The ship swayed from side to side, the waves crashed into the wooden hull of the vessel and the rain pattered on top of the deck. The wind roared the boat forwards while the sun’s light failed to pierce the storm clouds, let alone the ship, leaving the captives below in complete darkness.
Having woken up a while ago, Jack fumbled around in the murkiness. Straw-covered the floor beneath him, a low-lying ceiling stood above him, preventing him from standing up without banging his head against the metal, while cold bars surrounded him with gaps too small to escape through.
With the constant churning in his stomach causing him to curse his seasickness, Jack knew he resided in a ship. Why did I have to have such a ridiculous condition? More importantly, just where am I being taken? Jack thought, attempting to keep sane. The growls and brays of animals that filled the room didn’t give any hints nor did the moans, screams and manic laughter of the other human beings but they at least provided a sanctuary for his mental health.
Jack decided to investigate further, checking out the dimensions of the cage he squatted in. He felt something wet trickle beneath him, recoiling in an instant to the back of the cage as, combined with the putrid smell that emanated from that spot, he was sure it wasn’t anything sanitary.
‘Ugh. Another one? Damned Eurasian scum,’ a voice said from above.
Jack heard the footsteps from behind him. It grew in loudness until it stopped right beside him. He saw the silhouette of a person feeling the floor thanks to the thin ray of light that opened up from the entrance of the upper deck. However, that still didn’t help jack understand the situation as a faint splashing followed by a slurp confused him even more.
‘Yep. Another one’s gone. Oi! Come help carry him out,’ the same voice said.
Another pair of footsteps made its way beside Jack’s cage. Jack listened in as the screeching of a metal cage being dragged along the boards echoed across the room. The animals howled in response. Jack covered his ears instead. Did someone die?
Jack’s attention turned back to the liquid he touched earlier on. He made out an image in the reflection, watching as the puddle morphed into a dark man with scars across his face, caused my multiple scratch marks. His silky black hair laid in tatters, falling off as the seconds ticked by along with flakes of skin. The cut mouth moved, whispering reminders of what Jack once was.
‘No. That isn’t me. I’m stronger now. Not this low…ranked…mage. No. No. No! GO AWAY!’ Jack screamed. The animals joined in his agony.
‘Oh, shut up, will ya?’ A voice bellowed from above.
Jack’s body felt heavy, his mind going blank. He curled himself up into a ball, drowning out the chaotic sound of the animals, unwilling to think about what was in store for him.
As the day or night (Jack couldn’t tell) went on, Jack’s eyesight adjusted to the darkness, though less than perfect. He still couldn’t trust his vision as, half the time, what Jack thought he saw was just his mind playing tricks on him. The mages looked like animals and the animals looked like mages but that didn’t matter. With everyone covered in excrements and slaves to the masters of the ship, you couldn’t distinguish anyone even if you tried.
Occasionally, these very masters would grace the prisoners with their presence recognisable by the greenish glow of their eyes, like fireflies dancing in the night as they bobbed up and down in their strange walk. Their presence changed the prisoners’ attitude, Jack included, making them act like frogs, anticipating these visitors for it meant only one thing: food.
The food wasn’t anything to be excited about. It came in small bowls, with some sort of gruel slopped inside in a liquid mess. It tasted horrible too but, as the only source of nourishment, Jack forced it down with his bare hands. In his weakened state, and without utensils, the gruel dripped to the floor whenever Jack ate. The stains never got cleaned nor did the bowl.
This routine continued for weeks. At some point, Jack couldn’t hear the howls and moans coming from all the other human prisoners anymore. Either he drowned them out or the prisoners all died. Either way, the shouts of ‘another one gone’ followed by the screeching of cages moving mingled with the other sounds. How many were there at the beginning? How many will remain? All Jack knew, and what mattered in the end, was that he lived.
A loud clanging against the bars of the cages jolted Jack up. The animals chorused in response, while the other prisoners groaned. The source of the clanging came from several pairs of glowing eyes. Jack counted at least a dozen, more than double the usual amount. They separated into several sections of the floor, hitting the bars of the cages, making sure they woke everyone up.
