Sat Aug 01, 2020 4:35 pm
Frank the Janitor lies face-down in the growing pool, blood gushing from his head. He's completely motionless.
"S-somebody help!" Saoirse stutters, and then she shouts, "SOMEBODY HELP!" Dropping her battlestaff forgotten beside her, she gets to her knees and tries to roll Frank carefully onto his back. "SOMEBODY HELP! Frank got sh-shot and he's bleeding f-fierce!"
And at last, as Saoirse gets him onto his back, the full extent of Frank's injury is revealed: the horrible, gory wound of a point-blank a plasma blast to the face. It tore through his helmet, ripping open his cheek and skull into his sinus cavity. His jaw looks completely non-functional at this point. His eyes are closed; he breathes in shallow breaths.
Buck comes into the room, almost tripping on Frank's body. He backs up, takes a good look at Frank's devastated face, and whistles. "You say he's just bleedin'? With that kind o' shot he's dead as a doornail!"
Saoirse shoots him a glare. "N-not yet, he isn't."
Sukava and Vynkor walk into the room, and spy Frank on the floor with his face torn open. Neither of them show any hint of concern. Vynkor goes to look at the weapons lying on the table, while Sukava loots Frank's crossbow, ammo, and sword. Saoirse isn't even looking, and doesn't notice. Caleb does, though. Aghast at this blatant display of disrespect, he's about to reprimand and stop Sukava, but Brom steps in first.
"There is no need to go looting the fallen, my good woman!" Brom booms, gesturing dramatically. "Certainly not while he's still breathing, as we might still be able to bring him back! As long as he could potentially be useful to us, we should try our best to treat him as one of our own."
Flabbergasted, Sukava rolls her eyes at the bearded man. "Well I can damn well USE IT BETTER THAN HE CAN RIGHT NOW!" she shouts. "So, do you then maybe happen to have another sword for me to use? NO?"
Brom pulls out an electron sword and laser pistol from his backpack. "I, the great Connley McKale, always come prepared."
Sukava gasps. In an instant, her expression shifts from one of loathing scorn to blind adoration.
Brom gives a knowing smile. "I suspected that a couple of my colleagues had passed through here recently, and I was hoping that I might run into them," he explains calmly. "I obtained these weapons just a short while earlier to aid them, were our paths to cross. Please, take your pick. The stronger my allies are, the more likely my followers are to survive."
But Sukava isn't paying attention to his little speech. "Oh my gods," she breathes, taking the electron sword delicately in her hands as she flicks it on; the blade hums to life. She smiles so wide her face looks like it might split at the seams. "Ohmygods Brom, I love you! VYNK!" she screams. "SISTER! THIS HANDSOME MAN OF PURE AMAZING HAS YOUR LASER PISTOL!" She drops Frank's sword to the ground without a second thought. Brom is so pleased by her apparent fangirling that he decides to ignore the theft of the crossbow.
Vynkor, hearing her comrade's exuberant cries, turns around. She'd been examining the weapons on the table. None of them had been her laser pistol, but now she's facing Brom, who happens to be holding that very weapon. She takes a step back in surprise, sputtering for a moment before composing herself. She reaches for it coolly. "Yeah, thanks Salad Man. You wouldn't happen to have my wallet in there too, would you?"
But Brom shakes his head. "I'm afraid no such items were to be seen on my way here, or I would have surely noticed them. What I took was only what I thought I could safely carry. No more, no less. It's very possible that its contents were pocketed by Feb's men."
And here Saoirse interrupts their truly inopportune discourse with a call to reality. "C-could someone PLEASE help F-Frank! He's going to b-bleed out!"
At the woman's screams, Brom, Vynkor, and Sukava stop talking and turn to Saoirse in surprise. Sukava turns away just as quickly, while Brom tries to reassure her, "I am sure that Frank will be fine. After all, I'm here now." With this said, he seems to forget Frank even exist; he turns to Caleb and tries to strike up a conversation.
Vynkor pulls out her medkit and kneels down beside the dying man, his blood soaking into her pants. She quickly opens Frank's advanced medkit, starting to get to work...
The commander charges into the room, three of her soldiers at her heels. She shouts orders, pointing her arms to indicate one hallway, then another: "Saxedazep, recaerp ak saxilunub! Lenenon, soldezarp, sravlim selezzet alp solzzeg ak ees!"
The three Cybersuits present jump into action; one of them takes cover beside the northeastern doorway, while the other two begin pushing enormous crates of black flake to block the southwest entrance.
The commander looks over the inmates quickly. "You're Tartarus," she states without hesitation. "Gather your wounded. We have only minutes until the bulk of the Mercenary Union's forces arrive to restore order."
