“What do you mean that someone ‘made us?’” Adamant demanded. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Dragoon shook her head, seeming to clear out the adrenaline and calm down. “Someone sent me a message in that dream, and I have no idea who they are. But, according to them, the Adapted were an experiment. I don’t know how to explain more than that, but what happened to us wasn’t a natural phenomenon.”
Exchange leaned forward, curious, “But, how could we be the product of anything except a weird happenstance? We’re all from such disparate places.”
“We all came from the same place a generation ago,” Parasite replied. “Less than thirty years since we were exiled from Earth. All of our parent generation could have been exposed to something.”
“It doesn’t explain how our parents never manifested crazy abilities,” I countered, “Adapting was only something from the younger generation. As far as we know, Titan is the oldest Adapted I know of and he’s only twenty-six.”
Adamant nodded, “The oldest Selected I have heard of on Vuuldar would be twenty-five now if he was still alive.”
All eyes turned back to Dragoon who was trying to sit up. “I don’t have all the answers,” she grunted as she tried to straighten her posture, “But I know that sure as hell wasn’t a regular dream. I’ve never been able to lucid dream and my recall afterward has never been nearly this good. Somehow, someway, someone communicated with me.”
“That almost seems irresponsible,” Lightshow muttered, “If someone is talking to you, now their information is in your brain for the Trillodan to extract.”
No one had a good reply to her mortifying observation. The Trillodan had proved able to travel through space faster than we could, destroy planets, and utilize teleportation; who knew what they could do with a brain.
“Either way,” Adamant said, “We can deal with this revelation IF we can get the fuck outta here in one piece.” He turned to Dragoon, “These two insist you’re a good planner and strategist. I know the locals, how to get around, where to hide, who is still trustworthy, etc, but I don’t know more beyond that. I’m going to have to trust you there. So, captain,” he said with a bow, “What’s next?”
Parasite helped Dragoon sit up so she could stop struggling. “Alright,” she muttered, closing her eyes, “Let’s start with what we know. We know that Zellig himself is leading this expedition and that the operatives are hand-picked and trained by him. We know that they have the objective of capturing us alive for study.” She took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts, “We can pretty safely assume that our getaway ship is toast. I don’t think that Almanac, Organelle, or anyone else onboard is dead since they had Infinite there as a bodyguard. However, I think even she’d be hard pressed to try and wage a space battle with a Trillodan warship.”
“Crimson Cities,” Exchange supplied. “They’re the world-enders that are capable of enacting Protocol 37.”
Dragoon nodded, “It’s pretty safe to assume that they have a Crimson City waiting in the atmosphere. If we prove too hard to handle, there’s a good chance they simply torch the surface and be done with us. For as powerful as we are, we won’t survive that. Infinite might be able to get herself to another planet but odds are once she showed up she’d blow up half the planet on accident. If she tried to teleport a hundred people to another planet, she’d pull too much from her well of power and likely kill us all in the process..”
Adamant sighed, “Lovely, but that doesn’t tell us what to do now.”
“Give her a minute,” I promised, “She will want to think through things first before making any decisions.”
She grimaced as she tried to lift her arm, clearly frustrated by the cast. “We do know a bit about Zellig, and we also know two core facets of him, and by extension, his elite: they are a nasty blend of sadistic and zealous. Zellig is determined and doesn’t fail whoever he serves. His underlings are likely zealous and devoted to him in a similar fashion. Believe it or not, this is a bit in our favor.”
Parasite frowned, “Determined psychopaths are a positive?”
“They aren’t here to kill us, and they refuse to fail,” she replied, “As psychotic as these clowns are, they won’t kill us if they can avoid it. Since they are perfectionists and take pride in their work, it buys us a little bit of breathing room. They have had multiple opportunities to turn us to dust, but they haven’t. The need to study us is a more pressing demand than our demise. For them, they have to succeed because failure is unthinkable. Think about this, how often do you ever hear about the Trillodan losing?”
“They don’t,” Exchange whispered, saying aloud what we all were thinking.
“An honor-based ideology,” Adamant mused, “They are driven to fulfill the contract they were given because they are driven by achievement and praise. Whoever they work for is likely carrying a huge amount of influence. Their goal is to keep their boss happy at all cost.”
