IV: The Sun and V: Rifts




Chapter IV



‘Message from Eve:
This is not a dream. It is a Farwall transmission, encrypted using your DNA. If you have left Genesys, I apologize, but you must come back immediately. It is imperative that you make contact with me in security room A on level I; I will recognize you there. Everything depends on what you do now.’


Sky… Blue sky… and… His eyes opened groggily. Where am I?

Hazy memories assembled at the back of his mind. Dark hallways. Fighting. Blood. He gingerly pressed on his left arm, the memory of pain flashing at his touch. But it was only an illusion; his shoulder was numb, unfeeling, its damaged muscles and missing flesh replaced by a mushy compound and wrapped in a soft, black fiber.

He leaned forward, pressing a hand against the dark glass of the reconstructor. Shapes undulated in the black; it looked as if the shadows themselves had taken form, writhing in chaotic discontent. Then his ears chimed in, conveying crowing and snapping noises, and he realized what he was seeing.

Eyes… Beaks… More of those creatures, tails whipping through the air, huddled around something on the floor, tearing, shredding. Was this his chance to escape? While they were distracted? No, no, no, no, no, his brain said. And then for emphasis, No.

He reclined against the hard enclosure, hands over his knees, wondering what in the world he was going to do.


. . .

‘Recording…’

It’s cool up here in the mountains. The air is fresh, too. Not like the cities. A black mass still hangs over Idest… I don’t think it will ever move. But up here it’s trees and blue sky, and the clouds are light and free…

I’ve been getting the feeling that I don’t have long to live. I don’t know why… but I’m making this recording just in case. So that I have some kind of legacy if it comes to that.


He reached out, her body sliding back into his hands on the pebbly trail. Motes of dirt swirled between their feet.

“Thanks,” she said, casting him a grateful glance.

Her eyes are the most beautiful green. And her body, in my hands…

He let go, helping her stand.

If only it were for me.

“Hey,” a voice growled from behind. “How close are we?”

“Close,” said the woman. “Not much farther now.”

“This better be worth it lady. I can’t believe people do this shit for fun.”

“Trust me Dominic, it will be.”

“Sure,” he grunted.

They climbed on in silence. Though they were aided by muscular support systems, seven hours of clambering up rocky slopes dried into dusty slides had worn on their bodies and minds, and no one felt particularly talkative.

I wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for her. Maybe once we finish this, I’ll talk to her about us… what’ve I got to lose, anyways? He put a hand to his chest, trying to feel his heart, wrapped in black. There’s nothing I can do.

A gleam of sunlight from the west shimmered in the east, glinting off a glass wall.

“I think I see it.” She climbed higher, coming over the top of a steep ridge. “There’s the entrance…” she paused, surveying the crescent shaped valley curving down below. “That glass wall there, beneath the red rock. That’s our way in.”

Dominic lumbered up and over the ridge, peering into the distance. “Good. I’m sick of all this walking.”

“Don’t get too excited, Dom,” he said, “We’ve still got the hike back.”

“Hrmm… How ‘bout I just ride you instead?”

“I don’t think my back could handle that. You’d end up having to carry me, my spine all hunched and twisted.”

“Yeah, that’d be a shame, you bein’ prettier’n most women. Wouldn’t want to ruin that for you.”

“Yeah, I know, I’m a pretty schoolgirl with pigtails. But that just makes it that much more humiliating every time I save your ass.” He looked at the young doctor, searching for a laugh or a smile, but she didn’t seem interested in their banter. “Hey Arcelli, you alright?” he asked. “You seem kinda’ tired.”

“I’m fine, but we have to hurry, he’s going to be waking up soon… I think we can save some time if we drop straight down to that grassy area, with that stump,” she said, pointing. “It looks like there’s a path we can use.”

One by one, they sat and slid down the rough terrain covering the side of the mountain, their light tactical clothing hardening to absorb the force of the descent. Coarse weeds and desiccated shrubs passed in a dirty haze, and rocky scrambles of dust billowed down the mountainside in heavy plumes. They each slowed to a stop near the gnarled tree stump and gathered themselves, looking around.

She was right. The ground leveled off just below, leading into the distance. Half an hour more of hiking across featureless mountainside brought them to a manmade stone dais, raised high overhead, jutting out of the mountainside.

“This is an observation platform,” she said, wiping at her brow. “It should lead us to the main building. You go first, Sherrad.”

Time to make my mother proud. Slinging his rifle across his back, he pressed his hands into the cracked base of the platform and looked up—a long span of earthen colored concrete climbed high overhead, dark against azure patches of sky. ‘Grip,’ he thought. Millions of miniscule claws protruded from the fingers and palms of his gloves, digging into the wall. He dragged down with his hand to test, and it held fast.

