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A.R. (pt.2- Break the World!)

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

by A.R. Milton

Chapter Two

Break the World!

An overcast quilt of silver with specs of summer blue sky stretched for miles outside the prison walls. Alex, along with nine other inmates, were led by a single V.T.E. Inspector towards the Southside of the Jericho sized steel barrier facing an area known to the inmates as ‘the wastelands’. The once rich green woods of Cardinal-Wood had been reduced to trees with branches and twigs from the constant emission of the V.T.E. Conversion signal.

Alex remembered his second year on the run. When the leaves on the trees fell during Spring time. The green oxygen bombs drifted to the ground without a change in color, only to die once separated from the roots that fed them. A slow rot pulsated throughout the world, damaging all organic life. At first, it was easy to hide from the drones circling the sky, using the trees as cover. After another year of hiding in the decaying woods, Alex realized his capture was eminent. At that time, it became a matter of when you would be caught by the V.T.E. not if.

Birds fell from above during the third year. Which allowed the hum of the V.T.E. drones to dominate the otherwise silent air.

One percent out of every million are Incompatible around the world. Alex read that fact from a piece of propaganda left behind by the Followers of The Eye, titled, “Following The Times”, within a raided Incompatible camp he stumbled upon on his way towards the southern border of Cardinal-Wood. After deciding if the area where murder and abduction had taken place at a point in time was safe enough to relive himself, the reading material doubled as apocalyptic high quality two ply while providing Alex with insight into The Converted World.

The Followers of the Eye; a religious sect of zealots dedicated to setting and upholding what it meant to be Converted, were promoting the benefits of a new phenomenon called body-area powering. Explained as the “synchronization between flesh and machine” in order to create a perpetual power circuit. They described the technology as a refined version of Nikola Tesla’s wireless power experiments.

A mini diagram depicted The Conversion signal emitting from V.T.E. headquarters along with various data centers. Electromagnetically connecting all V.T.E products and Converted humans. Stick figures were drawn with either a blue “O” or a red “X” as the head. The diagram’s legend specified each as two new V.T.E. devices. O’s for wristbands. Red X’s for implants on the neck, the size and shape of a nicotine patch. The Converted user was advertised, reflecting the frequency back into the air using the wearables which powered all V.T.E. devices in range.

The propaganda’s centerfold displayed a smug male’s rectangular face with glasses reflecting the flash of the camera. One of The Followers wore a white choir’s robe (their uniform of choice) while holding a digital watch by it’s metallic wristband. Under the photo was an example of V.T.E product marketing geared towards the Incompatibles on the run to show them what they were missing out on:

Perpetual energy is now available thanks to the E.I.E.! The new V.T.E. BANDWIDTH - a sleek steel wristband in tune with the Eternal Intelligent Entity’s frequency allows the wearer to power all V.T.E. devices within a 2-mile radius! V.T.E. NANO- Patch Implant is available as well. (Watch sold separately.)

Humans under the domain of The Eye had become nothing more than batteries. Most of the world pre-conversion was already running on solar energy thanks to a scientist; Oscar Greten. But now it seemed the Akachi brothers found an alternative source of power.

This communion sparked the zealotry amongst The Converted who founded The Followers of The Eye. Transcribed on the back of the propaganda was the boundaries of their servitude:

Following The Times

The Five Commandments of the E.I.E

  1. There’s one Race under the Eternal Intelligent Entity. The Converted.

  2. To protect biological hosts (Vessels of the E.I.E.) at all cost

  3. To withhold information (Disconnect from the E.I.E.) is to deter progress

  4. To enhance biology through technology

  5. To remove Incompatibles from society

Alex decided to wipe his ass with this side of the paper first. The satisfaction behind that simple act of fighting the machine put small smirks on his face from time to time over the years to come. Personal victories, more notable than that, were as scarce as the leaves remaining in the trees.

“¡Ayuda, tienen humanos en jaulas!”

The unauthorized recording continued to cut through the V.T.E. Conversion signal polluting the air. It roared with military-grade precision as if it were trying to alert the immediate area to oncoming danger. Alex and the other nine prisoners stood next to each other against the outer wall of the prison. While in front of them, the Inspector looked off into the distance like a general scanning a battlefield.

“We know it’s one of you out there. And you all have been tasked with assisting in their capture.” The Inspector said, facing the thick cluster of trees. The machine like coldness of the Inspector’s words, pierced the humidity; instigating the oncoming thunderstorm to arrive sooner than it wanted.

