Chapter 9: Descending

A Glimpse into the Heart of Darkness

Ethan jerked awake to the bone-chilling scream of the facility alarm. He scrambled up, heart pounding, as the solid door of their detention cell swung open abruptly. Silhouetted in the doorway stood the imposing figure of Commander Drake.

“On your feet, Mr. Chase,” he ordered curtly. “You have a demonstration to attend.”

Rough hands hauled Ethan and Kay from their cramped cot. Kay blinked groggily as he tried to shake off restless sleep. They were ushered down a stark corridor by armed guards, Drake leading the way. Ethan’s mind raced, bracing for what was to come.

They were brought to a cavernous, arena-like space deep in the mountain facility. Ringing the perimeter were observation rooms and boxes with dark glass like hermetically sealed labs. In the arena floor itself, a team of technicians swarmed around hulking humanoid forms lying motionless on gurneys.

As they drew closer, Ethan recoiled. The unconscious subjects resembled human beings, but larger and somehow off, their proportions distorted. Jagged stitches marked crude surgical alterations to their bodies.

“My god,” he gasped. “I had no idea they were so far along.”

Beside him, Kay shook his head in dismay. “This is madness, Ethan. We have to stop them.”

Drake turned, regarding them coolly. “Impressive, aren’t they? The future soldiers of Ascendance, once Dr. Monroe assists us in perfecting their programming.”

His casual words turned Kay’s stomach. Ethan too shook his head in horror. “You can’t imagine we’ll allow you pervert her research like this…”

“You’ll find I can be quite persuasive,” Drake replied. He gestured, and they were forced into an observation room overlooking the arena.

Below, the Vectors began to rouse, struggling against their restraints with lumbering strength. Amplified speakers carried their eerie wails and garbled speech throughout the complex.

Drake moved to a microphone at the viewing window. “Initiate combat trial 237, authorization code Zebra Delta Sigma.”

At his command, technicians quickly released two of the disoriented creatures and retreated behind sealed barriers. Blinking in confusion, the unnatural beings seemed unsure how to utilize their imposing physiques. Then their gazes locked, and animal hostility took over.

With bellows of rage, they attacked each other bare-handed, their abnormal reflexes and pain tolerance allowing devastating blows. The room trembled with the force of their clashes as blood and flesh flew. It was a gruesome, nightmarish preview of these modified humans’ capabilities when unleashed upon real battlefields.

Ethan and Kay watched in frozen horror, unable to even speak

After several minutes of intense, gory combat, one of the Vectors succeeded in literally breaking the backbone of the other. Drake nodded approvingly as the creature roared victoriously, its hulking torso streaked with blood not its own.

Over the intercom, Drake’s voice rang out. “Impressive, aren’t they?” Drake said, glancing at Ethan and Kay with a subtle smile. “Obedient, resilient, utterly devoted to the cause.”

He rested his hand almost fondly on the shoulder of one of the hulking creatures. “With the right enhancements, they have so much more potential than ordinary men.”

Ethan shook his head in dismay. “You’re twisting these poor souls into monsters, Drake! This isn’t evolution, it’s butchery.”

Kay spoke up. “This depravity has to end, Drake!”

Drake’s expression hardened, the congenial mask slipping. “On the contrary. I’m simply expediting the emergence of a superior human form, unburdened by frail morality. That is the future Ascendance will usher in.”

He moved closer to Ethan, voice low with intent. “But perhaps you need more persuasion to appreciate our vision.” He made a subtle signal to one of the technicians.

Before Ethan could reply, the door opened again and two soldiers entered hauling a battered, semi-conscious figure – Lara! Rushing to her, Ethan realized with horror that she was drugged, eyes struggling to focus.

“Don’t hurt her!” he pleaded, shielding Lara with his own body. Drake’s smile returned, cruel and satisfied.

“Her pain can end the instant she assists with our work. This demonstration was but a tiny sample of Ascendance’s power.” His gaze bored into Ethan. “Defy us, and she will become its newest subject. The choice is yours.”

Ethan looked at Kay, seeing his own anger and despair reflected in his anguished eyes. They were out of options. Refusal would mean fates worse than death for themselves, and unimaginable suffering for Lara. For now, they were trapped in this loathsome bargain.

As Drake observed their surrender with gloating triumph, a tumult of emotions surged within Ethan. Outwardly he maintained a veneer of steely resignation, but inwardly his mind reeled with horror, outrage and suffocating helplessness.

He had witnessed the gruesome capabilities Drake sought to unleash upon the world, perverting science and lives without conscience. The very future of humanity hung precariously in the balance.

Ethan glanced at Lara’s semi-conscious form, rage simmering in his chest. How dare Drake exploit her innocence as leverage? But beneath the anger lay profound dread of the torment she could suffer at Drake’s whim. That outcome was unthinkable.

Grudgingly, Ethan admitted to himself that for now, capitulation to Drake’s demands was their only recourse. Open defiance would only doom them faster. But this was not over – Ethan vowed that silently, with every fiber of his being.

Kay placed a steadying hand on Ethan’s shoulder, solidarity in his eyes. They were trapped in this vile bargain, but somehow, someday, an opportunity for retaliation would arise. And when it did, they would seize it mercilessly, no matter the risk or sacrifice required. The glimpse into Ascendance’s gruesome vision had only deepened their resolve to bring Drake’s butchery crashing down or die trying.

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