oshua kneeled down and felt the mud under his hands swarming with beetles. He scratched his magnetic wristwatch with nervousness.

The guardians still patrolled in the middle zone. The guardian-drones looked like small satellites moving in loops, not allowing for the slightest shift in their pace or orbit.

He gazed aloft at the intergalactic railway system and couldn't help but admire the beauty of it. The night sky dome was arched by the divergence of light beams coming from the circulating sky trains.

But the sky is no longer of importance to me, Joshua thought and turned his look back to the guardian bots. He took a deep breath and released a lungful of humid air onto the acidic droplets ahead. Hidden canisters in the grass sprayed acid in thin jets across the garden path. Acid, Joshua thought, still standing behind the soggy oak tree. So silent, so lethal! A deadly trap but an ideal fence for separating the world of the flower children from the human one.

The main garden path was definitely not an option. The guardian bots were heavily armed and particularly sensitive in detecting motion. On top of that, Joshua would have to perform very delicate maneuvers to avoid coordinated jets from the acid turrets along his way.

He stood in his hideout, patiently looking for the window of opportunity he had been informed about. It took him only a few full patrol sequences until he figured out the algorithm. His informant had not lied to him; there was indeed a time point, occurring almost every three minutes in the patrol curves, when Joshua would have some seconds. He slipped through and ran across the middle zone without being traced.

He crept behind the wild grass and slowly crawled towards the electric fence. He had chosen wisely; half of the moon was hidden behind the ghastly clouds and the tree shadows offered a good cover.

hat he was trying to accomplish was very risky. But the motivation was strong, and the hatred he felt for the flower children would always justify the danger he was pushing his life into. I'm going to find you, he thought, and cut your stems off one by one.

The grass was humid and the chill night air made his elbow skin bleed, and his face raw. He felt his eyes sore and heavy like two small frosty pebbles. Blinded and still in love with Thalia, he realized he didn't care about those things anyway. The dreams he made with and for her. Her anticipation to become a mother. Their will to start their own home, to build a family. A family, Joshua thought, his tears got lost like tears in the rain. Was that too much to ask for?

He could sense her all around now. Her smile was always juvenile, her cheeks and lips reddish, and her eyes surreal. Her face was everywhere in the wilderness. It was carved on the stones, in the muddy ponds, even on the water lilies struggling to blossom on the twilight of the moon.

He pulled out the paramagnetic pliers from the uniform's tool socket, and surfed in his wristwatch's main menu, to dig up the information for adjusting the voltage-receiving unit.

Joshua had kept everything he would potentially need for his mission, inside this wristwatch. According to his informant, he had to be very precise in coordinating his pliers' electric inrush with the electricity output from the fence. One tiny mistake and the ion-runaway effect would kill him right away.

After making the sync, Joshua made five or six delicate cuts on the electric fence. A natural burrow was now unwrapped in front of him, leading directly into the zone.

The entire operation had been so meticulously planned with the assistance of this anonymous informant. And so far, everything was going by the book.

When Joshua had witnessed Thalia collapsing in his very hands, nose-bleeding, talking nonsense, suffering from her lethal stroke, he felt so helpless, trapped into the bureaucratic world of a corrupted justice system. The Mastermind's ethics officers told him numerous times that Thalia's destiny had unfortunately been determined by Joshua's symbiote. The symbiote had decided to put an end to her life. Her death should have come to fruition immediately. No one, not even the Mastermind, could have done anything to prevent that.

And initially, Joshua didn't want to intervene with this decision. But sooner or later, he badly wanted to know why.

He'd been asking for permission to talk to his symbiote numerous times. One single chance was all he hoped for. Joshua had said "just a friendly encounter", and he actually meant it.

But the ruthless Mastermind never stopped rejecting his requests. Joshua grew desperate as his future was getting ruined. Without her signature, the world around him could only inject grey. Over time, he turned depressive, alcoholic, and suicidal. Death seemed as the only escape.

