Saturday, March 20, 2010

The End is Nigh...

Wow... Well, I've made it through most of my book, and all I have to say is... Wow. I mean, it's bad. Weird plot holes, scenes that go on forever, characters constantly speaking in cryptic, apocalyptic phrases... Wow, just wow... But hey, reading through this has given me several ideas, and pushed me in knew directions for draft four. But enough about that.

For your reading pleasure, I humbly present chapter 25 of draft III. Picking up with from the weird, cryptic, utterly incomprehensible ending of chapter 24, this one (SPOILER!) tells the story of John's first kill. Like many other things at this part of the story, it was created from whole cloth in draft III. You see, as I was working, I realized that I had to explain how ninety nine normal people where transformed into super killing machines (Lemlin was already a soldier). I had to figure that actually killing someone has to be mentally difficult; seriously, in a world with seven billion people in it, how many of them are serial killers? So I was faced with the problem of getting the Huds to draw first blood, to get them on to that slippery slope. Initially, I was going to have some nonsense about training them together with dogs, and then having them kill the dogs, but that was just a bit too long and convoluted for me. So I settled on the version as it currently stands. And the reason why they use lasers, rather than just shooting the people, is that it would be stupid to give the Huds at this point; they could turn on the guards (which would teach them to kill, but be too costly), or on themselves, to get out of killing innocent victims (see previous parenthetical aside.) So... I think it works; I'll find out after I read chapter 25 for myself. And, if this version stands in draft IV, expect to see Suzanne haunting John with the little boy earlier on.

Before I sign off and leave you to read, allow me to present something I whipped up in blender: the results of the uber tutorial I mentioned a few posts back. This is probably about five hours of work, and I'm only about a quarter of the way through the tutorial. Dang.

Anyhoo, on with the show...

And don't forget to comment!

Chapter 25

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.
“Um, hello?”
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?”
John nodded.
“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 trained.
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.
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…

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