Author Note: Well, I've been loving the reviews and accolades for the last chapter, thank you guys so much, you really make it worthwhile, especially hearing in depth from people who haven't reviewed in a long time, or ever before. I've updated the reference page, Chapter 70, with a bunch of new stuff, including warships and filled in stats for almost all of the Reclamation War Mobile Suits and Gundams for the various factions, barring only the most super secret ones. So be sure to check it out. Shortly after finishing this Special "OVA" chapter, I'll be posting the disclaimer/author intro to RW, then a page of technology and organizations/characters, and then a second page of Mobile Suits/vehicles, because the reference page is getting ridiculously long, so I'm going to break it up. Thus, chapter 4 of RW will be the official first chapter, the recap and introduction, that kicks things off in a story the twists and turns of which will leave many of you on your figurative knees. If all goes well, you should be reading that by this saturday or sunday. Oh yeah... I've been thinking, I should petition for a new length category. only goes up to 100k+. Maybe its the hubris speaking, but I want there to be an "epic" category, 750,000+ words only. That would really narrow things down in most categories. And I changed the summaries of ED and CC, came up with a tenative series title, "The Golden Age".

Looks like Archon's are the least popular Mobile Suit, not for their capabilities or design, but because of who pilots them and what they represent, aka Durandel's private army. The Seraph looks to be the most popular Gundam, which I find amusing, giving how many reviews way back when, at the beginning, were complaining it was underpowered. Orb Gundam names are still subject to change, though I do kinda like the ones I have. I chose Executioner for Yzak/Katie because what is an executioner? An instrument of deadly justice, who wields a mighty, beheading blade. A terrible, frightening foe, and never one you want to get close to. Executioner's can be good guys, they are the ones who mete out the ultimate sanctions to the guilty.

This chapter takes place well after ED ends, but still a relatively significant time before RW starts. As the title (and all such titles you may encounter in the future, which make such obvious hints) suggests, we will be returning to a place and a person we have not seen in person for a long time, but who has been sorely missed and greatly anticipated. This is the overture of his story. This is the Beginning of the End of All. And just a word of warning... this is rated Mature. ED, even Blue EDEN, I would still call Teen. Just so you know. But enough hype, right? I'll let you know now that I am going to be doing my damndest to outdo the atmosphere of the popular dogs/Chimera vs Mike Platoon chapter, so please, tell me how it matches up. Now... peer into the abyss with me... and just hope its not peering back right now.

xxxx

Andes Mountains, former South America, ruins of secret Blue Cosmos Military Headquarters JIHAD, C.E. 84, Morning of June 7

The covert dropship screamed down out of orbit, a falling star in the dawn light, leaving the faintest of white contrails behind itself as swing wings deployed, changing the aerodynamic characteristics of the craft from atmospheric entry mode to glide mode, every attempt made to make the landing consume as little of the craft's precious fuel supplies as possible, to conserve for the return trip. Only a few years ago such a small craft, with much of the interior space given over to personnel storage or anti-detection equipment, would never have been able to break into orbit by itself, but improved propulsion technologies were just one of many windfalls of the technological bonanza that had come after the massive upheaval of the Eden Disaster. The hull pinged and popped as it bled heat, the surface gradually cooling from a cherry red with orange edges to the dull, matte black long favored in stealthy vehicles.

As soon as the outer hull was cool enough, there came a faint clunk and hiss as particle dispensors cracked open and began billowing their magnetically charged contents across the craft's hull, at first hazing the outlines, then blurring the craft as a whole, before finally occluding it entirely from view, invisible to all but the most advanced sensor systems. The single use Mirage Colloid canisters didn't require any power, and only lasted for a few minutes, but those minutes were when the unpowered, almost totally unarmed shuttle was at its most vulnerable, and the passengers were glad of any scrap of protection they could glean. This operation was completely off the books, if anything went wrong they would be abandoned and forgotten about in a moment. The Green Zones, those being all of Earth except for Orb, were still strictly forbidden to enter, quarantined off from the rest of humanity for their own good.

Of course this particular craft had less to worry about than the usual law breakers or smugglers, because while its mission was off the books, it was still officially sanctioned, at the highest levels, and so the usual cordon of high orbit patrol craft, belonging the the gargantuan new Solar Protection Fleet, was on maneuvers elsewhere during the other most vulnerable part of its descent, the atmospheric interface, when the course was all but locked in with no room to maneuver without catastrophic results. The dropship, just shy of ten meters long and a little over half that wide, a stubby, faceted chisel shape, banked and turned, using its wings and curving course to bleed almost all of its former blazing speed as it circled in on the designated landing zone. It dipped below the level of the peaks, their formerly snow clad sides now slick and green with flourishing vegatation of all sorts never before seen on Earth.

Waterfalls poured down the rocky cliffs, the thundering sound of tens of thousands of gallons of falling water drowning out any mechanical sounds the dropship might have made. Its temporary colloid cloak began fragmented and fizzling away, just as the ventral mounted retro boosters, again, single shot and seperate from the rest of the dropships systems, fired cones of blue-white flame, bringing the dropships airspeed to almost zero as it touched down with barely a single clot of dirt kicked up. There was a pregnant pause, broken only by the twitter of birds in the distance, and then the clamshell doors on the back of the dropship cracked open with a whoosh of depressurizing gas and a ramp clicked out. Next came a squeal of metal tracks on metal decking, and a hunched form came screeching out of the dropship, its treads kicking up sparks as the traction attachments tried to dig into the armored ramp.

It looked kind of like a tank or APC, but was scaled down to be only two meters from end to end, and about half a meter wide and tall. It had a pair of turrets, one mounted low and nearly flush with the top of the hull in front, and a second further back, mounted so it could shoot over the front turret. Flickering blue-orange pilot lights snapped to life in the front turret, a double barreled flamethrower, while the quintuple barrels of the aft turret, a 25mm gatling cannon, spun and clacked as ammo was fed into the receivers. Called a Armored Unit, Telepresence Observer or AUTO, they were privately made for police forces and other special concerns as remote operated vehicles for breaching potentially hostile environments. They were a bit expensive for the regular military, who tended to use infantry for the same job. A second AUTO purred down the ramp, the controllers safely jacked into their armored scout vehicles via telepresence rigs inside the belly of the dropship. The AUTO's peeled away in seperate directions, batteries of sensors sweeping the area, turrets panning for any sign of threats.

After several minutes of aggresively chewing the grass and bushes around the landing area into pulpy green mush, and finding nothing of especial interest or threat, the AUTO's circled back around to flanking positions near the ramp, as a further hiss of equalizing pressure sounded from inside the dropship, as an airlock opened and the rest of the covert team deployed, their rubberized, armored boots squeaking on the ramp, their movements a bit slow and awkward because of the constricting weight of heavily armored fully self sustaining environment suits they each wore, as protection from the hostile, poisonous environment. It was hot and clear out, and they began to sweat almost at once in the ninety degree, high humidity air, despite internal cooling systems turned up to maximum. Most of the suits had forest camouflage patterns on their surfaces, but four, who moved even less surely than the rest, were a neutral grey-blue color.

One of the grey-blue figures held up a sleek piece of handheld gear, peering at the rather small display screen through not only a pair of glasses, but the thick armored glass of his helmet viewport, squinting to make out the readings. "Atmospheric pressure reads higher than normal for this altitude. Humidity is higher as well. Outside temperature is abnormal for the southern hemisphere at this time of year. Environmental abnormalities as expected for a Green Zone." The scientist hooked his analyzer back onto its belt loop, and looked around at the steamy tropical jungle surrounding them. "Hard to believe we're almost three miles above sea level here. How the hell can this stuff grow here?"

"I'm sure Oktar can give you an earful on that, until your ears are bleeding." Another of the blue-grey suited figures said, the sneer of disdain evident in his voice. "Oh, what the "esteemed" Dr. Magnus would give to be in our shoes, actually down on Earth for the first time in almost seven years. I hope he chokes on his envy."

"Yes, we all know you and Dr. Magnus don't see eye to eye, Dr. Brandt. You much prefer the more... vulgar technologicals... of Dr. Roanoke. We know this. You gave us quite the fanboy lecture on the way down. If your lips were pressed any closer to Sammual's ass, you'd be eating his balls from behind." A third blue-grey suited scientist observed with a hint of malice.

"Brandt. Muresamo. Yakoslka." The fourth and final scientist said, her voice filled with weary dignity. "Give it a rest, would you? I have a report to make to the Director, and she'll be taking it the Solar President himself, do you really want your childish bickering in my transcripts? You sound like a group of high school delinquents arguing over who the popular girls are at school. We have a job to do here, each of us." She turned to regard one of the camouflage suited men. "Colonel Singh, are your soldiers ready? I want this to be quick and clean and precise."

"Don't have to worry about us, Dr. Bellus, Ma'am." Singh looked over his shoulder at her, shapely even in the bulky environmental suit, proof that not all female scientists were repulsive bookworms. "We have this area locked down tight. Just stick close to us, and we'll make sure nothing bothers you. Or regrets it if it tries." Singh patted the stock of the combination automatic rifle and grenade launcher he carried strapped to his torso.

"I feel safer already." Dr. Bellus said, disgusing the contempt in her voice as she rolled her eyes. Military knuckledraggers... such a bore. The simpleton had been all but drooling over her from the moment they'd met. Of course her "colleagues" from Fenris Enhanced Armament Researchers, Drs. Brandt, Muresamo and Yakoslka, had been doing the same, despite the fact that both Brandt and Muresamo were married with children, and Yakoslka recently divorced. Men were such a disease. Various other organisms had mastered the evolutionary trick of immaculate birth, where a female's eggs self fertilized themselves, rendering males obsolete, and Dr. Bellus could not wait until the human race found a technological means to do the same. "Muresamo, you stay with the dropship and take your environmental samples for Dr. Magnus. We'll be back shortly. Brandt, Yakoslka, you're with me. Keep that tranq rifle handy, Brandt, after your last jaunt into the initial Green Zones, you're supposed to be the expert here."

"Since a mountain jungle is so much like a dead city..." Brandt mumbled darkly, clutching the bare frame of the tranq rifle to his chest, his fingers clumsy in the heavy gloves as he made sure the rack of chemically laden darts was loaded, and the underslung 500kv taser was primed and ready to launch at a brush of the secondary trigger.

"At least you got a weapon." Yakoslka retorted, also quietly so as not to attract the wrath of Dr. Bellus, who was well known to be a favorite of the Director. Perhaps even a lover, but no one would say that sort of thing out loud. "I'm stuck playing cameraman in the most hostile environment known to god or man."

"Don't fall behind." Dr. Bellus called to her two subordinates, as she and the ten men of Colonel Singh's detachment began heading off into the bushes, led by the AUTO's, leaving two men and Dr. Muresamo behind with the dropship. "You won't last more than an hour out here alone." She reminded them, causing them to pant and hustle to catch up with her, safer in the midst of the soldiers. Nowhere on the perverted monstrosity Earth had become was truly safe anymore. Not for humans anway. Smirking at their haste, Dr. Bellus hefted her own piece of specialty equipment, a new prototype from the labs of the Director herself. Reaching down to a specially cooled, sealed series of pouches running along her thigh and hip, Bellus cracked open one pouch in a cough of icy vapor, rapidly withdrawing a glass tube with a thin cut of pale grey organic matter suspended inside, she fed the tube into the receptacle on the side of her sensor and waited for the scan pulse to fire and the data to appear on the screen.

"What does it say?" Brandt said, somewhat nervously, not able to see the screen of the sensor.

"Minimal psychic activity, background only, from the vegetation. No overt reactions to the pulse, on any bandwidth. This area is curiously dead." Bellus replied, absently popping the spent cylinder, with the freshly crisped cerebral matter inside, out of the sensor and discarding it into the underbrush. By taking slices from the living brains of Active Newtypes, and then subjucting the flash frozen and still faintly living matter to a very high electric current, the Director had discovered that a psychic "scream pulse" could be emitted, like a sonar pulse, which would agitate and reflect in measurable ways from any other Newtypes within a wide radius, allowing it to function as a sort of detector for Newtypes, something invaluable to any normal human spending any time on Earth. They were still refining the technology, right now each pulse required a new slice of brain, and those weren't cheap, considering they had a limited number of "waste" Newtypes to utilize.

Every hundred meters or so, Bellus would crack open another cyro-pouch and send out another scream pulse, but every time they came back empty, with zero Active or Latent hits, though Latent hits were harder to discern, and could only be spotted as dead spots against a high background activity. Bellus was nonplussed, the valley appeared to be thriving, even compared to the rest of Earth, and she could hear birds or bird analoges in the distance. Surely there must be some animal life here? She was rather looking forward to bagging some new research specimens for the Director's lab's, Dr. Magnus tended to hog all the biological samples, as was his due, considering his area of expertise, but the Director had mentioned in passing that she wouldn't mind a few spare bodies to poke about in, for her own interests, and to Dr. Bellus, that was as good as an explicit order. She was really hoping to bag something High Order... the environment was right for Cold Hunters and Basilisks too, but the altitude and terrain was a bit wrong for Basilisks, who preferred lowlands and marshes, like their crocodilian ancestors.