“The Immortal Matron,” I whispered, “I’ll bet she’s the one ordering Zellig around.”
The most successful tyrant in history, and the one who had been flattening civilizations into obscurity for untold centuries. We didn’t know how long she’d been operating because no one met her and lived to talk about it. She could be centuries old or millenia old; we had no way to tell. All we knew was that she was responsible for more carnage than we could fathom.
“If you’re right,” Dragoon said softly, “It’s both good and bad. It means we have really kicked the hornets nest, but it also means that we are something they are scared of.” She shifted again, trying to mask the pain, “But it also means that they are going to be getting more and more frustrated every time we can avoid being captured. If they are so hellbent on success, we can try to play a bit of psychological warfare and see if we can’t destabilize them.”
Parasite frowned, “These aren’t some untrained dorks, these are operatives who have been doing this for decades. Fighting Tol and his underlings, they’re better trained than any of us, by a lot. We fucking shot a guy’s arm off and all it did was piss him off. These are killers who have seen whole worlds turned to slag and they don’t flinch. We aren’t going to be able to make them waver and flinch when we pick a fight with them.”
Dragoon nodded, furrowing her brow, “True, but that’s why we should think about trying to change what kind of fight we pick. A straight brawl is something these guys are used to, and it’s a place they excel. They’re used to a killing field, but they might not be used to the chaotic frenzy we are.”
“What do you have in mind?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.
“Given what I’ve seen of Lightshow,” our captain said, “I think we can throw them for a spin.”
Lightshow’s eyes snapped to Dragoon, “What are you talking about?”
“They only have spent time fighting against us. What if we pit them against each other. I saw you recreate my railgun; who is to say you can’t replicate those disks that Tol had? What if you made a copy of Zellig for them to fight against?”
The Projector shifted uncomfortably, “I’m not sure how I feel about doing something like that, Drag. I’m not sure what kind of rules my new power is going to follow.”
Our captain sighed, “Lightshow, for better or worse, you have a whole incredible new arsenal. And, for better or worse, we’re going to have to make use of it to the fullest. The last thing we can afford to do is pull punches.”
I felt somehow like that comment was also a bit directed at me. Ever since Feast Day I had been prone to holding back, nervous to let myself loose; I’d need to talk with Dragoon later about what had happened now that Eldritch had been properly let loose again.
Lightshow frowned and pushed herself deeper into the corner, “Maybe, but I’m still not exactly sure how to control this shit. I finally had a pretty good mastery of my old Adaptation and now I have…something woefully different.”
Exchange raised a hand, “Maybe we should try to practice?”
Dragoon shook her head, “Not right now. Any excess use of our gift is going to draw attention, and in case she does lose control we might as well have put a beacon on our head that says ‘come capture.’” Our captain sighed, “Whenever it comes time, Lightshow, we will need you to do the best you can.”
Our Altered shifted, uncomfortable with the attention being paid to her.
Take the attention from her.
I was pretty sure that the beast wanted Lightshow calm because it was afraid of her, but I agreed with it. She was still rattled and looking like she was a few shades from tears. “You seemed interested in the ships,” I interjected, “When sister Sara mentioned the old refugee ships, I saw your eyes light up when you asked where they were. Why?”
“Because,” Dragoon explained, “If I can get access to one of them, with some help mind you, I can make us a ship that will be able to escape this dreadful place.”
“How?” Adamant demanded. “Those things are fucking huge and unwieldy at best. They wouldn’t survive liftoff, let alone escape velocity.”
Dragoon laughed, “You’re thinking too conventionally. We are Adapted, we break the laws of physics regularly; what people haven’t bothered doing it applying those kinds of principles to space travel.” She pulled herself a little straighter and grimaced from the pain for a moment before continuing. “The ships are super heavy, it’s true. However, they were made to shlep thousands and thousands of people who were going to be stationary. The idea was the old ships were crewed by a few hundred and could house approximately forty-thousand sleeping residents.”
“My point, Adamant, is that we don’t need all the cargo space. We have Adapted who could simply sever the bond between sections of the ship and fix it in a matter of hours. We aren’t looking to escape with thousands of sleeping people onboard, so we don’t need life-bays to house thousands of cryogenic tubes. That alone saves us a ton of space and weight since the mechanism to maintain those were incredibly dense and cumbersome.”
