Chapter twelve- Departure
"Allen, are you ready?"
I was taken out of my stupor by the wheezy voice of Jacobs below. He had the G36 ready to shoot me down, but once he saw my face he pulled his eye from the iron sights.
"What *cough* happened?"
I could hardly talk. I was too defeated to retain any energy in my voice. I didn't know what I was even fighting for, I just wanted to get everything over with.
"Just get me down. Let's finish this..." I muttered.
"As you wish. Hang on tight."
The gunshot shattered the tension in the air as efficiently as it did the canister of gas above. I wrapped my limbs around the cable as it went slack. As it unfurled, my section flipped over and
into itself in the process of lowering me down. The cable jerked too hard though, and I lost my grip.
I felt my back crack against something solid on the way down. The room spun in circles as I collided with various pieces of equipment. There was a minuscule moment of peace as I fell through
nothing but air. The floor then greeted my entire body at once.
I could feel an intense throbbing pain in all of my bones. Dust had been thrown in my eyes by my own impact with the ground. They forced themselves wide open, though. I couldn't blind myself, not
then. I could hardly breathe, but the silhouette of a pistol lingered in my peripheral. Before I even thought about it, my arms and legs shot back and propelled me towards it. I wasn't even
thinking about the dangers I faced, my instincts were in control. I was the only one left who could make a difference. The only one to save myself and finally end the madness.
Everything went into slow motion. I could hear my own heartbeat and feel the adrenaline course through my veins. I was almost to the pistol. Closer. Closer.
Then in a shock of instant confusion, my right foot didn't meet with the floor and I fell forward. As I tumbled on the floor I felt a wetness on my left leg. It was warm.
On my stomach, I started to crawl for the pistol, which was a lot further away than I perceived it to be. As I tried to push off with my right leg, nothing happened. I couldn't feel anything. I
looked over my shoulder.
My leg had been severed below the knee.
I couldn't scream. I couldn't feel any pain either, but that was it. I thought before that there was a chance at surviving, but it was now the end of any hope I had to return to the real world. I
watched all of the others get exterminated by the subject one by one, and it had finally come to me. I sat and just stared at my stump, knowing that it was the end.
All that I could see of the subject were his eyes. He was a mere shadow in the intense purple rays of the reactor. They slipped into black as he bent over and lifted the arcing cable from the dust
beside the body of the first subject. Its white light illuminated his face. His visage was twitching and flying through the entire spectrum of emotions. Conflict was raging in his head again.
The sound of light footsteps echoed off of the machinery, and Jacobs emerged from between two machines. The subject and I watched as he limped back into our lives as a haggard and broken man. His
G36 dangled by his side.
Jacobs eyed the subject. His body couldn't support the energy he had left and it mutinied on him, sending him into a horrible coughing fit. Blood seeped through his gritted teeth, which he spit
onto the floor. Then he noticed me.
"Jacobs, it's over." I muttered.
Jacobs' face turned even paler. His eyes opened wide at the sight of my physical state. He oscillated from my leg to my face, growing angrier each time. He shut his eyes tight and threw the rifle
onto the ground.
The subject swayed in his own shadow while Jacobs hobbled forward.
"I'm not going to fight anymore." he said.
The words reverberated forever in the nearly lifeless power room. He shook his head.
"I'm not going to try and save myself now. The captain goes down with the ship, and I'm the captain of this...this atrocity. You've taken the lives of so many good people. People who will never
know just how great they were."
Jacobs limped across the dusty floor, making his way to the center of the room. The subject's head slowly pivoted with a mechanical smoothness, following him on his path. The corpse of the first
subject spurred Jacobs on halfway.
"I still don't get you.*cough* Why are you doing this?" Jacobs pleaded.
I was starting to feel lightheaded. Blood loss was taking effect.
"What went wrong with you?"
He gestured to the first subject's body with his arm.
"Why were you two so different? You had the same virus," he had to look away to distract himself from his anger "but you're just so horrible."
The body of the first subject was at his feet. The glow from her eyes was gone.
