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 Darwin's Soldiers: Ground One
LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Jul 11 2011, 06:21 PM


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These next two Darwin's Soldiers stories will both be ending trilogies. Ground One will complete the stories detailing the fates of the away team from Card of Ten, surrounding the characters who were left behind in anti-Pelvanida. It begins immediately after the end of Card of Ten.

Unlike Nietzsche's Soldiers 3, this one requires a pretty strong understanding of the Darwin's Soldiers universe. The Darwin's Soldiers Wiki is a pretty comprehensive guide of anything you want to know, and covers the necessary data to understand this story. This story will be updated every day up to the point I have finished, which is about twenty pages. Then the story may go on hiatus until I finish the second part.

Darwin's Soldiers is a sci-fi/furry universe. You can learn more here.

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“Hawkeye! We have to go!” exclaimed Neku.

“How much power do we have?” asked Snow.

The voice of the shuttlecraft Hawkeye echoed over the loudspeaker. “I’ve converted the remaining power to the engines. We have enough to escape the base and travel about 100 miles.”

“Then let’s go!”

The shuttlecraft and its two occupants were the remainders of an away team sent through a portal to an unfamiliar universe. Currently, they were stuck in an abandoned research base that had just been flooded with radiation. By now, all of their comrades were either dead or in another universe. Except for…

“Hawkeye! This is Vic!” Vic was one of two team mates who had been left behind in the facility to ensure the safe passage of the others. Vic’s voice sounded pained, and he was breathing erratically. “Can you hold up? I’m almost there!”

“I cannot, Dr. Summers. The connection I opened to the bridge is leaking fuel; I have to take off, and then I’ll have no room but to fly to safety.”

“Hawkeye, your job is to protect everyone on the team!” exclaimed Snow. “You can’t leave him!”

“If I delay, we will not be able to escape this facility, and you and Neku will die. I must save who I can.” The ship shuddered to life, and rose into the air. “I’m sorry.”

Neku looked out the window at the cramped bridge room. “How are we going to get out of here?”

“I have detected several explosives stored in a release hatch at the back of the ship. Will the two of you please search for a trapdoor in the floor of the passenger bay?”

In a few minutes Snow found it. The two dropped into a very small crawlspace, just big enough for two. There were two lever mechanisms connected to a clear plastic jettison tube. Several jaggedy metal spheres lay in the tube.

“When I give the order, release at the same time,” Hawkeye ordered. “Now!”

Both cranked their levers. One of the spheres launched out of the back of the shuttlecraft and smashed into the far wall, blasting it apart in a cloud of fire.

Neku and Snow crawled back into the passenger bay.

“Heading out,” Hawkeye reported grimly, rotating the shuttlecraft 180 degrees and carefully maneuvering through the hole.

Snow was staring out the window, at the empty bridge room. “Poor Vic…” she said softly. “Who was the second person left behind?”

Neku started to answer when there was a flurry of wind and suddenly two people appeared out of nowhere in the shuttle.

“What was that?” Hawkeye exclaimed, as the shuttle dipped from the unexpected weight. The engines scraped the floor, sending off sparks, but the shuttle quickly righted itself and rose into the sky.

Kegatora helped Vic to his feet. “You forget,” he told Snow. “It was my job to protect everyone on the team as well.”

“Kagetora! Vic!” exclaimed Neku, rushing forward. “You’re alive!”

“How did you do it?” asked Snow, coming forward.

Vic shook his head. “How did we do it?” he asked weakly. He looked sickly and pale.

Kagetora was holding up better but had clearly been affected by the radiation as well. “A well kept secret,” he said. “A trick taught only to the most loyal servants of the Vigoorian Empire.”

Neku helped Vic keep his balance. “Too bad innate healing wasn’t another one,” he said. “That radiation got you bad.”

Vic shook his head. “I…don’t think that was radiation,” he said. “Radiation poisoning is different. Similar, but I feel like I’ll make a full recovery from this now that I’m out.”

“Had we remained in the base for much longer, I would not have had the strength to jump us here,” said Kagetora. “It was fortunate you reached me when you did, Vic.”

By this point Snow was distracted. “Guys,” she said. “Look outside.”

Carson City looked completely abandoned. The air was still red and the buildings were in various states of disrepair. Like Pelvanida, it looked not like any actual fighting had taken place, but like everyone just left.

“Is the whole world like this?” asked Neku.

“I can’t figure out what happened,” said Vic. “There’s no sign of any explosions, so if there was an attack of some sort the impact point would have to be far away from here. The ‘radiation’ would have to have filtered in from elsewhere.”

The shuttle flew over Carson City and reached Las Vegas, which was in a similar condition. Some of the casino lights still flickered feebly in the heavy air, and wind blew trash past empty rusted cars, still clogging the streets. There were some differences in the setup of the city, but Neku assumed that was due to it being an alternate universe, not the catastrophe that occurred.

“How are we going to get out of the shuttle?” asked Snow. “If we can’t go outside, we’re no more trapped than we were before.”

“I’m hoping to find some life signs before that happens,” replied Hawkeye.

“We’ve searched two cities, and you have a 50 mile range. Have you spotted anything resembling an active settlement?”

“No.”

“What could we use for protection?” asked Snow. “Maybe there’s something on this ship.” She and Neku started searching.

“Wait!” said Vic. “We could use the hazmat suits from Crimson Base! Hawkeye, do you know where Crimson Base is?”

“No, but if you come into the cockpit you can show me on the Heads-Up Display.”

“How are we going to get in?” asked Snow. “Kagetora, can you use your suspensory thing again?”

“No,” said Kagetora. “I need a complete understanding of the place I am jumping to, so that I can visualize it. I am not familiar with the layout of Crimson Base.”

“I can do it,” said Neku. “I have innate healing, so I’ll be able to repair the damage the radiation does.”

“Neku,” Snow came forward and put her arms around him. “I don’t want you to get hurt…” she whispered.

“I can’t let one of my friends brave the radiation, look at how badly it weakened them the first time." Neku returned the embrace. "And I’ll heal, I healed from my injuries on Gaman, and those were much worse than what I’ll face at Crimson. I’ll only be gone a few minutes.”

Snow looked ready to protest again, but upon mention of Gaman kept silent and merely continued searching the ship.

“If we’re in agreement…” Hawkeye corrected his course. “Now heading to Crimson Base.”



This post has been edited by LettuceBacon&Tomato on Jul 11 2011, 06:21 PM
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Jul 12 2011, 06:19 PM


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In ten minutes, Crimson Base appeared out the starboard windows. Due to its heavily armored walls and buttresses, it had fared much better than the surrounding infrastructure, but rust and weather had clearly taken its toll. At the spot Vic identified, Hawkeye released several explosives and blasted a hole through a ceiling.

“Once you enter the base, you will be shielded from my scanner,” said Hawkeye. “You will have to give us descriptions of the rooms you enter in order for us to determine the right direction. Are you ready?”

Neku nodded, gritting his teeth. Everyone else had moved to the opposite side of the shuttle.

“Quickly, Neku!” Hawkeye creaked the back door open briefly, and Neku dove out, fell through the hole in the ceiling, and landed with a light thud.

Immediately, he felt as if millions of microscopic parasites started biting away at every part of his body. He staggered, and almost lost his balance, but willed himself to stay up. Vic and Kegatora survived this, so can I! “Hawkeye!” he yelled into his radio. “Which way now‽”

“Take an immediate left into the room with a very dense ceiling and shielded walls. The door should be marked with a hazard symbol.”

Neku staggered toward the door, prying it open. He could barely keep his eyes open, since they came under attack every time he opened them.

He burst into a large metallic room. Other than the door he’d just come through, there was an exit on both sides of the room. “Now what?”

“You are in the magnetic resonance testing room. Head for the west door, which should open into a decontamination chamber. That should lead to a locker room with chemsuits.”

The west door was awfully far away. Neku started forward, hunching his body against the invisible swarm, which did no good. For a time, his hands had flayed abot wildly, as if the swarm could be swatted, but that just cut his hands up even more. Now they just attempted to protect his eyes and face.

“Guys—“ he choked. “I don’t…” he couldn’t work out any more words.

“Neku? Did you say something? How are you doing? Kagetora has volunteered to attempt to rescue you if you need it.”

Neku shook his silently. Kagetora was already weakened from his first bout with the swarm, and would not get this far.

After what felt like hours, Neku’s hands curled around the door to the decontamination room. He had this crazy notion that activating the decontamination gas would protect him from the swarm, and that thought had kept him going.

But this wasn’t a decontamination room. This was an office.

“HAWKEYE!” he burst out angrily. “Hawkeye, you’ve landed me in an office! There’s nothing here!”

He heard Vic spluttering in the background of the radio connection. “But-but that’s where the locker room is supposed to be!”

Hawkeye’s voice drowned him out. “The layout of this Crimson base must be slightly different from our own. I’m sorry, Neku. You’ll have to try another door.”

Neku glanced through stinging, puffy eyes at the door on the other end of the room.

I…I can’t make it… he thought to himself. It’s too far. I’m…

His skin was raw everywhere, his strength was failing, and still the invisible swarm pelted him. His knees started shaking.

“Neku.”

It was Snow.

“Neku, I can feel you. I’m sharing the pain you’re going through right now. You need to keep going! I have to see you again!”

Neku felt dizzy. He opened his eyes for a fraction of a second and glanced at his body. He was starting to bleed.

“Neku! Please!”

He took a step forward. He took another. He broke into a run, sprinting across the room for the door.

“Neku, if you can reach the chemsuits, put one on immediately!” Vic took over the comm.. “It’ll protect you from…”

Neku stopped listening. He stumbled, but kept going. He couldn’t afford to fall.

He burst through the door, and was relieved to see a decontamination chamber.

He wanted to activate the steam, but if it failed, he would lose his momentum, and he wouldn’t be able to get it back.

In the locker room, he saw several lockers had been left open. The first one he saw had a chemsuit in it.

The door was rusted partially shut. Neku ripped it off the wall with a cry. Grabbing the chemsuit with shaking hands, he forced himself into it. It felt like it was made for a species thinner than his, but he squeezed in.

It wasn’t until he’d fully sealed the suit and tried to remember what to do next that he realized he was no longer being eaten alive.

“Ah, it worked!” he said, pleased, and blacked out.

* * *

“Neku!” shouted Vic over the intercom repeatedly. “Neku! Say something!”

Back at the shuttle, he and Kagetora were huddled around the speaker, trying to detect any sort of response. Snow was crying, on her knees near the back of the cockpit.

“He won’t respond,” noted Kagetora grimly. “Hawkeye, prepare the bay door. I am going after him.”

“Inadviseable,” Hawkeye said. “His current location could be three different rooms, and you are already weakened. Plus we do not even know if the room he was attempting to reach was indeed a room with chemsuits.”

“I don’t care!” Kagetora banged the passenger bay door. “Open the door! I am well enough!”

“Wait!” yelled two voices from the co-pilots seat.

One was Vic. He looked at the intercom, surprised.

“I’m okay, guys,” Neku reported. “I just…blacked out for a second. I’m okay.”

“Neku!” exclaimed Snow.

“Where are you? Do you need assistance?” asked Hawkeye.

“The locker room. It’s okay, I just need…a few seconds to recover. Then I can get the mission done.”

“Neku, why don’t you return to base and Vic can start caring for your wounds. Kagetora will take your chemsuit and return for the others. You’ve done more than enough locating them.”

“No, I can do it. Just guide me out of the base, and be ready for me when I arrive.” Neku let his body go prone, and felt his body slowly heal. His innate healing ability had taken advantage of his brief moments of unconsciousness to seal most of the cuts on his skin and stop the bleeding. It would take some time for everything to fully heal, but for now he felt capable of walking.

Going around the locker room, he found other chemsuits in a couple open lockers. Once he had three, plus a better-fitting one for himself, he started heading back for the hallway.

“Where to now?” he asked.

“According to Vic, take a left, then go straight until you reach a double door.”

Neku went left. “You can’t go straight after left. There’s only a door to the right.”

He heard muted muttering on the other end. “Just try that way, then,” said Vic, frustrated.

After a while, Neku learned to ignore Vic’s comments and just find his own way out. Eventually, he broke a window and climbed down a fire escape. “All right, I’m outside. I should be appearing on your scanner.”

“You are. I’ll be there in less than a minute.”
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Jul 13 2011, 08:30 PM


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Neku took the opportunity to observe the landscape around him. It looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. He tried to think of anything that could have possibly done this. Nothing came to mind. He hoped the entire world wasn’t like this.

He saw the Hawkeye swoop over the base and rotate to face away from him. The door opened slightly, and Neku squeezed in.

