“Get out and put a brick on the pedal!” screamed a soldier.
“I’m sorry, old girl,” said the officer as he patted the wheel of the van before jumping out. Delta flinched as something exploded nearby. I will not get shot again. I will not repeat that experience. I will not get shot again…
Gears trundled up to the massive and battle scarred MHU van. He leaned into the van’s cab with a large cinder block, then jumped back. Tires squealed as the van shot forward, barely missing Gears and another soldier. The earth itself exploded as the van careened through the minefield that the robots had hidden in the narrow street. A ton of armor plating moving fast is hard to stop, I don’t care who you are. The burning mass of the van came to a stop just shy of the wall of the MHU headquarters, where Overlord had hidden his lair.
Heavy machine guns on both sides emitted an unceasing barrage of gunfire, filling the air with hazy white smoke in the morning light. Delta and the others, minus Olivia and gears, knelt behind a couple cars along with some soldiers.
An officer nodded to Delta. She activated the comm in her helmet and said, “Olivia, mess ‘em up.” For the love of god, make the robots stop screaming.
Olivia fell from the sky, landing feet first directly on a robot machine gun nest. The gunfire stopped not long after.
Delta gave the officer a nod. “Clear! Go!” he yelled.
Delta’s group, plus close to a dozen soldiers, rushed for the MHU headquarters. An armored robot emerged from behind a building and bulled into their group, flinging an unfortunate soldier flying and trampling another. The robot spun towards the largest remaining group with its oversized rifle raised, spraying bullets indiscriminately. Another soldier fell as the others dove for cover. Counter fire bounced off of its chest. Then, it stopped moving.
The armored robot toppled, a massive hole melted through its chest. What…
“I love this thing!” yelled Skulker from behind the scope of his sniper rifle. He stood and teleported over to join Delta and the others.
“Get inside! Go, go!” screamed the soldier before turning back towards the oncoming robot horde.
“Do as he says,” barked Skulker, returning the rifle to the sheathe on his back
They burst in through the front doors of the MHU headquarters. The thick walls deadened the sounds of gunfire outside.
“OK, now we need to find the vault. I’m not sure where that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s downstairs,” said Delta. Shit, I should have gotten out of my workshop more when I was here.
Skulker laughed. “Or just follow the massive trail of destruction,” he said, pointing to three ruined robots and a massive scorch mark in the ceiling.
Delta sighed. “Or we could do that. Come on.”
They jogged through the familiar hallways and corridors of the MHU headquarters. A couple rooms had exploded, a couple more had machine gun nests that would have cut down any intruder had they been functional, but beyond that the robots hadn’t done much to the place. Where do they get repaired and maintained? The bunker?
The trail led them a wide room in the basement. They climbed through a one foot thick steel door that looked like giant hands had twisted them aside like tin foil. Beyond that was an elevator. There it is. The vault is always underground.
“Think you can fly down there?” Skulker asked Olivia as they approached the elevator doors. The doors themselves were nowhere to be seen. There was simply an empty doorframe leading to a darkened elevator shaft with no elevator.
Olivia faced the shaft fully. She spread her wings out a bit and sized it up. “Maybe. Um, yeah, but it’ll be tight. But… what about you guys?”
“Point. Hold up. Oliva, pull this?” asked Skulker, motioning to a cable in the middle of the shaft.
She reached out and grabbed the steel cable. Gears steadied her as she pull it and herself back. She gave it an experimental tug.
“Hang on,” she muttered. She dug her clawed toes into the bare concrete floor and yanked, hard. “Heavy.”
“Can ya bring it up? Should be the elevator,” said Skulker.
“Yeah,” said Olivia through gritted teeth. She began the slow process of hauling the elevator up the elevator shaft.
Delta leaned against the wall beside the elevator door, feeling her eyelids droop with the sudden lack of threats to her life. Stay awake. Sleep later. Maybe I could give myself a shock. She smiled. Heh, terrible idea.
