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The Insurgency: S4 #11 My Broken Night (FB)
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Part 11 in Season 4 of my Insurgency series! Sorry for the delay in getting this out. Real life has gotten reeeally busy! Going forward, my series won't be as regular as it once was - it'll just be whenever I can get it out, now that my free time is very limited. Anyways, this one is a freebuild for the Marauders. Please comment, rate and enjoy!
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14th February: Present Day


The journey to System 55 took us a little over 10 days and that was travelling at warp speed! 10 days cramped inside The Viper was long enough - I was just glad that I had a warp drive and we didn't have to spend over a month in hyperspace! It hadn't been the most pleasant experience but at least it was almost over now.



The navi-computer told me that we were coming up on our destination, so I prepared the controls for the reversion back to real space. On the journey here, we had discussed where the best place to start looking for Darkblade would be and after reaching no solid conclusion decided to start at the System's capital - Deltar Five.


The console 'ping'ed at me and the countdown clock changed to zero, so I pulled back on the Warp Drive lever and moments later, the space around us twisted back into visible stars and ahead of us shone the glinting blue, green and white capital planet, Deltar Five.


Tracks let out a low mechanical whistle as we all gazed out of the viewscreen and Cat breathed;
Cat: "Wow..."



The planet glistened beautifully in the sunlight; the rays refracting off of the water and creating a shimmering spectacle for us as we approached.
Tank: "It reminds me of Earth." I added with a melancholy smile, staring at the world growing larger ahead of us.


I proceeded to guide us down through the atmosphere and as I did, we got a good look at the scenery around us.
Cat: "It's amazing!"
As we got even lower, we flew alongside a mountain range with snow-covered peaks and a towering city beginning to crawl up its side from ground level. The spires of the city were pointed and thin and glinted in the sun, looking to be shiny and well-maintained.


The further we flew, the more we were taken aback by the beauty of this planet. We passed over lush forests of towering, green trees, gentle, blue oceans that teemed with wildlife and more gleaming cities of needle-like towers that reached for the stars.



We were heading for Sigmaradium, the capital city of Deltar Five. With no idea where Darkblade could be, we had to start somewhere and the capital of the capital was a good a place as any! I could see it now on the horizon. As with every other city we’d passed, I could already see it shining brightly in the sun, even though it was still kilometres away – a mere lump on the horizon, so to be able to see it shining from this distance, I realised that it had to be pretty big!


Cat: “What’s that?” she queried and an arm stretched past me to point out of the window to down below where a dark band stretched across the view in both directions for as far as the eye could see. I frowned as I strained to get a better look.
Tank: “It looks like a… wall?” I replied uncertainly, but sure enough the closer we got, the clearer it became that the dark blot on the otherwise pristine landscape was indeed a wall. But not just any wall. No; this was a towering, heavily fortified wall. It must have been a hundred meters tall and ten meters thick, with watch towers placed at regular intervals all the way along.



Tracks groaned questioningly, but I had no answer.
Tank: “I have no idea what it’s for.” I replied quietly, my previous awe now fading away. Something just didn’t feel right about it. Something in the back of my mind seemed to know what, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t drag up the relevant memory.


As The Viper passed over the wall, nothing changed, but my memory did suddenly jog.
Tank: “Wait…” I began. “I remember now. Something about… yeah, that was it. There was a biochemical accident, yeeeears ago, nobody really remembers when any more, but they had to wall off an area of the planet, like… a COUNTRY sized area, to stop people from going in and to stop the contamination from leaking out. Nobody is allowed in. You’re not even allowed to fly o…”


My heart nearly stopped as I realised why I had remembered.


Tank: “Oh, scrim!” I cursed as I pulled The Viper into a hard turn and hit the gas, trying to get us back to the wall as fast as I could.
Cat: “What’s the matter?”
Tank: “It’s a no-fly zone!” I replied urgently, just as a warning light began to flash at me – incoming missile.


Tank: “NO!”



It was too late. The missile struck the underside of The Viper somewhere and we all screamed as the ship shook and we began to lose altitude.


Tank: “Come on!” I yelled urgently, begging my beloved ship to work as we plummeted lower and lower, heading down towards the treetops below. But there was nothing I could do. No matter how hard I pulled back on the controls, The Viper wouldn’t respond. This was it. We were going down.



Tank: “Hold on!” I shouted back to the others and got a brief glimpse of Tracks shielding Cat before I turned my full attention back to attempting to avert the situation at hand. But I couldn’t.


As the forest canopy rose up to meet us, The Viper shook and jolted us all around as branches and leaves began slashing at it, tearing at the metalwork like the claws of angry animals and we tore through the trees at breakneck speed.



The plant life began to slow us, but not enough. We dropped several feet through open space as we broke through the canopy into the relative space below, but with a horrifying screech of tearing metal, the left wing was torn away by a passing tree trunk and the entire ship listed to the opposite side, now heavier on one side.


I could hear Cat screaming in terror, but as with the crash itself, could do nothing about it. It was barely five seconds more before we hit the ground; the right wing striking the dirt first and burrowing a trench through the mud, before the hull followed and plants, soil and animals alike were thrown over the windshield. The duraglass cracked under the pressure and I covered my face with my arms as it shattered inwards, showering us in tiny, transparent daggers.



I felt the ship finally come to a stop, the rear engine hitting the ground without the momentum to keep it aloft and at last all was still.


