The Upgrade: Human 2.0

In a not too distant future a war changed the Earth forever.
On this different Earth Neida lives in a small village with her brother, Deon. When the Crimson Death attacks their village, they are forced to escape to Village Xion since the disease only attacks the mutants - in other words, Deon. Follow Neida as she fights for her brother’s life, (along with fighting the urge to kill her brother for his stupidity).
Will she prevail, perhaps even find love in unexpected places, or will she fail and pay the ultimate price?

Winner of the NaNoWriMo competition Denmark

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5. Chapter III - Xion

 

They make camp when it finally turns into night. Their makeshift camp contain of two blankets on the ground, a fire burning between the blankets and the two siblings on a blanket each. The fire is crackling as the flames dance in the wind. They are lucky they found something that could burn at all. It is by law forbidden to burn wood. However, if it’s dead, it’s allowed to burn.

     Deon chews down the last dried meat while Neida still bites at her piece. He lays down tiredly on the blanket and pulls another one over him.

     “Did you know Widower Francine said the Crimson Death was sent by God? The second flood, she said,” Neida says out of the blue. Deon looks away from the dried meat to Neida.

     “No. I didn't,” he says quietly. Out here everything is silent, dead.

     “It's weird someone still believes in God,” Neida continues. “Don't you think if he gave a shit, he would have made everything better?” she questions. “Everything belongs to Antima. They make and are the law.”

     “Widower Francine can believe in whatever she wants.”

     “Yes, but how can people still believe? Every religion have been proven a hoax.”

     “Does it matter?” he asks tiredly. “I’m trying to sleep.”

     "What is wrong with you lately? It’s like all you want to do is fight,” Neida asks. She hears him sigh, and then he rolls on his side and look at her. His blond hair turns slightly red in the light of the fire.

     “I--”

     “And do not give me the same crap as before. You’re not the same Deon I raised.”

     “I’m nineteen years old, Neida. I’m not your responsibility anymore,” he says. “Just because you are the oldest one in the eyes of society, it does not give you an excuse to forget who were born first,” he eyes lock on Neida’s. “You are not Mother.”

     “I agree I might have been a tad overprotective,” Deon snorts at her. “But in my defense, I watched Mother die. Watched how the light left her eyes,” she remembers. “Her last words was a request for me to take care of you, because she could not!” her eyes become shiny.

     “I thought you found her dead when you came home,” he asks, looking at her with a frown.

     “No,” she answers. “I was there. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t,” she says. “I may have been seven, or eighteen if you count it in your years, but the nightmare of… Her,” she wraps her arms around herself. The cold night easily penetrates the thin blanket. ”Truth is, you were actually my rock around that time,” she admits quietly as she closes her eyes and buries her face in the blanket with a tired sigh. She hears movement from Deon, but she does not look up. Seconds later, she feels the warmth of his body as he sits down beside her, carefully wrapping one of his blankets around her. She looks up at him, but Deon just looks into the dying fire. She opens her mouth to say something, but he beats her to it.

     “Don’t mention it,” he says and turns his head to her, suddenly reaching out and pulling her into his warm embrace. “Besides, how I am supposed to sleep when you are vulnerable and shivering like a scared little puppy?” he flashes her a smile, one she has not seen in a very long time.

     “Mother did always love you more. You were her little angel,” she says. “I think it was because she was happy you were born as a human of the old generation. You were dependent on her even longer and she loved it. Loved you,” she says with a small smile. Deon laughs quietly.

     “You need to stop talking and start sleeping. You know, before you get even more mushy and girly.”

     “I am not mushy and girly.”

     “Oh, I beg to differ.” All she gives in response, is a muffled sound against his chest. The warmth of another blanket and Deon’s body heat, is what slowly lulls her into a deep sleep.

 

Warmth. A comfortable warmth that she has not felt in ages, is what she wakes up to. She does not want to open her eyes, even when the sun irritates her eyes behind the lids. She is comfortable, safe. No, she does not want to open her eyes just yet, she can wait a little longer. Just a little longer.

     She wraps her arms tighter around whatever the warmth is, and leans her head forward - only to get a smell of something odd, yet familiar. She frowns, as the sleepiness slowly leaves her. What on Earth?

