Omen, Part II


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Scene Title Omen, Part II
Synopsis It seemed incredible that this day, a day without warnings or omens, might be that of my implacable death. — Jorge Luis Borges, "Ficciones"
Date August 30, 2019

The smell is awful.

Unrefined petroleum has an acrid, cloying stink about it. That tarry residue clings to everything in the dead stand of gray trees that sprawls out from the ruins of an old commercial airport. The radio control tower is visible at times between the tall, dead trees. Underfoot the ground is dry and dusty, but in places it feels soft and permeable in ways that aren’t natural.

Under the slate gray sky this place feels alien, like being on the surface of another planet that died long ago. The rusted remains of bars rising up half the height of the trees don’t help, nor do the concrete and steel carcasses of sculpted zoo animal statues looming from the crumbling concrete plinths they were placed on more than thirty years ago. They peel paint like the trees here peel bark, in patchy and irregular sheets. The trees just reveal dead wood, but the flecks of color still left on any of these old statues stands out against the deep orange of rust.

The bars partition the leaf-strewn walkways of this old place from the recessed concrete enclosures beyond. The bars are missing in places where vandals and trespassers slipped in the years before the war. But no one comes out here now, not since everything died. But yet, today, there’s voices in the air.

Sometimes what’s dead, isn’t.

Ruins of the Jungle Habitat Amusement Park

The Black Forest, New Jersey Pine Barrens Outskirts

August 30th

4:17 pm

Joshua Lang cuts a dark silhouette down the derelict walkways of what was once a place for families and children. The gray skies have given way to spotty patches of rain over the last few hours, some of which is collected on the shoulders of his matte black armor. There’s a soft hum coming from the battery pack of his ANCILLA armor, a soft hum in the middle of his chest where tension and adrenaline are making him forget the dull ache at the side of his head where stitches dart in and out of his hairline.

“Y’think he’d just drop a missile on us?” Lang asks back over his shoulder, posture tight and the cigarette pinched between his armored fingers nearly burned down to the filter. “That Praxis boss-man. Y’think he’d just blow us all up with a drone?” He hadn’t smoked since leaving Sedro-Woolley, hadn’t intended on picking it up again. But a lot of things have happened that he didn’t intend.

The taller, broader man beside Lang lifts his shoulders in a half-hearted shrug of an answer to the question. Finn knows maybe Lang is looking for optimism, and Finn is usually the person people go to for such things, but clearly he does think that the ‘boss-man’ would in fact drop a missile on them.

“I mean… they haven’t yet, but I wouldn’t put it past them,” he says, with an apologetic glance to Lang. “Stand close to me and the odds are it’ll miss you if they do.” It’s mostly a joke. His luck wouldn’t help keep the rest of the Remnant or their people safe.

He resumes the dull tapping of his rifle with gloved fingers to whatever song he’s listening to in his mind, green eyes narrowed as he watches the area beyond the bars for signs of trouble.

About a half step behind and to Finn’s other side, Chris makes a less than imposing presence. He looks… not unlike most every time he's on patrol. The whole ensemble, from boots to hat, show dampness from the drizzle; there's even rogue droplets hitching a ride on the muzzle of the rifle that's held casually in his hands. All in all, he's a sense of boredom mixed with readiness and a splash of why the fuck is it always raining?.

which translates to, he looks like a cat who's pissed off about being put out of the house.

Mostly, he's kept that to himself though.

Now, however, he decides he has words for Lang’s worries.

“I think he'd be a fucking fool to try anything.” Chris lays his eloquent opinion out as plainly as the rain stands in puddles on their path. Not very comforting, especially with the deadpan of his tone. “I think there's bigger things to worry about and all this is a lot of posturing and sniffing of assholes.”

Angling a look over to Chris, Lang raises one brow but at the same time sidles up closer to Finn, as if in a nonverbal agreement about the improbably lucky man’s odds of survival. “Stupid people do stupid shit,” is Lang’s understanding of things. “These’re the same fuckers that came in here waggin’ their dicks around and making demands of us, and…” Something clings in the back of Lang’s mind, something he saw that day, something that sticks unvoiced like his agreement with Finn.

“Speakin’ a’stupid,” Lang drawls as he walks, dead and dry branches crunching underfoot, “either a’you know much about that Byron guy? He’s been hangin’ around Eileen like a sad puppy for a while now an’ I ain’t got a good read on him. Didn’t even know he was Evolved until he went and tried to do some kind of sonic boom thing.” Lang eyes Chris, then Finn. “Where the fuck’s he from?”

