Chapter 13 & 14

Chapter 13: Whose Breakout Is It Anyway?

 

We all get into the cruiser then take off out of the garage to the desert sands. The drive northwest toward the prison is a long one and there’s not any law enforcement out here, so I speed up. The coast is very far north of New Rellow. Nothing has been built around Sydney Two; I think it’s because they don’t want a city of civilized people so close to the worst of the worst. If someone were to escape, they could possibly slaughter an entire city.

The Regulators would be around, but they aren’t even trained to deal with me one-on-one, let alone a pre-violent convict. The drive is quiet; I’m not sure if it’s because there is fear bouncing between the closed windows or tough tension possibly on Odom’s behalf. I keep my hands tight on the steering wheel as I catch view of them all. Dayio and Welktin seemed to hit it off pretty well, but that did them no justice with Welktin riding passenger.

Instead of trying to create menial conversation between a group of guys who don’t care much for each other’s well-being, I just cruise on. Hours later we reach the west shoreline. I stop the cruiser a distance away from the water. We all get out of the cruiser and walk through the desert dirt as it loosens to soft sand. I haven’t felt sand in a long time. When I was a little girl, my father would sometimes take me to the beach, but I never went back after the war. With the emptiness around here, the world seems to be able to live just fine without it.

I can see Sydney Two very far out in the distance. I definitely underestimated the vast swim. It’s not as far as Ori is from Gharis, but maybe thirty percent of the distance without riding on the shoulders of a hijacked Alpha makes it much longer.

Dayio lets out a long whistle. Welktin agrees. “Yep.”

I ask, “What’s the matter? You guys scared of a little water?”

Dayio answers, “Scared of a little drowning.”

“We got oxygen tanks to avoid that. Last one to the prison cooks dinner tonight.”

Dayio jokingly replies as I walk back toward the trunk, “That’s not a threat for me. I can’t cook. You’ll be doing yourselves a favor by letting me win.”

Odom remains at the shoreline as we all walk back to the trunk and get changed into our skin-tight diving suits. After we get changed, we all help each other with our scuba tanks then head back to the shore with Odom. He’s staring out at the prison like they’re old enemies.

I ask, “Are you alright, Odom?”

He answers, “Yeah.”

“Take the cruiser and keep heading north around the water until you see the boat. It’s further away, but your drive will be shorter than ours. Let’s conference all Econs.” I tap my Econ then request, “Call Simon.”

My Econ alerts, “Connecting.”

My father picks up, “I’m here, Vanessa.”

“Setup a conference for us.”

The phone goes silent then he comes back on, “Two-Six-Six-Four-Nine-Zero-One.”

I repeat to my crew out loud, ” Two-Six-Six-Four-Nine-Zero-One.”

They all repeat my numbers into their Econs, then I repeat it into my own Econ after ending the call with Simon.

My Econ notifies, “Conference joined.”

I start roll call, “Dayio, check in.”

Dayio replies, “Here.”

I do the same with Welktin and Odom to confirm their presence on the call. Once I finish, Simon does a roll call with Jerry, Paul, Hines, and Jacks, who does a silly greeting. After we’re all checked in, I nod my head at Odom. He walks back to the cruiser.

I inform the base, “We’re heading in now.”

He replies, “Good luck out there. Once you get inside, we’ll be watching.”

I start walking towards the water, then once my feet enter, I force my way through until I am waist high and turn around. As I lower my mask from my forehead to my mouth, I fall backwards into the water, then spin around and start casually swimming. The water isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be even for a usual lake. The inner shoreline is piled with gunk and grime that washed up, but as we get further in it starts to become clearer. We continue straight and the lake seems deserted, but there are lots of small holes that are fading away as the depth lowers. We go lower into the cold abyss to mask our presence from any of the prison’s possible security systems.

I hear Dayio ask, “Did you see that?”

I look back at him as I continue swimming and ask, “See what?”

They’re both still behind me, but Dayio is looking down into the darker waters below as he swims. I look down, too, but don’t see anything.

He answers, “I don’t know, but I saw a poof sand cloud or something down there.”

I ask, “Simon, you wouldn’t happen to have hacked satellite feed over the water or could get sonar under here, could you?”

My father answers, “No. Unfortunately, the satellites don’t cover that area. Security measures for an attempt such as ours.”

“Keep your eyes open, guys. We’re not alone down here.”

We continue the swim and I constantly look around at the voids under me. I notice a small fish, coming towards me. I recognize the type of fish and it is the same kind that people use for pets, but it is a lot bigger than it should be.

I inform the others, “We got a fish incoming dead ahead.”

I slow down swimming as it approaches me, then I shift out of its way. I keep my eyes on it as it passes by, keeping its eye on me also. What should only be a fish the size of my pinky is the size of my two fists put together. It’s shiny, scaled, orange body finishes cruising by then I stop and stare.

I say to Dayio and Welktin, “Let it pass.”

They shift over and watch it as well, then Welktin points out, “That’s strange.”

I ask, “What?”

He explains, “This is a forager fish and is extremely harmless on every level, but they travel in shoals. The only problem is there’s no shoal.”

“What’s a shoal?”

“A more social version of a school.”

I look around then see more of them coming up on me at a normal pace like the other one. “Here they are.”

I relax and let the abnormal fish cruise by me. The fact that they’re bigger doesn’t creep me out because they look cooler. If they were considerably bigger, though, it would be disgusting. The big eyes moving by me would just freak me out. The last fish slows down as it’s passing by me with that fish smirk. I place my hand out and rub across its scales as it passes then it continues quickly catching up with the other fish.

That was strange, indeed. I continue swimming and encounter the other marine life as we get further into the deeper lake. We’re about halfway to the island now. The fish are all bigger, for some reason, and there doesn’t seem to be any carnivorous ones around. That strikes as odd. There are always bigger fish to feast on the lower food chain.

I ask Welktin, “What do you think happened to the carnivores?”

Dayio asks, “Why do you have to jinx us, Van?”

Welktin shares an idea, “Maybe they didn’t survive the toxins that came down here, or maybe they’re on the other side of the lake hunting. It is a lake, so there probably weren’t any carnivores here to begin with.”

