Monthly Archives: June 2015

Scene 227 – Epicinium

EPICINIUM

DEREK

Due to complications with the jet, it took over twelve hours from when we finally got in touch with MC to just get on the plane. Factoring in travel time and an incident with the Air Force, it was eight in the morning, November 3rd, when we finally landed in Domina City again.

I didn’t wait until the tiny private jet had finished slowing down; I ripped open the cabin door and jumped as we were taxiing to a stop, ducking into a roll to absorb the impact of my body hitting the tarmac.

It hurt, but I’d had worse. I literally could not wait another second.

“Akane,” I ordered as she helped me to my feet. She, of course, was completely unharmed due to her super speed. “Run on ahead, see if you can find my parents. We’ll meet you at NHQ later.”

She nodded, and was gone.

By the time I had reached the edge of the city’s tiny airfield and found the sleek black car with the Necessarian red band painted on the side, Laura and Robyn had caught up with me.

“What was that?” my oldest friend nearly shrieked. “You could have been killed!”

“Later,” I snapped as I slipped into the car. “Right now we have work to do.”

She ground her teeth as she followed me inside, scooting close to me as Robyn pushed her over to make room for herself as well. Once the door was shut, the driver took off, knowing exactly where to take us without anyone saying a word.

The city looked about the same as when we left. Maybe a few more broken windows, but that could have just been what I expected to see. The more obvious—and surprising—difference was actually that more people were on the streets.

After all the other times Elizabeth had been captured and escaped, I assumed they would treat her as a time bomb ready to go off again at any moment even though she was on ice, but everyone seemed… unworried. Obviously, it was hard to read individual expressions from inside a speeding car, but the large numbers of people loitering outside, just like it had been before she was first outed, was certainly telling.

After a few minutes of silence, Laura spoke up. “Derek, this was not your fault.”

“I never said it was.”

“If you lie to me, I’m going to break your legs.”

“That wasn’t a lie.”

“It wasn’t the truth, either.”

I sighed, and finally turned away from the window to regard my friend.

It had been far too long since I had done that. Lizzy’s—Elizabeth’s hypnotism had screwed up my brain for too long, I hadn’t even noticed how beautiful Laura had become when she returned to South Central after seven years.

I closed my eyes as a headache flared up again. It happened every time I thought about Laura too much in that direction. As far as I could tell, it was the only remnant of the hypnotism. Silver and gold, why would the Composer specifically program my brain to react that way to Laura, and only Laura?

Even though I didn’t want to, I allowed myself to push my feelings and questions to the back of my mind. The headache subsided, and I was able to give Laura an honest answer to her question.

“This wouldn’t have happened if I was here,” I insisted. “You heard MC; Elizabeth escaped minutes after we left, and hit the city with her… ” I waved my hand. “Super song soon after that.”

“Mass Empowering Event,” Robyn chirped. “MEE. That’s what MC said they’re calling it.”

I arched my eyebrow. “Who came up with that? Your dad?”

“He apparently wanted to go with ‘Mass Urban Zombification Event,’ but the kids on Fundie came up with MEE on their own.”

Laura smiled slightly. “He wanted to call it MUZE?

Robyn smiled back. “Yeah. He was never good with names.”

I turned serious again, and focused back to Laura. “But the point stands. We would have been immune to her song. We could have done something about it. This happened because we left the city.”

That elicited a sigh. “What would you have done if you had known? Stayed in the city the rest of your life?”

“Yes, actually. Didn’t leave for eighteen years, and that worked out pretty well.”

Derek…”

“What?” I snapped. “What do you want me to say? This was all our fault.”

“No, this was all her fault,” Laura said with exaggerated patience. “You need to understand that. None of this had anything to do with us. She infiltrated a city as a kid for giggles, and then gave five people relatively close to her superpowers—again, for giggles.”

“I should have seen it,” I muttered, not looking at her. “Realized what she was doing to me. There were… oddities, gaps in my memory that I just dismissed, that I never questioned. I should have.”

She grabbed me by the chin and forced me to look at her. “This was not your fault. If you had never been born, it would have just been some other poor bastard in your position. And countless people would be dead.”

I batted away her hand and looked out the window again. “Countless people are dead.”

“But less than there would be without Derek Huntsman.”

“We’re here,” I noted as we reached the first ‘sarian checkpoint, glad for any excuse—even an obvious one—to change the subject. “Passes out, people.”

Twenty minutes later, we were finally through the last checkpoint, and I hurried out of the car before Laura could restart the conversation. I grabbed the first ‘sarian I saw, a goblin girl. “Hi.” I flashed my security pass. “You know where they’re keeping a kid named Adam? If not, then Clarke—”

“Master Anders is with Doctor Clarke,” the girl answered promptly. “In the main med lab, last I checked.” She indicated the direction. “Follow the signs to ‘bio hazard waste processing.’”

I smiled. “Yes, thank you, I’ve been here before. I know how the Big Boss likes to label things.” I never had been able to figure out if he genuinely believed that changing all the room names on the signs would actually confuse intruders, or if he just thought it was funny.

Either way, I found Clarke’s lab easily enough, with Laura and Robyn a few steps behind me. By the time we reached the cluttered chamber, with test tubes and beakers and all sorts of equipment from forgotten experiments scattered everywhere, Akane was already there waiting with Adam and Lily.

I frowned at the swordswoman. “What about my parents?”

“With Butler.”

I nodded. “Good. Then—”

Before I could finish my thought, Lily rushed past me and tackle-hugged Robyn so hard the taller girl was nearly knocked off her feet.

“Red dusk,” Robyn managed, barely able to get the words out. “Don’t squeeze so hard, I think I’m gonna burst.”

Her ‘sister,’ for lack of a better term, didn’t let up. “Mother of fire… I thought we’d lost you.”

The red-haired flier smiled down at the girl burying her face in her chest. “Me? I was just involved in some petty thievery. You’re the ones who got zombified by a crazy immortal witch.”

“Don’t remind her,” Adam groaned from the examination chair in the center of the room. “She nearly killed me when she found me, before they could get me into the toy box. Broke like three ribs or something.”

“And judging from the look of your hand, she might have sprained some of your fingers once you got out,” MC commented dryly from a wall speaker. “I guess the rest of us should just be thankful all she wanted was to hold your hand.”

Lily finally released Robyn, and returned to Adam’s side—his other side, I noted. She didn’t want to damage his hand any worse than it already was.

“What did happen, Adam?” I asked, stepping next to the examination chair. “MC didn’t go into too much detail.” As far as I could tell, he was not wounded, but that didn’t mean much with the toy box. Sure, he was a clay, but that just meant it was far more expensive than it normally would be. Higher-level toys were out of reach for him no matter who was footing the bill, but basic healing was easy enough.

Mostly, he just looked tired. Like he hadn’t slept a wink since we left the city. Which for all I knew, he hadn’t. I knew I wouldn’t have in his position.

He smiled weakly. “Simple enough. I was on the phone with MC when the thing hit, so I had more warning than everyone else. I stabbed out my eardrums, ran around the city hiding from screamers for a few days, until I ended up at Zero Forge. Pushed Elizabeth into a vat of liquid nitrogen MC had opened, and… poof.” He mimed small explosions with his hands. “Problem solved.”

There was a long pause.

“That,” I said slowly. “Is one of the most compressed explanations I have ever heard.” I turned my attention to one of the wall speakers. “MC, what really happened?”

“That’s about it. He’s just downplaying the fact that he was fighting through an entire city of superpowered zombies by himself.”

I grinned, patting my friend on the shoulder. “Well, I heard that.” I shook my head in wonder. “Seriously though, I do want to hear how you survived alone in a city of zombies for two whole days. Silver and gold, it’s a good thing you carry those guns everywhere, right?”

“Actually, he didn’t have any guns for a while,” MC corrected. “He left them at the dorm, and had to go get them. Stole some other ones on the way.”

“But still…” I murmured, looking at my roommate with renewed respect. He seemed a bit embarrassed by all the attention, but didn’t say anything. “Plus, you were deaf for the whole thing. Even with MC helping you, that’s pretty awesome.”

Laura finally stepped forward. “How are the new eardrums, anyway?”

He latched onto a relatively normal subject with zeal. “Well, you know. Things still sound a bit weird. Doctor Clarke says I’ll get used to it, though.”

The sharp-faced European girl nodded. “Good. What about damage to city infrastructure?”

I frowned. “Laura, this isn’t the time—”

“It’s okay,” Adam waved me off. “It’s fine.” He turned back to Laura. “Minimal damage to the infrastructure. I collapsed a couple roof-bridges behind me, barricaded myself inside a couple stores… MC has the full details.”

“Any damage to Zero Forge?”

“Elizabeth ripped up north side a bit when I eluded her. Nothing too bad, though.”

Laura nodded. “Right, Elizabeth. Tell me about the fight.”

Laura,” I hissed.

But she just silenced me with a glare, before returning her attention to Adam and waiting for a response.

He paused for a good, long moment, trying to consider what to say.

“…I only glanced over the camera footage,” he said finally. “And it was all a rush at the time. But I think, more than anything, she underestimated me, from start to finish.” He shrugged. “She’s immortal, and I don’t even have a power. What could I do against her?”

“I suspected as much,” Laura murmured. “That’s similar to how you beat her, Robyn, in the alley.”

“I’m still worried about her trying this again,” I warned. “I like the idea of keeping her frozen forever, but I have a feeling she’s going to get out sooner or later, and just do the exact same thing as before. And this time, she might make the whole city commit suicide instead of just petty acts of vandalism.”

