The Mind’s Eye
Dante could feel the pull here, stronger than ever before, seeming to float out to him from the low, grey walls of the base. He shifted uncomfortably underneath the woven mat and began to clean the sniper rifle’s innards again, moving with practiced sluggishness.
Sarai was leading a reconnaissance of a potential target. Dorian had the rest of his lieutenants out on an assault on a remnant Demokratos cell.
He was alone, a lump of snow in the cold and the grey of the north. He was alone.
Just the way he liked it.
I’ve been here a week. An entire week. What am I waiting for? I could end them all within an hour, find whatever calls me and be out in ten minutes, but still I wait. Is this what Malek mentioned? My sister? Is it her call I feel?
There were no answers to these questions, not yet. So he waited. Waited for a confirmation of something. Anything.
A week later, still nothing except an unwary patrolman coming too close for comfort. But he did see something being built in a warehouse. Time to move.
Another week and the occasion finally presented itself.
Dante was lying in a black-leafed tree close to the base, both eyes open and catnapping, when he heard the shouts of the sergeants. Their hard-boiled voices carried out across the ashen jungle, screaming at various Corporate soldiers.
Dante yawned and moved to his rifle, peering into the scope. A line of men were assembling in the firing range, with several carts being wheeled to the center. The runner sighed.
Just a group training session. Goddamn drill tyrants.
But something caught his eye; the weapons the soldiers were equipped with. White as eggs, long and wide, connecting into an enormous backpack.
Dante frowned and zoomed in. They seemed to be a type of energy weapon, but unlike anything he had ever seen.
Too large to be a laser, too small to be a plasma weapon…
Then he heard the sergeants shout, “Company! Charge weapons!”
A strange whining sound filled the air around Dante, his ears picking up the slightest noises at great distances.
“READY!” The men kneeled down in sync, bracing their weapons against their chests.
What the hell is that noise?! It’s like physical pain…
And a wave of prickling agony seared through Dante, making him squirm in his tree and bite back a yell. Then he realized his mistake as camouflaged sentry guns released a hail of bullets.
Dante cursed aloud, leaving the rifle in its place and dropping down to ground level. The sentries’ fire followed him, and he had to move fast to dodge enough bullets not to die.
Left and right he strafed, jumping and flipping, moving towards the base slowly but surely. The bullets left stinging pains where they connected, but no blood fell from the GIACA’s shell.
Suddenly, he was at the kill line. The corpses and bones of animals littered the ground around him; unfortunate souls who had wandered too close before the forest had been cleared. He didn’t consider them. There was no time to do anything but leap over the line of guns and beat the ground towards the base.
Oddly, no alarm was sounding, and the sentry guns had ceased fire.
Those animals must make frequent trips around here. Lucky, Dante. Lucky.
He slowed to a trot, and ducked between a warehouse and barracks. A lone guard was having a smoke, stretched out and eyes closed.
“PRIVATE CHEN!” a sergeant shouted at him as he walked towards the base. “WHY ARE YOU NOT AT YOUR POST?”
Dante whirled around and snapped to attention, face hidden behind the guard’s helmet, one of two things he had taken from the soldier. He spoke in a high, unsteady voice.
“Sir! Just on my break, sergeant, sir!”
The officer glowered a second more, then turned and gave him a dismissive wave. “At ease. You can go.”
“Sir! Thank you, sir!” Dante squeaked as he turned around and jogged towards the main complex. He stifled a chuckle and patted the altered GIACA armor.
Ah, the wonders of modern biotechnology. They never learn!
But vanity could wait; he could feel the pull growing with every step.
One of my (siblings?) is in there, and he or she is related to those weapons in the courtyard. And all those weapons mean is pain.
He entered the near-deserted building silently, following the pull as accurately as he could. It was a long, complicated walk; the base was built like a labyrinth.
Even I could get lost in here. They built it like this on purpose. They’re hiding something.
Soon it grew irresistibly strong, and he saw his feet moving independently from his control. And after what felt like hours of walking, he reached a door, made of red steel.