Dayio comments, “I’d prefer Option C. I mean, if these fish got bigger, imagine how big the other fish got.”

I add, “Or maybe they got smaller and had a taste of their own medicine.”

We continue forward, admiring all of the beautifully enlarged and different types of fish. There are seaweed patches that glow green and can be seen through the darkness below. Through that darkness I see there are more fish to see of all colors. We reach the island’s edge and see that there aren’t any fish around. Looking down, I see the base stretches deep with glowing green moss shining on the island’s side.

I slowly let myself float up to the surface and see the prison high above like a castle on top of a mountain. This rock is definitely climbable, but it’s going to be brutal. The mountain extends almost triple the height over the fifty foot drop which means the prison must run deep into the mountain’s surface. I sink back down into the water then signal Welktin and Dayio that it’s okay to come up. Once we all arise from the water, we immediately ditch our tanks and start our ascent up the mountain.

I notify the others, “Starting our climb up to the prison.”

Jacks explains, “There’s no activity on the outer security system, but that’s only two cameras at each entry, so keep your eyes open. The southwest entrance is the one you want to enter through. They’re much less fortified, right now.”

I acknowledge, “Copy that. How’s it looking on your end, Jerry?”

Jerry answers, “It’s going good. The BAMechs are patrolling the hallways with the guards. I’m jumping between mechs as quick as I can to gather as much info as possible before they are ordered back to their storage station. So far it’s just guards being their aggressive guard selves.”

“Good work, Jerry.”

She whispers, “Hey, I think everyone’s liking my DataBand. Even your father looks impressed.”

I remind her, “Jerry, he’s still on the conference.”

She quickly replies, “And I’ll be quiet now.”

I hear Simon let out a sigh. Jacks chuckles. We’re halfway up the devastating climb and the sun is highest in the sky now. It’s not deadly hot outside, but it has been four hours since the swim started, so we’re all very tired. It’s not so strenuous on our arms because there are a lot of spots to hang around for a quick break after a few minutes of climbing. After a solid hour into climbing, we reach the southwestern edge of the dark brown prison’s wire fence, but we don’t touch it. It’s built with very little space on the rock’s outer ledge.

I inform Jacks, “We’re at the southern fence, Jacks.”

He instructs, “Climb it and follow the prison around to the left side door.”

“This fence isn’t electrified is it?”

He quickly answers, “Oh, right. Yeah, let me turn that off. No, the fence isn’t electrified, Van.”

We begin climbing the fence and drop down to the immediate wall with thick windows in front of us. We head left. I check out the inside of the oval-shaped windows as we pass the view to an ugly brown hallway on the other side. It’s the toughest prison on the planet, so there was probably never a need to decorate for the inmates.

Jerry instructs, “Guys, the mechs are being sent out to make rounds, so things might get a little complicated.”

We slow down and I ask, “Should we wait here?”

“I would say, yeah, but that’s the guard’s smoking area. Inside, they will be short-handed, which is a plus because a lot of them still smoke somehow. There are two rotating shifts of single guards to walk with mechs, so they can each have a break. They will start with the lower floors then work their way up. I’m trailing the mechs now.”

I ask, “What ya got, Jacks?”

Jacks answers, “The guards are finishing up their rounds, so you still got time. Get inside and I’ll guide you.”

I open the steel gray door in front of me. “We’re in.”

I move out of the way to let Dayio and Welktin inside then shut the door. The prison isn’t nasty, but it is horribly decorated with the brown color. It’s mixed in with a combination of rust to top it off with an extra horrible look. There’s a hallway in front of us and a tiny hallway on our right; a short right turn from there must lead by the windows we passed. The odd thing is the hallways don’t have many doors. I raise my mask onto the top of my head.

Jacks replies, “I got you on camera dead ahead. Go straight.” We begin quickly walking straight, as he continues, “Geilium is celled with the other inmates in Cell Block D. There are only four, but they’re connected two and two.” We reach the end of the hall and Jacks instructs, “Turn right and follow the path toward the second door on the left.” We turn right and continue through making a left turn. “In order to get past the guards to Cell Block D, you have to cut through C on the prisoner’s level.”

We reach the door and I see a cargo elevator door behind me. Knowing it’s a stairway door I ask, “Do we have to?”

Jacks answers, “Unless you wanna wait for the guards and switch out with them.”

On a normal day I would, but it’s not a normal day, so I sigh and agree, “Stairs it is.”

We enter the door and start quickly going down the square levels of stairs. The stairs go down to a walkway, then down more stairs to the next floor. I look down over the railing, then up to see that there are a total of six levels of stairs and we’re at five. I continue following the guys down to the next level which lands us at four.

Jacks quickly states, “Wait. Something’s wrong.” We abruptly halt, He continues, “Oh, crap.”

I quickly ask, “What?”

I hear a loud bang at the bottom of the stairwell then hear a young guy’s voice holler, “Jerks!”

Jacks answers, “They purposely closed one of the guards out of the elevator as a practical joke.”

I look over the railing and see the guard bolting up the stairs as fast as he can, so I quickly whisper, “What are we doing, Jacks?”

He quickly answers, “None of the hallways are empty. I’m searching.”

If we take him down, the guards in the elevator may notice the missing guard never showed up and start a search for him. In the presence of a very bad idea, I turn around then run to the closest door to me and my crew follows. We all get in and close the door then quickly dart left. I hear what sounds like a mech and a human with boots walking down our right turn, so I stop.

I quickly whisper, “Did the guard clear the stairs?”

Jacks answers, “He’s almost there.”

Jerry demands, “All of you just stick to the wall. I got this.”

We follow her instructions then hear a small series of thuds and grunts. The sound of a body dropping overpowers the mechanical footsteps. The mech cuts through the hallway, alone, then turns left and walks by us. Way to go, Jerry.

We stare at it as Jerry demands, “Hide the body before the next patrol comes.”

Welktin, Dayio, and I look at each other briefly, then walk around the corner to see the very muscular guard on his back, unconscious.

We approach the guard and all grab an end to pick him up. Jacks says, “There’s a storage closet right by you guys and a guard coming. Hurry and get in.”

