There was a long, uncomfortable silence after that, in which Lucia openly wept, and Niarith just held onto her, seemingly unsure what to do or say. “Luci… I’m so sorry. I.. I don’t even know what to say I’m just… so sorry.”
Lucia caught her breath and sighed. “That’s not all. My… my name... it’s not Lucia. It’s… Maria. Lucia was my middle name, but after what happened I… after I failed to save her I didn’t feel like I deserved her name anymore. When I fled, after I killed Wessley, when I got to Talar I just started calling myself by my middle name, Lucia. I haven’t called myself Maria in years…” She paused, taking a few shaky breaths. “I understand if you don’t want to be with a murderer. I wouldn’t.”
Niarith let go of Lucia and stared her straight in the eye, kneeling next to her “Lucia. Honey. We’re both murderers. We’ve both killed people. You’re no worse for doing it at a younger age than me. I liked you, and let us become a thing, when I knew you were an assassin, Luci. Killing was your job, and I knew that. I’m not going anywhere. I love you, Lucia. I love you.” She leaned over and kissed Lucia on the cheek. “And you didn’t fail to save your grandmother. He never gave you the chance. You couldn’t have known. It wasn’t your fault, honey. It wasn’t.”
Lucia felt her tears coming on stronger, her entire face seemed to be heating up. “No one has… I’ve never… No one has ever… said that to me before. I’ve never talked about this. I was so afraid that you’d… but you just… I…” she broke down and couldn’t continue speaking, and instead just embraced Niarith tightly. They stayed that way for a long while.
“Hey uh… I know you’re having a moment and all, but uhh… Formolious has a unit working on the door.” Dr. Antontak appeared over the top of the supply crate next to them. “We need to y’know, get ready for that thing to get through, because it will get through. But seeing as you’re both apparently murderers, I think you can handle it when it does.” He went back to his computers without another word.
Lucia stood up, the ill-fitting lab coat uncomfortably tight around her body. She looked around, and saw all four walls were featureless and smooth. “Uhh… what door?” The words had barely left her lips when a loud BANG sounded from an empty area of the wall facing the computers. The wall dented outward into the room, and the outline of a rectangular doorway became visible.
<MESSAGE BEGINS> <UNIT 037> <SUBJECT 039> <DOCTOR ARNITCH ANTONTAK> <YOU ARE REQUIRED TO STAND DOWN IMMEDIATELY AND SUBMIT TO PROCESSING> <RESISTANCE WILL BE MET WITH LETHAL FORCE> <SUBJECT 038 HAS NOT BEEN PROCESSED> <UPON CONFIRMATION OF RESISTANCE> <SUBJECT 038 WILL BE KILLED> <MESSAGE ENDS>
Dr. Antontak stood with his back to the screens, almost sitting on the keyboard behind him. His expression was a mix of shock, fear, and anger. “Fucking hostages now? Really Fringaline? She’s lost her goddamn mind.”
Niarith looked from the doctor, to the door, to Lucia. “I.. I don’t know what to do. If we resist they’ll kill Lolanene. If we don’t… we all end up as Units.”
Lucia stepped forward. “Unless… we get them to take us to Lolanene first. We get all of us together, then we take down whatever Units are standing guard, and get to reversing them.” She turned to the partially bashed in door. “Hey! We’re gonna surrender! We have one condition!”
<MESSAGE BEGINS> <CONDITIONS ARE SET> <YOU WILL SUBMIT> <YOU WILL BE PROCESSED> <OR YOU WILL DIE> <MESSAGE ENDS>
Antontak sighed “Great negotiating skills there, miss assassin.”
Another incredibly loud BANG sounded as the door flew free of the wall, smashing into the screens and computers, smashing keys and computer parts and sending them flying across the room. Dr. Antontak made a high pitched shrieking noise and dove out of the way, while Lucia and Niarith took cover behind the storage crates. In the doorway, silhouetted by the light in the corridor beyond, was a Unit. Behind it were two more Units, as well as Doctor Formolious. The Unit stepped out of the way, and Dr. Formolious stepped forward.
“Hello, my beautiful subjects! So good to see you again, and you as well, Dr. Antontak!” Her voice and demeanor were just as cheery and kind as ever, and with the new context of the situation, Lucia found it incredibly unsettling.
“Fringaline… You have to stop. You’re taking away people’s lives, you’re threatening to kill teenagers for fuck’s sake! Listen to me, please!” Arnitch sounded more sincere than Lucia had ever heard him sound. He stepped forward, and a Unit entered the room, and calmly shoved him backward. The man flew off his feet, and hit the row of computers with a loud clatter. After hitting the computers, he fell forward onto the floor, where he lay face down, stunned.