“Never truer words spoken,” Finn says in agreement to Lang’s aphorism on stupid people. He huffs a laugh at the segue from stupid to Byron, and shakes his head.

“I don’t know, but I guess I don’t got the monopoly on being Eileen’s puppy anymore, so I don’t like him,” he says with a smirk to accompany that bit of self-deprecating self awareness that’s uncommon for the man. “He showed up when I wasn’t around, being down in the city like I was for a while, so I never heard his origin story. Maybe the kid knows,” he says with a glance to Chris.

“But,” he adds, “I wouldn’t mistake quiet for stupid. There’s that saying — something about better to keep quiet and let people think you a fool than to open your mouth and prove it yourself.” His smile widens. “I never follow it, but it’s probably good advice.”

“It's impolite to talk poorly of someone behind their back,” Chris points out. Since he totally wasn't just talking badly about anyone. “However. If you ask me, the man is flatus in human form. As offensive in his presence as his smell. A stall that hasn't been cleaned in a month is more pleasant. He skulks around worse than any kid in the middle of puberty. Fuck, the wannabe goth kids that idolize The Crow and The Craft are less depressing than him.”

The young man gives a slow roll of his shoulders and tips a look at Finn and Lang. “But I'm not saying he's a bad person. That would be impolite.”

“You ain’t seen a movie in a long time, have you?” Lang comments with a side-long look offered to Chris, before casually spitting some of his chewing tobacco into the dead underbrush.

«Teleporter dumped Monroe at the building,» comes crackling over everyone’s radios. Kara’s voice. «Then bounced. Eyes out.»

The news on the radio has Lang rolling his head to the side, flexing his shoulders beneath the armor plating of his suit, and then tapping a button on his collar. “Alright folks, sharpen up.” A series of whirring clacks and snaps come as the helmet of Lang’s ANCILLA armor starts to unfold from his back, followed by a few sharp grinding noises, a series of loud and not good clicks, and then a puff of smoke from an actuator. “Fucking— ” Lang hisses, the half-assembled helmet fanned out like petals of a flower around his neck. “Fucking piece of shit,” he curses, trying to force it back into a locked position.

“I thought you was supposed t’be lucky?” Lang curses over at Finn, finally snapping the helmet parts back into place with a few noises that sound like something breaking. The armors hadn’t been well-maintained since their arrival in this timeline, and Hector has neither had the time nor the inclination to work with them as of late.

One of Finn’s brows tics upward as Chris speaks, and he levels a look over at Lang as if to ask are you getting this? He too can’t help but snort at the movies mentioned.

“Those movies are older than you are, speaking of puberty,” he says, and he might say more, but then Lang’s suddenly popping and clicking like a mechanical werewolf mid transformation.

“That’s not how it works,” Finn says with a sigh. “Your armor isn’t posing a threat to me, so my luck doesn’t give a shit about it.” He grins, all teeth and dimples. “No offense. I give a shit. But my ability? Not so much.”

Despite the chatter, he does look a little more alert, fingers no longer tapping out the drum solos of his mind, but holding his rifle and ready to move if he needs to.

Arguments rise. Chris has an anecdote for just about anything, and he’s fully prepared to wield those words at anyone and everyone. It’s how he shows he cares. However, he’s interrupted from pointing out the obvious for his choice in old movies as reference.

Kara’s voice cuts over the radio. It makes his expression flatten.

Chris’ deadpan look settles on Lang for a half dozen steps. He doesn’t sharpen up. Not in the military sense. If anything he appears to grow even more bored. If that’s even possible. Of course, he’s been with the Remnant for a while now — pretty much since the end of the war — so it should be no surprise when he takes things… less than serious.

“Fucking teleporters.”

Making a sound in the back of his throat, Lang offers an askance look to Finn. He’s putting a pin in the conversation about how his ability works. “Perimeter check in,” Lang says into the backup comm receiver in his wrist.

«Oxtail is clear,» one voice says over the radios.

«Crowbeak checking in. All clear,» another says.

«Packrat clear, no sign of anything.»

As the last voice comes in Lang shakes his head, “Pillbox clear,” he informs the others, “fan out, eyes up.” With a sigh, Lang moves ahead along the lead-strewn trail, passing beneath the muted shadow of a looming concrete sculpture of a money nearly stripped of all its paint. Brittle, gray-brown ivy encrusts the monument to what this place once was.

