"Jeurridam: Dredge Valley" - Chapter 10


Zeek and I stood there staring at each other, this boy utterly insane! If we didn’t share the same sentiments I’d refuse him but he had one hell of an argument! We both had strong feelings for this matter and things needed to happen sooner rather than later.
“Let’s do it!” He said once again. A smile came across my face as I walked towards him.
“Why do I got a feeling I’m going to do all the hard work and you’re just gonna sit back and cheer me on?” I asked.
“Well it depends on if you jump to the punch faster than I can. I may just have to sit back and admire your work.” He smiled devilishly. I rolled my eyes, climbing into the rear of the truck. It was truly, truly a hard decision.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this…” I sighed.
“Hey you don’t think I feel bad about it either? Just think about all the great things that will come of us doing this. Come one, think about it!” He persisted.
“Okay…” I said as he handed me a commandeered sniping rifle from the Area 51 weapons vault.
“This is giving me some idea…” I said, dismantling it, putting it in a carrying case. Zeek sighed, staring off into the lake bed, only to a barrage of blades darting past him. They landed in the bed of the truck, startling the boy.
“You did that on purpose…” He said, angry.
“Did I?” I shrugged, hopping off the bed of the truck and getting into the passenger seat. He sighed, heart still racing, as we drove towards Dredge Valley. He clearly had a lot on his mind, because he jostled back in forth in his seat, constantly looking at himself pitifully in the mirror.
“I’m so sorry, Zanir…”
“Shut the fuck up. You’ve apologized a dozen times already.” I grovelled, rolling my eyes.
“I just don’t feel like…”
“That I’ve accepted it? I haven’t. I know you’re sorry, I can feel it. And just so you know, I’m not mad about Galveston, about Swish, about the whole being held hostage in the desert. I’m still mad you stole my Leer.” I smiled, punching his arm. A big release of tense energy just seemed to leave the boy.
“I mean I’m sorry about that…”
“OH MY GOD SHUT UP!!!!!!!” I said, covering my ears. He looked at me smiling.
“You’re just so different from how I remember… Like really different.” He said.
“How so?” I asked.
“A bit short, a bit colder, and a hell of a lot more vicious.” He teased.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” I shrugged.
“It was just an observation.” He laughed.
“Again, I’ll take that as a compliment.”
I remember the days when I used to crush on Zeek so bad. It all went away the moment he stole my Leer. It was just the ultimate of all ultimate betrayals and jump started something I feared wasn’t ready. I still had some serious resentment towards him. If he hadn’t stole the Leer, none of this would have happened. Galveston still would have been alive. The two of us would have never met but he simply was too great to die.
Ugh, what am I saying? I couldn’t blame Zeek for this. Everything up to this point, he was pushed to do. Hell, he was owning up to all the terrible shit he had done and for that, I couldn’t be upset. He was trying to change and for me to hold resentment over something he couldn’t control was wrong. But it was hard. I was used to waking up beside Galveston and now it was quite, quite lonley. The way he was taken from me was just brutal and I wished I had him back.
“You okay?” Zeek asked.
“Yeah…” I said wiping away my tears.
“Dude, I’m sorry!” He said once again.
“I get it.” I said.
“I know you’re mad at me. If I could change it all I would! I’d be the one Rion took out so you and Galveston could still be happy! In that way, the Logatti would have surely wiped the floor with Da Lagon… You and him could have made off to Labrador together… been happy.” He said. His tone spoke so much about the way he felt. It was clear that he and Galveston didn’t get along, that even after his death he didn’t like him, but he wished for me to be happy. Now that surely was genuine.
The part I was stuck most on was that he said he wish he would have died instead.
“Why did you wish your own death?” I asked, truly concerned.
“Because, dad doesn’t love me. Beth thinks I’m a loser…”
“No she doesn’t!” I said in her defense.
“She can try to claim she doesn’t all she wants. She thinks I’m a loser and so do you.”
“Oh my God, Zeek quit! No I don’t! I think you’ve struggled with a lot, probably more than any of us! I think you’re a fighter, a true and utter trooper! Hell, I admire how resilient you are! I don’t think you’re a loser! You haven’t lost yet.” I said, trying to comfort him.
“Yes I have… You just don’t know.” He said, truly saddened. What was he hinting at? Something had to have happened that I’m not aware of. Truly, it had me curious but I was afraid of the answer, “And look at June… The way he silently judges me. He won’t say a goddamn word but I know he hates me.”
“No one hates you.” I said, starting to see that Zeek had far more issues than he simply led on. He was consumed with self guilt and felt others had faults with him even when they didn’t. It was just saddening. All these people here for him but he was to haunted by his past to see it. He needed help.
“Yes they do.” He responded.
“No… they… don’t!!!” I insisted.
“Well I hate me!” He said, his eyes welling up, “I’m just no good! Nothing good can ever come from anything I do!  I just try and try and shit always hits the fan! I just have shit for luck.”
“Well stop hating yourself. All I hear is frustration because shit never goes your way. You think shit ever goes my way? I just have to make due and dare not complain. My dad wouldn’t have it.” I sighed. He looked at me quite indifferently, my words going through one ear and out the other.
“I’m still a shitty person.” He said.
“No you’re not, Zeek! Stop downing yourself. You say one more bad thing about yourself and I’m going to beat the shit out of you!” I threatened.
