Chapter 20: Run...
Ellie lost track of how long they marched through the wetlands, after her initial difficulty with the soft ground the trek slowly blended into one long blur, she missed having Kid bouncing around causing a ruckus. She spent a lot of time thinking about what she’d experienced, she always found herself stuck on Medusa. Her transformation puzzled Ellie; none of the others could figure it out either, though they didn’t seem too torn up about it. As the fourth day broke, the Indra found themselves standing on the outskirts of the obliterated trading post. The ruins were crawling with people dredging through the wreckage, either trying to find the remains of their lives or searching for salvage. The Indra stared silently as the light of day shone upon the totality of the destruction.
“She changed, you saw it, at the very end she finally changed,” said Ellie quietly.
“Enough to atone for this?”said Bolt. “Even with her sacrificing herself she’s still caused so much misery and death. I think the world is better off without her.”
“I agree… this world is a better place without Medusa and her brethren,” said Anon loudly.
“Don’t forget, I’m still technically one of her brethren.”
Anon raised a contrarian finger. “Indeed, but unlike the rest, you aren’t batshit crazy.”
“I was for a brief moment, such unchecked bloodlust, it felt so oddly liberating.”
The group turned to stare at Ellie, metaphorical eyebrows raised.
She took a step back. “Oi, don’t look at me like that.”
“Hello there! Indra!” A man was making his way through the ruins waving at the group. He came up to them; he was short and heavyset, with a thick blonde beard. His eyes were creased with concern. “Do you know what happened here?
“Don’t worry; we’ve dealt with the creature that destroyed this place,” Ellie responded.
The old man, blinked, surprised. “An Indra who speaks, I’m sure now I’ve seen everything. But either way I’m glad you disposed of the creature, but what of survivors? My wife and child were bedding here…”
“I’m so sorry but there were no survivors.”
“Oh…” The man said flatly, all emotion leaving his face. “If you’ll excuse me I need to be alone.” He wandered off through the ruins toward the river and his boat.
Scorn spoke solemnly.“I think we should do at least one final kindness for the people here. They deserve a proper burial.”
They toiled for the rest of the day, digging a grave large enough for the remains in the charred wreckage of the building. As they dug, several more boats carrying cargo and passengers stopped, soon what was once just the four Indra became a group of no less than twenty. Once a sufficiently large enough hole had been dug they all began to move what was left of the people to the grave.
Ellie stood at the edge of the grave. “You have been avenged, that which has wrongfully and needlessly taken your lives no longer walks this earth.” She grabbed one of the shovels loaned by one of the captains and began to pour dirt back in.
That night the Indra sat around a large campfire and recounted their journey with the captains and passengers that stayed behind. Those around the fire sat in shocked awe that such creatures could even exist.
“It makes sense actually,” said one of the captains taking a long draught from his cigar. “Words been goin’ ‘round that both Khim and Kidjii were completely exterminated, ’s likely that this Medusa was sealed ‘way in Kidjii an’ those sciencer’s let it out. Can’ blame th’ poor fools, they di’n’t know, but I don’ think ’s wrong fer me t’ wish that they ne’er found anything.”
The group nodded in agreement.
The captain slapped his legs and stood up, stretching his back. “But what’s done is done… I s’pose you four’ll be headin’ back t’ Alcadon?”
Ellie nodded. “Yes, we intend to leave immediately.”
The Indra were doing as they normally did, relaxing in the lounge, all were relaxed with the exception of one, Pestilence.
She sat hunched over, twiddling her fingers.“It’s weird, he didn’t even come to say goodbye.”War may have had the personality equivalent of a brick wall but he never missed saying bye.
Lethe roused from his stupor. “Well Schultz did say it was an important mission, but yeah, it really isn’t like him.”
She kept going as if she didn’t hear him. “He didn’t even come back with the speaker, we’re lucky Juvinea knows how to make more.”
“Yeah, actually there she is now.”Lethe waved to Juvinea who was trying to open the lounge door with her hands full. “Is no one gonna help here?”He looked around at the sedentary Indra; he could feel them giving him cheeky looks. He sighed and got up, quickly opening the door for her; in her hands were more messes of wires attached to speakers.
She was breathing heavily as if she’d jogged from her workroom. “Thanks… Alright everyone I have enough speakers for all of you. Don’t lose them or break them because I don’t have any more, unless you have some more unused LX boards lying around of course.” She laid them out on the coffee table and the gathered Indra excitedly grabbed one.
Inferno watched the small speaker sink into his hand. ”Oh, wow this feels strange… whoa, so that’s what I sound like? Man… I sound like a douche.” He sounded a bit disappointed. All around the room the Indra were testing their newfound voices, all except Ghost.
Pixia crouched down beside her. “What’s wrong Ghost?”
Ghost was still huddled up in her cloak not even looking at the speaker on the table. “What if my voice sounds stupid?”Her tone was nervous.
“Ghost, if I can live with my voice you can live with yours,” said Lethe. “C’mon, live a little… it did wonders for me.”
She began rocking back and forth on the couch, psyching herself up. “OK, alright I can do this…”Her hand shot from the folds of her cloak and snagged the speaker, pulling it back inside. After a few moments she tentatively spoke, “Hello?” Hers was a melodic female voice.
Lethe sat beside her. “See? You sound fine, nothing to get worked up over.”
“Yeah, you’re right; you always seem to be right.” Ghost rubbed her arm in embarrassment though all anybody could see was the vague moving of the cloak.
He shrugged. “Hey, it’s what I do, I’m Captain Motivation.”
“Hey, Lethe,” said Pestilence. “Don’t forget that you were just as antisocial as Ghost not even a week ago.”
“I’ve had good influences.” He looked at Juvinea who blushed slightly.
Pixia looked over to Famine. “Alright, what do you sound like?” She was going to finally get to the bottom of whether Famine was male or female.
Famine shrugged. “Like I normally do.” Their voice could have been either a higher pitched male voice or a mid pitch female voice.
Pixia huffed in defeat and went back to comforting Ghost.
A familiar voice came over the PA system. “Doctor Fitsch to the head engineer’s office, Doctor Fitsch to the head engineer’s office.”
Juvinea noticeably slumped. “Oh dear, what does she want now?”
“Did you blow something up?” asked Pixia.
She had to think for a moment, and even then she was hesitant. “No… not recently.”
“Well,” said Lethe. “I think you should go find out what she wants, we can handle ourselves for now.”
Juvinea made her way to her sister’s office, nearly bumping into General Sullivan as she rounded a corner; she wondered for a moment what he would be doing in Engineering but quickly forgot about it. She paused in front of the door to her sister’s office. She took a deep breath and stepped inside, Marjorie was pacing in front of her desk. She didn’t even speak, she just grabbed Juvinea’s arm and led her right back out of the office, straight to her private workroom. She closed the door and turned the lights on.
She looked terrible, her hair was a rat’s nest, the bags under her eyes had bags of their own, and she was virtually trembling with the amount of caffeine rushing through her system. “We have a problem, a really very big problem.” Marjorie’s tone was deadly serious, like it normally was.
“Whatever it is I didn’t do it.”
Marjorie looked confused before responding. “No, this isn’t about you; this is about Schultz… and Project Gamma. I assume you know about Project Gamma from the amount of hovering you do when I’m working.”
“Yeah,” Juvinea responded sheepishly.
“I just recently showed the prototype to Schultz and… War was there.” Marjorie grew pale.
Juvinea scowled. “What happened?”
“Schultz … he and the prototype… they killed him, something about War being with the Sons. War is dead, and I’m convinced that Schultz intends to use Project Gamma to exterminate the Sons and possibly the Indra.”
Juvinea backed up, shocked. “Couldn’t you have done anything?”
“No.” Marjorie shook her head. “The software prioritizes Schultz’ voice over all others. He gave the order to kill; I couldn’t have stopped it if I wanted to.” She had a sinking feeling as she realized the same was true for Marge.
Juvinea’s voice was quiet; she didn’t want to put any more strain on Marjorie if she couldn’t help it. “Where’s the body?”
Marjorie gestured vaguely behind her; she was still fixated on Marge. “I have him, he’s on the table. I wanted to salvage his board, just in case.”
Juvinea brushed past her sister and inspected the body, it was on a raised gurney and covered in a sheet, he was cut cleanly in half. “We should tell the others.”
Marjorie whirled around, eyes wide. “No! No, that would be a very bad idea. You don’t know Schultz, and you don’t know the prototype. It’s just as likely that even with their combined strength they wouldn’t be able to take down Schultz.”
Juvinea scrunched her face up. “You’re making it sound like Schultz isn’t human.”
Marjorie was silent.
Her eyes widened. “No… What did you do?”
Marjorie stuttered. “He’d been using cosmetic surgery to keep his age looking consistent but his body was failing, cut him some slack he was over 200 years old. Those of us who weren’t bugged were tasked with rebuilding him. For all intents and purposes he isn’t human; he’s as much a machine as the Indra.”
“Why are you telling me this? This is the sort of thing people do when they know they’re about to die or something.” Juvinea narrowed her eyes.
Marjorie smiled. “You read too much. I have no intention of dying; I just need to get this off my chest.”
“And to me of all people.” Juvinea was legitimately surprised at how ‘human’ her sister was being.
Marjorie smiled wearily. “Especially you, I know I give you a hard time, but we’re still family.”
Juvinea sat in a nearby chair, she looked to her sister. “Well, what do we do now?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Do the Sons have an opening for a lead engineer?”
Juvinea shot forward. “You’d really go with them?”
“At this point they’re our best bet. I don’t trust Schultz with just the prototype, let alone an army of them.” She stroked her chin thoughtfully. “He’s slipping back into his old ways,” she muttered.
The door opened quietly, the sisters whirled around to see who was intruding.
Lethe stepped inside; he closed the door behind him. “You know,” he said, voice stern. “It really does pay to keep your voices down, not everyone who listens at doorways is quite so honest about it.”
“I take it you heard everything?” said Marjorie, eyes wide.
He nodded. “Yes, and be thankful that it was only me, if any of the others hear about this then… well as you said earlier.” Lethe brushed past the two and walked over to the table where his dead brother laid. He pulled off the sheet and stared at the damage. “Which one?” His voice was laden with sorrow.
Marjorie stood beside him. “The prototype.”
He turned around, carefully placing the sheet back over War. “Could you elaborate on what Project Gamma is, I’m still confused as to its purpose.”
Marjorie hopped up and sat on one of the high tables. “You know of the failure with the Shalti right?”
He nodded. “Yes, unchecked cloning leading to mutation, why?”
She rested her face in her hands. “Well Project Gamma was to be the perfect solution to our food crisis. We were to build near sentient farming machines though their design changed after the discovery of Schultz’ niece. As you’ve probably heard from my sister the Sampras dig was a gold mine for Indra parts, especially LX chips. We reverse engineered the hardware and boiled it down to software that we could upload into our own chipset, the XE chipset. They aren’t Indra, not even close, but there are many similarities.”
Lethe crossed his arms, he asked the impending question. “So where did it go wrong?”
Marjorie snapped her fingers and pointed at Lethe. “You beat me to it… Yes, there was one major hurdle, we had the software, but we didn’t have a body to put it in. We got lucky, very lucky, the Kidjii dig turned up crucial information on the Indra, including construction information. We used Biomass.”
Lethe’s composure virtually disintegrated. “Dear god, you didn’t!”
She nodded. “Yes, directly from the prisons and hospitals.”
“I’m confused,” said Juvinea, looking between the two. “What is ‘biomass’?”
“A substance that is too good to be true,” said Lethe. “It is essentially the building blocks of life reduced to a soup. It was first made by the US military long before we came around. Ostensibly you force an unwilling participant through a large fan until they are a fine red puree; the mixture is treated with several harsh chemicals and left to sit under a heat lamp in a sterile environment.”
Her lip curled in disgust. “So that means…”
“Yes, my body is made from the destroyed remains of prisoners of war, specifically from the Japan conflict. I and all other Indra are made from the dead; we are in essence walking cemeteries, testaments to the lengths humans will go in war.”
She remembered what the ancient reports said. “So the ‘lack of volunteers’ the reports stated?”
“The camps were empty, thousands died just to make us, and those who are here now are only the successful ones, there were many others deemed too unstable that were destroyed.” Lethe turned to Marjorie. “Can you stop it? The upload.”
Marjorie sighed. “Well no, at this point in time there is very little we can do to stop it from happening. The orders went through to finalize the software upload, it’s all automated and I couldn’t stop it even if I wanted to, not without deactivating or destroying Marge.”
“Wait… what does Marge have to do with this?” asked Juvinea.
Lethe sighed. “Don’t tell me that infernal annoyance is integral to project Gamma.”
“Marge is the control conduit; she controls the Gammas and is responsible for the upload. Marge was the first successful use of the XE chipset and is completely compatible; she’s basically the power behind everything. Marge is the Schultz building computer system; she also handles the thought suppressors inside the people’s heads. I built Marge years ago it as a digital assistant for Schultz so he could easier communicate with the staff, though he still preferred to use his secretaries to run letters. As time went on her abilities grew more and more, until she just became an integral part of operations. If I shut her down then the upload will stop, but so will the entirety of the Schultz building and conjoined systems, the city will basically go dark.”
“And another lesson about putting all of your eggs in one basket is learned.” Lethe made for the door. “Well, alright then, we Indra have all agreed to go with the Sons in an attempt to remove Schultz from power, will you join us?”
She nodded, face grim. “Yes, I’ll come with you. I may not agree with their methods but we have a common goal. I thought Schultz was infallible, but it seems he’s gone back to his old ways.” Marjorie turned to her sister. “I’m sorry for wrapping you up in this.”
She smiled and pulled Marjorie in for a hug, the first they’d shared in decades. “I’m just glad you chose me.”
Lethe stood there uncomfortably half out of the door. “Ladies I’m sorry to break up this tender moment but I think we should go talk to my siblings, just don’t mention War alright. Also, I’d recommend getting his board, there is a slight chance that it’s only his body that’s dead, very slight.”
She chuckled sheepishly. “It was the first thing I was going to do when I got him down here but I unfortunately lost consciousness, the caffeine ran out. I haven’t actually slept in close to a week.”
“Damn that man,” Lethe muttered. “We’ll get it later.” He turned and left the room without a second look.
As the three reentered the lounge they interrupted General Sullivan who was talking quietly with the assembled Indra.
He turned around, eyes wide, they widened further when they saw Marjorie and her sister. He quickly pasted a look of stern professionalism on his face. “Um, if you’ll excuse me I was just leaving.”
Marjorie blocked the doorway; he wasn’t weaseling away quite so easily. “General Sullivan… It seems Schultz will be losing two of his top people today.”
Sullivan’s face was a mask of indifference. “Meaning?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Why, you’re the Sons’ inside man, aren’t you? I’ve come to join up.”
Sullivan’s eyes were squinted with suspicion. “I honestly find that hard to believe.”
Her tone was no-nonsense. “General, I have witnessed the lengths Schultz will go to be rid of you people. Project Gamma is a success and I don’t want that Schultz in control of those things.”
“I will vouch for her and her sister,” Lethe said quickly.
“Hmph, very well.” He turned to Juvinea. “I assume you’re still bugged, only the top of Schultz’ cabinet had theirs removed. We’ll have yours removed when we get back to base.” He made his way to the door and poked his head out, looking both ways to make sure nobody was watching. “We have to leave this building, I know of a secret way out, follow me.”
The Indra and the Fitsch sisters followed Sullivan to the elevators. Before they could get there though, an announcement came over the PA. Schultz’ voice rang out through the halls.
The sneer on his face could be heard over the loudspeakers. “Oh dear… General Sullivan and my loyal Indra… traitors after all? And Marjorie… I expected more from you.” His voice cut out and began broadcasting from a small control panel set into the wall. His voice was tinny. “You seem to have neglected the fact that this entire building is covered in surveillance equipment and I can hear every word you say. I’d say I’m disappointed, but honestly I’m more so impressed, congratulations General, you fooled me, but no longer. You’ll never leave this city alive, the call has gone out to the military, and all of you are to be killed on sight… Indra… good luck, we will not hold back.”
“Oh, that’s distressing,” said Inferno.
“Forget the other way; we’ve got to get to the gym,” Sullivan said in a hushed whisper.
Wall stepped forward and literally tore the elevator doors from their housing, exposing the empty shaft below. “Let’s not make things too complicated,” he said simply.
They all climbed down the service ladder until they were on the gym level where Wall forced the doors open once more.
Sullivan’s face was pinched in disgust. “Hold your noses. We’re giving Morgan a visit.”
“We killed it…” said Pestilence.
Sullivan clambered down the ladder; he shot her an irritated look. “You know what I mean.”
Morgan’s chamber was still covered in gore and black slime; it was evident that the room was to remain unused. The slime had hardened into a thin crust that crunched underfoot and the chunks of gore had begun to sprout a fuzzy grey mold, the air was thick with spores. The smell was tremendous, with Marjorie and Juvinea beginning to gag and dry heave as soon as they entered. Sullivan convulsed slightly and spit something unmentionable into the gloom. At the far end of the room was a hole torn into the wall, peering through it revealed a dark hallway.
Sullivan pulled a small flashlight from one of his many pockets and entered the hallway, the Indra followed him closely. He began talking, his voice echoed down the ancient dusty corridor. “Schultz picked this location for a reason; it was an ancient research station. You Indra may have actually been acquainted with it at one point. Ancient tunnels run underneath nearly the entire city, thankfully not a lot of people know about them, no wonder Banthu set up shop down here. There is an exit that lets out right next to the edge of the city and all we’ll have to do is sneak out through the blockade, they haven’t had much time to set it up, it’s just a flimsy wooden wall.”
“Did the Sons use these tunnels to infiltrate the Schultz building?” asked Lethe.
Sullivan began panting, he was seriously regretting not taking up those cardio lessons. “Well, no actually, Morgan got in the way. We were hoping it was going to be a blessing in disguise. Once we realized Morgan was there, it was a simple matter of bugging Schultz’ elevator to open there on command. Unfortunately we chose the wrong time to use the bug.”
“Shelly?” said Pestilence.
“Yep, I suppose you could say our blunder got us into this mess in the first place, if it was Schultz that died I would have them come into power as the most senior military official.”
“What about Ellis?” asked Lethe.
Inferno answered before Sullivan could. “The old man said that the Sons didn’t kill him.”
Sullivan shook his head. “He’s right we had nothing to do with him. It’s very likely that Schultz killed Ellis himself, or had someone do it for him. In spite of our request he went straight to Schultz and likely said all the wrong things. Marjorie, you’ve seen, as well as I, that since Shelly’s death Schultz has been in a spiral. Killing Ellis must have broken him.”
“Yes,” she responded. “The night when Ellis was found I saw something in him that I’d never seen before, he seemed like a different person.”
“It’s a pity War isn’t here,” said Pestilence. “It seems he’s closer to Schultz than any of us.”
“Yes… a pity,” mumbled Marjorie. She perked up. “Also Sullivan, I owe you for messing with Marge, I promised myself that I was going to strangle whoever bugged her with her programming notes. I intend on fulfilling that promise.”
Sullivan chuckled nervously.
As the other Indra fled the city Ellie, Scorn, Anon, and Bolt drew closer. They’d crossed the Knoss the previous night and had made excellent progress across the Halgue flatlands. The jagged skyline hove into view as the sun began to set, the russet light made the city shimmer, the once permanent smog had long cleared. As night finally fell the group were within a mile of the border.
“Well then, it seems things have changed.” Ellie noted the increased military activity at the outskirts of Alcadon and the newly erected barrier. “Some sort of training exercise? Got any insight Kid?” If anybody knew it would be her.
“Nope,”replied Kid, the sounds of snoring became apparent.
Ellie was quiet for a moment. “Well alright then.”
Anon looked to Ellie expectantly.“What did she say?”
Ellie shrugged and shook her head. “She’s got no idea.”
As they drew within three hundred yards a wall of spotlights focused on them, they all flinched as the bright lights nearly overloaded their visual sensors.
“I think they saw you,”Bolt said to Scorn.
Indeed Scorn’s glow made them stand out from the pale moonlight.
“I wonder what all the pomp and circumstance is for,”said Anon, curious.
Before any of the others could offer a guess the crackling sound of gunfire echoed across the plains and the ground immediately to the group’s left exploded, dirt and clumps of grass showered the four. The military was firing on them! A deeper thud could be heard as one of the mobile artillery units began firing.
“Hold your fire! We’re friendly!” Ellie yelled vainly to the guards.
Another shot was the only response she got; a bullet ricocheted off her head. The infantry had unslung their rifles and were taking potshots at the group. The ground directly in front of them erupted as another shell made contact.
Anon began backing up.“Call me crazy but I don’t think they’re in the mood to listen.”
“Should we fire back?”asked Bolt, hefting her Arc Gun.
Anon held his arm out, preventing Bolt from firing.“No, we don’t want to antagonize them.”An armor piercing ballistic round smashed into his stomach, he stumbled back in a small cloud of smoke, the round didn’t break through.
Ellie began to back up. “They don’t need our help with that! Look out!” She lunged to the side, pushing bolt out of the way of a rapidly approaching rocket. It exploded somewhere behind, showering them with more dirt.
A cry of alarm rose from the blockade, followed by a massive crash. The front of a military ATTV punched through the flimsy wooden barrier like it was paper! The large vehicle was pulled free and tossed aside where it erupted in flames behind the barricade. Wall emerged from the hole and sprinted to the artillery still throwing shells at Ellie and the others. Poising his massive bulk Wall lifted the massive steel gun emplacement and swung it back. People were sent running as the propellant caught fire and tore itself apart in a shower of sparks followed by a massive ball of green flame. The area was lit up like it was mid afternoon. From the hole in the barrier the rest of the Indra emerged, some of them where holding what appeared to be humans but the group couldn’t tell. The Indra sprinted toward the group, as they grew closer Ellie could make out General Sullivan in the arms of Death.
“RUN!” screamed Death as he sprinted past them.
Another series of crashes could be heard; several heavily armored vehicles punched more through the already sagging wall, which collapsed with the strain. The sounds of gunfire could be heard once more. The vehicles turned their turrets toward the fleeing Indra and fired a volley. The ground beneath Ellie’s feet disintegrated and she was thrown several yards back. Several of the other Indra were caught in the blast, Ellie could distinctly see Ghost and Pixia get thrown forward, Ghost’s cloak virtually disintegrated. As she pulled herself back up she could see Bolt charging the Arc Gun.
“Bolt! Don’t!” She was interrupted by the strange mechanical hiss of the Arc Gun discharging.
A beam of pure electricity flashed across the flatlands, leaving a charred trail of smoldering grass, it fanned out and smashed into the vehicles. It chained through them, lighting them up like matches, their fuel and ammo caught and they were torn apart by the ensuing explosions.
“Alright! We’re gone!” Ellie roughly grabbed her by the shoulder and made after the rest dragging Bolt behind.
Ellie hobbled alongside Death and Lethe. “Well, this is an unexpected surprise; it seems things are worse than we thought.”
The military had not given chase and the group was now walking across the Halgue Flatlands. The group was moving at a brisk walk to account for the physical limitations of their human counterparts whom they had put down miles ago. The Shalti settlement of Ozri glowed dimly in the far distance, a warm friendly glow compared to the harsh light beaming from Alcadon.
“Yes, it seems things took a rather rapid spiral. It was all going rather well, or so I thought,” responded Lethe. “I take it that you were successful in stopping Medusa.”
Ellie was silent for a while. “Yeah, there were many losses along the way. Medusa was almost successful; she’d changed, kinda like a caterpillar in a cocoon. She grew legs and arms and became almost human; by the time we got to the Petrified Wood she was almost indistinguishable from a human, bar the mouth. Somehow the LE’s coagulated into a being calling itself Havoc. Medusa… sacrificed herself to kill Havoc, perhaps it was an ego thing, perhaps she really did change, I don’t know… Kid didn’t make it, she was killed in the fight with Havoc, she couldn’t even take her own death seriously.” Ellie chuckled sadly.
Lethe placed a consoling hand on her elbow, he couldn’t reach any higher. “I’m sorry about Kid; I know you were close to her.”
Ellie knocked her head a few times with her knuckles. “Oh she’s not entirely gone. Now I have three people rattling around inside my head, at this point I’m almost like a walking cemetery.”
Marjorie perked up at this.
“I know the feeling,” mumbled Lethe.
“What was that?”
“Oh… nothing, I see you weren’t without loss as well.” Lethe indicated her leg.
“Yeah, in the ruins of Knossos Medusa changed for the first time; it’s very hard to explain but she wound up with a mouth. Anyway, she tried to eat me.”
The silence was near deafening as the group processed what was just said.
“That’s… disgusting,” said Pestilence, who had walked closer to the small group.
“She got a good chunk out of me too, right out of my calf. What a time to learn that our Biomass can get infected, and I’m unsure how but it reached my brain. For all intents and purposes I went completely insane. According to Scorn I ran nearly one hundred miles on a broken leg, which just shows how far gone I was. The chances were slim but Scorn and the others ‘removed’ my leg and I seem to have recovered, but I am now as you can see, sans leg.”
Pestilence pointed to the intact Wall. “If this all blows over we’ll take you over to Banthu for a checkup, he managed to get Wall’s arm back.”
Wall gave them a wave.
“Ah, I was wondering about that.”
Pestilence began skipping in a rather carefree manner. “We’ve been a bit more fortunate, despite appearances to the contrary. We, at Schultz’ request, destroyed Morgan, and did a bit of investigating. War and Inferno made contact with the Sons in Ozri and after much deliberating we as a group decided to go with the Sons against Schultz.”
“Really? That’s quite a jump in ideologies,” said Ellie.
