The two overcity dwellers slept as the townsfolk hid in their buildings, the roaming Lamb and monsters making venturing out a difficult process since the battle. One group roamed to bully and cow the people living in their homes, killing anyone they deemed was unworthy of the Lamb. The other group massacred anyone out at the wrong time. The area reeked of fear and stress; it didn’t help that the threat was realized every couple of hours in a chorus of screams and shouts, suddenly drowned out in a sickening crunch or percussive blasts.
Cat poked her head out the doorway to check if the coast was clear. Once she was satisfied with her safety, she made a quick sprint across several clearings, ducked around a low wall, and slid into the doorway of another house where several of her friends waited. Cat noticed the bodies of Rick and the demon woman, their chests slowly rising and lowering as they slept.
A young man caught her in an embrace, which she returned warmly. “Cat! We prayed for your return. How good it is to see you once more.” His full, brilliant smile cut through the somber light filtering into the shack they stood in. A young girl with rich brown hair and an old man, late in the eve of his life, both stood up to join the embrace.
“Thank you friends. I am thankful you all live.” Cat meant it. Of all times in the Undercity, where living day to day was questionable to begin with, it was particularly questionable now. She broke from the embrace and looked over at Rick and the woman. How are our two guests? They seem to be resting.”
The old man nodded. “Yep. The man’s sleepin’ like the dead, the woman though been havin’ a frightful time o’ it. She keeps tossin’ and turnin’ all restless like.” He paused, and scratched his chin. “She’s better right now though. Hasn’t moved in a bit.”
Cat nodded. “That is good, Elm. Thank you.”
The others began to speak to her, but she could barely hear them as the sound of a groan escaping Rick’s lips overpowered her attention. She dropped down close to Rick as his eyes cracked open.
“Wha… Ow…” As Rick tried to get up, Cat pushed him back down.
“Rick, you are in no position to move. You have suffered a severe injury to your head and need rest.” Rick gently fell back onto the dirt floor
“Not now. Rest. You will have your answers later.” Cat saw Rick nod and fall back asleep almost instantly. She breathed a sigh of relief: the worst had passed. Rick was likely going to be okay. Suddenly, something grabbed her sleeve and tugged on it, insistently trying to get her attention.
“Hey Cat. Mind telling me what happened?” The sweet, alien voice of the demon woman sang lightly through the dull, dirty air. “All I remember was getting shot and… I think I punched something so hard it exploded.”
Cat laughed. “You fought bravely. You’re also the first person to face one of those monsters and live, as far as we know, and are lucky to be alive.” Checking the woman’s face, Cat saw nothing out of the ordinary. She gently touched the woman’s forehead, which felt slightly warm to the touch. Nothing to worry about. “Could you turn over please? I need to check your bullet wound.”
The woman nodded and did her best to roll over, groaning in pain as she did so. Cat peeled off the suit she wore to reveal the wound on the woman’s shoulder. “How does it feel?” Cat asked.
“It hurts. It’s better than before though. What’d you do to it?”
The answer was not forthcoming. Cat searched through her clothes for the tool she sought: a sharp blade. “I will explain later. Stay still, please” With that, she slashed her palm, blood running from the wound. She raised her palm above the woman’s wound and squeezed tightly, causing blood to drip directly below onto the woman’s shoulder.
The woman sucked in a hiss of air, letting out slowly through her teeth. “That really fucking stings! What was that?” The woman tried to roll over, but Cat held her down fast.
“It is simply to heal. You need some more rest, and should go to sleep.”
“I feel fine, achey at worst.” Suddenly she got up, and stared at the wound on Cat’s hand. “What are you using to treat our wounds, Cat? Please tell me-”
“I can explain, truly. Please, calm down…”
“Calm down?!” The woman at least had the good sense to whisper, but Cat could tell she was disturbed. This needed to stop. “You just dripped…”
Cat concentrated as hard as she could, praying that the woman would simply get tired. Would feel the need to rest. With every passing moment, the woman’s eyes drooped, her posture slacked, and eventually she fell back on the floor in a deep sleep.
“Thank you, Lord. Please watch over us, and deliver us from our hardship.” Cat desperately hoped that the two of them would be well soon; with all the rest and care they were getting, that should be the case. She glanced at her hand, and the wound had already sealed and scabbed. Her gift, she called it, was a diving blessing. God would answer her prayers, God would heal her wounds, and God had blessed her blood to heal others. She hoped her two newer friends would understand.