“And what about a functional engine?” I asked. “They likely didn’t land smooth, and they certainly haven’t been maintained in years, decades even. The last thing we need is to be stranded out in space.”
She rolled her eyes, “I designed and made a suit of power armor in three days along with a functional rail gun. With Multi-task being my hands and Armorsmith reinforcing the engine to be heat resistant, we could use any kind of miracle fuel that Chemtrail would make. We could use a stronger fuel than liquid oxygen because it wouldn’t melt the damn thing.”
Adamant opened his mouth, confused.
“Multi-task is a girl who can make copies of herself with a specific directive. Armorsmith imbues inorganic material to reinforce the stuff and make it more durable, and Chemtrail is basically a crazy chemist who makes everything from chemical weapons to rocket fuel,” Parasite supplied. “More people that Titan recruited.”
“The problem is getting people back together,” Dragoon mumbled, frustrated, “Being cut off, I’m only marginally effective. I could theoretically make a rocket engine, but it would take me months, not days. When Titan split us up, he expected us to have some time to be able to meet back up, to pool our resources and fight against the Trillodan.”
“But now he’s kind of fucked us,” Parasite said, blunt. “He should have realized that the Trillodan are super old monsters who have been crushing societies forever. They’ve likely had to quash rebellions and insurgencies before. We can’t be the first to fight back.”
“More than that,” Dragoon said with a groan, “Zellig is supposed to be the scariest figure in the Trillodan military. He’s well known enough guy that my parents had heard the name for crying out loud. Titan decided to try and take a military gambit with one of the most notorious generals in the most notorious military in history. Zellig just read Titan like a book. He knew we’d try to bolster our ranks and Vuuldar was the closest place to do so.”
“Great,” I muttered.
“I hate to detract from the tale of woe,” Adamant said, “But maybe we should think short term. The city is no longer under blight and you all were clearly seen when you rolled in. You walked in wearing power armor for fucks sake. So, there’s going to be Sycophants running amok and out for blood. How do you propose we deal with them?”
“I have a myriad of non-lethal measures on my suit I can use to help us cope with an angry mob,” she replied. “Bigger question is do you know the other Adapted/Selected in the city? We know that Serpentine left to try and make contact with another group to the South. If you know where they hide out maybe we can go to them.”
Exchange raised his hand, “I know where they might be. I’m betting the group they went to go see was Stampede. They are pretty violent guys honestly, they’ve done a good job making a name for themselves through extortion and strong arming anyone who isn’t willing to play by their rules. We kind of stay away from them because they have a policy to shoot first and ask questions later.”
Adamant groaned, “Exchange is probably right, and they won’t be too happy with you if I’m in tow.”
“He killed one of their members,” Exchange explained. “Flattened her head against the pavement.”
“That’ll do it,” Parasite mumbled. “Did you all come to a proclaimed treaty or…?”
Adamant shook his head, “We came to a silent agreement that they don’t come too far north, and we don’t go too far south either. No one wants to lose another member since we’re pretty small groups.”
“We’re going to have to break that rule later,” Dragoon muttered. “But the best thing we can do for a little while is sleep, or at least try to. Later maybe someone should scout out for us, but until then, we need to rest and heal. We’re dead in the water if we pick a fight while still this battered.”
“Do we have time to slack off?” Adamant pressed. “I’d like to avoid getting caught with our pants down.”
“The Trillodan made this a war of attrition the second they removed our means of escape,” our captain replied. “Zellig’s elite soldiers, their first wave, that was to wear us down, and to put us all on edge. They turned the planet against us and proved that they have members who can fight us tooth and nail. Zellig hasn’t simply assaulted one place en masse because I’m pretty sure he’s still unsure if we have extra trump cards hidden.”
“Like what?” Lightshow asked.
“Think of it this way, what happens if he tried to run all his soldiers at someone like Titan? What happens if he tries to pick a fight with any of the Prime Trio?”