“It doesn’t change the truth.” He sighed. I leaned up, grabbing him by his collar.
“You must think I’m joking! I don’t care if you’re driving… I’ll knock some self-love into you!” I said. He rolled his eyes, hushing up for the ride to Dredge Valley.
We arrived, parking the truck in some shrubs ready to undergo the plan. He looked at me intently, wondering just what I had in mind.
“You’re gonna be positioned on top of the big red roller coaster with the rifle aiming into the Casino. Anyone I don’t see coming, take them out. I’m just gonna walk in, and walk out.” I said.
“As simple as that?” He asked.
“As simple as that.” I said.
“And you have faith that this is gonna work because…?”
“I’m pissed as hell and you truly haven’t seen these gravity blades in action.” I said back.
“Well, let’s get things under way, then.” He said, clearly having second thoughts. I didn’t. These people weren’t going to know what hit them.
It was now on! I put on my mask and hood, the gravity blades flying beneath my robes. Zeek also put on a mask, heading through Dredge Valley right into the depths of Paradise. We parted ways, Zeek discretely heading to the old roller coaster while I walked nonchalantly through the Casino District.
“You’re sure this is going to work?” Zeek asked over the air.
“Now why would you have second thoughts when I’m right at the Da Lagon Casino?” I asked back.
And it was huge! Multiple stories of nothing but gambling, narcotics and human trafficking. The people coming in and out of the casino were dressed extravagantly. I looked quite mundane, even hard to notice with these Ilisian robes. It made reaching the pent of the Casino all the more easy.
“You’re in deep…” Zeek said, very concerned for me.
“Hush boy…” I responded, not really having many concerns. He looked down his scope, into the windows of the Casino. The further I went in the more nervous he got. He knew it’d be hard for me to get out.
I entered the most lavish suite. Naked and inebriated girls lay everywhere as well as their high bidding clients. There on the royal bed was a very large man, covered in women. He was quite drunk, oblivious to me even being there. I walked up to him, tapping him awake.
“What!!!” He said, the midday rays of the sun being quite brutal.
“Are you Rion’s boss?” I asked, plainly.
“Yeah what’s it to yah?” He responded, clearly not thinking straight. He whipped the crust from his eyes as they adjusted to the light.
“Did you order the hit on Ezekiel?” I continued. He froze in his tracks, looking at me.
Just as he was about to reach for his gun, several blades flew out from under my coat, skewering the man. He screamed out before his own blood filled his lungs. The women he lay with scattered, afraid for their lives. Their screams brought the attention of every Da Lagon insurgent in the casino.
“Zanir, you got a whole heap of goons coming your way!” Zeek warned.
“That’s good… That means I won’t have to look for anyone.” I said, taking a seat next to a client, high off of cocaine. He looked at me, smiling before falling to the floor.
Several Da Lagon  goons rushed into the pent. As soon as their eyes fell upon their slaughtered leader, panic ensued.
“No, someone got boss!” One said.
“How’d someone even get up here?” Another asked.
“Hush,” Someone rational began, “I want everyone to search the area! Who ever did this couldn’t have gone far…” I looked at them all, the men being quite stupid.
“I’m right here…” I said with a hand raised.
Suddenly, every gun was pointed at me. My blades irrupted from my robes, slicing the guns, hands and everything else that could be used to shoot me, clean off their bodies. The blades then found a nice throat to nuzzle up against as I got to my feet.
“Who are you?” One asked, bleeding out terribly.
“It really won’t matter,” I started as I prowled between them, “Since I’m going to wipe you all off the face of the Earth…”
“NO WAIT!!!!!” He said, just as my blades got closer. I turned to him, pausing.
“Okay?” I responded, wanting him to get to the point.
“Don’t kill us! You killed our boss. That means we’re now loyal to you! You’re the man in charge…” He said. I just laughed.
“How incredibly stupid is that?” I asked, shaking my head, “To be creatures of your own will but have to pay affiliation with someone because they own you…? That’s not loyalty, that’s called being a slave, not having a mind of your own. You all are broken! Why would I want someone who doesn’t have a mind of their own? Why would I want someone that’s broken?”
“Please… Just don’t kill us! Some of these people are kids, just getting started in this world. They don’t deserve this!” He pleaded for them all.
“And the people you’ve killed did? You think I have regards after what I’ve lost.” I countered.
“This is revenge?” He asked.
“No,” I said as my blades pierced every single last one of them, “Problem solving…”
I made my way back down to the lower levels of the Casino, laying waste to anyone who looked roughly affiliated to Da Lagon. All the blades were covered in blood, coming to rest up under those gorgeous white robes I wore. They weren’t white anymore, becoming a deep red after being saturated with the blood of many. The only thing that remained white was the hood over my head.
Just like I discretely came in, I discretely left, disappearing into the crowd of those who fled the casino. Zeek and I met back up in dredge valley, the boy looking at me in a completely different light. It was starting to get on my nerves.
“What?” I asked.
“That was brutal… Even for you…” He said.
“And you wouldn’t have did the same? I was thinking about how they took Swish and Galveston out, how they made you go through so much so they could grow and how they were becoming the biggest problem in the entire Mojave! I took care of them because you asked me too! Don’t you dare go back on me!” I snarled.
