“Damned I” by Shaeor

Jilly was in a daze.

The military schtick wasn’t for her. What with the siren stirring her from too little sleep and the general demands on personal time. It was the price, though. Hypothetically, it was all worth it. Just had to stick it out.

She lurched around her apartment, past her work area and blackboard to the kitchen. She touched the light switch and stuck a cup under her coffee machine. Turned an eye to her wrist and a holographic clock flipped on.

Eight minutes, she remembered.

Time was different between dimensions, so the clock was personally tuned to her biology and schedule. She was an Eidolon, a member of the Utopian military. Nobody called it that, however. Didn’t fit the self-image people made. Hence the term Eidolon. An ideal to strive towards.

Fluffy feelings on a stiff mattress.

Analogies, feh.

You’re still asleep, dummy.

Jilly grabbed her coffee and a pill from the bottle on her counter. Something to balance her body and promote health. A fix for a little of everything.

She quickly drank while she located her suit. A dark grey, thick second skin. She changed out of her skivvies in the living room. There was only open space out the window. It was probably one-way, anyway. Yup, still creepy, so hastened.

Jilly was sealing her suit as she grabbed her helmet off the recliner by the door. Downing the last of her coffee she stepped into the hall, putting it on.

She descended a flight of stairs at the end of the hall. Faster than the elevator, which was probably in use. Could use the exercise, too.

Nope. Should’ve used the stairs.

Two minutes of flights later, she hit the floor running. Out onto the ship bay, she ran, surrounded on all sides by small crafts and behemoth vessels.

Her display lead the way in augmented reality.

“Good morning, Jillian,” a friendly and neutral voice came.

“‘Ey, Aku,” Jilly replied. She circled around a fighter and her ship came into view. A small carrier craft with open cargo-bay doors facing her.

My ship. She was cool like that.

There were fun parts to all this. She hadn’t been at it for long, but she still got her own ship and squadron. Perks.

There were four masculine figures of identical imposing build at the ramp. Each in the same suit as her. The closest one returned a sarcastic salute as she approached.

“Hello again.”

“Ready for work?” the android asked.

“As ever!… What’s the job?”

“Investigation. I’ll show you.”

She hop-stepped up the ramp and into the red-lit ship. Taking her seat she grabbed hold of the metal cage around her with one hand. With the other, she manipulated her display. There came images of a world. Taken from high above, the sphere was set against the black of space.

She recognized it. “A Relocation World?”

Fluffy stuffing, she recalled.

The ship bucked as it revved up and off, the cargo doors thrumming shut.

“Yes. There’s concern which I happen to share, of a widespread security breach. Recurring surveillance failures in my systems. Unaccounted for persons. I believe metaphysical disturbances may be involved.”

“Sure.” A video played in front of her of a gaunt man in a jumpsuit. He ran down a hall, screaming for help.

“He’s not yet been found.”

“That’s… disturbing,” Jilly said.

“Mhm.”

The ship would now be passing through any number of gateways. She couldn’t feel it, though. She just knew.

Jilly hung her head and let her mind wander. The flight would be short.

She thought of home and of the Monastery. And a little Kyle. He was fun.

The rocking of the ship and the roaring of wind signaled it. They’d hit the atmosphere. She held tight for the turbulence that followed.

“One minute to touch-down,” her comms informed. “Stay back.”

The ship quieted down as it came to rest and the door came down. The four androids rose in perfect coordination grabbing their weapons from aside their seats and moving to secure the door. Outside the ship was projecting blinding spotlights on a dark landing area. Blotches danced in the black beyond like spots behind shut eyes.

Not all the silhouettes looked human.

Oh, shit, she realized.

“This is a restricted area!” speakers shouted.

Jilly came up behind the androids in formation. “Relocation from where?

“The Hell Campaign,” Aku said.

All of the sudden it was far too silent.

This entire planet was a destination for those plucked from the throes of hell itself. The literal place, it came in all colors and climates. They were connected by symbolic resonance, and there were countless in the Omniverse. It was a major Utopian mission to empty them out.

It was also a great and undeserved mercy, for most, to remove them. It wasn’t like the planets which were given a second home to displaced or Liberated races. It was a prison for long broken souls and bodies. It wasn’t a nice place.

The speakers continued their warnings as the massive shuttle bay doors shut overhead, sealing Jilly in. She stayed close behind the expendables as they left their ship behind. Drones flew overhead to provide light.

The five of them came to a door which began to open.

Jilly looked back into the dark to see the skittering legs a thing skimming the light’s edge. She could sense its presence. She decided not to think on it, though.

This is a locked off and unlit area. The outcasts live here. Things that don’t seek company with other things still resembling human. She shivered.

With androids surrounding Jilly, she was led safely out through the doors which closed behind them. They were now in a courtyard. Men and women in jumpsuits sat or stood along the walls. In the center, there was a basketball court. No one was playing, but a girl sat atop one of the poles. There were androids too. Peacekeepers.

“Hey!” the girl called. “Yeah you!”

Jilly was walking with her protectors along the wall. They had a ways to go. Bored people were gravitating towards their group, and as a result, so were more androids. The girl jumped down and caught up.

“You’re no machine. Robots don’t come with breasts,” she said.

“The fun kind do,” a man added.

“I’m a Magus. I’m here on official business, no fun times,” Jilly responded.

“You mean you’re really not here for poon?” Jilly looked and the girl was… mad? It was hard to tell. Her expression was odd. She had a cross tattooed on her brow and nose. “No, you’re here to make sure we don’t get out. Idn’t that right, puddin’?”

“No panky, thank’ye. And hey, It’s a whole planet out there. Sure there’s rules, but they’re just common sense. You’ve got plenty room to live and sights to see. There’re mountains and lakes even, yeah?”

