Heavy air hung in the cold, stone hallway. The sounds of footsteps echoed throughout as tens of people frantically raced around in a panic. Stacks of papers and folders were being carried around, scraps flying and left behind as people scrambled to move various records. One man, however, was still and visibly calm, standing in the middle of the hallway as people raced around and occasionally bumped into him. He stood still, staring at where the floor met the wall. There was a chalk outline of a body and a large stain of blood that had been painted against the wall. Centered at the top was a hole where a large caliber bullet had bored through and been lodged deep within the concrete wall. There seemed to have been an attempt to scrub away the viscera and remains, however the blood had soaked in for too long. The still-standing man clenched his fist and dropped to his knees, finally losing composure over himself. His left hand clenched over his heart as he propped himself up from the floor, his hand resting firmly on the blood stain that pooled on the floor. He coughed and spat up bits of saliva as he struggled to breathe. His pupils shrunk to the size of pinpricks as his mind raced. His ears rung as he fought to regain himself, feeling something grabbing his shoulder, shaking and tugging.
“Sir… SIR!” A voice rang out, piercing through the man’s panicked stupor. He turned to face the voice, seeing one of his colleagues. She held a stack of folders and binders in one hand and was trying to help him up with the other, “Sir, are you alright? Please talk to me,” she repeated. The man simply stared up at her, dumfounded as he looked at her features. He took note of her long, brown locks that hung at the sides of her head, her light-blue fur made teal in the overhead lights, her lab-coat which she painstakingly kept pristine and white despite the amount of blood that would end up on it over the years, all topped with a small golden pin emblazoned with Omega’s insignia on her lapel.
“I… I’m alright,” The man replied as he blinked and rose to his feet, pushing up against the wall and stumbling a bit. He pinched his brow and stood at eye level with his colleague, “how is the destruction coming along?”
“It’s slow, sir, there’s so much data,” The woman replied as she held up her stack of files and records, gesturing around to the others left scattered through the hallway. The man leaned down and began to assist with picking up the scraps of paper, checking them over before handing them to his co-worker.
“Keep at it, it needs to all be burned. Don’t use the shredders, just burn it all and leave nothing but the ashes,” he replied, staring her in the eyes. She could see the seriousness of the situation. She gulped and nodded, taking the scraps of paper from her superior before rushing off to give the scrambled others the instructions. The man stared down at the floor once more, the tips of his claws up against the chalk outline as he looked down at the congealed blood that wasn’t scrubbed away. He scoffed and turned to walk down the hallway in the opposite direction of the commotion, leaving the file destruction to his underlings while he proceeded with the cleanup. The man made his way through a labyrinth of halls and passages. Doors lined the walls, ranging from simple closets all the way to maximum security doors equipped with heavy locks. None of these were in the man’s interest. He instead continued further to the highest security prison pod. He came upon a set of double doors with an RFID scanner. The man dug into his breast pocket and retrieved a lanyard. The ID card attached was obscured with blood, but it worked all the same. The doors clicked and the locks disengaged and swung open. The doors opened to reveal an office. In it was a desk which faced the doors, backed with full windows overlooking a prison pod. There were file cabinets along the walls with photos, certificates, and other framed oddities lining what wasn’t covered with file storage devises. The man raced to the desk and started shuffling papers, looking through each document before throwing them onto the floor. His heart started to race again as he began digging through the desk, yanking and tugging on locked drawers, snapping them open forcefully. His eyes quickly scanned each and every piece of paper before they found their way to the piles on the floor. Growing more and more annoyed with the lack of digital storage, the man stands up and in a fit of rage he flips the desk over onto the floor. Drawers flew out with a loud bang and supplies rolled off: a computer monitor, phone handset, desk supplies, even a glass of Bourbon never finished. The man turned and pounded his fist on the window behind him. Thoughts of his future began to fill his head, what would become of him? What if he was exposed? What punishment would he face? He knew he would probably end up hanged for his involvement in the facility. His eyes rose as he looked out over the pod below him. His superior once stood in this same place, looking down over his experiments and test subjects. He remembered times when he would serve his superior coffee and would be invited for liquor, listening to tales of inmates’ past, various experiments performed on them and what was discovered from those tests. The man’s superior was very loose with who he shared his deepest information with, especially in contrast with his data-security methods. Despite keeping everything on physical record, the man’s superior almost enjoyed gloating about the twisted experiments he would perform. He balled his fist against the glass and pounded it once more. He walked to the desk he overturned and sifted the phone handset from the pile of office supplies. He yanked it up and held the phone between his head and shoulder before dialing a short password into the keypad. Speakers in the pod below clicked on as he approached a wall console left of the main window.
“Excuse me, I would like all of your attention,” the man’s voice rang out through the pod as the inmates began pounding on the doors, “The Warden is dead. He has been dead for a day now, if any of you were wondering why the experiments have stopped…” He paused as the pounding grew louder. “In fact, there will be no more experiments, but that does not mean you are free to go. You are still prisoners of the House of Omega, and you will remain that way.” The pounding grew louder and louder as the man continued with his announcement, “I am, however, offering you a deal. If you help me with a task, I will pull my influence and get you pardoned,” The man adds before pressing a button labeled “Lockdown Release” on the console. The doors to the cells opened up as the pounding stopped. Pneumatic locks disengaged with steam escaping from the hydraulic locking bolts. The man looked over the pod as twelve men and women emerged from the doors, looking around rather confused. “There is a catch though,” he added as the prisoners turned up to look at him standing in the window, “I only have room for a few of you and I’m sure you can figure out what that means… three of you should do.” As he finished, screams erupted from the pod below as sounds of banging and impacts rang through the pod. The prisoners beat each other to death as the man watched, smiling a bit, watching blood spill onto the floor as prisoners clawed and bit at each other’s throats, slashing and mauling. “I will not go quietly…” The man muttered to himself under his breath as the fighting continued down below.
