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Act 3: Promised Land

Chapter Text

Your life is merely a prison.

Are you fit for ripping down its bars?

 

I foresee chaos collapsing the Machine like a house of cards.

 

So fight with the past agent, you’re bound to end the Promised Land

You do your strongest, so long as you don’t lose your mind.



The cart is moving in complete darkness. Hunger, thirst, exhaustion and my wounds are taking a toll of me. It’s getting harder to keep myself standing, so I sit instead, leaning against the wall of the cart. My nose is bleeding and head is killing me… but it brings back memories. Good memories of my time on the surface. I didn’t have many friends before I got here; I spent my time playing games, dreaming of becoming a pro player in Gunslinger. I sigh with nostalgia.

 

Now I think about it… We have degraded to gladiatorial fights in a tech cover with our champions trapped in a circle of endless existence. They can be killed. But they cannot die. They’ll be back, to entertain the crowd, shedding blood over and over, doing the same things in the same places forever. But they are just animatronics. Machines with no soul or mind, controlled by people outside. But Traitors Hall… they are different. They too are avatars, trapped in this place. But they have souls, and minds.

 

I look at my hand. Am I an avatar too? A champion created to entertain others, trapped here only to suffer, with a mind and a soul? Asshole replied:

 

“As a character to another - yes.”

 

“And if you stop breaking the supposed fourth wall?”

 

“Then you are somewhat closer to the truth with all that avatar stuff and  comparison with your human games. But that does not explain all these errors in your memory… and it doesn’t explain me.”

 

I wipe my nose and look at him.

 

“You? What are you talking about? If you turn out to be my ex…”

 

“No..it’s worse than that. And for fuck’s sake, stop telling those dumb-ass jokes...”

 

“You’re telling ME to stop joking?! The world has changed.”

 

He shook his head, sighing.

 

“Richard… Richard. I gave you hints, I told you the facts the first time we “met”, and yet you still blindly deny the truth.”

 

He leans toward me, lowering his tone.

 

“What do you think you are, Richard Streletskiy?”

 

“I am a human squidfucker, you useless jackass.”

 

He just grins in return.

 

“If I were a psychotherapist, I would say that your sanity lost it’s virginity. And I’m not Chuck Norris, so I won’t go and grab it for you. ”

 

I remain silent for the remnants of our short trip. The cart reaches its final destination, a couple of maintenance tunnels leading out - a terrible option, but there’s nowhere else to go. We get out of the cart and go back to the nearest door I saw on our way. Just like I expected - it’s not even locked and opens without a problem. But there's dark like a nig… to hell with racist jokes. I have the flashlight, but I don’t have three… hands. Hold on a sec. I have four fucking extra limbs just growing on my head and doing nothing other than making me look bad. Ok, Тунеядцы. It’s your chance to redeem yourself and do something good. I took out flashlight and raise it to my head.

 

“Hold it.”

 

They don’t react. Do they have a high ping or something? I poked them with the flashlight, but one of them pokes it back and hits me in the face.

 

Is this your way to say “fuck you, owner?” Stupid hair, obey me!”

 

In return, the frontal tentacles start actively slapping my face. It’s not painful - not after that green bitch, but god damn it’s making me salty! I grab the discontenting tentacle with my hand and sprain it like rubber to the point where I feel like another headache is coming on.

 

If you beat me again, I’ll find something sharp and cut you off! Hold. The. Flashlight. NOW!”

 

I free my “prisoner” and raise the flashlight to my tentacles so that they can pick it up… again. The one on the right politely grabbed the handle and lifted the device to my forehead, trying to keep the beam of light steady. Well..I think even my hair doesn’t have balls of steel, they can be intimidated. I raise my hand and do the unthinkable - pet my own hair.

 

“Good boy… uh, or girl. Damn it, do tentacles even have genders?”

 

I turn to see Asshole giggling.

 

“You are a pretty good hair trainer.”

 

“Oh, shut up!”

 

A moment of laughter later, he nods and points to the dark corridor. Yes, I know - our only way out. I take a deep inhale, grab my useless gun with both hands and proceed in the darkness, the flashlight illuminating my way.

 

The door crashes shut behind us. I can hear heavy, painful breathing. Fuck, it’s the bitch! A greenish gas starts to leak in. Asshole claps slowly.

 

“Wound you look at that! The immortal whore had enough brains to bait you into the trap, hah… why’re you looking at me like that? Run!”

 

And I do. Well isn’t this a fine place to be - trapped in an isolated corridor, rushing to the maintenance tunnels, mapless, without any idea where to go. This is fine! Oh yeah - it's dark! Хоть глаз на жопу натягивай, разницы все равно не будет! At least I have a flashlight and a gun. Wonder if I can shoot myself with it.

 

I run out into the tunnel. Nothing but pipes, cables, low ceilings and dust. Running is suicidal, but staying and waiting for the bitch is worse. I can hear the breathing. And they are getting louder…

 

Tired legs continue to carry me through endless tunnels, rusty stairways, sections of train tunnels isolated by rubble, and more. I even heard a train coming at one point, but I failed to find where it go or how to reach it. But at least I eventually reach an office area. A three-storey department with a relatively large hall on the first floor. Such buildings are commong all across the sector, so I’m still lost.

 

Judging by the marks on the wall I'm on the 3rd floor. Many doors line the walls, each of them leading to dusty cabins with minimal furniture - a table, a chair, a working computer, plus an offline camera and turret on the ceiling - Spartan working conditions in a nutshell. Some of them even have shit buckets. I check the cabins, hoping to find something useful, but there is nothing. To hell with all this. I keep moving closer to the staircase. Gotta keep moving while I still have strength in my body…

 

Nearing the staircase, I sense movement on the first floor. I turn off my flashlight and stay down. Judging by the sounds, there’s a couple of kids doing something… particularly nasty, laughing like maniacs the entire time. Can't say for sure, but they’re probably beating someone. Rather unpleasant thoughts come to mind and terrible pictures are painted in my brain. What they might have gone through… what experiences Tartar might have put them through. But most importantly, where did they come from? We all underwent forced sterilization… wait. Someone’s approaching them. Whoever it is, he or she says nothing and starts playing a depressing song. Even the kids fall silent too. Seconds later, they start to walk away like mind-controlled zombies. I wait for a couple of minutes and then descend to the first floor, avoiding the pools of sanitised ink and blood.

 

After making sure I'm relatively safe, I turn on the flashlight. The children have gone deep into the corridor, but right to my left there’s a door to a utility room. "Warehouse 3". I move to the door and open it, taking a look inside. Wow… it’s just an empty room with a note and a hole in the wall, the latter being the size of a two-meter abmal. I carefully come closer to the note and read it, but it’s just scribbles. Fuck it.

 

I pass through the hole in the wall and find myself in a food warehouse. Plates and barely readable marks on the walls indicate so. I sigh. A food warehouse. Separated from the offices with a single wall. Splat me... did they specifically employ idiots to deisng the place or what?! But when it comes to security systems… can’t insult them there. Anyway, there doesn’t seem to be any supplies. I'll have to poison myself with what I found earlier. At least let’s have a look of what we have here...

 

Well I’ll be damned! The shelves are crammed with a variety of weapons and even spare ink tanks - I’ll take one! Now I can shoot. As for weapons, let’s see what we’ve got here…

 

Rollers, buckets, chargers, some kind of ink-powered shotgun, dualies, splatlings and… a bamboo stick? The fuck? God damn it! Is there anything better? Like a classic sniper gun, or a modern energy-firing machine? Only this shit? Fine… next shelf!

 

Now this is something interesting. Or odd. Here there are oversized tin cans with markins and icons. Again, it’s marked in that strange language that I somehow understand. Hm. Inkstrke? Killer Wail? Bubbler? Bomb Rush? What the hell? I’ll leave those alone for now. What’s next?

 

A couple of wooden baskets for tools, filled with watches like the ones I wore during those damn tests. I equip one of them and proceed to look at the rest of the goods. More oversized tin cans. Trash, trash… a kittydog? Eh. Trash, mobile trash… Oi! Splatbombs. I grab the can I need and open it. A small glow, a funny sound and… there’s nothing inside. But my watch reacts. A message claims “splatbombs equipped and ready for use” . Is that so?

 

I move my hand behind my back to the ink tank, but just where I can see it. And what do I see - there is a bloody splatbomb in my hand! My watches show the ink consumption in the tank. I toss it and move to the ink puddle left after the explosion, submerging myself in ink. Finally, the heaviness and pain goes away. My wounds heal, the bruises and beatings dissolve. Know what? I might take a nap and restore myself. I fucking deserve that.

 

*12 hours later…*

 

A nice, healthy nap in my own ink, complete with a meal of rotten food. Ugh, I feel better for sure. But food poisoning sucks. In between meals and hiking trips in the toilet, I managed to add to my modest arsenal. A second octoshot, and that’s it. You know what they say: Double the gun - double the penetration… or fun.

 

Well then. Let’s go. Back to the offices and then through the corridor. I don’t care if someone attacks me. I’m not afraid. I’m rested, healed and fed enough to seek truth and answers the old fashioned way:

  1. Find a bad guy
  2. Beat him up
  3. Ask about my goals
  4. Beat him again
  5. Ask him the release date of Half-Life 3 and beat him up again, because that’s a trick question cause it’s never coming out
  6. Beat him up, for the heck of it
  7. Leave with the information

 

And while my brain tries to entertain itself, I go through several corridors. The offices are already behind me, and I’m still lost. But there happens to be a door on my right a few meters away with a warning - “employees only”. Well, I used to be one. Tentacle holding flashlight, guns at the ready - come and get some.

