And here it is, the second chapter of the 'Five faces of shame' series.
As promised, we are going back to the Ark. And, as promised, this will be dark.
Many thanks to my dear friend iratepirate for beta reading this before going overseas, and many thanks to all my readers. Your support is priceless and keeps this story flowing.
Five faces of shame
Subject X-17… That was his denomination now, or at least that was what the alien characters on the badge on his arm resembled. No name, not even a reminder of his mother's surname. He was her only son, and now, as he looked at his hands stained in red, he couldn't help but realize that his surname would end there. His mother had been the first one to be taken to the other side of the fence. She—
He raised his head when he heard the heavy, calm steps. There it was again, the red Autobot that transformed into a microscope. Doctor Perceptor, as the robot had politely introduced himself.
"Please move toward the fence."
He did as he was told, shaking legs taking him closer to what he knew would be certain death. He had heard the screams, back there in the coldness of his cell, he had heard the screams coming from the other side.
Subject X-17… he would die as such. No crypt, no coffin, no woman to mourn him.
The purple bars disappeared as soon as he began to feel their warmth on his skin. That's all he had had left, the heat of those energy beams or whatever they were. And now they had been taken away from him, just as his name.
He heard the mechanism going into motion again. This time he didn't recognize the moment in which the white gas started to engulf him. It had been cold the first time; now he just didn't feel it. Only the open wounds on the tips of his fingers complained, the freezing stuff getting inside of him and punishing his bones. At first, when he had been taken to the Autobot base, stripped and bathed with that gas, he had thought he was being killed.
He hadn't been so lucky.
Soon he had learned that all that Doctor Perceptorhad done to him was disinfect him. It seemed that the Autobot scientist didn't tolerate germs, and humans certainly were part of that classification because Doctor Perceptor had made sure to eradicate each and every one of the group, slowly, painfully… their screams had left no place for doubts.
Subject X-17remembered, or maybe it was a part of his old self that still dared to remember. There had been more with him inside that cage, twenty, maybe thirty people. Men, women, children… even a dog. One by one they had gone, taken to the other side of the energy fence. None returned.
He looked at his hands, still aching. The bleeding had stopped, maybe that's why he noticed that some of his nails were missing and the ones that remained were broken. Had it been his old self scratching the metal walls frantically, looking for an exit that would never be there?
"J…j…" he heard someone muttering inside his head. Perhaps it was his voice.
Doctor Perceptor moved aside, his towering shadow following. Subject X-17blinked. Perhaps his old self, the one that at that moment should have been serving greasy burgers to rude customers, would have screamed, or fallen backwards, or tried to run, or at least have had the human reaction of being agape.
But not anymore. He had been deprived of all the emotions of the living, forced to assimilate horror just as he had done with his new name, printed on that small badge carved onto his arm. That's why he didn't cringe when he saw the big boxes filled with what once had been twenty, maybe thirty people. Was that finger his mom? Was that her foot? Had that breast fed him once?
He smelled the circular saw before he could see it, maybe because he was already used to the smell of metal. Damn, horrible metal. The light was very intense, as much as it had been the Christmas of 1987 under the giant tree in the Rockefeller Center, when his mum had taken him to spend the New Year's Eve in New York. How many years had passed? Two, two hundred? He remembered his mum and the thick eyeliner under the blue color that always seemed to smile. And he remembered her fingers too, toying with his hair… the same fingers that laid in one, or many, of those boxes.
He was sure the saw would start cutting before he could remember anything more, but it was the light, shinier than ever, that stopped its rotation, that and the door opening.
Two Autobots entered. Subject X-17 remembered them. He had seen them in magazines and TV shows, the two lustrous Lamborghinis that every kid in Jasper talked about: Red and Yellow. He should have known their names, as every kid in Jasper did. But he had never been a car kind of guy. He preferred motorcycles. He had done his calculations. If he kept working at KO Burger for another five years, then he would buy a beautiful blue Ducati like the one he had seen parked outside his school once. That, of course, was if his mum helped him with the half she had promised.
He fell to his knees, shaken by the sound of two very scandalous voices talking at the same time. He didn't know what they were saying, as the Autobots were certainly talking in their language. Doctor Perceptor had been well-mannered enough to speak to him and the rest of the group of twenty, maybe thirty people in a very clear, and British accented English, but Red and Yellow were screeching, literally screeching as they started to play with the boxes.
Doctor Perceptor didn't like it when some of the limbs fell to his clean floor. Then the screeching turned into yelling, and Red punched Doctor Perceptor in the face.
Subject X-17 held his knees against his chest and became a fetus on the floor. He was tired, and cold, and naked, and he could only think of the blue Ducati he would never ride and the burgers he wouldn't serve at KO Burger again. A fleeting glimpse brought to his mind the bitterest thoughts; that day, right after the opening ceremony of the Optimus Prime Park, he and Sierra would have had that dreamy first date.
Sierra. She had been one of the firsts to die, carbonized in a second. At least she hadn't suffered like those other people had. At least she wasn't a finger, an eye, a breast in those boxes of hell.
Then came creaking. And pain, lots of pain. His foot had been broken, perhaps his entire leg. He couldn't help but cry as Red held him by the ankle and balanced him upside down. Red screeched something and threw him aside. Yellow was not too eager to catch him, but still he did. Subject X-17 would have preferred to fall to the floor.
His head hit the palm of Yellow's hand. It was hard and cold, as everything inside that place was. He couldn't move for a moment, that's why he could see Yellow's face, so rigid, so hard, so different from Red, who was cackling maniacally. Whatever those two were talking about didn't make Yellow happy. His features hardened even more.
