The Final Sacrifice
Isaac was so close. He could feel it in his bones.
As expected, the rest of Government Sector had been totally decimated by the Necromorphs that he had let inside, being left with no option after he had been cornered by Tidemann's security forces. And it had turned out to work in his favour, as he only had to worry about opponents he knew plenty about fighting, as opposed to armed human beings where he had no experience in fighting.
As it happened, Tidemann wasn't best pleased by the fact that Isaac had let them in. Though the Director seemed more concerned with letting the monsters get anywhere near the Marker- ordering his men to fall back and secure the Marker chamber- rather than the fact those creatures would butcher everyone they could find. Why was that so vital though?
It didn't matter to Isaac, long as he had a clear path. He had been wading through the corpses of researchers, technicians and security guards for the last hour or so, their hi-tech weaponry and defences proving no match against the relentless Necromorphs. After all, sitting on their asses rather than slogging through it like he had been since waking in the hospital wasn't the bets way to discover how to fight these things. Then again, with the sheer numbers that had broken in, they probably wouldn't have lasted long either way.
He'd been fighting his way through the creatures as well, through cramped laboratories, Marker construction labs featuring deadly burning lasers, and even tangled with Spitters and Pukers in towering rooms encircling fuel rods and other vital equipment- even an immense Brute had managed to find a way inside. Fights were quickly descending into fast, fraught, and brutal showdowns that normally ended with him taking at least a couple of hits from the side or behind as he tried to keep of all his enemies in view at once. Luckily his Advanced RIG justified its price tag again and again, keeping him in one piece as the Necromorphs drove at him from all angles. No matter how many he killed, plenty more came behind. It was as if the entire Necromorph population of the Sprawl had descended on the Government Sector.
But he had initially been walking blind, with no waypoint marker to follow and no solid destination in mind. Until Nicole had appeared to him once again, inside a control room piled high with butchered corpses (Tidemann wasn't among them unfortunately), asking him where he was going. When he admitted that he had no clue, she had given him the answer he desperately sought.
"That's why I'm here. To show you the way."
She had extended her left hand out, producing a ghostly, glowing green locator line that traced a path across the ground towards a door a short distance in front of him. Once she was gone, Isaac raised his own left hand, and sure enough, there was the familiar blue line that showed him his destination. He wasn't sure how it had suddenly been given a destination exactly, but he didn't waste much time wondering. All he knew was that he had to push on and end this all.
Along the way he found numerous logs and research areas that expanded further upon the research that EarthGov had been conducting regarding the Markers, talking about the information they had extracted from his brain during his time in confinement, and the difficulties they faced in trying to replicate a Marker's general constitution. The researchers also noted the effect of the Marker's 'signal', which manifested itself as codes and blueprints to particular people, while everyone else only heard constant white noise that drove them insane.
That must have been what happened to the people on Aegis VII and the Ishmiura- I can only imagine what it was like, even though I could hear the voices when I stood next to the Red Marker. But why me? Why did the Marker choose me to carry those 'blueprints'?
Disturbingly, one particular log had noted the concerns of one researcher who was convinced that they were being manipulated into building the Markers by some unknown forces. Perhaps the race that had created the original Marker, the Black Marker. But whatever or whoever was the case, it was obvious that the Marker was making them make it.
The Markers are sentient in a way, thought Isaac to himself. The Red Marker used a vision of Nicole to make me return it to Aegis VII and try to end the madness. It manipulated me and Doctor Kyne...
And now the same was happening to the EarthGov researchers who thought they could control and understand the Markers. But whatever they were meant to be originally, they were far beyond anything humans could ever understand. Why couldn't they just leave things they didn't understand alone?
He passed through the long passageway, the screen above the door in front of him reading 'Project Annex Access', whatever that referred to. With another slight breath, he approached the door and passed through as it slid up into the ceiling, opening out into an open t-junction that ended in front of a set of massive observation movies, something huge swallowing up the view in front of him.
A rather familiar sensation came over Isaac as he approached the windows, sliding his helmet back into his armour as he did, his head craning up to take in the massive object before him, countless voices filtering into his ears, whispering to him over and over again. He suddenly had flash backs of his initial encounter with the Red Marker after it had been retrieved from amongst the forest of storage crates within the belly of the Ishimura's Flight Deck.
"My God," he whispered as he came to a halt right in front of the viewing windows, neck craning to the heavens. "I built that?"
Before him, within the massive Project Annex chamber, stood another Marker, the one he had sought all along. But while the Red Marker stood around 10 feet tall, this was one made even that red obelisk look like a tiny desk ornament, towering above him by several hundred feet, almost rivalling the towering skyscrapers of the Spawl in sheer scale alone. And this new Marker's surface was a dull golden colour, featuring a subtle sheen, though Isaac could still make out the all-too familiar runes that adorned its surface, the script that Unitologists held dear to them.
What the hell were they thinking when they built that?! It's built over the station's main reactor core- that must be what's powering it.
Moving his head down, Isaac's eyes went wide as he looked down towards the base of the towering Marker, to see the hundreds, maybe even thousands of Necromorphs that swarmed around it, doing nothing save for standing in place, swaying in place or crying out in their distorted voices. Isaac could see every kind of creature down there, from Slashers and Pukers through to gangs of the Pack, Exploders, and even the odd Brute or towering Tripod within the mass.
"What...what are they doing?" he asked himself as they remained in place, just staring at the towering monolith before them.
"They're all coming to the Marker," explained Nicole's voice, resolute and calm. "Convergence is at hand."
"Convergence?" asked Isaac, though there wasn't much time to ponder it as another video log flickered in front of him, an all-too familiar face materialising out of the static.
"Clarke!" barked Tidemann angrily, his teeth gritted as he seemed to be stood in some unknown area, constantly glancing back and forth. "I knew you were trouble from the start! But they told me you were necessary," he continued, glancing back and forth once more, his movements becoming more and more frantic by the moment. Isaac just maintained eye contact with the director as he spoke, not wanting to waste his breath just yet.
"I spent years sifting through your demented brain!" the man continued, jabbing an accusing finger forwards towards Isaac. "This was not how it was supposed to happen!"
