Deep in a haze of darkness I breathe, in and out. My chest rising and lowering with each deliberate exhale. Into static the cool dark takes me. It is cold and my blood is slow. A dull buzzing rings in my suspended stasis as the tides of dark flow carrying me to unknown shores. Movement, movement, I have not felt movement since untold times long ago. The faint noise becomes something I once knew and had somehow forgotten; memory gives way to words. Someone, is speaking. My soft lips part wide as I take in a deep inhale as though breaching the surface of water. A burning agony takes me as my lungs fill once again.
The sound of brisk footsteps running along a tile floor echoes. It rises me, my heart beating as my mind opens sparking to life. My fingers grasp as I feel a deep pulse wind through my body. The words, what were they saying? I jolt as I realize, I still exist. The illusion of a long-suspended slumber is broken. My ten thousand years closed eyes burst open to see the dark sterile white ceiling fast traveling as an occasional light passes over head. The sound of the footsteps are ever more clear as the remaining fog of sleep depletes.
Pushing my body up I see something that looks humanoid but moves wrong, like a reproduction. Its upper body hunches over with cables and cords lining its scratched timeworn metallic armor. To my side I hear a mechanical groan, my gaze leaping toward another pair of similar strangers. A whimper leaves my throat arousing one of the things to turn in my direction. An imitation of a human face looks back at me. Imitation as to the extent it is something akin to a cheap plastic mask. Eyes growing wide and jaw falling agape I release a shrill shriek. A sheen of fog clouds over the glass enclosing me. My head darts around the strange compartment swiftly toppling me with a strong sense of claustrophobia.
Outside in the dark I can make out that I’m inside something like a stretcher surrounded by a glass tube. “She isn’t supposed to be awake.” says one thing. The sound is distorted and digital, broken, artificial like the rest of the things.
“Stay quiet.” the other machine demands. The group comes to a full stop. I halt my breathing hoping that I have not angered my captors. They stand still, the tension of no reply grows as it strangles my every vein. Only the slight whine of their long warn servo motors sound while they observe the empty hall. “They have spotted us.” one machine announces.
A loud ear-piercing scream from the dark sends shivers down my spine. I felt it crawling across my skin, the way it resonated inside the tunnel. Quickly I cover my ears to stop the deep stabbing pitch. I raise my knees into myself as the screaming increases in numbers. The roar of gunfire is too loud. It hurts. Curling tight I close my eyes letting a light sob crawl from my throat. I can hear the buzzing of a chainsaw carving through something with a wet pulpy slathering. A splatter of red splashes onto the glass obscuring my view in a violent coat. I am thrown against the wall of the container as the carrier is swung aside but an unseen force. My eyes grow as I observe the three mechanical soldiers fighting with chainsaw blades and rifles. Beyond them is a vision of a swarm that is mostly blocked. Malformed tumorous bodies ridden with polyps, horrors. They claw and shriek in an unbridled feral rage. My kicking feet strike against the glass pushing me away from the sight. I knew it was futile, there was no escaping. My silent dream released me to this nightmare.
The capsule shifts again jostling me from my huddled corning. I meet the plastic faces of another pair of mechanical soldiers. They pushing the cart; their arms slung over with rifles in hand. Each one popping aimed shots into the swarm. The three in front swing their multiple arms cutting into the creatures. They paint every wall with dripping blood as insides and limbs rain to the floor. I am getting closer to the tide of battle. My heart sinks as I realize the machines are pushing the tube towards that horrid visage. “No, no, I don’t want to go there! Please, no!” I beg with a loud scream. They give no answer or even a consideration. My gaze meets their cold unfeeling masks once again, molded with a false smile.
Looking back to the fray of battle I see only two soldiers. “309!” one android yells. I can’t help but notice they show concern for each other. The front two soldiers increase pace cutting and chopping to get to their fellow. Among the fleshy horrors I can make out the missing android’s arm, and its head, but that can’t be right. The head is too far from the arm. I contemplate what I am seeing. “Grab his tracer!” commands one android. They ripped the machine to pieces! The two android soldiers in front stop their progress toward the end of the wall. One holds back the unending hoard of monsters. Four arms slashing and cutting against the swarm, Valiant and proud, a shining conqueror, my, defender? Were these things trying to save me? The emotions rise in a tide of total confusion.