The first person he saw was Snow, whose face lit up as she ran to him. Nothing needed to be said as she flung her arms around him and tears streamed down her face.

The force was a bit too much for Neku, who dropped the chemsuits and staggered backwards, leaning against the back door which Hawkeye had already shut.

Vic ran forward. “Neku, if you could lay down on the floor, don’t strain yourself. Snow, if you don’t mind…” he moved around her to Neku and started slipping him out of the chemsuit.

“Keep the legs of the suit down,” Neku warned. He’d only just become aware of the pools of blood sloshing around his feet.

Snow gasped as she saw the collection of new scars dotting Neku’s entire body.

Vic exhaled slowly, and unclipped his medical kit from his belt. “Are you in any pain?”

Neku grimaced. “Yeah.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere. Literally everywhere.”

Vic gave him a shot of morphine. “I wish I had some anti-inflammatory steroids,” he muttered. “I’ve never treated someone with uniform swelling across their entire body.”

“Will he be all right?” Snow asked nervously. She couldn’t take her eyes off his blood-stained feet.

“I think so,” said Vic. “Thank god for his innate healing factor.”

Kagetora came up from behind, held Neku’s head up, and tipped a glass of water down his throat.

“Where did that come from?” asked Neku, choking. The water had cleared his throat, and he could finally cough.

“Snow found a storage closet with food and water,” Kagetora explained. “About a month’s worth.”

Neku smiled. “Awesome, we won’t have a problem with food for a while. Good job, Snow.”

“Sadly,” interjected Hawkeye, “food is not our primary concern. I have less than half a tank of fuel. We need to find a suitable place to land this shuttle, preferably somewhere safe from whatever environmental element fills the air here.”

“We could return to Crimson base and grab more fuel,” said Vic.

“Negative. This shuttle was constructed in our universe; there is no way of knowing if any power sources on this Earth would be compatible.”

“The bridge was compatible,” noted Kagetora.

“The bridge, like this shuttle, was constructed in our universe.” The shuttle took off, and started heading southeast.

“Where are we going?” asked Vic, who was dabbing some sort of salve on Neku’s skin.

“Back to Las Vegas. I lied when I said I did not pick up anything notable. A single life sign was moving from building to building.”

“What? Really? Was it human?”

“I cannot say. The scanner indicates only that it is alive.”

“When will we get there?”

“It depends on how far the subject has moved since the last place I saw it.”

Neku felt intrigued. “A life sign. Something survived this genocide. I wonder how.”

“Shhh…” Vic injected something into Neku’s arm. “You need to rest. Allow your healing factor to devote itself solely to healing.”

Neku couldn’t even protest. He was already half asleep.

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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Jul 15 2011, 07:21 AM


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Neku woke up to feel someone massaging his chest. Drowsily, he opened his eyes to see Snow smiling down at him.

“You’re awake.” She kissed him. “How are you doing?”

“Better,” he moved his arms. “It doesn’t hurt to move anymore.”

“Oh, good.” Snow stroked his forehead. “I was so worried for you when you were in Crimson Base…”

Neku smiled. “That was nothing. Barely felt anything.”

Snow looked away. “I felt the pain you were in. It was horrible.”

“You don’t have telepathy anymore. Any non-innate powers haven’t worked since we entered this universe.”

“I think telepathy still kind of works. If the emotions are intense enough.” Snow looked back knowingly.

Neku tried to get up.

Vic looked over from the cockpit. “Are you sure you’re--?” he started.

“—I’m fine enough to walk,” replied Neku. “How close are we to the subject?”

“We’ve already landed, Hawkeye is making preliminary atmospheric scans and I’m familiarizing myself with the layout of this specific part of the city. The subject is about a block away; we aren’t going to tell him right away that we have an otherworldly sentient spacecraft flying us around.”

“Mmm, probably a good idea.”

“We’ll be posing as a government inception team sent in to determine more about what happened,” said Kagetora. “Once we figure out what happened, we can learn where we can go to avoid it, if possible.”

Neku nodded, and slipped into the better fitting chemsuit.”Who’s going?”

“I’d recommend all of us. I don’t think anyone wants to miss contact with the first living signal on the planet.”

“I don’t care all that much,” commented Snow. “Besides, someone should stay with Hawkeye.”

“If you say so,” agreed Vic. “Are we ready to go?”

“Be careful out there,” cautioned Hawkeye. “Your chemsuits are military-grade, so they can withstand a fair amount of trauma, but they are not indestructible. Try to avoid sharp points, and remember the place where the helmet seals to the collar is the weakest point on the suit.”

“Got it,” nodded Neku.

“I am intrigued by this phantom life sign,” said Kagetora, zipping up his suit, “and look forward to first contact.”

Vic led the way out of the shuttle.

They were in an old lot. Even before all humanity was wiped out, there didn’t appear to be much happening here.

“Direction?” asked Neku.

“That way,” Vic pointed his thumb behind him..

The three started out. They scaled a fence and dropped onto a sidewalk bordering a street choked with empty cars. Weaving in and out of ‘traffic,’ Vic checked with Hawkeye the correct direction on the radio.

“It appears more destruction occurred here than in Carson City,” noted Kagetora while Vic spoke in hushed tones..

Neku glanced at the cars. Now that he looked at it, a fair amount of the cars appeared to have crashed into each other, and several had gone swerving off the road.

“Hmmm. That would imply that the stuff in the air didn’t appear everywhere simultaneously. But these people still didn’t get enough time to evacuate.”

Vic finished talking to Hawkeye. “Through here.”

They entered an old casino. Chips were still on the dusty tables. Unlike outside, a lot of the room had collapsed.

“What happened here?” asked Neku, examining a collapsed row of slots.

“Maybe they just fell over from disuse and decay,” said Kagetora. But even he didn’t look sure.

“It looks…different from that,” said Neku. “I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

Vic looked around the room. “How do we get onto the second floor? I thought we could make better time if we could scope out the easy traveling routes.”

They looked around the casino. “There,” said Kagetora suddenly, pointing out a large square hole in the ceiling.

They gathered around it. “Is this the only way up?” asked Neku, confused. Vic also stared curiously at the ceiling.

Kagetora, however, was examining some imprints in the floor. “A staircase. There used to be a staircase here. Now there isn’t.”

“This staircase would have been two meters long,”
commented Neku amazed. “Who would move something like that, and why?”

“I doubt the staircase was moved,” commented Kagetora. “Vic, have you heard of any kind of weapon that could have caused this?”

“Not without destroying everything else in the casino,” Vic replied.

They exited the casino and followed the road.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Jul 16 2011, 04:19 PM


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“Hold up,” said Vic suddenly, after about ten minutes of walking. “Hawkeye says the life sign is heading into a supermarket.”

“Cool, we might be able to stock up on food while we’re in there,” said Neku.

But there was no visible food in the supermarket except a bunch of rusty cans.

“I don’t think we can eat anything in here,” said Vic, opening a can whose wrapper claimed to store clam chowder. The pus-colored glop inside didn’t look very appetizing.

“Ugh, this stuff looks disgusting,” Vic held the can out to Kagetora.

Kagetora glanced at it. “That can is empty, Dr. Summers.”

Vic glanced at in. “Huh? But there was something—“

“Guys! Help!”

A scream from Neku startled Vic and Kagetora. The two went running through the supermarket towards the sound of his voice.

Neku was tied up in a thin mesh net the same color as the floor tiles, hanging inside a mostly-stripped room. Even the floor was missing, revealing massive cooling and ventilation pipes, which extended underneath the whole supermarket. They were rusted and fragile, and would no-doubt shatter into a rain of sharp metal fragments if Neku fell onto them.

“Get me out of here!” Neku struggled vainly against the ropes. Dust and splinters rained from his net.

“Neku, stop moving! If you fall, you’ll tear a thousand holes in your chemsuit!” Vic looked around vainly for a way to get across the floorless room.

“The ropes are breaking even if he does not move,” noted Kagetora, observing the slow but steady unraveling of the knots holding the net on the ceiling track.

“I’m aware of that!” Vic exclaimed, casting his eyes about the area. “Could you make a jump over there to him?”

“Probably, but I fail to see how—“

“—If we can find something to cushion the fall, reinforced sheet metal, or something—“

Suddenly Kagetora sensed something and leapt to his left. “Doctor Summers, look out!”

But it was too late. Vic had touched a large slab of plastic leaning on the wall, and two more nets had come shooting down the hall at them. Before Kagetora had even finished speaking, Vic had been swept off his feet and soon found himself next to Neku. The plastic slab clattered twenty feet down, landing somewhere under the pipes.

Kagetora observed a miniscule wire which must have triggered the nets. Following it, he noted that it led to an adjacent office. He burst in, intending to try and reverse the firing mechanism.

He was surprised to see another figure already in the room. It was a large, hulking figure, oddly transparent, with six bearlike legs. The creature glanced at him, betraying no emotion of any sort. The device he stood next to was clearly capable of retracting the nets.

Kagetora assumed the creature was unfriendly and drew his swords. “Retract the nets or I will kill you.”

The creature looked dismissively at the two struggling individuals. “Why shouldn’t I let them die?”

The question took Kagetora by surprise. “Because they have done nothing to you. Unlike me, if you don’t let them go.”

He looked dully back at Kagetora. “You are clearly not government agents. What are you?”

“What kind of questions are these?” exclaimed Kagetora angrily. “Two people are about to die!”

“Is that a bad thing?” asked the creature, clearly unperturbed.

“Yes!”

After a tense standoff, Kagetora switched tactics. “Okay, I’ll tell you who we are if you let them go,” he replied, stalling for time as he tried to come up with a new alibi for the team.

Behind them, a net tore, and Neku cried out. Kagetora finally had enough. He crossed his swords and leapt at the creature.

One of the creatures massive fists buried itself in Kagetora’s face. Even before he smashed into the far wall Kagetora was stunned.

The creature was too busy mulling over the proposition. “Your offer is fair. Tell me where you came from, and I’ll let your allies go.”

Kagetora had never met someone more impossible to predict. “Our friends crashed in a prototype ship somewhere in this city. We are attempting to locate them.”

The creature cocked his head. “Do you work for the government?”

Kagetora thought carefully about his next answer. The creature’s earlier statement suggested that he assumed they were government agents, and he tried to kill them.

“No, we’re freelance.”

The creature nodded and pulled the lever back. There was a slight whirring sound, and then a crash.

Kagetora rushed out of the office and saw Vic tangled in the ripped net. The net trailed off the side of the ledge.

Kagetora started helping him get untangled. “Vic! Are you okay?”

Vic rubbed his shins. “The net finally gave out just as I was back over solid ground,” he groaned.

Kagetora looked at the second empty net. “Where’s Neku?”

“Neku?” asked Vic. “He was holding on to the bottom of my net, after his broke…”

Neku’s fingers suddenly appeared reaching over the ledge, wrapped around the net. Neku was trying to drag himself back onto the ledge.

“Stop moving and don’t untangle yourself,” Kagetora ordered Vic. He sprinted to the edge and hoisted Neku to safety.

Neku coughed and shook his head and Kagetora dragged him onto solid ground. “Thanks,” he said shakily.

“Check your suit,” said Kagetora. “Be sure there are no holes or tears.”

“He’d already feel it if there were.” The creature had silently entered the room. All three turned to notice the newcomer.

When Vic saw the creature his mouth dropped open and his eyes went wide. He struggled to speak.

Neku just looked confused. “Wait, who--?”

“Before I answer any questions, I must know if you are currently working for the government,” the creature said.

“I already told you,” said Kagetora. “The prototype plane is for our use only, nobody else on Earth knows of its existence. I told him about us being a team-for-hire,” he explained to Neku and Vic, before they said anything to contradict him.

The creature nodded. “Very well. I apologize for the nature of our introduction.” He took down the nets and slung them over his shoulder. “My name is Tardigan.”

Neku kept looking at him. “I don’t get it. Are you wearing a suit of any kind?”

Tardigan shook his head.

“He doesn’t have to,” Vic finally got out. He seemed really excited for some reason. “He’s a water bear!”

“A what?” asked Neku.

“They’re amazing! They can survive anything! Extreme heat, extreme cold, radiation, even the vacuum of space!”

Tardigan nodded.

“They’re so rare!” Vic continued. “I’ve never met one before! This is incredible!”

Tardigan was indifferent to Vic’s interest. “There was a disturbance northwest of here. It could be the crashed plane you are searching for. I will lead you there.”

Neku and Kagetora exchanged glances. “Er, thanks,” said Neku.

Tardigan began walking out of the supermarket. The team traded glances and followed him.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Jul 17 2011, 07:59 AM


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After a few seconds of walking, Vic couldn’t hold his tongue any longer and finally started asking questions. “Exactly how much have you tested your survival abilities? Have you ever experienced temperatures over 200 degrees?”