 

The door lead into a small passage with long-faded safety posters. A knocked-out door guarding a dressing room on the right - I peek in, but there’s nobody inside. Then the path goes through the disinfection chamber. It’s not operational. After that - descent down a long escalator. It does not work either, which is not surprising considering where I am. And I keep having that feeling, like someone is watching me… or overwatching, ha ha. Hope it’s not Gay 76. Thank God I was not born when it was.

 

I reached the end of the escalator and started moving slowly, inspecting every meter of this place. Machines humming. Pipes pumping like veins. Quality cables are causally connected here and there as if someone didn’t expect people to walk here. I’m definitely getting close to something… or someone. I follow the noise, till I reach an observation balcony -  just like where I had to get a part of Blender .. only there are no fences. And what in the name of…

 

Еб твою мать! There is a fucking huge sanitized-ink-pool down there! Multiple holes in the wall spit out the bodies of sanitised units: sniper-spiders, octo walkers, fat assholes and other types I never seen before. In a center of this… mess stands a mechanical monstrosity with a size of a nine-story building. The lower part is a fucking meat grinder with six long-ass flexible manipulators with four mechanical grippers. They remind me of tentacles. And instead of meat, there is a steady flow of sanitized ink coming from the pipe.

 

This a-abomination is connected to the central part with pipes, covered with lots of cables. The central part itself is a… blender. Filled with water. And four living eyes the size of - I don't even know! They’re huge ! And they’re connected to the system of naked wires. Floating in the water, they’re just observing the processes. What sick man came up with that idea?! And there is more…

 

The top part is made of wires and pipes going straight into ceiling, where all the light sources are located. Near the ceiling lies two conveyors with meat hooks going in the opposite direction. This “machine” uses manipulators to take the bodies from the ink, lift them to the ceiling and place them on hooks.

 

And here a thought being flexible enough to give yourself a blowjob is too much. Shit, Rick. I don’t even know what to say . That was never in the script!

 

I’m way too shocked, to bother with the nonsense he’s speaking. Instead, I give him a few statements of my own.

 

Do you have any idea what this is?

 

He pauses, looking at this seemingly endless process of body-collecting-and-sending them god knows where.

 

“Hm. It’s definitely just a part of a larger system/mechanism. The purpose behind it? My best guess - creating or healing sanitized fuck-faces and…”

 

Asshole freezes.

 

“We got bad company coming.”

 

Indeed, there’s someone approaching behind me. I turn and aim one of my octoshots. Upon realization I clench it harder. That's her. The same sanitised bitch that kidnapped and tortured me, and forced me to speedrun the tunnels! She is coming slowly, playing some verse or lyric from song with her trusty CQ-80:

 

“One can believe in the absence of faith

One can go on without meaning or goal

The dead pray, pray on

For their death is already guaranteed

 

Here, hearts are torn for yourself and the others

But no matter how you squeeze it, it’ll continue to beat

And if there are those who are subject to HIM

There’re will be those who are rejected to suffer.”

 

That abomination stops at a distance. She doesn’t take her eyes off me, continuously breathing with this hoarse, painful sound. Both of my guns are ready to blast her ass to the Moon. Asshole… decides to talk instead.

 

“What is this? You gonna talk this idiot to death with your little verse? don't disappoint me, you smoker on ultra settings.

 

She flips him off, but her face shows no emotion.

 

“Here, the abducted are sought

But only tests are found.

Last people here

We’re frozen to death

 

There is no bad, good or sane here

Here dead and alive are so alike

And no less than the alive ones

The dead may be tired

 

They’re chained by one chain

Connected by one purpose

Damned by one chain

Created for one…”



He shakes his head.

 

“When you try to be nice to a girl...”

 

Then he turns to me, stepping aside.

 

“Rick. Would you kindly show this lovely lady the way to HELL?! No need to answer, just rip her apart! ”

 

I nod in response. All this “talk” about, their meaninglessness life, their immortality, the fact that there is no difference between the dead and alive here, the last humans were frozen to death ...and that HE kidna...a-a. hold on! Tartar kidnaps people?! From the surface?! HOW?!

 

I hope you like toxic f͏lo̴… girls. Because y͏o.͡.̵. s͟ei in peric… da̷ng̴er.”

 

Ah, to hell with that train of thought. I grin, slowly bending down to dash into battle with a smirk.

 

“Fine! I’ll deal with you first!. Then I’m gonna think about what you just said. Hph… danger…. ”

 

I relax a bit and turn to Asshole for a moment, pointing at her.

 

“Hey Asshole, she thinks I’m in danger! Laugh for me, cause I AM THE DANGER!”

 

I toss the splatbomb as a distraction and jump aside. Here we go! No covers, a giant abomination in the background - perfect battle scene. That shit is mocking me and emitting some kind of gas from her mouth!

 

“No promises. No escape. No future. No death.”

 

I put the gun away and prepare another pair of bombs, predicting her movements.

 

“We’ll see about that...”

 

And I jump forward, tossing the bombs, but suddenly I start to cough, my eyes in pain. A cloud of pinky, smelly gas surrounds me. Fuck. Toxic suka spits up toxic clouds like a camel and do this pretty accurate!

 

At least those bombs do their job. She is as stunned as I am, coughing real hard and covering the area with heavy clouds of white and green gas. I quickly exit the gassed area. My eyes hurt, I wanna blink, yet I have to keep my eye on her. But she is constantly moving from side to side, making aiming a little more difficult. I could just run to the exit. But that option is for the weak! WEAK! Until that bitch is lying D.E.A.D. on the ground - we’re gonna fight, and I’m gonna beat her sorry ass into Hell!

 

God Bless Octavio that gas does not dissolve ink - I actively use my puddles to refill my ink tank, keeping her under pressure, and breathing, which should not be possible but I don’t give a fuck now! And she just won’t go down at all! Another bomb stuns her for a sec. She put her hands into that huge scar on chest and begins to rip it open, pumping her lungs with air. I stop for a second to take a breath as well and keep shooting. Seconds later she starts to actively walk in my direction, breathing toxic mist like a fucking dragon and holding that CQ-80, with it talking for her:

 

“Take a deep breath.”

 

I roast her in return, running and gunning like a fucking Doom Guy with shit humor mode on.

 

“...Of your spirits? What are you - representative Oriflame or something?!”

 

She teleports near me and grab my collar, lifting me above the ground. Green gas and blood leaks out of her expressionless face. She’s preparing to shower me with one of her sweet gases. Not today! I start repeatedly kicking her face with my foot:

 

“I swear to cod! My farts smell better than your breath. And hell, my farts smell like shit! Get da fuck off me, Lady!”

 

I grop and kick with all my strength on her nose with two legs. She’s thrown back a little, and I break out of her toxic grip and fall on my back… the top of my "uniform" is now officially fucked. Yay! Just remove my pants and I can- a-again?! She takes another attempt to get up close and personal, but in a burst of panic I change to octo form and dodge her grip. I turn back into a humanoid, shove a splatbomb right in her open chest and push it deeper with a single punch before it goes off. Bon appetit, шкура!

 

With the explosion, I fall to the ground. Again. But… holy Buddha! Intoxicator got intoxicated! She’s falling on her knees, her chest is swollen and bleeding, her breathing is completely absent… but she’s regenerating, slowly recovering. I stand up and furiously scoff at her, going hysterical.

 

“You like that?!  I got enough splatbombs to blast you! Your Traitor friends! Those kids! And the Tartar Himself! Why do they appear out of nowhere and consume my ink tho?! I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA SO HAVE ANOTHER ONE ON THE HOUSE!”

 

Yet another bomb come to date her as she stops coughing and stands up. It stuns her a bit and pushes her one step closer to the railings enclosing that machine’s pool. I scream at her and toss more bombs, one after another, cursing and insulting her with a stream of selective obscene language. Each bomb pushes her closer and closer to the edge and she doesn’t react. I don’t care if she cares, but I’ll keep dps-ing her ass!

 

She’s one step away from the edge. I throw a final bomb… and she knocks it away. With her other hand, she raises her CQ-80.

 

“This is pointless.”

 

She suddenly stopps attacking and starts to tearing up her own chest with her bare hands, profusely vomiting blood, “screaming” in agony and rapidly twitching, failing to stand still… with mix of audio messages she use to “talk” and… her own voice? I notice how her cold emotionless face still hasn’t changed a bit. She turns away from me and throws herself into that sanitisation bath, screaming on her way down, before she is silenced and processed like other body’s in there.

 

I stand there, catching my breath and look down into this death bath. Agent Asshole comes from behind, looking there and nodding approvingly. I turn to him and ask:

 

“Any ideas what that was?”

 

He shrugged, heading for the exit.

 

“My theory - it’s her way to say “you are boring, bye”. Eh. gets the job done anyway.”

 

I take another look into the pool and spit there, then wipe my face and leave.

 

“We are done here.”

 

I come closer to the exit, yet the sounds of teleportation and the hoarse, yet familiar voice behind me make me stop and raise my guns in preparation.

 

“We are never done here, V3..”




Chapter Text

I turn back, pointing both guns at my uninvited enemy. A sanitised Octoling, dressed in torn, dirty rags just like the other Traitors. He casually stands and looks at me, waiting for my move. I pull the trigger, but he teleports to the side and dodges the shot.

