"No," Karl stated firmly "Out of the question."
"Come on Karl, you'll need us in there. Even a Sentinel can't assault a Chimera tower all on his own." Jack persisted gesturing to the colossal structure before them, tall and mighty. The fight to the entrance they now stood before had not been an easy one, a string of dead Hybrids a testament to their struggle. Despite the joint American British assault there were still plenty of Chimera around.
"One man can move more quietly than three, this won't be about brute force, it'll be about stealth." Karl rationalized shaking his head, helmeted and dark. An ominous shadow appeared to have settled on him since Daniel's death. They had used a grenade to dispose of his body, destroying what was left of his friend utterly. It had hurt him to do that, but it would have hurt him more to leave him there, to be used as food for the Chimera. He had saved the helmet, buried it in the snow nearby. If he had time he'd come back and get it, something of Daniel's deserved to live.
Karl turned his back on the pair, thinking the argument over, but Steve, who was standing next to Jack surprised him by stepping forward.
"That's a bullshit answer and you know it, Karl." The dark skinned man said grabbing him by the shoulder, a big mistake. In a single move Karl rounded on him and twisted, bringing the soldier around until he was at his mercy, arm able to be broken in a heartbeat.
"You will obey my orders!" he snarled, practically visor to visor with his comrade.
"This isn't about logic," Steve whispered ignoring the pain "This is about you being scared of losing us. Daniel told us what happened at Norwich, it wasn't your fault Karl, no one could have known." Karl stared daggers at the man from behind the tinted glass, and his grip tightened, but still the man continued. "Their deaths weren't your fault, they all knew what they were doing when they signed up for this, and Daniel knew that too."
"AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM!" Karl roared tossing the man to the snowy ground, turning away from them both, smashing his fist against the wall of the tower. "No life, no purpose, not even a grave. Do you want to end up like him?"
"No," Jack replied "But we want to stop the same happening to you."
The words sobered Karl up fast. They were willing to face death and worse, to go into the very maw of the abyss itself, just to keep him alive? The thought lit a fire in his soul which temporarily fought back the shadows, if not banish them.
"You can radio in a VTOL and keep an exit for me, stay nearby in case I need a hand fast," Karl finally resolved turning around to face them once more. "That's the best I can do." Jack looked like he was about to object, but a look from Steve quieted him. With twin nods they turned, already organising that VTOL.
With a final wave neither saw Karl turned around to face the entrance, pulling his Bullseye from its clip on his leg, making sure the Carbine still clung to his back. Both were loaded with as much ammo as he could carry, along with a couple of grenades. All scrounged up from the less fortunate on the battlefield.
With a deep breath Karl entered the labyrinth, walking to the huge circular elevator and activating it, the thing slowly carrying him up into the heart of the tower. He was no white knight, no hero, but he would be damned if he would let Lina go to her death without a fight. A small "Good luck." came over the radio, from Jack or Steve, or even the Intelligence Officer Alex he couldn't tell. Transmissions from outside would be few and far between in here, the tower walls would see to that.
"I'm glad you decided to accept my invitation." An elated British voice taunted from his radio, on a line only his team knew.
"Come out Tom so I can kill you!" Karl yelled to the tower as the elevator reached its peak, as if expecting the red haired man to materialize out of thin air.
"Hmm let me consider... No." Tom replied chuckling "However, if you truly think you can kill me Karl, Lina and I are exactly twenty floors above you right now. I'll be expecting you." With that the connection was cut, and Karl gripped his Bullseye a little tighter. Tom sounded confidant, and what's more unstable. Karl fidgeted as he scanned the room. It was empty, so how did the man know where he was?
He began moving down the gunmetal grey corridor before him, the hisses of steam and the distant clanking of automatic machinery his only companions. He kept to the right side, clinging to the wall as if it were a lifeline, trying hard to make as little noise as possible, checking each corner before he rounded it. He spotted a few distant menials and some patrol drones, but he gave them a wide berth.
Reaching a ramp Karl began to climb, walkway spiralling in slow circles around the small room as it ascended. The Sentinel began to pant as the weight of his armour and weapons bore him down, making what would ordinarily be an easy walk a mountain hike. When he reached the top he leaned against the wall, catching his breath, raspy even without the respirator. He was now about five stories closer to his goal, and still no significant resistance.
The reason became apparent in the next room.
He opened the door, and stopped as he saw what the room contained, frozen like a rabbit caught in a car's headlights. Senses taking over Karl dived to the ground, trying to lie as flat as he could, to make himself invisible to the thousands of marauding eyes below. He was on a walkway, surrounded by black tinted glass, suspended above a room which probably could have held a couple of football fields easily. But that wasn't what had Karl worried; it was the gigantic swarm of Chimera which stretched out like an endless sea below.
Hybrids, Leapers, Howlers, GreyJacks, Titans, Widowmakers, all of them were strode forward in one single unorganized sprawl, often trampling one another as they advanced. Karl lay still not even daring to breath, waiting for the inevitable cry of alarm to go out. But nothing happened, and careful as a mouse he raised his head, then his torso, no reaction to either. Finally standing up he waved his hand before the glass, clearly it was a one way window.
But this new confidence faded instantly as the Angel flew by, Karl scrambling for the floor once more as the creature soared past like a squid through water. It darted back and forth across the masses beneath it, seemingly intent on their progress. If it was single handily moving every one of these soldiers then it must have its hands full. Shadow passing over Karl one more time he stood up, and for just a second the Angel's eyes seemed to lock on him, golden suns full of hate. He shivered as it turned back to the hoard, and slowly the Sentinel edged across the walkway.
He reached the other side and letting out a sigh of relief entered the hatchway waiting there. It was a small tunnel, and seemed to continue upwards which was exactly what he wanted. Steam and gas filled the confined space as he proceeded through it, hissing from nozzles positioned on the sides at regular intervals, pooling at Karl's feet. He was glad for the gas mask; he doubted the odour would have been pleasant.
