" And in other news, the FDA has just recently approved of the new product "Insomero", a drug that gives promise to the next era of industry and productivity. For more, we go to Danny Velgard at the Slumbreno Institute. Danny?"
"Thanks Vikki. As many of you may know, the Slumbreno institution has been in the public's eye for awhile now with its advances in the study of the human mind as well as sleep patterns. Research done on sleep depravity in both men and women has lead to a rather revolutionary discovery and advancement in medicine. What I hold in my hand right here Vikki, is the pill that will end the sleep cycle as we know it. This small tablet is called Insomero. Given this nickname from the phrase "Zero Insomnia", Insomero holds the promise of allowing human beings to stay awake almost indefinitely, without feeling any sense of grogginess or even a desire to sleep. Coupled with the fact that human beings spend anywhere from a fourth to a third of their life sleeping, the possibilities and opportunities this substance gives us is nearly endless.
Without a doubt, this pill will reshape our world. I'm Danny Velgard. Back to you, Vikki."
Forge Of The Glass Ants
Chapter 1: A World Of Joy
1,000 Years Later
It was just like yesterday, or so I thought. My guardians discarded of me at the usual junction to the school a bulletproof, extending tunnel that attached the inside of the school to the door of our cozy limo. With a reassuring look, they nudged me to get out, and to participate in yet another glorious and maleficent day of brutality and murder.
"What's wrong dear?" My female guardian asked me. "I thought you were so overwhelmed with joy when we picked you up from your first day. What's troubling you?"
I was silent, unsure of how to respond. While it's true, I did initially enjoy the taste for the inner world and lifestyle of the Agony Academy, I still had my trepidations about the art and craft of dismembering the society outside of the school's boundaries. I looked down at my dulling, blood-caked scalpel used on an acquaintance of mine. It was in Mrs. Thorcher's class that I witnessed the true depravity of the world around me, and where I so willingly dissected what could have been a very dear friend alive.
"It's nothing to concern yourself with, Miss." I mumbled, the ambassador cracking our door open as slowly as it usually does. I disregard his gloved hand in assistance, as always.
Today, I did not even turn back to watch my guardians pull away from the - now detached -tunnel. I was too overwhelmed with my thoughts. Certainly I had been able to make it through my classes alive thus far. However, what will happen to me in the real world? Every time I'm at home, in school, or in our car, I view it through tinted, bulletproof glass, steel plating, or concrete slits. My guardians never talk about the old world as they knew it. Every time I inquire about its status, I'm rewarded with a sad look from her, or a scowling face of disapproval from him. Every now and again they'll discuss some topic of culture from before this time of peril, but if I ever barge in and ask about the topic to which I have just eavesdropped, the conversation vanishes without pause nor proof of its existence.
There were no intruders on my way through the tunnel. No passer-bys that futilely attempted to end my life through the thick glass. On the first day of attending this institution, I met such a man. His corpse had been dragged off by another monstrosity unknown to me. It seemed cannibalistic creatures controlled these parts. I often wondered if he had any guardians of his own, desperately searching for him, only to see him as another humans' meal outside of the Agony Academy at the end of their pursuit.
At the end of the frosty, glass tunnel, the black metallic doors beckoned to me. I knew that once I had entered the confines of this instructional house of slaughter, this
prison, I would never be free from it until I had earned my daily privilege to live.
Gripping the handles to my servitude, I pulled the great steel gates open, and immersed myself once more in the wretched bleached world of insanity. As usual, there was not a soul in the expansive hallways, but the directory which outlined the building rested in front of me. It was the only piece of information - or even decoration for that matter that hung on the wall.
I had become used to this part of my endeavor, walking past all of the assorted offices, each one branded with their own individual letter of the alphabet A through Z. After passing through the tediously long hallway, I arrived at the crossroads once again. Spanning out in all directions were new, equally bleached hallways, with their own number and letter system. I looked down at my class schedule once again.
... Ms. Jeenoside
. Room: 11-B
. Mr. Deedi
.. Subject: Mathematics
.. Room: 51-D
. Mr. Thorcher
... Subject: Psychology
... Subject: English
. Room 17-F
4th and ½ Period .. None
.. Subject: Lunch
.. Room: Any
.. Mr. Osasen
. Room: 84-A
.. Mrs. Thorcher
. Subject: Science
. Room: 40-J
Today, an Ambassador didn't come to my aid. I knew precisely where to go for my first class. While I didn't like the thought of having to interact with any of my professors, I wasn't about to have my hand held by the jailers of this institution. I'd already made it this far to the crossroads, all that was left was to get through the torment of Ms. Jeenoside.
As always, the trek down the long and windings hallways was as enthralling as watching the white paint placed on their ceilings dry in slow motion. After a few minutes of walking and spacing out to pass my time, I came to the door with "11-B" engraved on the surface of the door as well as the knob which unlocks it.
Upon entry, I was immersed in the same wretched, flawless, snowy white room that I so loathed. The blotches of blood where so many students had been impaled, diced, maimed, or otherwise had all been polished away. Spots that should have been dyed crimson for eternity were back to their old ivory color; so intensely white that even your reflection could be seen with ease.
