Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit Hole

"So… what exactly are we doing here again? I might have zoned out during the brief."

Fox sighed, brushing a paw across his muzzle in frustration as he turned around to berate the absent minded feline and her poor sense of timing. His exasperation was borne not of the question itself, but from his disbelief that she would wait until they landed planetside before feeling the need to clarify. It wasn't entirely her fault he supposed. Since the war ended, the services provided by their mercenary company were no longer in such high demand. Other than the occasional convoy protection contract, and any bounties they could pick up along the way, they hadn't really received much in the way of work.

It was enough to pay the bills sure, and he was grateful for that, but there wasn't much of the sense of action or adventure that usually pulled their professionalism together. So he could hardly be surprised that Miyu, and other members of his team, might lose their sense of urgency. He also had it on good authority that he tended to ramble needlessly during mission briefs, which was no doubt the perpetrator responsible for Miyu's forgetfulness. She probably nodded off during one of his tedious soliloquies.

They were not alone in their boredom.

However, before he could turn to address her question, one of his other teammates had jumped to the occasion with predictable alacrity.

"We're here because the General asked us to be here, you dumb cat."

Fox rolled his eyes at Falco's caustic remark as the avian slipped a power pack into his assault blaster and donned the armored profile of his flight jacket. The avian hardly had need of a reason to be antagonistic at the best of times, so the vulpine shouldn't have been surprised at the eagerness with which he leapt at the opportunity to laugh at someone else's expense. Fox just wished he didn't have to do it while they were still confined within the cramped dimensions of their shuttles comparatively small ordnance lockup. Thankfully, if one could be thankful for something like that, his aggressive observations were so common as to be par the course when engaging in dialogue with him. And judging from Miyu's indifferent reaction to his heated words as she zipped up her tactical harness, she was as used to it as everyone else.

Moments like this Fox wondered if there really was a good person lodged underneath the bird's inconsiderate, and often times violent, temperament. If there was, that individual hardly showed himself. It must be suffocating to live buried underneath such a thick deposit of antagonism. Still, he had hung around this long, and as of yet, no one else had tried to kill him, so Fox couldn't really complain. At the end of the day, Falco was as reliable as anyone else in Starfox. The avian counted where it mattered, and that was good enough for him.

But that did not mean friction did not exist amongst their number, Fox remembered this as he looked to the gritted teeth of their other companion, the blue furred vixen removing her rifle from the armament rack on the shuttle wall, clutching the corrugated handle of her blaster in a white knuckled grip as her emerald eyes glared daggers at the oblivious avian.

She did not find Falco's wise cracks to be amusing. Admittedly, no one else did either. But she seemed to take to it like fish to dry land, as opposed to everyone else, who felt more like birds without wings. Perhaps it offended her formerly regal sensibilities, or maybe, what was more likely, Falco was just an annoying asshole that could infuriate even the most forbearing and peaceable individuals.

"Cut the chatter." He ordered with a growl, more to silence any more potential lip from Falco than of a desire for focus or reprieve from the prattle of conversation. "Pepper needs us to check out the research facility here on Titania." He spoke again after a few appreciative minutes of blessed quite, directing his voice across the bay to Miyu.

"As of thirty-six hours ago the entire facility went dark, no communications from either end. And he's worried the Remnant may be responsible. The scientists are working on a lot of experimental tech down there, and he'd like to keep that out of their hands. I imagine we're all of the same sentiment."

Miyu nodded, her expression curling into an indistinct smirk of anticipation. "Roger that, check on the egg heads and kick ass where required."

"Exactly." He agreed with a chuckle. Sometimes it was easy to forget that the lynx had once been a special operations commando. She hardly seemed the type, at least until the firefight started.

"Are we expecting any serious opposition?" The vulpine heard Krystal's voice from the rear end of the room, and turned to see the vixen contemplating the intimidating bulk of her assault cannon.

"Negative, maybe a few unruly types. Besides, you'd probably have a hard time maneuvering that through the hallways. The facility is underground, so expect mazes of tightly packed corridors and plenty of chokepoints. Keep your loadouts to the standard pattern, rifles and sidearms, maybe a couple grenades per." He added as he reached into a bin and withdrew a handful of black cylinders he clipped to his belt. "And bring triple the usual ammo load. No telling what we'll find down there."

"Wouldn't be surprised if it's just the work of faulty communications equipment." Falco muttered as he slung his blaster on his shoulder, eyeing his weapon with regret. "It's damned hard to keep anything working on this fucking dust bowl. I know I'll be spending hours gutting all the dust out of this."

"For once, you and I are in agreement." Miyu acknowledged reluctantly. "I've had a few assignments on Titania. So I speak from experience when I say it'll be a bitch to keep our gear clean. I suggest you use some of this." As she spoke, the feline reached into a pouch on her tac-webbing and removed a small, ovular tin that she chucked over to Falco. "And that suggestion included everyone else as well. We might not be on the surface long, but it only takes seconds for the sand to do its work."

