Chapter XIII: Zero
My entire body ached relentlessly…
I felt my cheekbone pushed hard upon cold concrete below, a thin pain releasing as I carefully lifted my head. My vision assorted itself and I pushed myself up from the floor. How many times would I encounter periods of nothingness in this facility?
Fortunate just to be standing, I stumbled around in an attempt to get a grip with my surroundings. There was just one, ill-placed lamp above, creating a spotlight with a short radius around. Strange, digital screens were visible outside of the perimeter, solely due to their lit displays. There stood a couple of lengthy tables with unorganized seats abound, as if some hasty get-together had occurred. My study of the vicinity ended when I spotted once more the reddened, limp body of Gina just before me.
Time was of the essence. I lifted Gina to one of the tables so that I could make a diagnosis of her state. I lay her down upon the flat surface comfortably so I could observe her mysterious heartbeat as well as her injuries. One partially healed bullet wound to the back of the right thigh, one deep bullet wound to the upper-left arm, and one grave bullet wound to the lower-left side of the chest, having possibly penetrated organs. The outlook was grim.
Neglecting the room in which I stood, I placed all of my focus on Gina. Back to what I had noted earlier, I immediately held her palm up with one hand, and made a careful study with the other. Gently, I placed a finger between the index and thumb of her hand. I carefully increased the firmness in which I pressed, adjusting until I felt a good connection with the thinly veiled vein. I closed my eyes as if disconnecting from everything else. This was it.
At first, I felt no sign as I had before, no pulse of any form. It was a long while, but just as I was about try another method, I felt the heartbeat. I noted two very interesting things. First, by what I had just experienced, it felt to me not that I had just now caught her distant pulse, but that the pulse had only begun when I held her hand. It was unusual, but I kept the theory in mind. Second, I could not help but notice the wavering cold I felt in my left hand; its fingers wrapped around Gina’s wrist as my other hand checked the pulse. What was so mysterious was that the cold sensation followed her pulse, fading as her vital signs faded, making itself known just as her heartbeat did.
For a short moment, I felt lightheaded. Though I wondered why, I decided to ignore it for now. Still holding Gina’s wrist with one hand, I finally moved from checking her pulse to simply observing her in general. I dared not look any longer at her bullet wounds; they only hurt me more. There was nothing that could be done of them. My attention was on this strange beat, this unreachable hope. Gina hung upon the edge of life and death; maybe I could bring her back… if I only had a way.
Then, I felt something peculiar. While dwelling within my own mind, I quickly noticed the stinging heat that grew within my hand. I looked over to find that the hand that held Gina’s wrist was doused in a thin aura positively familiar to me. The golden tint among the air around it was welcoming. Nothing more happened, but just a silent, still minute of that frozen image. I dared not move.
There was life in her still… The ability encoded within her genetic structure, her natural healing skill, was trying as hard as it could. Whatever thin vitality remaining inside that body used all of its might to heal, but it just was not enough. I felt the ice-cold sensation; I was losing her again. That shining flare began to fade; the golden glow diminishing. I moved my hand in an effort to assist the healing process; however, that turned out to be a mistake.
Immediately the light was gone and the unnerving darkness around fell over once more. Curious, I moved a little so that I stood just beside Gina as she lay upon the table. A thought ran through my mind… an idea. Carefully, I placed her palm within mine. I held her hand as tight as I could and tensed my muscles. The thin glow returned, filling the air with great warmth as it had before; as I closed my eyes and put all of my force behind my actions, I was pleasantly surprised even further.
After some time, I opened my eyes to find that my arm was ignited in the burning, red light that it had shown several times before. Now it appeared that my ability was activated; pressure built up within my arm as I felt it glow in that strong scarlet tint. I could only hope that something spectacular would occur. How little I expected to be right…
The feeling in my arm seemed to jump about. For a moment, I would feel warm and full of life, my arm displaying a powerful glow as it flowed with that internal energy. Then, just seconds later, everything would become cold and grim; that luminosity fading to a dim presence and fatigue washing over me. I could not understand what was occurring, nor could I believe my eyes. I caught sight of the colors beginning to spread; the red glow of my arm seemed to crawl up to my shoulder and equally, down along the length of my arm straight to Gina. I stayed still and patient, confident in the capacity of my skill to change the course of fate.
Gina’s hand still showed the weak light of life, the thinning golden manifestation giving me reason to continue. This was the decisive moment; the sign of my strength had snaked its way down my arm to the wrist. Then, the most remarkable thing happened. When the two colors met, there was an abrupt flash of light. The process ramped up its speed. I began to feel a strong pull within my arm, as if someone yanked hard upon my hand. Yet there was no movement. The powerful reaction occurring was creating a field of energy, invisible yet ever so present. I could feel the air distort around me. I kept my grasp for as long as I could; keeping my attention on what was happening just before my eyes.
The aura of my biotic ability soared from my hand to Gina’s; it made my body lose a significant amount of heat. I could only hope that things were going as I wished. When that red light climbed up Gina’s arm, it began to blend into a distinct shade of orange; our powers were colliding. Was the unrivaled strength of my ability empowering the healing within Gina? Now that the colors had formed into a beautiful orange glow, it sped up and ran through her body. I watched as her entire form became enveloped with that radiance of life, all the while my body beginning to feel frail and twisted.
When I heard those sounds of metal on metal, I knew exactly what they were. The two remaining bullet wounds disposed of their contents, the gun-born projectiles being forced from her body as an intense recuperation ran throughout her. Everything seemed to move faster and faster, I felt as if I was losing my sense of reality. Her wounds closed up, the layers of spilt blood seemed to fade, and all the while, it felt as if my soul was being torn from me. Suddenly, the great orange spark exploded into a magnificent golden light, a source so bright, it eclipsed the world around me. Just as that light took over, I felt a powerful force reverse; Gina’s body no longer pulling me in, but in fact, pushing with great might. The remaining glow within my arm shut off, and the next thing I knew, I had been launched across the room by the spectacular force.
