Showdown at the Tidal Ruins

SHOWDOWN AT THE TIDAL RUINS

BY ADRIAN

Clarence Townsend awoke with a groan from his hospital bed. Although it had been six days since the incident he still ached all over. He was almost 100% at this point. He was still in pain, but his only remaining injuries were cosmetic. He hadn’t expected the healing process to take nearly as long as it did. It had been ages since he’d had such sever wounds. Clarence hung his legs over the side of the bed. His blood pressure had normalized days ago but he wanted to be sure he wouldn’t get dizzy or faint when attempting to step. He slowly put pressure on his right leg, then his left, and pushed himself up out of the bed. His legs were working at nearly full capacity and in a few more hours the little remaining rigidity he felt would be completely gone. Clarence was pleased at this development. Yesterday he could hardly command his legs to move properly and the day before they were so weak he couldn’t put his full body weight into them. Things were progressing quickly. He seemed to recall that the last time something had happened that left him in a similar state his legs were the last things to fully develop and mature. Still there was something bothering him. He walked over to the mirror in his room and saw exactly what he despised: scars. They were all over his face, torso, and arms. Had Clarence taken his pants off he would have seen scars and deformities all down his legs as well. He shuddered at the thought. His body was very good at restoring functionality as quickly as possible but at the cost of superficial appearance. The first time he had been shown what he looked like following the attempt on his life he had smashed his mirror in a blind rage. Now he just felt disgust at what he saw. He told himself it was okay though, in less than a full day he would be back to his old self and his injuries would be explained away in an Eden press conference as “superficial wounds” and he would be on his way back to his executive suite. He hoped that the glass would be swept out and new windows would be put in by the time he returned. As he mused about his future a noise interrupted his train of thought. It was some trendy pop song by a guy who sounded a lot like a woman. It was Clarence’s personal ringtone. He would be sure to change it back to a more professional ringtone when he left the hospital.

“Yes?” It was his boss. Eden’s CEO had been in phone contact with him throughout his recovery period so the call wasn’t entirely unexpected. “Almost fully recovered. Yes.” He paused for a moment. He was being given a new assignment. He had hoped to be involved in, maybe even in charge of, the hunt for Dave and the stolen AI. Of course he couldn’t forget the girl either. She had seen him for what he truly was so she certainly couldn’t be allowed to live. “What is it?” He didn’t want to hear what he was being told next. He was being reassigned to oversee a proto-seed, a city that would be receiving a shield soon or was in the process of attaining one, far to the southwest. “But….” He paused to compose himself. “Understood.”

The CEO hung up first as always. Clarence strutted to the other end of the room and picked up the corded hospital phone. He punched in a few numbers to get the hospital security. A woman’s voice answered and Clarence relayed orders to have a security escort sent into his room in 5 minutes. He hung up the phone. Since he was an executive at Eden, one of the major backers to this hospital, his request for security would be top priority. Once he got out of the hospital his own personal security team would take over. It didn’t matter to him though, it’s not like he needed security. He just did it to keep up appearances. On the topic of appearances Clarence looked into the mirror once more. He didn’t want to go out into public like this for a number of reasons outside of just looking terrible. He grabbed a mask he had nearby that was brought in on his first day in the hospital for just this occasion. Eden realized a long time ago that whenever Clarence suffered some horrific damage that it would be impossible to explain away the fact that days later he was perfectly fine so they got him everything he would need to cover up his skin should he ever take such serious punishment again. The mask itself was a plain white mask that covered his entire face minus the eyes. The mask had a blank expression on it and Clarence had a deep suspicion that his co-workers just gave him a crappy Halloween mask. He slid the mask over his face, he didn’t like it, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. A minute he heard a knock on the door.

“Come in.” He said. As the door swung open to reveal the hospital security he had requested.

 

A sharp cracking sound split the sky. The bullets found their mark and another hellhound fell to the ground in a heap of gore.

More shots were fired. This time the hound in question didn’t go down so easily. It growled and snorted as it continued to limp through the swampy waters toward its prey. Blood from its wounds began to seep into the murky water coloring it a crimson red. Two more carefully aimed shots exploded out of a high powered rifle and the beast fell silent.

Two men and a woman stood triumphant over the fallen beasts. This was far from their first encounter with these creatures. They were a risk that came with the job.

“They’re dead.” Will, a blond shaggy haired young man proclaimed. Hellhounds were known to play possum and catch many travelers unaware. In this case, however, the hounds had fresh brain holes.

“You’re welcome.” Nicole smirked and slung her rifle over her shoulder. She was easily the best shot of the three and had gotten the group out of stickier situations than this. It was her quick thinking that saved them from being a snack just a moment prior. The three of them were crossing the swamp, following Will to some location only he knew of. Nicole heard the first beast’s growl and was already pumping rounds into its heart by the time everyone else got their weapons at the ready. The other two weren’t much harder.

“Something’s wrong with this picture.” the second man said. He was older than the others by about two and a half decades. His words were interrupted by the howl of hounds in the distance.

“Hold that thought.” Will told him and dashed off, the others followed.

The three of them made it across the swamp to shallower waters. The water didn’t even reach the tops of their shoes anymore. They continued running for another eighth of a mile before Will slid through a small hole in the side of a crumbling building. The other two stopped, looked around, and used a nearby door instead.

Nicole and the older man came across Will sitting back against the exterior wall chuckling to himself in between breaths. They weren’t sure if he was enjoying himself or if nerves had finally gotten to him. The two of them looked for some dry land to sit and regain their breath. Nobody said a word until they had recovered. “As I was saying, something is wrong.” Will’s uncle, Chris Anderson, said after a couple minutes of silence. “Those animals were never this aggressive before. I’ve never seen them actively hunt humans in broad daylight.” He rubbed his forehead and consequently his receding hairline. The man was in his early-to-mid 40s and he was starting to show his age. His body was slowing down and he had spent the better part of the last decade developing a paunch.

Chris examined their gear. The three of them brought backpacks full of essential equipment: food, weaponry, fold-up tools for excavation, and in Chris’s case some explosives. There were times in the past where expeditions lasted days or weeks and they had to be prepared for that possibility. This ruin dive was different though. It was close to Tidal Pool so it shouldn’t be more than a day’s journey. The three of them all wore tan suits which covered their arms and legs. They were water resistance and designed to keep heat trapped inside.