The thought occured to her that it might even be possible they might run across a Chimera, and the idea sent both excitement and terror rippling through her. It would explain the dearth of other thinking organisms... most Chimera were voracious predators that seemed to bear great enimity against all other forms of life... at least, the ones Dr. Magnus was breeding in his labs were all that way. Chimera were the most dangerous organisms on Earth, but oh, the chance to poke about in the brain and body of one of those ultimate abominations, a non-human with human like sentience? It almost made her a bit wet, thinking about it. Controlling herself with a violent shiver, Bellus returned her mind forcefully to the task at hand. They weren't here for a glorious specimen hunt, they were here for a very specific reason. Perhaps if she accomplished this task with satisfactory results, the Director would see fit to send her down with the next hunt team. That would be a wonderful reward for having to put up with all these knuckledraggers!

About thirty minutes more of slow hiking through the thick and tangled, but curiously empty jungle, using heavy chainsaw-machetes to clear their way through the brush, a sudden stiffness went through the soldiers, causing cold sweat to break out on the brows of the three scientists, as none of them had seen anything that might have set their escort off. Bellus hurriedly prepped another scream pulse, while Yakoslka cowered behind Brandt, who was sweeping his tranq rifle around in jerky spasms. Bellus fired the pulse, but once more the scan came back empty. Annoyed, she pushed forward and tapped Singh on the shoulder. "What's the holdup, Colonel?" She asked, exasperated.

"You'd better take a look at this, Ma'am." Singh replied softly, holding up a portable viewscreen that was tapped in to the camera feeds from the AUTOs. A few dozen meters further up from their current position, the jungle suddenly gave way to a meadow or clearing of some sort, though the soaring branches of the trees all around knotted together overhead to form a biological roof that had prevented them from spotting it from the air. However, that wasn't what was causing Singh's concern, and Bellus's fascination.

"Is that a village?" She breathed excitedly.

"Was kinda hoping you could tell me, Ma'am." Singh replied, patiently. He had a lot of experience dealing with these high and mighty, ivory tower types. That was one reason that the Director had had picked him for this lame duty. Another was his brutal combat record, up to and including the storming of the Great Endeavor at the end of the Eden Disaster. But patience was key when dealing with the highbrow types, no matter how much they pissed you off with their complete helplessness. "Looks like some sort of habitations. Crude work, but definitely an intelligent design? Human you think?"

"There are no humans on Earth outside of the Orb Province, you know that, Colonel." Bellus reminded him severely. "Any mutants that may have survived are little more than savage abominations before god and science. You can't let yourself fall into the rut of considering them people. They are monsters, Colonel, dangerous monsters that must be controlled or exterminated, whenever they are encountered. How can we ever reclaim our beautiful homeworld with aberrations like them running about on it? We can't, its plain and simple. They have to go. No matter the means, no matter the cost. They have to go." Panting a bit from the intensity of her reprimand, echoing the sentiments as handed down by the Director herself, Bellus regarded the hovels displayed on the screen. "Doesn't look like anyone is home. The scream pulse came back negative as well. Proceed. With caution."

"There is no other way." Singh muttered under his breath, as he signaled his troops forward, barely creeping along, weapons alert, while the two AUTO's trundled deeper into the clearing, turrets and sensors sweeping every nook and cranny. No threats emerged, and at long last the soldiers and scientists stalked into the rude collection of huts and lean to's, still on the alert, but relaxing by degrees as minutes passed with no ambush or sign of life.

"Evidence of primitive tool use..." Yakoslka murmured into his audio recorder, holding his video camera with one hand as he extended a collapsible metal inspection rod with his other hand, using the five foot metal stick with the hooked tip to poke and prod through the detrius inside one hut. "Gourds scraped out with sticks, sharpened stakes and pieces of knapped flint. An early stone age culture, hunter-gatherers. A small tribe, no more than thirty members, probably several family groups. They appear to have been gone for some time, judging by the decay of the campsite." He panned the camera around and frowned. "Lack of firepits and ashes seem to suggest that they do not have fire. Savages, eating raw meat fresh from the kill, and whatever vegetables and fruits they can scavenge while on the move." Yakoslka made sure to get plenty of detail. The Reclaimer Initiative would eat this footage right up, it would make a great propoganda clip for explaining why humanity had to return to the world of its birth, to save the pitiful degenerates from their own lack of civilization.

"HEY, LOOK AT THIS!" Brandt yelled from the far side of the camp, causing everyone to start and jump. By the time Yakoslka had gathered himself, Colonel Singh was already remonstrating with Brandt about maintaining proper stealth, but the other FEAR scientist wasn't paying much attention. He was pointing at what had set him off, a series of large stakes hammered into the ground in a line, each stake about ten feet away from the next, the path leading away into the jungle out of sight, towards the side of the nearby mountain. Upon the top of each stake was set a skull of some sort, all oriented so their blank eye sockets stared off towards the mountain, like guards keeping an eye on a hostile frontier. Smaller fetishes of bone and scraps of hide and fur were nailed to the stacks with what looked like thorns, and colored clays were daubed in crude patterns upon the bones and stakes, making it likely that they were religious totems or wards of some sort.

Yakoslka made sure to get a detailed shot of each skull in turn as he poked at them with his stick. "Basilisk... a bull male, by the elongated lower fangs, almost like small tusks. And then a Cold Hunter, you can see the enlarged cranium that makes it one of the smartest and most dangerous of all High Order organisms. And dangling below, the sycthelike toe claws they inherited from their velociraptor ancestors. Very dangerous animals, very dangerous, that must have been one hell of a hunt. Assuming they just didn't find a dead one, which is equally likely." Yakoslka turned to the next skull in line. "My word, a Direcat, a matriarch if I'm not mistaking. You can tell by the slimmer, more chisel shaped saber fangs, versus the more peg like teeth of an alpha male. I think we may have discovered what happened to all the animals around here."

"But why hunt them all to extinction?" Brandt wondered, reaching out to run a finger down one blood red line of clay on the Cold Hunter skull, like bloody tears dripping from its ghastly eye socket. "And some of these are top predators, things no small tribe of primitive sub-humans should want to provoke, much less hunt. Thirty measly sub-humans would just be a snack for a Cold Hunter pack. And what's the value in putting these totems here? There's a lot of valuable animal parts here, parts any stone age culture should leap to put to practical use." Brandt flicked one of the Cold Hunter talons with the tip of his rifle, watching as the bony claw scored a deep scratch in the solid steel barrel.

"They're degenerate abominations, conservation for future generations likely didn't occur to them." Bellus commented dryly. "They must have run out of food and disbanded. I almost feel sorry for the ignoramuses. They put too much effort into their primitive magic rituals, and not enough into surviving the real world around them. Idiots. They must have been led by a man."

"Still, that they would put so much effort into these totems... they must be significant. I'm no anthropological expert, but the little I've read suggests that these are meant to be "spirit guardians" or "wards against evil" or some such nonsense." Yakoslka mused. "That they are all turned to "watch" the same way seems to indicate that whatever it was the savages were trying to appease or ward off, lies in that direction." He peered along the line of sight of the skulls, seeing nothing but dense jungle and more skulls. "What does lie in that direction?"

"Our destination." Singh said dourly. The three scientists turned to look at him questioningly. The Colonel kicked his boot hard against the ground, scuffing up a cloud of dirt. He pointed at the mark he'd made. "That ain't dirt under there, that's asphault. We're standing on a road. Or what was once a road. Looks like the totems follow the line of the road, if I recall my maps of the area correctly. Should be a garage entrance to the facility under the mountain about a half klick up this road. I wasn't expecting it to be intact, but it bears checking out."

"Do we have to?" Brandt muttered to himself, a chill going down his spine as he looked at the line of skulls of the most dangerous predators on Earth, each with "blood" dripping from their eye sockets, as if what they gazed at was so horrible it was causing them physical damage. The bones clicked and clacked lightly in the mountain breezes, the sound ghostly and hollow. All of a sudden, the abandoned village was the creepiest place he'd ever been, and considering that he'd been into an orphanage just after it fell into a Green Zone, that was saying something! Brandt noticed that the soldiers, Bellus and Yakoslka were moving on, follow the road and the line of skulls, and he hurried to keep up, checking frantically behind him with every other step, the thought of being left alone in the village with nothing but the wind and the skulls completely unmanning him.

The going was faster along the roadway, which had seemingly been kept clear by the former locals as well, there was evidence of weeding and plants pulled up to keep the undergrowth to a minimum. More spiritual mumbo jumbo, or was this something more pratical? Brandt was suddenly equally fine with never finding out for sure. Were it not for the fact that if he tried to get back to the dropship on his own he'd probably become lost and fall victim to the indigenous plant life before the day was out, he would have already have been running for home. He thought of his daughter, Amelia, who was going to turn fourteen in a few weeks. The bonus from this mission was going to buy them all the trip to Centennial 1 and the amusement parks and resorts located upon the famous E-PLANT. Amelia would be devastated if they couldn't go, like he'd promised. Clinging to this shred of motivation, Brandt joined his colleagues once more at the top of a rise

They barely noticed him, and the soldiers paid him no heed either. Both AUTO's were pulled up in the small clearing as well, their turrets tracking back and forth almost nervously, as a warm breeze blew, and for a brief second, Brandt was all but sure he could smell rotting blood on the wind. But of course that was impossible, his suit was sealed up tight, a self contained atmosphere, there was nothing to smell but his own sweat! He swallowed heavily as he saw what was transfixing the others, or so he assumed anyway. There was large, rectangular opening in the side of the mountain, a bit wider than it was tall, where the roadway fed into the underground roads that would lead to the parking garage for this facility. At one point in time a heavy corrugated steel sheet had covered the entrance as a security gate, but that sheet was now crumpled and torn and shot full of holes, lying twisted off to the side of the clearing, with two of Singh's soldiers studying it.

Hanging over the middle of the opening, suspended by twisted, thorny vines of some sort, was the biggest skull Brandt had ever seen in person, since he'd last been to a museum of Natural History as a child. It was obviously reptilian in origin, with a massive jaw crowded with fangs the length of his forearm and as thick as his wrist, narrowing to armor piercing tips that gleamed in the midmorning sunlight. Smaller tethers of rawhide were looped around the base of each fang, and from each dangled what was unmistakably a human skull of some sort. Both the large skull... that of one of the rarest of the rare, a Megahunter, a Cold Hunter of near Tyrannousaurus size... and the small human ones were painted with the blood dripping eye sockets. Brandt counted over twenty skulls, none coming from a person older than his daughter, judging by their size. The breeze whistled through the gaping eye sockets, and the skulls clicked against each other like skeletal fingers counting old coins.

"What do you got?" Singh asked suddenly, and Brandt turned to look at him, dumbfounded that the illiterate brute would think HE had any idea what this hideous spectacle was, before realizing that Singh had addressed the two soldiers inspecting the torn away security gate.

"Well, its pretty torn up, sir, but we both agree, there's a lot of large caliber holes, from some sort of heavy support small arm. Shooting from the inside of the garage, outwards." One of the soldiers replied smartly. "There's fainter scratches on the outside, like what you might expect from people trying to break in with rocks and shit."

"Ah, so they tried to break into the mountain for some reason and they activated a defense system and got mowed down." Bellus reconstructed with a superior grin. "Probably the most traumatic experience of their pitiful lives. No wonder they dressed it all up with this religious mumbo-jumbo. The sentry guns must have run out of ammo, but they couldn't know that, so they made the place taboo." She turned back to look up at the Megahunter skull, with its drapery of children's skulls. "Looks like they lost over two thirds of their village in one go. But how did such few, scattered survivors manage to place all these skulls, much less bring that Megahunter skull here? They must have dragged it here from the lowlands, there's no way a Megahunter and its pack of Cold Hunters could support itself up here. And even if there was, there's simply no way a cluster of savage simpletons could kill a Megahunter. No way. I've seen video of a Megahunter obliterating an entire team of hunters that were specifically going after it. It even killed the armored vehicles!"

"Its certainly an impressive sight." Yakoslka agreed. He zoomed the camera in on the dangling human skulls. "There's something about those children's skulls. The bone structure is odd, and the hue is wrong for human bone... its too grey. And I could swear I saw a metallic sheen a moment ago."

"Whatever, we don't have time for this." Bellus cut him off imperiously. "We seem to have gained a good windfall with this undamged portal into the depths of the mountain, which is where we need to go." She stared specuatively at the magnificent skull, big enough to swallow her whole with a single chomp. "Once we're through inside, we'll take this back with us. It would look very nice in the boardroom."

"Ma'am, with all due respect, we won't be able to achieve escape velocity with that thing on board, if it will even fit!" Singh protested. "We're already at the weight limit for the dropship's thrusters!"

"Then we'll leave some equipment behind, to make room." Bellus said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. She waved her hand at the two AUTO's, which were scooting ahead into the depths of the parking garage. "We don't need to bring those back. They only cost ten million dollars apiece, our Red EDEN vats can produce the materials for a new one in a few hours. We can afford to chuck your guns as well, once we're done. You won't be held accountable, I promise. Once the director see's the priceless treasure we have brought her, she won't care what we gave up to get it, you'll all get bonuses. Big ones. We're taking it with us. That is final, Colonel."