Lily, Adam, and Laura all stared at me.

I looked between them. “…what?”

“Derek,” Laura said slowly. “Have you not… thought about what happened?”

“She turned the entire city into screamers,” I snapped, annoyed. “And she can do it again.”

“No. She can’t.”

I glared, frustrated that I was missing the obvious. “Why not?”

Lily smiled broadly. “Because now, every single person in the city has a power. And thus, we are all immune to the Composer’s song.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 227)

I’ve been waiting for the MEE for a long time.

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Scene 226 – Nulla Fabrica

NULLA FABRICA

ADAM

Zero Forge didn’t really look much more impressive the second time around, on the outside at least. Peering at it from atop a building across the street, the only difference I could see at all was that there were almost a hundred screamers patrolling the entrances. None of them had guns or even knives, but somehow that didn’t make me feel better.

“Any info on their powers?”

MC’s response was prompt. “Not all, but the ones I do know are all violent. That cane by the junk heap has super strength, the feyborn by the door has pyrokinesis… that kind of thing.”

I peered closer at the second girl, the pyro. It had only been a couple days since the fey unveiled their new culture at the Wild Hunt, so I hadn’t seen more than two of their feyborn. She didn’t look like much, other than the fact that she had pointed ears, but I had a feeling she had more impressive toys underneath.

Plus, you know, the fire powers.

I sighed and took a step away from the edge. “I have no idea how I’m supposed to get in there. I take it there’s no sewer entrance this time.”

“Nope. Unless you can squeeze through a pipe the size of a softball, you’re not getting in that way. And Elizabeth cut all my connections, so I can’t even turn on a couple lights or machines as a distraction.”

That familiar feeling was coming, the tickling at the back of my mind that meant my subconscious had an idea. “Wait… you can control stuff in Zero Forge?”

“Normally I can control everything in Zero Forge. It’s a safety precaution. Everything short of the doors—and even a couple of those—I can play with as much as possible. Of course, there are manual overrides to cut me out of the system, and she’s already thrown every single switch.”

“But I can… unthrow them, right?” I waved my hand. “You know what I mean. I can run in there and turn your connections back on.”

“Nope, sorry,” she apologized. “When I say cut, I mean, cut. The lines are physically severed. It’s a salt the earth defense policy.”

I cursed under my breath. “Of course. This city never does anything the easy way, does it?”

“Not as long as I’ve been around, no.”

This was too good an idea to give up, though. Most of the infrastructure was still in place; the only thing keeping us from controlling the Composer’s entire lair were a couple cut wires.

“I know a bit about wiring…” I said slowly. “If I have the proper tools, I might be able to fix it. I’d basically just have to braid the lines together.”

“Well… it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you’re right, you could do it. Only problem is that there are over two hundred severed lines, all deep in hostile territory. No matter how fast you are, you’ll get spotted. And that’s assuming she hasn’t posted guards, which I doubt.”

“But if I get the first one, you can use the machines to defend me on the way to the second.”

Her text was blunt and to the point. “Nope. No defenses in Zero Forge. No turrets, no drop-doors, no pop-up barricades. There isn’t even an armory, though I think they’ve got a couple rifles in a locker.”

I wasn’t willing to let this one go so easily. “You could move the machinery or something.”

“Not really. Most of the stuff is stationary, and what isn’t is just on unpowered wheels and has to be pushed.”

“Well, now you’re just intentionally being difficult,” I grumbled.

“Yes, actually. We wanted to make sure no one could take complete control of Zero Forge just by some mild hacking.”

“But what if you—” I stopped as a thought occurred to me.

“Adam? You still alive?”

“What? Yeah. Where’s the nearest changeling outpost?”

“Changelings? Uh… there’s a Hate-Forged Flames base a couple blocks south… wait, there’s also a Chapel’s Singers outpost just a couple buildings to the west.” A GPS marker popped up on my eyepiece. “But what do you need changelings for?”

“Nothing,” I quipped vaguely, having way too much fun to give her a more detailed answer. “I don’t need changelings for anything.”

About forty-five minutes later, I was on top of a different building with a similar view of the Zero Forge, and a large black briefcase at my side. Thankfully, the outpost had been empty, so it hadn’t taken too long to retrieve what I was looking for.

“You’re being unnecessarily obtuse,” MC texted, clearly annoyed. “What’s the plan?”

I opened the briefcase, carefully giving the eyepiece a good view.

“…ah. Clever,” she admitted. “Yes, that could work.”

“Point me to the first break,” I ordered as I tweaked the devices I had taken from the changeling compound to the proper frequency. “Preferably one that’s only lightly guarded.”

“I don’t have cameras yet. But I think… north-west corner.” A new GPS beacon appeared.

The entrance MC had selected for me was just a dull service entrance with a loading dock and a steel door, guarded by a single angel. Even though his mouth was open in the same eternal scream as the other zombies, he seemed… almost bored. He was just pacing in front of the door, not really paying enough attention.

I could have sniped him with my Athena without difficulty, but I never had managed to find any silencers, so doing that would bring every screamer in a hundred yards down on my head. I could always backtrack to a gun store, but I wanted to gain at least a small foothold in the Composer’s base before retreating.

I rappelled down the side of the building—the Chapel’s Singers had a lot of cool adventuring gear, and I had grabbed some of the less bulky stuff—careful to keep out of sight of the angel. It was still midday, which meant his eyes were going to be far better than mine, but there was really no way around that short of waiting six hours for the sun to go down.

Still, there were enough parked trucks and so on that I could sneak up on the entrance pretty easily. Now I just had to take him out without him raising an alarm. I just waited until he was pacing away from me, snuck up behind him, and snapped his neck with a twist. Just like Derek taught me.

One advantage of fighting screamers was that they were all, well, screaming. If they had any way to talk to each other, I hadn’t seen it, and they certainly didn’t notice when one voice went missing out of the constant screechy chorus.

Though something I hadn’t expected (but MC reminded me) was that when fighting intelligent enemies, it’s important to hide the bodies before somebody stumbles on them. And corpses are fricking heavy. Seriously, it took me like ten minutes to lug that stupid daybreaker into a nearby truck that happened to be open.

But I did it, and soon was officially inside Zero Forge, having bypassed the door with one of those automatic lock picks I found in the changeling outpost.

“Okay, I’ve found the break,” I said aloud for MC’s benefit, as I sat down in front of a large red lever labeled ‘Emergency network shutoff’ in the drab gray entrance corridor. “What now?”

“Well, first off, move ten feet farther down the hallway. That’s where the physical break is, but the wires aren’t close enough to the surface to be useful.”

I cursed under my breath, got up, picked up the briefcase, and took another ten steps, scowling the entire way. “What am I looking for? Somehow, I doubt this one will be labeled as well as the lever.”

“See the machine in front of you?”

There was some sort of device nestled in an alcove, a pumping thing with lots of dials and meters and warning labels, letting off small bursts of steam every few seconds. “…yeah. What the hell is it?”

“Coolant rinse regulator. Don’t worry about that. Look behind it, where it connects to the wall.”

I peered at the spot indicated, finding the three-inch wide pipe running from the wall to the machine pretty easily. I was very careful not to touch any part of the thing. The ice dripping from it made me nervous. “Sure. Can you see it?”

“Barely. Take a knife, jam it into the seam, and cut up about two feet.”

It took about two full minutes of sweating and cursing, but I managed it. “Now what?”

“Pry off the sheetrock. To the left, please.”

I did so, once again having quite a bit of difficulty trying to struggle with avoiding the machine while working on something almost out of reach, but I eventually managed to messily tear off a large chunk of the sheetrock, exposing the inside of the wall.

It was mostly pipes, cobwebs, and electrical wires, but there was also a large black ribbed plastic tube with ‘Network connection cables’ stenciled on the side. The plastic was of the thinner type though, rather than the hard heavy-duty industrial material.

“I see it,” I confirmed. I readied the knife. “Want me to cut it open?”

“What?” she texted, then added more before I could respond. “Oh, right, it’s covered in a plastic sheath. I thought we hadn’t gotten around to that upgrade. No, don’t worry about it. It’s covering a steel pipe anyway.”

I rubbed my forehead. “If it has a steel cover, why does it need the plastic?”

“Insulation from stray electricity. Also, it makes it easier to distinguish from the other pipes. You’d be surprised how many people cut through those when they thought they were fixing the plumbing.”

“I… can imagine.”

“Sure. Anyway, get one of those things out. Quickly, screamers might be by any minute.”

I returned my attention to the briefcase, setting it flat on the ground and opening it carefully before pulling out one of the small devices held in the pre-cut foam casing.

The thumb-sized gadget look sort of like a small stack of quarters with antennae coming to the top; it was a squat cylinder, with one side flat and magnetized and the other a very small digital readout and some buttons.

It was a wireless transceiver, a bug designed to provide a hacker with access to a system that normally couldn’t be touched from the outside. It just had to be tuned to the right frequency, and we were good to go.

“608742 is your frequency, right?” I asked, just to make sure.

“Yes,” she responded, and if I hadn’t known better, I could swear I could hear her clipped and annoyed tone. “Now press it against the plastic casing.”

I did as she asked, feeling a bit silly holding it there. “I hope you have a better plan than me just sitting like this forever.”

“Hush. Of course I do. It can’t even make a connection like this; it needs more direct contact.”

“Then what do you expect me to—”

The small device jumped out of my fingers, burrowing through the plastic casing with a quick and sharp acrid burning smell.