"She was promising. We thought that maybe the virus wasn't such a bad thing; that the world could be better with it."
A hint of optimism was carried in his voice as he reminisced, but it was optimism that had since been crushed.
"Then there was you. You were the example of all that could go wrong. I was hoping that the experiment might change life for the better, but you corrupted it. Now my coworkers and friends are dead.
All so we could research the effects and habits of the virus until the bitter end. In that aspect, the experiment was successful."
Jacobs walked to the center of the room. His back was turned to the reactor as he spoke with a clear and commanding tone.
"We win, no matter how many you kill or brutalize. Your cruelty will be your undoing. Humanity will quickly put an end to you and this virus, and we'll live on."
Somewhere in the shadows surrounding the reactor, I saw the purple light reflect off of something. Something that was moving.
"And then one day people will look back on us! *cough* The brave workers at sector twenty-two who died saving the world from the virus! Eventually...someone will continue our legacy and make the
best of what we learned. They will change the world. I know it!"
You will lead the others to a glorious new age.
Jacobs continued to pour out his passion for our sacrifice as I watched the movements in the shadows. The thing moved about the machinery, hiding behind them as it traveled towards the back of the
room; towards Jacobs.
I tried to yell, but I was too weak. There was blood pooling under me and my mind was starting to fade. I was having trouble making sense of what Jacobs was saying at that point, but I was
consciously aware of the threat approaching him.
The subject was suspiciously inactive as Jacobs continued on. My friend didn't hold back as he finally unleashed his emotions. His fist was in the air as a long snaking object raised itself high up
and in line with the center of the reactor. There was liquid dripping from its end. Jacobs was aglow with victory. He had reached the end of his story.
In a state of near unconsciousness I watched as the black streak flew through Jacobs' torso. He was impaled so quickly and effortlessly that he only stumbled forward with a step and a half. His
head dipped down to view his mutilated chest, before raising again to the subject and I. The tendril curved upwards and lifted him off of his feet. As he ascended I could hear his voice. His final
words exploded throughout the room and my mind.
"Thank you, Allen."
The tendril wrapped tightly around Jacobs' body. Without a sound his head quickly fell forwards as the air was squeezed from his lungs. He never looked up again.
A tube of grey haze framed the scene as the tendril released its grip and allowed Jacobs' body to slide off of itself and collapse in a heap on the floor. I was fading away with him.
Jacobs' body was swallowed by black. The black of the subjects silhouette. He was approaching.
As if his stare was an electrode, my mind jolted back into life. Words started to fly out of my mouth at him but I couldn't focus on my own voice enough to understand what I was saying. Every
ambient sound of the power room was amplified and piling on top of one another, and everything I could see was limited to the subjects immediate area.
My body was supercharged with adrenaline alone, and I had no ability to organize or understand what my senses were trying to tell me. My internal monologue was going off on its own accord, firing
out information as if it could do anything to help.
Why?! Why is he coming for you?! You're dying!! Why won't he leave you alone to die in peace?!
I could see every detail of the subject in the light from the arcing cable. Every stitch in his straps, every scratch in the metal rings, and every single black fiber that made up the two on his
chest. His eyes. I had only ever seen them glowing in the distance as simple rings of neon orange, but up close I could see them as they really were. They weren't just glowing eyes. They were new.
An entirely new thing. The irises looked as if they were carved out of pure amber. They were alive, and contained in their design as many facets and details as any person could amass in an entire
lifetime. They had opaque imperfections as well as immaculately clear flowing masses. I found that I could stare into the subject's soul through those enlarged amber portals, even when the darkness
they contained saw me as something that needed to be destroyed.
The reactor idled in the background, watching the culmination of its efforts unfold. As the subject drew closer it appeared as a halo lowering itself behind his head. It dawned on me that I would
not be the last life to be taken by the will of the machine. It would always be there with the subject, using him like a puppet to satisfy its demands. As a machine, it would never give up. Not
like its mortal play thing had.