“I have endured temperatures greater than that of a fire, and lower than that of a dry ice freezer,” Tardigan replied.

“And this fatal atmosphere doesn’t even harm you?” Vic continued. “Do you even feel anything?”

“Not a thing,” Tardigan replied. He didn’t seem paticulalry interested in the conversation.

While the two were talking, Neku took the opportunity to mutter to Kagetora. “How do we know he won’t attempt to kill us again?”

“His grievance seems to be against the government, though I’m not sure why,” Kagetora replied. “As long as we don’t arouse his suspicion, we should be fine. But we do need to be careful. I won’t let him out of my sight.”

They stopped talking when they heard Vic’s conversation had moved to an important topic. “What do you know about what happened?” asked Vic.

Tardigan was silent for a few moments. “It happened about a year ago. I was at my job, a metalworker at a factory near here. All of a sudden everybody else started convulsing and bleeding. In a matter of minutes their bodies were completely gone. I ran out into the street and saw the last few people disentigrate. I never saw another townsman again.”

The story was chilling, but not nearly as much as the emotionless detachment with which he told it.

“Why do you think the government was responsible?” asked Neku, as they exited the supermarket and returned to the street.

“Because shortly after I discovered a team of agents prowling around the streets. They wouldn’t tell me what caused the genocide, but they knew.” Tardigan’s eyes narrowed, his first hint of emotion. “I made sure they paid for what they did to my city.”

Nobody said anything for a few minutes after that.

Eventually, Vic asked, “I’m sorry to bring it up again, but what does the air do exactly? Does it only target living beings?”

“It targets organic materials,” said Tardigan. “Wood, fiber, food, and flesh.”

“That makes sense,” muttered Vic. “The missing staircase in the casino must have been wooden. And the empty supermarket.”

“The floors in the casino looked like they were made of wood,” remembered Neku.

“Probably faux wood,” said Kagetora.

Vic put his finger to his ear. “Hawkeye sees us coming, he mentioned. “We should be seeing—“

“Snow!” exclaimed Neku happily. A new figure in a chemsuit was approaching them.

Snow ran forward and hugged Neku. “Welcome back!” she smiled. “I missed you so much!”

“We weren’t apart for that long,” Neku grinned, but returned the hug enthusiastically.

Snow looked at the others, and noticed Tardigan with a start. “Is this…?” she asked.

Neku silenced her. “This is Tardigan. He lived here, and apparently survived the epidemic.”

Snow nervously smiled at the newcomer and extended a hand. “Pleased to meet you. My name is Snow.”


Tardigan looked back at her, but didn’t return the handshake. After a few seconds he turned and kept walking towards the shuttle.

“We told him that we were a team sent to rescue the shuttle, which went missing,” Neku told Snow in a low voice. “Turns out the government agent backstory wouldn’t have gove over well.”

Snow watched Tardigan walk away. “He isn’t wearing anything.”

“He’s a water bear, apparently they’re immune to the toxin, or whatever it is.”

Vic approached them. “I already filled Hawkeye in on our alibi. We’re all on the same page.”

“Let’s get moving,” said Kagetora. “I don’t want Tardigan alone with Hawkeye.”

The group set off towards the ship.

* * *

When they arrived, they saw Tardigan looking amazed at the interior of the ship.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Vic mentioned proudly. “One of the most advanced pieces of technology on the planet. The crash barely damaged it.”

Tardigan looked around. “Your computer has been answering my questions.”

“Hawkeye is our resident AI,” nodded Vic. “He’s capable of complete voice recognition and response, and can give everything from estimates to full readouts of the ship’s systems.”

Tardigan looked back at the control panel. “What damage was incurred during the crash, Hawkeye?” he asked.

“Some external hull damage, left engine fuel leak, and percussive warping of my CPU,” Hawkeye. “Luckily most problems have already been solved by Snow, my pilot and primary mechanic.”

Snow smiled. “I’d like to say thank you again for leading my friends to this ship. You helped reunite the team much faster than we could have on our own.”

“You know the mechanics of this ship?” asked Tardigan.

Snow shifted slightly. “Yes…” she said. Neku knew she was afraid Tardigan would ask her questions, as in reality she was neither pilot nor mechanic.

But instead Tardigan addressed the group at large. “Where do you plan on going now?” he asked.

“We were probably just going to to take off and see if we could find somewhere that isn’t infected with this aerial plague,” said Vic.

Tardigan shook his head. “I have hiked many, many miles in every direction. Nowhere is safe. However, I have converted the basement floor of my former workplace into an airtight haven, safe from the aerial plague and stocked with several years of food. You are welcome to stay with me until you solve the fuel problem your AI mentioned.”

The teammates looked at each other.

“Er, Tardigan, would it be all right if the team spoke in private?” asked Vic.

Tardigan bowed his head and left the shuttle.

“Okay,” said Neku. “To break the ice: can we trust him?’

“He seems nice enough,” commented Snow.

“He attempted to kill Neku and Dr. Summers in the supermarket,” Kagetora told her.

“He didn’t know who we were,” mentioned Vic. “He hasn’t seen a living being for over a year.”

“Why are you defending him?”

Vic glanced at the door. “I would appreciate more time to study a water bear,” he admitted. “I’ve heard so much about them. They’re really incredible.”

“I still don’t trust him,” said Kagetora, looking at his swords.

“Do you think we can trust his statement, that this aerial problem has spread throughout the world?” asked Neku.

“I find it hard to believe that anyone, even a water bear, could travel on foot the distance that I can fly with my current fuel supply,” said Hawkeye.

“Even if given a year?” retorted Snow. “I think we’re judging him too quickly. Sure, he’s not particularly sociable, but post-apoc survivors rarely are.”

Neku and Kagetora opened their mouths to speak, but Hawkeye undercut both of them. “I doubt we will be able to come to a unanimous consensus. And, since our team does not have a chosen leader, I propose we put the question to a vote.”

Everyone thought over the proposition, and nodded.

“Well, I vote we take his offer,” said Snow.

“I vote we chance the rest of the world,” said Kagetora.

“I agree that accepting his hospitality is not necessary,” said Hawekye.

“I’m with Snow,” said Vic. “We don’t know when we’ll get food again, and I could take the time to do some research into constructing an alternate source of fuel.”

The vote was two and two. Everyone looked at Neku, who was silent for a time, thinking over his vote.

Finally, he looked at Snow and nodded. “I’m going to err on the side of caution. If we stay with Tardigan, we’ll get food and Vic might be able to solve our fuel problem.”

Kagetora folded his arms in acquiescence.

“So be it,” Hawkeye said. “Somebody should go and tell Tardigan our decision.”


This post has been edited by LettuceBacon&Tomato on Jul 17 2011, 08:00 AM
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 5 2012, 11:35 PM


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Tardigan led them back to a seemingly unremarkable building, but once he let them in Neku noticed that the room, despite its shoddy appearance, was airtight. It contained no furniture.

Tardigan turned a crank repeatedly, and after a time said, “It is safe to take your suits off.”

Snow was the first to remove her helmet. “How did you design this?” she asked.

“A large filter cycles the oxygen; every filter that had been in the city,” Taridgan replied. Indeed when Neku removed his helmet he noted that the air was incredibly tinny.

Tardigan stumped into the darker parts of the building. “I will rearrange some rooms for you to sleep in,” he said, as his voice trailed away.

Kagetora’s eyes glanced alertly around the room.

“What are you looking for?” asked Neku.

“Nothing in particular. I just want to get a solid understanding of this place.”

Vic had found a pile of papers and was looking at them. “These are from Crimson Base!” he explained, He started leafing through them excitedly.

Snow examined the room. “Everything is so functional,” she noted. “Nothing has been placed for aesthetic value, or decoration.”

“Sounds about right, from what we’ve seen of our host,” replied Neku.

Tardigan reappared from the darkness silently. Neku noted that he was capable of being much quieter than he appeared. “Your rooms are finished,” he said. “I prepared two double rooms.”

“Snow and I will share a room,” Neku said quickly, smiling at his love. Snow looked lovingly back.

Kagetora was reading over Vic’s shoulders. “Tardigan, how did you get ahold of these?” Vic asked.

“They were in a military base far from here. They survived the genocide in a wrought-iron safe. I’ve been saving them in case I ever need paper for something.”

Vic looked up. “Would you mind if I took some? I would limit it to only the most important papers. This is priceless information.”

Tardigan was silent. “Three sheets. No more.”

Vic bit his lower lip, took a small notebook out of his back pocket, and started scribbling down as much info as he could fit.

Snow’s stomach growled. “Is there anything to eat?” she asked.

Tardigan nodded. “Follow me.”

Neku decided to go with Snow. “Vic? Kagetora?” Are you hungry?”

“I’m fine, Neku,” Kegatora replied. Vic shook his head wordlessly, still scribbling.

Tardigan led the pair to a storage room full of non-perishable food. “Take what you want.”

Both partook in polite amount. “Where do you get all this?” Neku asked.

“It is stored up from before the fall. I usually eat from the indoor gardens I maintain in a further room, but little of those plants are edible by more advanced life forms such as yourselves.” The line wasn’t bitter or resentful, merely straightforward.

Snow sat back, satisfied with her meal, and looked at Neku with a certain look in her eye. Now that her stomach was full, her mind had moved on to other needs.

“Tardigan, thank you for the food and shelter,” he said, “and I think Snow and I are going to go to bed for the night.”

As they reentered the front room, Kagetora seemed to have grown bored of watching Vic silently pore over the documents. “Are we retiring?” he asked, following them to the back rooms.

Neku nodded. “Good night, Kagetora.” He led Snow into the first room.

There was a bed made out of a thick cloth strung taught across four stakes jammed into the ground, as well as a thin blanket folded at the end. That was good enough for them.

Pulling their clothes off, they crawled onto the cot and embraced. Feeling a rush of adrenaline, Neku massaged his lover’s chest as he kissed her passionately.

Snow reciprocated, falling backwards onto the bed and allowing him to crawl on top of her. She arched her back as he rubbed her inner thighs and slowly made his way up her body.

Groaning with anticipation, Neku finished his crawl by trapping her head in between his knees and presenting himself.

“Neku, no…” Snow tried to brush him away from her face. “You know I won’t do that.”

He drooped. “Aw, I just thought…”

“I’m sorry. Just…regular, okay?”

Neku obliged, moving down and mounting her between her legs. Snow inhaled sharply, while Neku exhaled.

For ten minutes Neku passionately slid up and down. Their breaths intermingled and their blanket ended up somewhere on the floor.

A final peaking moment of ecstasy, and it was over. Panting heavily, the lovers embraced.

“I love you, Neku,” Snow whispered.

“I do too,” he smiled sleepily. In a few seconds sleep overcame him.

When he next woke up, Snow was gone.

* * *

“Snow!” Neku exclaimed. He leapt out of bed and quickly searched the room.

Her clothes and other supplies were still scattered around the bed, except her chemsuit. Snow was nowhere to be seen.

Kagetora burst into the room, swords raised. “What happened? Where did she go?”

“She was gone when I woke up!” Neku quickly started putting his clothes on, and Vic poked his head into the room behind Kegatora, pistol drawn.

“I’ll check the rest of the building for Tardigan,” Vic said.

“I’ll go with you,” Kagetora said, probably to give Neku time to get dressed and prepare himself in peace.

Neku quickly donned his remaining clothes, put on the chemsuit, and opened his backpack. From it he withdrew his weapon of choice, an experimental blade sword from Pelvanida. He used to have two, but one smashed after falling 50 feet onto solid ground on Gaman. Luckily his surviving blade was better at cutting metal, which would probably come in more useful around here. For now, he kept it off, but clipped it to his belt.

He exited into the main room.

“Tardigan’s gone,” said Vic, once he saw Neku. “We’ve searched everywhere. He’s gone back outside.”

“Why would he take Snow?” asked Neku furiously. “If I see that bastard again, I’m going to kill him!”

Kagetora entered the room. “We should split up.” he said. “Search the entire city. One of us will find him.”

“Then what?” Vic asked. “Water bears are virtually indestructible. I doubt any of us could kill him alone.”

Neku activated his beam sword. “I’d like to respectfully disagree with you.”

“As would I,” said Kagetora. “I underestimated him last time. I will not make that mistake again.”

“Kegatora, you and I head to opposite sides of the city and work our way to the middle,” said Neku. “Vic, you head back to Hawkeye and get in the air. Once we find Snow, we’re going to get out of here.”

“Agreed,” said Vic, and Kegatora nodded once.

The three headed for the decompression chamber and made their way outside.