Ms. Jeenoside stood front and center, as she usually did every day. In her usual bleached slacks, pressed white shirt, and the albino leather trench coat. The serial number, initials, occupation, and full name stuck out like a sore thumb, super imposed in black on her trench coat. The daily first bell rang above the door, and her two eyes began whirling in her head individually, as if they had minds of their own and worked independent from one another.
"Class has begun." Her blue eye fixated on one student who had not yet sat down, while her green one glanced over to a girl who was rummaging around in a small bag for a pencil.
I looked uneasily at the pair as Ms. Jeenoside's eyes locked in on them. In this inner world, I had grown all too paranoid of the professors' intentions with students. One false move, a disobedient glance, or even an improper way of walking was all it took for an administrator to snap pull a revolver on you, have their way with a scalpel, put you in an Iron Maiden, and perhaps throw you in a cell of ravenous rats.
Apparently, these two other students had also witnessed what I'd seen in my first few days. They both quickly stopped dead in their tracks and immediately paid attention once they saw the gaze of Ms. Jeenoside on them. Once she was satisfied, the professor's two eyes clicked back into a normal arrangement, and class began in full swing.
"Tomorrow, as a select few of you may have heard, is a rare occasion." She began, the corners of her lips curling into a sickly smile. "The High Imperator and his right hand are paying us all a visit tomorrow."
"Excuse me teacher," One foolish student raised their hand in question not so much foolish because they had a question, but foolish because they made their presence known to Ms. Jeenoside. "Who exactly is the High Imperator?"
"May your parents be krared for not teaching you about our Lord." Ms. Jeenoside scowled at the now quivering student. "The High Imperator is the one who has shown so many people the light the proper way of living." She tapped her lengthy fingernails on the rolling glass eyeball in her skull. Her pupils dilated into hexagons instead of the usual circle pattern.
Ms. Jeenoside clicked the tips of her fingers together which sounded oddly metallic - and a small probe descended from the ceiling. I braced myself, unsure of whether or not the probe was going to unleash some deadly neurotoxin, or bombard the classroom with a shower of bullets. Our teacher simply smirked at the class's reactions to the unknown object.
After a few whirls and buzzes, the tip of the probe spewed out a wide arc of light, illuminating the front of the classroom with a Priorvent Picture. From it we were able to look into the past and witness events that transpired in history, right from our humble classroom of torment. Everyone made sure not to step in front of the projection beam, as few have done so before, and were quickly eviscerated. I began wondering whether or not one could form a Priorvent Picture to look at the point in time when such an experiment was done. Then perhaps some other time down the road I could look at myself looking through the window, witnessing the first Priorvent massacre.
"Mr. Mondale," Ms. Jeenoside broke my train of thought. "Are you paying attention to this window?" She asked as a small blade slid down her wrist and into the palm of her left hand.
"Perfectly," I replied. "Just trying to remember all this information."
"You don't have a Priorvent Picture in your own home?" She asked, slightly surprised. Having such a device was commonplace these days.
"I'm afraid not." I lied, merely looking for a chance to escape this dreaded classroom.
The events of the High Imperator seemed to trudge on forever. Most of it was blatantly propaganda. "Look at what magnificent things the High Imperator has done for us!" It continued to say. Watching these advertisements from an older time were painful not because they were overly done or saturated with lies, but because they were simply everywhere. The only interesting thing that occurred was when the window brought us to the heart of what the High Imperator had done to gain followers, and destroy any part of the old world that would not bow to him.
The dust and ruin of the demolished city swirled around them. Far off in the distance, the muffled sound of screaming women and children rose and fell like a chorus. Like a symphonic cymbal crash, deployed bombs sundered the ground and those who stood upon it. In a l little cottage nearby, a woman cowered in the presence of a nameless man.
"What are you so fearful of, my dear?" He whispered, sliding a chair closer to her so he could sit and chat with the troubled woman.
" She whimpered.
"Your husband?" The man's eyes mechanical eyes clicked around in their sockets, as if he were trying to understand.
" She buried her face in her arms, sobbing from the thought of what was transpiring beyond the walls of the cottage.
" The man slid closer and placed her hand on the woman's shoulders. "My friends outside and I can help you."
The woman's head surfaced from her pit of sorrow for a moment, looking at him with disbelieving, wet eyes.
"How do you expect to help me when the entire country is crumbling in ruins? You look like a man of the Jestifun, so why aren't you going outside and putting the internal bodies to rest, out in that war zone?" She glared at him, noting his golden handcuffs, the metallic sashes spanning his chest and waist, and the strings of bells dangling from his shoulders.
"I'm afraid I am not quite a Jestifun." He stood up and turned around, showing the woman the emblem of an eyeball etched into the back of his military robes. Sitting back down, he motioned for her to look into his eyes.
" She gasped.
"They are no longer eyes, my love." He smiled warmly. "These orbs have given me the truth and justice of the world. They've put me at ease with reality, and with what truly matters. You've been lied to by the Jestifun."
Before the man could fully explain, another robed figure opened the door to the cottage, donning the same emblem of the eye. Steam pipes hooked directly into his back and shoulder blades kept him from fully entered.
"My Lord Imperator, we must move on from this spot. The tide of war is headed in this direction." He mouth ignited and burned as he talked. Smog erupted from his mouth and steam spewed from the pipes on his back.
"Very well." The Imperator sighed, standing above the woman, but still forced to hunch over in such a low ceiling. "I'm afraid I must be going then."
