There was pain. So much pain. It didn’t seem possible that there could be that much of it.
But it was possible. Because the pain was real. Horrifyingly real.
On a cold metal table was a man and the horrible agony belonged solely to him. He was screaming so loudly he lost his voice and his body was thrashing and convulsing. Wires spilled out of him in a thick cascade. They fell to the floor and then rose into and around the entire room, making it difficult for the men in pale green scrubs and masks to move around.
The loud buzzing of a bone saw suddenly filled the room which intensified harshly a second later as it ground into flesh and bone.
The man on the table screamed even louder as his right arm was severed from his body. It now ended just past his elbow and the stump was bleeding. He felt his blood pour out of him, taking his strength with it. It soaked the cold table he was lying on.
One of the doctors, if they could even be called that, now hovered over the man’s torso. He carefully made a deep cut and then grabbed a silver object that a nurse handed him. He placed the object into the cut and used it to spread the skin and muscle apart. There was a lot of blood, but it was being carefully suctioned and monitored. Then the doctor took a small, matte black cube from a table next to him and placed it inside the abdominal cavity. As soon as he took his fingers off it, the cube started twitching. A second later, slender wires that looked more like questing tentacles burst out of it. They slithered through tissue and muscle and anchored themselves into the nervous system.
The doctor repeated the process again at least half a dozen times with several other cubes. Each one was placed inside the patient’s body in very specific spots. One cube’s wires exploded out and stabbed into the patient’s still beating heart. Then they wrapped around it until the heart was entirely encased. Soon after that, it started glowing with green light that pulsed in time to the heart’s beats.
Every time one of the cube’s wires exploded out and quested into the man’s body, he would jerk and twist in pain.
When the doctor was finished, he slid out of his blood-soaked, latex gloves and took up a glowing tablet. On it was a representation of the man on the table. The image was exact, showing his vascular and muscular systems as well as his neurological systems in perfect detail. There were several little squares on the figure, each one glowing in a spot where he had placed one of the cubes. He looked at the man on the table for a second and then pressed his finger to one of the glowing squares.
The man’s body immediately arched in renewed agony and his skin rippled and pulsed. The doctor didn’t hesitate. He pushed his finger to the rest of the glowing squares. The reaction was...hard to watch. The pulsing in the skin became more pronounced, like something was squirming beneath the surface trying to get out. The already well-developed muscles of the patient’s body contorted and swelled grotesquely. They doubled and then tripled in size before smoothing out.
Up by the man’s head, his bright green eyes bulged. They were filled with terror. He had no idea what was happening. He had no idea where he was or why these people were hurting him. The only thing he knew was pain and it was too much for him. He wanted it to be over. He wanted to die. Despite the blood he felt flowing freely from his broken body, he didn’t lose consciousness. He didn’t die, even though he should’ve. There was no escape.
The pain shattered his mind. It broke him.
That was the point.
After he was broken, they broke him some more. They popped out his left eyeball (which made a disgusting squelchy sound as it came free of its socket). When there was nothing but a raw, red hole, they fitted a bionic eye into it. It looked like a simple, silver ball. When it was inside and secure, the thing moved on its own, swirling with dizzying speed. It would stop at certain points, focusing on random spots inside the room.
Suddenly, the doors to the operating room opened and a woman in a sleek, grey pantsuit strode forward. She had beautiful features with slate grey eyes and blonde hair that was pulled up into a tight bun. Her stark cheekbones showed up clearly in the harsh lighting of the room and her bright red lips were pressed firmly together as she surveyed the horrific scene in front of her. Those cold, grey eyes didn’t even flinch at the sight. There was no remorse or pity. She was completely emotionless.
In her right hand was a metal briefcase. The top of it was fitted with a state-of-the-art security system. The only way it would unlock was with a genetic key that was coded to the woman’s DNA. She placed it on a table to one side and quietly opened it. Inside was another piece of biomech technology. It was about the length of a grown man’s forearm. Two shiny, metallic rings were positioned on either end and between them was a cylinder made of metal. Four protuberances filled with bluish-green liquid sprouted off the central tube with each protuberance ending in a wide barrel. The metal ring on one end had elongated spikes coming off it. They were obviously meant to be drilled into whatever they encircled. The other end resembled something like the barrel of a large laser cannon, but four slender needles (which closely resembled the legs of an insect) sprouted off the end. They were each about six inches long and looked extremely deadly.