"Well how was it supposed to happen, Tidemann?!" yelled Isaac angrily, his back set up by the implication that EarthGov thought they could control this alien technology.
"We had it under control!" roared Tidemann in response, utterly convinced that he was in the right here. "Clarke," he then added, "this is not our fault! We were so close to understanding it!" Isaac was ready to give the Director another taste of what was on his mind, when something much more urgent made itself known.
A massive tremor, almost like from an earthquake rocked the observation deck, and Isaac was nearly knocked from his feet, even as there was a terrific sound and a flash of impossibly bright yellow light filled his vision and the chamber he was in, forcing him to raise his arms in an effort to shield his eyes. When the tremors continued, he lowered his arms to see that the light was coming from the giant Marker before him, which now pulsed with an eerie yellow light, waxing and waning like a flickering light bulb, the Necromorphs at the structure's base remaining oblivious to what had just occurred.
On the video log, Tidemann glanced up, past Isaac, eyes wide in silent horror. "What?" he whispered in disbelief, even as the tremors became more pronounced, the light growing in strength. "It's all those bodies, all those bodies you let in!" he continued, completely ignoring Isaac and his befuddled expression by now. "It's triggering a Convergence Event!"
"...but we never expected this many bodies..." the Director continued, even as the crap well and truly hit the fan.
There was another brilliant eruption of light from the Marker, and the entire Government Sector shook from the resultant shockwaves, Isaac fearing that the ceiling would collapse on his head then and there, while the video log from Tidemann crackled and went dead with a flash of light, and then Isaac was raising his arms once more, as gust of unnatural wind suddenly came into existence around the Marker, whipping the Necromorphs milling around it into the air, tossing them around like ragdolls in a tumble dryer. Isaac lowered his arms and watched the bizarre sight for a while longer, even as cracks were beginning to spread across the front of the observation window.
"What the hell is it doing?" he whispered to himself, even as he felt the familiar reassuring presence on his arm, and he turned to face an all-too familiar face.
"What it was made to do," smiled Nicole, and Isaac looked at her for a moment, and then back at the Marker.
What it was made to do? He thought to himself. He always thought that EarthGov built it so that they could use its power for their own advantage, but considering that they had no idea what they were messing with, that seemed doubtful now. As the logs had suggested, they were all being manipulated into building it.
"Isaac, you have to make us whole," implored Nicole, before her gentle touch vanished from his arm, and then she vanished all together, leaving him alone once more. He continued to stare towards the glowing Marker, watching the Necromorph bodies being thrown around randomly, and seeing the cracks spreading further across the face of the window. Knowing that it was only a matter of time until it broke completely, he turned in the direction Nicole had vanished in and approached the lone unlocked door he could see. It opened with ease, and he stepped inside of a spacious room.
Though one side of the room featured a currently locked door and a set of workstations, the main attraction was a large machine, with a number of thick cables emanating from the side of it into a small standing control panel. At first glance it resembled a MRI machine normally seen in a hospital, complete with a flat 'bed' where a patient could lie on, along with a range of blinking lights and other unknown appliances inside, above where the patient's head would lie. It was pretty advanced technology- Isaac was certain that even he hadn't seen something like this in his engineering career. The read out from the screen on the control panel read 'Noontech Diagnostic Ver 3.1'.
But there was another sensation he felt as he stood looking at this machine- something familiar, of various people standing around as a patient underwent a procedure, their voices distorted whispers. Tidemann stood in the midst of the crowd, watching a set of monitors that showed a close-up of a familiar blue eye, and of a needle-
"Vitals are still normal."
"Sedatives are still in effect."
"Good, last thing we need is for him to become a bloody mess after what happened to Patient 2."
"Jesus, it took forever for them to clean that up."
There was a brief drilling sound, and then the crowd sucked some air in between their teeth.
"And it's a success. Well done people."
"Look at those codes. So precise and clear."
"Yes...Patient 4 is definitely superior compared to the others. Make sure you scrub his memory very well, gentlemen."
Patient 4...they were talking about him. This was what they did to him and Stross and the others, day in, day out for three years. Dragged him down to his machine, pumped him full of sedatives and then subjecting him to horrific tests to extract the Marker codes stored in his brain. Though he had never remembered this beforehand, it felt as though something in his brain had sparked into life, the pieces slotting into place, synapses linking once more. He remembered it fully now, and he remembered Nolan Storss' cryptic words.
'Step 1: Crawl into the dark machine. Step 2: the screws go tight all around...'
"The machine," said Isaac a she raised his arm and pointed a finger at the machine, turning his head to address Nicole who had appeared beside him once more. "Just like Stross said...I remember! The machine accesses the part of our brains where the Marker codes are stored!" Nicole just smiled and nodded in response, and he furrowed his brow.
"But how does this threaten the Marker? What were they afraid of?"
"Me," she responded as though it were plain as day. "Us, working together." Isaac nodded slowly as he began to catch on.
"Yes," Nicole nodded, before she spoke up once more. "Are you ready?" she then asked, and Isaac cast a quick glance towards her as he spoke up once again as more memories returned to him.
"This is going to hurt, isn't it?"
"Yes," she replied again, and Isaac looked back towards the machine, not feeling particularly eager to get this over with. "Step inside," she then added, and then he was alone once more as she vanished into thin air, leaving him to face whatever awaited him inside this 'dark machine'. He approached the central unit, and could see where he had to crawl in and lie down, ready for his treatement.
Now or never.
He ditched his weapons on the floor beside him, and then he was pulling himself inside with his hands. As he was over halfway inside, he heard Nicole's voice speaking to him once again, her words practically mirroring Stross' insane ramblings.
"Step 1: crawl into the dark machine"-
Isaac reached the far end, and turned himself over, setting his head against the cushioned headrest as he could now see the numerous glowing lights and other devices up close and personal. Mechanical whirs could then be heard as something cool and metallic pressed against his forehead, tightening against his skull, holding him still.
"Step 2: the screws go tight all around"-
He felt the brace clamp into place, and then a smaller arm descended over his face, resting against his eyes and pushing open his eyelids so he couldn't involuntarily blink. He could feel them starting to water on account of being unable to blink, the fatigue and lack of sleep getting to him once again. But then he heard Nicole once more, and he finally remembered what exactly this machine did.
