Chapter 1:CP Disclaimer This story is based on characters and materials owned and copyrighted by The Goddard Group / Landmark Entertainment. No attempts to publish or profit have or will be made. No copyright infringement is intended.
As the ‘official’ story was never written on how Jennifer ‘Pilot’ Chase left the Dread Youth I spun my own. Mine is simply one of the many possible interpretations. Please, enjoy the read and send me your comments.
‘Dread is our eyes, we are his fists, with our blood and our trust he shall build a new tomorrow.’ With these words a new breed of human was raised. Born to deny their own nature they were taught that all things of humanity were wrong. To show much less have emotions and feelings was not of the Machine Empire. They were the elite, the chosen ones, destined to fulfill the vision of Lord Dread and the Bio-Dread Empire. They were to become human minds in machine bodies.
Jennifer Chase was born to this heartless regime. As one of the chosen she served the machine with pride and loyalty. She knew all of her lessons, understood the way of the machine, and believed in her destiny within the ‘New Order’. There was no doubt in her mind that the machine was superior to humans. And she was proud to be counted among the ‘Dread Youth’.
It was the one emotion she admitted to and only to herself. The machine had taught her well. Even the pride she felt with her accomplishments was stifled. It was the fuel for her confidence in knowing her destiny. She knew and understood that one day her mind would be combined with a machine. Until then, her duty was clear. Like the other chosen ones, her duty was to protect and defend the Machine Empire.
Chase had been promoted to youth leader only a day prior to her world changing. The sequence had begun like every previous day. She had her studies, flight training, and fitness regiment. And Youth Leader Chase fulfilled every task with keen perfection.
By mid-day meal she had received her promotion and new orders. She made her way through the corridors of Volcania. Her route took her through the prison block. At a crossroad of corridors, she found the door to an interrogation room ajar. The sounds of a man crying out caught her attention.
“Please…. Please stop…. Please… I’ll tell you.”
Cautious and curious she stepped close and peered through. Inside she saw an old man strapped to a chair. A device on his head kept his eyes open. Small spectacles refracted light in to them. Another device she could not see inflicted him with pain.
He cried as he begged for the torture to stop. “The radio’s in Sandtown… Sandtown,” His voice faded as his spirit broke.
The sound of a biomech approaching gained her attention. She turned away from the door feigning guard duty as the robotic soldier appeared. She waited for it to pass before looking back.
The man repeated his confession again, “Sandtown.”
It was a typical interrogation for a member of the resistance. And as usual, the animal caved giving what the Empire wanted.
As the door opened fully, Overunits Wilson and Bastion stepped out. Chase acted as if she were just coming upon them. She faced them and raised her arm with the respective Dread salute. She took one step in turning to leave them and froze when Wilson spoke.
“One moment Youth Leader,” The woman insisted.
There was tense silence while her superiors conferred at a nearby console and reviewed the information on its screen.
Chase stood still waiting for them to proceed with their plans for her. When they did finally turn to her, Wilson had a crooked smile. “Youth Leader Chase,” She approached and eyed her with inspection. “According to your record you’ve never been to a human settlement.” She paced before Chase. “We are going to rectify this by your joining us in the assignment to Sandtown.”
Her first venture to a human settlement took a week of planning. The objective was to obtain a radio transmitter. It needed to be taken out in order for the Empire to succeed in cleansing the Western region of all resistance. This act was going to bring glory to the machine. Thanks to Overunits Bastion and Wilson, Chase’s unit was assigned to the task.
From the moment they had arrived, the people resisted them. Words were spouted back and forth. People spit on their shoes and their faces. Fights occurred as the human animals fought against Dread Youth. Chase herself proclaimed rhetoric and slogan from the machine as she followed Overunit Wilson. She served as the responder to Wilson’s claims.
“You have been gathered to witness the punishment of those who oppose the will of the machine.” Wilson pointed up towards a building. “This is the shelter of those who oppose the way. What do we do with those who oppose the way?”
“Cleanse them,” Chase responded.
“Cleanse them,” Wilson repeated. She started walking and Chase followed obediently. “Judgment has been rendered, the accused have been found, let them be cleansed now and for all time… Fire,” She gave the order to the biomechs.