“Yes,” one of the androids confirmed.

“Are you complaining, really?” Jilly said. “Food, freedom, and fun provided.”

“It’s still a cage. You can’t say this place has everything, cause it don’t.”

“Jobs to perform, recreational activities… I dunno, but I’m sure someone smarter than me has thought of the rest.”

Gotta distract them from the pointlessness.

Don’t go getting deep on my, Jellyhead.

“Listen, kid, we don’t need you. Give us control, freedom!

Pfft. Jilly looked at the girl. They had to be the same age; mid-twenties. She also felt like diverting the conversation away from absurdity. “Kid?”

“I’ve died and been to hell, sweety. Been around for at least a few hundred years. But you know, I lose track when there’s no light and I’m up to my neck in ice. You… fuck.” The girl grew quiet as she thought about it. She walked away without saying more.

Mission accomplished!

Jilly elected to ignore the insults and questions levied by the rest of the crowd. Soon many of them too fell away, and her destination was nearing. They came to it past a large vault door. The same hall from the video. The one the man had run screaming down.

“Maintenance is having trouble with the lighting. Replacement bulbs have malfunctioned. I was unable to locate a mechanical explanation, therefore, we’re lead to believe the cause is supernatural,” Jilly’s soldier explained.

Those same lights flickered and buzzed down the length of a long hall. Doors on both sides lead to countless unfilled living quarters. It was eerie.

“The planet is not yet at full capacity, so this sector is empty.”

Nearby inhabited areas, though, she noted.

“I’m going to dig around a bit,” Jilly said. “Don’t let anything happen while I’m out, okay? That’d suck.”

The android gave a thumbs-up.

“Alright.” She got down on her knees. It was necessary to remove her helmet. Laying it on the ground in front of her, she swept matted brunette hair out of her face, brushing it back. “Echoes guide me,” she whispered. “Show me time.”

This was what she’d studied at the Monastery.

Her head flew back, eyes rolling white, teeth barred.

She watched as her body stood and walked backward out of sight. The lights flickered rapidly and robots flashed by to work in reverse. She had to grind things to a halt as the screaming man came out from where he’d gone.

Jilly just needed to follow him now. Had to go where the cameras had failed to. She willed the vision to play time forward. “Carry me down the hall.” She had to trust Aku to do that. She couldn’t feel herself being moved, but as her change in perspective came, she knew they’d started.

Now she could follow the man as she watched him in slow-motion. Down the nearly pitch black hall for quite some ways. She tried looking back, but there was a field of darkness surrounding the pursuer. Not a natural dark either. No, like the information just wasn’t there. Like it’d been cut.

The man came to a door. “Stop. Room X7A3,” she said. The man left the door open. It leads to a level of the building which held equipment. Heaters and coolers and machinery of all sorts. Stairs, too.

God, I hope they don’t drop me.

It was hard, but she continued to direct Aku.

The eaten space followed the man as he weaved between pipes and things, yelling back. Noise was harder to get a fix on. Jilly couldn’t make out what he was saying.

He looked to be pleading.

He tripped and staggered, fell. Rising with a bloodied face, the man had, in his confusion, made his way to a corner. A dead-end. He turned around shoved as far against the wall as he could, sliding down.

Jilly could switch focus now. She stopped the motion to focus on audio.

“Please,” he faintly said. She tried harder. “Please!

Got it!

The sickly man continued. “I won’t tell anyone!”

“That’s too bad, honey.” It was the girl. The one from earlier. Her voice came out from the dark. “I’ll be eating your eyes anyway. That’s just me.” The cloud moved over him and stopped his shrill scream from escaping.

Shit. She needed more information. They could investigate once she left this state, but she shouldn’t leave without more, without everything available.

“Let’s backup,” Jilly said. She was rewinding, but the erased hadn’t retreated. That wasn’t right. She fast-forwarded, but the darkness didn’t budge. The trail was permanent no matter how far forward or back she went. The information was just gone.

I’m not moving.

She broke out of her trance, reality crashing down on her.

Jilly lay in a pile of decimated androids. There was a blade in her chest.

She couldn’t gasp or cry out. The pain was incredible. Her mouth let out a soundless cry as her eyes watered.

Perched on the handle of the blade embedded in her chest, the girl with the tattoo grinned, leering over Jilly.

She could only strangle out a groan as her lungs struggled to expand. The deluge of blood drowned that whimper in a gurgle. She jerked, trying to expel the fluid from her lungs in a coughing fit, but failed. Her damp eyes grew wide and still. All she could think was; A fluffy mattress.

The girl watched from above, giddy.

O

Aku’s units had been defeated. The attacker had taken damage but not slowed. Cameras in the area gave into static as the image of an unconscious Jillian being driven through faded.

The instant the enemy had felled one android a massive response was already being summoned. Teleports were not working.

The speed of human response was horribly unhelpful. Units were en route, but they would likely be ineffective. Magus needed to be contacted, updated, and informed. Only a handful could travel with their abilities, and even fewer were available.

Likelihood of casualty was high.

The attacker would likely escape again.

This was a rarity. Security would have to be greatly increased on further investigations. More Magus would be required. There was a deficit. The Hell Campaign was resource consumptive operation. The Eidolons were primarily devoted to it, given that they mostly consisted of Magus. Aku could handle other affairs.

The A.I. shelved that as events unfolded. In trillions of places at once the machine orchestrated events. Entire worlds were being liberated from suffering by automated armies. First reconnaissance, then contact was made, and then occupation. The populations were often compliant, given that the only goal was to provide them resources and freedoms. One after the next. An endless process for an endless Omniverse.

It was a mission that Aku cared about. It was beautiful.

Eternal.

Shaeor’s writing can be found at Dirge.

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