I accepted that I was going to die. Embracing my last moments, I gazed up at the reactor. Less than an hour before, I was basking in the violet hue of its plasma. I found it to be so beautiful and
so intriguing that I would happily die in its presence. But then I came to understand it. It was hunger manifest. It fed from the other machines, it fed on us, and it would never, ever be
satisfied. It represented such a hideous cause that it was hard to love it again. But I tried anyway.
I shut out the subject from my mind and stared through him and right at the reactor. I forced every horrible memory from my experience into a dark corner of my brain. I went back in time and
reveled in the sweetness of the not so distant past. My discussion with the voice in the dark was fresh in my head. I was confused yet euphoric at the same time as I processed my supposed destiny
and found a passion for the mysteries of the realm. I was there again, and I was happy.
As the subject took his final steps towards me he presented the deadly end of the sparking cable. My vision started to blur, and a streak of heavenly light pierced the darkness. Spears of light
penetrated the room one at a time as if the wall had sprung a leak. Then a sheet of blinding light exploded into the realm, filling every last inch with white light.
Then all I could see was black.
There was only darkness and noise. I felt myself getting thrown about only for it to stop in an instant. Flowing water was accompanied by shattering glass and malfunctioning machinery. It
resembled the ambient noise of the power room, but then I noticed something. The hum;the drone of the reactor was gone, and it had been replaced with a distant rumble.
I couldn't tell if I was on my back or on my chest. There was pressure on me from both sides, and something sharp was digging into my hip. I felt around with my right arm, with it being the
only limb that I could move, and I groped at the chilly air. Gravity pulled my arm in the direction I was facing, so deduced that I was lying on my stomach. I clutched at whatever was on top of me.
It was rough, but it crumbled in my hand.
"Hello? Who is that?"
I recognized the voice and sprung into action. Completely forgetting about my mortal injury, I clawed at the debris pile with my only free arm. My lungs fought for deep breaths under the weight of
the rubble. As soon as my shoulder was free, I pushed myself over and rolled onto the debris pile. A blindingly intense light assaulted my eyes as I tried to sit up. It knocked me back down as if I
had been punched.
"It's you!" the subject shouted ecstatically. "Yes! You're oka...oh...your leg."
While shading my eyes from the wall of light I looked down past my torso to see the air where my leg used to be. Through the cascade of dizzying white dots I saw my left foot and a stump that was
coated in grey dust, which, conveniently, appeared to slow the bleeding.
"Yes, you took it," I muttered.
"Please, come over to me," he pleaded. "You'll die really soo-*Cough*-soon if you don't let me help you."
The ceiling above was crumbling and falling apart. The only thing holding the fragments of concrete together was the steel reinforcement. A stream of fluid flowed from between the cracks. I didn't
acknowledge the subject's request. I just laid there, staring up.
"You killed everyone."
The subject didn't reply, allowing the distant rumble to fill in the silence between us. I wouldn't look at him, wherever he was. I wanted him out of my life, and especially my death.
"Why should I trust you?"
"Just look at me."
I noticed that the subject's voice was different. It was hoarse and weak as it echoed from behind me.
"Just...look at me. I can't hurt you. Not anymore."
After a few seconds of silence I reluctantly complied. I rolled myself over on the rocky pile and looked up. I saw the subject immediately.
His feet dangled several feet off of the floor. I traced the blood that stained the wall behind them up to his right thigh which had a piece of shrapnel embedded deeply into it. It looked like it
may have been a shard of glass, but in the intense white light its reflections made it hard to identify. Further up, the subject was clutching his hands around something in his chest. It took me a
moment to realize that he was pinned to the wall by the object. His arms were shaking as he tried to lift his weight off of the rebar that ran through him. He flinched as he allowed his weight to
come back to rest on it. His fingers danced over its ridges as he calculated where he should place them. He whispered to himself in forced breaths, building up the courage to free himself. In one
solid tug the bar ground its way out, and with a thud and a clang the subject collapsed on the floor.
