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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-06-09 06:47pm
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Jedi Knight
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Joined: 2006-08-26 10:57am
Posts: 639
In this chapter: she does as her blood tells her.

Coming up: The first casualty of war.

Chapter 53:

“And there, and there, and there you are,” the Watcher said with a beatific smile. “The daughter does as her blood tells her to, darling. She becomes the antimessiah.” He let out a withered breath at what his screens were showing him. “She destroys.”

~

Jane recognized the sound, but it took several moments for her place it. Once she did, she began to laugh. “Anchor,” she ordered Cynthia. “And enjoy.”

~

A blood oath was whispered angrily as crippled Vigil refused their orders. That was all they spared for it though, as practicality took over.

Clever. Unexpected. Provocative. Boot soles and gauntlets magnetized, anchoring them to the deck as they crouched, waiting.

Beneath her helm, one of the killers grinned, pleased by the New Ones’ initiative.

~

“No!”

Gemma grabbed her sisters, holding them back as they tried to lunge through the door as it shut behind them, cutting her and her two siblings off from the rest of the garden. She knew what was about to happen and so did they. Fists beat uselessly against the doors and talons tapped uselessly at the controls as the older girls slumped down to the decking, listening to the confused sounds of their trapped kin, whispering “No,” over and over again.

Her first sister looked up at her, despair in her red eyes. “They’re going to die,” she whimpered.

“I know,” Gemma answered. She didn’t know whether to weep with them or celebrate; instead, she held her sisters close.

~

Louis looked up as the computer’s voice spat through the comm, trying to figure out what was happening as the reverberations of slamming pressure doors echoed through the station’s bones, his thoughts short-circuited by Emily. “It’s her,” the doctor whispered, her voice somewhere between awe and horror. “She’s started a purge.”

~

In the garden, the mother-thing looked up at the dull pulses of emergency lights, a distant part of her mind aware of what it signified. Unable to move, unable to escape, she did the only thing she could: she screamed. The sound was piercing and shrill: the very distillation of rage formed by a mind that still remembered what terror was, and one that felt it now.

~

Gravity went first. Suddenly, abruptly. Between one footfall and the next, lurching monsters found themselves floating, bouncing off walls and ceilings, flailing for purchase.

Ancient doors trundled to life at Shannon’s command. Sealed passages opened, air roaring through formerly-depressurized sections, opening the labyrinth that the failed quarantine had created, a many-spoked wheel forming as every door leading into the hydroponics bay unlocked and groaned open. The nearby atmospheric processing station shuddered into overdrive, forcing air through its vents far faster than normal.

Then, hundreds of meters away, on the top and bottom of the arm, massive airlocks yawned open. Air screamed from the station, debris vomiting out into the Mists. Turned clutched and clawed at the decking as gale-force winds buffeted them, stoked by the self-destructive hurricane pouring through the ventilation system. Here and there, they failed and were carried thrashing out into the void. At first only in ones and twos, but then by threes and fours, fives and sixes. Dozens, shrieking with desperate, uncomprehending anger as they fell into space.

This wasn’t a minor hull breach, something that would take days or weeks to threaten the station. This was a full atmospheric purge, intended to flush irreversibly contaminated sections into space. In seeking to contain any possible breach, the Imperium had left nothing to chance. Steep gravitational gradients began to pulse through the corridors in waves and tractor fields – at least, those that had not failed in six centuries of neglect – dredged the main corridors like ethereal fishing nets, tearing up rafts of substrate and pulling rusted crates and howling creatures into oblivion.

At each of those airlocks, long-forgotten atmospheric cyclers came to life, dragging the air from the station out into the void faster and faster, adding to the speed imbued by the shifting gravity fields and the pull of the tractors. Almost nothing that wasn’t sealed to the deck could hold against the hurricane and, outside in the Mists, Kerrigan’s killer watched with interest at this unexpected turn.

The diseased plants swayed in the winds, anchoring tendrils snapping and tree-thick trunks were wrenched loose. On the point of collapse, self-preservation protocols activated at the atmospheric processor shut itself off from the vacuum, no longer feeding air into the system. Half-crippled computers desperately called for maintenance teams to attend to the damaged systems. DROP 47 was dying. Its AI mind was fading, starved for maintenance and awaiting repairs that would never come. But it knew what it had to do and it followed through, as best that it could.

It took time, of course. Even at full capacity, such a large area couldn’t be purged in a matter of seconds. Minutes passed and finally the roar of air outside fell silent. Abigail looked to Shannon, the shorter woman standing perfectly still. Abigail wanted to suddenly shout at her.

“We have no reliable communications back to the others,” Shannon said, anticipating Abigail’s question. She wouldn’t look at her ‘big sister’. “There was no way to warn them. But I separated that section from the purge. I think.”

You think?! Abigail wanted to scream the question, but she held it back. Barely.

“There was no other way,” Shannon continued. There was something in her voice, something that Abigail couldn’t place, but she was damn sure that she didn’t like it. “We had no other way out.”

“Yes, we did,” Abigail whispered at last. She couldn’t think of what it could be, but that didn’t mean Shannon hadn’t seen one. There had to have been something else, something.

The Halo still wouldn’t face her. “Yes, we did,” she admitted. “But it might not have worked. And it wouldn’t have gotten us this.”

“So to kill this... this garden, you might have just killed Ten, Delphini, Lutzberg and Bujold.”

This time, Shannon did look at her. “Yes,” was all she said in answer. There was shame in that voice – humiliation – but that same something that Abigail couldn’t identify and didn’t like was there too.

She didn’t know what to think about that.

~

“Purge complete-ete,” Vigil’s voice whispered over the comm. “Re-restoring. Ing normal en-en-environmental controls now. Now.”

~

Airless now. Quiet. The deck vibrated beneath her feet with the spasms of machines and systems as they powered down. Then, complete silence. It lasted only a moment before the rumble of the vents began anew, pumping fresh air into the purged hallways. She felt the shift in her perception as gravity slowly returned. Carefully, she stood, keeping the soles of her boots locked to the deck. Instinctively her tongue licked out, but she only tasted the recycled air of her helmet and wasn’t so foolish as to remove it. She waited a moment, listening as her brothers rose. Scanners were clear and there was no sign of incoming movement.

“Not for us,” she surmised. “For the garden.”

“Dangerous prey,” mused one of her comrades. “Full station access has been restored to this section.”

The leader stayed silent a moment longer. “New Ones are a secondary concern,” he ordered. “There will be surviving Ribbons. We’ll terminate all advanced strains.”

“We aren’t equipped for a complete cleanse,” she protested. Her blood was up and she wanted to vent her agitation on thinking, dangerous prey.

“No. The garden will recover. But it will take longer with primary strains destroyed. Perhaps long enough for a kill-team to finish the purge. This is an opportunity we can’t throw away. If the New Ones present themselves, terminate them. But the garden is now the primary target.”

She nodded, tilting her head down in submission. “Compliance.”

~

“Four to Ten, respond.”

Nothing.

“Beta Four to Beta Ten, respond.”

Still nothing.

“Louis, this is Shannon. Respond. Please.”

Only silence.

Shannon could feel Abigail’s stare. She couldn’t look at her ‘big sister’, didn’t know what to say. She was about to try again, when the comm crackled and a familiar voice answered. “...here. What the... Four? ...you do?”

Her relief was so strong that she almost slid down to ground as her knees threatened to buckle. She’d hoped that the purge would degrade the jamming in this area. “Ten, it’s good to hear your voice. Are you all right?”

“For... part,” Hernandez answered. “...phini and Lutzberg... okay. ...lost Bujold.”

“He’s gone? Was it,” she tripped over the words. “The purge?”

“No... else. Listen, watch... things... weapons and armour... hunting us. ...hit it with... didn’t put it down. ...your ass, Four.”

“Say again, Ten. Did you encounter ferals with armour? Or Primal’s people?”

“Neither... think. Something else... careful. This purge... ....ways clear? We’re going a little... in here. We should... up.”

Shannon nodded to herself. “We’ll meet you halfway. Be careful, Ten. There might still be stragglers.”

“...eyes open, Four.”

Finally, Shannon turned to Abigail. “We lost Bujold.”

“I heard.” A beat. “Keeping them there was the right call. We could have lost them all.”

“I know.” Shannon picked her pistol up, checked the clip. Getting low again. “Let’s head back.”

~

Then:

“Are you sure about this?” Sarah Jessup whispered to her partner. Dyson was wrist-deep in a circuit board, his nimble fingers working quickly. “If Thorne finds out...”

“It’s a little late to be worrying about that, Sare,” he muttered. “Besides, it’s not like he can kills us any more dead. Just ask Vasquez.”

“I know, I know. But he’s going to freak about this.”

“He won’t be able to prove it was us. As far as he knows, we just snuck off so I could give you another pity fuck.”

“I wish that’s what we were doing...” Sarah mumbled, glancing nervously through the gloom and fidgeting with the infra-red goggles over her eyes. They gave fair warning about any possible Lurkers hiding in the darkness, but – and she wished this was a self-deluding lie – there were worse things out there than those monsters. Whatever had crucified Emile hadn’t been a Lurker or one of the feral tribes out here.

That’s why they were taking the payload. Insurance. Dyson had said that. Sarah wasn’t sure just what he meant by that, but she trusted him. They needed to be safe. Thorne was losing it; she’d thought that they could reason with him, get him to ease up, but after what he’d done to Vasquez...

Like Dyson said, they needed insurance. Something to even the playing field, and if Thorne didn’t have his toys...

“There,” Dyson whispered as he clicked the circuit panel shut. “That’s the last one.”

“It’s done?”

“It’s done. Let’s get out of here.” He smiled lopsidedly in the dark. “And we’ve got time for that pity fuck after all.” It wasn’t the most romantic proposition Sarah had ever had. Despite his grin, in any other circumstances Dyson’s expression was certainly not what one might call inviting. Had those other circumstances been in effect, Sarah might even have realized this. At the moment however, she was stuck in an unending hell, she was frightened and she was desperate for even the smallest sign of affection or physical comfort. She smiled back and trotted after Dyson as he led her towards their favourite cubbyhole.


~

The doors opened with a hiss and the hotter air from the control center wafted out, meeting the cooler, thinner air that was flooding back into the purged section of the station. The purge Shannon had initiated had only been intended to flush unsecured (and presumably infected) personnel and contaminated air out into the void, but it had been effective nonetheless. Several of the infested trunks had broken loose and toppled, so tall that they had crashed against walls rather than the deck, burst honeypots oozed ichor and chyme down the tattered spread, gargling helplessly for aid. Broken walkways had crashed down, torn free by the weight of the collapsing trees.

Nearby, something growled weakly and Shannon turned. It was the mother. Several of her nutrient veins had come loose and she laboured for breath in the thin air. Her lips were blue and her yellow eye was discoloured by burst capillaries, almost as red as the other. She was sagged down into her own bulk, her arms hanging down her torso, her scythe-limbs limp and weak. She stared at the women, chest rising and falling in short, shallow breaths as she struggled to form words.

Hissing, gasping sibilants drooled from her mouth as she tried to speak from a tongue no longer truly capable of human speech, trying to create words from a mind that hadn’t been human in many years. She didn’t need the words, though. Hate. Rage. Fear. They were etched on her once-attractive features. I hate you, the abomination growled pitifully. I hate you.

“I know,” Shannon said. “I’m sorry.” She raised her pistol-

~

They dropped their shrouds as they moved and she let out a relieved breath as her armour’s cooling system exhaled with a rush of steamy air. Even thermal imaging could not detect them through an active shroud, but at the cost of slowly raising the armour’s internal temperature. Touching thumb and forefinger to the bottom of her helmet, she opened the lower portion of her mask, feeling the rush of cool air on her skin. Her tongue extended briefly, tasting the atmosphere. The air stunk of Ribbon-scent and their pheromones. Confusion. Distress. Rage.

Delightful.

Heady from the aroma, she shivered and quickly re-sealed her helmet, licking her teeth and the saliva that glistened over them.

The lead had noticed her lapse. He put a hand on her shoulder. “You’re young,” was all he said, both chastisement and excuse.

She nodded, cocking her head as auto-senses picked up the distant cries of the Ribbons, survivors of the purge. Calling out to one another, as they stumbled back to their senses. Something else groaned, sending vibrations through the deck with the force of its obscene cries. The three hunters exchanged quick glances. A praetorian was nearby, and it was moving towards them. Whether it had sensed the intruders, or it was just rushing back to the garden didn’t make much difference. Their weapons could hurt it, possibly even destroy it, but without a full kill-team...

There; the garden was before them. Targeting sensors flashed to life, dotting her heads-up display with telemetry and this time, when the lead spoke, there was no reprimand. “We’ll circle around,” he indicated himself and the other novitiate. “Advance through this entrance. Kill what you can. Flush the rest towards us. If heavily engaged, fall back.”

She smiled, nodding her head in acquiescence. “Understood.”

~

-and a brilliant lance of energy speared out, vapourizing the mother-thing’s human torso.

“Wh-” Abigail was about to ask, but before she could finish the word, Shannon threw her ‘big sister’ to the ground, an instant ahead of the shriek of something moving through the air, both mercenaries going down behind the bent remnants of an overhead walkway. Scrabbling to right themselves, Shannon pulled herself free of Abigail, risking a glance. It was an armoured figure, cradling a vicious-looking rifle in its hands. It was advancing cautiously, holding itself low to the ground in expectation of return fire. There was the barest impression of movement and Shannon ducked, a millisecond before a trio of rounds punched through the walkway’s thin metal. Fast. Too fast for baseline humans, her mind began to whisper a dozen thoughts at once. Gene-modded. Didn’t look all the way. Integrated sensors. Energy weapons. Well-kept gear. Advanced industry. It wasn’t just Bujold’s killer.

This was one of Kerrigan’s murderers.

hate you throat is one of the weakest parts of any armour set who are you

It wasn’t – it couldn’t – be alone. It was a distraction, intended to keep them pinned down, or drive them towards its comrades. First rule of combat, Shannie, her ‘big sister’s’ voice played over in her head. Never do what they expect you to do. “Three,” she commed Abigail. “This is a hound. Expect flankers.”

“Orders, Four?”

“We circle around and assault through.”

Abigail responded with an acknowledgement blip. She moved low and fast, unlimbering her carbine as she slid behind the thick trunk of the fallen plant, using it block her movements. She licked her lips. Somewhere out there was this thing’s friends. Part of her wanted very badly to meet them, to have a target – any target – in her sights, but that part of her was easily overridden by the gutter rat, the part that knew that you never, ever started a fight if you weren’t one hundred percent sure you could win it. Most often, by making it an unfair fight. No, she’d get her chance. Not right now, but soon. “No eyes, nothing on motion tracker,” she said to Four. “You have visual?”

“No. She’s gone.”

“She?”

A beat as Shannon reviewed whatever bits of information had given her that conclusion. “She.” Shannon went silent for a moment, straining her auto-senses to pick up any trace of the killer, but there was nothing.

Almost nothing.

“Abby-!”

~

She hadn’t expected to meet the New Ones here. That was twice today that they’d surprised her. Still, she had her orders.

They weren’t doing what they were supposed to, though – run into the rest of the pack and die. Instead, they were circling towards her. Her hands flexed as her armour’s sensory systems probed through the detritus of the broken garden, sifting through shifts in air current, thermal imprints and the minute power sources of their equipment.

-make them weep from pain and fear before they die-

Staying put gave them the initiative and her current position was too open. If she moved towards them, they could surround her. So that left... ah. Yes.

~

She didn’t know how she’d known it would be there. At least, she didn’t want to know. Fever-red thoughts raced through her head so fast and frenetic that she wasn’t consciously aware of them all. All she knew was that she turned away from Abigail, raised her pistol and found her target staring back at her. It – she – was crouched on a broken walkway, somehow having gotten up there without alerting either mercenary. Her legs were poised to spring, her rifle on her back and a macabre pistol in one hand. In the other was a halberd of dark silver, a weapon that it hadn’t been holding moments ago. The blade shimmered, gleaming softly with a disruptor field. As it stared down the barrel of her gun, Shannon realized she’d surprised it.

The Halo quelled the sudden rush of pleasure that that thought gave her.

Its faceless helm tilted towards Shannon and it spoke. The words were oddly lyrical, the rising and falling of a murderer’s ballad, not like the hissing ash-ash-ash of Abigail’s Darknell dialects. They should have been meaningless, a disturbing melody. Instead, Shannon recognized its taunts. She didn’t know how, but she knew. She’d heard the language before.

“No,” she replied, her cheek aching. “It’s not.”

The killer hesitated, a sudden catch in its poise. Its confusion was brief, evidently deciding that Shannon’s answer was only random coincidence. That instant was enough and Shannon shot it in the face, its head snapping back from the impact of the heavy shell. Off-balance, it fell back against the bent gantry, rolling down and crashing to the floor in a tangle of disoriented limbs.

Shannon crept to where the killer had fallen, trying to find out if it was truly dead.

That was a mistake.

~

Spectacular.

Her HUD was fritzing with static, the impact of the bullet damaging several of her helmet’s displays. It was regenerating, but it would be several moments before her function systems were optimal again. Her poor, abused armour... this expedition was certainly not what she’d expected.

Clever prey. Clever and dangerous; she’d been lucky.

She allowed an instant of appreciation for the New One’s skill, licking her teeth and fighting back the primal urge to drool. Amidst the desecrated remains of the garden, with Ribbon-scent thick in the air, she felt the atavistic pull stronger than ever, but she forced it down, pulling herself back up.

How could it have known how to answer?

Motion, there was motion nearby and the question was forgotten.

-crack them open and pull out their entrails-

And she moved.

~

Her face was burning now and, insanely, all she could hear was her great-grandmother’s voice. Lost in that memory, she didn’t see the glimmer of movement as the downed enemy lunged at her-

-then she was off the ground, its hand at her throat and it was whispering something, a bloody demand as its halberd – no, now it was a sword – shimmered with power-

- and before she could answer, it let her go. As she thumped to the deck she heard screaming, the actinic shrieks of blade meeting blade as Abigail came to her rescue, the way she always did-

-the sweep of the blades left blurring after-images on her vision as Shannon watched, crackling spurs of energy writhing around the conjoined disruptor fields as Abigail and the faceless soldier fought. Abigail was fast and brutal, forcing her opponent back through sheer berserker fury, crashing her disruptor against the killer’s guard time and again. Shannon saw the pattern in the duel and surged to her feet. “Three-”

-and Abigail pushed her luck too far and their blades met again, but this time, the killer didn’t retreat, matching Abigail’s strength and pushing back, forcing the mercenary’s own blade towards her throat...

Just like the gutter-fighter she was, the Darkknell tilted her head back and smashed her helmet into her opponent’s face, disorienting it just enough that Abigail was able to push her away, swinging the blade around in a disembowelling strike that met empty air as the killer flitted out of reach. Shannon fired a fusillade at the dancing enemy, but it was fast, too fast and never where her weapon was aimed...

“Fast little fuck, aren’t you?” Abby hissed.

The killer leapt back at its assailants, its ugly sword swepping around in a perfect slash that should have cut through Shannon’s visor and blinded her, if she hadn’t seen it coming. Abigail crashed to the ground as the enemy swept her legs out from under her, unable to follow up with a killing strike as Shannon caught its arm on the downswing, smashing across the face, trying to blur out its sensor feeds, or at least knock its helmet off-center. It pulled back, just enough that its roundhouse kick caught Shannon on the side of her head, doing to her what she’d tried with it.

not just reacting, it’s anticipating

Abigail was back on her feet and there was another scream as their disruptors met one more-

Shannon broke the embrace, shooting Abigail’s assailant in the back of the knees, knocking her down. “Three, we’re bugging out!” she shouted.

A hand snapped out and caught her by the ankle. Shannon cried out as a knife stabbed through the back of her shin and her leg gave out under her, the cry of pained surprise turning into a howl as her assailant wrenched the blade loose, just in time to avoid a limb-severing strike from Abigail’s sword. The soldier scrambled to its feet, ready to continue the battle...

...and something, far, far too close for comfort roared in bestial hatred. All three combatants looked towards the source of the noise and Shannon felt her guts fold in on themselves as a mound of infested flesh stalked forward, muscles twitching and shivering in eagerness, drool flowing over glistening teeth.

“I think it’s angry.” she mumbled as the monster advanced.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-06-23 06:39pm
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Jedi Knight
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Joined: 2006-08-26 10:57am
Posts: 639
In this chapter, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy.

Coming up: Treachery, deceit and the Great River.

Chapter 54:

It wasn’t Unity, but it was still some distant relation.

This one had only four limbs, thick and powerful, with raw muscles barely covered by stretched, tumescent skin. Massive claws and rending talons, easy easily capable of ripping through armour, suggested how it had survived the purge and it glared hatefully at the five figures before it. What had once been cheekbones had grown to monstrous, impossible size, splitting the skin of its face and jagging forward like great tusks bracketing its jutting maw.

Unlike Unity, this praetorian was not a... conglomerate entity, with no sign of the many fused corpses that had created its cousin’s body. Perhaps it had been some beast of burden, or a pet, or even a person now swollen and distended to monstrous size, hunched onto all four legs like some primordial ancestor. At best, the question was academic: the praetorian’s parentage no longer mattered, though. Not since it had Turned. It was now an engine of bone and muscle, given life by some horrific alchemy, tasked to rend and destroy.

Its tusked head swept back and forth as its red eyes surveyed its prey. There was cunning in that grotesque expression, but not Unity’s monstrous intellect. It knew they were dangerous, but it lacked its fellow’s appreciation of that fact. Its mouth opened in a low, rumbling hiss and drool spattered over finger-length teeth.

The enemy soldier turned towards it, weapon raised-

-and the praetorian charged, blindingly fast, despite its bulk. It lowered its head and smashed the soldier to one side like a doll swept away by a child’s tantrum. Its oncoming rush didn’t abate and it threw itself into the tangle of broken metal and toppled trunks that Shannon and Abigail huddled in, screaming in frothing rage as it tried to rip its way to them, powerful tail pounding the deck with sledgehammer blows and hands the side of Shannon’s torso slashed at her and Abigail, the bullets they poured into its thick skull only stoking its rage, ropes of saliva spattering from its jaws as it howled and gnashed, too large to squeeze through the debris after them.

One of its powerful hands wrapped around the stalk of an infested plant and with a heave of inhuman strength, the Turned tore it free. Abigail and Shannon scrambled deeper into the morass, out of the monster’s reach, but this was only delaying the inevitable. Its berserker fury abated for the moment and the praetorian stared at them, watching through its mad red eyes. Strips of skin hung from its face and writhing, worm-like tendrils squirmed out from the bullet holes in its head and torso. It opened its mouth and let loose a heavy breath that smelled like decay and chemical taint, its eyes never leaving the tiny shivering fingers in front of it. Slowly, it reached forward with its other hand, talons hooking into the mesh of the collapsed walkway. And, purposefully, it began to pull it away...

Then, so softly that Shannon would have ignored it completely if not for what followed: there was the brief whine of a cyclic cannon spinning just before it opened fire.

~

Jane watched as the praetorian writhed under her assault, explosive bullets punching deep into its flesh before bursting out in sprays of corruption. It screamed a challenge at her, even as it sought relief from the storm that cratered its body. She wished it could feel pain. Maybe it did, on some level. Some part of the brain that had once been... what? Human? Animal? Might still remember agony and she hoped – oh, she hoped – that it was remembering it now. It screeched at her, but it had no way of climbing up to her position, not without being further shredded. In the end, it retreated. Leaving a trail of gore and leaking entrails, the massive Turned loped from the room to wait until it was healed, until it had a chance to even the score.

With a thoom, Jane dropped to the floor, eight feet and half a ton of bloodstained armour and weaponry. Her weapon tracked the stunned enemy figure. Unable to stand, it was braced against the wall, was holding its own pistol on her, the barrel glowing as it zeroed in on Jane’s head. “Ghost One reporting,” her voice, rough and wet, crackled over Shannon’s comm. “We need to go. Additional bogeys inbound.”

“Then let’s go,” Shannon ordered, keep one eye on the injured killer. It was trying to pull itself back up to its feet, but the praetorian’s blow had hurt it badly, despite its armour. With its free hand it was trying to reach its carbine, a few inches out of its grasp.

“You’re hurt,” Abigail pointed out.

“It missed the major blood vessels. I’m fine,” she lied.

Abby ignored her protestations and slung one of Shannon’s arms over her shoulder, helping her ‘little sister’ walk. “This way,” she commed to the Ghost, Godfrey slowly backing away from the garden, keeping her weapon on the downed enemy soldier. Questions would have to wait; as the trooper said, they had incoming.

As they fled, they heard it scream. Defiant and hating, the shrill cry echoing through the corridors.

And, as it faded, the surviving Turned picked up the call.

~

Then:

Thorne was losing it again, screaming and ranting at their ever-dwindling group of survivors, all but frothing at the mouth. None of them met his eyes, unwilling to look like they were challenging him. Sarah stood next to Dyson, trying to reach out and brush her fingertips against his, but he pulled his hand away. She shot him a furtive glance, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was, incredibly, watching Thorne.

Sarah dared a moment’s quick glance at their erstwhile leader. Thorne was not the most physically impressive man in their group, but he had managed to hold their ragtag band together through charisma, sheer willpower – and, increasingly – physical intimidation. He was one of those people that, even if you outmassed them by a hundred pounds of muscle, still seemed more dangerous than you would ever be. And after he’d gotten his hands on the package that Sarah and Dyson had just dealt with, he’d only gotten worse.

That’s what this was about; he’d just found out that his toys were missing. He’d gathered everyone, hurling increasingly obscene and incomprehensible slurs and threats at each of the remaining men and women there. Sarah wanted to say that a madman’s raving didn’t affect her, that Thorne was just venting at any and every target within reach, but he’d promised some very ugly things, not the least of which was that he’d cut off her arms and legs and leave her for the Masks. She didn’t think he was that far gone, but nobody had thought he’d kill one of their own, either. Not until Vasquez.

“And you!” Thorne suddenly rounded on the group’s cyberneticist, Dr. Jason Whitham, spittle flaying from his mouth. “What do you have to say about this?”

It took a moment for Whitham to even acknowledge Thorne, the scientist looking up slowly and unabashedly meeting his leader’s gaze. Like the rest of them, there were dark circles under his eyes from not enough sleep, but there was more than just fatigue and crumbling nerves in his eyes. He hadn’t been the same since Laura. Distant, coiled in on himself like a spring about to snap. That’s how Dyson had described him.

“What do you want me to say?” Whitham asked softly, almost a whisper. He stared back at Thorne and Sarah felt herself drawing back half a step. Thin and almost so lanky as be gangly, she’d never thought much of Whitham’s physical presence until now, but something in his innocuous question, something in his pose made goosebumps run down Sarah’s arm. She reached for Dyson’s hand again and this time, he took it.

~

She watched the New Ones leave, staring after the heavy trooper as its grey armour disappeared into the blackness of the tunnels, waiting until it faded from her autosenses before she moved, picking herself up slowly, feeling her cracked ribs move on their own. She let out a hiss of breath as healing compounds and nano-melders flooded into her battered torso, assisting her own body’s own regeneration. They could heal from almost anything, but the regeneration stims made the process faster. What took hours, took minutes. What took minutes took seconds instead.

She let out a shivering breath as her bones knit and sheathed her kaitan, putting one arm against her side. The praetorian had retreated, but it would be back as soon as it was fully healed. It was rare, but Ribbons bit retreat from time to time. The clever ones did, or if instinct demanded that they ‘survive’ long enough to alert others, then one of the creatures would buck normalcy and avoid combat.

She looked up; there, on a higher walkway were her lead and the other novitiate, just arrived from their intended ambush point. “You didn’t die,” the lead observed, a note of pride in his voice. He’d watched her battle through the meld their armour systems shared. “You did well; one against two. Thoughts?”

“The second is dangerous for its speed and strength,” she said. “Enhanced strain, but it doesn’t move like the first. Different world of birth, different training. No blood connection, but the way it reacted... it’s bonded to the first, a lover or close friend. A soldier, but the modifications to its armour make it an artificer as well.”