"What is it?" Fox asked as he watched Falco open the rubber seal and take a whiff.

"Its synthetic grease, prevents sand from adhering to the interior of your blaster, works good as lubricant as well if you're in a hurry." She replied with a chuckle.

Instead of inquiring as to what she might be lubricating, Fox merely waited his turn to use the tin of grease. "Thanks, Miyu." He offered his gratitude as he dismantled his rifle to wipe it down.

The cat merely shrugged in reply.

With the new information provided, a few extra minutes were spent in the shuttle as each member of the ground team oiled down their weapons in preparation for Titania's harsh climate. This time was spent mostly in silence, though the two females amidst their group muttered softly to each other, their voices low enough that their words did not make perceptible transition to Fox's ears. But their audibility was unnecessary. The vulpine was almost entirely certain they were conversing about their identical distaste for Falco's grating personality. That was a conversation often had inside the bowels of their ship.

Eventually they were finished with their respectively similar tasks, weapons retooled for the environment they would be facing and their temperaments set as those performing a rather banal chore. Not once did it cross their minds that this assignment would be anything different than those they had been dealing with the past fiscal year, a low income, low risk operation.

Fox had almost forgotten to check the safety of his blaster before donning his environmental helmet, the vulpine idly examining the switch on the side of his rifle as he synced the systems in his HUD to his armor's bio signature and the various other amenities that a high ranking mercenary organization can afford.

With Starfox's fame and resources came certain advantages. His team had access to the highest quality of innovative tools that a military-grade contracting license could offer. Each member had a custom tailored combat uniform, encased in lightweight nanomolecular body armor and hyper advanced computational software. Sporting integral radio transmitters and biometric scanners, they could keep in constant contact with one another and be able to receive real time analyses on their teammates' health.

Fox often had to remind himself that the price for all of those technological wonders was worth it, especially considering each individual suit cost the same worth and upkeep of a stock arwing fixed wing exoatmospheric superiority starfighter. Most of Slippy's time was spent working maintenance on their various implements. Apparently top-of-the-line was also synonymous with constantly-breaking-down.

Even now the poor toad was tooling away in his workshop to keep everything running. It was fortunate that he had Fay's help in that monumental task. Fox wasn't sure he could handle it on his own, and Peppy wasn't really familiar with most things technological.

Once his armor finished synchronizing with his HUD and Fox read that their collective vital signs were in the green, he pantomimed to his fellow team members that he was about to open the shuttle's rearward exit ramp.

While Falco sealed the ordnance lock up, Miyu and Fay moved to stand next to the vulpine as he prepared to key in the short five digit access code required to disembark. Fox waited till everyone had their helmets on before inputting the shuttle's PIN. Not seconds after the magnetic seal disengaged, a piercing howl filled the vulpine's ears and he winced reflexively as the compartment was assaulted by category three winds and a hurricane of silt particles that had already dusted everything by the time they all disembarked.

"Remind me to buy a summer home here." Falco's sardonic grumble, altered into a somewhat static infused garble by the their suit's interconnected comms systems, still possessed every bit of cynicism as it had been intended to carry, and Fox felt his eyes roll of their own volition.

All the same, he could not help but echo the bird's initial sentiment. Fox, mercifully, only ever had to work within the planets sphere of influence, perhaps less than a dozen times over the course of his career. And like most, he had already concluded his viewpoint on the desert world within minutes of his first arrival.

Titania was a shithole.

Most of the denizens of this system colloquially referred to it as the ass end of Lylat. Other than a few mining operations and the apparently not so secret research facility, no other efforts had been made to colonize it. After all, if the original civilization of this planet did not survive, why should they try to?

"Come on then, the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get the hell out of here." Fox suggested with a sigh, the vulpine assuredly not looking forwards to the oncoming mission as he dreaded to factor in the costs of buffing out and repainting the shuttle's sandblasted hull. Hopefully what General Pepper was offering for this mission would cover that as well as their other various expenses.

The vulpines order was obeyed with staunchness that he had not seen in quite some time as he and the rest of his team hurried across the wind swept plateau where the facility was supposed to be. Fox hoped that the General's information was accurate, because he wasn't seeing anything that struck him as covert military research facility material. Unsurprisingly, it looked just like he suspected a rock polluted desert would appear.

Surface scanning from The Great Fox's sensors did indicate that this was at least the largest mesa on the northern hemisphere, and that it had an unusually high iron content. And that was it so far as any noticeable abnormalities that could possibly point to a clandestine complex.

"Alright, spread out and look for any signs of this research base." He grumbled unenthusiastically. "Pepper said the entrance was hidden behind a false rock wall." Like usual as of late, the old canine had been scare on information.

"Right, like there aren't many of those around." Miyu muttered humorously as she swept a gloved paw across the stone strewn horizon. "If that's all we have to go off of, we might be here for a while."

