Symbionic. Chapter 5: Part 2

Read Symbionic from blurb to now; here.

In the fifth basement, there is a room; the walls are damp where the salt water meets them on the other side, it leaves an odd mouldy smell and scattered stains throughout. Davis and his Uprising within a broken Uprising are thrown inside the room. There are four neatly arranged bunks with barely any walking space between them. The crew are immediately met with a claustrophobia none of them knew they had.

Blister, Korvo and Elix pace around the room hunting for a flaw they can exploit, while Davis sits on a bunk next to Jones and Mac.

“I know my words don’t really carry much weight right now, but thanks for standing by me in there”

“Davis…” Mac begins.

“…I’m sorry, I’ve known Lance for a long time, we’ve been kicking Assim ass together longer than I could hold a job in the old world, I just wish I could’ve stood up to him like you did, only sooner. Maybe none of this would have happened”

“Mac, you stood when it counted, I won’t forget that…” Davis replies.

“…And Jones, we don’t know each other except by name and a few rumours, but, I’m glad C Cluster named a bright woman like you to lead them, I suppose your actions have granted you a reward, I should probably tell you guys our real plan of attack”

Mac perks up before Davis can continue.

“Whatever your plan is Davis, I Know you’ve got a way out of here, and I know the Assimilated are coming with all they’ve got, and I know for sure you’ll need as much time as you can scrounge to pull this off”

“What are you getting at Mac?” Davis asks.

“Just trust me okay, don’t tell me your plan, when Nox comes through the door, I’ll tell the soldiers that you told me your plan and they’ll have me speak to Lance immediately, that should buy you enough time to do what you have to do, and if it doesn’t, well, I tried. At least I know I stood up when it counted” He smiles.

“Alright guys, the plan remains a mystery, Jones, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see. Mac, thank you”

Davis places his hand on Macs shoulder and they stare a grateful gaze at one another.

Only a few minutes pass before footsteps are heard in the hall outside the bunkroom’s door. Blister, Korvo and Elix stop their thorough examination of the room’s weaknesses to spin their heads to the door. The six Hûms huddle together in the centre of the room, as though they were going to rush the soldiers when they enter.

The door opens; four men trot in rifle barrels first, aiming at Davis and his crew. They form a line and hold, two more men come through holding Nox by his arms from behind. Davis sees red and tries to charge but is immediately held by his companions, albeit with great difficulty.

The two soldiers in the middle turn their weapons to the stumbling Nox, the other two remain still, aimed at the group. Davis calms, he and Blister help Nox onto the bed behind them. Mac steps up to one of the soldiers.

“Take me to Lance, I’ve gathered some Intel from this scum” He says, his face ridden with disgust.

Blister and Elix jerk to their feet, Blister yells:

“You slimy fuck, I’ll fucking kill you” As he stomps towards Mac.

Two of the soldiers stand in his way and Blister is met with a rifle barrel poking each of his eyes. He immediately raises his hands. Mac looks over the soldier’s shoulder at Blister.

“Oh, you didn’t think I was your friend, did you? Blister, they told me you were a little dull, but now, I can see you’re just fucking stupid… Have fun growing mould down here” He concludes, as he walks out of the room confidently.

“Nox, hey… it’s Davis” Jones pushes past Davis and the crew.

“Get out of the way, he needs space to breathe. Davis! Let me see him”

Davis backs off. Jones looks him over. Nox’s eyes flick open from their squinted state, Jones flinches backward, and then springs forward.

“Nox? Can you hear me?”

He frantically looks around and grabs at his eyes trying to signal that they don’t work. Jones turns to Davis.

“When you found him, what were they doing? Was he drugged or in a coma?”

“Ahh, umm…” Davis panics as he tries to remember.

“…He was hooked up to a machine, his eyes were covered, he ate through a tube”

“Makes sense, they had his brain in like, a low power mode so they could program it easier. He’s coming out of a coma, we have to be very careful with him”

Jones turns back to Nox.

“Nox, look at my hand…”

She holds it above his face and moves it in circles. His eyes track it but strain quickly. He blinks and swats it away with his own hand.

“Davis this is a good sign, he’s going to recover, I don’t know how well though”

“Will he be able to swim, or hold his breath?” Davis asks.

“You’re joking me, aren’t you?”

“No time for jokes, that’s how we’re getting out of here”

Jones looks at Nox and sighs.

“Fuck…” She turns back to Davis.

“…Come here, get him to follow your hand with his eyes and squeeze it on your command, one minute on, one minute off, get him to say a sentence, ask a question, whatever, and he should be able to swim”

“But he was talking before, when we found him. You heard him Elix, he said “Have to protect Davis”’

“Yeah that’s right, what does that mean Jones?” Elix asks.

“Look this wasn’t any normal coma, so side effects are going to be unpredictable, while he’s been able to say things; they’ve only been parrot sounds, echoes, and since they were fucking with his brain, that makes this incalculable at best”

Davis looks at Jones; he heard what she said but refused to accept any negative outcome.

“Blister, here, take my Morse responder, tell Trace to slow down, I need more time with Nox, he has to be ready when she gets here”

“You sure man, that’s real risky, having them take their time”

“I won’t leave here without him Blister, he’s been alone for too long already”

“Alright man, I’ll do it” Blister agrees, and empathises, if it had been his Charlotte or his boy Jacob, he would do the same.

“Mac I’m surprised, I didn’t peg you for a snitch, come in, come in, have a seat, do you want some coffee?”

Mac knows this offer of coffee and niceties is all part of Lance’s scheme. He’s setting a scene for Mac; he’s set himself up in the station’s workshop, and he’s using a work bench as his desk.

The long skinny room is radiating with warm light from above, Mac feels his Goosebumps disappear as he takes a seat in front of Lance.

“This is the cleanest workshop I have ever seen” Mac says.

“Amazing isn’t it, we can learn something from these Assims you know?”

“Enough bullshit…” Mac jabs “…It doesn’t have to happen this way. We should be listening to Davis; he and Artemis had a plan. We were going to work together Lance”

Lance scoffs.

“Humph, Artemis. He’d have us all commit suicide to save the masses, and Davis would use our bloodied clothes as a rope to climb into the Encephalon and save the day” He ends, rolling his eyes.

“You’re wrong” Mac states.

“Look around you Mac we’re sitting on top of our greatest victory to date. We disabled and secured the biggest reprograming station in the country. We did. Not Davis, nor Artemis…” Lance shakes his head and squints at Mac.

“…We stopped some of the most Dangerous Assims from scouring the streets looking for our little rat holes we call homes”

“So you admit it then?” Mac interjects.

Lance leans back into his chair to contemplate his answer.

“You should know by now Mac, there will always be casualties of war, but if we can choose which ones we lose, maybe their deaths will prove more useful than their lives ever could”

“You’ve fucking lost it Lance. Do you know I used to look up to you? And now, now I wouldn’t even look down at you if you were begging me for help. You’re no better than the Encephalon. We’re not sitting on victory. We’re standing on our dead with our heads in the clouds and calling ourselves giants. That’s no victory”

Lance doesn’t even wince at his former comrade’s words. He then draws a confused look on his face.

“You came in here offering Intel, but now you’re berating me like I’m some kind of child…” Something clicks in Lance’s brain

“…Oh, OH! Mac, you almost did it, you almost had me fooled. You’re stalling me you rascal…”

Lance switches from sportive to serious as he leans over the desk.

“…Now, tell me their plan or I’ll use YOUR bones to lift my head OUT of the clouds”

Mac breaks immediately; he can’t keep his ruse up now that Lance has caught him out.

“No, don’t, you need me; you’ll need all of us if we’re going to survive”

“Tell me their plan Mac” Lance repeats.

“Ahh, fuck it. They’ve played you all for fools; they were never going to use our Clusters as a decoy…”

Mac points all around the room with both index fingers.

“…This, this station was their plan all along, they meant to lure all the Clusters here so the Assimilated could swarm in and take you all away”

Lance fails to conceal his laughter.

“Ahah ahhahaha” His cackle angers Mac.

“What the fuck is so funny?” Mac asks.

“There’s only one fool in here, and it isn’t me. That couldn’t possibly be his plan…”

Again, Lance’s silliness converts to a straight face.

“…Because it’s my plan. No, they plan to escape somehow. John, get in here” He calls out.

“Sir?” The boy asks, rushing through the door from the corridor.

“Bring me Davis and his crew immediately”

“Yes sir” The soldier complies, before dashing out of the room.

He’s gone no more than ten seconds before he comes sprinting back in the room. A variety of screams can be heard down the hall. A distant commotional buzz fills the room as the boy enters, his sweat stained clothes immediately sting Mac’s nostrils.

“Lance, err, Sir! It’s the Assims sir; they’re massing out the front, what do we do?”

Lance stands with a feint smirk, he adjusts his collar and looks at the boy calmly.

“Get the crack shots to the towers and everyone else on the walls, let the Assims get real close, and when I give the order, we EMP them until they’re no more than a seizing pile of skin, got it?”

Enthusiastically: “Yes Sir” The boy confirms.

Just as the soldier flinches to leave, Mac stands.

“He’s never going to give that order kid”

The boy looks at Mac confused. He doesn’t suspect Lance’s deceit at all. Lance steps closer to the young man.

“It’s just the ravings of a desperate criminal, don’t listen to him son” Lance attempts to quell the distrust Mac has seeded.

Mac raises his voice:

“You’ll be Assimilated if you stay, get out, get your friends ou…”

Mac’s sentence runs short as the violent, thunderous clap of Lance’s pistol rings out in the boy’s ears; he cringes, his hands fly to his ears as he squeezes his eyes shut in fear.

Mac falls back onto his chair; its legs slide out and he thuds to the ground. His body lies awkwardly on the white tiled floor turning red, like blood on the tundra it taints as it seeps from Mac’s nearly missing head.

The young man’s eyes open from their terror closed state and are fixed on the blood puddle trailing to the nearest drain in the floor.

“Man the wall. Man the towers. I won’t give a second order soldier” Says Lance.

Survival clicks in the boy’s brain, he shakes as he stutters:

“Y…Yes Sir” His minute old enthusiasm disperses into the air, along with pink mist of Lance’s actions.

The boy runs out the door shaking his head, and maybe if he shook it hard enough the image would fall away from the insides of his eye lids. Such a sight would not easily fade.

Lance holsters his pistol and sips his now lukewarm coffee.

“Hmm, the Assimilated are early, I guess I won’t have to dirty my hands a second time after all” He says quietly to himself.

He doesn’t even take a second look at his former compatriot before leaving the sullied workshop to see his motives through.

 

Symbionic. Chapter 5: Part 1

Catch up on Symbionic, from blurb to now; here.

The first floor of the reprogramming station has been hastily converted into a mess hall, its glossed white walls and polished concrete grey floors remain spotless from the Assimilated’s occupancy. Ammunition crates, weapons containers and rolled up clothes litter the floor, with Hûms atop them slurping soup from any container without holes in it and nibbling bread and jerky from cupped hands and crumb laden laps.

“Pristine isn’t it?” Lance asks the group.

“Like a fucking morgue” Davis surlily quips, looking at every part of the room Lance did with a certainty to his disgust

“It lacks imagination if you ask me” States Blister.

Elix jumps in with:

“Well someone had to imagine it; either way its purpose outweighs any beauty it might hold”

Lance slyly smiles.

“If you want beauty, I’ll have to show you the paintings our Cluster has collected…”

She smiles in return, blushing slightly under the dirt on her face.

