V S M They Call It Lonely Digging

Eighteen

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It was cold here. There was a bitterness in the air that sucked at the air in your lungs, as if it needed the oxygen more than you did. Wafting vapour was a common sight from the lips of those that dwelled on the icy prison of Inverxe. Not a literal prison. The planet, or rather, moon, was as free and wide as any globe in the galaxy – that one could traverse, anyway – and it was vast indeed. However, to wander in the domain of snow and ice was at most, a suicidal choice. There was also the creatures...they were many.

The village of Nutak was carved into the side of a modest volcano. It was one of many on this wasteland of a world. They were scattered across the wide open land, shooting up like pillars to the heavens. Some rumbled with unease while others, much like the one that supposedly housed an Empire, lay dormant...for now. It was neither here nor there, in the minds of this humble community.

Warmth from the radiated heat within the rock gave way to soils that were large enough to create simple produce, but not much more than that. It was not a place where one could farm in the true sense of the word. This was enough for the small population of thirty or so that lived in their stone and wood huts. It was this, that they cultivated, that allowed the quaint little settlement to remain quiet and out of the way.

One might beg to ask the question; how? How was it that this village, like so many that lived within the volcanic bosom of this insipid planet, was not threatened in similar fashion?

Nutak was not a mining community.

It was true, that this was the source of the income for all those who came to this rock in the ether. The minerals deep below spelled riches for any who claimed them. There were crystals, metals, and unexplained wealth waiting to be found. People went mad down there. Many who went would never return. The radiation that spilled out of the caverns burned bodies to the bone, and caused cancers to grow. A low vibration of need spilled into the heads of the desperate and the greedy. More. More. More. They had to find what was below.

This was not the case for Nutak, at least, not anymore. It's mine shaft remained a mile from the sleepy village, a trail long abandoned leading along the crags to the once open maw. Where darkness had long since pooled, a number of boards had been placed to combine into that of a closure. In large, bold black letters were painted the simple, English words.

DO NOT ENTER

They did not.

Days passed, and then weeks. Those that were driven crazy by the giant in the sky soon moved on from this town to another. Some could not be cured of their internal desires. However, some were hardy of soul and mind. Those were the people who stayed, and thus, Natuk became a community of produce and simple cultivation. It was all thanks to the one they claimed to be their leader. A person that had come when the town was all but shambles, and the starvation was clear. Death was at their door, the mine was leaking a poisonous curse, and hope was dead. Natuk had not been as strong, or as fortified, as the other villages. It would have fallen like others before it, if not for her. Just as the village was humble, so was she...
 

Eighteen

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The end of the slender pipe, electronic in nature, glowed a subtle blue in the darkness of the room. Once the sound of inhalation ceased, for a beat, soon followed that of an exhale and a cloud of scented vapor. The device itself was sleek, white, not something most of the travelers were known to carry. In taverns across Inverxe, and homes, many of the miners and villagers were more often seen with the old wood and bowl pipe or cigarette hanging from their lips.

“Does it help?” said a voice from across the table.

Eighteen's eyes were trained on the outside, viewing the distant patches of produce growing in abundance. It was a humble little thing they had here, and she was finding peace with that. Her lips settled around the cool, white length of pipe, the diameter of which was barely that of a pen. She blew the vapor out slowly, from mouth and nostrils alike, before her cold gaze settled on her company.

“Yes, and no,” she replied, the pipe balanced gently in equally slender, porcelain fingers. Her elbow remained propped on the window sill, and one leg rested over the other. She left her free hand over her lap, a casual, non-threatening pose, for she was not in bad company. Her gold hair reflected the lavender of their false moon. It was all backwards here.

“Well,” he said, leaning forward, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, “if you need a higher dose, just let me know.”

“Doctor,” she immediately replied, and her hand glided smoothly toward the table. She slipped the device into a small metallic box with a velvet lining. It snapped shut just as the silence ceased. “What I need, right now, is less mental and more physical.”

The girl narrowed her eyes carefully, but there was no animosity in her gaze. She stared at the man, who had, for better or worse, become her most trusted ally here. It wasn't easy to find a healer in this god-forsaken realm. He wasn't just a healer, though, he was a damn good doctor. The man had the knowledge to back up his skills. This was a great deal of comfort for the android, because out in this wasteland, things were never quite what they seemed.

“I told you,” he interjected at her words, and more-so, at her gaze. It was not a gaze that spoke of anger, but something else. “We can't do that anymore.”

