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Admin Note: Sarah continues the amazing tales of Vortex and Newo. Sarah has continued her story acorss several monthly prompts which is quite a feat. Look back through the archives for more of the adventures of Vortex and Newo!
By Sarah Anne Steckel
“All vitals are normal, he is waking up now.”
Vortex slowly opened his eyes, his vision blurred momentarily while his eyes attempted to focus in on his surroundings. He lay strapped down to a gurney, in a solid white room with the whirring and beeping of machines all around him. Slowly he lifted his head and craned his neck around to see where the voice came from, but he was unable to see anything other than walls, machines, and a long floor-to-ceiling mirror to his right. He did a double-take at the mirror, distracted by what he saw in its reflection: a bald man strapped onto a gurney that was much too small to contain his large frame, his complexion was a shade darker than that of the sterile white walls behind him, and his eyes were solid black voids inside his skull.
Was he looking at himself? Vortex continued to stare at his reflection in disbelief. Was this really what he looked like? What was his appearance like before? What was before? Now Vortex stared at his reflection with a lost sense of judgment.
“Where am I?” he cried out to the empty room, and attempted to fight back a whimper. “…What am I?”
“You are experiment VORT-10. Created from a mix of a Flixan host and Sapien DNA… but we have begun calling you Vortex,” an androgynous voice from somewhere behind him answered.
“Experiment?” Vortex asked, finding it more alarming that the answer he received didn’t worry him in the least bit. With his voice just above a whisper, he continued to question, “how do I know this already?”
“We have been inputting these answers inside your brain from the beginning, in hopes to help subside some confusion. Can you recall your mission?”
Vortex answered even before he knew the words he needed to say. “To search out experiment NEW-00.”
“Yes, exactly. NEW-00, or simply, Newo, has become misaligned with her protocol — the same mission you have been entrusted with — to observe the primal sapien races and report back to us whether or not we should continue with our experiments on them.”
“But why experiment on them at all?”
The incorporeal voice spoke again, devoid of any emotion. “We are curious how fast we can push humanity into the modern world. The first step, which we’ve completed, is to incorporate our more advanced DNA into a select group and see how their offspring differ from the non-control group. It was Newo’s job to observe and report those findings. For the first dozen generations she was complying with protocol, but her reports have long since stopped.”
“So what, you want me to find her and realign her with the mission?”
“Somewhat. Do you know what your name stands for, Vortex?” The voice paused. “Vigilant Operator, Recovery and Termination — we want you to find her, assimilate with her for her knowledge, and then annihilate her.”
Vortex gazed at his reflection once more, but this time instead of his own image he saw that of a young woman with bright pink hair and eyes, and an olive-brown complexion. Where he was created by using a donor body from his creators, she was made from a Sapien donor. NEW-00’s image was burned into his brain, and he somehow seemed to recall it being there even before he became conscious as if it was another bit of information that his creators managed to input into his brain.
The gurney he was strapped onto began to lift him into an upright position, and his bindings began to loosen. As his bare feet touched the sterile white tile floor, he heard the impartial voice speak again behind him. “Her last report was sent from a thriving tribe in the north, over ten decades ago. We are unaware of her location now, or how the Sapiens have evolved since. Good luck, Vortex.”
A door in front of him slid open, revealing a smaller room with only a table and single chair. On the seat of the chair was a leather-bound bag filled with various forms of dried meats. On the top of the table was a neatly folded outfit made from some sort of animal hide, and a pair of sandals. Vortex looked both over before slipping the thonged sandals on his feet and then clothing his massive body with the simple attire. Once he was fully dressed and had the leather satchel in hand, a second door opened to a long hallway. A warm gust of wind traveled down the corridor, carrying the scent of warm earth and sweet flowers.
As he walked down the hallway, he could see glimpses of dust as he grew closer to the exit, and the sun momentarily blinded him as he stepped over the threshold. He turned around to look at the building that had previously housed him and frowned, finding no building at all but a tall and rocky mountain front. Curiously, he reached out and pressed the palm of his hand against a boulder, watching as it easily went through the rocky center. “A hologram, of course…”
He turned back to the barren field and shielded his eyes so he was able to look off in the distance. Along the horizon in what appeared to be the edge of a town, he saw shingled roofs with chimneys that were emitting plumes of smoke. As he trekked ever closer to the hub, the well-worn cobblestone roads became visible, as did several field hands busily working their plows. With a chuckle in his throat, Vortex said softly to himself, “They’re far off from primal, now… they appear quite civilized to me.”