“…That will have to wait for the war to end though… Moving on, Mac and I will be in the command room, Blister, Davis, you can join us once you’ve eaten”

Lance and Mac walk away to the top right corner of the gigantic room, where partitions have been set up, segregating the Cluster leaders from the others. Lance stops a soldier on his way, tells him something, then points to Elix, Davis and Blister. The soldier runs off to the kitchen while the trio of tired Hûms find themselves a spot to sit.

Blister finds a patch of unclaimed floor next to one of the four load bearing pylons in the centre of the room. Davis sits to his left and Elix to his right.

“Feels good doesn’t it?” Blister asks.

“The floor is really hard” Elix giggles as she ends her sentence.

Davis shoots snot from his nose trying to hold his laughter in.

“Feels real good” He says as the coolness of the concrete travels through his pants into his buttocks.

The room is noisy with lame anecdotes and tired jokes made fresh, heard by new ears. The mixing of Clusters blends well with the aroma of hot soup and fresh bread being generously handed out. The scent is strong in the room and mostly foreign to many of the Hûms within, including Elix, and when the food rushes over to them on a tray carried by an efficient soldier, the only thing stronger than Elix’s curiosity of what ingredients have been used is her hunger to eat them without question.

“Pea and potato soup with fresh bread guys” The soldier says.

Elix and Blister barely hear the man over their loud guzzling and bread slopping as they furiously dig into it. Davis takes a slower approach, he knows his stomach has shrunk and feels it foolish to stretch it, as his next meal may not be as hearty and filling.

“Oh and… Elix…” The soldier lingers, and looks to his left and right for prying eyes, before handing her a small piece of something Elix has never seen.

“This is from Lance”

Elix pauses with her mouth full of soup-soaked bread, looking up at the man dumbfounded. She extends her hand and grabs the dark red item. The soldier walks away.

With his mouth also full of soup-soaked bread, Blister sputters:

“Lucky…”

Elix turns to him in time to see him swallow a mouth full of food bigger than his throat should be able to handle.

“…I can’t believe he gave you jerky” Blister concludes, with absolute jealousy crippling his face from any other emotion.

“What the hell is jerky?” She asks, holding it to the lights above, witnessing the light turn reddish brown through its membrane.

“It’s victory food” Blister spits through his food.

“Just put it in your mouth and chew Elix” Says Davis.

Elix takes the smallest of bites with the largest look of inquisition her face could manifest. It’s tough at first, but once its mixes with her saliva it softens to release its sweet and spicy flavours, vanilla dances with bourbon, the chilli bathes in maple syrup and Elix is transported to another planet, far from the woes of her world.

She opens her eyes and stares lovingly at the rest of her jerky, then snaps back to her earthly self. She tears it in two and hands a piece to Blister. Blister snatches it, gulps the last swallow of his own food, and scrubs his mouth clean with his tongue before gingerly placing the jerky inside. Elix turns to Davis and offers the remaining piece.

“Don’t you dare Elix, that’s your bit. Besides, my hands are still dirty, I’d ruin the flavour”

Elix wanted to dispute him but realised he was talking metaphorically. Davis is full of guilt and hungrier than ever, not for jerky, but for victory against the Encephalon. He took a loss tonight, one that will haunt him for the rest of his time, and looking around seeing all the Hûms celebrating, made it worse.

He finishes his meal in silence. Silence, he thought, was better for morale than carving his heart out with a discarded plastic fork and showing everyone in the room how black it was, and why.

Elix pockets her remaining jerky, and Blister asks:

“You guys here that?”

Elix tries to hone her hearing in.

“Is that buzzing?” She queries.

“Must be a tremor…” Davis says, nudging Blister’s leg suspiciously.

“…I hope Trace is okay…” He continues hoping Blister catches on.

Davis is receiving a message from Trace on his emergency Morse responder; he relays it to Blister by tapping his elbow just out of sight.

“Sub… Ready… Leaving…”

Any more and her signal could be tracked. Davis adds to his message for Blister.

“Tell… Elix… Prepare… Battle”

He looks to Davis a little confused at his choice of words and how exactly he is to repeat the message to Elix. He turns to her with a cheesy grin and eyes full of seduction.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Elix asks.

Blister leans in to whisper:

“Sweet nothings” In her ear.

She cringes and giggles at his breath on her neck. Now she’s twice as confused. He goes in again.

“Trace is coming to get us, be ready for anything and laugh when I pull away”

She laughs as requested and adds a punch to the arm to aid the ruse.

The feast ends and most of the Hûms in the room saunter merrily off to their tents to retire for the night; full bellied and sapped of most of their energy. Those left who aren’t Elix, Blister and Davis trudge off to relieve other Hûms from their guard posts so they can rest too. As the room clears, the trio from Cluster F walk into the command room.

There’s a few soldiers cleaning away the remnants of the leader’s dinner, as a few more people enter the room.

“Shut the door on your way out…” Lance orders.

“…That’s everyone isn’t it? Good…” He asks and answers himself.

“…Let’s begin” He concludes.

Mac walks to the head of the room, made to feel small by the thirty odd Cluster leaders filling it.

“Today we put fear into the Encephalon; we crippled a major component of their operations”

The room cheers, Mac raises his voice to surpass them.

“Now this is not the end of the war…”

The leaders quieten.

“…The Encephalon is still out there, still taking our fellow Hûms, still Assimilating them. We all know something of Davis’ plan, and it’s a good plan, but it comes with a cost, one each and every one of you needs to understand fully before undertaking it. Davis, fill them in”

Davis clears his throat superfluously as he steps up to take Mac’s place. He’s nervous as he looks around at all the faces; most of which eagerly anticipate his words so they can disagree immediately. A few want his blood soaked deep into the pores of their hands, and even fewer wish to genuinely hear him out.

“I fucked up. I won’t deny it; all of you are here because I wanted to save one person and a lot more of us aren’t here for the same reason. I will never forgive myself for what happened to those Hûms underneath us…”

Davis sighs to keep from breaking down.

“…Everyone in this room risked their lives for Elix, my brother and myself. I owe you my life and I intend to see it as the only future casualty in the final attack… But my Cluster needs your help, we need enough time to slip into the Encephalon unnoticed, so what we need is for you to draw out as many Assims as you can; by attacking the bridges that lead to the Encephalon”

The room erupts in a furious chatter. Ki, the leader of J Cluster stands.

“You managed to kill all the Hûms in the basement and now you would have us run head first into Assimilation, why? So you can run off to some other basement and have the Encephalon finish US off. Fuck that. Fuck you Davis”

Davis cops the insult, he was ready for worse. Jones of Cluster C stands before Ki gets a chance to sit.

“Guys, all failures aside, it’s actually a great plan, provided it works; the Encephalon would just think were being the dumb humans they already think we are, running to our inevitable demise in classic human nature. But Davis, those of us who can see past your recent transgressions, we want to know how you’re going to end them; how will you stop the Encephalon?”

The command room roars once again in agreeance with Jones

“I can’t, I just can’t tell you that. If I tell you and you get Assimilated, it’s over. Everything we’ve worked for, everything Artemis built, every Hûm that was ever Assimilated would have been for nothing, and we would be nothing. That’s the only way we can win, you have to believe me”

Blister stands from his seat, he’s been itching to say something this whole time.

“If you can’t trust Davis, trust me, and trust Artemis” He says.

Elix joins her companions.

“I stand with Davis…” She says.

“…Anyone else here brave enough to stand with us?”

Korvo stands, Blister and he exchange nods. Mac stands too.

Lance paces in front of everyone, his hand clasping his wrist behind his back.

“Hmm, how very interesting, it seems we have identified the Hûms that plot against us, against the Uprising. Davis, I didn’t want it to happen this way, but I’m going to have revoke you and your companion’s right to be a part of our collective, with the support of the rest of the Uprising of course. A show of hands?” He asks the leaders loudly.

“…Who here thinks Davis has over stepped his bounds, who here thinks Cluster F has taken the Uprising for granted? And gambled with the very lives they so proudly claim to protect and emancipate? Who here thinks they should be relieved of their positions in the fight against the Encephalon? Stand now if you agree”

All those standing for Davis quickly reclaim their chairs as the majority thrust to their feet. Blister yells at them from his chair.

“You’ve all been tricked; can’t you see Lance is working for the enemy”

They remain standing. Elix steps in, finally realising Lance’s role in the attack.

“He’s the one who shut down the life support generators. He killed the Hûms in this station, not Davis”

Barlon from Cluster A roars his opinion at Cluster F.

“If Lance hadn’t shut them down we would have a faced a far more formidable enemy than the few Assims guarding this place, you know what they are capable of, we would have surely been wiped out”

“Yeah, they would’ve killed themselves to Assimilate us” A random sub Cluster leader states.

“It was the only way” Another says.

Davis has been silent for too long and his anger has been rising since Lance opened his mouth; he stands.

“Look around you, look at the person next to you, across from you, ahead of you. Today these people, these Hûms; if you can still call them that, they’ve become worse than any Assimilated we’ve come across, worse than anyone in the Encephalon. All of you, every fucking one of you has turned from your humanity. You would kill your brothers and sisters just to gain another day? Of what? Fucking hiding in the sewers? Starving in the cold? At least in my pursuit for my brother I was the only one being sacrificed. And then you mother fuckers showed up, and it all went to shit…”

The room falls silent; there weren’t any comebacks to what Davis had said. They were right in their way and he was right in his. All they needed was someone to tell them what they had done was righter than what Davis had done. That person was Lance. He spoke to them on a level every man, woman and child knew all too well in the world the Encephalon has built. He spoke to them through a filter of fear, he made them scared, too scared to see that Davis is right, too scared to even stand against one man, let alone the Encephalon.

“…Lance, don’t do this, you can’t stay h…”

Lance butts in with a sharp piercing whistle, a squad of soldiers run into the room and look to Lance for direction.

“Take Davis and his Cluster to the secure room on sub level five. Korvo, Jones, Mac, you’d be wise to follow…”

The soldiers snatch Cluster F by their arms, and drag them out the doorway.

“…Oh, and wake up Nox, I’m sure he’d love to see his brother one last time”

Davis kicks and struggles as he screams:

“The Assimilated will reclaim what you’ve taken, you can’t escape them” His words echo into the mess hall and ring out in the ears of the Cluster leaders.

Under his breath: “And neither will you” Lance says.

Symbionic. Chapter 4: Final Part

Catch up from the beginning, here.

“Mac, err, Sir, we’ve managed to destroy the main generator, but have been unsuccessful in locating the back-up” A foot soldier reports.

“No need to search son, they’ll be scampering out soon enough. Move in the Clusters, focus on the south towers first then converge on the central. We take the yard, we fortify, we move inside the station and sweep floor by floor” Mac orders.

“Yes sir” the soldier complies.

Mac returns to his overwatch position to the West of the station, just inside the cover of the ocean crust’s forest. As he gets there, Mac notices Lance talking covertly with a soldier. Lance’s face is wrought with intent and then the boy rushes off into the fray.

“What was that about?” Mac asks.

“Oh, he was just nervous about the fight, it takes a few inspiring words to be seasoned veterans like us, aye mate?”

Mac knows that kid.

He’s fearless, what are you plotting Lance?

Mac doesn’t let Lance get a whiff of his suspicion, he throws a casual insult to elude.

“Hey you’re the only seasoned one around here, although I did used to be a Vet” he jests.

