It’s been over one hundred years since the last fusion. And I think this is going to be my last video. I think I’m ready to die now. I’ve always been ready to die, I think. Every day, we wake up, not knowing what’s going to happen. How many bombs are going to drop? What type of guns do they have? Who can we trust? I’ve killed more government assassins in the last few years than I can count.
Friends. Girlfriends. Even my own family. Yeah, if I die today that will be okay. And I hope that this video finds its way to you, whoever you are. Let me turn the camera so you can see.
That, up there? That’s hope. That’s what believing in something looks like. And I’d kill all the government assassins in the world to protect it.
What’s that? They’re here?
I guess it’s time. Fuck. Wish I had more.
But I’m ready. Ready to die.
All who enter here are safe
Three days. That was all they had. Dana wasn’t ready to die just yet, but she knew her plan wasn’t going to work. It was haphazard, amateur, risky in all the wrong ways. Reggie entertained her though, as she rambled to him, as they sat on the park bench. She appreciated that. Her skills, really her entire life would be the backbone of their plan. For years, her work as a biologist had been plagued with mundane reports and repetitive paperwork. Staring at the shifting, but not shifting digital models, the replicas. Undulating and swishing rock formations swarmed her thoughts like bees. Always mixing, existing together. But there was a time her work mattered. A time when she felt like a force for good. Didn’t last long. They had approached her to oversee the place, or green room as she called it, not long after.
She saw them in the formations, the replicas. All the people who had refused fusions, who dared to keep their independence and not become a Rick. She knew how it would work if she and Reggie refused.
A special task force had been assembled to gather fusion resisters. The worst of the worst. Men so callous they belonged in a comic book movie, evil henchmen with no souls. Soulless as they were though, they were stealthy, calculated, incredibly disciplined. No one knew when they’d be taken. Experts and conspiracy theorists always ran into disappearances spread anywhere from one day to one year. They’d watch you shower through your laptop computer. Or play cowboys and aliens with your son, disguised as a preschool teacher. Or they’d wait until you climaxed during sex, as your lust was just turning into love, a deep, burrowing love forming for this man you met six months ago. Not a care in the world.
The reactions varied when resisters entered. Most were scared, confused. Some were angry, ready to fight the entire task force themselves. Others were remorseful. Full of snotty confessions of their wrongdoing, how they want a better life, wanted to be rehabilitated. But most were sad. Cold. Alone. A temporary memory wipe let the process begin. The process she perfected.
The task force, in some ways, had the easier job. Rounding people up like animals, lying to them, pretending to be a decent person. If it wasn’t this, they’d be politicians or cult leaders. It was natural, they didn’t feel a thing. And when they tossed people into the green room, that was it. On to the next shower. School. Orgasm. Not Dana. Her job forced her to witness their transformation from scared human to rock infused monster. Monitor their vitals during transformation. Record mortality rates, temperature changes, recommend adjustments, calculate the heat needed for the reactor, recommend heat settings inside the room----it never stopped. Her entire life was nothing but data. And death.
“All who enter are safe.” She heard a colleague say that once.
The rock formations haunted her. She woke up in the middle of a nightmare on their last night before fusion. Reggie had been staying with her while they prepped. She screamed as the sweat flew from her forehead.
“Sorry,” she said. Embarrassed. Ashamed. He stood up and walked over to her door.
“It’s okay. Want me to make you some tea?”
She nodded her approval. Reggie left and Dana let her muscles relax. Tried to adjust under the blanket of her bed. They hadn’t slept much in the last two and a half days. But when they did, they would lay together, against each other. Nothing else ever happened, Dana never even felt any sexual urges. She hadn’t been with a man in years. And Reggie admitted the same about women. They had buried themselves so deep in their work, so afraid of tomorrow, shut out love, human contact almost entirely. And the first night Reggie grabbed her, Dana almost couldn’t breathe. The excitement flowed through her, and her breath became short. And she swore she could her Reggie crying, sniffling as he rubbed her arm. He returned with the tea.
“Thank you,” she said. “I don’t usually---this doesn’t usually happen all the time.”
Reggie smiled. “That’s a lie.” Dana winced at his words. She turned her back and looked out the window, hoping to see that pretentious owl from a few nights ago. Nothing.
“Is it ready?” Reggie asked changing the subject.
Dana took a sip of her tea. “I’m not sure. I’ve never really done this before. But usually, the process takes a few minutes. I figure with our situation it should be good in a few hours.”
“How did you learn how to do it?”
“I didn’t really---,” she felt the truth almost escape. Saw the rocks swirling in her mind as she clutched the cup.
“Look, I know we don’t have to share everything to make this work, and if this works we won’t ever have to speak to each other again but---,” he sat down on the bed next to her. Placed his hand on her knee. “I do think we need to be honest with each other. What’s going on?”
Dana didn’t want to die. And she especially didn’t want Reggie to die because of her. Because if their scheme didn’t work, Dana knew where they both were headed. Reggie didn’t. Thought it was a myth passed down through the generations. A boogieman. Ghost. Haunted house. She told him.
Her tea was gone by the time she had finished. Confessing? She felt the weight leave her as he stood to his feet and looked at the window into the dark. Just standing. Looking. Breathing. The tension was unbearable.
“Please,” she pleaded. “Say something.”
Reggie didn’t say anything, but he did chuckle. Rubbed his head, trying to stop an oncoming headache. He turned to her and said, “I don’t really know what to say.”
“You’re responsible for, without a doubt, the biggest and most disgusting human genocide in history. That’s---I thought it was going to be normal trauma. Not this shit.” He was still chuckling when he sat on the bed next to her.
Dana put her hand on his knee.
“Are you mad?”
Reggie looked up.