“I’m not. It’s just… I saw no humanity in you when you did that. It was like you were a machine in there! You didn’t have any regard for the younglings… they were slaughtered too!” He responded.
“And how many people have Da Lagon slaughtered? We’re in a time of peace in the Mojave but they’re the ones steadily riling shit up… I saved a bunch of lives taking them out. If the Merchant Clan would have went after them, more younglings would have died then the ones I killed. There’s no silver lining! I did what I had to… You’re pissing me off, Zeek! I thought you wanted this to happen.” I said back.
“Yeah, but not like this! I...I…”
“You wanted your own hands bloody…” I said, now seeing his point.
“Well… Yeah. I wanted to take out every single Da Lagon scum who’s ever made me suffer! I wanted to make them die from terror before they even died from the shock of the injuries I was gonna inflict! I wanted revenge and the way you killed them, so clean, so quick, so efficient… didn’t gratify me.” He said, stating how he truly felt.
“Well I’m sorry,” I shrugged, “But this was not just for you. This was for Alistair, June, Swish’s family, the Merchant Clan in general. They lost their leader because of Da Lagon and now Alistair has to come out of retirement to cope with the changes…”
“Not a single soul in the Merchant Clan has had to go through nearly what I had to go through…” He fired back.
“But they’ve still had to go through something. Not every person’s struggle the same nor do people cope the same. Shit, you’ve been conditioned for the bullshit Da Lagon put you through by having to go through bullshit with your father, years before. Shit most people couldn’t cope with you can! What you just said was so unfair to many…” I responded. He sighed, knowing there was no way of getting around what I just said.
“I just wish I could have done it my way… One thing… One thing I wish could have gone my way, but it didn’t…” He said, still frustrated.
“Well I’m sorry it didn’t. If it gratifies you, what we did was terribly wrong but in this case… two wrongs absolutely made a right! If it’s one thing we have in common, we both believe in doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, for better extremes of course…” I sighed. He looked at me, taken aback by the revelation.
“That’s not my concern right now. My concern is how the hell are we gonna get past Beth? She’s gonna know something’s up…” Zeek sighed.
“Shit… Didn’t even think about that. Yeah we’re definitely in some real danger.” I sighed, “We should just tell her upfront if she confronts us…”
“Nooooo!!!!!!!” Zeek refused.
“It’d be better to tell her the truth now and face the tongue lashing than her to find out what we did and face the ass lashing.” I shrugged.
“I rather get beat by her then hear how mouth…” He said, truly hating nagging.
“Yeah,” I sighed, “We’re for better extremes…” He laughed as we walked deeper into dredge valley. It was the dry season here so pooling water was hard to come across. That meant walking into the realm of the mutants… the mers.
Zeek had his handgun at the ready as we made pace. He and I both were nervous, mers were known to be incredibly dangerous. They were fast and able to blast you with a low frequency rumble that was so resonant it could shatter bone. Not to mention, the were notorious ambush fishers. Anything that came beside the water would be snatched to the depths of the Bay of Vegas and drowned.
“Of all the areas in Jeurridam that were quarantined, they opted to keep this place open to the public.” I sighed.
“I was thinking the same thing…” Zeek responded.
“Look!” I said, pointing to a vault hidden under sparse vegetation.
“I’ve been here a million times and never noticed that before.” Zeek said.
“Well it’s been here for some time.” I said, walking over to investigate it.
“Don’t go near that thing! You don’t know what’s in it!” Zeek warned. I looked at him, not pleased with his overprotectiveness.
“Shut up…” I said.
The vault was dug into the side of the south side of the valley, a very strange location and one easy to overlook. The area around it was filled with water, an unnatural amount of water considering just how deep we were in this dry season. Something was definitely odd. My blades vibrated, alerting me to something moving.  I looked down in the water, seeing the silhouette of a mer coming forth in the murky water. Just as it came out the water, my blades skewered it before returning to rest under my robes.
“Interesting…” I noted, looking at the water, “I bet it is connected with Lake Mead which is how the water is able to percolate here… but why? I’m starting to think these mers are guarding something.”
“Really?” Zeek asked.
“Yeah, this setup isn’t natural. This is such a strange location for water to pool and not be connected to a stream. Then on the edge of the southernmost bank, you have shrubs growing over a vault…? Somethings at play here and I wanna figure out what…” I said.
“I don’t think you should. I think we should go back to camp, get the hell out of here and never come back.” He teased.
“Oh, I’m coming back… Alone if I have to.” I said.
“Why?” He asked, not seeing why it was important.
“I’m curious… Plus I’m not so sure about these mers. I wonder how long they’ve really been here in the Bay of Vegas.” I responded.
“You care about stuff that like...other people don’t. Let’s get back to camp.” He said, turning around, “Shit…” As soon as I turned, my blades flew out, skewering several mers.
The giant midnight people fell, bleeding out on the ground. They looked human, quite human but weren’t. The main differentiator was that they were quite tall, and a very dark shade of blue. Their feet also were lobed with fins which allowed them to swim at great speed. They were just eerie creatures.
Zeek and I wasted no time in getting back on the road. I stripped out of these bloody robes back into my regular clothes. The whole time, Zeek watched.
“Eyes on the road, pervert…” I said.
“There’s a road? We’re driving in a canyon, I thought…” He smiled, warranting a dismayed look from me.
“Well eyes on the canyon…” I sighed, sliding into my shorts.
