Monster

Arc the First: Rescue Chapter Two

Dax turned off the sink faucet, and scrambled up to balance on the tap. "That feels so much better."

"You smell better, too." Sig stripped the last of his armor off, leaving him in shirtsleeves and bare arms. "Interesting night."

The ottsel nodded, thinking carefully. "I've heard talk about the Underground before, maybe," he said.

"So've I. Quiet people, but they're around. Huh." The giant Wastelander stretched out on the bed, one of the few pieces of furniture in the tiny apartment, and rested his head on his hands. "What've you heard?"

"Not a lot." Dax's bed was up on the countertop. Sig wasn't always careful about where he put his feet in the mornings, and stepping on anyone's tail once was more than enough.

"And?"

"And not a lot. Just... if something goes wrong, the spelling-challenged goons look for those people first." He scratched an ear. "Honest, I'd thought they were talking about people underground- y'know, in the sewers?"

"Too many metal-heads down there," Sig said, with the knowledge of someone routinely hired to go down and clean it out. "But I get you. About what I've heard, too."

"You want to listen for more information before approaching them?"

"Nah." Sig sniffed, and reached for the light switch. He flipped it, and the single light bulb went out. "You know where these people are?"

Dax smirked, and curled up on his own bed. "Sig, c'mon. This is me. I know where everything is."

Well, almost. But sometimes, accuracy had to take a back seat.

Hopefully, this Underground would know about the prison. Then he'd be that much closer to rescuing Jak.


The next morning dawned bright, sunny, and hot. It was early in the day, and already sweltering. And me in my fur, and Sig in his armor... Dax groaned, and tried to sprawl out a little more over Sig's shoulder. The KG had the worst of it, though, with every inch of skin covered. Unless their suits had air conditioning- and he bet they didn't- they'd have to rotate the patrols with more frequency than normal, to keep people from passing out with heat exhaustion.

He wasn't sure how he'd have handled that, if he was making an attempt at rescuing Jak. On the one hand, it'd be pretty busy, even in the prison, with people coming in and out more often than they normally did. Chaos was pretty good for infiltration work; the more attention people paid to the change in their routine, the less they noticed little things, like an orange shadow creeping along beside a wall.

On the other, injured hand, more people going in and out meant more chances for him to get unlucky and get noticed. People who had their schedules changed sometimes paid more attention to things, didn't have the chance to get lulled into complacency, the way they were over a longer shift.

He decided that he would've gone for it. Except for the little fact that his arm had been dislocated yesterday, and he could barely move it today. Even then, he might've tried. Jak had been in prison a long time, now.

He flattened his ears against his head, and tried not to think about it. He didn't know anything bad had happened to Jak. Sure, being in prison was no walk in the park, but there were levels of bad. For all he knew Jak was on level one or two, as compared to level Hell.

Yeah. Level Hell gave him nightmares. If it'd been possible, he would've gone pale just thinking about it. As it was, he did feel a little faint.

Level Hell was what he called Praxis' quaint little 'Dark Warrior Program'. That'd been part of how he met Sig, actually. He'd heard Erol talking to some underling about it- little details, ones that wouldn't make him flinch now, but back then had sent him running. He'd gotten clumsy, and if not for Sig and his good nature... Eesh.

There was no way Jak would be part of that.

Right?

No, Dax thought. Everyone that's gone through there has been... well, someone who'd make Sig back off, if not worse. I wouldn't wish that torture on my worst enemy, but if anyone deserves a painful death, it's baby killers and psychotic murderers... Still.

Jak was the nicest, gentlest guy anywhere. Sure, it'd seemed that the guards had been waiting for him- bad thoughts there, no question- but no one knew Jak was an eco channeler. And so long as he wasn't exposed to green, red, blue, or yellow eco, no one would know. If he somehow got exposed to dark eco, he'd get burned, like anyone.

Besides, everyone knew eco channelers died quicker than normal people when exposed to dark eco. It burnt them up from the inside out.

Dax shook his head, and looked around. They were just entering the dry slums, for the second time in two days. Oh joy of joys. It was one of the few places where, even in the heat, there was the full number of KG on patrol.

What do they know that we don't? Or is it just paranoia? These people have the least to lose, after all. He didn't know. He wished he did. At least with Sig, his curiosity was actually encouraged, though Sig had taught him that there was a time and a place for some questions.

