Chapter 0:

The Cost for a Future, and Who Pays the Price (Part I)

Candle in the Rain, Inferno in the Wind

The primal elements of Light and Dark cannot coexist. Where there is Light, there is not Darkness. The brighter the Light, the deeper it cuts into Darkness; but, if obstructed, would also cast a longer shadow. If even the tiniest sliver of Darkness were to touch the source of a Light, the shadow it cast would outreach even the rays of the sun. A covered Light, no matter how bright, casts naught but shadow. From this we can derive two immutable truths. Where Light is, Darkness isn’t. Where Light isn’t, Darkness is. Even the smallest sliver of Light would appear blindingly bright when beheld in Darkness unfathomable. Bookmark here

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For those whom much is given…Bookmark here

…much is required.Bookmark here

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“Alpha, what’s your status?” The communications officer’s voice called out, shattering the silence the soldier had been standing in as he stared down with a pair of unyielding eyes, something heavy about them.Bookmark here

“I’m close now, just scoping the situation and waiting for my moment. You wanted perfect.” The soldier stated matter-of-factly, eyes locked on to his target.Bookmark here

“Yea, yea, you keep giving me that; how about an ETA? Beta already has his target in custody and is en route to the drop off point now. The way he ‘highly’ recommended you and sung your praises, I was certain you’d be the first one to arrive.” The communications officer said sarcastically.Bookmark here

“Beta’s job was in the outskirts of the city, I have armed guards to deal with - the kind a lot of money gets you.” The warrior said icily, blinking for the first time in what felt like ages before looking over at the two unconscious and still armed men lying in the hallway outside the door. “Amateurs…” he sighed after muting his mic. Bookmark here

Blinking again and bringing his piercing gaze back to the young girl laying silently asleep on the floor in front of him. The stern look on his face softened as the soldier thought of his daughter, “They kind of look alike…” He admitted out loud.Bookmark here

“Yea, yea; but you said you could handle the job. You were aware from the beginning that this was to be a coordinated speed grab. We asked for the best, we were told that’s you. You damn well better deliver! Besides, you’re being paid quite the pretty penny for this!” The comms officer stated, annoyed.Bookmark here

And they were. No less than a small fortune, and all he had to do was retrieve one single girl. But it would take no less than a small fortune to secure his family’s place within the walls.Bookmark here

The Soldier stared at her, as if weighing the lives of this single girl against those of his family. It wasn’t fair, but it never is. “Sorry, this is just… survival of the fittest…” He mumbled softly as he reached down and tenderly picked the girl up, no less so than as if he was picking up his own daughter. This one, single yet precious life would provide a future for his family.Bookmark here

“Target acquired, I’ll be back shortly.” The soldier reported into his comms device and turned it off. He held the girl tight, she was warm. “I’ll burn in hell for this…” He closed his eyes, “May my wretched soul burn hot enough to warm those dear to me.” He said, wondering how a future would fare, were it built on this kind of foundation. Begrudgingly, he headed for his destination.Bookmark here

The soldier designated Alpha carried the girl into the compound and to the transport that would take her to her destination. It was like a small train comprised of a lead car with four units trailing behind, one of which was loaded with two medical capsule chambers. He gently laid her in one of the empty compartments and carefully strapped her in place. “I’m so sorry…” He said, pained, then reaching up and brushing the hair out of her face.Bookmark here

“Ahh, you did beat Beta back, excellent!” A familiar voice exited the lead unit of the transport.Bookmark here

“My target was in the city not far from here, I figured that’s why the drop off was so close. His target was in the outskirts on the other side of the city.” The soldier said, not so much as looking away from the girl. “He’ll be here soon-” Bookmark here

The soldier was cut off when a nearby door swung open and another experienced soldier stepped through with a young girl in tow. “Speak the name of the devil, and the sooner he shall appear -heh.” Alpha stated as he continued securing his target to the transport.Bookmark here

“Yo!” Beta declared as he entered the room and carried his target to the empty capsule next to Alpha and set her down. “So what did I tell you? Was that easy money, or was that easy money, eh?” He walked over to Alpha and playfully jabbed him in the shoulder. “I know the work isn’t the most honest, but we’d never so much as see the inside of those big walls without it!”Bookmark here

Alpha shrugged him off, “It’s just one tough pill to swallow.”Bookmark here

“Look, I get it, I know what this seems like,” The comms officer walked up, carrying a slip of paper in each hand, “But Dr. Tellamar can use these two for something special. It’s gradual, but change is happening. Here, money well earned! You two definitely exceeded expectations!” The comms officer handed a slip of paper to each of them.Bookmark here

