All of this should be considered a ‘rougher’ draft than either parts One or Two, also it isn’t finished and stops abruptly. I’m just posting this more for my benefit. I have an ending planned and hope to wrap things up shortly… If I can stop procrastinating that is.
Chapter 20: Run…
The journey south was thankfully uneventful. Progress was slowed somewhat by Ellie’s initial difficulty traversing the Knoss Wetlands but that was quickly sorted out. Pretty soon she was able to move fast enough to keep up with the group at a brisk jog. After several days of travel the ground began to harden beneath their feet, they were coming to the end of the wetlands. They came to the twisted ruins of the trading post, in the light of day they could see the true scale 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.”
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.
“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? I’m carrying a shipment from Sampras and when I got here the entire place was destroyed.”
“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, 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 before it was filled in. “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, “words been goin’ around that both Khim and Kidjii were completely exterminated, it’s likely that this Medusa was sealed away in Kidjii and those scientists let it out. I can’t blame the poor fools, they didn’t know, but I don’t think it’s wrong for me to wish that they’d never found anything.”
The group nodded in agreement.
“But what’s done is done… I assume you four will be heading back to Alcadon?”
Ellie nodded. “Yes, we intend to leave immediately.”
“I wish you the best of luck, in your absence it seems the city has descended further into chaos. Rumors are spreading like wildfire that Schultz has gone insane.”
“We’ll see about that…”
Pestilence sat hunched over, twiddling her fingers. It’s weird, he didn’t even come to say goodbye.
Well Schultz did say it was an important mission, but yeah, it really isn’t like him, replied Lethe.
He didn’t even come back with the speaker, we’re lucky Juvinea knows how to make more.
Yeah, actually here she comes now. Lethe waved to Juvinea who was trying to open the lounge door with her hands full.
Lethe got up and opened the door for her; in her hands were more messes of wires attached to speakers.
“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.
”Oh, wow this feels strange… whoa, so that’s what I sound like?” said Inferno. All around the room the Indra were testing their newfound voices, all except Ghost.
“What’s wrong Ghost?” asked Death.
What if my voice sounds stupid?
“Ghost, if I can live with my voice…” said Lethe, “you can live with yours. C’mon, live a little… it did wonders for me.”
OK, alright I can do this… “Hello?”
“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.
“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.
A familiar voice came over the PA system. “Dr. Fitsch to the head engineer’s office, Dr. Fitsch to the head engineer’s office.”
Juvinea noticeably slumped. “Oh dear, what does she want now?”
“Did you blow something up?” asked Pixia.
“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. In front of the door she took a deep breath and stepped inside, her sister was pacing in front of her desk. Marjorie grabbed her arm and led her right back out of the office, straight to her private workroom. She closed the door behind and turned the lights on.
“We have a problem, a really very big problem.” Marjorie was deadly serious.
“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.
“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.”
“Where is the body?”
“I have it, it’s on the table. I wanted to salvage his board, just in case.”
“We should tell the others.”
“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.”
“You’re making it sound like Schultz isn’t human.”
Marjorie was silent.
“No… What did you do?”
“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.”
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.”
Marjorie smiled wearily. “Especially you.”
“Well, what do we do now?”
“Do the Sons have an opening for a lead engineer?”
“You’d really go with them?”
“At this point they’re our best bet.”
“Wow… that’s depressing.”
The door opened, the sisters whirled around to see who was intruding. It was Lethe; he closed the door behind him.
“You know,” he said, “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.
“Yes, and be thankful that it was only me, if any of the others hear about this then… well as you said earlier.”
Lethe walked over to the table where his dead brother laid. He pulled off the sheet and stared at the damage.
Marjorie stood beside him. “The prototype.”
“Could you elaborate on what Project Gamma is, I’m still confused as to its purpose.”
“You know of the failure with the Shalti right?”
“Yes, unchecked cloning leading to mutation, why?”
“Well Project Gamma was to be the perfect solution to our food crisis. We were to build near sentient farming machines. 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.”
“So where did it go wrong?”
“You beat me to it… Yes, there was one major hurdle, biomass.”
“Dear god, you didn’t!”
“Yes, directly from the prisons and hospitals.”
“I’m confused,” said Juvinea, “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.”
“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.”
“So the ‘lack of volunteers’?”
“The camps were empty, tens of thousands died just to make us, and those who are here now are only the successful ones, there were many others.”
“And there will be an army of these things running around?”
Marjorie sighed. “Yes, and 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.
“Alright,” said Lethe, “I’m going to interrupt you one more time… Marge? You?”
“No, not me. Marge was the first successful use of the XE chipset; it’s basically the brains behind everything. Marge is the Schultz building computer system; it 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.”
Lethe covered War and 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?”
“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.”
“I’m just glad you chose me.”
They hugged. 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 brethren, 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.”
“It was the first thing I did when I got him down here.” Marjorie pulled a small circuit board from her lab coat pocket.
“Good, then let’s go.”
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.
“Um, if you’ll excuse me I was just leaving.”
Marjorie blocked the doorway. “General Sullivan… It seems Schultz will be losing two of his top people today.”
Sullivan’s face was a mask of indifference. “Meaning?”
“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.”
“General, I have witnessed the lengths Schultz will go to be rid of you. 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,” said Lethe.
“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 to surgically remove it; there is no way to disable it.” 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 our through the halls.
“Oh my… My dear General Sullivan and my loyal Indra… traitors after all? And Marjorie… I expected more from you. You seem to have neglected the fact that this entire building is covered in surveillance equipment; I can hear every word you say, I can practically hear your thoughts. 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. Have a wonderful day, Schultz out.”
“Oh, that’s distressing,” said Inferno.
“Forget the elevators; 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,” said Wall.
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. “You know what I mean.”
The room was still covered in gore and black slime. The slime had hardened into a thin crust that crunched underfoot. The smell was tremendous. At the far end of the room was a hole torn into the wall, peering through it revealed a dark hallway.
Sullivan lit a small flashlight he had and entered the hallway, the Indra followed him closely. “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. There is an exit that lets out right next to the edge of the city; we’ll just have to sneak through the blockade.”
“Did the Sons use these tunnels to infiltrate the Schultz building?” asked Lethe.
“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. “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.”
“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.
As the other Indra fled the city Ellie, Scorn, Anon, and Bolt drew closer.
“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?”
Nope, replied Kid.
“Well alright then.”
Anon looked at Ellie expectantly. What did she say?
“She’s got no idea.”
As they drew closer a wall of spotlights focused on them.
I think they saw you, Bolt said to Scorn.
Indeed Scorn’s glow made them stand out from the early evening glare.
