Disclaimer:I do not own [Prototype]. Radical Entertainment and Activision do.
Just an idea that popped into my head one day and would not relent until I published it.
On the shores of Manhatten, the waves lapped greedily at the pebbles and stones. A lone crow circled around, cawing, its feathers blending with the smooth night above, but stark in contrast to the red glow of the city behind it, the glow that built up from disease-filled air and flames from ovens left unattended. A life-vest, scorched and battered, had managed to wash up, a thick red substance coating it, pulsing slightly, as if it was alive, but the spark faded fast.
This did not go unnoticed by the crow, which, driven by its primal need to eat, circled lower and lower. This would be its first real meal in days, nearly all available food being uprooted and consumed by an unstoppable predator, one even worse than the humans, a predator that knew no reason and no bounds, not even the need to feed. Just the unbridled urge to spread.
The crow didn't care about what the mysterious red goo below was. It smelled alive, and if it was alive, then it might just be edible. And in a city where nearly all food was infected with a deadly virus, who cared if it wasn't ideal? Sure, Redlight wasn't as deadly to crows as to humans, but that didn't mean it didn't make them gravely ill.
The crow perched onto the life-vest and pecked at the weakly pulsating goop, which almost instantly seemed to revive, as if the presence of the avian animal made it aware of how very close it was to death. A part of the slime wrenched up and grabbed at the crow's feet. Instantly the bird felt a burning, ripping sensation. It felt the danger in this food, and flew away. But a red tentacle followed it, stretching longer than it should have been able to until the crow found a new perch on a nearby bench, disappointed at being denied yet another meal.
The slime started to pulse faster as more and more tentacles lashed out dozens of feet towards the crow, wrapping around its wings, its neck, its body, and tail. It cawed desperately, tried to struggle against the grip of the tentacles and the tearing sensation they sent into its flesh, but to no avail. The tendrils drew in, pulling the bird with them, where it dissolved into a black and red mass that the red slime absorbed like a starved man suddenly being given a roast pig to feast upon.
Then, it was like a switch turned on.
The red slime began to pulse wildly, small splatters drawing inwards as it congregated into a single mass. A portion of it began to build up, forming a red hand, slimy and grotesque, that began to climb up the rising mound of living material to its rightful spot on the human anatomy. The substance began to fix itself instinctively, until it repaired itself enough to let conscious thought take over the transformations.
Alex Mercer formed his teeth and tongue into his head, them cracking into position as the rest of his body melted into the shape he considered to be his true form. Eyes, unnaturally blue, like a glacier, were sculpted out of the biomass. Red and black flickers surrounded the slime, which began to darken into a shadow of rolling, rippling black, as feet appeared, only for the feet to vanish into the form of shoes. Once he felt satisfied with himself, he completed the transformations quickly, his body parts and psuedo-clothes appearing out of nothing, hiding the deadly, rolling of black and red biomass within that replaced organs and blood.
His face was the last thing he formed, the patches of red and black receding with small flickers as pale skin replaced the pure, unaltered biomass.
Alex didn't feel much of anything. He knew that when he took the bomb out to sea, it had the best chance of anything to kill him. Robert Cross couldn't kill him, Elizabeth Greene couldn't kill him, hell, not even the mammoth being he dubbed the Supreme Hunter could kill him. But the nuke may have, and he knew from the dozens of scientists he had consumed that had he been sitting on it, it would certainly have killed him. The temperature of one thousand suns would not have just shredded him apart, it would have vaporized his molecules, unhinged the Blacklight virus at the deepest level, turning him into a wisp of so much carbon, nitrogen, and other elements.
But he hadn't been standing next to the nuke. He had maybe a mile from the epicenter, at most, by the time the explosion caught up with his helicopter. And so, however just, he had survived.
ZEUS looked around, and knew he should have felt relieved he was alive. But he didn't feel much of anything for the moment, still too dumb-struck by the intense flash of soul-crushing, unstoppable heat that had occurred what seemed to him seconds ago.
