“Please proceed inside, 4425.”
“In there?” he questioned, peering anxiously into the veritable pit of shadowy foliage and yawning darkness spread out before him. “Yeah. . .that ain’t happening, sorry to say.”
“Is that to say that you want to renegotiate the terms of your agreement?”
Turning his head to briefly look back at the team of heavily armed men standing behind him, 4425 swallowed roughly. “Look man, I. . .” he pulled his face into a tight grimace, knowing all too well that there was nothing to be said and nothing to be done, he weakly cleared his throat and muttered, “No. . . nevermind, I’ll do it.”
“You’ll do. . .what?” the electronic voice prodded deprecatorily, its admonishing tone buzzing from the bud inside his ear.
With a defeated sigh, 4425 answered, “Whatever you say. . .I guess. If I have to.”
“You don’t have to. You get to. Think of it like that amigo, it’ll do you wonders.”
Rolling his hands around in their cuffs, 4425 sighed shakily. “Alright, I guess I’ll just. . .” he took a hesitant step toward the giant door’s expansive threshold, “be heading in now.”
“Not so fast ’44.” Came a gruff yet oddly easy-going voice from immediately behind him. At first reflexively turning to face the speaker, 4425 quickly felt the back of his forearm be seized by a rough, gloved hand and, with a slight push, be used to straighten him back out to his original posture, correcting him wordlessly and efficiently. “We can’t have ‘ya going off in there with your hands behind your back, so stay still, don’t try anything, and. . .”
There was a soft metallic click, then the tension surrounding his wrists suddenly fell away. “There. Now, stay as you are. Don’t move just yet.” the voice commented flatly before 4425 then felt something stiff and tangibly electronic be placed into his right hand. “Alright, there’s your flashlight. Now you can go.”
Clutching the cheap plastic tool in his hand, 4425 slowly moved his arms to his sides, being careful not to make any sudden movements in front of the five-odd trained killers standing at the ready behind him. With another heavy, slightly quavering sigh, 4425 then put himself into movement.
Stepping past the bright red safety demarcations that preceded the final ten feet of space before the gargantuan steel door’s threshold, 4425 briefly paused to begrudgingly marvel at the work of monumental engineering looming ahead of him. Reckoning the dimensions of the gateway to be something akin to forty vertical feet and an odd fifty horizontally, the thought of what could possibly require such an impressive, if somewhat intimidating, door discretely slipped into 4425’s already greatly disquieted mind as he uneasily forced himself up to its entrance.
Once he was fully past the chamber’s gaping entryway, an announcement of “Alright, control. He’s in. Seal’er up.” from the gruff voice of earlier prompted 4425 to quickly turn himself back around. Though seeing an M27, an M1014 loaded with god only knew what, an M32 MGL, and two separate M240’s all simultaneously leveled at him was unnerving in and of itself, it was the thought of having turned his back to the void behind him that truly unsettled 4425.
Looking from one fully-kitted behemoth of a man to another, and another, and another still as the dull groan of metal grinding over metal filled his ears, 4425 felt his blood suddenly go chill: plastered across each of the men’s hardened faces were a collection of wry smiles, the likes of which undoubtedly only emerged when schadenfreude of the highest degree was about to be experienced.
Though everything in him desperately wanted to dart back out, the fixture of automatic weaponry poised on the opposite side of the door kept 4425 from
moving a muscle as it steadily slid its way to closing.
“Hey good luck in there ’44!” shouted one of the men on the LMG’s, his voice reaching just slightly over the avalanche of noise coming from the giant door.
Laughing slightly at the facetious words of his comrade, the hulking figure on the MGL bore his teeth in a smile before he voiced “Oh yeah! You go get ‘er tiger!”
Furrowing his brows, not so much at the men’s disingenuous words of encouragement but, rather, at the content of them, 4425’s eyes were drawn to the waving hand of the man on the M27. Shouting above the noise of the door, the man called in a familiarly gruff voice, “Don’t worry too much about it ’44. Just do whatever your handler tells you, and you’ll be probably be all good. Alright, see you back here in a bit!”
