Waste Pit, W.A.R.T.S
When she swivels her head to the left, and to the right, she realizes there are more and more of them surrounding her. Maggots! Their grimy bodies squirm through the sand and over scum without any sign of exertion. They don’t seem to be attacking her, but the maggot she’d pushed off her back is interested, sliding ever closer every second.
The limbless, segmented body felt damp and cool sliding against her side. At any moment they could all converge on her. She has to move.
“Oh god…oh god.” Her elbows sink into the earth with the force she uses to drag herself forward. Her fingers dig into the soil, her stomach clenches, and with each bit of progress, it gets a bit easier to control her body. Ahead of her appears to be clear of the creatures, so she scrambles through the scum in that direction to get away from the enormous larvae.
“Get…out…of…my…head.” She barely registers the sting of pain as something sticking out of the ground rubs up against her chin. Its sharp edge grazes the skin, leaving a scratch upon her face.
The area absent of maggots lacked land as well.
Sia stops, frozen on the edge, before peeking over her shoulder and gaping as several interested maggots wriggle toward her. There’s no other way to escape them. She tries to turn around and kick them away. “No. Go…goo away.” Her feeble attempts don’t ward them off, and Sia screams as one squirms onto her foot. “Eeew! No!” She shoves herself back and tips off the edge.
At the edge of the toilet pit sits a small shed. Several people wait outside the shed for a chance to use the bathroom. The toilet kids are late. Usually, they bring along the buckets needed to flush waste down the tubes into the pit.
Beside the shed, a shovel is stuck into the earth with half of its metal blade buried deep enough to keep the wooden handle standing at attention. Beside the shovel, four people stand squinting into the distance. One of the four is holding a hand to their crotch, shifting their weight from foot to foot while dancing to an unheard song of needed release.
“What the heck is that?” the dancer asks before knocking on the wooden shed door.
“Still occupied!” an annoyed woman shouts from within the shed. The dancer huffs and wiggles a step away from the door before continuing to shuffle in place.
The three other people waiting to use the bathroom ignore him. The sounds they can hear in the distance are coming from nearby, but the many masses within the other pit make it hard to pinpoint from where. Are the maggots feasting on an animal while it’s still alive?
One of them becomes annoyed with the inefficiency of holding a hand to their brow. “Yo, you have a pair of binoculars?” The frustrated woman turns to the other two mercenaries.
One of the men beside her shakes his head, while the other man pauses to think then shrugs absentmindedly. “I think so.” He brings up a hand to slide his backpack strap off of his shoulder. He refuses to take his eyes away from the other waste pit. The sounds stop for a moment then begin once again.
“No, wait.” She places her hand on the strap to keep it on his shoulder. “I’ll grab it.”
The man nods and allows her to unzip his bag. Her tanned arm dives in and feels around for a few seconds before her fingers tap against the smooth wide lenses. She wrenches her arm out of the backpack before placing the large, forest green binoculars against her face. At first, she is looking far off in the wrong direction, but with a step to the left and a turn of her head, she is zooming into the waste pit. Her mouth goes slack as she focuses on the distance, a finger rolling along a little dial to zoom in further.
“Do you see anything? I bet it’s a—” The man with the open backpack contemplates a scenario while taking a step closer to the edge of the toilet pit. “—a baby something…a lamb or something furry.”
“What would a lamb be doing in the middle of nowhere?”
“That ain’t the sounds of an animal. That’s a person.” The wiggling man interjects before knocking on the wooden shed door again.
The shed door bursts open and he stumbles backwards to get out of its way as a woman holding the hand of a small child exits the shed. “We’re out! My god, give us a second!” The woman tugs the child along, out of the way of the desperate man, who is tugging down his pants one handed before the shed door swings closed.
The slam of the door shakes the poorly built shed before the sounds of barely repressed groans are heard.
“What’s the forecast, babe?” The mercenary with the backpack takes a step away from the edge to turn to the woman shaking her head while fiddling with the binocular settings.
A deep frown is set across her face. “Get your radio. Someone’s fallen into the pit. I can see—” She drops the binoculars to the side of her mouth while cupping the other side with her hand. “Hey! Wait!” The woman takes off to run around the toilet pit. Backpack chases after her and the other mercenary pulls out his radio. “Stop! You’ll fall in!!”
The fall is cushioned by the back of a dung beetle the size of a small automobile. Sia bounces off its shell and rolls into a pile of sun-dried human waste.