The woman picked up the complex biomech machine with infinite care and handed it to one of the doctors milling around.
The doctor brought it over to the man’s severed arm and rammed it onto the raw, bleeding flesh.
The man let out a loud, pain-filled scream.
The doctor didn’t even blink at the sound. Instead, he just turned back to his tablet. The biomech cannon showed up on his screen now. The doctor touched his finger to the icon and a high-pitched, whirring sound filled the room. He turned back to the patient and watched as the spikes inside the cannon drilled themselves into the flesh of the severed arm. Then they buried and anchored themselves into the reinforced bone matrix of the patient’s residual limb. There was yet another wailing sound of pain, but nobody in that room cared at all. None of them cared about the man’s agony.
The doctors operating on him barely batted an eye. To them, he was just another Augment in an endless supply of them. Another for the Collection.
The agony went on as more and more of the man’s humanity was ripped away from him.
A mech-chip was implanted onto the base of the man’s skull and a micro-tracking chip was affixed directly beneath the other so that the ones in control could keep a careful eye on their tool. They drilled into his spine and implanted another piece of biomech that altered the molecular structure of the skin so that it changed his weak flesh to something as hard and impenetrable as titanium.
They outfitted him with all kinds of scary upgrades and enhancements, all of them meant to do harm in the most horrifying fashion imaginable. When the augmentation process was over, they let him finally sink into a blissful, unconscious oblivion.
He woke up sometime later. The pain was still enormous.
[You serve the Collection. You obey the Collection,] a voice said in his mind. It was loud, and he thrust his remaining hand up to his head.
“NO!” he yelled. Tears streamed down his eye. The silver one just swirled inside its socket. The sensation was slightly sickening and made him feel nauseous. He turned his head to the side, causing several bursts of pain to ravage his damaged body, and threw up. He had time to wipe his hand across his mouth and then there was a pulsing shockwave that ripped into him from some unknown source. He jerked and convulsed wildly.
[You serve the Collection.] The voice was insistent and extremely loud. It felt like his head was vibrating from its intensity.
“NO!” he screamed back, putting all his defiance and rage into it.
There was another shockwave of electric-like pain that emanated from his bionic eyeball. He tried to fight it but ended up flopping around until he fell off the bed and hit the floor. His body exploded with more pain. The only thing he could do was whimper and cry. He curled himself into a fetal position as he did and just laid on the bare, cold tiles.
[You obey the Collection.] More flaring pain. He flinched slightly, but it was weak and feeble.
He wanted to fight against it. Every fiber inside him demanded that, but the pain was too much. The pain was too intense.
“I obey the Collection,” he said, his voice quiet and harsh. “I serve the Collection.”
Two Years Later
He stood in a block of fifty other Augments of the Collection, his mind shut down. For all intents and purposes, they were all in sleep mode, although they didn’t sleep nor were they awake. They were assimilating. Each one was downloading specific missions via the data-jack they had all been surgically implanted with.
The information sped across the left field of his vision. This time the target was a woman. Her name was Fiona Rosburg, age twenty-five. A picture of her showed a woman of outstanding health. Her lean frame spoke of raw power and strength. She looked like a highly trained fighter. She had a beautiful, rounded face, with short-cut brown hair and bright green eyes. There was a long, thin scar traveling the length of her left cheek.
Something about her made him feel...he didn’t quite know what he felt. The unknown emotion boiled up from a place that had forgotten how to feel. He blinked, studying the picture of her some more. She felt...familiar. It felt...good?...to see her face. He was confused. Unsure.
[She is your target,] a voice whispered in his mind.
[She is a...friend?] he asked, confused. The swirling feelings rushing up from that forgotten part of himself made it hard to think.
[She is your target,] the voice insisted, followed by a brief surge of pain.
[She is my target,] he answered quickly. It was far easier to obey that voice than it was to contradict it in any way. Sometimes the pain was really bad. He didn’t like it when they made him hurt like that.
He would find her. And he would kill her.
