AN: I've uploaded Chapters 3, 4, & 5 today because they were all here already so don't get used to 3 chapters a day because it won't last :)
The children were playing. Their laughter filled the air around the boy, threatening to pull him into a daydream where he may join them and play and laugh too, where he could escape the confines of the stuffy classroom and the invisible tendrils of the teacher's voice dragging him back to the present. He turned his head slightly so he could watch the children as well as listen to them as they ran about and stumbled around without a care in the world. He longed to join them, but he had a detention. He had to stay inside as his friends played outside as well. He didn't know the children. He didn't know what drew him towards them as he observed.
The teacher asked the boy if he was boring him with a sharp voice that curled into a sneer at the end. The boy knew he had it out for him, and was waiting for him to slip up. The boy shook his head, and stared straight ahead at the wall posters, unseeing, imagining himself outside and the freedom that it would bring with it. Strange, he'd never really craved the outdoors until that day as he was tempted to doze off and be free from the room. He wondered why he suddenly wanted to leave now. It had been his own fault he was there in the class instead of on his way home, dropping by the park or the shop. He'd been the one who'd snuck around and fiddled with the teacher's things, hidden his computer when he left the room. Apparently, if you were dared to do it the blame was still yours. The boy didn't agree with this. It had been his friend who had dared him.
He snuck another peek outside at the children, that was when he noticed they weren't laughing anymore. Something eerie was happening, the boy didn't like it. The teacher asked him what was wrong, but he was ignored because the outsdie was far more interesting at that moment. Then there was the blinding white light that was the explosion, the noises too loud for his ears to pick up as they rang.
Nexus awoke, the white explosion still burning in his mind and his ears still ringing from the dream. The same dream, again. Everytime more and more detail was crammed into the few minutes of the past he still clung to with false hope. He opened his eyes, and was blinded once again by whiteness, though the sight wasn't accompanied by a noise at all.
Nexus' head was aching, right in his temple. Instinctively, he reached up his hand to feel for the bullet hole, but was furious when he realised he was strapped to a bed. He hadn't been in a proper bed for years, and he forgot he was strapped to it for a moment and just lost himself in the embracing arms of the memory foam and the thick duvet, wanting to go back to sleep. Then there were electronic noises, bringing him away from the temptation of more sleep, from the danger that he might have another nightmare.
He opened his eyes again, and waited for them to adjust to the brightness of wherever he was being stored. There was a light somewhere, and even though he couldn't see it it's glow was reflecting from all the gleaming surfaces in view. Soon, he could see more, and noticed the duvet he was under wasn't thick at all and was more like a blanket, but it was a clean blanket, which was more than he could ever have hoped for. He felt clean, too. He couldn't see any of his body as it was wrapped up like a cocoon, but his skin almost felt raw, like it had been scrubbed off completely and then regrown. Maybe it had.
'You're awake,' came a voice from somewhere, taking Nexus away from his thoughts. He tried to see the rest of the room, see where the voice was coming from, 'to your right,' they directed. Nexus rolled his head as far as he could without it being painful, and tried to work out who was in the bed next to him. Whoever they were, they were sparkling clean, but their grey eyes flecked with blue made the whole image collapse. It didn't work with eyes so broken and tormented. From this torment, Nexus knew it could only be Grim.
'Grim?' he asked, surprised by how tired he sounded and how sore his throat was, as though it had been drawn hoarse from screaming or shouting, but he didn't remember doing either activity. Hadn't they both been shot just moments ago, just before Nexus had deamt again? Perhaps this was the afterlife, where they went after they died or a similar place. But it felt so real, like Nexus really was lying in the hospital-like room. He could be in the Hosp, they might have polished the room to oblivion to lull him into a false sense of safety, but that was unlikely. If the Symptoms had kidnapped him, then they'd put him in a room more reminiscent of a dungeon, and wouldn't put Doyle's right-hand man down there with him.
