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

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"You two need to go now! Leave!"

Mr. Connors simply groaned.

Great, what now?

"... Considering the Colonel would be well within his rights to have you shot for harbouring this fugitive, I suggest you accept this offer of your freedom. It will only be made once."

Connors shrugged and walked over to Neil who looked to be in the process of waking up, "'Harboring this fugitive'? Sure, call it whatever you want." Connors opened a plastic water bottle and dowsed Neil's head, causing him to jump in shock.

His eyes snapped open, a sharp pain shooting from his head down his spine, "F-fuckn'... what the fuck's going on?" He mumbled as he began regaining his senses. Once Connors came into focus Neil's confused expression transformed into that of barely contained rage. "YOU... WH-" Before he could continue he noticed a few familiar faces among the men pointing guns at them. "YOU FUCKING SOLD ME OUT YOU ROTTEN, PIECE OF SHIT!?"

Connor's smacked him across the face, "Shut the fuck up, Neil. Listen, this isn't what it looks like. They're not here about the corpse." He glanced to Aggie and then Montoya. "I'm doing you a favor."

"Favor?! How the fuck's this a favor?! You know they've been looking for me!"

Connors shook his head in frustration and started for the door, "You'll figure it out eventually. Good luck with this maniac, Commander."

Connors gone, Neil looked to the wardens and sneered, "What do you want?"

"What do you want?"

"What do I want?" Montoya sounded faintly amused, but his eyes showed only disgust as he looked down at the Reaper. "To see you suffer and die would be a start, Conrad. We dealt with Sticks, and we're almost done cleaning up the mess he left behind. That's all you are Conrad, a mess. The brown streak left behind in the bottom of the pan once the shit has been flushed away. You're a worthless addict who was only ever good for being a lackey to a psychopath. Speaking of your addiction, do you remember the raid on that Crip weapons cache a few years back, or were you too off your face at the time? My first real command, and I lost good men when Sticks and his flock of sadistic sheep, yourself included, abandoned our flank."

Montoya's stare hardened, and the tips of his right fingers brushed against the pistol holstered at his hips.

"If it were up to me," he continued, his voice thick with malice. "you'd be shot at dawn in the Atrium tomorrow, and I'd let the men of Trident Squad who survived your betrayal do the honours. Fortunately for you, The Colonel has other ideas, and I don't think it's even much of a boast to say that I have a greater sense of duty in a single flake of skin than you have in your entire body."

With that, Montoya turned to two of the others who's joined him in the room.

"Take him." he said, revolted, and the two wasted no time in putting Conrad in handcuffs, and marching him out.

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"have you decided how you're going to divide the groups?"

"I have." The Talon said, nodding at him. "I will lead the diversion team, along with the larger portion of our forces. I am too conspicuous to enter the facility undetected." As if to emphasise her point, The Talon flexed her long, metal fingers as she spoke. "Our Wolf Brother is far better suited for that task, and so he is given command of the entry team, accompanied by his best men, and you."

It was only for the briefest second that The Talon caught Lucia's gaze, but when she did she smiled. Well, the girl did insist on making her lack of loyalty so abundantly clear. The Talon would be remiss not to employ some insurance to keep her in line.

"This leaves me short a Second in Command. To fill this space I need someone who is adept at causing maximum impact, as well as commanding forces of their own." The Talon turned to address Nikolai. "You and your Free Men would appear to be more than up to the task. The girl come with us as well. She has a certain degree of first aid skills, and we may have many wounded that will need tending to."

Korovitch sat up, yawning. Compared to how he had been when he drifted off, his perception now was that of a short sighted man wearing glasses for the first time. He felt much, much better. Belting on his weapons, he quickly left his room, and headed towards the nearest coffee machine.

With a steaming cup of black in hand, he was walking aimlessly when he bumped into Hayes. "Where are the rest of the men?"

"The newbies are relaxing in their barracks. Wickers and Tanner are heading down to the Gates of Pandemonium. I'm actually about to join them."

"I suppose I'll join you, then."

"Really, sir? I've never known you to go near that bar."

Korovitch nodded in the affirmative and fell in beside his subordinate, quickly drinking the coffee as he went. By the time they caught up to Wickers and Tanner, who were just as surprised as Hayes that their Captain had joined them, Korovitch had dropped the empty cup in a waste bin. Pushing through the doors into the bar, they took a corner table, and Korovitch and Wickers headed to the bar itself.

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Riley nodded at the orders idly, but a scowl creased Acolyte's brow. This was bullshit. Objecting would get him nowhere, though. He settled for giving Nikolai a focused look. The meaning behind it was clear. Look after her.

"It's quite alright." Selina rebutted politely. "I've said quite enough already." The couple continued talking for a little while longer before Selina got up from the chair she was sat at. "Thank you for the advice, and, well, the company." She said to Richard, the male Executive. "Now, I hope you'll forgive me, but it's late and I really have to be going. I have a lot of reports to file." Selina then paid for both the drinks and walked out of the bar.

"Have a safe night." Abigail said in a friendly way with a wave at the end. Looking up at the clock, it was coming up towards the early evening, soon there would be the rush that always seem to occur when the day-shift guards clocked off and the night-shift guards clocked on. Another squad of guards came in, four in total, two went off towards a corner table, whilst the other two came up to the bar.

"Ah good evening gentleman, I hope you've had an eventful day so far. So what will it be?"

Neil followed their lead without a fuss. He was flustered for sure, but the fact that they hadn't shot him on sight was a sobering thought. What was going on here? What was Lee up to?

"If it were up to me, you'd be shot at dawn in the Atrium tomorrow, and I'd let the men of Trident Squad who survived your betrayal do the honours. Fortunately for you, The Colonel has other ideas..."

What did Montoya mean by that, exactly? What possible use could the Colonel have for a man who's proven himself so utterly disloyal to the wardens? Though he didn't suspect he'd come to any conclusions, he spent the rest of the trip contemplating the what-ifs. The warden escorts probably appreciated his silence as well.

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Kusanagi picked up on Acolyte's reaction almost immediately. From her perspective, it was wise to split her and Acolyte up. It didn't mean Kusanagi had to like it. However, she had made herself enough of an enemy since their first encounter and chose not to protest. She had to choose her battles.

Instead she opted to lighten the mood and ease some of the tension in the group, "Naming me specifically in your strategy? I'm flattered." She shot Talon a sly smirk. Though she didn't look, she half-expected Nikolai had roll his eyes or grunted, un-amused at her banter.

Ah, fuck 'em.

Shortly after their departure, a bag was placed over Neil's head, as well as headphones on top of that, in order to disorientate him completely. Still, it was possible to discern that the route they were taking out of The Pit was not conventional. As much of their time was spent going down as it was going up; and when they did eventually meet a steady rise, it was not in the form of the massive elevators that connected The Pit's main levels, and the Atrium itself, but rather a slope, steady at first, but with the gradient getting steeper and steeper all the time. The other key difference was the length of the journey, in which Neil was half-marched, half-dragged for almost double the time that a man could usually travel from the Lower Levels onto the surface. When they reached the end of the ascent, Neil was unceremoniously strapped into a harness and winched up a short, vertical shaft. More walking followed after that, though in some moments the wind pushing against the bag told him clearly that they were outside. Not long after this final moment had been and gone. Neil had his sight and hearing returned to him, right outside the door to Colonel Lee's office.

"He's expecting you." Montoya said, standing behind him. The guards that accompanied them were different now, clad in usual Warden uniform, and with sub-machine guns trained on Neil. "Try not to do anything stupid."

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So, the final play was at hand. Lee had nothing left now but to hope that this meeting went according to plan, and that he was not already too late. The reports reaching the surface now of the tunnel collapse could be nothing more than an industrial accident, the kind that an operation of RACDI-Alpha's size was bound to suffer from now and then. Or, it could be a diversionary tactic, forcing the Wardens to look inward, rather than keeping proper tabs on the perimeter. Was it only paranoia if he was wrong?