[Augments. Disembark on your missions. Terminate your targets. Report here when you have completed your assignments.]
There was no need to answer. The voice never expected any. The block of fifty Augments, including himself, began marching at the same time. Their feet fell at precisely the same instant. Everything about them was (even down to their breathing) synchronized.
As they approached a large, hangar-style door, it split down the middle and rumbled on its tracks. It let the Augments into the outside world to so they could deal death to the unlucky people that crossed the Collection.
As soon as they were all outside, everyone broke off from the main body. Some bounded over the earth like leaping frogs. Others just raced across it, swifter than a running cheetah. He was the only one that walked. He wasn’t in any particular rush, and truth be told, the familiarity of his target made him want to procrastinate as much as possible anyway.
Rain pelted him out of a dreary, steel grey sky. In a couple of seconds, he was drenched. His black hair hung in ropy tendrils across his face. He didn’t bother brushing it aside. There was no need.
He came to the gate that encircled the perimeter of their compound and jumped over it with ease. Once he was on the other side, he made his way up the muddy dirt road. It was an uphill walk and the mud made his footing treacherous. His balance, however, was on a level far surpassing normal humans and he didn’t so much as slip.
He walked for a couple of hours, the rain still coming down in a torrent. That’s all the weather ever seemed to be these days. Rain. Rain and dark, grey clouds. He looked up at the sky, stopping for a moment to peer at in childlike curiosity. The target and his mission were momentarily forgotten as he gazed up into that eternally dark, stormy sky. His eye tracked individual raindrops as they fell, watching them until they hit the earth. It was mesmerizing. He didn’t realize that he was the only Augment left standing there. All the others were gone, ready to pursue their targets with the ruthlessness that was forced into them. He decided that he didn’t much care. He thought it was...nice?...standing there and watching the clouds roil across the sky.
[Alpha-1.] That voice again. He hated that voice. [Do you require some form of assistance?]
[No. I am undamaged,] he responded.
There was another, tiny surge of pain. It struck him at the base of his skull. That’s where it always seemed to come from. He had fantasized a number of times about ripping whatever was planted there right out of his skin.
[If you do not require assistance then you must continue on your objective. Find your target and terminate her.]
Pain again. Always pain. It was their favorite tool.
[I understand,] he replied again. [I serve the Collection.]
The voice didn’t respond.
He continued up the hill. When he came to the top, he found himself overlooking the desolate shantytown called Little 5. Off in the distance was Zone 5. Little 5 was huddled up against its massive titanium walls.
Zone 5 was a massive, militaristic compound made up of hundreds of high-rise buildings. Clustered around those were smaller, less overwhelming structures. In the direct center of the compound was a massive tower that rose up from the ground and dwarfed every other building inside Zone 5. It was known simply as the Citadel. Inside that building was the Boards’ offices. They ran the show. They were the ones that created Zone 5, the Collection, and pretty much everything else. The myth and legend surrounding them was crazy. Some even said they were immortal.
Zoners had it made. Protection, luxurious housing, food, medicine. The compound itself was compulsively clean and elegant and the contrast between its shining silver walls and the dilapidated shantytown was enormous. The inhabitants of Little 5 served as a cheap labor force for the Zone’s military leaders. They were forced to work the hardest, nastiest or most dangerous jobs. Construction, cleaning, farming, carpentry, recycling, factories. All of it. There was a literal mountain of dead Little 5 denizens that perished inside Zone 5.
Men, women, and even children.
And there was no gain for them.
They squeezed out a meager life filled with poverty and destitution and no hope of ever attaining any status higher than a serf. They were the bottom feeders. The trash. The filth. They were nothing but bugs to be squashed. He knew this. He’d seen it time and time again. It was, after all, why the Collection and the Augments were created. The Board needed an army of genetically enhanced monsters that obey without question to absolutely squash and annihilate resistance.
The conditions of that hellhole inevitably bred people willing to stand up and force change, so the Augments were sent in to destroy whatever uprisings they were able to organize and policed them the rest of the time. Augments were the enforcers. They were the monsters that gave little children nightmares and the shadow that was an ever-present fear lurking in the backs of all their minds.
Despite that fear, however, they still tried again and again to fight. Freedom from that kind of life was too tempting to pass up, he figured.
