Slice of Hell
The drip of water from the damp, moldy ceiling above my head is driving me to the brink of insanity, but I remain still. Seated on the floor of my dreary cell, I chip off a piece of the concrete with my fingers and toss it at the wall. I do this repeatedly, as I have been for what feels like aeons.
Any day now, I think.
The cell is dark, the only light coming from a lamp in the hallway about ten cells down. I can hear the cries of the other inmates, some of them sobbing, but most of them just growling to themselves, occasionally shouting at one another. The whole place reeks of stagnant piss, and for all I know, the liquid that just splashed onto me from above very well could be.
I'm rotting in prison one-hundred-and-thirty-seven, on the dreary little planet of Clufumia. It's just as much of a disease as the name suggests.
The only things separating me from the hallway are thin, metal bars. They're primitive, much like a medieval Earth dungeon. I could snap them in half like mere twigs if I were in any other place, but in this slice of Hell, I'm as close to a regular human being as I'll ever get.
I lift my head at the sound of movement down the hall. It sounds like metal crunching, and I stand up. As soon as I do, a Nightcrawler appears from thin air behind the bars of my cell. I don't flinch, rather, I smirk. I'd recognize Aiyanna's signature nightsuit anywhere, with its strong, black metallic shell and red accents across the shoulders and chest. Her helmet, which has three bright, blue lights to form a trifecta from her eyes to her mouth, retracts behind her skull to reveal her smug face.
"Ash," she says with a crass smile.
"Took you long enough," I mutter. I focus on the bars and snap them with my mind, now free to step from the confides of that decaying cell. Aiyanna places a metal hexagon in my hand; it's black, with a circle of sharp needles on one side, a red button on the other.
Chaos is beginning to envelop in the prison as the other inmates realize what I have; our abilities are no longer suppressed. The machines disabling us have been turned off, all thanks to the brute of a woman I'm now staring at. She's a twenty-eight year old hawk, an Asian woman with short black hair and a scar running halfway down her hardened face. I may not seem like it, but I've never been happier to see her.
At the base of my neck, right where it connects to my spine, I press the hexagon into my skin. The pain from the piercing studs is familiar, almost alleviating. I push the button, and within seconds, my body is shrouded by a nightsuit of my own. The first thing to encase me is a soft fabric layer to keep my skin safe from scratching. The second is the metal, the shell that keeps me safe from everything else. I look down at my new skin and smile.
"Nice," I say. Since my old suit was confiscated, Aiyanna took it upon herself to redesign one for me. I can tell due to the similarities between hers; now, my torso is black, with a dark burgundy covering my shoulders that extends down to my hips. I activate my helmet, which crawls over my face from my neck and seals itself. I take a moment to glance at a puddle on the floor, and I see that my face now has two large green lights for eyes, a smaller one for the mouth. I look like a completely different species, yet I've never felt more myself.
"Enough dawdling," Aiyanna says. "Let's get the hell outta here."
"I have a stop to make first," I say, holding my right arm in front of me. I clench my fist, feeling strength surge through me. I look to my superior. "Meet me on Callisto."
"Forget it," Aiyanna says. "I didn't bust you out of this shit hole so you could go get yourself caught again, kid."
"I won't get caught," I say, turning away from her. I can feel her grimace drilling in the back of my head.
"You're going after Snow," she says, and I nod. "What're you gunna do, Ash?" she asks, propping her hand on her hip. I smirk underneath my helmet.
"She's all I've been thinking about since I got put in this dump." I glance to my colleague once more, and before I disappear, I say, "I'm gunna kill her."
It happens within seconds; I feel a thrill through my body, a momentary trance of pure adrenaline, and then I wake up. Hello, Earth. I can't say it's good to be home.
I'm floating in the sky, hovering in the night over New York City. I hear it used to be pretty lively, back in the day, but now it's a smog filled, pollution infested shit hole just like the rest of the planet. Through the thick, disgusting atmosphere, I can just barely make out the cityscape. The city's putrid, yellow lights illuminate the dark clouds. The whole place stinks like gas, and I think to myself that I can't believe this is the planet I was born on. Why do people still willingly live here? The year is 4048, and there are a lot nicer places in the galaxy than smoggy old Earth.
