Verse 4 - Escape!
Mizushima blinked into existence in the small room. By now, Iceman was used to it, but it was sort of an odd time. Usually he came in the 'evening' or right after a health checkup, not in the 'morning'. Times of day meant little to Iceman in his room of florescent lights.
"Hurry up and escape."
Iceman's brain froze. Escape? Escape from what?
"It was just decided in a meeting that you would be refrozen. Tomorrow, they will come here under the pretense of an exam and freeze you. You wouldn't wake up until... maybe never." Mizushima's dry voice told him he was dead serious.
"What-What! Why?" Iceman couldn't believe how calm Mizushima sounded as he spat out such utter crap.
"We have collected data from you," Mizushima continued, emotionlessly, "but research on you will not end. It has been decided that research on you will take time, so we need to preserve our precious sample." Something else, like disgust, leaked into his words in the end covered with sweet sarcasm. But Iceman was beyond hearing something like that.
"Sample, what am I, a guinea pig?" Mizushima's silence only made him angrier. "You meant to do this from the beginning!" Iceman got louder and louder. "You rescued me from the ice, not to save me, but for research, you pretended to have saved me... but you tricked me!" His rising voice got louder and louder, out of control, but the last few words were said in a hoarse whisper.
Mizushima cut him off there. "I do not deny it, nor do I intend to apologize. Hate me to your heart's content if you want. I have temporarily disabled all security. You should escape to the surface while you can. I have also released the maruta. With all this going on, you should be able to escape notice. If you reach the surface, it will be hard to find you."
Iceman calmed down enough to ask "Why are you helping now? Couldn't you have ended this without me knowing?" He felt calmer now that he had let out that outburst. He was already thinking ahead.
Mizushima sighed, a long sad sound. "...I'm tired. I wonder if you know how much your conscience torments you when you create a sub-species of human. Playing god and pretending what you create isn't human so you can tinker with their brains and organs."
Iceman reeled. Mizushima appeared to have the conscience of what he considered a normal person. "So, you mean to redeem yourself?"
Mizushima seemed to think on that. "Redemption? That would be nice, but I'm really just scared."
Scared was not what he expected to hear from Mizushima. "Scared?"
"Yes. I'm scared of getting used to this. Despite all this anguish, you start to get numb to it." Mizushima paused, his form trembling. Was he... trembling? "And when will I stop feeling anguish and guilt altogether? That is what I am afraid of." He really looked shaken by the idea. Iceman could see that he really wasn't lying.
"But what will you do? Once people find out, there is only one thing that will happen." He was worried. He knew their laws.
"Don't worry about me. I don't intend on dying that easily."
"Won't you come with me?"
"To the surface? What enchanting words." Mizushima's hologram sighed. "I am just a human. I can't live on the surface. I am just a weak, helpless creature."
Iceman stayed silent and listened.
"That is why I couldn't ever be in this room. I always thought it must have been unsettling for me never to have actually been there. All those bacteria and things over there are nothing to you, but they are fatal to us. How ironic. Yearning for the earth, we spent an eternity developing ways to renew ourselves. But now we can no longer live anywhere but this greenhouse environment." Mizushima chuckled. "What a joke. In order to stand on the earth again, we need something like spacesuits. You know what dogu pottery figurines look like? It's just like that. Maybe the same thing happened in the past and they told stories of how they had to walk on the earth with those."
Mizushima smiled tightly. "Besides, someone has to stay here and watch security. So, I can't go with you. I just have one request. Would you hear me out?"
Iceman was worried, but still wary of Mizushima. After all, this still sounded too good to be true. "What is it?"
Mizushima paused, and glanced away. Iceman followed his gaze, and saw Mikoto standing near the door. She must have silently entered the room when he wasn't paying attention.
"Can you take her with you?" Mizushima asked. Both Iceman and Mikoto turned to Mizushima, shocked.
"Doctor?" Mikoto murmured.
Iceman knew what would happen if she came with him. If she came and was caught... but staying, assuming everything Mizushima said was true, would be worse in the end. Even if Mizushima cared nothing for Iceman, Mikoto was something else.
