Adrift – Chapter 4

Part 1

Dangerous situations bring out the hidden depths of a person. However, said hidden depths aren’t always pleasant.

‘‘WHAT D’YA JUST SAID, BITCH!?’‘ Desri’s roar was so loud it felt as if the whole Phylactery shook with it.

‘‘I meant exactly what you heard; I said leave them.’‘ Replied Haudrica as she furrowed her brow.

‘‘How can you even suggest such a thing!?’‘ Cole’s own shout almost matched Desri’s in loudness, although his wasn’t half as angry.

‘‘In this accursed place, only the strongest and most capable survive. Those two failed one of the above, why should we risk our lives for those who might not even have their own anymore.’‘ Retorted Haudrica harshly; her words were entirely devoid of mercy.

‘‘I can’t believe this. Did you already forgot Zalura and Tetlekar risked their lives to save us both!? How can you even suggest leaving them to their luck!?’‘ Cole was getting more furious by the minute.

‘‘I never asked them to.’‘ She replied dryly.

‘‘Besides, it was his fault we got in that situation in the first place; had he gone by himself, we wouldn’t have been by ourselves when your little new Unit ambushed us.’‘ Nothing but scorn and antipathy permeated Haudrica’s words.

‘‘And what ’bout Mizelle, huh? Should we had left her die? She was weak too an’ all she could do was flee. By yer logic we shouldn’t ‘ave even both’red to heal her! Would ya ‘ave liked that!?’‘ Roared Desri furiously, his fangs fully bared.

‘‘Mizelle is different!’‘ This remark seemed to have actually angered Haudrica.

‘‘She didn’t go out there on her own! Those two forced her to come along because they need her power! She’s nothing but a slave to them; a cargo vehicle to haul trash around!’‘ As she usually did with Cole, she put her blade on Desri’s neck while she replied. But Desri remained fully unfazed.

‘‘Heh, pretty words those y’said. Yer the only one ‘ere who sees her like that, y’know.’‘

Haudrica took a step back; as if Desri’s words had been an actual blow to her.

‘‘You see her as less than a slave; she’s a toy, a pet ya keep ’round who smiles at cha and makes ya feel that there’s somethin’ in yer miserable life that’s worth the air you waste. She’s just a toy that relieves ya o’ yer frustrations.’‘ Retorted Desri fearlessly as he flashed an unfriendly smile.

Haudrica’s face contorted with anger beyond comprehension, and yet, there was also shame.

‘‘… If you want to live to see tomorrow, you’ll shut up right now.’‘ Her voice was like a ghastly curse.

‘‘Go ahead then, bitch. Slash m’ neck open.’‘ Desri taunted her with a cruel smile and even lifted his head for a better view of his throat. But Haudrica didn’t move.

‘‘Hehe, ya know ya can’t do it; only two people ‘ere who can operate the Synthesizer are Tetlekar an’ me. So, without him, ya need me alive, else ya’ll starve.’‘ Desri pushed away Haudrica’s blade as if it were nothing. Her face was almost bursting from the effort of restraining her anger.

They just gazed at each others with murderous glares.

*Shooog*

A familiar sound suddenly called Haudrica and Desri out of their staring contest. Cole had just opened the exit shutter.

‘‘If you guys wanna keep trading barbs all day, then be my guest. But I’m not gonna stay here till you finish; I’m heading out to find Zalura and Tetlekar, with or without you.’‘ Cole was doing his earnest to sound driven and resolute, even if his knees were shaking a bit.

‘‘Oi Cole, ya can’t be seriously thinkin’ o’-’‘ Desri sounded as if he had just been kicked in the head; his shock and disbelief were beyond measure. But Cole didn’t let him finish.

‘‘If none of you is going to do it, then I’ll do it; I’m heading out to find them. If you want to come along then come, but make your mind about it quick; every second we waste speaking increases the chance this rescue operation will end up as a corpse recovery.’‘ Interjected Cole brusquely.

‘‘Have it your way, fool. I couldn’t care less about you.’‘ Haudrica made her mind fast, and her reply was as Cole expected.

Desri let out a long, tired sigh before speaking.

‘‘Just gimme a minute, pup.’‘ With these words, Desri dashed away into his home.

A brief moment of silence passed by; Cole and Haudrica stood there, unmoving and trading glares. Yet, Haudrica’s glare wasn’t her usual hatred-filled one but merely an analytical stare. It was as if she was trying to find the bluff on Cole’s words, but considering that she remained quiet, it seemed she hadn’t spotted it.

‘‘Oi boyo, fetch!’‘ As these words broke the silence, Cole noticed a black cylindrical object flying his way.

Cole couldn’t help but think it felt strange to have a dog telling him to ”fetch”, but the moment he caught what Desri flung at him, it made his thoughts drift to somewhere else.