Broken and weary, the subject propped himself up on a jagged pile of shattered concrete and burst pipes. His dark grey garb was devoid of the black number two on his chest, and instead displayed a
dark, prominent blood stain.
He bobbed his head in my direction. His pupils constricted in the intense light, and despite his crippled state, the amber glow soldiered on.
"Please come here."
I still felt suspicious. The subject had used illusions before and to very good effect.
"But you have nothing to lose. You're dying...I'm dying."
The subject spoke clear and concise.
"I know that I have done horrible, unspeakable things, but I need you to trust me."
He was right. I would soon bleed to death anyway. After intense consideration I dragged myself through the rocky debris, enduring cuts and bruises along the way. I didn't bother using my other leg
because it was extremely difficult to overcome the reflex to use both legs in succession. As I cleared the rough terrain the subject cracked a subtle smile. With my arms aching from exhaustion, I
crawled up onto the subject's debris pile, collapsed, and rolled onto my back. I felt nauseated. My body was demanding blood that I simply did not have in me. I only retained enough to be
The subject stared at my leg, not breaking eye contact from it. His body was battered, punctured and covered in blood but he somehow managed to keep it completely still.
"Why are you so calm?"
The subject blinked back to alertness.
"Be quiet for a moment. I want you to see something."
He turned to me bearing a very straight face.
"And don't be scared."
My eyes shot open wide as the subject's hands vanished into thick plumes of black smoke.
"Wait, what are you doing?!"
"Don't worry. Watch," the subject retorted as he rolled over towards me.
His hands hovered in the air over my right knee. In the dark smoke his blackened fingers appeared to tap out some kind of code as he fluidically manipulated each digit to an indecipherable rhythm.
Soon the black smoke trickled down into seemingly aimless deltas.
The subject's eyes ran perfectly parallel as he carried out his procedure. He spoke quickly as if not to break his concentration.
"This is the first time I've done this, so bear with me."
On the last word the smoke branched off of its obscure path and into longer smoother routes. Some began to collect in a dense protrusion at the base of the stump. As it expanded it rose to a shade
I watched incredulously as the black vapor manifested into flesh and bone in a matter of seconds. Feeling quickly returned to my new leg, and before I could take in what happened, skin had already
sealed everything back up.
I burst into joyous laughter. I had witnessed a beautiful thing. A miracle of sorts. Humanity had been studying for ages to treat people half as effectively as the black smoke did. And it took mere
seconds to do it.
During my celebration the subject swayed with a very familiar small smile. His elbows shook and then collapsed under his weight, followed by the chunks of concrete below him. The rocky slope
pummeled him as he limply rolled down the rubble pile and onto the concrete floor.
My happiness waned as the subject laid lifelessly on the floor. His breaths were shallow and nearly inaudible.
"Heh...Are you okay?" I asked.
"You *Cough* can get out of here now." he replied.
"I...I've done all I can do."
I felt a twinge of sadness as the subject spoke. The idea of leaving him to die alone was painful. Even though he had almost taken it before, he had saved my life, seemingly at the cost of his own.
I carefully lowered myself down the slope. At the bottom was a decent sized concrete boulder which I scooted onto as a makeshift chair. From there I took a long deep breath. As I exhaled I watched
as the condensation evaporated into thin air. I remembered the extent of our experiment. A month had passed since we started, and winter was just around the bend.
The subject had curled up for warmth in the frigid November air. His family should have been looking for him. It was almost Thanksgiving. But I had a vile and lingering hunch as to why we never
heard about the families with the missing son and daughter. I decided to be family for him then.
"I'm not leaving you yet."
The only visual hint that the subject spoke was a puff of condensation.
"Because...you've been through a lot, and I think you deserve some company for a few minutes."
I couldn't resist the urge.
"And...I have a question for you. Or...maybe a few."
The subject rolled over. His eyes were dim and the amber tint was aged and dark. It was as if they were unlit bulbs. A sense of guilt pained me as I stared at those tarnished rings.
"Okay. *Cough* Square one again, huh?"
I chuckled. "You still remember that?"
"I remember everything about you."