Then, with a deep and resonant thunk, the giant door shut.
Immersed in a world of darkness, 4425 clutched his flashlight tightly, locking it in what was almost a death grip as he shakily breathed in an almost overpoweringly earthen scent.
“Mind turning your light on 4425?” the electronic voice coached lightly, its tone still as casual as it had been before.
“Right, yeah. . .” 4425 nervously mumbled. Clicking in the implement’s button, he was somewhat heartened to see the generous cone of warm light that burst out from the object.
“Marvellous” the voice in his ear uttered flatly, “Now. Since we already made sure that you were recording before you left, what I’m going to have you do is just tell me what all you’re seeing, if you would please.”
Looking through the clustered greenery of the ferns, saplings, shrubs, and various herbaceous plants that were spread out before the flashlight’s beam, 4425 simply remarked, “Uhh. . .plants.”
“How astute. Could you maybe broaden that a bit? You’re kinda killing me here, pal.”
“Alright. Fine. I see plants, trees, bushes, and dirt. . .I guess it kinda looks like I’m in a forest. There, is that any better?” 4425 responded pointedly, already wanting to leave the confines of the cavernous pseudo-vault.
“That’s much better, thanks. Hey, have you ever considered botany?” the electronic voice quipped, its tone crushingly sarcastic.
“I haven’t considered much beyond how badly I don’t want to be doing this.” 4425 replied flatly, doing his best to avoid escalating a conversation with someone likely holding all the cards to his future.
“Would you rather be spending the rest of your natural life in a cell?”
“Hey man, those charges were fabricated, I didn’t do any of that shit!” 4425 snapped, his temper briefly jumping up before he subsequently dragged it back down.
“Ah, well that’s not what your file says. . .but whatever. Let’s move on, shall we?” the voice replied, disinterested and clearly already long familiar with the refutations of test subjects.
Holding his tongue, 4425 listened for further instructions, fearful of what might slip out if he were to say something.
“Alright,” the voice continued, “so you’re going to be meeting up with PEP 027. Beyond that, I can’t tell you much more. So, if you think you’re ready, go ahead and start walking.”
“In what direction?” 4425 responded unsteadily, the dying embers of his irritation quickly falling beneath a rejuvenated anxiety.
“Whichever way you please, bud. All you’ve got to do is move further into the chamber and I’m sure 027 will take care of the rest.”
“Wait, what the hell is that supposed to mean?” 4425 muttered nervously as his eyes automatically began to sweep across the foliage ahead of him.
“Don’t worry about it ’44. Just walk.”
Grimacing as his mind began to feverishly analyze the voice’s previous words, 4425 stiffly forced one leg forward, then followed it with the other – hesitantly slipping himself into the foliage ahead.
Keeping the beam of his light rigidly trained forward as he moved, 4425 walked in relative silence for a time, too busy vainly trying to calm the maelstrom of half-formed thoughts, regrets, and fears that were all furiously swirling within his mind to make conversation. Eventually however, out of desperation to escape the tyranny of his own thoughts, he broke the hiatus between himself and the disembodied voice that was his handler.
“So. . .is any of this actually real?” 4425 questioned, keeping his voice low, almost in a whisper.
“The foliage? Or life in general?” the voice smoothly replied, speaking with a nonchalance that bordered on boredom.
“I’m kidding ’44. To answer your question, yeah, all of what you’re seein’ is the real deal. I heard it was a real bitch for the crews to put in, and it’s even worse to actually take care of. . .also, why are you being so quiet? Your mic’s barely picking you up.”
Pushing aside the broad frond of a fern that was masterfully blocking the beam of his flashlight, 4425 softly yet matter-of-factly replied, “Because I don’t really want whatever’s in here hearing me.”
“You do realize the entire reason you’re in there is to make contact with 027 right?” the voice countered, its indifference now sounding slightly annoyed.
“Well if i’m supposed to find it, why don’t you just point me to it?” 4425 grumbled, furrowing his brow in confusion as the beam of his flashlight failed to penetrate a particularly thick patch of darkness just ahead of him.
