit, or give him a burst of energy”
Elix holds the jerky in her open hand near Nox’s chin. The aroma wafts to his nostrils, confusion overcomes him as he tries to place the scent to a memory. He turns to the smell.
“Can, can, can I have?” He asks.
Davis smiles, Elix giggles.
“Yeah, sure, but chew it slowly okay”
Nox reaches his hand out to grab the jerky, grips it and plops it into his waiting mouth.
“Davis, Trace is here, she just buzzed. What’s the plan now?” Blister asks.
What is left of the true Uprising in the cramped bunk room, gather to the bed which Nox and Davis rest upon.
“Come on Davis we need to know” Says Jones.
“Help me stand Nox up…” He says.
Elix and Blister aid him, and lift Nox to his feet. Nox stands wobblily, but well enough on his own for Davis and the other to let go.
“Where going?” Nox asks.
“We’re going for a swim bud; can you hold your breath for me?”
Nox takes a deep breath and holds it in with his cheeks bulging like balloons. His innocent demeanour gives the group a small reprieve from their grave circumstances.
“That’s good Nox, you’re doing great” Davis states.
Jones pipes up:
“So, swimming huh? That’s your plan?”
Davis doesn’t respond, instead he takes his Morse responder back from Blister and buzzes it a dozen or so times. He then pockets it.
“Blister, help me with these bunks. The rest of you, move the other beds against the wall feet first.”
Blister doesn’t question him; Korvo and Elix do the same.
“Davis?!…” Jones demands.
“…Why won’t you answer me?”
All the beds now lay against the wall opposite to the mouldy exterior wall. Davis grabs Jones by her shoulders and coerces her into the space between bunks.
“Hope you’re’ll ready”
“Fucking ready for what?” Jones barks, and as she does a booming crunch from outside the moulded wall forces her instincts to drop her to the ground.
The walls crack and water hisses through, spraying the room with a fine mist of stone-cold Ocean.
Lance leaves the confines of the station and climbs the perimeter wall to view the Encephalon’s army first hand. Hûms run chaotically around him, making their way to any free spot along the wall as instructed. Aiming their pistols and readying their grenades.
Lance walks behind his soldiers; his men, won over by a diplomacy built on poisonous words. They watch anxiously as an innumerable amount of Assimilated march upon them.
The Assimilated have no need for weapons, their sheer numbers are enough to eliminate their foes. The resounding claps of their synchronised steps leave no need for war drums.
“Everyone is in position Sir” Lance’s lieutenant states.
He can sense the fear in the boy voice.
“Don’t worry son, we’ll have our peace soon enough”
The boy could have easily thought Lance meant they were going to win and free everyone’s families from the tyranny of the Encephalon, but no, the boy understood exactly what Lance had meant.
The young soldier has calculated his chances of survival, and they were slim, slimmer than a bee’s dick. It was this moment that the boy could not tell if his brain had released serotonin to help him cope with his impending doom, or if the wind had brought with it a cool change, either way, his spine pulsed fear throughout his body and he knew Lance had been working for the Encephalon. For how long? He couldn’t tell, but the truth had struck him and he wondered how many of his friends and comrades he could tell before the ocean of Assimilated wash over them like ants to a carcass.
The swarm of Assimilated creep closer.
John breaks rank, he screams as loud as his lungs will let him:
“WE’RE ALL DEAD, WE’RE SOLD OUT”
He manages to turn dozens of heads to his dictum.
“You insubordinate little…” Lance says taking a step back and reaches for his holstered pistol.
The young soldier’s eyes widen with a crazed stare that cuts through Lances resolve and he feels fear, the kind a child is filled with when he stands up to his father for the first time; an honest fear.
Lance fumbles his weapon, the boy charges at him unblinking. The two Hûms wrestle for control of the weapon, Lance trips on a tuft of grass and falls backward to the ground. His grip of the pistol is lost to the soldier; whose berserker eyes have not faded.