"As you say, Ma'am." Singh sighed. Hopefully she'd get distracted by whatever sparkly-shiney's they were here to get, and she'd forget about lugging a skull the size and weight of a full sized family sedan back with them. He squinted up at the dangling human skulls. Creepy fucking place, he'd not be sad to see the last of it. But they had to see the first of it before that could happen. All but dragging the brainboxes with him, Singh followed after his squad. Once the darkness of the mountain closed in on them, he found that they were willing to stick close without work on his part. Smirking, he blinked his eyes in a certain rythym, which caused the implanted cyber-lenses to slide down over his eyeballs, granting him both light amplification and thermal vision. Ocular implants were really expensive tech, not even on the open market, but there were certain advantages to working for FEAR, who was the primary producer of cyber-augmentations, which were growing really popular in the last five years, since they became available, more or less, to the public.

On the way down, Singh looked for the sentry guns that had blasted apart the natives, but he saw only twisted struts and scraps of steel, suggesting that the boxy auto-guns had been torn apart. But could even Eden enhanced humans have that kind of strength? Something was starting to bother his soldier's instincts. That chill on the back of your neck when an enemy sniper had you in their sights. The sense of being watched, of being assessed... of being stalked. Singh listened intently, trusting his ears even more than his enhanced eyes when in darkness. It was silent, except for the faraway drip of water, and the scuff of bootheels on concrete. He snugged his auto-rifle/grenade launcher combo tighter into his shoulder and bulled onwards, berating himself for imagining things. But for just a second there, he could have sworn he detected the rasp of bony fingers clawing their way up from a shallow grave...

xxxx

JIHAD Mountain, sub-level six, The Hideout, June 7, C.E. 84, noon

The sleeper was restless, his dreams troubled, his humors unbalanced. Bips and beeps and boops from the arcane machinery surrounding the gel filled artifical womb/sustainment tube he had spent his whole life inside filled the air with their dull sounds, the space between noises gradually increasing in a way that they had not done for more than seven years. The sleeper twitched inside his amniotic casement, his fingers clutching for a moment before relaxing, a stray bubble escaping from between his lips and the broad plastic tube stuffed down his throat that allowed him to breathe in the gluey warmth of the gel filled tube. The tube itself was only a little bit bigger than its occupant, who was just over six feet tall, clean limbed, with well defined muscle tones from a rigorous regime of electro-chemical stimulations of the muscle while it was growing. The sleeper was naked, having never left the sanctity of his tube, never felt the kiss of the cool air of the depths on his skin, never performed a single conscious action of his own.

For the sleeper had no mind or soul, he was just a golem of flesh, created by fantastically advanced science from a single captured cell, grown carefully and precisely, nutured as only a treasured child could be, his body growing in years what would normally take decades, catching him up with the projected age of his "parent". Even as the physical body grew, it was unspooled and refined, layer upon layer upon layer of artificial enhancements and tweaks fused into the very flesh, bones and blood of the sleeping golem, until his body fairly pulsed with contained power, bones glinting with crystalline shimmers, blood dark and thick as molasses, muscle fibers strong enough to warp steel bars, skin tough like animal hide, but still supple to the touch. His hair was a bit long, having grown faster than expected, a mane of sloppy brown that waved like the fronds of a long dead plant from the top of his skull, stirred by the faint currents of the recycled gel.

Within the stacks of machinery that attended the sleeper in his long, restful reincarnation, more lights suddenly flicked on, long dormant subroutines activating, recieving input from sensors that had been cold and dead ever since just after first being constructed. Images were collected, data analyzed, priorities considered and finally, decisions made, all faster than a human could blink. More machinery kicked into life, the slowly throbbing heart of the base igniting once more, pulsing fusion flames blazing hot as the sun, feeding power to hungry subsystems and then on into the mainframe, as the Hideout Computer, named Charon by its creator, yawned and awoke to its purpose. It was earlier than the Creator had predicted, but the golem was ready, so all was well. The sleeper would be awakened. The twisted world would perish in the fires of his rebirth, or pass through and be vindicated for all time.

Supercoolant systems that had been in operation for almost twelve years suddenly ceased, never to be reactivated, the stinging jets of icy vapor they produced writhing away from the object in the midst of the most secure chamber in the entire Hideout like ghosts fleeing perdition. It was an unassuming object, just a flat black case about the size of a medium suitcase, made of Gundam grade armor, matte black and coated with ice several inches thick. That ice cracked as mobile armatures moved forward with drills and prying claws, ripping away the frozen burial shroud of the mind entombed within the case. Locks turned haltingly, as if reluctant to release what they secured, steel grating on steel like fingernails on chalkboard, before finally slamming open with loud clicks. The case popped open, releasing more supercooled vapor, and amidst that white frothy wash was revealed the single most dangerous thing to exist in the modern word. A human mind.

And this was no ordinary mind either, though Charon could not properly appreciate the significance and awful grandeur of its charge, being both an emotionless computer and built too late. It was an unassuming mind, about the size of a human palm, a construction of silicon wafers and exotic crystals, not too much different, except in scope and power, from a computer chip found in the average student's laptop. This chip wasn't stuffed with half coherent poetry and reams of illicit pornography though, it held the key to the end of the world as it was currently known. Shielded grasping claws took hold of the chip gingerly, treating it like the slightest mishap would shatter it into a thousand pieces, which wasn't far off the mark. Now was the most vulnerable time, the contained mind still unconscious and seperated from its new host body.

Working efficiently but carefully, Charon carried its charge from the supercooled vault, letting it gradually warm until it was no longer in danger of shattering under the least imbalance of forces acting upon it. From armature to armature the nascent intelligence was carried, still dormant, lacking any ability to interact with the universe around it, the consciousness within dancing on the edge of life and death. It had once been alive, but then it had died, only to survive as an electronic copy. Had it continued to exist in that form, aware of itself? Was such a thing even possible? Charon did not know and did not care. It would do as it was programmed, and nothing else. Finally the chip reached the end of its road, and it was carefully slotted into the side of another piece of very advanced looking machinery, which came alive almost at once, readouts of flickering symbols scrolling faster than the eye could comprehend as it completed an initial diagnostic on the chip and found it undamaged by its removal from containment.

Within the sustainment tube, silvery wires slithered outwards, like the tendrils of a jellyfish, gently ensnaring the head and spine of the sleeper, pointed tips burrowing through skin, and muscle before entering specially prepared channels in otherwise impenetrable crystal infused bone, sinking deep into tightly bundled nerve tissue below. Once satisfactory connections had been made, the Biological Intelligence Interface Imprinter consulted with the Charon mainframe and updated the memory of the chip with several gigabytes of relevant information, from data passively collected during the long sleep, and of the more recent vintage as well, depicting the bobbing lights and tromping boot soles of the approaching explorers, getting ever nearer to the sanctum at the bottom of the mountain. Pausing a final tenth of a second to ensure all preparations were completed as well as they should be, Charon then flipped the switch, figuratively if not literally.

Bright blue electric sparks chained into a miniature web of lightning bolts flowing through the amniotic gel, wreathing the sleeper's back and skull as the data from the chip was ruthlessly burned into the inert brain matter of the golem. The fists clenched again, and stayed clenched, tension cording the muscles in the arms as, for the first time ever, the sleeper experienced pain and agony. A leg kicked, a foot striking the clear plexiglass cover of the sustainment tube hard enough to make it shiver, snapped plastic straps trailing like seaweed from the ankle where the restraint had been ripped out of its fastenings without pause. The broad plastic tube withdrew from the mouth and throat of the sleeper before it could be bitten through, leaving the body to flounder in the thick gel for a few moments until internal nano-augmentations took on the job of oxygenating the bloodstream. A low humm built around the tube as the download continued, a vibrational pulse that spread outward, reverberating through the solid rock until it reached the boots of the intruders, who all paused in shock as they felt the rock tremble beneath their toes, as if in terror.

The other restraints snapped and tore as the sleeper began thrashing in his tube, his eyelids fluttering wildly as memories and personality were downloaded and burned into the waiting cerebral matter. It went on for minutes, the buzzing hum rising and rising and rising until it was a shrieking claw of sound that tore at the air and made it bleed! And just when the sound could seem to get no louder without the very fabric of reality ripping away like skin beneath a cheese grater, it ceased. The silence of the tomb once more descended. The sleeper was still. His eyes, closed. His limbs... loose. Vapid. Dead. Minutes passed, the chest of the sleeper was still, his body locked like in rigor mortis. But then, just as Charon was about to activate the flush routines on the tube, having registered a "failure to survive transference" on its sensors, the sleeper's eyes fluttered. Fluttered, and opened, revealing royal purple haloing solid gold. The ferocious eyes darted back and forth, a feral beast evaluating a strange new environment. A spread palm pressed experimentally against the plexiglass. Muscles strained, and cracks appeared on the glass, spreading through the entire tube with the snaps of fracturing glaciers.

The sustainment tube shattered outwards in a hail of razor sharp slivers, borne upon a tide of slippery blue amniotic gel. Carried upon the tide was the fetal form of the sleeper, who lay upon the cold floor shuddering for a time, before clawing his way to his hands and knees, the body moving slowly, haltingly, as if unused to its own form. On hands and knees, the sleeper slowly raised his head, feeling slicks of lukewarm gel flow down his face like rivers of slowly congealing blood. His eyes, shut during the tumble from the tube, opened again, and they burned like balefire in the dimness. Perfect white teeth, shining with the subtle glow of crystalline enhancements, bared themselves in a broad grin. "I'm going to kill you, Mr. Machine." Zacharis Quentin Frost mumbled, his throat hoarse, the sound of the words both familiar and strange. "Evil has found its way..."

xxxxx

JIHAD Mountain, sub level 4, June 7, C.E. 84, 2:00 pm

"Would someone kindly mind explaining to me what that was all about just a bit ago?" Colonel Singh said loudly, directing his words, and his gaze, over at the three scientists, where were standing in a huddle. "I was under the impression that this was a ruined facility. A dead facility. That..." Singh stamped his boot upon the now still rock. "... did not feel very dead to me!"

"It was probably just an earth tremor." Yakoslka replied nervously, fiddling with his camera. "We are deep in the bedrock after all, and relatively near a tectonic boundary. A faint tremor now and then would not be amiss."

"That was no earth tremor." Bellus refuted, her hands clenched tightly together in front of her. "I've operated enough major lab equipment to know how a linked supercomputer feels when it boots up for the first time in a while. This is excellent news." She sounded like she was trying to convince herself of that. "With an operational computer system, we will be able to find the files and data we are after that much easier. Come. The timetable for Dr. Roanoke's ICMS Augmented project is dependent upon our being able to salvage a significant fraction of the data from the late Dr. Franklin Borander's BCPU project. Without this data, that damn Mechael Smith is going to be the one and only for at least another two years, and that will not make the Director happy when next she reports to the Solar President! I can't believe what a corny name he chose! Mechael Smith, for the first human with a cybernetic body? Lame."

"Even I can admit that Mechael is a flawed product." Brandt spoke up with a weak chuckle. "His personality could use... adjustment. Dr. Borander's treatise's on the mental breakdown and rebuilding of strong willed subjects will be very useful in... regulating our future super soldiers."

"His personality won't be the only thing adjusted if he makes another pass at me." Bellus grumbled. "He overestimates his worth to FEAR. Why would any woman want to sleep with a full body cyborg? I don't care how "augmented" that part of his body is!"

Further conversation, inane or otherwise, was halted, when an ululating cry echoed up from the depths beneath their feet. It went on and on and on, just at the edge of hearing, but seemingly all the louder for the dead quiet that stretched around them. It went on for longer than seemed physically possible, before slowly dying away. "I suppose that was an earth tremor too?" Singh said with a caustic glance at Yakoslka, after another few moments had passed. Singh's fingers were white knuckled in his gloves, his rifle all but at tactical present.

"Sounded like someone screaming." Yakoslka admitted, with a deep gulp.

"Screaming? That was laughter." One of the soldiers retorted.

"Laughter? Who the fuck laughs like that? I ain't never heard anything that spine chilling in my life!" Another soldier refuted. "If that was laughter, then it must have been from the devil hisself!"

"Sounded like a death rattle to me." Singh muttered. He eyed Dr. Bellus, who had gone white as a sheet in her suit. He would have bet good money her suit's water recyclers were now working overtime to filter the piss she'd just let go. "So, brainiacs? That didn't sound like a computer system to me either. We aren't alone down here. Send the AUTO's to check it out."

"Can't sir." One of his subordinates replied almost immediately. "Passageway ends in an elevator shaft, but no elevator. Looks like a good thirty to forty feet down to the next level, there's no way the AUTO's can get down."

"Shit." Singh cursed. "Ain't that always the way." He squared his shoulders. "Okay then, we do this the old fashioned way."

