Sorry for the long delay! Here is part 12 in Season 4 of my Insurgency series! A frebuild for the marauders. Please comment, rate and enjoy!
About this creation
Corresponding text underneath each picture.
15th February: Present Day
There was an old-fashioned tinkling sound as the pawn shop door was pushed open.
Through it stepped a man in full combat armour, wearing a spruced-up training helmet and with a backpack slung over one shoulder. As the door swung shut behind him, accompanied by another tinkle of the bell, the figure looked around.
The pawn shop was gloomy, perhaps purposefully so. Little light shone in through the grimy, unwashed windows and the hanging lamps did little to assist the situation. There was stuff everywhere. Just... stuff. From watches to wallets, laptops to display units, radios to games consoles - if it was worth something, it was probably in here somewhere. Shelves were lined with electrical equipment tangled in wires. Boxes were full of what appeared to be junk. Everywhere the figure looked there was just more... stuff! Briefly they wondered how much of it was here legally and how much had been stolen.
But on the back of that thought; they also really didn't care!
As long as the store had what they'd come for!
Shopkeeper: "Can I help you?" The straggly-haired man leaning behind the counter at the far side of the store asked.
The armoured man made his way through the empty shop to the counter, looking around as he went.
Man: "I'm after a T-45 tracker."
Shopkeeper: "T-45, huh? Expensive stuff." He mused.
Man: "I can pay." He growled, the modulator in his helmet distorting his voice slightly.
Shopkeeper: "You'd better." He replied, standing up. "What makes you think I got one anyway?"
Man: "You've got everything else." The masked man responded, gesturing broadly to the store at large. The shopkeeper grinned.
Shopkeeper: "Yeah, I got a T-45." He finally accepted, keeping his tone low. T-45's were military-grade tracking units that could trace virtually any call, any message, any contact to its point of origin. They were also highly illegal for any members of the public to own.
The shopkeep shuffled away, hoisting his trousers up as he went, and returned a few moments later with the device in hand. As he placed it on the desk, the armoured man swung his rucksack onto the counter and pulled out a wodge of money, to which the shopkeeper's eyes widened.
Shopkeeper: "Uhhh... 500." He stammered, eyeing up the cash in the other's hands. The masked man paused, staring at the shopkeeper through his visor and for a moment the shopkeeper wondered if he'd made a horrible mistake, but then the other man continued counting and then tossed the credits onto the counter.
As the shopkeeper greedily gathered up the money and the buyer placed the tracker into his sack, he asked;
Shopkeeper: "So what do you want a T-45 for anyways?"
Man: "I'm trying to find someone. Someone important." He responded, leaving out the fact that the 'someone' was none other than Jay Arathon, husband to the Archmage herself.
Shopkeeper: "Well, that thing will find anyone. Anyone, anywhere, any time. I had a guy use it before to track down his ex-wife. She ran off with their kid, calling him a drunk, so he found her and killed 'em both. Problem solved."
The masked man, who'd been hoisting his rucksack back over his shoulder, paused mid-swing, staring at the seller.
One of the very few nerves that he had left.
Every fibre of his being wanted not only to kill the man in front of him, but to also track down the guy in the story and rip him apart limb by limb. Family was everything. He would do anything to get his back, but no amount of wishing was ever going to make it happen.
Shopkeeper: "You okay dude?" He asked and the masked man realised he'd been staring at the shopkeep for some time now.
Man: "Yeah." He replied. "Just... admiring that piece." He nodded to a fancy plasma rifle bolted to the wall behind the counter. It wasn't a complete lie. He had glanced at it several times already, liking the look of it.
Shopkeeper: "Oh yeah. She's a beauty!" He replied.
Man: "How much is she?"
Shopkeeper: "600." He replied almost too quickly. For a moment, the man considered it. He had the funds, but it would almost wipe him out and he didn't know how much more he'd need to complete the rest of his mission.
Man: "I'll have to pass." He decided at last. "Thanks for the T-45."
And with that, he turned to leave the store.
But then midway across the shop floor, the owner muttered something under his breath. Any other customer wouldn't have heard it, but this man was not any other customer. His enhanced senses let him hear the comment with ease.
Shopkeeper: "Frackin' wannabe. Who's he think he is? Freak."
The man stopped in his tracks, before slowly turning and making his way back to the counter.
The shopkeeper looked up and saw him re-approaching.
Man: "You know what; I've changed my mind. I'll take the gun too."
A huge grin spread across the shopkeeper's face.
Shopkeeper: "Sure!" He beamed before turning and plucking the weapon from the wall.
Man: "And as much ammo for it as you've got."
Shopkeeper: "You've got it!" A few moments later and the shopkeeper had placed a whole box of plasma cartridges on the counter beside the gun. The buyer handed over the credits and as the seller began double checking the amount, the man in armour slapped a cartridge into the rifle.
Shopkeeper: "Hey! Don't you load that thing up in h..."
The masked man took aim and fired.
Tracks, being the biggest of us, led the way through the thick forest brush, slashing aside any obstructing plants and vines so that Cat, Ranger and I could proceed with fewer hindrances. We didn't have a particular destination in mind, but we were heading in the vague direction that we had seen Sigmaridian in, right before we crashed yesterday.
