Is the Mayor going to be in this fic? I keep thinking that the mayor is going to be in this fic.
Chapter 3 – Rivals Clash
Stan finally arrived at apartment 2001 back in the living quarters of the level. He entered to find Kyle kneeling on the floor beside his slain brother. Tears were streaming down Kyle’s face and off the tip of his nose.
“Kyle!” Stan shouted out, but then spoke more softly, “Kyle, what happened?” He approached Kyle, who slowly lifted his head and met his friend’s eyes. For the first time, Stan could see the lacerations covering Kyle’s face, neck, and forearms. “Kyle, you’re hurt.”
Kyle turned his gaze back towards his brother. “Stan, what have we become?” he spoke, barely above a whisper. “What’s happened to us?”
“What?” asked Stan. “You mean the humans that MORONI has converted?” Despite his apparent confusion, a part of Stan knew what Kyle had meant. “Oh.”
“Not just them,” replied Kyle, shaking his head. “All of us. What if those who ended up like my brother aren’t the only ones who’ve lost their humanity? From the people who were perfectly willing to slaughter their own neighbors and family, to the victims of the AI’s experiments…” He noticed the red stain soaking through the bandage wrapped around Stan’s right wrist. “Or even you or I, who have gotten so used to killing.” Kyle choked back his tears and ran a dry part of his sleeve under his nose. “Is this who we really are? Is this what we truly want to become?”
“Kyle, you can’t…” Stan spoke tentatively. “You can’t blame yourself for what happened. We were both forced to kill in self-defense. Besides, what MORONI did to Ike was not your fault, and neither was the war.”
“The war,” said Kyle, reflecting on that fateful day when the world they knew had been plunged into an unending nightmare. “I just can’t get rid of this feeling, you know? What if more could have been done to prevent it?”
“You know as well as I do that the adults never listen to us,” said Stan. “That is, even if we could have done something.”
Kyle turned his attention back towards his brother, whose peaceful face rested atop a mutilated body twisted in agony. Ike was another casualty of human failure in more ways than one. Kyle took the case off a nearby pillow and draped it over Ike’s body like a funeral shroud. He could no longer bear to look upon the sight.
Stan looked around the apartment and noticed the gleaming rim of a data record disk sticking out of the top of a wastebasket. “Hey, what’s this doing here?”
Kyle retrieved his flashlight and shined it over towards Stan. “Oh that? Probably an old news release. I think Mom put it there, because Dad was always saving up old broadcasts without ever writing them over, and the disks just sat on the table collecting dust.”
Stan stuck the disk in his reader. “It looks like it still works.”
The holographic viewscreen appeared once again. The timestamp on the news release was October 4, 2097, and the subject line read ‘Too Early For Independence?’ Accompanying the article text on screen was the digitized voice of a generic sounding female reporter. “Tensions continue to rise between the Earth government and several of its colonies throughout the solar system, as more and more colonies push for independent rule. Following the Mars colony’s threat of a full nuclear strike if its demands for independence were not met, many of the outer planetary colonies have followed suit.” Grainy footage from earlier that year was shown, in which missile batteries on the side of Olympus Mons were being prepped for a possible attack. The view then faded in to a still image of the planet Uranus, and its 15 natural satellites. “Here on the Ariel lunar colony, the populace of New Conifer remains evenly split on the issue. Here’s what some local residents have to say.”
Standing before the camera in the next shot was Gerald Broflovski. “Dad?” said Kyle, when he recognized who it was. “Hey, I remember this. This was his big interview on the news!” He rolled his eyes sarcastically. “No wonder he wanted to save it.”
“I think it’s important that we all unite for independence, even if it means taking up arms and fighting back against the imperialistic Earth government!” said Gerald on screen, waving a clenched fist. “Those fascists have run roughshod over our lives for too long! It’s time to do something about it!” Kyle could be seen standing beside his father, clasping his forehead and shaking his head in embarrassment.
The shot then switched to Stuart McCormick. “Now, see, I don’t care much for the Earth government either, but I just think that we should use more peaceful, diplomatic means to settle this,” he said. “I’m just sayin’ that if it comes down to a fight, it’s always us poor folk who get thrown into the front lines, and that’s not somethin’ we can afford either way.” Kenny could be seen standing nearby, quietly blinking and shrugging.
“There you have it,” said the digitized voice. The view switched to the front of the mayor’s office on the administrative level of the colony, where the colonists from both sides had gathered, and could be heard rabbling in the background. “For now, the arguing continues, with no clear end in sight...”
The record stopped playing, and Stan removed it from his reader. “Hard to believe that was only three months ago,” said Stan.
Kyle forced a laugh and a contrived smile. “Yeah, it all started out as a difference of opinion. Who’d have thought that it would escalate into an all out war.”
Stan sighed and nodded. “Every war is a difference of opinion. You know how it is with adults. Sometimes a great conflict is the only way they know how to resolve petty differences.”
“But what about us, after we get caught in the middle?” asked Kyle, blinking hard to force the last of the tears from his eyes. “They always say that they do these things for our sake, but that’s just an excuse. That’s all it is.”
“I know,” said Stan, putting his arm around Kyle’s shoulder. “And I realized something today. You were right and I was wrong. When I went off on my own I nearly got killed, and I couldn’t be there for you either when you needed help. We stand a better chance if we work together.”
“No, you were right and I was wrong,” said Kyle. “We’re going to need to better equip ourselves for whatever lies ahead. After all, I wouldn’t even be here if you didn’t have the wherewithal to be prepared.” He gave Stan a hopeful look. “Did you manage to find anything?”
Stan shook his head. “Not much. The gun store has been picked clean. All of the good weapons are now in the hands of those abominations.”
“So in other words,” said Kyle, “We’re going to have to fight for them.”
“The way I see it, we were going to have to fight them anyway, one way or another.” Stan put both of his hands on Kyle’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes, although it was just as much for his own reassurance. “Those things may look like the people we once knew, but they’re not anymore. We don’t have a choice. You know that, right?”
“Yes. I know that now,” said Kyle, with a determined nod. “The next time we run into them, I won’t hold back. I’m going to make MORONI pay for what it’s done to them,” he growled.
“Good, then let’s go,” said Stan. “But first, I think we should get ourselves cleaned up. Those cuts look pretty bad.”
The only running water in the apartment was ice cold, but it was sufficient to blot up the blood from around their wounds with a wet towel. Kyle had taped numerous small wads of scrap cloth to his face and neck as makeshift bandages, with larger strips wrapped around his forearms. Stan had similarly taped up his right wrist, with a thicker bundle pressed over the scrape to stop the bleeding. Both boys left the apartment shortly after. There was nothing left for them there.
