'The Pit: Hell Frozen Over' - Arc 3, Chapter 3: 'The One Truth' (Closed, Started)

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Lt. Abreu kept marching towards the convoy escorting the executives, one of them walked up to her and stuttered nervously "H-hello," ,extending a hand he continued, "Doctor Simon Olivander, at your service. Before you ask, it's economics, not medicine."

"I wasn't going to ask." She replied in her thick Brazilian accent. She shook his hand with a firm grasp and could tell he was not physically strong. This particular exec seemed weaker willed than the others, perhaps she could take advantage of this. "Tell me, if you will, how long will you and your associates stay?"
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After about an hour Felix had decided he had done enough work, he turned to the man next to him and said "I'm taking a short break, I will be back shortly. Is there anywhere I can get some water or anything?"

"There was a supply drop before you got here. Don't know if there's anything less though. Doubt it," he replied.

"Thank you sir. I'll bring you something if there's anything left." Felix left the mine and was about to leave behind the pickaxe when he decided it might be best to bring it with him. He might need it, this hell hole had a reputation for extreme violence. He walked walked through a large open area where he could see some stragglers taking the last bits of food away. Felix hurried towards the boxes and crate, swiftly looking through them all. Nothing left. Felix sighed to himself rather annoyed as he sat among the crates holding his pickaxe on his lap, whistling an old tune as he did and singing in his head; an old folk song that was passed down from his family.

Well sometimes, I go out, by myself, and I look across the water.
And I think of all the things, what you do, and in my head I make a picture.

He glanced around around at his ice cold surroundings. As he looked up at the massive structure he could see stalactites hanging from the ceiling. He wondered how long it would it for him to get accustomed to this new cold, as he was so used to his old heat of Iberia.

"You a'right, lass?"

"I'm... I'm fine." Aggie breathed deeply, catching a few coughs but soon she stabilized herself. She didn't have an exact time estimate as to when she started to have the affliction but that didn't affect her. She would overcome this like she has everything else. The man still looked at her which agitated her.

"Go! I'm fine." Aggie hissed.

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The ride to the Pit was far from entertaining but Richard was chock full of it. He was excited to see what the big hub-bub was about concerning the place but so far it looked decent. The guards still had walkie-talkies which he noted. Ignites Solutions had a better way of communication and Venture Horizons were echelons above them. That brought up a thought about using the American "Land Warrior" system or at least the concept of it to better synchronize the Wardens but there pros and cons just like most things. Cost, training, and implementation was the major factors going through his head which brought up another question.

"Captain Korovich..." Richard spoke out, breaking the temporary silence. "How long have you been here?"

Korovitch did not so much as glance at the executive as he maneuvered the transport up a shallow ascent. The man did not outrank him, and by his understanding, held little to no power. He had little patience for the games these people played, as he was still in deep introspection about his team, and what the Colonel had in store for him. He had vowed to separate himself emotionally from what happened, and to be as coldly effective as possible.

"Seven years. Why?"

"Wait... let me do this." The British man said. "I've been with these blokes for a while now and they'd gut me if I didn't do this. "Walker is from New York... Oliva is from Florida... Albergo is from Amsterdam... and Marino is from.. uh Europe?" He then said as he hazarded a guess at the nationalities of his squad-mates. However, it appears that Marino was less than impressed with his colleagues attempt, as he chucked a paper ball at the man.

"Italy, you figlio di yroia!" The table as a whole laughed once more, even Abigail found herself joining in with the spectacle with a brief chuckle, this was definitely the sort of atmosphere she enjoyed seeing at the Gates of Pandemonium.

"4 out of 5... not bad." Albergo said as he patted the man on the back for his valiant attempt.

"I'm from London by the way." The first man then said as he spoke up. "In case you wanted to find specifically out where I'm from."

"Well, it is nice to see such a wide spectrum of people from all around the world. Seeing as how you have told me where your from, it would be rude of me to deny you the same pleasure. As for me, I hail from the Great White North that is Canada, though I was born and raised in the city of New Toronto, which is much like old Toronto, just rebuilt in some areas after the Cataclysm." Abigail said as she poured a glass of water from a large bottle she had under the counter.

"So, any of you guys seen any combat outside of working for Venture?" Abigail asked a little nervously.

"Dr. Ollivander," Lee interrupted coolly, "I believe you were instructed to go with Lt Com. Montoya. Lt Abreu and her squad are with me. Abreu, mount up."

Once everyone was correctly sorted the three convoys departed the airstrip, on their way to the Atrium via three different routes. Lee's contingent took the longest route, in order to demonstrate the full extent of the progress made to the garrison at RACDI-Alpha, before entering The Pit itself. The two trucks that accommodated Viper and Husky squads, as well as the five Executives with them, were open-topped as to give their guests a good view of the activity going on above ground. Brand new Venture Horizon LAV's took point and brought up the rear, with a Main Battle Tank in between the two trucks.

A few months ago, RACDI-Alpha had been, more often than not, almost oppressively inactive on the surface, with little more than some barbed wire, a few scant patrols and the occasional cargo delivery to give anyone a clue as to the operation here. Now though, Lee had transformed the surface into what could easily be mistaken for a staging ground precluding a full-scale war. Most of the perimeter was now covered by walls of reinforced concrete stretching twenty feet high, with forty foot watchtowers, manned by Wardens armed with a mixture sniper rifles, mounted machine guns and rockets launchers at two hundred meter intervals, their searchlights now being activated in the fading light. Their convoy passed regular armored patrols going in the opposite direction, with transport and attack helicopters passing overhead almost as frequently. Warden's were drilling on almost every flat surface, running assault courses, target practice, and hand-to-hand sparring while the Sergeants made sure they were up to scratch. Mounted on a rise, they passed one of Lee's proudest new additions, one of the batteries of RACDI-Alpha's now state of the art anti-air missile network, protected on the ground by pillar boxes and entrenched heavy armor.

