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Pandora's Box This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The sky was a sickly, grey-green color like the face of one who was terminally ill, blanketing the crumbling ruins of the city, overturned, broken skyscrapers, burned buildings, jagged, twisted metal sticking up from the ground as if it were many tombstones. The pair of patrollers walked over the blighted land with no regard for the yellowed, broken glass and scattered debris, their breath noisy from the air filtration devices they wore to protect themselves against the radiated, polluted air and give them the oxygen this place had begun to lack. It was dark, though it was only midday, thick clouds of congealed smoke veiling the dying sun.

“Patrolling is a waste of time. There's nothing out here except ruins.” One of the patrolmen grumbled, kicking at a loose stone, the flashlight on the gun he held falling on the skeletal structure of what had once been a house. The light came to rest on a frayed rope tied to one of the weak looking beams of the house.

“The hell?” The second man muttered as he followed his comrade's gaze. He moved a few feet forward, staring at the crumpled figure on the ground.

“Sam, this is the guy who dissapeared last week.” The first said, gripping his gun more tightly as he knelt to examine the body. The noose that had been at the end of the rope was still around the man's neck, a red mark underneath it, bright against the corpse's pale flesh and glazed over eyes. The fact that he had been hanged was very odd; hanging was considered primitive and even the most lowliest of bandits didn't use it as a method of killing any longer.

“I'll inform the commander w—” The man named Sam began, abrubtly falling silent as his gun clattered to the ground and the bulb of his flashlight shattered. The silence was worse than if he'd screamed. Finally, there was a muted thud of someone hitting the ground.

“Sam?” The other man said in a frightened whisper, whirling around. Sam lay in the dirt, a trickle of blood trailing from his open mouth. He did not stir.

“Oh god. Oh god, god...” The man mumbled, fear beginning to course through him, constricting his mind until his only thought was this: flee. He ran, the land seeming to stretch on forever. He knew without looking back that he was being followed. Distantly, on the horizon, the ecodome was visible, its massive, artificial atmosphere a fake blue. Inside, skyscrapers rose up into chemically generated clouds. He ran faster, breathing quickened and his legs starting to ache. Come on, John. You can make it back. You have to, he thought, as if he could talk his muscles into continuing to function. But the ecodome wasn't much farther, the massive gate coming into a view. A second, smaller gate was further down the wall surrounding the dome, the gate reserved for patrollers. He willed himself towards it, and only when he was a hundred yards away, with a sense of giddy hope, did he allow himself to look back. It was a fatal move. There was a flash of black, an inhumanly fast figure, then he was crashing to the ground, something cold and hard against his neck.

“Where is your god now?” A voice asked, the last thing he heard as the blade slit his throat.



*******************************


“We lost two more patrollers today.” A stack of papers was smacked onto the desk which the newly appointed commander of the patrol outside the ecodome sat at. He cringed slightly at the sudden noise, reaching out to grasp one of the papers and bring it closer to read it. As expected, it was a death report. His secretary loomed over the other side of the desk, arms crossed over her chest.

“When and where?” He asked, his eyes starting to skim the crisp, newly pointed paper. Another paper was slapped onto the desk, containing information from the microchips implanted in the patrollers. These microchips would transmit signals at the time of death, and could also be used to track people. On the paper was a grid, with the location of the dead men marked by small dots.

“Something out there is killing people.” His secretary stated, staring accusingly at him as if it were his fault. He brought a hand up to nervously run it through his hair, a habit of his.


“I won't send anyone else out there until we figure out what is doing this.” He said, after a moment of thought.

“Well, people have already been sent out by your superior.” She replied, then turned and walked out, heels clicking against the floor.

With a sigh of weariness, he stood and quietly walked after her, asking in a brisk tone,

“Is the high commander around?” His secretary sat down at her own desk and typed something into the computer in front of her.

“He's in his office.” She replied. He placed the stack of papers he'd retrieved from his desk in front of her.

“Sort these, will you? And notify their families.” He said, trying to keep his tone light, but it was clear the second sentence brought him distress. Only months ago he'd been a plain, rank less patroller like those men. In fact, he'd patrolled with both of them before. The only reason he'd been promoted was because his parents had been politicians and friends of the high commander, as a result, he'd married the high commander's daughter, who'd convinced her father to promote him when the man who formerly held his rank perished.


He walked down the hall to the elevator, typing in a number on the keypad then placing his finger on the identifier. There was a mechanical beeping sound as his identity was confirmed, before the elevator began to rise, stopping a moment later at the high commander's office, a lavish room with a huge window which looked out across the whole ecodome. The floor was real wood, a rare commodity these days, as well as antique furniture. The high commander himself sat at a desk in the corner of the room, looking over papers.

“Ahh, Mr. Renault. I've heard about the men you lost. Quite unfortunate. I've sent some of the guard and a few scientists to retrieve and research the bodies.” The high commander said, a casual air about him. He didn't look up from the papers he was reading.

“I was coming to ask your permission to go myself, actually. Those men were my comrades. I should've been there.” He replied, taking a seat as the high commander gestured to a chair on the other side of his desk.

Before the high commander could respond, there was the sound of a door opening and a familiar, feminine voice,

“Is that Daniel I hear?” There was a sudden scent of flowery perfume in the air as his wife sat beside him, a smile adorning her lips.

