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Aberrant RPG - The Shadowed Path

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The Shadowed Path: An Aberrant Story

By

Christopher "Quest" Chase

,,

The Nova Age was reaching it's peak, as miracles Became common, as those born from mankind flew

Upon wings of muscle or energy or by the force of

Their will alone.

,,

The blind gained sight, and the deaf could hear,

And they danced with those that had been crippled.

,,

It was a Bright, Golden Age.

,,

But then, what is the Light, without it's

Shadow?

***

,,

Anton Jervanski hid it all from his father.

The headaches, the perceptions…the fear.

He hid the fact that shadows swam at his approach, even in a brightly lit room.

He hid the fact that his appetite had grown and grown by catching the rats that infested the crumbling Russian tenement that he and his family lived in.

Anton hid all these things.

Until they could be hidden no longer.

,,

***

Russian Confederation/Sector 117

23:30 hrs

10/10/06

,,

"I told you!" Slavodan gloated, his greasy black hair combed straight back, and his teeth, yellowed and chipped seemed to glow in the flickering light.

Anton cowered in the corner. A skinny boy of fourteen, dressed in threadbare clothing with patched knees and elbows, he was the youngest of his siblings. Often sick, and weak from hunger, Anton had practically no muscle whatsoever, and his movements were slow and sluggish.

Fear fevered eyes looked through a mop of black hair, and a thin-lipped mouth was pinched shut. The flesh of his face was pale and fragile looking, as if you could poke a finger through it, like a sheet of paper.

Anton had been free of the headache plaguing him today for only an hour or so. He'd started having them a week ago while running from his tormentor, Slavodan Reshevka, who had targeted him since the moment they met.

Slavodan was big for his age, and preyed on anyone who was smaller and weaker than him, taking whatever he wanted from them.

Sometimes, (rarely) he got money. But food and objects to sell or trade…these things were fair game to him, and soon he led a small gang of like minded children, none much older than his own sixteen, but many not yet twelve. They terrorized everyone they could, a wolf pack hunting down whatever happened to cross their path.

And at this moment, Anton was their prey.

Cornered, he had no allies in the abandoned warehouse, only enemies who laughed and shuffled around a small fire, where two rats slowly burned on spits.

Slavodan had six boys with him, all with cruel faces and scarred hands, bared to the cold Russian fall night.

Anton didn't know what hurt more, the fear that choked him, the hunger that gnawed him, or the headache that began to throb again.

"Old man Jervanski's little Anton. A rat-catcher." The much bigger boy shook his head in mock sadness. "A rat-eater. He'd be ashamed, wouldn't he, Janos?"

A thin boy to Slavodan's right nodded. He had a pinched weasel face and brown hair that reached his shoulders. Janos was known to everyone in the area, because of his ability with his knife, which he demonstrated at every opportunity.

"I've waited a long time for this, little Anton," Slavodan told him. "Now, I've got you."

He cracked his knuckles. "Your father has a radio, a good one. He listens to it every night. I want it. Get it, or he finds out about you."

"I'm just hungry," Anton whimpered.

Slavodan picked him up by the collar. "I don't care!" he yelled. The bigger boy pushed him back, until he fell into the little cooking fire.

Clothes smouldering, Anton scrambled out of the fire, the rats falling over and being ground into the dirt in his panic.

The group laughed louder as he looked forlornly at the trampled rats.

"The radio, Rat-eater," Slavodan said, stepping up to the skinny, shaking boy. "Get it, or you'll stay hungry."

Anton looked at him, and felt his fear being devoured by a dark burning hunger, a hunger that ate through him, touching the pounding in his head, which was almost blinding.

Slavodan Reshevka stopped laughing as he saw that hunger bleed into Anton's eyes, turning to the black of the abyss, wanting…needing to be filled.

Within Anton's brain, a gland began to grow, struggling for true release, about to become truly…more.

The others laughed as they watched Anton grab Slavodan's arms, delightfully waiting for the bully to knock him back down, and to humiliate him further.

Urinating on a fallen victim was one of his favourites.