"Wait!" The woman crawled forward and grasped his robe. "Take me with you! Please! Can you not help me, as you promised?"
"I very much can, my dear." The Imperator knelt down and gently cupped her chin in his hand. He wiped away her tears with his thumb as he smiled. "You just need to help me in turn. Would you be willing to do that?" His eyes softened.
Yes." She melted under the tone of his voice so filled with sorrow as hers was.
The Imperator stood, bringing the woman up with him.
"Then it is decided." He smiled, wrapping his arms around her. "However, now is not the time for celebration and warm welcoming. We must press on with our mission. After you, my love." He gestured for the woman to exit the cottage first.
Once her back was turned, he pulled out a knife from his robes.
The Priorvent window sealed shut with a spark of light, and the probe from the ceiling sunk back into its crevice.
"Now you know." Ms. Jeenoside stepped back into the center of the classroom, out of harm's way from the Priorvent beam. "The High Imperator is arguably the man who single handedly pulled the world out of external war. He saved countless lives and shaped the world around us with the belief of Veritism. Those who he showed the truth to continued to save countless others from ruin and despair in their own ways. I myself was shown the path of Veritism not so long ago." Ms. Jeenoside tapped the glass eyes in her head, and did something none of us expected in a thousand years.
The bell for dismissal rang once above the door. Everyone got up from their holodesks and exited the classroom single file, leaving only Ms. Jeenoside in the room. After we had all left and began to going our separate ways to the next class, I felt a tug on the sleeve of my shirt. I turned around to see one of the female classmates looking me in the eye. She was the kind that sat in the back of the room and kept to herself. Even now, she seemed shy and uneasy about approaching me.
Hey. Do you
" She began, already stumbling on what to say to me.
"Hey, perhaps an introduction would be a good place?" I smirked, noting her difficulty. She nodded in appreciation.
"I'm Victoria." She extended a hand to shake. "Victoria Orr."
"Or what?" I asked, clasping her hand and loosely shaking it."
"Orr." She tilted her head, swinging her blonde bangs to the side. "That's my last name."
"Ah! Sorry about that." I laughed. "I'm Jacob Mondale."
"Charmed." She grinned.
We began walking through the hallway. We both had our next class in the same vicinity, but she had a Linguistics class with some professor named Reaysen. I laughed at his name. I imagined him looking like a raisin, after his namesake.
"What is it you wanted to talk to me about, anyways?" I asked as started walking down the last hallway to our respective classes.
"Ms. Jeenoside." Victoria answered. "Her personality today is totally different from what it was yesterday. Don't you remember what she said? How she acted? Any little thing set her off in a bought of endless rage. Yet today, she was going on and on about how The "High Imperator" was such a grace to this planet and how he saved so many people and was the poster child for peace and love. Saying something like that just isn't in her character."
I nodded. Now that she had mentioned it, it did seem rather peculiar that Ms. Jeenoside had such an abrupt change in persona. The most hate filled person I'd ever come across one day, and then speaking of comfort and truth the next? It certainly seemed out of place.
"Well, this is my stop." Victoria stopped walking with me and sighed at the foreboding door in front of her. I still had a few more doors to go before I reached my own destination. "In case I'm one of the ones that gets killed in the classroom, it was nice meeting you." She chuckled gloomily, then placed her hand on the doorknob.
"Say," I said, placing my hand on her shoulder to stop her. "Did you want to meet up for lunch later today? I'd like to keep talking about the matter with Jeenoside, plus know whether or not you're okay."
"Sure, I'd like that." She nodded. "I'll see you then."
After Victoria disappeared into her classroom, I continued walking towards my own. As I drew closer, however, I saw something was amiss. There was From a distance, what appeared to be a handwritten note tacked onto the door.
"Dear Class," It read. "Due to security matters on the rooftop of the school, I will regretfully have to cancel class for today. Please be sure to visit the gun range for the revolvers I promised all of you. Train with them as you like. I'll see you tomorrow. Signed, Mr. Deedi"
Sighing, I shoved my hands in my pockets and turned to head back the way I came. I glanced over at Victoria's classroom, but there wasn't a window to look into. A few doors I passed by already had pools of blood forming underneath the door from where students had tried to escape, but got shot down by their professors.
The hallways were empty, void of any activity save for an odd Ambassador here or there on the horizon or peripherals of my vision. Once I had returned to the Crossroads the nexus of all hallways in the school, I looked up at the harsh neon lit signs, looking for the hallway that led me to the gun range. After examining the first eight different hallways, the ninth sign finally listed the location I desired.
As I walked down this hallway in particular, I felt like I was on an observation deck. All to my right was nothing but solid glass, with arena rooms several dozen feet below. In one, children were running around in a maze-like area with shotguns, fire whips, chainsaws, frost swords, and every other kind of weapon imaginable in history of warfare. Such a sight reminded me of my first day, running around a similar battleground in my art class. I remembered being equipped with only a small knife, facing overwhelming odds when pitted against a student who wielded a chainsaw.
Seeing the splatters of blood across the maze walls, I had to drop my gaze and focus on the destination at hand. The gun range was neatly labeled by the standard neon lights that were dominant throughout the school's interior. Pushing the door open, I was greeting by an automated teller machine. As a matter of fact, the machine took up a vast majority of the actual room, leaving me just enough space to turn around and head for the door to my immediate right, which lead to the actual gun range.
