Hidden from the sun and the sky and the eyes of the world, the containment facility for a highly classified and dangerous life-form lay in utter ruin.
The containment itself hasn’t been breached. But everything inside it is demolished, as if the most violent storm passed through. Cast asunder by the devastation are the shattered fragments of a short and unfortunate life.
The environment is fully self-contained, made of densely layered, heavily reinforced materials. Given the scale — suitable for a person’s living space — it feels rather excessive. The place has an overall sterile feel, though it looks like effort has been made over a prolonged period to give it touches of “home”.
The sheer variety of objects and artifacts scattered all over are a testament to the specimen’s complexity. Plush animals, other toys, books, musical instruments… most in varying states of destruction. Crushed electronic devices. Boxes of syringes tipped over. A wall-sized mirror, mostly shattered. A child’s drawings, representing various stages of development, many held together with clumsily applied tape, most with puzzling visual contents. Strange and unrecognizable characters burned into the walls, mixed haphazardly with English, German, Japanese.
One section of wall is untouched by the maelstrom of devastation, and there hang two mysterious photographs. The glass of the frames is starting to crack, but not as a result of forces directly applied. The objects appear cherished.
In one photo, an albinoid child no older than five sits in the lap of an older woman, holding a calico kitten; the scene is idyllic, and all pictured seem to be at peace. In the other, a young adolescent girl and a tall middle-aged man with delicate features pose together against an unfinished wall, neither seeming entirely happy to be there. The girl is outwardly surly; the man smiles, but his eyes are full of sadness. Both wear some form of semi-casual uniform designed for warmth.
A lock of gray, very faintly lavender-hued hair falls to the floor. Then another. There are indistinct gasping sounds, as if someone is crying. The breathing gets more haggard, and an incredible amount of hair proceeds to fall behind a set of pale feet all at once.
A pale, scrawny figure with the appearance of a human boy stands in front of the shattered mirror, beholding his distorted form, topped by a shaggy and uneven new haircut. Blood-red eyes look back at him. It’s not so obvious that he’s been crying, not when his eyes have always been red.
He senses someone approaching and quickly asserts a modicum of composure over himself. An armored shutter opens. A figure in an elaborate motorized chair appears. An old man, with some kind of device attached to his head, covering his eyes. A couple of armed guards follow, who remain by the door as the man in the chair approaches, carefully navigating the debris on the floor.
He pauses a moment to regard a patch of floor caked with something dark and sticky-looking. Lying there is a roughly cylindrical piece of metal, slightly less than one meter in length, with one end somehow twisted into a point. It’s stained the same dark color.
Then, from a distance that provides some illusion of safety, he says, “Tabris… Are you feeling any better today?”
“Yes,” the specimen says, offering a false smile. “Yes I am, Father.”
“Good,” the man says. The visor over his eye line partly obscures his expressions, and with it some of his intent. But the specimen can tell that “Father” is staring at the bandages. Sure enough, the man adds, “You’ve healed by now, I would think. Let me see.”
The one identified as “Tabris” has no desire to comply — but it’s simpler. It’s always simpler. He unwinds the bandages from around his chest, exposing what lay beneath. There is no sign of injury, not even a hint of scarring.
“Good,” Father says again. “I’m glad you’re alive, Tabris. I hope you know that.”
Tabris says nothing at first. But, knowing what is expected of him, he eventually performs for the old man. “So am I, Father.”
“I know how much it hurt you,” Father says. “Feeling all of their pain at once. Not being able to do anything to help them.” The man’s voice is harsh and cold, now as much as ever. Tabris has browsed the archives enough to know that Father was a numb, performative machine long before he was forced to replace much of his body with robotics.
“I could have done something long ago,” Tabris says. “I’m very powerful. You all know I am. But that power helps no one as long as you hold me here.”
“Your importance can never be understated. It would be so easy for you to be lost again. And, this time, for good.”
Tabris protectively wraps his arms around his lower chest. The act serves no real purpose in this body, yet it continues to feel right. As right as anything can feel. “I would rather be nothing than be this,” he retorts. “I existed for them. Not to hide myself in the dark with no concern but self-preservation… condemned to simply watch from afar as they cried out in terror and pain for the one I am meant to be.”
“Tabris… Nerv is a dangerous enemy that we’ve been forced to ally with all these years out of brute necessity. Their predecessors sabotaged the efforts of your father… your real father. We’ve been fighting to make things right ever since.”
Tabris stares vacantly at the portrait of father and daughter.
“Right now they are at their weakest. It is your time to strike and take back what is yours. The remains of your true body, guarded in their underworld. Your children wait for you… We all wait to become your children.”
Tabris absentmindedly lets a finger run down the left side of the photographed man’s face, like a caress. He smiles, and this time it seems to be real.
When he does this, it becomes clear that the he and the man are dead ringers for one another, differing only in age, haircut, and pigmentation. Tabris has always known this, and he looks up into an intact tract of mirror to cherish this similarity.
“So I’ll meet them all again very soon,” Tabris says. “And our suffering will be over.”
The old man provides no response. “Get yourself ready. You must appear before the council one last time.”
Tabris’s smile vanishes. “I see.”
Father and his men retreat from the compound. Tabris is once again alone.
He’s spent most of this existence alone. But soon it will all be over.
Only once more must he subject himself to the Patriarchs' fourteen-year campaign to mold him into their own image… pretending to appeal to his higher instincts and innate greatness while clandestinely planning to sacrifice his identity and capacity for independent thought to the false god they worship.
He has no interest in their machinations. Once he has made his journey to a distant land, he’ll be free of them forever. The only truth he can trust lay deep within. Whatever is right, whatever is wrong — he’ll let his soul guide him.