Devastated, Joshua had turned to the 'freewillers,' the last human resistance and illegal organization fighting against the flower children. When Joshua had made his contact, he made absolutely clear to them that he wanted to join their cause. But their leader eyed him with mistrust. They could not accept emotionally driven individuals in their group. "You've lost your wife Joshua," the leader had skeptically told him. "It's only a matter of time until you try something stupid. I need to protect my people and erase any possible connections with you by that time. I am sorry but this is not the proper way to go."

he leader had been right. The freewillers didn't have time to fight for Joshua's personal drama. Filled with hatred and anger, Joshua left the room only to discover he would be alone in his quest for vengeance.

Leaving back the past memories, Joshua put his paramagnetic pliers back and scanned the middle zone just to be on the safe side. He had to patiently wait until the field was clear and he could jump in. But his mind was deeply ensnared into his haunted past.

Thirty more seconds until the window of opportunity appears again.

He carefully followed the magnetic inclinations of the drone routes in his wristwatch. Previous attempts by others were unsuccessful with life-costing consequences. Strongly believing in his meticulous planning, Joshua was about to become the first human individual reaching the other side in one piece.

Another twenty seconds.

A few days after Joshua left the freewiller headquarters, a mysterious individual came in contact with him via electronic e-mails. The informant had shared valuable intelligence about the flower children, their society, their agenda, their ecology, even the specifics of their biology. The secret informant, an anonymous freewiller agent, had been watching Joshua, and sympathized with him and his vision for revenge for a long time. After watching Joshua deteriorating, he decided to take action by helping Joshua organizing his infiltration in the world of the flower children. Another ten seconds.

'This is the right time,' Joshua mumbled and then dashed through the middle zone in one breath, for he only had a few seconds before captured by the camera lenses.

***

oshua felt like performing the action in an astronautic pace, though it only lasted two or three heartbeats. He disappeared behind the night berry bushes on the opposite side of the electric fence.

He slid down sideways to the borderline zone crevice, eventually landing onto a natural flower bed at the base of a small hill. Joshua rolled on to his position and swiveled on his buttocks in reflex. What a smooth landing, he thought.

He released the air he trapped in his lungs in one single mouthful and realized he still stood in one piece, not dissected to death by the drone laser turrets. He stretched his ears. He wanted to make sure he has not been followed. Luckily, the guardian bots kept on to their designated patrol curves. The minimal sounds of their mechanical tractors, stable and non-alerted, started fading away.

He had made it! He now stood on the other side of the legendary wall and was so close to finally get the answers he has been seeking all along.

The area smelled of moldy wood. The idea that the atmosphere could be contaminated with infectious spores blooming from the flower childrens' bodies toyed around him. He sniffed in the air a couple of times, just to make sure there was nothing toxic about it.

Looking ahead towards the natural tree fencing he noticed something strange about the vegetation. The trees were vivid and corpulent. The flower stems looked stiff and raw and the grass jagged like rusty old chains. Several bushes were patterned in a row without gaps in between, silent and motionless like ventriloquist dummies. The few tree branches surrounding his area had the formation of inversed arcs and their leaves blossomed pointing directly to the ground.

serpentine natural pathway, covered with crimson and scarlet rotten leaves, continued towards the shrubberies ahead. Joshua made some coward steps and reached the shrub border, passing it through in one step and one breath.

Now kneeling down on the other side, for the first time of his life he became an eye witness of the alien techno-civilization, which spanned at the distant horizon to where the bare eye couldn't catch. Sequenced in rows and columns, adjusted firmly in the soil, the cells where the flower children resided were attached to each other on all their sides like small domino pieces and together formed the alien aquaponics facility, covering the pasture like a never-ending game board. The parsimonious rearrangement of the flower children society was structured in squares surrounded by a wire-fence perimeter.