The tunnel seemed to stretch on for miles; Karl walking along it for at least ten minutes with no end in sight. It continued to rise, though with some twists and deviations along the way. He tried working the radio a few times, but all he got was static. Tom was keeping quiet, and Jack and Steve must be behind too many steel walls, not that he had actually expected to reach anyone, enemy or ally.
But he was wrong, something did hear him.
With a crash an Angel burst through the top of the tunnel, tremendous bulk practically filling the small cramped space before him, doubled in on itself in its attempts to squeeze into the circular corridor. Karl trained his Bullseye on it, compact rifle braced tightly against the crook of his arm. But something held him back; the Angel was just hovering there, giving a slight keening noise from its snake like mouth. He held his fire, inching backwards. Considering how quickly this beast had moved earlier he estimated he might get off ten shots before it reached him, and then...well there wouldn't be much to say after that.
"You always were religious weren't you Karl?" Tom sung over the radio, voice off key. Karl just kept backing up, step by step, never letting his eye off the Chimera for a second, not even allowing himself to blink. A bout of loud mocking laughter erupted from the headpiece, merging horribly with the Angel's own shriek. And for a second, just a fraction of a second, Karl swore he saw a floating specter of Tom floating ominously before the monster, three sets of eyes flashing gold.
The brief second of hesitation gave the Angel just the opening it needed. Gathering up it propelled itself down the small cylindrical passageway, shockwave trailing in the mist behind it. Unhindered it made terrific speed, and Karl knew any chance of fending it off with fire had been lost. But that didn't mean it was over. With one final pump its four appendages the Angel lashed out, seeking to impale Karl from all sides. It would have got him if he'd stood his ground, but he'd long since ruled that out. Instead he rolled underneath its sweeping charge, just managing to fit into the small gap between it and the floor, holding up his combat knife as he did so.
The Angel went straight overhead, and with a flash of red he caught it right along the chest, between its two bottom arms. Brown and orange scales ripped as the knife caught, and the monster thrashed as it felt the damage, stumbling like a wounded spider in the air, muscles twitching. It rounded on Karl, but he was ready. Aiming at the floor with his Bullseye he fired a tag, and then holding down his finger emptied the entire clip into it, forming a scarlet vortex of energy.
The beast was halfway into another run when it saw the Bullseye trap, halting just in time. Hissing it backed away from the swirling ammo, the tunnel too small to bypass it without injury, not to mention the prospect of Karl setting it off. The Angel hovered, snapping at the air as crimson leaked down its chest, the tag would only last for so long, it could wait.
Without a second thought Karl turned and fled, sprinting along the tunnel as fast as his legs would take him. That Chimera would be on him like a demon out of hell when that tag inspired, he laughed dryly at the accidental joke as he pounded up the path. Demon, angel what was the difference? A small click sounded on his Bullseye, a red light on its top fading away simultaneously, and behind him he heard a familiar terrifying roar, one which rebounded and echoed in the tight confines of the tunnel, the metallic quality added to the pitch making it all the more terrifying. The tag had expired, now it was a race.
He reached a checkpoint, a small box like chamber not much bigger than a garage separating the two parts halves of the passage. Not even pausing Karl took out both Menials manning it with a single swing of his gun, twisted necks killing them instantly. He activated the small yellow turn switch as he passed, and with a sense of relief the hatch sealed behind him, he was safe!
The Angel reached the now shut door, the sound of incredible force impacting with metal audible. Scraping and scratching filled Karl's ears, and he backed up gun raised and loaded in response, stepping over the Menial's corpses cautiously. With a blow which Karl could only marvel at an arm burst through the door, punching through about 6 inches of reinforced steel as though it were paper. Swearing the Sentinel opened fire on the exposed limb, but it was useless, the creature was so incensed with blood lust he doubted a tank could have stopped it. Laughter filtered in over the radio, Tom was having a ball.
"You wouldn't shoot an Angel would you Karl?" Tom questioned with glee, and Karl recoiled involuntarily. The Angel's face had appeared in the quickly widening hole in the door, and its jaws with perfect synchronicity mouthed every word Tom said, as if the two were one. Karl aimed another burst, orange arrows catching the beast right on the nose. He had two options, run or fight, and seeing the lack of care of the monster for its wounds he once more opted for the first.
Swinging into the entrance at the other end of the checkpoint he dashed through the tunnel, feet clanging on the metal framework under his feet, himself only barely able to make it out over the sound of his beating heart. He could hear the Angel giving chase, but he didn't dare to turn around and see how close. He reached another checkpoint, and again taking out a pair of Menials hit the switch, not sticking around this time to see if the door would hold.
Karl's retreat began to blur, seeming to consist of an endless terrifying cycle of running, delaying and fighting. He ran through the identical circular corridors, took and sealed checkpoints as they came, and when the beast got too close bathed it in gunfire. But despite his efforts it gained on him with every step, each time getting just a little closer before he reached the next door. He was tiring too, body covered in a layer of sweat and grime, the adrenaline which had driven him so ferociously earlier was quickly becoming a limited resource.
Gasping for breath the Black Op stumbled around the corner. And seeing another checkpoint, staggered towards it, foot falls heavy. He reached the room, and practically toppling himself downed the lone Menial waiting there, sealing the room a second later. He turned around, ready to move into the next passage, but was faced with nothing but a shiny blank wall. This was the end of the line; nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
With a thump the Angel reached the hatch behind him. Perhaps it had sensed he had given up, or maybe it just knew there was no way out, either way it seemed to take its time. Slowly Karl twisted his neck around, trying to see how long he had, but he jerked, tired eyes flicking to the corner. He had been wrong, there was another way out!
He ran to the gate, filling the entire right wall of the room. Tiredness forgotten he searched everywhere for a switch, a button, a computer, anything. He finally saw the machinery to the side, and moved over to it. Hitting the big glowing button the power core in the machine crackled with electrical energy, and slowly but surely the door began to ascend upwards.
A particularly vigorous crash brought him back to the Angel, Karl turning around just in time to see two large serpent arms flailing around from the now half crushed doorway. The Sentinel quickly went from admiring the console to counting the seconds as the door rose, why was it taking so damn long? Behind him the gaps in the hatchway were getting wider with every second, howling and screaming filling the room as the Angel worked itself into a fury.