His thoughts were blessedly interrupted by the arrival of the man who at this moment, was both his greatest remaining enemy, and possibly his most vital ally. The guard Lee and Montoya had assigned followed close behind him. The Colonel hoped that this exchange could be as pleasant as possible. However, right now The Reaper was a man with nothing to lose. Lee wasn't taking any chances.

"Welcome, Sergeant Verner." Lee opened, in a tone that might have suggested this meeting was nothing out of the ordinary. "Or is it Mr. Toombs now, or even just The Reaper? When a man has so many names it makes the pleasantries rather awkward. Regardless, make yourself comfortable."

Lewis didn't know what to feel. On one hand, he and his sister were out of the prison with their lives but on the other, he wondered what would their fates be here. Lewis was led to a blank room with nothing but a cot and some bare necessities much like what they had in prison. Despite the elevator ride up, he could have guessed that he still remained in prison. He wrung his wrists, anxious of Aggie's state. He hoped that the doctors here would nurse her back to health. With all the upgrades this facility had gotten, surely they could save just one prisoner here, right?

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Once the staff was aware of Aggie's condition, she underwent heavy medication. But as soon as she came in, another coughing fit attacked her. She coughed up blood once more but this time in hospital garments instead of prison rags. Doctors and medical personnel attended to her as soon as her first cough was let loose. Aggie felt the morphine kick in. Her limbs began to feel cold and numb much like the cold she felt on that damned offensive.

The room began to leak snow and not gently as the ceiling panels gave way to torrents of snow. The heavy, cold air took her breath in gulps. A sweeping gust of snowflakes blew through the room, blowing away the doctors, and patients except for her. Soon, Aggie could barely see a few feet in front of her. The wind blew hard and the cold bit at her skin. Her breath left in visible wisps but was lost to the gusts like tears in the rain.

Damn it! We're losing her!"

"... When a man has so many names it makes the pleasantries rather awkward. Regardless, make yourself comfortable."

Neil sat down in the chair opposite Lee, "Call me Neil. I retired the Reaper persona the moment I let myself get caught, and Conrad... Conrad died the day I abandoned Cornelius in the basement of that chapel."

Neil studied Lee, but came up with nothing. Not only was he a hard man to get a bead on, but Neil's head was still swimming from the concussion he'd suffered earlier, "Montoya said you had something 'planned' for me. Look, I appreciate not getting a bullet in the head, but quite frankly," Neil stared directly into Lee's emotionless eyes. "I'm done working for monsters. You want me as some pawn in another desperate gambit? No, that's not going to happen. I'd rather suffer a slow, painful death than get a single drop of innocent blood on my hands. I know what you did, Colonel. I know that Sticks' crimes can't hold a candle up to the genocide you wrought on this place three months ago."

He resisted the urge to spit at the man, but the look on his face made it clear he didn't respect him, "'Neil' doesn't dance with the devil. The man you're looking for is no longer here."

"'Neil' doesn't dance with the devil. The man you're looking for is no longer here."

Lee didn't say anything to that for a few seconds. He did not move, and his expression did not change. When he finally acted, he stood up, and cross to one of the many filing cabinets that stood at attention around the room. A rattling of keys, the low sound of the draw sliding out, and he had what he was looking for. Walking back to the desk, Lee placed the file in front of where Neil sat. The file was not dropped from any great height, and yet the sound in made was akin to a crash due to its thickness.

"I won't dispute your assertion that I am a monster." Lee said quietly, sitting back down opposite Neil. "It's entirely possible. My record was black long before I came here, and I know from where you're sitting, it can't seem like I have done much to improve it. For two years I went to bed, every night, asking myself if I was doing the right thing, knowing what would be sacrificed. Now three months have passed, and I still have not entirely stopped asking myself that question. It is immaterial. I did what I did, as did you. I'm sure by now you've realised, despite what you would have me believe, that redemption is not as simple as changing your name and acting like it all never happened."

As Lee unwound the string that bound the file, there was a look in his eyes suggesting that a part of him was very far away.

"Within these pages are a detailed and documented collection of every crime I could trace back to Lieutenant Cornelius during his tenure at this facility. All the rape, murder, theft, corruption and smuggling that I could pin on him, or on those acting under his orders. I'm sure I don't need to drag you though the disturbing nature of what's in this file. For one thing, as his former right hand man, I sure you could probably add a few more things even I never found out about. I have other files of similar length on the exploits of the Arctic Wolves, the Aryan Brotherhood, The Crips, The Cannibals... and every other faction who once sought to carve out their own fiefdoms inside my facility and abuse the populace as they saw fit. I have read every single word of it, and committed it all to memory. Perhaps if you could join me here, after having read though every last grisly, morbid report, and to have what was written there weigh on you every minute of every day, then you might see my actions differently. On the other hand, if you could honestly stand where I stand now, and tell me that you would have been content to let it all continue rather than pay the price for stopping it, then I might accept your judgement. Until that day though, I do not even remotely care what you think of the things I've done. I hope to one day have a better man than I sit in judgement over me, but that man is not you, and never will be."

At that point, a ghost of a smile appeared to pass Lee's lips, though there was no warmth in it.

"You say that you don't dance with the Devil, and yet, you've been making some very interesting friends of late. When the Apex predators die out, it presents an opportunity for the scavengers to stand tall. Because of this, I had The Dragon neatly contained, until you turned him loose. Is this the part where I guess which one of you is supposed to be 'Bad Cop'?"

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"The girl come with us as well. She has a certain degree of first aid skills, and we may have many wounded that will need tending to."

Nikolai made no verbal objection, and yet it was several seconds before he nodded in agreement.

"... Because of this, I had The Dragon neatly contained, until you turned him loose. Is this the part where I guess which one of you is supposed to be 'Bad Cop'?"

Neil blinked stupidly as Lee's point sunk in. It was as if he was looking into a mirror. Neil had been thinking himself above Lee all this time, but had failed to realize he'd used the same rational when he was backed into a corner. Who knows how many people would suffer in the wake of Travis' revival. Leaning forward, Neil clutched his forehead. He felt ill.

As much as he'd wanted to become someone else, Lee was right... he was still the same man that had facilitated countless atrocities under Sticks' command. Who was he to judge Lee's methods? Looking at him now, it was clear that Lee at least meant well. Innocents would suffer, sure, but many more would receive salvation.

After taking a moment to collect himself he leaned back in his seat, looking Lee in the eyes once more. Defeat, written all over his face, "I-I... I'm sorry, Colonel." Neil just wanted to save everyone. "I have no right to judge you. I've considered suicide countless times sine Borealis. The only thing that kept me going was a promise I made to myself that I wouldn't let evil go unpunished. That I would become something I wasn't in hopes I'd find some kind of meaning for my life. Some form of redemption."

Neil looked down at the hefty file and back up at Lee, "Whatever you ask of me Colonel, I beg you, please don't take me back to that place. I need to know... know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what I am doing is the right thing." Lee may have been hard to pin down, but he could tell now. He could tell what Lee knew in his soul. "There are good people in this facility. People that need protecting. For them, I'll do anything you ask."

"There are good people in this facility. People that need protecting. For them, I'll do anything you ask."

"On that we are agreed." Lee replied "While I cannot give you the solace that you seek, I may be able to give you the opportunity to, in time, find it within yourself."

The Colonel then produced from his desk draw a small device, and placed it on the desk an equal distance from himself and Neil. It was a humble thing, black and rectangular, looking no more special or sinister than any other radio transmitter.

"Tell me Neil, how much do you know of Project Condor?"

Travis was bored. Waiting for the Reaper to come back was getting excruciatingly dull. Tired of standing there he left the entrance of the mineshaft and began looking for him. He didn't know any places where he might be, he mentioned seeing old friends but Travis had no idea who he could be referring to. He didn't even know the man. He wouldn't be back at The Dragon's cell, and Travis didn't know where the hell he stayed. He started off towards the warehouse where he himself was held prisoner by the man but no one was found. He stepped into the building and walked through to the room where he was tied him and looked around.

