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

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Epilogue

12 hours later...

No table this time, and no company. Lee huddled in the corner of his smaller, colder cell, the shackles that anchored him to the wall by his ankles not warming against his skin. He had not spoken or even moved since he got here. The pain in his shoulder had actually somewhat lessened, and even the fever dreams had, mercifully, not plagued him any more. There was a simple hollowness to it all, as if his mind was simply waiting for his body to catch up. It was calming, and even after all of this, Lee still had to admit that he had curled up in worse corners before in his life.

His solitude was broken at last, by one more visit from General Hammond. The man entered, flanked this time by six of his own men. Had he the strength left, Lee might have smiled at the implication of the threat he posed.

"The fact that you thought it was remotely possible to escape, let alone make your way through the wastes outside alone, makes me wonder if I was giving you too much credit before." Hammond announced, waspishly. It was clear his patience was at an end. "Nevertheless, I will give you one more chance to tell me something useful, so you might, at the very least, go with your dignity."

Lee did not answer, or even so much as bestir himself to look at the General. He had nothing left to say. Even winding the man up seemed like a waste of breath now.

"Who do you have still working for you inside this facility?"

No answer.

"How are they blocking communications?"

Nothing.

"How did you reach the surface without alerting anyone?"

Silence.

"I could make this agony for you, you know." Hammond continued, sounding more tired than angry at this point. "I could give you to some of my new recruits, and command them to submit you to every humiliation they can concoct. I can only imagine what some of them would be itching to do to their former overlord... but I will not. I intend to make an example of you, to be sure, but I am no barbarian. Besides, you would not be worth turning my stomach over. Know this, however..." The General squatted down, his eyes squinting though Lee's tangled, matted hair to get at the gaunt face beneath. "I will find the answers I seek, without your help. I will give this place the same chances I have given you, but if your former charges do not see sense, I will have no qualms in tearing this place apart, one worthless soul at a time. Your resistance has accomplished nothing, Colonel, and it will be innocents who suffer for your silence. No-one will be allowed to deny me for long."

Standing up straight again, Hammond nodded to his men, who moved forward and unshackled Lee from the wall, his wrists and ankles still chained together, and hoisted him to his feet.

"Some men hail you as a hero." Hammond remarked, as Lee was forced to shuffle past him. As awkward and exhausting as it was, he would not be dragged. "Others, curse you for a butcher. In the end, your final acts will not be worthy of remembrance. Make of that what you will."

It seemed an age of creeping through deserted, blasted cell blocks, before the procession reached the Industrial Complex. RACDI-Alpha's heart stood eerily silent, and cold. The leviathan was dead, and the scavengers that crawled even now through it's veins, would feast for a long time yet.

"You know, it's truly sad." piped up Hammond from behind, as he observed the countless rows of workstations, and what machinery remained that hadn't been blasted apart by the fighting. "You actually believed you were doing good work here, didn't you? The structure of the thing, the effort you dedicated to a system so inherently rotten... Did you one day imagine that some good might come of this? Did you perchance to dream, in your private moments, that one day those who's lives you'd regimented would thank you?" He gave a tragic little chuckle. "Shall we see if they have come to toast you name? After all of it, do you think a man among them will remember you fondly?"

His questions were answered when they emerged down one of the many access points to The Hive, with an ear-splitting roar. It was an amalgamation of cheers, jeers, and old gang chants that no Inmate had dared to utter in months. Lee had just enough time, in those first few steps forward into that arena, to take in four levels, packed to the rafters with Inmates, Songbirds, and those who now occupied some space in between. Lee spied no friends in that crowd. As he walked forward, a fist sized chunk of concrete and plaster whistled though the air, and struck him in the side of the face. His vision exploded into bright light, before returning, groggy and blurred. He had fallen to his knees, and through the ringing in his ears, the prevailing sound Lee could hear was laughter.

Before the Songbird escort could drag him to his feet, Lee pushed himself back upright, fighting the urge to faint, and kept going, one side of his face now warm and sticky with blood. As he continued to walk forward, a mysterious shower started blanketing him. Without looking up, it took Lee a few second to register that he was being spat on by a thousand people.

"If you wanted to make an example of me, you should have kept the box." Lee uttered, his voice hoarse and only just loud enough for Hammond to hear, as they both looked ahead to the metal poles that stood in the centre of the Colosseum, now exposed without the soundproof barrier to separate that space from the crowd. "People don't watch sport to learn."

This time, it was Hammond's turn to say nothing, and Lee was pushed forward, roughly, towards his destination. When they tied him up, All of Lee's remaining concentration was focused on keeling his knees from shaking. He was not afraid, but he would not allow the tiredness of his limbs to be interpreted as weakness. He refused the blindfold, standing up straight, and taking one last chance to scan the crowd as his firing squad took up positions.

There she was, directly across from him on the third level, surrounded by half a company of Songbird guards. Selina peered down at Lee, but appeared as if she was looking right through him, and before long, Lee had turned to face the front again.

Lee did not look away when the rifles were readied, nor did he close his eyes when the men took aim. In the end, he was the only man in that area who did not hear the shots.

"My brother will explain the rest."

"Then let's find him, shall we?" Aggie said, impatiently. She waited at the entrance to the newly opened vent that their pretend Warden opened for them.

"Hold on, Aggie." Lewis said to her. He turned to Lee's man still wary of the man's intentions. "Where is your brother? I hope he's as safe as you lead as to believe. I don't want to walk into a trap and if you are gathering loyal individuals why didn't you get those other Wardens back there?" Lewis said, motioning back towards the direction of where they came from.

Arc 3: Updated Character Roster

NinjaDeathSlap:

Fappy:

The Funslinger:

Evrant:

Updated Roster Cont...

Evrant:

Dogmatic99:

Mr.Ivebeenframed:

ProtoChimp:

EnigmaticSevens:

Updated Roster Cont...(2)

Terratina:

Rufio's Ghost:

Fappy (cont...):

Arc 3 - Chapter 1: 'New Arrivals'

The following takes place over a period of ten days, after the occupation of RACDI-Alpha...

The first casualty reports had come in at 6:15am GMT. By the time the headlines rolled on the evening news, over thirty thousand people were dead.

It started with a Mega-Rig in the South China Sea, operated by the Shao Long Conglomerate. At peak capacity, the rig had a workforce of approximately three and a half thousand, ranging from skilled Shao Long employees, to indentured servants drafted there for the express reason that no-one would miss them. Four days after Venture Horizon's coveted RACDI-Alpha facility had mysteriously gone dark; this rig also stopped reporting in. There was no SOS, nor any indication that communications had been disrupted. The people on the other end of the line had simply stopped responding, in the middle of peak production time. Once suspicions had been roused, advance recon teams from Shao Long's military forces were dispatched, and arrived at the rig within fifteen minutes, a record response time...

They were too late. Every last person on the rig was dead from exposure to some kind of toxin (what autopsies that were performed delivered a verdict of carbon monoxide poisoning, though in truth the results were inconclusive). By the time an internal investigation could begin, no trace of any toxin remained on the site that could have provided some answers, and it was unclear if there had been any fault in the rigs ventilation fail-safes. With Shao Long now suddenly holding a new Ground Zero in their hands, with nothing concrete with which to respond to the questions being asked of them from all directions, the company's board of directors were getting ready to lean on every government and media outlet they had a handle on to suppress the story. That was when another facility went offline, followed by two more within the hour.

Things continued much in that vein for the rest of the day. In the end, over a dozen Shao Long facilities suffered catastrophic and unexplained failure, resulting in the deaths of any and all workforce on site at the time. While there was no conclusive proof that there was anything Shao Long could have done to prevent these tragedies, neither could the people in charge offer up any explanation that exonerated them, and all those politicians and media moguls who had previously been under the heel of this corporate super-giant were smelling blood, to say nothing of Shao Long's competitors, who were quick to point the finger of negligence.