“You need to start working out!” He teased.
“I really do. I’ve let my body go. I used to be so muscular and lean. Now my muscles have atrophied because I don’t eat shit…” I responded with a chuckle. He looked at me surprised.
“You don’t eat?”
“Not as well as I should.” I said back.
“Well we’re going to have to start doing better then, aren’t we?” He asked. I looked at him, curious about his choice of wording.
After an hour drive, we arrived back at Area 51. We parked the truck, heading to the inner facility. Both of us were afraid to see Beth. We had been gone for quite some time and we knew she’d have a barrage of concerns. Fortunately though she was nowhere to be found. We both gave a sigh of relief as we sat into the lobby of the main facility.
“Guys!” Someone called out. It was Julio and Heaven, both looking quite alarmed.
“Yeah…” Zeek responded, sounding not too pleased to be bothered.
“We got some news! We did the run to Tijuana today but couldn’t complete it.” Julio said.
“Okay?” I shrugged, wanting him to get to the point.
“It was an ambush. We didn’t even make it to the extraction point but got close enough to realize it. There were mechanized tanks and smaller mechanized vehicles that ran on four legs. They almost got us… Like… seriously!” Julio said.
“Yeah, it was crazy. I’ve never seen shit like that before.” Heaven said.
“Really?” I asked, finding the news disturbing.
“We don’t know for sure but we’re convinced it’s Revivalist tech. Apart from the UCM, they’re the only ones with the capacity for this type of tech.” Julio responded.
“This isn’t too encouraging. If they have that type of tech this close to Jeurridam then I should not be here! I really need to be on the road…” I responded, not really wanting to leave yet.
“It may be best for you.” Heaven said, truly hating this fact.
“God, I don’t want to go. I’m gonna have to lay low for a bit I guess…” I responded, “Not leaving Area 51 anytime soon.”
“But Alistair requested you come as soon as possible, like it’s urgent…” Julio said. The very idea of seeing Alistair truly made me tense up with fear. Meeting with him couldn’t possibly end well for me.
“No…” I said, shaking my head.
“No?” Heaven asked, surprised.
“Alistair isn’t upset with you over what happened. I promise you! Just go see him! Things are tight right now and he may need help…” Julio said.
“Ugh, everyone needs help!!!!” I sighed, growing frustrated, “It’d just be so hard to look at him.”
“Well take Big Daddy…” Julio responded. Zeek looked at me, smoldering me with those honey colored eyes.
“Go…” He said. I rolled my eyes summoning Big Daddy before walking out of the facility. The sentinel met me there before scooping me up and flying off.
We arrived in the Merchant Flats within fifteen minutes. My eyes were dry as hell from traveling at nearly three hundred miles an hour. Big Daddy landed, every Merchant gang member coming to admire the supersized cyborg. We both entered the shop, it chocked to the brim with buggies and mechanics. At the top of the platform was June, Beth and none other than Alistair. I rushed over. Beth looked at me, not pleased at all.
“I told you not to do anything stupid…” She snarled.
“Whaaaa?” I asked, not quite sure what she was talking about.
“Bruh, word travels fast. We know what you did…” June said, equally as unpleased.
“About Da Lagon?” I asked.
“What else?” Beth retorted.
“And you did it without me…?” June asked. Hell I figured that’s why he’d be upset.
“I’m sorry. I needed to do it for my sanctity,” I said shaking my head, “It had been a thought on my mind and it was just… so… bothersome…”
“What were you thinking?” Beth asked, just so pissed with me.
“Well, revenge, justice, just to getting rid of the Da Lagon nuisance and… that’s about it, I guess…” I responded, not thinking much of it.
“I was going to ask you for help anyways but seeing as you took care of that within twenty minutes, I don’t know what to say.” Alistair said looking up from his computer. All I could see was a middle aged version of Galveston, just incredibly hard to look at. Words couldn’t even come out, “I knew it’d be hard for you to come here. I didn’t think you’d come as soon as you did.” Still though, I couldn’t speak. My eyes just darted around as a million thoughts flooded my head.
“Yeah, its hard for him…” Beth said, in my aid. She could tell words were hard to find right now. To be quite honest, I was terrified.
“Well, I got some news for you. Early this morning, the manticore mechs came back and fell into the network hack trap you and Galvy set. Now they’re lying all over the city, disabled.” Alistair said.
“Um…” I began, having to muster up quite a heap of courage, “That’s good. That means the remaining turrets are safe from attack.”
“Yeah. I wanted to talk with you, Zanir.” Alistair said. My heart sank to my stomach. It was made all the more worse when June and Beth left me alone with the big brooding man.
“Okay?” I said, quite nervous.
“I bet you thought I’d blame you for Galveston’s death, like you were somehow responsible. Well, I don’t. The reason I condoned of you two together was because of what I saw in you! I saw a kid forced to live out his life to conform to what others wanted and when he broke free, the freedom was just an overload. And quite frankly, I think you’re overloaded. I called you here today to tell you to get the fuck out of Jeurridam while you can! There’s nothing else for you here! To the west of us is a force unlike anything we’ve seen in centuries and I think you’re in serious danger… The stunt you pulled today has everyone talking all over Jeurridam. No one knows it was you except us. Flying blades, hooded woman? I mean you’re not a woman but everyone thinks it was.” Alistair said.