He hadn't taken the nuke out to sea to save Manhatten. Not to save Blackwatch, sure as hell not to save Redlight. It was to keep Ragland and Dana from vaporizing.
The shell-shock wore off of him, and he allowed himself a sigh of relief as the emotion began to flow up from whatever served as his brain. He didn't know what came next. Cross had been his temporary ally, only to have been consumed by the Supreme Hunter at some point after it recovered from his first battle with the hybrid of Redlight and the Parasite. By the time he had gotten to the nuke, there wasn't enough time to enter the code he had torn from Randall, just enough time for him to think I'm a lunatic.
His numbness slowly wore off, and he became aware of just how light he was. With the crow consumed, he barely had any mass at all. It was a miracle he still stood. He could go see if Ragland had managed to wake up his sister later. Blackwatch was still out there, battling Redlight as best it could.
He snorted. They wouldn't even have the chance to without him. He had found out from his sprees of rapidly breaking people's molecules down and rebuilding them that Blackwatch had run projections on the spread of the Manhatten outbreak. After two weeks, it overran the quarantine. And he had fought MOTHER on that same day, far better prepared than when he had first met her, when he'd been a mere shadow of his current self. If he had waited even a day longer, Greene would have shattered the quarantine like he shattered tanks beneath his fists, and not even he would have been able to stop her.
Raising his gaze to the city, he spotted the tell-tale red miasma of the increasingly rare infected zones. He pushed off, his uncontainable strength pressing his legs against the asphalt as he sped up to one mile per hour... then five... then ten... then twenty... then sixty. Before he did anything else, he had to recover his density, and what better way to do that than the high-population environments of the territories conquered by Redlight's death throes?
He vaulted over cars, both moving and parked. Normally his steps would have left small craters in the pavement he sped across, but as it stood he hadn't the weight for that. And he intended to change that.
He spotted the first infected civilian before long, tumors growing over his eyes. One of the bleeding-hearts he had consumed wondered if they still existed within the confines of their mind, begging for a release. The memories from experts on the infection, particularly, Greene, informed him that no, that was just something in fantasy. These people were already dead.
He lifted the virus-filled body, a cadaver that didn't know it yet, and let his tendrils sprout from his body, wrapping around it, dissolving it, and adding it to himself.
Alex let out a sigh. "That's better." Civilians ran too and fro, desperate to escape. Not a single Blackwatch soldier or vehicle on sight, but plenty of infected civilians and even the occasional tumor-filled, twisted Walker.
With a thought his right hand transformed into a wiry substance that he had drawn inspiration for from slinkies, two silvery blades tipping the black, spiraled arm. His whipfist shot forward and clamped around the neck of a walker. With a single command, his outstretched hand snapped the obese infected thirty feet away in half, absorbing it into his arm, the biomass traveling back at his will to be distributed.
Then he launched himself into the thick of the chaos, dismembering people left and right, absorbing them, regaining the mass he had lost from the many weak, stinging attacks of the soldiers on board the Reagen, the parts of himself that had been torn away from each gargantuan strike he failed to dodge from the Supreme Hunter, the viral material that had been incinerated into nothingness by the nuclear bomb.
Satisfied with his impressive mass, enough to make him snap trees by running into them, he jumped up, using his strength to clear a rooftop, and used his momentum to go on a full-speed sprint towards the morgue.
"Ragland, you'd better have taken good care of her," he muttered under his breath.
Minutes later, he knew something was very, very wrong.
The area around the morgue hung with Redlight's miasma, and the ground below was littered with marines and Blackwatch operatives fighting a desperate battle against oncoming walkers, hunters, and even a leader. Panic, something he rarely felt, seeped into his being. He increased his speed, practically flying through the battle, too fast to be followed, towards the morgue. Ragland HAD to have sealed the door when the infection had come. He wasn't dumb. But how had it come here anyway?
... how long had he been out?
He dashed towards the morgue, a crater where its door should have been, knocking any infected in his path aside ten feet with a casual push.
Inside, his figurative heart stopped.