"She is very used to you. She wouldn't be able to bear it without you."
"B-but.." Tears were forming in her eyes. She also knew what this meant.
"Farewell, #3510. You should live for yourself from now on."
Mizushima smiled. "Mikoto, is it? What a great name. Don't worry. There is nothing to worry about. Take care."
Saying her name sealed his fate in Iceman's eyes. It was the absolute proof he needed.
"Iceman, please." Those were the words of a father.
"You don't... got it. I will take care of her."
"Thank you." He looked truly relieved to hear to hear his words.
But Iceman had one last thing to take care of.
"I have a favor to ask now. I want to take #63 with me."
Mizushima looked like he expected it. "#63? Sorry, but that's impossible. That number doesn't exist anymore. Number 63 is a lost number... an abandoned number."
What? "Abandoned, that can't be, because-"
"Certainly you are able to communicate with the thoughts of nonexistent things."
Nonexistent? What the hell was he talking about? "Stop messing around. You think I'd believe that?"
"Why would I lie to you now? I don't like to say this, but I was there when it happened."
Iceman was chilled to the bone. "What..." His mouth went dry. She was... dead? How could that be, he had just talked with her. Mizushima finally continued on, his business tone back.
"And... along the way to the surface, there are many security area that cannot be opened. Please use #3510's master key. Your voiceprint has been registered. If you speak while having the key, any door will open for you."
Iceman knew of the keys from a previous talk. So what Mikoto showed him confused him.
"Yes, this is what the doctor gave to me." She took out what appeared to be a white bracelet, or hairpiece. Whichever one, it didn't look anything like what he had expected.
"This is a key?" He voice his doubts, but Mizushima waved it off.
"You might not think so, but yes. Make sure you don't lose it." Iceman saw a flicker of sadness before Mizushima continued. "We are running out of time. You must hurry."
Iceman took one last good look around the room. It had been his only home for many months now. It was a cold impersonal room, but it had been his only haven. He gathered his resolve, and grabbed Mikoto's hand.
"Let's go, Mikoto."
"Ah-" exclaimed Mikoto, before she looked back one last time.
"Farewell, Mikoto, my lovely daughter."
Iceman gritted his teeth in helplessness. There was nothing he could do to save Mizushima. The best he could do was save the one most important to both of them.
"Which way?" he asked.
"Ah, ah, this way." Mikoto pointed down the hallway. He had no idea which direction it was, but he trusted her to know the way around. He had never been outside his room, always locked away. Locked away in that room for close to 4 months. Iceman let her lead the way. Multiple times, he heard people running towards them, but each time a door nearby shut, blocking their path. Mizushima was watching out for them.
After a few minutes, they made it to the airlock. According to Mizushima, normally it was remotely controlled by the Lab using it, but today it was opening and closing to let the maruta through. Mizushima was even watching these and working them as required to not have anyone left behind. But what was even more amazing was the number of maruta lined up in front of the large doors.
It wouldn't have been stretching it to say there was close to 300 maruta in this one spot.
And almost all 600 eyes were on him as he rushed over with Mikoto. Many of the younger began crying. The older cringed at his approach, drawing back, trying to hide. A few tried to stay calm and glare at him, but their eyes too were filled with fear.
The airlock could hold up to 40 persons tops each time, as it was originally designed to fit large equipment from the nearby vehicle sheds. So, how many had already escaped in the 10 minutes since this all began? 200? 300?
He moved to the back of the group, and held Mikoto's hand in his. Her face flushed when he did, but it still didn't completely distract her. She had noticed the stares too.
It was odd enough for a non-maruta to be there, even odder to be wearing the mask he was, and then to top it off he was holding the hand of a maruta and standing in line. He must have been an extreme oddity in their eyes. Their scared, tired, haunted eyes, all still staring at him. It was oppressive the way they stared at him relentlessly.
One of the youngest, probably only 2 or 3 and yet to be abused, stepped out of the mass of maruta and pointed at him.
"Funneh face." He said. All the others froze.