I rubbed my hands together, partly because they were cold and partly because I was planning out what to say.
"Yeah...That's related to one of the things I want to talk to you about. Why did you spare me out of all the others?"
The subject turned his head confusedly.
"Well, because you where the only one left. There's no one else to save."
"No. That's not what I mean. What I mean is why did you actively manipulate my situation to protect me?"
"How do you know about that?"
I watched the dust blow across the ground, unsure how to answer him.
"I don't really know how to explain how I ended up with that information...I wouldn't say it's a credible story...But...but why me? I didn't do anything nice for you. You should hate me."
"Do you remember when I told you about the darkness? How my consciousness left me?"
"Well...it seemed that way at first, but it didn't actually leave me. As time went on the darkness got worse, and eventually it consumed me completely one night.*Cough* Then I consciously heard
voices in my head when I was consumed. I didn't tell you about them because I thought that if I acted normal I could be let go. But I got concerned about what they were saying. They said things
that made no sense at the start. Eventually the most powerful one told me to forget about my past and the people I knew. Once I learned how I was supposed to ensure that I never thought about those
people again, I warned everyone about it."
The subject squinted as if his own words confused him.
"...But then there was another. When I was being hounded to kill a kind voice would speak to me. It would talk to me about you."
I stopped breathing.
"It told me to protect you at all costs...That if I let you die I would be lost forever."
The subject trailed his fingers over his blood stained chest and examined the deep rose ichor as it trickled down his index finger.
"I guess I traded my life to..escape the imprisonment," he muttered. His breaths were becoming labored.
"...But I think there was a lot more at stake...I heard the voice mention a plan."
"What was the plan? Did the voice say that I have anything to do with it?"
The subject shook his head. He appeared to be disappointed in himself.
"I don't know."
I sighed and looked around. The power room was absolutely trashed. The heavy emergency generators at the end of the room had been thrown through the adjacent wall and deeper into the building. The
chemical pumps had seized and over pressurized. Fine mists sprayed from between the chunky steel components and onto vulnerable machinery nearby. The acid ate away ate the grime on the metal
leaving it appearing polished and new.
What were once neighboring rooms had been smashed up against the power room's wall and knocked it out of place. It was only supporting itself with a sturdy netting of cables and plumbing. The metal
groaned in protest. The wall was bound to come down at some point. Its enormous mass threatened to take the entire section of the building down with it.
The only light in our area came from the lopsided entrance on that same wall. The dimensions of the doorway had been smashed to twice their original size. One of the doors was reduced to a crumpled
piece of orange painted metal at the base of the opposite wall. "WER" from "POWER ROOM" was all that was left of the sandblasted writing on it.
My eyes were starting to adjust, but I still couldn't make out what was outside in the intense sunlight. I noticed that the rumble outside had faded away. I could hear birds chirping overhead and
distant car alarms blaring.
I looked around, but found no signs that anyone else was ever in the room with us. The subject knew what I was looking for.
"I'm sorry," the subject muttered weakly.
"It's not your fault."
"I can't...help but feel like...I ruined your life."
I stood up. The sunlight was beckoning me now. I could faintly see the silhouettes of tree branches swaying in the breeze.
"I don't think it's ruined. My family is far from here. They're safe."
The horizon appeared in the light. It was merely a faint line between two shades of white.
"I think...that life may have become worth living. I now have a second chance."
The subject didn't respond.
"I have an idea of what lies in the future. Just an idea. But when I walk out there I will know my destiny. And it's because you saved me."
As I stood on the border between my past and future I waited for the voice of the subject. I wanted a sign of his company, but it never came. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I was alone
There I was, staring into the light of my future. It was harsh but there was no avoiding it. I walked towards the light of the outside world. Every other step reminded me of the subject's
sacrifice. I would never forget what happened that day and what he did to me. But a part of me knew that his favor would greatly outlast my wounds.
While both driven and burdened by the legacy of our sacrifices, the darkness of the facility shrank into my peripheral, and I saw the true colors of my destiny.
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