“That’s pretty creepy,” said Kyle, as the two continued on their way. “You’re saying they walked on their hands and attacked with their spinal column?”
“Yeah,” said Stan. “Like a scorpion stinger. What I don’t get is, if they’re made from the same body parts, why not just turn them into more harvestmen?”
“They probably serve different roles,” Kyle speculated. “Like insects in a hive. It could be more efficient to divide up the labor. It’s almost like MORONI is trying to recreate society according to its own deranged model.”
“Could be,” said Stan. “That might explain why those cyborgs were talking as if in normal conversation.” He dwelled on the thought. “It’s like they didn’t even know that anything was out of the ordinary.”
“Weird,” said Kyle.
“So where do you want to go from here?” asked Stan, when they reached the end of the hallway. Stan was still somewhat angry with himself for being so dismissive of Kyle earlier, and he did not want to make the same mistake twice. It wouldn’t hurt to ask. Aside from that, Stan didn’t want to admit that he didn’t exactly have much of a plan as of yet.
“You’re asking me?” Kyle glanced upwards and touched the side of his face, as he did whenever he was in thought. “We could check these other apartments, to see if there’s anything we can use, or anyone left to save. But…” Kyle froze and went quiet all of a sudden.
Kyle shushed Stan and pulled him around the corner, where he crouched in the shadows. Stan could see that Kyle had gone for his gun. “There,” whispered Kyle, pointing back in the direction of his apartment. “Hear that?”
Sure enough, there was the unmistakable sound of metallic footsteps approaching from the direction they had come, intermingled with the sounds of bare feet. Could this be a group of harvestmen and scorpions together? “Damnit, what are they doing here?” whispered Stan, reaching for his weapon as well.
“They must have realized something was up when Ike failed to respond,” Kyle whispered back. “We’re lucky we left when we did, and they didn’t catch us in the apartment.”
A patrol group of four vaguely humanoid cyborgs appeared at the opposite end of the hallway, each wielding a weapon of its own. As the cyborgs moved through the lighted areas of the hallway, the boys could see that the missing pieces of each cyborg’s human body had been filled in with robotic augmentations. This explained the two different kinds of footsteps; a couple of them had lost legs below the knee before they were converted. The human parts of each cyborg had been changed by what appeared to be some kind of bizarre cancer. Multiple tumors marred the surface of their skin, warping them nearly beyond recognition.
“Not that I’m complaining, but why do you think they took longer to show up this time?” asked Stan. He thought back to what happened earlier after the confrontation in the restroom, when the swarm of harvestmen arrived no more than a few minutes afterwards.
“Probably because the harvestman we encountered earlier was serving as the scout on a search and destroy mission,” said Kyle. “Ike, on the other hand, was stationed there for one reason, as far as I can tell.” Kyle pointed to himself and tapped his chest with his index finger.
“I get it,” said Stan. “Since there was no telling when you would show up, it would take time for them to send backup if he failed.”
The four cyborgs were closing in on apartment 2001. Now the boys could clearly make out the differences in appearance between them. The first had a black head of hair and mustache, and was wielding a double-barreled sawed off shotgun. The second of similar stature had a balding brown head of hair and facial hair, and carried an assault rifle. The third slimmer one had slightly longer brown hair, and wore a belt of grenades. The fourth, which had a shorter and slightly fatter build, had red hair, and held a scoped hunting rifle over its shoulder. When they spoke, their voices were so distorted from the cancerous growths around the throat area, that they sounded like nobody the boys recognized.
“Of course you’re welcome to stay at our place for dinner,” said the red-haired cyborg, in a guttural alto voice.
“That’s okay, we wouldn’t want to burden you,” said the slim one with brown hair, its speech sounding practically identical.
“No really, it’s not a problem at all,” said the balding one with brown hair, in a slightly more nasal voice.
“Oh come on, dear,” said the one with black hair, its tone more baritone than those of the others. “You know the boys are probably hanging out here together anyway, like they always do.”
Stan and Kyle looked on perplexed, until their confused expressions warped into disgusted and horrified scowls, once the identity of the cyborgs dawned on them. “Those are…” Kyle started, “Those are our parents??” He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head forcibly from side to side. “No, not our parents. Our parents are already dead.” His hands tightened around the grip of his handgun. “They were made from our parents,” he growled quietly.
“Made from our dead loved ones,” Stan added. “And they’re being made to act like they did when they were alive.” Good. He was thinking clearly once again, and so was Kyle it seemed. They would not be so easily fooled this time. He coolly wrapped his shotgun around his right arm.
The boys waited patiently for the four cyborg soldiers to file in through the apartment door. By now they’d be noticing the blood flecked all over the carpet and furniture from the struggle that took place. By now they’d be noticing the body on the floor, draped in a linen pillowcase that the blood had likely already seeped through.
Kyle lined up the sights on the shorter red-haired cyborg, which was the last to step through the doorway. Now was his chance. Both of his hands, which were wrapped tightly around the gun grip, began to shake involuntarily. Kyle’s eyebrows raised and jaw drooped open in hesitation. He felt an elbow nudging him desperately in the side.
“What are you waiting for?” asked Stan, upon seeing Kyle’s reaction. He had planned on having Kyle, who was a better shot than he was, take out one cyborg at range in order to lure the others towards their position, where Stan’s automatic shotgun would be more effective in close quarters. He knew that their window of opportunity was closing fast. Stan leaned in close enough so that Kyle could feel him breathing right down his neck. “Kyle, listen to me. You know that’s not your mother. That’s the monster that stole your mother’s face!”
The red-haired cyborg jumped back in feigned surprise once it figured out what happened inside the apartment. “Oh my gawd!” it exclaimed in its garbled guttural voice, waving its arms in the air. Before the cyborg could do anything else, two bullets ripped through its throat and temple, and a third follow-up shot blasted through the base of its skull. A blackish-red viscous spatter painted the doorway and surrounding walls, and the cyborg keeled over, dropping its rifle on the ground.
Stan gave Kyle a curious look with one eyebrow raised. “What?” Kyle asked. “I was just waiting for a clear shot.”
“Well, I think that did the trick, because here they come!” announced Stan.
The three remaining cyborg soldiers charged in the direction of the offending gunfire, weapons blazing, while the boys returned fire with potshots from around the corner. The slim cyborg with brown hair could be seen winding up its right arm for a throw, following a brief lull in the gunfire from the other two. A black metal object clunked to the floor up against the wall nearby, and Stan and Kyle both gasped when they realized what was about to happen. Stan yanked Kyle by the collar and went into a running dive down the adjoining hallway, seconds before the explosion rattled their hearing, and the ceiling directly above the blast collapsed with a heavy groan.