“One more pull,” said Skulker over the sounds of the elevator itself scraping along the walls, breaking Delta’s train of thought. The top of the elevator came into view.
“Think you can carry the five, no, four of us?” asked Delta, joining them by the torn up elevator door.
Olivia nodded, keeping her concentration on the elevator she held. Her feet dug deep gouges in the floor. Delta put an experimental foot on the roof of the elevator. Olivia held it steady. Well, let’s see how this goes. Delta walked onto the elevator, the others following behind her. Olivia let out a hiss when Gears in his armor stepped last onto the elevator roof.
“You good?” he asked her.
“Heavy,” she replied through gritted teeth.
She began the arduous task of lowering the elevator plus Delta and the others. Soon, their surroundings were dark, only the light from up above
“Think this’ll hold?” asked Skulker, tapping the taut cable in the center of the elevator.
Gears snorted. “It’s an elevator cable,” he replied. “Its purpose in life is to hold.”
A sharp drop stop cut off their conversation. Miya let out a stifled shriek. The fall jerked to a stop a couple meters down, slamming them back down on the elevator roof. Everyone remained frozen for a moment. Olivia slipped? She OK?
A faint voice above called out, “Sorry.”
Skulker let out a shaky laugh and stretched his neck. “We’re good, keep goin’,” he called back.
Could she hear that? She probably heard that. Olivia lowered them the rest of the way without incident. The elevator came to a stop just below the floor of the vault. They climbed up out of the elevator shaft and into an imposing concrete hallway. The remains of several bots were smeared across the walls and floor to one side. To the other was a bank of monitors. I’d be willing to bed that’s where the actual cells are. Overlord’s bunker look like it was hidden in the broom closet.
Wind blew out from the shaft behind them as Olivia descended. The bangs of her messy brown hair were plastered with sweat against her forehead.
“You OK?” asked Gears, offering her a hand up.
“Yeah,” she replied, accepting. “My arms kind of hurt. And I think a couple scales got torn off,” replied Olivia, flexing her hands.
“All the security stuff looks busted. And there’s Overlord’s bunker,” said Delta, gesturing to the broom closet. Follow the destruction.
“This shit is easy when Cyrus does everythin’,” said Gears with a laugh.
“No kiddin’,” agreed Skulker. Can’t argue with that. Maybe Cyrus will handle everything. That’d be nice.
They climbed through the wreckage and into the bunker. Olivia had tear out a piece or two of concrete so she and Gears could fit through. If it weren’t all in ruins, the defenses that greeted them would have torn them to shreds. I count… thirty armored bots. Too many normal ones. Can never have enough bullets, I guess. I can barely tell what kind of static defenses were here. It looks like Cyrus tore out solid walls here. The fuck? Who is this powerful?
“Gas canisters? Probably poison, cuz fuck you. Looks like they exploded,” said Gears, pointing to several holes torn into the walls.
“Yep, Cyrus was here,” agreed Skulker.
They climbed over more machine guns, more wrecked robots, and other, stranger things.
“The fuck is this?” asked Skulker, pointing his pistol towards what looked like a three meter long snake made of razor blades embedded into the wall. That’s a lot of wires in that wall there. Oil dropped slowly and steadily into a pool beneath it.
“I don’t know,” replied Delta. “Lick it and find out.” Oh, sure, the engineer will magically know all the technology things.
Skulker snickered and replied, “Pass, thanks though.” They moved on into what looked like the bunker proper. Less space seemed devoted to defense, and more to research. They passed several empty robotics labs.
“Hey, Delta,” began Gears. “When this is all over, wanna go get dinner somewhere?”
Sure, why… wait a minute. Delta blinked under her helmet. Really? I know we’ve kind of been spending a lot of time together. But dinner? Like, a date? That’s a date, right? But where would we go? I’d need to check if I can eat the stuff on the menu. Or…
“Yeah, sure. Where?”
It’s just the two of us, right? He would have asked everyone else otherwise, right?