“I can’t leave! I still got things I need to fix here, the turrets for the matter! I have to synthesize the acid for my mechs. And I have that,” I said, pointing at the manticore lying in stasis on the table, “To repair…”
“Exactly… You’re overloading yourself because you’ve found freedom! I’m telling you this from the place of a person who’s been where you’ve been! Run! When the Revivalists come, there will be no stopping them. There’ll be nothing I can do. Beth won’t be able to help. My boys won’t either.” Alistair advised.
“I understand your concern, sir. But I just can’t leave something unfinished that I started. Not to mention, I feel that finishing these things will be crucial to the success of my mission.” I responded.
“Fine… you were warned.” He said, walking away. It left me with a lot to think about. Of course every word he said was true. I should have left as soon as the Leer was finished but I couldn’t. I had too many things on my mind, too many things I wanted to solve and the number one thing bothering me was that vault in Dredge Valley.
Beth and June made their way back up to platform.
“You know, he’s right you know. You should leave.” She said. I looked at the manticore lying motionless on the table, running a finger across it.
“I can’t quite yet. I’m gonna need this guy.” I said.
“Why?” Beth asked, not understanding.
“I’m gonna be traveling across four thousand miles of open country alone… I’m going to need all the support I can get.” I responded.
“Okay, but the more time you waste, the more danger you’re in.” Beth said.
“Yeah after what Julio and Heaven told me, I think you should go before something happens. That’s too close to home, Zanir.” June added.
“All of you are right but I’m not leaving until I fix what I want to get fixed.” I responded.
“That’s fine! We’ll be right with you along the way… Just don’t do anything else stupid, anything else that could possibly draw attention to you. We already have been quite careless…” I sighed.
“I actually…” I began, “Came across something I think you might be curious about.”
“What?” She asked, almost reluctantly. She knew this was going to be crazy.
“There’s a vault in Dredge Valley. It’s recessed, hidden behind a thicket with a very deep retaining pool in front of it. The cliff walls around it are very, very steep  making it nearly impossible to get to without coming close to the water. And there are quite a few mers in the pool. Its strange because as hot and dry as it is, there’s no valid reason for there to be a pool there unless it’s connected the Bay of Vegas which I believe it is. Something is going on there…” I explained.
“Wow, you found a vault. There are tons of vaults in Jeurridam… Why exactly are you telling me this?” She responded, not at all enthused.
“...Because something’s up and I want to know what.” I said.
“Okay, worst case scenario. What if it’s Revivalists shit and you get killed for trespassing?” June said, trying to get me to think.
“If my vitals go offline for whatever reason, Big Daddy and the Leer will make the trip to Labrador without me. I’ve thought it through… a bit.” I smiled.
“But we don’t want you to go offline! We want you to finish what you started and fricken save the world from retards like the Revivalists… We don’t want tyrants like that taking over.” June responded.
“I’m well aware of the life risks. I just simply don’t care… I’ve done what I needed to do, mostly anyways,” I said looking back at the manticore, “Just wanna see every nook and cranny of Jeurridam before I leave…”
“Zanir,” Beth said, looking at me with concern, “Have you lost it? You’re never this wreckless, this carefree! You’re always methodical, cautious, thinking of everything.”
“I still think of everything, the little details and variables! I just don’t see the point of being cautious or methodical when I can lose any and everything at any given moment…  I just don’t want to burden myself with those kind of expectations again. Shit like that hurts…” I responded. Beth looked at me, sympathy pooling in her eyes.
“Awe,” She said coming in for a hug, “I know it hurts to have lost him…” I quickly squirmed away from here, looking at her menacingly.
“Didn’t I tell you we’re not talking about it?” I said sharply. It left her hanging cold as I made my way out of the garage.
Truly it was hard to deal with. Hell I didn’t even know how to deal with it… Galveston and I had grown so close, everything going so perfect and then the bond was severed so brutally. I didn’t want to ever fall for anyone again if this world had these kinds of perils. I mean I knew these terrors existed but damn, they hit hard! Every moment that passed I missed him, missed him so damn much but there was nothing I could do. It all was so frustrating.
Killing all those people didn’t help much. It also made me feel like shit that I didn’t have an ounce of remorse. It did feel cold and automated to act out those brutal murders. This was something I’ve long been afraid of, something Galveston fought hard to change! He wanted to see more humanity come out of me but the way I treated the actions of the day undermined everything he worked for. Truly I felt shity, like a failure.
This was definitely an internal crisis, one I didn’t know how to cope with. I felt alone, like no one could understand. Truly, no one could understand! It was hard juggling a sense of humanity and the methodical mind of a machine at the same time. It often was a tug of war, with the machine side winning time and time again. This had me frightened to what I could become if another tragedy struck. What if I lost Beth, Zeek, Heaven, the twins…? God, that’d be awful.
All of this loomed in my mind as Big Daddy flew me back to Area 51. I truly needed to leave, like...now but I didn’t know what was keeping me. It all was so confusing, so frustrating, I had to sit to try and clear my mind. My mind just didn’t clear though. I didn’t know what to do.
“Hey…” Someone said, breaking me from those dreadful thoughts. It was Zeek.
“Hey bruh…” I responded, sounding beat. He could sense the uneasiness.
“You okay?” He asked, sitting beside me.