Light became unbearable when he was taken outside the Autobot base, the heat of the air biting his skin, paradoxically making him colder than ever. That was death, he was sure, the one thing that mixed hot with cold, and pain with nothing.
Red barked something. Yellow grimaced in disgust before tossing his human charge on the ground, not as roughly as Subject X-17 had expected. He landed on his side, the difficulty to breathe pointing to a broken rib.
"Alrighty, fleshies, thing's simple," Red said in the scariest English ever. "Me and Sunny here happen to feel generous today, so we're offering one of you a ticket out of Autobot land, the happiest place on Earth. There's a knife over there, right between you two. Give us a good show."
Only then Subject X-17 noticed the man standing a few feet from him. It was an old man, maybe already in his eighties, dressed in a wrinkled suit that was stained with blood. Subject X-17 didn't remember having seeing him in the group of twenty, maybe thirty people.
"Did ya hear what I said, fleshbags?" Red spoke again, this time yelling. "Start now, or we'll tear you both to pieces!"
It didn't take a genius to understand that Red wanted Subject X-17 and the old man to fight for their freedom, to fight each other to the death.
He didn't know why, but he looked upwards, searching for the hard face of Yellow. Death was certainly closer to him than he had thought, because he could swear that the Autobot looked aside, avoiding his gaze.
Red yelled something else, this time in his alien language. Yellow responded in a similar tone. A discussion. A discussion between robots.
Subject X-17 blinked repeatedly when a cloud of dust entered his eyes. Through the tears and the sand he could see the old man, knife in hand. It hadn't taken him long to make up his mind. That man was going to kill him. He was that desperate. Subject X-17 should have been as well.
He avoided the old man's first attack relatively easily, even though his foot and ribcage hurt like hell. At closer inspection, the man looked even older, or perhaps he had aged a century in just a few hours. Maybe Subject X-17 looked that decayed too. Maybe his mum and Sierra would have been unable to recognize him. He didn't recognize himself, having his name on the tip of the tongue, as bitter as the taste of dust and blood he had in his mouth.
The second swing of the knife didn't go in slow motion like the first one, and he felt cold metal biting his hand when he tried to protect himself. It wasn't the sight of blood that made him act, but the palm of his hand cleanly opened in two, a red flower that made him realize how much he loved his body, how much he wanted to keep living.
He hit the man with all his strength, his fist finding no resistance when it punched both flesh and bone.
In which insane world would a sixteen year old kid attack an old man like that?
In the same one in which the Autobots, the heroic Autobots, had obliterated an entire town from the face of the Earth.
The old man cried and dropped the knife, but Subject X-17 didn't pick it up. His hands went straight to the man's throat, warm red moistening both neck and fingers. Who was the victim, who the killer? Subject X-17 wondered if maybe he had served that man a burger at KO… with double cheese. Most likely not. Usually people of that age didn't eat fast food.
He heard the cries and the pleas, not coming from the old man but from the thing inside of him, the thing that had been a sixteen year old kid who dreamed of a blue Ducati and a date with the prettiest girl in school.
The next thing he saw were tears, the last tears of his life falling over his bare chest. The old man gasped within his grasp but Subject X-17 didn't care. He didn't know how kill. At least lessons were not required to know how to die; that was the gift of the human race.
"What? Is this it? We offer you a chance to keep wearing your filthy armor of skin and this is what we get? Slag you!" Red spat, turning to Yellow. "Okay Sunny, take care of your bag of protoplasm, I'll get rid of the old frag."
Subject X-17 was still sobbing when Yellow picked him up, once again not as roughly as he could have done. No bones broke this time, although the severe pain in his ribcage continued to remind him that he was seriously injured.
Yellow walked, big strides taking him away from the volcano, the place all the kids in Jasper talked about, the same place in which many of them had died.
It was the Sun, or maybe the soft swaying of Yellow's hand. Most likely, Subject X-17 was rehearsing death, but the thing was that he fell asleep on that hand. He dreamed about his mum and Sierra. They were alive, complete, smiling. They were calling his name.
He woke up with the same taste of blood in his mouth.
He wasn't in Yellow's hand anymore. He was lying on the ground, but he wasn't alone.
Yellow was standing beside him, although he didn't seem to be aware of his presence. The Sun was beginning to be swallowed by the distant line of the horizon.
Was that his cue to beg for his life?
"My name is Jackson Darby …" he said instead.
Yellow didn't say anything, perhaps he hadn't even hear him. He remained motionless, staring at the landscape ahead but at the same time seeming not be looking at anything at all.
"I used to hate humans… before," he said in perfect English. "I never told anybody."
Then Yellow turned to him, looking at his eyes for the first time.
"Run," he said in low voice. "Run and warn your kind. Their darkest hour is approaching."
Subject X-17 hesitated, but Jack Darby didn't. He ran, his hurt foot burning on the inclement sand, but he ran.
He ran and ran and ran, and never looked back.
To be continued.
Guest starring: Jack and June Darby, and Sierra from Transformers Prime – as I'm sure you all noticed. I thought about including Miko instead of Sierra, but so far Jack has only showed romantic interest toward Sierra. And no, the blue Ducati wasn't Arcee; it was a regular motorcycle. I just made reference to a certain scene of TF Prime.
Okay, two characters more to go to close this part of the story. Wanna take a guess who they are?
Thanks for reading, and don't forget to share your thoughts. Your feedback is very appreciated :o)