“I dunno. Whatever’s left standin’?”
Delta laughed. “Sure.”
“Alright, sounds good,” replied Gears. Woo! I didn’t fuck that up!
“Why’d you two say that? Now one of you is gonna die,” said Skulker. You jackass.
Olivia swatted him upside the head. “Not funny.”
“Yeah, little too far,” said Gears.
Skulker snorted and held up his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry.”
Olivia stopped in her tracks. Miya took notice. “What is it?” she asked, bringing Delta and the others to a stop as well.
“I smell something,” replied Olivia, gaze distant.
“I don’t know. But…” She turned towards a side corridor labeled “Biology & Nanotechnology”. “Over there.”
They followed Olivia’s lead down the thinner corridor. She ignored several doors, until she came to a locked one. “Here,” she said. She worked her claws into the crack between the doorframe and the wall, then yanked the sliding metal door free.
A man in a lab coat with glowing orange goggles confronted them. “What are you doing here?” Beside him stood a similarly dressed man with grey goggles.
“You,” whispered Miya as she shouldered her way past Olivia. “You motherfucker!” she screamed.
The orange doctor tilted his head. “Hm? Oh! The initial mage subject. I remember you. You’re still alive! Amazing! Have you encountered any problems with the implants?”
“Problems? Problems? I was a fucking lab rat against my fucking will. I will put you in the fucking ground!”
“So? The advances we made were amazing! We have so much to thank you for.”
“Oh, oh, it’s that feral, too” said the grey goggled doctor with a small giggle.
The orange doctor looked at Olivia, and said, “Truly? That’s not my department. She’s the original?” Original?
Miya leveled her gun at Doctor Orange. “Shut up, you two. Any last words?”
He frowned. “There’s no need for that.” Wait, he kept his hands are in his coat pockets when a bunch of people pointed guns at him.
Right as Delta opened her mouth to yell a warning, a light flashed and mass of shiny grey goo burst out of a tank set into the wall next to Miya. Her shot went wide as she whirled around and backed away from the oncoming tide. The goo flowed over the desk and left a melted mass in its wake. Oh no. Miya scrambled away, the doctors giggling as they ducked under a desk.
Olivia skirted around the goo, heading for the doctors. The mass adjusted, throwing itself at her. She snarled and thrashed, trying to dislodge the flecks of the silver goo that had caught onto the edges of her wings. Skulker fired a couple shots into the oncoming mass, doing absolutely nothing to stop it. It formed a crescent on the floor, spreading towards all of them.
“Not helping. Run!” barked Delta.
Miya and Skulker made a break for the door they’d come in through. Gears pulled Olivia along. The bots had burned small holes through her wings, though there was no trace of them now. Delta brought up the rear.
We’re gonna run out of hallway real soon. She chanced a look over her shoulder. The goo advanced at a brisk walking pace. Always at the same speed, never slowing, never speeding up. The corridor after it looked partially melted. Not getting bigger. Not replicating, Don’t want apocalypse. Shiny. Metal. Heat! Heat or electricity. Not enough heat. Electricity, power, where? Wait.
She activated a baton at full power and dropped it in the path of the advancing goo. Where the active part of the baton touched the goo, it blackened and powderized. Soon enough, the tide overtook the baton, reducing it down to its elements. Yes. More power. Armor can’t provide enough. She looked around, still backing up. The lights overhead caught her eye. There. We have room? She glanced at the goo again.
“Gears, Olivia, tear the walls open!” she screamed, backing away from the oncoming tide. The two of them skidded to a stop. “Now!”
Olivia clawed open the paneling on one wall, Gears hammered away with his crowbar on the other. “Why?” he shouted.
“Power.” Delta took her eyes off the approaching grey goo to take a look at what they’d done.
“What’re we lookin’ for?” He pried his panel free.