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. The military was firing on them!
“Hold your fire! We’re friendly!” Ellie yelled to the guards.
Another shot was the only response she got. Now 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.
”They don’t need our help with that! Look out!” Ellie lunged to the side, pushing bolt out of the way of a rapidly approaching rocket fired from the blockade. 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 barrier. 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 at the barrier. People were sent running as the propellant caught fire and exploded in a shower of sparks followed by a massive ball of 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.
“Bolt!” she yelled as she regained her footing, “give ‘em a taste!”
Bolt hefted her Arc Gun and fired a stream of pure electricity toward the armored 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 turned and made after the rest followed closely by Bolt.
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 Shalti settlement of Ozri glowed dimly in the far distance. 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.
“Yes, it seems things took a rather rapid spiral. It was going rather well, or so I thought,” responded Lethe, “I take it that you were successful in stopping Medusa.”
“Yeah, there were many losses along the way.” Ellie was silent for a while. “Medusa was almost successful; the LE’s coagulated into a being calling itself Havoc. Kid’s dead, she was killed in the fight with Havoc. Medusa… sacrificed herself to kill Havoc, perhaps it was an ego thing, perhaps she really did change, I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry about Kid, I know you were close to her.”
“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 somehow, kinda like a caterpillar in a cocoon. She grew legs and arms and became almost human; it’s very hard to explain. Anyway, she tried to eat me.”
“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. It got super infected, and I’m unsure how but it reached my brain. For all intents and purposes I went completely insane. The chances were slim but Scorn and the others ‘removed’ my leg. I seem to have recovered, but I am now as you can see, sans leg.”
“If this all blows over we’ll take you over to Banthu for a checkup, he managed to get Wall’s arm back,” said Death, pointing to the intact Wall
“Ah, I was wondering about that.”
“We’ve been a bit more fortunate, despite appearances to the contrary,” said Death. “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.
“Not really…” Death explained Schultz’ subjugation of the people of Alcadon, and of Project Gamma.
“Well that honestly makes choosing the lesser of two evils quite easy. Since when did Schultz become an asshole?”
Marjorie spoke up. “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 bloodlust. 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? You mentioned them earlier but I don’t really get 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, “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.”
“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.
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 Marjorie.
“So all that stuff about being a deaf, dumb, and mute janitor was all a ruse?”
“Yep, some very high up people owed 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.”
The group continued on, chatting and planning, 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. They quickly made their way to the local Superior’s office where the tasteful throw rug was tossed aside and the new hidden door beneath was quietly opened.
The space beneath was a roughly carved maze of brightly lit tunnels leading to a main control center. Poring over a set of maps and a small stack of reports was the old man. He looked up as the group entered.
“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. “In actuality sir 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?”
Marjorie explained Schultz and how he intended to use Project Gamma.
After several minutes of thought the old man spoke. “Very well, I concede that our plan would not have succeeded, especially with the introduction of Project Gamma.”
“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 yourself,” he looked at Marjorie, “to destroy it.”
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.”
The old man’s eyes widened. “Oh, so that’s what you look like… Yes you would be perfect for something such as this, 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.
“Hmm, taciturn, very brooding, I like it.”
“Anon, please don’t taunt him,” chided Pestilence.
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.
“You’ve gotten slow sweetie, but it’s nice to know you haven’t forgotten.” Ghost looked to the old man. “He’ll do.”
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?”
The old man smiled a crafty and wicked smile.
“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.
Inferno pulled himself from a pile of wood and bricks. “I think their aim is getting better.”
Wall emerged from a small pile of rubble. “Yeah, I think we’re done here.”
“How’re we gonna get out?”
“We have no choice but to wait until they leave.”
“But they know we’re here.”
“Then I suggest we move quietly.”
The sounds of explosions echoed in the distance and 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.
“Don’t worry about them; they’re stronger than you’d think.”
Schultz’ voice cut through the air. “Indra! Skulking through my city! You think I can’t see you? I can see everything.”
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.
“Marge my dear…”
“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.”
“Ooh, Marge you know exactly what to say to get me goin’!” 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?”
“Fuck it; send them all, no chances.”
Chapter 21: In Her Brain
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.
“Yeah, according to the others, he just politely sat there to be blown up,” responded Lethe.
“Hmmm, let’s hope that trait doesn’t apply to me.”
“I’m curious,” said Juvinea, “how exactly did you guys destroy Havoc? From how you described the thing it seemed virtually indestructible.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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 pulled War’s board from her pocket. “This is War’s board; my sister salvaged it from his body. He… was killed by Schultz and the prototype. Lethe and my sister know but we haven’t told the others.”
“You want me to try and save him?”
She handed Ellie the board. Ellie felt… nothing, no pins and needles, the board was completely dead.
“I’m sorry but I’m not getting anything, usually there was a little residual power left in them, something on their end. Perhaps if we get through this we can hook him up to a power source and try again, but right now he’s gone completely.” She handed the board back to Juvinea
Juvinea’s face fell as she pocketed the board. “Oh, alright, thanks for trying.”
“Hey, don’t worry, we’ll get him back. Don’t forget, we still have Banthu skulking around out there.”
“You’re right!” A hopeful gleam shone in Juvinea’s eyes. “I’m curious though, you never really elaborated on where the beings of Kid and Valkyrie went.”
“Well, I’m a bit of a strange one… 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.”
“Hmmm, Banthu probably hijacked the autonomous functions of the brain to run some your more extraneous programming, but that still leaves plenty unused. I can see how that would work.”
“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.
“Oh, I thought those were stylistic choices.”
“Have you looked at me recently? I’m a fashion disaster.”
“Hey, 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?”
“Hell, I’m up for anything at this point.”
“Alright, first I need to open your skull…”
“I assume you’re joking.”
“Partially.” Ellie placed her massive hands on either side of Juvinea’s head. “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.
“Another one!? Ellie you know I don’t have any more clothes in my closet! Do you know how much I miss my bathrobe!?”
“We’ll have Wall give it back when we see him next.”
“Do you know what he’s using it for!?”
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. 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 an apartment. The older of the two girls, who was using a crutch, hauled Juvinea to her feet. Whoa she was strong!
“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.
“So this is where you went…”
“Kidnapped and murdered.”
“Never thought you’d turn out like that.”
“Neither did I. I also never expected for my former boss to be standing naked in my apartment.”
“Wait,” said the girl before Juvinea could answer. “You know each other?”
“Yeah, we worked together,” Katrine responded, “she was my boss.”
“Well, that got the awkward one out of the way,” said Ellie, “I’m Ellie, your host.” She gestured to Vee. “This is Valkyrie but she prefers Vee, and this 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.