‘‘Whoa! Where did you got this? Had never seen one of these in the real myself.’‘ Said Cole in disbelief.

He was holding a stun baton; of the kind that came with a flashlight and a hand guard. It looked like it had seen some use, but it seemed intact enough to be used without fear of malfunctions.

‘‘Zalura found it on her last run. Text on it told me it’s from yer world. Not too sure o’ what it’s but it seems like a weapon, sorta. Maybe it can be o’ use ya; it’s better than nothin’.’‘ Replied Desri as he scratched one of his ears.

‘‘It is and it isn’t. We call this a Zap-Light; it’s a weapon not meant for killing, but for incapacitating. Still, it can be made deadly with the right know-how.’‘ Explained Cole as he made sure it still worked.

‘‘No time for that now, though. I’m heading out; thanks for the gadget, it’ll be of help.’‘ With these words, Cole headed for the exit.

‘‘Wait! I’m coming with ya.’‘ Added Desri as he ran after Cole and departed together.

The shutter was closed afterwards, yet Haudrica kept staring at it for a long while; as if wrestling with an idea in her head.

‘‘… Nevermind. What that fool and the savage do isn’t my concern.’‘ Muttered Haudrica to herself as she turned around and headed back to her place.

~~~

The brilliant white light of Cole’s new gadget filled the corridor ahead of them.

With the guidance of Desri, he was making his way to the Organic Collector, hoping at the very least to find about Zalura and Tetlekar’s whereabouts. But it was when almost arriving that he noticed something in particular about his destination.

‘‘…. This is the place where I arrived.’‘ This realization hit Cole like a hammer.

The rusted-up walls, the smashed light fixtures, the claw marks in the walls, and even that pretty dangerous hole in the floor.

‘‘Ya sure? Zalura told me it had been farther down, t’wards the other Salvage Collector; NVSC5.’‘ Commented Desri as he warily moved around the hole.

‘‘That’s because I got chased by an aberration; ran as fast as I could, and stumbled upon Zalura.’‘ Replied Cole as he aimed his Zap-Light into the hole, and just as he expected, the still-creepy remains of that animatronic was still down there.

‘‘Hm, sorta makes sense. But enuff with that; just turn right in that corner and look fer the red light.’‘ Said Desri as he ran ahead of Cole.

The following corridor was far, far larger than the previous ones; it was about as wide as the NVSC9’s door and there was even a rail system of sorts running through it.

‘‘Don’t cha worry; nothin’ has ever come from these rails. Nothin’ we’ve ever seen at least.’‘ As if sensing Cole’s fears, Desri made that comment.

Concentric to the hallway was a sizable door topped with a bright red light, or at least, what was left of a door; it looked as it had been smashed from the inside with something as big as a van and probably just as fast.

Inside, what looked like the remains of a lobby; a receptionist’s desk with a dozen of smashed waiting chairs laid sprawled all over. There was a sort of terminal in the desk, but it had been smashed so badly it was hard to tell what shape it originally had.

There were also old bloodstains splashed around, and bones- plenty of bones, although none of them looked even closely human.

‘‘This is just the entr’nce area; nothin’ much goin’ on ‘ere now, but it clearly did back on its day.’‘ Desri entered ahead of Cole and looked around. He stopped to sniff one of the bones and snort disgustedly back at it.

‘‘Geez…. This place reminds me of that one level of Doom. Not the best comparison to make now…’‘ Thought Cole as he put his hand on the handle of his wrench, which hung loosely on his belt.

Behind the desk, two gateways led onto a set of ascending stairs, one to each side. Once in there, they were pretty short and fast to climb, but it was up there where Cole first laid eyes on what unfolded before him.

Like the bastard lovechild between a greenhouse and an aquarium, a large, rounded glass cube extended below them.

Most of the glass was smashed, and inside of it looked like what would’ve been the aftermath of a fight between gladiators and wild animals at Ancient Rome; dozens and dozens of unidentified creatures laid lifeless around the bottom of the glass square. And still no sign of Zalura or Tetlekar.

*Thung!*

*Urrrk*

But that changed soon enough.

With a thunderous noise followed by the familiar ”groan” of twisting metal, Zalura leaped out the area still unseen to Cole and Desri, and clung onto the wall with the ease of a chameleon.

‘‘Zalura!’‘ Desri couldn’t hold his shout of happiness. He would soon regret it.

