Thursday, March 25, 2010
So, why is this the end? Well, as I said in my last update, I believe I have found the central idea of the book, thematically speaking. So, I have taken that idea and crafted it into a short story that encapsulates the whole of the book, thematically speaking, into eleven pages. Yes, I've read it. Yes, I think, unlike the rest of the book, it is actually quite good. No, you can't read it; it's too personal. But what I'm going to do is write draft four now, using this story as a guide, to make what I hope will be the almost-finished version of the book (spllnig grammar need check, last) So, I leave now; physics class is starting. So long!
Five minutes after Wendelferce’s announced meeting time, John joined his group in a small, brightly-lit dressing room, walled with lockers and floored with a thick spongy material.
“Looks like nature boy finally decided to get with the program.” Wendelferce gestured for John to sit with the rest of his group on a thin bench, ignoring the fact that John was already headed towards them. Once John was seated, Wendelferce walked towards one large locker and pulled out a thick black one-piece suit. he turned it around, showing off its patches of thick quilting, and then tossed it to Allen. “Okay, if each of you will please look in the lockers behind you,” he paused while Vince, Naomi, and John stood and began rooting through lockers, “you will all find one of these suits. Once you have one, put it on.”
John pulled one out and looked at it. The front was slit to allow entry, and had both zippers and buttons to keep it closed. He examined the ends of the legs and the arms, but found that rather than openings, the suit was closed off by thin socks and gloves. He easily slid inside the suit, found to his surprise that it seemed to be an exact fit for him, and closed it up. Next to him, Vince, Naomi, and Allen had gotten their suits on as well. When all four were done, they returned to their seats on the bench and stared up at Wendelferce.
Wendelferce stared back at them, smiling, and carrying a heavy-looking club. “The suits that you are wearing are the underlying layer of the most advanced piece of defensive technology ever created. The Enhanced Human Ultimate Defender is not only proven to effectively protect soldiers against most small arms fire, it has also been proven to protect its wearer from large calibers, traditional armor-piercing rounds, weight loads in excess of half a ton, and high yield explosives. The Defender is the first major piece of hardware that the E.H.U.D. program has developed that will be released in a public manner. While you all remain locked away in this hole, every man woman and child in America will know what a Defender looks like, and will feel totally at ease around anyone wearing one.”
John looked down at the padding that encased his body. It was thick and warm, but it certainly didn’t seem capable of protecting him from a child with a BB gun, much less an armor piercing round.
Almost as if he were the one capable of reading minds, Wendelferce sprang forward and brought his club down on John’s collarbone with bone-crushing force. Other than some mild pressure and the shifting of the fabric on John’s shoulder, he didn’t feel anything.
Was that supposed to hurt?
A snarl passed over Wendelferce’s face, but he was able to suppress any emotions he felt. “As you all felt, this layer, the primary cushioning layer, was able to absorb almost all of the impact of that blow. The main part of the layer is a standard Gortex weave, able to withstand some good wear and tear, with fiber-mesh quilting on the inside. But through the middle of the layer you have packets of a special gel, normally fairly sloshy, which turns tremendously solid when force is applied to it. So when the club his Johnny-boy here, it hit a brick wall, which faded out to gel, blocking and absorbing most of the force, with little impact on the man inside.”
Again he suddenly lunged, this time hitting John in the stomach, the thigh, the crotch, the shoulder. Again, nothing.
Wendelferce circled behind his charges, reached into the lockers, and handed out four skull-caps, each of the same material as the body-suit. “You’ll want these in combat, of course. And yes, there are masks that can be attached to those, but they’re currently attached to the insides of the main helmets.”
He approached another set of lockers and produced from one a complicated tangle of nylon straps and rubber tubing. After a few quick shakes, the tangle unfolded into a complicated harness, with large rubber bags attached where joints and primary muscles would be located on a person, with the tubing connecting all of the bags and criss-crossing the gaps between the harness straps.
“This is the next layer of the suit: the pneumatic sinus system.” As with the last layer of the suit, he tossed the harness to Allen and gestured for the others to get their own. While they struggled to put on their harnesses, he continued to explain the new layer. “In addition to providing protection, the Defender augments your physical abilities. The pneumatic sinus system works with the body’s own movement to pump fluid and build up pressure, which can be stored and released in the normal patterns of moving. For instance, if you bend your knee, you move the fluids in such a way that they are sucked and stored in the bladders on the back of the thigh. When you straighten the knee, an opposite suction is created in the frontal pouch, the fluid is released, and it changes position, providing a significant blast of power to the wearer’s simple, muscle-powered action. In addition to the purely mechanical suction power, the system is equipped with motion sensors that will also create suction and change the internal pressure based on perceived moves, so you don’t have to force movements; the suit works with you. C’mon, hurry, we don’t have all day!”
The E.H.U.D.s didn’t respond. They continued to put on the suits, trying to unravel the twisted material, find the right holes for their limbs, get the suits cinched in place. Finally they gave up and slipped into Wendelferce’s mind. Within a few seconds, they had a two-week training course on the suit, and were able to get it on, tightened, and attached to the inner suit.