“What the—”

“Look away,” the hacker advised. “I’m activating the thermite.”

It took me a second to realize what she meant.

I spun around as fast as I could the second I figured it out, though.

The thermite wasn’t hot enough for me to feel from a couple feet away, or bright enough to see with my back turned, but I could smell that unique stench of molten slag. The entire Forge was suffused with it, of course, but that was just a background level. This was like a sudden and concentrated assault on my nostrils.

When I turned back around, the transceiver had melted past the plastic casing and buried itself in the metal pipe, presumably cutting through to the network cables and making a firm connection.

“Done,” MC confirmed. “Nothing interesting on this network though, other than the cameras. I’m going to need more in order to do anything.”

“Fine. Point me towards the next one.”

As it turned out, the inside of Zero Forge wasn’t actually very well guarded. I suppose it had something to do with all the cramped machinery and industrial devices scattered around, making it impossible to find a real patrol path. And while MC insisted it was perfectly safe, I knew I was a little worried about all the vats of molten metal everywhere. Some of it, the stuff being molded on conveyor belts, was close enough to singe the hairs on my arms.

My hacker ally also claimed that part of the problem was that the entire factory was unspeakably loud; what few guards there were couldn’t hear me if I was five feet away from them. Obviously I couldn’t tell that right now, but I could at least remember last time I was here, and I did recall it being pretty loud.

Still, by the time the tenth transceiver finished burrowing its way into the pipe, I was starting to get a little annoyed. Yes, the lack of guards was nice, but we weren’t making much more progress.

“Is there anything here that can help me fight Elizabeth?” I muttered. “A liquid nitrogen sprayer or something?”

“I told you there are no defenses. Besides, why would there be a liquid nitrogen sprayer?”

“I don’t know, putting out fires or something.”

“That would be a massive and expensive case of overkill. You don’t need that much power to extinguish a fire.”

I waved my hand at one of the nearby vats of molten steel. “What about that? Somehow, if that spills, I don’t think one of those little hand-held extinguishers is going to do much to slow it down.”

“It has a cap on it, and more safeties than you can shake a stick at. It’s not gonna spill.”

“I can feel the heat from here!”

She was starting to get exasperated, I could tell. “Look, this wasn’t my idea. I said you should find a safe place and wait for Derek. You’ve already done a great job getting me back into the network—you’re not expected to personally fight the entire city.”

Stupid uptight little ro—

With a sigh, I shoved the darker thoughts to a corner of my mind. What was the use? Mentally cursing at my only ally was going to do precisely nothing to solve the situation.

And she was right, of course. I hadn’t been much use the last couple times we had fought renegades, which is what these guys basically were. I didn’t even have the slightest plan, other than getting MC connected again. Which I had done. So… what now?

She couldn’t actually help me fight an entire building of screamers and the Composer. Sure, the place was empty right now, but I knew they’d come running if Elizabeth called. The most violent thing MC could do was turn on a conveyor built unexpectedly, or move the cap off an empty chemical vat. Yeah, that would surely help me defeat a crazy immortal and her four hundred million minions.

“Fine,” I muttered with a sigh. “Find me a route out of here. I think I’m heading back to that Chapel’s Singers outpost. Maybe check out that Hate-Forged Flames base you mentioned.”

She put a marker on my eyepiece, and I started walking. “Just so you know, I think you’re doing the right thing. I know it feels like giving up, but—wait, I’ve lost a couple cameras.”

I frowned. “The transceiver blew?”

“No, just a couple cameras… one second.”

Then I turned a corner and almost ran straight into Elizabeth Greene.

She had a presence about her, always has, a strong awareness of her own body. She still had bronze skin, chocolate hair, and gold eyes. She still had a tall and imposing figure, only enhanced by a rather magnificent corset under a surprisingly subtle white sundress.

And just like last time I saw her, she was covered in blood.

Her hands were by far the most stained, caked in the rusty brown flakes of old blood, as well as dripping—literally dripping—with the results of newer murders. Her white dress had bits and splotches here and there, but not as much as the last time I had seen her; she must have changed recently.

She was singing.

Obviously, I couldn’t hear her, so to me she just looked kind of silly with her mouth hanging open, and I couldn’t really tell the difference between her endless song and the zombies’ eternal screams.

All I knew was she had found me.

She grinned, exposing perfect pearly white teeth flecked with blood.

I whipped out the gun I had closest to hand, the Occisor Mk 3, and shot her right in the head. I missed, of course—firing from the hip was a hell of a lot harder in real life than in the movies—both with the first shot and the second. But the third round got her in the eye, sending her flinching back a step long enough for me to take aim and fire three more bullets straight into her skull.

Massive chunks of her head blew off, enough that I could even see the gray matter of her brain beneath the blood and shattered bone. She was down for the count.

I ran.

I’m not ashamed of it. I knew my limits, and I couldn’t beat the Composer like this. On a good day, with my hearing intact and an entire armory at my disposal? Maybe. But not deaf with only a couple decent guns and a single god slayer.

“MC!” I spat. “I stopped the singing! How are the screamers?”

The words arrived on my eyepiece almost before I could finish asking. “Still screaming.”

“OF COURSE THEY ARE!” I made the mistake of craning my head back to look behind me, and saw Elizabeth, already almost done regenerating. I turned my attention back to the twists and turns in front of me.

“You used the Occisor, right? Try the St. George. You said you had some anti-infantry steel shot left.”

I holstered my pistol as I ran, cursing every god I could name, and struggled to pull the massive shotgun off my back without tripping and breaking my neck. Okay, now I had it out, now I needed to flip off the safety, check the chamber—

Then Elizabeth was in front of me. Alive and whole, if covered in blood and with a dangerous hunger in her eyes. How had she gotten around? She must know this place better than me.

I didn’t have time to think about anything. I just brought up my St. George, flipping off the safety in a single motion, and fired straight at her torso.

I had a number of different ammo types for the ‘sarian shotgun. The god slayers were my favorite, but they were expensive, so I never kept them loaded at all times. Normally I kept the standard slugs, but there was also the anti-infantry shot and the anti-armor slugs to consider.

As it turned out, I still had it loaded with the dragon’s breath rounds.

The second I pulled the trigger, dozens of small ceramic beads loaded with pyrophoric dust were propelled down the barrel, smashing into each other and shattering, releasing their contents and igniting on contact with the air.

The result was that a massive cone of flame belched forth from my weapon, engulfing the charging woman in a burning cloud that would scorch her to the bone. All that was left was a tall flaming pyre, as if I had set a scarecrow on fire.

But she was immortal.

A burning hand reached forward, narrowly missing my neck and singeing my face. She stretched forward with her twisted claws blindly, which I barely managed to avoid by dropping to the ground. But her eyes would regrow quickly, and I doubted it would improve her mood.

I picked up my shotgun and ran, on all fours for a moments before regaining my feet and flat-out sprinting.

“MC, I need an out,” I hissed. “Something. She’s not gonna give up until she’s wearing my guts as a hat!”

“Yeah… you probably shouldn’t have shot her with dragon’s breath.”

It was an accident! And now is not the time anyway!”

“I don’t have any ideas! She can’t fly, try going up?”

I didn’t bother to mention that I couldn’t fly either; it was still a better plan than I had at the moment, which was ‘run around aimlessly until she catches and kills you.’ At least MC gave me somewhere to run to.

Finding a ladder up proved to be easier than expected. I scaled the metal thing quickly, scraping my elbows in my haste, but decided that was far better than the alternative.

The ladder brought me up to the first level of scaffolding, overseeing the majority of the factory floor. From this position, I could see more vats of molten metal being capped, glowing red-hot bars and other metal parts, not to mention all the conveyor belts running every which way.

“I have an idea,” I muttered. “MC, show me the quickest way to the south side of the Forge.”

“The scaffolding doesn’t extend there, you have to get down and go through the doors.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw gouts of flame flying left and right. Elizabeth, taking out her rage on inanimate objects. But she’d find me sooner or later; I was in plain sight up here. I could go down, but then I’d just get crushed by something she threw some fire in my direction.

Besides, for my plan to work, I needed her to follow me.

“There has to be something,” I insisted as I started running for the wall that partitioned the north and south halves of Zero Forge. “Don’t materials get carried from one side to the other?”

“…yes. But it’s just a couple small conveyor belts!”

“You said you control the conveyor belts!”
“Not all of them!”

I felt the platform I was on shake, and glanced back to see Elizabeth, nearly naked but healthy as could be, glaring at me with murder in her eyes from a hundred feet away.

“MC, do it!

“Fine!”

A blinking dot appeared on my eyepiece map.

I followed it without a single moment’s hesitation, dodging the things my pursuer was throwing at me—either glowing orange force-field knives or fire, I couldn’t really tell. I just knew I needed to get away.

As expected, the GPS locator brought me to a small conveyor belt, maybe a foot wide, made of a fine metal mesh and covered in red-hot tiny machine parts that it was slowly taking towards a square hole in the wall.

I jumped on it without so much as a pause, only taking the time to knock off the hot bits of metal before they could burn me after I knew I wasn’t going to fall off.

I turned to see Elizabeth closing, murder on her face.

“Hit it.”

Suddenly, the engine was kicked into overdrive, and I was being driven feet-first at that tiny hole in the wall at a hundred miles an hour.

I almost jumped off. It would have killed me, of course, but I almost did it. I’ve never been afraid of cramped spaces, or speed, but in this particular situation, anyone in the world would have their heart jack-hammering in their chest.

Then I was in.