Finally up high enough to duck under Karl was on the other side, and moving hastily to the console to his left found and hit the close button. The power core sparked, and then slowly the door ground to a halt, and then just as slowly began to edge downwards, inching towards the bottom and safety.
"YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE ME THAT EASILY!" the radio and Angel howled in their satanic mesh of words and scream, human and alien. And the room opposite him exploded with debris, the Angel amongst it like a hurricane within its storm. Karl stepping opened fire, swearing after each burst, the door was still half open.
With a roar the monster reached the door, and with barely a pause began crawling through. Karl fired another tag, creating a vortex directly in its path, but it lashed out, arm shredding as it drove it through the horde of bullets, willingly sacrificing the limb to get under the door. Still backing up the Black Op loaded another clip, trying not to panic, firing with small precise bursts.
The Angel took every shot and kept on coming, its wounds only making it more determined. With a click the magazine told Karl it was empty, and before he could reload another he was tripped, a snake like limb coiling around his ankle. The beast gnashed its teeth furiously, rancid breath that of the grave. Quickly another arm grabbed the Sentinel, and then another, ready to tear him apart. That was until the door began lowering into the Angel's back.
Struggling Karl could see the cogs working inside the alien's skull. If it let him go it might be able to escape, but then so could Karl. If it hurried however it might be still able to kill Karl before itself died. It chose the latter. Screaming the Angel's grip tightened, determined to end him before it itself was ended. Blood, guts and bones began to pour from its chest, and its howling became muffled as its lungs were squeezed free of air. Karl gasped as the tentacles constricted around him, trying to break free, but the beast was too strong, driven, possessed. And it was then, with an almighty splat the Angel exploded, and flung Karl to the floor, who lay there gasping, staring at the mangled corpse.
Breathing deeply Karl clambered up, and eyeing the alien remains with distaste began looking for his dropped Bullseye. He found it all right, and for what seemed like the millionth time broken, half crushed under one of the Angel's detached limbs. Sighing Karl pulled his Carbine free from its holster, turning the safety off and running a standard check. He was sure that the chase must have brought him up the necessary twenty floors if not more, and, spotting a door moved towards. It wasn't like he had any choice anyway.
Karl hit a button, and the door opened to reveal an elevator, and without hesitation the Sentinel stepped into it, turning another golden switch on the other side. He massaged his sides gently as he went down, wincing from the bruises he knew were already forming there, a final parting gift from the Angel. Slowly the elevator ceased its descent; and with a short sharp hiss the doors parted, the room temperature which Karl had taken for granted up until now vanishing in a blast of ice. The cold cruel kiss of the wind buffeted him, and temporarily taken back he attempted to cover his visor with his hand, snowflakes already clouding his vision.
The Black Op had stumbled upon one of the main battle stations of the tower, open to the air along the whole right side of the room. Everywhere he looked Menials and Hybrids were either running back and forth, loading the string of anti-air and arterially guns firing into the distance or else refueling a small group of aircraft up back. In the corner a string of Carriers were bringing in human dead by the dozens, forcing Karl to look away in disgust as the Chimera leaped on them savagely, a massive winged Dragoon downing a medic in a single swallow.
Still in the shadow of the alcove Karl glanced left and right. The place was a swarming hive which could sting him to death a thousand times over, and try as he might he could spot no way he could ever hope to sneak through. Suddenly the roaring of aircraft engines caught his attention, and looking to the back of the massive room saw the Chimera had evidently finished refuelling. As if by some unspoken signal every single strain simultaneously began moving to the sides, not wanting to get in the way of the take off. For about 10 seconds all eyes were on the walls
Karl didn't hesitate, without a sound he ran, sprinting across the wide open space. He had already glimpsed a possible exit in the opposite corner, just to the left of the guns, and now he angled for it. The sound of the aircraft filled his ears as he they flew overhead, practically deafening him. A few seconds of noise, and then they were gone, and he knew that any moment now the creatures would turn around, and he was only halfway there!
Gathering every last bit of energy his tired body could muster the Sentinel drove for the door, and in a mighty flying dive flung himself into the hallway just as the Chimera behind him returned to work, he had made it! Pulling himself up Karl had just enough time breathe a sigh of relief before he looked up, right into the eyes of another Hybrid, mouth agape and evidently on some sort of patrol of the hallway.
Before the sentry could even blink Karl slogged it across the face, and grabbing the Hybrid by the wrist hurled in back into the hanger he had just cleared, over a dozen different alien throats crying out in realization as he sealed the door using a turn switch. Swearing he whipped around, already running, knowing that wouldn't hold them for long. Taking a turn Karl was confronted with another door, and as the circular panels slide apart he froze, eyes wide. The grey walls had been replaced by a winter snowstorm and the flooring by a long thin walkway. He wasn't in the tower anymore, and inching forward looked over the edge.
Below him, stretched out as far as he could see in all directions was London, a raging war zone. A ring of tanks had assembled, and firing their massive cannons sent shells ripping into the fray, killing dozens with every explosion. Beside and before them soldiers were assembled, using whatever cover they could find, muzzles flashing as they poured bullets into the enemy before them. Hovering above VTOL's and Kingfisher's dueled with Dragoon's amongst the stormy sky, dodging the AA fire which went streaking up towards them. From the base of the tower Hybrids, Titans, Howlers, Stalkers and more poured from doors and bays, numbering in their thousands. They were gunned down almost as soon as they appeared, but the stream never faltered, the Angels urging their troops into battle with no remorse. With their numbers they had only to kill one human for every hundred of their own, and the bodies of the fallen only served as cover for those who came behind them.
This scene, so beautiful in the flashes of explosions and guns, yet so horrible in the sheer level of carnage, entranced Karl, mesmerised at the combination of death and splendor. If a Hybrid had approached him from behind at that moment they could have gunned him down without any resistance. It was only when the sound of the hallway door exploding behind him did he snap out of it, the snarling of many mouths and clicking of many clawed feet forcing him to think rationally. He turned and with a flick of hand closed the door, locking it.