“I don’t recognize the world I’m living in,” he said. “We both agree on that, right? That this, this world we’re dealing with, living in, it isn’t right. That something needs to be done. And no one’s tried anything since this ‘green room’ has been built. You said it yourself.”
“The remorse in your eyes is real. I see it. I thought you were just as angry as me, and maybe you are, but I see the pain in your eyes, I see it.”
He grabbed her hand.
“I’m not mad, I just met you a few days ago. We connected over our own existential fears. Of not being human anymore. That---this isn’t normal. And of course you happen to be one of the people who have been destroying people’s lives.” His hand pulled away. Buried his face in his palms. Looked up again.
“Why did you leave?”
Dana didn’t think about the green room itself often. The resisters inside the green room sure, the conditions, every day. But not the work environment. Not the people. She explained to Reggie how each day went. How they’d enter the building one by one and be asked a series of questions. Nothing seemingly related to their work or really anything at all.
What color would a cow be if it ate a blueberry?
Given the current global economy, do you think more imports of bread is a good idea?
Assault rifles or pistols?
Every day brought a new set of questions. And each set of questions brought weird feelings. Weird emotions. Dana remembered the cow one specifically made her angry. At everyone in the world, but mainly herself. She worked harder than she ever had that day. Never ate beef or blueberries ever again. Each question was followed by a soft hum. Like a collection of bugs hovering over a lake ready to mate. The lights were always low. But Dana recalled flashes here and there, especially after certain words or questions. Invoke. Testify. Betray. Good. Color. Or. Her head began to hurt all over again. Sometimes, the answer to your question wasn’t good enough, or that’s what she assumed. Sometimes, colleagues were pulled into a separate room. Talked with a counselor or a businessman or a task force agent. No one ever knew, it was a myth, like the green room was to Reggie.
Inside, Dana remembered the holographic displays of assignments. Just like the questions, they varied. No one worked on the same thing every day, some never worked in the same room or part of the building. How big was the building? How many rooms? How many projects were happening? Another myth. There was a weird heat in the building. Radiating from the machine in the green room. Dana remembered sweating most days, wiping her head, never wearing her best clothes. And the light. The light she remembered too. The first time since being there, the light. How could she not remember before? Yellow. Green. Brown. How the hell could a light be brown? Lifted and sank with the moods of the office, the station she was assigned. Every day. Didn’t change like the others.
What are you watching on television?
Who was the President in the year 2032?
Nice necklace. Have you ever sympathized with white supremacists?
One day, Dana recalled talking to a colleague about the place, the company. How odd the building was, how beautiful. It never stood out as she entered the parking lot. White, like everything else. Slick, like everything else. And there wasn’t much direction. Most everyone had the routine down. Check the board, do your assignment, go home. The pay was good too. But who was paying? Who was supplying? Her colleague said it was Russians. Kate was her name. Dana remembered liking Kate. One day Russians, the next their own government. Big business, religious groups, lobbyists, tech companies? They ran out of ideas, out of jokes. No evidence leaning in any direction. So they settled on government. It was a safe choice.
All this escaped her brain, or maybe entered it for the first time. Her head was pounding, her heart fluttering. Reggie put his hand on her back, it slipped slowly down her spine because of the sweat.
“Dana,” he said quietly. She hardly heard him.
“All who enter are safe,” was what that one colleague said. Tom. A bad joke as he watched the criminals burn and their skin turn into rocks. A chuckle from the other colleagues. Karen. Brad. Ameer. Farah. Elizabeth. Richard. But not Dana. She remembered a question from earlier that day. One that had made her feel---uncomfortable? Images of her childhood arose. But altered. She had a good childhood. A normal childhood. But that question, it made her see things that weren’t there. Feel things she had never felt. In Tom’s voice she heard that question and reacted, lunging at the man, scratching his face as he yelped like a puppy.
It wasn’t funny. Then, her replicas, her models. The window, the outside tree, and her colleague walking through it. How many times did he walk through it? Reggie’s hand was on her forehead now. She was lying in bed, a wet cloth in his other hand. As it touched her head, Tom’s face reappeared. And so did the men who came to take her. The green room behind her, fading away in her memory, returning now. Nothing was clear after that. She winced, strained, let the cloth consume her. Nothing. Nothing at all. She woke up in the morning, the last night of her freedom spent in pain. Reggie was getting dressed.
“Morning,” he said. Smiled.
“What time is it?”
“Almost nine,” he said. “We’re due at the facility in half an hour. It’s done, though. In the living room.”
Dana leapt up, tripped over the blanket hanging off the bed. “Why didn’t you wake me?” she pleaded. Reggie was calm, her panic didn’t bother him. He gestured for her to sit back on the bed.
“You deserved some peace,” he said. “You looked peaceful.”
Dana looked at the door, wished so badly to see the living room, see her work. Their plan.
“I wanted to blame you at first,” Reggie said. He was looking down at the ground. “The pain you carry, it’s deep. But I thought you were just numb to it after a point. But last night---what you were telling me, what you went through. I thought you were going to die, Dana.”
“Thank you for taking care of me.”
“The least I could do. Don’t know if I could endure what you did,” Reggie stood up and extended his hand. Dana took it as she stood up.
“You ready to do this?” he asked.
Dana didn’t answer him. She made her way into the living room to see her creation. She smiled and wanted to cry at the sight. But she felt giddy, excited. Now, ready to die. She looked back at Reggie.
“Hell yeah I am. Let’s do this.”
END PART 3
About the Author: Toren Chenault (he/him) lives in Lansing with his fiancee, Rachel. A writer of everything from comic books to novels, Toren loves science-fiction and anything that pushes the brain to think. His influences range from hip-hop, sports, television, and of course, comics.