“Everyone’s pushing me to leave and I know I should but it isn’t that easy for me right now.” I said, wishing I could pinpoint the problem.
“I know the issue… It was like when I was going through my depression stage of withdrawal. You need something to take your mind off of the pain…” He said. I looked at him, wondering where he was going with this.
“Really?” I asked.
“This place is huge! I say you don’t waste a single moment in getting to working on what Basil wishes of you.” He suggested.
“You may be right… I can’t think clearly…” I said, clenching my head, “I just need to do something… physical, I guess… clear my mind.”
“Or work out… Or eat food. Most people eat themselves into obesity when they’re stressed like this.” He said looking at me from head to toe, “And you definitely can eat yourself into a healthy weight… I carried you into this place. I swear you’re like ninety pounds…”
“Oh my god, no I’m not. I’m like one twenty…” I sighed.
“At five foot eight?” He said, “You should be one forty, one fifty, bruh!”
“I know, I know… I’ve lost my body the past few months. Since I left A99, I’ve just stopped eating much.” I responded.
“Can you like program yourself to remember to eat or something? I mean all the things you’ve built, programmed, designed… This should be easy.” He asked.
“I can, but I’m lazy.” I sighed.
“Bruh, you know what? You haven’t eaten since yesterday! Get your ass up!” He said, yanking me from my seat, “We’re getting some nourishment in that body…”
“I don’t feel like eating…” I wined.
“Well you need too…” He said back, leading me deeper into the building. We reached the mess hall where a plethora of desert cuisines were, “We’re going to make sure you eat a lot of fatty and protein rich foods to go from that typhoid body back to a proper twelve year old body!”
“I seriously hate you right now…” I said through the grit of my teeth.
“You’ll thank me later…” He said, sitting me at a table.
It was filled with kids… I hated kids… They all chattered loudly, going back and forth between the buffet. This was just so aggravating. I clenched my head, covering my ears, the noise being extremely bothersome. Zeek came back minutes later with three plates stacked high with food. There was an assortment of poultry, cheesy pasta, darker greens of some kind, stir fry, short ribs, some kind of strange picked vegetables and spanish rice.
It smelled wonderful. Zeek watched on in delight, knowing I couldn’t resist the food. Plate by plate, I began demolishing the mountains of food. It did feel good to eat, damn good! However, it didn’t feel good to have Zeek staring at me this way. I knew this look. Something was abrew within him, something I didn’t want to happen.
This was something I should have known all along. After helping him out so much, even after his betrayal, I should have known this boy would have developed feelings. It was quite chilling, actually. Knowing all that Zeek had been through, how hardened he was, how little regard he had for those on the outside of his circle, it was bothersome to know he had a soft spot for me! At one point, he used to hate me! He blamed me for everything unfair that happened to him! I was the reason he felt the need to run away at fifteen. Now he’s sitting here with this infatuated look in his eye and it was making me sick to my stomach.
I hoped he wouldn’t try anything. I’d hate to have to turn him down. Solitude was what I needed right now, to find myself. There was no denying that I was lost. With all this chaos manifesting, who was I under it all? The answer to that question would not come if I dare entertained Zeek. It would be too much to bear! Sure there were feelings there for him but he’d end up being a rebound. He’d be a form of therapy that would result in more hurt. What if my feelings changed for him after I got over Galvy’s death? Considering all that Zeek’s been through, it wouldn’t be fair to him at all.
“Stop looking at me like that…” I said.
“How am I looking at you?” He asked, being quite the tease.
“Hey!” Someone called out from up the mess hall. It was Basil. Zeek wasn’t at all glad to see him. He rolled his eyes upon the boy’s approach.
“Hi.” I said, with a quick wave.  
“So um,” Basil began, not quite sure how he’d explain what he wanted, “So how well are you? You think…”
“You want me to work as soon as possible?” I asked, laughing.
“Yeah,” He said, scratching the back of his head, “Things are pretty bad…” Zeek looked at me smiling…
“Go ahead…” He shrugged. I smiled, getting up from my seat. The most brilliant idea popped up in my head.
Basil led me out of the facility. Before he could begin his visionary chatter, I had to say something.
“How’s the discussions about the education system going?” I asked.
“Well, actually. Progress is being made with plans. We just got to arrange a discussion with Beth and Zeek.” He said. It was exactly what I wanted him to say.
“You’re going to love Zeek!” I smiled, “He has a certain capacity for… sympathy… that makes him great for younger people!”
“Zeek?” He asked, completely thrown for a loop.
“Yeah, he’s as sweet as can be! Of us all, he’s the most kindred…” I said.
“I’m thrown. No offense but Heaven seems the nicest.” He laughed.
“Yeah, Heaven’s nice! But I’d say look forward to getting to know Zeek.” I smiled.
“I thought you two were a thing.” He said, confused. I looked at him baffled.
“You met my boyfriend last time we were here. Unfortunately, he’s dead. Zeek’s just my best friend. A brother, if you will.” I said.
“Okay…” Basil smiled, pondering on the thought, “What should I be looking forward to?”
“You’ll just have to find out.” I smiled.
“Okay…?” Basil laughed curiously before getting serious, “The main issue is the shitty wiring. A lot of the vaults and tunnels are in the dark and we could really, really use the extra space. Not to mention the wiring in the hangars. That’s shity! I know this is a lot to ask but do you think you could unify a power source, something self sustaining and consistent?”