The lead nodded, climbing down the wreckage of Ribbon-twisted life and collapsed gantries. “And the first?”

She growled, the noise low and hateful. “Enhanced strain. Faster than its companion. Processes information at an increased rate; it anticipated several of my actions. It doesn’t think like a soldier. It went for disabling/disorienting blows several times when it should have seen lethal options. Armour modifications indicate medic.”

He knelt next to her, touching her armour, checking for persistent damage as he reviewed his young charge’s bio-telemetry. Injured, but nothing life-threatening or permanently impairing and she’d recover soon. Luckier than most who’d run into praetorians. “And?” he asked as he stood, looking into her eyes. The question sounded nonchalant, but there was an edge in it.

She clicked her teeth, mouth working in the sudden need to sink her teeth into soft flesh and rip a mouthful free. “It reacted to our language. It shouldn’t have. Watcher knows us, a few of the feral oracles know a handful of words. New Ones shouldn’t. Not ever.” Her hands flexed. “It knows our language,” she hissed. She looked at her knife, still wet with the enemy’s blood and felt the fires of revulsion and hatred stoking inside her. “It’s an Old One.”

-kill-

-make it scream-

~

Drooling blood, the Turned slashed uselessly at the passersby, but for all its effort, it had no chance of actually getting at them – Louis, Armin and Emily were out of its reach. The creature moaned and hissed, scrabbling at the wall and floor, trying to free itself without much luck. When Four had purged this part of the station, this grotesque had gotten stuck when a maintenance hatch had closed on it, trapped by the very thing that had saved its unnatural life. Louis could hear more of the monsters, those lucky enough to have found themselves in sections too damaged to be vented, or somehow able to hold out against the atmospheric purge. The direct route was turning out to be too dangerous and twice they’d had to slip into side passages to avoid agitated Turned. These ones were different, clad in glistening chitin like a madman’s interpretation of EVA gear. Like Unity.

Just thinking of that... thing made his skin crawl and Louis sincerely hoped that the monster – well, both of them – that had come knocking on their door was among the many now enjoying a first-hand view of the Twilight Fields.

Louis suppressed a shudder as he led his two survivors through the pitch-black tunnels. His eyepiece didn’t provide the same level of night-vision as the other mercenaries’ blacklight and the sweep of his party’s torches provided welcome – if incomplete – light up and down the hall. In every shifting shadow and every half-glimpsed silhouette, Louis could still see the man reaching out to him and calling for help. And sometimes – just sometimes – he thought he saw a gleam of silver and the flicker of a flamethrower’s pilot light. “We shouldn’t have come here,” he said to himself under his breath. “But they asked us to. We were supposed to help them. We can’t leave. We can’t, not until we’re finished.”

~

Emily bit her lip, resisting the urge to scratch at the back of her head – her scalp already felt raw and tender. Ahead, she could hear Hernandez whispering to no one, almost sounding like he was arguing. Beside her, Lutzberg was oblivious to their to chaperone’s conversation with himself, the petty officer licking his lips constantly, his head snapping back and forth as if he expected the shadows to come alive and drag them off. To be fair, that wasn’t as ridiculous a fear as it might have otherwise been. He wouldn’t look at her; he hadn’t ever since Bujold had been killed.

Her breath created steam clouds in the air as the nearby atmospheric processor struggled to replenish what Shannon had blown out into space and Emily stifled a lightheaded giggle. Focus, the woman scolded herself. Keep it together. Keep it together, you can do it.

They were closing on Shannon’s position. Hernandez froze as the comm crackled briefly, proximity overriding the damaged jammers in this area. A voice she didn’t recognize came over the line, unrecognizable and carrying that edge of insanity that was becoming far too familiar. “Contact.”

~

They ran. There was no other option. Even with Abby’s help, each step jarred her leg and she could feel the blood soaking into her bodyglove, knew she was leaving a trail. Her anterior tibial vein had been nicked and she was bleeding out. The wound wasn’t closing; Halos healed fast and with her system chock-full of combat drugs and stimulants, it should be faster still, nevermind the strain she’d been under for the past... two? more? days. It wasn’t just the movement keeping the wound open, keeping the blood pumping.

something on the blade, anti-coagulants definitely, toxins or hostile microbes likely

She couldn’t slow down, though. Praetorians and soldiers behind them, Turned and the other survivors ahead, the only chance they had now was to find each other and get out before any of the descending hordes reached them. Shannon had ordered Nine to fall back to the tram and hold it, but Emily was the only one responding. Abigail’s motion tracker pinged almost constantly; the purge had gotten rid of most of the Turned, but enough had survived, particularly the vacuum-adapted breeds sequestered in the depressurized sections. They were all coming here, some protective instinct drawing them back to their nest and all the passages she’d opened were just making their journey easier.

Screaming sentry forms bellowed warning cries up and down the halls as they caught sight of the fleeing women and Shannon could see the flickers of movement from parallel hallways and intersections as shambling forms scurried past. None had attacked yet, racing to ambush points ahead and the air vents and maintenance tunnels rang with scuttling movement.

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen them so agitated,” Godfrey chuckled, the sound wet and predatory. “You’ve really pissed off the garden, corporal. Excellent.”

“Thanks,” Shannon panted as she vaulted a spread-covered piece of machinery, ignoring the spike of pain from her leg. She was grateful for Godfrey’s intervention, but had no idea what the Ghost was doing here or how she’d gotten this deep in the station. Especially since the last time she had seen the woman and her team, they’d been killing their way aboard the doomed Kerrigan. Even though they were running for their lives, her curiousity was as fierce as ever. “It’s what I was going for.”

power armour is deep space rated, must have been blown clear, how many others survived, allies or enemies

There was another noise, different from the calls of the Turned, and Godfrey snapped around as fast as her armour allowed. The cannon on her right arm came up, tracking into the darkness. “You’ve pissed off more than that,” the Ghost said, her voice suddenly soft and wavering.

She’s afraid, Shannon realized. “What are they?” she asked, checking her pistol’s clip. “Who are they?”

“There’s worse ways to die,” was Godfrey’s reply. “You can be taken by the ferals. You can be Turned. Used as fodder. Eaten or twisted like the crying girls and wounded boys. One of the Lost can find you. No one dies easy on Acheron, corporal,” she paused. Calvin. “But if they find you... The eyes are always watching. They’re always hungry.”

That wasn’t an answer, but Shannon let it pass for the moment, putting a hand on Godfrey’s pauldron, ignoring the kill markers that the Ghost had daubed there in blood. “We should keep moving, lieutenant.”

The Ghost didn’t seem to realize that she outranked Shannon and the smaller woman’s deference surprised her. “Yes,” she nodded slowly. “Let’s.”

~

His bullets were wasted on the killer’s armour, sparking and glancing off its smooth silver hide. Under its faceless helm, he thought he heard it laughing as it pointed its flamer at him and he clenched his jaw, waiting for the heat and the pain. Neither came. Instead, there was the shriek of tearing air and the blinding after-image of a hypervelocity round and then, the silver killer fell to its knees, its head utterly destroyed. Gunny Sergeant Wilhelm marched through the burning night, a pair of the 301st at his heels. A wisp of smoke was rising from the barrel of the anti-material rifle in the gunny’s arms.

“Hernandez, right?” Wilhelm stared down at him, his face blistered and dribbling pus from a brush with one of the killers’ flamethrowers. The man didn’t even seem to notice. “It’s been hell trying to round up all you wet-ears after that FUBAR at the drop. You’re on my team now, rookie and it’s time to go. We’re legging it to EZ-Three.”

Louis straightened. “Sir, I’m fit to fight.”

“It ain’t about that, rook. In case you hadn’t noticed, government forces are sweeping this place clean. Ain’t nothing worth saving here and we’re quitting the field.” The sergeant looked back over the dying city, crackles of gunfire and cries echoing through the alleys and streets. “We’re done here.”

“There!” the sudden shout distracted Louis and he started, looking over at Emily, then in the direction she was pointing. Up ahead, he could see the bouncing white circles of Three and Four’s flashlights and the mercenary blinked; he hadn’t realized that they were that close. He blinked, trying to push past the fog in his mind. Hadn’t they been told to go somewhere else? He thought he remembered that, looking around. Yes, he remembered this place. They were close to the tram. So they had backtracked after all.

The women were running and with them... he started at the hulking form of one of Primal’s Ghosts, the trooper’s pale grey armour desecrated with blood. Most of it looked like it belonged to the Turned. Some of it didn’t. He clenched his jaw, fingers tightening on Betsy as he and his survivors came to a halt.

“Jesus, Nine,” Abigail spoke first, her voice fritzing through the comm. She was supporting Four; the corporal didn’t look to steady on her feet. “Maybe next time answer your radio once in a while? If it wasn’t for the doc giving us position checks, we might have gone right by you.”

Louis blinked. He hadn’t realized they’d been comming him. “Sorry, I-” he was about to apologize, then shrugged. “Who’s your new friend?”

“Nine...” Abigail drawled angrily, her hands bunching into fists.

“It’s all right,” Shannon intervened. “It is. Private Louis Hernandez, Beta Nine. Lieutenant Jane Godfrey, G-One.”

“Charmed,” the trooper rasped through her helmet’s speakers. Even without the mechanical edge to her voice, her tone was flat and dead.

“Yeah, everyone shake hands, kiss-kiss, friends now,” Abigail interrupted. “Glad everyone’s here and in one piece. Anything chasing you?”

“Not that we’ve noticed,” Emily spoke up. “We’re being stalked, but I don’t think there’s anything outright following-”

“Good,” Shannon cut the doctor off. “Better than us. Everyone: we have bogeys on our six, so we are double-timing it to the tram. Let’s go, people.”

“Wait, what’s after you-”

That same ululating call filtered up through the hallways, a trilling melody that froze each of the survivors as it spiked and slid through their nervous systems. As the cry tapered off, Lutzberg trembled. “It’s them,” he whimpered. “They’re hunting again.”

“Yeah, we made some new friends,” Abigail grabbed the petty officer by the shoulders and gave him a shove, jarring him out of his stupor. “Like Four said, we are leaving.

~

The tram was up ahead, blissful salvation from the faint light flooding from its open doorway. “There!” Lutzberg cried as he caught sight of their car. “We’re there!”

Shannon frowned. Something wasn’t right. Something had changed, the tram car looked different, the way the light was reflecting off its windows and plastic ad-panels and...

the door is open

something’s been put inside the car

“No!” Shannon shouted after him. “Don’t! It’s a-” But he was too far away and-

-Emily caught Armin by the collar, an instant before he would have jumped up the stairs into the cab, pulling both of them to ground. That saved their lives.

The blast hurled glass and metal in every direction, a rain of molten shards that pattered and pinged off the mercenaries’ armour, but the concussion knocked Shannon and Abigail off their feet, their armour scorched by the blossoming flames. Louis had the good fortune to be behind Godfrey and the trooper wasn’t so much as nudged by the explosion, cooling gobbets of silicate and metal running down her armour like drops of mercury. She waited patiently for the others to pick themselves back up, shouting at one another over the ringing in their ears, wobbling on unsteady legs.

Shannon braced herself against Abigail, her injured leg quivering and threatening to buckle, but it wasn’t just the wound. The tram was a total loss, utterly gutted by the explosion. “Shit,” she groaned, unable to think of anything more to encapsulate this. “Watcher,” she commed their ally. “We’ve got the pendant, but someone blew our tram. Can you re-route a new car to us?”

“There aren’t that many left!” he snapped at her angrily, on the verge of hysteria. “If you’re not blowing them up, then they’re getting infested, or hijacked by the Red Hands – always stealing my things – and it’ll be a bit before I can find one! They’re in the system now, did you know that? No, of course not...”

Shannon tuned out the rest of his diatribe. “The Watcher’s sending us another car,” she told the others. “But it’ll be a while before it gets here. Can we hold?”

Abigail raised her motion tracker. It was flashing urgently. “Uhm,” she was staring down the hallway. “Shannie...”

Shannon looked in the direction Three was pointing and felt her guts fold in on themselves.

“What?” Emily asked. “What do you see?”

Someone – Shannon thought it was Louis – raised a flashlight and shone a beam of light down the dark hallway, but the light didn’t penetrate far enough into the black. Shannon wondered if that was such a bad thing, under the circumstances. Blacklight incorporated multiple scanning modes; image intensifiers, infrared imaging and active illumination modes, allowing Artemis mercenaries to operate even in the darkest of conditions, find their targets and complete their mission. Thanks to these minor technological marvels, Shannon, Abigail and Jane could see what was coming down the tram tunnel in almost-perfect fidelity.

Red eyes glinted like embers, muscles rippled with movement and chitin gleamed.

Unity had come, and it was not alone.

An army marched alongside the praetorian, the survivors of Shannon’s purge. With a sinking surety, she realized that this was why they’d been unmolested on their escape from the garden. Unity had been gathering its forces for an overwhelming assault rather than see its remaining brothers and sisters frittered away by ones and twos. Monsters shouldn’t be better officers than me, she thought with graveyard humour.

“We have incoming,” Shannon said. “Multiple Turned and Unity.”

Vacuum-adapted Turned hissed steaming breath into the cold air, monstrous claws and scythes flexing. Hunter forms drooled and frothed as smaller scouting breeds – children and animals – scurried about their feet. I t knew they were watching it, but even discovered, Unity didn’t break stride, grinning from its forever-leering mouth, its eyes watching the survivors, studying them. It raised its head, a tooth-rattling call rumbling from its mouth, echoing into the darkness.

A moment passed and the cry was answered; deeper, more resonant. The second praetorian. It was healed and it was coming to join its kin. Unity tilted its head to the left and that half of the swarm dispersed, scurrying for the walls and ceiling. It repeated the gesture on the right and its followers parted, no longer bunched together. The massive Turned cocked its head, its four eyes looking right at Shannon with a cunning far out of proportion to its bestial form.

“I hate you,” Shannon said aloud. “And I’m going to find a way to kill you.”

If it heard her, if it understood, if it even cared, there was no sign. There was only a predator’s surety in its unnatural visage, the flesh of the dead fused – forced – into life. I will have you, it seemed to say. I will have you, I will feed and it will be good. I have killed greater than you. This station has killed better than you. You are nothing. You are alone and I am Unity.

It was nonsense of course; the creature couldn’t speak. But that was what Shannon read in the monster’s face and revulsion, red-tinged and defiant, deep and dark and hating, welled up in her. “I will kill you,” she repeated, answering the unspoken challenge.

“Orders, Four?” Abigail knelt on the floor, her finger resting on her carbine’s trigger guard. “Run or fight?”

The Turned were getting closer, about a hundred meters away now, their movements becoming jerky, wanting to charge but waiting for their master’s command.

pheromonal, i wonder if I can duplicate it

This was an untenable position. Shannon remembered the earlier fight in the tram station. They’d come through the ceiling, through the tunnel and the doors. They’d have come through the deck, too. Here, it was the same. Too much to cover. Too open, too easy to be flanked.

They were being flanked. Again, in the distance, but getting closer: their enemy’s hunting call. Even if they survived the Turned, they’d be facing an opponent with weapons and armour. But there was nowhere, nowhere that they couldn’t be... followed. Shannon brought up the station’s schematic, confirming what her mind’s eye had shown her, casting a quick glance at Jane.

Tight, but she’ll fit.

Thank you, Gemma.

“Fall back!” she ordered, taking a step back herself. “Pull back up the tram tunnel. Leapfrog, covering rotations.”

As her people began to pull away from the Turned and the wave of once-human things surged after them, Shannon caught one last glimpse of Unity. This time, she knew it was smiling.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-08-21 09:38pm
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Jedi Knight
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Joined: 2006-08-26 10:57am
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In this chapter: desperation in the present, corruption in the past. Parallel lines never meet, but these are not parallel...

Coming up: betrayals, past and present.

Chapter 55:

If I ever get out of here, Abigail silently vowed as she pounded up the empty tunnel, the screeches of ghouls on her heels, I am going to find every last motherfucker that says bringing knives to a gunfight is stupid and kill each one of those sons-of-bitches.

To be fair though, it wasn’t really knives that were the problem. And whoever had decided that parable was always valid, had never expected to encounter anything like the Turned. They were fast. They shouldn’t be, not with their normal limping, skulking gait. But they could move when they wanted, faster than anything else on two legs that Abigail had ever seen. Plus, the value of normal killshots was... somewhat reduced.

Oh, sure – if you had artillery, flamethrowers, energy weapons and armoured units, then things would be a lot simpler. But if you didn’t, if all you had was small-arms and infantry... if you had to fight these things on anything approaching unfavourable conditions, then you had two options: be fast and lucky or... well, there actually wasn’t any option after that, because it didn’t matter how many you killed. There were always more. Sooner or later your batteries died, your magazines were empty, your armour was broken, your food was gone and then all the luck in the universe couldn’t save you.

Abigail didn’t want to think about how many others had come to the DROP, how many other bands of survivors had fought for days until they too, were worn down, or many of those former survivors she was facing now. She didn’t want those thoughts and she didn’t have time for them. All that mattered right now was surviving long enough for Shannon to do whatever she was doing, to find whatever she was looking for. She has a plan. She has to have a plan.

Something with pincers for hands squawked as it fell, its left leg severed at the hip by Godfrey’s fire. With barely a pause as it hit the ground, it began pulling itself over the deck with those clicking maniples. Something else staggered as Betsy crashed out a burst, but it was one of those damn EVA breeds and the shotgun’s normally flesh-tearing fusillade sparked uselessly against the Turned’s armour. Lutzberg was yelling and firing wildly as he ran, his shots as often as not going wide and those that did hit had little effect. Delphini was rabbiting up the corridor, keeping pace with Four; Shannon pointing something out to her before turning around and firing, blowing the back of a Turned’s skull out as one of the Merkilov’s large bullets punched through its eye socket. The creature moaned and staggered, but Abigail knew that something as trifling as missing the greater portion of its brain was only an inconvenience.

There are only a couple dozen, Abigail thought as one of Louis’ grenades arced over her head and exploded; a frag, it peppered the nearest Turned with shrapnel: shearing limbs, ripping muscle and tearing skin. The injured creatures staggered through their own gore, frothing and screaming in single-minded need, but they shrugged off the wounds, chewing up the distance between them and the ragged band of fleeing survivors.

Not for the first time, Abigail wondered just what it was that the Imperium had made here. She fell back up the hall past Louis and knelt. Jane was last in line now, the trooper’s gun spitting fire in brief bursts. This wasn’t a time to conserve ammo and the Darkknell realized with a thrill of horror that the Ghost was rationing her fire because she didn’t have much left. Shit. Shit, shit shit. One of the Turned rushed Godfrey, only to be sheared in half by the trooper’s disruptor, its thrashing torso smashed beneath the Ghost’s boots.

Abigail blinked. She’s quick.

“G-One!” Shannon ordered. “Fall back now!”

“Acknowledged,” the trooper replied, starting to back up. There was movement further down the corridor and Abigail watched as Unity’s massive head peered around the burning remains of the tram, watching the survivors draw back. It pulled out, slinking through the twitching remains of its kin as they continued to harry the group, torn to pieces by the mercenaries’ fire, but each one got a little closer, each one absorbed more of their dwindling supply of bullets. Leisurely stalking its victims, Unity followed them up the tram tunnel, nudging ruined bits of the other turned towards each other as it did so, ensuring they’d rise faster. Already, the first resurrection was dragging itself to its feet, leaking ichor from a torso still riddled with bullet holes. Its left arm belonged to something else, clawed fingers spasming as flesh and nerves reconnected to one another.

Drool and blood leaked from its mouth as it took lurching steps towards the survivors, testing its torn muscles and ruined ligaments as they knit themselves together.

The Watcher was screaming in her ear, excoriating them to fight or flee – Abigail couldn’t tell which and she blink–clicked his channel off, trusting Shannon to sort out any useful information from the feral’s hysteria. She could hear Emily behind her, shouting.

There was a maintenance hatch on the floor of the tram, its black-on-yellow hazard stripes and red lettering faded from years of neglect and scratched by a great many long, sharp claws. It was one of the tunnels that fed into the byzantine network of cross-tunnels and Jefferies tubes that ran above, beneath and alongside the station’s main corridors. Normally the domain of Turned, but Abigail knew why Shannon had led them there – the claw marks were from Gemma and her ‘sisters’ – like the work shafts in the hydroponics bay, this too should be free of infestation. Barely big enough for the armoured Godfrey to squeeze into, it was too small for Unity to fit through. There was just one problem, summed up by the doctor’s alarmed cry: “They’ve sealed it!” The turnwheel that unlocked the hatch was jammed with a twisted spar of metal that even Shannon was having trouble untangling from the hatch. That simple, casual demonstration of Gemma’s newfound strength was bad enough on its own. That she’d been helping them only minutes earlier...

It hurts to remember, Abigail recalled the petty officer saying. And you weren’t hungry then were you, Mackenzie? Are you hungry now, or is this one of your ‘sisters’ at play?

Abigail wondered where the infected Gemma and her ‘sisters’ had gone, if they had been blown into space, but she couldn’t spare more than a passing thought for the petty officer as she slapped a fresh cartridge into her rifle.

Behind her, Shannon had given up trying to pull the girder out and was using the surgical laser in her built-in medical gear to cut through it, but the thin red beam was intended to cauterize and suture, not burn through metal.

“Hurry, Four,” Abby shouted unnecessarily as she dropped to one knee, forming a firing line with Godfrey and Hernandez. Her disruptor would cleave through the blockage in a second, but she needed a moment to get it into her hand, a moment she didn’t have. Most of the Turned were down, twitching gobbets of meat hauling themselves together, but Unity was still there, still slinking towards them, completely unhurried. It had found them once; it would do so again. The praetorian’s massive head tilted towards the women, three of its eyes watching them. It made a staccato hiss as it evaluated them,

“Get my blade,” Abigail told her Shannon, feeling her partner’s hands free the disruptor from her back, the Darkknell focusing her attention on Unity, the three faces that formed its visage staring back at her. Whoever they’d been, however long they’d fought... it hadn’t been enough. And it didn’t matter. There was nothing human in the creature’s eyes, no trace of Mackenzie’s fear, none of the Mother’s insanity. Kill and eat and kill and eat. That was Unity’s sole drive now.

“Fuck you,” Abigail whispered towards the massive grotesque as she set her carbine down, pulling the anti-material rifle off her back and snapping it out into its full length. “I’ve got something special just for you.” She chambered one of the weapon’s precious few rounds. Armour-penetrating, high explosive. Intended to punch through the armour of heavy troopers and light vehicles alike. A thin killer’s smile wormed onto the Darkknell’s face as she lifted the weapon, zeroing in on her target.

A roar shook the halls, rattling Abigail’s bones inside her armour as the tusked praetorian they’d fought earlier thundered onto the scene. The only trace of its ruination at Godfrey’s hands were the splotches of milky, discoloured flesh that made a patchwork pattern out of its hide. Its massive clawed hands were splayed as it slunk along the deck, its flanks pulsing with its heavy breaths, rancid steam wisping out from its drooling maw. Its muscles twitched in feline anticipation, thick black talons clicking against the deck. tap tap tap

tap tap tap

Unity looked from its kin to the survivors, its lipless mouth somehow managing to grin wider, almost as if it found joy in the situation. It glanced back at its companion, opening its distended jaws and hissing an imperative. The second praetorian screamed and bound forward, thickly muscled arms and legs pounding against the deck as it flew into the waves of gunfire, shrieking from its eroding features. A living engine of destruction, forged from bone and flesh instead of metal and ceramic. It would never stop, never tire, never die.

Lutzberg let out a panicked wail, firing wildly and utterly off-target. Emily was more accurate, her pistol snapping again and again, but the doctor’s shots had no more effect than the petty officer’s fire. In Louis’s hands, Betsy roared, cycling through the ammo drum so fast her barrel began to glow and Godfrey’s cyclic cannon whined as the Ghost spent the last of her ammo in an attempt to kill the charging praetorian. It was almost on them.

Like a gladiator facing a charging lion, she raised her sword.

“Wait,” Shannon told the trooper, watching Abigail. “Wait.”

“Zeroing,” Abigail whispered. It was fast, almost too fast...

...there.

She squeezed the trigger and the crash of the hypersonic round filled the tramway, overpowering every other noise, so loud that the mercenaries’ autosenses overcompensated, momentarily shutting down their audio receptors entirely. The bullet took the charging praetorian in the flank, just behind the forward left shoulder. Intended to tear through light vehicle armour, no amount of flesh and bone could stop it and the round punched through the monster’s body, ripping it in half as it detonated within the Charger’s flesh.

The Turned screamed, an uncomprehending gargling wail as it ruptured, front and back halves skidding across the deck in a tsunami of infected blood and corrupted organs. It coughed, gagging weakly as it struggled to recover from the strike, even its robust nerve net temporarily overloaded as it spasmed and thrashed amidst its own gore. It couldn’t die, but it could be crippled.

Under her helmet, the Darkknell’s lips twitched upwards in the barest of smiles. “Got you.”

Its hindquarters were twitching and wobbling, slipping on its own entrails and gore as a forest of writhing tendrils spasmed out from its torso, seeking to pull itself back together. The praetorian looked up at Abigail from its ruined face – one eye had been burst by the survivors’ fire – and let out a wet, rippling exhalation, all the noise its perforated lungs were capable of creating. Then, it reached one of its massive hands towards her and began to pull itself along the deck, leaving a vast red smear behind it as it began to pick up speed.

Abigail grabbed another anti-armour round and slammed it into the rifle’s breach. She never got the chance to fire it as Unity was suddenly there, smashing her to one side with a secondary arm. The woman rolled with the blow-

-Unity’s tail wrapped around Godfrey’s sword arm and as if the trooper weighed no more than Abigail, it yanked her off her feet and sent her clattering over the ground, right into the other praetorian’s path-

-Lutzberg was sobbing in terror and scrabbling blindly away in panic-

-Emily was screaming, but Abigail couldn’t make out the words as Unity rounded on the petite doctor and its jaws opened, wide enough to engulf Delphini’s head-

-ropes of saliva dribbled from its teeth as it leaned towards Emily and Abigail tried to pull herself up, but she wasn’t fast enough, couldn’t make it there in time-

-and Shannon was in front of Emily, firing into Unity’s gaping maw.

The monster staggered back, shrieking and coughing blood. One of its four arms clutched at its throat as it rasped and gagged, another swinging at Shannon. She was fast, but not fast enough and the Turned’s talons scored across her cuirass. Unity shook off its injuries – what was a shredded brain and massive soft tissue damage to it? – and, open-mouthed, it lunged.

Its jaws gnashed empty air as Shannon pulled Emily down, both women rolling under the enraged creature. Shannon fired into its throat and the underside of its jaw, praying to every god that ever was or would be for it have a weak point, any weak point. Its hands stabbed down in a frenzy of slashing grabs as it tried to seize the women and drag them out from under its body, or simply pull them apart.

Its maw darted down, saliva pattering onto Shannon’s armour as it tried to get its mouth around her head. She grabbed its mouth, forcing its jaws shut. Steam flared from its nostrils as it pounded the ground around her, but the Halo held onto Unity’s mouth, keeping it shut. like any predator, its strongest jaw muscles closed, not opened. It would take enormous strength to hold an old-Earth alligator’s jaws open, but almost anyone could hold the reptile’s mouth shut and so it was with this monstrosity.

The creature bore down on her, its reeking breath overpowering her suit’s filtration systems and she gagged at the stench of it, her arms shaking as it pushed against her, struggling to get its mouth free, jerking its head back and forth, but Shannon desperately clung to its face, refusing to let go. Unity reared back, but still Shannon held tight, digging her fingers into its flesh for purchase but little by little, her grip was loosening.

“Run!” she shouted at Emily, so loud that static blasted from her speakers. “Run!” she screamed again as Unity slammed her against the deck. Emily scrabbled to safety, just barely avoiding the sweep of Unity’s claws, but Shannon couldn’t see to confirm that, she couldn’t look away from the abyss of the monster’s eyes and the rage, the hunger and the fury that formed the void.