It was now mid-afternoon and the planet's capital was still our ultimate goal, but how long it was now going to take us to get there, I really didn't know. I didn't even want to begin thinking about the distance Darkblade could have gotten while we were stranded here in this forest.
Ranger didn't really care which direction we went in, so tagged along as the rest of us continued in the rough direction of our goal.
Last night had been rough. None of us had slept well in our new surroundings. The smells of the foreign air and plants, the rough ground, the sounds of the native nightlife - none of it was conducive of a good night's sleep.
Cat: "Wait!" Suddenly she urged, placing a hand on my arm to stop me.
Cat: "Did you hear that?"
Ranger: "Hear what?" Clearly neither of us had heard anything. As I now strained to listen, all I could hear was the musical twittering of brightly coloured birds and the distant whooping calls of some other animal.
And then there was a scream. A human scream. It was distant, but it definitely stood out from the other animalistic sounds. I looked to Cat with alarm in my eyes, even as her arm whipped out and she pointed,
Cat: "That way!" She urged and together we took off, fighting through the forest in the direction of the scream.
Ranger: "Wait!" He called after us, but I didn't wait to see whether or not he followed. I slapped aside a huge plant leaf and dashed through the gap, as the screams grew louder, coming from ahead.
Moments later, I vaulted over a fallen log, Cat several steps ahead of me and entered a small clearing. In front of us was a wooden shack. It wasn't huge, but it was still a decent size and had an open-fronted garage attached to one side. Overgrown with foliage, it blended in well with its surroundings, but what didn't blend in was the pack of animals prowling around it.
I'd seen them on the TV before. Four-legged, furry, lean killing beasts, some appeared to be patrolling the perimeter of the property, whilst the sounds coming from within suggested that more were inside.
There was an alien with his back to the entrance of the shack, wielding a large branch and using it to try and keep the furry beasts at bay. It was working to a degree but it was clear that it wasn't going to last much longer.
Cat's pistol was in her hand before mine were in my own and in a flash, she had shot and killed the nearest beast.
But the gunshot had drawn the attention of the others and I had to gun down a second Wolt that was mid-leap in my girlfriend's direction. Tracks came blaring in, shoulder cannon rattling away and took down several more of the short-furred animals, even as I shot at another.
Alien: "There's more inside!" He shouted urgently.
I dashed past Cat who was fending off another Wolt and pushed my way through the wooden front door. I followed the sound of the screaming, wondering what I might find when I got to the source and a few seconds later found a trail of blood on the floor.
Tank: "Hello?!" I called urgently and another terrified cry replied from a room close by. I charged through the doorway and found a small group of people, all huddled together in one corner of the room, a makeshift barricade between them and the Wolts trying to eat them. There was a body on the floor on the wrong side of the barricade and I deliberately didn't look in case the chewed-up corpse made me sick.
I fired off several rounds and lasers peppered the attacking beasts, causing them to crumple into lifeless piles. It was over in just a few seconds and with the Wolts now dead on the floor, I lowered my guns. The sounds of shooting from outside also came to a halt and I took a moment to catch my breath.
The silence brought some cautious peeks around the barrier, followed by one of the women, sobbing, not-so-cautiously dashing around the furniture and dropping to her knees by the corpse.
Woman: "Harpreet!" She cried, repeating the name over and over again, as the rest of the competitors began to emerge from hiding.
One man with an elongated head and bright green skin began stamping on one of the dead Wolts, grunting every time, as if he was getting revenge. An elder man approached the sobbing woman and gently placed his hands on her shoulders.
Man: “She's gone, Jasmine. She's gone."
Jasmine: "No!" She cried, flinging herself over the body and out of the comforting hands of the man stood over her.
The final person emerged from hiding and approached me with his hand extended.
Man: "Thank you." He said earnestly, shaking my hand vigorously. "We thought we were all gonners that time."
Tank: "You nearly were!" I remarked over the sobs of the woman on the floor.
Jaz: "I'm Jaz." The man introduced himself. "That's Ash," He nodded to the green alien who'd been kicking the Wolt. "Rich." He indicated to the elder man. "Jasmine." Pointing to the woman crying. "And that was her sister, Harpreet." He explained soberly, looking at the body on the floor.
Tank: "I'm sorry for your loss."
Jaz: "It's alright." He shrugged. There was a sad expression on his face, but it was one tinged with expectance. "One down."
Tank: "What are you all doing here, anyway?" I queried as footsteps from behind me announced Cat's arrival in the room.
Jaz: "We're competitors." He replied.
Tank: "Well, I'd assumed you were competitors, but... aren't you meant to be killing each other?"
Jaz: "Yeah." He sighed sadly. "I bumped into Jasmine and Harpreet early on. They were terrified and cowered away from me. I couldn't bring myself to kill them, even if it meant I stood a better chance of winning. Instead, we stuck together and slowly..." here he indicated to the others around him, "Our group grew larger."
Cat: "Safety in numbers." She remarked.