I was freezing; my body seemed to be shutting down. What plagued me so? I had no energy, no power within me to do anything. So suddenly, I just wanted to rest. I knew I could do so in peace. I looked ahead; the room’s only light shining upon Gina. I felt my eyes try to force themselves closed, but I kept watching. A jolt shocked my body, a reaction as I saw the impossible. Her eyes still closed, Gina raised a palm to her forehead as she shifted in place. There was a strained groan and she raised her back to sit up. Like a figure awoken from a lengthy slumber, she seemed to waver a little before she finally opened her eyes. It only took a moment for her expression to become one of disbelief. Her eyes wide, she looked to her hands and her body. She remembered everything.
Glancing about, it was not long before she saw me. To her presence, I tried to pull myself up. I simply could not. Whatever I had done to save my friend came at a great cost, one I would not understand until the distant future. For now, my only wish had become reality and I was eternally grateful. I threw an open hand to Gina but I felt myself fading.
She vaulted from the table to the firm ground, falling over as she rushed to me. I tried to speak but my system refused to carry out my desires. I knew my work was done, yet still I could not believe my eyes. Once Gina reached me, I had fallen into a leaning position against the wall. It appeared that I was going to drift into my own remedial sleep, though I was able to leave a weak smile on my way out.
“I… I don’t understand…”
Gina stuttered as she looked to me, trying to follow what might have occurred while she was, essentially, dead. She dreaded awaking to this sight, but it was I who had seen much more tragic scenes.
“Marlin… how? How did you-“
I was able to raise my hand to her face; everything had gone into that one action and it would be the last movement I made, my fingers rolling through her black hair. She held my hand to her… I became locked within a gaze. I met her stare, and I found all that I needed to see; the loveliest hue of blue thrived within those eyes… I was so thankful to see them once again. I had missed that vivid color, that wonderful source of life. I could have watched them forever.
The blur began to take form; my sight was leaving me. I needed to let my body rest. As Gina and I had quickly learned, our abilities had unbelievable potential, but that power came at the cost of the entire body’s stability. I had hoped that she knew I was all right.
It was lights out for me, I felt my eyes roll back and my body slump over. This was not the most ideal time to rest; not the best time to recover… but I just could not control my body…
A vision? It felt like it had been so long since I encountered one last…
Another remnant of my past haunted me…
Distant memories… from a distant world.
I heard footsteps; they did not approach or depart, for they were my own. When my vision was restored, I was once more witnessing what must have been a fragment of my past. I watched diligently, viewing the scene from my own perspective. I steadily walked along a thin hall. It was sided by dark wood paneling and dimmed fluorescent lamps. I did not recognize the location in any way; yet I sensed that, obviously, I had at the time. I was approaching one particular door amidst others in the hall. As I moved closer to that door, I suddenly realized that within one hand, I held a tight grasp upon a thin folder of documents.
Stopping just before the door, I gained valuable insight to where I was. The closed door had a room number, “691”; this must have been an apartment building or even a hotel of some sort.
Glancing around, I assured myself that there were no peering eyes and proceeded to make my way inside the room ahead. Quietly, the vision played on; this replay of a memory continued and I watched from my own view, aware that there was no way to interact. I could only wait and see.
“Marlin, did you check out the scoop?”
As I was closing the door tightly, the voice had taken me by surprise, when I turned around; I spotted a figure, just raised from its chair, residing beside a desk bathed in various documents. He was a young man, dressed neatly yet his presence was executed poorly. Something about the expression he held enduringly gave the impression that he was never satisfied with what met his eyes. By the sudden briskness of my own movements, I noted that we must have had a volatile history.
“I’m afraid I have…”
Leaning on the edge of frustration, I made a short approach to the man’s desk. Seeing my arrival, he lowered back into his chair and was quite suddenly annoyed. It was clear he did not agree with the tone of my response.
“What now? Huh, Marlin? What’s wrong with this one?”
“Kevin, you know very well I do not write about these affairs. You play a dangerous game… that is assuming you found this… situation. Am I correct?”
Kevin, as he was assumedly called, now stood back up. He straightened his jacket and began a slow pace around the desk towards me. In the midst of his wandering approach, he released a long and tiring sigh.
“The problem with you… is that you’re always right. Yes, I did actually figure this one out on my own. I’m the best at what I do; you just need to catch me on a good day-”
He stopped just beside me, the perfect distance for me to deliver my reply.
“If that’s so, don’t you find it unusual that you’re good days have yet to show themselves?”
“Now you listen here…”
Infuriated by my responses, Kevin raised a harsh finger and pushed against my chest.
“You’d better cover this story Marlin, because if you don’t, I will. You got lucky that the manager assigned you to write this… this bombshell, but he could just as easily pass it on to me-“
“Nobody will write about this.”
“So you’re refusing to do it?”
Bluntly, I threw Kevin’s hand aside and lay the folder upon the desk nearby.
“Do not get involved in this, it will cost you your life-“
“You’re overreacting, it’s just an inside job-“
“Kevin, you do not understand these people.”
“And what, you do?”
Exasperated, he grabbed the folder and pushed it against me. I held it once more, against my will.
“Just do it Marlin, just shut up and do it.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s not going to happen.”
Hastily, I turned back to leave the room, the discussion was over. I was not intent on participating on whatever action we spoke of. At the door, I tossed the folder into a garbage bin nearby.