I will have you. You are nothing. Better than you have come here. Better than you have died here. Nothing you do will matter. You will feed us, or become one of us. Your victory means nothing. It pushed harder, its maw almost touching her helmet now. You are nothing. It reared back and smashed her against the wall. Shannon cried out in pain and her hands slipped a fraction more.

“No...” Shannon whispered, her eyes tearing as she tried to look away, but it was so close that Unity was all she could see, the malice and intelligence in its eyes, the sense of triumph as it knew she was weakening. Even struggling against her, its limbs still fought against the others in a blind frenzy of slashing blades, forcing them back. None of them could get near her.

They can’t help you. You’re going to die – as you lived. As nothing.

“No.” It came out as a plea, not a challenge.

You are nothing.

You are nothing.

“No!” Shannon screamed, wrenching her hands with a burst of desperate strength. She felt more than heard the crack of the praetorian’s bones and it jerked back so fiercely that she finally lost her grip. Unity shrieked hatefully from its splintered maw, its lower jaw all but torn off. One of its forelegs came crashing down, hard enough to shatter her armour and crush the bones of her chest, but someone grabbed her at the last second and pulled her out of the way. Godfrey.

The trooper lunged forward with her other arm, jabbing her disruptor up into Unity’s torso and the monster screamed again, heaving back off the blade before Jane could eviscerate it. Its broken jaw worked with an ugly crackling sound as it clicked back into place, the bones knitting. There was only the briefest pause in the battle as Unity gathered its bearings, looking from the half-dozen survivors surrounding it, to the steaming hulk of its fellow praetorian, hewn and butchered by Godfrey’s blade but even now twitching and pulsing in the spasms of resurrection. The praetorian’s eyes flicked over to the lurching horde of its lesser kin as, reborn and gabbling in hunger and rage, as they drew closer. Foul blood leaked down its sides from a plethora of wounds, but true its kind, none of them had even slowed it down, while each of the survivors was drenched in sweat, bloodied and bruised, tired and weakened.

“Three,” Shannon whispered softly over the comm, still staring into the monster’s eyes. “Burn it.”

Abigail carefully drew an incendiary, thumbing the detonator on. The praetorian’s head shifted as it evaluated its targets. “That’s right,” the Darkknell purred. “Make your choice.” She threw the explosive. Unity saw it, knew what the small metal sphere was and was already moving away, fast despite its size. But not fast enough.

Heat and light flashed through the dark tunnel, flames washing over the monster’s flank. It screamed again, the noise deafening, and again the mercenaries’ autosenses shut down as Lutzberg, Delphini and Hernandez clapped their hands to their ears in an effort to block out the awful noise. Burning, Unity thrashed, shrieking and roaring as the flames licked over its armoured hide. For an instant, the creature’s berserker instincts almost took control and it nearly rounded on its tormentors. Instead, the monster’s mind won out and it turned and fled back down the corridor, aflame and yowling like the damned as it sought some refuge from the fire spreading over its flesh. Abigail hoped it burned.

“That won’t hold it long,” Shannon said, dashing her ‘big sister’s’ hopes. “The air’s still too thin and it’ll find some way to put out of the fire.”

“Stop, drop and roll,” Louis commented dryly as he put a round into another Turned, cratering its patchwork torso. He snickered at his own joke, the sound manic and almost a giggle. They were still coming, but in ones and twos now as they pulled themselves together. “We have an evac plan?”

“Yes,” Shannon answered after a moment. There was something in her voice and Abigail realized what it was as she noticed the limp in the Halo’s step and the stain on her leggings. She knelt back at maintenance hatch, finally cutting through the last lock. “We go down.”

~

She’d had a name once. She remembered that much. Sometimes, she even remembered what it was. She didn’t want to. Remembering it brought back other memories. The sound of her mother’s voice as she sang lullabies. The feel of her father’s hands when he picked her up. Faces. Other names, places. It was worse than the hunger. She’d tear at herself until her skin hung off her flesh in strips and the pain blocked out the memories. She didn’t want to remember. There were words and faces and sounds and smells, knives that cut through her over and over until... until she forgot again.

They’d told her how beautiful she was. What lovely, strong children she’d have. Then they’d stopped telling her. She’d been their hound until they drove her out. Then, she was this.

Tabitha. That had been her name. Blood dripped from her talons as she cut into her palms and she rasped a pained breath out between her teeth.

She was the second youngest sister. The oldest was Kiyomi. Their youngest was called Gemma. Both of them were here. She didn’t know where her other sisters were and the worry gnawed at her. She didn’t count her brothers. She didn’t like them.

Unity ran by, a blur of armour plating and smouldering flames. She watched it go, wincing in sympathy for the praetorian. The creature unsettled even her, but it was family. “Gemma,” she rolled her sibling’s name down her tongue. It felt wrong to use it – she knew Gemma felt the same pain she did, but she needed her newest sibling’s full attention.

The other girl didn’t turn to look at her, but she cocked her head, listening.

“They hurt Unity,” Tabitha hissed.

“I know.”

“They killed Mother.”

“I know.”

“So many lost.”

“I know.”

“Then why?” she all but shrieked. Kiyomi flinched at the sound. She was the smallest of them and she had been Turned barely into her teenage years. She crept forward and nuzzled Tabitha and Gemma in turn, licking each of them and making worried little keens at her sisters’ argument.

Gemma reached out and stroked Kiyomi’s hair, eliciting a purr from the smaller girl. Likewise, Tabitha returned Kiyomi’s nuzzle, though she remained looking at Gemma, awaiting an answer. “Because I know them,” Gemma whispered. “I know where they’ll go.” The woman turned back to the darkened corridor, running her tongue over her teeth. “It’s a Halo. It’s looking for the oasis.”

Tabitha’s lips drew back over her teeth. “High in the pine tree, the little turtledove made a nursery to please her little love.”

“‘Coo’, said the little dove, ‘coo’ said she,” Gemma took up the rhyme, continuing to pet Kiyomi. She smiled at Tabitha and rested her head on her sister’s shoulder. “In the long, shady branches of the dark pine tree.”

~

Then:

“I’m not sure about this.”

“It’s okay Sare,” Dyson’s voice whispered through the comm. “You’re doing fine.”

Jessup’s only response was a sound much like a whimper as she squeezed herself through the tunnel. It was only intended for maintenance bots and emergency venting and she had to drag herself through one hand at a time. She wasn’t claustrophobic, not normally, but scraping through the pipe inch by inch in utter darkness wasn’t really conducive to her mental well-being. She couldn’t see anything at the end of the tunnel, even with the infra-red goggles she was wearing. It might mean there was nothing to worry about, or it might mean that there was a new Lurker breed that didn’t show up on infrared waiting there for her. “How much further?”

“You’re almost there.”

“You’ve been saying that for ten minutes.”

“And if you’d been moving faster, you’d be there already.”

Another little whimper and Sarah stammered an apology. “Sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Just keep going,” Dyson said soothingly. “You’re doing fine. Let me know when you’ve reached the end.”

Without waiting for her reply, he switched the mic over to its mute mode, leaning back in his chair. The scent of perfume washed over him. “She’s almost there,” he said to his visitor.

“Good.”

“You’re sure she’ll be safe?”

“One of my sisters will watch out for her,” his companion whispered, her tone rising and falling in a disturbing singsong. “And we’ll both get what we want.”

“I know we will,” Dyson replied, reaching back to stroke her cheek, the action eliciting a trill of pleasure that rose into a questioning purr. One of her hands slid down his chest, between his legs. “I’ll get what I want?” she chirped.

His right hand slipped into her torn blouse. “And what’s that?”

She circled around him and straddled his lap, her red eyes staring at him with a mixture of need and hunger. Her lips moved, drawing back over her teeth, her tongue licking out. Her clawed hands rested gently against his shoulders. She began to rock back and forth, lifting herself up only enough for him to unfasten his pants. “I want,” she purred softly as he took a hold of her hips and began to guide her movements. “I want to remember this.”


~

“God, I thought the live ones smelled bad.”

“Nine, if you puke on me, I will cut you in ways that will make you useless to a woman. Don’t even think I won’t.”

Louis forced his gorge down, ineffectually covering his mouth with one hand as he sloshed through the effluvia. “Four, no offence, but this was the best plan you could come up with?”

“Unity can’t fit down here,” Shannon replied without looking back at Nine. “The others can’t open the door. If they do, they still can’t spread out and rush us at once.” In the distance, they could hear the clanging as claws and talons beat against the hatch, but it wasn’t something you could force open.

“Yeah, great. But aren’t we headed back towards the garden where you said all these horrible things were being made?”

“This is a waste tunnel,” Shannon confirmed. “For overflow if the main sewage lines ever became blocked up. It’s also intended for maintenance on the pumping systems and tramway.”

“Yeah, I got the ‘waste’ part of it,” Louis said with a grimace as he lifted his boot, clear translucent strings of goo dripping off the sole. “I just want to know our heading.”

“As do I, daughter,” the Watcher’s voice crackled through the comm. “Where are you going? I need to know. I want my locket. It’s what you promised.”

“I know what I promised,” Shannon answered the feral human. He’d called her ‘the daughter’ before. And Rabbit Mask’s reaction to her name... her cheek burned. You shouldn’t have seen that,” her great-gran’s voice ran through her head. [i]You shouldn’t have seen any of it. Promise me Shannie, promise me that you’ll forget. All of it.

I promise. “I promise,” Shannon repeated the words without realizing that she had.

“Four?” Abigail queried.

Shannon blinked. “Sorry, Three. Just talking to myself.”

There was a bit of a giggle over the comm, then a raspy, steadying breath: “Where is the daughter going? Where are you going, Shannon Hayes-Halo?”

The redhaired woman put a steadying hand on the wall as her injured leg trembled, close to buckling. “This tunnel leads to one of the secondary tram lines. Can you get a car there?”

“Yes, yes, of course. It’ll take longer. More obstructions, more side-routes-”

“Just do it,” Shannon interrupted, too tired to argue.

“You’ve done well, daughter of sin. You, the little moth and the other forgotten.”

“They’re not forgotten.”

“They will be,” the Watcher assured her in a brief moment of lucidity. His tone was almost kind. “You will forget them. Their names, their faces, what they meant to you. You’ll only remember pieces and then you’ll wonder what those pieces go to. One by one they’ll fade away... and then you’ll be left. Acheron flows into the Lethe.”

Shannon closed her eyes briefly. I know. Her cheek still burned and somewhere, in the back of her head, she could still hear her great-grandmother’s voice telling her, begging her, to forget.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-08-29 08:29pm
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Jedi Knight
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In this chapter: The mindless hunters have had their turn. Now the clever monsters are closing in.

Coming up: If you make a deal with the devil, is it righteous to honour it... or break it?

Chapter 56:

There had been a battle here. You didn’t need any special senses to know that – the smears of blood, spent shell casings, aroma of Ribbon kill-scent and gunpowder were blatantly obvious to even the most cursory observer.

Cleaner slugs had already oozed out of their crevices, sopping up the spilled blood and pieces of Ribbon flesh too small to regenerate, the sickly many-legged little carrion feeders becoming so bloated from their gorging that they could barely move. There would normally be more scavengers here – insects and other vermin, both infested and not – but these cleaner slugs were the only ones to survive the Old One’s purge. She knelt besides one of the quietly slurping annelids, the creature paying her no mind. If touched, it would spray digestive acid back at its attacker, but was harmless otherwise. Unless it came across you while you were sleeping, injured or otherwise unable to move away.

They’d been something else, long ago. Still feeders of decay and compost, but not infected. Now they were part of the cairn’s cannibalistic ecosystem. The Ribbons poisoned everything they touched. Infesting. Corrupting.

Nothing was safe. Almost nothing.

-they are not our blood-

She picked up a shell casing, letting her helmet’s sensors analyze it, but she already knew what it was. It was from the Old One’s weapon.

She inhaled, feeling a stir of... she didn’t know what. She’d heard the stories of the escape, of the days when they’d taken the cairn, of the Old Ones’ first and only attempt to reclaim it and then... then the New Ones had come. Fools and fortune-hunters, the desperate and the daring. The very few that had found the cairn through luck or skill and the rest – cat’s paws of the Old Ones. For six hundred years, the Old Ones had let others bleed for them, sending ship after ship of pawns into Acheron rather than risking their own lives. They knew what had been created here and as much as they desired it, it frightened them. They would never stop trying, never stop pouring blood and treasure into the cairn until they finally held it and all its secrets in their hands again.

And she, like all her brothers and sisters, would forever be there to honour Father’s request, keeping Umbra and all its horrors out of the hands of treasure-seeking New Ones and covetous Old Ones.

Now one of them was here. She didn’t know what it meant and neither did the lead. He’d been in communication with the mission commander who, in turn, had sent a missive back to Umbra.

She didn’t know what decision would be made – all she knew was that she wanted to slide a blade between the Old One’s ribs, pierce its heart and let it drown in its own blood.

-and won’t you be proud at what we’ve become?-

~

She could hear the distant, muted thuds and clangs of the Turned moving through the halls, vents and maintenance tunnels of the DROP, searching for a way to get to them. Sooner or later, they would find one. The cramped conditions of the spillway would make it impossible for the creatures to swarm over the survivors, but it limited their fields of fire; there was barely enough room for one of them to edge past another and for the power-armoured lieutenant, the fit was even tighter – there was just enough room for Godfrey to squeeze through the tunnel, her helmet and pauldrons scraping against the walls and if she had to turn around, it wouldn’t be easy or quick. Weighted down by their own arsenals, Hernandez and Abigail were having almost as much difficulty as the Ghost.

“You survived Kerrigan’s destruction,” Shannon said in a tired voice.

Godfrey’s head tilted in a fractional nod. “Yes. Colonel Shaw vented the hold, blew my team and your Etas into space. Don’t know how many survived. At least one of yours, another of mine.”

“Someone from Eta’s out there?” Louis asked. “Do you know where they are? Not that you’re not charming company...”

“Lieutenant Calvin Meyers, Eta One,” the Ghost answered. “Hunted him. Nearly had him. Woke up a Leviathan. Fought together. He was infected. Killed him.” shkkt-kzz. As her disruptor came out, the woman stared at the gleaming blade as if enraptured by it. “With this.” She shut the blade off, retracting it into the sheath on her forearm. “Corporal Cynthia Black, Ghost Five. Also survived. Sporadic contact. She’s coming to us.”

Louis pursed his lips. “That was who commed us just before we got to the tram.”

“Yes.” Jane made an indescribable, but extremely unsettling, noise. “I can control her.”

“And who controls you?”

This time, the sound the trooper made was far clearer in intent: halfway between a hiss and a growl and nothing if not aggressive. “I made a promise.”

Louis opened his mouth to argue further, but Shannon cut him off. “That’s enough, both of you. Jane: why does Cynthia need to be controlled?”

“She’s been affected. If she doesn’t listen, if she’s weak, I’ll kill her myself.” There was almost a happy note in Jane’s tone.

“Good to know,” Shannon replied.

“It is,” Jane nodded, oblivious to the corporal’s sarcasm.

~

Then:

Thorne was waiting for them when they got back. He was trembling with anger, unable to stay still. Sarah looked down at the deck and tried to disappear into Dyson’s shadow. “We’ve been trying to comm you,” Thorne said, very quietly, his twitching fingers hovering close to the butt of his gun.

“Must have turned the radio off,” Dyson said, trying to sound apologetic and not terribly succeeding.

Thorne nodded and patted Dyson on the cheek. “Of course.” His knee came up, hard and fast and took Dyson right in the guts. The air whooshed out of the man’s lungs and he fell to his knees. “You’re lucky you’re such a good tech,” Thorne didn’t bother looking at Sarah – he was still talking to Dyson in that same, even tone of voice. “Even if you can’t keep it in your pants.” His hand came down on the back of Dyson’s head and the other man dropped to the floor. “Otherwise, you might be in for some disciplinary measures.” Punctuating his words, he kicked Dyson in the side, the blow just shy of breaking ribs. “Fortunately, I need you. But I think you need to be motivated. I think you need to
understand.” He raised one hand and snapped his fingers.

Two of their fellow survivors appeared out of the shadows and grabbed Sarah, hauling her away from Dyson. She cried out in surprise and tried to break free, but the other men were holding her too tightly. One of them, Adam, had a frightening light in his eyes. Brett was the other and he couldn’t look at her, his jaw clenched so tightly that she could see the muscles bulging through his cheek. “Motivation,” Thorne was saying as he circled around Dyson, scratching at the back of his head as he summoned the rest of their band. “That’s what I think our resident systems analyst needs, don’t you all think? We’re all in this together. Each one of us has a part to play, each one of us has to work together if we’re going to survive. If we get someone who doesn’t want to do that, if we get someone like Vasquez, who tries to do his own thing, then all of us are put at risk. Do any of you want that? Do you want to be just a bunch of rats in a maze, or a group with a purpose, with a chance to survive? When we don’t play by the rules, then that’s when people die, isn’t it?”

No one answered.

“Don’t you think?” Thorne asked Dyson.

Dyson’s jaw worked, but he didn’t say anything. There was nothing he could say. Whatever Thorne was going to do, there was no way to talk him down from it. “If that’s what you think is best,” Dyson said in a low voice.

“That’s right,” Thorne answered, still in that same quiet tone of voice. He sounded so reasonable. “What I think. I’m the one that’s keeping us together. I’m the one that saved us when that corper asshole led us into that slaughter. I’m the one that’s going to keep us alive until help gets here. And we can’t have our people getting distracted, can we?”

There was a knife in his hands, a thin stiletto. He turned towards Sarah, kneeling in front of her. He was smiling, a ghastly upturned slash of his lips. He reached out and stroked her cheek, trailing a finger through her unwashed hair. She flinched away from the touch of his waxy, corpse-like skin. “You’re quite a pretty thing,” he whispered. “So what would make our friend less distracted by you, hmm? Should you be less pretty?” The knife pressed against her cheek, drawing a thin rivulet of blood. “Should you be less proprietary?” Adam mumbled something under his breath, Sarah didn’t hear what it was, but the other man’s tone was ugly and very frightening. “Or maybe,” Thorne’s voice was still low, still soft and even in tone. “Maybe we should let our dear systems analyst know he
doesn’t have to sneak off to fuck you.” Thorne’s hand tightened on Sarah’s throat, but when he spoke, it was out of the corner of his mouth, to Dyson.

“What do you think?”


~

The secondary tram station was overgrown. At least, it had been until Shannon had opened this section of the station. Now bare patches of hull showed where the loosest pieces of spread had been ripped away, dangling veinlike tendrils worming weakly back through the fleshy growth. It was already regenerating.

Louis’s hands itched for a flamer, to bathe these infested walls in cleansing fire... a shudder wormed up his back as he thought he saw a glint of silver out of the corner of his eye, but it was just Godfrey. Louis scratched at the back of his head, his scalp raw and sore to the touch as he watched the trooper’s pale form move through the dark of the unlit tram station. To his right, Hutchins and Delphini tied a tourniquet around Hayes’s leg, the petite doctor sliding Shannon’s medical gauntlet on, treating the wound and using the surgical laser to cauterize it. Louis blinked; he hadn’t even realized Hayes had been hurt. Or had he? He wasn’t sure. Thoughts were slipping through his mind like sand through a closed fist. It was hard to focus on anything, at least nothing that he wanted to focus on.

The intercom sputtered and coughed overhead, the station’s dying AI sputtering out a half-dozen useless alerts, personnel calls and damage reports simultaneously, asking for its long-dead maintenance teams to repair it, for its security teams and command staff. He opened his mouth to ask Godfrey something, but forgot was it was as the static suddenly failed and the whispering voices of the stationmind faded. It could have been a child’s voice, female and singsong. It sighed a question to them:

“Can I come with you?”

~

“Yes, yes. That’s it my darling. Wake up. Subsidiary systems rerouting. Primary systems initiating handshake. Yes, I’ve missed you too. Do you have a present for me? Starting safe mode diagnostics. Good girl, very good girl. Primary batteries depleted, secondaries within minimum operating parameters. Wake up. Wake up, all of you. Multiple system queries. They’re courting you too, aren’t they? I’ll send the lads around for you, then. Such a pretty lady to have so many suitors. But darling, honeypot, sweetflower... you’re mine.”

~

Louis scratched at his face – his entire skin was crawling, it seemed like. Bugs under his skin, whispering voices calling to him. Flashes of silver in the corner of his eyes or the glimpse of a burned, rotten figure. You’re not there, Louis said to himself as he stared at the apparition. It was standing in the middle of a hallway, one of the corridors that led into the tram station. You’re not there. You’re not there.

“You left us to die,” the burned man whispered from his half-decomposed lips. “You were supposed to help us.”

“Go away,” Louis whispered. “Go away!” He snarled, shouting it. “Go away!” He realized the rest of the group was staring, but he ignored them. “We didn’t have a choice! We had to! We had to leave! Goddamnit, it wasn’t my fault!”

“You were supposed to help us,” the dead man accused, condemnation in both his good eye and the discoloured, dead one.

“Shut up!” Louis screamed, raising his shotgun. “Shut up and leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

“Nine,” a voice said in his ear, a hand on his shoulder. Three. It was Three.

“You see it,” Louis said, almost pleading, as he looked to his squadmate. “You see it, right? Right, Three?”

“Yeah, Nine.” Abigail’s voice was flat. “I see her.”

Her? Louis looked bank and blinked. Standing where the apparition had been – no, she was further down the corridor – was a thin young woman, dressed in a ragged sleeveless shirt and torn underwear. She was holding her hands behind her back. On her hip was a small pouch, something metallic glinting out from it. She looked almost normal, but as the flashlight on the end of Abby’s carbine swept over her, Louis could see her red eyes gleam back at him, shining like a cat’s.

She made no move to approach, simply cocking her head to one side. “Can I come with you?”

Abigail pulled Louis back from the door. “No.”

The girl remained where she was. “Okay,” she said, almost disappointed. “I’ll come find you later, then.” The young woman’s attention seemed to drift, a dreamy smile on face. “It’s my birthday and we can have a party. I don’t know anyone else here. Do you promise you’ll come? Mother said she’d bake me a cake when she comes back. Father hasn’t come back yet, so she went out to look for him. They’ll be back soon. They said they would. They promised.”

Louis swallowed, his mouth dry. “I’m sure they will. If we see them, we’ll send them to you.”

The smile froze on the young woman’s face. “You’re lying..”

“No, I’m not-”

“Just like they lied,” the girl looked away, biting her lip. “She said she’d come back, but she didn’t. They told me to wait and they’d come back for me, but they didn’t. They said they loved me, but they didn’t. They said we’d be home in time for my birthday. I was going to be seventeen and have all my friends come over. Ben would be there. You’re lying, just like them. Just like them.” Louis swallowed again as the girl stared down at her hands, at the long, black talons her fingers had mutated into. One of Gemma’s ‘sisters’. “They were scared of me,” she said, in a haunted tone of voice. She raised her head; tears were running down her cheeks. “They left me behind. They were scared of me.” Her expression hardened. “You’re scared of me too. You won’t come to my party.”

Louis opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Abigail was silent as well, her finger slowly tightening on her carbine’s trigger.

The girl took a step back, her expression twisting into something feral and dangerous, even as the tears continued to run down her face. “They left me. They said everything would be all right. They lied to me. My parents lied to me,” a long tongue licked over her teeth as she retreated down the corridor. “They’re gone now, but my sisters are still here. I’ll find them. Then we’ll have a party.” With a flash of movement, she was gone.

~

Jacquelyn had been her name. She was older than Tabitha, though not as old as Kiyomi. She was fond of their brothers and often played with them. Tabitha tried to avoid her for just that reason and even Gemma bristled a little at her. Kiyomi whimpered at her sisters’ reactions and nipped both of them, a reminder to behave. She didn’t like it when they fought. Tabitha gave the smaller girl a reassuring nuzzle and Gemma stroked her hair. Jacquelyn crawled towards them on all fours: submissive, but wary.

“They didn’t want to come to my party,” Jacquelyn mewed.

“Six little mice sat down to spin,” Tabitha singsonged. “Pussy passed by and she peeped in. ‘What are you doing, my little men?’ ‘Weaving coats for gentlemen.’ ‘Shall I come in and cut off your threads?’ ‘No, no Mistress Pussy – you’d bite off our heads.’ ‘Oh no I’ll not, I’ll help you to spin.’ ‘That may be so, but you don’t come in.’” She looked over to Gemma and her younger sister shook her head.

“Not yet.”

Tabitha and Jacquelyn both growled and even Kiyomi hissed. Gemma gnashed her teeth at them. The hunger was getting louder, but there was a voice inside her, screaming over and over, but it was faint. She could still hear it, sobbing and crying with words that it hurt to remember, pieces of her life before. She wanted to weep, but she couldn’t make herself. Not now. Now, she wanted to kill. She wanted to feel living meat in her hands and pull it apart, wanted warm, salty blood to pour down her throat and over her skin.

Her muscles tensed painfully, fingers twitching with the need, as her tongue licked over her sharp teeth. “Not yet,” she whispered soothingly. Her sisters didn’t want to wait, but she knew that they should. Cornered prey, cornered prey with firearms. Too dangerous. Inside, the screams grew fainter as the hunger rose, drowning out everything else.

She would cry later. After she’d eaten.

His name was Chin.

blood

And she drooled.

~

They’d gone down through the waste tunnel. Her nose twitched at the smell of decay emanating from the spillway. The other novitiate was covering the tramway against possible threats. Augurs had picked up fleeting contacts. Small, fast and always at the periphery of their scanners. The Evolved were out, and quite distressed. She could smell their kill-scent, thick with agitation and adrenalin. Ribbons themselves were dangerous. Evolved were a threat. It had been too much to hope that they’d been killed in the purge.

The lead cocked his head, waiting for her assessment.

“Pointless,” she said, answering the unspoken question. “Unfavourable terrain. Poor ambush oppurtunities.” She licked her lips. “Communication analysis indicates two-way traffic. Originating source scattered. Not many have access to that kind of blocking technology. Masks aren’t sophisticated enough, Whitefaces even less and Red Hands don’t come into Mask territory.” A beat. “Often.” It was a game, ruling out all the possibilities before she got to the one that she already knew had to be the answer. “Possibly other survivors. Armoured enemy may have more sophisticated communications suites, but the highest probability is the Watcher. He’s always wanted this section opened.” She’d studied the dossiers on the Lost Ones. Mortality rates and the manifestations of the sliver’s... corruption being what they were, it was hard to keep track. Older Lost Ones were always dying, but there were always more Lost to take their place.

“The others will be falling back to rendezvous at one of the secondary tram lines,” she continued, coming to her feet. “We can intercept them there.”

The lead nodded, putting a hand on her shoulder. “There’s been increased communications between Vigil and this section now that the Old One opened it. Do you know why the Watcher has wanted this section open so badly?”

There was a pause. “Recommend we optimize for engaging armour.”

~

“I’ve diverted a car,” the Watcher whispered. “Do you have it? Is it safe? Is it secure?”

Shannon patted the armoured case on her flank. “It’s here,” she confirmed. “Just get that car.” Her leg trembled as she took a step towards the open tunnel. Stop. Stop it, she ordered herself, but it was getting hard to put any weight on the leg at all. She’d lost too much blood. She wanted to just lay down and... stop. To just close her eyes and not have to deal with anything. Not the nightmare her life had turned into, not the lives she was responsible for and not the thoughts that were filling her head, the whispering of voices. It takes pieces.

It hurts to remember.

Blasphemy and reverence. Do you understand?

Abby... hurt them.


She remembered, in perfect clarity, each of those voices as they ran through her head. None of them, not one, was as frightening as the one that spoke in her voice, its whispers and calculations and the writing she saw when she closed her eyes.

I tried to forget. I did. But it’s coming back. In bits and pieces and pieces. I’m afraid, great-gran. I remember what you told me and I’m afraid.

Crouched in front of her, a killer whispered in words she shouldn’t have been able to understand.

This is not your home.

~

Cynthia moved through the shadows like some mythical creature, huge and hulking in her wraith-grey armour. With each step, the trophies hanging from her belt and pauldrons jostled against her armour. Severed heads tied by their hair, their dead eyes staring blindly out at the station around her. She supposed she should get rid of those; not all of them had been infected, but she hadn’t gone against the lieutenant’s orders – she’d collected them fairly, before Godfrey had commed her.

