~~~

Gina struggled to keep up with Julianne and her recruits as they raced out of the cafeteria and into the labyrinth of long dull gray hallways. The alarm continued to assault her ears as they turned left down one hall, then right down another. She attempted several times to call out to Julianne when it seemed like they were about to leave her behind, causing Gina to panic after she’d lost sight of them around another corner. But Julianne stayed between her recruits and Gina, slowing down long enough to urge Gina to move her ass with erratic hand gestures.

“Fuck this,” she said, running out of breath and sweating more than usual. “What the hell did you get me into, you old bitch?”

Gina turned another corner and almost ran into the young Ama-Eskua recruit.

“We’re almost there, Gina,” she said. “I’m sorry for the urgency, but we need to reach the weapons first.”

Before she could ask a fucking thing, Julianne was already moving again, headed toward two large steel double doors at the end of the hall.

By the time Gina reached the doors, her insides were on fire. She stopped long enough to catch her breath, grateful for the adrenaline that coursed through her, but understanding that she’d pay for the overexertion later.

The blaring alarm mercifully stopped.

Gina turned to look behind her. She could hear frantic footfalls slapping against the tiles, coming toward her from a few hallways back.

What fresh hell is this? she thought.

Gina pushed herself through the double doors and stepped into a large gymnasium-sized room. A handful of long florescent lights, many of the others had long burned out, barely lit up the large space. Dust particles floated in the dull beams of light, adding another room not well-maintained. The air smelled of death and stale piss. The once-polished hardwood floors were stained red. Some looked fresh.

She found Julianne and the recruits sifting through piles of scattered weapons. Gina looked along the walls and found a handful of weapons still mounted, but most were laying on the floor.

“What the fuck is this?” she called out to Julianne.

By now, most of the recruits had selected their weapons. They were on their feet, assuming attack stances, and staring just past Gina, toward whoever was approaching from the other side of the door.

“Gina!” Julianne hissed, picking up a hand axe. “You need to stand clear! The others know not to involve you but standing in the way could easily confuse them!”

Gina threw her arms into the air in frustration and hobbled away from the doors and over to the closest wall for support. “Alright… fuck all of you, then!” she grumbled under her breath.

Before she gathered her bearings, the double doors burst open. Three surprised young men, two younger women, and one middle-aged woman, all wearing bloody grays, stood there, staring at Julianne’s armed recruits.

“Shit!” the older woman hissed and shook her head. Then she saw Gina standing off to the side and said, “I’m too old for this shit.”

Gina smiled, finding the defeated woman’s comment amusing, in light of the situation.

“NOW!” Julianne screamed.

All humor left her body as Gina watched Julianne’s entire cell group charge the unarmed second group, weapons raised, and yelling like lunatics.

Before Gina could register what was happening, the bearded man, Hugh, approached the older woman, who held her hands up submissively. Then he plunged a long sword into the chest of the woman, who let out a tortured scream, then fell on her knees. Huge pulled the sword out of the dead woman, then sliced her head clean off.

What the fuck?! Gina put her hands to her mouth and froze.

The rest of Julianne’s cell made quick work of the others. Some had tried to flee while the ones with the most blood on their clothing had tried to fight back barehanded. They were all pierced, torn, or hacked up within thirty seconds.

Julianne, who stood in the center of the massacre, had bloodied her axe, driving it directly into the face of one man, and then down into the skull of another. She moved so fast that Gina had a hard time believing she’d just murdered two men.

All of their clothes were bloody (bloodier). Their weapons dripped crimson. Their blood-splattered faces did nothing to hide the savageness in their eyes.

Even Connie had managed an ‘assist’ by stabbing a woman in the back, providing Nick and easy finish as he sliced the young woman’s throat open.

What horrified Gina the most was watching Connie’s reaction when she noticed a small patch of the woman’s blood on her left shoulder. Connie’s eyes went wide with delight as she showed the others her first… badge.