"Oh yeah?" Iceman retorted. He needed something to get them to loosen up. "how about this?" He let go of Mikoto's hand and smiled at her before turning back to the little boy, who was looking confused. He stuck his index fingers into his mouth and pulled it wide, then crossed his eyes.
The little kid was shocked, but began laughing as he made even more faces. Even Mikoto smiled at his antics. More children came out, and they started making faces at each other.
The large airlock doors slid open, but the rest of those not smiling were still frozen, but at least not from fear anymore. From wonder at Iceman's actions.
"Hurry, the next group needs to go!" He pointed at the airlock, reminding them they were all trying to escape. The front few slid towards the airlock, still staring at him. "Hurry! Get in, I want to leave sometime too."
"Why are you here?" asked one of the older maruta, trying to sound tough.
"Just trying to leave with the most important person to me." Iceman glanced towards Mikoto, before focusing back on the questioner. "Is that bad?"
"Who are you?" The man asked, confused.
"I'm called Iceman."
The group of maruta began murmuring when they heard his name. No maruta save Mikoto and the few that handled his thawing had ever seen him. All, however, had heard of him. Of course, he didn't understand why, but it got them to relax a little. That's what he had wanted.
"Wh-what..." Mikoto stammered. She blushed, as many eyes were also turned towards her. The group pushed her forward, and along with Iceman, into the airlock with the next group.
"Hey, wait, what's going on? I'll wait my turn too."
The same maruta as before stepped forward.
"We will wait for the father and his mate to go first."
As he finished, the doors began closing. The cycle for this group was about to begin. "Father? Me... wait!" The doors closed with a thud, and hissing could be heard. Father? Like what Mutsumi called him? Iceman turned to Mikoto for clarification, but she was fidgeting, lost in her own world.
Only children and younger maruta were in this group, and at the mention of his name, they all looked at him with something dangerously close to awe. They were no help.
Oh well, there are more important things to worry about Iceman thought. To him, Mikoto's safety was his top priority. Everything else was secondary at this point.
The lights on the wall flashed green, and a new hissing noise came from the doors to the outside. They slowly opened, and everyone's eyes were blinded by their first look outside. The sun was bright, brighter than any artificial light the unnatural hallways and rooms had ever provided. But also softer, natural. The air was warm, the smell of grass and dirt filling his lungs.
Iceman felt refreshed for some reason.
"Come out everyone, hurry! All young ones? What happened ins-" The voice cut off to a gasp.
Iceman shielded his eyes from the sun with his hands, and scanned their surroundings. It was a downward slope from the door, and the door was built straight into a cliff. They were at a fairly high altitude, and he could see for quite a distance.
"Green..." Iceman gasped. The looked as if nothing had ever happened. A lush forest spread out below him in a wide valley, and he could hear birds singing in the nearby trees. He hadn't been expecting this. Mizushima had said it had suddenly and rapidly repaired itself, but his...
"Y-y-you, who a-are you?" a frightened voice asked. "W-we aren't, aren't going back!"
Iceman looked around again. Aside from all the younger maruta streaming out, only two looked different. A teen and a child, 15 maybe and the other possibly 5. The young one was hiding behind the older one. Both were thoroughly frightened of him, but the older was putting up a brave front for the younger.
"Ahahaha, eh, I'm Iceman?" Iceman said. It worked before...
"No..." The older boy looked thunderstruck. "No, no way. You have to be..." Then the boy got a good look at his face. "The mask..." He stared in awe for a moment, before telling them to follow the group. Iceman and Mikoto listened and followed the group from the back. The small fuzzy-eared kids in the back kept in line and didn't mess around, but he could see some up ahead messing around a little. Kids would be kids. He heard the thump as the airlock doors shut behind them disappearing into the distance as he lightly jogged to keep up with the group.
Iceman looked at Mikoto. "Hey , Mikoto, am I some sort of celebrity or legend?"
"Um, well," Mikoto stuttered. She obviously didn't know exactly how to answer. "Um, um yes, but..." She seemed frantic.