We rush to the closet, open the door, and get in. We remain silent in the cleaning supply room until the mechanical feet and boots pass by. It smells so strong of cleaning liquids and supplies that I start to feel queasy. If this guard stays in here too long, he may wake up sooner than he’s supposed to.

Jacks updates, “You’re clear, but you have to take the elevator. The guards are using the stairs to switch floors.”

We rush back to the elevator and take it down to the bottom floor. The door opens up to the dead end of a big hallway that matches the size of the elevator. This elevator seems a little over-the-top for a prison elevator. There are two small doors on the left and right.

We exit anyway. Welktin walks to the right and points out, “Control room.”

He walks into a small room as I approach the huge steel bars on the right and see the four floors above. Cell Block C is a very tall room with stairs that lead up to each floor. Each cell is very big, like kitchen size, and they all look detachable. There are so many prisoners here and they all seem to be encased behind the same kind of thick glass.

I hear Welktin ask, “Jacks, what just happened?”

Jacks answers, “Not sure, but I see it. Let me source this.”

I look at Welktin through the small window to my left and ask, “What’s going on?”

Welktin answers, “I was trying to open the door and the power went down to the console.”

Jacks says, “I got very serious bad news. I’m being kicked out the system.”

This plan went from best to worst the second we hit the stairwell. Everything that wasn’t supposed to go wrong is going wrong. What’s worse is that none of this was anticipated at all. If he gets kicked out, we’ll be running blind with only BAMechs controlled by Jerry to back us up.

Jacks continues, “Someone else is in the system. A virus is spreading very slowly. I’m tracking it.”

I ask, “Do the guards know we’re here?”

“No, but if that virus reaches the main power grid, everything will lock and shut down. Whoa. The source is in there with you.”

I ask, “Where?”

“There’s a man on the camera feed in the next control room.”

I look across at the other side of the Cell Block to the right and see someone using the control panel. “Can you run a facial match on him?”

Jacks answers, “He hasn’t looked up yet.”

It’s a man punching his fingers at a terminal very rapidly. We watch him from the far distance between all the cells, then he raises his head up and I try to get a look at his face. He leaves the control room and enters the hallway. He purposely looks over at us. I instantly become confused at who I’m seeing. Captain Kurtnan, from the Berkham facility is here.

I inform Jacks, “That’s Captain Kurtnan. Jacks, what is he doing here?”

Jacks answers, “I don’t even know who he is, Van.”

“I ran into him inside Berkham. It doesn’t make sense; he’s just a security captain. We have to stop him. Can you see what he’s up to?”

He walks back towards a door directly behind him, then turns right and enters a different one. What reason would he have for being here? His fighting skill was good, so I have to be wrong about him. Does he want Geilium, too?

I ask, “Where is he going?”

Jacks answers, “He’s in the adjacent stairwell going down. Ah no! I’m pushed out of the lower levels. First floor and basement control is gone. You guys have to get down there and manually switch the controls off. That one function should cause the virus to error and deteriorate.”

I quickly run towards the door, enter the one on the right, then head down the single stairway to the basement. Once I reach the bottom, I crash through the door and turn right into a large square room with a lot of generators. There are also control panels around, but the layout of them seems like it’ll be a maze to get down here in this barely-lit room.

I say, “Jacks, I need to know which one it is.”

“I’m still searching for a layout down there, but no luck. Someone needs to go back upstairs to the control room and stay with the controls to activate it as soon as it turns on.”

Welktin volunteers, “I’m on it.”

He quickly goes back into the stairwell door. I begin quickly looking around for anything that could possibly make sense to me. I quietly start at the left wall and Dayio heads toward the right. This room doesn’t make any sense to me at all with the mixture of rusty circular generators and loose panels stationed around. Everything here must control the entire Cell Block and the square hallways upstairs.

I walk by a blackened door, then get tackled down into it. The room is too dark and the dirty lighting in the generator room doesn’t help at all. I raise my knee between us and the light turns on. Captain Kurtnan looks back and sees Dayio at the door then quickly pulls out a pulser with his left hand. I move my knee, then reach up with both hands and grab his left arm as Dayio moves out of the doorway.

I shout, “Keep looking!”

The heat rounds start firing at the wall on my right as we fight for control of the pulser. Once Dayio leaves the doorway, I release my left hand and wrap my forearm over the back of his neck. I tighten my grip, bringing him closer to me. He places his right hand on the ground next to me and lifts us both up off the floor. He runs me to the center of the room and leans back in preparation for a big slam. I release his head as he slams my back onto a table and my mask falls off my head. I quickly shift my body to my right as I throw my left leg over his head and slam his face down on the table.

I join my left arm back with my right to bend his wrist up, making him drop the pulser. When I reach up to catch the pulser, Kurtnan lifts his head slightly, sliding me away, causing me to miss it. The pulser drops to the ground as he slides around the table and raises my right leg up with his shoulder. He grips my suit, then reaches his left arm up and punches me across the face. I try to catch his left arm before he pulls it back, but I miss as he cocks back and quickly punches me again.

I withdraw my right leg from his shoulder and kick him in the face, making him stumble back and bump into a storage locker. When I rise up, I see Kurtnan in a fighting stance waiting for me. What is he doing here? And how is he doing it? First, he’s head of security at Berkham, and now, he’s in a maximum security prison setting off viruses. I get off of the table and cautiously approach him.

I hear Dayio say, “I think I found it.”

Jacks asks, “What does it say?”

“C-B-C-Room Release. I’m thinking Cell Block Control Room Release.”

“Hit it.”

“Okay, Welktin. Get ready.”

An alarm commences blaring very loudly. What did he just do? I quickly look up at the flashing red light on my left and so does Kurtnan. I use the distraction to attack him, but he sees it coming and dodges. He uses his knee to hit me in the stomach. All the wind gets knocked out of me. He pushes me down to the floor and heads for the door.

I struggle out a warning, “Dayio, be careful.”

Dayio acknowledges, “I hear you, Van. He’s not looking for me. He just hit a button and now he’s running.”

Welktin replies, “Whatever he just did worked. The controls are back on.”