"All the more reason to work faster." He replied with a shrug.

"Can't argue the reason in that." The feline agreed with an echoing movement of her shoulders before walking off in whatever direction she decided was decidedly more worthwhile. Watching her leave with a sigh, the vulpine chose his personal side of indiscriminate rock to peruse.

Not knowing how long it would take for them to find what they were looking for, Fox was relieved when not forty minutes after they started, Krystal's well-bred voice cut through the radio's thick garble of static interference.

"Fox, I think I found something over her. You'd better come and take a look."

Shifting his helmet away from the loose pile of rock he had been examining, the tod sifted through the miasma of upturned sand clouding the air to locate the familiar blue and black outline of the vixen's armored flight suit.

"Copy that, I'm on my way. Falco, Miyu, why don't you guys come too."

"Whatever. . ."

"Sure thing boss. . ."

Though first to arrive, Fox waited till the rest of his team made the journey across the geological redoubt before he gestured for Krystal to show him what she was talking about, watching as the female vulpine indicated a formation of rather uninteresting rock. Yet before he could ask just what exactly about it she found so remarkable, his well-trained eye noticed the unusually symmetric outline recessed into the rust red stone.

"Looks kinda like. . ." He trailed off in his musing, though Falco was quick to pick up the rest of his incomplete thought.

"A door, looks like a door to me." The avian declared with a tone one would almost call curious, if they didn't know him personally.

"Great, so we found the door." Miyu was exited for a brief moment before she seemed to realize something. "How do we get it open?"

"The General said there was a switch somewhere around…." Fox started to explain as he dropped to a knee with the idea of rummaging around the ground with an inquisitive paw, brushing away the thick layering of dust piled around the suspected entryway. "If his information was accurate this time. It should be right. . . about. . . here!"

The vulpine jerked his arm, the movement of his limb heralded by a deep clunk of heavy machinery. Swaying to his feet, he took several steps backwards in retreat as the wall of stone before him lurched backwards with a puff of misplaced dust. The unmistakably harsh grinding of sand congested gears tore through the lurid roar of a sandstorm with a stilted vengeance as the false rock formation slithered into the side of a newly revealed access corridor, the harsh white material of military prefab structures starkly shinning out of place amidst the coppery rust of desiccated stone.

"Ta-da! One clandestine research base entrance." Fox announced with a trite, but partly grandiose gesticulation of his arms. Unsurprisingly, his dry attempt at humor went, for the most part, entirely disregarded as his team shuffled inside to escape the storm's bitter fury.

The vulpine muttered a gruff assertion of "plebeians," to himself as he stepped in after them. At least he was trying to maintain an atmosphere of interest on this altogether lackluster assignment. It wasn't his fault nothing exciting was happening in the system.

Once inside, and after Fox had concluded his internal grumblings, the tod took point to lead the team through the unreasonably long hallway that eventually, and quite seamlessly, merged into a rather claustrophobic lobby. Not seeing anyone within the enclosed antechamber, he took the initiative to walk in further to investigate.

At a glance there wasn't anything distinctly out of place. A band of legless chairs bordered the confined geometries of the roughly circular atrium, reminiscent of the seats one could find at some of the more busy starports. What he did findunusual however, was the lack of a receptionist at the help desk situated beside the door at the end of the room. By rights there should have been someone waiting here to greet them, at the very least a small security team. This, along with the unnervingly silent and deserted chamber they had entered, prickled the mercenary's well cultivated sense for strange situations.

Something wasn't right here.

Turning back to his team, he unlatched his grip on the forend of his blaster to direct them with his paw. "Fan out and search for clues. Miyu, get on that terminal and see if you can figure out where all the people are."

Perhaps influenced by the unsettling atmosphere, not one of them offered a verbal acknowledgment as they dispersed to scan the admittedly sparse environment. In his own investigation, Fox found his gaze drawn to one of three brightly lit plinths fixed symmetrically at the center of the uninhabited foyer.

Allowing his rifle to hang on its strap at the risk that there was no immediate danger, he turned his attention to the cylindrical video display unit, and the paragraph of highlighted script arrayed in a neat column. Presumably this was for visitors, though he was unware that anyone would be visiting what was supposed to be an undisclosed location.

The vulpine eyed the three lettered header with even more confusion.

"UAC. . . what the hell is that?" He'd never heard of an organization by that name, neither in the military or corporate sectors. Curious, he skimmed the lengthy article for words of interest. Research, investigation, privatized military contracts, nothing to indicate that this was anything other than your standard outsourced paramilitary firm. Wait, there, near the end of the column. . .

Dimensional exploration. . .

What the hell did that mean?

Disconcerted, he tracked back to reread the sentence in its entirety, aloud. "Here at the UAC we pride ourselves at being the leading experts in. . . dimensional exploration and advancement. Just what the fuck were they up to down here?"

