15 A.E., before Operation Hollow...
After detonating the Lightmass Bomb, in what seems to be a desperate attempt, the Locusts begin a series of insurgencies across the nation of Tyrus. Theta Six is one of eight squads dispatched to search and eradicate or dismantle any COG intel that may have been left behind.
The squad of six Gears, including a conscript, a chaplain, and an former incarcerated felon, the six man band of misfits that make up Theta Six come across something they did not expect when they’re given orders to find survivors at the Santa Fe Imulsion Research Facility.
This is their mission.
Please Note: This fanfic is rated M for swearing, adult situations, violence, sexual innuendos, and scenes of a graphic nature.
Stay, when you think you want me, pray, when you need advice. Hey, keep your sickness off me, trying to get through.
Blame, all your weakness on me, shame, that I'm so contrite. Hey, keep your fingers off me, why can't I get through...
You think you have the best of intentions, I cannot shake the taste of blood in my mouth.
Chapter 1: The Routine Edit
“Demitri, hurry the fuck up man! I swear you better not be reading in there…”
…a voice could be heard, following another series of banging against the thin pine, outhouse door, rattling against the rickety doorframe. The sudden obnoxious knocking broke Demitri’s focus from his magazine, consequently causing him to drop it on his bare lap.
“Gah, shit! ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT…fuck, can’t I shit in peace?” Demitri moaned to himself before he picked the magazine back up. Normally he didn’t take quite as long, often finishing whatever business nature compelled him to accomplish, which normally took less than ten minutes, but today for whatever reason, he couldn’t do it.
“He’s hogging the only working toilet, sir…” the voice could be heard again through the outhouse door. Apparently their commanding officer was getting on his squad mate’s case about his blatant impatience with Demitri using the outhouse longer than he originally anticipated.
He starts to roll up the five-year-old Penthouse magazine and stuffs it back into his leg pack that was hanging on a nail next to the makeshift toilet paper dispenser, which was nothing more than another crooked nail, hammered in at an angle with the roll of TP over it.
The magazine was one of several souvenirs he found during their squad’s five-month trek in a string of towns along the Ephyrean border. It was the only piece of literature he was able to use in keeping his sanity, salvaging all that which made him male. Although normally any means or vices that can wash the callous days away with just a long, stagnant glance at some centerfold broad, straddling in an suggestive position, it kept some of his more primitive drives in check, even if it was just him spending time alone with his magazine, and a rosy palm…but not today.
Shit…what’s wrong with me today, he mumbled to himself as he stood up onto his feet to pull up his fatigues that have been wrapped around his knees for over fifteen minutes.
“Ah, fuck…” he griped, feeling both legs cramp while trying to get his bare ass back into his pants before another loud knocking on the door startled him once again.
“DAMNIT, CAN YOU GIVE ME A MINUTE TO PULL UP MY FUCKING PANTS?” Demitri yelled through the door over the noise of the insistent knocking.
“Other people need to take a shit too, asshole! It’s not like we got a lot of other Johns around here…”
“Yea, yea, I’m almost done,” he yelled back before mumbling to himself while buttoning his fly, “…fucking jerk.”
Private Demitri Samson's squad, Theta Six, had taken refuge in a town called Barnabas, a once small but flourishing community that was known mostly for it’s vineyards and wine presses. It was long abandoned now, the streets littered with emergence holes that looked a few years of age, judging by the weeds that were sprouting from the cracks around the splintered crust of the Serean surface. Whatever damage the Locusts intended to do to it, apparently they lost interest in it and moved on from one town, to the next.
It was a number of towns they have surveyed along the Tyran border, looking for anything or anyone that may have encountered a fallen craft that has crash-landed in the area nearby. Trying to keep intel from the Locust proved to be a delicate matter, knowing that any King Raven, fallen or otherwise could still pose a threat to that very intel if not properly disposed. So far, they have only found two, out of six that have been reported missing in the area.
Squeezing back into his utility belt in the tight, cramped quarters between the infinitesimal, wooden walls of the outhouse, Demitri managed to get most of his attire on before finally lifting the hook lock and carefully opening the creaking door, only to find a crabby Private Rodney Brussels standing in front of the entrance with his arms folded.
“Well it’s about fucking time!” Rodney sneered, watching Demitri rub his eyes. His pupils were still adjusting to the sudden bright light in contrast to the dimly lit quarters of the old outhouse.
“Yea, do us a favor and go drop your load so you can shut the hell up…damn light,” Demitri grumbled, still squinting under the bright haze mixed with the airborne dust coming from the wind blowing along the gravel road nearby.
Before Rodney could even get around to the outhouse entrance, he quickly noticed Demitri’s rolled up magazine stuffed in a different leg pack than from the one it was in before he went inside the outhouse.
“Damnit, Samson, you’ve been masturbating on the John, haven’t you,” Rodney growled at the squinting private, still trying to adjust to the sudden illumination.
“What fucking difference does it make…shit,” Demitri griped back, lifting is hand to shield his eyes from the midday, scorching sun.
“Fuck, if you need to jerk-off, go do it in the fucking frat house shower! Keep the only running bathroom we’ve got, open for those of us who have to shit!”
“Alright, damn,” Demitri staggered out of the way, allowing Rodney space to enter the bathroom.
“I mean it, Sams…” Rodney blurted out while unhinging the belt around his pants and stepping into the outhouse doorway, “…if I even so much as find a drop of your jizzle juice on the floor or on the seat, I’m kicking your ass!”
Conveniently ignoring Rodney’s excessive nagging was a feat Demitri has since learned to harness over the past few rotations. Like most squads he was assigned to, there was always a member he would butt heads with, despite always being under what would seem, constant fire from the Locust horde.
It was the same shit, day after day; always moving from one location to the next, in search of fallen aircraft that fell victim to the Nymacists that ravaged the skies. In daylight, they often kept a watch, monitoring their radar for Seeders, while sparsely keeping contact with command to avoid giving away their position. Their squad commander, Sergeant Towslend would make arrangements daily to report to command, keeping everything coded in the event a group of Stranded may be nearby, eavesdropping on their communications, not to mention the Locusts.
Walking along a vacant parking lot, littered with cracks caused from the seismic tremors of an old, giant emergence hole nearby, Private Demitri Samson peered over to the rest of his squad, sitting idle next to a tattered automotive garage, drinking water they’ve managed to fill their bottles from the town’s waste/water treatment plant.
“Dang, Sams, did you have the runs or somthin?” one of them asked as Demitri makes his way to the rest of the squad, sitting in the shade coming from the cargo truck.
Not intending to answer the ludicrous question, he soon noticed their commando scout, Corporal Josephine Marrow, sitting in the squatting position on top of the roof of the big rig they managed to salvage from the winery storage warehouse, keeping watch while their Stranded conscript, Leonard Maverick was under the open hood, replacing the battery with another one they managed to rip off another truck that was badly damaged due to razor hail.
Amongst the motley crew that made up Theta Six was the squad cleric, which in this case, was literally. Although in rank, they called him Corporal Hiraku Gaiman, but on the field, he is known as no other than Father Gaiman.
South Island in dress but with a clear Tyran accent, it was said that he kept some of his mothers' island roots while honoring the ethos of his father, a former, Tyran missionary. Needless to say, Gaiman was a man of exceptional tracking skills that has saved the squad a time or two, but his ethics were uncanny. The man didn’t drink, smoke, nor cursed, and as far as anyone could recall, the man didn’t fornicate.
“Father…” Demitri greeted Gaiman first, especially since he knew Gaiman was seldom the one to scold him over something nonsensical such as the likes of him taking matters into his own hands, or shalacking off, as Josephine would rhetorically put it.
Of all squad members Demitri has ever had to work with, their Commando, Corporal Josephine Marrow was probably, by far the most eccentric. Before being drafted as a Gear, Josephine was a hard-lined felon, institutionalized in the Tyran penal system back at Ephyria Penitentiary. Although originally charged for first-degree manslaughter, additional sentences have been added due to other conflicts while institutionalized, including shanking several of his fellow inmates until they bled to death, in which he claimed he acted in self-defense. Needless to say, Josephine wasn’t a stranger to violence anymore than a cat was a stranger to hairballs, but the Gear life fit him like a glove, and oddly enough, Demitri could swear that Josephine found solace in it.
Carefully walking under the shade coming off the truck, Demitri made an effort to step over Gaiman’s Lancer that was lying out on the floor with the chain belt disassembled, while Gaiman was greasing the drum to the chainsaw bayonet.
“Greetings Samson…I take it you got your daily grievance report from Private Brussel’s usual list of complaints?” Father Gaiman asked while still keeping his working gaze on the Lancer’s chainsaw mechanism.
“…and then some,” Demitri mumbled before lifting his hands onto his forehead to slick his sweat-saturated hair off his brow.
A laugh could be heard coming from above as Demitri looked up to see Josephine making a moving gesture that resembled someone pulling root as he flashes a wide, condescending grin; fucking psycho.
“No Marrow…nobody wants to hear about your prag love sessions back in the slam…" Demitri sneered as Josephine let out a mocking laugh.
“Come now mon amie…how long do ya tink dos pictures of yer fake-tit bitches are gonna get your rocks off, before dey lose dere luster, and den you’re left to yer own dwindling imagination?”
Demitri didn’t reply as he simply lifted his arm to flash Josephine the middle finger, keeping his potty mouth to a minimum for the sake of Father Gaiman’s company.
“What seems to be the problem now, Josephine?” the voice of their commanding officer could be heard as Sergeant Towslend walks around the corner of the trailer.
“It’s just been awhile since da Private’s here frosted any pastries, Sarge…” Josephine mused in his broken Tyran, heavily sloshed in his immigrant accent.
Josephine didn’t resemble a typical convict thug by being grossly top heavy from lifting weights eight hours of the day, using his body as a canvas by littering it in ink. In contrast, he was long and lanky, his musculature lithe and rigid, which probably complimented his ability to haul ass, being the fastest one among them.
The only tattoo that he did have was not by choice. It was a bar code that was inked on his back, a system the penitentiary used to keep track of their inmates for identification purposes in the event they were to be mutilated beyond recognition. Otherwise, Corporal Marrow was composed and disturbingly amiable for a man who literally fought to stay alive in one of the most violent penitentiary’s in Tyrus.
Sergeant Towsland impatiently looks down at his wrist-watch before looking to see Private Rodney Brussels join the group after taking care of the usual paperwork, which he still had strapped to his supply pack.
Although Demitri would more often than not, stereotype Brussels as the official squad asshole, he would still have to admit that he’s dealt with worse. Rodney’s biggest character flaw was that he was a stickler for cleanliness, hence the reason he insisted on keeping a roll of toilet paper on his persons in the event when nature called. The man was so anal retentive about it, Demitri swore that the man probably carries a bar of soap in his pack and secretly scrubs his ass in the lavoratory whenever he got the chance.
As Brussels finally makes it to the rest of the group, he could instantly hear Josephine let out a snicker.
“The fuck you laughin at, Marrow?” Brussels sneered in return.
“The both of you, shut up and listen…” Towslend ordered, “…and this goes for the rest of you gentlemen…”
“We’re anytin’ but gentle, Sarge…” Josephine conveniently reminded the Sergeant, as always.
“Shut up Marrow and pay attention…I’ll need you to get the map out a little later to start looking for a route between here and Gail…”
“Damn Sarge, all the way to Gail?” Demitri blurted out at the news of their relocation.
“That’s right Private! I’ve just been given orders to pack up and head out to Gail…”
“The fuck for?” Brussels started to gripe before he even got word of their new objective.
“Apparently, there is an Imulsion research laboratory that was sacked last night, and we need to go back to check for survivors.”
"So why us? Why don't they drop off a squad by Raven?" Demitri had to ask, despite he knew he wasn't going to like the answer.
"It's too hot for KR transport, and we're the nearest squad in route, so guess what..."
"Sigh, fuck me," Demitri quietly grumbled to himself.
“Dere’s only one road ta Gail, Sergeant…” Josephine is quick to point out.
“I know that Josie…which is why I need you look up every possible farm road, detour, substation, or feeder that can give us indirect access into town.”
“How about a sewer conduit?” Gaiman suggested.
“Oh hell no! I’m not walking in shit again…” Brussels protested instantly.
“I don’t give a flying fuck if we have to swim in raw sewage, Brussels! Our orders are to go to Gail and eradicate any Locust outpost and extract any survivors from that facility.”
“Why the sudden interest in rescuing civilians from a research facility?” Gaiman asked, knowing that it wasn’t usual COG protocol to go out of their way, or expend additional resources for just a handful of civilians.
“Sigh, I asked them the same thing, Father…and the best I can gather is that this is on a need to know basis.”
“So it’s another shit assignment?” Brussels scoffed at another objective they knew they were not going to like.
“Yea, Private…it’s another shit assignment."
*I keep on thinking that it's all done and all over now. You keep on thinking you can save me…save me… My ship is sinking, but it's all good and I can't go down. You got me thinking that the party's all over.
Chapter 2: Detour Edit
"Get em, Demitri!"
…his older brother yelled out while a eight-year-old Demitri plunged the fishing net into the murky water. He stood knee deep in a bayou, just outside a quiet Jacinto subdivision, searching for anything that moved, from turtles and minnows, to crawfish and tadpoles.
Lifting up the net, he sulked in disappointment, realizing he only caught a few small junk minnows instead of the bullfrog tadpoles he'd been trying to catch in the latter twenty minutes. His brother shook his head while he placed their bucket, filled with the rest of their "catch," on the grassy bank.
"Damn bastards are fast…" Demitri griped as he shakes the net, throwing the junk minnows back into the water, "…so whatcha got?"
"I got a soft shell…" his brother responded with a grin.
"Come an see."
Demitri pulled his feet from the muddy bottom, sloshing in the murky water while coming to a sandy shore. His brother stood along the grassy bank, looking down into the shallow parts of the water, keeping an eye out for that elusive tadpole.
"Lemme see, Sean," Demitri asked as he put his net down and walked his way over to their bucket and peered in, "…where's he at?"
"He's in there. I'll pull him out for ya," said Sean. He reaches into the bucket, trying to catch the slippery soft shell turtle.
Carefully pulling it out from the bucket of water, Sean lifts the little turtle that was no bigger than his palm. Peering out from under his soft shell, it's long snout could be seen right between its bulging eyes.
"Wow…" Demitri gazes at the creature with curiosity as he gently grazed his finger tips along his soft, slimy shell, "…that feels sooo weird."
"Psst…Demitri," his brother whispered, "…I see him."
"That tadpole, man."
Demitri quietly grabbed his net and tiptoed back to the sandy shore, peering out into the water before he finally gets a glimpse of several large tadpoles, moving along the shallow bottom.
"There you are," Demitri muttered to himself as he tiptoed in, moving carefully with his net in hand, waiting to plunge it in the water. He moved into the deeper section again, feeling the mud on the bayou floor, wrap around his feet and slither in between his toes…ugh, gross man.
Looking back now, when Demitri could recall wadding many a time in the bayou back home, never in a million years would he have ever thought he'd actually be walking in a sewer; but here I am, wallowing in everyone's shit.
Peering through the dark chasm of an underground sewer conduit, with only the light coming from the street grates above illuminating their path, the Gears of Theta Six move forward, waist-deep in murky rain water, with the minnows meandering between their legs...or so they hoped it was just minnows.
Moving waist-deep in sewer muck wasn't exactly something Demitri had in mind when he woke up that morning, but then again, he didn't want to walk in broad daylight with God knows how many Locust outposts sat in between the main roads to Gail either; so something had to give.
If there was anything that the men could complain about, which that was an extensive list, was the smell. The conduit reeked of a concoction of ozone, mixed with dirt, decaying plants, and that familiar stench of fecal matter. Regardless what or how everyone thought it smelled like, one thing was for certain; it reeked. Brussels could be faintly seen, keeping the back of his hand over his nose, while Leonard had his do-rag tied around his.
"Fuck man! Something keeps moving between my legs…" Brussels is the first to complain. He staggers around in the water while occasionally kicking his leg, trying to see what it was that kept moving past him, despite the water being thick in grime.
"Ah, quit yer bellyaching! A few little turtles and fish ain't gonna hurt ya," Leonard nagged at Brussels through the do-rag that was wrapped around the bottom portion of his face, holding the only working flashlight in the group.
"C'mon man…bring that flashlight over here," said Brussels.
"And look at what? Potty water?" Leonard could be heard chuckling at the front of the group, while Brussels lagged behind with Demitri. Just my luck…I get to hang back with Molly Maid.
"Fuck you man! Seriously, there could be Wretches in this shit!"
Peering through the dim light of Theta's only working flashlight, Towslend began to grumble.
"Brussels, I don't know what's worse…listening to a brothel scream when a mouse skittles across the floor, or listening to you scream over some shit-eating minnows!"
"Shea, just hope those are minnows and not snapping turtles. Those bastards are mean," Demitri conveniently added, making Brussels life even more miserable. Brussels starts to get antsy as he moves even more erratically, trying to walk with his legs clamped shut like a teenage girl on her first date.
Leonard and Demitri start to laugh, watching Brussels do his little pathetic dance in hip-deep sewage while Towsland impatiently turns around with his Lancer in hand, watching the pitiful sight of a grown man, jumping like a antsy school girl trying to hold herself. Gaiman kept his focus forwards as the others delight in Brussels quarry.
"Fuck man…that's all I need is some snapping turtle taking a bite at my balls!"
Demitri couldn't help but to mumble, "What would be the downside to that?"
"What was that Sams?" Brussels sneered as Leonard keeps laughing.
"I said, what is that up ahead?"
The five suddenly look up ahead, peering through the black void that separated them from a faint noise further into the conduit. The stench was by now, somewhat tolerable now that they were in a storm water drainage tunnel, with only the sounds of running water coming from the other conduits ahead, was audible. All they could see in the faint light was the water frothing at the bottom of drainage system from the mix.
Sergeant Towsland halts in his tracks and lifts his arm, signaling the others to take point as the sounds of footsteps could be heard coming towards them in the near distance.
"Friendlies?" the Sergeant yells out with his Lancer gripped tightly in his hand, keeping his gaze forward to an oncoming figure ahead.
"Friendlies…don shoot," a familiar voice could be heard as their scout came from another tunnel, before hopping into theirs, moving at ease in the murky water. A sudden relief could be felt amongst the others as Josephine came into view, watching the lights from his COG rig glistening in the patchy void, now becoming more visible as with the rest of him. His over-the-shoulder length, often matted, brown hair was pulled back with a rubber band, with a strand or two often glancing his obscure face, slightly damp from the humidity. As long as Josephine was able to perform his job, which he often did too well, Towslend never complained about his hair, or his hygiene.