"Cross my heart and hope to die"-
The image of Stross leering over Ellie with a screwdriver rushed into his mind, and then a small moving unit appeared over him, a rather large needle attached to it, and then it was quickly joined by a thin targeting laser, painting a pin-prick sized dot across his right cheek.
"-stick a needle in my eye."
Isaac's heart almost leapt into his throat as the needle began its slow descent.
Immediately he grunted and tried to twist his head free, but the needle stopped its descent, automatically adjusting to hover over his right eyeball, the targeting laser turning blue as it found its mark. He could hear the soft beeps coming from the monitor to his right as well, measuring his heart rate, and it was climbing by the second.
"Dammit, keep him calm! If his BPM gets too high then that needle assembly malfunctions! You saw what happened to Patient 2, right?!"
"Fuck, yes. Poor bastard didn't deserve that- but the tech guys were more bothered about the machine malfunction..."
The voices rushed into his brain, reminding him why they kept him dosed up to the eyeballs every time they bought him down here and strapped him into this contraption. The machine was susceptible to malfunctioning, and if it did that then the needle assembly would go down a hell of a lot faster than intended and-
OK Isaac, message received.
The needle descended a little more, though the constant blue glare shining in his eye was becoming uncomfortable, and Isaac grunted again as his eyes swivelled all over the shop, the needle ceasing its descent one again as the laser turned to red and back to blue rapidly, showing the importance of keeping himself as calm as possible. If he didn't get through this in one piece, the he'd be dead.
Nicole lead me here...this has something to do with ending all of this.
The needle drew even closer, and his heart rate jumped up once again as it descended at an even faster pace, and then stopped abruptly. He then remembered once more that he had to remain as calm as possible, even as the needle descended some more, coming to a gradual halt just barely two inches above his eyeball. His eye reflexively went all over the place again, before he gritted his teeth as he forced himself to stare straight up, fixing his gaze upon the needle as another whirring sound was hear, even above the pounding of his heart in his ears, and the drill bit descended.
Isaac gritted his teeth as the needle descended, and with a subtle whir, slowly drilled into the soft constitution of his eyeball. He gritted his teeth even harder as pain flared through his eye, his vision blurring out as the drill drilled all the way through his eyeball and into the front of his brain directly behind his socket.
Isaac suddenly let out a long groan as the pain evened out, and then more images flashed through his mind- the ever-present marker symbols dominated the visions, swirling around him, and around the silhouette of the Red Marker. That must have been it then- the marker codes EarthGov had used to construct more of those damned creations- and hopefully the knowledge he required to end this whole mess.
The needle finally retracted with a wet 'shlurp' sound, and he immediately felt a bead of warm blood form in his eye, and he squeezed his eyelids shut, forcing a thin stream of blood out of his eye and letting it run down his check instead. He groaned once more as the pain remained, though it wasn't as severe as one may have expected. As he felt the tray slide out of the machine and he forced himself into a seated position, he found himself assailed by a flash of bright light- but unlike the yellow light given off by the Marker, this light was white- pure and hopeful.
"Nicole!" he called as he held his hand to his right eye, "where are you?!" he then called, trying to discern her figure within the bright flare.
"Follw the light," she explained from somewhere out of view, "meet me at the Marker."
"Wait...what am I supposed to do?!" he called out, but she didn't reply, and instead the bright light faded away, leaving him alone once again. "Damn it," he cursed as he pushed himself up onto the flats of his feet, realising that he would have to find his way to the Marker on his own once more. He blinked a few times, his vision still somewhat blurred from the effects of the needle, and he quickly engaged his helmet once more, bathing his vision in the gentle green glow once more.
But then he heard the other sounds- deep, guttural growls from within the walls, and metallic bangs and crashes as something large forced its way through the ventilation system. A few more seconds later, the ventilation grate on the far side of the room crashed open, and he found himself facing yet another new threat.
The eerie glow from the Marker remained undimmed, the entire Government Sector continuing to shake from its unnatural tremors; the sounds of what could have been a foghorn screaming through the air. Though the majority of the Necromorphs surrounding its base had been cleared away by now, plenty more continued to pour into the sector, swarming in through the ventilation ducts and any other means at their disposal.
Eager to be made as one.
Director Tidemann continued along his staggered path along one of the lower maintenance walkways, heading towards the base of the Marker itself. He knew fine well it was only a matter of time until Clarke got there himself, and he was determined to stop him at any cost, even if his entire security force had been wiped out to the man by now.
"Clarke," the Director managed to wheeze, even though one side of his face was completely numb, his right eye now blind and useless. As it had happened, the Convergence Event had triggered when he was a bit closer than he thought, and the unnatural burst of light produced by the monolith had been powerful enough to almost blind him, as well as deliver some serious burns to his person. The pain had been almost unbearable initially, but by now it had faded somewhat- but sudden movements caused the agony to flare up again.
But at this point Hans Tidemann didn't care about any of that. Years of research and understanding this technology, building a viable product, even if they had to make it hundreds of times the size of the Red Marker in order to make sure the signal it produced was strong enough to harness. And now one lone CEC engineer- a man with no formal combat training of any kind, a man with a demented, fucked-up brain- had managed to bring it all crashing down around him.
He felt the rage welling up inside him once more, and he took another shaky step forwards, snatching a javelin gun up from a stack of mining equipment.
Isaac tumbled out into the open air, turning around and ripping open a control panel from beside the double doors, pulling out a handful of wires and killing the door circuits, just as something slammed against it from the other side, leaving a few dents as it roared once more. The engineer sighed in relief as he checked the contact beam he currently hefted in his arms.
Whatever that thing was, it was tenacious. It also seemed to be related to the Hunter he had encountered twice on the Ishimura- relentlessly pursuing him all the way from the room containing the eye-poke machine, all the way down here, right to the base of the Marker, regenerating its limbs as he took them off. Its general appearance was different to all the other Necromorphs as well- sleek and smooth flesh, far more alien than the reconstructed human corpses he had been facing for so long, and featuring six glowing eyes on its face.
