“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:
“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?”
“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”
“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…”
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.