Lazarus trudged through the thick dirt and sand that stretched for miles and miles. Around him, there were the remains and rubble of once standing structures. What was left was nothing but weathered away stone and bleak colors. Any standing buildings that were left featured large sections crumbling away.
Lazarus ignored many of the obstacles, keeping a steady pace and either moving around them, over them, or, in some cases, under them. Many of the roads were blockaded with piles of debris or boxed in vehicles so he didn't have much of a choice. The only other option was to take the river that was nearby but it wasn't a very effective or speedy route without a means of transportation. There was also the ocean to his left which certainly needed boat transportation.
Lazarus looked back and in the distance across the river he saw a large turquoise statue of what looked like a garbed figure holding a torch in its right hand; it's right arm was missing, probably lost in the river somewhere.
He tightened the straps on his knapsack, turned around, and continued his long trek south, where the Colony resided.
"Adding nano-bots to tissue sample A. They are reciprocating damaged areas with repairs. Tissue regeneration is progressing steadily."
John slowly lifted the tube away and sealed it off.
"Nano-bots are treating the tissue as they were designed to do. There are no signs of agitation or changes in the pattern of the nano-bots. Everything is . . . functioning in perfect harmony."
He shook his head and turned away from the observation table. John looked to Maria and said, "I don't understand. When we use the nano-bots on tissue they react normally. I don't understand why they become agitated when injected into the human body."
"Strange. Let's try the nano-bots on sample tissue B."
The results were nearly the same - the only difference was the reaction time. The nano-bots reacted quicker this time.
Maria jotted a couple words down onto her notepad. "Okay. The response time was quicker. Fat content of the tissue was eight percent."
John put down his notepad and inquired, "It's a farfetched guess but as good as any other. Let's move onto tissue sample C."
Maria locked the glass box tight and John added the tube of nano-bots through the opening at the top.
Maria furiously began scribbling down notes. "Amazing. Not only was the response time quicker but the nano-bots were also agitated."
"Apparently, the percentage of fat affects how the nano-bots respond."
"And here I was thinking that they randomly went berserk on us."
John waved her comment away. "Not so fast Hawking. We don't know that for sure. For all we know, the amount of fat is just another factor in the list of other things."
She nodded. "Right, right. More samples need to be scrutinized before we come up with a conclusion."
While other groups were fervently trying to figure out a way to battle the nano-bots within the human body, John's team was trying to figure out the origins of nano-bots rebellion. John's mentality was that the source of everything would solve everything. Not everyone on his team agreed with researching the causes of the nano-bot infection: Antonio Ramos and Adam Savage both disagreed and stated that finding the cause would do absolutely nothing. Maria, on the other hand, gave it some thought and finally agreed that finding the cause could be beneficial. The team was literally split down the center.
Antonio walked into the room and surveyed the observation table briefly. "I'm telling you it's superfluous to try and figure out the cause. Even if you did find the cause what good would that do?"
John never took his eyes off of the tissue sample. "It would give us a place to start instead of blindly trying to find something."
"Look, we don't need to learn the history of the nano-bots, we need to end it. When we find the solution, you aren't getting any recognition." With that said, Antonio swiftly left.
"I don't care about recognition!" John muttered to him and then to himself, "I only care about my daughter."
Lazarus had made the journey through a part of the city undisturbed—daylight was not favorable for the Stalkers. It was more of a personal peeve to them than actual danger—sunlight didn't actually harm them like it would to Count Dracula; with enough motivation and attention, the Stalkers would attack anyone in broad daylight.
He soon came across a steel structured bridge. It had numerous triangular steel beams crisscrossing along the sides; trusses as the engineers called them. Lazarus didn't know much about bridges but he knew enough. It was a cantilever type bridge with trusses, simple as that. A couple abandoned vehicles littered the road but it wasn't as crowded as the streets.
Certain areas of the bridge were cracked and a couple of trusses were damaged, rust was evident all over the surface. Steel beams laid deformed and piled in heaps. It was a wonder that the bridge was still mostly intact. Even though cars couldn't cross the bridge anymore—not that that there were any functioning left—it was still able to support a single human being.
He followed the weathered asphalt road for a couple hours until he reached an intersection of some sort. The road he had been traveling on had slowly transitioned into a bridge over another long winding road of asphalt.
He noticed that a large section of the bridge had given way. No way to cross it without risking the small strip of concrete collapsing under his weight. Not that he wanted to cross it.
He jumped over the steel railing and onto the dry earth next to it, slowly making his way down the hill and onto the highway below. A rusted, bent sign with a blue background read in faded letters and numbers: Int s ate 95. A faded white smear went across the second numeral but it was still legible.
Lazarus set his knapsack down and rummaged for something. A moment later he pulled out a tattered, faded map—unfolding it and laying it out onto the road. It was a map of the entire east coast. All over the map there were black lines that broke off into thicker black lines and every now and then there was an area on the map that was either circled around, colored in, or crossed out.
"Let's see here. I'm on the 95 somewhere up here. And Liberty City is roughly around there." He chuckled to himself, "And that must mean that I'm somewhere around here. New Jersey?"
He rolled up the map and carefully set it back before continuing down the abandoned highway.
Approximately six-hundred miles from Lazarus's current position, there was a monument of a chapel. Built in the late 23rd century, this chapel had been built for longevity and artistic value. The skeleton of the entire chapel was made up of galvanized steel beams, some bent to form arches and others lined up in columns but all decoratively covered with granite slabs, the muscles were all flexed in the flashy, woven tapestries that hung from various areas, mostly the ceilings, within the chapel and the marble tiles spaced out like stepping stones—the area between the tiles were filled with growing grass—and the skin draped the outer concrete blocks that gave the building the medieval look and feel.