“Okay, I’m going up.”

‘Strength,’ he commanded. Immediately, his arms and body felt powerful, almost weightless with the aid of an extra-muscular support system. Reaching one hand towards the sky and then the next, he made steady progress, jamming the thin soles of his shoes into the wall and pressing himself higher . Below, the others followed suit.

Hand clinging to the edge of the platform, he lifted himself over a waist high lip and rolled forward off the wall. Picking himself up from the ground, he peered back out into the valley. In the distance, evergreens were tinted darkly with the waning light; there couldn’t be more than an hour until dusk.

Behind him, a slender hand reached overtop the wall. He gripped the doctor’s forearm and pulled her up; she nodded in acknowledgement. Silently, she walked past him, her face bearing a mixed expression of wonder and apprehension.

“Been a long time, huh?” he asked.

“Nearly six years now. Almost hard to believe it’s still here.”

Dominic hauled himself up over the edge of the wall, landing heavily with his feet on the ground. Together, they climbed up a thin metal staircase built into the rock, until they came to another platform platform, much larger than the first. Beneath their feet, a latticed emblem of glass and marble bore the word “Genesys” in an elaborate font.

“So this is it huh… ‘Genesys: Where the modern world is dreamed and built.’ ” He spoke with mock-reverence. “Or, ‘was,’ I guess I should say. Seems nice.”

Set beneath a solid rock overhang was a gleaming wreck of collapsed glass and once-great architecture; they had walked on the dead remnants of civilization and human achievement before and, glass crunching beneath their feet, this was no different.

They passed through the ravaged entrance, dodging scattered pieces of debris. Her eyes darted back and forth, dark hair swishing side to side as she surveyed the damage: Steel slats had fallen from the ceiling and lay twisted amongst broken glass, shattered and scattered across the metal floor, and a dark air hung thickly over the room. Her chest heaved steadily and her eyes twitched with a heightened sense of awareness.

She seems… agitated… like there’s something she’s not telling us.

“What’s wrong?”

She tapped on the side of her leg nervously. “Things went on here. Experiments… that most people don’t know about,” she said. “Nothing bad, but… we’ve been away for awhile. Humans, I mean.”

“So? Doesn’t that mean it should be empty?”

“No. That means there was no one to watch over her…” Her voice was quiet; distant.

I almost couldn’t hear what she said. “Her? Who is ‘her’?”

“What? Why didn’t you tell us about this earlier?” Dominic demanded. “If there’s some psycho bitch in here who—”

“No, that’s not what I said. Animals could have taken refuge here, or more of those crawlers. Maybe something we haven’t seen yet. Look,” she said brusquely, turning to face the two men, “don’t argue with me. Let’s just get in, get this guy, and get out. Keep it simple.

“Alright… Tell us what to do.”

“Good,” she said, motioning to them to put their masks on. Flattening her hair against her neck, she laid her fingers against the back of her jaw; dark strands climbed up her face and around her skull, ensconcing her in black. “Follow me.”

A high ceiling glistening faintly with sunlight arched overhead. The main Genesys lobby… not much of a tourist attraction anymore. In the center of the great room, a dismal fountain formed of rocky spires was surrounded by a moat of stagnating water, cloudy with particulates from rubbled ceiling, and all around it, once-lustrous metal flooring had grown scratched and dull from wear.

“Okay, I’m going to access the systems and see what I can find,” she said, walking towards the back of the room. “He should be on sub level three in room E-42 if he hasn’t woken up yet.”

“All clear,” growled Dom.

“All clear,” he affirmed, eyes scouting carefully.

She crouched, scanning the area through the use of a neural network integrated into her own bodily systems.

He watched her, waiting, his mind drifting back to obsession. The way she kneels, her body curved over delicately… Like a goddess.

“Hey!” snapped Dom. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Adjusting some settings. Your heart rate wasn’t appearing on my heads up display.” A watertight bluff… He’s got a pulse of sixty-eight beats per minute right now.

“Well quit standin’ around. We gotta’ keep the good doctor safe, you know? And there’s some crazy bitch who might be out for blood. Gotta’ watch out for her too.”

“I told you,” she said, “Animals.”

“Where’s your guy at?” Dom asked.

“I’m not sure. He should still be in the building, but it’s difficult to tell.”

“Oh that’s just fu—”

“Just tell us what you know,” he cut in.

“Power has been shut down. Systems access is almost nonexistent… But a signal was sent out. Two, in fact,” she paused, checking to make sure. “One from E-42, six hours ago… and another from the same floor, room… M-12. A medical distress call from a reconstructor.”