"Ok, ok, it's ok. If you can't tell me now, that's fine. Just knowing I am one is helpful. Everyone's reaction at my name was confusing me a little." Iceman smiled softly and pat her head. "It's alright to have secrets."
"You are... not mad at me?"
"Why would I be?"
"Secrets are not allowed for maruta." Mikoto's ears drooped.
"Everyone has secrets they don't wish others to know. Painful secrets, harmless secrets, secrets for the sake of having a secret, it's normal and human. You only give out secrets to those you trust, and only when you want to."
"I trust you, but, well..."
"It's ok. I have a few of my own." Iceman smiled, making sure she knew he was joking around a little. She lightened up when it became obvious he really was ok with it.
For a while they trotted in silence. Iceman gazed at their surroundings. A forest, little different from what he expected from hazy memories. And it was old-growth, it had been around. The trees were thick and tall, their leaf density easily blocking most of the light creating a darker, quiet, and clear space beneath their boughs. It made for easy travel. The path appeared to be a simple animal trail, and led down the mountain into the valley below.
From the articles Mizushima had provided him on his computer, he knew in general where they were, but not enough to actually get anywhere. Actually, he didn't know where they were going now at all. That bothered him for various reasons.
"Mikoto, I'm going to ask where we are going. Follow close, ok?"
He had to run to reach the front of the line of kids. Most stared at awe as he passed, stopping whatever horseplay they were doing. He waved as he passed, and a few waved back enthusiastically. Those that didn't see him were staring at other things, mostly upwards staring at the ceiling of leaves and limbs. None left the line, and none slowed down.
At the front of the line, a female with ears he hadn't seen before was leading the way. At least, he assumed they were ears. They actually looked more like small wings, sprouting out of the side of her head. He couldn't stop staring, and the maruta noticed his stare. She looked about 30 years old, with extremely intelligent eyes. Her light red hair was cut short, only reaching down to her shoulders.
"No... er, not sir. I'm not one of those bastards from back there." He was surprised that the woman didn't cringe or stand in awe like the rest.
She blinked at his statement. "I don't understand, sir. This is how I always talk."
"You talk like that all the time? Formalities and all?"
"Oh. Eh... why?"
"Conditioning, sir." Her face seemed oddly neutral.
"Conditioning for what?"
"I was one extreme of the military experiment. The agility and dexterity end, to be exact, sir. It was beaten in at a young age." She didn't blink, gauging his reaction to what she said. Apparently he passed the test, as she smiled. "Surprise, disgust, then anger. You truly aren't like the rest of the originals, are you Iceman?"
"You didn't say it with awe like the rest I've met. Who are you? And how did you know who I was?"
"The only name I have is #2667w, sir. And your mask gave you away. None of the other originals had one."
"What is the 'w' for?" He hadn't ever heard of a tag on the end of their numbers.
"Weapon. For that is all I am, sir. A maruta weapon and play toy of the originals such as Nikolai." Her eyes gleamed at the name. She had a deep-seated hatred for whoever that was.
"Were, thanks to Mizushima."
"Mizushima, yes, I thought I recognized his voice on our communications chip. Then does that mean-"
"Iceman!" Mikoto came running up from behind, looking flustered. "You were running too fast, I got left behind."
"Ah, sorry, I didn't notice. I guess I can have a one-track mind." Iceman turned to #2667w. "This is Mikoto. She took care of me while I was... being their guinea pig and prisoner."
"#3510? Mikoto?" #2667w's was surprised to see Mikoto.
"#2667w? Is that you?" Mikoto was also surprised. "You escaped? How? I thought you... couldn't." Mikoto lowered her eyes, apparently embarrassed or ashamed. Iceman guessed that there must have been those who couldn't leave, kinda like Stockholm Syndrome only with the abuse.
#2667w smiled slyly. "Yes, a clever ruse. I was one of the few of my brethren that conditioning didn't work well on, and was smart enough to hide it. But what of you? How did you come to be called Mikoto? Slaves aren't allowed names."
"I-Iceman gave me that name."