The urban wasteland looked the same as before, filled with decaying cars, buildings, and other city props. But now, there seemed to be an air of danger, a threatening feeling of hostility directed at Neku and his allies.

“Well, see you,” said Vic. “Good luck to both of you. I hope he’s less of a fight than he looks.”

“I hope he’s the toughest fight I’ve ever faced,” Neku replied, eyes steeled. “It will make killing him all the more satisfying.”


This post has been edited by LettuceBacon&Tomato on Mar 5 2012, 11:41 PM
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 6 2012, 12:21 AM


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Neku immediately set off into the city before anyone could say anything else. His heart burned with passion and anger. He hoped he found Tardigan before the others.

Even as he walked through the same places he’d checked out before, the hair on the back of his neck bristled. Something was wrong. Even though nothing appeared out of the oridinary, he could feel it.

As he crossed between two parked cars, his left foot felt some resistiance. He looked down to see that he had pulled a cord that had been stretched between the cars.

He put his hand on his blade sword and looked around warily. Nothing appeared to have happened.

He decided to duck under the cars instead of continue, and this bit of forethought saved his life; a circular razor shot out of a nearby gutter and skimmed within an inch of the top of both cars. It disappeared into a specially-designed slot in the wall on the other side of the building.

Neku felt his heart hammering in his chest. He drew his blade but gave himself a few seconds to compose himself. Booby traps. The bastard had booby traps set up. Well, he’ll just be more careful from more on.

* * * *

Kagetora nodded curtly to Vic and set out in the direction opposite Neku. Personally he thought it might be a better idea to stick together, but Neku had already left, and Vic would only slow him down.

He ducked into an alleyway and began his search. His keen ninja eyesight could scope out everything within 30 feet instantly, so no extra searching was necessary.

This allowed him to easily spot a trap. The end of the alleyway contained a fake wire fense door; trying to open the door would spring a recoil hinge that smashed the holder into the brick wall. The brick wall, Kagetora noticed the wall was peppered with micro-needles, probably poisoned.

An extensively planned trap, he thought, as he simply jumped over the fense. But not for somebody with my jumping cabability.

However, with a flash of realization, he suddenly discovered he’d made a terrible mistake. The ground on the other side of the fense was thickly pressed, and somehow filled with miniscule cracks. It was designed to break once any amount of pressure was placed on it; where it would dump him he couldn’t guess.

Quickly Kagetora lashed his hand out and grabbed the top of the fense, and hundreds of volts of electricity coursed through his body. He had a split-second to choose whether to die from the fense or brave whatever the ground led him to; he chose the latter.

He hit the ground, which instantly collapsed. Kagetora fell 10 feet onto a bed of spikes, but the momentary rest given from the collision with the alley floor helped him control his descent so he landed on his toes, gingerly avoiding any punctures in his suit.

He tiptoed past the spikes until reaching solid ground again, and leapt out of the pit. Note to self: Never underestimate these traps again, he thought grimly.

* * *

Vic started back towards the shuttle when he reciefved a radio message from Kagetora; “Vic. Urgent warning. Please stop moving and respond.”

“Vic here.” He drew his gun and looked around warily.

“The city is booby-trapped. Heavily. I barely survived one of the mst extensive traps I’ve ever seen, and I’ve barely left the metal-working factory. Proceed with extreme caution, act as if everything can and will try to kill you.”

Vic double-checked the nearest object; a lamp-post. He couldn’t see any way a lamp post could be booby-trapped, but he’d avoid it just in case. “Got it, Kagetora. I’ll be extra-careful as I head for Hawkeye. Vic out.”

As he continued down the street, making a note of the nearby items. He was most suspicious of a fire hydrant near the other side of the road, and the proliferation of trash cans. There seemed to be too many trash cans…

Suddenly a pwing sounded and something flaming rocketed past his head. He ducked and rolled into the street, scrambling for cover.

He saw another flaming item shoot past, but it wasn’t aiming for him. He didn’t see where it had gone.

He ducked behind a trash can and peered back at the lamp post from his original position. The lamp part was emanating a huge fire, and the nearby buildings were taking turns shooting what appeared to be arrows through it. The arrows would catch on fire, and fly into…

…trash cans. As Vic watched, the first trash can hit with an arrow caught on fire, and exploded, catching the adjacent cans on fire.

Vic cast his eyes around wildly and noticed that there were trash cans on all sides of him. He was about to be caught in a room-of-mousetraps style firestorm of explosions.

Another chorus of explosions sent the ground shaking so badly that he fell to his knees. Elsewhere, the last round of buildings fired arrows, lighting the cans on the perimeter of the ring of homemade pyro-bombs.

Vic knew he was completely screwed, so he tried the only thing available to him. Tipping his protective trash can, he sent it rolling towards the fire hydrant. Once it crashed into the hydrant’s chassis, Vic shot the can until it caught fire and exploded.

The hydrant went spiraling into the air, propelled by a gush of water. Seconds before the ring of trash cans exploded, Vic sprinted for the water and dove right into the high-pressurized wave.

A shock wave and a cyclone of fire hit Vic’s geyser from all sides, rocking him immensely. He feared that at the very least something would tear his suit.

After several seconds of being hit by both freezing water and scorching flame (he doubted he’d ever feel anything like it again), the geyser sent Vic tumbling along the blackened street. When he finally came to a stop amongst the corpses of spent trash cans. Vic spent a good minute before raising himself into a sitting position.

Kagetora hadn’t been joking around, he thought, amazed. How in god’s name are any of us going to escape this city alive?

And what’s going to happen to Snow?

* * *

Snow stirred. The heavy sound of her own breathing in her ears gave her the first indication that she wasn’t in the same position or place she’d fallen asleep.

Gravity implied she was standing upright, and painful metal digging into her extremities indicated she was trapped. But there was no light to see from.

“Neku?” she whispered.

“Snow, are you okay?”

“Where are we?” She felt relieved that Neku was here, though her heart was thumping audibly.

“Tardigan captured us, I don’t know where he took us.”

“What about the others? Where are our chemsuits?”

“He brought us here in them, then locked them somewhere. I don’t know what he’s done to the others.”

“Snow struggled, but she was too securely restrained. “We have to get out of here. Why did Tardigan do this?”

“You don’t think it was justified?” Neku asked back. “After what we did to him?”

“What are you talking about?”

Neku didn’t reply.

“Neku?”

“I asked you first.”

“We haven’t done anything to Tardigan. I don’t understand.”

“We claimed we weren’t government agents.”

“And we’re not.” Snow felt worried now. “I mean, yeah, the government sent us on this mission, technically, but it wasn’t even this government. It’s not what he thinks.” Snow felt the fur on her back bristle. She realized that she didn’t smell Neku. “Who is this?” she asked.

Something from the direction of Neku’s voice moved. It started walking away, footsteps too heavy, far too heavy for Neku.

“Hello? Tardigan? Was that you?” Snow called out, straining to get a glimpse.

A wave of light blinded her when a door was opened and a huge figure left the room.

“Tardigan?” she asked one more time meekly.

She was alone.
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Serris
Posted: Mar 6 2012, 11:30 AM


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Ooh, this is going to be interesting...

On a side note, no anthro Tardigrades will appear in the main continuity. I will accept it here because it is a different universe.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 6 2012, 11:04 PM


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Yeah, I know. I just figured that since there had already been an anthro-crab in the Furtopia universe, our rules don't necessarily have to apply.

-----------------------------

A classic turret field. What used to be a basketball court had a line of 3-legged sentry turrets all facing alternating directions. A small winding tiled path provided a way to navigate the sentries without setting any off, but Neku suspected it was booby-trapped in some way.

Leaping gingerly onto the top of the first sentry, Neku planned to avoid them like crocodiles in a pond. What he didn’t expect was the sentry to rotate its head under his feet.

Losing his balance, he hit the winding path. Immediately a thin noose, one of many laid carefully within the edges of the tiles, wrapped around his neck, tightened, and then hoisted him into the air. At the same time the sentries all swiveled to look at him and opened fire.

But before he was emasculated by bullets he had already sliced the noose line in half with his blade. Swinging ahead of the line of sentries, he sliced the end one apart in midair and rolled behind it. A series of harsh metallic crashes signified each sentry shooting the one ahead of it in succession.

Avoiding the nooses, Neku crawled out of the basketball court much less gracefully than he’d hoped.

“Maybe I should have brought Kagetora with me,” he panted.

* * *

Kagetora was experiencing a moment of relief; the next route involved swimming across a pool of water, and his suit protected him from the electric current that was designed to kill the traveler.

However the wall of spikes blocking the other side was more of a problem.

While he could easily climb it, it didn’t look secure enough to hold his weight. He suspected it was designed to fall over and trap the swimmer underwater.

“Guess I’ll just have to climb faster”, he muttered quietly to himself. He gingerly touched the first spike and the wall immediately collapsed on top of him.

Holding his breath desperately (he hadn’t had time to take a deep breath), he stabbed at the wall, leaving lacerations and several holes but nothing to climb through.

Ninjas could hold their breath for fifteen minutes. While he probably had significantly less time than that, he still had things under control.

Then a massive grinding sound occurred underneath him and the water started whirpooling. The room was a giant garbage disposal.

As he started getting dragged down towards the whirling black blades he could now barely see, he realized that he needed he blades to cut through the wall for him.

Crawling underwater to the far side of the wall, he used his weight to drag the corner of the wall down. As soon as the blades chewed up the wall underneath him, he released and in a split-second crawled on top of the other side of the wall.

Focusing his power, he leapt 30 feet up and landed on the far side of the pool.

His leg was burning. He’d gotten a tear in his suit. Quickly he slashed his sword repeatedly along a metal wall, using the sparks to superheat the blade. Then he molded the rubber-based suit leg back together.

These death traps had taken a toll on him, but he was now deep in the heart of the facility. Time to start looking for Snow.

* * *

Snow’s eyes had finally adjusted to the light, and she had thoroughly examined the room she was currently trapped in. It was ovular and empty, with a single exit, the one Tardigan had used. She was strapped to a tilted slab of wood by leather straps.

She tested them. The straps were tightly bound, but her wrists were so small she could almost break free. Through struggling fiercely for what felt like hours, she had loosed the straps bit by bit. Finally she forced her left hand out, and used it to free her other extremities.

After massaging the cramps out of her arms and legs, she hobbled to the door and peeked out. She recognized some signs that this had once been an advanced hospital, and she was in a section that required its own atmosphere, probably because it dealt with air-born pathogens or something.

A quick search revealed that she only had access to the ovular room, several empty labs, and the hallways which connected them. Her hazsuit was nowhere to be seen, but she did find a labcoat which she quickly donned to cover herself.

Glancing out the window, she spotted another facility with lights on about thirty feet away from this one. She had no way of knowing if anything useful would present itself there. And she’ll have to brave a run through the flesh-eating atmosphere to get there.

For a brief moment, as she tightened her labcoat, she wondered whether she should wait for someone to rescue her instead. Neku must be looking for her.

Then she kicked the door open and ran for it.

* * *

Vic smiled as he saw Hawkeye up ahead. Never letting go of his pistol and keeping his eyes alert, he crossed the final street and burst into the shuttle. “Hawkeye! The others are fighting for their lives out there! We need to go rescue them now!”

Hawkeye obligingly started warming the engines. “Tardigan turned out to be unstable?” he asked.

“He’s rigged the entire city with booby-traps. I almost died surrounded by flaming trash cans.”

“Where did you last see them?”

“Heading north.”

“Then let’s hope we are not too late. The city is denser to the north. It will get harder to spot traps before they activate the deeper into the city they go.”

* * *

Neku had been navigating a maze of ropes. Some of the ropes had attempted to drop heavy or spiked things on him, others had opened pits, and in general he’d learned that his top goal should be to never touch a rope, no matter how small.

This worked until he reached the end, where they were so densely packed that he couldn’t possibly continue. Damn it, Tardigan had planned this. No he’ll have to carefully extricate himself the same way he had come. It had taken him ten agonizingly slow minutes to get this far into the rope maze.

No. He is not wasting another ten minutes on this stupid maze just to end up where he started. Snow needs him now.

Drawing his blade, he sliced through every single rope in the way of him and the exit.

And then everything started exploding and collapsing as every trap in the maze started activating at once.

Swinging his blade randomly, Neku started sprinting. He almost tripped countless times, and barely managed to avoid falling hazards even more often, but his reflexes kept him alive and moving.

Finally he sliced his way out of the jungle or ropes to see a steep hill filled with razor sharp metal slabs sticking out of it. He couldn’t traverse the hill without constant danger of slicing open his foot and suit, and then at the end it’ll probably become impassable again.

Behind him, a landslide of items was forming, further eliminating the possibility of going slow.