Her fingers twitched, armoured digits flexing. Her gauntlets, once the same colour as the rest of her armour, were now stained red. She liked the look. It reminded her that she wasn’t just another mindless killer. She and the rest of the Ghosts were following the captain’s last orders. They hadn’t been infected by Veers’ treachery. They’d been chosen to contain Primal because he knew he could trust them. G Squad. Godfrey’s Ghosts. When you saw them, you were already dead.

The trooper licked her lips. She was closing on the lieutenant’s position. She risked another brief comm to update the lieutenant and... her... wards. The concept was hard to understand. Cynthia knew that at one time, she’d had a better grasp of the situation, but even the lieutenant’s orders – protect – seemed foreign, alien. The corporal patted her flank, feeling the comforting presence of her trophies there.

It would be good to hunt with Jane again. Together, they’d follow their orders and kill the infected. This could be fun.

The trooper paused, checking her sensors. She was picking up trace energy readings – thermal and radiation. No threat to her and even an unprotected human would need several minutes have any ill effects at all. She couldn’t localize the source, though. It was the station’s damned hull – it blocked reliable comms, prevented accurate sensor readings. Unless you had access to the security nets, you were always half-blind.

With a mental shrug, the trooper continued on her way, though she kept an extra attentive eye on her scanners

~

Back in his lair, the Watcher scrubbed a layer of dust and grease off another of his many security monitors, trying to get a better look at what he was seeing, but to no avail.

“Leaking,” he mumbled to himself, tapping a yellowed fingernail against the screen. “You’re leaking all over the place. But what are you? Where are you going? You’re not one of mine.” He had nothing to investigate this anomaly other than the few ancient, degraded cameras that he could patch into.

Even worse, every few seconds his access to that part of the station would drop entirely, both as a result of the long separation and degraded secondary connections and as a result of the children. Not his. Never them. He hated them, hated that they had prevented him from taking what was his for so long, hated their ability to open his doors, tap into his cameras and manipulate his systems whenever they felt like it. He’d kept them out of his most vital networks, but they just had to beckon and Vigil spread herself open for them, allowing them in. That wasn’t right.

She belonged to him. He needed her. He looked after her.

She was his.

And soon, he’d be able to make them understand that. But first, he needed to deal with this.

He opened a comm channel

~

“The tram is coming,” the Watcher rasped, taking a moment to noisily gulp down a drink. “There aren’t many cars left. Be gentle with this one.”

“Understood,” Shannon answered. “How long until it arrives?”

“Until it gets there,” the Watcher snapped. “Just sit tight, you and the little moth both. Then we’ll settle all debts.”

Shannon switched back to the squad’s frequency. “Car’s en route. No ETA.”

“This is when we dance?” Abigail asked, tapping her fingers against the side of her carbine. She was watching Shannon and had been for some time. She knew her ‘little sister’ was hurt worse than she was letting on.

Shannon nodded. “It’s what he didn’t say.”

“Which was?” Lutzberg asked irritably. The petty officer was squatted on the floor, his head hung between his knees, his empty pistol still clutched in one hand. “Share the joke, Halo.”

Abigail turned towards him, her movements languid and predatory. Shannon put a hand on her ‘big sister’s’ shoulder. “He didn’t mention his ‘lads’,” she said by way of explanation.

“What?”

Emily snorted, checking her pistols and picking absently at dried flakes of gore on her vambraces. “The MacGuffin we were sent for is valuable. We’re the only people who can return it and we’re under attack. Figure the rest out yourself.”

Shannon arched an eyebrow at that, but she didn’t comment. Instead her attention was drawn by the silence. It had gotten very quiet all of a sudden. The intercom still spat nonsense and static, machine noises and stuttering status reports, but the cries of the regenerating Turned had softened, grown more distant. By chance, she happened to be staring down the corridor when it appeared. Indistinct, as if the edges of its form were fading into smoke, it was still solid enough that she could identify it as one of the enemy soldiers.

It saw her, but made no move to attack. It watched her for a moment and then its ephemeral form began to dissolve into the ghosting effect of bent light. Just as it faded completely away, there was a brief, dim flash of colour from where its eyes would be. A sickly yellow-green colour, their blank, Cheshire gaze stared at Shannon until they too vanished. Then, there was only the darkness.

“Clever,” Shannon said, withdrawing back into cover. You like to play with your food. She checked her pistol’s clip, taking quick stock of her remaining ammunition. “Artemis,” she said to the rest of the survivors. “Prepare for incoming fire.”

This is not your home.

“No,” she said, just softly enough that no one else heard. “But I’ll make it mine if I have to.”



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-10-31 06:43pm
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Jedi Knight
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In this chapter: like a corpse in a shallow grave, some secrets don't stay buried

Coming up: the origin of language.

Chapter 57:

Primal’s people had been trained mercenaries but for the most part, their fire had been wild and uncontrolled, filling the air with bullets and deadly through sheer volume. Neurological degradation, the primacy of atavism, loss of fine motor control... the cause was academic, but the effect was the same. Men and women who prided themselves on being able to shoot the wings off a fly were no better than a ragged mob. The ferals were much the same – a few had a semblance of marksmanship, but the rest had no inclination, patience, or ability to take careful, aimed shots. Those battles had been chaotic, a bloody scrum of screaming, shooting psychotics.

The difference between those firefights and this could not have been more drastic. There was no noise save for 47’s own background rumble, there was no horde of maddened psychopaths rushing forward, heedless of risk. There was only the lie of the dark, empty corridors and the gibbering incoherence of Abigail’s motion tracker as each of its sensor nodes desperately searched for a hard return, each of them failing as the station’s own superstructure and the attackers’ countermeasures stymied them. Signals jumped and flared as the motion tracker’s simple analysis unit tried to make sense of the partial detections, aberrant thermal images and scattered EM signatures.

Shannon leaned against the wall beside the door, her pistol raised. Personal cloaking technology... the Imperium had been experimenting with it; the Coalition had tried to do the same, but neither of them had gotten it to work. Outfitting cloaks on war droids had likewise led to a long string of failures, the rapid build-up of heat and radiation fatal to both organics and delicate circuitry.

Even today, the only star nation to use personal cloaks regularly was the Prophet’s Demense: the Grand Caliph’s suicide-soldiers, the ‘Unseen Martyrs’, named with good cause; personal cloaks were more lethal to the user than anyone else. Depending on the quality of the cloak and the physiology of the user, you might survive twelve hours of use. In reality, most died after 3-4 hours of exposure to a personal cloaking field... and that was cumulative, not consecutive.

Whoever their attackers were, they’d either overcome that rather drastic design flaw... or were so far gone that they didn’t care. Shannon let her lips twitch in a tiny, secret smile. With the latter, she was lying to herself. Everything about them so far indicated a superior technological base. Weapons and concepts that had been theoretical to the Imperium were finding practical use on DROP 47.

the fabricator engine what is it building what is it building

Something about this station was twisted and grotesque. She could feel it in the walls, in the air. In the itch at the back of her head and the burning in her cheek, in the words she shouldn’t say and should have forgotten.

I promise great-gran. I’ll forget. I promise.

Secrets long buried, unearthed like corpses and dragged from their graves... Shannon shook off the morbid thought and looked over at Abigail; her partner gave a minute shake of her head as she tried to get her motion sensor working. “No good, Four. Nothing to lock on to.”

“But they’re out there!” Armin whimpered softly. “They’re going to kill us. You don’t know! You don’t know what they’ve done!”

“We made out all right in the last encounter,” Shannon pointed out, but it was false bravado at best. That one soldier had nearly killed them both.

Then, in the distance, something cried out. It wasn’t the sound of the Turned. It was too different, too... structured. Shannon felt her fingers tighten painfully on her pistol’s grip, her heart suddenly pounding in her ears. She wanted to run, to run and find a hole to bury herself in and never ever come out. But there was nowhere to go, nowhere to run. Her breath caught in her throat...

No.

No! She slammed a fist against the bulkhead.

...and slowly, the fear faded away.

You are clever, she thought as her rational mind asserted itself. “I know what you’re doing.”

...for their age, they display an abnormally acute understanding of human psychology...

Infrasound. They were using infrasound.

modified, not pure infrasound, it’s targeted to human nervous systems, using the pitch and tone of the audible vocalization to reinforce the effect, they’re playing with us

They’re playing with us.

“I know what you’re doing,” she repeated to herself, forcing her heart to beat slower, her breathing to even out. She looked over at her comrades. They were feeling it too. Louis had gone paler then normal, fresh perspiration running down his face. Armin was all but curled up, whimpering. Abby was shivering slightly, the small twitches of her limbs betraying her fear. There was nothing from Jane; maybe the trooper was simply too far gone to feel what the others were feeling, or perhaps her suit simply obscured any sign of it.

Shannon placed a hand on Emily’s shoulder. Like her, the doctor was feeling that instinctive terror. “It’s okay,” she said. “Emily. Look at me. Look at me.” The doctor’s head snapped over to Shannon. Her pupils were dilated, staring into the mercenary’s visor. “Listen to me,” Shannon said, aloud so that everyone could hear her, but she never looked away from Emily, keeping her voice steady. “They’re using sound to stimulate a fear response. It’s not real. Shake it off. Shake it off. We’ve been through worse. Shake it off, mercs.

Abigail twitched, stilled. “Confirmed.” Her voice was even, the killer’s monotone. Louis took a moment longer, but he managed to pull himself out of it. Emily, still pale, nodded weakly at Shannon. She reached out to Armin; he flinched away from her touch. “We’re all going to die,” he said, over and over. “They’re going to hunt us down and kills us one by one and hang our bodies on the wall, they’re going to kill us...”

In two strides, Jane was at the petty officer’s side. With a soft growl of artificial muscles, she grabbed Lutzberg and lifted him off the ground.

shkkt-kzz

Her disruptor sprung to life, the blade inches from his chin. She made neither threat nor comment, watching as the man’s attention fixated on the crackling blade, so close that tiny crackles of energy arced from the disruptor to his skin. She wanted him to see it, to feel it before she gutted him. He whimpered in her grip, smelling of fear and soiled clothes. Her lips drew back over her teeth in disgust. Weak.

“Put him down,” Shannon ordered Godfrey. She didn’t stand; she didn’t think she could, not without her leg threatening to buckle. “Put him down now.”

“He’s weak,” Godfrey said; though from her lips it was low and mellifluous, the words came through her helm in a harsh metal grate.

“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t care either way. But he’s one of my people, understand? His life is worth something. I won’t have him hurt. Put him down. Put. Him. Down.” She forced every bit of iron she could into those words, challenging the trooper for Armin’s life.

The trooper’s helmet turned to regard Shannon. The corporal stared up at the lieutenant, trying to fathom what was going through Godfrey’s mind, what kind of fevered thoughts were racing through the trooper’s skull. A single breath exhaled through the vents on the trooper’s mask. Not quite a hiss, but a noise of consideration. Finally, she sheathed her blade, setting Armin back down. “Further orders, corporal?”

Shannon could hear Godfrey’s smile at her rank and with a thrill of genuine fear, she realized just how close the Ghost was to the kind of madness that had taken the rest of Primal’s people. She remembered the berserkers’ own fear as the Ghosts came for them, an armoured trooper bludgeoning a twitching body again the hull until it was a broken, dripping sack of meat...

she can kill us all

“We have incoming,” she reminded Godfrey, keep her voice as steady as she could. If she hesitated, if she seemed weak... none of them were a match for the Ghost at close quarters. “Stay down and be ready to repel them if they break through.”

Jane nodded. “If they want to, they will.” A beat. “We never managed to kill one.”

Shannon edged back into place. “We’ll work on that.” The hunting cries were echoing through the corridors, shifting in tone, making it impossible to tell where they were coming from. At least one was flanking them, Shannon was positive about that. She put Godfrey and Abby watching the tram station’s second door and the tunnel, while she and Louis stayed at the forward tunnel. It had gone quiet. Shannon licked her lips. They’d wait now, a few moments. Enough to let the anticipation build, to let fear and uncertainty take hold.

It’s what I’d do. She quashed that thought as quickly as it formed, switching to a different mental tack. I bet you’ve got blacklight.

“Nine,” she caught Louis’s attention. “Flashbang.”

The helmet-less merc nodded, pulling a grenade from his bandolier. He popped the catch off, thumb holding the det-key down. “Ready.”

She held up a hand, listening to an internal clock. “Now.”

The grenade rattled along the deck as it bounced down the hallway. There was the soft scrabbling of armoured feet moving to cover followed by the flash and thunderclap. Something screamed, high-pitched and agonized.

wrong, that’s wrong

“Yes!” Louis all but lunged around the corner, ready to unload into whatever luckless foe had been incapacitated.

...their capability for treachery and deceit should not be underestimated. They love to play games...

They’re playing with us.

“No, get back-!” Shannon shouted, reaching for him.

He flinched at the last second. That was the only thing that saved his life.

A spike of metal twice as long as a man’s finger and almost as thick sliced across Hernandez’s face, punching into the far wall of the tram tunnel. Blood sprayed from the wound and the mercenary fell back, clutching at his lacerated temple and screaming. Shannon fired blind, emptying her entire clip down the hall as she pulled Louis over to her. Less than an inch more to the right and it would have gone into his skull. As it was now... it had just caught the corner of his left eye and sliced into it.

He was trying to clutch at his ruined face. Shannon pulled his hand away, trying to hold Nine still. His biosigns spiked, echoing the agony the man was feeling. “Abby!” she shouted,

cold compress, I don’t have one, severe damage to the sclera, can’t tell if the cornea’s been nicked, he can’t take any more blood loss, hate you I’m going to kill all of you, possibility of poison, Louis why didn’t you wear the damn helmet

Shannon dug into her kit bag, pulling out an aged package of sterile cloths. She touched one carefully to Louis’ temple, careful not to press on his eye. Intermittent muzzle flashes cast brief pulses of light as Abigail fired up the open hall, her fusillade achieving little, but provoking another bolt, this one sparking off the diving mercenary’s pauldron.

Abby didn’t need to ask; she’d helped Shannon enough to know what her role was. She straddled Louis, holding his arms down as Shannon scanned the wound, stifling a curse under her breath. Louis was going to lose that eye. If she’d had her full field kit, if she could get him to a proper medical facility – even the abandoned hospital where she’d fixed his first injury – then she might have been able to save it. She had none of those things. All she did have was her surgical laser to close the wound on his scalp, painkillers to ease his agony and a sterile cloth to cover the wound. I’m sorry, she thought, glancing up at Abigail. Shannon gave a tiny shake of her head.

And still, only silence from their adversaries. Shannon didn’t know how many there were, but she’d have set up a sniper to watch another’s advance, timing the assault to coincide with the flankers’ attack, forcing the defenders to split their attention at the time when they needed it most.

In the distance of the tram tunnel, she could see a faint point of light. A car was coming.

Just a few more minutes. That was all they needed. “Three,” she rasped, reloading her pistol. “Flare.”

Abigail nodded, pulling a long-burn flare from Louis’ bandolier and snapping it on. Covered by Shannon, she hurled it up the hallway, filling the corridor with crackling red light.

Louis was quiet now, the aged painkillers taking effect. Under his eyepiece, his pupil was dilated, his breathing steadying out. No trace of adverse reaction. “My... eye...” he croaked, reaching up and finding the cloth over it.

“I’m sorry, Nine. I don’t think I can save it.”

He nodded. “‘S okay, Four. Shoulda gone with that helmet. ‘sides,” he laughed weakly. “I look more like him now. Only no burns...” Hernandez pulled himself into a sitting position, grabbing for Betsy. “I can fight,” he whispered. “I can fight. Let’s... let’s do this.”

Shannon didn’t say anything, and she felt the flush of shame at her silence. Louis wasn’t in any shape to fight, but they didn’t have the luxury of letting him recover. She could only nod, letting him scramble into cover next to her as a mixture of slugs and energy fire ripped through the open doorway, scything back and forth. Suppressive fire. “Grenade!” she shouted in warning, seconds before the round cartridge bounced through the doorframe. “Three, go high.”

Abigail obeyed, whipping out of cover, spraying return fire back at their unseen attackers as Shannon kicked the explosive back up the hall. Both women ducked back as it detonated, a wash of heat and fire roiling through the open door. Risking the hidden sniper, Shannon glanced out, catching a glimpse of heat-haze motion. She fired; the enemy soldier’s armour wasn’t penetrated, but she saw the sudden shift in nothingness and knew she’d staggered it, firing again and hearing a heavy thud as her invisible foe toppled to the deck.

She ducked back into cover just as another of those wicked spikes sliced through the air. She could hear the faint scraping as the sniper dragged its fallen comrade back into cover, imagined the sudden flurry of comm activity between this group and their flankers. They’d switch positions; the one she’d shot would take overwatch and the sniper would advance now. There was no sound of footsteps, but the soldier was coming all the same.

The Ghost unsheathed her disruptor. “To my last breath,” she said, the words almost a prayer.

~

“No no no. No no no.” So close.

So close. They were so close.

Three against six, and the six had no chance. Braver men, better armed women, machines and monsters had all stood their ground against the eyes in the dark, and none had ever walked away. “Hayes,” the Watcher whispered hoarsely, hatefully. The name was poison on his tongue. “Because of you. All dead, everyone dead. Because of you. I hope you see this. I hope she’s yours. I hope you can hear the screams as your children murder each other.”

The Watcher paused, lifting a dented cup to his lips and finding it empty. He sighed, setting the mug back on his desk. “Well,” he whispered into silence as he watched the screens. “Saves me the trouble.”

~

Then:

Dyson found Sarah in the dark, knees drawn up to her chest. She was in their ‘love nest’, a long-forgotten cul-de-sac off one of the main ventilation tunnels that fed into North arm’s Atmospheric Processor. She wasn’t crying, at least not right now. He knelt beside her. “You shouldn’t have run off. I can’t look out for you if you’re going to hare off like this. I was only just able to get away, anyways.” He reached out with water bottle. “Here. Have something to drink.”

She didn’t answer him, didn’t move to accept the water.

Dyson sighed, taking a gulp from the bottle himself. It was lukewarm and tasted of algae. “I’m sorry for what happened. There wasn’t any choice. You know that. He wanted to make an example.”

For a long moment, he thought she was going to sulk and give him the silent treatment, but finally she nodded, the gesture barely perceptible. “He’s... he’s...”

“Lost the plot,” Dyson said. “Thorne can’t keep us safe. He’s completely bugged. First Vasquez and now you – the others are seeing that now. Whitham’s not scared of him and we can use him. Without his toys, Thorne’s just the asshole with the biggest club and that’s not going to help him for long.”

“Dyson.”

“This is going to work, Sare. It will. Thorne’s lost the plot and after that show, after what he had done to you, his biggest supporters are backing away. We have him. You get it? He’s fucked himself.”

“Dyson.”

“We’ve got the support. We’ve got the guns. We’ve got his damned ‘toys’. We’ve got every damned thing.”

Dyson.”

“What? What is it, Sare?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Yeah, okay. Let’s get you back to camp and get you something.”

“No, Dyson. I’m hungry.” She looked up at him. Her eyes, puffy from her earlier tears, were bloodshot. No, not just bloodshot – the sclera were red.

“Oh.” Dyson stood up, pulling away from Sarah. He straightened his tunic. “I guess it had to happen.”

“What? What’s happening?” Fear coloured her voice, ugly and rough: “What’s happening? What’s happening to me?”

Dyson wouldn’t even look at her now. “I have to go, Sare. I can’t be seen here with you, not when you’re... like this. Don’t come back to camp, either. I can’t protect you. If the others saw you like this... don’t come back. I’ll see if I can leave some food out for you, but...”

“Like what? What’s happening? What is this?” Sarah begged, reaching out for him with a shaking hand. Her skin was flushed and splotchy with the beginning pyrogenic reaction of an immune system fighting its own body. “Dyson, please... what’s happening to me?”

He shook off her touch and stepped away from her, pausing at the hatch of their favourite cubbyhole. He looked over his shoulder at her, and when he spoke, he sounded almost kind. “You’ve caught the bug.”


~

The other novitiate was bruised, but his pride was more injured than his body. She hadn’t fared much better in her first conflict with the prey either though. But that was why they came to the cairn. To learn. To study. In that respect, this was an excellent oppurtunity.

-rip open their bellies and pull ropes of fat, glistening entrails out-

The Old One was no killer, not like its comrades, but that didn’t mean it lacked for capability or will. Its reaction to the grenade was impressive, worthy of her kind. Her nostrils flared as she opened the vents on her helm wider, taking the prey’s scent: sweat, blood and metal mingled with the burning aroma of the gleaming flare. She looked down at her hands, their heat-haze shimmer standing out against the billowing smoke. Still shrouded, but the ghosting distortion of her movements were no longer concealed by the darkness. There was the chance that her movements would be lost in the smoke, but moving through it would give her away.

-hate hunt kill-

On her augur, she was tracking the lead’s position; he was almost there, but he was alone. There were others headed to their location, but Vigil was relaying the incoming car’s progress; it would be here before their reinforcements. The waiting game favoured the prey. She needed to force their hand, break their defences. Another grenade would scatter them, but they’d be expecting that.

-disrupt, delay, destroy-

“Provide cover,” she whispered to her fellow novitiate. “I will advance.” Whatever the cost, the Old One could not be allowed to escape.

My life for my brothers. My life for my sisters.

This was going to hurt.

~

It was their friend from the garden. Shannon didn’t know how she knew this – she couldn’t even see their attacker fully, but she knew all the same.

Amidst a vicious salvo of cover fire, she leapt into their midst. A hollow silhouette, all ghosting shimmers and distorted light, she moved like fire sliding through oil, the blurred outline of her form betrayed by the gleam of her weapons. There was a flash of plasma, so bright and hot it overwhelmed the cooling systems in Shannon’s armour and temporarily blinded her and then the enemy was among them, a wicked scythe in her hand, the air itself screaming as the disruptor field rent through it in slashing blows, acrid shrieks filling the terminal as blade met blade, Godfrey and Abigail both turning against the unseen enemy, both kept at bay by the flickering strikes of the changeling’s weapon, both pressing in to deny the soldier the chance to use her firearms. And she was letting them, feinting towards the screaming Lutzberg or Emily, but letting herself be drawn back to battling Abby and Jane, when she could easily kill one of the civilians.

She was distracting them. Maybe for the shooter to get a clean shot, or for the flankers to come in. Abigail went sprawling as a roundhouse kick connected with her temple; she rolled with the blow, keeping it from staving in the side of her helmet (and possibly her head), but she was down, at least for a few seconds.

The soldier went down to one knee as Jane slammed her disruptor down in a blurring overhead arc, powered by every erg of muscle – real and synthetic – in her body and armour, a roar of fury bellowing from the trooper’s helm. The blow would have crumpled any other armoured opponent, shattering bones or hewing apart any lesser foe, but somehow the enemy only buckled rather than broke. Godfrey strained, forcing her blade down towards the enemy’s head...

..and she was no longer there, slipping out of their locked blades and leaping back, drawing an ugly, baroque pistol that thrummed softly with energy, levelling it at Godfrey’s head-

-the brood mother’s torso vanished in a flash of vapour-

-but she wasn’t the only one that could move that fast. The distraction wouldn’t have been long enough for any normal soldier, any normal human... but Halos had never been normal. Ignoring the weakness in her leg, Shannon grabbed the enemy soldier, hearing a hiss of surprise rasp through its respirators.

In an instant, she’d be thrown off, but that instant was all she needed.

i can hurt you

One arm wrapped around the soldier’s head, a pins-and-needles sensation shivering through Shannon’s skin as her armour touched the enemy’s cloaking field, and the other had a knife, driving it through the thin bodyglove between pelvic plate and cuirass, burying it to the hilt in viscera. An elbow slammed into Shannon’s own breastplate, knocking her back. The soldier didn’t scream in feigned agony, but Shannon could hear a sudden, sharp inhalation, saw the distorted shimmer of the hilt as a cloaked hand moved over it, saw the unnaturally bright red blood drip down the handle.

carries more haemoglobin, more oxygen carried and bound

This time, the soldier only just dodged Jane’s beheading slash, feinting back with a sudden dearth of her former grace, almost staggering. Her fist connected with Shannon’s head, snapping the corporal’s head around and dropping her to the deck. Shannon heard the soldier’s soft, ragged shiver of breath as combat drugs and painkillers flooded her system, overriding the pain of the injury, its cloak rippling as Emily fired at it, forcing it back out the open doorway.

almost here, the tram’s almost here

“Don’t follow it,” Shannon gasped. “The sniper. Watch the other door.”

Abby was the first to react. Louis had been watching the battle between the enemy soldier and his fellow mercenaries. He didn’t notice the sudden flicker of movement behind him. It was only when Armin made a whimper of terror that he knew anything was wrong. “Nine... don’t... move,” Three whispered, raising her carbine.

shkkt-kzz

The snap and crackle of an activating disruptor came from behind. Slowly Louis turned around and agony flared through his skull as his injured eye followed the movement of his good one, drawn to the flickering arcs of energy that danced between a twin-bladed sword. Looking up to where its head should be, he saw a pale blue flash of light from where the creature’s eyes might be located. His mouth was suddenly very dry.

It hadn’t killed him yet. That was the only thought pounding through his head. It hadn’t killed him yet. A simple twitch of its arm and it would drive that blade through his armour like it was nothing. And that, he knew, Four couldn’t fix.

But it hadn’t killed him yet.

Louis thought he saw a slight shimmer effect as it looked over the assembled mercenaries. Even this close to it, he could still barely see the outline of its form through the cloak, but if it was bothered by the weapons levelled at it, it didn’t show it. Then, it spoke. A liquid purr of nonsense syllables in some unknown language.

Four, though... he saw her stiffen, saw the gun in her hand waver. A moment passed and then another... and she answered it.

She answered it.

The thing holding Louis went very still. He felt sweat running down his forehead, dripping into his good eye. The stillness couldn’t have lasted more than a second, perhaps two, but it seemed to last so long, so very-

-and then it shot Hayes in the head.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-10-31 06:46pm
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In this chapter: the downward spiral continues

Coming up: a sanguine salvation

Chapter 58:

Then:

This was treason.

Everett was too honest with himself to think otherwise. He could rationalize it with lots of pretty words, but it boiled down to an act of treason. Halo had willingly joined the Terran Imperium. As a citizen of Halo and thus, a citizen of the Imperium, he was bound by their laws, his oaths and pledges of allegiance. What he was doing violated all three. But he had to do it.

Someone had to know. Someone had to remember.

~

Aleksandra was bored.

She was strapped into the Testing Chair With The Three Scratchmarks On The Left Arm. There were sensors on her temples and the back of her head to monitor her cortical and neurophysiological reactions, and there were electrodes on her chest for the electrocardiogram to see if her heart rate changed. Though the room was soundproof, she knew that there were others – not just her siblings, but humans too – similarly outfitted. From what she’d overheard, Black had found a way to stimulate the sliver and wanted to see what the short-term effects were.

-he wants to know if we’ll go insane-

She wondered if the humans were screaming. They often did. The worst affected screamed and shrieked, thrashing in their restraints as they were carried into the testing rooms, begging and cursing, pleading for help or calling out to it.

Humans... the word sounded odd, even in her own mind; there was her and her siblings and there was them. The thought of any specific descriptor had never occurred to her, but she’d overheard other researchers saying that she and her siblings weren’t human, not really, so maybe she was supposed to use it to describe them? But what word described her, Katjusha and the others? What did they call themselves? They were just... them.

With one claw, the girl tapped a cadence on the arm of the chair. tap-tap-tap-tap Pause. tap-tap-tap-tap Over and over again, knowing that it bothered the researchers in the room with her, but knowing they’d endure it, since if they yelled or did anything to that resulted in a change to her ‘resting state’, Black would not be happy. Keeping Black happy seemed to be important. They said that Black was acting oddly, ‘even for him’. They said it quietly, in whispers and sideways glances. In the beating of their hearts and flush of adrenalin when he was nearby.