Originating from the selenium pools inside the small cells, the mesmerizing lights that polarized through the silica glass windows of the aquaponics cell roofs hit Joshua's eyes and jetlagged him. He felt his eyes almost popping out. His nose was bleeding. His adrenals were sponged off.

'These aliens are already making me feel sick,' he said to himself and programmed his wristwatch to initiate the GPS software. Showing some patience for the next one or two minutes, enduring the pain stored inside his taut knees, Joshua located the cell of interest where his wife's murderer stayed. My first encounter with my destiny symbiote is about to be made, he thought with satisfaction.

The cubical cell appeared on his watch's screen as a black and white hologram with a triangular arrow on top of it to depict the target was locked. A thick dotted line pointed out the safest and shortest route towards the cell, avoiding conflict with the dense perimeter surveillance system and surpassing multiple dead ends within the aquaponics complex. I would never make it without his help, Joshua thought while admiring the complex nature of all information the informant had uploaded directly into Joshua's wristwatch.

oshua stepped back for a while and again looked at the alien aquaponics facility, dimly outlining the most proximal borders that would serve as his entry point. The flower children stand there unharmed, not caring about the agony they inflict to humans because of their presence, Joshua almost muttered.

Following the invasion on Earth thousands of years ago, the Mastermind deployed a very unique form of slavery to the human race, the flower children themselves. The flower children were eventually hardwired into the human biomass. Right now, humans and flower children are not separated, but they act as one single human-plant hybrid organism with a mutually dependent symbiotic relationship.

The flower children reside in selenium pools within the aquaponics facility. Their roots are immersed in photonic baths, where they can constantly grow. As their branches, sprouts and stems grow big, their path and evolution defines the future of their human half.

So intelligent the Mastermind was! Been aware it was impossible to control millions of human beings at the same time, the Mastermind decided to control their own destinies instead by deploying myriads of doppelganger flower children to do so.

This is why the freewillers still believed humans were created to retain their free will and were not meant to act as destiny symbiotes with the flower children. This is also why the Mastermind had deployed its entire brainpower to stop them. And their power had unfortunately worn out. Most of them had been spotted and their symbiote flower children were executed, giving a parallel instant heart attack or brain stroke to the freewiller agents.

The rest of them are struggling to hide their identities and still trying to defeat the Mastermind, by lacking an organized and foolproof agenda.

Joshua allowed the gentle air stream to guide his body down towards the aquaponics facility like stardust vacuumed in the sky whirl. Thirsty for answers, Joshua kept running to the designated route of his GPS protocol with only thought that of Thalia's smile in the course ahead. He counted the seconds one by one, before he sealed his first encounter with his destiny symbiote.

After so damn long, at last I feel so excited!

***

tanding before the silica window, Joshua discovered the aquaponics facility at the bottom of an aquarium of rainy light, with gust-driven moisture shotgunning the glass and lavish lichen swarming in the bloated wooden frames. His feet were paralyzed and firmly rooted in the ground. He squeezed his adrenals for the maximum levels of vigor to sustain the nerve the situation demanded. His knees wobbled. His spine screeched. His nose whistled out of the penetrating mucous inside his nostrils.

With his rubber glove, he combed away the tiny frost rings that had sat upon the window out of his raucous breath and cleared his visuals. Inside there at the pool, Joshua could clearly picture the flower child immersed in the sparkling selenium pulp, deeply ensnared in a lethargic nirvana, passively absorbing the photonic packages outrushed from the selenium dispensers. His throat was crooked. By disciplined breath-control, he managed to again restore the tension of his infuriated muscles and killed all the knots off his heart. A soothing twinge breached his larynx and spiked his lungs.

'I'm coming for you,' he whispered out of eagerness and brought the paramagnetic razor out of his tool socket. He then adjusted the razor's 'hardness factor' to the maximum and outlined a fine well-rounded cut to the silica glass. He then carefully removed the glass piece, noiselessly placing it by his feet and tested the sharpness at the edges of the artificial entrance he'd created.

