The moan echoes down the corridor.
Soft, weak, but excited; given up to resistance and simply surrendered to walls; it travels to the glass window of the guard station and scarcely makes a sound inside. It is enough to alert any guard of activity in the hall if they were paying even the slightest bit of attention to their surroundings.
But no ears re present inside to notice.
Halfway down the long hall of prison cells, a thick clear wall stands as the only barrier between the Young Guard and the slender, bare leg that holds his mouth open and quickens his heartbeat.
"I'm sorry for that noise, Officer," she offers with hypnotizing sincerity, "I-I really don't know what came over me."
He fidgets at his collar and swallows nervously. "Th-That's okay, Ma'am—Miss... Miss."
"Officer," Red calls, moving slowly forward and beckoning with her eyes, "I think I need your help in here."
"I-I think after our last... um—I don't think that I can... we can..."
"Please?" The collar of the orange uniform has managed to slip during the Young Guard's stuttering reply and reveals a bronzed shoulder lingering underneath. It exudes a warmth that seems stronger against the bare walls. "Last time?"
"One... one last time..."
Without the slightest sound, the red bulb above the cell flickers green; he lowers the electronic card sown to the rough Kevlar of his uniform and stands quietly as the cell opens before him. As the door clicks open, he steps in with the same wariness he had carries with him the handful of times he has passed through that opening.
"Wher—uh... where should we start?"
"Wherever you choose."
Her body falls gently onto the mattress of the plain white cot, and she looks back up with eyes that reflects only pale green light. The Young Guard steps forward with eyes moving constantly and fingers following similarly, closing the distance between the only active bodies in the corridor of jail cells.
"First," she whispers, "I want you to do something."
Red stands gingerly and delicately leans over his shoulder, placing her lips hairs away from his ear.
"I want you to tell me you love me."
"Wha—uh... I don't... I don't know..."
"Tell me you love me," she pleaded.
"I-I...uh... love you."
He swallows deeply.
"I love you."
As the last syllable leaves his throat, the end of a ballpoint pen enters.
The mixed cry of shock and pain is quickly drowned out by the gargling of bubbling blood; frantic fingers immediately fly to his throat and reluctantly tug at the plastic rod protruding from his neck. The hands jerk away and both crumple to the floor from the sudden ripping sensation.
His eyes widen in bewilderment as she leans over him and holds a hand on the slick bloody skin of his cheek.
"Tell me you love me."
Lips struggle frantically to pull out of the grimace that pulls them tightly against his face.
"Tell me you love me!" she repeats in a hushed shout.
Her roundhouse connects with the side of his face and spins his head with a sharp crack to the right.
Dead before he hits the floor. Or after. She doesn't care. She sighs deeply and stares at the messy scene for a full minute - particularly eyeing the pen that had been her weapon - before reaching down to the corpse and snaking out the electronic card from the pants.
The contact of his shoulders on the glass wall before his head is a lucky break; unfortunately, the mass of the rest of his body follows soon after and does nothing to ease the crash. A wet cough escapes as Gray slams onto the concrete floor and limps up to a defensive kneel. Behind disheveled black bangs, he watches the red glow light up the darkness like a neon gallows.
"Want to try that again?" the hulking Android challenges.
Gray leaps up madly and twists in anticipation of the fist that predictably shoots up to stop him mid-air; gripping it with both hands, he slips down and around the metallic hip and thrusts Cy face first toward the back wall. Impromptu robo-judo.
A simultaneous robotic kick, however, sends him flying back into the same spot on the clear barrier.
Dancing beams flash across the glass as the Warden approaches with a guard at hand.
"What's going on in there?"
Looking up at the Warden as he approached, Gray spits out blood onto the floor and manages a slight moue. "Nothing to worry about," he reassures. "Just getting killed."
"Open the door, now!"
The cell status light barely hits green before the Warden is forcing his way into the cell, training a sparking blue contraption in one hand and a rifle in the other at the Android as the other guard moves forward and aims a gun at the prone Boy.
"Now, what the hell is going—?"
He turns to see the Boy already up and eying both men stone-faced.
The guard before Gray squeezes the trigger finger instinctively...
...and the Warden flinches down toward the hole in his bleeding foot.
Still aiming the barrel of the guard's gun toward the injured Warden, Gray stands and pulls it away in one motion, twists it behind his back, and smashes the butt into the face of the guard.
All of a sudden, he remembers the electronic device he's dropped during the shooting and makes to move toward its position on the floor... but finds himself held up by the neck in a metallic grip.
"You can't!" he gasps behind the vise-like hold. "You were reprogrammed, you can't injure humans! You can't hurt me!"
"I don't have to," Cy answered, with cold certainty.