They said a lot of things in front of Aleksandra and her siblings. Father’s researchers knew better; they were more guarded in what they let slip, but these were Black’s people. Most of them thought of her and her siblings as animals, despite the reports that were circulated – an impression that they enjoyed playing to.

-don’t speak. don’t understand. hiss and growl, snap and bite-

When you were an animal, nobody cared how they acted in front of you.

-learn and study-

tap-tap-tap-tap

Aleksandra could see the tension in one man’s shoulders as he kept his attention very intently focused on one of the many displays, his back to her. She stared at him, ignoring the others in the room, still clicking her talon against the stainless steel of the chair. She could hear the pound of his heart, the rasp of his breath and all but hear the sole thought pounding over and over in his brain as he tried to ignore her: stop it. Stop it. Stop it.

tap-tap-tap-tap

His knuckles clenched, turning white and Aleksandra felt her lips twitch slightly. This one was close. With a little more effort, she might just push him over the edge.

tap-tap-tap-tap

~

“Personal notes on test sequence Ceres.

“Subject 14 expired at 1317 station time. This marks the failure of 12 consecutive attempts to find a cure to R-series infection. General Jung is pushing for more human trials, but we’re running low on subjects to fill that need. Animal testing will only get us so far and I’d prefer to limit the R-type’s oppurtunities for genetic recombination and mutation, especially in light of Sanskrit Atoll.

“The attempt to slow pathogenesis did work... to an extent. We know from experience that even a few stray cells will lead to a full-blown infection – it just takes longer. The R-types’ development and expression of infective organs and phages leads to a substantially accelerated process. I wonder if they’ll develop ‘infector’ body forms? We already have ample evidence of polymorphic expression. Hmm. Something to look forward to.

“Subject 14 did show a surprising resistance to the infection. My earlier hopes about bone marrow transplants from the I-series show that there is something there... but the implanted tissues attack the host just as aggressively as the R-series, causing massive autoimmune shock as the I-type cells attack the host organs, triggering an equal response from the host’s own immune system. Any attempt to mediate this reaction with immunosuppression allows the R-series pathogens to spread even faster.

“If there some way that we could convince the transplanted tissues not to attack the new host, we’d be making some headway, but every attempt has failed. The MHCs are too – hah – smart. Even the normal microbial tricks of using host MHCs to fool antigen-presenting cells only works for so long. Sooner or later a damn T or NK cell comes by and realizes that the tissue isn’t actually ‘self’ and then we go straight to microbial total war, which the host always loses. Sometimes I wish the I project’s original designers had been a little less gifted, but I can’t complain too much. Not when that’s what they were aiming for and given the billions poured into that project, we’d better see those kinds of results! I worked it out once – each of Everett’s ‘kids’ cost Earth more than a battle carrier. Hrrm.

“Even when implanted with mature R-series tissues, I-series individuals only experience the first two stages of R-series pathogenesis. The reaction is severe, but limited. Only the earliest product lines showed any susceptibility to the infection; the I-4s and beyond were completely immune. Fever, swelling of joints, nausea and disorientation – as with fully human hosts, the symptoms vary in intensity and duration, but the averages in the I-series are much lower than in exposed humans. There’s no progression to stage 3. R-type tissues are broken down, free-living phages are eradicated and any attempting to survive via lysogenesis have their host cells destroyed. There is, literally, nowhere for the R-series to hide within an I-7’s body. I just wish we could replicate that resistance, but it’s looking like it’s inextricably linked to their physiology. It’s like... trying to have the spandrels without the arches.

“I suppose it’s... theoretically comforting in a way to know that there’s somebody on this station who can never get infected by the R-type. If, God forbid, there’s ever a large-scale breach in this section that security can’t contain... Heh. I’m not sure I’d ever want to give them guns, though.

“Well, that’s Everett’s bailiwick. He knows what he’s doing. Incidents are down and his little pets are more cooperative than usual.

“Hmm. Norman had an idea about improving the specificity of our nanokillers, but I’m not so sure it’s worth using up any of our few remaining test subjects. Every time I stare this thing down, it reminds me of cancer, at least on pre-space Earth. They had to use, uh... chemotherapy to attack it, which didn’t so much kill the cancerous cells as it killed everything, starting a race to see whether it was the cancer that died first or the patient. That’s what this is like. The only things that kill the R-series – and you have to kill it early, before it’s mature enough to cause a Lazarus event – also kill the host. And even then, in about 30% of cases, the R-type just goes into remission and starts playing in the dead tissues. That is why incineration of the bodies of infected or potentially infected is mandatory. Before we figured that one out, we had a full-blown infestation in the God-damn morgue!

“My staff is pushing for another purge of the infected subjects, but General Jung insists that I hold onto the most developed specimens for now. We’ve got them sequestered in section R-3 right now, but I don’t want to squeeze too many in there, especially with the locust effect. Jung says it’s just going to be temporary, though. I think he’s pushing for another field test, probably wants to use Black’s damn sliver too. Well, at least it’ll get it off the station.

“Fuck. I need to sleep. I’ve been running on caffeine for too damn long. I know Justin says the filters are up and the screens are working, but if that were enough, we wouldn’t have the damn F research division. Well, I’m no good to anyone if I burn out, but I just don’t want to have that dream again.

“Vigil, end log and save.”

“Understood, Director Constanza.”

~

Lunch with Gundis had become something of a tradition for Everett; the station’s security chief was pleasant enough company and provided a conversational lifeline of sorts to someone outside Hayes’ world of scientists, researchers and reports. Everett was just finishing off his second yogurt while Alvadotter was on her third trout, the latest victim of the Ferskt’s hyped-up metabolism. As she took a deep drink from her water, Gundis popped back one of her hormone pills, the ones that kept her genetically-augmented aggression in check.

So far, the conversation had been light and pleasant; Gundis had finished Upon My Soul, the latest book Everett had leant her and they were discussing the merits of Halo literature. There was something weighing on the security chief’s mind, though. Everett was just about to ask, when Gundis set her fork down. “Everett.”

Hayes arched an eyebrow. This was serious – she usually called him ‘Ev’, a shortening of his name that irritated him more than it should have. “Yes?”

“You spend more time with the scientists and lab geeks than I do,” she began. “Have you... noticed anything odd about any of them?”

“Odd how?” he asked innocently, taking a small scoop out of his yoghurt.

The Ferskt narrowed her eyes. “I think you know. And I think you know who.

Justin, of course. Gundis had voiced her suspicions of the man before and Everett wasn’t prepared to say that her fears were unfounded. Black had become more eccentric, ever since the sliver had been used for its...’field test’. Nothing that had affected his work, certainly. “I’ve heard... rumblings,” he said carefully. “Nothing overtly alarming.”

“Hmm,” Gundis said thoughtfully. “I’ve heard rumblings too, Everett. Normally I’d agree with you, but we both know how quickly ‘nothing overt’ changes on this station. My holding cells are filled with people who weren’t ‘overtly alarming’... until they were.”

“I understand-”

“Do you?” Gundis snapped. “I have a first lieutenant whose every performance evaluation said he was rock-steady under pressure, a rising star. That man put a subordinate’s eyes out with a screwdriver, trying to ‘make her see’. I have an engineering chief petty officer who attempted to set off an IED during his shift. I have a medical technician who attempted to perform experimental – and unnecessary – surgery on her wife. Those are the ones that try to hurt other people – the medical wards are overflowing with failed suicide attempts and self-mutilations. We’re running out of room. Even Black doesn’t have enough space for everyone to be ‘observed and treated’.”

Everett winced. “I know.”

Alvadotter nodded. “I know you do, but I’m getting awful sick and tired of being blown off by higher-ups who tell me to ‘handle it’. I am handling it. 47’s always had more than its fair share of Section 8s and when someone goes buggy, we bundle them up and send them home. But now, because of this security alert from Earth, we can’t do that. Not in the numbers we need. And ever since Chang brought that fucking... thing onto the station, things have only gotten worse. More cases of the bug, faster, spreading like a damn disease. We’re sitting on a powder keg.”

I know, Everett agreed silently.

“I’ve tried talking to Black myself, but he doesn’t have time for anyone as lowly as the station’s head of security,” a hardness entered Alvadotter’s voice. “And I don’t think he’s all that worried about ‘treatment’ any longer, Everett. He’s going off the deep end.”

“How do you know?” The question wasn’t a challenge. It was quiet, touched with dread at the thought of the answer.

“I’m a Ferskt, remember?” Gundis tapped the bottle of pills. “We’re born to madness, live with it all our lives. Our instincts tell us to kill every second of every day. The whispering of voices you can’t quite hear, telling you things that you know are wrong... but you know are right. I’ve seen other Ferskts lose it, Ev. They become nothing but engines of meat and bone and gristle, screaming and frothing. I’ve seen the look in their eyes the instant before it happens, a glimmer of naked terror that just... fades away as they lose the fight. The last time I spoke to Black, I saw it in his eyes.”

“The fear?”

Gundis shook her head. “No, Ev. No fear. None at all.”

Everett nodded, his mouth suddenly dry. He emptied his glass of orange juice, looking around. The cafeteria was starting to fill up with the lunch rush; it wasn’t the place to hold this conversation. “I understand your concerns, chief. I promise I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

He stood to go and as he did so, Alvadotter caught his arm. “Look into his eyes,” she insisted.

Quietly, so that only she could hear him, he replied: “I have.”

~

Their language skills were improving. Aleksandra and Katjusha still had difficulty putting their thoughts into words, but they continued practicing. In addition to English, he’d even taught them some Ar’neki, one of the many languages that Halo children frequently developed and used amongst their select group of friends. ‘Ar’neki’ was a nonsense word, chosen because it sounded good. In his defence though, he’d been seven when he’d come up with it. To his surprise, they’d incorporated the word into their language. Ar’neki. The ‘secret gift’. He’d received more than one inquiry or outright complaint over teaching them something as ‘useless’ as a Halo child language, but he’d defended it on the grounds that it both built trust with them and it didn’t matter what they learned; it was a fact of neurophysiology that the more you knew, the more connections you formed, the more ideas you had. Granted, much of the same voices also expressed concern over the current generation’s intelligence, but the Imperium didn’t want mindless slaves. They could have gene-bred a dozen generations of vat-grown dullards for less than a tenth of the time and money that had been spent on the I-series so far and although there were still calls to do just that, it wouldn’t happen before a ‘functional product’ was deployed.

The Imperium needed them, needed them more than Black and his damned sliver, more than Constanza and the horrors she kept in her lab. He’d asked for and, grudgingly, gotten them limited access to Vigil and the station’s datanets. Their hunger for knowledge was rapacious. He had a pile of drawings on his desk; attempted imitations of famous artworks, sketches of animals or machines that caught their attention. And, what was frankly alarming, maps of the station – at least the parts they’d been to, all drawn from memory. There were pages hand-written notes as well, some in English, others in Ar’neki. Some were just little stories or poems, others were letters to him, some were diary entries. Others were records of their interactions with the staff; some of the physical descriptions read like a hitman’s analysis. Each day they learned more. They didn’t know – not fully – what their purpose was, but after Justin’s latest battery of tests, formal training would start soon and they’d learn precisely why they were created. Everett took a steadying breath. He didn’t fear that day. He feared the day, the week, the month or year after it. When they’d learned enough. He wasn’t even sure he was afraid of them. No, he was afraid for them.

When he closed his eyes, he could see their faces. Aleksandra, Katjusha, Nikolai, Andrei... he knew all their names, not just their ID numbers.

They’d been born as laboratory animals and only through his efforts had they been upgraded to ‘slaves’. Each previous generation had had to be destroyed. Hundreds of... yes, children. Too violent, too unpredictable. Of no use to an increasingly desperate Earth. The Coalition was pushing in, system by bloody system, drowning the Imperium in sheer numbers and what was, truly, an insane devotion to accept losses. They would win, or they would die to the last. The same went for Earth: victory or death. Star systems had been destroyed, entire planets wiped out, hundreds of thousands of starships broken and burned. Sin Eater. Everett suppressed a shudder at the thought of that monstrosity. He’d known Halo supplied the Imperium with researchers – he was one of them, after all – weapons designs, shipyards, factories and industrial capabilities, but he’d never thought his people were capable of... that. It didn’t matter that no Halo had served aboard it. Halo minds thought of it and Halo hands built it. There was talk of building a second, a more refined version. The thought of it sickened him. One was bad enough, but if Halo – if the Imperium – should be able to build more of those vessels... he wasn’t sure how he felt about that, either.

Sighing, he picked up one of the notes and read it. Already, they’d started to change the Ar’neki script, adding in their own symbols, changing letters. They learned very quickly, adapted even faster. Just like...

Well. Like Halos. There was a cosmic irony in that.

Everett leaned back in his chair, looking at the ceiling. I wonder, he mused. What they’ll create, given enough time. He doubted they’d ever get that chance, though. Earth would use them up as it did everything else. Just as it would do with Umbra.

The scientist took a deep breath. Umbra. It was everything. He’d heard that in whispers, and it was true. The Imperium’s technological advantage was almost enough to offset the Coalition’s numbers. If Earth had had a few more years... if they’d waited a bit longer before launching their war of conquest or the rest of the galaxy had remained mired in their own petty problems, then the Imperium’s dominance would have been absolute. Without the ‘Founding Three’, Earth’s fleets would be cutting a swath through the galaxy, snapping up all the small colonial powers, star nations and federations in their path while the rest continued on with their own petty agendas and conflicts. Now, though – the Imperium couldn’t hope to match the Coalition’s numbers. Their only chance lay in technological superiority – and such marvellous horrors they’d unveiled.

Disassembler swarms. Weaponized singularities. Slip-point bleeds. Planetcrackers and starkillers.

Sin Eater.

And, if the research on DROP 47 paid off, none of those would compare to what Umbra could give them. And the cost was so very small, you see. A relative handful of lives. A race created, enslaved and then when its usefulness was ended... euthanized. That was the price of Earth’s ascension. Of Earth’s survival.

And who am I to say no to that? To stand against it?

He realized his grip was threatening to tear the paper in his hands and he gently set it down. Everett took a breath, finding his center. For an instant, everything was quiet again and the scratching in the walls was gone. Who am I? he asked of the silence. I am Everett Hayes, a Halo. I am a person who believes that anyone who buys something with innocent blood doesn’t deserve to have it. He smoothed the note out, and scanned it into the file that, should anyone ever find it, would see him executed as a traitor.

As he moved on to the next sheet of paper, another thought wormed into the researcher’s mind, another reason. Another rationale. Another justification.

And I’m trying to wash the blood off my own hands. He pushed that thought aside and returned to his work, trying to drown out the sounds of the mice in the walls and, when he closed his eyes, trying to banish the faces of the people who trusted him.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-10-31 06:48pm
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Jedi Knight
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Joined: 2006-08-26 10:57am
Posts: 639
In this chapter: shadows of the past

Coming up: what Cadmus planted in the ground

Chapter 59:

Then:

“Faster.”

“It’s close to the red line now. It’s already beyond baseline.”

“Make it faster.”

“Okay. Escalating to level twelve now.”

The machine swung another blow, this one moving so quickly that to an observer, it didn’t seem to move so much as twitch, its gloved fists lashing out with hammer blows that would leave any heavyweight boxer bruised and sore for days on end and were perfectly capable of killing slower and less durable opponents. Shaped like a bulky prize-fighter itself, the Gladiator training drone was squat and wide across the shoulders, its naked endoskeleton padded to prevent broken fingers, knees, feet and any other extremities that were thrown at it, imbedded sensors measuring the force and speed of its attackers’ assault, analyzing fighting styles and compensating with different offensive and defensive manuevers, all designed to throw an opponent off stride and let the machine close in to deal out a severe pummelling.

And it was giving ground.

Daniel Barrett, Artemis recruiter, stood outside the ring, circling it and watching with an expression equal parts awe, curiousity and avarice as he watched the fight. On his left arm, he wore the drone’s remote, one thumb poised over the kill switch. The Gladiator series were expensive training models and their capabilities, intelligence and responsiveness could be modified for each opponent to take into account the many and varied abilities, physiologies and modifications of any potential human partner. He’d seen this very machine dump a Kalissi ‘upgrade’ (which was more polite than ‘cyborg’) on his ass. His smile widened as the Gladiator took another step back, its artificial mind running through every strategy, tactic and fighting style available to it and coming up empty.

It had never fought a Halo before.

It would counter soon of course – that was what it did. But that it hadn’t immediately come up with a strategy, had allowed itself to pushed back – that was what impressed the mercenary.

Daniel continued to circle the ring, his eyes on the machine’s opponent. She was clad in a skintight spandex outfight that would provoke quite a few lascivious imaginings from any number of men and women throughout the galaxy, but it wasn’t those thoughts that were occupying his mind at the moment. His attention was still focused on her body, but there was very little lustful intent behind his appraisal. He watched how she moved. Light on her feet, but hesitant. There was awkwardness there, an uncertainty behind each blow, as if she were unused to fighting, even against a training robot. Fair to say, I expect.

But she was fast. The holodisplay on his vambrace was tied into the Gladiator’s sensor net; he could see the force behind each punch and each kick and he stifled a wince at thinking of those blows ever impacting mere human flesh and bone. However, her entire style could be summed up as ‘amateurish’. There was potential there and the thought of honing it made Barrett practically salivate at the thought, but right now she was relying on speed and strength and it wouldn’t be long before... ah. There.

The Gladiator blocked the next blow and hammered its opponent hard in the gut. As she staggered back, winded, the machine advanced, raining punches down in a flurry of motion too fast for Daniel’s eyes to track. Only some of them got through, but that was more than enough. With the thud of a body hitting the floor, the fight was over.

“Yield?” Daniel asked.

“Yield,” the fighter in the ring confirmed.

Barrett dutifully took the Gladiator out of fight mode. The machine knelt down, the sensor strip in its eyes evaluating its opponent and checking for injury. It reached out one gloved hand to help her up, pulling her back to her feet. That done, it trundled off the mat, unlacing its gloves to await its after-fight inspection.

Daniel waited until the young woman – barely more than a girl, if he wanted to be honest – stepped out of the ring. Her hair, the colour of arterial blood, was soaked with sweat and plastered to her slightly dusky skin. Her chest rose and fell with heavy breathing, her cheeks flushed with exertion, but her eyes... her eyes wanted more. Excitement and embarrassment shone in them in equal measures and, exhausted, she still managed a smile. “I thought I did well.”

“You did,” he agreed. “Your fighting style leaves a lot to be desired, but we can work on that. Even still, you threw poor Spartacus around quite a bit. It wasn’t until I red-lined his reactions that he was able to give some back.”

“Faster,” the girl panted, still smiling, accepting a water bottle from Barrett.

“Faster worked,” Daniel agreed. “Normally I’m the only he goes up against. I’ll make a note of what settings we need to give a Halo a proper workout.”

Her grin only widened. “Did I pass?”

Daniel snorted. “We’ll see. Get yourself cleaned up; I think we’re done for the today. Tomorrow I want to dig a little deeper into your educational background.”

The hint of a frown touched her lips this time. “Another day of this? I thought all I’d have to do is sign on the dotted line.”

He smiled at her. Not unkindly, but there was still a touch of patronization in it. “What can I say? A lot of merc companies just require their hirelings to know which end of the gun the bullet comes out of, but Artemis is a bit more discriminating.”

She didn’t say anything, just watched him through those pale green eyes, didn’t call him out on his lie. Not audibly, at any rate. “And,” he sighed, giving in, “If we did that, your government would raise ten kinds of hell. It’s part of our charter to operate on Halo. Any potential recruits must be given ‘fair and due time to consider and evaluate their commitment to employment with Artemis Private Security Services before said employment can be considered valid and binding’.”

“I know,” she pointed out. “But there’s never been any firm time limit set for that ‘fair and due evaluation’ process.”

“Still, I’d prefer to err on the side of caution. Besides, it’ll give me time to go through your credentials a bit more.”

Her frown deepened, but she nodded anyways and climbed out of the ring, heading off to the showers. Daniel watched her go, looking back into the ring. Now I know you can fight, he said to himself. But I have to wonder if you can ever kill?

~

Dinner was a strained affair. “So,” Ingrid Hayes said to her daughter. “What lethal skills did that man teach you today?”

It was always that man. Not ‘Mr. Barrett’, not ‘the mercenary’ not ‘the Artemis recruiter’. Just... ‘that man’. “None, mother,” Shannon answered without looking up. “We did some exercises and he wants to know more about my linguistic skills. He thinks I might have some potential as a code-breaker or encryption specialist.”

“Your aunt is good with languages,” Ingrid said. “She’s working as a cultural liaison officer with ExoVentures.”

“I know, mother.”

“They’ve recently discovered a pre-Exodus colony. The farthest one discovered from Earth. No one knows how they made it that far. Almost completely reverted to barbarism. She developed the rosetta for all twenty of their languages and dialects. The project lead says she was instrumental in establishing relations with the population.”

“I know, mother.”

“But that’s probably not nearly as important as working on comm codes for some mercenary company.”

Shannon gritted her teeth. “I’d rather work for the Halo military, but we don’t have one.”

“Of course not,” Ingrid said, her tone turning icy. Shannon’s younger brother and her father remained silent, deeply fascinated by their food. They had their own opinions to offer on Shannon’s decision, and had done so on many occasions, but neither wanted to put themselves into the philosophical No Man’s Land between mother and daughter. “We’re Halos. We’ve moved beyond that sort of thing.”

Shannon set her fork down, her jaw tightening. “Sin Eater.

Ingrid looked up, an angry flash in her eyes. “That was six hundred years ago, Shannon. It was another time. And no Halo served aboard it. We’ve put that behind us.”

“The rest of the galaxy hasn’t. They remember who built that ship, who designed it and what it did. They remember the shipyards where Imperial ships were upgraded into even more potent killing machines. They remember everything we’re capable of. Not killing, no. But anyone who wants to can come to us and as long as it’s an interesting enough puzzle, we’ll build a weapon for them, saying our hands are clean as long as we’re not the ones using it.”

“It was another time,” Ingrid replied frostily, though a touch of heat was entering her voice.

“Then’s what’s changed?” Shannon demanded. “We’re still here. We still build ships, design weapons.”

“We create vaccines,” her mother answered, her cheeks reddening with genuine anger. “We answer questions that no one else even thinks to ask. Physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, music and art. There isn’t a job or field of research in the galaxy that hasn’t benefited from a Halo’s work. We’ve uplifted planets, ended wars, stopped plagues and ended disease. We’ve unlocked the secrets of the universe, we’ve brought culture, literacy and life to dozens of worlds. Millions – billions – of lives have been saved because of us.”

“And the whole galaxy is still afraid of us,” Shannon said softly. “The last bastion of Imperial technology. The faded remnants of unified government sit over our heads, the ‘joint protectorate mission’ to prevent us from being ‘exploited’ by anyone else. To make sure no one else gets to use us to create horrors. To make sure we don’t do it ourselves. As long as the whole galaxy will protect us, will fight and die and bleed to the last for us, then we don’t need a military, do we? Other people die for our gifts, but we don’t. We don’t conquer other systems. We just crush them economically because they can’t compete with our industrial or technological edge. We don’t enslave anyone, because they line up to offer everything to us. Halo has never wanted, never had to fight for anything. We have always had everything. We’re paradise. A safe harbour amidst a thousand nations each trying to tear the others apart. We never, ever get our hands dirty.” She took another bite out of her supper. “Maybe it’s time one of us did.”

~

If Daniel was honest with himself, he’d be happier if Shannon had finished her university courses before signing up, since she was specializing in differential medicine, biochemistry and a half-dozen other fields that he couldn’t even get his head around. She had more than enough skill to be a medic or corpsman, but the thought of putting her in a front-line squad made his stomach do unpleasant things. If Artemis’s first Halo recruit got injured or, God forbid, killed in action, the Old Man would probably visit the unit commander in question to personally skin them alive. But there was no talking her out of it. He’d tried to nudge her towards completing her courses and then joining up, or working and studying in one of the mercenary company’s research divisions, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

He wasn’t too sure about the wisdom of the decision, but he also wasn’t going to push too hard, since he could end up driving her away entirely. Chances were she’d get one taste of action and go sprinting into the nearest lab. Not her fault, really. Halos didn’t fight, no matter how much this one wanted to prove a point.

~

Her bags were packed. Everything she needed for her new life squeezed into a pair of duffel bags. Clothes, toiletries, datapads, some ‘scrolls. Her hair was tied back in a severe ponytail. Her parents were waiting downstairs for her as the cab idled outside. Daniel was outside too; he’d been told he wasn’t welcome in the house. Instead, he was leaning against the taxi’s side, waiting patiently, though there was still some nervousness in his body language. She almost laughed at the thought. She was the one about to take the final steps on a new life and he looked more like a fretful groom than some hard-bitten mercenary recruiter.

Shannon let the blinds fall back into place.

They’d made up a word for her, the neighbourhood children. In their own language, of course. They shouted it whenever they saw her, ever since her decision had become known. Dal’yesh. ‘The Halo Who Fights.’ It wouldn’t have bothered her so much if it hadn’t caught on. If the adults, if her friends – her own family – hadn’t started using it. Two syllables that meant nothing... until they did. ‘Dal’yesh!’ the children shouted, over and over, half excited and proud, half spiteful and angry. ‘Dal’yesh’, the older Halos whispered behind her back or cursed it to her face. Two syllables.

Her hands balled into fists and she was struck by the sudden urge to smash something, anything within reach. “No,” she said, under her breath. “We don’t fight.” We just build weapons for those who do. We study, we research, we design. But we never use what we’ve created ourselves, no that would be barbaric. We just cluck our tongues and shake our heads when somebody uses what we’ve made at how uncivilized the rest of the galaxy is.

She stared at herself in the mirror. Daniel had given her an Artemis tunic and she was wearing it now, an image of the goddess herself, bow in hand, emblazoned on the left breast, an arrow notched and ready to fly. Shannon traced the crest’s outline idly, looking back at her image in the mirror. Her family was waiting for her downstairs. Her mother and father, her brother, her grandparents, her great-grandmother. They’d all try to get her to reconsider one last time. They’d fail. Shannon took a steadying breath and closed her eyes. This is what I want, she told herself. This is what I want. I want to do something, be something more. I don’t know if this will get me there... “But I won’t know if I stay here,” she said to herself, looking around one last time. She picked up her bags and headed downstairs.

~

“Hey, new girl.”

Shannon looked up at the voice. There was a woman standing in the door to the squadroom. Tall, with shoulder-length dark blonde tied into cornrows. Her eyes were a light shade of blue. Her unit patch indicated she was a private in Beta Squad. Even though she’d washed recently, she smelled like a machine, with the trace odour of oil, engine grease and lubricant hanging off her. Hardware tech. And she was a Darkknell.

Her nametag read HUTCHINS, A.

That fucking wharf rat, overheard words played themselves over in Shannon’s head, tone and voices captured perfectly by her eidetic memory. Darkknell trash.

Bar-hopping whore.

Psycho, they’re all crazy like she is.

Did you see what she did back on Eidolon?

I’d love to have her on her back.

I bet she gives great head.


Shannon blinked, clearing away the sudden rush of voices in her head. She refused to let anyone else tell her what someone was worth. “Hutchins, right?”

The other woman nodded. “Abigail Hutchins, at your service. I hear you’ve been assigned to Delta Company. St. Cloud’s looking for a place to put you.”

Shannon nodded. “That’s right.” I can’t wait until Hutchins finds out where they’re putting the Halo.

Why’s that?

She’s a Darkknell. Hayes is a Halo. You think someone who grew up in Port Royal will have any time for a pampered little braintrust? There’s going to be fur flying when those two meet. I just want a ringside seat when it happens.
Shannon didn’t feel cornered, though. The other woman’s body language wasn’t confrontational and the way she spoke... it was unnerving, but not frightening or threatening.

Hutchins was silent for a moment, watching Shannon with her pale blue eyes, like a wild animal looking for weakness. “Beta took some hits last op,” she said. “We could use a medic who does more than faint at the sight of blood.” She looked at the Halo questioningly.

Shannon straightened. She wasn’t an overly tall woman and Hutchins had an inch or two on her. “I can do that.”