With his blade, he found the largest, thickest sheet of metal he could, and cut it out of the ground. Grabbing a rope and fashioning a handle, he sent the sheet surfing down the hill with him on top of it.

His legs felt like rubber at the end, and his sheet was covered in dents, but he’d made it. Stumbling off of his sled, he pressed forward.

He seemed to be in some sort of shallow canyon. The thought of being in the middle of a canyon gave his goosebumps. He could think of a hundred ways this could go bad for him. He better get out as soon as he could.

However, despite this mindset, he didn’t predict what would happen next. Before he’d gone a dozen steps, the darkness shifted in front of him and Tardigan stepped out of the shadows.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 8 2012, 03:20 AM


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Snow burst through the doors of the other station, panting and rubbing her burning eyes. The atmosphere had quickly consumed her labcoat and went to work on her fur, but other than that she survived the run relatively intact.

The station had no lights on, but she could see blinking consoles, the hum of electricity, and a computer in sleep mode two doors down. She quickly crossed through two rooms and leaned over the computer.

It was a survey station, she quickly realized. From here Tardigan could watch the whole city for life through a series of heat-detecting nodes placed practically everywhere. From here she could tell that someone was less than 500 feet away.

She rushed to the right side of the station and peered out the window. A tall ravine led into a canyon, and someone in an environmental suit was hiking through it. He was going to miss the station!

She was about to rush around and look for a flare gun or some way to signal when the figure activated his beam sword. In the sudden light, Snow saw Neku stand before a hulking figure.

Tardigan was waiting for Neku in the canyon.

* * *
Neku narrowed his eyes and gripped his sword tightly. “Where is she? Where is Snow?”

Tardigan motioned behind him, to the other side of the ravine.

“Then get out of the way of I’ll kill you,” Neku growled.

Tardigan didn’t move.

Neku bellowed and charged him, beam sword raised. Tardigan didn’t move as Neku made a flying leap slashed down, cutting across Tardigan’s shoulder.

Tardigan glanced at the beam of energy crackling against his skin. Neku cut across the arm and then stabbed him in the neck. Nothing penetrated. Though thick black burns appeared, Tardigan’s armored skin was too strong.

“But-but,” Neku stuttered. “That’s—I’ve never seen…”

Tardigan wrapped his fingers around the blade of light and pulled it out of Neku’s hand. Then he sent it spiraling into the hill of razors. It didn't make a sound as it disappeared into the blackness.

Neku gulped and tried to steel himself but he wasn’t prepared when a fist the size of a ham smashed into his helmet. He went spinning backwards, crumbling into a large boulder.

As he tried to clear his head he heard Tardigan walking towards him. Darting up, he attempted to dodge around the behemoth. As soon as he passed him, Tardigan helped him out by kicking him in the hip and sending him tumbling.

Neku tried to get up, but his leg was dislocated. He struggled as he heard his foe coming up behind him, but pain was blowing his ability to think.

Suddenly a massive explosion enveloped Tardigan’s head. Another at his feet sent his body flying. Several others exploded around the ravine. Neku heard something shout overhead.

He moved his leg in a weird way and with a painful pop it settled back into place. Getting to his feet, he started racing up the other side of the ravine.

After a time he made out a building, and saw someone peering through a window at him. Once he reached the front door, Snow let him in and hugged him tightly.

“I managed to contact the Hawkeye and tell them where to go!” she exclaimed, a tear sliding down her eye. “That was them!”

“What did he do to you?” Neku asked, noticing her extremely short fur and bloodshot eyes.

“Oh, that wasn’t him,” Snow blushed, and for once Neku could actually tell. “Speaking of which, can we find me something to cover up with before the others get here?”

The two managed to locate an old labcoat and Snow had just wrapped it around herself when Vic came through the front door. “Snow! Are you in here?”

“Here we are!” Snow waved to him. “Can we get Hawkeye as close as possible to the exit?”

“He’ll back right up to the door,” Vic said, touching the radio in his helmet.

Thirty seconds later they were back in the air.

“Kagetora?” Snow asked.

“Sensors indicate he’s in an office building west of here,” Hawkeye reported. “We’re flying to him now.”

Suddenly the ship rocked backwards for a second. Vic went flying into the bay door.

“What was that?” Neku exclaimed.

“We’ve been grappled,” Hawkeye noted, with the dull surprise of a machine.

Vic crawled to the copilot seat while Snow peered out the window and gasped.

A huge hook had embedded itself in the back of the shuttlecraft. Behind it, a charred but otherwise undamaged Tardigan was climbing hand over hand towards them. He had something strapped to his back, and a pullchord in his mouth.

“Try to shake him!” yelled Neku, crowding the window so he could see.

“I can’t even keep us in the air,” Hawkeye warned. “Losing altitude fast.”

“Can we hit him with bombs?” Snow asked, making to open the trapdoor that led to the bomb release hatch.

Don’t open that!” warned Vic. “I had to break that open to get to the remaining explosives; it takes two to work normally. Plus I used the last of them back there.”

Suddenly from below them Neku saw Kagetora leap an incredible distance from the roof of a building. Landing on Tardigan’s back, he drew his katana and stabbed him, but didn’t penetrate.

Tardigan took one hand off the rope and punched Kagetora in the face. Kagetora held on.

Then Kagetora stabbed back at his opponent’s face, but Tardigan caught the blade in his teeth and snapped it in half.

The ship was dangerously close to the ground, and wobbling.

Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, Neku saw a spray of blood outside. With the blade Tardigan had obtained, he’d stabbed Kagetora in the chest. even without the deadly atmosphere, such a wound would be fatal.

“No!” breathed Snow, eyes wide.

As Kagetora fell off the back of the shuttle, Neku saw him grab the pullchord Tardigan had let go of when breaking the sword.

The mechanism on Tardigan’s back exploded, rocking the ship and sending it flying forward. Snow and Neku went tumbling from the window.

Hawkeye had just enough time to righten the ship, now that the added weight was removed. Only the dented hook with a tattered mess of wires remained attached.

Neither Tardigan nor Kagetora were anywhere to be seen.

* * *

“…Hawkeye?” asked Snow.

“The sensors are frayed,” reported Hawkeye. “But visual indicates Tardigan at least is still in one piece.”

“He could still be alive?” exclaimed Neku. “He killed Kagetora! Let’s go back and kill him!”

“Kagetora sacrificed himself to get us to safety. That was his job,” Hawkeye corrected grimly. “Also, I’m barely controlling myself. That explosion damaged some major systems. I wouldn’t recommend attempting to do anything but fly straight.”

Despite Neku’s disagreement, the shuttle flew away as fast as it could.

“I’m afraid we’re not going to make it back to Pelvanida,” Hawkeye reported after fifteen minutes. “I’m too badly damaged. I’ll be landing shortly.”

As he spoke, the shuttle tilted and slowly settled onto the ground.

“I can fix this damage, but I need some tools.” Vic reported, reading a display.

“You’ll have to hike,” Hawkeye said. “Or explore the surrounding settlements.”

“But what about Tardigan?” exclaimed Snow. “We can’t face him again!”

“Tardigan could not hike this distance in under a day, not even if he forgoed resting,” Hawkeye said. “We’ll be gone before he reaches us.”

“Hopefully,” Vic added, glancing wistfully at the display.


This post has been edited by LettuceBacon&Tomato on Mar 8 2012, 03:21 AM
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Serris
Posted: Mar 8 2012, 11:00 AM


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Yikes. Tardigan is one tough foe!

He's probably the only character to be classed as Nigh Invulnerable.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 9 2012, 08:37 AM


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Have you looked up tardigrades in real life? It's insane; they can survive the most ridiculous extremes. They can do more than just survive the vacuum of space for months, they can even successfully give birth while in it!

Now, technically, they survive this all by going into a deep freeze-state of suspended animation that's literally a heart beat an hour away from death. And large tardigrade wouldn't maintain these powers because of the square-cube law, but whatever. Alternate universe etc you know the drill.

----------------------------------------------

After about an hour, Vic was almost done making the repairs he could with the supplies on hand.

“We’re going to have to hike out in less than fifteen minutes,” Vic reported to Neku.

“Are you leaving me here?” Snow asked Neku.

Neku nodded. “You’ll be safe with Hawkeye, don’t worry. Honestly, you wouldn’t be any safer with me here.”

“How are things going, Vic?” asked Neku.

“Reactivating sensors…now,” Vic grunted, clicking something into place. He glanced at the sensor away and swore loudly, eyes wide.

“Life signs detected!” Hawkeye alerted immediately. “Two life signs, less than twenty feet away and approaching!”

“Two life signs? The hell?” Neku gasped.

“What do we do?” whimpered Snow.

Vic drew a blue-plastic jagged sphere from his pocket. “I saved a single explosive, but I don’t know how effective it will be. Get behind me!”

Taking the lead, he stood in front of the door, wound up like a baseball pitcher, as someone audibly walked up to the door.

And then knocked politely.

Several seconds passed in silence. Then, glancing at his friends, Vic opened the door.

Two other people in protective suits walked in. Neku noticed the Pelvanida logo on their suits.

A cassowary and a jackal removed their helmets. “Apologies for startling you,” the jackal said, noting the weapon in Vic’s hand. “We attempted to contact you by radio, but you wouldn’t respond.”

“Who are you?” Vic asked. He hadn’t put his explosive away, but he wasn’t brandishing it hostilely.

“My name is Dr. Ender McThair, and this is my colleague Ken,” the jackal explained. “We’ve been living in the quarantine zone for almost six months ago.”

“We haven’t seen another living soul since then,” Ken chimed in. His voice was more gruff than Ender’s. “Where did you all come from?”

“And how did you make this ship?” added Ender, glancing at the architecture.

“It’s all a long story,” Neku said. “My name is Neku, and this is Snow.”

“Vincent Summers,” Vic shook Ender’s and Ken’s hand. “You worked at Pelvanida?”

“As did our colleague, who is still back at our home,” Ender nodded. “The three of us have been living in some dead family’s bomb shelter, waiting for the chance to escape.”

Ken handed Snow an environment suit. “We’d brought some, in case you guys didn’t have any,” he said, noting that five more were strapped to his back. “Let’s head back home. We’ve got food and clean air to breathe.”

“Do you have repair tools?” Vic asked. “I’ve got to keep fixing the shuttle.”

“We have the best tools Pelvanida had to offer,” Ender assured.

The team left the Hawkeye and hiked out into the dark landscape. Night was falling again. Ken and Ender produced flashlights and led their way.

“How did you survive…whatever happened?” Snow asked.

“Better yet, can you explain what happened?” Neku asked.

“Once we’re inside. We’re here,” Ender replied.

They’d reached a backyard that, according to the postless mailbox, once belonged to the Robinsons.

Ender motioned to a meta tool shed. “We keep everything of the sort you’re looking for in there.”

Vic nodded and broke off from the group as Ken opened a storm cellar door and the five crammed into a small room. After closing the door, Neku found himself in pitch black.

“Door sealed,” Ender reported after a minute. “You can open up, Ken.”

Ken slid a wall away, revealing a well-lit concrete room. It was decorated with rows of canned food, scientific supplies and equipment, folding chairs, and a worn carpet, probably the last in the city. In the middle stood a surprisingly familiar face.

“Hello,” he greeted the newcomers. “My name is—“

“James Zanasiu!” gasped Snow. She and her two companions drew back, startled.

James looked just as surprised. “You know me?”

“Know you?” Neku exclaimed, “We’ve worked together for years!”

“James, how did you end up here?” asked Snow. “We thought you were dead!”

Ken and Ender traded glances.

“I…” James seemed at a loss for words. “Where exactly are you from?”

“We’re from Pelvanida too,” Neku said. “…kinda.”

“This is going to sound weird,” Snow added in, “But a…different Pelvanida.”

Surprisingly, James and his two friends seemed to grasp their meaning. “Are you from another universe?” he asked, eyes lighting up.

Neku nodded. “You’ve heard of our universe?”

James didn’t reply. He turned away, lost in thought.

“We have,” Ender replied. “Forgive James, this is an emotional moment for him.”

“So you’ve honestly heard of James Zanasiu?” Ken repeated. “From your universe?”

“Of course,” Snow replied. She was starting to be confused.

James turned back around. “Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain. You see, six months ago, the Pelvanida in this universe was attacked by terrorists…

-------------

James traded a look with his assistant, Ken. Ken still held the axe covered in the blood of the disemboweled terrorist in the center of the room. The terrorists’ friends were still outside the lab, keeping them pinned down.

Behind both of them, Ender McThair nervously reloaded the few shells his shotgun was missing. “What are we going to do?” he hissed at James.

James shook his head. There was nothing they could do. There were no other ways out of the lab, and no weapons other than his Remington 470, Ken’s axe, and Ender’s Remington (something else).