"The fuck is he? Mother fucker tried to embarrass me didn't he, piece of shit." He sat down on the chair in the centre of the room and began playing with the knife when he noticed some blood on the floor. It was small, only a little bit, but it was there. He put his fingers on it and it felt fresh. Likely from someone coughing or sneezing blood, perhaps a small cut, but still, someone was bleeding here. "Were you here you fuck? Did you bring someone else here?" Confused Travis exited the building and set off back towards his old cell. If he couldn't find the bastard he was going to rest and wait for him. 'Fuck waiting for that piece of shit he's just fucking me now.'
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Unaware of her surroundings Clementina kept drinking, noticing some fellow wardens entering the bar. She ignored them and kept drinking. She would leave for her quarters soon as the drink was hitting her now.
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Prisoners wildly threw rocks aside with their bare hands while others smashed pickaxes against the wall of rubble, others using drills and hoping to make some hedge way. Felix meanwhile was trying to ease the pain of the guard that had been crushed while also trying to make a hole for others to travel through one at a time. Wardens from the other side were doing their best to try and bring the wall down, but with all the progress they made more rocks trickled down from the origin of the collapse. There wasn't much that could be done without accelerating the complete and utter destruction of the mine.

The guard coughed and weezed up blood as he organs were beginning to fail him, being crushed under the debris and pierced by his own bones. "Hang on my friend you will be free soon." The guard tried to respond but his pain limited him almost completely. Pity for the man growing inside of his gut Felix could not allow him to suffer much longer and focused his efforts on the passage he was making in the bottom corner of the collapse, desperately scrambling for escape. "Help! There is a Warden here he had been crushed! He's still alive!" He yelled to the other side. Someone was yelling something back but he couldn't understand him, it was likely that they couldn't understand Felix either.

With all his might he ragged rocks behind himself in order to make a whole. It was tiny but with enough space to crawl through. Felix then grabbed a shovel and lifted it between the warden and the rocks and tried his hardest to give him some leeway. It wasn't working, and clearly he was causing the man even more pain as he screamed out in horror. "I am sorry!" he shouted before attempting to shatter the rocks with a nearby pickaxe, as ice began bearing down on them from above. There wasn't much time.

With the rocks sufficiently damaged Felix recieved an audio and visual cue that it was time to pull the man through the hole: a scream of utter anguish and a large gushing river of blood. His legs were completely destroyed. He cried and whimpered and screamed to god as Felix dragged his shoulders and lay him into the whole. He got on all fours and began pushing him through hole, covering his hands in blood and cutting them in the warden's bones as he pushed his legs through. "Crawl backwards on your hands man, I am so sorry for this," he said to the warden before yelling, "I'VE MADE A WHOLE! HELP THIS MAN HE'S DYING!"

Quickly he could hear scrambling and his job became easier as he could feel the warden being pulled through the hole. Felix was about to go back when he felt someone tug at his feet and pulling him in the direction he was already intending to go.

"Motherfucker get outta there!!!" Yelled a prisoner as he scratched and clawed at Felix, he was about to cooperate and go back when the sounds of imminent disaster were above. Doing something he would possibly never forgive himself for Felix cralwed to the other side of the wall of rock, kicking the man who was pulling at his feet. "You sunovabitch! I'll kill you!"

"Come through there is enough space I was blocking come on come through!" Felix shouted back. The man got to about halfway through the hole when it gave in. Not just that small hole, but the entirety of the mine. Stalactites falling down on them as Felix ran towards the exit. He had left them behind, abandoned those men who he could have helped. Shame overcame him, the only good thought in his mind was seeing the warden he saved being carried away by another. Just as he could see people yelling for him to get back everything went black in his mind. He couldn't see but he could hear a little.

"Get that prisoner out of there he saved Max, get him get him quickly!"

Darkness, hearing fading. He couldn't feel anything. 'Goodbye Marisa'

"Tell me Neil, how much do you know of Project Condor?"

Neil shrugged, "Not much. I know it's got something to do with surveillance, but that's about it." He studied the object on the table for a few moments, but came up with nothing. Was it... some kind of detonator or something?

"It is that, and more." Lee replied. "Project Condor is perhaps the largest single information warfare endeavour conducted by any faction in the history of mankind. The technology developed for this project give the people who wield it the power to manipulate any and all surveillance and communications they please. Hundreds of square miles of land can be covered in a shroud, and have whatever image is least likely to arouse suspicion placed over it. Condor can make an offensive force of fifty men appear to be five thousand, or none at all. It is one of the many strategies Venture Horizon considers employing in the event of full-scale war with its competitors. Condor staging areas have been set up near every single site or settlement where said competitors hold a tactically significant presence. Entire armies hiding in shadow, ready to strike at all the heads of the Hydra simultaneously, within minutes of the challenge. If such were to come to pass, Venture Horizon would emerge uncontested in its dominance... or so is the plan."

Lee's tone was matter-of fact through all of his explanation. He would not allow himself the catharsis of getting the truth of his chest, not yet.

"I looked into Condor originally as a means of protecting myself, and this facility, from those further up the chain of command who wished to see me removed. I thought that I could not allow them to dispose of me until my work was complete, so I sought to blackmail them if necessary, while at the same time co-opting the technology for myself as a means of self-defence. What I discovered frightened me enough to put all my other plans to bed.

The technology has been stolen, Neil, and Venture has covered up the theft. The fact that such a weapon exists was troubling enough, but in the hands of an unknown, rogue element? The consequences could be catastrophic. For three months I have followed the trail of breadcrumbs, as small and inconclusive as it has been, to try and find the perpetrators, and stop them from using Condor in any way that might upset the already fragile politics between Venture and its rivals. I won't go into every single detail, we do not have the time. Rest assured that I have discovered things that make me sick, even after all I have seen and done. When I took a step back, and observed the whole picture, the pattern of events was clear, and its conclusion undeniable. War, Neil, a war large enough to crush the delicate structures of humanity that have been rebuilt over the last few centuries into dust. Someone is attempting to manipulate the largest and most powerful among us into tearing each-other's throats out, while the rest of us drown in their blood. I don't know who, and I don't know why. All I have is a name of another Venture Horizon project, deeper and darker than all the rest, along with some vague and dubious co-ordinates. This is what scares me most of all Neil. Even after all the I have dredged up, I feel that the greater part of this is still unknown to me.

What I do know, however, is this. There is one piece of the puzzle that is missing. RACDI-Alpha itself. We are the jewel in Venture's crown, the largest and most notorious statement of her superiority. Should this facility fall into other hands, hands dressed up in the gloves of one of our rivals, then Venture would have no choice but to go to war. The gun pointed at the head of the world is cocked and loaded, and we are the trigger."

Lee slid the device across the desk, so it sat directly under Neil's nose.

"You want to help the innocent, Neil. Here's your chance. I intend to defend this facility to the death if need be. However, should I fail, you will be Plan B. You will recall how I mentioned co-opting Project Condor, for my own purposes. Well, my purposes have now been revised. Anyone who instigates war by taking this facility must needs do it where all the world can see. If we were to be wiped off the map, with all communications and surveillance to and from here blocked, then the doubt, the hesitation that would cause, might just buy somebody the time to halt what has been set in motion.

This transmitter is the Kill Switch. Take it, and go back to the Lower Levels. Should hostile forces wrest RACDI-Alpha from my grasp, activate it, and then hide. I will give you this last warning Neil. Should the worst come to pass, you will be a hunted man. Those who would hold this facility fail every day that you allude them, and thus will have no qualms about using whatever leverage they have to track you down. They may kill a hundred people for each day in which you do not give the Kill Switch up to them. Should that turn out to be the case, you must not be the Reaper. Play the hero, and we are all lost. I want you to be the coward who ran and left his master to the hounds. No matter how many people they make scream and perish in your name, you must not yield."

It was only now that Lee dropped his gaze, rising from his chair and turning his back on Neil. He chose instead to stare out of the window, with back straight and hands clasped behind them.

"Go. I fear that we do not have much time."

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"If there are no further questions," The Talon announced after a fashion "then we should return to base camp and prepare. We begin in a matter of hours, and when we are done it will only be a few short days until the whole world knows The One Truth that will never be forgotten!"