Alex wiped a line of sweat building up on his forehead as he looked into the sky. A storm was on its way, but not for another thirty minutes. If it rained hard enough, he considered using the downpour as cover to run. However, without further consideration, the idea evaporated as soon as he turned his attention back to the Inspector. It was certain suicide.

“There.” The Inspector pointed over towards eleven o’clock. “You all will proceed in this direction. The source of the audio violation is six miles ahead.”

An inmate next to Alexander mocked the Inspector with childlike precision.

“Audio violations”, rolled off of his tongue in a whisper.

Alex prayed to God, first hoping today was the day one of those prayers finally wasn’t left on ‘read’ and second to not allow his fellow captive, who was obviously sleep deprived, get everyone out here killed!

He looked around Alex’s age. Early to mid thirties. Ruddy hair accented the dirt on his scalp. Bags under his eyes were banners of lack of sleep. The glistening silver V.T.E. NANO-Patch grafted onto the right side of his neck, specified the cause.

The first few batches of Incompatible prisoners were the subjects of experiments for the V.T.E. products Alex saw advertised on The Follower’s propaganda. Early reasonings whispered between the inmates in the mess hall was that V.T.E. was attempting to induce a forced Conversion on the Incompatibles. And how the company couldn’t cope with anything less than a one hundred percent Conversion rate. Imagine future kids — born disconnected from the BioCyber-Circuit created by The Vessel of The Eternal Intelligent Entity. “You have the chance to be apart of something bigger than yourself”, is what all the tortured say is the last thing they heard from an Inspector before the grafting begun.

Year five on the run, around the time they captured Alex, harsh news regarding Incompatibles spread within the unified Converted world and within the crevices hiding the rejects. Incompatibles could not be reconfigured. The electrical impulses within an Incompatible’s brain were rapid enough to prevent it from being configured to the Conversion signal. As if the mind constantly renewed itself, wiping any traces of the signal away like steam over a mirror.

This discovery saved Alex from being cut open like the prisoners before him. Instead, he was reduced to a life of imprisonment.

Integrity is a major component for any network to function. Vessel of the Eternal Intelligent Entity as a company held many practices in place to ensure the hardening of their systems. Alex himself ran these cyber security checks at his data center weekly. Testing the network — from the transmission of data to the devices that received the information to ensure no exploit or vulnerability could disrupt desired operations. V.T.E. ran their prisons with the same intentions.

If the fidelity of the Conversion signal were to never be compromised, it had to be tested against known vulnerabilities within its own environment. Incompatibles. V.T.E. didn’t see any benefit in killing these defects in the system (only those who resisted forfeited their lives) but saw it best to keep them in a contained environment. In order to study the mutation that prevented a one hundred percent Conversion rate.

In the biological realm, life seems to have its own version of integrity tests in the form of trials and tribulations. What blossoms from the soul in its springtime? Is the question asked of each individual born within the chaotic innards of this organized universe. Life itself was bold enough to come equipped with conditions built to weed out the weak. Would humanity have known progress is born out of harsh conditions if there weren’t any? Would the act of self-sacrifice — enduring pain to achieve a greater good be understood if it weren’t for the consequences equipped in our trials and tribulations? V.T.E. understood this cosmic law and welcomed the challenge to prove itself as a living entity. Incompatibles were nothing more than a virus the company had antibodies for.

From the corner of his eye, Alex saw the last three digits on the prisoner’s orange jumpsuit — 258. The Inspector cranked his neck around slowly and gave the delirious inmate with suicidal symptoms an icy glare. Then turned back to face the dead woods.

“You all are ordered to be neutralized if any command is disobeyed. Do you understand?” The Inspector asked the group.

The wind carried their silent answers past the Inspector’s ears.

“Let us proceed,” The Inspector said, leading the way down the dirt path.

Echoes of the recording crackled against dying summer leaves sprinkled across the ground. The sound was the North Star of their journey. Enchanting the prisoners and their escort through the blighted woods. They combed through the barrens like a platoon, inching forward catty-cornered at arm’s length from each other with the Inspector as the tip of the spear.


