Fragile Alliance

FRAGILE ALLIANCE

BY BENJAMIN

The stairs creaked as Garrett Royce descended. Hastily assembled from cheap untreated wood, the stairs were too narrow and flimsy for Royce's large frame. Royce was an imposing sight. He had curly black hair that fell into his eyes. His strong jaw was covered with salt and pepper stubble, more salt than pepper these days. The sleeves of his flannel shirt were rolled up to reveal tanned forearms with sharp bulging veins. Royce was the perfect embodiment of blue-collar work ethic and pride. He reached the basement floor, and stooped through the frame.

The room was constructed with windowless cement walls. Bright florescent lights shown directly above the prisoner. A wooden table and two chairs accounted for the only furniture in sight. The prisoner was handcuffed to the chair on the far side of the room. The prisoner’s head hung over the table. Blood dripped steadily from his swollen face. It had begun to pool on the table. Royce approved. It was fitting treatment for a traitor. Royce took the seat opposite from the doomed man.

With hesitation, the prisoner raised his head and met Royce's gaze. One eye was swollen shut, but the other went wide with horror upon recognizing Royce. The prisoner moved his mouth as if trying to speak, but he only managed a choking sob and squeezed his good eye shut. Royce shook his head in disappointment. The traitor hardly seemed 20 years old. He probably weighed 120lbs soaking wet. The younger generation sometimes made him wonder why he even bothered. If this was the future he might as well retire and let Eden walk over the west.

Royce's deep voice filled the room, “Why?”

The prisoner flinched, but made no response.

“Who gave you the order to murder Young?”

The prisoner swallowed hard, and stuttered a reply. “N-no one...sir”

Royce's voice grew louder, echoing off of the concrete walls. “Why did you betray your brothers? Are you with them? Did they offer you money to betray us?”

The prisoner looked up with tears in his eyes. “I would never-”, he sobbed. “I would never work with Eden. I didn't mean no betrayal. How can it be treason to kill a man like Young? He was Eden's puppet! Why would they want him dead?”

Perhaps Royce had been doing this too long. He exhaled, a part of him actually felt sorry for the stupid son of a bitch. The boy truly had no idea what he'd done. Royce had seen his kind before: blind faith in the cause, idealism that could only exist in youth. Royce pulled his gun from its holster. An old fashioned .40 caliber. Bullets may not be as effective as the plasma fired from ether rifles, but they'd kill a man just as dead. The prisoner's eye locked on the weapon. He shook his head and backed away as far as the chair and handcuffs would allow.

“Thanks to you I have Eden soldiers swarming my city. The men Eden hired to build their abomination, my men, are now being followed day and night. All you had to do was sit tight and in one fell swoop we would have overthrown the Eden forces in Tidal Pool from within, and used their own shield to lock them out for good. Your incompetence has endangered a plan 10 years in the making; our first real chance to gain a foothold in the fight against Eden.” Royce cocked the gun.

“Christ, no, please...I didn't know. I thought killing Young would help the resistance. I couldn't have known. I never would have-”

Royce held up a hand to silence the man. “I believe you.”

Royce fired a round into the man's head at close range. Blood and gore covered the room. Royce pulled a bit of gray matter from his hair and flicked it to the ground. He holstered his weapon and walked calmly from the room. The staircase creaked as he marched back up to the first floor.

A small crowd waited at the top of the stairs. No doubt they'd heard the gunshot. The middle-aged men and women who stood before him looked more like farmers than leaders of a rebellion. Decades of life in the outland had taken their toll, but it had made them strong. They valued freedom above all else. A mutual hatred of Eden was all that bonded them together. Royce could see that many of them felt sympathetic towards the corpse he'd left in the basement.

“It's done”, he told them.

Finch was the first to speak. “This scheme of yours had better work, Garrett.” Finch could have been a bodybuilder in his younger days. He was from Terminus, the westernmost seed. His eyes were fierce. The boy downstairs had been one of his.

