Cameron followed Miyako14 down the darkened staircase with Vyra6 bringing up the rear. Terrified screams and beastly shrieks from floors above and below filled the space. Where the ground floor of The Pinnacle held an oppressive silence, every place else within its walls was alive with a cacophony of dire sounds.
“It’s like a madhouse.” Vyra6 said.
Miyako14 nodded. “Very much so.”
Cameron ignored the obvious Human cries of distress and horror. Time was limited, and at this moment, they couldn’t afford to run to the aid of a few scattered individuals when they knew the exact location of a small group they could rescue just as easily, especially when that group seemed to have the very person who could possibly put an end to all of this amongst its ranks. Her priorities had been clinically laid out before her, and she was set to follow them as ordered.
Reaching the next landing, Vyra6 and Miyako14 took up position on both sides of the exit door, and Cameron stood before it. Hisses, shrieks, and inhuman growls spoke of the many creatures in the corridor beyond.
Cameron eyed Miyako14. “How many?”
After looking at her Tracker, the scout gave a wide grin then chuckled. “Twenty-five.”
“Then let’s make this a little easier than last time.” Cameron said. Things were far from over, and they didn’t have the time or ammunition to waste on the number of mutations behind the door. She nodded towards Miyako14. “Open it.” She ordered.
Miyako14 keyed the pad on the wall and the exit door slid open exposing Cameron just outside of its frame. The back half of the mutated crowd filling the corridor whipped around towards the open doorway and lunged, but through a quick exertion of Telekinetic Force, Cameron hurled piercing Thoughts of Deadly Intent and Fierce Determination into the horde. Down the length of the corridor, mutations were knocked off their feet and thrown back as gaping holes tore through skull and breastbone as if they had been set upon by an army of phantom lancers. In barely less than a second, the mob of mutations had been mowed down.
“Move in.” Cameron ordered her squad.
Each of them took a position within the corridor, Miyako14 at the front, Cameron in the middle, and Vyra6 at the rear. They all watched the lifeless bodies for any signs of rejuvenation. Ultimately, eleven out of the twenty-five corpses attempted to return from the depths but were deftly cast back down by the sharp point or edge of Cameron’s combat knife, Miyako14’s laser blades, or Vyra6’s field axe.
After a moment of stillness, Cameron eyed Vyra6. “Clear?”
She nodded. “Clear.”
“For now.” Miyako14 added.
Cameron turned to the large storage room door and banged on it with a fist. “Hello?” she called. “It’s safe now. You can open the door. My team and I have been sent by HuGo to get you out.”
She listened to the air a moment but there was no response, then she eyed Miyako14.
Looking at her tracker, “No movement inside.” the scout informed.
Cameron extended her mind beyond the door and into the room. “They’re in there.” she said. “Seven of them.” They radiated a mix of fear, concern, hopelessness, and anger, but there was one who also emitted an odd kind of…glee.
Vyra6 caught Cameron’s gaze. “I’m sure they’re scared.”
Cameron nodded in confirmation. “Miyako, prepare to open it.” she said, then banged on the door again. “Listen, we know you’re in there. Open the door if you can. It’s safe. We’re here to rescue you.” There was still no response from the survivors, though some of their hopelessness was starting to give way to optimism.
“Okay. We are coming in.” Cameron continued. “I know you’re scared, but I must warn you, it’s in your best interest not to attack us.”
Miyako14 snickered at that.
“Miyako, open it.”
After the scout punched in the override code, the storage room door began to open, ascending into the ceiling. Cameron and her team side-stepped the make-shift barricade of boxes, crates, and furniture that came crashing down into the corridor, then they entered the storage room, weapons ready.
Toppled shelves and debris cluttered the floor, and there was no one in sight within the cavernous room. Miyako14 closed the doors behind them as Cameron and Vyra6 looked about.
“Come out. Show yourselves.” Cameron urged. “We don’t have much time.”
Suddenly, there was movement towards the back, behind a row of shelves, and one by one, people began to come out of hiding. Vyra6 took them in with a small but satisfied smile. It felt good to see a Human in person who was not dead and mutilated.
Cameron quickly identified Dr. Saul in a slick black lab coat as he and seven others approached. He looked even younger than his picture, and his gaze, much too old for his face, was fixed on her as if in calculation. Though satisfaction burned within him, that odd glee she felt a moment ago, it seemed to dim within her presence as a measure of apprehension and curiosity flared up.
Two men and a woman, in blood stained and battered dark gray armor, gripped assault rifles. The smaller of the two men was sweating profusely, his face, pinched as if enduring the pain of a wound.