Jaz: "It's inevitable that most of us will die, but we've vowed not to harm each other and to help each other as much as we can, but... There's only so much we can do against nature and whatever monsters the games masters throw our way."
I turned at the sound of another set of footsteps and found Ranger entering the room.
Tank: "Where did you go?"
Ranger: "You won't give me my pistol back! I couldn't do anything to help!" He exclaimed indignantly. "I was waiting at the edge of the forest until the coast was clear!"
I scowled but didn't say anything more about it, seeing as how it was true that I did still have his gun.
Jaz: “Ranger.” He greeted the other competitor with a curd nod.
Ranger: “Jak’arah didn’t make it. I’m sorry.” He informed the group. I assumed he meant the man we’d seen outside with the branch.
Jaz: “Damn.” He muttered. “That’s two down.” He sighed deeply and shook his head sadly. "Anyway, what's your story? You don't seem like competitors. You weren't at the induction." He asked, looking between Cat and myself.
Tank: "We crashed here and we're stranded. Long story." I replied, brushing it off.
Tank: "Tell me about it."
Jaz: "Do you have a place to stay?" Jaz inquired and I shook my head. "Feel free to shack up here if you like. We've not got much but what we've got we share and it's the least we can do after what you've just saved us from." He smiled at us both. "You too Ranger." He added, nodding to his fellow competitor.
Tank: "Thanks, but it's okay. We really should be going." I responded gratefully, my mind on out still distant target of Sigmaridian and Darkblade, wherever he may be.
Cat: "Tank. We could stay one night." She suggested. "It's getting dark out - we're going to need to camp down soon anyway. May as well be here where we have a roof over our heads."
I thought about it for a few seconds. I desperately wanted to keep going - to make up as much ground as possible, but I also knew that Cat had a point.
Tank: "Alright." I conceded. "But just one night."
Jaz: "It's settled then!"
We spent the first of the few remaining daylight hours clearing up the dead Wolts and then the second burying Harpreet. Tracks had been a big help in digging the grave and now, with the brief ceremony over, the group had disbanded throughout the camp to go about their own business.
I'd left Cat and Ranger in the main part or the hut and had gone for a wander with Tracks. I found myself following the sounds of clanking metal and ended up in the garage / lean to that was attached to the side of the shack. It looked pretty rickety, almost as if it had been thrown together as an afterthought and has just somehow managed to stay standing. The older guy, Rich, was there, as was Ash. They were both working on what appeared to be a battered old hover Jeep, but they both paused, looking up at us as we entered.
Tracks whirred a question.
Tank: "Need a hand?" I translated for those who couldn't understand him.
Rich: "Sure. The more hands, the lighter the load." He smiled, while Ash, just as sullen as he had been since the moment we'd met, shrugged indifferently and returned to his position laying under the bonnet of the vehicle.
Tank: "What's the matter with it?" I asked, taking a closer look into the open bonnet.
Rich: "Ahh..." he groaned. "The back repulsors are out and there's something wrong with the engine. Haven't figured out what yet." The elder man explained in his deep American accent, scratching his chin at the same time.
I nodded, before addressing Tracks.
Tank: "Come on then; see what you can do." Tracks bleeped an affirmative and moved around to start examining the repulsors and I stood on the opposite side of the engine to Rich.
Tank: "Are you from Earth?" I asked, merely curious.
Rich: "What gave it away?" He smiled knowingly. "The accent or my Earthly aura?"
I smirked before asking;
Tank: "What brings you here then?"
Rich's face fell as he poured over the engine, removing a bolt with a wrench.
Rich: "I had an argument with my family. Said I was getting lazy in my old age. Apparently 'retirement' means nothin' any more." He virtually rolled his eyes. "Set out to prove I was just as capable as the next man. I'd seen the show on TV." He continued as he removed the first bolt and began work on a second. "Foolishly thought I could handle it."
Ash: "Bloody idiot nearly died. I had to save his ass." Ash's voice came from beneath the vehicle between us. Clearly, he'd been listening in.
Rich: "And I have been grateful to you since." He retorted, sounding like they'd had this conversation many times before. "Here." He handed me the wrench. "Take off the ones on your side."
Tank: "Do you think we'll be able to get it running again?" I queried, moving the topic of conversation on to prevent any arguments.
Rich: "Well, as long as we can find the parts we need, I don't see why not."
I nodded. That was good. If we could fix the jeep, that would really speed up our progress. We'd lost enough time in this forest already. As it was, Darkblade's trail had probably gone cold by now. It was going to be nigh-on impossible to find him. We still didn't know which planet he was on. Heck, we still didn't know if he'd even come to System 55!
It would be a nightmare trying to find him, but at least fixing the jeep and speeding up our progress would be a start. Hopefully when we finally reached Sigmaridian we'd be able to get a new ship and, fingers crossed, find a lead on Jarred.
Tank: "Let's get cracking then." I smiled and Rich smiled in return.
The four of us spent the rest of the day working on the hover Jeep and by the time darkness fell, we were working by lamplight. We had successfully fixed the engine and Tracks had repaired one of the rear repulsors, but one was still giving us grief. Getting tired and with our eyes aching from working in the low light levels, we agreed to call it a day and carry on with it in the morning.