For several long seconds, I didn’t dare move. I could hear Cat sobbing hard behind me. I could hear fried electrics sparking somewhere in the cockpit. And I could hear the cheerful chirping and buzzing of forest life underneath it all, like some sort of intentional torment.


Tank: “Are you okay?” I finally asked, unstrapping myself from my harness and standing up in the ruins of the cockpit.



Cat didn’t reply, she was too busy crying, but Tracks nodded carefully, stroking her hair comfortingly. I nodded in acknowledgement and took a moment to look around. Parts of The Viper were strewn along our crash trajectory, but beyond that, as far as the eye could see, in every direction, it was just... trees. Trees, plants and other assorted flora and fauna.


There was a small burst of smoke and a pop as something in the rear of the ship caught fire and I knew that we couldn’t hang around.
Tank: “We need to move.” I announced, leaning back into the ship. Cat was starting to calm down now and I desperately wanted to go to her and hold her and tell her that everything was alright, but we weren’t safe yet. The Viper’s engine or even the warp drive could explode at any second, so we had to get to a safe distance.



Tank: “Come on.” I encouraged, holding out my hand. Wiping away tears, Cat took it and I helped her from the wreckage. Tracks clambered out with relative ease and together the three of us began to hobble away. Away from the ship that had been with me for almost as long as I’d been out of prison and away into the unknown.


Elsewhere…


There was an alarm ringing, but Darkblade didn't care. Alarms rang out wherever he went - he was used to it by now.



Droid: "Halt!" A security droid ordered, levelling its blaster at the intruder, but with a deft kick, the mercenary sent it flying. Darkblade was stronger now. He had managed to synthesise more of the military serum that he'd stolen almost a fortnight ago and had begun regularly injecting himself with it. The serum worked perfectly in that it made him stronger, faster, more agile than he had been, but it was still nothing compared to how he had been before his fight with Tank; before the accident that had almost killed him.


He had been careless at the time. He'd let emotions get in the way and it had become personal, which had hindered his vision. But then again; it WAS personal. Nothing had been this personal to Darkblade since his daughter had been kidnapped and murdered. This was ALL about Tank. He was going to search every laboratory in the galaxy if he had to, in order to find Dr. Lobotomy and get him to re-make him as he had done all those years ago back on Iapra.



But he was fast running out of leads. As much as Darkblade was willing to search every single lab, it wasn't very practical, but if he didn't find Lobotomy soon, he may have no choice.


He checked another room but found it empty and then, returning to the corridor he had been in, roared with frustration as another security droid approached. This was getting him nowhere! He ran the robot through with his sword and let the mechanical lump slide to the floor before kicking it repeatedly in the head, venting all of his anger and frustration.


Voice: "My, what a temper!"



The voice startled Darkblade out of his anger-fuelled tantrum and he spun around.


There, stood in the middle of the corridor simply watching him, was the man he had spent so long searching for. Dr. Lobotomy himself. The man he had initially despised for experimenting on him, but more recently, the man who had occupied almost his every waking moment.


Darkblade: "You." He growled.
Dr. Lobotomy: "I'm me, yes. But who, are you?"
With his free hand, Darkblade reached up and removed his helmet, taking a moment to shake the sweat from his face.
Lobotomy frowned, clearly still trying to figure out who the other man was.
Dr. Lobotomy: "I'm sorry, you'll have to remind me." He prompted with a slight chuckle.
Darkblade: "You experimented on me!" He shouted. "In some hidden base of yours on Iapra!"


Dr. Lobotomy: "Oh! Yes! Now I remember you!" He exclaimed. "Yes, you were one of the original's works!"



The statement confused Darkblade but he had no time or indeed patience to ask what it meant. Instead, he advanced on his marker.
Dr. Lobotomy: "Are you here to kill me?" He questioned, rooted to the spot, seemingly emotionless despite the armoured murderer marching his way.
Darkblade: "I should be." He replied, grabbing the mad scientist by the neck and ramming him backwards into a wall. To Darkblade's surprise, the sallow-skinned man just let out another chuckle.
Dr. Lobotomy: "So that's a no then?"


Now, looking into the scientist's mis-matched eyes, Darkblade wanted nothing more than to put an end to his miserable life, to kill him for everything that he had done to him. But he still needed him. For now at least. After this was all over, once Lobotomy had healed him - THEN Darkblade would kill him. That much he silently promised himself.



Darkblade: "No." He finally spoke aloud. "I need you to do something for me."
Dr. Lobotomy: "Hmm... sounds intriguing." He grinned, showing cracked teeth.
Darkblade: "I need more of whatever that shit was that you injected me with. I need you to do it again."


Dr. Lobotomy: "Then I will need a blood sample."
Darkblade: "Why?"
Dr. Lobotomy: "Because I have no idea what you were injected with! That's why!" He responded maniacally. "Listen; you want more of whatever it was that made you this way? Then you're going to have to do what I say."
Darkblade: "Any funny business, and I'll kill you straight away. Understand?" He growled.
Dr. Lobotomy: "Perfectly." He grinned. "Now; blood sample or no?"



It didn't take long for the doctor to draw some blood from one of Darkblade's arms and from then, the mercenary watched and waited as patiently as was possible for him as the madman ran his tests and tried to figure out what had been in the serum.


