The Asylum of the Damned presents…
A bitter wind whipped around his ears, and he pulled up the dull red scarf snugly around his cheekbones. "Right eye to left eye, everything looks clear," he said, raising the pair of bulky binoculars to his eyes and scanning the skyline, perched on the roof of the tallest high-rise around the cluster of buildings around the city square.
"Left eye here," came the voice in his ear, "not a single one of those bastards in sight. Right eye, you're sure you've got the right one this time?"
"As sure as I'm going to be," he replied. "Now don't slack off- keep watch. Mother brain, how's everything running?"
"All systems running smoothly, right eye. The radar isn't picking up a thing, at least not anything hostile, anyway. She should be coming across South Square anytime now."
"Hand, did you copy that?"
"Got it. Mother brain, are you positive you can't single her out?"
"You're on your own, kid. Hang on; one subject is breaking away from the crowd. Right eye, this could be her!"
"Get ready, hand. We'll provide cover fire if you need it."
"Cover fire? What for? She's just a kid, isn't she?"
"Yes, but I don't feel like taking any more chances. Our radar can't pick up individual officers, remember?"
There was a heavy sigh. "Mother brain, where is she?"
"About sixty feet from your current position, hand."
"We've already drawn too much attention to ourselves. So hand, don't fuck up."
"Thanks for the encouragement, left eye."
A Sanitarium Studios production…
Frosty pink-dyed hair ruffled in the light breeze on the streets, and she wrapped her arms around her chest, wishing she had worn a heavier coat than just the pale blue windbreaker. Serenity headed down the dirty and unkempt sidewalks, with one hand on the left strap of her backpack and the other clenched tightly around the can of mace in her purse. The slums always scared her, but it was unfortunately the safest route to head home from school. At least all she had to worry about was a homeless beggar or two in the alleys, as opposed to the mercenaries that infested the subways and bus stations. Just the thought of running into one of those reckless rebels frightened her to no end, and the memory of the gigantic explosion that had rocked the city all the way from the hundreds of oil refineries miles removed from the outskirts was still fresh in her brain. Trains, buses, cars, buildings- nothing was safe from that rogue terrorist faction, and for all she could fathom, they were intent on overturning her entire island country by obliterating it one city at a time. Although all she had ever heard on the television and radio was how inept the current regime was- from launching unemployment and inflation through the roof while driving the infrastructure and workforce into the ground, Serenity felt much safer in the hands of fools than in the hands of madmen.
She crossed the empty street before her and stepped onto the curb, behind a truck parked by the sidewalk. Before she could even take two steps forward, a slender figure in a dingy trench coat shot from the alley, pinning her to the side of the truck. "Right eye, I've got her!" Fuelled by nothing but instinct, Serenity let out a deafening scream and ripped her arm out of her purse, shoving the nozzle of her mace can into her ski-masked assailant and spraying a cloud into his face. The cloaked man dropped to his knee and palmed his face, yelping as Serenity spun around and ran for her life. Seconds later, the same ski-masked assailant hand her around the waist, clamping a hand over her mouth and holding her tight. She struggled against him to no avail, and her muffled screams only made it harder for her to hear what he was saying. "Calm down, lady! I'm not here to hurt you!"
"Oh shit," came a familiar voice from the tiny speakers underneath his ski-mask, "Right eye, chopper in the air!"
"Left eye, evasive plan number 3, pronto! Mother brain, get the girl and Hand, now!"
"Mother brain, where are you?"
"I'm at 93rd and 24th- directly north, Hand!"
Serenity had brought her leg up, and jammed the heel of her running shoes into her captor's knee. Serenity broke free as he yowled, dashing down the streets again. Lunging at Serenity with his good leg, the trench coat stranger caught Serenity's left ankle, planting her face-first onto the sidewalk. He hobbled to Serenity's side and hoisted her up onto his shoulder, with Serenity too dazed and dizzy to fight back.
The roar of helicopter blades suddenly filled the air, and the unmistakeable sound of machine gun fire tore into the streets below. "Mother brain, get those van doors open!" he yelled.
A black van suddenly backed up into the intersection ahead, and the rear doors flew wide open. "Get in! Hurry!"