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'Project Talon'

The name swam there above all the others, as Selina continued to stare at the list she had complied, ready to send to Venture Horizon HQ. She had been putting off this moment in any way she could think of. She had checked her computer was completely secure eight times by now, and had even considered going back to the bar, getting thoroughly drunk and sleeping with Richard, just to put of the time when she must make her decision for good. Instead, she had settled for sitting here, for what must have been over an hour by now, letting it all blur and return to focus in front of her, over and over again, as if it might choose to take a clearer form the next time.

She had to report what she had uncovered. Whatever Lee's reasons, he had crossed a line. Several lines, in fact, and by no small margins either. He was a traitor, and had to be removed for the good of the company. Selina couldn't make exceptions for people who's motivations intrigued her.

'So why does it feel like I'm about to make a terrible mistake?'

As her hand hovered, ready to send the message, an alarm sounded outside.

Chapter 4

When Selina and the rest of the Executives barged their way into the Command Centre, Lee was hunched over The central table, maps and blueprints of RACDI-Alpha strewn out before him. His face was set and fists clenched, though even as alarms blared all around him, the Colonels tone was level and direct.

"Do we have a secure channel?" he asked one of his officers.

"It's difficult to be sure. Whoever is attacking us keeps cutting off random freq-"

"Do we have one or not." came the interruption.

"I-Yes Sir."

Lee then wasted no time, leaning forward and speaking clearly into the microphone.

"Attention all units. We are under attack from hostile ground and artillery forces. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. RACDI-Alpha is now in immediate and indefinite lock-down. First and second battalions are to defend the perimeter with all hands, Defensive Formation Echo. Third Battalion is to fall back and defend the Atrium, Defensive Formation Bravo."

The Colonel had no sooner clicked off the radio before he shot off his next question. "What is our intel?"

"Sir. Hostile forces are attempting to break the perimeter in three key locations." said Commander Montoya. "They have infantry and light armour, with snipers, heavy weapons and mortars in support. We are holding so far, but we are unable to predict their numbers, or ascertain if they have heavier ordinance to bring into play. It could be that these attacks are diversionary."

"How many birds do we have in the air?"

"Three fighters, five gunships, and an unmanned drone, but they are all experiencing complications with navigation and targeting. Until their systems are clear, no more can take off."

It was then that Lee looked up, his eyes locking on to Selina.

"Ms Hernandez." he said coldly "You and your compatriots will be coming with me."

"May I ask where?" Selina challenged.

"We have a leak." Lee informed her. "I intend to plug it, and until I can ascertain that none of you are involved, I will be keeping you all in my sight."

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They had been waiting now for over an hour.

Much like they had bee earlier, the Free Men laid prone in a ditch by the side of the road, among the tree line, accompanied by a company strength of Songbirds. The mood was restless. Nikolai could feel it, although no man of them had uttered a sound since they took up positions here.

"Convoy approaching." The Talon's voice whispered through the device in his ear. The attack was about to begin.

Kusanagi couldn't help but think back to the stories her patients in New Troy--the soldiers fighting to defend the city-- had told her about lying in wait for days at a time. Maybe it was because she hadn't received any formal training, but she couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety. She was never very patient to begin with and lying in the dirt, waiting for the enemy to make it's move was torture. Her blood was boiling. She was ready for the hunt to begin.

And then there was Nikolai. She couldn't quite see him from her position, but she knew where he was. Though she'd told herself she wouldn't worry too much, she couldn't help but think of the Dog and her friend, Acolyte. She'd already lost enough friends and she'd never forgive herself if she let another fall in battle... especially for a cause she didn't believe in.

No, they would never forgive you if you made a bad call on their behalf and got yourself killed. Focus on your orders. That's what soldiers do. That's what soldier do.

Kusanagi wasn't a soldier, but she'd play the part if it meant they'd make it out of this alive. Listening to orders... now that was something she'd never been good at. She was stubborn if nothing else.

"Convoy approaching."

Kusanagi's eyes widened, suddenly more alter than ever. It was too late to think now. Too late for any regrets. Things were about to happen and there was no turning back.

She never had the chance to talk things over with Nikolai. He probably hated her at this point.

Fuck, no! You can't think like that! You can't bring that kind of baggage into battle!

What if one of them died today? They couldn't just end things the way they were now! Kusanagi bit her lip, nervously and closed her eyes in an attempt to sneak a quick meditation in before the battle.

Just focus on the fight. Just focus on the fight. Just focus on the fight.

Korovitch jogged quickly down the corridor towards the perimeter of the base, with all ten members of Iron Squad fanned out behind him. All of them carried assault rifles, except for Wickers, who had the designated marksman's rifle. Shifting his rifle to hold it one handed by the grip, Korovitch pulled the radio from his belt. He was told Lieutenant Clementia had charge of the perimeter. He needed to get there and relieve her.

"Lieutenant. Come in, Lieutenant. Report on your position, immediately. Over."

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

Riley was sat against a tree with a whetstone. He'd sharpened both of his machetes, and was now sharpening the broad headed arrows he'd packed into his quiver. Their Kevlar would be all but useless against these.... He looked up at a flash of yellow eyes off in the shadows. Odin was circling the perimeter of their camp. Riley was keeping the wolf at the camp to harry anyone who fled. He wanted him away from the worst of the action, where bullets would be flying everywhere. With his arrows sharpened to the keenest edge, he turned to his .45, checking its slide and load, as well as his additional clips.

Acolyte gently placed a hand on Lucia's shoulder. Her distress was clear as she bit her lip hard. "We'll be okay. Tao wills as Tao wills, but we make our own destinies."

"Attention all units. We are under attack from hostile ground and artillery forces. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. RACDI-Alpha is now in immediate and indefinite lock-down..." Lee called out over the radio system that covered the entirety of the facility; Abigail was in her room, getting ready for sleep when the announcement came through. She instantly remembered the words that Lee spoke the other day, remembering the important details.

"Auxiliary Warden Nyte, I am entrusting my rear guard to you... Should it come to that, you will not be a hostile combatant to enemy forces... However, this secret you will guard, with your life if needs be. When necessary, you will use this tunnel to smuggle in, and out, any personnel or equipment that can be used to hamper the efforts of those who hold The Pit... It is imperative that this back door is kept open the lives of every living soul down there, at the very least, depends on it... I have told you to, you will do it because they need you to."

"Time it seems, for me to go to work. Guess I should go visit Lee, and see what needs doing." Abigail remarked in a rather sombre tone as she quietly changed out of her night clothes, and back into her work uniform; she even strapped on a holster and armed herself with a pistol in case she encountered a breach, with these artillery attacks, something may have gotten through.

Unlike others who were either panicking or rushing about to man the defenses, Abigail calmly made her way towards the Command Center of the facility, as that would have been the likely place where Lee would be at the moment. She rushed towards a elevator though, and took it up a few floors, and then carried on walking. Eventually she made it to the Command Center, but was stopped by two guards that were posted outside.

"Sorry Miss, but I'm afraid no one aside from authorized personnel are permitted entry."

"But I need to speak with the Warden-In-Chief now, it is relevant to our current situation." Viola said in a loud voice, hopefully it was enough that Lee or someone else in there might overhear.

At the time of the alert Clementina promptly got prepared, readying her rifle and pistol as she headed off to defend the atrium. She was a bit drunk, however in the few hours since the alert she had rather sobered up. She heard the crackle of her radio and the voice of Captain Luka Korovitch.

"Lieutenant. Come in, Lieutenant. Report on your position, immediately. Over."

"Captain Korovitch, I am outside the atrium ready to defend sir."

====================================
"C'mon c'mon wake up wake up. He's opening his eyes!"

Felix heard a voice as he saw a blur standing over him. As his eyes began to clear he saw that it was a warden. "You lucky motherfucker you have no idea how close you came to getting crushed." He grimaced.

"Wha... what happened?" He muttered.

"A shit ton of fucking rocks came down is what happened, you were near the exit when one knocked you the fuck out. We got you out just before you got crushed."