The two Hûms chuckle like old chums, Mac sighs, and his sanguine words follow:

“I hope what we’re doing is right”

Calmly Lance replies:

“Everything we’ve done so far has been right, even if it didn’t feel that way while we were doing it”

Mac smiles at Lance and extends his hand towards the battle field.

“Shall we?” He asks, gesturing for the two of them to enter the fight.

“I thought you’d never ask” Lance jokes, and they then change their faces to serious mode to engage in combat.

Davis peeks through the crack of the barely opened door leading to the reprogramming floor.

“Now’s our chance Elix, all the Assims have gone to fight up top”

“What do you think’s going on up there?” Elix asks

“Trace better not have done something stupid” He replies.

The two of them leave the maintenance corridor into a wide low-ceilinged room, filled with rows and rows of Hûms strapped down to chairs with helmets covering their heads. A giant steel centipede scales down their spines with wires and tubes going in and coming out of them, they sit; defiantly awaiting completion of their reprogramming so they can enter the solace of Assimilation or the void of ocean and death.

The rows continue like pews in a church under the soft blue light that the back-up generator emits until they blend with shadows in the distance. Elix and Davis stare silently in awe. The whole room reeks of sweat, bile and all other conceivable excretions that don’t quite make it from tube to mouth or Hûm to drain.

“Fifteen floors just like this” Elix states despairingly.

Davis would’ve replied if his brain wasn’t still processing the scale of the search he and Elix were in for.

The pair walk down the aisles, twenty Hûms on their right and twenty on their left. Davis scans their body shapes extensively.

“Look for black hair like mine and a scar on his thumb” He says, and then he returns to his determined search.

Elix scans the room but her mind isn’t focused like Davis’.

“These machines, is this what we’re in for if give in?”

“No Elix, this is what you get if you fight to the end. I think they’re some kind of sensory deprivation device, look at these masks, they look like they’re exposing these Hûms to a different atmosphere”

Elix has become fascinated by the process.

“They block your ears, they blind you, they make you breathe smoke and eat sludge, Davis we have to stop this” She says compassionately.

Elix knows his reply by the look on his face, his eyes are peeled, mouth closed like an overtightened vice, breathing heavily through his nose. His brain has long since shut down his smell receptors to focus its energy to his eyes.

They continue their search for a tedious amount of time, and then, of to the side by the walls cloaked in a darker shadow.

“NOX” He cries out.

More than fifty rows deep into the stations lowest floor, Elix whips her gaze to Davis’ voice. By the time she makes it over to him Davis has already ripped the mask from his brother’s head.

“Davis, be careful” She warns.

The chair hisses and releases the rest of the restraints from Nox.

“I’ve got you, I found you” Davis reassures, as he lifts his brother’s weakened body from the chair.

They both fall, Elix flinches forward as though to try and catch them, but they fall too fast. Davis lands with Nox on his lap, he rustles his body, turning Nox to see his face. Nox coughs up some of the brown sludge that should be food, and then opens his eyes as he sharply gasps for air.

“I’ve got you, I’ve got you” Davis repeats, choking up his last three words as he rests his head on Nox’s, rocking him gently.

Nox has been still for too long and Elix suspects he has either passed out or passed over. Elix is visibly distressed.

“Davis…” She starts, but before she gets a chance to continue Nox seizes to life, his back arches, hands curl to his chest and teeth grit.

“Rarrlgh” He gargles as though screaming out for his stolen vocal chords, Davis desperately tries to keep his brother within his arms.

The seizure subsides, Elix is in tears, watching helplessly as Nox twitches and tenses his muscles.

“Nox…” Davis asserts “…Look at me”

Nox opens and closes his jaw like he’s trying to adjust to a new altitude, his eyes roll, but eventually he meets his erratic gaze to Davis’. With his body in a foetal position Nox reaches out to touch Davis’s face.

“D… Da…” He begins.

Davis eyes enlarge with hope, his face wrinkles a smile through his tears, and he nods to encourage his brother.

“Dad” Says Nox.

Davis presses his hand onto Nox’s.

“It’s Davis, Nox; it’s your little brother”

Nox stares blankly up, the name doesn’t register. Davis looks to Elix, each of them choking on a lump in their throats.

“I’m too late, they’ve taken me from his memories” He holds his brother close and cries an unashamed cry, Elix turns away to unleash her own tears.

And then, between a whimper and a breath:

“Davis. Have to protect Davis” Nox recites.

“Yeah, bud, that’s what Dad said”

Davis’ smile returns, Nox’s face scrunches with confusion. He’s thinking, remembering more. Visions come to Nox, as he twists and spasms in Davis’ arms.

“RUN” Nox screams.

Then thousands of clicks echo from all sides into the ears of the three Hûms.

“RUN DAVIS” Nox yells.

“Elix help me lift him”

Her mind switches from its saddened state to one of high alertness as she snaps into action. They grab Nox by his arms and throw them over their shoulders; they run dragging Nox’s atrophic legs behind them.

As the three flee, a familiar hissing sound ripples into their ears.

“Davis, the Hûms, they’re…” Elix starts.

“They aren’t Hûms anymore; the Assims must be losing up top”

The thousands of freshly brainwashed Assims stand in unison, they remove their sensory depriving masks, the spinal attachment unscrews itself, whizzing and whirring its deep screws from their bones.

Halfway to the maintenance corridor, the feint blue light gets consumed by the cold darkness of sub level sixteen in the reprogramming station, held captive indefinitely. A cascade of thuds rumble in the shadow clad room. A whisper is all Elix can muster:

“Davis, what do we do?”

“Keep moving Elix, we have to get to the maintenance room”

Davis cracks a glow stick with his free hand, illuminating only a few metres around them. Elix gasps.

“They’re…” She says “…But why would they…” Her shock prevents her from finishing her sentences.

“Elix we have a window, let’s use it” Davis says.

The trio make it to the corridor and rest Nox against the side wall, Davis pants before saying:

“They must’ve killed the back-up generator” He claims, hands to his knees breathing heavily.

“But… How could they… have known?” Elix asks between her inhales and exhales.

Davis doesn’t have an answer for her, as much as she’d like him to; Davis is equally confused. The thumps of their hearts subside along with Davis’ glow stick and the hum of the room is lost to the blackened atmosphere.

Silence takes charge for only a moment, leaving Elix and Davis to their thoughts about what could be happening. Nox resumes his babbling.

“Someone, some, someone, someone Davis” and then in the distance a single set of military boots taps a loudening rhythm.

Davis whispers:

“Elix, get behind me”

She complies, quietly.

The three Hûms huddle in the dark; waiting. A flashlight scans the vast room outside the corridor, Davis watches it illuminate the door jamb, as it aims to their side of the room; Davis draws his pistol and cocks the hammer, it gives him something other than shade to aim for.

The footsteps stop and immediately the light turns fully to the maintenance corridor. Elix holds Nox’s head and covers his ears, he squeezes Davis’ arm. The steps resume, the rectangle brightens as it nears and at its brightest it flicks off, Davis fires at the door, no thud, he fires again and then a third shot. Nox screams out, his eardrums rattle; the prolonged deprivation of his senses has tuned his hearing to make a pebble sound like a boulder crashing. Davis fires one last time before he realises he’s hurt his brother.

The shots ring out for a few seconds, smoke from the barrel floats around them and the casings settle themselves, bouncing into their final nooks. From the quiet comes a young man’s stern voice.

“Hûms?”

Elix looks to Davis for guidance, he doesn’t give it, his face is ponderous yet he can’t think of what to do. Elix aims her voice to the door.

“Hûms” She replies.

The shuffling of the man’s gear is all the three can hear on the other side of the door.

 

“Sir I’ve found them… …Sixteenth Sir… …Yes I will sir”

Davis and Elix look to each other once more, both of them unsure of who the man is talking to and what intentions they have for them.

The door creaks open cautiously, the man flicks his flashlight on, Davis raises his gun, Nox flinches, and Elix stands. The light shines directly into her eyes then straight to the floor. The three’s eyes adjust.

“Davis?” the man asks.

He lowers his weapon and grumpily replies.

“Yeah, well who else were you expecting”

“We have to get you top side Sir” The man says, reaching for Nox to help the two of them stand.

“Aarrgh” Nox screams.

“Have to protect Davis” He recites, clawing his hand at the soldier, the man backs off immediately.

“We’ve got it thanks, Elix grab him, slowly”

The two grab Nox and the four of them walk up an out of the station.

Nox exits the station with Davis and Elix under each of his arms, his legs have regained some off their functions and the exercise of stair climbing has jogged his memory when he sees:

“Blister” He calls out.

Blister turns to them from his huddle amongst the Cluster leaders; he runs to them and relieves Elix of Nox’s weight. Davis and Blister look at each other across Nox’s weary face, and in that moment, Davis silently apologises and Blister silently forgives, abolishing any animosity that previously stood between them.

“Medics! Bring a stretcher, and help these Hûms” Mac commands, pacing straight for Davis and Nox.

Two soldiers run up to Nox, they try and grab him to ease him onto the stretcher, but:

“NO!” He squawks kicking his legs at them wildly.

“Whoa calm down, we’re trying to help” One of the medics says defensively.

Davis and Blister take a couple of steps backwards.

“Nox, cool it” Davis orders.

“Hey medic, you got any of those Molly-pops?” Blister asks.

Still on guard; the medic steps closer and throws from his satchel an ocean blue Molly-pop. Davis snatches it from the air and unwraps it.

“Nox, here check this out” He says.

Nox looks to his right; Davis tastes the Molly-pop.

“Mm your favourite: Blueberry”

Nox steals it and swiftly wraps his lips around it. The flavour explodes on his starved tongue, honey and blueberry seep into the cracks of his tongue, his salivary glands flood his mouth and aid the medicine down his throat; his pupils dilate. Davis and Blister ease him onto the stretcher and the medics take him into one of the many tents erected in the front yard of the reprogramming station.

“Mac…” Blister begins “…We have to get those Hûms out and ready to leave, we can’t keep them here while they’re recuperating”

Mac stands with his hands held at ease behind his back.

“It’s already underway, I’ve got men combing the station as we speak, they’ll be in homes soon enough”

Davis senses something is out place.

“They won’t find anything” he says grimly.

Mac furrows his brow at Davis.

“What do you mean? What happened in there?”

Davis pokes two fingers into Mac’s chest as he says:

“You and your soldiers shorted the power to the re-programmers. You killed them. If we didn’t get Nox out, he’d be gone too”

Mac is offended but holds his composure, he pokes Davis’ chest as he says:

“If you weren’t here at all, none of them would be dead and we’d have more resources to carry out our primary mission. You do still want to stop the Encephalon, don’t you Davis?”

Mac’s retaliatory temper wears off and he and Davis come to a simultaneous realisation. For Davis, it’s that his actions have been reckless and that his brother’s freedom has come with a severe cost. And for Mac, he understands exactly why Lance was so adamant about taking this place as a beachhead and what he was talking to his soldier about before the attack.

Mac starts again in a softer tone leaning in close:

“Davis something’s going o…”

But he’s interrupted by Jack running over from the station.

“Mac, there’s people alive in there…”

Davis’ drooped head rises and his guilt shrinks by a fraction.

“…We’ve got a handful of Hûms on each floor, they’re a mess, but the docs think they’ll be alright”

Mac looks to Davis, his gaze; implying he’s not yet finished with him before he turns back to Jack.

“Jack! I want everyone helping those Hûms up to ground level”

Jack nods and runs away as quick as he came. Elix can’t hold her tongue any longer.

