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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6. Chapter IV - The General

 

Numb. How could she have failed the one task her mother entrusted her to? Never let Deon out of her sight, and especially not to the military government.

     Akari has steered them towards a house deep into the village, asking for a place to stay from some of his friends. They agreed - even letting her stay with him. But she does not remember much after that, only that she was shown a room whereas she was given a bed and a place to her stuff. Now, she is sitting at her new bed, has been for a couple of hours now, contemplating where she went wrong and what to do. Akari is in the livingroom, probably catching up with his old friends. He thought it was best if they continue looking for the General the next day, considering how late it has gotten.

     “Neida?” someone knocks at her door and lets themselves in. She looks over and sees a woman with brown, short hair. She cannot even remember her name, but she knows she introduced herself. “Do you want to talk about it?” Neida faintly shakes her head, and the woman nods slowly. “All right,” she says sadly. “Well, dinner is ready, so come out whenever you’re ready, okay?” Neida nods, and the woman hesitates for a second before closing the door as she leaves.

     Honestly, Neida is not really hungry. It is not because she is depressed about Deon, it is one of the reasons, but she does not know these people. And she is already accepting food from them? They might provide her, them, hospitality, but how well does she really know them? Not enough to accept food from them, that is for sure. She lies back down on the bed, her hands falling behind her head. The knot of worry in her stomach has only gotten worse the longer she is separated from Deon.

     Soon, or maybe an hour, after the woman knocked on her door, another one knocks on her door. She does not answer, and it results in the person knocking again.

     “Neida. Can I come in?” the muffled voice of Akari sounds on the other side of the door. She considers giving him a proper response, but settles with an affirmative sound. Immediately afterwards, the door opens and Akari enters her room. He closes the door after himself, and then he just looks at her for a second. In his hand, he carries a plate with various kinds of food on it.

     “Katherine tells me you don’t want anything to eat.” He places the plate on her nightstand and then opens his mouth to speak again as she does not answer. “You have to eat something, Neida.” She looks away, trying to stop her mouth from watering because of the delicious smell of food. She could not possibly be this hungry, right? “Neida,” his voice is more serious than what she has ever heard from him so far. “I know you are worried about Deon, but he is going to be all right. The guards in Xion do not just kill without reas--that’s not what I meant!” he says urgently, as he sees her sitting up in bed, staring at him with wide eyes. “I-I… What I meant was that the guards don’t just take someone without reason! They must’ve taken Deon for some reason, right?”

     “Yeah, like him being infected with Crimson Death…” she mumbles, lying back at the bed again with her back facing him.

     “That’s not what I meant,” he says in a soft tone. “I… I’m not good with this comforting shit, okay? But I know Deon will be alright,” he says. “The guards are not going to kill him, and they will surely turn to you soon, so you can see him and ask what is going on. Besides, if he was infected, do you really think they would bring him into Xion?”

     “How do you know all this?” she turns her head to look at him again, but he turns his head and refuses to meet her eyes.

     “My family…” he mumbles, playing with the ends of the blanket. “It’s a long story, but…”

     “No, you don’t have to tell me,” she interrupts him, causing him to look up at her in confusion. “I’m not going to force you to tell me your life-story, just so you can prove something to me.”

     “Oh…” he looks at her with an almost vulnerable look. “Thank you,” he smiles softly, causing her to smile in return.

     “Now, about that food…?” she asks, smiling.

 

It is midday the next day when they head out to ask the General about Deon. Neida has not gotten much sleep, and she was quite impatient as to when they would head out.

     “This way,” Akari says, showing the way to the General. She does not know how he knows this, but she decides that it does not really matter. She wanted to find the General herself, and find Deon herself, but Akari insisted that she should not do this alone. So, he came with her, despite her protests that she could do this alone.

     They walk through the massives of people. There are even more people than at the entrance of Xion. Here, it is almost futile to walk without walking into someone, and impossible to avoid the mass of people by either walking left or right. Doing so, they will walk into someone else.  

     She follows directly behind Akari, because it is not an option to walk next to each other. If she loses sight of him once, then he will be as good as gone.  She is tempted to hold his hand, sorely so she will not get separated from him. But then she realizes that she is being silly, and casts the thought away from her mind.

     “We are here,” Akari says and stops in front of a tall and very decorated building. It is very clear this building is for people with a lot of power.

     “What are we waiting for then?” Neida says impatiently.

     “One does not just pop in on the General,” Akari says with a raised eyebrow.

     “Then how are we supposed to ask him about Deon?”