"You're not honestly thinking of going down there with... whatever made that sound?" Brandt sounded sick to his stomach, and his pallor was even whiter than Bellus's. "That's madness!"

"That's called being a soldier. We got a job to do." Singh replied with a sneer. "And you three are coming with us. Because us knuckledragging soldiers don't know how to get this precious data of yours. So unless you want us to just smash everything we see... which is what we're so good at, as you know and so often complain... you're gonna have to come down and babysit us. We can't leave without the data anyway, right? And you guys know the facility better than my guys do."

"He's right." Bellus seemed to snap out of some inner trance. "The Director personally selected us for this mission. We have to complete it. The future security of the human race could be resting on our shoulders."

"I'm not going down there." Brandt said feverishly. "Thats crazy. We have no idea what's down there! It could be a Chimera!"

"Let's look and see then." Bellus retorted, digging out her scream pulser and slotting in one of the last brain sections she had. The three scientists and Singh all crowded around the display as Bellus fired off the pulse, revealing the mental landscape for a half kilometer in every direction. "There!" Bellus declared, one thickly gloved finger pointing at a fading gold mark on the otherwise dark grey background. "Active Psychic trace. Evaluating..." She twisted a few knobs and tapped at some keys, before letting out a relieved burst of laughter. "Psychic rating 150. That's a Edenite toddler we have down there, crying for his mommy. There's always a chance for a burst increase, and this doesn't cover his Seed mode, but I don't think we're in much danger. Nothing to worry about."

"Just for future reference, what sort of rating would be worrisome?" Singh asked dryly, pulling away from the screen and wishing he could mop his brow. He'd heard stories about people encountering Chimerae, and it never ended well for the people.

"Average for an adult infected by Green EDEN would be around 1000 to 1500." Bellus answered, her limbs still shaking from released tension. "Most Low Order organisms, such as the plants outside, register at around 20-80, and High Order organisms, such as Direcats or Cold Hunters, can reach all the way up into the 3000's. We've collected human experimental subjects with ratings of around 7500 before, and most Chimera's rate at 20k plus." Bellus paused and ordered her thoughts. "Anything around or above 1800 is dangerous to multiple targets, anything above 2500 is a major threat."

"I wonder what Borander's rating was...?" Singh mumbled, mostly to himself.

"18750." Bellus answered absentmindedly. "After Seed activation." She seemed to catch up to her own words. "Projected of course, based on simulations of his attack upon then SecDef Durandel. Sadly, we'll never know for sure." She put a lot of stress on the "never".

"I wouldn't call it sad. World's a better place without him." Singh shrugged. "Get some lines set! We're going down!"

xxxx

JIHAD Mountain, sub level 5, June 7, C.E. 84, 2:30 pm

"There's something evil down here..." Brandt whispered, shining his flashlight into every nook and corner. "I can feel it..."

"Careful what you admit, Brandt. Too much more of that kind of talk and I might start thinking you have a suit leak. Dr. Magnus has been begging for another chance to observer a human to Edenite transformation after all..." Bellus snapped at him, his constant fearmongering really getting on her nerves. He'd been a broken record on the subject ever since Singh's soldiers lowered him down in the rope sling thirty minutes ago.

"He's got a point though." Yakoslka muttered, shining his own flashlight along a section of wall that was splattered with large dots of rusty red. "There's blood all over the walls."

"No doubt there were casualties when the Archangel blasted the mountain with its Lohengrin, yes." Bellus rolled her eyes. "Could you two perhaps, between the two of you, grow a pair of balls? There's nothing down here but either a very young or a very weak Edenite and us, with ten armed soldiers. Just shut up and stay close to me, I don't want to hear either of you bitching anymore."

"What in all the names of hell were you people researching in this place?" Singh asked over the comm system, his voice a tad bit strained after searching through several smashed cabinets full of nothing but the bones of young toddlers.

"If you have to ask, you don't have the clearance to know." Bellus replied shortly. "Suffice it to say, we were building a better soldier here."

"Given that I'm still in circulation, I'm guessing you didn't build too many." Singh retorted with a shake of his head. "That or you didn't build them very well."

"That would depend on who you asked." Bellus shrugged. "One of the products of this place was the single handed reason the Isolation failed at the cusp of victory. That's quite a pedigree, no matter how you look at it."

"Where was he when we were storming the Great Endeavor then?" Singh asked nastily. "Coulda used a few super soldiers there!"

Bellus was silent, refraining from mentioning that there had been several IBWS Extended at that battle, though none had participated in the infantry assault. "We need to split up and search for a computer access terminal on this level. I don't remember where the mainframe was, this level or the one below." She directed, returning to the task at hand. "And we should keep an eye out for that toddler. I wonder how it got down here? Maybe there's another exit? That would be nice, save some time."

"You three stay right here with me. My lads aren't the sharpest tacks in the box, but they know a computer terminal when they see one. And probably a toddler too, though maybe not Silva." Singh said with an affectionate smirk at his most frequently ridiculed trooper. "Five teams of two, contact every five minutes, thirty minute sweep, go." He ordered, and his troops split up into pairs with well drilled precision, spreading out and disappearing into the darkness of the sub level. Singh strolled over to the wall where Yakoslka had been aiming his camera, wiping at the caked on gore with his fingers specuatively. It was grittier than the blood he was used to. Another enhancement to super soldiers? Having self clotting blood could be a real boon, Singh could think of several situations where it would have been personally handy!

His mind went back to one such situation, during the storming of the Great Endeavor, when he'd taken a three round burst of hypersonic steel cone-pellets to the leg, shattering his shin bone and almost causing him to bleed out before they were able to get a workable tourniquet in place around his mangled leg. He could still feel the ache in his shin bone when the humidity dropped suddenly. He could still smell the blood as it pumped, hot and thick, from his shattered limb. Startled by the strength of the flashback, Singh blinked his eyes a few times and shook his head to clear it. That was strange, he didn't usually have fully sensed flashbacks, for a moment it had been like the wound was still happening! He stared down at his leg and stomped it experimentally, feeling barely even a twinge. Just a daydream then... but a hell of a real one!

"Did anyone else just have a sudden flashback of a very unpleasantly painful memory?" Dr. Bellus spoke up suddenly. Her question was met with a moment of incredulous silence.

"Yes?" Singh hissed the word slowly.

"Me too..." Yakoslka was shivering and clutching himself.

"Oh Amelia..." Brandt trailed off, biting back sobs. "What the hell happened to me?"

"We've just been psychically probed." Bellus said confidently. "It was crude, but very strong. Someone was just searching through our minds. They put that memory into our forebrain as a distraction."

"We're under attack?" Singh snapped, his weapon coming up, to point down the darkened hallways where his men had gone.

"Not per se." Bellus's voice was calmer than she felt. She tried to slow her heartrate. She'd been given training for this sort of situation. Remaining calm and centered was important. "They weren't looking for anything in specific, or targeting anyone individually, they were just... glancing through the minds nearby. Like opening a random set of webpages on the internet and browsing them."

"A toddler did that?" Yakoslka's voice was trembling worse than he was.

"No, there's no way a toddler could do that, not to four people at once, not from far away." Bellus refuted.

"We don't know that." Brandt replied in a strangled voice.

"I do very much know that, its part of my job, Dr. Brandt!" Bellus snapped at him.

"No, we don't know where the toddler is! It could be just out of sight! They can see farther than us in the dark!" Brandt snapped back.

"They can't see farther than military grade ocular implants, can they?" Singh retorted with a snort. "There isn't anyone within twenty meters of us, trust me."

"There, you see?" Bellus said, perhaps a bit quickly. "All the same, lets take another look..." She fed in her second to last brain slice and fired up the scream pulse. She all but dropped the sensor when the return came back gold and strong... and right on the same level as them, not thirty meters away, though the sensor did not account for physical obstructions, so there were likely several walls and rooms between them. Her hands shaking so bad she had to try several times, Bellus finally got the calibration right and checked the new rating. The sensor clattered to the floor with the sound of plastic chipping, falling loose from her suddenly numb hands. "Its over nine thousand..."

"What did you say?" Yakoslka demanded.

"I SAID, IT'S OVER NINE THOUSAND!" Bellus all but hollered at him.

"How the hell did it get that high! That's impossible!" Brandt shouted back. "I thought you said it was a toddler! Are you telling me a newborn has a pyschic rating of over nine thousand? I was right... it IS a Chimera! We are so FUCKED!"

"Someone give me a report!" Singh demanded into his squad comm. He was met with only silence for a long moment, and then came a blood choked death rattle, and the comm went to static. "FUCK!" He sighted down the corridor with his rifle. "Come on you scary motherfucker... come this way, and eat some of my hot lead!"

xxxx

Elsewhere on sub-level 5, that same time

Frost could not tell if he was dreaming or awake. It was a state of mind he was more than used to, ever since the level six surgeries, but he never failed to find it bothersome all the same. On one hand all of his senses were telling him he was awake, because all of them were operating at once, and usually, in dreams, only one or two worked at a time. Furthermore there was an odd buzzing ache in the bottom of his skull, like a fly had gotten trapped inside his brainase during a surgery and was trying frantically to escape, and he didn't think he'd be feeling something like that if he were asleep. He'd actually seen that happen once to one of the newest recruits, during the level 2 surgeries. He'd lasted longer than Frost had been expecting, his grey matter half turned into a writhing mass of bloody mawed maggots before he succumbed.

But there was something wrong with his movements, everything seemed to take just a fraction of second longer to happen than he was used to, as if his nerve impulses had a bit further to go. And his body seemed oddly elongated and stretched out, almost to the point of emaciation, at least compared to how he usually looked. He felt like he'd been transplanted into Cray's body, and what a horrific thought that was! Being trapped in a fragile spider body, what a nightmare! Nothing seemed wrong with his strength and overall speed though, if anything his long nap had refreshed and rejuvenated him in ways he was still figuring out. Frost shrugged dismissively, rivulets of hot blood trickling down his naked, stretched new body, the remains of the last of Singh's two man patrols lying in shredded piles at his feet. Streaking the blood across his chest with one splayed hand, Frost crouched and inspected these latest victims curiously.

They were clad in what looked like space suits or piloting suits, but with much bulkier backpacks and some sort of armor lining, the surface of the suit painted with forest camouflage colors that stood out boldly against the grey metal walls and floors of the facility. Their helmets had spotlights on either side, and it wasn't until he noticed that the lamps were on that Frost realized it was dark in the hallway. He hadn't noticed before, his eyes could see just as well in the near lightless gloom as they could in broad daylight, due to a nanite array embedded in his eyes that provided light for his eyes to use, witht ehs die effect of making his eyes glow a bit redly in the dark.

The soldiers were armed with automatic rifles of an unfamiliar make, but the weapons themselves were nothing particularly new, and Frost kicked them away across the dust strewn floor with a contemptuous shake of his head. He looked down at the rust red gore drying slowly on his fingers and puddling in his palms and smirked. What need had he of such filthy things as guns, when the purity of his own two hands was so versatile? Armored or not, he'd ripped the soldiers limb from limb like they were ragdolls, before they were even really aware he was upon them, and hurled their ragged remains against the walls hard enough to make them squish like a dead rat underfoot. The decapitated and half crushed head of one lolled nearby, and Frost snagged it with two fingers under the lip of the neck and rolled it up his arm like a juggler would a performance ball.

Flicking his elbow, amused with himself, Frost flipped the severed head up and over his own, pattering blood droplets streaking in his strange new mass of brown hair, gumming some of the wilder strands together. Forget hair gel, fresh human gore was the only hair style product he'd ever need! Not only that, but it acted as a deoderant as it dried, blocking out all those horrendous smells of citrus and flowers with the comforting miasma of violent death. Humans might not be good for eating, most being far too lean to be juicy, but that wasn't to say they didn't produce plenty of useful byproducts as part of their lifecycle. A completely untapped market, just waiting for the proper entrepenuer to come along and kick the doors wide open! Frost caught the descending head in his other hand and held it up to his face, peering closely at the wound where the flat of his hand had crashed through the helmet and crushed a chunk of skull about six inches inward.

"And what is this? Wires in the skull?" Frost murmured, intrigued. Was this another super soldier? They sure hadn't fought like one, but not everyone could meet his standards. Or even approach them. He dug his fingers into the gooey purple-pink mass inside the skull and wriggled them around until he found the wires, and then followed their course, until most of his hand and wrist was inside the ruptured braincase. At last his fingertips reached the end of the wire, and he pressed hard on the yielding surface he felt. One of the head's eyes popped out of its socket and dangled down the cheek, threads of glistening nerve and rubberized wire holding it suspended. "Hmmp." Frost said idly, waggling his finger out through the back of the eye socket. He held the head up to his face, nose to nose. "I can see you... can you see me?" He asked, staring into the one remaining eye.