He watched as his hands lifted themselves and tapped numbers on a keypad, barely felt his eyes water as they were scanned, and the touch of cold steel was more distant than freedom.
The room beyond the door was pitch black, and cold as the Arctic. Feeling suddenly returned to Dante, and he hugged himself against the cold.
Did I take a wrong turn? I’ve ended up in their walk-in freezer.
But he felt the call tug at him again, and he turned towards its source, discerning another door on the other side of the room. He began to walk towards it, and it seemed to get colder and colder as he got closer. Soon he had trouble moving, barely forcing one foot in front of the other through sheer strength of will. He could feel his limbs losing their warmth, slowly stiffening and turning black…
Cold, cold, cold, I’m so cold, where’s the damn door, I’m so cold…
He knew this was no artificial freeze. Him and his armor had dealt with sub-zero temperatures in the Pike’s Peak job just fine. There was something unnatural about this.
Many people say I’m unnaturally fast, strong, and tough, even beyond being a powerful runner. Someone like me created this. Someone not quite human .
But suddenly the other side of the room, complete with door, loomed up in front of him out of the blackness. He rushed forward, reached the door and threw it open. Warmth and color returned, and he shivered at the feeling returning to his body.
Finally! I felt like I was turning to ice in there! Then he lifted his head, to get a view of this new room.
Oh, son of a…
A monstrous blaze raged across the room, blocking the door and lashing at Dante, who was barely outside the reach of the heat. He stood up, brow furrowed.
Fire and ice? Not a very original combination. Now I know this has to be the work of someone human.
He felt the heat break like waves on his face, unpleasant even to him.
Here goes nothing, he thought as he broke into a dead sprint, heading into the heart of the inferno.
The flames shot back from his body, and the heat seemed to disappear as quickly as it came. Dante hit the door hard, but bit back a sigh of relief as the steel pressed against his skin. He didn’t look back as he opened the door into the next room.
There was nothing in it. He frowned and took a step in. Nothing. No natural forces, no obstacles, nothing but grey steel. Not even a door.
Dante searched wildly around for another exit, but the smooth steel walls were totally blank, with no marks to indicate a hidden passageway. Dante felt panic begin to grow inside him, he was never going to get out, he was trapped here, only a slow death waited…
About then the lights switched off, leaving the room in complete blackness.
Dante stood very still, and pressed himself up against a corner of the walls. The fear and panic were suddenly gone, replaced by complete incredulity.
“Really? You’re going to try and scare me by flicking the light switch? Now I know there’s a way out!” he shouted, barely suppressing a laugh.
He sauntered forward and pressed his hand against the wall. Sure enough, there was a niche, and the steel panel fell away at his touch. This time he did laugh.
Dante clambered through and dropped into a low, dark hallway. He looked around with an insolent grin, ready to face whatever challenge his sibling had ready.
It fell away very quickly. At the end of the passage, a human figure stood silhouetted by a pulsing purple light. He walked forward cautiously, but nothing appeared to stop him.
The last trial is always the hardest, he thought grimly, unhooking Blaze from his back.
He reached the end quickly and looked around him. The curve of the room went up and down into blackness, what looked like power cells jutting out of the walls in long rows. His eyes turned back into the light, a pale purple ball outlining the motionless figure.
The light seemed perversely alive, throbbing gently, wires running to and fro from it like obscene drains, sucking the light out to the surface. Dante had to resist an urge to vomit…
It’s not all that disgusting, but it’s just wrong. Whatever that is shouldn’t exist!
The figure, cloaked in that repulsive glare, shifted slightly and revealed the barrel of an assault rifle. Dante looked at it, then addressed the shape.
“Are you the guard of… whatever the hell that is?”
The figure raised the gun, and Dante heard the oiled click of a round being chambered.
“What is this? Who are you? Are you the one Malek mentioned?’
The figure paused, the assault rifle poised halfway between shoulder and waist. Dante waited. Then, quick as a snake, the rifle snapped up and began to pump out rounds, high-caliber bullets barely missing his temple.