"Dere's a junction bag daer," said Josephine while placing his Lancer onto his back. He moved towards their location as the water moved past his knees and then up to his waist, keeping his partially bare arms above the water while holding another flashlight.
"So which way is closest to the Imulsion Research facility?" Towslend asked.
"Ok, now what the fuck is that supposed to mean Marrow?" Brussels continued to nag.
Before Towslend could rebuke Private Brussels, Josephine calmly intervened as he turns to point towards the exit passage.
"Da main sewage line splits into da east an west side of town…"
"So what you're alluding to is that we can enter town on either side of town to get to the Research plant, which resides somewhere in the middle," Towslend reiterated.
"Dat would be an affirmative Sarge."
Grumbling could be heard among the men as they started to weigh their options, unsure as to what lies ahead of them.
"So are we going to play eeny, meeny, miny, moe, and hope we pick the one that doesn't end up near some Locust camp?" Demitri rhetorically asked, knowing that either direction they go was going to be a blind gamble.
"Not when we have more vices at our disposal, Samson," Towslend rebutted with his usual dry comical muse. Demitri could only frown, knowing that the Sergeant had an idea that was most likely going to involve the Private into doing something he didn't like; damnit, I should have kept my fucking mouth shut!
When Demitri was first reformed into Theta Six, he swore up and down that frumpy Sergeant Towslend had it in for him, but it wasn't long before he discovered that he did that with all of his new recruits. It was a right of passage of some sort, being ordered to do stupid shit just to see how well they could follow orders. Towsland had little patience for incompetence, so if he were assigned with a subordinate he didn't like, he would subject him to something that was so ridiculously demeaning, the subordinate would beg the field commander for a transfer.
Rumor had it that when Gaimen was first assigned to Theta, Towslend, knowing that Gaiman was a man of the cloth, ordered him to do cavity searches on all Stranded transcripts to inspect for contraband. Despite being the man of God he was, Gaiman took to the job without complaint, and apparently impressed Towslend so much, the Sergeant recommended Gaiman for promotion and kept him on as a Corporal rifleman. Demitri on the other hand, ended up scrubbing the mold out of the grout in the communal showers with just a bottle of bleach and a toothbrush. The stench of the bleach was so strong, Demitri had to borrow a gasmask to avoid getting nauseous. Just when he thought his week long seclusion in the mildew infested showers was done, Towslend then ordered him to empty the barracks' septic tanks; another glorious hands on experience to put on my fucking resume'.
Needless to say, anyone and everyone that was ever under Towslend's command went through the shit, as everyone rhetorically put it. But then again, and often with intent, command gave Towslend the riff-raff amongst the recruits, like conscripts, juveniles with a history of delinquency, or recently released convicts, like Josephine. It was this very same reason when a recruit would submit a complaint about Towsland, command would seldom ever follow through with insubordination.
Towslend pulls out a folded up map he had carefully placed in his pack to avoid ripping the delicate folded seams. Squinting through the dim light, the veteran Gear began to grumble to himself.
"Lenny, I'm going to need your flashlight," Towslend asked Leonard as he gently unfolds the map. Although the Sarge wouldn't admit it, it appeared that age was finally catching up to him as he moved his head in and out of the faint light, trying to get a better view of the unfolded map. Compared to the younger men that were under his command, Towsland was at least nearly fifty years of age, judging by his salt and pepper color in his disheveled hair, and the valley of lines that meandered his tanned face. But the man was a bonofide Gear, and a Pendulum vet at that, with the scars and abrasions to prove it.
"Can you see it ok boss?" asked Leonard in his heavy, southern Tyran drawl, moving through the knee-high muck with his already lit up flashlight in hand.
"You're fine Lenny…just waiting for my pupils to adjust, that's all."
Out of the six, Leonard Maverick was the only one who never had to go through "the shit." Conscripts for the most part, were often quick to be stereotyped, mostly because of the political baggage they sometimes often carry with them into the ranks. It wasn't uncommon for Gears and Stranded conscripts to butt heads, which sometimes led to physical altercations, resulting in a laundry list of reprimands that the field commander just got tired of arraigning. Therefore, Towslend had little patience when it came to conscripts, but Leonard was able to impress the Sergeant when he managed to temporarily plug a gasket leak in an APC, using nothing but silica insulation tape and a tampon. Needless to say, whether anyone liked conscripts or not, Leonard was there to stay.
Holding up the flashlight over the map, Towslend scans the latest satellite schematics of Gail.
"Look here," the Sergeant began, pointing to a cluster of cylindrical buildings on the East side of town, "…that's where the waste-water treatment plant is at. I'm willing to bet the east conduit will lead up to that very plant."
Everyone gathers to get a better look as the Sergeant meanders his finger across the page under the bright light coming from the LED flashlight.
"So where will the west conduit exit?" Gaiman asked, glancing at the map from the side.
"Daer's a water tower…and a reservoir, mon ami," Josephine points to what appeared to be a utility station next to one of two water towers on the west side of town, not far from a man-made tank.
"I'm willing to bet this conduit will lead to that reservoir…" Leonard mentioned, "…it would explain all this rainwater, coming from that there tunnel."
Leonard raised his arm to point to the east tunnel, where the contents were still emptying into the drainage system.
"…and if I was a Grub with some tactical insight, I would place point on that sewer line," Towslend muttered, scanning the schematics of the main sewer lines across town, looking for a more safe passage into the Gail.
"But that's assuming the Grubs even have any clue about the water utility routes in town, which I doubt," Demitri added, knowing that majority of the Horde was made up of peon drones whose tactical abilities was miniscule at best. They aim and shoot at any "land walker" they come across…and that was it.
The only Locust they came upon that had something that resembled battle smarts was the Theron Elites. Armed with Torque Bows, they could wreak havoc on multiple squads, much less one. Towslend was hoping they wouldn't have to come across any of them.
"I'm no tactician, but it may be best if we split up. One group go left, the other go right…" Leonard suggested over the noise of the water draining into the system from the tunnel and grates nearby.
"Oh fuck that! If we divide out forces, we may as just give them our heads on a silver fucking platter," Brussels complained.
"Not necessarily," says Sergeant Towslend as he meanders his finger on another line, "…I'm going to agree that them Grubs probably don't know shit about these sewer lines, and if they did, they sure as hell don't know about the conduit stations here…and here."
The Sergeant points out the conduit stations on the map for everyone to see.
"According to some data command has relayed to me, the electrical station on the north side of town is still operational…"
"…which means the water plant should be up and running, hence these conduit stations."
"Exactly. If we split up, we should be able to access these stations as an alternate to the main line."
"Both paths lead past the downtown entrance, which if there is Locust occupation in town, I'm willing to bet they'll take point there," Towslend explained, pointing to the three main entrances into the downtown district.
Gail was literally a big triangle, a center point between a major intersection of three Ephyrian highways. Gail's primary means of income came from travelers and tourism. Fuel depots with large grocery marts dominated the business sector of the intersections, while downtown was primarily a tourist hotspot, filled with motels, antique shops, and Ma & Pa, Bed & Breakfast establishments. It was anyone's guess why the town housed an Imulsion research facility.
Nevertheless, the research facility resided on the north side of town, not far from the municipal courthouse that sat snug in the law district of Gail, which was nothing more than two blocks.
"Hypothetically speaking, if Gail is under Locust occupation, one of us should be able to get inside city lines without being spotted," Gaiman added, knowing that the Locusts eyesight was not as reliable on the surface as human's were.
"Yea, that's if those fucking Grubs don't even know we're coming," Brussels begins to mock, "…ya know, for a race of sadistic grunts that live under the ground, I would be shit-faced to think they never knew about sewer lines!"
"Which is why we're splitting up Brussels," said Towslend before folding the map back up to put back into his pack, "…which brings me to say, Private, is that I'm specifically putting you in charge of group B."
"Oh yay me! I'm so excited, I think I'll piss myself," Brussels rhetorically replied.
"Ah, God Almighty help us now, he put Rod in charge," Leonard rebuked at the news of Brussels being put in charge.
"Fuck you, conscript canon-fodder," Brussels sneered back as he gives Leonard not one, but both fingers.
"Lookie here, sonny boy…I was fixin up radiators and assembling auto transmissions while you were still shittin' in your pants," Leonard began to rebut, just before Gaiman conveniently places himself between the two men.
"Easy gents…let's work our petty differences out with the Sergeant…I'm sure he's got his reasons."
"Enough Lenny…" Towslends barks, "…Brussels, don't make me regret my decision, or so God help me, I'll shove my boot so far up your ass, you'll see stars!"
Just as Sergeant Towslend got done barking at his subordinates, a noise could be heard echoing from within the conduit. The men suddenly fell silent, as they turn with their weapons ready, peering into the direction of the noise, cloaked behind the black void ahead.
"What the fuck was that?" Brussels tried to whisper, pulling out his Gansher shotgun.
"Shhhh…shit boy, didn't they teach you to be quiet in grammar school?" Leonard hissed, right before the same noise happened again.
"Ok, I'm gonna back up Rod on this one…what the hell was that?" Demitri was the next to rant.
Josephine and Gaiman took point along the conduit wall as Towsland kept position.
"Brussels, Lenny…take point on the other side. Demitri, you're with me," Towslend commanded as the Gears took to there positions without rebuke. Demitri hesitantly hangs back behind Towsland as the two moved towards the direction of the noise. Directing Leonard's flashlight to the front, Towsland keeps a steady pace with Demitri staying on Towlend's right side.
"Steady Sams…" Towslend cold be heard whispering, "…stay on my right…"
The sounds of running water was still audible, almost drowning out any other noise the closer they came to the drainage system. Demitri could feel the water current moving faster around his legs, compelling him to move forewords even faster, but he held his position against the increasing current.
Suddenly, they heard the same noise again, like some random splash as if something jumped into the water nearby. Keeping the light ahead of them, Towslend peered into the murky void, looking for anything; a shadow, ripples in the water that wasn't supposed to be there, or bubbles floating onto the water surface. All that the two could see was the concrete conduit walls and the faint light coming from the gutter grates above.
There it is again…that same splash was closer now, followed with a gurgling of air that was pulled underneath the water, now racing to the surface. The current was steady, not too strong, but not terribly weak either, and it was subtly pulling them towards whatever it was that laid ahead…moving closer…
Chapter 3: Raven Foliage Edit
The sudden splashing of water hit Demitri's face like a busted hole in a water hose squirting out of control, feeling the cool drops sting his warm balmy skin. Heavy panting could be heard, coming from whatever it was that splashing wildly in the knee-deep water.
In the near distance, Demitri could hear Sergeant Towslend laughing wholeheartedly at the squirming Private, futilely trying to keep the shaggy, wet mongrel off of him.
"I think he likes you, Private…" Towslend continued to chuckle at Demitri's expense.
"Then why doesn't he listen, shit…sit…heal…get off, dog!"
The scruffy canine wagged his damp tail furiously at the new company, panting heavily as his tongue jostled from his bottom jaw. It was blatantly obvious he was ecstatic to see them.
From behind, Josephine could tell by the jovial laughing that the coast was clear as he pulled away from the conduit wall and started to walk over to the Sergeant's position.
"C'mon boyos…not gonna let a wet hound scare us now are we?" the others could hear Josephine chuckle as they too began to gather themselves up from their positions.
"Goddamnit…now my fatigues are all fucking wet," Brussels griped after sitting in the deeper end of the conduit for nearly five minutes.
"Mind your profanity, Rod," Gaiman could be heard as he passed up Brussels, moving ahead. Brussels could only quietly grumble as he too picks up the pace and follows Giaman.
Moving up with the increasing current pushing the water, the four meander through the knee-deep muck, keeping their gaze focused on a anxious Demitri, whom was preoccupied with the overtly excited dog, constantly jumping up on him and licking his face.
"Ok, ok…yea, I love you too, damn…"
"Ahhhh, looks like Sams finally got himself a bitch to lick his nuts," Leonard mused as the Sergeant continued to laugh.
"It's a he, Lenny," Demitri protested, "…he's got his own balls to lick."
"Pfft, anything to keep him from jerkin' off at the John has got my approval…" Brussels could be heard as the others join him in laughter.
"Oh haha…that's so fucking funny, *ow, …hey, easy boy…that's my arm you just scratched…" Demitri griped as the dog splashes around him, barking playfully at the reluctant Private. Demitri stands back while putting his Lancer up on his back, trying to keep the dog at bay with both hands now.
"So how did this dog get past the Locust horde?" Gaiman had to ask, wondering why or how the Locusts missed him? Although their sense of sight was weaker on the surface, how could they have missed this smelly, noisy mutt?
"Either he's been living in this sewer for awhile, or them Grubs no longer occupy Gail. Perhaps they moved on to the next town, to look for more supplies," Towslend analyzed, knowing that if the Locusts did find him, they would've killed him for doggie burgers. It was a sobering thought, knowing they'd kill a man's best friend and use it for lunchmeat.
"Then that means there's no point in splitting up, right?" Demitri blurted out loud; one can hope.
"You're not getting out of it that easily, Sams…" Towslend mumbled in a callous, tired tone.
"You know I had to try, sir…"
"Dually noted, Private."
Brussels butted in from behind, "So what's the plan now?"
"Lenny and I will take the east, the rest of you boys go west. When you get to the surface, in the event there are no Grubs waiting us out, take point to the front of the courthouse. Lenny and I will meet you there, got it?"
Brussels could be heard groaning, "Ah, fuck."
"What was that, Private?"
"I mean, yes sir."
"Then don't just stand there, playing with yourselves, get going!"
Moving down the drainage conduit was oddly quiet, considering the whistling of the gusts of wind could be heard coming from the grates of the gutters that lead to the street surface. The water was shallower this time, barely covering their feet as they moved, splashing along with the help of their new member.
"Whoa, wait up, Sparky…" Demitri yelled out, trying to keep up with the dog.
"Sparky? What kind of shit name is that?" Brussels was the first criticize, as usual. Sparky stopped in his tracks, waiting with his tail wagging profusely.
"Oh I don't know, Rod…I think Sparky suits him just fine," Gaiman commented, moving ahead of the Private to join Demitri and his new friend.
"I have ta agree wit Roddy…why not call em cuisine, or bon appetite?" Josephine was the next to comment on Demitri's choice of name for the scruffy mutt. Brussels whips his head around as Josephine comes up from behind.
"Shit Josie…he's a dog, not dinner! The hell man," Brussels conveniently reminded odd-ball Corporal.
"…and he's da only food source we got, mon ami."
"Ok, guys, enough…seriously," Demitri finally intervened as the others join him, "…I'm sticking with Sparky, compared to the other names you would probably give him, Rod; like Fuckface, or Blueballs…and Josie, he's a dog, not lunchmeat, ok?"
"Whatever ya say, Sams," Josephine lightly chuckled as he approached the panting dog. Like clockwork, Sparky lit up and started to lick Josephine's hand, despite the others' discomfort about being near a guy who allegedly ate his cellmate when the prison personnel abandoned the facility shortly before the Locusts came, leaving the inmates behind in their cells to whatever fate was in store for them.
Brussels let out a full body shudder before looking up towards the sub-station entrance just ahead. Within seconds, Sparky ceased to lick Josephine's hand and ran ahead of them to the concrete steps. The wet dog stood on the balcony, next to the door, which was slightly open.
"Oh, you know dats not a good sign," Josephine muttered, glaring at the metal door that looked as if it had been forced open.
"Ah, crap," Brussels groaned, hating the idea of not knowing what lies ahead of them, just past that very door. I bet there's a pack of Wretches taking roost inside the substation.
"We need to keep moving men," Gaiman reminded them before taking initiative and is the first to walk carefully up the steps with Gnasher in hand. Sparky let's out an abrupt bark, waiting for the others to follow suit.
"Ok, ok, we're coming. Sheesh," Demitri griped as he too pulls out his Lancer and walks up the steps, while Brussels and Josephine follows behind him.
Keeping his back flushed along the wall, Gaiman keeps his Gnasher forward, carefully moving his head to peer around the partially open, metal door. Looking at the door under the faint light, he could make out the dent that ran along the seam, which consequently pushed it off the bottom hinge, bending the steel-ball bearing. Yea, this was definitely forced open.
Just as Gaiman peered around the frame, Sparky meandered around him and darts into the next room.
"Whoa, wait…" Gaiman hissed with a whisper, "…Sparky, wait!"
"Quick, follow him," Demitri blurted out.
"Hold your position, Private…we don't know what's in there," said Gaiman. He slithered around the doorframe and into the dimly lit room, with only the buzzing breaker box nearby illuminating the enclosed quarters. Scanning with precision, Gaiman makes no sudden movements, keeping his poise tranquil as he takes a glimpse to another open door that could possibly lead to the substation exit. Turning his head, he could see a light further down some corridor past the next metal door. It's going to be difficult to listen to oncoming Wretches with all this noise.
Gaiman quickly whipped his head back to find Demitri squeezing through the busted door.
"You see him? You see Sparky?" Demitri whispered to Gaiman.
"I believe he went that way…" Gaiman responded as he pointed his index finder towards the next door. His trail shouldn't be hard to follow…he has that distinct dog, smell.
Moving forward, Gaiman gets past the door and into the next corridor, in which Gaiman can visibly see the red exit sign ahead...just as I thought.Sparky was nowhere to be seen, but his smell was still potent to Gaiman's keen nose.
The other three move into the corridor, following Gaiman close behind as they follow through the concrete corridor with only the buzzing coming from the electrical output of the pipelines above. Another breaker box could be seen next to the exit door that too was partially open. The breaker box appeared mangled while the door was sound.
"Wait…hold…" Gaiman could be heard as he knelt down against the wall.
"Father? What is it?" Demitri had to ask.
"Something's not right. Back there, the door was forced open…but here, the door is in perfect condition. There's no sign of forced entry while the breaker box is shredded."
Josephine stood up while the others remained crouched, peering ahead to get a better look at the box. He tiptoed around the others before coming up in front of Gaiman, getting a better look at the mangled breaker box.
He reached over to get a feel of the mangled edges of the steel door that once covered the breaker controls.
"Careful Corporal…there's still electricity surging through those circuits," Gaiman reminded him.
"Aye…and den ya wouldn't have to listen ta me in confession all de time, now Father," Josephine rhetorically commented as he carefully leaned over, peering past the open door that lead out into town.
"Just as Sarge said…we're in town," Josephine mentioned.
"See any grubs man?" asked Brussels.
"What about Sparky?" Demitri is next to ask.
"Well shit! How can that dog just take off like that?" said Demitri.