“Marlin, you’re making a big mistake.”
“I’m not the one making the mistake here.”
Promptly, I shut the door to his room as I departed. I knew not what this man and I spoke of; I had not recovered my memory enough to understand the images and sounds I witnessed. Like all visions that I experienced, it was important to note that it may have been an illusion, or even a dream. Any information I could extract from my senses during a vision could only be used as reference and therefore, was not to be viewed as a basis of reality. Only the future could confirm the past.
As I walked back through the halls, returning from where I had arrived, I felt a wave of dizziness wash over me. The scene began to flow into a great light. I could no longer see anything…
It was as it always had been. The vision, though brief, held entire archives of information to observe. However, there was no time to decode it, and even less time to examine it in my mind once more. There were greater things at hand.
As if I had awoken from a long night’s sleep, it took me some time to open my eyes and take in my surroundings. I had returned from the vision and remained just where I had fallen into a slumber. Silent and unmoving as I was, I remained unnoticed by the figure just beside me. Sitting against the wall, Gina explored her purse. At the moment, she was discerning use of the device that was designed to display a holographic atlas. It did not function, though Gina put up a fight to see if it would work.
I dared not move, I thought it amusing to sit for a moment and watch her, for conveniently she was looking just a little away from me. Toying with the apparatus, Gina found that it would not initiate as it had in our mission together, during which it showed a three-dimensional map when held parallel to the ground. She quickly lost her patience with the object, shaking her head as she swiftly slipped it back into her purse. With nothing to look at, she simply slumped her head downwards and turned to my direction. Her eyes deviated, following the floor towards me until she appeared to look straight to my hand. Then she continued to track my arm upwards. She finally met my open eyes.
She was caught by surprise and for a short moment, appeared to flinch back, but once she noted my state of awareness, she returned her focus to me.
“I’m… I can’t… Are you okay?”
“Yes, I feel just fine. I just needed a short rest; forgive me for the wasted time.”
“You don’t need to worry about that, your health is more important than something as simple as time.”
Gina slowly stood up, raising herself just ahead of me so that she could assist me ascent.
“Here, hold my hand.”
With an outstretched arm, Gina awaited my grasp. When our hands met, she immediately pulled back in order to help me get up. Her aid brought immeasurable relief to my body.
Releasing our hold as she spoke, Gina backed up a step and prepared to continue.
“I… I wanted to say-“
I ended her words as I placed a firm hand upon her arm.
“You don’t need to say anything Gina-“
“Well, it’s just that… I can’t thank you enough. I don’t know how… but you brought me back. I really don’t know what to say…”
“There is nothing to say. What I have done for you is just what you have done for me. That is all.”
As she had done many instances before, Gina gradually nodded and then revealed a delightful smile.
“I guess you’re right…”
I cherished her expression, for the last time I saw her smile, I had believed it was the final instance in which that bliss would ever be seen. Now, there I was, once more with a friend I thought I had lost forever… Her return had only now begun to strike the chords within me.
Still gleaming in her untainted glee, she turned away and took a few steps ahead, glancing around the displays across the room. I was so relieved to see her alive and well. Had I been lucky? What brought her back from the brink of death? Maybe she had actually gone over the edge, maybe she actually did die; yet somehow, here she stood. She was as sparkling as she always had been. She did not even realize the extent of her injuries, how far into a dark world she had gone. It was a miracle; she was a miracle.
I took several steps towards her as she looked to the digital displays once more, to what appeared to be a course of screens along all of the walls. She turned to me and began to point to the displays. Whatever she saw in my eyes made her pause for a moment, and then abruptly she continued.
“While you were asleep, I looked at all of these monitors. I can’t understand most of them, there are just a few that make any sense. I think it’s safe to assume that this is some sort of control center, probably where Sir Dusk or other staff members check up on everything.”
“That’s definitely what it seems to be, though I’ll have to see the monitors you speak of, maybe we can figure something out. Can you show them to me?”
“Yes, just follow me…”
My mind continued to dwell on the wrong matters. I was ever grateful that Gina now stood before me, leading me to the particular displays she studied and in a state of perfect health. However, part of me would not stop reviewing the events that led to her… expiration. My mistakes were to blame. In her selfless acts to heal me, Gina always threw herself in the line of fire, but this time, it was more than just a risk.
I kept replaying the scene. It would do me no good, I knew that, but I had no control over where my conscience threw its thoughts.
“Are you okay?”
Less than a meter from the set of displays, Gina halted as she observed me. As usual, she was able to recognize my thought process. We had grown to know each other’s habits.
“What’s wrong Marlin?”
“Nothing, nothing’s wrong.”
She appeared unconvinced. Though she sensed I was hesitating, she continued, respecting my desire to leave the subject alone. The truth was that all I wanted to do was to explain just what happened in that hall, what transpired when I failed to protect her. This was not the time; that was a conversation for another day. We needed to continue our improvised escape, and I intended to do just that.
Aligning with one of the bright displays nearby, Gina pointed with her finger, showing me just what she spoke of before. The screens were completely obscure, but their contents, mostly text and charts, were a clear digital white. The contrast was a bit harsh on the eyes.
“Well, this is the first monitor that I got anything out of. I noticed a pattern of titles and percentages. See how they’re in columns?”
She ran her finger up and down the values. There were short acronyms of some sort; beside them were numbered percentages. There must have been a hundred rows.
“I wasn’t able to find out anything about the numbers, I don’t know what they mean, but I did find this…”
Gina abruptly ended the movement of her finger, leaving the focus on a single row of data. The three letter title of this particular row was instantly recognizable, “X-19”. That was my Miraxis Agent identification, meaning, ‘Xathoven, nineteen years of age’. To the right, the percentage value relative to my title read “87%”. I could not grasp the possible meaning of that number, and as I observed the line of information in general, I realized the significance of the row that lay just above it.
