Chapter 40 – Breached
“Agh—!” Austin yelped, reflexively shielding his face with his arms as a piece of debris bowled him over. The bright golden light of his energy shields blocked his vision as they saved him from harm, but what followed was a confusing flurry of sounds: rushing flames, snarling beasts, cackling electricity, and then a series of thuds and thunks. Hostile snarling and screeching remained in the backdrop, but as Austin regained his bearings, he was startled to find that where the wall once stood, there was now a massive block of ice. Within the ice and partially protruding from it were two individuals, both wearing black and silver armor — though unable to extricate their lower halves from the ice. And all around the ice chunk were jail cell bars that hadn’t been present before, along with an odd device on the floor next to the bars.
“What’s the situation?” Luke questioned, quickly putting to words Austin’s own confusion.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Rebehka replied with a scowl. She then glanced over at Nil’kin. “Major, weren’t your forces in charge of security?”
“Yes, and whoever allowed this ridiculous breach will be punished,” the Dra’kis replied, though her attention was directed elsewhere and her hand was held up to her ear, as she focused on incoming communications. “…Damn. I’m getting reports that the other two labs were attacked, as well.”
“What?!” Kaoné exclaimed, “by who?!”
“We don’t know yet,” Nil’kin responded. She passed a brief look toward the two attackers trapped in ice before turning toward the exit of the room. “…All we know is that they’re wearing Black Suns armor. But we can’t afford to just stand around. I’m going to help.”
“…What?” Sky eyed the retreating Dra’kis with confusion, and then looked to Rebehka and Kaoné. “What’s going on? Who are the Black Suns, and why are they attacking?”
“They’re the galaxy’s largest PMC, but I don’t believe for a second that these attackers are actually part of the Black Suns,” Rebehka explained. “The Suns would never take such overt and hostile action on a Homeworld, of all places. Besides, they have commercial variants of their armors that anyone can buy, so these attackers could be anyone. But, as the Major said, we can’t afford to just stand around. Kaoné, I’m going ahead. You stay here and make sure that none of the attackers or the animals escape.”
“Hey, wait!” Pierce exclaimed, stopping the Dean just before she stepped through the exit. “If this place is under attack, then let us help!”
“No. Major Dralis and I have this under control,” Rebehka declared, and then quickly swept her gaze over the Earthians. “Thank the fucking leaves this didn’t happen during the week… but I need all of you to retreat to the elevator. It isn’t safe in the labs anymore.”
“You can prove yourself another day. For now, you’d only get in our way. Now, I need to go.”
“…What a shit show,” Conrad muttered as Rebehka dashed out the exit herself.
“I knew keeping infected animals around would be a bad idea,” Phoenix said, as she eyed the damaged cell. The monkey-like creature that used to occupy it was now halfway through a hole in the wall, stopped only by a wall of ice literally freezing it in place.
“…Did the Deans do this?” Twy questioned as she eyed the ice, and then the half-trapped attackers, who appeared quite irate about their current position — but were otherwise remaining silent. She then turned to Kaoné, asking, “what happened here?”
“It’s what it looks like,” Kaoné replied as she looked at the two captives. “These two burst through the wall. Nil’kin shorted out their armor with her electricity, and Rebehka froze them in place with her ice. I just added the CENT field jail to make sure they don’t use their powers anymore.”
“You can create CENT fields?” Austin questioned incredulously, “just, out of thin air?”
“If it’s made out of matter, then I can make it. …Theoretically,” Kaoné replied. “And CENT field generators are clearly material. But for now, you need to do as Rebehka said — escape to the elevator. You’ll be safer there. I’ll stay here and make sure that nothing else gets away.” She glanced at Luke and Mark. “Can you keep them safe?”
Luke nodded back. “It’s what we’re here for.” He then quickly approached the exit, gesturing for everyone to follow. “C’mon. Let’s get out of here!”
Distant rumbling and bestial screeching filled the air as the Earthians set foot outside of the containment lab. In the darkness of the forest’s underbelly, not much could be seen in the distance — though smoke could just barely be spotted above one of the corners of the WTAC campus, barely illuminated by the surrounding lights. The damage to Containment Lab 1 could be seen now, as well: a hole had been melted through the campus’s exterior wall, and then into the lab itself. Ice now filled the holes, but the damage was obvious.
“…What the hell is going on?” Twy questioned with a confused frown. “Why would someone attack the containment labs? What do they gain from it?”
“Who knows. And for now, it doesn’t matter,” Luke declared as he began leading the group toward the elevator to the city. “It’s a good thing we have these armors, but we still need to get out of here.”
“You know…” Pierce commented, his attention drifting to the left as a flash of light emanated from somewhere in the distance. “…Everyone’s saying that… but I have a better idea!”
“No! Pierce, you dumb asshole—!” Phoenix started, but before she could finish, Pierce had already disappeared from sight. “Damn it! That moron!”
“Did he just…? Fucking…” Luke scowled as he looked around at the surrounding campus, as though trying to determine where Pierce had gone.
“Did no one really see this coming?” Conrad questioned flatly.