He swept those thoughts out of his mind. They were too big for it to handle anyway. He continued on his way, keeping the picture of his target up in the left field of his vision.
A lump of dread had settled into his mind whenever he saw that woman’s face. He picked up his speed and stopped trying to delay his task, deciding that if he hurried up and killed her, then the unfamiliar emotions would vanish as well.
He came to the edge of Little 5 and saw corpses littering the streets. His brothers and sisters had gotten there before him, leaving their various targets in the dirty streets. Several of the bodies bore large, gaping holes through their torsos. Some of them had various body parts melted off. Others were nothing but dried up husks, all the blood and fluids inside them drained away (the biomech cannons attached to all Augments used the blood as fuel and the resulting high-intensity beam was hot enough to instantly vaporize or melt any material known to man). They were highly effective weapons.
He walked down the street and took care to step over the bodies of the dead. A part of him thought it wouldn’t be right if he stepped on them.
Desecrated them, you mean! his mind shouted at him. The words surged out from somewhere deep inside his head like an erupting volcano. They were confusing words though. He didn’t even know what they meant.
He brushed his inner voice aside and kept walking. His senses were kicked into high gear. The millions of minuscule and minute details were all taken in and filtered through all his various augmentations. He noted breathing a few dozen feet away in one if the desolate homes of Little 5. He heard a slight rustling sound thirty yards behind him and to the left. He smelled the urine of someone whom had just evacuated their bladder in fear. He saw, heard, smelled, touched, and even tasted it all but everything came back telling him that his target was nowhere close.
He kept walking. He didn’t see anyone living. They probably fled in terror after the first wave of Augments fell on them. Now the little shanty houses were empty.
He stopped in place and stood completely still. The bionic silver eye switched from the normal, visual spectrum to infrared. He scanned the buildings around him. They were all empty. The only thing he picked up were the heat signatures of rats and other small rodents.
A sudden noise, like the whisper of cloth on cloth, caught his attention. His reflexes kicked into high gear. He turned around and raised his biomech cannon at the same time. He leveled it at the stealthy intruder trying to sneak up on him.
It didn’t take him long to see that the person was actually his target, Fiona Rosburg. She had a mask covering her nose and mouth. She wore black military fatigues and had several pieces of military grade armor on.
The second he saw her, his mind and body seized up. He couldn’t do a thing. All he did was stare at her.
She had a fierce warrior’s look on her face that was full of rage. She slashed at him with a silver blade. It sliced through the air as it sped toward his head.
The enhancements made to his flesh had one weakness. A blade. It was a flaw that whoever created the Augments in the first place never fixed. The razor-sharp thinness of a sword was the only thing that could actually cut through his titanium-like skin. His reflexes were more than enough to handle the attack though.
He was impressed that the woman learned about the flaw and now used it ruthlessly against him. It spoke to her intelligence and resilience. However, he was still far superior to a normal human.
He could’ve killed her easily about seven different way in that first pass alone.
He’d been poised to do just that, but something stopped him. Instead, he merely sidestepped the downswing and watched her stumble past him.
What is happening to me? he asked himself, but no answer would come.
Meanwhile, the woman rushed him again. Her fighting style and attacks were amazing for someone with just honest-to-God human capability to work with.
The blade she used was a razor-edged machete. It came sweeping toward him again. He deflected it with his biomech cannon, and the blow caused a ringing chime to fill the air. He spun away from her, but he left her untouched and unhurt yet again. Eventually, even she became confused.
“What’s the matter, you murdering freak!?” she screamed at him. “I just watched all your buddies come in here and slaughter my friends and family! You gonna tell me you got a weak stomach for killing?”
He didn’t answer. He couldn’t give her one anyway. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t bring himself to kill her. He hadn’t had any such hesitation in the past.
Angered by his silence, she renewed her attacks. There was a beautiful sort of violence to them and their awesome strength surprised him. She kept it up too, distracting him thoroughly.
He knew she wouldn’t be able to keep it up forever. She would eventually tire but he would be able to go on for several hours more without fatigue.
He fought inwardly with himself to quit letting her live and to just end it but that other part of himself wouldn’t let him.