I blinked a few times as I had an epiphany, “Zellig didn’t know about Infinite. He likely didn’t know about Forest either. None of us knew about them, and we were constantly checking into what we could learn about Adapted. Trillodan get information through observation and from our media; if we didn’t know about them, he couldn’t have either.”
It made so much more sense why Titan had played so many cards close to the vest; if anything was going to make Zellig and Trillodan hold back and be cautious, knowing that he’d concealed people like Forest and Infinite would sure do the trick. While we knew Titan was out of cards to pull from his proverbial sleeves, the Trillodan commander likely didn’t.
How long the illusion would last through was a different question entirely.
Dragoon nodded, “As over reaching as our leader might be, he’s spent a lot of time trying to arrange things to favor us as best he can. He knew that we’d be a prize worth capturing, and he did a phenomenal job recruiting people to his cause. The only problem he has is that he doesn’t have the same experience that someone like Zellig does. Titan is only twenty-six and Zellig is probably at least ten times that old.”
“No better teacher than experience,” Parasite said.
Adamant sighed, “Alright, well, I’m going to have Dis take the two of us out to get some supplies since we’ll be here a hot minute. Exchange will stay with you as a guard so you can get some sleep and rest up. That work for you?”
The blonde kid nodded with an excited grin. It was challenging not to like how upbeat and chipper this kid was. To Adapt you had to have endured some kind of trauma or prolonged stress that warped you; Exchange seemed like he had been inappropriately chosen to change. He was uncomfortably well adjusted, or at least he did a magnificent job selling that.
Adamant smacked his hand against the wall and a few seconds later Distortion stumbled out, looking a bit groggy still. The head of the Lost Children whispered something to her and she nodded, grabbing his hand before the two of them vanished into thin air.
As soon as they were gone, Dragoon nearly collapsed. I hadn’t realized that she was putting on a front to keep Adamant impressed with her, to keep him from challenging her leadership. “Murphy,” she panted as she laid back down, “Thanks for covering for me. I’m glad that you didn’t give him control of shit.”
My best friend shrugged, “No problem. I don’t think he’d want control anyways,” he pointed out. “I think Adamant is just a fighter who happens to be the best at navigating social engagements.”
Exchange nodded, “It’s why Distortion and I stick with him, even if he can be a bit…abrasive at times,” he said carefully.
Parasite and I both shifted uncomfortably, remembering him backhanding Distortion for talking back to Mother Audrey. “Why did you put up with him? Do you really like him or does he have something on you?”
“Well, the reason that Adamant killed a member of Stampede was because he was protecting me,” Exchange said softly, the gleeful smile fading for a moment. “They had someone among them who was autistic, and when he was Selected, that part of him apparently changed too. Where he had just been a bit autistic, he kind of developed a bit of a weird savant quality in that he could see anyone who was going to be Selected.”
It had been speculated that Adaptations were somewhat suited to what was happening to you or linked to who you were fundamentally. With Murphy, he was a fighter and wanted a way to stop being abused. Alexis was a nerd and wanted to think of a way out of her shitty situation; she was now a Cognate engineer. They had developed an Adaptation specific to their fundamental identity. Meanwhile, I had changed into the very thing that was going to eat me. The hypothesis was that if the Adaptation was due to a prolonged encounter, it would be more indicative of character qualities whereas abrupt trauma yielded a power based more on the environment and circumstances.
It wasn’t unprecedented that someone could Adapt and that their existing conditions would change too. Something about the process was firmly rooted in the mind and our neurology, and thanks to this, Exchange was the first Adapted I’d ever met who had effectively been bullied into changing. If someone knew who had the potential to Adapt, they would recognize that as an immensely powerful resource; for a gang in such a rough world like Vuuldar, they wouldn’t pass that up.
“Let me guess, they tormented you until you changed,” Parasite surmised.
“One of Stampede was a girl named Afflict. Her power was to screw with people’s minds and make you experience some kind of hallucination, for lack of a better description. Most often, she would adjust the gift to inflict incredible amounts of pain for hours on end. She made me feel like I was being crushed by a mountain of rubble. Well,” he corrected, “That was the last thing that finally tipped the scales. The first thing she had me feel was like I was being burnt alive, and then I spent a while convinced I was drowning.”