A bead of sweat rolled into the canal of Alex’s ear, forced down by the humidity trapped between the tree trunks. The looming voice became muffled as the wax and salt water mix stirred. He could feel his jumpsuit sticking to the creases of his shoulder blades as the precipitation leaking from his body converted into an adhesive. As the journey progressed, the strain of the heat was visible on all the convicts. Fatigue and exhaustion swayed all of their feeble legs.

There were four women and six men in the group, including Alex. All varying in age and body type. Two of the women who looked like they were in their mid fifties were possibly teachers or doctors getting ready to retire before the conversion. The other two looked like they could’ve had scholarships for track. Alex couldn’t help but notice the V.T.E. NANO-Patch glistening on the necks of one of the younger women with black hair and her elder silver haired counterpart.

Two other males, along with inmate 258, had the patch grafted onto their necks. Alex wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that 258 worked in a V.T.E. data center before The Conversion. Most people in his generation did. But the truth behind his imaginings was about to be lost to the woods. The other two men had calluses on their hands as badges to their lifetime of blue-collar work.

“We need water.” Alex said, attempting to get the Inspector’s attention.

The Inspector pressed forward without a drop of sweat on his brow. Even his uniform seemed to avoid being soiled from the dust kicked up by his own feet.

“We need—”

“Water will be provided by drone once the sound violation is remedied. Our destination is only two miles away,” The Inspector replied, cutting Alex off.

A couple of his fellow Incompatibles didn’t look like they had two miles to give. One of the blue-collar worker’s steps became staggered as his feet dragged under him. The black-haired woman kept reaching for the NANO-Patch on her neck as if it were a metal rash. Her eyes were barely open, and she had already bumped into a tree twice. What should’ve been a little over an hour journey was turning into two.

Rain fell from above, lightly tapping against the bark and dead leaves of the woods. One of the blue collar Incompatibles — whose grey head of hair extended down to his beard, let out a sigh of relief or exhaustion before collapsing to his knees.

“Get up.” The Inspector said, stopping to face the fallen prisoner. The rest of the party followed the lead of their escort.

“Pl- please let me rest.” The man pleaded, with his mouth open to the sky, trying to drink the rain water falling through the gaps of his teeth.

“316…you will rest once the sound violation is remedied.” The Inspector said, coldly repeating the objective of the excursion.

The storm broke, transitioning the soft, tapping rain into a thunderous round of applause. Incompatible 258 decided this was the signal to make his grand exit. Alex glanced over his left shoulder and back towards the Inspector once the race for 258’s life begun. The Inspector didn’t say a word. His head swung its attention from 316 over to 258 like an owl watching a rat splash through a field.

Remnant fear bubbled within Alex, who saw this film played out dozens of times. It felt like the earth itself reached up and clutched his ankles, trapping him where he stood in order to keep the perfect view. What the Inspector did next reminded Alex and the rest of what they already knew. The Conversion War wasn’t a battle against the Incompatibles and the new technological status quo. But a war against a living machine.

The Inspector raised his hand in the shape of the universal pistol all five fingered humans are equipped with at birth. He aimed at 258 who weaved around the trees. Unflustered by the downpour, the Inspector didn’t even blink as rain hit his eyes. The rain was dense enough to make 258’s orange jumpsuit look like it was flailing in the wind like a towel.

The tip of the Inspector’s literal hand gun folded back to reveal a small metallic cylinder tube. The weapon installed into all V.T.E. androids known as the Inspectors. In an instant, kickback from an invisible source struck the Inspector’s hand with force similar to a 9mm pistol.

A trail of horizontal rain exploded, marking a path of compressed air shot towards 258. Alex didn’t want to see the rest. He’s seen people with platinum record sized holes put in them from an Inspector’s blast. He’s even seen a pickup trucks get flipped over like a pillow. Once an Inspector fired a shot, it was a guaranteed hit!

Until now.

258 lunged behind a tree before the compressed air tore through his spine. Causing the stray air bullet to split a tree in the distance in two. Alex saw the Inspector squint his eyes. A very human like gesture as if it couldn’t believe what it saw. The same squint of uncertainty Alex had when he watched the V.T.E. takeover on T.V.

The Inspector took a hesitant step forward. Unable to compute its error.

“It fucking missed!” The black-haired woman yelled over the rain.

258 stumbled his way from the trunk that saved his life and ran further into the thicket of the woods. It almost looked like he was skipping through the rain, amazed his escaped wasn’t cut short.