Then darkness. All I could feel was metal walls, zipping by inches away at lightning speed.

Thankfully, it didn’t last long. A moment later, I was out in the light again, and the conveyor belt was slowing down as fast as was safe.

The south side of Zero Forge wasn’t lit quite the same way as the north. Both had the same cool halogen lights set into the ceiling, of course, but for the north, most of the light actually came from the molten metal being shipped and shaped and hammered. It created a lot of light, but most of it was shifting at all times, which meant lots of flickering shadows, like torchlight.

This side was different. The vast majority of it was room-temperature or colder chemical work, and despite what movies claim, most of those don’t glow. The only light was from the ones in the ceiling, which glowed gentle white-blue. The result was a cool and gentle feel to the entire massive warehouse-like factory that seemed quite at odds with the dangerous nature of the work here.

“Reverse it!” I cried, referring to the conveyor belt that I was even now jumping off of. The second my feet hit the scaffolding, I took off running.

“Done,” MC texted. “I’m also working on your plan, but it will take a second. I have to disengage literally over a hundred safeties.”

I almost asked what she was talking about, until I realized that she had just managed to deduce my plan on her own. Good, that saved me time from having to explain it. Still, if it took too long, I’d be dead. And if Elizabeth figured it out, I’d be dead.

“I’ve also locked all the exterior doors. There are a couple screamers still inside, but that’s gonna keep most of them out.”

“Until they use super strength to break the doors down.” I remembered Yolanda’s friend Steve. “Or just straight-up teleport.”

“Well, on the plus side, I think Elizabeth wants to kill you personally now. She might not let the screamers do the job for her.”

Great,” I muttered sarcastically, though I knew it really was good news. Even if it just delayed my imminent demise by a minute or two, that might be enough to enact our plan. Of course, we had no guarantee that it would work, in any manner of the word, but it was better than just crossing our fingers and hoping she went away.

Whether she realized I was being sarcastic or not, she responded with assurances quickly. “Just need another minute or two. I’ve bypassed the safeties and the pumps are working.”

“Good, I—”

The scaffolding shook.

Once again, I turned to look behind me. Once again, Elizabeth was there, angry.

The wall behind her, the one with the small hole for the conveyor belt, no longer had a small hole. It had a huge one, a ten foot wide and tall crater in the solid steel barricade that partitioned the two sections of the Forge. The edges of the hole were ragged and the color of old blood, and I smelled something on the air.

Rust. She had rusted her way through.

But she couldn’t possibly have much power left after a move like that. She wouldn’t be able to use her speed, or any of her other powers for another minute or so. Lucky for me; that was the same amount of time until MC was ready.

The only problem was that Elizabeth could still kill me with her bare hands, and she was already stalking forward with a will.

Once again, I ran, quickly ducking off the straightaway and onto the network of twisting and turning scaffolding designed to give good views of the capped vats of chemicals below. Other than the railings, the metal walkways were pretty bare (the only exceptions being the monitoring computers above the vats), so I knew I couldn’t really hide.

I still didn’t expect her to grab me so quickly, though.

She kicked me from behind, sending me sprawling forward on my face and cutting myself in a few places on the metal grating. I managed to keep a grip on my shotgun through sheer luck, and tried to load a round into it.

Elizabeth casually kicked the ammo out of my hand.

I had more, but the message was clear: She wouldn’t give me time to use it.

“MC,” I whispered. “Really pressed for time here.”

A text appeared on my eyepiece immediately. “Try to keep her in that general area. I’m trying to get it off. One minute, maybe less.”

Okay, I could hold on for one minute.

I flipped onto my back, where I could see my foe approaching. The bronze-skinned monster was almost completely naked, with only a few burned scraps of clothing still clinging to her form, but she obviously didn’t care—and honestly, neither did I. It takes a pretty unique person to think someone trying to kill them is sexy.

More importantly, she was stalking forward slowly, warily, even as she was still singing. I couldn’t tell how much of it was her being genuinely cautious and how much was just her playing with her food, but either way I was grateful. I just needed a momentary distraction, so I could get a gun out.

“Plan: Elevator,” I hissed.

The Composer raised an eyebrow at me. There was a brief pause, and I was afraid that MC hadn’t understood the reference.

But then Elizabeth’s head snapped around, gazing at some distant corner of Zero Forge, where I was guessing she had just heard an explosion or something.

It wasn’t much but it gave me a second to load a round into my St. George, and bring my Caedes up to attack. She noticed the latter move, but by the time she was stepping forward, it was already too late.

I fired my submachine gun at point-blank range to her chest.

The Telum Caedes is hardly the most powerful gun on the market, but at that range, pretty much anything is going to make you sit up and take notice. She stumbled back, gripping the safety rails in an attempt to stay upright, and glared at me even as her healing started to push the bullets out of her gut.

As I scrambled to my feet, I fired another burst, one-handed so I could hold my shotgun in the other. Not as many hit, but I just needed to keep her off me until—

And then she was on me.

Pinning me to the hard metal grate, with her knee grinding painfully into my back, she leaned down and put her mouth close to my ear. I assumed she was whispering something, but I had no idea what. Had she not noticed I was deaf, or was she just ranting for her own benefit?

“MC,” I managed to grunt out. “Now.”

“I can’t!” she texted. “I’m going as fast as I can, but the emergency pneumatics can only be activated from the control panel above the vat!”

The control panel that was sitting on the safety rail about two feet away from me, literally within arm’s reach. It may as well have been on Shaohao Station for all the good it did me.

Elizabeth grabbed my neck, squeezing like a vise with her iron grip. The world started to go black…

And then her grip loosened.

I didn’t waste time pondering my good fortune. I just immediately bucked my unwelcome rider, scrambled forward, and turned my St. George on her with my back to the opposite railing.

It didn’t take long to figure out what MC had done. The control panel was sparking; she must have found a way to overload it remotely, activating the emergency pneumatics and speeding up the process.

Because large chemical storage vat 090, situated directly below a gap surrounded by the walkways so that the engineers could observe it directly from above, was open. Completely uncapped, the contents open to the air.

And it was filled to the brim with liquid nitrogen.

Elizabeth Greene turned to face me, her back to the railing that was the only thing keeping her from falling into one of the only things cold enough to slow her down, and stared at me in complete and utter shock.

Not fear. Just shock.

She honestly hadn’t thought I could do this to her.

Eh. Not as satisfying as fear, but I’d take it.

“See you later, Lizzy,” I quipped, and fired.

My last Necessarian god slayer, which I had loaded into the St. George just moments before, flew forward right on target, aimed straight for her chest. What happened next, I didn’t fully understand until I reviewed the security tapes later.

Her first mistake: She didn’t dodge.

Elizabeth was an immortal. There was nothing in the world that we knew of that could permanently damage her. Therefore, her first instinct would never be to dodge. Why would it? She could heal from any wound, not to mention she had shields like Derek’s.

Which brings me to her second mistake: She put up a shield.

A glowing orange shield, leaking mist like dry ice, appeared in front of her. I had seen her shields before; they had stopped my Caedes and a few other guns.

But it wouldn’t stop a god slayer.

The rocket-propelled round punched through the strange barrier like it was made of cheese. The force of the impact ignited the secondary charge, setting off a shaped blast that propelled shrapnel into the Composer’s body hard enough to knock her back over the railing, sending her falling into the vat below.

And finally, her third mistake: She tried to kill me one last time.

She could have grabbed a railing, or maybe rusted the vat, or put a shield under her feet or something to save herself. But once again, she was an immortal. She wasn’t used to having to save herself.

Instead, she threw a few glowing orange knives at me.

She missed. Completely. I didn’t even have to dodge.

Then she was in the nitrogen, splashing the liquid everywhere. It was far enough down that I didn’t have to worry about getting any on me, but I still winced as I saw splotches of it flash-vaporizing on the ground, as the room-temperature floor was enough to turn it instantly to steam.

After a few moments, the thrashing slowed, then stopped. A moment after that, the cap slowly began to shift back into place.

I let out a deep breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, clicked the safety back onto my St. George, and holstered it. “Good work, Mary Christina.”

Even just in text, I could read her wry tone. “You only get to call me that once.”

“I think I’ve earned it.” I breathed deeply, trying to bring my heart rate down to a level that didn’t feel like it was going to physically jump out of my chest. “I need a route out of here. Back to that Chapel’s Singers outpost. Then figure out what to do about… ” I sighed. “…everything. Any chance you can call Derek yet?”

“I doubt it.” A brief pause, then: “Oh. Yes. Satellites are back up. I wonder when that happened. I’ve been so focused on Zero Forge for the past hour, I wasn’t even checking.”

I blinked. “What? Really?”

“Well, I haven’t actually called him yet. I’m just gonna look around the city, find you a way home, then we’ll deal with that.”

I nodded. “Sounds goo—”

IT WORKED

I frowned. “What?”

“Killing Elizabeth! Freezing her, whatever, it WORKED! ALL THE SCREAMERS ARE SANE AGAIN!”

I…

Had no idea how to respond to that.

I had just written every single one of them off as dead, that I…

My legs gave way.

Suddenly I was lying on the hard metal walkway, one of my guns jabbing uncomfortably into my side.

I wanted to get up. I wanted to go outside, and see what I had wrought. See people I had assumed gone forever, happy and alive.

But I couldn’t stop crying.

I had beat the odds. Literally four hundred million to one, and I had survived. Better than survived, I had won. By any sane definition of the word, I was the victor of the fight between the entirety of Domina City and Adam Anders.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Behind the Scenes (scene 226)

I always have trouble writing about Zero Forge. I hope this came off well.

