FEAR Main Advance.
Raynes led the main force - thirty FEAR troops at the moment, with promise of Delta Force reinforcement from Den Mother - on foot through the ruined, deserted streets. He couldn't lie and say he particularly liked the way the streets looked now but he was thankful it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The Origin Facility explosion - as the report had called it - had caused horrendous damage, but it hadn't been nuclear despite it's mushroom cloud appearance, so while hundreds - if not thousands - of people were dead, the country at large was more or less intact and there would be no nuclear fallout.
He couldn't say there would be absolutely no fallout of any kind. Many thousands of people were dead now, and if Fettel and his Replica legion got out that number would escalate rapidly.
"Sir?" Thomason said, pointing ahead. There was a civilian, limping across the road, apparently uninterested in the army heading his way. He held a briefcase in his hand and was apparently attempting to hail a cab.
There were no cabs.
"Lieutenant," Raynes said, "investigate the civilian." He had seen enough fucked up things tonight to know that the civilian ahead of him could not have survived unscathed physically or mentally: better safe than sorry. The Lieutenant nodded, and advanced, gun raised, the very model of military efficiency.
Thoughts don't seem to plague me as often as my colleagues. When given an order I simply obey it, I do not question or think about that order. I have never even wondered why I am like this. Well, no, that is a lie. I have often wondered, briefly. No one has ever told me, and as a human I am naturally curious. But unlike others I do not let such thoughts override my sense of duty and purpose, or distract me from my objectives.
It is obvious why the Captain ordered me forward rather than the others. Obvious too why he shuffles his thirty men - men whose lives are his responsibility - away from view. Whatever the "civilian" is, it might well be dangerous. Myself and Raynes - as well as our late comrade, Lieutenant Chen - have fought against monsters these past two nights, and I know what I am doing against such things.
Strange how easily that thought comes to me."Definitely through the looking glass," as Chen put it, and though I did not get the reference, I know it's meaning.
I approach slowly, the "civilian" not noticing my approach. I don't speak much, and I don't speak here: I intend to, but the noise of my footsteps has clearly gotten it's - his - attention. It turns to face me, and I know immediately that it was a very good idea of Raynes' to stay back: this thing has boils down it's face, blank, dead eyes, and as I watch it, red lines seem to emerge, grabbing hold of nearby dead bodies - they appear to be Replicas but some ATC security appear to be present as well as one or two of those "Nightcrawlers" I've been fighting over the night. The bodies are getting up and aiming at me… but I'm already aiming at the "civilian". I fire once, it shrieks, fire twice -
It screeches, light flashing in my eyes, and I am blasted backwards; I land in a heap a few metres away. I immediately fire on a nearby body that's advancing on me, and I then aim at the "civilian" again, firing my RPL until finally, after almost exhausting my clip, the thing drops, with a final mournful screech. It dissolves into ashes like so many things I've fought tonight.
"Clear?" I hear Raynes call. I stand up and wave an all clear at the FEAR troops, and the team moves forward. I hope I don't meet any of those things again. They seem to be more trouble then they're -
I stumble, and when I look up the figures of Raynes and his cohort are dissolving into ashes. I want to scream in horror but nothing happens. Then I realise: this is familiar, this sensation. Like many of the hallucinations I've been having these past few days, it feels dreamlike and unreal but, no doubt, has deadly danger in the middle of it.
And there she is.
Although she is a little girl, maybe eight years old, my soldier's mind cannot help but imagine her as being a target. And a very dangerous one at that. I cannot forget the Nightcrawlers, among the most dangerous enemies I have fought, being tossed around by her as though she were nothing.
I can't move. I assume it's her doing. I try but all I can do is watch her approach me.
You aren't him. a voice whispers. You look like him but you aren't him. She sounds annoyed but not really angry. I've seen her power - if she was really angry I'd already be dead. Who are you?
She roots through my mind - painfully, as I feel every inexpert tug - until she finds -
If you fail us you and your fellow soldiers will die. If you succeed, you will herald a new age.