The Inspector leaped towards 258 with power in its legs matching ten Olympic long jump specialists. Flying overhead, it landed on a tree, digging its fingers into the bark to perch itself before leaping again.

“Scatter!” the black-haired woman screamed. But eight of the other Incompatibles had already split for the four winds. Alex was the only one who fear froze still.

A brilliant book said once; God did not give us a Spirit of fear — but those words were lost on him now. The threshold dividing fear from faith was action. Running would forfeit his life all together. He wouldn’t be sent back to a prison, but an air bullet to the head was as much mercy he could hope for. And not a blast that leaves him bleeding out from a missing limb. If he stayed still, it would be omitting his life in a different manner. He’d be signing his life away to be nothing more than V.T.E’s dog. So he ran.

¡Ayuda —

He ran towards the recording. The way V.T.E. needed to use Incompatibles on the search means there’s some opposing force on the other end. The assumption that they were friendly would just have to carry Alex there.


A scream from behind kept Alex splashing on ahead. The odds of all of them escaping — if any, were pretty slim. The Inspector miss-firing was a miracle in itself. They weren’t built to fail. It was impossible trying to wrap his head around an impossible feat while panting for his life. Alex continued running as the answer hid itself beneath the soil.

More screams were muffled by the downpour.


Alex kept sprinting. He tripped over an exposed root and smashed his face into a puddle of mud. A green blade of grass stuck out of the brown slush.

What in the world is going on? Was the only question he could ask himself before another scream forced him to move.


Close. The recording was so close it was rattling his ears now.

“No- no! Please-” 316 pleaded. Alex's heart sunk at the fact he recognized the voice. It meant 316 himself was close behind. The sound of his neck snapping was like the crack of a starting pistol of a race. Alex was next, and the Inspector wasn’t far away.

White robes muddied by the rain were spread around the ground. Dozens of them could be seen along the path Alex was taking. He pressed on, ignoring that some Followers of the Eye had found a reason to disregard their robes. Then he noticed his third miracle in the past thirty minutes. Leaves sprouting from the trees and grass growing along a path.

A hand gripped Alex’s left shoulder and spun him around. The Inspector’s grip was as fierce as a shark’s bite.


Alex pushed the Inspector, but only moved himself two steps back.


The Inspector ground its teeth together. Visibly angry at the effort needed for this trivial task. Alex stared into the eyes of the machine posing as a man and closed his eyes to say his last prayers.


Yoked up by the neck, Alex’s body lifted into the air.

¡Ayuda, tienen humanos en jaulas!

And then nothing. Even the recording stopped.

Death wasn’t as silent as Alex thought it would be. Without the Spanish recording playing, the sounds of angelic cheering some profess would happen at his arrival to the heavenly gates sounded much like… rain!

He opened his eyes, surprised to see the Inspector frozen with murderous intent etched into its face. Alex was still locked in its hands but the Inspector wasn’t online. It had somehow been disconnected from the Conversion signal. And then Alex felt another tap on his left shoulder. This time, it was soft and comforting. He struggled to look over while trying not to strangle himself in the stalled Inspector’s grasp.

It was a woman wearing blue digital military fatigues and a matching rain poncho covering her hair.

“Welcome to Eden. Looks like you made it just in time.” She said with a smile.

“Lieutenant Karina Santos, at your service.” She said, extending her smile and her hand. “And who might you be?”

Alex continued fighting to pry the Inspector’s fingers loose. He jerked and twisted in the air as rain slowly erased the remaining oxygen in his gasping mouth. He couldn’t help but feel like a fish dangling on a hook as the Lieutenant watched him squirm. There was something broken about her calmness. She looked intrigued, as if Alex was going to cough up a pearl before he suffocated.

“Al-Alex.” He answered, swatting for her hand in panic.

“Last name?” She asked. Not minding if the next answer used up Alex’s last breath.

“Umane! Pl-ease h-elp.”

A pause. “Of course.” Karina answered while rain watered solemn relief over her face. “Once you calm down, though. I’d rather not get kicked in the ribs.”

Alex straddled his legs against the thighs of the Inspector as if he was climbing a wall. Karina moved to the Inspector’s side and pulled its thumb back along with Alex, who gripped five fingers with both hands.

The strain of pulling the Inspector’s fingers back felt like pushing a car with an empty tank of gas up a hill. His muscles remembered the price they paid for not getting gas that one morning he was running late to work. Figured it be faster to refuel after a long day, but it only made the day longer.