“What happened to her?” Lightshow asked, admittedly startling me a bit. She hadn’t spoken up in a bit and I had hoped she was finally managing to get some rest.
Exchange shook his head and took a deep breath before putting his cheery grin back on. “When Adamant says he won’t be stopped, it isn’t just a physical thing. It isn’t like he just can’t be deterred physically, but he becomes almost immune to harm or at least incredibly resilient to anything that would prevent him from accomplishing his goal. He’d heard about what Stampede was trying to do in order to recruit, to make themselves a small army; Adamant showed up right after I changed. All of Stampede was there, all present to make sure Adamant couldn’t take away their new inductee. But, they all had the same goal which made him essentially unkillable. He was…incredible,” Exchange said, sounding a bit mystified. “In some ways, Adamant really isn’t that powerful. He isn’t that fast, he isn’t necessarily strong, but he can simply accomplish something as long as he has the energy to do it.”
“So, even someone like Afflict couldn’t wear him down?” I asked, trying to get a read on the leader of the Lost Children.
“She tried to make him feel the same weight she had crushed me with, and she only managed to piss him off. Adamant sent two of Stampede’s people to a doctor, and Afflict had her head crushed against the floor. She was fairly territorial and wouldn’t let me be taken; she had made the mistake of setting her goal as antithetical to his.” He laughed, “I read that on Tso’got they had classifications of powers: Conjurer, Enhancer, Peculiar, Projector, Cognate, and Druid. Most people would assume Adamant is just straight Enhancer, but he’s not. What makes him so dangerous is that he’s part Cognate.”
Murphy and Alexis raised an eyebrow, confused, but pieces began falling into place for me. “Adamant deferred leadership to Dragoon so readily because he’s not a good leader, he’s an expert at reading a room because his power demands he knows what people want. His Adaptation gives him the ability to inherently know intent and objectives.”
Exchange nodded, “The broader his goal, the more taxing it is. When he came to rescue me, his goal was simple and narrow in scope: I want to rescue that kid. He knew that all of them would want to protect their most recent quarry. It immediately set them all against him and it basically made them powerless in front of him.”
“He set the stage, he got to dictate the rules of engagement, and so he was unstoppable,” Dragoon extrapolated.
“That’s why he doesn’t want to be caught by surprise. With no time to read the room, with no experience around the person, Adamant is powerless,” Parasite muttered.
I felt the beast within twist a little, uncomfortable that we were going to be palling around with someone who was so intuitive and someone so powerful when it came to specifics. If he wanted to bring us down, could he? Under the right conditions, could he be more powerful than someone like Titan?
Exchange got up to his feet and stretched out, “Right, well, since the world is going to hell in a handbasket, I’m going to take a look around the place and make sure that we’re not going to be abruptly ambushed by a group of Sycophants.”
It made me mildly uncomfortable to hear those words coming from someone who seemed so strangely and unrepentantly happy.
“We’re never going to use this location again. I’m sure Adamant plans to burn this place the second we take off. Plus, if what you’re talking about is true and the Trillodan are going to raze Vuuldar until they have all of us in a cage, we’re going to be coming with you.”
Dragoon didn’t have a good counter and shrugged. I was a little nervous as he left, but I relaxed a bit when I saw our captain lay back down and fade out again. Unlike Murphy and myself, she didn’t have a healing factor; even with Organelle’s tincture helping, she had to process the stuff the hard way. A glance to the corner showed Lightshow actually nodding off for at least a little while too.
Plus, I’d seen Exchange running around; the kid was unreasonably fast when he bound himself to the piece of paper he kept tucked in his pocket.
“She’s finally getting some sleep,” Murphy muttered as he and I walked to the far corner of the room, “Thank God.” As we sat down with our backs against the wall, he looked over at me, eyeing me with a little caution, “So, you wanna tell me what happened?”
“What do you mean?”
Murphy shook his head, “Dude, I have seen you busted out in full Eldritch garb. I’ve seen you devour half a city and snatching people up by the dozen. Every time I’ve seen you, every time you’ve fought, every time you’ve been an inch from death, you’ve always been the same color. You’ve always looked like a Neklim: onyx colored, wet and slippery. But, when I saw you, you were fucking blue and you were made of rock. I’ve seen you mutate, I’ve seen you develop adrenaline, elasticity, life senses, etc. But that, that wasn’t a mutation,” he said, leading me.