The cries and screams of children erupted near the back of the chapel. To be more specific, the sounds of youthful euphoria originated from the courtyard. A single rusted iron arch stood at the entrance while an iron fence surrounded the garden. The trees, shrubbery, and grass were all neatly trimmed to a fine line.
A short, withered old man stood watching over the crowd of bustling children in the center of the courtyard where the grass was the shortest. His right hand rested on the round grip of a cane while his left rested on top of his right. He wore a black overall that came all the way down to his feet. His hair was neatly trimmed just like the bushes and kept hidden under a cap. A few lines were etched across his face—a mark that came with old age—but his eyes were sharp and alive. Never losing sight of focus or falling to drowsiness. He shuffled slightly forward and a large shadow masked his.
The old man didn't even turn around. "Weather's nice today, isn't it, Butch?"
A deep, rich voice calmly whispered back, "Feels like yesterday's weather Father Alexander."
Butch towered over all men in the colonies, standing a head and a half above the second tallest colonist. He was literally a mortal titan with broad shoulders and a tree trunk for a neck. His hair was shaved thinly on the sides and the top, giving his head a somewhat of a boxed in look. A large chin protruded from the lower portion of his face. Even though Butch's form was formidable he was very calm and reserved in everything that he did. It surprised everyone that he took on the job of the chapel's caretaker instead of being a part of the Blessed Brigade or the Sacramental Knights.
"Well then . . . that's a bit odd to have two days of good weather."
Butch chuckled, "I suppose I'll say something and then you'll respond with something along the lines that its all the good grace of our lord, right?"
A smile formed on Father Alexander's slightly wrinkled face. "Your insight is almost as good as your foresight."
"And you can thank the good grace of the lord for bestowing that upon me."
Father Alexander's turned to face him. "Where is the new boy? I don't believe that I've had a good look at him yet."
Butch motioned toward his feet where a small black haired boy clung for dear life onto his pants. "As you can see, he is stuck to me."
"Hmm . . . maybe he has taken a liking to you? A strange one indeed. Normally, upon first glance, all children flee when you're in sight." He turned his attention to the boy and leaned down. "Tell me your name boy."
He looked toward Butch, as if asking him for permission to speak. Butch smiled and said, "Go on young one. Tell Father Alexander your name."
"Daniel? I see, and where are you from, Daniel?"
"Do you think that you will like your new home?"
The boy paused for a second before replying, "I need to live here longer."
A smile formed at the left corner of Father Alexander's lips and he slowly got back to his feet. "He thinks differently from the rest of the children. He's got a bright mind for one so young. Butch?"
Butch, sensing something, stepped up next to Father Alexander. "Yes Father?"
"I have a favor to ask of you."
"Of course Father. Ask away."
"I want you to not only take care of the chapel but I want you to also watch over this boy."
"Whatever you say, Father. If I may be so bold to ask, will the fate of this child be for the better or the worse?"
Father Alexander looked at the ground where his small shadow fell side to side next to Butch's. "I can't be entirely sure. But this boy's future won't be one filled with holy scriptures and lessons."
"And are you sure that this path is the right one for him to take, Father?"
"I don't see any other way around it. He won't like being caged in."
Butch nodded. "I see . . . I'll take care of him until the traveler returns. He'll be better suited to teach the child than me."
Father Alexander began to shuffle his way back out the courtyard; the children all ran past him and into the chapel through it's back doors. He called out over his shoulder to Butch, "By all means, teach him however you see fit. He likes you and he'll listen to you."
Butch watched the billowing black robe disappear behind the door before he turned his attention back to Daniel.
"Butch is a funny name."
Butch frowned. "It's not my real name. My real name is actually Buchanan Tyler Harold."
Daniel frowned. "I like Butch better now. Your real name is too long."
Butch smiled and lifted the boy onto his right shoulder. "That's what everyone says after they hear that."
"How long have you been here?"
"For as long as I can remember."
"Do you really take care of this entire place?"
"All by myself, everyday."
"Is that why you're so big? Did you build this place too? How many men have you killed?"
Butch pat Daniel on the back softly. "You ask too many questions for your age. I'm big because it's by God's will, I didn't build this place, and I'm not going to say how many men I've killed."
"What is God's grace?"
"It's the wonderful power that's-
Butch paused and then stopped himself. "I mean . . . it's nothing. Just something that we colonists like to say."
Daniel stared at Butch but soon shrugged it off.
After taking a tour of the garden Daniel prodded Butch. "I'm hungry. Let's eat."
"There is a time and place for everything. The time to eat is not now, nor is this the place to eat."
Daniel frowned. "Who said that?"
"The Holy Council."
"Because certain rules were laid up for us to follow. And the Holy Council gave us those rules so we follow them."
"What if I don't want to follow them?"
"We're going to have to do something about that mouth of yours. I can't let you saying that everywhere we go. It'll get us both into deep trouble."
"Well, I'm hungry and I want to eat now."
Butch eyed Daniel, examining him. Not once had a child before ever questioned authority. This was a first. Butch slowly began to understand what Father Alexander meant when he said that Daniel thought differently. He wasn't obedient and quiet like most children around these areas; he was curious. Maybe, perhaps, a bit too curious.
Butch nodded. "Go ask Father Alexander if you want a snack. He's probably at the front sitting in his chair."
Daniel gave a nod along with a smile and ran inside.
Butch looked to the sky and sighed. He stepped inside the chapel and shut the doors behind him.