When she turned Chase saw something on the woman’s face and in her eyes that chilled her with fear. “You’ve done well today, Youth Leader Chase.”
The words appalled her. While she had received this praise many times before this was different. The reality of her beliefs was glaring at her with each person she saw. The events made her sick with emotional turmoil. There was pain, fear, and a wealth of emotions from them. Inside, Chase felt a gambit of her own emotions and struggled with them.
She felt helpless as she witnessed people being herded into controllable clusters. Some fought, some cowered, and others merely stood aside shaking their heads. Overwhelmed with anger, fear and something she did not recognize. It was as if an awakening had occurred. She wanted to fight, to scream and stop what was happening. And at the same time she wanted to escape, to run, or hide. And still, despite what she felt, Chase helped carry out the orders. With the Overunit beside her she had to stifle her emotions.
She dutifully obeyed when Wilson ordered her to check on the progress of the search. It gave her a respite of sorts from the arrogance of the woman. It was a moment for which Chase was grateful. When she discovered what she needed to know she returned to Overunit Wilson. “We’ve obtained the radio and are proceeding as planned.”
“Excellent, Lord Dread will be pleased.” Bastion said in approach. “Youth Leader Chase, come with me.” He barked.
Switched off to aid Overunit Bastion, she watched the chaos around her. She witnessed an elderly woman take a beating. Blood soaked the sleeves of her ragged clothes. It seeped from the scratches and wounds on her arms and hands. When the cadets finally released her she stumbled, grasped Chase by the arm and fell to her knees. With tears in her eyes, the woman pleaded. “Please, don’t do this… I beg of you… We’re human like you.”
Chase was frozen in horror, uncertain of what to do. The blood that covered the woman transferred to Chase’s uniform. She was startled when Bastion rushed to her aide. He grasped the woman’s wrist and applied such intense pressure it forced the woman to release her own grip. With the Overunit watching her Chase felt that there was nothing she could do.
Bastion snarled in disgust. “Take her away.”
For Chase the moment increased her illness. And yet she discovered a new urge that surfaced from deep within. She envisioned serving her fist across Bastion’s jaw. The insubordinate thought amused her. She looked down to her hand and flexed it into a fist. It didn’t make sense, none of it did. The violence, the blood shed, their actions, and even her own thoughts contradicted what she believed.
Bastion stood before her, toe to toe. “Is there a problem Youth Leader Chase?”
“No my lord, there is no problem.” She found that the need made it easy to lie. In truth, Chase was distracted by her thoughts and emotions. She could still hear the old woman’s cries begging for mercy.
“Good, I have a new task for you.”
“Yes Overunit Bastion.” Holding her hand behind her back Chase clenched it into a fist. She wanted to get away. If the change in orders meant getting out of Sandtown she would do it.
Bastion held his head high, looking down at her as an inferior. “I want you to escort the medical transport unit to Med-Lab One… You are familiar with the path and the facility so arriving should be prompt.”
“It shall be done Overunit.” Relieved to be dismissed she saluted him and proceeded to the medical transport.
During the ride, Chase sat in the back of the truck with the injured prisoners. She tried to see their faces in the dark. All she could discern were the silhouettes and an occasional reflection of light from their eyes. Unlike the youth leader who sat opposite of her. She could see him clearly, the crispness of his uniform, and the imposing form of the blast rifle he held. He was like a statue, poised with one foot braced to the gate and ready to push it down once the latch was released. He was Youth Leader Docket. She knew him like most others, by his record. And like the contradictions from before, she found herself curious about what she did not know of him. Of them, the prisoners and that the old woman said.
“We’re human like you.” The words came back at her like the sting of a whip. Chase grimaced and grubbed at her forehead as if that would calm her nerves.
“They’re only animals.” The Docket’s voice broke through her thoughts.
She looked to his direction. “Did you say something?”
“They’re only animals. Just keep telling yourself that they’re human scum, human waste.”
With a single faint nod she looked towards the dark of night, closed her eyes, and sighed. She was right in realizing that she had needed to leave Sandtown. Already the intensity of her emotions had begun to wane. She felt as if she could breathe. In that moment she felt the cool air. It calmed and soothed her.
