The Top Bracket


Est. Contributor
  1. Diaper Lover
Chapter 1: Worlds Apart

CHEVRON: The Collection Teams are in position, the routes of transit are cleared, and the processing facilities are ready. I still don’t understand why you delay with clearance.

DOC-IN: Your expedience will be the death of us.

CHEVRON: Poetic. Would you mind elaborating?

DOC-IN: The fact that the planning committee ignored the logistical issues I raised doesn't change the fact that they exist. My department is still analyzing the data we’ve collected to filter out the duds. This current Sage generation is still in its latter phases, and the Breed generation has only just finished its development.

CHEVRON: I don’t see the problem, the Sage generation still won’t be required for some time, and the Breed generation will still have an edge over this Collection group. The only time of any value that’s lost is your department’s time for study; and I believe we've come to a point where we can skip that time sink for one generation. Your stalling is petty at best and childish at worst.

DOC-IN: The committee’s shortsightedness aside, it doesn't change the fact that the time spent studying the products of each successive generation is incredibly valuable. You have us to thank for the Sage and Breed generations in the first place, along with all those fancy toys I know you love to use.

CHEVRON: You still haven’t given a proper excuse why we can’t skip this generation and then resume proper procedure once our units have been reinforced. We've bled more than expected this cycle, and we need to refill our reserves sooner rather than later. Unless you want our next meeting with the committee to be a discussion of you insubordination, you’ll comply.

DOC-IN: I fully intend to comply with my department’s directive, but, as I've said before, we’re still weeding out those who won’t develop symptoms. I need more time.

CHEVRON: You have until noon, I can still call off the teams without drawing too much attention by then.

DOC-IN: Fine. Then if you excuse me, I have a lot of work to do.

* * *​


The loud beeping of the alarm jolted Jay awake, his heart throbbing in his ears. “Ah, dammit!” The teenager waved his hand in front of the clock to shut it up, flicking a switch in the back afterwards to keep the beeping from starting again. “Thought I tuned that thing to play music, almost gave me a heart attack.” Jay hopped out of bed and realized he had to concede that the alarm certainly got him out of his usual morning stupor faster than his routine radio station.

Deciding not to lose momentum, Jay got into the shower and used some of the time he didn't waste trying to get out of bed with a good soak in the warm water. It was there that he grimaced at the sight of his hair drooping just over his forehead, a meaning that his hair had reached a length where it was frustrating to handle. “Ugh, guess that means the mullet’s coming back too.” With a sigh, Jay got out of the shower and dried off. Then, after wiping away the condensation on the mirror, he inspected himself. As he guessed, even when it was wet, the hair on the back of his head started to curl around his neck. Leaving an appearance he found most unappealing.

“I wonder how it would like with another color…” Jay tried to imagine himself with dyed hair of different colors, but none of them worked. The problem was his eyes, pretty much the same shade of brown as his hair. It didn't go well with any other natural color. “The curse of my parents’ genes persists.” Jay mumbled with a snort as he went to his closet to get dressed.

A few minutes later, Jay left his bedroom and made it to the kitchen, finding his professionally dressed mother just finishing her coffee. “Good morning Jay.” She gave a warm smile before lifting her mug back to her lips.

“Morning.” Jay rubbed his mom’s shoulder as he passed her to get to the pantry. Grabbing a few prepackaged things, he then moved on to the refrigerator. “Did dad already leave for the day?”

“No, he wasn't feeling well last night, and I think he’s come down with a fever. He’ll be staying home today.” Finishing her coffee, Jay’s mother grabbed her purse and started to head for the door. “By the way, I have a hair appointment tonight. So please keep an eye on your father after school, okay? We have medicine here, but you know him, he always just gets a random craving for something.” The pair shared a chuckle before she continued. “Have a good day, Jay. Love you.”

“Love you too.” Jay smiled at his mom as she walked out the front door, then listened to her car start up with a low hum and drive away soon after. With a glass of orange juice and a relatively unhealthy, but satisfying, meal in front of him, Jay ate in silence. Going over what he had to finish for his classes today occupied his thoughts, with the emphasis being on his history class he knew he had an special lecture in. “Did I…” Jay spoke aloud to clear his thoughts, trying to focus on a particular. “…aw shit!” Quickly swallowing the remains of his breakfast, Jay jumped from his chair and bounded back down to his bedroom.