My view is becoming fast covered by the amount of blood that is raining down on the group. In some ways the covering sheen comforts me, in substance it brings out an intense anxiety of the unknown. The other android picks through the ripped torso of their fallen comrade. It lifts a small card out of the thing’s body. Fleshy tethers ripping free as they deposit it into their own frame.
“I got it!” the machine hollers in victory.
“There is an elevator shaft ahead.” says the android who hung over my capsule. Her voice is female even though her body did not match her gender. They all looked the same to me aside from a natural patina of rust and wear. “We can get to the roof from there. Attaching to the carrier now.”
Between small gaps where the scarlet black fluids had not covered the glass I see that the hall became nothing but a twitching pile of meat with a river of blood wetting every surface. The closer to the elevator we got the deeper the pile seemed to be. The limbs that remained grip at the androids. Without much effort they jerk themselves free giving the parts no purchase. The soldiers stand guard holding the line against the onslaught as the others push my capsule into the elevator.
The capsule lifts into the air by a bright blue light levitating the androids up the tunnel. The entire thing radiates a blue glow as we rise higher. The platform stops opening to a sky that is bleak, the color of rusted iron and a dull glow overshadows everything upon the rooftop. The buildings in the city are decayed with long lines of overgrowth of something like that of muscle. A strange-looking vehicle of some sort waits for the group; judging from the large wings I assume it is a plane but I cannot be sure. From the elevator shaft the other two androids appear. They are sopping wet with blood. As they walk bits of flesh rain off their bodies leaving a messy trail of gore in their wake.
“You recovered one.” a man yells from the ship’s open hanger. My heart jumps, immediately I dove against the glass trying to spot the man through the film of red ooze. I feel the pod lift as the androids drag it into the threshold of the planes dock. Pressing against the window for a look provides me with nothing. It is too dark to make out anything. Still it comforts me to hear a human voice. “What condition is it in?” the man inquires.
“It’s awake.” An android grunts.
A torso covered in a white plastic suit presses into the side of the glass. “We cannot have that.” says the man. “My, isn’t she magnificent?” he comments from behind the thick glass. I look over my shoulder to see his is face hidden behind a visor.
“Help me, let me out!” I scream retching my body against the window. The man’s face seems even more unconcerned than the androids. His eyes only filled with a dehumanizing gaze. “What is happening! Why am I here! Who am I!?” I can feel tears welling in my eyes as I wail out the endless questions.
“Phhhhshhhhhhhhh…” A small vent above my head leaks out a malaise of white smoke. The smell is rancid and makes me gasp. My body tenses as I gasp for another scream but my chest cannot manage the effort. Instead, a low moan escapes as everything grows heavy. My fingers press against the glass as the weight on my arms increases. It is as though I am being crushed and I fall limp. The iron lids over my her eyes closing like curtains, as the theater of this nightmare came to a sudden halt; the deep slumber of stasis returning.
“So, she is asleep. Just like that?” an android comments. His head thin and rectangular, with a single blue upper recticle, altogether its shape was very similar to that of a pistol. If one gathered scraps and did their best to construct the human shape, this would be the result of the rest of its body. Cables and ribbons hung between the gaps in its plating and from the back of its head into its neck and down its spine. The plastic mask dangles off the side of its head now, no use for the artificial visage. The entire thing is made of silver black gun metal. Several decades line its body, scraped and scratch listing incomplete model numbers.
The man nods his head looking over the bloody container. “Indeed, she is.” He turns his head to face the machine. “I see there are only four of you that returned. I am sorry for your loss.”
“309 will live again, like your girl. He is in stasis sleeping.” the android holds up the small rectangular chip. “He needs a new body. One I expect you to pay for.”
“Why do you expect me to pay for it? I hired you to retrieve her, not to refurbish your aging bodies. You knew the risk when I hired you. If you did not consider the complications that is your own fault.” the man retorts.
The android’s gaze focuses on the man. A loud creek grumbles as the hanger motors open the doors. “Then our contract ends, there is no negotiation here.” The man’s suit whips as the pressure and oxygen is sucked out of the room in a windy blast.