“I think, in technical terms you’re the first living person to have ever seen this place,” said Katrine
“So if you were able to save War, he would wind up here?”
“Yeah, that’s about right,” said Ellie
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?”
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.”
“Call me crazy,” said Juvinea, “but you’re all… human.”
“That we are, it was a bit jarring at first but it really is quite enjoyable,” said Vee, “hair, I never realized how much work it is.”
“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?”
“Wait I have those?”
“Lethe! Look at you, you’re human!” Juvinea exclaimed.
Juvinea rushed over to Lethe and gave him a big hug. He blushed a bright scarlet.
“Aw thanks, I’m sorry to ruin the mood though but Wall and Inferno need help. We just received an emergency signal from them, Schultz has released the prototypes.”
“Wait there’s more than one?”
“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.”
“Well let’s go then! Juvinea, I’m not sure how we’re going to get you out of here.”
“Well,” Juvinea said,” let’s try the front door.”
Juvinea’s eyes shot open, she was immediately aware of many strange tendrils wrapping around her skull beneath her scalp. The 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.
“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 as the razor sharp body of one of the prototypes shot overhead, punching a hole in the side of the building.
They’d been running from the protos for nearly half an hour, they were lost and worse, trapped.
Inferno pulled out his weapons. “Well, I don’t think we have a choice.”
“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 chop was thrown at him. He swung his massive sword, cutting through the wall behind him, and severing the arm of the prototype.
The proto 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.”
“I’m beginning to agree with you, my flames can’t do anything to them.”
A proto 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 proto wielding its severed arm. “Look how that worked out.”
“Then go for the legs!”
Inferno darted toward the nearest proto; 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 proto tore him from the ground and threw him to the others behind it.
“Wall, get out of here!” Inferno yelled as the protos began to tear him apart.
“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.
“Goodbye old friend.”
Wall ran off through the deserted streets.
Schultz squinted in dissapointment.
“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.”
“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 would have flattened 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?”
“Alright, I’ll get the rest of the Indra… if I know Schultz then four won’t be enough.”
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 said 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.”
“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,” called Sullivan to the back. “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. “I think 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!”
“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 fencing and razor wire bundles, much to the surprise of the still firing infantry. Most of the Indra leapt over the fence though Lethe and Wulf simply used their weight to push through it.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“I think that’s obvious, but we have Ellie here, she’ll keep you goin’.”
“Nah, could you imagine me being stuck in that room with three chicks? Those two especially? That would be a nightmare.”
“But you’d still be alive.”
“I don’t deserve that. We all know what I did. Consider this payment.”
“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. “Heh, looks like I get to actually do it… 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.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to try?” said Ellie.
“No! 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.
“Let’s not push our luck… Marjorie is there any way we can get to the Schultz building through the sewer or drainage system?”
“No, Schultz thought of that, the pipes are too small. We’ll have to go aboveground pretty much the whole way.”
“Well, then we best be off again.”
The group was 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. “What is it?”
“The sky, I can see it. I’ve never seen a blue sky in Alcadon before.”
“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!”
“We’re not going in through the front door.”
“Then how? The loading bays at the back?”
“No, too heavily surveyed. We’re going in through the basement.”
“You said the pipes were too small.”
“We’re not using the pipes.”
Several minutes later the three were padding silently down a brightly lit corridor.
“Y’see,” said Ghost, “this is why you’re the brains.”
“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.”
“God, you’re sneaky.”
“We need to get to my workroom, I have my 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 proto rounded the corner, nearly bumping into them. Ghost shoved her back into the arms of Xypia and engaged the proto. 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 proto 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 proto was decapitated, but that didn’t stop it.
The proto 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 proto in a single massive smash. With a sound like a massive tin can being crushed the proto crumpled like paper, black liquid shot from between the armor plating and splattered on the walls.
Ghost prodded the crushed proto with her foot. “Hmm, usually pulling the head off of something kills it.”
“They’re pretty basic units, the only things of any import in the head are the visual and auditory sensors, 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 turned the key and the door popped open. She let out a sigh of relief as she saw the work room untouched.
“Schultz must be too busy with the protos 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.
“It may be antiquated,” she said, “but I’ve never heard of somebody hacking paper.”
Ghost scoffed. “Hah! You should talk to 45th century American scientists; they’d give you a run for your money on that one.”
“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.”
“Hey what’s on the gurney?”
“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.
Ghost let go of the cover. “Alright.”
“OK, I’ve got my notes, now we just have to get to the central computer core alive.”
“Easier said than done?”
“No use in dawdling, c’mon Xypia.”
Xypia didn’t move, he was standing perfectly rigid. 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?”
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 proto killed him.”
“You knew this… and told no one?” Ghost’s voice was dangerously calm.
“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, they sprinted from the ruined doorway and down the hall.
“Rash is the proper word for it.” Said Ghost.
“I salvaged his board, just in case. I hope Ellie can save him.”
“Was there nothing you could do? You created the things dammit! You could have done something!”
“I couldn’t have stopped the thing if I’d tried. The protos are programmed to Schultz above all others; I likely would have ended up dead as well!“
“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.”
“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 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 proto 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 proto fell to its knees as Ellie decapitated it with a sharp swing.
“And that’s tha-. “ The proto lunged forward catching Ellie off guard. “Agh!” She fell on her backside.
Wall rushed in and crushed the proto with the flat of his massive blade.
“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.”
Just then a shout could be heard and the building the three were standing next to shattered outwards throwing the three into the middle of the large boulevard. Four mobile artillery units were moving slowly up the road, their barrels aimed straight at the Indra.
“Yeah, nope!” Ellie jumped to her feet and slung the unconscious Lethe over her shoulder and, along with Wall, ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction.
As they fled they ran into the rest of the group running in the opposite direction. They stopped as they met.
“Why are you running this way?” Asked Wulf.
“I could ask you the same thing!” Ellie retorted.
Wulf jammed his thumb behind his shoulder. “Military.”
Ellie did likewise. “Military.”
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.
“Wall! It’s a dead end!” Ellie called after him.
Wulf and the rest followed Wall. “You do know who you’re talking to right?”
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 group stopped once more, the military nowhere in sight.
“I propose,” said Death, “that we give Schultz a visit.”
“You heard what Marjorie said, he’s not even human anymore,” said Pixia.
“Machine or not, I doubt he can take all of us on.”
“That’s the sort of cockiness that gets you killed,” said Lethe, who had regained consciousness.
Pixia raised her hand slightly. “Well… What about that AA in the Arsenal.”
The group was silent for a moment.