'The cave in. Of course!'

"What happened to the guard I dragged out? The prisoners who were left behind? Did they make it out?" He said, ragging at his uniform before the ringing came back to his headsplitting injury.

"Calm down man calm down you're hurt bad, the back of your head got cut the fuck open, it wasn't too bad but you were bleeding, like I said you're a lucky mother fucker." he replied, trying to calm Felix down and lying him back down on the floor.

"Yes but..." Felix took a moment to breathe. "But what of the guard and the other prisoners?"

The guard looked away and to the side. "They um... none of..."

Felix grimaced at the thought. He had failed miserably. "Is there to be some form of burial?"

The guard was speechless for a moment. "Can... Can you not hear whats going on? The entire pit is on lockdown"

"Lockdown? questioned Felix.

"We're under attack."
==================================
Travis was literally about to enter his cell when suddenly the door slammed shut in front of him. "What the fuck? The fuck is this shit?!" He grabbed the bars and attempted to shake them before turning around to see every single cell doing the same. "What the fuck is going on. God dammit where is that mother fucker when you need him." Unsure of the situation Travis headed up as high as he could go into the lower levels, however the entire wing he was in had been cordoned off with a skeleton crew of wardens working guard duty. A large crowd of prisoners gathered as they shouted as to what was happening.

"The fucks going on?"

"Lets us leave scumbags!"

"This shit ain't right!"

A guard stepped up and addressed the prisoners. "Everybody get back get back I know you can't go to your cells gathering here isn't gonna do anything, just get out of here and we'll tell you the situation as it unfolds."

"FUCK YOU PIG FUCKER!" Shouted a prisoner.

"YOU CAN'T TAKE US THERE AIN'T ANY O' YOU DOWN HERE!" yelled another.

"STEP THE FUCK BACK!" responded the guard as he readied his sub machine gun, "I HAVE ENOUGH BULLETS HERE TO PUT YOU ALL FUCKING DOWN AND THERE'S NO POINT! We're in lockdown, no one in, no one out there's nothing behind us anyway!"

The prisoners were getting angrier by the second. 'If we can kill those guards we can have lots of goddamn fun down here. Fuck who knows, lockdown means something fucked's happening so maybe-Holy shit maybe we can get out! FUCK ME ESCAPE!' The thought ran through his mind over and over and over. He could be out there, fighting and killing and raping once again... in the open air. It had been so long since he had felt a breeze on his skin other than scared breath, it would be a brilliant change of pace.

"I intend to plug it, and until I can ascertain that none of you are involved, I will be keeping you all in my sight."

Richard had almost forgot about how many enemies Venture Horizon had and the blaring alarm was a reminder of it. The executives were "ushered" into Lee's little war room where the news that the facility was under attack was confirmed. He went through an imaginary list in his head on who exactly could be attacking them but Richard kept his cool. He didn't exactly trust the Wardens but knew enough that they would offer protection.

"Whatever you say, Lee." Richard said. "It's your facility after all..."

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

"Hey! What the hell is going on out there?!" Lewis shouted as Wardens ran past his room one after another. The alarms blared over and over again with Lee's familiar voice coursing through the corridors. The facility was being attacked, that much he knew but who would? He knew that this facility had a good amount of resources underneath but was it really worth a full-scale attack?

"Hey! Let me out! I can fight!" Lewis yelled out.

"It's your facility after all..."

"Good." Lee said tersely, before anyone else had time to object. "Follow me please."

As they left the command centre, with Commander Montoya and Falchion Squad in tow, they interrupted an altercation happening outside.

"But I need to speak with the Warden-In-Chief now, it is relevant to our current situation."

"Warden Nyte," Lee announced, unsurprised. "I want you to round up all non-combat personnel that you can find. Get everyone to convene in the Mess Hall. If necessary, there's a panic room below that you can use to take shelter."

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

The Talon watched the convoy round the corner, and draw closer to the ambush zone. Two LRV's, front and rear, with a recon tank and a large, articulated truck in the centre. Her eyes narrowed as she readied the jammer, waiting for the exact moment.

'Now!'

"What the..." she heard the driver of the lead vehicle curse a second later, before turning to the comms officer set in the passenger seat. "Tell everyone to hold up. We've stalled and our batteries fried. I want a perimeter around us until we can get moving again."

"Phase two, go." She whispered over the radio.

As the Behemoth troops began to pile out of the truck, two wires were fired from a grapple gun over their heads, embedding in trees on the opposite side of the road. With the noise of the shock-troopers piling out onto the asphalt, nobody heard the sound. Not a moment later, two Songbirds, one from each tree, began to shimmy across the wires to the centre, hanging directly above the truck and the tank respectively. Two blowpipes fired with hardly a sound, and the gunners on top of each vehicle shuddered sightly, before slumping forward on their mounts. Those below them unaware, the two Songbirds dismounted gracefully, and began prepping their charges.

"Phase three."

Dozens of flash-bang grenades arced out into the middle of the road from both sides, landing in and around every vehicle, at the same moment as the two songbirds on the truck blew open the topside hatches, before dropping their own stun grenades inside. A second later, the detonations all popped in a staccato rhythm. Now, the behemoths were stumbling around, clumsy and blinded. Some were wrenching their massive helmets off, as if to let the pounding in their ears escape. Those were the first to die, dropped by crisp and precise head-shots. Before long the rest were falling, felled by high-velocity bullets and crossbow bolts aimed in the gaps between their heavy plates. With no-one returning fire, the Songbirds could take careful aim at their leisure.

The Talon made her way out into the road just as the last of the Behemoths were being picked off, and the science team, still dazed by the grenades, were being tumbled unceremoniously from the truck.

"Bring them to me." she commanded.

"Warden Nyte." Lee announced nonchalantly. "I want you to round up all non-combat personnel that you can find. Get everyone to convene in the Mess Hall. If necessary, there's a panic room below that you can use to take shelter." He then added.

"Yes, of course sir." Abigail said with a salute. "Apologies for the disturbance at such a crucial time, seems like some people weren't getting the message." She then added, referring to the two guards posted outside. Abigail then made a quick turn around and mostly headed back the way she came.

Descending back down the elevator, Abigail was stopped after a floor, the doors opened, and in front of her was Zachary. The man was about two years younger than Abigail, and arrived at the Pit just over a year after her. His usual shoulder length dark brown hair had been cut back to just below his ears, and he was dressed in a clean uniform.

"Zach, glad I bumped into you, and it's great to see that your up and about."

"Thank you kindly Abby, the Doctor declared me fit for duty just over an hour ago. Just what in hell is going on around here?"

"To put it straight and to the point Zach, RACDI-Alpha is under attack by an as of yet unknown enemy. I've just been ordered by the Lee himself to gather all non-combat personnel and lead them down to the Mess Hall. Now that your here, I'll need your help in completing this task. Once we get down another couple of floors, we'll split up into two, you take one side, I'll take the other, and we'll lead everyone we can down to the Mess Hall. Understand me?" Abigail asked in an authoritative tone.

"Yes ma'am." Zachary said, giving a salute after as he entered the lift and they descended down two more floors. They soon arrived at the floor that housed the medical wing and the storage rooms for all the upper floors of the prison. Zachary took the right path towards the Storage Area, Abigail went to the Medical Wing. Searching each room, she could hear the sound of someone banging on the door.

"Hey! Let me out! I can fight!" A man shouted out, getting closer, Abigail discovered it was Lewis. Pulling tightly on the door handle, it came open with a sudden hiss. Stepping inside the room, she could see it was just Lewis and a girl she didn't recognize, who appeared to be asleep.

"Lewis, haven't seen you in a while. Listen, I ain't got time to chat, I need you to take up your friend over there and follow me. We gotta every non-combatant down to the Mess Hall, Warden-In-Chief's orders."

"We'll be okay. Tao wills as Tao wills, but we make our own destinies."

Before Kusanagi could reply the operation had already begun. She watched in awe as all the pieces fell into place. She was so distracted by the whole spectral she had almost missed her queue. Hers was the last flash-bang to arc overhead.

