Chapter 11 – Abandoned Guardians

“Colonel, behind you!”

“Tch!” Saito whipped around and opened fire with his gauss rifle, tearing into a floating drone that had just rounded the corner behind him. He then lunged for cover just as another two drones blasted his position with lasers, creating a spectacular explosion of energy and throwing Saito to the ground. “Shit,” he muttered as he scrambled back to his feet. Barely five minutes had passed since MacTavish warned him of the password protection, but now CSF-1 was under attack from all sides by automated drones — and if the state of communications was any indication, the Black Suns team seemed to be under fire as well.

The Colonel glanced down at his chest plate; the electricity-based powered armor he was wearing now was less powerful than his usual Chaos Armor, but it had still protected him against a number of laser blasts so far. The only question was how many more it could take…

“Colonel!” Hackett shouted from across the room as she fired down the opposite hallway. “I don’t know how much longer we can hold this position!”

“It’ll be easier to fight them off here than in the hallways!” Saito yelled back. “At least here we have cover!”

“Can’t our armor take a few hits?” Travis questioned as he peeked over a console and fired into the hallway. He then ducked down next to MacTavish — who was cowering with her head in her hands — and looked over at Saito. “I say we make a break for it!”

“There’s no telling if our armor can take that much punishment.” The Colonel paused for a moment to peek out from cover again and fire at one of the opposing drones, emptying several bullets into it and eventually taking it down. “And even if it could, there’s nothing stopping these damn drones from following us out of the base!”

“Well turnin’ on the power turned them on, can’t we just turn ‘em back off?!”

“They’re autonomous drones, Captain!” Hackett countered. “They clearly have their own internal power sources! Turning off the base won’t turn off the drones!”

“There has to be a way to deal with them all at once…” Saito scowled, and then glanced toward MacTavish. “MacTavish! Did you see anything in the computer that could help before you were locked out?”

“Uh, uh, uh…!” She stared at him in panic. “W-well, I-I mean, m-maybe?!”

“That’s good enough—!” Saito stopped as a large drone floated into the room and immediately fired. A blast of energy exploded against Saito’s chest, flinging him across the room and into one of the consoles. Travis immediately sniped the drone’s weapons off before it could fire again, at which point Hackett unloaded into the bot, destroying it. She then rushed over to Saito’s side as Travis offered covering fire.

“Sir?!”

“I’m fine, damn it, I’m fine!” Saito waved her off as he rolled over onto all fours. His armor’s energy shielding had saved him again, but as far as he could tell, the armor could only protect him from a handful more similar blows. He scowled in frustration and gestured for Hackett to return to her position, at which point he rushed back to the other side of the room — where he had stood previously — and opened fire down the hallway, obliterating four out of the half dozen drones flying in the air. “Damn,” he muttered, and then glanced back at MacTavish. “MacTavish! Tell me what you saw, now!”

“Uh, uh, r-right?!” she responded in panic, “um, th-there’s s-some kind of, of c-command core! I-in the center of th-the base— eek!” She immediately ducked as Travis jumped out of cover to fire his gun.

“We saw that on the map. So it does control the drones?” Hackett pressed.

“Uh, m-maybe?”

“Damn. Well, it’s all we have to go on.” Saito glanced back at MacTavish before finishing his reload and firing into the hallway, managing to clear out the drones that remained. “…Sounds like shutting the power off might do the job, then!”

“Er, n-not really…” MacTavish responded warily. “I-I d-didn’t get t-to see much, but, uh, I-I th-think the c-command core has it’s, um, i-it’s own b-backup generator.”

“Then we just go after the backup generator. Simple!” Travis exclaimed.

“And then we get slaughtered as all of the drones converge on our location to protect the most important generator in the base,” Saito countered. “…I have a plan. Rabine! Commander Rabine!” he shouted into his communicator, “Commander, do you read me?”

A moment of silence passed. Then, «yes, Colonel, we’re here. Though if this keeps up, we may not last much longer!»

“I know. Same here. Listen, I think I know how to deal with this. My team was lucky and managed to figure out where the base’s command core is before we got locked out.”

«And you want to destroy it?»

“Yep. But I’m sure there’s tons of these damn drones protecting the core, so we need to give them a reason to leave it alone.”

«Let’s get to the point, Colonel. You want to create a diversion.»