Royce gulped down the rest of his coffee, concentrating even harder on the screen in front of him. Lists of movements, maps, and potential strategies flew through his mind as he tried to assimilate it all. He knew he was smart and a quick learner, but military strategy was not something he had ever studied before. This was all new territory to him, and he did his best to compute everything he was downloading.
His new arm modifications had some surprising effects; for one, because it was linked to his neural pathways, he knew that his brain could access and use the functions inherently in the machine, which were varied. What Royce didn’t count on, however, was the ability to access knowledge in his brain, compute and process the information in the megacomputer on his arm, and send it back to him. He had hoped that the mind-machine relationship would be useful, but hadn’t expected it to be quite to effective. As a result, his progress with learning his newfound abilities was quickly expanding.
He had anticipated being able to control machines and networks near him. He had planned on using it to shut down the director’s heart, overwhelm the security forces of the building, and cement his position in the CBI before anything could be done to stop him. Now, as everything had gone to plan thusfar, Royce had the somewhat more daunting task of actually doing what he had set out to do; clean up the mess of the last generation. Remake Toronto into the amazing city it could be.
“Why stop at Toronto…” His mind reeled at the possibilities for Canada. The world. He could rebuild the whole world with this kind of technology at his disposal. A central intelligence controlling a whole nation affecting unit of technology, capable of realizing a singular vision. “First things first, though.” Fix the problem here, at home. The rest can wait.
He was calm about almost everything right now. The justified repossession of the CBI, the wild success of his pet project, the creation of his potentially world altering technologies, none of these had really affected him emotionally. Excited, to be sure, but not disturbed or worried.
No, the only thing that caused worry right now was the distinct lack of communication from the woman. He hadn’t heard anything in a couple of days now, which was far longer than any gap in communication previous to now. Although he didn’t want to assume the worst, this lack of communication disturbed him more than anything else at the moment.
Why this woman occupied so much of his thought now with her task more or less done was becoming something of a mystery. He had no idea why this one person, despite the fact she had a beautiful machine for an arm, still made him worry so much. He should be accustomed to losing a small investment, taking a slight loss in time or resources. Testing and science was a business founded on calculated risks and loss management. She was a calculated risk, a gamble on resources that paid off in dividends. In the short span of time she was down there, her arm had sent loads of interesting data confirming the accuracy of the maps he had access to, the strength and capabilities of the technology on her, and she was the first person to field test, successfully, he added with satisfaction, the power field technologies now embedded in his arm. She had also helped to piece together and solve the riddle of what CBI was initially doing down in the old city, providing useful eye witness confirmation of the monstrosities down there.
Still he thought about her. Data be damned, he couldn’t stop. Royce worried, incessantly; where was she? Was she safe? He shook his head. Surely, he considered, there must be a reasonable explanation for all this. Yet nothing logical came to mind.
Her hair. He piercing blue eyes. Her perfect voice. He didn’t even know her name, and yet she cropped back up any minute his mind wandered.
“The only logical thing to do is check for myself. Yes. Yes that’s right.” He looked at his maps, charting a course and making a new set of preparations.
He was going to find the woman himself. To stop worrying, he concluded, it’s best to just solve the problem yourself.
Rick woke with the mother of all headaches, to the point where he could barely open his eyes. Even the pitiful amount of light in the old city was enough to hurt his eyes, but he needed to know where he was.He sat up, only to have someone push him down. Dirty, long blonde hair and cloudy eyes hovered over him.
“Cat, where are we?” His throat hurt, dry and caked in dust, and every word he choked out sounded like a dying man.
“Not now, Rick. Quiet.” Rick felt a deep seated fear in him, and stayed deathly still.
He concentrated and tried to absorb his surroundings. He lay on a dirt floor, and was surrounded by walls. Skie lay beside him, breathing softly, as Cat and three other members of the village sat and waited. Just as he was about to ask why, he heard a shuffling outside, the soft padding of leathery callouses on rough dirt. Whatever it was outside, it moved with a severe limp, each uneven step accompanied by another one. It sounded like whatever it was moved very awkwardly, the shuffle step punctuated only by low growls and the sound of dripping fluids on dry soil.
It passed by the left of him, breathing heavily. Rick could make out an unmistakable stench of gut rotted meat, sweat, and dried blood. It was almost enough to cause him to gag, but he kept it in control for fear of it giving them all away.
The sound of shuffling continued to veer away from them. Rick breathed lightly, trying his best not to make any sound.