But as they watched, he didn't.

Instead, their leader screamed, and bone could be heard crunching, echoing within the chamber as Anton's fingers squeezed, sinking in with little resistance.

Then, Anton's mouth opened wide, and from the screaming mouth of Slavodan came a inky, black cloud, which was sucked down into Anton's gullet.

And with that spark of dark energy, Anton's eruption was fully triggered!

Hormones and enzymes crashed through his system, muscles began to swell to athletic proportions, shredding the threadbare hand-me-downs he wore. His sight and hearing, already sensitive from the long, drawn out change bloomed like a flower bursting from the bud. To him, the darkness exploded with colours, some of which he had no name for. He could hear the creaking of the rusty supports in the walls as they swayed slightly in a barely noticeable breeze.

He flexed his hands again, and Slavodan screamed louder, his feet completely off the floor, held aloft by Anton's newfound strength. Again, a dark mist streamed from the boy and entered Anton, feeding him, and the ongoing change.

Janos broke the spell of fear holding him, whipped out the knife he had taken from a drug dealer he'd robbed, and screaming, charged at the two figures. But before the blade could strike, it appeared to the others that the shadows themselves reared up, tripping and enveloping Janos, who thrashed and screamed as he was covered.

Anton was surrounded by the shadows now, darkness swirling around him like black flames, darker than the night, and in the ill lit, fire flickered gloom, he appeared to the others to be an ebon flamed demon.

The remainder of the group turned as Anton dropped Slavodan, now unmoving, and raced for the door. But darkness flowed past them, and filled the doorway and windows, which, try as they might, they could not get through.

"I'm still hungry," said an echoing, powerful voice.

As one, they all turned.

***

Outside the warehouse, if someone had walked past quietly, they may have heard screams, shouted pleas and prayers.

Maybe, if someone had passed by a little later, they might have seen a tall, strong looking young man stepping out of the warehouse, wearing a collection of ill-fitting and mis-matched clothes.

His eyes would seem to glow an eerie violet-tinged black, and a satisfied smile would have been on his face.

And maybe, just maybe, if someone were curious about this young man and what he had been doing, they might have gone into the warehouse and seen six young men, all of whom were scattered around on the floor, each one shrivelled like they'd been there for months.

If they stood there and tried to listen, they would have heard a voice. And following that voice, they would have found a boy with shoulder length hair, his eyes wide but seeing nothing, chanting: "He's hungry…he's hungry...he's hungry."

Over and over.

And this chanting boy, Janos, like the others, regardless of what it had been before, now sported a head of snow-white hair.

***

,,

Anton didn't return home that night, or any other night.

With five brothers and sisters, Anton, the formerly weak, frail boy, wasn't the working father's favourite.

So Anton, who had no loved ones, no friends and no possessions worth taking hopped a truck that was heading for Moscow, Janos' knife and roubles taken from his fallen tormentors stuffed into his pockets.

He was accosted once.

The truck driver had been making a little extra money by providing discreet travel to anyone with some need and the means to pay. So he had one passenger other than Anton riding in the back of his transport.

The young man in the corner looked at the man who climbed into the back of the truck at the latest fuel stop. He watched as the man settled himself into the corner opposite him, at the other end of the trailer.

He was a big man, with muscle stretching the heavy clothing he wore, a brute (unknown to Anton and the driver both) who had just been released from prison. And as his eyes settled on the young man in the corner, just like in prison, what he wanted, he took.

What he saw was a young man of indeterminate age, likely going to Moscow to make his fortune, but more likely the boy, in his unkempt, mismatched clothing would end up selling himself for money or food or drugs.

The brute saw himself, in his twisted and psychotic way, as helping the young man by showing him how to understand the world, how it worked, and his place in it.

Grinning, he waited, and when he judged the boy asleep, he crept towards him. However, just as his hand was reaching out, the boy opened his eyes and said: "What do you want?"

Considering his approach as being nearly soundless, the big man was startled. "I…ahhh…I was just wondering if you'd care to share my blanket, you know, against the cold."