Scene 225 – Draco Interficientis

DRACO INTERFICIENTIS

ADAM

Four minutes later, MC texted me back. “Okay, got it!”

I blinked in surprise. “You figured out a way for me to get past the guy guarding the only exit without shooting him?”

“No. He left. I saw him when he passed the lobby camera.”

I peeked around the corner again; she was right, he was gone.

Well, that made me feel stupid.

“Tell me if he’s heading back,” I said as I holstered my weapon and made my run towards the stairs.

It was easier than expected; it seemed like there really wasn’t anyone down here. I guess I should have realized that—the boiler room and the sewer entrance were in the sub-basement, where not even the elevator went to. The only way in or out was to use the bare concrete stairs, which weren’t even connected to the main stairwell.

The stairs came up behind a thick metal maintenance door. Opening that brought me into the laundry room, where banks upon banks of washers and driers sat, ready for the dorm students to use them at any time. A few of them still had clothes in them, and one of those was actually open and half-emptied. Apparently, someone’s laundry had just finished when the attack hit.

“Anyone on the stairs?” I asked, as I carefully scanned the room. There weren’t too many corners to hide in, but still, I couldn’t be too paranoid right now.

“Maybe. There are no cameras up there, and I think the majority of the screamers in the building left their phones in their rooms.”

Of course they did. It probably made sense because of something about… I don’t know, they were home, so they didn’t bother to keep their phones actually on them at all times, but it still just felt like the universe was screwing with me.

Screwing with me and the four hundred million zombified people, that is.

No. I had to stay positive, as much as possible. Or at least not depressingly negative. That kind of thing slowed you down, got you killed in this situation. There was still a chance we could find a cure.

A cure that the greatest scientists in the city couldn’t find in months?

I shook aside my doubts and focused on what was in front of me. I might not be able to save the city from Elizabeth Greene, but I could climb a freaking flight of stairs.

The first two floors passed slowly, but uneventfully. The stairwell was self-contained, with doors leading off to the dorm rooms on each floor, so I didn’t have to worry too much about screamers coming to investigate strange noises.

The stairs were just concrete though, with no carpeting to absorb the echoes, so even though I couldn’t hear my footsteps myself, I knew I had to be careful.

Evidently, I wasn’t careful enough.

On floor four, I almost ran headlong into an angry girl with a bear’s button nose. The kemo screamed soundlessly and launched herself forward, but I had spent the last day and change surviving ambushes. Even with her power package, my reflexes proved faster than hers; I dropped to the cold ground, and she flew over my head and went tumbling down the stairs. Before she could recover, I turned and spat two rounds in her direction.

She went down quick, falling down the stairwell like a rag doll, but MC was quick to point out something I had forgotten in my haste to defend myself. “The other screamers heard the gunshots. Run.”

Shit.

Couldn’t run up; a quick glance told me more were coming. Down? No, they’d corner me. Then that just left…

I ripped open the door to the fourth floor and dove down the hallway, past a couple startled screamers who didn’t seem to know what to make of me. Thankfully, they didn’t pursue; I guess they really were that surprised.

While I was busy thanking every single lucky star I had for that little turn of fortune, I blasted around a corner at breakneck speed, until I found myself right in front of the elevators.

Then I hit the call button and waited.

THAT’S YOUR PLAN?” it wasn’t hard to imagine MC screeching at me, even though it was just text. “We talked about this! The elevator is too slow and loud!”

“I know,” I said as the doors opened. I reached inside, hit a couple of random buttons near the top, and ran like the wind before the doors could even close behind me.

“Is it working?” I panted as I ran, looking desperately for an open door, and wildly praying that I wasn’t about to run into any more screamers and invalidate my entire distraction.

“It… seems to be,” MC texted slowly. “What’s your plan here?”

I ducked into an open dorm room—one not much different from mine, I noted—that seemed to be empty, and swiftly closed the door behind me. A quick scan of the room confirmed that it was indeed empty. Now I just had to hope the occupants wouldn’t come back any time soon.

“Once it’s clear, I’m going to run to the stairwell on the other side of the building,” I managed to get out between breaths. “And… woo… and climb up to the ninth floor, and get my guns. Can you tell where that elevator is going?”

“Floors twelve, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and thirty-two.”

Huh. Well, a bit random, but it would work well enough.

After a half an hour of carefully climbing the stairs, I reached the ninth floor without any further incident. Although MC couldn’t be completely sure, it certainly seemed like all the zombies were off chasing the bait. Even the hallways outside my room were empty.

“Getting out is going to be fun,” MC texted. “And just to be clear, yes, that was sarcasm.”

“If you have to say it’s sarcasm, you’re not very good at it.”

“That’s because this is text. You know I’m good at sarcasm when you can hear my tone.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Text or not, I could practically hear her sigh in defeat. “Yeah, whatever. The point is—you do have a plan to get out, right?”

I couldn’t suppress a smile. “Of a sort.”

“I’m not sending a helicopter.”

“I wasn’t expecting you to.”

“It’s just you kinda had a ‘you’ll have no choice but to send a helicopter’ tone in your voice.”

I paused as I fished my keys out of my pocket, hand on my doorknob. “Really?”

“Okay, maybe not, but I’ve had people ask for helicopters before. In this case, I would do it, but I can’t guarantee I could get any airborne without help, and they’re all too far away anyways.”

That drew a chuckle out of me. I opened the door.

And was immediately tackled by a demon.

I didn’t have time to see anything more than a whip-like tail when I was head-butted in the chest with short, stubby horns, and felt my back slam into Ling and Akane’s door.

I fired my Sault Crisis at it, but the angle was horrible, and I had no idea if I even hit it. The screamer did release me for a moment, giving me a chance to spin out of its reach, turn around, and get a better aim at it.

It was Lily.

The small, round face I knew so well, with gentle red eyes and short, silky hair.

Only now her face was a mask of rage, her eyes were the narrow glare of a predator, and her hair was disheveled and dirty as a mop.

She opened her mouth in a silent howl and dove at me again.

I scrambled back, into my room, and tried desperately to shut the door on her. She broke through it like it was made of cardboard, sending splinters of wood flying everywhere.

Sweet, peaceful Lily, the only pacifist in Domina, was screaming like a beast and trying to claw my eyes out.

I couldn’t deal with this. I could not kill Lily. I just, I just…

Well, I had to deal with it, because my girlfriend clearly wasn’t about to stop any time soon. She was already stalking forward, cornering me by my bed. She was too aggressive for me to—

Wait.

She was aggressive.

Every screamer I had seen since Elizabeth’s attack had started had been defensive. They were intelligent. Violent and dangerous, but intelligent enough to use group tactics and swarm me. A couple had even retreated and come back with friends.

Lily was just attacking, head on, without any thought of the consequences. It could just mean she was confident in fighting me, but considering the caution a lot of the others displayed…

I needed to test this. Something simple. I was on my bed, literally backed into a corner, I didn’t have a lot of options. I scanned the room—trying to keep her in my peripheral vision so I didn’t get blindsided—trying to find something I could use.

She lunged at me.

I hadn’t found anything.

But thankfully, my combat instincts kicked in at the last second.

I dodged off the bed, pulling the blankets off with me and throwing them at Lily, wrapping them around her for good measure. She thrashed wildly, but didn’t seem to be able to free herself. Stupid or not, though, it wouldn’t be long until she just tore them to shreds.

Rushing past her, I found something I could use. Akane and Ling’s door had been splintered at some point, probably when I had been thrown into it. I hadn’t heard it for obvious reasons, but now I could see that it wouldn’t take much to break it down the rest of the way.

A few solid kicks did the trick, and I quickly glanced around the room, looking for something I could use. Akane would have more military hardware—ah hah! Smoke grenades above the fridge! Those would work!

Then I was tackled from behind, sending me tumbling to the hard floor.

Apparently, Lily had managed to free herself.

I struggled around in her iron grip enough to see her scrambling madly on top of me, clawing at my clothes and exposed flesh with her nails. It hurt, but not as much as my injuries from Elizabeth.

With effort, I managed to flip over, sending my girlfriend spinning into Ling’s side of the room. Before she could recover, I jumped onto Akane’s bed, in the same position I had been moments ago in my own room.

This was a stupid move, and if I was wrong—

Lily, mouth open in a mad howl I could not hear, lunged at me in the exact same way as she had before.

I dodged off the bed, in the exact same way as I had before.

And wrapped the blankets around her, exactly as I had before.

It worked, perfectly. As if this was the first time this had ever happened to her. That was a level of stupidity that even an animal would be able to outwit. That was the stupidity of a screamer, stuck in ‘aggressive’ mode.

But why was she aggressive, when no one else was? I mean, maybe I had only run into the defensive ones, or only noticed them, but you’d think there would be a few more, hunting me like animals. Why just Lily?

I didn’t have time for this. Once again, she was only moments from escaping from the blanket. I needed to act fast, and didn’t have a moment to think.

I grabbed the smoke grenades I had noticed earlier, pulled the pin on one, and chucked it at what seemed to be Lily’s head struggling under the blanket as hard as I could. It seemed to explode into red smoke the second it struck her, but I wasn’t in the mood for being cautious. As I was backing out of the room I pulled the pin and threw another, then another, until I had thrown all six, and Akane’s dorm was literally filled with smoke.

That’s when I started to feel drowsy.

