Neuro stares at the heart-shaped locket, long thought to be lost forever. When she tossed it down a hallway as a distraction to reach her bunker two years prior, she never thought she'd see it again. And then a year ago, roughly, she stumbled upon it on a table in another nearby bunker she was raiding for supplies - along with Synapse, who she had also never thought to see again. The man had been sleeping, and her raiding required her stealth, and so she had reaped his rewards and her lost locket and fled back inside her bunker, where she has stayed another year. Roughly.
As the years have begun adding up since the collapse, it's become harder for Neuro to keep track of the days that pass. Even her genetic modifications, usually so adept at mental tasks such as time-keeping, no longer give her an edge here; she is as adrift as anyone without such genetic modifications. Everything has simply blurred into one seamless, endless task of existence.
It has been a year, though, since she last took sight of the visages laid within the locket. She'd only had a brief glimpse to confirm it was hers last year before taking it from Synapse. Since then, she's been careful to keep it closed and disconnected; the coordinates for her and her government-assigned partner, Hypno, will give her position away. But Neuro desperately wants to look.
'Just one minute couldn't hurt,' she thinks, 'Something so quick, Hypno won't even notice.' In fact, Neuro wondered if Hypno were even still alive. She hasn't seen him in two years. Then again, she hasn't seen anyone in the last two years. No one except the sleeping Synapse.
Taking a steadying breath, Neuro opens the locket. Her and Hypno's images stare dully back, etched into the inner components. Slowly, she moves to cover both images with her thumbs, presses, and waits. Copper and gold lighting now shines their images before her face, but she pays neither any mind. Instead, she first checks to see the status of Hypno's matching locket, nervous to find how close he may be.
There hasn't been any recorded information for over a year.
Neuro doesn't know whether to be relieved or not. On one hand, there hasn't been activity for over a year, meaning Hypno may have perished. On the other hand, his location hasn't been tracked in over a year, and he could be alive and anywhere; even right next door!
Next, she does the same with the images, this time activating the images she, herself, placed within it so long ago. These images are of her and Synapse, displayed in silver and blue lighting. Unlike Hypno's, Synapse's coordinates cannot be seen; Neuro had been unable to replicate that in her own alterations to the locket. She has never known his location since she was assigned to be partnered to Hypno.
For a few moments, she looks over the image of the man she had the most unbelievable connection with; the one she misses most in this solitary world in the dust of a massive societal collapse. Slowly, with a sigh, she reverts back to the government-made images of her and Hypno, and then turns the locket back off, no closer to knowing if either man is still in the area just outside of her own bunker.
She has no real reason to leave yet; between what she scavenged herself and what she stole from Synapse last year on her one day out to raid for more supplies, she is still comfortably set to wait out whatever else is going on outside the bunkers. Periodically, she's considered going out and exploring; seeing what, if anything has changed. But fear has kept her in. Without issued drugs keeping them in check, the people of 2507 - two years previous - had become more and more hostile. Savage urges now commanded the species, not sense or intellect. To her knowledge, there has been no recovery: no radio waves broadcasting the turn of the hostile surge, no one knocking on bunkers claiming the return to normalcy, no sounds of rejoice anywhere.
Just the endless silence. Tired, and without much else to do, Neuro lays down to sleep, wondering what type of books she will seek out from the Worldwide Library when she wakes. Maybe one with a story, rather than all the technical jargon she's taken to learning in her solitude.
Neuro tenses as she hears a strange whirring in the hallway just outside her bunker. The bunker is dim, running as few lights as possible, and she struggles to rouse herself from her cot to approach the door to listen. The doors are thick and largely soundproof; whatever is outside is either very loud or very close to the door.
A heavy thud makes itself known on the other side of the door, and then a strange, metallic knocking commences. It stops, but the whirring continues. Neuro waits silently on the inside, not daring to open the door with the whirring still there. Eventually, the sound begins to move on, growing faint. It is then that Neuro opens the hatch quietly to peek out. A small box sits in front of her, but she pays it little mind as she eyes the object producing the whirring; a drone. The flying object is slowly exiting the tunnel housing the old workplace bunkers. Soon after she lays eyes on it, however, it picks up speed and jets off, giving her the uncomfortable but distinct feeling that whoever operates the drone wants her to see it. Neuro turns back to the box.
She knew it sounded heavy, but it isn't until she tries to pick it up and bring it in that she realizes just how heavy the small package is. Recollections of news that packages that leaked noxious gases were being left early on in the collapse gave her pause. Such items had often been left to prompt the occupants out for one reason or another; sometimes to steal, sometimes to do something even more immoral. Now concerned about what might be inside of it, Neuro opts to open the box in the hall first, leaving her bunker's hatch open only a crack, lest gas escape into it.
