Humanis Falls: Operation Secret Soup


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Also featuring:

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Scene Title Humanis Falls: Operation Secret Soup
Synopsis A motley crew takes advantage of the chaos at Fort Irwin and makes a few withdrawals of their own.
Date July 22, 2018


41,000 ft


Diamond plate flooring jumps underfoot with force enough for teeth to snip through careless tongues, jolting empty crates against their binds and shuddering dark along the strip lighting that marks the center aisle. Lightning snaps at rain-streaked windows, thunder booms through the hull, and the hold drops.


It catches out of free fall after a few gut-turning feet, gravity restored full stop.

There’s a snap in the darkness — a pop and a crack as a broken belt whips past, and a loaded pallet lurches against the last rusty fastener it has holding it in place. The crates packed onto it are heavy in spite of their emptiness, armored steel flanks jostling rough with every bump and shudder.

Low voices up front are drowned out by a buzzing alarm. The plane struggles to level, engines shredding water through zero visibility.

Seconds later, lightning sizzles again between purple clouds — painting the broad figure of ‘Dominic’ in sharp relief as he navigates his way back into the hold. It’s cold and it’s dark and Monica Dawson is in here somewhere.

One of these pallets looks like it’s ready to tear free, unbalance the load and send them all plummeting to their doom at any moment.

Just another fine Saturday morning with the Horsemen.

When Monica decided to stay on this plane, she had done so with the assumption that she would live through the trip. She had also done a good job of staying hidden and quiet among the crates and boxes. Which is something of a problem now that those pallets and boxes are not as steady as they were.

The dark helps keep her hidden, but she's not tucked between crates anymore. She's hopped off the pallet and has her cyborg arm holding onto the base of the pallet, holding a loose corner in place as she stretches her other arm out— reaching for a strap that is flapping free and difficult to catch. Anchored as she is, it's all but impossible for her to get a hold of it, but she's doing her best. Still quiet, especially under the storm and they alarm, but much much more visible.

She wouldn't be, if she could help it, but she would rather not die in a plane crash far from home.

Maybe on the way back.

Dominic Garcia has likely never been so terrified in his life. And he's been hanging out undercover with some pretty ruthless, no-due-process giving executioner types for several weeks now. He's proven himself to them enough to be taken along on the plane ride, and that is something he's been regretting for… oh a few hours now. Since takeoff? Likely.

It's not necessarily a sense of duty, but rather self-preservation that he's hurrying to get into the cargo hold to secure the items within it back into their correct loaded positions. The sudden drop sends him stumbling and scrambling, the flashlight in his hand swinging the beam of light wildly about.

"Finn! Can't you do something about this fucking up-and-down bullshit?" he yells out, "You're scaring the children, coño!" Whether or not the pilot can actually hear him over the alarms buzzing, Dominic's close enough to hear the snap of the securing strap from the pallet coming loose in the hold. "Fuck, fucking, I am not fucking dying this way," he mutters to himself as he hops-lurches the last few steps down the lower hold.

His flashlight aims down at the immediate area of where he's stepping. Then it's up to where the pallet loaded is. And then it's stopped on the exposed form of Monica Dawson, the light bouncing off the metallics of her arm. Dominic stops dead in his tracks. She might not recognize the sight of him in the immediate dark behind the flashlight, but she'd recognize his voice. "Me cago en todo lo que se menea, holy fuck, what…" The words start his approach off slowly, then the man practically sprints forward, the ray of light focusing down onto Monica's form as he closes the distance between them.

The flashlight is the first hint that someone is heading her way and Monica has a moment where she fights the urge to go back into hiding. But she doesn't. The familiar voice helps. She turns to look, but really can't see him behind the light. Still, when he runs her way, she gestures to the loose ties. "Grab that for me, will you?"

It's really too casual for this situation, spoken with all the urgency of someone with a TV remote just out of reach, rather than someone trying to stop a plane from plummeting out of the sky.

"Who the hell is flying this thing?" she ends up asking, focusing on keeping the pallet steady and obviously counting on his help in locking it down. "Have they ever piloted anything before?" After a moment, she looks over at Dominic again, her head tilting some. "I thought you were out west," she says, her voice only barely audible to him. "Jersey's a whole other world, I'll grant you, but…"

Sure enough, the casual tone Monica takes for the situation really solidifies the danger of it. And in that, 'Dominic' falls in line with it, nodding, passing her the flashlight to hold instead and grasping for the loose tie to resecure the line. With the buckle broken off, he instead knots the rope to the metal bar of the plane's frame in a manger tie as if he were tying a stubborn horse to a post. Thanks Johannes.

Once they've gotten the pallet secured again, Cesar reaches over to tug Monica back out of sight and holds his hand out for the flashlight. "Finn's a perfectly fine pilot. I think. And we are out west - headed that way… But. Monica," he hisses over the noise at her continued casual questions. "What. The fuck. Are you doing here?" There's obvious worry and concern, fear of discovery. But more, he's relieved to see her.

Monica's own panic is noticeable in how quick she goes about getting things secured. She can hide it from her voice, but not from her actual attempt to not die. There is, however, a small noise of surprise when she's tugged back into hiding. Tilts her head at the question, passing the flashlight over as she considers how to answer that question.

"Would you believe that I fell asleep in the back of a truck, got loaded onto a plane, and woke up here?" She glances past him, even though there's really no way to see if anyone else is nearby. His concern gets a bit of a chuckle, which she realizes is highly inappropriate— and not just because of their current altitude. Her expression grows more serious and she reaches over to put a hand on his arm. "We have to get the rest of this stuff locked down before it springs loose and decides to punch a hole through the plane." Discovery is a worry, but it's being pushed to the back of her mind for now. As is the question of where it is they're going and what they're planning to do once they get there. "I'm not willing to bet on you guys having an extra parachute lying around."

Several other choice phrases escape the man in his mother's tongue, but he shakes his head and blows out a sigh that relents his pressuring demand for why her presence is, well, present. He pauses with a glance around as well, making sure of nobody coming down the walkway, then turns back to Monica. "You and I, we're going to talk about this later," he says with a brief wag of his finger indicating them both. But Monica is right in that there's a job still to be done in the hold, securing the crates that have been brought along.

And no, they don't have another parachute.

But securing the cargo is easier with another set of hands, especially with one being enhanced as it is and the competent mind controlling it. "These people," Cesar remarks in the safety of the storm and noise of the cargo hold around them, "are dangerous, Moni. They'll likely kill you." And most likely him, is also implied. "Or otherwise, I hope you got a better cover story than falling asleep in the plane cargo." The man's thinking as he works, casting the occasional glance towards the walkway and listening in case another flashlight's approaching.

The chastisement gets an amused smile and an impish glint to her eye that definitely implies that she's planning on skipping that particular talk. She moves to help, tying off snapped lines and lingering close to Cesar while the moment allows for it. "No kidding," she says, as far as the Horsemen being dangerous, "I've been hearing about their extracurriculars. Charming bunch." She crouches down, testing how the ties are holding for now.

"As for cover stories, that's easy." She nudges him, teasing, before she offers a one hundred percent serious suggestion. "You brought me along so you wouldn't be lonely." If you know what she means, Cesar. "And are kind of into cyborgs. Should flatter your friend, yeah?"

"How long, exactly, have you been out here?" Cesar pulls another knotted rope tight, giving it a few forceful tugs to make sure it's secure before moving to the next. The nudge from her, that tease of a cover story, finally manages to get humored grin out of the man. "You're terrible," he replies, but reaches a hand over to rest on her cybernetic arm at the shoulder. It's when he looks at it, then to her face, that his smile tempers to a little more mischievous an expression. A finger taps against the metallic carbonate covering, his features turning thoughtful.

"It's crazy. But you know what? That just might work."

With thunder clashing on either side of the cargo plane like cymbals, it might be easy to miss the sound of a metal heel coming down on the plated flooring with a lazily rhythmic thump. One hand monkeying along the rigging strong along the curved ceiling of the plane cabin to keep his balance, Iago pursues where last Dominic left in what is very probably an earnest desire to help secure the crates both loaded and empty.

Stops. The only light source comes filtered through as lightning flashes from the windows towards the nose of the plane, and show the gorilla-hulk shape of him several feet from the cargo hold in shudders and flares, a sight just visible to Monica just past Cesar's shoulder.

In the semi-dark, Iago's expression doesn't change, but his free hand lazily makes for the gun secured at his hip.

"What time is it?" Monica's answer to how long she's been around these very dangerous people is not likely to be a satisfying one, but without a glance to her phone— which is tucked away in a pocket— she can't be sure, really. Not long is the implication. She doesn't return the question, she knows how long Cesar has been with them.

His words, as he goes on, bring out a smile on her face, an amused but genuine one. Because she's missed him. If they weren't in the situation they're currently in, she might do more than smile, but as it is, that's as far as she goes. Especially because a spectre appears in the dark behind Cesar. Shock shows in widening eyes, meant to tip off Cesar that they're not alone anymore. But, too, she puts a hand on his arm and nods over his shoulder.

"I think your dad found us," she says, because the closer she is to certain death, the more she has to joke about it. But, too, she doesn't miss where his hand is headed, and her hands lift to prove that she's unarmed.

“Oh, shit, am I supposed to be flying this thing?” calls out Finn from somewhere in the plane. A moment later — his footfalls are much quieter than Iago’s, even more so against the sound of the storm and the rumble of the metal bird flying through it.

His tall figure comes up behind Iago’s, scarce light reflecting dimly off the exaggerated scowl on his face as he looks at Monica, then makes a show of counting on fingers — leaving any shooting of the ladies to Iago or Dominic. He points to Monica.

“Enough is enough! I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” he exclaims — in not a terrible impression, actually. More somberly, he tips his head, his own hand also going to his hip. “Who the fuck are you?”

The flash of lightning past the windows lights the brief disconcerted twist of an expression on Cesar for Monica's reply. What time is it? He doesn't have a watch to check, and without a phone to speak of on his immediate person, there's no telling.

Still, the next shared expression is one of sentiment, because seeing her is a fresh change and a reminder. A good reminder. And, from the shift of her eyes to the touch of his arm to the nod over his shoulder, and her small joke about being found out, Cesar lifts his brows up and turns to face Iago and behind the other man, Finn.

"Heyyy boys, look what I dragged in. Someone to provide an extra hand," he starts, trailing as he looks to Iago's hand at hip. He lifts his free hand that's not holding the flashlight, gesturing placatingly. "'Perame, 'perame… escúchame, okay? Look, she's cool." Slightly turning, Cesar tilts his head towards the robotic arm attached to the woman. Isn't it just the coolest? Come on, guys.

"Oh by the way, I'm Dominic," he 'introduces' himself to Monica. "Bet you didn't think you were in for this kind of a shake up when you came aboard, did you." He won't explicitly say play along. He won't need to, with Monica. He hopes.

The weight of Iago's attention barely has a chance to crush down heavy on Monica before it switches to Dominic, a flat and inscrutable stare only visible from the run off illumination of flashlight beams and the staccato flicker of lightning through windows. The hand he'd closed around his gun also pauses, before he slides it free of leather. It would be a mistake to imagine that he might care about cautious in opening fire in a plane in the middle of a lightning storm thousands and thousands of feet in the sky, and equally incorrect to assume that this is because he's an idiot.

For many reasons. He looks to Monica, a shift that at once dismisses Dominic as it does put her back in his focus, and he gestures with his gun in such a way that suggests she step forward.

"I'm listening," he says, with a glint of canine tooth, a sneer.

"Snake?" Monica puts a hand— her cybernetic one— to her chest in mock offense as she looks over at Finn. Otherwise, she's fine with Dominic taking the lead. At least, while the floor is given to him.

Of course, it's given back to her by the man with a gun drawn, so she's pretty quick to step-to with explanation. "Nica," she says, with a gesture to herself, "Fleming. Thief, fence, also pretty good at parkour, not gonna lie. Before the war, I had a little group down in Atlanta— Concrete Ninjas? No? Sad. We were huge on YouTube. At least until the algorithms pinged our videos because of the music and suspended our channel, can you believe it?" She lets out a huff, her hands moving to her hips. She looks between the three men, then seems to remember where she is. "Oh right. Dominic and I— nice to finally have a name, by the way. Nic and Nic, it was kinda meant to be— met one time when I was robbing his apartment back in the day. Haven't been able to shake each other since. Do favors now and then. He said you guys might be able to use an extra hand. Maybe for a slice of the take?"

