Olivia found herself falling in a featureless grey void. Usually she could just spread her wings, but they remained limp no matter how hard she tried to move them. She just fell and fell. A soft white glow appeared before her.
The falling sensation vanished. Without warning or impact, she found herself lying face first on a rough, brown stone floor. Where… She climbed to her feet and took in her surroundings. A short man with his back to Olivia stood between her and a solid stone table jutting out of the floor. Restraints of stone pinned a bizarre, scaly creature to it. It arched its body and let out a guttural scream that echoed on the walls. Eyes wide, she backed away slowly until her back hit something. A small gasp of surprise escaped her lips.
Before she could blink, the man whirled around and pinned her against the wall by the throat, too fast for her to see. He barked what sounded like a demand in a strange, incomprehensible language, though for a brief moment she thought she recognized his voice. She brought her foot back and kicked him in the stomach. The man didn’t flinch, instead pulling his arm back and slamming her against the wall for her troubles.
“How did you get in here?” he demanded, his voice low, deep, and calm. His dark brown eyes bore into her.
Olivia choked, prying at the man’s hand without success. Black, smoky tendrils formed in the air and circled her head. She jerked her head to the side as one probed at her temple. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the others shoot for her. No, no.
The man’s eyes glazed over. After a moment, he relaxed and smiled. “Ah. Appearances are deceiving. You are not truly human, are you girl?” He released his grip on her throat and stepped back.
Olivia scrambled back as she held her normal, clawless hand to her throat. Her back, not her wings, pressed against the unyielding stone wall behind her. She searched frantically for a way out.
Stone walls encircled the room, the bumps and crevices in them cast flickering shadows along their length. A glowing orb embedded in the ceiling filled the room with golden light. Olivia couldn’t find an exit of any kind, just stone. She slid along the wall, away from the man. He made no move to follow her, instead simply maintaining eye contact.
“You may call me Taauth,” he said, his low voice almost strong enough to shake the stone walls. The back of her mind screamed danger. I know that name. “Still afraid? Cautious? We may have a common enemy in this Overlord.”
Olivia froze. OK. Who is this guy? After a few seconds she found her voice and said, “You’re… you’re that guy in Iraq, right? The Islamic guy?” Why do you care?
“Ah, yes, you have heard of me. And no, I am not Muslim. Though the Muslims are… fascinating. Have you seen their Hajj, their pilgrimage?” he asked, his gaze growing distant.
Olivia shook her head. What does this have to do with anything?
His eyes returned their focus on her. “A pity. To see what the beliefs of men can bring… but no matter. We have something else to discuss.” He waved a hand, and two chairs of stone grew out of the floor opposite each other. “Come, sit.”
Olivia made no move towards the new chairs. No thank you. “What about that?” She glanced towards the scaly creature on the table in the center of the room. Its four thick limbs strained against the solid stone restraints.
Taauth displayed no such hesitation. “I believe they are called Siberians. One must know the enemy’s mind to defeat them, after all. This is mankind’s planet, not theirs,” he said as he reclined in a chair.
“What are you going-”
He cut her off. “Pay it no mind.” With another wave of his hand, the table and its occupant plunged into the floor. Another guttural howl from the Siberian was cut off by a sheet of stone materializing to cover up the new hole. Taauth looked at her expectantly.
What do I do? What do I do? She looked around the room again. No exits had materialized in the ten seconds since she’d checked last. He can help get rid of Overlord? She searched her memory. How did I get here? There were… Overlord robots. And drones. And a guy with an axe. Then something exploded. Why aren’t I in that parking lot then?
“How did I get here?” she asked, not moving from the wall.
“You are asleep. This is not the real world.”
“How do I know this is real?”
“Only my word and your own conclusions.” OK? This can’t be real, can it?
“And… you can help? Against Overlord?”
“I will. I saw your memories. I would not stand for such a man to rule.” Taauth cackled. “The machine man. He, along with everyone else, has forgotten. Forgotten the old gods, the old ways. He would have all humanity reduced to slaves. Even in my homeland he has tried to exert an iron grip on men.”
Well, he sounds like he’s telling the truth. Maybe this isn’t so bad. But this all seems… wrong. He’s a warlord. Why would he be nice? He had that alien thing restrained. It was thrashing and stuff.
“Then why haven’t you done anything? Like… looked into his mind like this or something.”
“Dreams are complex. There is a certain logic to their layout, though I do not know it. Finding a certain person in the quagmire is impossible, even in the old days. Now, with billions of people on the planet? No, attempting to find him here is futile.”
Hold on. Olivia’s eyes flickered over to where the alien had been. “What about that Siberian?”
