Chapter 47

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Eva stands in an unknown room. It is dark and cold, the chill penetrating her heavy gear. Her breathing is strange, her exhalations sound...enclosed. She realizes she is wearing a mask. Before her is a huge, glowing white sphere of light. An orb.

The radiance intensifies, dims, then intensifies in an irregular pattern. She stares intently, wary of its deadliness, but lost in its beauty. Beside her, she senses a large being and glances up at his tree-like stature. Behind her, she hears the approach of angry voices, the sounds of a skirmish. There is little time.

As she steps toward the orb, someone hollers. She turns, backpedaling toward the light and sees him. Though concealed behind the domes in his own mask, Eva imagines the fear in his eyes as he calls to her. She mustn't stop, however. She cannot stop.

The light takes her.

*********

Eva stirred from her trance when a grasshopper jumped into her field of vision. She blinked, her mind having returned to the present. She studied the insect and realized that it looked more like a praying mantis/grasshopper hybrid.

When the mutant insect flew away, she looked up from the ground to find herself just outside of the barn she'd been assigned to, holding an instrument. On the screen were the icons representing each of the four tractors that were currently out tending to the crop fields. All was in order, so she laid the instrument on the worktable inside. She raised her hand and ran her fingertips along the small lump by her right temple. It was a little sore, but that was good; the device – and not the insect - had likely been responsible for recalling her from the vision. Its retooling had been a necessary step and she was glad to be back in control of her emotions and thoughts. With its aid, she could forget all her distractions and focus on keeping Community successful.

"Everything alright?"

Eva turned and found Isaac strolling toward her. "Yes. All is in order," she replied. She forced a smile and wondered why it wasn't genuine. Something in her wanted to resist speaking to him.

"Good." He stopped a few feet from her and just stared. "How do you feel?"

She was about to say "Fine," but instead, "Compliant" came out.

Isaac nodded. "That's good, Eva. You're making great progress."

She smiled, but again it seemed like she was playing a part.

"This is all yours," he said, gesturing toward the farmhouse and the fields beyond. "It's a big responsibility, but I have a feeling you're going to be happy here. And...obedient."

"Thank you," she replied.

Isaac paused, looking not at her, but into her and Eva sensed his curiosity at the effectiveness of her implant. She knew that he wanted to be sure it had taken this time. That she no longer posed a threat.

Threat to what? she wondered.

The implant thrummed, delivered a painful tingling and nullified Eva's probing thought. She turned back to the barn and picked up the instrument from the worktable. Apparently satisfied, Isaac walked away.

*********

There are too many of them. The outer barricades have fallen, and the last defense would give out any time now. They had been hunted down and cornered.

The man wipes the domed eyes of his mask clean and through the slit in the wall, watches the approaching menaces, their red lights scanning every nook and cranny as they draw closer. He turns and runs down the corridor, his legs burning with fatigue. His corroded lungs struggle for breath and he raises the oxygen output from his suit.

From the armory he grabs a rifle and the last EMP bomb. Continuing along the hallway, he hears the outer wall being breached. He enters the last room of the stronghold where Gray, deep in a trance, is "holding" the orb. The man finds Eva backing into the light. They'd agreed not to wait for each other – there was too much at stake. Still, he calls out to her.

She's gone.

*********

Stirred from sleep by the electronic wheeze of his own labored breathing, the man raised his weapon, expecting an intruder. His adrenaline began to diminish as he realized he was seated at the kitchen table. Alex, tied to the chair across from him, was slumped over. Still out.

Already on borrowed time, the man knew his end was near. He needed Alex to understand what was happening...what was expected of him. If he could prevent...

He coughed hard, expelling something into his helmet. His hands trembling, he tried to adjust the oxygen level on his suit. Little remained however, and his lungs were already struggling. He needed Alex to wake the hell up.

Summoning a last surge of strength, the man slammed his fist down on the table.


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