Saoirse gestures awkwardly at Frank. "W-we can't move him in this c-condition!"
Caleb, his jaw set, adds with a scowl, "We've already lost one squadmate! We're not about to lose another."
The commander tilts her head forward slightly; the brow of her helmet outlines a V-shape not unlike a furrowed brow. "Your other squadmate has been properly incinerated; he will leave no evidence. Zazish saw to that." Behind her, the Mehreen guarding the north doorway gives a half-salute, and the commander finishes, "You will move in three minutes or less."
"And if we can't?" Vynkor's expression is unreadable. "It may take me longer than that to save him."
"Then we'll eliminate the stragglers as we leave." With this said, the commander turns her attention to the southwest hallway, which - despite being blocked off - seems to be attracting hordes of fysar. She and her other marines, taking cover behind the repositioned crates, begin firing blind shots into the hallway to deter their attempts.
Caleb turns away from everything and starts busying himself with the table in the corner. He picks up his squad's weapons and deposits them in his backpack, one by one, as Brom continues failing to make smalltalk.
"You appear to have an appreciable taste in weaponry!" Brom says, leaning against the wall and folding his arms. He points casually. "Excellent choice with that shotgun, by the way. Wonderfully powerful device. Now... getting back on track... would you be so kind to introduce yourself, and the members of your group? Putting names to faces will help to facilitate teamwork, and discourage backstabbing!"
As he buttons his backpack up, Caleb mutters gruffly, "I'm Cole. That's Estelle, and that..." The soldier hesitates, glancing back at Frank. "That's... Sam," he says. His gaze lingers; he watches, greatly concerned, as Vynkor tries to stitch up the horror show of Frank's visage. He really doesn't feel like talking right now - and especially not to Brom. Caleb was never much of one for religion, but... "FSM, if you're out there," he thinks, "Please let us save him... Please don't let me lose another one..."
"Your cooperation is appreciated, Mr. Cole!" Brom booms, giving an inspiring thumbs-up pose with a beaming grin. "Starting now, the survival of your team is one of my main concerns! I will personally stand guard over this room until you've had time to patch up your friend!" As he speaks, the Spess Mehreens mow down a horde of Fysar trying to swarm them from the eastern hallway. "You're all welcome to stand and fight alongside me, but be warned: we're not accepting new team members at the moment."
Caleb isn't even listening. He's returned to Frank and is silently kneeling at his side.
"Please wake up," Saoirse whispers. "Please don't die..."
Vynkor kneels next to Frank, working vigorously. "Scalpel," she says; Yuuji, squatting behind her, immediately passes her one. It's a far cry from the sterility and safety of a real operating room - and Vynkor's not entirely used to working on humans anyway. Machines have always been more her style, but they both follow roughly the same rules: If you see something leaking, stop the leak. There's just a couple problems though: she's running on empty at this point and she has a broken arm. She swallows dryly, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand and smearing it with blood. "I need light," she says, slightly annoyed.
Saoirse scoots backwards half a foot, but then remembers the lightglobe she bought from Grandpa Kiibar. She quickly pulls it out of her backpack, turns it on, and it hovers into the air.
Vynkor does not acknowledge the assistance, but it definitely seems to help.
Frank's eyes flutter open; he gasps, eyes wide, and tries to say something; his grotesque attempt only serves to put him in agonizing pain. As tears trickle from his eyes, he glances around - at Saoirse, at Caleb, at Vynkor hovering over him. Saoirse wrings her hands around her battlestaff and looks very anxious. Caleb is trying very hard to be calm, and Vynkor is unconcernedly doing her very best to patch him up, trying to halt the bleeding with clamps, sutures, and nanosalves. Actually repairing his face is completely off the table at this point. Vynkor is just trying to keep him alive.
Saoirse creeps forward and takes one of his hands. "I-it's going to b-be okay," she whispers reassuringly. "We're g-going to take you back to the ship - they'll b-be able to fix you up there."
Frank's eyes close; Saoirse feels him squeeze her hand softly.
Buck stands in one corner, motionless, as he tries to hack into the nearby camera systems. He manages a partial success, if not a total one - he's able to shut down and wipe the camera in the current room, and turn the rest of them off in a decent radius. He might've managed more, but -
Behind them, gunshots ring out. "THEY THREW CHARGES!" someone shouts. The Commander and her men leap away from the crates and create an energy shield wall in front of Frank. "EVERYONE GET BACK!" she yells urgently.
With a resounding crash, the crates stacked against the southwestern hallway explode into the room; a roiling cloud of black dust fills the room as flake and metal shards ping against the walls. It's impossible to see.
