Dark Age: Spliced
rating: +6+x

I opened my tired eyes, forcing myself to get up out of bed. The mornings were getting harder. Everything hurt; I already had a migraine.

I dragged myself to the replicator and asked for my ever-growing list of drugs. A handful of full syringes came out the slot, and I grudgingly emptied the contents into my catheter. I put the empty syringes back in the recycler, which then told me that, due to the volume and frequency of medication consumed, I needed to drain the organ that metabolised them. I groaned, then accepted the empty syringe and biohazard bag. I attached it to the catheter right above my jugular notch, then pulled on the piston, gagging as I sucked out a bunch of too-clear blood.

This was just a little bit extremely bad; the blood passing through that organ shouldn’t have been completely deoxygenated. I capped the needle and put the cylinder of blood into the bag. The recycler accepted it, with a notice that any biological contents I submitted might be subject to evaluation. But it was fine, because nothing bad had happened before.

Then it beeped, with a second notice that it had identified an abnormally elevated level of enzymes in my blood. It suggested I go to the hospital, and offered to notify a doctor that I would be arriving. I groaned louder and rubbed my face, hitting “Decline” on the interface and went to get changed into my uniform.

I was in the middle of violently assaulting a training mannequin when 7CB7 walked into the training centre. It was empty besides for us, which wasn’t unusual; nobody else needed to exercise. (Yes, I was bitter.) They’d given me a few sols off from my posting due to repeated episodes of syncope, and I’d spent most of it here.

I stepped back from the mannequin, panting.

“Hey. Thought I’d find you in here.”

Upon not receiving a response, it continued. “You’re supposed to be resting.”

I sighed and faced it, about to come up with a retort when its brow furrowed. “Hey, you’re as yellow as a One. Are you-?”

Crossing my arms, I interrupted, “Do you need me for something?”

“No, I’m serious. Are you feeling okay?” 7CB7 pointed at its neck. “Have you been draining your waste line?”

I made a (rather jaundiced) face. “That’s not the problem.”

“So what is the problem?”

“There isn’t a problem,” I said rather unintelligently.

“No, look, you’re literally swaying on your feet right now.” I was?

“I’m not.”

It made an exasperated noise and walked away. I sat down until it returned a few minutes later, 4B80 in tow.

“Asshole!” I said, rather harshly. I didn’t mean it, not in the slightest. But I was annoyed that 7CB7 had told on me to 4B80.

The latter grabbed my arm and led me into the hallway, then started down the path that went to… nope. “Stop, I wasn’t done-”

“You’re going to medical,” it said matter-of-factly, continuing to walk.


7CB7 took my other arm and assisted 4B80. “Yeah. Yeah, you are.”

“You guys suck,” I muttered.

“We love you, too,” 7CB7 responded, and I couldn’t tell if it was joking or not.

I– to my great dissatisfaction– had to spend forever in the hospital, where they very politely asked me what the fuck I had been doing. Apparently, I was having unexpected reactions to at least two of the medications I was on, and apparently, performance-enhancing drugs were not good for you in the long-term.

Colour me surprised, as a human would say. Well, not really. I’d known that this would happen sooner or later, but I decided that I would just keep going until I crashed. But man, the ‘crash’ part of that sucked so bad.

The door opened, and 7CB7 stepped in. It had come to visit me almost every day, along with 4B80. It was super weird and totally unnecessary, but also made me feel a lot better.

It sat down next to me and handed me something. I took the object; it was a small, rectangular device, with a few buttons along the bottom.

“This is for you. You mentioned that you consume a fair share of media, right? This has some human media on it. Shows, songs, books, and a few simple games.”

“I-” Wow. That was really nice. “Thank you.”

7CB7 nodded. “I know you don’t like being here. Sometimes you gotta, but I get why you don’t like it. So I thought maybe this would make it more bearable.”

I opened my mouth, closed it, and opened it again. After a long pause, I said, “I’m sorry for calling you an asshole.”

“It’s okay.” It smiled at me with those scary teeth that I’d grown just a little fond of. “Do you want to watch something together?”

“Yeah, I would.”

As soon as I was well enough to get back in the field, they stuck me and my squad on a mission that was more like the ones I used to do. I.e. going right into the lion’s den– in this case, one of the rebels’ suspected bases. We were all fitted with more heavy-duty armour; always a bad sign.