A shaking, lightly clawing figure clad in blood-stained blue clothing made clawing movements with one hand, its glasses nowhere to be seen. Ragland's infected doppelganger slowly stepped forward to him. For a moment, Alex felt a twinge of sadness. Ragland was one of the few people who didn't see him as a threat to humanity, or as an enemy. And here he was infected. Reforming his whipfist, Alex summoned his strength and reached out, the feeling no different than moving his arm forward to grab while in a human form, just that it lasted longer. His dual claws punched a hole straight through Ragland's stomach, and pulling back, he tore the doctor's body in two, the spark of life fading quickly.
A figure behind stared at the falling body, brown hair messed with a red slime, which also streaked down her eyes, outlining the tumors that threatened to engulf her face. Alex prepared another attack at the walker, his whipfist pulled back to tear the monstrosity apart with a slight effort, but paused. Recognition came over him. Greene's words within the Core Hive...
'She's with us now...'
The walker formerly known as Dana Mercer lunged forward at inhuman speed. But a walker could never hope to stand against a Runner, particularly not the embodiment of the Blacklight virus. With reflexes no human could possess, Alex raised his whipfist and slammed Dana into the wall, his face hardening. This wasn't his sister. Any emotional recoil was held down by the urge to kill that thing before it tries to kill you.
The infected creature slammed into the wall, leaving a small crater in it, and it staggered down as the flexible appendage drew back, Alex willing it to shift and ripple into a smooth blade as tall as he was. The walker of Dana Mercer lunged forward, and with a single strike that betrayed the ease with which he could kill and slaughter, he rent the monster, already weakened from the whipfist strike, in half. Tendrils sprouted from his body and consumed the creature, and once it was in him, well, then he felt the emotional recoil.
'She's with us now...'
"No! No, no no." Dana wasn't his sister, not really. He'd known that for a while, since his contact - Cross - had told him that he wasn't the real Mercer, Alex J., just somebody in his face. But that didn't change anything from his perspective. Dana was the only one who really cared for him. Ragland operated more out of fear for his abilities, or perhaps what would happen if he wasn't able to fight the infection, but Dana genuinely wanted to help him.
And I failed her...
The whispers of a thousand dead people echoed in his mind as he was left alone with his thought, which he had a harder and harder time distinguishing from their's,but that one lone thought of his dominated them all. Dana was gone. Infected while he recovered from the atomic bomb, mutated into a Walker, and now gone, forever, and there was nothing he could do about it.
And that wasn't a feeling he was accustomed to; helplessness. He'd never truly been helpless, always been able to fight back in some way. When he'd first encountered Blackwatch, he'd been able to run away from them. When he decided to stop running, helicopters blew up as he hurled cars at them. When Hunters swarmed him for the first time, he trapped them and incinerated them in a military base. When Robert Cross, a mere human, proved to be more than a match for him in close quarters and long range combat, he began using hit and runs, taking whatever injuries he could get, even though the Specialist could always twist away so that only a minimal amount of his strength actually hit him.
Never had he been unable to do anything. And he hated it.
The feeling of helplessness gave way to hopelessness. There was nobody that could help him. The two people who ever helped him were dead. And they weren't coming back. Blackwatch would continue to hunt him. They wouldn't succeed, nothing could truly stop him, but that didn't mean he didn't want at least some semblance of peace.
Outside, the roars and shouts of the battle continued. Blackwatch choppers hovered in the air from the noise of their propellers, raining down death on the infected.
Hopelessness gave way to anger. Anger at himself, for letting Dana get infected. Anger at the infected, for taking away the closest thing he ever had to a family. And most of all, anger at Blackwatch, who decided to meddle in things bigger than them, creating CARNIVAL, Hope, Greene, Pariah, him. And the solution suddenly became so simple to him, so simple indeed. Without Blackwatch, Dana would still be alive. Therefor, Blackwatch killed Dana. And if Blackwatch was gone, then the problems would also vanish.