"Please state your professor's name!" The automated teller cheered, a digital face popping up on the display screen to match the jovial voice.
"Mr. Deedi." I replied, greatly pained by the copious amounts of enthusiasm this machine had for tools of destruction.
"Please state your name!" It responded after a second of processing.
"Jacob Henry Mondale." I sighed, waiting for the end of the questionnaire.
"Please wait!" The face smiled and froze in place, leaving me with an uneasy feeling.
I stood there for about a minute or so, waiting when the creepy face would disappear.
"Complete!" It finally responded. "Mr. Jacob Henry Mondale of Mr. Deedi's class. Your standard issue Dex Class-1 Pistol will now be dispensed! If you wish to have a special type of ammunition, please input your specifications within the next 15 seconds. If not, feel free to practice with your new weapon on our complementary gun range. Admission to the range and ammo is provided to you free of charge, by the Slumbreno Corporation!"
With a few whirls and clanks, a pistol fell into a clear plastic bin in front of me. Afterwards, a small holopanel extended right next to the bin, and the option to choose my ammunition popped up, with a 15 second timer. Choices included anything from incendiary rounds, frost bullets, explosive shots, poisonous shells, spark filled pellets, mutation fragments, and other types which I didn't recognize. Before the timer wore off, my finger pressed down on the incendiary rounds. Several red colored clips fell into the bin for my pistol.
Grabbing my new weaponry, I turned over to the gun range. The walls for it must surely have been sound proofed, for when I pressed the entrance door open, a symphony of screams filled my eardrums. I wasn't the only one there testing out a new instrument of death. One girl to my surprise was lugging around a one-shot rocket launcher. Another boy was flipping a toggle on an assault rifle from single fire to burst. Other students were too far down the lanes for me to see which type of gun they were testing out.
Taking the nearest open lane, I loaded some of the incendiary ammunition I was given into my pistol. Cocking a bullet into the chamber, I was ready for my stationary target practice.
Or so I thought.
Steel bars came down behind me, trapping me in designated lane. A holopanel came down in front of me. The frightening face from the vending machine appeared, as bright and as cheery as always.
"Greetings once again!" It beamed. "Mr. Deedi has instructed us to not let any of his students go until they have completed their first lesson, which is target practice on a live individual. Best of luck to you, and try to make it as painful as possible!"
The screen retracted back into the ceiling from whence it came. Leaving me with lots of questions, I noticed an object approaching me from far off in the distant part of the lane. My expression hardened in disbelief when I began to recognize what it was.
A girl, no more than 16 years old, had been extracted from the outside world, brought in wearing only the rags of the ruined cities. She had been nailed down onto a cross nexus of three planks of wood, sobbing uncontrollably. My first instinct was to hop over the railing of my firing booth, and try to get her down as best I could. Upon further inspection, however, I noted that the floor of the firing range beyond the booths wasn't a floor at all it was a vat of some kind. The liquid inside of it was dark and murky.
I studied the vat for a while, wondering what the liquid was composed of. If it was water, I could just swim across it. However, if some kind of creature had been put inside
Best not to think about it, I told myself. Pulling back on the top of my pistol once more, I ejected the incendiary bullet from the chamber and cradled it in my hand. Bringing it out to the tips of my fingers, I held my arm over the railing and dropped the bullet.
For the first few seconds, I heard a loud sizzling, and then the bullet exploded into a pillar of fire. I cursed to myself, knowing now that the pool was composed of some sort of strong acid. It had melted the exterior of the shell and set off the incendiary round.
"It's no use." Somebody said behind me. I turned around to see the female student with the rocket launcher, emotionless and calm, staring back at me through the metal bars. "I felt bad for the guy I had to test my weapon on as well, but you can't save them. The acid they have at the bottom of this place is unreal."
"How did you figure it out? That the floor was acidic, I mean." I looked at her skeptically.
"Ha. Men." She laughed at me. "Always looking at our bodies, but never our clothes." Smirking, she started to walk away, almost as if she had a limp. It was only after her comment that I noticed she didn't have a limp, but one foot was on a slightly different elevation than the other foot. One of her combat shoes was missing.
"Wait a second, miss." I called back to her, grasping through the bars to get her attention.
"Yeah? What is it?" She placed her hand on her hip impatiently.
"Is there any way I can get out of this? Aside from
you know." I nodded over in the direction of the girl suspended above the acid vat.
"Unfortunately, no." She replied. "I tried for about three hours, working away at different spots in the walls, the ceiling, the bars. Nothing works. The only way for you to get yourself free is to kill that poor little girl nailed on those planks." She pointed behind me, looking as deeply saddened as I was.
"They seriously can't expect me to do this." I stammered. "No, I won't do this."
"By all means. I'd like nothing better than to say the bars will disband if you're resilient enough and fight the school's rules." She reached through the bars and put her hand on my shoulder. "But they won't. The fact of the matter is that you will never be set free, unless you end her life."
I just can't." I felt my despair grow, with tears welling in my eyes.
Sighing, the girl set down her rocket launcher and stood closer to me, lowering her voice to a whisper.
"Look," she said. "Think of it as a life for a life. If you kill her, you get set free to live. If you refuse to kill her, then you die of starvation in the cage and that poor thing gets used for someone else's target practice."
"I'd really be left here?" My eyes widened.