Dr. Lobotomy: "You have so much stuff in you..." he muttered, more to himself than to Darkblade, as he adjusted the lens on his microscope. "I don't know how you're still walking."
Darkblade: "I'm tough." He grunted in response and Dr. Lobotomy let out a sharp laugh.
Dr. Lobotomy: "You'd have to be to fill yourself up with this crap. How many injections have you taken?"
Darkblade: "A lot." Darkblade replied bluntly, as he paced impatiently. "Can you isolate the initial serum?"



The doctor didn't reply straight away, giving Darkblade the urge to grab him and slam him against the desk, but he resisted. Just.
Dr. Lobotomy: "I think so." He finally responded. "I'll at least be able to make something that is of a similar nature."
Darkblade: "Will it make me stronger?"
Dr. Lobotomy: "Stronger?" He almost laughed as he stood and faced the other man. "My friend, it will turn you into a tank!"


Darkblade's lip curled upwards in an approximation of a smile, before the analogy truly sank in.


Darkblade: "Good. Do it."



Dr. Lobotomy: "I can't."


Darkblade's eyes widened in surprise and he drew his gun.
Dr. Lobotomy: "No, no! You misunderstand!" He begged, attempting to pacify him. "I'll don't have the right materials here! I have most of them but I don't have the Baristau-47 or the Infatope-Z!"


Darkblade: "Who does?"


Dr. Lobotomy: "Uhhh..." he thought quickly. "Um, Earth! There's a lab in America called Synergy Engineering! It's run by Dr's Daelman and Hirsch. They'll have both elements!"



A new goal in mind, Darkblade turned and stormed from the room.
Dr. Lobotomy: "Wait! Where are you going?!" He called after him.
Darkblade: "Earth!"



Deltar Five…


Glowing embers drifted into the air as the campfire crackled with life. Cat, Tracks and I had moved away into the forest several hours ago, but it was getting dark now and we had no idea where we were.



I had decided that it was worth risking briefly returning to The Viper in order to grab our supplies and anything else that we could salvage, seeing as how it hadn't blown up in the end, but after that we had moved on for good. Trekking through the forest had been hard work and with no idea which direction to head in, we were pretty stumped.


Evening had come and we had agreed to settle in for the night, so now Cat and I sat beside each other, while Tracks wandered close by, keeping an eye out for any potential predatory animals.


As I stared into the flickering flames, my mind was not on our survival, as it probably should have been, but was instead on The Viper. My ship. Gone. How was I going to get around the galaxy now? I supposed that I could always get a new ship, but that just didn’t feel right. I mean, sure, technically I actually stole The Viper, but in the years I had had her, she had become an important part of me. In a way she had been the embodiment of Chain Rockwell. And now… now she lay in ruins in the middle of a forest on a world far from home.



Maybe coming to System 55 hadn’t been such a good idea after all…
Cat: “What are you thinking about?” the soft voice interrupted my thoughts.
Tank: “Just… everything.” I replied without turning away from the fire. Cat shuffled in closer to me and leant her head against my shoulder.
Cat: “We’ll find a way out of here.” She told me with certainty.
Tank: “How?” I replied, sounding snappier than I had intended. I was just… emotional.
Cat: “I don’t know. But… we’ll find a way. You’ve got your datapad, so at least we can use it to find which direction we need to be heading in to reach the city. It might take us a while, but… but we’ll get there.”



Tank: “A while.” I almost laughed. “Yeah. On foot, it’ll take us weeks.”
Cat: “So we spend weeks walking. I’m not going to die in this forest, Tank. If you can’t be bothered to walk to survive, then you can stay here. Tracks and I will go on.” Cat looked at me sternly. I knew she didn’t mean it, she was just giving me some tough love.
I sighed.
Tank: “Sorry.” I muttered.
Cat: “It’s okay.” Cat replied and laid her head back on my shoulder. Together we watched as the fire continued to burn brightly as the Delatarian night grew darker. If it hadn’t been for the disaster that had been the day so far, it would have been almost peaceful. Just Cat and I sat by a fire, surrounded by nature, breathing in the fresh, crisp, clean air and listening to the chirps and distant calls of the night wildlife.


The distant wildlife and the very close by cocking of a gun, just behind me.



Voice: “Who are you?” a male voice asked.


I had frozen at the sound of the gun cocking but Cat made to get up, so I grabbed her arm to hold her still.
Tank: “Just travellers.” I replied, keeping a calm tone, not turning around.
Voice: “Travellers?” the man half laughed. “Telamarv doesn’t get travellers.” That statement confused me slightly, but I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it at the moment. “You weren’t at the opening ceremony, so who the hell are you? Did you get thrown down here later into the game? Fresh competition? Last chance.”



My heart was pounding, but I had to wait before I did anything. Thankfully, the moment I was waiting for came just seconds later. There was a mechanical whir, accompanied by the sound of a small motor getting up to speed and a quiet gasp from the man.


With a smile of satisfaction, I finally stood and turned to face him.



Tracks stood a couple of meters back, both hand guns raised and his shoulder minigun out and up to speed and between us stood a young man in a red leather jacket and black cargo pants. He wore a cheated look on his face, but there was also a look of surprise in there too.


Tank: “Now.” I began calmly, reaching out and gently taking the man’s gun away from him. “Your one and only chance. Who are you? Why are you here? And what the heck is Telamarv?”