"As I'm sure you are aware, during the security breach three months ago RACDI-Alpha lost nearly a quarter of its garrison of Wardens as casualties." Lee announced to the visitors "Almost that number again were dismissed two days afterwards in the first step of command restructuring, with the rest submitted for retraining. Needless to say, this left the facility in an extremely vulnerable situation that we could not afford to leave standing. It has been an exhaustive priority of ours to ensure that RACDI-Alpha is properly equipped to repel any and all outside threats. After all, none of the reforms here will mean anything for anyone concerned were this facility to be taken over in a hostile action.

As of this moment, there are currently one thousand five hundred Warden personnel actively serving in this garrison. That is only a little off twice the number we had three months ago, along with another two thousand in training. Most importantly, these Wardens are better equipped, better supported, and more professional than they have ever been. I would not quite call us a 'well-oiled machine' just yet, but that distinction is mere weeks away. Once the garrison is at full capacity, I plan to divide the Wardens into two distinct sub-groups. The first will manage affairs inside The Pit, maintaining order, the efficient transfer of resources, and even pastoral care of Inmates, but will have only a minimal role in the defense of RACDI-Alpha at large. The second group will be a contingent of dedicated soldiers, to whom safeguarding the future of this facility will be the only priority. Until then though, All Wardens who pass training here must do so mindful of these two distinct roles, and must know how to act accordingly for each.

You can see much of the defenses the Warden's are supplemented with around you, and you were escorted here by one of the four squadrons of fighters not permanently posted here. As for what you can't see, the facility and the surrounding area are under constant surveillance by a small fleet of unmanned reconnaissance drones, giving us an effective warning network against any approaching threats, and I am currently petitioning the board of directors to move a spy satellite into permanent residence above the facility to give us an even further field of view. Our cyber-security network is also under review and will be updated, to keep out the few who may have the technology to blind us if they so choose. Any questions on this subject?"

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When the Colonel Man had first sent his shadows to whisper to Nikolai, he had been unusual in the respect that he had never asked for any price. Others he was sure had bargained for their freedom, or at the very least a greater position of power underground. Nikolai's allegiance came without price, just as it had done for Azrael. Nikolai could never remember wanting anything in particular. He was a Dog, he served a Master, was fed, and lived another day. That was all he knew, and all he ever planned to know. The Colonel Man had understood where Azrael hadn't. The Man who had been his Master ever since they first crossed paths decades before had never stopped trying to buy Nikolai's loyalty with promises of power, respect and pleasure. Nikolai had taken these gifts when they served him, but felt nothing of them. The Colonel Man made no such offers, not up front. By extending his hand under the nose of Azrael he had proved all he had to to Nikolai. He had proved he was the smarter of the two, with more influence. He had proved he would be the more worthy Master. Even then, Nikolai had thought no more of it than that.

It was only when he had started to gather his own allies, both within and without the already existing structure of the Arctic Wolves, that his mind began to wake up to a world outside his prison. For the first time, he was hearing people he had brought together himself, people who were not above him, talk of their experiences. When Dmitri and Vladimir had spoken of South America, others had fell in love with their promises of heat, plentiful food and exotic women. Nikolai had chosen their destination for one reason. Off all the places his Free Men knew to run to, South America was the furthest away.

Now, as they trudged their way through the thick forest at the bottom of the valley, soon to start their ascent up the other side, Nikolai couldn't even be certain they were still going South. He had come full circle. Kill, eat, live another day, this mantra repeating over and over in his fevered mind. Only now there was no Master to guide him. Instead, a trail of the tired and the hungry, all looking to him to know the way. Would it have been better to remain a Dog? The Pit had, in its own perverse way, been his safe haven. He had always been provided for, never wanted for anything, and had walked those cramped tunnels a giant. Now though, he felt the lowliest of Rats amid these giant Pines, with a head full of doubts and a belly full of nothing. Nikolai coughed, and the palm of his hand was red when he drew it away. This he hid quickly. Kill, eat, live another day. That much at least he could do.

Before Richard could speak up they arrived at the base which was impressive for a RACDI. It was far from under-prepared for an assault from one of their "competitors" but it made him wary of his true intentions. The prison looked more like a military staging area and Richard had seen plenty of those during his tour of the Tiger Republics. Richard had a hunch and hoped that this level of military preparedness was more of a spectacle. A rogue RACDI would be very bad to the media. Lee talked the him through his supposed intentions and directives he had propositioned although Richard could tell that very much of it was already going through.

Any questions on this subject?"

"What of your RACDI's information databases? Surely with all the Wardens and prisoners to keep track of, you're not using decrepit servers or other primitive ways of recording all this "data"." Richard motioned to the entire base.

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A slight hush fell over the table but Lewis was the first to speak surprisingly.

"8th Light Rifles... Scotland. It was a mess fighting the Baltic Alliance especially since half the time we barely knew they there." Lewis said plainly. The sooner he got it off his chest the better. The rest of the table respected his willingness to go first.

"1st Rangers... Venezuela. Every year they think they can host an election but almost always someone attacks the U.S. Embassy." Walker said second. "A toast to a few of my friends still in Caracas."

"And a toast to my friends in the Congo." Albergo said next. "2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment. French Foreign Legion."

"15th MEU..." Oliva said. "This is for my buds in the suck."

"To my brothers forever in the 7th Alpini..." Marino said, raising his glass. "May they rest peacefully in Abkhazia."

Lewis and the others raised their glasses. "To our brothers and sisters." They gulped down their drinks and a moment of silence took hold of the table before Walker spoke.

"But man the girls were hot!" The table erupted in both moans and laughter.

Penn sighed. "Alright, then. If you change your mind, my name's Oliver Penn. Cell Whiskey-Hotel two-seventy one. That's two rows down and about three-hundred across, if you can't find it. I can probably arrange some medicine for you."
He resumed a quick pace down the hall, starting to mutter again as soon as he was off.

