This story is currently a work in progress. If you find any errors or have comments please feel free to let me know.

When time ceases to be time, it is easy to lose yourself.  We define ourselves in finite terms.  If handed infinity, would you still be you?  I lost myself some time ago.  Unborn to the world, stashed away, placed on pause.  Past, present, future, they all converge inside the abyss.

My chest raised and lowered with each deliberate exhale as the cool eternal darkness carried me to unknown shores. Movement, movement; I had not felt movement since untold times long ago. The sound of brisk footsteps running along a tiled floor echoed through the under tide.  It rose me, my heart started beating as my mind opened, sparking to life anew. The deep pulse channels through my body once again, grasping my fingers into a fist I jolt as I realized, I still existed.  My soft lips part as I took a deep inhale as one would when breaching the surface of water. Immediately regret filled me along with the invading murk.  My lungs burned, plump with an unknown fluid while my mouth swelled with the taste of mineral steel.

My ten thousand years closed eyes opened as the illusion of long-suspended slumber is broken.  A dark sterile white ceiling greeted me.  The tiles edge rush like a river as an occasional beam passed overhead while rods of light like spears stab through the glass.  Ever more clear the sound of footsteps grow as the remaining fog that held me for so long depleted.

The twine of my silky black hair filled my vision as waving undersea foliage. Every subtle movement caused the drifts in which I rested to whirl and wander.  I rolled off the smooth, spongy floor to levitate in my container.  Through the dark murk I could make out something human like just beyond the glass, but it moved wrong, like a reproduction.  The strange thing hunched its upper body over the foot of my container with cables and cords lining its scratched timeworn metallic armor. To my side I heard a mechanical groan, with a simple jostle of my hip I rolled over, my gaze leaping toward another pair of similar strangers.

A whimper left my throat along with a wisp of carbon-dioxide.  My eyes grew wide and my jaw fell agape as I released a bounding shriek.  The lumbering form of an imitation human face; imitation as to the extent it is something akin to a cheap plastic mask.  I darted around the strange cell swiftly toppling me with a powerful sense of claustrophobia.  My insignificant movement aroused the attention from the alien creature, and to my horror it turned in my direction. With no way to escape, I was at the mercy of this inhuman pretenders.

Outside in the dark I could make out I was inside something like a stretcher surrounded by a glass tube and submerged in some kind of liquid that allowed me to breathe. “She isn’t supposed to be awake.” the being’s voice startled me. The sound was distorted through the smothering fluid, even still I could tell it was digital, broken and artificial like the rest of the peculiar thing.

“Stay quiet.” demanded another of the alien engines; its voice was deeper and more machinelike than that of the first. The group came to a full stop. I halted my breathing, hoping that I had not angered my captors. They stood still. The tension of no reply grew as it strangles my every vein. Only the slight whine of their long warn motor’s break the agonizing silence.  Was it me?  No, they were observing the hall for something. “They have spotted us.” announced a male voice.

A loud ear-piercing scream from the dark sent shivers down my spine. I felt it crawling across my skin, like an unfamiliar touch grooming me where it should not.   Bracing my knees onto my shoulders, I curled tightly into a ball and covered my ears to stop the deep stabbing pitch.  The screams increased in numbers, there must have been a hundred of them and the surly roar of gunfire was all too loud. It hurt as each percussion thundered through me. My eyes latch shut to escape the horrors which I knew awaited the rising of my lids.  All that separated me from a nightmare, is an inch of glass. The thought drew a light sob to crawl from my throat.

The sound of scraping coming ever closer, and beyond that scraping, I could hear the buzzing of a chainsaw carving, slathering a wet pulpy mess as it made its way through whatever victim fell to its grinding teeth.  A splatter of red splashed onto the glass obscuring my view in a violent coat.  With a thud, the carrier is swung aside, throwing me against the wall of the container. More panic gripped me as I observed the three mechanical soldiers fighting with chainsaw blades and rifles. Beyond them is a vision of a swarm; malformed tumorous bodies ridden with polyps, clawed and shrieked in an unbridled feral rage. My kicking feet struck 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, and somehow I longed to return to that nothingness.

The capsule shifted again, jostling me from my huddled cowering. I met the plastic faces of another pair of mechanical soldiers. They were pushing the cart; their arms slung over with rifles in hand. Each one popping aimed shots into the swarm. The three in front swung their weapons cutting into the creatures.  A glorious howl lept from there, well, whatever they had. They painted every wall with dripping blood as insides and limbs rained to the floor. Unwillingly getting closer to the tide of battle; my heart sunk. I soon realized the machines were pushing my prison toward that horrid visage. “No, no, I don’t want to go there! Please, no!” I begged with the loudest scream I could muster against the fluid. They gave no answer or even a consideration. My gaze met their cold unfeeling masks once again, molded with that false smile.

Looking into to the fray of battle, I saw only two soldiers. “309!” one android yelled, his voice stilled me. I couldn’t help but notice they showed concern for each other. The front two soldiers increased pace, cutting and chopping to get to their fellow. Among the fleshy horrors I made out the missing android’s arm, and its head, but that couldn’t be right. The head was too far from the arm. I contemplated what I was seeing. “Grab his tracer!” commanded the android above me.

