Ulysses was still in shock when he rested in the hospital along with the many, many people wounded by the earthquake. He only had minor bruises and scratches but he was in the isolation wing due to the high levels of radiation in his body. He really did not get it, he worked in that toxic sewers for two years and now is when the staff really cared about safety.
For some strange reason, he never felt so isolated in his life, every few minutes a staff member would come in to drain his blood for testing and he would feel woozy and disoriented till he fell asleep due to the lack of blood. He didn't like the idea of being injected every now and then with unknown fluids. He had this nagging feeling to purposely stop any fluids from going into his body, but he was so weak he couldn't stand. He doesn't understand why he feels so tired, when he thought about it he didn't really seem as active during that escape as a normal twelve hour shift in the sewers.
When Ulysses woke up Big Boy Ben was standing across the room with his arms crossed. His left eye was bruised caused by Ulysses the moment he had the chance. Ulysses, although small and thin, he had muscle mass and a temper to compensate. “What happened down there?” Benny asked, again.
“I don’t know. I hacked into a secret door and I found this weird facility inactive but it was well preserved.”
“A facility? What do you mean?” Ben was baffled, apparently he too didn't know about it.
“Ghost was able to hack the terminal, he found many documents encrypted with data research. To make things weirder, there were monsters down there, too.”
“That can’t be right… It’s been years since the Purge, unless the war is not going as smoothly as we were told.”
“Yeah, well, you missed a spot,” Ulysses remarked. “By the way, thanks for literally tossing me in the pit of wolves; Very responsible.” Ulysses comfortably adjusted in his bed and pushed off his blanket to feel the cold air.
“It was irresponsible of me but I mostly did it to get a rise out of you.”
“Did you know what was down there this whole time?”
“Honestly, I heard rumors of an adjoined and vacant lot was hidden in the very sewers but nothing was found. Not even with thermal scopes.”
“What is going to happen? Is Prism going to be involved?”
“I am not really sure if they will be interested in a relic, but that earthquake was no accident…”
“Are you saying that Prism caused that thing that nearly destroyed us!?”
“It doesn't have to be Prism,” Ben said as he lit up a cigarette. “If you catch my drift.”
“How is the district even standing?”
“The only stable building is the church, however, many things fell apart and it will only get worse from here on out.”
A nurse burst in the room quickly silencing them with his thundering low voice. “Would you mind smoking that garbage another time? There are other people in this hospital who need to rest, I suggest you should shut up and rest too.” The nurse slammed the door shut when he left. Ben put out the cigarette with the base of his heavy boot and tossed the cigarette in the biohazard pail. Ulysses doesn't mind the idea of smoking, their sky was green with the toxicity of the miasma contaminating their air, so smoking was the least of his problems. The normal day cigarette that is trending was fabricated by Lazarus. She created herbal and medicinal blends to purify the body. She herself doesn't smoke it because she rather bathe in herbs, but for hard workers exposed to the miasma everyday they provided a therapeutic alternative. They stayed there in silence thinking about all the work they have to do. After the awkward silence, Ben spoke, “… anyway. About the monster thing, we have to be extremely careful next time.”
“Are there still monsters in the city?”
“No, at this time. But we must work on exterminating them first before we start to pick up the rubble.”
“I'll help,” Ulysses said getting out of the bed.
“No. You have a temporary leave of two weeks and then you have to come back to fix the pipes. Surprisingly a fourteen year old kid is better at it than anyone else.”
“It is my job, I do like my job as a handyman. My question is how long will the district be without water?”
“Our backup supply is pretty full enough for two months.”
“Right, as soon as I detox I will be ready to head back to work.”
“Good, we need the Iron Pipes master hands and wit. Try and rest up.” Ben headed to the door, “Oh and, happy birthday.”
“R-right… Thanks.” Ulysses watched him leave and sighed. He dealt with his little computer and thanks to Ghost we were able to get a perfect shot of Salt’s face using the security cameras of the facility. “What the hell are you…?” Ulysses asked the image. He didn’t expect to be so attached to the enemy so quickly.
“I was just gonna tell ya!” Ghost randomly popped in the screen. Ulysses shrieked, “dude! What the Fuck! Don’t scare me like that!”
“I thought you would be used to it by now.”
“Never mind that, what is it?”
