Twelve

Reading time ~3 minutes

The device was pointed directly at the three of them. The door had disappeared behind a thick metal firewall. There was nowhere left to run.

A sickly green glow was emanating from somewhere inside the inscrutable mass of metal and wires. It lacked a sense of organization that most machines had, as if constructed in a fit of madness rather than according to any plan. The glow was getting brighter so gradually as to be unnoticeable to anyone who hadn’t had the business end of it targeted squarely at them for the past ten minutes.

“Go ahead. Take it. Use it.” Addison’s face appeared on a monitor off to the side of the machine. “You know it’s the only thing that can save you now.”

“And become like you?” Carol didn’t stop pacing back and forth as he shouted her response. “I’d rather die, thanks.”

Addison scoffed. “You still think you’re better than me, huh. That’s funny.” His deep, gravely voice made a few stunted hacking sounds that almost passed for a chuckle. “Well, in a few minutes, your wish’ll come true.”

“Oh god, just shut the hell up already,” White muttered from the corner where he sat.

Carol stared at the tiny cylinder protruding out from a wild tangle of metallic tubes on the side of the device. She knew what it contained. It wasn’t an option. She turned to the screen opposite Addison’s where the grainy security camera footage of her husband and son had been streaming since they entered the room. Jim was laughing as he lay on the floor next to David, who was showing him how well his favorite toy trucks collided with each other. They had no idea that they were in the sights of a monster.

“It’s the only way you can save them,” he reminded Carol.

“How will me turning into a sadistic murderer save them, exactly?” Carol stopped pacing and shouted at the pale man on the screen. Her fists were clenched so tightly it looked like they might bleed.

They’d seen the effect of the virus before. It worked exactly as intended, reprogramming the billions of microscopic machines that flowed throughout and permeated everyone’s body after being inoculated at birth. It changed the directives that governed the artificial creatures’ behaviors from a supporting role, destroying pathogens and repairing damaged tissues and structures, to an active one, reconstructing the infected person from the inside out. They granted super-human strength and reflexes, increased intelligence, and abilities that seemed like they were ripped straight from superhero comics. But not without a cost. All that extra thought power had to fit somewhere. The tiny workers very efficiently rewired the human brain to expand the cognitive areas, replacing what they deemed the “less important” things such as emotion and empathy. The infected became immensely powerful, but heartless and unfeeling. Just like Addison.

She could easily use the virus to break them out of this room, but what would she be? Would she even care about saving her family anymore? Memories flashed through her mind of Addison ignoring the cries for help of the people he had once loved as the fire spread. It didn’t seem likely. But if she did nothing, this machine was about to infect them all with a modified version of the same virus. Instead of rebuilding their bodies, the nanites would destroy it piece by piece at the microscopic level. Addison’s trap had closed around them.

“Now you understand, this is what makes you weak. Only once you’re free from the pathological need to force these connections to other people can you really reach the potential that we all have.”

“You know,” Ben spoke up for the first time since they’d arrived. “For someone who’s supposed to have ‘super-human’ intelligence,” he said, making air quotes around the word with his fingers. “You’re actually pretty fucking stupid.”

Carol turned to him looking confused. “What are you doing?”

“Jim…” His eyes drifted off, focused on something that only existed in his own mind.

“I know, you love him too. It’s alright.”

“Yeah, dummy.” His eyes came back and looked more focused than Carol had ever seen them. “That’s why you need to save him.”

Addison continued to shout about the virtues in letting go of humanity. The veins in his bald head were visible and almost pulsating. Maybe he did still feel some things after all. That’s when Carol noticed that the vial was missing. “Wait-“ she started.

He turned back towards Addison. “What you don’t get is that that’s what makes us strong.” He revealed the vial in his fist, a long, thin needle hanging out from one end of it.

“Strong enough to beat you, shitbag.” He jammed it into his arm and started screaming.

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