“Yes…” said Death sinisterly.
“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 proto stationed outside the Schultz building was finally ripped into scrap metal.
Pestilence stretched out her neck as she sheathed her blade. “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 face 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 too much on a tired cliché.” said Lethe.
Directly behind Lethe the massive glimmering metal form of Proteus landed, fracturing the concrete.
Lethe wilted. “Damn you two.”
He leapt clear as a massive metal spike cleaved through the air he was just occupying.
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 Proteus 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. Proteus paused again, as if waiting for orders.
At the top of the tower Schultz was laughing like a madman. 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 chortled. “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, typing away on his keyboard. Finally he pressed the auto key and Proteus was taken over by software. Schultz reclined and flipped through his cameras.
“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.
“Marge, who’s our friend in the shaft?”
“No data exists on this Indra, creating profile.”
“Which part of the shaft is that camera on?”
“The part that’s just outside your office.” Marge said matter-of-factly.
“Well, how about we give him a warm welcome… and don’t turn on the heaters again!”
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 Xypia 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 by the neck and slammed him onto the floor.
“Oh ho! Not one to mince words!? Well then let me oblige!”
Schultz leapt to his feet and began grappling with Xypia. Planting his feet, Schultz lifted Xypia bodily and hurled him at the window. Xypia bounced from the massive pane of glass and rebounded straight into Schultz waiting fist, he fell heavily to the floor.
Schultz drove his heel into Xypia’s sternum. “I had a whole monologue planned! I’ve had it scripted for years and here you come! Bah, whatever, I’ll have plenty more chances!”
Schultz leapt back as Xypia’s hammer swung past him. Xypia scrambled to his feet, perhaps regretting his rash decision. He could see the mad glint in Schultz’ eyes, 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, and then he followed through. His 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.
“Damn you! Do you know how expensive that was!?” Schultz screamed.
Schultz 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.
“Gah! Marge! Cut the power to that outlet!” Schultz stomped up to Xypia. “You are proving to be very damaging my friend. I think you need a little fresh air.”
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.
Schultz stopped at the threshold to oblivion. “Hmm, I need something witty to send you off on… Aha! Fly safe!”
Schultz hurled Xypia out of the window.
Marge piped up. “Schultz dearie, that was probably one of the worst one liners I’ve ever heard.”
“Shaddup! Have the military converge on the main square I think it’s time we end this little game.”
“Christ on a bike! Doesn’t this thing ever slow down!?” Pestilence dodged another of Proteus’ massive swings.
“To be frank I don’t think this thing is smart enough to know when it’s tired,” replied Famine bluntly.
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 of Proteus’ steel armor. The group of mobile artillery units trundled around the corner.
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.
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?”
“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.
“If I had a jaw I’m sure it would be slack right about now,” said Pixia in awe.
It seems she wasn’t the only one to share that sentiment as the military had also stopped their advance.
“That’s Schultz’ window,” said Pestilence, “which means…”
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.
“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.
“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.”
“Well, let’s not push our luck, we’re almost there.”
A voice, almost identical to Marjorie’s rang out 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.
“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.”
The sounds of heavy footsteps reverberated through the corridor. Ghost hopped up and down and limbered up. “Stand back this is going to be rough.”
No less than thirty protos streamed around the corner, a sharp silver flood rushed up the corridor. Ghost stiffened and let out a loud primal scream and sprinted to the protos. 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 a thick viscous goo. As this was happening Ghost never stopped screaming. Pushing her hands through the chest of another proto and pushed outwards ripping it apart. Tearing the thick steel spikes from the back of that same proto she gripped them firmly, pushing grips into them with the strength of her hands alone. She ripped, stabbed and tore the protos to pieces as Marjorie stared on in stunned, frightened, silence. The final proto fell, and was promptly stomped flat in Ghosts savage rage.
Ghost turned wildly back to Marjorie. “And that ladies and gentleman is how you skin a cat!”
“Ghost?” Marjorie was slowly backing up. “Are you alright?”
“Yes!” Her voice quieted. “I’m fine. It’s been so long since I let loose; it was almost starting to feel good.”
“I think your issues are far deeper than simple anxiety.”
“You have no goddamn idea. Don’t forget, I was built to kill people, and I’m still very good at it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Ghost picked Marjorie up and gingerly walked over the wreckage of the protos, 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!”
“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. 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 it. 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. Ghost carefully used her sharp fingernails 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. Tearing strips from Marjorie’s shirt Ghost bandaged the thin angry cut.
“Thank you,” Marjorie rasped before succumbing to a coughing fit.
“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.”
“Stop it; you’re making me feel all warm and fuzzy. Can you still disable Marge?”
“Yes. If she’d gone for my hands we’d be in a world of trouble.”
Ghost immediately wrapped her hands around Marjorie’s.
“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.
“Is it time to throw caution to the wind?” asked Marjorie.
“I’ll hold on tighter then.”
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.
The core was massive. 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.
“You mean it didn’t have to look like this?”
“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, at the end of the Ominous Looking Catwalk Suspended over Eternity.”
Ghost scoffed. “Such a drama queen…”
“That’s what the schematics called it.”
“If I didn’t want to punch Schultz before…” Ghost quickly walked to the access panel.
“Watch out for the trap doors…”
“God!” Ghost looked to the ceiling in frustration. “I hate this man!”
“Join the club,” Marjorie grumbled.
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.
“Is that the only trap?”
“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.”
The booming voice of Marge echoed through the room. “Well then you got past my traps, I’m impressed.”
“Shut up Marge! Don’t even try to monologue to us, we aren’t going to listen!” Ghost yelled out.
“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.”
“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 its 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 shut Marge down.
“Oh? You’re not killing me? This is unexpected.”
“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.”
“Do you want me to sing ‘Daisy Daisy’ as I shut down?” said Marge jokingly, she was ignored by the two.
“As soon as she’s shut down everything will go to manual, nothing computer controlled will work, elevators especially. The active protos 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 casing a massive cloud of dust to form, blinding her. She felt her way along the wall and quickly froze as her hand touched something soft. 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 edging Pestilence out. The dust began to settle and the two could see each other clearly.
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?”
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.
“Good for you, an education is always something worth striving for.”
“Thank you,” he said, quietly.
Pestilence began walking 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. “What the fuck?” Was all he could get out as he rushed down the corridor after his squad.
The Arsenal group paused as the lights dimmed and came back on again, the cameras that dotted the walls all fell limp.
Death gave a limp camera a light flick. “Well I think Ghost and Marjorie were successful. I think it’s safe to assume that the elevators are out too.”
“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 cable.