The woman screamed in rage and fury. She renewed her attacks with increased vigor, but she was visibly slower now. It would be over soon.
Of course, that was assuming he could actually bring himself to kill her.
He dodged and blocked more blows. They just kept coming at him and he thought it was strange to see her waste so much energy when she ultimately knew her attacks were pointless. There was fury in her eyes as he watched her come at him but he caught a glimpse of something else as well. It was in the slight smirk to her mouth. It was a tiny micro-expression, but it denoted some kind of hidden knowledge. Something that made her more confident than she had a right to be.
His eyes widened in shock when he finally realized what she was actually doing.
She was distracting him.
She was keeping his focus on her and away from whatever was behind him. The whole time she was engaging him she was doing it in a way that his back was always turned. There was something or someone behind him that she was trying to keep hidden.
As if to confirm it, he caught the sound of breathing behind him. Before he could react, there was a soft phhtt sound. A second later he felt the sharp sting of a tranquilizer dart (needles were also thin enough to break through his skin).
The dosage in the dart was strong. His head started to swim almost instantly but he stayed on his feet. The tranquilizer was strong, but it was still too weak to put him down completely. It was enough to slow his movements, however, and he was just as powerless to stop the next dart as he was the first. The second dosage, combined with the first, was enough to tunnel his vision. The third and fourth darts caused a blanket of darkness to overwhelm him.
He fell to one knee and then the other one. There was a moment when he struggled to get back up. His head swam sickeningly though.
The fifth and final dart hit him, and he finally did go down. He fell face first onto the dirt road.
“Get him back to my house,” Fiona commanded.
It was the last thing he heard before that blackness closed in on him completely.
The darkness gave way to a series of images that cascaded through his battered mind. They were memories from another person’s life. At first, he didn’t know who the memories belonged to. It was a man. The man was a soldier. He was also a father. And a friend. The man was gentle, but he was also what looked like an enforcer of some type.
It took some time, but he finally started to piece together why the memories seemed so familiar to him.
It was because he was the man. He was the father. The soldier. The friend. These memories were his. They were who he’d been before...before who he was now.
They confused him at first. Then the images stopped, and flashes of a singular, more detailed memory floated to the surface of his mind. In this new memory he saw himself with both hands on the wheel of a large military transport truck. It rumbled and rattled along the blacktop inside Zone 5. Up ahead, he could see the massive titanium gates that led to the outside world.
He turned to look at his daughter sitting beside him. He brought her with him today because she’d insisted. She said she wanted to see what Little 5 was really like. She was eighteen and stubborn. No matter what he said, she flat out refused to let him turn her down. In the end, he gave in. He couldn’t help himself.
It was against protocol, but he made sure to clear it with his commanding officer beforehand.
“Thanks, daddy,” she told him, her voice artfully sweet and innocent. When he looked at her though, her expression didn’t match her voice. There was a serious, drawn look on her face. “Thanks for letting me come.”
“You’re welcome, button,” he told her.
“Dad!” she yelled. She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him. “I told you to stop calling me that. I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m eighteen.”
“Sorry,” he shrugged, a small smile on his face. “Force of habit.”
She sighed dramatically and he turned back to focus on the road in front of him.
The massive wall surrounding Zone 5 rose up to a height of forty feet. It loomed closer and closer as they drove.
The walls caging the entire population of Zone 5 in its protective embrace had a certain ominous look to it, he decided. He didn’t care for it much. It was like a giant contradiction. It was supposed to keep them safe but he thought it looked more like prison walls.
He rolled to a stop about fifteen feet in front of it. There was a guard station the size of a small house to his immediate left.
He rolled down his window. A second later, a soldier came out and leaned a hand against the door. He peered inside the truck’s cab, getting a good look at the two inside.
“Hey, Milo,” the soldier said. He leaned slightly into the vehicle as he spied the girl sitting in the passenger seat. “Hey there, kiddo.”
“Hi, Uncle Drew,” his daughter replied with a faint smile.
“You headed into Little 5?” Drew asked.
“Yeah, got some goods to deliver.” He hooked a thumb at the back of the transport. There were a few meager supplies inside meant to sustain the massive population of Little 5 for an entire year. Suffice it to say, there was nowhere near enough stuff to get the job done. “It’s not a lot, but it’ll have to do.”