“That one,” she said, pointing to a thick grey cable. Power line. The goo advanced, now only a couple meters away. Shit, need more space. “Olivia, over here. Tear out all the panels over this thing, as far down as you can go. Don’t touch the cables. Gears, with me.”
Miya and Skulker lead the way as Olivia rushed as fast as she could with one hand tearing through the panels on the walls. Gears and Delta followed behind, regaining a little distance from the goo.
Far enough. She pulled out a knife from her boot. Gears grabbed her arm. “What’re you doin’? Zappy things bad.”
Armor is insulated against lightning. So is his. Should work. “We need to cut this somehow.”
He shouldered her aside, pumped his shotgun, and fired it two inches away from the power line. “That work?”
Fuck it, sure. She grabbed the part of the cable furthest from the goo. Warning signs flashed in her helmet. Faster. “Gears! Other end! Get the end close to the ground.” Gears nodded and yanked out more cable.
The others had stopped at a corner. Long enough.
“Good!” she yelled.
Gears dropped the cable, letting it dangle just enough to touch the floor and the goo. They turned heel and ran, the goo just brushing up against Gears’ boot. Should work. Or it’ll arc and just burn little bits of the goo. No time. She looked over her shoulder. The grey tide overtook the first end of the cable. Gears thundered towards Delta.
“Now this end!”
He grabbed the other end and yanked it out of the wall. The goo washed up against his boots. No, no, no. Come on, Rob, faster.
“Drop it,” she yelled at Gears once he had a long enough length of cable free of the wall. He dutifully dropped his end of the cable on the floor and picked up speed.
The goo overtook the end he’d just abandoned. Complete the circuit. Please work please work please work. Sparks flew as the entire mass of nanobots writhed. Veins of black lightning shot through the mass. The goo contracted as the veins grew, until the whole blob was nothing but black ash. Silence fell over the hallway, with only the sound of Delta’s ragged breathing in her helmet as she finally stopped running.
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” said Skulker, pulling back his hood and running a hand through his sweaty hair. Oh god.
Miya and Gears leaned heavily on the walls. “Thought we were going to die, there,” gasped Miya.
Delta pulled off her helmet just in time to avoid vomiting all over the inside of it. She fell to one knee, clutching her stomach. Breathe, breathe.
“Whoa, what’s wrong?” asked Skulker.
“Hurts,” she gasped. Running. Too much. Can’t…
“Here,” said Gears, offering her a metal canteen from his hip.
“Thanks,” she managed before gulping down a couple mouthfuls. Hate throwing up. Hate, hate, hate it.
“Good to go?” he asked after a minute had passed. The others had formed a semicircle around her, concerned looks on their faces, even Miya’s.
It’s not like I have a choice. Delta grimaced, straightened up, and replaced her helmet. “Come on, we need to keep moving.” God help me.
“Where are the bots?” asked Miya. “We haven’t seen any in here. Well, moving ones.”
“Probably gettin’ killed by Cyrus,” said Skulker. “Overlord’s got no other choice.”
They headed back towards Doctor Orange’s lab, the floor of the hallway now warped and misshapen. They paused a few meters behind the door Olivia had clawed open.
“Let me,” said Miya, going in first. Fuck it, sure. Don’t screw up. Delta and the others followed after her.
The doctor stiffened, then spun around as they rushed in, mouth agape. “How-”
Miya cut off his question with three bullets. The doctor staggered back, colliding with the counter behind him. Miya kept firing and advancing. The wall behind the doctor took a couple bullets. She let out a wordless scream, advancing until she came to a stop by the doctor, out of bullets.
She spat on his body and kicked his head for good measure. “Fuck you!”
“I think he’s dead now,” pointed out Gears.
“Grey?” asked Delta. If he’s waiting with some other horror I’m finished. I quit. Cyrus can deal with it.
“Don’t see him,” replied Skulker.
“That way,” said Olivia, pointing a claw towards a second door to the lab, opposite where they’d come in from.
“Wait, what about that thing you smelled before?” asked Delta.
“Also that way.”