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"Doesn't this s-seem a bit... excessive?" Queried Dr. Olivander, having part-way recovered from the embarresment of almost heading off with the wrong officer. The assignment was not off to a good start. "I mean, why do you need anti-aircraft batteries just for guarding prisoners? The heavy weapons are an understandable right-off, but some of this seems a bit much." He spoke better in his element

"The heavier armaments are not so much for the purpose of keeping the prisoners in Doctor, so much as keeping hostile elements out." the newly promoted Lt Com. Ricardo Montoya replied, as their convoy made their way around the eastern perimeter. "Once RACDI-Alpha is once again working at full capacity, the total worth of the oil, gas, gold and other materials produced will be making tens of millions a day for Venture Horizon. Such a regular influx of wealth would be considered a great prize for many of our competitors. Some, if they are allowed to believe they could get away with it, would be more than willing to start a war to get their hands on the precious substances beneath our feet here. Even looking past those that would attack us for profit, we are in the middle of a vast wilderness that knows no rule of law. Terrorist groups and feral reavers have been known in the past to operate out here. In either case, it's part of our job to make sure that Venture's assets here are never allowed to fall into the wrong hands."

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'Well, the man knows how to get things done at least.' Selina thought to herself 'Unfortunately, I doubt he has ever considered the issue of cost to be his problem.'

"The way you've galvanised this place is impressive, not to mention welcome." she told him "May we have an estimate of when these reinforcements above ground will be complete?"

As the group trudged through thick foliage and wet mud the light of the day slowly began to fade. Despite the clouds dominating the sky, Lucia could tell night would be arriving shortly. She averted her attention from the rather large stick in her hand to the enormous man walking ahead of her. Nikolai was exhausted... more than exhausted. His legs trembled with every step and his pained breathing was... unsettling. He was clearly trying to conceal his vulnerability. Lucia thought for a moment to herself, looked up to the dark sky above and exhaled sharply.

Kusanagi made her way past the other Freemen and laid a hand on Nikolai's shoulder, "It will be dark soon. We should find a place to make camp for the night."

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"Alright, then. If you change your mind, my name's Oliver Penn. Cell Whiskey-Hotel two-seventy one. That's two rows down and about three-hundred across, if you can't find it. I can probably arrange some medicine for you."

Medicine?!

Neil's mind found itself imagining all the things this man could mean. Did he really intend to help her or did he want to fuck her up, get her hooked and take advantage of her? What was this medicine exactly? Was it...

No.

Neil looked out of the alley to see the man walking off. He sighed heavily and forced himself to move on. He would find a quite place to relax and eat. Somewhere no one would find him.

Korovitch changed gear and slowed the transport as he pulled into the compound's motor pool.

"Seeing as you work for Venture, I'd expect you to know what our methods are." It was a test, clearly, but he would feign ignorance this far.

"Company issued servers, maintained to a professional standard. Obviously in the Siberian ice, we don't need to go to great lengths to keep servers from overheating. We also have physical copies of files as a backup in case of data corruption."

He glanced at the executive, with a grim smile. "Both are very well guarded, I assure you. Given the... competitive relationship Venture Horizon has with other companies, the men guarding our databases have orders to shoot first, and ask questions never." The Warden soldiers under his command chuckled gruffly at the way some of the executives paled at this.

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Acolyte nodded to himself as he listened to Lucia talk to Nikolai, but didn't say anything to affirm her choice. If he spoke up, he knew damn well Nikolai would go firmly in the opposite direction of whatever choice he suggested. The big man didn't like him. It didn't bother him at all, but it made contributing to the group more difficult than it needed to be.

All he said was, "whenever we set down to camp, I'll take first watch. I want to get a start on my carving, and I don't think I'll get much sleep tonight as it is."

He knew that for a fact, because he often had trouble sleeping after his lengthier blackouts, the most recent of which had happened two days previously, just as they had been making camp and preparing meals. It still got laughs and jibes from some of the Free Men, Nikolai first and foremost, but many of them seemed to have accepted it as due course, and worked around it whenever it happened. Besides that, he knew Nikolai would not do much more than nudge him and perhaps spit on him when he blacked out, while Lucia was around. And the other Free Men would not cross any lines with Nikolai, either.

They had arrived at the very bottom of the valley, where their ran a small stream of water not ten feet across. Nikolai sank to his knees, and drank deeply with water from the stream cupped in his hands. The thirst was worse than the hunger, worse than his broken bones and torn muscles. The other Free Men moved to do the same. Thankfully, this high up the water was relatively clean, too small moving too quickly downhill to hold too much sediment. Still, a few of the Men were starting to get sick. They couldn't stay up here in the wilds forever. Sooner or later, they'd have to move to find a settlement of some kind. Only problem was, they had no idea who's lands they were in, if anybodies at all. Chances were anybody they met would be more likely to kill them, or sell then back to The pit or some other place, than to give them aid and shelter. There had been times in the last few months where they'd spotted soldiers patrolling, or helicopters passing overhead. Which army they belonged to though would remain a mystery, as they had kept their distance and stayed out of sight.

In response to Kusanagi's statement Nikolai pushed himself to his feet, biting his lip with what was left of his teeth to stop himself from audibly wincing.

"Caves not far." he told her "Straight ahead is too steep, but downstream we will find path up."

He could still manage a phantom of a laugh in response to Acolyte's offer.

"When the wolves and the bears come for us, should we trust in the Sleepy Man's sharp eyes and ears? No. I watch. You play with sticks. A Man who won't even kill a squealing Pig is no use watching."

Acolyte sighed softly, and cursed to himself in frustration, in Dutch.

&"God damn fucking idiot. Dead on his feet, and he still won't stop being a petulant baby!"&

Acolyte could give the mountains lessons in patience, but the man who was supposed to be their leader was being an idiot in this regard, and three months of it was enough to make even him exasperated.