Ken gripped his axe tightly. “We’ll just have to go down fighting. I’m not surrendering to them.”

“I doubt they’d accept if we offered surrender,” Ender pointed out.

Suddenly their talk ended when one of the terrorists yelled from down the hall, “What are your names?”

James paused. He met Ender’s quizzical glance with one of his own.

“What are they playing at?” Ken wondered suspiciously.

“Tell us your names!” The terrorist let out a round of gunshots into the lab to remind them who has the upper hand.

Ken ducked as a ricochet almost decapitated him. “Let’s play along. Come up with fake names.”

“What would fake names do for us at this point?” Ender countered. “They’re looking for someone.”

Ken stubbornly didn’t answer.

“What do you think, James?” asked Ender.

James’ thought processes were interrupted when the terrorist fired several pistol shots down the hall. “Last chance! Your names now!”

“Dr. Ender McThair!” Ender finally burst out.

A brief lull, then Ken chimed in, “Amos Day!”

They both looked at James, who was quickly deciding what to do. Finally, he realized he couldn’t think of any fake names.

“James Zanasiu!” he yelled back.

A pause. Then, “Dr. James Zanasiu? From Biologics?”

“No, the other James Zanasiu!”

The terrorist gave a disgruntled reply. “I’m under orders to escortyou to the commander. This is your one chance to come peacefully.”

“If you want me, you’ll have to come get me!” Jame retorted bravely.

“Fine. Then we’ll kill you and your comrades. Commander said to give you one chance to come quietly. Prepare to die.”

“Wait!” James exclaimed. “If I give myself up, what happens to my comrades?”

“They’ll live. Commander wants you in a good mood to cooperate.”

James glanced at his allies.

“Don’t do it, James,” warned Ken. “They’ll kill all of us no matter what we do.”

“Then we have nothing to lose,” James countered. “I agree!” he announced, stepping out into the hallway and holding his arms in a non-threatening position.

“Drop your weapon!” the lead terrorist ordered. James complied. The terrorist and his team darted forward and zipped James’ hands behind his back with cable tie.

“Get the others,” he ordered his men.

The men trudged into the room. “Hey!” the first one yelled, as he dodged a swing from Ken’s axe.

“You won’t take me that easy!” he yelled. The nearest terrorist lowered his rifle to fire, but Ken swung his axe and smashed the weapon out of his hands.

“Ken! Stop!” yelled James.

Ken retreated to the far side of the wall, still holding his axe and panting heavily.

The terrorists restrained Ender, then brandished their weapons threateningly.

“Ken! As you are my assistant, I order you to stand down!”

Ken hesistated.

“They don’t appear to be killing me, Ken,” Ender pointed out.

“I’m a man of my word,” said the lead terrorist.

Ken angrily swung the axe into the wall. “Alright, fine, dammit!” He held his arms out and let himself be cuffed.

“Try anything at all, and you die immediately,” the leader warned Ken. He turned to his men. “Let’s get back to base.”
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 9 2012, 08:01 PM


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The troupe headed out. Gunshots and explosions echoed from other parts of the base.

After ten minutes of hurried walking, the leader held up his hand, indicating a halt. “Follow me,” he commanded the three prisoners.

He led them into a locker room.

“What’s going on?” asked Ender.

The commander drew his knife and walked towards him.

“Hey, don’t—“ Ender tried to back up, but the commander merely slit open the cable tie.

“There’s been a radiation leak in the next section. We’re just going to get you suited up.”

He passed out radiation suits. “You have two minutes before I restrain you again, whether you’re suited or not.”

He kept his gun on Ken the entire time the trio put their suits on.

When they returned to the terrorists, James noticed they had all put their helmets back on. He also noticed the crackling sound of a Geiger coujter embedded on the suit.

The commander’s voice came out muffled. “All right, let’s go.”

They set out into the next hallway. James kept an eye out for radioactive chemicals, but he didn’t see any by the time they emerged in the presentation hall and saw terrorists running every which-way.

“Out of the way,” their lead terrorist ordered, keeping an eye on the prisoners as he weaved their way through the crowd.

Beads of sweat were trickling down James’ face and stinging his eyes. The helmet was hot and obscuring his vision; he wished he could remove his helmet now that they were out of the irradiated section.

Relying on his sense of hearing, James picked out a certain conversation that always seemed to be getting closer.

“They’re having some trouble on the other side. Heavy resistance, worse than ours. He says if you can get Plan B executed, do it.”

“Sir,” James’ lead terrorist stepped in. “The scientist you wanted.”

James’ helmet was unzipped and hung loosely on his back. Blinking, he suddenly realized he was standing face to face with a female velociraptor.

Even thought Ken and Ender’s helmets had alos been removed, the raptor picked out James immediately. “Good job, corporal!” she exclaimed.

The corporal bowed his head in respect. “What should I do with the other two?”

“Keep an eye on them.” The raptor switched attention to James. “Dr. Zanasiu, will you come with me?”

With one final glance at his colleagues, he allowed himself to be led into an empty office.

The raptor sat down behind the desk. “Well? How did you get here?”

James waited for clarification, but it didn’t come. “What?’

“You heard me!”

“Well, you brought me in here.”

“Don’t be stupid!” the raptor snapped angrily. “How did you get into this universe?”

James was perplexed. “I still don’t understand.”

The raptor growled in frustration. “How long have you been here?”

“About two min—“

“Not this room!” The raptor stood up angrily and James took an alarmed step back, but she seemed to control herself and sit back down. “Let me explain. I come from the same universe as you do. I was an experiment Pelvanida, and developed the ability to plane jump. Do you understand now?”

James was pretty sure Pelvanida had never had a velociraptor experiment. He shook his head. “No.”

The raptor crossed over to him. “Did it happen too long ago for you to remember?” She grabbed him by the shoulders. “Listen to me. My brother saw your name on the employee roster of the Pelvanida Base in our original universe. Your name is the only one that appears in both universes. That can’t be a coincidence.”

He shook his head again weakly. “This is all completel over my head.”

She let go angrily. “Maybe, however it happened, it erased your memory.” She sat down again. “Let me tell you my story. Maybe something will jog your mind.”
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 10 2012, 10:18 PM


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A non-anthro rabbit sniffed the meadow air. While city maps still listed Hidden Meadows as a meadow, in reality it was little more than hills of dirt with some yellow weeds growing in patches.

Luckily, one of these patches was tall enough for a small velociraptor to hide behind.

With a flash, she sprang out of the patch and raced toward the rabbit at top speed, a whirlwind of snarling fangs and talons.

Unfortunately, the rabbit had been eying the patch with trepidation, and at the first sign of movement was already darting towards his nearby hole.

With a last burst of speed and milliseconds to go, the raptor lunged, swiping the rabbit’s side with her claw. Three red gashes spurt blood from its flank, and it went sprawling past its hole. The rabbit immediately ran for the other haven, the shrubs and brushes that border the meadow.

The raptor grinned and resumed the chase. “Run, rabbit run!” she taunted. She could smell his wounds and his exhaustion for miles if she had to, and in the shrubs he could only run, not hide.

The rabbit disappeared into the thick bramble, and the raptor burst in right after it. Her thick skin protected her from the branches, and at this close range her hampered vision was unimportant. Her nose kept her on target.

She could practically taste the kill already…

Suddenly there was a horrible crunching noise in her left leg, and a white-hot flash of pain. She stumbled and collapsed.

After several confused minutes of blinding pain, she regained enough control to figure out what had happened. She had stepped on a broken bottle, which drove itself into her foot and then shattered.

With much effort, she dragged herself out of the shrub. Tears stung her eyes.

She had to get back to Halsey. He’d know what to do.

She started the long crawl home. With her excellent sense of smell, she could sense the rabbit was hiding in the edge of the brush, watching her. She cursed it softly.

From the meadow, to the unpaved roads, to the alleys in the outskirts of Carson City she limped home.

In a darkened alley, she saw a small fire, with her brother putting cardboard boxes on. “Halsey!” she cried out. “Help me!”

Her brother leapt up and quickly crossed over. “Ashley!” he gasped. “What happened?”

She couldn’t answer. Carefully, with Halsey’s help, she crawled to the fire and collapsed next to it. She didn’t trust herself to talk without crying.

“Here,” he said softly, handing her one of the two squares of bread. She ate it quickly.

Halsey fashioned a splint out of the meager supplies they had available to them. He examined her wound in the flickering fire light. “Is that glass? It’s driven in really deep.”

She took a deep breath. “I chased a rabbit into some bushes. I couldn’t see where I was stepping.” She winced as Halsey started extracting the shards gingerly with his talons. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to get you some meat. We haven’t had meat in such a long time.”

It’s all right. It would have been a nice gift, but accidents happen.” Halsey took the remaining square of bread and wrapped it around her foot with newspaper, using the paper’s rubber band to secure it. “Here, I remember reading this. If you keep the bread there, it’ll draw the glass out over the course of a few days.

Ashley winced. “Thanks. Again, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’ll need to find something to disinfect it tomorrow.” Halsey finished caring for the injury as well sa he could. “Be careful. Dangerous things are everywhere, in the most unexpected places. We’re actually lucky it wasn’t something even worse.”

She sighed. “I know.”

They sat in silence for a time. Ashley realized Halsey had wrapped his portion of tonight’s dinner around her foot. “Where did you get the bread?”

“I stole it while fixing somebody’s satellite dish,” he admitted. “Their kitchen window was right below me.”

Ashley knew that Halsey was nothing short of a technological genius, despite his position in life. He was able to consistently get them food just by convincing people that he has all sorts of qualifications to get through their door.

“Have you ever thought about moving further into the city?” Ashley asked. “They have a university. If anything, you could school yourself with the textbooks that get thrown away.”

Halsey shook his head. “The city is dangerous. I’ve heard it from inner city contacts; homeless people disappear off the streets. Nobody knows what happens to them. We need to stay in the outskirts.”

“But Halsey, you could be a professor, or an inventor,” Ashley protested. “You shouldn’t live the rest of your life taking care of me in an alleyway.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Halsey said crossly. “Don’t talk like you’re holding me down. We’re both talented, we have to be to have survived this long.”

She shook her head. “I’m not as talented as you.”

Halsey put his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll go deeper into the city once I can find a way to do it safely. Trust me.”

She nodded and smiled. She trusted him. He’d never broken a promise.

“Now get some sleep, please,” he put their only blanket over her. “We raptors heal fast, but you’ll need to stay off that leg for a few days.”

She nodded again. Her leg still badly hurt, but she knew Halsey would protect her. It was difficult, but she managed to sleep.

However, her last waking thought was, Tomorrow, I have to kill that rabbit. One way or another.

* * *

In the morning Halsey was gone. He always had to start out early.

Ashley rummaged in the dumpster and found a 2x4 which would make a good crutch.

She fashioned a crude slingshot out of a bent fork and a rubber band. She tested her shot with some pebbles, and after a half hour of practice she could hit her target with about 45 percent accuracy.

“Good enough for me,” she muttered, admiringly, after hitting a dent in a gutter twice in a row.

So she set out back to Hidden Meadows, slingshot hanging from her teeth and 2x4 propped under her arm.

Before she reached the hill with the rabbit hole, she practiced some more, aiming at blades of grass, flies, and other pebbles. She became rather proficient.

When she felt ready, she returned to the hill and took her position behind a more distant patch of grass. With her she brought her finest pebble: one heavy, black, and quite spherical. She knew she’d only get one shot.

For hours she waited behind that patch of grass. Velociraptors were nothing if not extremely patient.

Soon it was mid-afternoon, and she began to worry about having to head back. She had to be home before Halsey.

Finally, cursing under her breath, she staggered to her feet and wrote the day off as a loss. The damn rabbit never showed; she’d have to come back tomorrow.

At least I’ll have time to get better with— Her thoughts were dashed when she rounded the final hill as saw a grey van parked on the side of the road. One of the faraway figures seemed to be fixing the tire. The other saw her and rasied a gun to his eye.

Before she could react there was a light “whrrrr-piff” and something stabbed into her neck. Scrabbling with her claws, she pulled a dart out of her neck.

Her heart skipped a beat. At the same time, her neck swelled up, preventing her from yelling or gasping audibly.

She ran for it, abandoding her 2x4 and ignoring the pain in her leg as she tore through the Hidden Meadows plain.

She felt herself getting sluggish, but her adrenaline rush coupled with her velociraptor stamina and attentiveness told her she would be able to escape.

But she couldn’t compensate for her leg. The gunman caught up with her and shot her three more times. Her swollen esophagus refused air, and her vision clouded.