“Tidal Pool will be the first free seed, mark my words, but only if you can keep your men in check”, Royce replied.

Janice Mason, looking more like someone's grandmother than a professional terrorist, represented the Bastion area resistance. “Be glad this happened in Townsend's absence.” Her own agent had been discovered and eviscerated by Eden's resident executive a week earlier.

“I wouldn't be too glad. Our latest reports confirm that Townsend is responding to an emergency at the research outpost. Assuming none of you are holding out on us, then this emergency wasn't our doing. Anything that can rattle Eden can rattle us”, said Jacob Ritter, leader of the Aegis liberation front.

Several others chimed in, offering their own pessimistic insights regarding the success of the mission in Tidal Pool. Thomas Hillock of Eastport reiterated his constant point that Eden’s naval forces were much weaker than its ground. “A coastal settlement would have been the wiser choice”, he mused as he stroked his haggard beard. Francesca Delarosa the “Iron Queen” of Mechanicsburg, a famed engineer turned activist, made note of the fact that Phoenix Industries was plotting against Eden, as if it mattered. The representatives from Fort Faust and Neopolis exchanged glances, but otherwise seemed content to watch the show. Royce understood their reluctance, but he could not allow it.

“Enough,” he shouted. “Coastal Settlements, Phoenix Industries, Clarence fucking Townsend. We’ve been over this again and again. One small set back and you’re ready to scrap the best shot we’ve ever had at taking the fight to Eden. Say what you will about that dead fool in the basement, but at least he had conviction. He’s not the first that’s died for this cause. I don’t know if any of you have taken a headcount lately, but we’re running out of soldiers. The plan for Tidal Pool moves forward. Now get your God damn people under control.” Royce glared into Finch’s eyes. “Or so help me Christ, the next one tied to that chair will be you.”

One by one the leaders of the Anti-Eden movement met his eyes. For better or worse, he had their support. Royce would kill every last black-eyed Eden bastard or he would die trying.

 

The following morning, Royce made his way down to the shield generator's construction zone. Enormous excavation machinery could be heard day and night here. Thousands of tons of earth had to be moved to clear space for the biosphere that thrived beneath every seed. Several thousand meters wide and hundreds of meters deep, the biosphere would provide the inhabitants of a seed all of the food, clean air and even water that they would require to survive. A seed with its shield raised was essentially its own world, completely inaccessible from the outside. It was the perfect shelter in a post-apocalyptic world. It would also make a fine stronghold from which to launch a full scale revolution against an oppressive regime.

The shield generator itself was suspended in a web of scaffolding above the bio-chamber. It was a strange metal sphere, much smaller than one might expect for so powerful a device. It was only barely visible in the dim morning light. Before he could approach any farther, Royce was stopped by a Reclamation Force patrol.

“Identification”, said a woman with dead gray eyes and long blonde hair. Royce didn't like the look of her. She was just a kid; couldn't have been much more than 25 years old, but those eyes had seen combat.

“Who'd you piss off to get this duty, Captain?” Royce inquired as he handed her his badge.

She raised an eyebrow. He tapped his shoulder and she looked down at her own, decorated with two stripes.

“Most outlanders aren't familiar with the insignia. Are you a military man?”

Royce shook his head and smiled. “Just a fan.”

She shrugged. “To answer your question, no one. I'm on vacation.” She handed his badge back. “Carry on, foreman.”

Royce made his way to the interior of the control complex. The first and sixth floors of the complex were public areas, accessible without a security badge. The walls of these areas featured large televisions displaying the latest news from the Eden-controlled areas, decorative maps of the Tidal Pool area. Construction of the seed had been shut down temporarily while the governor’s death was investigated. They'd added an enormous taxidermy hellhound in the time since Royce had last been here. The hound glared through glass eyes that could never hope to capture the horror of the real thing. Hellhounds were the most famous of the ether-hybrid creatures that now roamed the world. To many, these creatures were symbolic of the outland itself. Royce felt a twinge of disgust as he passed the stuffed, caged symbol of his way of life.