“Afternoon, dear.” Daniel said automatically, not much thought behind his words. He hadn't ever loved his wife, and was fairly certain that she didn't love him either, but of course, love was a ridiculed, undesirable thing nowadays, since the government had begun setting up marriages from the time of birth. His was a political and social one, meant to join his family with the high commander's for all eternity. He turned his attention back to the matter at hand as the high commander finally responded.

“That is out of the question. We can't have you dying as well. You're of much more use to us alive.” Daniel tried to keep his irritation at that statement out of his voice,

“Why, sir? Do you have so little faith in me? I will not die.”

“Don't question my judgment.” The high commander said, frowning. Daniel decided to take heed of that warning. The high commander could throw him in prison on a whim if he wished, as he did to anyone suspected of rebellion.

“Yes sir, excuse me.” Daniel said, inclining his head respectfully, then standing up. His wife stood as well. “Jane, I won't be home until later tonight.” He mumbled absently to her. She frowned, but didn't comment, sitting back down and beginning to idly chat with her father as Daniel left. He made his way back to his office, exasperated and annoyed, to find more papers awaiting him. How he longed for the days when he was nothing more than a soldier, free to leave the ecodome and patrol with his friends and comrades, free of the oppression within the place. He quickly banished that thought; such a wish was treasonous, a plot against the government which he was now considered a member of. To distract himself, he signed papers, read reports, and wrote until his hand was too cramped to work anymore. It was around ten at night when he finally left his office, and the large government building. The streets were deserted save for the occasional guard. The curfew in order didn't apply to Daniel, since he was a government official. Any civilian who violated it was subject to arrest and questioning by agents operating under one of the high commander's henchmen, Mr. Crowlen, a man who was perfectly willing to kill innocents and think nothing of it, though he believed he worked in the name of the greater good. Daniel had met him once, and hadn't liked him at all.

He was slightly glad for the silent, dark streets. He let his mind wander as he strolled slowly on the way home, thinking about the events of today, wondering what, or who, had killed those patrollers. He finally came to the door of his modest home, and unlocked it with a pass code. Inside, it was dark. As he'd hoped, Jane had already gone to bed. He quietly closed the door, creeping towards the bedroom. Slowly, he pushed the slightly ajar door open, thankful that it didn't creak, and managed to sneak into the bed without waking Jane, falling asleep after a few hours of merely staring at the ceiling, deep in thought.

The next morning, autopsy reports were delivered with his morning coffee, at seven o'clock sharp. He'd managed to get out of the house without waking Jane around two hours before, to get an early start at work, and to avoid being subject to her interrogations, her naggings about him always being away.

The reports showed that they'd been killed by a human, but said human didn't seem to have fingerprints, or were incredibly good at not leaving them. There were barely signs of any struggle prior to the murders, but the last had come with an interesting recording, picked up by their radio. The killer was human, and more than likely a rebel against the government. Their words, however, were mind boggling and not helpful in the least: Where is your god now? Where was their god, Daniel wondered, if he'd let all of these things happen to their world? Was he even real? Such thoughts were treason.

Once the high commander had defeated all of his opposition and seized power, he'd eliminated anyone who refused to convert to Christianity, among other things. He believed that the only way to keep the country together was through harmony, and unity. Personal choice and opinion was limited.

Daniel set the reports aside as a guard abruptly burst in, gasping for breath before finally stating his reasoning for suddenly entering.

“There's been a breach. Something got through the patroller gate. Nobody can find it. It just dashed in with a returning patrol team and dissapeared.” The man explained. Daniel's pen dropped from his hand, clattering to the floor. The wall was impenetrable, and wouldn't the patrollers have noticed someone following them? Furthermore, anyone who hadn't been finger print identified was automatically electrocuted by a security system on the gate, patrol gate or not. Nothing could get through without being killed instantly.

“That's not possible.” Daniel said finally, before a video device was thrust in front of him, showing a human shaped blur pushing aside the patrollers and getting through the gate. The electrocuters had gone off, lighting up, but the shape appeared totally unaffected as they surged out of view. Daniel handed the device back, utterly stunned. He couldn't find any words.

“The high commander's called a meeting.” The guard added, then left. Daniel stood up, and quickly made his way to the high commander's office. The other commanders were already there and speaking.

“...The gate is impenetrable.” Someone was saying, before another person launched into a scientific explanation of how someone could have possibly gotten through.

“So what you're saying is, this person was somehow electricity resistant and fast as a space ship?” Daniel found himself saying, trying to make sense of the scientist's information.

“There's only one kind of person with those capabilities.” The man Daniel recognized as Mr. Crowlen mused aloud. The director of all scientific research within the ecodome visibly blanched when she realized what he was referring to.

“They were all terminated after the war.” She said, as if the sentence had been rehearsed and said many times, though there was slight fear in her voice. The war that had torn most countries apart and ruined the world in terms of nature had only been won by the high commander because he had employed a tactic more deadly than any bomb or weapon: genetically modified super humans. Once the war had been won, however, they had been executed, considered dangers to the society they helped create.

“Or so you think.” Mr. Crowlen said mysteriously, leaning back in his chair, his eyes shifting between the people present. “Their leader survived the procedure and escaped. Documentation of this was turned over to me, to protect the people from such knowledge.” He continued, reaching into his jacket to procure a stack of files and hand them to the high commander, who quickly read over them.