Miya hadn’t moved, still standing over the orange googled doctor’s corpse.
Olivia wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her away. Miya kicked her in the thigh, struggling as hard as she could against her.
“Miya, stop,” Olivia whispered.
Miya stopped and took in a shaky breath. After a moment she said, “I’m good, let me down.”
Olivia spun around, putting herself between Doctor Orange and Miya, and set her down. Gears began systematically shooting every computer he could find.
“What are you doing?” Delta asked.
“Makin’ sure these can’t be used,” he said, cocking the shotgun and blasting the last computer. “Good to go.” Whatever. They’re not paying me enough to care anymore.
Olivia led Miya out the door she’d pointed out. Skulker and Gears followed after. Delta took one last look at Doctor Orange’s lab. Nope, not gonna fuck with whatever else he has in here. Nope.
They passed rooms with empty hospital beds, some with bloodstains and toppled IV drip stands. Miya kept her eyes firmly on the ground in front of her, following Olivia’s lead. She’s probably got a whole bunch of issues I’m in no way qualified to take care of right now. We should very probably get her out of here soon.
“Here it is. Um, the thing I smelled. Grey is further in,” said Olivia, stopping at a door.
“Cool,” said Skulker. “Let’s go.”
Gears kicked in the door, Olivia close after him. Miya, Skulker, and Delta followed after, and nearly collided with their backs.
“Uhhh,” began Gears.
Everyone followed his gaze to a wide room attached to the new lab they’d burst into. What the hell? Two long rows of floor to ceiling tanks stood along each wall. Five held people, floating in a pale and sickly green liquid. It took a moment for Delta to register the fact that each person had a massive and familiar pair of wings jutting out of their backs, and thick, scaly tails trailing behind them.
Skulker teleported and rapped a knuckle on the wall of one of the tanks. The girl gave a barely perceptible twitch. “They’re out of it,” he announced. “The fuck are we lookin’ at?” How is this possible?
Delta and the others joined him, still staring. Of the five people in the tanks, three were girls, two were boys. Each floated in the liquid, arms a few inches out from their sides. It took Delta a moment to realize they were breathing, albeit at an extremely slow pace. They’re all huge, too. Delta cast a glance at Olivia. She had frozen, a stricken look on her face.
“Let them out,” she whispered. Right. Delta spun on her heel and headed towards the one thing she knew well, the computers in the lab.
“Whoa, hold up. What if they come out swingin’?” asked Gears, holding up a hand.
“What? Fuck, let them out,” barked Miya, squaring off against him.
“Said hold up,” said Skulker. “Think this through.” Whoa, come on, you two. Delta found what looked like an important console. It’s got a computer, it’s got a bunch of important looking buttons. That’s why I went to college.
“What?” demanded Olivia, turning on him with eyes wide.
“Little Bird, I know you. I trust you. I don’ know ‘em. I don’ trust ‘em.”
“They’re gonna come out panickin’ and scared. I would,” added Gears.
“‘cept my hands can’t carve up steel an’ bones like paper,” concluded Skulker. Delta thought back to when they’d first met Olivia. She got mad and killed fifty people. Olivia, the big, cute teddy bear. She took her hands off the command console.
“So, what? You’re saying we should just leave people in there?” said Miya. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Both of you?”
“I like keepin’ my organs on the inside,” replied Skulker.
“Amanda?” asked Olivia.
Delta glanced at the others. Miya and Olivia’s eyes bore into her, while Skulker and Gears refused to look them in the eye.
“Hang on. Let me see if I can even get them out of there at all.”
She turned on the main screen. Looks like no one bothered to log out. It’s not like the robots would try to steal anything, I guess. A background of a beautiful tropical island greeted her, almost buried under folders on the desktop. Commands? No? Information. Information never hurt.
“OK, it looks like they were in the ‘let’s see what we can do phase’. And…” Delta’s eyes skimmed over the report. “It went better than they thought possible.”