He entered the elevator with 5 other men. Royce pushed the button for the sub-basement. He was descending beneath ground level into what would soon be the biosphere. The chrome elevator doors shut and the descent began.

One of the men, a demolitions engineer, broke the silence. “What's the good word, sir?” He was addressing Royce. Each of the men was a member of the resistance.

“Seems we might actually be on schedule for once in our lives”, Royce responded casually.

Officially, Royce was overseeing the construction of the electrical system that would feed the central computer. It was the closest he could get to the shield controls. Even this position had been difficult to secure. When Tidal Pool became a likely candidate for seed-selection, Royce created a contracting company as a front to gain access to the construction site. His fake company bid to do the job at the lowest plausible rate, but even this wasn't enough. Several Eden analysts argued that the terrorist presence in Tidal Pool was too strong to trust civilian contractors. They believed that it was worth the extra cost to keep the entire job in-house. They were absolutely right, of course, but unfortunately for Eden, several of their colleagues were more open to persuasion. With a few well-placed bribes the outsourcing concerns were over ruled.

The elevator doors slid open to reveal a massive platform. Much of the sub-basement was still open. Ultraviolet lights were being installed on a steel framework at the ground level. When the biosphere was operational they would provide a substitute for sunlight. A large amount of structural work remained to be done on the shield control complex. Welding crews were at work day and night and Royce walked through a shower of sparks towards his office. The office was little more than a few scraps of metal welded into a box. There was a desk, a computer and a pile of papers. He walked in, shut the door and removed his hard hat. It wasn’t until he’d sat down and turned on the machine that he spotted the man leaning against the wall.

Royce was not an easy man to surprise. The stranger was clearly no construction worker. He was skeletally thin, a fact that was accented by his skinny jeans. He wore a zip up hoodie and a t-shirt from some local band. The man’s hair stuck out at ridiculous angles, but it was the sunglasses he wore even indoors that offered a clue to his identity.

“Can I assume that you’re a friend of Vincent’s?” Royce asked, trying to seem unstartled by the creature’s presence.

“That would be a stretch, Mr. Royce. You are correct however in your assumption that my appearance here is connected with his death.” The man spoke with an almost indiscernible accent. It was the R’s that gave him away. “My name is Sorin Ragar.” His introduction concluded, Sorin took the seat opposite Royce’s desk.

Royce scoffed, “Gabriel Vincent… Sorin Ragar, who the hell names you blood rats? What happened with Vincent? I thought your kind was indestructible.”

Sorin’s raised his eyebrows and smiled. “No doubt Gabriel thought the same. Often that’s the way with the young ones. Recklessness and youth do tend to go hand in hand. I wonder how old our late governor’s murderer was.”

Royce frowned. The damned monsters knew who killed the governor. It didn’t look like Royce would be able to use Gabriel Vincent’s failure to gain any leverage. There was no choice but to cut to the chase. “Mr. Vincent owed us the final shipment.”

“The final shipment was delivered early this morning. I trust you’ll find it satisfactory. The resources are from my own operation in Terminus.” Sorin replied.

“If the delivery is complete why are you lurking in my office? If you know about the governor then you know that Eden has soldiers crawling all over this place.”

Sorin shrugged, “You’re attempting a very significant endeavor, Mr. Royce. There are those among us who believe that you will succeed, strongly enough to put my own work at risk if it means improving your odds. I had to meet you for myself.”

“Impressed?” Royce asked indignantly. He didn’t appreciate the condescending tone.

Sorin continued on. “What is the plan to deal with Clarence Townsend?”

“Our initial plan was to divide our trained forces into two groups. Group A would take the armory, and group B would be dedicated to keeping Townsend pinned down. At the time, the militia would have been sufficient to deal with the Eden armed forces in the surrounding area.”