Which is the opening of negotiations, as if there's no storm, no gun, no ex-vanguard to worry about.

“Shit, I thought you were in the cockpit,” Finn says to Iago, maybe more for the sake of their stowaway. The plane shudders a bit with turbulence, as if to punctuate the joke.

There’s a glance at Dominic when he introduces himself to the woman, one brow rising and giving him a bit of a cynical expression that doesn’t seem to match with the jokes and the impressions. “Dude, that’s the name of my Dead Kennedys cover band,” he says.

He angles a glance at Iago. “She’s good at parkour,” he repeats, as if the other man might have missed that little item off the litany of skills on Nica’s CV.

Dominic doesn’t move far, rather standing between Nica and Iago in halfway to a human meatshield moment. They’re all just one happy circle of questionables at the moment, right? That shudder from the plane make a good cover of his own inner shakiness. A quick glance shoots back to the woman as she makes with the false stories and aliases.

The man nods and thumbs at her, remarking to the other pair of men, “She stole my Dreamcast. It was an original! Sadly didn’t have much time to play it, but if you ask me I think I got the better end of the deal.” He cuts a glance to the woman, a genuine smile there to wrap the end of that bit between them. Then it’s back to the other men, studying both in turn. “And she might’ve just saved all our lives a few minutes ago, because that pallet was about to really let go and there’d have been shit all I could do if we got a hull breach.” What does he know about plane terms? Nothing. But sci-fi terms, maybe a few.

The storm, the gun, the ex-Vanguard all remain present and elements to worry about, all oddly in tune with one another — harsh light and cold steel and inscrutable expression — in ways that the jovial banter that fills the storm-shaken plane is not. Iago's glance to Finn is a shade wry, for comment the first and the second, and when his attention returns to the others, its to Monica's robot arm.

Thunk, scuff. Iago goes to close some of the distance between himself and Monica, with a look bouncing to Dominic that suggests he does not find stories of Nica's heroism particularly convincing. With half a foot on the lone woman of the group, he is not above using his height and the heft to his shoulder line to some advantage — intimidation, control of the space, something like that. Pressure applied.

Keyed in a little to Dominic's actions as well, Iago brings up his gun — and tink-tinks it against her prosthetic.

The auto-piloted plane bucks a little beneath all their feet, and the cargo groans against its straps. The hand he has gripping the rigging keeps him from stumbling, muscles tensing, wrist to shoulder. "We are storming a castle," he says. "Are you certain you wouldn't rather take your chances with the sky?" A chin up suggests the rear hatch as a possible option for her to entertain.

Monica cuts a glance over to Finn, smiling warmly, "Always nice to meet a fan." As if his words were meant to back up her story and joke about it. The only indication that she is at all aware of how precarious her situation is comes when Iago gets closer to her. She pivots back as he approaches, not far enough to keep him from tapping on her arm, but enough to indicate that his presence works. Up close, too, the darkness doesn't do enough to hide that she's tense.

She also glances toward his leg, but it comes off more like she's finding a place to look that isn't his face rather than curiosity. When the plane jerks, she stumbles, but regains her balance quickly, only reaching for something to hold onto a moment later. For next time.

When Iago speaks, that's when Monica actually looks up at him. She follows his nod to the hatch, as if actually considering it for a moment before she looks back. Her easy smile returns, her free hand moving to her hip. "I think I'll try the castle," she says, tone flippant again, but there's a look in her eye as she looks at Iago. If you'll let me is added there, to him, unspoken but clearly implied.

Finn offers a sweet, practically beatific smile to Iago when the other man glances his way, before finding a patch of wall to lean against — a spectator’s spot, as he watches the inspection take place. He lifts brow once he realizes the woman has a robotic arm, to match Iago’s leg.

Glancing over at Dominic, he shakes his head, indicating disappointment in the man. “Bit ballsy to be bringing plus ones on board. You could have at least brought one for everybody,” he says, voice tuned to the key of feigned indignation.

He angles his head to peer down the passage to the cockpit windows, studying the sky for a moment, then looking back to Iago, watching the other man for any tacit directions.

Somewhere in the moments of Iago step-clunking forth to inspect Monica more closely, Dominic finds a hand gripping onto one of the ropes holding the pallet steady. There’s trust in the line, in the knot he tied previously at the end of it. As long as the plane holds, it should too. The question being, how long is the plane going to hold. As long as Iago wills it, perhaps.

Finn’s remark earns a light, casual shrug. “I know but you know how hard it is to find good help these days? There’s no Craigslist for castle-storming now that I know of either. And, your plus one could’ve come on her own.” He might be sending a teasing dig at the pilot at that, but like Monica, shares the tendency to joke when a situation is serious. Dark eyes stay on Iago as well, watching carefully for a change in the storm’s direction, as it were.

Iago's regard holds for a requisite amount of moments, merits and questions and intent all weighed in silence, a strange kind of indifference blanketing all. His posture straightens with a grip to the overhead rigging, and he reaches across to slide gun back into holster. Faint, in the gloom, Monica might imagine the barest hint of some kind of smile, or maybe that's just the shift in light redefining the depth of lines of his expression — hard to say, because he looks away from her, and to Dominic.

"One hour," he says. "Prepare her."

Turning his back on them, it's to Finn that he says, "Watch them," without any attempt to conceal the directive, as he makes way back to the cockpit, metal heel grating along metal plating with that subtle limping list. The extension visible from the cuff of his pant leg is likely a less sleek construction than the one that weighs at Monica's side, something organic and sharp to it in much the same way the Hunters and Sentinels are designed.

One hour seems like a lot of time, but eventually, as they come to descend on the outskirts of an already raging battle, of smoke and fire and missiles falling from jets, it doesn't seem like any time at all.

Weed Army Community Hospital, Fort Irwin

Mojave Desert


A fireball blossoming up into the rain paints strange, rolling shadows up the walls as it rises. Window panes rattle on a shockwave delay, waves of runoff lit through in shades of orange and red. Boom. It’s oddly quiet, apart from the occasional explosion, and the low murmur of thunder that pursues forks of lightning across the night sky.

Wings open up away from the central pathway, some behind doors with keycard entry — Radiology, Trauma. Not a one of them so far has been labeled Mad Science. None of them have been defended on this floor, or occupied.

The hospital corridors are empty, its hallways dead and dark.

All the better to amplify the sound of scuffing footsteps at the root of a nurse’s station ahead — the rattling of a metal tray, stifled with a whispered swear.

“Ffuck.” More scuffling, hastier now. “Fuck.

Around the corner, just inside of the station’s raised counter, there is a door, and that door stands partially open. A circle of white light sweeps across the floor inside, aimed by an unsteady hand. After a shivery beat — a gathering breath — the light snaps dark. A human man in a white coat creeps out into the open.

He’s bearded, medium height, medium build, hunched, teeth chattering. He’s also clutching something broad and rectangular to his chest.

In his other hand, he’s holding a clipboard.

Rain water and mud tracks beneath Iago's boot, leaving a print of the rounded heel that dilutes and smears over otherwise pristine floors. The prints left by his other foot are stranger and more animal in nature, and in spite of the loud thunk of his casual walk that had reverberated through the plane, he moves now with only a subtle click and scrape of metal concealed by the sounds of battle beyond, thunder in the distance. He is dressed — as are all of them — in military fatigues, and bearing a rifle.

At the sight of white glow across the space, he pauses, waiting and thoughtful, watches it disappear, watches the figure emerge onto the floor. The thought of raising the rifle and eliminating a possible complication crests and ebbs, and by the time he sees the gleam of white coat in the gloom, Iago lowers his rifle for the floor.

To Finn, and to Dominic, "Take him."

Monica is honestly somewhat surprised to find herself outfitted with the rest and taken along. But, as she's here and keen on not being shot in the middle of the heist, she's making herself useful. And proven to be handy with a rifle.

When she sees the light, the rifle is pointed in that direction, but she doesn't move to engage. Just stays near Iago and readies to provide cover. Just in case. Not everyone who looks like a mild-mannered scientist actually is one. And she likes to be prepared for the worst. The worst is pretty common, in her line of work. Any of her lines of work.

Finn is fairly bouncing with that labrador-esque energy, and he nods as he’s told to fetch. He glances to Dominic, then moves quickly toward the man. One hand holds a gun but he holds up both hands as if he’s gentling a frightened colt.

“Hey, there, buddy,” he croons at the man, as if he’s found a toddler roaming around without its mother in the middle of a CVS. “Wanna come with us? We won’t hurt you.”

After all, he might have information they can use, right?

Despite his sweet voice and amiable grin, the hand he puts around the upper arm of the scientist is firm.

Dominic on the other hand, plays the straight man of the duo moving forward to capture the white coat. "What's that there?" he asks with an indicating gesture of the rifle in his hands to the rectagular shape held in the labcoated man's arms. Finn steps forth, Dominic keeps a couple paces back and to the side, rifle muzzle angled to a shallow downward angle. "Obligatory warning: Sudden movements are ill advised," he adds as he acts the escort on the other side. "As is resistance."

“Woah woah woah woah — noo no no — “

The clipboard drops with a smack flat to the tile floor at their quarry’s feet, turned loose like a hot brand in the face of pointed guns and the pair of beefy soldier boys behind them. He’s already prickling with sweat, ginger hair swept back lank from its own recession.

“No, I mean yes, yes. I do, obviously. Soldiers.”

He cuts his eyes between the pair of them, his empty right hand raised open at the hands Finn has raised at him, briefcase half buried behind his lapel. Soldiers, right? A jerkier glance aside picks up Iago and Monica in his periphery before Dominic’s demand, and he trembles, stirring the contents of his case to tinkle very, very faintly.

“Mm….medicine. It’s just medicine. Ha-ah, ” he shows his eye teeth in a grimace, miles shy of anything that sounds close to a laugh. “This is a misunderstanding. I’m a doctor? I think it’s like — a war crime to kill me.”

Iago moves into view as the doctor is shepherded nearer, holding his rifle and down aside, but well ready. His costume of American military seems just like that — a costume — when considering the context cues of robot foot and the flat, unyielding stare squared on the doctor, question mark. Frankly assessing in a way a butcher might preside over a carcass. His mouth twists, as if finding something unsatisfactory in his appraisal, and he looks aside.

Past his shoulder, Iago says to Monica, "Check the briefcase," having easily subsumed her under his command for as long as she's willing to likewise roll with it.

Finger kept curled within trigger guard, he says, "We are looking for people. Prisoners. Tell us where to find them, we'll let you be one yourself."

When the order comes her way, Monica lowers her weapon and slings it over a shoulder. If he decides to act up there are three other guns and two cyborgs, so she doesn't actually worry about her chances. Her arm is covered by jacket sleeves, but as she gets closer, her hand and fingers are difficult to hide if the doctor gives her more than a casual glance.

And she probably undoes all of Finn's hard work because she just walks over and puts a hand on the briefcase. And yanks. She doesn't bother to think of something to soothe him, because either the briefcase isn't important and there's no reason he'll be upset… or it is important and there's nothing she could say to make him give it over willingly. Instead, she relies on the intimidation factor that is many guns and, well, Iago.

Monica lifts her eyebrow in the doctor's direction once she has it, just in case he wants to say anything before she opens it. But open it she does. "Well, it is medicine," she says, her fingers turning over bottles to read labels and shaking a few to make sure there's nothing funny going on. "Wow, percocet. My word, doctor. You have a black market dream on your hands. Or, well," she says, closing the case again, "we do."

While Monica peers into the briefcase, Finn takes a moment to pat down the doctor, taking things from his pocket and examining them. He hands a flashlight to Dominic, pockets some mints and a pen. You never know when you might need these things.

“Doc Mulligan here has just volunteered to show us where the good shit is, lady and gentlemen,” Finn declares with a wide grin, jangling a set of keys and clipping a security badge to his jacket’s lapel. “He has secret clearance, y’all.”

Finn reaches up to pat the man lightly on the face. “We’re not going to kill you just in case we need your retinas or fingerprints to open any secret doors. I mean, we could take those and leave you, but that’s just messy.”

He wrinkles his nose and loops an arm around the man’s elbow to draw him along with him, like they’re on a date.

Dominic aka Beefy Soldier 2, takes the flashlight Finn offers and stoops to pick up the dropped clipboard as well, skimming the paper on top. It's probably got something important written on it, right? Why would the good doctor have held on to it this whole time.