"Bring them to me."

Kusanagi wondered to herself what would happen to the scientists. They were non-combatants after all. Would they really just off them?

Of course they will.

Kusanagi didn't like it, but that was the reality of the situation. A reality she'd long since stopped combating. She simply sat and watched.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Neil sat high-up on a small outcrop in the stone wall, overlooking a large section of the lower level's cells. Panic was already starting to set in. He could only imagine what was going on on the surface right now. He had spent the last hour salvaging everything he needed to stay alive. He had to travel light, yes, but he also had to make sure he had an excess of essentials in case he had to stay put in one spot for a prolonged period of time. Because of this, a lot of his gear had been spread out across the lower levels. Hidden in discreet locations that he hoped no one would find in the event that he needed them.

This was bullshit. Complete and total bullshit. He couldn't blame Lee, however, Neil agreed that he was the best man for the job. Just his luck, too. He'd spent the last three months trying to bury something that he now needed in order to save... everyone. He couldn't imagine ever having this kind of responsibility... he never wanted this kind of responsibility. It was too much.

Then again... maybe they would repel the attack. Maybe Lee would survive and all would be well.

No... nothing ever goes right... not here.

After spending the majority of his career in this cesspool his outlook had grown far too pessimistic to believe such a fantasy. Something deep down inside told him that it would fall on him. That this was his punishment for the sins he'd committed under the command of Sticks. He would be made to watch people die. To watch innocents suffer... and he'd have the ability to stop it.

He'd have the ability to stop it with ease, but he would not be allowed to do so.

Knowing he could save them from their suffering.

That was the cruelest part.

Nikolai watched, his M60 propped up against his shoulder, as the scientists were marched in front of The Talon. There was a moment, at first, where she just looked at them, neither side moving or saying anything, and for the briefest second a look passed over her eyes that Nikolai could not explain. There was a cold, venomous rage there, but underneath that something else. It was a sort of melancholy tenderness, of which Nikolai could only imagine someone might feel when setting eyes on a close friend or family member who had been away for a long time. Nikolai could not make out what she said to them when they spoke, but afterwards the scientists obeyed her every command without appeal, resistance or even question. It was surreal.

First, the science team handed over their identity cards, which some other Songbirds than set about altering. They cut out the small, square photographs with exquisite attention to detail, and replaced them with the images of those Songbirds who would take their place. Next, they took copies of their fingerprints, which were then transferred to thin latex moulds, which the Songbirds smoothed down onto their own fingers. As all this was going on, others were stripping the dead Behemoths of their armour, and putting it on in their place. painted a dark, matte black as it were, these troops didn't even need to bother washing out the bloodstains.

Finally, after the space of only a few minutes, The Talon made the scientists remove all their clothes. Again, they obeyed without retort, handing their coats and all the rest to the Songbirds, while they stood naked and pathetic. When that was done, The Talon made them all kneel by the side of the road, facing the ditch, and shot them all in the back of the head, one by one. Not one of them even cried out when their turn came.

"Let's move." she said, when it was all done. "We've kept Venture waiting long enough."

All the pounding and screaming paid off as someone opened the door and it just happened to be Ms. Nyte. Lewis was happy that she responded but grew apprehensive as she gave him the orders.

"We gotta every non-combatant down to the Mess Hall, Warden-In-Chief's orders."

"I-uh... roger that." Lewis said before turning to an unconscious Aggie. She was just wheeled into his room after the doctors had stabilized her but no doubt the doctors were long gone as soon as they heard the sirens. He was careful with her and delicately placed his arms under her knees along with beneath her torso. He lifted her up the best he could and followed Ms. Nyte out of the room. Aggie was surprisingly light but considering how it was in the Pitt, the loss of body fat was anything but surprising. He hoped that she was okay. As Lewis walked through the hallways, he looked down at the unconscious Aggie, stealing a glance at his sister.

"Now I'm doing the protecting..." Lewis whispered to Aggie. He tailed Ms. Nyte as the facility endured the siege.

Kusanagi watched in silent acceptance as the scientists were executed. Whether it was fair or not, they'd chosen their side. The world was at war. No matter who you were or where you came from you'd feel its effects in some way. If they hadn't been killed they would have likely been tortured, so in a way the Talon had shown them mercy.

The very idea made her sick to her stomach.

Was this what the world was truly like? Was this what humanity had been reduced to? Cold, calculated logic? As the others prepared to head out Kusanagi remained where she stood, staring at the remains of a dead scientist nearby. She was young. She couldn't have been much older than herself.

"We've kept Venture waiting long enough."

Indeed.

Whether it was correct or not, Kusanagi chose to believe this woman met her end at the hands of Venture Horizon. The same group that was responsible for her own suffering. She knew she had to put a face to a name. She needed something to symbolize her fury. Some image to insight her rage.

The passive, glazed look of the young woman's eyes would be that symbol. This dead innocent, a victim of the villainous Venture Horizon. They had to be stopped... once and for all.

As she followed after the other soldiers, rifle in hand, Orphan's words faded into the back of her mind. His warning would fall on deaf ears this day.

Kusanagi would have her revenge.

"Captain Korovitch, I am outside the atrium ready to defend sir."

"We will be at your position within fifteen minutes, Lieutenant. You must hold out until then."

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

Riley buttoned up the shirt taken from one of the scientists, and shrugged the white lab coat on over the top. Getting his bow and quiver into the compound without drawing attention had been an issue, but in the end he had settled on placing them into an attache briefcase. With his stolen clothes on, he took out a small plastic case, and opened it. Inside was a pair of tinted contact lenses, that he put in delicately. Turning to Talon, he grinned. "How do I look?" The contacts concealed his vibrant yellow pupils, making them look a bland, ordinary hazel.

Acolyte had put on the armour of one of the Behemoths. It was as heavy as it looked, but built in such a way that the plates would slide with movements. He took a few experimental steps, and moved his arms. Satisfied, he picked up the soldier's hefty assault rifle.

"I-uh... roger that." Spoke Lewis as he turned round to pick up the sleeping girl, which Abigail thought to be at least a little bit sweet. The three of them were soon out of the room and carried on down the hallway. As they passed each individual room, Abigail would check to see if anyone was in there.

Most of the rooms were empty, but there were a few more to add to the convoy; mainly a doctor and another patient. After they were given a quick rundown of the situation from Abigail, the doctor fetched a wheelchair from the room for Lewis's lady friend, which Abigail thought she could hear him quietly talk to her earlier.

"Wonder what the deal is with those two. Lovers? Unlikely, but it could be possible. Brother and Sister perhaps? More likely, they do share some similarities. I'll ask him later." Abigail looked out across the way and saw the small group that was following Zachary.

"Let's just hope there is enough room on the elevator."

Sirens were still going off, and full time Wardens were making their way to defensive positions or up topside to hold back the attackers.

"How do I look?"

"Appropriately bland." The Talon replied, smiling. "Remember, you are not to do anything to arouse suspicion until you have located and are in possession of the rest of the Phantom samples. When you've done that, you can kill anyone who stands in your way, though it's likely everyone will be too busy repelling our attack to challenge you."

The Talon allowed herself one last look inside the truck. The Phantom samples were there, her troops were confirming its validity now. it would be so easy to just make off with what they already possessed. No, their plan require the whole stock, and to get to the rest of it they needed to hand over this batch to Venture first.

"Get moving." She told them all, stepping back onto the tarmac. "The rest of us will be at the perimeter in 10."

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

"May I ask where exactly we're headed?" Selina panted, trying to keep up with Lee's quick stride in her heels.

"Server Room C." Lee answered pointedly. "When we updated RACDI-Alpha's defences, must of our focus went on deflecting electronic attack. Even with state of the art technology, whoever is attacking us now would not be able to dupe our systems without inside help."

Then Lee switched the conversation over to his ear-piece.

"Major Mbutu." he barked "Have you narrowed down the source yet... Have Gold Squad reached B... Alright, tell them too double time, we're almost at..."