“Was it you that gave the order?” She asks Mac, her fists clenched tight, her heart racing with adrenaline.

“That’s not what happened here…” Mac states.

Her voice rises:

“Did you cut the power?”

Mac puts his hands up gesturing her to calm down.

“Yes, I gave the order to shut down the main generators, we wouldn’t have been able to take the station if I didn’t”

Elix’s voice trembles as she raises it louder still:

“NO, you shorted the life support, you killed everyone, you ripped away their chance of freedom, and now you’re trying to blame it all on Davis. You’re pathetic”

Mac can see why she would come to that conclusion; it all makes sense to her.

“Hear me out, please…” Mac pleads.

“Spew your lies all you want” She states, arms crossed, mind made.

“Elix…” Davis starts “…Give him a chance, I trust him, and something’s off here, what were you going to say before Jack came over?”

“Yeah, what’s going on Mac?” Asks Blister as he herds the group into a huddle.

Mac whispers:

“The Clusters are being compromised, I can’t confirm anything yet but I think Lance is cooperating with the Encephalon, but still, even that doesn’t feel right, they’ve never acted like this before”

Mac ponders on his unsure thoughts as Blister jumps in.

“Mac, this is just like what I saw in the sewers, after the Raven’s Tongue was attacked. Davis, Elix, the Encephalon isn’t what it used to be, someone on the inside is trying to gain control and I think they’ll do anything to end us”

Elix is quiet, Davis curiously asks:

“You really think they’d bargain with a Cluster leader to kill off some Hûms?”

Elix eats her grudge with Mac.

“They’re scared, they must be… Mac I’m sorry for what I said, but if there’s a mole, we can’t trust anyone, we can’t even trust you, so how do we move forward”

“Elix!” Blister says, shocked.

“No, Blister, she’s right, the one telling us there’s a mole is highly likely to be mole themselves”

“But that doesn’t make any sense” Blister says, also thinking that it might make perfect sense.

Mac puts his hand to Blister’s shoulder.

“Blister, it’s okay, I’ve been called worse. What’s important now is that you lot get out of here and follow through with your plan. What is your plan by the way?”

The three of them look to one another, painted in their scepticism.

“Ha haa, got you…” Mac jests, and an unexpected chuckle overwhelms them.

“…Don’t tell me your plan. That would be stupid, I’ll get you on your wa…”

Something catches Mac’s attention; Lance is closing in on them.

“…And then I threw parsley at him and said “Now who’s a ‘seasoned’ Vet””

The group turn their dying chuckle into a merry laugh as they break their huddle, turning to face Lance.

“Not conspiring against the Uprising, are we? Haha” Lance jokes.

Mac perks up his voice:

“I ran out of inspiring words to give them so I told them a joke instead”

Lance giggles falsely as he slings his arm over Davis’s shoulder.

“Come on, let’s go inside, my boys have fixed the lights and prepared some food for us. Tonight, we eat like there is no war, and later we talk strategy”

 

Symbionic. Chapter 4: Part 5

“Okay, Trace should be set up by now” Says Davis, calculating her mission time as he stares at his watch.

“How are we going to find Nox once we’re inside?” Elix asks.

Davis focuses on her.

“No, don’t think about that yet, we’re getting in first that is our mission, okay?”

Elix understands, and recites the plan.

“When the EMP goes off and the towers are distracted, we run”

Elix breathes deeply and exhales through trembling lips, her heartbeat raises as the seconds go by. Elix was about to ask a second question to quell her rising adrenaline, but was interrupted by the distant crunch of the EMP blast.

“Move!” Davis barks.

The instant he dashes through the bushes they have been hiding in, the guard towers’ spotlights are spun away from the pair’s trajectory, leaving only the moonlight to pierce through a cloud-freckled sky on their path.

Elix is two steps behind Davis but the gap quickly stretches due to the man’s longer stride.

“Faster” he rips to Elix.

You can go faster than this. She thinks to her tired leg muscles.

She catches him and they skid to a halt at the water’s edge, waiting for a body to fall. Between panting breaths Davis laments at the seconds draining away.

“Fuck we’re burning too much time” He says, gulping a sentence worth of air to conclude.

The spotlights resume their scan of the surrounding area.

“Davis, there’s still time to run back”

Davis doesn’t answer, he stares intently at the sloshing pool of water below. Frantically, Elix repeats:

“Davis?”

“No, wait” He finally answers, pressing his ear to the wall of the complex.

The lights are halfway to illuminating the two.

“Do you hear it?” Davis asks.

Elix tries to listen over her thumping chest; to no avail, and then without notice Davis plops into the water feet first. If it weren’t for the sound, Elix would have thought he slipped into another dimension. Elix draws in a few large breaths, then a final one before plunging in in the same manner as her companion.

Once submerged Elix looks around for Davis, he’s clung onto some steel protruding from the first underwater disposal hatch. Elix swims furiously to him perpetually fearful of every sea creature she can imagine snatching her from their feeding ground.

More noises from within the building vibrate the steel on which they anxiously grip. The hatch opens, a body launches out leaving a trail of blood to blend with the salty water behind it. Davis and Elix slip in, and the hatch closes. The tube they find themselves in drains of all but a small flowing river to allow the next body an easy slide.

“Never thought I’d miss the smell of the sewers” Elix quips, Davis whispers his retort:

“Focus Elix, this tube is short and there’s Assims at the other end”

His steps lighten and pace slows; Elix mimics. There’s a light ahead of them and from it comes the sound of squeaking footsteps; busy Assims carrying out the Encephalon’s programming.

Davis stops and turns to Elix, he signals with his hands for Elix to stay put while he scouts ahead. Only one step is tread when Davis silently skips backward a few spaces; the loudening of footsteps spooked him. Elix and Davis watch curiously as the shadow figures strewn on the inside of the tunnel load a body onto the slide, and push it down towards them.

The body slithers right past the two in a trail of blood and brown sludge. His face is so mangled Elix raises both hands to quell and escaping gasp. She turns to Davis for a reprieve of the horror, but can see it in his eyes; the intent to do this horrific action to whoever’s in charge, and part of Elix wants that too.

A closing door in the distance snaps the two from their darkened thoughts.

“Quick, we have to get in there” Davis spits.

The duo charges up the rest of the chute, step down into the room and begin their whispered infiltration.

“Davis, we have to stop what’s happening here” Elix states.

“I know, first we find Nox” Davis replies, as he peers out of the disposal room’s doorway.

“Now” He says.

Elix and Davis zip down the hallway, they hear an elevator in the centre of the complex. The two of them wait just out of sight of the Assims trajectory and long enough for them to return to their level.

“When it comes up, we let the Assims pass and we slip in before the doors close, got it?” Davis sibilates.

“If we’re spotted we’re dead right?”

“Don’t think about it Elix, we made it this far, just step as quietly as you…”

“Shh” Elix interrupts.

She can hear the elevator. The two of them freeze, the doors open with a hydraulic hiss. A man and a woman exit with a trolley stacked full of bodies from one of the levels without a disposal chute. The Assim’s footsteps and irritating squeak of the trolley’s wheels fade just enough for Davis to slink around the corner and get into the elevator unnoticed, Elix doesn’t hear any complications and follows exactly.

She finds Davis kneeling in the centre of the metal box; waiting. Elix catches on quick and steps on his knee. Davis springs up, thrusting her at the ceiling; she ascends hands first through the manway silently. Gently, Elix places the cover to the side and pulls herself through. Immediately she reaches down to Davis with her bionic arm, their palms meet each other’s forearms and she lifts him with relative ease up enough for him pull himself through. Davis quietly places the manway cover back into position.

In the faintly lit shaft the smell of the sanitary walls is lost to the greased gears and steel ropes covered in a moss of dust and oil. Davis touches Elix on the hand, she turns to him. He whispers, barely audible words:

“Sub level sixteen”

Elix isn’t sure how Davis knows but she nods in agreeance. Elix is about to speak, but Davis raises his finger to his lips, pausing her querying thought. The squeak of the trolley’s wheels supersedes their beating hearts and the Assims enter the elevator and head downward.

Down and up the elevator travels, picking up any Hûm that failed their Assimilation. some of them babble an indecipherable language, some of them scream all the way to the disposal room, but all of them end up at one, whether they know where they are going or not, whether they’re conscious or not, if their minds don’t yield, they snap and they’re disposed of.

Finally, after silently keeping track of which level they are on, Elix and Davis make it to sub level sixteen.

The pair sneak to the edge of the elevator and step off to stand on a slender ledge, not even thick enough for them to hold a full lung of air as the elevator moves up. They stare at each other to stop their chins from scraping against the rising cube. Elix was sure it moved faster while they were above it; her discomfort grows as high as they are low beneath the surface, she closes her eyes to try and meditate through it and eventually it passes.

Elix and Davis enjoy a deep industrial smelling breath of far-from-fresh air before they climb down to the bottom of the shaft. While grounded Davis says:

“There’s a door here, must be for maintenance…”

He pauses to try the handle.

“…It’s open” He states, Elix scoffs.

“Of course, it is, why would an impenetrable Assim compound have a need for a locked door at its lowest level?”

Davis smirks.

“You know, I used to sass Nox like that, he hated it…”

The two Hûms creep down the corridor cautiously as Davis continues.

“…It’s funny being on the receiving end for once, it’s like looking through a window and seeing someone else’s backyard instead of your own” His tone trails off from nostalgia to end in sombre.

Elix asks him in a dejected timbre:

“We’re running through here blind, aren’t we?”

Davis stops, Elix can feel the air change around him, his hands meet his face, and they cover his eyes pulling his skin downward into a grimace as they slide.

“I’ve fucked up Elix…” He says, re-covering his eyes.

“No, you haven’t” She reassures sternly.

Davis staggers to the concrete wall beside him, places his back to it and skids down until his butt hits the floor. His hands move from his eyes and reveals to Elix how bloodshot and teary they’ve become. He points around the room with open palms aimed to the ceiling.

“Fucking look where we are…” His voice crackles with defeated morale.

“…We’re not getting out of here. I’ve set myself on fire, just as Blister said, and now, the worst part, you’re down here, stuck with me and I’m about to cook us both alive”

Elix refuses to believe Davis’ exhausted blithering.

“Davis, get up!” She says as loud as their stealth will permit. His response is swift:

“Why? Nox has probably been disposed of by now… Plop, splash, fucking lunch time sharkies”

Just as his hands reach for his eyes to once again sob Elix lunges at her companion grabs him by the scruff of his collar and lifts him to his feet, only to punch him in the stomach.

“Ooff” He blurts, she jabs him on his chin, he falls backward, Elix catches him before he can hit the wall and alert the Assim’s of their presence. Davis flops his lamentable body onto Elix, her legs wane under his weight, and Davis whimpers in her arms.

“You feel that?” she asks, close to his ear.

“That’s pain. Only Hûms get to feel that and only a Hûm knows what it’s for”

Davis sniffles.

“Fucking use it Davis, we are so close, and I’m so tired” She adds.

Davis composes himself and wipes his eyes on his still soggy sleeve.

“I thought I was doing the right thing coming here…”

His face is wet with emotion as he sits, leaning against the wall again. Elix joins him on his left.

“You are, this is what we should be doing, throwing fire back at the gods, showing them exactly what they created, and not caring if we get a little burnt in the process. We’ve been on fire since birth, some Hûms just burn hotter Davis, and the rest, well the rest can’t handle the heat, that’s all”

Davis rests his head on his right hand with his elbow on his knee, looking at Elix.