Beta whistled sharply, “Look at all those beautiful zeros!”Bookmark here

Alpha stared blankly at the slip of paper. It was a relief, all those zero’s would be going to make sure his family was taken care of. One single slip of paper, so light, and yet it carried with it the weight of the lives of his family… as well as the lives of two complete strangers; neither of which could be much older than his own daughter. “Give this to them for me.” He said, handing his slip of paper to Beta.Bookmark here

“Uh, ok…” Beta said confused, “and in the meantime, you’ll be…?”Bookmark here

“I’m going to see that our sleeping beauties here get to their destination without hindrance… we do owe them a lot.” Alpha said with a stern look.Bookmark here

“I don’t think so!” The comms officer chimed in, “We’re going into HIS jungle, I’m sure you’ve heard the stories.”Bookmark here

Beta was speechless. A concerned Alpha retorted with, “But you don’t have an escort!”Bookmark here

“That’s because this baby doesn’t need one! It’s a little slow, but it’s got a top of the line stealth system on it!” The comms officer cornered him. “A nice, quiet cruise through the moonlight for these two.”Bookmark here

Alpha folded his arms, “Then I’ll just follow you and make sure they arrive where they’re going without incident.”Bookmark here

“Ugh, fine, but don’t expect any more compensation! And you better be ready, we are leaving soon and I’m sure as hell not going to wait for you.” The comms officer turned and walked to the front of the craft, shrugging nonchalantly.Bookmark here

Beta turned to Alpha and started with one of his ‘Don’t get in over your head!’ Speeches, but Alpha stopped him. Holding out his hand, Alpha replied, “Save it for when I get back!”Bookmark here

Beta smiled weakly, reached out and grabbed his friend’s hand firmly. “But what happens if this is the one you don’t come back from?”Bookmark here

Alpha clinched his brother in law’s hand as tightly as he could, “Then your sister, niece and unborn nephew are in your hands!”Bookmark here

“I know better than to worry about you!” Beta insisted, but was drowned out by the sound of the transport’s engine whirring up to a stabilized hum, then dropping down to a dull droning.Bookmark here

“What?” Alpha yelled over the sounds of the engine.Bookmark here

Beta jerked his arm hard, pulling him closer and bellowing, “You damn well better make it back in one piece! I’m just not dad material!” He then shoved Alpha towards the transport that started to slowly pull out.Bookmark here

“I’ll hurry back!” Alpha yelled as he made his way to the ladder on the back of the transport. “Back home.” He said to himself as he hopped up on the transport and saluted his brother.Bookmark here

Beta saluted him back, “Just come home…”Bookmark here

“Damn, he wasn’t kidding!” Alpha sighed to himself as he sat atop the transport thinking about how the small electrical engine it was equipped with was indeed quiet and easy to hide, but offered little in the way of speed. They were a little ways out of the city, and he kept hoping they were going to speed up; but they kept a snail’s pace.Bookmark here

The small, streamlined compartmentalized transport was composed of multiple units linked together in a train like fashion. In addition to the head of the transport where the comms officer drove the unit and the 2 capsules the young girls resided in; there were a few other units with unknown contents – supplies and equipment most likely. Alpha laid atop the rear unit watching the stars and making sure nothing came up behind them.Bookmark here

The soldier also did not want to see the dimly glowing, translucent bubble that was growing ever closer. The barrier that served as a fence could be seen from a great distance, especially at night. It wasn’t a barrier to keep strangers out, either. No, this barrier was a cage meant to imprison the Garden of Hell. A destination he had hoped would never be his.Bookmark here

There wasn’t always a barrier surrounding it. No, it used to just have a big wall with lots of signs warning would be trespassers of danger. There had been tales of curious people venturing over the walls for just a look. What they might have seen could only be speculated, as none ever returned to tell the tale.Bookmark here

The barrier is a more recent addition, popping up overnight little less than four years ago and covering the entirety of the crater and some of the surrounding area. Shortly after that, lush green vegetation grew rampant. Trees reached for the top of the barrier, some bearing fruit that would appear to be larger than people.Bookmark here

Just over two years ago, some sightseers went to the barrier for fun. They brought back some blurry footage of what appeared to be someone on the other side of the barrier… someone that wasn’t quite… human. This clips surfaced, but no one ever claimed the deed as their own.Bookmark here

The government played it off as a hoax; but when asked what was going on out there, they gave just this one answer. “What’s necessary for the continuation of the human race.” They don’t allow sight seers out there anymore. In fact the government went so far as to patrol around it as well as set up surveillance systems.Bookmark here