     A small snoring sound in her right ear, is what finally makes her open her eyes. Suddenly, she is wide awake as she realizes, she is lying halfway on her brother. Slowly, the events of yesterday springs into place. Her eyes widen at the realization, they fell asleep like this. The last time she woke up beside her brother, was when he had had a nightmare when he was fourteen years old. It was a memory of how simple things were back then, how much brighter everything looked. Or maybe how naïve they were, depending on the point of view.

     She slowly pull herself away from him, carefully as to not wake him up. She stretches her limbs and hears her joints make a comfortable pop, and then she rips the blanket, that has grown too hot, away.

     She is oddly refreshed, though not thinking further of it, she gets up, ready to start the day. Noticing the location of the sun, it looks like it is almost midday. How they both managed to sleep that long, she will never know.

     “Mmm... sis?” she hears a tired mumble behind her, followed by the sound of a yawn. “What time is it?” his sleepy voice continues as he rubs his eyes when she turns around.

     “Judging by the sun, it’s around mid day,” she replies.

     “What?” his eyes open wide. “Already?” he yawns again.

     “Yes. It’s what happens when you sleep in.”

     “Uhm… sure…” he replies absently. “When’s breakfast?” he looks at her with sleepy eyes.

     “Well big brother, it’s served when you find it in your backpack.”

     “Bag…?” he wonders out loud. “Oh… sure.” With a final yawn, he finds his backpack and lazily roams around in it.

     “Deon!” she yells in a cheery tone. “You will mess up the system, it should be in the top po--no stop looking there, the top. No, the other side. Deon, stop! It’s the--no I said the top!

     “Then you find it!” he says irritated and throws the backpack to his sister. Afterwards, he quickly sits back down on his blanket to lie on it again.

     “You messed it up…” Neida mumbles quietly to herself, as she sees the mess he left the the bag in. Whether he hears it or not, she does not know. He does not say anything, and thus she chooses to believe he is too tired. She triumphantly pulls out the food from the void of the bag.

     “Oh Deon,” she says playfully as she waves the food in front of her brother’s closed eyes. He raises an eyebrow in response. “Can you smell it? Breakfast,” she tries again. This time he opens an eye, but winches when he see what breakfast is today.

     “Not dried meat again,” he whines.

     “Dried meat is amazing. Stays good for a long time, easy to transport and filled with lots of goodies to prepare us for our journey.”

     “I’ll get too tired of dried meat and refuse to eat it before we even reach Village Xion.”

     “Oh, don’t be such a baby. You know we’ll reach the city tomorrow if we start walking soon.”

     “And now you know how fast it’ll take me to get tired of it…”

     “I know you grew tired of it yesterday,” she says with a smile.

     “Well… I still don’t want to eat it…” he mumbles, looking away.

     “More for me then,” she smiles. “We’ll eat on the way. Come on, pack up." A faint muffled sound is all he gives her in response.

 

     “Uugggggh, I am sick and tired of walking! Can’t we just take a break or something?” Deon immediately stops walking as he asks. His breathing is fastpaced and shallow, he tries leaning forward on his thighs to catch his breath.

     “Deon, we just had a ten-minute break,” Neida says concerned. “Do you feel alright? Are you sure you ate enough?”

     “Yesss…” he hisses through his teeth. “I’m fine, I just need a short break.” Neida walks towards him, raising a hand to place on his shoulder. Through his shirt she can feel his body heat. He hurriedly pushes it away and continues walking in a even pace. “Let’s go.”

     “But…” He ignores her, and she decides to follow him. It is not like him to get tired that quickly, and they just had a break. She really hopes that he is not falling ill, or anything of the sort. Perhaps he was cold during the night, she did afterall have one of his blankets. But on the other hand, his immune system is quite good, and he was rarely sick as a child. Not as often as Mr. Jefferson’s children. However, when he finally does get sick, it lasts for two long weeks. She remembers the time he caught the flu going around the village. He was sick for nearly three weeks. It was a nightmare to say the least.

     “Why are you looking at me like that?” She is startled out of her line of thoughts by his words, and she realizes Deon has turned around and is looking at her. Strangely enough, he is not out of breath anymore as he was just a little time ago.

     “I’m not looking at you in any certain way,” she says embarrassingly. “Why did you stop?” she asks. He points, as an answer to her question.

     “Village Xion is just one maybe two hours ahead now. You can see it on the horizon,” he answers. She follows the line of his finger, and as he said, a faint outline of the village is barely visible on the horizon.