Pestilence waved her hand dismissively. “Not really…” She explained Schultz’ subjugation of the people of Alcadon and of Project Gamma and its intended purpose.
Ellie was astounded that somebody could be capable of such acts. “Well that honestly makes choosing the lesser of two evils quite easy. Since when did Schultz become an asshole?”
Marjorie spoke up, surprising Ellie. “He’s always been like this, since long before I was born and most of you were uncovered. We were hoping his transition from human to… whatever he is now, would curb his more unsavory habits. It seems the loss of Shelly and Ellis broke whatever walls he’d built.”
“They wouldn’t have lasted,” said Pestilence. “Eventually he would have outlived them and he’d be back at square one.”
Ellie looked to Marjorie. “I’m kinda confused… What are these thought blockers? Pestilence mentioned them earlier but I don’t really understand their function.”
Marjorie shrugged. “Well, they really are as simple as the name implies, they block certain thoughts. Nobody noticed Schultz’ age because he didn’t want them to, ostensibly it’s passive mind control. He can’t force people to do something but he can keep them from noticing specific things. He’s been doing it for generations, since the city’s founding.”
“Clever, very clever,” said Pestilence, voice dripping with disdain. “Though, chances are we’d notice soon enough, we’ve been with him for thirty years, another sixty and we’d really have some questions.”
Marjorie was rather frustrated. “Did you ever acknowledge Schultz’ lack of aging? Or even notice it? I’m sorry if this is a generalization but you Indra aren’t the most perceptive when it comes to humans.”
“Yeah, no, fair enough,” said Pestilence, cowed by Marjorie’s sternness.
Marjorie suddenly stumbled and began to slow. She looked pleadingly to Pestilence. “I’m sorry but could you carry me? I haven’t slept in days and any moment now I’m going to fall over.”
“Oh, sure.” Pestilence picked Marjorie up like she weighed nothing and placed her on her shoulders. Marjorie’s head almost immediately lolled to the side as she fell asleep.
Juvinea blurted out, “Wait, Banthu? The janitor?”
“Why yes, he constructed Ellie here and got Wall his arm back,” said Lethe. “It’s quite possible that he knows more about the Indra than the entire engineering staff combined, including the two of you.” He pointed at Juvinea and the slumbering Marjorie.
“So all that stuff about being a deaf, dumb, and mute janitor was all a ruse?”
Lethe chuckled; his admiration for the man was considerable. “Yep, I did a bit of digging with Intelligence. Some very high up people owe him some favors, so they put him in the cushiest most unassuming job closest to the most advanced technological research on the planet. I believe General Sullivan still owes him a few favors.”
“Indeed,” said Sullivan. ”And I intend on repaying them while the both of us are still alive.”
A small thud could be heard from the back of the group, several turned back to see Ghost curled up in the fetal position on the ground with Pixia crouching over her. Ellie hobbled over and stood beside Pixia as the rest of the group kept going, they knew Ghost was in good hands.
“Alright then…” Ellie plunked down next to the shaking Ghost. “What’s all this.”
“I’m scared.” She said quietly.
“You don’t say… C’mon now, sit up and let’s figure out why you’re scared.” Ellie scooped her massive arm underneath Ghost and pulled her into a sitting position. “Do you want Pixia to stay?” Ellie spoke as if to a frightened animal.
“She can stay… if she wants.” Ghost squirmed awkwardly.
Pixia sat down.
Ellie pulled her close. “Alright, now… Ghost, I want you to tell me why you’re so scared. Tell me from the very beginning, what happened…”
The group continued on, chatting and planning, Ghost, Ellie, and Pixia caught up after an hour or so. It was early morning when the group entered Ozri, The streets were near empty as most of the Shalti were out working the farmland. The group had to take cover when a military guarded grain shipment trundled past, making its way back to Alcadon. Following Inferno they quickly made their way to the local Superior’s office where the tasteful throw rug was tossed aside and the freshly made hidden door beneath was quietly opened. There was extreme difficulty in fitting both Ellie and Wall through the small door but they were somehow squeezed through. The space beneath was a roughly carved maze of brightly lit tunnels leading to a main control center.
As the group weaved their way through the tunnels they saw many people, more than they’d expected for such a secret organization. Quite a rogue’s gallery passed them by: Burly seafarers their beards sticking out wildly, blonde haired southerners their bodies lithe and agile, great lumbering northerners their shining bald heads bowed in the low corridors. There were many Shalti among the group and many who were undoubtedly from Alcadon from the way they held themselves, but the diversity of the group was stunning. Poring over a set of maps and a small stack of reports was the old man; standing to his side was his half Tcha’Gough second in command.
He looked up as the group entered and quickly dismissed his number two. “Welcome, I would ask if things went well on your journey but…” He held up a series of pictures showing Wall throwing the ATTV. “I think this speaks for itself.”
“Schultz doubled down on surveillance,” said Sullivan. “He overheard us and released the military.”
“Indeed,” the old man put down the pictures. “And you held yourselves admirably, my compliments. Unfortunately this has only made difficult what should have been a very simple plan.”
Marjorie spoke up, stepping forward. “In actuality, the plan was doomed to fail from the beginning.”
The old man raised his eyebrow. “Doctor Marjorie Fitsch—,” he peered over her shoulder, “—and family. In what way would our plan have failed?”
“That silly little farming project? How could it have foiled our plans?” Clearly he hadn’t learned of the Prototype yet.
Marjorie explained Schultz and how he intended to use Project Gamma.
After several minutes of thought the old man spoke, hit tone was begrudging. “Very well, I concede that our plan would not have succeeded, especially with the introduction of Project Gamma.” He looked at Fitsch, still not trusting her fully. “What would you propose to do?”
“The only way to stop Schultz is to first disable Marge, if we can prevent the software upload then we’ll only have to contend with the prototype and Schultz, I doubt we could stand against an army of them.”
The old man deliberated some more. “Indeed… then it would be prudent to remove Marge from the picture as quickly as possible. I propose sending in a small group, including you, to destroy it.”
“Her,” Marjorie said quickly.
The old man grunted and corrected himself. “Her.”
Much to the surprise of everybody present, Ghost stepped forward. “Stealth is my bread and butter, I volunteer,” she said confidently.
The old man looked confused. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t recognize you…”
She shrunk a bit. “I’m Ghost.” Her voice instantly lost its confidence.
The old man’s eyes widened. “Oh, so that’s what you look like… Yes you would be perfect for something such as this.” He regained his composure. “And might I propose that the second member be somebody from my own ranks. Xypia, would you come out please.”
Xypia emerged from one of the dark corridors.
“Well shit,” said Anon. “You made it. How’ve you been?”
Xypia didn’t answer.
Anon nodded approvingly. “Hmm, still taciturn, very brooding, I like it.”
“Anon, please don’t taunt him,” chided Pestilence giving him an elbow to the midsection.
His voice was strained; the elbow had more force behind it than he thought. “Yes mom…”
Before anybody could do or say anything Ghost had her hands wrapped around Xypia’s neck. Using his confusion to her advantage Ghost leapt up and wrapped her legs around his neck, freeing her hands. She arched backwards and grabbed the backs of Xypia’s legs and bent her body, folding him like a piece of paper. As soon as it looked like Xypia was going to snap in half Ghost released him, he skipped to the far end of the room where he took up a defensive stance, but Ghost was gone, she emerged from the darkness behind him.
She wrapped him in a headlock. “You’ve gotten slow sweetie, but it’s nice to know you haven’t forgotten.” Ghost looked to the old man. “He’ll do.”
Ellie could hear Vee chuckling in the apartment. “That’s the Ghost I know.”
“Stop bullying him!”Kid yelled.
The old man cleared his throat eyes wide. “Anyway, I propose that Ghost, Xypia, and Fitsch infiltrate the Schultz building and deactivate Marge before the rest of project Gamma comes online.”
“Yeah,” said Inferno. “But how are they gonna get in the Schultz building in the first place? We were almost obliterated just getting out of the city.”
The old man smiled a crafty and wicked smile.
Chapter 21: In Her Brain
“Bait?! Really! Couldn’t he have thought of something a bit more original?!” Inferno screamed as another volley of high explosive rounds exploded behind him.
“Oh, quit your whining and keep burning that wall!” Wall retorted.
Inferno grumbled some more and launched another jet of flame onto the wooden barrier wall. Smoke rose from flaming sections behind them, partially obscuring the view of the fifteen or so Armored Artillery Vehicles chasing them.
“Shit!” yelled Wall, another volley had been launched.
He grabbed Inferno and leapt through the barrier. The force of the explosion tore the wall apart behind them; they were launched through the wall of one of the many abandoned buildings festooning the outskirts of Alcadon.
Inferno pulled himself from a pile of wood and bricks. “I think their aim is getting better.”
Wall emerged from a large pile of rubble. “Yeah, I think we’re done here.”
“How’re we gonna get out of here?” Inferno could hear the sounds of the massive engines idling outside the barrier.
“We have no choice but to wait until they leave. All we have to do is get past the wall and book it.”
“But they know we’re here.”
Wall decided to look at thing’s logically for once. “They’ve probably concentrated most of their forces on the part of the city facing Ozri, we’ll skirt around the city and find a spot with fewer guards.”
Inferno tilted his head. “Tactics? From you? And good ones at that, alright let’s do it.”
Careful not to make any noise the two exited the building and ran deeper into Alcadon.
The sounds of explosions echoed in the distance as Ghost, Xypia, and Marjorie slunk through one of the seemingly endless deserted alleyways in the outskirt slums.
“I hope they get out OK.” Marjorie was looking concerned.
Ghost kept her voice hushed. “Don’t worry about them; they’re stronger than you’d think.” She’d really loosened up; she finally had something else to focus on.
Schultz’ voice cut through the air. “Indra! I don’t know what you’re trying to prove by spitting on me like this, but I assure you this display is futile.”
All the way at the top of the Schultz building Laverne was intently watching Inferno and Wall sneaking through the dark alleyways on a bank of monitors. After the betrayal of Fitsch he wasn’t going to take any chances, every security measure he had ever installed was in operation. Tens of thousands of cameras were feeding an endless feed of information through Marge who piped directly to Schultz’ office. Marge was on the verge of overheating. Schultz was unconcerned with Marge; he was more worried about the Indra and their little skirmish. Schultz knew it was a distraction, but where were the others?
“Marge my dear…” he finally said.
“Yes sweetie?” Her voice was heavily distorted from the strain; she was stretched so thin even she was amazed that she hadn’t crashed yet.
He squinted at the two on the monitor. “Send in the prototype, I want to see how it can handle itself, and current upload status on the others?”
“Your staggered plan is working excellently; we have four more online and are due to have the full complement finished by the end of the week.”
“Excellent.” Schultz stood up and stared out the massive window, he could see the thin trickle of black smoke rising from the slums. “At the risk of sounding cliché… release the hounds.”
“All five of them?”
Schultz didn’t even hesitate. “Fuck it; send them all, no chances.”
Back in Ozri, in the Sons’ underground base of operations, Ellie was catching up with Lethe and Juvinea on all the happenings from the past week.
“Really? So he just sat there and screamed? He didn’t even put up a fight?” asked Ellie.
Lethe shrugged voice apathetic. “Yeah, according to the others, he just politely sat there to be blown up.”
Ellie scowled internally. “Damn, that seems to be a bit of a running theme with the LE crowd. Morgan, Medusa, and Havoc, all blown up, here’s hoping I don’t follow suit.”
“I’m curious,” said Juvinea, she’d been listening to Ellie’s retelling intently. “How exactly did you guys destroy Havoc? From how you described the thing it seemed virtually indestructible.”
Ellie scratched her chin. “Well, we had Scorn’s help with that one. The self destruct charge in an ancient American bomb, Medusa dove down the thing’s throat and exploded it from the inside.”
“Did Scorn elaborate on the type of explosive? It could be useful for when we’re fighting Schultz.”
Elle shook her head. “He didn’t go into much detail, he just called it AA.”
Lethe noticeably flinched. “Yes, that certainly would do the trick.”
“What is it?” asked Juvinea.
“It’s an ancient chemical, highly unstable. For the longest time it was ardently avoided due to its unpredictable nature. The government found a way to weaponize it, of course, by synthesizing it on the fly, much like a fusion grenade, but far more powerful. Pixia told me they found a large stash of the synthesis ingredients in the Armory. Perhaps…”
Juvinea’s eyes widened. “Schultz?”
Her eyes stayed wide. “How’re they going to get him to eat it?”
Lethe was quiet for a moment, and then he chuckled. “I don’t think he’ll have to eat it for it to be effective. Excuse me I have to speak with the others.” He stood up and left the room.
As soon as Lethe left Juvinea turned back to Ellie and spoke in a hushed whisper. “Well I feel stupid now… You mentioned before that you saved the beings of both Valkyrie and Kid, right?”
“Uh, yeah, I’m sorry but even I don’t understand the process behind it.”
“No, no you don’t need to explain it to me.” She was silent, deliberating what to say next. “This is going to come as a shock, the others don’t know… but War is dead… He was killed by Schultz and the Gamma Prototype. When this is all over we’ll need you to help recover him.”
Ellie nodded grimly, War may have been a bit nebulous but he was always kind to her. “How long ago was he killed?”
Ellie sighed as she thought. “The past two times I’ve done it the other still had a bit of power left in them, I’m not sure if War’s core will have anything left. As he is, I may not be able to help him.”
Juvinea’s face fell.
Ellie put a hand on her shoulder, completely enveloping it. “Hey, don’t worry, we’ll get him back. Don’t forget, we still have Banthu skulking around out there. He managed to grow back Wall’s arm, he might be able to do something for War.”
“You’re right!” A hopeful gleam shone in Juvinea’s eyes, the hope was quickly replaced with curiosity. “I’m confused though, you never really elaborated on where the beings of Kid and Valkyrie went.”
“Well, I’m a bit of a strange one…” Ellie tapped at her temple region. “I use the LE chipset which, as we’ve seen with Morgan and Medusa, isn’t very stable. Banthu used a coprocessor to unload much of the workload that overheats the chip, and through a leap of logic all his own he settled on a human brain.”
“So you mean..?”
“Yes, there is a human brain inside of me.”
Juvinea’s brow furrowed as she figured. “Hmmm, honestly that was probably a good choice, the chip is probably hijacking the autonomous functions of the brain to run some its more extraneous programming, but that still leaves plenty unused. I can see how that would work. If he’d used an LX or LE board he’d have to contend with multiple personalities or possibly setting one up as a slave drive which would unleash a whole new plethora of problems with conflicts and compatibility.” She quickly stopped herself before she went off on a tangent.
Ellie was lost, she was slightly perturbed that people knew more about her brain than she did, she quickly changed the subject. “The original owner of the brain is also here with me, she was ‘awakened’ when I was stabbed by Medusa.” Ellie gestured to the two large craters in her chest.
Juvinea squinted at them. “Oh, I thought those were stylistic choices.”
Ellie scoffed. “Have you looked at me recently? I’m a pastel disaster.”
Juvinea waved away Ellie’s concerns. “Bah, I like purple, you look fine.”
Ellie deliberated for a moment. “I wonder, this is a long shot but… what if I set up a link between her brain and yours and you ‘came inside’ so to speak?”
Juvinea shrugged. “Hell, there’s a good chance we’re all going to die horribly in the next few days, I’m up for anything at this point.”
Ellie put a sinister edge on her voice as she flexed her fingers, they snapped worryingly. “Alright, first I need to open your skull…”
Juvinea squinted and smirked. “I assume you’re joking.”
“Partially.” Ellie placed her massive hands on either side of Juvinea’s head almost fully enveloping it. “Now just a warning, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“That’s science baby.” Juvinea could feel a strange prickling sensation all across her head and a sharp pain from the base of her neck, and all was dark.
Juvinea could hear soft voices cut through the silence. Slowly they gained clarity, it sounded like two women having an argument, they both sounded incredibly familiar.
“Ellie, you know I don’t have any more clothes in my closet! Do you know how much I miss my bathrobe!?” The woman sounded so familiar, Juvinea’s mind itched trying to remember.
“We’ll have Wall give it back when we see him next.” That voice sounded a lot like Ellie’s but it was higher pitched.
“Do you know what he’s using it for!?” That tone… Juvinea was kicking herself for not being able to remember.
Juvinea could feel something poking her face; she opened her eyes and immediately shut them again against the brightness of Kid’s pajamas.
“Oi! Stop arguing, she’s waking up!” Kid yelled at the two.
Behind Juvinea’s closed eyelids she could see shadows moving around, one of the vague shadows filled up her view as it crouched over her. She felt a gentle slap on her cheek, and she cautiously opened her eyes, everything was blurry. There were two young women and two young girls inside what appeared to be a small apartment. The older of the two girls, who was using a crutch, hauled Juvinea to her feet. Whoa she was strong! She was undoubtedly Ellie; Juvinea was amazed at how small she was.
“Welcome…” she said. “…to the apartment.” She dramatically flourished her hand.
Juvinea blinked slowly, her eyesight clearing, surprise etched into her face. “Um…” she said quietly.
“She’s taking this rather well,” said Katrine.
If Juvinea was surprised before now she was dumbfounded. “Katty?”
“Hey boss.” Katrine gave a small wave.
Her eyes were wide as she realized what happened. “So this is where you went.”
“Yeah, I died,” Katrine said nonchalantly.
“Never thought you’d turn out like that.”
She chuckled. “Neither did I. I also never expected for my former boss to be standing naked in my apartment.”
“Wait,” said Ellie before Juvinea could answer. “You two know each other?”
“Yeah, we worked together,” Katrine responded. “She was my boss while I was working in Agricultural Engineering, I think it was punishment for destroying something.”
Juvinea sheepishly cleared her throat.
“Well, that got the awkward one out of the way,” said Ellie, incredibly relieved. “I’m Ellie, your host.” She gestured to Vee. “This is Valkyrie but she prefers Vee, and this tiny neon creature is Kid.”
Kid leapt onto Juvinea’s shoulders and started to pet her curly red hair.
“It’s so fluffy!” Kid yelled.
“Yeah…” Ellie slouched a bit. “Kid, stop harassing her.”
Kid leapt from Juvinea’s shoulders; landing gracefully she gave a little bow.
Katrine looked down at Kid with a slightly flustered expression; she looked back up to Juvinea. “I think, in technical terms you’re the first living person to have ever seen this place.”
“So if you were able to save War, he would wind up here?” Juvinea was getting rather cold.
“Yeah, that’s about right,” said Ellie, looking around the small apartment, it was getting rather full.
Katrine gestured to the others. “And he’d get to share our wonderful company.”
“I’m curious; can other Indra enter this place when they’re still alive?” She was growing intently aware of the fact she was naked, her eyes started flitting around, looking for something to cover up with.
Ellie shrugged. “Yeah, it’s pretty easy. The amount of time Kid spent in here when we were after Medusa was… considerable.”
“Hey don’t blame me if I like naps,” snapped Kid.
Vee scoffed. “You could give Lethe a run for his money.”
She realized something that gave her pause. “Call me crazy, but you’re all… human.”
Vee nodded. “That we are, it was a bit jarring at first but it really is quite enjoyable. Hair, I never realized how much work it is.” She twirled her long burgundy hair.
“You’re telling me?” said Juvinea blowing a stray curl from her face.
Ellie clapped her hands rather suddenly. “Well, we’ve established that I can indeed bring living breathing humans here. I think this experiment is a rousing success.”
The door to the apartment opened and Lethe walked inside. “Hey, so, Ellie, what’s with the finger tentacles in Juvinea’s head?”
Ellie blinked surprisedly. “Wait I have those?”
“Lethe! Look at you, you’re human!” Juvinea exclaimed.
She rushed over to Lethe and wrapped him in a big hug. He blushed a bright scarlet. Suddenly realizing her nudity she quickly pulled away blushing heavily. Realizing her awkward situation Vee tossed one of the sheets from the bed at Juvinea where it almost expertly wrapped around her. Vee’s eyes widened at how perfectly that worked out.
Lethe looked over at Vee. “Good throw, I’m sorry to ruin the mood though but Wall and Inferno need help. We just received an emergency Call from them, Schultz has released the Gammas.”
Juvinea scowled. “Wait there’s more than one?”
Lethe was already halfway out the door. “It seems Schultz is taking a staggered approach, uploading and activating them one by one instead of all at once. He’s liable to have nearly four hundred done by the end of the day.”
Ellie expectantly rocked on her heel. “Well let’s go then! Juvinea, I’m not sure how we’re going to get you out of here.”
“Well, let’s try the front door.” Juvinea said slipping through the door; she was enveloped by a wave of grey and her vision grew dark.
Her eyes shot open, she was immediately aware of many strange tendrils wrapping around her skull beneath her scalp. The fiber optic tendrils began to withdraw when she regained consciousness; it was a strange burning sensation.
“Alright, you good?” Ellie was back as well she pulled her hands away from Juvinea’s head the tips of the tendrils withdrawing into her hands.
She nodded. “Yep, c’mon, we have work to do!”
As soon as she stood up, Juvinea was aware of a large amount of blood spurting from the many tiny holes in her scalp. “Gah! Gauze! I need gauze!”
“Duck!” Wall yelled.
He pushed Inferno down as the razor sharp body of one of the Gammas shot overhead, punching a hole in the side of the building. They rounded a corner and wound up immediately regretting it, a sheer brick wall cordoned off the end. They’d been running from the Gammas for nearly half an hour, they were lost and worse, trapped.
Inferno pulled out his weapons turning around to face the Gammas. “Well, I don’t think we have a choice.”
Wall nodded in agreement, pulling his massive sword from over his shoulder. “That we don’t.”
“Let ‘em have it!”
Inferno launched a stream of white hot flames into the cluster of prototypes. Wall rushed forward and lunged to the side as a swift chop was thrown at him. He swung his massive sword, cutting through the wall behind him, and severed the arm of the prototype. The Gamma didn’t seem fazed by its sudden disarming as it then grabbed the arm and began bludgeoning Wall with it. The rest blocked the alleyway, they clearly meant for this to be the two Indra’s final resting place.
Wall stumbled back to Inferno. “I kinda wish we had Bolt with us right about now.”
Inferno launched another jet of flames at the Gammas, they didn’t even flinch. “I’m beginning to agree with you, my flames can’t do anything to them.”
A Gamma rushed forward but was quickly sent back with a stout kick from Wall.
Inferno pulled out his sword. “At least we know that we can cut them.”
Wall gestured to the Gamma wielding its severed arm. “Look how that worked out.”
Inferno darted toward the nearest proto. “Then go for the legs!” Ducking low beneath its lightning quick swing he launched a slice right at the proto’s knee joint. Inferno was suddenly stopped dead; his sword had caught on the incredibly thick steel armor. “Well if that don’t just beat all…” Was all Inferno could get out before the Gamma tore him from the ground and threw him to the others behind it.
“Wall, get out of here!” Inferno yelled as the Gammas began to tear him apart.
Wall began to hack at the back of one of the Gammas, it was too distracted with Inferno to pay him any mind. “I’m not just gonna leave you!”
“Oh yes you are you dense bastard! You’ve got five seconds!”
Realizing what Inferno was about to do Wall quickly turned and threw all of his strength into the solid concrete wall behind him. It crumbled as he pushed his massive bulk through it. A massive explosion followed by an immense fireball threw the rest of Wall through the hole he made. As the echoes died all he could hear was the sound of metal clanking on the ground and the wet slaps of biomass hitting the pavement.
Wall looked back through the hole; all he could see was a massive cloud of smoke and metal glimmering in the sunlight. “Goodbye old friend.” Looking back several times, Wall ran off through the deserted streets.
Schultz squinted in disappointment.
“Fool! You stupid fool,” he muttered.
“He destroyed all of our prototypes,” said Marge bluntly.
“Indeed, but we’ll have more; we’ll have so many more.” He sighed. “Send a message to Burke; tell him to have his boys on standby. Chances are the rest are going to be coming shortly. If they do tell him to funnel them toward the tower, I have a little surprise for them.”
“Are you sure they were fine with us taking these!?” Ellie yelled over the wind.
Ellie, Death, Pestilence, and Anon were racing across the Halgue flatlands toward Alcadon in ‘borrowed’ Airborne Personnel Vehicles.
“I mean… they didn’t say we couldn’t!” Pestilence yelled back. “Whoa!” She quickly dodged a massive boulder that threatened to flatten her.
“Given the circumstances I’d say the theft is forgivable!” Death yelled.
“ETA?!” Yelled Pestilence.
“Four minutes!” Responded Death.
“You know, we could just talk like this, and then we wouldn’t have to yell.”Ellie could feel Anon’s thoughts, a strange feeling since the Indra began using the speakers.
“Yelling’s more enjoyable!” whooped Pestilence.
“You’ve got me there! C’mon let’s see if we can’t get there faster!”
Sullivan furiously paced around the empty hangar. “And you just let them!?”
The lone technician cowered before Sullivan. “Sir it was urgent, they said the distraction party was in trouble and needed an emergency evac.”
Sullivan deflated a little. “Do we still have the ATTV?”
The tech nodded wildly. “Yes sir.”
A glimmer of excitement shone in Sullivan’s eyes. “Alright, I’ll get the rest of the Indra… if I know Schultz then four won’t be enough.”
The technician leaned in conspiratorially. “Go easy on them sir.”
Sullivan smirked. “Normally I would kid, but not today.”
In a few minutes the rest of the Indra were being jostled around in the rear storage bay of one of the Sons’ stolen ATTV’s. Instead of letting the on board computer system drive, Sullivan had taken over the reins and was driving way too fast across the flatlands.
“I may not look it,” Sullivan yelled to the back a bit smugly. “But I’m probably the best driver in the city, if not the country. You should see my son, he’s Schultz’ personal driver.” He slapped the controls and let out a howling laugh, “welcome to hell on wheels!”