I know that Snow is here. Even though I've traveled twenty light years, it's only been five minutes since Aiyanna busted me out. Five minutes, I realize, is pushing my time; I need to stop dawdling. If I'm going to do this, I need to do it now.
I think about Snow and focus on her, on the smallest details of her face. I imagine her icy blue eyes, and the way her dark eyelashes frame them so perfectly. I think of her rosy cheeks, her glimmering blonde hair, and the melodic sound of her voice. I don't want to see her in such high detail, because I know if I remember too much, I might lose my nerve. Unfortunately, that's just the way it works—if I can't access the empathetic parts of my brain, then I won't be able to find her.
I force myself to forget about her betrayal and think of her fondly. She really is the prettiest thing I've ever seen. With my eyes shut, I almost smile. I get lost in her image for only a moment, before a trigger goes off in my brain, and I see a vision of her whereabouts. Now, my smile turns twisted.
"Found you," I say, before disappearing.
I materialize on the eleventh floor of an apartment building in New York and retract my helmet. The walls and carpet are white, and the only things in the living room are a black couch and a television. It's pretty old school, I must say, but I can tell she's just getting settled in; this is a new apartment, a new start for her.
There's a dim light on, and I can hear the bathtub flowing in the washroom. I'll have at least ten minutes before she comes out, so I help myself to looking around. I slink into the kitchen, running my hand along the smooth, granite counter. I open the fridge and am not surprised to see she has little in the way of food. Chinese take-out—nice.
I gear my way into her bedroom, where a barren mattress is placed on the floor. Many boxes are carelessly spread out, and I open one. It's clothing, of course, and so are the rest of them. She's tossed a bunch of old laundry around the room, so I can tell she's been here for at least a few days.
I almost feel bad for her—while I was rotting in that cell, I imagined she'd be given a pretty good life for being the one to incarcerate my ass. I hear the bathtub turn off and look out of the bedroom, to the light seeping from beneath the crack of the bathroom door. Part of me wants to bust in right there and kill her by heart attack, but that wouldn't be as fun. I want her to see everything before she goes.
I can hear splashing, and I find myself imagining her submerged in the water. I stop there and exit the bedroom.
I sit in the corner of the couch. Beside it, there's a nightstand with a newspaper and a lamp on it. Her purple purse is in the kitchen, and I hear the phone ring from it. I know it's someone from the Militant, warning her of my escape. Snow better hurry up in that bathtub, or I might just run out of time and end up killing her while she's naked, after all.
I pick up the newspaper; in big, bold lettering, the headliner reads Nightcrawlers—A Military to Serve, or a Breeder of Notorious Criminals? And in the subtext, it says, More info into the life of Earthling Asher Attridge, the infamous prodigy who went rogue.
I nearly laugh.
Finally, I hear the bathtub be unplugged. The water drains, and the door opens. I wait. Now that the moment is upon me, the one I've been dreaming of for a year, my heart is beating heavily in my chest. Oh, how I've missed excitement in my life.
Before she comes out into her quaint little living room, Snow goes into her bedroom. I remain still. By now, she must be noticing that something isn't right. I made a point to leave open one of the boxes that had been shut. I don't think she has a weapon, but it doesn't matter, either way.
I hear her quiet footsteps exit the bedroom. She walks down the hallway apprehensively, until she turns the corner, and I'm gifted by her beauty one last time. Her long, damp hair is hanging over one shoulder. Over her slim body, she wears a white bathrobe. When she sees me sitting there, geared up in my nightsuit, leaving only my face exposed, all colour drains from her as if she's staring into the eyes of a ghost. In a way, I suppose she is.
I lift up the newspaper and wag it at her, meeting her horrified gaze. "Hey, look," I say. "I'm famous."
Snow turns to run, to bolt to her purse where I imagine she has a gun, but I'm immediately in front of her. I grab her roughly and throw her into the wall, causing her to yelp in pain. She opens her mouth to scream, but I snatch her by the wrist and force her onto the couch. She stares at me now, hyperventilating, eyes wide with nothing but pure terror.
"Nope," I say. "We're going to have a little chat, Snow."
I push the lamp off the nightstand, shattering the glass in the process. The table creaks against the floor as I pull it in front of the couch so I can sit facing her.