Before she even fully knew what was going on, she was unconscious and dying.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 12 2012, 02:25 AM


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Pain flashed through her head and leg. She had the worst sore throat she could imagine.

Ashley’s eyes groggily fluttered open. At first, she could see nothing but the limited light coming from a frosted circle of glass on the door, but her eyes adjusted and revealed an empty metal cell.

She stood up shakily and tried to orient herself, but despite the relative simplicity of the environment she had to take in, she was still too disoriented to think. She would vomit but her somach was completely empty. Her ragged clothes and splint were nowhere to be seen.

“Halsey?” she asked, despite the room clearly being empty. “Please be here. I need you. Halsey?”

Every word tore her throat apart. She stepped forward, and her leg collapsed underneath her.

“Halsey!” She tried to get to her feet again. “please help me!”

There was a shift in light, and Ashley realized someone was looking at her through the frosted glass.

She crawled over and smashed her face against it. “Where’s Halsey? What did I do? Tell me why I’m here!”

There was a hiss, and it came from all four corners of the room. She couldn’t discern any real source or consequence, but once her mind clouded again she realized that were gassing her.

She collapsed again and slowly suffocated.

* * *

Pain and motion, lights and sensation. The next time she awoke, she couldn’t get her eyes to focus.

She started stirring. Something was prodding her in the side. Her chest felt weird.

“Oh jeez! She’s awake!” somebody exclaimed.

An older voice cursed. “MacElroy! What dosage did you give?”

Ashley’s eyes finally adjusted. A bright surgical light was shining in her face, and dark figures hunched over her.

I gave her normal, doc!”

“Give her maximum right now! We’ll figure out the correct dosage later!”

Ashley looked down. Her chest was cut open and she could see her inner organs. Pins held flaps of skin open, and tubes pumped clear liquids into different parts of her body.

She screamed. A high-pitched, unyielding scream that sent the pouches of liquid quivering echoed throughout the laboratory.

“MacElroy!”

“Sorry, doc!”

A giant needle, gleaming in the bleached light, appeared on the peripherals of Ashley’s vision.

She squirmed. “Oh God, don’t! Please don’t!”

One of the tubes popped out, gushing clear liquid on the floor. Something started beeping uncontrollably and something else started flashing red.

“She’s going to kill herself! Do it now!”

The needle stabbed itself into her exposed inner thigh. With it came a blinding wave of pain that washed itself across her entire body.

She screamed again. “Stop! Please stop!”

The needle remained jabbed into her groin. Spots dotted her vision. She was blacking out again.

The last thing she whispered was, “Halsey…”

* * *

The next day she only briefly stirred in her cell before deciding it wasn’t worth the effort of getting up and remained in the fetal position she had awakened in.

She felt different. Pain still emanated from different parts of her body, especially her throat and leg, but it felt less like it was a part of her. Indeed, she felt less attached to the cell and sensations around her. It was as if all the pain, all the fear and confusion was happening to someone else, and she was merely observing.

Rather than wonder at why, she gratefully took it at face value and used the strange distance from her pain to will herself into a fitful sleep.

* * *

Her next conscious thought was of being under the blinding light, painful pinches coming from across her body, that horrible feeling of having ones inner organs exposed to the light.

“I don’t believe it; she’s waking up again!”

“We can’t have her panic again. Sedate her immediately.”

She opened her eyes to see the huge needle coming at her.

Her eyes widened. She began thrashing wildly. “Please! No!” Every fiber of her being strained in every way it could to avoid the needle.

Suddenly the feeling of detachment from the cell multiplied itself exponentially, and voices cried out.

The red light suddenly turned off. The beeping of an EKG flatlined. The needle stabbed, but went through like air.

“Rick, what the hell is happening?”

She was free. All ofa sudden, her arms could swing loosely, and she floated in a colorless soundless void. She had a moment to wonder if she had dies when sound and substance crashed back into existence and she smashed back onto the operating table.

But it was different. The lights were off; nobody was present. No tools were out, no restraints were linked to the arms of the chair. The lab was closed down for the night.

Nervously she climbed down from the table, putting all her pressure on her good leg. An IV stand was in the room, she grabbed it and used it to support herself.

After checking for personnel, she limped into the hallway. She was in a huge building; the hallway led her past rows and rows of labs.

Eventually she found a reception area, with computer terminals, desks, and large windows showing empty deserts outside.

As she started for the door, she saw a flashlight beam appear down another hallway. “Hey! Who’s there?” a gruff voice yelled.

Ashley’s heart leapt into her throat. She began sprinting towards the large glass windows showing the desert.

A night guard appeared, running to intercept her. “Hey, stop!”

But he backed off when she brandished her talons menacingly. Smashing the window with the IV stand, she forced her way out of the base and sprinted to freedom.
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Serris
Posted: Mar 12 2012, 08:30 PM


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... Okay, interesting but the part with Ashley was a bit of a mindf---.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 12 2012, 10:55 PM


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Was supposed to be, at least to an extent. Hopefully this next section will help clear things up.

-------------------

Despite her leg, she didn’t stop running for hours, bypassing Carson City and finally settling down under a billboard off a quiet road to Los Angeles.

That night she cried. She didn’t understand what had happened to her, why it happened or how she could get better. She only knew she had to find Halsey.

I’ll go back to Carson City tomorrow,, she thought. I find Halsey, he’ll know what to do. I’ve got to see Halsey again.

It was one of the worst nights she’d ever had. Rather than gain strength as she rested, she felt energy slip away until come morning she couldn’t even walk. She was starving to death, and in desperation consumed the weeds around the base of the billboard. This just made her feel nauseous.

After another day, she finally felt some subtle feelings of strength ebb back into her arms and legs. By mid-afternoon she could walk through she couldn’t keep her balance or foucus her eyes.

Still, she needed food, and there was certainly none to be had here. So she started crawling on her hands and knees back to Carson City.

In the outskirts, she found a house with a fish tank by the window and helped herself to all the fish. This was enough to get her into the city, where she rummaged in the dumpsters for scraps.

She ate everything she could find, including some things she wasn’t positive was food, and didn’t stop to reflect on her next move until early next morning, as she gnawed on a meat-flavored plastic bone.

She had almost died, she was certain of it. Whatever happened felt like it tore at every molecule of her body. She wasn’t sure exactly how she’d barely survived.

But what did happen? One second, she was being tortured in a laboratory, surrounded by scientists and blinding light, and the next second it was dark and nobody was around. Did she kill them somehow? Make them disappear?

No, time travel would make more sense. She time-shifted to another point in history, which happened to be nighttime. She shuddered to think if she had been caught. A past version of herself could be in the holding cells right now.

So, what should she do now? Find Halsey? She desperately wanted to find Halsey. He would know what to do. But if she travelled too far in the past, Halsey could still be living with a past self of her.

After a few minutes, she decided she didn’t care. Even if he never trusts her again, she had to at least see him.

She threw the bone away. As it was already morning, she might as well set out now.

She had a much harder time than she thought finding their old alleyway. The huge casino sign she normally used as a landmark was on the wrong side of the city, and the streets seemed to merge in the wrong ways.

Finally, she found what she was certain was the old alley; the red brick wall with the chipped corner was still to the right, and a chain link fense blocked off the back entrance. But their dumpster was missing, and there was no sign of anyone living there.

She was starting to get concerned. In the past, she remembered the dumpster had been present before the chain link fense. Some very simple things were wrong with this city.

One last place, she thught, backing out of the alley.

Heading back to the outskirts of the city, Ashley returned to Hidden Meadows. There she saw the sign she’d examined for hours while crouched in the grass, waiting for the rabbit.

Prado Escondido,’ it read.

“Where am I?” she wondered aloud.

* * *

The velociraptor grew silent. “Do you understand now?”

James had sat quietly throughout the whole story, trying valiantly to see how it linked to him. “I understand where you come from, I guess,” he conceded. “You’re a Pelvanida experiment.”

“Yes, but not from this universe.” She stood up again, clearly antagonized by his inability to grasp her point. “From a Pelvanida in another universe. With different personnel and a different layout and everything. That was what those scientists did to me!”

James didn’t know how much he believed all of this. It seemed like a bit of a stretch. But she had the claws and the army of terrorists at her disposal, so he decided to operate as if she was right about everything. “So you can travel between these universes?”

“No, the first trip nearly killed me. But with experimenting, I found I could send just a projection of myself back to my old universe, though it drains me quickly of energy. But as soon as my strength would return, I’d try again. The city folk around ourold alley now think its haunted. But I managed to find Halsey again.”

She sat back down. “He vowed to dedicate his life to getting me home. He’d gone to the university by that point, and he used all the resources at his disposal to find a way for me to come back. Through our brief visits, he learned as much as he could about my condition and he researched Pelvanida on his own. Which is where you come in, doc.”

“Me?” James asked, grateful she was finally getting to the point but still confused. “How could any of this have to do with me?”

“In the Pelvanida from my world, there’s a registered scientist named Dr. James Zanasiu.”

“So, an alternate version of me?”

She flashed her eyes. “Halsey says the odds of a person independently appearing in two universes is astronomical.”

“But it happened, clearly.”

“We checked the census and personnel files of every businesss and community in both Carson Cities and Las Vegases. While matching place and company names are relatively common, not a single other person shows up in both universes.”

James thought. “So, you think I somehow made the same journey you did? But lost my memory doing it?”

“With what we learned about Pelvanida, its quite possible,” she said. “More probable than th alternative.”

“But I can’t be!” James protested. “I’ve had a whole life in this universe! I went to college! I got a PhD! I had a dog when I was a kid!”

“Could be a past your mind generated to explain where it was. Or maybe that was your past in your old universe, adapted to fit your current one.” The raptor still looked annoyed. “It’s clear you don’t know how you traveled here, or even when you did. We were hoping your method could be a backup in case Halsey’s primary plan doesn’t work out.”

“Which is?” James asked, hoping to learn more to fight the terrorists.

But the commander didn’t go into detail. “I’ll keep you alive in the hopes that you’ll remember something useful. If you’re very cooperative, I’ll even let you return with me to your real universe. For now, I have to talk to Leither. Return with me.”

She dropped him off with Ender and Ken and took the lead terrorist from the raid aside, where they began muttering in low voices.
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 14 2012, 01:31 AM


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“Why are you still wearing your radiation suits?” James asked his comrades. Of course, James was still wearing his, but he hadn’t had a chance to take it off.

“We’re hoping to escape through the irradiated section once given the chance,” said Ken.

Ender noticed a haunted look in James’ eye. “What did she tell you?” he asked.

“She thinks I’m from a different universe.” James explained briefly what he has been told. “I appear on the personnel files of the other Pelvanida, and doubles don’t happen between universes.”

“She’s lying,” Ken said quickly. “Trying to get under your skin.”

“Why though?” Ender said. “James has nothing she wants.” It was clear Ender wanted to explore this idea. “Another universe…how interesting.”

“We don’t know that for sure.” Ken folded his arms. “I don’t believe it. James, how are we going to escape? We’re still trying to escape, right?”

For a split moment, James wasn’t sure. He couldn’t see why she’d make up such a story if she could just force him at gunpoint to do what she wants. He also felt the allure of returning to his universe…

He snapped out of it. “Yes, we’re trying to escape.” He turned to Ken. “Is there some way we could create a technological distraction? They’re using a virus to control the security system, right?”

Ender nodded. “I doubt we’ll get an opportunity to do that, though—“

“You.” Leither had returned, and was looking at Ender. “Dr. McThair, it says you work in Cybernetics. Then this issue shouldn’t be a problem for you.”

He led the three to the computing system. “We’ve completely locked down the base physically and electronically, but something is trying to hack in from the outside. Figure out what it is.”

Ender sat down and started the task manager. James noticed he was looking for the virus.

“What do you need that open for?” Leither asked suspiciously.

“Checking to see if the outside source had remotely installed anything,” Ender improvised quickly. “A long shot, I know, but it doesn’t hurt to check.” He put the task manager on the side and opened up the correct program.

“Why is the task manager still up?” Leither asked.

“No reason, doesn’t take up much money. But if you want it down…” Ender acquiescently closed it, searching its programs until the moment it was gone.

But it was no use. Leither was watching like a hawk, and proved to be more observant and tech-savvy then James had assumed. Ender would barely stray off the chosen objective and Leither would notice.

“Why the hell do you even need me?” Ender snapped angrily, after being refused to let run a function that Leither somehow predicted would cold reboot the system.

“You don’t want me to ask that question,” Leither said in a low voice, teeth gritted. “Get back to the job.”

“Just because I don’t do things your way doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong!” Ender retorted angrily. “If you actually hope to find what you’re looking for—“

Just then he clicked a button and found what they were looking for.