“Wait! Stop! We can work something out.” the hanger of the ship’s doors close in response to the man’s bending will. “I should have known better. Our colony lacks any military grade android parts. How about a trade? Something of equal value?”
“That is fair. We will require more seeds.”
The man shakes his head. It had been a long time since he went to the outside world. Androids used to be the servants of man. Now they drove a hard bargain. He wondered where they had learned this kind of behavior. He supposes through observation over time they had become akin to such things. “Why exactly do you want seeds, anyway?”
“Unmodified seeds are the most valuable thing in the world at this stage. They are one of the few things we cannot fabricate. Unlike our greedy peers in the empire we seek to build a new biome and restore the world as we remember from our nativity, before your cursed decay spread.” the android replies.
“Yeah, well, good luck with that.” the man grunts walking back over to the capsule gazing inside at my fair-skinned self resting soundly.
The ship carries the travelers over the ruins of an old city, through the slumbering lands that grew rotted. The lone ship sails through an even more lonely sky. Over a vast sea and over mountain passes and fleshy fields it flies. Until it reaches a desert wasteland of hollowed buildings for as far as the eye can see.
As the ship descends to the ground, it opens revealing a secret hanger. Two people wait on the platform. A young woman with black hair and a much older man. When the ship lands the doors open to reveal the ark in which I rest. “They did it!” the girl shouts to the man.
“Brilliant. I told you we could trust them.” the man says in a gruff voice. He stands stoic in contrast to the young woman’s excitement. The man in the suit walks out of the hanger pacing to the older man. “Bring me the capsule.” the older man commands.
“There was a complication. We need to give the androids a bit more payment before they will release the girl to us.” the man in the suit tells the older man.
The older man growls under his breath. He turns to the girl. “Vanity, do it, go get another seed for Brainer to give these swine.”
“Yes, Sir Hellibor.” the girl replies taking her leave inside the building. “So, you recovered a girl.” Hellibor comments. The two stand next to each other watching the androids who move about the ship.
Looking back over to the ship Brainer replies “Yeah but one thing, she woke up during the extraction. It means they broke the seal on the ark.”
“It should not matter.” Hellibor grunts. “If she is infected, then the contaminants should have no effect on her.”
“They almost threw me out of the ship. I think they would have thrown her too. What a way to negotiate extra payment.” Hellibor lets out a heavy sigh shaking his head placing his hand on Brainer’s back.
Vanity returns with a pair of test tubes. “Two seeds,” she chirps holding out the pair in Brainer’s direction. “They are still cold.”
He takes the suspended seeds from her “This is all you are giving them.” Brainer says.
Hellibor nods. The three walk over to the hanger doors of the drop ship. The leader of the group moves to the lip of the hanger towering above the group. He jumps down onto the platform looking at Brainer’s pair of test tubes. “May I inspect them?”
“Before we pay,” Hellibor chimes in. “I want to inspect the girl myself. Make sure she is without blemish. To do that, I will need to run scans on her.”
“That will not be happening without my payment. We agreed upon payment on delivery. We delivered a specimen. Our end of the deal is complete. Now you must oblige yours.” the android replies.
Hellibor furrows his brow. “Brainer give him the seeds.”
Brainer extends his hand open palmed revealing the twin tubes with two seeds suspended inside. The android plucks one sample from his hand. It scrutinizes the vial. “This will do, where is the rest of our payment.”
“That is it. One seed for one person. You wanted double payment so I have graciously allowed two seeds.” Hellibor states with authority hoping the machine would surrender.
“I do not take your humor lightly.” the android groans.
Brainer smirks knowing full well the android would regret his comment. “As you said before, there is nothing more valuable than a seed.”
The android chuckles. “Good joke, I have a feeling however, this girl is worth far more to you, than those seeds are to us. If you wish to continue your little game of negotiations, I will destroy her and call it a loss.” The smug looks melted off Brainer’s face. He looks over to Hellibor whose body had stiffened at the machines comment.
It’s true, they did need me far more than the androids needed those seeds. They had searched for years to find someone held in stasis and now they have it. So close to their goal, pride is the only thing holding them back. He would sacrifice his pride, because he must. “How many do you want?”
“As many as you have inside that little shelter of yours.” the android replies securing me to my fate.