The response from one of the 'Big Five' energy corporations, Ignite Solutions, was livid in particular. Two of the sites in the Indian Ocean that had been hit were joint-managed by Ignite Solutions, a rare symbol of cooperation between these competitors, and their own workforce also suffered mass casualties. Just as they were busy issuing a fierce ultimatum for compensation from Shao Long, however, a leak from a nefarious source inside another of the big players, Capricorn International, pointed a blurry finger and Venture Horizon, circulating online what they claimed to be acquired Venture Horizon documents concerning a corporate sabotage project, code-named 'PHANTOM'.

What followed was a perfect storm of political escalation. Shao Long, eager to grasp at any opportunity to take the heat off themselves, publically condemned Venture Horizon, blaming them whole-heartedly for the catastrophe and threatening retribution. Ignite Solutions was quick to level the same ultimatum it had made against Shao Long to Venture, but without repealing their previous demands to Shao Long, preferring to blame the both of them for the time being. Venture, for their part, dismissed Capricorn's evidence as complete fabrication (while Capricorn themselves were still searching for where their own leak had supposedly come from, and how they'd managed to get access to such information in the first place), and promised that any hostile action taken by Shao Long or Ignite would be met with retaliation. Almost as an afterthought, Venture launched an accusation of their own, releasing a statement claiming that RACDI-Alpha was currently being occupied by Shao Long forces (though they had little more than their own conjecture to present), and gave Shao Long, who vehemently denied the claims, fifty six hours to pull out before the occupation would be interpreted as an act of war.

Within three days, The Shao Long Conglomerate, Ignite Solutions, and the affiliate nations of both, were conducting 'Rapid-Response Training Exercises' on the fringes of Venture Horizon's (and each-other's) territory along fronts in Mongolia, Bengal, and the Black Sea. Faced for the first time with a coalition force that significantly outnumbered their own, Venture played their trump card, de-activating Condor Black-Zones to reveal Venture's own advance strike forces, already deployed in positions deep inside Shao Long and Ignite territory, ready to launch assaults on military bases and headquarter cities at a moment's notice.

With three of the five giants now locked in a standoff that seemed to be deteriorating by the hour, Helios Industries, the only super-power not yet implicated in the crisis, stepped forward to diffuse the tensions before things got out of hand. Over the next week, several private talks were held with the other players individually, bringing military manoeuvres to a halt (though not succeeding in reversing them), and the world started breathing a sigh of relief, when it was announced that Helios was laying the groundwork for a summit between all five corporations to find a peaceful resolution.

From her safe-house, somewhere in the Persian dessert, The Talon watched the jubilant news reports coming in, Her inner circle of the most loyal and accomplished Songbirds in attendance. Absent-mindedly, she drummed her bladed, metal fingers on the arm of her chair, and smiled.

'Phase One.'

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

Alone at the bar, Selena absent-mindedly played with her empty glass, clumsily tracing its rim with her finger. She looked, in a word, deflated. Her usually immaculate nails chipped and chewed, her hair hanging lankly down over her shoulders, and dark circles beneath her eyes. She supposed it would be churlish of her to complain; with the free reign of the facility, largely unsupervised, that her cooperation with Hammond had brought her, she was just about the freest prisoner in this place. Still, that thought did not particularly comfort her now, and nor did the drink, despite her most valiant efforts.

'What else should I do? I'm a disgrace, I might as well look it.'

"Another!" she slurred loudly, at the bartender who's name she vaguely remembered, Zach or something.

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

"The food drops are getting smaller." Chen wasted no time in telling everyone, as he dropped a sack full of rations through the small burrow in the ice that led to their hidey hole, and wriggled through after it once he had checked the coast was clear. One inside, he started passing out the rations to the rest of the group, all huddled inside the space just large enough to accommodate their number. The safe havens of Colonel Lee's faithful were getting fewer and further between.

"I think Hammond's lot are just starting to realise that they're going to have to be here a lot longer than they'd anticipated," he continued "and they clearly don't have supply lines of their own."

The rest could be left unsaid. After the initial chaos of when RACDI-Alpha was overrun, things had at the very least settled down. The few Wardens that weren't already dead or captured were too smart to slip up now. While the occupying forces were still offering amnesty to Inmates who brought in captive Wardens, the flow had almost completely dried up by now, and for the most part things seemed almost bizarrely back to normal. Many of the Inmates were still mining, or operating the machinery at their workstations, even though the new bosses had no interest in collecting what they produced. Chen guessed it was just easier to keep to the old routine, for lack of anything else to do other than kill each-other. Most of the Inmates didn't much care who this place belonged to, so long as they were being fed. If that changed though, things would get bad, fast.

"I got a message today." He said, looking specifically to Yu. "One of our old contacts. Someone above ground wants to meet, midnight tonight at the Back Door.

Yu was curious. On the one hand, it sounded tenuous as hell. On the other, Chen wouldn't have bothered saying anything unless he had good reason to believe it was legit. The stakes were too high.

"What was said exactly?"

"He relayed the message to me, and told me that 'the lone tiger roars the loudest, even in the lion's den.'"

Yu nodded, convinced. "Okay." He said, turning to the rest of the group. "The Back Door at zero hour, everybody got that?"

After days of just skulking around, with no objective other than two keep themselves and Neil alive, the possibility of having a mission again was a welcome one indeed.

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

It was with little grace that Hammond decanted the whiskey, placing the bottle back down on the desk with a thud while he took a generous first swig. He had hardly been ignorant of how tough a nut this place could prove to crack. While the layout of RACDI-Alpha was hardly common knowledge to those who had never stepped foot inside it, he'd always imagined there'd be a million places for undesirables to hide in the sprawling, underground tendrils of the complex.

Well, a million had clearly been an underestimate.

In most areas, things had gone remarkably well. The local population was proving relatively calm now that the initial chaos had settled down, and the influx of more enterprising Inmates into their ranks had, in quantity at the very least, made up for much of the losses Hammond's forces had sustained during the assault. These victories paled in comparison, however, to the task still left to accomplish.

'At first I thought you died well, Lee, but now I take it back. You're proving to be even more of a nuisance now after I had you shot!'

Cut off from the rest of the Songbird network, not to mention the outside world at large, Hammond and his men had no idea how well or otherwise the plan was proceeding. Had the General's failure to accomplish his full objective so far cost his superior victory? Was their ultimate doom waiting for them, just over the horizon, because of him?

'No. She would not let such an important plan rest entirely on the success of one, fragile element. Things must still be proceeding regardless. Nobody can stop her now, especially not a dead man! Don't lose faith now. Succeed while you still can, and any delay will be more than forgiven.'

Taking another heavy gulp, almost draining the glass, Hammond took one last moment to study Lee's old office. So many comforts treated with such distain; the mark of a man who had grown weak, uncomfortable with the realities of command, a man who had, ultimately, not lived up to his resume as a foe. Hammond would prove to have more teeth, as those who continued to resist would soon learn.

"Tell Barrows I will see him now." The General said, moving over to the door and rapping his knuckles on it.

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

Nikolai leaned over the side of the ship, watching the sunrise. Just visible on the horizon, he could see the outline of land that they would be reaching in a few hours. It would be good to step off onto dry land once again. The cargo ship had seemed massive when he had first seen it, hundreds of meters of dark, rust-streaked metal from end to end (he hadn't trusted that a thing so heavy could float on the water, let alone move, and it had taken some encouragement from Lucia to persuade him to get on). However, everywhere on board seemed cramped, even the top deck was a maze of narrow spaces between stacks of metal containers. By the end of their week-long voyage, Nikolai was more than a little restless. He'd taken to spending as much of his time as possible out in the open air, despite being warned that they should stay in their cabins so they didn't get under the feet of the crew while they were working. In the end, it seemed that if the crew really minded, none had wanted to be the one to challenge him, and so Nikolai had been left alone.