Kusanagi noticed Acolyte's less than amused expression, "Look, we'll have enough time for petty squabbles when we've got a warm fire to sit around."

She brushed past the two of them and started down the valley, along the stream. If she didn't get out of there she would have started flinging insults as well. Tensions were high... and they'd only get worse if they didn't find civilization soon. The Freemen may show undying loyalty to the top-dog, but she could tell that their loyalty could only stretch so far.

If the Freemen were to abandon their leader... would she join them?

I owe him my life...

Lucia ignored her doubts and continued forward without looking back.

"Alright, then. If you change your mind, my name's Oliver Penn. Cell Whiskey-Hotel two-seventy one. That's two rows down and about three-hundred across, if you can't find it. I can probably arrange some medicine for you."

Aggie mumbled a thanks. A humble manner hammered into her head by her mother. Still, she had rely on herself and only herself in order to go through this hellhole. The last time she relied on someone else it cost her something very dear. The man's words ricocheted around her head and she wondered if she should go in order to preserve herself from dying for the time being. That's when she remembered she dropped a can outside. Aggie went outside and saw the shiny can. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man walking away from her. The man looked familiar to her. Was it the man that gave her the can? Was he there the entire time? Why was he there to begin with? Had he heard of her?

"Hey!" Aggie called out.

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Richard chuckled along with the grunts much to his fellow executives' surprise. He brushed off the grizzled veteran's scares favoring laughing at them rather than quake in his expensive shoes. He wouldn't be scared that easily. The Siberian met him once again as they got out of the vehicles in what looked like the motor pool.

"It would be a shame if Venture's own Information officer to be shot because he was denied entry into Venture's own severs now would it?" Richard chuckled. "It's okay, I'd be grumpy all the time too if I stayed here for seven years."

Neil had just started reviewing his mental checklist of the day when he heard the woman call out. Involuntarily, he stopped dead in his tracks. He regretted it immediately. With his hands still buried in his jacket pockets he turned his head slightly as to catch her in his periphery, "Don't trust that man."

He looked ahead and started walking forward once more, "Don't trust any man."

That includes me.

He clenched his teeth, hoping that she would drop it. There were already a handful of pedestrians beginning to stare.

Nikolai stepped up to Acolyte with eyes full of ice.

"The Sneaky Man mutters in a tongue I do not know. I think the Sneaky Man should only be saying things that we can all hear, so we all know there is no plotting of tricks. The next time your tongue waggles in a way I do not understand, I will tear it out of your throat with my bare hands."

Whether Acolyte meant well by his offers was irrelevant. In fact, the thought was worse than if he was simply trying to usurp Nikolai's leadership. Acolyte may have been in The Pit as well, but he clearly didn't understand how they had lived. Offering charity made Nikolai look weak, his leadership uncertain, and as frustrating as Nikolai's taunts may be, his leadership was the only reason Acolyte and Kusanagi were still alive. As much as he may tease and threaten, Nikolai would defend any friend of Kusanagi's until his dying breath. Should either of them decide to step out of the umbrella of Nikolai's protection, and upset the delicate dynamics of power, they would be seen as a legitimate target for anyone wishing to gain status.

Nikolai turned on his heel and set of downstream. He was not dead yet, and he was more than willing to prove that to the next person who tried to treat him like a weakling.

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"We aim to have all work above ground finished within the next two months." Lee told her, although his tone meant to convey the message loud and clear 'It will be done when it's damn well done!' "As for below ground, we're still looking at another six at least before we're back at full productive capacity. However, as you will soon see, these improvements will, in time, mean that The Pit will contribute more than ever to Venture Horizon's cash flow."

A short time later, the three convoys met back up again at the motor pool. From there, it was only a short walk to The Atrium. Standing on a raised platform that gave a good view down into the Executive's first view of The Pit proper, Lee turned to face the others.

"Cpt. Korovich, Iron and Micah squads will be giving Dr. Lu's team the tour of Processing and Administration in the Upper Levels. Lt Com. Montoya, Trident and Scimitar will be escorting Dr. Ollivander to the Lower Levels, to show him our new expansion zones. Myself, Husky and Viper will be going to the Mid-Levels with Ms. Hernandez, for a review of the Refinery Complex. Please bare in mind. The facility is far too large for us to cover everything in one trip, so this will only be the first of several tours Over this next fortnight."

Acolyte met Nikolai's gaze evenly, and was about to speak when the huge man turned away and stalked off.

Sighing, he carried on walking, the lump of wood still hanging at his side. He saw the skill with which Nikolai led the group, but sometimes the man did more to erode his own authority than those under him ever did, to Acolyte's mind. Accusing people of plotting when he couldn't understand him made him look paranoid, and the constant train of threats at the slightest provocation spoke of a fear of sorts.

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Korovitch snapped off a crisp salute. Calling Iron Squad by name didn't mean much, he thought wryly, when he only had two men left. Still, he would rebuild, as he always had. As he turned to face the men under his command, he ran a swift and evaluative gaze over Trident squad, lining up in front of Montoya. New Trident squad. His Iron squad had decimated those men's predecessors, killing them to a man, he thought with a touch of pride. They had been under Sticks' command, then, and Lee had done a good job replacing the rotten work with new strength. Still, he'd looked at Trident's dossiers after his debrief. The men had been some of the Pit's more experienced soldiers, and the new blood would have big shoes to fill. But he knew Montoya would get them on their way. The man was efficient, and Korovitch respected him.

Organizing the men under his command into a wide, well spaced perimeter around Lu's group, he turned and set off down the corridor, towards the stairs. Too many for the lift. And he disliked lifts, on top of that. Lazy was what they were.

"If you see anyone working, I am asking you not to interrupt them. We've had quite a lot of administrative fallout after the riot, and the office workers have been working overtime. Direct any and all questions to me, and please do not wander. We will be going through Processing, first. After that, anyone wishing to use the toilet facilities will have opportunity to do so."