That row read “K-17”, Gina’s Miraxis Agent identification title. The percentage for her was “97%”. It was still as unclear as it was when I first spotted it.
“I’m afraid I have no idea what these numbers mean. I’m trying to see though…”
I shook my head, supporting my words with visible doubt. I looked to Gina after a few seconds; she appeared absorbed by the table of data. She moved her finger over to the percentage value for “X-19” and tapped the monitor softly.
“…This is strange. While you were asleep, this said 68%. Now it says 87%. I thought it was weird when I saw it… Nothing else seems different.”
She thought it over for a moment, but since I had not seen the numbers before, I had no worthwhile input. All the while, I was observing all of the acronyms in search of any interesting finds. The only thought that ran through my mind was that there were so many other agents, hundreds upon hundreds. Why did we never encounter more than just a few?
“Marlin, I think I know what this is…”
Gina appeared blank for a moment, thinking hard about what she theorized. Slowly, she raised her finger again, this time pointing to a noteworthy set of rows just above the bottom end of the monitor. There were five Miraxis Agent identifications, all unknown to me, but they all shared the same data.
I read the line aloud. I felt a bit of a shiver run through me. Regardless of my experience with Gina, as well as my short time on the field of action as a combatant for The Miraxis Index, the sudden concept of death washed upon me all over again. These were dead agents we were seeing within this information.
“Gina, these percentages must be a representation of life. They show an agent’s state of health.”
“But, yours says 87%, which means you’re still recovering.”
“I’m feeling perfectly fine, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Eighty-seven percent was a significant value, I was fortunate to be in good health. Gina was another story; her healing powers were unbelievably impressive. Her vitality value was 97%, as I noted before. She had received three life threatening bullet wounds, eventually resulting in what can only be described as death. She recently wondrously returned due in part to our united abilities. Just some time before, I was certain she had passed away. Regardless of these truths… how in the world did she have a vitality rating of 97%, an entire 10% above mine?
“Hey, look at that.”
Returning a finger to the monitor once again, Gina pointed straight to my liveliness percentage. It had risen one percent since we last noted it just moments before.
“So, I assume that means my body is recovering slowly. 88% is very good you know.”
“Okay then, that’s great news.”
I was under the impression that my percentage was a little low simply because I had just awoken recently and that I still felt a little tired. Maybe it was more a measure of an agent’s condition more than an actual estimate of vitality. Either way, we were both fit now. Though it was important to note, this information did not tell us much about what was really going on.
“Are all of the monitors just packed with data like this?”
“I would say most of them are, but there are a few other ones that caught my eye.
Still for a moment, Gina scrolled with her eyes until she found the monitor that appealed to her most.
“There, that’s the one that I spent some time looking at.”
Pointing loosely across the room, Gina indicated to a distant display. She then led me there hastily so that I could learn all that there was to be immersed in while we were in that strange room. When we arrived, she began to point at various sections of the screen.
“All these numbers on the right go with the horizontal bars on the left, but if you look carefully at the stacked bars, it kind of looks like-“
“-The Miraxis Index…”
I finished her thought, and she was right. It was a little overwhelming at first, but when my eyes read the image in its entirety, I realized that what we saw on that screen was in fact, a side view of the very facility we stood in. Though I had not seen it for many days, I immediately recognized that dusty environment, the fading flat plain that surrounded the facility’s ground floor. It was the place where I first encountered Avlis, where I first entered that facility. It felt like a dream…
These were not things for me to focus on now; it was more helpful to look at the present. What sort of information did this display contain about the facility? As if reading my thoughts, Gina explained her observations of that data.
“These numbers… they must represent the floors of the facility. You can actually scroll throughout the floors here.”
Gently, Gina placed a finger upon the screen and as she flicked upwards, the list of numbers scrolled up from the maximum value of one-hundred, the dormitory floor. As she scrolled, scrambled text lay beside the floor numbers, but these appeared to be encrypted titles for each floor. Eventually, she reached the bottom of the table, something she had intended to do to show me an important discovery.
“Look at this…”
At the very bottom of the list, one would expect to find the first floor or the ground floor. Instead, Gina pointed out that the lowest level read, “0 – Floor Zero”. Even more, that line of data was lit in a slight discoloration from the others, and when she tapped it, it made the facility cartography highlight a three-dimensional image of a floor below the facility. Text was displayed blinking on the view of the structure.
I read it to myself, allowing Gina’s find to spread within my mind. This was the floor we were on; we had somehow arrived on floor zero. I thought back to the anomaly I had fallen into, when I was carrying Gina and leaving the final level we were on. We fell out of the elevator… Then, I awoke here, on this floor. What did it mean?
“This is it; there isn’t anything else here that looks important. At least, I can’t find anything else.”
Grateful of her searching, I stood still as I pieced the puzzle together. We still were clueless as to what the entire situation really was, but it could only be beneficial to find ourselves in a room with such power and information over the facility.
“Gina, there’s nothing more to find, this is everything. This must be the control room.”
Suddenly optimistic, I glanced around the room looking at all the monitors.
“Can you see? All of these displays, they are controllers. The whole facility can be manipulated from here. If there is a way to escape, we’ll surely find it here.”
Enlightened by my optimism, Gina raised her intertwined hands to her chin.
“Marlin, do you really think we can get out of here?”
“We will get out of here, after everything that has happened… I have no doubt.”
