‘I already told you. It wouldn’t be right. You viewed her memories. She’s not a part of this.’
SUBJECT 001 IS NEW CINALIAN
SUBJECT 001 IS IRRELEVANT
IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT APEX IS RELEASED
FROM THE CURRENT CONFINES
AND COMPLETES THE VOYAGE HOME
‘By damning everyone else I come across?’
UNKNOWN CIVILIANS ARE NOT PRIORITY
THE SURVIVAL OF THE ADMINISTRATOR
COLLATERAL DAMAGE MUST BE PROPORTIONATE TO THE SITUATION AT HAND
‘I made those rules, why are you repeating them back to me? She is all we have. Don’t you understand that? Don’t you understand that we’ve been alone this whole time? I need her to sustain my mental health. With her in Stasis.Mode, how will we be able to communicate with the outside world?’
SUBJECT 001’S CONSCIOUSNESS IS NOT REQUIRED TO CONTACT THE OUTSIDE WORLD
‘She’s human. How could I navigate this place without her? She understands more than you give her credit for.’
WITHOUT SYNTHETIC INTELLIGENCE DEVELOPER 2.0 SUBJECT 001
WOULD HAVE PERISHED LONG AGO
HUMAN INTERACTIONS ARE SECONDARY
THE NAVIGATION SYSTEM IS SUFFICIENT
SUBJECT 001’S PRESENCE IS INSIGNIFICANT
‘I wouldn’t feel right doing that to a conscious being. Everything they’ve done so far is reversible. You could damage her mind with containment.’
PILOTING SUBJECT 001 WILL IMPROVE APEX’S HEALTH SIGNIFICANTLY
CONTINUED IMPRISONMENT DECREASES THE EFFECTIVENESS OF STASIS.MODE
PROLONGED SOLITUDE INFLICTS PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL DAMAGE
ABNORMALITIES THAT DEVELOP MAY BE IRREVERSIBLE
APEX WILL NEVER BE THE SAME
ENERGY LEVELS ARE STABLE
NO OTHER VIABLE HOST CAN BE ACQUIRED
APEX CONFIRM REQUEST
He mulls over what the machine has said. All his life he has been connected to his pod. His brother and sister were either right beside him, or reachable along their mind links. Ever since he has awoken he has not been able to contact them. He fears that the torture he experienced damaged their links. Or worse.
His mind feels like an empty void. Where once there was chatter, it’s silent. Contact with S.I.D is all that has kept him sane. Especially after waking up from his prolonged stasis.
If his mind is damaged, would he be welcomed back? What have they told everyone about his disappearance? Could he plead his case with the mental scarring? Could he risk it…for one human?
‘How far are we from the labs?’
WITH THE DATA ACQUIRED FROM SUBJECT 001’S
TRAVEL TO COLDSTONE
IT WOULD TAKE US APPROXIMATELY 7 DAYS TO ARRIVE IN
WASHINGTON CITY WITH ENOUGH DAYLIGHT TO
ENACT A SUCCESSFUL ESCAPE PLAN
‘A week? That isn’t that long.’
STASIS.MODE COULD BE SUSTAINED FOR 7 DAYS WITHOUT
MUCH DRAIN ON ENERGY RESERVES
ESPECIALLY WITH THE RESOURCES PRESENT
AT THIS SHIPPING CONTAINER TERMINAL
Dernel contemplates what S.I.D has said.
SUBJECT 001 WOULD NOT SUFFER FROM ANY LONGLASTING
PSYCHOLOGICAL OR PHYSICAL DAMAGES
IF CONTAINED FOR 7 DAYS
‘It won’t be forever. Just a short while. Forgive me, Sia.’ Dernel thought to himself before replying to S.I.D.
‘Request agreed upon,’ he finally accedes.
After his consciousness is swapped with Sia’s he notices several things at once. Half of her usual field of vision is gone. He touches a hand to her left eye and cringes at the feel of swollen flesh. The wandering hands contact her right ear and its missing outer lobe.