The Warden turns to see a boot block his vision and smash into his face, crumpling him to the floor and leaving him absolutely still like a torn ragdoll. Labored breathing is the only remaining sound in the cell as two pairs of eyes glare at each other through the darkness.
"You could've tried only pretending to fight back."
"I was," Cy answers with could have be mistaken for a robotic laugh.
"Could've fooled me," Gray responds between quick breaths. Inhaling deeply once more, he straightens back up and meets eyes again with the Android.
"I still don't understand why you couldn't have just gotten Red to break into the hall," Cy muttered.
"Do you know how hated the people on this row are? Do you know how many people would love nothing more than to get in and get a piece of revenge? It's a helluva lot harder to break in to this godforsaken place than to break out of it." He pauses shortly. "No, she has the pen. Follow me."
They turn together and leave the cell.
Like the petals of a horribly bloody flower, they're stretched radially away from her: feet pointing toward her and white eyes, twitching tongues, and bloody orifices pointing away. It is art with broken bodies.
"They couldn't..." Her head flops quizzically to the side as she traces the rivulets of red liquid ruin back to their respective hosts. "They couldn't play."
"Don't worry," Red offers impatiently, "I'm sure they really wanted to."
As the Freak clumsily stands, her eyes fixate on the morbidly graceful pattern spread around them. Back and forth, up and down the lengths of the three lightly-armored, spasming guards and three groaning men in lab coats, her gaze trails longingly, studying their miserable twists and painful jerks. A dozen different emotions morph across her face, replacing each other with ferocity.
"Did you hear what I said?" She silently turns to face her benefactor. "We need to go."
Careful to weave around the arrangement of psychoacoustic moans emanating around her, Roth follows the trail of red hair out a pair of double doors and into a room containing only steel. A metal detector, computer monitors, and clean white papers lay scattered along the floor. Steel-reinforced walls do little to dampen their footsteps as both prisoners forge a hurried path.
"How'd you do it?"
Red jogs along at a quick pace and rounds a corner before asking again; the Freak stares straight ahead at an infinitely distant point as she silently continues alongside her.
"Wait." They simultaneously stop beside the edge of a wall. Red flattens herself and holds out an outward palm to signal Roth to do the same.
Silent seconds trickle by.
In the hallway beside their wall, shadows wax, wan, and shift like living mountains across the cheap white linoleum. Venturing the most unnoticeably small glance, a green iris peers out from the corner and down the main walkway.
"They're gone." The Girl turns back to her catatonic companion and nods. "Let's go."
"I played with them." She hesitates and keeps her eyes on the ones staring back at her behind strands of dirty hair. "I played with their minds. And they broke. I didn't know they were real! They didn't know I was real!" Roth leans into her and holds her face forward, talking almost directly into Red's stomach. "If they didn't have dirty water, I wouldn't have to clean! Wouldn't have to use clean hands! Wouldn't have to CONSUM—"
"Shut. The hell. Up." Her attention shoots up to the face of her addresser. "I am not going to get caught because you can't control yourself. So keep your damn mouth closed and follow me or you'll lose your only chance at freedom." She moves to cross the hallway intersection… but pauses and turns around once more. "And if you ever come that close to touching any part of me again, I will play with you in ways you've never even had nightmares about."
Her furious red eyes are met with stoic violet ones. Suddenly, the freakish face erupts into a cocky grin, eyes wide, and teeth clenched like a hungry jackal.
"I like you," she says like she's ordering from a catalog, "I like you a lot."
Red drops two tightened fists to her side and rigidly turns around toward the escape route.
"Like some kind of homicidal puppy…"
Seven minutes and forty-two seconds later, they are standing in the shadowed auxiliary hallway within seeing distance of a heavily guarded door.
"I trust there were no complications."
"Tore the thyroid cartilage, nailed the trachea… probably pierced the esophagus, too. But none unless you consider our insane acquaintance a complication," she answers. Turning away from the distant target, her eyes settle on the fresh bruises on the arms and legs of the prisoner before her. "I guess things didn't go as smoothly for you…"
"No," Gray answers dispassionately, "everything is going according to plan."
A short distance away, the Freak kneels peaceably, eyes locked on the blank gray expanse of the wall, fingers meekly raised in the direction of the barrier, and lips twitching into the echoes of words. Slowly, her hands move closer to the wall until they hover right above the surface and skim over in nigh-imperceptible circles. Her tongue rolls out consistently thicker and thicker consonants until she is left murmuring seductively to the barrier in plain tongue.
Cy steps out from beside Gray and leans in to the inmates beside him.
"What is she doing?"
"Don't worry," Roth replies, barely containing her voice behind a giddy smile, "I have clean hands!"
And with that, she pulls them back and barely taps the wall with her palms. Deep waves ripple immediately and move out along the wall, seemingly bending the steel of the structure, the concrete reinforcement, and the very air around it.