"Ahhh, Sammy misses his mutt," Brussels began to mock.
"Hey, he's a lot better company than you are," Demitri sneered, "…he doesn't bitch all day!"
"Well, let's getta look, shall we?" Josephine said with a smug. He takes it upon himself to venture out into the open as the others tread carefully shortly behind him.
Moving out onto the surface after trekking through the sewer for over three hours, the light hit their eyes like a tone of bricks. Although the sky was overcast, the light still hung heavily over their pupils, still dilated from being underground awhile…shit, not again.
Demitri squinted; bringing his hand over his face, feeling the wind brush against him in short, abrupt gusts as dust and leaves flutter in all directions. The only thing he could readily see was the ground, littered with rubble, trash, and wild weeds, protruding through the cracks in the slab.
They were soon to realize that they were actually in the substation outhouse, with the roof long eradicated and one of the brick walls toppled on the ground. They could see downtown clearly through the side with the toppled wall. With bricks scattered all over the vicinity, the four peer out into town, looking for anything that may suggest Locust occupation.
Despite the mess and overgrowth, the town for the most part was intact. Old four-story buildings stood undisturbed while sand bags laid in piles in front of shops with broken glass windows. Trees were either sound or stripped of their bark and limbs, as if a twister came through, bouncing over one terrain while landing and decimating another. In the distance from were the men emerged, only one emergence hole could be seen, but it was apparent that it had been there for some time, judging from the overgrowth that infiltrated the burrows in the pavement.
"Shit man…you guys see anything?" Brussels began to verbalize his thoughts, wondering if the Sarge may have been right…maybe them Grubs did make like a baby and head out.
None of them dared to venture out into the open just yet. Gaiman pulls out his rifle to peer through the scope while Josephine quietly meanders on all fours along the toppled brick wall of the sub-station, slinking along the window frame to peer through the broken glass. The wood roof had apparently caved in, with three of the four walls still somewhat intact.
In the center of the block, they notice several monuments and a fountain of what appeared to be an elaborate architectural building, made up of some neo-modern Tyran style with two-story pillars at the front of a series of concrete steps on a slope. But something was out of place…something wedged into a pile of concrete chunks, dug into the broken slab as if it dropped right onto it.
Peering at the large object that was lying still in front of the municipal courthouse, the men soon find a reason to put aside their objective for the time being.
"Hey…is that what I think it is?" Demitri whispered as Gaiman peers through his riflescope.
"My friend, we're looking at KR 213…" Gaiman murmurered, glaring at the side of the fallen chopper, lying comatose next to the courthouse with it's numbers still intact along the chassis.
"Can we go in?"
"Scanning…" Gaiman slowly responded, searching for anything that may resemble an ambush. It wasn't unheard of for Locusts to sit and wait for Gears to come rescue pilots or other personnel from fallen craft, but judging by the debris that surrounded what was left of the craft suggested it had been down for at least a week. Locusts are not going to bother waiting us out that long.
"So Father, watcha got?" Demitri was the next to ask.
"Looks like the birds have started putting up a nest on the cowling…some heavy denting on the hull but no obvious punctures. Tail shaft is done, but the rest of the Raven appears sound…"
"…and I don tink Stranded has touched it," Josephine added, peering through the busted window using his detached scope.
"What makes you say that Josie?"
"Da pins are still in da chaingun turrets."
To those who didn't have access to a scope, the downed King Raven looked like a black heap from a distance, plopped right side up at a slant. It's chassis laid still in a pile of rubble in front of the courthouse.
The entire town was desolate. All that could be heard was the tattered flags on the flagpole nearby, fluttering from the sudden gusts of wind, and the trickling of water from the nearby fountain, recycling through a crack at it's basin. What was once a busy, peaceful town square was just a dead heap of rubble, trash, and debris as far as the eye can see. Automobiles sat lifeless, eroding from the elements while the paint peelings along building walls, reveal the plaster underneath their acrylic shells. Weeds peek through street cracks and sidewalks, waving in the breeze as dust is brushed up into the air.
The sounds of creaking metal could be heard coming from the fallen King Raven, lying idle along the courthouse steps with the only two in-tact blades waving in the abrupt gusts of wind. All else was still, with only the black birds cawing and flapping their wings near the fountain.
"I can't see anyone…what you got, Father?"
"Nothing is coming in view…" Gaiman let out a sigh, suspicious as to why there wasn't any Locust occupation, but nevertheless, his instincts suggested the area was abandoned.
"Damn…there's nothing here. We haven't seen a single Grub since Barnabas, man," Brussels pointed out in his usual sarcastic tone. Suddenly, Demitri's radio began to sound off.
"Demitri, whatta you have, over…"
"Shit, it's Sarge…we found a Raven; KR 213. It's lying out in the middle of the town square, in front of the courthouse."
"Is there activity?"
"Gaiman scanned the area, and as of yet we're not seeing any Grubs, nor Stranded…"
"Still, I want somebody taking point before any of you go out checking it out, just in case a Wretch has taken roost in it…"
"Affirmative Sarge. Who's gonna go out?"
"You and Brussels go out while Gaiman and Morrow take point..."
"…Leonard and I will check out the security point next to the Imulsion research facility. We'll meet up with once we've established a route."
"Roger that. Samson out."
Demitri could hear Brussels quietly cussing to himself while Josephine was deviously chuckling, loading more rounds into his rifle.
"Well, guess what Rodney," Demitri began before Brussels abruptly interrupted him.
"Yea, yea, I know the fucking drill," Brussels snorted as he gets up from the concrete block he'd been sitting on for twenty minutes, "…let's hurry and get this over with."
Crossing the street and onto the side walk adjacent from the side of the courthouse, Demitri and Brussels steadily move with their weapons in hand, taking glances around town square.
Moving past the scorch marks that ran along the slab, Demitri looked up at the Raven to get a glimpse of the dents in the hull. Geez, she landed a lot more graceful than the last one.Brussels slowed down his pace just so he could peer through the cockpit window.
"We'll need to check for bodies, man," Demitri softly reminded him.
"We'll also need to check for geobots…goddamnit, I'm really starting to hate this part of the job," Brussels began to rant.
"Shhh…man, if Gaiman hears you use God's name in vain…"
"Yea, yea, yea, I'll flog myself later…."
Just then, a faint noise could be heard from what appeared to be coming from the inside of the cabin. Demitri stopped in his tracks.
"…whoa, did you…"
"Shhh…shit man…the matter with you?" Brussels hissed before he slowly tiptoes around the cockpit and towards the cabin entrance.
Moving quietly, Demitri followed Brussels around the somewhat, lopsided hull, peering around the frame of the side entrance before another sound could be heard, but more audible than the first. Kneeling down before turning over his shoulder to glance back at Demitri, placing his index finger over his lip, Brussels then slowly moves towards the cabin entrance.
The mild clamoring was definitely coming from the inside of the Raven, but they were unsure as what to make of it; a Wretch maybe...or some Stranded looking for ammo. It wouldn't be a surprise to find a Stranded ransacking a bird after it crashed landed, often taking the ammunitions while leaving the injured crew, neglecting aid until they bled to death. It was a scenario the Gears were getting pretty tired of seeing…taking a man's gun while he's injured, and then leave him to die? What the hell do we become when we betray our own race?
Flushing their backs against the hull, Brussels carefully moves along towards the side entrance until he could see the fire extinguisher hanging on the back cabin wall. Turning his gaze over to Demitri, Brussels nodded his head, raising his hand and begins to count backwards…five…four…three…two…one.
Whipping around the corner of the frame, Brussels faces the cockpit side with Gnasher pointing at target when suddenly three black birds scurry out of the cabin, frantically flapping their wings as they bump along Brussels.
"ACK….fuck…" he blurted out loud, thrashing his arms to get the birds away from him, "…damn birds!"
Demitri quickly moves back, taking point behind Brussels before he realized that the cabin was empty, with only a bird's nest stashed up along the chassis in a corner.
"Gah…sweet motherfucker…" Demitri sighed with relief as he lowers his Lancer, "…and you had me going there, Rod."
"I had you going? Shit…" Brussels vented as he too relaxes, letting out a slight chuckle while Demitri shook his head at the whole thing.
"C'mon, let's see what we can find," Demitri suggests.
Demitri carefully climbs into the cabin and then attempts to stabilize on a slant chassis.
"Careful man…this thing's at least sitting at a thirty-degree slant," he warned Brussels before taking the next step along the gun turret.
"Josie was right. The turrets still have their chain belts…either this bird hasn't been ransacked yet, or they just left the big guns and took the rest. I'm not seeing any bodies…" Brussels observed, looking for anything that may resemble an ammo clip to a COG tag.
"Wait…I see the pilot…" Demitri peered towards the cockpit, recognizing the pilot's suit and insignia. The body appeared to be lying still on the cyclic stick.
"Either the gunners fell out, or they survived and took refuge someplace," Brussels began to ponder.
"I'll go in to see if his tags are still on. Check to see if there's any geobots around."
"Sure," Brussels mumbled as he managed to climb up along the cabin doorframe, holding himself up by placing his hand along the hull wall.
Keeping a hand along the hull to hold his balance while holding his Lancer with the other, Demitri slowly entered the cockpit and takes a quick glance, before an object comes down on the side of his head, turning his world into nothing but a black, murky void. The sudden clank of an object being smacked into another object startled Brussels as he whipped his head around towards the cockpit with Gnasher in hand.
"Shit Samson…watch where you're going man," Brussels blurted out as he staggered his way over to the cockpit entrance before an object comes flying towards him, projected towards his head, and lands. The sudden contact of metal being smacked onto his forehead causes him to drop his Gnasher while he stumbled backwards, catching himself along the hull wall.
"Fuck…the hell…" he managed to spit out before someone comes running out, ramming into him and shoving him back. The world goes for a spin as Brussels falls backwards, landing on his ass before the hull wall abruptly stops his head.
"Brussels…Samson…what's going on down there? You guys alright?" Gaiman could be heard coming from Brussels' earpiece. The dark figure that just shoved Brussels to the cabin floor quickly scanned the area before grabbing Brussels's Gnasher that he dropped on the floor. Within seconds, the figure slithered out from the bottom of the hull before Brussels could even pull himself back up.
"Hey mon ami…oh shit…seomone's making a go from the other side of dat bird…" Josephine could be heard on the squawk.
Trying to pull himself back up, Brussels brings the receiver back onto his headpiece,
"Well don't just stand there playing with your dick, Josie! Shoot the bastard!"
"I don have a clear line of fire…dis one knows dere's snipers out…"
"Gah…Fuck!" Demitri could be heard bellowing from the cockpit, trying to stabilize from an apparent blow to the head. He wearily peered out with blood caked over the left side of his forehead.
"Ah shit…could use some help down here, goddamnit! That son of a bitch has my Gnasher…" Brussels growled into his receiver before wearily jumping out of the fallen Raven with his Lancer in hand, searching diligently for their attacker. Before he could even act, a sudden brush of running footsteps could be heard nearby as Brussels looks up and sees Gaiman darting over several heaps of sandbags.
"TO THE COURTHOUSE…he went into the courthouse!" Gaiman yelled out in between pants, keeping his projectory towards the courthouse entrance.
"Sams, we're headin' to the courthouse…" Brussels yelled into the Raven cabin and then staggers over the scattered debris, following Gaiman over to the courthouse entrance.
"Say what?" Demitri yelled back, crawling over to the cabin ledge before plopping down and clutching his head, "…fuck..."
Rubbing the back of his head, he could feel the knot swelling into a goose egg from being hit by something hard, but by who or what still baffled him. Shaking it off as best he could, he got back up on his feet again, gripping his Lancer tightly. He moved carefully over the chunks of rubble littered around the fallen craft before he heard noises of birds flapping and cawing.
"Damn birds…" he muttered dizzily, keeping his focus to the awkward ground.
Suddenly without warning, Demitri could feel his body sway as something catches him off balance, and is propelled forwards. He hits the rocky ground with enough force to slightly bounce back before finally crashing down, and then feels something anchoring him to the heap of rubble against the back of his head.
The fuck…he could feel a something hard pressed up against his already aching cranium as the birds flapped around his radio piece he accidentally dropped from falling forwards.
"Sam…Sam, we lost him man…you better get back up here…" he could hear coming from the receiver of his earpiece lying nearby. Vaguely, he could see it lying several feet in front of him amongst the scattered chunks of rubble, but didn't dare to move his head to get a look at what it was that was anchoring his head down.
"HEY YOU…" he suddenly heard someone yelling nearby.
Demitri subtly looks up, trying to make out a figure over the rubble while his head was still forced down onto the ground. Whoever had what felt like a cold piece of steel pressed against the back of his head, was diligent about keeping it there while he laid helplessly on the ground, feeling the rocks and gravel stick to his already bloodied, grimy face.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you…if I were you, I'd be better off letting him go…" Demitir could here that same voice again. It's Sergeant Towslend…oh, thank God!
"We can go one of two ways…"
Goddamnit, will you just shoot the bastard? I'm tired of breathing this dirt up my fucking nose.
"…and I'm sure dying isn't foremost on your list of prerogatives."
Wait…something's not right. Why in the hell is he trying to negotiate with this asshole?
Feeling the hard steel slide over around his head and pressed against the side of his cheek, Demitri started to choke on his own saliva as he feels someone's knee, or boot, pressed against his upper back…I'm so fucked!
Chapter 4: Bad Company Edit
What if this whole crusade's a charade, and behind it all there's a price to be paid for the blood on which we dine, justified in the name of the holy and the divine.
Just how deep do you believe? Will you bite the hand that feeds? Will you chew until it bleeds? Can you get up off your knees? Are you brave enough to see?
- Nine Inch Nails 
Of all the things Private Demitri would normally expect during this mission, it sure as hell wasn’t this. The cold, alloy steel from the end of the barrel of a shotgun pressed upon the side of his face was not something he was prepared for. The awkward silence that hovered between him and the entity that was holding him at gunpoint kept the other Gears on edge as they too kept their Lancers pointed at the strangely obscure figure that Demitri couldn’t make out with his limited peripheral vision. All he knew was that it definitely wasn’t a Locust; too short, and he doesn’t have that funky stench on him.
Locust have a smell; a rather distinctive stench that resembled something of a concoction between damp, moldy soil and stale meat. Although it was pretty distinctive amongst dead Locusts, it was ten times worse on the living…but it was especially potent on Wretches.
Not this one, though. He’s probably a Stranded, Demitri had to guess, although the Stranded have a peculiar body odor as well, and he didn’t find it on this one either. So who in the hell is pointing the fucking Gnasher in my face?
Feeling the side of his face mashed into the gravel beneath him while the barrel held his head in place, sweat started to profusely dribble down his chin. Literally trapped between rocks and a hard place, all Demitri could do was sweat bullets, while Sergeant Towslend was trying to find something of a resolution with whomever had the Gnasher pressed against the side of Demitri’s face.
“You wanna keep any of the ammunitions and that there shotgun that you just took, be my guest…all we want is the contents that was stolen from the fallen Raven and my subordinate. You can keep the rest of the shit…”
“Oh, c’mon Sarge…”
“Shut the fuck up, Brussels! Next time don‘t drop your gun like a fucking, pants on head, retard! You should be lucky she didn’t take your Lancer…”
Demitri could feel some ease coming from the barrel that was mashed into his face, but it was still close enough that he could still smell the bitter bore solvent Brussels used to clean it the night before.
The figure didn’t speak, nor gesture, other than move an arm, indicating something that Demitri couldn’t make out by watching the figure’s shadow, but he knew from the blank expression on the Sergeant’s face, negotiating was going to be a lot more complex than he wanted it to be.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. I have orders, and that is to deliver that intel to my commanding officer, come hell or high water…”
Suddenly Demitri could feel the barrel mash back against his cheek, shoving the side of his head back to the gravel littered ground…oh shit, this is it! I’m a dead man.
“Fuck, it’s no use Sarge,” Brussels blurted out in anticipation with his hands gripping his Lancer tightly.
“Shut up, Rodney…hold your weapon and that’s an order,” Towslend hissed, trying not to startle their adversary.
Oh please don’t shoot my head off…Demitri fretted to himself as the sweat drenched the ground underneath him.
“Esch, vein!” the figure snapped back in an unfamiliar accent while the Sergeant held his ground. Looking up with his peripheral vision, Demitri could only guess that Brussels, Leonard and Gaiman were just trying to keep their distance.
“The fuck did she just say?” Brussels blurted out.
“Esch moin ensch…” the figure sneered again, this time in a more spiteful tone. Yea, just piss her off even more why don’t you, Demitri grumbled to himself, feeling the sweat accumulate between the end of the smooth barrel pressed against his clammy skin. Glancing back up at his squad, he noticed that the four were just standing there, not making any effort to move or advance. For fuck‘s sake, will you just shoot her already? Wait…where’s Josephine?
Without warning, Demitri felt the barrel that was pressed against his cheek, released before something shoved him to his side, stirring up the dust as he whipped around to find his captor struggling in a vice, trapped between Josephine’s bare bicep and his forearm, pressed against the side of her neck. Putting pressure against her elusive jugular, Demitri’s captor struggles violently, kicking with her legs and gnashing with her teeth while Josephine is adamant about keeping his grip on her neck, despite her thrashing. The Gnasher falls from her weakened grip and plummets to the ground as she tried to claw her way out with both hands.
“Dat’s it…” Josephine whispered in her ear, holding her in his unwavering grip before her thrashing began to ease down, “…it’ll all be al’right in three…two…one…”
With ease, Demitri’s captor slips into unconsciousness as her body relaxes and starts to slump. One by one, her limbs go limp and the cringing expression in her painted face softens. Josephine carefully lowered his captive in leather-clad armor dressings to the dusty ground, kneeling down with her flaccid body. She was out cold.
“Shit Josephine, it took you long enough…” Brussels sneered, still keeping his Lancer pointed at the comatose, wild woman, just in case.
Towslend lowered his Lancer in relief, turning his attention to Josephine.
“Damn Marrow…see if you can find any paraphernalia on that Feral…” he uttered.
Holy shit, that’s a Feral? So that’s who we’ve been chasing? Demitri mumbled to himself as he rolled over onto his back, taking a breather from having his face buried into the gravel for what seemed like an eternity.
Although Demitri had heard of the Feral, he had never actually seen one. It was said that they were always on the move, often distorting their tracks to hide their numbers while accumulating armaments, supplies, and anything else they could use for survival. The last known contact with a Feral was when Beta Five came across what was once a Stranded holding house.