“About that Salt guy, I noticed he had a mark like all the subjects.”
“What mark? He was covered head to toe.” Ulysses doesn’t remember anything specific like a brand, perhaps his looks were distracting. Most Prism soldiers look like him but there was perhaps something nostalgic about him that makes him stand out from the sea of copies.
Images of subject’s mugshots and brief information showed on the screen along with barcode identification on the back of their neck, nothing he was able to understand due to the heavy jargon it used to avoid anyone from stealing information. There were hundreds of them, each treated no less than mere trash. One was of a red head that did nothing but eat anything that approach him. He had several kins, many documented to die before the age of maturity. Another was a trained catalyst that was a successful breed for the medical field, his profile reads he is currently missing in action. One was a parasitic type that was breaded from alien DNA. This one literally drank the nutrients of his victim to survive. One was of a girl with amputated legs. What threw him off was her face, tired and devoid of life, unlike her physical counterpart, Sister Mary Lazarus. This one-- according to her profile, she was eight months pregnant at the time of the last entry when her labor was induced.
“Say’s here that there were many subjects varying from human to animal to demon to angel to inanimate. This facility in particular studied the soul, like, what is it exactly. Apparently the findings indicate that the concept of “soul” is nothing but energy from a greater being.” More images of humanoids appeared on the screen. Ironically, most of the subjects look soulless. “It seems there needs to be a collaboration with the brain and the soul, it's like tuna and mayonnaise, totally and completely useless without the other.”
“What does this all mean…?” Ulysses asked as he stared at these abhorrent images.
“That some nihilistic crazy person is literally trying to understand how we function. There had been documentation of soul switching in a different facility connected to Prism.”
“There is more than one facility?!”
“Yeah! Eight of them were on earth, one on Jupiter, and one on Mars.”
“Mars? What the heck is that?” Ulysses asked sarcastically.
“One of the planets that got destroyed during the war--”
“I know that, you ding bag!!” Ulysses wished he wasn’t a hermit so he could slap his itchy hand on his metal face.
“Oh!” Ghost looked foolish and laughed.
“Whatever, how does that soul thing work?”
“Okay, for example, the soul from Subject A is in Subject B’s body and Subject B has memories or flashbacks or even feels like their body is not right.”
“That could explain that body dysphoria trend back then…”
“Exactly! I was thinking that! But it gets even more fucked up. There were subjects with tiny fragments of souls. The bodies were even modified to suit the soul, like bone structures with gemstone properties. Look, see here.” Ghost showed more documents and pictures of subjects. This was a compilation of subjects. Many barely resemble human. The images of abnormal skin color and strange bone structures were really disturbing. “This says that they at first experimented to create a type of human that was able to regenerate after death and their soul will stay attached to their body or core. There is a specific documentation of vampire type called Parasites-- Original-- but this one was lost and never recovered. This one was literally immortal, nothing could kill it, not even mercury infusions.”
“How on earth do they farm so many gems for so many subjects? The most recent log is at the thousands.”
“They farm it.” Images of subjects overwhelmed with clusters sticking out of their bodies displayed. He instantly remember Salt’s forehead, the only worry plaguing his mind now was he was probably nothing but a farming hazard. Now he worries that he and his family were always destined to be nothing but temporary treasures till their value is anything but trash. “They look pretty neat if it were not for the fact they actually suffer in intense pain. They even dehumanize these subjects and they have no idea how to even talk. They are nothing but organic rock farms. No emotions, no heart, no soul.” One thing he will agree with Ghost, it did look somewhat lovely. He wondered if the facility provided accessory type soldiers to cater those with fine taste and in need of absolute protection and a little something extra.
“Th-...” Ulysses was literally speechless, he couldn't believe it something like this was happening down there and it was totally hidden till now.
“I also found so many video logs of hundreds of subjects. This one's pretty fucked up. This one is about kids,” Ghost said sending him files.
“I don’t want to see that…” Ulysses was pretty squeamish when it came to gore and children. The young plumber rather indulge in a happy child no matter how much of a little shit it was.
The video was shown dispite his wishes. There were hundreds of infants on tables connected with many wires and shots. All of them looked similar to each other. There were two-- assuming-- doctors standing by.
‘...We will proceed to dowse the candidates with Mercury and Sulfuric Acid.’