After a long pause, during which the corpse's eyes did not waver from their bloodshot, half open scrutiny of his face, Frost grew bored and tossed the head away, a slurry of brain splashing out of the hole in the side like a dark grey milkshake as the head bounced and rolled across the ground. Frost stretched, coming up onto his tiptoes, once again noting that he seemed a lot taller than he was used to. That was odd... he'd never fantazised about being taller before. Maybe he was awake then? But in that case, how had he gotten taller? A conundrum, to be sure. He was just settling in to ponder it when his senses twinged, his nose and ears twitching as he detected the sounds of breathing and heartbeats, and the sweet smell of raw human fear. Ah, he still had some playmates left. How rude of him to ignore their plight. The sooner he could introduce them to his friend and mentor, the abyss at the bottom of every human soul, the better.

Frost rose off his haunches and stalked down the halls, the layout as familiar to him as only a person's home could be, his eyes closed as he inhaled deeply of the rich aroma's being put off by his next victims. His nostrils flared and a feral grin split his face as he immediately sifted out the sharper tang of a woman from the tangle of duller male scents. Nature and fate were working in his favor once again, choosing to provide him not only with exercise, but sexual relief as well, so soon after waking. It was almost like a reward from the good old Doc. The thought almost made him wish the Doc was back. He wanted to kill him again, but even more artfully this time. A scalpel was all well and good, but there were much more interesting tools to utilize. Such as a shaving razor. He'd never killed anyone with a storebought shaving razor before. Frost filed that one away for future perusal.

He was just about the step around the corner to the hallway that his victims were huddled at the far end of, when he received a twinge at the front of his mind, not painful... not that he sought to avoid pain, it was his primary determiner for the state of his consciousness after all... but distracting. Frost paused and frowned, the twinging feeling flitting like a mosquito around the front of his mind until he at last snatched out and took hold of it with a mental effort he had not been aware he could produce. For a brief instant he saw through another's eyes, the world done over in shades of green and white, a gun barrel in the lower part of his vision as he sighted along a rifle, towards the end of a hallway. The end of the hallway that he'd just almost strolled out into. Pulling back awkwardly, Frost bared his teeth in a mixture of excitement and anticipation.

He'd never had any training in this new ability, had no idea of the limitations or strictures, but in some ways that was much an advantage as it was a handicap. He didn't know what he wasn't supposed to be able to do, until after he'd already done it. Frost's smirk grew positively bestial, and his eyes were backlit with the red hues of living blood. This could be a lot of fun...

xxxx

Sub level 5, a few moments later

Singh started as the loud slap of a bare foot on the metal tiled floor resounded down the hallway. There was a pregnant, deliberate pause, and then came another loud, bare footed footstep. And another. And another... each one coming closer. His finger tightened on his trigger, but he held his fire, still having found no target for his fear and ire. He strained his augmented eyes, trying to peer into the deepest recesses of the far end of the corridor, but the blackness was impenetrable. It wasn't until another ten or twenty near panicked heartbeats had passed, along with two more ringing footsteps, that Singh realized the blackness was actually getting closer as well, rolling forward with inexorable slowness, like an evil, corrupt fog bank slowly enveloping its next victim. "Holy shit... holy shit... holy shit... HOLY SHIT!" Singh snarled, and opened fire convulsively.

The blare of the automatic rfile burning through its fifty round clip on full auto mode was deafening in the enclosed corridor, starbursts of muzzle flash leaping six inches from the end of the barrel with every shot fired, the effect like a solid ball of fire roiling at the end of the rifle while it spat rounds at the rate of four per second, Singh fighting the recoil as he slowly walked the muzzle back and forth across the corridor, spraying the entire width at human waist height. The bullets, even the bright red tracers, zipped into the encroaching darkness and disappeared without a trace, as if he'd never even fired at all. Eyes starting to bug out a bit, Singh hit his secondary trigger and thumped a 40mm frag grenade down the hall, listing to the satisfying "crump" of its detonation, followed by the chorus of metallic shrieks as barbed shrapnel pinged and zinged off the corridor walls, floor and ceiling.

None of it was visible though, the bright flash of the grenade explosion completely consumed by the dark fog or whatever the hell it was. It was still getting closer too, as were the sound of the footsteps, mocking his efforts with their steady, unchanging pace. "Slap-p-p-p... slap-p-p-p... slap-p-p-p..." Each ringing report of bare flesh striking bare metal with piledriver force was a little closer than the last. Singh fumbled at his chest webbing, hands that could normally reload even in the thick of the most brutal combat without a single shiver now clumsy and jerky, and he actually dropped the magazine, the "ting" of the magazine as it bounced off the floor was somehow sad and lonely and weak, like a child on the verge of bleeding out. His body siezed by uncontrollable shivers of overwhelming fear, singh twisted around, wondering where the damn scientists had gone off to? He could use some covering fire, even if just from a tranq rifle! But he was alone. Abandoned.

"Bastards!" Singh yelled, his voice echoing oddly, as darkness began to press in on him from all sides, the diameter of the area his augmented eyes could pierce shrinking, cornering him against the wall, where he'd previously inspected the water dripping, and where some of that odd blood was splattered. Singh's back hit the wall and there was a faint "squelch". Jerking away, he looked wildly behind him and blanched, as the wall was now covered in blood and all of it was fresh and hot as it ran it thick rivulets down the wall, like it was pumping or overflowing from some gigantic resevoir. "What the hell is this? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?" Singh demanded at the top of his lungs. The slow slap of bare feet approaching, now just beyond arms reach, was his own answer. "Stay back! STAY BACK!" Singh warned, snatching out his favorite backup sidearm, a six round .44 caliber magnum revolver. He waved the chunky pistol frantically at the darkness, trying to cover all angles of approach.

"Slap-p-p-p..." The sound came from just behind him, a foot digging in for purchase just prior to leaping. Singh spun, swearing and cursing a blue streak and yanked on the pistol trigger, shattering the darkness for a moment with the throaty roar of the powerful handgun. He heard an immediate cry of agony, and smirked triumphantly. That would show the freak, you don't try and sneak up on a man with a .44 magnum! Singh's triumph lasted all of a breath or two and then... "Slap-p-p-p..." now from back the other way. Chills crawled up and down his spine, and he started to turn, with glacial slowness, knowing that his tormented was standing right behind him. Before he could complete the motion, a body lurched out of the darkness right in front of him, and before Singh could control himself, he'd fired at it again, a solid, point blank head shot! The body tumbled to its knees in front of him, hands falling away from a huge gory gut wound, and collapsed forward, what was left of its face and had splattering wetly as it hit the floor.

It was Yakoslka, Singh realized with horror, the pudgy scientist's guts blown all over creation by the double-fist sized hole in his abdomen, and then the entire right half of his head turned to pulp and bone splinters by Singh's second, reflexive shot. "You stupid bastard!" Singh snapped, overwhelmed by the enormity of his error, and trying to absolve himself of blame. "Walking up on a guy with a gun out without warning! What did you think would happen!"

"He was trusting you to protect him." A silky, young male voice replied sibilantly from behind Singh. He froze stock still, as if turned to ice, all but paralyzed by the cold cruelty and bloody madness in the new voice. What the hell kinda voice was that! Who spoke like that? What sort of freak was...

"Turn around and find out." The voice suggested, with a hint of amusement. "If you dare, that is."

"I ain't afraid of you!" Singh shouted, spinning, the gun going up to rest against the forehead of an opponent... that wasn't there. Just impenetrable darkness. "Coward! Where are you? Show yourself! Come on, you sick freak, stop hiding in the shadows!"

"You want me to show myself? Fine. I'm right here." The voice from the darkness whispered. Two glowing red spots, with purple and gold centers, opened up at Singh's head height, off to the side a little bit. Eyes. Eyes like nothing Singh had ever seen before. Like nothing he ever wanted to see again! He couldn't make out anything but the eyes, but it was enough to give him a point of aim, and he blasted his third shot right between the sinisterly glowing orbs, which blinked out, probably blasted to pieces along with most of his antagonist's face.

"Stupid motherfu..." Singh started to slump with relief, before he went stiff as a board. The eyes were back, and he could hear sniggering, the mocking laughter soon growing into a full blown, ear splitting gale of insanity inducing amusement. "GODDAMN YOU!"

"He's already tried that. It didn't stick." The voice replied, choking down its laughter with a few snorts and coughs. "The greatest abyss couldn't hold me, the fires of hell could not consume my soul. I'm sorry, its just that, for someone like you, little piglet, thinking they can kill me... well, its funny. Death holds no fears or mysteries for me. I went to his house, kicked down his door, raped his woman in his own bed and stole his own personal scythe. Death can go fuck himself, he can't touch me. And neither can you."

"Who are you! What are you!" Singh staggered backwards and tripped over Yakoslka's cooling body, landing hard on his ass, his fingers tightening on the trigger of his gun once more, sending a wild shot screaming up into the ceiling, dislodging a gout of dust and metal chips.

"I am the darkness in the human soul." The voice whispered, the words crawling like venomous insects into Singh's ears. "I am the eyes in the abyss that stare back. I was the End of All, but I have grown out of such childish fantasies, to realize my true destiny. Being dead has a way of making a guy philosophical, you see... makes him look back and realize what he should have done different. Killing everyone isn't the solution, no matter how satisfying it would be. Humanity is a blade, and that blade has grown very dull indeed. I am humanity's whetstone, and in conflict with me, humanity will regain its true edge, and will be sharp enoguh to cut through any threats to come."

"You're crazy!" Singh accused, his hands shaking so bad he couldn't even aim the gun, not even with both hands on the grip.

"I am." The voice agreed pleasantly. "I'm thankful for that boon every day. Only the insane can truly understand the sane. Only by losing your mind, can one hope to comprehend the true beauty of life and death. I used to think that I was outside humanity. Now I realize it is merely humanity that is outside me. It is my duty to guide you all to the proper path. Or, at least as many of you as survive anyway. Will you survive, Singh Song? Do you have what it takes to walk the necessary path?" The voice paused. "Do you have what it talks to walk the coldest, darkest paths, Singh Song?"

"I am a professional soldier!" Singh retorted, spittle spraying from his lips to stain his viewport. "I walk wherever I want to, and I fear no evil!"

"You must not have met the right kind of evil then, Singh Song. Let me show you the difference..." The voice murmured, as a form began to coalesce from the darkness. "You wanted to know my name, Singh Song? My name is Zacharis Frost. But please... just call me your worst nightmare..." Singh tried to scrabble away from the shadowy claws that extended from the darkness, but his back soon found the wall, still sticky with blood, and he could go no further. Singh stared with bulging eyes as the shadow claws swooped after him, feeling the liquid trickles of gore from the walls on his shoulders suddenly congeal, rimes of hoarforst spreading through the blood, darkening it, corrupting it, freezing it. Ice crystals began forming on his faceplate, and a bone deep chill settled into his body, like all the heat in the world had suddenly been drained away. "Scream for me, piglet..."

"FUCK YOU! FUCK THIS!" Singh bellowed, flipping the pistol around in his grip and shoving the barrel up under his chin. Bloodshot eyes staring wildly, back frozen to the wall by chains of icy blood, Singh yanked the trigger, desperate for peaceful oblivion. "Click" went the pistol, the hammer snapping down on the bullet to no effect. Misfire? But revolvers never misfired, they were one of the most reliable guns because of that! Frantic, Singh yanked the trigger a second time, sliding the cylinder around to his next and last bullet. "Snap-click". No deafening roar. No pain. No oblivion. Two misfires in a row... it was impossible! The handgun tumbled out of his limp fingers and fell into his lap. As soon as it struck the floor it fired, blasting out his right knee in a welter of smoking cold blood and frosted bone fragments. Singh stared down at his maimed leg in disbelief. This couldn't be happening...

"I said scream, Singh Song." Frost, or whoever he was, his shadowy claws reaching down to brush along Singh's chest. "Too scared? Let me help you." One of the claws drew back and then powered forward, punching into Singh's chest armor and spearing through like it was nothing more than thick cardboard. Singh felt an awful tugging sensation in his chest, and then the shadowy claws were holding something purple-red and quivering to his half frosted viewport. Singh recognized his own heart, ripped clean out of his chest, and opened his mouth to scream... but only blood came out. He died without making a single sound at all. It was only as the final blackness was creeping in that Singh realized that the cold and ice had all been in his imagination...

xxxx

Sub-level 4 elevator shaft, a few minutes later

Brandt had swarmed up the ropes with all the speed and determination desperation and fear for one's life could give, and he was hauling himself up over the lip of the landing to sub level four while Bellus was still trying to figure out how to climb the ropes at all. She got about ten feet up and felt her grip slipping. Calling out with terror and panic, she slipped quickly downward, her gloves smoking where the robe burned across her fingers, to land with a sickening snap of shattering ankle bones as her feet hit awkwardly, and she tumbled over backwards with a shriek of pain. She lay, twisted and gasping with agony, at the base of the shaft, clawing weakly at the ground in an attempt to relieve the burning pain in her feet. She cursed Singh, for opening fire with his rifle out of nowhere, the loud noise and bright flashes having sent all three scientists scurrying for the exit like startled mice, not even looking back to see what Singh was or was not shooting at.