Knowing again that the door would only buy him so much time Karl dashed up the walkway, keeping low in case anything above or below decided they didn't like a human walking around on their tower. Strangely the walkway appeared abandoned, not a single Hybrid in sight, a clear run. The lone Black Op was certainly puzzled, but shrugged it off as the chaos of war. Little did Karl know that this along with everything before it was just one more step in the sadistic scheme of a psychopath. For just at that moment a figure dropped from the top of the tower, free falling over 40 stories worth of air in a second. Lowering his weapon Karl could only stare in amazement as he saw the shadow on a fast course to be splattered all over the walkway, yet...stopped? Jumper slowing to a gentle landing, a fan elevator positioned right beneath it.
"You've faced Angels Karl," Tom whispered over the radio, voice utterly filled with malice. "Now you must face your demons!"
The free faller rose from where it had landed, striding forward. A sharp intact of breath, the skipping of a heartbeat, the twitch of his inner finger, all this and more Karl's body did involuntary as the monster emerged. Eyes both artificial and organic rolled in their sockets, fingers twitched above the twin Bullseye's in its hip holsters, electric blue lines of electricity roving up and down its armor. Standing before him was an Immortal, the same one which had taken a sniper round to the head and survived, the same one which had so neatly trapped his squad in the canyons, the same one which came from a strain by all accounts no one had ever killed.
Karl brought his Carbine up, bullets flying before he'd even halfway raised it, pelting the beast as fast and as hard as he could. But the Immortal seemed to dance around the shots, blurring as it darted back and forth, not a single round landing. Snarling Karl reloaded, running forward, adding a 40 millimeter grenade to the barrage, but nothing touched it. The Immortal didn't even try to fight back, just weaved around his futile attempts at resistance, as if purposely showing him how useless it was.
Karl just kept plugging away, unwilling to give up, advancing slowly as he unloaded clip after clip after clip. With a click signaling the end of yet one more magazine he reached for another, and found his pouch empty. Groaning he reached for a grenade, but before his fingers could even brush the casing a shot rang out, the explosive cluttering to the ground. The Immortal had shot out the very explosive mechanism!
Quickly and systemically the Immortal disarmed him. Carbine blown from his hands, grenades triggers sliced off, even his knife wasn't given lease, spinning from his hand before he so much as touched it. Fists clenched Karl charged, knowing it was in vain but determined to go down fighting. But the monster didn't even give him the mercy of a quick death, and flashing to the right dodged his first swing, whirling around to slam the butt of both guns into the back of Karl's head, driving him down to all fours.
World spinning and vision blurring Karl barely noticed the door exploding behind him, nor the scores of Chimera swarming up the walkway from its wreckage. Utterly surrounded, the thought never even came into his head to escape, and didn't even resist as the Immortal knocked the helmet from skull, visor shattering as it did so. He didn't move, didn't act, didn't think, but something changed that.
"Karl, are you out there?" A familiar voice, Jack's, filled Karl's ears. His head darted up, brown hair trailing in the wind, blue eyes searching for the source of the noise. The answer came a moment later, his discarded helmet, balancing on the very edge of the walkway, mere centimetres from plummeting to the snowy ground far below.
"Captain, if you're alive sound off!" another voice added, sounding like Steve's. Sudden realization hit his heart, the VTOL! And leaning forward Karl went to speak, biting back frostbite as he sought to use his tongue to form words. But something held him back; something stopped him from calling to his friends for help. What would happen if he did call them? The AA net around the tower would be a treacherous thing for even a skilled pilot to overcome, not to even speak of the fight at the end sure to be messy whatever happened. The faces of those at Norwich came back stronger than ever, men and women he had unwittingly led to their deaths. Slowly he lowered his head, not saying a word; he would go down without bringing his friends down with him.
The Immortal towered over him like an executioner, tall and mighty. Slowly and tenderly it eased the Bullseye up under his chin, raising him to his knees, and then without warning slashed him across the face, razor sharp claws slicing into his skin. Gasping, searing hot blood bathing his ice cold face, Karl could only stare as the monster primed the Bullseye, pointing it at his throat, and then without warning switched to the arm.
"You're a coward, you know that?"
The words and the bullet hit Karl as one, knocking him off his hunches, falling to the floor, face pressed against the grill. That voice was so familiar, cutting him to the bone just like bullet. Looking up, face scrunched up in pain, Karl could only stare in amazement, as the figure of Daniel, real as life, stood over him, face grim "Impossible." Karl muttered.
"Not in here." Daniel replied tapping himself on the forehead, staring down at him. "Calling me a hallucination would probably be accurate, but that doesn't matter, what matters is this Karl. Just why aren't you letting your team help you?"
"Because I don't want them to die for me." Karl replied as the Immortal stepped over him, slowly pointing it's Bullseye to his leg.
"Wrong. You're doing this doing this because you're scared."
"No!" Karl all but spat between gritted teeth, clutching his leg, lances of hurt travelling up and down his body. "How...can...you say...that?
"You're afraid of the pain you felt when the Chimera used you as bait to get the rest of your squad in Norwich, you're fearful of the hurt you felt again when I died." Daniel continued, counting off each sentence with a finger "You feel responsible for your squad, that anything that befalls them is your own fault. "
"This is... bullshit!" Karl hissed angrily trying to overcome the pain stemming from the wound "You're telling me... to just let... them die?"
"No." Daniel stated, kneeling down over Karl, placing a hand on his heart. "I'm telling you to let people in."
Thrashing as another shot rang out, this one stabbing into his other arm. Karl could only yell as Daniel, or whatever delusion which had conjured him vanished as if he had never been there. Bleeding furiously the Sentinel's mind wrenched itself in one direction then the other, torn in indecision. Body aflame he stared hard at his hand, the blood still there from where he had last held Daniel, and finally he made his choice.