'Yeah,' he said, 'I woke up about ten minutes ago.' Grim's eyes were blue, so he could be trusted at that point in time. But Nexus knew he shouldn't try to make friends with Grim again, no matter how strange the place was, even if Grim was the only person he knew or was allowed to speak with, they should not be friends. 'What were we talking about?' Nexus was taken aback. Why did Grim want to resume the conversation they'd been having moments before their deaths'?
'I really was kidding,' said Nexus, 'those weren't my snipers. They must have been Normals.'
'It could have been anyone,' said Grim, 'anyone who could find guns. Everybody has a motive to kill at least one of us, if not both.' Nexus knew this was true. There wasn't a single faction in the City who didn't have it out for either him or Grim. 'And I never thought they were, you couldn't kill me.'
'Couldn't I?' Nexus said, trying to smile a little, to find his face was aching as well. He longed to feel it and see if there were any physical changes, but he could easily have been sleeping on that side of his head. Maybe it just felt odd from being on the pillow for so long. It was a very soft pillow, definitely stuffed with feathers.
A sliding sound interrupted them, and the bright white room was broken when a dark hallway was revealed behind the silhouette of the man in the doorway. He stepped forwards, and the sliding occured again as the doors shute after him, drenching him in the mysterious light that made Nexus believe the room itself was luminescent.
His hair was strawberry blond and quite short, but it was messy and clumped and there were a few patches missing. He had thick-framed, oversized black glasses on with equally thick lenses that magnifyed his eyes to twice what they must be. Underneath them were purple circles, openly displaying his stress and lack of sleep, and his skin was too pale for somebody who ever went outdoors, and he almost looked ill. But he was smiling, despite all that. His teeth were perfectly straight, but not the same degree of whiteness as the room he was in. They looked dark yellow compared, but they couldn't be that colour, it was just a trick of the light.
'You're awake,' he said in a nervous, over-excited voice, 'both of you.' Neither Grim nor Nexus said anything, they just stared at the out-of-place man. He definitely couldn't survive in the City, and he definitely wouldn't fit right in the afterlife, either. So that begged the question, where were they? 'Yes, yes. You'll want to know who I am, and where you are, and what
we've done to heal you. But you won't get any of that information unless we make an agreement.'
'What agreement?' asked Nexus quickly, used to negotiants as leader of the Causes. Or was he the ex-leader of the Causes now that presumeably everybody else in the City thought he was dead?
'You won't try to escape, and you'll do everything that we ask,' he said in a serious voice, his twitchiness vanishing temporarily.
'Why would we-'
'Deal,' said Grim, interrupting Nexus. Nexus glared at him, but didn't voice his objections. He just remained silent, wishing for some kind of explanation.
'Good,' said the man, 'I am Professor Tomas Howe, and right now you are underneath the "City", as you call it. You were attacked by a group of humans who caught you off guard and you both suffered head injuries, but our advanced medical technology helped repair your damanged brains. This facility is called Deadwood, and was set up after the terrorist attack of 2018, six years ago.' Nexus strained to remember the Event. It hadn't looked like a terrorist attack. It couldn't have been. Only a bomb could make an explosion like that, but there were no craters. Nexus didn't buy any of it, but he didn't dare say anything.
'That wasn't a terrorist attack,' said Grim, voicing Nexus' thoughts.
'Of course it was, terrorists have made a nuclear bomb and they dropped it on the city, but it exploded before it hit the ground. The "dome" set up is to keep the fallout out of the rest of the country,' said the man. His explanation was good, but Nexus still didn't beleive it, 'the radiation caused an unforseen mutation in your genetics, giving you superhuman abilities. We wish to study them.'
'So we're guinea pigs?' Grim asked bitterly. Howe said nothing. In fact, Howe didn't even acknowledge that Grim had said a word, which annoyed Nexus.
'There are many of you down here, but you will only see them during training. You will eat in your rooms. All food will be supplied by the Facility. You will not go into anybody elses' room. Finally, the braclets on your wrists will give you a very painful electric shock if either of you try to use your powers outside of the Training Room.' He didn't say goodbye. He didn't give them anymore question time, but he turned and swept out of the room and the door slid shut.