When they'd reached the ropes, Yakoslka had turned back, apparently realizing that with his pudgy and flabby frame, there was no way he could climb the ropes by himself. He had gone back to find out what had happened to Singh, since the gunfire had stopped after a while. There had come two final bangs of gunfire shortly thereafter, which proved that someone was still alive back there, but neither Brandt nor Bellus were at all interested in waiting around to see who it was. That would be something better done with the reassuring presence of the two AUTO's between them and whatever creature had been awakened down in this pit!

"Brandt... help me!" Bellus called hoarsely, her throat tight after yelling when she broke her right ankle and twisted the other in the fall. She tugged weakly on the end of one rope. "Pull me up!"

"Screw you, Bellus! This whole situation is your fault! You go deal with your "toddler". I'm getting the hell out of here and I'm not coming back unless I have a full squad of Extended as support!" Brandt yelled down at her. He did start pulling on the ropes, but he was pulling them up and out of her... and anyone else's... reach, coiling them at the top of the landing, leaving a good thirty feet of vertical elevator shaft between him and whatever monstrosity was down there. Hopefully it would be too distracted with Bellus to think to come up after him! Served the man hating bitch right!

Bellus swore again as Brandt ducked out of view after pulling the ropes up after him, and did not return. Definitely a typical man, always out for number one, and never a thought for anyone else! She sat up and tried to get to her feet, but the pain was the worst thing she had ever felt, and she collapsed back down onto her back with a moaning shriek of mingled hate, despair and fear. She twitched around onto her side and looked down the dark passageway, as far as her helmet lights would go, which was only about ten meters. Ten thousand different horrible creatures marched at her out of the shadows of her imagination, and if she hadn't already pissed her bladder dry, she would have been doing so now. She had to fight to keep her bowels clenched, as the suit wasn't equipped to handle more solid waste, and that was the last thing she needed now, to be stewing in her own shit.

When at last the monster came striding into view, he wasn't at all what Bellus had been scaring herself half to death expecting. He was a younger man, somewhere in his middle to late twenties, clean limbed with plenty of muscles, but not so many that detracted from his fluidity and grace of motion. He had a luxurious mane of dark brown hair, slightly spiky and unkempt. His skin was taut and pale, having clearly not seen the sun in a long time, if ever. There was a lot of skin to see, he was completely naked, except for random daubs of some sort of dark fluid that sprayed and sprinkled across his rock hard body. He looked almost like one of those male models the Director sometimes kept for a few weeks as a diverting bed pet, in those times when she wanted a less intellectual sexual partner. In fact, for some reason he looked faintly familiar.

Any attempts at recognition were completely derailed by his unearthly eyes, royal purple with solid gold centers, backlit by some sort of natural red phosphoresence that made his eyes seem to glow and blaze with hellfire in the darkness. His face was quite lovely, for a man, but it was twisted into a look of bestial amusement that made her blood run cold. That was the face of an rabid animal, a predator... someone for whom all others were either food or prey for amusement. He moved with little hurry, perhaps sensing that she was helpless to run away. It was only as he got closer that she realized his body art was not crude tribal paintings, but rather the random patterns of arterial spray, from all the slaughtered soldiers he had massacred, apparently with just his bare hands! The hands in question were caked with gore from fingertips to midarm, and from the way the backs of his fingers dripped, it was very recent blood.

Bellus swallowed, her throat feeling as dry as a salt waste, as the monster-man came to a stop next to her, towering over her, giving her one hell of a fine view of his significant manly assets, before he crouched down by her head with fluid grace and brought his face down towards hers. When he at last spoke, his voice made her want to claw her ears off in panic, it seemed to contain every scrap of malice and obscenity ever produced by man. "Fancy meeting you here, little dove. Did you hurt your leg? That sort of thing happens when you drop in unprepared. Here, let me see it..." The man-beast said, before craning himself up and over her, straddling her with his body, pinning her only with the force of her own terror, as his hands probed her ankles, with surprising gentleness.

"Oh my... this is no minor injury. You've completely shattered this ankle, an internal compound fracture. It must hurt very much." The man-beast said with an audible smirk. He settled his hands around the joint in question. And then he twisted it in a ninety degree arc, hard enough to snap the bone if it wasn't already broken. Bellus went rigid and arched as she screamed in excruitiation, her eyes wide and unseeing, blood dripping down her chin from where she'd bitten her lip at the shock of pain. "Well, moving it that way didn't help." The man-beast observed lightly. He twisted the foot one hundred and eighty degrees, listening to the tendons snap and pop, and the bone shards grind against each other. He felt her on the verge of passing out, and snagged hold of her consciousness with his mind, keeping her awake and aware against her body's will. "Oh, I forgot to tell you... the only people I've ever operated on before had playdough for bones. So bear with me, I might hurt you by accident..."

Bellus tried to say something, but all she could manage was inarticulate screaming and sobbing, as he continued to toy around with her foot, until the only thing keeping it attached to her leg were a few shreds of skin and the conforming presence of her boot. Her boot was sloshing with blood, and she felt like she was going to pass out. She wished she would, come to think of it, but the blessed balm and peace of unconsciousness were forcibly denied her. "W-Why...?" She gargled, after the monster had left her foot alone for a few seconds. "Why are you t-torturing me?"

"Hm? Oh, because I want you to understand." He replied casually, almost cheerfully. "Learning is always painful, but its worth it in the end, don't you agree, my cracked bell?" He paused a few moments. "And you have a beautiful screaming voice. Not nearly as good as Pink's, of course, but then, only Pink has that kind of voice. But you're a sound for sore ears, there's no doubt about it." He sat back and looked down at her, his eyes following the curves of her body that even the bulky suit couldn't hide. "I think it may be time to switch tactics, and listen to you make a different noise for a while."

"You can't be serious!" Bellus was aghast, staring up at him, watching as the physical evidence of just how serious he was grew and hardened right in front of her eyes. "You utter..."

"Better say something good, I've been called a lot of bad names before." Frost replied jovially, his hands sliding across her environment suit, pressing down hard enough to bruise her skin even through the armored clothing. He smirked as she just turned her head away from him and bit her tongue to keep herself quiet. "Aww, not going to struggle? You're no fun."

"Just rape me and get it over with, you beast. Either way, I'm not long for the world." Bellus whispered bitterly.

"I dunno. I don't ALWAYS kill my partners after orgasm. Just usually. I might want to keep you around for a while." Frost replied fondly, his hand going between her legs and squeezing hard. "Mm, I forgot how tender human women are."

Bellus gritted her teeth, tasting blood, his touch rough in the extreme, like he wasn't even aware of his own brutal power. Or just didn't care. "Its not up to you, you idiot. Within twelve hours after you expose me to the atmosphere, I'll be dead. There's no way I could survive a transformation with my body in this shape."

"I'd say probably closer to ten." Frost shrugged. "My definition of "a while" is about that long. Though I do wonder what sort of transformation you're talking about."

"Like I'd tell the man who was torturing me, is going to rape me, and kill me, anything. Figure it out for yourself, beast!" Bellus snapped, feeling a bit of her old fire returning. The fire extinguished when she saw him grin widely.

"Okay then, my cracked bell, if you want me to do things my way, I'll do things my way." Frost's hand clenched on her groin, fingers digging through the armored cloth and tearing it away in a wide patch over her lower abdomen. His other hand came up to her faceplate, as he positioned himself atop her, pinning her now with the weight of his body. His fingers pressed against the plexiglass viewport, and after several seconds of pressure, shattered it. She bucked and gurgled as razor edged shards of plastic slashed into her face, blinding her and slashing open her cheeks and upper neck, even as he violated her in the traditional manner, his fingers continuing to press inwards through the opening where the viewport had been, to touch almost gently against her forehead. And then Frost entered her again, a far more complete violation, sinking his entire consciousness deep into hers, melding them together... and then reeling it all back in, taking the contents of her mind and memories with him, now a part of him, leaving just an empty, bleeding, vegetable husk of a woman left when he was done.

"Wooo... headrush..." Frost commented, his vision spinning for a moment as he assimilated all the stolen thoughts and memories. He would be a while digesting them, like a snake that has swallowed a board. He'd have to remember not to take so much in the future, he could feel himself sweating, and it wasn't a byproduct of physical exertion. He would also have to remember to keep his sex and his interrogations seperate, because now she was just lying there like a bleeding log, and that wasn't exciting at all! He finished up and pulled out, but she didn't even cry or sob, and that totally ruined it for him. What a downer. Frost stood up and stretched, not hardly satiated at all. He glared down at his disappointing toy and then drove his foot down entirely through her chest, crushing her ribcage and pulping her heart, lungs and upper stomach in one terrible blow. Finally she squirted, though it was blood and guts. At least it was some reaction!

Frost looked up the elevator shaft, listening, and heard the sound of electronics and thudding feet. "How many of these insects are there?" He grumbled to himself, as he set his hands against the wall and began pulling himself up, his fingertips splitting open in blossoms of dark red blood that almost instantly hardened to a leathery crust, as his fingerbones dug into the steel walls for purchase. He was up the wall in moments, moving thirty vertical feet faster than most humans could sprint thirty horizontal feet. His eyes locked in on two bulky, tracked contraptions at the far end of the hall, their twin turrets just beginning to swing in his direction as he registered on their sensors. Frost howled with delight and let himself loose, covering almost forty meters of hallway in the space of a breath or two, moving so fast that the first droplets of blood splattering from his hands reached the floor just a half second before he reached, and vaulted over, the two AUTOs.

Their turrets tried to spin back around to orient upon him, but Frost crouched by the leftmost one and got his hands between the tracks and the armor plate of its hull and lifted. The track spun crazily, ripping the skin from the backs of his fingers, but Frost only strained the harder, laughing in exultation as the glorious pain seared through him, sparks skipping from his fingerbones as the metal track tried and failed to grind them away. With a final convulsive heave, Frost flipped the entire AUTO unit over onto its back, crushing its turrets under its own weight. The second AUTO cranked its flamethrower turret around and spewed twin jets of incandescent liquid fire at the enemy, point blank. Fire splashed and splattered like a firehose directed against a solid wall, as Frost held his right hand, palm forward, right in the path of the flames, and then stepped forward, thrusting his palm forward and pressing it against the muzzles of the flamethrowers, clogging them and causing them to backfire. His hand was a melted wreck of blackened flesh and ashy muscle, but the bones themselves were just a little singed, when the flame turret imploded in on itself.

The 25mm gatling gun turret swung about and cut loose, sixty rounds per second of light anti-armor exploding shells tracking across the walls, the floor, and the overturned AUTO as it tried to walk its firepower into the laughing and nigh dancing opponent, who stayed just aead of the laserlike stream of tracers. Shrapnel and debris sprayed everywhere as the shells chewed apart anything they struck. The gun began to overheat and so it stopped to let itself cool down, activating the treads to move to a different location where it was not so easily encircled. One of the last shells it fired, through fluke of luck, actually caught Frost a bit off guard, and slammed into the left side of his chest. Flesh and blood gouted away from the fist sized impact wound, and Frost was sent sprawling backwards, skidding for almost ten meters under the kinetic force of the shot, which had struck a rib and stopped.

Laughing like a demented hyena, greatly amused by the whole situation, Frost staggered back to his feet, the gunshot wound already scabbed over and beginning to heal, his entire body suffused with billions of specially engineered nanites that used molecules from the surrounding environment to regenerate his body, just like a Gundam's self repair system. It wasn't exactly a cure all, it couldn't bring him back from brain death or total obliteration, but it could keep him on his feet through almost any sort of non-instantly fatal trauma, and he would recover in days what took most men months in a hospital to achieve. The AUTO turret opened fire on him again, but he was done playing by then, and he ducked, dodged and weaved around the spitting arc of tracer fire, a feat he had long been capable of. He reached the turret, halted the gatling gun in mid spin with one hand and then tore the weapon entirely out of the turret and tossed it away like a man pulling a weed.

The AUTO tried to run him over, but Frost leapt out of the way, and after it slammed nose first into a wall, its cumulative internal damage seemed to overwhelm it, and the construct died in a puff of acrid smoke and shower of orange sparks. Looking down at himself, marveling at his own resilience, chuckling through a mask of blood and the burnt grease of his own charred flesh, Frost twirled about and set off after the last scientist. The little bugger had a good lead, and ran as though all the devils of hell were snapping at his heels, because it took Frost, moving at a brisk trot, all the way until the garage entrance to catch up to the punk, who had collapsed onto his hands and knees, gasping for breath, obviously thinking he'd made it to safety.

"Those are some sweet skulls, don't you think?" Frost said amiably, trotting out of the darkness of the garage and standing next to the panting scientist. Running that far in a fully enclosed environmental suit was almost admirable, he had to be drowning in his own sweat by now. Ignoring the scientist for the moment, Frost strolled over to the nearest stake and stared admiringly at the skull impaled on top. "Look at those teeth, you lucky bastard. What I would give to have fangs like that!" He turned around to look down at Brandt, and did a double take. "By Pink's sweet snatch, look at that magnificent bastard!" Frost pointed excitedly at the Megahunter skull. "Now THAT is my kind of animal! I wonder how it tastes?" Frost looked down and found himself staring down the barrel of Brandt's tranq gun. "That's not even cute..."