Unfortunately, our spirits were disrupted. The already thin lighting of the room dimmed further and a raucous alarm rang out. Promptly, all of the various monitors switched from displaying data to flashing red text that read, “Security Alert”. Whatever internal defense the facility had was now aware of our presence; it was alerting its own personnel.
“Gina, we have to get out of here. They know we are on this floor.”
Without any direction, I grasped Gina’s hand and pulled her with me to a corner of the room. There was nothing there. There were only four corners; one had to have an exit of some sort.
“Marlin, I’ll check over there-“
Abruptly I pulled Gina back. I could not allow her to leave me, I was too afraid. The memory was too fresh.
“Let’s stay together.”
Following my voice, Gina nodded to me.
Before we could exchange words any longer, we headed together to the next corner clockwise. Fortunately, there stood a door thinly embedded in the wall, though it was locked with a digital panel mounted nearby. Something about the lock panel caught my attention, and as I tried to make a connection with a distant notion, Gina made it for me.
“Marlin, the key!”
Already prepared, she held out the Endis framed gadget that Sir Dusk had handed down to her. She had taken it straight from her purse and was confident I could use it.
“This has to be it.”
I picked up the strange key and held it to the panel. The alarms still rang endlessly, sounds so constant they seemed almost nonexistent now. The cycling red lights of an urgent situation also tried to distract us but to no avail. This was it; this was what Sir Dusk wanted us to do. Whatever stood behind that door… who knew?
I held the diminutive device up to the panel and to my disbelief, there was an immediate reaction. The black, glossy panel began to emit an electronic hum as I held the key still. Then, a crackling sound rang out, accompanied by a bright, instant flash from the key. The next thing I detected was that the pulsating presence of Endis was no longer on the key’s exterior framing, but now within the panel on the wall, and the panel’s previous black emptiness was now the design on the key. They had switched the states of their Endis’; the panel’s chemical cover was now active, and the key’s, inactive. Seconds later, there was a suppressed thump, a light shaking of the floor and walls beside us, and finally, the door slowly slid open.
An elevator stood just before us, but it was nothing like what we were used to. The royal shades were gone and the exquisite lining had vanished. It was just a bland, steel surfaced elevator. I was suddenly wrenched into the elevator by Gina. All of my idle moments of thought were of no help in a situation such as this. Once we were inside, the supposed control room was visible no longer; the elevator’s doors shut firmly and all the sounds faded. However, we hastily noted something that was quite disheartening.
“Why are we going back up?”
Appearing desperate, Gina looked for a panel upon the wall. She could find no sign of our location or its destination. Simply, like me, she stood with the nervous observation that the elevator was in fact ascending through the facility. That could only mean that we would be released back into a random floor and possibly, up against more of those Miraxis officers.
“This elevator is different than the ones we have used, it may be a utility elevator, or it could be an elevator for a different set of floors.”
Gina just looked ahead, as if gazing through that steel plated door. Now, back on another elevator heading upwards, she no longer appeared to have a bright outlook. The chances of us being hurled back into action were high, and honestly, we were not open to the idea of intense combat for the moment.
“Either way, you should stand back… just in case.”
Gina abruptly shook her head; she turned to me suddenly, pulling her gazing stare from the nothingness.
“Whatever awaits us will meet us both. I can’t hide in your shadow Marlin. I can’t put you in harm’s way.”
“We should fight side by side. No more heroics.”
“I’m sorry, but I won’t let you put yourself in danger to protect me. We’ll cover each other and fight together.”
“I’ve been altered to take hits; my abilities are designed for you to stand behind me and stay in cover.”
“Maybe, but I can’t risk it anymore.”
Though low key, our brief disagreement was a little uneasy, but the difference between us was that I had seen what resulted from needless perils; I had seen her die. That scene ran permanently through my mind, it was like a scar that would not heal. It had just one positive effect in that it would drive me to protect her more than ever.
“Every time I look at you, I see the same thing over and over again. I cannot see you get hurt-”
“You brought me back from the dead Marlin, and I owe you so much… But you can’t tell me to let you take the lead and pretend I’m not worried that you’ll get hurt.”
She held her ground strongly and I felt immense guilt. She was right; it was wrong for me to ask of her what I would not do myself.
“What happened in that hallway was my fault. Had I not fallen, you would have not needed to follow me into ruin. You tried to protect me, and I failed to return the favor.”
Gina shook her head swiftly. For a moment, she shut her eyes, as if closing out the scene. Then, to my surprise, she lightly pushed my chest and stared compulsorily, burning herself into my senses.
“Marlin… this is my final word on this. You can believe that what happened is your fault, you can believe that in some twisted way, everything that followed was yours to blame… but if you truly believe that, then you must also believe that it was you that saved me right after, it was you that brought me back to life. You’ve spared me many times Marlin; don’t make one moment change all of that…”
Gina’s eyes always appeared to be glistening in the light, and when she looked at me as she did now, it made me feel weak. She wanted me to stop feeling the way I did. Though I tried to push aside those thoughts, I found that I would never stop distressing about every situation that had the potential to put this companion in danger. Gina all that I cared for… I already lost her once, and I had no intention of letting that happen ever again.
“I need you to look into my eyes, and tell me that you’ll forget what happened. You should look at me and see life, not death. Count the number of times you’ve kept me safe, don’t look at that one uncontrollable moment where everything was going wrong. Please Marlin; you need to stop blaming yourself.”
I held back any further responses and reflected on the conversation. All the while, Gina continued to look to me in a manner that was diverting my thoughts. How could I throw away my concern when she watched me as she did now? Gina was no ordinary friend; from the moment we met, she latched to me, as I did to her. One of us always worried over the other, and regardless of her pleas, I could not bring myself to accept what happened. But…
Uncharacteristically, I let out a great sigh. I had brought some peace to myself, if only for a moment. I found that the state of affairs would help me cast aside those grim thoughts and continue on our ambitious run to escape from The Miraxis Index. Gina noted my relaxed state spoke softly out loud.
