King Eden

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The factory.

It’s massive. An old converted nuclear power plant from the days of old. It feels planet sized, it’s so large I can hardly see the other end where captive subjects are held prisoner, waiting to be brutally picked apart and reassembled as Legion guards.

I step outside the laboratory room and onto a landing that wraps endlessly around what used to be a reactor. The sides are lined with prison cells and railings with pipes of bubbling goo flowing through each one. I am miles away from the top where steam barrels out through a tiny hole in the sky only inches away from space.

I run to the edge of the metal landing and peer into the depths; miles and miles below my feet lie a murky, disgusting, acidic lake where the fluid is sucked up and sent through the walls in all directions. The lake is nothing more than a tiny speck from my perspective, like looking at a far away star in a blank indigo sky. It’s so deep I wouldn’t be surprised if I were staring down at the Earth’s core itself.

“Hey!” I hear someone shout. “What are you doing?!”

I look to see about ten Legion guards running towards me from both directions, all armed and ready to fire. “Get back to your cell, inmate!” shouts the first cockroach as he points his green laser sight at my chest. My black combat suit alights in an array of different colors like a kaleidoscope once again, illuminating the rips in the fabric and my bruises underneath.

I raise my hands over my head in surrender and drop to my knees, the laser sights follow me to the uncomfortable grate as I fall. The ten guards surround me and point the muzzles of their guns just inches from my head.

“Thought you could get away from us this time, huh?” asks the first cockroach. “You gave our scouts one hell of a time earlier.” He steps forward and corners me against the semi circle of bugs.

“Despite your abilities, they were just two guards. I doubt you can stand up to all five-hundred of us in this compound. So why don’t you do yourself a favor and stand up, ma’am, and walk right back into that processing unit.” He uses the end of the gun to gesture to the room behind me where both of my victims lie lifeless only inches away from sight.

Slowly, with their guns still pointed at my body, I rise and turn to face the door of my cell.

“That’s right,” he says. “Why don’t you go inside and relax? You’re the lucky one you know; before you know it, all the shit you’ve ever been through will fade away, all the painful memories of being trapped on this trash planet just gone in a blink of an eye. Why would you want to run away from something like that? Don’t you know what an honor it is to be assimilated?” he presses the gun into my back and nudges me forward. I don’t obey, I just stand there and shoot him a backwards glare.

“Come on now, miss,” he says. “Trust me, you don’t want to give us any trouble. We don’t want any extra noise, and you don’t want to wake up Titan before it’s her time. None of us want that, right boys?” The other bug-headed helmets nod.

“So let’s take it nice and easy, and I’ll help you get hooked up all comfy and ready to go. Then all you have to do is close your eyes and let us take care of the rest. I promise, all your troubles are about the melt away.”

“Shut up,” I tell him, still with my back turned and the muzzle of his gun in the small of my back. “You talk too fucking much.”

“Come again?”

“I said, SHUT UP!”

I grab his arm behind me and crack it in two pieces right above the elbow, his weapon clatters to the metal grate. I latch onto the newly-exposed stump and roll his body over my head straight to the ground, then clutch the back of his armor and swing him into a backwards hold.

It’s so perfect, because the others do exactly what I expected them to do; they try and take the shot, but freeze the moment I grab the useless officer and trap him in my grasp.

“Don’t shoot!” I tell them as I pick him up and drag us both to the railing. “I’ll kill him if you do!” I crush his windpipe and choke the words out of him so that he can’t command his soldiers to fire.

“That’s better,” I whisper to him as he sputters and gasps for air. “See how much easier this is, now that you’re quiet? You know, I think we should make this a permanent thing.”

The other guards all stand there gawk-eyed, completely frozen and clueless as to what their next course of action is. So I take it for them.

I clamp my arms around the cockroach in a great bear hug and hurl the both of us into the hot gooey planet miles and miles beneath the surface of the earth. I watch as the other bugs gasp and clamber to the railing, their strange helmets growing smaller and smaller as we both plummet for what seems like ages. I release my screaming victim and allow gravity to separate and carry us both down into the scathing orange fluid as it grows wider and wider and welcomes us with open arms.

His body breaks on impact and it’s spectacular. Between the surface tension of the acid and the fall itself its as if he hit concrete, his body splays out into a mess of wires and biomechanical waste before the goo grabs his pieces and eats it, taking him down to the depths of the factory without giving him a chance to speak his final words of terror.

I twist myself through the air and prepare for impact. When it’s my turn to confront the core I cut through the surface seamlessly. My body absorbs the stress of impact and I come to the top unharmed. For some reason the assimilation fluid does not burn or affect me like it did the guard, however it is irritating. I don’t bother to stay to see what it does over time, instead I swim to the edge and jump out the orange goo onto another grated platform.

Rows of laboratories encircle the bottom where the failed units are kept in chains. It’s where the inmates are given their last meal before Titan comes to devour them all. This is my favorite part of the factory, where I can freely search for new recruits and save prisoners before it’s too late, and then escape pretty much unnoticed through Saint’s old tunnels beneath the mountain. There are no guards down here, no one to stop me, as long as the monster beneath the goo does not wake. Unfortunately those tunnels closed up a long time ago, so this time I’m not sure how I’m going to get out, but that’s the fun part about improvisation.

Slwosh. The goo hits the metal grate as I unstick my feet with every step and shake off the excess. It eats through the bars and leaves holes everywhere, simmering down to the lake and leaving nothing behind but large gaps and a foul smell. I dodge them and calmly open the first big metal door I see.

“Oh no,” I say. “It’s too late for you guys, isn’t it.”

Inside is a large room jam packed with victims, all hooked up to the lines that run through the walls. In the back of every single one’s neck is a wired-in receiver and a spider on their chest. Their eyes are freakishly white and ghostly, they sit unmoving as the wires pump the fluid through their veins, slowly freezing over their internal organs and turning their insides to mush and mechanical parts. It’s the work of Titan, she’s the one who tells the wires where to go and how to turn the host into a receptacle for her artificial intelligence. She’s the one who makes them hers, and she does it in her sleep. When she wakes the devours the imperfect ones and adds them to her body. These rejects are too far gone, I can see it in their eyes, their personalities have been wiped and all memories forgotten.

This is where I found Pharaoh, I think as I delicately step over the phantom-like corpses. Which means there should be--ahah! Perfect.

At the far end of the damp room is another steel door. I slide it open to reveal a small room full of various weapons. It’s packed with all sorts of things I’d never seen before; strange guns and grenades and discs with no labels; large black sticks and piles and piles of the same batons I encountered in Colossus.

At the very back rest two saber-like swords. They both have a separate piece of steel that follow the curved edge on the inside. It’s not connected to anything, rather, its held there seemingly by some magnetic force. I pick them up and they light up in my hands, the space between the thick and thin separate pieces glow blue with a web of lasers that criss-cross in between.

These will do, I think as I put them into black metal sheaths and attach them to the sides of my hips. I’m a simple woman, I don’t like to carry too many weapons, but I’ll steal some nice Martian junk any day. I take one of the small guns and hook it to my belt, then leave the rest alone so as not to be too greedy.

“I’m sorry friends,” I tell the hopeless phantoms as I start to make my way out the door. “I didn’t get here in time.” With that I begin to stomp out the door, when suddenly something catches my eye.

“Holy shit,” I say. “Now that’s just cruel.”

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