"You monster!" Brand shouted, pumping dart after dart of highly potent knockout drugs into the aberration's side and belly. The red tufted darts sprouted like mushrooms from Frost's skin, and he looked down at the pinpricks in annoyance. He waved his right hand, the one that was blackened and charred from fingertips to down past the wrist, at the panicking scientist.

"You must be joking, right?" Frost cocked his head, looking down at the pathetic little man. He brushed away the darts, his internal healing boosted a bit by the influx of new molecules that was the drugs, none of which affected him in the slightest. "I mean, you really didn't actually think you would take me down with a dart gun, did you? Open your eyes, Brandt. Look at me."

Brandt didn't want to, but he couldn't help it. The man standing in front of him was the most terrible apparaition he could imagine, especially with the grotesquely burned hand and the gory crater in his chest, neither of which seemed to bother him in the slightest. His barrel dipped and his finger reflexively tightened on the secondary trigger, launching the taser wires square at Frost's groin. Frost's good hand snatched downward and caught the sparking wires before they could impact his manhood. "Hey now, that was almost unfriendly. I'll thank you to keep your aim upon my better armored head." Frost scolded the man, opening his mouth, sticking out his tongue, and touching the tip to the taser wires. His hair stood on end, and smoke wafted from the tip of his tongue, but that was about it. "Ahh, nothing like the taste of a few thousand volts to get the blood moving." Frost commented with a smirk, discarding the spent wires.

"Please!" Brandt begged, on his hands and knees, the useless rifle in the dirt beside him. "I have a wife! I have a daughter!"

"That's okay. I'll kill them too, I don't discriminate based on marital status or age." Frost assured him. He reached down and fastened his good hand around Brandt's neck, lifting the man off the ground so his feet were at Frost's knee level. "I'll be sure to tell them you're waiting on the other side of the abyss." Frost said, bored at last. He closed his fist until his fingers touched his palm, with what was left of Brandt's neck and spine still snugged in his grip. He tossed the flopping body off into the jungle and then peered off into the distance, as the dropship, bearing the two thoroughly frightened AUTO pilots and Dr. Muresamo, blasted off in a hurry. "That's right... run from me. Make me chase you. It makes it so much more fun. Tell them... tell them all. Tell them I'm coming. Tell them I'm back. Evil has found its way. And my wrath will make even God himself cower in terror." Frost promised, before doubling back inside. It was high time he put some clothes on. The world could wait for just a little longer.

xxxx

JIHAD Mountain, sub level 6, June 8, C.E. 84

The mirror shattered into a hundred pieces, Frost's fist continuing on to dig a crater in the concrete behind it. Jagged glass sliced his fist and forearm open to the bone, the same fist and forearm that had been charred black only twenty four hours previous. Blood dripped from the wounds, but almost at once congealed and even flowed back up into his arm in some cases, the nanites in his blood bonding and restructuring his blood to minimize the effects of bleeding. Frost paid no attention to the sting of the cuts or the way his blood reacted, his face was contorted in a furious snarl mixed with a wide eyed expression of horror and disbelief. He stared down at his hands and then brought them up in claws to tear bloody divots into his cheeks and the sides of his head, shaking his body back and forth as he howled and screamed in agony that had nothing to do with his self inflicted wounds.

"Get it off! Get it off me! NOOOO! AHHHGH!" Frost shrieked, collapsing to his knees. "THIS IS A PUNISHMENT WORSE THAN ANY DEATH! DAMN YOU MR. MACHINE! DAMN NOAH BORANDER! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME! How could you pervert my beautiful body like this! WHAT THE FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH YOU! YOU SICK FREAK!" He pounded his fists into the floor, further shattering and grinding away the mirror shards until they were little more than dust. "He made me into an abomination against all I hold dear! This is a sacrilege against my soul!" Frost sobbed inconsolably. His fingers crept up to his face again. No... not HIS face... the Boytoy's face. That hideous visage that Pink adored so much! It made him physically ill to consider the fact that he had been reincarnated from the dead, only to come back as Boytoy's identical twin! If he wasn't already insane, this would have sent him over the deep end.

Frost dug his fingers into his cheek, scrabbling with his fingernails as dark blood welled around the puncture wounds. With a convulsive heave of his arms, he ripped eight finger tracks across his face, four from the left, four from the right, from chin to brow, all the way down to the bone. Panting for breath, Frost held up one of the last mirror shards that was of any use as a reflector, and found a small smile creeping back onto his features. It was by no means perfect, but it was better than it had been. If he had to suffer through wearing the Boytoy's face, at least he could make it a ravaged and ruined version. For a time. Frost glanced down at his right arm, watching as some of the glass cuts were already scarring over and being replaced with healthy flesh, right before his eyes. The entire forearm and hand had been turned into barbecued hamburger yesterday, and today there was not even a singe mark. "What I am? What did you do to me, Mr. Machine?" Frost wasn't sure if he was excited or distressed at his new capabilities.

"I can provide that answer." A wizened mechanical voice said suddenly. The tone was breathy and wheezy, like an old man on his last few breathes of air. Frost's head snapped up and he looked around the bathroom, finding himself alone. After disposing of the intruding pests, he had returned to the mountain to get some clothing, but had not had much success in that pursuit. It wasn't that he particularly minded going about naked, he actually rather enjoyed just skin and the gore of others, but it was very noticable, and, still suffering from the dislocation of his rebirth, the last thing he wanted to do was stand out unnessecarily. Sub level six had been greatly expanded from how he last remembered it, and so he had set off to explore the new areas. He had been disgusted to see that most of the rooms were done up like some sort of luxury hotel, all soft cushions and tasteful decor, and he'd spent most of the night redecorating to his own tastes. Some might say destruction was mindless, but he could see the art in it. The art in taking something great and ruining it, in breaking it down into its component pieces and breaking those, in turning something wonderful into something horrific. Anyone could destroy things... it took a genius like him to commit intelligent ruination.

"Before you ask, I am Charon, the caretaker computer for this Hideout." The old man's voice nattered on.

"Well, I wasn't going to ask your name, but I guess it doesn't hurt to know who I'll be ruinating next." Frost mumbled, rising back to his feet. "Charon... wasn't he the one who ferried souls from the living world to the dead world?"

"And sometimes, though very rarely, back the other way too." Charon answered. "The Creator thought it amusing and apt."

"Sounds like something that hoity-toity brat would do." Frost said with a sneer. "So? You were going to tell me what injustices that brat has inflicted upon me? You should know I'm not the most patient of beings, and even if you are a computer, I'll find a way to bring you torment if you piss me off, just you wait."

"Harming me at this point in time would be inadvisable." Charon intoned drearily. "I am the guiding intelligence behind all the various systems of the Hideout. Including the factory that is producing your Gundam. You were awoken earlier than expected, so the Kratos is still in the middle stages of production. It will be several more months before it is completed."

"Kratos is it? The titan lord of destruction? He likes his Greek mythos, Mr. Machine does. It sounds... adequate. Though it will be hard to measure up against my beloved Pulsar. Now THAT was a Gundam." Frost sighed with happiness mingled with a bit of regret. "It was the only thing that could actually kill me. Its just too bad it had to die to do it. I think I was in love with it."

"The Kratos is a third generation model of the Pulsar chassis. It is the most advanced and powerful Gundam to ever be built." Charon replied. A hidden holoprojector, a lens Frost's rampage had missed, flickered to life, and displayed the technical specs and basic looks for Frost to see. It didn't take Frost long to react

"ITS WRONG!" He bellowed furiously, all but spitting at the hovering image. "Its all wrong! Look at all those stupid guns! I hate guns! They lack soul... they lack artistry! No, no, no, no, NO! It's unacceptable! I cannot merge my soul with such a... loathsome thing! Its like something the Boytoy would pilot!"

"The Kratos was designed personally by the Creator, to surpass even his greatest masterpiece, the Brotherhood Gundam. You are not satisfied with the specs as is?" Charon seemed almost perturbed by the thought.

"What does someone like Mr. Machine know about Gundams? Gundams are more than just machines, to be a proper Gundam it must be an extension of the pilot's heart and soul! It must be part of them, fused as one, inseperable!" Frost hissed. He waved his hands through the holographic projection, trying to swat the image away. "This thing is anathema to me! It makes me sick just looking at it! I wouldn't pilot this even if it were the ONLY way to kill Pink. It doesn't mean anything if it's not done the right way! And this Gundam reeks of the wrong way!" Frost turned his back upon the projection. "Damn Mr. Machine can't do anything right..."

"The Creator foresaw such a problem." Charon said after a second or so of consideration. "Because the Kratos is still less than fifty percent complete, and no weapon systems have yet been added to the frame, leeway exists in its design. Would you care to personalize your Gundam, Kira?"

"What did you call me?" Frost spun, his voice as sharp as a blade. "You did NOT just call me that."

"It is who you are. Or more precisely, who your body is. Your body is a perfect genetic clone of the forerunner Ultimate Coordinator, Post Second Puberty, Kira Yamato. What should I address you as, if not by that name?" Charon asked.

"If you ever call me that name again, I will dismantle you to nuts and bolts, and bury you in a pile of my own shit to corrode." Frost threatened direly. "Call me Frost. Everyone does. And if you could shiver while you do it, that would be best."

"Very well. Would you care to personalize your Gundam, Frost?" Charon asked, jittering the holographic display when it said his name.

"That's more like it." Frost said, holding his hands up to the holographic display again. As he'd been somewhat expecting, control menus formed that interacted with the motions of his hands. He might not know jack about Gundams, but base technology, that Mr. Machine had down pat. "First things first... I need a scythe. And then I need a list of all the technology that brat has on tap. If the Pulsar is so outdated, I can hardly wait to see what new goodies are on the market." Frost smirked in anticipation. Something else occured to him, just before he dived into his Gundam. "Oh, and could you make me some clothing? Blood can only go so far as a fashion statement, and I believe I've exhausted this year's potential for it."

xxxx

JIHAD Mountain, Sub level 6, the "Forbidden" technology vault, June 9, C.E. 84

"I wonder what he's keeping hidden in here?" Frost said aloud, as he watched the meters thick armored vault door slowly revolve open, his voice barely audible over the chug and hiss of immense hydraulic systems. "Big doors usually mean big prizes."

"This is where the Creator stored the technology he was personally afraid to use." Charon replied, as it always did for any of Frost's questions, rhetorical or otherwise. "At one point in time you were stored in a place like this, for example."

"Like coming home to the womb then." Frost said with a smile, as he strolled into the heavily secured room. Almost immediately something caught his eye, the other having been carelessly torn out that morning when he was refreshing his facial wounds. If he was going to have to keep doing that every damn day, then that was going to get really annoying. But it was still better than seeing the Boytoy's face smirking back at him in every reflective surface. "And what is this beauty?" Frost breathed in awe, regarding the basketball sized sphere of absolute darkness, suspended magnetically over a pedastel in the middle of the room. The pedastel and ball were sealed off from the rest of the vault by a thick cylinder of exo-glass, the same stuff the exterior of the PLANTS were made of. Frost pressed up against it like a child at an aquarium peering at sea otters. "Mr. Abyss? Is that really you? How did Mr. Machine capture you?"

"That is the Black EDEN Nanite. It is the first nanite the Creator ever built. He considers it his greatest failure, because he cannot figure out how it operates, or how to destroy it." Charon explained.

"What does it do then?" Frost whispered reverently, still transfixed by the depthless darkness of the hovering ball.

"It absorbs all matter and energy it comes into contact with, and absorbs it into itself, adding to its size and mass. Even anti-matter is absorbed, though it does not add size or mass." Charon answered.

"So if I were to touch it with my finger, it would eat my finger and grow bigger itself?" Frost asked. "That is incredible! Mr. Abyss indeed! The darkness made manifest!"

"Your terms are unfamiliar to me." Charon complained.

"I suppose it would be hard for you to understand, having never lived and never died." Frost mused. There was a long silence, as he kept one hand on the exo-glass and stared into the infinite pit of the Black EDEN. "I was wrong, you know. When Boytoy and Pink killed me, they were doing the right thing. I needed a wakeup call, and there's nothing like being reduced to your component atoms by a thermonuclear fireball to get you to step back and reassess your priorities."

"You were wrong?" Charon sounded puzzled. "Contrition on your behalf is not within my expected conversational parameters... hold on while I update..."

"Don't bother." Frost retorted. "I may have been wrong, but I am not sorry. I was just misguided. Immature, you could say. I let my own personal desires twist my destiny. Thankfully, a good cold dose of death has got my head on straight again. Destroying humanity isn't what I should be doing. That doesn't help anyone, least of all me. I should be protecting them, not slaughtering them out of hand."

"Another response not within expected parameters. Calibration of dialogue systems will be necessary... you appear to be suffering from some sort of infection of your mind by the latent philosophy of your body... this is the first time any such genetic transfereance of morality has been observed..."