The tape sealing the package cuts easily enough, and Neuro takes and holds a deep breath just as she begins to pop open the flaps. Inside, the contents are wrapped in newspaper. Curious, Nero riffles through, finally pulling out two large chunks of coral. Very distinct corals, and Neuro feels her heartbeat grow to a rapid hammering. She recognizes these corals; these were two she had always enjoyed looking at while at the local aquarium. Though there was nothing truly unusual about them, they were both formed in particular shapes; one looked vaguely like a human skull, the other similar to the shape of a seahorse.
Shocked, Neuro looks back down the tunnel, towards where the drone had gone. Only two other people knew of her liking for these corals: Synapse and Hypno. Neuro can't help but wonder just which one sent them to her.
As she begins to cart the two corals inside her bunker, she catches sight of a small set of scratches at the inner bottom of the box. Examining it, she is left with more questions. All that is etched into the cardboard is a set of numbers; coordinates. Noting them, Neuro finally retreats back into the safety of her bunker, though she no longer feels as safe.
Someone knows where she is. Her. In particular. It does not bode well with her. No one should need to know where she is.
'The aquarium,' Neuro realizes minutes later when she looks up the coordinates in the offline library system maps. The coordinates on the box indicate the same aquarium the corals originated from.
'But who wants me to go there? Should I even go?' she wonders. Curiosity calls her, however, and before long she has made up her mind to go. But not before she decides she needs to prepare before leaving.
It is nearly dark when she feels like she is ready to go to the aquarium. Not knowing which man she might encounter, Neuro leaves her bunker with an assortment of gear to navigate to and from the aquarium. Double-checking the stun effect is active on the outside of her emergency suit (a standard piece of equipment in most bunkers), she ventures out into the city she hasn't set foot in in two years.
The city is a ruinous wasteland of broken cement and twisted metals. Glass and debris litter the streets. There is no sound of mankind; no yells or machines or endless chattering of the masses. Not all is lifeless, though. On her short run through the city, Neuro encounters plenty of wildlife: mice and squirrels abound - the largest terrestrial animals besides humans left after the 6th mass extinction event's peak in 2077. Mankind had technology to help keep themselves comfortable during the worsening environmental conditions; other creatures did not have any luxuries in the wild. The worst those of the years 2060-2317 had to deal with on a personal level was the loss of large animals, many of which were food or of service to humankind. Genetic modifications in their offspring to require less resources to survive allowed humans to continue, while all but the smallest creatures survived naturally on land. The oceans were also hit hard, however life managed to cling to slightly larger sizes. It was for this reason that aquariums were so coveted; only there or in a mirror could a human see a creature larger than a squirrel.
The abundance of the small creatures gives Neuro hope; they haven't been pushed out by humans, so there should be few around. The eeriness of there not being any humans is replaced by the comfort that there are no other humans.
Darkness has descended when Neuro finally arrives at the aquarium. Tapping the simple-looking goggles set on her head, she pulls them down over her eyes while she adjusts them to her liking. They allow her to see in the dark without an external light source giving away her position. As an added precaution, she selects the Infrared Disruption Mode on her emergency suit, so that even with their own goggles, another person might not be able to detect her. And then, Neuro cautiously begins making her way through the building.
It is both dank and rank within the aquarium. Every tank she sees is broken - most, if not all water emptied from each. Specimens inside are piled high in rotting heaps, insects feasting on the decay. The floor is covered in inches-deep water, putrid in all aspects.
Once, this had been a place of beauty. Somewhere Neuro had enjoyed visiting. This visit sees her filled with nothing but dismay. She knew the aquarium was likely to suffer when she'd thought of what places she enjoyed would be like upon her return to the city, but she never thought this much devastation could be done to the building and its inhabitants within just a few years.
Neuro recalls why she is out in the decaying building, and wonders where she should go. The only clues were the coordinates in the box, the corals, and the drone, so she heads to where she thinks the tanks the corals used to be housed in were. It's been such a long time and nothing looks familiar in the chaos of the damages and the dark. She treks through the disgusting wet muck throughout the building, following hallways with confusion until she reaches something familiar.
One of the tanks she suspects housed one of the corals. She is certain this is the one which held the one vaguely resembling a human skull. The coral in question is missing, and the glass looks more freshly broken than that in other tanks with the waterline much higher - there has been less evaporation since this one was broken into. The thought causes Neuro to shiver.
She is just about to begin her search for the other tank when she hears someone walking and wading through the waterlogged hallway outside the room. Careful not to make too much sound, Neuro creeps over to stand beside a wall, waiting to see who enters.