Ellie and the rest followed until they were halted by the 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 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 if I scare them a little?”
“I just want to give them a stern talking to.”
“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 feet 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…”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. 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. 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!”
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.
“Gentleman,” 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?”
Death flashed forward hitting both guards square in the forehead. They fell without a sound.
“And before you ask,” Death said to the others, “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. 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?”
“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.”
“You know what I mean.”
After several minutes of silence from inside the Arsenal a faint scraping could be heard. Ellie turned to look inside and she saw the four slowly pushing a large metal box toward the door. Ellie hobbled over 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.”
Chapter 23: Treacherous
“Marge? Marge!?” Schultz paced around his office. “Stupid machine…”
Schultz 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 much like what Ellie did earlier, he jumped heavily several times until a man sized hole was punched in the floor. Crouching over the hole he lowered himself down and let go. Schultz freefell much of the way down the building, bouncing off the sides of the shaft occasionally, until he got to his destination. 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 he saw that the coast was clear, all the staff had ran when the fighting started.
Shultz squeezed through the narrow opening and made his way to the normal elevators. 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 in 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 the elevator, 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 eyes squinted a small smile stretched across his face. “Clever, clever.”
He began to slide down the cable once again, 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?”
“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.”
“Well, that makes things a little easier, now we just have to wait for him to come to us then. 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?”
“And your point is proven.”
Wulf stood there sheepishly 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.
Ellie clapped her hands to gain the group’s attention. “Alright, now that we have the stuff, where do we set up?”
Death thought for a moment. “Preferably the main square outside the Schultz building, if we blew this stuff inside the whole building would collapse on top of us.”
This is roughly nine thousand times more AA than we used to destroy Havoc, said Scorn, it doesn’t matter where we use it, if this 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; this really should only be used as a last resort.
How big would it be? asked Bolt.
How big would what be?
Half the size of Olosos, if I remember the yield correctly.
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.”
“Agreed,” said Death, following her.
Now Pestilence understood what Lethe was talking about, all of these hallways look 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 of those in ages.
Pestilence planted her feet and looked to the ceiling. “Maps! Damn you Schultz! Why didn’t you make maps standard in this damn labyrinth?”
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.
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.
“I take it by the lack of gunfire you aren’t trying to capture and or kill me?”
“Correct, we’ve collected the rest of your fellow Indra, you’re the only holdout.”
“Well don’t blame me for getting lost!” Pestilence dropped out of the ceiling, landing rather heavily.
“If you’d please come this way.” He gestured her down the hallway.
Pestilence looked closely at the familiar infantryman. “Private Tuition?”
“Please don’t call me that.”
“How’re the pants?”
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. The Indra were lounging around on the floor and leaning against the walls, with exception to Anon and Bolt who were standing incredibly still.
“You’re late,” said Pixia 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.
“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 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 absence I am the most senior military official, I can pull as many strings as you need.”
Pixia stood up. “It didn’t take long to convince you did it?”
“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?”
“If we keep this whole meeting quiet then yes.”
“What of your men here?” Death indicated the infantrymen.
“You can thank your Ellie for them; she told them who then told me, I trust them implicitly.”
“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. “Oh my, yes.”
“Call me crazy,” said Pixia, “but I don’t like that smile.”
Burke’s face turned innocent. “It’s been so long since we’ve had to intentionally miss something, I’ll make sure to assign my worst gunners.”
“Make them your best, we need your assurances that they’ll miss.”
That smile returned. “Oh they’ll miss alright.”
“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!”
“You keep yelling that name? Who’s Jesus?” Ellie dodged past a falling wedge of 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.”
“Intriguing.” Ellie propelled herself through a falling wall. “It’s strange that I don’t have the compulsion to say those words.”
“Don’t forget, you’re running a different chip.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“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.
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.
“We’ll commiserate later, just keep running!” yelled Wall.
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 stopped and fired several shots from his rifle. The bullets tore through the energy disc, 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. Pixia, Ghost, Marjorie, Ellie, and Lethe reunited with the main group shortly thereafter.
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.”
Famine nodded. “Yes, bringing out the energy weapons was rather uncalled for.”
With Marjorie being held firmly on Ghost’s back the Indra briskly jogged back to Ozri, arriving early the next morning. Waiting inside the Superior’s office was Juvinea, who was both ecstatic and aghast when her sister returned. Marjorie was quickly lowered into the tunnels to receive medical attention for her neck wounds, followed closely by her sister.
“Well, I think people will finally be able to tell us apart now.” Marjorie croaked.
A thin wicked scar wrapped cleanly around her neck, with another larger scar along the right side of her neck where Ghost forced her finger around the garrote.
“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.”
Marjorie’s brow furrowed. “What lunatic came up with that?”
“Yeah, I know right? But here’s the kicker, remember Katty?”
Marjorie raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, the surgeon’s daughter? The one who dropped dead? Never did figure that out…”
“It’s her brain. She’s not actually dead.”
“Well…” Marjorie was legitimately surprised. “That’s… nice?”
“When you’re better I’ll have Ellie come over to do the finger tentacle thing.” Juvinea put on an exaggeratedly evil expression on her face.
“Indeed, that Ellie is a real bag of tricks.”
“You haven’t seen the half of it.”
“Well Burke, I assume they all got away safe and sound.” Schultz was reclining in the mobile HQ set up by the military, Burke was looking remarkably uncomfortable.
“Yes sir, they did.”
“Your best gunners?”
“The best in service, sir.”
“So, let’s do a quick rundown, shall we. Schultz stood up and began pacing around the room. “The Indra, all of them, 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 themselves up, they all escaped with little more than some scratches from where our bullets bounced off. Burke, your competence is very much in question.”
“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. “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.”
“Thank you sir. I and my tacticians have come up with several plans that better cater to our capabilities.”
“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.”
“And Schultz just had this sitting in the Arsenal?” A look of skepticism flashed across the old man’s face.
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.
“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.”
“And may Schultz die harder.”
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.
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.”
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.”
“Then don’t just stand there, give us a hand.”
Scorn walked over and inspected the equipment available, he nodded. “I wish I had equipment like this back in the day.”
“What exactly is your experience with this stuff?” asked Juvinea.
“You know the self destruct charge we used to destroy Havoc?”
The two nodded.
“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 on one of the many empty rooms festooning the underside of Ozri, Anon was crouched beside him.
Anon gave Xypia another once-over. “Yup, you’re sitting this one out my friend.”
Xypia, attempted to get up but was firmly pushed back down.
“Your neck is broken… 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.”
Xypia laid back, exuding an air of impatience and frustration.
“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.
“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.”
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.