“Gentlemen and lady, it seems we may have a problem on our hands.” He said, suprisingly calm as he handed back the files. “Mr. Crowlen, you are to locate the super human and destroy them.” He said, as if the matter was totally settled by his decree. Mr. Crowlen nodded, a crooked, sinister smirk on his face. He enjoyed more than anything else hunting down those he and his men were told to terminate. It was a game to him, the search. And he had never failed to carry out his orders efficiently and quickly.

“Why would they kill simple patrollers?” Daniel wondered aloud, blankly staring off into the distance. The entire meeting was beginning to overtax his mind. Too much to plan, to worry about, to solve. He was and always had been a soldier, not a politician. He wasn't good at sitting behind a desk and telling others what to do. He was a man of action.

“Who knows? Malice, perhaps?” The high commander responded, shrugging as if it didn't matter in the least.

“They aren't capable of malice or emotion. They were created to simply obey orders, without opinion or thought. Tell me, Mr. Crowlen, which one of them even had the will to want to escape?” The director of scientific research, the only female council member, asked.

“The first created. One of the females. I have her file here.” Mr. Crowlen responded, rifling through the stack of papers before finding the one he was looking for and sliding it across the metal table they sat at, towards her.

“She was their leader, the smartest of them all. But it says there was a mistake made with her. She was capable of minor emotion, a flaw resulting in...” She said, after skimming the paper. She hesitated as her eyes fell on a sentence which filled her with dread and confirmed all suspicions, “...Free will.” The others had gone willingly to their executions; not her. She had escaped and fled the ecodome, to the ruined lands outside where they dare not pursue her. Immediately, the room erupted into raised voices and chaos as they tried to come up with a solution.

“Why, after all these years, would she return now?” This question turned the noise into absolute silence as every man and woman present pondered its answer. The high commander was the one to finally break the silence.

“Up security levels. I want surveillance on every street, every alley, even the sewers. I want more guards patrolling in and out of the ecodome. Furthermore, I don't want any of this getting out to the public. We do not need hysteria added to this dilemma.” This statement was responded to with nods of agreement, save for from Daniel.

“Won't that just make citizens worry?” He asked, “I think we should just figure out what they want and give it to them. There's no real need for guns and bloodshed.” He explained, reminding the high commander at that moment of his late, dearest friend, Daniel's father, whom had been rallying for peace throughout the entire war, until a bomb had been dropped on the city where he was stationed.

“Sometimes, Mr. Renault, bloodshed is necessary. There is no telling what this 'super human' is capable of, and until they are deceased we are all in danger.” The high commander said slowly, enunciating his words clearly as if speaking to someone intellectually inferior. Daniel could tell it was only to mask fear. He could see it in his eyes, cold and controlling. The man was utterly terrified, for he knew that they knew he had been the one to sign the execution orders for the genetically modified humans.

“Very well, sir.” Daniel said, holding back a sigh. He was almost surprised at himself for his diplomatic approach on the matter. Countless battles and hardships from the time of his birth had taught him that the only way the human species, his species, settled things, was with warfare. Perhaps he was tired of killing.

“You are all dismissed. See to it that my orders are carried out.” The people present rose in almost unison, beginning to file out of the room. “Daniel, you stay.” Daniel stopped in his tracks, turning and quickly taking a seat again, folding his hands on the table and immediately turning his attention to the high commander.

“Yes sir?” He queried, diligently listening.

“I want you to take the evening off tonight and accompany Jane to a party being held in honor of Mr. Stanton's recent apprehension of several dangerous enemies to society.” The high commander stated. Mr. Stanton was the man in charge of guards within the ecodome, of keeping the people within safe and protected. 'Enemies to society' was a nicer term for 'rebels', Daniel knew. The high commander didn't like to admit that he still had opposition.

“Sir, there is much work to be d-” Daniel began, his voice apologetic. The high commander cut him off, raising his palm as if to stop traffic, causing Daniel to fall silent.

“My daughter feels that you care more for work than you do for her. This must be remedied.” The high commander said, as if stating a verdict before a court. It was well known that he valued his daughter above anyone else in existence. He pampered her and gave her everything she desired. His close friends always said it was because she reminded him of her mother, whom had died during the war, like so many others.

Daniel internally cringed at his tone. This meant that he had made his mind up, and there would be no way to dissuade him now. Daniel merely nodded, standing.

“Yes, sir.” He said quietly, before walking out of the room. He returned to his office, finding it mildly odd that his secretary wasn't at her usual post, the room leading to said office. The door was closed, and he opened it to find the room entirely dark. Perhaps his secretary had left early and turned off the lights to conserve electricity, something the ecodome was beginning to have trouble with. He fumbled for the light switch, flipping it at last with the expectation of the lights illuminating instantly. Instead, he heard the door shut behind him.