Looking back, I really should have trusted my intuition.

My skin crawled with dread as we approached the entrance. The fog was especially thick, more so than was normal for my hazy planet. I wondered absently if we’d have evolved to be endothermic if the atmosphere wasn’t so insulating. I gripped my weapon anxiously, stepping through the dewy grass, when I heard a sharp click.

Then, the sound of a device powering up. I turned to the source of the noise just in time to see 7CB7 looking down, then felt 4B80 grab me and I heard it yell something but everything was happening so fast and then I felt a blast, hitting me forcefully in the back, and I was falling, and my ears were ringing, and-

Time caught up with me and I was suddenly on the ground, 4B80 feeling my body up and down and yelling at me, asking if I was okay.

I sat up and saw a prone humanoid, missing at least one body part and parts of others, where 7CB7 used to be. There was blood, so much blood, all over the ground, all over me, and before I knew it I was screaming.

“No! No!” I tried to get up, run towards it, but 4B80 turned me around and hugged me to its chest. I was trying to fight it for some reason, even though I knew it was trying to help me.

“We need to go. Now. I don’t see any other IEDs, but we need to go back exactly the same way we came.”

“You need to help it!”

“I can’t. I can’t,” its voice was shaking. We were falling back– it pulling, me stumbling along– to the vehicle we had come from. “I’m not allowed to.”

My head spun. “What do you mean? We have to go back, we have to-” My boots met pavement and I was helped into a vehicle. I was thinking about how weird it was that my eyes wouldn’t focus when 4B80 was suddenly in the seat beside me.

I pointed at its chest, my fingertip touching the middle of the symbol that signified it to be a medic. “This is your job, you have to-”

It squeezed my shoulder and said, “I’m so sorry.”

Then it floored the pedal, and I watched the blue grass disappear out the rearview mirror.

We got a lot of leave. 4B80 stuck to me like adhesive, asking me if I was okay and if I needed anything and if I wanted to talk to anyone.

It was so kind, so understanding. It even offered to consume media with me, and I wanted to so badly, but that reminded me too much of 7CB7. Everything reminded me of 7CB7.

I was curled in a ball, stinging in various places and listening to the least depressing music I liked, when the physician’s words came back to me.

I could make a difference. Such a difference. I could be a part of ending all of this, all of this suffering. I couldn’t end it, but I could help. I could prevent more people from dying. But I couldn’t do it alone.

The bandages I’d haphazardly applied pulled on my skin as I sat up, causing me to grimace. My way of coping was fucking me over. Hopefully, if everything went right, I wouldn’t have to ever cope again.

I got a hooded sweatshirt from the replicator. It wasn’t my size, hanging off of my disgustingly bony shoulders, but it wasn’t a problem. I wanted to hide my face, my body, everything; I was hiding from everyone, including myself. Plus, it was comfortable, and not bloodstained, and made me be able to scrape together the will to leave my room.

I debated on saying goodbye to 4B80. I didn’t want to make it confused or upset. I wanted it to understand what I was doing, and why. But then it could stop me, or try to, and that would be a huge issue. The smart thing to do was to just leave, and never look back. But recently, I’d been unable to do anything but wallow in my own sadness and guilt, which was far from smart. So I brought myself to Room 9 and knocked.

4B80 opened the door, looking very surprised to see me. “5A82! What’s going on? Is everything alright?” I looked at the floor so that it couldn’t see my face; I knew I had horrible dark circles, and some of the capillaries in my face had burst from crying, resulting in purple and blue patches and freckles around my eyes.

Words just didn’t come to my mouth. I was blanking on a single thing to say.

There was a pause. “Do you want a hug?” 4B80 outstretched its arms slightly.

Fuck, I did. I wanted to hug it and sob into its chest, because it was the only one that understood, it was the only one that had been there. It was the only one that had seen the same thing I did, 7CB7’s body exploding right in front of our eyes.

But I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve comfort. I was a monster, and I was hurting 4B80, poisoning it more with every second I stood there.

I shook my head and blurted, “All of this is my fault.” I swallowed. “I’m going to make it right.” I started down the hallway.