As I slowly get up, Jacks says, “The virus is dying off and my controls are coming back online.”

Dayio comes into the room and helps me up, “I can’t believe you lost.”

I reply, “The war’s not over yet.”

Jacks loudly speaks, “Guys, you have another one of those very serious problem! Welktin, you have to get down to the basement now!”

I ask, “What’s going on?”

Jacks loudly answers, “Cell Block Control is actually Cell Block C. Dayio just opened every door and cell in that block.”

Dayio lets out a nervous smirk and says, “Oops.”

We run out of the room and to the left towards the stairs that Kurtnan used to get down here. Why did he reactivate the controls for us?

I ask, “Welktin, are they out?”

Welktin answers, “No, the doors are opening gradually and from top to bottom. Some of them are trying to climb the glass.”

“You won’t make it in time, if you come down here. You have to run straight across the Cell Block before they get out.”

“Okay.”

Dayio and I quickly enter the stairway door on the right that leads up to the door that Kurtnan used to get down here as Jacks loudly notifies, “Those guards are coming down in full gear. You guys better get moving.”

I ask, “Where’s Kurtnan?”

“He took off through the door to the next cell block.” We reach the top of the stairs and exit, then Jacks shouts, “They’re at the door across from you, Van!”

I run across to the door and press my back into it as it is about to open. I look left and see Welktin almost to us then right to see Dayio peeking through the double doors. The guards start banging and trying to push through the other side of me. Some inmates are behind Welktin, in pursuit, while others are waiting for the cell to open some more. Inmates on the upper floors are all climbing out and running down the stairs. A few of them are also fighting each other and running each other over to get down here.

Dayio holds the door open and loudly shouts to Welktin, “Hurry, come on!”

I continue to resist the banging on the door as Welktin runs through the gate’s threshold. The shouting from the prisoners grows loud as they get closer and become greater in quantity. I move from the door and merge side by side with him. We both run for Dayio. I can hear the guards and prisoners clash behind us. Once we enter the door, Dayio quickly shuts it slams a big latch down, sealing everyone out. We are in a short hallway with a few doors on both sides.

Jacks asks, “Well that was a little close, huh? Across the hallway is the next cell block. Kurtnan is heading towards that basement. You guys have to get moving.”

We start running across the hallway as I ask, “Why is he in the basement?”

“The inner gate to the Cell Block is sealed for some reason. It won’t let me operate it and the control panel is down.”

“He’s trying to turn it on?”

“I can’t tell yet. Wait. Someone else is there now. It’s a blonde woman.”

“Where?”

“She’s on the other side of Cell Block D stepping off the elevator with two others. It’s a really big guy and a young oriental girl.”

My father quickly interjects in a serious tone, “Van, that’s Tylyn and Ryishi.”

“Are you sure? I thought they worked for Gene.”

“They were created by Menta-Life, so, yeah, they do. Though, I don’t recognize the woman in front.”

What does Menta-Life want with Geilium McKoy? Are they trying to assassinate him? Having Tylyn and Ryishi here means things are going to get dangerous for us. Kurtnan definitely can’t handle them on his own. Who is the blonde woman with them? Maybe Payge changed her hair color.

Jacks adds, “I’m looking through the cameras and the majority of the guards and all mechs are converging in Cell Block C.”

We make it through the next double door and approach the gate to see the trio walking through their gate on the opposing side. I recognize the blonde woman leading as Aleena. She works for Geilium and is his second in command running Equility. Is Equility already in existence? Why is she with Tylyn and Ryishi? None of this is making any sense.

I let everyone know, “The woman’s name is Aleena and she works for Geilium McKoy.”

My father asks, “Are you sure?”

“In my Life, we were the worst of enemies. Believe me, I’m sure.”

Jacks says, “They have an attack helicopter on the roof and it’s ready for action. What’s the plan?”

The alarm sounds in this block as they walk by the slowly opening prison cells. Since Aleena is here, and if Equility is already started, they have an objective that won’t change. In my Life, they wanted to take over Menta-Life instead of destroy it. With Tylyn and Ryishi on their side, Gene has to be behind Equility, which means our mission is done.

I tell my father, “Simon, we have to abort.”

My father disagrees, “Not now. We are so close.”

I sternly remind him, “I told you before; they aren’t going to change their plans for us. We’re all going to die in here.”

My father forcefully assures, “No, you’ll all make it.”

They stop at a prison door and Tylyn mutates. He starts punching it very hard, sending loud echoes through the Cell Block. Our door unlocks to open, but the cell doors are already a little less than a quarter of the way down.

Jerry says, “Just hang in there guys. I’m on my way.”

I ask, “Odom, are you there? Odom, can you hear me?”

Odom answers, “Yeah.”

“We need you out there ASAP.”

“Already on my way.”

We enter the gate and start jogging over toward them. Ryishi turns to face us and looks with a blank stare as she walks toward our approach.

I ask, “Where’s Kurtnan?”

Jacks answers, “He’s gone. I can’t find him anywhere on the system.”

We stop jogging when we get close to her. She stops walking and just stares at us. Tylyn is bringing serious damage to that door to the point that it’s wobbling to stay attached.

I ask, “What are you planning?” She ignores me, “If you were created by Gene, what are you doing helping Geilium?”

I look behind her and see Aleena looking around at the prison cells. Some inmates are climbing out of the cells.

I shout at Aleena, “Aleena, are you going to destroy Menta-Life?!”

She looks over at me, then rolls her eyes back over at the cell door. Tylyn lets out a loud roar and knocks the cell door down. Geilium steps out in his red jumpsuit and inmates are running to attack them. Some are coming for us and some are running for the doors. Chaos is free and I can’t let them take Geilium.

 

Chapter 14: Gains and Losses

 

Geilium, Tylyn, and Aleena begin casually walking back towards their elevator. Tylyn is easily fighting prisoners off while Aleena is shooting the others down with shock rounds. Geilium is shackled walking behind them. Ryishi turns around then starts walking away. I approach behind her and she throws a kick around at me. I dodge back as prisoners start closing in on us.