Breaching the main road that led into the center of town, Vortex noticed that people all resembled the image of Newo that he ingrained in his memory; they were all short and dark in complexion. He stood an entire head and a half taller than any man that he came across in the streets, and his porcelain white skin caused him to stick out like a sore thumb amongst the tawny civilians.
As he traveled deeper along the road, he noticed several people stopping in their tracks and leering at him, some in curiosity while others were in fear. Every horrified face he looked upon caused him to become distracted from the roadway, and he failed to see the merchant and his cart in the center of town square until it was too late. Vortex bumped into the smaller man and knocked him down, startling himself.
“Oh, sorry!” he mumbled under his breath, unsure if the man could even understand him. He watched as the merchant grumbled, muttering words Vortex failed to understand under his breath before he stood and looked upon him angrily. The merchant shouted at him in a foreign language, before he noticed how much taller Vortex was, and quickly ducked behind his cart. In a non-threatening manner, Vortex raised both palms up and slowly backed away from the man, and started to walk faster down the road. He could feel the angry pairs of eyes that followed him as he continued his trek through town, and he now knew that his alien presence was unwelcome here.
As he attempted to walk back out of the gates in retreat, he was approached by two of the largest men in the village. The tops of their heads barely reached Vortex’s chin, but still, they confidently marched up to Vortex and shoved their crudely made spears at him. Raising his hands in defense, Vortex tried to talk in a soothing voice, but every time he spoke the two men grew even angrier.
“Please, I’ll leave, I’m sorry!”
“Argle snapuh! Argle snapuh! Nehow, nehow tainux!” The guards continued to shout. One of them turned their blade upon Vortex, and quickly jabbed him in the side of his abdomen. “Tainux! Tainux!”
Vortex looked down at the spearhead that was lodged in his side and groaned. He tried to take a step back in an attempt to remove the blade, but this only angered the second man who then rammed his spear through the center of Vortex’s chest. The blow knocked the wind out of him, and he found that he was unable to take another breath. His head grew heavy and his chin slumped to his chest. The last image he recalled seeing was his own blood as it poured from the hole the spear made, splattering the guard as he ripped the blade out of his chest.
Finding Newo was going to be much harder than he originally thought it was.
“Newo!” Vortex shouted, waking himself from his troubled sleep. Sweat poured from his brow and soaked the thin cloth of his straw pillow. He pushed back the wool blanket that covered his body and stared at the unfamiliar rafters that were above him. “Where am I…?”
Just as the confusion began to set in, he heard a gentle female voice call out from the other side of his bedroom door. “Yui? M’Yui? Pa’ua mi gueano?”
A thin, dark-haired woman entered through the doorway and gave him a concerned look. At first glance, she looked to be a young woman, but as she approached him and sat down beside him on the bed, he could see the wrinkles forming on her forehead and in the corners of her eyes. Her skin was lighter than that of the tawny men who stabbed him before, and unlike those men, she was unafraid of him, and gently placed her hand on his forehead. When she spoke in her strange language this time, Vortex realized that he fully understood her,
“Well, thankfully your fever broke, Yui.” She smiled and bent down to kiss his forehead. “You frightened me, son, I was fearing that Ma’ha was going to take you.”
“Ma’ha?” Vortex asked, confused. Slowly he sat up and lifted his shirt to examine his abdomen and chest, alarmed when he saw no signs of trauma.
The woman reached out and slapped him softly, her voice scolding. “Did that fever take your mind? How could you forget Ma’ha, our creator?”
The answers he was searching for slowly began to come to him. Ma’ha was responsible for creating all life, and gave the people a great gift. Ma’ha sent their only daughter down to help people learn, and teach them the ways of survival. She lived amongst the first tribes, they accepted her as their own, and revered her as a goddess.
Was the legend talking of his people, and how they sent Newo down to observe them? Did this mean that she went against her protocol and instead assimilated with the people? Vortex narrowed his eyes and glowered at his grey wool blanket, and he contemplated on how long it had been since he was stabbed. He lifted his shirt a second time to observe that there wasn’t a single sign that a scar even existed.
“Yui what is wrong, why do you keep looking at your chest?”
“I wasn’t stabbed in the town square, was I?”
The woman laughed softly. “What horrible fever dreams you have!”
“What happened to Newo?”
“You really lost your mind,” the woman chuckled softly and stood from the bed. “When she felt she was needed no longer, she climbed the great mountain and returned home.”
“Great mountain? Where is that?” Vortex threw his covers back and slowly got to his feet. As he stood, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, shocked to see that his appearance was unchanged from when he walked out of the laboratory hidden inside of the hologramed rock face. As his mother approached, he noticed how alien he appeared next to her, and yet she still looked upon him with adoration. “I need to find Newo.”