Heh... Samos tried to teach me restraint and subtly and I don't get it no matter how many times he smacks me one. But Sig gives me a Look and says maybe a word or two, and I pick it up in a matter of days. Funny how that works sometimes.

Sig glanced over at him, and lifted one eyebrow. Dax nodded in the right direction, and Sig grunted in reply.

Even in the slums, there were levels to the poverty. Close to the industrial sector, close to the prison, people might have been living on the edge, but they hadn't fallen off it yet. Their clothes might have holes, but they'd been patched. They might look at Dax, but they'd then look at Sig and keep their distance. Kids didn't have the dead-eyed, pinched face look of the truly starving.

But down the streets Sig was taking, things were a different matter.

Here, people wore clothes that were un-mended, or even more hole than cloth. They stared at Dax, and he knew they were calculating exactly how many meals they could get out of him, if they only caught him away from Sig. Everyone, from the children to the adults, was starving, and often their homes were only vaguely livable.

"Next alley over," Dax murmured, recognizing a particular billboard. Even in the slums- in the slums of the slums- Baron Praxis had peppered the place with billboards and sign posts displaying his personal seal. The sign posts also talked, in his voice, going over and over the various phrases- that he was the absolute ruler, his word was law... Dax tuned it out automatically by this point.

The only thing that made this billboard stand out was that something had bent it, as though a strut or two holding it up had broken.

Maybe that was on purpose. It wasn't anything people would normally pay attention to, either, which might make it the perfect landmark for finding the Underground.

Sig nodded, and leaned his gun up against one crumbling building. Then he crouched down and started fiddling with one of his boots. Pretending to tie up the laces, if Dax had things right.

Dax looked up and down the street, then leaned close to Sig's ear. "It's clear," he whispered.

"Good," Sig muttered back, stood up, and retrieved his gun. Then he sauntered down the alley in question.

It was short, compared to some of them, and ended in a dead end. Against one door, that was missing a handle, was the knife crossed over a wobbly circle that probably represented a shield.

"This is it?" Sig asked, and snorted. "Not very smart to leave your mark right out in the open, is it?"

Dax shrugged, and winced. Right, he wasn't supposed to move his right arm if he could help it. Ah, well, it didn't hurt too bad today, just didn't move when he told it to. "You could look at it as if it were clever," he offered. "Something so obvious clearly is just a diversion from wherever the real place is."

"Uh huh. Right. Pull the other one."

"I can't pull either of your legs, Sig, so try again."

Sig grinned, and opened his mouth to reply. Before he did, however, someone else spoke up.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

Sig spun around with the reflexes of a trained warrior, bringing his gun up and pinning their stalker against the wall with the long barrel across the man's throat.

It took seconds, and was over before the other guy could react.

Dax ignored the man's hoarse spluttering, and looked him over. Dark red hair, practically brown, pulled back into thick dreads that hung almost to his shoulders. KG tattoos- well, Ghost had said there were former KG in the Underground ranks- and clothes that somehow, despite looking like the stuff seen on the street every day, suggested a uniform. Hard brown eyes and a mouth pulled back in a sneer; skin fish-belly pale.

"Well, what do we have here?" he asked, and glanced over at Sig. "Maybe we got our hopeful new friends a present?"

Sig smirked, and there was nothing friendly in the expression. "Who are you?" he asked, letting up a little on the guy's throat.

The guy gave them both a death glare. "Your hopeful new friend," he rasped.

"Ah," Sig said, and shrugged the shoulder Dax wasn't sitting on. He pulled back, and shifted his gun so he was leaning on it. "How was I to know that? You snuck up on me."

The guy rubbed at his throat, and didn't reply. Not immediately, anyways. "How did you find this place?" he asked, his voice harsh with more than his recent near strangling.

"We know people who know people who say you know about the prison," Dax said. He had a feeling dancing around the subject with this guy would only piss him off- might as well start off with honesty. If it came to it, Sig could always bribe the guy.

Just where Sig got the money, Dax didn't know, and so far the big guy hadn't given him a straight answer. Though 'picking pockets' was the most hilarious answer to date. Sig was many things, but quiet, unobtrusive, and light fingered sure as hell wasn't on the list.