“This will take some time… I’d have to see what you have to work with in your junk piles.” I responded, not minding, “But I also have some reasearch I need to finish. So, I propose this! I show your best mechanics how to wire and run a power cell and I get to work on my project which could benefit us all in the long run.”
“You seem to be in a rush…” He noticed.
“I am. I’m not supposed to be here but I still am. I’m seriously pushing my luck but I must find things out. Something’s not right.” I responded.
“Please elaborate on this research.” He said, intrigued.
“There’s been a string of things that I’ve been piecing together, but just don’t add up. The Revivalists have two major quarantine zones in Jeurridam. One was a barren wasteland filled with mechs drained of their circulatory fluid, the other, a lush paradise for a peaceful, self sustaining group of mechs that could reproduce like flesh and blood creatures. In this little paradise were these plants made of metal and the mechs ate them. Mechs need to be able to exchange circulatory fluid because it taints after a while and these mechs didn’t need too. However, these mechs have been without human interaction for well over twenty years. They must have their own way to replenish their circulatory fluid and I’m guessing it’s because of the metal plants which I have samples of… It’s the greater concern of mine.” I explained.
“There are more?” He asked.
“Yeah, a lot more… stuff I’ve being hushed about. Back in Sloan, I was quite keen on the lack of mechs, even vault mechs. The reduction of valley mechs made sense but not vault mechs considering they weren’t in any danger of the manticore mechs. Fast forward some days and we find out that these manticore mechs have a hive mentality. One manticore’s super survival protocol is activated, all other manticores become subordinates and follow the will of one leader. If that leader is destroyed, another will rise up. The strange thing is this though, my father designed these mechs but did not create such a protocol. At first I thought this was a sign of rapid mech mutations but I’m starting to think otherwise. You’re aware of what happened in Tijuana, about the Revivalist tech. That changed everything, all my views! I had no idea the Revivalists were this advanced, scarily so. If they are this advanced then I’m pretty sure they are responsible for what we’ve seen in these mechs.” I continued.
“Wow.” He responded.
“...And I’m putting every one of you in danger the longer I stay.” I sighed, shaking my head.
“Where will you go after all of this is done?” He asked, “I don’t get why you’re in danger! I’m missing something.”
“That my friend is a secret that I just can’t tell to anyone. It’s something I just can’t help but embrace…” I sighed, truly hating being cybernetic.
“I’m guessing it has something to do with your brain…” He said.
“In a sense… It’s why I’ve taken a few precautions since the discoveries, especially the one made today…” I clarified.
“Discoveries? Today?” Basil asked, surprised.
“Yeah, a vault in a strange, strange location. Things just don’t make sense right now.” I shrugged.   
“I don’t know what to tell you,” He said at a loss for words, “It’s all rather unexpected. Um, don’t stress?”
“Stress? I’m very stressed.” I said.
“Well you have one hell of a way of hiding it. You seem so cool and relaxed.” He noted.
“I get that a lot.” I chuckled. He laughed as well.
We arrived at the hangar where I could make a full assessment of the repairs that need to be made. And there surely were a lot. Never daunted, me and several other mechanics began to the long remapping process before beginning to repair the circuitry. We worked late into the night, stopping only because they exhausted themselves. Hell, I need to recharge as well.
I went to my quarters, catching some well deserved sleep. The next morning came with a surprise. Zeek was there, carrying a big platter of food. Mind you, it was quite early in the morning, like four or so… He seemed happy, too happy.
“Goooood morning!” He said.
“Why?” I asked plainly.
“It’s a lovely September morning, don’t you think? Make sure you eat all that god damned food!” He said, just insanely cheery. It was upsetting.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked. Zeek was never in a good mood.
“Nothing…” He said, spinning around, “Just wanted to make sure you ate really, really good today.”
“You’re acting strange…” I noted.
“God, you’re such a kill joy. Just be sure to eat… I’m off to work! See you around three-ish.” He responded.
“I can’t believe you seriously woke me up…” I said, so groggy.
“Eh, you’ll get over it.” He said, leaving me to the strange silence of the vault. I ate, knowing there was no way I could go back to sleep.
It was not how I planned on starting my day but hell, it was a start. The entire day was finishing the wiring we started the day before. Eventually, the mechanics got to the point that I could merely oversee what they were doing. These were quite the talented people considering most of them were no older than sixteen. With this much teamwork in place, the wiring was finished base-wide, just a little after the noon hour.
Then came the real challenge. The wiring was connected to the old powergrid for now but it was time to build a new one, one that never had to be maintained. I was going to build a fission reactor, one fueled by water. Upon investigation, this place had more than enough material to make one. The rest of the day was spent, putting the design on paper.
Beth and Heaven came into the lobby where I sat, tired from the draining Mojave heat.
“You waste no time in getting busy…” She noted.
“I need to be busy right now.” I sighed.
“I don’t blame you.” She shrugged, warranting a not too pleased look from me, “Sorry…” I didn’t bother to respond.
“Zeek’s been gone an awfully long time.” Heaven noted.
“No later than yesterday. The terrain is tough on the truck. Jeurridam is seventy miles away.” Beth shrugged.
“You have a point. He said he’s working all week, even the weekends. I bet he’s gonna be exhausted, day after day.” Heaven responded.