The android turned her eyes to the window again, brows lifting, face becoming smooth. Her body visibly relaxed and her eyes now looked upward to the sky. “Sorry, Jared, today has been hard,” she started, and tapped the pads of her fingers, on one hand, against the wooden table. “The psychosis has been, for the most part, suppressed.”

“You're having trouble with the rest...”

“Yes,” she said solemnly, and bowed her head somewhat. Hair fell down from behind her ears, it was a river of gold, concealing her beauty like a shimmering curtain. “Just don't let me get my way with you again. I know we ended it...it just gets very hard. I'm very lonely.”

“Hey, I know, but it's not entirely you, either,” Jared slid a hand across the table and gently ceased the android’s fingers from anxiously tapping. His dark hair was cropped short, but a length of it fell against his brows. He wore a white, weathered tunic, standard fair in this town.

A year ago, when she had come to this small town, it had been in a disarray. The miners were gone for days at a time, and when they returned, they were half the men they had once been. Radiation from the ruins within were leaking into the air, and slowly, it was beginning to effect the town that rested downwind from the entrance. Sickness began to spread, and one by one, the people began to develop true psychotic tendencies. Something about it was strange, however, because it was more than radiation sickness...it was a true enigmatic obsession that swept through the people.

Eighteen tried not to remember some of the horror she had come upon. It had been a dark time for them. Fortunately, after a while, she began to develop methods to help against the issues ailing the village. The mine was cut off; they could not live off of it. The inner sanctum was crawling with all manners of vile creatures, and the radiation within was poisonous to all but them – and her. She made sure to barricade it the best that she could.

The second phase of recovery for this village was to set up a different kind of commerce. Using what she knew from back home, on Earth, she began to teach the village how to grow from the soil. It was fertile, rich from the volcanic elements it was comprised of. The subtle heat that came off the stone and nearby vents was enough to create a small farming community out of this place. Where the populace had only known mining, now they knew cultivating.

However, there was no changing the fact that this moon they lived on had very little light. It did not have the best source of the nutrient that all plants craved. This was where the android came in. Summoning the smallest amount of ki in her hands, and slowly tending to the meager crops, the response became incredible. They fed off the ki as if it were the sun itself.

It had taken a lot of effort to find the proper seeds to grow, but sure enough, they were growing well. Nutak became an exportation village of fresh produce. Most of their goods were taken to Fal Zhardum Dim, or Blackreach, as some called it. In turn, they received ample capital, the freedom to continue their commerce, and the import of various fungi from the allied faction. These fungi, in turn, were used in many concoctions and salves that aided in stabilizing the health and mental stability of the people of this village. It was Jared's job to tend to the sick and mentally instable.

“You've done a lot for us,” said Jared, his hand slipping away. He stood from the table. “I just want to make sure that you're not neglecting yourself in this process. I've only known you these several months, but the loneliness can fester a critical psychological break if you're not careful. I can't help you the way you want, but...”

“No,” she interrupted during his pause, “Jared, I'm fine. I've been lonely before. I've been to more planets that you could ever dream of, and ones that no longer exist. I've had one great love, and many lovers. I've been alone. I know what I'm capable of, and right now, what I need is so minimal...and not to the extent of what worried you so much.” On Intervxe the stories of suicide were intense. The magnetic pull of the moon was strong, drawing on the weak minded and nudging despair from those who let it.

Eighteen waved a hand and closed her eyes, brushing off his worried look. “Physical connection has been the only thing to get me through these years. First it was the 'verse, and now...whatever this universe is called. I found a way to be happy, to pass the time, and you know what?” she gave a crooked smile, as half felt as it was, “I liked it. You told me it was over, and it is, I'm sorry if I made you feel...uncomfortable. I won't bring it up again.” She bit her bottom lip and looked to the floor, as if the words had choked her in an effort to come out.

The android stood, her white tank top absorbed the purple haze of the giant in the sky. Her home was little more than a shack. They'd offered her one of the larger homes, not by much, but she had declined. She only needed simple things, and this simple life. Any effort to leave Inverxe had vanished from her mind as soon as she had settled in. This was everything she needed...except, perhaps, companionship. Was it so strange to forget the urge of home? Of Raditzu...?

The girl didn't wear more than a simple undergarment against her buttocks, her lengthy tank falling like a dress against her hips. She had used her share of the farming for comfortable clothing weaved from silk, likely from some alien creature, but it was as if air kissed her skin. She now walked, wearing more than her visitor by far, and looked up at him as they stood a mere inch away. Despite Jared's claims, he did not move, nor flinch away.