“Now Dr. Antontak, you really mustn’t be so unprofessional.” her smile faded, and her voice changed from cheery to utterly hateful, dripping with malice. “It’s Doctor Formolius.” Her smile immediately returned and she looked over at Lucia and Niarith, who had been watching from behind the crates. The Unit that had shoved Dr. Antontak was moving to pick him up. “Hello there, subjects! You can come out now! You don’t want me to make you!” Several more Units entered the room. One of which was dragging an unconscious Lolanene across the floor with one hand.
“What happens if we don’t, bitch?” Lucia spat.
The doctor grinned “Oh that’s very simple dear! Either you come out,” she gestured behind her to the Unit holding Loanene and the Unit next to them “or I order Units 013 and 020 here to pull this poor little girl in half right here!”
“Heavens and void! Why are you doing this?” Lucia stood as she spoke, resting her hands atop the crate in front of her.
“Results, my dear subject! I can make it work! I can! I just need more time! More subjects! And so, I need you.” She pointed on the last word, prompting two Units to approach the crates. Lucia’s mind blurred into action. Her body, moving like a fluid, she reached into the crate whilst leaping over it, grabbing something sharp from within, some kind of screwdriver. As she landed on her feet on the other side, she shoved the sharp end of the tool into the skull of the person beneath the shiny sheath of the Unit. It jerked, spasmed, and began to fall. Before it hit the floor Lucia had stabbed the other approaching Unit. As she spun out of that motion, she lunged toward the Unit holding Lolanene, catching it in the chest with the tool. It lived long enough to backhand her across the room. She flew backward, slamming into the crate behind her, and flipping over onto the floor behind it. She lay there on the floor, stunned and confused. Her body was ablaze with pain.
She stared at the floor for a long moment, unsure if she could move. She heard sparking wires and smelled smoke and melted plastic. Slowly, she sat up, and looked around. She was laying amongst and partially beneath a massive pile of tools and electronics. The crate had fallen over and dumped its contents onto her. Niarith was nowhere to be seen from her position, though she could see the doorway, and the first two of the corpses she’d created. She quickly unburied herself, and shakily stood up, realizing just how much pain she was in. Niarith was across the room, and she was tearing off the sheath of a Unit. The one she hadn’t killed. Formolius was gone, and the hallway looked empty. Dr. Antontak was up, and typing at several of the computers that hadn’t been destroyed. He was bleeding from a wound in his head, and was standing in such a way that suggested he was favoring one leg. Niarith looked up and saw Lucia was up. “Luci!” She nearly leaped across the room and hugged Lucia so tightly she thought might be crushed by the force of it.
Antontak turned and just stared, his face unreadable. He turned to the still living Unit. it was sitting on a pile of broken electronics, its torso draped over its legs. Antontak removed the partially disassembled Unit 037 from its neck. Then he ripped the sheath off her head, leaving the rest intact. The woman had dark tan skin, was short and slightly heavy-set. Her dark, curly hair was unkempt, and her eyes unfocused, but Lucia recognized her at once. Darlinna Mechanicane looked around the room, dazed and confused. “Hey, hey you’re alright now.” Dr. Antontak spoke to her with a compassion he hadn’t used before.
She looked up at the man, who had put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “A-Arnitch? I.. what happened? Dr. Formolius called me in for a meeting and… I don’t remember.” She started breathing heavily. “What the hell happened?”
Dr. Antontak sighed “Formolius lost it. Started connecting everyone she could to Units. She’s got the idea that more working Units means better results, and she’s prepared to get those results no matter the cost. She’s converted the entire facility except me, and now you.”
Darlinna just stared for a moment, shock evident on her face. “It wasn’t ready… I thought we were years from a working prototype..”
Antontak stood up, wincing slightly as he did. “We were. She started connecting them anyway. They overpower the nervous system, rewrite mental pathways. I’ve figured out how to reverse it. Did so to that murderer over there.” He gestured vaguely to Lucia across the room.
Darlinna looked, seemed confused and squinted a bit, then gasped in shock. “You. I… how the fuck…” She leaned forward from where she sat atop some ruined electronics, and held her head in her hands.
Lucia didn’t know how to respond, and just stood there awkwardly. “Hi.. Officer Mechanicane..”
“Okay you two know each other, great. We need to move. Right now.” Dr. Antontak took a small device out of one of the remaining computers, a storage device of some kind. He also picked up the partially disassembled remains of Unit 037 as he limped to the shattered doorway.
Lucia walked across the room, ignoring the pain as her body protested her doing so, and offered a hand to Darlinna. Darlinna looked at it quizzically for a moment, then took it, allowing Lucia to help her up. Niarith was trying to rouse Lolanene, and having little success. After a few moments, Niarith simply shrugged, and picked Lolanene up and put her over her shoulder.
“Uh, doctor? Where exactly are we going?” Niarith asked, as Lucia and Darlinna exited the storage closet.
Dr. Antontak didn’t look behind him as he answered “Production.”