"Just a little while ago, before you came in, one of those Ambassadors from the school waltzed on in and took a corpse out of one of the firing booths. The body had been there for one maybe two days. You'd better believe they'll leave you here to rot."
My legs started to feel weak. Behind me I could still hear the girl moaning and crying, begging for someone anyone to have mercy. I cringed at her wails her pleas.
"What kind of ammunition do you have?" The student from behind the bars distracted me from my pain.
"Incendiary." I said, popping the clip out of the gun and showing her the red tint to it.
"Good." She smiled. "My ammunition was rockets, so my guy didn't feel hardly any pain from it I hope. Yours will probably suffer less as well. I'd be sure to unload as many bullets as possible though, and try to hit her in the head and heart." She pointed to her forehead and chest, perhaps in case she thought I was naïve or just plain stupid.
I put the clip back into the chamber and loaded my first bullet into the chamber. I heaved a heavy sigh.
"This woman has a family she has friends." I whimpered, my grip around the gun handle shaking.
"She's from the outside world." The student said coldly. "No she doesn't. That's the point."
I glared back at the girl with the rocket launcher. A person who has no friends, no family, no one who cares after them or even knows of their existence - Unbelievable!
"How do you alter the distance for this target practice?" I asked the student behind me.
"It's that blue control panel to your right." She said, pointing at two up and down arrows.
"Thanks." I said, pressing the up arrow.
The girl nailed down on the three wood planks began to come closer and closer as I held down the button. Eventually she stopped just close enough for me to shoot with tremendous accuracy, but far enough away so I couldn't reach out and touch her.
"Please," I said, extending my hand to her, knowing full well I couldn't wipe away her tears or bring her comfort. "Tell me your name."
" She said between sobs. "I
I hope you
go to Din and burn for the rest of your days. You furexing animals."
"I'm not the one who has done this to you." I tried to assure her, knowing she probably wouldn't care or believe me. "But I must know
What is your name?"
"What are you doing?" The female student said. "She's one of those cannibals from the outside world!"
"I don't care what you think she is!" I snapped back at her, then turned to face the woman who was destined to be my target for shooting practice.
I extended my hand as far as I could muster without falling over the railing and into the pit of acid.
"Please." I almost started sobbing with her. "Tell me your name."
Alice." She looked up at me. Her blue eyes had become bloodshot from crying.
"Alice what?" I inquired further.
Milliken." She sniffled, starting to finally calm down from the conversation.
"Hello, Alice Milliken. My name is Jacob Mondale," I said, lowering my hand. "and I'm a friend."
Raising my pistol and lining the sights, I squeezed the trigger, firing one round into Alice's forehead.
"You won't be forgotten." I whispered.
"You may want to cover your eyes soon." The student said as the bars to my firing booth opened.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"The kind of incendiary bullets that the Slumbreno Corporation uses is quite the advanced piece of technology." She said. "The way they're designed, they'll pretty much start just about anything on fire. Once the chemicals are released from that bullet you fired, the fat and oils in that girl are going to start a giant chain reaction. She'll be a bonfire before you know it."
Sure enough, Alice's corpse soon began to flicker and burn. I couldn't look at it. Turning to head out of the gun range, I fixated on Alice what she had looked like, what her voice had sounded like. I swore she wouldn't be forgotten and I meant it. Even if she didn't have a soul to care for her in the outside world
She had me.
Once I stepped out of the firing booth, the girl with the rocket launcher congratulated me.
"Well done." She said. "You took way less time than I did with my target. You'll probably grow up to be a much better assassin than me."
"No." I mumbled. "I can't stand myself right now. I'm pretty sure assassins don't live with this level of guilt."
"Well, regardless." She scoffed. "I still can't believe you told her you two were friends and all that nonsense about never forgetting her."
"It brought her comfort in death." I stated, glaring at her.
"False comfort, more like it." She cruelly smirked.
I was appalled. Hearing pessimistic words like those come out from somebody as young as her made me cringe. False comfort? Was that just something she learned at this school?
"You're right. Maybe it's better that we all die alone, nameless, without anyone to remember that we were even born. Maybe that's how you should die." I instantly regretted saying that, seeing her expression soften from such words.
"At this point in my life, that has already come true." Her gaze dropped. She bent down and picked up the rocket launcher.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I just can't believe anybody would be so harsh as to suggest that somebody should die without any sort of marker that they existed. That's like saying life is pointless." I tried to correct my social blunder.
"Life IS pointless, Jacob." She shouldered the launcher, sighed, and turned to head out of the gun range, leaving me with nothing but regret for my words.
After jamming the spare clips of ammunition into my pocket, I found the safety switch for my pistol and turned it on. By the door to the gun range, there were several unused holsters. Above them, there was a picture of the face from the weapon vending machine, and a message saying "Take one! You'll need it out there!"
Grabbing a holster fit for a pistol, I strapped it around my waist and jammed the gun into the side of it. I heaved one last sigh in mourning the death of Alice, engraving as many details about her as I could in my mind. On the contrary, I tried even harder to forget what I had done to her. Must I be burdened with this shame and guilt forever?
After I had left the gun range, I turned to head back to the crossroads. I still had a little while longer before my dreaded psychology class would begin. As cruel as this place was, Mr. Thorcher was in a league of his own.