“Hell, what is today? I’ve lost track.” Beth asked.
“It’s September fifth.” Heaven said. Beth looked at him in surprise before her eyes slowly fell upon me.
“Interesting…” She said. She had that same look in her eyes that Zeek had this morning.
“You better not bug me about it… It’s no big deal.” I sighed, realizing exactly what this was about.
“I won’t, crab…” She teased, not to pleased with how mean I was being lately.
“I’ve been looking at the greenhouses,” Heaven began, oblivious to the special day, “And I think we need to find some rarer crops to harvest and sell. They have plenty of water here, surprisingly but even then, we’d need a separate irrigation system for the greenhouses. Corn is notoriously thirsty, as well as wheat. They do have the space to grow even more plants such as hickory, pecan, other fruit trees. Maybe even a grape orchard.”
“Cool.” I shrugged, not really caring but pretending as such for his sake.
“What do you think?” He asked.
“I think,” I began, now having to really give input, “We should,” An idea hit me, one that could change everything, “Map the vaults…”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” He responded.
“Beth, do a search for the network of vaults in Nevada in the mainframe to see whatever comes up.” I said. Beth looked at me, sensing there was more to it than for agricultural purposes.
“For agricultural purposes.” I smiled. She rolled her eyes, heading to her quarters.
“Sure.” She said. With her gone, it left Heaven and I alone. I looked at him, realizing the right side of his lip had a big bruise.
“What happened to your face?” I asked. He blushed, having to look away. He then looked around, seeing that nobody of importance was near. He came over to sit by me, this obviously being a very hushed topic. Something was up...
“That’s kind of what I want to talk to you about… It’s been killing me.” He said, quite nervous.
“Spill.” I demanded, going back to drawing.
“Julio kissed me… And not just kissed me… He fucking attacked me with his face!” He said. The way he said it made it sound like he was appalled but there was nothing but smiles and awe written across that face. I rolled my eyes.
“Damn… He didn’t even give you any time to get over yourself… Such a Mojave boy.” I said shaking my head.
“What? Wait, you knew something was up?” He asked.
“Who didn’t?” I asked in response.
“God, am I that blind?” Heaven said, leaning back in the chair, feeling quite stupid.
“Yes…” I replied, “Julio seemed to be quite fond of you ever since that conversation you two had back on the plateau in the wasteland, the one about his and June’s parents? Ever since then, you’ve been oblivious to awkwardly long stares, want in his eyes, and jealousy over you and every other thing that paid you attention. It was just so apparent, except to you.”
“I mean, I’m aware of it now.” He laughed, quite entertained by my forwardness.
“ZANIIIIIIIRRRRRRR!” Someone shouted, from outside. It was none other than Zeek, that same sickening joy radiating off of him.
“What?” I asked plainly.
“I got a surprise for you!” He said, coming into the lobby.
“What?” I asked, genuinely not liking surprises.
“Just come to the truck.” He gestured.
Sighing, I did so, Heaven close behind. We walked across the base to the dry lake bed. We arrived at the back of the truck where a massive cooler was. Zeek opened it, revealing the severed head of a mer.
“OH MY GAWD!!!!!” Heaven screamed, backing away from the terrible site. I looked at Zeek in surprise.
“Happy birthday, bro!” He laughed, feeling it was the perfect gag.
“Wait, today’s your birthday?” Heaven asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “Zeek, you went back to Dredge Valley?”
“Yeah… Thought it’d be fun to kill one of the dredge beasts and bring you a head.” He responded.
“That’s just sick! I thought that was a person!” Heaven said, squirming.
“What person do you know is dark bluish-grey?” Zeek asked.
“Hell, I don’t  know.” Heaven laughed.
“Well, it’s kind of funny, but since you’ve brought it, I’m gonna get some samples from this thing and see what it really is.” I responded, coming closer to the incredibly creepy head, “Did you kill it?”
“Yeah, sniped one from up the valley, cut off some of the body parts and brought them in the cooler.” He said back, “The head’s just on top.”
“They have a chemical lab with just what I need to understand these creatures. I’m not much of a geneticist but, I should be able to get this creature’s genome and cross-reference it.” I said, closing the cooler.
Heaven and Zeek carried it back to the facility, up the stairs into the lab. There, Basil was, talking to some of the young chemists about pesticides. Upon seeing us, he came over.
“Hey?” He said, “What do you have, here?”
“My friend brought me a little gift.” I smiled, reaching for what I needed from the overhead cabinets.
“That’s nice of him,” Basil responded as I opened the cooler, “Whoa…” He had to take several steps back.
“Relax. It isn’t human.” I said, hoping to calm the boy.
“Is it real?” Basil asked, coming forth.
“I killed it.” Zeek shrugged.
“What exactly is it?” Basil wondered, looking on curiously.
“That’s exactly what I plan on finding out.” I said.
It didn’t take long for me to isolate samples from the creature and began decoding them with my watch. I cross referenced them with every known creature only to find that these mers were most similar to humans.
“Wow… They share ninety nine point one percent of human DNA.” I said.
“That’s awfully similar.” Basil said, surprised.
“Alarmingly so…” I added.
“What does this mean?” Zeek asked.
“I don’t quite know. I’m not sure what to say about these creatures. All I know is that it made me wonder what’s in that vault…” I said, thinking hard on the matter.


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