“About time. Now take a couple minutes to get used to the movement on those.”
Naomi was the first to respond to the order. She crouched as Wendelferce had been trained to do, and felt the harness building up pressure in her thighs and buttocks. She stood slightly, and the fluid instantly shot around to bladders on the front of her thighs, forcing her legs straight and launching her into a six-foot vertical leap. She made no sound, but her companions could feel her surprise and terror as she came crashing down onto the padded floor.
“See, that’s using the pneumatics as a baseline human; if you also brought in some telekinetic forces, there’s no telling what you’d be able to do.”
Naomi smiled maddeningly and jumped into the air again, sailed towards the ceiling, brought up her arms, bounced off at an angle, flipped, twirled—
The others quickly stepped aside.
As Naomi continued her acrobatic display, Vince looked over the pumping systems on his suit, then glanced up at Wendelferce. “Does the mechanical system work, even if the electronics are offline?”
“In theory. The electronics are just supposed to be there as an additional supplement.”
Vince nodded and slowly moved his arms experimentally, watching as bladders inflated on his shoulders, and then abruptly emptied as his arms swiftly lowered, hitting his thighs with a loud smack. He raised one arm fractionally—it jerked up and his shoulder twisted awkwardly. John had to quickly close his mind to avoid feeling the pain that flooded through Vince.
Allen walked forward and helped to hold back the arm as Vince tried to lower it without further pain.
This isn’t working… we have the minds of being trained with this, but not the bodies…
Naomi stopped bouncing, Vince stopped struggling, and John opened his mind as they all felt Allen focusing on his body, on the muscles that were most affected by the pneumatic system, tweaking them, burning off some parts and rebuilding others, smoothing and altering his muscles until they were like Wendelferce’s, adapted to the shape of the harness, the forces of the suit. Once he was done with himself, Allen turned his mind to Vince’s body and began to reshape it. After only a few seconds, Vince stepped away and carefully raised his injured arm, feeling it rise in time to the patterns of the pneumatics, giving just the right amount of pull to counter the forces of the fluid’s movement, yet not enough to trigger the electronic system’s opposite reaction. Vince smiled, and then went sprawling as something rammed into his back.
From the resulting tangle of limbs, Naomi pulled herself away from Vince and playfully jumped backwards. This is fun! This almost makes all the pain worth it! With these… with these nothing can stop us!
Vince was on his feet in an instant, resting his weight on one leg, extending the other, letting the pneumatics straighten his knee, catch Naomi in the ribs, send her flying. She smashed into a set of lockers, rolled onto the floor, shot herself into the air with a powerful flick of her arm. She righted, got her legs under her, launched at Vince. He grabbed onto her arms as she shot past, jumped up and back, twisted so that his feet hit the ceiling and bounced off, finishing his flip and landing with his knees embedded in Naomi’s back.
This is wonderful! Naomi radiated joy through the room, but John felt that it was aimed specifically at Wendelferce. With these, we can kill you so much easier!
Allen shot Naomi a disapproving glare, but she purposefully ignored him.
Wendelferce sighed heavily and rounded on Naomi. “So, you’re still planning on killing me. You think that since finally got out of that rotten little hole you were in before, you can suddenly make good on your escape.” He shot out a booted heel and caught Naomi squarely in the jaw, then pulled the boot back for another blow. Naomi tried to jerk away, but Vince was still pinning her to the ground.
“You just don’t get, it do you?!” Wendelferce roared. “None of you do! Mistlethwakey has been planning this whole thing out for years! He’s left nothing to chance! The only reason you’re out of the hole and up here is because we know that we can handle you! And if you want to test yourself, go right ahead, we’re ready to shoot you down!” He dropped to one knee and grabbed Naomi’s face, twisting it so she looked up at him. “One way or another, you will all follow Mistlethwakey’s plan. You can either make it unpleasant for everybody, or you can just get with the program and learn the skills we’re trying to teach you. Is that understood?”
Before Naomi had a chance to respond, Allen stepped forward and placed a hand on Wendelferce’s shoulder. “That’s enough.”
Wendelferce glared up at Allen; John was sure that the pistol was about to make another appearance. But to his surprise, Wendelferce merely shrugged away from Allen’s touch, stood, and walked towards the door that led out of the room. “If you want to know how the rest of the suit works,” he said as he left, “figure the **** thing out for yourselves.”
No one moved for almost a minute, and then Vince climbed off of Naomi. “I… I’m sorry…” he mumbled.
Naomi grunted, her chin stopped bleeding, and skin covered the wound.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Allen said.
“Do what? Tell him we’re going to kill him?”
“Antagonize him. It’s cruel.”
Naomi tried to speak, but only expressed a blast of intense anger. When she was finally calm enough to find her voice, she yelled, “What they’re doing is cruel! Don’t you think that ******* deserves to sweat a little compared to what we’ve gone through?”
“If your roles were reversed, do you think he’d see it as you see it now?”
Allen sadly shook his head. “That’s exactly right. And we don’t want to be like him.”