A figure appears. At first, all Neuro can see is his back; definitely a man. Her heart begins to hammer once again - is it Synapse? As he turns, looking for something - for her - Neuro realizes the terrible truth. Not Synapse.
Hypno. And he still looks aggressive.
Crouching lower, Neuro does her best to tuck herself into the darkness. The doorway is only feet away, but the water around threatens to sound the alarm the second she moves. Suddenly, Hypno speaks, his tone and words drawing another involuntary shiver from Neuro.
"Neuro. I know you're here, honey. Why don't you come here and we'll... make up?"
'Thanks, but let's not,' thinks Neuro. She'd abandoned him as soon as he began getting aggressive towards her and she doubts she would enjoy his suggestion. His version of 'make up' is very different from hers.
As Hypno continues his search for her in the dark, Neuro grows more and more panicked. She is unlikely to go unnoticed by him if he continues searching the room, but as soon as she moves, she gives away her position. Her fear spikes higher when she realizes she hears a familiar whirring sound approaching.
But something unexpected happens when Hypno hears the drone approaching; he curses. Neuro's brows bunch in confusion as Hypno exits the room and begins hurrying down the hallway - away from the drone. Silently, she waits. The drone comes into view, flying above the rancid water. A light on the front scans the room, and Neuro feels the panic rise again. What would happen if it saw her? Hypno had run from it - was it dangerous?
"Neuro?" a robotic voice asks. It takes her a second to realize it is coming from the drone, "Neuro, have you come? It's me; Synapse. Please come toward the drone. I want to see you. Hear you."
For a moment, Neuro is compelled. His words echo her feelings. He had always been the one who understood her. Yet, she is not convinced of his message. Of his honesty. Even though the voice is distorted through the drone, she does not trust the man speaking through it anymore. He doesn't sound like Synapse; he sounds more like Hypno. For a second, she even wonders if it is a ploy by Hypno - that he ran from the drone in order to ambush her when she too runs.
"Neuro..." comes the voice again, lamenting, "You're not going to trust me, are you?" Still not getting a response, a long sigh comes through the drone's speakers. "At least take something? Here. I'll leave them here..."
At this, the drone places another box on top of a tank display, the tank itself broken beneath. Neuro can see the glass shimmering under the water as the drone's lights sweep over the area. The drone then turns to leave, but not before Synapse leaves one final message.
"...Please reach out. I really do miss you. I want to see you..."
With that, the drone whirrs off slowly, as though hoping Neuro might chase after it. Instead, she eyes the box. Carefully - quietly - she edges over to take it. Just as she grabs it, however, she hears loud splashing coming towards her.
"Neuro... Let's make up, honey..."
Hypno is back.
Shoving the box into a bag, Neuro takes off down the hall, away from Hypno. She hears him reach the room just as she turns down another hallway, ducking into a small closet. She waits. She hears Hypno searching, calling out to "make up". As the hour passes, however, he begins showing his aggression again; Neuro hears him breaking more tanks and throwing corals and rocks and furniture around.
By the time she is certain Hypno has left, Neuro's legs are numb from the cold, mucky water. She slowly hobbles out of the building, into the city. Daylight greets her, and she hurries to get to a safe place before anyone else stumbles upon her in broad daylight. She doesn't return to her bunker on the other side of the city, however. That one is no longer safe; Synapse, at least, knows where that one is.
Neuro instead heads deep into the city, to the more modern bunker of one of her prior coworkers. One she had had to care for pets for at in the past. Most of her coworkers had used the ones provided by the job. This coworker, Nourish, however, had opted for the more expensive, more customizable sort deep in the city. Neuro hadn't wanted to come here, but it was the one place she knew neither Hypno nor Synapse knew of.
Neuro knocks upon reaching the bunker, but Nourish does not respond. Neuro punches in the code from her last stay with shaky hands, desperately hoping it still works. When it does, she flings herself in, glancing about. The bunker is stale and untouched - completely stocked. Nourish had fled early on in the collapse, seeking family elsewhere, and as Neuro had hoped, it doesn't look like she's returned yet.
First, Neuro strips down, tossing the soiled emergency outfit in the wash. Then, she seeks out the warmth and sanitation of a shower, enjoying the upgraded features of the customized bunker. A warm shower after two years! What bliss!
As she steps out of the shower, she recalls the box. Opening it, she is horrified.
Inside is a bottle of blue pills - meant for an outdated form of conception.
About the Creator
A Colorado native and secondary caregiver to her younger brother with special needs, Megan enjoys her adventures in World of Warcraft, various types of documentaries, and making homemade items for the critters and people in her life!