It was horrifying to watch. All of the infants were screaming. Some of their skins turn blue and to others their skin melted off. All the children died except for one. The camera filter changed and the aura around the sole survivor faded faintly “What the hell…?” Ulysses was, understandibly, disturbed and couldn't bare to watch anymore of it.
“I know… This is really bad… makes you wonder…” Ghost closed the video, he seemed like he had seen a few disturbing clips and this one was by far the most tamed to present.
“That was sick. Sometimes certain things shouldn't be tampered with…” Ulysses simply said, unable to find the words to properly articulate what he tried to convey. “What kind of creeps me out it just kind of stopped. What happened?” he asked Ghost hoping he could answer him.
“I am not sure entirely, but, I think the subjects went haywire. I found a surveillance tape of the last day. But it will take me days to clean it.”
“Well… I honestly don’t want to see it. Shit like that just makes my skin crawl. Doesn’t help I’m in a hospital.”
“Yeah. Anyway, how long are you going to be at the hospital?” Ghost changed the subject to break the tension.
“For a while, but I really need to get home…”
“I see, I’ll stop by after I finish updating this entire entry log into my terabyte flash drive.” Ghost pointed the open slot on his forehead where a cable connected the center brain to the super computer. “You want me to bring you something in particular?”
“Yeah, bring me a book or something to kill time. Preferably Mary had a little lamb. After that I need something cutesie.”
“Got it. Catch you later,” Ghost logged off.
Ulysses sighed and laid back on his bed. That Salt character was invading his mind. He remembers his taste of pure salt on his skin, his weird face, his skin color, his sweet timid song, his magic. He could use magic. They were floating because of him, he saved his life.
Magic was a norm but it was very hard for Ulysses to cast. He preferred to tank his way out of a scenario. He doesn’t think of himself as a human but he knows well enough he isn't a monster like the ones he saw inside the facility and through the gathered Intel.
“…I really don’t know what I am…”
He sounded so sad when he spoke about it, like if he risked his life to find out. He looked pained and miserable; Ulysses felt too identified with him.
He remembers when he was younger and many of the kids would isolate him because he was afraid of his voice, He had a talent to mimic a voice to create scary monster sound to scare the others when he wanted something to himself. Many kids really thought he was a monster and refuse to play with him.
“He kind of… He looks like an alien,” Ulysses thought out loud. “Maybe he is an Alien…” he concluded, judging by the evidence he gathered through the Intel. “No… he is a Prism Soldier,” he confirmed. His uniform and the terminology he used made Ulysses sure about it. But the way he spoke was so strange and different it made himself doubt. The soldiers are emotionless and take course of action when needed to, this boy was too frightened to even raise his voice. He was scared. It was obvious with what he witnessed and perhaps he is still in training due to his unlikely characteristics. One thing is certain for Ulysses, that boy has literally invaded his mind and now everywhere he sets his eyes he finds it relatable to the boy. Perhaps it was because of pity.
He heard the door click and open slowly, he assumed it was a nurse but the smell of dry fish hit him square in the face, unmistakable. Aindrea walked in wearing his big heavy backpack. “Aindrea, What are you doing here? Are you okay?” Ulysses asked but he just quietly grunted and approached Ulysses to hold his hand. “Aindrea, you shouldn't be here. I am getting a radiation detox,” Ulysses warned but the old man didn’t move away. He grunted and removed his food bag needles and every wire in his body.
“Aindrea! What are you doing???” Aindrea was acting stranger than usual. He let go of his hand and dug his hands in his bag. Aindrea was a hoarder of the rare and aesthetically pleasing and refuse to share it with anyone but Ulysses or Mary Lazarus. Aindrea held a small angel harp in perfect condition and handed it over to Ulysses. It had a red bow attached to it and a card tagged it. Ulysses read the card and it was a beautiful cursive, probably Mary Lazarus wrote it: “Happy Birthday, Ulysses. -Love, Aindrea.”
Ulysses’ face flushed a deep shade of pink. “Aindrea, you spoil me,” he chuckled and strummed a few string gracefully. “Thank you, again for the gifts you gifted me today.” He remembered the rest of his gifts are at the lockers and lost forever after the disaster. He felt terrible. His locker was apparently shock and waterproof but he doubted the lockers survive such a devastating magnitude.