#2667w gave Iceman another appraising stare that seemed to bore into him. "You defy expectations again. Maybe I should have shown more respect... Father."
"Please, no more awe. Everyone acts like I'm special." Iceman sighed. "I'm not really that great of a person."
"Mi-Mi-koto...? You haven't told him?" #2667w asked. She looked puzzled.
"N-No. Doctor forbade it."
"Mizushima? Why?" Iceman didn't understand. He had thought little was hidden from him.
Mikoto's ears drooped. "Doctor said it would only hurt you if you knew, and that it was to be top secret."
"Damn scientists." #2667w spat out. "Never to be trusted. Doing what they want with us, never a second thought. Almost all originals are like that, no offense sir."
"Doctor wasn't like that!" Mikoto said, tears starting to form.
#2667 sighed. She looked tired, worn out. And more than anything, sad. "You are right. Out of all of the originals, he was the most -dare I say- humane."
"It is fairly easy to notice that you talk more and seem more knowledgeable than most I've met since leaving. They only stared in awe or cringed when they saw me, depending on who they thought I was. Are they like you, but just too scared to show it?" Iceman asked. He had been wondering about it for a little while now.
"No, I'm a minority sir. And I'm not near as intelligent as Mikoto. I had few chances to actually learn anything. I'm simply older than most, and seen much more. Few maruta are given lessons in anything of practical value."
"Older?" She didn't look old at all.
"Yes, sir. Going on 60 now." She chuckled dryly. "Always disturbs the scientists when they hear that. Oh... well, I should stop talking. Mikoto looks like we're getting along too well."
"Tha-thats not true, I wasn't making any such face."
"Who said anything about faces?" #2667w laughed as Mikoto's face grew more and more red.
"Oh, I forgot what I was originally coming to the front to ask. Where are we going?" Iceman looked around. They had been walking and talking for an hour or so, but nothing around them had changed. It was still forests as far as the eyes could see.
"Though I say minority, there are still many maruta in my situation: part of the weapons program and too tough to crack, sir. As something to pass the time, we came up with a basic escape-route plan. We never expected to use it, but it always pays to be prepared, sir." #2667w swept her hands out. "Do you know much about the geography of where we are?"
"No, my memories are hazy and vague of anything before waking up in the lab. Somewhere in Japan, right?" Iceman could tell he was at least part native, he seemed to be able to understand and read the Japanese language. Fairly useless knowledge now. Got him nowhere in the end.
"Yes. I don't know what it was originally called, but the surface-level part of the facility was a cave system used as a tourist attraction a long time ago."
Iceman had read about that in the computer. A-something cave.
#2667w continued. "Well, nearby was a town of decent size. Each group was to meet at the town and then come up with further plans there."
"You didn't plan past that point?"
#2667w shook her head sadly. "No, sir. We agreed that there was a high chance some of us that were planning were also... unable to leave. And those that didn't leave would reveal the plan once it quieted down some."
"Yes, we will be entering one of the originals old homes. Even I don't know what to expect. It should be untouched sir, as the originals inside the base rarely entered one of their old cities and then only on long excursions to the larger cities."
As they continued jogging, Iceman tried to remember anything from before waking up in this time. Anything about himself. But no explicit knowledge came forth. He couldn't remember anything about himself. Only the basics of the world that was around him a long time ago. He learned new things about himself every time he somehow just knew something, without any knowledge of how he knew, like the Japanese language. Thinking about that gap sometimes made him queasy.
Silence reigned as the group made their way. The only sounds were the scuffling of feet and the wind through the leaves above. The light danced on the forest floor as the trees swayed, and the children continually glanced above in wonder. Mikoto and Iceman did the same, entranced by the small flickering lights and sounds.
Not #2667w though. She rarely looked up. She was always scanning the trees ahead and behind, and she stared in the direction of every errant sound, but she rarely stopped. She knew what could happen if they stopped too often.
Eventually the sound of water became loud enough for even Iceman to hear. #2667w halted just out of sight of the sound, puzzled and wary looking.