Gathering under Zalura like a flood of brown, red and dark orange, a mass of unidentified aberrations clawed at the wall under Zalura in a futile effort of reaching her.

However, upon hearing Desri’s shout, they all stopped clawing the wall, looked above towards Cole and Desri, and ran towards another direction. Yet, it didn’t take Cole long to realize that said direction was a spiraling pathway leading to them.

‘‘RUn!’‘ Cried out Zalura as she held onto the wall. The aberrations were heading full speed towards Cole and Desri.

‘‘You don’t have to tell me!’‘

There were only three paths before Cole. One from where he had come, towards the destroyed lobby. The second was the one from where the aberrations were coming. And the third led upstairs towards a long, circling catwalk into what seemed to be a control room of sorts. He took the later.

‘‘Goddammit! It’s a fucking Zerg Rush!’‘ Shouted Cole as he ran as fast as his legs could muster, and Desri running four-legs next to him.

The catwalk made a long and rather unnecessary circle over the glass cube before reaching the control room.

‘‘Oh man, not now.’‘

However, its door was closed, and the panel that would have controlled it was broken; smashed most likely by the desperate blows of some other creature who thought the same as Cole.

‘‘It’s a dead-end. What do I do?’‘ Cole was desperately trying to make the panel react, but no matter what he touched on what remained of its controls, it was dead.

‘‘They’re comin’!’‘ Cried out Desri in a state of panic almost as big as Cole’s.

The horde of aberrations was almost upon them.

‘‘Fuck!’‘

*Bzaap!*

*Din! Bwoo.*

In an act of desperation, Cole stabbed the panel with his Zap-Light. Strangely enough, that brought the panel to life and the door opened with a soft humming.

‘‘Inside!’‘

*Bzazapap!*

*Deen! Bwoo.*

Cole pushed Desri inside and moved in a well, just as the panel emitted a smokey spark before closing behind them.

*Bang, bang, bang*

The aberrations rammed against the door as hard as they could, making the whole place shake around like a gong.

‘‘We-We’re saved.’‘ Panted Cole as he tried to regain his breath.

‘‘Yeah, safe but trapp’d ‘ere.’‘ Desri didn’t sound too happy about it.

Looking around the control room, the whole place was pretty much intact; dusty, but intact. Which made sense as they were perhaps the first ones to get into there. Alive at least.

In the central of three chairs that overlooked the consoles under the long, horizontal glass that gave them such a panoramic view of the carnage below, laid a lifeless humanoid skeleton.

Whomever or whatever it was, it wore a red-orange and white suit with metal joints in the neck, waist, elbows and knees. Sadly, it wasn’t possible to tell what kind of face or even head it had, as all of its skull but its jaw, which still clung to its desiccated neck muscles, laid gathered in broken pieces upon its waist. The long-since-dry bloodstain in the roof and the metal object still clutched to its skeletal right hand gave out a clue of what had broken the skull like that; a shot to the mouth.

‘‘One o’ the crewmen. Now ya see all that remains o’ the Phylactery’s masters; nothin’ but bones an’ dust.’‘ Commented Desri in a rather despective tone as he looked at the bones.

‘‘Even so, there must be something we can use in here. This place looks like it was of some importance, so maybe there’s something in here we can use to our advantage.’‘ With these words, Cole began checking out the consoles, trying to see if there was something that still worked, but it was all dark.

‘‘Dunno ’bout it, seri’sly. If Dusty Bones here couldn’t escape his own death trap, what hope do we ‘ave o’ succeedin’?’‘ Desri sounded as if he had either given up on everything, or accepted his death.

‘‘We won’t know until we try.’‘ Said Cole as he moved from the console to the nearby walls and roof area.

‘‘This whole place doesn’t seem broken, it’s more like it has no power. Maybe there’s a way to fix that up.’‘ Cole was groping all the walls around, hoping to find a switch or something along those lines.

‘‘An’ what good will that do to us, dammit!? What can we even do!?’‘ Desri was starting to lose his bearings.

‘‘First of all, we stay calm, old dog. If we lose our minds to panic, then we’re dead.’‘ Ceasing his search for a moment and looking at Desri in the eyes as he spoke.

‘‘I’m just as afraid as you, maybe even more as I have no idea of what I’m doing. But if I’m going to die, I’d rather die knowing that I tried my best to prevent it, not just sit down and bite the barrel like Mr. Bones here did. So, if you aren’t going to help me, just shut up and let me work.’‘

With these words, Cole returned to what he was doing; he was in full ”Working Mode”, albeit one induced by fear.