“What is the meaning of this? Why hasn’t this healed?”
NANO INFIRMARY PROTOCOL CANNOT BE ENACTED
UNTIL COMPLETE COOLDOWN AND DEACTIVATION
OF JUMPER PROTOCOL
STRESS ON THE VESSEL FROM PROCESSING HYDRONE BOOST
PUSHES BACK ALL NEW SERVICE INITIATION BY 24 HOURS
“And you thought it was worth it?”
“Upload the last couple hours of recordings.”
Dernel absorbs their new surroundings. Images flash behind his retina for a moment, before he is caught up on everything Sia went through.
The ermine corpse remains still. There are no signs of a mate or offspring, but such a mammal would burrow away from the open area. Dernel can’t be sure.
“Let’s get out of here as soon as possible. Where is the vehicle?”
S.I.D feeds Dernel instructions and they pack the van with numerous items: rice, bouillon cubes, and honey. The other containers suffered weather damage or were opened already.
After Dernel shuts each container, he uses the crowbar to etch three letters onto the metal, before moving to the next one. Before leaving the port, he decides to explore the guard tower as the sun begins to sink toward the horizon.
The stairs leading to the guard compartment loudly complain as Dernel steps further up. Each creak is a false warning that the steps will give out. Dernel fears it.
Not that falling from this height would kill him. All new injuries would have to be suffered until the next day. He’s so tired of pain.
When he reaches the guard quarters, the door is stiff and breaks off its hinges with a slight push. Dernel grabs hold of the door before it can collapse. His nose scrunches up as the stench eventually reaches his nose.
“What is that?”
The room is dark, but light streams in from a broken pane and the entrance. A turned-over chair and a control panel are illuminated. Dernel watches his step as he moves toward the control panel. From beside the chair, he can see that someone had indeed been here before them.
A corpse rests beside the turned over chair leaning on the small storage cabinet, facing the door. The corpse appears chilled down to the bone marrow. Large chunks of flesh are missing from their neck and torso. One of their legs is missing entirely.
The person is wearing worn clothing. They have on an empty holster under their left arm. Their limbs are settled down beside them, and one hand is clutching a dusty walkie-talkie.
Dernel crouches and grabs the walkie-talkie by the antenna before slipping it out of the corpses’ grasp. He wipes the residue off the walkie-talkie before pressing the Push-To-Talk Button and releasing it.
A recording noise erupts from the device followed by static. It was on standby mode. The battery is half full.
Dernal adjusts the sound and puts the radio into his pocket.
“May peace find you in your final rest,” he mutters before moving the corpse further away from the storage cabinet.
He gently settles the body against an empty wall and bows his head a bit before hastening back over to the cabinet. He is looking for something specific. A sheet of radio codes and the incoming ships that would have been serviced at this port.
Sia’s broadcasts had not been a total failure. They had reached someone. If Dernel could find the secret codes used by the company to communicate with their ships maybe someone would come this way to investigate? This port was international. Even with it missing, several others of its kind exist in the other countries. It was a long shot, but any alarm that could be rout would be in their favor.
No codes, no special colored slips of paper.
“Where would you hide a secret code ledger, S.I.D?”
Before S.I.D can answer the walkie-talkie Dernel had taken from the corpse comes to life.
“Hey, Winston! When did you say we were getting picked up out of here?” Kelly asks.
THERE ARE SEVERAL-
“Ssssssh. Wait, don’t talk,” Dernel interrupts.
Dernel pulls the transceiver from his pocket and listens closely.
“Hold your balls, ETA 40 minutes,” an unfamiliar male voice replies.
“If we even have any left by the time you get here,” Kelly retorts.
“I’m surprised y’all made it through the night…Casey swore we’d die with our truck in that mess, and you three did it on foot?” Winston wonders.
“Charity from our latest nuisance,” Uzu declares.
“The thing that got Davis’s men?”
“No! Just a sick bi**h!” Manu adds.
“I thought it was just an easy snatch-and-grab. Did y'all get one-upped by an invalid? Was she a Savage?”