“I think I left it…” Jay rifled through the drawers in his nightstand and finally stopped his frantic searching on the top drawer. In it lay an electronic tablet, protected by a yellow case. “…ah, my Desk!” Jay flipped open the case and turned the device on, flicking though a few menus until he got to a saved document. “Crap, I knew I left that report half-done.” Jay frowned as he read through what he typed last night, before he was too tired to continue and left it unfinished. “That’s what happens when you decide to type a paper an hour before german” Jay looked up at the clock on his nightstand, only to sigh when he saw he didn't have enough time to finish the paper at home. “The class is after lunch,” Jay thought to himself, “if I skip it, which I’ll no doubt regret, I can finish it.”

Closing his Desk, Jay took the device with him after he tied his shoes on. Aware of his sleeping father, Jay tried to move quietly back down the hallway and into the garage. Getting into his car, Jay put his electronic tablet in the passenger seat. Buckled in, with the engine whirring and ready to go, Jay reversed down the driveway into the street, determined to get to school on time.

* * *​

“Ark….Ark….It’s time to wake up, Ark.” A gentle tugging pulled Ark awake, the boy moaned loudly as he tried to keep his eyes shut.

“No, lemme sleep.” Ark could feel his covers being pulled off. He knew he was fighting a losing battle. “Just five more minutes!” The cold air quickly chilled the boy without the protection of his covers. By reflex, he curled up in a ball to stay warm. However, his nose soon found an offending stench coming from his soggy diaper, making him unfurl.

“I’m sorry, Ark, but you have to get up.” The soft voice pleaded with the boy as the covers continued to be pulled down. “A Custodian will be here soon, you need to get changed before you can go to class.”

Ark rolled over in his bed, finally opening his eyes. Near the end of his bed he saw short, plush teddy bear walking down the edge of the frame, the covers tightly clutched in one of its paws. It was Ark’s personal Pet. Robert, trying to coax him out of his slumber. “I don’t wanna go to class, it’s just a review! Why can’t I just sleep in for today?”

Robert wagged his open paw at the boy. “If I let you skip one day, you’ll want to skip them all.” A soft chime echoed about the room as Robert turned to the door. “Ah, a Custodian.” The bear waddled over to the door and pressed a button, causing the door to slide open.

Outside, there stood a robot, with the figure of a human, but obviously mechanical. Aside from a few glossy plates that tried to give a more human appearance, bound tubing and wires were exposed on its arms and legs. “Good. Morning. Student. Ark.” The robot spoke through a few holes on its otherwise blank face-plate, lacking the soft and human-like voice of Robert. “This. Unit. Will. Now. Change. You.” The robot approached the end of Ark’s bed and pressed its hand on a large box that stood there. After emitting a whirring sound, the top of the box slid away and a shelf inside rose up, revealing a clean, folded diaper, powder, and lotion.

Ark followed the standard procedure and just laid flat on his bed, letting the robot do all the work. Once the Custodian started with untaping his dirty diaper, he looked over to see that Robert returned to his bedside. “Would you like to hold me?” The bear asked, arms open.

Ark giggled as he grabbed one of Robert’s arms and pulled him up on the bed, cradling him on his side. “Okay, so I got a class, what else do I gotta do today?”

“I assume you want to eat before class, so I recommend heading for the cafeteria once you’re ready. After your session, you have the rest of the day to yourself, though I have received a message from Tamara. She says Sanna-“

“Your. Change. Is. Complete.” Ark looked down to see that the Custodian had finished its job, his soiled diaper now falling down a hole on the side of the box the changing supplies had come from. “What. Outfit. Do. You. Require?”

Ark rolled his eyes as he let Robert back on the floor. “Just a plain shirt….socks too.” No matter how many times he told them, the robots were too simplistic to remember, even when he orders the same thing every day. He didn’t care about wearing something flashy, and pants were just too inefficient, having to be taken off every time Ark needed a change.