“It’s a wonder how Schultz manages to keep anything down.” Pixia was huddled in the corner trying to fend off motion sickness.
“Now I understand the human’s affinity for thrill park rides,” Famine said, nearly being thrown into a wall.
Pixia turned to throw a confused glare at Famine. “What?”
“This is quite thrilling.”
“It’s reassuring to know you actually have feelings Famine, but unfortunately now isn’t the time,” said Lethe. He turned back to look at Wulf who was standing rigidly facing a wall clutching desperately to one of the ceiling straps. “Hey Wulf, you OK?”
Wulf’s response was strained and monotonous. “If it were possible for me to vomit then I would have done so many times already.”
“Bah, wimps,” Sullivan yelled. “Alright! We’re coming up on Alcadon, get ready ‘cause I’m not stickin’ around to watch the fireworks!”
Sullivan mashed a large button on the dashboard and the cargo door at the back began to lower, it hit the ground and began grinding along the uneven terrain. The ATTV suddenly swerved and the Indra could see a small explosion to their right.
Sullivan yelled back. “They see us! Get ready to jump!”
The Indra stood at the edge of the bouncing cargo door and waited for their mark.
“Alright! In three! Two! One! Jump!”
Famine was the only one to land on their feet, the rest of them landed either on their rears or their heads.
Famine turned towards the city. “I’d recommend against lying around, I think I see a volley of rockets headed our way.”
The Indra scrambled to their feet and began running towards the city.
Wulf yelled over the sounds of explosions and gunfire. “Call me crazy Famine, but I think you’re enjoying this!”
Famine dodged a small missile. “That is entirely possible!”
“Don’t they ever run out of ammo?” Yelled Pixia, exasperated.
“I think you know the answer to that already!” yelled Wulf.
“Now remember, our goal is to rejoin with the others and get the distraction team out! Don’t engage if you don’t have to!” Yelled Lethe over the gunfire.
The group pushed through the rudimentary barricades and shredded the razor wire bundles. Much to the surprise of the still firing infantry the Indra completely ignored them. Most of them leapt over the fence though Lethe and Wulf simply used their weight to push through it, it slowly tipped over and hit the ground with a massive crash as the Indra fled further into the city.
Deeper inside the city, Ellie, Death, Pestilence, and Anon turned their heads toward the outskirts as the crackling of gunfire and explosions echoed through the deserted streets.
Ellie turned to the others. “I think we have more company, the others?”
“Probably, though I don’t know why they’d come after us,” said Death.
Anon perked up. “I can feel Wall close by… funny, I can’t feel Inferno anywhere.”
“Oh, that’s not good. Lead the way Anon,” said Ellie.
They found Wall holed up in one of the many abandoned tenement buildings, he’d piled up half destroyed furniture in front of the door to prevent entry.
Pestilence crawled through the open window. “You know, they could just come through the window right?”
Wall replied shakily. “Well you see, that’s the funny thing. It seems manners are hardwired into them, they always use the doors.” He’d been attacked by several more Gammas; he’d been able to destroy them with some difficulty.
She crouched in front of him. “Where’s Inferno?”
Wall made an exploding motion with his hands. “He got all five of them.”
“Oh that idiot!” Pestilence hit the wall angrily, shattering the drywall. “Schultz has thousands more! And he sacrificed himself for five?”
“He didn’t have a choice; they were tearing him to pieces.”
Pestilence sighed. “Can you take us back there? We have Ellie with us; she might be able to help.”
Wall stood up, and made for the window. “Yeah…”
The group drew up on the blast area. A massive crater was punched into the pavement and the nearby buildings were still smoldering. Shards of burnished steel glittered in the sunlight.
Lethe crouched down to inspect one of the many lumps of biomass plastered to the ground. “It seems they haven’t quite gotten the formula right, this stuff is really rough. Lucky us, under all that armor these things are incredibly fragile.” He picked it up and it disintegrated into black slime.
Searching the area they found what was left of Inferno. The force of the blast threw him through one of the nearby buildings and into the next. His limbs had been blasted off and much of the armor on his chest and stomach had been peeled away.
Wall kneeled down next to Inferno and gave him a light shake. “Hey bud, c’mon, you’ve had worse.”
Inferno stirred. “I’m not comin’ back from this one,” he said weakly.
He chuckled. “I think that’s obvious, but we have Ellie here, she’ll keep you goin’.”
“Nah, could you imagine me being stuck in that tiny room with three chicks? Those two especially? That would be a nightmare.”
Wall’s voice was pleading. “But you’d still be alive.”
Inferno shook his head. “I don’t deserve that. We all know what I did. Consider this payment.”
Wall gave him a light jostle. “You’ve changed, we’ve all changed!”
“Be that as it may.” He paused. “Thanks, for being my friend.”
“Hey don’t talk like that; they might think you’re going soft.”
Inferno chuckled; his voice was strained and halting. “Heh, I’ve always been soft… Come closer…” His voice grew quiet as Wall leaned in close.
With a short nod from Wall, Inferno’s head fell back, resting on the floor.
Wall stood up. “Anon, take his speaker. We’ll be back for him when this is all over.”
Ellie knelt beside Inferno’s body. “Are you sure you don’t want me to try?”
“No!” Wall snapped. “Those are his wishes and we will follow them.”
Marjorie let out a relieved sigh. “Well… nothing’s coming after us so I assume he was talking to the distraction party.” Marjorie, Ghost, and Xypia were hiding in an abandoned building.
Ghost was still focused on the mission. “Let’s not push our luck… Marjorie is there any way we can get to the Schultz building through the sewer or drainage system?”
She shook her head. “No, Schultz thought of that, the pipes are too small. We’ll have to go aboveground pretty much the whole way. Once we got closer we’ll be able to get creative.”
“Well, then we best be off again.” Ghost stole off silently through the building, the two closely following her.
The three were lucky, the entire city was on lockdown, nobody was out in the streets and everything was stopped. Even the back alleys where the homeless lived were bare and empty.
Marjorie stopped and looked up. “This is so strange…”
Ghost turned, instantly on edge. “What is it?”
“The sky, I can see it. I’ve never seen a blue sky in Alcadon before.”
Ghost was unimpressed. “Poetic as that may be, we have a mission to carry out, stay focused.” Peeking her head around a corner, Ghost could see the front entrance to the Schultz tower at the end of the street. She quickly pulled it back. “Damn, one of them is outside the front door!”
Marjorie was poking her head down the opposite end of the alleyway. “We’re not going in through the front door.”
Ghost crept up behind her. “Then how? The loading bays at the back?”
She shook her head and scrunched her face up in thought. “No, too heavily surveyed. We’re going in through the basement.”
“You said the pipes were too small.”
“We’re not using the pipes.” She darted into the alleyway.
Several minutes later the three were padding silently down a brightly lit beige corridor.
“Y’see,” said Ghost, incredibly impressed. “This is why you’re the brains.”
Marjorie adjusted her glasses smugly. “I’m intimately familiar with the layout of this place, I even designed some of the expansions, you can’t blame me for adding a few personal touches.”
Ghost felt a new respect for Marjorie. “God, you’re sneaky.”
She poked her head around a corner and quickly rushed down the hallway. “We need to get to my workroom, I have my old programming notes on Marge stored away in there, and there might be some other useful junk, I honestly don’t know.”
“That’s if Schultz hasn’t already gutted it.”
Marjorie paused. “That is a possibility, I can deactivate Marge without the notes but things would go much quicker with them.”
Just as Marjorie finished her statement a Gamma rounded the corner, nearly bumping into them. Ghost shoved her back into the arms of Xypia and engaged it. The fight was completely silent apart from the whistling of punches and the quiet scrape of the steel armor. Dodging beneath a clumsy right hook and jumping over a lighting fast leg sweep Ghost seemed untouchable. Jumping over another sweep she vaulted over the Gamma landing on its broad shoulders, she planted her feet and pulled on one of the many spikes jutting from the thing’s head. In a flash the Gamma was decapitated, but that didn’t stop it. The Gamma flailed wildly, bucking Ghost from its shoulders.
Ghost landed lightly. “Alright Xypia, crush the bug.”
Marjorie was confused. “Wait wha-“
She was cut short by Xypia shoving her aside, whipping out his enormous hammer and flattening the Gamma in a single massive smash. With a sound like a massive tin can being crushed the Gamma crumpled like paper, black liquid shot from between the armor plating and splattered on the walls.
Ghost prodded the crushed Gamma with her foot. “Hmm, usually pulling the head off of something kills it.”
Marjorie scowled at the disgusting wreck of the Gamma. “They’re pretty basic units; the only things of any import in the head are the visual and auditory sensors so you only blinded it.”
Ghost looked to Xypia. “I wish we were build like that, bit of a design flaw if you ask me.”
Xypia nodded in response.
Ghost turned to Marjorie. “Alright, which way to your workroom?”
Marjorie brushed past her, shoes slapping in the shredded Biomass, she left a trail of black slime behind her as she continued down the corridor. After a few more turns they came upon the stairwell, looking up and down it looked as if it stretched into infinity.
“Thank goodness nobody uses the stairs,” Fitsch grumbled.
As they came upon Engineering Level 7, Marjorie quietly eased the door open, checking that the coast was clear. After rushing through more identical corridors, Ghost was getting incredibly confused, Marjorie stopped in front of a heavy wooden door, turned the key and stepped inside.
She let out a sigh of relief as she saw the work room untouched. “Schultz must be too busy with the Gammas to clear out my stuff.”
Making her way to the gurney in the back of the room she quickly covered War’s body before the lights came on fully. She pushed some clutter out of the way revealing an old metal filing cabinet. She pulled one of the drawers open and began rifling through the immaculately organized files.
“It may be antiquated,” she said, “but I’ve never heard of somebody hacking paper.”
Ghost scoffed. “Hah! You should talk to forty-fifth century American scientists; they’d give you a run for your money on that one.” She swirled her pointer finger in a circle around her temple.
Marjorie huffed. “I’ll ask later. But for now please don’t touch anything. There is some sensitive equipment in here and some relics that, if we make it out of this alive, I still need to study.”
Seemingly not hearing her Ghost began poking around the workroom. “Hey what’s on the gurney?”
Marjorie shot up, pulling a folder from the drawer. “Please don’t touch that! It’s very fragile; the slightest touch could disintegrate it.”
Ghost began pulling at the cover. “Oh come on, it can’t be that special.”
“Ghost, please. Leave it be,” Marjorie said quietly.
She let go of the cover. “Alright.” Her tone got quiet; she didn’t want to upset Marjorie.
She held the folder close, virtually hugging it. “OK, these have the shutdown sequence, now we just have to get to the central computer core alive.”
Ghost sensed a moment for a cliché. “Easier said than done?”
She nodded. “Very.”
“No use in dawdling, c’mon Xypia.” Ghost turned to leave.
Xypia didn’t move, he was standing perfectly rigid his gaze affixed on the gurney. The figure on the gurney looked familiar… He woodenly walked forward and tore away the cover.
“NO!” Marjorie lunged forward.
There he was, War, dead and cold on the gurney, cleanly sliced in two. Marjorie buried her face in her open palm.
Ghost turned to Marjorie and slowly walked toward her. “How, long?” Her anger rose to the surface as a pink aura began rising from her skin.
Marjorie backed up, eventually bumping into one of the many workbenches. “Several days. He was present at my showing of the initial prototype to Schultz. Schultz and the Prototype killed him.”
“You knew this… and told no one?” Ghost’s voice was dangerously calm.
Marjorie was beginning to panic. “I told my sister and Lethe, we didn’t want to tell the rest of you in case you did something rash.”
The door exploded as Xypia smashed it with his hammer; he sprinted from the ruined doorway and down the hall.
“Rash is the proper word for it,” said Ghost as she watched him disappear around the corner. She turned back to Marjorie. “Was there nothing you could do? You created the things dammit! You could have done something!”
Her fear was slowly being replaced with anger; she was tired of repeating herself. “I couldn’t have stopped the thing if I’d tried. The Gammas are programmed to Schultz above all others; I likely would have ended up dead as well! Then I wouldn’t be of use to anyone!”
Ghost sighed, Fitsch was right. She kept that little flame of anger alive, she was going to need it. “The moment we get out of this we’re grabbing everybody and we’re coming back to tear Schultz limb from limb! Now c’mon!”
Marjorie stumbled over the shredded door. “He won’t kill him.”
“Xypia, he’s going to die up there.”
Ghost kept going. “As cruel as it may be to say, he’ll be the perfect distraction.”
Chapter 22: Cliché
Ellie dodged the jagged fist of the proto. “Whoa! These things are persistent!” She balanced herself and heaved a massive sideswipe at the thing’s torso where her blade jammed in the thick steel. “What was that you said about them being fragile, Lethe?”
Lethe snuck up behind the raging Gamma and jammed the spikes of his baton in the knee joint. “I said the flesh was weak, the armor… not so much.” He pressed the button and the Gamma fell to its knees as Ellie decapitated it with a sharp swing.
Ellie grunted in satisfaction. “And that’s tha-.” The Gamma lunged forward catching her off guard. “Agh!” She fell on her backside.
Wall rushed in and smashed the Gamma with the flat of his massive blade, unable to brace itself, the Gamma bowed outward. Biomass splattered across the ground.
“Yeah,” Wall said. “Cutting their heads off doesn’t work.”
“That would have been nice to know beforehand.” Ellie extended her arm and Wall pulled her up effortlessly.
The sounds of explosions could be heard in the distance. Wall turned to listen. “Sounds like the military are moving in, and they’re bringing the big guns.”
A loud shout cut through the air and an ominous rumbling could be heard. The three whipped around to see four Mobile Artillery Units trundling up the large boulevard, barrels trained directly on them. Before the Indra could react the four massive barrels flashed and the building they were standing beside shattered outward, they were engulfed in a mass of shrapnel and fire. Ellie felt weightless as she was thrown into the road, Wall and Lethe sprawled behind her, a large chunk of brick smashed into Lethe’s head, he was unconscious almost instantly.
Ellie quickly pushed herself up. “Yeah, nope!” Slinging the unconscious Lethe over her shoulder she swung as fast as she could in the opposite direction followed closely by Wall.
Wall quickly ran to the side of the road and with the screech of shredding metal tore a parking terminal from the ground. He wadded the thing up and slung the mass of steel directly at the artillery units, it became lodged in the barrel of one.
Distantly they could hear the commander scream into his communicator, “Fire anyway!”
There was a flash and the unit was engulfed in a cone of fire. The procession stopped as the infantry and other mobile units fled from the burning wreck and its cooking ammo. Ellie threw one more look over her shoulder before turning a corner, she hoped everybody was alright, but she knew otherwise. They kept going down the deserted streets before literally bumping into the other group who were fleeing in the opposite direction.
“Why are you running this way!?” asked Wulf, flustered.
“I could ask you the same thing!” Ellie retorted.
Wulf jammed his thumb behind his shoulder. “Military.”
Ellie did likewise. “Military.”
He threw his arms up in frustration. “Clever dicks!”
The rumble of massive engines could be heard as the artillery units slowly turned the corner. Ellie could see another group of them approaching from behind Wulf.
Wall turned to the alley the group was standing in front of. “I vote we go this way.” He started rushing down it at full speed, Wulf and the rest followed him.
“Wall! It’s a dead end!” Ellie called after him.
“You do know who you’re talking to right?” said Lethe who’d regained consciousness and was squirming on Ellie’s shoulder.
A crash could be heard as Wall punched through the solid brick barrier at the end of the alley.
“Fair enough.” Ellie rushed after them, the ground exploded behind her.
“I can’t help but feel like this was a setup!” yelled Wulf.
“Y’never know with Schultz!” responded Pestilence, bowling over a garbage can. “The bastard’s a genius; you should see him play chess!”
The group stopped once more, the military nowhere in sight though the grumble of the engines had not faded.
“I propose…” whispered Death. “That we give Schultz a visit.”
Pixia shook her head. “You heard what Marjorie said, he’s not even human anymore.”
“Machine or not, I doubt he can take all of us on.”
Lethe smacked his forehead. “Oh yeah, that’s right… What about the AA in the arsenal…”
The group was silent for a moment.
“Yes…” said Death sinisterly, a cruel smile tingeing his voice. “That’s the stuff.”
“Marge my Dear?”
“Release Proteus if you please.”
“So soon? Don’t you want to butter them up first?”
“This is buttering them up.”
“You’re the boss.”
“And don’t forget it.”
The final Gamma stationed outside the Schultz building was finally ripped into scrap metal. The Gammas were real pushovers when it was four against one.
Pestilence stretched out her neck as she sheathed her blade, she wiped her hand on her thigh, she’d really have to see about getting a grip for that thing. “You know… I’d make a passing comment on how this was too easy, but I know that would simply invite disaster.”
Pixia buried her head in her hand. “It doesn’t matter that you’re aware of it or not, the simple fact that you brought it up means something big is going to hit us out of nowhere.”
“I think you’re both relying entirely too much on a tired cliché.” said Lethe.
Anon was going to answer but he was interrupted by a cliché in action. Like a glimmering steel missile the body of Proteus smashed into the ground. Concrete shot in every possible direction as a massive cloud of dust obscured the steel giant, its silhouette could be seen poising for a strike against Lethe.
Lethe wilted. “Damn you two.” He leapt clear as a massive metal spike cleaved through the air he was just occupying.
It emerged from the hanging cloud of concrete dust… Proteus was massive, fourteen feet of metal and pulsating biomass. Four foot spikes of solid steel jutted from its hunched back and massive lengths of steel punctuated its arms. It stood still for a moment, as if sizing up its opponents, then it struck. Concrete flew as Proteus’ massive downward swing connected with the ground, the Indra scattered.
Pestilence screamed over the massive crashes of Proteus’ blows. “Get its legs! Ellie, Wall! Cripple this bitch!”
Wall and Ellie circled around Proteus, swords drawn, while the others distracted it. Each aimed for the armor break at the back of the knee. Both swings struck true… too true. Proteus fell back, placing its immense weight on the two swords holding them in place. Simply using the strength of its ankles it flipped backwards taking the swords and their owners with them. Ellie and Wall were thrown forward bowling over Pixia and Bolt.
Proteus straightened and the two swords flew out and landed a ways away with a clatter. Proteus paused again, as if waiting for orders.
At the top of the tower Schultz let a small giggle escape his mask of indifference. Looking through his screens he could see exactly what Proteus was seeing, he pressed a series of buttons and the view blurred as Proteus carried out its commands.
Schultz caved and began chortling. “Whoever integrated a manual mode into the software deserves a raise.”
“I can do that right away. How much do you want to raise their salary?” Marge asked.
Schultz paused, confused. “Wait…” Realization dawned on him. “Give ‘em a 50% raise, they earned it!”
Schultz sat for a while more watching the Indra scatter, tapping away on his keyboard. Finally he pressed the auto key and Proteus was taken over by software.
Schultz reclined and flipped through his cameras. He grumbled to himself, “Nothing, nothing… and nothing… oh hello… who are you?”
The camera in the main elevator shaft had picked up something unusual. It was an Indra, but not one Schultz had seen before.
Schultz squinted at the slightly blurry figure on the monitor. “Marge, who’s our friend in the shaft?”
“I have no idea, he’s kinda cute.” It was hard to tell her tone of voice with it being so distorted.
Schultz recoiled at Marge’s odd remark, best to ignore it. “Which part of the shaft is that camera on?”
“The part that’s just outside your office.” Marge said matter-of-factly.
Schultz grinned to himself; perhaps things wouldn’t be quite so boring after all. “Well, how about we give him a warm welcome… and don’t turn on the heaters again!” he said hurriedly.
A blast of warm air hit Xypia as he climbed the final rung of the mile long ladder. Forcing open the door he was faced with a long featureless hallway ending with a set of massive double doors. Throwing caution to the wind he sprinted. Nothing stopped him, no alarms blared, no secret security measures tried to stop him. Not even bothering to stop, Xypia threw his body against the doors, flinging them open with the sound of splintering wood.
Schultz stood in front of the massive picture window, staring out over his domain.
“Welcome,” Schultz said without turning. “I’ve been expecting yo—.“
Schultz never finished his planned monologue as Xypia grabbed him roughly by the neck and slammed him onto the floor.
Schultz’ face twisted with excitement. “Oh ho! Not one to mince words!? Well then let me oblige!”
He leapt to his feet and began grappling with Xypia. Planting his feet, Schultz lifted Xypia bodily and hurled him at the window. Bouncing from the massive pane of glass he rebounded straight into Schultz waiting fist and fell heavily to the floor. Schultz drove his heel into Xypia’s sternum; he quickly leapt back as the head of Xypia’s massive hammer swung past him. Xypia scrambled to his feet, perhaps regretting his rash decision. He could see a dangerous glint in Schultz’ eyes, the eyes of a predator, only one of them was getting out of this alive. They began circling, neither wanting to make the first move. Schultz made several fake starts only to retreat back again, then he followed through, Xypia raised the hammer to block. Schultz’ fist made contact with the shaft of the hammer, bending it then snapping it. Xypia discarded his now useless weapon, straight into the massive window. The window didn’t rebound the hammer, it went with it, and the entire window popped from its housing and began speeding down the side of the building. The fight paused as they both stared at the empty window frame.
Schultz whirled to face Xypia. “Damn you! Do you know how expensive that was!?”
He threw a series of wild punches at Xypia’s head, most were blocked but a few made contact. Xypia replied with several kicks to the gut that Schultz wasn’t ready for. Schultz, saliva dribbling from his mouth, grabbed Xypia about the shoulders and flung him towards the nearest wall. Xypia crashed through the monitor setup, a wall of smoke rose around him.
Schultz squawked in dismay. “Gah! Marge! Cut the power to that outlet!” Schultz stomped up to Xypia, who was still obscured by the milky electrical smoke. “You are proving to be very damaging my friend. I think it’s time for you to leave.”
Schultz roughly grabbed Xypia around the neck and squeezed. Xypia beat at Schultz’ arm but he couldn’t loosen the grip. A crack echoed through the room, cutting above the whistling of the wind rushing past the window. Schultz lifted the weakly struggling Indra up over his shoulder and carried him over to the empty window frame, Xypia’s head lolled limply.
Schultz stopped at the threshold to oblivion. “Fly safe!” he yelled over the roar of wind.
Schultz hurled Xypia out of the window.
Marge piped up; her voice was clearer as she cut the surveillance feed. “Schultz, deary, that was probably one of the worst one liners I’ve ever heard.”
Schultz turned to face the office once more; he had to yell to even hear himself. “I’m not in the mood for any of your sass Marge! Have the military converge on the main square I think it’s time we end this little game!”
Pestilence dodged another of Proteus’ massive swings. “Christ on a bike! Doesn’t this thing ever slow down!?” She cowered slightly as a wad of cement smashed into her side.
“To be frank I don’t think this thing is smart enough to know when it’s tired,” replied Famine bluntly. He jammed his sword up to the hilt in Proteus’ side; he was swatted away leaving the blade.
The Indra had split up once more with Death, Scorn, Anon, Bolt, and Ellie making for the Arsenal while the rest stayed to fight Proteus. The ground to their left exploded, throwing shrapnel in all directions. Hundreds of panes of glass on the front of the Schultz building disintegrated, making musical pinging noises as they rebounded off of Proteus’ steel armor. The group of mobile artillery units trundled around the corner, their barrels trained on the Indra. Infantry streamed into the square, bullets began to fly at the Indra.
Pixia swooped down and lodged her sword in the base of Proteus’ neck and began to saw. “At least when it’s blind it won’t be able to dodge our attacks!” Pixia finished sawing and leapt gracefully from Proteus’ back.
Wulf and Wall rushed in, knocking Proteus on its back where its spikes lodged in the concrete. It struggled, but was unable to pull itself upright.
Wulf looked at the approaching military. “That’s him sorted, but what about them?”
Lethe had a suggestion. “Would any of you feel guilty about us running?”
“Where too?” Wulf didn’t avert his gaze.
“I have no complaints,” said Famine.
Before the Indra could flee a massive pane of glass hit the ground with incredible speed. Luckily for the Indra it landed a short ways away from them. Unluckily for Proteus it was stuck right beneath it. Steel or not, nothing could stand up to the force of the glass as it sliced Proteus lengthways. Proteus went limp, cut cleanly in half. The glass still didn’t shatter. Everything in the square froze, infantry, artillery, and Indra alike, all were fixated on the glass.
“If I had a jaw I’m sure it would be slack right about now,” said Pixia in awe.
“That’s Schultz’ window,” said Pestilence. “Which means…” The head of the hammer slammed into the ground with a thud. “Oh dear…” She looked up.
Looking up, the group could see Xypia hurtling toward the ground. Pixia took flight and intercepted him, not stopping all of his momentum but enough to keep him from vaporizing on contact with the ground. She hit the ground heavily and ran back to the others; the military had gotten over their shock and were firing upon the Indra once more.
“I think it’s time we weren’t here,” yelled Lethe over the crack of the firing artillery.
The group sprinted toward the corner of the Schultz building as a volley of shells exploded behind them.
“Well now what are we going to do!?” yelled Pixia over the explosions, the limp form of Xypia rattling in her arms.
Wulf yelled back. “Get inside and hide! I don’t care where and I don’t care how, just get out of sight. I’ll rendezvous with the others and get them to speed up!”
Deep in the lowest levels of the Schultz building Ghost and Marjorie could feel the floors and walls shaking.
Ghost steadied herself on the wall. “Schultz really isn’t kidding around.”
“Perhaps the distraction party is being a bit more successful than we thought.” Marjorie said hopefully.