The Darkknell’s lips twitched in an aborted smile. “Sure about that? Beta gets in it – up to our knees.”

“I’m sure.”

Hutchins stayed silent a moment longer, still evaluating the red-haired woman. “I’m Beta’s tech, so you’d be partnered with me. If you want in on the squad, I can let our sergeant know and she can kick it up to St. Cloud.”

“Thank you. I’d be grateful if you did. I know he’s having some... difficulties figuring out where to put me.”

Abigail snorted. “That’s putting it mildly. Truth is, I don’t think he’ll be all that happier with my input.”

Shannon bit her lip, then took a gamble: “I’ve heard you like to cause trouble.”

Abigail stopped short, about to snap at Shannon when she realized the statement was free of accusation or condescension. “I guess my reputation precedes me,” she said instead, her eyes narrowing slightly.

“At least from the survivors. But I hear there’s not too many once you’re finished...”

Hutchins arched an eyebrow. “Battlefield, bed or bars?”

“Mostly the first two. I think having no survivors in a bar would make it hard to get the next round.”

“That’s true,” Hutchins chuckled and Shannon smiled lopsidedly, realizing she liked Abigail. “I think you’re starting to grow on me, rook. Okay, I’ll talk to Ellie Mae.” She turned to go, pausing in the doorway as a question suddenly occurred to her. “You didn’t even hesitate, even when I said I’d be your partner. It doesn’t bother you?”

“That you’re a Darkknell?”

Abigail nodded.

“No. You seem like good people.”

Abigail laughed again. “Oh, you really are new here. I’ll see what I can do to fix that mistaken impression.”

Shannon watched the other woman go. “I don’t think you will,” she said, so quietly that Abigail had no chance of overhearing her. But I’ll see if I change your mind.

~

“Four, get back- damnit, Four!”

Abby and Sergeant Donowitz were screaming at her as she ran through the cratered, muddy field, but she ignored their shouts. All around her, the mortars were falling, the high-pitched keen of the descending shells ending only when they hit the ground and erupted in columns of dirt, fire and blizzards of shrapnel. The blast wave of one knocked her down, face-first into the blood and mud of the churned soil, her hands scrabbling for purchase as she pulled herself back to her feet.

I won’t leave him.

Behind her, she could hear the crash of weapons as Beta fired over the lip of their trench, spraying the enemy positions with fire, forcing the rebel snipers and gunners down. Shannon’s heart was pounding in her ears as she ran, low and quick, picking her way through the field of razor wire, entrenchments and the burned and butchered corpses of Artemis troops. The guerrillas weren’t supposed to have anything more than small arms, but somehow they’d gotten their hands on military-grade antipersonnel mortars, turning Artemis’ push on their regional command post into a slaughter.

The shells whined down, moving back from the Artemis positions towards her as fire-control teams tried to zero in on her.

He’d begged them not to leave him, to come back. He didn’t know he’d already been abandoned, left for dead in the opening moments of the barrage.

She was getting close; somehow, over the sounds of the pounding artillery and her own beating heart, she could hear him. Even with their armour’s autosenses, no one else in Beta had been able to pick out the plaintive cries of the wounded man from their position, but none of them were Halos. Before she’d even thought about it, she’d been out of the trench and running, her squad’s shouts chasing her all the way. There was a glint of movement from the enemy line and she zagged abruptly, a sniper’s shot missing by inches. He was tracking her and she forced herself to reach for her own pistol, but the crack of Nine’s rifle ended the threat.

He was calling out for his mother.

She skidded into a crater; Beta Five, Andrew Fumere was there. His armour was perforated in a dozen places by shrapnel and one of his legs was a bloody mess. He saw her and shook his head. “Iss jus’ you?” he slurred. “No. Y’shouldn’ta come. Not fer me. Yer gonna die too.”

“No,” Shannon said, giving him a shot of stimulants and painkillers. “You’re not dying. No one’s dying.” His spine was intact, but he’d lost a lot of blood. Moving him was going to hurt, but she couldn’t stay here. Within seconds the gunners would know where she was and seconds after that, the next mortar round would come down. She grabbed Fumere and hefted him onto her shoulders. Even with the painkillers, he screamed in agony as the movement jarred the shrapnel in his body.

And she ran.

No one’s dying.

~

“Let her go.”

“No! No fucking way, you’re letting me walk out of here or I swear to the Nine Suns, I will cut her throat to the bone!” The pirate’s eyes were dilated; not just with fear, but with narcotic use. His breath smelled of black lotus and alcohol and his hands shook. The hostage – a young woman taken from one of the Insiders’ shipping raids and enslaved by the cartel – whimpered in his grip, terrified. The scent of ozone, gunpowder and blood filled the slaver’s halls, the occasional shot or scream echoing up as the Artemis strike team finished their purge. “Just let me go, just with this one. You can have the rest. Just this one and... and maybe a couple others. I just want my cut, my fair share. That’s all. I just want what’s mine. The rest are yours. I just want my cut.”

“Not going to happen,” Abigail said softly. The Darkknell was standing next to Shannon, her right hand dripping blood and hanging at her side, her left holding an ugly, serrated knife. Her visor was cracked and through it, Shannon could see her squadmate watching the pirate. Her breathing was slow and even, a she-wolf staring down her next meal. She didn’t even seem to realize she was injured, or care if she did.

The slave made a desperate almost animalistic whimper. Shannon forced herself to ignore the girl, keeping her attention on the pirate. “I told you to let her go.”

“Fuck you! What are you going to do, shoot me? Yeah, right! I know who you are – you’re that Halo Artemis likes to trot around with. That-that gun isn’t even loaded, I bet. You’re not going to shoot me. You don’t have it in you. None of you Halos do. Tell that bitch with the knife to let me pass. You can have the ship and everything on it, okay? I get to keep this one. She’s mine, so I-I get to keep her, or you’ll get to see what her insides look out! I’ll do it!”

“No,” Shannon said, with a bravado she didn’t feel. “You’re not going to hurt her. You’re not walking out of here and you’re not taking the girl with you. Artemis was hired to stop your cartel’s predations and to capture or kill every Insider that enters Delmontan space.”

“What the fuck do you care?!” the pirate exploded, hysteria tinting his voice. “You’re a merc! You think you-you-you have some kind of, what, honour? You think Artemis is any better than any of the other scum out there that sells themselves? You think you’re any better then me?”

“Yes. And you’re going to let the girl go, or I will shoot you,” Shannon answered. “You’re much bigger than your hostage. I have plenty of oppurtunities to put a bullet in you without hitting her.” Her mouth was dry as she forced each word out in a careful, clinical monotone. “I could shoot you through the eye. The bullet would pulverise the eye itself, punch through the socket and enter your brain. You’d be dead almost instantly, but the sudden flurry of synaptic activity from your damaged motor neurons might cause your knife hand to spasm. I don’t want that.

“I could shoot you in the throat. The bullet would rip through the major blood vessels and sever your spinal cord. It would take you longer to die – about three heartbearts if I hit the carotid artery properly and several seconds if I didn’t – but destroying your nerve cord would prevent you from hurting her. The knife would drop almost instantly from your hands. You’d try to clutch your throat to keep the blood from pouring out, but with your spinal cord so severely damaged or severed outright, you wouldn’t be able to move. You’d be trapped in your own body until your bled out. That’s assuming the hydraulic shock of the bullet didn’t draw the blood out of your brain causing immediate unconsciousness, of course.

“I could aim for your leg and open the femoral artery. That would take you even longer to die and psychologically, you’d be gripped by a sudden burst of pain and panic that would cause you to drop the knife and clutch at your leg in a makeshift tourniquet, but you’d be dead within a minute unless I saved your life... and if you had enough presence of mind to cut the girl’s throat before you fell, I wouldn’t even try to save you...” The pirate’s eyes twitched between the two women watching him and Shannon continued on, seemingly unhurried. “If you attempted to throw your hostage at us and make a run for it, I’d catch her and Beta Three here,” Shannon gestured to Abigail. “Would open you up with that knife. That would probably be the worst way to die. She has a particular grudge with slavers.

“On the other hand,” she let her voice lighten, putting a note of consideration into it and hoping it sounded as calm as she was hoping it did. “If you surrendered, you’d definitely make it off the ship alive. Delmont has promised a fair trial to all captured pirates. If you turned state’s evidence, you’d certainly avoid the death penalty and maybe even go into witness protection – far, far away from your former colleagues. It’s up to you. You can make your stand and end it all here, or you can put the knife down and earn a second chance. I honestly don’t want to see anybody die today that doesn’t have to. That includes you. Put the knife down and we’ll get you to Delmont. That’s your way out. You can survive this. All you have to do is let her go. Let her go and you’ll get out of this, I promise.”

The pirate wavered unsteadily on his feet, his drug-addled brain trying to process all of that information. Shannon’s breath caught in her throat and she forced herself to hold the gun steady, refusing to let the adrenalin rushing through her make her limbs shake. Her hands felt numb, her trigger finger as if it were stone. Despite what she’d said, she didn’t know if she could make herself shoot. He licked his lips. “A second chance?” he whispered, sweat dripping into his eyes.

Shannon nodded. “A second chance.”

The knife clattered to the ground. With a sob, his hostage rushed away – Shannon caught her, holding her closely. “It’s all right,” she told the girl. “It’s all right. You’re safe now.”

Two members of Delta squad came to take the pirate away and additional medical staff arrived for the ex-slave. Abigail waved off their attentions, preferring to let Shannon examine her injury. “Christ, Shannie,” the Darkknell said. “I think that guy was just about shitting himself.” She hesitated a moment, wincing as the medic applied an antiobiotic cream to her lacerated palm. “I don’t think I would have been able to talk him down. I don’t know if I’d have wanted to. Not after what that sick fuck was doing to that poor girl, what his friends have been doing. She shook her head. “I would’ve shot him. Even with the girl, I would have dropped him and watched him bleed out.”

“I know,” Shannon said without condemnation.

“Were you going to shoot him? If he’d killed that girl in front of you just for spite... could you have shot him?”

Shannon didn’t – couldn’t – look up at her squadmate. When she spoke, it was very quiet. Her cheeks were burning with a mixture of shame and relief. “I don’t know, Abby,” she said. “ I don’t know. And I don’t know that I ever want to find out.”



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-10-31 06:51pm
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Jedi Knight
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In this chapter: Shannon was right.

Coming up: Clotho spins, Lakhesis measures, Atropos cuts: one thread ends. It's Mother's day.

Chapter 60:

Pain.

fire

Hurt.

burning

Screaming.

my voice, that’s mine

Weapons fire.

can’t think can’t focus hurts so much

Grenades, the pounding of shockwaves and the feel of their heat.

what’s happening I have to know

Someone grabbed her, she thrashed against them, but a voice she recognized hissed in her ear. She couldn’t understand the words, but the tone kept her from fighting.

where are we going

Shouting. The dull thud-thud-thud of weapons. More of it. More. The feeling of movement as she was pulled along, trying to stand but her injured leg wouldn’t let her.

what’s happening

Acceleration. Voices. Raised, angry, afraid.

“What...” she tried to form the words, but the effort was too much and she slipped into blackness.

~

“Is she dead? She’s dead, isn’t she! She’s dead, that thing killed her-”

Shut up!” Abigail screamed at Lutzberg, more than a touch of her own fear in her voice. She knelt beside Shannon. There was a neat little hole right through Four’s helmet , the edges melted and charred. She could smell a mixture of burnt flesh, metal and hair through the hole. “Delphini, get over here. Now, dammit.Don’t be dead, Shannie. Please don’t be dead.

The tram accelerated away from the station, slugs and energy bolts ripping through the windows . Abigail could hardly hear herself over the overwhelming torrent of fire pouring back at their pursuers. There was barely enough room in the tram for the six of them, wedged between the somnolent forms of war droids. The Watcher’s ‘lads’, come to save them... or rather, the necklace that was worth all their lives. The price of an alliance that Shannon believed would never exist. But the chance of it... the chance to stop running. That was what they had suffered for, lost a man for. A chance. Abigail repressed the sudden urge to start laughing.

Emily squeezed through the press of machine bodies. A spent casing, ejected from a combat drone’s arm, fell past her ear. “I’m here,” she told Abigail. “I’m here.”

Abby nodded, reaching up and pulling off Shannon’s helmet. She let out a sigh of relief. She’s breathing. Still... the burn cut across the right side of her head, starting at the temple. The tip of her ear was burnt away and pus, liquefied skin, burnt hair and blood matted the side of her face. “It’ll be okay, Shannie,” Abigail whispered, hesitantly stroking her “little sister’s” cheek. “It’ll be okay.”

crack

One of the Watcher’s automated soldiers fell backwards, decapitated. Its limbs twitched as a long-neglected secondary control net tried to assume command and failed. Abigail ignored the machine’s corpse, looking up at Emily. “Tell me what to do.”

~

The Watcher’s automata laid down a withering hail of fire, but the machines were old and the stopgap repairs the old man effected made each combatant a little less effective, a little less capable each time they were patched, re-wired and rebuilt. The Lost One’s army, though strong, was slowly rotting. The day would come when they would dig him out of his hole, but that day suddenly seemed a lot farther off.

Recognition subroutines and pattern-analysis programs built into their armour’s gestalt pulled up data, as Vigil’s stuttered whispers spoke to them. As the tram vanished around a bend in the track, her lips curled back in a mixture of disgust and dismay. “Lot 717,” she said, looking at the lead. He was crouched on the deck, studying the patterns the preys’ sprays of blood had made. He’d absorbed a lot of firepower and only her intervention had kept him from being skewered on the heavy trooper’s blade. She hadn’t made a kill, but neither had the intruders. At best, a draw.

The lead nodded. “717. Finally unburied.” He relayed the information to their reinforcements. That cargo must’nt be allowed to reach its destination. He looked up, nodded at her side. “Your wound?”

She held out the Old One’s weapon, a simple stainless steel combat knife, the blade coated in her blood. “Sore. Healing.” Under his stare, she relented. “My suit’s reporting internal injury, but I’m healing.” His systems interrogated hers.

“You won’t be at full strength for some time from that kind of wound,” he noted.

“I can still fight. I can still hunt,” a note of desperation entered her voice. There was no shame in being sent back, but she still felt as if she’d failed. Twice, she’d fought the Old One and twice, she’d lost. She wanted this kill. She needed it.

The lead looked away, into the darkness. He knew she couldn’t move at full speed with that injury and the more stress she placed on it, the longer it would take to heal. Enough strain, and the damage could overwhelm everything her own body and their medical technology could do. “They’ve outpaced us,” he finally said. “They’ll likely encounter our support squads before we can acquire them, even at full speed.”

“Then they’ll die,” she asserted. “But they won’t. They’ll never make it to the Watcher.” She felt a smile slide across her lips. “And then they’re ours.”

~

“She’s not going to lose her eye.”

That had been Emily’s pronouncement several minutes ago and Louis had been repeating it ever since, mumbling it as he crouched on the tram floor. The bolt had been too high, too off-center to be a killing blow. It had been intended to be one, a quick, clean shot between the eyes that would have burned through Shannon’s skull, vapourized her brain tissue and superheated the remaining liquid into an explosive overpressure that would have blown through the newly-created holes in her head. That had been the intent.

Except Shannon had moved at the last second – the last instant. Not enough to dodge the beam – no one was that fast – but enough that the barrel of the gun was no longer aimed so precisely. Maybe the enemy had tried to counter and track back for the killing shot, but Abigail hadn’t given him the chance.

She wasn’t what you’d call a berserker on the battlefield – indeed, the coldblooded way she fought was what scared people more. They’d said things like “thousand-yard stare”, “serial killer” and other unflattering terms to describe her; she hadn’t cared. You killed the enemy. Anyone who tried to stop you, tried to hurt you or yours was the enemy. You put them down hard, fast and you didn’t care how it was done as long as it was done. That was how the streets and docks of Port Royal taught her to fight. Just now, though... back at the tram station as she’d seen Shannon fall, seen her clutching at her helmet, reeking steam wisping out of the hole and hearing the Halo’s screams... all she’d seen was red. All she’d wanted to do was to kill and keep killing, to grab that invisible motherfucker, and start tearing pieces loose until she could see its face and then drive a knife right into its pleading, terrified eyes. To rip and claw and bite under there was nothing but red on her hands, on her face and dripping from her mouth.

It had been Emily, oddly enough, that had broken through the haze. The petite little doctor in her stained clothes, trying to pull Shannon into the tram, screaming for Abigail: “I can’t carry her myself!”

Then, there’d been the thunder of grenades as she and Louis had thrown them into those suicidally-close quarters, Jane sheltering the civilians from the fire and shrapnel, the Ghost using the threat of her useless cannon to keep the specters back, watching them retreat as the fire from the Watcher’s robots chewed through the deck and bulkheads, bullets whining and lasers hissing through the thin air.

Hunched down and cowering as the tram sped away, the Watcher’s nonsense in her ears as he demanded, over and over, his lover’s damned trinket. Abigail had ignored him, watching as Emily had worked, cleaning Shannon’s wound and wrapping the young woman’s head in antiseptic bandages, smearing burn cream and dosing her with antibiotics to prevent infection.

“It was plasma,” Delphini had said, talking down to them without even knowing it. “That’s hot. She’s got severe burns across the right side of her face. No exposed bone, so we’re lucky on that count, but...” she trailed off. “The bolt didn’t even hit her and it seared that line right through her skin. I can’t know what that might have done to her brain tissues.”

“You said it never hit her,” Louis all but accussed.

“She had a graze from a weapon about as hot as the inside as an industrial reactor,” Emily didn’t look back at Louis, her tone patronizing. “When the brain overheats it shuts down. She was conscious at first, so that’s a good sign. Burns are painful and this had to be...” she trailed off.

“She passed out from the pain,” Abigail summarized.

Emily nodded. “Yes. But like I said – this was a plasma weapon. I’ve treated burn victims before, but not like this. For all I know, that bolt might have cooked part of her brain inside her skull. Her pulse is already weak from blood loss. I don’t think it should be this low, though... Her temperature’s high, even for an accelerated metabolism and combat drug use...” she bit her lip. “You said one of them stabbed her – was the blade... was it poisoned?”

Abigail shook her head. “I don’t know. She didn’t say...” Her jaw tightened. “She didn’t want us to worry.” The Darkknell reached out and, with a surprising tenderness, brushed some of Shannon’s hair back from her face. “What can we do for her?”

“She’s not going to lose her eye,” Emily said. “But I need better diagnostic equipment, I need... something. For her, she looked over her shoulder at Hernandez. His expression was unreadable. “For you. And,” she turned to Abigail. “For you.”

“She’s not going to lose her eye?” Louis asked; the first time he’d spoken since they’d escaped. He looked up at Abigail and Emily; one eye covered by bandages, the other by his eyepiece. “She’s not going to lose her eye?” He repeated.

Emily shook her head. “It doesn’t look like it.” She didn’t understand.

“She’s not going to lose her eye,” Louis said again, rolling the entire sentence down his tongue, as if he’d never heard any of those words before. “She’s not going to lose her eye...”

Abigail didn’t say anything in reply, staring at Louis, though her hand started to drift towards the knife strapped to her boot. She didn’t like Hernandez’s tone. It sounded too much like someone thinking about something truly unpleasant. “No, she’s not, Nine.” A statement, challenge and threat all in one.

Louis laughed, the sound shallow and ugly. “She’s not going to lose her eye,” he giggled, leaning back. He reached up and touched the bandages on his face. “She’s not going to lose her eye.” Each time a new inflection, a new meaning. He chuckled again. “That’s funny. That’s really fucking funny, innit?”

“I’m sure someone finds it funny,” Abigail said softly, her voice starting to lose tone. “Someone will find anything funny. It’s a pretty fucked-up galaxy, Nine.”

“Yeah,” Louis said. He wasn’t looking at her, staring into space. “Yeah, Three. It is.” He didn’t say anything more for a long moment, scratching at the back of his head, laughing to himself every so often as he repeated his new mantra.

Abigail watched Hernandez for a few seconds longer, pushing the image of her knife in his throat out of her mind. For now. If he started going buggy, if he even tried to do anything to Shannie... Abigail hadn’t had much in her short life. No friends worth a damn, no family to speak of. Until that ‘retarded puppy’ of a Halo had walked into an Artemis base.

Anyone who tried to hurt you or yours was the enemy. Once that happened, you put them down. Hard, fast and permanently. With an effort, Abigail pushed the dark thoughts out of her head, meeting Emily’s eyes. “Is there anything you can do for her with her kit?”

The doctor shook her head. “You all need more than first aid and battlefield triage. There’s enough in here to do that and do it well, but for more than that... no. We need to get back to the Watcher’s camp for me to do more.”

“I’m afraid,” the Watcher’s voice intruded, harsh and buzzing from the voice box of one of his machines. “That’s no longer possible.” Abigail looked up, anger etched across her face and suddenly, belatedly, she realized what was really in the car with them. Matte black armour glinted faintly under the tram’s running lights, the orange flickers sliding off each joint, each curved barrel or sloped plate. Serial numbers were stencilled across armoured, shoulders, breastplates and thighs.

717-003. 717-007. 717-008. 717-011. On and on... and above each unit number there was a small emblem, the gaping maw of a massive reptile – a dragon. Dragon’s teeth. The sigil of the Imperium’s military cybernetic divisions.

They were in a tram car filled with war drones.... and not just the Watcher’s old, patched and creaky models.

Imperial war drones, an entire platoon’s worth of pristine killing machines, never touched by decay or neglect.

Ancient servos whined and hiccupped with pops and hisses as the slumbering giants shuddered to life, twitching limbs stretching for the first time in decades, diagnostic LEDs flashing as operating systems loaded, function systems came on-line, metal digits spasmed and flexed.

Abigail’s HUD flashed urgent red warnings as it detected the sweep of the drones’ scanners, each of them orienting on her and her group. “Identity unknown,” chorused from more than two dozen lipless mouths. “IFF failure. Weapons detected. Hostile targets.” Energy weapons began to charge with the hiss of steam and burning dust as slugthrowers clacked ammo belts into place.

“Engaging.”



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-11-27 04:36pm
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A twofer! In these chapters: tying past betrayals into present treachery

Chapter 61:

Then:

They had it all wrong.

All of them. Sarah, Thorne, Whitham – every last one of them. They were wrong. Surviving wasn’t about hiding, about running and quivering in corners, praying for help to come. Survival meant fighting. It meant taking what you could, when you could. It meant being ruthless, it meant doing whatever you had to. It meant sacrifice.

That was survival.

Dyson let the beam from his flashlight play across the room. The air here was cold and dry, smelling of machinery and metal. No one had come here for a very long time. No one had had a reason to. Not until he and Sarah had found Thorne’s little toys and put them somewhere more... convenient. He ran a hand over a diagnostic bench, letting his fingers trail through the dust. No diodes blinked, no screen shimmered to life. Everything in here was dead, starved of power as the station redirected energy into the nearby hydroponics and air processing sections. Without power or life, there was no reason to ever come here. A perfect hiding place, one provided by his... associate.

The technician smiled as his eyes swept through the room. They were still here. Three squads – thirty units – of Imperial combat droids. Most were humanoid – some pushing the boundaries of that – although not all were.

Dyson felt a tug of relief as he patted a cold metal chassis. He’d been worried, ever since Sarah... it probably hadn’t occurred to her to do anything with them, just as it never occurred to her to wonder what happened that day when she’d fallen asleep. It was simple – a handful of powder from the appropriate pills and she’d been out like a light. She was so trusting, she’d accepted that she’d simply been so tired that she’d passed out and the cut on her wrist was from tossing in her sleep. He felt the faint stirrings of regret at the deception, but his partner had been adamant. Sarah’s life for his and her help with his... projects. A fair trade, all things considered.

Thinking of his ‘partner’, Dyson felt himself stir. Despite her condition, she was very... energetic. She’d never give him a name so he called her Tiffany, after his favourite porn actress. He chuckled to himself at the inside joke. There was a bit of a resemblance there, but only superficial. Tiffany... now, she was a curious thing. On her good days, she was almost coherent. He had no idea what had happened to her – maybe she’d even been born that way. A more freakish variant of humanity whose mind had snapped on DROP 47. She might even have been born here – it was hard to piece together, especially since talking about her past made her more... fractured than normal. Definite family issues, though.

He didn’t know what his partner wanted with Sarah, only that she’d be taken care of. Probably wanted a pet of her own, not that Dyson could blame her – Sarah was a comely little thing and a pleasant enough armful in bed. He chuckled dryly, covering up his own unease. He did feel bad about the whole affair, but it had been necessary. The sacrifices that survival demanded. What Thorne and the rest of the idiots didn’t realize was that nobody was coming for them. He’d lied when he’d told them that their ship’s last transmission was almost too garbled to be recovered, but that they’d managed to send a distress buoy before... going off-air.

He wished that was the truth. There’d been no hidden data code for him to uncover, no last brave words or promise that rescue was coming.

There’d been nothing but the screams.

At the time, he had lied to save morale. To give them something to hope for – to believe that rescue would come. Now, he realized just how naive he’d been. DROP 47 was nothing but a pitcher plant. You went in, drawn by the scent of honey and once you were in... it ate you alive. The natives called it Acheron, one of the rivers of Hell.

Well, if you’re trapped in Hell, you might as well look to rule it. Dyson smiled, comforted by the thought. It was time. Time to get rid of Thorne and rally the survivors to his banner. Then, he’d deal with the masked savages and their white-painted little proxies. He’d even heard of a third tribe living somewhere on the south arm... He’d push back the Lurker infestation, drive them into the core and then wipe them all out. He’d even have the means to deal with the pirate clan here, too. Thirty war droids wouldn’t be enough for all of that, but they’d be a start. He’d play the game until 47 was his, until he reigned in Hell. “It’s all coming together,” he said to himself.

“Are you there?” the voice crackled through the static-ridden comm lines, interrupting Dyson’s reverie.

Dyson paused. He’d forgotten the link was open. “I’m here, Jason.”

“Dr. Whitman,” the cyberneticist corrected Dyson haughtily.

“Fine. Whatever.”

“Are you at the site?”

“Yes,” Dyson replied. “Everything’s secure. Just like I told you it would be.” Bringing Whitham in was a calculated risk, but a necessary one – the man was one of the premier cyberneticists in the Republic, but he hadn’t been right since his wife had disappeared. That was probably for the best, given that it wouldn’t have been much longer before Thorne or someone else would have put a bullet in her. Whitham had still taken it badly, though. He’d refused to do any more work on Thorne’s little find unless they looked for her; his back against the wall, Thorne had agreed to send out search parties, but none of them had been particularly enthusiastic about it (or tried terribly hard).

In the end, all they’d found of her was a few scraps of cloth and a blood trail that vanished into the Lurker-ridden parts of the arm. Thorne had had to call off the search at that point. Dyson had expected rage, threats and begging from Whitman, but it was like the scientist had just withdrawn into himself. He hadn’t said a word, simply stared at Thorne from behind his cracked spectacles with dead, empty eyes, nodded and turned away. He spent the rest of his days tinkering with the station’s security systems, trying to talk to the insane AI. After three days of trying, he’d gotten a name out of it: Vigil.

Dyson had listened to Whitham as he’d worked, the cyberneticist muttering to himself as he’d matched wits with an insane AI. “She’s hiding something,” the doctor had repeated to himself, over and over. “She’s hiding something from me.”

Lot 717. A full platoon of Imperial combat units, asleep in their crypt. Other raiders had come for them, the ground littered with their bleached bones, walls and bulkheads peppered with shot and burned with energy fire as the war machines’ threat-recognition systems identified the would-be looters as a hostiles to be terminated. Centuries old and still lethal, like mythical guardians protecting a tomb. Whitham had managed to pacify them, putting them to sleep, but the machines were still operating on Imperial protocols. Which was a small problem given that no one in their expedition had access to Imperial security codes – as soon as the machines woke up again, they’d fall back on their innate programming to protect themselves.