Regardless, the Custodian had a valid request, so it nodded as it pressed its hand against the box again, causing another shelf to rise with the requested clothes. The robot then started to grab the clothes, with the intent of putting them on the boy.

“I can do it myself.” Ark stopped the Custodian before it started. He walked over to the box, taking off his shirt and throwing it down the same hole his diaper went down. Then, he put on the new shirt and pulled up the socks. Once he was done, he put up his arms to display himself to the robot. “See? Done.”

The Custodian’s head lifted up, then down, as if it was scanning him. “You. Are. Now. Dressed. Goodbye.” The robot let itself out of the room, the door sliding closed behind him.

“These drones sometimes…” Ark sighed as he walked over to his shoes, sitting where he left them yesterday. “…I wish you were bigger, you could do that yourself. Oh, that reminds me, what did Sanna want?”

“Sanna wanted to see you today. She says she would be in the cafeteria until 8:30.”

Ark paused, one foot still out of his sneaker. “And what time is it now?”

Robert tilted his head as he seemed to be finding that out at that very moment. “8:16 AM.”

“Oh, come on!” Ark shoved his remaining foot into his shoe and velcroed it tight, leaping to his feet when he was done. “Why didn't you get me up sooner?!” As Ark neared the door, already opening for him, he looked back at Robert.

The plush bear simply looked up at him expectantly, his little arms raised. “Aren't you going to take me with you?”

Ark sighed as he took a few long steps and picked up the bear, holding him under his arm. Now with everything he needed, Ark left his sterile room, the door sliding shut behind him.

The hallway outside was spotless, the white floor cleanly reflecting the light that came from the glowing tiles on the ceiling. The passageway itself was rather quiet at this time, since everyone else was either still asleep or had already started their day. Only Custodians used it now, walking at a brisk pace to some task they had to complete. Ark brushed past them all, weaving between them like it was a game.

Soon, he reached the cafeteria, a good sized room lined with a couple long rows of tables. Sitting at the tables, or waiting in the short line for food, were kids all about Ark’s age. Most of them had brought their Pets, little plush animals that helped the kids in their activities. It didn't take long for Ark to find Sanna, sitting alone with her Pet, Tamara, sitting on the table. Tamara was the same teddy bear model as Robert, but had two shades of red for fur instead of Robert’s light brown; Sanna had also accessorized her with a yellow bow. “Hey!” Ark called out to Sanna as he approached, taking her attention away from a clear glass device she was tapping her fingers on.

“Well, it’s about time!” Sanna smiled to give away her sarcasm, pocketing the device she was holding into her purple jumpsuit. “I already ate, but I can wait for you to grab something.”

Ark nodded as he left Robert on the table, wanting to get his hands free. The bear responded with a slight moan, sulking at his place on the cool, metallic surface.

Luckily, the line for food had thinned, and Ark was able to quickly get on the black tile in front of the dispenser. The boy then put his hand on another black tile, on the wall next to the dispenser. “Student: Ark, 4’ 9”, 103 lbs. Menu override, dispensing recommended meal…” Ark frowned as he found out he wasn't able to pick what he wanted. The frown then deepened to a grimace as he saw that his meal was a simple bowl of cereal already swimming in milk.

Ark picked up his tray and walked back over to Sanna and Robert, letting gravity drop the tray on the table. “Ugh, what’s with the dispenser? It didn't even give me a false choice before toting out this…gunk.” Ark emphasized this by scooping the cereal out with his spoon, then letting it slowly drain back into the bowl by tipping the spoon to the side. “I know I’m in the minority, but I like it dry.”

Sanna smiled as she pushed the bowl closer to Ark on his tray. “You should still eat up. From what I gather, they’re going to start another round of evaluations soon.”

Ark coughed as he listened to Sanna while eating. “W-what? Didn't we already do this? I thought the whole point of the evaluations was to categorize us for specializations.” Ark gestured he spoon at himself. “I’m a Coordinator…” He then turned the spoon towards Sanna. “…and you’re an Engineer. We already went through this!” Ark groaned as he continued eating his cold, damp cereal. “What’s left to evaluate? I thought our work spoke for itself.”

Sanna seemed a bit perplexed at what Ark had said. “They might think that some people aren't in the right classes.” Blushing, Sanna leaned in so only Ark could hear. “Don’t you remember, after our first evaluation, when I was a Biospec?”