“How much did you see?” I asked.
“I woke up when Tol blew your arm off. The blast was enough to rouse me. Yeah,” he said with a weak laugh, “For all their sophistication and technology, they didn’t drug me. They just clubbed me over the damn head to keep me subdued. Bloody savages.”
“Ever since Feast Day, you know how I’ve had something else making noise in my head, right?”
“I finally tried to make some peace with it, and when the Trillodan first attacked us today I let go of the reigns. For a few minutes, our needs were perfectly synced up; we both agreed that preserving the group was in our best interest for survival. Since then, I’ve been trying to get a feel for the monster inside my head.”
Murphy nodded, “Most don’t have an active relationship with their Adaptation you know. When your parents called you special, they were on the right track.”
“Fuck off,” I laughed, shoving him. “The monster though, it’s not unreasonable. Even when it is getting savagely beaten, like when Titan fought us, it wasn’t the same. There was a sense that we wouldn’t die there, that he’d do his best to preserve us. Eldritch, the monster, knew that I’d have need of my Adaptation again and that it would be given a physical existence again. Even though we were being burned alive, there was this sense of security because all Adapted are somewhat cut from the same cloth. We knew that Titan was going to try and obliterate us or purge us.” I took a deep breath, “But, both me and the monster knew that the Trillodan would never let it out again. If we were captured, that was it. No second chances.”
“So it what? It Adapted? But, how? How does that even work?”
I shrugged, “Man, I’m just as confused as you. I’m not even sure if that tool will be accessible to me next time since each time I shed the Neklim it feels a little different. I have no idea what’s going to happen the next time I use my gift.”
“Coming from you, that’s kind of alarming,” he said with a sideways look.
Both of us nearly jumped out of our skin when the door to the flat was thrown open; Lightshow snapped to attention as did Murphy and I as Exchange zipped in, wide-eyed like he had seen a ghost. “Guys, we have a, uh, problem.”
“Lightshow,” Murphy said, “Stay and watch over the others. Eldritch and I will check it out.”
She nodded, her eyes back to flitting around, hypervigilant once again.
Exchange led us out and through a small block of homes, taking us to a kind of main thoroughfare that had been entirely stopped up as a ship was sitting down in the center of the road. Three figures in power armor were addressing a crowd of both Ellayans and humans who were listening to the Trillodan soldier speak.
While we couldn’t hear exactly what he was saying, we could see the other two at the back of the transport, handing out what looked like a high tech rifle to everyone who volunteered and came forward to receive the blessing of the Trillodan.
“Great,” Murphy whispered, “Sycophants with Trillodan guns.”
“They’re giving them weapons that will actually hurt us,” I lamented, shaking my head. “Zellig knew that we’d be able to deal with Sycophants; he wants them to be more than just an early alarm system and location device for him. He wants them to be able to cripple us.”
Zellig hadn’t just turned the planet on us, he’d equipped them with enough firepower to eradicate us. While his elite might have the good sense to keep us alive, the average, terrified Sycophant was going to aim to kill; now they were a real threat and one we had to constantly be on guard against. Zellig had been smart enough to know that his keeping us alive gave us an edge so he’d changed the game. There was no more writing off the masses as a non-factor and pretending we could simply be stronger than them. No one would be able to rest if there was a potential for anyone walking by to be a threat. And knowing his penchant for opportunistic attacks, the Trillodan commander would sick one of his elite on us when we were at our weakest and most vulnerable.
“We can’t stay here,” I hissed, “We need to get Dragoon to be mobile as fast as possible.”
All of us turned to a buzzing heard overhead. From the sky descended a little robotic probe, the same one that Dragoon had sent out earlier.
An androgyne and familiar voice echoed from the speaker on the machine. “Hey, Eldritch, long time no see!”
Interface, one of Titan’s original cronies and one of his most dedicated. I still had no idea what pronoun to prescribe to Interface, but they manipulated machines and could essentially inhabit one, controlling it like it was some kind of second body. While my captain had been upset at her technology being commandeered, Interface had helped us out of a sticky spot back on Tso’got. It was like the technologically savvy Projector had a knack for finding trouble.