Looking carefully at the Feral’s dressings, Josephine manages to unbuckle her bandolier that was strapped over her bosom plate made of a thick leather-like material; too thick and plated ta be cow leather. Josephine could only guess that perhaps the Feral preferred hardier, more exotic hides than the usual livestock from cows or pigs.
Judging by her dusty attire, she’d probably been out in the area for a while now. Her pale face was marked with war paint, caked over by the dust grain similar to the dust on her dark, leather armor. Her thick blonde hair was cropped and shuffled, with a few ends rusty in color; some funky red dye…or even dried blood perhaps.
Although she appeared practiced, with some slightly noticeable grazing on her shoulder guards and chest plate, her face was round and softly contoured. Even with the heavy makeup and dirt layered on her skin, anyone could have easily made out the soft feminine features on her façade. Nevertheless, regardless how young or naïve she may appear, Gears know not to underestimate any Feral, especially one in captivity.
Marrow continued to search the comatose Feral as if it was no big deal. Most men with any common sense were pretty hesitant when it came to handling a Feral; armed or not. The last time they could recall a Gear holding a Feral prisoner, it didn’t end well. The unarmed Feral, despite her hands zip-tied behind her back, managed to sweep her captor onto the ground by plowing her boot against the calf of his leg, knocking him backwards. Before anyone could react, she was already on top of him, ravaging his face with her ridged ivories. After several attempts to get her off, another Gear had to finally shoot her in the head before she mauled her victim to death. After everything was said and done, they had a dead Feral lying in their morgue, and a traumatized Gear whom ended up blind in one eye with permanent scarring on the right side of his face. Whether Marrow ever got that memo, Demitri couldn’t recall…but then again, he’s been sitting in a cell for five, long years, along with rest of the worst of what humanity had to offer. I guess after constantly watching your back day in and day out, twenty-four seven, one, malicious little Feral wouldn’t be of concern.
“How long do we have, Josephine?” Towslend asked while Marrow continued to search through her paraphernalia without pause.
“An hour maybe,” he responded as he removed her belt pack and starts to rummage through it, “…hello, what da we have here?”
“What we got, Marrow?” Towslend peered over Josephine’s shoulder, watching him pull out what appeared to be several, USB storage devices.
“I tin’k dis little cher has been into da some databases,” Josephine mused, lifting them up for Towslend to see.
“I thought all intel would have been eradicated shortly before the Locusts attacked it…” Brussels blurted out, glancing at the memory cards dangling from Josephine’s hand.
“They were supposed to,” Towslend recollected, wondering if the personnel had time to wipe out their databases. Josephine hands him the cards.
“Perhaps dey did da next best thing, and hid em someplace…” Josephine took a guess, and then he resumed his search for anything else.
“And I’m willing to bet those disks are coded in Tyran,“ Gaiman added as he too gazes at the USB cards in Towslend‘s hand.
“So it’s probably safe to say this Feral is probably familiar with the Tyran language…” said Towslend, placing the memory cards into his pack, “…we need to get these to a nearby console to get a look at em‘.”
Leonard walked over to a dust-ridden Demitri as he helped him get up off of the sandy, gravel meshed on the ground. Demitri’s face was caked in sand and dried blood as he clutched the front of his head.
“Shit Sams…she got you good,” Leonard could be heard as he dusted the sand out of Demitri‘s hair. Demitri gave Leonard a sarcastic look, not one to be willing to admit he got owned by a girl.
“How does it look, man?” Demitri had to ask, judging by the dried blood he had slathered on the side of his face. His nose and neck was caked in sand from the sweat that dribbled down his cheek. Leonard rummaged around Demitri’s matted brown hair, carefully examining his gash.
“Eh, just a shallow cut…pretty standard for a close-in strike. The head’s always worse than it looks. You’re lucky she didn’t have the room to really wack ya!”
“Yea, well, she clocked me in the cockpit.”
“I didn’t see her…”
“Which means she was waiting for you…” Gaiman could be heard analyzing the situation, based on what little they knew about her, “…she must have known that we were here.”
“Um hm…or perhaps we jus startled her…” Josephine mumbled.
“Well hell, how long do ya think this girls’ been runnin’ around these parts, stealin’ shit?” Leonard began to think out loud, wondering what else this chick’s been into.
“How the hell should we know, man?” Brussels sneered, “…for all we know, she could have been here not longer than several hours.”
“I’m guessin’ several weeks…” Josephine answered out loud.
“How’d you figure, Josie?” Leonard asked.
“Yea, how do you figure that, Marrow?” Brussels scoffed as he watched Josephine remove her ammo clips from her belt, and holds them out for the others to see.
“Dese ammo clips…dere not Gear issue. Only Raven pilots carry dese,” Josephine elaborated, removing a Snub custom round from one of the cartridges; a specific caliber for all Raven pilots, in the event they were to be grounded.
“How many she’s got dere?” Leonard asked.
“About…oi…eighty-four rounds, mon amie,” Josephine answered in surprise. Although it wasn’t totally unheard of for a Feral to steal Gear ammunitions, but to acquire that many ammo clips from Raven pilots involves a process that took time.
“She knew where to get em and how…I’m wonderin if she killed a wounded pilot or two, just to get to em…” said Leonard.
“I doubt that,” Gaiman began, “…it’s not like a Feral to blow her cover, just for the sake of acquiring ammo.”
“…and judging by the condition of the last two Ravens we encountered, there’s no way the pilot would’ve survived,” said Towslend while gazing at the Feral’s collection of armaments, “…nah, she didn’t kill em…steal from them, sure, but not kill em, especially since she’s got more intel in her stash than clips!”
“Look’s like the little bitch s’ been busy…” Brussels added, “…so now whatta we do with her now?”
“Judging by the all this shit she’s been collecting, she may have been here long enough to possibly know what happened to the personnel at the research facility,” said Towslend, “we’ll need to question her.”
“How could this little bitch know or even care as to what happens to a bunch of COG researchers?”
“Because that’s what a Feral scout does…to collect intel and return to their camp,”
“How do you know she’s a scout? Come to think of it, how do you know so much about this Feral anyway?”
“Feral scouts travel alone, unlike their Coyote’s, who travel in groups of pairs, up to eight foot soldiers, so to say…and her armor is light.”
“How do we know she’s alone?” Gaiman asked with concern, hoping that there weren’t any Coyote’s nearby, waiting them out. Despite his own, well-known tracking skills, Feral have a cunning means in keeping their trace indistinct. He would know; he’s attempted to track them once before when a COG supply house was mysteriously ransacked. The only thing that Gaiman could find that gave her away was her then, potent pheromone scent…which meant she was in heat while she stole from the warehouse. That must’ve been inconvenient.
“She’s got food packets…jerky, a huntn’ knife…canteen. If she wasn’t, Demitri wad be long dead by now…” Josephine responded as he opened up the canteen and brings up to his nose to take a sniff.
“I'm just at a loss as to why she would expose herself like this? It’s not like a Feral to be careless about being out in the open like this, much less attack a squadron of Gears…” Towslend observed.
“She’s dehydrated. Water’s in short supply har…” Josephine replied, “…her canteen’s empty.”
“Of course…she’s desperate. There’s not a ample supply of clean water anywhere within a twenty mile radius,” Gaiman added.
“All of humanity’s desperate, Gaiman. That may explain the recent Feral sightings…they’re running out of options too,” Towslend explained, “…the Hammer of Dawn attack probably condensed their once expansive territories, forcing them north. They’re scavenging for survival like the rest of us, only they may be running out of places to hide.”
“From everyone…Gears, Locusts, Stranded…”
“They’re stealing munitions, so they must be running out of supplies to make their own” Gaiman observed.
“And what better to find a supply of ammo and armaments than some fallen Ravens,” Demitri added.
“Only I don’t tink she’s just looking fer armaments,” said Josephine as he turns her relaxed body over onto her stomach, bringing her wrists to her back and tying them with a zip-tie.
“Oh c’mon Josie, she’s packin’ Snub rounds, what else could she be after?” Brussels griped.
“Aha…found it!” Josephine blurted out as he held up a geobot in his hand.
“Whoa, crap! Is that what I think it is?”
“Ah man…she’s gonna be pissed when she wakes up. I say we just shoot her now before she bites somebody’s balls off,” Brussels proposed, without an immediate protest coming from the others.
“No Rod…we need to figure out what she knows,” Gaiman suggested, not too fond of the idea of executing another human being, solely based on the modest evidence.
“Fuck that shit! You know she’s gonna gut us the first chance she gets,”
“Not if we dangle dis here fresh canteen,” Josephine proposed as he pulls out his canteen, shaking the contents inside, flashing a smug grin, “…she’s no dumb cher. I‘m sure we can come ta some…understanding.”
Chapter 5: Getting Acquainted EditFrail, the skin is dry and pale, the pain will never fail,
And so we go back to the remedy.
Clip the wings that get you high, just leave them where they lie,
And tell yourself, "You'll be the death of me."
- ~Seether~ 
Sergeant’s Log, Date: 15 A.E. Bloom
Since we left Barnabus to Gail, we’ve not encountered any Locust resistance, nor come across any Grub outposts within Gail’s downtown district. As of now, we have no evidence to even back up Locust occupation in Gail within the past week. It’s as if they came through, took whatever it was they wanted, and then left town just as quickly. The only resident’s we’ve come across here is flocks of black birds and a stray dog. We’ve also recently came across a fallen Raven, which was apparently in the process of being ransacked by a Feral. What or why she exposed herself like that is unclear. My scout managed to put her out so we’re waiting for her to come around for questioning, although I wouldn’t depend on her for cooperation. We guess that she’s struggling to survive like the rest of us, but the fact that she’s been hanging around town here for probably a least a few days, maybe she can enlighten us on what happened here, and who or why, sent off a distress signal from the research facility.
- Sergeant Robert Towslend
Patience was normally not one of Demitri’s better qualities, but in this instance, he wasn’t much in a hurry for their Feral prisoner to wake up. It had been nearly fifty minutes since Josephine managed to sneak behind her and make her pass out by restricting the blood flow to her brain by placing pressure on her jugular. Since then, they’ve stripped her of stolen armaments, contraband, data disks, and Brussels’ stolen Gnasher. Needless to say, when she wakes up, she’s going to be very upset…and that was going to be an experience Demitri wasn’t all that looking forward to witness.
All Demitri could do was sit and wait, watching her body twitch occasionally, as if she was reacting to something in a dream state. He was hoping that the zip-ties Josephine placed on her wrists and boots, would keep her from ripping someone a new one, despite no one bothered to place anything over her mouth to keep her from biting. Nothing was more loathing than getting bitten by another human being, especially when you don’t know what diseases they could be carrying; but with Feral, it was potentially even worse.
It was rumored that the Feral would ritualistically expose themselves to certain types of venoms, or poisons, to help their bodies build some immunity to the toxins. They would subject themselves to the toxins in small enough doses to avoid a fatal reaction, and would continue to do so with controlled doses until their bodies showed little, if any reaction. This aided their systems in deflecting these same poisons that they would use to coat their cutlery armor, and sometimes firearms, as a defense against aggressors, which can be lethal to any Stranded or sometimes a Gear, if they were to make contact with these same instruments. It was this same rumor that alluded to the theory that if an unsuspecting Gear was ever bitten by a Feral, he would have to get a shot in the ass, just in case the toxin was transferable through saliva, especially since most Feral whom have gone through the latter process, often did it by ingestion.
Still keeping his gaze on their captive Feral, Demitri couldn’t tell for the life of him if this chick was poisonous or not…and we don’t have access to a nearby medic. While still contemplating of the all the horrible things this woman was going to do to them when she gets up, Josephine on the other hand, was sitting adjacent from Demitri with his legs crossed, slowly sharpening his knife with ease as he moved the grinding stone along the edge of the blade. Moving his gaze to his unconventional squad mate, Demitri began to observe the wear and tear on the bottom of Josephine’s boots, which suggested that Josephine probably got second-hand equipment. The soles looked brand new, which probably replaced the older, worn soles before being “handed down,” to the next Gear who could use them, but the faded leather that sat above the steel toe underneath was fraying while the plate-guard above the vamp and lace straps looked as if it had some pretty close calls in it’s military career.
It wasn’t uncommon for the later recruits, which consisted mostly of conscripts, newbies, and felons to get last dibs on the newer armor and gear, especially since they didn’t have any factories to mass produce them anymore. They often got what they could get, sometimes from the deceased, and had to customize their armor using crude means. Josephine managed to accommodate his slender frame using a solder and spare parts from “retired” equipment, consisting mostly of fragmented pieces, or remnants from the Pendulum War.
He removed a few links from the rib plates and substituted them with a leather girdle that could be cross-tied. It allowed him some freedom to move his limber waist more freely than the conventional armor would have normally permitted. This complimented Josephine’s ability to squeeze himself into places that most Gears wouldn’t even think of doing, but there was a trade-off. The more armor plates he removed, the more vulnerable he was to Locust firepower; however, in his hindsight, there was one piece of philosophy he always went by and it was something he had to learn during his incarceration in prison...if you couldn’t forestall the movements of your opponent, then you’re already a dead man.
Moving in and out of a daze, Demitri would barely hear the audible sounds of the others nearby, with the Sergeant trying to make contact with command, but the something was impeding the frequency. Usually when a radio frequency is jammed, it’s usually due to a Seeder nearby, but nobody has seen a Locust, not even a wretch. Could they be camping just outside of the town, nearby, he thought to himself, but there wasn’t any evidence pointing to a Locust occupation, and even if they did come through, they didn’t stay for too long. Man, this whole place doesn’t make sense.
Redirecting his gaze back to the Feral, the twitching in her body was becoming more frequent as a moaning could be audibly heard, followed with a sudden flush of tension in her facial expression. Watching her nervously, he hissed at Josephine, whom was still casually sharpening his knife.
“Psst, Josie…I think she’s coming around…” Demitri whispered, catching Josephine’s attention and looks up. He peered around Demitri to get a glance at their twitching Feral prisoner.
“So she is…” Josephine murmured with a smug.
Putting his knife back into the sheath he had strapped to his thigh, Josephine got up and brushed his fatigues before strutting over to their prisoner, catching a glimpse of her jerking movements as she began to moan more frequently than before. Stirring under the restraints of the zip-ties, she suddenly opened her eyes. A panic swept over her facial expression as her dragon green eyes widen at the predicament she found herself in.
“Einwe frien,” she barked, tossing and turning, trying to overcome the restraints that had her arms and legs locked behind her back. She grunted with each attempt, trying to free herself from the restraints, but the more she fought against it, the more irate she got. Josephine could only chuckle at her feeble attempt, watching the little woman growl at him in spite, flashing the Gears a menacing scowl with her wide, green eyes and her ivory white teeth.
“Jehwei esch moaen…” she snapped at Demitri and Josephine, yanking on the zip-ties. Her outburst startled Demitri to the point he started to back away, while Josephine just held his ground and marveled at the irate, little wench. The commotion caught the attention of the other Gears nearby as they look over and to see what the noise was.
“Oi, I think she likes you, mon amie…” Josephine scoffed with amusement, as Demitri still kept what he hoped would be a safe distance from the irate Feral.
“Yea, whatever, Josie,” Demitri could only sneer in return, keeping his eyes fixed on the squirming woman as the others come into the area.
“Aw, fuck…” Brussels began as he turns over his shoulder, “…HEY SARGE, I TOLD YOU SHE’D BE PISSED.”
“Yea man, you just keep yelling…scare her even more than she already is, jerkoff,” Demitri sneered at Brussels, keeping the space between him and the angry Feral a comfortable distance.
“Hey, fuck you Sams! I don’t see you doing anything to get her to calm down,” Brussels snapped back.
“Alright, enough!” Towslend could be heard as he walked into the circle of Gears surrounding the squirming, growling Feral, occasionally gnashing her teeth to anyone she felt was too close, “…Brussels, give me your canteen.”
“Now! That’s an order Private!”
“Alright, alright…shit,” Brussels griped before pulling out his canteen and handing it to the Sergeant, “…tell me you’re not going to…”
Before Brussels could finish, Towslend knelt down to whack the restless Feral on the head with the canteen, consequently knocking her sideways into the sandy ground. The sudden contact at least got her to shut up as she landed on her side, gagging on the sand that made it into her mouth when she fell. She tries to spit the contents out while turning her restrained body onto her stomach for better leverage, forcing the dirt out of her mouth.
It took a few moments as the men stood around her, keeping quiet as they watched her spit on the ground before prostrating herself onto her knees, keeping herself hunched over while collecting her breath from the coughing. Silently looking up at the Sergeant with a burrowed glare, Towslend attempted to redirect her attention to the metal container in his hand by shaking the contents in it.
“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Brussels started to complain, “…that’s my water, man…”
“Shut the fuck up Rod,” Towslend snarled slightly over his shoulder while keeping an eye on the wide eyed Feral.
“What’s your name Feral…and don’t play stupid with me! I know damn well you can understand what I’m saying.”
Sitting still for a moment, her eyes move back and forth between the Sergeant and Demitri, breathing heavily as her diaphragm works diligently. Her grimy, wild gaze turns to the Sergeant, with nothing to say, just a gesture of defiance as she abruptly spits in his face.
Feeling the spat of saliva hit his right cheek, Towslend is still for moment after letting out a long sigh.
“Gee Sarge…I think you just got told,” Brussels scoffed, while Towsland just sat still for the moment, his jaw clenched before he slowly reaches into his pack for a rag, and then wiped the spit from his face.
“Fine…have it your way,” said Towslend before he began to remove the cap to the canteen. The men anxiously watch, feeling the tension radiating from the Feral as the Sergeant kept his gaze locked onto hers. Lifting the canteen he still had in his hand, making sure that she could see it clearly, he slowly began to tip the canteen, turning it almost a forty-five degree angle before seeps of water could be seen coming out from the nozzle.
“Hey…aw c’mon Sarge,” Brussels protested again.
“Shut your yapper Brussels,” Towslend growled while still keeping his gaze to the Feral, whom was watching the canteen inventively, slowly pouring out the desperately needed water onto the dry, cracked ground. Just as soon as the water made contact, the thirsty dirt ground, the sand soon usurped the water, leaving only a slight damp spot for a few seconds, and then went dry as the crust cracked and curled.
The stunned face of the Feral quivered at the sight of water being wasted needlessly. Her dry, cracked lips felt the notion betray her as her yearn for water started to pull at her conscience. Just as another drop slipped from the nozzle and onto the parched ground, she muttered abruptly,
“Hmm…what was that sweetheart?” Towslend mused while hinting in a passive expression.
“I talk…ok?” she growled grudgingly.
“I’m sorry…did you say that you will talk?”