He sighed once more and turned to the right, looking up at the Marker once more. At this close distance, he could take in its enormous scale now, almost reaching to the very tip of the immense Project Annex chamber it occupied, a wide range of random debris swirling around it now, almost as though caught in a twister. The baleful yellow light stung at his eyes now, and he felt a niggling sensation in his brain now, the same sensation he always felt whenever he experienced one of his visions.
I'm reacting to the Marker the closer I get to it...could this be why I had to use that machine? What does Nicole want me to do?
He then looked down towards its base and saw a different kind of light- the pure white glow he had witnessed immediately after using the eye-poke machine. He remembered Nicole's words as well, prompting him to follow the light in the first place. Whatever that light represented, he had made it this far and there was only one thing left for him to do.
He began to walk tentatively towards the Marker, towards a steel walkway leading up to its base. His walk soon became a brisk pace, and then a jog, and then finally he was running at nearly full pelt, letting his ultimate goal push him onwards, up the final 20 yards of steel grating towards the towering rock. He was soon on the base platform itself, surrounded by all kinds of storage crates and other equipment, but he was more focused on the blinding white light, and on the vague outline of a figure he could see standing in the midst- one arm reaching out towards him.
He began to slow down to a halt, even as the arm raised even further, and suddenly materialised into a javelin gun aimed straight at him-
-and then it fired with is distinctive 'thunk' noise, and then sheer agony erupted through Isaac's left shoulder. The CEC Engineer cried out in pain, dropping his contact beam through the shock, looking to the side in time to see a three-foot titanium spike impaled through his body, blood already pouring out and staining his Advanced RIG suit.
Son of a bitch-!
He immediately grabbed at the javelin and began to tug at it desperately, even if the motions sent fresh waves of pain coursing through his body. In front of him, another familiar face reappeared, stumbling out of the intense light.
"The research into that Marker has been worth every life we just lost!"
Hans Tidemann was a mess, as a direct result of being too close to that immense burst of light from the Marker. Showing what looked like severe burns, the entire right side of his body was just a mass of raw, burned flesh, his skin and clothes having been melted away by the sheer heat, the right side of his face in a similar state; leaving his teeth and his skull exposed, right eye pale and useless.
Isaac tugged on the javelin again, and this time he felt it shift inside his body, tearing through the flesh further than it had initially. He tugged one last time, ignoring the warning sigils inside his helmet telling him that he had sustained severe trauma and blood loss.
Thanks for the update, Captain Obvious.
He finally ripped the spike free in a spray of blood and a grunt of pain and exertion, dropping it to the floor as he discarded it, as Tidemann raised his weapon for a second shot. Isaac raised his left arm, hand held out in a desperate attempt to try and protect himself from the next attack, but even the armour of his advanced RIG couldn't defend against titanium spikes fired from 6 feet away.
The second javelin ripped through his hand cleanly, though the jagged part of the spike became caught in his hand, leaving it impaled much like the injury to his shoulder just prior. He grabbed for the spear again, despite the fact even more blood was pouring from his hand, even more sigils burning red in his HUD. He tugged at the spike, even as Tidemann sluggishly pulled back the loading lever of the javelin gun to load the next shot, working with some difficulty due to the injuries he had received.
Isaac managed to finally rip the javelin free, grunting in pain and exertion as he did so, even more of his blood spraying across the grated floor. More than he could ever imagine being contained inside his body, even as his RIG administered coagulants to stem the blood flow and painkillers to help with everything else. He clutched his right hand to his shoulder as he stood up straight, only to be greeted by yet another javelin spike aimed at his face.
"I won't let you throw all of this away!"
Isaac stared into the glinting tip of that spike, knowing that this was the end. Having come so far across Titan Station, only to die at the foot of his ultimate destination, shot through the face by the same lunatic who had denied him for so long, thinking he was doing the right thing. Isaac was almost resigned to his fate when he looked past the man's burned face, and finally saw the figure who stood within the light, arm reached out towards him.
It was Nicole.
At that moment Isaac stepped to the left just as Tidemann pulled the trigger, the javelin whistling past Isaac's ear by millimetres, even as the engineer clamped his arms around Tidemann's right arm, twisting it and snapping the bone with surprising ease. Tidemann yelled out in agony, his remaining eye going impossibly wide from shock, before Isaac continued by snatching the Javelin gun from the Director's outstretched fingers. Then he turned it around, aimed it at Tidemann's neck, and fired.
Tidemann let out a strangled gasp as he slumped to his knees, blood pouring from his throat, the spike lodged halfway through his neck, much like what had happened with Isaac when he had been shot just prior. But Isaac wasn't going to show any mercy to this antagonist who was now on his knees, bleeding to death, one good arm groping at the spear lodged through his throat.
Isaac had read the text log left not too far back by the Director, claiming the Markers were the only means to sustain humanity now after so much reliance on planet cracking. It was all self-righteous crap: Tidemann could keep his excuses. He raised the newly-prepped javelin gun up, the spear tip fixed on the back of Tidemann's skull. After a couple of more seconds of letting the bastard retch up more blood, he pulled the trigger.
Tidemann's head popped like a ripe cherry and his body slumped forwards into a massive pool of blood. His RIG unit emitted the obligatory flat line noise to indicate death. Satisfied with the bastard's death, Isaac dropped the emptied weapon to the floor, and sent the impulse to slide his helmet back, before he finally turned back to face Nicole, who had so far waited patiently throughout this entire episode.
She offered a smile, visible even through the burning white light that surrounded her like a halo, a counterpart to the yellow glow that emanated from the Marker itself. Isaac looked up at her, and then back at Tidemann's body, still unsure as to what he had to do next. But she had asked him to follow the light, and he had done so. Against his better judgement, he found himself leaning forwards, burying his head into her torso as he felt her caring touch embrace him.
He sighed deeply, eyes shut, letting all of the fatigue wash away. He was finally with the one he loved dearly, after all the crap he had been subjected to over the last three years. All of his struggles had finally paid off. Even the effects of the now-activated Marker, and the tremors shaking Government Sector, drifted away like ether on the breeze.
"Thank you, Isaac," whispered Nicole, and he smiled to himself, knowing it to be true. Unfortunately, the stable, safe atmosphere of utter relief would be obliterated by Nicole's next words.
"Now...time to die!"