Ghost didn’t get her hopes up, she knew well from experience that shit always went down when one least expected it. “Considering the fact that we haven’t run into any difficulties as of yet, I’d say we’re overdue for a calamity. I mean, just look at all of these cameras, I refuse to believe that Schultz hasn’t seen us yet.”
Marge’s voice rang through the corridor. “Hello mother, it’s been far too long, I was beginning to think you’d abandoned me.”
Ghost froze and shuddered slightly. “Oh that’s creepy.”
“Marge! Please! Stop the upload!” Marjorie called pleadingly.
Marge made the sound of fluttering lips. “You know I can’t do that. You programmed me to Schultz, what he says goes. I know what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work, I’ve sent my babies out to stop you. Your grandkids are coming to say hi!”
The sounds of heavy footsteps reverberated through the corridor. Ghost hopped up and down limbering up. “Stand back this is going to be rough.”
No less than thirty Gammas streamed around the corner, a sharp silver flood rushed up the corridor. Ghost stiffened and let out a loud primal scream and sprinted to them. The punch she threw disintegrated the first three. A swift sideways kick sent another two flying through a wall. Roughly pulling the arms off another she proceeded to use them as clubs to bludgeon and beat the rest. The arms quickly disintegrated into thick viscous goo. As this was happening Ghost never stopped screaming, she was a fluid being of primal rage. Pushing her hands through the chest of another Gamma and pushed outwards ripping it apart. Tearing the thick steel spikes from the back of that same Gamma she gripped them firmly, pushing grips into them with the strength of her hands alone. She ripped, stabbed and tore the Gammas to pieces as Marjorie stared on in stunned, frightened, silence. The final Gamma fell, and was promptly stomped flat in Ghost’s savage fury.
Ghost turned wildly back to Marjorie, her whole body engulfed in a flaming pink energy, the floor cracked beneath her feet. “And that ladies and gentleman is how you skin a cat!” She began advancing on Marjorie.
“Ghost?” Marjorie was slowly backing up. “Are you alright?” She’d heard that Ghost had a bit of a temper but she seemed bordering on insane.
Ghost stiffened, the aura faded. “Yes!” Her voice quieted. “I’m fine. It’s been so long since I let loose; it was almost starting to feel good.”
Marjorie didn’t drop her guard. “I think your issues are far deeper than simple anxiety.”
Ghost collapsed against the wall, her voice was back to its quiet reserved self. “You have no goddamn idea. Don’t forget, I was built to kill people, and I’m still very good at it.”
Marjorie cautiously approached Ghost and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She smiled kindly.
She chuckled. “Heh, I don’t know why… but looking at you made those terrible feelings go away…” She pushed herself from the wall. “Hmph… now isn’t the time for a deep-dive into my psyche. Let’s get moving.”
Ghost picked Marjorie up and gingerly walked over the wreckage of the Gammas, her feet making wet slopping noises as she trudged through the liquefied biomass. At the other end of the mess Ghost put Marjorie down and let her lead the way once more.
Marge spoke again as they ran. “My my, I think you need therapy Ghost, killing my babies like that, very rude.”
Ghost slammed her fist into the wall, splintering it. “We’re coming for you next!”
Marge clucked disapprovingly. “Tsk-tsk, temper… I’m sure you’ll try… but will you make it? That’s the question.”
“And what do you mean by tha—,“ Marjorie was cut off as a thin wire wrapped around her neck.
She collapsed, pulling at her neck, making small gasping noises. Soon the gasps stopped altogether, her eyes bugged as she panicked, she began flailing desperately. Ghost crouched over her and wiggled her finger down the side of Marjorie’s neck, forcing the skin and muscle aside; she instantly began bleeding as the skin broke around the finger. Wrapping her finger around the wire Ghost pulled it around the underside Marjorie’s chin. She immediately began gasping and spluttering, but she was quickly turning blue as her blood flow was cut off and the wire was digging angrily into the back of her neck. Ghost carefully used the sharp tips of her fingers to begin cutting the wire. Finally the wire gave way with a high pitched ting. Marjorie huddled on the floor, gasping and coughing, bleeding heavily from her neck. Ghost did a quick inspection; both her jugular and carotids were undamaged and her hair had prevented any major damage to the back of her neck. Tearing strips from Marjorie’s shirt Ghost bandaged the thin angry cut.
“Thank you,” Marjorie rasped before succumbing to a coughing fit.
Ghost spoke softly, “We’re not out of this yet.” Ghost had Marjorie wrap her arms around her neck and clamp her legs around her waist, and she set off once more.
“You aren’t just for killing people,” Marjorie whispered. “Sometimes you can save them too.”
She felt a small joy grow in her stomach but she kept her voice dispassionate. “Stop it; you’re making me feel all warm and fuzzy. Can you still disable Marge?”
Marjorie coughed some more. “Yes. If she’d gone for my hands we’d be in a world of trouble.”
Ghost immediately wrapped her hands around Marjorie’s, they seemed tiny in hers, she was startled at how calloused they were.
“It should be at the end of this hallway. I’d say good luck getting through the door, but I know better.”
There was a thick steel door at the end of the hallway. Sensors and cameras peppered the walls and ceiling. Ghost sized the door up.
“Is it time to throw caution to the wind?” asked Marjorie expectantly.
“I’ll hold on tighter then,” she grumbled.
Ghost could feel Marjorie’s grip tighten. She sprinted. Alarms blared, lights flashed, small bangs could be heard as the defense systems kicked in. Ghost ignored all of it and threw her entire weight behind a solid kick to the door. The door held, the wall didn’t. The door and a large portion of the wall flew inwards landing with a clang on the metal flooring of the central computer core. Ghost marveled at how easy that was.
The core was housed in a massive cylindrical room, bars of soft blue light spiraled up the walls, they pulsed slowly. Nearly fifty feet of towering metal shielding surrounding the glowing blue core. It was as if a massive chrome teardrop was suspended over a glowing orange void by massive glowing blue cables.
“I read too many books,” Marjorie mumbled.
Ghost was awed by the room. “You mean it didn’t have to look like this?” she said distractedly.
“No, this is all for show, Schultz likes his theatrics after all. It could have just as easily been a bland beige box.”
“There’s nothing wrong with beige boxes. Alright where do you need to be?”
Marjorie pointed to a control panel at the end of a large suspended walkway. “The central control panel. It’s at the end of the Ominous Looking Catwalk Suspended over Eternity.”
Ghost scoffed. “Such a drama queen…”
“That’s what the blueprints called it.”
“If I didn’t want to punch Schultz before…” Ghost quickly walked to the access panel.
“Watch out for the trap door…”
“God!” Ghost looked to the ceiling in frustration. “I hate this man!”
“Join the club,” Marjorie muttered.
Ghost carefully edged along the walkway, gripping the railing tightly. Like clockwork, at the exact center of the walkway, the floor gave out. Ghost leapt agilely across the yawning chasm.
Ghost didn’t move, for all she knew the next step might activate another trap. “Is that the only trap?”
Marjorie began squirming. “At this point I don’t know. Schultz never banked on an intruder getting through the door, that trapdoor was just for shits and giggles. Could you loosen up on the grip? You’re crushing my hands.”
Ghost yelped quietly as she let go of Marjorie’s hands, they were growing purple. “Sorry,” she whispered.
The booming voice of Marge echoed through the room. Her voice had a sinister edge and a ridiculous accent, “Well then you got past my traps, I’m impressed.”
Ghost yelled out, “Shut up Marge! Don’t even try to monologue to us, we aren’t going to listen!”
“Aw, you’re hurting my feelings,” Marge said sadly.
“Marge, we both know you don’t have any feelings!” said Marjorie loudly. “And you’re grounded for trying to kill me earlier… twice!”
“But mom,” Marge said childishly, drawing out the words. “It’s not my fault you left me in the hands of Schultz. I didn’t ask to be made this way.”
“Oh dear, I think she’s hit puberty.” Remarked Ghost, as she came up on the complicated control panel.
She put Marjorie down who quickly set to work. Ghost could barely keep track of all the complicated hand movements as Marjorie disabled Marge.
“Oh? You’re not killing me? This is unexpected.” Marge’s voice was tinged with surprise.
“Wait what?” Ghost was confused.
“I’m only shutting her down, and gating the startup sequence behind a biometric verification code. Only I can turn her back on.” She turned to Ghost. “She’s my child; I don’t want to kill her… I hope you can understand.”
Ghost nodded. “All too well.”
“Do you want me to sing ‘Daisy Daisy’ as I shut down?” said Marge jokingly; she was ignored by the two.
She didn’t take her eyes off of the console, she input her security code, and then another. “As soon as she’s shut down everything will go to manual, nothing computer controlled will work, elevators especially. The active Gammas are on separate systems so they’ll be unaffected, but the upload will stop.”
“Don’t forget about the thought blockers,” said Marge, her voice slurring and lowering in pitch as she shut down.
Marjorie ran her fingers through her hair in thought. “Huh, in all the action I completely forgot about those.”
“The ceiling… you’re a genius,” Pestilence grumbled to herself as the flimsy ceiling tiles slowly bowed under her weight. “Of all the places you could have thrown your heavy, shitty, body it had to be here.”
She peeked through the small crack, watching the large group of heavily armed infantry passing beneath. She could feel the screws slowly being pulled from their housings and there was nothing she could do about it. Pretty soon the infantry had moved on and she was clear to find a new spot. She pulled the tile from its housing and peeked her head out, the coast was clear. As she slowly lowered herself just about every single ceiling tile in the hallway fell in perfect unison causing a massive cloud of dust to form, blinding her. She felt her way along the wall, stumbling on the slippery tiles, and quickly froze as her hand touched something soft and warm. Placing her other hand on the object she felt pronounced facial features.
She nearly screamed. Standing stock still, eyes wide with fear was an infantryman. It was a tossup as to who was more frightened by the situation, though judging by the man’s trembling he was just edging Pestilence out. The dust began to settle and the two could see each other clearly. He was a young man, no more that nineteen or twenty, he just had the wispy beginnings of a goatee peeking from under his chin. His eyes were like saucers, he didn’t move and he didn’t blink.
Pestilence put her hands up and started inching away from him. “Alright, I’m just going to go this way, and you’re gonna go that way, and we’re gonna pretend we didn’t see each other.”
“You really don’t want to fight me?” Pestilence asked as she kept edging away.
He shook his head.
“You’re just doing this because your boss told you to?”
He nodded again. “And tuition,” he said, his voice barely audible.
Pestilence nodded appreciatively. “Good for you, an education is always something worth striving for.”
“Thank you,” he said, quietly.
Pestilence sped up and began walking quickly down the corridor. “We have no desire to fight you, just remember that. We’ll only attack you if you attack us first,” she said over her shoulder. Not looking where she was going she accidentally bumped into a corner, completely shattering the drywall. “Oops, um, I didn’t do it.”
The man watched in awe as Pestilence bumbled around the corner, nearly tripping on the loose tiles. After putting her hands through the wall several times she finally managed to turn the corner.
The man leaned against the wall pawing at his dog tags, digesting the bizarre occurrence. “What the fuck?” Was all he could get out as he rushed down the hallway after his squad.
Chapter 23: Treacherous
The Arsenal group paused as the lights dimmed and came back on again, the cameras that dotted the walls all wilted.
Death gave a limp camera a light flick. “Well I think Ghost, Xypia, and Marjorie were successful. I assume that the elevators are out too, they were all computer controlled. A pity I’d like to have an elevator ride without that computer incessantly chattering away.”
“Let’s test that theory.” Ellie hobbled over to a nearby set of elevators and pressed the button, it remained dim. “Well, does this make things easier or harder?”
“Oh, so much easier.” Death forced the elevator doors open.
He leapt into the dark shaft and began to slide down the exposed cables. Ellie and the rest followed until they were halted by a stopped elevator.
“Is this our stop?” Ellie called down to Death.
“Nope, but we’re close, maybe a few floors down.” He was quickly cut off by a salvo of bullets ripping through the ceiling of the elevator. Raised voices could be heard from the elevator, one was telling the shooter to stop firing.
“Not particularly friendly,”mused Bolt.
Ellie planted her foot on the metal capsule, it shook violently. “Probably a load of military stuck in there. Death would you mind terribly if I scare them a little?”
He was hesitant. “Define ‘scare’.”
Her voice was airy. “I just want to give them a stern talking to.”
He grunted indifferently. “Fine just be quick about it.” He began shimmying down the cables once more followed by the rest.
More bullets tore from the elevator followed by more raised voices. Ellie ploughed her fist through the top of the elevator and tore outwards exposing the three terrified men inside. She hung her legs over the side and watched the men shrink away in fear.
“Now stop that,” Ellie scolded, dropping gently into the elevator.
The floor sagged beneath her foot and the men were thrust to the corners of the elevator as Ellie filled the small space.
“Now, I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to ask you a few questions. Wh—.” She stared confusedly at one of the infantrymen who was covered head to toe in dust. “What the heck happened to you?”
Scorn looked up at the elevator. “Hmmm, very outgoing of her, I wonder what she’s up to.”
Anon shrugged apathetically. “Well, I haven’t seen any bodies flying past so probably nothing fun.”
“Cut the chatter guys… we’re here.” Death stopped outside a set of doors that looked identical to the rest.
Wedging his hands through the closed doors he opened them to a bland hallway that clearly wasn’t the Arsenal.
Death deflated a little. “It’s the next one down,” he said, embarrassed.
Ellie helped the last infantryman out of the elevator. “Tell everybody, please, we’re relying on you!”
The last man gave a small wave as he ran off behind his friends.
Ellie looked down and jumped heavily, punching a hole through the floor with her foot, kneeling down she widened it and dove through. Reaching out, she grabbed a cable and smoothly stopped right above bolt.
“What did I miss?” she said nonchalantly.
If Bolt could have rolled her eyes she would have done so.“Quit showing off. Death is just trying to find the right floor.”
“Hey cut me some slack, I’m not used to seeing things from this particular perspective!” Death called back up. “It’s this one! I know it!”
Anon’s tone was full of barely restrained sass. “You said that last time.”
Death forced the doors open, revealing the long hallway to the Arsenal. “Shush!” he said, leaping into the hallway.
Ellie, Scorn, Anon, and Bolt filed out after him, Ellie’s massive bulk completely blocking the hallway. The two guards immediately opened fire upon seeing Death emerge from the shaft. Death didn’t bother to dodge the bullets; they couldn’t have hurt him anyway. Pretty soon the guards were all out of bullets and were hammering on the intercom button to call for backup. The intercom was dead, the two were alone.
“Alright you two…” Death said calmly. “Please stand aside.”
The guard’s voice was shaky. “We’re under orders to open this door for nobody.”
“I admire your loyalty, but it is sadly misplaced. Will you stand aside?”
The second guard raised her hand to object but Death flashed forward hitting them both square in the forehead. They fell without a sound, their respirators cracked.
“And before you ask…” Death said to the others who were about to object. “They’re still alive. They’re innocent in all of this.”
Bolt and Anon dragged the two unconscious guards down the hallway near the elevators as Ellie set to work opening the door. Digging her massive hands into the depleted uranium armor she began to shake and push at the door. It started to move slightly, Ellie piled as much force as she could behind a massive shoulder thrust. The door was pushed forward six inches where it slowly tipped backwards and landed with an earth shattering clang. Red emergency lighting illuminated the massive room.
“Very ominous, I rather like it,”Anon said jokingly.
Ellie turned to Death. “Do you remember where the AA is?”
He strode into the Arsenal. “Yes, follow me, and for the love of god, don’t touch anything.”
Ellie gently reclined against the wall “I think it would be best if I stayed out here, that last thing you need is for me to blunder through there.”
“Fair enough, keep an eye out for military.”
“Not many places they could come from.”
He huffed. “You know what I mean.”
Ellie swung down the hallway and sat down next to the unconscious guards.
She sighed; she hated it, the fighting, the running, it all seemed so unnecessary…
She looked over at the guards. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.
She looked closer at them, their breaths were irregular and she could see their throats bobbing as they swallowed, they weren’t unconscious.
“You two would make for terrible actors,” she whispered.
The two jumped slightly but didn’t respond.
Ellie leaned in conspiratorially. “The elevators are out, so when we get out of here you might have to do a bit of climbing, just a heads up.”
The guards didn’t respond. Ellie chuckled as she leaned back.
After several minutes of silence from inside the Arsenal a faint scraping could be heard. Ellie turned around the corner to look inside and she saw the four slowly pushing a large metal box toward the door. Ellie quickly hobbled to the group and put her weight in with the others. They all fell over as the box shot forward, Scorn landed heavily on his chin.
“Gently!” Death was almost recoiling from the expected explosion.
Ellie hauled Scorn back to his feet. “Sorry, sorry.”
Anon got back to his feet.“You’re too strong for your own good. No wonder you nearly beat the stuffing out of us.”
“I think we still owe her a good few hard knocks,”said Bolt ominously. “But that’s for later, if we even survive this.”
“Indeed,” said Death. “Let’s not think of the future just yet, we still have to worry about the present.”
“Marge? Marge!?” Schultz paced around his office. “Well then… this is unfortunate.” He leaned against a wall and thought for a moment. “Hmmm, what to do,”he mused, “I’m completely blind up here, things aren’t quite turning out the way I’d hoped.”He turned to look at his private elevator. “Maybe the military… Of course they will, Burke will say yes to anything.”
Schultz walked over to the wooden panel hiding his private elevator from view and effortlessly punched through it. He tore the door from its housing and threw it aside where it spun and buried itself in a wall.
Schultz muttered to himself. “Restraint.”
He walked into the small elevator, and threw several punches at the floor; it crumbled and fell away leaving a good-sized hole. Crouching over the hole he lowered himself down and let go. Freefalling much of the way down the building Schultz bounced off the sides of the shaft occasionally until he reached the ground floor. Quick as a flash he planted his arms and legs through the metal and concrete walls halting his momentum entirely, he stopped directly in front of the door to the ground floor. Forcing the door open Shultz squeezed through the narrow opening and emerged in a broom closet, it was a bit silly but it made him chuckle. He silently opened the door and slipped into the hallway making a beeline to the normal elevators; soon he entered the front lobby. Looking out of the shattered front windows he could see Proteus lying on the ground. After squinting his eyes, Schultz could make out his window slicing the thing in half.
Schultz burst out laughing. “Hah! The odds of that! That little Indra really was a handful.”
Schultz forced his hands through the elevator doors and peered down the shaft, many beams of light shone in from where doors had been forced open on the floors below. He leapt into the shaft and began to slide down one of the many cables, he came to the gutted wreck of one of the elevators, a massive hole had been punched through the top and bottom and bullet holes were punched through the sides. The door had been forced open and there was a distinct lack of blood. One of his treacherous Indra came for a visit. Looking down Schultz saw many more open doors; the one that drew his eye was the door to the Arsenal.
Schultz squinted, a small smile stretched across his face. “Clever, clever.”
He began to slide down the cable once again, the skin on his hands burned intensely, as he stopped in front of the Arsenal doorway he could see the two guards propped up on the wall. Before he could climb through the door a massive foot dislodged him from the cable and sent him hurtling away through the darkness. As he was falling Schultz twisted his body to see Wulf looking down at him.
Wulf was perhaps a little more than surprised. “I think that was who I think that was,” he muttered incredulously.
He climbed into the small room and made his way down the hallway where he saw the others pushing the large metal crate out of the Arsenal.
He jogged over. “So a few funny things just happened.”
Death looked up. “Just the guy I wanted to see. What happened?”
“Proteus is dead first of all, you wouldn’t believe how, and I think I just kicked Schultz in the face.”
“In the face?” asked Ellie, who was standing off to the side looking rather sheepish.
Wulf pantomimed his foot smashing into Schultz. “Yeah, he was hanging around in the shaft and I couldn’t slow down in time, I think he’s probably at the bottom by now.”
A cheerful note entered Death’s voice. “Well, that makes things a little easier, now we just have to wait for him to come to us. I’d rather not have to detonate this stuff inside the building.”
“Indeed, here how about I take that off your hands?” Wulf bent down to pick up the metal crate.
“Actually, how about we open it up and have two of us carry the ingredients separately, it’ll be easier for us to move it around.”
Wulf straightened. “Fair enough.”
Death crouched down and inspected the crate, wedging his fingers into the seam at the top and began to slowly wiggle to top off. Inside the crate were two smaller boxes, wrapped in a copious amount of shock absorbing foam rubber. Death carefully pulled both boxes out and handed one to Wulf and the other to Scorn who took them with extreme caution.
Death looked at the two uncomfortable Indra. “Now whatever either of you do, don’t drop them, and for the love of god don’t stand next to each other.”
“You do know who you’re talking to right?” said Wulf.
Death placed a thoughtful finger on his chin. “Hmmm you’re right, Bolt take Wulf’s box.”
“Hey, why does it have to be my box?”
Death tilted his head and raised his hands in a shrug. “And your point is proven.”
Wulf stood there awkwardly and handed the box to Bolt.
“Hoisted by your own petard, eh Wulf?”said Scorn smugly.
“Anon take Scorn’s box.”
“Ditto,” muttered Wulf to Scorn.
Scorn threw a light punch at Wulf’s shoulder, Wulf responded with a small shove. The two quickly descended into a small angry scuffle. The others just sat back and watched. Ellie looked at them, baffled.
“Aren’t we going to break this up? I mean we have better things to do right now.”
Death crossed his arms, his tone defeated. “It’s either now or on the way back up, and at least we can keep an eye on them right now.”
Wulf put Scorn’s head through the wall.
Ellie cringed. “So… what’s their problem, I know about the stuff in the north but…”
“Well, the two are polar opposites,”Anon explained. “They’ve always been at odds with each other, since the very beginning, though it was more of a friendly rivalry. Scorn’s the thinker and Wulf’s the fighter, they actually made for a formidable team at one point in time.”
“So where did it all go wrong?”
Scorn smashed Wulf’s knee with his fist.
“It started with Wulf getting captured by the Japanese; they returned him to us in one piece, but his mind wasn’t all there. Then there were several incidents on our end, they had quite the falling out, if I recall correctly several people were killed in the crossfire.”Anon shifted uncomfortably.
Wulf bludgeoned Scorn with the empty metal crate.
Anon continued, “Recently Wulf has been trying to patch things up, he doesn’t like to hold a grudge but Scorn was unwilling to listen due to the research center. Honestly I think they’ll be best buds again in no time, they just have to work out their grievances first.”
“I see,” said Ellie. “You guys really are messes.”
“Walking and talking,”said Anon jokingly.
Death walked into the scuffle and broke the two up, they were already slowing as they tired but were doggedly bashing each other nonetheless. “Alright you two, that’s enough.”
The two stumbled away from each other and sank to the ground.
“I won that one,” said Wulf.
“I think not,”retorted Scorn.
Death interrupted them before they could get into an argument. “Look, we don’t have time for you two to sift through two hundred years of baggage, we need to get topside and blow the fuck out of Schultz.”
Scorn raised a finger. “That is roughly nine thousand times more AA than we used to destroy Havoc, it doesn’t matter where we use it, if that detonates in the city then we’re going to level most of it. I propose we lure him out to the flatlands and fight him on open ground; it really should only be used as a last resort.”
“How big would it be?”asked Bolt, who was growing increasingly uncomfortable.
“How big would what be?”
Scorn thought for a moment. “Half the size of Olosos, if I remember the yield correctly.”
“Well damn, that’s a big hole.”
Ellie began making her way back to the elevator. “Very well… I vote we collect the others and make our final plans back in Ozri before we get too zealous about blowing ourselves up.”
The Indra muttered their agreement and followed her.
Pestilence finally understood what Lethe was talking about, all the hallways looked the goddamn same! Twisting and turning through endless beige corridors Pestilence didn’t see a window or an elevator door. A few times she had to duck into the many empty rooms to hide from a military patrol, but she hadn’t seen one in ages.
Pestilence planted her feet and looked to the ceiling. She let out a frustrated growl and virtually screamed, “Maps! Damn you Schultz! Why didn’t you make maps standard in this damn labyrinth?”
A voice called out behind her. “Over there!”
Pestilence whirled around, behind her were three infantrymen running in her direction, one of them looked incredibly familiar. Regardless of recognition, Pestilence ran.
“Wait, no, stop!” yelled the lead man.
Pestilence turned the corner and launched herself into the ceiling as she’d done before, this time making sure she was wedged in a more structurally sound point.
“Damn it where’d she go!?” yelled one of them.
“Gah! Burke’s gonna kill us.” whined another.
She could hear the taps of their feet and the rustle of their uniforms, the several nearby doors were tested, their locked handles rattled. Suddenly the group went quiet.
“Oh that’s not good.”
The tile she was resting above shifted and fell away, exposing her to the relieved infantrymen.
“Excuse me miss, but if you’d please come down, General Burke would like to have a word with you.” The familiar one called up.
Pestilence remained where she was, splayed out in the ceiling. “I take it by the lack of gunfire you aren’t trying to capture and or kill me?”
He nodded. “Correct, we’ve collected the rest of your fellow Indra, you’re the only holdout.”
Pestilence dropped out of the ceiling, landing rather heavily. “Well don’t blame me for getting lost!”
“If you’d please come this way.” He gestured her down the hallway.
Pestilence looked closely at the familiar infantryman. “Private Tuition?”
He kept his face as emotionless as he could, but the nickname made his eye twitch. “Please don’t call me that.”
“How’re the pants?”
His face was a statue. “Bone dry.”
The lead infantryman called back. “Cut the chatter you two.”
She was escorted to the radiology department where General Burke, Marjorie Fitsch, and the rest of the Indra were waiting. The general and Fitsch were conversing quietly in front of several lit slides showing a human skull, Ghost was standing close to the two looking unusually intimidating. The Indra were lounging around on the floor and leaning against the walls, with exception to Anon and Bolt who were standing incredibly still on opposite ends of the room, and Xypia who was laid out on a table.