“After the governor, Eden suspects your presence and has strengthened their numbers. The militia will be overcome.” Sorin intoned.

Royce nodded. “We’re forced to risk plan B. Tonight we will conduct an operation to attack several key locations around the city. The Defense Force barracks, the armory, the central bank, and the shield construction site. These attacks will utilize militia fighters armed with some of your weapons. These attacks will serve as a diversion, drawing Eden’s armed forces away from the Eden building. A team lead by myself will access the sub-basement of said building undetected via the tunnels. We will plant remote-detonated charges powerful enough to bring the entire building down.”

Sorin raised his eyebrows, “Your plan is to bring the building down on Townsend when the attack is initiated? That might contain him for a time. How do you plan to guarantee that he’ll be in the building when the attack starts?”

“We have a man inside who will confirm his presence. He will also ensure that the sub-basement security systems do not target us.”

Sorin leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. He was a little too close for Royce’s comfort. “And your ‘man-on-the-inside’, once he reports Townsend’s presence how long will he have to vacate the building?”

Royce narrowed his eyes. “Once Townsend is confirmed we will detonate. The spy will become a hero for our cause.”

“Coupled with the suicide attacks your planning tonight the resistance should have no shortage of heroes. This is a very brave group you’ve assembled to march to death so readily in defense of their cause.” Sorin stared at Royce. For the first time throughout the entire discussion the blood rat looked like the apex predator that Royce knew him to be.

“They march to victory,” Royce said flatly.

Sorin leaned back in his chair and laughed. “Let’s hope. I’m glad to have met you Mr. Royce. I think you’re going to be a very famous man.” Sorin offered his hand. Royce shook it reluctantly. Sorin’s grip was like ice.

The blood rat took his leave and Royce spent the rest of the day going over the plans for the night’s attack. He made several calls over encrypted channels. It would be up to the resistance leaders to decide which members of the resistance would be involved in the attack. He instructed them to mix a few of the trained soldiers into the ranks, and the three best soldiers were to accompany Royce himself into the Eden building. All soldiers were to be equipped with the best weapons they had available. With any luck the sacrifice of some quality equipment would help the rebels put a dent into Eden’s forces. If the Gods were especially good then Eden would assume that this is attack was the cause that Vincent’s weapons had gone to, and relax their defenses.

 

The whistle blew signaling that it was time to leave. Outside of the construction zone he met with a group of engineers from the excavation crew. They exchanged pleasantries as one of the engineers handed Royce a backpack. Royce shouldered it carefully. It was a mile walk back to his vehicle. The area surrounding the construction was off limits to non-Eden vehicles.

Royce did his best to remain nonchalant as he walked. He was carrying enough explosives to demolish half of a city block. If any of the Eden patrols in the area decided to search is pack then he was finished. Fortunately, he found that there was far less suspicion aimed at those leaving the secured area than there was at those entering it. He made it to the parking lot without incident.

He climbed into his ancient black pick-up truck and drove toward the resistance headquarters. Like many outlanders living in an urban area, Royce drove an old-fashioned car propelled by rubber tires rather than repulsors. Airborne vehicles required sophisticated navigation and communication technology. This made the air-cars very easy to trace and locate, which was hardly ideal for the leader of a terrorist organization. This wasn’t to say that his truck lacked any modern technology. The vehicle was armored to an extent and modified to burn ether-based fuel. In spite of these modifications, the pick-up lacked speed and it was nearly sundown by the time Royce reached the farmhouse that served as headquarters.