"A-Asher," she stammers. "Please, just let me go. The Militant will be here any minute."
"Not yet." I lean forward and clasp my armoured hands together. "See, you didn't let me go. In fact—you lead the Militant straight to my door while I was butt-fucking-naked. I think we need to talk about that, don't you?"
"I had to," she says quickly. "I didn't have a choice. I—"
"Don't," I cut her off, grimacing into the eyes of my betrayer. Fuck, I have so many things I want to say to her before she meets her end, but I'm running out of time. She's right; the Militant will be here any second, and Nighttide won't be busting me out of jail a second time. I'm beginning to overflow with emotion, and I can't find the words to describe how much I truly detest her. "I loved you, you dumb bitch," is all I can think to say. I'm so angry now that I want to cry, but that's never an option.
"I loved you too!" she exclaims, making me sick to my stomach.
"You'll say anything to keep yourself alive," I sneer. "But I want you to understand, that's not going to happen."
Her entire body is shaking as I stand up. I can see it in her eyes; absolute panic. Strong, intelligent little Snow is completely defenseless, just like I was when she nailed me. Her irises flicker across my face, around the room, and down at her own body. I know she's thinking about her life now, of every decision she's made to end up with her being murdered at the age of twenty-three. I allow her these moments to reminisce, to understand exactly why her life is over. It's her own damn fault, and I like to think that she knows that.
I press a button on my wrist and my weapon ejects from my forearm, sliding into my firm grasp. It begins as nano-tech, like millions of little insects banding together to create one solid piece of matter. It's about the size of my forearm, a huge pistol with a wide barrel that can fire in any atmosphere. I hold it up to her.
"I believed you, Ash," she says, pleading. "I know you didn't kill those people—I know it was a lie, but—"
"You think that makes it better?" I cut her off, my voice rising. "That makes it worse, you idiot!" Now, I'm the one in tremors. If I pull the trigger on my Warmonger, her body will disintegrate. It's a gun designed specifically to fight other Nightcrawlers; it works terrors on mere human flesh. I want to pull the trigger, but I hesitate. Damn it, I've wanted her dead from the moment she sold me out. Eyes that used to feel like home to me tremble in her skull. It's pathetic, how fearful she is of death. I cock my Warmonger, my finger shaking over the trigger.
For fucks sake.
I can't do it.
I lower my weapon, and I see her exhale a sigh of relief. I look at her face, and I think of the life I had with her. I'm harshly reminded of the way our relationship ended, and my teeth clench.
Wait, yes I can.
I quickly go to fire the weapon, but Snow is already being pulled away by a man in a green Military nightsuit. Fuck, I've run out of time. Four bodies appear from thin air, and before I can zap away, I'm snatched. My helmet is pulled over my face, and I can feel myself being beckoned to teleport. I've been out of the suit for a year; I may be a little rusty, but I'm not going down without a fight.
For most people, its nearly impossible to resist being teleported when another Nightcrawler is trying to force them through the void. It requires a tremendous amount of brain power, and a remarkably seasoned telekinetic mind. I'm lucky to say, I have both of those.
I might not be one of the good guys, but like hell am I going down like a common villain. I'm about to simply vanish to the safety of Callisto, but it occurs to me that my vendetta against Snow is more than just personal. If I don't get her, I'll never be safe from the eyes of the Militant.
It hurts my head to resist, but I break free from the soldier who grabbed me and vanish. I reappear outside of the building, hovering in front of the windows. I use their momentary confusion to my advantage, and begin rapidly firing my Warmonger, shattering the glass to pieces. I aim for Snow, but a solider jumps in front of her, taking the hit. He shudders, but his nightsuit can handle the bullet. The soldiers activate their weapons, the Peacekeepers, pistols near identical to the Warmonger. They fire at me, but I dodge their bullets. I'm about to swoop in and bring the fight back to even level, but I'm unexpectedly grabbed from behind.
I go to resist, but whoever's robust grip has me sends a strong pulse through my mind, making my brain feel like it's going to explode. I find my body being transported against my will, my last sight being of Snow holding a Peacekeeper of her own, but only one thought comes to mind.
Aiyanna is going to fucking kill me.