“Because, she’s probably going to fi–”
“OH JESUS FUCK!” 4425 reflexively started back as the patch of darkness before him suddenly moved, revealing something akin to a gigantic segmented leg. Automatically spinning on his heel and bursting off into a blind sprint, 4425 barely managed to clear ten feet of distance before he felt something impact the back of his left leg, then at the impulse of a hard tug, he subsequently found himself crashing face first into the ground.
Hearing what sounded almost like a small giggle come from behind him as he hurriedly lifted himself up from the dirt, 4425 subsequently froze in confusion as a smooth and sweetly feminine voice called out, “And a fine ‘hello’ to you too handsome.”
Choking out a dazed response of “W-what?!” as he quickly picked his flashlight up from where it had clattered to the ground, 4425 began to frantically sweep its beam around him, searching for the source of the voice.
At first finding nothing, a sudden rustling of foliage nearby immediately prompted 4425 to chase after the sound with the beam of his light, only to then half shriek when something suddenly and forcibly stuck onto the side of the tool; yet, before he could look to see what it was, a strong pull then sent the object flying away from his grip. Casting its light in a multitude of directions as it wildly tumbled through the air, the light then came to a sudden stop a short distance away – just before it was clicked off.
Feeling a rapid sinking in his gut, 4425 began to hurriedly back himself up in a blind search for whatever solid surface he could place behind him; to his relief, he did quickly end up bumping into something, however, while definitively solid, it was also oddly warm, and soft, and. . . .
Turning thoughtlessly at the sound, 4425 felt his legs suddenly go weak; there before him, eerily illuminated by the rays cast out of his own upturned flashlight, was the grinning face of something like a woman, but not quite: though its messy black hair and oddly alluring face were easily recognizable as human, the two massive horns and pair of large fluffy ears sprouting from its head spoke of something utterly foreign, something dangerous. . .something malevolent.
Regarding him with a single golden eye, the creature curled the sumptuous fullness of its lips to pronounce a soft, “Boo~” before again spreading its fangs into an amused, almost disarming smile.
“W-what the. . .” 4425 muttered, his words suddenly failing him as, with a shudder, his body then automatically began to distance itself from the creature, only to be stopped.
“Going somewhere, cutie?” the creature questioned, its smile lowering briefly before, with a thickly furred and horrifically clawed hand, it slowly guided the beam of the flashlight out from beneath its face and gradually traced it down along what at first was an oddly marked, yet still powerfully seductive human body before, seemingly in grotesque defiance of all the laws of nature, it then abruptly shifted and exploded into a nightmarishly large arachnid abdomen.
Gasping in repulsion at the sight, 4425’s horror was then redoubled once the meandering light beam slowly came to reveal that one of the creature’s chitinous legs wasn’t merely outstretched toward him, but that it in fact was what he felt cupping his lower back.
“Oh my, I can feel you tensing up!” the creature gasped teasingly, “Whatever might the reason for that be? Don’t you like what you see Mr. . .?”
Flinching away from the touch of the creature’s leg, 4425 hesitantly voiced his reply, “R-renzo. .uh. .m-my name’s Renzo.”
“Ohh, that sounds so. . .exotic.” the creature sighed dreamily, scarcely masking the feral hunger building within its tone as it then flicked the beam of the flashlight back to its face and quickly gave a broad smile. “I’m Aika, and it’s certainly a. . .pleasure, making your acquaintance handsome.”
“Thank. . .you?” 4425 offered uneasily, his body bending slightly beneath the weight of the creature’s dominating presence.
Warmly chirping out “You’re welcome!” as it quickly ran a slitted eye over him, the creature’s grinning expression suddenly changed. “Oh, how rude of me! I just remembered that I’ve still got this,” the monstrosity remarked, giving the flashlight gripped in its claws a small, tantalizing shake. “You’d probably like it back now. . . wouldn’t you?”
Slightly perturbed by the almost predatory tone in the creature’s voice, 4425 hesitantly responded, “N-no I. .uh don’t think I really need it back. You can keep–”
“Oh no, I insist.” the monstrous woman cooed, “I took it from you. So, it’s only natural that you take it back.” Giving the flashlight another teasing wave, the beast softly breathed out, “Go ahead Renny. .it’s okay. Come take it.”