Biomass flickered and hardened around him, his skin echoing the color of his blade as thick armor overtook his body. A red haze clouded his vision as Alex tore from the morgue, and jumped headfirst into the fray, the whispers of the dead men and women in him going silent in fear of what he was about to do, a god of death and destruction, the deity of slaughter, back in his element.
He moved his arm-blade, and tanks exploded. He pounded the ground, and squads of infantry burst into bloody chunks. He jumped and kicked, and a helicopter was blown out of the sky. He almost danced, overtaken by the primal need to kill everything that took her from him.
Tentacles laughed and danced around his body armor, grabbing nearby infected and soldiers with a near instinctive movement, consuming them without forcing him to pause his carnage. He channeled more biomass into his armor, so much that within he was all but a hollow shell, his armor tougher than ever before. Hunters swiped at him, and their claws broke. Marines shot at him, and were killed as their own bullets ricocheted back at them. Tanks blasted him with their cannons, and he simply continued with hardly a break in his step.
Vaguely, he was aware of the alliance forming between his two enemies, the infection and the military fighting together, pouring fire and claws on ZEUS, pitting their forces against the eldritch abomination of Blacklight, to no avail.
He swiped his still-human hand, and a hunter crashed into a tank. He roared again and again, releasing his most devastating attacks to impale, skewer, and blast everything around him again... and again... and again. He grabbed a hunter, which tried to push him off, since it wasn't yet weakened. He consumed it anyway, and hurled the carcass at a helicopter. It exploded and fell on a group of infantry, crushing them. He was surrounded in a ring of war, not a break in sight. His hearing picked up strike teams being requested by the dozens, of hunters roaring as they approached, drawn by the sound of combat only to be skewered by a thrashing tendril and consumed as they came, and their drained bodies used as ammunition against strike teams.
Biomass channeled underground, creating clusters of hard, tough spikes that impaled infected civilians and Blackwatch operatives alike. He didn't waste time retracting the natural obstacles, instead breaking his claws out of the ground and leaving those bits of himself underground, his dancing consumer tendrils picking it up back into himself. He moved around, slowly taking the fight away from the morgue as the clusters of shattered vehicles and lifeless hunters began to clutter his path. He wasn't aware of time, not even of the fact that he moved the fight around Manhattan, driven by his rage, knowing that they would never stop hunting him until he hunted them to extinction.
A Thermobaric tank arrived, and trained its guns on him, blasting him with its single massive shell. With reflexes stolen from hundreds of thousands of years of combat experience, he gently pushed the thermobaric blast's missile to the side, letting it take out several dozen of his foes. The next blast he redirected similarly, blowing up the tank that fired it. Time began to lose its meaning, until with one last ferocious yell, he let loose his most devastating attack, channeling more of his biomass than ever before into an explosion of tentacles in all direction. The steel-like coils ripped apart tanks and helicopters within hundreds of feet, wrapped around infected, military and civilians, consuming them even as he impaled them, replenishing his mass.
The ring of combat around him subsided, and with it, his rage turned to depression. He reviewed his memories; he had torn a five mile swath of destruction through Manhattan. A few skycrapers were leveled because of their proxy to his relentless attacks as he unleashed the true power of Blacklight. His sister was gone. Why did he even fight them? They wouldn't stop hunting him. Blackwatch was only a name. Even if he destroyed them all, another organization would rise, and the cycle would repeat. If he wanted to stop being hunted, he needed to wipe out humanity, and that wasn't what Dana would want him to do.
Alex sighed, the whispers of the damned in his head silent for the time being.
But then what could he do? He couldn't keep fighting forever. Well, he could, but it would end with humanity wiped out, and like before, Dana wouldn't want him to do that. A memory came up, of how some bacteria live for millions of years in hostile environments, emerging only when the conditions favored them. The endospore; they divided on themselves and essentially sealed themselves away from the world until it was safe again. But he wasn't a bacterium. He was a virus, the ultimate virus at that, and yet...
What virus could think? Could reason? Could feel pain? He could. So why couldn't he, too, place himself into an endospore, seal himself away from the world until it was more favorable to him?