Cameron looked them over. “This all of you?”
“Yes,” a dark-skinned man answered. His gaze held her in a curious light also and he too wore a lab coat, though his was white. A woman with a head of curly red hair stood behind him, draped in a blood-stained lab coat. She clung to his arm failing to put on a brave face.
“Fourteen.” Cameron called.
“On it.” Miyako14 took off to secure the room.
The tall man in gray armor was much stockier than the sweating one and wore a thick blond beard and a bald head. There was a hardness in his eyes as he looked Cameron up and down. “Where is she going, and who are you supposed to be?” he drilled her. “How did you get passed all those…things out there?”
Cameron narrowed her eyes on him. There was always one in every group. Someone who needed to be put in check or put down. Although she’d do her best to follow orders and evacuate any and all survivors, she already knew that if this man would make it out alive or die by the hands of a mutation, or even her own, would be entirely up to him.
“A bit more respect than that, Herns.” Dr. Saul stood beside him with a knowing grin. “This is Cameron, Commander of her little squad here. Miyako14, and Vyra6 there, are her subordinates.”
Cameron eyed the doctor sharply. How did he know that? He seemed to have a casual familiarity with them, yet she had never seen or even heard of him before this day, and Knight made no mention of anyone here being informed of their pending arrival. Sure, he was a Hugo Scientist and would most likely be aware of her squad to some degree, but even still, it was a point of concern she was dead set on addressing in short order.
“So?” Herns replied unimpressed. “ What is she supposed to do?”
Cameron’s gaze slid from the Doctor back to Herns. “I’m going to get you out of here.”
Dr. Saul clapped a hand on Herns’ shoulder. “Don’t worry. She’s a Genie.” he smiled. “One of the best actually.”
“A Genie?” Herns spat. He and the other two in armor raised their weapons. “Aren’t these things the reason why we’re in this mess?”
“Well,” Dr. Saul Shrugged non-committedly. “that’s up for debate.”
Cameron eyed the three who raised their weapons, then in fearless defiance, she stepped towards Herns and let the barrel of his assault rifle press into the center of her armored chest.
“Lower-your weapons-now.” She said menacingly. Each word was like a gun barrel being pressed against the man’s head ready to fire.
“I suggest you comply, Herns.” Dr. Saul threw him a mischievous smirk.
Herns’ brown eyes met Cameron’s stone greys for a moment, then he clenched his jaw, lowered his rifle, and motioned for the others to do the same.
Cameron didn’t take her eyes off of him. “Six.”
“Are any of you hurt?” Vyra6 stepped up. “I’m a Support-Medic.” she looked over the weary group and her gaze fell upon the sweating man in grey armor. “You.”
The man looked at Herns with uncertainty in is eyes, and the taller man gave a slight nod.
“Well, it’s my leg.” The sweating man admitted, rubbing his right thigh.
Vyra set down her Auto Shotgun and helped the man sit off to the side on a metal box. “What is the issue?”
Herns gave another nod to the female in armor who then went to stand by her injured comrade, hovering protectively.
Cameron scanned the group each in turn, committing faces and psychic presences to memory. “Anyone know the location of any other possible survivors?”
A stark bleakness emanated from the group as they eyed each other with faces of gloom.
“None in particular…unfortunately.” The dark-skinned man shook his head.
“Understood.” She nodded. “ What are your names?”
“Well, I’m Doctor Saul. Lead Geneticist.” The man was quick to answer, full of pride and self-import. He adjusted his black lab coat, then motioned towards the dark-skinned man and the curly-haired women. “This is Dr. Paxton and Dr. McBride, my assistants. This rather aggressive gentlemen here is—”
“Security Chief Herns.” The man himself spoke loudly, pushing passed Dr. Saul. “Those two over there” he nodded towards the man and woman in armor, “are officers Langley and Romnokov.”
Cameron nodded, then zeroed in on a young man hanging back by the shelves. “And you?”
Everyone turned and looked at him and he jerked nervously at their sudden attention. “I..I’m Tobias Wen.” he said. “Just an Administrative Worker.” He shrugged with exasperation.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cameron caught Dr. Saul staring at her with a sly smile, and she rounded on him. “Something amusing, Doctor?”
“Well,” He grinned. “it seems that Knight is not without a sense of humor.”
Just then, Miyako14 returned reporting straight to Cameron. “All clear, Commander. There are a couple of weak points, but the room hasn’t been compromised,” she inclined her head. “yet.”
Cameron eyed the air vents high up in the ceiling. “Can’t stay here too much longer anyway,” she said. “Those mutations will find a way in here sooner or later.”