     “I’ll handle it, Katherine gave me some tips.”

     “And… How does Katherine know?”

     “She lives and works here in Xion after all,” he states amused.

     “Uh.. What? Katherine is a guard?!” she asks surprised.

     “Yeah?” he raises a brow. “Didn’t I tell you?” he wonders. She shakes her head in response. “Hmmm… Well, Katherine works as a guard,” he smiles. She rolls her eyes.

     “I hope she is not a part of the ‘stick-up-their-asses-competition’ squad.” Akari laughs a bit at her comment.

     “Oh, no, she is a normal guard. Sometimes she does bitch about the ones with the stick, but she can handle them,” he says with a smile. “Come on, let’s go in and asks for an audience with the General,” he continues, and gestures to the decorated building. He holds the door open for her and Neida gives him a smile in return.

     In here it is even more decorated. Everything seems extremely expensive and it smells kind of weird. The bliss of escaping the mass of people outside is whelming. Akari makes his way towards a petite woman behind a huge desk. He clears his throat to catch her attention and she quickly looks up at him.

     “Is there something I can help with?” she asks in a small voice.

     “Yes. We would like to request an audience with the General. We have urgent business to discuss with him,” he says in a formal voice, making Neida to stand to attention.

     “He is a busy man. I can leave your name and he will attend to your ‘urgent business’ when he deems he has got the time,” she says and smiles. “Which name should I leave?”

     “Akari Karoi, and please add that I am a close friend of Katherine Warin.”

     “I will. Please take a seat,” she says and gestures to a few crappy chairs. Guess this General did not see his people as worthy of a fancy chair. “The chairs are the way they are after someone decided to relieve themselves in them,” the petite woman says as she notices their glance at each other. Akari gives Neida an amused glance, and they sit down on a chair each.

     Luckily they do not have to wait too long. After a scrambled voice through a comms system, the petite woman stands up from her chair and walks with small steps towards Akari and Neida.

     “The General has accepted your request and is ready to hear what urgent business you have with him,” she says and gestures them to follow her. They follow her into the General’s office, which is even more highly decorated with riches of every kind. Neida looks around and spots a figure made with some sort of golden material she cannot identity. Akari clears his throat and Neida looks over at him. He gestures with his eyes to stand as him - with her back straight and her head lowered a little. She walks next to him and stand to attention, but bends her neck down. Respect for the General.

     “At ease,” a strong voice fills the room. Akari relaxes beside Neida and looks up. She follows his movements and does the same. Her eyes widen as she finally gets to see this infamous General, and she is struck by surprise as she realizes the General is a woman. Neida looks at Akrai and he, too, is clearly struck by surprise. The General looks at them and smiles as she sees their reactions.

     “By the look on your faces, I guess Warin never told you I was a woman, huh?” through the General's strong voice, it has an undertone of amusement.

     “No, she did not, ma'am,” Akari says, using his formal voice again.

     “It is just like Warin,” the General shakes her head in amusement. “Ah, but enough about her. My assistant said you have urgent business with me?” she questions. “Care to elaborate?” she asks.

     “Yesterday, my brother and I arrived to your… Xion. He was taken by the guards,” Neida tells. “I was told by them to talk to you when I wanted to find out why he was taken,” she pauses. “Ma’am.”

     “Yesterday, you say?” The general sits back down behind her desk. “What is your brother’s name?” she asks, as she looks down at her interactive screen on her desk.

     “Seiks. Deon Nathaniel Seiks, ma’am” Neida says. The General raises an eyebrow, but nonetheless she starts writing on her interactive screen to try and find something about Deon. The minutes slowly go by, before the General looks up with a confused look in her eyes.

     “There is no data about a Deon Nathaniel Sieks getting restrained yesterday,” she reveals. “Are you sure he was taken by the guards?” Neida mouth is dry, and all she can do is nod. The General lets out a thoughtful sound. “Strange,” she says after a while.

     “Stange!?” Neida exclaims in anger. “It is my brother. I need to find him!”

     “Neida! Calm down. The General needs to be treated with respect,” Akari commands. “I apologize for my friend she--”

     “No!” Neida interrupts. “You don’t have any record of him, fine. Then find him! Your guards took him! You bring him back to me!” The General laughs.

     “You got spirit, I will give you that,” the General admits. “But that does NOT give you the authority to talk to me in that manner,” she raises her voice. Akari looks worried at the interaction between the General and Neida. “Nevertheless. I will search for your brother, because I cannot allow any rogue guards ignoring my authority,” she looks at Akari. “Warin gave you both the vote of confidence and I trust her judgment. But tell her that if I do this, we are even,” the General says in a commanding tone.