As we made our way inside, Rich went off to clean up as best he could, Ash went straight to find food and Tracks and I followed the muffled sounds of talking.
We ended up in the living room area. Well, I say 'living room' - there was some battered furniture and a tiny old TV - it was also the room that Harpreet had died in earlier on. Ironic.
Ranger: "Success!" He cheered, pumping both fists in the air as he stepped back from the TV set. It groaned a warped sound but a few moments later, the screen flickered to life. Clearly it hadn't been used for quite some time. From where she sat on a rickety chair, Cat smiled at me.
Ranger: "We have life!" He declared joyfully as he spun around, flashing us all a grin. "Look at that beauty!" He patted the television top. "And I'm not on about the TV." He winked at Cat.
I raised my eyebrows as Ranger laughed and dropped onto a seat nearby. Cat looked at me with an expression that was somewhere between shock, being impressed with Ranger's boldness and amusement. I myself wasn't impressed with him practically hitting on my girlfriend, but I also found it mildly amusing and knew that I could trust Cat. Besides, I knew what Ranger would have coming to him if he ever tried anything! Cat could well and truly handle herself!
Ranger began flicking through the TV channels and I plonked myself down on a chair next to Cat. Tracks sat on the floor in the corner and entered rest mode to save his charge.
Ranger: "Oh look!"
The TV was showing an aerial view of a forest and as Ranger turned the volume up, I realised that it was this forest. Now we could hear the presenters commentating on unfolding events across the arena, but something was wrong. Gone was the usual enthusiasm, the normal over-the-top excitement - replaced by a much a sombre, concerned sounding tone.
Ranger began to laugh it off, but Cat shut him up so we could listen as the screen cut to the hosts in their cosy studio.
Deryn: "Wait, wait..." he interrupted his co-host, Alonso, placing one hand on the other's arm and with the other on his earpiece, listening.
Deryn: "Yes, we're getting confirmation now; I can confirm that the Games Masters have indeed lost track of the Artox beast. The reports were correct. " He announced with a worried look at Alonso.
I threw a concerned glance at Cat who’s face said it all. As I turned back to the TV, I realised I was leaning forwards in my seat.
Alonso: "Yes, it is not good." He agreed. "But with every new idea, there are teething issues!" Alonso continued, trying to lighten the mood and reassure everyone that everything would be okay. "The Artox is an incredible feat of both nature and genetic engineering."
Deryn: "Yes and now it's loose and we don't know where it is." He muttered, sounding annoyed at Alonso, who scowled at him in return.
Deryn: "I've just been informed," He continued, "That the Artox's tracking implant has been found. Somehow, it has been removed from the beast - presumably removed by the beast itself. This means that we have no way of knowing where it could be."
Alonso: "I would point out though, that this isn't necessarily an issue." Alonso began, again trying to keep the situation calm. "It simply means that we cannot show you any regular footage of the beast." He addressed the camera. "We won't be able to follow it, but rest assured that whenever it turns up, we will get our cameras on it right away. We promised you the best season of Live Escape yet and we still intend to deliver that. The Artox will change everything." He grinned, almost back to his usual excitable self.
Deryn: "All I can say is - God help the competitors."
Cat reached out and turned the TV off again and for several long seconds, the room was filled with a tense silence as everyone digested the news.
Ranger: "Kind'a wish I hadn't fixed it now." He laughed, but there was no smile on his face.
Cat and I looked to each other with worried faces. Having that monster out there and not knowing if it was anywhere nearby was bad enough, but now knowing that not even the Games Masters, the technicians who controlled everything in the show, knew where it was made it even worse.
Ranger: "Well, on that note. I think it's time to get some rest." He declared, standing up and stretching. I nodded in agreement and took Cat's hand as we both stood.
Tank: "Yeah, bedtime."
Ranger: "Well, sleep tight. Don't let the Artox bite." He winked as he passed us on his way out of the door.
Qoter: Governor Boan’s Office…
Judas: "What's the rest of the day looking like?"
Manerre: "Well, at 5, you have your meeting with Governor Sterling and after that, at 7, your meeting with Minister Hruuk-Te."
Judas: "What's first?" He asked, sounding tired.
The Governor's brother flicked back up the day's schedule. When he saw he next name on the list, he was rather surprised. Intrigued even. But he didn't show it. In fact...
Manerre: "Oh, a nobody. Some petition or other. About saving the wild animals in Old Qoter."
The Governor groaned.
Manerre: "Don't worry. I'll take it." He announced with a lopsided, comforting and entirely fake smile.
Judas: "I need food. He muttered, more to himself than Manerre.
Manerre: "Go. Get lunch and I'll speak with Ms. Roosevelt." He read from the screen but made the name up on the spot.
Judas: "Okay." Governor Boan nodded, standing and putting on his jacket. "Do you want anything?"
The question took the deformed Aide completely by surprise. His brother was offering to buy him something? That was the first time in... well, in forever!