"Wait. . . did I hear that right?" Fox turned to see the equally confused and somewhat startled countenance of Krystal, the vixen eyeing the same plinth with skeptical apprehension in her bright viridian irises.

He could only shrug in reply, not quite sure he had read it correctly himself. "Any hints on what went down here?" He inquired, hoping for at least some good news on that front.

"Falco and I didn't find anything unusual in the area, no signs of a struggle or suggestions of a firefight. It's like everyone just up and left." The vixen furred outline vibrated as an uneasy shiver trickled down her spine. "Luckily, Miyu thinks she found something worthwhile, asked me to come get you."

"Right then, best not to keep her waiting." Fox nodded, following after Krystal til they joined the feline and Falco at the once empty reception desk. "Find anything good?" He asked the spotted cat as he propped an arm on the counter's edge.

"Well that depends on the perspective." She replied, her voice lost somewhere between relief and uncertain concern. "Logs indicate that there was no breach from the compound's exterior. Excluding our use, the front door hasn't been accessed in some three weeks, so no remnant assault team. Yet. . ." She paused apprehensively, seeming to contemplate her next words. "Thirty-five hours ago the entire facility went into hard lockdown, much like you would see if they had been attacked. But it's not like any kind of lockdown I've ever seen before. There are no restrictions imposed upon those entering the facility, but for anyone trying to leave. . ."

She trailed off, a troubled grimace tugging across her lips.

Fox felt his heart take an icy plunge into his gut, his arm instinctively dropping from the counter to grasp his blaster rifle. "Are you saying we're locked inside?"

"In not so many anxiety inducing words. . . yes." She confirmed with a rickety sigh as her paws shakily retracted from the terminal's keypad.

"Falco." Fox turned to the bird, who was already in motion as he jogged back down the corridor they had arrived in. Not three minutes pass before he returned, out of breath and voice steeled by a thin veneer of calm.

"She's right, damned door won't open. We'd need some serious firepower to get past that bulkhead. And last I checked we didn't pack any bunker busting warheads." He drawled between gasps.

Fox wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or alarmed that their newfound predicament had been unable to shake the avian's inbred cynicism. He was certainly pretty shaken himself. With a sense of foreboding he activated his comms device and attempted to make a connection to The Great Fox up in orbit. The bold red NO Signal, return he received was also unwelcomed. Shit, they were stuck inside, and it seemed communications were jammed, probably a security feature of the lockdown, one they most definitely could have done without.

The eyes of his team were now on him, their troubled expressions implicit in their need for leadership, a direction, something that could set their mounting worries at ease. The vulpine's mind raced to provide them the guidance they needed. He was their commander, the one supposed to make the hard decisions.

"Right," he nodded stiffly, unconsciously squaring his shoulders as he puffed himself up with false confidence. "This doesn't change anything. The mission stays the same. We will scout out this facility and determine the cause for the blackout. And along the way we'll find a means to cancel this lockdown." His feelings on the situation were, at the end of the day, unimportant.

He turned to Miyu. "Any way we can get that done?"

The feline nodded cautiously, her posture growing more confident by the second. "There is at least one way I know of. If we can access the facility's mainframe, I will probably be able to rescind the hardcoded lockdown algorithm. As for where we could find the primary security console – if this complex follows any of the standardized layouts – my guess is it would be deep within the administrative sector. And considering that we lack the access codes to any of the floors, we'll have to cut across those if we want to reach it."

As the beginnings of a plan soon took shape in his mind, Fox swelled with newfound optimism. They were the Starfox team, they thrived under pressure. They would see this mission through with the same confidence as they had the toughest missions of the war.

"Are you at least able to bring up the facility's blueprint?" He asked.

The lynx nodded once more, her paws resuming their fastidious clatter across the terminal's keypad. "I can definitely do that from here. I'll package it and send the download to each of your communicators. You should be getting it right… now."

As if emphasizing her words, each of their comms devices trilled in synchronous.

Fox looked to the small rectangular screen on his forearm, a sprawling three-dimensional network of tunnels branching across the display.

The facility was… larger than he anticipated. It actually took him a few minutes to find the depiction of the administrative subdivision between the myriad of sublevels and maintenance passageways. Luckily it appeared as if they could reach it from the surface. Unluckily, it would not be a quick journey. For whatever obscure reason, access to that particular section of the facility was split in half and they could only reach the side they needed through a subsidiary tunnel network adjacent to the main security station. To reach that, they'd have to cut across the research labs. It seemed odd to have the research labs in between both sections of the administration block, but given the layout of the compound, he was not all that surprised. It was as if it was deliberately designed to impede transit between subdivisions..

Hopefully they'd find someone that could explain whatever the hell was going on down here before that.

"No time to waste then. Let's get moving. I'll take point."

There were no arguments to his decision, not even Falco offered any contest as he steadily slipped into formation behind Miyu and Krystal. As he opened the next set of doors – proving to be an elevator spacious enough to fit nearly double their number – he wondered at why it took something like the situation they found themselves in to make Falco act agreeably.