“I can’t forgive myself Elix, I betrayed Blister, I deceived my Cluster, for what? To end up sixteen floors deep in this fucking bunker? Crying and shitting myself on an impossible mission to save my brother? I’m no leader…” Davis shakes his head and continues to berate himself internally.

“You’re wrong Davis, but you’re also human. You made a choice and you chose blood and love over Duty and responsibility; an obligation thrown at you in at a time when you probably weren’t ready. But Davis, listen to me. You held your chin up as long as you could, you kept every member of our Cluster from cracking and you continue to inspire the other Clusters. Don’t think for a second that anyone of us won’t take some of that weight, that’s why Trace and I came here, you’re our family, you’re not blood but we do love you”

Elix ends her sentence by placing her bionic hand on his shoulder. They stare at each other, Elix’s words are sparking something inside Davis; they remind him of times spent with his brother, and how the words Nox spoke made him fearless, made him feel alive and invincible. Davis’ spine tingles with waves of adrenaline, his pupils dilate with hope, and his senses sharpen with a focus unlike his previous motives. His purpose is renewed.

“Elix, thank y…”

‘BOOOFH’

His words are killed by a rumbling explosion above. Dust falls from the ceiling’s cracks into the lashes of the pair’s upturned eyes. The lights within the station go off, tiny blue diodes take their place, barely illuminating the already dim passage.

“What the hell was that?” Elix questions.

“Shh” Davis responds, listening intensely with his ears aimed to the wall.

“They’re moving, abandoning their posts” Davis recounts.

Elix’s mind switches from confusion to conclusion.

“They’re being attacked” She states, Davis stands.

“We have to move now”

The two of them dart down the corridor.

 

Symbionic. Chapter 4: Part 4

Read from blurb to now; here.

“East Bridge is your target…” Blister begins, in the large oval command room filled with all the members of Cluster I.

“…As I said before, B Cluster will be attacking the North Bridge the moment we send our signal, and then once they’ve started their march they, will send you their signal; any Questions?”

Mac; the leader of I Cluster is sitting with his arms folded. His semi-greyed moustache twitching every few seconds from a wound he’d acquired in a fight before the Assimilations.

“East Bridge, you’re fucking serious?” He asks, flicking his longer than it should be fringe out of the way of his glowering eyes.

“Yes, it’s very important that your target is big and attracts a lot of Assims” Blister says.

One of the lieutenants in the room stands to speak out of turn:

“What you’re asking is suicide Blister” The room erupts in agreeance.

“I know it is, and I’m… I’m sorry” Blister tries to appeal over the crowd’s roaring disapproval.

“Quiet!” Mac bellows; the room’s noise trails off to a murmur.

“…Blister, it’s obvious to me and most of us in this room, that this mission you would have us undertake is a decoy. No Hûm in their right mind would attack the Encephalon head on like this. So, we need more Blister, what is your Cluster planning?”

Claire; the second in command of I Cluster raises her lanky figure from her seat

“I’m with you Blister, I truly think you are capable of seeing this through, and that’s because we’re both crazy people, but there’s only a handful of us crazies in this room. You’ll need to convince the sane ones that their doing the right thing”

Claire sits back down and awaits Blister’s response, as does the rest of the room.

“I can’t tell you our plan… That would compromise it; I can’t tell you it’s going to work either…” Blister pauses to review his words, as now is a crucial time, he can’t mince them.

“…We have all sacrificed so much already, and we’ve only now reached a level of comfort. We’ve proved to the Encephalon that we won’t be ignored; our freedoms will not be ignored… I’ll tell you straight up, I’ve had enough of being out of control. As it stands; I control my breathing and my shitting, everything else is controlled by that fucking Encephalon. They’ve stripped us of our choices, but this… This attack is a choice we can control, we control when, we control how, and we will definitely control why; I know why I’m fighting, for my kid and for my wife, I am standing on my feet for them. Who are you fighting for? Claire?”

The back of Claire’s throat squeezes with anguish.

“My mother!” she cries.

“And Mac? What about you?” Blister asks.

Everyone in the room reflects on who they’ve lost and who they are fighting to get back. Tired eyes weep and scarred hands muffle long overdue cries for the loved ones they’ve stayed so strong for.

With bleak timbre Mac begins:

“I have lost everyone…” Blister listens intently while Mac chooses his next words.

“…My parents died when I was young, my brother killed himself in his foster home before they even started Assimilating us, and my sister…”

Mac breaks down; his head falls to his hand propped up by his elbow leaning on the desk he sits behind.

“…YAAARRGH…” Mac roars through his sadness and slams his clenched fist to the leather clad desk, he flicks his gaze to Blister

“…She wouldn’t let me leave, she made me fucking do it Blister and now I have no one, no future, no choices left but vengeance. I have been repressing my anger just to stay alive in this bullshit world long enough to get my revenge, but in doing so I only weakened my reasoning…”

Mac inhales and once again sends his anger down into his belly. He’d exhale smoke if physics would allow it.

“…What do you say Cluster? Is it time for retribution?” He asks the room.

They barely hesitate; somewhat mesmerized by Mac’s conviction, they raise their thumbs unanimously in the air.

“Blister, you will have your deco…”

Just as Mac is ending his sentence another Cluster enters the room. Their leader charges in first; his pointed jaw and sharp cheeks cut the air to each side of him as he dictates:

“Mac! Gather your troops we’re making a move on the reprogramming station”

“Lance? What’s going on? You know I can’t authorise something like this without fair deliberation”

Lance spots Blister at the head of the room, he looks him up and down with certain disapproval before he speaks.

“Well it’s a good thing we’re all in the one room we can…”

Lance makes quotation marks with his fingers.

“…Deliberate”

Blister is shocked at Lance’s arrival.

“Lance? What happened to Ando? I though he was leader of H Cluster?”

“He couldn’t hack it; he was weak, much like Davis… Tell me Blister, where is your leader?”

Mac stands to draw attention away from Blister to himself.

“Lance, enough!”

“I’ll tell you where he is, or rather, where he’s going…”

Blister looks away, Lance continues:

“…Yes, you do know where, don’t you, boy?” Lance was one of the more senior members of the uprising he grooms his hair as though it were a badge of authority; he spent most of his time in the military before the Assimilations, but was dishonourably discharged for choking his commanding officer into unconsciousness over a trivial dispute, and he called anyone he didn’t respect ‘Boy’.

“He’s heading for the advanced reprogramming station, in case you didn’t know” Lance affirms.

“How can you know this?” Mac queries.

“One of my scouts spotted him and intercepted. Fearing he’d been Assimilated, my scout attempted to subdue and question him. Davis flipped out and nearly ripped the kid’s head off, telling him not to follow or he’d finish the job… There’s nothing else out that way Mac, he’s turned”

Mac turns to Blister.

“What the hell is going on Blister? Has Davis gone rogue?”

Blister meets Mac’s eyes with his own, shamefaced.

“I don’t know Mac. He’s been different ever since I told him his brother was sighted going to the station” Blister says, with downtrodden honesty.

“Well Blister; do we stave off the decoy attack to rescue Davis, his brother and the other Hûms?”

Blister scratches his head; vexed.

“Fuck, I fucking told Davis this would jeopardise the mission… No, I think we should focus our preparations on the bridge attack”

Lance approaches Mac’s desk with commanding steps.

“I disagree, we can use this opportunity to secure a beachhead. Think about it Mac, Blister, if we take down this station we gain an army of Hûms, Hûms we don’t have to train…”

Lance points away from Mac without breaking eye contact.

“…Those aren’t civilians in there; those are men and women aligned with our cause. This is a prime opportunity Mac, you’d be a fool to throw away this chance”

Mac is in a deep contemplation, but Blister is frustrated; he can feel his earlier speech being forgotten and overtaken by the dumb brute force plan Lance is reciting.

“I’m sorry Blister, Lance is right; it would be a wasted opportunity if we didn’t take the station… Now, in no way am I saying we’re abandoning your campaign, far from it, I think this is something we can use to test our abilities, if we can take control of the reprogramming station we’ll have a massive morale boost to take with us to the Encephalon and…”

Blister interrupts with:

“And if we can’t take the station?”

Mac continues:

“…Then you will have your decoy, the Assimilated will be very busy trying to get us to go quietly, that should buy you enough time to slip in to the Encephalon unnoticed”

Blister still disagrees, but the plan could very well still succeed down this path. Lance makes his voice heard:

“Everyone’s on high alert as of this moment…”

Mac stares daggers at him, obviously annoyed at Lance’s commanding of his own troops, but concludes his statement.

“Ready every Hûm, every weapon and any courage you’ve had stored away for the right moment… This is that moment people. Move swift, and move accurate”

The sun has been down for a short time, but long enough to give Elix and Trace a boost in confidence about their stealth.

“There, you see it?” Elix whispers.

“What that tiny sparkle in between the bush and that gangly tree?”

“Yeah, that’s Davis”

“I don’t know Elix that could be anything”

“There’s only one way to find out”

Elix looks at Trace with raised eyebrows before dashing out of the shadowy enclave they’d been monitoring their surroundings from for the past twenty minutes.

Trace trails swiftly behind Elix and when she reaches her; Elix is staring dumbfounded at a steel buckle hanging purposefully on a branch.

“But I saw him, where the hell did he go?” She asks; perplexed.

Trace knows this trick, Davis had taught it to her years before, but it was only when she had fallen for it that she realised.

“He’s close Elix, he has to be” A blurred figure saunters towards them through the moon lit shrubs.

“Close enough to Assimilate you…”

The figure states as the girls turn to his voice.

“…You two should not have followed me” He states.

Trace sighs through her next word:

“Davis…”

She runs to meet him, and stops one pace in front of him. She trembles with anger and adrenaline, her fists squeezing, not knowing whether to hit Davis or hug him. Davis makes the decision for her, he swoops his dirtied arms underneath hers to pull her closer. Her trembling body vibrates into Davis’ rigid embrace, melting his tough exterior. He grips her tighter and she lets out a small whimper.

Trace pushes him away abruptly, wipes her tears and slaps Davis across his jaw. Her tear glazed hand stings Davis’ dirt blotched face.

“Don’t you dare run away again” Trace warns.

Davis’ guilt keeps him from thinking up a response.

“What exactly was your plan here Davis?” Asks Elix, rhetorically, she continues:

“Run in guns blazing, throwing nades everywhere?”

Davis rubs his sore cheek and smirks.

“Well that was plan B, plan A was to get in and out unnoticed without having to babysit a couple of groupies”

“Slap him again Trace” Says Elix. Trace cocks her hand and readies her muscles.

“No, no, once is good…” Davis cowers.

“…I just meant, two feet are quieter than six”

“Come on Davis, you should know by now; smarts beat stealth, the way I see it you’ve just tripled your chances of success” Trace says confidently.

“Seriously though, how were you going to get there?” Elix queries.

“Come on, I’ll show you” He says.

Davis leads Elix and Trace to his scouting spot; from there the three of them can see the entirety of the reprogramming station.

“See the flow tube, it goes into the main building on the left, it’s guarded by three towers filled with at least three Assims each… On the right by the third tower is the disposal wing”

Trace’s eyes squint.

“Disposal? How do you know that?”

“Follow me” He says, rushing away through the surrounding forest to a vantage point at the rear of the building.

Panting, he stops and says:

“There, look, down that whole side of the station are man sized tubes, and every few minutes a body slips out and falls into the water below”

“That’s the ocean” Elix bewilderedly states.