Gina turned toward the wall, disgusted and badly shook up. She needed a moment to process what just happened… and why.

“I’d like to wake the fuck up now,” she whispered to the indifferent wall.

Someone put a hand on her left shoulder.

Gina flinched.

“It’s okay,” Julianne said. “It’s just me. We’ve eliminated the Fodder.”

Gina glared at the young Ama-Eskua recruit. “The fucking ‘Fodder’? Get your damn murderous hands off me!”

Julianne retracted her hand and stepped back, stunned.

The rest of the cell stared at Gina, equally shocked by her reaction.

Hugh looked to Julianne and said, “Who is this? Why does this woman scold us with her condemning eyes when we did nothing wrong?”

Julianne just stared at Gina, her face an unreadable mask.

Gina balled her fists at the sound of Hugh’s whining voice. She turned to the rest of them, failing to stay calm. She pointed at the bloody mess surrounding the recruits. “They were all unarmed! I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with all of you and why you’re killing each other… but you clearly had them! There was no fucking need for this… slaughter!”

All the recruits were grumbling now. They looked to Julianne as if waiting for her to grant them permission to kill Gina, too.

“Enough!” Julianne barked at her recruits. “Now is not the time for this!” She looked at Gina and finished, “For any of this!”

Gina just stared back defiantly.

Julianne pointed her bloody axe toward the carnage. “This was not the whole cell. Until we locate the others-”

From the other end of the large room, another set of doors violently opened. Eight more Mother maniacs dressed in bloody gray stormed into the Kill Room. They came in screaming, armed with whatever make-shift weapons they were able to scrounge up. Some were carrying torn off table legs, others had shards of glass, and a couple had long steel pipes ripped from walls.

Julianne’s group looked terrified and less sure of themselves now that the enemy was armed.

“Attack!” Julianne screamed, stepping out in front with her hand axe up. She somehow managed to deflect a steel pipe coming down toward the top of her head as steel struck steel. The axe head snapped off the handle, but Julianne never hesitated. She stepped inside her taller attacker and thrust the jagged wooden handle up into an older man’s chin. The man fell dead instantly.

The others, now motivated by Julianne’s boldness, stepped up to meet the attacking cell with fierce screams as they raised their weapons to defend themselves.

Three of Julianne’s people went down as an intense young man, his dark hair tied back in a ponytail, whirled his steel pipe around in the air as though it were as light as a broomstick. His clothing was the bloodiest of the group. He plunged his pipe through a man’s throat, then turned right around and bashed a short girl’s head in. The last one was Nick.

Nick swung his sword in a sideways arc at the young pipe wielder’s neck. The young man easily ducked beneath the clumsy assault, then knocked Nick off his feet by putting the pipe between his moving legs. Nick fell forward on his face and the young man jammed the pipe through the base of his exposed neck. Nick flailed for a moment like a fish out of water, then ceased to move.

Gina didn’t know what to do. All around her, recruits on both sides were dropping in bloody piles. She watched as Julianne, who had seized a pipe from her latest kill, confronted the ponytailed pipe wielder. The two of them clashed violently as steel struck steel. They moved so quickly and aggressively, countering each other’s attacks, that it became clear that the ponytailed young man must have been one of the last three Ama-Eskua recruits that Julianne had mentioned.

Do something, Gina! she desperately thought. Do something before they all fucking kill each other!

So far, none of them had paid her any mind as Gina stood near the back wall, watching the massacre. She felt like she’d become invisible—the last rays of sanity blocked out by all that blood and madness.

If not for her injuries, Gina could’ve handled her own against most of these inexperienced attackers with their odd assortment of weapons. But she had no idea whose side to back since Julianne’s group had been the first to murder the unarmed group.

“This is fucking insane!” she shouted over the yelling, blood-crazed maniacs. “Just fucking stop this!”

No one was listening.

Gina turned and saw young Connie. A bigger girl had forced her into a corner. Connie still had her knife as she held it out at the bigger girl, slashing at the air in front of her.