It would have been easy to just give up and let the world claim her. There were plenty of opportunities to do so in the last three months. To Lucia however, "surrender" was no longer part of her vocabulary. Too many people had already died for her sake. Too many lives sacrificed so that she could live on. She wouldn't squander what she had left and she would make damn sure that no one else would share the same fate Samuel and Tristan had.

She could hear Acolyte and Nikolai arguing behind her. The Freemen were slipping. It was a miracle they'd come this far without anyone losing heart or turning on another. Whether that was going to last was anyone's guess. All Lucia knew was that she'd preserve regardless as to what was to come in the weeks ahead. She'd do so with or without help.

Lucia was tired of being saved. Tired of depending on everyone else. If Nikolai failed to protect his men whether through shortsightedness or injury, Kusanagi would ensure they made it out alive. If push came to shove she was prepared to be the one making the sacrifices.

"Don't trust any man."

Ain't that a given...

Aggie let the man go, wondering who it was. Whoever the man must be, must have lived here for longer than she had. He had that aura to him despite her not even being that close to him. Aggie watched the man fade into the darkness once more with the few people around fading along with him as well. Aggie went back to her cell and began organizing her little supply of food. It would last her until the next supply drop which seemed pretty often now.

Then Aggie left for her shift in the large Refinery where she operated the machinery to press metals. It was a grueling job but it was better than mining for the minerals. On her way there she overheard some talk that there were some important people above due to a decreased amount of guards below. Aggie collected the gossip and stored it away as she arrived at her post, reliving the person before her. Then with a press of a button, a mighty slam came down and the ores were being refined. There were others much like her in Aggie's position. She was operating on Conveyor unit A-13 which led to the Retrieval machine while the metals from Conveyor unit A-13 came from the lower levels of the Pit. Both inmates and guards inspected the resources coming up with the inmates primarily sifting through for any unsuitable materials. The Wardens made sure they weren't harboring any packages or other forms of contraband. The particular machine Aggie worked on was a presser, which slammed the ores down to a particular size for the retrieval machine. Someone described the work to her as Kafka-esque but she didn't really get it at first.

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The fact that they also took the stairs made Richard actually question if they were going to kill them or not. The climb was grueling, with a few of the executives including Richard taking a break or two but once they reached their destination, their breaths returned for the most part.

"Alright, now I'm convinced you want us killed, Captain." Richard joked.

"8th Light Rifles... Scotland... And a toast to my friends in the Congo... To our brothers and sisters." The group said, each in turn recounting brothers/sisters in arms that were either still stuck in what could be described as a war zone, or had ended up dead. Abigail could feel the pain emanating from each of them, it almost brought tears to her eyes; but then suddenly after the moment of silence.

"But man the girls were hot!" The group erupted in a mixture of joyful laughter and annoyed groans. Abigail let out a small sigh.

"Looks as though all of you have lost someone due to conflict. Personally I have not felt loss on the same level as you; and I don't mean to disrespect you when saying that I hope I don't have to, can't imagine how I would react. Listen, compliments of the house." Abigail said with a smile as she brought up some more drinks for the crew in mourning.

Korovitch didn't respond to the joke, beyond glancing a shade disdainfully at the panting executives; this he did without slowing. If anything, he increased the pace, which the executives responded to automatically. He had that effect on people he thought of as his subordinates. Sergeant Wickers looked back at Richard with a grin, 'ah, well if we killed yeh, mate, we wouldn't get paid!'

"Listen, compliments of the house."

Cheers once again rocked the table. After a few moments of drinking and celebrating, Oliva's watch went off.

"Aw, damn. I forgot I was supposed to pull double duty today at Lower. There's some fancy-schmancy people going to be touring the levels for something or other." Oliva said, rolling his eyes.

"Damn, I forgot it too." Albergo cursed. They both rose from their seats but Oliva stumbled a bit getting up. The table laughed but Lewis held out his hand.

"Hold on, I can cover for you. Besides, I heard they have a policy against intoxicated Americans with guns." Lewis said. Oliva smiled and patted Lewis on the shoulder.

"What a guy! Alright, Albergo take him up to the post instead of me. Tell them I... stomach pains... can barely walk."

"Well at least that part's right!" Albergo said, watching Oliva fall back into his seat. "Are you sure you can handle Lower today?"

"Of course! We did a lot more drinking in England so I have a good tolerance." Lewis insisted.

"Alright, follow me then." Albergo made for the exit. "See you all later!"

"Cheers!" The men responded back. "Another day in the Pit!"

After they suited up, they made their way to the Lower levels of the Pit just as the shifts changed for some of the guards. Lewis felt better running and hustling to their routes. Their reflexes had to be sharpened for the Lower Levels. Despite the purge, Lewis was told that the Lower Levels still remained a hostile area. Most the gangs were disposed of but there were still criminals nonetheless. Lewis chugged down an energy drink Walker gave him a few nights ago. He felt a surge of energy once more.

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

"'ah, well if we killed yeh, mate, we wouldn't get paid!'

"What about torture?" Richard said as the group increased its pace. Richard wondered if this was a tactic the Captain was using to reduce their energy thus reducing their effectiveness. It sure seemed like it. The executives around him were panting and getting worn out but like before, Richard promised himself that he wouldn't be wiped out that easily.

"This guy is going to kill us!" Schiender gasped. "One break, please!"

"A little running isn't going to kill you!" Richard exclaimed. "Outright at least..."

With his back to the executives and his soldiers, nobody saw Korovitch roll his eyes. Him and his men were still breathing evenly. It had never been stated outright, but he knew Lee wanted him to keep the executives from meddling. Would prefer them disoriented. He hadn't anticipated it would be this easy, though; he really had just taken the stairs to move the group as a whole.

"What about torture?"

"You know nothing of torture," he replied, tersely.