The journey down to the depths of the facility was bereft of conversation or levity of any kind, their collective thoughts burdened by the mysteries and inconsistencies surrounding this assignment. It seemed strange to devise a protocol that allowed anyone entrance, but denied them exit. For that matter, if escape was impossible, then where were all the people? A facility of this size should house thousands, scientists, engineers, superintendents, security forces, a small city's worth of personnel. Yet the inclination they had received from their arrival gave evidence that this place was deserted, no signs of violence or indications of intrusion.

If they had not been aware of the situation, and the fact power still flowed through the base's systems, they might have thought this place to be mothballed.

Still wondering at the abnormality of their predicament as the elevator's doors noiselessly split open, there was at least one thing they knew for certain.

No one could really complain about a lack of excitement.

However if they had hoped for some great reveal upon departing the lift, they would have been disappointed.

A bland, featureless hall of white metal loomed out from the elevator's shadow, the overhead lights shinning bright and the corridor itself pristine of even the life they had been hoping to find. The crew stepped out of the confines of the shaft and entered the hallway, Fox once again taking the lead as they progressed deeper into the heart of the deserted research facility.

In the first hour of their search they explored hundreds of branching corridors and side chambers, met only with empty boardrooms and vacant offices, no doubt belonging to the missing staff, the machines within still faintly humming with power. Miyu scanned every terminal they came across, but unlike the desk on the surface, they were all secured behind layers of heavy encryption and severe firewalls that were beyond even her capabilities to hack.

"This is starting to get seriously freaky." Falco muttered as he emerged from another office to regroup with the team waiting in the hall, the room as deserted as the rest of the ones they had already examined.

Though he did not express it vocally, Fox shared the uneasy avian's sentiment. "Maybe we'll find someone in the maintenance passageway up ahead?" The vulpine offered in hopes to keep their morale strong, even as he knew the chances of that grew slimmer the further they discovered these desolate chambers.

"Yeah, maybe it's a surprise party." The bird snorted heavily and shifted his grip on his weapon, his knuckles visibly tightening. "I'm starting to think the Remnant doesn't have anything to do with this. Damn near wish they did. At least I could shoot them."

In the back of their unit a cerulean vixen rolled her eyes.

"Perhaps it is best if we keep pressing on?"

Fox nodded as he acknowledged the sound advice from his most trusted subordinate. "Krystal's right, not much else we can do but keep going. We're sure to find answers eventually."

"Hopefully they're the kind that won't kill us." Miyu mumbled under her breath.

Fox ignored the feline's dark words as he ushered them to the maintenance access hatch at the end of the hall.

He hoped there would be no truth in her statement.

It took both the vulpine's and Falco's combined strength to twist the lock securing the entrance to the engineering corridor, the heavy steel deadbolt groaning as it laboriously revolved on immense hinges. With one last gasp of exertion they lifted the bulkhead and glanced inside.

"Well… fuck that." Falco stated adamantly as he recoiled slowly in abject denial from the yawning black abyss of the unlit passageway.

In reply Fox unclipped his helmet from his belt and locked it into the seal around his neck. Once power was fed into it from the suit's internal battery, he flicked on the headlamp, revealing a cramped tunnel, a corrugated catwalk, and a lattice of color-coded pipes that weaved across the sides of the walls and the low-hanging ceiling.

He looked back to the avian, temporarily blinding him with the light as he chuckled softly. "All better?" He asked with a condescending smile.

"Fuck you Mccloud." The avian grumbled defensively as he donned his own helmet and activated the flashlight, dropping down into the corridor with one last derisive, "fuck you".

Relieved at even the temporary use of levity in this otherwise unpleasant time, Fox waited till the rest of the team was properly equipped before joining the irritable bird down below. With four active headlamps to keep the darkness at bay, the tunnel was far more bearable, [though they hurried in their endeavors to reach the research labs, and after that, the other half of the administrative block.

Their pace hastened by the claustrophobic shaft, it was only ten or so minutes before they navigated their way to the hatch that would drop them off inside the research labs. Again it took the concerted efforts of Fox and Falco to disengage the seal. Once opened, they crawled out of the tunnel and into another unremarkable corridor.

If not for the localized navigator tracking their suit's signals, showing them in a different part of the facility, Fox might have not at first believed they were in the right place. He found the symmetric nature of its design to be… unsettling.

While the others took a moment to relax, Fox sifted through the map to pinpoint the next series of endless passageways they would need to circumnavigate to reach the next section. A handful of turns and a quick cut through the cafeteria and they should be most of the way there, no more than ten or fifteen minutes. Flicking closed the case on his comms bracer, he signaled for them to keep moving.

A series of lefts down a sequence of winding hallways, and a quick right at a T-junction and they arrived outside the mess hall. The immediate corridor they had shuffled inside of had twice the width and circumference of its predecessors, but other than that, seemed largely similar to the facility's overall design.