A few moments later, the metal bindings around their wrists, waists and ankles clicked apart and retracted into the bed frame, letting Nexus get out of bed, which he'd been dying to do. He saw Grim merely stretched and then pushed himself onto his propped-up pillows, and was just watching Nexus do huge, morning stretches with a disbelieving look in his eyes.
'What?' Nexus asked him once he'd finished his usual routine.
'You're crazy,' said Grim, 'in case you didn't hear "all food will be supplied by the Facility", you don't have to go hunting today. Lighten up.'
'You're telling me to lighten up?' Nexus said. Then he remembered this had been their previous conversation, only now it was reversed to Grim was the happy one, and Nexus the glum one. He sighed and perched himself on the edge of his bed, taking in the surroundings. There were the two beds, pushed up on one side of the room. At the foot of the beds was a box, probably containing clothes and other such things. Opposite the beds, near the other side of the room was a table with two chairs around it. On one side of the wall was a shaft labelled Food Dispensary, and on the the other side another shaft labelled Wast Disposal. Their food was going to be sent to them by a shaft? Nexus walked over and looked inside, revealing it wasn't a shaft, it was a tiny elevator. And on the wall next to him was another door, clearly labelled Bathroom.
'That's fancy, even the food has its own lift,' Nexus commented. Then he sat down on one of the seats at the table.
'So we're stuck together,' said Grim with a smirk. He was probably going to murder Nexus in his sleep, or in some other way. Nexus trusted him about as much as he trusted Howe, which was not at all. 'The irony.'
'Shut up. I'm not your friend,' said Nexus.
'We don't have to be enemies down here,' said Grim, 'it's like a fresh start.'
'What happens after here?' asked Nexus, 'we stay here and get tested for the rest of our lives'?'
'It's better than the City, where people die of starvation everyday, where the numbers just get thinner, where gangs headed by psychos rule. When did you become so ruthless, Nexus?' he asked.
'Me? Ruthless? I'm not ruthless,' said Nexus.
'Don't be stupid, you kill Symptoms on sight. You kill anyone that wrongs you. You were going to kill Carl Jackson, if he wasn't already dying. You almost killed me that day. You're no saint.'
'I never said I was a saint,' Nexus spluttered.
'They all treat you like one though. Those Refugees who rely on you. You gave them false hope, then when the sinkhole hit you only cared about yourself.'
'That's not true, I helped Elektra,' Nexus said, frustrated.
'After Rick asked for your help,' countered Grim, 'be honest. If they'd both been in that sinkhole, would you have tried to save either of them? No,' Grim answered for him, 'you were only worried about yourself. It took you two whole days to come and look for the Causes because you're a coward. You act like a leader, when you're not. You act like you're better than Doyle, or me, but you. Are. Not.'
'I don't kill people for sport though!' he shouted.
'I'm not denying that. You're denying everything.' All of his words were like daggers, cutting into Nexus and his ego, which up until that point had been practically invisible. 'You've been hiding for so long, you don't even know yourself anymore. You used to be fun. Now you're a killer.' Nexus sank down at Grim's cruel words, and tried to block them out, but they swirled around his head over ad over again until his memories were twisted and of Grim yelling the insults while he cowered away, apologising.
Nexus woke to darkness. Had it been a dream? The Deadwood Facility? The getting shot in the head? He sniffed. The air was clean. He opened his eyes to see the exact same cell-like room that had been haunting his night. He didn't remember going back to bed. He rolled onto his side, thankfully free from his bindings, too look at the digital clock facing his way. There was an identical one facing Grim's bed. The letters were clear and in green. It was six in the morning. The usual time he got up.