Sia lay face down in human waste for only a moment before being shoved aside by a large beetle’s leg. The thin, black appendage pokes at one of her many injuries and makes her moan. She rolls to the side and backpedals away until she hits a wall of dirt. The wall crumbles under the pressure of her hands and feet.
The dung beetle ignores her while skittering by another to reach the little pool of liquid that has formed beneath a long, half pipe that disappears up into a wooden shed. The beetle’s armored body dips down to suck up the juices. Some of the dung beetle colony has been destroyed in the recent sandstorm, but a glance to the left, at the round mounds of solid waste that have remained intact, brings hope to the creatures’ mind. The dung beetles young feast upon the mounds with instinctual skill. The colony will prosper if given time.
Sia’s chest rises and falls. Shallow puffs of air release out of her mouth, keeping her airways clear while she struggles not to pitch forward and vomit all that’s left in her body. Which isn’t much at all. A hiccup forces its’ way up her throat and her stomach clenches. She shuts her eyes against the tears that flood the bloodshot orbs.
-Sia… Please, calm down. Calm down! A deep male voice tries to convince her to return back to her senses. They have no interest in us.
Sia gasps. Stop…stop! The echo of Dernel’s voice within her mind makes her grasp on reality feel unsteady. Just stop…stop it!
Dernel’s voice falls silent, but another voice emerges…outside of her mind…above her. Sia opens her eyes into slits and peers up at the dirt edge she has fallen over. No one is there. Sweat rolls down the space between her eyes and nose. She swiftly blinks and tries to ignore the stinging. Her eyes follow along the edge of the hole until she sees the shape of a person staring down at her with their head cocked to the side.
“Hello?! Hello?! Are you okay?!” a woman kneeling beside the edge of the toilet pit yells down. The woman reaches down to give a hand, but another look at the weak trembling person makes her retract it. She raises up from her knees and turns away from the toilet pit to call her companions over.
The sound of an engine can be heard. Sia focuses on the vehicle, the woman’s voice is secondary compared to the holy rumble of her rescuers’ chariot. Tremors travel along the ground and she relaxes back against the wall of dirt. Tears clean paths down her cheeks as her consciousness drifts.
Two doors slam shut and two pairs of boots rush toward the woman standing at the edge of the toilet pit. “What the fuck! Wasn’t he dead?”
There’s a faint sound of whistling and an awful smell in the air, but the lack of the excruciating pain she’d endured since giving up control to the device, is most noticeable.
The burning tightness around her wrists and ankles make known she has been restrained, and the sick, suffocating nausea that has set in reveals her circumstances haven’t gotten much better at all. She’s hanging upside down.
Heat radiates off the building her shoulder rests against. The sun beats down on her and casts a shadow on the decrepit, brick building. Its unwavering attention keeps her roasting at a steady pace. She tilts her head up…down…straight down. “Oh god.” She’s at least four floors high…if not five. “Fuuu—” She chokes.
The mess at the back of her throat forces itself out, and she tries to spit it away from her face but she lacks the needed angle of being right side up and lacks the strength to hold it back. So she chokes and coughs it up.
Her head jerks back and collides with the firm wall while the warm substance flows down her face and into her hair. She sputters and shakes, turning her dangling body in a half circle before it taps the wall and teeters back the other direction.
The strain on her bound ankles forces a hoarse groan from her split lips. She grinds her teeth against the pain and struggles to stop a coughing fit. The rope around her ankles splits the skin and is wrapped in an intricate knot. The pain is a bit more bearable when her body stops its’ slow swinging, but she continues to grind her teeth.
Sia tries to focus…focus on the situation. How did she get here? Where is here? Why is she tied up like this? What the hell is going on?
That last thing she remembers is giving S.I.D. permission to use her body to escape the aggressive guard. She was pushed into immersive mode and watched a creature that appeared to be Dernel be tortured before the connection shut off and she was trapped in a void of silence. Why had she been shut away then forced awake in that pit of wormy creatures? And that voice, that intrusive presence in her mind, why did she hear the Underling scientist inside her head?
She represses a shudder. Did I die again? What the hell did it do?
Dernel replies to a few of her inquiries. –We seem to be hanging upside down. We were restrained by the mercenaries. There are many injuries that are in various stages of healing.
The words sound like a whisper, but they make her cringe as if he’d shouted them. They fill her mind to the brim and make it feel cramped.
Sia doesn’t respond. Instead, her breathing increases and she tries to adjust the position of the ropes around her wrists.