“You’re late,” said Pixia teasingly as Pestilence entered.
“Don’t blame me for being better at hiding than the rest of you,” Pestilence said rather indignantly.
“We found her wandering the halls, lost, sir,” said Private Tuition with a salute.
Pestilence deflated slightly, she could swear she saw a nefarious glimmer in Tuition’s eye.
“It’s as I’ve said time and time again,” said Lethe. “Maps…”
Pestilence nodded her head, finally understanding Lethe’s difficulties.
Burke turned around and faced the Indra. “So it seems we’ve all been played for fools, I above all others. Doctor Fitsch has explained the facts to me and what Schultz has pulled with Project Gamma and I must say I’m almost impressed.” He pulled out a chair and sat heavily. “What would you have me do? With Sullivan’s desertion I am second only to Schultz; I can pull as many strings as you need.”
Pixia stood up and lounged on the edge of the table. “It didn’t take long to convince you did it?”
Burke scowled, a shadow passed over his face. “No it did not, I’m one of the few who Schultz trusts without these blockers, this has been building for a very long while. Talking with the charming Miss Fitsch was the final push I needed.”
Death walked up to the table Burke was sitting at and sat down himself. “Does Schultz still trust you?”
Burke shrugged, an exaggerated frown pulling at his doughy features. “If we keep this whole meeting quiet then yes, with Marge down Schultz is as deaf as he is blind.”
“What of your men here?” Death indicated the infantrymen who were guarding the doorway.
“You can thank your Ellie for them; she told them who then told me, I trust them implicitly.”
Death nodded and stood up. “Very well. We have done what we set out to do in Alcadon and we need to leave. Can you make a show of it?”
A wide smile broke across Burke’s face and he tilted the chair back. “Oh my, yes.” He stretched and put his hands behind his head.
“Call me crazy,” said Pixia. “But I don’t like that smile.”
Burke’s smile melted and was replaced with wide-eyed innocence, he didn’t stop lounging. “It’s been so long since we’ve had to intentionally miss something, I’ll make sure to assign my worst gunners.”
Death shook his head, he wondered if Burke was taking things seriously. “Make them your best, we need your assurances that they’ll miss.”
That smile returned. “Oh they’ll miss alright.”
Lethe scrambled back to his feet as the artillery operator shouted again. “I hope Burke was right about this part being evacuated, because otherwise?” Another shot rang out and the wall just above Lethe’s head disintegrated, showering him and Ellie with rubble. “Jesus!” He covered his head with his arms.
Ellie dodged past a falling wedge of concrete. “You keep yelling that name? Who’s Jesus?”
Lethe hopped over a twisted mass of metal and concrete. “A figure in a long dead religion, it’s not around anymore but it’s virtually hardwired into our vocabulary. We couldn’t stop if we’d tried.” An explosion closer than the rest lifted him off his feet.
Ellie pulled him back to earth. “Intriguing.” Ellie propelled herself through a falling wall pulling Lethe behind her. “It’s strange that I don’t have the compulsion to say those words.”
He clung desperately to her wrist. “Don’t forget, you’re running a different chip, and haven’t been exposed to the same vocabulary we have. Good lord the slang…”
“I don’t think I want to know.” She winced as an armor piercing round smashed into her side. “Oh, of course, pick on the cripple,” she grumbled.
Lethe grunted, he was also being peppered with shots. “How about less chatter and more escaping, we can discuss this later!” Bullets ricocheted of the back of his head.
Several blocks away the bulk of the Indra were having a far trickier time eluding the military. Another wave of shells exploded overhead, mortars bit at their feet, and bullets ricocheted from their backs. Multiple squadrons of mobile artillery units were peppering them with high explosive rounds just a little too late to do any damage. Burke was personally overseeing the small operation, though the Indra couldn’t see it he had a nasty smile painted on his face. He didn’t forget what Bolt did the previous night, they were going to pay for the deaths of his men, perhaps not with their lives but they would pay.
A large brick planted itself on Death’s head as he sloughed through a tidal wave of rubble. “When I said make a show of it, I meant something we could actually get away from!” His shouts were drowned out by more gunfire.
“Why didn’t I go with Ghost and Marjorie!?” whined Pestilence.
Ghost and Marjorie were allowed to escape without being pursued by the military.
“Forget them!” yelled Wulf. “I wish I had wings like Pixia and could just fly away.”
Pixia had long left the group behind taking Xypia with her.
From the front of the group Wall yelled back, “We’ll commiserate later, just keep running!”
The universe went white and suddenly all of the Indra found themselves airborne as they were thrown away from a hefty fiery explosion.
“Burke, you asshole!” yelled Pestilence. “He’s pulled out the energy weapons!”
Several of the Indra turned to see this new weapon; it was a strange disc shaped object with a small orange light protruding from its center. A spider web of light filled in from the sides of the disc until they all met in the center and then everything went white again. Curiosity satiated the Indra decided it would be a good idea to run faster. Smaller beams of light flashed by, shapeless orbs of energy shot by infantry wrapped in radiation suits collided with the walls and ground leaving hot black scorch marks.
Burke sat at the controls of the massive energy disc, a massive smile splitting his features. “You want a show!? I’ll give you a show!” Taking careful aim above the Indra he fired again. A wicked cackle tore from his lips. “Thank you Indra for giving me an excuse to use this thing!”
Death had enough of Burke’s shenanigans; he stopped and turned, pulling his rifle from over his shoulder. Death couldn’t remember the last time he had to use the thing but he was thankful that he brought it along for once; he carefully aimed and squeezed the trigger. The bullets tore through the energy disc just as it finished discharging, completely shredding it. Burke hammered at the controls trying to coax some life from the dying machine.
“Damn you!” he bellowed at Death, who shrugged and ran off behind the others. Burke sat back in the smoky cockpit and smirked. “Well played.”
After a painfully long half hour of dodging mortars and rockets the Indra were running freely across the Halgue Flatlands. The military pursued them only as far as the barrier. The absentee Indra reunited with the main group shortly after the main group escaped into the flatlands.
Ellie hobbled up alongside the main group. “Well it looks like you all made it out in one piece.”
Pestilence scoffed. “Hah, that Burke went way overboard, I think we were making more of a show for him than anyone else.” She angrily kicked a small rock, it whizzed across the flatlands.
Famine nodded. “Yes, bringing out the energy weapons was rather uncalled for.”
With Marjorie being held firmly on Ghost’s back, and Xypia clinging to Pixia’s, the Indra briskly jogged back to Ozri, arriving early the next morning. Juvinea was waiting in the Superior’s office, she’d been wrapped in a blanket and was dozing in one of the comfy couches, she was roused by a gentle shake from Lethe. She was both ecstatic and aghast when she saw Marjorie’s condition. Marjorie was quickly lowered into the tunnels to receive medical attention for her neck wounds, followed closely by her sister.
A thin wicked scab wrapped cleanly around her neck, with another larger scab along the right side of her neck where Ghost forced her finger around the garrote. The bleeding had long stopped but she’d lost quite a bit of blood, she was even paler than usual.
“Well, I think people will finally be able to tell us apart now.” Marjorie croaked, all of her energy was gone; it took all she had to keep her composure in front of Burke. She raised an eyebrow when she finally managed to focus her eyes on Juvinea. “What’s with the gauze?”
Juvinea looked up at the turban of gauze she was sporting, she quickly tore it off. “Yeah, Ellie and I did some experimenting with linking my brain to her secondary coprocessor which just so happens to also be a human brain, there was a surprising amount of blood.”
Marjorie’s brow furrowed. “What lunatic came up with that?”
“Banthu,” she replied simply.
Marjorie tried to pull herself up. “The janitor?”
She nodded eyes wide. “Yeah, I know right? But here’s the kicker, remember Katty?”
Marjorie furrowed her brow as she remembered. “Yeah, the surgeon’s daughter? The one who dropped dead? Never did figure that out…”
She smiled excitedly. “It’s her brain. She’s not actually dead.”
“Well…” Marjorie was legitimately surprised. “That’s… nice?”
Juvinea put on an exaggeratedly evil expression on her face. “When you’re better I’ll have Ellie come over to do the finger tentacle thing.” She made evil claws with her hands and make sucking sounds.
Marjorie leaned back and smiled contentedly. “Indeed, that Ellie is a real bag of tricks.” She closed her eyes and felt herself drifting off to sleep.
“You haven’t seen the half of it…” Juvinea was going to keep talking but seeing the gentle rising and falling of her sister’s chest she thought it best to let her sleep. “Talk to you later sis.” She turned to go find the others.
Schultz was reclining in the mobile HQ set up by the military, a large tent jammed with as much equipment as could be levied from the engineering department. With Marge down all the surveillance equipment had been hooked up to an unfortunately antiquated backup system. Her attitude may have been insufferable but at least Marge was fast, Schultz had quickly found himself losing his patience at how slow the backup was.
“Well Burke, I assume they all got away safe and sound.” Schultz leaned back in his chair.
Burke was standing off to the side of the tent looking remarkably uncomfortable. “Yes sir, they did.”
Schultz raised his eyebrows. “Your best gunners?”
“The best in service, sir,” Burke replied glumly.
“So, let’s do a quick rundown, shall we. Schultz stood up and began pacing around the room. “The Indra, all of them and one we’ve never seen before, I assume Ghost was skulking around somewhere, manage to infiltrate Alcadon. Somehow this group of thirteen individuals, some of which are over eight feet tall, manage to get inside the city, kill Proteus, infiltrate the tower, disable Marge, attack me in my own office, and raid the Arsenal. With the exception of one who blew themself up, they all escaped with little more than some scratches from where our bullets bounced off. Burke, your competence is very much in question.”
Burke cleared his throat; his voice was tired and a bit angry, “With all due respect sir, which is considerable. You have not faced the Indra in the open, they’re fast and they’re tough, we could barely keep them in our sights long enough to fire at them let alone hit them. Our weapons are no match for theirs, Death shot the energy disc only four times and the thing is now a pile of junk, Wall can throw just about anything we’ve got clear across the city and that damned Pixia can fly. Sir, what good are tactics when the enemy can cut through anything we throw at it as effortlessly as tearing through a sheet of paper?”
Schultz sat down with a huff and pinched the bridge of his nose, damn the logic of military men. “Very well general, you have made your point, the Indra are wily and you were unprepared, I do apologize. I must say that I’m not without fault in this either, I spent far too much time in my office playing god and not directing your troops.”
Burke stood stiffly at attention. “Thank you sir.” He paused, pawing at a piece of paper in his pocket. “I and my tacticians have come up with several plans that better cater to our capabilities.”
Schultz leaned forward expectantly. “Very well, let’s hear them.”
Burke laid a piece of paper in front of Schultz. “We need to lure them out into the flatlands… then we can really stretch our legs.”
Chapter 24: Low Blow
The old man furrowed his brow. “Blow him up? That seems a bit simplistic.”
Death shrugged. “Sometimes simpler is better, Famine, Pestilence, and I have agreed with the others to be the ones to make contact with Schultz. We have Marjorie and Juvinea working on making a convenient way of diluting and delivering the payload in a way that won’t kill everything in a fifty mile radius.”
The half Tcha’Gough second in command stepped forward, his face twisted in skepticism. “And Schultz just had this sitting in the Arsenal?” His voice was low and aggressive though his body language said otherwise.
Death nodded. “Yep.”
The old man leaned back in his chair and stretched. “That’s sloppy, especially for Schultz, have you verified that the ingredients you stole are genuine?” He let out a yawn.
Death nodded again, he caught quite an earful from Marjorie about being woken up. “Yes we have.”
“Very well, I leave the next steps at your discretion; we’ve quickly found ourselves to be quite redundant next to you Indra.”
“Old habits die hard.”
The second in command grunted. “And may Schultz die harder.”
A short ways down one of the many twisting tunnels, in a small well lit lab, Juvinea and Marjorie Fitsch were removing the contents of the small metal boxes. Inside each of the boxes were several small airtight bags containing the respective ingredients for synthesizing AA.
“Gah! Careful!” Marjorie nearly had a heart attack as Juvinea placed the small airtight bag on the table; the remains of her tiredness were blasted away by a wave of adrenalin.
Juvinea gave a devious smirk. “Cool your jets, it’s just Sodium Nitrite, it’s harmless. I’m more worried about the other bag.” She looked over at a small bag containing sharp powdery white crystals. “And besides, the chemical reaction has to take place in water, were in no danger with just the dry ingredients.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being cautious.” Marjorie said firmly.
Scorn walked into the small lab. “I agree with your sister.” He was a bit bumped and battered from his scuffle with Wulf but he seemed to be back to his normal, analytical, self.
Juvinea and Marjorie looked at each other and then Scorn.
“Which sister?” asked Juvinea.
“Marjorie,” replied Scorn. “I have quite a bit of experience with this particular explosive and would like to offer my expertise.”
Marjorie waved him over. “Then don’t just stand there, give us a hand.”
Scorn walked over and inspected the equipment available, he nodded approvingly. “I wish I had equipment like this back in the day.” He was still floored by the scientific advances made after he’d been frozen, he barely knew what half of the devices on the table did.
“What exactly is your experience with this stuff?” asked Juvinea.
He walked over to the two bags and carefully sliced them open with his finger. “You know the self destruct charge we used to destroy Havoc?”
The two nodded, eyes wide with how seemingly casual he was with the ingredients.
He looked at the two semi-dramatically. “You’re looking at the designer.”
Juvinea turned to her sister. “Well it looks like we’re in good hands.” She turned back to Scorn. “Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”
Xypia was laid out in the Sons’ small medical bay, due to his height he was spilling over the edge of the table but he didn’t seem to mind. Anon was giving Xypia a quick inspection, tracing out the break in order to determine the healing time. It was a pretty nasty break; the skin had been torn all the way around, all that was holding Xypia’s head on was the large amount of cabling running through his neck and sheer willpower.
Anon gave Xypia a sad look and a squeeze on the shoulder. “Yup, you’re sitting this one out my friend.”
Xypia attempted to get up but was firmly pushed back down.
Anon’s tone was uncharacteristically stern. “Your neck is broken… Well… everything but your neck really. It’s a miracle that your head didn’t fall off on the way back, honestly I have no idea how you’re even alive right now, if you get up now you might just keel over dead.”
Xypia laid back, exuding an air of impatience and frustration.
Anon sifted through the Sons’ well stocked cabinets, searching for a neck brace. “Look buddy, I get it, I wouldn’t want to sit this out either, but you have to. I know we’ve had our differences but the last thing we need is for another one of us to die.” Anon could sense Xypia’s confusion, he turned around, holding a poly-foam neck brace. “I’m sorry but both Vee and Kid are dead, I know you were close to Kid in particular. I’ll send Ellie down later, when this is all over; she has a surprise for you.”
He gently lifted Xypia’s head and placed the brace underneath; he wrapped the edges around his neck and pressed a small button on the seam. Slowly the brace expanded, contouring itself to his neck, it then quickly hardened immobilizing their head. Anon gave him one final pat on the shoulder as he turned to leave. A crushing depression hung around Xypia as Anon exited the room.
As he was making his way down one of the many corridors Anon nearly bumped into Ellie. “Sorry about that, where are you off to? Everyone is down in the control center.”
“I wanted to go check up on Xypia.” She sounded concerned.
Anon was delighted. “You’re not gonna get much out of him… Do him a favor though, finagle him into that apartment in your head and lighten his mood. He was very close to Kid back in the day, actually she was the only one he was close with, and she could probably help.”
Ellie punched her open palm, her voice was resolute. “I’ll give it a shot.”
Anon disappeared into the maze of tunnels.
Ellie poked her head into the room where Xypia was laying sullenly. “Hello,” she said in a loud whisper.
Xypia gave a small wave, though it was more of a ‘go away’ wave. His sadness was almost a tangible cloud around his body.
Ellie squeezed through the doorway and sat down next to him. “I don’t think we were properly introduced, I’m Ellie.”
Xypia raised his arm with his hand outstretched. Ellie was confused…
Vee spoke. “Shake his hand; he wants you to shake his hand.”
“Oh.” Ellie gently took his hand and shook.
Xypia let his hand drop to his chest.
Ellie let out a small huff, this guy was more nebulous than Famine. “Judging from the reactions you got from the others I’d say you have quite the colorful history, then again, they all do. I passed Anon in the hall; he said you were very close to Kid. No doubt he only told you that she’s dead, but he’s very wrong about that.” Ellie could feel a small spark of hope bleed through Xypia’s sadness. “Here, take my hand again, you might have felt them when we shook. There’s something not quite right about me, can you figure out what it is?”
Xypia took Ellie’s hand again, she could feel his being, a strange tornado of raw emotion, reach a curious tendril into hers. It froze, and then carefully slunk further and further. Ellie withdrew into her thoughts and the apartment faded in.
She quickly opened the door. “We’re due to have a visitor, I’m sure you saw.” Katrine and Vee were just getting up from the futon.
“Indeed,” muttered Vee. “I wonder what he’ll look like in here.”
The door handle rattled, Ellie turned. “I think we’re about to find out.”
The door gently opened and Xypia stepped inside. He was tall, nearly seven feet, with a mop of dirty brown hair and tired eyes.
“Hey! Welcome!” Ellie approached him, having to bend her head near vertical just to see his face.
He didn’t say a word, he looked expectantly around the apartment, his face fell. The toilet flushed and Kid waddled out of the bathroom rubbing the tiredness from her eyes. Xypia’s face lit up, he rushed over to Kid and pulled her up in a big hug. He made no sounds as his thin body trembled, crushing Kid tighter. Kid in turn wrapped his face in a hug of her own. The two of them stood there in a silent embrace.
“He was the last of us,” Vee said, putting her hand on Ellie’s shoulder. “Through a manufacturing error his Bluetooth chip was improperly installed, he can’t speak. There was going to be an operation to fix the fault but we were shelved before it could be done. In what I’m sure the higher-ups thought was an excellent joke, Kid was paired with Xypia as his guide dog. They grew close. We all thought he was destroyed due to his defect, as you can now see, we were very wrong.” She sniffled slightly.
Ellie turned to look at Vee, she was tearing up slightly.
Vee rubbed her eyes her voice was trembling. “God… we were so awful to him, even I stayed away from him… We’re not good people Ellie; we’ve never been good people. Despite our own efforts and the efforts from our creator we wound being little more than petty children caught up in our own superiority.”
“But you aren’t anymore,” Ellie said quietly.
Vee shook her head. “No, we’re not… Well, most of us. We’ve been alive long enough to realize there’s more to being that just being. What we had before wasn’t life, it was agony, we were soldiers and we knew nothing else. It was you—,“ Vee gave Ellie a shake “—that made us realize that we don’t have to live in the past and that we might actually have a future.”
Xypia finally put Kid down, a tired smile creasing his features. He turned to Ellie and Vee, gave them a small nod, and walked out the door.
“I don’t know who needed it more,” said Kid, wandering over to where the others were standing. “Him or me.”
Ellie turned to Kid, who was still wiping her eyes. “You never mentioned him.”
Kid sniffed loudly. “Well, I never thought I would see him again, I would only get sad.”
Vee smiled. “I don’t think you need to worry about that anymore.”
“You’re right, I don’t think I do.”
Ellie hobbled over to the door. “Alright, I’m needed back in the control center, you guys don’t go anywhere.”
Ellie could hear Katrine mutter “smartass” as she left the apartment.
Making her way toward the control center, Ellie could hear raised voices echoing down the hallway. As she turned into the room she saw Bolt, Marjorie, and the old man in a furious argument. Well… Bolt was doing all of the shouting.
“It’s perfect! What do you mean we shouldn’t go!?” Bolt yelled. “He’s putting himself right where we want him!”
The old man’s voice was level and calm. “And I’m saying that it’s too early to tell, I say we sent Ghost or Pixia to scout the area to make sure Burke kept his word.”
Bolt fired back. “Bullshit! We could destroy him in seconds; we don’t have to wait for Burke! I could do it myself but I get the feeling I’d be stopped pretty quickly.”
“Bolt,” Marjorie was massaging her temples; she used the same tone of voice she’d used countless times to put the fear of god into her underlings. “If you’re aware that this is a one-sided argument then why are you still talking?”
Bolt went silent.
She kept her tone firm and face deadpan. “Good, now shut up and go back to the others where they will no doubt roast you like a side of beef.”
Ellie could feel Vee’s annoyance. “She do this often?” she whispered.
“Less than you’d think, more than I’d want.”
“Hmph!” Bolt sat with a huff, Anon slapped her on the back of the head, she didn’t react.
The old man clapped his hands lightly to regain everybody’s attention. “Good, now that the objections are out of the way I’d like for two of you to scout the new encampment on the outskirts of Alcadon. Ghost and Pixia are the obvious choices, but, in case things go wrong, I’d like for some muscle to be on standby. Wulf your skills in camouflage are exemplary so I’d like for you to accompany Ghost in scouting.” He scanned the group, waiting for objections, there were none.
Wulf nodded. “Certainly.”
Ghost shrugged nonchalantly. “What could possi-“
She was interrupted by Anon who quickly pressed a finger to her mouth region. “No! Don’t say it! Last time I said that I wound up with my head buried under two feet of dirt.”
“Knock on wood?” Ghost asked sheepishly.
“I can see you expected me to say yes.” Schultz walked slowly through the rows of tents, Burke walked slightly behind him with a small group of advisors walking behind him. “I get the feeling you didn’t set this up an hour ago when I signed the order.” He raised an eyebrow at Burke.
“Indeed. I took the liberty of assuming.”
Schultz nodded, a small frown tugging at his mouth. “Hmmm, normally I’d be against it, but this time I’ll make an exception. Good job general.”
“Thank you sir.” Burke let out an inward sigh of relief.
“How’s progress on the ‘Wall’?”
Burke cringed. “All of the artillery is in place but we’ve hit a small snag. We were initially going to have the energy discs equidistant from each other but due to Death’s trigger happiness we’re down to three.”
Schultz raised a finger to lightly massage his temple. “And I assume we don’t have any more and are unable to build more at this time.”
“That is correct.”
“Find a suitable replacement.”
Schultz gingerly patted his ear while cringing. “General, I just so happen to be standing right next to you, shouting is not necessary.”
Burke shrunk slightly. “Apologies.” He waved one of the advisors forward. “Get the Clam out of the depot, and make sure they’re trained properly,” he whispered.
The two continued walking, the small group trailing them slowly dispersed as they were assigned tasks, until they were alone near the outskirts of the encampment.
Schultz let out a small sigh. “Do you think it’ll work?” he asked quietly.
“Everything we’ve observed from the Indra in combat points to this being the only real way of stopping them.”
Schultz waved away Burke’s words. “No, I don’t care what the brains think. You, the military man, what do you think?”
“Honestly sir?” Burke let out a sigh that turned into a groan. “No… I don’t know what those damned Japanese were fighting with all those years ago but we can’t hope to stop the Indra.”
Schultz raised an eyebrow and side eyed Burke. “And what makes you think that? A single hit from our artillery would tear them to shreds.”
“They’re too damn fast for our gunners to hit, we can shoot them full of bullets but not even our heaviest machine gun rounds can do more than bruise them. Even our few energy weapons are useless, they’re too slow. Sir, please understand that this is the hardest thing for me to say. As a military man, I think our best bet is to talk to them.” Burke’s tone lowered even further. “Even as you are now, you’re no match for all of them.”
Schultz sighed. “I wish it were that easy but the Sons won’t listen; all they want is my head on a spike.”
“Sir, if the Sons won’t listen, then maybe the Indra will. Talk to them, get them back on your side, and perhaps if not all the way then maybe just a little.”
Schultz suppressed a small chuckle. “It always falls back to diplomacy.”
“Yes it does.”
Unbeknownst to the two men their conversation had been overheard. Squeezed between several liquid supply barrels Ghost eavesdropped on the supposedly private conversation.
“Talk it is,” Schultz said, his tone one of resignation.
“Shall I send a communiqué to Ozri?” Asked Burke.
“Yes, tell them all to come, we shall settle this in a civilized fashion.” Schultz was silent for a moment. “Pull the artillery crews,” he said suddenly.
Burkes eyes widened. “Sir?”
“A sign of good faith, as you said, they’d be useless if it came down to a fight anyway, I tend to agree with you. But, they’re good for intimidation… Keep them on standby but the guns will not be manned.”
“And if you can’t convince the Indra?”
“Then I’m dead, and chances are the rest of the city will fall in short order.” Schultz turned to look at Alcadon, the shining towers stretching up into the clear blue sky shone in the crisp sunlight. Schultz let out a happy sigh. “Oh well, it’s been a good run.”
“You talk as if we’ve already lost.”
A smile tugged at the edge of his mouth. “Chances are we already have… Burke, it may surprise you to know that I’m not an evil man, I have carried out many atrocities, and I’m responsible for many deaths and many bad decisions. But… every choice I’ve made has been for the betterment of the people living in that city…” He looked to Burke. “Am I a bad leader?” he asked abruptly.
Burke was quiet for a moment. “No, I’d say you’re among the greatest.”
“And we all know what happens to history’s greatest leaders.”
“History isn’t always doomed to repeat itself.”
Schultz turned around, facing Burke. “Perhaps not, maybe we can finally break that old cycle, eh?” Schultz let out a little chuckle. “I know that you’ve been in contact with the Sons, and you know that I know.”
Burke took a step back. “Sir?”
Schultz smirked though his eyes betrayed his annoyance. “Don’t worry Burke; I trust your judgment now more than ever.”
Burke shifted uncomfortably. “I spoke with Ms. Fitsch, she laid out their intentions and future plans for Alcadon. Honestly, sir, I can’t say I disagree with some of their ideas.”