     “Understood, ma’am,” Akari says and gives the General an apologizing smile. Akari grips Neida arm tight and drags her out the General's office.

 

     “Hey, what did the General say?” Katherine asks as soon as they enter the house. Neida does not look at Katherine as she takes of her shoes. Akari sighs and looks at Katherine.

     “Apparently the good General did not take her brother,” Akari answers.

     “What? Then who did?” Katherine asks in surprise.

     “That’s the fucking million dollar question, isn’t it?” Neida says angrily, throwing her shoes away from her in rage as she turns towards Katherine. “Apparently, there are rogue guards in the barracks, and they took Deon!”

     “What’s the problem then? Find the guards and get answers?” Neida glares at Katherine.

     “Oh, of course. Why didn’t I think of that? Oh my God, you’re so smart Katherine, why haven’t we thought of that?” she sneers.

     “Calm down, Neida,” Akari says, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t take it out on Katherine.” Neida angrily brushes his hand off her shoulder and casts another glare at  both of them, before she disappears into her room without a word.

     Through the door, she can hear the muffled voice of Akari explaining everything that transpired with the General. She feels the angry tears threatening to burst out, but she clenches her eyes shut to prevent them from falling. No way is she going to break down now. Not before she has found the ones responsible. Not before she has found her brother.

 

     “Neida?” she hears someone say her name, and immediately she opens her eyes, falling out of the sleep she unknowingly had fallen into. “Neida?” the voice of Akari sounds behind the door. She sits up in the bed and rubs her eyes quickly. Her limbs heavy enough to tell her she has been sleeping for some time. She hears her name again behind the door, and without another second, she wanders over to the door and opens it.

     “Yes?” she asks sleepy as she looks at Akari, startling him as he did not hear her open the door.

     “The General has found something,” he cuts to the chase. Her eyes widen and her hand tightens on the door handle in response.

     “What… What did she find?” she asks with a dry throat, not sure whether to be excited by the news, or scared.

     “It is what she found, but what she did not found,”

     “What do you mean?” she asks with a frown.

     “She, with her assistant, checked through who were registered as on duty yesterday. Three guards checked in for duty, but they never checked out,”

     “So?”

     “Don’t you think it’s strange they have not checked out yet?” he says with a sparkle in his eyes.

     “Sure,” she answers a little unsure.

     “But the General sent someone to search for them in their personal living quarters. When they went in their living quarters, they found three bodies.” He hesitates, before uttering the next sentence. “All of which had their right eye removed.”

     “They had what?” she asks in horror, feeling a little nauseous at the revelation.

     “Their right eye. You know the one with their ID and everything,” he says excited.

     “What does this have to do with my brother?”

     “These three guards, they were stationed at the entrance of Xion yesterday. The employees at the same station said they had an irregularly in a blood sample yesterday. Therefore they needed the person to be taken in for further studies. The three guards took this person, but they never showed up at the science labs. No one have seen any of them since,” he elaborates.

     “When you say person… Are you talking about Deon having an irregularly in his blood?!” she says frightened. “Does this mean my brother has the Crimson Death? Is he…” she cannot bring herself to finish the sentence.

     “Relax Neida. Deep breaths. All we know is that a person had an irregularity in their blood. Could be the Crimson Death, could be something else,” he reasons.

     “Did they found out who cut out their eyes? If they cut out the eyes, someone had to reattached them to someone, right? I mean… They would have noticed if three men scanned an eye in a jar when they reported in for duty!” she says with a sparkle in her eye.

     “Yes, and according to the General it’s not something easily done.”

     “Then we have three persons posing as guards,” she wonders. “There has to be a scientist involved. Perhaps the one saying the person needed to be taken in for further studies? All we have to do is finding the scientist and make him spill,”

     “Um… Perhaps, but I do think we need to wait until tomorrow, before making him spill… You have slept quite a while and it is late now.”

     “No! We finally have a lead! I’m not going to give them even more time to … to do whatever they’re doing to the person they’ve taken! I’m not going to wait until tomorrow!”

     “I know what the General is going to say. But it’s already dark and--”

     “No Akari,” she interrupts. “Just no. We will go out to search for my brother, with or without the General’s help,” she says and marches out the room, heading for her shoes and coat and leaving a stunned Akari with an impressed smile on his lips behind.

 

     “Neida seriously, don’t you think it’s kinda late?” Akari asks as he hurries to catch up with her on the streets. His eyes drifting around the street.