Saito paused for a moment to shoot across the room at a drone that was threatening Hackett, destroying it. “Exactly. I figure attacking the main power generators should do the trick. Are you up to it?”

«My troops can certainly handle that much. But I’m coming with you to attack the core, Colonel!»

“How would you even find the core? We knew roughly where the main generators were before we landed, but the only reason my team knows where the core is is because we found a map!”

His communicator remained conspicuously silent for several moments, allowing him to focus on firing on another three drones that were approaching down the hallway. «…My team also found a map,» Rabine eventually responded. «We were just about to download a copy when the systems locked us out and sent drones after us.»

Saito scowled. “What happened to letting me know when you found something interesting?”

«I don’t recall you informing me about your map, either.»

“Tch. Fine! If you think you can find your way to the core on your own, then be my guest! I’ll meet you there!” The Colonel then turned toward the other members of CSF-1 as a momentary lull came over the room. “Hackett, Travis, MacTavish. I’m sending the three of you after the main generators. Team up with the Black Suns and make as much noise as you can!”

“Sir?” Hackett gave him an incredulous look. “You can’t seriously intend to go after the command core all on your own?”

“I’ll still be with you for the first stretch, but the drones already know we’re here.” Saito ran across the room over to the activation switch before looking back at the rest of his team. “For the diversion to work, they need to think that we’re going after the main generators, which won’t work if we, you know, don’t.” He looked Hackett and Travis in the eye, noticing that they both obviously had doubts about his plan. “…Don’t worry,” he added, “if we turn this switch off, it should turn primary power back off, which should include any base-wide sensors. Then when I split off from the three of you, the drones won’t be able to track me. Not to mention that I’ll be meeting up with Commander Rabine at the core.”

“This still sounds dangerous,” Travis pointed out.

“I never said it wasn’t. But I don’t suppose you have a better plan for dealing with these drones?”

The Captain stared at Saito for a moment before looking away in defeat.

“We can’t afford to just sit around here and chat, anyways.” Saito grasped the handle of the activation lever as Hackett opened fire on another pair of drones. “The moment I pull this lever, burst fire all of the drones down Hackett’s hallway to oblivion. Then we charge! Now, on my mark!” He watched Travis quickly move over to the doorway next to Hackett, across the hallway from her, as MacTavish crawled along the ground to keep by his side. “…Three! Two! One…!” Saito grabbed the lever with both hands and pulled it as hard as he could, barely moving it at first — but then, a moment later, the lever snapped into the off position. “Mark!!”

The electrical whining of firing gauss rifles filled the room as Hackett and Travis leaned out into the hallway and unloaded a full magazine of bullets each into the approaching drones. One, three, seven, twelve — they rapidly fell out of the air under the onslaught, with only a handful of them managing to fire back. Travis recoiled as a laser blast exploded across his shoulder, but he managed to recover and continue firing until the hallway was clear of drones.

“Go, go, go!” Saito shouted as he charged into the hallway. Hackett immediately took off after him, followed by Travis, and then MacTavish. The Colonel rushed down the hall at full speed, not even slowing his pace as he lifted his gun to shoot down two drones that drifted into sight from a side hallway. As he passed the two short-circuiting wrecks, he grabbed one and held it up to use as makeshift cover, absorbing the laser blasts of another two drones that appeared at the end of the hallway. From behind him, Travis fired on the drones and successfully destroyed them, just in time for CSF-1 to reach the end of the hallway themselves. Saito inspected both the left and right hallways before backing off and allowing Hackett to take point, at which point he dropped to the back next to MacTavish. “MacTavish. You know where the command core is, right?”

She nodded wordlessly; Saito couldn’t quite tell if her lack of words was due to panic, or exhaustion.

“Good. How do I get there?”

“Uh, um…” She gulped once and took a deep breath before continuing, “r-right here, th-the next left… a-and then, um, a-another left, th-then two rights… a-and a left. …I-I think.”

“You think?

“I-I d-didn’t have time t-to study th-the map! Th-this, this all happened s-so fast!!”

“It’ll have to do, then,” Saito muttered. “Alright. Right, left, left, right, right, left. Got it.” He glanced over at Hackett and Travis, who returned the gesture. “We’re about to split up. Hackett, you’re in charge!”

