Kyle awoke with a start and sat up on the slab of concrete that served as his bed, gasping for breath. Already the dream he had was beginning to fade, but parts of it stood out in his mind like like a man amongst Masked.
He was no stranger to dreams that would leave the blood of most people running cold in their veins, but this was different. Most of his night frights were images of terrible battles, torturous experiments, and the horrors of the street life; scenes from Ollie's life that Kyle was, by now, used to seeing.
You see, the scientists who designed the Masks hadn't even realized their full potential. Only after Ollie, Kyle, and the rest of his original gang, the Renegades, took over the project did the Masks truly become formidable. Ollie realized that with a few minor modifications to the Masks, they would have the ability to interface with other Masks and effectively 'learn' everything they knew,
Of course, this effectively destroyed the other Mask, and once a child was fitted with a Mask, they couldn't live without it, so doing this would kill the owner of the Mask, something Ollie wouldn't condone. But they could harvest the knowledge of their fallen comrades, and thus honour their memory by not letting what they learned go to waste.
Kyle, as Ollie's brother, had received his Mask after his assassination, and was thus the most suited to lead the Masked Alliance in place of his brother, but Kyle's qualifications ended there. He may have had the knowledge and experience to lead, but he didn't have the courage or the conviction to do it, and because of this, the Masked Alliance split into the numerous warring factions there were at present day.
This was something that wracked Kyle with guilt even now as he reluctantly commanded the New Renegades, resplendent in their pristine red masks, and even though he had memories of some pretty terrible things swirling around in his head, this incident was the only one that actually phased him when he dreamt it.
What had this dream meant? It was vivid, even more so than the dreams he experienced that were actual memories from his brother's life. And he knew it wasn't from his brother because for once, he was in the dream, it was from his point of view. Except that the Kyle in his dream was not the Kyle he knew himself to be. He was confident, whereas Kyle was not. He strode about with purpose in his step, Kyle stumbled along as if expecting life would just catch him if he fell. His subordinates couldn't know it, but Kyle had absolutely zero confidence in his own abilities.
But they had one thing in common; neither of them knew what the hell the old woman was there for, although dream him did have the advantage of remembering everything that was said. Kyle's memories of the scene were already fading; all he could remember, apart from the woman's face, was something about 'fat man', and a doll flying through the air. 'Fat man' was the codename for a nuclear weapon, that much he knew, but what of the doll? And the building they were in, was that the facility the Masks had come from?
"Sir, we've retrieved some new Masks."
The voice came from the makeshift doorway of Kyle's bedroom, and it caused Kyle to jump nearly out of his skin, snapping him from his mental reverie abruptly.
"Very well, I'll be out in a minute.... um...?"
"Ian, sir," said Ian, looking a little worried as he stood at attention.
"Right, Ian. Tell them I'm on my way."
"Yes, sir!" Ian loudly replied, and then he left the room.
Kyle sighed. He'd forgotten Ian's name at least twice in the last month. It was one of the first signs a Masked was getting old, forgetting things like that, and it worried him. He was fourteen now; for a Masked, that was pretty old.
A side effect of the enhancement the Masks gave them, one they hadn't been able to fix, was that after taking in a certain amount of information, other information would begin to corrupt. After awhile and enough information gathered, even just from daily life, there would be enough in the synthetic brain that it would begin to pour forth into the real brain, and suddenly the parts that were supposed to control things like breathing and heart rate were being used instead to store knowledge. As simply as that, the Masked would just stop breathing, or stop beating their heart, and they would die.
Which was all well and good, because the Masked didn't normally trust anyone over the age of fifteen anyway. Back in the days before the Masks, children reaching a certain age would simply be killed, if they were lucky, otherwise they'd be driven out into the streets to die in a matter of days.
Kyle didn't particularly want to die.
He slipped on a kevlar vest, a scratchy grey long-sleeved tee over top of it, and a billowy pair of synthetic denim jeans that doubled as light armour. Then he grabbed his boots, slid the decorative piece of his mask under his arm, and left the room.
No one else in the compound would get away with walking around in stocking feet and without their signature red mask on, leaving the components of their enhancement open to see, but being in command, though not Kyle's idea of a good time, definitely had some advantages.
Kyle slouched into the command room, ignoring the salutes he received, and plopped down onto a chair where he began to slide his boots on.
"What have we got?" he said, though he didn't look at any of the red-masked faces in the room in particular.
"Anything Frederic doesn't know yet?"
"Give it to Donovan, then. What else?"
This was somewhat of a common occurence for the Masked, passing out the Masks of the dead so that the living can learn more. They had a replicator that could copy the information and make it available to everyone, but most skills didn't warrant everyone knowing them, and stuffing everyone full of useless information was a good way to fry all of their brains even earlier than normal. So the commander decided who got what, and there were specialists in most fields who typically received all of the knowledge pertaining to them.
"Something called 'Judo'. I believe it's a martial art, sir."
"Replicate it, distribute it to everyone."
"Understood. Weather patterns, sir?"
"Sell it to the Merchants. We don't need it."
"We're at war with the Merchants though, sir!"
"They don't let fighting get in the way of business. Sell it to them. We could use the money."
"All right, sir, will do. There's one more, sir... pretty standard, sir, except that, well... he was in love."
Even though none of their faces could be seen, it was easy to tell by the change in body language that everyone in the room was uncomfortable with this development. Kyle seemed to be the only one unphased, though he did look like he was deep in thought.
"Destroy it," came a new voice.
Kyle looked in its direction, almost as if he was going to disagree, but then he slipped his own Mask onto his face and stood. No one else moved.
"You heard him, destroy it," confirmed Kyle, and once more the room became a flurry of activity.
The new voice was Kyle's second in command, Xander. Normally it was the commander's sole discretion what to do with Masks they had salvaged from fallen comrades and from enemies, but Xander had been stepping out of line more and more often lately. Kyle had no doubt in his mind that if given the chance, Xander would betray him and try to take his position, but they couldn't afford to lose anyone, let alone him, one of their best soldiers.
"Lisa, how's she holding out?"
"The Skullboys' mininuke wiped out a generator and a water purifier, and the lead doors we're using to contain the radiation won't last much longer. We've got to move within the next few days or so, sir."
Beneath his mask, Kyle grimaced. This old bomb shelter had served the New Renegades well for years, and he wasn't keen on leaving it, but Lisa knew what she was talking about. He wouldn't put anyone's life at risk because he resented being pushed out of his home by some punks who managed to get their hands on a nuclear device.
It was unusual that the Skullboys had any interest in New Renegade territory in the first place; or it would have been, if they weren't the New Renegades. Any gang they weren't directly allied with always seemed to want a piece of them. In circles more loyal to Ollie Stone's values, the New Renegades were worthy of respect if nothing else, but the new-age gangs, concerned only with their own personal affairs, would do whatever they could to discredit Kyle and his ilk.
"All right, Lisa. Let everyone know we're moving out."
"But where are we going, sir?"
"We're going back to where it all began."
"P-pardon me, sir?
"The Bio-Tek building."
Kyle ignored the borderline insubordination. It was a valid question. Did he even know the answer? "Just trust me."
This didn't quite seem to convince her. "We'd have to go through Merchant and Westville territory just to get there! And even if we made it... Th-that's Fallen Angel turf, sir!"
A scene from the dream with the old woman flashed through his mind once more.
"Not for long."