"I don't think that's necessary, Colonel." Selina interrupted, pointing down the corridor they'd just turned into, where two Wardens lay slumped outside the door to the server room.

Bowing theatrically, Riley turned and followed his men back into the transport truck. "Beep beep, mother fuckers. Let's get moving."

The vehicle moved off, towards the compound. Their actions had been hidden by the treeline, and the gate guards would be none the wiser. The vehicle came to a stop at the checkpoint, and Riley passed over his newly doctored identification card. "This seems to check out. That said, we heard some bangs. Like gunfire. Everything okay?" It was a loaded question.

Riley shrugged. "A little engine trouble. Damn thing came to a stop, and backfired when we started it up again. But we're here now. Best let us through before the piece of shit cops out again." With that, they were off. Everyone began to climb down from the trucks. "Alright, guys. Store houses are on the eastern side of the compound. Let's go." Checking the clip holster was well concealed under his heavy lab coat, Riley started walking.

By the time the rest of the Songbirds made it to their positions in sight of the compound, Riley's party were already inside. That, however, was only the beginning of their journey. The consignment of Phantom had to pass through processing over a kilometre's worth of sub-levels below, and Team One's progress would be next to glacial that whole way. The Talon did not want to start the attack until all samples were in Team One's reach. After that, Venture had no more reason to keep them at the base other than some customary administration work. Easily overlooked in the event of a sudden and massive security breach. She wouldn't even need to bother overriding the lock-down for them. Everything was going according to plan, and The Talon was sure, although she was currently in no position to make contact, that the other pieces were falling into place as well.

It was almost twenty minutes before Riley's tracking beacon pulsed to show his destination had been reached. The moment of truth was upon them. In rapid fire The Talon sent off status reports to all the different elements. They came back ready on all counts. Licking her lips a little in anticipation, she clicked her radio to broadcast on all the channels, and whispered.

"Phase one."

A few seconds later, the low roar of of an engine being revved to its limits encroached behind her, undercut by the crackle of gravel beneath rubber as the jeep careered up the road. A scant second more after that, and the soldiers on the gate heard it too, and began to assume their formation for receiving unscheduled guests. The noise grew louder, and now the troops who were patrolling just inside the perimeter began to take notice. As all eyes began to focus on the road ahead, not one of them noticed as the snipers, machine-gunners and rocketeers posted in the watchtowers above began to drop, lances of blood spurting from their throats and skulls as shots fired from over half a mile away silently found their targets. Not a man on the ground saw, as the truck was on them now. It bore their colours, but was not answering their hails, and seemed to have little intention of stopping as it sped towards the gate. Their were shouts, and the assembled soldiers all raised their rifles and took aim.

"Phase two."

An almighty barrage of hell-fire fell upon the compound, all at once out of the stillness of the second before. Mortar bombs whistled before detonating on their descent, aimed at pillar boxes and other entrenched positions. Plumes of dust and smoke, accompanied by teeth-rattling bangs were forced up into the sky in every direction. More infantry fell to another salvo of sniper fire, and at the same time rockets screeched in from every direction, leaving white streamers in their wake. Many were intercepted by the mobile countermeasures around the base, but the Songbirds had compensated, and vehicles, machine-gun nests, and the two helicopter gunships that had been parked near the airstrip, all were hit and burst into flame. This sudden bombardment cost the troops on the gate a few seconds of bewilderment that they could not afford, and by the time they had recovered their senses, the jeep was moments crashing headlong into the re-enforced concrete. It never quite got that far however, as all the plastic explosive that had been secured inside detonated, reducing the entire gate structure to rubble, and the men manning it to red mist and fragments, in one enormous conflagration.

"Phase three!" The Talon shouted, and all around her the Songbirds fired at will, beginning their advance in a hail of bullets that criss-crossed the compound, cutting down any Venture soldiers who hadn't already hit the deck. It was only now that the alarm sounded.

Things were getting more volatile by the minute in the lower levels of the pit. With every wing cut off many were halted from going to their cells and from their personal food stash, and even if they could the cell doors were shut. A few men next to Travis were becoming rowdier by the second and were beginning to aggravate the Dragon.

"Mu'fucka I'mma starve out here!" Yelled an ex Crip. Travis actually recognised him. Oddly enough the crip was grouped with a Yakuza and a Snake head who instead of taking their anger out on each other were focusing on the guards.

'If these niggers and slit eyes don't shut the fuck up soon I'm gonna end up giving the Reaper reason to kill my ass.'

It only took one slight nudge and everything had kicked off.

A Neo Nazi had pushed past between the snake head and crip, causing the pair to curse at him. "Yeah yeah, calm down boys let the human's handle this."

Then it was over. The Crip, Snake head and Yakuza immediately began punching the Aryan in the back of the head. Even in the confined space they managed to bring him down and stomp on him. As he went down he fell into someone in front who turned around and leaped at the three men. Travis stepped aside as a brawl began to ensure. Around him everyone had lost it at the sight of a punch being thrown, and the simple act of a slight push was enough to incite a hellish rage and want of murder. Everyone was beating the shit out of each other. Travis was unsure if he should contain himself for the sake of his survival or let loose and finally let the dragon fly. His answer came as a man pulled him by his hair and let loose a fury of fists upon his face. Travis elbowed him but the man was large and tough, he had the flank and the element of surprise. What he didn't have however was a large, warden issued knife. Dropping to his knee to escape the punches for a moment Travis pulled out his knife and stabbed the men hard in the groin. The man screeched in pain as Travis brought the knife up his abdomen and gutted him. Swiftly he pushed the man at another who began punching the dead body, thinking it was still alive.

'Euphoria... Euphoria... EUPHORIA!'

The first murder Travis had committed in months and god damn it felt better than sex. Travis made his way towards the back of the crowd attempting to escape in case one of the wardens had seen him, but they had their own problems to deal with right now. From the fight starting the prisoners at the front line thought it would be a good idea to rush the guards. They were cut down like nothing-and anarchy had begun.

Many scattered at the sound of gunfire, many kept fighting other prisoners and many others attempted to attack the guards. Bullet flew along with blood, fists and teeth. The Dragon thought it good to scatter along with everyone else as he sheathed his blade... but his appetite for murder just couldn't be satisfied. He begged, BEGGED for someone to try and attack him. Someone, anyone.

Unfortunately for him few people thought it a good idea to fight someone covered in the blood of another.
==============================================================

Meanwhile in a separate wing of the lower levels Felix was resting up, a handful of wardens by his side. They were there simply to keep the prisoners in check, the rest attending to the mass accumulating at the entrances to various other wings. Felix sat up and clutched his head in agony as it rang out.

"Come in, come in. We can't send backup everywhere is in lock down. I'm sorry you're on your own." A warden said through his communicator.

"Whats... ugh..." Felix's head was in a lot of pain and he fought the urge to vomit. "What's happening?"

"Things are going to shit all around us, a riot is breaking out the next wing over. Where's your cell man? You won't be able to get in but it might be a good idea to get some food together or something." The warden replied.

"Um... its on the border of the mid and lower levels... far far away." Felix said humbly.

The Warden sighed. "Why the fuck were you down here then?" He would be angry if it wasn't for him attempting to save his friend, so he cut the Spaniard some slack.

"I wanted to learn my way around this place. I've only been here a couple days and I know how dangerous it can be to not know my bearings in case... well... something like this should happen."

"Christ... I get that but its a million times smarter to just stay in your own section. You've fucked yourself being this far away from your own cell. How are you gonna get food?"

"I didn't have any to begin with." Felix said weakly.

The guard sighed again and nodded. "Okay, its still stupid but I ain't gonna give you more shit, you tried to save my buddy. Just... just take it easy man."

"Thanks," said the Prisoner as he leaned against the ice cold wall.

Kusanagi didn't have another chance to speak to Acolyte before their paths split. Though she'd pushed it to the back of her mind she prayed he'd be safe. She followed behind Talon as they got into position. A short time passed before she began coordinating the attack once more.