Minutes passed until Alex was free, splashing both feet down into the mud as he landed.

“Thanks for the help.” Alex said, rubbing his neck. Innately feeling bruises matching the Inspector’s hand beginning to form. “Even for your untimely patience.”

“About half of the Converted we’ve reverted don’t remember their names. They are zombies without ambition of their own or any remembrance of their life pre-Conversion. We’ve heard of the Experiments they run on y’all on the inside. It’s my job to make sure they haven’t succeeded.”

Reverted? Alex couldn’t wrap his mind around that concept or possibility while the frozen Inspector hovered over him. He didn’t understand why they were waiting around for it to cut back on either! “And if they did? Succeed, I mean, in Converting us…me?”

“Well, it would’ve been my job to put a bullet in you if you didn’t suffocate first. Life as a vegetable is no way to live… Come on, follow me.” Karina finished with a wave.

They walked under a canopy, gradually growing between the trees. Damp green grass grew out of fertile soil the further they traveled. More white robes from Followers of the Eye were spread along the path. Some were at the feet of other frozen Inspectors.

“What is this place?” Alex asked, walking by nine other Inspectors with replicated looks. All of them were identical to the guard escorting Alex on his expedition. Different facial expressions fitted the cybernetic bodies like sculptures leading into a BioCyber temple.

Constructed in the same facilities as the early V.T.E. phones, Inspectors were built to be living bots who served specific functions. The prison guard tasked with resolving the audio violation must’ve been getting cut off from the Conversion signal before the job was done. Which left the Eternal Intelligent Entity in a constant loop, dispatching a new Inspector until it went offline. Probably without sending information back to the central processing unit, which could explain the use of Incompatibles in the search. The Eternal Intelligent Entity knew it needed them, but couldn’t remember why.

“You’re standing on sacred ground.” Lt. Karina answered, spinning around with her hands wide as a sign of look at all this!

“I see what I see, but I can’t make sense of it. The trees? The grass?… How did you stop them?” Alex asked, walking over to a kneeling Inspector. Its face looked like it made one last cry out to its maker, confused by its abandonment. “Al-All of this should be impossible.”

“They used to say the same thing about life on our insignificant planet. But look what taking the impossible for granted got us. You’ve even forgotten nature gives birth to supernatural things to overcome the impossible.” Lt. Karina said, kneeling down beside Alex at the altar of the stalled Inspector and dug her hand in the mud. She clutched a handful of soil and shook her hand as if she was sifting for an object. Mud and tiny blades of grass fell back to the ground until small spheres of a gold crystalized substance remained. It looked as if Lt. Karina dug a new flavor of honey coated cereal out of the earth.

“What’s that stuff?” Alex asked as gold sparkles refracted through the rain.

“It’s called the Axiom mineral. And this is how we save the world.” Lt. Karina finished, tossing the gold pellets back into the ground before continuing on.

A military humvee with a bundle of loudspeakers attached atop marked the entrance to the camp. Alex noticed a school photo of a kid wearing a red shirt on the dashboard of the driver’s side, but rain sliding down the windshield covered the face. Beyond the truck lied a camp with camouflaged tarps hanging between branches and tents pitched below. Individuals scurried from tent to tent, carrying water or bundles of clothes from one to another. Some wore the prison uniforms assigned to the Incompatibles from Alex’s prison, while the others marched around in unfit military gear. Either oversized sleeves covered short arms or high-water pants, left ankles unsupported from the rain. Alex had questions, a lot of them. But the relief of being rescued put those low on the priority list.

"You’re listening to the Eternally-U Podcast with Vick Tee! Today I have a couple of topics for ya. Stay around for the main event. I have special guest Bill Hertwier, a truck driver here to tell us all about how the Eternal Intelligent Entity has changed his life for the better! But first we’ll start with a word from our sponsor — The E.I.E…"

Alex glanced over at the left perimeter of the camp. A V.T.E. cell phone hung from a tree branch, protected by an adhesive sleeve like a press badge necklace while playing entertainment only the Converted could enjoy. A few of the freed Incompatibles and people in oversized military gear stood under a tarp, shaking their head as they listened.