"Hn." The guy- Dax decided, until otherwise named, he was now 'Sneaky'- folded his arms. "So you decided to lead the entire city here. Brilliant."

Dax sent a wide-eyed look towards the mouth of the alley. The empty mouth. "Ooh, did we? So sorry- it must be hard to think with all these people crowded around in here."

"Listen, rat-"

Sig caught Sneaky's hand, before he could finish drawing the knife. "Now, now," he said. "Let's play nice, yeah? Daxter here's a good friend of mine." Sig's glare finished the comment- and you'd better not hurt him.

What had Dax done to earn that friendship? He so owed Sig some juicy information to sell, pronto.

Sneaky glared up at Sig, but inclined his head very slightly. "What," he asked, sounding a little like he was working the words past a nasty block in his throat, "do you want?"

Dax sighed, and flopped down on Sig's shoulder as dramatically as he could, sore shoulder or not. "I told you this already," he said. "Didn't you pay any attention? We want to talk to the Underground. About prison. Small enough words for you yet?"

Despite Sig's warning, Sneaky's hand crept back to the hilt of his knife.


Torn, as Sneaky was known to everyone else as, sat down behind the desk. It was a battered thing of wood, and looked as if it had been through more fights than Sig. It was also covered by a veritable blizzard of paperwork, though other people might not make the same comparison. It didn't snow much in Haven, certainly not the whiteouts Dax remembered from the Snowy Mountains.

He missed the old days. Back when the air was clear of smog, the biggest worry were the damn lurkers, and he could see over everyone's knees.

Okay, yes, Gol and Maia had been trying to destroy the world, but they'd dealt with that.

He should've never pushed that button. Stupidest thing ever, including letting Jak talk him into visiting Misty Isle that one time.

Dax blinked, and forced his wandering attention back to the matter at hand. Torn sneered up at them, and very deliberately didn't offer them a seat.

Not that there were any other chairs in the room, but there was a double line of bunk beds. Sig could've sat on one of those.

"Why do you want to know about the prison?" Torn asked.

Apparently, the brief break didn't make his voice sound any better. Dax twitched an ear, then jumped- carefully- from Sig's shoulder onto Torn's desk. A few papers were knocked off by his landing.

The corner of Torn's eye twitched.

Dax planted his good hand on his hip, and hoped everyone ignored his dangling right arm. "You don't need t' know why we wanta know."

Torn leaned forward, and smiled. It wasn't very nice. "Actually, yes, I do. Nothing's for free."

"Obviously."

"Right now, my price is information. Quid pro quo. You tell me why you want to know about the prison, I'll tell you what I can. Get it?"

Dax glanced back over his shoulder at Sig, but the Wastelander shook his head. This was Dax's mission; therefore, his show.

What could it hurt to tell? "A friend of mine got grabbed," he said, and twitched his ears. Were those footsteps coming up the alley? "I wanna get him out, but getting in's pretty hard. I don't even know where in the prison he is."

Torn narrowed his eyes, then looked up at something over Sig's shoulder. Dax glanced back for a look, and nearly hissed.

He recognized the guy in the lead. Haggle-mouth, as Dax knew him, was a wharf rat down in the harbor, and he'd almost killed Dax a couple times. Not even for food or fur- for fun, near as Dax could tell.

That guy was a member of the Underground?

Shit.

Haggle-mouth spotted Dax at the same time, and grinned, showing off the source of his namesake. "Boss-man," he crowed. "Looks like we got us a rodent problem. Want me t' skin it for yeh?"

Dax had forgotten about Sig. Haggle-mouth had apparently not noticed or dismissed the Wastelander.

Haggle-mouth realized his mistake, fast. He was helped out by the little fact that Sig had one big hand wrapped around Haggle-mouth's neck, and held the wharf rat in the air with no problems. It did Dax's heart good, seeing Haggle-mouth's toes a good couple inches off the floor like that.

"That rodent there is my friend," Sig said, his eye narrowed. "Talk about skinning him again, and I'll skin you. Understand?"

Haggle-mouth choked out something vaguely affirmative, and Sig dropped the man. "Now," Sig said. "My friend and I were doing business with your leader. Go wait your turn."