Part of him wanted to refuse. He didn't need his rich brother's charity! On the other hand, another part of him was hungry.
Manerre: "Um… Chicken tikka baguette?"
Manerre: "Thank you." He replied quietly. Was that... Was that the first time he had ever thanked his brother for something?!
As Judas left the room, Manerre stood there, still surprised by the brief yet meaningful exchange. Then he quickly shook himself out of that frame of mind. He still hated his brother. He was sure of that. He was sure he was sure.
Yes, of course he was. His brother had caused him a lifetime of pain and misery. A baguette wouldn't change that.
Manerre stormed around the Governor's desk, propped his cane against it and then sunk down into the black chair, almost blending in with it. He took a moment to breathe it in and give the leather arms a squeeze before getting to work doing some research, ready for his impending meeting.
It was about half an hour later when the entry buzzer went and he used the remote intercom to let the guest in through the door. A few moments later, in walked Patricia Wilson - widow of Judas' predecessor, Governor Drago Wilson. The last few years had not been kind to the woman. Her hair was greying and the lines on her face had deepened. Never-the-less she still held an aura of authority about her.
Manerre: "Mrs. Wilson. He greeted with his best smile. "Please take a seat." He added when the woman paused in the doorway.
Mrs. Wilson: "I was under the impression that I was meeting with the Governor?"
Manerre: "I'm afraid the Governor is indisposed. You will be meeting with myself today. I hope that is satisfactory?"
For a few seconds, Patricia didn't answer, seemingly thinking it over, then she moved forwards and seated herself opposite the Governor's Aide.
Manerre: "Now, how can the Governor's Office be of assistance?"
Patricia considered her words before beginning.
Patricia: "There is a law," She began. "An old one. One that you are likely not even aware of."
Manerre frowned slightly, intrigued about where this was going.
Patricia: "The law states that should a Governor die in the line of duty, that the position be offered to their closest living relative."
Manerre: "I am well aware of that particular law." He assured her. After all, it was that same law that he was relying on to become Governor himself!
Patricia: "Then you know the truth. There is no two ways about it - I should be Governor."
Technically, she was right, but there was no way that Manerre was going to let her interfere with his plans. Not now. He laughed it off.
Manerre: "Oh, my dear. I think that ship has sailed - and left you firmly stranded on the shore."
Patricia: "It is my lawful right to be the Governor of Qoter. Judas Boan is not legally entitled to be in this office! He's an imposter."
Manerre: "Judas Boan is a lot of things, but an imposter, he is not. Judas was elected fair and square by the people of this planet, and elected by a very large margin too, I might remind you." He defended his brother.
He was defending him out of duty, but in doing so, realised that something inside of him, some small part, was actually angry at this woman for having a go at his brother.
But that was surely just because this woman was a threat to his chances of overthrowing Judas. Yes. Yes, that was it.
Patricia: "It is my lawful..." She began to repeat, but Manerre cut her off.
Manerre: "Your lawful right; yes, so you said. Did you really come here with nothing else but that statement? No proof? No requests or demands?"
Patricia: "I demand that Governor Boan steps down."
Manerre: "Perhaps I spoke ill; I meant any reasonable requests. Let us speak frankly for a moment." Manerre suggested as he leant forwards in the Governor's chair. "You are correct. The position should have been offered to you after your husband's demise during the Collective War. However, it wasn't. This isn't the first time that this particular law has been overlooked and I am sure that it will not be the last. Realistically, the time for your claim has past. If you had raised issue with Governor Boan’s election at the time, you may have stood a chance, but coming to us now, several years later, is too little, too late. Governor Boan is hugely popular and highly influential; the people would not stand to see him replaced. I suggest that we forget all about this little meeting and that the Governor's Office will pay you a small sum to compensate you for your loss - your missed opportunity."
For a moment the room was quiet as the words sank in.
Patricia: "You're... You're trying to buy me off?"
Manerre: "Not at all." He lied. "Think of it as compensation for what might have been."
Patricia: "No." She declared firmly, her jaw set. "I will not let this go quietly!"
Manerre: "Mrs. Wilson, if I were you..."
Patricia: "No!" She snapped, holding out a hand to silence the Aide. "If I were you, I wouldn't get too comfy." She nodded to Manerre's seat. "You won't be staying long. Your brother is no longer as loved as he once was; That much is clear on the streets. His popularity is waning fast. If you will not recognise my claim to Governorship in this office, then I shall go public. I will tell the system about how I am lawfully entitled to the post and that the Governor's Office tried to brush me under the rug with whatever other dirty little sees they may be hiding."
Manerre: "Mrs. Wilson..." he began again, trying to calm her down. This was not good. If the stupid bitch did decide to announce it to the system, then there was a chance, no matter how small that they would side with her and his chances of becoming Governor were over!
Patricia: "No. This meeting is over. In a couple of days, the holonews will be filled with my story and I'd give it a month before you and your brother are out. Tops. Have a nice day." She nodded courteously, then swiftly turned on her heels and marched out of the room.
Watching her leave, Manerre's lip started to twitch in anger, but he managed to hold it in, as he always did.
