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Charlie (H minus One Month 28 Days)
My head hurt. My body ached. This was a dreamspace. That is my domain. My heart is in the dream.
I looked longingly over at Whiskey. On the second attempt we all had tried to not go near the huge morass of alien things. But our tiny human avatars couldn't outrun them. We couldn't outrun the gas either.
That gas. It only made my brain hurt worse. Whatever the program did, my thoughts in it grew sluggish. I almost went to sleep on my feet.
The enemy, as the strange new man who I, and only me, had learned was called Nasr, killed us in the dreamspace on the second attempt too. In less than a half hour.
When we woke up on our third time, we cried. We couldn't talk. Some, like Foxtrot, just started to kick and wail on the dirt around us. Whiskey and I just sat there, clutching each other.
The enemy took us out that time because we just let our frustrations out.
That's when I figured out what I had to do.
On the start of the fourth repeat of Nasr's test, I connected my oneiros to my Avatar. I'd noticed the option earlier. Nasr had kept us from logging out, and he kept us from being able to talk or text to one another. We still could access our avatar settings.
I didn't want to be the ugly thing I really was. I loved being a person. Having a body that didn't give me nightmares. Being normal sized. Long hair.
I reset my avatar to match my living body.
Nasr had asked us why he was taller than us in avatar form. It was because we'd chosen to be that way. We were scared of what we were.
Everyone else stared up at me. My body felt lighter than it did back in the facility. I looked at the Enemy. The dreamspace mirrored how my real eyes worked, not the fake human ones I'd been used to in the dreamspace. I could see beyond the normal spectrum of human vision. Into the infrared and ultraviolet. Almost into the radio end.
What looked like orange bubbles before turned into a dazzling light show of signals. It looked beautiful, like a garden of flowers in colors that only I could perceive. It blinked and thrummed in a pattern that looked almost like a heartbeat, but just too fast.
Oneiros Online. Consciousness Signal Detected. Upload Dreamspace?
I blinked. I could link my own Dreamspace into the aliens? Is that how they communicated?
I gave my Oneiros the confirmation. My dreamspace linked into the mind of the enemy. Surprise flowed over me. Then my head started to pound.
The entire thing opposed me. I entered a deeper dreamspace within the dreamspace Nasr was training us in. In that dreamspace, my avatar faced down waves of abstract shapes and flows of energy. I had trouble keeping track of everything in it.
I maintained that dreamspace while my avatar in Nasr's dreamspace tried to dodge the onward press of soldiers. Something grabbed my avatar. The dreamspace linked to the enemy dissolved. Soldiers clustered all over me.
I screamed. The gases enveloped my head, then there was a sound of something cracking.
The test started over again. A fifth iteration.
I opened my eyes. My avatar had retained its form as matching my realbody. Whiskey and others shifted their avatars as well. We turned to the purple fire in the distance.
Ghale Putnam (H minus One Month 28 Days)
Coffee is a miracle.
Stepping into the main office space of the Hecate Project with it kept me from going completely haywire. When I'd left the day before, Nasr had started the training dreamspace for Miri's monsters. A brief flicker of sympathy for black-haired Charlie flowed over me.
I silenced it. I brought up on my BrainSys the latest update of the Count. 1,689,267,392. It had gone down in the last few days. Riots across the world had ended in mass suicides. In Tokyo 1300 people immolated themselves on fire when they'd been denied access to a Transit point so they could 'join' with the Enemy.
That reminder sober me up.
"Hmm?" He looked up from a series of holos and screens on the desk. Each seemed project different videos, each with a different number. "Decided to come back, eh?"
I looked the major up and down. "You didn't leave, did you? How long did the training go?"
"They are on iteration forty-three." He thumbed through a screen or two.
I blinked. "Forty-three?"
"Dr. Putnam's favorite got it by iteration four." Nasr held up a video image of a young black-haired girl. Her hair was long and black. A teenager. If it weren't for the sand and dust around her, I could've sworn it had been someone I'd seen before. Familiar. The face, however, had been the same as the one I'd seen on the giant Charlie. Her dream avatar looked tiny and shy.
"How long have they've been at it?" I looked over the images. My stomach churned at the nightmare Nasr had been running them through.
