Jarhead approaches Gator and his travelling companions in the large cafeteria of the Autodoc. “Well I’m going to deal with the East Wing. If you want to come along, come along. Gator do you want to come along? I might find something interesting to play with.”
Gator sighs. The others glance up from their food.
After moment, the mercenary looks up from his food. “What are you going to do for me? If I’m to stop you from getting killed, you are going to do something for me.”
“Dude, I fixed your gun,” the tinkerer says. He thinks for a moment. “I’ll make something cool for you later.”
Jarhead turns to Allison. “You stay here. Watch what they do to your brother and take good notes.”
“Okay,” she says softly.
“Define cool,” Gator interrupts.
“Explosive?” Jarhead offers.
“I’ve got a rocket launcher.”
Jarhead shrugs. “If that all you are looking for. That’s pretty boring.”
Gator cocks his head for a moment. “Alright, you owe me a favor.”
Jarhead nods unfazed. “I’ll build you something.”
Across the room, November corners a familiar nurse on her way into the cafeteria.
The thin dark woman, Iris, stops. “Yes?”
“I’ve been hearing things about the East Wing and I was wondering what’s going on?” the dancer asks.
“Oh, the East Wing. We don’t go over there anymore.”
“It’s dangerous,” she says her eyes darting past November. “The lights are out.”
“I don’t understand.”
Iris bites her lip. “I don’t think it’s my place to speak about it. Sorry. The East Wing is off limits to all visitors.”
“That’s not true,” November says. “I have a good friend who is going in there to fix it and I’d really like to know what is in there.”
November goes on to explain Jarhead’s deal with the head nurse. “We just came from Stumpland where they make this really great jerky,” she adds, pulling out a sample and nibbling on it.
The painfully thin woman looks around and whispers, “look I really shouldn’t tell you this, we could lose a lot of business.”
“I understand, it must be hard. It looks like you are hungry.” She holds out some of the jerky. “Here would you like a pack of jerky?”
Iris bites her lip for a long moment before snatching the jerky from November’s hand. As she scarfs it down, she explains, “the East Wing is where we dealt with people with issues, whose damage was on the inside, in their minds.”
“But they are not there anymore?” November asks.
“We’re not sure. The lights went out one night. There was a lot of screaming. Most of them came out.”
“So some of them are still inside,” the dancer says quietly.
“That was five years ago,” Iris says slowly. “They should all be gone, but some people say they still hear things in there.”
As Iris devours the last of the jerky, November says, “thank you for telling me the truth.”
Gator and Jarhead shake on their deal as November walks up.
“Are you planning on going into the East Wing?” the sultry woman asks.
“Yes,” Jarhead replies. “Gotta to turn on the light. Need to keep my employees healthy.”
“You should be aware that some of the old patients with mental problems are still there in the dark. The nurses are pretty spooked about it.”
“Okay,” Gator says.
“People said I had those,” Jarhead mumbles.
In the lobby Violet ponders her next step. Nearby her followers quietly discuss possibilities for retaking Miami waiting for their leader to ask for their opinion.
“We need to see who will stand with us,” Violet says after much thought. “"Boo":https://shackles-1.obsidianportal.com/characters/boo visit the people you know here and see if they will help us. Lily go talk to the Miami clan, they can’t be happy about this situation.”
The small gang grumbles but begin to disperse.
“Alright,” Boo says. “I’ll see who is still alive and still around.”
“I’ll go talk to my family,” Lily says through gritted teeth.
Violet then goes to find her own allies among the nurses and patients of Autodoc. She recalls that a friend of hers on the Big Ship, Patridge, has an aunt, Madame, who lives here. She asks around and is soon directed to the cafeteria.
She spots the woman from the entrance way. The older woman’s scrubs have been patched with denim and she’s let her long white hair down during her break.
Violet approaches. “Would you happen to be Madame?”
“That’s me,” she says, looking up.
“I’m Violet, I heard about you from your niece Patridge over on the ship. Have you heard anything from her lately? I understand they are having some troubles.”
