Title: Three Degrees to the Right
Fandom: Guilty Gear
Characters: Sol, Ky
Disclaimer: Not mine, obviously.
Notes: War-era based. I should also mention that although this lead-in will feature OCs, they will not feature prominently in the rest of the story.
Three Degrees to the Right
The beeping of the intercom jerked him out of sleep, bumping his head against the sagging underside of the upper bunk. Groaning, he hunched over in the cramped space, boxes, equipment and dust encroaching on his living quarters, and fumbled for the right button in the darkness.
"I don't know how they do things in Petersburg, Private, but here, we still report for duty on time."
The sound of her voice was crisp and cool, every bit that of a straight-laced superior officer, but Mikhail thought he could hear her smile, regardless.
"I'm so sorry, ma'am. I'll be up in ten."
A sigh, or perhaps just static. "No, you're not, but we'll skip the court-martial this time." She paused. "Oh, and make that five. Cherenkov out."
The intercom clicked off, leaving Mikhail to rub the sleep out of his eyes and comb a hand through his hair. Getting out of the blankets was a bit harder, mostly because they consisted of every sheet and cloth he'd been able to scrounge up since the heating had taken to not working at all on most days. A box of what could only be described as 'stuff' had toppled over sometime during the night, tools and spare parts tumbling all over the bedspread. Hunting down the individual pieces of his uniform took even longer—a belt here, a shirt there, wherever there was a bit of room to stash something. He wouldn't even have bothered with dress code, except Anya insisted and wouldn't budge on the matter.
It was kind of amazing that she could still be like this, after more than eleven months out here in this blank nothingness, where a wayward shrub was almost a sensational discovery. He was a city kid, all too familiar with hectic life and schedules, used to the demands of a well-oiled military apparatus. Out here, with no civilization save what they had brought with them, just a two-person team operating a creaking radio tower, he had thought that things would be different. Fewer rules, less regulations. It was the reason he had volunteered. But he hadn't counted on Anya.
Toeing on his boots, Mikhail left to start another shift in a land that never changed.
The radio center was empty, the large banks of machines blinking and whirring softly. Mikhail made his way to the dilapidated coffee maker clinging to life next to the file cabinet, inspecting the contents and trying to decide how old they were. The liquid inside was thick and black, the way Anya preferred it, and although he liked to joke, with no small amount of grimacing, that it was almost solid enough to chew, Mikhail had gotten used to drinking it, as well.
He downed a cup cold, then turned up the gas to reheat what was left in the pot.
A quick glance across the switchboards and instruments showed that they were all fine, despite some of them having been stripped to their insides. Loose parts and wires were spilling out onto the floor in more than one place, coiling around and over each other like tangles of mating snakes. It was a wonder that they didn't get fried to death simply by working on them, but Anya was nothing if not thorough in her maintenance. At this point, though, it would have probably been more accurate to say 'life extension procedures'.
Outside the large windows, dawn was breaking.
The coffee finished heating, and Mikhail poured another cup, taking it with him on his trek up the free-standing metal staircase, its railing sacrificed to repair some piece of equipment or another long before his arrival. Anya was on the lookout platform, elbows propped on the ledge, diligently scanning the area with a pair of binoculars despite the fact that there was nothing out there to see.
"I thought I said 'five minutes'?" she asked, not even turning to look at him. "Perhaps I should reconsider that court martial, after all."
Mikhail grinned. "You're free to court-martial me as much as you like, ma'am."
"Making advances towards a superior officer, Private? You do realize you're toying with your career here."
"Oh, I'm happy to keep working under you for the rest of my life."
Anya laughed, then, loud and long, her face tilted towards the empty sky. She wasn't the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, with a jagged scar marring her right cheek and a voice permanently raspy from inhaling poison fumes, but here, now, laughing into the wind, with the rising sun dying her hair the color of dancing flames… she never failed to take his breath away.
"Careful, little boy. I've been working with wild beasts all my life. I'd be more than you could handle."
"I'm sure all that riding experience would come in handy," he suggested, waggling his eyebrows.
"You're hardly what I'd call a well-bred steed," Anya said, smiling sweetly.
"Ouch. I'll have you know I'm the best guy you're going to find out here."