I cursed under my breath and held my shirt up to my face, trying not to inhale. Clearly, at least one of those grenades had sleeping gas. That was actually a good thing, but I wish I had known that before I used up all of them.

Whether or not they were going to knock her out, I couldn’t stick around to find out. I ran back into my room, pulled out the case with my guns in it from under the bed, and ran down the hall.

The fire sprinklers started spraying water before I had gone ten steps. The alarm was probably blaring too.

“Adam?” MC texted. I briefly saw a whole bunch of older texts on the screen that I hadn’t noticed during the fight, before she deleted them to make way for the new one. “What happened?”

“You… couldn’t tell?” I panted. I was in good shape, but talking while running after an exhausting fight, with at least a little bit of sleeping gas in my lungs, would have been hard for anyone. Not to mention my injuries still hadn’t had a chance to heal.

“The video feed isn’t very good, and you were moving a lot. I heard a screamer. Female, right? Did you kill her?”

“NO!” I was at the stairs; I stopped to catch my breath. “No. I just… are there more screamers up, or down.”

“Up,” she replied promptly. “But that’s not gonna last. They’re evacuating the building.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I set off the fire alarm.”

Oh. Heh, that was the good thing about the smart screamers—you could outsmart them. It still counted if you did it on accident, right? “Get me a path out of here.”

“Done. Use the sewers again, but go north this time.”

Escaping the dorm building proved easier than expected; like MC said, all the screamers were running away. By the time they realized there wasn’t really a fire, it actually worked in my favor—they all returned to see what had happened, rather than combing the sewers for me.

About a mile away, underground, I sat by the river of sewage and put my back up against the wall. “Phew. I was not expecting that.”

“Not expecting what? Tell me you weren’t stupid enough to think your trick with the elevator would mean you wouldn’t have to fight any screamers.”

I felt a pang in my chest that had nothing to do with my stab wound. “…no. That’s not it.” I rubbed my forehead, trying to find a way to explain. In the end, I took the coward’s way out and changed the subject. I really didn’t want to have to tell her about Lily. “Have you gotten a hold of Derek yet? Or anyone?”

“No. I was hoping they’d have the satellites up by now—or set up some sort of auxiliary link-up—but no luck. Honestly, I think people are only going to come down when they notice the fires.”

I closed my eyes. Shouldn’t do that, shouldn’t do that… “How are they? I mean, how is the city? The screamers causing too much destruction?”

I opened my eyes a moment later to see her response had arrived. “It’s… bad, certainly, but it could be worse. Not all the screamers have destructive powers, and even those that do are just in engaging in some petty vandalism and looting rather than anything major. In some ways it’s actually better than normal, since no one’s fighting each other.”

That gave me pause. “Wait, seriously? No one at all?”

“Not that I can see,” she confirmed. “These screamers are a little different than the normal ones—they seem almost exclusively defensive, for one thing—but they share that zombie-like alliance as the stupider ones you were fighting before Elizabeth was outed. They don’t fight each other.”

I thought for a second. “Speaking of Elizabeth, do you have any idea where she is?”

“Sure. She’s at Zero Forge. She’s been there the entire time, ever since she first starting singing. She hasn’t slept, or eaten or drank anything, or stopped at all.”

A plan was beginning to form. “…wait. She hasn’t stopped singing since yesterday morning?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Remember when Laura killed that singer and that changeling, what was his name—”

“Loga’ha’shanar.”

Was that how it was spelled? Why were there so many apostrophes? “Yeah, him. She killed the singer, and he was freed.”

“Maybe you missed the part where Elizabeth is immortal.”

I refused to believe that she was literally unkillable, but that wasn’t the point right now. “Maybe, but you said yourself she hasn’t stopped singing. Maybe if she’s interrupted, everyone goes back to normal!”

“Doubtful. Last time, Loga was the only one freed by killing the singers. I suspect whatever time limit there is on this, it has already passed.”

Which meant Lily was permanently a screamer. But I pushed thoughts like that away. “Humor me. You said yourself that these screamers are different. At least let me shoot her in the face, see if it helps!”

“You just want to shoot her in the face.”

“Well, I will admit, it’s part of the appeal.”

I could practically see her rolling her eyes and sighing. “Fine. Go off on your suicide mission.” An arrow appeared on my eyepiece, pointing off to the northeast. “Zero Forge is in that direction.”

I nodded. “Thanks.”

“Out of curiosity, what are you going to do when you get there? She has shields like Derek, a pistol isn’t going to do much good.”

I grinned and opened my gun case, admiring them for a moment before beginning to strap the weapons on in the old, familiar places.

“I have some ideas.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 225)

Yes, there is a reason Lily is the only obviously aggressive screamer. It’s not too complicated, but I’m not sure you have enough information to deduce it right now.

Scene 224 – Infestatione

INFESTATIONE

ADAM

Clearing out the building of screamers was easier than expected, once I decided the first floor (with its wide open picture windows that were already shattered) was a loss. I just had to barricade the staircase off, and start shooting everyone who was left.

Dinner was some cold chicken from the fifth-floor barbecue place. The power was out in this building, so I couldn’t use the oven or even the microwave. MC said there were only a couple buildings out, and that somebody had probably just blown a fuse box or downed a power line. The point is, I knew better than to go searching for something to heat my food. I’d live with it.

Once I finished eating, I double checked all my security precautions, set an alarm with MC, and got to sleep.

Sleeping was hard, though. Not just finding somewhere I could expect to remain undisturbed for the night. That was difficult, but one of the shops sold a bunch of containers and plastic crates and that sort of thing, so I just found a big one and hid inside, hoping that no one would find me. And if they did, hopefully they’d wake me up in the process, and I could shoot them with the Sault Crisis in my hand.

Mostly, I just couldn’t sleep because of the crisis going on outside.

Domina City had a population of approximately four hundred million people—though I couldn’t remember whether or not that counted the Dagonites.

Four hundred million people, caught in the Composer’s song.

Four hundred million people, screaming for my blood.

I… had no idea how to respond to that. No idea how to even think about that. This was a fight with odds that no one in their right mind would bet on. The odds had probably never been this bad in the entirety of human history.

My chances were literally four hundred million to one—and that was rounding down. That was rounding way down. If one of the screamers so much as spit on me, or bled on me before they were dead…

Well.

Then there would be four hundred million and one screamers.

And I had no idea how to go around fixing that.

I mean, I had a plan. Go to my dorm, get my guns. But then what? One St. George wasn’t going to do much against an entire city. What was I going to do, go through the city block by block, killing zombies by the truckload until they brought me down with sheer weight of numbers?

That’s the cheery though that sent me off to sleep, and my nightmares followed that theme.

I woke up in the morning, surprised to find myself still alive and sane, with the eyepiece buzzing on my chest incessantly. My back ached from the weird angles the stupid box had forced me to sleep in, but it could have been a lot worse.

Yawning, I put the eyepiece on and noted that the alarm I had set earlier had gone off. “Hey, MC. Anything interesting happen while I was out?”

“No,” she texted quickly. “Although I still can’t get a hold of Derek. I was hoping the satellites would get fixed, but I suppose that was just wishful thinking. You all right over there? No one got into your hideout?”

I glanced around the store, and found my barricades still solid and unmolested. Even the food I had left on a nearby table was untouched. “No problems here. What about you? I never did ask you about your security set up.”

Please. I’m in a steel bunker under NHQ, with enough guns that I could probably literally take on the entire city if I had to.” There was a pause. “Well, not counting powers. I’m not quite as confident any more. But anyway, I haven’t had more than a few stragglers getting into range of my turrets. I’m fine, I promise.”

“Good.” Wouldn’t that be the cherry on top of all this, to lose MC. I did some stretches, then went over to eat breakfast—more cold barbecued chicken, this time preserved in a lunchbox packed with ice. Hey, at least it was edible. “Anything else I should know?”

“Well, there is a bit of good news. Your dorms are mostly empty. The screamers seem to be spreading out a little, thought I don’t think they’re looking for you, just scrounging for food and so on.”

“That is good news,” I admitted through a mouthful of chicken. More weirdness: I knew it had to be muffled by the food, but I couldn’t hear it. I had been getting used to talking and not hearing myself speak, but somehow that was just even stranger.

If MC had trouble understanding me, she didn’t show it. “The bad news is that, even mostly empty, you’ve still got hundreds of screamers in your building.”

I thought for a moment as I washed down the food with some soda. Heh, my mom would kill me if she saw me drinking soda this early. “Where are they in relation to the stairs?” I shook my head and rephrased the question. “I mean, are the stairs mostly unguarded?”

“Not really. Why?”

I frowned. “I’ll need to use the stairs, that’s why. There’s no way I can use the elevator—they’ll hear it and come running.”

“You could just stay where you are and wait for Derek.”

“You shush.”

Ten minutes later, after finishing my meal and using the bathroom, I was ready to make the trek to the AU dorms. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far, and the rooftops carried me the block or two without any major incidents.

Unfortunately, the building was too tall for any roof hopping tricks, so I’d have to descend to street level and get through the front entrance.

Really unfortunately, that’s where all the screamers were.

“MC,” I muttered, scanning the intersection from my perch on the roof to give her the best possible view. “Please tell me there’s an easy way through that door.”

“I can think of a couple, but they mostly involve ramming trucks through the lobby.”

I considered it. “…no. It would attract too much attention. Maybe if I had a tank I could do that safely, but otherwise—”

“There are tanks in Dis.”

“What? I was just joking! That’s great—wait. Isn’t Dis in West Inner? Without the light rail, it would take forever to get over there.”