However the appearance of the mess hall's entrance was cause enough for a glimmer of disquiet to seep into their now cautious postures as they confronted the first inclination of the peril that had befallen the silent and empty underground research compound.

The holographic sign above the double doored entrance flickered sporadically, as if suffering from some fault in the electrical systems, and Fox paused when he noticed his twisted reflection in the warped metal of the door on his left. Nearly the entirety of the top half of the aperture had folded inwards. Fox's oncoming frown was twisted with consternation as he examined the ruined entryway.

Standard CDF interior bulkheads for core utility halls were comprised of a three-inch-thick synthetic chromium and titanium alloy fusion. It was rated to withstand most portable explosives and even mid-level energy weapons. It would take an applied force of incredible capacity to bend or distort such a material, far beyond what was possible for a cornerian.

It would take a specialized machine to accomplish such a feat. And even that would ultimately prove to be cost inefficient, both in budgeting and practical application in such a scenario as a possible incursion.

Miyu stepped forwards, the spotted lynx tracing a careful paw across four vertical rents in the metal that he had failed to notice in the blind disbelief of his first glance. Each individual gash tracked great rivulets of ragged metal from the cusp of the warped alloy, to midway down the damaged door, as if torn by a set of enormous claws. This helped support his theory of some kind of machine, though he could not see why any attacker would forgo conventional technology for something so outlandishly sybaritic.

Confronted by this new information, Fox murmured a quick command to check weapons before he, taking his responsibility as the commander, was the first one through the remaining untarnished door.

The first thing to assault his senses, was the cloying scent of blood and offal as he entered into a scene of past hysteria.

Unlike the strange, yet jarring normality of the vacant rooms they had passed till previously, the cafeteria was a frenzied cacophony of long foregone panic and utter madness. Lengthy dinning benches and stiff plastic chairs had been thrown about in a wide funnel of dispersal that pronged outwards in an increasingly wild conical arc, its epicenter the very aperture he had just passed through. Yet even that was not the worst of what he could see.

The vulpine shirked back in instinctive shock at the wash of blood flung about the mess hall's totality, barely stopping himself from slipping over a greasy substance at his boots. Gallons of congealed bodily fluid pooled about in impressively horrific puddles of aging gore. Nauseatingly, he could see bits of flesh and tufts of mismatched fur drowned within the excess carnage. And he felt the bile rise in his throat as he choked back the desire to vomit.

This… this could not be the work of the remnant.

This could not be the work of people.

Only monsters could do this.

Even in his horror he noticed the disturbing lack of bodies. For all the blood split, there was not a single corpse, though he knew anyone bleeding in such excess could not have lived much longer than when the wounds were inflicted.

Everywhere he looked he could see the leftovers of slaughter, even the ceiling, its once pristine bleached coloring, was tarnished by vibrant splashes of crimson fluid. He glanced to his boots, noticing that his left foot had bisected the pulped remains of a spleen.

For all his years, for all of his experience in war and its atrocities…

Fox leaned forwards and threw up the dregs of his breakfast.

His ear flickered, even as he voided his stomach, detecting a similar sound as Miyu entered the room, and shortly afterwards, followed in his gruesome footsteps, quite literally.

A litany of swears and vile curses spurted forth from Falco's beak as came in after the feline and glanced about at the senseless butchery. The avian's hands danced across his rifle and magazine harness, as if unsure whether to reach for more ammo, or sling his weapon and run.

"What the fuck… what the fuck… what the fuck" For the first time since Fox could remember, the guy who always had a snappy comeback or quick-witted retort, was otherwise thunderstruck, muttering repetitiously as he bounced on his feet.

Fox did not blame him.

Gathering his resolve and his courage, Fox looked back to the last member of their party, the azure vixen demurely navigating the swath of gore, though her expression thinly veiled the telling blow to her composure at facing the true shock of her surroundings.

"Just what the fuck are we dealing with here, Fox?" Falco demanded as he rounded on his leader with a vicious snarl. "This isn't a godsdamned Remnant attack. Hell this isn't even a fight, this is a fucking massacre!" Look at this!" He barked, waiving a feathered hand about the veranda of death. "I've seen entire battlefields with less blood."

"I… I don't know." The vulpine answered in a hollow whisper, his heart thundering a panicked staccato within his heaving chest, lungs shuddering with each unsteady exhalation. The tod was moments away from panic fueled by his uncertainties and by the sheer terror of encountering this unspeakable atrocity. What had he brought his team into? What exactly was happening here? Why now? Why now were they only just seeing this?

Falco's ensuing complaints fell upon deaf ears as he collapsed in upon himself, his weapon clattering in his shaky grip as the cold grasp of fear squeezed the ribs in his chest. He looked away from himself, away from Falco's demands, turning subconsciously to his left, where he could see Krystal studying something etched onto the wall… in blood.