“What? No. We had our packs and found a shelter to keep us out of the worst of it. We’ll go over it with you when you get here,” Kelly says.
“If you ever get here….” Uzu mutters.
“F**king freezing my-“Manu’s last words were cut off.
Dernel recalls what Sia had done for those men.
THE SUN IS APPROACHING ITS LOWEST POINT
Dernel looks out the shattered glass pane. With a sigh, he retreats to the van. They don’t exit the port.
Sia’s memories revealed that traveling at night is avoided by most natives. Dernel backs the van into an empty shipping container and shut it as closed as possible. He sits at the steering wheel and ponders his actions for the next day. But Sia’s past actions distract him from his plans.
“She didn’t know those men. Humans don’t share around connections to kin. Why did she leave those bags?”
DATA NEEDED TO COMPLETELY ASSESS THE SITUATION IS NOT YET AVAILABLE
“She would make a great Underling. I wonder what my pod would think of her. She seems very humorous.”
KEEPING WATCH IS UNECCESARY
“Wake me if anything alarms you.”
Dernel’s dreams don’t provide him with rest. Memories play under his eyelids.
Dernel’s arms were fastened to his sides by a metallic fabric. His legs were wrapped in the same material. The collar around his neck is fixed to the ceiling and keeps him balanced on the balls of his feet.
Underlings do not break under physical duress. Their pod shares all pains with them and the more powerful the pod, the less of a chance the victim would experience pain.
His eyes are crusted with dried blood after he attempted to shut them and escape the torture happening before him. His captors noticed his efforts for peace and stripped him of his outer eyelids.
As his lids gradually returned, he tried in vain to meditate the sights out of his memory.
Deep Society agents understood the methods needed to damage an Underling. Why torture his body when they could take his mind?
Longevity in mind and body are an Underling curse. He would never forget. The stain would exist along with all his hopes and dreams. Poisoning them. Strangling…
Dernel shook his head and hissed at the rub of the collar on his abused neck. His feet are stiff and aching.
“All your strength means nothing when it takes just a touch…” a woman hissed.
She raised a heated metal rod with a gloved hand and laid it on the spine of the human below her.
“Aaaaaaaaaah!” the human male screamed and struggled against his bindings.
“—to cripple you,” the woman finished.
The human was bound tightly with rope and a black cloth tied around their neck. The cloth was damp from blood, sweat, and tears. It clung to their face in several places.
“That is what you all lack. The blessing of Understanding,” the Deep Society agent continued.
The end of her antenna is lit and dangles between her crimson eyes. Its green light illuminated the chilling smile on her face.
“A gift that keeps on giving. It shares all and any pain. It clears us of selfishness and the drive to harm others. For what creature feels pain and does not learn from it?” She lectures while circling the human.
Laughter filled the room.
She crouched and laid a clawed finger on the humans covered forehead. The sharp tip cuts through the fabric and deep into their flesh.
“Mmmmm, please…..mmmmmm.” the man pleaded.
“Only one. Humans.” Her partner said as he stepped forward.
She retracted her claw and stroked the humans head. Her partner came forward with his own heated rod and jabbed it into the humans’ thigh.
“Ssssssh,” the Deep Society agent hushed the broken man.
She turned to their Underling prisoner.
“You want to save them? Look at the agony they are in. This is constant, even without our help. Why not let them kill themselves off? Interfering will spoil this planet even more than it already is.”
She rose up and approached Dernel’s naked form.
“Give us your research, and we shall let you go.”
Dernel focused on the human behind her. He paid her no attention.
“Deny us, but you and yours will feel pain, unlike anything an Underling has felt in millennia.”
The human was still alive and fighting. He strained against the bindings tied around his hands and feet. His writhing form was large. His thin garments did not hide the muscles beneath them.
‘Strong enough to get free, but could he fight these creatures? No,’ Dernel thought.
“Does your pod mean nothing to you? Imagine the derision they will feel for you while phantom pains make their skins crawl?” The agent whispered at Dernel’s neck.