"Team X-ray this is Captain Karl Manex, I'm on a platform on the east side of the tower, I need help." Karl yelled in the direction of the fallen helmet, hoping the mike still worked, praying the receiver would pick up his voice in all this wind. He didn't have a chance to say anything more; with another bout of inhuman screeching the Immortal picked him up, clawed fist grasping him by the neck. Bullseye pressed to his forehead Karl could see its clawed finger pressing down on the trigger; hear the hum of energy as the bullets coursed through the barrel.
Gunfire flashed like lightning from the heavens, catching the Immortal straight in the chest, bullets meant for Karl spraying wildly into the air. Rotor blades chopping through the misty sky a beat up VTOL came into view, Steve at the helm and Jack manning the door cannon. Packed closely together the a series of Hybrids were put down in rapid succession, those not already fallen scrambling to return fire, US rangers and main cannons coming around in return.
Knowing this might be his only chance Karl lashed out, armored boot catching the wounded Immortal right in the stomach. Enraged the injured beast fought back, knocking the rising Sentinel back with a kick of his own, swiftly darting out of the way of the pitiful punches Karl raised in his defense. Spittle and crimson trailing from its angular jaws it raised its guns, ready to end him, but then its eyes flicked around, hesitating. Despite a fierce battle the VTOL had eliminated most of the nearby Chimera, and with a final gurgle the Immortal fled, blue electricity flaring across its body as it ran up the walkway.
"Karl, use this!" Jack yelled, tossing him a Fareye sniper rifle. Weapon falling into his arms locked and loaded Karl hopped around to face the fleeing Chimera, watching as with a hiss of triumph it jumped onto the airlift, artificial currents pushing it into the air. The Sentinel tracked it through the scope, a one in a million shot, with wind resistance, an erratic target and blistering pain in his arms and legs. But closing his eyes Karl smiled, and then fired.
The bullet caught the Immortal right in the head, force of the slug literally blasting the beast face first into the tower wall. Slowly, almost peacefully the monster peeled away from the metal, plummeting down like a nightmarish ragdoll, and with the sounds of bones splintering it hit the walkway, floor denting from the impact. It whimpered as it lay there, against all odds still alive, and striding over to it Karl rammed the barrel of the Fareye into its mouth.
The noise, the bullet, the gore, the Immortal was dead.
Dropping the sniper rifle Karl stepped over the Chimera's corpse, and turning around was met with cheers and whistles, US rangers shaking their fists in triumph over his and their own victory. Jack waved, and Karl thought he even saw Steve give him a thumbs up from behind the cockpit. It wasn't all good news; Karl noticed several empty spaces on the VTOL's deck, but his team had made in through intact, and despite everything which had happened, all the Black Op could do was smile.
"Very good, Karl."
Karl flinched, words striking him like a cold blow to the stomach. Slowly he turned around, fists clenched, and sure enough standing at the very top of the walkway was Tom, helmet off, fiery and pale gaunt face leering in a joyous grin. Karl could only stare in despair as he saw the weapon in his hands, a LAARK rocket launcher, pointed directly at the hovering gunship.
With a bang a missile discharged from the weapon, slicing through the cold air with ease. It angled downwards at first, looking as if to be a clean miss, but with a click Tom activated the guidance system, red laser sight resting dead on the VTOL, and with a whoosh it soared upwards, exploding right into the soft underbelly of the transport, no piloting skill in the world able to deflect such a shot.
Karl stumbled forwards, towards the doomed aircraft, towards his doomed friends. A voice was yelling in his ears, and with a start he realised it was his own. The vehicle was bathed in flames, engulfing the whole thing in seconds. Men fell burning and screaming from its sides, Steve was working frantically at the controls and Jack was trying to get off a shot as they fell, gun reduced to slag in his hands. Smoke and sound belched from the vehicle it spun out of control, down, down, down, the crash as it smashed into the ground far below just barely audible.
"So much for the fabled X-ray team." Tom murmured softly, a vicious smile coming to his lips as he lowered his weapon. Karl was senseless, it wasn't possible, it wasn't even comprehensible. He couldn't accept it, his team were alive he knew it! But thoughts did not bring them back, the air remained empty, the radio stayed dead. Karl's world narrowed to a single person, Tom, the man who had just taken the lives of two of his closest comrades with a smirk on his face while he did it. He would MURDER HIM!
Karl turned and bellowing like a wounded animal charged, gun alien to him, knife like an old friend. Wounds forgotten and revenge fuelling him he barely registered the dart catching him in the neck, the mind numbing toxins surging through his neural system, blurring his vision and slackening his muscles. He managed to make just three more steps before he collapsed, the last thing his mind registered before slipping into unconsciousness, that he had once again failed his friends.
Cold, that was the first thing Karl felt, stinging biting cold, that and pain. Running along his cheek and down his side, the Sentinel opened his eyes, and blinked as he found his face pressed to the floor. He went to move, only to find he couldn't, long thick criss-crossing cables binding him to the ground. Panicking he thrashed against his bonds, recollection coming back as he did so. Daniel, Tom, the tower, the Angel, the VTOL, the explosion. Each moment flicked across his mind like a waking nightmare, he screamed, but nobody would ever hear him, he was gagged as well.
The sound of heavy footsteps brought Karl's attention back to his surroundings, the Black Op's already narrow view of the room further constricted by the appearance of a pair of military boots. Slowly the figure bent over, and like a grinning corpse Tom's face leaned down from up high, extending a hand to pull back the cloth covering Karl's mouth. Roaring Karl bit down hard, drawing blood, Tom never even flinched, just smiled.
Finally Karl could take the vile taste no longer, and hissing spat it out. He looked up the golden eyed monster "Traitor." He breathed.
"Only from a certain point of view, Karl". Tom replied coolly, towering over his former friend as he stood back up, "In fact I would go as far as to say that in terms of betrayal, your country was the one to draw first blood." He continued turning his back voice rising "York was only the beginning. Ever since I joined the Sentinel program it's been one lie after another, lies about finding a cure, lies about retaking Britain. Lies! Lies! Lies!"
Breathing heavily Tom rounded on Karl once more. "Do you know everything about the Sentinels is a scam?" he asked, grabbing Karl by the neck "They spread the story we have natural immunity, but in truth they inject us with the Chimera virus purposely. We're walking weapons, used up and then cast aside when the infection runs too far. Isn't that right Lina?" he added almost as an afterthought.