"What's wrong?" Iceman was looking ahead and he could just barely see a glimmer of the water ahead. It sounded like a huge river, but looked like a lake.
"This sound, I have never heard it before." The children, Mikoto, and #2667w all looked scared.
"What, water?" Iceman turned around.
"Water, sir?" #2667w looked incredulous.
"Yeah, rushing water. From a creek or stream. Was the town near one?"
#2667w visibly relaxed, and began slowly jogging towards the sound again. With their leader ok, the children followed suit. But Mikoto was still confused.
"Water just like we drink?" Mikoto asked. #2667w seemed interested too, but as it didn't pose a direct threat was content to simply listen.
Iceman nodded his head, smiling brightly. "Yes, just like you drink. Only so much of it, you could never drink it all yourself."
"How is that possible?" Mikoto obviously didn't believe him.
"What is 'rain?'"
"When water falls from the sky."
Iceman sighed. "I'm constantly being reminded that not only did you live your entire lives underground, but that as 'maruta' you weren't allowed the privilege of learning much about the surface."
"Sir, tell me what I'm seeing here."
In front of them was a large expanse of water shining in the light. The wind drew ripples in the surface as they gazed across to the other side. Mikoto gasped at the sight.
"That would be a lake. Man-made, too." He could just see the dam off in the distance. Something didn't seem right though. It looked too tall for being so far away.
"I always knew, but seeing is believing, sir." #2557w whistled. "The originals like you really are amazing."
"Don't degrade yourself. You are no less capable than I am. No maruta is. The only thing separating me from you is your ears and my lack of a tail." Iceman laughed it off, but #2667w took what he said extremely seriously.
"'And the father will love all his sons and daughters as one, equal in all regards.' I honestly don't know what to say. Though you deny it sir, you fit every myth and legend maruta have created or passed down of the Father." #2667w said, her face beaming. "I like you. You have no prejudice against us. Consider me family."
Iceman glanced at Mikoto before answering. She was being very careful to not look at him. "I.... thank you." There was the Father thing again. He would really need to remember to ask about it.
#2667w pointed down the valley while turning to walk beside the shore. "The town was shown on the map to be be below the large water, lake, and in the place where the... valley... turns." So a few kilometers still to go. She signaled for the kids to stay away from the water, and forged ahead through the trees again.
The day was past midday. They had begun walking near the beginning of the day, and now it was already time for lunch. But none of the maruta complained about food or water, so Iceman couldn't rightly do so. But his stomach didn't get the hint. He ignored it, and continued walking.
The dam for the lake was fairly wide, and very tall in the center, though certainly not more than 100 meters at maximum. However, the water level was extremely low. They had to walk up almost 50 meters just to get above the top of the dam. Luckily, the side they were on had the spillway, so #2667w began to follow it down to the bottom of the valley before stopping and pointing at the side of the dam.
"Is it supposed to do that sir?"
The source of the monstrous roar and #2667w's question was obvious: a long crack had developed in the side of the concrete dam, stretching from the top to about halfway down the side of the dam. Somehow, the water had breached the dam without destroying it. Iceman shook his head in answer and astonishment. He didn't know much about dams, but that level of damage didn't seem possible without a total catastrophic failure. But there it was, still holding back a lake-worth of water, though it was obviously not the same level as it was originally. The spillway showed where the normal level used to lay.
Iceman scratched his head. "I don't know how the dam is even still standing."
"A... dam?" Mikoto asked.
"Yeah. Something usually man-made that creates a lake or other large body of water."
"So is the... dam... going to break?"
#2667w stared at him, obviously waiting on Iceman's answer. Iceman looked at the line of big-eyed kids behind him. All were within sight in the broken spillway, and all were staring at him, also waiting. "Honestly, I doubt it. But there is a chance. Better to be safe, at least until we reach the meeting point. At our height right now, we would be above the water level if it failed all of the sudden."
#2667w nodded and immediately began jogging parallel to the center of the valley, making sure to stay above the guess Iceman had presented. For a while, nothing happened, and all was silent except for Iceman's heavy breathing as he tried to keep up.
End of Verse 4