     “You’re right,” she says as a smile grows on her lips. She can see him roll his eyes in the corner of her eyes.

     “Of course I am. I do have eyes,” he remarks. She gives him a look, but does not answers him.

     “Let’s continue, and hope Village Xion will actually let us in. We don’t know if there are others who have had the same idea as us. If words have travelled to our village, why not everyone else's, too?”

     “Oh, I’m sure they’ve had other options. Our old village is by far the closest one to Village Xion.”

     “Perhaps,” she says and starts walking towards Village Xion again. “The only way we’ll know is by going there and find out.”

     “Stating the obvious again sis,” he says and walks after his sister.

     “Oh, shut it, you. Or I will shove some dried meat into the pit you call a mouth.”

     “Such a language, sis.”

     “You’re the one to talk. You know how it’s often said that the older siblings teach the younger ones the bad words. Therefore my vocabulary is on you,” she says and smiles.

     “That one time you recognize me as the older one, you say it’s my fault you have a crude language.”

     “What else is a little sister for?”

 

Soon enough, Village Xion becomes more than a faint outline in the horizon. Walls bigger than any buildings the siblings have ever seen, surrounds the entire village, along with a lot of guards keeping watch at the several watchtowers on the wall. The distance between the watchtowers are no more than a few metres, causing the guards to be able to see what happens in the neighbour watchtowers. Everything is made in stones, giving it a strong and solid look. However, what causes the siblings into a halt, is the massive line of people. The massive line of people who also want to gain access to Village Xion.

     “I guess this answers the question,” Deon says awestruck.

     “Oh no…”

     “You said it, sis.” Neida frowns, but instead of answering, she looks at all the other travellers. There are two lines and there is no way of knowing, which is which. In the two lines, there are an equal amount of children and elderly. The only small difference, though, is that one of the lines move faster forward than the other.  

     “Which line is it then?”

     “You’re asking me?” he says and lifts one of his eyebrows to support his claim.

     “You’re right,” she admits. “Wait here and I will find out,” she says and starts walking in a fast pace towards one of the lines. “Excuse me!” she tries to catch someone’s attention.

     “Hey! No cheating in line!” a man with a tall hat says.

     “Sorry, I’m not trying to cut the line. I just want to--”

     “Guards! She’s cheating!” the man yells.

     “If she is allowed to cheat, why aren’t I?!”

     “Village Xion has no right to keep us out here!”

     “Who are they to decide who’s allowed in?!”

     “My child is sick! I just want some medicine!”

     “Probably infected! Get that thing away from me!”

     “EVERYBODY, SHUT THE FUCK UP!” a guard yells at the top of his lungs. Amazingly enough, nobody makes another sound. “You there,” he points at Neida. “Get back in line!”

     “Which line?”

     “The one behind you!”

     “No, I mean, there are two!”

     “Mutants to the right and human 2.0 to the left, simple as that,” the guard says and points to the different lines.

     “But--”

     “If you don’t get in line right now, I’m going to shoot you.”

     “Shoot me?” In response, the guard lifts his weapon and takes aim at Neida. Quickly, she lifts her arms up in surrender. “Okay, I understand. I’ll go back.”

     “Good. Then get going,” the guard says with a smile. Slowly Neida turns her back to the guard and walks back to Deon, who has been looking at the scene from the start.

     “Well, that went well,” he says, as she reaches his side again. His face is plastered with a wide smile and it looks like he has been laughing.

     “Shut it, Deon.”

     “O’ wise sister, what did you find out in your journey to the far off lands?

     “Ha, ha, very funny Deon,” she punches his shoulder. “However, your extremely wise sister did find out the meaning behind the two lines.”

     “Oh? And is she going to share the information?” he asks, when she does not elaborate.

     “The one to the right is for the mutants. Or the old generation of humans,” she says. “The one to the left is for the upgraded humans,”

     “And of course the one for the better and stronger is the fastest line,” Deon complaints.

     “Stop it, Deon. Now’s not the time to be bitter about it.”

     “Then when is it then?”

     “Not today Deon. Just get in line and wait for your turn,” she says irritated. They each walk to their line. Neida casts a worried look to Deon. “See you on the other side,” she whispers.

     Neida’s line is quicker than she expected. Before long, she is the first in line and the wall is even bigger up close.

     “Last and first name, please,” a lady behind a table says. All her clothes is white, right down to the shoes.