“Wait-” 4B80 called out behind me. My hearts clenched, but I didn’t look back.

The hospital triage was full of Ones, in various stages of illness. A nurse waved me over to the check-in, and I said I was here to see the physician I had met before. At least, by the name it had given me. The nurse’s brow furrowed.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t guarantee that you see a particular doctor. As you can see, there are a lot of sick people here that need our attention. You’ll be attended to by whoever’s available.”

Shit. I wrapped my arms around myself to keep from trembling. “No, you don’t understand. It needs to know that I’m here to see it.”

Another triage nurse came up behind me. “Who are you asking to see?”

I said the name again. Its face went stony. “Follow me.”

We traversed multiple halls and stairways until we were in a quiet, empty room. “You’re with the resistance?” It whispered urgently. “Where did you learn that word?”

I was cautious as to how much I revealed. “Are you with the resistance?”

It glanced at the door furtively. “Look, kid, you don’t want to join them. I’ve heard of you, you’re the government’s little pet Two. If you run off, they’re going to hunt you like Primals.”

I’d seen renderings of Primals before; almost twice as tall as me, more than four times my weight, with enormous mouths and long claws. The apex predator that the Ones used to be, from when they did their own killing.

“I have to do this,” was all I could manage.

The nurse inhaled deeply, shaking its head in resignation, “Okay. Okay, I’ll get that doctor for you. If you hear anyone in the hall, hide. Nobody can know you’re here, understand?”

I nodded, and it left. I sat against the wall with the door, so that I wouldn’t be visible through the small window on it. Ruminating thoughts invaded my head, and then I was having intrusive images of people dying and exploding in various ways, their faces screwed in anger, fear…

The door opened, and I sprang to my feet. I absently grabbed the air where my gun was usually holstered, but I realised it was just the triage nurse, with the physician in tow.

The latter was holding scrubs, the kind I had worn when I was previously a patient. It held them out to me, and I shook my head. “I can’t wear those.”

“Why not?”

“Uh, I-” I floundered, trying to come up with a good lie. “I got scraped up.”

“Nobody cares. C’mon.” It held the scrubs out further.

“They’re really bad.” It was a horrible lie, and also all I could think of.

“I have to get back to the triage, and you have to get out of here. Take them.”

I reluctantly accepted the clothes, and it hurriedly left. The physician pointed to a privacy screen in the corner of the room. “Get changed behind there. Or out here, I don’t care. Just be quick.”

Wow. Okay. This sucks.

I went behind the screen and changed. As I feared, the shirt was short-sleeved and the trousers short-legged. They’d obviously been intended to be worn indoors, where the temperature was perfectly regulated. There was really no need to even wear clothing indoors, besides the societal norm of it being rude to show a lot of skin. That, and I really preferred being hidden in baggy clothes; plus I liked the sensory experience of certain fabrics.

Right then, I was not liking the experience of stepping out from behind the screen with bandages spanning every limb, because yeah, I had been feeling pretty bad.

The physician eyed me, but didn’t say anything. It opened the door, and we slinked down the hallway. I didn’t know where we were going, but it kept awfully quiet, only acknowledging other doctors with a nod or brushing past them entirely. I was careful not to look at anyone; I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself.

Eventually, we reached an elevator. It was in a part of the hospital I hadn’t even known existed. The physician pressed the call button, and we got on.

“Turn around.”

I looked at it warily, not knowing how much trust I should invest in it. Admittedly, I was grasping at straws, but it could shoot me in the back of the head and-

I realised I didn’t care. So I turned away and stared at the elevator wall, hearing the beeps of a keypad as it no doubt entered some kind of code. It left before the doors closed, and the elevator started moving down. I gripped the railing to keep from falling over.

Fucking syncope. I gritted my teeth, thinking about those days I had off, days I could have been spending with 7CB7. Because it turns out every sol counts, every word and every experience you share with someone. Because, I thought as I gripped the railing, you never know when they’ll be gone.

I felt a stab of guilt. I was leaving 4B80, all alone. But it would be fine without me.

Everyone would be fine without me.

The elevator arrived at its destination, but as I turned to disembark, I saw someone standing in the doorway with a bag – presumably to cover my head.

Well, I guess I’ll just let them take me.