“sh*t, we’re out in the open!” said Kyle, after getting to his feet. There was no cover in this hallway, and the cyborgs would see them for sure the moment they rounded the corner. “Wait, I have an idea. Follow me!” Kyle took off and doubled back, right into the cloud of smoke and dust that the grenade had kicked up.
“Kyle, what are you…” Stan started, but then realized what Kyle had in mind. He quickly followed his friend back into the smoke cloud and hid behind a large chunk of debris that had fallen from the ceiling. Luckily the cyborgs hadn’t seen the boys, and continued around the corner and right past them in search of their prey. Stan aimed his automatic shotgun at the back of the closest cyborg, the black-haired one wielding the sawed off shotgun, and fired several times. Sparks flew, metal plating was shredded, cables were severed, and the cyborg tumbled face first onto the floor in a pool of blood.
The other two cyborgs immediately wheeled around, seconds too late. The slim, brown-haired cyborg was too close to use its grenades, giving Kyle ample opportunity to gun it down while it backed up in an attempt to gain some distance. The balding, brown-haired cyborg was met with a shotgun blast to the midsection, blowing a hole in its abdomen and forcing it to drop its assault rifle. Instead of continuing its attack, the last cyborg opted to beat a hasty retreat, clutching at its gut wound as it ran.
While Stan breathed a sigh of relief, Kyle unloaded the empty clip from his handgun and spat to get the taste of smoke out of his mouth. “I’ve had it,” said Kyle. “…Mocking us like that by turning the bodies of the dead into monsters.” The sad and mournful look in Kyle’s eyes that had previously greeted Stan had been replaced with an angry glare. He was done crying. “MORONI is going to pay for this, one way or another.”
“It looks like they were carrying some pretty nice hardware too,” said Stan, searching through the cyborgs’ equipment. “I think this assault rifle uses the same caliber ammo as your pistol, and the shells for this double barreled shotgun are the same kind my automatic shotgun uses.”
Kyle reached for the assault rifle and lifted it off the ground with both hands. Much to his surprise, the large bulky weapon was much lighter than expected. He tested its balance by holding it up one-handed. “Hey, I think I can use this.” He took his empty handgun back out and tossed it to the floor. “It’s got to be more effective than carrying this around.”
Stan finished scooping up the shotgun shells, and was backtracking into the previous hallway to collect the hunting rifle. “Get as many of those grenades as you can carry,” he told Kyle. “I have a feeling we might need them.”
“Got it,” said Kyle. He kept a lookout down the hall where the last one had fled, as he unhooked the belt of grenades from the fallen cyborg. A sense of urgency crept up on him. “Hey Stan, something just occurred to me.”
“What?” Stan called back.
“Damnit!” Kyle cursed to himself. He finished strapping on the grenade belt after adjusting it for his size. “Why didn’t I think of this earlier? We shouldn’t have let that one run off like that! What if it’s going for reinforcements?”
“sh*t, you’re right,” said Stan, running back with his new scoped rifle. “We’d better go after him!”
“It couldn’t have gotten far with those injuries,” said Kyle, pointing in the direction of the droplets of blood mingled with bits of discarded viscera. “We just have to follow the trail it left us.”
Stan took his pocket flashlight back out and the two boys took off into a steady run, as fast as they could with their new equipment. The droplets started to appear more smeared out as they went, probably from the cyborg dragging its feet through them as it fled. The blood trail lead them back in the direction of the commercial district, winding past the food market and towards the storage sector of the level, until it finally ended at a thick metal door, which was slightly ajar.
“I think we know where it ran off to,” said Stan. “What is this place anyway?”
“It’s the cold storage facility,” Kyle explained. “Every level has one. They work by circulating ice up from the surface of the moon through ducts in the walls, and are used to store food and other perishables.”
“It looks like this one has seen heavy traffic lately,” said Stan, pointing his flashlight at the thin layer of frost that had crept out from under the door and onto the surrounding floor. After tucking away his flashlight, Stan and Kyle each used their free hands to pull the massive door the rest of the way open, keeping their weapons ready. “I wonder what the cyborgs are doing with this place?”
Frozen onto the walls, floor, and even ceiling of the giant walk-in freezer were large quantities of what at first appeared to be rust-colored slush. The moment the boys stepped inside, a faint, rancid odor wafted past their noses. Stan’s flashlight beam caught an unusual object sticking up out of the ice: five fingers attached to a hand severed at the wrist, reaching up out of its frigid prison to grasp at the air. Lining every single surface were similarly mangled remnants of what may once have been human body parts, in various states of decay, encased in a shell of icy accretion. Severed limbs covered in burns and marred with jagged cut marks, disembodied heads that had been battered to an unrecognizable pulp, punctured bodily organs with hemorrhaged tissues, all hung in a macabre tapestry of gore.
“Oh my God,” Kyle murmured, his eyes widening and his hand drifting up to his mouth. Stan, who could not suppress his reflex any longer, gagged and vomited right where he was standing. What were the cyborgs doing freezing these body parts? Didn’t all human remains get shipped off for conversion? It didn’t take long to figure out why these particular ones hadn’t. They were too badly damaged to be made into cyborgs, and couldn’t possibly be of any use other than…
A strange crunching noise in the adjoining freezer room alerted the boys to the fact that they were not alone in here. Stan shined his flashlight inside to find the wounded cyborg soldier standing in the corner, huddled over the semi-frozen piece of human corpse that it was clutching in its forelimbs. It was tearing chunks off with its teeth and wolfing them down as though its life depended on it, but because the cyborg was missing its stomach from having its midsection blown out earlier, the chewed bits of flesh were spilling right back out of its abdominal cavity.
Kyle grimaced at the sight. He could not take it anymore. He raised his assault rifle and strafed the cyborg soldier right through the head and chest, and a shower of frozen blood cascaded to the ground like hundreds of icy marbles. The fourth cyborg finally laid dead, its mangled corpse only the latest addition to the frozen mausoleum.
“P-please,” Stan pleaded, shivering. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The two boys pushed the door to the cold storage facility shut. Stan closed his eyes, slapped his forehead, and gave a shake of his head, while breathing heavily. Before Kyle could stop him, Stan aimed his automatic shotgun at the door and blew the handle right off. The meaning was clear. Stan wanted nothing more than to wipe the images from his mind, and forget what he had just seen. Kyle, however, smiled. Without access to the cold storage facility, the cyborgs would be deprived of one source of sustenance.
Kyle took Stan over to a public bench in front of the food market and sat him down. Stan would need some time to collect himself, and they could both use the time to warm back up after having been inside the freezer. “I’m fine,” Stan insisted, even though he didn’t object when Kyle put his arm around him.