The man frowned as if I was stupid.
Man: “What, are you nuts?” he questioned, but a jab in the back from the barrel of Tracks’ gun made him rethink. “Okay! Jeez, I get it!” he exclaimed. “My name is Ranger. I’m here for the same reason everyone else is – I’m a contestant and we’re on Telamarv. It’s the planet. But… you’d know all of that if you were contestants.”



I frowned and glanced at Cat who seemed equally confused. Tracks shrugged, also clueless.
Tank: “Contestants for what?”
Ranger: “You really don’t know?” he questioned, looking between me and my girlfriend. His eyes quickly glanced up and down her leather-clad body and I suddenly had a strong urge to punch him in the face. I resisted and instead replied,
Tank: “Nope. Not a clue. Also, I’m sorry to break it to you, but this isn’t ‘Telamarv’, or wherever you think you are. This is Deltar Five.”


Ranger: “Rubbish. It’s all part of the show!”
Tank: “What show?” I asked, getting impatient.
Ranger: “Live Escape! Y’know; the show where people have to survive in the wild and the last one standing is the winner! There’s a heap of money involved too!” he grinned.


I was completely confused now. How did this guy think that he was a contestant on the game show that I had watched every now and then? This was Deltar Five and that show was supposedly filmed on some exotic planet far away, this Telamarv, if Ranger was to be believed. But… the navi-computer had definitely brought us to Deltar Five, so Ranger must have gotten confused.



I didn’t think that Ranger was a danger any more, after all, I had his pistol and between the three of us, if he tried anything, I was confident that Cat, Tracks and myself could take him easily. I nodded to Tracks and he lowered his weapons, his shoulder gun retreating into it’s casing. Ranger glanced behind him for the first time and saw Tracks.
Ranger: “Wow…” he muttered at the sight.


Tank: “Sit down.” I commanded and Ranger did as he was told, sitting a couple of meters away by the fire. Cat and I sat too, Ranger’s pistol between us, but Tracks remained stood, close at hand this time, just in case the newcomer tried something stupid.


Tank: “Okay, start from the beginning.”



Ranger: “I was chosen to take part in the show, so I went to Deltar Five where the TV station’s offices are. I met the other contestants, then we were all given sedatives to knock us out so they could transport us to Telamarv. When we woke up, we were in the processing chamber here. Then it was on with the show. We had the opening ceremony and we released into the wild. There were 25 of us to begin with and every night they light up the sky with a flash for every contestant who has died that day. We’re down to 12 contestants left at the moment. I was just settling in for the night when I saw a fire in the distance, so I came to investigate and now, here I am.” The young man explained. As I listened to the story, I watched him speaking and somewhere in the back of my brain there was a niggle. He seemed vaguely familiar but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. He was only a few years older than me by the looks of him and held the air of a traveller, so maybe it was simply that he reminded me of myself. For now, I put the thought aside.


Tank: “Well, I hate to break it to you, but this is definitely Deltar Five.” I explained. “I’m Tank. This is Cat and Tracks.” I introduced our little band, gesturing to each in turn. “We were coming to Deltar Five from System 54, looking for someone, but we flew over the contamination zone and got shot down. Now, here we are.”



Ranger: “Wait, the contamination zone?” he asked with wide eyes.
Tank: “Yeah, but… this whole place is full of life. My ship didn’t pick up any traces of harmful radiation or gasses or anything before we crashed.” I replied. I had been wondering about this myself. For an area of the planet that had supposedly been hit by a disaster and was uninhabitable, this place seemed pretty pleasant. I wonder what the truth actually was.
Ranger: “Oh man…” he sighed.
Tank: “Sorry mate. Looks like the TV execs pulled a fast one on you. Telamarv doesn’t exist. The show is filmed on Deltar Five.”
Ranger: “So, we’re in the no-go area? The bit inside the wall?”
Tank: “Yup. We flew over the wall on our way here. It’s why we got shot down.”


Ranger: “God damn it.” He muttered with a groan. “Well, at least the show itself is still real. I’ve seen the previous series’ – there is always a winner.”
Tank: “Oh, I don’t doubt that.” I replied. “At least, as long as somebody survives.”


Right on cue.



Tracks let out a warning bleep and readied his weapons, even as I leapt to my feet, drawing my own pistols. I couldn’t see anything yet, but I trusted Tracks with my life and if he thought something was out there, then something was out there.


Cat was on her feet just moments after I was, leaving a confused Ranger still sitting by the fire.
Ranger: “What’s going on?”


His question was answered moments later, when two bipedal lizards stalked out of the brush.
Ranger: “Oh scrim!” he cried, scrabbling to get away from them. The lizards both had video cameras attached to their heads, presumably offering live feeds of the action for the TV audiences. I wondered how they’d react to three newcomers who’d dropped in out of the sky.


The lizards clearly knew that they had lost the element of surprise and were cautiously edging ever closer, chirping and chattering to one another as they eyed us up.
Ranger: “Pistol!” he demanded, but I didn’t trust him enough yet. Instead, I quickly bent down, scooped up the weapon and tucked it into my own holster.



It was a good thing I did, because moments later, the lizards attacked. One lunged for Tracks, who began firing at it with everything he had. The other came for me. I fired off one shot, which missed, before I had to dive out of the way as it barrelled past. The lizard’s jaws came snapping back around, revealing row upon row of huge, serrated teeth. I fired a couple more times, one of which hit the beast in the side, but it barely reacted.