     “No, I don’t.”

     “But just think about--”

     “Akari,” she stops and turns around, almost making him run into her. “I have made my decision and I’m not going to change my mind. You can either be with me on this one, or you can go home.”

     “I’m with you, you know that. I just do not think it’s wise to be out here,”

     “Are you implying that I can’t take care of myself?” she asks defiantly. “Is it because I’m a woman?”

     “What? No! I just--”

     “Then stop whining and start walking!” Neida commands and starts walking again towards the General’s office.

     He follows her without a word, and soon enough they are sitting in the same crappy chairs, waiting for the General, once again.

     “No. You’re breaking up. Please repeat last transmission,” the General’s voice flows through the room, she holds two fingers pressed onto something in her ear. Immediately, Neida is on her feet and ready. When the General sees Neida, she holds up a finger, signing that Neida is not to speak.

     “Mhhm… Understood. Roundavuoz in,” she looks at the time. “Four hours. I expect a full report when I arrive,” she talks into the communicator. “Dismissed, Commander.” She turns off the communicator before putting on a smile for Neida and Akari.

     “Something we should know ma’am?” Akari says as he walk towards Neida and the General. The General seems to be considering it for a few seconds before answering.

     “No. I do have other things to attend to other than finding killers and brothers in Xion. I do have to run Xion in a manner that does not crumble under the massive influx of people seeking refuge from the Crimson Death,” the General says.

     “We understand ma’am.”

     “I assure you, you do not. Or at least your girlfriend--”

     “He is not my boyfriend!” Neida hisses angry.

     “Sure thing sweetheart,” the General smiles. “But as I was saying. You, Neida, do not understand. Xion receives over two hundred refugees everyday. We are running low on food, water and shelter. You do not have any idea how it is being responsible for children who are starving and living without a roof over their heads.

     “Half my guards are attending to something else than guarding Xion. They are out to trade, to hunt, to collect resources, to make sure Xion survives. You two are lucky to stay with Warin. Therefore you do not have to live in the barracks, sharing the same roof with just the closes six hundred neighbors.

     “Despite what you have experienced, Xion is not free and the newcomers in the barracks has to lift their shares, if they want to continue to live indoors and be given food,” the General says with her back straightened, as if she is giving speech.

     “Umm…”

     “Do not assume my first priority is your brother, because it is not. Xion is. Were it not for the killed guards, I would not have been investigating it as I have been.”

     “And we are grateful for you investigating at all, ma’am. Right Neida?” Akari says quickly and nudges Neida.

     “Yes. Grateful. Thank you ma’am.” The general laughs.

     “I am sure you are. But I have yet to locate the killers or you brother. I will contact you when I do know more,” she promises. “I already talked to Akrai about what I have at the moment and I am sure he shared it with you,” she says.

     “He has ma’am, but--”

     “Good. Then off you go,” the General interrupts, turns around and leaves them with her secretary. Neida reaches out after the General, but Akari gris her arm away before she touches the General.

     “Do you want to die?!” Akrai hisses in a low tone.

     “I have to find Deon,” she complains.

     “And you can’t find him if you are dead!”

     “She is not gonna kill me Akrai,” she says exasperated.

     “The last person who was disrespectful ended up with his insides on his outside,” the secretary interrupts their conversation without looking up from her desk.

     “W… What?” Neida pales. “You are not serious, are you?”

     “I am,” the secretary answer, yet again without looking up.

     “You see! Don’t get yourself killed over something stupid like this!” Akari argues.

     “Stupid?” Neida hisses, turning around to glare at him. “You think it’s stupid to look after my brother, is that it?”

     “No! Don’t twist around my words! I just think it’s stupid to go after the General when you run the risk of getting killed and still be without answers,” he explains. “I’m just saying,” he lowers his voice. “There are other ways of gathering information…” he murmurs, making a point of looking at the secretary.

     “You mean…?”

     “Yes,” he smirks. “There is always a weak link. Some are just better at hiding it than others…”

     “What do you intend to do?”

     “Make a point of sulking when you sit in the chair, and then watch me,” he explains. She frowns and opens her mouth to ask, but he interrupts. “Trust me on this, alright?”

     “Alright,” she sighs. Akari walks to the secretary’s desk with a charming smile as Neida sits down in an awful chair with a sullen look on her face.

     “Are you a camera? Because every time I look at you, I smile,”

     “Excuse me?” she looks at him with a confused expression.

     “I mean... Your body is 65% water and I'm very thirsty.”

     “Uhm…” she stammers, a little uneasy.