“Fought a teleporter once,” Lang says quietly as he stoops past the statue, rifle out. “Guy was fast, short range stuff. He even had one of these,” Lang says with a pat to the chest of his armor. “I couldn't keep a bead on him, when I tagged him the armor shrugged it off,” and his finger moves to a bullet impact dent in the breastplate.

“Then Eileen killed him with a wave of her fuckin’ hand.” The corner of Lang’s mouth creeps up into a rueful grimace that could be misconstrued as a smile. “Sometimes I still find some ashes in the joints.” He motions with one hand for Chris to move to the right to the other side of the walkway. “She ain't here right now, I suppose.”

“Waterbear clear,” asides Finn to Chris as the others make their check-ins. Quietly so as not to earn more of Lang’s askance glances. Once the radio chatter is silent again and Lang is telling them super-fun anecdotes of Eileen’s terrifying power, the helicopter pilot nods once.

“I’d hate to be on her bad side,” he says, but it’s with that tone of respect for the woman he always seems to have when they speak of the small Brit. “Sometimes I wish I could do something more… you know…” one hand lifts off the rifle, fingers curling into a fist before opening out again in a little pantomimed explosion, “active, I guess. But not like hers. I guess you don’t get to choose.”

He glances at Lang. “You probably don’t think I have an ability at all. Is that what that look was about? Ask the robot maker. He’ll tell you.”

The call signs, as they did earlier in the day — as they always have since the beginning of antiquity — earn a Look from Chris. He's unimpressed with them, they seem fairly pointless, and they probably smell like month-old unwashed sweat socks. Also, it's still fucking raining which is just making everything so much worse.


He has nothing particular to say on the subject of Eileen, though. Or abilities, except to point out, “Still glad I don't have that rope around my neck.” Not that he's opposed to the expressives, he's just content with his lot in life.

A roll of his eyes casts his head along with it. And that in turn directs Chris’ path off to the right. See, he does follow direction. When it suits him. Which, right now, it does.

“You ever try getting a straight answer from Hector?” Lang drawls as an aside to Finn. It’s a rhetorical question, no one tries to get a straight answer from Hector. Everyone knows better. “Whatever your shiny space magic is, you just make sure it works when we need it to.” Adjusting his rifle to rest across his chest, Lang takes a few long strides between the barred enclosures of crumbling concrete. He pauses for a moment, kicking aside some dried leaves to reveal spent shell casings from a small firearm. He eyes them for a moment, unsure of how fresh they are.

“Everyone keep an eye out,” Lang says over the comms, “might’ve been people out here recently. Don’t want anybody gettin’ their ass shot off by hillfolk.” Up ahead past Lang, toward the end of the leaf-strewn path that leads to the end of the large animal enclosures, the zoo just seems to end, consumed by relatively young trees and sparse, struggling undergrowth that can somehow survive in this acrid environment.

Chris is the first one to see the dark shape roughly a hundred feet out into the woods, laid down amid freshly disturbed leaves and soil. It looks like a body, unmoving and dark, dressed in matching shades of black streaked with mud.

There’s a snort at the question that answers the rhetorical question about as much as is expected. “That fucker owes me for the therapy sessions I’m gonna need from the extraction mission for his sorry ass. I still have nightmares about fucking talking zombie pigs and rabid bonobos.” He glances at Chris. “You don’t wanna know. Trust me on that.”

While he talks, the tall man’s green eyes are actually alert, scanning a dark and muddy bit of earth off in the near distance. It isn’t the same patch of darky and muddy earth where that shape lies, so he’s ignorant for at least a few more moments on that count.

“‘Make sure it works,’ he says,” Finn echoes Lang, shaking his head again. “Sure thing, buddy.”

“Wasn't going to ask,” Chris asides to Finn. Distracted. Something’s caught his attention, maybe a trick of the light, that bit of ambient glow is able to filter past the overcast and the rain, through the trees.

Maybe not a trick of the light. He frowns when his next step gives him a fraction of a newer perspective. His rifle comes up to his shoulder and he rests his cheek against the stock. An eye squints shut, the other staring through the scope while he scans the undergrowth.