"You're the only guy I'd be finding out here, that's a difference." She turned around and leaned forward, lowering her voice to a throaty murmur. "Now be a good puppy and start checking the dish, or I'll have to whack you with a newspaper."
With that, Anya slipped past him, and it wasn't until she was halfway down the stairs that Mikhail realized she had stolen his cup.
"You know, we should take a break. There's nothing happening that would prevent us from a little date in the supply closet."
They were working in the control center, though that work mostly consisted of keeping the machines alive for the next patch day when they just might get enough material to fix one dying array out of everything in need of proper fixing, and waiting for the shift to be over. Originally, they had been working single shifts, each of them alone for eight hours with barely any communication past mumbled greetings in the hallway, until Mikhail, not used to so much silence and boredom, had started showing the first signs of cabin fever. That had mercifully prompted Anya to adjust their schedule because, in her words, seeing him rant to himself in the manner of the imminently crazy was the scariest thing she'd ever seen.
Now, she paused in adjusting the covering on a panel, and glanced at him with the tolerance of a mother towards a particularly demented toddler. "Have you cleaned that supply closet in the past month?"
"Then the answer is 'no'."
"Hey, I can start cleaning it right now—I'd be done in no time."
She smirked. "While you're at it, you could also clean up the fuzz trying to masquerade as a beard on your face. It's not going to convince me you're legal."
"I'll be legal next month, I'll have you know. Besides, since when does age stand in the way of true love?"
"True love between a little puppy and a scarred old guard dog. You've read too many Russian novels."
"You should read one. It might make you less of a cynic. Just think about it…" he said, swiveling in his seat with his arms spread wide, milking the shtick for all it was worth. "Grand passions, dying confessions, making love under the sta—"
"Shut up," Anya said abruptly, her voice sharp and cold.
Mikhail blinked, startled at the sudden change in her mood. He hadn't said anything, had he, to offend…?
"Look, Anya, I'm—"
"Will you shut up?" she barked, reaching over to adjust something on the console, and now he could see that she had picked up her headphones, pressing them to her ear intently.
After a minute, she frowned, lowering them slightly.
"I thought I heard something."
"Check the scan."
Biting his lip, Mikhail complied. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Anya slipping the headset back on. "…Radar negative. Thermal scan… negative." He hesitated. "Are you sure you weren't hearing the rabbits?"
It wouldn't be the first time, honestly. The radar tended to pick up the oddest things at the oddest hours, and Anya's obsessive streak was bordering on paranoia at times. She continued flipping switches and adjusting dials, trying to recapture what she thought she'd heard. "Just now, it almost sounded like a small airship… But why would they…?"
Drawing his brows together, Mikhail glanced over the readings again. There was no way an airship could be out here, the tower too far from anywhere for someone to have gotten lost. He turned his gaze towards the window front, scanning the sky and seeing nothing. If there had been a ship close enough to give off some sort of signal, he should have been able to make it out against the light.
"Wouldn't they radio in if someone was out there?"
It wasn't like people were known for going on pleasure cruises these days, and the next shipment of supplies was still a good four months away. It was probably nothing. Anya was just imagining things, maybe she was even pulling his leg to make sure he was paying attention to the job. He ought to, he thought. The windows were all dirty, streaks of dust and specks of something covering their surface, and the oddest thing was… they seemed to be moving.
"Shit!" Anya lunged for the radio. "Give me an emergency channel, right now!"
Mikhail would have loved to comply. It wouldn't have taken much, just stretching out his arm to reach the neighboring switchboard, only a twist of his fingers to find the right line. He wanted to move, but couldn't, staring riveted as the sun seemed to split, spheres of searing red detaching themselves from its glowing silhouette, growing bigger and bigger, until they seemed to eclipse everything else.
His last thought was so absurd that he would have laughed if he could have, if the ground hadn't shaken with the force of a great impact, if shards from the splintering windowpanes hadn't pierced through his lungs—the spheres had really been quite pretty, the exact same color as Anya's hair.
The wailing alarms were ringing in his ears, filling his head to the point where nothing else existed, nothing but the piercing noise and the flashing lights, alternately plunging the corridor in and out of darkness. It was getting difficult to orient himself, to remember, foreign instincts and sensations taking control, the stink of chemicals driving him crazy.