“They shouldn’t be a problem anymore though.” Will said, brushing his blonde hair out of his eyes. Will was nineteen years old but had more knowledge and experience in the wasteland than most ruin divers twice his age. He had been on several expeditions in the wasteland with his father since he was thirteen and had become very good at what he did. Some would call him a raider but he thought himself an archaeologist instead. He had two reasons for this: one because he never attacked people who weren’t a threat to him and certainly never took their possessions; and two because at least seventy percent of the stuff he excavated he donated or sold to museums or political figures who would display the artifacts to the public. “It’s not much farther from here.” Will told the others. Will had a very keen sense of direction and always seemed to happen upon old world ruins of significance. When others asked what his secret was he never gave them a straight answer. It was for him and only him to know. “Let’s get going.” Will noticed he still had his pistol drawn so he holstered it.

“So what do we do now?” Nicole asked Will. Nicole Watson was nineteen years old with curly dark blonde hair that reached down to her shoulders. Her eyes were clear blue and her skin was almost pale in its complexion. She was standing up now; her feet were soaked with the water of the swamp. “Do you have a plan?” It was a question Nicole always asked. It was a ritual the two engaged in before entering any ruin. She had no reason to doubt Will. She had followed Will loyally ever since their fathers both died on an expedition many years ago.

 “Guess break’s over then.” Will stood up and looked down at Nicole. He was about six feet tall and she came in just above his shoulder line. “What we’re looking for is a building just a few clicks away.” Will always liked the word “click” to describe distance; he heard his dad use the phrase on many occasions. “It shouldn’t be much trouble to find. It probably won’t be much more dangerous from here on out. Wolves are probably the biggest thing we have to worry about and it looks like we’ve got that covered.” Will nodded toward the large rifles strapped to Nicole and Chris’s backs. He patted Nicole on the back before leaving the room followed closely by Nicole.

 Chris got to his feet and really started looking around the room for the first time. He had already figured out they were in a building complex of some sort. A military base perhaps? He couldn’t know for sure. This room appeared to be the only one left intact and further exploration into the building was made impossible with the collapse of the northern wall.

 “I think it’s pretty clear by now that this place wasn’t always a swamp.” Chris told the others as he joined them outside the building. “I’d assume that the land was flooded as a result of the cataclysm.” The cataclysm was the reason he had gotten into this trade in the first place. His passion was learning about the event and its effects on the world itself, especially since there’s so little information on what truly transpired back then. It was that passion that drove him to follow his brother into the trade when they were growing up.

“That would make sense.” Will replied trying not to sound like he was just blowing him off. His uncle made a lot of very keen observations and was very good at what he did, but sometimes Will felt like he was getting fed information that wasn’t critical to the task at hand. Still, Will respected what his uncle had to say. He knew that without his uncle’s guidance and knowledge he would have died a long time ago. Or worse, he’d be forced to get a desk job. Chris believed Will was too focused on the treasure hunting aspect of their excavations and not focused enough on the discovery of new knowledge. He chalked this up to Will being too young and assumed he would grow out of it. “Come on this way, it’s not much farther now.” Will motioned for them to follow and they fell in line behind him.

The three of them strolled through the complex. As they walked they saw what little remained of the place. The buildings had suffered catastrophic water damage brought on by whatever tidal event or tsunami hit the region long ago. There were still a few left standing in very poor condition, their purpose long since lost in time. A long time ago Chris would have wanted to explore each building he could possibly get inside of. With Will leading them to the most important finds, however, he no longer had to worry that he was missing any hidden discoveries.

Will stopped and turned to the others. “We’re here.”

 

“Rebuilding efforts on the tower are resuming ahead of schedule with significantly increased security around the construction site. Police have determined the identities of two of the terrorists involved in the attack. One: a college professor working at the Eden Educational Research Institute. He has been detained for questioning. The second terrorist is a woman named Jessica Lawson who also worked for the EERI. We are currently cooperating with police within the city and across the country in order to identify and apprehend known or suspected threats associated with the two remaining terrorists. Clarence Townsend, an executive of Eden industries who was injured in the attack, is expected to make a full recovery. He has been reassigned to a safer position in Tidal Pool while we determine if the attackers were targeting him….”

Clarence turned off the video screen by chucking the remote at it. It had been three weeks since he left the hospital to be reassigned here. He hated it. The building he was in was only five stories tall and his word didn’t carry nearly as much weight here in this city as it did in Bastion. The city’s governor and most of its representative body had voted in favor of turning the city into a seed with Eden’s help, but there were still pockets of resistance and naysayers throughout the city. Clarence couldn’t help but feel very common and ordinary as opposed to his previous position in Bastion where he was like a king. Well, maybe not that important, a prince perhaps? Still he had to make the most of it. His punishment couldn’t last forever and if he did well in developing this proto-seed and bringing it into the fold then maybe they’d let him come back to Bastion.

“You called, sir?” Clarence had hit a button to summon his assistant. His assistant’s name was Jeffery Cross. He was a small man, a little under five and a half feet. Brown eyes, brown hair, tan skin. He looked very generic to Clarence and he would have had trouble picking the man out of a crowd of one.

“Bring me another TV.” He told Jeffery without making eye contact. “And take this one out of here while you’re at it.”

“Right away sir.” Jeffery obeyed Clarence’s orders. Clarence liked that about Jeffery. He always did everything he was told and he was always quick to kiss Clarence’s ass. A few minutes later Jeffery brought in a new TV. Clarence ushered him out the room and turned the new TV on.

“Good question. Police are still looking into what, if anything, was taken from the EERI. The investigation is ongoing. Anyone who has any information on the suspects should immediately report this information to police. There is a reward….”

“I really hate her.” Clarence muttered to himself. He had been briefed about the cover story in passing but Ellen Snow, the PR representative, always filled in the details herself. “Why am I still watching this crap?” He realized he had been affected by the woman’s silver tongue and it pissed him off. A lot of people were affected by her charm, and she had many admirers. Clarence hated that about her. But it was more than just hatred of her skills; he hated her as a person. She always spoke down to him when they conversed. Clarence made the decision to call in his personal assistant to have him take the TV away again.