The last thing I want to be is caught in here with a bunch of depraved men; I’d probably be better off with the women in blocks A and B. The prisoners close in. We all begin fighting off the small horde while the rest make their way over to us from other ends of the room. Ryishi starts fighting her way through all of the prisoners to catch up to her group. I notice there are prisoners at the elevator, but the door won’t open for them They start running into the stairwell instead.

Dayio shouts as he fights, “Van, we can’t take them all!”

I loudly ask as I fight, “Jerry, where are you?”

I hear a loud crash from above and three BAMechs come falling from the third floor wall, shooting shock rounds at the prisoners around us. They join in the fighting while shooting pulses at the never-ending onslaught of prisoners trying to kill us. We continue defending ourselves until the BAMechs circle us, aiming their palms to keep the fierce prisoners at bay. I look and notice the elevator opening for Aleena, Geilium, and Tylyn, but I can’t see where Ryishi disappeared to.

I ask, “Where’s Ryishi?”

Jacks answers, “I just know upstairs, but wherever she’s going, she’s going fast.”

The BAMechs are guiding us cautiously towards the elevator as the elevator door closes. One of the BAMechs drops then the other two shift to the front and back to protect us.

Jerry apologizes, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. It just went offline.”

Jacks speaks lowly, “Oh no. You guys have to hurry. That was Ryishi. She’s cutting the connection circuits to every BAMech in the storage room.”

I ask in a panic, “Are you kidding me? They don’t have connectors.”

“Well she’s disrupting their circuits or something. Just hurry.”

We’re already close to the door. Another BAMech drops then the last one speeds in front of us and starts rapidly firing at the prisoners. The BAMech clears a path and we run through to catch the closing gate. One of the prisoners reaches out to grab me and yanks me into the crowd. I start punching everyone off me and the BAMech starts shooting a path through the prisoners.

The prisoners start jumping on the BAMech as I duck under the crowd and sprint towards the door. Dayio and I make it through, but one of the prisoners accidentally shuts the gate trying to get me. Fighting on the other side along with the last BAMech, Welktin gets trapped. I have to hurry up and get him out of there before he gets killed.

I run into the control room and loudly ask, “How do I get this thing open?” I start quickly pressing buttons as I shout, “Now, Jacks!”

Jacks says in a low tone, “Aleena’s in control of the system. I can’t get back in.”

Welktin tiresomely demands, “Just get to Geilium. I’ll catch up with you guys.”

I look out of the control room window into the cell block, but all I see are the men banging on the windows. We’re not leaving him behind. I said I wasn’t going to lose anyone in here, and it’s not too late. If I get down to the basement and flip the switch like Kurtnan did, I can probably get power back to this station.

Jerry sadly says, “I just lost control of the last mech.”

My Econ alerts, “Welktin Foster has disconnected from the conference.”

I told my father that this was a bad plan and he refused to listen to me. Now someone is dead and it was completely avoidable. Had we just left we would have achieved a better result. Now, we have no Welktin, no Geilium, no Equility, and soon, no Dayio and Van.

Dayio states, “Van, we have to go. They won’t leave without Ryishi. We can still catch them.”

Someone’s going to pay for this. The men are still banging on the window in front of me. I slam my hands on the control station and run out of the room. I use the stairs to sprint up, passing the nine floors to the helipad on the tenth. I’m very exhausted, but my anger has me fueled enough to keep going.

Jerry says, “There’s still a somewhat functional BAMech that’s damaged in the storage room. I’m trying to get it operational.”

I ignore her and continue running up the stairs. I reach the roof then burst through the door and see a small set of stairs diagonally to my left leading up. I reach the already airborne helicopter with Ryishi sitting on the right leg of it. Geilium is unchained and standing inside behind Ryishi next to Aleena.

Geilium shouts over the helicopter blades, “Ah, if it isn’t the infamous Vanessa Pheros! I’m not sure if you know it, but you’re a hot topic these days! Now, were you attempting to kill me or break me out?!”

Dayio and a BAMech step up behind me as I answer. “We came here to help you!”

“Do you take me for a fool, Vanessa!?! I know all about your Life and you working for Simon Harold! You will never stop Menta-Life and you will never stop me! No one else is leaving this island alive!”

The pilot turns the helicopter towards us, pointing missiles our way. Just then Odom says, “I got a Greft Cannon. You might wanna clear the roof.”

A Greft Cannon is the worst thing to have and use in a situation like this, although if Geilium’s missiles can destroy the prison, that huge round may be the only thing that can save us. We turn and run back towards the opened door. I hear the Greft Cannon fire through my Econ as the helicopter’s missiles fire. Just as we are about to reach the door, the two impact, and I know we’re not close enough to the door for an explosion that powerful. Dayio is ahead of me, so I push him into the doorway and get swept away by the blast.

It swiftly knocks me to the left of the door and bounces me off of the wall. I begin tumbling on the ground, catching a glimpse of the malfunctioned BAMech running towards me and Geilium’s attack helicopter attempting to regain its control. I reach out to try and grab the edge of the roof, but I’m still going too fast, so I slip past it. I’m falling, back first, over the edge and see the BAMech reach out for me. I reach out for it, but our hands don’t connect.

I hear Jerry scream, “No, Van!”

Very harshly, I feel the wind breaking on my back as I watch the BAMech still reaching down for me as if I’m going to come back. I missed it? This isn’t my first fall from the clouds, but I know that it’s officially my last. Shortly after, when my body crashes into the lake, I feel the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I lose my breath and all control of my body as I sink very painfully into the darkness.

I see the fish swimming around me as I start to black out. I want to struggle so badly, but I can’t move. Something catches my eye as I sink, but I can’t make out what it is; it’s just dark and everything else goes dark too. My dream of everyone dead happens again, except this time I can’t walk to the door. I look at Welktin’s dead body amongst the chaos, feeling like I’ve failed.

Also, I look over at Dayio and see his dead body. I’m not afraid for myself, but I am afraid for them. I lost someone today for a cause that I’m fighting for and, even though he wasn’t part of my team, the pain is just the same. I pulled people into a cause and was responsible for their lives as a leader. I died saving Dayio.