Ranger: “Oh, come on, man!” he cried as he had to leap around the fire, doing his best to keep the flames between himself and the monsters. “At least let me defend myself!”



Tracks was having marginally better success than I was and had managed to injure his lizard, however that just seemed to piss my one off. It leapt at him, jumping clean over the fire and Tracks had to punch it in the head to knock it away. Cat and I were both still firing at the monsters and Ranger had now scampered back towards the tree line where he could take shelter.



Tank: “Hey!” I yelled, trying and succeeding in getting the attention of one of the lizards. As it turned to face me, I shot it in the face and hit one of it’s eyes. It let out a pained howl and tried to scratch at it's head, now blinded on one side. Cat and I both kept up the fire and less than a minute later, the barrage become too much for it and it keeled over.



The second lizard lunged at Tracks again and at the last second, he dropped both of his weapons, grabbing the beast by the jaws to stop them from clamping around his head. Holding the lizard’s mouth open, Tracks took aim and fired his minigun straight down the beast’s throat. There was a gurgled cry of pain before the bullets began to tear straight out of the lizard’s chest and it collapsed in a blood-soaked pile.


Imminent danger over, I took a deep breath and sighed it all out.
Tank: “Everyone good?” I checked.



Ranger: “Yeah, no thanks to you.” He muttered. “You could have let me have my pistol. I could have helped.” He moaned, walking back over to re-join us.
Tank: “Minutes ago you were pointing it at my head. If you were me, would you trust you?” I asked, raising my eyebrow at him and he shrugged in defeat.
Ranger: “I didn’t know who you were. I didn’t know that you weren’t contestants. And for the record, I wouldn’t have shot you anyway. I’m not a murderer.” Ranger responded defensively. “I’ve not killed any of the other contestants. I just let them get at each other and the animals pick off the rest.”
Cat: “What a Gent.”


Ranger: “Anyway – we should put that fire out. It’s what drew me here and almost certainly what drew those Marrow Hunters here.”
Tank: “Marrow Hunters?” I queried as Cat and Ranger began to kick dirt over the flames.
Ranger: “Yeah. I don’t know their real names, but rumour has it that they break their prey apart and they have really long tongues that they use for licking marrow out of bones.”


Cat: “Nice.” She muttered, sounding slightly queasy.



Suddenly, a loud fanfare began to boom out of nowhere. I looked around for the source, confused, but Ranger provided an explanation.
Ranger: “It’s an official announcement. They don’t happen often but every now and then, the producers like to change things up a little. We’d better listen.”


The fanfare ended and an official sounding voice began speaking.
Voice: “Ladies and Gentlemen, contestants of all species and ages! Tonight, we bring you a new era of ‘Live Escape!’ Until now, we have let nature take its course. We have let player kill player! But now, we are turning it up to 11! Tonight, you will witness the introduction of a new player! And by player, I mean monster!” the voice announced, clearly gleeful. “Good luck defending yourselves against the terrifying, the horrifying, the deadly Atrox Beast!”


A distant roar echoed through the forest, stirring up sleeping birds and disturbing the night. It was loud. Like... REALLY loud! Somewhere between a lighthouse horn and a star cruiser’s engine, the guttural sound carried for miles and all four of us glanced at each other nervously as the echoes began to fade.



Voice: “The Atrox Beast presents the very finest in not just genetic modification, but genetic creation! The technicians in our labs have cooked up something veeeery special for this season! Contestants beware – the devil is out there!”


The far-too-happy announcement was replaced by another fanfare and Cat looked worriedly up at me.
Ranger: "That doesn't sound good." He commented dryly.
Cat looked petrified and I didn't blame her. That sound had shaken me too. If there was something out there that could produce a sound that loud, then it was big. Not only that, but it was actively hunting the contestants - no; hunting us. We were in this now too, whether we liked it or not. We were as stranded in the forest as the rest of the game show competitors and that thing, the Atrox Beast would hunt us just the same. And that terrified me. We had no idea how far away this thing was, which direction it was heading in, or even what it looked like.


This was NOT the start to our trip to System 55 that I had had planned.



Tank: "I suggest we try to get some sleep." I decided, doing my best to settle everyone's nerves. "There's no point us being sleep deprived as well as scared."
Ranger: "Who's scared?" He remarked, but I could tell that his heart wasn't in it. He was just as uncertain as I was.
Tank: "We'll take turns taking watch."
Ranger: "I'll take first. I'm not that tired."
Tank: "No." I replied firmly. "With respect; I don't know if I can trust you."
Ranger: "What; and you think I trust you?"
Tank: "That's just something you're going to have to get used to." I responded as Cat set about getting settled down in some blankets that we'd rescued from The Viper.
Tank: "Besides, I still have your pistol. I'll wake you when it's your turn and Tracks will take watch with you." Tracks nodded silently to me in agreement with the arrangement and I nodded just as silently back, appreciatively.
Ranger: "Fine." He muttered grumpily. "Guess I'll try to get some rest then. I'm not tired though, so it's pointless." The red coat complained, seemingly more to himself than to me.



Ranger began to move away, but I called him back.
Tank: "Don't go too far. Stay close to the fire, it's still a little warm."
Ranger looked between me and the fire for a few seconds before clearly deciding that I was right and coming back again.
Tank: "Here." I tossed him a spare blanket, which he caught deftly. "May as well be comfy." Ranger looked at the blanket in his hands for a few moments before begrudgingly nodding his thanks and settling himself down for the night.