Growing up where he had, Anton knew the man was lying. But even if he didn't have such life experiences to draw on, he would know. He could smell the man's excitement; hear the thundering of his heart, beating fast in anticipation.

"I have nothing to steal," Anton told him.

Recovering his composure, the man chuckled. "Perhaps not, but you have something worth trading, my young friend. My blanket and company, for some…company."

"Stay away from me!"

"Come come, my young friend. You will be doing this when you get to Moscow. You are young, and will be in demand for a time. But, you need to know what to do."

He grinned again, and to Anton, his eyes looked like the beady eyes of the gang he had killed, and they had the same, sure expression of control.

That Anton's wishes were inconsequential.

The man's hand touched Anton's shaking shoulder.

Without thinking, he struck out, hitting the bigger man in the chest with his fist, driving him back several steps.

He watched the man straighten, rubbing his chest where Anton had hit him. Around the boy, the shadows shifted, and became bright to his eyes. He could see the sweat on the man's face, and hear his feet slide on the debris on the floor of the truck bed.

With astonishment on his face, the convict choked out: "You dare to strike me? I have killed men for merely being in my way! What do you think I will do now?"

"Stay away from me," Anton said, feeling his powers eagerly testing their bonds, straining to get at his tormentor. "Or else…"

"Or else? Or else what, my sweet little morsel?" The Brute had recovered, convincing himself that he had stumbled after the young man landed that lucky shot. "What can you do against me?"

The man flexed enormous arms, straining the clothing that he wore which were only a little less threadbare than Anton's own.

"Or else, I'll…eat you"

The man started to laugh. The laughter echoed in the truck, awaking memories so fresh and powerful that they struck Anton with an almost physical force, awakening his anger.

Slavodan, the bully.

Janos, his enforcer.

His gang of thieves.

His anger reached inward, and touched the darkness within him, and it flowed out, filling the inside of the truck.

The man shivered as the darkness grew darker. His laughter grew softer, then stopped. He heard, as if it were some afterthought, Anton saying quietly: "I warned you."

Something dark struck the Brute, knocking him to the floor. He lifted his head, and was struck again, so hard this time that he rolled over several times before fetching up against the tail of the truck.

He gasped as he felt the pain of broken ribs.

His gaze fell on the young man, still crouched in the corner. But he was too far away to have done this. So how…?

Something was wrong with his eyes. They seemed to be slightly illuminated, as if they were glowing.

"I don't think I want you inside me," he heard his would-be victim say.

The man gasped, trying not to snort in pained laughter, but hurting his chest just the same.

After all, is seemed obvious that the boy didn't…

But then it dawned on him that isn't what the boy meant.

Fear clutched him then, and he began to pray to a God he had turned from years ago, even as his hand reached back to grasp the tape-handled knife he had in his back pocket.

***

Anton watched the man as he reached for the knife.

He nodded to himself, seeing the man grasp the weapon as plainly as he would have on a sunlit day.

"All right," he sighed, and let the darkness run free.

***

The Convict heard the young man mutter something, but he paid it no heed. His focus was on the knife.

He drew it, in a practiced move, looked up and screamed as the darkness formed ebony shards that sliced through the air and into him.

He fell, and felt a deep chilling cold burning through his body.

He thought: What happened?

His vision blurred.

What?

He died puzzled.

***

Anton threw the body out of the truck, leaving the knife with the corpse, and taking the money the man had in his pockets, doubling the meagre supply he now had. The clothes he left, because of the bloody hole in the man's chest, big enough to stick his hand through, soaking everything a dark red.

***

,,

Russian Confederation/Sector 001

22:30 hrs

10/12/06

,,

Anton walked the streets of Moscow, his hands in his pockets, his heavy sweater pulled tightly around him, his eyes wide, looking around at the city he was in.

He was awestruck by Moscow, by the buzzing neon lights, to the cars that honked their way along the crowded streets.

Moscow had recovered, thanks to Minister Sierka, a Nova genius, from the Moscow Crash, and was becoming great again.

