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Jess could recall a countless number of times in her life when she had been attacked by ‘The Others’. Physically beaten, verbally assaulted. One time when she was a teenager she was pushed down a flight of stairs, backwardly tumbling step after step back down into the recess of the city and out of sight; all because someone thought she shouldn’t be somewhere where she could be seen. By those others who moved about in their own gilded self-contained world, always consuming; yet never giving back.
She thought of these instances as the faces of these others blurred past her. The smartly dressed ones who had been drinking coffee, and then cowered quietly out of the way. The more they made their way through the tower, Jess noticed more of a mix of people which was unknown for this location in the city. As many of the workers had relocated from other facilities, and those already operating and living in the tower prior to this; a strange fusion of peoples now occupied the tower. Aiko had inadvertently mixed the two groups together, maintaining control through a shared goal. She could tell they were mixed, something about those with SIN she could always spot right away, like an internal scanner she passed before them. It was a habit, something she did without thinking about it. She was now trying to save everyone, regardless of what their cells said about them, or how they had treated her in the past.
She passed them all now, those with and without residing in the tower that looked out to sea; climbing up to god.
She and the other members rode the elevator a certain way, then exited out again, making their way through further residential and office spaces. Their map projections were taking them a way that was to avoid any unneeded confrontations, accessing the areas where there would be more people but less security. They moved quickly and found themselves at some hover pods which would take them right to the top where they new the machines were located, both here and in the other tower.
They all climbed aboard, the scanner moving over them a few times, scanning fruitlessly until Daniel overrode the system once again. The scanner recoiled back into its compartment and the hover pod, which looked like the top of a glass, floated upwards towards the higher floors, carrying them silently. They were a much nicer way to move around, though none of the group sat on the luxurious white leather seats. Before too long they had reached the top and Jess could see that their job was about to get a lot harder.
There were guards and security robots everywhere they looked. The floor was a strange mix of open plan arrangements with little hives dotted about the place, rooms they guessed which were more private. Over to one side and encased in glass they could see a machine, jutting out into the outside part of the building which loomed over the city. It was dark, and the outside lights were turned off, though pulses of red flashed repeatedly from the red safety light that adorned the very top of the tower.
They all looked at each as the hover pod came to a gentle stop and hoped they enjoyed their time there. Jess and the order were able to act only a fraction of a second before they were spotted, and an incessive alarm rang out alerting everyone to their presence. Though Jess would regret anyone getting hurt, she was so struck by the adrenaline that coursed through her, that much of the fight was a blur to her. A frantic show of lights and flashes, of strange noises and robots descended in sparks and screams.
Stefan looked at Aiko’s family, all of them suspended in the same glass tubing that had housed both Levon and his father. The room was much the same, if not larger and with a window. Or what was meant to be a window, they were still underground and the vast glass space on the wall simulated outside views to give the working space a less subterranean feel. Synchronised to the time of the day, the current view was that of a harbour at night, the boats bobbing on the gentle waves as the lights of the dock peppered the water.
All of them were there, though this only amounted to a handful of them. Aiko had been able to pull himself out of the mud of his circumstance, but his family had not. They had withered and struggled, suffering more than most due to the compendium of hinderances and genetics that had cruelly disposed on them. His parents had survived, and one of his grandparents. But of his immediate family, there was only a sister remaining.
Stefan tapped the glass like he was in an aquarium, and the girl flashed her eyes open to him. He stepped back, alarmed.
“They can’t do anything, fear not. We’re controlling their muscles and brain activity anyway. I could make her if I wanted, but best not to play with them.” Dr Camogue said, pulling up a screen before her.
“So, they are all healthy and fine?” Stefan asked, looking across to the other bodies in the tubes.
“I don’t quite know about healthy, they lived over on the West Side. Their SIN levels are off the charts too, I can’t believe Aiko came from this?” She said, registering disbelief.
“But they’re fine?” Stefan pressed.
“Yes, you can see they are.” She replied, sliding the screen and looking over more information which glowed with red and white lights.
“They need to be strong for the extraction you said, I’m just making sure. And that they won’t be harmed.” Stefan added. She looked at him.
“Trust me, I know what I’m doing. They are fine for the procedure.” The doctor said. Stefan nodded.
“I know, and sorry if you think I’m being difficult. A lot rides on this. If everything falls apart, and Aiko doesn’t get the results he’s hoping for. We need them as insurance. There’s a secret locked inside of them, as these results show.” Stefan said, his hand pointing to the little hovering screens in front of the tubes.
It seemed to give a read out of the occupant’s vitals, along with a series of flashing numbers and signs. These, as Stefan had come to learn, were mutated coding markers in their genetics. Aiko had gotten out of the mud, so to speak, but the silty world of his family’s make-up held a secret about his own evolutional path that was unique to the Tanakas. For that mud had been sprinkled with its own magic.