As I was passing by the great hallway of glass, I looked down on the slaughter students had participated in. Desperate, crimson bodies were crawling around, fragmented in half, thirds, or more. Behind such a thick window, I couldn't hear a single outcry from any of them, but I knew the suffering they had gone through. I had seen the struggle between blade-wielding students, and the kind of carnage that scared children can inflict. All of this and for what? I shook my head, trying to think of what could possibly be the accomplishment the goal that everyone here was striving for. Why does anyone here lay a finger on anybody else? Simply out of fear from dying at the hands of a teacher?
My thoughts were interrupted by a confrontation further on down the hallway. Two taller, older students were picking on crying, younger student, pinning him up against the wall and holding him by the collar.
"I don't think this one is even worth gutting, Zault." The one holding the frightening student sneered. "He's only a Tier-9 Threat."
"Any missions or security detail?" The one named Zault stood behind his accomplice, arms folded in impatience. The other assailant lifted up his hand, which looked odd and out of place in accordance with the rest of his body. As I got closer, I saw why.
The man's hand was a complete work of robotic technology. Each part and joint was mechanically constructed, moving in very fluid, yet clockwork motions. As I got closer, I saw six beams of red light emitting from the hand's finger tips and palm. The lasers went back and forth from left to right, as if scanning some kind of bar code. After the beams cut out, the man dropped his hand.
"It would seem that this fledgling has only killed three people." The first man cackled.
"Please! Let me go already!" The pinned student flailed in fear and frustration. His legs dangled a few inches off the ground.
"What a nuisance." Zault said as his left hand pulled up the jacket sleeve of his right arm. Beneath his sleeve, there was a shiny, gray gauntlet attached to his forearm. On it was a circular engraving in the middle. It looked like a giant U with the two tips shaded darker than the rest of the letter. Knowing this place, whatever it was, was probably dangerous.
"First he looks at us the wrong way, and then he has the audacity to beg for his miserable little existence." Zault raised his right arm. The gauntlet began to illuminate with gray light around the edges.
Stepping forward, I pulled my pistol out of the holster from my waist.
"Hey," I called over to Zault and his partner. "What's the deal with you two? Picking on somebody weaker than you?" I gripped the pistol tighter, anticipating the worst.
"And who the Dins are you?" Zault turned and looked at me. As soon as he did so, I was taken back with shock. His eyelids, for one, were completely missing. The eyes themselves had no whites, were completely purple, and above all else
His pupils weren't round, they were triangles.
" I swore under my breath, not sure what to make of his eyes. His partner's were the same way, except his eyes were colored yellow, and the whites of his eyes were still intact.
"Ah, I think he noticed
" The partner nudged Zault, and then tapped on his left eye with a long, yellow fingernail.
"It would seem so." Zault muttered. "He's of less concern than this whelp though. This one is barely a Tier-10 Threat."
"You certain?" The other man said.
"Positive. Look at his arm, Krause." Zault gestured to my body. "He doesn't even have a proficiency gauntlet. Besides that, he hasn't been given the Eyes of Veritism."
"Hey, you're right." Krause licked his lips, as if he were hungry at the mention of Veritism. "All he has is that puny gun. Want me to analyze its properties for you?" He raised his mechanical hand. I could see the giant red orb in his palm begin to glow brighter.
"If you wish, although it is not necessary." Zault slyly grinned. The smaller student that Krause had pinned up against the wall had quietly slipped away behind the pair, and was now running as fast as he could for the crossroads, leaving me to deal with the bitter pair of bullies.
For a brief moment, I was blinded by the magnificently bright red beams of light emanating from Krause's hand. The light paced back and forth over my entire body, and then unexpectedly shut off.
"He has a Dex Class-1 Pistol with incendiary ammunition as his chosen bullet type." Krause reported. Zault continued to stare at me, expression unchanged by the report.
"So he had to kill somebody with it to get out of the range?" Zault lightly tapped his left foot in thought.
"Yes. Some no-name slair from the crumbled ruins." Krause nodded. His right eye seemed to be jolting back and forth, as if reading some ethereal text in the air that only he could see.
What did you just say?" I growled at Krause.
Krause stopped reading his internal report, looking at me, and then back at Zault.
"What do you suppose his problem is?" He asked his partner.
"Who knows." Zault yawned.
"She wasn't a 'no-name slair'." I took several steps towards them. "Her name was Alice. She was my friend."
"Ha. Friend?" Zault's grin widened, revealing sharpened, metal teeth. "You were friends with some outsider? Perhaps the administrators would enjoy hearing of your treachery and potential exposure to infection?"
I had never met her before today. I just talked to her and assured her that she wouldn't leave this world as you put it a 'no-name slair'." I hastily justified myself; unsure if there was any basis for their threats to turn me in.
"What a guy. They string his girlfriend from the ruins up on a wood plank and he swears he loves her and will never forget her," Zault sighed and placed his hand over his chest, in mockery. "
and then he puts a bullet in her brain." He dropped his arms and his face darkened.
Holstering my gun, I took another step forward, arms outstretched in an attempt to reasonably negotiate with my two adversaries.
"Look," I said. "I don't know what you were doing with that kid from earlier, and I don't want to know. Can't we just forget that this ever happened and be on our way? I have a class to get to anyways."