“Maybe you don’t but—“
“Why did you kill your partner?”
“What the **** does that have to do with—“
Naomi took a deep breath and considered. Beside her, John and Vince paced a little and then sat on the bench. “I killed my partner,” Naomi answered, “because it’s better for her to be dead than to be what we are… to do what we have to do.”
“Wendelferce would have killed his partner, if he had had one. But he would have done it out of some misguided survival instinct, or for the sheer **** of it.”
John felt a sudden pang of guilt. Despite all of his internal struggle, all of his rationalizing, he couldn’t help but wonder if he had killed Suzanne merely because he was to afraid to die.
“The difference between you and Wendelferce,” Allen continued, “is that his motivation is self, while yours is others. He fears for himself, and he knows that, if we really tried, we could kill him, and he would lose that self. So if you prey on his deepest fear, who are you pleasing?”
Naomi didn’t answer.
“And who are you hurting?”
“Others…” she muttered.
“Exactly. You lose your motivation, you lose the little distinction that makes you a victim and him a tormentor. You become him.”
“But he has to know that we’re coming for—“
Allen raised a hand. “He knows. If you listen, you find that that’s almost all he thinks about. We don’t need to rub it in. All we need to do is bide our time.”
“And what do we do while we bide?”
Allen shrugged. “Prepare ourselves.” He gestured to two unopened sets of lockers in the room, and as one the four of them moved to investigate.
One set of lockers contained large plates of grey armor, heavy and rough, with straps on the edges and a few large magnets on the underside. Allen thought that these should be left alone for now, so John and Vince opened the other lockers and found suits similar to the first layer, but thicker and heavier, with short straps and clasps hanging from them. The suits were passed around, put on, tested. They were filled with the same gel as the under-layer, but were reinforced with stiff pads of heavy fabric. Despite this, there was little interference with movement, and the pneumatic system still worked exceptionally well.
Once they were fully dressed and the suits adjusted to fit properly, they returned to the armor plates. Vince and John spent several minutes trying to put them on, and found that attaching them to the suit was relatively easy, but finding the right order was difficult. They finally gave up and looked out through the complex until they found Wendelferce’s mind.
Soon they were back at their task, matching up the pieces against Wendelferce’s memory of them and attaching them to the proper points on the suit. When they had managed to get John completely encased in the armor save for his head, Naomi and Allen came forward and together they all got the armor on.
Then John went back to the lockers. At the top of each one was a small shelf, and on the shelf was a helmet: grey and lifeless, yet curiously human, with mournful eyes and a thick nasal ridge above a vent of some sort shaped, oddly enough, like a grossly oversized toothbrush mustache. John reached up, carefully pulled one down, and looked at it more closely.
It seemed to look back at him, to see into his eyes, behind his eyes, to know him…
A hand rested on John’s shoulder. “This is the face history will remember us by,” Allen said.
John didn’t respond. Reluctantly, he turned the helmet so that the eyes left him, ad he looked inside the helmet. There was padding all around, mostly on the facial portion, like Wendelferce had said. John tried to pull the helmet over his head, but it was too tight. He searched the outside of the helmet and found a series of gaskets which, when opened, allowed the faceplate of the helmet to disconnect and pull out on two strips of fabric. He tried to pull it on again, and this time the helmet slipped on easily. The gaskets couldn’t be easily resealed however, so John reached out with his mind and forced them closed. There was a sharp pop of pressure change, and John was sealed into the helmet.
Now he stared out through those empty eyes, seeing the world around him highlighted with artificial colors, with floating blocks of text labeling things, with a thin crosshairs floating in the center of his vision. No, not quite the center… the crosshairs wasn’t stationary; there had to be controls for it somewhere.
There weren’t any external electronics on the armor, there were no protrusion on the insides of the gloves, no movement seemed to initiate a change in the crosshairs. John experimentally extended his tongue and found a series of pressure-sensitive switches and rotational mushrooms in front of his mouth. The crosshairs moved, the whole view shifted, zoomed in and out, the text moved around wildly. John sighed, focused on the controls, felt them moving… Good, that was better.
Don’t bother touching the helmet controls…
The others put on their helmets, looked around at each other.
I don’t really like the way this looks…
Who cares about looks; if Wendelferce is right, we can do anything now…
We could do anything before…
Yes, but with these on, the scramblers have no power over us…
John blinked as the import of the thought fully dawned on him. Without their powers, they were exceptionally well-trained soldiers, but the scrambler also caused other effects in them, from bouts of pain to simple stupor; all there training was worthless then. But if they were armored like this…
As soon as everyone’s suited up, we can attack… Do it now! Vince, and especially Naomi, exuded a fierce anticipation.
John looked at Allen. Allen looked back, making no response of any kind. Again, he was insisting that the decision was John’s to make.
No… no attack, not yet… A year ago, we couldn’t make the escape, because we didn’t have these… who knows what new toys we may get in the coming years? If we wait, we get more from them…
There was a grudging acceptance from Vince, but Naomi refused to be swayed.