Madame shakes her head slowly. “Not many travelers going back and forth from the ship these days. Or not so many coming back. At least not here.”
“That’s what I understand,” the plain woman says, sitting down.
“It worries me a bit,” the older woman confides. “I suppose things are going to get a little bit heated soon.”
“You bet. What have you heard?”
Madame leans back limply. “I know not everyone is happy about the situation. I guess you already know that people are moving in the rectify things. I don’t know if I buy their talk about democracy though.”
“What don’t you buy about it?” Violet inquires.
“Do you really trust people to kick out one guy and not take their place?”
“Nobody can trust one guy,” she says. “Even if he does a good job, how can you tell if the next one won’t be terrible.”
“Exactly,” Madame says.
“If it’s established that everyone gets a say,” Violet continues, “at least there is some balance there.”
“Well I suppose,” the woman says, “it’s not exactly how we do it around here. It might be fairer, give us a choice. I’d have to see it work first though. Something to believe in. Maybe if I knew Patridge was okay I might give it a chance. I suppose Barnum must think there is something to it. That or he is getting something out of his deal with the Militia
“I’ll find out what I can about Patridge,” Violet promises.
“What do you mean are they are active here?” the dancer asks, glancing about.
“I heard that head nurse might have some involvement with them,” the taller woman says.
November arches an eyebrow. “So did you want to get their help with dealing with White? Or did you want to stop them from stopping White? What’s your plan Violet?”
Violet looks out the large windows at the ruined city.“We might be able to make use of them,” she says slowly. “But I want to avoid any open warfare. I want to limit the amount of bloodshed. I think I want to get some more information before I decide to work with or against the Militia.”
“So you want to talk to the head nurse?” November asks.
Violet shuffles her feet. “Possibly.”
“Would you like some help with that?”
Scavenged safety tape decorates the big metal door at the end of the hallway. Jarhead slips under the yellow ribbons reading “Danger” or “Wet Floor” to get at the keypad next to the door. He looks down at the code Barnum and takes a deep breath.
His hand grazes the metal surface of the left door. He feels a tingle. His mind jumps from memories of abandoned technology and imaginings of crazed inmates. Flash. He gets a sense of something familiar, something he’s encounter before.
He jumps back from the doorway, tearing down one strand of tape in the process. He turns to Gator. “Yes, there are definitely, I don’t know if I want to call them people, but people in there. What are you packing again?”
Gator taps the sniper rifle on his back and hoists his MP5.
”Yeah you are going to need what you got,” the scrawny man says.
The warrior closes his eyes for a moment and breathes slowly. He feels the smell of antiseptic give way to brackish water as he connect to the psychic maelstrom. As he projects his thoughts forward, he hears the sounds of the swamp: crickets, creaking trees, and something moving in the water. He feels the dark and the hairs on his neck stand up. He feels things living in the dark beyond the door, things that are no longer natural.
The mercenary pulls on his military surplus gas mask and takes a deep breath. “There is something in there that might cause us some trouble. I suggest putting on a mask. Though you are in the right place if you get the spots
“Yeah,” Jarhead laughs nervously as he puts on his own homemade mask. The tinkerer leans in and types out the code. A small beep accompanies each press of a button.
The doors slowly open. The right hand door jams halfway, partially obscuring their view of the shadowy hallway.
A high pitched giggle floats up from the darkness.
“Well that’s ominous,” Jarhead says.
November returns a wave from Wisher as she sits down with Violet. The survivalist watches the door to the cafeteria for Barnum. Meanwhile, the dark haired man goes back to some discussion with his fellow cultists. Violet’s eyes flick to the only group that looks out of place: a knot of mercenaries hanging out in a corner. They seem uninterested in the nurses or patients, listening to what one of them, a well armed dark haired woman, has to say.
November nudges Violet. Barnum and Millions enter the large chamber. As he gets his food, his plastic looking secretary fills him in on the status of Autodoc’s patients. Violet tries to decide Millions gender but is left wondering if he or she is even human anymore.
Barnum and Millions sit down a couple tables away from them.
“Do you want me to take the lead on this?” November asks.