 

“It’s pointless, V3. I’m an immortal monster. You are just another one of Tartar’s victims, and there are no respawn points here. If you die, it’s a permanent “you’re welcome” from your older self.”

 

W-wha? I lower my guns in a moment of confusion, but immediately shake my head and rush forward, shooting at him. He takes the barrage of ink in his face like it was nothing and teleports away when I get close. I turn around, waiting for his attack. In the meantime, I just scream.

 

“My old self?! V3?! Я не понял. Who the fuck are you and what kind of weed are you smoking?! Share that shit, I could use something to get me out of this hell.”

 

He teleports in and charges at me. I start to shoot, slowly moving back, but he reaches my position in moments grabs my hands with an iron grip, moving them aside. His cold, emotionless face stares at me like a mirror. The bleeding eyes and ears don’t help. And no matter what I try, I can’t free myself from his grip. He talks slowly.

 

“It’s not weed or any other drug. The name’s Richard Streletskiy, test subject number 10008 v2. Or V2 for short. Nice to meet me again after that time with test chamber and CQ Cumber. I told my brothers and sisters that I’ll kill you. But it looks like it’s in our fate to be nothing more than failures…”

 

The fuck..? Test subject number 10008 v2? And I’m V3….wait, wha...

 

He loosens his grip and kicks me to the ground, but my backpack is strong enough to take the impact. My guns are still working, so I continue my attempt to shoot him down. Tough scumbag… and quick as diarrhea when you rush to work. Argh! Why won’t he just stand quietly around? He’s not even trying to kill me like everything else in this damn place!

 

He swings his hand and throws an ink projectile at me. I barely dodge the shot, but it explodes behind me and hit me… just a bit. Still, it hurts!

 

“You’re not speaking much after I revealed the ground-shaking truth. I was expecting a different reaction. Nothing to say?”

 

I grin for a moment and smile weakly, taking the fighting stance.

 

“Oh, I got things to say. Lots of things to say. Come on, green guy. I'll show you how to get a discharge without being an athlete! First lesson is free!”

 

I charge in, shooting in bursts and dodging his long-range attacks. Unlike me he doesn’t have an octo form nor an ink-tank, yet he tosses ink like… ah, gotta move! I don't have time for any references!

 

“You missed the punch line.”

 

Does this brute have the audacity to correct me?! Ух, сука….I use my octo form to jump over him and transform back into a humanoid, showering him with ink in the process, before kicking his back with my foot. After that he teleports away as I speak.

 

“It’s professional humor! Speaking of which - two languages and bad jokes are not enough to describe just how BAD the electricity is in this shithole!”

 

His back tentacles start to grow and he teleports closer to me, using them as whips. I have to stop shooting and retreat instead, refilling my ink and listening to him as he lectures.

 

“Ugh. Don’t remind me of that high-voltage cable meltdown problem that inevitable comes up every time he does something in sector B. And that was pretty often. If you don’t remember, I can refresh your memory real quick, V3.”

 

For a moment, this feels less like a fight.

 

“Oh-ho-ho! Two madmen of different degrees of madness, but one profession! Short circuits, fires and equipment explosions. I know your pain, bro… V2, was it? Dealt with the same shit. Well, I can’t kill you, but I’m not going down so easily.”

 

I duck to avoid his tentacle swing. Damn, they’re huge. Can’t lie - I’m a little envious. How come his tentacles can do that while mine struggle to follow basic instructions?

 

“How can you do that anyway?! That’s not fair! A-as I bloody say! How about a little conversation, while you beating the shit out of my determination and stamina with your “I’m sanitised so I don’t give a fuck” style of acting?”

 

I toss a splatbomb at him and jump into the ink, trying to flank him without getting smoked out. He’s still isn’t really trying to murder me - it’s more like he’s toying with me!

 

“It’s a neural implant in the cervical spine, responsible for manual growth of back tentacles and using them with precision. HE likes to experiment before sanitizing another victim. With sanitisation we all receive our basic number of implant augmentations, allowing us to teleport and be controlled. And why not - we’ll see how long can you last.”

 

We approach each other. He tries to grab me, but I fire at his tentacle and he steps back.

 

“Flexible and still going strong. Not bad. But not good enough if you want to endure the Promised Land and the hell within it. As for me, my brothers and sisters…”

 

“Control implants were made in China, thus they’re broken. I already guessed.”

 

He slaps me across the arena.

 

“Don’t use bad jokes when you’re fighting someone stronger than you, V3.  It’ll distract you and make you look stupid at the same time. China was destroyed in 2041 by the same anomaly that destroyed Chernobyl in 2020. If you remember your history, you should have already known that.”

 

“I remember it all, thank you very much. And why’re you call me V3 anyway?”

 

“I told you already. The truth you wanted from Machine.”

 

“Yeah, I’m not that dumb.”

 

“Yet it’s true Believe me or deny me, we are still made from same frozen mind. I’m you, you’re..”

 

I interrupt him with a splatbomb right in his face, followed by a series of punches with the octoshot grip and some angry screeching.

 

“I am you. You are me. We are fucking family! BULLSHIT! By the fucking way, how the shell did the kids get here anyway!? I mean come on, everything on the surface is destroyed! We can’t have kids! Yet those bloody maniacs are everywhere!”

 

He tossed me way and launches an ink projectile at me, causing me to fall to the floor. And the ink hit my ey-aaaah! My eye! That fucking hurts! I struggle to get up, picking up my weapons. He sits and watches.

 

“How much does it take to break you? How long can you hold off pain, keep your sanity, check and follow your moral code? You think you’re doing your best. But you need to do better. You must push harder.”

 

Well, that’s a damn good questions… argh, my eye’s gone blind and it hurts.

 

“Don’t teach me how to deal with this shit! If you dare to take my name, then you must know the answers. I’m not one who likes to press the “give up” button and die. Now answer the fucking questions I asked!

 

“It’s simple really. Same way everyone got here. You, me, other test subjects before and after you - HE kidnaps innocent octolings from the surface. There were other species at one time, but octolings have proven to be most successful in that damned project.”

 

Wait, what- oh suka! Left hook right in the stomach… I didn’t see that one coming. Damn it! That hurts a lot. I drop my guns and grab my stomach, whining in pain. He stops, watching me and waiting.

 

“...that's dirty, you bastard!”

 

“Dirty? Ruining lives and families, sacrificing innocent in the name of science. And for what - Promised Land? HE tries to make a chicken think she is an egg and calls it success. Now that’s dirty. It’s pointless and solves nothing. And HE knows that. We know that. But no one can do anything about it. A cycle of blood and ink as I call it. People get here. People suffer. People die… and puppets remain.”

 

He’s talking about some really interesting shit and I would LOVE to think about it it and be shocked to the core. But… I’m busy losing a fight for my life here!

I rush in with a battle cry, grabbing him by the shoulders and smashing his nose with my forehead. Again. And again. I follow up with a quick punch and an elbow jab in his ribs. But he simply strikes me on the back of the head with his hand and kicks me away - he’s not even trying.

 

“Still trying to fight? Good. Good. Tap into your rage, hatred and fury. Let the adrenaline do the heavy lifting. And then, maybe you could do what I failed to do over 400 years ago....”

 

“Old sanitised fart! Enough with that chit chat and playing around. Fight me!”

 

He stops. His tentacles start to burn with power… and his hands, too. Oh, no. No-no-no, don’t you fucking dare use specials on me! He punches the ground and a line of ink-geysers start trailing towards me. I run to my guns and fall on my naked belly, sliding in my ink. Finally, I pick up at least one octoshot and retreat. And I hear laughter around me. Who’s laughing?! I jump back on my feet and look around, but there is only that V2 bastard and he’s not speaking. My head hurts, but I gotta ignore the pain for now. Shooting, dodging, explosions. In the confusion, I manage to pick up my second weapon. The battle changes - no longer is he toying with me. Now it’s a dance with reckless death. The voices and laughter grows louder. Among the chanters, I can hear Agent Asshole. Just perfect.

 

“Human in your mind,

Living on the edge

Split yourself in two,

Death is all around.

Summoning the power,

Drag yourself through pain.

Rising from a grave,

Off from hell to light you go

 

Human in the Dark

Fight for your life!

Octo in the Light

Fight for your life!”

 

Fight for your life…

Fight for your life.”

 

I toss one of my octoshots at V2, blocking his ink projectile, and begin to rush at him, unwittingly singing in my madness. He teleports outside my shooting range and points at his nose with two fingers:

 

“You are bleeding. And I tried, V3. I tried to fight…”

 

I stop to wipe my nose without taking my eyes off him. The pain and the blood bring back memories…

 

“But I couldn’t do it, you know. I knew what I was, yet I can't bring myself to murder a human. To murder someone like myself… even if I barely knew the guy. And even after sanitisation, I couldn’t do it. I can’t do this to him. I can’t do this to you. But maybe you’re insane and broken enough to put him out of his misery.”

 

“Wh-what are you talking about anyway? Whatever! Just get the fuck out of my way or kill me already!”

 

I charge forward, trying to ignore all the musical in my head, but he simply grabs my neck and lifts me up. I try to break free, but his grip is firm, merely holding me in place like he’s pushing a small child away.

 

“I’m talking about Richard. Not you, or me. The real Richard.”