“Yes sir!” The Major nodded once and then whipped around the right corner, her gun up and ready. Due to the power being shut off, the hallways had returned to being pitch black — but between her flashlight, and the fact that the attacking drones had small indicator lights all over them, she could tell that a handful of drones were approaching from several tens of meters out. She immediately opened fire on the drones, attracting their attention while Saito and Travis dived across the hallway and quietly rushed up the side through the cover of darkness. When they reached another branching hallway — this one to the left — Travis took cover and opened fire, allowing Hackett to move up… and Saito to break off.

The Colonel jogged down the dark hallway, trying his best to control his footfalls to produce as little noise as possible. As he did so, he quickly reloaded, taking note of the fact that he was down to only two more magazines, including the one he had just inserted into his gun. Good thing mags are small for gauss rifles. If we were using regular firearms, I would’ve run out of ammo halfway down the last hallway… but I still need to be conservative now.

He cautiously held up his gun along with his flashlight, though he covered part of the flashlight beam in an effort to reduce the chances of his detection. The heavily reduced lighting made navigating the dark hallways difficult, but as Saito reached the end of the hallway and took a left, he noticed that he wasn’t running into any drones. Good. Either we’ve burned through most of them or they fell for the distraction; either way, it looks like smooth sailing—?

In the middle of his thoughts, a drone drifted into view from a side room. The drone itself was nearly invisible in the pitch-black darkness, but he recognized the faint blue lights on its gun and sensor unit; he immediately stopped running and took careful aim in an attempt to reduce his bullet usage. In the second it took for him to aim, the drone seemed to notice him and began to fire its gun, but Saito domed it with two bullets and put it out of commission — resulting in only a half-power laser blast against his thigh, which his shielding easily absorbed. A light on his chest plate blinked thrice immediately afterward, indicating that his armor’s shielding was down to ten percent power. Great. It can only take another one or two blows now… MAYBE three, maximum. I’ve got to be careful…

Saito broke into a run, taking a right when the hallway ended, and then immediately another right when that hallway ended as well. As he continued onward, he grew more and more concerned; while MacTavish had given him the directions on what turns to take, it occurred to him that she hadn’t specified when to take those turns, or at what intersections. As he thought that, however, he noticed that the hallway he was running down seemed to curve ever so slightly to the left. Several of the other hallways he had been through curved in a similar manner, leading him to wonder if these hallways were concentric. The facility itself was circular, after all — in which case the location of the command core, relative to him, was obvious.

The Colonel took the next left that he could, taking him down a straight hallway. He needed to get to the center of the base; even if the command core wasn’t there, something else of equal importance was sure to be. So when he reached the end of the hallway — and thus, the end of MacTavish’s instructions — and all he found was more hallways, he remained undeterred. Picking the right, he dashed down the halls, prepared to find the center all on his own—

Suddenly, his world briefly went white. He immediately found himself tumbling along the ground, completely disoriented as his gun flew out of his hands. He then slammed into a wall, bringing him to a painful stop, but allowing him to finally get a bearing on his position. With a groan, he began to pick himself up and look around, where he noticed a particularly large drone floating in the air just next to him, its indicator lights illuminating its sensor dome and twin laser cannons.

“…Shit,” he muttered.

But he had little time to further respond as the drone seemed to spontaneously explode, launching fragments across the hallway. Saito took the opportunity to lunge for his gun, grabbing it off of the floor and swinging it back around to face the drone’s former location — where he found none other than a certain silver-haired Commander, laser gun in hand.

“…Colonel.” Rabine acknowledged him with a nod. “Having trouble?”

“I was about to,” Saito remarked. “I guess that was the thing that hit me… really did a number on my shields, too.” He glanced at a readout on his gauntlets, indicating that his armor only had around five percent power left. “…Guess I owe you, huh?”

“I suppose you do,” the Commander responded. “But we don’t have time to discuss this now. My team should be dealing with the main generators as we speak.”

“As should mine. You’re right, let’s get going.” Saito turned on his heel and began rushing down the hallway, with Rabine following closely behind.

“Do you know where the core is?” she questioned.

“Not exactly. But it’s around here somewhere, most likely in the center of base.”