“I did not choose that one specifically. But an alien’s mind is different from that of a human. They are distinct. I chose one to… study it. That principle may be why you are here. An untrained human’s wandering mind cannot enter here, but you are not truly human.” He extended his hand to the free chair. “You will not sit?”
It’s got a backrest. “No thank you.”
He sighed. “Very well.” It slid back into the floor without a trace. “You do not trust me?”
She shook her head. Why would I?
He grinned wide. “Wise. But you need me. With my guidance humanity’s potential is boundless. With Overlord it is doomed.”
That’s not right. Olivia’s hands opened. “Your guidance? What makes you so much better than Overlord? You’re a warlord yourself!”
Taauth leaned forward in his chair. “Because I can enact change, and because no one will stop me. Anyone could, but they do not. A man may accomplish anything if he commits himself fully to it. Few do. Very few. That Overlord is making an attempt to bring his own goals to fruition is admirable, even if his endgame is severely flawed. If I succeed in my goals, then I have succeeded. If not, then I have spurred change. I have spurred mankind to overcome me, to prove my vision wrong and set themselves on a better course than my own. In essence, I cannot lose.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“It amuses me to do so. And you will not remember anything I don’t want you to.”
Olivia’s eyes widened. No, no, not forgetting. She pushed herself off the wall and spread her feet in a stance that Ben had taught her. Taauth roared in laughter as he stood from his seat.
“Ha! You are no human. All your strength means nothing here. This is my dream, my mind.”
“I don’t care about Overlord. Let me go!” Olivia growled.
Tendrils of stone from peeled off the wall behind her and wrapped around her arms and legs. They yanked her back so more could pin her against the wall by her hips and shoulders. She struggled against them as Taauth sauntered over to her. Dark smoke appeared around her head. A threatening hiss escaped her lips.
“Then you may go in a moment. First there is something I’ve been meaning to do. And I must thank you. You provided the last piece of the puzzle. I had my suspicions.” He locked eyes with her. “Find the Persian, you will know him when you see him. Tell him the sands of Babylon remember. He will understand.”
The smoke shot forward. Her vision went blurry and a massive headache erupted in her skull.
Over the pounding in her head she heard Taauth say, “Oh, and I doubt we will see each other here again, though the future is uncertain and my work is just beginning. No matter. You may awaken now.” Her world went black.
Above Olivia, a voice spoke. The back of her mind screamed danger. Someone opened her eye. She snarled and shot forward, ready to fight. Her hand wrapped around a neck and threw its owner to the ground. Leave me alone! Around her, people shouted.
She froze. Her scaled hand wrapped around a choking Ben, pinning him to the floor. Chris ran up to her and tried to pull her off. He sounded like him. That guy. That… who?
“Olivia!” Chris shouted.
She released Ben, shot to her feet, and backed away. Oh no. What happened? Why’d I do that? Everyone in the lair shot her confused, fear tinged looks. Miya and an armored man were halfway out of their seats. Rob rushed to Ben’s side, next to the bean bag Olivia had been laying on. She’d had torn a ragged hole in it with her feet in her haste to get away from Ben.
I need to find him. Wait, what? What him? She shook her head and took a hesitant step forward. Ben gasped for air on the floor.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Is he OK?” she stammered. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” Stupid me. Stupid.
“The fuck was that?” said Rob.
Olivia shrank back. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“Easy,” Rob murmured to Ben. Miya rushed to his side. Olivia saw a flash of red as she touched Ben’s neck.
Ben’s breathing returned to normal. “I’m alive,” he said as he sat upright. He massaged his throat. “Gonna feel that in the mornin’. Also, what Rob said. The fuck was that?”
“I don’t know. I thought you were… I don’t know. I didn’t mean… I didn’t-”
“Calm down,” ordered Chris. He faced her and raised a placating hand. “What do you remember?” It’s OK. Calm. I’m calm. Don’t mess up again.
“Um, the robots. A light and an explosion. That’s it.”
I need to find him. She looked around the lair. Not here.
“Alright, take a seat. It’s OK,” said Chris. “You were just jumpy.”
“I’m sorry,” Olivia repeated.
“I believe ya. Jus’, ya know, don’ do that again, please,” said Ben.
Olivia let Chris guide her to her chair with the sawn off backrest beside Amanda. The whole lair settled into an uncomfortable silence. Rob helped Ben back to his feet.
I need to find him. Olivia let out a small hiss. Stop that.
“You OK?” asked Amanda.
Olivia shook her head. “No. I hurt Ben. And…” Something stopped her from continuing.
“And?” prompted Amanda.