Her brow drooped heavily over her parched eyes, glistening from the tears accumulating from the ducts as the sand started irritate her eyes.
“I…can…talk,” she emphasized, hoping that this would be the last time she had to conform to this Gears’ little game.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk…I’m sorry darlin,’” Towslend was shaking his head while putting the cap back onto the canteen. The others watched in awe, contemplating the tricks this old man still had up his sleeve, with the exception of Brussels, who was still pouting over his canteen of water being poured onto the ground.
“The time for us to talk is over,” Towslend continued as he stood up from the kneeling position, letting out a grunt as his stiff back was slowly catching up with him, “…I have orders and I can’t be lollygagging about your little stint with this here Raven.”
“You have me storage chips…but you no not codes…” she abruptly elaborated as Towslend stopped in his tracks to redirect his attention to the dusty, weathered Feral still sitting in her knees with her hands tied behind her back.
“Codes? What codes?”
“You no have security access codes…”
“Well idn’t that a total surprise,” Leonard spoke up, wondering why the research facility had to have security codes for Imulsion experimentation, especially if the COG was running it.
Towslend could only shake his head as he looked up to the buildings ahead, knowing that just behind them was the research facility. There’s something not right here, Towslend couldn’t help but to ponder; command didn’t give me any details about this place.
Keeping his gaze to the buildings as the men watched him attentively, seeing the tension coming from the side of his jaw, indicating that he was in a tight spot as far as their objective was concerned. Demitri could make out that very same expression when the Sergeant was suspicious about orders, but then again, we all knew that this was a shit assignment.
Suddenly, Towslend turns back around towards the Feral, taking the cap off of Brussels canteen as he knelt down in front of her. Carefully lifting the canteen to the front, he gestures to her to take a drink.
The fatigued Feral was weary, slightly leaning away form him, wondering if she should even trust him, but the tired, candid expression coming from Towslend’s face was soothing, and the ozone scent coming form the canteen was too sweet to her nostrils to just let it pass by. Without further hesitation, she carefully leaned over as her parched lips made contact to the lid. Tipping the canteen ever so slightly, Towslend watched the water begin to pour into her thirsting mouth. She gasped the moment the water met her lips, drinking it as fast as it poured, slurping down every drop.
It was a sight the men savored as they watched her close her dusty eyes while taking the water in, feeling the compulsion to drink themselves. Just as Towslend tips the canteen even further, letting her drink the last of the contents inside, she is rattled as he detached the bottle from her lips. Coughing a few times before taking several rapid breaths of air, she begins to pant. As a few drops slither down her dust-caked chin, the dirt darkened along the water line that ran down her jaw and neck, exposing the amount of dust layered on her exposed skin…she has been here awhile.
“What’s your name?” Towslend asked gently. The Feral looked up with her teary, red eyes.
“V…Vera…” she responded with ease.
“Well Vera, I don’t suppose you know what has happened here?”
Looking at him with sober eyes, she shook her head,
“I don’t…what you mean?”
“The Locusts came through here, right?”
“How long ago?”
Vera’s gaze drooped to the ground, as if she was rummaging through her thought closet, looking for a file to indicate when the Locust came through Gail.
“They be here, many week ago,” she answered as she looked up at him.
“Wait, are you saying…that the Locusts came here, what, how many weeks ago?”
“Three weeks ago?”
The others turned to look at each other, bemused by the revelation of Vera’s statement. Although they were not quite ready to put their trust into this Feral, but they didn’t see any reason for her to lie about the Locusts either. As far as they knew, the Feral hate the Locust just as much as they do.
Scratching his forehead, Towslend then dropped his hand as he turned his attention back to Vera.
“Ok then. How long ago did they leave?”
“They only be here two days…”
“You mean to tell me…that they came here, ransacked that there research facility,” he said, pointing towards the building ahead of them, “…then captured, or hell, maybe killed all the scientists there, and then just left…in two days?”
Vera’s gaze turned into puzzlement as she took glances at each of the men and then turned back to Towslend.
The ease in the air took an awkward turn; the kind of awkward that didn’t even find a place to settle on, it just hovered in space, forever festering in a zone. Towslend’s brow drooped over his dull, gray eyes as the crows feet swelled while he squinted under the midday haze. The valleys and trenches that ran over his mouth slumped with the rest of his frown.
“So where are we at sir?” Gaiman could be heard, trying to redirect something of a calm amongst the men, knowing that their mission just slipped on a banana peel.
Without even so much as entertaining the men with a response, Towslend just simply pulls out his knife as he walked over to Vera, still sitting on her knees. Kneeling down behind her, he carefully lifts her arms.
“It’s alright…nobody’s here to hurt you,” he said calmly as Vera willingly stood still for the Sergeant.
Realizing what he was trying to do, Brussels is the first to speak up.
“Whoa wait…you’re just going to cut her loose?”
“Sir, if I may…” Leonard began before Towslend cuts him off.
“I’m not in the mood to hear it, men…” he sneered as he cuts through the zip-tie that had Vera’s wrists strapped together.
Feeling the sudden release in tension in her arms, Vera slumped to the ground, letting out a moan as she slowly moved her arms to get the stiffness out. Crawling to the other side, Towslend then released the zip-tie that held her feet together, as her legs flared out to release them from the tight, uncomfortable confinement.
Standing back up, Towslend then turned his attention to the men.
“We still have an objective, regardless whatever can of worms we may end up having to open, we still have a job to do…and that’s to go in and look for survivors.”
“And if dere’s none?” Josepehine asked.
“Then, as far as I’m concerned Corporal, our mission here is done. We go in, we get out…unless,” Towslend turned his gaze over to a fatigued Vera, “…unless there is something you can enlighten us about this place?”
Looking up at the Sergeant while still knelt down on the ground, Vera rubbed the back of her neck as she replied,
“I no go, in that place.”
“So I guess you can’t tell us what’s inside there, huh?”
Vera sat in dismay as her face went pale. A fear struck her as she leaned over to one side, moving her gaze to the buildings ahead.
“I don’t like it…that place I mean…”
“…and why not?”
“Whoa wait, like somebody screaming?” Demitri butted in.
Brussels started to gripe.
“Ok then what…like some fucking ghost, or something?”
Vera’s gaze dropped down to the ground once more as the men just stood there baffle by her testimony. The more she answered their questions, the more bizarre it got, so the men just stopped asking, with the exception of one.
“Alright Vera…would it be too much to ask if you can at least take us to a more, prudent entrance to this place? Preferably a back door maybe?”
“Yes. That I can do.”
Chapter 6: God's Country Edit
Dream beneath a desert sky,
The rivers run but soon run dry,
We need new dreams tonight.
Dreamed I saw a desert rose,
Dress torn in ribbons and in bows,
Like a siren she calls to me.
Sleep comes like a drug,
In God's country.
Sad eyes, crooked crosses,
In God's country.
- U2 
“I pray in our Heavenly Fathers’ name. Go in peace…”
…Gaiman could hear the words of his father, echo forever in his memory, in almost every aspect of his life, especially within those moments when they’re at their bleakest. It was days like these those words will often remind him where he is in the grand scheme of things; those very same things that he cannot explain.
So here we are, following a Feral we’ve captured, to the Imulsion research facility, in exchange for water. Something’s not right…Gaiman could only ponder to himself, wondering why this Feral would even remotely aid them. Rumor had it that a Feral would rather face death before ever bowing down to any man’s will, but then again, there’s other forces at work here. Gaiman could only imagine what it was that she feared about the research facility. She said it “wails,” of what the Gears of Theta Six could gather in her somewhat splintered Tyran.
Gaiman watched her carefully from behind as they hike through the rubble of what was once a small, single block suburb. Now all that was left of it was just heaps of timber and shingles, scattered on patchy lawns and asphalt layered roads. He kept his gaze on her movements, her poise, looking for any change in her demeanor in the event she was to retaliate. So far, she hasn’t shown any obvious signs…perhaps she is as desperate as the Sergeant believes, but then again, that can make her even more of a threat.
Although she wasn’t as bad of condition as some Stranded they’ve come across, she wasn’t exactly a polished pearl either; more like a rough, uncut corundum. The scratches and nicks on her armor was even more clear under the midday overcast haze, revealing every detail, from the tattered seams of the stitching, to the scales of what appeared to be that of an oceanic crocodile. I’m willing to bet she’s from a southern clan, Gaiman guessed, judging by the materials of her dressings.
Although her boots were similar to that of the Gears, her leggings were definitely made of some shark or ray hide. The rest of her dark attire was slightly tethering from wear, or contact. He bare arms were pretty cut for a woman, but slender, which suggested that she’d been out surviving on minimal needs. For the most part, her skin was pale, which also suggested that she mostly ventured out, either at night or early in the morning, to avoid being detected by Gear squadrons or some hoodlum Stranded. Perhaps she’s not really scouting for anything; maybe she is just trying to survive, which alluded to him that she has lost contact with her clan. They’re probably dead, judging by the overall statistics of the human holocaust since E-day.
As they trek through the debris, Gaiman takes a moment to walk up alongside Vera, whom for the most part has been keeping to herself, keeping her gaze forwards. Although she knew that he was there, she acted as if he wasn’t and just kept moving without haste. Gaiman took the moment to finally ask her the question that had been brewing in the back of his mind,
“Do you still keep contact with your clan?” Gaiman asked in his usual gentle tone. Vera whipped her head suddenly as if he caught her off guard somehow. She glared at him for a moment with her glistening green eyes, but then turned her attention forward again, not answering Gaiman’s question. She continued to hike, her gaze moving back and forth between her right and her left, as if she was keeping her senses open to anything moving. Gaiman could only guess that she was just being vigilant, looking for any signs of danger. He could relate; he too kept a wary eye. It was a habit engraved into his subconscious by his mothers’ tribe in the South Islands.
It was a ritual, for the elder warriors to wake up the younger in early hours of the day to go out and hunt for wild boar. They would venture out in the traditional battle dressings, which was nothing more than a loin cloth, if anything at all, and a sheath, strapped around their thigh to hold their hunting knife. Armed with nothing more than a spear, they would go out to the plateau, a place where the wild pigs would conjugate, and then send in the younger for their kill. There was many a time that Gaiman had made a puncture, but not enough to bring the stubborn pig down. Many a time, the chief, his grandfather, would laugh at his attempts, reminiscing his own failed experiences with trying to puncture their tough hides, until he figured out the right technique. It was something they had to learn for themselves, and that in itself was a right of passage that Gaiman eventually had to master. And master it he eventually did.
He couldn’t help but to wonder how Vera learned to move like she did. It was a mystery for the most part how the Feral learned to maneuver around these parts without being spotted, and yet steal countless supplies from Stranded, COG, or even Locust ammunitions. Their tracks were often skewed, and it was said they were so light on their feet, they could walk past you and you wouldn’t ever know it.
Their guerilla tactics was even more complimented by their attire, which for the most part was light and blending. The warpaint could be a means of camouflage, he thought, looking carefully at the painted dark stripes on her pale arms and neck. She also had a strange looking gauntlet on her right wrist, reinforced by some leather buckled straps with a “knuckle duster” made of some layered steel plates. That’s probably how she clocked Demitri and Brussels, if Gaiman had to guess. Although the Feral were limited in firepower, compared to that of a Gear, their ingenuity with smaller weapons and cutlery was compensating.
Although some of the others considered it luck, Gaiman was for the most part, impressed. She managed to take out two Gears, take one of their weapons, and make a run for it…and then managed to dodge Josephine and myself, leading us into the courthouse, only to turn around and go back for Sams? The math didn’t make sense for someone whom was known for keeping a low profile, which could only suggest that she was out on her own with limited resources.
Gaiman kept the line open, giving her more time to answer him, since he figured she was still uncomfortable being amongst a group of grimy grunts whom haven’t been with a woman in months, or even years, if ever. The others hung back, but kept a reasonable close distance as they follow her with caution. Needless to say, they didn’t have a problem with Gaiman walking alongside of her; better him than me, Brussels would be the one to rationalize it.
Coming to an overturned car that was lying along the curb of a street, Vera stopped in her tracks before her eyes met with a building across the street. Keeping her gaze fixed onto the two-story, brick building, Gaiman stood beside her, moving his gaze to the building ahead of them that was snug behind a ten-foot, barbed-wire fence. Keeping her eyes fixed on the sign that read Santa Fe Imulsion Research Center, she spoke to him.
Suddenly reverting his attention to Vera whom was still facing forward, he was compelled to ask,
“My clan…they gone.”
“When…how long did you know?”
Vera’s gaze drooped to the overturned car that was lying desolate on the curb, weathered from the rain and hail.
“Since Gears…put bomb under ground.”
The Lightmass Offesnive…
“When it happened, we lose…food supply,” she explained in her broken Tyran, “…so we move. Me, three others went ahead to find new home…but…I came back, they gone.”
Gaiman could see the displacency in her poise, but her façade was emotionless and unwavering. She’s been on her own for several months at least, with nothing to return to…she’s literally a Stranded. The idea of being stranded was probably only adding injury to insult, especially since the Feral despised Stranded for numerous reasons.
“Do you know what happened to them?” Gaiman had to ask, wondering what could have happened to a group of relentless bitches that are known for their ruthless guerilla tactics.
“Some dead...torn...” Vera began as pictures move into her head, recalling every detail of her grisly discovery, “…mostly unweich, *er…shield maidens.”
Shield maidens? Is that what they call their warriors?
She paused for a moment, her gaze still locked to the ground as a breeze passed between them. It was then she looked back up towards the building.
“Breeders, avatars...gone…children too. I know not where they went,” she recollected for a moment, and then moved towards the street.
“Back entrance…this way,” she yelled over her shoulder to the others whom were still lingering behind.
Glancing at the town landscape of ash and ruin that laid waste around them, Gaiman could recall the first time he got an eyeful of a town that fell victim to the Hammer of Dawn counterattack. He remembered vividly the scale of destruction that leveled a city, leaving behind the skeletal remains of vehicles, piled bumper to bumper on a freeway; a last ditch effort for a mass exodus of civilians that was too late. Buildings toppled under heaps of concrete and rubble laid waste as far as the eye could see, spanning several blocks of bent lamp posts and leaning telephone booths. The scene and the stench was nauseating for him, so much that he felt sick for almost a week. He wept every night during prayer time for nearly a month, asking for forgiveness for not being able to save just one more person from the holocaust.
Now, it has become too commonplace to see a town in disarray; buried in its ruin. Giaman soon came to terms with the circumstances, and now keeps his focus on the men who stand between humanity’s survival and the genocidal Locusts. He would spend time every evening at base or an outpost, offering confession and absolution to anyone whom felt they needed to do so. It was an aid to help soldiers maintain what was left of their sanity, regardless if it was genuine or not. Gaiman could only hope and pray that it was…for their sake. The decision was still left to them.
But this is the first time he had ever communed with a Feral. As they walk along the rubble littered sidewalk, meandering around the still living oak trees, Gaiman approached the hurricane fence with the razor wire wrapped on the top, looking up at the what appeared to be a sound building. Vera on the other hand, stayed a few steps behind Gaiman as he scanned the khaki-colored brick walls with the only windows on what appeared to be the fourth floor of the complex. It resembled a typical research facility, with no surrounding landscape, trespassing signs that hung on the razor-wire fence, and little if any windows, if they were windows at all.
The others stood back, keeping their gaze on both Vera and Gaiman, but mostly on Gaiman, whom was still scanning the building from behind the fence. As the others just stood and gawked, Towslend finally made the initiative to speak up.
“So…what we got Father?”
Gaiman turned around to the question coming from his commanding officer.
“The building looks intact. I don’t see any scorch marks or bullet grazes…the windows up there appear intact. It sounds like the AC units are still running…I can hear them nearby.”
Towslend placed his hands on his hips, dropping his head as he pondered for a moment while the others just stood idle, sweating under the blazing midday sun.
“Well, while we’re just standing around here, picking our ass, you think we can do this under a tree or something. It’s fucking hot out here, sir,” Brussels began his routine of constant nagging. Although his crude remarks were often rebuked by his fellow “brothers in arms,” this one time, they had to agree.
“The kid’s right, Sarge. We’re already low on water as it is…we need to conserve whatever little urine we have left to piss," Leonard was the next to make a suggestion.
“You did say there was a back entrance, yes?” Towlend directed his attention to Vera, whom for the most part was keeping her distance from the gate. She whipped around as if she was startled but then relaxed to respond to the Sergeant.
Lifting her arm and pointing with her index finger, she directed the Gears’ attention to a security post that was gated in, with the gate left wide open.
“Wow. Nothing says enter me please like some security gate that just so happens to be ass-wide open,” Brussels began as Demitri snickered slightly at the comment.
“Oi, that tis odd, ya tink?” Josephine added, curious as to how any personnel during a any crises, would leave the gate wide open for anyone, or anything, to just casually walk in. Towslend began to trek over to the security checkpoint, while the others, one at a time follow shortly behind him. Vera is next to follow suit as Gaiman proceeded to follow.
Walking along the sidewalk littered with weeds patruding through the seams, Towslend began to drift along the curb as he peered around the hurricane fence corner, scanning the security checkpoint booth that sat snug between two roadway lanes. The two gate arms were down, with one broken in half and the other leaning, flapping in the wind. Vehicles could be seen still parked in the parking lot on the other side, while tattered flags waved in torn strips on the flagpoles nearby. The little landscape that the premises had, was being choked by the feral ivy vines than grew rampant along the fence and walls. It looked as if the building had been deserted for some time.
Coming up from behind, Vera joined the Sergeant, who stood idle for a moment, gazing at the oddly tranquil building.
“You mentioned you heard noises, right?” Towslend asked.
“Yes,” she replied while standing next to him, directing her gaze to the side of his face.
“Did you see anything? A shadowy figure or…a ghost maybe?”
“Well…shit!” Towslend mumbled to himself as he brought his hands to his hips, redirecting his gaze to the ground.
Without warning, a sound could be heard coming from behind, resembling a wailing as the seven whipped around to the direction of the howling.
“Whoa shit…what was that?” Demitri blurted out as the whimpering wails was closing in. Griping their weapons in hand, the Gears take point along the fence and security checkpoint while Vera stood her ground, peering out towards what appeared to be a vacant steet, despite the apparent moaning that could be readily heard by everyone in the vacinity.
“Vera…” Gaiman whispered, trying to get her attention as he continued to take point next to a utility pole, “…get down!”
Even Towslend was befuddled as to why the woman wouldn’t take cover, especially since she admitted that the “wailings” at the facility made her nervous, but she continued to stand out in the open, as if she didn’t have a worry in the world. Lifting her hand over her eyes, took a few steps forward, whistling in short abrupt chirps.