I wake up coughing up water all over the coast’s sands. I feel beyond dehydrated and weak, but I can’t stop coughing up water; it’s like my lungs are filled with it. After I gain control of my cough, I continue to lie flat in the sand. How did I get here? As far away as we were from sand, I shouldn’t be close to any coast, nor washed up alive after drifting for so many miles.

I stare up at the sky and can tell that I’m alone, since no one has come to see me back to breathing. How did I get here? I remember everything, even blacking out in the water, and now I’m basking on land in the sunset. I attempt to roll onto my side with painful succession, and I catch a glimpse of my Econ. After my fall in the water, that thing must be shorted, but what’s odd is that it’s on a piece of torn cloth. I struggle to pick it up then put it in my ear. I tap it.

The male voice asks, “How may I be of service?”

It works. Someone had to have brought me here, but if the guys fished me out of the water, why leave me here? The least they could have done was take my corpse back to my father. Through my pain and sarcasm, I’m certain they didn’t leave me here, or even find me.

I answer in my sick, dehydrated tone, “Call… Simon.”

My Econ alerts, “Connecting…”

Simon worryingly asks, “Emily?!”

“Dad…”

I hear loud noises and doors opening then he shouts, “She’s alive! Tell Dayio to turn around!” He drops his tone to me, “Vanessa, where are you? Are you hurt?”

I struggle out my words, “Dad… I don’t… know…”

“We need to know where to find you, please. What can you see? Do you hear anything?”

It hurt like crazy to move the first time, but now that I know what it felt like, it’s not something I’d want to do again. I do see the sun setting and it looks beautiful.

I answer, “I’m… I see… the sun.”

My father sternly asks, “Where is the water, Em? I need you to give us a general area, so we can get to you faster. C’mon, Em.”

This suffering is a lot to handle and it’s starting to hurt to talk. I start feeling faint, like I’m going to pass out again. My mouth feels like it can’t even produce spit and that nasty water is probably killing me, as it should.

He calls out with worry, “Vanessa? Vanessa!?! They’re coming, but you have to help us, please. Are you on the beach? Do you hear anything? They mentioned H-T70’s were inbound before they left.”

I am on the sand and not the desert, so I answer, “South–.” We finish at the same time, “–beach.”

My father loudly demands, “Let Dayio know she’s on the south beach. She can only see the sun and the sun sets on the west, so get there. She needs water fast.” He continues lowly to me, “They’re close. Just hang in there. Save your breath, unless you see anything else.”

I don’t see anything, so I just lie on my left shoulder, watching the sun get lower. I can hear my father still on the phone with me, but he is silent, listening for me while he does whatever he’s doing.

I hear Jerry’s sad voice ask, “Did they find Van yet?”

My father sincerely answers, “No, not yet, but you know you shouldn’t worry. We know she’s alive, so we’ll find her.”

“Can you tell her that I’m sorry for not catching her? I tried to–”

She did more than all of us did combined and beyond that. If it weren’t for her, we would have gotten caught by the first patrol we ran into and wouldn’t have gotten out of the cell block. She did her best and she needs to know that from me if it’s the last thing I say.

I struggle to reach up and double tap my Econ then command, “Call… Jerry.”

It connects us and her sad voice calls out, “Van?”

I demand in my dry tone, “You better… not be… sorry. You… did… better… than all… of us.” I start coughing a little bit then continue, “It only… would… have been worse… without… you,… okay?”

She replies through her crying, “I could’ve done better and tried harder to–”

I quickly add, “We… all… could have.”

She sniffles and lets out relieving words. “Okay, Van. Thank you.”

I let out a happy grunt. I double tap my Econ and say, “Call… Simon.”

My Econ connects us and my father says, “Don’t say anymore, Vanessa. I’m here.”

I start breathing a little more heavily from having a clear throat and my stomach starts to hurt. As the sun is dropping over the mountain, I hear an H-T70 and it feels like its hover is right over me; passing by. I know it’s distant because sand isn’t blowing all over me. I have to try and get more words out, but it’s starting to sting when I breathe.

My father says, “An H-T70 just flew over her… Dayio said they’ve seen it and they’re coming. How are you holding up?” I try to speak, but I just let out a dry screeching noise, not much different from my dehydrated mouth breathing, so he says, “It’s okay.” He shouts, “Tell them to hurry, please!”

That doesn’t sound like everything is okay. Dayio and Odom had to have gotten far away from the prison before the Regs showed up to reclaim it. Why can’t they see me out here? I’d figured on a light beach, a dark wetsuit would stand out and Regs would have picked me up by now, too.

My father says with worry, “They saw the H-T70, but they can’t see you. Is there anything else that can help us? They’re so close.”

There’s no way to signal them without a little hurt. My body starts shaking because of the pain from using my last straw to raise my right hand up as high as I can. My body feels the strain from malnutrition and dehydration, but I resist very horribly with loud, strenuous grunts. I feel something touch my back, then a bottle of water swings around my head to my lips.

My father notifies everyone, “They found her.”

Everyone there starts clapping and Dayio’s voice softly says as he sits me up under his arm, “Come on, Van.”

He starts slowly pouring water into my mouth from a bottle. My throat is so dry that I can’t swallow it, but I choke it down. He continues pouring the water down after my choking stops, then my throat is able to function again. I start swallowing. I see Odom standing on my right as I lifelessly drink.

He says, “Finish up in the cruiser. We gotta get outta here.”

Dayio holds me up as Odom slides under and picks me up. He quickly carries me to the cruiser, puts me in the passenger seat, and reclines me back while Dayio gets into the driver seat. Odom gets into the back seat, technically with me, and then Dayio drives off. I thought having a little bit of hydration would make me spring up and drink more, but I kind of feel a little worse.

My body must be fighting too hard to rejuvenate itself from the brink. Odom continues giving me water as I lie back, helpless. I’m not sure how long I was unconscious, but I’m still very winded. Lying there, I notice that I’m covered in sand; it seems like whoever left me there was considerate with camouflage to make sure I wasn’t caught. Did Welktin survive? If he did, he’d be here with me, so that’s illogical.

I investigate, “What… happened?”

Odom shrugs his shoulders and Dayio answers, “We don’t know. You pushed me into the stairwell. Jerry said the blast knocked you off the roof and you just never came back up.”