The tranquility was displaced by a hideous and powerful sound. Thunder exploded through the air. The first lightning strike ignited the skies with a crackle and hiss. It veined across the sky breaking the darkness with its energy. The rain started soon after with a sprinkle and then a downpour. Chase and the other youth leader hurried to pull the protective drape down and tie it in place.
With the rolling thunder outside and the rain battering the roof she was relieved that the chaos disguised her reaction. She knew she had been startled, and her heart was racing again. The change in weather and the rough terrain knocked her off balance. She felt a hand grasp her arm which instantly brought the old woman back to the surface of her thoughts. This time was different. It was Docket, he held her to him.
“Easy,” His breath was warm to her cheek as he whispered. “Remember, animals can smell fear.”
“Let go.” She spoke slow and with strength in her tone. One slight jerk of her arm freed her of his grasp. She eased back to her feet, gripping the steel frame of the canopy for support. In her mind, she berated herself for her curiosity in Docket. He was after all just another youth-leader and in the same class as her. And they were both mere cogs in the machine.
By the time they reached Med-Lab One the storm had subsided. They unloaded the injured and prisoners ushering them to the underground facility. Inside, Chase assisted Docket with cataloging them. When they were finished and dismissed she hurried to escape him. She wanted a hot shower, a clean uniform, and time alone.
It had been difficult enough to hide her reaction in Sandtown. Now, in the aftermath she needed time and solitude. She felt different, changed and haunted by those still fresh memories. The old woman was the worst, the most painful.
Standing in the shower as the hot water drenched her and the steam surrounded her, Chase realized that the unfamiliar sensation was emotional pain. A wave of nausea rushed over her making her sick. Caving to the demands of her body she dropped to her knees retching. She struggled for air, convulsed when the stomach acid came and finally slammed her fist on the floor. It was another new experience, an unpleasant one. Sandtown changed her, awakening that part of her that she had been conditioned to deny.
It was only the beginning. The very foundation of her understanding had been altered. There was an essence deep within the core of her being. It was a small yet powerful voice that whispered in her thoughts. This inner voice questioned everything. At night, when the noises of the day had passed and the echoes against the metals had settled, Chase could hear the voice inside. In the quiet of her quarters the voice was loudest.
In the days that followed nothing felt right to her. She saw things differently. In her dreams the old woman and her pleas haunted her. Chase began to question her daily tasks. She no longer felt like she belonged.
Night after night in her dreams the contradictions of what she witnessed churned like a storm with what she had known. The fatigue and frustration built against her. And that voice kept at her with the torrent of memories and forged questions on the events. “What did the old woman mean? What did it mean to be human?”
“I beg of you, we’re human just like you.” The old woman’s voice haunted her dreams. A bolt of lightning struck through the visions and Chase relived the explosions. Startled awake, she sat up and gasped. Holding the sheet tightly against herself, she gazed around the sparse room.
The bed itself was metallic and fastened to the walls from corner to corner. The mattress was thin and stiff. Five uniforms hung from a rod that jetted out from the wall. There was just enough room for her to move around for changing her attire. She had no personal effects. There was no need for them; personal items were of human conditions. The Dread Youth had no need for such things. She was unlike a ‘human’ youth who would have had something to snatch from a chair or a shelf to clutch in the aftermath of her nightmare.
Lying back to the stiff pillow, Chase closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing. She listened to the emptiness of the air and the sounds beyond the confines of the walls. She knew if she focused well enough she could hear the very pulse of Med-Lab One.
That was when she made her decision. She was compelled by the simplest of human urges. She had to do something. Chase knew in her soul she had to try. She had to know the fate of the old woman and Sandtown.
The timing was crucial and failure would not be an option. There would be one chance and if she missed even one step it would be over. The risk was high and though the odds were against her.
She got up and changed into a uniform as if preparing for a new day. With the satchel from under her bed, she rolled up her spare uniforms and stored them inside.
Alert and ever so careful, Chase stole her way through fortress. She ignored the sweat created by her nervousness. At the sound of footfalls, she slipped into a latrine and waited for the security patrol to pass. She held her breath and counted each step she heard. When they passed, she peaked out and watched as two cadets disappeared around a corner.