We said nothing more on the matter.
“The elevator’s slowing… get behind the sides.”
Gina nodded and stood against the elevator’s front corner just beside her, for the doors did not fill the entire front end and left a small length on each side, suitable for quick cover. I did the same on the opposing side. We waited in silence as the elevator gave audible clues to slowing down. The mechanical hums faded and I felt my body’s shift slow to a stop.
All was quiet… We knew not what to expect behind that door, yet we assumed that we would find a void segment of The Miraxis Index, a floor empty of life and under siege by the mysterious Miraxis Officers. Surely, what we found was unlike anything we had seen before.
Gina began to shift in her position; neither of us had even seen what was out there, for when the doors opened we were preoccupied with the thoughts of endless opponents facing us. I stayed in cover and observing Gina’s actions, I eventually made out what she had planned, a simple and somewhat safe test.
Gently, Gina pulled up her rifle, careful to avoid the trigger. With gentle movements, she turned the rifle backwards and held the barrel with her hands. She paused for a moment, and then eventually extended her reach as she slowly poked the weapon out and around the doorway, into the unknown. Keeping her hands hidden, she made sure that the rifle was visible to the exterior of the elevator. The sudden rain of rapid-fire salvos made her whip the rifle back into the elevator; it caught us both with startled reactions. The shots stopped as she hid the weapon from view, and all that was heard were the echoes of the rounds.
Successfully, Gina had attempted to identify the threat in a clever way; but what she came up with next was even craftier.
“Marlin, it sounds like a turret of some sort; it’s probably watching the elevator.”
As I concurred, I unsheathed my own weapon. I was to see if the effect was the same. Carefully, I held my blade straight out into the space between Gina and I, just in the opening of the elevator’s doors. As expected, the barrage of bullets rang out once more, only this time, we witnessed them entering the elevator and rebounding off the floor and the lower walls, all concentrated around the rear corner on my side. I quickly returned my weapon to stop the sudden endangerment.
“Sorry, perhaps that’s too dangerous.”
“No Marlin, that’s it!”
Gina caught a glimpse of that which I had overseen.
“What do you mean?”
Gina fell to a crouch as she remained in cover. She lowered her rifle and looked to the wasted shells scattered among the floor. Though only for a moment, the enemy’s firing rounds were insanely fast; there must have been over a hundred bullet casings lying around.
“Look at where the bullets went, downward and into your side of the elevator. If it’s a turret, it’s got to be high up and on my side of the room.”
She was right, and there was little to question about it. I thought of what could be done to counter it when once again, Gina jumped ahead of the game.
“All right… Marlin, I’ve got an idea.”
“Okay, whatever it is, it keeps shooting at anything it sees right? So maybe if we throw something into the room, it’ll keep shooting at it.”
As she spoke, I instinctively held my blade in display and she quickly agreed.
“Exactly; if you throw your blade into the room, it should keep whatever’s shooting distracted.”
“What if it’s not a turret?”
“If it’s not a turret, it wouldn’t make sense to just shoot a sword, right?”
“While it’s focused on your weapon, I’ll just lean out and take a few shots-“
“Wait a second Gina. I know that we just had this conversation, but you’re not going to expose yourself. If for any reason it turns to you-“
“Do you have any better ideas?”
She sneered, as if taunting me to develop a better plan. We were probably overconfident that we may have only faced the threat of an automated surveillance turret. Since we had spoken just minutes before, she had already taken a greater initiative in all of our actions. Gina never stood by awaiting my move; she wanted me to take the lead by her choice. After what happened to both of us in that hallway’s events, she was no longer passive in letting me throw myself forward. Though it did not suit my preferences, it was comforting to know she was concerned, as she always had been. Unfortunately, for her, this all meant nothing, for I did indeed have a greater plan then hers.
“I’m afraid that I actually have a pretty good plan. Watch and learn.”
Without warning, I held my hand out, waving to the outside in an entirely exposed position.
The bullets arrived like an earthquake, rumbling the elevator and pinging off the walls. All the while, I deflected the shots; it was the ability I received from my Miraxis Form and its biological modifications. I was completely unharmed as I pulled my arm back, and the attacker halted the offensive.
Gina did not appreciate my move, but before she could protest, I tightly grasped my blade and swung it out into the room. We remained still, waiting to see what would happen next. The rapid-firing weapon returned, but along with the thin screech of steel as the blade slid across the floor, we could hear that the rounds were hitting the floor further and further away. I waited until I could tell that my weapon no longer moved and the attacker was fully fixated upon it.
I dashed into the midpoint of the elevator’s opening, down on a knee and with my arms spread out. Gina immediately understood and slid behind me, using me as cover while she aimed. Now looking out, we caught a glimpse of the room. It was a massive area with just glossy white walls and bright ceiling lamps. There was no presence other than that which attacked us. In the upper-right corner of the room, directly in sight and a bit distant, some sort of ceiling mounted turret blasted my weapon with an endless supply of ammunition.
I remained still, giving Gina a small yet sufficient area in which to remain safe. I was ready for any attack, buoyant I could deflect it. Upon my right shoulder, I felt Gina position the barrel of her rifle down, using me to hold still her aim. A second later, she took the shot. The throbbing round of Endis rang through my ears, and in a heartbeat, it collided directly with the turret, rupturing it off its mount and disintegrating it as it plummeted in free-fall. Gina pulled her rifle back; the turret was gone and everything was quiet once more, but I spotted sudden movement on the opposite side of the far end of the room.