Besides, Mistlethwakey has had years to plan this… he knows what advantages we get from the suits; he would not give us the suits if he thought we could win; isn’t that right?
The question was aimed to Naomi, who even know was faltering… But John was staring at Allen, standing passively in his armor. Allen, who seemed to have everything planned out for the E.H.U.D.s, who trained and led them, who had gained their trust… their hearts…
Allen, who always reminded them that Mistlethwakey had planned out everything perfectly…
Saturday, March 20, 2010
The next morning was different from the 1,825 that had come before it. There was no wake up call; John was able to let his natural cycles dictate how long he slept. When he woke up and looked around, there was no Udarian; the tiny room seemed magnificently large without the enemy sleeping in it. It was a good start to what John wished could be a normal day. He closed his eyes and pulled the covers up over his head; maybe if he spent the day like this, it would remain this way, and he wouldn’t have to do what the guards would make him do.
Eventually, however, John’s body betrayed him. After an hour of trying to fall back to sleep, he got up and marched angrily to the bathroom. When he emerged, the door of his barracks was open, and Wendelferce stood there, the dangerous smile on his face.
“Donalson! So glad you’re awake!”
“I won’t do it,” John replied.
The smile turned into a sarcastic pout. “Oh, it’s not as bad as you think. I might not have fully understood the orders; you can’t trust everything you read in my mind. Maybe it won’t actually happen.”
“The others had the same orders you did, and we all saw them.”
Wendelferce shrugged. “Well, if you don’t want to go through with it, I could always shoot you again.”
“That might be preferable.”
“Yeah, well, it really doesn’t matter, because Mistlethwakey has called everyone to meet in the great hall. He says that if everyone isn’t there in five minutes, then everybody dies.”
John sat down on the bed. “I’ll take that offer.”
“By everyone, I mean the hostages, too.”
John swung his legs onto the bed and lay down.
“Its simple, really. Either you cooperate and only a hundred people die, or you resist and two hundred die. What’ll it be?”
Only twenty six should have to die, John thought. Only twenty six and we’re all free. Is it time? Do I step up and make the decision, like Allen said? It was tempting to tell the E.H.U.D.s that now was the time, their chance to rise up and kill… But they couldn’t kill. The guards had proven that yesterday; the E.H.U.D.s had the upper hand, but they couldn’t kill the guards.
And today the guards would force them to be killers, one way or another.
With a sigh, John stood up and walked towards the door. “I won’t do it,” he repeated as he pushed past Wendelferce.
Wendelferce replied with a grin.
Once all of the E.H.U.D.s were gathered in the main room, clustered in their groups of four and standing in front of their guards, Mistlethwakey strode into the room. He looked around at the E.H.U.D.s, and then, to everyone’s surprise, actually smiled, an unguarded display of genuine pleasure.
“You… all… did… excellently yesterday,” he said slowly. “It was a beautiful thing to see you all reacting to an opportunity like that, taking advantage of your enemies’ weakness and defeating them. You’ve been trained well.”
He continued to stand for several more seconds, beaming with pride. Then, with the suddenness it had come, the smile disappeared. “Unfortunately, you made one mistake. It was a mistake I knew you’d make, and I’m quite pleased that it was made. However, it’s a mistake I don’t want repeated, a bad habit that I have to train out of you. In short, you couldn’t kill your guards. And a soldier who refuses to kill, well…” he gestured weakly with one hand.
“Of course, I can understand how you could find yourself unable to take a human life yesterday. You have to understand, killing is a deeply difficult and personal thing. It is a decision between a man and himself to make an irrevocable decision, one that will completely alter the world in some small way. You can casually kill an insect, maybe even a mammal, for you hunters out there. But it’s hard to kill a human. Because while you’re debating with yourself on weather or not to make that world-altering decision, the person you intend to kill is capable of making that same decision about you. It’s a rather disturbing experience. And most people aren’t able to make a final choice. There, indecision tends to be deadly.”
He broke of his speech and began pacing. “But we are capable of making the choice,” he said, his voice growing almost frantic, his arms gesturing expansively towards the guards. “Believe me, if we had wanted you dead yesterday, you would have been dead.”
He made a complete circuit around the room, making eye contact with each of the E.H.U.D.s as he did so. When he returned to his starting point, he spoke again, his voice subdued. “If faced with the choice, you can’t be week. To ensure that you make the right decision, I’ve devised a little exercise. When this meeting is over, each of you will return to your rooms; there you will find a partner. This partner was rescued from the federal penal system, given a rationalization for why they are here, and fitted with a small device attached to their hearts. You will be locked inside your barracks with your partner and a small laser projector. When the sensors rigged to your partner’s heart detect the light of the laser, your partner will go into cardiac arrest, and you will have officially made your first kill.”
Mistlethwakey paused and watched mutely as his audience, as one, sat on the ground, folded their arms, and filled his mind with thoughts of rebellion.
The smile returned to his face. “You see, you don’t really have a choice. If you refuse to kill your partners, the scramblers will be activated, you will all be killed and your partners will get to stay here and go through the same hell you’ve all gone through. So before you decide to be noble, think on this: is it kinder to let them live, forced to become E.H.U.D.s, or to kill them and let them be free.”