An insect struck his chest, and then another, and another—a tiny swarm pelting him furiously, until something wet was starting to trickle down his body in thin little streams, a peculiar smell filling the air.
Blood… I think… wasn't that it…?
There was no pain, though, because his body was already burning up, every single cell screaming at him in time with the swelling and ebbing of the sirens. Another swarm, rapid and black and he thought he could hear them whistling, this time—
…Bullets… someone's firing…
Once upon a time, there might have been a name to the face staring at him in growing terror as the last round emptied, the hollow clip clattering uselessly to the floor. Some kind of recognition, perhaps a word or two that had been exchanged in the past—"Good morning, Doctor", "How are you doing, Doctor?"—but now it was swept away under the all-consuming thought of "threat". Tearing through flesh was as easy as breathing, soft and delicate and wet—too bad he couldn't hear the sound of it—and the man crumpled to the ground, now void of a heart.
The dripping, pulsing mass hit the ground, a tiny motor deprived of its purpose. This wasn't it, though, this wasn't it at all. He remembered wanting something. Something important. The reason… there had been a reason…
The door ahead wouldn't budge, but it dented under the force of his weight, and a second shove tore through the metal, twisting it inwards and sending shards hurtling into the room. More pale, frightened faces were gaping at him from behind cocked guns—staccato bursts of noise replaced by screams as he ripped into them, rending the limbs from their bodies until they were broken, silent.
The voice was louder than the sirens, clearer than anything, and with it rose a wave of overwhelming fury. He turned, and caught sight of that face, flying at it without hesitation—
/Waiting for this. We've been waiting for this./
—his claws slicing through nothing but metal and wires, a sparking, smoking mess.
"Always so rash," the voice chided, and there was that hateful face again, and again, and again, staring down at him dispassionately.
"You really leave me no choice, Frederick, but to terminate our partnership." A smile. "You might not believe me, but I truly regret this."
The many faces vanished, one after the other, replaced by the last few seconds of a countdown, and then, the world was plunged into a sea of fire.
In the darkness, red eyes snapped open.
It took a moment for things to fall back into place, for him to realize that the biting smell of chemicals and smoke wasn't truly here, to notice that the dampness on his body came from sweat instead of blood and innards. Faintly, he could feel the vibration of the airship's engines, their soft hum permeating even the most distant corner.
…haven't had that one in a while.
Humans, someone had once said, needed to dream in order to survive, in order to cope with the insanity of the world.
Sol didn't dream much anymore, and when he did, it tended to be something like this. There should have been some kind of cathartic effect in it, or at least a certain kind of numbness setting in the more often the memories were recycled, but it never happened. Each experience was as vivid as the last one, sharp and clear as it had never been in that moment, when he'd been drugged out of his mind and more than half-mad. Apart from that, though, nothing had changed; nearly two centuries did nothing to dull that memory, leaving him to wrestle out of clammy sheets.
Rubbing a hand across his face, Sol sat up, trying to ignore the pulse of heat from the mark on his forehead.
On the opposite wall, the glowing clock face informed him that it was way too early to be awake, which meant that the best course of action would have been to turn over and go back to sleep. He lay down again, trying to keep himself from sniffing the air for that certain lab stink. It was harder than it should have been, with that irrationally paranoid part of him wanting to stay awake, alert, to move closer to the door just in case…
Gritting his teeth, he rolled out of bed and started fishing around for his boots. There was something profoundly irritating about the inside of his own head sometimes.
At this time of night, he would at least be able to have a smoke in peace.
A/N: So yes, this will be the first part of something bigger. As said above, this part is the only part that will heavily feature original characters. They were a nice way of setting the mood and the circumstances, but the actual fic is very much supposed to be a Sol and Ky story. C&C is appreciated, and I hope to see you in the next chapter.
Notes for the bored:
- Yes, Russia. Vast, and full of goodness.
- For all the technological collapse, there must be some sort of magic-based substitute for a few things. And primitive as it might be, I imagine they'd have some sort of warning system for a few important areas.
- If there've been some Earth-shattering revelations about how the Gear Project did boom, I don't know. *shrug* I'm fond of this one.