-S.I.D…. Dernel continues projecting his thoughts into the space shared between them. S.I.D. to APEX connect. Password verification: N-Y-Z-9-2-8-4-9-3-4-5.
Get out… It’s a sliver of thought compared to the Underling’s, but he still hears her.
-This is not my will. I… I would never force my way into your mind, but… He is hesitant to finish the thought.
-I seem to be stuck. He finally admits.
What did you do?! Sia’s rage aids her in projecting that thought as loud as possible. It’s a tsunami of pain, fury, and disgust. It surprises the Underling; the shock makes his control on his own mental faculties slip and a burst of hurt and confusion projects back at Sia. Though it happens within her mind, the feelings settle in her chest as if they were her own.
Burning spreads through her nose and a lump forms in her throat, her lips pout before she gasps out a sorrowful moan.
-I… I did nothing. I was in pain. S.I.D. must have seen a need to— Dernel pleads his case.
“Mm…” Tears stream down her forehead and into her scummy hair. What is this?! What the hell are you doing?!
-Forgive me. Dernel resumes control over his emotions. They slip back into the steel bubble he has created within her mind, to stop integration.
And just like that the feelings are gone, and the ache inside her chest is gone. Her eyes dry up, only her anger and pain remain. This is crazy. This can’t be happening.
-Sia, this is a mistake. Something grave must have occurred to compel S.I.D. to initiate this program. We both must have been in grave danger. Several factors must be taken into-
Shut up. Sia can’t take it anymore. She wiggles until her body begins to sway from side to side.
-You do not seem to understand. S.I.D. can only initiate a program of this magnitude if certain conditions are met. Its’ objective must be to—
No. Sia shakes her head. This isn’t that crummy computer. This is you, isn’t it? This is what you always do. Wait for me to need help and take over my body. Send me images to feel bad for you then use me like some sort of puppet. What did you do?!
Her ankles burn as the sway increases into a slow swing, back and forth…back and forth. Her back aches. She doesn’t repress the groans that spring up her throat and strain against her teeth, the teeth that grind down harder as she feels cool blood run down her legs.
Her efforts to squeeze a hand out of the ropes around her wrists are futile. The ropes are cutting off the circulation in her hands, so tight she fears that soon all sensation will be strangled from them. Several floors down are large blocks of rubble of varying sizes shoved against the side of the building. Sia peers down at the rubble with a fierce look in her eyes.
-We are very high. Please, calm down. I do not think we will survive a drop from this height with S.I.D..’s processors preoccupied.
A loud cry rips from Sia, the pain in her ankles has traveled down her legs. The thick rope rubs against flesh and muscle while she continues to make herself oscillate away from the brick wall, swing back toward it, then veer off to circle around. The vibrations run up the rope to the railing it is tied around, it won’t give.
Calm down?! What did I tell you?!
I said if you took over my body again, I’d end this one way or another! Did you think I was lying?! Do you think I’m a fool?! “I know what’s fucking going on here!”
Sia’s shoulder grazes the facade of the building as she continues to jerk her body to and fro. The speed picks up and so does the damage being wrought to her ankles. The knot tied around the railing quivers a bit to the right and a bit to the left. Sia doesn’t care who hears her, she yells in agony as she twirls in a circle and collides with the wall. Her swinging comes to a stop and she screams in outrage.
-Sia please… I do not know what is going on. All I remember is the lab.
I know this act already. Sia darkly chuckles. Sia, I need your help. The only way to solve this is to do what I say and work together. Find me, Sia. Listen to me, Sia. I’m your only hope, Sia. The nausea makes it seem like it weighs triple its usual weight, but still, she can’t stop the impulse to fiercely shake her head against the flawed logic. Her brain rattling around like a goldfish shaken in a plastic bag. I saw what state you’re in. You’re pathetic. You’d say anything to make me cooperate. How could you help me? You can’t even help yourself! We’re both trapped. I’ll never get home. I’m going to die here.
Even injured, her ears are still picking up more than her own harsh, loud breathing. The whistling in the distance has stopped. If she focuses, she can hear people. Pots and pans clattering, water…a car engine….so she isn’t as far from away as she initially thought. The vehicle doesn’t sound very far off.
“Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. I’m going to die here.” She blinks rapidly as tears flow down her forehead. It hurts to admit it. All of this has been for nothing. She’s been trying not to swim against the current, blend in —hide her identity— and these abilities, lie her way to gaining trust, and take what she needs to achieve her goal.