“Damn drafts and bad electricity.” He muttered, finding his way to his desk and opening a drawer, fumbling around for a flashlight. Abruptly, he felt a blade at his throat, someone speaking into his ear. The voice belonged to a female, and it was almost musical, despite its monotone,

“I suppose you figure with your simple, uncomplicated mind that I am here to end you. I can assure you, Mr. Renault, that is not necessarily so, assuming you cooperate.” With that, the knife moved away from his throat. There was a muted sound as it was slid into its sheath. Daniel's first impulse was to reach for the intercom button to call the guards, but that became impossible as both his wrists were seized and he was slammed against the wall as if he were nothing more than a flimsy, easily breakable object. “Don't even think about calling security. I've already disabled the intercom from this room as well as the electricity.” The voice said, almost casually in tone.

“If you aren't here to kill me, then what are you here to do?” Daniel asked, fairly calm, though he knew his assailant could easily kill him. He wasn't afraid of dying, nor had he ever been.

“I am here to ask your assistance in bringing down this corrupt government.” She replied, getting straight to the point. Daniel didn't bother struggling against the iron grip she had on his wrists.

“And why would I help you do that? I'm a part of the government.” He said, finding the entire situation rather stupid. This super human was supposed to be intelligent, instead she was asking a member of what she wanted to destroy assist in its demolition.

“I know you find this society flawed, as I do. I've watched you for years. I killed those patrollers in hope of drawing you out of hiding.” She said. He felt the slightest prick of fear upon hearing those words. She'd watched him for years? Was it so apparent that he found slight problems in society? Even with that fact, he wouldn't assist a likely mentally unstable murderer in furthering her dark agenda.

“You killed innocent people for no reason.” He accused, hate in his voice. He wished he wasn't dealing with a woman likely a hundred times stronger than him, wished he could get revenge for those wasted lives.

“No reason, you say? They deserved to die, for being mindless livestock. It was nothing more than slaughtering cattle. I released them from their servitude, brought them deliverance like your fake god was supposed to.” She replied, as if reading facts from a textbook, though there was an undertone of fervency in her voice. She believed what she was saying, faithfully, passionately.

“How do you know if there is a god or not?” Daniel said.

“God said men were equal, did he not? If we are equal, why do I exist?” She retorted. The woman had a response for everything, logical or not.

“You exist because of science. Science and religion aren't the same.” Daniel said, wondering why he was having this conversation in the middle of his pitch black office, while being restrained against a wall. It gave him an odd, hysterical urge to laugh.

“Everyone exists because of science, Mr. Renault. Biological science. I may not have come out of a womb, but I was made by humans, nonetheless. However, I apparently am worth less than normal humans, though I am smarter, faster, stronger, and virtually undefeatable. Yet for this reason, I am hated. They sought to kill me, because I am not like them. They fear what they do not understand, what they can't control.” She said, and for an instant, Daniel heard emotion in her voice. He almost pitied her. She was like a lost child, starved for affection and given only beatings, treated like an object, and not what she clearly was, a person, like the rest of them. But that didn't justify murder.

“They fear you because you're an abomination and a danger to all of us. You're nothing but a killer. That's what you were created to do, is kill. You aren't supposed to be capable of anything else.” Daniel said.

“And people cannot rise above their destinies, cannot make new paths for themselves?” She said.

“What do you even want to bring the government down for? For killing the rest of your kind? For petty revenge?” Daniel spat, beginning to tire of conversing with this mockery of humankind.

“Not for revenge, no.” She began. “All I want is what I have always been denied, what every human, created or true born, has been denied; freedom.”

Her words made strange, horribly clear sense. A rush of thoughts raced through Daniel's mind and left him nearly reeling, blocking out all of his earlier anger. Suddenly, everything made complete sense. Why he had always had to suppress thoughts considered traitorous, why he didn't seem to support any of the high commander's words. This was his purpose, and she was the prophet who would change his destiny, open his eyes to the broken world around him. The ecodome had been meant to save humanity, it had only turned them into mindless slaves to conformity.

“What must I do?” Daniel asked, when his mind finally seemed to slow down enough to formulate words. This sentence was like an oath, pledging his loyalty to this mysterious super human and her desire for revolution and reformation. He could almost hear the triumph she felt, in the way she spoke,

“Continue as you have been doing. Report to me weekly any new information. I require only a way to kill the high commander. After I have brought justice to him for the wrongs he wrought upon my brethren. The rest I leave to fate, and to the people of tomorrow.” She responded. Daniel felt the pressure on his wrists loosen and found he was no longer pushed against the wall. However, he remained leaned on it to keep himself from collapsing. All of these treasonous ideas were too much.

“What are you going to do?” He asked, his voice coming out toneless and hollow.

“Obviously, what I just told you. I thought you were more intelligent than that. Now go, you have a party to attend.” She said briskly, as if they hadn' t just been speaking of assassinating a dictator and bringing down a government.


“How will I find you again?” Daniel asked numbly. His mind suddenly felt detached from his emotions.

“You won't. I will seek you out.” She replied. Abruptly, the lights flickered to life, and Daniel looked around the room. The only sign of the woman was a paper floating to the ground, stirred up by her silent,quick exit. Daniel hadn't even heard the door close.

Daniel retained his numb feeling for most of the evening, until nearly the end of the party he had been ordered to attend, when Jane leaned towards him, smelling of her usual perfume, and whispered that she was going outside to get some air. For some reason, he didn't want her to go. He felt as if, weirdly enough, he would never see her again. He watched her retreat out of the fanciful, engraved double doors of the establishment where the party was being held, observing the way her brunette curls bounced against her bare shoulders, the smooth swirling of her silken skirt as she walked. He realized he didn't know her at all, the woman he'd been married to for nearly six years. He didn't know her past, her desires for the future, or even how she lived her life now. He was abruptly saddened, and the feeling remained, only intensified when a shout broke through his musings, and he was abruptly thrust back into the present.