The E.H.U.D.s made no reply.
“You don’t have to decide now; return to your barracks, make friends with your partner, and then decide.”
He turned to leave, then turned back and held up one finger. “One last thing; there will be no communication between you. You don’t know this yet, but each of your barracks is built with micro scramblers in the walls which, while not powerful enough to disrupt your thought patterns and render you helpless, are more than powerful enough to cut off any errant thoughts floating through the air.”
Once more Mistlethwakey turned and left the great room. The guards remained where they still stood, and the E.H.U.D.s conversed between themselves.
We can’t do it; I’d rather die than become a murdered!
Don’t you think that’s how they’ll feel after five years of training?
No, no, no, no, no…
I won’t do it…
Attack! If we strike now, all as one, we can kill them before they turn on—
The whole point is not to kill!
Knock them out, whatever!
No… All other thoughts fell silent as Allen made his presence felt. If you all could go back five years, with what you knew now, and were given the choice to shoot your younger self, or allow them to go through this what would you do?
There was silence.
As one, the E.H.U.D.s stood and returned to their barracks.
When John reached his room, he looked inside and saw the woman he was supposed to kill, sitting on Udarian’s bed. She was young, no older than he was, blond, and incredibly frail looking, with a withered body and a seamed face.
She heard him enter the room and looked up at him, her eyes taking some time to properly focus. “Oh, I… uh, I didn’t realize there’d be mixed-sex rooms…” she trailed off and blinked a few times.
John was taken aback. She seemed so… so human. Here, there were only those like him and then the guards, the grouped prey and the predators. Even when the new guards came, they were merely more of the same. But this woman was different.
He felt his resolve weakening; he couldn’t kill her. She was just an innocent, in the wrong place at the wrong time; she didn’t deserve death. On the other hand, she didn’t deserve to be an E.H.U.D.
Allen had made it clear; the only humane thing to do would be to kill these hostages. John wished he had had someone to kill him before he had gone through the program.
“Are… are you okay?”
John blinked and realized he was standing in the room, the door closed behind him, and the woman staring up at him apprehensively. He looked down into her eyes, just staring at her for a moment…
No. No, no, no, no, no. Allen had made it clear; but he couldn’t do it, couldn’t take the choice from them. John, Allen, Naomi, Sarah, Cyd, all the others: they had been E.H.U.D.s, knew what it was like, and were now ready to embrace death if faced with it. They felt it would be right to freely grant death to these hostages. But these hostages hadn’t gone through it, hadn’t gotten the experience to make an informed decision on their own. If they chose death when faced with it, fine, but he wouldn’t kill them now and take away their chance, no matter how small, of escape, of a better life. John would sooner die than stoop to the level of a common murderer.
“You’re, uh, you’re kind of creeping me out…”
He couldn’t kill her…
John took a few steps backwards, bumped into his bed, and sat down. If he wasn’t going to kill this woman, what was he going to do here? He glanced at the door, but knew that it would be locked; once Mistlethwakey got them together in the rooms, he wouldn’t allow E.H.U.D. and hostage to escape. He looked back to the woman. She was dressed, like he was, in a white shirt, shorts, and sneakers. Despite her nervousness, she seemed fine with being here.
He wondered briefly if he should tell her what was going on, that she was going to be replacing him in this weird little prison, but then decided to find out what lies she had been told to get her here, play along with them for a while, and then ease her into the knowledge that she needed.
While the woman continued to stare at him, John reached out and dipped briefly into her mind. Her thoughts were sluggish, confused… he lingered for a moment, pulled out a few facts, and then spoke.
“Um, hello, Suzanne, my name is John. I’m, um, I’m recovering, like you are, but I’m here to serve as a counselor.”
Suzanne didn’t immediately respond, but her body language told John that she was far more relaxed. “Oh, I thought that maybe you were my roommate.”
“No, I’m just… Uh, I’ve been here for five years now, and the head guys thought it might help you to talk with a long-timer like me.” John tried to smile, but he felt guilty deceiving her like this. He wanted to scream, to tell her to run, but it was to late now. He shifted slightly, and felt something metallic hit his hand. He looked down and saw that a small metal tube had fallen into the depression that he made.
The laser projector.
“So… uh, what are we going to talk about?” Suzanne asked.
John shrugged. “Anything, really, anything that’ll help with your recovery. Why don’t you start by telling my why you’re here?”
“Oh, it’s not really a good thing…”
John felt a small pang of panic, fearing she might not talk with him. He was ready to die; all he wanted before he went was to talk wit this woman, to hear some little bit of life from the outside world… to justify his decision… to make it easier to let this woman live… to find an excuse to survive, to maybe kill her…
No, no, no, no, no, no, no… She deserved a chance. John wouldn’t become a monster—
“Well, I-I guess if it helps with my recovery; I mean, this is the first thing you do at AA, right?”