A shiny reflective object sticking out of the corner of a decorative plant caught Kyle’s attention. Kyle moved in to take a closer look. It was a data record disk, taped under the far inside rim of the pot at such an angle that it would only be visible to someone of his or Stan’s height seated at the bench. “Hey, check this out,” said Kyle, removing the disk from its hiding place. “Wonder who would leave a log stuck under here like this.”
“Really? Let me see,” said Stan. Kyle handed him the disk, and Stan plugged it into his reader. For a few seconds nothing happened, until the most unusual header showed up. The timestamp and subject both appeared as strings of “########”. Stan gave it a somewhat dismissive look. “Crap, looks broken.”
“No,” said Kyle, taking the disk back and trying it in his own reader, which aside from a few scratches was still in working order. “I’ve seen this before. It’s encoded. Here, watch.” Kyle entered a series of quick commands, too fast for Stan to catch what he was doing. Shortly afterwards the header appeared on the tiny LCD screen of Kyle’s reader. “Hmm, that can’t be right.”
“What is it?” Stan leaned over.
“The timestamp is just a couple of days ago!” said Kyle, taking the disk out of his reader and handing it back to Stan. “Here, it should show up on yours now.”
Stan replaced the disk in his reader and brought up the holographic screen. The subject line simply read ‘To Whom It May Concern’. The sender, however, came as a complete surprise.
“Oh Jesus! I hope this reaches someone in time! Someone who is still—human!” The speaker wrung his hands and chewed on his lower lip, while his jittery eyes darted back and forth. “The other groups of survivors and I have been separated, and we have to stay on the move, so listen carefully! The only way to stop MORONI is to destroy its primary processing component at the central computer core, but there is a heavy guard presence, and on top of that the cyborgs have installed a nearly impenetrable security system. In order to bypass security, someone’s going to have to shut it down from the reactor! But there’s just one problem, one very BIG problem, and…” The screen quaked and a crescendo of approaching gunfire could be heard. “Gaah! I’ve gotta go! Oh God, this is WAY too much pressure!”
The recording ended, and neither Stan nor Kyle could believe what they just heard. “That was Tweek!” they said in unison.
“See? I knew there had to be other survivors!” said Kyle excitedly. “I was right all along!”
“Yeah,” Stan nodded, “And they sound like they could use our help!” For the first time in weeks Stan felt a renewed sense of hope, which completely took his mind off the nauseating images that had recently been burned into his memory. He and Kyle hopped down off the bench. “What’s the fastest way to the reactor level?”
“I think there’s at least one elevator in the commercial district,” said Kyle. He gathered up his equipment and beckoned for Stan to follow. “It should take us down to the reactor level. Only problem is I’ve never been down there before, so if they’re expecting intruders, we’re going to be fighting on unfamiliar territory.”
“It’s either that or take on the security systems head on,” Stan pointed out. “If the others managed to pave a road ahead for us, then this shouldn’t be too dangerous.” The boys reached the elevator and pushed the call button, holding their weapons at the ready for when the steel doors parted, but luckily there wasn’t anything inside waiting for them.
“I just hope you’re right,” said Kyle, pushing the button labeled ‘R1’. The doors slid shut, the cab started with a jolt, and their descent to the reactor level had begun. After they had passed a few floors, visible as strips of light through the thin slit between the doors, it seemed as though the cab had passed into total blackness outside, while the sound of rushing air became steady and hollow all around.
“How far down is the reactor level?” Stan wondered aloud.
“Well, I would think that the main fusion reactor is located on the lowermost part of the colony, near where the buoyancy thrusters are,” said Kyle. “It’s about the equivalent of ten stories below the first level.”
The elevator came to a stop with a soft beeping tone. The steel doors opened to a dimly lit narrow hallway, at the end of which was a door leading to an enormous open space, shaped like a rounded rectangular prism with a ceiling nearly nine stories high. Maintenance lifts lead up to the numerous storerooms along the sides, and thick angular joists ran up the walls to the ceiling at regular intervals, lining the cavernous facility surrounding the power plant. Up ahead the boys could see a giant pool of coolant water surrounding the black tower that housed the main reactor, and a neon blue glow spilling through the tower’s irregularly placed oval windows that cast most of the area in long dark shadows. The hum of power plant machinery echoed faintly throughout the entire level. Stan and Kyle craned their necks and spun around in order to take it all in.
“Damn,” Stan remarked, “I can’t even see the ceiling.”
“That looks like where we want to go,” said Kyle, pointing towards the glowing tower in the distance. Before he could take a step, the floor quaked ever so slightly under his feet. “What the?”
“What the hell was that?” asked Stan, feeling the perspiration beginning to run down his neck as the floor quaked again. “Is the reactor doing that?”
“No, it shouldn’t be,” said Kyle. “It sounds more like…”
A giant hangar-sized pair of sliding doors adjacent to the coolant pools of the reactor, ones that the boys hadn’t noticed earlier, began to slowly part sideways. The boys instinctively recoiled and pointed their weapons in its direction. A robotic arm of blackened metal, nearly the size of a tree trunk, reached out through the gap and grabbed a hold of the edge of one side of the door, while a second arm of similar size grasped the other. Whatever it was, it was clearly becoming impatient as it forced the doors all the way open with brute strength. Now that it had enough room, it lurched out of the shadows and into the main chamber, shaking the ground with every step it took.
A three-story tall mechanical monstrosity stood beneath the blue glow of the reactor tower. It was built like a widely proportioned bipedal android, with missile launchers over its shoulders, chain guns mounted on its forearms, and bulky forward-jointed legs. Where its head and chest should be was the most bizarre thing of all. A thick fleshy mass of skin, sinew, and adipose tissue appeared to have been stretched across the front of the robotic frame, almost as if it had been smeared over it. Clusters of wires and tubes fed into every side of the organic mass, which vaguely resembled a grotesquely disproportionate human face. The ‘eyes’ of the face, two glassy horizontal slits, glowed red, below a small patch of plastered brown hair.
“Holy f*cking sh*t,” Kyle gasped. He squinted for a second. “Wait a minute, that couldn’t be.”
“W-what?” Stan stammered. “You mean you know who that is?”
“No way…” Kyle tilted his head to the side. “C-Cartman?!”
“Oh my God,” Stan murmured. “You’re right.”
The giant cyborg oriented itself towards the two boys, staring them down from all the way across the reactor facility without saying a word. After a few tense moments it began to steadily make its way towards them, causing the quaking to become louder and more severe. Stan and Kyle were caught out in the open with nowhere to run, as the beast opened fire with all barrels blazing.
Holy hell, that was long and damn good, KtS!