“I had hoped that he wouldn’t be a self-absorbed idiot, for once,” Phoenix retorted, and then whirled around to address Conrad and Kestrel. “Let’s go! We need to make sure he doesn’t get himself or anyone else fucking killed!”
“‘We’?!” Conrad echoed incredulously, only to yelp as Kestrel began lifting him, Phoenix, and herself into the air. “Waitwaitwaitwaitwait! This is a terrible idea!!”
“I’ll say!” Luke exclaimed as he eyed the three in the air. “Get down here! We need to go!”
“Sorry!” Phoenix shouted down, “we’ll be right back — with Pierce in tow! Now let’s go, Kestrel!”
“Are you—?! Hey! Hey!!” Luke shouted as the three flew off into the distance, in the direction of the flash of light that had drawn Pierce’s attention. “…For fuck’s sake…!”
“We’ll just have to talk to them later, Luke,” Mark declared, and then summoned his massive green and silver halberd as he took up a defensive position behind the group. “Incoming from above!”
Just after Mark’s exclamation, a huge bird — with wings individually as wide as Mark was tall — swooped down and attempted to rake him with its talons. The force of the blow caused his armor’s energy shields to flare up, but Mark ignored them as he swept his halberd up and cleanly cleaved through the creature. Only as the severed corpse fell to the ground did it become obvious that long, silver rashes covered the length of the creature’s wings — and when more screeching filled the air, this time nearby, it also became obvious that this creature wasn’t the only one around.
“I’ll draw their attention,” Mark shouted, brandishing his halberd as two more of the massive birds appeared in the air above him. “Luke! Get them back to the elevator!”
“Right! We’re counting on you!” Luke shouted back, and then looked each of Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy in the eyes. “Y’all aren’t going to run off on me now, are you?”
“N-no…” Twy responded warily.
“Good. Then let’s get going!”
The five, led by Luke, promptly began running down the walkways of WTAC. Austin glanced over his shoulder as they left, watching Mark as he deftly fended off the two attacking creatures. “Fucking… fuck,” he muttered between breaths, and returned his attention forward. “It… would fucking figure…!”
“Things really do have a way of going bad right when you don’t want ‘em to,” Luke replied. “…Damn. I wish I had my rifle…”
“I guess we’re going to have to be the ones to protect you, then, huh?” Sky remarked with a grin.
“This isn’t anything to be amused by,” Twy shot back. “We’re dealing with the metallic infection, here!”
“At least we have these shields,” Austin muttered. “Even so…!”
“Even so, we’re still under attack!” Spike exclaimed, jumping forward to place himself in the middle of the group as he fabricated a massive shield to raise overhead. Just as he did, a loud metallic twang echoed through the air as a large bird crashed into it from above. Immediately, he thrust the shield upward, striking and stunning the creature before it could fly off. He then threw the shield aside, allowing Sky to quickly douse the bird in a gout of searing flame.
“There’s more!” Twy shouted, forming two orbs of water around her hands. Just as she made to launch them at the approaching birds, however, she noticed a handful of beasts charging toward the group on the ground. “Oh, no—!”
“Shit!” Austin grit his teeth as he eyed the creatures, and the silvery rashes that covered their snouts and faces. “Where did these all come from? Spike, we need—!” He cut himself off and glanced toward Spike, who was at that moment preoccupied with fending off attacks from above. Wait, I don’t need to get Spike to make defenses! Austin then whipped around; Twy had managed to capture one of the charging beasts in a sphere of water, but the remaining two were already nearly on top of the group. With a furrowed brow, Austin braced himself, and held out his arm — into which he fabricated a large tower shield. Ha! Finally getting the hang of these Simulator powers!
With a shield now in hand, Austin managed to intercept a lunge from one of the beasts, and then thrust it back. The other beast dodged past the shield and lunged for Austin’s leg, but he took further advantage of Spike’s close proximity to simulate his superstrength and blast the beast back with an incredibly forceful punch. Austin wasn’t used to that level of force, however, and realized that he had followed through with the punch too far as he fell over on his face. A bubble of water prevented his shield from falling on him, and then expanded into a large water shield in an effort to block the beasts from attacking again. While the water shield didn’t stop the beasts completely, it did slow them down just long enough for Austin to jump to his feet, grab the fallen tower shield, and then swing it around like an oversized club to knock the infected creatures away. He then gripped the shield and braced his feet again, preparing to use his Imperator powers to launch the shield through the air — but as soon as it left his hands, it fell harmlessly down to the ground.
What?! He stared at the fallen shield in disbelief. Why isn’t it moving—? Oh, fuck! He then looked down at his hands, his brow furrowed in realization. These energy shields mean I can’t actually touch things with my hands — the shielding gets in the way. Shit, are my Imperator powers really useless when I’m wearing armor?!