"The real crime would be makin' one of us carry you, so, don't," he says as he yanks the papers off the clipboard and offers them over to Monica to stick into the briefcase, slipping the woman a short, check-up look. And with that, he resumes position on the doctor's other side.

Kevin juts his jaw against Monica’s yank, but doesn’t pull back, tense through his shoulder when she rips it from his grasp. He only follows her with his eyes, from her face down to her fingertips, and more quickly back up again. Past her. To Iago.

Suspicion setting into the hood if his brow is jostled forward by the grope job he’s getting from Finn — one leg shaken stubborn against too-close contact.

C’mon, man — “ and to Monica: “I’m performing a public service. The world out there is a shi — ” he flinches again, as the clip of his badge is striped from his pocket, “—ithole.” Papers are torn from his clipboard; he glowers at Dominic. They’re old intake forms, paper yellowed, blanks not filled out. Probably just the extent of his effort to look like he had some legitimate business in the storeroom.

Too many hands on him, too many muscles and too many guns, in spite of the sullen grit of his teeth. Between Finn’s threats and Dominic’s, and the vulture-winged spread of Iago Ramirez’s Presence looming behind them all, the doctor’s back to trembling.

“There are prisoners everywhere,” he swallows, as he admits. “You gotta be more specific.”

The contents of the briefcase, the clipboard, his pockets — none of it useful, save to communicate with efficiency the nature of the rat they've captured in their claws. There's a glance to the security badge, the keys, prized by Finn, and Iago casts the doctor a thin, reptile smile.

"The builder," an initial nod to specificity, standing still and patient in the midst of all the jostling, the snatching, the tugging that the doctor is being subjected to. A lazy glance down to trembling hands, then back up again. "Of the machines. We have orders to secure his safety," is borderline droll in his affect and languid accent, a negligent gesture to the pantomime of higher authority present in camo and assault rifles.

A tip of his head, conceding; "And only his."

The notion the anyone around here is doing a public service has Monica lifting an eyebrow. She doesn't comment, just closes the briefcase and pulls her rifle off her shoulders and falls back next to Iago. "And it's a bit urgent," she adds, to Iago's words. "Getting more urgent by the minute."

She looks over at Dominic, her head tilting a little. Curious. She doesn't know what the actual objectives are here, but she wonders if he really knows, either. Or, possibly, she wonders how much of this is really part of his assignment and how much of this is him getting in over his head.

Or taken in.

“You heard the man. Lead the way, Kev-Dawg,” Finn says, letting loose of the promenade-style arm tuck and instead heartily patting the man on the back with both hands — one still holding the gun, so that might leave a small bruise.

“To the builder! Of the machines!” This is said in a not-bad impression of Iago’s voice. “Vamonos.”

Dominic, briefly distracted with examining the layout of the area they're in within the circular ray of the flashlight, sweeps the beam back towards the room the doctor had been in. "What exactly were you looking for in there, Doc? Maybe we'll get it, take it along, carry it for you," he notes with a short glance back to Iago, a brow lifting. They did catch the doctor mid-panicky examinations in the darkness, after all.

But Dominic's glance is brief, promised to not take much time. A sidelong glance goes to Monica, also brief, but shadowed as it is the expression doesn't read as anything but thinking of only the present moment. If he's aware of the plan, he's not showing as much excited energy as his counterpart Finn is for it.

Finn's impression of Iago gets Dominic to tighten the line of his mouth more, mostly because it's really not that bad an impression. His gaze slides back to Iago, though, gauging the man's reaction to it.

The builder gets a blanch, a wibble of protest that never finds voice, and a quick look to Finn, whose helpful pats jostle him into his first step forward. Doctor Kevin Mulligan nods. He still has his hands raised over his elbows when he takes the next step on his own, moving like a man held hostage, side-shuffling past Monica as if he expects he might catch a bullet if he lets any of their guns out of his sight.

“Percocet, man,” he manages to get out to Dominic, back-of-the-class hushed in the great, dark emptiness of the hospital. Like, let it go, ok?

To his credit, or to Fort Irwin’s discredit — it doesn’t take him long to settle into life at gunpoint.

A little.

He leads the way in relative quiet, only occasionally catching the edge of a doorway with his shoulder or bumping a counter in his ongoing effort to keep tabs on all four of them.

“…So you guys are…Marines, or…?” Boop. He boops them in through the second door he’s had to boop them through, right hand pressed flat over a panel where a keypad might otherwise be installed, and interrupts himself to state his name: “Dr. Kevin Mulligan, PhD.” (“It was supposed to be a joke,” he’d explained, previously, “but they wouldn’t let me re-record it.”) Something shifts in the adjacent wall — heavy, metal, invisible from the outside. All as before, and all under the eye of a single, watchful camera lens.

A chime plays off key, the door sweeps aside into the frame, schoomp, and ahead lies the first hallway that doesn’t look like More Hospital. The walls are an industrial grey, the floors exposed concrete. It’s long and narrow and very straight; there are no side doors, and no windows. Fluorescent bars flood the space with too-white light; a massive fan turns on a lazy cycle at the end, which descends into a single stairway leading down.

At the bottom of the stairway, there’s a second door, with a second panel.

“I dated a soldier once, actually. Here, on the base.”

Very distantly in the hospital wing behind them, there is a faint but distinct tip tap. And another. Tip tap. Tippy tap — the sound of steel and rubber on tile.

Kevin furrows his brow.

Shockingly, Iago's capacity for good humour is limited.

But he is also unbothered, as if at some point he made peace with Finn's Finness in the same way his tolerance for other strangely comedic characters in his life can only be assumed. They move, and Iago trails behind the pack as if to shepherd them from the rear, keeping an eye on all four along with their surroundings, even as said surroundings diminish into the narrow concrete corridor, the staircase leading downwards ahead.

At the first sound of literally anything, Iago pivots, rifle raised, staring down the empty hallway they've cleared so far, at the slice of the wing he can see that they left behind.

"Keep moving," he tells the rest, not yet doing so himself.

Monica follows along, weapon ready, but her expression is bored. Kevin's joke, Kevin's story, Kevin in general. Boring. she doesn't answer his question, either. She just cannot with this guy.

So, hearing the strange taps from behind come almost as a relief.

Slowing to a stop, she turns to look, eyes narrowing. Iago's words come and go and she doesn't seem to be listening. No, it's the opposite. She heads backwards, heading toward the noise. To check it out before it sneaks up on them.

When it’s Kevin’s voice that opens the door for them, Finn’s brows lift, and he says brightly to the poor ginger doctor, “See? It’s so good I kept you with us. Your finger or an eyeball wouldn’t have worked after all.” He pats the man on the shoulder with one hand — the other holds his firearm at the ready.

He continues forward at Iago’s urging, but glances back at the sound behind them, just in time to see Monica head that way. He raises one brow, but lets Iago deal with that — his orders are forward.

“Really, would you have even told me it needed voice command too? You can’t hold these things back, pal. Not if we’re going to have any sort of working relationship at all. It’s all built on trust,” he natters quietly, though a tension in his posture belies the nonchalant attitude.

Dominic narrows his eyes at the doctor, not quite believing him to be truthful given the man's duress, but drops the subject with a short shrug and a nod to Iago and Finn for their moving on. He does, in fact, let it go. Their progress through the hallway has him studying the layout, a short note made of the camera.

"Well that's a shift of the decor," Dominic remarks as they come to concrete and grey. "Very… je ne sais quoi. Better Homes and Industrial Secret Underground Bases. Who's your designer, Doctor?" He and Finn can make up for Iago's lack of humor, surely.

Since they're told to keep moving, he takes point and steps ahead, rifle raised and eyeing the walls and floors, to reach the end of the hallway with the second panel. "Doc, if you got anything to say about any booby traps, you better do so before my buddies over there put two in you," he notes back to Kevin.

Otherwise, Dominic clears the hallway like he's practiced in such an exercise.

“I j-just assumed you’d keep me with you and alive out of common decency? I guess?”

Kevin seems unsure, not-quite-uncertainty wavering between Finn and the sound they’ve all heard click-tapping after them in pursuit. But he’s gripped onto the elbow of the hand Finn keeps using to pat him with, misgiving clogged up deep in his craw.

He takes a step back to keep pace with the pair of them that are following orders — deeper into the hallway, and — before he can answer Dominic —

The door between them and Iago and Monica schoomps shut.

That wasn’t a trap!” Kevin is very quick to establish, a finger jabbed out at the door in his own defense. “It just closes. It’s closed. I can open it. Dr. Kevin Mulligan,” he says, as he steps bravely forward to flatten his hand to the panel on their side of the door.

“Access denied,” a feminine voice informs them from on high.

“Dr. Kevin Mulligan, PhD,” Kevin tries again, more urgently than before.

Access denied. Insufficient clearance.


Monica will see it first, in her spur decision to take reverse point — a mechanical hound that looks more like a panther, slung low to the ground in shades of black and rusty, desert red. Its eyes seethe green in the semidark, engine casing just shy of the tile in its hunter’s slink. A faint, hornet’s nest buzz is muffled through composite and steel, steam vented through the ribs with a hiss as it tracks along their path.

Two armed soldiers stalk twenty feet behind, rifles raised, sweeping side to side, point to point as they close in towards the end of the wing.

Between here and there are a multitude of blind corners, tables, counters and exam rooms.

There’s also the door behind them, Kevin’s voice muffled panicky on the other side.

A pair of dark shapes zither across the ceiling between Monica and Iago, weaving between shadows, each no larger than a banana. One flashes electric blue in a muffled zzzt of insectoid wings under cover of darkness.

There's a skeptical look turned aside towards Monica as she moves to match and then move beyond Iago's position, additional tension creaking stiff along muscle lashed to bone. She moves, and only until she is a few feet forward does Iago do likewise the same as the voices behind him diminish as they move through the door.

When he hears it slide shut, he turns only just enough to look. Impatience flares, a coarse exhale, before refocusing on pacing back the way they came.

The appearance of the strange shapes and lights alighting on the ceiling above only shuffles it into the order of priority. Behind Monica, she can hear the faint click of something coming detached, palmed, the small shape of a grenade held in gloved hand as Iago relocates the assault rifle to his back as he eases forward, the quick equation of being down the dead end of a hallway when faced with a robot and two armed men propelling him towards those shadowed corners and empty rooms.

No command is issued to Monica. In fact, Iago moves independent of her entirely, as if to claim distance between himself and she as he moves disappear behind a blindspot, senses attuned more to the footfalls of the two soldiers than the metal-rubber click of robot feet.

Monica may have sold herself as a thief to avoid getting tossed off a plane, but in this moment, it's clear she's more than that. She hears the click from behind her and she responds by sliding into one of the rooms. Instead of rushing to meet the incoming robots and soldiers, she opts to wait for them to get to her. Mostly so Iago has the space to handle his chosen targets without her getting caught in the crossfire.

From here, she glances upward at the flash of blue, a frown coming to her face. The threats on the ceiling are noted, but saved for later. Because she's waiting for the larger robot to get to her.

When it does, she swings out of the room, mechanical hand taking the lead. She punches fingers toward the hound's eye, aiming to stab right through to yank out whatever mechanical guts she can find behind it.

“Doctor Frankenstein here’s telling me about common decency, Dom. You hear this shit?” Finn says, with a rueful cluck of tongue and shake of head, just as the door slides back to closed. He doesn’t look worried — Kev is very reassuring.

Until he’s not.

“You best find a way to open that door if you want me to be at least as decent as I have been, buddy. Decency and indecency are a bit of a slippery slope, you know what I’m saying?” He knocks at the door lightly with the nose of his pistol. “Figure it out. Why can you get in but not out? That’s ominous. Like the Hotel California.”

As he hums a couple of bars, he glances at Dominic. “Should we keep looking for Bob the Builder, or wait up for Team Cyborg?”

Not a booby trap. Worse. Dominic spins around at the sound of the door behind them shutting before Iago and Monica can get through, and despite Kevin’s insistence that it wasn’t a trap, there’s suddenly a very pissed off man behind a very real gun pointing at the doctor. “Time for decency’s fuckin’ past, Finn-man,” he growls under breath. Ears strain to hear if there’s anything happening on the other side.

“Come the fuck on,” he hisses at the voice informing them that Doc Mulligan’s access is no longer permissible. After a stream of swears, he checks a glance to Finn then uses the muzzle end of his rifle to prod Kevin into action. “Where’s the other door lead, Doc? Open it. You got a few seconds before my buddy gets indecent.”

