I would later learn that years prior when the plague broke out on the mainland and the sterile atoll of Altuna's Chariot became some sort of impromptu leper colony, the resident legionnaire corps of engineers dug in deeper than they had ever managed to go before.

The then starving and imposing undead lit the proverbial match under their collective asses. Once their keen senses, honed by Altima's hand sensed warm flesh beneath their shuffling feet they clawed through the narrow corridors after the terrified and all but abandoned legions of Isyr.

Our nation celebrated landfall here long before my birth. No one had ever reported in that long stretch of time Altima's ever probing and subversive mind. Whether or not she had laid dormant all these years while humanity tried to make sense of her mastery of technology I've yet to discover.

Maybe the engineers stumbled upon her lair while attempting in vain to escape the restless undead and somehow awakened her. Or maybe there was a grain of truth in her crooning voice. Maybe I was special.

I sure thought I was as I came to the end of the line. I almost missed it at first. The corridor was cleverly designed to loop back in on itself into a never ending labyrinth. I had no light to guide me, but I could feel his presence. I could smell the special type of decay that comes with Isyr soil and Altima's sickness.

He was a legionnaire in life. As I ran my bloodied and raw fingers over his breast plate I could make out the holy lion cub, their battle flag. It was crusty, I could feel excrement and blood flake off the exquisitely machined armor like paint off of an old barn.

The legionnaire, a corporal by the way his elaborate helmet protected his nose, was little more than withered muscles bound to broken bones. I stole his exhausted gunblade and discarded the long since dead power cell on the rubble strewn floor.

I had to rip it from his withered, dead hand but I managed to loot his last remaining power cell. I jammed it into the hilt and turned on the blade's search light.

I was blinded at first, it could have been days since Altima's invasion of my mind. She cackled as I allowed my shame to come into the light. I was still nude and much of the skin on my legs was chapped and red.

Shamelessly I clawed through the dead man's rucksack and feasted upon his long since disused rations. He stared at me with hollow eye sockets and chuckled with a slack jaw.

Before long as I continued toward her lair I saw more of them, the unlucky victims of the plague. They were all in military finest, armed and quite dead. Most of them had been feasted upon, but toward the end it was obvious what kind of dismal fear men succumb to in the dark with no escape. Eventually the blood soaked and shredded garb faded to neat, tidy bodies with single entry wounds. The kind born out of resignation and surrender.

I wanted to count them all and collect their badges. But their families were dead, and even though the light from my looted weapon kept the malicious voice at bay, she still teased me.

She seemed so sweet on the surface, but as I grew closer her malice shone through. I knew I should have looted what supplies I could from the dead and return to the surface, but even as she mocked me for the tears I shed over my countrymen I grew excited.

I stopped many times and succumbed to her pressure. Sometimes amongst the dead, their bodies stinking and cold. Sometimes I would manage to crawl away before she took my hands away from my control.

I tried to keep my eyes closed while I violated myself, but toward the end she forced them open. When I developed sores and began to bleed she laughed.

"Would you prefer the dark, Gabe?"

She'd toy and cause the looted light to flicker. When I grew defiant she conjured images I'll never be able to describe. After awhile the light failed and I was left blind.

I slipped into unconsciousness several more times. My body kept moving by her request. When I awoke the final time I could feel her engine. It purred and shook the ground like a jackhammer so hard I could feel it in my back teeth.

I feared what was to come. I had gathered certain expectations from her while she reduced my childhood memories to blackness. Lumbering beasts of burden that had once been men, horribly twisted mockeries of life. But through the fear I craved her. And above all, I craved to become strong. When I heard the sounds of the birthing chamber, I remember smiling. And when I could make out the noise of living human agony, I laughed.

I was home, at last.

For some reason seeing my last and only link to the outside world smashed against the cool, damp corridor floor didn't bother me in the least. Maybe that's when she infiltrated my mind and made me into the puppet I would much later realize that I had become. Or maybe she had done it days prior as I skimmed the waves surrounding the barren atoll and everything leading up to that moment had been some elaborate play for my her own twisted and deranged amusement.

The camp lantern was flickering, its plasma flame guttering and dying. I was a full grown man hardened by decades of combat. But throughout my journey beneath Altuna's Chariot (a name I would later learn meant something quite literal) I had not allowed myself to be enveloped by the inky black. Frankly, it scared me. The horrors on the surface didn't phase me in the least. They were slow, weak and easily dispatched, the byproduct of a horrible plague brought on by unsanitary working conditions and a horrible ancient progenitor grudge.

Science could explain them. I could sit down on a lab bench and examine their mutated brain tissue under a microscope. But the black was something altogether different. It was unknown, the absence of one of my senses. I wouldn't go so far as to imagine there were monsters lurking about. Maybe that would have offered me some comfort.

But it was the still and quiet eternity that terrified me. So as I watched my silhouette blur into nothingness against my own blood smeared on the rock I whimpered. It was then that I heard a horrible and gut wrenching groan. It was an unearthly sound, a noise you'd expect the dead to make if they could breathe.

It took me a minute as I stood there in horror before I realized that it had escaped my own mouth. It was a primal noise that I heard only rarely from those beyond help, from those past crying for their mothers to please make the pain go away. It was the sound of a battlefield after action.