Nasr shrugged. "They can handle it."
"Handle it? Does Miri know how long you've been doing this to them?" I don't know why I felt enraged by that thought. But a gut instinct wanted to make sure her wishes were met.
Nasr cocked an eyebrow. "They need to train. Their bodies are already in peak condition. They lack knowledge of all the other things they need to know in order to fight the enemy. They have no discipline, no teamwork. I'm resocializing them."
I closed my eyes. "Does Miri know you've been doing this to them this long?"
He shrugged. "I waited until the good doctor had gone to sleep for the night. If they can prove themselves, then-"
"I see." I paused for a moment. "You'll stop now. Before Miri gets here. Understood?"
"Director, you brought me to train them, not coddle." Nasr folded his arms.
"And you'll do as I say. Miri will make things worse if she finds out." I glanced down at one of the screens. "You accomplished teaching them some form of teamwork. Call it a victory."
Nasr paused. Then he yawned. He stood up and gave me a nod. "Fine. I suspect you're right about your sister."
"Good." I took in another sip of coffee.
"BTW, did she tell you about Charlie then?"
"What?" I blinked at him in confusion.
Major Nasr rolled his eyes. "Charlie clearly is modeled on her or you or something. The facial structure. I haven't had it analyzed, but it seems obvious to me."
I shook my head. "All of the genetic material used was from volunteers or the dead, Major. Just a flunk of genetics."
"I will continue to run these monsters of hers through, Director. You two going to interfere each time it looks painful for them?"
"I don't understand you Major. For someone so convinced they are going to die, you seem dedicated to making sure they are such well-trained corpses." I glanced down at the image of Charlie screaming in a vid screen marked Three.
"I've witnessed our Enemy, Director." The Major stood up, his face grown cold and dark. A part of him seemed to close up, as if memories too harsh wouldn't allow him the courtesy. "We have three kinds of people in humanity, Director. Gods, Heroes and Monsters. Gods, they make the rules and the laws. They can do whatever they want, and we'll obey them. Not literal gods, although with tech it sure seems that way. Roosevelt. Lincoln. Ali.
"Heroes defy gods and slay the monsters. They remake the order of things, always for the better. Washington or Zachariah.
"Monsters, they do things we don't think humans were capable of. They violate all our morals and obligations." Nasr closed his eyes. He then opened them, the glowing cybernetic green of them startling with the fear in them. "We fought and died in wars for millennia because of Gods, Heroes and Monsters. They'd start them, and the rest of us would follow in. But the Enemy, Director, isn't one of those three.
"We don't have a word for what they are. We can't. They are on some other level than we can comprehend. We call pieces of them workers or soldiers or jammers or what-have-you. But in all my years out there in battlefields, we knew the real numbers. A single cyst is just one member of their species. We barely can fend off one cyst. A second or a third? We lost every time. It can't be done."
Nasr walked to the door, his gait tired. "Realize, please, Director, that I know these monsters your sister made are going to die. No god or hero or monster we humans can throw at them can beat them. It isn't possible. But I volunteered to come here to make sure these monsters at least died with the honor of knowing how to fight. Now, if you excuse me, I... I have to go to my morning prayer."
Nasr walked out. I heard the tears in his voice at the end. I didn't say anything. I knew the context of what he'd been talking about, under the words. The voice of someone who has lost someone he loved to a disaster he could do nothing about.
I glanced down at the image of Charlie's human looking avatar.
"Aunt Miri, she said." I repeated, my voice barely above a whisper.
Lucky number 7. #InTransitMonsters continues as well as #FirstDraft attempts at #ScienceFiction go. Tonight saw Charlie show her capacity to handle more than her normal demeanor would let on; and it also showed a bit of Ghale's willingness to do things Miri's way, even when she isn't in the room.
I've been thinking on this, and I think a key question for the characters in this story come down to "Is humanity worth saving from extinction?" I think each of them have personal responses to that. Nasr, for instance, has decided the answer already. He'd rather make sure we died the right way.
Others, like Ghale, I don't know for sure the answer. I don't think they know the answer.
Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcomed, especially for what people might think will happen next, or what they think needs emphasizing. Or correcting. Always open to being corrected.
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