Finn has the reply. They’ll need to get out of the hallway first before they can make a new move.

Cover of darkness and letting the metal and worn rubber of robotic appendage meet the slick floor almost timed with the robot's less stealthy prowl through the hospital wing— does something to assist a stealth approach as Iago patiently moves to turn a potential cornering into an ambush, but it's slower going in close quarters than he would prefer. Watching the turn of flashlights affixed to rifles, he ducks closer behind a long countertop, losing sight of Monica and enemies both as he listens to boot creaks and the hydraulic hiss of the robot's movement.

It's the sound of a sudden flurry of action that spurs him to move sooner, sighting the camo-clad legs of the two armed soldiers. With a quick, borderline casual flick, Iago throws the grenade to skitter out and spin-bounce between boots, and he sinks backwards behind cover.

He shoulders his rifle back into his hands just as detonation slams through the air in a wall of concussive power.

The hunter slows as it closes in on the tick of its sensors after Monica’s ‘scent,’ needle point unsheathed to slick wet through rusted fangs. The pool of green light it casts over tile ahead dulls into hellfire red, and the soldiers behind it raise their weapons.

One step at a time, it crawls for the corner she’s tucked herself behind, glowing red eyes reflected in stainless steel fixtures and trays.

Its needle finds the doorway first, skullish snout testing the air, eddying the vapor kicked out through its own vents. Sssss.

One more reach of a rubber tread and — Monica crunches glass through the orbit of its eye in her tender cyborg embrace. Sparks spill out through the jawless gap of its throat; the rear legs dig into instinctive tug-of-war reverse, slinging her out into the hallway even as she twists to put its bony bulk between herself and the hailstorm of gunfire its two escorts cut loose on her position. Lead chews across the tile floor between the hunter’s limbs, snagging hot through Monica’s uniform and into her flesh where she’s exposed in the scuffle.

Night becomes day, muzzleflash searing retinas in military tandem, only for one of them to stop as abruptly as it started.


He throws himself behind a station desk.

His companion isn’t as lucky. The resultant burst and spatter is soundless save for the ringing in all of their ears — the clatter of his rifle to the floor as feather silent as the wrestling of the mechanical beast trying to throw Monica off of its face. A burst of fire from behind the desk sends bullets ricocheting blind down the hall; the soldier hunkered behind it has no idea where they are.


“I usually had an escort. Always. I always had an escort,” Kevin is stammering, to the tune of a concussive explosion and gunfire rendered tinny through however many inches of solid steel. “I’m just secret, man. Not top secret. I’ve never been in this way, and they only brought me down here to — to assist on ‘operations.’”

He twists back to the stairwell at Dominic’s prompt, hands raised and eyes shut hard against the rifle jabbed into his middle.

“It’s — everything. Everything’s down there, everything you’re looking for. Documents, priority personnel, the morgue. I don’t know if I can.” But he’s already sidestepping, in a hurry to be anywhere but the end of a loaded gun, for all that his lack of open sniffling suggests this may not be his first time. “I’ll try.”

He will, just the one hand kept up to beg off premature execution as he leads the way for the stairs at the end of the hall. Down, down they go, in a straight line, cold concrete striped with yellow at the dip from one step to the next.

“You guys have no idea what you’re getting yourselves into,” he rambles, as he goes. “I’ve heard stories.

Puddles have pooled in dark patches at the base landing; a dark shape scuttles up for the fan far above in Dominic’s periphery. There’s a panel down here at the door to match the one at the door they left behind, flat in its wait for Kevin’s hand. The door schoomps open before his fingers grace the surface.

The hallway beyond is as long and narrow as the one at their backs; light fixtures shudder dark in a wave end to end, before cutting to black and staying that way. Water runs down from the ceiling at a steady trickle where the concrete is cracked.

“Hungry,” a synthesized voice is saying, from somewhere distant in the dark. “Hungry.”

Kevin looks at Finn.

“Uhm,” he says. “…Maybe I should wait here.”

When the bullet hits, Monica hisses and shrinks back behind the robot. It's short lived, since the hound is tossing her around. It takes her a heartbeat or two to regain her footing, blood coloring her arm— the one that still has blood. The robot is mid-movement when she yanks her arm free of its face and twists back to disappear into one of the rooms again.

Not to hide, exactly. But to lure. She crosses the room at a run and kicks over a table to hop behind. There's a glance to her wound, but no time to see to it. She pulls her gun forward, letting her cyborg arm handle it as she aims toward the door, ready to fire into the weak spot she created.

What she hopes is a weak spot anyway.

Finn’s head turns at the sound of explosions and gunfire, raising his brows. “Looks like they’re busy,” he says wryly, before looking back to Kevin. “Secret but not secret-secret. Got it.”

For once, he shuts up as they plunge deeper into the creepy hallway and down stairs, his eyes growing just a bit wide. He definitely agrees with Kevin’s assessment that he has no idea what he’s gotten himself into.

At the sound of that synthesized voice, he whispers, “Sorta glad there’s puddles everywhere because I just may piss myself. What the fuck is that? That is a fifty shades of not fucking okay.”

To Kevin, he gestures for the man to keep leading on. “The builder of the machines. We need you, Kev-dawg. Keep on keeping on.”

“Drop your damn hand,” Dominic mutters at Kevin so the doctor doesn’t have to walk so awkwardly with the one hand or both held up. Where they’re probably going, it’ll be too dark to notice. He casts a glance back to the lighted hallway and the muffled sounds of gunfire, grimaces and turns back to the staircase leading down.

He sticks a hand into a pocket on his belt, drawing the flashlight out and switching it on to shine into the pitch dark. “You said stories?” He hiss-whispers back at Kevin. “Operations? On who? Of what?” After a quick initial flash of the beam down as far as it’ll go, Dominic starts forward with finger on the trigger in one hand, supporting hand with flashlight in the other.

“Why couldn’t people just leave people the hell enough alone,” he grumbles mostly to himself, but just loudly enough to be overheard. “Watch out for ankle snatchers, and remember to look up a few times,” he adds for Finn’s sake.


In the immediate wake of ear-ringing explosion, Iago is already moving from one position of cover to the next, spying that burst of gunfire aimed at nothing and seeking an angle of corner that conceals himself from the remaining soldier's line of sight.

Aware in an abstract way of Monica's movement and the robot currently attuned to her presence, he defaults to patience and stillness and silence, rifle ready. Hearing strained from the silencing effect of a loud explosion in close confines, he watches the shadow on shadows of the floor from his position even as he tries to listen out for corresponding foot fall or radio chirrup.

Sparks bounce over the tile at Monica’s heels as the hunter rolls over itself in its own haste to tear away, ribs and elbows clattering scissory in the dark before the rubber treads of its feet can find purchase after her. She’ll hear it before she sees it lunge sideways into the door frame, staggering, slipping against the rap and ricochet of gunfire off its corrupted snoot.

It leaps, as it runs, one red eye tracing a fiery brand across human retinas on its way to — smashing headlong into the tipped table.

The structure hurtles sideways with the force of impact, four-hundred pounds of bad attitude pile driven into Monica’s makeshift foxhole. The ozone stench of its burnt face is smothering in close quarters, one stumpy paw clawing for purchase at the table’s edge, the sparking gap of its wrecked orbital cavity locking fangs in behind it like a pair of climbing spikes.

There’s no growl or snarl — just the bite of steel fangs splintering into wood and buzzing of mechanical bees in its mechanical trap mounting up to a fever pitch. Steam flushes harsh through its ribs.

Just outside, Iago is ideally positioned to see when the remaining human escort slinks shakily from cover to close on the door Monica and the hound vanished through. He’s choking his rifle up to his shoulder, boots crossed silent one over the other, moving cautiously from corner to corner, sweeping the open area beyond for movement. He’s young, broad — a regular Captain America, Army designations on the shoulder of his uniform.

The last stretch is a long one. He steels himself with a cross cut silent across his breast before he goes.


You’re the one who wanted to come down here.” Why the fuck should Kevin know what the it is? His inside voice is harsh against the slosh of his Converse through standing water, efforts at stealth ineffectual at best. The second door schoomphs shut behind them.

“Maybe you should ask your fucking boss!”

He does drop his hand, though, clutching it close to his chest, like he’s reluctant to let it go anywhere else in the dark. He’s still holding it there when Dominique snaps a flashlight on, jut-jawed and squint-eyed in the light.

“Implants, amputations — infections. They’re always wheeling some Project Reveille asshole down here who collapsed at the dinner table because he didn’t eat breakfast and shat out all his antibiotics.”

Dominic’s flashlight glances harsh off white concrete ahead, sheets of falling water robbing the halls of what might otherwise be an eerie silence.


There are doors on either side of the hallway — better seen when the overhead lighting buzzes and stutters briefly back to life. Stenciled letters emblazoned in red along the walls designate this wing as PROOF OF CONCEPT. Past that, concrete gives way to polished acrylic for some twenty or thirty feet — a sheer, transparent window that bumps up against a closed door. Low shapes move on the other side, reflected pink off the stainless steel frame before the lights cut out again.



For a solid couple of seconds, the soldier's swift steps cut clear across the space unimpeded as he closes up the distance between his latest hiding spot and where the Hunter pursued its quarry.

Then, a shadow, sliding into the soldier's periphery amongst all the other corners of darkness. Lit up in staccato as Iago squeezes the trigger. The automatic relentlessness of rifle fire is a sudden break in the silence beyond the thump and sizzle and hydraulics that Monica is contending with, and Iago only stops shooting when the soldier falls. And then steps forward, and shoots his prone form with a quick line of bullets once more.

He replaces the clip with a clack and click of metal and plastic, eyeing the door the robot disappeared through doubtfully, not moving in to assist too quickly or anything.

Eventually, though, he moves, a path that has him stepping over fresh corpses.

Monica fires a few times before she has to accept the fact that the robot is just going to keep moving. When it slams into her table, she rolls back and up onto her feet— with the help of those parkour skills she was bragging about not too long ago. And then she moves, while it attacks the table, she darts to one side, slinging the rifle over her shoulder before she shifts into a slide.

Her trajectory takes her along the robot's side and her robot side scrapes fingertips against its body, digging in once she finds those exhaust port ribs and using the arm's boosted strength to try to dent them shut and cut off some of the robot's ability to regulate its heat.

She doesn't look toward the door, not at the gun fire and not in hopes of seeing backup there. It seems like she doesn't mind handling things on her own, if she has to.

She might even miss it a little.

“Want,” gulps Finn, looking back at Dominic at the sounds, “is a very strong word, Kevin.” The sounds of the gunfire and explosives behind him make him feel like it might not have been the wrong decision — but he can’t say moving down into this den of mad science is the right one, either.

He glances back the way they came, where that door has shut behind them, and there’s the distinct furrow caused by worry on his face. “I really hope there’s a way out of this fucking horror movie,” he mutters — nothing feigned in his tone, no comical affect for once.

Finn is scared.

“What is that,” he says, looking to the window where those shapes moved behind the acrylic, to peer inside, despite every fiber of him telling him it’s probably better to move on.

“Hey!” Dominic snaps, his volume quiet, his tone sharp, at the pair with him. “Fuckin’ chill out and keep moving.” It’s after a pause, after another one of those ’Hungry’ murmurs, that he keeps moving. The big red stenciled letters are concerning. Worrisome. But like Finn, he’s really hoping for the next door to be out of the horror show that is flickering lights and dripping water and things moving behind clear windows.

It’s not a concept he needs proof of at the moment. “Come on you two, we’re here for the builder not for… whatever the fuck that is.” He jerks his rifle barrel in the direction of onward.

The second soldier drops mid-spin to face the sound of fire on his position, death-throe tension locked ankle to wrist, fingers grasping at nothing as his rifle slips between them. Thump. Clatter. Spent casings rattle across the carnage, their rolling slowed quiet upon reaching blood.

Scalding steam beads moisture down the length of Monica’s arm, but there’s no hide to strip away. Her fingers catch at gapped ribs, giving soft as a shark’s gills to the wrench of her grip.

The metal beast wheels on her again, jerking her weight along with it if she holds on — a tiger caught halfway to the tail, needle chasing her half a step behind. A clipboard is sent flying — a whiteboard easel and a second table swept over, reams of paper flipped airborne in the fray. The skull is angled back at her just so, the crater in its face wide open over permanently bared fangs, just within reach if she has even a single bullet left in that gun.

Otherwise, Iago will have an interesting math problem on his hands, and a very plausible case to be made for accidental death.