"Not now, Falco." He snapped at the avian curtly, already moving to investigate what had garnered the vixen's attention, grasping for something… anything that he could apply rational thought towards that did not involve the substance he tracked in with his boots. In that moment he was just glad for something else to focus on while he tried to figure things out for himself, and the new severity of their mission.

Now closer, and after having stepped past what blood and gore as he could, an all-around pointless endeavor, the vulpine could better see the strange symbol inscribed upon the wall. A circle, startling in its perfection, encapsulated a peculiar inverted star. Despite the disturbing use of its improvised method and means of transcription, it was surprisingly… simplistic.


The uneven inflection in Krystal's tone caught him by surprise, and Fox carefully scrutinized the vixen and her inordinately fixated attention upon the blood written sigil. Her eyes, usually vibrant with their emerald hue, had cast a far off introspection as she brushed a paw across the edge of the circle.

"I have seen this before… though I do not remember when... or where." She admitted to him, turning to match her fellow vulpine's gaze, the barest hint of unspoken and inexplicable dread lingering deep with her viridian irises.

"We should not be here." She whispered softly, her tail flickering with agitated unease as she once more studied the ravaged cafeteria, what could only be the ossuary of more than a dozen people. "We are not meant to be here." Her second declaration was slow and stilting, as if she was uncertain as to why she had spoken.

"I think I agree with her, Boss." Miyu voiced from her watch by the doors, the lynx glancing from the now ominous corridor they had entered from, to the mind-numbing horror they had uncovered. "Whatever…" She shuddered. 'Whatever the fuck it is we have stumbled across here, I think it's a little outside of our paygrade."

He agreed with their assessments wholeheartedly, but regardless there was a reason they had not already tried to leave before this when things appeared dour and suspicious.

"We can't." Falco interjected helpfully, part of the avian's determination returned to him in those words, like someone stomaching a rather vile draught of medicine. "We're fucking stuck down here, remember? We couldn't get out if we wanted to, which I'm sure we all do."

"Falco is right." Fox nodded hesitantly at his words, for once taking comfort in the bird's stubborn adamancy. "We still have to access control of the systems before we can leave."

The bitter swear that leaped from the feline's mouth was more than enough to address the sentiment they all shared at that understanding. With this new revelation, the desire to leave had only risen to further heights.

"So… are we continuing forwards with the same plan?" Krystal inquired as she stepped away from the bloody geometrical embossment adorning the wall, the vixen visibly relaxing the further she distanced herself from it.

"Yes, we don't have much choice otherwise." Fox confirmed her question with a reluctant nod, undoubtedly just as unenthusiastic as any one of them. "We need to keep moving, but keep an eye out. There's no telling what the hell it is we're dealing with down here."

"Right, the sooner we get away from this place the better." Miyu pulled away from the broken doorway and joined them at the center of the mess hall.

After she was near, Fox once more consulted his comms device to reorient on their objective.

His vision darkened.

Confused, the vulpine returned his attention to the cafeteria. The lights still shone bright from their mounts in the ceiling, yet the entire room was shrouded in an unnatural red glow as deep as the arterial fluid painted across the floors, walls, and ceiling. His ears trembled with the intelligible muttering of many indistinct voices, though he could not locate the source of the abnormal chatter.

He moved to shake his head and hopefully clear this strange anomaly, but he found his attempt to be sluggish and unrefined, as if the very air had turned foul and syrupy. More than the auditory and physical distortions, his nose burned with the coarse stench of sulfur, and it was powerful enough to make his eyes water

By the time he regained his faculties, Fox was startled to discover that he had fallen to his knees at some point, and that the rest of his team was similarly incapacitated. Trying to stand took a monumental effort, as if the gravity of the entire world had been brought to bear upon him. Despite this, he was eventually able to move, tearing through his forced lethargy with will alone, he rushed to help his nearest teammate.

Falco spluttered angrily as Fox pulled him to his feet, the avian's words near nonsensical as he both tried to fight the vulpine's assistance and attempt to figure out what the hell had just happened, simultaneously.

Leaving the avian to his confused raving, Fox moved on to the next person in need of help. Miyu was far more welcome to the idea, and was also present of mind enough to offer her aid in rousing Krystal. Unlike everyone else, vixen was near catatonic, and took a great effort to bring her around, yet she was revived in a state of regressive hysteria.

Her eyes were wild and dazed. Her hackles, visible around the neck seal of her suit, had risen and her fangs were bared, all indications of instinctive defensive posturing. The female fox tugged on Fox's shoulder, though he was still the only means of keeping her standing.

"We need to run, now!" She hissed in a low, growling whisper.

The unreserved urgency in her words, sent a shiver of inexplicable fear down Fox's spine, a primal drive to run and hide. "Where?" He demanded, already finding himself agreeing with her suggestion.

Resonating with her reaction, his own body was responding, and he could feel the fur along his spine prickling upwards.