“Would you like anything else, sir?”

“That’s it.” Clarence waved him out of the room and began looking at the various papers on his desk. He had near total control of the operation here in Tidal Pool. Of course, he didn’t do any of the leg work himself unless it was an extreme situation. He spent several hours of every day reading various reports on what was being done yesterday, today, tomorrow, this week, and this month. Anything he needed to change or correct he placed in a separate file and reviewed later in the day. He was fortunate that the project was going smoothly and well ahead of schedule and most of his decisions didn’t have an immediate time limit. Since he lived in the building he had all 24 hours of the day to devote to his work. This was the extent of most of his days and for the past three weeks there were only a few minor variations or interruptions in this routine.

“Mr. Townsend you have a phone call on line one.” Clarence picked up the phone and was met with a man’s deep voice.

“Private line.” Clarence hung up. He first pressed both Ctrl buttons on his keyboard at the same time, activating the electronic lock on the entrance. After that was done he proceeded toward the back of his executive suite, behind his desk, toward his private room. He entered a 4-digit code into the keypad and opened the door after the lock had disengaged.

His room was quite small by his normal standards of living but he didn’t mind too much. He got all of his food delivered and he had entertainment in his office or down the block if he needed it. All he had in this room was a bed, a lamp on an end table, and a secure phone. Since he was the only one who ever went into this room it was impervious to being bugged. Clarence picked up the phone that had been flashing to let him know he had an incoming call.

“What do you need?” Clarence said and was met with the same voice he had heard earlier. He suspected the man speaking to him was Ivan Kuschner, another executive, but he wasn’t entirely sure.

“I was just contacted by the big boss himself. We have a situation we need you to investigate. The computer system of one of our old labs has suddenly come online and attempted to reconnect to Eden’s servers. We don’t know who or what caused this. It could just be a glitch, but we can’t risk that it’s the work of our enemies. The fact that this is happening at the genesis of our new seed is also alarming. I do not believe this is a mere coincidence. You’re to go to the lab yourself, wipe out everyone there, and acquire or destroy the artifact and all the research pertaining to it.” He told Clarence the coordinates and briefly allowed any additional questions. Clarence had none. The man on the other end of the phone hung up and so did Clarence.

Clarence adjusted his tie, stepped out of his room, and pressed the intercom button on his desk. “Susan hold all my calls for this afternoon, I’m going to step out for a bit.”

 

“Well I’ll be damned.” Chris said to Will. He and Nicole had both begun to doubt there was anything important in the office building they had been rummaging around in for the past hour. The building’s only noticeable difference from any of the other structures they had seen thus far seemed to be the fact that this place was still mostly intact. Otherwise it was just a boring office environment with some dilapidated cubicles and some ruined offices.

“Told ya there was something here.” Will beamed at the door he had discovered behind a fake wall. He had started to think he was wrong in coming to this place and he was delighted to know that wading through disgusting swamp water for hours wasn’t all for nothing. The door that stood before him seemed out of place in the office environment. Not just the fact that it was hiding behind some drywall in a corner room but because the door was smooth, shiny, dense metal. It was sealed with an electronic lock and there was a keypad placed where the knob would have been.

“So what’s the password?” Nicole asked, knowing Will didn’t have the answer to the question. She was upset with him because she felt like she just wasted an hour of her life searching a boring office building only to find a door they couldn’t open. Diving into the remains of the old world was her least favorite part of what the three of them did together. She often wondered why she was doing this at all. Maybe it was because she knew Will had a thing for her, which was true. Or perhaps it was because she had a thing for him, which was also true. Then again she also had a thing for Bret, Jack, Ben, Stephen, and Bruce. Maybe it was because of their fathers’ shared past or their own shared past but whatever it was that kept her here she seriously considered getting an office job and calling it quits. Then again, she always considered that every single time and she was still here, several years later.

“Good question….” Will could feel Nicole staring a hole in the back of his head. He had gotten this far but he had no idea how he was going to bust his way into this door. He leaned in and examined the still-functioning keypad. He wanted to look like he was gaining some kind of meaningful information from doing this but he was really just buying time. He started poking buttons, very carefully and very precisely as if to give the illusion that he was divining some kind of solution from nothingness. He punched his forth number and hit enter. BEEP! Invalid password.

“Well… crap. I guess it would really help if someone would come along and just enter the password for us, huh?” he scratched his head and started punching in another code. “I guess we could just try all of the combinations possible? That’s only, what, 10,000 possibilities?” BEEP! Invalid password.

That wasn't good. The display read "one attempt remaining". Will had made a mistake in the past in assuming an old security system was offline. He and his dad ran into half a dozen security robots. There was no telling what would happen if he failed to correctly enter this code.

“Alright stand back.” Chris pushed Will out of the way and retrieved something from his backpack. He pulled out several shape-charges and began placing them in the door frame. Chris hated destroying old world ruins but he realized that sometimes it was a necessary evil.

“What would we do without you?” Will stood next to Nicole at the door to the room, ready to exit.

“We’d probably end up staring at a door for four hours like a bunch of idiots, trying to guess the password of a keypad that hasn’t been used in decades.” Nicole responded.

“Alright everybody clear.” Chris set the charges and joined the others in quickly exiting the room and putting the door between themselves and the explosives. They covered their ears and a moment later they heard it. BOOM! In almost the same instant they heard the noise of the metal door caving inward and being forced out of its frame

The three of them hurried inside the room to see what they had uncovered. Behind the door was a flight of stairs, now covered in bits of metal and broken door. The stairs themselves were made of a sterile-looking metal, clearly built to last. They seemed to go down pretty far before turning a corner and disappearing into the structure below.

 

“Yes I am absolutely sure about this.” Jeffery Cross, Clarence Townsend’s personal assistant, spoke into the phone. “Something big is going down. He took a call in his private room and when he came out he cancelled all his appointments for the day and left without telling anyone where he was going.” Jeffery heard conversing on the other end of the line before his associate responded.