The masked stranger dove into the van with Serenity still slung over his shoulder, barely managing to slam the doors shut before a hailstorm of bullets pummelled the thick metal shell of the van. Tires screeched and the van roared away down the streets, careening with reckless abandon until it shot out of the streets of the slums and into the badlands on the city outskirts. "Mission complete," said the driver.
"Good," came a voice from over the radio lodged in the dashboard, "Left eye and myself will rendezvous with you back at Nervous central. Out."
The trench coat wearing figure tore off his ski mask, breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and let Serenity flop against the side of the van. "Oh shit," he suddenly gasped.
"Oh shit what?" asked the driver.
The large bullet wound had bored a hole through Serenity's throat just underneath her chin, and gushed out a torrent of blood on the van's floor.
Her head hurt. All she knew at that moment was that she had a splitting headache, and it was difficult for her to open her eyes. The first thing she saw was a wash of blurry colours, slowly beginning to focus and sharpen as a pair of hands helped her up. "You okay, commander?" a voice from behind her asked.
"Commander?" Serenity moaned, gazing at the two blurry figures in front of her. A dusty feeling seeped into her lungs, and her vision finally cleared once she was set on her feet. Two men, one slim and the other quite portly, each gazed at her with concern. "What happened?" she moaned, turning around to take a glance at the figure behind her.
Piercing, soulless blue eyes glared back down at her from a solid and emotionless face, terrifying her immediately. "Who are you?" she gasped, jumping backwards in shock.
"Commander?" The slim one muttered again. "Are you okay?"
"She did hit her head pretty hard," the wider man said, rubbing his forehead.
Serenity was immediately aware of a swelling on the middle of her forehead, though she was still too startled to even look away from the creepy bald man beside her. "What-?" She stammered, "Who are you people?"
"Prototype development unit, serial number X-1377-INCT," said the bald man in a hoarse and toneless voice, not even showing a shred of expression. The rotund man quickly strode to the bald man's side, and jabbed his elbow into his ribs. The bald man cleared his throat. "Dave."
All Serenity could do was just stare blankly at the two as the slender figure joined their side. "Amnesia, you think?" He suggested.
Serenity finally took a glance around at her surroundings, and it took all of her power to stop herself from collapsing. A barren wasteland sprawled around her for all that she could see, wreckage of just about everything imaginable strewn across the land. The entire landscape looked like an empty junkyard, and the skies had been painted a bleak, sickly brownish-red. "What's going on here?" she asked, "And why do you keep calling me commander?"
They just looked at her and stared.
"What?" Serenity murmured uneasily.
Dave reached his hand into his pocket, and fished out a small envelope. "What's that?" asked the slender man, looking over Dave's shoulder. "Not to be opened unless I start to act strangely," he read aloud.
The more portly man looked at Serenity again. "She's definitely not acting like herself," he said.
Dave ripped open the envelope and slid out the small folded sheet of paper inside. "If you are reading this," Dave droned, "then do exactly what this letter says. If I start acting bizarrely, then knock me out immediately."
"Knock her out?" the slender man repeated in disbelief.
"Knock me out?" Serenity gasped.
Dave nodded. "Do not let me cancel this order. No matter what I say, you are ordered to knock me unconscious immediately."
"Me?" Serenity gasped, "You can't be talking about me!"
"But before you do, tell me to ask for Alex. Your commander, Serenity."
Serenity's jaw dropped. Dave let the letter fall to the ground. "Executing command," he droned, stepping forward.
"No-! You can't!" Serenity pleaded. "I'm your commander, am I? I order you to stop!"
"Negative," Dave muttered without empathy, "command overridden."
Before Serenity could say or do anything, Dave had her arms clenched firmly in his hands. Serenity struggled and writhed in futility, squeezing her eyes shut as Dave raised an arm.
A quick smack to her temples later, and the world around her drifted away.
When her eyes opened, all she could feel was a burning sensation deep inside of her throat, feeling many bandages wrapped around her neck. She was still lying inside the van, with a thick blanket draped over her body. The doors were wide open, leading to the inside of a garage of sorts. All she could make out as he vision began to clear again was four figures standing just outside the van, deep inside a heated argument.
"I've had it, Alex!" the tall, stocky man with a crew cut sneered. "There is no way I'm following you on another one of your crazy suicide missions!"