Ark shook his head as he gulped down another spoonful. “Yeah, but it was obvious to everyone you didn't belong there. I mean, you knew your stuff, but anyone can see that you’re better with a spanner than a test tube.” Ark looked around at the various other kids, conversing and eating their meals. He could tell at a glance what their general field was, mainly with how they acted in social circles and how they dressed. Identifying these relatively minor details and extrapolating their meaning was what contributed to his classification as a Coordinator, a thinker orientated to logistical planning.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we've all settled into our classes now. By the way…” Ark flicked a finger out at Sanna and waved it in front of her. “…what’s with the jumpsuit? What happened to the frilly skirt thing?”

The girl giggled as she leaned back in her chair. “I can’t wear that in the workshop, it gets caught on too many things. Speaking of…” Sanna smiled as she brought out the device she was messing with earlier and got a picture to appear on the glass. “…take a look; I managed to finally get it working. At least…somewhat.” Ark looked at the projected image, seeing what looked like pieces of armor, held together by a tight suit and external riggings connecting each piece to another. Sitting on a mannequin, the armored parts were the feet, knees, forearms, and a chest plate that stretched over the shoulders and down to the waist. Along with the suit, on the head of the mannequin was what looked like a crown. A wide band that wrapped around the forehead and two plates that folded over the ears.

“Ah, you got the Exosuit working?” Ark grabbed the device and took a closer look. “I still think you should split the functionality. The NERVE Connection can be put to better use as a direct, wireless interface with other autonomous machines, rather than assisting in controlling the suit itself.”

“Perhaps, but without the connection telling the servos to move with the body, only people incredibly strong can actually use it. Kind of defeats the purpose, don’t ya think?” Sanna took the device back and flicked the picture within aside, giving it back to Ark with a new picture to show. It appeared to be schematics of the Exosuit, in a blueprint form. “I was thinking, if I could have the motors react to the wearer’s movement by themselves, then I might be able to put in your idea.”

“So, you need help developing reactive movement.” Ark mumbled aloud as he finally finished his terrible breakfast. “Even then, there would be such a delay the suit would probably be more of a hindrance than a boon.” The boy rested his head on an arm as he pondered possible solutions to the problem. However, he couldn't think of any at that moment.“Well, I’m done for the day after a morning class. Why don’t I come over and help you on it? Design does fall into my field…sort of.” Ark smirked as he pushed his tray to the side, wanting to forget the bland meal ever happened.

Sanna snickered as she picked Tamara off the table. “Sure, I’ll be in the workshop for the rest of the day. Just have Robert send Tamara a message when you’re coming by and I’ll let you in.”

Ark nodded as he watched Sanna leave, only for his attention to be drawn to Robert after feeling a gentle prodding on his shoulder. “Your class is starting soon, Ark. We should leave.” Ark nodded, again, lifting Robert up to sit on his shoulders while he left the cafeteria and headed towards his classroom.


Est. Contributor
  1. Adult Baby
  2. Diaper Lover
I like it so far. Still has quite a bit more updates before we can really wrap our heads around it, but that's the way a story like this should be, IMO. It reminds me a bit of The Island.


Est. Contributor
  1. Diaper Lover
Chapter 2: Lessons from the Past​
DOC-IN: The final analysis is complete; I’m having the main computer transmit the findings to your command station. As per standard procedure, I’ve also included a list of subjects I would like an update on once they’ve been submitted to processing.

CHEVRON: Hold on, I’m getting the list now…

CHEVRON: Hmm, your list certainly shorter this time around, is devoid of the usual catalog of anomalies. What do you think is so special about these two? They both look like the standard templates we’ve been getting for a few generations now.

DOC-IN: Yes, at a glance, but if you know what you’re looking for, there are deviations. The Sages I’ve tasked to simulate and determine what the differences would result in have come up with several possibilities, but more data is required for a more definite prediction.

CHEVRON: Is there something we should expect? Should I warn the Collection Teams?

DOC-IN: No, the Sages haven’t shown a result that would end with symptoms developing on their own, at least not in the immediate future. Though precautions should be taken when they are being processed, as it’s possible we won’t know what symptoms will develop when they do.