“It’s fine, I get it. But don’t worry. We’ll extract what’s needed and keep them in stasis until everything unravels. This facility is protected anyway, so whatever goes on upstairs will not affect anyone here. They’ll remain unchanged.” Dr Camogue said, before continuing. “Though I am making sure that my own body gets that super boost Aiko is promising, even with a little help from mother nature.” She said, eyeing him.
“What do you mean?” Stefan asked curiously.
“Well, we can all do with a little enhancer; let’s just say I have my own little medicine to take when the process begins.” She said, almost proudly.
“You sure that’s safe. All of this is based on a magic that is still hard to comprehend.” Stefan said, unsure.
“There you go, doubting again. Don’t.” She said, and though was playful, Stefan sensed a nastiness lurking there. “It’s all under control.”
She said this with such certainty, it was a strong emotion that hung on her face as it, she and Stefan were frozen to the spot.
Levon and Samuel had entered the room and expecting to find someone; had come prepared. A quick incantation from Samuel had used the condensation from the tubes to collect and then snake across both Stefan and Dr Camogue. The magic had frozen their bodies in place as the water travelled across their skin.
“That’s Stefan Ruud, he’s Aiko’s assistant.” Levon offered, going with his father towards the frozen pair. “What do they want with the Tanakas?” Levon asked his father, who was looking at the Doctor.
“Could be many things, good or bad. I know the good doctor here has a history of experimenting, so it’s probably best we get them away from her.” He said, something in his eyes told Levon he knew a lot more about her.
“Are they able to go in this state, or do we need to release them first.” Levon asked, looking at the tubes which bubbled away slightly. He felt the solution on his own skin for a moment, reminded of his own confinement a short time ago.
“Well, they can…” Samuel began, but what they could do Levon never found out.
The door to the room had opened and Aiko Tsutsumi stood there, his black eyes taking in the scene.
“Your eminence.” He said, mockingly towards The Pope.
Samuel turned to look at him but remained calm, no sign of surprise took him.
“Ah, Ai. Good to see you, a little family reunion it seems.” He said.
Aiko looked at the glass tubes, which seemed to conclude his suspicions. Levon went to move forward in an attack, but his father held his hand up to stop him.
“And what is going on with these people then? As for family, I would be pressed to use that word.” Aiko said, moving further into the room.
“Well, it seems your friend Stefan and the Doctor here have a nice little plan for them. I hope it was to keep them safe while you tried to ruin the world, but I fear it might have been something more untoward.” Samuel said.
There was just a tiny flicker in Aiko’s eyes, but he shook it off and continued.
“They mean little to me.” He said.
“As do many it seems now, but it doesn’t have to be this way.” Samuel said.
“Yet it is. What are family but a letdown. What are others, besides an annoyance. A great purge is coming, and I believe I will be better off on the other side of it.” Aiko said, quietly.
“There is more than just you in this world Aiko. And indeed, another world where you are equally at odds.” Samuel said, watching both Aiko And Levon, trying to control both.
“That world will fall too.” Aiko replied, his hands moving to his arm slightly. Samuel noticed this.
“Don’t do anything that will mean you are forever lost Ai.” Samuel said.
“Don’t call me that.” Aiko replied, almost in a snarl. And he reached towards a dial on his suit, the same as he had worn to go into the Altered.
But Samuel was quicker.
He flicked his hand around, sending the water that had encased Stefan and the Doctor and flung it against the glass tubes. Both Stefan and Dr Camogue unfroze, staggering for a moment on the spot. Samuel then grabbed his son, and with his other hand tapped a sign on his wrist and muttered some words quickly.
A green vapour had begun to emit from Aiko’s own suit, but he was not matched with The Pope’s swiftness. They had vanished in a flash and Aiko was left with the vapour pooling around the room with the glass tubes now empty, and Stefan and the Doctor looking at him in surprise.
They arrived at the bridge; the huge marker stones loomed before them as the bridge spanned out into a fog. Levon stumbled, and he caught himself. He saw his father now, bent over, wheezing as one might after a huge run. Around them were the bodies of Aiko’s family, their eyes closed but they did not look dead, more like asleep. They had arrived hard, and some of them had collapsed onto each other.
“Are you okay?” Levon asked his father, who stood with his hands on his knees.
“Yes, yes…. just that took a lot to do.” He said, as if trying to catch his breath.
Levon went across to check on the family, and they all seemed okay. Indeed, the younger girl had begun to stir, opening her eyes and sitting up slightly.
“Hey.” Levon said, going over to her.
“What the hell is going on?” She said, angrier then scared.
“Far from hell, you can rest assure my dear.” Samuel said, getting himself together.
“There’s a lot to tell you, but you’re safe; so don’t worry.” Levon said, offering a smile. She returned one, calmed by his nature.
“Okay, but why are we in the Altered?” She asked.
Both Levon and his father looked at her, taken aback.
“You’ve been here before?” Levon asked.
“Of course.” She replied, getting to her feet. “It’s where I came from.”