Located on the southern outskirts of Tidal Pool, the resistance headquarters was identical to any number of failing outland farms. At least, that’s how it appeared on the surface. Royce grabbed his gun belt from a secret compartment in the floor of the passenger’s seat then jumped down from the truck. The average person would never have noticed that the overgrown trees surrounding the property contained snipers tracking their every move. Once he arrived at the door he knocked five times: two heavy thuds followed by three short raps. The wooden door creaked open to reveal a solid steel barrier. Royce heard the familiar sound of the pneumatic locks disengaging, and the barrier parted to reveal the interior of the farmhouse. The entire first floor was comprised of one huge room, giving headquarters the illusion of being bigger on the inside. The room was lit by a ceiling full of fluorescent lights. Tables and personnel were arranged around the room. All electronic and surveillance operations for the Tidal Pool mission were carried out from this room.

In the center of the room there stood a holographic projector roughly the size of a pool table. It currently displayed a projection of Tidal Pool. A number of red dots had begun to converge on several recognizable buildings. Standing in a circle around the projection were the regional resistance leaders. Finch was the first to notice Royce’s presence. Finch’s face twisted into a scowl.

Janice Mason regarded Royce coolly as he walked toward the display. The Bastion resistance had intelligence operations and cyber-warfare units that rivaled Eden’s own. If the old woman was beginning to have reservations then things were ugly indeed. Royce just needed to hold the group together a little longer.

“The troops are in position.” Royce stated.

“The lambs are ready for the slaughter,” Finch corrected.

“This operation is going to give us a fighting chance against Eden. These men are going to be he-”

Finch slammed his fist on the table before Royce could finish the sentence. “I swear to almighty Christ, Royce, if I hear the word ‘hero’ come out of your mouth one more time I am going to personally rip your fucking head off. Is the mountain of corpses you’re climbing to become king of Tidal Pool worth it?”

“How many of your men died before you met me,” Royce asked. He turned to the leaders standing around the table. Royce was aware that he had the attention of the whole room. “All of you. Go on, how many people have died since the resistance against Eden began?”

Silence answered his question. A few even had the decency to look away.

Royce took a step towards Finch. They stood almost nose to nose. Royce spoke slowly and clearly, “I would sacrifice every man, woman, and child if that’s what it took to burn Eden to the ground, and I will burn Eden to the ground. How many bodies have you climbed over to be the king of nothing? The only difference between your sacrifices and mine is that mine will actually get results.”

Finch’s fist tightened. Royce dropped his right hand towards his gun.

Janice Mason cleared her throat to break the awkward silence. “That’s quite enough,” she said. “We’ve all committed to Tidal Pool, and there is no turning back now. The plan will go forward. This is neither the time nor the place to second guess ourselves.”

Finch took a step back from Royce. Janice nodded her approval. She continued, “Mr. Royce, your team is waiting outside. The attack will commence on your order, as planned. We’ve prepared transportation to the tunnel entrance.” She nodded to a subordinate, who presented Royce with body armor and helmet. The body armor was plated with extremely dense material and resistant to low powered ether-weapons. The helmet covered his whole face. Outwardly it looked like some kind of demonic insect. The visor provided an interactive heads up display that could be used for everything from weapons targeting to video chat.

Royce’s voice, distorted by the helmet’s modulator, boomed out. “Begin the attack.” He shouldered the back pack once more and turned toward the back door. Janice called out to him before he could leave. “Mr. Royce.”

He waited for her to go on. “I don’t need to remind you that the cost of tonight’s operation is high. I will remind you; however that the power you wield here is borrowed. You will get results. Once Tidal Pool becomes the first free seed we will discuss what, if any, role you play in its future.”

Royce glared from behind the visor. Her threat wasn’t entirely unexpected, but he saw red all the same. He forced himself to remain calm. He spoke quietly, at this volume his voice was barely distorted by the mask. “I look forward to our discussion.”

Royce exited the house and headed for the garage where his team would be located. The sun had set while he was inside arguing with resistance leaders. He saw the headlights of a dark green jeep shining in the distance. He saw his team leaning against the vehicle, three men all dressed in similar combat gear to Royce. One of the men approached him and offered a hand. Royce shook it.