"What?!" he cried in alarm and confusion, pulling himself away just as the light surrounding Nicole turned from white to the same baleful orange tone that emanated from the Marker, and he found himself suddenly rooted to the spot as she threw her arms and head back, eyes rolling into the back of his skull as the entire chamber shook, a noise almost like a foghorn droning from somewhere close by. More explosions rocked the chamber, one of the side walls caving in.
His sight went completely, the burning light painting a road map of blood vessels across his vision-
-and then he was stumbling forwards, his RIG helmet donned once more and his plasma cutter in his hand. He was about to ask himself just how this had happened when he looked around himself in stunned silence. He wasn't at the base of the Marker anymore, that much was certain.
He was standing on a rock platform that seemed to be suspended in the middle of a swirling vortex, the sky and wind a sickly green colour, the marker symbols floating within the ether. The symbols covered the stone as well, creating an overwhelming blanket sensation that had become synonymous with his past visions. The pounding pain in his head had returned as well, this time almost resembling a pneumatic drill being taken to his skull. As he clutched his hand to his helmet, Nicole's voice came to him from somewhere within the sensory overload.
"Yours is the last body we need to be reborn!" she screeched, her voice echoing all around him. "The makers must be absorbed!"
"The makers?" called Isaac back, his head continuing to pound, "you mean me?" he then called, realising what she meant exactly, referring to the fact they had originally used the codes stored in his brain to build this new Marker for their own needs. And now the Marker wanted his life in return.
"But Stross said that we could destroy the Marker!"
"Not if we kill you first!" she hissed in response, and then half a second later she simply materialised out of the warping, shifting vortex in front of him, her appearance having returned to her antagonistic spiritual form- hollow eyes and mouth glowing with eerie, crackling light. She sauntered towards him at a casual pace. He stepped back in shock, unable to get his head around what had just happened.
"Nicole," he whispered, shaking his head, "why? Why are you doing this?"
"Wake up Isaac!" the spectre screeched suddenly, making him flinch, before she issued a mocking laugh. "Nicole's dead! She's been dead for the last three years! She took her own life- you saw the log yourself didn't you?! We just borrowed her face to bring you here!"
Isaac was silent as the spectre continued to walk towards him as though it had all the time in the world. He began to shake his head slowly, still unable to comprehend this latest revelation. It was all a ruse, guiding him here. The Marker had used him again like it had used him on Aegis VII- they might have just been man-made creations, but they were sentient, somehow. Manipulating everyone around them for their own needs.
"No," he whispered in despair, shaking his head.
"Come Isaac!" the spectre suddenly yelled, spreading her arms wide as she drew closer to him. "You've got nothing left to live for in this life! Make something of yourself, and help us now! Make us whole!"
Something in Isaac just snapped with those last three words. He felt the anger welling up inside him, boil over, turning into hatred, pure rage. His left hand balled into a fist, and his right hand tightened around his plasma cutter to the extent that he was sure his fingers would break off. It was rage against Unitology, for believing in these Markers, towards EarthGov for messing with things beyond their comprehending, for bringing these nightmares into the galaxy.
But right now, it was towards this mockery of the woman he loved standing before him, having just stamped out what little hope he had left. Angry didn't even begin to cover how he felt.
"Goddamn it, I trusted you!" he screamed, raising his plasma cutter and aiming it towards the spectre's torso. "Fuck you! And fuck your Marker!"
He began to fire. Unlike flesh and blood humans, the spectre didn't bleed from the shots: rather, her body seemed to shift and break apart, almost like a video log breaking up in static interference. She stumbled back, screamed with every shot that ripped through her incandescent form. Behind her, something in the distance flickered into sight briefly, and Isaac glanced up, pausing briefly from his salvo.
He turned back to the spectre and shot her twice more, the first time through the torso and then through the head. She staggered back even further than before, and then finally seemed to break apart with a drawn-out screech, an image of the Red Marker suddenly flashing into view behind her-
-and then it suddenly 'burst' apart, exposing a throbbing core of pure yellow energy that pulsed with a steady rhythm, almost like a heartbeat- it mirrored the same pounding sensation in his skull right then and there. It would sound crazy to freely admit it, but this had to be it.
This is what I have to do! I have to end this madness now!
He turned his aim onto the throbbing core and fired into it, each shot causing it to shake in place, flakes of red stone and bright sparks of energy to emanate from it, each direct hit causing a jolt of pain to shoot through his own brain. It nearly bought him to his knees, but he relented, knowing that this was it- the do or die situation where everything mattered.
Then suddenly the core had vanished, wrapped in its protective cocoon resembling the Red Marker once more, the hateful spectre wearing Nicole's face appearing in front of him once again.
"All we be made as one! Make us whole!" she cried, extending her arms out towards him as though trying to embrace him, but Isaac wasn't going to be fooled again.
He was about to open fire once again when something leapt at him from the right, slashing at him with razor-sharp claws. He screamed in pain as they dug through his suit and into the flesh of his left arm, drawing warm blood that oozed down his arm. He swung around and shot the horror responsible through the torso, and it simply disintegrated into thin air.
What the hell?
More of them were scrambling onto the platform from the sides or simply materialising out of thin air. Small figures, almost resembling the Pack, but they were formed from what looked like writhing black smoke that twisted and swayed this way and that, vague outlines of the marker symbols visible within. He switched out the plasma cutter for the pulse rifle, turning and firing on full auto, cutting straight through several of the shrieking beings before he had to back away from the encroaching spectre.
"Give up, Isaac!"
He shot a few more of the shadow creatures, and then fired into the spectre, forcing her backwards with more pained shrieks. The gunshots, the beat of his heart, the shrieks of the smoking monsters that bayed all around them- it all thumped in perfect sync with that damned throbbing pain in his head, which had now become so bad he was certain his head was about to explode.
The spectre vanished from its position in front of him and reappeared a few feet to his left, lunging to try and embrace him in a less-than-friendly manner. He turned, as if on instinct, and shot her through the face. She reeled back several feet, clutching at her disintegrating head, as the smoking creatures swarmed all around. Left with no choice, Isaac took up his Contact Beam, extended the barrel, and thrust it into the rock at his feet. He pulled the trigger.