As the puzzle completed itself in my mind I screamed “They ripped him to pieces!” The two android soldiers in front stopped their progress at the end of the hall. One held back the unending hoard of monsters; four arms slashing and cutting against the throng, valiant and proud, a shining conqueror, my, defender? “Are these things trying to save me?” I wondered. My emotions were in a maelstrom of total confusion.

My view become fast covered by the amount of blood that rained down on the group. In some ways the covering sheen of gore comforted me, in others it brought out an intense anxiety of the unknown. The other android picked through the ripped torso of their fallen comrade. It lifted a small card out of the thing’s body. Fleshy tethers ripping free as they deposited the card into their own frame.

“I got it!” the machine hollered in victory. 

“There is an elevator shaft ahead.” said the android who hung over my capsule. Her voice was 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 that allowed them to be somewhat distinguished from each other. “We can get to the roof from there. Attaching to the carrier now.”

Between small gaps where the scarlet black had not covered, I saw that the hall had become nothing but a twitching pile of meat with a river of blood wetting every surface.  Colored cords like worms moved about boaring down into the piles of ruination tethering stray parts back together. The closer to the elevator we got, the deeper the pile seems to be. The limbs that remained gripped at the androids. With little effort they jerked themselves free, giving the parts no purchase. The soldiers stood guard, holding the line against the onslaught as the others pushed my capsule into the elevator.

The capsule lifted into the air by a bright blue light, levitating the android up the tunnel. The entire thing radiated a blue glow as we rose higher. The platform stopped opening to a sky that is bleak, the color of rusted iron, and a dull glow overshadowed everything upon the rooftop. The buildings in the city were decayed with lengthy lines of overgrowth from something like that of muscle flesh. A strange-looking vehicle of some sort waited for the group; judging from the large wings, I assumed it was a plane, but I could not be sure. From the elevator shaft, the other two androids appeared. They were sopping wet with blood. As they walk bits of flesh fell off their bodies leaving a messy trail of gore in their wake.

“You recovered one.” a man yelled from the ship’s open hanger. My heart jumped. Immediately I dove against the glass trying to spot the man through the film of red ooze. They lift the pod as the androids dragged it into the threshold of the plane’s dock. Sadly, pressing against the window provided me with nothing. It was too dark to see anything. Still, it comforted me to hear a human voice. “What condition is it in?” the man inquired.

“It’s awake.” An android grunted.

A torso covered in a white plastic suit pressed into the side of the glass. “We cannot have that.” he commented to the machine. “My, isn’t she magnificent?” I looked over my shoulder to see his face hidden behind a visor.

“Help me, let me out!” I screamed, retching my body against the window. The man’s face seemed even more unconcerned than the androids. His eyes only filled with a dehumanizing gaze in response to my struggles. “What is happening! Why am I here? Who am I?” There is a subtle twitch in my eyes as round dots of crystal floated in from my ducts.

“Phhhhshhhhhhhhh…” A small vent above my head leaked out a malaise of white clouds. The smell is rancid and made me gasp. My body tensed as I gasped for another scream, but my chest could not manage the effort. Instead, a low moan escaped as everything grew heavy.  In the milky fluid I tried to struggle but failed. My fingers pressed against the glass as the weight on my arms increased. It is as though I am being crushed and I fell limp. The iron lids over my eyes closed 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?” The android I had hired commented.  His head was thin and rectangular, with a single blue upper reticle, altogether its shape reminded me 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 I provided now dangled off the side of its head, no use for the artificial visage anymore. The entire thing is made of silver black gun metal. Several decades line its body, scraped and scratch listing incomplete model numbers.

In all my years, I never thought I would have this chance.  As I looked upon the bloodied container, a new wealth of hope filled me. I could hardly believe my eyes and I could not look away for fear it was a dream, I nodded my head in response to the android’s question. “Indeed, she is.” I faintly commented.  Rising from the container, I looked around the room.  I had paid for a squad of five and yet, before me, was only four. “I see there are only four of you that returned. I am sorry for your loss.” I said, hoping to cover for my previous lack of acknowledgment.

Then the machine said something most peculiar to me. “309 will live again, like your girl. He is in stasis, sleeping.” the android lifted a small rectangular chip from his bloodied breastplate. “He needs a new body. One I expect you to pay for.”

“Heh, me pay for a body for your mistake. Why do you expect me to pay for it? I hired you to retrieve her, not to refurbish your aging bodies. You knew the risks when I hired you. If you did not consider the complications that is your own fault.”

The android’s reticle twisted and turned, focusing on me, more, closely, I didn’t enjoy seeing my own concerned reflection gazing back.  A loud creek grumbles as the hanger motors opened the doors revealing his intentions. “Then our contract ends, there is no negotiation.”  The open doors stole the breath from my lungs. It terrified me, not to mention being berated by my suit as it whipped me in the winds.  I could feel my feet growing unsteady as the open hanger threatened the unknowable plummet.