Soldiers from the wall begin to rush to the scene. The boy shoots Lance in the stomach, again in the shoulder and once more in his knee before turning the weapon to his own head.
He closes his eyes, his rage floats away on a passing breeze. Serenity takes him; the trigger creaks faintly, tickling his eardrum as he squeezes slowly.
But the boy is tackled by his comrades before he can fire. Three men relinquish the weapon from him.
“RETREAT TO THE STATION” One of the soldiers call out.
Another repeats the command in the distance. The word catches all Hûms on the wall and in the yard; they flee to the confines of the reprogramming station.
The assimilated reach the wall.
There is no one to attack them with EMP weapons.
The assimilated traverse the wall, effortlessly collaborating; no one is there to witness the feat.
The Hûms within the station begin barricading the main entrance with everything they have at their disposal. An explosion quakes beneath the station; the Hûms pass it off as the Assimilated trying to get in.
The Assimilated reach the door.
“Davis, wont we get crushed by the water pressure?” Asks Blister, as the ocean slushes around at the sextet’s shins.
“No…” He replies un-reassuringly, watching the severely cracked wall spew water.
Blister and Elix look to each other; their faces painted with worry. Davis feels the feint vibration of his Morse responder.
“Brace” It states.
Davis relays as loud as he can:
The six each huddle with the nearest body, tensing their muscles and closing their eyes. A tremendous boom surpasses the fizzing water, deafening the group momentarily. Within seconds the room is half full, and the Hûms within are forced to watch their oxygen swiftly taken from them at the hands of the ocean.
Squeals and screams in the cold water are inaudible amidst the chaos. Davis signals with his hands as he yells:
No one hears but they all understand. Davis dives under the surface with Nox’s hand held tight in his grasp. The other four follow him down and through the two-metre diameter hole in the wall.
Davis and Nox swim fast, and through the murk of the ocean, blended with the dust and debris of the reprogramming station, Davis can see the blinking light of Trace’s submarine. He turns to see if his friends are behind him. Elix and Blister are right there, Davis pauses until he can see Korvo and Jones; the sediment displaces around them and Davis confidently resumes his pace to the sub.
As they get closer, the submarine’s nose splits in two horizontally, like the mouth of a whale scooping up krill; Davis and his five swim inside. He quickly taps: ‘SOS’ on his Morse responder; the mouth of the sub closes.
Blister’s lungs are cramping, he hasn’t had to hold his breath like this before. He wriggles at the top of the sub waiting for the water to drain, and the others start squirming. Davis clicks furiously at his responder, transmitting gibberish in his panic.
A whirring of motors and the glugging of pumps reverberate through the water. The six thrash their limbs upwards, kissing their lips to the growing pocket of air and sucking at it desperately.
The water level drops enough for the group to fit their heads, nobody speaks just yet; they’re too busy panting to restore their bodies lost oxygen.
“Is everyone alright?” Davis asks.
A few shared breaths go by before anyone answers.
“I’m good” Says Blister.
“Ditto” Says Elix.
Korvo and Jones nod as they breathe heavily. Davis looks to Nox.
“You good brother?”
Nox chuckles a shivering laugh.
“Fun swim” He says.
The water drains quicker now and the sextet can feel the bottom of the submarine and within seconds the water is no more than a few scattered puddles on the patch-rusted floor.
A squeaking of the submarine’s inner door alerts the group to its opening, its seal cracks as it opens.
“T…T…Trace its g…good to see…e you” Blister stutters, he rushes to her with open arms knowing full well she’d be a warm body to cuddle.
“Cuddle this” She quips, throwing a thick blanket into his face.
Blister cherishes its embrace like a long-lost lover: returned. The others creep forward to receive their blankets from the pile in Trace’s arms. Davis tries to be strong and look as though he doesn’t need one, but breaks quickly and snatches the last blanket from Trace; he covers his head, rubs vigorously and then dons it like a cape.
“What happened in there?” Trace queries.