Until he heard the front door slide shut after her.
With a bellow of fury, he grabbed a drinking glass from beside him on the desk and lobbed it across the room. He watched, panting, as it shattered against the wall and fell to the floor, sparkling in the sunlight streaming through the window. A few seconds passed and he realised he had been gripping the arms of the chair so hard that his gnarled fingertips had turned white.
That bitch! That... whore! Who did she think she was? Striding in and ruining all of his plans! That stupid, idiotic...
Suddenly, an idea formed. Let her go public! Let her tell her story to the system! She could do him no ham!
If the public sided with Judas, nothing would change. If the public sided with Patricia Wilson and she somehow managed to get into a position that she would replace his brother, he would have her killed and his plan would go on. But those were the two extremes. The much more likely outcome would be that she would go public and Judas' popularity levels would drop. Even more than they already were - and Manerre knew they were, as he was checking the statistics daily and was still advising his brother to make poorer and poorer decisions.
So Patricia would be a tool. Not a threat. Not an opposition. An opportunity.
I couldn't sleep. There were too many unfamiliar sounds and smells around. The blankets I was laying on barely disguised the wooden floorboards underneath and despite the comforting presence of Cat lying beside me, it wasn't enough to get me off to sleep. I wasn't sure how long I'd been laying there awake, but it must have been several hours. Several hours of thinking about our current situation - being stranded in the middle of a forest, and about Darkblade and what he could possibly be up to right now. Where he was. What he was doing. How far ahead he could have gotten.
After turning over for the goodness-knows how many'th time, with a sigh, I decided to get up. Laying around was clearly not doing anything. Maybe a walk would help clear my head.
After gently kissing Cat's head, I stood, stretched and made my way out of the room. I had expected the shack to be silent and for everyone else to be asleep, but as I entered the corridor, I heard muffled voices coming from the living area. Frowning, I made my way into the room and found Ranger lounging in one of the chairs, watching television. He looked over and nodded to me as I entered.
Ranger: "Can't sleep either?"
Ranger: "Meh. Sleep's overrated anyway." He smiled. "Pull up a chair."
I did, moving one of the rickety wooden seats closer to the TV and then plonking myself down onto it.
It only took a couple of seconds for me to figure out that we were watching 'Live Escape' again.
Tank: "Does this thing ever end?" I commented.
Ranger: "On the normal stations, sure. But there's a channel dedicated to it. It just live streams it 24/7."
Tank: "Wow. I hadn't realised it was that popular."
Ranger: "Yup. The thing's a sensation."
We sat in silence for a good number of minutes, the pair of us just watching the screen. Nothing particularly interesting was happening at the minute, but still, it was something to distract us both.
As the show focussed on one of the other contestants, camped down for the night in a small cave, I glanced over at Ranger.
Ranger. The enigma that was. I still couldn't shake the feeling that I'd seen him somewhere before. It was a really odd sensation. I couldn't for the life of me place him, but he just seemed... familiar. He'd revealed nothing about himself so far, other than he was here as a contestant, and I still didn't know if he was trust-worthy. His casual, laid-back approach to everything, his joking manner - I just wasn't sure. I still had his pistol though, so at least he wasn't going to shoot me in the back any time soon!
I returned my gaze to the screen, but my glance had obviously not gone unnoticed.
Ranger: "Credit for your thoughts?" He enquired.
I was hesitant to reply, wondering if I should bring him up on any of my thoughts. In the end, I decided that there was one question I could ask.
Tank: "I just... I can't shake this feeling that I know you. That I've seen you somewhere before."
Ranger: "But you don't know where?"
Tank: "No." I admitted.
After a moment, he shrugged.
Ranger: "No idea, mate. Sorry, can't help you there. If we'd met before I would definitely remember someone like you!"
A look passed between us and we both laughed softly.
Tank: "I'll take that as a compliment." I joked.
Despite the seriousness of our current situation, I couldn't actually remember the last time I'd laughed as much as I had done over the past day. Ranger's high spirits were... infectious! That was the only word for it.
As the pair continued watching the TV, Ranger, relaxed and calm on the outside was fighting his own battle within.
Because he knew exactly who Tank was and he knew exactly where they had met before. He had recognised him the moment he turned around in the forest, when he'd had a gun to his head. He just hadn't said anything. Ranger and the rest of his ex-team, Beta Squad, had spent a good long time hunting Tank, trying to find him at the orders of Colonel Ramson and they had come face to face in that alley on Qoter. Ranger had damn near killed Tank, but he'd gotten away when Collective drones under the influence of One had swarmed the place and caused havoc. So yes, Ranger knew Tank alright.
But the question was; what was he going to do about it? He could inform the Imperium - maybe tell Ramson. There was probably a bounty on Tank's head. He could collect it and be on his way. But on the other hand, he didn't owe the Imperium anything. They'd arrested him and kept him locked up, then shoved a nerve implant into his neck and forced him to work with Beta Squad. He had nothing against Tank. It was just the Colonel who seemed to have had some sort of vendetta against him. As far as Ranger was concerned, Tank was just another drifter trying to find his way in the galaxy and stay out of trouble while doing so.