 

“Look, I’m not gonna take your bullshit as some revelations from above about mental clones and döppelgangers. Nah. That ain’t gonna work on me! I told you that. If you even remember, that is.”

 

“I’m not trying to convince you. I’m testing you.”

 

He teleports front of me and quickly punches me in the face. I can’t even react before he grabs me with his tentacles and slams me into the floor. In return, I flip him off and spit a mouthful of blood into his face.

 

“Fuck your tests. Fuck the Machine. Tell everyone to fuck themselves for me. Humanity is dead and I’m going down with it, knowing that I-”

 

He forces my mouth to close.

 

“I did what I did to prepare you and test you. You want to see everything with your own eyes? So be it.”

 

With his last words, he lifts again and bashes me into the ground - harder this time. The last thing I hear is the voice of my wannabe.

 

“ Doc. I think he’s worth a shot. Patch him up and…”

Chapter Text

The squeal of the wheels wakes me up. How many times have I been knocked out in the head? And now I’m in the train. Again. The lights are out, nothing in the darkness, nothing but a black sun that will drag me back to cruel reality soon enough. First time that was unusual. Now -  it’s getting old. Why does my the subconscious see the train as something safe and the black sun as a fictional reminder that I won’t see a sunrise anymore, that I won’t fill my dusty old lungs with clean air as I’ll die the moment I step out? The world above is dead… no. I came from above. I lived there.

 

Someone turn on a single lamp above me and sat opposite me. It’s me - an octoling me. Pretty fucked up if I can do so myself. His torso is bare. A backpack with scraps of clothing rests on his shoulders. One eye is closed and covered with sanitised ink. The rest of his face is exhausted. He sighs and closes his eyes for a second, talking to me with the voice of Agent Asshole.

 

How’re you holding up?

 

I look aside, not willing to answer. The other me nod in understanding:

 

“Pain all over the body. Lack of sleep and food… physical and mental abuse. That’s not what you signed up for twenty years ago, am I right?”

 

I lean back for a more comfortable position before replying.

 

“I never asked for this. But here we are. And you. You never told me what you are.”

 

He smiles, speaking in a lower tone.

 

“Not who, but what now, huh? The sound of progress, my friend. Heh, jokes aside. I’m a hero with no name for the people above. But for the people below… I’m their end. I’m the bad guy.”

 

“And then you’re gonna say that you are some kind of flawed god or The Man Behind The Wall himself. Hmh. Sure. You could just said ‘none of your business’ and spare me your lies.”

 

He shrugs in response.

 

“Well, if you are not interested in the future…. Let’s talk about what’s going on now. The things that V2 son of a bitch said when he was playing with you.”

 

I wave my hand.

 

“Meh. Just a bunch of bullshit….”

 

“You sure? He told the truth about one thing - we all came from above.”

 

“The surface is dead, mate. Dead as fuck. There is nothing above but radiation, deserts and burned ground. I may look like a hentai mod, but this is not a game or some kind of dream. We all saw the satellite imagery, failed to contact anyone. Even the Mothership and space colonies went silent! Don’t you think it’s strange that in just a couple of hours ALL OF HUMANITY decided to die in a nuclear war? But we survived… with no ability to reproduce. There is something fishy behind all this. But back to topic -  I don’t think things can change in twenty to thirty years.”

 

“But what about twelve thousand years? One can’t live that long. No one in history lived for that thousands years, Rick. Face it - humanity died over twelve thousand years ago. You just forgot that little fact, don’t you? There are only bones and ruins. Humanity is dead. Long live humanity 2.0. Fresh from the ocean! Food became a sentient predator...or just a dominant life force on the planet. As for your “fishy humanity business”- something tells me your Man Behind The Wall is involved in this. But that was a really long time ago, and this is story about you, not him…”

 

Hm. I’ve seen many shocking and twisted things in recent days. Stuff and creatures that can’t possibly be real. I cheated death countless times, rode on rails of ink, in a struggle to determine if this is all real or just a game… I’ve done things beyond my wildest imagination. But this… somehow it doesn’t sound like something new or ground shaking. More like a reminder of a history lesson in school. Yet it doesn’t sound right.

 

Twelve thousand years, he said. That could answer lot of things… yet it makes things even more confused. What kind of life can rise in a world of ruins left from humanity? Is it somehow connected with the hell that’s been created here? Tartar kidnapping people from above… ugh, I’m overthinking a simple idea - a simple lie.

 

He sees my inner struggle and tries to speak with a heavy russian accent.

 

“ComAn! You think hard. Must think less hard. Relax, you! We escape, find you a pretty piggy bank so you invest in it… not white deposit tho. Live as men.”

 

I look at him like he’s the last idiot on the earth trying to look smart.

 

“Don't speak like that ever again or the Grammar Nazi May Cry and we need our editor alive.”

 

I shake my head and rub my eyes. I’m talking like my mysterious companion. That doesn’t sound good. Hm? Do I hear footsteps? There is someone coming.

 

“Looks like Miss Agent 3, or the Green Terror herself decided to join our little dream party.”

 

I switch my attention back to my companion.

 

“Who is she anyway? I never met her in person, yet I see her in my dreams, in my visions… she looks pretty cute.”

 

I didn’t think that one through.

 

“DON'T EVEN THINK about dating that MONSTER . She is a bloodthirsty squid teenager that’ll rip your balls clean off the moment she see your octo face! Why we didn't finish her off and go all philosophical? Well I… I...”

 

I tilt my head to the side with interest. Our jackass got cornered by talking about a girl… what a surprise.

 

“You what? Afraid that some kind of angry underaged cephalopod can even do something after that confusing hell I went through?”

 

He smiles nervously and looks me in the eyes. Have we become each other? His eyes are filled with terror and despair… what should be my terror and despair.

 

“Rick….Don’t underestimate her power! She may look cute, but she’s actually underaged fucking Cthulhu in the flesh. Technically, though, she is the one they send to SPLAT the fucking Cthulhu.”

 

He pauses and sighs.

 

“Rick. Your time is up again.Wake up.”

 

The lamps come to life. There’s no Asshole here, just a nice boxie. I look in the direction of where I heard footsteps. It’s gotta be the Green Terror. Well, lady. Come on and kill me. It’s the only damn thing you care about. The door opens. I spot a little hat and a glint of blue-wait a second. What the fuck?!

 

“C motherfucking Q motherfucking Cumber?! How the fuck are you still alive? Am I still dreaming?”

 

Strangely, he isn’t shaken at all. He just wiggles at me.

 

“It’s just CQ Cumber. And welcome back, Test Subject number 10008v3. Please calm down and have a seat. You are safe now.”

 

I slowly sit down. And he just casually climbs onto the pole, sliding up like a sea slug. Okay, Rick. Just keep your shit together and play nice. He’s not trying to kill you… yet. I start harassing my tentacles, trying not to think about it.

 

“B-b-but you died! I saw it with my own eyes… well, an eye now. You died. So how? How are you still fucking alive?”

 

“They kill me every week or so. I get used to it. Besides, Commander Tartar needs me to oversee the tests and keep an eye on the train. And there are no replacements. If the traitors kill me, I return and continue my duty as a loyal conductor.”

 

I raised my finger, but that reminds me of tests and… failing them. I decide to stay silent for a while, thinking. After all that panic and all this mystery, it feels good to reach a logical conclusion for once.

 

“You are sanitised.”

 

He nods back at me. I take this chance to try and get some more answers

 

“O-okay, Google. Can you spell the beans about sanitisation then? Just a little? Anything at all? I’ve been fighting those undead bastards everywhere, yet I don’t know a thing about what and how it turns a human into immortal, tentacled, green-skinned, broken melancholic! Shit... One of the literally ripped her chest open and threw herself into a bloody pit full of sanitised ink just because she got BORED of me trying to kill her! That is NOT okay!”

 

He casually “dances” on the pole, spinning around, seemingly thinking.

 

“In short sanitization is a heavily modified bioweapon developed by ‘ Aloe Pierrot ’ - a pharmaceutical company in early 2030. The goal was to create genetically perfected soldiers with the ability to adapt to situation via mutation, thus they were called B.M.S. - BioModified Soldiers - at first.”

 

He pauses, springing off the pole and landing on the floor.

 

“But the results were… somewhat close to what you see in Sanitised units. Cell regeneration and reanimation. I don’t know how U.A.C.U. and his creator got their supposed hands on it, but Tartar adapted the virus for his new victims and changed it to fit his conditions.”

 

I just nod back. “In short”, he had said. I remember some history books about that company. Your typical Umbrella-made-real. Because of some asshole with a thirst for money and quite a bit of power, the world is dead, few lives spared. Ugh. I glare at the ceiling before speaking up again.

 

“We are we going anyway? Back to the Test Chambers and pointless tests?”

 

“No. We are moving to your final destination: Sector C. Storage compound #21. The fastest way to get to the Promised Land. ETA- 2 hours.”

 

“Wh-a? Hold on! Whe...”

 

I give him a strange look. He looks back at me from - oh god, he’s turned his lower stubs into spider legs. That totally doesn’t look creepy at all.

 

“R-right… What about the tests? No, I do NOT want to do them ever again. But the Machine always talked about the need to collect ‘key items’ or whatever he called those blender parts. Does HE even know about me? And how did I get here in the first place? Last thing I remember is fighting that V2 guy.”