“Captain Royce, I’m Joe Latimer. I’ll be your demolitions expert this evening. I understand you’ve brought me a present.” Royce handed Joe the backpack. The demo-man opened the pack and surveyed its contents. “Oh ho ho, I didn’t know it was my fuckin’ birthday. Don’t worry, sir, we’re gonna blast them back to the Stone Age.”

Joe turned and gestured to the two men. “The one on the right is Brian, and that’s Kenneth.” Kenneth waved his gun from side to side as a greeting. “If you’re ready, sir, I suggest we get this show on the road.”

Royce nodded.

The ride to the tunnels passed in relative silence. Joe was preoccupied incorporating the raw material Royce had brought into the remote detonator. Royce was impressed, and a little uneasy, that Joe was able to wire explosives in a moving jeep. The man knew his craft though, and by the time they’d arrived the device was ready. They parked the jeep among some trees approximately one mile away from the tunnel entrance, and proceeded the rest of the way on foot.

The tunnel entrance looked more like the hatch from some kind of submersible than a manhole cover. It was a two man job to open the hatch. Brian and Kenneth took up defensive positions as Royce and Joe combined their strength to turn the locking wheel. After a few backbreaking minutes they were able to force it open. A small hole lay below. Metal rungs had been hammered into a concrete wall to form a ladder. Royce descended first. The tunnel was pitch black. Royce’s mask detected the shift in light and switched to night vision; options for thermal and ultra violet appeared at the corner of his vision. He blinked to confirm the night vision. The others quickly descended, and with a great deal of effort slammed the hatch behind them.

The system of tunnels ran under all the major arteries and buildings of Tidal Pool. Like most major settlements and seeds constructed after the apocalypse, the residents of Tidal Pool had constructed fortified tunnels to move supplies and building materials throughout the territory. The tunnels also served as an escape route in emergency situations. In recent years, attacks on humans from wildlife in the area had become less frequent. The governor had formally closed the tunnels and defunded their maintenance, using the extra cash to provide incentives for his Eden friends. Royce smiled at the irony. As they approached the Eden building Royce could feel the occasional rumble of vehicles running overhead. Once Royce could swear he’d heard an explosion in the distance. The attacks were in full effect.

Up ahead Royce spotted a staircase. It was the Eden building’s emergency access door. He motioned for the others to follow. At the top of the staircase was a sealed door with a keypad. The door had power. That meant that their spy within Eden had been successful. Royce punched in the sequence that the spy had provided. The doors slid open. Royce called up the plans for the building in his HUD. He led the group to the spot where the engineers had determined the explosives would have the greatest impact. They walked past a number of cameras and automated turrets, but they had all been disabled. Their man on the inside was thorough. Royce was having second thoughts about an exit strategy for the spy. They reached the appointed spot. They would plant the explosives on a rafter in the ceiling. Joe climbed to the ceiling and set to work installing the device.

Brian spun around towards the door with his gun raised.

“What the hell are you doing,” Royce asked.

“Thought I heard something, sir. Sounded like a footstep.” Brian replied.

Royce switched to thermal vision. They were the only heat signatures in the basement. Even a Phoenix drone would have given off some heat signature. “There’s nothing there. Relax.” Royce reassured the man.

Joe radioed through the helmet that the charge was set. Royce caught motion out of the corner of his eye. He turned just in time to the butt of a gun crashing into his mask.

 

Royce awoke in pain. He was staring into a pool of blood, his own blood. It was still dripping from his shattered nose. He tried to raise his arms but couldn’t. He’d been tied to a chair. The blood was dripping onto a table that had been placed before him. Across the table he stared into the insectoid helmet of one of his teammates. Royce couldn’t tell which. There was a door behind him and the remaining members of his team stood guard on either side of it.

“Déjà vu?” Asked his interrogator. It was Joe. Joe removed his helmet. He had short dark hair and chiseled features. Royce recognized the man. He was one of Finch’s. Joe continued, his tone was deceptively calm. “This is how Danny died, isn’t it? You strapped him to a chair, had him beaten and tortured, then finally shot him in the head. Isn’t that right?”