But she wasn’t very good at it, was she? That’s not her. She’s not like these people. She’s not a thief. She’s not a killer… She’s barely a grown woman. She bites her lower lip. The fat tears nearly blind her from seeing the truck pulling up beside a pile of large misshapen cement blocks.
“This is it. I’m done. I can’t do this. It’s over.” A chill runs up her spine as she imagines how they will treat her. “Mm…” She should say her farewells now while she has the chance.
-Please…take a moment to…digest this situation and you will understand…this must be S.I.D. malfunctioning. Something is wrong.
“Daddy…I wasn’t enough and I’m sorry.” She should have told him she wanted to see him more. That she didn’t mind seeing his new wife. That she would deal with it, if it meant she could have been with him more often. That she wasn’t jealous of his new family, that he’d always be her father. That she loved him.
“Mommy. Aaliyah, I miss you so much. I only wanted to see you one more time. I lied to you. I lied. I didn’t know. I didn’t know, Mommy.” Her heart beats loudly in her ears. She freely sobs, gasping and coughing, her body shutters and sways gently from side to side. She can’t hear the heavy footsteps in the building beside her. “It’s over. They’ve come for me.”
Dernel wishes he could leave her to mourn the distance from her pod in peace. He knows more than anyone how draining it is to be so far from home and those that love you. He knows her pain…but if she loses the will to fight, he will lose his only connection to the outside world. His only way out.
-Is there not one doubt? You are so very important to me, Sia. Sia gives a wet scoff at that, but Dernel continues. You saw the condition I was in. I am very weak, that is why I need you. That is why I would not torment you like this. You saw where I am, what they were doing to me. You saw…
“It’s over.” Sia closes her eyes and visualizes the laboratory. The form on the leather chair strapped down and writhing against the bindings. “It doesn’t matter.”
-But did you identify WHO had me? Who has done this to me? They are to blame for all of this. Not I.
She remembers the room. How familiar the setup looked compared to her job’s own biopsy labs. She remembers the words on the sheet of paper pinned to the wall. EXPLORERTECH INDUSTRIES.
-They have broken me, Sia. I am pathetic. I cannot get free. I am a prisoner within my own body, within my own mind. Dernel loosens his grip on his emotions for a moment and Sia gasps at the feelings of shame and regret. You are a dear ally to me. My only ally. I want the same as you…to reunite with my family. But it will not come to pass if you are broken as well. I need you.
“Of course, of course,” Sia’s hoarse voice spits out with disdain. Her mind flashes to her family, the wanderers, the mercenaries…and finally Dernel. Everything they said they needed. More space and time, more information and goods, more patience…more of her body. “No.”
-These people may have hacked S.I.D.. Do you know if they have contact with the Deep Society Syndicate, or any of their operatives?
“God!” She chokes on her next cough. Stop talking, nothing you can say will convince me. Third time’s the charm? You keep pissing me off. I’m not your ally! Shut up. Keep your shit. I don’t want to hear nothing else! He won’t stop. He won’t leave her alone. Enjoy this while you can cause the first…the first…actually they have a doctor. I’ll tell them everything…I’ll tell them and they’ll—
Footsteps walk through the open doorway across from where the rope secured to Sia’s legs is tied. Several pairs of feet stomp through and disrupt the overall silence.
Time is running out.
-Please Sia. Please. Peace. Reconsider. Please. Why would I want you in danger? I need you safe. I need you. Why would I work against you in such a way?
How should I know?! You created this fuck! I’m sure you have some twisted alien logic! I won’t allow you to use me like a puppet any longer. You’re gone, the first chance I get.
Dernel ignores the insult that he, a being bred from one of the oldest species that have existed on this earth, even longer than homo sapiens, could be an alien.
-I do not know how we got into this situation, but my survival instinct would surely condemn me for dispatching my only… resource. I hold no ill will toward you. You are innocent of all charges that my captives are guilty of. I think you mistaken to believe that you are at a disadvantage to anyone. You have abilities that these people would kill to acquire. Once knowledge fills, what stops one from ambling truly free when you have the power. Sia pauses at that thought. The lead is yours. It always has been. Your family is waiting for you. Do not end our journey. We can do this. The way is obscured, but S.I.D.. can clear it. Our goals are the same. Please, my friend.
The cocking of a gun disrupts their discussion and Sia’s mind clears of all thoughts.