Jared was married.

The ring on his left hand was just as reflective as her pipe had been. She could see the lavender glinting on its rim. She took his hand, then, and looked at the metal there. It was gold, real gold, something that had come from some planet – maybe this one.

“If you change your mind, though,” she whispered, her gaze on him again, back-peddling immediately from her prior words. The blue of her irises was intense, and deep. He'd stared into them many times. It had been two months since he'd told her they were done. At first it had been...a way of thanking this woman. Everyone loved her. She was a savior to them, and their village. She was a stranger from a strange land, and her stories were different every night, entertaining and mysterious. It only made sense that when, one night after the communal feast, he oblige her request. One night...it would be fine. Even his wife had agreed.

The android was nothing if not alluring. Her lips were plump, perfectly pink, and all but parted. She could turn on the charm without blinking her eyes. Jared had seen it all, for months, but he couldn't do it anymore. “I love my wife,” he said as his thoughts lingered on events long past.

“That doesn't mean you can't live your own life. Love is love, whatever,” she said, dropping his hand. Her other hand pressed on his chest. The feel of his tunic was rough, cotton, cleaned by hand. His wife had probably cleaned it for him. Suspenders helped keep up his slacks, which were brown. “Jared, you know she worships me daily, she would probably consider it a sin to stop what we were doing.”

“Eighteen,” he said, stepping away from her warm body. “Let's call it a night.”

No matter how many times she tried to assure him that she would let it go, the girl did not. In fact, as the days went by, it was as if she were drawn to him more than usual. He was a doctor, and a healer, and everything in his subconscious was alerted to the real possibility that their pseudo-leader, and savior was...going psychotic. That was why, against his better judgement, he couldn't not check in on her. Every week he came to see how she was doing, how her medication was helping, and this always ended the same way.

But he held these reservations to himself. She was no harm, yet. Her mind was fixated on one thing, strange as it was. He had never fancied himself a desirable man. He was only average in his appearance. Yet she always let her looks linger, even when she was out visiting the greens, she would spot him and pause. It was something to think on. Increasing the fungal properties of her medicine would help decrease the effects of the lunar pull. He was lacking in formal training where the psychological aspects of this moon were considered. He had no doubt, though, that all her time dwelling on the rock was beginning to have an effect on her.

In the beginning she had not been this clingy at all...
 

Eighteen

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Seven months prior, as True Night had come to pass, the village stood quite and still. Pale faces emerged from shambled buildings that sorely begged for upkeep. Snow was falling from the sky as pleasant purple hues illuminated the crags and spindled trees that dared to survive on this treacherous plane. Coughing could be heard in the distance, from more than one person, as the snow cracked underfoot. A small, but willing fire, was beginning to grow within the pit that made up their village square.

This village had once housed fifty folk, and now it was down to thirty. Several miles away, and several more down, lay to rest their brothers and sisters. Everything would have been lost as the darkness of the night consumed them from inside out. Their festering hearts had become as twisted as their minds, and the ache to consume and rape the inner bowels of the mountain took control of their lives. It manifested in many ways, pushing desires for wealth, love, hunger and more...creating monsters in chaos.

Their elder stood at the fire, head bowed, grey hair barely visible on his scalp. His beard was dirty, crusted with snot and saliva. He had been crying, the red was clear around his eyes. His hands were old, gnarled like the trees that didn't belong. He held his walking stick, a supportive thing that connected him to this spot, and he stared into the coals.

“Was it always like this?” her voice was so unusual, not rough, or torn. It was clear and soft, the bubbling of a brook that had never once existed in this world. His hazy eyes were defeated, and his mind exhausted. With her words, however, he straightened his bowing back to reflect a more powerful man.

“No, not at all,” his voice was the polar opposite. It was years beyond hers, sore around each syllable, and like sand in the eyes. It might have been phlegm in his gullet from the sickness, or the decomposition of his larynx over time. “The True Night always comes, and when it does, we stand our ground. This time...it was too much. My people are weak, and their losses have compounded them.”

“Tell me everything, then,” she said, stepping closer, the snow crunching underfoot. Eighteen's arms were bare, the chill nipping at her, but she did not flinch against it. She stared, as he did, into the fire as it continued to grow. A villager was feeding old, dead wood into the flames. It was time for the village to wake.