Plasma fire fills the air - heavy rounds tracing glowing paths through the smoke. As the dust settles, fysar begin trying to pour through the hallway's entrance - an intense green swarm. Brom and Caleb take cover with their shotguns, adding their own fire to the mix - the piles of corpses quickly rise, the walls spattered with greenish blood.
Suddenly,the commander stands; she whips out a small weapon that emits an undulating black-and-cyan distortion that rushes over the heads of the incoming fysar. Somewhere, deep down the hallway, it hits something; a thunderous WHOOMPH echoes throughout, followed by a rush of air that clears the dust. Wispy sky-blue tendrils reach out from the hallway's depths amidst the dying, agonized screams of dozens of fysar as the corridor's very air seems to crackle and distort like a nebulous void. The weapon seems to melt in the commander's hand; she drops its smoldering remains to the floor.
"Frank?" Saoirse asks anxiously. Then, louder, "F-Frank?" A squeeze on her hand answers her voice, but it's weak - far weaker than it had been only a moment before. His hand spasms slightly in hers.
"His heart rate's increasing," Vynkor murmurs, her hands flying. "It's the black flake. I can't stop it... It got into the wound."
"Frank, p-please stay here," Saoirse says, her voice rising. "Frank, don't leave us! Le do thoil, stay awake!"
Working furiously, Vynkor whispers, "I can't - I - I can't ... Everything is opening back up now..."
Suddenly, Frank's eyes snap open; he gives a little gasp - his eyes wide, he searches the ceiling and finally lights on Saoirse, staring at her.
"I can't," she whispers again.
Saoirse's lip trembles; a tear trickles down her cheek. "No - n-no, no no." She shakes her head and squeezes Frank's hand tightly. "F-frank? Frank, I'm h-here. It's okay."
But he doesn't squeeze back. His eyes stay transfixed on Saoirse in a blind expression of fright.
An eternity seems to pass as his grip weakens; his hand falls from hers to the floor.
"Our time's up," the commander says, watching as the southwest corridor again begins to fill with overzealous fysar, stepping over the piles of fragmented, mutilated corpses on the floor. "We'll take care of your wounded after we get out of here."
Caleb's expression blanks; he has the telltale thousand-yard stare of a man that's compartmentalized away everything they are.
Saoirse leaps to her feet, screaming incoherently; her eyes flash as she blasts the fysarian corpse on the floor across from her with a tremendous surge of electricity - the one she assumes killed Frank. "HE JUST WANTED TO GET OUT OF HERE!!" she screeches. Her voice is almost lost in the violent crackling of the electric surge. "HE JUST WANTED TO LEAVE, YOU SALACH FRAOCHÚN!" As the first fysar begin to make their way into the room, firing at the commander's marine, Saoirse shifts her aim to them; they writhe, howling in pain and terror as tremendous jolts of electricity pour through their bodies.
The woman screams wordlessly, aimlessly, unable to see through her tears and oblivious to everything happening around her.
A firm hand on her shoulder pulls her back. "We have to go! NOW!" the commander shouts.
The rest of the REKT crew are already following the Spess Mehreens out. Caleb leads the way, followed by Brom, Vynkor leading Sukava (who is very high and thinks the whole thing is just a game), and Yuuji.
"Let's move!" the commander shouts again. She nods to her soldiers and tosses a grenade into the southwest hallway.
But Saoirse isn't paying attention. Deaf to the commander's words, she falls to her knees beside Frank's body and tries to lift him; but now, exhausted by the extreme toll channeling the electric blasts has taken on her body, she can't even get him off the floor.
Pocketing his PDA, Buck passes her and comments cynically, "Not like he'll give a shit. We need to get off this shithole as quick as possible if we dun' want to all end up like him."
Saoirse continues her pointless struggles with Frank's body for a few moments longer before the Commander pulls her to her feet and shoves her towards one of her marines. The Cybersuit grabs her, hauling her out the south door with virtually no effort. As Saoirse strains, struggling to get away, she sees the commander toss a small object onto Frank's body. A reddish shield dome develops over it; a fire blazes up, burning brightly within. That's all she sees before the Cybersuit turns the corner with her, and Frank is lost from view.
After a few more paces, she shakes herself loose of the Cybersuit's grip and continues on beside him, wiping her reddened eyes and readying her battlestaff. "Frank," she whispers softly, "I'm sorry I wasn't fast enough... I'm so, so sorry..."
Seven inmates of REKT. Four Cybersuits of unknown origin, one of them carrying Kaquyu Adopan. Together, they carve a path through the Minas Maniri's underhalls.
Fighting breaks out ahead of them; the leader holds up a hand and the contingent pauses until the numbers are thinned. The group fires upon the survivors and plods forward, with Caleb in the lead. He says nothing, and his face betrays nothing - a stony, silent countenance.