“Found your hillfolk.” Chris raises his head and motions with the muzzle of his rifle toward the darkened shape. “Or Sasquatch went on walkabout.” Whatever it is, he decides as he calls attention to the form that he needs a closer look.

As Chris approaches, Lang radios back to the other teams. “Pillbox checking in, we’ve got a body out here, over.” Finn can hear a little squelch of static come over Lang’s earpiece, and he sees the Horseman pull it out and start looking at the wire as Chris closes the distance to the darkly-clad figure on the ground. “Oxtail this is Pillbox, do you copy?” It’s about then that Finn notices he can only hear Lang in his ears, not in the comms.

“I’ve got dead air,” Lang hisses, leaving his earpiece to dangle at his neck, then reaches up to the collar of his armor, sending his powered armor’s retractable helmet snapping down over his face. Six orange eyes light up on the front, flickering like candle flames when they first ignite. «Eileen something’s up. We’ve got a body out here and the radios went dead.» As Lang talks into the much more high-tech communicators of his helmet, his voice emits through external speakers with a tinny, metallic quality.

As Chris approaches the body in the wet leaves, he can hear a low, rasping breathing coming from what he can now tell is a white-haired old man. It only takes a moment for recognition to set in as he starts to circle the prone figure, seeing the battered figure staring up at him.


A momentary wave of confusion and disorientation sets in over Chris, because he just left Sharrow with Eileen at the visitor’s center at the heart of the park. But here he is, covered in mud and his own blood, unable to so much as lift his head up off of the dirt where he lay. Alive, but perhaps barely.

There’s a very subtle transition from Finn’s easygoing labrador-esque alertness to something more sharpened and keen when he notices the lack of sound in his own headset.

“You’re not coming through,” he says just about the same time Lang announces he has dead air.

He keeps his eyes on where Chris moves toward the body in the mud, but also glancing around now and then for any sign of movement where there shouldn’t be one.With Lang moves to direct communication with Eileen, Finn tests his own radio. “Pillbox to Oxtail, do you copy?” Maybe it’s just Lang that’s temporarily and involuntarily incommunicado.

As recognition settles in, Chris’ careful steps come to an immediate stop. Now that just isn’t right. “What. The. Fuck.” Each word is murmured, little more than enough to reach his own hearing, unlikely to be caught by the others. They’re busy chattering anyway, into comms that he hasn’t yet noticed aren’t working. His head raises slightly and he gives his surroundings a quick scan.

There could be a trap.

Not a lot of time is spent on worrying about that possibility though. “Tailbox,” he calls over his shoulder, without really looking at Finn or Lang. He regularly, intentionally, butchers the callsigns. “It’s Sharrow.”

That’s all the warning they get. Chris eases closer to the prone man, rifle actually ready because it still could actually be a trap. “What the shit happened to you,” is not the most endearing question, even if it is quieter. Not the way he asks it, sounding like he’s about to harass an old buddy over a beer.

Sharrow exhales a rasping breath, only barely conscious. Hands trembling, he looks up toward Chris, stammering and unable to put coherent words together. Lang is slow to advance on Chris, his rifle out and trained on Sharrow’s dark silhouette even as he flicks suspicious looks around the area. «Eileen respond,» Lang reiterates from the speakers of his helmet. «Fuck.»

Turning to look back at Finn. «Our internal comms are out, I don’t even know if that’s possible.» Not that he understands the science of how the quantum communication of their armor is intended to function. «If this is Sharrow, who the fuck is back at— »

Lang’s question is put on hiatus as a distant pop of automatic gunfire briefly breaks the rainy forest’s silence. «Can he move!?» Lang barks back at Chris, raising his rifle up to his shoulder and swinging his focus off in the direction of the gunfire through the fog. Sharrow can barely stand, let alone move, judging from the twisted break of his right leg.

A scream soon echoes from the direction of the gunfire as if to answer Lang’s question, accompanied by a dark, fast-moving shape hurtling through the fog. A militia member from Providence comes hurling through the air, smacking into a thick pine tree with the snapping pop of his ribs and back, before he fully collapses down into the dirt in a bloodied heap. His right arm is missing at the shoulder leaving only a cauterized and smoking stump.

“You didn’t steal the instruction manual when you stole the armor?” tosses Finn back to Lang — once in a while his moral compass swings back to north, usually around the same time his internal monologue filter breaks down. It’s meant to be a joke, as most of his comments are, to alleviate the growing tension that the interruption of gunfire does nothing to break.