“Yeah, and the ocean is hungry, every time a body drops in or gets shot out of a lower level the water goes frothy and bloody”

“Fuck. Wait, lower levels?” Trace asks. Davis replies swiftly with:

“Since I’ve been here that flow tube has brought in twenty full flow tube loads of Hûms, and judging by the size of the building, it wouldn’t even hold half of that in the two levels we can see above ground”

Elix chimes in:

“Not to mention they’ve been doing this for years, there’s got to be thousands of them in there”

“Davis? I hope you don’t want us to go through those tubes?” Trace asks.

“Well that was my plan, but since you’ve shown your apprehension, I can use you for another task” Davis retorts

“Subterfuge?” She asks.

Davis squints and nods his head while saying slowly: “Subterfuge” in a nostalgic tone, just as the Cluster would often say on missions that would require it.

“Umm care to fill me in guys?” Elix questions, feeling a bit left out of the joke that these two veterans by comparison are sharing.

“Trace is going to set an EMP charge at one of the pillars to the flow tube, there’s a spot right by some encroaching bushes that will be our target. Then, you and me Elix, we’re going through the rear while the Assims scurry around to the front. Now, Trace…”

“Wait…” Trace interrupts.

“…There won’t be enough time for me to come back around and get in”

Davis sighs.

“I know, I have a more important task for you. You have to get to E Cluster; they’re going to need your brain to get those submarines running”

“But I can make it back” She pleads.

“Come on Trace, you’ve timed those body drops, you’ve seen the flood lights scanning, the window is too small and way too unlikely to repeat itself for two separate entries”

Davis knows Trace understands, but her face remains blank as though her mind had shut out the thirty words he just spoke, so she could think of a reason to compel him to let her come too. Davis and Elix can both tell Trace is not happy with how this mission will go.

“This isn’t goodbye Trace” Davis says, stepping into Trace’s personal space.

He wraps his arms around her once more, she grips his shoulders tightly.

“I can’t help but think this is the last time I’ll see you” She nearly breaks into an unending cry.

Davis squeezes her, and whispers into her ear a sentence Trace never thought would ripple against her eardrums.

“I have hidden from you all that I know to be myself. I’d blame this war, my brother or the Assims, but It’s all my doing, I only wish at the end of it all that you will let me say I’m sorry, and let me say, I love you”

The two share an embrace as long as time will permit them, Davis releases Trace and places his hands either side of her face, he wipes her tears with his thumbs.

“You ready?” He asks.

Trace nods, sniffles and smiles.

“Yeah, let’s fucking do this”

 

Symbionic. Chapter 4: Part 3

Read up on the rest of Symbionic from blurb to now; here

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.

 

Symbionic. Chapter 4: Part 2

Catch up on Symbionic from blurb to now; here.

“Quickly in here” She urges in a familiar voice

Blister is out of options and this woman can talk, which is more than he needs to know that she’s not Assimilated. He enters and the girl shuts the door behind him, locking several locks and latches within seconds of Blister passing her.

“This way” She coerces, leading Blister down some stairs.

Blister has only managed to catch one solid breath since he entered, he hasn’t even had a chance to look his saviour in the eye or blurt a word of gratitude for her actions. The woman opens a door to what appears to be the basement of her apartment. Within the basement is a set of bookshelves and boxes, and all manner of things a family would store, had the world not been over taken by human robots. Behind one of the cupboards is a secret door to a panic room, within the panic room is a hatch. The woman, with Blister’s help lifts the hatch

“Get in, hurry” She says.

Blister looks at her with a certain distrust painted on his face.

“What you don’t trust me now? I just saved you from the horde”

Blister silently agrees, and climbs down through the hatch, but stops before the woman fully closes the lid after him.

“Wait! What’s your name? What cluster are you with?”

She looks at him disgruntled, and sighs.

“I’m Vicky, I have no idea what a cluster is, get in the hole and head west, it’ll take you out of the city”

Blister accepts her answer and swiftly climbs down the ladder. Vicky closes the hatch behind him and secures herself in the panic room for the fallout of her actions.

She looks a lot like Trace, who the hell is that woman? Blister asks himself, at the bottom of the ladder where he stops and places his hands to his knees and pants for a few moments, trying to catch his breath.

There’s a putrid smell in the tunnel he finds himself in; a cold and acrid, familiar stench, his memory wanes to its rotted intensity and it’s restricting his ability to recuperate from his marathon run. He hears what he thinks to be a generator power up and then quieten to a low hum.

Vicky must have some kind of machine to repel the Assims; they’d have attacked her by now for sure if she didn’t. He ponders.

Blister walks at pace just slower than jogging, the smell grows stronger; hints of old meat come to mind. He can see a mass ahead of him.

That has to be what stinks.

Blister gets closer to the now musty odour and slows, as he realises what the masses are.

Oh shit… Vicky…

He looks in the direction of her apartment and dolour fills his head. He turns back and notices a hand carved wooden plaque resting on the brick ledge surrounding the tunnel, with further investigation it reads:

‘My protectors, my teachers, my loving parents’

Blister closes his eyes and weeps at the thought of that young woman having to drag her parents down here, and then stand in the smell of them while she carved a plaque in their memory.

“Don’t worry kid, I’ll help you bury them properly when all this is over” He says quietly to the tunnel’s thick stagnant air.

Blister walks away from Vicky’s parents with a sense of duty to her and also a calming feeling.

There are others out there that have managed to resist Assimilation.

This thought has given Blister an endearing focus to free all Hûms, Vicky and Assimilated alike.

The smell of the dead has long faded as Blister comes to the end of the tunnel. The wall to his left has been broken.

Someone’s done this recently. Blister gathers by the fresh dust piled on top of the old dust.

Small hole too, Vicky looks about this size.

Blister looks up to a hatch.

Maybe I can… Shit.

His hopes are broken when he sees the welds on the inside of the exit.

I guess it’s through the hole then.

He kicks some more of the bricks out of the way to accommodate for his wider body and crawls through.

With a tiny LED light illuminating every metre of the small room, Blister pieces together the purpose of the room. There’s a kitchenette with a refrigerator and dining table for four on the left side of the room, and the other seems to be dedicated to entertainment and relaxation with a television, couches and a ping pong table.

One of Vicky’s parents was probably a subway maintenance worker if they knew about this place. Well, they’d have to be pretty cluey to keep themselves off grid for so long, especially so close to a major city.

Blister savours the nostalgia of the room, running his hands on the ping pong table, disturbing the dust on the couch by sitting down and pressing buttons on the television remote. He sighs, wishing he could stay in a place like this for longer than the few moments he’s already wasted not getting to the other clusters.

Better check the fridge before I go.

He meanders over to it, reminding himself of the countless times he had done this as a kid only to find nothing that he desired within the cool confines. He opens the door.

“Holy shit, no way!” He blurts.

Blister swiftly snatches the item that immediately caught his eye. The packaging is damaged and reads: ‘ars’ but Blister knows exactly what it should say. He hastily rips the plastic sheath apart and crams half of the bar into his mouth. The refrigerator had kept it cool, but the chocolate was soft and melted on to his tongue, he gnashed it between his teeth and his tongue played with the mush till his mouth was evenly coated with chocolate and caramel and he resembled a dog with peanut butter on the roof of his mouth. It was only when he swallowed and looked down at the other half of the bar that he felt a sense of regret. Talking through a thick mess of chocolate he laments over his actions:

“Aw man, Vicky was probably saving this”

Blister wraps the remaining half of the bar in some aluminium foil he found in the kitchen and puts it back on the shelf. He really wanted the other half, but he left the kitchenette; semi satiated with the small morsel of chocolate he thought he’d never get to taste again.

“Thanks kid” he says, walking to a door with a toy train dangling crookedly from a piece of scrap wire on a coat hook.

“Please be unlocked” he says with both hands crossing fingers.

“Fuck yeah” Blister rejoices, opening the door to a chilly, dark subway tunnel. He re-latches the deadbolt before closing the door to the maintenance rec-room behind him.

Some time passes as Blister trudges alone. The fifth station he comes across is the only one he recognises, simply because it’s the only one that is illuminated; the rest have been long since decommissioned due to redundancy.

I know where I am now, this is right near Cluster B; finally, I can get out of these fucking tunnels.

His trek would’ve been swifter had it not been for the schedule of trains that kept forcing him to hide behind pillars and in broken wall cavities until they passed by. Blister waits yet again behind a pillar for a train to take off and hopefully take all of the Assimilated on the platform with it. He peers around the pillar as he hears the train departing.

Now’s my chance.

He dashes out from the shadows and pounces up onto the platform like a cat chasing a laser, then he promptly adjusts his composure to suit the Assimilated and calmly he walks up an out as if he were programmed to.

The streets are nearly empty save for the few Assimilated operating food stalls and maintaining vital city amenities. All of them too busy to notice Blister passing through; who is now very good at faking Assimilation since his brief taste of Abishua’s pill. He makes a left down an alleyway that leads through to a suburban section of the city.

A few more turns and I’ll be at Cluster B’s doorstep.

He wipes his sweaty forehead on his sleeve as he makes the second of those few turns. He reaches an intersection where he’s to make his third turn when…

WHACK.

It comes out of nowhere: a baseball bat cuts a thick wooden line across his vision and sends him to the ground, writhing and squirming in pain.

“What?!… What the fu…” His favourite profanity is cut short, as another hit from the bat knocks him out.

Symbionic. Chapter 4: Part 1

Catch up on the rest of Symbionic from blurb to now; here.

After emerging from the sewers into an old mechanics workshop Blister walks as casually as he can into the city’s centre; where the main flow tube is located. By this time the metropolis is chaotic with movement; Assimilated are scurrying around like the ants Blister sees them as.

If this were another time without consequence he’d imagine the pre-programmed destination of each of them, and then promptly scoff, but right now he’s too busy trying to keep his thoughts in check and his mind on task.

I better take this pill before I get into the line; if someone sees me eat it I’m busted.

Swiftly he chucks the pill into his mouth as he nears the tubes.

There’s a line, good. Blister can only assume this is a normal routine for the Assimilated.

This gives me a chance to learn how they board the tube car, and time for the pill to kick in.

He watches intently ahead making sure to keep a blank face and blink every once in a while.

They walk to the scanner, stand paused for scanning, then get in the car and sit down, filling the rear seats first from left to right. I wonder if they’ll let me put my feet on the seats. Blister chuckles internally, nearly cracking a smile.

The que steps forward, Blister’s had Abishua’s pill underneath his tongue for the past ten minutes, it has almost fully dissolved.

Don’t throw up… Don’t throw up.

The taste has grown beyond foul from the cocktail of unknown chemicals mixing with Blister’s saliva. He swallows slowly so he doesn’t raise suspicion.

The line steps forward again.

I can feel something happening.

Or rather, he could feel the lack of something, his mind begins to drift, his eyes blur, and then re-focus, and his tongue goes numb.

Glad that taste is gone, wait, what am I doing again? He asks himself.

A long pause stands between his question and answer.

Right, catch the flow tube, meet the clusters.

He repeats this so he won’t forget.

Flow tube, clusters… Flow tube, clusters… Flow tube, clusters… Flow tube, clusters…Flow tube, cluster… His thoughts dissipate.