Rick started in surprised when the far off wail of a baby cried a way off behind where he was. The shuffling stopped, and suddenly an uneven thudding bolted past the place where they were hiding. A roar of broken metal assaulted his ears as it mingled with the cries of more than just the baby, and the sounds of butchery started. In seconds, all the screaming and shouting had died out.
Rick swore under his breath. He looked to his right and made sure Skie was still asleep, which she was. Looking at her shoulder, he saw a wound on her back, but it was mostly healed. He didn’t remember how she had gotten it… or how he had wound up here, for that matter. The last thing he remembered was Cat getting slapped, hard, and then he was here, hiding from the horrors again.
In all his years as a hunter, this mission took the cake for most fucked up shit in an outing. He was used to recovering samples, doing reconnaissance, and taking out problematic gangs. Whatever this was, was something entirely different. He had never had to deal with this much crap before, even when fighting was inevitable. The risk of death was something he had accepted in his line of work, and had worked through the fears associated with that risk. He knew how to use that fear, give him an edge and a focus that most people didn’t. What he felt now was panic, pure and simple, the keen point of fear being replaced by the mind consuming alarm he felt now.
Breathe in, breathe out. Maybe Skie had the right idea after all.
Royce checked his gear once over. He was positive he had what was necessary: some basic plating, a weapon, some rations. Staying in the old city for a long time was not a part of the plan, so anything more would have been a waste. He also decided to field test some newer technologies that had only been prototypes until now; force field shields and blaster among them. He tested the systems in his arm, everything running properly and according to plan. It was time.
He hoisted a small crate under his arm, and strode out of the lab. There was work to be done, and a drop pod to catch.
Cat watched over the woman carefully, making sure she was comfortable and relaxed while sleeping. There was nothing worse than having her wake up and get angry at a time like this. The monsters still stalked the street, and way too many people had lost their lives to the demons outside.
Her skin crawled with anxiety, though she did her best to not think about her fears. Bravery, she thought, I must show bravery. Remaining calm as the interim leader of her little group was very important because it set the tone for how everyone would act. If she was calm, so would everyone else.
That was always the case with her, even as she was growing up. She had no parents growing up; her father had never come to claim responsibility, and her mother had died in childbirth. Cat was raised by the group, and quickly became friends with them. When she cried, they cried with her. When she laughed, the mood brightened. Cat was a born leader, always setting the tone of a situation. Everyone around her reflected how she felt. It was a marvelous thing when everything was going well, since as long as she was happy people around her were happy as well. She learned early on, however, that if she was ever afraid or unhappy, everyone around her would be the same.
She also had God on her side, and could command others if need be. If she prayed hard enough, God would answer her prayers and people would do what she asked. It was an awful thing to ask God to do, since she didn’t feel worthy of his boon to her. For one person to have the power of divinity on her side, and force others to obey? She tried her best not to use it save when it was necessary. Sometimes, she didn’t even need to pray: God would listen to her thoughts and force someone to things she didn’t like.
Cat listened carefully, and couldn’t hear any demons outside. Once she was convinced that nothing was listening, she sat down next to Rick, who was lying on the ground. She laid a hand on him, and his eyes flicked open.
“Rick, I need to ask your forgiveness.” she said softly.
“For what? As far as I know, you’ve saved my life.” His voice was still rough, dirty, but it sounded better than before, less strained. “I don’t know what from, but I’m going to guess the motherfuckers outside had something to do with it.”
Cat shook her head. “No, I didn’t do much to save you. It was the woman who did that.”
“Her name’s Skie. She… I don’t remember when she told me, but she did.” He paused, his face frowning in consternation. “Cat, what happened?”
Cat told him what happened when she brought them in front of the temple, to meet with Ora, Damien’s betrayal, the subsequent fight. How the woman… Skie, had saved him and killed one of the demons on her own to protect him. “Skie did enough that we could get to you both, and we’ve been in hiding since.”
“That’s… okay, let’s deal with one thing at a time. Why are you sorry? It sounds like you did your part in saving my ass, which I’m thankful for.”
Cat rung her hands. “Because I feel like I made you attack Ora. I was so angry and spiteful after his words, and Damien’s betrayal, that I just… I wanted him dead.”
“Since I was a little girl, God gave me the ability to influence people around me. Whenever I am happy, angry, or sad, people around me are the same. And sometimes… sometimes, I can make people do things if I pray to God hard enough.” She paused, feeling of guilt overriding everything else. She wished to disappear, become invisible.
“Cat, I’ve seen a lot of weird shit since I’ve been down here, but mind control or forced emotions like that aren’t possible.”