She rises to her feet and steps back to admire the scene.
A snout protrudes from the gelatinous material and steals a tentative whiff of the atmosphere before sinking back into the wall… and emerging seconds later in the form of an enormous green monster.
"That's her angel?" Cy asks stolidly.
The Beast stands on all fours with thick, claw-like fingers resting solidly on the ground; a large, three-horned crest adorns its brow and narrows over deeply set, narrow eyes; flattened spines run along the scaly back from the broad shoulders to the tip of its tail. A gray underbelly lays well hidden beneath the bulk of muscle that stretches over the arms, feet, and back.
Cy turns to the side and manages as much of a look of confusion as a robotic face could manage. "What kind of allies did you choose?"
"Since then, at an uncertain hour, that agony returns," she chants with a smile and runs a hand along the Beast's back, "and till my ghostly tale is told, this heart within me burns!"
"And she's reciting poetry?"
She turns curiously. "REE-nuh. You know my name?"
"Rena Roth," Gray answers. "Rena the Terrible."
"Oh…" With a deep yawn, she closes her eyes, lays herself atop the hulking beast's back… "Follow Dorothy and his friends." And goes comatose.
Red turns away from the scene and shakes her head slowly. "All that even with the collar on…"
"Let's get moving," Gray interrupts, "there are still a few more stops along the way."
"She's not responding well."
"She's not responding at all." He pauses slightly. "Insane..."
"No... No, she's still in there. She knows everything that's going on."
Papers shuffle on clipboards as the two men continue murmuring amongst themselves, the drone of the ancient air conditioning and the mad bubble of the brewing coffee are their only accompaniment.
The first man nods. "It's only a matter of time before they find a reason to take her out."
"I hope they do. Soon."
A bitter aroma emanates from the coffee pot as it pours out its contents into the other man's mug; apparently ignorant of it, he sighs and took a swig of the coffee, simultaneously grimacing and fighting down the gulp.
"You know they can't chart her?"
"That's private information." Through the threshold of the only door in the break room walks in the Wiry Guard with a gruff growl and fatigue hanging from his eyelids. "I'd expect that two men of your security clearance would know that."
He slows down by the coffee machine and leans over for a quick whiff… before shaking his head and continuing around the center table. "It would be a shame if such a breach of information would cost you your jobs," the Wiry Man adds.
Both scientists look at each other hurriedly…
"We should probably—"
"—Yes, with the—"
"—involved with a—"
…and shuffle away amidst mutters and avoiding glances.
He leans lightly against the wall and glances at the fridge, managing a single step in that direction before small specks of debris hit his right shoulder; eyes shifts upward in time to see a glance of steel grating catch him in the face.
Black boots touch down as he stumbles back, hands clutching his face, red already beginning to creep out from between the fingers. Pain explodes at his side as a swift kick catches him beneath the ribs and drops him like a steel drum.
A brief glance up reveals the collective group of fugitives lounging casually around: the Boy and the Girl planted angrily in front; the Android looming haltingly in the back, arms crossed against a cracked wall; and the Freak laying draped across a snorting impatient Beast.
"How can you be so stupid?" he coughs out, curling his lips into a sneer and struggling to catch his breathe. "All it takes is a press of this button and—"
"This button?" His smile quickly drops flat and slowly changes to a mask of horror as he discreetly pats himself down.
Red grins savagely. "Sweetie, I could pull your wedding ring, your right pink nail, and your back molars off of you without letting you realize it. And, apparently," she added, holding an arm out, "the keys to the evidence room."
They mockingly dangle just out of reach, swinging back and forth rhythmically and tempting one last, desperate lunge from the fidgeting Wiry Man. The corner of his black uniform boots moves a fraction of an inch to the side as he inconspicuously bends both knees…
And an empty coffeepot smashes against his face, knocking his head back into the wall, and leaving him crumpled on the floor like a ragdoll. Cy holds up the remains.
"Have any of you gotten a whiff of this? It smells like raw ass."
"And here's my part of the deal." The gloved hand stretches out toward the rest of the group. Gray nods toward the squat, glowing metallic device resembling an electric razor that sat in his palm. "Here's what you want."
Red feels the edges of the collar on her neck and gives a quick tug against the tightness of the restraint. She sighs sharply and catches the attention of the other fugitives in the room.
"Then what are we waiting for?"
Sweat glistens on an empty patch of skin. It slowly gathers into a small reflective droplet and trails down the nose bridge to the weathered tip of the nose. Hanging hesitantly, it bottoms out and falls away, splattering onto the floor.