The roar of hunters the hum of armor reached his senses, and he knew he only had limited time to act. Summoning his strength, he soared away from the scene of the battle, before they could return, and without raw anger flowing through what qualified as his veins, he wouldn't have the will to stop them. His armor rippled and faded, his blade contracted into a human hand. He ran west, ran faster and faster, through an infected zone, and then jumped with all his strength towards the mainland.
It didn't take long for him to fall into the ocean, the salt water burning and nipping at him. He pushed through it and swam with all his awe-inspiring might, pushing past the superficial pain until he would finally, eventually, break the blasted quarantine and be able to hide. He didn't need to breathe, and didn't need rest. Soon enough, he reached the mainland, walking as if he was human, until he could find a suitable place to seal himself off. There wasn't any place in proximity that could protect him.
And so he ran, hounded by his memories with Dana.
Alex found the place. A little spot in the Rocky mountains, secluded from humanity to its bitter cold. He formed his claws and dug them into the hard-packed snow, tearing through the weak obstacle and slowly, but surely, making him sink down. He reached stone, but didn't stop there, digging into the mountain an artificial cave, collapsing it behind him as he went; it wasn't as if he needed air. Once Alex was satisfied with his isolation from the rest of the world, he curled in on himself, and focused.
Alex imagined a tough, impenetrable shell forming around him, sealing him off from the world. And it happened; his biomass sprouted out from him and cocooned him in a spiky, red and black ball as tough as stone. He curled up in fetal position, tightening the ball around his human form, even though it was still technically him. For the first time, Alex truly slept.
Wake me up when it's safe.
Then a virus dreamed.
As he sunk lower and lower into unconsciousness, as his bodily processes slowed to let himself be preserved, he dreamed. For one minute, he saw a montage of death, of fear and horror, as people ran from a viral abomination, or answered the call of duty to fight it, only for them to be torn apart by it, dozens in a second, until in a single flurry, he relived everything.
Then he had other dreams.
He stood in the middle of Times Square, the red growths of Redlight covering the buildings. Bloodtox seeped from cracks in the ground, highlighting the corpses of hunters, regular and leaders, that littered a pumper. The ground shook and buckled, the Blackwatch soldiers around him looking about fearfully.
A massive cry burst through the ground, and so did death. A behemoth two stories tall, so large it needed support from three large tentacles under it, red and fleshy and above all pulsing, let loose a yell. The yell blasted Alex back on his feet, tearing his biomass away and clearing out all the Blackwatch soldiers. It was just him... and her.
Alex dodged another of the monster's devastating yells, and let loose a channeled stream of biomass at it, which the behemoth didn't even seem to notice. Growling in aggravation as stones bounced off his armor, he ran up a building and jumped down, raising his blade high with one clasped hand and dropping down at the bulk. Landing on the monster's 'face', he prepared to slash at the figure within, but he stopped as he recognized who it was controlling the infected monstrosity.
His sister's infection-ensnared form scowled back at him. "I'm with them now," she said with the same rasp that Greene had.
He gasped in pain as a thick brown tentacle exploded upwards through his chest, and then drew back, drawing him to the ground. He stared up at Cross's face as the last of the tendrils retracted into him, flickers of brown biomass around the Supreme Hunter's disguised form. Dana's massive growth leaned down at him, her face contemplative, the putrid stench of Redlight's viral tissue making him gag. "You tried so hard, didn't you?" Cross turned an arm into his own whipfist, and speared it through Alex's chest - where was his armor and blade? - and left him gasping in pain. It wasn't healing. "You tried so very hard to rescue me from the leader." Another stab, this time through the knees.
"But in the end, you." Arms. "Couldn't." Stomach. "WIN!" Cross raised his whipfist, and stabbed him through the head.
The scene changed. He walked through the streets of Manhattan, but there wasn't a trace of military anywhere. This dream seemed darker, less solid. More fluid, as his thoughts slowed down and Alex sunk deeper into his self-induced coma. The skyscrapers around him flickered, changing color repeatedly, sometimes being rubble, or overgrown with Redlight, or perfectly normal, like the dream couldn't decide what it wanted to be about.