But with the darkness no longer hiding secrets from him, Anton saw what was just beyond the lights, hidden from unseeing, or unwilling eyes.

He saw the women and men selling themselves, and remembered what the man on the truck had said. He walked on, and saw men in baggy coats, heard them making their deals and saw the exchanges of rubles and bags of powder.

Anton saw the human beasts in doorways and alleys, alone and in packs, watching for prey that could get them through another night.

As he walked, his mind shifted gears, and instead of contemplating his surroundings, he began to think about his situation.

He knew what he was, what he had become. He'd heard of them on his fathers radio, been taught about them in school as teachers told them about Russia's recovery from the Crash, thanks to the talents of Minister Sierka, also one of them.

Novas, they were called. Superhumans, freaks, mutants and devils, if you listened to what Anton's father and his friends said about them.

Devils like me, Anton thought. At a sudden noise he looked up, and found he had wandered into a seedier part of the city. Here, even the police dared not tread. Gangs roamed freely here, drugs weren't sold furtively but openly. Buildings showed signs of neglect, weathered and aged, brought on by the harsh environment and pollutants, having much in common with the people standing around barrels of flaming garbage.

Anton's lips thinned into a slight smile, and he choked back a laugh, recognizing the painful irony of this beautiful city.

It was much like home.

***

He found a hotel, a price posted above the door that he could afford, thanks to the money he'd taken from Slavodan and the man from the truck. It was a place much like the tenements where he'd been raised, except blazing lights shone from the windows, unlike home where power could be cut at anytime.

Lost in his thoughts as he walked toward the lit doorway, Anton was startled when a set of hands came from the alley he was passing, and jerked him into the darkness beyond.

He saw the knife, just before it sank into his stomach.

A forearm under his chin held him up, slamming him into the wall, as the hand holding the blade pulled it free, then plunged it in again.

Anton felt the wounds as a cold fire within, spreading outwards, like ice in his body. He just stood there, shocked, as his assailant released the weapon. Holding him up, the man began ramming his hands into Anton's pockets.

"Money," the man muttered. "Where is your money?"

He found Janos knife first, and the crumpled up money next, shoving both into his own pockets. He then found Anton's papers, good only for his sector, but possibly valuable to the right person.

They followed the knife and rubles.

In the few moments this was happening, his victim realized that, as the thief searched him, the pain began to lessen. And as it receded, so did the cold, replaced by a hot rage.

The blade, bloody, glinting in the dim light from the street beyond clinked as it hit the trash-strewn ground.

The thief heard the knife hit, and realized that he was no longer holding up his victims dying body.

He looked up, and into the fluid black, violet haloed eyes that glared back at him.

***

Boris Traytoff had been a thief for years now, and had never been caught. He'd known the fear of being hunted and the joy of escape, but those were nothing compared to the terror that filled him now, staring into the abyss within those two eyes.

His target was standing, when he should be dying. Breathing, when he should be gasping for that last breath. Moving, when he should be growing still.

He felt his chest shoved by a hand and heard, in a sudden silence, his ribs crack as he slammed hard into the worn brick of the alley wall.

He began to slide down, pain beginning to awaken within him, when a hand grabbed his collar, lifting him with no discernable effort, just before a fist slammed into his belly with the force of a speeding car!

Again and again, the fist struck with superhuman force, and Boris, almost clinically could hear his ribs breaking, feel his organs rupturing and blood beginning to fill the spaces within.

The pain returned after the calm of shock, each sharp pain a judgement, a punishment for each evil he'd done.

***

Anton took back his money, knife and papers from the man who'd attacked him, as well as the little money the man himself had. Then he took the man's long woollen coat, the tail draping down around his ankles. It smelled, but the coat was warm, and Anton finally realized just how cold he'd actually been.

Looking down, he glanced at the one-time predator.

Then he turned and walked away.

,,,,

***

Boris, sliding down the wall as he was released, felt a chill deeper than that of his cold surroundings filling him. His breathing became laboured and painful, and his vision began to dim.

He wondered: Was this how his victims had felt?