Odom adds, “A Greft never impacts that hard. Whatever was in that missile would have leveled the entire prison. Geilium had the good stuff. Unfortunately, he got away.”

Dayio explains, “I barely made it out. I had to fight through some prisoners with Jerry’s help, and she guided me all the way down to the tunnel exit. We circled that prison for as long as we could, but it was only a matter of times before the Regs showed up. We didn’t think you made it.”

How did I make it is the question. I don’t think the fish grew a conscience along with their other mutations. I’m trying to remember, but there’s nothing I can recollect after I hit the water. At a couple of miles away, washing up wouldn’t be possible, and if they were looking for me above water, they would’ve seen me. With all of that bad lake water in my system, I feel sick and still can’t bring myself to move yet.

A few hours and a couple of water bottles later, we arrive back at the secret entrance for the base. The door begins to rise open and Dayio carefully drives down the ramp to the garage. Once we cross the threshold, I see Simon, Jerry, Jacks, Hines, Paul, and a few scientists waiting for me at the door to the lobby. The scientists have a mobile bed ready to roll over to me. Dayio turns the cruiser’s passenger door to face them, then quickly gets out and so does Odom.

Everyone rushes over and I faintly hear my father speak, “Has she said anything?”

Dayio answers, “Not much.”

Odom opens the passenger door then grabs me out of the cruiser and places me on the bed that the scientists brought over. They start wheeling me back to the lobby as everyone follows behind us. My father is right at my side, walking along and giving his people orders. I have to let them know what happened with Geilium and find out who that Kurtnan guy really is.

I demand in my sick tone, “Stop.”

The room gets quiet and the scientists stop pushing the bed. I muster together all of my strength and struggle to sit up. My father tries to guide me up, but I use my left hand to stop him with a signal. He gets the message and lets me do it on my own. I sit up, facing the right wall where the door to the garage is.

I call out, “Jacks?”

Jacks approaches from my right, “Yeah?”

“Find out who that Kurtnan guy is and why he’s everywhere we need to be.”

“Running the search now.”

IDNs aren’t difficult to track, but it can only be matched where it was last used. We won’t be able to find his exact location, but we’ll know what city to track him in.

My father recommends, “You need rest.”

I change the subject, “You should have pulled us out.”

“I was convinced that Geilium McKoy would join us. Had he not started Equility already, we’d have had a better chance.”

“And it didn’t have to take the death of Welktin to realize that. I told you that it wasn’t going to work before and even when we were inside.”

“Welktin believed that it would and I understand that it was still my call to make, but your Life can’t count for every decision that could possibly be false. We still don’t know what it is you don’t know.”

I feel like he’s basically saying that he can’t trust my word because Menta-Life stole a memory. Since no one knows what that stolen memory is, I could be wrong about something just as much as I could be right.

I ask, “What are we doing about Geilium?”

My father answers, “We can try to reach out to him, but that won’t do much good with our different goals.”

Jacks hesitantly interrupts, “I… finished the trace.”

I look to my right at Jacks. “That was fast. Where is he?

Jacks steps out of the way, then I hear loud clapping begin to echo through the room. I see Kurtnan at the garage door very slowly stepping towards my bed. He is wearing a full suit and trench coat like he just came here from a funeral in the rain. He has a smile on his face as he laughs and halts after a few more steps.

He compliments Jacks, “Now, that is impressive. Just by last name you were able to hack into the Reg database and track the IDN of a Berkham Tech security captain. Very impressive.”

Everyone stares at him as he stares around at everyone. I would wonder how he got here, but it’s obvious that he followed us. With our urgency to get here and worry about me, they probably paid no attention to him either. This guy is sneaky and, with his statement, not Captain Kurtnan.

Jacks whispers to me, “His IDN doesn’t match. Travis Kurtnan is in New Rellow right now.”

Of course he’s not the real Kurtnan. He probably assumed the identity to get inside of Berkham, but why was everyone there under his orders? Why was he at the prison?

I stand up and lie, “I’m glad to see you’re impressed, Captain. What do you want?”

The spy smiles with his answer, “I want to know why you are everywhere I need to be. That’s all.”

“And you think I’m going to tell you?”

“Yes you will, Vanessa… or is it Emily?”

I incorrectly correct him, “It’s Traceille.”

He smiles and adds, “It hasn’t been for very long.” He turns to my father, “And Simon, is it? How long have you been running your operation down here?”

I interrupt, “Hey, this isn’t an interview.”

He turns back to me, “It can either be an interview or an interrogation if you want it to be. I’m trying to take the subtle approach here, but I can tear this place inside out for answers if I have to.”

“Over my dead body.”

“It would be… and over everybody else’s. Over Jacks’ dead body, over Dayio’s dead body, everyone’s.”

I smile and ask, “What about Odom’s?”

He confusingly asks, “Who?” Odom steps up then the spy realizes who I was referring to. “Ah, nameless.” He grabs his jacket’s insides then reveals a bomb and clarifies, “Everyone’s dead body.”

The bomb is on a timer and strapped around his chest. He pulls the remote from his inner pocket and dangles it so everyone can see. The scientists begin looking around with fear, but nobody makes any sudden moves. Some people are looking back at me with that “you’d better give him what he wants” look.

Odom asks as he approaches the spy, “You think that bomb is going to stop me?”

I loudly answer for the spy, “Yes,” Odom stops then looks back at me as I continue, “…it is. It’s not worth it, Odom.”

The spy agrees, “See, now you’re making sense, Vanessa. Can I call you Van?”

I shrug my shoulders, “Sure, whatever.”

“I just want to know why you were at the prison trying to save the man I’m trying to kill.”

“You want Geilium dead?”

“I don’t. I’ve got nothing against him attempting to take over Menta-Life, but other people do and those other people want him dead.”

I look at the timer counting down. “Who do you work for?”

“Sorry, but it’s my turn. Why were you at the prison trying to break Geilium out? What’s your play?”

“We were hoping he could help us stop Menta-Life.”

“Why?”

“Sorry, but it’s my turn.”

He quickly suggests, “I don’t think you have time… to play around with me.”