As Finn asks what is that, one of the shapes moves closer. It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s — hog. It’s a hog, hindquarters lit up fleshy white in sweep of a flashlight’s beam. The tight curl of its tail is unmistakably porcine, despite the unlikelihood, cloven hooves set wide apart in a scattering of hay over the concrete floor.

There’s a pack mounted onto its back, metal and glass saddled over leather — a confusing tangle of tubes and pumps.

Other shapes move further back from the frame, of similar size and stockiness, foraging around a steel trough. Their eyes don’t reflect the light back, dull tusks chewing at the last grains of feed they’ve foraged.


Dominic’s beam crosses through the exhibit, throwing long shadows up across the back wall on his quest to keep moving. Kevin sticks with Finn. Finn is nice.

The pig at the window turns. It doesn’t have much of a face, gums rotted back from loose teeth and yellow bone, eyes bleached pus white in their sockets. The snout is an open cavity, dripping mucus through ridges of dry cartilage. The jaw is wired shut.

It belches in a sucking squeal, tail wiggling.


“Oh,” says Kevin. He’s got his hand up again, fingers splayed, half a step taken back at Finn’s shoulder — a meager defense against the creature opposite them. “Man.” His voice pitches down, lodged rough in his throat. “I think that’s Peppermint Patty.”


Iago appears in the doorway and stays there, regarding the tangle of woman and machinery and the way her robotic appendage seems to create some kind of fucked up merging of worlds between the two. It's that, that has his attention, the flat affect of his curiousity narrowed in on where metal gives beneath metal, the stream of steam billowing over unfeeling joints and smooth steel planes.

The rifle he is holding only needs to be twitched upwards, a trigger pulled. Maybe he'd even aim true enough that he'd disable the Hunter thrashing at the end of Monica's arm.

But he doesn't try. He stands there, and he watches, expecting her to finish it off.

When the beast moves, Monica only hangs on a few moments more, just until she can use the momentum to roll some distance from it. She flips back around only to find it hot on her heels. Instead of running, she rolls up to her knees and grabs her rifle again, opting to hold this particular piece of ground. It comes at her and she greets it with gunfire. And a shout, because she's steadying the gun with her wounded arm to keep her aim accurate and it hurts. She's just hoping that it sounds more like a war cry than a scream of pain.

She's got an audience, after all. She's only vaguely aware of the form in the doorway, in that she saw someone there, but since they're not shooting her, they get put on the back burner. Just for now.

Kevin finds himself backed into forcefully when Finn reels back at the grotesque porcine abomination that appears in front of him.

Green eyes widen and a gun comes up to point at the clear division between himself and the ungodly thing he stares at. “Holy mother of pig jesus,” he gasps, working his own jaw for a moment before he looks back at Kevin with a horrified expression.

“That is a motherfucking zombie pig, dude,” he manages to say, before that synthetic voice evokes a long, visible shudder from the tall man. “Is it talking? Is that some other fucking zoo animal dressed up like a horror movie extra? What the fuck is wrong with this place?”

One more shaky breath seems to get his shit together. “Gonna guess that’s not Bob the builder. Onward.” He moves forward, jaw clenched in resolve.

Eager as he is to move on, Dominic doesn’t stray too far from the pair behind him. The man turns back to look over his shoulder at Finn and Kevin, and catches sight of the porcine horror behind glass. “Que chingados,” he swears, echoing the sentiment from Finn. His flashlight beam points accusingly at Kevin, and he adds, “More like you fuckers spliced Pigpen and Patty together. Some sick shit going on here, Doctor.”

He takes a few steps back to stick closer to them, less than trusting of the doctor now as he jerks his gun barrel towards the next door. “Get moving,” grunts Dominic, insistently. “And you can tell us all you know about this Project Reveille while we move.” His rifle insists, too.

The first steady shot off the rifle punches through the crater in the hunter’s torn face, ringing shrill in Monica’s ears, stock thumped back hard against her shoulder. Her target reels blind off course, connections severed through its skull and down its throat, its one good eye gone dark. Smoke furls black behind a burst of steam through its side.

Another shot, or another few staggering steps, and it drops, elbow to skull to side on the tile. Flames lick up through the smog pouring through its vents.

Servos buried deep in its core sizzle sadly in its dying throes.

Behind Iago, the floor is smeared and streaked with the blood of their fallen foes. The hospital is quiet once more. The door Dominic, Finn and Kevin vanished through stands silent and still and very locked.


There’s a muffled splash when Kevin staggers against Finn’s impact, balance caught wide-legged with the help of his raised hand.

I don’t know, I only work on undead people,” he hisses back, like maybe the motherfucking zombie pig will lose interest if they keep their voices down. “That’s Project Reveille.”


Peppermint Patty’s tail wriggles furiously; exposed bone clicks and taps against the acrylic where she’s pushed her snout in for a closer look. A flush of warm breath through the open cavern of her sinus cavity fogs the window.

“You think I went to medical school because I wanted to be in a seven year episode of The Twilight Zone?” Spittle flecks white through the accusation in Dominic’s flashlight beam, resentment bolstered up in the dark, rattling with adrenaline fire opposite Patty and friends. “Fuck you. And fuck you too,” Finn. Kevin’s bold enough to (almost) jab him in the shoulder with a pointed finger. “My fucking head’s probably gonna explode any second — and I know you assholes aren’t really military.”

But he’s moving — a pair of steps taken back to lead the way by their light.

“Project Reveille makes disposable soldiers reusable.”


With smoke swiftly filling the room, Iago doesn't linger much longer. In the relative peace descending in the wake up robot death, he at first remains that unmoving shadow in the doorway, inscrutable save for the clear study and thought going on behind his expression. Enough intensity that if Monica had imagined she had gotten away with her cover story before, cybernetic appendages and all, it'd be a tough thing to maintain now.

Then, he tips his head.

Let's go.

Iago leads the way back where they came, stepping around blood spills and smears. The dim hallway is lit up only by one remaining mechanical insect, the soft glow of blue spilling across grey ceiling. He gives it a long and unappreciative look on his way to the door, and says, "Take care of it," in a way that does not imply that Monica use anything like care in her dealing.

And then he is confronted with a very locked door, sealed metal and electronic pass that had required biometric data the likes of which he probably does not have. There is a long moment of indecision, silent irritation, before he goes ahead and reaches to press an indicative looking button. On the blank screen of the pad that Kevin had pressed his mitt to, a keypad materialises. Numbers and letters both.

An astronomical host of possibilities and combinations makes guessing unlikely.

But Iago is evidently willing to try, and inputs the following:


The screen flashes black, and then blue. Fine print crawls across the panel in white, a cursor blinking at its end.

Iago pauses for a solid second, refrains from a tempting glance back at Monica, before offering the instruction what it wants with a roll of quietly delivered, rapid Spanish: "Abre la jodida puerta."

While the robot goes through its death throes, Monica puts distance between her and it— just in case. But she doesn't go terribly far until it's out. But when it is, she barks out a laugh.

"Take that," she says with a pump of her fist, "you rusted out pile of junk!" There may be a leap. Perhaps a small victory dance, end zone style. "I hate those robots," she says when she finally turns to Iago. But then she sees him tip his head. "Oh, right," she says, shouldering her rifle and hopping to. She takes a moment to reload the gun, because she went through a lot of bullets just now. But she can do that and walk at the same time, and she follows Iago back toward the door.

She also eyes the bug— but she doesn't look to be planning on doing anything about it until Iago speaks. Then she glances at him, shrugs, and lifts her gun again. This time, she's more careful with her aim. Smaller target. But it's only a moment before she fires a few rapid shots. Then looks back toward the door at Iago's apparent frustration, her lips curving into a crooked, amused smile.

"Do you think the door speaks Spanish?"

“Hello, pig,” Finn says over his shoulder, finally. It’d be rude not to, right? “Sorry about your face, Patty. You are some pig.

Messages muttered to himself make it easier to keep moving, maybe. Despite the words that Kevin’s spraying-not-saying at them. Finn’s beam of light bounces around the walls a moment as he scrubs over his eyes with the back of his wrist, then settles again.

“Kev-dawg, we’re not gonna explode your head, okay? And I never said I was anything. Would I lie to you? Just get us to the machine dude so we can get outta here.” The sound of closer gunfire draws his focus backward a moment. “Hope that’s our guns and not theirs,” he asides to Dominic.

"I think you forgot the part in medical school where you swore to do no harm," Dominic misquotes of the hippocratic oath. What does he know, he's not a doctor. As far as anyone knows. He backs away from the acrylic where Patty presses her not-snout, stuffing down a swear. He endures the doctor's curse upon him, casts a glance to Finn for the man's engaging of the experimental horror.

Dominic only shakes his head, keeping comments confined to the churning pit in his stomach.

The gunfire behind them also gets a second glance, and that's the first of when Dominic seems bolstered by the sound. "Has to be ours," he firmly believes. "Which means they're still in fighting condition. We should hurry." Because they could be running out of ammo, is the conclusion he thinks about. That speeds his pace. But, coming up behind pace-car Kevin, he remains cautious of what's ahead. And now, also what else could be in the spaces beside them.

In an attempt to be reassuring for once, Dominic adds, quieter, "We're not going to shoot you in the head when we're done getting what we want, alright? You've been helping." That's worth something. Maybe. Cesar would consider the doctor a valued person, too.

Text continues to crawl across the blue screen of death at a rapid rate — scrolling too fast to follow, and indecipherable besides.

As Monica takes aim, the entity on the ceiling dims, blue light snuffed as it darts for a crevice in a lighting fixture. Slow on the uptake, maybe — but there’s almost certainly an uptake to recognize before it’s cratered into a thousand glittery pieces by Dawson depressing the trigger on her rifle.

Do you think the door speaks Spanish?

Bienvenidos, Thor.”

The door schoomps open, heralded by the same sultry voice that denied Kevin from the other side moments ago. The hallway inside has flushed from flickering darkness to a uniform, deadly shade of red, concrete stairs leading down into oblivion, and the sound of an animal scream.


Patty’s spidery clicking follows Dominic, Finn and Kevin as they go, tippy-tapping in the flux of shadow that flows around a pulse of power through the hall. Her cries are muffled through the acrylic, guttural oinking claggy with the same glop she’s streaking around in her fogged breath.


There’s a wall ahead — a T-split in the path with branches right and left, with more stenciled lettering to guide their way. ADMIN is to the left, PATHOLOGY the right. They pass other windows on the way — black shapes with long arms and beady eyes swinging in on bars for a closer look behind one, a long-expired donkey laid out flat on its side, unmoving behind another.

“It’s not you. I mean. It might be you. You could shoot me — please don’t,” Kevin is walking backwards, confident in these dark, waterlogged halls. He’s young to have grey patched into his beard. It’s been a rough seven years for Kev-dawg. A tap of his fingers behind his ear doesn’t yield any obvious clue in the jumpscare gloom. “We all have bombs in our heads. Literal. Bombs. All of us. One step too far from the base and baby you’re a firework.”

From back to front, a rhythmic clicking sounds down the hallway — ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. The darkness is washed away into a deep crimson recessed into the walls.

Kevin stops, brow furrowed.

A door some twenty or feet behind them opens with a schoomp, sweeping away into its frame.

All of the doors open.

A head peeks out into the hallway from the door at their back, about waist high, curled knuckles hesitant to dip into water that puts it wrist-deep. It says, “…Ooop?”

Monica gets a flat look from Iago, the longsuffering kind of an expatriate surrounded by Americans, constantly, but then the door calls him Thor and goes schoomp. The dangerous alertness Iago had carried into the Weed Army Community Hotel, and that momentary flare of impatience and urgency at this latest door, are replaced with visible command of purpose, settled in his shoulders and focus.

Without further instruction to Monica or more comradely head tips or even a second to impress a smug see?, Iago immediately moves into the red-lit hallway.

Dominic, Finn, and Kevin are not obediently waiting for him right there, which means — at least — they've cleared the way. So Iago follows, long strides eating up distance, a momentum that does something to disguise the subtle limp of his mismatched legs. The clang of one half of his march reverberates right down to where the other three are huddled.

"Oh my god," Monica says as she lowers her weapon, "the door speaks Spanish." What follows is an incredulous laugh before she turns to follow Iago. She certainly knows who he is, who he was, and what Thor means, but apparently being Vanguard at some point isn't enough to send her running the other direction.

She also doesn't seem to take it too hard that she had the door all wrong.