Dusk was hanging low over the border checkpoint between Lamtha and Episemon. Few cars had made their way through that day as most were hunkered down for the long night, yet the city in the distance was bustling with life. The stars were partially obscured by the intense light pollution, and it was difficult to make out Nerom in dark sky. The border checkpoint was small and relatively un-manned. There was only one guard on duty, and he sat half-asleep in his chair with a book covering his eyes. A small TV sat in the corner of his desk playing through news reels for the day, yet it was muted. The only sounds in that shack were the hum of the bright light overhead and the insects all around the outside in the tall grasses. Wind blew stiff across the plains, cutting through the cold night air like a knife. The grass bent and crushed down under the unabated gusts with none of it reaching the inside of the shack. The guard’s peace was interrupted by a couple knocks on the glass window. He shot awake with his book sliding off his face and hitting the floor with a light thump. The guard looked around and met the gaze of two chupas standing at the border. The guard squinted as his eyes hadn’t adjusted. The two seemed rather young, military age, at least one of them. The taller female had light, blonde hair that hung just above her shoulders. Her lilac eyes were easily visible even as dusk settled. The one knocking was a shorter male with a deep, black mane. Both wore clothes that looked like they didn’t belong to them. Nothing fit exactly right from the shirts to their pants. The whiskers on the sides of the male’s snout twitched as he made a face before knocking again on the window.
“Uhh right, yes. Pass your IDs through here,” he replied. It was obvious he had been snoring during his nap by the hoarseness of his voice. The two travelers dug out their ID cards and slid them through the port. The checkpoint guard sat limply, looking between the cards and the two chupas. He went back and forth from the IDs to their faces and back again. The younger one got visibly upset and scowled at the guard.
“So, you planned on killing him? Hartley you need to talk to me about this,” Lyra added as she reached out to put a hand on her brother’s shoulder.
“There’s nothing to talk about… he’s dead now, just leave it at that,” he said while shaking her hand away and scooting to the edge of the bench, “He’s dead, and I’m not. I won and that’s all that matters.”
“Don’t bullshit me, Hart. You know there’s more to it than that,” Lyra replied, staring her brother in his deep, blue eyes. Hartley stared back, his brow furrowing, “This isn’t something you can explain away with ‘shit happens,’ Hartley, you killed someone.”
“The worst thing you can do is lie to yourself,” Lyra said in response as she clung to her brother, holding him tight against her, feeling the warmth of his body through the loose clothes hanging on his shoulders. Hartley kept quiet, his gaze down and away as Lyra’s words reverberated through him, “What are we going to tell mom and dad? You left without saying a word, remember?” Lyra said, breaking the silence. She felt her little brother rest his head on her shoulder. She was surprised at the reaction, but gave him a soft, slow rub.
“I’m sorry I left,” Hart mumbled out to his sister, “I’m sorry I left without saying anything.” Lyra looked over to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
“It hurt us when we found out,” Lyra said as she worked her hand down to hold her brother’s, “We didn’t know if you were going to be okay. We saw your room was empty and we thought of the worst… I didn’t hesitate to go out after you.” Lyra sat up in her seat and turned her brother to face her, gripping his hand tightly in her own, “But they’re going to be more than happy to see you back home safe again.” she looked her brother in the eyes, “I’m happy you’re safe. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to you back there.” Hartley looked back and nodded, smiling a bit before leaning on his sister. She held him tight as he fell asleep, passing through their hometown and into the suburbs where they lived. Spending almost two hours driving, the pair finally made it to their stop. Lyra shook Hartley awake and they got off the bus and made their way towards their house. The two walked through the empty blocks as night had fallen completely over Episemon. Houses lined the left side as an immense, expansive field stretched across their right. Insects buzzed around the streetlights that illuminated their pathway home, both siblings walking over the cracked sidewalks they had known for years, though for Hartley he only then began thinking about how small everything seemed from back when he was younger. The two made their way to their street, rounding the corners and approaching their front door. Lyra reached out to knock as Hart stood at her side, his heart racing, afraid to see his parents’ reaction. His stomach felt like it had dropped through his entire body as he heard the door opening. His mother stood at the door, hopeful. As soon as she saw her baby boy her hand went over her mouth. She gasped and ran out, wrapping her arms around her son tightly as tears began to bud from the corners of her tightly closed eyes. She ran her hand through her son’s black hair and smiled.
“You’re home,” she replied, smiling as she fought back the tears. She quickly shuffled her son inside and away from the cold air sneaking into the house while his father stood further in. His hands were on his hips, and he looked relieved to finally have his son back home. Hartley approached his dad, and he too took his son into his arms, holding him tight. Hartley smiled a bit, happy to see their reactions weren’t what he expected.
“No, we’re fine,” Hartley added as he turned to his mother. He then shifted his focus to his father and nodded, “Yeah, I had to go back… I had unfinished business there,” Hartley said, sighing, “I needed closure.” Hart took a long, deep breath before looking to his father. “I killed him,” he said, leaving it on the table. Tate looked back at his son, unsure what to even feel. Tate looked down to his lap as his expression tightened up.
“I never wanted your life to be a repeat of ours,” Tate said as he looked into Hartley’s eyes, “Conflict and fighting… it consumed me, it consumed your mother. We tried so hard to shield you both from that hell.”
“You deserved to have your life be calm and collected,” their mother added. Tate turned to look into his daughter’s eyes as well, “With everything that’s happened over the last few years, I just wonder if you will ever get that serenity.” Lyra approached and sat next to her father. Hartley turned his hands over in his lap, staring at the dark, black pads lining his palms, seeing the contrast between his and the dark brown of his family’s.