You said this was based on a game? I almost want to play it...especially if it has customizeable characters
Heheh...funny, as a sort-of spy. Totally not his type of job...
I'm not sure I even want to see what you have in mind for Kenny, anymore...
Also, I forgot to mention earlier how I thought hinging Ike's head halves together was a good idea. An AI system would do that.
It's very loosely based on a game series, and they're among the more obscure titles. I've deviated heavily from them for the sake of originality. But since you mentioned it, just check the summary in the first post and do a search for the titles.kylestanfan wrote:Uh-oh...
Holy hell, that was long and damn good, KtS!
You said this was based on a game? I almost want to play it...especially if it has customizeable characters
Heheh...funny, as a sort-of spy. Totally not his type of job...
I've already taken that into account for the continuation of this scene in chapter 4.ShaneHaughey wrote:Well done, though I'd still like to know how Kyle knew it was Cartman. Even if he knew the face, it's a bit on the wold side for him to recognize it quickly.
They notice when one of their kind is destroyed, even if they aren't fully aware of their surroundings.Aimeireil wrote:That was good... although why did Mrs. Broflovski notice the blood? Jimbo didn't notice the smashed out windows or anything. And are the other survivors still alive? Where are they? Are you just going to kill them all off at once?
I'm not sure I even want to see what you have in mind for Kenny, anymore...
Also, I forgot to mention earlier how I thought hinging Ike's head halves together was a good idea. An AI system would do that.
As for Kenny, you'll just have to wait and see. Same goes for the other characters.
^ Oh, so that's why they saw. I also liked how you refrained from using the parent's names throughout the entire chapter, and how you described each parent so well that it wasn't even confusing who each was, except for Mrs. Marsh and Mr. Broflovski at first.
Did Mrs. Broflovski die first because it would be near impossible to make her work in a battle scene? I can't imagine her shooting anything 2-handed.
And what I was saying was that with your turning Cartman into a giant cyborg thing, what you have in mind for Kenny is probably really nasty. I can't wait, though I won't like it. The part about Kenny turning into a cyborg, I mean. Get the next chapter up soon!
Chapter 4 - Restless Soul
“We can’t stay here!” Kyle pulled down on the flaps of his hat to cover his ears, while the cluster of missiles and hail of bullets slammed up against the outside of the hallway door in rapid succession. “We’re pinned down!”
“I know!” Stan shouted back, “But thank God the doors down here are shielded!” Even though the door to the hallway leading back to the elevator had stopped the first salvo, it did not look like it would hold up for long. All doors on the level were designed to contain any potential reactor leaks, but that didn’t include withstanding explosions or gunfire for any sustained period of time. Stan inched his way back towards the hallway door, waiting for the attack to relent. Getting back on the elevator was out of the question, because once the shielded hall door gave way, a missile explosion into the confined elevator shaft would cook them alive. “So wait, you said that thing out there is Cartman?” Stan asked incredulously.
“I’m almost positive!” said Kyle. “There’s no mistaking that bloated sack of bacon grease, believe me.”
“But why would the AI give him so much power?” asked Stan. “Doesn’t MORONI know how dangerous Cartman can be if he gets his hands on just a little bit of…” He stopped in mid sentence after realizing he’d answered his own question. “Oh, right.”
Kyle cupped his hand against his ear and leaned towards the hallway door. “Sounds like he’s let up! If we make a break for one of the maintenance lifts, we can take cover in the storerooms!”
“Wait, we’re just going to run?” asked Stan.
Kyle nodded. “And quickly, before the smoke clears.”
Cyborg Cartman scanned the area as he continued his advance towards the boys from across the reactor facility. Two small shadows appeared amidst the dust and smoke left over from the missile blasts, darting off to the side and taking cover behind the nearest joist. Cartman fired his chain guns again, but he could not get a clear shot on them.
The boys could now feel the quaking of the floor rattling up through their bones. Stan pressed his back against the joist and drew his hunting rifle, while Kyle pushed the call button for the maintenance lift. The black and yellow striped platform began to slowly descend to ground level. “Stan, what are you doing?” Kyle called out. “The lift will be here in a second! We have to get on!”
Stan leaned out from cover slightly, his eyes darting between the descending lift and the approaching Cartman. He raised the riflescope up to his eye, exposing as little of himself as possible. “I’m going to try and slow him down!” Stan’s unsteady aim caused the crosshairs to waver back and forth across the cyborg’s bloated visage, until he haphazardly squeezed off a shot. The bullet embedded itself uselessly in the fleshy mass where Cartman’s chin would have been, while nearby tissue oozed in around the point of impact to seal over the wound. The monster did not even seem to notice, nor care. “Oh—sh*t,” said Stan. He felt Kyle’s hand tighten around his collar and yank him aboard the maintenance lift.
“I think we need a better plan than attacking him head on,” Kyle admonished him.
The lift rose slowly up towards the second floor, while the rumbling footsteps got closer and closer. By now they could see the tip of Cartman’s left hand around the edge of the nearest joist; if he were to get a visual on them, he would undoubtedly hit them from this angle. The lift passed the second floor and was half a story away from the third. The cyborg’s left shoulder and missile launcher were now visible, and had a clear shot at them. A feeling of impending vulnerability ran through both boys like a nervous shock. They could not afford to ride up any further. Stan and Kyle exchanged silent nods, scrambling and climbing the rest of the way up to the ledge of the third floor storeroom, just as Cartman’s left eye moved into their line of sight and his weapons lit up.
The boys dove into the storeroom at the last second. Bullets punched right through the platform to the ceiling of the entryway, seconds before a series of explosions in quick succession sent what was left of the lift reeling off its shattered wall mounts and crashing to the floor below. “sh*t!” Stan cursed, looking back over his shoulder and turning into a seated position.
“He knows we’re in here!” Kyle huffed, as he got to his feet. “We can’t stay here for long!”
“But we have to fight back soon!” Stan argued. The rumbling footsteps had suddenly fallen silent, but neither of the boys seemed to notice until a few seconds had passed. “Hey, that’s strange. I don’t hear him anymore. Do you think he’s given up?”
To answer Stan’s question, a massive fist of blackened metal, attached to an arm the size of a tree trunk, drove itself in through the storeroom entryway, grinding a grooved indentation into the floor where Stan and Kyle had been standing a split second earlier. The fist opened up and spread its fingers out, before waving back and forth sideways across the storeroom in a wide sweeping motion, smashing storage crates into plastic splinters, and spraying sparks where it scraped across the floor and ceiling. Stan and Kyle had pressed up against the right side wall as best they could to avoid it, lifting their chins and wincing as the palm of the cyborg’s hand came within nearly a hairsbreadth of squashing them flat with each pass.