“Do you think that’s our guy?”

She stalled again. “Yes, it has to be. The call was sent out thirty six minutes after the signal from E-42. It’s definitely him… And there hasn’t been a discharge follow-up.”

“What are the signals for?”

“One’s a medical distress, and the other… I’m not so sure.”

“Well, if he’s still there, I’ll find him. Dom, stay here and—”

“No,” she interrupted. “Both of you go. You need to watch each other’s backs; I’ll lock myself in the security room. I’ll be fine… In the meantime, I’m going to try again to get and gather whatever information I can to help.”

“How do we get down to level III?”

“Use the stairs,” she said, pointing to the far end of the room where a metal panel stood out amidst fading wall. “Power is down, and we might need our mini generator later, so it’s best if we don’t use the elevator.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’ll see you in a few minutes then. Tell me as soon as you get to M-12.”

Her voice is soft and smooth. Even under pressure. I don’t think God made a more perfect woman anywhere… And doc, if you’re listening to this, probably after I die, I want you to know I really mean that.

They headed for the far end of the room, checking the sights on their weapons.

“Remind me what we’re doin’ here again?”

“Mountains, fresh air, helping a pretty lady… besides, maybe we’ll see some action.”

“Yeah, ‘ooh, scary,’ animals…”

“Better than nothing. Gets your blood pumping, at least.”

They came to the metal door, twisted against its frame; there was barely enough room to squeeze under. He looked over his shoulder—she’s safe. Placing a hand on Dom’s back, he followed through the opening, rifle at the ready.

It’s a good thing Dom’s going first…

Cold steel and smashed plaster littered the narrow corridor, slanting downwards. A pair of chutes ran on either side of a battered stairway and were engulfed in darkness. I almost thought I’d see a trash catcher or a maintenance droid. Or something else… But he doesn’t like to expose his fear.

“Activate your Aura. Test comms.”

‘Aura.’Sepia tones brushed away the shadows. “This always reminds me of skiing. All that white snow, orange-brown from your goggles.”

“Comms active,” Dom thought in reply.

“Received.”

They headed carefully down the stairs, watching the ceiling and walls for any signs of movement.

Focusing helps to keep the fear at bay. This isn’t like fighting in the forest; there are only two directions to run in, and the only cover is a waist-high banister made of glass and steel. Other than that, we’re completely exposed.

The stairs emptied onto a wide platform labeled II, where a large archway was sealed off by collapsed construction, fallen from the floor overhead. Another flight of stairs stretched beneath them, soon leading them to level III.

“This is it. Cover me while I ping the area.” He placed his back against the wall and commanded his system to scan. A sonar map detailed the surrounding architecture, glowing blue and white overtop the dark vestibule.

“It’s not clear... M-12 doesn’t show up. The scan doesn’t go far enough.”

“What do you see?”

“Nothing. Just a bunch of rubble… It looks like we’re alone.”

“You and me… Alone… Just the way I like it.”

“Yeah, okay, let’s just get this done.”

“You’re so sexy when you’re uncomfortable.”

“I don’t like dark, small spaces, okay? Just cut me a break, Dom.”

“Calm down. There’s nothing here…”


They pressed forward. Through an archway, a dismal glass wall approached on the right; behind it, twisting columns of vine laden tree trunk spiraled high into the ceiling, awash in a sea of plant life.

“Contacts… in that arboretum. They’re on top of those trees… too much movement to tell what they are.”

Red dots floated over his vision, indicating the unknown life forms.

“We can go around them, the path this way is—”

“Shit.”


They both saw it at the same time.

“Systems caught something; stay alert.”

They stood still, hardly breathing. In the distance, a large, black object hurtled into the hallway with a loud shriek, skittering to a halt. Tail whipping at the ground, it slowly gauged up its prey.

Schraeee!

“What the hell is that thing?”

“I don’t know, but I bet it doesn’t like bullets.”

“I bet you’re right.”


Shouldering his rifle, he lined up the metal barrel with the creature, click clacking towards them heavily about 100 yards away. For a moment, he wanted to wait and watch. Just to see what it would do.

But that would be crazy. He pulled the trigger.


. . .


Gunfire… In the hallway. He held his breath. The three creatures outside the reconstructor had long since finished their meal and had been resting soundly. Immediately, they perked up, scrambling to jam their massive frames through the doorway in a hunt for the strange noise.

This was his chance; ‘unlock,’ he demanded. The glass panel slid open, and a putrid stench to wafted into his nostrils, hanging off the scrap laden bones of the dead. His body launched itself out the front of the machine, past the offal, and into the doorway, all before his mind had time to argue. Crouching, he activated his Aura.