Like before, the Talon came across as more of a conductor of a symphony than a commander of an army. Everything had it's part to play among the chaos she'd created with every new destructive step she took. Though she spoke in a military, stern tone, Kusanagi could taste the joy on the Talon's lips. Every bullet fired on her behalf was vengeance against those that had wronged her. Their pain was her sustenance. Catharsis overtook Kusanagi as she watched the Talon, living vicariously through her as she brought vengeance down on her enemies.

For a second she had recognized the dangerous waters she was treading, but the moment passed just as soon as it had come. She was lost in the battle before her now and was patiently waiting for her turn. Kusanagi checked her gear one last time and gripped her rifle.

All Talon needed to do was give the order.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

From his position high above the chaos, Neil spotted the signs of a riot long before it erupted. It wouldn't be contained within this pocket alone, either. Just like it had three months, this place would turn into a bloodbath. After scanning the crowd with his binoculars he sighed and rubbed his eyes in frustration.

What the fuck am I supposed to do?

Neil couldn't be the Reaper anymore. He couldn't. That was a fact. Intervening now would only compromise the mission he was given. Lee.... the people needed Conrad, not the Reaper, and Conrad was nothing if not professional. He would follow orders and he would like it. Neil watched the carnage unfold, helplessly.

Hopefully the wardens would be able to contain it... hopefully.

"Phase three!"

Nikolai got to his feet, shouldered his M60, and fired indiscriminately into the midst of the chaos. All around him the others did the same. The world became a maelstrom of staccato cracks and muzzle flashes as rifles blared. Mortar bombs continued to fall, supplemented by the blasts from rockets and grenades tossed into the compound. Amidst it all Nikolai was still and calm, his finger still squeezing the trigger, and the belt of ammunition slithering over his shoulders as the gun ate into it steadily. Wherever he turned dust flew up from the well-trodden soil, or from the walls of concrete bunkers. Time seemed to slow, and he was faintly aware of an alarm blaring and voices screaming. The sounds were distant however, unlike the screaming from his dreams.

His leg clunked against the earth, the hydraulics hissing, as he took his first steps forward, firing all the while. The Talon had explained it clearly. They couldn't be content to just sit in their trenches taking pot-shots while the soldiers regrouped. They had to keep pushing forward. Make like they meant to take the base until the other team was away and safe. Only then could they fall back. Nikolai ceased firing as his first steps broke into a charge, and behind his the noise seemed thunderous as the others all followed. He had thought to be at the head of the assault, until he saw The Talon out-stripping him. She moved fast, blisteringly fast. Running headlong through the smoking remains of the gate with seemingly no regard for anything that was not right in front of her. Nikolai was not easily cowed, and yet even he was given cause to stop at what happened next. Ahead of them, soldiers that had survived the surprise attack were emerging out of trenches, or from out of the concrete buildings, or else just taking up position on the open ground. They raised their weapons and took aim, as The Talon drew her side-arm with her one good hand. They were many, she was one. They had armour, she did not. They carried rifles, she a pistol; and they stood still while she continued running at full pelt. They should have cut her down instantly, yet they stood and died, one by one, as all her shots found their marks without The Talon taking so much as a second to aim. Nikolai had grown up surrounded by cold-blooded killers, whether they be prisoners or the men who guarded them, and he had never before seen anyone shoot like that.

He was snapped out of his hypnosis when a bullet whistled past his head, almost taking off his ear. He wheeled and sent a hail of lead in reply, and two Venture soldiers who had been moving between cover convulsed and fell, red clouds spouting from their bodies as the bullets punched through their vests.

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

Lee signalled one of his men to go forward and check their fallen comrades, drawing his side-arm fluidly as he did so.

"Ms. Hernandez, Dr. Lu, behind me please." he said calmly.

Two fingers to the neck. First one, then the other, before the man on point turned back to the rest of the group down the hall and shook his head. Lee and the rest of the squad moved forward to the door, stacking up in single file against the wall. The man on point took position on the opposite side, and looked to Lee for instruction.

"Careful." was all he said, nodding.

Gingerly, but keeping his hand steady, the point man raised his arm, and very, very slowly began to turn the handle on the door. Inch by inch, and then a minute click as the bolt slid free. The Warden paused, before even more slowly easing the door open just a crack. He looked up at Lee, and nodded.

Taking a knee beside him, Lee looked through the crack of the door-frame, and inspected the trap that was waiting for them. He had seen the opened satchel on the body of one of the dead guards, and concluded that whoever they were up against was clever, but also sloppy due to being in a hurry. Such would prove to have been correct, as he inspected the grenade taped to the wall just inside the door. The wire that connected the door handle to the ignition pin had just a little slack, allowing them to open the door just a touch. Now though, it was taut. Even a tiny jerk of his fellow Warden's hand on the door would pull the pin and blow it up in their face. Lee took his thumb and forefinger and pinched the wire. With his other hand, he slipped out a small, but deadly sharp combat knife. He positioned the knife under the wire, cutting towards him rather than away, and began to gently saw back and forth. The metal on nylon made only the whisper of a sound, and a few seconds later, the wire cut in two and fell slack.

Pocketing the knife and standing up again, Lee re-drew his gun and nodded to the man on point, who promptly stood up and kicked in the door.

Only one man was inside the room, garbed in civilian dress. He had his back to them, typing furiously at one of the consoles inside. At the sound of the intrusion, the man wheeled, snatching a silenced pistol off the surface beside him, cat-quick.

Lee however, was quicker, as the man raised his gun to fire, Lee's first shot took him through the upper arm, causing him to fumble the pistol and cry out in pain. The second shot took him in the belly, just below the ribcage. The man was propelled back into the console, before sliding down to the floor in a heap, his good hand clutching at the new red stain spreading across the front of his shirt. Behind him, Lee heard Selena gasp and exclaim "Le Saux!"

"Find out what he was doing and fix it!" Lee barked to his men as they piled into the room. He strode forward to the struggling, gasping figure, and put one foot on the pistol before it occurred to his opponent to reach for it again.

"You will bleed out inside of fifteen minutes." Lee informed the man, his voice cold but level, and his own pistol aimed straight at Le Saux's face. "Before that though, your stomach lining has been perforated, and acid is now leaking into your abdomen. When you die, it will be in agony, unless you tell me who you are and who you're working for, and then I'll end it quickly."

Riley's group had been walking underground for quite a while when they finally reached the storage area, guarded by two behemoth soldiers.

"Identification, please."

Riley and his fellows who were dressed as scientists pulled out their doctored I.D. cards and showed them. "Purpose here?"

"Ah, we're here to perform a check up on the Phantom compound. We need to make sure it's properly contained, or else it could denature and be useless." Riley was no scientist, but neither were the soldiers, and he was willing to bet that it at least sounded convincing. The bet paid off as the door was opened. Filing through, he and the others set about bringing down the thick plated drums. "Be very careful, I don't need to tell you how dangerous this sh-- this compound is, gentlemen."

Finding a couple of dolly carts at the back of the room, he brought them out, and they loaded the canisters into them. Nodding to the door, Riley gestured to Acolyte, who set down his heavy rifle gently and moved. The suit was far too heavy and bulky for his usual fighting style, but he was still quick as he clapped hands to the helmeted head of one guard, knocking him unconscious. Even the suit didn't stop him from collapsing limply. Even in the armour, Acolyte was quick, moving to the other soldier as he raised his rifle, slamming a forearm into his throat, and pounding his knuckles at the large underarm gap of the armour. As the man's heartbeat was knocked out of pattern, the guard fell twitching. Acolyte sighed at that. Without medical attention, the man would die within minutes. But it was rendered moot as one songbird knelt down and slit their throats anyway. Shaking his head, Acolyte returned to pick up his rifle. No sooner had he touched it did a rumble then sound from above their heads.

"Phase two," said Riley softly.

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

Korovitch couldn't get his men to Clementia fast enough for his liking, particularly when enemy soldiers started turning up. The first couple fell to the synchronized flashes of his men's assault rifles. Another Korovitch hammered off his feet with the stock of his weapon. Shooting the prone figure, he moved on wordlessly. No time to waste...

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