“All this from just a few blood samples?” asked Miya, casting a look over her shoulder at the tanks.
“These are people who revived fuckin’ dinosaurs,” pointed out Skulker, making a vague gesture to Doctor Grey.
“Still though. How?”
The tension in Delta’s shoulders eased with the change of topic. “These aren’t the first experiments Overlord’s people have done with powers. From the wording, they have a way to induce certain powers. They keep referencing ‘the Lakhanpal effect’. It looks like this is just the first time they’ve done it with a feral power.”
“So they force a trigger.”
“Yes. It takes a lot of energy, it looks like. It doesn’t look like it comes from wherever a power’s energy comes from usually.”
“That’s the how. Where’s the why?” asked Gears.
“Hang on, I think I saw something about that back here.” A few more clicks brought up the document in question. Delta’s eyes flickered over the page. “Living magic generators, I think. Oh, this part makes a bit more sense. Whether certain aspects of her power could be isolated and used. Weapons, super soldiers, there’s about a dozen possible applications here. They want funding for cloning as well.”
“Wait, the fuck you readin’?” asked Skulker. “Why would that all be spelled out here?”
“A big report. They had a section labeled applications, I just went down to that. I figured it would explain things for non-geneticists like us.”
“Whoever was working here, they need to be able to communicate with people outside their field. Hell, that’s half of the average engineering job.”
“So, can we let them out?” asked Olivia.
Shit, right. Delta grimaced under her helmet. Compromise? “How about this? We let one out. One. If they’re fine, we release the others. If they go berserk, we…” How do I say this?
“We keep ‘em in there, let smarter people than us figure ‘em out,” said Gears. Delta gave him a grateful nod.
“But…” began Olivia, facing them fully.
“But we gotta look out for each other first,” said Skulker.
“Can you live with that?” asked Gears.
Olivia frowned. “Fine.”
Let’s see here. Ah, here’s the release command. Fluid first, then the person. She double checked the number of the controlled tank. “Alright, the girl in the middle. Be ready,” announced Delta. She hit the button.
A green light appeared at the top of the tank. The fluid began draining. Once its level passed the girl’s face, she coughed and a finger twitched. Once the tank drained completely, leaving the girl crumpled at the bottom, a yellow light came on next to the green light, and the machinery stopped. OK. Another command? Inside, the girl coughed, spitting up the green liquid. Her eyelids fluttered open. Ah, here it is.
With the press of another button, the walls of the tank retracted into the floor with a faint hydraulic hiss. Everyone except for Olivia stood back as the girl began climbing to her feet. Then, the girl let out a hiss.
Olivia growled. She grabbed the hissing newly released dragon girl by the throat, dragged her off her feet, and slammed her against the wall. Whoa. The girl bared her teeth and spat in Olivia’s eye. As she recoiled, the girl shoved her away with a hiss.
Olivia swung a hand at her shoulder and threw her to the ground. She grabbed hold of a flailing wing and twisted until the girl let out another hiss and went still, chest heaving. Olivia released her wing and stepped back. What… the fuck? What happened to nice Olivia?
“Olivia?” asked Miya in the silence that followed. “Are you…”
“I’m OK. Let the others out,” she replied, catching her breath.
“No, the hell was that?” demanded Gears.
“It’s fine, let the others out.”
The other dragon girl had climbed to her feet, keeping an eye on Olivia. She kept her wings drawn in tight behind her back, fingers and claws curled. The hissing from her had stopped, at least.
“No, the hell was that?” repeated Skulker. “You two gettin’ all territorial an’ shit?”
Olivia let out a frustrated growl. Her hand uncurled momentarily before she took a couple deep breaths to calm herself. “Nothing. She’s just… she’s fine. I’m fine. Please let the others out now. One at a time. Please.”
Delta’s fingers hovered over the next button. What do I do? Say no? That’s just cruel. She stared at the other dragon girl for a moment. She looks fine now. “OK, be ready for the next one.”