“Ss-...aah…” Aindrea tried to speak, the old man had a terrible speech impediment but Ulysses could understand his voice and body language perfectly. They both could communicate with that and it felt natural.
Aindrea produced his own harp, it was made of copper and crusted with gems. He sat on the floor with a loud thump and he gently plucked the strings and making melodic sounds with his voice. Ulysses followed his lead free styling and occasionally changing leads. The beeping of his heart monitor was the base beat, he suddenly got inspired. He stopped for a second to record the session with his wrist computer.
“I stood in the darkness,
Hearing droplets and lost fragments.
There you stood in sterile white.
Your piercing eyes became my plight.
My sky is falling
Fuck you siren
Your presence rocked my world--”
Ulysses stopped playing when a nurse walked in, he was the same nurse of earlier. “Fine, I’ll stop playing--” Ulysses tried to say.
“What is that old man doing here?!” the nurse said pointing at Aindrea and the old man dropped his harp to cover his ears.
“Shh! It’s okay, Aindrea. Just breath.” Ulysses scrambled out of his bed to soothe and comfort him.
“Iron Pipes, this man needs medical attention, let me check him for wounds.” The nurse approached them slowly. He found several dozen bruises and cuts in his hands. “Uhg… He smells of saltwater and infection.” The nurse prepared a syringe to inject him out knocking the nurse out causing Aindrea to panic and lash at the nurse with the heavy harp to the head.
“AH. Aindrea!” Ulysses involuntarily shouted and tried to control him. “Aindrea! He is only trying to help!”
The door burst open again this time more nurses along with familiar faces entered the room. “Aindrea!” Mary Lazarus rushed to subdue him. The nurses called security to hold him down. A blond boy pulled Ulysses away from them. “Are you alright? What happened?” he asked.
“He doesn’t like needles.” Ulysses watched desperate and helplessly. He rarely goes into a panic attack but when he does it is very dangerous and often deadly.
“No wait! That's--!” Mary Lazarus said and the old man threw both men off and knocking them out with the harp. “Code ten; bring a tranquilizer and medical staff, we got three unconscious staff members…” A nurse spoke to a radio. Mary Lazarus just held him whispering softly in his ear and he slowly calmed down.
Mary Lazarus had a natural glow, she had the grace of a princess and the patience of a saint. She was kind and loving to everyone and she, unlike many, practices what she preaches. No one was too scary or too gross or too sick for her to turn away. Aindrea went limp in her arms. “Help me take him to my church…”
“He needs medical attention…” the nurse protested.
“I refuse. I am also taking Ulysses with me…”
“What? But he has toxic levels of radiation he shouldn’t--”
“Under the law, Ulysses is old enough to refuse medical care, and under the same law Aindrea is under my care and I act in his best interest,” she said with a calm voice hinting with sternness. “Lin-Kitte, help Ulysses with his things,” she instructed as she carried the old man in her arms.
Ulysses rode the ambulance with Aindrea, Mary Lazarus and his friend, Link, back to the church. Through the small window he could see the aftermath of the devastating quake, bodies upon bodies lying with the rubble of the buildings that once stood tall. “Forgive me,” Ulysses heard the nun speak and turned to her. “Why are you apologizing?”
“I sometimes am forceful with the concept of protection.” The nun caressed the old man's face fondly and caringly.
“Hey, no worries!” Ulysses laughed. “I rather have a mom feed me soup than have a stranger poke at me till I am dead!” The nun smiled and chuckled at the silly comment.
Ulysses and Link helped Lazarus with Aindrea to his room. it was ironic how that old man had more refuge than one would imagine but he rather sleep out in the open. “Boys, stay here till the crisis is averted, I will tend to the other sick patients,” the nun said once she close the door of the room the old man rested in.
“Do you need help?” Ulysses asked.
“No, Ulysses, you need to rest too. Please, make yourselves at home and indulge in the cake I have baked for you.” She smiled and walked down the hall to help other nuns of the faith.
“I am guessing you are having a rocking birthday?” the farmer boy asked as he counted how many cigarrettes he had left in the pack.
“Well… I am not dead. So… Yeah. How are you? Where were you when the earthquake stuck?”
“I was at my house, I was getting ready for work when it happened.” He smiled and punched Ulysses arm. “But like you said, at least we're alive, no?” Lin-Kitte Horseshoe works at the farm, he was around the age of Ulysses and they grew up together. Whatever banter Ulysses would do, Link followed suit and vice versa. Link was the only boy who wasn't afraid of him back in the camp.