“Um, well, okay…” Suzanne leaned back against the wall and, in fits and starts, but growing steadily more confident, told her life’s story.
She had been introduced to marijuana in fifth grade by a boy trying to dispose of his stash before school security had discovered it. Although she didn’t particularly approve of the concept of smoking, Suzanne had enjoyed her first high, and over the next several years had tried other drugs, some legal, some not, and had ended up in a juvenile detention facility after robbing a pawn shop to pay for her habit. At age eighteen she had been released, and had fully intended to clean up her life. But she had gone back to old friends and old habits, and within six months had been caught crossing state lines with twenty-five thousand dollars worth of crystal meth. She was sentenced to fifteen years in a federal penitentiary on charges of drug trafficking. After another six months, she gave birth to a pair of twins, who were quickly taken and placed in foster care.
“And that was really all for a while,” she concluded. “It was just prison for a few years; really boring stuff.”
John sat on his bed and stared at the far wall. When Suzanne had begun talking, he had had doubts, had wondered if maybe sparing her were the right decision. After all, she had had a chance to do something with her life, and then had gone right back to drugs when she got her second chance. Didn’t John deserve to live more than she did? But then she had had her twins… John didn’t have children. If he died, there would be no one to mourn him but the last generation, and they already thought of him as dead. Suzanne, though, once she was released from this place, or somehow managed to escape, she could return to her children, try again to make a better life.
John felt a rush of pride. He wasn’t only refusing to kill her so that his conscience would remain free of murder; he was choosing to sacrifice himself so that her twins could, some day, have a mother.
After a few moments of silence, John decided to press Suzanne for more information; he wanted to know more about the woman for whom he would die. “How’d you get here,” he pointed to the floor, “when you were in prison?”
“Probably the same way you did. Oh, I’m not implying that you’re a criminal or anything, I just thought—“
“No, no it’s okay. No, I’m, uh… I’m from kind of a rich family and they paid for me to be here…”
“Oh, well, um… They called me in for a parole meeting, and there was this old guy there, named Missile-something, I forget. He was really nice. He told me that there was this kind of experimental rehab program going on, and if I volunteered for it, then I could get early release and even get custody of the twins when I’m done, no questions asked!”
It took John several seconds For John to process what she said. Mistlethwakey, she had definitely said something about him; he had gotten her into this mess. But nice? Mistlethwakey wasn’t nice; he was a heartless monster. There was something strange happening—
Her twins. She said that when she was out of this rehab program, she’d get custody of her twins. John could feel his heart sinking. Letting her stay alive, leaving her with the hope of escape and reunion, that was what was keeping her alive in John’s eyes. But she already believed she would see her children, thought it would only be a matter of a few short years, getting her life cleaned up…
He couldn’t let her live, couldn’t let her find out that she would spend the next fifteen years waiting for a false promise to be fulfilled…
John gently fingered the laser…
“Are you okay?”
“Hm? Oh, yeah. So, um, is there anything else you want to talk about? It’s good to talk, find out about each other, get to understand each other. It’ll help with your recovery!” John tried to smile. He had to stall, had to keep her alive, had to make a decision—
The next few hours were spent simply talking. John told Suzanne a little about himself; she told him about her family. He talked about his hobbies, she talked about her favorite movies, her childhood pets, his favorite sports teams, religion, ice cream, politics, anything and everything.
Finally she yawned and leaned back on the bed. “Wow, um, do you know what time it is?”
“No. They don’t believe in clocks around here; there’s no way to know what time it is. It helps to, uh, break use habits. You know, using at a certain time or—“
“Okay, yeah. So, um, do you know what time is lights out around here?”
“You… you can go to sleep whenever you want. I’ll, uh, I’ll just stay here and, and…”
Suzanne was already reclining on the bed. Before John could even finish his sentence, she was asleep.
She looked peaceful while she slept; there was no prison, no E.H.U.D. program, no twins. Just her. John reached down and impulsively picked up the laser projector. He tossed it absentmindedly from hand to hand and stared at Suzanne. What would be better… what choice to make…
He could always tell her the truth, wake her up and tell her that she could either die here, as herself, or live on as a subject, become twisted, lose whatever humanity she had.
Just like me, just like me… Will I hold onto my humanity? This is my test, right here… kill or be killed… be me…
John leaned against the wall and watched Suzanne for what felt like hours, endlessly debating with himself. What if he was the only person to make the kill? What if he was the only one left in the new batch of E.H.U.D.s?
That wouldn’t—couldn’t—happen. Lemlin had a daughter, didn’t he? And he was already a soldier in Afghanistan. If anyone could kill, he could. He would do it, would survive to get back to his daughter.
He would kill to protect what was his.
But what about me? What do I have? What would I kill for? What could I kill for? I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…
John tossed the projector up in the air and caught it. If I can’t kill her, I die. If I can’t kill for something, I have to die for something. For what, for what, for what, for what…
The bed made no sound as John stood, the floor no sound as he walked, Suzanne no sound as he pulled back the shirt near her shoulder, saw a little plastic square glued to her chest. In the middle of the square was a little metallic dot; every time Suzanne breathed it sparkled a different color as the light on it changed. It refracted a brief burst of red light, settled, and remained still.