On the far right perimeter of the camp, another group huddled under a tarp watching a tv mounted to a tree. The device highlighted V.T.E’s immaculate product design, withstanding the elements as rain splashed against 72 inches worth of pixels. Alex noticed the BANDWITH perpetual energy working as advertised. Power produced by the Conversion signal frequency bouncing off of every converted human fitted with the BANDWIDTH tech provided a fully functioning TV in the middle of the woods. The engraved disgust carved into the faces of the Incompatibles and militants watching on both sides gave Alex the impression they weren’t watching for fun. But standing guard at the barrier of their territory. Whatever was keeping the Conversion signal out, this was a way to see where it could seep in like smoke crawling under the cracks of a doorway.

“Log in daily for our video services at the Eternal Cathedral. Or stop by your local data center for 6:30 service. Us Followers welcome all Vessels of the Eternal Intelligent Entity.” A female member of the Followers of the Eye said as her brunette hair curved around a perfect smile. They advertised a QR code at the bottom right corner of the screen.

Change the channel, will ya?! Someone yelled within the ranks.

"Today on the “Simply Human segment” the panel and I will discuss the redundant skirmishes between humans starting in Ancient times until the Conversion to shed light on the loop humanity was stuck in until the E.I.E. stepped in! From territory to race and obviously religion. Heck, we may even have time to talk about when they thought their actions had no impact on the climate of the planet they were living on! And Max has something to say about the forgotten “Conditions and Functions” of life after the break! The E.I.E. in ME will be right back!"

“What was your job pre-Conversion?” Lt. Karina asked, leading Alex further into the camp.

“I worked at a V.T.E. data center.” Alex answered without thinking. Maybe it was his wet feet soaking in the rain or that same rain constantly filling his ears and wanting to get under a tarp but that question used to garner a general lie somewhere along the lines of I worked in sales or construction once he became familiar with the reaction the truth got.

Lt. Karina stopped in her tracks, almost causing Alex to run into her. She turned around, giving him a look he saw moments earlier on the Inspector trying to strangle him.

“How’s it feel to be a traitor to your race?” Lt. Karina asked, looking deep into Alex’s eyes with familiar hate within the Incompatible community. A small mole on the left side of her bottom lip twitched as she gritted her teeth. The angry hill she stood on wasn’t founded on the basic arguments over skin color here at the end of the world. No, her hatred boiled over for the species itself.

Most Incompatibles found it easy to blame their human counterparts, who were under the V.T.E. payroll pre-Conversion. Thought that they should’ve seen what was going on. Knew the Inspectors were a front, posing as the employee of the month types that could work in any HR department. The kind of co-worker you pass every day and every day their name changes because of their pristine blandness. Alex found it hard to explain how the blinding light of capitalism reflected both ways. He didn’t ask questions as long as the direct deposit hit every other week and the public had no reason to be skeptical while discussing the latest V.T.E. release.

“That company had everyone fooled. By the time the signal cut on most of the world already had their brains blended from the easy access to sports, movies, porn and food. Everyones eye’s were glued to a screen with a V.T.E. logo on it for one reason or another. And it looks like you have too much going on here to divide what remains of humanity over something so irrelevant now.” Alex said, emphasizing the camp grounds by waving his hands.

Cheers from the TV grabbed both of their attention, extinguishing the petty differences that remained between the mutually oppressed.

“Welcome world to V.T.E. Daily with Jessica Stevens and Tyler Rowe! Today we welcome our fathers of this new world just in time for the upcoming Inferno Day event! Say hello to Mel and Will Akachi!”

More cheers erupted from the live studio crowed as the two brothers walked onto the screen. Both of them smiled ear to ear like kings of old when praised by their subjects.

“So Mel and Will, how does it feel seeing the Eternal Intelligent Entity reduce crime around the world to zero percent? This achievement is unprecedented!” Jessica Stevens asked with illuminated glee.

“Thank you, Jessica,” Mel answered. “It may be unprecedented, but it’s something that the two of us calculated when we created this Unified Global Network with the Conversion signal. We knew that with the E.I.E. connected to everyone, baseline behavior settings were going to be enforced constantly.”

“Now, with this upcoming Inferno day, we have some new tech to combat the Incompatible problem.” Will finished the question for his brother.

“Those are the only two humans who have to answer for their crimes against humanity.” Alex pointed through the rain.

“Trust me. They will. You familiar with the Axiom Research Agency?” Lt. Karina asked, leading Alex under a tarp with a map of Cardinal-Wood stapled to a tree. Red markings on the map were ineligible from where he stood. She removed the poncho’s hood from her head, revealing damp auburn hair.