“Let’s watch and see for now,” Violet says.
A minute later, Millions glances at zher’s watch. The secretary stands up suddenly and grabs Barnum’s arm. Violet strains to hear whatever zhe tells him over the babble of the crowd. Barnum gets up quickly, his food half finished. The two rush out of the cafeteria.
Violet notes that the mercenaries pay close attention to this interaction as well. Just as they return to their meal however, one of them points. Violet’s eyes flick to the doorway into the hall. Two men in green camo walk past leading an older man with a white mustache and beard, his hair in ponytail.
“"A.T.":https://shackles-1.obsidianportal.com/characters/militia-at,” Violet whispers, recognizing the leader of the Militia.
The survivalist motions to November. They slip out of the cafeteria after them.
Violet pads silently after the uniformed men. As November follows, a raspy voice calls to her from a patient room.
“November, I would have a word with you,” says a tall ebony stranger, his face obscured by the brim of his top hat.
November pauses and enters the room. The man tilts his head up from a half bow, his eyes closed, revealing a face painted white like a skull.
“My master has an interest in you," the figure asks. "He would have me ask what your purpose is here.”
“Who is your master?” she asks the houngan.
“I serve White he says, opening his eyelids to reveal eyes entirely mottled in green.
November steps lightly around him. “As in most cases I’m trying to bring a measure of culture to this place.”
The main smiles. “I am glad to hear that. You must understand we have an interest when a member of the Orleans clan comes to town.”
“I suppose I can understand that yes.”
“Your family has a powerful reputation,” he tells her.
November opens her mind to the maelstrom, allowing it to flow through her and reveal the truth about this man. The smell of antiseptic mixes with the babble from cafeteria down the hall. A pattern emerges: a greenness that pervades the entirety of this stranger. The taint of the climbers fills him.
This man should be dead, she thought.
As she let the thought fly, she felt the maelstrom probe her back. In the raspy tone of the stranger’s voice, she heard, How could I get you to stay out of White’s business?
She feels the truth slide free from her mind. A desire for the people of Miami to live better and for culture to flourish here escapes her. That will be a hard sell, she sends after it.
“You are a most demanding woman,” the figure says. He bows gracefully. “I’ll have to see what I can conjure up.”
“How is it that you are still walking?” November asks.
“The loa preserve me,” he rasps.
“Well aren’t you fortunate.”
The man croaks a laugh. “That is perhaps one way of looking at it. Thank you for your time and I hope we meet again.”
He bows again and offers a single rose to November. She accepts it and he stiffly walks away.
The door muffles the conversation but she makes out snippets about Barnum asking about shipments and fuel.
“The train will be here in two days,” A.T. says before asking about events in Miami. The conversation veers to plans for the Militia to move men into the area. She can’t make out when, but it sounds soon.
Violet lingers by the door. A.T. talks about needing room for a few dozen men and mentions something about a truck.
She hears Barnum move around the room. He mentions the mercenaries in the cafeteria. “Somehow they’ve caught wind that there is some action coming up. Maybe they are hoping I’ll have something to hire them with. Oh and there is another group here. Violet, do you know her? She seems able to handle herself.”
“So that little rabble rouser is around,” A.T. says. “What is she up to?”
“I don’t know. I just know she came in with an injured boy. The surgeons will be done with him later today and then we will put him in the hospital care.”
“So who is with her?”
“A bunch of riff raff for the most part,” Barnum says, rattling off a few names. “But she does have Gator. He’s a tough customer, the best merc I know. And Boo is with her. He’s that scavenger from the Big Ship. He probably brought her here. That’s it as far as dangerous people are concerned.”
November creeps up beside Violet as they finish their discussion. She cocks an eyebrow at the survivalist. Violet mouths, ‘I’ll explain later.’
They slip off before they are discovered.
Jarhead pans his flashlight across the floor of the East Wing looking for anything interesting. Old blood stains stand out against the otherwise white walls. Off the hall, he spies rooms littered with overturned beds and bits of hospital gown. Ashes streak the walls and ceiling of one room surrounding a long torched mattress.