“Fuck,” he echoes, sharply, turning in tandem with Lang to squint into the distance, gun ready. “I can drag his ass if you two cov-” he begins, before the unidentifiable flying object comes hurtling through the trees. He’s ready to dart out of the way should he need to. Soon enough the UFO is not unidentifiable but one of their own. Grimly, he moves closer, to see if there’s anything — anyone — left to save.

“I should’ve stayed in the city,” he mutters to the collapsed heap of man, looking for any vital signs.

“Nope.” Not callous but not pussy-footing around either. Chris starts to take a knee, however the cacophony of noises — because rain wasn't bad enough, now there's got to be screams and gunfire during the meeting with a known asshat — the act turns into a duck for cover. He lifts his head seconds after the bodily thump punctuates what's fast becoming a grim situation.

A glance flicks behind, to Finn then Lang. “He's going to be dead weight.” Pun likely intended. His deadpan tone makes it difficult to tell exactly how serious he is or isn't. His expression, however much can be made out in the dreariness, shows he doesn't believe the old man is going to make any kind of journey.

Movement alone will probably use up whatever life is left.

Chris rises from his crouched position, the butt of his rifle settling into his shoulder. The weapon isn't raised or readied beyond that, but his gaze on Lang is plainly waiting for direction. Carry Sharrow out and prolong suffering, or give him the dignity of a swifter end.

Making a twisted face, Lang rolls his eyes and swallows down his immediate answer. He knows Eileen is still in charge, knows is he had to explain what happened to the old man and it was what he wants he might wind up the same. “Stand aside,” is all his order to Chris winds up being as he slings his rifle over his back and takes a knee beside Sharrow. “Come on y’old shit!”

As Finn takes a knee down beside the one who had been hurled over, his inspection of the perimeter guard reveals more than just a broken spine. He has no face. It isn’t that it was stripped away by an explosion, there’s no external wounds at all. There’s just the meta of his face, stretched over his mouth, nose, and eyes like a tent. It’s seamless, as if he had been born that way. Perhaps most distressing is the rise and fall of some of the skin, like a plastic bag pulled over someone’s head. His back may be broken, but this unfortunate soul is still alive.

Gunfire pops again in the distance as Finn witnesses an unthinkable horror, followed by a blood-curdling scream that warbles, whines, and then ends in nothing but silence. Lang grabs Sharrow by his one good arm and rises from a crouch to stand up straight. The hydraulics of his armor whine at the knees and back as he hoists the additional weight, accompanied by a groan of pain from the old man as he throws Sharrow over his shoulder.

“Holy fuck,” Finn mutters, scrambling away from this horror film of a human being, his eyes widening as he stares at the faceless thing in front of him. Glancing over his shoulder to see if the others see what he sees, he returns his reluctant gaze to the once man. In case there’s any life lingering there, he raises his rifle to fire a single shot into the skull and put the man out of his misery.

“Sorry,” he grunts, pulling himself up to a standing position, putting himself in the position to cover Lang.

“Let’s go,” is probably unnecessary. No one wants to stay here. But he says it anyway.

“Fucking waste of effort,” Chris mutters as he shakes his head. The old man looks as good as dead, the walk to rendezvous will likely worsen his condition more than help anything. They may keep Sharrow alive long enough to get back to Providence and he'll die anyway.

But he doesn't argue. If Lang wants to try…

Chris keeps his rifle at the ready. He doesn't bother to look toward the sounds of gunfire or screams. They aren't ignored, but since they seem distant enough he doesn't feel necessary to look. “I'll watch our back,” is stated with a nod at Finn.

“When you answer to Eileen I’ll be sure t’criticize all y’all’s decisions as y’make them,” Lang mutters, moving in long strides to keep up with Finn and Chris as they move. “Whoever’s hitting us is already on the move. Shots came from our side of— ”

The sky suddenly darkens, not from clouds or smoke, but from birds. In the distance, in the direction of the park’s visitor center a quarter mile to the east a haze of birds have flooded the skies. Lang’s words die in his throat as he sees them, shaking his head in disbelief. “What the fuck is going on!?” He’s so fixed on that sight, on the growing cloud of circling birds drawn in from all around the woodland, that he fails to notice a sound building in intensity.

It’s a rumble, a rhythmic one, accompanied by distant metal clattering and hydraulic hissing. Splintering trees come next, that much Lang hears, drawing closer to Chris, Finn, and Lang’s position from somewhere outside the park.