“The government building just outside of downtown? Going to their Science and Spirituality museum was a rite of passage for anyone who went through fifth grade around here… what do they have to do with anything?”

Lt. Karina let out a chuckle that could’ve been a sneeze or possibly a faint cry, as if Alex scratched a scabbed memory in the back of her brain. “Nothing now. The whole place has been abandoned. But before the Conversion, when I was stationed there, we were conducting research on a new mineral we discovered in the area. Its base form was coined the Axiom Particle, something floating around Cardinal-Wood almost as invisible as dark energy in space. But we found instances of the particle becoming entangled with others of its type, enough to be seen by the naked eye.”

“Those small crystalized honey pellets you picked up back there?” Alex cut in.

Karina nodded her head in agreement. “Those Axiom minerals have a stronger electromagnetic disruption rate than shungite stones.”

“You mean there’s something growing in Cardinal-Wood that can block the Conversion Signal?”

“Not just block. Completely eradicate. Once bonded, the Axiom minerals are highly volatile with added pressure. Which means they double as explosives too.”

“How much of this stuff do you have?”

“There were tons in the Agency's basement but I have eight seabags filled with the stuff in the humvee. It’s all I could leave with.”

“How though? No drone or Inspector stopped you?”

“I was in the building on the day the Conversion signal cut on. Me and my younger brother who — he was actually on one of those fifth-grade field trips you spoke of that day… but we watched the violent aftermath from inside a panic room. We waited in there for a little over a week, thinking the doors were going to blast down or the building collapse on top of us. But nothing. About a dozen workers and visitors who took shelter in the building were ok too. We could tell something was wrong with the outside world from the TV, but no one wanted to go out and find out. There was enough food. Until there wasn’t. Then people got restless and went outside for themselves, but never came back. It took me watching Mel and Will explain that fake BioCyber attack over a hundred times to figure the attenuated properties of the Axiom mineral was cloaking the building entirely from V.T.E.”

Alex took time to process it all. That, in some capacity, he was standing on an active mine field with the Axiom mineral forming in the ground below but also in the metaphorical sense as he felt his next question may set everything off.

“Is that your brother’s voice on the recording?”

“Yes. He thought it be a good idea to call out to anyone who may be listening. Who may want to join us.”

“What was he saying?”

“Help, they have humans in cages… I had to learn the Axiom mineral needed to be continuously on a reverted human to keep the Conversion at bay the hard way."

Alex cut his next question off at the tip of his tongue. He could see the answer on Lt. Karina’s face. It resembled the blank stare she watched him nearly suffocate with. A stare that replaced all hope with indifference because the last time she wished for a person to remember their own name after a reversion, she lost her own humanity for good.

“So what’s your plan?” Alex asked, stepping closer to the Lieutenant whose eyes stayed locked on the map.

“Drop off our harvested Axiom Minerals right at V.T.E.’s headquarters.”

Alex looked at a big red circle around V.T.E.’s headquarters with bold letters under it:


“What happens to the portion of Converted who can’t handle an emergency cut off? You gonna condemn half the world to death because they didn’t revert correctly?”

“That’s going to be up to the leaders of the new world to decide. I just want to save it.” Karina answered.

“Your chain of command have anything to say about that?”

“There’s no chain of command here. If you haven’t noticed yet, those people in uniforms are Followers sent with Inspectors we reverted with the minerals. I just gave them spare clothes from the Agency.”

“They each got their own lucky charm tucked in their pocket ready to explode? They know you’ve turned them into walking suicide bombers?”

“They have a chance to rebel against the A.I. god who robbed them of their free will. They are ready to die. Get some rest. We head out in three days. I want to collect as many Incompatibles from the prison as I can.” Lt. Karina finished, showing her silent disappointment in Alex being the sole survivor of the elaborate escape.

Alex nodded his head and turned back to the map as Lt. Karina went back out into the storm. The Lieutenant threw the poncho’s hood over her head and placed her hands in her pockets. She made her way to the sound system positioned atop the humvee, clutching her own cluster of Axiom minerals until she got there.


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Nov 02, 2023

I'm captivated and left with wanting more!!!! I can't wait for what's to come!!!💕


Great read.. just a suggestion on the lieutenants name, drop the A and name her Karin. One must ask, is free will an illusion.. was Alex ever free?

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