He sighed, and tried to go back to sleep again until somebody woke him. He lay for what felt like hours and kept checking the clock as the minutes ticked away, trying to ignore Grim's quiet snoring that was keeping him wide awake. Finally, the minutes made an hour and the clock showed seven o'clock. There was a beep like an alarm and another noise like a generator starting up, and all the lights came on, burning blots onto Nexus' retinas so he was in a daze.
Finally, his dizziness passed and he was able to stagger over to the source of the beeping, which turned out to be the food elevator. He slide it open and the sound died, to reveal two identical trays. There was about a pint of water there with ice-cubes in it, and the meal itself looked like plain old porridge. Nexus put the two trays on the table just as Grim started to rouse.
'G'morning,' he grumbled, rolling and stretching like cat. Nexus would have laughed at how stupid he was, had Grim not yelled at him so much the previous day. He stumbled towards the table and flopped down, chugging half his water straight away, before picking up the spoon and going to work on the porridge.
It was a good change of pace from what breakfast usually was for Nexus, which was either none at all or leftover meat from the previous night. And icy cold water? That was a treat reserved for winter. And he hadn't had anything made of milk for too many years. It was a miracle nobody had died of malnutrition in the City. Already, things were looking up. At least a little. Then Nexus noticed another thing on the wall. It was above them, and only just in his reach, but when he examined and opened it it appeared to be a fridge, and inside was a large, full pitcher of orange juice.
'Is that..?' Grim said in a shaky voice. Nexus pulled the heavy pitcher out and stood it on the table, where all they could do was stare at it in awe. Grim lifted it and poured it into his water glass, which still had some icecubes in it. Then he took a sip while Nexus watched carefully, making sure it wasn't poision or anything. His eyes turned brilliant blue as he gulped down the rest of the juice. He reached for the pitcher, but Nexus got there first and filled his own glass.
The taste of something that wasn't lukewarm, stagnant water was almost a miracle on his tongue, which had forgotten delicacies such as orange juice existed in its absense as the sensation exploded. He had to have more, and within minutes the pitcher was emptied. By eight, the bowls were licked clean, and they were glad of the tap they'd also just noticed with a fresh, plentiful supply of water. Finally, they felt like they'd drunk enough.
'All students are to change into a clean set of clothes for training,' a crackly voice said over a tannoy. Nexus couldn't see the speakers. So they were being addressed as students now, rather than experiments. It made him feel slightly more welcomed as he opened the box at the foot of his bed to see it divided into compartments for all the different parts of his wardrobe, though everything was exactly the same. He slid into the bathroom to change, and saw yet another shaft, this one said Dirty Laundry Chute. He stuffed his dirty clothes in them and looked at the shower. He decided not to get one, since he didn't even know if he had time, so he went back into the room to wait.
It was a good thing he hadn't had a shower, for just five minutes later the door slid open on its own, and he didn't think it was good to be late at the Facility, however nice it was suddenly seeming. They both followed the signs to the Training Room, and entered.
Just like everywhere, it was white and shining, but the lower part of the walls were mirrors so everybody could see themselves fighting, or training, or whatever they did there. The hum that had been sounding from his silver braclet faded when they entered the room. Grim obviously noticed too, for within moments he was soaring about them in the high ceiling. But Nexus wasn't interested. He'd caught sight of somebody else.
'Rick!' he shouted, running over to the friend he'd thought to be dead. They hugged tightly, but Rick looked pained.
'Elektra's not dead, is she?' he asked, getting straight to the point. Nexus had been her guardian. But no, she couldn't be dead. Grim was the only Symptom who knew about the sewers, and he hadn't had a change to tell anyone.
'No. I left her in the sewers with a load of Renegades, they're allies. One of them's a healer, and one of them's a water manipulator,' explained Nexus quickly. Rick sighed.
'Okay. That's good. As long as she's not dead.' They spoke for a few more minutes, Rick telling Nexus about life in the Facility. He explained how the food was great, but then he said how that was the only good thing, and they were constantly being watched and recorded, videos being sent to high-up men in suits. Most of this was probably guessing, but Nexus was too happy to see Rick than argue with him. He looked around the room, expecting to see more dead friends, but although the room was high it was actually quite small, and neither Josh or Jax were anywhere in sight. He didn't know anybody else in the room.