His solitude was broken by Natalia appearing on the railing beside him, leaning with her back to the sea as he was leaning forward. While Nikolai did not visibly flinch, he was a little startled. Decades of growing up in The Pit had hard-wired him to always be wary, on the lookout for a shiv in the back, and yet somehow, despite the fact that she was taller than most of the men he had known, Natalia had always been able to sneak up on him.

"You look tired." She told him, somewhat bashfully, as her eyes searched his face. "The dreams are getting worse, aren't they?"

Nikolai cricked his neck, his head turned so quickly to look at her. "How do you-"

"You cry out in your sleep sometimes, and sometimes I hear you." She interrupted, embarrassed. "Not that I'm... well, you know. We all have a past. We all ended up in that place for a reason, Nikolai. You're not alone."

Nikolai sighed, looking back out across the water.

"My past is screams, and fire, but none of it makes sense. I still don't remember..." He paused. At the back of his mind, it occurred to Nikolai that he's never really talked like this to anyone before. He'd discussed the dreams, with Lucia, but he'd never taken the time to explore what they meant, and how he felt. There had always been something more important to do.

"What if I remember, and it turns out I deserved to be put underground?" He admitted, a bitter edge in his voice. "I have killed men, for as long as I can remember, but it was always to survive; because they were attacking me, or because a Master ordered me to kill them. What if there was a time when I used to kill because I liked it, and I have forgotten? What if I can't live with the person I remember?"

"Stop it." Natalia said firmly, reaching out and gripping Nikolai's hand with her own. "You're not like that. I know the sort of men who maim and kill for sport. You saved me from some of them, remember? You could never be like that, I know it."

Nikolai was facing her again, and she was closer than before, leaning forward with her lips parted slightly. Nikolai could see his own scarred visage reflected in her eyes, those big, dark eyes.

They were no more than a few inches apart from one-another, when the moment was ripped to shreds by the ship's horn letting out a deep bellow, as it drew closer to port. Natalia's eyes, that had been drinking Nikolai in just a few seconds before, now seemed unable to look at him directly.

"I... should go and find the others." She said, breaking the silence. "Make sure everybody is ready."

No sooner had she come, Natalia fled from him, and once more Nikolai was alone, with nothing to do but watch the land draw closer.

Nahla studied her leader's face as the news broadcast washed over the room. What was said on the television was of little consequence. In fact, it was the way in which Talon responded to it that truly mattered to Nahla. Through the Talon, she would be able to ascertain their success.

She smiled.

Nahla couldn't help but grin as well. It was short lived, however, as she replayed the broadcast over again in her mind.

Thirty-thousand people.

She clenched her jaw. Such sacrifices were necessary, of course, but it didn't make swallowing such a number any easier. Nor did the idea that far more would likely die before this was finally over.

Let their pain be brief.

Wearing a soft smile, Nahla stood up from her seat and nodded at the woman of the hour, "Please excuse me." Stopping in the doorway, she looked at Talon from over her shoulder. "Congratulations." She was sincere, if not a bit distressed.

Leaning against the wall, outside the door, she produced a cigarette and lit it in short order. After taking one long drag she rested her head against the wall and exhaled. That woman was so much stronger than her. Inhumanly so. She could never hope to accomplish all that she had.

Still, Nahla wouldn't want to be in her shoes. She wouldn't want to be the only person who could see the One Truth realized.

God have mercy on your soul.

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"The Back Door at zero hour, everybody got that?"

Neil didn't say anything to this. He simply clenched his jaw and continued to playing with his knife. Things had been slow moving since the Songbirds wrested control of the facility. He'd spent so much of his life in this place, and yet, he had never truly understood what war felt like until now. Sleeping with one eye open. Sitting around, bored and scared, waiting for something to happen.

He wished he had taken the chance to end it all while he still could. Before Lee piled on the greatest amount of responsibility he could give any one man. He was a coward, he knew this and he accepted this. Lee saw this as well, so why chose Neil of all people? Why trust the fate of the entire facility to an unstable, drug-addicted piece of shit?

He was honestly shocked Chen hadn't tied him down and extracted every bit of intel regarding his mission before putting him out of his misery. Carrying on in Neil's stead. He'd have made a better choice. Chen had to have known that. Judging by the looks the other wardens gave him... they all resented his presence. His very existence.

The only person there who could even remotely tolerate him didn't even know who he truly was. Aggie had never seen him without his mask on. Or at least, she wouldn't recall seeing him prior to now.

He caught himself leering at her, only gluing his eyes to his blade when she took notice.

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"... Orphan was like a surrogate father, I suppose. He had this odd, almost removed way in which he interacted with me. Like, he resented the fact that he was protecting me. Or rather, that he wanted to protect me. He'd lived there alone for so long that, well, I guess he'd grown accustomed to looking out for no one but himself. It wasn't until he died that I found out he had had a wife and daughter. He'd had a life that was taken from him. Just like me.

Sometimes I wonder how things would have turned out if he hadn't died that day. If he had won that fight instead of Nikolai and somehow made it out of that arena. Would we still be together? Would I have learned to love him like my very own father? I can't say.

In a way, I am grateful he died when he did. He died on his own terms, for something he believed in. He'd been trapped in that hell for so long that he'd forgotten how beautiful the world could be. He saw that, in his final moments. When he spilled his heart out to so many uncaring, evil men. He was brave. The bravest man I've ever known.

And then there's the fact that if he had won, Nikolai would be dead.

A world without Nikolai. That's hard to imagine. It may sound strange, but he's kind of become my world as of late. I'm not in love with him or anything. He's almost like a little brother or something. He reminds me of Tristan sometimes. I don't know how to describe it. It's weird.

But I..."

Lucia put the pen down as soon as the ship's horn roared throughout its hollow form. They would be arriving soon. Lucia smiled sadly. It had been a long, hard journey. It was hard to imagine that it was almost over. That they would be able to spend the rest of their days in relative peace. It was almost too good to be true.

Looking back down at the small booklet in her lap, she sighed. She'd completely lost her train of thought. She'd been writing in that ratty old journal every day since she'd bought it at the market. The first few pages had some child's doodles on them, but she kept the pages intact. They were oddly endearing.

Putting her pen in the book, she closed it and got to her feet. "Acolyte!" She shouted as she started down the hall. "You around here somewhere?"

Riley sat with his back against the safe house wall, with his eyes glued to the spot on the horizon where Odin had disappeared. The Wolf needed freedom to roam, and Riley would not keep him contained in the house like a dog. He would be back soon, though.

He heard Nahla come out, and heard her lighting her cigarette, but didn't say anything immediately. He just sat there, watching the horizon. After a while, he spoke. "So. Good news, or bad?"

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

"The Back Door at zero hour, everybody got that?"

"Roger," replied Korovitch. "If the rations get much smaller, we're going to have to raid food from the prison cliques," he said.

Food wasn't the only thing that was scarce. Ammunition was difficult to acquire, too, although the prisoners being armed made it a little easier. Korovitch's rifle was long since gone, having been emptied. He still had his nine millimeter pistol, however, and a .357 revolver, snatched from an inmate. Five of its six chambers were filled.

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

"You around here somewhere?"

"In here," Acolyte called out. He had rigged piping in the doorway to one of the ship's less used rooms as an improvised pull up bar. Presently, he was hanging from it by his legs, stripped to the waist, doing sit ups. His shirt had been left on top of his boots and the swastika brand was visible as sweat began to break out over his upper body from exertion. His hair was dripping with sweat, too. It was now well grown in and seemed to be in a state of perpetual bed head. He had bargained a razor before they had taken ship, but after some consideration had kept it, electing merely to clean the stubble from his cheeks. He found he rather liked having hair again.

"The Back Door at zero hour, everybody got that?"