“What—?!” He snapped his attention upwards. Spike and Sky had been dealing with the infected creatures attacking from above, and as part of that, Sky was propelling herself through the air with her flames in pursuit of said attackers. Two of them had slipped past her, and while Spike was able to knock one off course by chucking a shield at it, one more remained — and it crashed into Austin, slamming him down to the ground as it raked him with its talons. Flaring energy shields protected him from harm, but the chaos of the golden lights and the bird’s rabid movements disoriented Austin. In an effort to clear his immediate space, he summoned his blue and golden claymore and began swinging wildly. Almost immediately he was able to force the bird off of him, slicing into its wings and driving it away — but as a torrent of water finished the job, Austin felt his claymore slip out of his hands. Shit, I swung too hard—! He scowled as he eyed the sword flying through the air, only for his eyes to widen when he realized that Twy was directly in the blade’s path. Ah, fuck! “Twy, look out!!”
“Huh—?!” she exclaimed, snapping her attention away from a new attacking beast — only to freeze as Austin’s sword stopped just short of her face. Reflexively, she jumped back, and then gave the sword an odd look as it continued to hang in the air.
“…What?” Austin stared at the sword in confusion as well. “How…?”
“Ah… watch where you’re swinging that thing, Austin!” Twy shouted, only to whip around a second later to shield herself with water just as Sky performed a drive-by flamethrowing over two more creatures that had approached.
“Uh… right!” Austin replied, only to keep staring at his sword, which still hung in the air. Did I do that? But how? I didn’t touch it… well, whatever. He turned around and fabricated a shield into his left hand, and summoned his sword back into his right — but just as he did, something caught his eye. Holding up his right hand, he dismissed his claymore, and then summoned it again, noting that for a brief moment after he summoned the blade, the energy shielding protecting his palm flared up. What? What are the shields doing? …Wait, when I summon my sword, it would be touching my hands, wouldn’t it? But that would cause it to clip through the energy shields — which cause them to flare up, as they force the sword out! …At least, I think that’s what’s happening. But if it is—!
A sudden blow knocked Austin to the ground as yet another beast with silver rashes attacked him. With a scowl, he forced the beast away with the shield in his left hand and then, his brow furrowed in concentration, he seized control of his summoned sword through his Imperator powers and began swinging it through the air, while he himself remained on the ground. Alright…! A slim smile crossed his face as he continued to focus on maneuvering the blade through the air, successfully managing to swing it around from several meters away without touching it. A frown quickly replaced his smile, however, as he noticed that it was difficult to swing the sword from a distance without moving his own arms in a similar motion, even though there were no attackers near him. Shit, this is hard. Using my Imperator powers to just fling things through the air was hard enough, but actually controlling facing and direction… trying to do it without moving my own body the same way is fucking hard! It’s like trying to control a marionette without moving your hand! Are there people out there that can actually do this—?!
“Hey, look out!!”
“Wagh—!” Austin yelped as Spike stomped the ground nearby, sending out shockwaves that momentarily stunned another approaching beast. Austin quickly jumped to his feet and snapped his attention back to his surroundings as Spike finished the beast off with a shield throw, and then turned to stare incredulously at his friend.
“The hell are you doin’ on the ground?!” Spike questioned.
“Ah ha…!” Austin laughed nervously as he fabricated another shield into his left hand and summoned his sword back to his right. “Just, uh, picking a really bad time to try new things!”
“I’ll fuckin’ say,” Spike growled. “All these fuckin’ infected animals… just where the hell did they come from?!”
“Maybe the other labs were breached, just like the one we were in!” Sky shouted down from above.
“No, that’s not it…” Luke replied, his eyes zipping back and forth as he read alerts on his AR display while he hunched down behind one of Spike’s shields. “The warning bulletins say that someone drew in a bunch of infected creatures from the surrounding forest.”
“What?!” Twy exclaimed incredulously, creating a dome of water around the group to give them a moment’s respite. “Why?”
“No idea, the bulletins don’t say. But they do say that the elevator’s been locked down until this situation can be resolved.”
“Makes sense…” Spike muttered. “Don’t want the infection gettin’ up to the city…”
“What about us, though?!” Sky remarked, “what do we do?!”
“If the only infected creatures were these wolf things, then I could just suspend us all in the air…” Twy commented, “but with the birds, that’s not much of an option…”
“I guess there’s only one choice, then,” Spike declared, turning around to punch a bird that had managed to dive through the water dome. “…We’ll just have to see how long we can last!”
“I really don’t like the sound of that,” Austin replied.
“And neither do I, but I don’t see many other options.”
“We could just fly out of here,” Sky suggested. “I mean, now that Twy brought it up, we do have a way to get back to the city without the elevator!”
“And we’ll just draw all these fucking birds up with us,” Spike countered. “For the sake of the city, we gotta stay here until this blows over — and that means fightin’!” He then whirled around, fabricating a massive shield into his hands and then gripping it like a club to bludgeon yet another creature that dared to approach.
“I hate to admit it, but Spike’s right…” Luke commented, and then gestured at a building to the left. “Still, trying to defend out in the open is a fool’s errand. Let’s get to that building over there!”
“…Right! I’ll get us there!” Twy declared. As she did, the water dome collapsed, instead forming bubbles of water around herself, Austin, Spike, and Luke’s lower halves. She then used the bubbles to drag the group through the air over to the building, with Sky following with her flame blasts, and everyone preparing to hold out for as long as they could.