“But Rick, it has been like this my whole life! What else could it be, but God granting me his favour?”
Rick shook his head. “Cat, I don’t know. What I do know is that you heal ridiculously fast, you seem to have heightened physical abilities… these are usually symptoms of something called genetic modification. Do you know what that means?”
Rick sat up next to her. “Okay. Back during the War that created this mess, the Sons of Adam, a radical group in the States that took power and started the war, were obsessed with creating a perfect world. A world where, honestly, they had all the control. They dabbled in a lot of science and started messing with DNA. Follow me so far?”
Cat understood most of it. “DNA?”
Rick nodded. “DNA is what determines a lot of how we look like, our height, our eyes… but the Sons of Adam wanted a perfect super human leading their armies. Way before the war started, they gained access to scientists and researched how to make a new breed of human. Quicker healing, super strength, the list was a long one but they figured out a way to customize their soldiers like that.
“Thing is, even when the Sons of Adam had burned their way through most of southern Canada, they didn’t know what would happen to their pet projects if they ever tried to… well, make more little people. Reproduce. The stories go that it wasn’t possible but we never found out for sure because we never let the leftover soldiers into our cities. If any of them survived, they probably died out years ago due to the harsh conditions here.
“The things is, Cat, you seem to have a lot of those powers. With whatever’s been down here, between all the weird chemicals and shit, you should look a lot more like the old guy in the corner there.” Rick waved at the old man, who smiled a toothless smile back.
“Ever since you and I had our chat in the church, I’ve had ideas floating around in my head about it. When you narrowly didn’t get choked to death, your neck should have had massive, ugly bruises. Instead, your neck was perfectly fine. You didn’t flinch at the cold when we passed underneath the freeze exhaust of the new city. If you could do weird brain shit, it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve seen since I started this crazy journey.”
Cat’s mind reeled at the possibilities. “But… I grew up alone. I did not know my mother, she died giving birth to me and… Rick, I do not know.” She turned away as tears welled up in her eyes. “Even if what you are saying is true, it is my fault that the fight broke out and you almost died. That is what I am sorry for.”
Rick’s hand squeezed her shoulder gently. “Don’t worry about it. As far as I’m concerned I’m alive, so whatever. Focussing on the problem at hand is a better use of my time. Right now, it seems that we’re stuck in here and, if I’m not mistaken, we need to get into the temple before we can mount anything worth talking about. Cat, how’s Skie doing?”
Cat didn’t know how to feel about the woman. She was… turbulent. Violent. But evil? Wrong? She couldn’t say. The woman had almost killed her, but that violence had been a revelation, reminding her of the horrible actions she had done in the name of saving her community. In a sense, she owed her new path to the woman.
“She… she is fine. She was hit by a bullet in the left shoulder, which we had to take out. I’ve been healing her since.”
Concern crept into Rick’s voice. “How. It’s important to tell me how.”
“I… I used God’s boon. My blood has healing properties…” Cat drifted off, feeling unsure about everything. Was it God who gave her these gifts? Or was she just another monster? She tried to stay positive, but she felt despair creep into her heart, its heavy claws digging in.
Rick crept over to Skie and checked her shoulder for himself. After a brief period, he turned to the group in the corner. “Do any of you have my pack? I’ve got a med kit in there I need.” The group looked around, found a pack, and gave it to Rick. Nodding thanks, he opened it and set to work on Skie’s shoulder.
With the flashlight in his pack, he took a good look at the wound. It had almost completely closed now, and most of the scabbing had completely fallen off. He grabbed a blood sampler, and took some blood to test. Skie groaned, but stayed fast asleep as a small trickle of blood leaked from where he had taken the sample. Rick padded it dry with a disinfecting cloth, and began to analyze the sample with his visor computer.
Miraculously, the visor hadn’t broken from the head injury. He linked it with the blood sampler and checked the data. Almost everything checked out as normal, with no signs of infection. He also learned her blood type, A+, and that she had an iron deficiency. Rick relaxed as he discarded the needle from the sampler, and applied a bandage to her shoulder.
“Whatever you did Cat, it worked. Skie is as healthy as she can be.” He paused, thinking. “Cat, do you mind if I take a sample of your blood? I need to know something.”
Rick waited for a response, but Cat didn’t so much as move. The room’s mood had significantly darkened alongside her own, and Rick could feel a gray hopelessness trying to settle on his mind.
“Cat, Now’s not the time. I can…” He stopped, trying to think of a way to phrase the ridiculousness of it all. “I can feel your shitty mood and it needs to stop. Focus on me.”