Haggle-mouth scrambled back to stand near the door, the two nondescript figures- Dax couldn't even tell if they were men or women, and their clothes were just shades of bland- shuffling over to join him.

"Huh," Torn said, getting Sig and Dax's attention again. "Direct."

Sig's eyebrow twitched. "Problem with that?"

"Not really." Torn leaned back in his seat, and looked down at Dax again. "Alright, rat. I don't like you."

"Newsflash, I don't like you either."

The ex-guard grunted. "But, I'll help. Keep my ear to the ground, whatever. Tell me about your friend."

It couldn't be that easy. Torn was going to come back and hit them with- something- after Dax finished talking, or the next day or something. Still, information.

"Jak's about... Sig's shoulder, that tall, maybe? He's blond, though the roots of his hair are green. Blue eyes. He was wearing blue when he got grabbed, almost two and a half years ago."

Torn sat up and choked, all at once. "Two and a- and you're only trying to get him out now?"

"No! I been trying since th' first day! Only I... can't." Dax sighed, and spread his hands. "Now, I'm asking for help."

Torn grunted, and scratched at his hair line. "I see. Fine. I offer a trade. I find information, you and your friend help out the Underground. Deal?"

Dax glanced back at Sig. "Up to you," he said.

Sig narrowed his eye, and then nodded. "Sounds like fun."

Wastelanders. Why did they have to have such weird ideas of fun? "Looks like you've got a deal," Dax said. "Now, you mentioned information?"

"You're not going to like it."

"I don't like anything t' do with my friend locked up."

Torn actually hesitated. "I've heard that every prisoner has been shifted over to the Dark Warrior Program. You've heard about it?"

Dax nodded, even while his brain was still turning over the words 'every prisoner' and 'Dark Warrior Program'. That meant... But... "Jak's an eco channeler," he said, and stared at the map pinned up on the wall. His friend had been hit with dark eco. Jak channeled eco. Channelers burnt up from the inside out from dark eco.

His friend was... No!

Torn was talking. Saying something. Focus, Dax!

"Praxis has figured out a way to keep the channelers alive, what's left of them," Torn said. He sounded, even for him, grim. "He made the shift after one of his experiments proved successful. They've been tossing the result out at the metal-heads outside the walls."

"Result?" Sig asked. He pressed his fingers against Dax's back.

The ex-guard pressed his lips together. "None of my men have seen it, just that it's... inhuman, now. One of Praxis' experiments didn't die. It only started a few months ago, and I suppose he's looking to duplicate the results."

"Damn," Sig said.

"Exactly." Torn wrote quickly on a scrap of paper, then pushed it over. Sig picked it up, and raised both eyebrows this time. "That's my comm. code. Memorize it, don't program it into your comm. if you know what's good for you. I'll call you if I need you."

Sig handed the paper off to Dax, who immediately started going over the numbers. "You got anything you'd like me to listen for?" Sig asked. "I deal in information."

Torn looked up. "You're offering?"

"I'd expect payment."

"Figures. Anything you can tell me about the Guard would be nice, but don't bother with small fry stuff. I've got someone passing me the schedules real-time."

He did? How'd he manage that?

"Now," Torn said. "Get out. I've got a rebellion to run."

Sig nodded, and helped Dax clamber back onto his shoulder. "Be seeing you."

"Leave the rat at home, next time."

Dax snickered, then twiddled his fingers at the ex-Guard. "Sig an' I are a package deal," he said. "Put up with it."

The door closed on the sound of Torn snarling.


As before, expect the next chapter in two weeks time, on the 27th of the month.

So! I've started my internship- what that means is I work seven hours a day, or more, in a law office. I do all the grunt work- filing, making phone calls, running paperwork, getting coffee- and I still don't know if this is paid or not. If it is, I expect minimum wage. If it isn't, I expect to go even further into debt. Fun times!

What this means for you, my lovely readers, is that I don't have as much time to write as I want. I've got Monster, and another story- this one original, hopefully to find its way to the light of day sometime in my life, preferably eventually this year or the next- and somewhere in there I need to eat and sleep too.

I do have chapters pre-written, and hopefully I'll keep a buffer between what I'm posting and what I'm working on. Fingers crossed.

Disclaimer: I'm a law student, and I was a kid when Jak and Daxter first came out. Do the math. I don't own it.