But Altima was there. I'm not sure if I should mean that literally, but as I stumbled about my campsite looking in vain for my headlamp I could feel her.

It was exquisite and horrifying at the same time, like being bludgeoned to death in the middle of an orgasm. I could feel the soft heat of a woman against my chest as I tore apart my rucksack screaming. I could feel my throbbing heart betray me alongside my member as a hot wetness flooded my thighs.

I slid my bloodied hand around my drained gunblade and swung at the stale air in a frenzy, only to feel her ghostly and wholly other worldly hands cut through my crew cut lovingly. Like Emily used to before she died.


She whispered, her authoritarian voice sultry and sexy.

"You're just going to hurt yourself if you keep behaving.. irrationally."

I fell to all fours as far too many hands caressed my body. They were warm and hollow, those you'd imagine that'd belong to a ghost. They soothed my body and relaxed my terrified muscles. My mind was still screaming, but it was rattling inside of a cage, apart from the rest of my consciousness.

To say that I could feel her infiltrate me would be an understatement. All of my senses screamed as I sat there on all fours. I could taste and smell her bitter sweet presence invade my mouth and nostrils. I could feel her clamor around inside of my head. I could hear her soft whispers as she dug in deep, burrowing into my memories like some sort of silky guinea worm and I could see her, faint smoky outlines of a seductress behind my eyes.

With no control over myself I cried out for more. My voice sounded so hollow and weak when it came back at me, bouncing off of the solid granite walls. It was a vaguely sexual experience wherein I was the prize, but it was more than that. It was a perverted submission on a wholly spiritual level.

She giggled and dug in deeper. She found out all my secrets without me opening my mouth. Those she found interesting she lit up like neon strip club signs. Those she did not she wiped clean, reducing them to blank slates.

I held onto the picture of Emily and the scent of her hair for the longest time. But before too long she tore it from me like a lollipop and replaced it with her own indescribable presence.

I had no concept of time. There were several instances that my legs grew numb and my body shuddered with exhaustion. But even that eventually washed together into inky black.

When I regained consciousness again I was already nearing her sanctuary. How I knew that eluded me, but I could feel it. Deep in my bones.

I had to get to her.

The compound was like an elaborate hive planned by a mentally challenged queen ant. The engineering corps had mined out every scrap of usable technology decades before I was even a sparkle in my old pap's eye. They were the best minds on the face of the planet and even when the outbreak occurred there were still here, toiling beneath the rugged other worldly surface.

Even when the science team above became shambling, flesh hungry undead they simply buttoned up and did what they did best. They built. They explored and they died.

When the progenitors abandoned their outpost here they didn't exactly have an easy recovery for their technology in mind, to say the least. I pity the poor sods, laden with digging equipment and first generation light blades churning through the dark, trying to avoid those ancient booby traps.

At the academy I read about them and their "salt the earth" policies. We didn't know anything about their culture or even what they looked like. The only thing we had managed to puzzle together was that they really didn't appreciate having to back down and leave their territory unguarded.

It took the corps fifteen years just to uncover and disarm a single trap. It shut the whole project down. Good thing, too. When they shipped it off to the arctic for R&D it went ahead and detonated.

Our first taste of cobalt laced thermonuclear technology was not exactly our sweetest. If it had gone off on the surface so close to the shore, it would have wiped our civilization off the map.

So, needless to say after that incident the engineers planned their passageways and chambers with less comfort in mind than conservation of rigged "relics." It took me four days just to clear the first six checkpoints.

As I made my way through the winding and sometimes unfinished corridors her voice grew stronger and more insistent. The woman, her name was Altima at that point, had a power about her. She never mentioned how she found herself beneath the earth or what she was before.

I had always assumed she was the last surviving science team. Someone lucky enough to escape plague and sterilization alike and burrow down far enough to be safe.

But as I continued to listen to her ramble to herself I couldn't imagine her bundled up in a lab coat studying a progenitor chemical toilet. She spoke with a sultry authority that screamed leadership. She never mentioned it, but as I crawled through the filthy and partially collapsed seventh checkpoint I imagined her a corporal or general.

I guess it was wishful thinking on my part. Meeting someone wholly human, who knows the trials of leadership and a woman to boot. Even then I was thinking with my pecker.

Later, after I found her she made sure that was the first thing that I lost. Before my eyes, arms, legs and freewill. It was the old johnson.

With the lovely image of my approximation of her dressed in general's garb and a big honking sword in the back of my head I made camp and ate the last of my rations. They were stale and civilian, but they gave me enough energy to beat one off and pass out.

I don't know when I regained consciousness. When I did I was standing up ramrod straight petting the cold, hard rockface. My palm was chapped and red and starting to ooze blood. As far as I could tell by the dim light on my camp lantern I hadn't managed to get very far and I was quite alone. But there I was, buck naked stroking the smooth tunnel wall like it was a kitten.

Her voice was gentle and perfectly clear when I heard it.

"You're not too far from me now, Gabe."

Before I realized she shouldn't have known of my presence, let alone my name I couldn't help but notice my radio smashed to pieces at my feet.

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