“I. . .” 4425 began, “I’m not really sure. You’re not going to hurt me or do anything weird are you?”
“Hurt you?!” the creature repeated, bursting into a fit of giggles, “Oh my dear, I would never hurt something as cute and sweet as you. I can guarantee you of that. Now. .if you wouldn’t mind. .come here. My poor little arm’s getting tired.”
Though everything within him opposed both the very idea, and the creature’s worrying insistence upon it, 4425 cautiously moved toward the offered flashlight.
Flicking his eyes between the tool and the unsettling grin that had begun to spread over creature’s face, he nervously reached out, and gripped hold of the item.
Relinquishing the object into 4425’s hands, the monster warmly chirped out, “See? You’re perfectly fine!”
Despite making his best attempts to, 4425 was unable to conceal his surprise as he inelegantly mumbled out, “Huh, yeah. . .I guess I am.”
“But now you’re about to be even better. . .” the monstrosity purred, sending 4425 back in an anxious leap, one which was both by too short a distance and in far too late of a response, however, for him to escape from the ensuing sweep of the creature’s two forwardmost legs.
In an instant, 4425 found himself pressed tightly to the warmth of the creature’s body, locked in a fiery kiss. Startled and confused, he’d only just begun to dazedly process the taste and sensation of the creature’s kiss before the joining of their lips was ended just as suddenly as it had begun.
Reeling, 4425’s eyes sluggishly settled on the half-illumined face of the creature; though the interplay of light and shadow made it somewhat difficult to tell, the entity’s expression, curiously, almost looked flushed.
“Goodness, your taste is. . .” the creature sighed blissfully, her face briefly shaping into a dreamy smile as she momentarily became lost in something, “I. .think I need a better look at you.”
Reaching up to her face, the creature then gripped at something hidden beneath the messy, layered bangs of her dark hair: a kind of red cloth, one which was seemingly bedecked in strange black characters. Subsequently sliding the item up and slightly to the side with an almost ceremonial meticulousness, the beast thereby exposed another intense, golden eye.
Almost immediately thereafter, a change seemed to come over the creature as all at once: the celadon tone of her skin began to flush, her breathing began to quicken to shallow pants, and a look of bestial intensity suddenly filled the depths of her eyes, supplanting what faint sparks of humanity that could be recognized within them.
“Ohhh gods, you’re gorgeous. Y-you’re perfect.” the beast remarked heatedly yet absently, as if in a kind of trance of excited desperation.
Struggling against the nigh inescapable strength with which he was being pressed to the rapidly heating body of the monstrosity, 4425 anxiously voiced, “P-perfect for what?! What’s the matter with you? Let go of me!”
Evidently amused by his protest, an animalistic smile twitched across the creature’s face. “W-what’s. .wrong with me?” she repeated, wiping a trail of drool from the corner of her mouth, “Maybe the more appropriate question is, what’s right with me? What did I ever do to deserve such a cute little hus–”
“Let ’em go 027.” A gruff voice abruptly called, coming just before a wave of harsh light suddenly inundated the immediate area, blasting away the darkness.
Blinded by the assault, 4425’s eyes automatically slammed shut and began to water uncontrollably as they were lashed with pain, pain that was subsequently added to when the creature then pulled him tighter against her, nearly crushing the breath out of him as she inhumanly snarled, “No! He’s mine! Leave us alone!
With unflinching confidence, the gruff voice promptly responded, “Look. It’s real simple 027. If you’re good you can have him back, but if you’re bad you–”
“What?!” What the fuck are you talking about? I didn’t agree to doing this shit twice!” 4425 snapped out, blindly craning his head toward the voice.
“Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t.” the voice began flatly, “But whichever it is, it doesn’t really matter all that much ’cause your feed died all the same, and we’ve got orders to extract you because of that.”
Turning his head slightly farther, 4425 blearily squinted into the assault of light, “And how long ago was that?”
“Give or take? ‘Bout an hour.” the gruff voice replied with smooth nonchalance, sounding almost casual in tone.