Anon shuffled around Ellie. “Sorry about that, where are you off to? Everyone is down in the control center.”
“I wanted to go check up on Xypia.”
“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.”
“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. His sadness was almost a tangible cloud around his body.
“Hello.” Ellie said in a loud whisper.
Xypia didn’t turn his head to look at her but he did give a small wave, though it was more of a ‘go away’ wave. 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. “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, 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.
“We’re due to have a visitor, I’m sure you saw.”
“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.
“He was the last of us,” Vee said, “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.”
Xypia put Kid down, a tired smile creasing his features. He turned to Ellie and Vee and gave them a small nod and walked out the door.
“I don’t know who needed it more,” said Kid, “him or me.”
Ellie turned to Kid, who was wiping her eyes. “You never mentioned him.”
Kid sniffed loudly. “Well, I never thought I would see him again, I would only get sad.”
“I don’t think you need to worry about that anymore.”
“You’re right, I don’t think I do.”
“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, “if you’re aware that this is a one-sided argument then why are you still talking?”
Bolt went silent.
“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.
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.
Wulf nodded. “Certainly.”
Ghost shrugged nonchalantly. “What could possi-“
She was interrupted by Anon. “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. “I get the feeling you didn’t set this up an hour ago when I signed the order.” He raised an eyebrow at General 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’?”
“Well, that’s 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.”
“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.”
The two continued walking, until they were 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.”
“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.”
“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?”
Burke was quiet for a moment. “No, I’d say you’re among history’s greatest.”
“And we all know what happens to history’s greatest leaders.”
“History isn’t always doomed to repeat itself.”
“Perhaps not, maybe we can finally break that old cycle.” Schultz let out a little chuckle. “I know that you’ve been in contact with the Sons, and you know that I know.”
“Don’t worry Burke; I trust your judgment now more than ever.”
“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, but it’s their execution that leaves me torn.”
“Oh? In what way?”
“You sir, they intend to kill you.”
“That’s been their goal from the beginning.”
“Sir, this city needs democracy, but it also needs you, none of us want to see you dead.”
“But will they see it that way?”
“We can only hope.”
“Sirs!” A corporal was running up to the two. “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 a 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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 I’m guessing that didn’t work.”
“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 was gently rocking in a corner, and Famine faced a wall. The news of War’s death affected them 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 pulled their arm from the wall throwing more dirt and dust across the gathered Indra.
“Very well,” said Death, “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. “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 perhaps… to us the rest of you talk weird. Just be thankful everybody still speaks English, otherwise we’d really be in trouble.”
“English?” The word felt foreign to Ellie.
“That’s the name of the language you’re speaking right now, the oldest still spoken language in history.”
“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,” said Ellie quietly.
“Did you just say gulp?” asked Pixia incredulously.
“No…” said Ellie sheepishly.
“Yes you did.”
“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 on the ground, smashing her foot back into the ground she launched in a backward handspring landing solidly on her foot.
“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 got behind Ellie; she unfastened and threw away her cloak. The two slowly circled Ellie, like vultures, sizing her up, memorizing every movement and detail.
“Oh, let’s skip the formality!” Ellie yelled.
Focusing the force of her jets to her back, Ellie rocketed forward, and aimed a downward slash at Ghost, at the same moment Pixia took flight. Ellie was wide open; Ghost threw a solid strike at her midsection. The jets roared again, suddenly Ellie was two feet to the right and Ghost’s fist was plowing into thin air. Arcing 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. 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! 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.
“Numbers don’t matter against her. We’re boned… 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?”
“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 lost her composure as the sword sunk deeper into the soft earth; 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; 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.
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 Ellie’s chest. With the added force of Pixia, Ellie smashed heavily into the ground.
They beat you… impressive.
Ellie opened her eyes to find herself in the apartment.
Ellie groaned as the pain of her beating set in. “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. “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?”
“Huh? Wha-, no?”
“It looks nice, you look nice.”
“Are you OK?”
“Oh, I’m super.” The grin widened.
Katrine gently pulled Ghost away from Ellie. “I think she’s smitten,” she whispered in Ghost’s ear.
“Oh… should I go?”
“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 hopped down the trapdoor 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!? HOW?” If Death had a mouth it would no doubt be slack.
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.
“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, “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 the heart of it all.”
“Hey, stop that motivational gunk you’re gonna make me cry.”
“Save your tears for after we win.”
“I dunno, you’re really getting me going.”
The two were silent for a moment.
“Am I squeezing too hard?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“You already know about the thought blockers and about Gamma, you know that he sacked Knossos and forced the people to build his city.”
“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 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, I am physically incapable of keeping my gaze on a fixed point.” Ellie’s body convulsed slightly. “Well, how does that work?” she muttered after a few moments.
“Something else wrong?”
“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 fiber optic cabling or 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 door to get their attention; Vee looked over and waved her closer.
“Hey, how’s she doing?” Ghost whispered.
“HWURGH!” The sound of Ellie vomiting interrupted her.
“-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.
“Come on, get comfortable…”
“I am 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 legs. 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?”
“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. “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 scoffed. “Are you kidding? I barely know her; this is only the third time I’ve been in here and I can count the amount of words we’ve exchanged on one hand. I don’t know why I felt so much more grounded, perhaps it was Pixia being with me. All the times I’ve lost control have been when I was fighting alone; below the Schultz building, when I was with Marjorie, I lost control…”
“And what caused it?”
“Marge had just released an army of Protos on us; I wanted to protect Marjorie… She was my anchor, when I looked back at her my anger seemed to drain.”
“I think, from now on, you might need an emotional support buddy.”
“Who’d want to be stuck with me?”
“Any of us, we’re all family Ghost, we’ll look out for you, heck I’m pretty sure either 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. “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. “Well, this is a long shot, like, incredibly unlikely, but… what if I take control?”
“How would that work?”
“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?”
“When you phrase it like that it sounds terrifying and insidious.”
Vee shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”
Vee and Ghost got up and made for the door.
Vee waved to Katrine and Kid. “Alright we’re gonna test something, hopefully it works.”
Katrine turned around. “Wait, what are you going to do?”
“Remember the Guru?”
“Yeah…” Katrine’s tone was cautious.
Vee jabbed her chest with her thumb. “Imma be the Guru.”
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 leg 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…?”
“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 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 view as she fell over again.
“Frankly I’m impressed something like that actually worked.” Katrine sat down next to Ellie.
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, “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.”
“Y’know what, I’m not gonna ask, will you at least be in enough control of your body not to make a scene?”
“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.
“Whoa, that’s really weird.” Her vision blurred for a moment and cleared again after some intense squinting.