“We’re gonna get swatted!” screamed Kyle.
Stan went for his automatic shotgun. “Back the f*ck off, fatass!” he snarled, charging forward and laying into Cartman’s head with repeated blasts. Kyle likewise drew his assault rifle and began riddling the fleshy organic mass with bullets. The cyborg behemoth did not even stagger back, despite the thick crimson cloud of mist that had formed before its face. A transparent oily substance, mingled with blood, leaked from the multiple wounds and trickled down over the surrounding wires and tubes. Almost as quickly as the damage had been inflicted, the nearby tissue once again oozed into the bullet holes and sealed them over automatically.
“f*ck, that didn’t work!” Kyle called out, lowering his weapon and backing off rapidly.
“Might want to run like hell!” Stan shouted, as the two boys took off towards the passage leading into the adjoining storeroom. The cyborg had stopped trying to swat them, and instead spun up the chain gun on its arm, blasting a long black perforated scar into the walls of the passage right behind the boys as they ran. Sparks, shrapnel, and ricocheted shots danced around the floor at knee level.
“We need to get to higher ground if he can still reach us!” said Stan, pausing to catch his breath and wipe his forehead on his sleeve. “I say we make a run for one of the other lifts and get as far away as possible. How high up do these storerooms go?”
“Well, the reactor level is nine stories high,” Kyle reiterated, “And the topmost storerooms are double sized, like warehouses, so it goes up eight stories.” He took a grenade off his belt. “I’ll set up a diversion.”
The boys could hear Cartman trudging his way towards their position once again. Stan and Kyle ran for the passageway to the next storeroom, and then the room after that. Despite his massive size, Cartman was gaining fast, with the occasional rapid high-pitched potshot from his chain guns punctuating the rolling thunder of his footfalls. Kyle took the pin between his teeth, ran out towards the nearest storeroom entryway, and chucked the grenade over the edge back towards their pursuer. He slammed his hand down on the maintenance lift call button just as he heard the grenade clink to the ground below.
“Now’s our chance, Stan!” Kyle called out. “Get on the lift!”
The grenade rolled right up to the cyborg’s feet and went off, which to Kyle and Stan’s surprise, caused Cartman to seemingly lose his balance and tip over backwards. The ground shook more heavily than it ever had before. “What the hell?” said Stan, upon witnessing this. As the smoke cleared, they could see that Cartman’s hands were held out in front of himself in a blocking position, and his giant armor plated legs were twisted and crossed at the ankles.
Kyle looked on, astonished. “I didn’t think the grenade was powerful enough to knock him off his feet!” Below he could see that cyborg Cartman was thrashing around on the ground, in an attempt to right himself after the fall. The lift passed the fifth floor and moved on to the sixth.
“C’mon, c’mon…” Stan chanted to himself, willing the lift to move faster, and tapping his foot on the platform. It would not be long before Cartman got back up. Should they play it safe and get off now? The lift was nearing the seventh floor. Stan got impatient and peeked out over the edge, but realized his mistake a second too late. The cyborg, now back on his feet, locked in its target and fired.
“sh*t!” Kyle grabbed Stan and pulled him away from the edge of the platform, and the two boys were forced to leap once again through the entryway of the storeroom. The lift that had carried them all the way up to the eighth floor was chewed apart by the cyborg’s weapon fire in seconds, plummeting in pieces of shredded scrap to the ground below.
“That’s it!” said Stan, drawing his hunting rifle and crawling out to the edge of the entryway. “I’m sick of him shooting at us on sight! Time to do something about it.”
“Wait, what the hell are you doing?” asked Kyle.
“You saw it too,” Stan explained. “Notice how Cartman can’t shoot at us unless he has a direct line of sight. When we took cover behind the joist, he didn’t fire right away, even though the gun on his left arm had a clear shot at us.” Stan carefully took up a firing position at the corner of the entryway, cocking his rifle and bringing the scope up to his eye. “I think his eyes are directly wired into his targeting system.”
“I get it,” said Kyle. “If you blind him, he can’t shoot at us.”
Stan set the crosshairs over Cartman’s bloated face, his nervous grip causing his aim to bounce up and down. He had only one chance to deliver two shots. The cyborg behemoth was scanning back and forth, seemingly having assumed that its targets had changed position and needed to be reacquired. Cartman suddenly tilted back at the waist, his weapons angling upwards while he stared directly at his target, eyes flashing red. It was now or never.
One muffled high-pitched crack sounded off, followed shortly after by another. The glassy horizontal slits in the cyborg’s face burst like overripe melons, sending thick gobs of a brownish orange substance gushing to the ground. Cartman emitted a guttural grunt of annoyance and staggered backwards momentarily.
“Yes!” Stan quietly cheered to himself, albeit perhaps in a premature celebration. The surrounding organic mass contracted around the cyborg’s eye sockets, filling in the hollowed area with new tissue. Seconds later the fleshy mounds divided into slits, and parted vertically to reveal a pair of newly regenerated eyes. Stan went pale. “What the? You’ve got to be sh*tting me!” He quickly rolled away from the entryway, crawled to his feet, and ran frantically towards Kyle.
“Didn’t it work?” Kyle asked rhetorically, with the frustration in his own voice evident.
“If I were trying to piss him off, I’d say it worked!” answered Stan. A split second later, an angry retaliatory salvo slammed into the entryway roof and nearby walls. The boys took cover in the back of the storeroom. They now had no choice but to stay put and wait out the assault. “We need a better plan of action,” Stan huffed, with his eyes closed and head tilted up as he sat against the back wall. “Nothing we do seems to faze him!”
“Actually…” Kyle glanced upwards and touched the side of his face with his left forefinger. After about thirty seconds of silence, he spoke, “That’s not quite true. You saw what happened when that grenade hit him.”
Stan opened his eyes, shook his head, and gave Kyle a doubtful look. “But I don’t think it damaged him at all. In fact, I couldn’t even believe that you’d managed to knock him over, unless…”
Kyle smirked and nodded, tapping the side of his head. He clearly had a plan in mind, more so than he had let on. “Exactly. How much do you think Cartman weighs? Ten tons? Twenty? These grenades hardly pack enough of a punch to knock over something of that size. The only way he could have fallen over like that is if he were trying to avoid the blast, and tripped.”
“Tripped?” Stan thought about the position he’d seen the cyborg’s legs and ankles in after it had fallen over, and how it had raised its arms to shield itself from the blast. “He was afraid of getting burned!” said Stan, quickly catching on to what Kyle was thinking.
“I first caught on when I saw what weapons he was using,” Kyle explained. “I mean, if MORONI has got a huge tank like that, then why put chain guns and missile racks on it? Why not mount more powerful weapons, like plasma beams or fusion cannons? The reason is because those weapons give off too much heat, especially if they’re right next to a fat tub of lard!”