“Same story, different day, huh?” Drew asked, a slight smile on his face.
“Yeah,” Milo responded. “Not sure that’s gonna mean much to the people out there.”
Drew nodded but stayed silent. Little 5 and Zone 5 politics were a touchy subject with a lot of people.
Drew turned to a different soldier manning the gate’s controls. He flipped him the okay signal and backed away. There was a loud whirring hum as the gigantic gates trundled along their tracks, creating an opening to the world outside Zone 5.
“Be careful out there, Milo,” Drew said. “Things can get pretty crazy sometimes.”
“Don’t worry about us,” he said with a grin. “I think we’ll be all right.”
Drew smiled and waved him through. Milo shifted into gear and eased the lumbering vehicle out of Zone 5 and into Little 5. The gate closed behind them.
He looked over at his daughter. She was looking around with avid interest. There was an almost outraged look on her face as she saw the dirty streets and dilapidated shanties.
Milo heard the gates close with a loud clank!
As soon as they did, all hell broke loose. Men and women jumped out of nowhere, clad in shoddy, ragged clothes. Each one was armed with heavy weapons. Machine guns, assault rifles, and even a grenade launcher. They were all primitive throwbacks to earlier days, but still just as deadly. Milo wasn’t even a sure how or where these renegades got them. He thought most of the older weapons had been destroyed a long time ago.
Milo’s instincts kicked in automatically.
“Get down!” he yelled, throwing himself on top of his daughter.
She screamed, terrified. Bullets ripped into the windshield, shattering it to bits of jagged glass that rained down on them. He could smell his daughter’s hair. It smelled like the strawberry scented shampoo she used all the time.
The barrage of gunfire went on for what seemed like an eternity. He waited, still shielding his daughter.
The sounds of gunfire eventually faded to clicking noises.
Milo grabbed his own firearm, an HIL-250. It was a highly advanced weapon that fired concentrated blasts of high-intensity laser bursts.
He popped up and fired out the broken windshield in one fluid motion. He’d been trained rigorously to track threats in a matter of seconds. He fired four bursts and watched as four of his attackers went down. They didn’t get back up.
He saw a Little 5 rebel toting an old, rusty grenade launcher and wearing some kind of primitive armor plating take a few steps toward his truck.
Milo adjusted his weapon to where it would shoot out a broader, thinner beam. He fired three times and watched as the laser beams sliced through an arm, a leg, and then completely through the man’s torso.
Milo turned back to his daughter.
“You need to stay down, okay?” he said, his eyes desperate.
His daughter looked up at him. One side of her face was bleeding from a long cut to her cheek. He saw the cut and his anger boiled up even hotter.
He gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and then shoved her back onto the floorboards. Then he shot back up.
The rebels had reinforcements now, about five more to be exact. They all pointed their guns at the truck. They held them up to their cheeks with steady, calm hands.
Milo took a second to glance at the top of the wall, wondering where his own men were. He saw them though. The top of the wall was manned by Zone 5 soldiers. Not only that but each one had their weapon trained on the rebels firing on his truck. Not one of them, however, was doing a damn thing to stop the attack.
Not one of them was trying to help.
In frustrated rage at the betrayal, he fired more shots and watched as more rebels crumpled to the ground. He even took a shot at the soldiers lining the top of the wall out of anger, but it just bounced off the polished metal harmlessly.
Then his gun started beeping at him loudly. He looked down. There was a red warning light on top that was flashing insistently. Under the flashing light was the word battery.
“God dammit!” he shouted angrily.
“Dad?” his daughter said.
“Just stay down!” he yelled at her.
He saw her flinch in fear and felt guilty for yelling at her, but he pushed that aside for now.
He struggled to pull out a replacement battery pack, but before he could, faces filled the windows on both sides of his vehicle.
The minute he saw them, he knew something was wrong. The faces weren’t nameless Little 5 rebels. They were Zone 5 soldiers dressed down in rags. He even trained beside some of them.
“What the hell?” he asked, confused. “What’s going on h...”
“Stay where you are and drop your weapon!” one of them commanded. She cut him off abruptly. It was a woman. He saw her clearly and had no trouble recognizing her.