On the first day, when Android Eighteen had arrived in this village of Nutak, it had been a quiet place. A stillness had settled in like the snow on the houses that resided within. A smell filled the air, a mixture of iron and bile. If the coldness of the world around them hadn't existed there would have been flies in swarms. She was forced to hold an arm to her face, her furs and cloak keeping her warm, and secure. It had been a long road she had traveled, but that was another story.

“Who...are you?” said a small voice from the edge of a house. His sunken eyes were dark, his hair a messy length of brown, and his fingers like bones on the wood of the wall. He hid behind the corner, but his body language spoke differently. Fear was mixed with curiosity, perhaps, there was even hope. Why, she wondered, would he want for hope?

Eighteen lowered her arm, and she stared at the child, who had to be a mere decade old. “I'm a traveler, I was hoping I might stay here for a bit before I move on.” Despite his appearance to her, the village was left with a cold emptiness that tugged at her insides. “What happened here?”

The boy turned his head to one side, and he stared with strange amusement. “Nothing happened, ma'am, why do you ask?”

“Charles, get back in the fucking house,” swore a woman whose wrath had been stoked. The boy jumped, and in one fluid motion, he turned and ran around the house. In his place stood a heavyset woman was hair every which way, barely contained by a dirty, white bandanna. She stared at the android for a long beat. “The fuck are you here for?” Pleasantries were skipped in this new conversation.

“I was hoping I might stay here for a while, but I have a feeling...”

“What? Wait, don't say another word.”

The woman marched over and her dirty, almost greasy hand grabbed the wrist of the blonde. Thankfully her furry cuff kept their skin from touching. Evidence of pock marks riddled this woman's hands and arms like disease. Closer inspection would later reveal that these were, in fact, self-inflicted wounds.

“What are you doing?” Eighteen demanded as this lady, whose strength was deceivingly strong, dragged her toward the house the child had run off into.

“You wanted a place to stay, didn't you?” she replied, a weird calm had taken over her angry demeanor.

“W-well, yes, but you can let go of me.”

“No, it's dangerous, just stay close and we will be there before you know it. True Night has already started.”

They were, in fact, there quite quickly. The house was large and filled with a strange, hazy smoke. A fire was burning in the far wall, but the smoke did not come from that direction. In the middle of the room was a small pot filled with burning embers, those of which cast off the sickly sweet smell.

“Wards off the crazies,” her host replied, having let go of Eighteen.

“What do you mean?” the blonde rubbed at her wrist, it was sore, but largely undamaged. Her gaze caught sight of the boy who peeked from behind the crack in a door.

“This place has gone to shit, and some of that is literal,” her name was Martha, and she was not as old as she looked. Martha was a mere thirty years, and Charles was her only son. They lived in this house by themselves, her husband had gone to the mine and never returned. This had left them on the brink of the breakout...as more people began to lose themselves in the abyss. It wasn't just the mine, however, it was the whole town. True Night had started and with it the psychosis of the rock they stood on.

“Wait...say that again?” Eighteen sat on the floor, now disrobed from her furs and hat, her eyes only slightly watering from the burning herbs.

“So, the mine was a good investment. We settled here, and we began to profit. Things were good, until they weren't. Marcus has been down that god-forsaken hole more times than I can count, but this time, he done got himself lost. That was two weeks ago, when this all started. He wasn't the first, or the last. So many...they're just gone. Joseph, the baker, he went looking too. He's gone. Elizabeth...and June...you get what I'm saying?”

“Several people have gone into the mine and have not returned, including the mining team?”

“Correct, and with the exportation having been on hold for two weeks, supplies are low. They're very low...but the crazy started before that. We had food when they started to go elsewhere. It's almost as if they had wanted to do what they did.”

“What do you mean?” Eighteen narrowed her eyes in confusion.

“Meat,” she said with a quite glance at the android as she stirred the cauldron that sat above the fire. “The other folk, they just went nuts...I think they were afraid of the dwindling rations. So they started with the creatures...Crazy, right?”

Martha laughed to herself and shook her head. “There are easy ways, we don't need to start hunting. They go out at all hours, eating...acting like animals.”

Eighteen recalled the wildlife of this so-called planet. They were not simple fair like deer, or rabbits. They were beasts, and creatures that were more insect that mammal. Anyone who ate that kind of meat was sure to go insane. It was like eating creatures that fed on the darkness, and the emptiness.

“With people disappearing and those at home going stir crazy the village leader said we had to stay indoors. Some people go out...some of them don't even feel the cold. They're not like us, we're still okay. Charles?!” her voice cracked like a whip when she called the boys' name.