And even though— or maybe because— Dominic and Finn (and Kevin) aren't waiting there, Monica holds herself ready for more robots. Or a traitorous scientist. She stays just behind Iago, both because his stride is longer than hers and in interest of watching their backs.

Kevin’s words earn a wide-eyed look from Finn that makes the man look much younger than his years. “Oh, shit, that’s… that’s fucking bullshit, man. Look, we’ll fix you. If you get us Bob the Builder, maybe he can pull that shit out of your brain pan. I’m not gonna shoot you in the head as long as you don’t do us wrong. Not after all we’ve been through, Kev-dawg.”

Finn follows along the path before them, humming Katy Perry’s anthem in a high pitch but low volume — it’s very possible he doesn’t know he’s doing it. But the musical accompaniment stops abruptly when the doors open, and his eyes grow big again. He really doesn’t want Patty and her friends to join them in this hallway expedition.

At the Ooop he whirls around to point his weapon at whatever is peering out — despite his obvious nerves, he waits to see if it’s friend or foe before firing.

Kevin's note about an exploding chip implant is alarming, and Dominic frowns greatly in surprise. Disgust, even. "The fuck, seriously? That's fucked up," he swears, a hard stare of incredulity leveled back at the doctor. But, he doesn't muster up the same hope that is echoed in Finn's sentiment, save for a short tip down of his head and rifle barrel. "Yeah. Sooner we get the builder, sooner we'll get shit fixed." Or dealt with, is his undertone.

Doing his best not to be unnerved by the clicking of Patty's cloven hooves trailing along with them before they leave the pig behind, then by the other experimental projects they spot along the way, Dominic sweeps his light to and fro until the beam hovers over the T-section wall's stenciled letters. It's not hard to consider which he'd rather go down as he turns to look left, but there is a token look for the right wing leading to Pathology.

The sounds of doors opening gets him bringing up his rifle, stepping close enough for arm's reach and in front of Kevin protectively. The appearance of Oooper gets a narrow-eyed and suspicious look. Dominic hisses to the doctor, "Stay behind me." To Finn, "Let's move. Nice and slow." And with a hand tip, motions for them to sidle left towards the Administration side without losing sight of their newest shadow.

Slowly, carefully, rubbery fingers curl down into the water a step down from the open door, drawing a long arm and a bowed shoulder out after it. Sinew rolls up wrist to elbow under coarse fur, dead black in the red light, its head dipped down into the silhouette of its shoulders.

Finn points his rifle.

The sound that issues forth from its shadow pitches into a death metal roar, bared fangs long enough to glitter in the gloom. It explodes into the hallway in a thrash of thrown water, and s h r i e k s.

Kevin falls immediately, diving, tripping, scrambling, splashing to the safety of Dominic’s side, one hand groped up onto his thigh for purchase enough to climb back to his feet. Thigh, belt, gun arm — you know. Whatever he can get his hands on in his drowning scramble; he’s shouting something — something urgent, over and over — but the world is all gunfire and red light and screaming.

The chimpanzee comes for Finn through the ready report of the Horseman’s rifle, jaws outstretched for his face — a massive, lunging shape hurling itself off the wall on all threes, its right arm sutured into a stump above the elbow.

It’s like being hit by a bull.

A pair of small monkeys race up the hallway for the stairs, threading around the heavy impact of Iago’s iron foot; one springs off of Monica in passing, paying the pair of them little mind.

They’re getting the fuck out of there.

“Hello,” a voice greets them from an open door in passing, the way blocked by a hog snuffling at the water with its regular hog snout. Ricochets plink and sss down the hall, splashing into the flooding between here and all hell breaking loose.

The chimp screams. Finn screams — his own jaw dropping in utter horror at the creature hurtling itself, despite a gunshot that should have killed it, through the air and straight for him. It should be a full-on tackle, but things happen.

Like his knee buckling, throwing his center of gravity off and to the left.

The way he turns to look backward at Dominic and the floundering Kevin, his mouth forming to say “What?” when Kevin’s frantic shouts make no sense to him.

The half turn in the other direction when he’s spun by the monkeys running by.

The chimp hits, but all he hits is Finn’s shoulder, making it more like a launchpad than anything else, allowing the beast to vault over him — and straight into Dominic, human shield for Kevin hiding behind him.

Finn whirls around again, but holds off on the shot — given he’s facing his team.

Not having let the simian out of his sight, Dominic narrows his gaze the more the ape moves. Then, it shrieks like a banshee and he's got his rifle lifted, looking down the line of his flashlight beam and trying not to have Finn's back caught in that same line while he gets a bead on the incoming tripod-chimp and not squeezing the trigger too soon, especially when Kevin does his best impression of the sexy-bombshell clinging to the hero with lifted weapon in a movie poster.

"The fuck, man!" is Dominic's shout at the doctor, lost in the sprays of gunfire.

And he has no more coherent words as the chimpanzee hurtles off of Finn and straight for him. Dominic, fully lined up for the large bodied chimp coming for him like a charging linebacker, switches his grip on his rifle to swing the butt end of it with as much weight as he can throw behind the blow.

The smaller monkeys splashing up as skittering blurs and whipping tails don't slow Iago down as they dart around himself and Monica, tempting though it is to be spooked somewhere deep in his own primate instincts, crushed down again by mechanical focus. He can see the shapes in the distance, black shadowed and red light, water sloshing noisily around his ankles. The instinct to heft his gun and open fire is very live and present and as much as it might solve several of Iago's problems—

He refrains.

The rifle is slung onto one shoulder, and a blade is pulled from his belt — hooked black steel, fingers sinking automatic into the shaped hilt. As Dominic's gunstock slams into the chimpanzee, Iago is there in the tangle with three long strides, bringing blade up and then down to sink into twisting muscle to haul the animal off. Fresh gouts of warm blood spatter and spray.

The impact of being a monkey springboard turns Monica and she watches as the pair of them make their escape. Smart. Smarter than the humans in here are, it seems. She continues to follow Iago toward their wayward boys, and she nearly jumps into the fray herself except that: 1) Iago seems to have it handled and it really doesn’t seem like a good time to get in between his knife and its target and 2) a voice gets her attention.


It’s a beat later that she sees Patty there and she steps back a few feet with a surprised whoa escaping her. “Okay, that’s…” whatever that is, Monica doesn’t finish the sentence, she just backs away from the doorway and back toward the others. “Who is this person we’re here to see, again? And what did they do to that pig?”

It had not occurred to her to worry until now, not even when her arm was elbow deep in a robot.

Finn is near enough to hear the wet chop of primate canines closing on air just past his ear as the big ape bowls over his shoulder in bullet time, bare ass over elbows. Elbow. A foot finds purchase against the broad muscles in his back, shoving Finn further down, and launching the beast like chain lightning directly into Dominic.

…Or rather, directly into the home run crack of Dominic’s rifle stock.

There’s no doubt about contact — its skull rocks down from the blow with force enough to put a break in its screaming —

—the HEAD,” Kevin’s voice punches through, his hands pushing in white-knuckled to shove at chimpanzee scruff, “shoot it in the head!

— but it’s moving too hard and too fast to be thrown off course, toes twisted bony over Dom’s grip on the barrel, its one good hand thrown up to palm around his skull. Three strides feels like three minutes in the ring. It’s impossibly powerful for its weight, raw animal muscle rigged for ripping its competition into pieces, all coarse hair and writhing tendon. It tears in with teeth like hot spikes, biting indiscriminately to muffle its grunts and anchor its twisting weight. Hands, arms, shoulder, neck — whatever it can get in its jaws as it fights to drag the largest among them down into the water.

By the combined effort of those fighting back, they don’t quite make it there.

A guttural howl garbles up out of its throat at the sink of Iago’s blade; blood arcs steaming hot into the fray, painting the lot of them in arterial spurt.

The chimp shoves bodily off of Dominic and into Iago instead, fangs first, the knotted stitch of its stump clubbed hard into his face, one foot closed in a vice grip over his knife hand. Kevin coughs and reels, gagging on blood in his mouth.

The fight continues, a blood-slick monkey thumb twisted up behind Iago’s teeth somehow, clawing for purchase, probing for eye sockets. It crushes its grip around the knife between them, shoving the point in for Ramirez’s own gut.

A stone’s throw away, Peppermint Patty trails after Monica, piggy feet spinning eddies through freezing floodwater.

Her squealing clags shrill in her dessicated sinuses; her tail motors in a rubber band frenzie at her bottom, eyes an empty white blank.


Iago staggers backwards beneath the onslaught of monkey muscle mass and terrible prying fingers and biting, bloodied fangs. Arresting his strength up steely between elbow to fingertip, remaining in possession of his knife in shivering strain even as he feels that sharp point twist and redirect. He twists in place, angling his face away from the clawing paw that catches ragged primate fingernail against the corner of his mouth, his own savage growl chest-deep and almost more vexed than pained or enraged.

A jerk of movement in the struggle between them, a wheezing grunt out of Iago in response to something sharp getting flesh, before he manages to steel his strength up across shoulders and spine and heft the chimpanzee backwards, the hilt of his blade slamming up under its monkey chin.

First order of business is to kill this thing.

Second order of business is to kill whatever the fuck is screaming so shrill. Besides, of course, Kevin.

Monica glances back over her shoulder to see the pig coming along with and while she makes a sort of unsettled noise in the back of her throat, she doesn't try to stop it coming along. She crosses the short distance between her and the monkey fight, a sight that makes her also look unsettled in her face. This is not okay. Robots, okay. Undead animals, not okay. Those are the rules that she just made up.

Iago's blade goes into the thing's head and Monica steps over to put a pistol to its temple. A single shot just to make sure. And hopefully the brain is still important enough to whatever is making these creatures tick.

“Aw, shit, sorry, jefe,” Finn says, lifting his weapon and ready to shoot, but Iago’s already taking care of his assailant, with help from Monica. He chooses instead to put Peppermint Patty out of her misery, moving closer to follow Monica’s technique.

“Goodbye,” he says, in an imitation of the pig’s strange tone, before shooting it in the head.

He looks to Kevin, then tips his head in Iago’s and Dominic’s direction. “Help the wounded, doc,” he says, turning to the other two men to assess the damage, to help whoever needs it and whoever isn’t Kevin’s priority.

Dominic might have gotten his swing in with the rifle but the barreling form of the chimp knocks him back up against the T-section wall and down upon the soggy ground. The man yells in pain once long canines find their way in through the BDUs and tear into his shoulder and shielding arm that manages to keep more vital arteries in his neck out of harm's way.

Then just as quickly, the weight and fangs are gone, leaving Dominic's adrenaline pumped form to slap a bloodied palm against the wall and haul himself back up to his feet, using the rifle as a makeshift support in the endeavor. He's pulling his sidearm to do as Kevin's tipped off as far as dispatching the chimp, but Monica manages the first shot. With Finn taking care of Patty the Pig, it leaves Dominic to stand guard. He sags against the wall, grimacing with pain but gamely trying to tough it out. Blood is hard to see in the shadows anyway.

Iago heaves the ape back, spikes it under the chin, and Monica sets her pistol to its temple and pulls the trigger.

A fine mist of high velocity spatter peppers anyone who wasn’t already slippery with monkey blood; the shot rings tinny in all of their ears as the flash from the muzzle fades from their retinas. The chimpanzee drops backwards off of Iago, its one good arm locked out in spasm, toes flexed open out of their grip, allowing circulation back through Ramirez’s wrist.

It splashes in the middle of the group, dead before its shoulders break the water.

Bits of skull and brains cling to the walls like gum, a bit of blowback tacky on the nose of Monica’s gun.

Peppermint Patty too, has fallen, her corpse a bloated, bloody buoy, drifting in the fading chop of the fight. Her last word, “Hungry,” lives after her, conveyed by some microphone or speaker on a water-distorted delay. The flooding is black under red lights — impossible to see the blood clouding out from the crater Finn’s punched through her skull. Far down the hall, a goat bleats. Just once. Further away still, from the hospital they’ve long left behind, a single gunshot echoes down through the chamber.

Kevin’s clutching his own forearm, as subject to primate mauling as the rest of them, and shivering like an italian greyhound against Dominic’s leg and the wall behind them. He stands, rickety at Finn’s order, white coat waterlogged and bloody as the rest of him.

“I’d need — d-disinfectant. To start. Lights, needles.”

He looks towards the lettering on the wall behind them. Specifically, he looks to PATHOLOGY. He’s bold enough past that to gesture for any of them to hand him a light to examine what damage he can in the meantime.