Jarhead grabs a scalpel off the floor and looks further down the hall.
His flashlight hits a doll made out of hospital gown, sitting up and looking towards them. “Now that’s creepy,” he says.
“It’s just a doll,” Gator says through his gas mask.
Jarhead adjusts the dented plastic of his own mask. “Imagine that someone thought that was cute? Like a kid?”
Another spat of giggling echoes down the hall. Jarhead grips his taser in his sweaty hands.
Jarhead turns around before he hears it, the sound of the metal doors sliding shut. Something man sized moves in the darkness between him and safety.
As Gator points his gun towards the thing, Jarhead looks back, deeper into the East Wing. His light chances upon thin girl in a hospital gown as she slips silently through a cracked open elevator door. She turns once, her face obscured by her long black hair, to wave at him to follow. Then she is gone.
“Oh crap,” Gator says as sees the thing inch toward them on broken wheels. The Hospital closed that door, he thinks.
“That door wasn’t supposed to close like that and I think we should go this way,” Jarhead says tugging on Gator’s sleeve to follow.
“I’ll cover you,” he replies, shining his light on the emerging horror.
A metal box stick partially out of its side like a permanent purse. Support struts sprout from the man’s midsection, balancing him on small black wheels. As the person walks towards them he hold up his hands, revealing copper wires threaded through the skin of his palms.
Jarhead looks back from the elevator door. “Here’s a thought,” he calls back. “Don’t get touched by wires. Let’s go!”
Gator turns and runs to the elevator. Jarhead slips inside, grabbing the door at the last moment to avoid the sheer drop. Below he sees the girl climbing down a ladder on the side of the shaft. Jarhead scrambles for the rungs, following the child down.
They descend three floors before the creature manages to reach the shaft. As it strains in vain to squeeze through the doorway, the little girl hops off the ladder and through a door to the first floor. Jarhead watches as she vanishes into the room across the hall.
The men follow her, leaving the monster to wail in impotent rage. The room they enter is covered in padding, except for the corner where someone ripped it out to reveal a grate. They spot the girl’s pale feet disappear into the hidden space.
“Can you even fit in there?” Jarhead asks Gator. “Should we go after her?”
“I don’t know,” the gunlugger says. “Where do we need to go to fix the lights?”
“We need to find the main power panel,” Jarhead says, looking about.
Gator think back to upstairs. “It looks like the Computer here is still running things…”
“Yeah making cyborgs,” the tinkerer mutters.
“How do we stop that?” Gator asks.
“I don’t know. The basement?”
“You tell me man,” Gator says. “I don’t know these things!”
“You’re the safety guy,” Jarhead retorts. “Fuck it, I’m going in.”
The tinkerer scrambles through the duct. The narrow passage opens up ten feet in, revealing a low-ceiling chamber littered with wrappers and cloth. The girl crouches in the far corner, brandishing a sharpened piece of plastic.
Jarhead pauses by the entrance and Gator pulls himself inside beside him.
“Hey little girl,” the scarred warrior says. “You talk?”
Her one revealed eye darts between the two men, latching onto Jarhead.
”Hi,” Jarhead says gently. “What is going on?”
She twitches, her eye fluttering for a moment. “620.693…12.268…307.195…175.615”
Jarhead’s confusion deepens. Those are the numbers from test batch 12. That was the output just before Sir Fredricks flicked the switch.
“…697.102…,” she says finishing the file. Then she screams.
Jarhead hurriedly tries to repeat the numbers from the middle of test going backwards to no effect. The girl keeps screaming.
“Put this in your mouth, stop screaming,” Gator says holding out some alligator jerky.
The child snatches it from his hand and gobbles it up. She subsides into rocking back and forth.
“Where are we going?” Gator asks Jarhead. “That screaming might attract whatever is around here.”
“We need to go down one more floor,” Jarhead says. “Probably back the way we came through the elevator.”
“It lives in the basement,” the girl whispers.
“What?” Jarhead asks.
“It lives in the basement.”
“What lives in the basement?”
She just shakes and curls into a ball.
“Okay…is it like what was up there?” Jarhead asks.
