From birth, you are designated a heart-shaped locket.
This locket represents two important things.
One, you are human.
Two, you are immortal.
The invasion upon earth happened millennia ago. The small populations of humans that remained were marked by a small, indestructible brass locket. It looked like those stereotypical bucolic ones you’d see in old shows about small-town America. The only difference between those and the one strung around my neck was that mine was intricately tied to my life.
If I lost this locket, it triggered a countdown for The Adhiet’s. This was because the lockets kept humans alive, and immortal, when they changed the earth’s atmosphere. The Adhiet race kept us in human-sized pens, locking off large cities around the Earth to keep us in. No one knew why, and of course, there were thousands of conspiracy theories, but they wanted us alive.
Anyways, when this countdown was triggered Hunters were sent to track both you and your locket down. Since they had imposed what we begrudgingly call “Lock Up”, humans have been trying to die by ditching their locket. The one thing worse than being immortal was being immortal for either the scientific growth or amusement of a higher power you cannot see. Even Hunters were mostly human- they were specially designed replicas of the original human race. They were created as a modern-day, upright walking bloodhound. From what the original humans knew, they were sent some sort of signal when a countdown was triggered. They also never interacted with the Adhiet’s.
Which is why when I woke up this morning, I was concerned why my locket wasn’t fastened around my neck. Normally, in this type of situation, I could find it within my room and go on about my day. The countdown wasn’t triggered until you were outside of a certain radius of the locket, presumably it tracked some sort of bodily function and presumably provided our bodies accelerated cell growth and regeneration. Once it could no longer do this the Adhiet’s are alerted.
I rummaged through every space in my house I could think of. I checked the fridge, the car, the drains, every possible spot I thought could be hiding it. Granted, the Hunters were created for this very purpose but I wanted nothing to do with them. I had gone two millennia without interacting with one, and I planned on continuing that for however long I was deemed a necessary asset.
Of course, that was short-lived as I heard a sharp knock at my door.
“Designation 2240467 a countdown has begun. Open the door or it will be opened by force.”
Those words made my blood run cold. I had heard stories about the Hunters, how they were close to humans, but that their voices just weren’t right. It was monotone, almost metallic sounding. Like air whistling too hard from their throats. It reminded me of how a raven would sound all those years ago.
“Uh, I’ll be right there. I’m just… getting dressed. Also, you can just call me Elsie.”
My mind went blank as I mentally grasped for any straws. There had to be a way I could avoid opening this door. I wanted nothing to do with the man or whatever it was that was standing behind this thin slab of wood.
“Designation 2240467 you must open the door immediately.”
Realizing I was running out of time, I opened the door. Staring back at me was the most generic man I had ever seen, and that’s coming from a girl who had the same male neighbors for millennia. He was like a vintage G.I. Joe doll. He had a thick, chiseled face, tan skin, and a military buzzcut. It was like the Adhiet’s had modeled the Hunters after old school American military. He reached out almost mechanically to grab me, I took a step back and raised my hands.
“I won’t fight you, just please… don’t touch me.”
I took a step forward as he flipped on some sort of communication device.
“Designation 2240467 apprehended. Status on locket?”
I could hear some incoherent mumbling, but nothing could give me a definitive answer. He simply grumbled a few affirmations back to whoever he was talking to and led me to a vehicle that was parked on the street. It was a jet-black armored truck, which stood out like a sore thumb against all the patchworked junk vehicles that the rest of us were forced to use. People around me lost their locket’s all the time, but I had never seen a vehicle like this before.
The Hunter lifted me into the back of the truck, before shackling me down and sitting beside me. It was hot as hellfire, but he didn’t break a sweat. I, on the other hand, was drenched within minutes of our departure. Without being able to see the outside world, I was forced to look at the Hunter beside me.
“Well, you know me. Do I get to know you?”
His gaze snapped to me and I flinched. It was so mechanical.
“Designation 2240467 does not have the proper authority.”
Well, there goes that plan.