Suddenly, action on the TV drew his attention back from his reverie. The camera was tracking across treetops as they were pushed aside by something beneath. Something BIG.
Deryn: "Yes, yes, there it is!" The presenter was saying excitedly. "We told you that as soon as we found the Artox we would let you know and now here it is, ladies and gentlemen!'
Black. That was all they could see. Glimpses of black moving swiftly beneath the canopy. The monster's back was brushing the treetops, breaking through in places - that's how big it was. But still they couldn't get a clear look at it.
Alonso: "Our Games Masters are keeping us updated as we speak." He explained. "Apparently the beast is actually hunting right now. They say that the behaviour it is exhibiting is prime hunting behaviour."
Deryn: "I would NOT like to be its prey, that's for sure!" He laughed.
Alonso: "Neither would I, Deryn, neither would I!"
Alonso: "Let's see if we can track ahead. See if we can get the cameras to pick up what this beautiful monstrosity may have in its sights. Yes, here we go..."
The presenters made various 'ums' and 'arrs' of speculation as the camera moved on ahead, panning along the Artox's projected trajectory.
Alonso: "Ooh, here's a potential!"
Both Ranger and Tank's hearts stopped as the camera came to rest on an aerial view of their rickety wooden shack.
Deryn: "The last we saw, there were quite a few competitors holed up in that shack!"
Alonso: "Indeed there were! The odds of the others out there winning may be about to significantly increase!"
The presenters continued to talk, but neither Tank nor Ranger heard what they were saying any more. Fear had drowned them out.
Tank: "Wake the others."
Ranger: "Yeah..." he replied, nodding in concerned agreement. "Yeah, I think you're right!"
Ranger: "COME ON!" Ranger's urgent shout came as he flapped his arms from the back of the hover Jeep as everyone continued to pile into the battered vehicle. I had no idea if it was going to work, one of the repulsors was still playing up, but it was our best chance of getting away from the Artox.
As Tracks practically threw Jaz onto the back of the truck and then jumped aboard himself, I gave Cat's hand a reassuring squeeze as I noticed the fear in her eyes.
Rich: "Come on baby, you can do it." He soothed as he primed the ignition and keyed for activation. Thankfully, the engine spluttered to life and Rich immediately rammed it into gear.
Ranger: "Alright; let's get out of here!"
No sooner had the words left his mouth, a huge crash came from close by as what could only have been trees were crumpled to the ground.
Everybody immediately began yelling at Rich to go and he obliged, pushing the jeep forwards and out of the lean-to.
And that's when we first saw it. Bursting forth from the tree line came terror itself.
Standing as tall as the towering trees around it, the Artox bounded forwards on four huge, muscly legs, it's skin appearing to be made of some sort of black, boney armour. As it charged towards us, it's spiky tail whipped around behind it, helping it keep balance, but it wasn't the tail I was concerned about. What had every one of us screaming in fear was the genetic monster's head. Two glowing, red eyes were set high up, but beyond that, it was just... jaws. One massive set of jaws, filled with row upon row of forearm-sized serrated teeth.
Cat and Jasmine were screaming, everyone was yelling obscenities and crying out in fear, myself included. I was slapping the side of vehicle, urging Rich to get going as the Artox let out a bellow as loud as a fog horn - a terrifying, reverberating, guttural roar of pure rage.
As Rich hit the throttle we shot forwards, out of the lean-to, and straight past the Artox. Its mouth snapped shut barely a meter from the side of our Jeep as it tried to grab us but missed, having been caught off-guard by our sudden burst of speed. As we ploughed into the forest, I watched behind us as the Artox spun around to chase after us, it's tail cleaving through the front wall of the shack and sending planks of wood flying.
Ash: "Go, go, go!" He was screaming, hammering his fists on the dashboard. But it wasn't that simple - there was a forest in the way and Rich was having to navigate around the towering trees in our way.
Jasmine: "Look out!!!" She screeched, flapping her hand to point behind us at the beast, which had given chase and was now catching us up.
Ranger: "Get down!" Came his bellow and I glanced forwards in time to see a low branch rushing towards us. Tracks instantly grabbed Cat with one hand and Jasmine with the other and forced their heads down into the vehicle and everyone else got as low as they could. Moments later, there was a smashing sound and we were showered in glass - the front windscreen having been destroyed by the branch. We had only just squeezed underneath it and I was briefly hopeful that the branch would prove an obstacle for the Artox, but we weren't so lucky.
As the monster bounded after us, it's toothy maw hanging partly open in preparation, it simply ploughed straight through the branch, shattering it into a thousand splinters.
The Jeep juddered making everyone scream in alarm, but thankfully it carried on. The blow from the branch must have shaken something loose.
Jaz: "Faster!!!" He yelled from beside me.
Rich: "This is as fast as it'll go!" He yelled back without looking, his full focus on the forest ahead.
As we weaved around a huge tree trunk, we momentarily lost sight of the Artox, but it was soon back, letting out another deafening roar.