***

Anton lay down on the patched mattress, ignoring the spring digging into his back as he tried to relax.

His stomach growled, but he had no money for food. This room had taken all that he'd had.

But in balance he had the room for two full nights, not just one, and a bed all his own.

He lay there and wondered, what was his family doing now? Were they worried, or were they celebrating the fact that useless Anton was now gone?

He closed his eyes and thought of the death he'd caused. The warehouse, the truck and the alley, none of it seemed real, like a dream that should slowly fade, but refused to. He thought he should feel something about it, but he didn't.

He even had to think hard about it, to remember that he should.

His train of thought was broken as the hunger clawed through him again, sharper than the pain from the knife wounds, which he had found were gone, the blood around them the only sign he'd had them. It felt like an animal trying to dig it's way out.

"The hunger is like nothing you've ever felt before, is it?"

Anton cried out, flinging himself off the bed, away from the quiet voice.

He heard it chuckle.

Then, peering over the mattress, Anton saw a man sitting in the room's only chair.

"H-how did you get in here?"

"Please," the man snorted. "I, like you, do not have to play by baseline rules. Perhaps you should be asking me; Why am I here?"

The man spoke in flawless Russian, but with a sense of it being a second language, perfect, but not comfortable.

"Then, why are you here?" Anton asked, his eyes turning black as he stood, the pain in his belly forgotten. Shadows began to move in the tiny room, swimming like sharks on the walls and the floor.

The intruder looked around, seemingly unconcerned. Anton, despite his ability to see through darkness, couldn't quite see his face. "I've come to take you away from the baselines coming for you," he said. "They have found your friends in the warehouse, as well as the man you killed and left on the roadside."

The boy felt a thrill of fear. "He tried…to hurt me."

The other merely shrugged. "I've read his police report," he said, holding up a file with, Anton noticed, a leather gloved hand. More details of the man were becoming apparent, as if he were only letting Anton see him a bit at a time. "I don't think he was going to merely 'hurt you.'"

He leaned over, exposing a dark skinned face to the light, and to Anton's eyes. Rounded, but not fat, the face had the look of having been through hard times, but also good times. There was no nervousness about the man, no signs of stress. His teeth glinted white from under a thick moustache, it's colour matching the white-marred black on his head. It was not an unkind face.

He lay the file on the bed, sliding it towards Anton.

"Check for yourself," the man suggested. "Multiple assaults, robbery, manslaughter. The list goes on. But he picked the wrong victim this time, didn't he?" Laughing softly, the man leaned back into the shadows, but this time, his face wasn't obscured. "Just like the man outside."

The thrill of fear Anton felt became a cold rush, bordering on terror. The shadows, settling down while the other had talked now started to swirl again, like attack animals, ready to strike, anxiously awaiting a target.

The man never took his eyes off of Anton. "I'm sure you gave him merely what he deserved. I'm not blind, you know. I can see the fresh blood on your sweater."

He pointed toward the file. "Please, set yourself at ease about that animal you killed on the truck, though calling him thus does other species a great disservice. You did what any baseline is allowed to do, young man."

He held up a hand, index finger extended, like a teacher about to point out something. "But, be warned. You are a Nova now, and those allowances you once had are yours no longer. Also, though I'm sure you wish to rest, the longer we remain here, the closer your government gets to finding you."

Standing up, the speaker walked over to the room's only window, through which a neon light flashed red, off and on, on and off.

Anton shuffled away as he passed by.

"Do you know what your family is doing right now, Anton?"

He started at his name.

"Don't look so surprised. The convict had gotten a ride near the fuel depot only a day away from the place where you once lived, where, coincidentally enough, another fuel stop is. That group of malcontents lead to the checking of the families in the area, and you were found to be the only one missing. Your name is being circulated far and wide, with your family being very vocal about you returning home."

Anton smiled. "They want me back?" he asked, incredulously. "Really?"

He received a nod. "Very much so. After all, they would then get the one hundred thousand rubles being offered for you."

A flush touched Anton's cheeks, and tears brimmed his eyes as his heart plummeted to his stomach. "That's not true," he said, his very tone acknowledging that what the other had said was very likely the truth.