"This guy is going to kill us!"

Weak fool! he thought, irritably. These men needed a slap and a week on latrine duty more than anything else.

After a few minutes, they came to the end of the stairs and Korovitch led the group through Processing. They went through a door in single file, between two guards cradling MP5s, to efficiently turn the narrow corridor into a meat grinder of gunfire when defending against an attack. One of them checked Korovitch's RACDI-Alpha ID card, comparing it to his face, and then let them through. Not that anyone could make a mistake concerning Korovitch's identity. The scar across his face was quite individualizing.

As he walked, he cast around with his hands expansively. "Here is processing. This area handles things such as guard recruitment, worker employment, pay rises and promotions. It is also their job to see what needs to be replaced in terms of technology and facilities."

He had been here repeatedly in the past few months. Once for his promotion to Lieutenant, twice for the handling of the shiny new weapons and gear Lee was requisitioning with the blank cheque venture horizon had given him, and once again for his recent promotion to Captain, for assisting in the implementation of company changes, and helping with the Pit's now reduced inmate population, assuring the aftermath of the riot gave way to order.

Felix sat atop the boxes for a little while before springing back up and walking towards the mine he was assigned to work at. He wondered if it was his only duty or if there would be more, the officer who gave him orders was not very clear. Upon reaching his destination he found that there was still no one overseeing his work.

"Did anyone come to check on the labour?" he asked his fellow miners. They all shook their head. Felix sighed as he continued to pick away at the mine, bored out of his skull.

--------------------------------
"Get out and do some damn work you lazy fuck. You've stuck in your cell for days now mother fucker get to work!"

Travis looked up from his pushups to see an officer barking at him through the bars. He was about to make a threat when he realised that although he was larger than the officer, the warden had a gun, as well as various other equipment that could be put to good use in kicking his ass. Travis sighed and slowly left his cell. "I ain't got all day cupcake." Travis sighed and proceeded slowly down the hallway giving the Warden the finger as he did so. He wasn't being escorted, he'd hoped that if a warden was forcing him to work they would at least make sure he went to where he was supposed to go rather than just chill somewhere else. He could have used them as protection in case Iron Fist or any other of his surviving foes came for him. He hadn't seen anyone try and kill him for three months straight. In fact he had barely left his cell at all. He could never clear his mind, he was plagued by fear. Even though his enemies hadn't killed him they at least won in one respect- he hadn't killed anyone.

Walking slowly and always with one eye over his shoulder, he set off towards his new position at the refinery.
-------------------------------
Abreu had followed her orders to the letter doing exactly as Lee had commanded. Though she was good at hiding her thoughts she was terrible at clearing her mind.

Fuckin' suits. Scumbag exec bastards. Pedaço de ternos merda. Covardes, covardes inúteis. None of you know anything of authority, of responsibilty, of truth or of justice or even of fucking hard work. I'm worth ten of you- worth a hundred of you.

Lewis arrived at his spot with Albergo awake and ready for a long night shift. The better terms he has with his squadmates the better it is for him in the long run. Also that means that Oliva owes him a favor.

"Hm, never thought I'd actually be in the mines." Lewis said to Albergo, clutching his carbine close to his chest as they walked around. "I thought it'd smell better."

"This is a good day." Albergo said. "Your lucky that they haven't found any sulphur yet."

"Oh God..." Lewis dreaded that particular thought.

The pair walked around the mining area, making sure that the prisoners were filling their quota and not doing anything else. Lewis was glad to have Albergo next to him. He stands at least 6'4 so he's pretty intimidating to begin with. Albergo clutches an automatic shotgun in his arms, ready to deliver death at 300 rounds per minute. As they made their rounds, Albergo sees something and yells out.

"Hey!" He goes to one of the prisoners. The frightened prisoner pockets something in a hurry, stuffing it in his pants. Lewis sees this and points his gun at the prisoners around Albergo as if on cue. The prisoners back off, careful not to get involved with anything that might end their life.

"Hands up,now! Albergo shouted. The ragged prisoner looks at him wide-eyed. "Hands up!"

"He doesn't know what you're saying." Lewis said batting an eye at the bewildered prisoner as he scanned the prisoners around them for any threats. The laser from his optic waded through the crowd, its red beam searching for a target.

"I'm not going to repeat myself." Albergo said, bringing up his AA-12. The prisoner starts breaking down.

"Es sólo el carbón! Por favor, no me dispares! Por favor, yo no sé lo que estás diciendo!" The prisoner started to yell, stepping back. "Por favor, que alguien les diga que no sé lo que está diciendo!" He starts to yell at the prisoners around him.

"He's speaking fucking Spanish!" Albergo cursed. "Lewis do you understand him?"

"Not a word." Lewis touched his radio. "Can we get someone who speaks Spanish in Lower Mining Area C-5"

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

Richard wiped the sweat from his brow using a handkerchief. He took this time to recover from their little death march, catching his breath once more. The rest of the executives were not so able to recover so quickly. Richard looked around at the office around them, watching their fine bureaucracy at work.

"It is also their job to see what needs to be replaced in terms of technology and facilities."

Richard chuckled to himself once more, looking at the scores of paperwork.

"In the last seven years you've worked here, excuse me..." Richard caught his breath. "In the last seven years you've worked here, how often has there been the need to replace the technology?"

"In the last seven years you've worked here, excuse me..." Richard caught his breath. "In the last seven years you've worked here, how often has there been the need to replace the technology?"

"Good question. I think we got a new coffee machine in the east wing guard's break room once. Things break down every so often, it's the nature of technology. Other than that, sometimes we like to replace things with a more efficient alternative. However, our maintainance department is very good at making do." He gave the executive a genuine smile. "Although, with the recent turn of events, I've noticed a lot of things being replaced, or upgraded."

They were coming to the end of processing, now, and he turned to face the group. On either side of him were doors with signs depicting male and female stick figures, respectively. "If anybody needs to use the toilet, go now. You have three minutes. Don't keep us waiting."