The bigger girl, who had picked up a black spear from the cache of scattered weapons, was clearly toying with her as she poked the tip of the spear at Connie’s exposed legs, enjoying watching the young girl cry out.

Gina made eye contact with Hugh, and yelled, “Hey! Connie’s in trouble!” she pointed behind the bearded man.

Hugh turned, saw Connie, and then… walked away.

“What the fuck?” Gina yelled at him. By then, Hugh was already engaged in another fight.

And then she noticed the others in Julianne’s cell. Some were clearly aware that Connie was in trouble, but they, too, dismissed the situation, glancing briefly toward the big girl with the spear, before finding another fight to throw themselves into.

The big girl had relaxed too much, allowing Connie to lunge and land a lucky slash across her left forearm. This only infuriated the big girl as she moved in to finish her off. With a monstrous scream, the big girl raised her spear toward Connie’s face. She stepped back, preparing her final thrust, and… staggered to the left, as she was struck in the side of the head. The big girl, more surprised by the blow, shook her head, then turned toward her new attacker.

Gina was already coming at her again as the strange wooden bat-like object she’d picked up connected with the top of the big girl’s nose, breaking it instantly.

The big girl dropped to her knees, grabbing at her bloody face.

Gina brought her weapon back for a third strike. “Move again… and I’ll finish you,” she promised.

The big girl looked into the red-head woman’s fierce green eyes and knew that she meant it. The big girl fell over, gripping her face from the intense pain.

Gina turned to Connie.

Connie gave her a pained expression and shook her head. “What have you done?” she accused.

Before Gina could register the girl’s strange reaction to just saving her life, Connie put her knife up to her own throat.

“No! Wait! Connie, NO!”

Too late.

The young girl slit her own throat. As she choked to death in her own blood, Connie stared down at her gray uniform and… smiled.

Gina’s arms went slack as she dropped her weapon and just stared at the girl.

She didn’t see her attacker, Hugh, coming up from behind, raising his sword to finish her off.

Before Hugh could do so, a voice boomed throughout the Kill Room, “All of you… STOP IMMEDIATELY!”

Everyone turned to see a hooded woman in a long red robe appear to float into the center of the room.

Weapons struck the ground as everyone on both sides turned and dropped to one knee, including the Ama-Eskua recruits.

Gina just turned and frowned at the old hag. “It’s about damn time you showed up,” she said exhaustedly.

Lady Clementine glanced at Gina, then examined the mess, shaking her head. She took a deep breath, then said, “The next weapon raised, on either side… I’ll make sure that person is buried with it,” she hissed.

All the recruits averted their gazes, staring submissively toward the bloody ground.

The Kill Room became so quiet that Gina almost missed the murderous screams… almost.

Lady Clementine, her ancient face buried in the darkness within her hood, kept her hands beneath her robe and stood still for what felt like an eternity.

Even Gina wisely remained silent.

She finally spoke. “All of you will report to isolation,” she commanded. “There you will remain… until I decide what to do with you.” Her last words were loaded with contempt. “NOW!”

Acting as if her words were like a grenade just thrown into the room, all the recruits scattered, rushing toward the exit doors.

Gina turned back toward Connie’s corpse, wiping frustrated tears from her eyes.

Clementine waited until the two of them were alone, then removed her hood and sighed. “I’m sorry for all of this, Gina,” she said. “I only wish I could have been here much sooner… to stop it.”

Gina turned and stared at the old crow. “Why the hell did you leave me here with these… animals? And what the hell are you teaching them in this God-forsaken place?”

Clementine shook her head sadly, then slowly approached her. “A lot has happened here since I’ve been away, Gina. I am only just finding out the extent of it.”

“What does that mean?”

For the first time, Gina saw something in the old woman’s eyes that made her uncomfortable.

Uncertainty.

“If you’re able, Gina. We’ve much to discuss,” she said. Clementine stared around the Kill Room in disgust. “But not in this place.”

“What the hell is going on here, Clementine?” Gina pushed.

The old woman frowned. “That, Gina, is the very question I’ve been seeking to answer ever since we arrived.”