Dante cursed and jumped out of the way, heading for the walls of the sphere. But as soon as he touched its sloping sides, agony raced up his leg, coursing up him like fire.
He shouted and propelled himself off, clutching at his burning thigh and clenching his teeth. He landed hard on the catwalk and tried to stand. He could barely manage that, stumbling and slipping on the slick metal.
He looked down at it as the figure began to reload, and saw shining sparks of purple light running up and down his armor.
That’s gonna leave a mark… he thought as he whipped out his twin pistols and opened fire on the guard. Not that he expected it to work; every single one missed. But dodging bullets is distracting, and the guard didn’t react nearly fast enough to counter Blaze being sent through her throat.
The chakram passed clean through, stopping dead an inch from the purple light, hovering eerily in the air.
Dante looked at the motionless figure, poised near the edge of the catwalk with hooded head perfectly balanced despite the force of the throw. He walked ever so casually over, and pushed the guard over the edge with a light shove.
A second before the head vanished into the shadows below the light, Dante caught a flash of short, brown hair, and two piercing blue eyes.
He fell to his knees in disbelief, shock rippling through him like a wave.
No… she’s dead! She was killed in the Endrace! That can’t have been Aaliyah! he thought as he stared into the shadows.
A movement out of the corner of his eye made him snap his attention to his left. And there the figure stood, hands extended and several streams of purple energy flowing from her fingers.
Dante yelled and scrambled back, but the violet ropes caught him and wrapped him tight enough to restrict his breathing. He struggled and kicked, but the grip of the light only tightened, and he felt himself being drawn towards the impossible figure of Aaliyah.
He watched in disbelief as she threw her hood back, revealing a pale, dead face, the right side scorched black and the other paler than porcelain. And fear sprouted inside him as she began to speak in a grating, slow voice.
“Is this all you have to offer? A few combat moves and one man’s speed and strength? Is this how you’ll do what you set out to do?”
“No!” he gasped as the light tightened around his chest, squeezing his ribcage like plastic, “I have allies! I’m not that prideful, mother!”
Aaliyah’s revenant laughed, the sound like stones scraping together. “A few thousand mercenary soldiers, some Demokratos, five foolish captains, and a runner? Is this the force that’s supposed to liberate us?”
“I’ve only been at it a year, and I’ve made huge progress! Give me some time!” he said incredulously, wriggling against his bonds.
She hissed and pulled him closer. “If you think you can do better than what you’ve already got, you’re dead wrong, Dante. I’m going to let you go now. Get out and never bother me again. I’m locked here, but I’m working on a jailbreak, and if you fail… you’d better pray the Corporation gets you first.”
The lights dissolved and Dante thudded to the floor, his wounded leg collapsing underneath him. He lay there for a second, face pressed against the metal. His eyes burned.
“How dare you…” he whispered. His voice carried through the room, resonating off the walls.
It was a dangerous sound.
Aaliyah’s specter turned, raising an eyebrow. “What did you say to me, boy?”
And Dante jumped to his feet, a roar of anger escaping his lips. He barreled forward, smashing the gruesome parody of his mother aside into the sphere’s walls, and jumped headfirst into the light.
Pain! Agony filled his veins, replacing blood with fire, and every nerve set alight. Dante fell to his knees, teeth clenched so hard he felt one crack. All torments in the world were being heaped upon him, and it didn’t lessen as his vision began to darken. He gritted his teeth and rolled over, forcing himself not to scream.
Is this what Hell is like? Just pain and something that shouldn’t be? Have I entered the Inferno? Can I even move?
Dante balled up, curling into a tight sphere of pain. Every fiber of his being told him to die, to submit, to sleep. But he knew that to stay like this was to die, and to leave was to condemn himself to failure. So he did the impossible.
He stood up and walked on.
He fought through the pain and forced himself to step forward, slow but steady. He thought he felt the light recoil, as if surprised, then return with another lash of suffering.
Dante ignored it.
He could feel the call again, a drilling whine in his ear, and could just barely make out a shape through the lavender haze.