The rest of the drive was in dead silence. Eventually, the rocky road faded to a smooth and quiet ride. I couldn’t hear the hum of the engine… or any sound. All I knew is that the amount of time that was passing was questionable. There was no way I was that far from any holding cells. There were holding facilities two blocks over from where I was. It was always teeming with Hunters. It’s why I never picked up supplies from that drop-off point.
“Why is this taking so long?”
I wasn’t even gifted with a response. I just got a dead stare. Immediately I broke eye contact and stared at my shoes. Anxiety began to crash over me in waves. It had been millennia since I’d spent more than an hour in the car. The area where we had been restricted to was quite small.
Eventually, the car stopped, and moments later my eyes were covered with some sort of dark fabric. It was almost like staring into an abyss. It was a dark void; I couldn’t even see any light leaking through. All I could make out were the smells and sounds of my environment. It smelled faintly of bleach, and almost too clean. The footsteps were rather loud and echoed. This indicated a very large, open space. Where I was located remained a complete mystery to me.
A few more moments of walking ended when I was abruptly forced to sit down. When seated they restrained my arms and legs. I could hear shuffling around me, but eventually, they faded. I could tell someone, or something was still in the room with me. Eventually, it took a few steps towards me and stopped.
“Why are you not dead Designation 2240467?”
The voice was less human than the Hunters. Almost like it was trying to mimic human speech, however, this was less bird-like and more reptilian sounding. Female, I deduced, from the pitch. I shuddered, and that was met with a haughty laugh.
“This is why humans are kept in quarantine. All so fearful and flighty.”
There were a few more steps before they came to a stop directly in front of me. There was no sickening heat like there was when people got too close. This was different. It felt moist, and cold, almost like I was standing in front of an air conditioner.
“Why, what? I just lost my locket. I don’t know where it is. I have time, right?”
Fear overwhelmed me. Sure, I had been ready for death a while ago, but I wasn’t quite ready to die this unexpectedly. I tried to shift but it was impossible to move with the binds. Whoever, or whatever, was in front of me didn’t move. It maintained that pressuring stance just out of reach.
“Oh dear, it seems we have a bit of a broken one.”
They shifted, and in one swift movement uncovered my eyes. I blinked a few times, expecting a bright light. Instead, it was nothing but darkness, I couldn’t make out anything in the milky blackness. After a few moments my eyes adjusted and I could see shapes moving in the shadows. Again, they were frustratingly out of reach. I strained against the shackles as I felt something smooth press down on my shoulders. It held me there, not making a noise as I tried frantically to get control. I didn’t understand, this wasn’t what we were told happens when you lose a locket! I hadn’t done anything wrong! I followed all the rules.
This voice was different. I froze, my body becoming numb. I couldn’t see but suddenly I was forced into flashbacks of my life before the Lock Up. This was my mother’s voice. I remember fondly her reading my stories in my childhood, calling to check up on me in college, talking me through my first real breakup.
The iciness thawed, and quickly faded to broiling anger. Whomever this was emulated the voice of my mother. They knew old me, me before all of this. These were the Adheit’s of lore.
“I will not stop.”
The harshness of my voice abruptly cut through the silence, shattering it. I felt like I was losing control of myself as the heat bubbled up inside of me. Whatever was standing near me now retreated, and I heard the rush of other footsteps as well. All my senses felt heightened, I could feel twenty-seven unique new presences, and the one of my initial Hunter. I could feel their fear. It was like I was consuming the sweetest drink. I reveled in the sudden power I felt I had. Finally, a timid voice called out from across the cavernous hall.
“We found the Eeslos…”
I cackled and pulled against the restraints which snapped. I was no longer me; I wasn’t in control. Something monstrous frayed my thoughts and pulled me in all directions. The me, now trapped inside, could only hear the fraying flesh, the haunted screams, and the frantic footsteps. A body cracked against the wall, falling with a large thud. The panic it radiated fed into the bloodlust.
“They were right, it cannot be undone.”
Those were the last words I heard before it gargled and fell limp against the wall. Whatever the Eeslos was the Adheit’s feared. I had sent this facility into full meltdown protocol. I could see nothing, gain nothing, but I felt emboldened by the frantic cries of the Adheit’s as they fell around me.
I was the Eeslos. I was their fear.