~~~

Gina stood on an upper level balcony, next to Clementine, overlooking the lower levels beneath them. Everything was in ruins. There had been multiple fires at some point, as evidenced by several large black stains imprinted on the walls and the ash remains of scattered furniture laying like victims on the ground floor. There were blood stains everywhere. Trash and dust had collected in piles all throughout the large middle-section of the facility.
As Clementine had explained it, the large open-area central hub of the massive Mother facility was laid out like a mall with multiple floors for various offices, laboratories, classrooms and a command center. But now, anything resembling the once active ‘Headquarters’ of Mother had been obliterated.

“How long has it been like this?” Gina nearly whispered.

Clementine sighed. “From what I could gather, most of the chaos occurred after The Change.”

Gina turned to her. ‘You mean, this all happened when your people started to turn? I don’t understand. I thought Mother was aware of what was coming.”

The old woman nodded. “Mother was aware, and the threat was contained.” She nodded toward the ruins below and finished. “This happened after. When most of us were sent out to our assigned cells… the ones who were left in charge… they are responsible for this.”

Gina turned back to the deserted hub. “So, all of Mother’s ‘big wigs’ functioned out of this place?”

“In a manner of speaking… yes.”

“Judging by the looks of your ‘Headquarters’, along with the training facility, this place has been falling apart for quite some time,”

Clementine nodded with a frown. “It would appear so.”

Gina turned. “Tell me about those recruits. Why are they killing each other? Is that Mother’s idea of ‘training’?”

Clementine paused. She rubbed her temples with tired old hands. “Forgive me, Gina. I know you require answers. I’m… I’m still processing what’s happened, myself. This place was nothing like this when I left. Apparently, I’ve been away for too long.”

Gina shook her head in frustration. “You talked me into coming out here. I believed we were coming back to get help to deal with the Shadow Dead and restore order out on the mainland. And then I get here… and everything’s a fucking mess in your own damn house!”

“I’m… sorry, Gina. I’m as disappointed as you… and honestly… a little terrified.”

Gina waited.

Clementine continued. “Everything we’ve built here has fallen apart… and I don’t understand how this all happened. Not yet. We were supposed to be a beacon of light for what was left of the world. But then I come here and discover that the light has been snuffed out.”

“Why did you leave me with those recruits?”

“I wanted you to meet them since they would be the ones to help us defeat the Shadow Dead.” Clementine shook her head. “These… recruits… are not the ones I remember.”

“You’re talking about the Ama-Eskua?”

“Yes. But apparently, there are no more Ama-Eskua recruits. Instead, what was once a proud and honorable warrior class, has become a disgusting den for refugees.”

“How could you not know about all this? How could you let this happen?”

Clementine looked away. “There is only one way this could have happened without my knowledge. The remaining Ama-Eskua Order, who was left to oversee and secure Mother’s affairs, has seized power instead.”

“So… they’ve done all this?”

Clementine raised an eyebrow. “A bold, unexpected move for sure. But yes, considering the circumstances and the absence of senior authority after The Change occurred… the Ama-Eskua could not have picked a better time to betray Mother.”

Gina shook her head in shock. She laughed and said, “So, let me get this straight. We came back here to raise your damn army to fight the Shadow Dead, a rebellious sect of the Ama-Eskua Order, only to find out that the Shadow Dead has… what… taken control of the Ama-Eskua?”

“I wouldn’t take it that far, Gina,” Clementine said. “But after everything I’ve seen here, I wouldn’t rule it out, either. Everything Mother stands for… everything noble… has been neglected and distorted. I haven’t even begun to dig beneath the surface yet. But apparently, the Ama-Eskua has forsaken the training facility and left it in chaos. Those… recruits… have been operating under archaic practices that were banned long ago… but have somehow been reestablished.”

“Are you talking about Candidates and Fodder?”

“No, actually. That was doctrine that has come to light since The Change… or the Lions. But it was meant for good, and not to be used as an excuse for violence.” Clementine placed her hands gently on Gina’s shoulders and said, “Gina… I feel like I’ve let you down, and for that, I’m truly sorry. Mother’s house has become a den of liars and thieves since I was here last. Until I get some solid answers… I don’t know who to trust. That’s why I’ve been absent for the last few days. I’ve been trying to speak with the Order on the northern end of the facility… but have met resistance.”

“Sounds like it’s time to leave,” Gina said, pulling away from the old woman. “Come back and find me when you’ve all figured your shit out. Until then, I’ll go hunt the Shadow Dead on my own.”

“Please… don’t give up on me, Gina. I would ask that you consider staying.”

“Why the hell would I do that?”