CHEVRON: Just what we need, a wild card…

DOC-IN: Don’t be dismissive of them yet, our “need for a magic bullet” was one of your key points when you had the committee overrule me. I might have just found it.

* * *​

After his first few periods were sacrificed in order for him to complete his paper, Jay felt satisfied by his work. Just in time for his favorite and last class, history. More importantly, the class finally reached a subject of great interest: the Seed War.

As his fellow classmates filed into the classroom, Jay kept himself busy by doodling a few drawings on his Desk with a stylus. He accidently let it capture his full attention, as he didn’t even notice that the presentation was starting until the lights had dimmed. After dimming the light from his Desk so the glare wouldn’t disturb anyone, Jay looked to the projection screen at the front of the class.

The first thing that appeared was a shot of the night sky, the color resolution making it appear that it was recorded around 1960. The dark sky was filled with bright streaks of light flying over the horizon. “It all began with a sky full of falling stars…” The narrator began his rather poetic introduction with a solemn voice. “…the people of the world, whether they were asleep or going about their daily business, looked up to the sky on January 15, 1956, to see hundreds of unidentified objects smashing through Earth’s atmosphere.” A new movie was on the screen, now showing several of the streaks crashing into the ground with the force of bombs. “As these objects fell from the sky, it was discovered that a menacing threat was hidden within.”

A new scene appeared, this one showing an impact crater. Inside, where one would expect to find a rock or maybe nothing at all, was a strange blob. It was spread across the bottom of the crater, and appeared to be boiling. “They were Seeds, masses of alien cells that possessed an incredible ability…” As the cameraman approached one of the bubbles on the blob’s surface, it popped, and from within, a strange, rat-like creature emerged. The camera fell to the ground, and only a struggling leg near the edge of the frame hinted at the victim’s fate. “…they were able to ‘bud’ strange creatures from their mass at an unbelievable rate.” The film then started to play a montage of events. Suburban dwellings being covered in the mass, cows and other animals stuck in place with their legs becoming part of the blob. It also showed the mass continuing to produce more creatures, now much larger and not even resembling terrestrial animals anymore. “The Seeds’ ability to replicate and spread with nothing able to stop them displayed a grave threat to the entire world.” The montage continued, showing military deployments fighting the Seeds and the horrors they produced. Jay noticed a rather interesting scene of the collection, one of a man wielding a flamethrower against the mass. “While the armies of the various governments of the world were able to find some success in combating the alien threat, the Seeds were too many and too widespread to successfully contain. Matters were only made worse by when the Seeds infected humans, giving rise to the Afflicted menace.” Images of creatures in a humanoid shape, but horrifically disfigured. They displayed capabilities appearing to vary from individual to individual, some scenes showed large, bulky figures that shambled like zombies; others showed more slender frames, moving faster than any normal human could. Later still images shown gave the impression that the Afflicted became the tangible face of the alien threat, with propaganda posters showing “What to do when you encounter an Afflicted!”, and a grotesque image of a melted human face with the caption: “Save your children from the Affliction, support our troops!”

“With their backs against the wall, the former rival superpowers of the United States of America, and the Soviet Union allied their respective power blocs, along with the neutral, UN-affiliated, nations to form the United Coalition of Nations. Reorganizing their militaries into a unified command structure gave humanity a fighting chance.” Scenes of a military pushback were shown. Entire fields of the alien mass bombed from above, the creatures it spawned being cut down by machine gun fire, and pictures of black, burnt pieces of the blobs being hacked away for probably scientific reasons.