"At least its something." Aggie said. She kept her SPAS-12 closer and closer as the days went by. The passing between them stretched even longer as all they did was huddle in this spot with a few of them going out to fetch food and water but that was running low as well. Lewis was faring slightly better in the presence of a few Wardens but he the telltale signs of being a Warden blurred with each passing day. It was suicide to even step out of their spot with their armor on and Lewis was lucky he was garbed in simple, unassuming clothes. Lewis looked around, seeing degraded and tired faces scarred with weariness and caution. If Lewis didn't know any better, he would have mistaken them for inmates as well although technically they all were now.

"Roger that." Lewis said to the twins. Now that the twins were together, Lewis was reminded of their earlier encounter with them. It seemed like a lifetime ago in comparison. Among the rest of the Wardens was the familiar face of Korovitch. He had heard stories of the man and the body count he left during the riots and the invasion. Lewis felt a sense of security that he was with them.

"So. Good news, or bad?"

Nahla grinned with the cigarette pinned between her teeth, "She smiled. What do you think?" She glanced over at Riley. Always a hard man to read, that one. Removing the cigarette from between her lips, she exhaled through the side of her mouth and shook her head. "Thirty-thousand people, Riley. And... this is just the beginning. I do not envy that woman right now. Having the fate of the world riding on my shoulders? That would just be... too much. The worst part is," She furrowed her brow and looked at her feet. "The worst part is that so many of the deaths could have been avoided had they not been so quick to point fingers. So quick to get at each other's throats. I realize that was what our plan hinged on, but still. Why is man such a disgusting creature? Why are we so quick to damn ourselves?"

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"In here,"

Lucia cocked an eyebrow as she placed her hands on her hips. What a show off, "I take it you heard the horn? We'll be reaching land soon. You might want to make sure all your stuff is ready to go." She watched him pull himself twice more before adding, "Hey, scoot. Let me get some in."

"The worst part is that so many of the deaths could have been avoided had they not been so quick to point fingers. So quick to get at each other's throats. I realize that was what our plan hinged on, but still. Why is man such a disgusting creature? Why are we so quick to damn ourselves?"

"I wouldn't say it's that we're disgusting," replied Riley. "Just fucking stupid." He smirked, looking up at her for the first time. "Besides, you know how else so many deaths could have been avoided? If we hadn't stolen an experimental neurotoxin and unleashed it right where we knew it would cause the most damage. Let's be fair here; we're the last ones who should be preaching morality to anyone. We aren't good people, Nahla. No matter what overarching goal this all apparently serves."

Finally, he got to his feet. "But hey, depressing conversation doesn't suit you. How've you been? Anything fun happen while you were away?"

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

"Hey, scoot. Let me get some in."

"Yeah yeah," said Acolyte, taking hold of the bar and swinging his legs off of it. When his feet touched the floor, he stepped back and grabbed a towel, patting himself down. "I'm really god damn tired of being cooped up on this ship, you know? Reminds me of the early days in the Pit. It's making me stir crazy." He laughed. "Is it just me, or am I getting less monk-like by the day?"

"But hey, depressing conversation doesn't suit you. How've you been? Anything fun happen while you were away?"

Nahla shrugged, flicking her half-finished cigarette away as she turned to face Riley. She leaned against the wall with her shoulder and met the hunter's gaze, "Nah, not really. A whole lot of waiting around. I was stuck with a lot of the hardcore guys. You know, the silent nut jobs." She laughed. "I miss being a nobody. Back when I was just a fresh recruit. I got to work with relatively stable people back then. But, well, I don't know," She titled her head to one side. "I suppose there are a few of you still that are only crazy in the good ways."

She grinned tracing a line along Riley's jaw with her finger. She crossed her arms and looked out in the direction that Odin had gone, "It's been awhile, Riley. How have things been on your end? Still having those dreams?"

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"I'm really god damn tired of being cooped up on this ship, you know? Reminds me of the early days in the Pit. It's making me stir crazy."

"Yeah," Lucia agreed as she stepped under the bar. "If it weren't for it being fucking plastered on our bodies I think I would have forgotten about the place by now." She joked as she flashed him her brand as she looked at his.

His was worse.

After a brief stretch she grabbed hold of the bar and began doing pull ups. Before all of this she'd have been lucky to get away with two before her arms got tired. Now? After everything they had been through? After all of her training?

Now she could do too many to count.

She inhaled sharply every time she lifted herself and exhaled when going down. She breathed in, "So," And breathed out. "What do
you---" Breathed in. "---make of Nikolai and----" Breathed out. "----his new 'friend'?"

"Another!" Zachary overheard Miss Hernandez shout out in a loud slur, slamming her glass repeatedly on the counter trying to attract his attention. He took one look at the former Executive, and saw how her appearance had been gradually deteriorating over the last ten days. When he first saw her, Selina looked to be a beautiful yet smartly dressed woman with a fiery passion for her work, but now, it appeared she was a shadow of her former self. Still, he had a job to do.

"You sure about that Miss? I mean you've had..." Zachary said as he counted the total number of glasses that were dotted about the counter in front of the disheveled ex-executive. "...five so far. Don't you think you should take a break?" He asked with some measure of concern.

Meanwhile, Abigail was downstairs in the stock room doing an inventory check up, going around the aisles with a clip board and counting up how many of each beverage they had whether it be in barrels, bottles or cans. It was a wonder that the natural frigid temperatures of outside and the still semi-functional air conditioning meant the drinks were kept rather cool.

Oh bloody Mary if the hangover wasn't setting in now. Worse yet it wasn't one brought on by alcohol, those you could at least fight with beautiful greasy meat. 'Cept they were in a blood gargling prison now and were busy playing silly buggers with the locals and Barrows weren't at that point in his life where he felt right getting plastered around the pit babies in case they wanted to try and feed him their beautiful greasy meat.

Nope! This was the quiet now. After a ball sweelingly beautiful entrance as they came in from the cold the Hammond boys were sitting pretty. Thumbs jammed up their collective arse. They promised him war, the largest pitched battle that the Songbirds had ever fought and a victory that would go down in history.

And even if it didn't go down in history it could at least get Barrows a fuck ton of drinks or poon!

Now look at them! Unable to drink properly lest it open the way to his bunghole and no poon that didn't look like leather jerky.

Well it was fun while it lasted.

Maybe he could entertain himself with the inmates and the general's scheme to try and win them on side. Like time them and see how long it took them to hunt down a warden. Or maybe Barrows could actually do something productive and help shape them into a fighting force. He'd put the Neo-Nazis with the black gang bangers, he thought with a little smile. But fuck that, other unlucky bastards had gotten that job.

'Guess this is the day I find out my new job.'

"The general will see you now." Piped in the stuck up squib that was serving as assistant today.

"Lovely jubbly." Barrows smirked as he sauntered on into Hammond's office. "Las Gen-er-al!" He stood to attention, hands behind his back and posture perfect. "How can I be of help today sir?"

"Edelweiß, Edelweiß,
Du grüßt mich jeden Morgen..."

Cork was such a fascinating material to work with, all the properties of wood bound up in a spongy, buoyant material. How many souls had discarded the stopper in a bottle of wine or spirits, tossing away such a wonder without a second thought, pitiable really, a little sin permitted of little people. Ahhh, put that little stopper in the hands of a decent whittler with a sharp enough blade and surely beauty would spring forth. An inexperienced carver might be daunted by the myriad holes and caverns of the cork's air pockets, but a real artisan would not see despair, he would see... opportunity. Work with the myriad fluctuations that others called imperfection... and from the chaos would rise art of a sort, not the sole province of the cork or the whittler, but a true union of their innate qualities, a beautiful bastard.

"Sehe ich dich,
Freue ich mich,
Und vergess' meine Sorgen."