Finn too turns, brows drawing together at the cloud of birds darkening the sky. His expression grows flatter yet.

“Robot,” he says, in case the other two haven’t stitched together the dots yet.

“I can try to divert it. Don’t think it can split in two.” He looks like he might regret saying so, as if the powers that be might be listening and decide that the robot can in fact do just that. “If it’s tracking Evos, it’s my ass it should follow.”

He doesn’t look thrilled with this plan, but resigned. “Go.”

“Fuck. Me. Sideways.” Chris isn’t making a request. He actually sounds like he’d rather be anywhere else. He’s had an encounter with the Overfiend one time before, and this time he’s without some nifty little transmitter that he can switch on and off.

There’s also a distinct lack of people around that are shooting at the fucking robot.

He eyes the direction that the sounds of machine and hydraulics come from. The birds rising into the air are noted and dismissed. It’s the Son of Dalek he’s worried about. Better you that me is a thought that flits through his mind at Finn’s offer of sacrifice, but for once the snark dies before it’s given a voice. “Fuck.” He shakes his head and casts a look at Lang and Sharrow. He’s still not convinced the old man is going to live to see tomorrow, he’s pretty sure it’s a wasted effort, but…

“Fuck.” Chris nods at Finn. “You head out, I’ll flank.” The other man might have luck on his side, but he’s not so sure the tentacle-bot from Hell cares very much about that. “Buy some time for Lang to get Sharrow out, and we’ll circle back.” Maybe they’ll lose the Decepticon. He has his doubts.

For a moment Lang is frozen in indecision, jaw flexing, eyes locked in the direction that sound of splintering wood echoes from. It isn’t immediately clear if he hears Finn or Chris, until finally he responds in a sharp bark with “Fine.” He flicks a look back to Finn, sucking in a sharp breath before exhaling a deep sigh through his nose.

“Don’t die,” is the closest thing to encouragement that Finn gets from Lang, but there’s a certain hint of desperation in his tone. They haven’t ever been close, barely operate within the same circles in Providence save for being in Eileen’s orbit, but at the same time Finn is like that distant cousin you never see but like every time you spend with them. Having seen his fair share of self-made family throw themselves willingly into the jaws of death, this has a certain circular feeling to it. Unable to express that in words, Lang turns to look at Chris, then nods as the younger man moves out to flank alongside him. Lang gives one last look back at Finn, then begins jogging in the opposite direction of the machine howl that soon erupts through the trees.

As Lang and Chris break away from Finn’s position, the luckier of the three begins making his way apart from them, utilizing what they know about the machine to their advantage. Or someone’s advantage. Not Finn’s, certainly. As he heads parallel to the sound of whining servos, crashing wood, and splitting stone Finn soon can see the horrific machine through the treeline. It moves with such a fluidic grace for something so massive, the eight articulated appendages that carry it forward flow in a watery grace, as though it were gliding on some sort of rolling carpet rather than a menagerie of tentacles. The solitary, gleaming eye of red light cuts through the rain and fog, accompanied by a shrill mechanical cry as it crosses paths with northern sentries.

Finn is too far away, too late, to do anything other than watch them swatted aside like toys from a child throwing a tantrum. One of the Providence sentries is flung through the woods and out of sight, another hurled end over end until he winds up tangled in the branches of tall, dead pine trees. But as Finn draws nearer, the machine doesn’t seem to notice him, isn’t diverting from its directly eastward path. It seems single-minded in its direction:

The Visitor’s Center. Eileen.

When Lang gives him that look, Finn looks surprised for a moment, then waves a gloved hand in the other men’s direction. “It’ll be fine,” he says. Whether it’s bravado or actual (misguided, likely) optimism, it’s hard to tell.

He heads toward the sound, squinting up at the thing when it comes into his sightline and wincing when he sees the way it tosses about the men like a landborne Scylla. “Fuck,” he mutters, before trying his own radio.

“Eileen, monstrobot is incoming. Get the fuck out,” he whispers hoarsely as he trails closer to the thing, aiming his rifle for its weak spots.

Finn doesn’t know whether or not Eileen can hear him, though perhaps if the universe is a kind one it will hear him instead and relay the message. Or, more likely, one of the thousand birds streaking through the skies heard it too.