“If Wieland’s down here he’s probably in one of the labs. Right?” He’s furled his brow over at the mess the chimp made of Dominic’s shoulder, even as he applies pressure to his own wounds. "You — I mean we — we grab him, we grab supplies, we backtrack. How did you guys even get here? Do you have a car waiting?”

With the chimpanzee corpse dropped to submerge in the water, Iago staggers backwards, catching shoulders against wall with a hiss through his teeth. The knife in his hand is dripping, and he shakes it idly to spatter gore down into the water while his other hand checks his own abdomen with all the prying carelessness of someone ensuring they have their keys in their pocket. What he's checking is slightly more serious, where he'd felt his own knife turn against him and cut, but feeling fingers confirm that tough fabric deterred the worst of a potential stab.

Later. He refocuses, sees Dominic's state, hears Kevin.

It's to the latter he looks, now, a skeptical tip to his brow before he looks down to Finn. "He gets you alone for a minute," he says, "and now he is our friend."

Team member and medic. If Iago has objections, they're not so much that he stops their hostage from presiding over Dominic's cool new scars. He pushes himself off the wall and holsters his bloodied knife, shoving aside the floating corpse of the primate with one languid push of robot foot to blood-matted fur. "Take us to Wieland," he says. "Maybe you'll find out."

Once the animals are down, Monica holsters her weapon and pulls off her jacket. She's one of the wounded, as evidenced by the gunshot wound in her arm. However, she's not waiting for Kevin's attention, instead she uses her knife to cut strips out of her jacket since she wasn't splattered with animal blood. She uses some to wrap her arm, but the rest she holds out to Kevin.

"Don't knock it," she says to Iago, "friends patch you up after zombie monkey attacks. Enemies, not so much."

To Kevin, she notes, "We'll have to make do for now, once we get to actual medical supplies, we can clean and bandage properly."

“We’ve bonded,” Finn says with a shrug and a broad grin in Iago’s direction, but it slips away as he looks from Iago to Dominic to Kevin.

“How long before they become zombies?” he asides to Monica. “Antibiotics jumping up to priority number two, after Wieland. Just saying. Because I got a whiff of Dr. Cornelius’ breath, and nothing good is going on in there.”

He glances down at himself, unscathed, if blood splattered, and has the decency to look contrite. “Sorry about that, by the way. I kinda have this situation. It wasn’t intentional.” He motions for Kevin to lead the way, lifting his weapon to shoot at any other zombies that come their way.

The talk around him is worrisome for Dominic, evidenced by the scowling dark expression he wears on his face. Propped against the wall, blood-slicked hand on the rifle and the other on his sidearm, Dominic leans his head back briefly against the cooling concrete as he wills himself to ignore the pain throbbing from the bites. “Not funny, Finn-man,” he grumbles at the other’s mention of turning into zombies. But more, he flicks a glance in Iago’s direction and nods to the doctor. “Patch it in Pathology and let’s get the fuck out of here with what we came for, yeah?”

“I sure as fuckin’ hell am not planning on dying down here with zombie apes and cyborg pigs.”

It’s a mistake but he flexes his fingers in his mauled limb, testing to make sure he still has the functionality in it.

Five minutes and some very cautious room-clearing later, the Horsemen’s dear friend Kevin is stripping off a syringe cap with his teeth, pulling the business end from a bottle and plunging it into an exposed shoulder. Antibiotics for all — raided from a cabinet not terribly unlike the one they found him stripping down at the start. He presses a wad of cold cotton in after the needle prick, professional-like.

Why are there antibiotics in PATHOLOGY?

Because patients are treated in PATHOLOGY.

At least, they were.

The laboratory they’re making use of is a sprawling, open space furnished with steel slabs on mechanical inclines, buckles and straps and chains and jaw spacers scattered open with the hurry the place was abandoned. One of the slabs is still host to a corpse, her ribs cracked wide open, lungs and liver and diaphragm still and cold, save for the buzzing of a few enterprising flies. There’s metal in her, too — cables and hoses of the sort that might normally affix to a conspicuously heart-shaped knot of valves and chambers left out on a tray nearby. It’s sticky black with blood.

The floor might be too, if not for the floodwater numbing icy past their knees — their breath fogged thick in the crimson light.

As is, there’s gore on the slab itself — gore smeared across the buckles and straps that hold her in place, spattered across the pants of her fatigues.

Against all odds, or by design, a few functioning computer monitors still show lines of code at desks splashed by the chop of their movements through the water. Others still have active desktops requesting logins. There are file cabinets, and clipboards, and binders, and lockers, and sinks, and a storeroom at the back that seems to be locked.

There is no sign of Dr. Wieland.

A goat wanders in through the open door, nose stretched high out of the water, sideways eyes slitted suspiciously at them in the dark.

“We don’t have to be friends,” Kevin is whispering urgently, to whoever he’s patting a bandaid onto. “I just don’t want to die.”

In spite a significant percentage of himself being pure robot, Iago is not the Terminator, for all that he would prefer to give that impression. He recognises a pitstop when they are in one, room after empty room, cold water sopping up past their knees and, strangely, giving his aching leg a little relief with the way it numbs off pain. Still. After checking his weapons, cleaning his knife, counting his ammunition, Iago leans heavy against a countertop, breaths coming slow and deep as he rests for these few minutes, thoughtful.

Looking to Kevin. Still thoughtful.

Bienvenidos, Thor.

He straightens, dragging the pistol he'd idly held across the metal. The water churns thickly as he moves through it, headed for the doctor just in his blindspot — although certainly Kevin can hear the muffled thump of metal on ground, the splish of movements — before he matter of factly grasps the back of his white collar and nestles the gun against the back of his neck, one applying pressure to the other.

"One way you live through this," he says, he reminds, the grindstone of his impatience uncomfortably close to Kevin's ear. This is what happens when he misses the social portion of the adventure module. Iago does not repeat his directive. He just curls his finger through the trigger guard, and waits.

Monica looks over at Finn, a smile spreading across her face. “I guess, since they didn’t turn right away, it’s twenty-eight days later, right?” But between Dominic and Iago’s sobering reactions to all this, her smile disappears. “I dunno about pathology,” she notes and she reaches over for Dominic’s uninjured side, “but I can patch you up while we check administration.”

She isn’t too concerned with trying to ease Kevin’s worry. She’ll leave that to Finn. But she is concerned with what they were doing here. And maybe finding out their methods, since she’s found herself here.

“I’m not sure our man is going to be hanging out in Pathology. I’d only go over my dead body.” She jokes, because that is how she handles these things. In truth, she’s not here for the builder of any machines, especially as the robotics and the name Thor have clicked a few things into place. However. There is the notion that Iago and Finn might leave without her if they find him first. But hopefully they like Dominic enough not to leave him behind.

“This is so gross,” was Finn’s helpful commentary as they entered the room. Not needing any first aid, he’d made a couple of rounds of the room, idly looking here and there before moving to the store room and jiggling the door, to find it locked. He reaches over to one of the clipboards to snag a paperclip of a pile of papers and kneels, ignoring those behind him as Kevin administers antibiotics and Iago makes, you know, death threats.

Like you do.

Green eyes narrow, and it’s one of the few times Finn Shepherd has actually been silent, unbending the paperclip and staring with thought at the small lock for a few seconds. After a long, studious moment of this, his fingers make another couple of subtle bends in the wire, before sliding it into the keyhole, his hand moving up and to the left and then downward, a miniature choreography of sorts.

Dominic has reserved a lot of swearing for later, but the build up escapes as they come upon Pathology and all that it implies. The corpse on the cold metal slab is the receiver of a choice one, but as Kevin tends to him, the last prick of the needle filled with life-saving (or zombie-inducing, who even knows) antibiotics gets a "hijo de las mil putas" from him before he thrashes himself off to a side and clutches at his wounded shoulder. And pride. But he's fired up, next words spilling out with a sharp look at Iago when there's a threat made to Kevin.

"Hold the fuck up, we didn't drag his pasty fuckin' ass all the way down here just to shoot him before we even fucking find that fucking engineer, did we?" Dominic drops his hand from his shoulder so he can sling his rifle over himself. Monica's suggestion that they head to administration appears to be a decision he agrees with, but he remains tensed while watching Iago has Kevin in sights. He casts a quick glance in Finn's direction as the other man ignores the going ons behind him, and Dominic huffs out loud. "She makes a good point. This'll go faster and we'll be less of a target if we take both wings and meet up at the exit point." Dark eyes shift to Kevin again, a vague lingering hint of reassurance in the expression.

“That’s — not how it works,” Kevin weighs in on the subject of zombies as he drops the spent needle aside, clickety clack on a nearby tray. Dominic’s already twisting away from him before he can slap a bandaid on, gloved hands opened out empty instead. Fine. “Project Reveille, it’s mostly mechanical. If she,” he indicates Monica with a gesture on his way to picking up the next syringe, “bit you, you wouldn’t turn into a cyborg, right?”

He doesn’t turn to the sound of Iago’s approach. If he hasn’t taken his medicine yet, it makes sense for him to be sloshing up on his six.

“They keep paper records of everything. Buncha — fuckin’ old people.”

The gun pressed to the back of his neck registers late — his skull pushed gently forward by the nudge of the muzzle at its base. Whatever he was going to say next comes out as a thin, wavering fog; he holds his hands out again, one with a syringe and the other empty. His left sleeve clings blood-soaked to his arm.

He looks to Finn, who’s occupied with jiggling a door handle, and then to Dominic, pleading.

“If they didn’t extract him, he has to be down here somewhere. There’s more than one lab — he could be — captured, already. Or.” Dead. He tilts slightly away from the heat of Ramirez’s breath on his ear. “There’s a leak. Maybe he’s — “

The lock pops against Finn’s wire; the handle gives under his palm. The door opens, heavy against the drag of water swirling after it.

Nothing comes flying out — no bullets or cybernetic dinosaurs. Nothing explodes.

Inside, bathed in red light, there are two men. One of them — a stout fellow in a vest and a white shirt blood-drenched near to the shoulders — is standing wide-legged in the water. Hector has a handgun, and the handgun is pointed at Finn.

“Oh, ocupado,” he says, apologetic for the apparent misunderstanding. This is their closet. “Hands up and turn around please, thank you.”

The other figure lurks further behind this first, despite being the larger of the pair by almost a whole foot of height. Long and lean arms are bare and sun-specked with freckles, white shirt sweat-stained around the collar, loose over denim jeans dark with water from the thighs down. Beard grows thick and dark down his jaw, and the hair on his head grows upwards and wild. Any looming he might do is slightly undermined by his own slouch, hemmed into the corner of the closet, empty hands hovered like he might do something with them.

He's thinking about it, anyway.

"Fuck sake, shoot 'im," is a borderline stage whisper level of subtle, rounded Irish vowels too distinct to go unmentioned.

Speaking of guns, Iago does not lift the pistol he has levelled for grey matter and spinal cord, tipping a blank look to Dominic that seems to be deciding whether or not this show of insubordination is a help or a hindrance. Real and present fear that Iago will blow Kevin's brain meats out from his skull is a useful intimidation tool, but he sounds so earnest. The warning is silent, communication with his eyeballs alone, before turning his uncomfortably close attention back to Kevin as he speaks, keeping a tight grip of that snare of white coat.

Then, something is happening yonder, attention snapping to an open door and a voice coming out of it. Kevin finally gets some distance, but only in that Iago straightens his posture and then straightens out that arm keeping a grip on him. "We search together," he instructs, and shoves Kevin forward towards the commotion, pistol kept at a hover, pointed for his precious doctor head.

Given that Dom doesn't follow along and Monica isn't about to break off from the group and end up stuck here, she lingers behind. But not idly. Since they're not going to administration, she turns her gaze to what's nearby. She's no hacker, so forcing her way into their cloud storage or neworked whatnot isn't really on the table, but she knows enough about computers to know which of the guts are the important bits.

And, of course, the voices from the closet get her to peer that direction. She's 0 for 2 in this facility with the bilingual doors and engineers that absolutely do hang out in pathology.

Since the menfolk seem to be involved in that situation, she spends her time yanking open computer towers and removing hard drives. "Actually, Kev," she says to his comment, "pretty smart to keep things on paper in a world where technopaths are a thing." And speaking of paper, she glances between Cesar and a nearby filing cabinet. "Hey, Dom," she says, nodding him that direction.