Clementine nodded. “Yes, the recruits you were meant to meet… are no longer with us. But that doesn’t mean we should forsake them like the Ama-Eskua has apparently done. You’ve seen how they live. They are operating off a bad program stuck in some murderous loop.”

“It’s all fucking Lord of the Flies as far as they’re all concerned. I think it’s time you get some new recruits.”

“Or some better leadership,” Clementine said, letting her gaze linger on the red-headed woman.

“Why the hell are you staring at me like that? Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”

“Once I figure out this mess, and believe me, Gina, I will, I’m going to need some help getting Mother back to where it belongs.”

“Fuck no!” Gina said. “Absolutely not! I’m not going to be your next fucking Donovan!”

Clementine’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “How do you know that name?”

“I’ve seen some of your finer ‘recruits’ in action,” Gina said. “In fact, it was one of your damn cell groups, led by that very asshole, that executed a good friend of mine for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I won’t even get into what you all do to pregnant woman in your cell groups.”

Clementine shook her head and sighed. “As I’ve told you before, Gina. Many have gone off on their own under Mother’s good name, perverting the cause. The Shadow Dead, that lunatic Micom, and if you’ve encountered the traitor, Donovan… well… I can only imagine the heinous things he’s done to your people, and to his own cell. All of this, along with whatever is happening in the Ama-Eskua Order presently, just demonstrates how much I need someone like you to help me get things right again.”

“And what about you?” Gina said. “You talk about the others, conveniently excusing what they’ve done by saying they acted alone, and not under Mother’s direction. But how do I know you aren’t just like them, blowing smoke up my ass?”

Clementine smiled. “I guess you don’t, Gina. And your assessment is both wise and understandable, especially under the circumstances.”

Gina did not expect Clementine to give up so fast.

The old woman nodded. “You’re right, of course. Mother’s reputation has been soiled at this point, and you’ve every right to be suspicious of me, too.” Clementine’s eyes started to water up. She looked away and finished, “I’m sorry. This has been a trialing past few days. This is not your problem. I brought you here to help you, and instead, I’m the one who needs the help. I will arrange a helicopter to fly you back to the airport, with enough supplies to get you back on your feet.”

“And… and what will you do?”

Clementine smiled. “I will do whatever I can, Gina. Whatever I must… to relight the beacon that Mother is supposed to be.”

“And the recruits? What happens to them?”

“I don’t know, Gina. I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

Gina nodded. “Well, I’m sorry for what’s happened here, for what’s it’s worth.”

“Thank you, Gina. I just wish I could fly all of you out of this place. But the recruits’ minds are… unstable. It would be negligent of Mother to just release them into the world, in their current state.”

Gina looked concerned. She thought of Julianne. “What does that mean? Are they… prisoners?”

“No, Gina. Just… dangerous. You’ve seen it for yourself. They have been operating without a moral compass for some time.” She gave Gina a long deliberate look and finished, “Sometimes, the darkness, when allowed to dwell for too long, unchecked… well… it can make good people do very bad things.”

Gina just stared.

Clementine smiled weakly, speaking more to herself. “In time, I’m sure I can undo the damage that’s been done to them.”

“And if you can’t?”

“You just let me worry about that. We need to get you out of this place. Once your safely gone, I’ll have one less concern on my plate and-”

“I’ll help you,” Gina said.

“What was that?”

“You’re recruits,” Gina said, already regretting her decision. “I want to help them… get out of the dark.”

Clementine feigned surprise. “May I ask, why the sudden change of heart?”

Gina looked away. “I know what it’s like to be without the moral compass you mentioned. And if they can’t be helped… then I’m forced to wonder what that says about me.”

Clementine just nodded. “Thank you, Gina. I’ve every confidence that if anyone can help them… it’s you.”

The exhausted red-head averted her eyes.

“Anything you need,” Clementine continued. “just say the word… and I will make sure it happens.”

Gina let out a weak laugh, looked into the old woman’s eyes, and said, “For starters, I’ll need coffee… and lots of it.”

~~~

Next Episode 54-3

Previous Episode 54-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-2: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Comments
  1. alikolino says:

    . “I would appear so.”
    *it would appear so

    Like

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