Time to uncover some skeletons from your closet, his thought came a whisper in the dead of night. He then primed his anesthetic-gun and sneaked behind his symbiote to give him a nice surprise.

***

ake up!" Joshua waved his knife around the symbiote's eyes.

The flower child gained some consciousness and rolled his eyeballs around the room. He'd been dragged out of the selenium pool and was tightly tied on the floor with several strings of metallic cord. Joshua had made sure the strings were all firmly attached to a stainless banister, not far away from the pool.

"I've been expecting you," the flower child's voice came out with a hoarse breath, sounding more like a whisper. He coughed with distress with smelly pulp bursting out of his mouth. A dirty root-like tongue protracted together with the greenish vomit. His stiff face, shaped like freshly-burned timber looked thirsty, slowly turning into dry straw.

"You so desperately need to get into that pool, right? You need the energy," Joshua pointed towards the still water with the edge of his blade.

"I see you've been enjoying your revenge, Joshua."

"Stop it!" Joshua shouted and without hesitation kneeled down, stabbing his symbiote with his knife. The hit was like a paper cut, fast and deadly. He turned and drove the sharp edge deeper inside, to receive the climax he's been anticipating for so long. "That's the pleasure you get for terminating a terminator's life."

The flower child moved spastically and sputtered more filthy pulp, chocking on his burbles and shaking with tremors. He panted, coughed and spat in loops.

Joshua stood there motionless, watching him drown in his own pulp. He could feel no remorse and no guilt. It was all so natural to him!

He removed the knife abruptly and clenched it with his trembling hand. A blinding strike came from the reflection of the selenium gleam on the blade. Joshua could now mirror the portrait of a killer to his very eyes, his own face!

But. . . . But this was not the reason I came all the way down here, in the first place. I couldn't stop myself and allow this happen so quickly. This is how it was supposed to end!

"What have I done?" Joshua kneeled down and pressed the wound to stop the bleeding. One teardrop fell from his left eye and onto the symbiote's arm, which was in fact a lithesome tree branch.

"Under. . . my. . . arm. . . ." the symbiote struggled to say.

Joshua swept his eyes to clear his visuals. He turned towards the symbiote's main arm branches and tried to take a closer look. Right below, a second branch rooted from the armpit, went on for a while, but soon dissolved and came to a smooth finish. Exactly like an amputee's limb, Joshua figured out. This second smaller branch was evidently cut on its edge and time allowed it to heal and almost rot. "Is this Thalia's branch?" Joshua asked frustrated.

The flower child only nodded a yes.

"But why? Why did you cut it off? She meant so much to me. . . We had all these plans together. . . I never meant any harm to you. Why did you do this?"

"I wanted to do it from the very beginning. I was so tempted to. . . But the Mastermind advised to show patience," the symbiote said, putting all his effort to speak, his pain was evident in his sore vegetable eyes. "I have been your secret informant for so long Joshua! I had planned this from the start. I helped you come here, it was never a freewiller. I so desperately wanted to catch your expression with my very eyes at the sound of this."

"I don't understand. . . ."

"Can you see the two small stems under Thalia's truncated branch?" the symbiote asked.

Joshua immediately examined thoroughly the area spanning down to the symbiote's armpit. "Yes, two tiny small stems. I can see them. What are they?"

The symbiote hesitated for a while, and then revealed his glossy tongue, licking his dry-wood lips. "These small stems are your unborn children, Joshua. Thalia was pregnant when I cut the branch supporting her life. And together, both the twin babies inside her."

***

"Wha-"

Everything turned out to be a gruesome game. Joshua came to see the flower child, simply because his destiny dictated it. And now he learned the ugliest truth that could possibly exist. His symbiote was nothing more and nothing less than a sadistic entity. . . .