None of it sat well with the soldier, but he’d never really given it much thought. After all, he never really planned on going there. And yet here he was, inching ever closer. They were crawling at a walking pace, so he had a good idea of how long it would take him to make it back home.Bookmark here

A few hours had passed, and they were getting close now. The soldier wasn’t facing the barrier, but he didn’t have to be to know. His surroundings were illuminated in the pale light of the barrier. The transport slowed to a stop. “About damn time!” he yelled, shifting his unease to the back of his mind, he wondered how they’d actually get into the barrier. Turning, he realized they were still a good distance away. “What gives?” he questioned as the front unit opened and the comms officer hopped out and stretched.Bookmark here

“You’re still here, eh?” The comms officer inquired with a yawn. “Surprised you didn’t turn tail when you realized I was serious about coming here.”Bookmark here

“Well ‘here’ isn’t where I was aiming for. I thought we were taking them…” Alpha stated as he pointed at the capsules, and then over to the barrier, “…in there.”Bookmark here

“We will, but you’re getting ahead of yourself. We’re also under strict orders to stay out of there when it’s dark – no matter what; and if something were to happen, help won’t come until the sun rises.” The comms officer reflected the same serious look on the face of his superior when he was told not to go in even an hour before dark... and the way he was stonewalled when he asked questions.Bookmark here

“How come?” Alpha questioned.Bookmark here

“That’s classified.” The comms officer stated, as if mocking the only answer his superior would give him.Bookmark here

“Well how do we get through the barrier?” Alpha asked with an annoyed look.Bookmark here

“Ahh, barrier aetherics; now that’s a tricky one!” The comms officer said excitedly.Bookmark here

“Spare me the technical jargon.” Alpha interrupted, holding his arm out and hand up as if to block all the big words.Bookmark here

“We use this device…” The comms officer answered dully, losing his enthusiasm and pulling something out of his pocket, “To project a smaller version of the exact same barrier (that’s the tricky part) around ourselves. When the big one and our barrier come into contact, they will merge and let us pass. One for each unit, so you’ll just pick whichever looks the most comfortable and ride on through.”Bookmark here

“So wait, this stealth transport is also equipped with the same barrier as that?” Alpha questioned, pointing at the huge barrier looming before them, “And what, it’s afraid of the dark?”Bookmark here

“Same barrier, different power source; basic aetherics!” The comms officer retorted confidently, “Besides…” he trailed off.Bookmark here

“Besides…?” Alpha replied with questioning eyes.Bookmark here

“That transport as well as most of the equipment used here is solar powered.” The comms officer stated, matter-of-factly.Bookmark here

“Anticlimactic…” Alpha sighed, losing interest.Bookmark here

“Well what did you expect, zombies?” The comms officer laughed.Bookmark here

“Bah, I feel like an idiot for having worried.” Alpha said, annoyed again.Bookmark here

“Well what DID you expect? All our resources are being poured into it; it’s supposed to save our race! Of course it’s going to be something big. Even I don’t know what’s going on in there, but come on, it’s supposed to help us, nothing to be afraid of!” The comms officer declared with a sense of pride. “That said, I do wonder what exactly they’re doing…”Bookmark here

“And what they need them for…” Alpha said, staring softly at the capsules.Bookmark here

“Probably what they feed the zombies.” The comms officer replied jokingly. Alpha just glared back at him, in response to which the comms officer shrugged and asked, “Well what do you take your government for? No, this isn’t exactly my standard cargo – though I do get the occasional odd request. I mean, the personnel don’t get to leave very often and I’m their only link to the outside.”Bookmark here

There was a pause before the comms officer continued with, “This is the first time I’ve taken anything alive, let alone two people as cargo! Hell, transportation isn’t even my job, this a rather special gig, you know? I’m from the communications department, specifically at the facility run by Dr. Tellamar. These girls are actually going to help with some genetics experiments, something about Huntington’s Disease. Don’t tell me you didn’t find out or recognize the name of the girl you picked up, Mr. Best-in-the-business!”Bookmark here

Alpha listened quietly with an unsatisfied look on his face. “I don’t really get to complain, after all, I was the one who took her… I just don’t know what I took her for. As far as who she is... ” A silent moment passed as Alpha recalled her name. “Cromwell. Aren’t her parent’s some elite intellectuals? For that aetherics mumbo jumbo?”Bookmark here

“Her parents wrote THE books, plural, on that aetherics mumbo jumbo! In fact, the little miss has recently undergone a series of surgeries to implant mana. Her parent’s used their own daughter to prove one of their theories on the medicinal applications of biological aetherics, it’s all cutting edge stuff and quite fascinating, really.” The communications officer explained.Bookmark here