I do not recognise this memory, and apparently not sufficiently moved by what she has seen to be homicidal, she settles for blasting me backwards…
And the world snaps back to reality. I hear footsteps approaching me, and soon the face of Captain Raynes appears over me, looking concerned. The world begins to fade out, but I can hear a voice speaking.
The first prototype is the epitome of the perfect soldier. Imagine if we could have fifty of those. A hundred. Four hundred.
I don't know what they mean, nor do I care, too busy I am focusing on military strategies for dealing with the girl. She is a threat, clearly, and when I wake up it is clear that I will have to deal with her for the sake of the mission.
I will have to deal with her.
I have to deal…
I have to…
Interlude: Saving Your Soul.
"Can you say that again please?" Chen said after Harlan had explained himself, the confusion in the soldier's face almost making Harlan nostalgic for the days when he was dealing solely with 140 IQ plus scientists.
"I believe," Harlan said again, slower than before, "that you may have psychic ability. You might be able to use it to get us out of here."
Chen gawped at him for a long moment, and Harlan watched patiently. He was in hell, patience was a prerequisite. Besides, he'd waited twenty years to have a chance to let Alma out. Patience was his great virtue. Now, anyway. Before, he hadn't been able to wait for evolution, and had sacrificed his family on the alter of progress.
"Even saying I believed you," the Lieutenant finally said, "how would I go about getting us out of here?"
Bullshitting on the spot, Harlan replied. "You have psychic ability and this realm is a psychic construct, with our consciousnesses somehow retained here, imprisoned. If you can gather enough willpower, you can help us escape."
"How do I do that?" Chen asked.
"What is your favourite gun?" Harlan asked. Chen looked bemused.
"Why does that…"
"Just answer the question," Harlan said tiredly. Chen thought about it for a moment.
"Vollmer Vk-12 shotgun," he said at last. "Thing's a beast."
"Ok," Harlan said. "Imagine one. Every curve, every line, full magazine."
Chen did so. For a long moment, nothing happened.
"Concentrate," Harlan said, remembering - unwillingly - moments when he had forced the prototypes to concentrate to perform certain tasks. Then even more unwillingly, he remembered moments when he had made ALMA concentrate to perfect certain tasks. He had once thought of the prototypes merely as tools to be harnessed, but now he knew his mistake.
Finally, something happened. Out of nothing, a long, sleek shotgun materialised, reality warping around it for a moment.
"Good," Harlan said. "It is as real now as you want it to be." He didn't know if that was actually true but hey, he didn't have much of a choice. "Shoot the lock of the door."
"What'll happen?" Chen asked.
"Exactly what would happen if you shot the real lock of a real door," Harlan assured him. Chen nodded, racked the imaginary shotgun for good measure, feeling the reassuring weight of it, accepting that it was real. There is no - fork? Knife? What bit of cutlery was it? Ah the hell with it, I hated that movie anyway.
He fired. The lock shattered and the door opened, and Harlan immediately pushed past Chen.
"Alice?" he called. "Alice?"
"Dad?" a small, weak voice called. Harlan walked over to a nearby sanitarium door, looking through the shutter. Through the window he could see his daughter, crying and afraid. He motioned Chen over.
"Get away from the door, sweetie," he said.
"Dad," she said, softly. "He's here…"
Chen blasted the lock for Harlan, allowing him to open the door to see his daughter. And her guest.
It was humanoid, barely, deformed and monstrous. As Harlan watched, it transformed into - he nearly vomited before he remembered he technically no longer possessed a stomach.
It transformed into him. younger, with dark hair and moustache, wearing his old jacket and suit. Him in his prime, before he had realised what a fucked-up monster he had become. Back in the days when he ran a thousand different programs for ATC. A version of himself he hated, and he was fairly certain everyone else hated too.
The image of a young Harlan Wade looked at the real Harlan with a malicious grin.