A whistle blew.
'Get here, now!' a man snarled from the front. The voice made Nexus jump, and he turned and shifted slowly towards the man, lingering at the back of the group while Grim landed behind him, both of them listening. Rick hadn't seen Nexus enter with Grim earlier, and he didn't want to do something stupid like ruin his friendship with Rick just because of the annoying Grim-situation, so he shuffled away from his roomie and closer to Rick.
'Your roommate is your partner. You have three hours of fight training. Start now,' the man grumbled. That was it? What a short bit of instruction. Nexus didn't need telling twice, however. He vanished from sight instantly, and Grim just floated around an empty space in the corner for a while, until the supervisor-guard man came sauntering over, clearly baying for blood amoungst the Supers. Obviously, he was just a Normal himself.
'What are you doing over here? I said fight!' he yelled into Grim's unperturbed face.
'My roommate is invisible,' he said flatly, 'I can't fight something I can't see.' The man growled, and slunk off, finding nothing to really criticize. Clearly, he wasn't in charge. He couldn't order Nexus to appear, beccause then he wouldn't be using his powers, and his instructions were probably just to make the kids use their powers.
'He's an idiot, isn't he?' said a girls voice from nearby. Nexus turned around and saw her looking vaguely in his direction, but standing by Grim. Nexus walked over and appeared. She didn't jump even a little, like most people normally did when they saw him appear out of thin air in front of them. 'My name's Riley, this is Melter,' she introduced herself and her roomate to Grim and Nexus. Melter was a much taller girl who had a set, sullen face with her small eyes pinned on a point far in the distance for the whole time.
'I'm Grim,' said Grim, holding out his hand for them each to shake, 'this is Nexus.' They shook both their hands. They must not know who the two boys were, how ruthless and opposing they were.
'We've been here for nearly three years,' said Riley. If she'd been a Renegade back then, she probably wouldn't have known either of their now household names, 'it's not so bad here if you follow the rules.' From what Nexus had already seen, there certainly were a lot of rules.
'What's your power?' he asked Riley. For the whole session so far, he hadn't seen her do much more than stand around.
'Persuassion,' she said, 'I can make people do what I want them to.'
'And what's her power?' Grim nodded at Melter, who wasn't paying any attention to anything that was going on.
'She can manipulate metal. There's never any metal here, so we just stand around most of the time. The guard won't annoy us, I just tell him to go away. Getting used to the food?' she changed the subject.
'We've only had one meal,' said Nexus, 'water, porridge and orange juice. It's a million times better than old, radioactive dog meat.'
'I'd say so,' she said.
Then there was a bang and a scream. They all looked around to see the guard's trouser leg on fire. There were four pairs in the room, and only one of them had actually been fighting. Grim and Nexus couldn't really fight. Riley and Melter definitely couldn't fight. Rick and another boy hadn't done much, either. But the second set of girls had been having a real battle. One of them could make explosions happen wherever she pointed, and the other could fire lasers from her eyes. Nexus had been watching it, and it was quite epic. But one of the explosions had gone awry, and now the instructor was on fire.
Rick's partner sent a cyclone of air for his foot. An air manipulator. So maybe they were quite common, if one of them had died recently. Nevertheless, the guard was grateful for his saving. But then he marched up to the girl, who was yelling apologies of every varierty and backing away against a wall, tears streaming down her cheeks. The guard took a baton from his belt and, without hesitation, thwacked her round the face so she screamed in pain. Nexus wanted to do something, but he couldn't without suffering the same ill fate as the poor girl. The man pushed a button on his belt and hit her again now she was on all fours on the ground. Four more men burst through the doors and crowded around the beaten girl and hit her more. Nexus could hardly watch as they dragged her bloody, unconscious form from the Training Room, proving the old saying "too good to be true" to be completely correct.