"Joshua, there is more that you should know about the world we live in." The symbiote started. "When the Mastermind came to Earth, It didn't bring the flower children as servants to enslave humanity. We didn't come here to help the Mastermind control your destinies. We are a species that lived far away from your Galaxy and got enslaved first. We are slaves like you humans Joshua."

His only purpose was to kill me mentally, to throw me naked on the floor. And he literally made it. . . Joshua's kneed down trembling, not paying attention to what his symbiote had to say. Thalia was pregnant. I would be a father now.

Two dehydrated, rotting, mummified babies inside Thalia's uterus; that was the picture Joshua could now see with his eyes. "What did you do?"

"The Mastermind is so intelligent life-form that found this very smart way to turn us against each other. I mean look at what the Mastermind did Joshua. . . It so masterfully separated your world from our world, making us live like two independent societies." The symbiote continued his delirium in the background.

"I am not listening to you. . . . " Joshua shouted and grabbed the symbiote from the throat with his bare hands as tightly as he could.

In panic, the symbiote tried to breathe out the trapped air and to desperately release his tied branches from the strings. Struggling, the flower child tried to move and bike his feet away from Joshua's weight. No luck, though. Gasping in hopeless urge, he pushed and pushed, but Joshua relentlessly refused to let him go. Is this why the flower child said he had been expecting for me to come? Was this his evil plan? He wanted to simply inform me I would be a father now, so as to cause as much pain as possible? Was it all about that?

Joshua had gone frenzy, pressing and stretching and pressing again without stop, until he could see symbiote's eyes popping out and being ready to explode, the agony of death, the fulfillment of a long-lasting vengeance.

"You could have killed her earlier, but no. . . No! You waited. You waited patiently for her to become pregnant. You and the Mastermind have planned it from the start. Why me? Why?" Joshua cried.

The flower child was screeching and fighting to grasp a little bit of air, but Joshua was too ecstatic to let him do that so simply. Still untouched and totally apathetic, he kept smothering his symbiote. "This is what they do to them; this is what they do to baby killers, you bastard."

"I. . ."

"Die you-" Joshua screamed.

"I am. . ."

Thalia. Why did this happen to me? Why? I never harmed anyone. I never. . . I never. . . wished for. . . Oh my God! "This is what they do to baby killers," Joshua repeated, paranoid.

"I. . . am no. . .. less. . .. baby. . .killerrrr. . .. than. . . you. . .." the flower child exhaled.

At the sound of this, Joshua's fingers awkwardly relaxed, as a reflex. He stood there frowned. Did he really hear that, or it was just the flower child hallucinating? "Wh... what?" He asked puzzled. "What did you just say?"

***

Joshua released his hands from his symbiote's neck awkwardly. The symbiote's mouth was now wide-open, some remnants of gut pulp dripping from fractured dentures resembling human teeth, alongside a spastically-moving tongue. Joshua felt a lifeless tentacle wrapped around his left knee, reminding him of how desperately the flower child tried to defend. Frozen, Joshua strived to neglect the fact that the symbiote's tentacle randomly touched him there. But, one thing for sure, this posture has caused the awakening of a past memory.

"I am not a baby killer," Joshua said in absolute denial.

"Remember the x-ray; your left knee x-ray. . . ." The tentacle, gatekeeper of his past, kept reminding him. It perfectly encircled an old surgical wound. Yes, Joshua had a wound there. . . . He once, had a tumor, a highly aggressive and malignant tumor in his left knee. According to his oncologist Dr. Lingeti, it was an osteosarcoma; not easily treatable, but surely worth a shot.

His cancer issue, a terrible adventure he had to pass through several years ago, at least with Thalia's support.

"I am not a baby killer."

"You see here, Joshua? The osteosarcoma has developed around many tibiofemoral components, and I am afraid if we do not do something about it, it will soon invade all the adjacent soft tissues, including the femoral nerves," Dr. Lingeti explained lifting the x-ray to cast some light behind it. "We don't want the tumor to metastasize into your nerves, Joshua! This would be devastating. . . ."