Dietrich hummed along and muttered his old crib songs as he whittled away the wine stopper he'd plucked from the roadside. The little hunk of cork seemed to drink in every last vestige of the man's attention, as though the cork and the pen knife, it's edge honed to a fine, ludicrous sharpness, were a universe unto themselves. In that little universe, the hands that turned them and guided them in their vicious concert were the hands of God. Dietrich was at his most inconspicuous when so absorbed in a project, his presence fading into the background as all his energies seemed to turn inwards. A lie of course, a useful mask among a multitude of others, but it had been many a year since any in this room had been fooled by this particular guise. The German's mind was ever the steel trap, retaining every scrap of data it was exposed to and squirreling it away, never to be seen again until the absolute worst possible moment....

In truth though, Dietrich cared little for the news broadcasts, he'd disassembled most of their constituent bits quite sometime ago, the key anchors' fetishes, station bias, funding sources, primary target markets, etc. And besides, he'd little enough interest in the contents of the reports, the watered down, edited backwash versions of the most recent communiques from his own Threads. No, the information itself was not the sign of victory, he suspected, rather the information on such public display. What was the point of a masterpiece if there was no one around to receive the message? And what was the work of the subversive, the dissident, the terrorist, if not one elaborate game of messages. In this case, the message so carefully designed had been delivered successfully, and the audience was responding as expected. It was the age old tragedy really, the trap of the visionary. How wonderful, how ecstatically terrifying it must be to be the blind beholding a revelation! Yet the people's ecstasy could only mean the prophet's boredom... such a pity. So Dietrich hummed on, content to lean in his chair, prop his feet up on the table and whittle away the hours as surely as he whittled away the cork.

"Schmücke das Heimatland,
Schön und weiß,
Blühest wie die Sterne."

As per usual, the sweetest fruit came not from the paltry news broadcasts or even his Lady's cryptic smile, but rather, the reactions of her courtiers. Nahla was always so interesting to watch, what a lovely burden she bore with all her saintly patience. How difficult it must be to work, not for God, but for God's prophet. The work for God was a shield of sorts, an excuse for every atrocity imaginable, a sweet smelling balm to smear across every wound of the conscience one might suffer, a way to whitewash ever black deed and make it clean, acceptable, necessary, certainly the most predominant opiate in the Talon's camp and considering the predominance of the poppy in this region, that was saying something. Ahh but no such sweet smelling, drugged incense for Nahla though. No... to toil for God's Prophet was the constant test of faith, a constant judging, a constant prodding of doubts. Where would she draw the line, Dietrich wondered, between revelation and hubris? His Lady had never allowed him to put sweet Nahla to the Test Complete, and for good reason, but Dietrich's curiosity lingered ever still, and he allowed himself a wide grin even though he never turned from his little carving project. Sweet Nahla's congratulations were as sweet and sincere as ever, even if they were strained. There was one not so easily blinded by large figures, those deaths would never be a mere statistic. From the little morsels Dietrich had gleaned from the internal Threads, that one's past was no doubt full of experiences that would never let her blind herself easily. She'd seen the mass graves before, no? Certainly, certainly, the hundreds of bodies tossed into a pit and covered in lime. She could do the mental multiplication with ease... he suspected, until those pits became fields upon fields upon fields.... Good for her, doubt was healthy, even when it was fatal.

"Edelweiß, Edelweiß,
Ach, ich hab dich so gerne!"

Dietrich chuckled, his nursery song dissolving into more low hums and murmurs as he pulled the last fraction of his vision forth from the raw cork. He'd always had a knack for carving, had always known the value of a good sharp knife, quick, clean precise blows, and the requisite flair for the dramatic. He hopped up from his seat in one oddly fluid movement and sauntered over to his Lady's table and sat along its edge, placing his little carving before her, the cork transformed into a small sparrow taking flight from a lump of stone. The bird was skeletal, weathered and desiccated, but beautiful in its own way. Dietrich beamed down at his Lady in her throne, the usual grin, beatific and full of warm adoration,

"Ahhh meine Dame, Thou didst divide the sand by thy strength; Thou breakest the heads of the dragons in the desert. Yea, I behold thee as a beast coming up from the dunes; thou hast the horns of the lamb, but thou speakest as the dragon. How the world quakes at thy voice....

I've reports from Threads 2, 34, 37, and 55, verified and processed, would you care for them now or later."

"It's been awhile, Riley. How have things been on your end? Still having those dreams?"

"No, actually," replied Riley. "They're getting better, I think."

That was true. Technically. Only half a lie. The truth was that an old recipe from his days in the Congo was working wonders at keeping him from dreaming at all.

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

"So," And breathed out. "What do
you---" Breathed in. "---make of Nikolai and----" Breathed out. "----his new 'friend'?"

"I think it's great," said Acolyte as he pulled on his shirt; a blue plaid one he'd bought at the docks. "Good for him. He deserves some closeness."

Then he grinned. "That said, I think I want to put as many walls between me and them as possible once they start shacking up."

Nahla turned her gaze back towards Riley as he replied.

"They're getting better, I think."

Searching his eyes as he spoke, she could tell he was holding something back. She wouldn't pry, however. He was his own man after all, and if he wanted to confide in her he would have to do the legwork. Resting the side of her head against the wall, she closed her eyes and smiled, "I think I need to get drunk tonight. You wouldn't make me do that alone, now would you?" She opened one eye as her smile warped into a mischievous grin.

It was no secret that the two of them shared a mutual affection. Nothing serious, but it was a bit more than a casual fling. She cared about him. Both in the way he took her into his arms and a the way he cracked those stupid jokes of his. In another life they could have been a couple, perhaps.

That, unfortunately, was not the world they lived in.

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

"Good for him. He deserves some closeness."

Lucia halfheartedly nodded to this. It was hard to tell, however, considering how dedicated she was to impressing Acoylte with her upper-body strength at the moment.

"That said, I think I want to put as many walls between me and them as possible once they start shacking up."

Oh, God! Don't laugh! Now's not the time to laugh!

Exerting herself the way she did was a tad painful. Her ribs were still soar from the bullet she took, but she'd made a full recovery, thankfully. After a few minutes of silent concentration, Lucia lowered herself onto her toes and took a breather. Resting her back against the wall, she slid down into a sitting position, "You almost made me piss myself, you know. My blander's like half the size of yours!" She chuckled. "But yeah, I am happy for them... if not a little jealous, I guess." Breaking eye contact, she scratched the back of her head and blushed. "I mean, well, it's been a long time, you know? I'd never want Nikolai in that way, obviously... I guess it's not really about him, though. I just... memories of being cherished like that. Of sharing that kind of connection... they seem so distant now."

She found his eyes once more, "I think I just need to get laid." She burst out into laughter.

"I think I need to get drunk tonight. You wouldn't make me do that alone, now would you?"

Riley grinned, sliding over next to her. "Oh, I wouldn't miss it for the world," he replied. "I swear, sometimes it seems like you're the only other person in this freaky cult of ours that isn't a fucking lightweight." Riley was an old hand at forcing smiles, but this one was genuine. Nahla had that effect on him.

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

"I think I just need to get laid."

Acolyte laughed as he sat down beside her, unscrewing the lid of a canteen. Taking a swig and pouring some over his head, he offered it to her. "Fair enough," he said. "I know I'm supposed to be some kind of monk, but I honestly think if everyone in the world woke up with someone else in their bed tomorrow, all these wars would grind to a halt. At least for a little bit."

"Congratulations."

The Talon acknowledged her with a nod of her head, but in truth she barely noticed. So much of her mind was so far away. Everything felt so sharp, so pure, in this moment of affirmation. Everything, every single thing, had played out exactly as she had anticipated. Outmanoeuvring an enemy on the battlefield, or even in a protracted campaign, was one thing, but on a scale such as this, even The Talon had been nursing a few worries, a few last minute doubts. Upon arriving at this base, her Songbirds had attacked and captured a group of bandits who had been preying on some nearby villages. Half of them remained chained in her quarters even now, after bearing the brunt of her restlessness.