There was a lot of spinning me in circles and doubling back on paths, which was almost certainly to impair my ability to figure out where we were going, not a strange initiation ritual.

When we finally arrived, I was dizzy and somewhat tense. They’d done a lot of pushing and dragging; I’d had a hard time following them without being able to see where I was going. This I understood. However, it was not fun to be grabbed and pulled.

The bag came off, and I was momentarily blinded. Stupid eyes– We’d never evolved to tolerate bright lights, because we never needed to. Fog diffused the light, scattering what little reached the ground. That was the reason we were generally much less pigmented than most humans, especially in the skin. It was also why the flora were so huge; their leaves needed to soak up every drop of energy they could get.

As I adjusted to the light, someone stepped towards me. It put a hand on my temple, looking at my eyes, then put two digits in my mouth and pulled down my jaw. Gross. I had to suppress the reflex to pull away as it inspected my teeth. (It was very hard to suppress.)

After a long, uncomfortable moment, it withdrew its hand.

“What’s a Two doing in these parts?” Its palm was against its holster, and I realised the room was full of Ones, all with arms crossed or fingertips brushing weapons.

I was going to have to explain myself, fast. I told them that the physician sent me, and I didn’t know where I was or what was happening, but I was on their side and wanted to help.

“Shoulda thought of that before you became a murderer,” It (I mentally designated it One-1) retorted.

Someone else (designated One-2) stepped forwards. “Hold on. It obviously didn’t know better. Thing looks like it was budded less than a sol ago.” They laughed, and I stared at the wall.

One-3 quote-unquote covered up a slur by coughing into its hand. One-1 smirked, and it was a punch to the abdomen how much it looked like 7CB7. Which was only natural, them being made asexually and all– everyone looked similar.

The way Ones were created weirded me out. The way humans were created…! Now that severely disturbed me. Tragic, how much of it ends up in otherwise good media.

Someone behind me (designated One-4) cleared its throat, and against my better judgement, I turned around. For a second I thought I was having double vision, because I saw One-1 in different clothing. Then I realised they were probably biologically related.

One-4-not-1 looked at the others firmly. “That’s enough. Show it to a vacant room, and give it new clothes. Big guys want it for something special, so you better not mess this up.”

The Ones behind me made noises of exasperation.

“Okay, fine, follow me,” One-2 said flatly.

It was hard to get acquainted with anyone, mostly because they didn’t want to be. And that was fine; I didn’t want to know them, either. I just needed to wait until everything was prepared, which was but a few sols away.

I lay on the mattresses my room, wondering about the future. Was I going to die? It would be… easier. That made me feel weird. I supposed I had given up on anything else; there wasn’t a reason for me to exist. My actions weighed on me– but this would be retribution.

I didn’t quite know what exactly they were going to do with my body. There would be some mangling, from what the physician told me. Something was going to happen to my blood.

I rubbed my eyes. The normally vibrant copper rings around my irises had faded; I was skipping doses of nutrition packs again, which meant I wasn’t getting enough copper, which meant all of the bodily functions that required such compounds could not be carried out. The rings were just an indicator of how bad it was.

The door chimed, and I sat up before it opened. Either One-1 or One-4 stepped in– I still couldn’t tell the difference.

“There’s a meeting. Mandatory attendance for everyone.” I nodded, and reluctantly got off the bed. Everything hurt and I didn’t want to have to listen to someone talk about how awful the world was. Why did I even have to go? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.

One-1/4 showed me the way to what they called the incident room. My heels dragged; my knees were too weak to elevate my mood. When we arrived, the many occupants were already in the middle of a verbal fight, yelling at each other over who-knows-who-cares. I took a seat and slumped against the table.

After what felt like forever and was probably around 20 minutes, the arguing quieted down on its own, and someone else started talking about their plan going forwards.

Continue to recruit forces… bioweapon countermeasures… plant more IEDs to hopefully… Wait, what?

I sat up, and must have had a shocked look on my face, because someone said, “5A82, do you have something to add?”

Blood rushed to my face as I realised I was the centre of attention. “Uh… I-I- You guys plant explosives?”

“Well… yeah.” Right. Stupid question. Who else would have done it?

“My friend got- got fucking blown up by an IED.”

The room was silent. “That’s unfortunate.”