     “Seiks, Neida Zita,” Neida answers. The lady writes it down on her computer.

     “Age?” she says without looking up.

     “Sixteen.” Again the lady writes it down.

     “Please look into the machine to your left. Focus on the small light.” Neida nods as an answer and stands in front of the machine. She has to bend her knees a little to be able to look into it. “Please look into the light and do not close your eyes.” Neida does as she is told. The light in the machine grows brighter, and a burning pain in her right eye appears. However, right as she is about to let out a sound of pain and close her eyes, the burning pain is gone. Neida blinks a couple of times to get the aching of her eyes away, her eyes slowly watering.

     “Your eye is now your ID. Please continue to the next line,” the lady says in a monotone voice.

     “ID?”

     “Yes. Please do not remove your right eye. If you do, we will be forced to kick you out of Xion.”

     “R-remove my right eye…?” Neida says shocked.

     “Please continue to the next line,” the lady says impatient. Neida is all but pushed away by the person behind her. The next line continues into a white tunnel. A thick transparent wall separates her line from the mutants. Every person on the other side wears an airtight suit.

     “Don’t worry,” a young man around her own age behind her says. “They spray the air with a special disinfect, so no one can transfer Crimson Death to another,” he continues.

     “I thought it was only mutants who could get infected?”

     “It is, but if you stuff so many together in one place, all it takes is one sneeze and they all are infected. Mutants die, but 2.0 does not,” he explains. “The suits are because Xion does not take any chances, and they do not want more human 2.0 carriers.”

     “More human 2.0 carriers?”

     “It has been known to happen.”

     “I see…” Neida says distracted. “So if I had someone in the other line, they can’t catch anything from the others?”

     “No. Only if this someone already is infected,” he says.

     “Oh. Thank you.”

     “I’m Akari,” he says and offers her his hand.

     “Neida. A pleasure to meet you Akari,” she says and shakes his hand.

     “I’m pretty sure the pleasure is mine,” he says with a charming smile. “Who is this someone you have in the other line, if I may ask?”

     “My brother,” she answers. “The Crimson Death have come to our village and I could not take the chance of him catching it and…”

     “I understand,” he takes over as she does not continue. “I lost my family some time ago,” he admits. “It was… Not pretty,” he takes a deep breath before speaking again. “Now I am alone. I decided to take a chance and move here,” he admits. “Find some good people and start living again,” he says.

     “It must have been hard,” Neida sympathizes. “Our mother died nine years ago. I was seven, Deon, my brother, was ten. I raised him after that.”

     “What about your father?” he asks.

     “He left when Mother got pregnant the second time,” she takes a deep breath. “Deon was born first and Father saw him as a mistake, saw him as being weak. He couldn’t stand the thought of another mutant child, another useless baby, so… He left us.”

     “Oh…” Akari says quietly. “I’m sorry to hear that. It must be hard growing up without a father.”

     “Nah, it was… I think it would have been worse if he was actually there, deeming Deon as a mistake. We managed quite well without him,” she says. “I don’t think I would be the person I am today, if it wasn’t because of my mother.” Akari absently moves some of his long, tousled, black hair behind his ear as he listens to Neida.

     “It is the same with me,” he admits. “My mother and I were close,” he sighs. “We used to--”

     “Next!” a guard yells, interrupting their conversation. Neida sends Akari an apologizing look before stepping forward.

     “Please identify yourself using the machine to your right,” another monotone voice says, this time belonging to an old looking male. Neida looks into the machine, bracing herself for the pain. But the pain does not appear.

     “Welcome Neida Zita Sieks. If you would be so kind to give us your hand,” he says and Neida does as he says. He pricks Neida in her finger with a small needle and applies pressure with his thumb to get the blood flowing. He effortlessly takes two samples of her blood, placing them in two vials with labels. He passes both of them to another male dressed the same way as him, and the male places one of them under a microscope to study it.

     “Please move along,” he says afterwards in an uncaring way. “My colleague will inform you, if you are allowed to enter Xion or not,” he gestures to the man at the microscope. She looks at the man, but he is buried in the sample of her blood. Behind her Akari begins the same procedure as she just went through. He gives her a reassuring smile that reaches his blue eyes.