“So he’d be vulnerable to fire!” said Stan excitedly. “Oh, but you still don’t have enough grenades to take him down, do you?”
“No, I don’t,” said Kyle, glancing down at his eight remaining grenades. “But I don’t need to.” He pointed out the label on one of the nearby storage crates, which had numerous hazard symbols stamped on it, including a red flame, a yellow electrical bolt, and a radioactive trefoil. All of the other crates in the warehouse-sized storeroom were, in fact, marked with the same exact label.
“What’s in there?” asked Stan. “Some kind of weapon?”
Kyle shook his head. “I’ll show you. Here, help me get this one open.” The storage crate was a large box of sturdy plastic, with hinges along the top and down the sides, to allow the front panel of the crate to be lowered. The boys unlatched and swung the lid open to reveal a glowing white cylindrical object, roughly the size of a small barrel.
“Whoa, whoa, wait!” Stan recoiled suddenly, instinctively holding his hands in front of his face. “Is this thing radioactive? Like, a reactor part?”
Kyle narrowed his eyes and gave Stan an irate smirk. “Do you think I’d open it if it were radioactive, Stan? This is a portable tritium generator. The reason they mark it with the same symbol is because it counts as nuclear materials.” He opened the crate all the way to let Stan get a better look at it. The generator looked like a large lantern, sans the handle, with four struts running from top to bottom around a spherical fusion core. Along the bottom, adjacent to a power transformer module, were a series of electrical plugs for appliances.
“Hey, I’ve heard of these,” said Stan, waving his finger in recognition. “But didn’t New Conifer ban the use of them a few years back?”
“Yep,” said Kyle. “Due to a design flaw, they kept overheating and bursting into flames, setting fire to people’s homes.”
“So that’s why they were all moved down here. Okay, I see where you’re going with this,” said Stan, as he helped Kyle tip the generator on its side and roll it up towards the entryway. The boys then proceeded to open up as many storage crates as they could, lining up the generators on their sides in rows next to the ledge. Several minutes later the trap was set.
Eight stories below, stationed beside the wrecked maintenance lift, Cartman waited patiently for his targets to present themselves. He scanned back and forth across the entryways to the nearby storerooms for any signs of movement. An object the size of one of the boys rolled off the ledge and was immediately met with a barrage of gunfire, causing it to erupt in a bright orange fireball. But it was not a human body that fell from the cloud of black smoke and crashed to the ground. The object appeared to be a charred hunk of metal and broken ceramic.
Before the cyborg could figure out what was going on, nearly a dozen more similar objects literally cascaded from out of the storeroom, clanking to the ground all around him and resulting in a huge flaming explosion that lit up the entire reactor facility. Cartman let out a primal animalistic howl of agony, mixed with a grating mechanical screech that no human could make, as the flames engulfed him completely from all sides. Large blisters of boiling flesh swelled up and burst, sending gallons of burning organic matter gushing to the ground in molten streams. The giant cyborg thrashed around within the ringed inferno, the immolated organic mass slowly oozing and peeling away from the cluster of cables that supported it, before being ejected to the ground with a sickening splatter. A final spout of yellow flame consumed what was left of Cartman’s body, while the massive robotic frame staggered backwards, flailing its limbs until it toppled over backwards for the last time. The ground did not stop shaking for a good ten seconds afterwards.
Stan and Kyle lay on the edge of the entryway ledge, overlooking the results of their handiwork below. A column of black smoke rose all the way to the top story of the reactor level, carrying with it a revolting aroma that reminded the boys of something they didn’t want to dwell on too much. Without a controlling mind, the cybernetic body lay limp and useless. Both boys breathed sighs of relief. Slight pangs of regret welled up within them, although it was probably owing to the fact that neither of them felt any actual guilt over what they had just inflicted.
“Dude,” said Stan with deliberate hesitation, raising his index finger. “That right there. That was pretty, well…”
“I know,” said Kyle, knowing what Stan was going to say. He could not peel his eyes off of the scene, as if he were feeling some sort of morbid fascination with it. There lay his lifelong rival, dead at long last, having forced his own hand. Yet Kyle could not help but feel a deep sense of satisfaction at what he had done, as though this had somehow vindicated his actions up to that point. After a few seconds of silence, he spoke, “Well, come on, we might as well get down there and see if there’s anything salvageable.”
“Yeah,” said Stan, with a cough. “The smoke is starting to get to me.”
Ten minutes had passed since the boys had taken another maintenance lift back to ground level, in order to inspect the cyborg’s remains. The giant robotic frame was only giving off small wisps of smoke from the empty cavity in its upper torso, although the greasy mess of organic matter nearby continued to smolder. Stan had retrieved a fire extinguisher from one of the nearby storerooms and was spraying short bursts over the robotic body.
“I think that’s enough,” said Kyle, holding up his hand in front of Stan. “Metal doesn’t retain heat, and this thing was likely loaded with heat sinks, so it should be safe to touch by now.”
“Damn, look at the size of these weapons,” said Stan in awe, climbing up on a single barrel of the right hand chain gun. “I’d hate to leave them in the AI’s possession, but I don’t think we’d ever be able to pry them off, let alone carry them.”
“Don’t bother,” said Kyle, moving in for a closer inspection. “The ammo feed mechanism is fried beyond repair.” He overturned a loose panel beneath the weapon hard point. “And it looks like the ammunition caliber is exclusive to these weapons, so there wouldn’t be much point in taking that either.” Further in, Kyle noticed a set of long silver structures resembling needles, near the top of the empty torso cavity where Cartman’s head would have been. They appeared to be plugs leading from a computerized unit, resembling a small black metal orb with yellow LEDs around its circumference, which still looked mostly intact. Kyle reached in and lifted the unit up in order to get a better look at it, dragging the power cables out along behind it. “Wonder what this is.”
Stan took the silver needles in his hand. They were flecked with a thick greasy pink substance, which caused the back of his own head to start to ache with sympathetic pains once he realized what it was. “Eww, sick! I think these were plugged directly into his brain!” Stan loosened one of the needles and found that it unscrewed. “Hey wait, these look like some kind of interface adaptors. They might be compatible with my data reader! Let me try something.” After removing each of the needles, Stan plugged the underlying cable outputs into his PDA. A static-laden image appeared on his holographic screen, depicting a rising pillar of black smoke viewed from an upward angle.