“He was a friend of yours I take it?” Royce coughed and spat a tooth.

One of the guards jumped. “Joe, I’m telling you, someone is out there.” It must have been Brian.

Joe finally let his anger show. “Then go check it out.” He spat. Brian left the room. He left the door slightly ajar. Royce recognized the room. They were still in Eden’s basement.

Royce’s eyes went wide. “Are you insane? We’re really going to do this here? Your pal is right to be jumpy. This was supposed to be an in and out operation. Eden security could patrol down here any minute.”

Joe backhanded Royce across the face. Royce felt like his skull was going to shatter. Joe smiled at Royce’s expression. “Boss’s orders. You stay here. Don’t worry no one will find your body until after we have control of Tidal Pool.”

“We?” Royce choked.

“The Terminus branch is obviously the most qualified to lead a new seed this far west. At the very least, we’re more qualified than some stranger who has killed more of our own people than the enemy.” Joe drew Royce’s .45. “Is this the gun you used?”

As Joe spoke the door behind him slid further open. A pale hand reached out and caught Kenneth by the throat. He was yanked off of his feet into the room beyond. It happened before Royce could blink. Royce stared agape at the door way. Joe finally turned to see what was so interesting.

Royce seized the opportunity. He kicked at the table with all his strength, ripping off one of the chair legs in the process. The table caught Joe in the back and sent him sprawling to the ground. Royce used his newly freed leg to jump. He fell backwards with his full weight and smashed the chair. The impact felt like an explosion in his head, but he’d managed to free himself completely. He’d taken too long, Joe hadn’t wasted time trying to regain his footing. He shoved the table to the side and took aim on Royce from the ground. A hail of bullets caught Joe in the head and chest. Royce heard the distinct chirping of a silenced automatic weapon. Royce’s gun fell to the ground.

Sorin Ragar appeared from the doorway holding Kenneth’s rifle. He gestured at Royce’s gun. “You’ll probably be wanting that,” He said.

Royce grabbed and holstered the gun. “You’re following me?”

Sorin raised an eyebrow. “You’re complaining?” Sorin kicked Joe’s helmet to Royce. “You’ll want that for the tunnel, I imagine.” Royce pulled on the helmet while Sorin left and returned carrying a body in each hand. He threw them into the center of the room next to Joe. “I’ll deal with them later. I don’t expect anyone will find the bodies for some time. Eden has their hands full with your attack.” Sorin led the way down to the tunnel.

Sorin explained the situation in a flat military tone. “Terminus resistance members surrounded headquarters shortly after you left. It seems that Finch has staged a coup within the coup. This is not sitting well with the other regional powers, of course. I hate to be so dramatic, but at this point you are likely the only person who can salvage this situation.”

“The last time I spoke with them I got more death threats than thanks.” Royce replied.

“You’ve been a little heavy handed in your approach. They’ll be more receptive to your leadership after you kill Finch and restore their hopes for an equal share in the resources that this new ‘free seed’ can offer.” Sorin replied as if he were speaking to a child. “I’ll get you back into headquarters. Your job is to be the hero.”

Royce thought he saw Sorin trying to suppress a smile. “You’re going above and beyond our original agreement. What do your people want from Tidal Pool?”

“A foothold in the west is crucial to our plans. We will count on your gratitude.”

 

Sorin and Royce surveyed HQ from the tree line. With the sophisticated helmet magnifying his vision Royce was able to see the snipers that Sorin pointed out. There were a total of six guards and two snipers holding HQ. Royce was now armed with a rifle and his pistol. Sorin was armed with two combat knives, not that he needed them. It would be better if the resistance leaders thought that the guards were killed by human hands, though.