     “Eyes here missy,” the man at the microscope says in a tight voice. Neida looks at him surprised. “You blood is clean, congratulation,” he says without any emotion. The other vial he places in the same machine Neida scanned her eye in. “Please look into the machine again. We need to incorporate your DNA, blood type and health condition to your ID,” he says without looking at her. Once again Neida looks into the machine, the blinding light from before starts up again, but this time, as does the burning pain. “Move onto the next line. If you want a place to stay, please remember to sign up for one.” With that he starts examining Akari’s blood. Neida walks towards the last line. Excitement is forming inside her belly, along with worry. What if Deon was rejected? Infected?

     “Is it a part of their job description to have a stick up their asses?” the husky voice of Akari murmurs behind her. She laughs quietly as to not disturb any guards or people in line.

     “Perhaps they have a measuring competition, the one with the biggest stick wins?” Akari laughs, causing a few people to look at him.

     “Perhaps. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me with that attitude,” he says, smiling widely. “Hey, your brother is fine,” he reassures, as he sees the worry on her face. “He will be able to come into Xion,” he says as her restlessness becomes more visible.

     “You are right, but that does not stop me from worrying,” she says and forces a small smile on her lips.

     “Hey, you don’t have to force yourself to smile,” he says. “Anyone who raised her own brother would feel the same.”

     “Maybe… I just…” She does not get to finish her sentence, and she does not even want to, before the line moves and she is allowed into Village Xion.

     The first thing that hits her about Village Xion, is that it is not small enough to be called a village. People are everywhere. Walking. Talking. Minding their own business. The continuous flow of people into Xion does not even make them look. The massive growing population of Xion is normal.

     “Wow…” she says in awe. Behind her, she hears Akari have the same response as her. “It’s... “

     “Incredible,” Akari finishes for her. She stares awestruck for a few minutes, before the worry starts coming back in full force and she turns around.

     “Where’s Deon?” she asks. Her eyes land on every person exiting the tunnels, several more minutes pass, but there is no sign of Deon. Her heartbeat starts rising as each person turns out to be yet another stranger and not Deon. Her breathing escalates as the seconds pass.

     “Neida! Relax. Remember the line moves slower,” Akari tries to calm her, but with no effect. He walks closer to her and places a hand on her shoulder, and she jumps as soon as his hand make contact with her shoulder. Her eyes unbind themselves from the people and onto his hand, and them from his hand to his face. “Relax Neida. He will enter soon,” he says slowly in a calm tone. It helps her a little, but not enough as the worry still claws away in her stomach.

     Deon is going to be fine. He is. She knows he will. But she cannot lie to herself. She has no idea if he actually is, and it is killing her slowly. What if she is wrong? What if he has hidden the fact that he was sick all along?

     “Neida, seriously.” Akari’s voice breaks her free from her thoughts. “He is going to be alright. The mutant line just moves slower than our line.”

     “I… I know.” But the information does not help her, not in the least.

     “Get your fucking hands off of me!” Deon’s voice is suddenly heard through all the masses. “No! Stop or I’ll--”

     “Deon!” Neida yells, running over as soon as he comes into view. He is being held by two guards in each arm, forcefully being dragged along. When she gets close she is shoved away by another guard.

     “Fuck off!”

     “No, you don’t understand!” she yells desperately. “This is my brother!” The guard ignores her while Deon continues getting dragged. “Deon!” He tries to look back at her, but his head is shoved forward by a guard.

     “Keep moving boy!”

     “Please, tell me what’s going on!” She tries to push through to Deon, but once again that same guard shoves her away.

     “What part of fuck off, don’t you understand?!”

     “It’s my brother, plea--”

     “I don’t care! If you have any questions or complaints, contact the General.” The guard turns around to follow the other two guards with Deon.

     “Wait! Where can I find the general?!” No answer is given, instead the guard shoves her away again. This time she stumbles and fall on the ground. “Please!”

     “Come on, Neida, get up,” Akari’s voice reaches her on the ground, and she looks at him only to see his hand reaching down after her. She lets him help her on her feet, and only then does she realize how many are looking at her. Actually looking, instead of minding their own business.

     “We’ll find the General, but we have to go,” Akari says. She spares one more look at Deon’s back before he is swallowed by the masses of people, and then she looks away in regret. She could not save him, and now, who knows what will happen to him?

     She lets Akari drag her away, away from the masses of people and further into Village Xion, but all she really registres, is the feeling of being numb.

     She failed.

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