He scuttled out from the room and gave Eighteen a mere glance. “Yes momma?”

“Give this 'ere to the girl, alright? She looks damn starved.”

Charles carefully balanced the bowel over to the table in the open room that served as a kitchen, dining and living room in one. Eighteen sat in the creaky wooden chair and look down at the bowl. The truth was, yes, she was hungry. She was starving. Something about this place made her tired, it might have been the slow burning herbs in the central ceramic pot, or the long journey in the cold. The stew smelt perfect.

“What is this?” she asked as she stirred carefully. Her mouth was watering. Surely it wasn't meat from the night dwellers or the cave creatures she mentioned?

“Rations, my own, I've been very careful. I'll share with you, it's just the boy and I. We've got no company to feed. We're not like those ones outside, barbaric. This village is like a family, you know? You don't do that to family.”

Eighteen wasn't sure what to say to that. Martha stared at the android, her gaze burning into her, as if waiting for the spoon to lift and the food to be consumed. So, slowly, Eighteen dipped the utensil in, lifted, and she slow chewed on the hearty sustenance and broth. For all that this place was strange, the food was great. She hadn't had a decent meal in a few days, living off dried jerky and nuts from her own stores.

“It's a good thing you two aren't hunting, it's getting cold out there, and those creatures aren't something you'd want to fight...let alone eat.”

Charles laughed, it was small, and then it got louder. He only stopped when Martha gave him a look that, honestly, could have killed.

Later in the evening she was shown to an empty room. Since Marcus had left, Charles and Martha shared a room, so this was as much a guest bed as any. Eighteen welcomed the hospitality. Her hosts were strange, but she had dealt with many situations both dangerous and insane before. This was just the same old story to her. Once she'd rested for the night, she knew deep down, that it would be best to move on from this place. Something just didn't sit right with her. It might have been the stew.
 

Eighteen

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There was a wet sound coming from beyond the door. It sounded like the squelching of oil and flesh. Eighteen hadn't quite heard the likes of it, but the sound slipped under the door and right into her ears. Her eyelids snapped open, and then half lidded, as she laid in the quietness of the room. There wasn't much more than the pallet bed under her and a wardrobe in the corner. It appeared that the people of this village didn't have much as far as their means went.

Still, the sound continued from outside the room. A number of answers ran through her mind. This wasn't her home, and she had no idea what her guests were into. It could have been...well, it could have been someone having intercourse. However, the wetness of the noise made her wrinkle her nose and change her mind.

Then she realized, as she recalled hours prior, in the open space comprised of both kitchen and living space. She had had stew, full of meat that she hadn't quite gotten the name of. The smell of the stew was still thick in the air, mixed with the bittersweet scent of the herbs that hung in every space of the home. That was it, she surmised, Martha was likely at work butchering whatever was the next meal.

It was hard to tell the time, the small, modest window only let dim violet light into the bedroom. It was almost always the same shade outside. However, having been so in tune with her own body, being an android, she had to guess that she had only slept for about three hours. Eighteen hadn't been sleeping well, regardless of what noises did or didn't wake her in the night. She had been traveling for so long since departing her realm, dreams of her old life haunted her, and left her reeling once reality returned.

She sat in the darkness, holding out a pale hand. The soft light fell on each digit, and she stared, mesmerized. First, the light had begun to dim. It had once been bright, almost as ethereal as a false sun, at least eluding to a daylight of sorts. It was a constant. Now, however, she noticed the keen difference in Ioun's light since the shadow had taken over in the sky before finding this town. From what she knew, the only night that came was from this phenomenon. It was in full swing, now.

“True Night,” came a small voice from the door.

Eighteen's gaze snapped to the door, but it wasn't open and no one was there. She did, however, see a set of eyes, wide and intense, peering from under the crack of the door. Her brows raised in surprise. Just as soon as she'd seen him, Charles was off, barely a whisper of his steps disappearing down the hall to the right. Those eyes, beyond the door, had been something else. Just like earlier. “Something is not right with these people,” she whispered to herself and stood from her place of rest.

The girl pulled on her socks, pants, and long sleeved shirt. Her fur jacket was rolled up and bundled with her pack, left to the side. She put on her heavy boots and tied them up, tight and secure, before proceeding to the door. It was never too early to see what the fuck was going on.

Slowly, and quietly, the android opened the door into the hallway. She peered first down to the right, supposedly where the boy had gone. To her surprise, she heard his voice from the other direction. Confusion set in, as she could have sworn he had gone one way only.