“What is that?” asked Kyle. As he walked up next to Stan to get a better look, the view on the screen shook and shifted slightly in the same direction. “What the?” Kyle looked back and forth between the image on screen and the computerized unit in his hands. On a hunch, he tilted the unit downwards. The image likewise shifted downwards. Kyle tilted the unit down all the way, until it was pointing at the thick robotic armor plated legs. The image on screen now showed the front of the red jacket Cartman had always worn, as if viewed through Cartman’s own eyes looking down over it. The tips of his shoes were also visible under the paunch of belly fat. “This is weird, I wonder why…” Kyle aimed the orb to the left towards the cybernetic arm. Sure enough, the image showed Cartman’s yellow-gloved left hand. “Holy sh*t,” Kyle murmured, “No wonder.”
“What does it mean?” asked Stan. “Why would these images show up?”
“I think this could be it,” said Kyle. “This could explain how MORONI was controlling him. This unit was plugged into Cartman’s brain, overriding his senses to make him think that he still looked human! I don’t think he would have realized anything was out of the ordinary.” He put the unit down and traced the cables that were leading out from behind it, all the way to the sensory and motor circuits, as well as the servos controlling the giant robotic limbs. “And from the looks of this, it appears that the brain was connected directly to the augmentations. I’m guessing that anyone hooked up to this thing would feel like they were moving around no different from usual. Cartman could very well have been trying to run up and greet us, having no way of knowing he was about to gun us down.”
“I’ll bet the same is true for every single cyborg MORONI has created,” said Stan. “Feed them false images to keep them complacent, and it makes them easier to control. That would explain why Uncle Jimbo didn’t recognize me. Or why Ike tried to kill you.”
“You’re right,” said Kyle, the rage steadily building in his voice. “If the AI were trying to recreate a society that it had complete and total influence over, this would be a good way to do it. Trick them into believing they’re living out their normal lives on the colony, the way it was before this all started, and they’d have no reason to suspect anything.”
Stan’s fists tightened, and his brow knot over his eyes. “God. f*cking. Damnit.”
Kyle didn’t have to say anything. He knew exactly how Stan felt. The only reason he had to live, the only thing that kept him going at this point, was the prospect of revenge against MORONI. Kyle climbed over the chassis and hopped down off the arm. “We should get going,” he said bluntly. “The security systems certainly aren’t going to shut themselves down.”
Stan unplugged the outputs from his PDA and followed Kyle towards the dark tower that housed the main reactor. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
The inside of the reactor tower bore a closer resemblance to a staging area than an actual control room. Lining the walls on either side were transparent cases containing hazard suits. The bulkhead door leading to the decontamination showers and airlock lay straight ahead, with the warning ‘Authorized Personnel Only’. The perpetual blue glow of the tower tinted the random splashes of blood along the floor a dark purplish color, and spent shell casings were scattered here and there. It looked as though there wasn’t anywhere in the colony that could be considered safe anymore.
Stan walked up to the bulkhead door and began pushing on the nearby switch panel. The door refused to budge. “How are we supposed to get in?”
“You need proper identification,” said Kyle. “That looks like one of those retinal scanners.”
“To hell with that!” Stan raised his automatic shotgun and was about to aim it at the scanner, when Kyle stepped in and grabbed Stan’s elbow.
“Stop! If you break it then we’ll never get inside.” Kyle thought for a moment. “We just need to find someone who has access to the reactor core, and get them to open it for us.”
Stan holstered his weapon. “Yeah, but who? It’s not like we know anyone who… Wait. Didn’t the McCormicks work in maintenance?”
“Hey, you’re right!” said Kyle. The McCormicks were among the few people who were willing to work on the reactor, since it was a crappy job that hardly anyone else wanted to do. “In fact, didn’t Kenny once brag to us that he was granted access for when his dad used to take him on tours of the reactor core?” asked Kyle. “I think it was because he wanted Kenny to follow in his footsteps, and take up the job after him.”
“Poor Kenny,” Stan commented, shaking his head with a grin. “The McCormicks stayed in temporary living quarters right on this level, didn’t they? That might be a good place to start looking for him.”
“I’m not so sure about that, though,” said Kyle. “That would be the first place the cyborgs would look for him as well, and given Kenny’s accident-prone nature, they’ve probably already gotten their hands on him.”
“But if that’s true,” said Stan, “Then why haven’t we encountered a cyborg version of Kenny yet?”
Kyle crossed his arms and thought for a moment. “That does seem a little strange.” Either Kenny was left in no shape to be converted, or they only found him recently. Neither possibility made any sense to him though. Kenny’s body was not among the ones they saw in the cold storage, and if MORONI was sending the boys’ former friends and family members to hunt them down, Kenny was not among them either. “MORONI controls all the medical sectors, right? That’s where it takes its human subjects for conversion. Since Kenny had a habit of winding up in the hospital, maybe that’s where we’ll find him!” Before Stan could stop him, Kyle opened the door marked with a red cross, leading from the reactor tower to the hospital of the level.
“Are you listening to yourself?” Stan protested as he chased after his friend. “The hospitals are going to be teeming with guards!”
“Not necessarily,” Kyle called back. Sure enough, when they reached the medical sector, the halls were dead quiet in every direction, with not a single cyborg in sight. Stan gave Kyle a curious look. “The way I figured it,” Kyle explained, “MORONI was originally intended to make medical procedures more efficient, and cut down on lengthy hospital stays. At any given time we’re not likely to run into its patients, especially if they’ve already converted everyone they can. The only ones left, it seems…”
“…Are the stragglers, like us,” Stan finished for him. “I just hope this is a good idea.”
Stan took out his shotgun, and noticed that Kyle had also drawn his rifle, just in case. The two boys pushed their way through the front doors of the hospital, ready for almost anything. Unlike the rest of the colony, the hospital was brightly lit under the sterile white glow of fluorescent ceiling fixtures, and there wasn’t a trace of blood, dirt, or any kind of debris on the floor. The smell of antiseptic permeated the air, and the medical machinery gave off a low and steady hum in the background. The boys slowly paced their way across the room, walking past surgical beds and tables covered with spare mechanical parts, holding their weapons at the ready as if expecting the very walls to leap out and attack them.
At last they came to a small alcove, in which a watery preserving fluid bubbled in a number of suspension tanks. There, floating in the central tank, was what appeared to be a disembodied head, with a mass of branching tentacle-like structures hanging below it. The neck was mostly intact, except it terminated in a fold of scar tissue where the clavicle would be. A look of shocked recognition spread across Stan and Kyle’s faces when they saw the mop of matted yellow hair hovering atop a pair of deep blue eyes, which were staring straight ahead.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Stan. “Kenny!”
“What have those bastards done to you?!” Kyle followed up.
The head slowly moved its lips, and a high-pitched voice resonated within the preserving fluid. “Hi—guys. How’s—it—going?”
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