"You won't make it out of here in one piece―"
"―Did you hear me talk to you?" Gray asks. The remaining inmates stand near the office door watching him. "So don't talk unless I tell you to. Let me remind you that you are greatly outnumbered, Old Man, outnumbered by people that are more than eager to tear you a new one at the slightest provocation. So if I were in your position, I'd shut up and listen very closely." Gray crosses his arms and stares down at the snarling senior kneeling before his large mahogany desk, hands positions testily atop his head.
Outside, the young secretary lies unconsciously slumped over her keyboard, two very disabled security officers strewn at her feet.
"Fortunately for you, I won't be wasting my time revealing some master plan. All I'll say is this..." He leans in abruptly and lets his breath fall on the Old Man's face. "You've run your course. You've used and abused your power and now you're done. You're now going to be surrounded by very, very angry people who know where to find you at any given moment of your life. I suggest you start sleeping with one eye open."
Gray steps back and walks to the door before turning back with a small, black handgun outstretched.
"Oh, remember that promise about kissing my gun?"
A click echoes as the handgun cocks.
"Calm down, I was just joking." He flicks his wrist. The Old Man barely catches sight of a set of green claws descending on him.
"Security alarm," Cy declares, seemingly to the flashing red light that lights up the small office. "I could have told you she was going to rat us out."
"Oh no! Whatever shall we do?" Rena yawns, recently awoken and rubbing her eyes.
A deep rumbling seemingly arises as an answer; rubber-soled boots beat rhythmically, progressively closer on the hallway tile as the limitations of the enclosed office suddenly becomes apparent to the five escapees.
Addressing everyone else in the room, Gray locks eyes and calmly takes a place beside the line facing the only exit to the room. "Time to earn your keep..."
A wave of four armed enforcers arrives beside the double doors of the office and pauses warily. The leader motions instructions to the squad; they nod and watch his fingers slowly rise. One... Two... Three. They spin inward, rush the double doorway... and are met seconds later by a large wooden table that carries them out crashing against the opposite wall in a hail of oak splinters.
Three waves of responding enforcers slow to a dead stop at the sight of the badly ends charge. They train guns at the door way and peer around the edge.
The sudden primal mixture of growl and yell startles the arms guards long enough to allow the scaled, dinosaur-like monstrosity to leap out from the office and pounce of the unprepared team. Red follows on his tail, eyes and fists ablaze with an amber fire; the remaining prisoners swarm behind her, and without hesitation make way through the rapidly reacting guards.
Cy catches the first wave of live ammunition across the chest and flings a long filing cabinet into the throne of guards. It doesn't injure the men, but it catches the next volley of gunfire and blind the front line long enough to let everyone else into the fight.
Closing both fists and clenching her jaw, Rena crushes weapons into small spheres and blows aside the more dumbstruck members of the assault team.
Gray dances past flailing limbs and delivers an occasional fist to the gut as he speedily makes his way through the gathering mass. Briefly delaying, he glances back and yells out final instructions.
"Only enough to clear the way to the exit."
Spinning around, he backfists into an exposed nose and ducks back into the fray.
She gathers the last of the recent shouts while flirting in and out of consciousness, leaning against the bare wall of her prison cell and feeling the cold lick a fresh wound on her shoulder.
"You really shouldn't have done that."
A sharp wind rakes across the exposed parts of her body.
"…no use for a traitor..."
"...we never really needs you..."
An overturned metal cot and a broken urinal.
"...Next time maybe you won't try..."
A busted lip.
"...you know how we punish betrayal..."
Cuts on the forearm, and bruises on the cheeks, chin, and eyes.
"Clean yourself up..."
The signs of a quick but decisive struggle.
"...Better luck next time..."
The strong breeze continues pouring in through the enormous gaping hole in the back wall of her cell, overwhelming her senses past the point of numbness, and blowing the tatters of the torn prison jumpsuit. As her breaths becomes increasingly shallow, her eyes settle beyond the confines of the prison walls… past the broken glass of the searchlight on a guard tower… over the cracked wall of the prison… to a shadowed hill in the black tar nighttime.
"Gray..." Gaea swallows weakly and closes her eyes.
In the far distance, five figures stand atop the dark hill, spaced out on the ledge that overlooks a phantasmagoria of sleazy neon signs, frantic headlights, and semi-functional streetlights.
The Girl's legs dangle over the precipice as she stares out into the nighttime. Wild, uncontrollable emotion bubbles across her face.
The Android stands to the right with a mask of mechanical indifference. You would have to know how to read his face to pick the look of freedom in his robotic eyes.
The Freak kneels to the left in a meditative pose. Her expression morphs from joy to rage to lust to indifference.
The Beast lies at her knees in feral feline form. Its eyes closed and claws stretched as it purrs softly.
In the middle of the triangle, stands the Boy, silent and motionless above the sprawling land before him. After several long moments, he joins with a smile and a quiet whisper.
"The city is ours."