And it was still catching up. With every tree we navigated around, the Artox gained ground. It's waiting mouth was worryingly close now! It was so close that when it let out a grunt of frustration, a wave of sour-smelling air washed over us, ruffling my hair.
The beast lunged, it's jaws snapping on empty space right over our heads. Ranger had the audacity to try and punch it away but missed by miles as the Artox fell back a few meters.
Jaz: "Come on!" He urged frantically. The Artox began to catch up again and moments later our entire vehicle jolted to one side as the monster rammed the side of it with its snout. The girls screamed and the guys howled even louder as everyone was bucked out of their seats and then came crashing back down again.
Rich: "Everyone breathe in!"
Ahead of us were two trees side by side. The gap between them looked far too small for us to fit through, but Rich was gunning for it anyway.
Tank: "Riiichh!!!!" I cried as we sped towards the gap and burst through. Both wing mirrors went flying and there was a horrible scraping sound, but we made it. As with the low branch, I was hopeful that the trees would at least slow the Artox down, but there was practicality an explosion of wood as the man-made monstrosity barged through the narrow gap and continued its pursuit.
There didn't seem to be any way of getting away from this thing!
The Jeep juddered again.
Rich: "It's the repulsor!" He yelled over the roar of both the wind rushing past and the Artox's angry growl. I had wondered if that was the issue when the vehicle had first shaken and now it was confirmed. For a third time, the vehicle shook, more violently this time, and the back corner beneath me and Jaz dropped out from beneath us as the bad repulsor failed.
I cried out and I saw Ranger lunge to grab me. I grabbed his hand, but Jaz was gone.
As the repulsor kicked in again and I was lifted back up, I looked behind to see Jaz tumbling across the forest floor. The Artox didn't miss a beat and skidded to a halt. One clawed foot pinned Jaz, howling, to the ground before the massive jaws ripped into him. Blood, flesh and bone splattered the leafy ground, but by that point I had turned away. There was nothing we could do for him. All we could do as carry on driving and get as far away from the now distracted Artox as possible.
Everyone was panting. The girls were sobbing uncontrollably. With a deep swallow to calm myself, I placed a comforting hand on Cat's knee. I caught Ranger's eye and nodded my thanks to him. He had saved my life, after all. But I could thank him properly later. Now, as we carried on at full speed through the forest, now was the time to try and calm down!
Warning alarms were the soundtrack to Avorax Wolfhide's life. That he was sure of.
This time it was the 'Break Out' alarms of the Saint Elmo’s prison in Tongsvere on Rerador. Only, Wolfhide wasn't breaking out,
He was breaking in.
Or more precisely, had already done so and was now flying through the narrow corridors of the labyrinthine prison, searching for one particular person - the next on his list of candidates for his all-new Beta Squad.
A guard took aim and fired at him, but the bounty hunter easily dodged the shots in mid-air, barrel-rolling further along the corridor and then planting both feet on the guard's face in a heavy kick, knocking him out cold.
Wolfhide was close now. He dropped to the ground, his mechanised wings folding back in on themselves, and continued his journey on foot. After another minute's walk, he found the maximum-security cell he'd been looking for. Standing back, he tossed a small impact grenade at the door lock and blew it clean off.
His mask filtering out the smoke that now filled the corridor, Avorax waded into the cell. Inside was a single occupant, a large, dark-skinned human, who was bent over, coughing at the back of the room.
Man: "Who're you?" He grunted upon seeing the newcomer.
Wolfhide: "Name's Wolfhide. You Tico Baracca?"
Tico: "Yeah?" He frowned, standing up straight, with no idea what was going on.
Wolfhide: "Ex-Galactic Imperium Juggernaut. Heavy weapons expert." He began rattling off the prisoner's history. "Locked up for aggravated assault and assult with a weapon."
Tico: "So you've done your research." He grunted. "Wha'do ya want?"
Wolfhide took a moment to look around the tiny cell.
Wolfhide: "You like it in here?"
Tico: "Hell no."
Wolfhide: "You wanna get out?"
Tico: "Hell yeah. Wha'do I gotta do?"
Wolfhide: "Assault some people." He smirked beneath his mask. "You in?"
Tico broke into a huge grin, showing glistening, white teeth.
Tico: "Yeah, I'm in!"
The pawn shop set.
An alternative image of the man in the shop.
An image, just to show that the Artox is really there! He's huge!
An alternative image of the Artox about to eat Jaz.
An alternative image of Ranger punching the Artox.
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.
Quoting Werewolff Studios
Mate, what an episode! That Artox is an absolutely stunning build, especially the slit-like glowing eyes and the shaping round the nose! Great stuff! Also really liked getting a little more background on the mysterious man in the shop (what's with all the masks and helmets in the System, hey?) Fantastic work all round! Can't wait for the next one!
Thanks 'Wolff! I know; too many masks amIright?! ;P haha! Glad you enjoyed it.
Mate, what an episode! That Artox is an absolutely stunning build, especially the slit-like glowing eyes and the shaping round the nose! Great stuff! Also really liked getting a little more background on the mysterious man in the shop (what's with all the masks and helmets in the System, hey?) Fantastic work all round! Can't wait for the next one!