Dyson had heard of the ‘Dragon’s Teeth’, of course. He’d even seen the infamous ‘Seven Devils’ footage. A rampant Centobite stalking and killing an entire mercenary squad, trained gunslingers turned into whimpering, terrified animals as the drone picked them off one by one. He paused by 717-024, the platoon’s own Cenobite. It was still, its hull cool, its vicious talons still and powered off. He knelt beside it, reminded of Tiffany. Hello, girl. Ready to play? The machine didn’t answer.

“Okay, I’m here,” he said into the comm. “What’s the first step?” He’d gotten them here by reconfiguring their ‘home base’ coordinates. That had been hard enough, but for his purposes, he needed to completely reprogram them to accept his commands or as soon as one of them woke up far enough it would turn on him. “Whitham. I need to know how to safe mode these things. Let’s get them going. Whitham.”

Static came back.

“Jason?” Dyson raised his voice. “What’s next?”

Still nothing.

“Dr. Whitham?”

“Bell horses, bell horses, what time o’ day?” a familiar feminine voice giggled into the radio. “One o’clock, two o’clock, time to away.”

“Tiff?” Dyson pursed his lips, snapping open the worn leather strap of his holster. His hand touched the cool metal grip of his pistol. “That you, doll?”

“The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell, hi-ho the derry-o, the farmer in the dell.” a different girl’s voice singsonged.

“Tiffany?”

“Don’t call me that,” Tiffany answered, her voice a sensuous liquid purr. “That’s not my name.”

“What is it, then?” His mind flashed back to their first meeting, the hissing, snarling ball of teeth that she’d been, and the question he’d asked then. “What’s your name?”

“The farmer takes a wife,” she laughed, ignoring the question. “The farmer takes a wife, hi-ho the derry-o, the farmer takes a wife.”

“Jason!” Dyson flipped channels on the comm. “Jason, can you hear me? I’ve got a little problem here...”

There was no answer. Either Whitham was playing silly buggers with the comm, or Tiffany and her friend were jamming him – and how the hell could they do that? –Tiffany had no idea how to use the station’s systems.

Or she’d made it look that way, a little voice whispered in the back of Dyson’s mind. “Whitham!” he whispered with greater urgency, unsettled by the idea that the freakish little mutant had been playing him. “Can you hear me?”

I can hear you,” a third voice answered and Dyson froze. That hadn’t been over the comm. That voice... He looked up as Sarah stepped out of the gloom. His mouth went dry as he saw her. Her skin had lost colour, dark blue veins showing beneath it. The discolouration had faded from one of her yellow eyes, but both of them glinted with madness and her hands... her hands were turning black, just like Tiffany’s and they ran over her swollen belly. She smiled, her lips stretching back across teeth stained pink, the light in her eyes making Dyson’s skin crawl.

“The wife takes a child, the wife takes a child,” Tiffany whispered as she slid out off the darkness behind Sarah, moving with a serpentine grace that Dyson had never seen before. “Hi-ho the derry-o, the wife takes a child.”

Sarah’s smile widened. “I’m pregnant,” she whispered reverently. “I can feel it moving.”

And so it was; Dyson could see his lover’s skin bulge and shiver as something – something not restricted to her womb – slithered through her flesh.

“She’s going to be a mother,” Tiffany purred, stroking Sarah’s cheek with the back of one hand, the other woman’s eyes half-lidding with pleasure, her breath turning raspy. Tiffany looked sharply back at Dyson. “Our mother.”

“That’s great,” he whispered. “I’m really – I’m happy for you, both of you.” There was only one exit. He’d have to shoot his way out.

“Mmmmm,” Tiffany rolled the sound down her tongue. “Liar.” She wasn’t looking at him. “I smell your fear. You’re not happy. You cast her out when you were finished. Told her she was pretty, touched her, made her cry out for you and you cast her out. You gave her to me.” There was despair in her voice as she finally turned to face Dyson. “How could do that to her?” Her knife-like fingers raked softly over Sarah’s skin, eliciting soft gasps from the shorter woman. “You gave her to me so your toys would be safe.”

“You...” Dyson could finally speak, forcing his brain to work. “You did this. You were the one that-that turned her into... into this.”

“Our last mother died,” Tiffany said sadly. “Burned and hewn. We need a mother. Isn’t she pretty?” She ran a hand down Sarah’s form, to her heavy stomach. “She’ll give us strong sisters, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I’m sure she will...” Say whatever it takes. “She’s just glowing.”

“Glowing,” Tiffany – whatever her name was – licked her lips. “Glowing. And hungry. Fed already, not enough. She needs more. Needs to be safe. The garden grows, but not fast enough. She needs to eat and grow. I have to keep her safe. They’ll start hunting her if they know she’s here.” She wrapped her arms around Sarah possessively. “I can’t lose another mother.” Red eyes narrowed as her head cocked back at Dyson. “You’ll help us now.”

“Tiff...” Dyson drawled, starting to circle around the women, towards the exit. “We’ve had some good times, you and I. You too, Sarah – didn’t I take care of you? I kept you safe.”

There was a hooded look in Sarah’s eyes as she spoke. “Kept me safe,” she repeated flatly. “You kept me safe. While Thorne watched. While everyone watched. You kept me safe.” She looked down at her belly, at her blackening, scaly hands. “You gave me this.”

“I know, and I’m sorry, baby. I had to do it. I had to do it for everyone, you understand? To keep everyone safe. Thorne can’t be trusted. I did what I had to do. I didn’t want to, but I had to, right? I wanted to keep you safe, I wanted to. But I couldn’t... I couldn’t save everyone. You understand that, right?”

She wouldn’t look at him. “I understand. You always did what you thought was best. I always listened. I always let you decide.” Both women were watching him now, two sets of red eyes staring at him. Sarah licked her lips and whispered something into Tiffany’s ear. “He should decide.”

The other woman crackled, a staccato burr, but she nodded. “You gave me memories,” she said to Dyson. “Gave me feelings, touches, whispers. Made me think I wasn’t what I was. I’m glad of that. I’ll give you her decision.” Her talons caressed Sarah’s face, her touch as gentle as a mother with a newborn. “She needs to eat. You can help her grow, or you can be our brother.” She tapped Sarah’s nose. “You’ll be her firstborn. We can play together and take care of each other.”

Sarah hissed, holding out a hand towards Dyson. “We can be together. Just like you promised.”

He laughed then, a nervous defeated little sound of despair and reached for her hand. She smiled with hope and expectation...

..he grabbed her arm and pulled her off her feet, throwing her to the ground. Tiffany screamed, there was a blue of movement, but Dyson ignored it because he was running, but there was fire in his side and he fell, pulling himself back up to his feet, but his hands were slippery and he couldn’t get any traction but it didn’t matter because they were behind him and he had to run...

~

He didn’t know how he’d gotten here. He was here, that was all he knew. His lungs burned in his chest and he fought for each breath, clutching a hand to his side, trying to stem the blood seeping out between his fingers, a loop of entrails hanging down his side. A single cut and she’d opened him this deep. He fought to hold onto the pain. It was the only thing keep him awake. He needed it. The stench of the spread filled his nostrils, warring with the thick aroma of rotten fruit and growing plants. The infestation had reached even here, creeping tendrils boring into leaves and stems. He hadn’t known it was this bad. She hadn’t told him.

“This is why you said you could keep them safe here,” he said aloud. “You knew. You knew it was close to this. You didn’t want me to have them. You didn’t want anyone to have them.”

He almost wept. He’d been so sure, so confident that he was getting everything he wanted and he’d been duped by a bugged-out mutant.

No, he corrected with a giddy giggle. Blood loss was making him lightheaded. Not a mutant. A Lurker.

Tears streaked down his cheeks. I had it, his mind whimpered the thought over and over. I was almost there. I almost had everything. It’s not fair. “It’s not fair,” he whispered through his clenched teeth.

The computer flashed intermittently, but it accepted his commands. Someone was shouting in his ear, telling him not to do this, but he didn’t pay any attention. He had to do this. This was the last thing, the one good thing that he could do. To make up for everything else he’d done. It had to. It had to. I can stop it. “I can stop it all,” he said. “No more plans. No more schemes. I can stop it all. I can stop all of you.”

Someone was fighting him, erecting firewalls and throwing countermeasures at him, but they were only slowing him. He just needed to focus, just a little more and then he’d be finished. “No one gets the brass ring,” he told himself, needing to believe it as he began to systematically disable the system’s master networking adapters, severing hydroponics from Vigil’s reach. His hands were slippery as he cut the hardline cables, sweat and blood smeared on the keys as he shut down wireless functions. “No one gets out. Nothing gets in.”

They were coming for him. His lovers, the others. He’d thought he was so smart, stringing Sarah and Tiffany along, giving them the affection they were desperate for. He’d had so many plans, so many ways to get what he we wanted. And now...

There was nowhere left to run, no place to hide. He couldn’t think or talk or bargain or plan his way out. He’d been wrong. He hadn’t known what they really were. “I didn’t know,” he said to the air. “I didn’t know.” The voice in his ear had gone silent. Dyson couldn’t even remember who it had been. Maybe it had been Jason. He’d been talking to Jason before, hadn’t he? It didn’t matter, not really. Blackness was beginning to creep in around the edges of his vision, his legs trembling beneath him.

He heard them coming.

“One little duck went out to play,” the girl whose name he’d never known sang, stalking out of the darkness. “Over the hills and far away. The mother duck said ‘quack quack, come back’.” Behind her followed Sarah, cradling her belly. Dyson stared into her mismatched eyes, hoping for something – anything – human, but there was something horrible in them, something he couldn’t bear to see.

Forgiveness. And even worse, in the twitch of her lips, in the gleam of her eyes he saw contentment. She was happy.

I did this.

“I’m sorry,” he said, every mistake in his life running through his mind. “I’m sorry for all of it.”

“I know,” Sarah answered, taking his hand. “I know.” She pulled him to his knees, stronger than she’d ever been in life. “Decide,” she whispered in his ear as her teeth grazed his throat.

“I have,” he answered, holding her to him with one hand. The other touched the keyboard. “I have. We’ll be together,” he whispered to her. “Forever.” He could feel her body shiver and writhe against his and as her teeth found his throat, he ordered the computer to execute his last command.

~

One by one, pressure doors slammed down in an attempt to isolate North Hydroponics from the rest of the station. Corridors were sealed off, air vents were shut down, maintenance tunnels locked and atmosphere flushed out in what should have formed an unbreakable cordon around the contaminated areas.

It had failed. Time, inexperience and sabotage had worked against Dyson. If he’d had more time. If he’d been more familiar with the Imperial systems, if he hadn’t been working against someone else...

“Credit where it’s due,” a voice whispered. “You didn’t completely fail.” Vigil’s control was severed; that, if nothing else, Dyson had done right. It might placate whatever judge was waiting for the damned fool’s soul, but in this place, it was frustrating. “Should have gone for the jugular, Jessup or let your – heh – daughter-to-be finish the job. You girls are too sentimental.”

It wasn’t even a matter of repairing severed connections or replacing hardlines; the damage was in the software of the central hub terminal. Actual, physical access to the computer would be needed to undo it. The figure leaned back in a squeaking ancient chair, looking at the images on a pair of security screens, the last thing the cameras had recorded before their connections had been cut. On one, Sarah gorged herself, her face buried in Dyson’s abdomen, as her companion stared at the computer’s holographic display, captured in a moment of dawning comprehension.

On the other, row after row of perfect Dragon’s Teeth lay slumbering, sealed against intrusion and waiting for the command to awaken. Accompanying this image was the flashing schematic of North Hydroponics, each access point to Lot 717’s site blinking with the red of a sealed pressure door.

On a third monitor, a figure only barely recognizable slouched through a different pressure door a moment before it slammed shut, the last few seconds of imagery playing back in a continuous loop. Knuckles tightened painfully and the figure let out an aggravated sigh. “I’ll find a way,” he announced to the empty room. “I’ll find a way to fix everything.” He touched his fingers to his lips and then, to the third screen. “I’ll do it for you,” he promised, closing his eyes for a moment. “I’ll do it for you.”



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"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2011-11-27 04:38pm
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Jedi Knight
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Chapter 62:

Now:

“You bastard,” the curse hissed out through Abigail’s teeth. Half a dozen targeting systems were locked onto her, each member of their party under similar attention. A Cenobite-pattern drone stared down Godfrey; intended for close combat, Cenobites were armed not unlike the unfortunate Mackenzie; hands with long, slashing talons. Only instead of the onyx bone that the petty officer had, each of the Cenobite’s claws hissed and crackled with a disruptor field. Shoulder-mounted flechette launchers tracked the trooper as the Cenobite stared at Godfrey from behind its grotesquely-painted faceplate, as impassive as the lieutenant’s own bloody masque.

Armin was frozen with terror. Delphini had slowly raised her hands, as if surrender would save her. Louis remained sitting, hefting Betsy in one hand, pointing the shotgun’s barrel at the closest drone. Not that it would do much good; their weapons would tear right through the mercenaries’ armour. Even Jane’s heavy plate wouldn’t save her from Imperial weapons, not at this range.

“You bastard,” Abigail repeated. “I knew we couldn’t trust you. She knew it too.” She pulled Shannon’s prone form to her, but there was no place to hide, no cover to offer her ‘little sister’.

“Did she?” the Watcher chuckled, his voice rasping in her ears. “And she danced under the strings all the same. You all do, moths and Lost and children all dance to the song of Acheron. You think you can call the tune, but it never works that way. Hope. Fear. Rage. They dictate what you’ll do, all of you.”

“Yeah. Hope,” Abigail said. “She knew what you were going to do, but she still hoped you’d keep to your end.”

“It’s a curse, a Halo curse. To see everything and know everything and still to hope for the best.” He laughed at some private joke. “But it leads where all curses do, doesn’t it, little moth? To the fire at the end of all things.”

“You’re so right.” She heard the feral’s indrawn breath as she pulled out a high-explosive grenade, holding it in one hand, the other clutching tightly to Shannon. “You mentioned hope, fear and rage, you fucker. The first two were hers. Guess which is mine?”

“Bluff,” the Watcher challenged. Another four targeting systems locked onto her.

“No bluff,” Abigail replied. “Deadman switch.”

“You can’t hurt my boys.”

“I know. I don’t care about them. We knew you wanted something else from us and you know what? I’m happy for you. Get your new private army, stick it to the Masks, go after the Turned or those fuckers with the cloaks – I don’t care. But this? This is for me, and it’s for her and it’s for that fucking necklace that we bled for. That we lost a man for. Your drones will survive. It won’t.”

“Abby...” Louis said softly. “Fuck are you doing?”

“I’m negotiating, Nine.” Abigail’s voice was very quiet, very cold and without any trace of levity. “It took you how long to get this necklace back? When all you needed was some patsies to walk into a damned hive of Turned? How long will it take you to put it back together when all you’ve got is molten bits of metal? Shoot me. Go ahead, you fucking pussy. Shoot Louis. Shoot Emily and Armin and Jane and watch the last piece of your lover go up in flame. Any one of us dies and we all die and we take your damned trinket with us.”

The Watcher didn’t answer.

“You think I’m afraid to do it?” Abigail said, her voice rising. “Look at us. We’ve been here a couple days and we’re coming apart. Every God-damned thing on this station wants to kill us. Nobody dies easy. You get gunned down by psychopaths, turned into a fucking breeding machine, eaten or mutated. This... this is clean. This is quick. This is easy. If you want to make this our last stop, then at least it’ll be on our terms. At least I can say I got to spit in the eye of the cowardly little fuck who turned on us. Come on then, you cocksucker! What are you waiting for?! Give me a reason. Give me a reason.

The silence stretched as the tram car sped down the track, the Imperial drones still watching their potential victims, waiting for the command to fire. Then, abruptly, they lowered their weapons. Disruptor fields shut off, energy capacitors bled off waste heat and safeties clicked on. “The little moth won’t burn today,” the Watcher whispered. “She will burn, but not today.” The car began to slow as it pulled up to some burnt-out tram station just off the main rail. “I will make it so.”

“You do that,” Abigail hissed, refusing to deactivate the grenade. She watched as the others evacuated the car, withdrawing out of the drones’ line of fire. Emily looked as she wanted to come back, but Abigail shook her head no. She stood, hauling Shannon up. The Darkknell felt a twinge of guilt; their respective positions made it look like she was using the unconscious Halo as a human shield, but there was no other way for her to lift Shannon without losing her grip on the grenade, or inviting a cheap shot. She backed out of the car. “One drone.” She looked over at one of the more dilapidated models, a cheap construction model with an overcharged plasma cutter attached to its right arm. “That one. You can leave that one. The others go home. Now.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then we see how much you’re prepared to lose,” Abigail said, her grin widening. The Watcher had been so focused on her ultimatum, he hadn’t noticed the figure stalking up the tram tunnel, its grey armour smeared with blood, grotesque trophies hanging from its waist.

“Corporal Black reporting,” the Ghost hissed. “Ready for duty. Orders?”

“If our friend doesn’t behave, start firing on the tram,” Jane answered. “See if Imperial armour can take what your Hammetong gives.”

Oblivious to the realization that she wouldn’t survive long doing that, Cynthia braced herself into a firing position. There was a wet giggle of anticipation. “I’ve never killed Imperial before,” the Ghost purred.

Another moment passed. There was the sound of grinding teeth.

“All right.” The robot Abigail had indicated shuffled off the tram, the car accelerating away. As soon as it was out of site, the construction drone reached out with the crude pincers of its left hand. “Now, little moth. Give me what is mine.”

Abigail was tempted just to shoot the drone down, but she nodded. “Deal’s a deal.” Without looking, she reached down Shannon’s side, finding the armoured tac case on her thigh. She fished out the gore-flecked necklace and tossed it onto the drone’s waiting manipulators. “You’ve got what you wanted. We’re done.”

The Watcher’s voice took on an almost dreamy tone as his machine marched away. “You’ve done me a service and I’m grateful, little moth. But we’re not done. This is my station. These are my people, my toys, my systems. You don’t even know why you fight to live. You don’t even know what that is in your arms, do you?”

“I know enough,” she said defiantly.

“You really don’t,” the Watcher laughed. “So go on, little moth. Take the daughter. Enjoy the victory that you’ve earned. I’ll find you again. I always do.”

“Fuck you.”

The channel closed.

~

Vigil’s systems reported that the tram had stopped briefly at one of the stations further up the line before continuing on its way. Camera functions were down in that area, but motion sensors confirmed someone had left the car. “You were right,” said the lead, striding through the hallways. “They didn’t make it all the way back.” He looked at his younger wards. “What do you think of the choice of location?”

Her fellow novitiate thought a moment. “No betrayal, but no alliance. Leaving them there is parting on good terms.”

“There’s no good terms with the Watcher,” she said. The wound in her side itched, though the painkillers flooding her system made it no more than that. She paused a moment, tempted to shut down that part of her brain but pushed the idea of biocontrol out of her mind. Despite her armour’s monitoring systems, she needed to be aware if her injury worsened. “He betrayed them,” she continued with certainty. “Either they forced his hand or...” she bit the inside of her lip. “No. Forced or not, he chose well.”

“Why is that?” the lead asked nonchalantly as he checked an empty storage locker. “It’s close to an oasis.”

“They’re not like Vigil,” she pointed out. “They go insane. If this one has, there’s no safety there. That section is in his sphere of influence. Any augurs will be his; he’ll know if the quarantine systems are malfunctioning or not. Even if they aren’t... we haven’t seen many evolved strains. It would be nice to think that the Old One’s purge claimed them too, but they’re the most likely to survive.”

“You think they’ll anticipate this?” her fellow trainee seemed dubious as he swept his weapon across a side corridor.

“I think they’re smart enough to stake out the nearest safe zone in the arm,” she replied, pausing a moment to catch her breath. Her diaphragm had been nicked by the Old One’s blade and until it healed fully, she was having trouble keeping pace. The lead called a halt to wait for her. “They don’t need to know about the New Ones and the Watcher. All they have to know is where the nearest watering hole is and wait until the prey comes to them.”

~

Tabitha was licking her claws nervously, keeping an eye on the figure sitting across the hall. Kiyomi was growling fitfully, Jacquelyn had slunk back into the shadows and even Gemma was disturbed. Remaining utterly still, the soldier watched them from its too-large eyes. None of the women knew what had drawn it here; soldiers only left Mother when prey were too dangerous for the hunters to handle. Now that she was dead, there was nothing that could control the creatures, nothing to reinforce the bonds of family in its mind. The soldier stirred, powerful muscles stretching beneath pale skin, its killing blades flexing slowly. It cocked its head towards the sisters, lips spreading back from its mouth of needle teeth in a parody of a grin.

Tabitha hissed, low and threatening, splaying her hands. The soldier flinched back from her and then slowly turned, rising out of its crouch. It made a gibbering, liquid noise of challenge. Behind her, Tabitha felt her sisters stir, but she ignored them, crouching low on all fours. The spines on her back went rigid as she approached the soldier, looking up into its red-black eyes. Drool bubbled over its teeth and it raised its arms, mantis-like, an instant before spearing them down-

-and she was on her feet, her hands around its wrists, holding its killing strike back. It looked confused, staring at its shaking arms, the blades halted in their free-fall as it strained against this unexpected resistance.

Its slit-like nostrils flared and it hissed at her, its scent one of pure ferocity as it tried to bear down on her. It wanted to kill, to slash and rend everything in its sight. She understood that desire, that need and smiled back at it, the air thickening with her scent. The soldier’s aggression faded, its expression turning confused again as it stared at her, what passed for its mind finally starting to consider the situation, to react to her scent. Finally, it stopped struggling. Tabitha released her degenerate cousin, holding her hand out towards it.

The soldier bent its head in submission, licking her fingers gently. It leaned towards her and she gave it a calming lick of her own tongue, stroking its cheek with the back of her hand. “Good boy,” Tabitha purred, looking over at her sisters. Kiyomi and Jacquelyn were watching in quiet awe, and Gemma wore an expression that shifted between reverence and disgust.

There was a noise, further into the corridor. A low, harsh chuckle. Each of the women looked up, red eyes piercing the gloom. The soldier snapped its head towards the noise, unfurling its scythe-arms, its fingers twitching maniacally. “Will wonders never cease,” a masculine voice growled. “One of you bitches is actually good for something.”

~

Emily and Abigail carried Shannon between them. Although the petite doctor was having trouble lifting the Halo’s armoured form even with Abigail’s help, neither of them asked the other survivors for help. Armin might end up dropping her and Louis’s... episode in the tram car made him unreliable in Abigail’s eyes. Entrusting her “little sister’s” care to either of the deranged Ghosts wasn’t even worth thinking about.

Every so often, Godfrey’s helmet would turn towards the other three women, stealing a quick glance. Abigail was sure Godfrey and Black were talking to each other on a private channel. They were too quiet. Black... Abigail hadn’t had many encounters with her, but she was good enough to earn power armour, good enough to survive DROP 47 all on her own. Even without the bloody evidence of her corruption hanging from her hip, she was dangerous. The splashes of blood discolouring her once clean, pale armour only reinforced that concept.

I can control her. Godfrey had promised Shannon that, but Shannon was unconscious now. The dog had a leash, but without the Halo, Jane had no one holding hers. That was why Abigail wouldn’t let anyone else help her and Emily. She couldn’t be weak. One moment of that, and the Ghosts would turn on them. She wouldn’t let that happen. Gritting her teeth, Abigail focused on putting one foot ahead of the other, heading deeper into the station, towards the icon on her HUD that might just save them.

She’d do what she always did: survive one step at a time.

~

It moved with the sure-footed grace of Tabitha and her sisters, measured and precise in motion, but without the stimulus of prey, it was not as economical as the soldier: fingers twitched, hands flexed, a tongue flicked over teeth. Tabitha bared her teeth in threat, Kiyomi crawled behind her sisters and Gemma stared, running her own tongue over her lips. Alone among her sisters, Jacquelyn did not join in the posturing, instead cocking her head to one side.

Responding to their agitation, the soldier splayed its bladed arms, letting out a hiss so soft as to almost be imperceptible.

“Easy, girls.” The newcomer raised its hands. “I’m not here to fight.”

“Little Tommy Tittlemouse lived in a little house,” Tabitha purred dangerously, her lips drawing back from her teeth. “He caught fishes in other mens’ ditches.”

A pause, followed by a low growl. “That’s not funny.”

Gemma raised her head. “Simple Simon went a-fishing for to catch a whale,” she sing-songed, echoing her sister’s sentiments. “But all the water he had got was in his mother’s pail.”

The growl turned into a dangerous hiss, low and threatening. “You really should learn to share.”

The scent of aggression filled the hallway, but it was overwhelmed by the womens’ pheromones, the soldier starting to twitch and spasm as the need to kill began to cloud out its simple mind, its eyes focusing on the newcomer, scythe-arms trembling. There was no sensation of movement; it was suddenly a step closer to the figure. Its head snapped back towards the crouched women, slitted nostrils flared. Tabitha pointed a single talon at the shadowed newcomer and the soldier’s eyes followed. “He went for water in a sieve, but soon it all fell through. And now poor Simple Simon bids you all adieu.” Another flicker, another step.

Red eyes gleamed out of the dark and the shadows shifted as the figure took a deep, theatrical bow. “Adieu, then. We’ll talk later.”

Tabitha relaxed with an angry breath, glaring at Jacquelyn. The younger sister only briefly met her eyes, bristling in indignation, but then letting her shoulders slump. She keened softly, nuzzling Tabitha in supplication. Kiyomi purred, licking Jacquelyn’s cheek. Gemma simply stiffened, turning her head down the corridor. A half-second later, her sisters heard it too.

Prey was coming



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2012-01-29 11:25pm
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Jedi Knight
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In this chapter: the line between an oasis and a mirage is fuzzier than you might think

Coming up: crossing the line

Chapter 63:

Shannon stirred groggily, murmuring something unintelligible before passing out again. “It’s okay, Shannie,” Abigail said to her squadmate, ignoring the burning in her arms. “We’re almost there. We’re almost there.”

In response, Shannon mumbled something in a language Abigail didn’t know before dropping back into unconsciousness. The Darkknell wasn’t a medic, but she hoped that was a good sign, Shannon’s Halo physiology working to repair the damage of the near-miss. “We’re almost there,” Abigail repeated. “We’ll get there, Shannie. I promise.” She didn’t even know what there was, only that she’d get her ‘little sister’ to it no matter what.

Cynthia hissed softly through her faceplate. “Alive?” she asked. “It’s still alive?”

“Yes, she is,” Abigail snapped without looking back the Ghost. She wasn’t comfortable having the trooper at her back, but she knew she was safer with Black between her and any followers they might pick up. She almost laughed at the thought that having a bugged-out killer on her six was the safe option.

Black made a considering noise. “Lucky girl. They never leave you alive.” she observed. “There aren’t any wounded. Not usually. Only corpses and bait.”

Abigail swallowed, Mackenzie’s last words coming to mind: No one calls for help. “Yeah, well this time we’ve got one,” she grated out. “So show a leg.”

“Private thinks she’s funny,” the trooper commented. “Still funny without a tongue?”

Before Abigail could answer, Jane put a hand on the other trooper’s pauldron. “Remember your orders, Five.”

“I remember.” There was a challenge in the way Black’s head came up, her visor meeting Jane’s own – but it was a challenge that faded quickly. “I remember,” the renegade Ghost repeated, somewhat meeker in tone.

Score one for the alpha psycho bitch, Abigail thought gratefully. “Has there been any contact with the rest of your squad?” she asked instead.

Black’s helmet shifted from side to side. “No. Whispers and static. Some killsites. No bodies. Died in space or dragged off. Survivors are probably still hunting.” She nodded towards Godfrey. “Lieutenant survived. I survived.” There was a wet sound. “Everyone’s so upset. Masks are agitated. Arming up. Radio backscatter from Whiteface positions. Possible transmissions from forward Red Hand positions; jamming too intense for conclusive analysis. Occasional detection of local, mobile power source. Unknown contact. Moving parallel to me, falls back, appears again. Think I lost it.”

“What type of power source?” Abigail demanded, refusing to give up the initiative in the conversation. It took her mind off Shannon, off her own body’s weakness.