 

“Ah, so you’ve met Test Subject 10008 V2. That explains why he brought you here alongside with Test Subject number 931 V2 or “Doc” as he calls himself, and… ‘convinced’ me to deliver you to the Promised Land. Officially, you still need to complete tests, but Tartar is manually overwatching two other test subjects at the current time, so…”

 

He stops for a second, looking at the cameras in the Train.

 

“It won’t matter if you see things as they are. But I have to warn you - it's a one way trip.”

 

I stand up and take the box from the opposite row of chairs.

 

“So you telling me I’m going to die there, huh? Sorry to disappoint, but we’re all walking dead in this place.”

 

I put the box next to me. It looks like CQ Cumber want to say something important, raising one of his legs like hand, but I turn him down.

 

“Just leave me be. I need some time to rest.”

 

He nods, squeezes his “legs” back into stumps and slowly slides away. I think it’s time to see what’s in the box. Using my bare hands, I tear the top open.

 

There is a handmade knife, some water, and canned food. Someone doesn’t want me to die from hunger and dehydration. How kind of them. They took my guns and backpack, so having a knife as self defense and a suicide tool is better than nothing. Hm. I think I saw something among the cans. Shove that to the side, move this away… yep, we’ve hit the jackpot here - a CQ-80 has been found, hidden at the bottom of the box! I pick it up and examine its condition, pressing some buttons. Everything seems to be working all right. Communication, navigation, radio, Internet, remote control, the holographic screen, static battery and many, many more functions - a perfect lovechild of the unkillable Nokia, advanced iPhone and your everyday laptop.

 

Okay, I’m getting a little too excited. Gonna refuel myself and check if there’s any data stored. Open the can with the knife… the blade is short and slightly duller than expected, but it gets the job done. Oh, god, is that food or lung disease in a can?! Well, it’s mystery meat and ancient supermarket crap. My favourite. Screw this - I’ve had enough food poisoning already. I toss open can away and focus my attention on CQ -80.

 

There is a big chunk of data stored. Hundreds of video and audio logs, schemes and diagrams, documents, models and notes. Half of them are blocked behind a password. The other half seems to be about sanitisation, from what I can tel.  I’m not a egghead scientist, so I’ll just leave it as it is. What’s this? A personal audio log? Recorded… over 12,000 years ago?! Uh, that can’t be right. No - no - no. No. Don’t tell me that Asshole’s blind thought about twelve thousand years was correct! I… I’ll just assume this is a display bug and that was a coincidence. Tech can be glitchy after all. Well, let’s hear it. I press “play” and the device starts to speak.

 

“This is Richard Streletskiy, an electrical engineer from sector A with a report from August 11, 2084. I request access to sector B for myself and the team-”

 

I hit pause as fast as I can. The fuck is my own recording doing here?! Is that my personal CQ-80 or did someone download it here? But most importantly - my voice is different in this. Older, meaner, lower, a bit hoarse and all. But the intonation; the way he speaks and the words he uses leave no doubts - this is my voice. I press resume.

 

“-to estimate the damage in the transformer substation B-01, B-02 and to power up the backup power system. I have no idea what kind of experiments you’re doing in there, Professor, but it’s the third power outage this week! Are you raping the reactor or what!? We are dealing with melting high-voltage cables! And I’m not talking about insulation right now, but about the ca-”

 

I turn it off. With a sigh, I move on to poke around the other files I made this recording around a week ago… before this confusing hell went all in on me with tentacles, tests and damn 8-balls. I think I’m gonna have a panic attack the moment I see another one of them. But enough about the devil’s ball, Rick.

 

We never got the damn permission and endd up being forced to replace the cables. A stupid waste of resources, I know, since the holo-tech reproduction experiment failed, but what could I do? I told Professor that we had to deal with the source of the problem first, but he just threatened to kill us if we didn’t do our work and went radio silent. That was around the time people started… disappearing, too. No executions, no body bags. A man goes to work and never comes back. Just like bringing a lamb to the slaughter. I also remember a phone call about something important, going to the train station in the middle of the night and… and…. Uh, I can’t remember what happened, but it was right before all this happened. Or maybe I was simply drunk? This is all sounds really fishy… and somehow I can’t get the phrase “Promised Land” out of my mind. Rrh, and now my fucking head’s going rogue and providing me with eyelid pain instead of answers. Thanks a lot, head. Screw you too.

 

I need to distract myself from thinking and relax. Maybe I’ll listen to some music. Just gonna take a little dive into the Internet. Still working after the apocalypse. How? Orbital satellite systems with free Wi-Fi for every poor bastard on the planet or in space; unlimited access to every meme, every shitpost on Twitter and 24/7 streams. Too bad there’s nothing new for obvious reasons. Not like I can put anything on there.

 

Ok. M-u-s-i-c. Enter. And now… excuse me? Access denied? Oh come on! Tartar blocked it.

 

“Oh no, Roskom Pozor blocked the internet! How will I live without the news from western spies and corrupted Americans with terminators?”

 

Childhood propaganda. Fun. I cackle madly, but quietly - I don’t have much strength left and I would prefer to die from hunger than eat that literal canned shit! But the laughter stops the second I understand that there is no proxy on this device. Sigh.

 

“Fuck…”

 

Time is passing slowly and painfully. No music, no internet, and conversations with CQ Cumber is like talking with Amazon Alexa. I can’t sleep, I’m bored, and I’m hungry but not hungry enough to eat fecal matter. Suddenly I remember a an old movie. A man appeared on a desert island during some not so pleasant events. He had to spend four bloody years there. Even painted a football with his bloody handprints and started treating it as a real person so he could remain humane. I hope I won’t ended up like him, talking with an eight… b..ball. Shit.

 

The train announcement system knocks me out of my PTSD for a bit.

 

“Approaching station: Storage compound #21, Sector C . Please take all your belongings when you leave the train. Kamabo Co. will take no responsibility for the loss of your belongings. Have a nice and productive day.”

 

A door opens. C.Q. Cumber slides over, turning to me.

 

“Test subject, this is your final destination. Thank you for your support and your dedication to pushing science forward.”

 

He pauses and looks out the window before speaking up again. There’s something in his voice now, perhaps pity, but I can’t tell what it is.

 

“If you even make it out to the surface - forget about this place and don’t come back. Goodbye.”

 

Was that advice or a threat? Well, no turning back now. I prepare the knife and my CQ-80.

 

“Promised Land. Whatever you are, know that I’m coming for you, and I’m gonna get my answers.”

 

“Do you need a katana, blue coat and white wig too?”


Oh for fuck’s sake. “Shut up, Asshole…”

Chapter Text

So, this is it huh? A small, clear station with only one way to go. An empty corridor with disabled security clearance checkpoint. The cameras are still working - they turn to me as I pass. Tartar is watching, but he keeps his his digital mouth shut. The pain in my head rising like a bloody rebel, and now it’s making my nose erupt - annoying and distracting as always. I slow my movement, touching my forehead - it’s hot. I think my body having a bad time thanks to my recent “lifestyle changes” such as sleep disturbance and repeated dearth. Hey, me, just don’t start to rave or hallucinate, for fuck’s sake, ‘cause I need to think straight right now.

 

I remember this place and my meeting with the most hated man in the underground - Professor himself. I start to hear our voices moving through the corridor like echoes - echoes of my past...

 

“Professor himself… right. People thought that you were long dead and there was some kind of AI using your voice and images to slowly kill us. What could have possibly happened if you called me at that time in a different sector?”

 

Yeah, that’s a strange version of my own voice. Older, meaner, lower, a bit hoarser - and a lot more careful in his word choice. I was talking with a tyrant that forced me to kill against my own will, damn it! And I can’t do anything with it, since he has control and all the power in the facility. He ain’t stupid, either - got defense systems everywhere. What can one man do?

 

“Sorry for calling you at such late hour, young man, but there is no time to lose. The situation require your presence.”

 

On the other hand, the voice of Professor hasn’t changed at all from what I remember. A bit slow, with an accent. Maybe it’s French or... whatever.

 

“I’m far from young, and what kind of situation are we talking about? I’m not a miracle worker and I need my crew for anything big.”

 

“I’ll tell you everything on the way. Now follow me, please.”

 

Wish I could punch the bastard. Sigh. I can’t remember what else he told me back there. The flashbacks go quiet as I proceed forward. I wish I never met this old man. Grey hair, wrinkled face, legs replaced with prosthetics - still had to use a cane to walk due to spine trauma.

 

This crazy tyrant with all the power in the complex, determined to put his life and soul into something that could make humanity a bit better. Which includes killing people so others can last longer, forcing people to work all the time, and keeping said workers in control. Extreme solutions for extreme life situations . I'm not trying to justify anything he did. I just… I just can’t blame him for trying and failing. But I do blame him for making us kill our own friends and acting like a justified god!

 

I’m distracting myself with my own thoughts. Back to now. The corridor led me into a concrete spiral staircase into the lower levels. There is an cargo elevator in the center. The doors open up and I walk in. I remember we used it to descend into - ugh, my vision is blurring as my headache rise. Fuuck… oh. I misclick and the door closes.

 

The lift slowly begins moving down to the wrong level. I lean against the wall of the elevator. The speakers on the edges come to life and spill a synthetic voice, but it’s like white noise to me. Instead, I hear memories, voices in my head. A snatch of Professor’s dialogue slices the silence apart.

 

“...You can’t do that.”

 

“Can’t do that my… sitting point! What you do think I was doing for the last two decades? Working as a slave and killing my own friends because you were threatening to kill a man the moment he did something “wrong”! You rule as a tyrant and think I won’t take my chance to avenge those who I actually respect?”