The dark-haired man with the thin goatee glared back at him. "Nobody's ordering you to stay with us, Wright. You can quit anytime you want."
"Quit?" Wright laughed, "I'm not quitting. I'm saying that you're unfit to lead."
There was a long silence.
"Fine. We'll take a vote right now."
"Fine with me."
Alex turned to the slim man at his side with long brown pony-tailed hair. "Hacks?"
The slim man pushed his large blue eye visor further up his nose. "Sorry, but I'm going to have to side with Wright this time."
Alex was stunned. "You are?"
Hacks hung his head. "I'm sorry, commander."
Alex turned to the shorter man on his other side. "Luke?"
Luke shook his head apprehensively and ran his fingers through his ruffled locks of plentiful blonde hair. "I'm on Wright's side this time, too."
"See?" Wright said. "No one wants to trust their lives on some crazy theory, Alex. I'm taking charge now."
Alex glanced at Hacks, and then at Luke. They both turned their heads, avoiding any eye contact. "Okay Wright, you win," said Alex with a heavy sigh. "As of now, I turn all operations-"
"Hey, what's going on out there?"
The sudden murmur from inside the van made all four freeze immediately.
"What the fuck was that?" Luke murmured under his breath, staring into the van.
A tired moan echoed out from inside the van, and Serenity sat up, shoving the blankets off of her body.
"What the-?" Hacks gasped. Wright could only stare in disbelief at Serenity.
Alex grinned. "As I was saying, Wright," he continued, "I turn all operations under my command only." Then, nudging Wright in the ribs, he said, "I told you I was right."
"But-!" Luke stammered, pointing at Serenity's bloody throat, "she's dead!"
"Hacks, get those spare quarters ready. Wright, go help Hacks set up."
Wright muttered under his breath before he turned and left the small garage, disappearing along with Hacks into hallways within.
Luke was still staring blankly at Serenity. "Alex," he muttered, "She died."
"She doesn't look dead to me," said Alex. "Get some painkillers and some water, Luke."
Luke let out a defeated sigh. "I'm going to take a few aspirins too," he muttered, rubbing his forehead and wandering out of the garage.
With everyone else out of the room, Alex walked towards the van doors, and sat on the edge of the fender. "Hi there," he said, smiling invitingly at Serenity. "You have a name?"
Serenity hesitated for a long time before she weakly murmured, "Serenity."
"Serenity," Alex repeated. "That's a nice name."
"And you're… Alex?"
"Right," said Alex. "How did you know that, Serenity?"
Serenity paused. She only had a fleeting memory of what seemed to be a nightmare to her from only minutes ago. "Someone told me to ask for you," she said. Then, in a sheepish, low tone, the murmured, "in a dream."
Alex let out a sigh of relief. "Come on out of the van now," he said, extending his hand to Serenity, "we're going to be best friends, you and I."
Serenity sunk deeper into the van. "Friends?" She repeated. "You're not some kind of weirdo pervert, are you?"
Alex rolled his eyes. "How's your throat? Okay?"
Serenity rubbed her throat. "It's fine, I guess."
"That's good to hear," said Alex, "Considering you just died ten minutes ago."
Serenity blanked out. "Died?" Her hands flew to her throat, immediately remembering the bullet plunging through her neck.
"Yes, died," Alex repeated. "And now you're alive again. Want to know why?"
Serenity nodded. "How?"
"Come with me to my office, Serenity," said Alex. "I've got quite a story for you."
B PAGE BREAK /B
Alex guided Serenity by the hand as he led her through the tight corridors of their cramped hideout. "So, where are we?" Serenity asked as they came to a stop at an end.
"Our base of operations, of course," said Alex, opening the door on his left and ushering Serenity in. The small office was nothing but a battered desk, two Spartan wooden chairs on opposite sides, and a pile of papers strewn all about the top. "I'm a little disorganized," said Alex as soon as they entered, with Alex offering Serenity the chair closest to the door.
The office was a colorless and unnerving sight, yet somehow Serenity managed to utter a meek, "That's okay," as she sat down, hugging the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
Alex moved around to the other side of the desk, sat down, and said, "Well, welcome to my office anyway. Still feeling okay?"