‘‘Nothing here, nothing there. Where could it be?’‘

The walls and consoles were just full of dark lights, dead gauges and unresponsive buttons.

‘‘Haah… If we wanna rub the walls ’til they wear away and an exit opens, then be my guest, I’m just gonna curl down h-yauck!’‘

*Btz!*

Desri tried to get under the consoles, but almost as soon as he did it, he jumped back.

‘‘What happened?’‘ This drew Cole’s attention.

‘‘S-Somethin¡ down ‘ere spark’d me. Damn piece o’ junk!’‘ Desri kicked the console angrily along with this words.

*Ki-lik*

With an obnoxious creak, a tiny service panel opened up in the underside of the console, its cover hanging down loosely.

‘‘Well now, I guess you beat me to it. Good job.’‘ As Cole checked the panel, a smile came to his lips. Although Desri still looked confused.

————————————————————————————-

Part 2

‘‘Just wadda ya doin’ down there?’‘

Cole was underneath the console, rummaging away while sparks flew around, and Desri looked rather confused.

‘‘I’m trying to patch this up. Is Zalura OK out there?’‘ Replied Cole as he reached for a screwdriver on his belt.

‘‘She hasn’t mov’d; tried to climb up a while ‘go, but the aberrations gath’red on the area above. Pesky beasties I say…’‘ Desri had been relegated to ”watchman duty”.

‘‘Well, on the positive side, they’re no longer bashing on the door, which means that even if it opens up, we’ll be-Oh! I think I found it.’‘ Cole suddenly changed his tone from an analytical one to a triumphant one.

‘‘Wadda ya find?’‘ Asked Desri as he looked underneath.

‘‘The source of the power, and seems like something’s missing here, hmm…’‘

‘‘This looks like a junction panel or fuse box of sorts, and some are missing. Did they break?’‘

With these words, Cole came out from under the console.

Once out, he sat cross-legged in the floor and folded his arms, lost in thought.

A moment of silent pondering went by. Silent at least within the control room, as outside, the aberrations howled and grunted as they tried to reach Zalura. And still no trace of Tetlekar anywhere; Cole had already considered the worse possibility.

‘‘Haah… Look, pup, I’m not tryin’ to belittle ya; I know ya know this stuff better than many, but I don’t think ya can patch this junk heap up. If Mr. Dusty Bones ‘ere, who probably knew this place better than I know the pad on my paw, couldn’t get it patch’d up, what hope d’ya have o’ doin’ it.’‘ Said Desri with an apologetic sigh. He was staring to look rather depressed.

‘‘… Bones…?’‘ Cole glanced at the skeleton as he muttered that, and noticed something odd with it.

‘‘… Maybe he wasn’t trying to fix it.’‘ He added as he got up and walked towards it.

It’s left hand laid clutched against its belly, and it was also holding something. A pair of segmented metallic tubes with intermittent red and yellow lines.

‘‘Wadda ya mean, and what are ya doin’?’‘ Asked Desri as Cole reached onto the tubes, and whatever decomposed sinews had still held the hand into place crumbled effortlessly as Cole took the tubes.

‘‘The fusebox down there has a total of three fuses, two are missing, one is still there, and it looks just like these two here, which make me think Mr. Bones here never tried to fix it in the first place; he actually shut it down. I wonder why…’‘ Cole headed back under the console as he said that.

Placing the fuses back was real simple, but now he had to turn on the power itself, which despite being as simple as flipping the switch next to the box, it carried a great risk.

‘‘How’s the catwalk? Any aberrations there?’‘ Asked Cole from underneath the console.

‘‘… A few; they’re all focus’d on Zalura now, but that could change easily.’‘ Replied Desri in a far less depressed tone. It seems he was recovering his will to live.

Cole remained silent for a moment before replying.

‘‘Alright. If when I switch this on, the door opens, then cry out for Zalura; tell her to get away or move to a more advantageous position while the aberrations focus on us. If they get too close, I’ll shut the power again.’‘ Explained Cole as he came out again.

‘‘But what if the door doesn’t close?’‘ Asked Desri concernedly.

‘‘Then we’ll keep Mr. Bones company. Now get ready; I’m powering this up.’‘ Said Cole in a rather grim way as he went back underneath.

‘‘Okay, I’m ready to die.’‘ Desri didn’t have to phrase it that way, but he still did.

‘‘Alright…’‘ Muttered Cole as he put his thumb on the power switch.

‘‘…. YAMATO BLAST OFF!’‘ That was sure a cliché line, but he had always wanted to say it like that.

*Duuuuuuuuuhhhn*

That was a rather nostalgic starting sound; it was almost like that of his old desk PC back home, but way louder.