Behind the door, she knelt and dislodged the grill to the ventilation shaft. With a brief pause to shake off the anxiety, she double checked the corridors again. In closing the door, she leaned back against it. “Come on Chase, it’s now or never, do or don’t.”
With a deep breath, she took that final act that would seal her fate and change her future. Carefully she slid into the vent and replaced the grill. Safe inside, she allowed herself to breathe. In hearing footfalls again in the corridor, she scurried through the tunnels of the system. She still had to make it passed the security patrol and collect certain items she would need.
The hardest part was dealing with her emotions. Even though she did not understand them, Chase wanted to unleash the emotions welling inside. She knew though that she had to restrain them for the time being.
Though uncertain of where she was going, she was not willing to look back. She had passed the point of no return. Inadvertently a course of events had set her on this path. She had stopped at the sounds of a man being tortured, Bastion and Wilson had ‘drafted’ her to aide in their mission, and the old woman had chosen her to plead to.
As the memories again seeped into her thoughts, Chase held back and clasped a hand over her mouth to stifle a cry. She was determined to follow her urges and that was her pool of energy to keep on the path.
She reached the supply level and dropped to the floor as the fortress systems shifted from third watch in to the first. The room was illuminated by the harsh fluorescents above. Time was now against her. Chase had to move quickly as the technicians would arrive to begin their tasks. And once the procession for the morning nutrients was finished and she was unaccounted for time would be out.
It took her nearly thirty minutes to gather what she needed and find another convenient duct grill. Her time was nearly off. She had just opened the grill and slipped inside the air duct when the PA system squealed to life. The recording of a woman’s voice echoed through.
“Attention, it is now time for morning nutrients; all must attend and be accounted for.”
Chase synchronized her watch. She knew that she had exactly seventeen minutes and thirty-two seconds before an Overunit would call her name. For the moment there were no indications that they noticed her absence. Chase found it both encouraging and nerve wracking. She would rather have had them hunting her.
Not seven minutes had passed when she reached another vent. She paused from the sound of voices and strained to hear them.
“Cadet, have you seen Youth Leader Chase?”
“No, Youth Leader Docket, I have not.”
“That will be all, carry on.”
“Why is he looking for me?” She checked her watch. Her timing was still good. Chase sat back to the wall of the airshaft. She closed her eyes and hoped that they would go away. She felt the hardening of nerves. That inner voice screamed for her to run and yet she remained still and listened.
The intercom squealed followed by a booming voice. “This is Overunit Balkan, confirming that Youth Leader Chase was missing from morning nutrients and is still unaccounted for.”
The siren began almost immediately as searchlights panned everywhere. It was a short, crisp chirp that repeated every few seconds meant to signal the Dread Youth to amass and form a search party. The sound of their cadence filled the air ducts making her ears ring. Her hiding spot would not last long.
“So much for timing,” She thought. With her anxiety increasing, she could wait only so much longer. She wanted the three to move. Time however was not on her side. Again, she made a choice and moved. Altering her plan she retreated through the tunnel to find another exit. She was cautious; making certain no one was around as she slipped through corridors for other vents. She remained vigilant, listening for the voices and sounds of those searching. Each vent she reached seemed to have some one there or approaching. Still she remained diligent in her goal.
“This must be what a rat feels like in a maze.” She mumbled.
She kept trying to find a clear passage. After several more attempts, panic began to set in. She wanted out and thoughts came to mind she was not certain she could act on. A new decision seemed to be at every turn and this one would be the boldest. She carefully emerged from the duct and snuck up behind the youth who stood guard. Clasping her hand over his mouth she pulled him to the ground. She rendered him unconscious and made her escape. With nothing more than anxiety and adrenaline to fuel her, she ran.
It wasn’t long before the reality of her decision began to set in as she heard the others in pursuit. She was officially a deserter of the Dread Youth and a traitor to the Bio-Dread Empire. If captured the punishment was death. She would not go back not after witnessing the true meaning of her lessons. Despite the damp terrain, she made her way into the woods. Any hesitation would cost her what precious distance she had ahead of them.