The fog seemed to whisper to him as he walked, murmuring warnings of hellish death, of pain everlasting, you’ll only be a plaything for the anger of the mistress.
Dante looked ahead, and clearly saw a human figure not five feet away from him. A girl’s outline.
“The… mistress?” he said haltingly, stepping towards her, “So… you are… my s… sister. Malek… would have… been… kind… to mention… the light.”
She floated in the air, curled into a ball and revolving slowly. Her hair fell like a cascade of jet, her skin white as alabaster and smooth as silk. He lifted
She was asleep.
Dante walked out of the light, the pain slowly lifting from his body. When he reached the catwalk once again, the specter that had imitated his mother was gone, vanished back to the air it had come from.
Good. I almost lost it back there, Dante thought, setting the girl down and pulling a teleportation module out of his pack.
She was still motionless, lying as if in a deep, dreamless slumber. He grasped her hand as the green light began to surround him, pulling her close. She was still as stone as the process finally ended and Dante felt himself dissolve, flying back to the safe house.
As he reformed in the safe house’s meeting room, his lieutenants all jumped to their feet and rushed over to him.
“Dante, the mission was a success, but I need to talk to you about-“
“Dante, Orion and I have a collection of Demokratos documents and files you need to see-”
“Commander Dante, this is of the utmost importance-“
He ignored them all and pushed through to get at the intensive care husk. They stared after him for a heartbeat, then rushed over to his side.
He set the girl down on and hooked her up to the pod’s machinery, beginning to run diagnostics on her condition. His lieutenants all stared at the girl in mixed curiosity and confusion.
Then Jacinto turned to Dante, voice incredulous.
“Dante, you skipped out on several missions for a teenage girl? Who the hell is this? Why is she here?!”
Dante ignored him completely, watching the monitor closely as figures flashed across it. Jacinto threw his hands up in frustration and walked away, much to the amusement of Jarred. Dorian tried next, laying a hand on Dante’s shoulder and tugging gently.
No sooner had sound begun to escape from his lips than Dante forced a .45 under his jaw, pushing him backwards on the barrel of the gun.
None of the others dared to even move.
Finally, the monitor halted, with a big green STABLE flashing across it. Dante seemed to deflate a little, and collapsed into the chair next to the pod. His eyes were closed, as if he had suddenly fallen asleep. The others looked at each other, and quickly walked out.
Dorian was again on the verge of saying something when Dante’s voice, tired and heavy, reached his ears.
“She’s my… sister. I found her in a base outside the Northern border. She’s like me.”
She’s not half as good-looking, thought Sarai, somewhat spitefully.
“What do you mean, like you?” she asked, turning back to face him.
“She’s inhuman,” he said bluntly.
The lieutenants looked at him in surprise, but his head had sagged again, and Blaze slipped from his fingers. They filed out quietly, Sarai casting a long glance back to the pod before leaving.
Dante stayed by the bed for quite a while, head in hand, on the verge of sleep. It was nearly one o’clock when he forced himself to his feet and began to walk to his room.
Then he heard a strange rustling noise behind him, and turned to see the girl out of her bed, arm outstretched.
A bolt of purple energy lanced out of her palm and connected solidly with his chest, spraying violet light over a desk. The wood smoked and dissolved, as if a powerful acid had been splashed on it.
Dante strode forward slowly, untouched, his GIACA a riot of color.
Her green eyes widened in surprise and she hit him with another blast, this time a pale blue that staggered Dante a little and sent a nearby chair hurtling through a wall.
She was readying a third attack when Dante grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her over to the bed. She wasn’t strong; he could barely feel her resistance as he picked her up and gently set her down on the bed, driving a needle full of a soothing drug blend into her wrist.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her ear, “but you have to sleep now. We’ll talk tomorrow, sister, and you can try to kill me then. But until then, try and rest. You’re weak and need medical help.”
She nodded sleepily, head lolling and muscles losing their tension. He put her head down slowly, and whispered one last thing into her ear.
“What’s your name?”
Her voice was sweet and high, a singer’s voice. A beautiful voice.
“My name is Ariel.”