Her name was Tessa.
He glanced at his daughter and then back at her, wondering what the hell was going on.
“What are you doing?” he asked her angrily. “You could’ve gotten her killed you psychotic bitch!”
Tessa didn’t respond. She just brought up a pistol and fired into his chest three times. The pain was immense, but his bulletproof vest stopped all the bullets from actually killing him.
He was thrown against his car door and as soon as he hit it, an arm reached through the shattered window and pinned him in place. He struggled to get away, but the arm was too strong. All he could do was watch what happened next.
Tessa calmly opened the passenger side door and found his daughter curled into a tight ball and whimpering slightly. With an empty smirk, she reached in and grabbed her, taking her away from him.
“NO!” he shouted, enraged. He struggled harder, even resorting to biting, but he couldn’t get free. He couldn’t stop them. “Give her back to me!”
There was a sharp, stinging pain in the side of his neck and then everything went black.
He woke up again several hours later. He was slouched on the steering wheel like he just took a nap. His head felt groggy and it thumped painfully right around his temple areas.
There were a lot of gaps in his memory, so he wasn’t sure what happened. Flashes of combat invaded the fog, but he couldn’t really pin them down for details. Every time he tried the vague memory would vanish.
Then his heart lurched with sudden, uncontrollable fear. He looked to the passenger side seat where his daughter was supposed to be but found her missing.
Seeing the empty seat sent a gut-wrenching feeling of desperation and fear to spread through his whole body.
He got out of the truck. He stumbled slightly because of a wave of dizziness. He brushed it off though and started running anywhere and everywhere in a mad attempt to find his daughter. He ran through the shanty town, his HIL fully charged now.
He stormed inside one of the barely stable buildings and found a family huddled fearfully inside.
“Where is she!?” he screamed at them.
All he remembered was that the people of Little 5 had her. They had his daughter. That was the only possible explanation. They ambushed him after all.
“Who are you talking about?” the father asked, his face smeared with dirt and grime. There was fear in his eyes, but also anger. “Get out!”
“Where is my daughter?” Milo yelled again, this time aiming his weapon at the man’s forehead.
The man quailed in fear, but despite that, he still maneuvered himself into a protective position in front of his wife and children.
“We don’t know,” he answered. He was frantic and insistent. He was trying to convince the man of their innocence.
“Liar!” Milo yelled back.
And then something inside him snapped.
He shot them all, including the children, and continued onto the next residence without even blinking an eye. He went through the same routine there and when he didn’t get the answer he wanted, he pulled the trigger again. Then he went on to the next and then the next and so on and so on. Before he was stopped by a squad of Zone 5 soldiers, he ended up murdering more than two dozen Little 5 citizens.
His memory suddenly switched to a new one. Now he sat in a dark cell, crying profusely. The light of the moon filtered inside through barred windows. He fought the soldiers that eventually stopped his rampage through Little 5. He fought them hard too. There were several cuts to his face and body, several broken bones and bruised ribs, and his left eye was nothing but a raised puff of swollen flesh.
He didn’t care about the pain, though.
All he cared about was his daughter. All he wanted was to find her and bring her back safe.
It was several days, however, before he was brought before the Council (the committee that dealt with soldiers that strayed from the Board’s vision and plan for the world).
“Sgt. Milo Archibald Rosburg, you are on trial for the unsanctioned murders of more than two dozen Little 5 citizens. How plead you?” the Magistrate of the Council asked. She was an old, nearly ancient woman of snow-white hair and dry, wrinkled skin. She looked at him with brown eyes that still had the intelligence from her youth.
“Guilty,” Milo responded. He wasn’t fighting the charge. He wasn’t sorry for what he did either. They deserved what they got. They deserved all of it. They kidnapped and (more than likely) murdered his daughter.
A door opened at the far end of the cavernous room. He turned to look. A woman was walking toward him. Her face bobbed up and down in the odd lighting. When she came closer, he recognized her.
Tessa. Tessa Harrison.
He shook his head. A flash of memory hit him suddenly in that moment. It was an image of her face hanging above the shattered window to his transport vehicle the day his daughter was kidnapped.