’Fifty-two animals, twenty-seven humans,’ Jack heard from one of the glowing eyes.
‘Not bad of a turnout this time,’ said another.
‘Is he here?’
‘The one the boss wanted alive?’
‘One of them, yes.’
‘That weakling? Oh, well. Just bring him out for transfer.’
Jack pretended he heard nothing as one of the guards stared into his cage. A jangling of keys, followed by the creaking of the cage opening led to the eyes edging closer to him. A smell Jack hadn’t smelt for ages filled the cage and into his nostrils; a fresh, delightful scent of tree bark and leaves. It reminded him of Eurasia.
‘You’re coming with me,’ the guard ordered, cutting Jack’s reminiscing short. ‘Everyone else, make sure he doesn’t escape’
Jack felt warm mucus being slathered onto his arms, binding them together, supported by slender arms that slithered their way in loops around his hands, fortifying the hold. His feeble attempt to move free led to the grip getting tighter.
An arm grabbed the nape of Jack’s neck. It pulled him out of the cage, where another person gripped onto his arms, leading him towards a staircase. He tripped several times along the way. His legs didn’t want to cooperate, like a baby learning how to take its first steps all over again. Three guards just for me? Jack noted.
Somebody tutted in disgust. By the tightening grip of his hold, Jack could tell that the guard also resented his useless state. It took one more tumble to the floor before the guard roared angrily. He swept Jack off the floor and hurled him over his shoulders, the other arms letting go. Too weak to tense his stomach, Jack vomited upon collision with the guard’s hefty shoulders.
‘Oh, you got to kidding me!’ complained the guard. ‘Eurasians are the worst. I should have killed him while he was still in the cage.’
‘You can’t do that,’ replied another walking beside him. ‘The boss wanted them alive. We’d be used for one of the boss’ experiments if we brought nothing.’
‘Ugh. I hate it when you’re right. Get the door for me.’
The second guard took a few quick steps up the stairs and pushed against a wooden hatch. A stream of light burst through, blinding Jack momentarily. His head writhed in pain and his eyes burned along with his body, the sun’s gaze searing through him.
Once his eyes adjusted the light, Jack surveyed his surroundings. Movements impaired and vision limited, Jack saw what laid in front of him: a vast landless ocean, sparkling in the sunlight with water clear as air as fishes swam amongst the coral in the seabed, catching the waves the boat produced. What a complete contrast to the murky waters of Eurasia! Jack admired.
As Jack moved, courtesy of the guard, the ship’s top deck came into view. It felt out of place. The filthiness of the ship ruined the image Jack had a few moments ago. Smears of red, black and yellow, along with the stench of the ship, battled with the perfume-like and mesmerising nature of the ocean.
‘Oh! That him?!’ a man squealed in delight, though Jack couldn’t see him yet.
‘Put him down. I want to inspect him. You can go get the others afterwards.’
The guard hurled Jack onto the deck of the ship. He felt something soft squelch beneath his head, grimacing at the thought of what mixed with his hair. With legs weak and arms heavy, in his current state, Jack just wanted to bathe in the sunlight, so he closed his eyes, giving in to his desires.
‘You’re not dying on me, are you?’
Jack opened his eyes again to find a little boy, no older than forty by Jack’s judgement, looming over him. The boy had pale white skin, dark-blonde shoulder-length hair and freckles on his face.
‘Oi! Can you speak?’ the boy asked.
Jack didn’t feel the need to reply to a child. He had lost interest anyway, so he closed his eyes once more. A slap rectified that attitude. The child looked angry this time but still failed to be intimidating in any shape or form. In fact, Jack thought the boy looked quite cute with his plump cheeks that puffed out. Did Jack ever look like that before? Jack smiled at the thought. Oh, how a hundred years changed the way you look!