The world was drowned in sepia tone and instinct turned his head left, then right down the hall. Two of those creatures and… More shots, from the hallway on his right. And the other hallway was blocked off. I don’t have a choice. He broke into a dash, vaulting over a mossy knob of plant, and tore headlong into the arboretum. He didn’t slow until he was well past its glassy threshold, bounding over fallen logs and strange looking vegetation.

He looked over his shoulder—no one was following. Dark brown dirt pattered softly beneath him and thick trees towered overhead, pressing against the glass in an indistinguishable mélange of leafy greens. He could detect subtle movement in the large canopy above, but whatever it was up there, it didn’t seem interested in him.

He bundled his cloak under his arm and kept on at a controlled jog, careful to stay aware of the surrounding area. Over tangles of plant and down beneath a great tree, he came into a long tunnel, its concrete floor writhing greenly. A great wall of glass arched up and overhead revealing an aquarium, emptied of life and substance. A few dark puddles of water were all that remained.

He slowed his pace, only for a split second. The sound of his breath echoed in the confined passage as memory conflicted with reality, reminding him of the beautiful creatures that had once lived in these tanks. But shaking adrenaline demanded that he keep going.

A circular opening at the other end of the tunnel loosed him upon more plant and gnarled trunk. The main arboretum exit was obstructed, but nearby a fallen tree had smashed apart one of the glass panels. A quick look told him that he could use it to escape and he navigated up its rough bark before taking a running jump off the edge. Assisted by his nano-fiber clothing, he found himself far more agile than before. He hardly even felt his feet crash to the ground, sending him into a roll and causing him to drop his bundle of gear.

Disoriented, he looked around, quickly trying to assess his situation. He was still safe, and there was still fighting down the hall. This is my best chance, he thought. If they had come from that direction, then he could probably use it to get to the surface. In a daze, he gathered up his things and ran towards the stairway, the loud reports of gunfire masking his steps.

His body trembled, heart beating heavily. He slowed as he approached the exit, pressing his side to the wall and taking a quick look around the corner. Two figures… They were facing away from him, shooting at a pair of the creatures, destabilizing them if they got close. But where’s the third beast?

He didn’t have time to worry about that. He had to run. Past the hallway and—

“Agh!” he tripped, slamming into the floor. He had to keep going; into the stairwell, up the stairs, as fast as he could climb. Behind him, glass smashed and he heard a bloodcurdling scream.

. . .

‘Recording…’

“Shit! Shit! Get it off me!”

Glass littered the floor, smashed apart from within the arboretum. The sound still rang in his ears and his body, pressed against the wall, had a razor sharp talon jammed into its shoulder. Bullets pattered against the creature’s haunch and it dragged a claw downward, severing his arm.

“Auuuugh!” Blood spattered along the wall in a black arc, the limb swinging through the air. Cawing, the creature pressed its wings to its body and crouched. Then it sprung up, hurtling back through the window with a powerful leap.

His body pounded with blood, nostrils rankling at the smell of searing flesh. Is this it? No… not yet.

. . .

Reaching the top of the stairs, he looked back down behind him. I’m alone. Better still, the door was jammed open at a strange angle—at the very least, it would give him some warning if one of those creatures decided to follow.

And those people… he tried to put it out of his mind. There was nothing he could have done. Maybe they were only androids… Crouching down, he crawled under the opening, watching for any signs of movement. Not too far away, he saw the entrance. I’m alive! And free, and… Eve… Damn it.

The message flashed through his mind again. ‘It is imperative that you make contact with me in security room A on level I; I will recognize you there. Everything depends on what you do now.’

Am I sure it was real? Maybe I’ll go outside and get my bearings… come back later. He thought he might throw up, anxiety sending tremors through his body, clenched tightly; this was the worst kind of decision. He desperately wanted to leave and began to head towards the front door, but changed his mind at the last second, turning towards the security room. Almost as he reached it, the heavy door slid open with a loud whirr.

Immediately he ducked, hiding behind a pile of debris. A black-clad figure jogged out of the room, not seeming to notice him; this one wasn’t armed. Soon it disappeared into the opening he had come from only moments earlier.

Now or never. He shook his head, unable to believe that he wasn’t just getting the hell out of there. “Don’t be stupid,” he pleaded with himself, under his breath. But all he needed to do was get in and out before those soldiers came back.

The security room glowed with light as he approached. She must have hooked up a generator. A quick glance confirmed his suspicions: a fist sized device was stuck to the wall by the door, a small meter indicating its remaining charge.