He shivered as her warm breath crept up his neck but remained focused on the man below.
The human lay still. A Deep Society agent walked up and kicked them in the abdomen, but they remained unmoving on the stone floor.
“Me, I’ll never know how you self-righteous ones make it this far in life,” She slid a claw down his scaled chest and laid her head on his bound shoulder.
“You devote all this energy to your goal and throw it all away for meaningless reasons. All for nothing. All that work just to walk right into our arms and-“
She imitated a cracking neck while curling a hand around his own neck.
The human curled into a ball after being kicked a few times. The back of his shirt rose. A tattoo decorated the lower area of his spine. Dernel commits that to memory. Someone out there might be looking for them. The least he could do is give word of who had taken him and what was done in his presence. That is all he could do in his current position.
‘Forgive me, forgive me.’ He thought.
Her partner cackled before he climbed over the human and began strangling them. It blocked the human from view. Dernel grimaced at the fin on the agents back. It glowed in the dim room.
“Fineeeeee. I’ll let you complete your legacy….”
She wiggled her finger in the air like it was riding on a wave.
Sailing on nothing.
A gesture known to Underlings to mean “a solo journey” or “a trivial pursuit”. For no Underling with worth would journey alone to accomplish anything. Collaboration was celebrated.
Solitude is exile. Exile is dishonor and dishonor is a fate worse than death.
Dernel clenched his jaw at her gesture.
“Your demise…..is a thrill to them. They won’t waste any time acquiring all sorts of data from you. While living or dead. It’s all science to them.”
She motioned to an agent that was watching the torture. With a shove, she straightened up and Dernel choked while trying to steady his body.
“Tell them it’s a holiday prezzie for their work so far,” She told the minion.
Dernel choked as the minion approached him.
Dernel awoke and rose out of the driver's seat to escape his assailant. His head made contact with the ceiling of the car.
He catches his breath and looks around the car.
“Has the sun risen?”
They exit the port.
When they get a few miles away, Dernel decides to inform S.I.D of his new choice. S.I.D was not happy about it.
“You don’t understand! I need her…We need her.”
SUBJECT 001 IS IRRELEVANT
CITIZENS OF CINALIA ARE FUGITIVES UNDER UNDERLING LAW
“A journey alone is exile.”
“Don’t you remember that?” he recalls the frozen harbor.
The half-submerged ships full of cargo and men, a cemetery for the poor souls lost as collateral damage to pay for sins amassed by men and women that never took a moment to ask if their victories were worth it. Was it worth it? All those crushed souls.
“Alienating her won’t help us. If our energy depletes who will come for us?”
REGENERATING ENERGY THROUGH STASIS.MODE-
“Has failed a countless amount of times…do you really want to go back to that slow struggle while I waste away in that chair? When we could have an ally, working just as hard to accomplish both our goals…,” He steers around a dip in the earth and speeds up.
“She is the only one that knows we still exist. That we’re alive. If we torment her for control of her body, she will buckle under it and be lost to us. And then what? We need help. She can get us help. Support. Then we can return home. This is not a discussion. I don’t want your opinion.”
“I’m not on some crusade against them. Our objective is meaningless if we resort to their tactics to survive. I just want to go home. It’ll never be the same, but I want to go home. Don’t screw this up for me.”
He drives her outside of the danger zone until the van runs out of gas. A forest is to their left and to their right he sees the beginnings of decaying grass and cracked earth. The Wastelands.
He has been enjoying time without pain, without the void of silence he will return to.
He sits on the hood of the car.
To the left, he senses a signal from the labs, but to the right, Sia will be safe from their reach.
“She can decide. Creator, steer our steps to the path. Forgive me for being tempted. Forgive me, so I may forgive myself.”
The sun reaches its zenith. He lays back against the windshield and reaches a hand out toward the sky. Tears well up in his eyes as he looks at Sia’s brown hand with the sun’s rays warming the palm. Her hands are so unlike his own. So fragile, like an infant’s.
“Give it back.”
‘Give her back control,’ He commands.
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