Carpathia III: Episode 45 - The Choice


Jaze knew he was suffering from the constant isolation. His mind often played tricks on him, seeing things that weren't there and hearing things that didn't exist. His dreams became more and more erratic, so much so that he wouldn't have even been able to describe them afterwards. At times, his dreams offered a cold comfort when they took him back to his home and his former life, but that always ended when he woke up.

Now, he was in an uneasy sleep, dreaming of a time so long ago when he was in class. His English teacher, a formless shape in the dream, recited poetry.

But only in their dreams can men be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be.

Maelstrom: Not anymore!

The shapeless from of Jaze's teacher suddenly morphed into Maelstrom. Jaze tried to hide himself, but there was nowhere to go. He was unsure if he was still dreaming. It still didn't feel real, but suddenly, the sights, sounds, and smells were far more vivid than any normal dream.

Maelstrom: Screeching firebirds, talons ripping, tearing, scraping, smashing, burning!

Maelstrom grinned sickeningly, clearly showing all of his sharp, jagged teeth.

Maelstrom: Hee hee hee hee.

Just as suddenly as he grinned and giggled, his face turned to one of grim seriousness. He leaned in towards Jaze's face, mere inches away, until Jaze could smell his putrid breath.

Maelstrom: I have a job for you. Do well and your life can return to normal. Do badly...

Maelstrom paused thoughtfully.

Maelstrom: You don't want to do badly. Now wake up. You have work to do.

Jaze awoke suddenly with a gasp, bathed in sweat. He looked around quickly to find that he was still in his room.

He only had a few seconds to survey his surroundings when his door wildly swung open and banged against the wall. Two muscley goons stomped in and, with no time to react, they grabbed him and tossed him outside. He landed at the feet of someone's boots. Slowly, he looked up to see Thirteen glaring down at him. Thirteen dropped a neatly folded set of clothes and pair of boots by his head.

Thirteen: Put these on. You need to look presentable.

Without another word, Thirteen walked off, leaving his two goons behind to supervise Jaze. One of them kicked his leg in a less than subtle attempt to get him to hurry up.

Jaze quickly stripped off his old clothes, which he had been wearing ever since he went into isolation. Though he was very anxious about what awaited him this day, he was, at least, pleased to have a fresh set of clothing. He waited until the guards were momentarily distracted talking to each other before he quickly passed his camera from his smelly, old sock to his new one. He quickly put on his boots, which were two sizes too big. This suited him just fine as it gave his camera-sock some space. No sooner had he finished tying his last boot that one of the goons gave him an impatient push.

One of them hurried on ahead of him so that Jaze would have one to follow and one to watch him. They took him out of the nekohuman pod and through the tunnels under the Arid Sea to the main tower area. The closer he got to this place, the more nervous he was. The last time he was near there was when he fought Mitani and Mirage took him to see the mines afterward. Jaze suspected that he was going to be forced to fight again.

However, when he emerged from the tower, there did not seem to be a fight awaiting him. Instead, it appeared as though everyone in the compound was gathered in the courtyard, facing towards the exit. They were lined up neatly according to race. It was a peculiar sight to Jaze, for he had seen nothing like that in all his time there. He was hustled over to the area where the nekohumans were and slotted between two muscular nekohumans he already knew well. Although he never managed to carry out any sort of conversation with them, they were the ones who escorted him to meal times in the canteen every day. Now they were here, assigned to watch him again.

Jaze stood, not daring to move, despite his feet being in discomfort owing to the unfamiliar boots he was now wearing. Finally, down the line, he saw Pestilence, followed by another with a crate full of guns. He stopped at each person, handing a gun and water bottle to each. Finally, when he reached Jaze, he glared at him and handed him a gun. Jaze did not take it right away, but looked at Pestilence incredulously.

Jaze: You're giving me a gun?

Pestilence forced the gun into his hands.

Pestilence: Don't be stupid. Yours is fake, but I can still beat you to death with it right here if you want.

Jaze said no more and they glared at each other for a short while. Finally, Pestilence moved on, continuing to pass out guns to each person in the line.

Jaze looked carefully at his gun. It didn't take long to discover that Pestilence was, indeed, telling the truth. He held the gun at his side and returned to worrying about what Maelstrom was up to. It was a long wait, and while there was some chatter going around, most of it took place in furtive whispers that he could not hear well enough to understand. Without hope of knowing what was going on, he just kept his head low to keep the blazing sun off of his face.

After a long time, he finally noticed some movement ahead of him. As soon as the people ahead of him started marching forward, Jaze was given a shove and he marched behind them. To his surprise, he could see everyone marching up to and out of the gate in front of the courtyard, as did he along with them.

The group arced around the sandy sea surrounding the compound and headed east, and then south, as far as he could tell. Jaze, as soon as he was out, started looking for a possible means of escape. There were no avenues that he could see of doing so, aside from instant death. Except for some hills, the countryside was completely open and treeless. Even if he could break away from the group, itself a near impossibility, there was no place for him to hide.

The group marched on for hours, up and down hills of increasing size, which very quickly put the compound tower out of view. Jaze took sips from his water bottle sparingly, not knowing how long this march would be or what they would be doing when they arrived at wherever they were headed.

Still further on they marched. The main tower of the compound could no longer be seen. Finally, they crested a hill and Jaze was shocked to see a very small, ramshackle village in the valley below.

There were a few farmhouses and adobe buildings. Small farms were arranged in neat rows all surrounding a dirty pond. It was not an ideal place to live a life, but even a meager existence seemed preferable to what Jaze had been living so far.

All at once the marching ceased and everyone stood still. Jaze could see that someone, and it appeared to be Thirteen, approaching the village with two others. They walked down the hill and approached the largest adobe house in the area.

A man emerged from the house and met Thirteen by his front door. The other villagers didn't approach, but stopped what they were doing to watch. For awhile, Thirteen and the man spoke. It didn't take long before their discussion became heated until it was plain to everyone that they were shouting at each other. Jaze was too far away to hear what they were saying, but it seemed as though a fight was going to break out at any moment.

It did. Shortly into the shouting match, Thirteen pulled his gun from his holster and, with no hesitation at all, shot the man in the head. Jaze was in shock, but the others seemed to be expecting it and all of them, guns raised, charged the village, leaving him behind. Kids and teenagers, pouring into the village, breaking windows, setting fire to houses, and shooting at villagers. He suddenly realized he was all alone on that hillside. Freedom only meant that he had to turn around and run the other way, but a white hot rage built up inside him. His life at the compound, even in isolation, only meant to serve the purposes of those in charge. If he ran, and they captured him, he knew he would serve as an example to all, again serving the purposes Maelstrom.

He decided that this was where he was going to die.

Jaze raised his fake gun and held it by the barrel as he charged towards the village. When emerged through a row of fruit trees, he found two human boys, probably no more than 15, from the compound shooting at fleeing villagers. He raised his gun and swung as hard as he could, knocking the boy in the head. As the boy dropped to the ground, the other turned to see what was happening just as Jaze swung again and hit him in the face. He too dropped and Jaze ran into the village.

Without any regard to his own safety or well-being, he ran towards any of the groups from the compound he could find, swinging his fake gun wildly and forcefully. He didn't know how many he knocked out or if he killed any of them. Finally, in the middle of his rage and anger, he felt a sudden, sharp pain in the back of his head and remembered no more.

Commissioned art in this episode from:

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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