Much like the previous night, the rain pelted down. Thunder rumbled as lightning snapped and thrashed across the skies. Chase was drenched, her hair matted to her head. She needed to find cover. Still, she pressed forward through the city ruins. Off in the distance she could hear the wail of the sirens that announced her escape. It was no longer a discreet recovery it was a full out hunt. They would only get closer.
Chase had two advantages on her side. The rain would slow them down just as much as her. It also rendered the dogs useless by weakening scent of her trail. She size was the other advantage. She was petite enabling her to go places they could not follow. She ducked into the remains of a bank and slipped through the debris, dragging her satchel behind her.
The shelter was minimal on the surface. The basement offered a respite from both the rain and the chase. She took refuge in the old vault. The once secured drawers lay scattered about having been long ago relieved of the valuables they once held. On the wall near the entrance was a Bio-Dread Empire poster. Some one had used blue paint to writer over it with the letters I and S.
She had seen them before defacing the Empire’s poster ads. Other places had been on doors, walls, and piles of biomech debris. Chase pondered the meaning behind them. The thought lasted for only a moment as Docket stepped to the entrance. Surprised, she was speechless as he held a finger to hips lips and then approached her.
“I’m glad that I found you first.” He took up her wrist and removed her watch. Letting it fall to floor he stepped on it. For an added measure, he drew his blaster and fired destroying the watch. He then grabbed her wrist, unbuttoned her sleeve and exposed her arm. Using a blue pen, he marked her fore arm with those two letters.
“What’re you doing?” She yanked her arm free and stepped away from him.
“There isn’t time to explain, this is for your own good.” He turned the bunt of the weapon to her. “You need to shoot me and leave… Get out of the ruins.”
“I don’t understand, how…”
“I had a feeling about you last night…” He placed the weapon in her hand. “I had my awakening two years ago. I had hoped to reach you before you ran.” He closed his hands around hers securing the blaster. “What you’re feeling will all make sense eventually. Right now though, the best thing for both of us is for you to shoot me and keep running.”
“I can’t kill you.”
“Then don’t aim for my chest.” He stepped back leaving the blaster in her hands. “Chase, they know our location.” He held his hands out to his sides. “This is ‘do or die’ time.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Some day I’ll answer that but not today.”
“Fine, but I’m not doing this.” She tossed the weapon aside.
“Good, that’s a relief.” He bent over and scooped up his weapon shoving it in to her satchel. “I don’t like getting shot. And it’s a good sign in you… Now get out of here.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine, just keep that mark on you and go. Find it and you’ll find shelter.”
In returning to the surface she was more cautious and before. She found another hiding spot where she could watch for the searchers. She saw Docket emerge from the rubble and hand Balkan the remains of her watch. The Overunit struck out, back-handing Docket across the face. The impact was so strong that Docket stumbled back.
Chase looked back to her satchel and went for the pocket with the weapon. She was surprised by her own hesitation. “Whatever your reasons were, I won’t forget this.” She rubbed at her wrist and then, with one final look back, she was off again.
She was so focused on escaping the lies and the horrors of her past that she did not hesitate. If there was an option that propelled her forward, there was no thought to it, she just did it. Among the ruins she went below ground to the old sewer tunnels. There, out of the rain save for the drain slots, she treaded through the junk, held still at the sight of rats.
Encountering a rush of water, she held to her satchel and went with the current. This man-made tunnel river spat her out beneath the surface of a much larger natural one. Releasing her bag she swam for the surface for air. She remained in the river crossing it to hide within the rocky terrain of the other side. From there she watched as the search party approached the river bank.
There were several more that had joined them. Some had search dogs while others held mechanical tracking devices. She noticed them pointing to the river and drew further into her coverage. Either they would call off the party and declare her dead by the river or get smart and cross it.
Their third option was calling in a request for Soaron. The biodread, a sentient flying robot would have no problem locating her. She doubted this would happen because it meant that Overunit Bastion or Wilson, perhaps even Balkan would have to admit to failure. And that was never an option among Overunits.
Chase slipped further back between the rocks towards the bank. Under the cover of both the darkness and her surroundings she could rest. She lay on her back her breathing slowed as she became calm. The rain still fell with the storm clouds above alive with fierce thunder and lightning. Chase closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the morning storm around her. She was free now and the world was calling to her.