Oh finally some guards, Felix thought as he saw two wardens enter his mineshaft. He continued working, hacking away at the rocks with his pickaxe and minding his own business.

That was until-

"Hey!" yelled one of the Wardens as he aimed his gun at a prisoner who swiftly stuffed something in his pockets.
You fool, thought Felix.
In a heartbeat the other Warden cocked his sights on the surrounding prisoners in the mine. Felix backed off and put his pickaxe to his side.
"Hands up now! Hands up!" the man barked at the prisoner.

"He doesn't know what you're saying." said the other Warden, seeming the more rational of the two.

"I'm not going to repeat myself." The first warden shouted again as he brought up his gun. The prisoner looked terrified.

"Es sólo el carbón! Por favor, no me dispares! Por favor, yo no sé lo que estás diciendo!" The prisoner started to yell, stepping back. "Por favor, que alguien les diga que no sé lo que está diciendo!" He spoke in spanish- Felix could fix this!

"He's speaking fucking Spanish! Lewis do you understand him?"

"Not a word." Lewis touched his radio. "Can we get someone who speaks Spanish in Lower Mining Area C-5"

"No need" Felix tried to speak calmly but even his voice shook. He turned to the prisoner and said in his odd accent of Scottish and Spanish "Cálmate, no te hará daño, sólo hay que poner las manos en alto." The scared prisoner put his hands up and shook in his boots. Felix turned back to the guards. "He says 'It's only coal! Please do not shoot me! Please, I do not know what you're saying! Please someone to tell them I do not know what you are saying!' He's just panicking." Felix slowly placed his pickaxe on the ground. "Lets try and end this with no deaths okay?"

"If anybody needs to use the toilet, go now. You have three minutes. Don't keep us waiting."

The grizzled man barked out once more. Most of his entourage took to the restrooms like starving dogs but Richard stood still. It was to show him that he wouldn't shy away from danger so easily but also because he really didn't have the need to go. He looked around the drab hallways and whistled a tune as he awaited his fellow executives before another question popped up in his head.

"Captain, what were the things that needed replacement, if I may ask?" Richard inquired.

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

"Lets try and end this with no deaths okay?"

Lewis and Albergo exchanged cautious looks. Lewis lowered his carbine, and took Albergo aside but not taking his eyes away from the prisoners.

"You think he's covering for him?" Albergo whispered.

"No... I don't think so."

"We still need to punish him." Albergo barked. Lewis looked uneasy but knew there wasn't a way out for this one. At least a way out that he was willing to take. "To show the other prisoners that we are in charge."

"At least make it less severe. The man was only trying to steal away a piece of coal for God's sake."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Wait, one more thing." Lewis stepped out from his huddle with Albergo and looked to the prisoner who had translate for the Spanish-speaking prisoner.

"Oi, tell your buddy not do that again." Lewis ordered. "If he does that again then we're going to have to do something more severe."

"Not my department. I deal in lead, not appliances."

Korovitch watched the man trying to pry information from him. He didn't know what the executive was digging for, but he wouldn't find it in broken computer monitors and coffee machines. He'd lied when he'd implied he knew nothing. When he'd found out his task some weeks prior, he had researched processing and admin protocol, and checked what had been through both. There was nothing to hide in RACDI-alpha's tech replacements. The only secret topside of the Pit was Borealis.

Felix watched as the two Warden's spoke among themselves, no doubt about what they should do with the prisoner.

"Oi, tell your buddy not do that again." Lewis ordered. "If he does that again then we're going to have to do something more severe."

"Yes Sir" Felix replied as he turned to the panicked prisoner, informing him of the current event and trying to calm him down, "Dijeron que no aguanta más el carbón o cualquier otro material o el castigo puede ser más grave. No sé lo que van a hacer para castigarte ahora, pero uno de ellos parece razonable, y voy a hacer mi mejor esfuerzo para asegurarse de que no van demasiado lejos." The man still shivered and it looked as if Felix's words had little impact. Felix wanted to help him but he didn't know how. He turned to the warden's and said "What will you do with him?"

Even as the maw of The Atrium swallowed them up, shielding them all from the icy winds above ground, it seemed to Selina that the air was only getting colder. Their descent was a slow one. The large, open-sided elevators that the Warden's used were built for transporting heavy loads of cargo smoothly to and from the surface. As a result, they moved at a snail's pace.

Despite the base of The Atrium having a diameter of 75 meters across, the feeling of claustrophobia was immediate and potent from the moment they stepped out into the concrete arena. Selina would not allow herself to be intimidated by an inanimate structure though. She had important work to do; and if she could be so easily cowed, then what hope was there for the rest of the Executive team. Lu and his division branched off straight away, lead by the stalwart Korovich. Ollivander was then escorted in another direction by Montoya, presumably heading to the Lower Levels. It seemed Lee was to be taking them down the corridor straight ahead, on their way to the Mid-Levels. Selina had studied more than just the Colonel himself before she came here. Over 100 different maps and diagrams swam in her memory, ranging from the most comprehensive overviews of the entire facility, to the finest details of specific areas of importance. Only her top-level access to Venture Horizon's archives had allowed her to gain such extensive knowledge of this place without being a custodian of it. Selina knew exactly where they were going. The question was, did anyone else?

===============================================================================================================================

"This way please." Montoya guided the doctor through the North Wing of the Upper levels. Trident squad was ahead, with Scimitar bringing up the rear. Montoya was not usually a proud man preferring just to focus on the task at hand, but he felt a great sense of achievement in what he had done with Trident, Scimitar, and all the other units under his command. Montoya and Lee had arrived at RACDI-Alpha within days of each-other, and at the time Montoya had just been a Sergeant. Lee must have read a file, (most things started with the Colonel reading a file), and decided to test Montoya's aptitude for command. The first incarnation of Trident squad, Montoya's baptism of fire, had perhaps one man in five who was fit to hold a rifle, and Montoya had three weeks to turn them into something exemplary. At the end of those three weeks, Trident squad sent in the spearhead of a large raid on a Crip weapons cache in the Lower Levels, one of the most dangerous and ambitious missions conducted by the Warden's preceding Operation Borealis, made even more difficult when Lt. Cornelius' men mysteriously 'lost contact' with the other squads shortly after they entered the combat zone, leaving Trident squad's right flank utterly exposed.