“You agree with them and yet you still choose to follow me? Why?”
He stared Schultz dead in the eye. “You sir, they intend to kill you.”
“That has been their goal from the beginning.”
“Sir, this city needs democracy, the power cannot rest entirely on you, but it also needs you, none of us want to see you dead.”
Schultz gestured in the vague direction of Ozri. “But will they see it that way?”
“We can only hope—.”
“Sirs!” A corporal was running up to the two. He scrambled to a halt and stood at attention, breathing heavily. “Infrared has detected an Indra on the outskirts of camp; we believe one or more has already infiltrated the perimeter!”
“Damn,” Schultz muttered. His eyes searched the area, he settled on the stack of liquid supply barrels. His eyes narrowed. “Thank you corporal, you’re dismissed.”
The corporal saluted smartly and stomped off.
“I assume you heard everything!” Schultz said loudly in the direction of the barrels.
A nearly imperceptible sound could be heard from behind the barrels as Ghost fled.
She could hear Schultz bellowing behind her, “Tell them what I said! I want to talk!”
Cries of alarm rose as Ghost bum rushed out of the camp. She barreled through tents and supply crates and pushed around people until she was out on the open ground. She left a veritable trail of destruction and confused stares as she ran; nobody had seen her without her cloak and were entirely unaware that she was an Indra. Only after the alarm went up did the military begin to mobilize.
“Recon over! Run!” Was all Ghost said as she ran past the camouflaged figure of Wulf.
Wulf stirred, sending up a cloud of dust. “Wait what!”
“They have infrared!”
“Shit!” Wulf scrambled from his hiding place and fell in behind the sprinting Ghost.
“Any luck!?” Wulf yelled, he was struggling to keep up with Ghost.
“Plenty! Schultz spilled his guts to Burke, and vice versa, he wants to talk!”
“He’s getting desperate!”
They ran on, not stopping until the encampment had sunk beneath the horizon.
“They didn’t even fire on us…” Wulf said, baffled.
“Schultz means it… He said everything before he knew I was there, he even let me go. He could have easily torn me to shreds and he didn’t… if only War was so lucky.” She muttered the last part unconsciously.
Wulf turned sharply to face Ghost. “What about War? Has he shown back up?”
“Damn!” Ghost buried her head in her hands. Her shoulders slumped and she looked at Wulf. “War’s dead… he was killed by Schultz and the first Gamma prototype. Marjorie was there, Lethe and Juvinea knew after the fact, they didn’t tell us for fear of what we’d do. Xypia found out and was nearly killed. They were going to take his board in hopes that Ellie could save him, but they weren’t able to before we had to flee Alcadon.”
Wulf was still in shock. “We’ve all suspected it, but still… the others won’t be happy.”
Ghost didn’t say anything.
“You do intend on telling the others?” Wulf’s tone was cautious.
“They’d find out sooner or later, sooner is probably the better option.”
“It’ll sour negotiations before they even start.”
Ghost’s tone was firm. “If Schultz wants to talk, then there will be no more secrets.”
Death was frozen in place, Pestilence wandered off and was gently rocking in a corner, and Famine faced a wall. The news of War’s death affected them far more than the rest. Oddly enough it was Famine who broke the silence; with a yell of rage they threw a punch at the wall. Their fist burrowed up to the shoulder, large amounts of shattered rock and earth sprayed across the room, Famine sharply pulled their arm from the wall throwing more dirt and dust across the gathered Indra.
“Very well,” said Death, voice slathered in repressed fury. “If Schultz wants to talk, then we shall talk.” His voice dripped with barely restrained anger.
Famine stood beside Death their voice monotonous as usual. “We will need time to prepare. In the meantime it would be best you all prepared for battle.”
The Indra filed out of the room, making for the surface. One by one they climbed out of the trap door, Wall and Ellie had to carefully angle themselves. As Ellie began to pull her hips through the door, the frame splintered and pulled away. Several of the Indra turned to look at Ellie’s struggling.
Ellie let out a weary sigh and looked to Pixia. “You have no idea how much I envy you for your size.”
“Believe me, the feeling’s mutual,” Pixia replied, a small smile tinged her voice.
Ellie tore the door from around her waist and dropped it on the ground. “Eh, Schultz already knows we’re here, hiding doesn’t matter much anymore.”
The Indra stepped out of the Superior’s office only to be confronted by a lone, terrified, military courier. He shakily held out a thin envelope, his legs were shaking violently.
“M-message from Laverne T. Schultz.” The courier managed to stutter out.
Lethe stepped forward and took the message from the courier. He carefully opened the envelope and read. He let out a small huff. “Formal bastard.” He folded the message up and handed it to Pixia. “Could you run this down to the old man, he’ll want to read this.”
Pixia silently stepped forward and took the letter; she disappeared back inside the Superior’s office.
Lethe looked back to the courier. “You hungry?”
The courier looked surprised, then confused before slowly nodding his head.
“Alright, let’s get you some food then we’ll get you back on your way.” Lethe wrapped his arm around the courier’s shoulders and walked him off in the direction of a local tavern.
“Clever bastard,” muttered Anon.
“Clever how?” asked Ellie. “Also when did you get a speaker?”
“Huh?” Anon was confused, he thought Ellie had noticed earlier. “Oh, when we were in Alcadon, Juvinea whipped some up for the rest of us. But Lethe… he’s gonna grill that kid for information. He may not look it, and he certainly doesn’t act like it, but Lethe can get just about anyone to talk. He and Famine had a good cop bad cop shtick back in the day, almost always worked. Judging by how that kid was shaking Lethe doesn’t need a bad cop.”
Ellie shook her head. “Alright, so I understood most of the words you said and I think I get the general gist of it, but man you guys can talk weird sometimes.”
Wall chuckled. “By your standards… to us the rest of you talk weird. Just be thankful everybody still speaks English, otherwise we’d really be in trouble.” He knocked the side of his head. “I don’t think there’s enough room for a second language in here.”
“English?” The word felt foreign to Ellie.
“That’s the name of the language you’re speaking right now, the oldest spoken language in history.”
She shrugged. “Huh…the more you know.”
At that, Ghost whistled a small tune. She saw Ellie staring. “Oh… heh, you’d be surprised how many simple phrases and words tie into something humorous from our time. People needed to laugh and they found sources in many things you might think of as… banal.”
“An apt word for it,” interjected Wulf. “But I think now would be a good time to prepare for our meeting with Schultz. How about we split up into small groups of two or three and do some light sparring.”
“An excellent idea,” said Pixia, exiting the office. “I call Ghost and Ellie; I have a favor I need to repay.”
“Yeah and so does Wall!” yelled Ellie good-humouredly.
“I’ll get you back later,” said Wall ominously.
“Gulp,” Ellie said quietly.
“Did you just say gulp?” asked Pixia incredulously.
Ellie tone was sheepish, “No…”
Pixia began leaning closer. “Yes you did.”
If Ellie had a spare foot to stomp she would have done so. “Well I can’t very well do it myself! I’m not human.”
Anon stopped the impending argument. “Alright, split into your groups and try not to destroy anything.”
Ghost, Pixia, and Ellie jogged and hobbled to the outskirts of Ozri. Without warning, Ghost dropped low and swept her leg under Ellie, knocking her to the ground. Twisting her body, Ellie landed with one hand punching into the grassy earth, smashing her foot back down she launched in a backward handspring landing solidly on her foot.
Her voice was tinted with mock outrage. “Oh? Gonna play it like that?”
Pixia stepped out from behind Ghost, thin sword drawn, slowly making her way behind Ellie. Ghost remained where she was, and began circling when Pixia reached Ellie’s back. The two slowly circled her, like vultures, sizing her up, analyzing every movement she made.
“Oh, let’s skip the formality!” Ellie yelled.
Focusing the force of her jets to her back, Ellie rocketed forward aiming a downward slash at Ghost, at the same moment Pixia took flight. In flight Ellie was wide open; Ghost threw a solid strike aimed at her midsection. The jets roared again, suddenly Ellie was two feet to the right and Ghost’s fist was plowing into thin air. Curving her swing, Ghost attempted to hit Ellie’s side but Ellie’s massive forearm suddenly filled her view. Ghost tried to duck but a massive force struck her in the back, pushing her into the arm. Ellie had skirted around her and smashed Ghost between her arms, as she went airborne Ellie snatched her leg and swung her away. Ghost found herself spinning quickly away from the battle, through her swirling view Ghost could see Pixia pummeling Ellie’s head with the hilt of her sword. Clumsily landing on her feet, Ghost was hit with a strong sense of vertigo leaving her unprepared for Pixia landing heavily on her chest. Ghost took several steps back as Pixia bounced off, landing in a heap.
“Sweet Jesus! I mean, You’d think she was angry about something!” Pixia growled pulling herself back to her feet.
“Don’t lose your cool; we’ve still got her outnumbered,” Ghost whispered back.
Pixia’s chipper attitude was quickly evaporating against Ellie’s sheer strength. “Numbers don’t matter against her, she’s moving in stereo. We’re boned… I mean, we should have gotten Wall with us.”
“We’ve got speed on our side, and she’s still clumsy with her jets, if we can move fast enough to loosen her guard we might be able to land a few good shots.”
“Go for the legs?” Pixia muttered.
Ghost nodded. “Yep, we need to get her on the ground.”
“What are you two planning over there?!” Ellie called over.
“I go high, you go low?” asked Pixia.
“Let’s do this.”
Pixia leapt while Ghost sprinted forward, bent low, aiming for Ellie’s knees. Using the broadsword as a stand, Ellie leapt up and Ghost passed harmlessly beneath her. Ellie felt a heavy strike hit the back of her head, Pixia whizzed past, throwing a light kick in for good measure. Ellie quickly lost her composure as the sword sank deeper into the soft earth, she hit the ground hard, she dearly wished she had a crutch. Ghost was suddenly behind her throwing a series of light jabs into her lower back. The two kept at it, moving quickly and striking when they could, Ellie became more and more disoriented; soon her wild swings were only met with air. Pixia struck a particularly hard blow that pushed Ellie to her knees, seeing her opportunity Ghost steadied herself for the final blow. Planting herself behind Ellie, Ghost braced for the strongest kick she could muster. She swung her leg back and…
In her periphery, Ellie could see Ghost’s foot emerge suddenly from between her legs. Ellie felt a massive force push her from the ground; Ghost was lifting her with the force of the kick! Ellie was lifted in an arc over Ghost’s head, midway through the arc Pixia smashed into her chest. With the added force of Pixia, Ellie smashed heavily into the ground.
Vee’s voice was faint. “They beat you… impressive.”
Ellie opened her eyes to find herself in the apartment.
Ellie groaned as the pain of her beating set in, her head was spinning and she felt slightly sick to her stomach. “Oh, that was a low blow and we all know it.”
“It knocked you out didn’t it?” Ghost leaned down to look at Ellie; a small scowl punctuated her near perfect features. “I think I might have given you a concussion.”
Ellie’s face twisted in confusion, then a small grin stretched across her face. “Is that a new shirt?”
Ghost withdrew slightly. “Huh? Wha-, no?”
Ellie’s grin widened. “It looks nice, you look nice.”
Katrine crouched down and poked Ellie’s nose, she didn’t react. “Are you OK?”
Ellie closed her eyes, grin still plastered on her face. Her voice was distant, “Oh, I’m super.”
Katrine gently pulled Ghost away from Ellie. “I think she’s smitten,” she whispered in Ghost’s ear.
Ghost’s face fell. “Oh… should I go?”
Katrine kept her tone reassuring. “It’s probably for the best. Don’t worry; we’ll get some sense back into her.”
Ghost slouched slightly, Katrine squeezed her shoulder. “Look… it’s not your fault you’re so damn sexy, you don’t need to change yourself for everybody else. Own it.” Katrine winked. “It’s their fault if they get distracted.”
A small smile played on Ghost’s face. “Indeed,” she whispered. She planted a small peck on Katrine’s cheek and sauntered out of the apartment.
Katrine walked over to Ellie and laid down next her, her face was beet red. “Damn me, I can’t even take my own advice.”
Vee sighed in disappointment. “I worry about you two sometimes.”
Chapter 25: Backseat Driver
Ghost took the long walk back to the Superior’s office, Pixia had gone to find help in moving Ellie; she was too heavy for both of them surprisingly. Ghost hopped down the hole in the floor and made her way to the control center. Death, Famine, and Pestilence were poring over several photographs and a topographical map of the region. Death looked up as Ghost entered the room.
“What’s up?” He tried to hide his annoyance but it still bled through.
Ghost slouched slightly and began rubbing her arm embarrassedly. “So… while sparring, Pixia and I may have given Ellie a concussion.”
“You gave her a concussion!?” If Death had a mouth it would no doubt be slack. “HOW?”
Ghost slouched even more; she began tapping her pointer fingers together. “Well, our sparring got a bit heated.”
“It’s sparring! You’re not supposed to go all out!” Death started smacking his forehead in frustration.
Ghost stuttered, “We got a little carried away; we owed her a few hard knocks.”
“Now is not the proper time to deal back a few hard knocks, now is a time to get serious. No more games.” He let out a frustrated sigh. “Look, if things go as planned we won’t need her to fight, but still… get her back up on her feet.” He paused. “Foot, you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, alright, sorry.” Ghost could almost feel herself growing smaller, she turned to leave.
Before Ghost could leave Pestilence came up behind her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder and led her down the hallway. “Hey, it’ll be OK; Death is just really on edge right now.” Pestilence’ tone was reassuring. “Ellie’s tough, she’ll be back on her feet in no time, you see. When all of this is over then we can all pay back a few hard knocks.”
Ghost was careful with her words. “He’s going to die… isn’t he?”
Pestilence huffed. “It seems like that’s what he’s angling for. Don’t get me wrong we’re all taking War’s death rather hard, but he’s not sad, all he wants is revenge.”
“I know a thing or two about revenge,” said Ghost, she shuddered at the memories. “It’s not worth it. It’s never worth it.” She pulled Pestilence into a strong hug. “Don’t let him do anything stupid. Don’t forget, what you are.”
“And what am I?” Pestilence hugged back.
“The heart, of the Four Horsemen, you’re their heart.”
Pestilence laughed. “Hey, stop that motivational gunk you’re gonna make me cry.”
“Save your tears for after we win.”
Pestilence voice was shaky. “I dunno, you’re really getting me going.”
The two were silent for a moment.
“Am I squeezing too hard?” asked Ghost.
“Yeah, I think these are actually tears of pain.” Pestilence’ voice grew strained.
Ghost let go, Pestilence put a hand on her back and pushed, a soft squelching noise could be heard coming from her lower back.
“I don’t know if that was a good sound or something to be concerned about.” Her voice was worried.
“If you don’t think about it then it might just go away?” Ghost said hopefully.
She threw her arms up. “Gah! I’m too old for this junk.” She walked back to the control room desperately trying to hide her discomfort.
A loud pop rebounded through the room and Pestilence immediately relaxed. “Ooh, there it went, that’s way better.”
Death looked up sharply. “What was that?”
“My chiropractor set my adjustment on a delay,” Pestilence said airily.
Death looked back down at the map. “Sometimes I wonder about you.”
“Good things I hope?”
Ghost took that moment to sneak away. She nearly bumped into the old man who was making his way to the control center.
“Oh, um, sorry.” He made to sidle past her.
“Actually, do you have a moment? I have a few things I want to ask you.”
He looked rather surprised. “Ask away, what do you want to know?”
“Well, frankly I’m amazed no one’s asked already, but why are you trying to get Schultz killed?”
His casual demeanor evaporated. “I have my reasons,” he said flatly.
Ghost put a hand on his thin shoulder. “That’s not good enough,” she whispered. “If I’m going to kill someone, or be compliant in their murder, I want to know why.”
His face hardened, his tone was annoyed. “You already know about the thought blockers and about Gamma, you know that he sacked Knossos and forced the people to build his city.”
Ghost waved his statement away. “Yes, I know those parts, and I assume many others do as well, but why have you gone so far?”
Ghost nodded. “Most things are, but very soon your reasoning won’t.” She put a hint of menace into her voice.
The old man sighed. “I was once among Schultz’ top cabinet, I was a neurosurgeon, a pediatric neurosurgeon. I was one of several who implanted the thought blockers into newborns, and for so long I was just complacent to it. Schultz showered me with wealth and amenities, but soon it all began to ring hollow. I began to think, truly think, about what I was doing and I finally realized… I was fastening the yoke, condemning mere babies to lifetimes of ignorant servitude to Schultz. For a lack of a better word, I snapped, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I developed a counter surgery to deactivate and remove the blockers but I didn’t have a test subject. My sister, who was my rock during those confusing times, offered herself as the first test subject. The surgery is so simple but it all went wrong, I don’t know if I hit a blood vessel or if it was something preexisting but she suffered a stroke and fell into a coma.” The old man leaned against the tunnel wall, breathing heavily. “For all intents and purposes I killed her on that day, her birthday of all days. She’d just gotten back from a fishing trip with my father, she was so happy… I wanted to give her freedom but I wound up destroying her life!”
Ghost wrapped the old man in a gentle hug; she could feel his thin frame shuddering in her grip.
He continued, his voice slightly muffled. “Schultz found out of course, this was long before he acquired the Four Horsemen, so he sent the military after me. I swore vengeance on that old man, if I couldn’t see him dead then I would see him reduced to nothing, a beggar on the streets he paved. He’s a cold-blooded creature, simply using one person and jumping to the next when their usefulness runs out.”
Ghost kept the old man wrapped in the hug. “Men like Schultz have, across history, built the world. Smart, treacherous, evil men have molded this planet like putty so many times in the past. Do you know what happens when they die though?”
The old man nodded. “The world crumbles.”
“We stand at a very fragile point in history; we can go one of several ways: We kill Schultz, and civilization crumbles back once more, your democratic government will not stand up to the raw anger of the people, they will destroy you and then themselves. We could keep Schultz alive and still we do as you’ve planned, install a democratic government but keep Schultz as a puppet leader. We could just leave, and let Schultz continue, mankind would continue to progress with Schultz at its head.” Ghost dropped the hug and looked the old man directly in the eyes. “That’s the problem with a snake like Schultz, eventually the body will outgrow the head, but what happens when you cut the head off?”
“The body dies,” said the old man quietly.
“Death will listen to you, please try to convince him to talk.”
With that, Ghost left the old man to his thoughts. She made her way down the tunnels until she found the ladder to the surface. Ellie had been escorted back to the Superior’s office where she was sitting on the floor swaying slightly.
“The whole world is spinning and I don’t know what to do…” Her voice was slightly slurred.
Ghost sat down next to her. “Oh Ellie, I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, no, it’s alright, we can find a way to fix this…” Ellie thought for a moment. “Come inside, it would be easier to talk face to face.”
“Promise not to stare too much?” Ghost’s voice had a coy edge.
Ellie chuckled. “Ghost, I am physically incapable of keeping my gaze on a fixed point.” Her body convulsed slightly and she made a quiet burping noise. “Well, how does that work?” she muttered after a few moments.
Ghost’s worry grew. “Something else wrong?”
Ellie sounded perplexed. “I just dry heaved…”
“Oh, baby, you have a concussion.”
“But… I don’t have a brain to damage.”
“The force of the impact probably damaged some of your sensors, they’re giving false readings and your chip is reading it as a concussion. I’ve seen it before… you’re not the first one I’ve given a concussion to.”
“We’ll talk about it inside.” Ellie wrapped her massive arm around Ghost’s shoulders.
The apartment door faded in, Ghost walked up to it and opened it gently, last time she threw the door open she smacked Kid right in the face. Carefully peeking her head inside she saw that Katrine, Vee, and Kid were all gathered around the bathroom door, she sidled inside and quietly closed the door behind her. She gently knocked on the doorframe to get their attention; Vee looked over and waved her closer. As she made her way to the others she stepped in a strange black slime that most certainly wasn’t present the last time she’d stopped by, she repressed her feelings of disgust and kept going.
“Hey, how’s she doing?” Ghost whispered, shuddering slightly as the black stuff squished beneath her foot.
Vee turned. “Well, she’s-.”
“HWURGH!” The sound of Ellie vomiting interrupted her.
Vee gestured to the closed door.“-That… She’s doing that”
Katrine shook her head. “I don’t think she’s ever actually eaten anything, what’s she vomiting up?”
“It’s a mystery,” Kid said ominously.
“Katrine, Kid, you stay with her, I need to talk to Ghost.” Vee and Ghost made their way to the futon.
Vee sat down and curled up comfortably while Ghost sat rigidly.
She raised an eyebrow. “Come on, get comfortable…”
“I am comfortable.” She most definitely was not comfortable.
“Ghost… get that rake out of your ass and relax.” Her tone was firm.
Ghost sighed and sank into the futon; she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her them. She buried her face into the backs of her knees.
Vee placed her hand on Ghost’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault… alright?”
Ghost took a shaky breath. “How come, whenever things go wrong, I’m usually at the center of it?”
Vee’s voice was calm, as if she were talking to an injured animal. “You’re a roughhouser Ghost, even now, all these years later, you’re not aware of how strong you are. You keep hiding behind your insecurities, and you’re all the worse for it.”
“I just never know when I’m going to lose control.” She muttered into her legs.
“How did you feel when you fought Ellie?”
Ghost looked over, her eyes were wet. “The first time? Or this time?”
“Compare them, you almost lost control the first time, how did you do now?”
She rested her chin on her knee. “I felt grounded; like that animal part of me was smaller than it had ever been…”
“Is it perhaps because you know she isn’t a threat, like you know her better?”
Ghost scowled. “Maybe? I don’t know why I felt so much more in control, perhaps it was Pixia being with me. All the times I’ve lost control in the past have been when I was fighting alone.” She took a deep breath. “Below the Schultz building, when I was with Marjorie, I lost control…”
“And what caused it?”
Ghost’s eyes were glassy as she remembered. “Marge had just released an army of Gammas on us and I wanted to protect Marjorie… she was my anchor. I destroyed them all, it felt so good to be so angry again, I didn’t know if I was going to come back but when I looked back at her my anger seemed to drain.”
Vee smiled and placed a hand on Ghost’s arm. “I think we’d better keep you with an emotional support buddy like what you were doing before.”
Ghost buried her face once more; she didn’t even want to think about it. “But even that didn’t always work, like when I was with Death in the red light district… I threw a man through a window.”
Vee tried to stay positive. “Well, it could have been worse.”
“I think it was up to the fifth story.”
Vee cringed slightly. “Well, maybe Death wasn’t the right fit; you need somebody you can feel comfortable with.”
Ghost shrugged noncommittally. “Alright, but who’d want to be stuck with me?”
Vee gave an exasperated sigh, and gave Ghost a small prod with her finger. “Any of us, we’re all family Ghost, we’ll look out for you, heck I’m pretty sure even Marjorie or Juvinea would be happy to keep an eye on you.” Vee lowered her voice. “You may not know this but Pixia has a bit of a crush on you.”
Ghost scoffed, though she turned a deep shade of red and quickly averted her eyes, she’d definitely noticed how kind Pixia had been but she’d never thought of them in the context of attraction. “Everybody has a crush on me.”She was silent for a moment. “Since when did you become my personal psychiatrist?”
“Since the moment I punched you in the stomach and woke you up all those years ago.” Vee gave her a light shake.
Ghost smiled, remembering her first days. “I think I paid you back plenty for that one… But I think it’s time we actually talk strategy, or rather, how are we going to get Ellie up and out of here?”
“HAGHK!” The sound of Ellie vomiting cut through the quiet apartment.
“Good shot!” yelled Kid.
Vee tapped her chin her eyes had a crafty glint. “Well, this is a long shot, like, incredibly unlikely, but… what if I take control?”
Ghost tilted her head, brow furrowed. “How would that work?”
Vee vaguely gestured with her hand. “Well… We’re both Indra, and I’m pretty sure that both Kid and I are actually stored on Ellie’s internal memory as software and are just kept running in the background. What if I just go outside and take over her body?”
Ghost kept her face deadpan; she wasn’t entirely enamored with Vee’s plan. “When you phrase it like that it sounds terrifying and insidious.”
Vee shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”The two got up and made for the door.
She waved to Katrine and Kid. “Alright we’re gonna test something, hopefully it works.”
Katrine turned around, eyebrow raised. “Wait, what’re you gonna do?”
“Remember the Guru?”
“Yeah…” Katrine’s tone was cautious.
Vee jabbed her chest with her thumb. “Imma be the Guru.” She couldn’t hide her massive grin.
Katrine scowled. “That makes no sense…”
“Perhaps, but it might work.” She stepped outside before Katrine could object further.
The world slowly faded to black, a fiery pain shot through her temples. “C’mon you bastard, take!” Vee yelled.
Her left foot grew cold and pretty soon all feeling went from it entirely, she felt her arms and legs thicken and her torso stretch. It felt as if gravity was pushing on her differently, as if the pull of the world had grown stronger. Vee’s vision faded in, it was the Superior’s office. She lifted her hand up and looked at it, it was massive and purple.
“Huh.” Her voice was still her own not Ellie’s. She started poking her new body, it felt strange and alien. “Wow, this is really weird.”
Ghost crouched down in front of her. “Vee, is that you?”
“Yep… Here let’s see if I can get up.”
With help from Ghost, and after several tumbles that may or may not have splintered the nice wooden floorboards, Vee was up on her foot, leaning heavily on the sword crutch.
“We really need to see about getting her an actual crutch, this is a terrible way to travel.” She stumbled and fell over. She began mumbling “crutch” to herself.
“Are you OK?” Ghost crouched over Vee.
“I’m just used to my own body, and Ellie’s most certainly isn’t that, I’m just getting the hang of things.” Vee pushed herself up into a sitting position once more. “How does she manage to fight like this…?”