For a second, nobody moved. Then Ender made to close but Leither had already noticed it. “Crimson Base!” he exclaimed, and quickly left to inform the commander.

“Crimson knows?” Ken said.

“Crimson has some of the best computer scientists in the country,” Ender said. “I wou;dn’t be able to create a system they couldn’t crack.” With Leibert gone, Ender began clicking around. “The terrorists went too far. They froze all external communications leaving Pelvanida, but didn’t exempt automated systems. Those should never turn off.” Ender started typing quickly.

“What are you--?” Ken started, but Ender shushed him. “He’s replying to Crimson while the channel is open,” James explained.

“They’re asking the severity of the break-in,” said Ender. “I’m telling them it couldn’t possibly be worse—“ he broke off. His face went pale.

“What?”

“’Evacuate immediately,” Ender read. “’We will be taking immediate action to guarantee Pelvanida experiments do not escape the lab premises.’”

“Immediate action?” Ken repeated. “Won’t that involve trying to rescue the scientists?”

“Doesn’t sound like it,” James said. “We need to get a warning out. Ender, can you do anything from--?”

“Hey!” Leither barked, returning. “Get off the computer!”

With lightning-fast keystrokes, Ender ctrl-A-backspaced the contents of his conversation with Crimson. Leither scanned the page and noticed nothing wrong. “Follow me. We’re moving out.”
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LettuceBacon&Tomato
Posted: Mar 14 2012, 11:13 PM


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Everyone in the hangar had started packing up at some point after James had stopped paying attention. Equipment was being strapped to people’s backs, and the hangar in general was being cleared. They didn’t look like they planned on coming back.

“All right, move it,” Leither ordered, prodding Ken with the barrel of his AK-47.

“Where are we going now?” asked Ken, despite promptly following Leither’s order.

“Wherever I tell you to go.” Leither countered tersely.

The three followed the large envoy of terrorists migrating through the base. At several points, James heard gunfire but it subsided quickly. The terrorists were gunning down anyone who crossed his path.

“It looks like they’re heading for the sublevels,” Ender noted.

But before they reached there, the commander broke off from the rest of the group. “Everyone keep heading to cell-block I,” she ordered the assembled. “Have base set up by the time I get back.”

Along with Leither and a burly terrorist, she took the prisoners back into the laboratories. Bodies were everywhere. James didn’t see a single living being.

“Lab 76 is still untouched?” she asked Leither.

Leither nodded. “As you ordered. Scientist and experiment are locked inside.”

James racked his brains but couldn’t remember who was in Lab 76.

He recognized the lab as they approached it without even reading the numbers; instead of being covered in blood with the door bashed in, Lab 76 had boards nailed across the entrance. James noticed it had been constructed to omit a window and an air vent.”

“Oh God,” Ender realized. “It’s Luddly’s lab.”

“Try and shield your minds, everybody,” Ken muttered under his breath.

Leither hushed them as the commander pried the boards off with her claws.

Inside James saw a lab designed to be an isolation chamber. A wiry, cowering scientist whom James recognized by sight backed into the corner, and canary wearing a restraining cap looked over from a cage designed to block thought waves.

“Wh-what do you want?” Dr. Luddly asked in a nasally voice James also recognized.

The commander ignored him, crossing to the cage and flinging the door open. “Read his mind,” she ordered the canary, pointing a claw at James. “Pick the most emotional moment of his life, even if he can’t remember it.”

James tried to do what Ken said and shield his mind, but his control was dashed when the burly terrorist grabbed him from behind and forced him forward. Ashley carried the canary toward him.

“Wait,” Luddly exclaimed, “don’t do that! That’s not how--!”

“Quiet!” Leither snapped.

The canary bit the commander’s finger, who screeched and slapped it against the wall.

Suddenly a thundering wave crashed in James’ mind and sent him to his knees. His vision faded out, he felt he was in another place. He heard crying.

“Please! You’ve got to concentrate!”

The arid smell of the hot Nevadan desert. It was dark, smoky, and James realized he was in a tent, a well-worn tent. Scientific equipment was revealed in the shadows, flickering in the light of an oil lanter. A microscope sat in front of him.

“What do you see in the sample?” the voice asked impatiently.

“I don’t see anything!” James replied, tears stinging his eyes.

“Then you need to focus the microscope. Start with the biggest dial—“

“There’s nothing there!” James hissed. He smashed his fist against the table.

Something walked in front of James, and with a flash he realized the smoke was a wispy figure of Halsey, Ashley’s brother. He wore a university school uniform, and as James looked he could make out a transparent computer lab superimposed over the contents in the tent. It was as if he was seeing two worlds at once. Lit monitors in the lab gave off no light in the tent, and Halsey was on one of them. He was also surrounded by books.

James focused and squinted into the microscope. “There are little things,” she said. “Hundreds of them.”

“Those are skin cells,” the wispy Halsey explained. He brought up an image on the computer. “Look at this. Can you see anything different between this image and your skin cells?”

James was aware that small aches hit various parts of his body. A small reptilian scale on the table caused him to remember he’d pried it from his elbow to examine, and his tooth hurt from the bone sample he’d shaved off of it.

“I don’t see any differences,” he said, squinting through the microscope until his eyes hurt.

Halsey sighed. “Okay, fine. Dammit, I wish I could see your world. You’re probably missing something.”

“I’m sorry!” James pushed the microscope and it almost tipped over. He grabbed it, but not before it made a loud clanking noise.

“Careful!” Halsey admonished.

A shadow appeared in the entrance to the tent. “Commander?” Leither’s voice asked. “Is everything all right?”

“Go away!” James snapped. The shadow quickly disappeared.

The smoky Halsey was grabbing his forehead in frustration. “Ashley, come on! You need to control yourself! No more temper tantrums!”

I just don’t know any of this!” James clutched his fists. “Stop yelling at me!”

“Stop overreacting!” Halsey took a deep breath. “Listen. I only need a bit more information, then I can figure out what Pelvanida did to you. Then I can figure out how to replicate it and get you back here. You want that, don’t you?”

“I don’t know…” James hesitated.

“What?” Halsey’s voice went low. “What do you mean, ‘you don’t know’?”

“Halsey, I just—it hurts, it really hurts.” James looked away from his brother. “All these tests I’ve had to do on myself. Maybe… maybe this is good enough? What we’ve got now?”

Halsey looked at him with an undescribable expression. James suddenly got very cold. He knew he’d just done something very wrong.

James tried to keep going. “I mean, we still have each other, even if we’re not together physically, right? We can still talk at any time, if we just—“

“How can you say this?” Halsey interrupted. “How can you say these things after all I’ve done for you?” He angrily approached James, and he unconsciously stepped back in fear. “I’m spending the best years of my life in cramped little rooms and in dusty libraries trying to get you back, and that’s how grateful you are?”

“But I’m trying to give you the opportunity to stop, if you wanted to…” James was shivering, his body cowed.

“Of course I’m not going to stop!” Halsey exclaimed angrily. “I’m about to create a bridge between universes! Create something nobody else has even dreamed of doing! I thought you understood how important this was!”

“I thought you were doing this for me,” James snapped back, feeling more tears come.

“I thought so too, until I heard what you just said—“ Halsey broke off and hid under the table. A lght had clicked on in the hallway outside the computer lab. A night guard walked by, peered into the lab, and continued his route.

“I just wish you’d stop treating me like an experiment,” James tried one last time. “Is there any way to get the information so that it doesn’t hurt so much?”

“No…” Halsey growled forcefully.

“Then maybe you could at least show some compassion when it—“

“I’m running out of time,” Halsey interrupted. “The professor for the morning class comes in at 5:30. I just need one last thing; the blood test.”

James looked at the gleaming silver syringe sitting on the table. Cold fear trickled down his back, and goosebumps rised on his neck and arms. “Please, Halsey, not now. Can it wait?”

“No!” Halsey snapped. His eyes narrowed in determination. “Grab the moist towelette and swab your inner elbow.”

James did what he was told. “Please, not right now. Tomorrow! I promise I’ll do it tomorrow!”

“Grab the needle,” Halsey ordered. He didn’t seem to listen, he merely stared hardly at James’ hand as it grasped the syringe.

James felt panic choking his throat. “Halsey, you promised you’d never hurt me!”

“Aim for the brachial artery,” he said. This close to his goal, he didn’t even seem to regard James as alive. “Keep it in until the syringe is full.”

James shivered uncontrollably, eyes wide open, syringe held in a stabbing position. He closed his eyes.

“Now!”

James stabbed himself in the arm. Pain and panic flashed through him, and everything went black.

* * *

When he awoke, he was back in Luddly’s lab. Everyone was on the ground. The canary lay dead near the far wall underneath a splash of its own blood.

The terrorist commander got shakily to his feet.

Luddly had gotten up first. “Look what you’ve done!” he gasped.

“What was that?” the terrorist commander demanded.

“Since you startled it, it scrambled the mind reading around,” Luddly accused. “We all got to read someone else’s most emotional memory.”

There was a pause as everyone sorted out what they’d just witnessed.

“So, who was the girl?” Ender asked Leither. Leither glared back.

Suddenly Ken snapped his beak at the burly man and stabbed him in the neck. The man cried out, clutching his throat, as Leither drew his pistol.

Ender swung his paw and knocked the weapon out of his hand.

James bolted for the door. He heard Ashley snarl and pounce behind him, so he slid under the lab table. But Ashley had attacked Ken, who had retrieved a scalpel from Luddly’s workstation and started stabbing wildly.

Luddly tried to escape but Leither kneed him in the stomach. Ender jumped on his back, lacerating his face with claws.

Ken stabbed with the scalpel but the commander dodged and raked his back. Huge tears appeared in his radiation suit.

Leither flipped Ender off of him but got tangled in Luddly’s feet as the latter tried to get up.

Ken dodged the commander’s follow-through and used his momentum to cut her across the eye wth the scalpel. Then he dove out of the way as James and Ender pushed the lab table forward to trap the lab commander between it and the wall.

“Let’s go!” Ender yelled. The three bolted, followed by a staggering Luddly.

They didn’t get far when they heard a gunshot and Luddly fell to the ground with a cry. Leither had his pistol out, and his blood-streaked face was set with determination.

The three turned a corner but found the door at the end of the hallway locked.

“Can you pick it?” asked James, panting.

Ender extracted a paper clip and a few other random instruments from his lab coat. “Yes, but not fast enough!”

“I’ll give us the time we need,” said Ken, slipping his torn radiation suit off and running back down the hall.

As soon as Leither appeared, Ken threw the suit at him, causing his shot to go wide. Ken then dove in top and stabbed his scalpel through the suit, jamming it repeatedly into Luddly’s chest.

Leither stopped struggling and cried out. The pistol fell from his weakened grasp and he started struggling for breath.

“Ken, stop!” James rushed over and pulled Ken’s suit off. “You punctured a lung.”

Leither was drowning in his own blood.

“Ender?” James asked.

“I’m close, one more minute!” he grunted, still focused on his work.

James focused his attention on Leither. “What are Ashley and Halsey attempting to accomplish? What’s their plan?”

Leither shook his head.

“Please tell me,” James tried again. “If I knew how they plan to bridge worlds, I might remember myself.”

Leither smiled. “It…won’t…help,” he coughed. His lungs were almost completely filled. “I…saw…”

“Me?” gasped James. “You saw me?” He gripped Leither by the shoulders. “What did you see? Did you see how I crossed the universes?”

Leither continued to smile. Just as James realized the man was going to take the secret to his grave, Leither’s eyes closed and his head lolled to one side.

Ken took Leither’s pulse. “He’s dead.”

James angrily got up and swore. “What about you?” he asked Ken. “Did you see anything useful?”

“I saw Luddly getting his PhD,” said Ken. He helped himself to Leither’s pistol.

“I got it!” Ender exclaimed, as the door clicked.

Just then they heard a velociraptor’s roar of fury from Luddly’s lab. The commander was free.

“Let’s move!” Ken said, and the three continued down this new hallway. James could hear the commander’s claws clacking down the hallway after them.

‘Hold it,” Ender said suddenly. “We’re entering an irradiated section.”

James’ suit was telling him the same.

“Now what?” asked Ken. “She’ll kill me if I stop here, and there’s nowhere else to go.”

James heard the commander approach. Her snarling became audible.

“You won’t have time to kill her with that,” Ender warned Ken, who was raising his pistol. “Raptors can take at least a dozen shots.”

“Here,” James started taking his suit off. “Take mine. She can’t kill me because she wants to know my secret.”

“She’s enraged right now,” Ender warned. “We don’t know what she’ll do.”

“We do if Ken is the one to stay behind! Do it!”

There was no time to argue the point. Ken forced himself into James’ suit and with a single “Good luck” the two headed off.
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