“There's been an attempt on Jane's life!” Someone exclaimed. Daniel wasn't sure he'd heard correctly, and didn't say anything. He recognized the woman who was speaking to him as Jane's cousin, though he'd only met her once or twice. The woman's tears made him realize he had heard her correctly.

“That's not possible.” Daniel said. It wasn't, after all. There were guards everywhere, and besides, who would want Jane dead? She was innocent of everything except occasionally overspending on clothing. He felt a chill run through him as he remembered his conversation with the super human. After I have brought justice upon him for what he did to my brethren... Her voice echoed in his mind like a ticking bomb, every second bringing him closer to the unavoidable.

Twenty minutes later he found himself in the critical care unit of the ecodomes most prestigious hospital, standing at Jane's bedside, while nurses rushed about and doctors tried to figure out what they could do.

“Where's... my father?” Jane whispered, so quietly that Daniel could only hear her when he leaned towards her. He wasn't sure of the answer to that question.

“He's on his way, he'll be here soon. Just rest. You'll be alright.” Daniel said, trying to reassure her. It was more frightening to see her like this, reminding him of years ago when he'd visited his parents in the hospital. She was hooked up to several machines, and different mechanical beeps filled the room. He was amazed she was still alive. Her throat had been slit, but somehow not deep enough for her to die instantly.

“No, I won't.” She replied, turning her head towards him. “You're a good man, Daniel. In another world I could've loved you.” Her words were completely sincere, though at the mention of 'another world' anyone else present would've blamed it upon the medication she was on, causing her to say strange things.

“They're going to save you.” He insisted. He'd seen men on the battlefield with their intestines hanging out and their limbs blown off who'd been saved. Jane only had one wound, a small one. There was no way she'd die. Jane smiled, and shook her head with the last of her energy, closing her eyes. At that moment, the high commander rushed in, kneeling at her bedside and taking one of her hands.

“My dearest, you're going to be fine, don't worry, daddy will make sure of it.” He said. Jane's eyes fluttered open again.

“Dad? I'm glad you're here. I... love you.” Jane said, looking so terribly fragile upon the hospital bed. Her ivory complexion looked totally pasty under the harsh lights, and her body so thin. She was nothing like the lively, beautiful woman Daniel had seen only an hour ago, laughing and talking to her many friends.

“We're going to find out who did this, and we're going to kill them, don't fret.” The high commander said. Daniel thought it wasn't very tactful to speak of killing people to a clearly dying woman, but he didn't comment.

“They moved so fast. I didn't see them myself.” Jane whispered. It was clear that talking was beginning to strain her. Abruptly, tears began to flow in rivulets down her cheeks. “I don't want to die, daddy.”

“You're not going to.” Daniel and the high commander said in complete unison. They were both proved wrong when her hold on her father's hand began to slacken, and she let out a final shaky breath, before going completely still. The nurses who had been filing in and out for the past few minutes all stopped, faces different yet identical in expression, a solemn look of sadness and pity as they walked out of the room a final time.

“No. This is impossible. All of this modern medicine and machines, all of these advances in saving lives, and my Jane dies?” The high commander said. He sounded more angry than sad, as if her death was a personal affront.

“No amount of technology and modernization can prevent death forever.” Daniel muttered, surprised that he himself didn't feel sad anymore. He felt nothing at all.

“Why weren't you with her? You were supposed to protect her.” The high commander said suddenly, staring at him with an accusing expression.

“I didn't think she needed protecting. She was just going outside for air.” Daniel replied. The high commander looked almost like an enraged beast, his eyes wild and angry.

“Didn't think she needed protecting?! What kind of a former soldier are you?! I should've never promoted you. You're worthless to this country! Now get out of my sight!”

Daniel did as he was told, quietly making his way out of the room. He knew he was just speaking out of anger and grief for the loss of his only child, or at least he told himself so. Had he failed Jane in not going outside with her? Maybe if he had, she'd still be alive now. He quickly pushed those thoughts aside. There was no use in regret and questioning now, she was dead and pondering the matter wouldn't bring her back. Daniel left the hospital and decided to take the longer route home, passing seldom traveled streets with now deserted homes and coming to an alley, long and dark. It seemed the artificial lights barely reached it.

“I know you're following me.” He said, glancing behind him. There was nobody, but he knew she was behind him, or beside him, or up above, on the rooftop. His suspicions were confirmed as a figure in a black hooded cloak dropped down from the building without making a sound, save for the rustle of what she was clad in.

“You're more perceptive than I thought.” She said. He stared at the hood of her cloak, attempting to make out any features beneath it. He wondered if the last super human on Earth was beautiful or ugly, if her appearance reflected her cold-blooded personality.

“Why did you kill Jane? She was innocent.” He asked, suprisingly calm.