"I have seen your family on the television. I could smell their greed and willingness to sell you to the highest bidder through the screen. Rabid dogs would be better family."

The man shook himself, as though he could shake the sudden vehemence from his voice. "But enough of that. We are here now, brought together by fate and my allies, who have the capability to sense Quantum surges and flows. As I am not bound by baseline edicts or chains-of-command, I have arrived before Sierka's pursuers. But be sure they are not far behind, ready to take you, and make you a part of the Minister's Great Plan, or to dispose of you if you refuse them and what they want."

"What would they want from me? And what do you want from me?" Anton asked, dispirited, crushed by the news of his family's betrayal, though he felt little surprise.

"What do I want?" The man turned towards Anton, faint traces of anger in his voice. "My given name is Carl Demiskalous. I was born in Greece fifty-three years ago. I was a fisherman, until five years ago, when an immense storm blew in from the sea, and capsized my boat. The incident triggered my eruption, saving my life, but leaving me unable to help the rest of my crew, three men and a boy not much older than you. After ward, I was… 'asked' by my government to enter the newly built Rashoud facility housed in Athens."

Demiskalous set his jaw. "I did as my people asked. I found my ability to come and go, teleportation, much in demand. Especially by certain aspects of my government, who seemed to need things moved from here to there, and also to bring to them so-called enemies of the country. Some of these were newly empowered novas, like yourself."

The man, lit by red neon hung his head. "I found that my efforts aided those whose purpose was to control the rise of Novas. I found out what happened to some of those I brought to them…" Carl took a deep breath. "I can tell you nothing you would believe, Anton. Nothing that wouldn't sound like a made-up tale to coerce you into coming with me. Stories of bloody slabs of steel and specimen jars that would sound like ravings."

Demiskalous looked at Anton. "I freed myself from them. But what I saw that day haunts me. Every time I manage to sleep, I see…" he shook his head, sighing.

"But I can do nothing like that," Anton said. He bent to pick up the file, still on the bed. "The man in the truck would be more valuable than me. I am nothing."

"That is your family talking, Anton." The older man walked up, put a hand on Anton's shoulder. "Because I refuse to believe that you are that stupid. Think. In the going on three days of your empowerment, you have killed seven people, and left one insane from the sheer terror of it all. You will be much in demand by the Baselines, and much wanted by Sierka."

"Maybe I should serve.." Anton began, but Carl wheeled him around, shook him.

"NO! We are Novas! We do not serve! We are not animals to perform!" He looked at his hands, released Anton. "I am sorry, young man," he said. He breathed deeply. "I am still, it seems, human enough to take out my own fears and frustrations on others. I have no right to tell you what to do."

He backed away. "But do you think Sierka's Great Plan is the only reason Russia is clawing its way out of the financial quagmire of the Crash? Do you think that the Ministers plans are all accepted unanimously?"

He walked back into the neon light, as if he needed the flashing illumination. "Other Novas are the reason it all works. He has advisors, theoreticians, assassins and that greatest insult to us, slaves. All working at his command, without even the illusion of freedom that others have."

Anton took all this in. It seemed impossible, but the sincerity in the others voice gave the young Nova chills. Could this actually be happening, here and now? Slavery? In this age of supermen?

"I had to run for a long time, Anton. But I was found, like I've found you. I was helped, as I wish to help you. Let me take you to a place where you can rest without fear, to think and be in the company of equals."

He remembered his father talking to his friends, about freaks and devils. He remembered the cruelty of Slavodan and his gang.

He believed. At least in part, he believed.

Anton looked toward the older Nova, and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, the door burst open, spilling men into the room, each holding weapons and covered in strange armor.

"Anton Jervanski!!" shouted one of the four men. "By Order of the Government of Russia, you are to surrender yourself to us for immediate transfer to Special Conscription Services! You will comply! You will not be told again!!"

Frightened, Anton looked at the men. He trembled, and the room blurred from his terrified tears. He glanced back to where the other man had been, but he had vanished when the men burst into the room, leaving him alone.