The whole control room had been pretty dim so far; illuminated only by the leftover light of half a dozen of roof-mounted floodlights that lit the glass-covered area. But as the humming of the power resounded, the control room became as lit as a summer noon. And the same went on for the consoles, whom became as lit as a Christmas tree.

Yet ironically, the door didn’t open.

‘‘Well… Imma not sure if I should be glad or ‘nnoyed. Still alive but still trap’d in ‘ere.’‘ Commented Desri with a hollow, toothy smile as he looked at the still-closed door.

‘‘Maybe not anymore. Mr. Bones had this hanging from his neck.’‘ Said Cole as he waved a small slab of circuitry about as big as an iPhone.

‘‘An access key.’‘ Desri’s face lit upon seeing it.

‘‘Yup! Tetlekar told me about these the other day. It seems finding Mr. Bones might prove a greater boon to us all than all the meat of those aberrations.’‘ Continued Cole with a confident smile.

‘‘An’ after being hound’d by ’em, I seriously don’t feel like eatin’ their meat.’‘ Added Desri comically.

Soon after locating the door panel where the key was to be used, Cole and Desri stood ready behind the exit door, hoping that all that ramming of the aberrations and Cole’s stun attack hadn’t damaged the door beyond use.

*Din! Bwoo.*

Just like before, the door made a sound when it opened.

*Gughrooo!*

And it was like a dinner bell for all the aberrations, who roared as they ran for the catwalk again.

‘‘Zalura, ka’or ite nam’aja! Nam’aja!’‘ Cried out Desri in Uluk. Why in Uluk? Cole had no idea.

Hearing these words, Zalura gave out a nod as she dropped from the wall, ran up the catwalk and latched herself onto the wall again.

‘‘DEsri, taKLada’eR nAN! NAm’Aja eRA!’‘ Upon reaching a safe height in the proximity of the control room, Zalura replied in a tone of urgency.

‘‘What’s she saying!?’‘ Asked Cole from behind the door frame.

‘‘Nev’rmind! Close the door!’‘ Desri wasn’t in the mood for translating the full phrase.

*Bzzt!*

However, the door didn’t close; the panel went all red and flashed a sort of warning in an unknown language.

‘‘Fuck! It won’t close!’‘ Cried out Cole as he panicked.

*Bzzt! Bzzt! Bzzt!*

The panel refused to cooperate, and the aberrations were almost on them.

‘‘Close, you goddamned piece of scrap!!’‘ Roared Cole as he punched the panel, it didn’t even crack.

*Gughrah!*

An aberration jumped towards him.

‘‘Fuck!’‘ Swore Cole as covered his head with his arms; his death was imminent.

*Slash!*

Or so he thought.

A smelly brown liquid splashed on him as the leading aberration of the pack was sliced in the air, split in two perfect halves, split like the second it had taken to happen.

The responsible for such a feat stood right in front of him, with both blades out and an expression of burning rage.

‘‘H-Haudrica!?’‘ Said Cole as he lost his balance, falling back on his bum.

She didn’t reply; she was fully focused on the aberrations, whom didn’t stop their charge.

*Slash, swash, whosh*

The term ”Dervish” crossed Cole’s mind as he saw Haudrica in action.

She moved with the grace of a dancer, the speed of a whirlwind and the drive of a reaper.

An aberration fell with her every movement. One slash, one kill. One step, one kill. One jump, one kill. It was as if she had planned every attack with anticipation, like a carefully choreographed waltz where every step reaped a life, and all of it so fast Cole could barely follow it with his eyes. She was almost a blur.

Finally, after an instant that seemed to go on forever, there were no aberrations in one piece, and Haudrica stood there; encircled by the butchered corpses and covered in dark brown blood, which dripped from her still-drawn blades and ever-frowning face.

‘‘….’‘ She turned around and silently looked at Cole, whose only reaction was crawling back as her visage alone looked like something out of hell.

‘‘Look at yourself; crawling over the floor like a spineless maggot; unable to defend yourself or protect others.’‘ Haudrica delivered her usual cruel remarks as her mouth sported a wicked grin of viciously sharp teeth.

‘‘And yet, you saved me before, even if it was, as you called it, an act of madness.’‘

‘‘I have now paid life with life. Consider yourself fortunate, and be grateful of Mizelle as it was she who asked me to do so. Else I wouldn’t be here.’‘ She added while retracting her blade. Was that gratitude in her words? Or just masked conceit? Cole couldn’t tell each apart.

‘‘Ya conceit’d bitch! First ya refuse to come and then-Hrmph!’‘ Desri had come out from behind Cole and was already flinging insults at Haudrica, but Cole grabbed onto his muzzle and shut it.