All the frustration that had clouded her was gone now. If she closed her eyes, she could feel it, the threads of eventuality, connecting everything, and deftly, delicately tugging at the underpinnings, the mechanics of the world, manipulating the progression and interaction of systems in ways that would transcend anyone else's understanding.

"would you care for them now or later."

The Talon examined Dietrich's offering. The corrupting effect of the pores was... appropriate.

"I will hear them now." She told him.

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

"How can I be of help today sir?"

Hammond frowned at the sarcasm in Barrows' formality. The man had never been the soldier that Hammond wanted, but he was not so blind as to let personal dislike keep him from the man's talents. All instruments had their uses.

"Greetings Barrows. I hope you are fairing well." The General offered up. I have a very important mission for you, but first. I need you to go and find someone, one of the Inmates we have recruited. His name is Travis, though I believe he responds more appropriately to 'The Dragon'." Hammond smirked. "He will be your partner in this mission I have planned. Do not tell him anything right away. Spend some time with him first, on whatever pretext you like. Once you believe you have the full measure of the man, report back to me with him for your assignment. Any questions?"

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

"Don't you think you should take a break?"

"Afraid I'll drink the bar dry?" Selena replied sardonically. "You know, chances are we'll all be dead by the end of the week, I don't think you have much to worry about on that score." She smiled toothily. "Why don't you help yourself to one, while you're at it?"

"...Spend some time with him first, on whatever pretext you like. Once you believe you have the full measure of the man, report back to me with him for your assignment. Any questions?"

',Cept you can't tell me what the assignment is before I go make friends with the local mooks?'

Somehow Barrows doubted that he'd get a happy answer there. Folks like the general would never do without there little bits of ceremony.

"We got a profile or something on Mr Dragon or did we end blowing up half the paperwork?" Barrow's wasn't so big a dickhead as to go in totally blind anyway.

"I swear, sometimes it seems like you're the only other person in this freaky cult of ours that isn't a fucking lightweight."

She rolled onto her back and turned her head to face him. She was still grinning, "I learned from the best." They shared a brief silence before Nahla changed the subject. "So, how have things been on your end? I heard you picked up so runaways from RACDI-Alpha. They must have been mean mother fuckers if they escaped that place."

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

"I know I'm supposed to be some kind of monk, but I honestly think if everyone in the world woke up with someone else in their bed tomorrow, all these wars would grind to a halt. At least for a little bit."

Lucia rested the back of her head against the wall and squeezed her eyes shut as she felt a sharp pain shoot through her chest. Maybe she'd been pushing herself too hard since she ditched the crutches. She titled her head to the side, her eyes remained shut, "Honestly, I couldn't give a damn about the rest of the world. Not anymore. There was a time where I wanted justice for all the terrible things this world has done to people like us, but... I... fuck it. You know? Fuck it." She opened her eyes and stared off at nothing in particular. "All I care about now is you, me, Nikolai and the others. As long as we're together. As long as we can make some kind of life for ourselves. Something that isn't filled with pain and suffering..." She found Acolyte's eyes. "I think I'll be happy."

"So, how have things been on your end? I heard you picked up so runaways from RACDI-Alpha. They must have been mean mother fuckers if they escaped that place."

"Yeah," Riley agreed. "Hellish bunch of fuckers, I'll tell you. That said, it was pretty bloody clear they had sweet fuck all idea what they were doing out in the wilderness. I tailed them for a couple of months. Made sure they didn't get killed." He shrugged. "Still, when those wolves got on them, I thought they were fucked. But they fought them off."

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

"I think I'll be happy."

Might want to bump me off that list, Acolyte thought. He didn't say it, however. Instead, he merely replied, "yeah. We'll just find our own little slice of the world."

"Afraid I'll drink the bar dry?" Selena asked rhetorically with a cynical tone to her voice. "You know, chances are we'll all be dead by the end of the week, I don't think you have much to worry about on that score." She the gave a toothy looking grin to Zach. "Why don't you help yourself to one, while you're at it?"

Zachary smirked at the woman whilst stifling back a laugh slightly. "Whilst that last one does sound tempting, can't exactly drink whilst I'm on shift; alcohol-wise that is." He responded with, taking a swig from the glass of water nearby to prove his point.

"No, the reason why I think you should probably take a break from drinking is so you don't make an ass of yourself; especially around these guys." Zach said, referring of course to the soldiers around them. "I mean, no offense, one false move, and you might say something you'll regret later down the line."

"Still, when those wolves got on them, I thought they were fucked. But they fought them off."

Nahla chuckled, "Wolves? I'd give them more credit than that, Riley. They escaped the biggest prison in the world for fuck's sake. I'd say that earns them a leg up against a simple pack of wolves. They don't make them all like Odin, you know."

She looked in the direction that Odin had wander off in, "How's Ol' Yeller doing, anyway? He'd still take off my hand if I tried to give him a chin scratch?"

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

"yeah. We'll just find our own little slice of the world."

"Sounds too good to be true," She smirked. After hopping to her feet, she crossed her arms over her chest and peered down the narrow hallway towards the stairs. "I'm going above deck and see what the big guy's up to. Make sure you've got your stuff sorted before we drop anchor. I doubt the crew will appreciate us lollygagging." And with that, she scurried up the stairs.

Though the deck was rather busy, it didn't take her long to find Nikolai. Coming up from behind him, she gave him a light shove on the back and giggled, "You ready?"

"How's Ol' Yeller doing, anyway? He'd still take off my hand if I tried to give him a chin scratch?"

Riley put an arm around Nahla and kissed the top of her head. "Oh, I think you'd be fine if I were around. He knows I don't mind you." He laughed. "You know, the alpha that chewed up the big man's leg was pretty big. Paler than the others, too. Me thinks Odin was getting a little bit cozy with some she wolves on the side."

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

"I'm going above deck and see what the big guy's up to. Make sure you've got your stuff sorted before we drop anchor. I doubt the crew will appreciate us lollygagging."

"Aye aye, Captain," Acolyte replied, giving a mock salute. When Lucia was gone, he got to his feet and set about cramming his things into a large hiking pack and slung it over his shoulders. He couldn't wait to be off this fucking ship.

"We got a profile or something on Mr Dragon or did we end blowing up half the paperwork?"

"It just so happens that we do." General Hammond replied calmly, opening one of the draws of his desk to produce the file that he had laid out specially. There was a significant thus when he dropped it on the surface.

"Travis is a man who's brutality is matched by his ambition. That said, he is easily manipulated. He was little people for a long time down here, and even after the old gang fiefdom's crumbled he never really got a chance to spread his wings. By all accounts, he's obsessed with asserting his dominance over the rest of The Pit, and if his cooperation will give us the in-roads we need, I see no harm in allowing him to entertain that notion for the time-being. However, I will not have him running rampant. Do what you have to do to keep him sated, while also making sure the leash can be pulled back at any time. If he proves less malleable than I hope, I will not allow him to become a problem that cannot be quickly snuffed out. Understood?"

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

"I mean, no offense, one false move, and you might say something you'll regret later down the line."

Selena laughed, none too quietly.

"You obviously didn't get the memo." she told him, bitterness shining though her inebriation. "I'm our esteemed General's new favourite, his pet. The Bitch of Venture Horizon brought to heel. He can do whatever he wants to me, at any time he likes, but if anyone else so much as lays a finger on me without his permission, heads will roll."

She laboured that last clause, while shooting an insolent look at the disgusting specimen who had been leering at her from the moment she walked through the doors, before sliding her empty glass back across the bar to Zach.

"Now shut up, and get me another drink."

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

"You ready?"

Nikolai looked down at Lucia and smiled.

"It will be good to walk on dirt again. My leg makes so much noise when I walk here, it gives me a headache."

The big ship took a long time to eventually pull up in the harbour, seemingly wrestling with itself the whole time. As it turned out, The Free Men were all ready long before they needed to be, and practically barged a few workers overboard in their enthusiasm when they were eventually allowed to disembark.