Blister’s turn through the scanners goes as swift as the thoughts that left his head. He is unfazed, he has no dread, and no anxious ramblings can even be conceived in his current state. He looks straight ahead at the guarding Assimilated monitoring the scanners. If he were capable of thought, he’d think how redundant their positions were; no one would be crazy or stupid enough to attempt to ride the flow tubes with even one thought going through their head. Luckily Blister had moved beyond crazy, and even though he thinks of himself as the dumbest of his peers, he was far from stupid. This, in his mind, is a well calculated, precisely executed manoeuvre, and one only Blister’s unique combination of intellect and bravado could pull off.

Blister passes the threshold of the scanner and stands for the same amount of time as all before him. Nothing registers. He’d rejoice if he knew. He simply follows the woman ahead of him into the tube car, she sits down and he sits next to her. They stare straight ahead with posture like they were posing for a medical journal, or chiropractors hand book. Their hands rest atop their knees and their mouths are closed, breathing only through their noses.

The rest of the Assimilated board, one of the guards follow and the door closes behind him. The air inside hisses as it pressurises to an uncomfortable level, no one flinches, and then suddenly the vessel takes off. It travels horizontally for a few hundred metres, before diving into the earth and raising its speed to what would be an exciting velocity, had the Hûms been conscious of what was happening to them.

Its pitch black in the tube, none of the passengers need light to see down there, they no longer possess the ability to enjoy scenery, read books, play games, talk or cure boredom however they see fit. Nothing is all they need, and they don’t even get that, they get the dull hum of the tube vibrating its way through the planet, taking them to their pre-determined task; specifically formulated to progress the planet in whatever direction the Encephalon desires.

Three hours pass by, but for Blister it’s a lot harder to gauge.

I’ve gotta be half way to china by now. He thought to himself.

Wait, I’m thinking again, this is not good, keep your cool Blister… He soliloquizes.

Blister dare not look anywhere but straight ahead or the entire contents of the tube would pounce on him.

The tube emerges from the earth to finish its run above ground. The sun is still bright; Blister’s eyes squirm as he fights his urge to blink repeatedly. He instead opts for a single blink hoping no one notices that it may have been out of sync with everyone else’s.

The tube makes its first stop of ten.

I need to get off at the third stop. Fuck.

Ten, of the fifty-eight passengers stand up and leave the tube as efficiently as they had entered. The tube takes off and Blister feels as though he’s about to pass out, he can feel drops of sweat glide easily from his armpit to his waist; they move slowly and tickle as they fall.

I must be having some kind of withdrawal from the drug Abishua gave me. Fuck; I’m only half way to the second stop. This isn’t good.

One of the guards jolts to attention, staring directly at Blister, the guard’s eyes widen as he points to Blister, then all of the Assimilated follow suit and turn to him in unison. Blister has to move quickly. Despite the horrible feeling in his head and the fermented chemicals within his stomach, he darts toward the guard at the front of the tube. The Assimilated guard is a fraction of a second from pushing the emergency stop button when Blister grabs hold of his rifle and rams it into his face. The guard loses his grip. Blister zips behind him and aims the weapon at the Assimilated passengers while squeezing the guard’s neck in a choke hold.

At the top of his lungs:

“Get the fuck back” Blister orders.

The tube’s patrons pause momentarily, they’re waiting for a command from the Encephalon. One second passes and it seems they are willing to injure themselves to capture Blister.

The assimilated take a step forward.

Blister looks to the oncoming station.

Fuck too far.

The station is one hundred metres away and Blister doesn’t have the time. He drops the gun and slams his fist hard against the emergency stop button. All the passengers launch forward and drop like rag dolls. No doubt it’s a programmed response to minimise injury. Blister and the guard smack into the front window of the tube car and the guard wriggles from Blister grasp. He turns to fight Blister, but Blister is ready, he thrusts his burly right leg, foot first, into the guard’s chest, picks up the gun and dives out of the emergency escape hatch.

There are assimilated all over the sanitary streets, all walking with absolute purpose. This is the height of their day, they are busy dismantling some sky scrapers right now, but Blister barely absorbs this as he bolts from the tube while executing a frenzied scan of his surroundings for his position in regards to his destination.

The tube station is full of Assimilated waiting to board, and by now they’ve been informed of the discrepancy in the tube’s route, they’re looking in Blister’s direction and he in theirs.

Not good, fuck, I have to go that way. He thinks, sprinting with all his energy towards the Assimilated.

They converge on him with long strides, not exerting any more energy than they have to; they know that their consistent speed will catch up to Blister when he tires.

Blister sees a pathway he must take, but there’s assimilated building up in front of the alley.

Glad I grabbed this gun.

He aims it, as he runs, at an electricity box by the side of the alleyway. The Assimilated are unfazed by his shots and the box hisses and fizzes with damage. He shoots it some more and it overloads, sending sparks into the immediate area. A large group of the assimilated fall to the ground, making a passage for Blister.

Must’ve disrupted their guises, ha, take that. Blister thinks, proudly.

He runs past them, gaining in speed with the added confidence of knocking out some of his enemies. The alley way Blister has run into is long and has many off-shooting streets perpendicular to it. Once, a long time ago this strip of backstreets would have been rife with the colourful pieces of various legitimate and illegitimate street artists, not now though, now it’s scrubbed clean.

In the distance Blister can see the feint shadows of the Assimilated travelling towards him, and with each passing crossroad his peripherals catch glimpses of more Assimilated, flanking him.

No, no, no, you’re not fucking catching me, not today. Blister protests internally, with a confident, teeth gritting grin.

“Fuck, fuck, come on Blister, find a way out” He soliloquizes, passing another crossroad.

A sign! What does it say?

A few more steps reveal it to be a no through road, but it’s the only way, all others have encroaching Assims.

Please, please, please let there be a door. He pleads to his own thoughts.

Blister turns right, down the no-through road and scours the area for an escape route, like a rat in a box on fire. He makes it ten metres into the alley when he witnesses a door open on the left side of the street.

Fuck they’ve got me. He laments, thinking the door would reveal a plague of Assimilated ready to pounce on him.

But no, a teenage woman steps out with her arm reaching for Blister, as though she knew he was coming.

Symbionic. Chapter 3: Final Part

Read from blurb to now here.

“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.

‘PTHOP’

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.

‘PKOW’

The weapon echoes:

‘Pkow’

‘kow’

‘ow’

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…”

‘CLICK’

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.

 

Symbionic. Chapter 3: Part 2

Catch up on the rest of Symbionic here.

 

Back in the Raven’s Tongue.

“Blister! Report!” Davis calls as he hears the sewer hatch close and lock.

It’s late, at least for those that woke up early to debate with Davis about his plan to retrieve his brother; it feels later than it should. Blister jogs to Davis in the main room.

“Cluster E has located a marine junkyard and I’ve instructed them to set up a team to work on an old submarine we can use. They think it will take them five days to complete the modifications. The rest of the Cluster is collaborating with D and G to get through a section of the ocean crust”

“Excellent work…”

Blister is chuffed at the praise.

“…Tomorrow I need you to meet with Clusters H, I, J and A, B, C to organise their decoy attacks”

Blister’s face cringes with protest.

“But that goes against our whisper protocol, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, I know it does man, but we’re in troubling times and they have to hear this first hand from someone The Uprising both respects and trusts”

Blister’s entire body ripples with pride, his friend and brother just gave him the highest of compliments. Through his smirk Blister says:

“Right, I’m on it, you can count on me”

He hovered for a few moments longer though, which led Davis to look him up and down suspiciously.

“Listen, umm…” Blister starts, he takes a deep breath before blurting:

“I think it’s a bad idea to rescue your brother right now…”

Davis’ face ruins with betrayal. Blister quickly resumes his sentence before Davis can reply.

“…We can do this without him, I trust you, we all trust you, you just have to believe in your own abilities. He will be saved, just not now”

Davis hasn’t broken his dagger stare during Blister’s obviously well-rehearsed speech.

“We’ve been over this Blister; I can’t leave him in there any longer than I have already. Tell me; if you knew the location of your wife, your child, wouldn’t you use every resource to get them out?”

Davis doesn’t realise it immediately but his question had struck a nerve in Blister. Now that their Intelliguises can work without degradation, The Uprising’s words have begun to escape their lips without any thought of consequence.

Blister bows his head for a moment; his eyes grow heavy with the flow of tears. He lifts his gaze to Davis and speaks slowly so Davis can’t misinterpret.

“I would exhaust the planet to its core to see my family again. How dare you even ask me that? But you know what my selfish pursuit would gain me, if I left to find them? One moment; that’s all, one fleeting second. Not enough time to say I love you, to tell a joke, to see a smile, to hear their laughter…”

Blister wipes his now dripping eyes on his sleeve.

Davis starts with:

“Blister I’m…”

“No. I’m not fucking finished, I refuse to burn even one joule of energy to achieve only one second. I want a lifetime, and I want their lives to be lived by them, even if I’m not there to see it. That’s why I don’t track them down. They drive me more than anything to end this SHIT. No Davis, don’t apologise to me, I owe you an apology. I’m sorry I told you about your brother, but you deserved to know and it would have fucking killed me to keep that from you. I just thought you’d use it to fuel our cause, not set us on fire”

Davis falls into silent reflection, he knows he’s in the wrong and he can’t argue further, not now.

Blister wipes his tears again and in the quiet he realises the whole base has stopped working to eavesdrop on their confrontation. Blister walks out of the room past Elix to his bunk, leaving Davis to stare at the map and deliberate on what has transpired. The base slowly turns back to the projects they were undertaking, filling the room with a rising noise of productivity.

Cautiously Elix approaches Blister laying face up in his bunk.

“Hey, you alright?”

He rolls onto his side to face the wall. Elix sits on the bed parallel to his.

“I don’t know where my family is either…” She starts.

Under his breath Blister mutters “Welcome to the fucking Uprising”

Elix hears him but wasn’t about to start a fight over his jaded comment; that wasn’t the reason she came in to talk.

“…When I was eight, we were about to be Assimilated together, but I got scared and ran away. I haven’t seen them since”

Blister rolls onto his back to look at the bunk above him where he keeps a poorly drawn portrait of his wife together with a lock of his son’s hair. He reaches up and touches the crumpled image of her cheek.

“We married young…” He begins.

Elix could tell from his brooding tone that he had not told many people this story, but had been telling it to himself since it started.

“…My parents and hers lived in the country, far enough away from the cities to not be Assimilated for eight years, we were sixteen when they came to town. The Assimilation centre went up in one day; it was a massive boring box that fucked up more than the view of the mountain behind it.

Our parents were good friends with each other and they had decided it was better for everyone to go along with the Assimilation but Charlotte and I had to make our own decision, for our family. We kept her pregnancy secret, at first, we were just scared they’d crucify us for being so young, but when everyone started getting Assimilated we had no idea what would happen. So, we left. No way was I going to let my kid get Assimilated. I stole my grandmother’s wedding ring before we left, ha, it’s funny…”

Blister smiles with the image of his wife looking down on him. He takes the picture from between the slats, sits up and passes it over to Elix.

“…I was more scared of asking her to marry me than I was of getting Assimilated, but when our child was about to be born, the courage just came to me. We were walking in the woods and I stopped her, I gave her this flimsy excuse about seeing a snake, she froze and closed her eyes, when she opened them there I was on one knee holding the ring in front of her…”

Elix passes the picture back to Blister.

“She’s beautiful Blister”

“…She looked so happy, we were sweaty and dirty but there she was as gorgeous as ever. I don’t even think I actually asked her to marry me; she put the ring on her finger and that was enough for me. That night she went into labour. Luckily, we found an old barn to stay in and by morning Jacob was born. We were on the run for five years before they…”

Blister stops, he lays back down to face the wall again. Elix can hear a muffled whimper grow to a stifled cry. She stands, walks to him and touches his shoulder.