A platoon of soldiers charged at him, but halfway they turned into infected civilians stumbling at him, then back again, then finally into just regular civilians, who turned away when they saw him and ran for their lives. Alex looked up, and fell down in fear. The sky wasn't the sky; it was occupied perpetually by Greene's face, blood-stained and smiling sinisterly down at the city she intended to claim. Suddenly, he gasped in pain, kneeling over as a fire spread through his body. A mirror appeared before him, and he saw the cancerous growth of the Parasite on his back, sapping his life. Greene's face spoke over him, speaking to Manhattan, but in Cross's mask-distorted voice. "An intelligent cancer ripped from its host?"
Then he yelled again as the parasite shrunk, but this seemed to be what the parasite felt when he got rid of it, rather than what it did to him. He felt abandoned, and unwanted, a feeling of displacement and fear that his own host, the one who gave him life and sustained him, suddenly turned against him, tearing him apart atom by atom. ZEUS fell quivering to the ground as he felt the Parasite vanish on his back, despair and hopelessness that wasn't his own echoing into his viral mind. When the pain finally stopped, he looked up to find the Robert Cross reaching down to lift him up by his throat.
"When the weapon detonates, and they think the infection is cleansed, they won't be looking for me." He struggled against the iron grip, but the Supreme Hunter was physically superior to him. "And when I consume you." Cross's eyes began to glow brightly, a fire in them expanding. "I'll be able to withstand..." The fire burned into him, radiating from the hunter. "even THIS!" He tossed Alex away as a massive explosion tore out from him, throwing him away, burning him, incinerating him, destroying him molecule by molecule.
I'm a lunatic.
Alex stood in his lab, working quickly to find a way to strengthen the Bloodtox. The infection was beginning to grow immune to it. This wouldn't do. There had to be a way. There had to.
A Blackwatch soldier opened the door, rifle clasped in his hands. "We've been compromised! Parker knows you're on the payroll, we're evacuating!" Fear rolled over him. Karen, the woman he had loved, who he had betrayed, had found him. He didn't want to betray her. But he had no choice, they were going to kill him if he didn't! And he didn't want to die. But now, it seemed like he had no choice in that matter.
The soldier herded him into the elevator, like a dog herding sheep, and when the door closed he felt unfathomably claustrophobic. He pressed himself against a corner, trying to make himself as small as possible, while the soldier simply stood, his scrutinizing look not hidden by his mask. "You know what she can do. Oh Goddammit, she'll kill me!" The elevator, moving down, felt so small, so tight and clustered. Like a coffin...
It shook, the light turning red, casting eerie shadows along the posters and graffiti that covered the walls.
... a coffin sinking into the ground.
Alex looked around horrified, turning his back on the soldier to look at where Parker might come through to kill him. After all, it wasn't like elevator walls could stop her."Oh my God. Oh my God, she's here. She's in the building."
A slithering, warping sound registered behind him, making his blood turn to ice water and his heart skip every second beat. That voice, once the voice of the woman he loved, now the voice of death on two legs. "I know," said Karen Parker, codename HERA.
Alex lowered his head, and breathed out a hopeless, resigned, "No..."
Then as Parker lifted him up by his throat and carried him into the middle of an infected zone, leaving him to run out by himself, chased by a hoard of walkers, the dream began to dull further. He ran towards a squad of Blacklight, begging for them to help. They cut down the infected, then walked over to where he stood. Their officer said two words. "Him too." His subordinate raised a pistol to his head, and fired. Everything went white, and Alex felt himself sink into deep sleep, leaving the realm of nightmares behind.
A few words remained behind. No matter what, you're still my brother.
Your brother... Alex thought.
Hey. Alex stirred at the thought. Hey, are you awake? Are you alive? Hey. He felt something touching him, feeling the ragged ball of biomass around him. Telepathy? Hey, wake up. I just want to talk. Can you hear me? If you can, just think to me.
Unsettled and more than a little wary, Alex found the general 'direction' the thoughts seemed to be coming from, maybe female in their sound, and thought in its direction. Who are you?