I sat and shared a warm, lingering kiss with Cat before she curled up beside me, her head in my lap and I got ready for the first watch. It had been a looooong day. And it wasn't over yet. I glanced around at our motley crew; Cat, laying silently beside me, looking peaceful in her stillness. Tracks had gone into his power saving mode and was sat like a giant metal statue nearby. And then there was Ranger; The mystery man whom I didn't know if I trusted and of whom I still couldn't shake the feeling that I had met him before.


I took another deep breath of the cool, Deltarian air and let it out slowly.


What a day.



Etrion…


The rocky corridor echoed with the deep rumble of the tomb doors being pulled open. It wasn't an actual tomb, but this deep underground and watching as the two armed guards heaved the solid rock doors apart, Lya Drayson felt as if she were entering a tomb.



Beside her, Ari' nearly slipped a glance at her tutor, just for reassurance, but resisted the urge and retained her composure, standing straight and tall, just as her Captain was doing beside her.


Drayson: "Hands."
A frown of annoyance momentarily creased Ari's face. She hadn't seen the Captain look at her - maybe she hadn't - yet, she had still known that Ari's hands were nervously fidgeting at her sides. Ari' herself hadn't even realised.


She experimented with clasping them behind her back for a few moments, but for some reason that just didn't feel quite right, so instead she brought them around and meshed her fingers together in front of her. Yes, that felt much better - and it helped to hide her nerves.
Drayson: "That's good." She complimented as the doors were finally open fully. Again, she hadn't so much as glanced at Ari', but somehow she'd known.



Now, stood side by side before they began their march into the heart of enemy territory, the only difference between the two women's posture was the positioning of their hands.


As Captain Drayson and Cadet Odanna walked into the newly revealed room, Ari' couldn't help but look around at awe of her surroundings. Drayson on the other hand looked dead ahead, her eyes never leaving their destination.


For there ahead of them, at the opposite side of the underground chamber that they were currently walking through, was a semi-circular stone table and around the table sat an eclectic mix of six beings.



The famed Marauder Council.


The Galactic Imperium had known the location of the Marauder Council's base of operations for a long time but did nothing for fear of retaliation. The Marauder Council controlled a vast amount of all the crime that occurred, not just on Etrion, but all over the system. Organising thefts, arranging murders, playing match-maker between clients and the criminals who best fitted their needs.


And taking a cut out of the profits of everything.


The council were rich and that was another reason that the Imperium did nothing to oppose them. No doubt the council were pulling the strings in a lot of Imperium departments - There was any number of crooked officials, all secretly in the pay of the Marauders, which in turn, again, helped to shield them from any entanglements with the law.


Whenever anybody did something bad, the Marauder Council would get fingered as the culprits and the public would be promised that the council would be dealt with.


And that would be it.



But Captain Drayson was not just a knowledge-less member of the public, nor was she any other Imperium official who could be bought out. No; she was tired of the Council getting away with it, of being one of the Imperium's many enemies, and she was here with a mission; a mission she intended to fulfil.


Brock Raith: "Captain Drayson." A dark-haired man sat in one of the centre chairs greeted as the pair of Imperials approached. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"


Ari' was surprised that the Marauder knew the Captain's name, but Drayson on the other hand had expected no less. It was the Marauder Council's business to know everything and everyone.



Drayson: "Councillors." She greeted with a slight incline of her head as both she and Arianne stopped in the centre of a circular mosaic in the floor. Cadet Odanna hadn’t known how close they were supposed to get, but she knew her place – by the Captain’s side. When Drayson stopped; she stopped. “I trust this day finds you well?”
Ellie: “Spare us the pleasantries, Captain.” the only female councillor, Ellie Outast, replied tartly. “What do you want?”
Drayson smirked; She had expected a response along those lines but had thought it best to start the meeting in a civil manner.
Drayson: “To business then.”



Ari’ mentally noted that as the conversation unfolded, one of the councillors, a man wearing some sort of breathing apparatus and a black Stetson, along with an eyepatch over his left eye, Rakat Noiren – if she’d done her homework correctly, was constantly muttering under his breath. If she remembered rightly, he was translating for the Councillor sat to his right, Rocko Bite, who didn’t speak a word of basic.


Drayson: “I come before you today on behalf of The Galactic Imperium with a proposition. You fall within the Imperium’s jurisdiction and as such are lawfully considered members, however, due to your criminal dealings, until now you have largely been left alone. That is about to change.” The Captain began, addressing the collected men, woman and aliens gathered on the opposite side of the raised table. “The Imperium has decided that it is time to make a crack down on all illegal activities supported, financed, organised or otherwise arranged by your council. We know your base of operations. We know your hideouts. We know your associates and where you hide your money. Before long, it will all be gone and you will be left with nothing. No money, no contacts, no future. You will all spend the rest of your lives in prison – and that’s if you are lucky and not sentenced to death. We have you cornered and there is nowhere to run.”



To anyone else, the Captain’s words would have been threats, but to the Marauder council they were just words. Ari’ hadn’t known how the council would take to what Drayson had to say, but to her surprise, nobody batted an eyelid. They simply didn’t care. Either they didn’t take the Captain’s words seriously or else had a trick up their sleeves.