“Get some sleep Blister, we’ve got a big day tomorrow”

Elix lies down and attempts to retire as well, but her thoughts a drawn towards a memory from when she too was sixteen.

I miss Trevor, he was a good Hûm. I hope I can see him again before this is all over. Ugh if it weren’t for that bitch Lina, Trevor would probably be here in the Uprising with me. He was the only one of my friends who didn’t make fun of me for having a bionic arm.

Elix rolls over to her right side and her thoughts change as she inhales deeply.

I wonder what my parents are doing right now; I wonder what laborious task the Encephalon has assigned them. No doubt maintaining the Ocean Crust. It seems like anyone who’s not militarily trained goes there or to the food distributors. I hope they didn’t have to assimilate anyone.

Elix rolls to her other side, calms her mind and within moment falls asleep.

“Father?” Elix calls out to a figure not facing her.

Cobalt blue suit? She thinks.

“FATHER!” Elix runs towards him, he doesn’t get any closer, she runs faster; nowhere. The man turns to her and she becomes excited, but it is not her father, at least she’s not sure that it isn’t her father, the man is old, as old as Artemis, but wearing her father’s suit. He points and Elix’s vision is immediately coerced towards a building with a grand spire; grey, just as all the other Assimilated buildings are.

“Is that where my parents are?” She asks the man.

Elix looks back to him for a reply; he’s gone, confusion grips her. She looks again at the building, it’s different, dilapidated, the sky turns wild red and the clouds wash overhead, the ground rumbles and cracks underneath her.

Confusion turns to fear and she runs with all her might to the building. But suddenly she’s there and she’s exhausted, she turns around to where she came from; it’s an ocean now rocking and thrashing.

What looks like dark spheres bob on top of the waves, she focuses on the spheres, looking closely at one in particular. The sphere is now a face.

“Elix” it cries.

The face is mangled and singed hair forms a crown upon its head. Elix is looking for a way out, but she can’t turn back around and she can barely move from her spot, she’s forced to watch the ocean of spheres turn to show millions of faces.

“ELIX” They speak in unison, and repeat:

“ELIX… ELIX”

Finally, she can turn and run. She passes through the gates to the spired building, looking back every second to see the tsunami of faces rise behind her. Her body tires out before it can reach the door. She turns one last time and the wave looms over her head, casting a shadow so dark she thought they had ripped her eyes out.

The wave crashes.

Elix is squashed under the weight, but not dead, just immobilised, frozen, paralysed, with every exhale, a breath half its size is drawn in.

The faces continue to call:

“ELIX…ELIX…ELIX.”

Four hours into Elix’s slumber a red light illuminates the base. Blister is up immediately and slinks over to Elix’s bed, he nudges her awake.

“Elix…” he whispers.

She drowsily lifts her eyelids.

“…There’s a breach in the base, take this, I’ll get the others”

He places an EMP gun on her still chest and stealthily moves to Trace’s bunk. He passes Davis’ bed on the way and sees that it’s empty. Blister grits his teeth to supress his anger. He suspects Davis left shortly after they all fell asleep.

Trace wakes before Blister can reach her.

“Breach” She states quietly losing her mind.

“Where’s Davis?” She asks.

“He’s gone to get his brother, go with Elix. I’ll get Malcom and Abishua”

Trace springs out of bed, pulls her boots on and crawls over to Elix, who’s only just broken free from her sleep paralysis. The two of them move to the doorway at the edge of the main room and ready themselves for an invasion.

Blister exits the other side of the bunkroom, dragging Malcom closely behind him; they’re heading to the science bay to alert Abishua of the imminent danger. Elix spots the two across the main room rustling Abishua awake. Blister signals Trace and Elix to stand their ground.

As he’s about to step out of the Science bay:

BOOSH!

A massive explosion rumbles the hideout’s ceiling to pieces, separating the two groups by a mound of rubble. Six men drop out of the hole in front of Elix and Trace. Elix crouches, taking cover behind the door jamb, Trace stands over her and fires, her first two shots hit the men closest to them

“BLISTER CONC’!” Trace screams between gunfire.

Malcom, Blister and Abishua narrowly avoid the crushing weight of their once grand ceiling’s debris. Blister is first to stand after the calamity; hearing Trace’s plea, he throws a concussion grenade over the top of the pile. Elix spots the grenade bounce over the tangled mess of steel and concrete and land right behind the invading goons.

Trace continues her firing from the cover of the purposely reinforced doorway. The men gain in numbers, with a new one dropping in for every one Trace takes down. Elix pivots around Trace’s leg, stands and grabs her, throwing them both out of the way. The bomb explodes sending the remaining intruders to the ground. Trace peeks around the doorway to scan for any more threats.

“They’re down, for now, let’s…”

“Trace!” Blister yells through the mound of scrap. “Take Elix to rendezvous gamma, then meet the other Clusters”

“What about you?” She replies.

“We’ll be fine, I have to finish what Davis started”

Trace was about to ask Elix to scavenge some gear but when she looks to her, Elix is already doing it, rushing through containers and throwing whatever supplies she can find at the doorway. The two of them then get dressed into their Assim clothes, as they fear they’ll be doing a lot of street walking.

Blister turns to Malcom.

“When we get out of here, you head to gamma too; you’ll have to make sure Abishua gets there safely”

Malcom is trembling; his eyes are darting all around the room.

“Malcom” Blister grabs him by the scruff of his shirt with both of his hands.

“Malcom! look at me, you’re a coward but you’re the smartest coward I know, stick to the shadows and you’ll be safe”

Blister slaps an EMP gun to his chest, Malcom looks Blister in his eyes.

“You just… You just complimented me, that’s the first time you’ve ever done that” He smiles, genuinely, for the first time since they met each other, sadly Blister’s mind is too busy.

“Yeah well I’ll give you another one when we meet up later okay?”

“Can we go now? Please?” Abishua appeals.

Trace and Elix are loaded up with as much gear as they can carry without looking like they’ve just robbed an appliance store of all its hair dryers. They move to the door that leads to the white mirrored room. Trace begins to unlock it when ten more men drop out of the ceiling’s hole. Elix fires her EMP gun and lands hits on three of the invading assimilated.

“Hurry up Trace” Elix squeals between shots.

Trace gets the door open, grabs Elix by the back of her collar and chokingly drags her into the white mirrored room throwing an EMP nade through the gap and yelling:

“BLISTER, ZAP” as she closes the door behind them.

“Get back!” Blister cries at his companions.

He forces them into the science bay and slams the door, creating a seal in the faraday cage that encases the room. Both groups hear the crackle of the EMP nade and let out a sigh of relief at the thuds of the assimilated hitting the floor shortly after.

Blister; with his ear pressed on the cold steel door listens for any disturbances.

“Alright, when I open this door we go to the sewer exit and escape, anyone in our way gets zapped, got it?”

Malcom has been empowered by Blister’s encouraging; albeit insulting previous words.

“Got it” he says confidently, Blister notices his confidence and nods.

“Doctor, you should stay back until it’s over, unless you want a gun?”

“No, no, I’m quite good cowering” The doctor advocates.

Blister cracks the seal to the door, but the sewer exit is blocked by seven assimilated attackers. He throws a smoke grenade into the bulk of the group, they scatter like the cockroaches Blister thinks them to be. He stays low, under the smoke to see the placement of their feet in the space between The Uprising and the exit, and begins firing his EMP pistol anywhere he can spot movement.

Malcom takes a crouched position behind the reinforced laboratory door, but lazily covers only half of his body. It’s probable his boost in confidence has made him brash; he begins firing to aid Blister.

Two men go down to Blister’s shots, he progresses into the smoke. Malcom takes out one assimilated flanking Blister, then another, but one more has crept around and gotten too close for Malcom or Blister to notice. Blister finishes off the two others before turning to see Malcom wrestling with the final intruder.

His mind goes to a place of rage and impulsive action. Even though Blister and Malcom clash on a lot of issues, in that moment Blister saw his friend in danger and decided the instant during his rage that he had to do something. Blister lunges at the Assimilated; Malcom sees his face come over the attacker’s shoulder, and then the three of them fall backward, landing on top of Malcom.

A gunshot reverberates within the science bay.

It causes all of their ears to quake with pain. Blister rips the assailant from Malcom and tosses him to the ground, he pummels the man’s face till his eyes roll to the back of his head. Blister turns around wide eyed, his face painted with mania and blood.

Seconds go by before he snaps out of his crazed stupor and notices the puddle of blood forming underneath Malcom.

Frantically Blister yelps: “Fuck! Malcom! Doctor! Fucking do something!”

Malcom isn’t sure why Blister is looking at him like he’s just died.

“What?” He queries with calmness nearly unknown to him.

“Hold still Malcom, I’m going to look at your shoulder” Abishua says nervously.

“My shoulder feels fine…” As he said those words Malcom tried to rotate his joint but was met with a barrage of pain received by all the nerves in that area, as his shoulder crunches bits of bone together instead of moving fluidly.

“AAARRGH how the hell did this…” Blister witnesses Malcom stare at him with a similar rage that once overtook himself.

“You shot me!”

“No… Nope” Blister states sternly raising his finger and shaking his head side to side.

“He shot you” Blister points down at the beaten assimilated.

“And who tackled him Blister? Huh?” Malcom’s level of pain is only rivalled by his anger at Blister.

“Malcom, look at me” Abishua directs.

He complies, trying to breathe deeply and slowly.

“Now look at Blister” He turns to look at Blister with a statement ready.

“Why would want to look at…” and just as he turns away Abishua jabs him with a needle into his shoulder.

“Hey, what… was… that… for?” Malcom’s words slow with the high-strength pain killer the doctor just administered.

Abishua pulls out another syringe from his bag and penetrates it into Malcom’s wound. The hole in his shoulder fills with sterile putty.

“This will mimic your blood cells and scar your injury” Abishua states.

“But what about the bullet? It’s still in there” Blister asks.

“Don’t worry I’ve modified the putty to force the bullet and any other foreign objects to the surface, I only hope the pain killer doesn’t wear off before then”

“I can’t see any more men coming through the sewer, but there’s no way to know for sure, we have to leave, now” Says Blister.

“I can’t, shoot anymore, Blister, my arm is, numb” Malcom slurs.

Blister walks back to help Abishua pick Malcom up.

“Is he going to be alright Keyon?”

“Yes, I believe so. I will need to scan his arm to assess any long-term damage though”

“As long as you guys make it to the rendezvous, there’s a cluster nearby that will be able to help you”

The three men step through the threshold of the sewer; Blister and Malcom look back fondly at their base. It’s the one place they’ve been able to call home for a very long time. Blister is already looking at how he can repair the place once they return, while Malcom is feeling a sense of family and comradery fade from his mind. The road ahead will surely test them. Blister turns his head forward into the unknown of their mission first.

“I’ll escort you two through the sewers, and then we have to split up. I still need to meet with the other clusters”

“But we’ve just suffered a massive loss, shouldn’t we regroup and strategize?” Abishua contests

“No. All we’ve lost is a comfort zone, don’t think for a second that something like this will stop us, or even slow us down in the slightest. We have to use situations like this as motivation”

“Yeah, from what I’ve seen so far Blister actually works better outside of his comfort zone” Malcom states

“Finally…” Blister starts “…Someone recognises it; now let’s get out of here”

The three men form a triangle with Blister at the apex, and advance through the sewers.