 “I understand that. I know you can’t spare a lot of resources. Yes. But I believe this is important. He’s up to something and right now he’s all alone. Yes that’s right; no security guards were seen leaving with him. Yes. This is an opportunity we can’t miss.” More talking on the other end before another voice, this time a woman, spoke to him.

 “Yes. Yes, he’s alone. I don’t know. That’s all the information I have. We can track him. Yes, I planted it just last week. He hasn’t found it yet. Alright, I’ll remain here then and make the proper arrangements.”

 

Chris and Will had walked into the center of the room when the security system engaged. Tiles in the ceiling opened up to reveal two turrets ready to descend and rip the two of them apart. Nicole had lagged behind and was just coming down the stairs when the turrets opened fire. Will and Chris had never run so fast in their life.

An over-stuffed couch, a wooden table, and three chairs were all reduced to debris as the turrets aim chased the two men across the room. They dove behind a pile of large overturned desks on the opposite side of the room and then everything went silent.

“We just cannot catch a break can we?” Will remarked, heart pounding and out of breath. “Why did they stop?”

“I’m not sure.” Chris responded even more out of breath. He swore he would work on his cardio if they made it out of this. He looked around the room a moment to get his bearings. “I think we did catch a break.” Chris pointed to the ceiling. Will looked at what his uncle was pointing at. A ceiling tile was jammed half-open. The tile twitched and tried in vain to open fully.

“Another turret?”

“Possibly, I think there’s another in the other corner too. This side of the room didn’t descend it seems.”

“Lucky us.”

“I wouldn’t call being trapped by automatic turrets that spray hundreds of bullets a second to be lucky.” Chris began checking through his gear to see what he had. “Why did they stop, I wonder?”

“Beats me. Maybe we’re out of their sensor range?”

“Could be… hmmmm.” Chris wracked his brain coming up with something that could get them out of this. “Okay I think I have a plan. I don’t like it but it just might work.”

Then the power went out, plunging them into darkness and disabling the security.

“Good plan.” Will smiled.

 

Clarence’s hover car touched down in the ruins of the old Eden base. To him, a hover car was the best way to go through the wasteland. He wasn’t afraid of what he would run into out here, but instead he was rather bored by the large amounts of time it took to go through the wastes in an APC. He stepped out of his car and looked around. What had once been a rather large Eden base with several massive structures and a total population of about 3500 people had long since been reduced to a non-functioning piece of junk. It was hard to believe this used to be twenty miles from civilization.

There had been a breach into the main laboratory and the security system had detected this and attempted to send a report of the incident. Clarence was surprised the system was still operational after all this time. On a second look not all the security systems were online. Clarence remembered that there were sirens that were supposed to go off in the event of a security breach. In the past these sirens would alert the entire base to the intrusion and a battalion of armed guards would rush to the location of the breach. There were also a few robot drones that were supposed to spring into action and since he didn’t see any movement he concluded that they went offline with the rest of the facility after the region was engulfed by a tsunami.

Clarence saw no signs of any kind of vehicle. Whatever raiders had come here must have come on foot or they hid their vehicle out of sight. Perhaps they were already gone? If they were gone then chances were they had already taken the artifact. He would have to check the lab to confirm that. Of course that wasn’t the only option. Clarence recalled that, although the lab itself had never been breached; in the event it had been the automatic defense would kick in and shred everyone down in the hidden basement. Scientists were considered far more expendable than the artifact or any of the research in the lab. Clarence’s first objective, then, was to shut off those defense systems. He didn’t want to go through the hassle of reforming himself again.

He looked around the compound for intruders, but found nothing. He eventually came to the conclusion that in order to shut the system down he would have to break it apart. He was fortunate, then, that he brought with him enough explosives to level the whole base.

 

Will waved his hand in front of the turret as if it were a human starring off into space. Well, his hand wasn’t full of holes. That was a welcome sign. Will was able to breathe a sigh of relief for just a moment. He slumped back against the nearby wall and cracked a smile.

Chris looked at Will in confusion. “What are you so damn happy about?” His heart was beating and he was drenched in sweat. He had enough adrenaline in his body that he felt like he could run twenty miles nonstop. At the same time he felt tired. Like he had been doing this shit for too long and he just needed a nice long nap.

“Oh I was just thinking about how I said that the hellhounds were the worst of it.”

Chris’s confusion turned to a frown. He didn’t find their near death experience nearly as amusing. He pulled out a flashlight and clicked it on. “Come on, let’s just go.”

Chris’s tone was cross but Will paid it no mind. “Mind if I tempt fate again and say that was the worst of it?” He got to his feet and pulled out a flashlight, still smiling. What once looked like a cozy break room now looked like a warzone. A turret hung limply from both corners opposite to them. There were jammed tiles on their side of the room, preventing the turrets from descending. Good thing too. Everything looked like it was going their way.

“Is it… over?” Nicole’s voice was meek. She emerged from her hiding spot up the stairs. She had managed to escape the room when the guns descended. She had thought about fleeing but at the same time she didn’t want to leave her two companions.

“I think so.” Will ran his light over the two turrets once more. He was more than a little paranoid that their good fortune would run out and the turrets would come back online at any moment. “Well that’s a relief. Glad the power went out when it did.” Directly in front of them, at the far end of the room, was another door with a keypad, the same as the last door only with a handle this time. “Pretty security conscience around here.” Will said upon seeing the keypad.

“Come on, let’s hurry up and finish up and get out of here as quickly as possible. I don’t want to be here any longer than we need to be.” Chris had walked to the door with the keypad. The power was out and the keypad no longer worked, not that he had the code to begin with. He had a bad feeling about all of this. Why was the power out?

“It’s a good thing the turrets ate up all the remaining energy. We would’ve been toast otherwise.” Will had decided that was the best explanation for the power going out. Chris wasn’t so sure. He tried to put it out of his mind.

“Alright stand clear.” He told them, having set up the explosive charge while he thought.