“It’s a shame, too, because it was a One. You blew up one of your own.” I didn’t really give a shit what they thought of me. Apathy talks, apparently.

Someone else spoke up. “We actually brought in a One that accidentally detonated one of our traps a few sols ago.”

“What?” My body shot up at its own accord. “Really?” I felt stupid to have any shred of hope, but I was a very stupid organism.

“Yeah. Maybe if you gave us a description of your friend..?”

One-2 was present, and interjected, “Would you really believe that thing’s friends with Ones?”

I deflated. “We were on a team together.” Maybe we weren’t friends. I didn’t know how 7CB7 thought of me. I swallowed. “It was normal height, maybe half a head taller than me. Light teal eyes, brown-orange hair, average skin?”

The One looked thoughtful, then asked me to follow it into the hall. I did, and it took out a small interface and started typing on it.

“We have access to a few backwater regen tanks. A One in military gear got pretty heavily injured by an IED we planted outside one of our past bases. From what I remember, it matches the description you just gave. I’m confirming with the nurse that keeps track of them right now.”

“Can I see it?” I blurted.

“Probably not. That place has severely restricted access. Plus, it’s not like you could talk to it, because it’s still in pieces.” My face twisted and I stared at the floor. “But those guys will take care of it. They deal with those kinds of injuries a lot.”

“So it’s going to be okay?” I asked quietly, hopefully.

“It’s going to be fine.” A trapped breath escaped my lungs. It was going to be okay. 7CB7 was going to be okay.

“I don’t- I can’t believe- What can I do to repay you?”

It smiled. “You’re due for a special briefing with our central medical team in 10. You’re going to repay all of us very soon.”

The meeting was mostly uneventful, going over things I already knew in slightly more detail. They were going to modify me, alter my DNA in a way not yet done to anyone. I was a good candidate; my DNA was already flexible due to the way Twos were made: first, samples were selected from one or more willing donors. Those samples were then edited to the government’s liking, before being grown into a bud-like organism. That organism was then assigned a job, and increasingly trained to be able to carry it out as it kept getting older and larger. (Usually larger. Fuck.)

Most things would remain unchanged, except for the drainage tube in my neck being taken out permanently. Apparently, I wouldn’t need it anymore; I wouldn’t make any waste once the procedure was complete. That was weird to me, because that certainly broke some laws of physics. But whatever; either it would work and I would be their meat puppet of salvation, or my immune system would tear my body apart and I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.

What was new, however, was that the timeline would have to be expedited. Apparently, the government was becoming suspicious of all the missing people and resources; they figured something was happening, and they intended to disrupt it.

The physician that recruited me, the head of the project, was being subjected to severe scrutiny. The government had instituted a curfew for anyone with medical training, giving daily reminders via global broadcast that conspirators, as well as their sympathisers, would be swiftly and severely dealt with.

Rumours floated in the air, talk of rebels escaping not only the government, but the planet entirely. It was too hostile to remain, that much I understood. And the means to do so had been developed plenty of time ago, so that wasn’t an issue. However, clearance to leave would be completely impossible to come by. Legal clearance, that was. But to do so… to leave?

The tension in the air was palpable when I reported to the small medical bay. There were two people waiting for me, both wearing scrubs and standing rigidly.

“We don’t have any more time to test the procedure on samples. Now, we have plenty of background knowledge on DNA editing, but… This is different. It’s going to be…”

The second person cut in. “It’s risky.”

“I know,” I agreed, sounding much calmer than I was. “I know what could go wrong. Are we going to do it now?”

I lay on the thinly padded table, surrounded by machines. An IV pumped all kinds of chemicals into my veins, and I stared at the ceiling, clenching my jaw and trying not to think about anything at all.

A group of uniformed people filtered into the room, checking that everything was functioning properly and quietly discussing the procedure. A combination of nerves and weird prep fluids made things blur around me.

It wasn’t like I could back out now. And I didn’t want to, either; I was dedicated to this. To be blunt: there was no reason to keep on living. This way there was no chance of me hurting anyone, ever again. Nobody else would die because of me. This was the one, true, best ending.

My very last memory was that of an oxygen mask being placed over my face, plasticky gas coming out of it. A faraway voice asked me to breathe deeply.

I let go.

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