“What the…the fuck's she’s doing?” Brussels whispered to Josephine, whom was sitting next to him.
“Wait mon amie,” Josephine said, twitching to the noise of the whimpering coming even closer, “…dat sounds more like an animal dan a ghost.”
Standing up from his position, Josephine signaled to the Sergeant whom was hunched nearby, behind the security booth.
“Do you have visual Josie?” the Sergeant signaled.
Without warning, a shaggy, wet mongrel staggered out from an emergence hole across the street, shaking his head as water droplets scatter in all directions from the hairy beast.
“Sparky! It’s Sparky!” Demitri yelled out.
“Wait…isn’t that same damn dog we found earlier?” Towslend growled.
“That would be an affirmative, Sergeant,” Gaiman confirmed, “…the Corporal gave him a name while we were walling towards the utility station.”
Vera took a few steps further as she whistled again for the dog to come over. Sparky’s ears perked up before darting over to her, propping himself up to her on his hind legs, licking her hands.
“Lowse neinwe…” she spake to him in a soothing tone, “en sheire Lowse, en sheire.”
Sparky then laid down as his tail continued to wag profusely, his tongue hanging from his parched mouth.
“Holy crap, how did she do that?” Demitri frowned.
Gaiman carefully walked over to Vera, whom was still scratching behind Sparky’s ear. Josephine was the next to follow and join them.
“Demitri wants to know how you got Sparky to heel?” Gaiman beckoned her as she turned her gaze to him.
“He’s no Sparky…he’s Lowse,” she said, still scratching behind Lowe’s ear. Gaiman and Josephine could only exchange peculier glances before coming to the realization that this was her dog.
“Oh. So he’s your dog…well that explains a lot,” Gaiman concuded.
“I find him many week ago. He good tracker.”
Josephine could only grumble at the idea that he wouldn’t have anything else to eat for the rest of the day…damn, dat hound would look good on an open fire.
The others came out from their positions to join the mongrel and his new found company, although his obedience to Vera was still baffling.
“You mean to tell me that soggy mutt’s yours?” Towslend aggravation could be heard, expressing his thoughts openly, with Brussels grumbling from having to walk back out into the midday heat, instead of lingering under the shade from the utility box.
“She’s only had him for a few months,” Gaiman explained before directing his attention to Demitri, “…and his name is Lowse.”
“Hell, it couldn’t be any worse than Sparky!” Brussels snickered.
Demitri could only return a scathing middle finger at Brussels’ direction before bending down to pet the wet, shaggy mutt. Sergeant could only fold his arms across his chest, simmering down after coming to terms of reuniting with their new company, debating as to which of the two was the more tamed. He was leaning more to the dog.
Leonard walked up to the Sergeant with a flashlight in hand,
“I got glimpse of the back doors. If they’re locked, it wouldn’t take much to pry them open.”
“Not necessary,” Vera blurted out amongst the men, still standing around the panting dog.
“Oh? Do tell,” the Sergeant requested.
Within a few seconds, Vera pulled off a glove to slightly pull up her sleeve, revealing something written on her bare arm. Leaning over to get a better look, Leonard read the encryption outloud.
“Seven…four, nine…three, seven, two. Hey, it looks like one of them keypad codes, Sarge.”
“Is it?” Towslend asked.
“Yes…gray door, in back,” she replied.
“Alright then, while I find this little reunion rather quaint, we still have a job to do,” the Sergeant announced. A sullen chorus of groans followed as Towslend snapped his fingers, gesturing his men to gather their weapons. Turning his attention to Vera, he watches her stand back up while the other men stood around him, awaiting orders.
“Will you be willing to take us inside?” Towslend asked the somewhat, tentative Feral.
Vera hesitated for a moment, her face turning pale while Lowse stood up and barked abruptly, feeling the anxiety coming from her poise as she looked past the hurricane fence to the seemingly tranquil building on the other side. Panting profusely with his tongue jostling over his canines, Lowse gave Vera a sympathetic gaze as his gold eyes glared at her soberly.
Returning her attention to Towslend, she replies,
“Lowse goes in too,” she said plainly, without pretense.
Scratching the side of his sweaty, stubble riddled face, Towslend let out an abrupt sigh as he exchanged glances with each of his men, contemplating whether it was going to be a good idea to drag this Feral and her mongrel into their confidence. Without a single protest coming from any of his men, including, surprisingly, Brussels, Towslend makes up his mind.
“Alright. You can bring the dog along...but if he takes off again, we’re not going to bend over backwards to keep up with him, understood?“
Vera’s eyes were squinting under the golden haze coming from the midday sun as her blonde, cropped locks of hair, waved in the meandering breeze. Her lips were still terribly chapped from dehydration, knowing that they would eventually have to find water, and the research facility may be the only place to find anything that resembled drinkable water. So without further delay, she gave Towslend a nod while gathering the straps over her shoulders that held her pack in place over her back.
"Alright then. Leonard, I need you and Brussels to take point out here..." said Towslend.
"Oh fuck, that means I gotta stay out here in the heat even longer?" Brussels growled.
"Hey, at least we get to play with the radio at the security booth," Leonard mused.
"Oh yay. I'm so fucking thrilled!"
Ingnoring Brussels nagging, Towslend turns to the other three men.
"The rest of you are going in with me. We'll break up into teams once we secure a section of the central office, got it men?"
"Clearly Sarge," Josephine answered while the others nodded in compliance.
“Alright…well then c’mon Gears. Let’s go and get this over with.”
Chapter 7: Behind Locked Doors Edit
Data Log; Brune 13 A.E.
I have written and submitted my report to the Santa Fe chairman concerning the side effects of the Imulsion’s mutative properties, suggesting that we should stop and decease these experiments on the subjects. They are becoming too dangerous and hazardous to keep, even within confinement.
I have left countless messages at central office, trying to get somebody to relay this message as quickly as possible, but I just keep getting the damn answering machine, so either I am being ignored, or they really need to find a new secretary. Therefore, as mentioned earlier in my report, I have sent a letter concerning these findings and in the meantime, will halt all research until further notice from chain of command.
If this does not get their attention, then I will discontinue with the project altogether, due to the unpredictability of the subjects and the fact that we’ve already had one death, and five seriously injured since we began these series of experiments. This material is too unpredictable to be used and we do not even know if we have the capability to control the side-effects.
I will continue to document what was left of my research in hopes to prevent further attempts of such a hazardous material to be converted into a chemical weapon. God help us if somebody else ever figures out how to harness this material in such a fashion and then recklessly discharges it.
Professor Levy Halloway
The metal door creaked slowly as Gaiman peered past the doorframe, scanning the low lit, immediate view of what appeared to be an cubicle, littered office floor, two stories above the main entrance. The doors to the level floor where heavily barricaded from the outside and Towslend didn’t feel like going through a lot of trouble trying to remove the heavy debris of desks, chairs, and several industrial copy machines.
Not wanting to rely on the elevators, they barged down the door to the stairwell, which conveniently only lead up. Taking the flight of stairs, the men of Theta Six, along with a somewhat, hesitant Feral and her beaming canine whom she named Lowse, the five walked to the second floor while Lowse ran up without effort.
With Gaiman being the first to enter the office, Demitri was next to follow, keeping the left while Gaiman took right. The only lights illuminating the dark room were the computer monitors, flashing random screensavers and the emergency lights, flickering between electrical surges from the generators just outside the complex.
The building was for the most part self-sufficient, with seismic beams designed to withstand minor earthquakes and the aftershocks, emergency generators, and storm drains that ran along the roof and walls of the building. The emergency generators were the most irregular. The generators were large enough to feed electrical output into multiple buildings, much less one, but why one building insisted on having that kind of voltage eluded Towslend.
Waiting from the stairwell, while Gaiman and Demitri scanned the vicinity, Towslend held his ground, with their somewhat compliant Feral, Vera, whom hung behind, holding back Lowse, whom was still panting from running up the flight of stairs, with Josephine lurking from behind the two.
Vera stood antsy, occasionally glancing at the dog, whom was for the most part not under any alarm. Josephine watched the dog carefully, looking for anything that may startle him or arouse his intellect in anyway. With just a perk of an ear, or a sudden cease in the wagging of his tale could suggest that something was awry.
Josephine was familiar with the perks and behaviors of many animals, including domestic, taking in account to their keener senses from smell, hearing, to some other subliminal intuition. His animal of choice though were cats. He found cats to be the more intuitive than that of dogs, while dogs offered their ability to follow a scent, cats were more alert to the changes in the surroundings.
Carefully keeping their poise in the dark, Demitri returned to the stairwell entrance, illuminated only by the “exit“ sign above.
“It’s clear, Sarge.”
“You sure, Private?”
“Even Father Gaiman can’t find a soul, much less a living one. One thing’s for sure, the place smells.”
“Well it looks as if it had been closed up for awhile, the air must be stale. Still, it doesn’t make sense. Somebody had to have set off that distress signal so somebody has to be here.”
“Perhaps dere somewhere else in da building,” Josephine suggested.
“Maybe behind that barricaded door downstairs,” Demitri was the next to add, “…there’s no other entrance to the floor level.”
Towslend let out a sigh, wiping the sweat that had been accumulating on his forehead. Although the air conditioner in the building was operational, the stairwell did not have vents.
“Alright…see if you can get the lights on so we can sort this shit out.”
Towslend then turned to Vera, whom was shying behind him.
“I don’t suppose you wouldn’t mind coming in?”
“That we know of.”
“Sure?” she gave him a burrowed look under her blonde locks of cropped hair that fell over her eyes..
“No…no I’m not sure, which is why we need to go in and find out. We need to figure out what happened to the people here. So you can either sit here in this fucking, hot stairwell, or tag along, trying to figure out where everyone went.”
Feeling the weight of Towslend’s gaze and stern voice, Vera nodded hesitantly and released the dog. Without second guessing, Lowse ran into the room, running along the sequences of cubicles that stretched out across the office space in the massive room. The lights flickered on as the room suddenly illuminated the fabric walls that made up the cubicle offices.
“We’ve got light,” Gaiman yelled from the other side of the room. Computer consoles could be heard running, churning on their hard-drives while the monitors continued to run a sequence of screen savers, from oceanic scenes, to a churning vortex, bouncing along the screen.
Demitri followed Towslend in, with Vera carefully moving from behind, only to be coerced by Josephine’s motioning after he shut the stairwell door behind them. Whipping her head around to find the Corporal loading up his Lancer, he flashed his usual, smug grin as his gold, colored eyes met with hers. Vera couldn’t help but to feel timid under Josephine’s wild gaze, his mannerism is not like the others, she thought. This one’s different.
Carefully moving forward, she whistled for Lowse. He returned a bark in response, still meandering the massive office floor while the others took different directions around the field of cubicles..
“Shit,” Demitri bellowed from a section of the room.
“What’s the problem now, Private?” Towslend had to ask, keeping his gaze forward.
“There’s a dead rodent up in here!”
“It reeks! How can one rat reek that much?”
“It’s not just one rat, Private…” Gaiman could be heard coming from another section of cubicles, “…and rats are not the only thing dead up in here.”
“Whatta you got Father? Is it one of our alleged survivors?”
“Nah…some animal…a raccoon, or a cat maybe. I can’t tell, too much decomposition.”
Josephine hopped up onto a desk as he looked over the jungle of cubicles that stretched out over the entire vicinity.
“Letta me have a’look,” Josephine suggested, hopping up over the cubicle wall to leap onto the desk to climb another. With his sweat, matted strands of hair pulled back into a disheveled ponytail, Josephine could be seen hopping from one cubicle to the next, until he finds Gaiman, knelt down next to a cadaver.
“Be my guest, Marrow,” said Gaiman.
Dodging over one more cubicle wall, Josephine leapt down onto Gaiman’s position. Peering down on the floor of what was once something of an animal was nothing more than decomposed skin, clinging to bones. Hair littered the area while teeth could be seen, a bony tail, and four legs.
Looking carefully at the corpse, Josephine was able to make it out.
“Oi, it’s a mammal, but not a cat, or raccoon.”
“Then what is it Josie?” Towslend barked from a few cubicles away.
“Small dog…or fox. Judgin’ by dat hair and skull, I’d say small dog.”
“So we have a dead rat, and a dead dog…” Towslend yelled out.
“…and a squirrel,” Demitri yelled out from across the room, “…make that several rats, a squirrel…possum maybe…I’ve got a pet cemetery over here, Sergeant!”
Lowse could be heard panting as he sniffed around, with Vera carefully joining up with the others. Towslend was the next to join them, following the potent stench of decomp.
“Shit. We have an office full of dead animals! How in the hell did they get in here?” Towslend grumbled.
“Furthermore, how did they die?” Gaiman was the next to ask.
“It’s gonna be hard ta tell…” Josephine responded, “…I don see any bone fractures…poisoned maybe?”
“Or maybe they dehydrated, or starved to death. I don’t see any access to food or water,” Gaiman added.
“I still want to know how they got trapped in here,” said Towslend.
Vera knelt down next to the “dog” cadaver, gently picking at the remains to get a better look.
“See sometin’ chere?” said Josephine as he knelt down beside her, curious as to what she was trying to find.
Vera didn’t answer. She continued to pick at the corpse, her eyes fixed on the dead animal while scanning the skeletal remains.
“You know you can contribute at any time, Feral…” Towslend conveniently reminded Vera. She looked up at the men who where corralling around her.
“No tags?” she asked.
The men exchanged glances, not sure as to what Vera was suggesting.
“Tags? What tags?” Towslend asked.
“Animals have tags, yes? Like Lowse…” she explained the best she could.
“Your dog doesn’t have a tag,” said Gaiman.
“When find him, he had tag, but I take off,” she said.
Josephine moved in front of Vera so he could turn the animal onto the other side.
“Aw c’mon Marrow; don’t be messing with that stinky thing…” Demitri came close to gagging.
“Lookie here…” Josephine pointed as he pulled something from under the animal.
“Well shit,” Towslend marveled as Josephine pulled up a plastic tag that apparently was attached to the animal before it died. Vera’s eyes widened at the revelation.
“That tag,” she pointed to it.
“So that very same tag was on your dog?” Towslend asked.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
Carefully looking past the decomp that had melded onto the green and white tag, it read “specimen” with a sequence of numbers, some of which were not easily readable. Looking at it carefully, Gaiman could see a serial logo on the very bottom.
“So these animals belonged to somebody…an animal shelter maybe?” Demitri began to speculate.
“Or maybe they belonged to this very lab. That would explain why they’re in here,” Gaiman suggested.
“Well then how did Spark…er, I mean, Lowse get out?” Demitri asked.
Towslend reached over to his com.
“Brussels, Lennie, you there, over…”
“Yep we’re still here Sarge.”
“Are you guys done yet? It’s fucking hot out here, sir!” Brussels could be heard through the com piece.
“We haven’t found any survivors as of yet. We’re going to search another branch of the building, so sit tight!”
“You got it Sarge. Lennie out!”
Towslend looked up at the others before loading up his Gnasher shotgun into his pack.
“I take it we’re moving again,” Demitri groaned.
“We’re going to open up that barricade downstairs.”
“Are you saying that we’re to open up something that someone went through a lot of trouble to make sure that whatever is behind that barricade, doesn’t get out?” Gaiman reiterated, “…and I‘m not talking just a few chairs and desks here; that barricade included a golf cart, a couple of multitasked copiers, and several steel, file cabinets.”
“For all we know, the survivors could be behind that barricade, waiting to be rescued,” Towslend explained.
“Then who barricaded them in?” Gaiman had to ask.
“Maybe the Grubs did,” said Demitri.
“What would Locusts want wit some lab techies?” Josephine asked.
“Look, all we know is that somebody sent out a distress signal about three days ago. If there is a chance that somebody might be alive in there, then we need to get to them. Am I sounding unreasonable here?” Towslend redirected his gaze to Gaiman, “…Father?“
Gaiman could only take in Towslend words for face value. They really didn’t know what was behind those walls, so there was the possibility that someone could be alive down there. If that was so much the case, they were obligated to find out. Gaiman could only let out a sigh and nod.
“No Sergeant. Our directive was to search for survivors…whom to which may be behind that barricade.”
“This is nuts! What if they’re already dead?” Demitri whined.
“Well I guess we’ll find out in a wee bit now won’t we,” Towslend responded, “…we need to get to the bottom of this facility before something else stumbles upon it. Whatever happened here, I’m willing to bet the answer is in there.”
Vera stood up as she called Lowse to her side.
“I no like this,” she exclaimed as Lowse raced to her side.
“Pfft, what’s to like, sweetheart?” Towslend responded, “…besides, maybe this mutt of yours could be useful to help find some water in one of the taps. If we don’t find some water soon, our trip back out of here is going to be real short…and the same goes for you.”
Vera redirected her gaze to the stairwell from which they came. She let out a slight shudder, feeling the creeping feeling all over again when she recalled hearing the hideous wailing from outside of the building, several days before.
“What bout‘…wailing?” she asked with her eyes still fixed to the stairwell door.
“We’ve been in here for nearly an hour and we haven’t heard anything but the AC running,” Towslend rebutted.
“But, they wail…nighttime,” said Vera.
“Who’s wailing? I have yet to find something in here that’s even remotely breathing, much less wailing,” Towslend grumbled in irritation.
“Well, I suppose we can find out in two hours,” Gaiman suggested.
“Sunset, already?” Demitri responded.
“According to my watch. It took us almost all afternoon just to get here,” said Gaiman, “…and then of course bumping into our newfound company took up some time too.”
“Well hell Father, I didn’t expect us to be spending the night here, especially in a room with a bunch of cadavers just lying around all over the floor!” Towslend growled.
“But at least we’ll be out of the heat,” Demitri tried to look on the bright side of the situation, “…and if the bathroom sinks are working, then we can access the tap water there.”
“And that’s assuming that the tap water hasn’t been sitting in the filters for too long. Tapwater can go stagnant if sitting idle for longer than six months,” Gaiman added.
“That’s assuming that this place has been vacant for six months, which can’t be right,” said Towslend.
“So what do we do, Sergeant?” asked Gaiman.
“Tell you what, Father you come with me downstairs. I’ll call either Brussels or Lennie to come help us take down than barricade. Meanwhile, Demitri, Josie, go find some water. I don’t care if we have to scoop it from the toilet, just get us some water that is safe to drink,” and then Towslend turns his gaze to Vera, “…and take her with ya, since she’s too chicken-shit to go downstairs!”