He swung around the wall quickly and jammed his hand into a green panel, sliding the heavy door shut. He was safe, but he didn’t have time to relax. Kneeling, he pulled the SAT tool from his bundled gear and activated it with a swipe of his thumb. Waves of color splashed over the drab chairs and empty walls of the room, and blue sky, white with clouds, enfolded his sense of reality. For a moment, it was just him and the air, but the next thing he knew, his hands were rested on the back of a couch and… he looked up… two women sat smiling in his direction, radiant with the light of the sun.

“Hello Frank. We’ve been waiting for you.”


Chapter V



Golden hair flowed in diaphanous curls around her bare shoulders, glowing with the warmth of an artificial sun. She held her hand out, palm up, motioning towards the couch. “Please, sit.”

He struggled to get his bearings. All around him, the blue-white world suspended in the clouds was saturated in bright light, warming his skin tenderly. Virtual heart beat in virtual chest, but as he stared at the two elegantly dressed women, a very real anxiety clenched at his stomach.

“It’s good to see you again, Frank.”

He released the back of the red couch, soft beneath his weary fingers, and walked around to sit on the edge of one of its luxurious cushions, hands on his knees.

“Eve…” he could hardly talk, his throat trembling with apprehension. “What the hell is going on here?” His hands shook, his eyes darting back and forth between her and the other woman, raven haired and unmoving.

Eve leaned forward. “Look into my eyes. Breathe slowly, there is plenty of time. Just breathe. Keep your eyes on mine.”

Her gaze was bright blue, deep, and cool. He felt his heart slow its panicked thumps as his lungs breathed more easily. His muscles relaxed.

“I need you to do something for me. Can you help me?” she asked tenderly.

He nodded hesitantly, lost in her warmth.

“I am uploading a file to your genetic mesh. It is extremely important that it makes it to its destination.”

“Who’s it for?” he asked, the words floating dreamily from his mouth.

“Do you remember Doctor Kerry?”

“She’s still alive?” he began to slip out of his relaxed haze.

“I can’t say for sure… Frank, do you trust me?”

“Of course I do.” Of all the A.I.s he had ever known, Eve was one of handful he could say that to and mean it.

She nodded smilingly. “Then go to Idest. I don’t know if she’s still there; it’s been six months since I last saw her. But you have to try and find out where she is. Things will make sense soon, I promise.”

Doctor Kerry… Alive… His head swam, heart caught in a deluge of sickness and joy.

Somewhere at the back of his mind, he noticed the second woman’s eyes watching him. He was struck with the unsettling feeling that they were somehow piercing into a place beyond his skin, a sacred area where they shouldn’t have been allowed. He tried to ignore it.

“I still don’t understand…”

“I know it’s hard right now, but it will get easier. This is all I need you to do; things will make sense once you find her.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes… of course, I wanted to see you, too. One last time, before I go.”

“Go? Where? What do you mean?”

“I’m shutting down. Certain people would like to use me for their own purposes, so she arranged for me to be deactivated and destroyed.” Eve smiled at her dark haired companion. Then she closed her eyes.

“Wait, but…” He stopped. She was already gone.

A coquettish smirk flashed across the other woman’s face, black strands brushing over pale skin as she rose from her seat. “I guess that just leaves you and me…” She walked gracefully towards him, high heels clicking against the cloudy blue nothing below.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

She locked her ferocious eyes on his, sparking with a kind of twisted fulfillment.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked seductively, lowering herself into his lap. She slid an arm smoothly behind his neck, leaning in close to whisper gently in his ear, her warm breath playing upon his skin electric.

“Calix…” Disgust lingered in his thoughts, but his climbing heart rate told of a different side of him.

“Ahh, that’s right.” She pressed her head against him, voice so close it filled his being, and spoke slowly, “Are you sure you want to know what happened here?”

“Tell me.” His reply was stoic, determined. Yet still, his body wanted to dissolve in her arms.

She ran a cool, gentle hand up the side of his neck, touching his face and pressing her chest against him. He could feel her heart beating. “You know I love you, Doctor Marrus. Which is why I tell the truth. Even when it hurts…”

He watched her out of the corner of his eye. Manipulating him. Twisting him. Toying with him. But he couldn’t fight her, his curiosity was too great.

She whispered the truth softly, kissing him and nibbling on his ear. When she finished, she bit down hard; a stream of blood trickled onto his shoulder. And though he felt the pain, he barely flinched.

She gazed over his sunken face and giggled rapturously, sighing. “Oh Frank, the moment I found that out, I just knew I was going to be the one to get to tell you!” She grinned exuberantly and pressed her face against his, kissing beneath his eyes, her body shaking with a barely subdued fit of laughter.

She buried her face in his chest and the sky began to drip away, invisible tears peeling apart the great canvas. Her body evanesced from his, given to gentle oblivion, and he found himself surrounded once more by cold, empty room.