“Yep.” Miyako14 smiled mischievously. “So, in the interest of time, should I head to the main server room? See what I can retrieve on this thing?”
Cameron took a breath of consideration and checked her chronometer. It read three hours and twenty-seven minutes. “Go ahead.” she agreed. “But we’ll be leaving this location shortly. I’m sending Six back to The Answer with this group, and I’m going after the organism.”
Miyako14 nodded, pound a fist to her chest. “Commander.” then headed for the door.
“Wait a minute, where is she going now?” Herns demanded, looking after Miyako14.
Cameron stood in his path. “HuGo Command wants all information on the organism retrieved.”
“Organism?” Dr. Saul scoffed.
Herns balked. “And you’re sending her out there…alone?”
Miyako14 opened the storage room door and disappeared into the corridor without looking back.
“You want to go with her?” Cameron gestured as the large door closed once again.
Herns looked around at the group and swallowed. “I mean, it just seems rather irresponsible to send one person out there alone with all those things.”
“Her mission is not to engage the enemy but to retrieve information, which is one of her expertise.” Cameron said. “She knows how to stay hidden.”
“But you don’t even know what those things are fully capable of or how many of them are actually out there. They took out my entire security force like we were nothing!” Herns shot back heatedley.
“Well, thankfully,” Cameron said. “my team and I have nothing to do with you and your security force.”
Herns grit his teeth, then yanked his gaze away from her.
“Herns, calm down.” Dr. Saul said. “Despite her Iteration Number, Miyako14 is quite capable.”
Cameron turned on the Doctor. “How do you know my Squad?” she asked, partly suspicious and partly annoyed with his smug attitude.
“Well, as I informed you earlier, I’m the Lead Geneticist here.” he said. “My assistants and I” he searched for the words. “design your kind. So, of course we know all about the mighty Cameron and her Squad.”
“Yeah, you design them, but it’d be nice if you could control these things too.” Herns said scornfully. “I thought Genies were supposed to protect us, not…slaughter us.”
Cameron spared the man a glance at that, not because his words hurt, but because they were true, and she wondered about their deeper meaning.
“Well, ninety-nine percent of Genies do as they are told.” Dr. Saul shrugged. “It’s only natural to have a few who…don’t, from time to time”.
“So, you’re saying this organism is actually Genie?” Vyra6 asked, she was stopped right in the middle of examining Langley’s leg wound.
“Oh, yes.” Doctor Saul nodded with pride. “And one of my finest to date.” he smiled broadly. When Cameron and Vyra6 gave no reaction he continued. “Jessica, Mei’Triq, Gillette. You know them, of course.” he threw the names out, each one like a feather in his cap. “I designed them all, and from my understanding, they are each noted rivals of yours. Am I right, Commander?” he slid his smile towards her.
Cameron indeed knew the Genies he spoke of. All three were powerful. All three were deadly. She fought alongside them on a few occasions and also against them on conflicting missions, but none of that meant anything right now.
She took a breath. “Dr. Saul, We don’t have time for this.” she waved his words off. “I need you to tell me about this organism, its mutations, their strengths and weaknesses” She approached him. “We already know about their genetic virus, and their ability to rejuvenate.” she added. “We’ve also been told the organism can change forms. What else can you tell us?”
“Organism?” He frowned at the word, and shook his head. “Technically, yes, she is, like we all are, but she is not some simple organism.” he wrinkled his nose. “Fei’Darma is one of the greatest Genies ever created.”
“Yes, of course, but that’s all irrelevant.” Cameron was losing patience. “ Especially since HuGo Command has marked this great Genie of yours for termination.”
Dr. Saul’s jaw dropped, and Cameron continued. “Strengths and weaknesses, Doctor. Now.”
“Termination?” He repeated the word as if foreign to his tongue. He threw Dr. Paxton a mystified look then turned back to Cameron. “You can’t kill her.”
Cameron cocked her head to the side. “Why? Have you found a way to make her immortal or something?”
“Is that why her mutations can revive?” Vyra6 asked, curiosity full in her voice.
“What?” Dr. Saul said distractedly. “No. I mean the very idea is ridiculous. Killing her would be such a” he searched for the words. “an ignorant waste.” He took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Listen to me, Commander. Our best chance of survival is to capture Fei’Darma and let me talk to her. Let me talk her down from all this insanity. It’s the only way.” he urged.
“Doctor,” Cameron squared her shoulders. “My orders are to retrieve the data on your experiment, rescue any survivors, and most importantly, kill this organism and all those infected.” she counted each point off on her fingers. “And that is what I’m going to do.” She purposely neglected to tell him about his VIP status. He was already all too important to himself and she wasn’t going to add fuel to that raging fire.