“Affirmative to dat,” Josephine said with a grin before turning his gaze to Vera. Although Vera could only partially understand Towslend’s lingo, she knew that she was going to have to be with Demitri and Josephine. She was not the least bit amused, but she needed the water as much as they did, if not more so, so she grudgingly gathered her gear and held Lowse by his collar.
“Lowse with me,” she said.
“Yea, you can take the dog with ya. Demitri was starting to miss him anyway,” said Towslend.
“Oh gee, thanks Sarge,” Demitri grumbled.
“Look on da bright side, mon amie. If we run outta food, at least we have da dog,” Josephine mused.
“For God’s sake, Josie, we’re not going to eat the dog,” Demitri griped.
“Alright, enough you two. Get your asses moving before it gets dark. It’s possible these generators may be set on a timer, so I don’t know how long we have access to power. Vera go with them…and be sure not to leave that dog alone with Josie.”
Vera nodded as she held onto Lowse’ collar while keeping a wary eye on Josephine.
“Now let’s head out and get to work before the boogie man comes out of the basement closet!”
Chapter 8: A Convict's Ballad Edit
If I could just hide, the sinner inside, and keep him denied. How sweet life would be, if I could be free, from the sinner in me.
I’ll never be a saint, that’s not a picture your memory paints. I’m not renown for my restraint.
But you’ve always tried, to be by my side, and to catch my fall when I start to slide.
Depeche Mode 
“It is the judgment of this court by a jury of your peers, that Josephine Delacroix Marrow is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree and is therefore sentenced to fifteen years, as required by Ephyrian law, at the Ephyria Maximum Security Penitentiary. However, because of the circumstances in which the defense was able to prove that Mr. Marrow acted in self-defense, it is also the judgment of this court that Mr. Marrow’s probationary hearing will be scheduled in two years. Case dismissed.”
Judge and Ephyria Magistrate, Joceline Montgomery Baird, presiding over Josephine Marrow’s criminal trial.
Three years earlier…
Deep in the denizens of an old prison sect, Colonel Hoffman opened the steel door into a cell, only to find a man curled up against the wall adjacent to the door, naked. His pale skin was a contrast to the concrete walls that made up cellblock D, the sublevel of the Eupheria Maximum Security Penitentiary, one of the most violent penal institutes in Tyrus, with Jacinto coming in a close second.
Keeping his gaze locked on the slender but lithe man, huddling on the floor like a wild animal that had been caged for too long, Hoffman couldn’t help to wonder what it is that compels a man to do the things he does. Many of the other inmates that were housed there were either dead from dehydration, or near death, with only the rats and cockroaches as their only means of sustenance; but not this prisoner.
Not too far off on the other side of his solitary cell, a human cadaver laid still, shoved in the corner of the room as flies buzzed around the stinking carcass. Hoffman could tell that the body had been moved, judging by the bloodstain smeared across the floor from being dragged. Getting a better look, the corpse looked as if it had been gnawed on…from the rats maybe…but no…oh God no.
“And I thought I’d seen it all…” Hoffman mumbled subtly before letting out a sigh, turning his hardened gaze to the inmate still huddling along the wall with dried blood staining his feet and hands. How long has he been eating his cellmate?
Although it was first speculated that the penitentiary had been abandoned for nearly two weeks, but Hoffman figured it was much longer than that. The prison guards were quick to leave the inmates behind when the Locusts invaded the city, leaving them to whatever fate would come as they sat in confinement, left to rot while burrowing in their own feces to keep the Wretches away. Some eventually died to the conditions as they had no water, no readily available food, no working plumbing or lighting, and no contact to the outside world. They’ve been here for at least four weeks? Shit!
Just as Hoffman was ready to exit the cell, the man slowly lifted his head to turn his wild gaze to the Gears still gawking at him from the door. His pale glassy stare could be readily seen through the long, wild strands of hair that hung over his face. The muscular contortions contrasted by the faint light coming through the grate window above only made his long lanky figure even more obscure while his numerous scars indicated that he was fit to survive. His hands were shaking while his wild-eyed stare was feeding on Hoffman’s stature, reaching out with his gaze but not moving from the place he had been huddling in. Hoffman took a few steps over to the naked young man before he knelt down to gently move the hair that hung over his face to get a better look at him.
“What’s your name, son?” Hoffman asked gently, knowing that this young man had probably seen more bloodshed, behind these very walls than any Gear on the field.
Keeping his gaze on the Colonel, the young man’s brow drooped heavily over his glassy gold eyes as his lips started to quiver. Hoffman leaned over to listen to him,
Memories of home would run insistently through his head, every time he worked. Perhaps it was that same reason why Josephine often kept himself busy so he could take a moment to reminisce of home, the marsh inlands next to the log cabin that sat along the mouth of a river.
It was a land filled with freshwater crawfish, water snakes, egrets, eels, and gators. The bayou was often filled with fishermen, throwing their nets to catch trout the size of dogs. Occasionally they would end up getting into a tiss with a gator, but once they threw a piece of meat back out into the water, the gator would leave them alone for the rest of the day. The afternoon would be hot and humid, filling the air of it’s bayou aroma while the locals would make preparations for a late supper.
At night, the woods would be littered in lightning bugs, illuminating the dark thicket as if stars hovered directly over the waters. The bayou was then filled with spicy food, music, gambling, drinking, and tall tales the fishermen would conjure, nibbling on their catch as they gathered around a community-wide bar-b-q. Steamboats would pass by, filled with parties and black-jack tables, making the most of another sweet, tranquil night on the floating casinos. Ah yes…da sweet smell of chicken bein’ glazed in cocoa butter over da barbie…or crawfish gumbo bein’ broiled in’da pot.
It was the only taste of heaven that Josephine could remember, as well as lament. But it was especially soothing while being shackled during his stay in solitary confinement. Not a minute went by without reciting some old songs, or visualizing the bright, colored lights coming from the casino’s nearby. Although many would say that he was insane, reminiscing of home was one of things he did to stay sane…and more often than not, it worked.
So he whistled at work as he meandered from stall to stall in the office bathroom, flushing each and every toilet to see if they were working, as well as checking the content in the water. Gaiman struggled to get the tap from the sink as the valve to the faucet apparently eroded.
“Gah,” Gaiman growled while shaking his hand, finally calling it quits after spending the latter fifteen minutes trying to move the stiff handle, yelling out, “…Josie! I can’t get the sink to work!”
Peering round the corner from the far stall, Josephine ceased his whistling.
“Da water’s fine in haer,” Josie mused in his back-bayou accent.
“Well, we may have to get the water from the toilets then; although I’d be sure not to mention this to Brussels, or else he’ll whine the entire trip back.”
“If dere be a trip back,”
Vera was sitting on the bench against the wall of the bathroom, stroking Lowse’ head while checking his fur for bugs, or infections. The fact that he had a tag similar to the animals that were dead in the building made Vera wonder, do these animals belong to this place? …and if they did, what were they doing with them?
Grazing her hand along Lowse’ coat, she would occasionally pick out stickers and other brush from his shaggy, matted hair, looking intently past the gray mass for cuts, or maybe sewn up incisions…one can never tell.
Steeping out from the stall nearby, Josephine walked out as he resumed his whistling, fixing his gaze on Vera, still grooming the dog.
“Ah, ca viens?” he mused.
Vera tilted her head as her expression went sour. Realizing that she probably had no clue what he said, he reiterated,
“How’s it goes?”
Her eyes dropped down for a moment, but then reaffixed with his.
“Um…looking…bugs, uh…bad marks…”
“Ya mean ya lookin’ to see if yer doggie here was cut, ya?”
“Yes…” she quickly responded, realizing the word she was looking for.
Walking closer to the panting canine, Josephine held out his hand for Lowse to get a whiff of his scent. Sniffing around the grooves of his fingers and palm, Lowse started to lick his hand, while Josephine let out a smile that stretched across his square, stubble jaw. Vera looked up at the odd Gear, taking note of his unconventional dress and hygiene.
The man moved like an animal, scanning the world around them with his golden eyes like a lion in the brush, watching and waiting. Among the group that made up Theta Six, Josephine was the one she had reason to fear, especially since it was him who snuck up behind her and put her in a sleepers’ hold until she blacked out. She never forgot it, and ever since, she kept a wary eye on him. She never had known any Gear, or Stranded whom could move as quietly and subtly as he did.
Josephine kind of figured that his presence around her made her nervous, but he also knew that she was just as wily, if not more so. He had heard so many stories about the Feral, his intrigue with her was purely genuine; from one wild animal to another, he rationalized. Perhaps we’re not so different after all.
With Lowse now slurping his tongue along Josephine’s hand, Vera couldn’t help but to ask,
Josephine looked up at her, his golden eyes meeting hers, green and wide with pure intention. It was then he started to stroke Lowse’ scruffy head.
“Not lately,” he snickered, scratching Lowse’ chin.
“Well…maybe Lowse eat you. Maybe you taste good to him,” she rationalized.
Josephine let out a sadistic chuckle, finding Vera’s suggestion amusing, especially since as far as he could recall, he was on the top of the food chain, even amongst men.
“Perhaps,” he toyed with the idea, “…but he’s not looking for food.”
“Then, what he seeks?”
“From whatever’s hunting him down.”
“And what’s that?”
“Something scarier than us.”
Vera’s eyes drifted down to Lowse, whom was content with Josephine rubbing underneath his ear.
“Maybe…but doubt it.”
“Cause he’s enjoyin’ da company of a cannibal,” Josephine’s playful smug melted away, continuing to stroke Lowse’ head as long as the dog would let him.
It had been nearly three years now since his release from the hellhole, many an inmate would rhetorically call Ephyria Maximum Security Penitentiary. Josephine would still occasionally have a nightmare here and there, feeling the masonry walls close in on him, with the sounds of laughing and screaming, coming from the other inmates. He could recall the fights, the riots, the rapes, shankings, and initiations.
Even to this day, Josephine would refuse to shower amongst the other Gears because of abuse he had one time received back in the communal in the penitentiary. It was an incident that would change him from man to animal. Everything that made him human, was dissected that day, and since then, he made a point to be revered and feared amongst the populous, starting with his assailant, in which whom he disemboweled by using the end of a broken broomstick.
Vera suddenly caught Josephine into a daze, his hand drifting from Lowse’ head. The flaccid expression on his face concerned Vera as she blurted out to him,
Vera’s voice jolted him like a shock dog collar, bringing him to the complex bathroom as Gaiman reentered the door with a few water bottles in hand.
“I go something we can fill the water in,” Gaiman announced as he placed the water bottles on the sink.
Josephine looked up in astonishment, but then shook his head and walked over to the sink to pick up two of the bottles.
“I’ll start wit these,” he replied. Gaiman stood back, allowing Josie to get through.
“Josie, you ok?” Gaiman asked, finding Josephine’s expression a bit pale.
“Aye,” he replied, “…just as much as da next one, eh?”
Knowing some of Josephine’s past, Gaiman only nodded as Josephine walked into the nearest stall. Vera was the next to pick up a bottle and walked back over to Lowse, beckoning for him to follow her into the nearest stall as she conveniently lifted the toilet seat and started to scoop the water from the bowl.
Gaiman let out a sigh, as he was the next to pick up two bottles and meandered over to another stall to do the same.
Stacking up the chairs in a corner of the room, Towslend and Leonard were slowly but surely getting to the heavier equipment that made up a barricade, shoved up against the door. Wiping the sweat form his brow, Leonard could only exhale as he took a breather from already pulling out a desk, tangled between a copier and several chairs.
“Shit…whoever did this was thorough,” he griped.
Towslend could only nod in agreement, leaning down while catching his breath.
“We’re almost there Lenny. We just gotta drag this copier from the door…and then just put a Lancer to that chain that’s wrapped around the door handles.”
Without further delay, the two men moved over to opposite sides of the massive copier as they tried to budge the huge piece of machinery, but it was just too heavy.
“Son of a bitch…who’d a thought a paper copier could weigh so damn much,” Leonard growled, “…they must’ve used a pallet to move this thing if two guys can’t even budge it.”
Releasing the copier after their futile attempt, Towslend wiped the sweat accumulating on his brow.
“Ah, fuck this! I’m getting too old for this shit!“
“Heard that, boss.”
"Tell ya what, get your Lancer, Lenny.”
Removing the Lancer from his pack, Towslend revved the chainsaw bayonet a few times to get the motor running and the drum warmed up.
“We’re gonna cut this bitch into several pieces and then move it. You ready?”
“Ready when you are, boss.”
Without hesitation, the two ram their Lancers into the chassis of the copier, disassembling the massive thing into pieces as the chainsaw bayonet’s shear through the plastic and metal components of the industrial-sized copier. Within the minutes, the machine was divided into five parts.
“Whatta ya think, boss? You think we can move it now?” Lenny mused.
“Yea, we’ll try it now.”
With some exertion, the two men manage to move the copier, piece by piece, dropping the damn thing a few feet away to give them some room to gain access to the door, which was held shut with a lock and chain.
Looking at the predicament, Towslend stepped back.
“Would you have the honors, Lenny?”
“Hell Sarge, any chance I can cut into something with a Lancer is an honor.”
Revving up his Lancer, Leonard plowed it into the chain, cutting through it with ease as pieces of chain links hit the floor. The doors budge slightly as Leonard pulled the rest of the intact chain off the handles, releasing the doors from the bonds.
“Ya ready to open her up, Sarge?” Leonard announced.
“Let’s see what’s behind those doors,” Towslend replied.
Pulling on the handle, Leonard managed to budge the door open with exertion, carefully yanking the door a few inches at a time, before they had one of the doors open at a ninety degree angle. Leonard stepped back as Towslend lifted up his Lancer towards the opening, peering into the dark void on the other side.
“Shit, it’s dark in there,” Leonard observed.
“Hold on a minute Lenny, let me get in touch with Brussels first.”
“Don’t tell me you actually like listening to that boy bitch?”
“Hell no, but I need Brussels on alert in the event that something happens to us,” Towslend responded.
“Brussels, come in Private!”
“It’s about fucking time you rang…sir!”
“Shut that hole in your face for a minute and listen up. We got the door open and Lenny and I are going in, so I need you on your feet when and if shit hit’s the fan, you got it?”
“Yea yea, I got it! Brussels out.”
Leonard could be heard grumbling to himself while loading a full clip into his Lancer.
“Well, let’s get this over with Lenny,” said Towslend, steeping into the doorframe first as Leonard followed close behind.
Sitting out under a canopy that was flushed against the outside of the building, Brussels wiped the sweat from his face with a rag, cussing to himself as the heat index was blistering, even under the shade coming form the canopy. He let out a sigh, keeping his eyes peeled towards the gated entrance to the complex, looking out for any signs of Locusts, or more fucking stray dogs, since it’s the only thing we seem to only find around here in this hellhole town!
Rubbing the back of his head, feeling the damp strands of his scruffy hair, Brussels groaned as the heat coming from the slab felt like a sauna, while the sweat was dribbling down his rig.
“Ah, fucking heat! Hey…Sams, you there man, over…” he sighed into his com piece.
“Yea, whatta ya want, Rod?”
“Tell me you guys found some water. It’s hot as fucking Hades out here!”
“Yea, we found water. We’re filling up some bottles as we speak.”
“Fuckin' aya…would it be too much to ask to get some ice water?”
“What am I, your bartender?”
“So I guess that’s a no…”
“Sams, we were lucky just to find water that’s even drinkable…”
“Alright, alright…just hurry the hell up man. Sarge and Leonard got the door open and their going in.”
“Yea, Gaiman told us to stay on alert. We’ll be moving down shortly after we get some more water bottles filled.”
“Well hurry it up, cause I’m dying out here. Brussels out!”
Wiping the sweat from his already, dampened brow, Brussels let out a sigh, feeling the heat index stick to him like the film residue from duct tape. Grumbling to himself while wiping the barrel of his Gnasher, he could hear the wind gust in short bursts, picking up the sand from an otherwise, quiet street.
A breeze…fuck there’s hope afterall, he groaned to himself, stepping out from the shade of the canopy to allow the wind to brush along his damp face. Just as the air swept past his cheeks, he opened his eyes to notice the trash being swept along the road ahead, picked up by the gusty wind as cans and paper bobbled along the pavement road. Peering out past his lookout, he noticed heavy, dark clouds in the dirt-orange, horizon.
Oh, that doesn’t look good, he mumbled before catching glimpse of something moving along the street.
Shit, another dog? Fuck this, I’m not going out to get him.
As the creature leapt between the lines of parked cars, sitting idle on the road, it suddenly came to a halt as it seemed to have peered past the decaying automobiles, fixing it’s gaze to the complex ahead. Brussels also catches a glimpes of the dog in the distance, trying to peer past the disheveled sand, flying through the air, causing a haze between him and the animal ahead.
“Stupid dog…don’t think you’re getting anything from me,” Brussels growled as he peered closer, “…wait a minute…”
Just as the dust settled for a moment, the animal hoped along the parked cars as it growled in sudden chirps.
…that’s not a dog.
It then proceeded to leap along the road, hoping on all fours as it snarled aggressively, moving towards the complex.
…oh shit! That’s a Wretch!
Chapter 9: The Underbelly of The Beast Edit
"Oh Golly miss Molly…"
…Leonard Maverick could be heard, singing to himself, humming to the old tune while slowly meandering a dark, lifeless hallway in the bowels of the Santa Fe Imulsion Research facility, directly underneath the somewhat newly constructed foundation of the building. The stale air made it clammy to breath as Sergeant Towslend would take a moment to clear his sinuses of the musty scent, most likely coming from the dust and grout. The area was pitch black, illuminated only by Leonard's flashlight.
"Damn Sarge, how old you think this place is?" Leonard pondered out loud, "…they must have torn down the original building and built another on top…didn't bother to update the sublevels. Hell, judging by the kind of bricks they used, I'm willing to bet this oversized basement is at least a hundred years old!"
Unlike the tan, dry-pressed bricks used on the exterior layer of the building, the sublevels were made of the old, kiln-heated reddish bricks, layered in alternating courses of headers and stretchers, similar to how older buildings were constructed. The archways above opened up to another chamber of the sublevel, which would eventually lead to another sublevel further down.
"If I understood the historical demographics correctly, this place actually used to be an old hospital, before it was condemned because of asbestos contamination. Somebody probably just bought the property to tear it down and erect another."
"Like Santa Fe Corporation?"
"Possibly. That company has been around before the Pendulum Wars. They invested lots of money into Imlusion research, hence this is probably one of there many laboratories."
"So why didn't they update the sub-levels? Weren't they exposed to asbestos too?"
"Hell if I know…" Towslend mumbled, though Leonard's question was still begging for a reasonable explanation; why did they leave these rooms untouched?