Discharged into the ground at his feet, the energy blast radiated outwards all around him. Several of the creatures were thrown aside, fading away into bare wisps of energy, while the rest were hit with a mild stasis effect, freezing them in place, their motions slowed greatly. He then ripped the weapon free from the ground and turned it towards the spectre, still reeling from the headshot, and charged up a shot.
He fired a few seconds later as the beam began to throb uncontrollably in his arms, stabbing out an impossibly bright white flash of energy towards the spectre. The top half of her body seemed to come apart like flakes of snow, amongst another piercing scream, and then she faded away entirely, the throbbing 'heart' reappearing from inside the Red Marker, beating more intensely now. He charged another shot and turned the Contact Beam towards it, firing once the charge was complete.
There was a much more noticeable effect this time, as half of the glowing, throbbing organ actually broke away, shattering into glass and fading away into the glowing green vortex. The red, rocky surface of the Red Marker then reappeared, closing around the core and stealing it away from view. He glanced down and saw that the Contact Beam only had a single shot left, the ammo display reading a blaring red '1'.
Best save that for when I need it.
He stored the heavy weapon away and reached for his trusty pulse rifle once again, though he found that he was down to the last magazine on that too- the hologram read '79', even after the power nodes he had committed to upgrading the weapon's capacity and other statistics. The smoke creatures were beginning to draw near once again. He turned and opened fire, cutting two of them down in a spray of pulse rounds. Then he had to turn around and open fire again to fend off several more who were coming from his left.
One managed to slip around behind him and leapt up, its claws digging underneath his armour plating and through the undersuit into the flesh of his left shoulder. He cried out, turned and batted it away with the barrel of his rifle. Much like its brethren, it simply disintegrated into nothing but a wisp of black smoke, no evidence of its existence left. Isaac could feel the blood pouring from his wound even a she continued to fire on the remaining smoke creatures. His breathing was becoming more laboured inside his RIG helmet, warnings began to flash up.
He saw the spectre appear ahead of him, walking very slowly towards him. Sauntering, almost.
"Isaac," she whispered, her voice laced with venom and honey in equal measure, "why are you still fighting this?"
"Go to hell!" he hissed, as he gunned down a few more creatures. The spectre shifted position, now standing about 6 feet closer.
"You're just one man, Isaac," she laughed. "What are you? You're nothing! You're not a scientist, you're not a researcher! You're not even a soldier! You're an engineer! You're nothing important to anyone! Why else did your father run out on you?"
"Shut up!" howled Isaac as he fired again. The hologram read '20'.
"-why else did your mother give up your future for the Church? Because she never loved you! She never cared about you!"
"Leave my family out of this!" he bellowed, still firing. The hologram number dwindled down to '11'.
"-and why else did Nicole take her own life? She knew you would never save her, so she took the easy way out!"
"There's nothing left for you Isaac!" the spectre howled, standing just 10 feet away now. "Nothing left for you to love, to care about! You were a lost cause long before you ended up on this forsaken rock! You've done your duty to Us, now just take the easy way out and die!"
"Fuck you!" screamed Isaac as he turned and fired off the last remaining rounds in the pulse rifle, the screams, the symbols, the pounding in his skull- everything had gotten to him by now. He just wanted it all to stop.
The spectre had disappeared once again.
Panting hard, Isaac dropped the empty pulse rifle to the rocky ground, looking left and right. The smoke monsters had finally stopped coming, and he was seemingly by himself once more. He knew better though, even as he peered into the writhing vortex that encircled the lone rock platform.
"Just let go, Isaac. . Whole!" the voice hissed, dangerously close.
It was standing right behind him.
He turned around quicker than he ever had previously in his life, stepping back and just missing the bloodied figure's embrace as it tried to grab him in a bear-hug. He raised his plasma cutter and pressed it against the spectre's chest. He pulled the trigger, and she flew backwards, screaming once more in her piercing manner. He unloaded two more shots into her torso, each one breaking apart her form a little more.
She faded away just as his finger hovered over the trigger once more, and then he felt the deep rumble through his body as the beating heart exposed itself once more. He turned to face it in the near distance, saw how it was beating faster, in tandem with the pain in his brain, threatening to make his head explode like a burst water pipe. He couldn't let it get to him yet though, not when he was so close. He raised the plasma cutter and fired off the last three shots in the current charge clip- the last clip he had for the makeshift weapon, the one he had wielded since his escape from the Hospital hours beforehand.
He dropped the plasma cutter, now useless, and grabbed for the contact beam instead, and its one remaining shot. Thankfully, he wouldn't need anymore than one shot if his aim was true. He pulled the weapon up, and curled his finger around the charge yoke.
His head snapped around impossibly fast at the painfully familiar voice. He saw the spectre standing barely 10 feet away from him, her lower body in the process of coming apart, blurring in and out of focus like a video log with bad interference, but her upper torso was perfectly solid, and her face was Nicole's. Tears streamed down her face as her arms reached out, pleading with him.
"Isaac, please!" she sobbed. "I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry! Don't do this! If you destroy it then you'll never see me again!"
Isaac wasn't going to be fooled this time. He had accepted now that he would never see Nicole again. She was dead- long gone for the last three years. The Markers had just preyed on his grief and his guilt, twisting it into something that was only Nicole on the outside. After being duped for so long, he wouldn't be fooled now. He knew the truth now.
"You're not Nicole!" he screamed over the cacophony of noise that surrounded him, before he turned back and began to charge the contact beam again, feeling it writhe and buck in his arms. He prepared to hit the firing stud when the spectre screamed out its last ever word.
He fired. He clearly saw the lance of white-hot energy stab out, hit the heart dead on and saw the burst of light and energy. For a single horrifying split-second, nothing happened.
And then the heart exploded in a burst of light.