Oh good, you're awake. I was a bit worried about you for a moment. You were very still and almost inanimate.
You didn't answer me, Alex thought angrily. WHO. ARE. YOU?
Shh, shh. It's all right. I'm Medusa. Who are you?
Alex grappled with the thought. He was groggy, and felt sleepy, slowing his thoughts. Who was he? He was Blacklight, but that wasn't his name. The military called him ZEUS, but he hated that name, the name his enemies had no right to give to him. Alex, Alex Mercer.
Okay Alex Alex Mercer -
No, just Alex Mercer. Call me Alex.
He felt confusion coming from the voice. Okay? Can you come out of that ball? I want to see what form you prefer.
How do you know about that? He asked fearfully.
What do you mean? Everyone can do that. For instance, I rather prefer black hair and red eyes, but...
Alright! Deciding to see what was going on, and knowing he'd get no answers from within his endospore, Alex pulled his shell back into him the flickers of red and black receding into him and leaving behind his favorite form, the shape of the man who' tried to end the world with his own death.
He squinted at the light. He was in a tunnel, the same one he'd carved out, but a bit different. More collapsed, some parts of it distorted. In front of him knelt a young girl, maybe twenty years old, with a silver parka over a red and violet striped shirt. She wore blue jeans and red sandals jeweled with diamonds. Her hair was a midnight black, sharp in contrast to her deathly pale skin and nearly glowing red eyes.
She turned her head sideways, as if perplexed by that one word, and then opened her mouth. "You prefer speaking verbally, Alex?"
She smiled. "I just introduced myself, silly! I'm Medusa."
"How did you know I can shapeshift?" he asked warily, red and black flickers forming over his right arm, preparing to form his blade in a split second if need be.
Her smile melted into a frown. "I told you. Everyone can shapeshift." As if to prove her point, violet and blue flickers briefly enveloped Medusa's hair, turning it red for an instant before it turned back to black in a similar flickering.
Alex was up in an instant, blade formed, ready to attack. He snarled. A Runner. Then her words caught him. Everyone. "How... how long was I out?" he asked, not bothering to deform his blade.
Medusa's frown changed into a neutral expression, but her jaunt features made even that look like a slight frown. "What do you mean, out?"
"When I sealed myself, it was, um, the year... yeah. What year is it now?"
Medusa frowned. "Let me ask around. Okay, it's the year one billion, twenty five million, seven thousand and eighty two."
Alex choked on his next breath. "I was asleep for one billion years?"
"Sleep? What's that?"
Alex shook his head, turning his blade back into his arm. "Um, you'd better start at the beginning. I've been a bit... out of commission."
Medusa nodded, and stood. "Well, long ago, there were these creatures. They couldn't change their form, but they also had conscious thought. They called themselves 'humans'."
He returned Medusa's nod. "Yeah, I know about humans. I spent a lot of my early life..." He shrunk at Medusa's disappointed glare. "Sorry, continue."
"So, like I was saying, they called themselves humans. They were extraordinarily weak physically, but they made up for it with their minds. They weren't connected to each other like we are, but they somehow managed to tame the planet, and its life forms. They fought amongst themselves almost perpetually, trying to come up with better ways of killing opposing factions, their strife never ending. One way was to create a deadly virus that would only kill those they wanted it to. They created a virus called 'Redlight' and tested it out on a group of several hundred humans." Hope. "They created the first true family, but were horrified by it, terrified by the different, as the virus overtook their bodies and made them, by their standards, hideous. But there was no guiding hand for the first family, not at first. Then Redlight found a human by the name of Elizabeth Greene, and they became one. Greene became Mother, as known to both her family and the humans."
Alex nodded. "Yeah, Greene."