“...run off, stupid boy,” she heard Martha whisper harshly.

The sounds that had roused her from her sleep resumed harshly, louder than seemed possible. Squishing and squelching vibrated into her eardrums and made her grip the door. “What is in those herbs?” she whispered and moved slower yet, a toe into the corridor. A hazy sensation clouded her vision, but she shook it off and chalked it up to the intensity of the damn herbs in the pot.

The girl stepped gently into the open room, whose kitchen was one counter along the wall, a modest and affordable fridge at one end and a stove at the other. She opened her mouth to say something, as Martha turned toward her with a butcher knife in one hand and a long tendril of organ meat in the other. All thoughts and words were lost on the android when her gaze went from the stunned expression on Martha's face and the slaughtered presentation on the counter.

“Damn it, Charles, look what you've done.”

“No, Ma, it was you n' that work you're doing, woke me too,” he argued with indignant attitude. He stood a few feet away with arms crossed against his chest.

“I'll deal with her in a minute, make sure she doesn't leave, I'm almost done.”

“What...” Eighteen stared in horror, allowing her thoughts to catch up. She had survived a multitude of dimensions, tournaments, horror shows, but never had she witnessed cannibalism.

Martha wrapped her fingers around the child's ankle, jerking it up and away from the pelvis, exposing the hip joint. She swiftly laid the butchers blade into the soft, still pink flesh of the babe, severing hip and leg with one devastating blow. Eighteen's eyes widened in true horror while the woman grabbed the malleable, fatty skin and layers, ripping it down like a rabbits skin to reveal the tender muscles of the leg. It was merely a baby, not yet a year old if she had to guess. Half of the torso was ripped open, organs separated.

“Good thing you came, girl,” she said as she worked, “last of our supply right here, we would have gone hungry over the True Night. Babies don't last as long as adults, and well...the last traveler one got away.”

The realization hit her before the nausea did, and before she knew it she was doubling over as stomach cramps wracked her body. She vomited all over the wooden floor boards at her feet and wrapped her arms around her stomach. Chunks of partially digested meat swam in the acidic fluids, prompting her to reel in revulsion and further vomit into another fit.

Charles laughed from the side. “Shit, it's like she's just realized, ma.”

“Good thing we got those herbs from the mine, they're working good on this one.”

Eighteen heard their voices but the watering in her eyes had her suddenly forgetting who was where. What the hell? This shit wouldn't have gotten me so twisted back home, she swore to herself, but knew that it couldn't be helped. She was a fraction of the woman she had once been. All of the power she had possessed had been left behind. Now, in this world, on this barren rock, she was hardly more than foot soldier. They didn't know, however, that she wasn't exactly all she appeared to be.

When her senses returned, Martha was expertly dicing the forbidden meat and rendering the flesh and sinew from bone and muscle. She wasn't new to this. How long, Eighteen wondered, had this gone on? No, she thought, why not ask?

“Why?” she let out as a croak, internally forcing down the thought of infanticide and the stench of blood. “Why are you eating human meat?” she asked point blank. She ran the back of her hand, and sleeve, along her mouth. A sheen of sweat had built on her brow, and her blue gaze located Charles leaning against the entrance with a flimsy knife now in his hands.

“Weren't you even listening to what I had to say?” she turned on Eighteen now. She wiped her hands off in her apron, using the material to soak up the blood dripping from each finger. “The supplies are low, the mines are abandoned, and I'm not eating no fucking insect.”

She was referring to the Xenomorphs and other such creatures. It was during True Night that they made their frequent terror. According to her story, the rest of the village was out hunting, and it was likely they were feeding on the meat of the dangerous night dwelling denizen of this planet. Almost all of the wildlife on this planet was in one way or another an insect or a mutant. You wouldn't find a rabbit if your life depended on it.

“So you eat babies?” Eighteen let out vehemently, her fingers tightening into fists. It was mere insanity, and the question of why, that had her from moving. Fear wasn't really on her vocabulary.

“We don't discriminate, honey,” Martha laughed. She placed a stained hand onto the lump of dismembered flesh, whose hair was downy soft and still well intact, remarkably without gore on it. The child's head was, thank the gods, facing toward the wall and could have easily been otherwise that of a doll. Martha all but played with the locks of gold hair, and in those eyes of hers, she held no soul. “Elizabeth left this one on her own, anyway. What was I supposed to do, take care of it? When that last visitor got away, we had no choice. Beth's been in those mines a long, long time...”