The Commander responded with a simple nod, briefly quickening her pace to fall into step beside Saito. He passed her a quick glance; she seemed to be keeping up with him rather well, which surprised him. She was a Chaotic, after all, and it was Saito’s understanding that Chaotics often became dependent on their powers for even basic daily activities. For Rabine to remain so able and competent while in Dead Space was an impressive feat in Saito’s book — though he had to admit that he didn’t have many reference points. Either I’ve overestimated the impact of Dead Space on Chaotics, or the Black Suns have a quality training regimen. Huh, interesting…

“I believe this is it.”

Saito swung around to face in the same direction as Rabine, allowing the light from his flashlight to fall on a tall pillar stood inside of a large chamber. The chamber itself was dimly lit, allowing the two to see inside without much issue — as well as spot the two drones that were slowly circling the pillar like guard dogs.

The Colonel and Commander both immediately ducked behind the doorway to avoid being spotted. Rabine glanced toward Saito and held up two fingers; Saito nodded back. She then let go of her gun, allowing it to hang from her armor by a strap as she held up one finger and pointed at herself, while simultaneously holding up one finger with her other hand and pointing at Saito. The Colonel wasn’t completely certain what she was trying to indicate, but it seemed to him as though she were saying that they should each take out one drone, simultaneously — which sounded like a poor plan to him. As far as he was concerned, there was a good chance that the drones could communicate with each other throughout the base, so destroying two of them in what appeared to be the command core would just draw in the rest.

Just as Saito made to respond, however, a low rumbling rolled through the entire base. Is that from the main generators—? Saito began to wonder, but then he noticed Rabine whip around out of cover, her gun to bear. What? No, damn it—!

She fired her laser gun, nailing one of the drones and dropping it to the floor. She then turned to fire her gun at the second drone, but missed, instead causing a small energy blast against the far wall. Just as she made to fire a third time, Saito destroyed the remaining drone with two well-placed bullets.

He then turned to Rabine in frustration. “The hell was that? All of the drones throughout the entire damn base likely know we’re here now!”

“If you had taken out the second drone at the same time I took out mine, then we could have prevented that,” Rabine shot back. “Besides. Once we destroy the command core, it won’t matter.”

Saito scowled, but elected not to continue the argument — this was hardly the place for it. Instead, he stormed into the room, carefully inspecting the place to ensure there were no more drones. As soon as he was sure that he and Rabine were alone, he turned toward the center pillar to get a closer look. The circular column stood nearly five meters wide at its base and gradually tapered to a narrower diameter near its top, which Saito estimated as being nearly ten meters up. Indicator lights and glowing blue lines covered the pillar, all of them tracing down to two terminals built into its base. The room itself was fairly barren, with featureless walls that surrounded a space approximately fifteen meters in diameter.

“At least we’ve found the core,” Saito muttered, and then glanced over at Rabine. “You can read Aldredian, right? Any of these terminals say anything interesting?”

The Commander paused to inspect the pillar herself before shaking her head. “They confirm that this is the command core, but otherwise the systems appear to be locked. Just like the rest of the base.”

“Figures,” Saito snorted as he grabbed a chunk of C-4 out of his pockets. He planted a trigger mechanism on top and then stuck the chunk to the side of the pillar, at the same time that Rabine attached a small metallic dome to one of the terminals. “What’s that?” he questioned as he nodded toward the dome.

“An explosive,” Rabine replied, and then gestured toward the C-4. “And yours?”

“Same.” The Colonel backed away from the pillar — and then swung his gun around to face the entrance just as three drones zipped inside. He immediately fired on the three, managing to drop two of them with six bullets as Rabine destroyed the third with a laser blast. “Damn…” Saito scowled and then gestured for Rabine to follow him. “Let’s get clear and blow this thing already—”

«Colonel!»

Saito paused for a moment in frustration before speaking into his communicator. “What is it, Captain?”

«Kirstin wanted me to tell you not to blow up the command core itself,» Travis replied over the connection.

“She what?” Saito responded incredulously, and then turned to face Rabine as he switched his communicator into open-mic mode. “You want us to not blow up the command core?”

«That’s what she says, sir. She says that if we blow up the core, there’s a chance we won’t be able to access any of the other systems. We’d lose everything.»

“If we don’t stop the drones, then we’ll still lose everything,” Rabine countered.