She shakes her head from behind her knees.
“Okay…is it bigger than the thing up there?” he asks.
After a moment she nods.
“Okay,” he trails off.
“Well?” Gator asks.
“We need to go down there,” the tinkerer says slowly.
Gator looks over the scrawny man. “Alright let’s do it.”
Jarhead turns to the girl. “Is there anything you can tell us about this guy?”
“It…it…it,” she stammers, “she…the computer..changed her.”
“M-mommy,” she says.
“Did the computer do anything to you?” he asks.
She turns away from him completely shielding her face with her long black hair.
“Okay thanks for helping us,” he says weakly. “We are going to go now.”
She half turns to him. “Be careful Jarhead.”
“What?” he says confused.
“You didn’t tell her your name, did you?” Gator says.
“Nope. How does she know my name?”
“She’s weird, that’s how she knows your name,” he says gruffly.
“I guess that’s a pretty good reason.” Jarhead turns to the girl. “I will try. When we leave do you want to come with us?”
Gator blinks at Jarhead’s sensitivity. The girl nods.
“Okay we will swing by,” Jarhead says. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Memo.”
“Well just don’t make any noise,” Gator says, “and we will be back in a bit.”
“I hope so,” Memo says.
“You and me both,” Jarhead replies.
Gator’s boots hit the bottom of the elevator shaft. The bottom edge of the metal doorway stands at about chest height.
Jarhead pulls out his pistol and trains it on the door as Gator wedges his fingers in the seam.
“Just don’t shoot me,” the mercenary calls back before he forces the left door open.
The sound of metal scraping against metal echoes through the basement. As Gator gets the door open, he can hear it coming, charging full tilt.
The thing that emerges into Jarhead’s light scrambles on eight legs, five of flesh and three metallic prosthetics. As its distorted human jaw opens to reveal fangs of steel, Gator puts himself in its path.
The pale creature slams into the armored warrior, its six inch incisors slicing through his Kevlar and into his shoulder as Jarhead’s shots spark off internal plating and synthetic organs.
The tinkerer continues to fire as it screeches in pain. Gator grabs a tuft of dark hair and pulls its head from his shoulder. He inserts his MP5 under its throat and squeezes the trigger.
It punches him five or six times before its brains decorate the ceiling.
It shudders once and collapses beside him.
Jarhead slows his breathing and looks down at the mess of cybernetics and cruel surgery. Sad human eyes look up from its shattered skull.
“Cool,” he says picking at one of the mechanical limbs. Fishing out a scalpel he starts cutting into the creature, digging out the wires and circuits that connect the thing’s nervous system to the synthetic portions.
Gator ignores the field surgery and gets to the task of recovering what he can of his bullets. He tests the weight of one of the limbs. “Aluminum,” he says tossing it aside.
Jarhead sits up with red stains spreading out from several of his pockets. “Okay that was fun, time for some work I guess.”
He shines the light into the ruined basement. Gouges cover the cement floor and something tore the internal walls down to the support pillars. A few piles of wreckage decorate the expanse. Jarhead and Gator hoist themselves up to investigate.
Gator finds the stairwell blocked off by rubble while Jarhead discovers the torn up remains of the main junction box.
It takes the tinkerer an hour to turn the nest of shredded wires into something functional again. “There,” he says as a series of spark play across the ceiling.
A pair of intact fluorescent lights turn on at the far end of the basement.
“I did my job, the lights are on,” he says. “Let’s get the hell out of here before anything else notices us.”
“Maybe we should trap it, in case something decides to turn the lights off again.,”Gator says.
Jarhead nods and gets to work. A half hour later they climb back into the elevator. The junction box hums from the electricity running through its exposed surface while Gator blocks off the elevator door as best he can.
They climb back up to the first floor, now well lit. This level now resembles the rest of the hospital other than the streaks of blood and overturned beds. The men start to the exit on this level.
“Memo!” Jarhead calls and the little girl emerges from her hideout. She clings close to them as they make their escape.
November nods and says, “an agent of White’s sought me out to see if I would help him.”