It was then that Karl noticed sounds of movement, and straining his neck was just barely able to make out what appeared to be the boots of what he could only assume was the female Black Op. "You're a monster." Karl stated turning back to face Tom, eyes shining with fury, "Nothing you say or do will ever convince me otherwise." In truth doubt wormed through his mind, could what he be saying really be true? He had known none of this.
"Keep your thoughts to yourself then, I care nothing for them." Tom bit back sharply, and stalking towards the downed Sentinel undid his bonds, jumping back quickly as Karl tore the last few off himself, ready to kill, only stopping as Tom almost lazily pulled free a Magnum hand gun, strangely solemn. Above the sound of doors sliding open could be heard, and looking up Karl saw a series of observation decks, and from the six different entrances in the six different walls appeared dark cloaked figures.
"I met them in Northern Command; they were the ones which killed Fred and Jade." Tom explained as they tossed back their hoods, exposing ghastly pale faces, stained with the blood of countless past slaughters. "The Cloven. I feared them at first, but then I began to understand. I've made a deal with the devil, of that I have no illusions, Karl. But let me tell you this, I would make a deal with a thousand devils to see England restored, the new powers I've learned to control can do that, all they require is a sacrifice."
"Us." Karl stated, looking at each Cloven in turn "They wanted you to kill your old squad before joining theirs?"
"In a way, it's more a ritual than anything else." and with a flick of his wrist a knife appeared in Tom's hand "It's just you and me, Karl; the others are only here to watch."
The two stood opposite, staring daggers. Tom dancing his knife around his fingers with casual ease, licking his bloodless lips, Karl breathing deeply, shoving aside his past injuries, drawing his own slightly smaller but still deadly combat knife. He took one last look at Lina, and then closing his eyes put her and all other distractions out of mind, focusing on the objective, to kill, to avenge Daniel, Jack and Steve. That was all that mattered.
Yelling Karl charged, knife before him like a bayonet, and in one last step lunged, blade sliding with almost sickening ease into Tom's body. The traitor staggered, staring intently at his stomach and the weapon now lodged there. He stumbled back, but did not fall, the expanding patch of blood slowing and after several moments stopped, and in three smooth movements Tom pulled the blade free, reversed it, and ran it into Karl's abdomen. More shocked than hurt, the Sentinel could only stare at Tom in disbelief; hands gripping the hilt of the weapon, tears coming to his eyes as he pulled three inches of solid steel free, whimpering as he did so. "Impossible…" he muttered, staring at the man, Tom's wound closing even as he watched.
Tom didn't give him a chance to say anything further. Darting forward he punched and slashed, fist and blade moving fast as lightning, Karl just barely managing to get his own knife up in time, fighting for his life with one hand while clasping his wound with the other, losing blood and ground with every step. Narrowly avoiding a fatal lunge Karl slipped past his enemy's guard, stabbing him in the shoulder, but Tom simply shrugged it off, kneeing him in the face and spun, catching Karl twice more across the sides, casting him back.
Without a word they met again, sparks flying as the blades locked. With a bone crunching crack Tom head-butted Karl back, only for him to in turn grab Tom by the throat, bringing him down in an impressive throw. But upon landing the man twisted, and grabbing the Sentinel pulled him down with him, both tumbling to the floor in a clash of steel, fist and pain alike. Gripping him by the wrist Karl tried desperately to wrench the knife from Tom's hands, but he proved incredibly strong, too much for him. Countering the move Tom twisted Karl's hand, adding yet further slashes to him with his still free arm, and after a brief struggle threw the Black Op off him.
Pain wracking his body Karl rose to meet him again, but Tom only assailed him with more blows, well and truly on the warpath now, overwhelming his opponent utterly. In a last ditch attempt to stop him Karl hurled his weapon, angling straight for Tom's head. The knife struck, and there was a sudden pause, both men staring at the wound; Tom lowering the hand which he raised to defend himself, knife driven right through. Suddenly Tom laughed, and pulling the blade free, ran his tongue along its side, savoring the taste, and still shrieking like a hyena hurled the weapon aside.
It's didn't take long after that, Tom advancing on Karl like an unstoppable dreadnought, pounding the Black Op so hard it made his head spin, a small shove all it took to send him to the ground. Weakly Karl tried to clamber back up, to resume his attack. But Tom was already there, blocking the single blow he managed to raise in his defense. "Face it Karl, there's nothing you can do." a fist going into his stomach "After all…" another fist "you're still…" a third "only…" a fourth "…human." And with a hiss Tom kicked Karl in the stomach, sending him skidding to the ground.
Chest heaving Tom stood over the Sentinel's crumpled body, knife disappearing as quickly as it had come. Pulling out his Magnum he opened up the barrel, six golden bullets like precious bird eggs huddled inside. "I hope you're watching, Karl." He added nudging the man with his boot as he stepped over him, preparing to put a bullet in Lina's skull. Victory was his, and with Karl down Lina served no other purpose than to be one more torture Karl would have to suffer before he himself died.
But Tom did not turn to see Lina, bound and helpless, but free and inches from his face, dark eyes shining with all the darkness of a demon. "Dropping the knife," she murmured almost seductively into his ear, "Was a foolish mistake." Words soft, yet laced with venom, and with that she ran Karl's blade straight through his heart, hand slipping the other knife out of his belt, and spinning around drove both weapons into his chest, twisting and ripping.
Groaning, Karl pulled himself up just in time to witness Lina kicking the corpse to the ground, stepping over the body as casually as one does a puddle. It was the first good look Karl had got of her, and it was only now he realized the beating Tom must have given her. Blue, black and purple bruises were anywhere there was skin, dried blood coating her like a robe. Even with the Chimera virus it was a wonder she was still standing, the strain alone would have sent any ordinary soldier into shock.
