The Stranger With The Broken Face

        Kyle was already exhausted when he entered the bunker seeking rest, and a refuge from a hand-me-down political mantle. He entered in a graceful, silent manner, and then slammed the door with cold abruptness. He had the blood-shot attention of everyone in the hall except one.
        An old woman, who he'd never seen before. The left half of her face was a pale, ageless mask of a skin-tone much more lively than her wrinkled and craggy skin. She was knitting with strips of ragged synth-fiber, callous hands and sharp, pristine nails.
        With a commanding confidence, Kyle approached and stood before the stranger who sat among the orphans, as if she was their nanny. However, he found an uncontrollable jerk in his left knee, for it had been years since Kyle had seen anyone alive over the age of thirty-seven. After a while, they became weak to the plagues.
        One eye looked up at him, electric blue with clear whites. The other, green and tired, sagged its gaze intently on the strands and needles. Half-masked, it was an ugly, lopsided face; which wasn't outside of the ordinary in the Dead World. It was split unevenly, as if it were the broken face of a China doll, thrust in to torture the old woman.
        Finally, the needles stopped and the green eye, the real eye, met his gaze.
        "Who are you, and what are you?"
        "My answers would but give you more questions to ask, Master Ky."
        "Who let you into this facility?" he demanded.
        "I flashed my card, as I always have. The metal doors open for me. This is, after all, my facility."
        "Show me!"
        Calmly, the old woman tapped at the lanyard around her neck, from which hung a well-worn white swipe-card. Kyle read her rank: Corporate Executive.
        "Your first mistake, boy," she spoke sternly, "was assuming your brother was the first of his kind. . . Oliver Stone was merely the first of the common breed." She only had half a nose, bent against the prosthetics and the ambient flash of an olfactory sensor. She was less human than any orphan in the fortress, that's for sure.
        "Why do you seek shelter here? We have not seen or accessed traces of the former inhabitants of this structure in seven years."
        She coughed, a wheezing rasp that grated Kyle nerves, "Tonight, the fat man falls once more."
        Kyle recognized the ancient code name instantly, and felt the walls close in around him. He stiffened, and left the old woman to her knitting, yelling, "Seal off the bunker, now!"

*               *               *

        Loyal young women and men responded, sounding the alarm and rushing people further into the stronghold. And in the hustle of the crowd, the old woman approached Kyle from behind and rested one hand upon his tense shoulder, "You and your troops need to awaken to your full potential if you intend to pull out of here. This bunker won't last a standard modern siege for more than a week."
        "Stop speaking in riddles, hag."
        "Evolution left a few tricks up your sleeve that you don't know about, kid. Things those scientists didn't intend to awaken," she told him, as she reached out with her other hand, into the crowd.
        A headless teddy bear that had been discarded in the panic flew off the grated floor and into her ancient grip. With her thumb, she pushed in the cotton that bled out from its neck.
        Kyle turned slowly, in silence, gaping. Again, he met her unmatching eyes with his own, and knew that from that moment onward, the fight for survival in Dead World would be a lot more interesting.
        "I can teach you to bend the radiation to your will. I can teach you to clean the world, and clean yourself." The old woman paused to cough again. "But in doing so, I am also giving you the building blocks to pave a road to destruction far worse than the atomics soaring towards us right now."
        Kyle's mind was already projecting lessons, passing it on to a chosen few who would be responsible for teaching others.
        "So I, CEO Agatha Kimunori, offer you a pact. What I teach you, you pass to the righteous and use for good."
        Silence hung between them like an old hunter's trap. Kyle did not know what to say, as they both walked into the depths of the bunker with the last of the orphans to come in from the cold streets. Good and evil are labels of the judgmental. We are neither, we simply are. Will she understand that?

The End

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