The midnight cold made the room I was in like a freezer. Within the flooded basement of the slaughterhouse, among murderers, my body brimmed with furious energy.

Stepping a few paces forward, I aimed for her eyes. I squeezed the trigger and watched her head jolt. But not a scratch was dealt. Shit.

Something was wrong here. She was right. This place was a dead lead. “Goddammit,” I swore. I needed to get out of here pronto.

“My, my.” She sat up from where the shock had knocked her back. “What do you think then, Ryou? Shall we try him on the chair?”

A man appeared out of thin air between me and her. He was a strong-faced Asian man, clad in a long white cloak. The field around him had somehow completely hidden him from the full spectrum of my sensors. My heartbeat quickened, even faster.

He shook his head. “We’ve tried his type before.”

I trained my gun on him. “How did you do that?”

“Oh, Honey, you have no idea what’s possible,” the machine said, lounging on the throne. She sighed. “It’s really a shame. To be left with only such a tantalizing taste.”

The cloaked one is who I had to worry about. I had to shoot him before he closed the distance. Then, I could bolt. Forget about her.


As I let bullets fly out, he simply ducked around every shot I fired, marching towards me as he did. Fast as lightning, it was like he knew my every move. As one pistol ran empty I raised the next, frantically squeezing the trigger.

Without missing a beat he grabbed my gun with one hand, and with the other, he shoved me to the ground. “It’s a shoddy program,” he observed. “A simple aim and maneuvering assist. Zero predictive strategy involved.” Looking down on me in the waters as he tossed my gun aside, a stoic stare was all I got. “…Weak.”

My steel grip took hold of his ankle and wrenched, but my hands had grasped something hard as stone. He didn’t budge an inch with all my effort. Neither did his solemn expression.

Reality came crashing back into me all at once.

You underestimated them.

The man standing over me only had to apply pressure to drive me into the murky floodwater. As he did so, it spilled into my mask and up my nostrils. I instantly choked and sputtered in panic.

“You think-!” I coughed, “you think you know me, Ryou!?”

He stopped for a moment, considering the question. He made up his mind. “I do, yes. I already know that you’re going to attempt to dissuade me from killing you, by convincing me that we should try you in the chair, even though you can’t fathom the implications of that. Every thought you’re having right now, and every belief and fear and conviction you hold, they are all written on your face. I do know you, young one. I see into you.”

I knew he was trying to shut me up, yet he had still lifted his foot. Desperately, my mind grasped. “You say all that, yet you give me the chance to speak anyway? ‘Cause what you see doesn’t make sense, does it? I don’t care what the odds are.”

“It’s the opposite. I see a simple pathology. A subconscious need to confront death. You yearn to escape from meaningless. Naturally, you disguise a drawn out suicide as purpose. Which brings you here. You are like Icarus, flying ever higher, fully aware his wings are mere wax.”

“Ryou,” the female robot cut in, “we haven’t got all night.”

He nodded, looking from her back to me. “Indeed. Now do you see?” he said, “I am the sun. I let you speak because my purpose is to show you, and killing you is not enough.”

As I was driven back into the water, my concentration shattered.

Suicide. No. It couldn’t be.

With the shock, I lost the image feed in my neck and was dropped into the black of my inner mask. Blind and deaf, my hands searched for anything, punching and thrashing as air ran thin.

In desperation, I thought to reach upward. Back to the stair steps which I had descended. There my fingers found purchase around a pipe. Then, I pulled.

The autopilot took over, helping me scramble to my feet before I could even think. I had barely regained focus, the image from my second eyes reforming in my mind just in time to see the fist coming at me. He had taken no time in mounting an assault.

I’d been punched before, but not like that.

Each hit was a solid steel freight train. I was driven back into the wall. Even though my hands were ten times as deft now as they’d ever been, perfectly carrying out the best defense I could imagine, it was nothing compared to him.

Run, Frode. My mind screamed it at me.

I was barely able to slip around one of his hits. Only once I realized he was intentionally pummelling me away from the exit could I dedicate myself to escaping his hurt-box. The only hope I had now was that I could be faster.

I stopped dead in my tracks as he landed in front of me, straight out of the air from a standing vault.

He stared me down.

Something broke inside me with the understanding which hit in that moment. I swallowed hard.

It can’t be. 

Rapidly backstepping, my eyes caught sight on the other one still just sitting in her chair. She acknowledged my horror. “These things happen, sweetie. You were never long for this world, I gather.”

“You’re wrong,” I said. “You think I’m suicidal? Fuck you. I’m alive.

A knife appeared at the side of my attacker. Just its subtle glint was enough to let my blood run cold.

My life suddenly flashed before my eyes. Each memory played by at super speed. It was torture and I hated it, but I had no control. I was lucky I could stand at all.

I tried not to get upset. I had to keep my head in the game. I could still do this. Everywhere I looked, though, I saw no way out.

“I don’t know what else I expected,” I spat out. “I didn’t expect it to be fair! But I’m no suicider! I’m alive for the first time, Goddammit-!”

In the blink of an eye, he stepped in and stabbed me in the gut. The pain of the blade was electrifying as it dug in. Then, he ripped. I could hear blood splash across the floor.

My screams strangled in my throat. My body locked and froze. For a moment I had a hold on him, a white raging death grip. As he let me go, though, I fell back, suddenly losing my strength. The impact of the metal underneath me was a dim sensation compared to the knife he’d left behind. Finally, I screamed. It poured out of me with the pain.

“Shh.” Ryou leaned down, snatching my mask. As it broke free from my neck and my naked eyes took in the shadows, they streamed tears.

“I don’t want to go,” I managed to say, strangled in agony.

My arms reached out to pull me forward as if I could crawl away. But there was nothing left in them. Years of tension were washing out of my body.

I watched him throw away my mask like he had the gun, turning his back on me.

“Please,” I said, leaning up to see my bloodsoaked hand. My head fell back, my chest heaving labored breaths. “Oh, fuck.

I was alone, here.

They didn’t bother to finish me before closing the door behind them on their way out. The lights automatically switched off a second later, leaving me in the darkness.

My eyes stared, unseeing, skyward.

Just breathe, I told myself.

This isn’t the end.

It can’t be…


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