She turned to face him, her eyes red and shot. “Rick, I do not know what to think right now. I cannot help it; I feel as if my life has been turned upside down.” She sniffled, and causing a wave of sadness to permeate Rick’s mind and body. “Am I just the byproduct of a monster? Am I unnatural?”
Rick felt sadness from her, but his own frustration grounded him. “Cat, I need you to focus. Whatever this is isn’t important right now. It’s one thing if you don’t want me to take a blood sample, but all this other shit won’t help fix the problem that we’re outside of the only fortifiable building within a hundred kilometers, and we need to get in. We aren’t doing that unless you’re in the right mindset, because everyone else in this town relies on you. Look at your friends in the corner!
“They’re huddled in a corner, worried for their lives. You need to grow a spine, and be strong for them. Because if you don’t, we’re all doomed.”
Cat stared at the wall, unblinking.
Skie roused from her sleep just as she heard Cat crying softly. “Wass happened?”
Rick flashed a really bright light in her eyes, which hurt. The world hurt a lot less than the last time she remembered it, but that light needed to shut the fuck off.
“Rick, my eyes are fine. Leave me alone.” When her eyes readjusted to the darkness, she saw Cat not to far to her left and three other people in a far corner of the room silently weeping. Skie didn’t know why, but she felt upset too. As if she really badly wanted to cry. Why, though, was an excellent question, she thought. I’m alive, I should be thrilled as hell.
“Why are we all crying?”
“Not a good time to ask,” Rick replied, “she’s having an existential crisis of sorts, and I’m too frustrated to deal with it.”
Skie pondered the information and thought better than to dig any more than that. “Okay, so where are we? What’s going on?”
Rick scratched his head. “Well, we’re outside the temple, and there are monsters everywhere that are roaming the place. The temple is the only defendable place for miles, and we’re not in it.” He started drawing shapes in the sand as he spoke, shapes that turned into a layout of the area. “I’d like to be in there before any more of the monsters show up and cause issues.”
Skie nodded. “So, where are we right now?”
Rick jabbed a small square in the middle of the map. “We’re right here, from what I can gather. I peeked outside once or twice. Between the monsters and the occasional Lamb, it’s not risk free, so I’m not completely sure. Still, it’s the best guess we have.”
“Okay, that’s fine. So what’s the plan?”
Rick glanced at Cat. “What I want is to rally together in a big group and assault the place, but Cat’s in no mood for it. Which is actually a big deal, turns out.”
“Why? Can’t we just get everyone to go?”
He shook his head. “Not quite. Cat’s… well, we had a chat. Turns out that she’s special. She can mess with heads, to a degree. If she’s feeling up for something, we’re guaranteed to get everyone in the community in on it. If she isn’t a part of it, then we’re not guaranteed to have everyone.”
“And if we don’t have everyone, then we’re fucked is what you’re saying.”
“Yep. Pretty much.” Rick slumped, his mood darkening considerably.
Skie got up in a crouch and shuffled over to Cat, who still seemed dazed and out of it. She placed her still human hand on Cat’s. “Hey. What’s wrong?”
Cat turned her head, her face half hidden behind a curtain of hair. “I do not understand what I am anymore. Rick told me about DNA, and genetics, and he thinks I might be the byproduct of evil and war. I thought I was God’s child, and now I do not know. I… I cannot…” She buried her face in her hands, shuddering.
Skie remembered her mother, giving advice to all those people years ago. “Look, I’m not the God type. My mom was though, and she was a… a help giver. No matter what, she believed that God was a force for good, and would be there for everyone who did their best to better the lives of others. It was like trading; if you did something right by someone else, they’d look out for you and so would God.
“When I was younger I got into fights a lot. People started doing wrong, and I made sure they got even. When my mom found out, she didn’t call me a horrible person or anything. She was disappointed, like really fucking pissed that I was beating people up, but when she found out why I was doing it she laughed. She then told me something really nice.
“She said that God looks at what you do, not where you came from. So, I always try to do right by that. Even if I don’t believe in a god, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t care why you are the way you are, so long as you try to do what’s right.”
Cat sat quietly, listening to everything. When Skie had finished, Cat wiped her nose on her sleeve, and stood up.
“Rick,” Cat started, “what do you need me to do?”
Rick turned around, and smiled. He motioned everyone to look down at the dirt, and started making his plans.
See Mom, Skie thought, I can help without punching shit too.
End of Parts 21, 22