That was a clever play on words. I’m not sure who this guy works for, but I don’t think calling his bluff would be a good idea. Not knowing what his intentions are and the extent of what he can do isn’t worth risking everyone here. Kurtnan walks over to me and lies down on the bed.

He kicks one foot over the other and puts his hands behind his head. “So what’s it going to be, Van?”

This guy has some heart on him. In a room full of the wrong people, his bomb grants him all the confidence he needs. I have to play ball with him since time is literally running short.

I answer. “Yeah, if you turn that thing off.”

He clicks the remote then the timer stops and he replies, “I just stopped time for you.”

“We’ll talk inside my office.”

I walk around the bed toward the back room where my father always hangs out. Kurtnan is up and following behind me. He follows me through each room to the small office and shuts the door.

He comments, “This is a horrible office.”

I ask, “Who are you really?”

“I’m nobody. Just a person who does a job for great benefits and no paycheck.”

“So you’re not Travis Kurtnan?”

“No. We all have to use false identities to protect ourselves isn’t that right, Vanessa?”

“How do you know me?”

“You’re a Menta-Life escapee and you broke into Berkham Technologies. Your name and face are everywhere on every wanted poster and every news station. You’re quite popular.”

“Thanks.”

“What was your goal with Geilium?”

“I knew about Equility and was hoping we could use his help to bring down the Menta-Life Corporation.”

“To stop them from stealing memories?”

Whoever he is, he is way more aware than I pictured he’d be. There are not a lot of things that he can be, but I still don’t know what he is. Hired guns don’t usually know much about what they’re doing, only what needs to be done. He’s well informed, so that means I’ll have to stay on the defensive in case he’s too informed.

I ask, “So you know about the Deserted?”

He spins a chair around and sits on it backwards. “Yeah. I see you guys figured out how to calm them down. What’d you do to her?”

“That’s classified.” He smiles and I ask, “What do you want from us?”

“Nothing. I just wanted to know why you were at the prison and make a little conversation. Now that I have, I’ll be on my way.”

He rises up and I quickly question, “That’s it?”

“Yeah. I told you I just wanted to know why you were everywhere I need to be. Now I’m off. Oh, and don’t worry, your secret base location is safe with me.”

He starts towards the door and I follow him out. I don’t know if I should let him leave, but with that bomb on him, I can’t really stop him.

I ask, “Are you going to kill Geilium?”

He casually answers, “Yeah.”

I step in front of him to stop him from walking then ask, “For what?”

“Because that’s what I was told to do.”

“What about Menta-Life stealing memories?”

“That’s not my objective. I saved your life so you can do that.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I fished you out of the lake so you can fight Menta-Life. You’re going after the storage facility aren’t you?”

“Yeah…, how’d you know?”

“Because there are eyes everywhere. I work for powerful people who watch everything. But here, they won’t know about. I’ll make sure of that.”

“How do I find you?”

“You don’t, but you will. Good luck, Van.”

He steps around me and I follow him out. Everyone stops what they’re doing and stares as I follow him out and across the lobby to the garage. I watch him get into a fancy, two-door cruiser then take off up the ramp. Who is he? Who does he work for? He could be a spy, but he seems too relaxed since he didn’t have the thirst for information. Most spies don’t introduce themselves publicly, anyways.

I walk back into the lobby and my father asks, “What happened in there?”

Truthfully, I don’t know what happened in there. He pumped me for information and took off. I’m no closer to knowing who he is, but I do know he was hired to kill Geilium. With the entire Equility behind Geilium, and Menta-Life’s genetics at their side, he doesn’t stand a chance alone. I also never thanked him for saving my life.

The others gather over to get the scoop as I answer, “He was hired to kill Geilium McKoy and, somehow, he knows we’re going to hit the Menta-Life storage facility.”

My father asks, “So our plans are compromised?”

“No. He’s just smart.”

Hines asks, “And you just let him leave?”

I answer, “It was either that or he turns the bomb back on. I was kind of pressed for options. He knows things; I just don’t know the extent of it.”

Jacks asks, “So what do we do now?”

I answer, “We continue as planned.”

“Without Geilium’s force at our side, what plan do we have? That storage facility is guarded better than any Menta-Life building there is. Our plan was a plan of attack by force. We can’t possibly do that anymore, Van. None of us can.”

I look around and notice everyone around me remaining silent awaiting a response. Without Equility, there isn’t a way to make it through on our own. With Welktin gone, there are only three of us able to fight out there, and last time it was three only one made it out. I picture the facility being more guarded than the prison, but my life is still over whether I go or not. I’m still on a timer and I’m still going through with it, even if I have to go at it alone.

I reply, “You’re right. Without Equility, we don’t stand a chance against Menta-Life. You all did a great job and I want to thank you for trying.”

I walk past everyone and head back toward my room. Once I get there, I change into the black sweats and white long sleeve shirt on my bed. I get cozy for a much needed sleep. It’s a very dumb idea to attack Menta-Life alone, but I’d rather die doing something to save my life than live knowing it’s going to be over in less than a week. I’m sure the others would be okay to go with me, except for Jacks, but I feel that all of our sacrifices would be for nothing. It’s not about saving the world anymore; it’s about saving a criminal who shouldn’t matter.

I wouldn’t dare fault anyone for not trying. I awaken from my same dream again with my same fear spelled out in a flash of an opening door. This dream doesn’t make any sense to me, so I give up trying to make sense of it. Since we’re not heading to the Menta-Life storage together, there is no purpose for it. Welktin didn’t survive the prison and this won’t be our base forever, so my dream of their death means nothing. I see all of these alive people dead, but I’m not afraid of losing them anymore.

I change into my favorite outfit then tap my Econ and ask, “What time is it?”

My Econ answers, “It is 6:22 a.m.”

I tap my Econ again, then leave the room to see Dayio, Jerry, Odom, and Jacks grouped together talking quietly. What are they doing out so early? Odom looks up at me, then the others turn around and notice me also. Are they waiting for me?

I approach them and Jerry states, “We’re going with you.”

Jacks looks nervous, but he has a good heart to want to do this anyway. They’re not going to sacrifice themselves to save my life because I won’t let them.