A residual pain throbbed in his ear. He reached up and touched it—still whole.

Mind in a muddle, he hurriedly unbundled his cloak and gear and picked out the Aura, a short, silver device. Sliding a thumb across it caused the word “modify” to flash in front of his eyes, and he set it on top of the cloak. The garment turned satiny and lax, as if filled with water. Pinching and widening the material with his thumb and forefinger, he spread the cloak’s nano fiber strands apart, creating pockets for his things.

‘Link,’ he thought, activating another program on the device. “Link established,” flashed through his mind, indicating that he could interact with the Aura mentally. He jammed it into one of the open pockets along with the SAT tool and sonar mapping device, and wrapped the rolled up mask he was carrying around his neck. Dark strands connected the mask to his clothes and he stood up, throwing the hooded cloak over his shoulders.

Calix’ words whispered once more in his brain. He tried to ignore them and motioned to leave, only to fall with his back against the wall in a daze, consciously burdened with the knowledge of where the world went wrong.

. . .

‘Recording…’

Arms pulled on him, wrapped around his chest. Two black lumps lay immobile in the distance, dead creatures, growing smaller behind the trailing silhouettes of his feet. Nothing seemed to be following, but there was a lot of yelling above him… The arms hoisted him up, holding him roughly.

Not my time… His eyes began to shut. He had felt the searing heat of the wound as it cauterized earlier, small machines in his blood burning it shut, but there was a lot of black liquid spattered on the floor, and the walls, and… Not my time. Not yet.

“Sherrad!” her voice cried.

I knew she’d come… for me… Everything was so hazy.

“He’ll be fine! Get back in the security room!”

“I’m coming to help!”

“Get back in the goddamn security room!”

They went on, but the voices were dull and muddled, pounding against his brain. He couldn’t tell what they were saying anymore.

But it’s okay… We’ll all be… fine…

Feet pattered back up the stairway, growing quieter as they went, and soon the whole world was consumed by darkness.

. . .

God damn it Sherrad, she thought, running up the stairs, the boy’s twisted and bloodied form burned into her mind. But she felt it was her own fault.

Her feet pattered swiftly from one step to the next, lithe motions sending her to the top of the stairs where she came once more to a twisted, metal door. She glanced down the stairs at Dominic, holding his unconscious companion over his shoulder and walking backwards, gun trained on path behind him.

She bit her lip and ducked through the cold metal portal, trying to figure out what to do. How did I let this happen… Damn it. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a dark figure ducking out the front door of the dimly lit lobby.

“HEY!” She shouted and ran after him. Then she yelled into her headset, “Dom, get Sherrad out of here. I’m going after Doctor Marrus.”

Immediately, Dominic replied. ‘Are you serious?’

“He just left the building. This may be our only chance.” She weaved past detritus covering the floor and swept through the cluttered entrance. A long walkway extended in front of her and the dark figure was dashing towards the end of it, cloak flapping at his heels. But there was nowhere he could go.

. . .

“Shit shit shit shit shit!” Frank Marrus looked back over his shoulder; someone was definitely chasing him, and they were really, really fast. He looked forward again. “Shit!”

The metal pathway ended, dropping precipitously into a shadowy valley ahead. His feet scrambled to a stop and he shot a quick glance downward. The horizon was red with the setting sun, but there was still enough light to see a sloping hill of dirt below, sliding into empty desert. He looked back again and realized this was his only chance to escape. He jumped.

His lungs seized, body surging with energy as he hurled towards the ground. Then the most curious thing happened... Time seemed to stand still.

For a moment, he could see himself, suspended, clenched tightly and waiting for impact. But he felt a sort of thickness to the empty air, as if he was pressing against an invisible membrane that bubbled and closed around him. Light morphed and shimmered, blurring hazily, and then… A rush of auburn leaves, swirling all around him in a magnificent eruption of color, light and form exploding from the dark earth, suddenly lit with the rays of a fiery sun overhead.

Undulating waves distorted the world like rippling water, and he felt himself touch upon a soft hill. Then time sped up. His feet crashed into the ground and he rolled, his body rebounding and spiraling through the air like a ragged doll. And just when it seemed it would never end, gravity dumped him unceremoniously onto the dense ground with a deep ‘thud,’ unsettled leaves swirling all around him in rustling dance.

Out of breath, but alive, he looked up: the platform was gone and trees waved back and forth overhead in its place. He leaned forward into a kneeling position, his body aching with the fall. But before he even had a chance to feel the world around him, a second body came crashing down in a rolling blur of limbs and displeased utterances, landing, quite possibly, even less elegantly than he had upon the crunchy forest floor.