I instantly recognized the movement, a ceiling tile sliding open and deploying a familiar turret in just seconds. This time, it was not looking at my weapon. I pulled a hand up just in front of my face, the projectiles raining down upon me. I held myself motionless and could feel only thin irritations as the shells collided with my body and fell to the ground. It was safe and I could have stayed there forever had I needed to, but Gina did not share my comfort.
Before I could speak, she slid back into the concealment of the elevator’s corner. As she did so, I myself snuck into the opposing corner. The shots ended and we caught our breaths.
“Marlin, you’re going to get hurt!”
“I can take these hits; it’s what I’m meant to do. I’m not in any danger here-”
“That’s not the point.”
“This machine cannot hurt me. Here, I’ll distract this one, stay here and take care of it-“
Quickly, I bolted out into the open room. The turret was concentrated on me as I ran ahead, making a wild sprint to my weapon. As I had hoped, the bombardment continued and I felt only the harmless ricochets of the bullets. The thundering Endis shot resounded and Gina had neutralized that turret as well. However, there was another side of the room we had not considered, the ceiling just above us and the elevator. On each side, there was another mounted turret, but this time, they were different. Speedily, I bent down to clutch my sword and spun back to the elevator.
“Marlin, come on!”
Desperately, Gina beckoned to me. Though I was prepared to take any hit, I chose to return to cover upon detecting the ammunition of these two remaining turrets. Endis… The animated color of the turrets’ barrels was unmistakable and distinct. Endis was the cryptic chemical; neither Gina nor I had come into direct physical contact with it, and we were not willing to now. The barrels of the turrets began to glow; they were ready to fire. I knew that I was too far out to get back to cover.
I acted impulsively, preparing to throw my blade to one of the turrets just before it went off. Moments before I let go, I felt that rush of adrenaline within my arm. My power made itself known and when I threw that sword, my entire arm flowing with a blood red aura, it ripped straight into the mounted turret and shredded it apart. It was too late, I heard the crackling rumble of the other turret as it launched a shot of Endis, but when I turned around to make a last glance, I found that I had made the wrong assumption.
The shot had emerged from Gina’s rifle; the single remaining turret detonated into a million pieces and like the other three, crashed roughly to the room’s floor. This time, it was over.
I found Gina nearby; she had leapt out of the room and straight beside me. She knew as well as I did that an Endis volley would have ignored my Miraxis Form’s defensive abilities and likely would have done serious damage. There was no time to think about that. After we both looked around in search of other hazards, we concluded that we were no longer under any threat.
“Where are we?”
Gina spoke as I thought the same thing. The large room was styled similarly to the others we had encountered in The Miraxis Index, but something about the scene felt slightly off. The room was excessively large, with only the elevator we had left on one side, and a closed access point on the other. Everything was out of proportion; the doors looked relatively small, the ceiling was abnormally elevated, and just the room itself was unorthodox. Lastly, and most obviously, this room had the turrets we had just engaged, and they were surely programmed to shoot us on site. What were we getting into?
“Gina, we should check out that door.”
I pointed to the other end, where a single door stood upon the wall. It must have been a way out of the area. After a few seconds of observation, Gina turned to me and then followed my finger. She nodded in concurrence.
On her word, I moved ahead. Though we had handled them with efficiency and expertise, the turrets were a sign that more resistance may have awaited us up ahead. We were anxious; we knew nothing of what the future would hold. We kept moving forward in dire hope that there was something more than The Miraxis Index, something greater in this afterlife. Onward we pushed.
We dashed ahead but mysteriously, it seemed as though we were not moving at all. In fact, I swore that it was almost as if we had taken a few strides back.
“Marlin, we’re not getting any closer…”
We both gradually stopped in our tracks. Something was amiss, and the silence once again haunted us. I began to make a proposal.
“Maybe we should-“
Surprised, Gina held her hand out to the sight behind me. I hurriedly turned around to face what had taken her aback. It caught me with the same reaction.
“That’s not possible…”
Carefully, I put away my weapon and walked in the direction from where we had originally come. It was true, we had been hastily dashing away for about a minute… yet the side of the room we escaped was only a few meters away. We had not progressed at all.
“It must be some kind of illusion…”
Now beside the elevator, I carefully placed my hand up against the wall. This was the very end of the room we had just run from, yet here it was, as if we never left at all. Some sort of phenomenon was stopping us from leaving that segment of the room.
I gave myself a minute, thinking profoundly about what we were experiencing. During that time, I observed the inside of the elevator and looked for any sign, any clue of what may have been happening. It was all for naught… it was just as we had left it moments before.
I turned back to Gina as she squealed, I spotted her with her hands clasped near her face; looking downwards. I rushed over to check her out.
“What’s wrong? What is it?”
She did not respond; she just kept staring down to the floor, downwards at something. I saw nothing where she looked. I fell to a knee before her, searching the floor for anything unusual as I ran my hands about it. I could find nothing. Just before getting back up, I could see Gina shaking in place. Her eyes closed, she trembled as if she was trapped in a terrible nightmare. What had so suddenly encompassed her?
“Open your eyes Gina, tell me what’s wrong!”
I stood up and enfolded her to me. Maybe she had seen something… a memory, or a vision. Whatever it was, it had struck her deeply, for she continued to shake profoundly. I gave her some time, but eventually, I began to sense a great darkness. Sharply, her body was so cold… she felt as if she had lost all of her life force. Then I felt what I dreaded. It had beaten me; I had not expected it at this moment.
“You really are hopeless… If you let this girl control your every move, how can you expect to accomplish anything?”
I slowly let go of Gina, for I knew what I would find. Facing me, she was no longer herself… the voice of that dark woman rang through the suffering girl; she was here again.