Lina seemed to walk towards him in slow motion, each slow step of her boots as if underwater, her long black hair swaying in time, utterly clueless to what rose behind her. Shrieking and blood splattered Tom came up from the floor like a nightmarish statue of liberty, bathed in red, eyes pure golden fire, unyielding, unseeing, unholy. There was no trace of humanity left, nothing to link Tom to the man he had once been, something inside him had broken, and in a single punch the beast sent Lina crashing into the wall.
Choking as she rose Lina looked up at the monstrosity, a hybrid of all that was wrong with humanity and Chimera. Without even glancing she tossed one of her knives to Karl, and in unison they charged, driving straight for the leviathan. The pair attacked it like nothing else, poetry in motion. Karl had always been handy with a knife, and despite the pain moved faster than he ever had before, and Lina with her reflexes enhanced by the virus seemed to glide rather than step into every move. Together the two should have been able overwhelm any single threat that stood before them, yet alone one unarmed.
But this monster was beyond any single threat, far beyond. It's hands like crimson hellfire blocked, parried and deflected every single blow which came its way, the dozens of fresh gashes and gouges appearing there bubbling and fizzing, healing over almost as soon as they appeared. Not even caring for their resistance the beast continued to advance; taking the endless storm of slashes and stabs without a murmur. Leaning back the monster punched, and with a cry Lina staggered, clutching her side, her attack faltering. Karl tried to cover her, only to be slammed back himself, boots steaming with friction as he tried to stay on his feet, struggling not to double over in pain.
Now spilt up they flung themselves at its flanks, striking from his left and right, attempting to bring the titan down. But even pressed on two sides the remnant of what was Tom defeated them utterly, moving like a golem, stoic as stone. Lashing out Karl was caught across the chest, a single kick knocking him to the floor, monster looming over him, its fist preparing to extinguish his life. Lina sneered, out of hatred of the beast or Karl's failure unknown, and leaped onto the beast's back.
Blade gripped between her hands she drove down, forcing the knife into the creature's spine. The steel bit deep, but in a flash the monster had Lina by the neck, blasting her into a support column, knocking Karl back as he attempted to intervene. Trying to call on energy reserves which just weren't there the Sentinel attempted to rise, and failed, his legs jelly. Berating himself inside his head he tried again. He was about to lose all that was left of his team, all because he couldn't get on his damn feet!
Blue eyes fixed on Lina's struggles, Karl's hands ran along the grill like floor, attempting to summon the strength and coordination to drag himself back up. Still staggering the Sentinel's felt his hand brush something smooth and sleek, and looking down saw what was possibly the most welcome sight ever, Tom's discarded Magnum. Snatching it up Karl rolled and fired, the sting of gunpowder lashing across his face as one after the other each bullet ploughed through the creature's skull. It never even knew what hit it, and with a final blood curdling screech the beast...Tom fell dead.
The room was filled with silence, as if a void had sucked up all sound when the monster died. Lina, slowly and painfully pulled herself to her feet, face grim, left arm hanging limply at her side. Karl slowly lowered the Magnum, a small flat smile coming to his face, this time it was truly over, this time it was truly done.
Both Sentinels were snapped out of their thoughts by the sound of many Bullseye's cocking. Lina and Karl looking up to see the Cloven's weapons now raised, voices rising in a recurring chant, eyes flashing gold. Heads flicking back and forth as they looked for an escape route, a way out. But they were surrounded on all sides and almost entirely unarmed, nothing nearby would save them for long.
The moment seemed to stretch out, seconds turning into minutes. Lina and Karl back to back as they faced down the circle of Cloven. Karl's eyes darted from one to the other, waiting for the inevitable signal, legs tensing ready to make a run for it. If he could draw their fire, Lina might have a shot at escape, he wouldn't be getting far in any case, his body was literally held together by suit and spirit.
But something suddenly changed; the silent immobile Cloven shuddered, as if a cold thought had run across their minds. They lowered their weapons, glancing left and right, as if confused, as if they sensed something none of them could understand. Lina behind him breathed in, hand going to her head, what was happening?
Abruptly every Cloven clutched their heads, dropping their weapons, stumbling back and forth, some falling to their knees, others gouging at their wrists, all of them screaming. Karl nearly collapsed under the weight of it, the horrible symphony of unearthly shrieks filling his ears and digging into his skull. Lina, behind him was little better, clutching her own head, clearly in torment. Karl grabbed her, trying to keep her steady, she was muttering under her breath.
"The voices, they're in pain, I can't shut them out." She whispered, as the room began to shake, a deep slow rumble extending from above, below, left and right, surrounding them from all sides. The lights flickered and the hum of electricity faltered, and all the while the Cloven screamed above them. Unable to understand but knowing this might be their only chance of mistake Karl grabbed Lina, forcing his arm around her neck, pulling her close. Step after unsteady step, they moved to the exit.
"Come on, Lina," he said as they moved "Let's get out of here."
The escape from the tower was a hellish nightmare which Karl was reluctant to recall even in later days. The entire structure shook with every step, metal and debris falling from the roof all around them, explosions and fires seemed to happen at every corner, and above all this were the Chimera, no longer a military, but a mass of animals. Hybrids butchered at themselves and one another, fired weapons wildly into the air and ground, howling all the while. Through all this stumbled Karl and Lina, burned by the heat, scarred from the shrapnel, and desperately seeking a way out.
Outside the tower took on the appearance of a beautiful blossoming flower, a thousand violent pinpricks of light appearing on the structure's colossal hide as fire vented from every entrance, bay and window. Explosions ripped the thing apart from the inside out, ground shaking with tremors which could be felt for miles around. And all the while the building was glowing brighter, pure blinding light which engulfed all of London.
The building, so alien and yet so magnificent, gave one last shudder and then exploded, a shockwave sent out in all directions. Outside humans and Chimera alike looked away from their fighting to stare, the former giving out a mighty cheer, the latter collapsing to their knees as they were driven mad from the loss of the Angels. Unknown to both parties, this event was being repeated all across Britain, a mighty back surge travelling back through the power conduits and frying every last tower in the nation. In less than one hour the Chimera were little more than a pile of corpses on the streets, humanity had won.