“She was the high commander's only child. Thus in killing her I have achieved ending his bloodline. He killed all of my kind, and I am the last. When I am gone, there shall be no more. He knows now what I feel, what I grieve for.” She explained, with an odd sort of detachment from her words. It seemed her expansive mind was elsewhere. Daniel immediately loathed himself for his lack of anger or misery, he still could feel nothing. Perhaps this was his mind's response to too many thoughts and emotions at once, to just shut them all away. “Don't look so hateful. I know you didn't love her anyway.”

“You're a monster. I don't know why I have offered to help you.” Daniel said.

“Because you feel as I feel, about this world. So different we are, yet so similar.” She replied.

“I am nothing like you.” He said, stating what he so desperately wanted to be fact. He didn't want to be anything like this woman, who killed innocents to simply get revenge on the ones who loved them.

“You deny it, yet you know it to be true. However, since you seem to be so uptight and upset about killing. I swear I won't kill any other 'innocents', unless I must do so to keep myself from being captured.” She said, sounding sincere. But of course, Daniel couldn't be sure of anything with this woman. He thought of Jane, going cold and stiff in her hospital bed, and suddenly felt sad once again. She didn't deserve that. She was nothing like her father, not a future evil dictator or even politician.

“I don't care what you do. There's nobody left that I care about whom you could kill.” Daniel found himself saying, “I just provide information. We aren't together in this cause.”

“Oh, yes we are.” She said, letting out a slightly chilling laugh. “Because if they somehow manage to catch me, they'll find out you helped me. And if they figure out we've been speaking, you'll tell them all about me, because you hate me.” She was completely correct, as always. “If one of us is found out, the other suffers too.”

“I don't hate you. You don't deserve a place in my mind reserved for people that I hate.” Daniel said, his expression blank and his voice a monotone.

“Well, if you ever want to put me in that place where the hated go, they call me Pandora.” He recognized the name, from a Greek myth about a woman who had opened the box which had unleashed all evils upon the world. It was terribly ironic, and he had a feeling that the ecodome was just one big Pandora's box.



*************************************

The following weeks were suprisingly drudgerous and normal. Daniel attended to his work, as he always had. Pandora seemed to dissapear from the radar and from the mind of the other members of the government, though Daniel knew she was still here. He saw her every Sunday night, to exchange information and further the plan they had been making to assassinate the high commander.

On this particular night, they met in an abandoned house a few blocks from Daniel's own home. He'd known the people who had once lived there. They had been arrested for being suspected of committing treason, and later executed for the same reason.

Pandora was already there when Daniel arrived, seated at an old table, drumming her gloved fingers on its dusty surface. He found himself staring at those hands as he sat across from her, wondering how they had killed so many people yet remained so delicate looking. They were long, slender, and elegant hands, like those of a pianist or artist.

“Are you content with staring at me all evening, Daniel, or shall we get to the task at hand?” She said haughtily. He blinked, averting his gaze from her hands. It was the only visible part of her, as she still wore that black cloak and refused to take it off. Perhaps her appearance underneath did reflect her personality, and was terribly ugly or disfigured. But, oddly enough, in these past weeks, his views on her had begun to change. He saw her as almost a normal woman, though she clearly wasn't. He'd actually started to like her, a fact he would staunchly deny if accused of it.

“The task at hand, yes.” He mumbled.

“Tomorrow we will finally see our plans come to fruition. This will likely be our last meeting. I've managed to place all of the explosives throughout the building without detection, but there's no telling if they'll be discovered before I kill the high commander.” Pandora said. Daniel nodded, listening intently to her words.

“They think vermin have gotten into the vents, but they aren't sending for an exterminator until two days from now.” He said, assuring her that the explosives wouldn't be found before then.

“Good. I'm going to need you to get me into the high commander's office. There's no plausible way for me to break in. Perhaps go in to ask him of something trivial and leave the door ajar.” Pandora suggested idly.

The rest of their meeting consisted of more intricate planning, and at last Daniel departed from the house, full of anticipation for tomorrow. A new beginning would start after the high commander was dead and the government building destroyed. His musings were interrupted by the unthinkable occurring.

“Mr. Renault, you're under arrest for conspiring to commit high treason.” The words were practically a death sentence, and spoken with the solemnity of one. Guards surrounded him before he could even try to escape, along with some of Mr. Crowlen's agents and Mr. Crowlen himself.

“I believe I told you once that I am always watching. Now you've been found out.” Mr. Crowlen said, a smug expression on his face. There was hardly a point in denying it, but Daniel found himself doing so anyway.

“Why would I conspire against the high commander? He was a good friend of my parents and the father of my late wife.” He said.

“Don't try to talk your way out of this, you won't succeed.” Mr. Crowlen responded, gesturing to one of the guards, who quickly handcuffed Daniel, seeming slightly scared of him, as if conspiring with a super human had given him equal power.

“The high commander will be on my side.” Daniel replied.

“He's the one who sent me.” Mr. Crowlen said. Daniel abruptly felt a slight amount of fear. If the high commander had sent him, there wouldn't be any way for him to escape the situation. He would be executed for treason. Nobody could save him except Pandora, and why would she jeopardize the plan to do so? She could get into the high commander's office without him; she could just break the door down and lose her element of suprise, as well as alert the guards. She'd just have to work faster, and not say one of her eloquent monologues.

They took him to the prison and threw him in it with minimal ceremony, informing him that he'd be interrogated and most likely executed right after. Mr. Crowlen performed the interrogation himself, but Daniel refused to speak.