“Damn! So I kidnapped a genuine princess… how am I supposed to not be curious as to why?” Alpha questioned as he shook his head.Bookmark here

“You mean aside from the rather large pile of money you were paid?” The comms officer stated sharply.Bookmark here

“I’d like to know I’m not feeding her to the wolves, both literal and figurative.” Alpha said, almost regretfully.Bookmark here

“Alright, alright; I’ll cut you some slack here. Seriously though, you think I didn’t have these same concerns? Dr. Tellamar runs the facility I work at. He is involved in a number of advanced projects here. His specialty is as a geneticist, specifically because his wife had Huntington’s Disease. Sadly, she’s gone now; but their daughter has it too. Your girl can use biological aetheircs to heal people, and the other is actually a relation.” The comms officer stated confidently.Bookmark here

“And he couldn’t bring them in normally?” Alpha inquired.Bookmark here

“There is no ‘normally’ bringing people here! Especially children! The vast majority of the staff live on site, and the only other comings and goings are through the military. The rest of the staff was about to riot just trying to get personal effects, other small things and the like. The military offered us this single transport, and guess who just so happens to have a hungry curiosity for aetherics?” The comms officer beamed proudly.Bookmark here

“I just don’t like it. It’s too fishy when it wraps up that neatly. The wrinkles are there, they’re just small. I hope I’m worried over nothing, maybe it’s just guilt gnawing at me. I just never thought I’d have to do something like this, simply trying to provide for my family…” Alpha’s voice ran cold with what he said next: “But if it is her or my family, she loses.”Bookmark here

“Can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.” The comms officer shrugged and smiled half heartedly as he said the words.Bookmark here

“Bellyaching over it won’t solve anything. The sun will be up in a couple hours, I’m going to try and sleep a little while we wait.” Alpha said as he walked over to rest against the transport.Bookmark here

“Not a bad idea.” The comms officer agreed, then grinned wryly, "First though, we have something to discuss."Bookmark here

"And what would that be?" Alpha asked in response, turning back to face the comms officer.Bookmark here

"Well I'm not exactly authorized to bring any extra passengers." The comms officer replied wryly, his grin widening.Bookmark here

"Well you're a shrewd one, waiting till we get out here to bring it up." Alpha glared at him, sizing him up. "Well, what do you want?"Bookmark here

"You're a merc, right? You’ve got all kinds of connections." He could see Alpha's face start to sour and added, "Hey, now! It's not as if I have a job for you, and I’m neither blackmailing nor looking for payment! I'd just rather you not forget who helped you get through this barrier."Bookmark here

"I'm not a damned merc, but I get you, a favor for a favor." Alpha spat our bitterly.Bookmark here

"Just as you have yours to worry about, I have mine. The issue at hand is, you want something from me. Underhanded or not, you won't get past here without me." The comms officer could have been looking right through Alpha. "Feel free to turn back now..."Bookmark here

"And if I refuse to help you when the time comes?" Alpha scoffed, meeting the comms officer's gaze.Bookmark here

"Come now," The comms officer's attitude lightened as he turned towards the transport; "you've come all this way to repay a debt that you didn't have to. Your loyalty appears to have value."Bookmark here

Alpha sighed dejectedly.Bookmark here

"Then we have an understanding? Nothing in this world's for free. If you're dumb enough to believe something is free, then you just haven’t realized what you're buying into." With that, the comms officer climbed back into the transport.Bookmark here

"Cocky bastard!" Alpha spat out as he turned towards the transport and looked for a... comfortable spot to take a rest, and ended up leaning against the capsule of his target.Bookmark here

Alpha slept, but it was for at most an hour as he restlessly dreamed of his family – of the time he almost lost his daughter; of the promise he had made to his wife to do everything in his power to see that she be taken care of.Bookmark here

Dawn came quickly, and brought with it the means for them to reach their destination. The sun had just barely broken the horizon when the door to the front of the transport opened and the comms officer started to step out. Bookmark here

“Finally time to go?” Alpha called out from his perch on the end of the transport.Bookmark here

“Well, you’re just rearing to go, aren’t you?” The comms officer called back, shutting the door and starting up the transport. They made their way towards the great barrier looming before them.Bookmark here

“Soon…” A voice spoke softly. “Wait for me, Leacy. I won’t give up. Every day I draw closer. Daddy is so close now, and he’ll be able to give you the future you deserve!” A man donning a lab coat spoke to a glowing capsule containing a young girl hooked up to a life support system and submersed in a translucent, glowing gel. “Daddy can’t wait to hear your voice again!”Bookmark here