BOOM! The door didn’t blow off its hinges this time but a small hole was formed where the handle used to be. The door slowly swung open. The three of them pressed onward through the door. They ran their lights across the room. It was a decent sized space. It wasn’t as big as the room they had just been in but it could have easily fit ten people inside with enough space for whatever work they would need to do. Along the walls were tables lined with computers and papers and a bunch of other junk. There were some filing cabinets and some miscellaneous office supplies scattered about. Then they spotted another door with a keypad attached.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Will shined his light on the door so the others knew what he was talking about. They all collectively sighed and readied the explosives. BOOM! It was done. This room was significantly smaller than the previous one; it looked much like a small storage closet except there weren’t any brooms. Will scanned the room quickly in case there were any more locked doors they’d have to blow through. There weren’t. This was the end of the line.

 

Two APCs tore across the terrain. They had been following the tracer placed in Clarence Townsend’s hover car. Their mission was simple: assassinate Eden Executive Clarence Townsend. These men and women called themselves Freedom Fighters, with many who would agree with them. Eden called them terrorists, and even more people would agree with that statement. The fact that Clarence left without a security detail and went to an undisclosed remote location made it an ideal time to hit him. After his death they would be one step closer to liberating Tidal Pool and advancing their plan to destroy Eden. The APCs came to a stop about a half-mile away. To draw less attention the nine operatives would hike the rest of the way.

 

In the center of the room there was a tall closed glass cylindrical container. Enclosed within was a palm-sized stone pendant held up by a glass stand. The pendant was about an inch in thickness and was octagonal in shape. There were symbols that Will had never seen before carved into the pendant. The three of them immediately realized they could probably get a decent price for it, if nothing else. Will shined his light at the base of the cylinder and saw another, smaller, keypad.

“Son of a bitch.” His words were punctuated by the sound of glass shattering.

“Yeah, we’re not doing that anymore.” Chris said, the butt of his rifle planted into the now shattered glass container. “Grab it and let’s go.”

 

Clarence heard a loud crashing sound coming from below as he stepped over the wreckage of what was supposed to be the entrance to the old lab. Great, the intruders were still here. But now what should he do? He thought about this as he took one deliberate step after another. He could set the explosive charges and bury them and any information this facility had in a pile of rubble. That would have been too easy. It wouldn’t have been any fun either. After the mishap with Dave and the girl he really needed a solid win here; something to take the edge off. He resolved to kill the intruders himself. He was glad the security didn’t kill them. Now he had a choice to make, should he go and approach them in this form or should he change now and greet them as something more monstrous. He made it to the bottom of the stairs and he saw them. Three of them. Clarence smiled, he approached the three of them at a leisurely pace. He opened his mouth to taunt them. Then he got shot in the face.

 

Will pocketed the stone pendant. It looked to his Chris like something that was less of an old world relic and more something they would find in the ancient world. He had his suspicions about what the symbols of the amulet were. He wanted to do a little digging into cuneiform script when they got back. Will swore he saw it glow a very dim white, but neither Chris nor Nicole saw it when he asked them.

“Anything else?” Chris was looking around the room at a quickened pace. His flashlight moved from one object to the next, only focusing on one specific point for a couple seconds. “Looks clear to me.” He would have loved to grab some files to figure out what was going on down here. It would be great to take a breath and look around the place but he didn’t want to stay any longer than he had to, a rarity for him. He feared that the power would turn back on and they wouldn’t be so lucky in evading the turrets next time.

They exited the lab and went back to the possible break room. Will’s eyes had adjusted to the low light levels by now, being able to just barely make out the silhouette of a suit standing at the base of the stairs. Chris was the first to fire.

He fired round after round after round, splitting the air. Empty cartridges fell to the ground before him as he depleted his entire magazine into the man in the suit. Chris had two theories at the moment: either there was a robotic security drone wearing a suit, or Satan had decided, for whatever reason, to come after them. He realized those weren’t the most logically sound theories, but he was sure that whatever was in that suit meant to kill them, just like everything else in this place.

The man in the suit shrieked after getting hit in the face and taking several more rounds to the chest. The man’s shriek turned into a horrific gurgle as the final bullet found his neck. He hit the floor with a loud painful thud. Will and his companions stood motionless for a moment. Chris still had the weapon raised and aimed at the strange man. The man in the suit lay motionless. Chris slowly relaxed and the three breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Yeah so guys I’m thinking…” Will began. Chris motioned the others to proceed up the staircase and past the man in the suit. Will continued “…screw this place.” Nicole nodded in agreement and the three of them made for the stairs. Chris didn’t even make it to the fourth step before he heard Will’s voice stop him. “Uh… guys.” The supposedly dead man’s hand grasped Will’s ankle tight. “Oh shit!” he exclaimed as the man stood up, his facial wounds were already starting to close.

Clarence ripped the young man off his feet. The youth went head over heels in the air and Clarence caught him by the throat with his right hand. The boy’s legs kicked at air, and scrawny arms clawed at Clarence’s suit as the executive tightened his grip. A girl looked on in terror from a few stairs above. She reached for a weapon, but Clarence was faster. He grabbed the girl with his left hand and hurled her up the stairs at the man who’d shot him. The collision knocked the old man flat on his back, driving the wind out of him. If Clarence wasn’t mistaken, he heard the distinct crack of a few ribs breaking. It had been weeks since Clarence felt this alive. It was almost worth ruining a $1600 suit. Clarence closed his right hand tighter. The boy’s eyes bulged. Clarence wondered if he could make them pop. “I sincerely hope you enjoyed your little raid. Was it a nice way to end your life?” His voice started getting deeper, he was starting to change. “Any last words?”

“Ghkttp ghk” The boy’s throat was closed off, he couldn’t speak a word.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Clarence said, his smirk growing. His eyes were black. Veins were now large and very visible across his face. Clarence maneuvered the boy into position to be a human shield. The younger man’s face was blue now. Clarence opted to suffocate his victim rather than simply breaking his neck.  Nothing would bring him greater joy than to feel the boy’s life leaving his body gasp by painful gasp.

A moment later Clarence found himself thrown to the floor at a high velocity. He groaned as he felt his spine make contact with the hard tile floor. What just happened? Clarence sat up and found the boy had also been flung to the opposite side of the room. Before Clarence could get to his feet he realized the girl on the stairwell had recovered. She took the opportunity to pepper him with bullets.