Instantly bristling at the flippancy of the reply, 4425 huffed, “So. .for the better part of an hour, you people’ve left me in here to manage for myself?“
Without missing a beat, the voice replied, “It wasn’t believed that you’d ever be in any real danger ’44. And given that you’re still alive and breathing, I’d say that guess was right on the money.”
Stunned, 4425 opened his mouth to speak, but upon briefly considering where his words would likely get him, he quietly shut it once more and merely contented himself with fixing as piercing a gaze as he could manage at the blurry figure poised behind one of the lights which was within the general direction of the voice.
After a brief yet charged silence, the creature abruptly spoke out, “So. .if I do release him, do you really promise to bring him back to me?”
Relaxing the gruffness in its tone to one almost of reassurance, the voice responded, “We will if we get the order to, but beyond that I can’t say much more. Still, I’d wager that its in your best interest 027.”
Another, markedly more contemplative silence followed shortly thereafter, before the creature’s grip then slowly and hesitantly began to ease: loosening first by one leg, then another, then an arm, then two, it reluctantly dissipated until the warmth of their shared embrace disappeared entirely from 4425 and, once again, he was left standing freely.
Bewildered, not so much at his release from the clutches of the creature as at the poignant feeling of. . .emptiness he felt in the absence of her touch, 4425 could do little more than scrub at his eyes and begin to turn himself around before a rush of heavy steps stormed up behind him.
Subsequently feeling the regrettably familiar sensation of rough hands forcing his arms behind his back before the rigid pressure of cuffs then tightly clamped down onto his wrists, 4425 gave a heavy sigh and blearily opened his eyes to a brightly lit vacancy where the creature had been standing, and a distorted, semi-circular formation of men flanking each of his sides.
Quickly blinking his eyes clear, 4425 immediately looked along the channels of light erupting from the men’s weapons, searching for the suddenly vanished creature; though it confounded him to no end, he sensed a subtle lamentation beginning to bloom in the depths of his spirit. . .like he’d just lost a part of himself.
“Roger control, we got ’em. We’re extracting now.” The words, upon utterance, quickly snapped 4425 out from the futility of his search, however, just as he then began to dart his eyes toward their speaker, something else suddenly caught his attention.
Though he could only capture the faintest glimpse of it from the corner of his vision before the form promptly disappeared, what little he saw of the hulking figure was still enough to get 4425’s heart pumping – although, strangely, not from fear.
Instead, as he was subsequently marched back through the sea of trees and dense foliage that filled the chamber, 4425 found himself feeling almost reassured by the notion of still being within the creature’s presence: something was happening to him, changing him in ways he couldn’t possibly understand, yet for as oddly cognizant as he was of the alterations occurring within him. . .4425 felt strangely at peace with them. They were subtle, inoffensive corrections, nothing bad. . .or, perhaps, that was at least how they colored and numbed his mind to make him feel. He couldn’t be sure.
Before long, the buzzing, depthless confusion within 4425’s mind came to a sudden and abrupt halt when he noticed that the final vestiges of the chamber’s enveloping thicket had waned into the emptiness of a clearing just shortly ahead of the room’s monumental door, plainly marking the end of his forced march.
Though the likelihood of a return trial was almost certain, looking upon the gaping door and the interior of the facility beyond it filled 4425 with a creeping and terrible uncertainty; for reasons he couldn’t understand, he felt a powerful reluctance in leaving the creature behind.
“Move it ’44.”
Looking back over his shoulder to the monstrous woman silently looming over the men behind him, 4425 watched as, with a wink, she blew him a kiss and then soundlessly slinked off into the darkness of the chamber’s deeper recesses, seemingly reassuring something inside of him that they would indeed meet again.
“C’mon! What are you looking at ’44? 027’s gone. Get a move on!” one of the men grumbled and roughly shoved 4425, breaking him from the trance he’d silently slipped into. “Uh. .yeah. . .” 4425 replied absently, briefly scanning through the dark for the creature before he grimaced and, with a sigh, he then hesitantly stepped back through the door’s threshold, back to his cell.