‘‘Desri, shut up. She saved us both and deserves the gratitude.’‘ Stated Cole in a firm and scolding manner.

Desri was about to retort furiously as he shook off Cole’s hand but Zalura didn’t let him.

‘‘DEsri, doN’T bE a jeRK.’‘ Said Zalura as she landed next to Haudrica with a loud clang. Desri looked as if he wanted to say something but held himself back, letting out only a long furious sigh.

‘‘Now that we’re done with these things can someone tell me where’s Tetlekar?’‘ Asked Cole as he kicked the split corpse of one of the aberrations.

‘‘DowN BElow, iN MaIn COllectOr. HoLdinG dowN tHE ReGenEraTOr.’‘ Replied Zalura in a tone most grave.

‘‘The what?’‘ That was all Cole could reply.

————————————————————————————-

Part 3

With all the growling and howling, and claws scraping against metal, neither Cole nor Desri had noticed one particular sound that now echoed in the newly wrought silence.

*Klang, tlang. Klang tlang.*

It was like someone was hammering the walls with a club. A real big club made of something hard. It was rather unnerving.

‘‘So, just what happened ‘ere?’‘ Asked Desri as he, Cole, Haudrica and Zalura descended to the bottom of the glass cube.

‘‘WhiLE wE huNteD, ShiP COllectEd nEw liFE fRom a woRLd bELow. NEw liFE wAS hOstiLE; aTtACKed oTheR aBeRRAtionS aND grEw BIg, THen aTtACKed ZAlura aND TEtLekar aND MiZeLle.’‘

‘‘SItuaTIoN beCAMe daNGeroUs fASt. MiZeLle sAId wE NeeDed reiNfoRCEmEntS aND WeNt tO fETch HElp. TEtLekar stAyeD InSiDE tO SLow tHE ReGenEraTOr. I TRied tO HElp MiZeLle bUt bEcaME cORneReD.’‘ Narrated Zalura as she led everybody towards a dark corridor which smelled of rotten meat. Her last words were tinged with guilt.

‘‘IS MiZeLle OKay?’‘ She added as she stopped and looked at Haudrica.

‘‘She’s not so okay, but she’ll be fine. It’s nothing that won’t heal with some rest.’‘

Haudrica’s reply was far more…. nicer than what Cole had expected; he thought she’d lash out at Zalura, but instead, she just sounded flat, and sadly, the darkness of the corridor didn’t allow Cole to see what kind of face she was making.

Zalura’s movements thorough the almost pitch-black corridors were quite fast, which made a lot of sense to Cole as he had learned from Desri that night vision was a trait of her whole race.

*KLANG, TLANG. KLANG, TLANG!*

As they walked, the echoing metallic bangings were steadily becoming louder and louder.

The smelly corridor came to an end in what appeared to be an elevator shaft, which was forced open and was lit by many dim yellowish lights which illuminated the corridor a bit.

‘‘STraNge. LIghTs wEReN’t On beFOre.’‘ Commented Zalura as she rubbed her chin with her upper right arm while folding her two lower arms. The upper left one just hung down lazily.

‘‘Maybe it’s because I powered back the control room upstairs.’‘ Replied Cole as he looked down the elevator shaft. It was really wide, but short, and there was what looked like a damaged cargo elevator less than six meters below.

There was an emergency ladder on one of the sides, but it looked like it had broken halfway down.

‘‘So, how do we get down?’‘ Asked Cole as he gazed at the broken elevator in the bottom; that thing wasn’t moving from there again.

‘‘HoLD OntO mE.’‘ Cole had no time ask Zalura what she meant with that.

‘‘Whoa, w-what the HEEEELLLLLLL…….!!’‘

Without waiting for as much as Cole’s confirmation, Zalura got him into a fireman’s carry and jumped down the elevator shaft.

*BUWAMNG!!*

The surface of the cargo elevator bent under the impact of her clawed feet.

‘‘Mo-Mother of fuck, girl. You s-scared ten ye-years off my l-life!’‘ Said Cole between pantings as Zalura put him down. He was still holding onto his heart, which was beating like a machine-gun.

‘‘SOrRy.’‘

With that short answer, Zalura began to climb the shaft, which she did rather quick, and before long, Haudrica and Desri had also been brought down in the same manner.

‘‘Just how far are we going?’‘ Asked Haudrica in a tone of suspicion.

‘‘OVer tHEre.’‘ Replied Zalura as she pointed to a door, or what was left of it.

This thick reinforced door leaned onto the door frame it was once secured to, held into place by a pile of metallic crates. But while the crates looked smashed and battered, the door appeared to be in relatively good shape; clearly it hadn’t been broken by force, it had been removed from its frame.

‘‘As wE FLed, MiZeLle uSeD tHEse CRateS tO tRAp tHE ReGenEraTOr inSIdE… ALonG WItH TEtLekar.’‘ Zalura made a worried pause as she began to move the crates away.

Before long, the weight of the door pushed away the rest of the crates, clearing the way.

*KLANG, TLANG. KLANG, TLANG!*

The source of the sound was now so close Cole could almost feel its shock waves.