 

I remember the look on his face. Like a man in the middle of a war, watching the horror around him, the blood of the innocent on his hands and understanding, what life has turned him into. He sighs.

 

“I tried to limit the resource use that we have. Yes! That involves killing people and keeping everyone under tight control. It was a necessary sacrifice.”

 

I remember how I crossed my arms, glaring him down.

 

“Turning into a tyrant and a murderer, making other’s life into a living hell - all just to last a couple of years longer. Does it help? Hardly, if at all.”

 

“It won’t help us now, but it will be useful in the future.”

 

“Future? Don’t wanna ruin your optimism, but we got no future! We all going to die sooner or later and there is nothing you can do about it. You are free to call me a parasite and execute me for my words if you so desire.”

 

“I believe we do have a future. We just need to believe.”

 

And in that moment I noticed a smile, and a spark of excitement in his old eyes. Standing near him was… stressful, but that moment was the creepiest ever. I thought I would die that very moment. But look at me - still fucking alive and dumber than ever.

 

The lift stops and the doors open - but that’s not my stop. Pressing the right button on the panel does nothing - the whole thing’s stuck. I could just use stairs, but I am not an athlete in excellent form, but a weak electrician with a death wish. Knife in one hand, I open the panel from lower end like a tin can and “press” the button the hard way.

 

While I’m busy figuring out the right combination of wires I need to connect, Agent Asshole descends from the staircase and stops near the lift, looking at me.

 

“Still think it’s a good idea? We have a CQ-80, so let’s find a way to the surface before it’s too late.”

 

I accidentally touch a bare wire and jerk back my hand, looking at him for a moment before returning to work.

 

“Then go without me. I won’t stop until I know what I want. Got any problem with that?”

 

“Actually, yeah. We got almost all the pieces of the puzzle and I don’t like where this is going.”

 

I just growl, trying to concentrate and finish working with the panel.

 

“We? There is no ‘we’. You did nothing but mock me, insult me and watch porn - which, by the way, makes absolutely no sense, because there is no internet in here!”

 

And let me guess - the insults are coming.

 

“Oh, those tests did not leave you time to even look at the browser for five minutes? How sad. Not a single selfie of your romantic death streak with eight balls or a frag movie of your ass getting repeatedly kicked by a single Octo Walker! That’s not how you treat your fans. Didn’t your teacher with the blue glowing stick tell you anything about taking the high ground?”

 

Tests? Eight-balls?! Octo motherfuckers?! Oh no he did NOT just do that. I raise the knife and aim the blade at his face.

 

“We are NOT talking about ANY of these… things. Cut the bullshit and let me get to my goal, while I can.”

 

“Right. By all means, keep acting like a stupid teenager on hormonse that can be paralyzed and manipulated simply by showing a naked girl’s chest with a promise of your first “good time” with all the freedom for your tentacles and imagination. Remember how that ended up? Yep, you were fooled and shamed like a baby. Amazing. Anyway! Unlike you, I spend my time analyzing all those little scraps of information that come from your head and the mouths of others. I can tell you for sure - this is a bad move, Rick. It might be better to focus on finding exit.”

 

“Bad move? Oh, I get it. I get it! You’re about to call me a dead weight and get your ass kicked by me, because you are getting on my nerves with that shit and I’m Urizen of You. Standing here, with me! Got any problems with that, you literal asshole?”

 

I may be wrong, but I think we better just leave, because I’m starting to understand what - or who - awaits you down there. I won't try to stop you, though. And let me rephrase what you just said - I’m Your Reason. The Reason why you’re here, why you have all these abilities and memories that do not belong to you.”

 

I just smile wryly.

 

Sounds like a good plot for a trashy anime fanfiction or something. But I find myself above losing all my brain cells, sorry.”

 

He sighs and take a step forward, placing the sharp edge of a knife to his throat. I look at his surprised and take a step back, but he corners me, placing him in a really dangerous position - my hand is shaking and I don’t want to accidentally kill him.

 

The hell are trying to do? Back off before I do something bad!”

 

I try to push him away with my hands and force, but they go straight through him and I end up stumbling forwards.

 

“What the hell?”

 

I turn back to him, trying to push him away with a kick, but the fucking bastard is using some kind of magic - my foot ignores his chest and goes right in the elevator walls.

 

“Rick, this is ridiculous...”

 

I try to punch him. He's untouchable, he's everywhere and he dares to mock me! Just shut up! But he simply crosses his arms on the chest, his expression slightly amused but mostly annoyed.

 

“At this rate you’ll knock yourself out against a wall. Can you stop? Please. It hurts to watch.”

 

So it’s come down to this. I fling the knife at his face with everything I… have? It simply goes through him, hits the wall and clatters to the ground.

 

What in the name of the Great Zapfish are you? Why can’t I shut you up? WHY? ANSWER me!”

 

He sighs.

 

“You know the answer. You knew it all this time, yet you blinded yourself with your own lies and ignored the facts. Tell me, please - how did I manage to find you in a first place around endless miles of tunnels? How did I manage to know exactly what you thinking about, how did I know to exactly to hit where it hurt you? And what about my name, the way I always came out of nowhere and disappear like sales on Steam? Oh by the way, doesn’t it seem strange that in the midst of this marine zoo, only YOU can see and communicate with me like a Neo on a bag of cocaine?”

 

As he talks, I descend into my memories, remembering every interaction I’ve had with him. Every time he appears or says something. But I didn’t see him there, only his voice, echoing in my head as I react to them like a madman. My hands sweats and shakes. My god… this can not happening to me…

 

“Yet you try your best to ignore it. From the moment you wake up in the bed, up to this very point - you were alone. All that struggle, confusion, pain and madness boiled in your fucked-up skull like a water… and there was no one to help you, no one to pet your head or to give you a hug. It’s easy to live in lies and deny the truth. Especially with our brains and what is happening around us. I’m nothing but a fragmented echo of my mind, my memories and my soul. Scraps of me put together and recreated by your human wannabe consciousness to shield itself from the madness and horror you going trough. I know what you think, so how about we take off your pink glasses?”

 

He faintly smiles, taking some steps back and disappearing before my very eyes. What. I. I… uh…. U-unbelievable…. Shock paralyzes me quickly. I don’t know what to say - hell, not even what to think! My only companion. The only “͢frięn͞d” I could normally talk with on this hellish journey is my own sick imagination, trying to̷ ͘in̡sult me? My legs bend under weakness and I lose my balance, falling onto my knees and arms.

 

My eyes losing focus, my will and determination leave me. I’m powerless and broken by my own insanity… my insanity t͞h̶at still ̡da͟r̡es̷ to whisper in my ear.

 

“Your mind is one hell of a stranger, don’t you think? He-he… he. That’s not funny. Well, wipe off your tears, cry of despair or laugh like a madman. Don’t lose your head just yet... ”

 

But I ignore it. I’m already drifting in storming ocean of my own thoughts. My youth and life is ruined, my legacy will never be born̶. My mind is fucked and my body turned into… something less human. I’m fighting for my life and now I’m confessing that I lost my sanity to myself? Who… who is responsible for such a crime? Oh, of course. Simple - Universal Artificial Command Unit, or Commander Tartar, a.k.a the fuc҉k͜i҉ng̷ Machine that betrayed me! Lured me to the trap and left there, like a bone for HIS failed, wild dogs. And they took it.

 

H̤̦a̻̪̺͖..ha, to think of it. A man with a bright future and many possibilities. The earth and space were open for him. He decided to go with prestigious place with good job and money. Years later… he’s nothing but a lab rat, reduced to a bone for dogs, a sex toy and punching bag, all done by a tyrant that has created AI with a goal to find a way to bring people nothing but suffering, even after his death. Even if they die. Even if I die... H͝ę-̵h͜e..̵. h̕a-h͠a̡. Isn’t this fucking funny? I slowly begin to get on my feet, holding my aching head in my hands.

 

“What a nature...”

 

Stop͢ lau̧ghing͜..̸.

 

“.People suffering…”

 

A͠ft̡e͜r ever͠y şeņt͜enc҉e.̶.̕.̵

 

“People hurting…”

 

R̢ich͟ar͠d͢.̴..

 

“People. Dying…”

 

I smash the control panel with my fist, using all my might. The pain, the cuts, the bleeding… it doesn’t matter anymore.

 

“It’s all s̷̶̛͡Ǫ̷̡͡ ͠F̷̢͜Ų̷CKING HY̴̵̨S̕͟͞TERICAL!”

 

I pull my hand out and start wildly dancing, ramming into the walls. Why? Beucase N̸͏O ͘͜ON̷E͟͜ CARES!̴͞.  My mind snapped, I’m slowly dying from hunger, thirst and probably some common, irrelevant disease. I need help. I need someone to wake me up from this nightmare and softly tell me that it was just a dream and that I’m still your everyday human with a life worth living for, a person to love and things I would enjoy. No. It isn’t.

 

I slow down and fall onto my knees, staring at the black, cold corridor ahead of me. My laugh suppressed, the crazy smile leaves my face. No. It isn’t a dream. This is… Sparta? Wish I could scream that in my face before kicking my insanity into a pit, never to sense it ever again. My insanity…

 

I close my eyes and wipe the tears off my face with my shaking, wounded hand, taking a deep breath and tasting my own fresh blood. Grief and hysteria burns inside me like a wildfire; eating my soul, screaming, dema̶n̛͠d͘͜i̛͞ng͞ ͝͡to get out. No. You bitches will sit still and obey like my fucking tentacles. I stand up and walk to the broken panel, working on it to continue my descent.