“I wonder why Lazarus pulled me out of the hospital so abruptly.” Ulysses and Link walked down to the first floor into the kitchen to fix themselves a simple bite to eat.
“Do you think the rumors of the kidnappings are true?” Link asked as he made a bologna, mustard and pickle sandwich.
“The one about people being sold to the black market once they check out?” Ulysses asked back. He was not hungry enough to eat bread so instead he ate ham and cheese rolls with mushrooms.
“Yeah, she was worried when Ghost told me you were at the hospital,” Link answered.
“It is very silly and unnerving to think about,” the young brunett thought out loud.
“I know. It's why I hate hospitals. I rather die than get treated by a specialist,” Link said smiling.
“Do you think it's true?” Ulysses asked.
“The hospital rumor? Oh yeah, totally,” the blonde farmer answered after he swallowed his last bite.
“What evidence do you have can support it?” Ulysses asked skeptically.
“Well, remember the parasite epidemic? From eating raw meats and unclean cuts?”
“Yeah, the parasites made people eat ten times more and we were on a massive food shortage. You told me to never eat anything from your farm or any farm for that matter. Even Mary Lazarus forced me to be vegan.”
“Well… I remember that there were many wanted posters and digital campaigns to find the missing people that were last seen at the hospital. One day I saw a group of women were brought to the farm and were forced to do heavy labor. Many of those women were indeed the missing people from the hospitals.”
“How did you find out?”
“Because someone was looking for their loved one at the farm. The next day the workers disappeared without a trace. Sometimes I couldn't help but wonder, why my stake full of fat?”
“...Link, are you saying your farm sells human meat?”
“I can't prove it, but remembered when Prism showed up because we kept finding human bodies eaten alive?”
“There was a heavy investigation, everyone had to go on a pill diet…” Ulysses said.
“Hence the population drop due to constipation. But after some time the district was back to normal food distribution but the population just keeps dropping randomly.”
“It all goes back to Prism…”
“Prism is a fucked up Military that brings order to our catastrophic lifestyle.” Link said as he stretched his arms over his blonde head. The farmer was correct, Prism is a scary force to meddle with but he doubts everyone in it was evil. “Can they all be fucked up…?” Ulysses asked quietly.
“Well, they could be but I don't casually speak to them. Why? What makes you tick?”
“Well… Today-- I don't know if Ghost filled you in--”
“Oh, yeah!" Link perked his head. "The encounter in some secret pocket of the sewers. Who was he?”
“He… was sad,” Ulysses said, fidgeting in his spot.
“Ahh…" The farmer smiled before he added. "It doesn't surprise me.”
“Why?” Ulysses asked Link.
“Prism has a one emotion per unit protocol.” Ulysses knows the basics of Prism, a military base city one hundred miles away. They deal with some disasters and help the neighboring areas but many locals disapprove of their methods. Ulysses doesn't mind it till it becomes his problem. Salt-- or Sodium Chloride-- was his problem even if he barely knew him. “One emotion policy? That's the dumbest thing I ever heard.”
“Well they are created to fight demons and gods. They are our frontline in this frightening war out in space.”
“You surely know much about them.”
“Know thy enemy, Ulysses,” Link quoted and smiled softly. His teeth were surprisingly clean and white with all the cigarettes he smokes hourly. Now that he thought about it, the blonde hadn't touched a single cigarrette in a while. Perhaps he tried quitting again, but he knows how aggitated the farmer can be.
“YO! Ulysses!” They both heard Ghost’s voice from Ulysses’ gear. The hacker looked scared and disheveled. “Please tell me you're not at the hospital!”
“I am not, I was discharged a moment ago. I am at church--” Several loud pops resonated from a far rumbling the ground as it did. The panic roars came from every direction. Ulysses and Link lost balance and hit the ground. They stood up the moment the earth stood still, “What the hell was that!?” Link asked in panic.
“I don’t know!”
“Ulysses, it was a terrorist attack! Be on your guard!” Ghost advised, “I’ll rush there as soon as I can!”
“What the fuck is happening?!” Ulysses was close to tearing his hair out from his skull with the District's bullshit and pandemonium.