Isaac stepped back and raised his hand up to block out the brilliant sunburst pattern, though the afterimage had already been burned onto his retinas. The screams and the wailing winds around him rose to a great crescendo, and he could see what was left of the heart rotating around a blinding central light, almost like the afterlight of an atomic bomb going off. He lowered his arms, and dared to look into the glowing core for an extended period-
-until it suddenly burst once again, and Isaac raised his arms up again, feeling intense vibrations rock the ground beneath his feet, pulsing his entire body with a shockwave of energy that scattered the screaming spectre into a cloud of dust on the winds. Isaac didn't see this though, as his eyes rolled into the back of his skull once more, felt something unnatural pulling at him, pulling him back into reality-
-and with a deep intake of breath, he was back in the Marker chamber on the Sprawl, almost as though he had never left in the first place. He was still stood in front of the towering structure itself, his helmet folded back, his weapons discarded on the ground beside him, spent and useless. His breathing began to slow down as he quickly checked himself over. His left shoulder and hand still featured the ragged wounds given to him by Tidemann's javelin gun, but the cuts he had taken from the smoke creatures were nowhere to be seen.
What the hell was that just now? Was that...all in my head?
He looked up at the Marker. It was no longer powered up, its rocky surface a dull black now, several large chunks having been broken off and shattered like eggshell, exposing the steel support frame inside. The glowing light had gone as well, the only lighting being from the massive overhead lighting rigs in the chamber. More importantly, he couldn't see any more Necromorphs now. It was almost as though they had simply vanished into thin air.
More importantly, the pounding in his skull had finally subsided, and it felt as though something had clicked into place for the final time, leaving his mind as clear as it could be: he was finally free from the Marker's influence over his mind. No more would he have to fret over whether or not he would lose his mind in an instant, or take his own life. It was finally over.
'Warning. Reactor containment destabilized. A reactor breach is imminent. Evacuation of all personnel is required. This is not a drill.'
The automated female voice informed him of the current situation- the Marker's destruction must have caused a power surge or something similar through the main reactor, which had likely ruptured as a result. A reactor breach would have resulted in a catastrophic explosion that would reduce the entire station to nothing. Somewhere deep below, something shook violently, and a twisted chunk of plating fell from the ceiling.
Isaac just glanced around lazily. He knew there was no escape for him now. He had come here fully expecting to be killed destroying the Marker, and he knew fine well there were no more shuttles left in the sector's docking bays- he had sent Ellie away on the last one, after all.
Ellie...I hope you're safe.
He turned slowly, slumping into a seated position. He felt the blood continue to leak out of his wounds. He needed urgent medical attention, but there was no chance of that- no chance of anything now. He was probably the only human being left on the Sprawl now.
He lowered his head, stared down at the empty weapons before him. Somewhere close by alarms were blaring, but he ignored them. His eyes closed slowly, the fatigue finally catching up to him as his adrenaline rush faded away. Finally he could rest, even if it were only for a scare few minutes, before the reactor detonation reduced him to a cinder. Perhaps death wasn't so bad now, considering the alternative of becoming a Necromorph.
'Warning. Life Support failure. Seek protection immediately.'
It was all distant to Isaac now as he retreated into his blissful state, shutting everything else out. He was free form it all now, all of the bullshit, all of the power games, being fought over all because he had survived that nightmare on the Ishimura. Perhaps there was another side after death- perhaps he'd see Nicole once more- finally together again, even if it was in death...
The completely unexpected crackle of a video log coming to life in front of him nearly caused him to jump out of his skin as he was broken out of his reverie, and he glanced up quickly, wide-eyed, to be faced with someone who he assumed that he would never see again.
"You complete bastard!" snapped Ellie Langford angrily, seated in the shuttle cockpit that Isaac had sent her off in hours past. "Was this your great plan? Dump me off and then go and get yourself killed?!"
Isaac couldn't help but let a wistful smirk cross his face, immense relief at the fact that she was still alive washing over him- at the simple fact that someone else had survived a Necromorph outbreak in one piece.
"Told you I was full of bad ideas," he said instead, referencing one of their earlier conversations.
"Oh yeah?" she replied, somewhat testily, "well here's another one: I'm crashing through the roof to get you out of there! Now move your arse!"
"What?!" responded Isaac, rising to his feet, despite the continuing pain of his wounds. This wasn't meant to happen- she was meant to get out of there while she was still able to, and she had ignored him and come straight back- she must have overridden the ship's autopilot systems somehow to be able to fly the ship back to the station.
"Right now? Wait, no! It's too late Ellie! Stay away from the station, the main reactor's about to go into meltdown!"
"Yeah, well you don't really have a say in it this time," she responded in her trademark blunt manner. "Heads up!" And without giving Isaac another moment to try and dissuade her, she was gone, the log vanishing from sight.
Then there was a terrific flash of light and an eruption of noise from somewhere far above his head, and the entire chamber shook. Isaac cast his gaze skywards to see the gunship emerge into the massive chamber within a blossom of flame and shrapnel, its main searchlights piercing through the gloom. As it did so, the automated voice piped up again.
'Warning. Hull Breach. Decompression.'
Already Isaac could feel the decompression effect tugging at his body as the gunship rounded on itself, circling the immense Marker.
'Warning. Gravity Failure.'
Smaller debris and chunks of Marker stone were starting to be lifted into the air, swirling around the massive chamber. Another chunk of steel dropped from the ceiling, and Isaac barely managed to duck to the side to avoid being flattened.
Knowing that he couldn't waste anymore time, Isaac engaged his helmet in an instant, letting it unfold and slide out over his head, while at the same time pushing off his feet. Letting the decompression effect drag him into the air, he flipped over once, and then engaged the thrusters on his boots, flying forwards into the sky, towards the gunship, which was now banking and turning this way and that swiftly, avoiding the debris that was swirling freely around the chamber.
He'd been ready to let himself be killed moments ago- but now he had a way out, someone to escape with.
As ever, Isaac couldn't hear anything within the newly-created vaccum- just the sound of blood thumping in his ears and his own hurried breathing, as he banked and dodged around debris that was beginning to fill the chamber- hunks of twisted steel and other materials, pieces of shattered Marker rock, and much more besides. His eyes remained fixated on the gunship throughout the entire flight though, as it took banked and swerved this way and that to avoid the larger chunks of debris, the smaller pieces simply plinking off of its hull. Ellie was certainly piloting that ship very deftly.
Isaac quickly banked to the side, narrowly passing by a huge chunk of Marker rock that would have reduced him to a crimson paste otherwise, spinning wildly before he set himself on a more level plane again. He saw that he was barely a few feet away from the gunship now, but they would soon run out of space to fly in unless something was done quickly. Thankfully, he saw the ship's airlock door suddenly slide open.