~~~

The room that greeted them upon crossing the door was a high-rise glass corridor; like one big glass pipe overlooking the area below, which was where the action was at.

*KLANG, TLANG. KLANG, TLANG!*

*KLANG, TLANG. KLANG, TLANG!*

In a shape reminiscent of a giant funnel, the room below started thin and became wider as it reached the bottom, which was, to much of Cole’s surprise, covered in what looked like actual dirt, with yellowed grass and some squalid bushes growing on it.

However, what truly drew his attention whats the aberration that rose from its center like a sort of gigantic, wicked tree made of pulsating flesh and covered in long appendages.

‘‘…. That looks like something outta tentacle rape manga; not precisely what I’d ever want to be near of. I’d better watch myself lest I end up suffering a fate worse than death…’‘ Thought Cole as he felt a strange fear overtaking his body.

‘‘Where’s Tetlekar?’‘ Asked Desri as he looked at the area below.

*KLANG, TLANG. KLANG, TLANG!*

The giant aberration hit the funnel’s wall that laid right in front of it with a fast barrage of its fleshy appendages.

‘‘There!’‘ Cried out Cole as he pointed to what he had seen.

Way above the ground on the funnel’s wall, yet not as high as they were, was a large rectangular window right beside a closed door. And on the other said window, Cole has spotted Tetlekar laying on the ground. Hopefully, still alive.

However, the catwalk leading to that door laid a couple of levels below, in pieces. Only a small portion barely enough to stand remained in the door.

*KLANG, TLANG. KLANG, TLANG!*

The aberration rained blows upon the wall again. Clearly, it was trying to get to Tetlekar, but failing.

‘‘Don’t shout, you savage! You want to draw that thing’s attention to us!?’‘ Whispered Haudrica angrily as she grabbed Cole’s neck. He was almost certain that she would snap it, but she didn’t.

‘‘Awright then, how d’ we get him outta there?’‘ Said Desri as he rubbed his chin.

‘‘THat iS tHE ReGenEraTOr. DiRECt aTtACKs aRE usELeSs. LimBs REgroW iNstAntLy.’‘ Commented Zalura with a bitter look.

‘‘Hmm….’‘ Muttered Haudrica as she gazed at the window below.

‘‘The way I see it there’s simply no way of getting him. I think it would be the best just to leave him alone.’‘

At first, Cole was ready to counter Haudrica’s argument, but the moment he realized she hadn’t said it in her usual ”angry hatred” way, the words simply didn’t come out.

‘‘I… hate m’self for sayin’ this but I think she might be right this time ’round.’‘ Said Desri as he let out a pained sigh.

‘‘The reason he isn’t movin’s probably ‘cuz he exaust’d his energy r’serves and is rechargin’ them; seen him do that b’fore. Plus, it ain’t like he’ll starve or bleed out. Imma still s’prised that aberration’s attacking him; they always ignor’d him.’‘

Desri’s argument was logic, and no one seemed to have anything to say about it. Or at least, no one except Cole.

‘‘We can’t do that.’‘ He declared boldly. Everybody else looked a tad bewildered.

‘‘We don’t know if he’s actually woun-err, damaged or with a similar issue. Plus, there’s no way to tell if those walls will hold until he has recharged. If those tentacles get him before he wakes up, he’ll be scrap metal…’‘ Cole was just as afraid of the aberration as everyone else, but he simply couldn’t condone to abandon Tetlekar there.

‘‘Are you dense, dammit? There’s no way we can beat that thing! And I’m certain he’d rather have us all remain alive and not die for him here.’‘ Haudrica had been strangely thoughtful of late, which felt very out-of-character for her.

‘‘We don’t have to; we just need to get him out of there.’‘ Replied Cole as he leaned onto the railing of the observation platform and gazed at the closed door thoughtfully.

Despite the fact the catwalk had been destroyed, the door’s access panel and the door itself looked more or less intact. The panel’s screen was bright red, however; it was likely that Tetlekar had hacked it to stay closed, which meant that there was a chance Cole’s access key had a fair chance of not working, but he still had to try.