The group are hesitant to answer and look to one another for guidance. The words they need are on the tips of their tongues yet the will required conjuring them would surely see them pass out.
Trace accepts the silence as enough for now, she can tell by their faces they’ve been betrayed somehow and the wound is still tender.
“Come this way…” She starts, stepping over the lip of the doorway, out of the mouth of her sub.
The sextet forms a single file line and shuffles through the door after Trace.
“…I Know you’re all very tired but it’s imperative that you listen and comprehend everything I say to you about this vessel…”
She turns to look at the group, each of them nods in agreeance, then resume their curious scan of the innards of Trace’s sub.
Like many sheltered Hûms, Elix has never seen a submarine before. As she walks, she studies the semi-rusted inner linings. There are pipes and conduits trailing a path overhead. The walls are grey and cold; pieces of paint flake off as she runs her hand along them. Other parts are spray painted silver where the rust has been stripped back.
The lights are dim, mismatched and flickering. Various hatches break up the hallway into segments. Each member of Uprising duck through as they walk, even Trace; the smallest.
“…This whole level is for cargo, engines and weaponry. Either side of this first room is where the torpedoes are loaded, take a second to familiarise yourselves, you may have to use this equipment without any fair warning…”
Trace steps into the torpedo room. Blister and Elix step in after her and the rest peer in from the doorway.
“…Blister, Elix, you’ll man this room, Korvo and Davis you’ll be in the opposite room. Don’t worry; it’s identical to this one. Now listen carefully. Red-stripes go bang, Blue-dots go zap. It’s simple to load them, watch me. You pick the torp up with the Robo-crane, use these joy-sticks to manoeuvre it into place…”
Blister sniggers at ‘Joy-stick’
“Shut it Blister” Trace blasts.
Davis elbows him in his side.
“…Once the torp is in the tube, shut the lid and hit the primer button; the torpedoes aren’t live until you press this button, so don’t forget”
Trace lets the knowledge sink for exactly three seconds.
“Moving on…” Trace barges past the huddled crew onward through the corridor.
“… Back there is the engine room. Unless you’re an electrical engineer or me don’t even breathe in it”
Trace climbs the ladder at the end of the hall, and the group follow. She pauses halfway up.
“This level is the living quarters, Beds first, then kitchen, then shower and lastly toilets. I’ll introduce the rest of the team in the control room, then you can explore”
One by one the group behind her stop to look into the living quarters before ascending.
Blister is last to get to the control room and as soon as his head pops out of the ladder hole he is filled with excitement. He stumbles on the last steps and smacks his shins on the steel as he exits.
And then in his highest pitch he squawks.
“Malcom” He blurts, dropping his blanket and forcing a hug upon Malcom.
“You’re still wet” He states disgruntledly.
Blister releases his hug and holds Malcom by the shoulders sporting a cheesy grin.
“We’re in the same boat now friend”
Blister looks away then back again and laughs before turning around and finally noticing the rest of the crew glaring at him.
Trace clears her throat.
“Well, now that that’s out of the way, I’d like you all to meet Amani, she’s the leader of E Cluster…”
Korvo’s eyes haven’t swayed from Amani’s curly orange hair, and how it bounces every time she looks away from his swooning gaze with blushed cheeks.
“…And this is her third in charge Maxine; she’ll be our pilot…”
Maxine peeks her chubby freckled face around the pilot’s chair, the sub veers to the starboard side, and the crew lose their balance a little, she quickly turns back and continues her pilot duties.
“…And in case you don’t know Malcom, he’s the tall one, he will serve as our navigations officer”
Malcom scoffs at how beneath his abilities a navigations officer is, and turns his head away from anyone who were to look upon him for future reference.
“And finally, ha-ha almost forgot, for anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m Trace… Captain Trace”
“What about the ship’s name?” Elix asks.
Maxine shouts from behind her large chair.
“Merops. I’d tell you what it means, but where’s the fun in that”