There was a long silence as the man went over his notes, occasionally pausing to glance at the numbers on the terminal on the side of his daughter’s capsule. “Good, everything has stabilized nicely… It looks safe to initiate the next phase. Daddy’s sorry it’s taking so long, but he promises you won’t have to wait much longer! The last few pieces of the equation are on their way now!”Bookmark here

He went back to checking over his notes. He couldn’t afford any mistakes, and he was running out of time. His thoughts were interrupted by his intercom. “Dr. Tellamar, we have a situation. Your presence is required immediately in the command room!” An excited voice said loudly.Bookmark here

“On my way.” He answered coldly into his comms device as he scowled. “And so it begins.” He said to himself as he pinned his clipboard under his arm, shoved his hands into his pockets and headed away from his daughter. “Daddy has some important guests coming to help him make you better! I love you Leacy, I’ll be back as soon as I can!” He said gently to her as he walked out of the room.Bookmark here

The sun was barely up as the transport slowed to a stop next to a small construct that was basically just a terminal kept out of the weather to be used for communications. They were right outside the barrier.Bookmark here

The comms officer opened his door and stepped out, faced the barrier and with a whistle said, "Look at the size of that thing! It never ceases to amaze me! You know it actually extends underground completing a full sphere?! Can you imagine how much power it takes to maintain this thing?!"Bookmark here

"You're loud." Alpha glowered as he sat up, stretched and yawned.Bookmark here

The comms officer sighed and pulled a handle out of the terminal that extended from a retractable cord and plugged it into the transport. "The constant aetherical flow needed to maintain something this massive is simply incredible! This feat alone gives me hope for mankind’s future!" The comm's officer stated proudly.Bookmark here

Alpha stared back blankly at him.Bookmark here

"If they can pour that kind of raw power into defense, imagining the offensive capabilities is, well, somewhat frightening. Then again, if it was something to be afraid of, it probably would have been made apparent by now." The comms officer rattled off, thinking back to how long the barrier had been there and caused seemingly no problems, then, for good measure added, “A barrier’s main purpose is to protect, and they’ve built a barrier that can protect whole cities!”Bookmark here

“I get it, enough with the lecture!” Alpha almost whined, “They’re not the bad guys, thank you professor! It just feels like they’re… hiding something!”Bookmark here

They stared at each other in a silent opposition that was broken after a few moments by a loud beep that must have signaled whatever had been hooked up had completed its task, as in response the comms officer unplugged and reattached the handle to the terminal, then turned back to face Alpha with a big smile on his face. “Ready to see the truth for your own eyes?”Bookmark here

“Yea, yea, let’s get on with it.” Alpha inhaled deeply and held his breath for a moment before exhaling slowly. He then turned towards the back of the transport.Bookmark here

The comms officer’s smile faded as he grumbled, “I think you just like bursting my bubble! Anyway this time you ride shotgun! Won’t do any good to have you sitting on an invisible transport!”Bookmark here

Alpha paused and tried to mask his piqued curiosity before turning to the comms officer and stating, “Alright, but save your lectures!”Bookmark here

This time, the comms officer sighed dejectedly before making his way to the transport, “We have other things to discuss.” He stated before opening up the transport and climbing in.Bookmark here

“Like what?” Alpha said, following suit.Bookmark here

“For starters, I can’t actually take you into the lab with me.” The comms officer said as he closed his door and started up a terminal.Bookmark here

“So drop me off before we get there. I’ll watch you deliver our cargo and will have to be satisfied knowing she made it safely to her destination.” Alpha said as he looked at the control panel for the transport and grimaced at its complexity.Bookmark here

The comms officer pulled the transport closer up to the barrier then turned to Alpha and laughed at the look on his face, “I’ll show you what all this does!”Bookmark here

Alpha watched the comms officer navigate through some menus on the console’s interface and upon bringing up a particular window, typed in some numbers and fidgeted with the various buttons before the sound of a generator whirred up and the transport lifted a few feet off the ground. “Wow, it hovers?!” He exclaimed.Bookmark here

The comms officer just smiled as he refrained from explaining. Alpha peered at him inquisitively.Bookmark here

“Leaving the aetherics out of it, once the object has been surrounded with a barrier; it’s actually rather trivial to do the rest. Transportation, the anti gravity field, even cloaking and rendering us invisible are just different methods of utilizing the sigils and aetherics. The complicated part is managing to do this-” The comms officer was getting excited as he pulled the transport up to the barrier, which seemed to open up for them.Bookmark here

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