"She tried to get them to see her way, to invite them into her family with open arms, but the humans resisted, and fought her family. Those humans reproduced in a strange way, you know. Two of them were needed to create just one of them, and Mother was something they called 'pregnant', ready to bring a new human into their world, when she became one with Redlight. Her son was born with something else, and became known to the humans as Pariah. But nobody in the family beyond Mother herself knew about Pariah. The humans killed Mother's first family, and captured her and Pariah. Years passed, and eventually, Mother found a way to escape in a place the humans called 'Manhattan'. She raised her family again, stronger than before, and fought back vigorously against the humans who had taken everything from her. But like before, she lost against all odds. But unlike before she was," Medusa seemed to choke on these words. " Killed by the humans."
Bullshit, I killed her.
"That was around the year 2009. She almost won, too. But later, in the year 2014, Pariah escaped the humans' clutches. And just as Mother was one with Redlight, Pariah was something more. He was one with something the humans called the Artemis virus, the virus that brings sudden death."
One of Alex's stolen memories came up. It may be the final purpose of all life on Earth. Medusa continued. "Pariah got into the open, and raised his family. But he learned from Mother's mistakes, he knew what to do, what to avoid. He showed the humans the warmth of family, and he won." Alex looked at her, horrified. "Humans and their perpetual strife went extinct, and Pariah and his family existed forever after. Much of his family, however, were simply humans infected with his strain. Unintelligent. Feral. So he made them all like him."
Pariah turned all the infected into Runners. "And we've existed, peacefully, ever since." She narrowed her eyes. "It's odd. I can't feel you in the Family. Why is that?"
Alex sighed. "You might want to lie down. It's a bit of a long story."
Medusa nodded, and sat down. Then Alex told her. He told her everything.
The Runner of the Artemis virus nodded. "So that's why I can't feel you in the Family. You were born apart from it." She looked up at him. "Did you really... did you really kill Mother?"
"She was going to kill me, and more than that, she wanted to kill my sister. I couldn't let her."
Medusa sighed, looking down and idly crushing a chunk of granite in her fist. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. She did strike first, without herald or reason." Then Medusa looked up at the standing Blacklight runner beside her. "Come, I'll show you the world. You sealed yourself away because the world was not safe, right?" Alex nodded. "It's safe now, for you. Come on. Let me show you." Medusa began to sprint out of the tunnel at incredible speeds. Alex followed suit, and stopped once he saw what was outside his tunnel.
The Rocky Mountains were gone, leveled. He came out looking at a vast prairie, grass swaying in the wind. A couple of spires of red and violet viral matter stood in the distance. Looking up at the night sky, the stars twinkling down at him brighter than anything he had ever seen, the Milky Way strong, he saw the moon also had several flickers of red on it, where Pariah had somehow gotten his strain.
Medusa's hand found his own, and he felt a stinging warmth flowing into him from her, but the moment he thought to resist it, he felt the connection.
Millions of minds, all so powerful, walking around. Their emotions reverberated within him, and they acknowledged him, welcomed him. He felt uncomfortable. They felt this, and he felt their intent to help him get acclimated. In the Hive Mind link, he heard Medusa.
This is Alex Mercer. He's joining our family now.
A million voices all greeted Alex at once, with many more following.
For a moment he felt disgusted with himself, revolted that he acted so weak in the mental presence of so many Runners, but he didn't feel any negative emotions from them. Slowly, as emotions and thoughts bounced back and forth, he allowed himself to relax. One voice, louder than the rest, echoed, the voice of a child.
Ah, Zeus has finally come around. Or rather, do you prefer Alex? asked Pariah from somewhere else on the world, the landmasses having drifted over a billion years.
I prefer Alex.
The sun rose as thoughts and emotions continued to exchange, large and orange, slowly nearing the end of its life cycle.
I apologize for the actions of Mother, Alex. It was a pity for us both, the actions she took. I hope we can place our differences behind us. He felt Pariah's sincerity, and Pariah felt Alex's uncertainty. He agreed to Pariah, and began to sprint with Medusa toward the nearest Hive cluster.
A thousand dead people, soldiers and civilian alike, whispered in his mind. As he neared the cluster, running at a hundred miles an hour, they faded into nothing, the Hive mind dissipating them.
You're still my brother, his sister's memory said.
And you'll always be my sister, Dana.
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