Karl watched the explosion from the cockpit of the wrecked Buzzard dropship he had commandeered, grounded in the far outreaches of London, chassis crushed, concrete underneath torn asunder. A great plume of smoke had risen where the building had been; as if its remnants were still trying to hold together a shadow of their former glory, but it mattered little. The tower, the red structure was gone, forever.
It took many hours for the two to be found. Both the American and British armed forces were a mess, and with Karl rigging the Buzzard's computer to only transmit in Morse, it would take a specially trained radio operator to find them. Finally the form of an American VTOL floated into view, hovering above the Buzzard cautiously. The helicopter seemed to stay in the air for the longest time, and then slowly turning its nose about settled down onto the road beside the crashed transport. Stepping out of the craft Karl went around to meet the new arrivals, and was without warning attacked!
Karl didn't even get a chance to grunt before he on the ground, pinned by the figure he could not see. Karl struggled, but the shadow was too strong, and slowly but surely Karl felt its hands going to his head, grasp his hair and...
"You're alive!" Jack yelled joyfully, eyes filled with elation. Karl blinked, the black shadow merging into that of the young Sentinel. His suit had been dismantled to the waist, showing chunks of hair missing, a patched eye and his entire chest completely swathed in bandages, bruises and burns all over him. Karl could only stare in shock, and then his face reflected a small smile of his own.
"Good to see you Jack," Karl replied, patting him on the shoulder, and then in a single shove tossed him off "But not that good." He added as an afterthought. He was almost back onto his feet when he was nearly bowled over for a second time, this time in the form of a slap on the back from Steve, the big man coming up behind him. He looked almost as bad as Jack. One of his arms was in a sling, half his armour was slag and his helmet had been cleaved in two somewhere along the line, the remainder still sitting on top of his head.
"Glad to have you back Captain." The big man said with a grin of his own, both men glancing to see Jack attempt to give Lina a hug, but failing spectacularly. "Did you get him?" he asked quietly in reference to Tom as they stared at Lina beating Jack up, complete with Russian swear words. Karl just nodded, and the pair of them said nothing more.
"Captain Manex?" A familiar voice said, making Karl jump. He turned around slowly and stared as he witnessed Major Blake, leader of SPRA step out of the still running VTOL. Neither a handsome looking man nor a strong one but with a presence which demanded respect. Karl hadn't seen him in over six months, but he would have recognized his voice anywhere.
"Come on in, Karl, I need to talk to you. Alone" he added as Steve went to follow him. Puzzled, but giving a confidant nod to his friend Karl stumbled clumsily over to the waiting helicopter, welcoming the helping hand Blake offered him with visible relief. Collapsing into a seat Karl breathed a deep breath, and slowly opening his eyes gave Blake a nod to show he was okay
"Karl, I've been going over your reports with Intelligence Officer Alexander here," Blake began giving a small nod to his left, and with a start Karl realized they were not alone, a black cloaked figure sitting to his right, who gave a small smile at his reaction. "I can only say that after being so long in the field and infiltrating such key facilities that the guys back at Intelligence will be very eager to debrief you." He summed up with a twitch of his nose, "But there are some things which cannot wait. Did Tom mention anything…classified when he went rogue, something you may want to tell us?"
Karl was too tired to even think of lying "Tom, told me things, about the virus, about how he had been selected, what was happening to him…" he trailed off, letting the sentence hang. Both Alexander and Blake exchanged a glance, that was indeed what they had indeed been referring to.
"That simplifies matters." Blake replied shaking his head "To be frank Karl, a lot of what Tom told you was probably correct, though certainly not the way I'd break the news." He added with a touch of bitterness "Almost a year ago began Project Abraham, trying to find a cure for what we now know as the Chimeran virus. The Alpha group took losses, but was ultimately a success, the Grayskin with which your mission was involved one of its participants. The Beta group included Lina and Tom as well as ten others, the final prototype for the Sentinel Program."
"Sentinel Program?" Karl said, not understanding "I don't follow, Sir."
"Despite what you've been told, these operations have been merely a precursor to the final phase of Project Abraham. The next wave will be the true Sentinels, capable of rapid regeneration and improved combat abilities thanks to the Chimeran virus. And Karl," he added "We want you to be the first."
To say Karl was stunned would be an understatement, flinching as if struck "They wanted him to willingly be injected with the virus, to practically commit himself to death or worse, to sacrifice part of his humanity to these people. Could he do that, after he had seen firsthand what might happen? Looking into the distance Karl's eyes locked on Lina, Jack and Daniel. Blake seemed to guess what he was thinking.
"I can understand your hesitation; especially after all you've been through, no doubt you see two of your comrades dead because of us." Blake summarized, speaking softly "All I can say in our defence is this. America is in dire straits, Karl. Intelligence predicts a large scale invasion in less than two years, and we need every weapon we can muster, that includes the Sentinels. I won't force anything on you Karl," he assured "It's your choice. I respect what you've done too much to do anything else."
"Well I..." Karl began and then stopped, torn. On one hand, his contribution could mean the difference between humanity's survival and total annihilation, but on the other hand could he really join something which sought to use him as a living weapon? He looked at his gloved hands, still stained with blood, and remembered once more cradling the dying Daniel in his arms, and with that he made his decision.
"I've had to do a lot of things I'm not proud of these last few days." Karl murmured shaking his head, eyes downcast "I've killed other human beings when I should have been helping them, my mistakes led to the death of a friend and comrade..." But then his eyes flashed up, locking with Blake's "I'll take my team; you can keep your virus."
"You trust them?" Blake asked questionably "Even after what happened with Tom? After what happened at Norwich?"
Slowly Karl's gaze turned once more to look out the VTOL's door. To one side was Lina, with her long dark hair and sharp but lean body, capable of skinning a shark with her voice alone. To her right was Jack, with his wild young hair and a trickster's grin, always on the edge of a joke. And on the other side of him was Steve, a mass of well toned muscles with a no nonsense attitude. Karl glanced over all of them, and slowly leaned back into his chair, arms behind his head.
"I trust them," he murmured "With the world."