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”
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:
“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:
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:
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:
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.