“Nothing. Just… nothing.”
“OK. You had us scared there for a bit.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I overreacted. And… wait, when did Chris get back?”
“He got back when the rest of us pulled you and Ben out of the fire. Oh, and Purifier too.”
“Who?” Olivia sniffed. Someone else is in here.
“Him.” Amanda nodded towards the armored man. Olivia noted the enormous axe strapped to his back. Bad, bad. Amanda must have sense her discomfort. “Don’t worry about it. Ben is alright, and we’ll figure something out.” Olivia nodded and let the conversation die.
I need to find him. Olivia got up and headed for the back door.
“Where you goin’?” asked Rob as she passed.
“I… I don’t know,” she replied as she left.
“Something’s not right,” she heard Chris say before the door closed behind her.
She took flight, following the path she and Ben had taken earlier. She heard gunfire all throughout the city, broken up by the occasional siren. What looked like a military convoy burned in the streets. She gave the billowing smoke a wide berth. A car started behind her.
I need to find him. What is that? Stop it. She dropped onto a roof. Find who? He could be anyone. Why won’t this go away? She hissed and took a passing swipe at an air conditioning unit, leaving a series of long gouges in the metal. I need to find him.
Maybe… maybe this guy can make this stop. She took flight again. What else can I do? She sniffed the air as she approached a familiar apartment complex. A certain scent caught her attention, beneath the smell of smoke and oil. There. I remember. Make it stop. She followed the scent, past a ruined tank. Debris was scattered everywhere in the area. Make it stop.
The scent led her to more wreckage. In someone’s lawn, a squad of robots surrounded a kneeling Cyrus, with a few drones hovering with their spotlights overhead. Found him. She dove. Her wing took out a drone as she aimed for a bulkier robot that stood head and shoulders above the others.
The moment her wing made contact, the robots scattered in all directions and fired up at her. Two grabbed Cyrus and began dragging him away. She collided with the big robot on the sidewalk and slashed. It rolled with her, using her momentum to slam her into the ground with it on top.
She hissed, heedless of the bulk of the robot weighing down on her. She dug a hand into its metal casing and ripped a chunk free. The robot didn’t make a sound beyond the movement of its limbs. It rolled off of her and slammed its arm into her chest. The concrete below her cracked under the impact.
She snarled and hooked her claws into its arm as it pulled back. It pulled her upright, allowing her to get her feet back under her. She reached forward as the robot tried to escape and tore the arm off. Bullets bounced off of her.
Three normal sized robots dogpiled her, knives flashing. She lost her grip on the larger robot. Her tail snapped out, catching one and taking its leg off. She twisted, dislodging the one in front of her. The final one stabbed down towards her shoulder, the knife digging into the muscle between the shoulder and neck.
She roared in pain. The robot let go of the knife and jumped off her back. The dislodged one ran back to her. She slashed with her uninjured arm and carved a massive chunk out of its chest.
“Power nullifier!” shouted Cyrus, pointing at the large, receding robot she’d lost track of. Cyrus tackled the robot behind him and wrestled with it for its rifle.
She tore into the last robot, the one that had stabbed her. The remaining ones kept their distance, firing incessantly. Then, a massive gust of wind obliterated them. Olivia’s attention snapped to Cyrus.
He stood over a ruined robot and pulled a knife out of his leg. His wounds vanished before her eyes. I should say something.
“Are you… the… I don’t know. Arab guy?”
He stiffened and turned around to face her. “I’m Persian, not Arab. And what does-”
That’s the word. “Yes! I’m… I’m supposed to say something.” The sands of Babylon remember. “The… the sands… of… of Babylon remember.”
Cyrus’ head snapped back. “Repeat that.”
“The sands of Babylon remember. The sands remember. That’s all I know now make it stop!” she screamed.
Cyrus flew off without a word, leaving Olivia staring at empty space. She whirled around to catch a glimpse of him rocketing eastward, away from the mountains. No, no, no. That’s it? I found him.
Gunfire and familiar smells caught her attention. Uh oh. She spread her wings and flew towards it. Ben, and Miya exchanged fire with a group of robots across the street. They took cover behind Ben’s car, with three blown out tires. Chris, in liquid form, squared off with two others in the center of the street. Why were they following me? She tucked in her wings and dove as fast as possible towards them.
She spotted a group of battered and clawed robots approach the fight below her. One towered over the others, sparks shooting out of an empty arm socket. The moment it came within twenty feet, Ben collapsed, holding his head. Miya and her golem didn’t seem affected. But in the middle of the street, Chris snapped back to human form, off balance. Several robots shot him point blank.