Eighteen, now with her senses and doing her best to ignore whatever hallucinogen was in those burning herbs, surveyed her options. “Look, you're not going to like this, but you don't really have a choice,” she said, gaze on the woman again. “I'm not exactly edible.”

“Sure you are, look at those muscles. You've been busy. Girl, once you just relax and let the smoke take over you'll feel much better. Charles, put s'more on that fire.” She pointed at the pot in the middle of the room. It was like a magical artifact, a honeypot for travelers. The once bitter scent had grown increasingly sweet. Why was it that they were immune?

“We eat it,” she laughed.

Eighteen hadn't realized she asked that last thought aloud. “Easy to build immunity. Now, get back to your room. We'll get to you once I've finished here.”

“I'm not human,” Eighteen spat, the room was beginning to tilt as she watched Charles lazily sprinkling the green leaves. Her feet felt heavy, and her gut felt like a stone sat within it. All she had wanted was a nice meal, a good sleep, and to carry on with her mundane existence. It didn't appear she would get that as this nut case of a woman and her child were beyond reasoning. Also, she couldn't kill them. She couldn't kill them, either.

There was more here than seemed obvious. An absence was in their eyes, and the state of the village spoke volumes. She'd heard small stories in scattered taverns on Inverxe regarding the psychosis that overwhelmed abandoned villages. Without proper support from empire or kingdom they were not going to survive the radiation, or the depth of the rock beneath their feet. She'd heard enough to know that Inverxe was not a harmless place to live. It was violent, and it was incredibly lonely. Most of all, though, it was where she was living now.

“Fucking hell,” she swore and pressed her hands to her face. “I swore I wouldn't fight anymore, but this is hitting the goddamn limit.” Eighteen immediately lifted a hand and aimed it at the pot of herbs, and coincidentally, the boy. A bright light illuminated within her outward palm, forming a ball of energy unlike any they had ever seen, and she tilted her head back. The outward presence of indecision and confusion slipped from her posture, replaced by a seasoned warrior. “Move, kid, or you're going to feel this in the morning.”

Charles jumped with a sudden cry as the orb of energy collided with the center of the room. Wood, plaster, and herb-embers went flying in all directions. Eighteen took that moment to stroll determinedly down the hallway and into the guest room. She snagged her backpack and shrugged it over her shoulders, snapping the straps tight, and turning on her toe.

“No, you don't,” Martha said from the corridor, her portly figure now blocking the way. A fire was starting to lift to life behind her from the chaos. Nothing they couldn't handle, she figured.

“Look, it's obvious I don't have time to deal with this right now. Do you want to live? Or do you want to keep going on like a fucking psychotic moron?” The android shot angrily. It had been a mistake to stop here, but now, seeing what the root of the issues had caused, she felt obligated to figure out the cause. If Martha and Charles were this nuts, who else was chewing on their neighbor?

It had been easy sailing up to this point. Eighteen had, for the most part, made it several months – maybe even a year or more – without drama or fighting. It was a nice, interesting choice, compared to the life of combat she once lived. She'd traveled like a vagabond, stopping only for a night or two, not really making a connection either way. She was searching for something, or someone. Home, maybe. The possibility was always in her head. However, that all changed, as she tasted the bile in the back of her throat. Fucking, fuck, was that a baby she ate last night? If things hadn't changed years ago she'd have murdered Martha without batting an eye. If anything, that dead baby was a clearly good reason to get out of retirement.

Speaking of, Martha had lost it, and was hacking at Eighteen with the butcher knife. Eighteen may have been a fraction of her old power, but she wasn't obsolete. She dodged with such fluidly that she was able to calmly move left, right, and back before snatching Martha's wrist. With a flick she broke the several bones that comprised her hand and wrist joints. The woman fell in pain, crying like the weak human being she was, and Eighteen stepped back once more. Charles was already at his mothers side, the pair like two peas in a pod.

“When this is over you two are going somewhere.”

They looked up at her, as she paused, her finger pointing at them. “I don't know where that would be, but it'll be somewhere,” she added pointedly, hesitating at the thought.

Outside she felt the cold of the wintry air on her face and smelt the burning of the wood. She could already see that the fire was being dealt with as it began to die down, and her footsteps took her further into the town. By now Eighteen had convinced herself that there was no turning away now. It was, as always, time to be a hero again.

“Why did it have to be cannibalism?” she sighed.