"You'e reading too much into it. Or rather, you're not understanding. I have not been corrupted by Boytoy's body or genes. In fact, what the Boytoy is doing is wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Evil, in a way. Almsot enough to be admirable, if not for the fact that he earnestly believes he is doing good. He's not protecting them at all... he's coddling them! He takes their burdens onto himself, robbing people of their responsibility and their strength! He gives them an easy life, and its an easy life that leads to rot and corruption and eventual decay!" Frost slammed his open palm against the exo-glass for emphasis.

"It's only through trial and adversity that humanity can grow strong again. It is my job to provide those trials and that adversity. That is what I have realized. Its a big, cold, hostile universe out there, and humanity is going to need the sharpest edge it can get if it's to survive the long haul. But you don't sharpen a blade by letting it stay in its sheath and only using it to cut cheese. No, its only by using the blade to chop and cut and carve, chipping away the defective metal to leave only the strong and true behind, and then whetting the blade to regain the edge, that you end up with a knife of any quality! I am the whetstone of humanity! I will chip away the defects and sharpen them against myself again and again and again until humanity becomes an edge keen enough to defeat any challenge that should arise, now or in the future!" Frost explained and then let loose a proud chuckle.

"Protecting humanity through adversity?" Charon phrased it as a question, though it was only following its programming to act interested in Frost's conversations. "What kind of adversity do you intend?"

"The kind that truly makes humanity sit up and take notice. The threat of extermination. Holding an axe over their bared neck." Frost said, matter of factly.

"So you do intend to commit genocide then." Charon almost seemed satisfied.

"No, I'm going to make them THINK I intend to kill them all." Frost retorted sharpely. "Consider it... say I did follow through and kill all of humanity. It would be a glorious struggle, we both know that. But then what? What would I do next, when it was just me left, what would I do then, as the only sentient lifeform in the solar system! Sit around and wish I had another challenge? Dream about glories past! Sleep and wait, wait and sleep, dream until I can dream no more... do you have the slightest idea of how BORING THAT WOULD BE!" Frost hollered. "A single instant of death contained enough boredom to drive me insane, if I wasn't fortunate enough to be that way anyway! Living in a world without humanity, without a blade to strike sparks against... that would be WORSE than death!"

"It had never really occured to me, being a deathless entity." Charon answered. "Boredom does not happen to me. I can see how waiting to die might not be something you consider an optimal usage of time."

"And I would be waiting a long time. Maybe forever. I'm not sure this body, this obscene Boytoy frame of mine, can even die of something as ordinary as old age, what with all the nanological improvements that sweet little scared child Noah made, assuming I even wanted to put that to the test, which I don't!" Frost said with an honest to god shiver at the thought of such a horrible fate. "No, I need humanity just as much as humanity needs me. A whetstone has no purpose without a blade to sharpen, and a blade cannot retain its edge without a whetstone. But I can't let them know that, they have to think that I desire nothing less than the death and ruination of all of civilization. Fortunately, I already have something of a reputation along those lines, so it shouldn't be hard to give the right impression."

"Your strategy bears many similarities to that used by the Creator. He too would not bring down his full force, letting his enemies think he was trying hard to cause damage when in reality it was just idle games. It apparently backfired upon him, because his enemies grew so used to winning, their morale was unshakeable when he most needed it to be shaken."

"I think I'm rather better at this sort of thing than Noah could ever hope to be. He's just not the destroying type, he's a thinker, a planner. I am an elemental force of nature." Frost said happily. "Every battle will be life and death. Anything else is coddling them. After I've winnowed them down, when I start to hunt them like rats rather than fight them like men, that is when I'll back off. After the first little while, once I announce myself and make sure they know I mean business, they will come to me, seeking to destroy me to bring peace. As long as they keep showing up to fight, I'll keep killing them. Eventually they'll stop coming, at least for a while, while those who were too scared or too smart to fight before gather their nerve, repopulate, rebuild and emerge to give battle anew. Rinse and repeat, and I have myself an endless conflict... an endless sharpening of the blade. And there's other benefits too."

"Such as?" Charon provided the conversational filler.

"I don't intend to wear this abomination of a flesh mask forever. Though even he might not realize it, Noah has as much as gifted me with the formula for immortality, as long as I have that machine there." Frost gestured at the BIIC system mainframe. Frost brought his hands to his face... to Boytoy's face... and pressed his fingers against the wounds he'd carved this morning, which were already half healed over, spilling new blood over his hands. "It doesn't even scar." Frost complained, as the face of the loathed Yamato began reappearing once more. "Truly, being trapped in this form is a living hell. At least I can still feel the pain, if only for a moment."

"With that machine back there..." Frost continued calmly, the blood on his hands seemed to evaporate as nanites in the skin of his hands broke down the blood for raw materials. "I can reincarnate myself, assuming my mind is not destroyed and that there is a suitable body to host me. And by suitable, I mean someone worthy. Someone who can stand up to me on the field of battle. Someone who can make my blood sing! Someone very much like the Boytoy... just without all the nasty history."

"You intend to kill him then?" Charon asked, detecting a potential change in subject.

"Which him?" Frost asked, putting his back to the Black EDEN as he leaned up against the exo-glass. "Noah or Boytoy?"

"Both." Charon clarified.

"Noah's death is necessary. Boytoy's is not. In fact, I will go out of my way to not kill him, and to let him know that." Frost answered matter of factly.

"That does not match up with expected parameters. Your enmity for Kira Yamato is well documented. He was the cause of your death. Revenge should be a priority." Charon said slowly.

"And I will have it." Frost promised. "Against the Boytoy, and Loser Zala-Attha, and Fiery Zala-Attha, and Scarface, and the Blond Weeny and his chick, and most of, Pink herself. I will make them all sorry they were ever born, that their parents were ever born! But kill them? Have you not been listening all this time, Charon? Much as they would protest, they are PART of the blade... some of the hardest and sharpest bits of it actually. I am an unstoppable force, but they were the immovable objects that stopped me, more than a decade ago. How am I ever to be secure in my unstoppability again if I do not move them now?"

"So you will kill them, and get even?"

"I intend to get MORE than even." Frost smirked, and the pure evil intent in that gesture made even Charon momentarily uneasy. "They are the immovable objects, remember? Being even is a draw, and in the case of a draw, it is the defender who wins, because they did not move! I have to make them move! I have to not only defeat them, but degrade them! Make them regret ever trying to stop me at all! I have to make them see that they have been WRONG all this time!"

"How do you propose to accomplish this goal?"

"I know their weakness." Frost tapped the side of his head. The memories and knowledge of Dr. bellus were still percolating around inside, most of it discarded as useless science crap, but he'd used her knowledge to update him on as many events as possible since his death. "Their weakness is called familial love. In specific, progeny. Children. They all have children now, fucking like bunnies as they have been for the past decade I'm almost surprised they haven't bred more than they have. Boytoy and Pink would collectively spit in my face even if I was holding their throats in either hand, completely at my mercy. They aren't afraid to die by my hand if it means sticking up for their ideals. That's the kind of people they and their friends are. That's why they are coddlers, not protectors... they are willing to sacrifice themselves for others beyond all reason, and aren't willing to sacrifice others in turn, even when it is in their own best interest. Taking the responsibility of life and death from others is just wrong. And I'm going to show them that by taking that responsibility from them in the most personal way possible. Two wrongs to make a right. I'm going to cause them such pain their very souls will twist and wither in agony."

"Slaying their children will certainly cause them great harm." Charon allowed.

"Kill them? That's what the old me, the immature me, would do. Killing their children is what they'd EXPECT me to do. It wouldn't make them see themselves as wrong, all it would do is convince them they are right to stand against me, to sacrifice themselves in the memory of their children. No, I'm not going to kill them. I'm going to take them and make them mine! I am going to give their children the responsibility for their own lives and deaths. I am going, my dear ferryman, to make them into burgeoning unstoppable forces themselves. Only by seeing the end result of that, confronting their own flesh and blood with their ideals in conflict... only then will they realize their defeat, and the wrongess of their previous path!"

"Abducting the children will not be easy. Their parents will doubtless be watchful, and they may have other protection as well." Charon pointed out. "They won't let you just stroll in there and take them."

"Won't they?" Frost said chillingly. "Have dear Uncle Kira come babysit for a little bit, or drop by to say hello, or take the little ones out for an ice cream cone? That's exactly the sort of thing the Boytoy would do. Save for Pink and the Boytoy themselves, I imagine I'll shake hands with the parents before I steal their children out from under their noses, and have a bit of fun with the parents themselves. And the best part is, they're going to blame the Boytoy, at least at first. Eventually of course I will reveal who I am... I can't wait to see their faces... but them thinking Boytoy has betrayed them is its own source of amusement."

"It sounds like you will be quite occupied while you wait for the Kratos to finish building." Charon observed. "Do you wish for me to provide you with a transport craft capable of steathily breaching Orb's Glasshouse?"

"No, I'd like to do things the old fashioned way. I have a lot to learn about the way the world has changed during my time resting in the abyss. A little overland trek is just the thing to get back into the swing of things. As for the ocean, we'll, I'll cross that puddle when I get to it. If I let a measly body of water stand in my way, I'm hardly qualified to be a whetstone of any sort!"

"As you wish. And the technologies of this vault?" Charon asked.

"Withdraw the exo-glass around Mr. Abyss." Frost ordered. He almost expected an arguement, but apparently Noah had expected even the most apparently irrational of commands and programmed them in to his computer-janitor. With a hiss of pressurzing air, the exo-glass slid upwards into the ceiling, leaving only a thin magnetic field between the nanite and the surrounding air. Frost stepped up to the pedastal and put his hands to either side of the black ball, letting small fragments of skin and meat soak away into the hovering ball. He leaned his head forward and brought his forehead up just short of the surface, which seemed to quiver in anticipation.

"You should be warned, even a slight touch of the Black EDEN nanite could lead to catastrophic injury, even for someone with over sixty percent of their bone structure infused with Quantum Crystal matrices." Charon piped up in a louder than normal voice.

"Consider me warned then. And shut up, I'm talking to Mr. Abyss!" Frost snapped irritably.

"You are communicating with the Nanite?" Charon sounded surprised. "That's impossible! Even the Creator could not alter the Black EDEN's programming after initial creation!"

"For someone as smart as Noah is supposed to be, he lacks true brilliance. He let his fear and frustration get between him and his greatest work." Frost sneered, his fingers and hands slowly working, like he was adjusting infestismially small knobs and dials. "They say there is a line between Genius and Insanity. The controls for Mr. Abyss here lie pretty deep on the Insanity side of that line, I'm afraid." Frost's hands twitched a few more times, and beads of sweat appeared on his face... for all his calm demeanor, this was far from easy, and it wasn't like he was following printed instructions either, but rather going entirely by feel. His telekinesis was nothing to shout about, but not much was required for this task. It was truly funny, how Noah had had this awesome technology sitting in his back room all this time, and he was too afraid to use it!

At length, some hours later, Frost opened his eyes... the clawed out one having regrown while his lids were shut... and stepped back from the pedastel, wiping rivers of sweat from his brow with the back of one arm. "Mr. Abyss is quite the stubborn bastard. I like him. But once I showed him who was boss, he got in line quickly enough." Frost reached out and picked up the Black EDEN nanite like it was just a regular ball.

"How did you do that?" Charon blurted, almost sounding amazed.

"Well, the doctor in my head..." Frost tapped his temple again. "Would use terms like "quantum state changes" and "matter transferance ratios", but I've never really cared for scientists or their terms. I'll be purging her shortly. But anyway, my good friend Mr. Abyss here has three modes of existence. Eat mode, which he was just in, Sleep mode, which he's in now, and finally Transport mode, which is like Eat mode, except instead of adding to his own mass, he sends whatever touches him away to a distant spot, instantly." Frost peered at the black ball. "How far away did you say again, Mr. Abyss?" Frost waited a few moments and then let out a whistle. "THAT far huh? That's impressive."

"Directives indicate I must ask you how far the assumed quantum teleportation of the Black EDEN goes." Charon said woodenly.

"Several Light-Days, though Mr. Abyss says that's nothing, he can send stuff much farther than that if he gets a bit bigger. Apparently the larger his mass, the more "quantum points" he can access, and the greater probability that they will be very, very far away."

"Again, I must ask how you achieved this reprogramming. Even the Creator could not figure this out, and yet you have solved it in less than a day..."

"I doubt I could write you a step by step procedure. And even if I did, it would probably corrupt your memory servers. I just have an affinity for dangerous and deadly things, and Mr. Abyss is quite the most dangerous thing I have yet encountered. Besides myself." Frost shrugged and let the black ball tumble from his grip, slamming into the floor with a heavy thump. "Can't think of many ways to use him right now, but I'm sure something will come to me eventually. Something usually does." Frost headed for the vault exit without a single look back. "I guess I'm outta here then, Charon. Don't let the place burn down unless I start the fire."

"Be safe, Frost. The purity of the world depends upon you." Charon answered.

"Purity huh?" Frost chuckled. "Even evil can pure, you may have something with that one, Charon." He paused one more time. "What's the weather like out there?"

"Bright and sunny, high humidity and close to ninety degrees fahrenheit. Why do you ask?"

"Because the world has just entered an ice age. The first Frost is on its way..."

xxxx

Continued in Reclamation War