 

“Come on let’s go!” The two ran over and grabbed a dazed Will by the arms. Together they half-carried and half-dragged Will up the stairs and out of the following room. “If you guys don’t have any objections.” Chris said as he turned off his flashlight and pulled out all the shape charges he had left. “I’m going to try and bury this thing.” He started planting the explosives but then he noticed that bombs had already been set in place. “That is a lot of C4.” He noted, putting the shape charges back into his pack.

“That was definitely the worst thing to happen to us. It should be smooth sailing from here on out,” Will exhaustedly told the others. He still had no idea what had happened or how he and the monster ended up separated. Chris wasn’t paying attention at all and he continued to set up the bombs to a timer.

“Okay the timer is set so we should probably….” He was cut off.

“Freeze!” A woman’s voice shouted from down the hall.

“Oh come on!” Will shouted

“Are you ever tired of being wrong?” Nicole muttered.

“We found someone here.” Someone else, a man, mumbled. Will saw he had some kind of comlink that he was talking into.

“Hands where we can see them!” the woman shouted at them. Will and Nicole spotted three of them down the hallway. They all had ether rifles and they were all wearing the same yellow patch on their left arms. All three of the armed strangers had a helmet with a little dropdown visor attached. The three soldiers had their weapons raised as they cautiously approached Will and the others. “Hands where we can see them right now! I won’t ask a third time!” Chris, who was facing away from them, was the first to raise his hands. Will and Nicole followed suit. “On your feet!” They did as they said. The soldiers moved toward them, two men and one woman.

“No, executive Townsend is not among them.” The man said into his comlink while the other two stripped Nicole and Chris of their weapons. “Understood. Hey you three. Identify yourselves.”

 Chris knew the wrong answer was probably going to get them all bullets in the head. He doubted the truth would work. An angry half-groan half-roar erupted from behind Will and the others before they could identify themselves.

“Oh Jesus he’s still alive?” Will said, looking over his shoulder into the room behind him.

“Who?”

“This guy in a suit.”

“Guy in a suit? Clarence Townsend?”

“Well he didn’t exactly have a name badge on and there wasn’t a lot of small talk in between him trying to strangle me and getting shot in the face and back.”

“Quit being a smart ass.” The woman interjected.

“That’ll be the day…” mumbled Nicole.

“Shot in the face? You shot a guy in a suit in the face?” The man with the comlink wasn’t sure how to take that news in tandem with the noise he had just heard. “Alright stand back.” The man told the Will and his friends. He turned to the other man on his squad. “Call it in.” He tossed the comlink to his squadmate. “Tell Squad Leader Gallows that we think we located executive Townsend. Watch these three too. He may want them for questioning.” He then turned to the woman. “You’re with me.”

The two walked towards the staircase, weapons at the ready. They heard the sounds of angry growling and cursing now. The voice was deep and almost hoarse. It was getting closer too, the two pointed their weapons, fingers on the triggers. The sound stopped. They had yet to see anything emerge from the staircase. Moments passed by without anything happening. Chris was getting nervous, the bombs were still going to level the room and they were definitely in the blast radius. Then a door flew out of the stairwell.

 

Clarence moved quickly up the stairs, covering the distance between himself and his prey. He had spotted two figures in the darkness and assumed they were his previous opponents. He didn’t want to give them another chance to get the drop on him so he took the initiative; the door did exactly what he had intended. The first figure was hit square in the head. The full weight of the steel door collided with the man’s skull. If the brain trauma didn’t kill him then his neck snapping surely did. The other figure had turned to see what had just happened and by the time her head had turned back around Clarence was already upon her. Clarence was done messing around. He grabbed both sides of her head and with all his strength twisted it quickly, breaking the woman’s neck and killing him.

The s second man opened fire from the doorway. Clarence took several ether rounds to the chest. He wailed in pain and pulled the man’s dead comrade into the line of fire to protect himself. The man hesitated momentarily, sentimental fool. That was all the time Clarence needed to fling the corpse at him.

“Now seems like a good time to go!” Will shouted at his two allies, who quickly followed him. The final squadmember meanwhile struggled to get the deadweight of her friend off of her body. Clarence had already begun to regenerate; the holes in his chest were slowly closing up. He limped over to the downed man and pressed his knee into his chest, making it impossible for his lungs to re-inflate. Clarence looked around the room for his original victims but saw that they had run away. He would have to cut his fun short in order to make sure they did not escape. He reached down and put his hands around the man’s throat with the intent of crushing his trachea. Then the bombs went off.

 

Will and the others were already down the hall, around the corner, and hiding inside of one of the rooms when the bombs went off. The room they were in was very moldy and the few chairs and desks left were rotted. The room was about 15 x 17 square feet and there was one window on the wall opposite the door, about six and a half feet up. The blast was painfully loud and they were certain that everyone else in the region would have heard it.

“Okay so, we need a plan. Who has a plan?” Nicole asked the two of them.

“I think we’re screwed.” Chris replied trying to run through all the options in his head. Nicole began pacing back and forth, seriously regretting her decision to come on yet another expedition headed by Will. “Okay what do we got? Weapons? Anything?” Will produced the silver pistol, which he he had managed to recover earlier and showed it to his uncle.

“That’s all?” Chris asked.

Will nodded. Chris didn’t like their chances. He didn’t want to say anything to insult Will or his pistol but the only way he would ever be able to effectively use that would be at close range. Against guys with automatic weapons that was suicide.

“Guys I think I have a solution.” Will spoke up. “Alright so this might sound crazy but…” he didn’t know how to break the news to them. “Well… back there in the lab. You know when that monster man was choking me?”

“Out with it.” Nicole quickly became impatient with Will and his story.

“Well I think I threw him with my mind.” Nicole just stared at him for a moment wondering if there was a punchline coming up.

“This isn’t a time for jokes Will.” She said sternly.

“I’m not joking! We were both flung across the room. I totally did that with my brain! I can get us to safety with my super powers!”

“I saw him throw you. Because that’s what actually happened. But we can go ahead and call your ‘super powers save the day’ plan C, okay?”