“Long story. But trust me, as bad as this looks, it gets worse. This isn’t the only transport delivering weapons to the civilians. I’m sure you guessed by now, but Zellig attacked the ship. He gunned the damn thing down.”
“It had Infinite guarding it,” Parasite muttered, “How did she let that happen?”
“Infinite can only do so much when there are people nearby. Her trying to do to much is…messy,” Interface replied cryptically, “They also had a boarding party and Zellig himself made an introduction. While I think Infinite fucked him up, he took her attention, and Guardian isn’t built with withstand Trillodan artillery. We’re alive, but now we have no means of escape.”
“So, why are you here?” I asked.
“Titan is trying to recover people and assemble forces again. We’ve used Infinite for some communication, but it’s limited at best because that’s just not what she does. Relay has managed to re-establish his network, but he had to use a different totem to tether himself to people; when Powerhouse had to redistribute power, it did a number on him. He’s fragile right now, but he should be up for the task.”
“Still not sure what this has to do with us,” Parasite mumbled.
“She has the new totem,” I muttered, “But he’s right, why us?”
Interface groaned, “Powerhouse gave me a little hit of juice earlier, letting me sneak around through networks and detect electronics; I opted to come to NaMein since I knew Dragoon would be here and the place is basically barren of technology compared to Tso’got. It was easy to find you, and the drone you started sending south.”
Parasite rolled his eyes, “All her stuff is connected to a small network she built into her suit. All her drones sync up with the signal frequency that broadcasts from her armor. You’ve been listening in on us through Dragoon’s stuff, haven’t you?”
There was a pregnant pause, “Maybe.”
My best friend put his head in his hands, “You couldn’t just tell us?”
“I’ve been using the drone to try and find Serpentine to help give you guidance when the time came for it. The problem is I found them…but so did some of Zellig’s cronies. Chick who does nasty things with explosives. Zeal and his crew have been holding up for now, but it’s tenuous and it’s only getting worse with time.”
“We need to help them!” Exchange interjected, being louder than I wanted him to be considering how close we were to a Trillodan transport.
“Easy cowboy,” Interface replied, “Part of what is making her so nasty is traps. She’s got like several blocks wired up to blow if people set foot in the wrong spot. Even though these aren’t made to be lethal, but they’re still plenty nasty. Zeal is being choked out and denied any kind of movement thanks to this gal and two others working alongside her.”
I groaned, “Interface, is anyone else in NaMein or is it just you?”
“For now, just me. Titan’s goal is to extract you guys and Serpentine and then move forward on Dragoon’s plan to re-invent a ship as a means of escape.”
“We need Multi-task for that,” Parasite reminded the drone.
“Titan is well aware. Right now, Titan, Infinite, and a few others are hiding out near an escape vessel, with Multi-task. I told them her idea and Multi-task has gotten to work with what she knows needs done.” There was a pause, and Interface got strangely serious, “Titan’s a bit rattled and paranoid now, more than usual. He’s determined to not let Zellig catch them short-handed again. While I suggested that we deploy more than just me to help you guys, he’s unwilling to take any risks. So, for better or worse, I’m all he’s willing to spare.”
“So we have to escape NaMein which is now crawling with Sycophants carrying Trillodan weaponry, aid a group of murderous nut-jobs who are being besieged by a Trillodan munitions expert, and the only help that our fearless leader Titan can spare is a fucking talking speaker box who doesn’t have the common courtesy to let us know that they’re watching us like a fucking perv!” Parasite waved his arms, exasperated. “Did I get that about right, Interface?”
“No because I forgot to mention one more thing. That massive woman you fought, she’s back in NaMein, looking for you lot with someone else tagging along.”
I felt Eldritch twist with disdain as he remembered the savage beating we endured at her hands. Even with the beast changing and Adapting somehow, she had simply overpowered us thanks to the Trillodan’s superior technology. And now add in another operative and who knew what dastardly tricks would be brought against us this time.
“Great,” I muttered, “So you’re basically telling us that we’re boned?”
There was a long pause before Interface finally replied. “Yeah, basically.”