“Then, just as the tide seemed to turn in their favor, the Hives descended from behind the moon.” The scene with the narration showed a massive ship lowering itself into New York City. It looked like an inverted spire, where the sharp bottom thickened all the way to a rounded top, with large boils bulging all over. “There were four of them. One landed in New York City, two more in the heartland of Russia and Australia, and the last one landed on the geographic center of Africa.” The video showed aerial footage of ground zero, where the “Hive” that landed in New York City touched down. At its base, there appeared to be the same blob of flesh as the Seeds produced, but it grew at a rate fast enough to be easily observed. “Within days, the Growth the Hives produced was able to defeat all attempts the Coalition made to destroy it. The creatures it spawned were able to smash through any hastily-made blockade. With little hope of destroying the Hives, the armies fell back. It was only thanks to the miraculous work of Dr. Karikoff and his team of engineers that total disaster was averted. ”

The next thing Jay saw was what looked like text footage, with a man, definitely past his prime, standing beside a mammoth-sized metallic, armored quadruped. The armor looked kind of like a solid brick on legs, bristling with guns of many sizes all over the frame. “With sudden inspiration, the doctor made historic leaps in several scientific fields, making it possible for the invention of the ‘Titan’, which fielded weaponry now tank could conceivably carry. Now able to wield the firepower of battalions while just putting a couple of soldiers in practically invulnerable bricks of metal, the Coalition was able to fight the alien spawn to a standstill.” The footage shifted to battlefield montages again, this time exclusively showing the Titan fighting the aliens, clearing swathes of them with a single barrage.

“With human firepower now able to match the aliens’ strength and reproduction rate, the Coalition began Operation: Steel Wall, creating the boundaries of the modern-day Quarantine Zones.” The accompanying images began with a map of the globe, four red dots showing the location of each of the hives. Then, around the dots, a pink circle stretched about 100 kilometers beyond the dot, if the map was to be believed. The dot in Africa was different, however, its circle extending to over 200 kilometers.

A montage following showed a massive construction effort, the quality of the images getting progressively better, along with the construction getting larger and larger. “In an attempt to contain the spread of the alien masses, walls were erected, with the goal to prevent contamination outside their perimeters. Concurrently, the Coalition would lead deployments into the Quarantine Zones to eat away at the Growth.” The montage ended with the sight of a gigantic wall, at least fifty-feet high, moving to the sight of a bunch of old men sitting around a large table. “Unfortunately, with the direct threat to humanity’s existence held in check, the political chafing within the Coalition grew into full blown turmoil.”

* * *​

“The Soviet and NATO alliance had been in behind-closed-door arguments starting around the time the Quarantine Zones’ borders were secure. When the walls were finished, a breakdown was inevitable.” The voice coming off the screen echoed across the small quarters of Ark’s classroom. Continuing the same monotone drone that had bored the boy ever since the lecture started, Ark only kept himself awake by analyzing the tactics used in the Seed War on the desk he sat cross-legged under. However, the “teacher” had moved onto the politics, the most boring part of the subject.

“While both had exhausted most of their former military might during the war, the political maneuvering afterward resulted in NATO “liberating” most of the former Eastern Bloc nations, while Russia plunged deep into the weakened Arabic nations. Meanwhile, seeing the threat of both encroaching powers, the newly independent nations of the Southeast Asia gathered around China to form the Pan-Asian Union. These three powers continue to exist today, in a new Cold War scenario. Can anyone tell me what the key factors that maintain this tense balance are?”

By reflex, Ark jabbed his stylus at the “answer” button on his desk. Apparently, he was the fastest, as his desk flashed green, signaling he was to answer. “Each power bloc boasts a feature that gives it a trump card if fighting was to ever break out: the PAU has numbers, with a population in the billions; the Soviets have materials, with their bloc extending to mineral-rich areas; and the NATO alliance has the most advanced technology, with all the advantages that brings. Also, the relative instability of the African Quarantine Zone makes each of the blocs weary of risking their safety in what is likely to be a fruitless war.”

A pleasant chime came from the screen at the front of the class to confirm Ark’s answer as correct. The program then continued, showing a map of the world with large red circles highlighting the Quarantine Zones. “With the Coalition practically broken, each nation burdened with the massive perimeter of a Zone to guard had to find a new way to maintain the quarantine. The Sydney Agreement made Australia a member of the Pan-Asian Union, with the condition that the PAU provide the forces required to maintain their Zone. Russia, formerly the ‘strong-arm’ of the Coalition, was able to keep their own Zone in check with their own military forces. Contrasted by the United States’ approach, for while it was possible for them to maintain their zone with purely their own forces, the government decided instead to fund a private conglomerate to provide security for the Zone. A controversial decision, though it allowed the United States to apply their power abroad, giving NATO an immediate, stronger stance on the world stage. As for the African Quarantine Zone, the individual nations on the Zone’s border maintain their own section, with token support given by the major powers. This has led to some sections of their perimeter to fall into disrepair, though the quarantine remains unbroken.”