“Hey, I was just mentioning it.”

“Okay, okay… ” I bit my lip. “The front door is out. Maybe I can get some sort of… grapple… thing? To jump straight to my floor?”

“Doubtful. There are no balconies, and the windows only have a lip of an inch, according to the blueprints. Even if you could find the equipment to clamber around safely, it would be loud, and most of the kemo screamers would still be better climbers than you. You’d be a sitting duck.”

I stepped away from the edge, rubbing my forehead. “Right, I knew that was a stupid idea the moment I said it.” I thought about it some more. “Actually, if I could get some sort of powered grapple, that could take me straight to the roof… ”

“Hm… ” MC texted slowly, letter by letter. “Maybe. Let me check something.” There was a brief pause before more text appeared. “You’d need about two hundred feet of line to do it, which is far from impossible, but it’s a bit unlikely. And the closest rock climbing store is on the other side of AU.”

“Of course it is.” I didn’t even both mentioning a helicopter. We had discussed that earlier—there were a couple remote piloted choppers she could send to me, but they’d be so loud, they’d attract every screamer in the city. And more than a few of them could fly. “Can you blow a gas main or something a couple blocks away, draw their attention?”

“Not without your help. I could point you to some demo charges.”

That might actually work. “They wouldn’t have a timer though, right? You’d just be able to activate them remotely.”

“Sure. But I want you to think long and hard about doing permanent infrastructure damage like that. I wouldn’t be able to shut off the gas, so it would be burning for however long it took you to personally fix it—and you might have to run around the sewers and shut off a dozen gas valves across the district.”

I blinked. “Wait. The sewers.”

“Yeah, I—ooh. Yeah, that might work. I just need to find the blueprints.”

The sewers were one of the few constants of Domina City. Unlike most cities and towns on the mainland, it hadn’t sprung up naturally, it had been very carefully conceived, using modern technology and techniques, from the ground up. That meant that it had an extremely extensive sewer system.

We had found Elizabeth in an old pumping station, and apparently the fey played down there too, but the important part was that a big residential building like the AU dorms would need equally large sewers.

The only question was, what was down there?

“Just find me an unguarded entrance,” I said decisively. Yes, there were probably monsters down there, but Laura and Clarke had determined that animals couldn’t become screamers. It would be marginally safer.

Well, unless I ran into a gargant. My guns could handle the basic stuff well enough, but nothing with armor plating. Or swarms, like those jumpers. Or I got ambushed by something, like those little hairless cats.

Okay, maybe this wasn’t the best of ideas.

“Found one!” MC replied, the text sparkling on the screen. “A couple buildings back, the big gray one. That’s a water testing facility. It will have an entrance. And, there were only three people there when the attack hit.”

“How many now?”

“Not sure. None, but that’s assuming they still have their phones. There’s nothing in there a screamer would really want, so it should be fine.”

I knew how well ‘it should be fine’ usually went.

But it wasn’t like I had a whole lot of other options, so I backtracked a bit and found the building she was talking about, a squat concrete edifice that made no efforts to be visually appealing.

To my surprise, it was fine. There were no screamers in the main area or the hall, and I was able to get the sewer open pretty easily, although turning the giant wheel would have been easier with two people. MC told me it was loud, so I dropped down into the exposed pipe and closed the hatch behind me before any screamers could come to investigate.

This wasn’t the sewer proper, just a large water pipe, about five feet tall and wide, for something or other to do with clean water. It was mostly empty, but there was still enough water to wet my feet through my shoes, and the pipe was small enough that I had to stoop. Apparently the only reason it was this big in the first place was to make maintenance easier. Go figure.

Well, thankfully, there wasn’t a single screamer in the pipe, but when I reached the exit hatch after about a hundred yards, I discovered another problem.

“MC, there’s no way to open it from the inside.”

“One second,” she texted quickly, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that I was able to get a signal in a metal pipe underground. I had seen a couple small devices sprouting from the ceiling; were those cell repeaters, or just some sensors she had re-purposed to communicate?

“Right,” the hacker responded. “Good news and bad news time. Good news—see that switch under the handlebars? That’ll open the hatch.”

I found the small, recessed switch quickly, hiding under the short and simple ladder to help me get out of the pipe. I reached forward to flip it.

DON’T TOUCH IT!” she texted instantly, the text flashing incessantly to make sure I got the message. “It will set off an alarm that every screamer in the sewer will hear!”

I snapped my hand back quickly. “What’s the reason for that?”

“To catch people trying to sneak in through the pipes, obviously.”

I kneaded my forehead. “There has to be a way around it. Some override.”

“Yeah, but I think they’re all on the outside of the pipe. So that hostages and stuff can help their friends sneak in. But let me see what I can do.”

Waiting for her in that cramped pipe was not a pleasant experience. The smell actually wasn’t too bad; mostly clean water went through this pipe. Once again, it was the lack of sound that really got to me. The longer I waited, the more I became aware of the fact that I should be able to hear anyone coming, hear dripping water echoing down the pipe, footsteps splashing in the water…

But I couldn’t hear a damn thing.

If I spent too long deaf, I was going to go insane.

“Adam? Still there?”

“Of course,” I grunted, closing my eyes. “Where else would I be?”

I sighed and opened my eyes again after a moment to see her reply. “Good, because I got the alarm turned off. Probably.”

“Really? How’d you manage that?”

“Cleaning robot. But I can’t actually see through the stupid thing, so I just had to ram it into the switch a couple dozen times until it broke.”

“The robot broke, or the switch broke?”

“Hopefully, both.”

I waited a few more minutes in an attempt to allow any screamers who had been drawn by her display time to disperse, then flipped the switch under the handles.

As promised, the hatch above my head cracked open with a smooth pneumatic motion, letting in a blinding amount of light. I had to shield my face with my hands and avert my eyes.

When I opened them again, the tone of MC’s text was urgent. “Hurry. The alarm didn’t go off, but it’s still loud. Go!”

I jumped out of the pipe, shook my feet to get some of the water off them, and ambled down into the sewer itself.

Domina’s sewers have a strangely old-fashioned style for such a modern city. They’re mostly built with what looked like brick, like an ancient Roman aqueduct or something, with twin paths to either side of the river of sewage.

I guess it was possible that it was just a thin layer of bricks and whatnot on top of more advanced steel pipes and so on, but that seemed like a really odd aesthetic choice. Who would even care about looks down here? The fey and their monsters?

Actually, now that I thought of it, it would make sense if the fey were the ones making the effort to make the sewers look all properly ancient. It was something they’d do, not to mention they had the manpower for it—for a certain definition of the word, anyway.

Five minutes later, I stumbled into an ekolid nest.

That’s what MC called it, anyway. They were some kind of bug demon, led by the warlord Obox-ob. There were so many subcultures, I could never keep track of half of them, but apparently these guys spent more time in the sewers than even the fey. There were rumors that the Composer killed their boss and took his domain, but that was mostly just because no one had seen him in a few months.

The… nest, if that was what it was called, was deeply disturbing. On the surface, it wasn’t really anything to write home about—there were a few bridges, made of rope and cheap metal planks, suspended over the river of sewage, and a few grime-encrusted lock boxes scattered around. It didn’t even look like a home, really, just like someone randomly decided to put bridges in this spot for some reason.

Then I looked up.

Suspended from the ceiling were dozens of hooks, most of which had a rotting corpse hanging from them. Hammocks hung too close to the corpses for comfort, with bags of food nearby—food that twitched and writhed in captivity.

But what really got me was when I took a closer look at the corpses.

None of them were just dead. They were all covered in pustules and boils, with flies and other winged insects crawling out of their orifices and wounds. With a nauseating churn of my stomach, I realized that they were hives for the insects, colonized and feeding the next generation. I could only hope they were dead when the process started.

Thankfully, other than the insects and the moss, there wasn’t anything living that I could find. I quickly hurried out of the nest, muttering old Catholic catechisms that I hadn’t even realized I still remembered.

Thankfully, I came out of the tunnels and into the basement of the dorm building after only half an hour or so. Not to mention I didn’t have to deal with a pipe again; the door from the sewers led straight into the building’s boiler room.

“Not that I’m complaining, but why does the dorm have a direct door to the sewers?”

“Didn’t I mention it earlier?” MC responded quickly. “Big residential building has a pretty big effect on the sewers. When it was first built, they thought it would be useful to be able to run directly into the sewers if something went wrong.”

“Has it helped?”

“Well, a little. The only time anything major happened was when a knot of alley crawlers got into the pipes down here, and yeah, having the door right there helped make clean up go faster. But I’m not sure it was worth the expense.”

“I think it was worth it.”

I could practically see her rolling her eyes. “You shush. You are hardly an unbiased source.”

I peered around a corner, then dodged back and squashed my smile. “I’ve spotted a screamer. A student, I think. He’s my age, anyway. You know his power?”

“Uh… no. I don’t know who that is. He doesn’t have his phone on him.”

I cursed under his breath. “Then I’m just gonna have to shoot him before he has a chance to do anything.” I checked the magazine on my St. Jude, slammed it back into place, and prepared to strike.

“WAIT” my distant ally texted urgently. “Just hold on.”

“MC, I do not have the luxury of mercy here,” I hissed. “I don’t know what this guy can do, and you know what happens if I get any of his blood or spit or anything on me.”

“You never did find a silencer! You’ll attract every screamer in the building!”

I paused. Okay, that was actually a really good point. “What do you suggest?”

“Go around him.”

I ground my teeth. “How? He’s standing in the only hallway out!”