“What is your accomplice planning to do?” Mr. Crowlen asked, and was met with silence, as usual. He was used to prisoners not wanting to talk, and slightly enjoyed it when they were reluctant. There was no fun in an interrogation if there wasn't torture involved. He gestured to one of the guards present, who walked out of the room for a moment, returning with a strange device. “Have you seen one of these before? It's similar to the system on the gates. Electrocutes you. But this one will only take you to the brink of death, it won't kill you, just put you into a permanent state of unconsciousness, after it destroys most of your nerve cells and your conscious mind. They say it feels worse than burning alive.” Daniel's expression didn't change. There was nothing they could do to make him talk. “Not afraid of that? Fine.” Mr. Crowlen looked back at the guard, who took the device away, and returned a few minutes later, hauling a woman in, holding her squalling infant. She looked terrified, and wore the usual garb of a prisoner.

“Please don't kill me. Please!” She cried, tears streaming through the dirt on her face. “Don't let them kill me!” She said to Daniel, fear in her eyes. The guard held a gun to her head. Daniel managed to keep a neutral expression.

“Kill her.” Mr. Crowlen said. The guard pulled the trigger, and Daniel cringed slightly. There was only a clicking sound, and the hysterical screaming of the baby. The gun hadn't been loaded. Mr. Crowlen had got what he wanted; a reaction out of Daniel.

“It seems we have found a way to make you talk.” He said, a triumphant smirk on his face. Daniel wanted nothing more than to reach across the table and strangle the man, but he knew the guards would shoot him before he could.

“I'll never tell you anything, so you might as well kill me now.” Daniel said.

“Oh, we'll not kill you yet. Not until you've told us all you know.” Mr. Crowlen replied. The guard absently pulled out some ammo and began loading his gun, the other guard holding the sobbing woman by her hair. “Silence that baby, will you?” Mr. Crowlen remarked to the guard. Daniel risked a glance back at the woman and her baby.

“No! Please, no!” The woman screamed, as her baby was ripped from her arms. “Do something!” She yelled to Daniel. He knew then, at that moment, that what Pandora intended to do was totally justified. He wouldn't endanger that, not for anyone or anything. He forced himself to turn back to Mr. Crowlen.

“Well, well. You've proven much more difficult than I thought.” Mr. Crowlen mused. “Take those prisoners away, and shoot them.” The guards dragged the woman and her baby away, and moments later there was the sound of two gunshots. You'll get what you deserve, Mr. Crowlen, be it by my hands or Pandora's, or someone else's. You won't get away with these atrocities, Daniel thought.

“This is a waste of time.” Daniel informed him, once the guards returned. He began to hear yelling in the hallway outside. Mr. Crowlen looked to the guards.

“Go see what the hell is going on out there.” He commanded. The guards left, and more gunshots rang out. Another guard ran back in,

“There's been a security breach!” The guard exclaimed, before suddenly falling over, dead. A shape in black loomed over him. For an instant, there was fear in Mr. Crowlen's usually expressionless eyes. He knew his end had arrived. The door slammed shut, and the shape was upon him faster than he could blink, her hands around his neck.

“At last you will meet once again with those you have tortured and killed.” She whispered, as he struggled against her iron grip. Daniel almost wanted to stop her, to ask her to let him do it, but he remained silent. There was a cracking sound as she broke his neck. Guards had began to pound against the door.

“Pandora, we're not going to make it out. Why did you come?” Daniel asked.

“My fatal flaw, remember? Emotion.” She said, not giving him a chance to respond, before opening the door. She moved almost too fast for him to see as she took down the guards, grabbing one of their guns and tossing it at Daniel. She herself only possessed a sheathed knife hidden on her person that Daniel only guessed was still there. More guards surged towards them as they ran down the hall, and Pandora took them all down, literally dodging bullets. Daniel struggled to keep up with her, though she was going quite slow for her standards. The door was in view, and beyond that, the massive prison gate. There was no way they'd both make it through, as it was electricity charged, like the other gates. As they reached the door, guards ran at them from all sides. Pandora threw one at the glass door as if they were weightless, the door shattering into pieces. Daniel ducked behind a desk as the guards began firing. A bullet caught him in the shoulder, and he felt a flash of pain. The firing gradually ceased as Pandora took them all down, one by one, with her usual methodical precision. She appeared unscathed as she hauled Daniel to his feet and away from the desk, towards the gate outside. There was no place for him to hide as they ran across open ground, bullets whizzing past. It was nothing short of a miracle that they reached the gate without attaining any fatal wounds. But there was still the problem of the electrical field.

“You might as well have not come. I'm not going to be able to get through the gate.” Daniel said. Pandora merely sighed and thrust her fist straight through the identifier on the side of the gate. It crackled slightly as she withdrew her hand, the gate sliding open. The lit up electrical system abruptly flickered off, and she ran through, before it suddenly flashed on again.

“Daniel, just come through. It's not going to kill you!” She exclaimed as he hesitated.

“Its thousands of volts of electricity!” Daniel replied.

“I disabled it before I came to free you!” She said, though she sounded uncertain. He stared at the flickering lights in the floor, then looked back at her, and ran through when the lights flicked off for an instant. They were out of the prison, but far from safety. No where in the ecodome would be safe now.