“I can see you… always“
Her voice emanated from Gina’s lips, and her Shadowborne eyes replaced those of my friend, yet I could hear the echoes of that voice coming from elsewhere in the room.
“Then let me see you… you have no need of her.”
Standing still, Gina was being possessed by this woman, similarly to before, similarly to when I had been possessed. She gaped to me, used to portray the words of the hidden woman.
“It is true, I do not need to control her. But this is how I can bring you to your knees.”
“Let her go!”
The woman chuckled eerily. I would not stand for this, but I did not know how to fight her. I unsheathed my blade and stood prepared, glancing around in search of her true presence.
“Tell me… what if I just pressed the trigger…”
Controlling Gina’s body, I watched as she pulled out her rifle and held it to her chin, nestling the barrel roughly below her head.
I leapt to Gina and pulled back her hand grasping the rifle. The Endis shot rang out… and she missed shooting herself. The woman was toying with me. Though she possessed Gina, she could not fight my empowered strength as I unarmed her of the weapon and held her hands together.
“What do you want?”
As I spoke to the nothingness, I witnessed the lights of the room shutting off one by one. The most distant lights were disabled first, then the next closest set. She was surrounding me with darkness. When all that was left was a single illuminated perimeter, where I stood with Gina, the woman finally made herself known.
Out of the darkness, she walked towards me slowly. That shadowy figure… she was in all black, with only her face exposed. Her long hair, a very dark brown, was exotic as it faded in the darkness behind her. Upon her back hung a great and rustic blade, far greater than mine in size and eminence. She approached me, and I found her yellow eyes human, if only for a moment.
She spoke quietly, her command reverting her eyes to the bright glow of the Shadowborne’s, for she no longer controlled Gina. I felt Gina’s body fall unto mine; she was no longer standing. Carefully, I lowered her to the ground so that she may lie safely. I stayed down and looked up to the woman. She stayed expressionless yet infinitely menacing as her eyes glimmered in the darkness.
“I will not ask you again… what do you want?”
As I glared to the woman, she remained unyielding. She appeared to make some sort of hand movement, but I could not catch on to it. Then an expanse of blackness reached out to me, enclosing my arm and jerking me up to my feet. Slowly, the darkness pulled me towards her, and I kept my free hand at the ready.
“I want you of course.”
“I’m afraid I’m not available-“
Hastily, I reached for my sword and swung it out towards her. As I slashed across her, I felt a great resistance in my grasp, and then suddenly, the sword was yanked away from me and thrown into the darkness by a force beyond my control. She had direct manipulation over her environment and was able take the weapon from me with little effort. Her façade finally changed to show frustration.
“If you strike me, she will die.”
“Don’t touch her…”
“Resist me, and I’ll be forced to-“
“Then do what you will… and free Gina from this. If you want me, it’s between us.”
“Not exactly… You see, I must give you the liberty of choice.”
She let go of me and I fell back, tumbling over before rushing back to my feet. My blade came soaring out of the darkness but with my enhanced reflexes, I caught it out of the air.
“You may kill me here, and I will cease to exist forever… but she, that you adore so much, will die… permanently-“
“Not an option…”
“Or… you may accept her burden as your own, simply embrace her and I will make it so.”
I looked over to Gina… she lay peacefully on the floor, no longer conscious. Why was she always suffering this fate? I walked over to her and went down to my knees.
“You will not ask what this burden is?”
“If it will save her, it does not matter what it is.”
The lingering woman let out a ridiculing scoff, a great evil dwelling in her voice as she observed me.
“You are as foolish as I had hoped…”
I neglected her words. I had just one thing on my mind. I gently lifted Gina’s torso; she was entirely wilting, but it did not affect me. I held her tightly and closed my eyes.
I opened my eyes again as the woman spoke. She was conjuring up some sort of magic. I felt a strong arctic sensation fall down upon me. At the woman’s command, the blackness began to rush around us like a hurricane. It was quickly closing in. I fastened my eyes again and stayed still, pulling Gina to me as the swirling strands of darkness encircled us. A great wind began to rush around and it felt as if I was being lifted by a cyclone.
“Everything will be fine Gina… it will be…”
The shadow wrapped our bodies together, only for a moment. I felt great warmth sucked from my body, and in one thunderous flash, what had held Gina captive moved over to me. Instantly, every sound stopped and it seemed like time froze. I opened my eyes and found that the room had returned to normal. The woman was no longer near; only the sound of her fading footsteps could be heard. All of the lights were on and I was kneeling, holding Gina’s body up to mine. Slowly, I put her back down, but as I did so, I found the presence I had taken from Gina. Remnants of that familiar shadowy aura ran along my body.
What had taken control of Gina numerous times, what had caused her such pain and suffering, it was now mine to bear, and that I did. That presence had somehow been planted within her, and that ominous woman had found a way to control her. Whatever she had used to accomplish that was now inside of me, and I could feel it all over my body. Was this what Gina had felt from the beginning? Had she always been a victim to that Shadowborne figure?
I gently placed a hand upon Gina’s face… it was true. She felt warm once more, but she felt much warmer than she ever had, as if she had been spared of an illness. She never remarked of it because she awoke in The Miraxis Index with it; she never knew what the difference was. It meant that she was unaware of that presence within her.
No matter what this condition meant, I could only think constructively; Gina would never succumb to that darkness again, at least I could only hope so. Now I was the puppet, I was the one who could be controlled by that dark force. I felt that it would come to this. That made it all the worse to realize that I was now a grave danger to Gina, capable of becoming a tool of our dark nemesis at any given moment. Had I just made a reckless mistake?