"This is where we must part ways." One of their Songbird guides announced once they had all made it onto the concrete harbour. "We have other business in the port, and from here, you are free and able to go anywhere you please." He smiled at them all. "It has been a pleasure."

Nikolai nodded back, and said nothing. Without another word, the Songbirds turned their backs on the Free Men, and were soon lost in the throng of people all rushing around the harbour.

For how long Nikolai and the rest simply stood there, he couldn't say. From here, they really could go anywhere they pleased. The harbour was full of ships from all over the world, with even more waiting for a spot out in the bay. For so long, Nikolai's only focus had been putting one foot in front of the other, to keep going forward and to stay ahead of all the dangers that threatened to overwhelm them. Now, for the first time, he had choice, so much choice...

"I'm thirsty." He eventually said allowed. "Let's find something to drink."

"Now shut up, and get me another drink." Selina said with a rather bitter tone as she slid the glass back to Zach. He breathed a sigh of regret, shaking his head a couple of times before going over to the back wall and gathering up the ingredients for a Dark and Stormy, rum and ginger beer, along with ice and a lime slice to garnish. Given how he had to make the drink five times already today, he could almost do it with his eyes closed.

"Here you go Miss. Enjoy." Zach said tersely before going off to deal with another customer.

So much for trying to be decent.

Nahla smiled when Riley kissed her

"... Me thinks Odin was getting a little bit cozy with some she wolves on the side."

"Oh yeah?" She giggled. "You know, I heard the prisoners you hauled in had a pretty young thing with them." She poked his chest with her pointer finger. "You get a little cozy too while I've been gone?"

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

Lucia still wasn't used to seeing Nikolai smile so naturally. She couldn't help but return the goofy grin.

"It will be good to walk on dirt again. My leg makes so much noise when I walk here, it gives me a headache."

"I don't know," She shrugged. "You might start getting dirt caught in that thing again. Last time it happened you bitched for hours!"

The two shared a laugh and before they knew it they were on land again. While the others were clearly itching to get off the ship, Lucia felt no real rush. She enjoyed the freedom of the open sea and was actually a bit anxious about leaving it behind.

No, that wasn't it. The sea wasn't going anywhere. When it came down to it, she was just afraid of what the future held for her. For the first time in a long time she was being given a choice. She was given freedom. It had been so long and the feeling was so... alien. She stood there by Nikolai's side and took in the bustling space around them She could go anywhere. She could do anything!

Where could she possibly start?!

"I'm thirsty. Let's find something to drink."

And with that, all tension was gone. She breathed a sigh of relief and smiled at Nikolai, "Lead the way man-mountain!"

"You get a little cozy too while I've been gone?"

"Would you be jealous if I had?" asked Riley, smiling. "No, I imagine she'd have pulled a knife on me if I even stood near her. I seemed to get her hackles up for some reason."

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

Acolyte made his way onto dry land, savoring the feel of actual ground beneath his feet. Taking a deep breath, he looked around, seeing Nikolai's unmistakable bulk up ahead. He started pushing towards it.

'Bloody hell!' Barrows' eyebrow went up faster than a hard on at a Taiwan brothel. Looked like he had some bedtime reading at long last, time to break out the reading glasses. He casually flipped through the early few pages of the fatty of a profile as the general lay out his own basic summary of Mr Dragonpants. This one was looking to be colourful an a half.

"...If he proves less malleable than I hope, I will not allow him to become a problem that cannot be quickly snuffed out. Understood?"

"Of course, Sir."

It was a natural enough plan. Job like this could never be as easy as it sounded on paper though, an this one sounded pretty finicky already. But hey, fuck it, right? At least it would break up the bloody boredom of patrol duty and until they could get communications working there wasn't anything better to do.

'Ugh, God 'ave fucking mercy on the poor bastard he's got looking for a way to sort that whole mess out.'

Barrows' tucked the beefy folder under his arm and gave a firm salute. "Permission to be about the business, Sir?" The general gave his permission and Barrows turned on his heel and departed for wardens quarters his unit had gotten as their own barracks.

It would have taken him all day to go through the whole back catalog of Travis' adventures. Skimming the thing for some highlighted events and what the general had told him gave him a good first impression for the blighter though. That'd only get him so far though, time to get stuck in.

The songbird soldier rolled up his sleeves, secured his sidearm and knife, making sure they were plain to see in case some dick 'ead got his knickers in a twist and set off to find his new best friend. Travis might be willing to work with them for now but this kind of job needed a weird boy approach. Barrows wouldn't go at this one so blunt, not yet. First things first though, he had to find the bastard first. Easiest place to check would be the 'fancy' bar they had set up where most of the inmates that agreed to play nice liked to spend the hours.

An' if he wasn't there, then maybe Barrows could get a drink on the job. 'Dare I dream?' What a time to be alive it was.

Travis had joined the new masters for so many reasons. Glory, victory, booze, poon-hell poon especially. Hearing some bitch scream and feel ashamed of being a woman instead of being born a man, FUCK that's just the best thing in the world.

Wait, no it wasn't. No it was the second best. The best thing was good old fashioned murder. The Dragon's issue was that he had done so much of that recently he was hurting for someone to claim as his property. He could never have his fill of killing, but he would gladly go a week without killing if it meant he could find some little lass to make his whore. Yet every woman he had the opportunity to rape was either too strong to take or was off limits. Women having strength, it was fucking sick! Sick and wrong and immoral. And off limits? What the fuck did that mean? Why, for example, was the cunt Travis was watching across the bar who was drinking herself into a stupor off limits? What the hell made her special? Did Hammond own her? If she did, fair enough, Travis wouldn't butt in. But if he wasn't doing what was meant to be done to her, then what the hell was the point!

'Fuck it.' Travis kept just leering at her like he had done the barkeep for the past few days, also fucking off limits, as he nursed his gin. Some weird 'boutique' shit he had never heard of. However after spending hours insulting the faggy properties of the drink, he couldn't deny it tasted a hell of a lot better than the rough shit he had been guzzling in an attempt to keep up his manhood. Plus his tolerance had gone to hell, and if he was gonna go down like a sack of shit after a few drinks it might as well be with something that went down smooth. It was the best tasting shit he'd had in over a year.

'Still not fucking poon though.' He snarled to himself.
=====================================
She had gone. Felix had no idea where but she had gone. In trying to find safe haven they had gotten separated. Felix had kept his ear to the ground to see if anyone was talking about the woman, yet he hoped he'd hear nothing. Any inmates saying anything about a warden would likely be about chasing one or killing one. He could pursue her, but truly what was the point? This place was massive, and she could look after herself well enough, and even if he wanted to he'd already angered enough people. There were too many places he needed to avoid, people who he had fled from when he could fight no more. Thankfully this prison was large enough that he could still move freely in many places without fear of being hunted down, he could work and blend in with the crowd. The evil he was no forced to live with.

He had never regretted his decision to leave more than he had now. However, these new guards were not supervising him, they were not leering down his neck, they weren't looking at what they were doing at their workstations, only that they were keeping busy. With this in mind, Felix had the freedom to discreetly craft something that could remind him of home in this cold, lonely hell.
========================================================
"The Back Door at zero hour, everybody got that?"

Clementina looked up with a tired scowl and nodded. These new allies had no plans, no tactics to strike back or even escape, they were just surviving day to day. Why? Why not fight back! Why not strike while they...

She didn't even have the energy to continue that thought. Her strength to fight was waning and she was simply doing whatever she needed to in order to keep on every day. She was tired, hungry, and most of all scared though she dare not admit it. She refused it. No, no she wasn't scared. Not at all. It was a stupid thought to even consider it.

Glancing down at her weapon she mumbled something unintelligible, angry at herself for spending so much ammunition of her makarov, one she stole of an inmate after having emptied the clip of her previous weapon into his face. Four bullets in total. Four bullets to keep her alive. Pitiful.