Serenity's hands floated up to her collarbone. "Yeah," she murmured hesitantly.
Alex stretched, and slumped deep into his chair. "Serenity," he said boldly, "what I'm about to say is going to sound crazy. You'll hear me out, won't you?"
Serenity crossed her legs. "I'm ready to believe just about anything," she muttered.
Alex took a deep breath, and let it out in a long, steady sigh. "I think I should start from when I first started this revolution. Seven years ago, I was part of the National Guard. I was a field sergeant, so I was privy to the news that they don't put into the papers. That's when I heard it happened. Fossil fuels like oil and natural gas were almost gone, and the world was maybe only fifty or so years from using them up completely."
"Gone?" Serenity asked, shocked. "All of them? How is that possible?"
"You'd be surprised how much fuel the machines on the planet consume every year," said Alex. "It's more than tripled since last year. And like I said, by 2133, it'll probably be all gone."
"But, what about other fuels?" Serenity asked. "Like… wind power? Solar power?"
Alex snorted a laugh. "They're cheap and unlimited, yes, but largely inefficient. There's no money to be made off of that."
"As I was saying, as fossil fuels depleted, export prices soared. And you know how rich in fossil fuels this little island is, right? When I found out that our government was planning on stripping our island of every ounce of fossil fuel to sell, I tried to make a motion to stop them." Alex paused and shook his head, muttering something under his breath. "They shot it down."
"Strip the island?" Serenity gasped. "But that would mean-!"
"Complete collapse of our little society," Alex finished Serenity's sentence, "I know. Not that they cared about it. The greedy bastards knew a money cow when they saw it, and they've been doubling the rate of fuel extraction every year since. The high-ranking officials sometimes took little vacations to their consumer countries, and they've all mysteriously 'vanished.'"
"Vanished, with a ton of fossil fuel profits in their pockets. They knew what this heavy mining would do, and they took what they could before it all hits the fan."
"But what about the future?" Serenity asked. "Don't they even have any kind of plan for the future?"
"Last time I checked those seven years ago, they were, but it was hardly going to be effective."
"So what does that mean for us? For everyone else?" Serenity murmured with a tremble.
Alex grimaced. "It means they plan on leaving us to rot."
Serenity was struck silent.
"A month after my failed movement I was discharged. I knew too much. I began to wonder if they would try to silence me, so I disappeared into the underworld. I rallied together a pack of mercenaries and did a sabotage job on any mining facility we could find." Alex paused and stroked his thin goatee. "And then I died."
"Died?" Serenity gasped.
"Four years ago, on another sabotage attack. A company had found a massive crude oil deposit, and we made sure to destroy the whole rig before it could start drilling. We did it, but just as we were making our getaway, I was shot through the lung. My allies carried me along with them into their ride as I went comatose."
Alex stopped. "And then?" Serenity asked, deeply captivated by Alex's story.
Alex stretched out again on his chair, and leaned on his desk. "That's when I had a vision," he said. As soon as Serenity arched a scrutinizing eyebrow, Alex said, "I knew you'd think I'm crazy."
"Oh no," said Serenity apologetically, "keep going."
"Anyway, I don't remember much, but I felt like my dream was real. Where I was, I can't even guess, it was in some kind of hallway or something. I felt a massive pressure on my sides, like I was caught in something. I felt my body being crushed- crushed together by something. I knew I was going to die. But then, before I blacked out, I looked up and saw a face."
Alex locked his stare on Serenity. Serenity shifted uneasily under Alex's eyes. "Whose face?" She asked.
"A young, teenage girl," said Alex, "with pink hair and brown eyes."
"M-me?" Serenity stuttered.
"You, or someone who looked an awful lot like you."
"So, what does that have to do with-?"
"As soon as I died in my dream, I woke up in the van with bloody bandages wrapped around my chest. I knew I had been shot. Everyone knew that I had been shot and I died. But I was alive, somehow."
"Just like I was?"
"Exactly," said Alex. "Since then I've never had the same dream. But I knew it was real. I can still feel that trap or whatever it was crushing the life out of me. And when I saw that face before I woke up, I couldn't help but think it meant something significant. Everything fell apart."