"I think we should go on with the surgery, as soon as possible," Thalia said, touching Joshua's hand tenderly. She was so evidently worried. She was so beautiful, so vivid.

Joshua only nodded. "What are the chances of success, Dr. Lingeti?" he then asked.

"I am not a baby killer," Joshua said, his eyes were now wet, as he was coming closer and closer to the ultimate and unpleasant truth.

"Dr. Lingeti, when are you going to put me into sleep?" asked Joshua.

"Actually, the operation has just finished." Joshua eyed the doctor with mistrust. He couldn't even imagine it was all over. This meant he could go back to his wife? He could have a life again? "The surgery was successful! I removed the entire tumor. You'll never have to worry about this again. . ."

"You are not kidding me?"

"Absolutely not! We will only need to make a small change in your follow-up protocol by arranging a couple of preventive radiotherapies and that's all!"

"Why is this necessary?" Joshua asked worried.

"Nothing to worry about Joshua. It's just because when I removed your tumor, I also witnessed five or six small foci spreading away from it. These small stems were part of the main tumor and branched away from it, forming totally different pathways. I am pretty sure I managed to kill them off! But let's just stick to the radiotherapy, to be on the safe side that the small foci will not survive."

"But why didn't you notice these small osteosarcoma stems in the X-Ray, in the first place?"

"Because they were tiny! They were hardly visible with the bare eye, Joshua! But honestly, there's nothing to worry about! Let's say, these small foci were newborn metastatic spreads from the main mass! Fortunately, we've managed to catch them at the very beginning of their life. They are removed now."

Joshua touched the symbiote's tentacle with his fingertips and directed it slowly in the region around his resected osteosarcoma. "My God, what have I done?"

***

There he stood still for a while, putting together pictures of his past experiences, a grieving recollection of his entire lifetime, snapshots of happiness and sadness mixed together like an amateurishly-directed movie film.

I came here seeking for revenge, only to realize that it was actually the symbiote the one that sought after revenge, he thought. There's a good reason he waited all this long. It wouldn't be enough cutting Thalia's branch alone. He patiently waited . . . . and waited and waited for the two small stems to rise under his armpit.

The creature was still suffering from spasms and seizures in a semi-comatose condition. Joshua looked around him, and felt lost and uneasy. But, the pool was now calm, rejuvenating. Moments ago, Joshua could swear he could feel a tornado disturbing the waters, a haze through his mind, an endless and blurring maze.

He slowly kneeled down beside his symbiote, and used his knife to cut the ropes. Holding the symbiote tightly by his two hard fibrous brownish legs, Joshua dragged him towards the selenium pool. A clean and clear stream of consciousness like a cool airstream hit him, as he pulled the dying creature inside.

"I forgive you." Joshua said to where nobody could hear. "But you have to forgive me as well. I guess I would have never loved my children more that you would, if things were different."

Quantum entanglement: the ultimate way to enslave two intelligent species, so diverse, but so similar to each other at the same time. The flower children may be controlling the fate of their doppelganger humans through their branches. But, we humans are doing the same to them, by growing a different type of branches in our bodies. The true and perfect symbiotic relationship!

"If-" Joshua sighed.

"It was not supposed to end that way . . . ." the symbiote said angrily, jumping out of the water, alive and vivid again, grabbing Joshua from his uniform. He dared looking at him in the eye. "You were supposed to kill me."

"I guess you cannot control everything then," Joshua only replied.

"There is no further purpose in our lives."

"But you are wrong," Joshua said. "There is always a purpose. And above all, we are the only ones that know there is a common enemy to fight against. Up to now, each side believed the Mastermind is allied with the other side."

The symbiote smiled with irony. "We stand no chance against the Mastermind."

"I am not sure about that," Joshua disagreed. "Come here, follow me," he then said and walked away from the pool.

"Exactly where?"

"We have a new world to make. And to begin with, we have to break down a wall."

THE END