Three quarters of that squad still remained with Montoya, now all looking like they were born in uniform. Montoya respected Lee for many things, but none more so than his ability to find and nurture talent for command, even when it lay right at the bottom of the food chain.

"No one transport links the Lower Levels to the Upper Levels of The Pit." he informed the Executive team as they arrived at the row of nine cramped personnel elevators that would take them on the next stage of their journey. "There's no logistical reason for it, and it would allow the Inmates too much mobility throughout the facility. We shall have to pass through a small section of the Mid-Levels before we reach our destination."

Neil had made his way through the twisted corridors of the Pit's ventilation system until he arrived at his destination.

The Hive.

He'd been storing his gear in a shaft overlooking the arena-like complex for the past three months. As far as he knew he was the only one in the Pit who knew of this particular spot. However, after a few jarring wake-up calls Neil had stopped sleeping there. Wardens had made a habit of executing problem inmates here after all. He stored a few preservatives in his stash and grabbed up his rifle bag, tossing his dinner in with his weapon.

The walk to the cathedral was a quiet one. He heard a few whispers of wardens moving through the Mid-Levels, but paid them no mind. The inmates were living as scared vermin now that the wardens had usurped power from the gangs. Neil preferred it this way. Instead of putting fear in each other they were to fear a more... justified power.

If one were to find me now and put me down... I wouldn't blame them.

I deserve whatever this place does to me.

After dropping his bag off at the top of the bell tower he made his way into the cathedral's tunnels. There he sat for the next hour, sitting in a wooden chair, staring blankly into an empty room. There had been a bed in that room. And a corpse.

Neil looked to the revolver sitting next to him on the table. A single bullet lay next to it. It would be simple enough to take his own life, but... he knew that was the easy way out. If God nor man felt the need to punish him for his sins he would have to take it into his own hands. There's no worse hell than the Pit. Death would be a reprieve.

Fed up with his self destructive thoughts he flung the table on to its side and made his way back to the bell tower. People generally stayed away from the cathedral... too many rumors. Neil was fine with that, however. It was the one place he could sleep soundly in all of the Pit.

"What will you do with him?"

Lewis' face tensed up.

"This." Albergo rammed the butt of his shotgun into the prisoner's stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The prisoner collapsed to the ground, clutching his stomach while Albergo stomped and kicked the man. The beating only lasted for a few moments but those moments were excruciating for both the prisoner and Lewis. It still felt wrong but he knew it was necessary for disposing any thought of dissent. Lewis kept the perimeter as Albergo dispensed the punishment and when it was over they began walking away.

"You." Lewis pointed to the man who had translated for them. "Take care of him."

Just like that the two continued their patrol. Lewis tightened his grip on his carbine until his hands were shaking. Albergo noticed and patted him on the shoulder.

"You'll get over it." Albergo said.

"Yeah... just another day on the job."

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

"Not my department. I deal in lead, not appliances."

"Hmph... you'd find it surprising how much lead is actually found in appliances or at least paid in it." Richard said matter-of-factly. He was referring to the wars still fought over the precious materials that still remained on this Earth. Child soldiers still shed their blood for the metals found in the tiniest microchips and processors. The apocalypse only allowed more bloodshed to happen and Richard was sure that their guide had seen enough of it in order to make him so charming.

Richard's team crawled out of the stalls ready to continue the journey. Richard greeted them with a wide smile while was he was sure that Korovitch scowled once more which might actually be his smile.

"Ah, I think we are ready."

Olivander had produced a notebook and pen from his coat, scribbled something down, then turned to Montoya. "How much does each one cost in fuel and maintenance?" He asked, "From a, uh, monetary standpoint, it'd make more sense to have one larger elevator with a locking system at the midlevels. More efficient to have two, but that's neither here nor there."

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

The Mid-Levels had just gone from restricted access to no access. Either the boffins were there, or there was trouble. Probably boffins. Not as much trouble since Lee took over.
Lee's lackeys had had trouble figuring out what to do with Penn. He was too old for the mines, and too devious for them to let take cleaning and paper duties. Eventually, it was decided that he would work in assembly. Usually, he would be considered too untrustworthy for this particular job, but the Wardens had reasoned that if they let the most violent and able-bodied inmates have access to pickaxes, then letting one generally amiable old prisoner have access to the components to make microwaves and clothing irons would be unlikely do too much harm.
Surprisingly, he hadn't tried anything much, only smuggled a few small parts back to his hiding places on the basis of "It might come in handy later."
After depositing todays haul of a brass spring and a curved sheet of plastic in a small compartment behind hids cistern, he went to bed, sleeping with one eye open as always.

Korovitch led the group through a very long corridor to the Administration. It was a large room, with clusters of computers, all occupied by men and women in black slacks or skirts and white button down shirts or blouses. The computers were a number of models, with a couple of different operating systems. The computer industry had pretty much come to a standstill years ago, though parts for building them were still made in small amounts, and there were backup discs for numerous operating systems. The end result was that companies like Venture Horizon would make do, though as a rule of thumb, they could afford to have fairly decent systems built. The workers gave the armed soldiers a few glances, but otherwise remained working. Men with guns were a common sight.

Korovitch turned to face the group. Although he could now see a few sweat stains, the executives seemed to have gotten their breath back. "I shouldn't have to tell you the purpose of administration. It's in the name, after all. Any questions?"

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