"What now?" Grif complained.
"Come on, don't just stand there!" I exclaimed, sprinting toward Red base.
Donut, Sarge, Simmons and I took off running. Grif jogged for about thirty seconds before panting heavily and falling behind.
"You... you guys... go on without me..." he gasped. I rolled my eyes and kept sprinting toward the smoke.
Upon closer inspection, the Reds and I realized with some relief that the fire was relatively close to dying. We doused the base in water; by the time we were done, all that was left of the fire was some melted carpet and singed furniture.
The rest of the base, however, was a different story.
"What in Sam hill..." Sarge gasped as we were finally able to focus on Red base's main rooms.
The entrance had been broken down, and every room was a mess of the Reds' personal items. In the kitchen, food had been taken from the fridge, removed from the pantry, and strewn all over the counter and floor. The living room's couches had been overturned and the television unplugged. Simmons' collection of alphabetized DVDs had been taken out, thrown across the ground, and mixed. Donut's refined interior design plans had been destroyed, and he ran around in a panic trying to fix all the decorating.
"My—my curtains!" he moaned as he hugged the now-ruined paisley pink drapery in the living room. "Those were custom-made!"
"Good riddance!" Sarge muttered. He was livid. His weapons had been taken from his bedroom, the ammunition had been removed, and everything was lying across the floor. As we continued exploring the base, we even saw that the weight room had been knocked over, the elliptical machines tampered with, and the treadmills overturned.
"Ells, let's go check the bedrooms," Donut said anxiously, dragging me over to the hallway where they all slept. I peeked inside Grif's room, which was an utter disaster, but then I realized that was how it looked normally. The other rooms, however, looked just about as destroyed as Grif's. Drawers were ripped open, their contents cast across the ground; the closets had been left empty, clothing and pieces of red armor littering the floor like shiny, glowing coals.
Donut's room had not been spared the attack; his pink bed sheets were crumpled and thrown in a corner, and his row of perfumed body lotion bottles had been flung every which way across the room. His eyes almost welled up in tears when he saw that his silk scarf collection had been singed in the fire, and I had to spend a good ten minutes promising him a huge shopping spree before he calmed down.
Finally, we strode back to the living room. Grif had joined us by then, panting and sweating, his face pale from seeing the disaster.
Sarge was fuming. "Who the hell came here while we were gone? Breaking in! That's just diabolical!"
"It happened recently, too," Simmons said, his eyes wide as he checked his computer system. "They hacked in here and checked everything! The plans, records, mission logs..."
"But who is 'they'?" I asked worriedly, helping Donut pick up the now-ruined potted plants.
Simmons shook his head. "I have no idea."
"You... you think it was the Freelancers?" Grif wheezed, sitting on the couch and still catching his breath.
"No... I don't think so," I said slowly. "That doesn't make sense. The fire was too recent. It couldn't have been burning longer than a few hours, and I was with Meta and Tex that whole time. Church was there too."
"She's right," Simmons replied, still scanning through his computer and running a virus scan. "There's no way they could have had time to get here, mess everything up, and leave so fast."
"Well, what did they take?"
The Reds were quiet for a moment, frowning and thinking.
"They... didn't steal anything..." Sarge said finally. "Nothin' at all."
After double-checking the base, our confused suspicions were confirmed. Whoever had broken in hadn't left with any of the Reds' possessions.
"So, what, they just like coming in and ruining interior decorating?" Donut asked bitterly. "Some criminal."
"Well, it's obvious," Sarge huffed darkly. "They were lookin' for something and didn't find it."
"We don't have anything cool!" Grif whined. "We never get anything cool! Why would they come here?"
As the Reds continued to discuss the turn of events, my mind wandered. I decided to go and check the ship in which Wash and I had arrived.
"I've got to go," I muttered, heading toward the door. "I have to go and check the ship..."
"Oh no you don't, missy!" Sarge barked. "Simmons, block the door!"
Simmons jumped up and barred my way; I stared at them, confused.
"What the hell, you guys?" I asked. "I have to go and check to see if our ship is okay!"
"I don't think so," Sarge muttered. "We can't have you runnin' around after having an AI stuck in your brain for hours!"
"What?" I yelped. "Are you kidding me?"
"Yeah," Grif agreed almost guiltily. "We didn't have time to talk at the prison, but God damn, Eleven. Something's weird with you."
"What was with that whole beard comment, anyway?" Donut asked, suddenly concerned as he remembered what I had said.
"Sorry, Eleven, but you aren't going anywhere until you tell us what exactly happened to you," Simmons added apologetically. "When we first met Wash he was about as crazy as we could handle, and he had an AI at one point too. And don't think we forgot about O'Malley and everyone he infected."
I stared at them for a moment, dumbfounded, and then sighed in resignation. "If I tell you what happened, will you let me go and check everything else?"
"If we think you're not completely out of your mind, maybe."
I refused to sit down, so we began cleaning the base as I talked. I explained everything as quickly as possible and managed to escape from the base with their permission after they had decided that I wasn't about to shoot Donut or something.
However, I did conveniently forget to tell them that I still had Gamma in my AI slot. I didn't even want to think about that, much less spread the news around.
After approaching my ship, I realized with surprise that it had been left intact. Either the intruders had not found it, or they had deemed it too unimportant to investigate. I tested the controls lightly, and since the AIs were gone, it seemed to be working relatively well. I was sure that we could get it ready for flight with just a few minor adjustments.
I then made my way to Blue base. Church, Tucker, Wash and Caboose were all panting heavily, holding buckets of water and searching, panicked, for any other fires. Apparently, they had more difficulty in extinguishing the flames and had just finished when I arrived.
"Ells—someone set our bases on fire—" Tucker gasped, patting out some final flames.
I nodded. The Blues hadn't even stepped inside their own base yet. All of their fires had been external. "Come on, we have to go and check inside."
As soon as we all walked in, Wash froze. The Blues rushed forward to check all of their belongings, cursing and swearing; they had received the same treatment the Reds had. Nothing was stolen, but everything was misplaced or broken. While I helped to pick up the living room, I stole at glance at Wash again; he had done nothing but stare, open-mouthed, at the chaos.
"Who did this?" Church demanded, carrying a pile of video game controllers. "They didn't even take anything! They just screwed with our stuff!"
"Do you have any leads?" I practically begged. "There has to be some clue leading to who's been here. Do you guys know anything at all?"
Wash had been silently gazing around at the wreckage, his jaw tight. We stared at the Freelancer, whose disposition had grown cold.
"They're coming for me."