«Er, that’s not all she said, either.» Travis paused for a moment; Saito thought he could hear bits and pieces of MacTavish’s stuttering before Travis continued, «Kirstin says that if you blow up the core, or the generator that powers it, then you could end up just blowing us all up.»

“And just why the hell is that?” Saito questioned, and then passed Rabine a wary glance as she raised her gun. He snapped his attention to where she was pointing as a half-dozen drones entered the room and immediately opened fire. Saito and Rabine both took multiple glancing hits as they dove for cover behind the pillar and then began returning fire.

«Apparently this base runs on geothermal power,» Travis responded as Saito continued to exchange fire with the drones. «That’s how it was able to keep power for so long, there’s a whole damn magma chamber less than a mile below the base. Those Black Suns guys blew up the main generators, but now Kirstin’s worried that blowin’ up the core or its backup generator would…» The Captain trailed off again, just as Saito dispatched the final drone.

“Would what?” Saito pressed.

«…Uh… destabilize the magma chamber.»

“You’re telling me we could cause a volcanic eruption?

«That’s what’s Kirstin is sayin’, sir.»

The Colonel sighed in frustration as he glanced over at Rabine, who returned his impatient expression. “Well what the hell would she have us do, then?”

«…Apparently… if you just take out the power conduit between the core and its backup generator, then we’ll be fine.»

“Are you sure?”

«I mean, I guess? I’m sorry, sir, but between the Black Suns’ half-assed map and Kirstin bein’ in a panic, it’s kind of hard to tell.»

“Well where’s this power conduit?”

«It’s, uh… in the ceiling, just above the command core.»

“The ceiling?!” Saito and Rabine both stared upward. Sure enough, there appeared to be some kind of service hatch in the ceiling… but at ten meters up, Saito wasn’t sure how either he or Rabine were going to reach it.

“If only this wasn’t Dead Space,” Rabine muttered.

«Ah, sorry, Colonel!» Travis spoke again, «we’ve got more drones here! Travis, out!»

“As if they’re the only ones with drone problems,” Saito grumbled as another dozen drones flew into the room. He immediately took careful aim and managed to shoot down two of them, but as they rapidly rounded the pillar and began firing on him and Rabine, he realized that he no longer had the luxury of caution. As he circled the pillar with Rabine in an effort to keep it in between them and the drones, he began simply aiming in the drones’ general locations and releasing a hail of bullets, successfully managing to take out another three. Rabine destroyed another five, leaving only two more — but just as Saito and Rabine took aim, the two drones suddenly dived, causing both of them to miss. The drones then fired their laser cannons, hitting both officers and launching them across the room. Saito hit the far wall with a painful thud, accompanied by the high-pitched electrical screech of his shields failing. “Shit…!” He immediately rolled to the side just as his former position exploded under another laser blast; he then pointed his gun in the general direction of the two drones and unleashed the rest of his magazine, downing one — just as the other fell to Rabine’s lasers.

“We need to do something about that conduit,” the Commander stated as she climbed back to her feet.

“You don’t say,” Saito retorted as he ejected his empty magazine and slammed his final mag into the gun. “…My shields are down. I don’t know if I can take another firefight like that.”

“My shields aren’t doing well, either, but I can still take a few blows…” Rabine glanced toward the room’s entrance, where another group of drones had appeared. “Shit! Colonel, use me as cover!”

“Tch—!” Saito had little time to argue as the drones opened fire on the two officers. Several of the initial blasts erupted across Rabine’s armor, leaving her and Saito to return fire and wipe out the incoming wave. They managed to destroy all but three of the drones before they fired again, coordinating their laser blasts to all hit Rabine at once, the force immediately overpowering her shields and launching her across the room. Saito quickly shot the final three drones out of the air, at which point he glanced back at Rabine in apprehension… and then turned his attention upward. “…Well, don’t have much choice,” he muttered as he carefully aimed at the hatch in the ceiling and fired. The first bullet missed, but the second one hit the latch, destroying it and allowing the hatch to drop open — revealing what appeared to be a series of lights and wires. That has to be it, the Colonel thought impatiently, I swear, if that isn’t it, then…! He took aim once more, and fired.

Click. Click click click.