The rest of the lecture started to fade into the background as Ark paid more attention to the information he was pulling up on his desk. The logistics of building the Quarantine Walls, the financial collapse at the start of the Seed War and eventual boom during reconstruction, fresh topics along these lines intrigued Ark far more than a rehashed lecture he had probably heard more than a few times already.

Eventually, a loud chime echoed around the room, halting Ark’s studies. He had successfully kept himself from being bored stiff during the lecture, and was finally free to go. He followed the rest of the students out the door, but quickly broke off from the group once out in the open hallway. “Finally, thought that class would never end.” Ark spoke aloud as he brought Robert up from under his arm. “Ok, send a message to Tamara, have her tell Sanna I’m on my way. Maybe she can give us temporary clearance before we have to wait outside for half an hour.?” Ark flashed between a grimace and a jesting smile as he continued down the hallway, but stopped when he felt Robert tapping on his forearm.

“I’ve sent the message. However, shouldn’t to get a change first?” The bear gestured down to Ark’s diaper, which had become yellow and saggy after absorbing the remnants of breakfast.

Ark frowned as he changed course, heading for a changing room. “I guess I should get a jumpsuit too. Man, those things are really uncomfortable.”

Robert nodded as he moved around a bit in Ark’s grasp to look up at the boy. “Sacrifices must be made for safety, Ark.”

* * *​

The loud beeping from the intercom signaled the end of the class, and unfortunately cut the presentation short. Jay couldn’t really complain though, he had filled his Desk with pages of notes and was glad to give his typing hand a break. After packing up his stuff, Jay rushed to the parking lot so he could beat the traffic out of the school.

Luckily, he was quick enough to drive out of the mess just as the streets started to clog up, and was free to drive through the suburbs to make his way home. Eventually, he came to a road that stretched through a tract of undeveloped land that lay between his school and his house. While not having much to look at, the road did cut his drive in half, so Jay used it frequently. However, just as he was starting to near the other side, his engine died. “Ah, what the hell?”

Pulling over to the side of the road, Jay inspected his emergency console. “What?! I’m out of juice? I just charged the damn thing last night!” Jay continued to utter his opinions on the state of his car as he popped the hood see if the battery shorted. However, from what he could tell, the battery looked fine, and Jay didn’t know enough about cars to see if something else broke. “Uh…I’ll probably just break something else if I poke around.” Taking out his cell phone, Jay was about to call his dad to come and have him take a look, when he saw a truck coming down the road.

“Hey, over here!” Jay flagged the truck down and the driver, a weary but otherwise pleasant-looking man, got out.

“What’s the problem?” The man automatically moved towards the popped hood, already poking and prodding the stuff inside before Jay even said anything.

“Uh, I dunno, I was just driving along and the engine died. The console says it’s low power, but I just charged the thing.”

The driver just kept nodding as Jay spoke, finally shutting the lid after a few minutes of silence. “I think your battery’s on its last legs, can’t really hold a charge anymore. You should get it replaced.” The man paused as he looked at his van, then back to Jay. “I’ve got enough power to spare, at least enough to get you home. You got a transfer cable?”

Jay’s face brightened as he saw a chance to not get stuck in the middle of a field. “I sure do!”

The man nodded, “Well, you get it and I’ll pull up closer so you can hook us up.”

Jay nodded as the two parted for the moment. Moving over to his trunk, Jay opened it to discover that it was filled with collected trash from years gone by. “Ugh, when’s the last time I cleaned this thing?” As he sifted through the boxes and miscellaneous items, Jay could hear the sound of the van’s motor humming and pulling alongside, just in time for the boy to find the cable buried in the back of the trunk. “Finally, here it-!”

Suddenly, Jay was seized from behind and pulled out of the trunk, his head banging against the top on the way out. In a daze, Jay tried to struggle but found a cloth pressed tight against his face. One whiff of the strange-smelling substance that dampened the rag and he was out like a light.