“Son, are you still ill? Newo is no longer here. She is long gone.”
“No, she’s not!” Vortex took a step back and frowned. “She’s alive somewhere — I know it, I feel it inside — and I need to find her.”
“Yui, you need to calm yourself,” his mother soothed, and attempted to put her hands on his face. “You’re not well, son. The fever has robbed you of your mind.”
“No mother, I’m fully aware of what I must do. I am in my right mind, more than ever.” He spun on his heel and began to collect his clothing, and began to get dressed. Hanging on his bedpost was a leather bag, which he began filling with any items that might be useful on the road before he exited the room and began raiding the ceramic storage pots in the earthen pantry. “I must find Newo, it is my life’s mission. I will leave this instant, on a pilgrimage to find her. I must!”
“Yui! Yui please—”
“Call me that no more!” He stopped in the doorway to look upon his mother one last time and offered her a soft grin. “My name is Vortex, not Yui.”
Traveling through the thriving towns and villages this time around was much easier. Although Vortex still received a lot of strange looks or offensive gestures for his uncanny appearance, being able to communicate with the vast population slightly eased tensions. Through anxious conversations, he narrowed his search to one particular legendary mountain, the land there was sacred to the natives and was rarely visited. The mountain terrain was too steep for the locals to climb regularly, so they erected a temple halfway up to place their offerings to Newo.
Under the cover of night, Vortex began his trek up the steep and rocky path and decided to camp at the rickety temple until dawn. It was hidden by a barrage of slender jack pine trees and was no larger than a small shack. The heavy mountain fog that rolled in caused its slender cement walls to completely disappear amongst the darkness of night, and the only sign that the temple stood there at all was the brilliant illumination of a lantern that had been perched in the window just below the worn thatched roof. The ground inside was littered with clay jars that were filled with putrid food and the remains of animal corpses. Vortex debated on sleeping outside, but the sky opened up and began to pour rain just as he was about to make a bed on a patch of grass.
He sighed loudly and cleared a spot on the ground to sit. His feet were blistered and sore, and he was verging on mild starvation. As he rolled onto his knees, he began searching through the jars that smelled the least rank, surprised to find one filled with dried fish. With a grin he pulled out four dried flanks and bit into the salty preserved meat, chewing happily. As he leaned back, he wondered out loud to himself, “If she was climbing the mountain in an attempt to get back to our elders, I wonder if she would even come back here… Is Newo eternal? Would she come back again, as I obviously did?”
He stuck the second piece of fish into his mouth and continued, “…But why?”
“…Who are you…?”
The wary female voice caught Vortex off guard and caused him to jump. He didn’t even hear her approach, and uneasily got to his feet. With the fish still clutched in hand, he turned and faced her; her bright pink hair was tangled and hung in a mix of knots and badly woven braids. Her face was coated in mud that mostly hid her olive complexion. With one hand she clutched a torch and in the other a rusty and broken blade of a dagger.
They glared at one another, but Vortex was the first to speak, his words barely a whisper. “Newo…”
“Newo…” she repeated, her voice a hoarse whisper. Her eyes grew red, and tears began to stream down her cheeks, causing the mud over her face to streak and fall away. She took a step back, her tone growing louder as she began to rave, “Newo, Newo… Not Suri, or Kaina, Aba or Noe… I’kla, Muri, or Ahui. Newo… Newo… NEWO!”
“Newo…” Vortex repeated louder, but still soft in tone. He took a step toward her, smiled, and slowly reached out both of his hands towards her.
“Who are you?” she shouted at him, her pink eyes wild with fright. As he approached her, her grip on the broken dagger tightened and she lunged at him, plunging the rusty blade deeply into the center of his chest. She screamed savagely at him, her bright eyes boring into his own obsidian ones angrily.
“Not again…” Vortex muttered under his breath, his head slumping to his right. Newo kept constant pressure on her weapon, causing the blood to pour from his chest and puddle around him on the ground. The last thing he recalled seeing was her bright and angry gaze before his sight went black.
When his eyes opened, he lay in another unknown bed, a pale-haired woman lay naked and asleep at his side. The posts of his bed were decorated with colorful flowers, two matching crowns lay strewn on a table to the right of the bed, and an elaborate dress hung over the back of a chair. As he sat up in bed he examined his bare chest, and with little surprise this time, once again found no sign of any wound. With a heavy sigh, he got out of bed and began to dress, as the woman beside him stirred.
“Konu? Where are you going, my husband?”
“My name is Vortex,” he said firmly, his back to the woman. “And I am leaving to find Newo.”
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