For several long seconds there was silence and both parties stared at each other, waiting for the other to speak. Finally, after what, to Ari’, felt like an eternity, Brock Raith spoke again.
Brock: “And your proposition?”


Drayson: “My proposition is simple. Join us.”



The Council’s reactions were far less subtle to that. Ellie, Hansen and Rakat all burst out laughing at the seemingly crazy suggestion and Brock himself just sat there with a grin on his face. To her credit, Drayson stood her ground, keeping her emotions in check, but Ari’ could almost feel the change in her mood, it was so palpable.
Ellie: “You want us to join the Imperium?” she asked, having to double-check that she had understood rightly.



Drayson: “Yes.” She replied, before explaining in more detail. “We have you cornered and there is nowhere for you to turn. Your only options are to stay, put up what would probably be a valiant fight, and eventually die. OR, submit and join the Imperium and live to fight another day. If you joined the Imperium, you would be offered complete autonomy. You would be allowed to continue your dealings, albeit it in a legal manner, and would be protected from any future strikes against you. You would be working directly under myself as part of a trail scheme. We are looking to unite our enemies in a common cause and offer them the chance to survive. “


Drayson: “This is the chance I offer you now; Join the Imperium and survive or refuse and die.”


The sentence sent shivers down Arianne’s back and she did not know how the Council could possibly refuse, however, from the looks on their faces, they were not best pleased with the Captain’s new threats.



Brock: “You want us, the legendary Marauder Council, head of virtually all organised crime in this system, to turn in our livelihoods, our lives works and become part of some rag-tag group of renegades that you can order around? Just because you claim to have us in a corner that we cannot escape from?” he asked incredulously, before slowly raising to his feet. Ari’ wanted to step back, to back down and apologise for everything that she was worth, cracking under the man’s withering gaze, but Captain Drayson stood firm as always, her hands clasped unmoving behind her back and one look at her, stood as still as a statue, her eyes fixed on Raith, made Ari’ stay put. She could do this.


Brock: “Let me make something very clear to you.” He continued, now on his feet. “If we are cornered with no way out – THAT is when we are most dangerous. Because we will do anything, anything to get out. If there is no exit – we MAKE an exit. Is that clear?”


Drayson ground her teeth. This meeting was not going the way she had intended it to. She and Ari’ had been here barely five minutes and already the meeting had seemingly fallen apart.



Drayson: “We will take away everything you have – everything that you are. It will all be gone and you will be left with nothing.”


Hansen: “And how do you think we started?” one of the two elder councillors asked. “All of us – we came from nothing. Everything we have, we made for ourselves. If it is taken away, we will just start again.”


Drayson: “Not if you’re dead.”


At that, the council fell silent, but the guards stationed around the room all lowered their blasters and took aim at the two Imperials stood in the centre of the cavern. Ari’s heart pounded, waiting to see what was going to happen and just silently begging for them not to start shooting.



Brock: “Get out.” He commanded. “Before I change my mind. And tell your masters that we will join you when hell freezes over.”


For a few seconds longer, Drayson remained where she stood, frantically trying to decide what to do. Could the situation be salvaged or had it already gone far too off-course for her to get it back?
Brock: “Now.” The dark-haired man snarled, helping to make up Drayson’s mind.
Drayson: “Councillors, I hope you reconsider. If you do, I imagine it won’t be hard for you to find me. Until then, elathey.” She concluded with another small bow. Ari’ imitated the move and then, as one, the pair turned on their heels and exited the chamber.



As they made their way back along the rocky entrance corridor, Captain Drayson stormed on ahead, lost in her own frustration, leaving Ari’ lagging behind. Drayson was furious – at both the council for turning down her offer, but also at herself. This was just yet another failure to add to her every-growing list of failures. Certainly, she had other smaller gangs all grouped together now, as per her plan and it was always going to be challenging to get the infamous Marauder Council on board, however that didn’t stop the anger from boiling up inside of her. Could she have done more? She would never know. All she could do now was move on to the next candidates and deal with the Marauder Council on their own in time.




As the two unexpected guests left the council chamber and the door was pulled shut behind them, the councillors all exchanged looks. Some concerned, some nervous, some plain angry.
Brock Raith’s was that of caution, with the last lingers of anger.
Brock: “We need to keep an eye on that one.”
Ellie: “Agreed.”
Brock: “Do we have anyone aboard her ship?” he addressed Rackat, who nodded in confirmation.
Brock: “Good. I want regular updates on what she’s up to. Hopefully this little scheme of hers will fall apart under its own weight, but if it doesn’t… then we will need our person on the inside to eliminate her…”



Earth…


As soon as Avorax Wolfhide pushed open the sound-proofed front door, the sound of multiple gunshots instantly became audible. As he let the door swing shut behind him, he looked around the shooting range’s shop. It was small, but well-stocked, with everything that anyone could ever want to defend themselves with. That and everything that every criminal in the system could want to use to commit crimes with.



But Wolfhide wasn’t here to browse weapons. Instead, he followed the signs pointing him through a doorway at the back of the store into the shooting range itself. There was a transparent dividing wall between where he currently stood and the shooters, who were in turn, stood behind a barrier separating them from the targets in the range beyond.


There were currently two shooters taking aim down the range, a third man just leaving and a raven-haired woman by the counter. For a few seconds, Wolfhide stopped and watched the two shooters – neither were very good. Shame. But essentially what he’d expected.