     “Do you have a map around?” Akari asks and leaning in towards her.

     “Sure. Which map would you like?” she asks, once again starting to gain control.

     “A map of you, because I'm getting lost in your eyes,” he says in a low husky voice.

     “I…,” she falters. “Uhm… okay…?” she smiles nervously. “Is there anything you wanted or...?” Neida facepalms in the chair she is sitting in.

     “You're so beautiful that you made me forget my pickup line,”

     “Pickup line?” she asks amused. “I’m sorry, but that’s what you were trying to do?” she laughs.

     “I… yeah, I’m sorry, but I’m not really good at this…” he attempts lamely. “I just read these lines… uhm, yeah, never mind…”

     You read pickup lines? Why?” she smiles widely, amusement apparent in her eyes.  

     “I just never really… knew how to show my interest in you…”

     “Interest? In me? I’m sorry, but is this a joke? An attempt of gaining information or something?”

     “What? No! Now you’ve hurt my very manly pride,” he says with a smile.

     “Pride? You have a pride?” she laughs.

     “Hey, there’s no need to be so cruel!” he holds his hands over his heart to underline he is hurt. Again she laughs.

     “Oh I’m sorry. I forgot you men can’t handle their pride being shot down,”

     “Then how about I tell you a secret?”

     “Um.. Okaay,” she answers unsure.

     “If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put 'U' and 'I' together,” he further in and says it in almost a whisper.

     “Oh really? Did you read that somewhere, too?”

     “No, it came to me while I looking at you,” he replies with a smile.

     “Oh, did it now?”

     “How would you like going to The Rose with me?” he suddenly asks.

     “What? Are you serious?” she asks with wide eyes. “When?”

     “I always have time for a pretty woman,”

     “Uhm…” she laughs nervously. “Sorry, but you’re not really my type,”

     “Okay…” he says a little rejected. “I’ll just asks you plain out then,” he says. “Do you have any idea where Neida's brother is?”

     “Oh…” she says, as she realizes. “Well… The General would have my head for telling you. But if your lovely friend asks I might accidentally spill something?” she says and flashes a big smile to Neida. Neida widens her eyes in surprise and looks at Akari for help. He makes a little nod with his head, and she stands up from the chair and walks towards them.

     “I would really appreciate if you could share your knowledge about where my Deon might be?” Neida says a little hesitant.

     “Hmmm… It depends,” she smirks.

     “On what?”

     “If I can borrow a kiss? I promise I'll give it back,” she says with a wide smile. Neida looks surprised at Akari, who is trying to conceal a laughter.

     “I... No,” she says bewildered.

     “Well, can’t blame a girl for trying.”

     “I guess not…” The secretary smiles back, before looking back at her screen.

     “The General got a lead about three persons posing as guards being sighted at an old laboratory that closed down due to illegal experiments,” the secretary says.

     “And where do we find this laboratory?” Neida asks with a small smile.

     “I could loose my job if I told you,” the secretary says in a serious tone.

     “But, you could always say that you don’t know how we found out, perhaps we looked through the files while you were away?” Akari suggests.

     “Hmm…” She looks over at Neida. “Sure, why not?” “This laboratory is near the refugee barracks. You walk in that direction and you will meet a taller and dark building. This is where you need for speed to go,” she says barely beyond a whisper.

     “Thank you,” Neida says and places a hand on the secretary shoulder. “I really do appreciate what you are doing for my brother and for me.”

     “I am happy to help. And good luck,”

     “Do you think we are going to need it?”

     “If what I heard is true, then yes,” the secretary says. Neida nods, turns and walks out with Akari following. When the doors close behind them Akari bursts into laughter.

     “That was fun!” he spits out between his breaks of laughter. Neida just looks around at the people turning their heads towards Akari. “You should have seen your face when she said she would love to tell you everything.”

     “Oh… And should I remind you of your lame pickup lines that didn’t work at all?”

     “I have more where they came from,” he says and wiggle his eyebrows.

     “Somehow, it’s not hard to believe.”

     “I can always try one on you,” he says with a smile.

     “Oh. No thank you,” she answers with a shake of her head.

     “Oh come on!” he says and puts an arm around her shoulder. Pulling her close to him and places his mouth besides her ear. “Somebody better call God, because heaven's missing an angel,” he says in the same low husky voice he tried useing on the secretary.

     “Stop it! It won’t work,” she laughs, and though she likes to believe that her heart is just acting crazy for no reason at all. She also likes to think that it is because they are close to finding Deon. Not because a black haired and blue eyed whispers something in her ear.

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