The horrific machine-whine of the octopedal robot blasts through the treeline as Finn brings himself into an intersecting path with it. The monocular-eyed machine comes to a grinding halt, halfway toppling a tree as it presses metallic girth into it. The machine’s lens eye narrows to a focus point, staring either at Finn or —

Past him?

Finn never knows whether its sensors were malfunctioning or if something else has the machine’s focus. But rather than pursue Finn it springs into movement again and thunders past him in the direction of the visitor’s center. That sudden explosion of movement sends a tall, dead pine toppling in Finn’s direction. With a reflexive gasp, Finn is able to spring out of the way, even as the tree strikes another one adjacent to it, causing that taller tree to split at the middle and come crashing down on an iron fence surrounding a partly subterranean polar bear enclosure now overgrown with dead vegetation.

The collapsing trees throw Finn backwards, sending him falling through the opening in the fence, landing with a hard crash down on his back in the bear enclosure. With the wind knocked out of him and his ears ringing, Finn stares up at the sky as he sucks in a sharp breath, having fallen some fifteen feet down into a heap of partly decomposed leaves and pine needles rather than the hard concrete. Maybe his luck hadn’t run o—


There are a half dozen things Chris wants to say about the whole situation when Lang heads one way and Finn the other. None of them are pleasant, at least two would make even the raunchiest sailors uncomfortable. He has the grace, at least, to keep such things to himself. This time. His head shakes like the subtle movement would file the darker thoughts away somewhere, scatter the colorfully foul language so it's temporarily not useful.

It must help some, because it isn't more than a few seconds before he's breaking more or less after the older man. His plan was to flank, so he cuts roughly to the center, partly following Lang and somewhat going in the general direction Finn ran off at.

His eyes track after the monster robot while his boots make gross squelching sounds in the wet earth. He can feel it more than hear it — which is even worse — since Doc Oc’s bastard son is making so much damn noise. He can't even hear the birds, which is a shame because they sound a hell of a lot better than the grind of overheated machinery.

As the robot pauses in its movement, Chris raises the rifle, presses the butt hard into the meat of his shoulder. He doesn't bother with the scope this time. Being on the move would make it impossible to use anyway. Plus it's a large target and he's an okay shot. His finger finds the trigger just when the fucking thing decides to launch off again, but he turns with it and squeezes off a couple of shots. Just buying time.

“The fuck is going on,” Lang keeps repeating as he jogs ahead with Sharrow over his shoulder, “the fuck is going on!” As they continue to make their way southward, there’s a sudden noise that erupts from the far side of the visitor’s center. It’s a scream, mournful and horrific, Eileen’s voice in what can only be described as anguish and agony. Lang freezes in place, back straight and eyes wide, head jerked toward the sound.

With the overgrown visitor’s center occluding view of what’s transpiring, there is only Eileen’s suffering screams and cries to add context. Lang turns, taking Chris by the arm and arresting his movement. There’s a moment where Lang’s jaws clench, his brows furrow, and he looks like he might charge straight into the fray to go back for her. But then, fate changes his mind for him.

There is a violent thunderclap from behind the building, a sudden and thunderous flash of light followed by a slow-motion wall of flames rolling outward from the site. It doesn’t travel like an explosion should, there’s no shockwave, there’s no speed. It moves at a jogging pace, trees blasting apart in slow-motion detonation as soon as the pyroclasmic wall reaches them. The fire has no light, no heat, like a film negative of an explosion kicking up a dust cloud of ashes in its wake. Lang’s grip on Chris’ wrist becomes tighter, and he moves


Lang crashes through a line of nearby dead trees, dragging Chris with him. What is on the other side of the treeline is a toppled fence, and then a fifteen foot drop down into an animal enclosure. Lang lands on his feet, the servos in the knees of his armor blasting out with a flash of sparks, followed by buckled pieces of broken metal raining down around him. Chris lands with a crash on concrete, Sharrow dropped beside him with a wet wheeze.

A brilliant and colorless glow builds over the edge of the enclosure with the dull roar of a slow-motion explosion drawing ever closer. Lang hunches forward, doing what he was tasked to do, protecting the people of Providence. They might well be the last of them.

Close your eyes!” Lang hisses as he tries to shield Chris and Sharrow from the oncoming explosion. The light becomes brighter, the deafening roar of an explosion all-consuming. The ground shakes, the air becomes dry, plants wither and die, the air becomes stale.

Whatever you do

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