Barrows held on to the raised collar of his Shao Long heavy weather issue coat with numbed fingertips as he bustled on in through the bar door. The place certainly had its little quaint charms. all cosy and homely, like a tea room for raging sodomites.

'Now give them access to booze. can't see that comin' back to fuck you over later.'

But they weren't the problem right now were they? And they didn't need to see Hammond and his boys that way either. Not so long as they kept them fed and on a loose leash. So long as they offered them a chance of an out they'd keep themselves happily aimed at the wardens. No, that made them sound like stupid animals. Maybe some of them were but given the alternative it was an easy choice. How many of the stupid sods were seeing topside for the first time in years? Barrows'd easily do the same in their position.

Did that make him a stupid animal too? Ah, fuck it. If he was it was serving him fine so far.

Travis was standing out like a sore thumb. now what to do with him? Could a bloke just go up to a serial rapist and just say hi? Obviously. If he couldn't then barrows wouldn't have been able to get anything done around here. Going up to said rapist and saying you want to get to know him better though... probably not so good. Besides, playing talent scout was all about the hunt, about observing. No need to charge right in. barrows rarely got a chance to take his sweet time about a job, it was time to have a little treat for all his hard work during the attack.

He sidled over to the bar next to the lass that was putting them away like there was no tomorrow. Looked like her body was having trouble keeping up with her will. "I'll have what she's having." He called over to the bar wenches like he was ordering the usual down at his local and knowing full well his uniform marked him as someone you wanted to think twice about fucking with.

"I'll have what she's having." Zachary heard a voice say. Turning round, he saw that it was a new face to the bar, and one he hadn't seen around the facility either; he wasn't like some of the other unsavory individuals that seemed to be appearing in the last few days. For starters, this one had an actual uniform. It took him a couple seconds to realize who he was referring to before he brought out the ginger beer and run again.

"There you are, sir, one Dark and Stormy. Enjoy." Said Zach after adding the slice of lime to the finished drink and placing it on a coaster in front of the gentleman. Zach then gathered up the utensils along with Selina's empty drinks glasses and took them other to the sink and began washing them; from the looks of things, a lot of the people in higher positions of authority were ordering some of the more fruity drinks.

Meanwhile, Abigail had just appeared from the downstairs store-room with the clipboard carried under her arm. She took a few moments to conduct a quick count up before dispensing with the clipboard in a holster next to them door. Hooking a towel into one of the empty loops of her apron, Abigail then approached Zachary.

"How have things been up top?" She asked whilst organizing some of the drinks shelves.

"Same as they've always been Abby." He said, before switching to a quieter voice, hoping to not be heard by the surly ex-executive.

"Miss Hernandez is on her sixth drink so far. I tried to stop her, but then she got a bit ratty with me, so I just let her have it."

"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on things, and if something happens, well we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

"I'll have what she's having."

Selena looked up, bleary eyed, at the form that had occupied the space next to her. She recognised the man as the one they called Barrows (she wasn't sure if he had a rank, while it was unlikely that Hammond would let him do without one, no-one ever seemed to refer to it), General Hammond's glumly sarcastic attack dog.

"You're in my light." she said.

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

Yu looked around, frustrated, as the half-hearted acknowledgements came in. This disparate group he and his twin had assembled were tired. Tired of running, tired of being afraid, tired of having no visible endgame, tired of just about everything. He knew, because he shared all of those feelings. They all, even the seasoned professionals, needed something to motivate them. The trouble was, Yu was no Lee. He was an operator, not a motivator. It had been Lee's words, Lee's grit and determination when just about everyone else had abandoned them, that had got Yu and Chen through Bahrain, and the brothers could call upon those same words again now to see them through this, but would the second hand platitudes of a dead man be enough for the others?

"Hey." He announced, taking a knee in the centre of the circle, commanding all eyes be on him. "I can't say I know what this means exactly, but I do know that no-one still on the surface would risk contacting us unless it was important. The game's about to change, and we've got something to look forward to now beyond just staying alive...

So," he slung his rifle over his shoulder. "We're gonna go on an ammo run. I wan't us to be ready and able for whatever it is we might be called upon to do. Iron Squad, you're coming with me to the North Quarter. Clem, Aggie, you're going upstairs with Chen. Lewis..." he paused as he looked over the two remainders of the group "You're our rear guard. Stay here with Neil and keep him safe."

Even Yu felt a little bit sorry for Neil at this point. As if the guy wasn't high strung enough, he must have been going stir crazy being baby-sat all the time. It was easy to forget that he was also a soldier, and by all accounts a talented one. However, as much as he might have been able to help, it was too much of a risk. Everything they were doing, they were doing to keep him safe. Yu might have been able to make a shrewd guess as to why Lee had entrusted Neil in particular with the Kill Switch, but in the end, all that mattered was that he had. Living or dead, Lee had paid all the dues Yu required of a man a thousand times over. He would never disobey an order from that man, nor stop following it before he was done.

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

Minutes wading their way through the throngs of people crowding the port, and Nikolai and the others eventually found a bar. A dingy, ramshackle little place, with a group of men sitting at a table outside, playing Knife The Finger. Each one had a different colour skin, and between them they had more gold teeth than real ones. Pirates.

Ignoring them, Nikolai pushed his way through the saloon doors and made his way to the bar, his pneumatic leg announcing his arrival to the other patrons inside with every other step. Armed with some real money this time (which he still thought was a stupid idea, why would anyone swap something they could eat or fight with for something they couldn't), he slammed an inexact jumble of paper and metal onto the counter, and pointed at one of the bottles of rum hung upside down on the tap behind the bar. The barman was about to pour him a glass, when Nikolai grunted and shook his head. Understanding his meaning, surprisingly, the barman stooped behind the counter, and emerged instead with and entire bottle, which Nikolai snatched up, leaving the money for some one else to sort out.

Drink in hand, Nikolai then set about saving a table. There was a free one at the far end of the saloon, and Nikolai made his way through to it. Just before he was about to sit down, However, a fat, balding European, sweating profusely in the midday heat, got up from his seat and bumped into him, the other man's drink spilling over the floor and Nikolai's chest.

The man, big himself relative to other men, instinctively wheeled around, his chest puffed out and snarling.

"Hey!" He growled, in what Nikolai was unable to recognise as a thick, Glaswegian accent. "The fuck do you think y-"

His confidence deflated as quickly as it had risen as he took Nikolai in, the taut lines on his face slackening. For a few seconds, both simply stared at each-other, the entire bar seemingly having gone quiet.

"I... You... Fuck, you're a big bastard!" The other man eventually spat out, before breaking his gaze and sitting back down. Nikolai, without so much as cracking a smile, continued on to his seat, unscrewed the bottle in his hand, and took a healthy first swig.

It would seem that life on the outside wasn't always so different.

Yu finally spoke out or was it Chen? Aggie couldn't really tell the difference but what she did recognize was the plan and it sounded a hell of a lot better than what they were doing.

"Clem, Aggie, you're going upstairs with Chen."

"Good choice. How much resistance we expecting?" Aggie asked before getting up. She cocked her shotgun, putting one round in the tube. It was one of last rounds she had for the shotgun but if everything went well, Mr.Buckshot wouldn't be alone. She looked to her comrade which was the woman they had escaped with. They exchanged a few tired looks but otherwise Aggie never bothered to know much about her. That was how Aggie always operated especially during her prison time. Know someone too much and a piece of you goes with them if they do.

" Lewis...you're our rear guard. Stay here with Neil and keep him safe."

"Roger that." Lewis paused and looked to Neil. The man was sharpening his knife. A knife that he no doubt was very much used to using. "It looks like he can already keep himself safe." Lewis remembered going on his mission to catch the man and now he was here with him. Some part of him hoped he was dead when they were laid siege to. Other scum died during the invasion and so did his friends. Why did this man need to leave? Still he knew better to question orders and the twins were acting with Lee's command then he choose not to question it. The choice still irked him though.

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