"I can't believe today." Zault rolled his eyes and looked over at Krause in disbelief. "First we get looked at the wrong way by that spineless kid, then we have our fun interrupted by THIS back-sassing little punk!" Zault violently pointed over to me. "And NOW we're expected to just all go our merry little way as if we haven't been gravely insulted? I think not." His gauntlet began to glow with that gray energy again.
Instinctively, I grabbed for my gun and aimed at the rapidly approaching Zault. I took several steps back and fired off a few rounds. As I did so, Zault raised his hand, and sparks erupted in the walls off to the side and behind him, where my rounds had hit.
" I cocked my eyebrow in confusion. The places where the bullets had made impact were completely off from where I had aimed.
"Look at him Krause." Zault laughed, still approaching. "He doesn't even realize what I did to his bullets."
"Ignorant child." Krause snickered. "He wouldn't have even tried anything had he seen your proficiency in magnetism.
Confused and scared of this magnetism proficiency they were both chattering about, I emptied out the remainder of my bullets and loaded in a new clip. All of my bullets seemed to be waved off to the side, as if he could control the path of them somehow. Sliding the gun back into the holster, I realized I couldn't possibly win this fight. I immediately turned and started to run.
"Where the Dins do you think you're going, slair?" Zault called out after me. I ignored him and continued to run.
Ducking and weaving around corners, I found myself in the sub-hallways of this main branch. After a few minutes of darting between shadows, I crouched behind a series of utility cabinets outside of a classroom, hoping that Zault and Krause would pass me by, unnoticed. This set of hallways in particular was obviously not as sound-proofed as the gun range, for I could hear the torturous screams of pain beyond the wall behind me.
"Where the furex did he go?" I heard Zault ask off in the distance.
"Don't worry." Krause assured his friend. "I'll find him for us soon enough."
Peaking around the corner, I caught a glimpse of Zault and Krause heading off through a different part of the hallway system. I held my breath, unsure of whether or not they'd backtrack and find me. Once I had seen them put ample distance between our locations, I sprinted from my hiding spot and back into the main hallway, passing by the gun range and the observation deck to the right. I have to get back to the main crossroads, I thought. There will be Ambassadors there. I'll be safe from those two.
As I was sprinting, I could have sworn I heard Zault and Krause yelling in frustration and coming to chase after me. After stopping to look over my shoulder, however, I saw that no one was in pursuit. Everything was quiet, and I was finally safe.
From behind me, a hand clutched my shoulder. I whirled around to come face to face with an Ambassador. Its breathing was heavy through the gas mask, and his posture was stiff like a doll.
"Mr. Mondale. It would seem that you have completely missed your 3rd period class, as well as the first few minutes of your 4th period class." A mechanical voice reported. A light of sorts flickered inside the eyes of the gas mask. I could only assume it was looking at a holoscreen inside of the mask, analyzing my profile and stating anything out of the ordinary.
"I'm sorry, I was being chased
by two other students." I panted, out of breath from running.
"I am not the individual to be making apologies to." The Ambassador's head tilted as if it were curious. "The one that will be holding grievances against you would be your professors. Missing one class is bad enough, but being late a second one
" It trailed off, seeing the despair in my face.
"Furex it all to Din." I cursed. "Mr. Thorcher will kill me
"Unlikely." The Ambassador raised my spirits slightly, only to sink them again. "He will more than likely torture you extensively before he kills you.
With the wonderfully cheery news, the Ambassador turned in a perfect 180 degree turn, and began walking almost floating down an opposite hallway. It would seem that of all the individuals in the Agony Academy, the Ambassadors were the most passive.
"Meliks!" I swore under my breath when the second portion of the Ambassadors report hit my brain. '
as well as the first few minutes of your 4th period class'.
I began sprinting down the hallway, determined to reach the crossroads. When I finally arrived, I looked at the vast nexus of pathways, searching for the correct one to go down. I mumbled to myself, trying to remember that the class number of my English period was. After a few seconds of memory lapse, I started to dig around in my pockets for my class schedule. My fingertips brushed against various folded sheets of paper orientation information, class syllabi, and other useless scraps. It was only after I reached into a shirt pocket that I found the list.
... Subject: English
. Room 17-F
I glared at the room number, committing it to memory as much as possible. 17-F
I told myself over and over. Glancing back up to the neon signs above my head, I noted the hallway that included my room destination.
"17-F. 17-F. 17-F. 17-F." I mumbled over and over as I sprinted down the hallway. My head twisted left and right, looking for the correct door on either side.
I halted my sprint when I came to the series of 17 rooms. 17-D
17-F. I wrapped my fingers around the doorknob and turned. As I entered the room, dozens of worried eyes looked up at me, fearful of their professor's reaction to my tardiness. I uneasily closed the door behind me and glanced over to my right, where Ms. Bouchair was glaring at me with unparalleled fury through her dualistic comedy and tragedy mask.
And just what do you think you're doing, Mr. Mondale?" Her tone was that of death itself. I kept telling myself that she was going to strike me dead at any moment.
" I tried to explain. "I got attacked by other students outside of the gun range. Their names were Zau"
"I don't care what their names were." Ms. Bouchair cut me off harshly. She grabbed one of her books off of the lecture table and lifted it towards me.
Reaching for my pistol, I had no intention on being killed by a faculty member. If I had to take her with me, then so be it.