"I came up with a theory that, somehow some way, whoever that was in my dream was important. Like she was the key to ending this war. I had to find that girl. As soon as I presented my theory to the others, they called me crazy and booted me out of the guerilla. But I still wanted to find that face. I had this unexplainable feeling that she was a factor in saving our island. That's when I met Wright."
"Wright?" Serenity asked, "You mean that big guy with the crew cut?"
"That's him," said Alex. "He was also a mercenary. I told him I was forming a guerilla band of my own and asked him to join. He did, and he brought Hacks with him."
"Is Hacks the guy with the blonde hair?" Serenity asked eagerly.
"No, that's Luke. He was a trainee in the military reserves, until he 'somehow' found out the truth about fossil fuels," said Alex with a sly grin. "From there we built this hideout, and we've been searching for that face ever since."
Serenity could not believe Alex's last statement. "You spent years, just looking for me?"
"Not just an ordinary teenage girl," said Alex, "You were the daughter of an elite politician."
"No I'm not," said Serenity, offended.
Lowering his voice, Alex leaned closer to Serenity and whispered, "That's what I had Wright, Hacks, and Luke believe. Wright called me crazy, dreaming of a politician's daughter in a coma," said Alex. "I convinced him that if we extracted you, we'd be able to slow down the mining process with negotiations and buy us both safety and time."
Serenity blinked, searching for something to say. "Well," she murmured, "good thing you didn't tell them your real theory."
Alex chuckled quietly. "Serenity, that's not my only theory," he said. "Want to hear my take on why you're still alive?"
Serenity nodded. "Sure."
"First, I need an answer. After you died, did you dream?"
Serenity's mind flashed back to the three strange men who had knocked her out. "Yeah," she said, "Some guys calling me a commander just knocked me out as soon as I was shot."
"A commander?" Alex mused. "Then that proves my main theory. Serenity, I believe that when I was shot, I dreamt of the future. And I didn't just dream either. I was there. I had somehow jumped across time and back again. Did it feel real to you, Serenity?"
Serenity rubbed her forehead where the mountain of a man had struck her unconscious. "Real enough to give me a headache," she moaned.
Alex rose, and walked around to the door. "It's getting late, Serenity," said Alex, opening the door. "I'll show you to your quarters. You should sleep first and let this all sink in before I get to the more complex part."
Serenity stood up, stretched her arms, and yawned. "I am a little tired, come to think of it," she said. Then with another long yawn, Serenity murmured, "No, I'm really tired. Suddenly, I'm feeling dead tired."
Serenity stumbled towards Alex. "Serenity? Are you feeling okay?" Alex asked with concern.
Serenity made it two steps into the hallway before she collapsed.
Serenity awoke with a hand on her shoulder, gently shaking her. "Serenity, are you all right?"
Serenity moaned and sat up, immediately realizing that she was in bed. The old bathtub with pillows lining the bottom was hardly comforting, but a welcome feeling for her nonetheless. A lone light bulb hanging on a wire from the low ceiling cast a dull glow in the dark room, only slightly highlighting the facial features of the three men staring at her. "I'm fine," Serenity muttered, rubbing her head. "What the hell happened?"
The large bald man with cold blue eyes reached into his pocket, and handed Serenity a folded sheet of paper. Serenity snatched it out of his hands without a word and read what was on it. "What do you know," Serenity muttered under her breath, "he was right."
"Who?" asked the man with slick black hair.
"Hans, Dave, Carl, wait for me at the briefing table," she said. "I've got some explaining to do."
With confusion on their faces, the three of them left and vanished deeper into the decrepit shelter. Serenity reached for the large blue-tinted visor that she had kept for so long at the head of the tub, and looked at her reflection in the shiny plastic. She still had her short blonde hair and deep brown eyes, and the tiny little scar that laced upwards on her chin was exactly as she remembered it. "Alex was right all along."
Hans, Carl, and Dave sat around the circular wooden table, eagerly waiting for Serenity in silence. Hans, a slim young man with water-matted hair slicked back kept his eyes on the door to the small room. Carl, a rotund man with short brown hair, tapped his pudgy fingers listlessly on the table. Dave, the silent and muscle-bound giant of a man, just kept an empty stare ahead of him, sitting as still as a statue. And the instant that Serenity walked into the room, all eyes were upon her.