For a moment, Finn looks pleased with himself, but then he has a gun pointing at him. His green eyes dart from one man to the next, and he lifts his hands — one of them still holding the warped paperclip — into the air.

“For fuck sakes, don’t shoot him. Odds are you’ll miss, and you’re out numbered,” he helpfully tells the man with the gun, “and by him I mean me. Either of you know some guy named Wieland? We might not kill you if you can lead us to him.” Poor Kevin is still trying to make good on that contract.

He turns around, as bid, which puts him face to face with the rest of the room. “Hey, jefe, some ayuda, por favor.”

Considering Kevin did just help patch him up, Dominic feels a little obligated to save the doctor. Not to the extent of taking a bullet for the man, but he's made his case. Sorry Kevin, that's as much as he can manage. There's not much else he'll be able to do if Hector is—

Not dead. Very much alive, in fact. But Dominic isn't about to make sudden moves towards the Hostage Situation going on there. He'd be too slow about it given his injuries anyway. Monica's rifling through papers seems more productive, so he retreats to where she nods, sidestepping to yank open drawers and sift through the drier file folders. Now that he's got a couple of names to look for as well, that'll help. Reveille, Lazarus…

“He belongs to someone,” Hector mutters back, closet conversation on the subject of Finn’s fate metered for just the three of them to hear. “Look at him, he’s adorable.”

Then Finn says the word Wieland, and Hector pulls the trigger. Just once, aimed on square at his back.

More loudly — very loudly, in fact — after the sound of the shot has finished rebounding off the walls, he adds: “Never heard of ‘im.”

Kevin jolts down into a duck from the bang, splashing to one knee with his good hand over his head — saved from total immersion only by the grasp of Iago’s hand at his scruffed collar. Hauled to his feet or left behind, his breathing has thinned through his teeth with adrenaline fear, brows screwed up with worry. He opens both hands out again, provided that he still has a brainstem. Another glance cut quick to Dominic begs for thoughts and prayers.

Beneath Monica’s metal talons, computer cases give easily, with only very occasional showers of sparks. They snuff out against the water’s surface, monitors crackling dark as their souls are ripped loose. That’s one way to bypass the password prompt.

The names in Dominic’s file cabinet belong to people, rather than projects — E. ARROWOOD and M. VALENTIN and hundreds of others labeled and ordered by number. Even a cursory flipping through is enough to spot a REVEILLE or two among the documents contained therein. There are x-rays and charts and pages of notes, some blotted black with redaction.

“Bleeeeeahhh,” the goat in here is retreating, doggy-paddling loch ness style for the same door it came in through between messrs Dawson and Garcia.

At Hector's shoulder, his companion startles in the immediate wake of gunshot rapport, 6'5" worth of nervous energy sloshing water around their knees. Impulsively, Jasper directs wide open eyes towards the nearest light and its flooding red glow, and it shatters with a delicate twinkle of cracking glass and a short spit of sparks that shower down on Finn's form, throwing himself and Hector into a little more shadow than they were previously. For what good it will do.

Some several paces away and closing, Iago is jostled as his quarry all but collapses like a sack of shit with his ducking down. His fist snares firmer in Kevin's collar for a moment, giving consideration and thought to dragging him back along with him into some kind of hostage negotiation, but the urge dissipates as the light nearest the closet blows out with a gout of sparks.

Kevin is shoved aside to flounder as he may, and Iago moves ahead, pistol pointed, other hand moving to his belt and feeling for one of the grenades clipped there when a distinct voice rings out. He hesitates, momentarily disoriented.

It's been a few years.

Business snaps back into place as he holsters his pistol, instead moving to shift his rifle back into grasping distance. "Hey gringo," Iago calls out, the rough bark of his voice disembodied from Hector's perspective, standing at an angle out of visibility. It is maybe the closest Finn has personally heard Iago come close to good humour, rough around the edges though it is, if he's paying much attention to anything besides having just been shot in the back. "We surrender."

Meanwhile, in the closet, Finn can just hear Jasper's input: "Shoot 'im as well."

The gunshot gets Monica's attention. She straightens up, looking over toward Finn and Iago and sliding hard drives into her pockets. Between the noise, the light, and the goat, she favors keeping an eye on the men she came in with.

"Surrender?" she says, incredulous. "Tell me that means something different in Spanish," she quips as she starts making her way closer. Closer, but staying out of view of these trigger happy fellows they've come across. She doesn't pull out a gun of her own, since there's a bit of a crowd and she's as likely to hit someone she doesn't want to as someone she does. But, of course, she doesn't actually need one to be dangerous.

Finn is just a wee bit distracted — not by death-and-or-spinal-injury, but by a near hit that still feels much too close for comfort. What should have been a shot in the back at point-blank range somehow isn’t. Still, it’s not the utter miss he promised Hector, much to his chagrin. Unbound by hands or lock, the closet door edges toward its default closed position; Finn moves to accommodate it, shifting broad shoulders so they angle perpendicular to where they were when aim was taken.

The bullet blasts a hole through the fabric of his jacket and the shirt beneath it, burns its way across the plane of skin beneath, traversing from one shoulder across to the other, before it continues on its path through the air to wedge itself in some object on the other side of the room.

As he reels away from the closet, Finn grabs his own firearm to level at Hector and Jasper, before Iago’s words catch up to his ringing ears.

“He shot me!” Finn cries out in indignation similar to Monica’s when his traitorous jefe decides to wave the proverbial white flag. “And you all are no help at all,” he says with a scoff in Monica and Dominic’s direction, though he keeps his eyes on the pair of men in front of him. “What is this, Black Friday at Office Depot?”

Having found some Files of Interest(TM), Dominic slides them out to tuck under arm (the less monkey-mangled one). Just about that moment, the gunshot goes off and he ducks reflexively, wincing as a shot of pain makes itself known in his bitten limb. But he keeps his hand on his rifle, aimed towards that closet area but merely holding it there. No friendly fire here.

The goat passing by seals his feeling that this is all pretty damn insane. "You said it, cabron," Dominic snorts at the exiting caprine.

He's also surprised, though, by Iago's response to that gunshot. "The fuck?" he echoes of Monica's incredulity and Finn's indignation. He shakes his head at Finn, a short, helpless shrug is all he gets. "Or maybe some kind of class reunion?" Aside, he calls over to Kevin, "Yo doc, you alive?"

Kevin stumbles with the force of Iago’s shove, plows through an office chair and hits the water face first, white (and red) coat clinging heavy to his frame when he blusters back up for air. The slab he hauls himself up against is the one with a dead body on it, heart-bearing tray bumped and clattered as he sways to his feet.

“Yeah,” he manages, cold, filmy water running in streams through the creases of his doctor’s getup. “Yeah, man. I’m okay.”

But your boss is an asshole.

He closes his eyes, and catches his breath. It could be worse He could be dead. He could sweep the slick of his hair back off his forehead with his good hand and think hard about his choices.

He does that.

In the face of Finn’s pointed gun, Hector’s hooded his brow into a skeptical objection for the fact that he’s still standing to point anything at all. But there’s gruff voice calling out behind him, and the voices of that voice’s compadres, in their different tones, and with their different missions.

Eyes on Finn, the little goatee’d man in the closet takes a step forward. It’s a slow step, testing Shepherd’s bounds with his life as the backstop. And possibly Jasper’s.

But it’s fine, you see, because he tips his gun back on his axis, and sets the business end to his own temple as he approaches the threshold — one blood-streaked blue glove held up for Jasper to keep still behind him. Hold please.

“I saw you die,” he calls back, from just inside. “You turned to ash and blew away in a big sulk.”

Class reunion, then. Monica is the best placed among them to catch a glimpse of him past Finn — compact, alert, finely styled in glasses and a vest despite all the blood and the water sloshing about his knees. She might even know who he is, few though there are that do. He’s worth a lot of money, that Hector Steel.

With the potential of a shoot out temporarily on hold, Iago makes his way over, stepping into view beneath the glare of red lights. Distinct details like a robotic appendage are lost in water that comes up dark around the knees, but the way he holds himself to compensate for heavier metals dragging at his hip is familiar. American army fatigues spattered with gore are a far cry from dark designer suits in the damp Argentinian heat, and Iago is a little older around the edges in the stamp of lines at his eyes, the greyer bristle grown in around his mouth.

Time that has passed, from when Hector last spoke to him.

Eyes set on the gun Hector has turned onto himself, Iago grunts an assent to this claim. No disputing that. Moving up on Finn's left, he nudges knuckles to Finn's arm, a gesture to withdraw. "And then a mountain buried me. The héroes escaped. With you.

"The place I am from, it went differently."

Differently does not mean better, judging from the flat tenor of Iago's explanation, the grim slice of white tooth in dim red light. Iago clocks the looming shadow of a second figure towards the back of the closet, where Jasper corners himself like an unhappy cryptid who is otherwise doing as gestured. Then back to Hector. "We have a plane. If you stay here, you'll die."

He could say or put in another cage, but Hector seems to have that much taken care of. In truth, so does Iago, if Hector pushes the issue.

"Yeah," Monica says to Finn, still blinking at the extremely near miss and its trail across the man's jacket. "It's Black Friday and everything must go." But she goes quiet once she sees the man in the closet. It's hard to say if she recognizes him, mostly because she manages not to react. Perhaps to keep from heaping more suspicion onto herself, or perhaps to keep from jarring this very delicate situation. The walls do not need brain splatter on top of everything else.

When Iago speaks, she looks over at him, raising an eyebrow. And then back to Hector. "If we don't get moving soon, we all die. Somehow I doubt that one robot is all they have around here. They'll come looking sooner or later. I don't really want them to find us all staring at a closet."

At Iago’s tacit direction, Finn lowers his weapon, a little begrudgingly. His free hand reaches back to probe against the wounded flesh of his back; blood on his fingers is scowled at, wiped against the dark fabric of his pant leg.

“Cool. We’re all friends, then. Old Home week,” says Finn, a skeptical look at Jasper, expecting him to pipe up with another “kill ‘im.”

He nods to Monica over his shoulder. “When the lady’s right, the lady’s right. Let’s blow this taco stand. Vamonos. Chop chop.”

"Brilliant," Dominic remarks dryly to the wet doctor's tone as he sloshes up to once again tacitly encourage said man to stick close. Closeish. There's a body right there, after all, and he eyes the open body cavity, brows furrowed down and nose wrinkling before he looks away. From his vantage, Dominic doesn't get that great an angle on the bodies standing around the closet, but that's ok because his ears work fine. The exchange between Hector and Iago is… different, to say the least of it.

And Dominic doesn't say anything of it - not here, not now.

"Can we do this outside, maybe? If we don’t get gangrene first, then the plane's going to get rusty," he notes instead, shifting the folders tucked under his arm into a spot inside his BDU shirt and inner waistband in order to leave his hands free and to take pressure off his throbbing, slowly stiffening shoulder.

“The place where you’re from?” Hector squints, cynicism laced with venom in italics. He’s opened his free hand out in demand, begging for any one of them to talk some sense. “Argen-fuckin’-tina?”

What a bunch of cunts.

He doesn’t lower the gun, but he does take another step up to Finn, and so the door. Rats who’ve been caught before are the hardest ones to trap; he sizes Shepherd up like a two-way mirror from just out of arm’s reach, as if he’s aware of some inconsistency or illusion to be dispelled. Looking for the trace of blood that comes away on his fingers — some proof that he didn’t miss entirely.

Iago is Iago, there’s no denying that. Hector’s breath skips when he sees him properly past Finn, just slipped through the noose of emotion that catches in his breast on the exhale.

Steel, for his part, is blood sodden with no evidence of injury. The latex gloves he has on and his soaked-through sleeves connect him to the corpse in the room easily enough — no DNA testing or spatter analysis required. The lines around his eyes have worn in deep, haggard silver at his temples and under his chin.

Analyzing as hard as adrenaline and confusion will allow for — translating alien hieroglyphics under pressure.

He’s looking at Monica the cyborg now, wary across the span of lab between them. Nice arm. And from Monica to Dominic and Kevin not-quite-clinging to him, monkey-chewed as they both are.

A “Bleaa — ” faint from the hallway outside is cut off short by a ream of rifle fire, and a scream.

“Yea, alright, outside then,” Hector agrees abruptly, on that note, a bit drifty and with a step sideways around Finn to clear through the gap into the lab. He keeps the muzzle of his gun to his ear all the while, finger hooked round the trigger. Very safe. “C’mon Jasper. They have a plane.

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