“Wait! Stop!” I screamed. “We can work something out.” the hanger of the ship’s doors closed as my will bent.  What more could I do?  I held no position to argue against it. “I should have known better. Our colony lacks any military grade android parts though. How about a trade? Something of equal value?”

“That is fair. We will require more seeds.”

The surreal nature of the situation leaves me shaking my head. It has been a long time since I went to the outside world. Androids used to be the servants of man. Now they drove a hard bargain.  Where they have learned this kind of behavior. I suppose through observation over time they have become akin to such things.  Still, what could they want with seeds?  There is no real place to plant them, and even still what would artificial beings like them want with anything biological. I had to know, and so I asked. “Why exactly do you want seeds, anyway?”

“Unmodified seeds are the most valuable thing in the world. 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 replied.

Impossible, it won’t be done.  Not by their hands. I kept that thought to myself not wanting to give any reason for further torment from the machine. “Yeah, well, good luck with that.” I grunted walking back over to the capsule gazing inside at the fair-skinned girl resting soundly.  At our salvation.

The ship carried us over the ruins of an old city, through the slumbering lands that grew rotted.  We fly through an even more lonely sky, over a vast sea and over mountain passes and fleshy fields; until we reached a desert wasteland of hollowed buildings for as far as the eye can see.

As the ship descended to the ground, a secret hanger door split forth from the sandy soil. Two people waited on the platform for our arrival. A young woman with black hair named Vanity and a much older man, a doctor, Hellibor Winters, who was given charge of this girl. When the ship landed the doors opened to reveal the ark in which she rests. I could hear Vanity shout, “They did it!” from even within the confines of the ship.

“Brilliant. I told you we could trust them.” Hellibor grumbled in his usual gruff voice.  As I made my way out of the ship Hellibor stood stoic as ever in contrast to Vanity’s excitement. Before I even said a word Hellibor says to me “Bring me the capsule.” in that familiar, commanding tone.

“It is good to be home.” I thought to myself.

“There was a complication.” I muttered. “We need to give the androids a bit more payment before they will release the girl to us.” I regrettably informed them.

I still remember that low growl Hellibor let out under his breath.  It was the kind of growl that let me know there would be repercussions for this later. He turned to Vanity, gesturing with his hands. “Vanity, do it, go get another seed for Brainer to give these swine.”

“Yes, Sir Hellibor.” Vanity replied, so formally as usual.  I can’t help but notice the sway in her step as she headed inside the building.  One of the few pleasurable things left in the world.  “So, you recovered a specimen.” Hellibor commented.   I stand side by side with Hellibor as we watched the machines go about their normal activities.

“It’s a girl as you had hoped, yeah, but one thing, she woke up during the extraction. It means they broke the seal on the ark.”  I couldn’t even look him in the eye. Soon noticed my palms were sweating inside my suit.

To my surprise, his reaction was not as sour as I had expected “It should not matter.” he grunted. “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 let out a heavy sigh, shaking his head as he placed his hand on my back.  It was reassuring, to be honest it was the first time I had felt a touch in, well, ages in fact.  It felt unnatural.  Heh, I suppose Hellibor felt much the same way as he whirled his hand away as soon as he realized what he had done.

Vanity returned with a pair of test tubes. “Two seeds,” she chirped, holding out the measly pair in my direction. “They are still cold.” she happily commented as though it mattered.

As I reached for the two seeds I felt a heaviness grow in my gut.  “They will take this as an insult.” my mind screamed.  Two seeds for what they just did.  That was hardly any payment at all.  Though their contract never specified any amount, but it was still clearly plural.  I took the two suspended seeds from her, “This is all you are giving them.”

Hellibor nodded with confidence.  Together we walk to the drop ship’s hanger doors to present our, payment. The leader of the group moved to the lip of the hanger, towering above us like a giant. He jumped down onto the platform, looking at the pair of reflective tubes in my hand. “May I inspect them?”

As I reached to the skeletal metal hand, Hellibor chimed in. “Before we pay, 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 payment upon delivery. We delivered a specimen. Our end of the deal is complete. Now you must oblige yours.” the sternal android replied.

“Brainer give him the seeds.” Which surprised me. Then again, I guess even Hellibor even knew when to quit.

I extended my open palm. The android plucked one sample from my hand and scrutinized 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 stated with authority, I was hoping the machine would surrender to such a ridiculous request they deep down I knew what was to come.

“I do not take your humor lightly.” the android groaned.

“As you said before, there is nothing more valuable than a seed.”  It was a fool’s attempt, but none the less I could tell in that unfeeling machine’s eye, I had not impressed.

The android chuckles with this grating, artificial, inhuman laughter. “Now you, you know humor,” it said pointing to me. “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 masks melted off all our faces. I looked over to Hellibor to see if he wants to continue or not.  His body is stiff,  I could not read him at all, but I could see the fear of failure stabbed clear through him from the machines little comment.

It was right; we needed her far more than the androids needed our seeds. We had searched for years to find someone held in stasis, and now we had it. So close to the goal, Hellibor’s foolish pride was the only thing holding us back; and he would sacrifice his pride, because he must. “How many do you want?”

“As many as you have inside that little shelter of yours.”

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