“We have to leave the ecodome.” Pandora said, speaking aloud the thought they both shared. Daniel didn't bother reminding her about the incredibly low oxygen levels and high pollution levels.

“Another gate to get through...” Daniel said.

“Actually, there's a hole in the wall, not to far from here.” Pandora replied. Daniel stared at her, or at least the shaded place beneath her hood where her face would be.

“Do you plan everything completely?” He asked, slight admiration in his voice. At that moment, the guards caught up with them, and they broke into a run again, towards the prison graveyard, or the large pits where they tossed executed prisoners. The stench was overwhelming. Death was everywhere, filling the air. Bodies were tossed carelessly about, rotting as they awaited burial. Daniel could see the small hole in the wall that she had spoken of, and used the last of his strength to reach it, ducking through. Pandora went through after him, and continued onward. He collapsed against the wall, gasping for breath, staring out at the familiar, blighted land beyond the ecodome. This time, there was no equipment shielding him against its ruined climate.

“Daniel, we have to keep going.” Pandora said, turning back to him. He willed himself to his feet, jogging after her. She was unaffected by the minor amount of oxygen and all of the pollutants.

“Where are we going?” He asked. “And why did you enter in the gate when you came to the city if you knew about the hole?”

“Because I needed the government to know about my presence within the dome.” Pandora said simply, “Save your air. You need it for things besides asking me stupid questions.” Daniel fell silent, and they gradually slowed to a walk. His shoulder felt like it was on fire, and his shirt was soaked with blood. “As for where we are going? Only slightly further.” She added finally. “Luckily, the guards won't pursue us here without expressed permission from the high commander. We'll be long gone by the time they get it.” Up ahead, a tangle of twisted structures rose out of the ground. Pandora dissapeared into a small gap between two of the pieces of metal. Daniel followed her, and found himself inside a spacious, bare room, the floor slightly cluttered with the usual debris.

“We'll be safe here.” She said. Daniel collapsed against one of the walls. He could barely breathe, and as a result, couldn't say much.

“Good.”

“Didn't I tell you not to waste your breath?” She said, kneeling in front of him, looking at his still bleeding shoulder. He felt his strength waning by the minute, and he knew he was slowly bleeding out. All of this planning couldn't stop the inevitable.

“You did, but this might be the last time I ever get to speak.” He managed to say.

“You're right.” Pandora didn't try to tell him that he was going to be fine, that he was going to survive. He was thankful for that. He didn't want to be given false hope.

“I was wrong about you. You're not a monster.” He said.

“If I'm not a monster, then what am I?” Pandora asked.

“Human.” He replied. The single word held the gravity of a thousand words, spoken aloud.
“There's just... one thing I wish of you.”

“Anything.” Pandora promised, leaning closer to be able to hear him better. He was speaking in nothing more than a whisper.

“I want to see you.” He said. She hesitated only a moment, then pulled down her hood. The sight was like a vision, a living version of a fine sculpture or painting of an angel. He was right. Her face did reflect her personality. She was nothing short of perfection, the face of the one who would bring freedom to this broken world.

“They said my only flaw was my ability to feel emotion.” She said softly.

“That's not a flaw... it's what makes you one of us. It means you're alive.” Daniel said, smiling slightly. It was the first time he'd genuinely had a reason to smile in years.

“Then I will live forever, and so will you, in my memory, in my heart.” She said.

“Nothing... is forever.” Daniel said, his smile fading as he gazed into her eyes. They were the color the sky had once been, a cloudless, beautiful light blue. “Except death.” There was no way for her to contradict that statement, no reason for her to.

“I love you.” She simply said. He closed his eyes, for the last time.


**********************************************

The high commander bid the guard who had informed him of Daniel Renault's death farewell, not noticing as the man left the door accidentally ajar. He looked out through his window, at the ecodome, as the artificial sun began to rise, flooding the room with light.

“Good morrow, high commander. It has been a many years since we last spoke. I recall you were the one to look me in the eyes and tell me that my brethren and I were to be terminated.” Pandora's voice was its usual monotone. There was no sign of the events of a few hours before. The high commander turned away from the window.

“I knew you would come back to kill me.” He said, his voice not betraying any emotion either. He didn't reach for the intercom to call the guards. “I'm glad of it. But do you realize the chaos you will be unleashing upon this society? We had order at last, and you've torn it to pieces again.”

“Oh no, high commander. You've only had false order. You've brainwashed humankind and veiled it in lies. I am only going to liberate them, to break the chains of oppression.” Pandora said, stepping towards his desk, pulling out an old-appearing pistol, the type of gun that hadn't been used in a hundred years or so. The high commander instantly recognized it. The man who had created the super humans had carried it; it was a family heirloom. After the super humans were terminated, he had shot himself with it and the artifact had mysteriously dissapeared. “You, who have murdered so many, broken the spirits of countless others, and destroyed the earth outside the ecodome, will finally answer for your crimes.”

“They named you correctly.” The high commander said. “You're opening the box, letting out every evil imaginable, by killing me.” She put the gun to his forehead.

“Do you know what Pandora left in the box?” She asked, and when he shook his head, pulled the trigger. “Hope.”


THE END



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guardianofthestarsThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm
I think "wow' is a good word to describe this. I was hooked.
 
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