“What happened?” Violet asks evenly.
“Not much,” she shrugs, “he gave me a rose. I didn’t make any deal with him. He seem completely infected with the climbers yet he could control himself. He said the spirits were protecting him. Well, so what do we do now? Did the Militia seem interested in allying with you?”
“A.T. doesn’t think much of me,” November says.
“He thinks I’m too soft.”
“Do you want him to respect you?” the dancer asks. “Or do you want to make a move before they do?”
“Personally I couldn’t care less about his respect,” she says. She looks away for a long moment then turns to November. “I have a task for you. If you don’t want to do it because it is too dangerous, I understand.”
“You want me to go to the ship?” November guesses.
November nods. “We need to separate White from his gang.”
“Are you hoping to assassinate him?” she asks.
“Capture him,” she clarifies. “If it comes down to killing him, well that’s the way its got to be. We need to find out his weaknesses and methods.”
“That takes time,” November says. “You need to either make friends with the Militia or slow them down so we have the time to find that out.”
“I guess I’ll have to talk to him,” the tall woman says uneasily.
“I thought he was a man of action who didn’t respect you,” November points out. “But then I know your words sometimes carry more force than mine.”
The women hash out a plan of action. November suggests calling him to them where Violet can display her prowess. Then with his respect, they can make an offer of an alliance.
“Then again its your revolution,” she concludes.
Gator settles down for a meal in the cafeteria. His sharp eyes pick out the armed men and women in the corner. The four mercenaries avidly talk to each other while stealing glances in his direction.
The warrior picks up his food tray and walks over. “What?” he asks.
“No, no, you,” one of them says to a rugged woman, ”it was your idea, you talk to him.”
“What like my pretty face?” Gator asks.
“You’re Gator right?” she asks.
“Last I checked.”
“Aren’t you the one that killed the Colonel?” she continues.
“Colonel,” he says recalling the job. “Maybe. Sounds like something I could have done.”
She grins and looks to her fellows. “We’ve heard about you. We’ve heard you’re really good at what you do.”
“I’m the best,” he says. “So you are looking to hire?”
“No, we are actually here to look for work,” she explains. “I was thinking. There is going to be some real need for defense around here, what with the Big Ship and all. Me and the guys were talking about crewing up. The less we do this piecemeal, the bigger a slice of pie we can get out whoever is paying. I don’t know if you are involved in this already or not but I don’t want to go up against you.”
“What do you mean by doing things piecemeal?” he says sitting down.
“I mean if I go selling my services I might get paid a barter and if Wire here does his thing he might have to work a couple weeks more for the same pay. But if we work together there is less, whatchamacallit, supply. That way you’ve got to hire us as a group. We get enough people in on this, we control supply. I think there is demand.”
“You are talking business,” he says. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Morgana,” she says. “So I’m thinking the four of us can handle ourselves, but if we crew up with you there’s some real supply there.”
“Okay. So how do I know you are not useless?” he asks.
“Useless?” she laughs. “We can handle ourselves.”
“A lot of people say that,” he says.
Her eyes size him up. “Right, well I’d tell you the jobs I’ve done but talk is talk.”
As she ponders a better response, Gator says, “I generally work alone but if I am going to work with someone I need to know they got my back.”
“How about this,” she proposes. “You’ve got something you need doing or covering, we do it and then we are a team, at least as long as this trouble in Miami continues.”
Gator considers it. “We do a job together and see how you do. If I do this, then you do what I say, because looking around it looks like I have the most experience here.”
She rubs her square jaw. “You just came out of the East Wing right? If you went into that crazy house and come out alive, I guess we should listen to you.”
“We can do this, I think,” he decides. “I kind of got something going already but we will see what comes up. We got two hardholds that don’t want to be taken over by White’s zombies. They should be willing to pay.”
She smiles. “Yeah, and then there is the little holdouts. I know White’s been moving on them but some of them have to be yearning to be free, as I keep hearing them talk about here.”
“There’s a lot to talk about but I liked the Big Ship as it was. People could do business in peace.”
“Alright, sounds good,” she says.