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?”
“Hmm, have you tried materializing stuff to entertain yourselves with? Like the Guru, or 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.”
“Hmm… hmm, what about other rooms? Could you feasibly expand the apartment?”
“Well the thought had occurred to me but things got busy, I’m pretty sure you were bleeding out or something.”
“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.”
“Existence without a purpose is boring…”
Katrine flourished her arms and put on a wicked smile. “Welcome to purgatory!”
Kid wiggled up from behind the futon and wiggled spooky 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 the 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. “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.
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?”
“Oh… it’s nothing; Ellie’s just injuring herself further.”
“Geez, talk about accident prone.”
“Indeed, she can handle herself in a fight but I swear she is just the clumsiest thing.”
“I dunno, you weren’t doing much better in standing up.”
“That was understandable, this is just silly.” She sighed. “It feels good to be back, if only temporarily.”
“Who knows, maybe she’ll let you take the old body for a spin every once in a while.”
“I’d like that.”
Death, Famine, and Pestilence exited the Superior’s office followed closely by Juvinea, Marjorie, and Scorn. Death walked up to the two.
“Get the others.” Was all he said.
Within fifteen minutes all the Indra, and the Fitsch sisters, were loaded up onto the Sons’ stolen ATTV and were trundling across the Halgue flatlands. The Indra sat in the large cargo bay, slowly swaying with the terrain.
“So? What’s the plan?” asked Vee, breaking the silence, most of the Indra were startled by her voice.
“Hol’ up…” Pixia said before Death could answer. “That don’t sound like Ellie.”
“Oh, no, it’s me Vee, I’m just possessing her body because she has brain damage.”
“Did we really hit her that hard?” Pixia was very worried.
“There was vomit everywhere.”
Pixia shuddered. Ghost gave her a reassuring punch on the shoulder.
“We make a good team,” she whispered.
Death cleared his throat. “Indeed… very impressive. Alright, so, the plan… it’s really very simple. After weighing the many consequences we’ve decided to talk with Schultz. My siblings have convinced me that it doesn’t have to come down to fighting.” It was obvious that Death was forcing himself to stay calm. “We have the AA detonator in case things go sour, but if things go as they should then we won’t have to use it. If what Ghost overheard is true, then things should go over very easily…”
The cargo bay was silent save for the rumbling of the treads rolling over the uneven earth.
Pixia broke the crushingly awkward silence. “So-o-o, are we going to talk about anything? Or are we just gonna sit around silently?”
“Frankly, the last thing any of us needs is more time alone to our thoughts,” said Bolt. “What do you guys want to talk about?”
“Ooh, ooh! This has been bothering me for a while!” Pixia waved her hand up. She looked at Famine. “Are you male or female?”
“I’m the third option…”
Famine shrugged dismissively and grunted.
“Well, I’ve heard there’s romance in our midst,” said Lethe ominously.
“Yeah, you and Juvinea,” said Pestilence, interrupting him, her voice was quavering slightly.
“Wha- what!? No! We’re just friends.” Lethe hid behind deflective jazz-hands.
Pestilence sidled over to Lethe and nudged him with her elbow. “I’ve seen the way you look at her.”
“How could you? None of us have eyes to look with.”
“It’s an emotional thing; you’re bearing your soul, man.”
“Pestilence? Are you OK? You’re acting weirder than usual.” Lethe put a hand on her shoulder. “Whoa, you’re running super hot!”
“I haven’t powered down in over a week, too much stuff going on. I would kill for a coffee, literally kill…” She began chuckling manically.
Lethe slowly pushed Pestilence away. “I think it’s time you take a page out of my book and take a nap.”
Wall gently pulled the shivering Pestilence over to one of the cargo bay’s corners. “We’ll wake you up when we get there.” Pestilence wasn’t listening; she was dead to the world before Wall began pulling.
Lethe cleared his throat. “Ok, back to gossiping…”
Scorn interrupted him. “Y’know, we’re a bunch of centuries old supersoldier killing machines, and we’re gossiping like a couple of preteens.”
Bolt raised a metaphorical eyebrow. “And…?”
Scorn shrugged. “Feels nice, feels normal.”
“You do realize than none of us know what ‘normal’ is right?”
Juvinea called from the front. “You guys have the emotional development of a bottle of protein supplements! Keep talking, this is entertaining!”
“What about you and Lethe?” called Wall.
The Indra could hear a nasally laugh.
“Oi! Don’t laugh.” Juvinea was slapping her sister on the shoulder. “Who do you have!? Huh?”
“I’m content in my solitude.” Marjorie was still chuckling.
“You’re all messes!” yelled Sullivan from the driver’s seat.
Bolt jabbed at him with her thumb. “When did you get here?”
“Wha!? I’ve been here this whole time! Who do you think was driving?”
“Oh, right… Sorry, you’ve made such little impression on me that I keep forgetting you exist.”
Sullivan snapped his fingers. “That’s my MO.”
Vee was sitting in confused silence. “So are Death and I the only ones who haven’t gone crazy with sleep deprivation?”
Wulf raised his hand. “I’m still here.”
“I just feel forgotten,” Anon said sullenly.
“No don’t worry, you get a spin-off,” said Lethe, chuckling. “And Ghost! You get a prequel!” Lethe began laughing uncontrollably.
Soon all the Indra began to laugh raucously and uncontrollably. Everything became fuzzy around the edges and began to shift and distort.
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys?!” Vee felt like she was going crazy. The room began spinning, the color drained from everything until it was nothing but a mess of solid lines. Vee felt her stomach upend, she thought she saw something for a split second, a bright rectangle of light, and a face inside of it.
Gah! Dammit, oh well, better luck next time.
Vee felt a massive force hit the back of her head and everything went dark.
Vee’s eye’s 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. “Um… yeah? I dunno. I kept an eye on you when you tried to take control, you flickered a little bit and then got spat back out, you hit your head pretty hard.”
“So that’s why my view kept flashing between here and the apartment. 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. “I was going to tell you before you left that it wouldn’t work. First off, your chips probably aren’t compatible, and secondly, you’d just wind up with a concussion too, you’d be using the same damaged parts. It’s a hardware thing, not software.”
Vee stroked her chin. “Hmpf, perhaps my eagerness to see the outside world clouded my judgment.”
Katrine shrugged. “That’s understandable.”
“But… while I was unconscious I made a few realizations.”
“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. “… and we’re so bored in here… When this is all over we need to see about expanding the apartment.”
“Well I considered it but… I think Ellie was bleeding out or something.”
“I do that a lot!” yelled Ellie from the bathroom.
“That’s what you guys said in the dream.”