One house revealed a doorway that was boarded up from the INSIDE. The door itself was gone, replaced by boards that were nailed expertly over the entrance. A single hole was cut, the size of a goofball, and from it she saw a single eyeball staring at her. Red streaks filled the sclera, a dilated pupil in the throes of psychosis, and whatever else, peered into her soul. She heard him breathing from behind the wood as she stood three paces away.

“What's your damage?” she asked.

Heavy breathing followed, his eyeball pulsed. Was it alive? Was it another entity on it's own? A gentle thumping hit the makeshift door, rhythmic and continuous. She flicked her gaze two feet down the planks, and then let out a sound of disgust. “Are you for real?”

“Pretty.” The voice was thick, guttural, and shaking. “I'm gonna fuck you from here.”

Eighteen stood silent for a moment. Again, ignoring the insanity, she saw that in his single eye, there was not much beyond his basal intensity. Everyone had gone bonkers here. She moved away from the door, as the thumping got louder, pretending she'd never even encountered the situation. It wouldn't be the first time a man had been violent in her direction.

Further investigation revealed several houses either abandoned, partaking in sexual indecency, dead bodies in corners, and mysterious dismembered body parts. She finally came upon one house that had a light glowing in the front window. She stopped several feet outside, her eyes roaming the wooden boards from ground to sky. A figure peeked from the window, and she locked eyes with them.

As she took a step closer, the light turned off, and she ceased in her motion. The door opened slowly and a roll of paper flew through the sky. Just as quickly the door closed and Eighteen was left to search for the paper in the cold snow.

“Help. Don't enter. Help us please.”

She paused, and her gaze lifted to the window again. There was three sets of eyes now, each of them belonging to children ranging in ages, but no more than the same age as Charles. Maybe they weren't crazy yet...but she took the words seriously. Don't go in...she wasn't going to risk it.

Once she'd finished surveying the town she found one of the empty houses, a shack more like, and unpacked her bag. “Okay, fine, you want it that way,” she said to herself. “I'll play.”

She set down each of her items on the small table beside an equally small window and arranged them just so. It was darker than it had been this past few weeks. True Night was when chaos was bound to ensue. She wouldn't let it. Obviously she was here for a reason. Shit had been going on long before the night had fallen, so time wasn't going to fix it. She would find out the truth soon enough, first, however, she needed to deal with the longest night of her life.
 

Eighteen

The Irreplaceable
Level 1
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Apr 23, 2019
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Inverxe
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It was hard to say how much time had passed. Eighteen used the small shack as a means of shelter as she went about her new mission. The town was, for lack of a better word, fucked. It had no protection, no fencing, absolutely no means of keeping intruders out. It was an exposed fixture on the side of the craggy mountainside, which, by the way, was a volcano. The inactive giant was a good place for any village to nestle, and for that, she surmised, they had made a good call. During the horrors of True Night, however, the place was on the verge of being wiped out. They were a hot target for the creatures of the night. Where once twilight-like violet had swept the rock, now pure, unrelenting darkness consumed.

Exploration of the village had her finding a number of things. Firstly, the count of the villagers was close to forty, slightly off from her previous conversation with Martha. This she could only obtain from window peeking and quiet surveying of the ongoing of the villagers. They were like walking zombies, moving to one house to another, and disappearing into the dark only to return bloodied and with some form of creature to feast on. What weapons they did have were rudimentary small handguns, a rifle or two, and some had swords.

A number of the homes in this village were lacking in repairs. She counted thirty buildings in total, one of which was a central, larger building likely meant for town business. It was a tightly spaced community, with a basic fire pit in the center, and not much more between the homes.

Eventually Eighteen found the beaten path toward the mines. There were makeshift tracks for transporting cards to and from the mineshaft, this being their exportation. It was all but covered in ice and snow now. She could see prints haphazardly along the trail, quite possibly a sign of some villagers disappearing into wherever the mines led. She stood now, in front of the mines, with her hands on her hips.

“What is so special about this mine?” she wondered, staring ahead. It was hard to see, but thankfully, she had utilized the glow of the ki orb that gently floated behind her. It was enough light to illuminate a foot or two around her proximity, but she had to be careful. The light was likely to draw unwanted attention to her person.

Eighteen did not go in; she kept her distance, despite her skepticism. Something within the dark, empty void made her skin crawl. She felt a sudden urge to go beyond the threshold. This was enough to make her turn around and head back to the safety of the abandoned shack. What she could tell, so far, was that the town was under some influence from down below; it was stronger the closer she got. Perhaps, she wondered, there could be a way of helping after all.
 
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