Ghost laughed. “Incredibly well… Here put your weight on me, I’ll be your crutch.”
Ellie was curled up on the futon, watching the TV, an empty puke bowl sat next to her. She was having a small existential crisis as she realized her body was little more than a husk that could be inhabited at will by other people. She could barely make out what was on the screen but it looked like Vee had wrestled some control over her body. Nope, the ground suddenly filled the screen as she fell over again.
Katrine sat down next to Ellie, interrupting her internal meltdown. “Frankly I’m impressed something like that actually worked.” Her voice betrayed her total confusion.
The view on the TV turned over to show several others besides Ghost peering at Vee. Wulf and Wall bent down and pulled her to her feet.
Katrine chuckled and turned the volume up. “Oh, I wonder how they’re gonna explain this one away.”
Wulf’s voice was tinny. “Um, Ellie, you OK?”
Vee’s voice responded, equally tinny. “Ellie ain’t driving right now.”
Wulf recoiled slightly. “Oh that’s strange, even for us that’s weird. How did you manage that?”
Ghost let out an embarrassed chuckle. “Well, our sparring got a little heated and Ellie sustained some minor brain damage.”
“How minor?” Wulf’s voice was rather frantic.
Vee wiped away some dirt that stuck to her forehead obscuring the view from the TV slightly. “Concussion, there was vomit everywhere.” Those in the apartment could hear Ghost wince as she realized what she stepped in.
Wulf slouched. “Y’know what, I’m not gonna ask, will you at least be in enough control of your body not to make a scene?”
The view bobbed as Vee nodded. “As long as it doesn’t come down to combat we should be fine, also solid ground would be really nice right about now. This girl really needs a crutch.”
Kid peered around the TV. “What! Is my sword not good enough for ya?”
“Kid,” Ellie said calmly. “I don’t think she can hear you.”
“I heard that!”Vee’s voice boomed around the apartment.
“Is that how it sounds when I talk to you guys out there?” Ellie asked, her voice small.
Katrine nodded. “Yep.” She leaned back in the futon and sighed, closing her eyes.
Ellie’s vision blurred for a moment and cleared again after some intense squinting. “Whoa, that’s really weird, I don’t think I like that all too much.”
The three sat and watched the TV for a few more minutes, Ellie began twiddling her fingers. “So… what do you guys actually do in here?”
“Well…” Katrine thoughtfully stroked her chin. “Kid usually sleeps, I’m still trying to get the hang of making paper, and Vee’s read my old books a dozen times over.”
“Are you guys bored?”
“Crushingly.” Katrine immediately answered.
“Hmm, have you tried materializing stuff to entertain yourselves with? Stuff like the Guru, or board games?”
“Yeah, well the problem is that stuff like that is tied to the TV and, well…” Katrine looked at the shakily moving view on the TV. “It’s not working as it should, and Vee isn’t a very big fan of board games, she likes breaking stuff. She said she would teach me how to wrestle so that’s something to look forward to at least.”
Ellie scrunched her face in thought. “Hmm… hmm, what about other rooms? Could you feasibly expand the apartment?”
Katrine fluttered her lips. “Well the thought had occurred to me but things got busy, I’m pretty sure you were bleeding out or something.”
Ellie couldn’t help but chuckle. “Heh, I do that a lot.”
“When this is all over you’ll finally get to relax and feel bored like the rest of us, believe me, there’s a reason you Indra are so fond of standing still in interesting locations.” Katrine gave Ellie a little jostle which immediately upset her stomach.
“Existence without a purpose is boring…” Ellie said shakily.
Katrine flourished her arms and put on a wicked smile. “Welcome to purgatory!”
Kid wiggled up from behind the futon and wiggled spooky little fingers in Ellie’s face. “The prison of the mind.”
“Aww, she’s cute when she tries to be scary.” Ellie tried to reach around and grab Kid but the sudden movement made her world spin once more. She keeled over and smacked her face on the futon’s metal armrest. Ellie curled up, nursing her rapidly bruising nose.
Katrine looked down at the huddled up Ellie, her face a mask of tired resignation. “Honey, if I didn’t know you any better I’d say you were the clumsiest person I’ve ever met. Let’s get some tissues for that bloody nose you’re about to have.”
“And what makes you think tha—.” A thin dribble of blood began trickling from Ellie’s right nostril, she sniffed it back up. “I’m going back to the bathroom for a little while,” she said despondently.
Vee was getting the hang of Ellie’s body; she quickly hobbled around the main square, Ghost walked alongside her for stability. She was quietly listening in on the goings-on in the apartment. She let out a weary sigh.
Ghost looked up. “Something wrong?”
Vee responded, a sigh in her voice. “Oh… it’s nothing; Ellie’s just injuring herself further.”
She shook her head. “Geez, talk about accident prone.”
“Indeed, she can handle herself in a fight but I swear she is just the clumsiest thing.” As if to emphasize the point Vee started stumbling.
Ghost pulled her back before she could plant her face in the cobbled streets once more. “I dunno, you weren’t doing much better in standing up.”
“That was understandable, this is just silly.” She sighed, voice wistful. “It feels good to be back, if only temporarily.”
Ghost couldn’t help but let a hint of excitement enter her voice. “Who knows, maybe she’ll let you take the old body for a spin every once in a while.”
“I’d like that.”
Vee felt something unlike her initial shakiness; she felt her leg give way, as if it physically wasn’t there anymore. She fell heavily onto the ground, unable to even brace as her body grew numb around her.
Vee’s voice grew pained; it felt as if millions of tiny needles were puncturing her skin. “Oh dear, I think there’s something legitimately wrong this time…”
Ghost crouched next to her, concerned at her lack of movement. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t move, her body has literally given out on me… I think it’s rejecting me…” Vee groaned in pain as an agonizing throbbing filled her left leg. “Ghost… get me back inside… this isn’t working, I don’t know what’s happening, but I need to get back to the apartment.” The pain intensified she grunted in agony, suppressing a scream.
Ghost, fueled by raw desperation, wrapped her arms under Vee’s armpits and slowly dragged her back to the Superior’s office, laying her out in nearly the exact spot as before. Vee felt a small amount of feeling jolt back into her arm but she had no control over it, it pulled Ghost in tight.
“Gah, Vee, that’s too tight,” Ghost wheezed.
Her voice was frantic. “I can’t control it! I’m getting out of here!” Vee quickly returned to the apartment. Her vision didn’t fade in though, she was caught in a strange whirlwind of grey static, her body began to grow numb as the static gnawed at her fingers and feet. She let out a scream of determination and she felt her body solidify and the familiar surroundings of the apartment faded in. Vee felt a massive force hit the back of her head and everything went dark.
Vee’s eyes shot open; she was back in the apartment. Ghost was crouched over her and Kid was looking over her shoulder looking very concerned.
“Oh don’t tell me that was all a dream!” Vee yelled at no one in particular.
Ghost furrowed her brow she didn’t know quite how to react. “Um… yeah? I dunno. I kept an eye on you when you tried to get back, you flickered a little bit and then got spat into the doorframe, you hit your head pretty hard.”
Vee shook her head, clearing away the grey fuzziness that was clinging to her periphery. “Wow that was weird… how’s Ellie?”
“I’m doing better!” Ellie called from the bathroom. “I can focus my eyes again!”
“That’s great honey!” Vee called.
Katrine pulled her up. “Let me tell you right now that I’m astonished that something like that even worked for the time it did. It seems the incompatibility caught up with you in the end but I was more worried about the concussion.”
Vee was a little confused. “Why were you more worried about the concussion.”
Katrine shrugged. “You’d be using the same damaged parts, basically all you did was pilot Ellie’s concussed body without feeling the side effect.
Vee stroked her chin. “Hmpf, perhaps my eagerness to see the outside world clouded my judgment, but that would explain my balance issues.”
Katrine shrugged. “That’s understandable.”
Vee lowered her voice. “But… while I was out there I made a few realizations. I also totally eavesdropped on everything you guys said in here.”
Katrine was all ears. “Like, such as?”
Vee side-eyed Kid. “Kid’s adorable when she’s trying to be scary.”
Katrine stroked her chin. “Hmmm, that’s true…”
“Ellie needs a crutch, bad…”
Kid leapt from Ghost’s shoulders and made an exaggerated angry face. “What! Is my sword not good enough for ya!” she yelled gruffly.
Ghost chuckled, “You’re right, she is cute.”
Vee turned to look at Katrine, her voice lowered further. “… and we’re so bored in here… When this is all over we need to see about expanding the apartment.”
Katrine nodded her head. “Well I considered it but… Ellie was bleeding out or something.”
“I do that a lot!” yelled Ellie from the bathroom.
Vee smiled wide. “That’s what you guys said a little while ago.”
Katrine chuckled. “Of course, you were listening in when I was talking to Ellie. Then again, we probably would have come to that conclusion sooner or later.
Ghost stood up. “All right you guys, you seem to holding up all in here, I think I’ll be going.” She stretched her back and walked to the door and stepped outside. She stepped inside after a few moments. “Um, Vee… Ellie, you’re holding me so tight I can’t get out of your grip.”
Ellie responded from the bathroom “Really? Usually I go limp when I’m in here. Gimme a second.”
The toilet flushed and Ellie slowly shuffled out of the bathroom. She looked positively dreadful, even worse than before, she was a sickly shade of green and her hair was an absolute rat nest, a large wad off tissues was stuffed up her nose.
Vee was immediately by her side. “You said you were feeling better! You look terrible!”
Ellie shuffled toward the door. “When this is all over… I’m going to sleep for a thousand years.”
“Careful what you wish for sweetheart.” Vee helped Ellie to the door. “Now come right back, alright?”
“Yes mom…” Ellie muttered sullenly and walked outside.
Vee could feel something tug at her pants, she looked down and it was Kid looking grouchy. Vee picked her up. “What’s up Kid?”
“I’m grouchy,” She said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Is it about the sword?”
“Don’t worry, Ellie’ll still use it to fight, but it’s not very good for her to walk around with. It’s going to be fine.” She gave Kid a solid hug.
“Doh, you’re such a momma goose.” Ghost tickled her ribs. Vee squawked and nearly dropped Kid.
She put Kid down, who quickly ran off. “Oi, of course I am, I’m the oldest. Don’t blame me for having the maternal instincts you lack.” She gave Ghost a little prod in return.
She gave Vee a hug. “Actually, no, it’s really nice seeing you again, it’s been so long that I almost forgot what you looked like. I’ve missed you.” She gave Vee one more quick look and walked out of the apartment.
Several moments later Ellie stumbled back inside. “You know, that wasn’t all too bad, I can probably muscle through this.” Her voice lacked the confidence of her words.
Vee put her hands on Ellie’s shoulders and looked into her glassy eyes. “But did you try standing up?”
“Well, no.” Ellie said hesitantly.
Vee turned her around and gave her a small push. “Go try standing up.”
Ellie left the apartment, grumbling quietly. She reentered the apartment and immediately ran to the bathroom slamming the door behind her.
Vee gently knocked on the bathroom door. “Did you stand up?”
“Yeah…” Ellie responded weakly.
“And how did it feel?”
Ellie’s voice reverberated over the toilet. “Dying would likely be more comfortable.”
“Hmmm, unfortunately you might actually have to sit this one out.”
“Oh just kill me now and get it over with!”
“Oh stop being such a drama queen.”
Pestilence sidled into the apartment; she’d learned her lesson with Kid as well. She saw Vee and came over. “So, um, how’s Ellie?”
“Shit!” Ellie yelled through the door.
Pestilence grimaced. “That’s not good. Death’s outside and he’s… rarin’ to go… can you pull through?”
“Dammit, I’ll try.” Ellie’s voice was determined. She exited the bathroom.
Pestilence recoiled. “Good god kid, what happened to you?”
Ellie let out a small burp. “I threw up… like, a lot.”
Kid excitedly ran up to Pestilence. “What did you want?”
Vee chuckled. “No Kid, she was referring to Ellie as a kid, not to you, Kid.”
Kid’s face was slack. “Ya lost me.”
“No worries.” Vee got up and took Kid to the futon.
Ellie brushed past Pestilence. “Well, I think she’ll hold down the fort here, c’mon, let’s see if I can manage to stand up without vomiting.
Chapter 26: Gains And Losses
Death and Famine hauled Ellie up where she stood uncertainly, her body convulsed slightly.
“Bah, screw it, let’s go,” she grumbled, annoyed.
“What’s wrong?”Asked Pestilence
“Vomit, I’ll deal with it later. I really hope you only need me symbolically because I really won’t be any use to you out there.”
“If all goes according to plan then you won’t have to do anything.” Death’s voice was flat and emotionless.
“And what’s the plan?”
“We kill Schultz.” was all he said as he left the office.
Pestilence held Ellie firmly, making direct contact. “Don’t worry, Famine and I have a plan of our own; we’re not going to let Death kill Schultz, at least until he’s had a chance to talk. Death isn’t thinking about the big picture, he’s still caught up on revenge.”
“He should have a chat with Ghost about that,”said Vee to Pestilence.
Pestilence held to door open for Ellie and stepped out after her, still holding on tightly. “Ghost spoke to the old man who tried to talk some sense into Death, he didn’t listen. I’m really hoping we don’t have to, but we might have to beat some sense into him. We’ll be telling the others on the way over, you spread the word as well.”
Ellie’s world was spinning. “Aren’t you worried about the others? What if they agree with Death?”She stumbled slightly.
Pestilence steadied her.“Then tell them the big picture… If we kill Schultz now we’ll be responsible for far more deaths than when we were under the US Military, Alcadon will implode. I hate to bring up the past with them but it might be the only way to make the more stubborn ones listen.”
Ellie stopped and looked down at Pestilence.“Bolt?”
Pestilence let out a sigh and slouched.“Probably, maybe Wulf or Scorn.”
Ellie resumed hobbling behind Death.“And you tried telling him this?”
Her tone was frustrated. “He won’t listen; he’s not thinking rationally, I’ve never seen him like this.”
“Don’t worry; we’ll get him back to his old self.”Ellie gave Pestilence’ shoulder a squeeze.
“So how’s Ghost holding up?” Pestilence changed the subject; Death was getting rather suspicious at how quiet the two were.
Ellie cottoned on immediately. “Better, I think, she came by a few times, heard me vomit a bunch.”
Pestilence tilted her head thoughtfully. “So what exactly were you vomiting up?”
Ellie shrugged, she genuinely had no clue. “I have no idea, some sort of black slime, it tasted very sour. It kinda reminded me of the slime that Havoc was bathing in before it was released, except mine didn’t smell like the physical embodiment of Death.”
“You know I’m right here,” said Death slightly huffily.
Ellie got an idea, it was a bad idea, but oh well. “Well, when was the last time you showered? C’mere lemme get a sniff!” She rushed forward, swiftly regretting her decision and her choice of words as the world began to haze around the edges.
Death sped up to keep his distance from Ellie. “What are you doing?” Death was incredibly confused; perhaps more was wrong with Ellie than a simple concussion.
Ellie fastened a viselike grip on Death’s shoulder and pulled him close. “Gotcha!”
Pestilence was just as confused as Death. “Ellie what are you doing? Please stop manhandling my brother.”
Ellie’s massive pointer finger covered where Pestilence’ mouth would be. “Sh-h-h-h. Death, I’m worried about you, you’ve been neglecting yourself. You know, it’s not healthy to bottle up your emotions, it might affect your judgment.”
Internally Ellie was doing much the same as what she did with Medusa. Stabbing him with multiple tendrils of cabling she flooded Death with happy thoughts and emotions, trying to fill the swirling void of anger and depression that had set up residence inside of him. Ellie poured every ounce of happiness she could muster into Death. She was surprised at how superficial his anger was. Compared to Medusa’s bottomless well he seemed positively shallow. She felt something snap inside him she let him go, Death sank to the ground, shuddering, and Ellie fell over backwards convulsing.
Death curled up, silently sobbing.
Pestilence rushed over and knelt over her crying brother. “What did you do to him!?” she yelled at Ellie.
Ellie pushed herself into a sitting position. “I just tore down a few walls, he would have cracked eventually, but it’s probably better now than with Schultz.” She hurt all over; her vision was swimming in a grey haze of nausea. Ellie explained what she did, and how she did the same with Medusa. “He loves War very much… I could easily feel that, but he hid his sadness behind anger and hatred rather than simply facing his emotions.”
Death had stopped sobbing and was quietly rocking on the ground. “I’m so weak,” Death whispered.
“On the contrary-,“ Ellie started.
Wall’s voice boomed around the square. “What’s going on!?”
The bulk of the Indra had entered the square and were jogging over to the odd scene.
Death pulled himself up, his voice was shaky. “Nothing to be worried about, Ellie was just giving me some words of encouragement and I tripped.” The excuse was lame but no one questioned it. “When this is all over I think we’ll all be forgiven for sleeping in.”
Ghost looked down at Ellie, who was still sitting on the ground. “How’s your head?”
She looked up at her. “Honestly? It’s been worse… can I get a hand up?”
Ellie was hauled up by Wall and Ghost; she swayed slightly before digging the sword into the ground and going on after Death. It was a short walk to the disguised vehicle bay. The Indra filed into the waiting ATTV-B, Sullivan sat behind the controls looking grim, Marjorie and Juvinea strapped in beside him. Scorn and Lethe were already waiting in the cargo bay for the others to arrive.
Ellie paused when she saw Lethe and Scorn. “Wait, when did you guys get here?”
“The Superior’s office isn’t the only way to get out of that maze,” replied Scorn casually.
Lethe stretched and yawned. “I just needed a nap; I figured I’d pick somewhere convenient.”
“Did you get anything from the courier?” asked Death.
He sat up, voice still tired. “No, not really, all I got was that the city is starving, there’s just no food. Schultz’ blockade coupled with the Sons’ disruption has left the city in a famine. I’m pretty sure that meal the kid had was the first real food he’d eaten in weeks.” His tone became serious. “Death, we need to end this, preferably with all parties still alive on the other side, otherwise the city will die, Schultz or no Schultz.”
There was a firm knocking from outside, Sullivan opened the door and the old man hobbled in and sat between Wulf and Wall, looking comically small. Sullivan turned the engine over and pulled out of the vehicle bay.
The old man stared daggers at Death. “So… What’s the plan?”
Death’s voice was resigned. “If Schultz wishes to talk, then talk we shall.”
Famine and Pestilence were slightly taken aback by Death’s sudden change in stance. Pestilence started slightly and Famine simply exuded a slightly puzzled aura.
The old man blinked slowly, not believing Death. “Oh? And what brought about this change of heart? The pleading from your own siblings couldn’t break your resolve.”
Death cleared his throat. “I had a little help from Ellie, our resident psychologist. She assisted me in seeing past my rage and thinking about the big picture.” He shifted his weight awkwardly.
“Hmmm,” the old man thoughtfully stroked his chin. “That’s what your Ghost did for me. It seems we’re both in the same boat with this one.”
Death nodded. “Indeed, though I’m sure Ghost’s methods were a bit more… refined.”
Pestilence also stroked her chin but quickly stopped when she saw the old man doing the same. “Y’know, we all had the chance to take that psychology course, did anyone actually take it?”
None of the Indra raised their hands, not even Ghost.
“I did!”Vee yelled from the apartment.
Ellie spoke for her. “Um, Vee did.”
“Always the responsible one,” Pestilence sighed.
The Indra swayed in a comfortable silence for a while before falling into quiet conversation with each other.
Pixia sidled up to Ghost, her wings making soft rusting noises. “So, how’d you get so good at dissecting the human psyche?” she whispered
Ghost gave Pixia a confused look. “Um, experience? Since when did you become interested in my psychological experience?” She shifted uncomfortably.
Pixia looked at her wrist and then back at Ghost. “About… right now.”
“Oh? Well… that’s nice of you.” Ghost pulled her knees up to her chin and remained silent. The two swayed in an awkward silence.
Ellie, at Vee’s insistence, sidled over to Ghost’s other side and stealthily placed her hand on Ghost’s shoulder.
“Get that broomstick outta your ass!”Yelled Vee from the apartment.
Ghost started slightly. Ghost’s sudden movement made Pixia jump which sent one of her wings smacking into a napping Bolt’s face.
“Gah! Watch where you’re waving those things!”
“Heh, sorry,” whispered Pixia.
Bolt grumbled and reclined against the wall once more.
Pixia pointed to an empty corner of the storage bay. “Let’s talk over there.”
Ghost began clamming up. “What in the world would you want to talk about with me?”
“Anything really, we never talk.” Pixia shrugged.
Ghost thought for a moment, she was right, they hadn’t had a serious conversation since before going under, and even when Pixia was minding her they didn’t really converse. “What brought about this sudden chattiness?”
Pixia shrugged “I’ve always been chatty, though the impending sense of doom might be the culprit.”
Ghost could relate to that. “C’mon.” She gave Pixia a nudge. “You’ve always been the optimist, what are you doing with such a gloomy outlook? Are you trying to infect me with your optimism?”
Pixia gasped with mock shock. “I wouldn’t dare, we’d be down another grouch if I did that, which would just leave Scorn and Bolt.”
“Oi!” Scorn yelled over his shoulder before going back to conversing with Death and Anon.
Pixia chuckled and Ghost let out a small laugh.
“Huh, so I guess miracles can happen, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh before.”
“I never have any reason to, you know me.” Ghost began pulling her knees up again.
Pixia slapped Ghost’s knees back down. “Hmmm, it seems the resident psychologist is as much a mess as everyone else. Put those knees down and stop hiding from yourself.”
“Hey that’s one of mine!” said Anon loudly.
“Hush!” Pixia snapped back.
“I think everyone’s eavesdropping on us,” whispered Ghost. She immediately noticed several heads being slightly averted.
She shrugged. “Well, yeah, you would too.”
Ellie scooted back over. “Y’know, if you want privacy…” she tapped the side of her head. “Fewer witnesses…”
“Hmm?” Pixia raised a metaphorical eyebrow. “Whaddaya think?”
Ghost huffed in resignation. “Oh, alright.”
Pixia and Ghost placed a hand on Ellie’s knee and they went inside. The two spent the rest of the ride sitting on the futon chatting. Vee relaxed at the kitchen table while Katrine sat by the closet sketching the two, Kid was napping in the bed as per usual. They sat and talked for the rest of the trip, after an hour both Katrine and Vee had fallen asleep.
Noticing the two were asleep Ghost lowered her voice. “Are you scared? Of what’s going to happen?”
Pixia leaned back letting out a deep sigh through her nose. “Yes… I mean, we’ve all lived such carefully metered lives, back with the military and even now. We’ve always known what was going to happen, what we would do, where we were going, but now? We’re facing the unknown, the biggest cliché in the book, and it terrifies me.” Pixia held Ghost’s hand. “I-I don’t want to lose anybody, and I really don’t want to lose you.”
Ghost’s eyes widened, she felt herself blush, but she didn’t hide from it like before, it felt right.
Ellie slowly crept inside, not wanting to disturb anyone; she went up to the two on the futon. “Hey, we’re here, it’s time.”
Ghost looked at Pixia, still holding her hand tightly. The two sat there for a moment just looking at each other, and then Ghost leaned in and gave Pixia a peck on the cheek.
“For luck,” she whispered. She quickly stood up and walked out of the apartment.
Pixia was beet red, she slumped into the futon. “Oh god, I think I’m in love!”
“I didn’t know we were capable of that,” said Ellie, rather surprised.
“Oh, we totally are.”
Vee poked her head around the corner, blinking away her sleepiness. “Huh? Where’s Ghost.”
“She kissed me!”
Vee squealed and ran over giving Pixia a big hug. “Oh, you little charmer you!”
Katrine snorted and woke up from all the noise; she watched the scene play out with mild amusement.
Pixia’s voice was strained. “Guh… can’t… breathe…”
Vee quickly put her down, chuckling embarrassedly. “Heh, heh, sorry.”
Ellie began to pull Pixia towards the door. “We can delve into your innermost thoughts later, but right now things are strictly business.”
Ellie and Pixia returned to their bodies and quickly stepped out of the ATTV. They were faced with an awesome sight. Schultz had set up in a natural crater the entirety of Alcadon’s military, hundreds of thousands strong standing in ranks along it’s sloped rim. A wall made up of thousands of pieces of artillery punctuated with multiple energy weapons and strange devices Ellie couldn’t even recognize were lining the far lip. Two ranks of mortars lined a crisscrossed maze of ditches covered in razor wire making up the massive circular stretch of no man’s land reaching to the lip of the crater; no doubt the whole stretch was brimming with mines and other dangerous traps. Standing in the center of no man’s land, in the center of the crater, in a large leveled circle of earth was Laverne T. Schultz, accompanied by General Burke. The Indra gathered on the edge of the immense death trap, a thin strip of raised earth created a path directly to Schultz.
“Well… I see we were expected.” Sullivan’s eyes were wide at the scope of the operation.
Death turned to Sullivan. “Sullivan, Marjorie, Juvinea, I’d like for you three to stay here. If this does wind up being a trap then you need to get out of here as fast as possible and vanish.”
Sullivan placed his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “What about you, old man?”
He kept his gaze fixed on the tiny figure of Schultz. “I stay, this is my battle, it’s time I see it to completion.”
With no further words the old man began walking along the pathway down into the crater, he was quickly followed by the other Indra. The walk was agonizingly long as the old man refused any assistance from Death or any of the others. By the time they reached Schultz the old man was huffing and stumbling. Schultz stood stock still, watching his faceless enemy draw forward, as the old man entered the circle Schultz’ eyes widened in surprise.
“Bartholomew?” Schultz’ voice was shocked.
“Grandfather! The time has come to face your past!”
Schultz broke a rare smile. “You stubborn old goat, I’m almost glad it’s you.” Schultz stepped forward hand outstretched.