‘Not one to talk, are you? Were you like at birth or did you lose it along the way? Are you a bestial stealth type or a simple shapeshifter type? Oooo so many wonderful things to find out! Alfred, carry him!’
‘Yes, sire,’ a man in a black and white suit said, picking Jack up.
Jack found the attire strange. Alfred’s grey hair and wrinkled face didn’t give any detail away, whether his mage classification or any hidden abilities. Instead, he wrapped Jack over his shoulder just like the guard did.
‘Alfred. Has my 4DS charged yet?’ the boy asked.
‘Yes. The PS8 is also ready,’ Alfred confirmed.
‘Finally! Do you know how f*****g long the journey is? I need my FFVC and AC9, otherwise the trip goes to sh-’
‘Please watch your language, sire. It’ll undermine your progress. However, I do concur that it was quite the trek getting here.’
‘All worth it now that I got several more beauties like this one!’ the boy said, tapping on Jack.
‘Turn him around. I want to sit on his lap!’
As Alfred flipped Jack into a sitting position on his shoulder like a ragdoll, Jack wondered what they were talking about, particularly about the words he had never heard about. He found the interactions between the two strange too. Surely there was no way that child was the grown man’s superior, right? However, the respect the man gave the child and the way the child ordered him, suggested that was the case. The fact that Alfred bent down, allowing the boy to clamber onto him and on Jack’s lap, cemented the idea.
‘Let’s go already!’ the boy exclaimed, tugging on Jack’s stained trousers.
Jack heard the gushing of water. The boat began to sink, along with the water level, to reveal an orange-yellow wall extending to as far as the eyes could see. It protected the continents from getting flooded, while acted as a defence at the same time. Jack knew they existed in Eurasia, but did the other continents have them too? If not, just where on Earth was he?
The ship tilted forwards, moving along using the flow of the water, into the wall. The sun’s brilliance disappeared and replaced with bright lights, not from torches but instead a glowing thin strand of metal that lined the underside of glass containers, illuminating a stream the ship rode on and pathways either side.
The new experiences didn’t stop as someone handed the boy a metallic box. He opened it and pressed a button with a strange symbol engraved on it, a ‘U’ with an ‘I’ in the middle. The next moment, some images popped out from the inside of the box. The images seemed to move in accordance with the child’s button pressing. The images took the appearance of a man in a white hooded jacket, killing others. Why was it doing that? Jack didn’t understand. Was this a new type of mage? Maybe, but Jack couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the fancy footwork of the miniature murderer killing other miniature people.
The trance Broke when the ship ground to a halt. An anchor dropped into the stream creating an almighty splash that echoed inside the cave-like continuous thunderclaps.
The noise prompted Alfred move, carrying both Jack and the boy in the process. They went down a plank that extended down to the pathway beside the stream where pads with numbered buttons on stuck on the wall.
The child closed the box, handing it to Alfred, jumped down from Jack’s lap, and pressed them in a certain order. A hidden door slid open, leading to an area where the walls, floor and ceilings were made of stainless steel. Compared to Squadron W’s Rezah and the stone homes Jack used to live in, it all felt unnatural.
Some guards carried cages containing animals and humans. These were the people I lived with the past few weeks, Jack thought. They looked filthy but it made Jack conscious of his own appearance. He was no better. His clothes were ragged, covered in blood, vomit and pus while his limbs looked like twigs.
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‘Hurry up, Alfred!’ the boy commanded.
‘Yes, sire,’ the suited man obeyed.
The child climbed onto Jack’s lap again and the trio headed down the metallic hallway, layered with more glass lights but of several colours, this time, placed over doors. However, with no signs on them, Jack couldn’t tell what they were for.
In the end, they went through a door with a green light above it. Jack saw a lot of people, all dressed in white coats, busy writing something down on paper. There were also several large glass cylinders, people floating inside of them in a vegetative state. Some had a crumpled look on their faces, writhing in pain, while others watched on with blank expressions. They all had masks on, allowing them to breathe within the liquid.