“Take a look around you, Commander.” He motioned at the ragtag group of survivors. “All of this death and destruction happened because Herns refused to listen to me. He tried to kill her too and look what happened. You will only make things worse and definitely get the rest of us killed.”
“Let me explain the situation to you, Doctor, since you are unaware.” She stood toe to toe with him and locked gazes. “If I don’t complete my mission to the parameters I’ve been given, in about three hours, HuGo Command will send a fleet of ships to obliterate this moon and everything on it.”
“What?” Herns barked.
“But what about us?” Dr. McBride finally spoke, her face masked in confusion. “What about the colonists? Surely they’ll evacuate us before then.” she pleaded. “Don’t you have a ship? How did you get here?”
Cameron turned towards her. “Yes, I do have a ship, but it has limited space. Nowhere near enough for an entire colony, but even with that, due to its genetic virus, Command will not risk the organism or its mutations getting off this moon.” She scanned the entire group and hoped what she said next would sink in. “Even if I evacuate you, if that organism is still alive when they get here, Command will kill us all to make sure there’s no chance of it escaping.”
The woman’s face drained of all hope. She shied away from Cameron’s gaze and clung to Dr. Paxton’s arm even tighter.
Cameron turned back to Dr. Saul. “Unless you want to die, Doctor, the only thing that will stop the clock on this mission is the destruction of this organism.”
Dr. Saul just stared at her, disbelief furrowing his brow. Then he laughed bitterly. “We might as well just kill ourselves now then.” he spat.
Herns grabbed him by the collar. “The hell are you talking about?”
“Fei’Darma is of my own design.” the doctor said. “Her overall abilities far surpass Cameron’s and her squad’s.” He wrenched out of Herns grip. “She’s too strong. They won’t be able to kill her.”
The group of survivors eyed Cameron. All optimism left their bodies in that instant. They actually seemed to deflate before her very eyes, and she ground her teeth more because of the destabilizing effect Dr. Saul was having on them rather than his total lack of faith in her abilities.
“Doctor,” she breathed in a measured tone. “You claim to know who I am, so I assume you know what I’m capable of, what my team is capable of.”
“You will either do what I say, or I will make you do what I say.” She held him with her gaze. “It’s my duty to protect the Human race. It is literally what your kind made me for. Your creation has been marked as a threat and I’ve been sent to kill it. And, again, that is exactly what I’m going to do.”
With one hand, she took him by the collar, slow but forceful. “You have two options.” she said. “You can willingly tell me what I want to know–their strengths and weaknesses, or I will rip the information out of your brain.” the room fell to complete silence at her words. “Mind you,” she continued. “I don’t have time to be gentle, so it’s really going to hurt.” she gave him a shake. “And after I’m finished rummaging around in your head, if I feel like it, maybe, just maybe, I’ll put your precious little mind back together the way I found it. Do you understand?”
She was dead serious, and the fact of the matter was if he had not been a designated VIP, she would’ve already done what she was now only threatening to do.
The Doctor’s eyes were wide and his face blanched for a long moment, then it hardened with indignation. He was obviously not used to being handled and talked to in such a manner.
“Alright, Commander.” he said, rather coldly. “No need to threaten me.” He glanced down at her fist gripping his collar and a few seconds later, she released him. Straightening his black lab coat he looked about the group, then cleared his throat.
“So” he started. “You want to know what I know about Fei’Darma, do you?” he eyed the group again to see if he had their attention, then turned back to Cameron with his smug smirk. “But you know so much already. There’s not much else I can say really.”
Cameron was about to speak in protest but he stopped her with a staying hand. “Though, there are two things” he held up just as many fingers. “Two things I can tell you that I’m sure you’ll find very interesting.”
“Enough with the theatrics, Doctor.” Cameron warned. “Spit it out.”
“Okay.” he said, then held up a single finger. “One, I am her Father.”
“What?” Hearns looked about as if he’d suddenly found himself in a madhouse.
“Well, I think her ability to create other lifeforms matches mine in a rather…symbolic fashion. Don’t you?.” the Doctor smirked.
Hearns just shook his head in disbelief.
Then, Dr. Saul held up a second finger. “And two,” He stood right in front of Cameron looking up into her grey eyes. “ You, my dear,” his smile broadened. “are her Mother.”
How will Cameron handle this shocking reveal? Is Dr. Saul indeed telling the truth or is he lying in the hopes of manipulating Cameron to do his will? Find out in the upcoming chapters!