Bartholomew extended his hand in kind, and the two shook. They looked into each other’s eyes, sizing the other up.
Schultz stepped back and let out a sigh. “I, despite what you see here, am not negotiating from a position of power; you Indra are more than a match for anything I can throw at you, I am laying all my cards on the table.” Schultz looked at Bartholomew. “Despite this I refuse to submit to you, I simply cannot. You understand, more than anyone here, the role I play in that city-”
Bartholomew interrupted him “Schultz, your time is past, this city has outgrown you, and it has outgrown your government. Step down, leave Alcadon, let the people there flourish as you once intended.”
Schultz’ eyes hardened. “They flourish now, but due to your meddling with the food supply the city rests on the brink of destruction. I’ve guided Alcadon for two hundred years, two hundred years of peace.”
Bartholomew bit back a scoff. “Alcadon cannot continue with you as its figurehead, your crimes are as innumerable as they are terrible. Step down and face the consequences of your actions.”
Schultz sighed. “Are we just going to continue in this endless loop Bart? As we’ve done for the past forty years? A vicious cycle without end? How many more have to die for your ambitions?”
His façade melted and his anger bubbled to the surface, his face twisted in a sneer. “My ambitions!? How many lives have you snuffed out to keep yourself in power? How many have died for your ambition, thousands? Tens of thousands? Millions? You’re a monster!”
Lethe stepped forward. “This is going nowhere Gentleman. Please, let’s keep our emotions in check. We are here to prevent a war, not start one.”
Burke leaned in and whispered in Schultz ear, quiet enough that not even the Indra could overhear.
Schultz thought for a moment before looking over at Burke then back at the Indra. “Very well. Burke has proposed settling this the old fashioned way, we shall fight.”
Lethe threw his arms up in frustration. “That is exactly what we’ve come here to prevent!”
“No, not with them.” Schultz swept his arm behind him. “But with me, I’m sure Fitsch has filled you all in on my current physical state.”
Bartholomew nodded, eyes squinted skeptically. “Indeed she has, going into enough detail that we know for sure that a single Indra cannot defeat you.”
At this Death, Famine, and Pestilence stepped forward.
“We will fight,” Death said loudly. “To avenge the murder of our brother and to rend punishment upon you for your crimes!”
Schultz smiled thinly. “My esteemed bodyguards, I wouldn’t have it any other way! No weapons, we’re doing this the old fashioned way!”
“We will not need weapons to defeat you Schultz,” Death growled.
Pestilence placed a hand on Death’s shoulder. “Brother, restraint.”
Death kept his gaze on Schultz. “He’s offered us little alternative. Despite what he’s said he still thinks he can win. We need to break him; otherwise he’ll take the whole city down with his stubbornness.”
Pestilence stole a quick look at the old man.“Bart’s not much better.”
“One at a time…”
Everyone cleared a sizeable area, Burke fled back to the command post, and the three fanned out in front of Schultz. One by one they threw their weapons to the ground and kicked them back.
Death spoke. “Before we start Schultz, let it be known, we did not come here to kill you, but it seems you are giving us very little choice.”
Schultz fell into a defensive stance. “You and your masters will run Alcadon into the ground.”
Death began circling. “They are not our masters; they are the lesser of two evils.”
Schultz scoffed loudly. “None of us are the lesser, we are all equal here.”
Pestilence spoke, circling behind her brother. “Perhaps… we’ve all done terrible things, but you stand like a mountain among molehills.”
Schultz looked at Famine. “Anything interesting to add?”
Famine began circling. “No.”
Schultz grunted in approval. “Always the tacit one.”
Soon the three surrounded Schultz, each keeping a fair distance.
Schultz twisted his neck, there was an audible popping. “I must warn you… I’ve never had the opportunity to truly test this body’s strength.”
“Your warning is appreciated.”
“All at once?”Asked Pestilence.
Death nodded slightly. “Keep moving, whatever you do, don’t let him get his hands on you. Famine, you’re the strongest one here, we’re relying on you to get him on the ground, we’ll deal with his arms and legs.”
Famine rolled their shoulders and fell into a boxer’s stance.“It’ll be difficult to keep him down, this ground will absorb almost all the force of a throw and I doubt he weighs as much as any of us.”
Death thought for a moment.“Alright then… Immobilization, we’ll hold him down and you lay into him with body blows, remember, we need him alive.”
The other two nodded.
Schultz tilted his head and smiled. “I see you’ve made your plan, shall we get on with it?”
The three rushed in unison, Schultz was facing Death with Pestilence and Famine approaching him from the sides. Schultz ducked and launched forward, bowling Death over. Using Death as a springboard he vaulted back to his feet where he was engaged by Famine in an attempt to create some distance from the prostrate Death. Famine threw several jabs and a solid left hook, Schultz blocked them with his forearms, while Pestilence slipped behind him and launched a hefty uppercut into his kidneys. Schultz stumbled slightly, letting out a grunt of pain. Planting his left foot Schultz lashed out with his right, catching Pestilence in the side and spinning her away from the brawl. Using his distraction to their advantage, Famine swung a wild uppercut into his chin. Schultz left the ground, letting out a howl of pain. He landed heavily, feet sinking into the soft earth. Death had gotten to his feet and was regrouping with Pestilence while Famine kept him distracted.
Pestilence shook away her disorientation.“I have a terrible idea.”
Death didn’t take his gaze off of Schultz.“Shoot.”
Death looked down at Pestilence.“That’s a terrible idea.”
She began bobbing in anticipation. “I need to get on his shoulders, if I can pin his arms then we can really lay into him.”
Death let out a defeated sigh. “Here’s hoping this goes better than last time.”
She scowled internally. “You promised you’d never bring that back up.”
“Sorry.”Death lifted Pestilence above his head and whipped her at Schultz’ exposed back.
Unluckily for Pestilence, Schultz picked that moment to steal a glance back. He dodged to the side, grabbing her outstretched hand, swinging her to hit Famine heavily in the chest. Schultz tightened his grip; he could feel Pestilence’ hand begin to lose its shape as he crushed it. Grabbing her upper arm, he dropped into a kneeling position in the process slamming her elbow down onto his knee. The elbow joint virtually disintegrated, Pestilence screamed in agony. In a flash both Death and Famine were savagely beating Schultz’ back. he finally released Pestilence who quickly dragged herself away from the fight, her arm dangling limply.
Death saw red, all the rage and anger he felt toward Schultz bubbled back to the surface. Schultz had murdered his brother, killed Inferno, and now he’d injured his sister. Death lost it. Death grabbed Schultz around the shoulders, ignoring the many punches that left craters in his midsection and thrust him face first into the ground. Death straddled Schultz’ back and placed his hand on the back of his head, pushing it deeper into the soft ground. Death began punching Schultz in the back of the neck, heavy, slow, punches. Death would have sat there all day, punching that despicable man into the ground until there was nothing left, but Famine pulled Death off. Schultz rolled over, panting and coughing, dirt coating his face. Death pushed Famine away and began grinding his foot into Schultz sternum, Schultz cried out in pain, a thin dribble of blood streamed from his mouth.
“Death! That is enough!” Famine slapped the back of Death’s head, knocking him forward.
The red mist that hazed Death’s vision began to clear, he looked down at Schultz, gasping and struggling beneath his foot.
Schultz began chuckling taking the Indra off guard. “Huh, to think that my own progress would be my downfall. I expected to die eventually but like this? No.” He looked up at Death. “Go ahead, kill me, you’ll be doing humanity a great disservice.”
“Tell us why we shouldn’t kill you.” Death said flatly.
Schultz looked slightly confused, then angry. “Where would you all be if I hadn’t crawled out of the ground all those years ago? Hmmm? Where would you all be? You’d still be buried beneath the ground and all those people out there would be out tilling the fields and shitting in the streets in Knossos, or in any of the other shitheaps out there. You likely wouldn’t have been uncovered and none of this would have happened! Your Ellie!” He aggressively thrust his head in her direction. “She wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t come around and cemented my place on this earth. Where do you think Banthu came from eh? He’s my son!” His voice was getting angrier. “Look at what I’ve done for humanity!” He whipped his head toward Alcadon. “Look at it! In two hundred years I’ve brought humanity ahead ten thousand.”
“The boons you’ve given humanity do not atone for your crimes against it.” Famine replied back calmly.
“Doesn’t it!? I destroyed Knossos yes, I’ll admit. I marched forty thousand people to that very spot and made them build. I destroyed their past to rebuild their future; I put those thought blockers in to keep building that future. Where did the people of Knossos go? They’re here now, watching us squabble like children. I am responsible for the Shalti, an entire flourishing race of people. In return for feeding us we’ve provided them with every luxury they could ever desire, education, technology, progress, freedom. The trade I’ve opened, crossing the country, spreading across continents I have brought a wealth of knowledge and technology to so many who will never know my name.”
Pestilence limped over, nursing her broken arm. “And what of Project Gamma? How does that fit into your plan for humanity?”
Schultz shifted uncomfortably. “Gamma was a good idea turned sour. If the Sons hadn’t killed my Shelly those machines would be out mindlessly plowing fields of grain. Have you not stopped to think that all of this has come of their blunder, their failed attempt to kill me? They’ve been starving this city for years; Project Gamma would have eliminated that threat by being able to fight back, by being able to resist, by eliminating the human element.”
Death pressed his foot down a bit harder. “And what of the biomass used for Project Gamma?”
Schultz spit a wad of bloody phlegm off to the side. “We took the dead from the morgues of the prisons and hospitals, where did you think the bodies went? Cremated? Buried? That’s why their tissue was so weak, because it was already dead, but still strong enough to repel a human attack. You think I took living people and shoved them through a fan? Like those that made you? I want you to name one thing I’ve done that hasn’t been for the good of the people? One thing!” Spittle flew as Schultz screamed at the three. “I care for these people above all others, they are my family, my children, I’ve watched them grow and thrive.” Tears began streaming down his face. “I love them so much! Have I made mistakes? Yes, oh god, I’ve made so many mistakes. Ellis, War, Gamma, and so many more before them. But I did it for the betterment of us all, not for the selfish desires of a terrorist organization.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “This ain’t a picture show Romeo; things aren’t always black and white.” Schultz rested his head back on the ground and closed his eyes. “Make your choice. Kill me, spare me, I don’t care anymore, you’ve won.”
Death lifted his foot from Schultz’ chest and lifted him to his feet. “You bring up many good points, we shall discuss this. Until then you are to be restrained and held in a secure location. No tricks Schultz.”
“I am a man of my word; I only hope you are as well.” Schultz dusted off his clothes and walked beside the three to the crowd of shocked onlookers.
Chapter 27: When Opportunity Comes Calling
Burke’s voice cut through the silent air. “Sorry boyo, you lost! Game over!” and quieter his voice could still be heard yelling “fire!”
The crackling of artillery roiled through the air like a wave of thunder.
The Indra scattered as the ground beneath their feet imploded, chain reactions of landmines threw waves of earth across the Indra, burying some.
“Burke you opportunistic fuck! They were supposed to be unmanned!” Schultz yelled at the wall of constantly firing artillery, a bullet ricocheted off of his forehead cleaving away the skin. He turned to Death. “It seems we now have larger problems than myself.”
Wall exploded from his earthen tomb, plucking several others from the ground like radishes. Ellie rose from the ground like a monolith, revealing an uninjured Bartholomew. The Indra regrouped around Death as the world evaporated around them.
Death threw the injured Pestilence into Ellie’s arms. “Sorry you two, you’re sitting this one out! Get back to the ATTV and get as far away as possible! If we survive this then we’ll send a message to Ozri!” A nearby mortar explosion knocked him off of his feet.
“Yeah, no, we ain’t leaving!” Pestilence struggled from Ellie’s grip. “I still got one good arm and she’s a got one good leg, we’re more use here!”
Death yelled resignedly, “You never could take orders!”
Pestilence pulled him up and clapped him on the shoulder. “Not on your life buddy boy.”
Ellie spoke up, looking at Bartholomew. “Before I do anything I’m getting you out of here.” She cradled him in one of her massive arms and swung away as fast as she could toward the still waiting ATTV.
Death appraised the situation before looking back at the Indra. “Alright! Search and destroy! Disable as many artillery as possible and try not to kill anyone! That means you Bolt! Ghost, Pixia, get Burke and regroup here with the VIP. Make it snappy people!”
“Also!” yelled Anon. “Don’t get hit!”
The Indra scattered, darting across no man’s land like determined roaches, hunting their sedentary quarry.
“How the hell did all of you miss!? They were standing completely still for almost a minute!” Burke’s voice could just be heard over the roar of artillery.
Wall was unstoppable as he sloughed through waves upon waves of infantry. Men and women were thrown aside like toys in the way of an angry toddler. He finally broke through the swaying field of infantry and sprinted toward the wall of artillery. A massive force struck him in the back, a wave of pain blossomed, whirling around he saw a small group of men carrying, and swiftly reloading, a laser guided rocket launcher. Wall reached at his back, it felt wet. They’d broken through his skin. He pulled out several large shards of metal and continued sprinting, occasionally weaving side to side as more rockets shot past him.
He sent out a call to the other Indra. “Keep an eye on your backs; the handhelds really pack a punch!”
An armored personnel vehicle exploded from the ground directly in Wall’s path, rising like a monolith of steel covered explosives. Wall didn’t stop; he rammed the thing shoulder first. With a sound like a massive tin can being crushed, the entire front end of the vehicle folded and cracked.
Pulling the damaged cockpit apart, Wall threw the terrified men and women inside onto the soft earth where they scrambled to their feet and fled. Planting his feet Wall slowly lifted the massive vehicle above his head and with a roar of exertion he threw it at the nearest artillery. The massive force of the APV shifted the artillery and it slowly began to tip over in the soft earth, it smashed into the ground with a resounding thud. The foolish operator tried to fire one last shell but the mass of explosives smashed into the soft ground as soon as it left the barrel, the ensuing explosion funneled back up the barrel. The propellant caught and the massive gun shattering into a twisted wreck of shrapnel and shredded metal.
Across the line, Burke could see the massive artillery emplacements exploding and going up in flames, the amount of damage wrought upon the guns was immense, but more still kept firing. Angling their barrels low the artillery began to fire at the ground between themselves and the scattering infantry.
There was nowhere for the Infantry to go, they were caught between the wildly firing artillery and the death trap that was no man’s land. A thin stream could be seen running along the safe pathway through the center and more still could be seen deserting from the unguarded sides. The buried APV’s were emerging en masse but more often than not wound up getting hit by the rockets fired by the infantry at the Indra.
The entire operation was crumbling into a chaotic mess of rockets, explosions, and bodies. Burke tried screaming over the radio to cease fire but either the signal was lost or nobody could hear him as the rockets and shells kept flying.
More and more artilleries fell to the force of the Indra, and pretty soon the rockets aimed at the Indra began hitting the artillery as well. The infantry was turning! Waves of frantic soldiers were rushing up the crater’s slope behind the Indra in an attempt to silence the mindlessly firing guns. APV’s turned and rammed into the massive emplacements in an attempt to push them over.
A blinding flash of light coated the battlefield, the stench of electricity filled the air; they were firing the energy weapons! The weapons of last resort were fired aimlessly into the fleeing masses. Swathes of infantry crumbled to dust as the energy discs burned the flesh from their bones and charred their bones into powder. Angry red beams of light cut through the infantry, cleaving heads from their shoulders and slicing legs from waists, as if a massive scythe were cutting through fields of grain.
Burke looked out over the wasteland of writhing bodies, and charred corpses, the twisted wreckages of APV’s blazing with brilliant green flames as their propellant burned. The slaughter that he had created, a strange hollowness filled him; the sounds of the slaughter dulled and became silent. Burke calmly looked down at his sidearm; he flipped the cover off the fine handcrafted leather holster and pulled out the beautifully crafted handgun. It was a revolver, in the style of the ancient Americans; the soft leather grip offset the heaviness of the finely crafted piece of steel. He cocked the hammer back; the sound that had once brought him such joy only fueled his despair. He stared down the barrel for a painful few moments, seeing the glint of the bullet housed in the chamber. He felt the cold metal of the barrel sear the skin of his forehead as he slowly began to push the trigger. In an instant his beloved handgun had vanished, being torn from his trembling hands by an outside force.
A soft female voice spoke over his shoulder. “Sorry kiddo, you don’t get the easy way out. Tell them to stand down!”
“They won’t listen… they can’t hear.” Tears began flowing down Burke’s face as the gravity of the situation finally fell on his shoulders like a ton of bricks. His eyes bugged from his skull and he began hyperventilating, he fell forward into the ground in the fetal position.
Ghost gave him a firm push, he didn’t respond. “He’s broke; we’re not getting anything out of him!”
Another blinding flash shot out over the masses of infantry.
“Get his radio, get them to calm down!” Pixia took flight, streaking toward the nearest energy weapon.
From the air, Pixia could see the true scope of the destruction. Blazing gun emplacement created pillars of flame jetting into the sky, pockets of buried explosives went off at random, scattering the still fleeing infantry. Craters of charred earth and bodies punctuated the landscape as a testament to the power of the energy weapons. The infantry had broken through the artillery line and were trying to break into the sealed cockpits to disable the operators. Pixia could see newly returned Ellie, Wall, and Wulf struggling to tear open the sealed doors, down the line Pixia could see one cannon buzz with lightning before being engulfed in a ball of smoke and flames. Several rocket crews still doggedly fired the last of their ammunition at the uncaring monoliths, causing mere dents and scratches.
Pixia neared the energy disc, coming to a hover she pulled her recurve bow from around her shoulder and knocked an arrow. Aiming carefully for the center, she waited until it was prepping for another shot; as soon as the rim of the disc began to glow she fired the arrow. It flew, straight as a bullet, into the disc’s center, the disc kept filling with light, until it reached the puncture. A jet of pure white energy shot from the hole punched into the center of the machine, ballooning outward to consume the entire emplacement, in a flash all that remained was a crater of glass and some twisted charred metal dissolving into powder. Pixia shot off toward another of the mindlessly firing energy weapons.
Lethe and Schultz were struggling to rip the sealed cockpit door from its housing as Pixia heavily landed next to them. Another angry red beam shot from the strange clam shaped device, covering the Indra in a soft orange light, the stench of sulphur cut through the air. Pixia wrapped her hands around the latch and planted her foot on the wall of the device and pulled along with the others, the door refused to budge.
“Sir! Indra! Clear the way!” One of the final rocket teams had set up several meters behind the struggling Indra and were in the process of loading the launcher with their last rocket.
The three quickly fled as the team shot the rocket at the door. It buckled but didn’t break, still hanging firmly in its housing, though considerably weakened.
“That’s all we can do, good luck!” The team threw down their weapons and fled toward Alcadon.
The door was torn away effortlessly. A man, not clad in a military uniform sat cackling at the controls, his eyes quickly darting around the control board as he set up for another shot. Lethe, not missing a beat, jammed the metal prong of his baton into the man’s spine and pressed the button. The cackling man convulsed and screamed before falling unconscious. Lethe and Schultz pulled him from the cockpit while Pixia slashed the machinery into scrap metal. Inspecting the man’s clothing, Schultz immediately noticed the Seal of Justice on the sleeve of the man’s shirt.
Schultz let out a scream of frustration. “He’s not military! This is a prison uniform! What the hell was Burke thinking?! These weren’t supposed to be manned!”
Lethe felt the man’s pulse; he’d be fine enough for questioning later. “He probably bought their loyalty with pardons! C’mon there’s still one more!”
Almost all of the gun emplacements were either deserted or charred husks, apart from the final energy disc and the two surrounding artillery guns. The three had turned around and began firing on the fleeing infantry and were firing potshots at Alcadon, in the distance several buildings could be seen shattering into shrapnel.
Bolt was the closest to the three.
“Oh, fuck you in particular!” She raised the Arc Gun and fired a solid stream of angry blue electricity into the energy disc.
It lit up like a bonfire. Beams of white energy shot off in every direction as the thin skin around the disc disintegrated mid charge. A beam of light shot out and hit Bolt in the sternum, blasting a hole through her chest, she was thrown backward from the force of the blow, as her vision faded she could see Pixia speeding toward her like a bullet.
“Heh, well if I don’t just feel like an idiot…”
Wulf scooped up Bolt’s limp body and made a beeline for Ellie as Wall, Famine, Pixia, and a panting Schultz dealt with the final artillery. With a rage fueled punch Schultz tore through the thick steel sheathe covering the cockpit door, he roughly tore a heavily sweating man outside as Wall proceeded to tear the control console from its housing. The man pulled a small knife from his waistband and shoved it into Schultz’ eye. Schultz screamed and dropped the man who began to sprint away, only to be met with a life-ending punch from Famine.
The final artillery fell silent as Famine, Wall, and the newly arrived Death began to tear at the door. A massive explosion threw the three nearly fifty meters away as the man inside detonated the magazine in a final suicidal display of insanity. Silence descended on the battlefield, save for the weak cries of the injured and dying.
Ghost plodded across the battlefield, sifting through still-warm bodies, dragging a catatonic Burke behind her, she spared no expense in roughing him up. She came upon the group all huddled together, she could see Ellie kneeling over someone. She let out an inward sigh of relief at the sight of Pixia but still sped up to see what was happening.
She dumped Burke at the feet of Schultz, who was loitering nearby nursing an empty eye socket. “Yours I think.”
Schultz looked up, his face a near destroyed mess, his voice was as clipped and formal as usual. “Thank you, I’ll have him sorted in short order.”
“You doing OK?” Ghost gave Schultz a once over, he was in pretty bad shape.
He relaxed and smirked. “In all honesty? I’ve had worse. Don’t worry about me, go to the others.” He waved her along to the gathered Indra.
She walked around the group to stand beside Pixia; she started slightly when Ghost wrapped her hand around hers but quickly squeezed back tightly. Peering through the others, Ghost could see Bolt lying prostrate on the ground, a massive hole punched through her chest. Ellie had placed her massive hand on Bolt’s forehead and was sitting stock still. Slowly Ellie lifted her hand from Bolt and pulled herself back onto the sword crutch.
“That’s all I can do…” She paused for a moment, as if considering something. “One of you, take her to Banthu, if there’s anyone who can fix this then it’s him.”
Wulf bent down and gently picked up Bolt’s limp body as he’d done before and began jogging off toward Alcadon.
Schultz walked up, shattering the somber moment, a stiffened Burke slung over his shoulder. “I need to be back to the city as well, mainly to fix this up.” He gestured at his face. “I assume I’m still your prisoner so I’ll need an escort. Death? Will you and your siblings escort me back? It will be less confusing to the people to see me with you above all others.”
Death, Pestilence, and Famine, surrounded Schultz.
“No tricks Schultz,” Death muttered.
Schultz rolled his eye in exasperation. “Death, you know as well as I that there is nothing I can do now. Any more damage and my skin is likely to fall off, boy that would give people a start.” He chuckled to himself. “Alright we need to get to the tower, I’ll know the way from there.”
The group set off at a brisk walk toward Alcadon. A ragged cheer arose from the displaced infantry as their leader dragged the betrayer to await judgment. Shaky ranks formed around Schultz as he made his way back to Alcadon. Along the way a veritable fleet of medical vehicles shot past them speeding toward the battlefield.
Anon shook his head in disbelief. “He lost the battle, lost the war, and still came out on top. I wish I was that popular.”
Lethe crossed his arms and let out a small huff. “And that’s why we kept him alive. There is no way those men and women can’t notice that Schultz isn’t human and still they’ll follow him to the ends of the earth.”
He scoffed. “Lucky bastard… We’ll have to have a stern talk with him about future plans though; he’s not getting out of this scot free.”
Lethe shook his head. “We’ll do what we can, but no matter what, Schultz is untouchable.”
Anon’s shoulders slumped. “You mean… after all of this, all that we’ve done to overthrow Schultz, and we lost?”
Lethe watched the fleet approach. “It really seems that way, but I’d say that in this battle none of us has won.”
Anon threw his hands up, his voice was tinged with sarcasm. “Well that’s quite the anticlimax.”
The sounds of soft earth crunching beneath massive tires filled the air, then the hiss of scores of hydraulic doors being thrown open. A veritable wave of white clad medical personnel streamed past the Indra, their faces grim.
Anon watched them pass, his voice was devoid of his customary humor. “Combat medics… let’s do one final kindness and give them a hand.”
The Indra scattered, tagging along with groups of medics to assist in moving wreckage and shifting bodies. It was long depressing work, sifting the living from the dead. The operation continued long into the night with the medics pulling out thermal imagers to find any trace of body heat among the piles of corpses. As the sun began to peek over the horizon the next morning the medics finally threw in the towel, anyone who they could have saved at the start was likely long dead or impossible to recover despite the strength of their Indra assistants. Of the near ten thousand of bodies searched only several dozen were rescued, and further few survived the night.
As the sun rose into the sky, casting a meager light into the shady crater Lethe found himself wandering amongst the dead. He looked at them, their features stiffened with rigor mortis, some looked calm and others were terrified. He silently mourned their deaths and how casually they were doled out; he remembered once more why mankind left a bad taste in his mouth. Lethe found Ellie kneeling in the bloodstained dirt cradling the head of one of the dead infantry in her lap. His chest was torn open, likely shrapnel from an exploding shell. Lethe sat beside her, looking at the face of the man, little more than a boy, he felt a spark of recognition.
Ellie took a shaky breath. “Private Tuition… oh.” She pulled him close in a strong hug. “You did so much… you don’t deserve this, you don’t deserve this.” Her head touched his as she kept muttering apologies.
Lethe said nothing as he stood up; there was nothing he could do. As he trudged across the desolate landscape he heard Ellie wail, like a mother losing her child, her scream of loss rebounded through the still air.