“You’re… you’re right. Okay, before you start shooting, just give me five minutes to find another way out. Just five minutes, all right? That’s all I ask.”

I sighed and stepped back from the corner, putting my back to some of the machinery of the boiler room, and keeping my eyes on the only other exit. “Five minutes. I can give you five minutes.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 224)

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with these concurrent Adam scenes, but I think they’re flowing as well as they can.

Scene 223 – Arma

ARMA

ADAM

Once I managed to get my act together, I started moving again. Sticking to the rooftops proved to be the best plan. That didn’t mean it was perfectly safe, though. It just meant that there were fewer screamers, and I could physically toss most of them off the edge.

“I wish you would stop doing that,” MC texted to my eyepiece. “These people still might be able to be saved.”

“I understand,” I said through gritted teeth as I used a zipline to cross a larger-than-average gap between two buildings. “But I’m outnumbered here something like four hundred million to one. I don’t have the luxury of doing anything but fighting as hard as possible.”

There was a pause, where I could imagine the hacker rolling her eyes and sighing. “Fine. That makes sense. But you are not allowed to kill Artemis, all right? Or Isaac.”

“Why would I? I’m not going to be anywhere near NHQ.”

“Yeah, speaking of which…” The text on the screen faded until it was barely visible, and a translucent map appeared. “This is your current position.” A blinking dot appeared. “Estimated. The satellites are proving frustrating.” A red arrow pointed roughly in the direction I was going, just at a slight angle. “And this is where your dorm is. Although I still think going back there is a bad idea. It’s crawling with screamers.”

“I need my guns.”

“No, you need guns. They don’t have to be your guns. Actually… if you get other guns first, you’ll have an easier time getting yours, if you still want them.”

I nodded. She had a point, and it was a testament to how tired and stressed I was that I hadn’t thought of it myself. If I was going to survive until the others got back, I needed to get weapons as fast as possible.

“Point me towards the nearest gun shop,” I requested firmly. The red arrow instantly turned at a ninety-degree angle, and I changed direction to match. The roof was connected to the next building by a disturbingly precarious bridge made of a handful of wooden planks.

“By the way,” MC texted when I was still concentrating on crossing the bridge. “I still haven’t been able to get a hold of Derek and the others.”

I bit my lip as I tried to balance, but found a reply for her anyway. “What about anyone outside the city? Shaohao, or Tsiolkovsky station?”

“No, we use the same satellites to communicate with anyone outside the city. With those three disrupted, we’re cut off. Though I wish I knew how we were disrupted. You’d need a jammer the size of a small moon to cut them off completely.”

“Think simpler,” I advised as I stepped onto the relatively firm ground of the roof, and found my heartbeat slowing back down to healthy speeds. “My dad always says that while everyone’s looking for some complicated solution that involves hacking and high technology and so on, they never think to ask if maybe just a few guards got bribed instead.”

“Uh… okay. Not quite sure what you’re referencing there, but there are no guards on the satellites. They’re completely unmanned. 5 o’clock.”

I threw myself to the ground, causing the baseline girl coming up behind me to tackle nothing but empty air. She howled in rage as she scrambled to her feet, a very strange sight in the soundless half-world I currently inhabited. She raised a pistol, but before she could do anything smart, I ran forward and kicked her as hard as I could in the chest, sending her tumbling over the edge.

Screamers with guns. I had seen more than a few of them, but they were still disturbing.

“That’s… hoo…” I was breathing hard; I knew I should have grabbed a bottle of water or something, but there hadn’t been any safe places to stop. “I’m all right… so, what I meant was, just try and think simple. They couldn’t use a jammer. So what could it be?”

A long pause.

“Mechanical failure,” she finally texted. “Probably not natural, but yeah, if she was careful, she could have rigged an explosion on all three simultaneously.”

I had no idea how Elizabeth Greene would have gotten into space, slipped past the orbital defenses, and slapped a few C4 charges on three different communications satellites, but I was tired of arguing about it. “See? Doesn’t that make more sense than managing to sneak a moon past your sensors?”

“Well, they’re Tsiolkovsky’s sensors.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Fine, you’re right, your way is easier. Occam’s Razor. This is the gun shop.”

I stopped dead; I had been in the middle of a run-up to try and leap to another building, one only ten feet away but without any easier means of reaching it. I glanced around for the stairwell down, and found it. “Which floor is it?”

This one. The roof.”

I blinked, hand on the door. “What, seriously?”

“Yes, behind you. Under the awning.”

Huh. I had noticed the shadecloth strung up in a corner of the roof, but had assumed it was just some ghoul’s nest. “Anyone in there?”

“Not that I can tell. But I just have phone GPS to go on, so be careful.”

As it turned out, we were both paranoid; there was nobody there. But I’d much rather be paranoid than dead or screaming.

The shop was tiny, basically a street vendor except for guns. Well, there were a half-dozen handguns and a rifle, but mostly there were just boxes of ammo. Cheap, reliable stuff, nothing like Canian incendiary rounds or god slayers for my St. George.

I picked up a tiny little gun with a barrel that was only a hair longer than the grip. “I’ve seen this somewhere before.”

“It’s a Hellion 87-609 Six.”

I nodded in understanding. “Right, Mitchel had one—wait.” I tapped the eyepiece. “You can see through this thing?”

“Barely. Is that really a problem?”

“No, but…” I was frustrated and indignant, but couldn’t come up with a good reason to be angry. “…I’m a private person, that’s all.”

“Whatever. You’re pragmatic enough to get over it. What other guns are there?”

Now that I knew she could see through the thing, I was careful to give her a good view of the wares through the eyepiece. “I recognize the Occisor—”

“That’s actually an Occisor Mk. 3, not a Mk. 2 like Derek and Laura have.”

“Well, close enough. I recognize that, and this thing—” I picked up a heavy pistol, etched all over with fanciful designs of gears and other industrial symbols. “—seems familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“That’s a Black Knight ZF740.”

“…that’s not the one that explodes, is it?”

“You’re thinking of the ZF750.”

“Okay, good.” I pulled out a magazine, looking for a label. “It’s 4.5, right?”

“Yeah. The Occisor is 6.00 mm, though, and the Hellion is 3.00 mm.”

I frowned. “No swapping ammo, then.”

“Not with those, but that St. Jude is 4.5 mm.”

I spotted it immediately. All Necessarian weapons were sleek and slender, with an ergonomic grip and a digital ammo counter right under the sights—even if it was just using iron sights, like the Jude.

I put that next to the Black Knight. “Anything else 4.5?”

“No. That Crisis 09091949 is 4.4, though.”

“…that’s not helpful.” Guns from BOB’s Crisis line were pretty distinctive, what with having a large quote regarding the individual crisis in question engraved on the barrel, but the number alone was virtually indecipherable, and there were two Crisis pistols in front of me.

“You want the Sault Crisis,” MC texted. “The one on your left. The Crisis 04181976—sorry, the Reiner Gamma Crisis—shoots poison microflechettes. I doubt that will be much use, even if you can find some ammo for it.”

Yeah, she was right. “Okay, what about this thing?” It was an assault rifle of some type I had seen before, a sleek, streamlined design that tapered down to a point for the muzzle of the gun. In fact, if you ignored the magazine and the grips, it almost looked like they wanted it to look like a sword.

“That’s an Oplo Xifos. A Dagonite weapon. Well, when I say Dagonite… Oplo used to be a Dagonite company, and in many ways still is, but they’re expanding their operations to people with more normal needs, and their original customer base is shrinking.”

“MC, I don’t need a full history of the company or whatever.” I checked the mag. “6.0. Huh, that should work. It’s interchangeable with the Occisor, right?”

“Well, Occisor ammo won’t work underwater, even if you put it in a Xifos, but otherwise yes. Should still work if filled with sand, though.”

I wanted to ask for details an that little tidbit, but decided against it. “…right.” I started grabbing guns and stuffing them in a backpack that was under the cabinet. “I’m taking the Black Knight, the Occisor, the St. Jude, and the Xifos.” Even as I started dumping ammo into the backpack, I paused. “…and the Crisis.”

“The Reiner Gamma? I told you, you won’t be able to find ammo for the 04181976.”

“No, the Sault Crisis.” Crisis guns were reliable, according to Kat, and I could afford a few boxes of 4.4 ammo. “Just a quick question though—that one is named after the Sault-au-Cochon bombing, right?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, just checking. Shortening the name was throwing me off.”

“I’m surprised you even know about it. It’s not exactly a well-known event.”

“My mom’s Canadian.”

“Ah. Yes, as I understand it, that’s where the name came from.”

I stopped shoveling ammo, blinking and re-reading the text three times. “…the name comes from my mother?”

“No! One of the designers is Canadian. Or was.” Even deaf, I could practically hear her laughing.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, yes, that makes much more sense.”

“Anyway, there are a few restaurants in the building below you, and only about a dozen screamers. If you clear the place out and barricade yourself in, you can hold out until I get a hold of Derek and Laura.”

“All right, that sounds like a plan.” I was too hungry to do long-term thinking right now. I needed food, and maybe a bit of sleep. At least rest—my wounds were aching again. “Where’s the nearest screamer?”

“On the floor directly below you.”

“All right.” I slipped the backpack on, checked the magazine on the rifle, and cleared the chamber with a satisfying click.

“Let’s get to work.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 223)

Yes, there is a logic to the number designation given to Crisis line guns. No, Adam doesn’t know what it is. He really doesn’t pay as much attention to the history segments of his Applied Firearms class.