Looking up, the Sergeant could see the paint peeling from the masonry ceiling that layered on top of the brick, much of which was already cracked and loosened. The condensation from the balmy air could be seen clinging to the brick walls, beading on the grout and causing it to mildew.
"If they didn't condemn it for asbestos, they should have at least sanctioned it off for mold infestation. Damn, look at all that," Leonard pointed out with the flashlight. Black spots could be seen littered all over the pale, damp grout between the bricks and mason cracks.
"We better find the breaker so we can at least get a look at what we're going to be breathing in down here," Towslend suggested.
"The electrical lines lead this way," Leonard pointed the flashlight to the ceiling, following the metal piping that will hopefully lead them a breaker box.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck…" Brussels quietly cursed to himself, watching from behind a brick wall as he kept a wary eye on the Wretch galloping along the road on all fours. Normally where there was one, there were usually others not too far behind, but for the moment, the Wretch looked as if it was alone.
Peering past the idle automobiles parked along the curb, Brussels studied the scavenging creature, occasionally coming to a pause for a few seconds, and then began to gallop once more around the cars that littered along the side of the road. It was hard to tell if there were others nearby or not; damn cars! I can't see around them. He knew if he got up to look, he could possibly alert the other Wretches, and Brussels was not in the better sense to take on a pack of six, much less one, by himself.
So now what the fuck do I do, he grumbled.
Lifting up his com, he whispered,
"Psst…hey Sams…Josie? Somebody, get on the horn, goddamnit!"
Keeping the monitor close to his ear, all he could hear was static breaking in and out like a bad radio station.
"Oh c'mon, what the fuck?" he growled as he looked up, trying to locate the Wretch, but it was nowhere to be seen. Oh shit, where'd he go?
Slightly peering past the corner of the brick wall that was next to the gated entrance, Brussels slowly stuck his head out to scan the area. The wind stirred the sand along the road, making it even more difficult to spot anything moving, much less a Wretch. Within moments, he heard a sudden howl, followed by a series of growling nearby.
Ok, now what the hell was that?
Taking a few steps out of his cover, Brussels rescanned the area with Lancer already in his hands, looking intently for the Wretch, but the awkward noises nearby was drawing his immediate attention. A few more high pitch gripes, followed by the obnoxious howling, soon came to a cease, with only the growling and the ripping of claws could be heard; ok, that's definitely sounds like a Wretch.
"Brussels…hey Rod, you there?" a voice said through Brussels com.
Fuck, now you answer…
"Where the hell are you guys….over…" Brussels whispered.
"Uh, in the lounge, looking for some more water and food. Why, what's up…and why are you whispering?"
"I've got Wretches out here Sams, shit!"
"Well then shoot em!"
"Fuck that! I'm not going to expose my cover…"
"For fuck's sake Rod, how many are there?"
"How the hell should I know, there's too many cars on the fucking street to see them all."
"There's only one, isn't there?"
"That I can see, but there may be others…"
"Well go check it out…"
"Fuck that! Come out here and give me back up first!"
Suddenly, a snarling dark figure pounced against the brick wall nearby.
"SHIT!" Brussels screamed, unloading his Lancer on the dark figure, filling it with bullets. The creature screamed in agony before it collapsed onto the ground, bleeding profusely from being impaled by the Lancer's discharge. With his back up against the wall as he panted, Brussels quickly wiped the sweat from his brow that was dribbling into his eyes. His hair was completely damp from the perspiration, but by now, his entire body was sweating profusely, keeping his attention on the dark creature lying on the concrete slab with a pool of blood running down the curve and into the storm drain nearby.
"Shit…" Brussels mumbled to himself, trying to get a better look at the comatose creature. His hands were shaking, holding his lancer out in front of him, keeping it directed at the corpse lying in front of him.
"Brussels…hey Rod…what happened…you there?" Demitri could still be heard on his com, but Brussels' attention was fixated on the dead thing lying on the ground.
"Wait a minute…" he mumbled.
"Hey Brussels, c'mon man, you there…"
Ignoring the ranting coming from his com, Brussels took a few steps closer to the corpse he had just taken down and soon noticed thick patches of hair littered all over the body. Wait, that's not a Wretch.
It had too much hair to be a Wretch, but it was still grossly irregular to be something else; a dog maybe, but the head structure was too bulbous…and it's jaws, goddamn…
It had several pairs of tusks that protruded from it's jaws, both upper and lower, which at first resembled a wild boar, but it's snout was not that of a pig, and it had clawed feet instead of hooves.
"Ah, what the fuck is that…" Brussels moaned to himself before Demitri's voice startled him from the moment.
"Yea, yea, I hear ya," Brussels growled.
"What the hell happened?"
"I…took something out that jumped out at me…"
"So you took out the Wretch?"
"I…I'm not quite sure…"
"Don't tell me you shot another stray dog…"
"No, it's not a fucking dog!"
"Then what is it?"
"Why don't you drag your sorry ass out here so you can look at it, and then tell me what it is cause' I don't have a fucking clue what it is, alright?"
"Sigh, fine…I'll…be out in a minute….over."
"Thank you," Brussels barked into his com.
Inside a lounge that was located on the second story of the complex, Demitri put his com down before turning to Father Gaiman whom was counting the water bottles they filled from the tap in the bathroom nearby.
"Well, we have enough water for at least two days," Gaiman concluded.
Gathering up his Gnasher, Demitri turned to Gaiman,
"I'm going to have to step out to check up with Brussels. Can you keep radio contact with me Father?"
"Of course Private. What is Brussels complaining about now?"
"Sigh, he wouldn't give me an answer so I'm going outside to check it out."
"Understood. I'll get Josie back over here so we can stand by."
Glaring at the contents from the outside of a snack machine, Vera ogled the menu carefully, looking for anything that may have a more forgiving shelf life. Lowse was lying on the floor with his head nestled between his front, sprawled legs, waiting patiently for Vera to find something decent to eat.
From out of the darkness and into the dim lighting, Josephine walked over with several bottles in hand.
"I don tink' dose sandwiches are good, chere," he replied, placing one of the bottles in his leg pack.
"What of Jerky?" she asked, pointing to the packaged strips of jerky sitting idle in the machine. She rattled the glass slightly, but she soon figured that the glass was shatterproof.
"Ugh," she groaned, realizing that the manufacture of the snack machine was conscientious about theft, and went through the effort of making the machine impenetrable. Standing up from the crouching position, she leaned in dismay as she glared at the food inside.
"Step aside, chere," said Josie as he moved towards the machine, pulling out his hunting knife and a phillips-head screwdriver. Vera was baffled by Josie's request, but obliged anyway, curious as to how this Gear can manage to get into this machine.
With careful precision, Josie jabbed his knife gently into the money slot mechanism, slightly pulling up the plate that was covering the screws that held the money slot in place. With the screwdriver, he carefully tweaked the screws, loosening all four of them one at a time, until the both the slot and change dispenser was free from the snug compartment it sat in. He carefully pulled out the console with the wires still attached in the back.
Vera watched in awe as Josie continued to work with the wiring, until the machine suddenly began dispensing the packaged snacks inside. One at a time, the machine randomly dropped the snack items into the trey below until Josie let go of the wiring, and then it stopped.
"How you…do that?" she asked while Josephine carefully laid the console against the frame, hanging onto the compartment by only the wiring.
"Old recipe, cherie," Josephine said with a smug, "…dese machines wit da digital boxes are easier ta hack."
Leaning down to reach into the tray where the snacks were lying, Josephine pulled out several bags of chips, sandwiches, candy bars, and the jerky Vera was eying earlier.
He stood up and held out several packets of jerky for Vera to take.
"Go ahead chere…yer dog looks alike he could use it," he said.
Vera reached out hesitantly, but then snatched the jerky from Josephine's loosened hands. She quickly opened a package and then took a bite just as quickly. Munching on the meat stick, she opened the other two packets, pulling out another meat stick to wave it in the air in front of Lowse. Wagging his tail in anticipation while licking his chops, Lowse then stood up to reach for the piece of meat from Vera's hand. The two gobbled what was left, eating diligently. Josie glared at the two eating in a hurry as if someone was going to take it from them if they didn't eat it fast enough.
He couldn't help but to reminisce as he watched the two, gobble it all down, knowing from experience that to eat hastily was to survive. It wasn't all that dissimilar from his incarcerated days, when he did manage to get anything in his stomach before another inmate could have a chance to take it away. With over a hundred other inmates watching everyone else's' every step and movement, preying on those who let their guard down, it wasn't uncommon for inmates to take another's food trey or snacks. So the inmates ate their food quickly and hid their snacks in different places to avoid having it taken by another. It wasn't just about pride or dominance, it was about survival; and dese two are survivors.
"Josie, you there, over…"
…Josephine's com sounded off.
"Aye mon amie. Watcha got fer me Father?"
"Demitri is going out to check on Brussels. He mentioned that Brussels was in contact with something but didn't elaborate as to what. You may want to regroup with us back at the lounge."
"On my way; Marrows out," Josephine concluded the conversation as he turned his attention to Vera and Lowse, whom by now were finished eating.
"Trouble?" Vera asked fervently, her green eyes wide and stern.
"Dunno, but we better get back wit de others, " said Josephine as he gestured to follow him down the hallway, towards the lounge.
Vera didn't hesitate as she whistled to Lowse to follow as well, keeping a close but comfortable distance from Josephine. For now, she was a little more comfortable being in the company of the Gears than she was being alone.
Chapter 10: Something Wicked This Way Comes Edit
Why you act crazy? Not an act maybe; So close a lady, Shifty eyes, shady.
Why you act frightened? I am enlightened; Your weakness builds me, So someday you'll see.
I'd stay away…
- ~Alice In Chains~
"Shit, what is that smell?"
…Demitri could be heard grumbling from behind his hand that was partially covering his face, trying to avoid the stench from the carcass ahead that Brussels had taken out earlier.
"It's the thing I shot down, dumbass," Brussels sneered, standing a few feet from the would-be-Wretch lying still on the edge of the curve.
"Are you sure it's not a Wretch, man…I mean, those things smell like shit, but it's worse when they're dead!"
"…and I'm telling you, it's not a Wretch, so get your ass over here and look at it!"
Demitri meandered around the grassy rubble until he caught a glimpse of the dead creature, lying comatose in a deep crimson, almost black puddle. Demitri took another unintentional whiff as he tried to breathe the hot air, only to inhale the alluring stench coming from the corpse.
"Gah, that thing reeks," Demitri groaned.
"No shit, so will you hurry up and look at it so we can leave? I've been sitting here for almost thirty minutes having to smell this fucking thing!"
"Yea, yea, working on it."
Leaning over the carcass from a less than comfortable distance, Demitri's eyes scanned the long body with a thick lining of hair that was sporadic as if it had been shedding. From a distance, it looked like a medium to large sized dog, but the shape of its head suggested otherwise. The legs were that of some carnivorous animal, like a canine or even feline, but the animal was too big to be that of a house cat…a wildcat maybe?
Demitri took a few more steps, trying to tolerate the stench as best as he could to get a better look at the animal, but the stench was just too overwhelming. Demitri started to get sick to his stomach and began to cough.
"Ok, *cough…ugh," he moaned in between coughs, as he turned around to get away from the corpse. Leaning over the patchy grass median, he took a few moments to spit out the bad taste in his mouth.
"Yea, now you know how I feel…" Brussels mused at Demitri's expense.
"Shut up, *cough, Brussels…" Demitri grumbled.
"So what the hell is it?" Brussels continued to poke.
"Ugh, *cough…fuck if I know…but you're right, it's not a Wretch…a cat maybe, but, *cough, I don't recall cats having tusks…"
"Damnit, where's Josie? He's good with weird critter shit!"
"He's back at the lounge upstairs…"
"You mean to tell me you left them two with that Feral bitch…alone? Are you fucking insane?"
"She hasn't done anything…come to think of it, she wouldn't even go with the Sarge into the sublevels, man. It's as if she's more scared of that place than she is of us."
"Private Samson, you there, over…" Demitri's com went off. He reached over to respond,
"Yes Father, I hear you, over."
"Both you and Brussels need to report back inside…"
"Gah, *cough, alright. On our way, over."
"Thank God, I get to get out of this heat. I don't suppose you brought any water with ya?" said Brussels.
"Yea, here," said Demitri before he pulled out a bottle and handed it to Brussels. Peering up from his nausea, he watched Brussels gulp down the water in the bottle, which suggested to Demitri that he must have been pretty thirsty, especially since Brussels didn't take a moment to ask where they got it. I guess I better keep my mouth shut, or else I'll never hear the end of poor Rod drinking water we got from the toilet.
Letting out a sudden gasp of air after chugging down almost the entire bottle, Brussels panted feverishly as he wiped the water he had dribbled on his stubble chin.
"Shit, *cough, I needed that…"
"Yea, great! Can we go now?" Demitri cringed as his stomach was turning into contortions again from the festering odor nearby.
"Yes, we are going," Brussels couldn't agree less, feeling the recoil of Demitri's lament.
Packing his Lancer onto his back, Brussels tucked the water bottle into his pack, next to the spare roll of toilet paper he kept just in case. Demitri groaned as he stood upright and staggered quickly, moving away from the nauseating stench as best he could without losing his brunch.
"Guys, Sargeant Towslend's telling you to get back here, now!" Gaiman could be heard over Demitri's com once more.
"We're moving now Father…what's the rush?"
"Just meet at the lobby entrance…"
As the two men entered into the lobby where the lower level entrance was heaped in office furniture, Brussels and Demitri could hear Sergeant Towslend barking the moment they stepped into the room where the others were waiting for them.
"If the two of you would quit making out, you'd move a lot quicker!" the Sergeant growled.
Snickering could be heard coming from Josephine the moment they walked into the room while Vera and Father Gaiman sat with Lowse, keeping an odd eye on the pair.
"I told ya we should have kept them separated…" Leonard could be heard past the doors that led to the lower level of the complex.
"The hell were you two doing out there, fucking around?" Towslend reiterated again, more annoyed than usual about their tardiness, which in their defense, was only a few minutes.
"Brussels…found…something…" Demitri tried to explain, but couldn't come up with the words to describe the creature he himself couldn't confirm.
"Did you shoot another damn dog, Brussels?" Towslend barked again while wrapping an orange extension cord around his arm.
"No sir, it wasn't a dog…I thought it was a Wretch!"
"Well did you shoot it?"
"I mean, yes sir!"
"Is it dead?"
"Then did it occur to you to get a look at it while it was lying on the floor, dead?"
"We did, sir," Demitri intervened, "…and I'm telling you, we couldn't confirm what it was."
"So you boys stood there and looked at a dead animal for over half an hour, and the two of you could not come to a conclusion as to what the hell it was?"
At this point, they knew that Towslend was two steps short of blowing a fuse and any further response was just going to hover in a void with little direction as to what they were hoping to explain to the ornery old man.
"Sigh, sir…" Demitri began before Towslend suddenly cut him off,
"Just shut up and get your worthless ass over here Samson and go plug in this cord. Brussels go help Lenny get this lamp lit!"
Demitri grumbled to himself as he walked over to Towslends' position. Brussels grumbled even moreso before stomping towards the ebtrance to the "catacombs."
Loosening up the latter half of the extension cord, Towslend turned over his shoulder, yelling past the barged entry to the sublevel area.
"Shea…" Leonard could be heard coming from dark denizen of the sublevel hallway.
"We're pluggin in the cord!"
"Gotcha boss. Standing by…"
Redirecting his attention to Demitri, Towslend commanded the Private to plug in the cord.
"Put her in, Samson."
"Oh yea baby…just like that….a little more…" Brussles could be heard musing past the doorframe the moment Demitri plugged the extension cord into the electrical socket.
"Yea, that lamp's the closest thing to pussy that you've been getting in a while…" Demitri sneered back over his shoulder.
"The both of you, shut up!" Towslend could be heard between the idle chatter.
"Whoa, shit yea…we got light Sarge!" Lenny could be heard from the other side of the massive metal doors. Sure enough, what was dark as sin was now lit up, streaming past the doorframe and into the lobby entrance.
"Oi…what y'all got alight in dare?" Josephine asked curiously.
"We've managed to reroute the current from this breaker to the electrical line below, Josie…" Towslend answered the odd Corporal.
"Is dat extension cord enough ta hold a current of dat magnitude?" Josepine had to ask, knowing that the extension cord had no more than a sixteen hundred watt capacity.
"It'll hold long enough for us to scope out the place, Josie. We don't have time to restructure an obsolete electrical grid."
"Sergeant?" Father Gaiman interceded.
"Apparently the lower levels was part of the original structure before this one was erected, Father…" Towslend explained before Gaiman could concur.
"In other words, the utilities in the lower level are outdated?"
"That would be an affirmative. We just need enough power to go in, search and rescue, if there's anyone to rescue, and then get out," Towslend confirmed.
Already, Josephine was gathering his Lancer and a bag of chips he was nibbling on during the "lighting ceremony;" Vera on the other hand was more than apprehensive to even step foot near the forced open doors. After gathering his armaments, Josephine could tell that Vera was uneasy, so he lowered his hand next to Lowse' nose, allowing the canine to lick the chip crumbs from his hand.
"See chere? Dis dog's not nervous…" he consoled, allowing Lowse to happily lick the flavored salt that clung to his epidermis.
Vera watched Lowse intently, looking for any sign or signal of alarm, but Lowse displayed none. He only wagged his tail in delight, playfully caressing Josephine's hand with his jowls, nibbling lightly along Josephine's course and calloused fingers. Vera's gaze then turned to Josephine, whose golden eyes glistened in the light coming from the hallway as he watched the dog feverishly, feeling the canine's tongue glaze his palm. If she didn't know any better, Vera would swear the Gear was salivating over her dog, which only made her the more nervous.
"Lowse..." she immediately called him, "…come. We go."
Redirecting his attention from Josephine to Vera, Lowse darted over to Vera with tail wagging, indicating his excitement as he regrouped with both Vera and Father Gaiman, whom was checking his Gnasher shotgun to see if it was fully loaded.
Towslend was already entering the hallway before he called out to the others.
"Let's do this boys and girls. I want something to report to command once we get this over with!"
Letting out a sigh, Father Gaiman stood erect with Gnasher in hand, gesturing to Vera,
"Come…do not worry; we'll be with you," he assured her, but it didn't sway the pale expression on her ghostly face. Nevertheless, she responded with a nod and followed carefully. Lowse followed not too far behind while Josephine trailed behind with one hand gripping his hunting knife. Feeling the warm air the moment they entered the hallway that led to the lower level of the research facility, only one could imagine what revulsions they would find in the bowels of such a condemned place.