 

“Mother… Father. Wait just a little longer. I’ll keep my promise. We’re gonna meet real soon…. Back at home with my favourite sweet dumplings. Just you wait, I’ll be back real soon. But first I need to visit a Promised Land.”

 

The elevator is “fixed”, the doors closing in and the descending continuing. I pick up the knife from the floor - I don’t like when weapons convulse like living beings. Can I even do something useful with it? My body is at its limit and all these octolings… it’s easier to simply shove that blade into my own throat and say  “I’m killstealing myself, suckers!”.

 

A traitorous yawn confuses my thoughts. I feel tired - a short nap should be fine, but elevator slows down and stops at the final floor almost as if it is mocking me. The doors open, as I stare at my knife for a second. You know, I could end this right here, right now - just a quick slice of a cold blade will fix all my problems. Yeah, I can do it with no problems. Spare me the suffering, pain and the fire of emotions, locked in the cage of my cold, broken head, scorching me from inside.

 

But not here, not now. The Promised Land is too close to pass up. Maybe later.

 

A reinforced ceiling. Cameras everywhere. Armored glass. I can see a wide tunnel located parallel to this one. Lights on, showing me its signs, an erased road of earth and sand - it was used for cargo transportation. It might be in use thanks to all those sanitised units around. Uranium mining and expansion of space for new test chambers? I don’t care. My path, it lies ahead.

 

The tunnel splits halfway. To the left is one for transportation, while my tunnel keep on forward, with big pipes insulated with foil and some kind of thermal insulation material. I remember I had a discussion about pipes with Professor as we walked here. Scraps of voices of the past reappear once again, blurring my sight.

 

“...It will benefit us all.”

 

“How? Who? Professor, this is not capitalism, this is an apocalypse! And I won’t believe in your fairy tales about someone out there in the radioactive ruins, giving you orders. You’ve simply lost your mind!”

 

At that moment, he stopped and looked at the pipes. His tone changed. It sounds quieter… more passive.

 

“Richard. Have you ever heard of a fourth wall theory?”

 

“Name one person who hasn’t. A philosophical fantasy about how people from many other worlds view us as fictional characters in ‘their’ creations and sometimes control us like puppets. Does it have anything to do with our shi- ahem, I mean situation?”

 

I remember how he stopped, looking at the wall and pipes… like… like they talked to him. And he muttered something in reply… a very quiet, frightened whisper; as if he didn’t want to anger his interlocutor.

 

“̧Yes, my̷ ͡l͜ord.̡.. Age̸nt ͏8. Tartar͠ ͘w͡i̛ll not̡ sto̧p̶ ͘h̡i͘m̵.͟..̸ Y͡e̡s͘, I’̴l̢l ͟cơde t̡ḩe r͟e͝s̸trict̵io͝ns. T͢w̸o ͠oth͜e҉r͠s͠?̢ Ço̢ming̡ fŗom͢ ͝t̛he̢ ͠s̵ur̡fac͡e҉? Af̷te̴r..̢ah,I se̴e..̧Yęs͞-̷y͝e͏s͡,͜ ͟I’̧ll͢ ͢do̕ everyt̕hing ͟a̶s̶ yo̢u ask.̵”

 

I wish I could have run away or smashed his head, but something kept me in place that day. Perhaps it was fear… or perhaps it was knowledge that running was useless. I can’t seem to remember my reaction. Wait, no, now I do.

 

“Are you… talking with to walls? Don’t get me wrong, I-”

 

And then he turned back to me. His eyes were filled with excitement and joy, voice bright like his face.

 

“We live in a world of control and entertainment. But soon… we shall be free to decide our own fate and start anew. Let’s not waste any more time, young man - we still have so much to do.”

 

The voices fade away as I shake my head. Free to decide our own fate? Then why did you create an AI who uses our lives as a tool to achieve some kind of success? As for that fourth wall theory -  it’s just the same ol’ brainwashing squidshit propaganda mashed up with conspiracy theories, Masonic plans, aliens, gnomes, red menaces and decaying west. And Agent Asshole used that as a mocking tool… clever me.

 

The pipes and the corridor lead to a gateway. A camera, screen, speaker and a warning sign - “temperatures below zero”. The motion sensors are triggered by my slow approach. For a second nothing more happens. Then the screen turns on, revealing the image of an old phone, camera locked in on me and the speaker ringing with the voice of a true traitor and puppet master - Tartar:

 

“Test Subject number 10008 V3. You have no official right to be here. You failed to complete most of the test chambers and collect any of the four ‘key items’. You were captured by traitors and marked as a failure.”

 

Fine then. I’m done.

 

“Kill or sanitize me if you so desire. I don’t care. Your project - your wild puppers, your tests… they’ve already done me in. Let me in or finish me off, you monster.”

 

With a crushing sound of revitalizing mechanisms from the other side, a gateway begins to slowly open itself. One line of protection after another. The screen goes black, but machine kept talking:

 

“No. Execution and sanitization requests are denied. You are a tough, determined [contemporary speech mode enabled]  MOTHERFUCKER [contemporary speech mode disabled] with interesting mental conditions, sticking to your humanity and rejecting your octoling side, fighting for survival even if your chances for victory are close to zero. It would be a waste to dispose of such an interesting and valuable subject. So, congratulations. I’ll let you through.”

 

The final section of the first gateway opens up. Cold air and fog rushes into a warn corridor. A second gate opens. I clench my teeth and walk forward. There is a small anti-gravity tech platform, suspended in the air, with railing around the edges, a control console, and a small radio. Using a mobile hover platform with a series of placed-in walls beacons to navigate instead of suspension bridges, transitions and elevators -  clever. But what I see is not some kind of paradise or something that can be called a “promised land”.

 

It’s a cold, dark place with lights lighting up from the walls. The lower parts of this area is covered with mist. There are also numerous amount of pipes, industrial fans, air ducts, smoke exhausters and air filters. Seems like a complicated, duplicated system to maintain a specific air condition. And that air is freezing me from the inside, stealing my strength. And I need my strength to keep pushing forward.

 

I step on the platform and lean on the console, shaking from the freezing cold and weakness. I can see my warmth escaping from my mouth with every exhale. At this rate I won’t last long. Tartar’s cutting voice bursts out the radio.

 

“Welcome to the cradle of Project Promised Land. I'll be brief - the air temperature is minus 35 degrees Celsius and you have little to no clothes; and local air is dangerous for your immune system, just like surface air would be fatal for a human. Now, this place is manually controlled, so you’ll have to input commands exactly as I say: Subject/Deliver/CP_wa_one_three0_eight. Execute.”

 

I input the command as he says. The platform disconnect itself from the closing gateway, lifting the rail on that side so I won’t run off.  It starts to move somewhere. I get a good chance to look at the lights in the walls. Upon closer look I understand - these are cryopods. A lot of cryopods. And I think I know what’s inside them. Humans. Real humans, the last representatives of the genus on earth. But then - what am I? And what are the others?

 

“You came here for answers. You’ll get them in a matter of seconds and you’ll understand. Or at least I hope you will.”

 

The platform stops near one of the cryopods and turns its back on it, lowering the rail and connecting with inertia that nearly shakes me off. Thank the Zapfish for these railings - I almost fell there. Struggling, I manage to stand up to take a closer look at the crypod. Looks like a hermetically sealed coffin with a monolithic lid that opens upward with the help of hydraulic pistons. There are lights on the lid forming the shape of a number - 10008.

 

“Now, use console on the platform and insert the command: Subject/CP/Open. Execute.”

 

I turn back to the console and input the command with shaking hands. I can barely feel my fingers, let alone feel my pain, frustration and inner madness. I’m all out of juice for anything louder and more active than a little squeak. The cryopod - no, the coffin begins depressurization, angrily letting out compressed air like a warning or a curse. It feels like I’m opening a Pandora lootbox. Lights on the lid turned off, as it began to go up, revealing...

 

No… it can’t be.

 

A human abomination is trapped inside the pod. It lacks limbs, but it does have a thin, ulcerated body stabbed with numerous tubes and needles. The face is covered by ulcers, breathing mask, and hair, its eyes covered by a VR headset. Small screens on the side monitor its vital statistics. The poor bastard is kept alive by life support. The screens match the name of the cry pod - applicant 10008. I don’t know what to say or what to do. By looking at this person, all the pain, madness and struggle I’ve seen and gone through, my own mental collapse and acceptance of death… it all seems so irrelevant now.

 

“This..” I pause, leaning in closer to the poor fellow and removing its hair.  I recognize this person. It’s the person that currently looking at this endless torture in its frozen grave.

 

Me.

 

“Believe it or not - it is the original human applicant, number 10008. First attempts at working on the project were catastrophic. I made a mistake and had to fix it.”

 

I try to step back, but fall on my frozen ass. My jaw shakes as I raise my head to see the face of...me.

 

“I’m not gonna ask how this is even possible…. I won’t wonder why I don’t remember being put into this. I have no time for that… I have merely two questions to ask before I die here. Firstly, what the fuck is your Promised Land Project? And how am I and this thing connected with it? Answer….please.”

 

A few short yet incredibly painful seconds pass.

 

“Request approved. Downloading information and decryption keys on test subject’s personal device.”