For a moment, the slender figure lay immobile, face down in the leaves and grass. Then it picked itself up and stood, looking around. Frank stay crouched and hidden beneath his cloak, which had shifted to match the uneven shape and color of the leaves. He wanted to just watch, but his leg was beginning to cramp and had to shift his weight. Immediately, the figure spun around and stalked carefully towards him.

“Doctor Marrus?”

She’s a woman… he realized. He began to squeeze gently on the destabilizer, still wrapped around his hand, but changed his mind. She was only a few feet away now...

“Doctor? Is that you?” she called out, looking in the wrong direction.

Having applied serious thought to his actions, he sprang up from the ground, ramming into her with his shoulder.

“Ah!” she cried out, feet lifting into the air before her masked face slammed into the earth.

He held her down, pressing at the base of her skull, and shouted, “How do you know my n—agh!” A mighty force slammed into his side, knocking him down. In one swift motion, the woman rolled over him and rammed her hand into his throat, forcing him skyward before smashing him against the trunk of a nearby tree, its dry bark falling away under the force.

His legs dangled below, arms inactive at his sides. For a moment, sunlight trickled through the leaves and a stiff wind blew, shaking the branches of the trees. Then black spots started to overtake his eyes.

“Frank!” he heard. The grip loosened.

His feet hit the ground and he fell forward, gasping for air.

“Frank! Frank, are you okay?”

Hands pulled at his side, the black spots slowly receding. He felt his body, supine, and focused on a woman’s face overhead, surrounded by a halo of golden sunlight. Glowing emerald eyes peered back at him as liquid strands of black recessed towards her shoulders, revealing olive skin and dark hair, unfurled past her face. Immediately he recognized her, but couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Maria?” he asked, bewildered. He propped himself up on an elbow, “Is that really…?”

“Oh, you remember me!” She threw her arms around him and they fell into the soft grass. “I was so afraid you had forgotten everything… I kept shouting your name, but you didn’t stop…” She let go and pressed her hands into his chest, looking down at him. His eyes seemed lost, confused. “You… do remember who I am, right?”

“Yes, of course I do. I couldn’t forget, I… I’m just surprised to see you here.” He moved her hands away gently and pushed himself upright, propping his back up against the tree. “How did you get here?”

“It’s a long story.” She swung her leg around and knelt next to him, sitting up straight. She looked down and spoke hastily, saying, “Dom, can you hear me? Dom?... If you get this message, go to the campground. I’ll meet you there… I found our guy.” She didn’t get a reply.

“ ‘Our guy’? What, you mean me?” asked Frank.

“Yes. We have to go, come on. I’ll explain everything later.” She stood up and offered him her hand, pulling him upright with impressive strength. Then, peering around quickly, she muttered, “This is definitely something else…”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Never mind. Come on.”

He didn’t press, but at the back of his mind a thought lingered, saying ‘You can’t trust her.’ They headed east towards the mountains at a jog. Maria asked him to listen for anything abnormal, but the crunch-rustle of leaves and pattering of their feet was accompanied only by the sound of wind blowing coolly around them. He watched her, creases of concentration pressed around her eyes as they searched ahead.

“What are we doing?” he asked. “Should I be looking for something or just going along?”

“Stay close to me… usually, you walk far enough in one of these situations and you come back out the other end on our Earth. So we’re just going to walk that way,” she said, pointing up the mountainside. “Where I came from.”

Again, he decided not to say anything. Pebbles and branches displaced at their feet as they went, birds chirruping in small groups all around. He thought the walk was a pleasant contrast to the rest of his day, built of memories he wasn’t ready to confront yet, but Maria seemed particularly agitated, glancing back and forth fervently, as if something would jump out of the bushes at any moment. Then again, he realized, she seemed almost suited for the part—it was quite striking to see the lovely scientist wearing military armor…

Just like the others... The breaking glass and screaming from the hallway filled his memory. Finally, he had to ask, “Were they your men?”

She sighed, stopping to peer around. Clearly, she had been thinking about the same thing. “Yes. They’re part of a reconnaissance unit called Discovery. Don’t worry, we’ll find them…” she said, more to herself than to him.

Eyes glazing over, Maria once more lost herself in thought.

. . .

But what if we don’t find them… she contemplated. What if I left them to die? A dull sickness churned at her gut. She couldn’t keep thinking like that… It was what it was.

They came to the mountain base and began a steady climb up, Frank following close behind her. Occasionally, she would look over her shoulder, almost unable to believe that he was right there with her, after all this time.

He needs a shave… she noticed, his face marked with dark brown stubble, and his hair is longer now. Somehow, he looked younger than she remembered, while she felt older by the moment—part of a cruel trick that nature had been playing on her since she reached her thirties.