Woman: “You lookin’ to shoot, or just lookin’?” the woman asked, eyeing up the bounty hunter. She was Chinese-American with sharp, dark eyes and a pointed face that made her seem constantly suspicious. Either that or she simply didn’t trust anyone.
Wolfhide: “I don’t know.” He replied with a grin. “I might try my hand.”
Woman: “Be my guest. 40 credits gets you a rifle and as many shots as you can get off in a half hour.”


Wolfhide nodded, thinking.
Wolfhide: “Okay.” He accepted, walking over to the gun racks. “What about these?” he queried, admiring two pistols that were more recent versions of his own.”
Woman: “Same price.” She replied. “But good luck hitting anything with those at this range.”


Again, Wolfhide nodded and this time produced the correct amount of credits from a pocket and placed them in the woman’s hand. Picking up the duel pistols, Wolfhide made his way around the protective screen and into one of the shooting pods. The shop woman came to join him and placed several clips on the ledge in front of him.
Woman: “Okay, so first you put the…”



The woman didn’t need to finish explaining. In seconds, Wolfhide had attached the clips to his pistols and was firing rapidly at the stationary targets further down the range.


He had half expected the woman to jump back in alarm or at least cover her ears at the loud sound, but she barely moved. The only thing that changed was her expression, which became a full-on smirk.


Wolfhide didn't let up. The barrage continued, every bullet tearing into the human-shaped cutout targets, ripping them to shreds.


It didn't take long for his ammo clips to run out, but it didn't matter. His work was done. As smoke curled from the barrels of his pistols, Wolfhide dropped the empty clips even as down the firing range, one of the obliterated targets slipped from its hanging bar with a creak and fell to the floor.



Wolfhide: "Hmm." He mused aloud. "I like them."
Behind him, the Chinese-American woman 'Hmm'ed in return and walked briskly away before returning seconds later with a long-barrelled rifle in one hand and a remote control in the other. With the press of a few buttons, the targets reset - the old ones retreating into the ceiling as new ones lowered down. The woman brushed past Wolfhide to stand in his spot at the firing line and raised her rifle. But before she could fire, Wolfhide had pressed another button on her remote and the stationary targets began to move. Sliding randomly from side to side and getting closer or further away, there was no pattern.



And yet the woman had no issues. Fast, steady shots rang out. The weapon was loud and powerful. With the first handful of shots, the bullets severed the hanging bars and the targets began to fall, but before any of them had so much as brushed the floor, the second round of shots had slammed into them, landing holes perfectly placed in the centre of each head. THEN they were allowed to hit the dusty ground.



As the woman blew the smoke from the end of her own barrel, Wolfhide clapped his hands, grinning.
Wolfhide: "Avorax Wolfhide." He introduced, offering out his hand.
Mariah: "Mariah Weng." The woman replied, taking the proffered hand.
Wolfhide: "I have a job opportunity I'd like to discuss with you..."





BONUS PICTURES




The set for Dr. Lobotomy's lab.



An alternative image for Drayson and Ari' waiting in the corridor. I loved the silhouette effect.



A cool photo of Drayson. This was never intended to be in the episode, but after seeing the light coming through the doors, wanted to test some images with it.



The set for the crashing Viper.



An alternative image for the gang walking away from the crashed Viper.



The set for the forest face-off.



The set for the Marauder council.



As my series is going to be jumping around though time, I will include a date on each episode and add it to the timeline at the end of each episode so that you can follow it.



TIMELINE




Comments

 I made it 
  June 4, 2018
Again, thank you all! I'm glad that people are sad to see the Viper go. I was too, but the story needed it. You'll understand why soon. --Blast--
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
Hahaha! Lobotomy is back! Yay! I like him. Too bad Kermunklin isn't around to play him anymore. But that's water under the bridge, Ig. As for the rest of it, I really like the Marauder Council scene. The tension, the characters' reactions, all of it. That was probably my favorite scene from this. And while I am sad to see the Viper go, you've certainly kicked the stakes up a notch for Tank, haven't you. ;) Cannot wait to see what comes next!
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
No one else was excited at Dr. Labotomy's appearance?
  June 3, 2018
Very cool! Especially liked the microscale flight scenes, the microscope and the Bowed table! Kudos Mr Blast.
 I made it 
  June 3, 2018
Thank you all! @Kenbo - Yeah, I was always intending on it becoming an actual story-line! @Lucas - It's not a Vic Viper, but it was inspired by them and it is named 'The Viper.' @'Wolff - Yeah. It's a shame, but hey ho. What can we do! --Blast--
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
Wow R.K.! Well worth the wait! Shame to see the Viper go, but it's nice to see Ranger and Wolfhide again! Also, the scene with the Marauder Council was very interesting! Great stuff as always mate, and no need to apologize about the irregular posting. Real life's taken a toll on me as well :D
  June 3, 2018
Truly an amazing and exciting episode, cannot wait for the next one
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
Great pictures, and great story! @Traykar: That's not a Vic Viper. It would need a vertical fin.
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
Surprised that Ranger and Tank met. I didn't really expect much more to come from Live Escape besides some glimpses of it on tv but it's cool that they actually became a part of the show. Decent episode overall. Not as much going on but there were still some interesting bits
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
Excellent presentation!
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
Fantastic episode! Shame the viper got trashed though.
 I like it 
  June 3, 2018
Great! Ten of ten!
 
By --R.K. Blast--
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