“Out of ammo…?!” Saito glared at his gun and then tossed it aside. As he pulled out his pistol, he glanced over at Rabine, who had just now managed to pull herself back to her feet — and then he turned toward the room’s entrance, where nearly twenty more drones had appeared. He stared at them in a mixture of disbelief and apprehension, simply watching as they moved in and took aim at himself and Rabine. “…Shit,” he muttered, and smirked despite himself. “…What a fuckin’ way to go—”

“Colonel!!”

The sounds of gauss rifle fire filled the air as a hail of bullets tore through the incoming swarm of drones. Apparently just as surprised as Saito, the drones were slow to react to the source of the fire, allowing Major Hackett to charge into the room and obliterate over fifteen of the drones, with Rabine and Saito managing to finish off the remaining units.

“Damn, am I glad to see you, Major!” Saito shouted.

“I figured you could use the help, sir!” she replied, “what’s the situation?”

“Both of our shields are down,” Rabine reported.

“And I’m out of ammo,” Saito stated. He then pointed upward. “The conduit we need to destroy is right there, but—!”

Before he could finish his sentence, even more drones began to flood into the room, immediately focusing their weapons on the three. Saito and Rabine dove back into cover as Hackett readily opened fire.

“Get down, sir!” Hackett shouted as she rushed forward, “I’ll draw their fire!”

“Tch…!” Saito scowled as he watched Hackett virtually dance between the drones, managing to dodge some of their lasers as she systematically destroyed them, but still taking hits all the same. Rabine aided by peeking out of cover when she could and dropping drones here and there, but as Saito looked further out into the hallway, he was dismayed to see what appeared to be an endless stream of drones. “So much for that distraction,” he muttered as he turned his pistol on the hatch above him and opened fire, emptying the entirety of his magazine into the distant conduits. The bullets ripped into the wires and tore out several of the lights, but the room and the command core itself remained powered. Without missing a beat, he ejected the pistol’s empty magazine and slammed in a new one before opening fire again on the hatch; he repeated this once more, completely exhausting all of his ammunition as he filled the hatch and the surrounding ceiling with almost a hundred bullets… and still, power ran freely.

As the Colonel stared up at the still surprisingly intact conduits, he realized that he was out of options. His weapons were useless to him, and if the number of drones and the intensity of weapons fire in the room was any indication, he couldn’t afford to distract either Rabine or Hackett to order them to shoot the hatch — and even if he did, it had already taken ninety shots from his pistol. If guns weren’t the solution, then what was?

Saito’s attention was drawn to the fire fight with the drones. Hackett had managed to destroy most of the drones inside the room, allowing her and Rabine to take cover behind the doorway as they continued exchanging bullets and lasers with the greater swarm — but Saito could tell that Hackett’s shields were depleting rapidly, and Rabine was finding fewer and fewer safe openings to peek out and shoot at the drones. It wouldn’t be long before their position was completely overrun, and they had no where else to retreat to. If only I had a grenade launcher, but all I brought with me is that damn C-4…!

The Colonel paused for a moment, and then snapped his attention to the C-4 he had attached to the core when he first arrived. An idea formed in his head; he immediately grimaced when he realized just how poor it was, but he had few other options. He yanked the C-4 off of the core, pulled the detonator out of his pocket, looked upward… and then wound his arm and chucked the plastic explosive at the ceiling.

“Fire in the hole!” he shouted as he dove away from the pillar. Before he even hit the ground, he slammed his thumb across the detonator’s trigger — and a moment later, an explosion sounded from on high. He curled up and shielded his neck with his hands as wiring and metal debris rained down on the room for several moments, and then…

Silence.

Saito cautiously opened his eyes and began wriggling his fingers. Once confident that he was still alive, he slowly turned to look up at the ceiling. The command core itself appeared largely intact, but a massive chunk of the upper core — as well as much of the ceiling around where the hatch had once been — no longer existed in one piece. The Colonel then looked down at Rabine and Hackett, both of whom were glancing between the broken ceiling, Saito, and the dozens of drones floating outside the room… that now fell completely dormant.

Saito grinned and sighed of relief. He knew that his mission wasn’t over yet, but that didn’t matter; he flopped over onto his back and closed his eyes, barely acknowledging Hackett and Rabine with a thumbs up as he stopped to rest. What mattered was that everyone was safe; investigating what remained of the Aldredian outpost could come later.

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