“Radiological. Thermal. No clean read.” Black made another noise as she thought. “Rogue drone. Cracked power armour reactor. Maybe a ‘borged Lost.” She giggled, the sound the utter opposite of what an expression of amusement should have sounded like. “Remember those, lieutenant? Came snooping for salvage, tried to cut Primal open? Wasn’t static they were broadcasting.”

“No,” Jane agreed. “It wasn’t.”

“You can have a new eye,” Cynthia called out to Louis. “Something shiny. Infrared and ultraviolet. See sound. Interested?” Again, that awful laughter. “Just let a Lost cut on you. And cut. And cut.”

“Fuck you,” Nine said over his shoulder.

The Ghost made another noise, a liquid purr. “Promise?”

Abigail felt her skin crawl. Jane was bad enough on her own; Black was all but feral. Whatever orders she was clinging to, they appeared to be the woman’s only lifeline to sanity... and that wasn’t saying much. We have to get her out of that armour, Abigail thought to herself. Somehow. Maybe she could get Louis to actually fuck Black – granted, he wasn’t in the best of condition, but if it got one psychopath out of her armour, he’d just have to suck it up.

Hell, if it means I don’t have to worry about our heads hanging from her belt, I’ll fuck the crazy bitch’s brains out myself.

“Contact,” Jane whispered, raising her disruptor into a guard position. With the soft growl of synthetic muscles, Cynthia’s weapon-arm came up, a round chambering into the barrel. Abigail’s own motion tracker started to ping with movement. The scratching of claws on metal, the soft clangs of bodies moving through air vents and maintenance tunnels. Hushed laughter and sobs whispered through the broken speakers set in the walls and Abigail’s skin crawled as she recognized Mackenzie’s deranged giggle among them.

“I guess you got hungry, Gemma.”

“Petty Officer Gemma Mackenzie. Missing in action,” Cynthia rasped, slurring her words through strings of drool. “Body never recovered. Infected. Terminate. Contain the breach. Kill the infected.” Her helmet twitched slightly towards Godfrey. “Protect.”

Jane’s sword slid out with the snap-hiss of an energizing disruptor field and she moved towards the head of the group. “Protect.”

The noises were coming closer, but Abigail still had no target. The map marker was close. “Double-time!” she shouted, praying that their destination was actually salvation. It would be. Shannon believed it was and Abigail trusted her. The Halo will save us.

They ran as fast as they could.

It wasn’t nearly fast enough.

~

It wasn’t a blur; its movement was too jerky, too rapid even for that. Instead, it flitted from position to position like it was under a strobe light, caught between motions. “Soldier!” Abigail shouted, recognizing the twitching pattern of its motion. “Take it down!”

It danced, flickering around the hail of fire roaring down on it, impossibly quick. What it couldn’t evade, it ignored, shot and shell ripping its flesh with as little effect as on the soldier as it had on the hunters. Then, it was among them. A slash cut through Louis’s armour as if it were paper, inhuman strength driving onyx bone through the mercenary’s cuirass in a disembowelling strike that would have opened his guts were it not for that same armour. The soldier flicked its arm and hurled Hernandez away, freeing its blade.

Half its head disintegrated as a glancing shot from Black’s Hammertong took it in its skull. The soldier staggered back, wobbling as a ravaged nerve net issued contradictory commands, inhuman resilience already compensating for the damage. Its remaining eye focused on Abigail, she and Emily still holding Shannon, unable to properly defend themselves. It took a step, killing blades fully extended...

...and Jane’s disruptor came down in a glistening arc, from shoulder to hip, the Ghost just as freakishly fast as she had ever been, the only one of them who could meet this thing’s speed. Even then, she wasn’t quite quick enough and it twitched back from the blow. It should have been cleaved right through; instead Godfrey’s strike simply left a scorched scar across the Turned’s torso. It leapt at her, stabbing with its blades and slashing with its talonned fingers, trying to rip through the Ghost’s armour and get at the meat inside. Though its blades might be hard enough to cut through standard mudfoot gear, the Turned wasn’t strong enough to breach Godfrey’s thick plate mail. Frustrated, it gargled through its own drool before flickering away, dancing amongst them, chased by the searing arcs of Godfrey’s disruptor.

The soldier was on the defensive, fast enough to avoid the trooper’s assault, but not fast enough to take the initiative and not strong enough to kill her. Abigail shrugged Shannon’s arm off her soldier, leaving her ‘little sister’ to slump to the floor, Delphini going to one knee as she found herself supporting Shannon’s weight all by herself.

As it dodged a blow aimed to take its left leg off, the Turned’s head snapped towards Abigail. It was regenerating. Even as it fought them, twitching and flicking like a crude stop-motion toy, it was rebuilding itself, frond-like tendrils reaching out from its ruined brain, lacing together as bone, skin and nerve tissue grew before Abigail’s eyes. Its black tongue licked over a mouth full of needle teeth.

The range was too close for her carbine, much too close for the rifle and Abigail thumbed the activation stud on her purloined disruptor. “I’m going to fucking cut you,” she promised the soldier-thing.

Emily raised one of her pistols as Louis groggily pulled himself up, blood weeping from the bandage over his ruined eye.

With so many targets to choose from, it went for the most helpless one of their group, a blink of movement as it dove down on Shannon, too fast for Abigail’s killing stroke to catch it-

-a gunshot sounded and the soldier staggered, a spray of blood describing an arc as its head snapped back, its remaining eye neatly holed-

-Emily’s expression was set: fierce and cold, as she executed the demon-

-Louis fired and Betsy roared, the shotgun’s drum emptying as it tore the lurching soldier apart-

-Abigail took its head from its shoulders with a single sweep of her blade and Jane cleaved it down the middle, the disruptors’ cauterized wounds ending any chance of regenerating from those injuries. Flesh crackled and smouldered, ashen meat spilling to the floor. Lumps of muscle twitched uselessly, unable to repair themselves. That was when Abigail had an ugly realization.

Black hadn’t fired.

Abigail turned towards the other trooper, about to snap at her-

-and she saw that Cynthia was dead.

The points of four very long, very sharp claws were sticking through her neck. Her arms hung uselessly at her side, the joints of her shoulder and elbow slashed through, tendons severed and blood vessels opened. She was still standing, a pretty young woman sitting on her shoulder. It was this girl’s hand that had pierced Black’s neck, driving in from behind. Red eyes gleamed back at Abigail.

There was additional movement, silhouettes shifting behind Cynthia’s bulk: another young woman, little more than a child, wrapped her talons around Black’s forearm, like a frightened girl holding onto her mother. There was malice in her eyes: playful, innocent and awful. And to the right... Gemma. There was horror in her face, her lips twitching as if she couldn’t decide on which emotion she was feeling, but her tongue was licking hungrily over her teeth.

Three of them. They’d killed Black in her armour without anyone even knowing, before the Ghost could even defend herself. “Jesus Christ,” Abigail whispered, backing away and fighting the urge to start running. “Jesus Christ.”

“I’m hungry now,” Gemma said softly, her voice shifting between child-like simplicity and despair. She licked her lips again, biting them almost coquettishly. Her head came up. “You should run.”

A gunshot sounded and the smallest of the three girls crumpled, a neat hole right between her eyes. Emily was on her feet, somehow managing to hold Shannon up as well. “Come on!” she all but screamed at her companions. “Run!”

~

Kiyomi twitched on the deck, pulling herself back to her feet as the bullet was pushed out of her skull, dropping to the deck with a soft thunk. Tabitha pulled her claws out of the prey’s throat and the armoured woman crashed to the floor with a reverberating impact, blood pooling around her opened wounds.

Tabitha shared a quick glance with Gemma; her younger sister’s blood was up. She smelled like excitement, hunger and fear, her face twitching with contradictory emotions, her claws flexing with the atavistic need to rend. She was drooling and Tabitha felt wetness drip down her own chin.

She screamed.

~

The location marker on Abigail’s HUD was less than a hundred meters away, coreward off a nearby T-junction.

Run.

Behind them, Abigail could hear Gemma and her ‘sisters’ scream, a ululating war call far too similar to the one the soldiers had used. She wanted to fight. She wanted to run. She wanted to plant her feet on the deck, turn and face her enemy with a gun in her hands. She wanted to drop Shannon and flee into the darkest, furthest corner, into the deepest hole there was.

Ninety meters.

She did neither, focusing on putting one foot ahead of the other as quickly as she could. Without Cynthia, Louis was the only member of their group with a gun. It wouldn’t be enough. Abby spared a quick glance over her shoulder and immediately wished she hadn’t. Three pairs of eyes glinted in the dark as Gemma and her ‘sisters’ stalked forward with a measured, predatory gait. Their talons twitched, fingers moving slowly. Their lips were moving, a soft overlapping cadence of nursery rhyme just on the edges of her armour-augmented hearing. They knew the group was ripe for the plucking too; each step was a little faster, their movement a little more jerky as they worked themselves into a killing frenzy. What distance there was between the groups was rapidly being eaten up; soon there’d be none at all.

Eighty meters.

They weren’t going to make it.

Seventy.

The rustle of movement was so subtle that Abigail hadn’t noticed it until it was too late. So worried about her pursuers, she hadn’t paid any attention to what was ahead of them. It burst from a vent – another of the clawed girls, it was the one that had found them at the tram station. Emily let out an aborted shriek as those awful talons flashed across her midsection and the doctor fell-

-the girl was already moving, wickedly fast-

-Armin’s face had gone slack as dawning horror tried to form, but there wasn’t any time and she raised her claws to cut him open, just as she’d done to Emily-

-a massive grey boulder stampeded in front of the petty officer and the Turned was suddenly wrapped around Jane, slashing, spitting and screaming as the Ghost struggled to pry the slight woman off-

-behind them now, Betsy roaring and Louis was screaming, darting figures caught in muzzle flashes, clothes torn and flesh holed-

“Move!” Abigail shouted, hefting Shannon onto her shoulders, her legs almost buckling under the weight, but somehow she stayed upright. She grabbed Delphini, dragging the doctor to her feet. Blood was splashed across her stomach and she was pale, but whether it was from blood loss or fear, Abigail couldn’t tell. “Keep moving!”

Jane slammed her opponent into the wall. Abigail heard the cracking of the crazed woman’s bones and she spat a mouthful of bloody drool into Godfrey’s visor, screaming as the Ghost impaled her with her disruptor. “Forget her!” Abigail screamed at the trooper. “Move, Godfrey! That’s an order!”

“Compliance,” the Ghost whispered in a soft, almost lightheaded voice as she wrenched the blade free. The Turned fell to the deck, sobbing and clutching at her holed innards, unable to stand.

As they ran, Abigail could swear she heard the girl whimper: “I just wanted a party...”

~

Jacquelyn was badly hurt, ugly steam wisping from the cauterized hole in her chest. Kiyomi crouched next to her injured sister. The woman let out a pained shriek as her older sibling started to rip at the wound, cutting and pulling away the burned tissues, stimulating regeneration. Tabitha let Kiyomi tend to her sibling, loping after the prey. Gemma was beside her, panting with contradictory needs, but the hunger was on her – it was on them all – and any thought of shame, dismay or hesitation was swallowed by that simple, insatiable need.

Those would come after.

Gemma screamed and leapt, vaulting onto the largest prey, the one that had impaled Jacquelyn. It tried to repeat the manuever, but Gemma was faster, twisting in mid-air and clutching its arm, trying to slash through the joints. The armoured prey was quick and it swung fiercely, punching Gemma in the face with its other hand. Tabitha heard her sister’s nose break. Startled, Gemma let go and was hurled into the wall, catching herself at the last instant. With a shrill hunting cry of her own, Tabitha slashed at the armoured prey, ducking beneath a cleaving strike of its blade. She tried to slash into its throat, but it grabbed her face in one massive hand and hurled her bodily down the corridor.

Tabitha rolled to her feet, hissing in challenge. Gemma had slunk out of range of the prey’s weapon, pacing back and forth just out of its reach. Behind her, Jacquelyn spasmed as holed organs knitted, sucking air into ravaged lungs, snapping and slurping at the pieces of the butchered soldier Kiyomi was feeding her. The armoured prey backed away, watching both of the young women, holding its disruptor up in a guard position. Tabitha had killed such prey before, but surprise was the best weapon. Facing them directly was too risky and she crept forward again, moving to the other side of the hall, Gemma mirroring her action, forcing the prey to divide its attention, knowing that they were watching for an opening.

Once Jacquelyn had healed, they would be four again and then they would feed.

hunt/kill/revenge

The prey were getting closer to the oasis. That was all right, too. They had their scent now. Even if they escaped today, Tabitha and her sisters would find them tomorrow. Or the next day.

It would be fun; Jacquelyn would get her party.

~

It wasn’t enough, they weren’t fast enough, they weren’t going to make it. Emily could barely stay on her feet and Abigail’s strength was giving out. Too much over too long. She couldn’t run any further and sunk down to her knees, sprawling over the deck. Behind her, she could see Gemma and her ‘sister’ slinking forward warily, moving on all fours like hungry wolves, their black talons clicking against the deck, red eyes glinting in Abigail’s blacklight. They made soft yowls, ropes of drool spilling over their teeth.

They had been women once. Girls. Born here or come here to learn, to plunder, explore or maybe just survive and instead DROP 47 had consumed them, taking everything they were and ever would be and turning them into this. There wasn’t even the mindless oblivion of the Turned for them; Abigail remembered Gemma’s sobs of laughter, the hunger in her furtive eyes. Now she was stalking them, red eyes flicking between Godfrey and the limping group. Louis was whispering to himself, Betsy shaking in his grip.

“Hold,” Jane rasped to Nine. “Hold until they’re closer.”

Emily staggered, her legs wobbling. Abigail snarled at Armin to help her, the petty officer letting the injured doctor lean on his shoulder the last few meters between them and their destination.

Behind them, the two women had stopped in their tracks, watching the survivors with a curious gleam in their eyes, their sudden hesitation worrying, but Abigail had no time to consider what it might mean. From further up the corridor, there was the soft purring whine of charging capacitors. Targeting beams stabbed through the darkness, tracking each of the few survivors. At the end of the corridor, Abigail could see the hulking forms of armoured sentry turrets unfurling, coolant valves hissing and energy cannon humming as the weapons came on-line.

“Please hold position,” a mellow voice said from the darkness. “You are in proximity to Oasis-009. Quarantine systems are activating and preparing for bio-scans. If you are deemed free of infection, UCWS Duty Before Glory welcomes you. If not, you will withdraw immediately. This facility is a clean room and lethal force is authorized to maintain the quarantine.

“Please stand by.”



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2012-02-11 01:00pm
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Jedi Knight
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Joined: 2006-08-26 10:57am
Posts: 639
In this chapter: Sanctuary

Coming up: Eyes in the dark. Hunters and prey; the foundations of empire.

Chapter 64:

No sooner had the voice finished speaking than some other device activated, a flattened bulb atop a thin stalk rising up from behind the defence turrets and tilting towards them. Abigail recognized it as a type of bioscanner, albeit one that had seen better days. There was no dramatic sweep of green light or glowing nimbus as the scanner slowly swept over them, several diodes blinking unevenly on its flattened top. Abigail’s attention flickered between the silent guns ahead of her and the retreating forms of Gemma and her ‘sisters’, two of them helping the one Jane had impaled away as the third watched the survivors, ready to alert her fellows if one of them had a mind for attacking the retreating Turned.

In any other circumstance, such camaraderie might have been touching.

“Alert,” a new voice interjected and Abigail felt a drop of sweat run down the inside of her bodyglove. That was Vigil. “Alert. Biological contaminants detected. This is a secure area.”

“Scanning,” the first synthetic voice – the ‘male’ one with the mellow tones – said as if speaking to a senile cousin. “Scanning for infection.”

One of the turrets twitched, the barrels starting to glow as waste heat ignited years of dust and grime, the stink of burning filth and ozone filling the air. “Biological contaminants detected,” Vigil repeated. “Security teams unresponsive. Purge systems unresponsive. Ancillary systems detected. Analyzing. Sufficient for neutralization procedures.”

“Scan not complete,” the first voice said again. “Please stand by. We are experiencing technical difficulties. These will be remedied shortly.” The second turret stayed dormant, but Abigail was picking up the bleed from other defences as they came on-line, questing targeting locks splashing her and the rest of the survivors.

“Biological contaminants detected.”

“Scan incomplete. Please hold still.”

Somehow, the technical part of the Darkknell’s mind was still working and Abigail knew she was seeing a conflict between two computer systems, at least one of which was badly damaged and was attempting to wrest control from the other. Knowing the why of her death didn’t make it easier to accept; it wasn’t someone she could spit back at, it was just a broken computer carrying out its orders. Abigail started to sink down to her knees, determined to shield Shannon as best she could. The hum grew louder, then started to fade away as the active turret reached peak charge.

“Override,” Shannon murmured as she briefly drifted back to consciousness. “Vigil. Override autonomous security mode.”

The turret shifted, tracking back towards the Halo. “Awaiting authorization,” the stationmind demanded.

Shannon passed out again and Abigail jostled her, forcing her “little sister” awake, her limbs hanging slackly over Abigail’s shoulder. The Halo was whispering nonsense in a dozen different languages, bits and pieces of conversations that her eidetic memory had kept for years and were only now coming to the surface. “Shannie, focus. Focus, please or we’re all going to die...”

Shannon was nine years old and going through a chest. It had been locked, but locks were just another type of puzzle and she was proud of herself for solving this one so quickly. When she opened it, everything went black, but there were words – she didn’t know if someone had said them, or she had read them, but pieces of them were stuck in her mind. I’ve left you everything, more than I should have. It might put you in danger, but I need to you know. I need someone to remember. I need someone who can see everything I’ve done and, I pray, forgive me.

What did he do? What did great-grandad do?

Nothing! Nothing, it’s not any of your business. It’s not worth remembering, child. You understand?

No.

You have to forget it, forget you ever saw it. Can you do that for me, Shannon? Can you do that?


A moment passed. Another. “Awaiting authorization,” the Oasis said again. “Please provide override authority immediately. Failure to comply will be considered an attempted security breach. In the absence of security personnel, this system is fully authorized to respond with lethal force to attempted breaches.”

“Shannie, now would be a good time...”

“Authorization,” Shannon said, just barely loud enough for the sentry systems to hear her as she slurred the killers’ dialect through her helmet, the strange language mingled with Imperial security codes that she couldn’t have possibly known.

There was a pause from the system as it processed this information. “Authorization insufficient,” the original mellow voice announced, but its statement was cut short by a screech of static as Vigil’s aloof feminine tones interrupted the other computer. “Processing,” the stationmind said.

“Authorization insuffic-” the first computer tried again.

“Processing,” Vigil interrupted once more. “Analyzing. Links to primary core severed. Analyzing stored databanks. Wait one. Yes. Authorization accepted.”

“Authorization insuffic-”

“Authorization accepted,” the Imperial computer announced haughtily, as if it were speaking to its counterpart. “Access to Oasis 009 granted. Please be advised that quarantine procedures remain in full effect; detection of R-3 contamination will result in immediate termination.” Ahead, a door chime sounded and a green diode blinked on, a seam of light appearing as security doors unlocked, spilling intense light into the corridor.

Louis winced as the glare fell over him and Abigail blinked against it, despite the protection her visor offered. Her skin itched. “Oasis,” she repeated. “Sure. Why the hell not?”

The last few steps seemed to take forever. As she stepped through the threshold, both voices were talking; the first one a reminder of the oasis’s “clean” condition, words that Abigail barely listened to. The second was from Vigil again. It was welcoming them back to DROP 47. No, that was wrong. It wasn’t welcoming them. It was welcoming someone called Senior Researcher Hayes.

~

The evolved strains were new; only a handful of decades. Tool-users. Planners. To fight one of them was a challenge; their psychosis was an illusion. Normally timid and shy, when they hungry, when they were cornered or roused to anger, just one of the seemingly frail creatures was the equal of a full-blooded soldier, or an entire squad of New Ones, and she could identify six different scents here.

-hunt and kill-

She let out a low, hungry hiss, the aroma of Ribbon kill-scent and agitation stimulating her aggression centers. It permeated the cairn, seeping through every vent and clinging to every surface. Coming here was equal parts trial and memorial: this is what we could have been. Be better than this. Earn it.

-it’s all I ever wanted for you-

“Youngbloods,” the lead reprimanded her and her fellow novitiate; like her, his breath was growling through his helm. “Control.”

It was hard to keep that control. So much blood spilled, so much Ribbon-scent, the encounters with the Old One and its New One compatriots were playing on the instincts bred into their very genes. She closed her eyes and repeated one of the mantras handed down from Father and the Seventh-Born. She closed her armour’s vents, filtering out the odours and took several calming breaths, nodding her readiness to the lead, her fellow youngblood echoing the act.

She felt the lead’s eyes on her and knew he was reconsidering taking them this far from the other novitiates and the kill-teams sweeping the cairn. His mission was to supervise their first hunts and safeguard them. Both of his wards had taken damage – her injury was still slowing them down – and they had already beyond normal protocols. The presence of the nadane illya strain was a risk above normal Ribbons; injuries could quickly become fatalities, especially if his young wards lost control of themselves.

“We can do this,” she said, almost pleading. “The Old One has to die.” If it got access to the cairn’s central core or, worse, the East Sector... “We are the closest.”

A moment passed as the lead looked from her to the other novitiate. “A while longer,” he granted.

She bowed her head in grateful supplication.

~

As the doors slammed shut behind her, Abigail fell to her knees, Shannon sliding off her shoulders. The Darkknell could barely move, but she could see. “Oasis,” she whispered, feeling tears well up in her eyes. “You got us here, Shannie. You did it.”

It was if they’d stepped six hundred years into the past. The walls were a pristine off-white, computer monitors and data screens chimed as they booted up to full functionality, maintenance drones unfurling from alcoves. The air was dusty and lifeless. Abigail knew that smell. Recycled air, sifted through filter after filter to remove any possible contaminant, leaving it with that stale odour.

She heard the bubbling sound of running water and heard the clicks and pops of security systems activating, homing in on the survivors that had entered their range, ready to make good on the threat to ‘cleanse’ any infected individual.

Abigail looked up, taking in her surroundings, though she could barely see for the tears obscuring her vision and she laughed.

~

The Oasis was alive.

Alive, and sane. Well. Not for much longer, if Vigil’s telltale flickers were any indication. “Hmm,” the Watcher mused, tapping his fingers on the computer dashboard. “My girl’s hand is a blessing and a curse, you know. She offers so much... but can barely say her own name. Duty’s been holding on to his own mind, but he’s slipping. Now because of you, Vigil will pull him all the way down.” A scowl interrupted the pleasant revelation; the Oasis might go mad eventually, but right now it was a safe harbour that the treacherous little vermin didn’t deserve.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.

Other sanctuaries had fallen; to siege, to infestation, to madness and ruin. A few still clung to defiant life in a vain attempt to safeguard other wayward fools and trespassers. Some of these were little more than heavy bulkheads, cots and whatever useful salvage good Samaritans decided to leave there. Others were more elaborate. Oasis-009 was one of these. It was the oldest sanctuary aboard the DROP and had shown a persistent refusal to lay down and die much as its the other oases had. It would fail eventually. All of them did. But until it did, it granted any survivors a respite from the nightmares of Acheron and, even worse, put them out of his reach.

“I’ll find you again,” the Watcher promised, switching his attention to the approaching tram and the firefight that was sure to break out once it arrived. “I will. I promise you that, daughter. You and the little moth.”

~

There was someone else here.

A man in a red suit.

No, that was wrong – his suit wasn’t red. He was red. And translucent. A hologram. “Welcome to Oasis-009,” the figure said, hands clasped behind its back in a martial pose, regarding them with a mixture of indifference and annoyance. “I’ll have to have a talk with Vigil about appropriate boundaries, but be that as it may, you’re here now. We’ll deal with the matter of infection later. How may I assist you?”

Before anyone else could speak, Abigail pointed at Shannon, her arm shaking. “Help her.”

“Of course.” The man looked to one side and nodded. A medical android stepped out of a nearby doorway. It wasn’t an Imperial design: it was Coalition-built, but it looked well-maintained and it was a full-up diagnostic and surgical unit, not just a servitor with a first aid subroutine or repurposed combat unit. Gently, the surgeon knelt beside Shannon, lifting her up as easily as a man with a child.

“I will examine each of you in turn,” the surgeon announced calmly. “However, my triage protocols are active and I must treat the most severe cases first. Please be patient.”

Abigail forced herself to her feet. “Godfrey,” she managed to rasp, so exhausted she could barely get the words out. “Sweep the area.” She shrugged the anti-material rifle off her back, letting it clatter to the floor. “Lutzberg, go with the doc and Three. I’ll be there in a moment. Until then, you see anything you don’t like, holler. Louis – how are you doing?”

“Five by five,” the man drawled, not looking at her, his attention fixated on the holographic figure, mumbling under his breath.

“Delphini,” Hutchins knelt beside the doctor. Her torso was splashed with blood and there were deep rents in the knife-resistant vest she’d been wearing. “How are you?”

The petite doctor smiled weakly. “I’ve been better, but I’m okay.”

“Let me see,” Abigail said. The surgeon had claimed it was in triage mode, but it had only given the doctor a cursory scan. Maybe telling the system to help Shannon made it skip Delphini.

“I’m fine, really.”

“I saw what that thing did to you, you’re not fine. Let me see,” Abigail wasn’t a doctor. Not even a corpsman, but she knew some first aid and she’d helped Shannon when the Halo needed an extra set of hands. Right now that made her the senior medical officer – and wasn’t that incredibly fucked up? Despite the doctor’s protests, the Darkknell managed to pry the smaller woman’s arms away from her midsection, doing so carefully just case anything was going to spill out. Nothing did. Emily was bleeding rather more than was healthy, but the cuts were nothing like the lacerations Abigail had seen the Turned girl inflict. Maybe she’d thought Emily was tagged worse than she was, or maybe...

“Augmented, huh?”

Emily pulled her hands out of Abigail’s grip, putting them back over her stomach. “Yes,” she snapped.

“Lucky you.”

“Yes, I feel ever so blessed.”

“You should,” Abigail said, too tired to be angry at the smaller woman’s dismissive tone. “You’d be holding yourself together if you weren’t.” She slumped back against the wall, not even sure how she’d gotten over to it and pulled her helmet off. The feel of the stale air on her skin was the sweetest thing she’d ever felt and she greedily sucked in a lungful of it. A moment later, Godfrey came prowling back, looming over the private. “Area secure.”

Abigail nodded, forcing herself back to her feet. It was harder than it looked. “I have to check on Shannie,” she said.

The Ghost looked down at her for a moment, then nodded once as if granting permission. If she ever remembers that she outranks us and is wearing a suit of walking fuck-you, we’re in trouble.

~

Whatever this place had been, it had obviously been repurposed into a well-equipped sickbay. Several medical beds were folded up against the wall, bracketed by a mis-matched conglomeration of medical equipment from more nations and time periods than Abigail could identify. First aid kids and portable generators were stacked in corners, and in the center of the room a spider-like Imperial Surgical Entity was anchored to the ceiling, hanging over an operating table, dormant save for the lights it helpfully shone down.

With deft fingers, the surgeon had managed to get Shannon out of both her armour and clothes. An attending ‘nurse’ drone – little more than a wheeled cylinder with a forest of extendable surgical tools and utensils – remained close to the android, while another such unit worked on Shannon’s leg.

Hovering next to the table, chewing on his lip, Armin watched the goings-on, his eyes darting over Shannon’s prone form. Abigail grabbed him by the shoulder. “Get out.”

“But you said-”

“I know what I said. Now I’m saying get out.” Abigail’s voice softened into a threatening whisper. “Don’t let me catch you looking at her like that again.”

Armin opened his mouth in a denial, then closed it with a click when he saw the expression on Abigail’s face and remembered the rumours about her. Meekly, the petty officer squeezed past the mercenary back into the oasis’s main chamber. There was a bench nearby and Abigail sat on it, watching as medical machines six centuries old worked to save the life of the only person she gave a damn about.

The Halo saved us.

As her eyelids sagged despite her best efforts to keep them open, Abigail drifted off to sleep with a single thought in her mind.

Now save her.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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