John stumbled away from the bed where Suzanne lay. He hit the door, felt around until his hand closed around the handle, turned it. He walked down the empty hall, his legs shaking. He didn’t see anyone; maybe there was no one there, or maybe he couldn’t see beyond Suzanne, beyond the peace on her face, the hope for the twins…
When he got to the central room, John realized he was not alone. There, sitting along the wall, was Allen, a somber expression on his face.
The world became fuzzy as tears filled John’s eyes. “You *******,” he muttered.
Allen dropped his gaze.
John walked into the room, stumbled to a wall, slumped to the ground, pulled himself into a ball, cried.
All he could do was cry. He had done it, had sold himself to Mistlethwakey, had made himself an E.H.U.D. in soul as well as body.
Eventually, he fell asleep…
Woke up hours later, screaming “Suzanne!”
He blinked, looked around; there were six others in the room now, all lying on the ground or sitting along the walls… all crying, weeping, letting it all out… they faded…
John woke again, dreams of Suzanne fleeing in the light of open eyes. Over thirty E.H.U.D.s now. John opened his mind, felt the whole of the pain and grief, felt the lives of those now lost; their names, their crimes, the lies they were told, the truths, the choices, the indignation… the death…
After what felt like days, all but one of them had committed themselves. They all sat, not talking, not eating, not moving, living a mental existence, losing themselves in each other’s minds, caught up in their own self-loathing. They tried to rationalize it; they didn’t really do it, all they had done was shine a light. If the partner, the victim, had happened t die, what of it? It wasn’t their fault, wasn’t their fault…
Eventually, one final person stumbled into the room, her feet slapping loudly against the cold concrete. As one, they absorbed her mind into their own; Cyd, Cyd the proud, Cyd the fierce, Cyd, always ready for a fight.
Cyd had held out, had refused to kill longer than the others, had retained her humanity the longest.
She joined the group, lay down, slept. The group tired, the group slept…
As one the group awoke screaming, a hundred still faces flashing through their minds, a hundred names lost, a hundred voices silenced…
Later, more footsteps. The guards, two at a time, carrying bodies through the room, in through one door, out through the other. Mistlethwakey, striding in, beaming at his charges.
“Good job. I have to say, I’m proud of you. I didn’t believe that all of you could do this.” He suddenly clapped his hands. “But break’s over; God knows you’ve had enough of a pity party. Training continues!”
He left, the guards came in. The E.H.U.D.s were divided, sent off to different parts of the complex. John followed Allen, followed Naomi, Vince, Wendelferce.
Wendelferce glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “Saw your partner, Donalson. ****, she looked nice. You have a good time with her?”
John ignored him. There was nothing he could do, not yet. He had to wait, had to wait, had to wait…
They became more than what they were, but also less. They learned to harness their thoughts, to function perfectly as a single unit, to know the layout of a whole maze by seeing through other’s eyes. They learned the layout of their bodies, how the cells lived, worked died. At various times the guards would beat them, injure them, leave them to heal themselves. Eventually, the guards couldn’t do enough to them, so they were given over to packs of starving dogs, ripped and torn, forced to kill and heal…
As the first year of this training went on, they pulled in on themselves, living in each other’s minds, losing their selves, burying their guilt and shame in the single mass of simmering rage that was the E.H.U.D. Whatever the guards did to one of them, they could not hurt the E.H.U.D. Whatever test they gave it, the E.H.U.D. succeeded.
The year ended, the old guards returned. The first day back, the guards gathered the E.H.U.D. in the main room and drugged it. It awoke in a new place, another concrete room. It was alone, it explored. It found a vast empty structure, much more elaborate than its home, its birthplace. Here there were vast kitchens, vehicle bays, libraries, workshops, training rooms. And finally, at the end of one long, dull hallway… an open door.
A small part of the E.H.U.D., a tall thin male with glasses, found itself outside, exploring this new place. There were trees everywhere, vines and bushes between them, dead leaves on the ground, steep hills and, far beyond, at the edge of sight, mountains.
As one being, the E.H.U.D. wept. At long last, they had escaped their prison, had found the outside… only to realize that they were merely in another prison.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
The member of the E.H.U.D., the man… John… turned and saw two guards, Udarian and Wendelferce, leaning against a tree. They were both unarmed, defenseless, easy prey—
No, not time…can’t kill them… they still have power, power Mistlethwakey would use…
Wendelferce pushed away from the tree and approached John. “So, what’s it feel like to be out here, huh? You thinking of running? Maybe you can get back to Philly, maybe find what’s-her-name.”
No, can’t go, can’t leave—
A pistol appeared, as if from nowhere, and Wendelferce blasted open John’s kneecap. “Don’t you ever do that in my head again, do you understand?” he hissed.
John looked into Wendelferce’s eyes for a moment as his ligaments tightened, the patella was pulled back into place, and the skin grew over the wound. Slowly, he nodded.