-Stay where you are and drop your weapon!-
The voice came out of a distant, haze filled memory, but it brought all the others crashing into him. The gunfight. The ones who really took his daughter. They’d been soldiers he fought side by side with for years. Some of them had even been his friends. People he’d fought with and trusted like family.
Seeing Tessa brought with it the devastating truth.
Little 5 had nothing to do with his daughter’s abduction.
His own people were to blame. They were the ones that took her.
When the full realization of that hit him, he snarled and struggled against his restraints like a rabid animal.
Tessa took it all in without so much as a glimmer of emotion.
“You,” he snarled, spit flinging out of the corner of his mouth. “You took her!”
She didn’t say a word, but he saw it in her eyes. The malice. The glee. She reveled in the fact that she had tricked him so thoroughly. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe her, of all people, would put his daughter in that kind of danger.
After all, she was her child too.
“Magistrate.” Tessa nodded to the ancient woman sitting at the bench. The Magistrate nodded back.
“Major Harrison. Have the preparations been made?”
“They have,” Tessa answered.
“Thank you and I would also like to congratulate you on your promotion. I understand you are now a full corporate member in charge of the Collection,” the Magistrate said with a very slight smile.
“Thank you. I am,” Tessa replied with a nod.
“What are you talking about?” Milo asked, so angry he could barely stand it. “Why did you kidnap her? Where is she? If you hurt her I’ll kill you.”
Tessa slowly turned to face him; her eyes cold. She smiled at him and then walked a little closer, leaning in so that she could whisper quietly into his ear.
“Save your breath, Rosburg. Fiona is fine, not that you’ll care much longer.” She smiled at him then. It was a quick, cruel smile. “Not after what we do to you.”
He whirled back to the Magistrate just as she slammed her gavel down.
“Sgt. Rosburg, you have been proven guilty of mass murder. The penalty for such a vicious act is to be executed at once. However, Major Harrison has convinced the Board that you are too valuable to be put to death, therefore your sentence has been reduced. You are to be conscripted into service as an Augment for the Collection. May God have mercy on your soul.”
With that, she rose, along with the six other members of the Council.
“NO!” he yelled, terrified. That was a fate worse than death and he knew it.
Hands seized him then. Dozens of them and all at once. There were too many to fight, but he still tried. He fought as hard as he could. He thought he might’ve broken someone’s nose right before something hard and extremely heavy collided with the back of his head, knocking him out instantly.
When he woke up again, he did so screaming with half his right arm missing.
He woke up with a start, the memories and the dream fading again behind a wall inside his mind (a wall the people that turned him into a monster put there).
There was a steady tink...tink...tink sound as the rain pelted the corrugated metal roof of Fiona’s dingy little shack. He glanced around. The place was empty. It was small too (probably more hut than actual home) so there wasn’t a lot of places a person could hide.
He was definitely alone. He found that strange. Why would she leave him by himself?
He got off the rusted little cot Fiona put him on and took a couple of steps. An intense and massive current of electricity speared into him. It came from a rather simplistic shock collar around his throat.
His muscles jerked and he lost his balance, which sent him crashing to the dirt floor. The needles of his biomech cannon dug into the ground when he tried to brace his fall with it. He was lucky he hadn’t accidentally discharged it. That would’ve left a sizable crater that he didn’t think Fiona would appreciate much. He didn’t want to upset her which was a completely foreign concept to him. Why would it matter what the woman thought or if she was angry? More importantly, why did he care?
“I...don’t...know,” he struggled to say. The words left his throat feeling sore and it ached with a dull, flat pain. It was understandable. He hadn’t used his voice in a long, long time after all. As an Augment, he had no need for a voice. There was no need to talk at all.
He struggled with the hundreds of tiny, maddening emotions circling inside his head like buzzards come to feed on a carcass. Only the carcass in this case was his mind.
Finally giving up, he sat back down on the cot and waited.
He didn’t have to wait long. About ten minutes later, Fiona walked in carrying an old M60 machine gun. She held it with the barrel pointing at the floor. He thought that maybe...maybe that might be a good sign.
“Who were you sent to kill?” she asked, her voice filled with hatred.
“Y...you,” he stuttered.
“Why?” she asked.