The endless maze continues. First left, then right, following the landmarks of graffiti and garbage littering the floors. The passages wind up, then down - always at odd angles, tunneled through the rocks. Sometimes they're smooth-sided and organized - other times it looks like someone breached an official passage by accident (often from below) and decided to roll with their mistake.
The commander shouts orders and moves to the rear; she and another Cybersuit hold off a sudden attack while the rest continue on.
Caleb's intuition serves him well as he and Brom storm down the hallway beside one of the Cybersuits. The rest of the REKT crew follow, weapons at the ready. Marina is in the back, as are Vynkor and Saoirse. Yuuji has a point near the lead, his plasbomb launcher ready for when it's needed.
"You've been here before?" Brom asks.
"Yes," Caleb says tersely, glancing around the next corner. The coast is clear: they continue. "We came through here earlier." His face and voice still betray no hint of emotion - even to the point that it's unsettling.
Brom is about to ask a question, but is stopped from doing so as four fysar jog into the corridor ahead of them. BLAM BLAM, two shotguns fire - and after a fusillade by Yuuji, the enemies fall dead, slumped atop of each other in a burning heap of greenish viscera. The little mixed-bag platoon steps around the corpses and continues on.
"We're almost out," Caleb says after a moment. "We'll come out into the courtyard soon."
A woman's voice speaks behind them: "No, we won't." It's the commander again. "The courtyard is swarming with FMU Peacekeepers. They'll swarm these tunnels at any moment, too."
"Then lead the way," Brom says, reloading his shotgun. Turning about, he calls, "Everyone, follow us to safety! With me at the lead, we have surety of victory!"
Caleb doesn't move. "We have someone we're supposed to meet."
"And so do I," the Commander says curtly. "You're welcome to die if you'd rather continue on. I'm just offering an alternative."
The ex-soldier says nothing, but follows; the rest of the REKT team falls in line behind them.
They continue on - one dim corridor after another - and gradually, as they go, the lighting becomes more sparse. Whereas before, it was temporary lighting powered by thick bundles of wild, tangled extension cables, now they're down to what remains of the original lights installed in ages past near the founding of Fuhodo Station. Eventually, even the original lighting falls behind as they venture ever deeper. One by one, the inmates are forced turn on their helmet lamps to keep from tripping over old debris.
The corridors, instead of being a mix of metal maintenance corridors and rough-hewn stone, are ancient smooth-sided stone passages. The floor is often damp; in some places, condensation or leaks drip from the ceiling, spattering the faceplates of those walking below.
After a time, they emerge into a large square room - a hub of sorts, with a small sloped channel running across the floor for collected moisture. On one side is an upwards stairwell that seems to go on forever, and at the top of it, far in the distance, the inmates can make out a door, lit by a single aged lamp. Another side of the room seems to have caved in on itself; rubble and debris is piled halfway up the wall, and the ceiling is fragmented and missing - a gaping pit of darkness. Not even shining their helmet lamps into it is enough to reveal anything; it seems to open to a natural cavern beyond.
"We're here," the commander announces quietly. "Up those stairs, you'll find the ancient road between the Markets and the Palaces." She nods and gives an order to one of her Suits; the man reaches into a pouch and pulls out a few syringes, tossing them to the commander. She catches them and holds them out to Caleb. "For those affected by the Flake," she explains.
More Cybersuits enter the room from behind, bringing their total numbers up to six. One of them lays a number of items out on the ground - a CRISP, a nanoglob pack, rocket boots, a plasrifle, assault rifle, and a medkit. "We recovered these items as requested, Serava Dai," one says.
"Well done," the commander replies. "Hopefully these necoises won't be incompetent enough to lose them again.
"And now, on that note... we'll be taking the prisoner. Our business here is concluded. Gasectrai! Fegesan!" Serava Dai barks; the Cybersuits snap to attention. The one carrying Kaquyu Adopan steps forward.
At that exact moment, eight heavily-armed hiltorel drop from the cavernous hole in the ceiling, weapons readied. In the middle of them drops another, smaller hiltorel, whom two of the inmates recognize as Almina Dheda. She holds a fairly dangerous-looking weapon in her hands.
"It looks like we got here just in time," Almina says, a sly smile on her face. She glances over the Cybersuits, and then the inmates, picking out their faces one by one. "I see more of you are here... and also less."
"You're late," Serava Dai growls. "You were supposed to be here when we arrived."
"I didn't expect you to get here so fast," Almina Dheda smirks. "Are you sure you accomplished everything you meant to?"
The commander ignores the snark, and says, "We would have accomplished more, if your accomplices hadn't caused a complete adinab." She glowers at the REKT inmates.