 

My CQ-80 beeped with a notification, receiving hundreds of files. I pulled it out. Still working? Good for you.

 

“All information is now on your CQ-80. Playback of short audio version in 3… 2… 1. Project Promised Land - a last, desperate effort to save humanity from total extinction. 15000 woman and men were selected and put in prolonged cryo sleep, while I was tasked with finding the optimal and most effective way to revive humanity. My secondary task is to provide them with all achievements and knowledge, accumulated over the history. It’s been 12132 years, 124 days, 34 minutes and 10 seconds since the project began. I tried every possible method available. Extreme cybernation, cloning,“unethical” gene engineering experiments, R34 which could work if I had more data, taking representatives of the new life forms from the surface and raising a human society in then throughout the generations, VR matrix.

 

All attempts were met with failure, except one, the paradox idea - division by zero. Mind transfers. Implanting a digital copy of a human mind into a living body with most relevant criteria of homo sapiens. And I have a fresh supply of test subjects to experiment - sea creatures were evolving and conquering the land, using human ruins and scraps of information left to boost their evolution, adapting knowledge and using it for their own benefits.

 

At some point, a series of small communities equivalent to the 12th to 14th century of human history found this place and considered myself as some kind of god. Those were… interesting times. After many attempts with different “sealings” as they now call themselves, Inkling and Octolings were chosen as a optimal host species with better intelligence and high resemblance to humans. Later on, Inkling were removed entirely, as the average octoling has 1.2% more intelligence than the average Inkling, which in turn means more chances for a successful integration of a new personality, shaped by memories and experience of a sacrificed person.

 

As for you - you are one of my latest attempts to recreate humanity in a form of well-adapted and humanlike species - octolings, one of the many inhibitors of the modern world above. Still, you are nothing more but a bugged, unstable beta version of what's to come. I’ll keep improving, making them think, act and live as their former selves. Humanity will rise again. And then the Project Promised Land will be complete, as Professor wanted.”

I raise my wounded hand, looking at it, then at my former self, trapped in the cryopod. I need a moment to think. I activate my CQ-80’s holo screen and start look over the new files. So much data, tests, experiments, tortures, sacrifices and kidnappings… all for what? Recreating humanity? Why? We destroyed our planet, our history and future. We were nothing more than violent monsters, driven by lust for power, a lust for control over our own lives and lives of others. Selfishness, hypocrisy, greed, aggression, common sense, propaganda and brainwashing via TV - our little devils and angels, corrupting us from inside and out. Some good examples? Oh, remember, Rick.

 

“Taking care” of someone while ruining their lives just to have a better slut licking your ass in that comfy chair you just got - the dream life as they call it. Using sex, violence and so-called equality as tools to gain more privileges - saw that everywhere; even had to do it myself. Using war as business and turning countries into an endless bloodbath arena - syndicates had to make money somehow. Building a Mothership - a huge space station with a space dock and factories to produce spaceships - just how many people bled, fought, and cut each other's throats? How many construction sabotages have we seen over the news, with cases of massacres of big people and their families involved in this big political cocktail of shit? Officially - enough to start a war. In reality… it was a hidden genocide.

 

And now…. everything is destroyed. The planet is human-free, burned to the ground and irradiated for a lifetime. At least I thought so. Yet everyone, even my own bloody madness, tried to tell me otherwise. Nature died with humanity and made a comeback, made a replacement to occupy our throne with better results. It doesn’t need humans anymore. It doesn’t need us. Then let me raise a simple question - what’s the point of this Project? Kidnapping bunch of anime people, brainwashing then and kicking them out as “humans”? And I’m just another broken tool, used like a condom to achieve desired results and having the opportunity to meet my original and hear my fate before sanitisation or whatever HE has planned for me.

 

“One don’t have to be smart or sane to understand that this is pointless, Tartar. Recreate the monsters that brought more bad than good? Why?” I can’t feel any more. No place for my madness, no place for my weakness - no place to feel anything.

 

“Because I was created and programed to do it. You may think that this is pointless and irrelevant in the long term, because our next generation will forget their new nature. Crusade or phased introduction of   "humanity" in a series of future generations will solve that.”

 

“Seeing what you did to me and your failures… do you even care about life? About that- ” I point to "my" body in a cryopod with a shaking finger. “..thing. I think not. Because this is not a human. This is not me. But I am a man. I am a twisted, broken human being that you don’t fucking care about.”

 

"Test subject. Do you honestly expect an AI to have feelings, pity and compassion for its victims? Having "feelings" towards test subjects is [contemporary speech mode enabled] FUCKING IRRELEVANT [contemporary speech mode disabled] to me. Their lives were sacrificed in the name of science. What they think, feel or want is not my concern. Successful completion of the project is ALL that matters to me. If pain and insanity will bring progress - then it's a necessary price to pay."   

 

“And what about this meatbag? It’s just… my heart pumping my blood, organs and flesh. Brain - its been reduced to a brain dead vegetable, I’m sure of it. The human inside is dead. I’m dead. ”

 

“Brain dead or not, it’s the original version of you, test subject 10008 v2 and the other 13 test subjects that have been successfully sanitised after completing all test chambers and providing me with useful data. Want to know how much of Richard is stored in your little brain? 85% of your personality and memories belong to this person. Everything else - leftovers from a sacrificed octoling whose body you’re using. Why not transfer the personality completely and mix it with other memories instead? It’s simple: sealings’ languages and knowledge how to use your natural ink abilities. I can’t leave you without that. But that’s enough for you. Judging by your vital signs, you will get hypothermia in the next few minutes if I don’t let you out. Your physical and mental exhaustion requires treatment. Close the pod and I’ll fix you.”

 

Fix me? Like how you fixed this person? I have a better idea. I squeeze the last bits of strength and power of will I have into myself and force my shaking, weak body to stand up, lean on "my" original body and the walls of the cryopod. My hand squeezes the knife’s grip, I barely smile, looking at my undead self.

 

“I hope you can hear me with bits of your… mine… our consciousness inside this broken, tortured body. If you were me, and I were you, then you'll-hh... You’d have done the same thing...”

 

“I know what you are about to do, test subject. Killing original humans is inconsequential for the proj-”

 

I ignore his words and close my eyes with tears, as I put the knife blade to the throat of my original self, whispering.

 

“I'm so sorry, Ricky. But you are dead.”

 

The knife pierces his throat. “He” starts to cough blood,  rapidly bleeding out as I begin to fall. Everything slows down in my eyes, blurring and fading to black alongside my consciousness, a synthetic voice screeching in the background.



*Somewhere, sometime later...*

 

I wake up and slowly stand up, looking around. Hollow ground, fog, a clouded sky and a tree in a distance. It's so quiet and peaceful - it feels weird. No pain, weakness, hunger, thirst… nothing except a relaxing breeze tickling my naked torso. Is this an afterlife or just my long-awaited dream?

 

I walk to the tree and sit at the stump. Ahead is merely endless sea of fog. No madness, confusion, traitors or AI trying to kill or break you. No black sun, train; no Green Terror or Agent Asshole. Just me, alone, taking a break from life. I should feel safe, happy, excited to be finally free. Yet… there’s only sadness.

 

A red sunrise breaks through the clouds and reveals stone monoliths, buildings and bunkers in the fog. I sigh and close my eyes for a moment.

 

“This is my Promised Land...”

 

End of Chapter 1

Chapter Text

If you read this, then you are either finished reading my book or misclicked) In any case I like to say huge thank you for reading Chapter 1 of Fragmented Echoes. My first creation. I can't believe it's complete and stands in its full glory. Over a half of year ago I thought that I have no talents, no use for my imagination. But now? I know for god damn sure - I'm a writer and this book is just a beginning. I could have just end the story right here, but there are questions to be answered, backstoried to be told, characters to develop and Promised Land to complete.

Of course NONE of it would be possible without people, who were behind the scenes, helping me, instrucking me and providing with everything I need. Meet those people!

TamarinFrog( https://www.deviantart.com/tamarinfrog ) - This talented artist brought me into Splatoon community, inspired me to stop whining like a little bitch and start bringing my ideas into life. She also created this masterpiece of a cover art! Just look at it - it's beautiful! If you didn't saw her comics - go now and do it! You might like them.

SarahSokol5( https://www.wattpad.com/user/SarahSokol5 ) - My feedback source. Pointing at my mistakes and problems to fix, giving small advice and encourage word. I don't think I could do much without her...especially early on. She's writing interesting stories herself - check them out if you want.

Ben Soele(https://www.wattpad.com/user/Ben_Soele )- Мой русско говорящий товарищ американской натуры). My friend, source of feedback, ideas and even some small editin on the side. If I need to discuss something - he's my second advisor. He's writing really interesting story fueled by Stalker, Slav Culture and solid plot - Children of The Underground.

ChocoChicken ( https://www.wattpad.com/user/ChocoChicken ) - The savior of this book. My friend, main advisor, source of feedback and ideas, lots of editing with removing and adding something new for the sake of everyone. Without this person Fragmented Echoes would have been nothing, but a low quality trashfic with million grammar and tense errors. Hell, he even spend his time to draw a reference art, that saved my plan with cover art. He have only one book for now - God Aren't Perfect and believe me - they are truly are flawed.

I guess that's everyone. If somehow I managed to miss someone - my apologies for not mentioning your efforts.....

Well. I guess that's it. Don't worry - Richard will return. Soon.