“Good.” He looked at John for a moment, then moved closer, yelling. “The rest of you in there? The one’s in my group? I know you can here me! I want you to meet me in fifteen minutes! See me there!” He stepped around John and walked back into the new structure.
John glanced up at Udarian, who shrugged. “Don’t look at me; I’m just here for security. Mistlethwakey tells them what to do now.”
John’s mind floated behind him, touched Wendelferce, found where he was going, where his squad was supposed to meet him.
Somewhere else, far in the bowels of the structure, three nodes of the E.H.U.D. moved off to rendezvous with their task master.
Soon, other nodes were meeting with the guards, were being gathered to points near Wendelferce’s destination.
All to meet in fifteen minutes.
John, and by extension the E.H.U.D., felt a thrill of excitement. Fifteen minutes to be outside, to explore, to feel the joys of the sun on the skin.
Ignoring the presence of Udarian, John quickly stripped off his clothes and glasses and stood, legs spread and arms extended, beneath the sun. he tilted his head back, looked up into the bubble of fire that burned the earth, felt his eyes contract, strain, start to burn. Proteins from elsewhere in the body were broken down, converted to energy. Even some of the sun’s own energy was used. The energy was moved, manipulated, formed into matter in the burned pupil. As the pupil warped and reformed, other colors could be seen in the blinding white of the sun; brilliant greens; sharp, precise blues; disturbing, unearthly violets.
Ten minutes gone… Time’s now, meet now… can’t be late…
With great reluctance, the E.H.U.D. turned its attention to other matters, relaxed, broke up into twenty five smaller beings.
John, still standing under the sun, closed his eyes and felt around through the layer of rotting leaves for his clothes. He found them, put them on, walked back to the structure, back to the new place of enslavement.
It was tempting to run, to escape into the great wilderness…
But then another would be found, someone to take his place, to make the full compliment of one hundred. John had already made his sacrifice, had killed Suzanne and condemned himself to a life here, under Mistlethwakey’s rule, selling his soul piece by piece so other’s wouldn’t have to. He couldn’t escape; this was his place now.
But you can escape… you decide the time…
It was strange to feel a voice coming from one identifiable person, to know that the voice was meant only for one person.
No, Allen, no… I can’t decide… I won’t decide… I made the same choice everyone else did; I put myself back here… I can’t lead… but even if I could, now is not the time… It’ll never be the time…
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Okay, more of teh updatez! First, a shout-out to my brother, who is now sixteen. WOOT. Second, teh updatez for the book: I've gone through and actually read part of it now, and have to say I've found many issues. There will now be a re-write and a general streamlining, and at least two subplots will be cut. One, I'm happy about, but the other will be sorely missed... Third: Next week, I will publish the next chapter of the book, and will continue to publish until I get to the last completed chapter of draft three, even though I am currently going back and starting draft 4.
And last but certainly not least, fourth: Bob! Continuing from my little video last time, I have further refined Bob's mesh, and have even brought him into the world with me. Please note: This is essentially an all new Bob, with a completely different skeleton: Although you can't see it in the video, he has a complete spine, and can bend at the torso and neck. Unfortunately, I built him from the head down, rather than the crotch up, so he can't bend over; he can only levitate his body in the air. Not fun. And before I forget, sorry about the poor video quality; I had my sister filming freehand, rather than with a tripod, so there's a noticeable shake. I was going to re-film it, but I just couldn't wait :)
Anyho, (There it is again, that anyhoo...) Have a good week, enjoy your extra-short night tonight, special thanks to reader for ACK for commenting, and please, PLEASE leave comments of your own. Thank you.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Okay, some actual updates this time... Well, I might have said in the last post (can't remember now...) that I was going through and reading the book because I couldn't remember what was going on... Well, I started to, but to be honest, the beginning was pretty bad. No, it was downright unreadable. So once again, I began rewriting. This time, I really hope that I only need to do the first two chapters (in addition to the other edits I may already have mentioned). The new beginning will be much slower, with John waking from the coma sporadically over a few weeks, being much weaker and thinner (in accordance with his hudness, as per chapter... 20, I think...) and having a different intro to his family and Sky Crest. Also, the intro of the presidents may be moved up...
Other than that...
Let's see... Today I gave a speech on action-figure customization in speech class... lots of fun there...
Oh, yeah, the video at the top! Well, I've recently gotten into 3D animation using Blender, and that is Bob, my own original creation! I built him up from a single cube, rigged him, and then animated him. What fun! I was originally going to make several short videos of the walk from different angles and then run them all together, but unfortunately didn't save my work, so all of his posing is lost... But I'm moving on, and will soon be embarking on a hugely complex tutorial that will teach me all the basics, and several of the advanceds... wow, made up a word there... of modeling, rigging and animation. With a little bit of luck, I'll soon be ready for an animated E.H.U.D. trailer. What fun! And of course, I still need to work on the book... haven't added anything in almost a week...
Oh, and as for the book, specifically the rather strange ending of the last chapter... Yeah, you're going to have to wait a while to find out how that ends. Sorry...
Anyhoo, signing off... Bye!