Serenity walked around the table, and stopped at a vacant seat. She paused to look at her subordinates. Their eyes were still trained on her. Serenity pulled the chair out, with the legs squeaking against the floor the only sound in the air. As soon as she sat down, Serenity said, "You want answers, don't you?"
Hans and Carl nodded. "Yeah, I was wondering why you're not dead," Carl muttered.
Serenity rubbed her forehead, running her fingertips over a lump on her left brow. "What happened, exactly?" she asked. "How'd I get this?"
"Group reconnaissance," Dave blurted out in a monotone, "We were returning to headquarters, when you slipped from an unstable foothold."
"Ten feet, maybe?" Hans butted in.
"Eight feet, seven and a half inches," said Dave. "She landed head-first on a cinderblock."
Carl winced. "She should have split her head open, and she just gets a bruise instead."
Serenity took a deep breath. "I'm going to tell you guys everything," she said, "and it's going to sound pretty crazy, alright?"
"Shoot," said Carl curtly, stretching out and slumping deeper into his chair, "I'm ready to believe anything."
"I'm listening," said Hans, crossing his arms and setting his eyes on level with Serenity's.
Dave simply nodded. "Proceed, commander."
"Nine years ago, I was abducted by a guerilla band lead by a guy named Alex. They wanted to stop the whole fossil fuel stripping operation at any cost, and he, Alex, believed I was the key to winning the fight. I was just a kid back then, and I had no idea what he was getting at. He told me that he had a vision of some sort in a coma a few years prior, and that I was there. Alex was convinced that his vision had significance, and he stuck to his theory that I was the way to save the island."
"What a crackpot," Carl muttered under his breath.
"I thought so too," Serenity hissed, scowling in a manner that scared Carl back up straight in his seat. Then with a heavy sigh, Serenity continued, "And so did everyone else. He told them, he told me, that I could jump from the present to the future and back again just by losing consciousness. I didn't. Nobody believed him, and a few months after they picked me up they all left, leaving just Alex and I."
"Why didn't you leave?" Hans asked.
"There was something about him," said Serenity, "something with the way he kept believing in his theory- the way he said it, the way he thought about it, it was like he honestly believed it would come to pass, and like he would sacrifice everything he had- even himself, just to make it work. I felt sorry for him. I stayed with him and helped him carry out his attacks not only because I had nowhere else to go, but just in case, on the off-chance that Alex was right about me…"
Serenity trailed off. "And then?" Hans prodded eagerly, "what happened?"
"Three years later, we tried to stop the Cataclysm, and failed. I survived. Alex, however, didn't." Serenity reached up to her left shoulder and brushed the thin black band around her arm. "That's why I wear this all the time."
"And that's when you found Hans and I, right?" asked Carl.
"Close," said Serenity. "With Alex gone I was on my own, so I followed in his footsteps and vanished underground for a year or two. I started stocking up on any fighting and tactics knowledge that I could. Then I scouted you and Hans."
"So, what about the fall?" Hans asked. "And what was the deal with that letter Dave had? What's any of that got to do with this?"
"I guess this meant that Alex was right after all," said Serenity, "it just took longer than he thought it would to work. When we found Dave, I wrote that letter and gave it to him, just in case the worst possible scenario happened- my personality in the past jumped into my present body." Serenity groaned and covered her eyes. "I was such as clueless kid…"
Carl cracked his knuckles. "So, now what's happening with you?" he asked. "Next time you go to sleep, your mind's warping to the past?"
"Yeah," Serenity muttered, "I'd imagine so."
Hans and Carl glanced at each other. "Are we dreaming?" Hans quietly asked.
Hans rubbed his eye. "I don't feel like I'm dreaming," he muttered sleepily. "What time is it anyway?"
"23:02," Dave immediately spat out. "Suggest we enter hibernation mode."
"It's called sleep, Dave," Carl muttered. "He's right though, commander. We probably should-"
Carl cut his words short when he glanced at Serenity, who had suddenly fallen unconscious. Hans waved his hand in front of Serenity's face. "She just fainted," he murmured in disbelief.
Serenity began to lean to her left side, and she spilled like a rag doll to the floor.