‘‘…. I have an idea of what we can do, but I’ll need everybody’s help..’‘ Stated Cole after a moment of silent thought.

~~~

‘‘This plan’s crazy y’know.’‘ Desri’s words were a tad contradictory; while the words themselves expressed doubt, his tone and his toothy smile looked rather confident.

‘‘We have an idiom back at my world; ”Crazy enough to work.”, and I think this can work without problems as long as we all stick to our missions.’‘ Explained Cole as he traced an arrow in the dust of the floor.

‘‘The main goal in this whole thing is speed; how fast will that thing respond to the noise, how fast we can get down there, how fast I can get past the door, how fast we can pick up Tetlekar, how fast will that thing change targets and how fast we can get away.’‘ He traced a new arrow for the direction of every step.

‘‘And what if the door doesn’t open?’‘ Asked Haudrica in her usual accusatory tone.

‘‘We hightail it.’‘ Cole’s reply was quick and devoid of doubt.

‘‘The only thing that we can’t do is deadlock ourselves in combat against the Regenerator. Meaning, only attack the appendages that come towards the door, and don’t directly engage it. It would waste too much energy. Any questions?’‘ Added Cole as he encircled his crude drawing of the Regenerator and the door respectively.

No one said anything else.

‘‘Alright then, let’s go.’‘ Cole let a long breath in and out a couple of times; he was just as nervous.

‘‘HoLD OntO mE.’‘ With this words, Zalura got gold of both Cole and Haudrica and stood at the edge of the observation platform.

*AWOOOOO!!*

As they jumped down, Desri let out the loudest howl his lungs could muster, and certainly enough, the Regenerator’s appendages moved towards him.

*BUWAMR!!*

However, this distraction didn’t last long, as the echo of Zalura landing on the creaky remains of the platform immediatly turned its attention towards them.

‘‘Get moving!’‘ As soon as Zalura put him down, Cole ran towards the door as planned, with both her and Haudrica guarding his back.

A barrage of appendages flew towards them, but Haudrica sliced them effortlessly. However, just as fast as they were cut, they grew back.

*Bzzt!*

The door wasn’t cooperating either; it refused to recognize Cole’s Access Key.

‘‘Ah come on!’‘

*Ding!*

With those frustrated words, Cole punched the door’s panel, and somehow, this made it react.

‘‘Tetlekar! We’re getting you outta-Ugh!’‘

Once the door opened, Cole ran inside and reached for Tetlekar’s left arm and tried to pull it, only to notice that he was heavier than an engine block.

‘‘Shit… Just what are you made of?’‘ Groaned Cole as he tried to lift Tetlekar from the ground, but it was futile; he was a deadweight.

‘‘This is too much! We have to leave, NOW!!’‘ Cried out Haudrica from outside as she hacked away at the appendages, but they were overwhelming both her and Zalura.

‘‘Dammit, dammit…’‘ Muttered Cole as he looked to the girls and to Tetlekar; unable to make his mind.

The place he was inside was a control room not too different from the one above, with the sole exception that this one was already functioning; bright lights and unreadable lines of text flashed across the consoles. It was then when it occured to him.

‘‘No, come inside! Hurry!’‘ Replied Cole as he ran towards the door’s inner panel, which was all lit with green color.

Haudrica and Zalura did as ordered, and Cole shut the door behind them so fast that a handful of appendages got trapped under it.

‘‘Just… great! Now we’re all… trapped in here.’‘ Lashed out Haudrica between breaths.

‘‘Not really, I have full control of the door; we can open it whenever we-Urk!’‘ Haudrica grabbed Cole by the collar of his overall, choking his words and lifting him from the ground.

‘‘And what about that beast out there? Are you in control of that too!?’‘ Shouted Haudrica at his face. The tone of her voice indicated she was considerably scared.

She dropped Cole unceremoniously as she finished her phrase.

‘‘We-We’ll find a way to deal with it.’‘ Replied Cole as he recovered his breath.

‘‘TEtLekar.’‘ Fully ignoring the argument going on between those two, Zalura moved towards the unconscious (or more like inhabilitated) Tetlekar and shook him a bit. He didn’t react; his body was stiff and motionless, like an engine without fuel.

‘‘Is he okay?’‘ Moving away from Haudrica, Cole joined Zalura next to Tetlekar.

‘‘In sTanDBy. THerE mUSt bE DAMage.’‘ Explained Zalura as she pulled Tetlekar up to a sitting position before pushing the sides of his neck slightly to the inside, which made a sort of clicking sound.

‘‘Engaging!’‘ The voice in which Tetlekar spoke wasn’t his usual calm voice but a very mechanical and almost archetypically robotic voice. His eyes opened up but were fully white with the exception of a long list of blue lines moving across them.

‘‘Damage detected, assessing severity…… No damage to core functions, minor structural damage, medium damage to secondary systems. Powering up core functions.’‘

Cole couldn’t help but notice that this was the first time he had witnessed Tetlekar’s more ”robotic” side. It was a strange thing to behold.

‘‘Powering up complete. System at 88% of efficacy. Starting up personality modules.’‘

With these words, Tetlekar’s body twitched a bit. His eyes closed and reopened again, finally regaining that dull grey color and that stern expression he always wore. Still, what surprised Cole the most was that his clothes ”disappeared” more than once, revealing a body structure formed many smooth metallic panels which shone like the screen of a LED TV and were arranged in a pattern reminiscent of the segments of a tortoise’s carapace.

‘‘Damnation, I abhor these situations.’‘ With these words, his clothes materialized after a couple erratic color swaps and he started to get up slowly; as if his limbs were numb from oversleeping.

‘‘Aurgh!’‘ However, he didn’t get too for.

As soon as he tried to push himself up, a burst of colorful sparks came out of his left shin. His shoe and part of that leg’s pants vanished from the shin, revealing that the colorful sparks were leaking from within his plating.

‘‘Tsk, this day continues on improving.’‘ Apparently, Tetlekar was capable of sarcasm.

Trapped inside a control room, with a dangerous aberration cutting their escape path and Tetlekar’s wounds to deal with. Despite his efforts to suppress it, Cole was starting to feel his fear creeping onto him.

However, panicking would accomplish nothing, and he knew that well. He would have to fight both his fear and the aberrations to get out, and he needed a plan for that.

<End of Chapter 4>

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