"Oh ho." Her eyes widened as she saw my hand reaching for the gun. "Intend to shoot me, do you? You do realize that's a criminal offence, correct?"
"Quite the double standard." My voice uneasily shook in defiance. "You can kill students, but students can't kill you. You can be late to class, but we can't. Does that seem fair to you?"
"When was I ever late, you little meliks?" I heard her snarl, totally sidestepping the question at hand.
"The very first day of class. You pretended like it was nothing, but you made a flashy opening several minutes after class was supposed to start. You were late." I said, slowly taking the safety off my gun.
We stood there, gazes locked. Each one was slowly preparing their weapons for a full out fire fight. In the corner of my vision, I saw fellow classmates flinching in anticipation. After a few minutes of neither one of us initiating a brawl, I heard Bouchair snicker.
"Something funny, professor?" I asked, gripping my pistol tighter.
"Oh just the sheer ridiculousness of this." Ms. Bouchair carefully set the book down on the table. "The notion of a Tier-10 level threat like you, going up against someone as high as me. It's laughable, truly." She brushed her red hair away from the eye sockets of her mask. I hadn't noticed it before on the first day, but now I saw it. Her eyes were like Zault's, Krause's, and Jeenoside's. The pupils of her eyes weren't in the shape of a circle, but more in the form of an octagon, multisided and definitely unnatural.
"How about this?" I could feel that somewhere beneath the mask, she was grinning. "When the High Imperator comes to visit, I'll put in a good word with him that he needs to examine your current condition. I'll even bail you out of any other class time that you may have missed with your little mishap. In exchange, however, you need only talk to our lord, and see for yourself what he means to do for you."
I took a step back, slightly lowering my firearm.
"That's it?" I asked, baffled. "No torturous procedures, hacking of limbs, or instant death?" I was silently rejoicing in my head.
"Yes. Just talk to the High Imperator, that's all." Her voice took on that crow-like aspect again. Something was wrong, I just knew it. There had to be a catch. There just had to be. "Now, sit down." Her pale finger pointed to an open seat towards the back.
"Can I just stand here for the rest of the lecture, perhaps?" I asked, leery of her intentions. Thoughts of the impaled student from Jeenoside's class crossed my mind.
As we locked gazes again, I saw Ms. Bouchair's left eye twitch feverishly. Unlike some of the other students and teachers of this school with glass, doll-like eyeballs, hers had eyelids over them. I didn't know which kind were scarier those who couldn't blink with their glass eyes, or those who could.
Very well." Ms. Bouchair snickered. "If you're so paranoid about the chairs being rigged, you need have only said so."
The rest of Ms. Bouchair's class went by quite slowly. Most of it was more propaganda about the High Imperator, and another announcement that he was coming to visit our school tomorrow. As if we hadn't heard the news the first three classes we had attended. I figured they wanted to be thorough in case any teacher had forgotten. Although, if any of them did that, they probably wouldn't remain a teacher for very long. With all this talk about the High Imperator, it seems like any negligence towards his presence would result in harsh consequences. By the time the bell had rung, my eyes were glazed over.
"Hey." Ms. Bouchair harshly poked me in the shoulder. I snapped out of my daydream and looked around. We were the only two people remaining in the classroom.
"Oh, I'm sorry." I apologized, unsure of what to say to her.
"What do you think you're doing? Daydream in class? After showing up late? Does your arrogance know no bounds?" Her eyes narrowed, emphasizing her bizarre pupils.
"N-not at all." I stammered, trying to think fast on my feet. "It's just that I was so
what?" Ms. Bouchair folded her arms in impatience.
"Amazed." I said, the word just falling out of my mouth. As soon as I said it, I thought of some sort of substance to form around my one-word excuse.
"Amazed, huh?" Her expressed remained impatient. "At what, pray tell?"
"The High Imperator, of course." I almost mockingly said. I decided that was the best path to take for this. "I knew hardly anything about him before class. Your lecture enlightened me on so many new aspects. I was just stunned by the information, is all. I was only trying to process what all he has done for us."
Ms. Bouchair's eyes softened. I wasn't immediately sure if she had believed my pile of meliks.
"Is that so?" She cocked her head to the side. "Why, I had no idea. I'm glad you enjoyed the lecture. May you live on to serve the High Imperator yourself one day." She firmly nodded her head, and began to walk out the door, placing her lecture notes and textbooks under her left armpit. I silently heaved a sigh of relief when her back was turned. She had actually believed me! As she opened the door to the hallway outside, I mentally patted myself on the back for successfully improvising a complete meliks excuse to a so-called "High and mighty" professor and expert in the art of death and assassination.
"Oh, and Mr. Mondale
" Ms. Bouchair said, still facing away from me.
"Yes?" I turned towards her.
A bright flash and explosion of sound came from one of the textbooks under her arm. A searing pain and high pitch, continuous, screech came from my left ear. I just stood there, stunned. Once I saw smoke begin to emanate from her hardbound books, however, I slowly raised my right hand to the wailing ear. Blood met my fingertips.
She shot me!, My brain cried in outrage.
"You're a horrible actor still, and much more gullible than you'd like to believe." She tilted her head, looking at me out of the corner of her left eye, laughing.
" I stumbled backwards, fallings to the floor.
"Relax. It's a graze." She turned back to walk out the door. "Just don't ever furex with me again."
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 1, PART 2.