Sorin burst from the trees and ran towards the guards. Royce picked off the snipers as they struggled to get a bead on Sorin. The guards fired on Sorin. Bullets sunk into the man’s skeletal chest with an explosion of blood. Mercifully, the sound was muffled by silencers. It was standard procedure that gunfire not be heard in the vicinity of HQ. If Sorin felt any pain he hid it well. He threw the knives at the closest two guards, catching each one in the eye. Royce ran towards the scene, firing as he went. Royce managed to kill one with a well-placed shot to the throat.

These guards were experienced outland fighters. Used to taking on monsters, they quickly adapted their strategy from targeting Sorin’s vital areas to targeting mobility. Bullets tore into Sorin’s left knee as he dove for one of the corpse’s rifles. Sorin managed to get into a crouched position with all of the weight on his good leg. He fired three rounds, and all three found their marks. The remaining guards fell to the ground.

Royce ran to help Sorin, but the blood rat was already standing up. He limped slightly, and was missing several chunks of flesh from his face. Most of his left cheek had been ripped away, exposing the teeth below. His expression resembled a grizzly half-smile.

“I’d hurry, Mr. Royce. Even with the silencers, someone may have heard that. The real guards are being held in the garage.” Sorin said as casually as a man with half a face could.

Royce stared in amazement. He wasn’t amazed that Sorin was still standing. Logically he’d known what the man, if you could call him that, was capable of. Royce’s thoughts turned instead to Gabriel Vincent’s death. Somewhere out there in Tidal Pool there was an RF soldier that had actually managed to kill one of these things. He did not find the thought comforting.

“Perhaps you’re not familiar with the concept of haste, Mr. Royce.” Sorin chided.

They had only posted two men to watch over the prisoners in the garage. Royce took them down in a swath of automatic gunfire. The prisoners had simply been tied with their hands behind their backs. It didn’t take Royce long to free them.

He quickly explained the situation. “You’ll find weapons in the yard. Finch is holding the regional leaders inside. After tonight’s attack is finished he will force them to turn over control of their forces to the Terminus Resistance. On my signal you storm the room and we put an end to this.”

“What’s the signal,” asked one of the older men.

“I shoot Finch in the head.”

Royce headed around to the back of the house. The men he’d freed went around the front. Finch had disabled the security system. He couldn’t afford alerting any of the other regions to what was going on before he’d cemented the coup. Royce was able to manually open the security door. He found the resistance leaders gathered around the holographic projector. Finch’s men had their weapons trained on the resistance leaders. Finch was in the middle of an impassioned speech about Tidal Pool’s future. He could never hope to convince the other leaders that he should take over. They would die first. The speech was for the men holding the guns.

“We’ve been leading the western front for a century. We have Eden on one side and the worst of the ether pollution on the other. I’ll be damned if I’m going to watch you install some incompetent stranger-” Finch’s speech was cut short by a bullet. Blood and brain covered the holographic projector. Royce’s recently released prisoners seized the moment and flooded into the room. Finch’s men gave up easily with their leader gone. Royce removed his helmet and leaned over the gore covered projector. The attack was still going, there were far fewer red dots than there had been when he’d left. He pushed a button on the console that opened communications.

“Mission is a success. Retreat to designated egress points. Do not, I repeat, do not return to your homes.”

The older man who seemed to have taken charge of the prisoner group approached Royce. “Sir, what do you want done with these?” he asked gesturing to the Terminus Resistance troops.

“Get the order out that all Terminus agents are to be captured. Alive or dead, I truly don’t care.” Royce replied.

“Sir, a lot of good men died today. Both in the attack, and because of these traitors. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about an overabundance of prisoners.”

Royce smiled, “Please relay the following message along with the order. For a while now we’ve had a difficult time deciding which regional group should have the honor of leading the attack on the armory. Any surviving Terminus agents have been volunteered.”

The old man returned Royce’s smile. “Yes, sir.”

Royce holstered his gun and looked directly at Janice Mason. “I’m ready to have that discussion about my role.”