“Okay that’s enough out of you two.” Chris opened the door and quickly scouted the hallway. The coast was clear. “Okay quick question, anyone remember where the exits were?”

 

Clarence had finally come to. He groaned, and tried in vain to get to his feet. He crawled around for a moment, blood smearing the floors, before falling flat again. What happened? It took him a moment to realize he had just been thrown clear down the hall from where he had been standing minutes earlier. His explosives, they must have gone off early. That takes care of the objective of wasting the lab. Now he just needed to eliminate the intruders. Currently he wasn’t in any real position to do that.

He had suffered brain damage for starters. The explosion itself combined with landing directly on his head following his trip down the hallway left him with some pretty serious injuries. He was lucky in the sense that had the damage been worse, his regeneration and his return to consciousness would have taken hours instead of minutes. His body was in the process of mending his vital organs and restoring his legs’ functionality. He was grateful he couldn’t feel the agony of having multiple-organ damage as his body had since released endorphins to kill the pain. His only wish was that his body would release the precious painkillers before he got hurt. He was still losing too much blood. Clarence laid still and pretended to be dead. His body would recover enough to be useable again very soon.

 

“That was a horrible idea!” Will shouted, dragging his uncle with Nicole’s help away from what looked to him like an emergency exit.

“Thanks for the update! I’m fine by the way!” Chris shouted back through gritted teeth, one hand clenching the other to stop the bleeding.

“I don’t suppose you have another plan then?”

“Nope. That was my plan. Your turn to come up with something.” They ducked into an office and Chris got to his feet. His left leg and left arm got clipped. He had been shot before but he wasn’t sure he had ever been shot by an ether rifle. He would have remembered pain this severe.

“Well we know they have the exits locked down. Nicole I don’t suppose you have a plan?” She didn’t respond. “Okay then. Any idea how long before they storm in here?”

“No idea.” Chris was taking short, shallow breaths and trying, without success, to will his pain away. “We don’t even know how many we’re dealing with. For all we know this whole place is crawling with them.”

The situation looked hopeless to Will. Then he remembered the pendant he found in the basement. He grabbed it from his pocket and looked around the room. There were some pieces of wood that might have long ago been a table sitting in the corner of the room. Will placed the pendant in his hand and pointed it toward the planks of soggy wood. He focused as hard as he could on the wood, his hand was shaking and his face was starting to turn red. Nothing happened.

“What are you doing?” Nicole looked at him like he was an idiot.

“…nothing. I’m not doing anything.” Will slipped the pendant back into his pocket. “I’m out of ideas now.”

 

“Move in on my mark.” The sound of the squad leader came in loud and clear over the comlink. Ryan Slater was one of the Freedom Fighters and he was ready to storm the building and kick some ass and take some names. He was pumped up full of adrenaline and he truly believed that any raider, security bot, monster, or whatever would not stand a chance when it went toe-to-toe with him. “Go!” And like that Slater had kicked the door in and had already dashed well ahead of his two squad mates.

Despite being part of the Freedom Fighters and their quest to liberate the world from Eden’s greedy, malevolent grasp, he had never ever been given a chance to shoot someone. Slater had been on many supply raids, and had been involved in a number of altercations with enemy combatants. Still, despite all of that he had never been given his chance and today he had vowed to finally step up to the plate.

He was way ahead of his squad mates. They were shouting at him to come back but he didn’t care. He ran forward, kicking in doors, briefly peering into the rooms, and moving on. He didn’t have time to waste meticulously searching the building, he had glory to gain. He ran forward, his squad mates rushed to cover him but they were still several paces behind. He rounded the corner and then he came face-to-face with the most horrible thing he could have thought up. A tall man with blond hair towered above him. His eyes were an endless void and his face was twisted with veins. His body was writhing, squirming beneath his bloody suit. The man stared down at him and he smiled.

At that moment Ryan Slater froze. What was he even doing here? He wasn’t a soldier. He was just some guy who didn’t know what he was getting into when he signed up. He shouldn’t be there right now, staring down a monster. The horror said something to him; his brain couldn’t process it. When his squad mates finally rounded the corner he was already gone.

 

“Report! What’s going on down there?” Will and the others heard a voice coming from down the hall. He couldn’t tell how many there were but it really didn’t matter. Any number of enemies would be more than a match for the three of them in their current condition. Then a miracle happened, he heard them running away from their current position. After a brief moment he peeked down the hall way, nothing.

“I think they’re gone.” Will told the others.

“That doesn’t make sense why would they just leave?” Nicole asked. Will shrugged his shoulders.

“The monster in the business suit.” Chris told them.

“You think so?”

“Well we did shoot him in the face and he came back from that.”

“I thought the explosion would have gotten him though. What the hell is it going to take to get rid of him?” Will pondered.

“Not our problem.” Chris took the pistol from Will and handed it to Nicole. “You’ll probably make the best use of this. I suggest while these military guys and the monster fight each other we slip out. I’d rather not run into either of them again.”

“Or I guess in your case, hobble into them,” Will chimed in.

“Not the time. Will.”

“You’re right, you’re right.” He opened the door. “Shall we?”

They made their way cautiously down the hallway. Any time there were intersecting hallways or turns they made sure to take a peek before continuing. They found the front entrance without any further confrontations. They saw a hover car parked nearby that they could use to make their getaway.

“At least they were nice enough to leave us a car to escape in.” Will said as they made their way toward the car. The three of them made their way out across the open ground. The three of them kept their eyes peeled for any hostiles. If there were any they couldn’t really do much about it anyway.

As they walked away they heard several loud thumping noises. Will turned to look at the building to see dust getting knocked loose from one of the walls. Cracks were beginning to form with each successive thump and the wall was starting to strain outwards.

“Um guys…” Will pointed out the cracks even though he really didn’t need to, Nicole and Chris had both already seen it. After another dull thud the wall finally gave way and the raw meat that used to be a man’s body fell through the newly formed hole. Will could only guess as to the condition of his bones. Then he looked up and in the doorway he saw the monster in the bloody suit. The beast had already spotted them.

“I’m glad I found you again.” He called out in his raspy voice. He smiled when he noticed they didn’t have their rifles with them.