The fourteen-year-old boy in the man's body shook, and shadows began to thicken.

"I only wanted to sleep," he said, eerily reminiscent of his words in the warehouse.

Shadow filled his eyes.

One of the men looked around. "LOOK OUT!"

Shadows, cast by the now wildly swinging light bulb hanging from the ceiling, shifted and speared out, slashing at the front two men, who screamed as the dark energy impaled them. They fell to the floor, writhing in agony.

The other two, crowded in the small doorway raised their guns. But before they could fire, shadow poured from Anton, ripping through the floor, and dumping them, heavy armor and all to the floor below.

Anton felt a bullet hit him from behind, and saw the exit wound bloom on his chest like a dark flower. Falling, thoughts remarkably clear, he turned and unleashed a blast of razored black at the window, which shattered, allowing the energy to shred the man who was hanging there from a rope outside, another of those strange-looking guns clutched in his hands.

The rope was cut, and the man's body fell, hitting the ground like a gruesome rain.

Anton lay on the floor, feeling the warmth of his body flowing from the holes left by the high-powered round. He felt his body muster itself, and felt resources flowing to the wound.

He somehow lifted his head, and as he watched, the blood began to slow, then subside to a trickle, then stop. But the wound itself stayed open.

The floor creaked, and Anton slowly turned his head, seeing Carl Demiskalous kneeling beside him.

The man looked into Anton's eyes. "There are more," he said. "Many more."

Anton replied, slowly. "You…left me…alone."

"I had to let you see for yourself what happens to Novas who don't follow the Party line," Carl said, holding a glass of water he had gotten from somewhere to Anton's lips. He sipped slowly, feeling his stomach cramp again.

"I need to eat," he whispered. Carl nodded.

"Yes," he replied. "You do." He lifted Anton's head gently, held the water to his lips again. "You are weak now, young Anton. You will not be able to repel another attack. You do not even have the strength to heal yourself. They will return, and either kill you out of hand, tell the world that another Nova aberration has been destroyed, or they will fill you with drugs, let you eat and heal, allow you to recover completely, all the while indoctrinating you into Sierka's Great Plan."

He looked into Anton's tired eyes.

"You will never be free of him. You will be his slave."

Anton took another sip of water. So cool and fresh, not like the colored or rancid tasting stuff he was used to. He forced his stomach to hold it down.

"But…will I be better off with you?"

"We'll feed you, shelter you, and help you understand what and who you are and what you can become. The rest will be up to you. We don't hold Novas against their will. Most times they leave, explore themselves in various ways, including selling themselves to the highest bidder."

"But, they eventually return, sickened by what they see and what they've been told to do, as I was. Eventually, they realize that the Baselines are the ones who start the wars, cause the pollution and commit the crimes that they command us to finish, fix or solve."

"Yes, they come back. Matured, seasoned and welcomed."

Demiskalous smiled. "Oh, there is some bad blood between us sometimes. But it is usually solved easily enough, because in the end, we are all equals. We are Novas."

"We are the One Race. We are not, nor will we ever be, slaves."

His head turned as feet clumped up the stairs. Carl stood, strode over to the window and looked down. He glanced at Anton, lying in a pool of his own blood.

"You must decide now."

He came back over to the wounded Nova, kneeling again. "The freedom to chose what to do with your life, or slavery."

He reached down, and took Anton's hand.

Anton took a breath, as the sounds of running men grew louder.

"Freedom," he said, closing his eyes.

He heard Carl Demiskalous say; "So be it."

***

The Elite Shocktrooper, recruited from the Spetnaz, jumped the hole in the floor, tumbling into the room and ending up in a kneeling position. His weapon, a high-powered rifle with armor-piercing rounds tracked back and forth, trying to acquire a target.

But the only things in the room, besides the ratty furniture were the bodies of two men, bled out from multiple wounds, a pool of blood just across from the shattered window, and a glass of water, the contents gently rippling as if it were sat down just a moment before.

,,,,

finis

By

Christopher "Quest" Chase

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