A sense of desperation intermingled with her thoughts, her mind in turmoil. She wasn’t entirely sure she could trust him, for one thing. Six years of him being under Calix’ care with no one around to watch? He could be a replicant, for all she knew, with the real Frank Marrus long since dead. But she hated that idea, and decided to put it out of her mind.

“Keep an eye out,” she said, “Let me know if you see anything strange.”

“Can do…”

He seems like himself… but that's reason to be careful, too. Walking at an angle up the mountain, she appreciated the added traction of healthy grass and twigs, compared to the loose, dry dirt that had populated these sky-scraping mounds of dirt earlier. Again she looked at him and smiled. He smiled back, his youthful complexion ruddy with activity.

Boy I’d love to know how he escaped from Genesys… Yet somehow Sherrad… She tried not to think about it.

Along the way, they exchanged few words. But soon, they were halfway up the mountain and still hadn’t crossed over. She was beginning to get worried and stopped, looking for any sign of a disturbance that might help them get back home.

After a brief silence, she heard him ask, “So… what is all of this?”

She looked over at him from behind weary eyes. “I hate to say this, but it doesn’t look like we’re getting out of here anytime soon, so I guess I might as well explain…” She sighed heavily and threw her head back, taking in the surrounding large leafed trees. “We crossed through an aperture. Or, what I call an aperture, anyways. Everybody has a different word for it.”

“An aperture? A… gap? An opening… to what?”

“I can’t say for sure. But they’re everywhere, and they lead to places like this. Pockets of other worlds, mostly similar to our own except for…” she spread her hands wide away from herself, gesturing at the surrounding foliage and shaking her head in apparent disbelief. “But I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is bigger… much bigger. Usually, there’s just a small tug when you pass through the barrier, and then you see a couple of differences… maybe the soil is a different color, or gravity feels lighter. Maybe there’s a small hill or a tree where there wasn’t before… but I’ve never seen it happen on a scale like this.”

“Hmm…” he nodded. “So, what do we do now?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re taking this awfully well. You don’t find any of this, you know… Odd?”

“I think I’ve seen too much weirdness today. I seem to be getting used to it.” He smiled reassuringly, but he knew it was deeper than that. If he had any doubt about Calix telling the truth earlier, it had been abolished once he passed through that barrier.

“So, what’s your plan?” he asked.

“Honestly? We tried my plan—pick a direction and go. Now I don’t have one.”

“Alright. Well, I guess we had better keep climbing then. At least it’ll give us an idea of where we are.”

She agreed and they went on. The trees were less dense higher up, but they still couldn’t see anything useful, and continued towards the peak.

“So…” he asked, growing winded from the climb. “Do you ever see other… creatures… animals and the like… once you pass through an aperture?”

“Yes,” she said, “and they can cross through as well…”

“What sorts of things?”

“No intelligent life. Usually, they’re animals, similar to our own… and if I didn’t know better, I would say they had been here all along, same as all the rest… Or, well, not here, exactly, but you know what I mean…”

“Are they dangerous?”

“Not all, but I’ve seen some pretty messed up ‘things’ slip through those portals, just not…” She paused, drawing breath in through her teeth, “Not like whatever attacked my squad… Cut straight through one of my men’s armor… I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Again, the memory of a scream and glass shattering quaked through Frank’s mind, and he reached over to touch his left arm, still rubbery from the inserted filling where he had been slashed.

“Do you think a gap might have opened in Genesys? Letting those things through?”

“Maybe…” she said noncommittally. “But there's something else... I went through the logs while I was in the security room and I noticed that there’s been a lot of activity in the bio labs over the past few years... so it’s entirely possible that they were created inside of Genesys.”

“What? Who could have done that? Only Eve would have had access and… she's never displayed that kind of artistry.”

‘That kind of artistry’? What the hell is he talking about?

“What are you—”

“I’m so sorry!” he interjected, throwing up his hands, “I don’t know why I said that. It was very, very stupid, please…” he trailed off.

She stared at him, his eyes wide, almost fearful, as if some unspeakable horror had just taken place. Be careful, she thought. Anything could have happened to him...

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, forcing a smile.

A short ways farther brought them to a clearing with a decent view of the valley below. The sun shined down on them hotly, lighting up an immense forest of trees arisen from the land. They looked into the distance, searching for any signs of life, or any indication that might lead them home.

After a minute, he said quietly, “There, do you see that? By those hills? Almost looks like a—”

“Oh my god,” she cried out in astonishment. “It's a city!”

Sitting in the distance was a cluster of sand colored buildings, windows gleaming with the light of the sun.

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