Jack realised what was the earlier discussion was about. A cold sweat ran down his brow. He squirmed and wriggled, trying to get free, but Alfred’s grip was too tight and the mucous on his arms difficult to break through. He didn’t want to be an experiment. He didn’t want to go become a lifeless body at the mercy of these people.
‘Place him in container LZ-one after preparations,’ the child ordered.
The boy jumped off, signalled to a few of the white-coated men who prepared a few injections. They stabbed Jack with the needles, injecting some sort of serum into Jack’s veins. His will to escape dropped and his body collapsed, somehow in a weaker state than before. He couldn’t move at all, allowing the strange coated people to change his clothes into thin garments. If he looked pathetic before, he was a complete joke now.
Alfred took Jack to one of the cylinders. After opening the glass door, he placed Jack inside with a mask, connected to a hollow tube, attached to his face. Air funnelled through the tube, forcing Jack to take it in. It smelt fresh but Jack could tell something else was mixed within it, his consciousness seeping away with every breath.
Alfred closed the door before activating a switch on the side. A greenish liquid began to flow into the cylinder, surrounding Jack who shuddered upon contact, helpless to stop his fate. The garments began to absorb the liquid, making it bulge. As more of the liquid began to flow into the cylinder, Jack floated with the help of his new clothes, bobbing up and down like the others. He couldn’t even force himself to turn around, unable to avert his gaze from the little boy in front of him, donning the same uniform as everyone else.
‘Welcome to my Mage Breeding Programme a.k.a the MBP! I am Bastion East and I will be your supervisor. Please enjoy your stay because this will be your new home,’ the boy greeted, grinning at Jack with enthusiastic eyes. He seemed to have an important role despite looking so young. Just what was he? Jack thought.
‘Now where shall we start?’ Bastion continued. ‘You’re a special one. According to my sources, you can camouflage and change your appearances to an extent. Amazing capabilities you have there, but here’s the catch! You’re only an E ranked mage. How is that possible? My ranking system is highly accurate. You shouldn’t be able to do what you do, so what gives? Do you have a mutation that only occurs during adulthood? Or maybe there’s a fault with the system? What makes you tick? Oh, there are so many questions to ask and so many answers to find out!’
Bastion couldn’t hold his excitement as he jumped up and down in delight. He mumbled some numbers off the tip of his tongue before nodding to himself.
‘Oh, I know! Let’s fix that speech disability you have. Elivia! Come!’ Bastion called. His loudness got on the nerves of the others in the room but no one dared to scold the boy.
‘Yes sir?’ a skinny woman with long dark hair answered, holding a clipboard and pen.
‘Carry experiment fifty-seven on this one.’
The woman called Elivia jotted something down, glancing up sometimes to make sure she got it down properly.
‘Um, sir?’ Elivia murmured.
‘Yo, what’s up boo?’
‘Don’t these containers take too much space? I mean, we could easily stack the subjects into square arrays instead and allow room for more devices.’
‘Does it look like I give a damn about room?’
‘Does. It. Look. Like. I. Give. A. Damn? Stupid woman.’
Elivia looked scared and scurried away. She didn’t want to be a victim of her boss’ whims. Bastion, on the other hand, didn’t care who’s involved. As long as his curiosity is sated, the people he used didn’t matter. That was his philosophy. That and the desire to entertain himself.
‘I saw this design in a movie once and it was cool as hell. Look at how the people float. Isn’t it funny? I ain’t gonna jack to it,’ Bastion exclaimed, unaware that no one was listening to him. ‘Oh, that reminds me, is the Blu-ray ready, Alfred?’
‘Yes,’ the suited man answered, coming into Jack’s sight and standing beside Bastion. ‘Which movie would you like to watch today?’
‘I’m in the mood for the eleventh transformers movie.’
‘I shall prepare it straight away, sire.’
‘Brilliant! A good movie and a new toy to experiment on. What more can a guy ask for?’
Movie? Blu-ray? What are these words? Jack wondered, closing his eyes and accepting his fate.
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