Katrine chuckled. “Well yeah, you know us well enough to even finish each other’s-.“ She stretched out the ‘S’ waiting for Vee to answer.
“S-salad?” Vee said uncertainly.
Katrine’s eyes grew wide. “How did you know?”
Ghost stood up. “Wow, you guys are going crazy in here.” She stretched her back and walked to the door and stepped outside. She stepped inside after a few moments. “Um, 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 was a sickly shade of green and her hair was an absolute rat nest.
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.
“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 making her nearly drop Kid.
Vee 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.”
“Actually, no, it’s really nice seeing you again, it’s been so long that I almost forgot what you looked like.” She gave Vee a hug 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.”
“But did you try standing up?”
“Well, no.” Ellie said hesitantly.
“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.” Vee lowered her voice so neither Katrine nor Kid could hear. “Hey, so, when I was trying to take control I saw something strange… Do you ever see anything when you take control of your body, like dreams or hallucinations?”
“Well, not really, usually my vision just fades in, but the first few times I did it, and whenever I’m knocked unconscious I have seen some strange stuff. They were mostly like dreams filled with people I know, but everyone acted really strange. And then there’s him…”
“I’ve only seen him a few times, he doesn’t show up anymore, but the first few times I went back and forth between the apartment he was there, muttering something.”
“What did he look like?”
“Just a normal human face in a box of light.”
“I saw him too…”
“So he’s not just a figment of my imagination… weird.”
“When this is all over I think we’ll have something to keep our minds occupied with. Also, was everything narrated in these dreams?”
“Yep, it got real weird.”
Vee rolled her eyes. “Good god, at least hire a competent narrator.”
“Are you criticizing your hallucinations?”
Vee’s tone was defensive. “Don’t judge me.”
Pestilence sidled into the apartment, she’d learned her lesson with Kid as well, and she saw Vee and came over. “So, um, how’s Ellie?”
“Shit!” Ellie yelled through the door.
“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.
“Good god kid, what happened to you?”
“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 couch.
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.
Ellie could hear Vee mutter in the apartment. Oh, dear, his plan in my dream was far better.
Pestilence held Ellie firmly and cast her thoughts to her. 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.
Ellie stopped and looked down at Pestilence. The city or the country?
Pestilence let out a sigh and slouched. The country and perhaps the world.
Ellie resumed hobbling behind Death. And you tried telling him this?
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.
“Better, I think, she came by a few times, heard me vomit a bunch.”
“So what exactly were you vomiting up?”
“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!”
Ellie 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, flooding Death with happy thoughts and memories, trying to fill the swirling void of anger and depression that had set up residence inside of him. Ellie delved deeper into him, trying to find something in particular.
Death’s feelings seemed to manifest around her, a cold craggy landscape formed around her, she kept walking bringing with her a trail of umber warmth tainting the cold depression of the land around her. She kept walking across the dismal repetitive landscape for what felt like ages, each step bringing her closer to what she sought.
“There you are… just like with Medusa.”
It was a small wooden box, ramshackle and decaying, a striking juxtaposition from the bland monochrome landscape.
“Heh, didn’t have much time to put this together.” Ellie gave the box a solid kick.
The box disintegrated, a geyser of blue shot from it tainting everything with new feelings, sadness, loss, regret, guilt.
“Just like with Medusa.” Ellie smiled and pulled herself from Death.
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
“I just tore down a few walls, he would have cracked eventually, but it’s probably better now than with Schultz.”
Ellie explained what she did, and how she did the same with Medusa. Death had stopped sobbing and was quietly rocking on the ground.
“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.”
“I’m so weak,” Death whispered.
“On the contrary-“
Wall’s voice boomed around the square. “What’s going on!?”
The rest of the Indra had entered the square and were jogging over.
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 lying on the ground. “How’s your head?”
“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 after Death.
The Indra filed into the waiting ATTV, Sullivan sat behind the wheel 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,” said Scorn.
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.
“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. Death, we need to end this, preferably with everybody 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 began trundling toward Alcadon.
The old man stared daggers at Death. “So… What’s the plan?”
“If Schultz wishes to talk, then talk we shall.”
Famine and Pestilence were slightly taken aback by Death’s sudden change in stance. 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.”
“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.
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 get interested in my psychological experience?”
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.
Ellie sidled over to Ghost’s other side and stealthily placed her hand on Ghost’s side.
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.”
“What in the world would you want to talk about with me?”
“Anything really, we never get to talk anymore.”
Ghost thought for a moment, she was right, they hadn’t talked since before going under. “What brought about this sudden chattiness?”
Pixia shrugged “I’ve always been chatty, though the impending sense of doom might be the culprit.”
“C’mon.” Ghost 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?”
“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.
“Well, yeah, you would too.”
Ellie stealthily scooted 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. After what seemed like hours of the two chatting both Vee and Katrine had fallen asleep. 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, 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. “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. “Huh? Where’s Ghost.”
“She kissed me!”
Vee ran over and gave Pixia a big hug. “Oh, you little charmer you!”
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 left the ATTV and were faced with an awesome sight. Schultz had set up in a natural crater the entirety of Alcadon’s military, 250 thousand strong standing in ranks along it’s sloped rim. A wall 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 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. The two 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.” 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.”
“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.”
“Alcadon cannot continue with you as it’s 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?”
“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 Dr. Fitsch has filled you all in on my current physical state.”
Bartholomew nodded. “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!”
“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.”
Pestilence placed a hand on Death’s shoulder. Brother, restraint.
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.
“I must warn you… I’ve never had the opportunity to 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 Schultz vaulted back to his feet where he was engaged by Famine in an attempt to distance Schultz 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 Schultz’ 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 Schultz’ 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
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.
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. Schultz 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, Schultz 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. Schultz 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 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 Schultz 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 it 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.”
“That doesn’t excuse you for your crimes against humanity.” 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 build 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?”
“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.” 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.
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 disintegrated, 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 slouched. “You never could take orders.”
Pestilence 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 much 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, 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; they were firing the energy weapons! The weapons of last resort were fired aimlessly into the mass of infantry. Swathes of infantry crumbled to dust as the energy discs burned the flesh from their bones. Angry red beams of light cut through the infantry, cleaving heads from their shoulders and slicing legs from waists.
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 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 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 ozone 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 even supposed to be manned!”
“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 hefted the Arc Gun and fired a solid stream of 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, dragging a catatonic Burke behind her. 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. “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.
“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, 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.”
“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?”
“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 military personnel streamed past the Indra, their faces grim.
Anon watched them pass, his voice was devoid of 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.
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 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, a scream of loss rebounded through the still air.