“We have some of the shittiest luck.” Will muttered to the others. Nicole had already drawn the pistol and lined Clarence up in her sights. Will propped up his uncle. A shot echoed through the marsh. Blood and blue energy burst out of Clarence’s face. He collapsed forward, face-planting the ground.

“Oh… shit.” Nicole told them.

“Freeze!” A male voice shouted at them. Three more Freedom Fighters poured from the hole in the wall. Their weapons were raised and they were barking commands. “Put down the weapon!” One shouted. “Hands up!” another screamed. The third soldier was shouting orders at the other two and all three of them were yelling at the same time.

Nicole raised her hands and the pistol in surrender. The Freedom Fighters kept shouting orders at them. “Alright! Alright!” she shouted at them and went to drop the pistol. Clarence had already healed from his wound and had risen from the ground behind the Freedom Fighters. Nicole, perhaps on instinct, aimed her pistol and fired several shots at Clarence.

“Hostile reengaging!” One of them shouted, unaware of the monster behind him. He fired on Nicole. Nicole returned shots and killed the first man. His allies, however, had only taken a quick moment to join in the fray. Nicole got off two more shots, wounding one of them before she was struck several times in the stomach. She collapsed to the ground, blood pouring out of her body at an alarming rate.

Will ran to her aid with Chris hobbling as quickly as he could behind him. The squad leader was the only man standing now, his comrade had collapsed. He lined Will up in his sights and pulled the trigger. Bright blue ether erupted from the rifle with malicious intent. Chris tackled Will him and managed to save Will’s life at the cost of his own.

Will wasn’t quite processing all the information that the world had just fed him. He saw Nicole crumple to the ground and now he was pinned underneath his uncle whose warm fresh blood was soaking through his shirt. He wasn’t sure what to do or how to do it. His brain had decided that the best option at the moment was to shut down entirely.

 

Clarence walked over to where the boy lay. He had disposed of the rebels; a particularly satisfying accomplishment. He checked to make sure the two raiders were dead. The girl was definitely dead and her pulse reflected that. A shame she did not suffer more. When he came over to where the two men were he noticed the younger man was still alive. He grinned, at least he would get some degree of revenge for the agony they had put him through for what should have been a very simple job.

“Looks like it’s your lucky day kid.” he sneered. “You won’t have to mourn the dead.” Clarence cracked his knuckles and put his foot over the two of them just to make sure he was absolutely pinned.

Hot tears streamed down Will’s face as he came to terms with the situation. The world had just ended. It felt like he had been hit by a semi-truck but was still painfully alive. He thought about letting it end here. Embracing nothingness would be easier..

The beast was taunting him now. He was taking his time. He placed his hand over Will’s throat and began to compress his trachea. Will’s muscles tightened as he resisted, realizing that dying here meant his uncle died to protect him for nothing. The monster let out a laugh as Will struggled in vain to forcibly topple him.

Will wanted to scream out in frustration. His uncle had taken the bullet meant for him. For what? Just a few more minutes of torture. The last thing he was going to see and hear was this bastard in the suit, laughing over him and his dead friends and family. His thoughts briefly turned to the medallion. That piece of junk. He was an idiot to believe it was more than an antique. He silently cursed the object. His arms felt weak and tired as he tried in vain to remove his restraints. His head felt like it was about to pop off like a cork. As the pressure in his head escalated he felt something else. A new sensation, almost like strain, except the sensation wasn’t attached to his physical body. He wasn’t sure what was happening but he felt as though he were pushing against a very large heavy object. As he struggled against the monster’s weight he could feel something budge, yet he remained pinned to the ground. He put all his force into it and pushed as hard as he possibly could. His arms fell limply to his sides, they felt rubbery and weak. Even with his body completely useless to him, the object moved. A moment later he registered what it was. He had reached out and grasped something beyond his physical self. He saw it first in his periphery. The hover car was moving.

 

“Don’t worry. It’ll all be over soon enough.” Clarence chuckled. Clarence looked up just in time to see his hover car flying toward him without any driver. “What t-…” the car hit him at well over 200 miles per hour, turning his body from a solid to a liquid paste almost immediately. The impact forced Clarence’s gooey remains all over the car and the surrounding area.

 

Will got up after laying down for just a little longer. He felt as though he had picked up the car and threw it 50 yards. His arms were numb and his thoughts were scattered. His mind was in a haze; he couldn’t think straight. Will started to register what had happened and his body responded by throwing up all the contents of his stomach. He looked at Nicole who was lying motionless where she fell. He urged his body to stand up and went to check on her, hoping and praying that she was still alive. He turned her onto her back and checked to see if she still had a pulse. For a moment he thought he could feel it, that she was still alive. But that was just wishful thinking on his part. He felt around for her pulse for several moments, searching in vain. Finally he accepted that he wasn’t going to find it no matter how hard he wished he could. He closed her eyes and kissed her forehead. He looked down and saw the now-blood stained pistol in her hands. He debated prying it from her hands and ultimately decided he would need it. Will left momentarily to go make sure the men responsible were dead and that he wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore.

 He came upon the four bodies where he discovered only three of them were actually dead. One of the men had two broken legs but was otherwise still alive, playing possum. Will immediately drew his pistol and stuck it in the man’s face. “Your men are responsible for the deaths of the only people I could call family.” He spat at the man. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t kill you.” Hot tears began to well up in Will’s eyes again and for a moment he seriously considered putting a bullet through this man’s brain. But he couldn’t. He didn’t have it in him to kill another man, especially a defenseless one. He wished he could though. He wanted so badly to taste revenge but he knew it wouldn’t make him happy and it wouldn’t bring back Nicole or his uncle. He put the pistol away, the man never said a word to him in response to anything he said or did. Will didn’t want to talk to him anyway. He just wanted to be gone. He scooped up his two dead loved ones and loaded them into the bloody hover car. Will found that at least something went right for him today and the car still worked. As he took off he could hear the man with the broken legs calling in for evacuation. It wasn’t his problem.

 

Later that night, somewhere out in the wasteland far from watchful eyes of the proto-seed Will lit a funeral pyre and cremated his two loved ones. He contemplated what he would do now, but he didn’t have any answer and nothing came to him.