“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.
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.
“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?”
“…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:
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”
“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”