"It doesn't matter, but we cannot stay here. Not with that." She snarled, motioning towards the peculiar sigil with unsheathed claws.

"What in the hell?" Miyu drawled in confusion at the transformation that had overcome the once inert glyph.

The inverted star blazed with eldritch energy, a golden, searing light that burned into his retinas.

The longer he gazed at it, the louder the voices grew.

"We've got movement!" Falco shouted a warning as he aimed his rifle at the entrance they had passed through only minutes ago. The light of the hallway outside was gone, leaving it in the grasp and mercy of shadows.

And they were moving.

"No!" Krystal whined, pulling on Fox with greater tenacity. "This is something we cannot fight! We need to run."

Fox spared only seconds to analyze their situation. He looked to the burning sigil, to the panicked expressions of his team, and the blood splattered mess hall.

"Falco, forget it. We. Are Leaving." He looked over his shoulder towards the kitchen, where he had seen a small access corridor that should connect to the main passageway. "Quick, follow me!"

Wasting little time, only enough to make sure his order would be followed, Fox spun on his heels and took off like a bolt of lightning, the vulpine sprinting as fast as his legs would carry him. The rush of blood thundering in his ears, he vaulted over an upturned table and weaved through scattered chairs and avoided the thick pools of coagulated fluid.

Behind him he could hear the hurried steps of his teammates….

And the loud, explosive sound of the commissary's doors blowing off their hinges.

Not a moment later, a deafening roar hewed his eardrums, loud enough, almost, to make them burst. He could very nearly physically feel the rage and bloodlust felt by the owner in the reverberant echo of its violent passing.

Krystal had been wise in telling them to run.

Driven by his induced hysterics and unexplainable paranoia, Fox thoughtlessly trampled over the remains of those who must have been previous victims of whatever it was that gave chase. In that moment he cared not for the dead, only for survival. They had not been fast enough to escape their demise.

He would not make the same mistake.

Leaping over the buffet counter, he skidded across the blood soaked tiles as he turned, roughly smashing into a meal prep table. Otherwise ignoring the throbbing pain in his side with little more than a repressed grunt of pain, he rushed to the galley's back door, slamming it open with a splayed palm.

Only then did he allow himself a moment to glance back to check for his team. Even as he turned, the speedy figure of Falco flew past him, followed seconds later by Miyu, and lastly Krystal, who pulled up the rear.

And as his companions hurried inside, Fox risked the danger of trying to get a look at what was pursuing them, hoping against hope that he might be able to place some figment of recognition in such an adversary. He would take familiarity over uncertainty any day.

The only thing he saw before he lost his nerve and scampered away with the understanding that curiosity was not enough of a motivator to endanger his personal safety, was the towering shadow of something colossal as it charged towards him, another earthshaking bellow of hate belting from its lungs. That was all he needed to know.

Fox had never run so fast his entire life.

Racing after the plumed shape of Krystal's tail, he reached towards his belt and unclipped one of four cylindrical devices. Popping the top, he thumbed the red button and let it fall from his paw as he pushed through another set of doors that took him from the kitchen storage into a narrow and compact side corridor, likely used in transporting materials throughout the base.

Though that thought hardly crossed his mind with the danger of the situation.

Keeping his head tucked low to avoid crashing into any of the pipes above, he crossed a four meter distance with impressive speed born of his desire to get the fuck out of doge, before he heard the muted thump of the grenade exploding. A rush of heat and smoke brushed across his back, but Fox ignored that, increasing his frenzied pace as another roar assaulted his sensitive hearing, though it sounded more infuriated then pained.

"Shit… fuck me…"

He could not have spoken with more in-eloquence; however few could blame his lack of refinement given the situation. There hardly seemed time for rational thought in his panicked desperation to put distance between himself and the looming shadow of very rational fear that hunted him.

AN: So... I've received a lot of requests in the past month or so for a DOOM (2016) crossover. Like seriously... a lot. Apparently I am a "quote on quote" "violent" writer. Also apparently, though this is more of something from myself, I tend to open up a lot of stories at once. But eh, I have a fickle muse. Sometimes the more it wanders, the faster it usually ends of coming back to me. Hopefully no one is upset by this cycle. And hopefully I can do DOOM justice. I love that series, and the new iteration of Doomguy i.e The Doom Slayer, (seriously how fricking badass of a name is that?) has to be one of, if not my favorite, video Game character. I've spent an unreasonable, possibly even unhealthy, amount of time perusing the new DOOM lore. And it has just the kind of Grimdark I love. I think I'm going to enjoy writing his character a lot. There's a lot of possibility there, at least of what I see, for a surprisingly detailed and interesting character. And for reasons that will become apparent later if not already, the DOOM cannon universe will be somewhat altered.

As per the DOOM Modus Operandi, Expect lots of carnage, violence, gore, and of course, RAGE.

Reviews, favs, and follows are of course appreciated.

Pardon any overly egregious spelling errors. I've never had a beta before, so things tend to slip.