A second later, Ellie emerged, already wearing the standard pressurised suit that was allocated to these types of craft, one hand clutching onto the safety rail inside, her other hand reached out towards him.
"Isaac! Grab my hand!" she yelled, her voice chirping in through the speakers in his helmet. He reached for her, arm stretched as far as he could possibly manage, his legs flailing as he desperately tried to maintain velocity with the gunship.
"I'm trying! I'm trying!" he yelled back, reaching further forwards, fully aware that they could easily splatter against one of the chamber's side wall in an instant if he didn't hurry up. His arm was burning now, almost close to self-dislocation.
Finally, their hands met, and she pulled, dragging him head-over-heels into the gunship's airlock. Isaac grunted, the air knocked from his lungs, and he just lay there for a couple of seconds, staring up at the grated ceiling.
I made it...holy shit I made it!
But celebrations could wait, and he quickly scrambled to his feet the exact same time that Ellie did. She looked over at him, mixed parts of relief and concern in her remaining eye.
"Quick! Close the hatch!" he half-screamed, and she complied, slapping a gloved hand down on the control panel beside the open hatch. There was a whirring of pistons and gyros as it began to swing shut.
Isaac looked out to see the Sprawl rapidly getting further and further away beneath them, the massive Project Annex chamber in the very centre. He could see all of the station's main features from here- the Church of Unitology, beside the Casseni Towers residential block, and even the docked USG Ishimura, consigned to another nightmare. A few seconds later, a massive explosion suddenly ripped through the very centre of the Government Sector, rapidly expanding outwards, swallowing everything in its path, flattening buildings and other solid structures like a house of cards.
"My God..." was all he could manage, realising that he could feel the heat from here. Then he realised that a lot of debris was rapidly approaching, flung out by the sheer force of the explosion.
The hatch closed just in time, several impacts resounding against the hull. They were safe now.
A few minutes later, Isaac let his weary body just slump lazily down into the co-pilot's seat in the ship cockpit, his helmet retracted. He leaned back and sighed deeply, closing his eyes as he did. It was finally over- the Marker constructed by EarthGov was history, as were the monsters it had created.
And he was safe too- ever since he had been dragged into that horrific nightmare world at the base of the Marker, the pounding in his brain had finally ceased, as had the visions and the voices- everything that had followed him since his first trip onto the Ishimura. The Red Marker's influence, which had implanted itself into his brain since three years prior, was finally gone, as was his guilt over Nicole's death.
Once again, he had survived what had claimed so many other lives.
Three years ago, he was just one man trying to desperately survive and escape that doomed planet cracker. This time the stakes had been much higher- EarthGov and the Unitologists were locked in a covert war for the control of the Markers themselves- and had been ever since the discovery of the Red Marker on Aegis VII. The Church wanted it to spread their faith and 'Convergence' throughout the galaxy, while the government wanted them for an as yet unknown reason- power? He remembered finding Tidemann's log about why the Markers were so important. Humanity couldn't rely on Planet Cracking to sustain itself forever- but anything was better than relying on alien technology which could potentially cause such horrific tragedy.
There was that other log he had found addressed to Tidemann, which criticised the director heavily for his evacuation of the station- and curtly stating there would be dire consequences as a result. Whoever it was meant to be clearly wanted the Marker research to succeed.
But Isaac was free from all of that bullshit, for the time being at least-
A cold shiver ran up Isaac's spine suddenly, as he realised there was another presence in the cockpit with him. The last time he was here- in a cockpit, thinking himself free of the madness- he had turned around only to see a demented, bloody clone of his lost love lunging at him from out of the darkness, a pretence to the dementia that would nearly consume him on Titan Station. He had freed himself o the Marker's influence, but was he free from the madness? He slowly turned his head, his breathing becoming ragged-
-only to see Ellie sat in the pilot's seat beside him. After a couple of seconds, she turned towards him. She offered an awkward grin, all too aware of how Isaac was staring at her as though she'd just sprouted a second head.
Even as the tiny ship piloted away from the rapidly-expanding ring of space debris and fading fire that used to be Titan Station, they were unaware of another vessel which watched from within the cover of an asteroid. It was a scouting vessel- large enough to hold two crew- the EarthGov logo painted upon its flank.
The two men inside watched the expanding eruption for several seconds, until one of them sighed and hit a few keys on the control panel to open a radio link back to their staging area.
"This is flight-team EG-9 to control," he stated, as his colleague began to pilot the vessel away from what used to be Titan Station. "We have completed the fly-by. There's nothing left. I repeat, Titan Station has been completely destroyed."
"And the Marker?" inquired the voice on the other end. It was a deep tone, one almost devoid of emotion. Even after the destruction of one of Earth's largest colonies and the loss of over a million civilians, they only cared about that damn rock.
"Negative," the radio operator responded after a brief hesitation. "Nothing survived this, sir. Marker Site 12 is a total loss." There were a few brief moments of silence from the other end of the line, until the voice spoke up again. As ever, he was emotionless as beforehand.
"Pity. Recall all flights and return to base. The other sites will have to pick up the pieces."
So...I was meant to have completed this one-shot and have it uploaded a long time ago, in order to bring a close to my suite of other one-shots I'd completed for Dead Space 2- but a lot of stuff happened, and as such it got put on the after burner for a long time as a result. But it is finished now, and here for your viewing pleasure.
In hindsight, it would have been better to split this into two separate pieces- one from up until Isaac has his session in the eye-poke machine, and then depicting Isaac's final fight with his own dementia at the Marker. But I did want to finish off so I could move onto other projects, so they merged together.
As for the future, I'm still working on my current Resident Evil Projects- 'Tales from the Necropolis' and 'Dead Memories', so make your way on over there if you're interested in Resident Evil. And of course, Dead Space 3 is due out in February, so I'll definitely be getting it and doing something on it via, so keep your eyes peeled for then if you're interested. Whether it would be a full novelization or not I doubt it- probably some more one-shots like this, to be honest.
But for now, I'm done. *throws spent plasma cutter to the floor and retracts gore-soaked RIG helmet* R & R as always, please- I appreciate any sort of feedback (short of actual flames, of course), and I will see you next time. Keep classy, guys.