“I’m surprised you know little about this sort of technology,” Control commented as Jerry keyed in her commands with a single digit. Jerry continued to stroke the keys with his tongue sticking out of his mouth, remaining dutiful silent as he concentrated on the task. Fighting had been second nature to the Fox.
Typing was not his forte.
"Considering,” Control continued when he did not respond immediately, ”That you left behind a large stash of ‘explicit’ material in the Castle’s Barracks,”
Jerry paused in what he was doing as his brain flipped itself about. Firstly, how did she know, and secondly did she make a crack at him at his expense?
Jerry wanted to ask, but the question that formed and became an audible response had been “What do ‘explicit’ material and computers have with one and other?”
"Still," Control avoided the question, ”You should at least have some base-level knowledge on how to work a Computer Console.”
“That didn’t answer my question,” Jerry grumbled, finishing what he had been instructed to do. As a bar on the display filled up, the Fox snorted, looking over his shoulder.
“But,” Jerry muttered, making sure no one was sneaking up on him. “The day I need a machine to appreciate that sort of art-form is the day I date one. Then I’ll take the time to figure out how these infernal machines work,”
The computer beeped, and Jerry turned to it once more. Being gentle, he removed an odd-shaped disc from the computer once it had chimed that it was complete, and put it in his pocket beneath his vest.
“Objective complete,” Jerry reported, shouldering his rifle as he turned to face the door.
A moment’s hesitation, that’s all she took, and she placed a map on that screen covering his eye. The sense of disorientation took effect, and Jerry squinted at it. He recognized the island, and a square marker appeared on the far left, or the west side of the map.
"Communications uplink still unestablished with MARS3, secure his location and await transport," Control ordered in a clear, concise manner, ”Warning, enemy reinforcement en route, ETA one hour, fifty-three minutes,”
“Great, more target practice,” Jerry checked his magazine, then the detonator to the explosives strewn around the room in various hiding places. Some of those hiding places were not as good as he liked them to be. But he had a lot of explosives. “What about transport, I thought you were going to pick up Verlos beforehand?”
"The enemy would detect the transport and make an attempt to encircle the island in order to entrap us, if that is so, chances of escape would dwindle to ill favorable percentage,” Control replied, ”MARS3 and yourself may be expendable, but Mrs. Duckington, who is on the transport, is not, consider this an incentive to hasten your exfiltration,”
Jerry frowned at that but nodded in grim agreement. Margs was not officially part of the Program, and if need be, she may have to replace Jerry. That was never spoken or implied, but he understood the need.
What confused him, if not momentarily, had been this ‘expendable’ talk. If they were assets to be abused and used, why bother with a rescue? Why allow Mags to tag along at all if she was valued so highly?
As Jerry glided down the stairs, gun level with the rubble decorated the entrance, Control once more spoke to him.
"A Question MARS4, if you would allow it,"
Asking permission? Control really did not need to, did she? This mysterious voice knew more about him than he would like and she was asking a question?
“You’re the boss,” the Fox responded curtly.
"Yes," Control noted with a pause, as if acknowledging that to herself, ”Was it necessary to use all of the explosives? That would do considerably more damage than needed to destroy the antenna,”
Jerry glanced back for a heartbeat. Was he going to go back and lug that duffel around?
“You can never do too much damage to the enemy,” Jerry repeated something that clung to the back of his mind. Something that had been drilled into his core, just as much as the Royal Battlecry.
Yet It was as he was finishing giving his answer when Jerry was ambushed.
All Jerry caught as he started looking forward again was the glint of metal. The sensation of flight, as well as the sharp pain in his chest, told him how much trouble Jerry was in well before he landed and skidded down the corridor.
Coming to a halt halfway down the hall, Jerry gritted his teeth as he forced himself up onto his elbows, struggling to see what sort of solid wall had swung out and hit him. Stepping over the rubble stood an ornately armored Centurion of the Legion, their hood down and their arms concealed in glowing, decorative plating.
“I will crush you!” the Platypus, Commander Dok, challenged. Yet they made the motions with their armored hands, Dok did not come further inward.
Jerry looked down at himself, breathing haggardly through his nostrils as he took stock. The SAS-G had been dented in half, looking like an odd V more than a firearm. His armor was dented inward, right beneath his ribcage, which could explain why he was having problems breathing.
“I will tear you limb from limb!” Dok continued to speak, continue to make those exaggerated motions with those obviously enhanced arms.
"MARS4, report? What happened?"
Jerry tossed the SAS-G to the side, then forced himself out of the Laser-Proof Armor, almost pulling off that odd-looking headset he was wearing at the same time.
“Being delayed,” Jerry growled, still trying to catch his breath.
“I can see that, can you work your way around him?”
His fur bristled at the hint she just dropped, “Not going to,”
"Negative MARS4, you can’t afford-"
The response he gave came in a dark, feral growl, “-I don’t run. I will never run,”
Control went silent. Either she was soaking in the revelation, trying to find the words to make it sound like something else, or, she concluded that if Jerry ran, this powerful enemy would follow him straight to MARS3. Of course, it was pure, traditional Family stubbornness that forced Jerry to his shaking feet, still gripping the laser-proof armor.
Jerry’s Family did not run before overwhelming odds. They did not turn their tail and slink off to safety. No. They attacked. They dug in their heels and made the enemy pay for it. They were either too stupid to know they were beaten or frankly, uncaring of their foes superiority. Essentially why most of Jerry’s Family were dead, to begin with.
If you can Breathe, you can Fight. Those were the words that spurred him to his feet. Those very words spoken from Father to their Progeny had the spark of defiance and rage that overridden the need to curl up to the pain or listen to logic and reason.
So long as Jerry could breathe, even in agonizing, painful gulps of air, he could fight.
The entire time Jerry and Control had brief their exchange, the Commander of the Legion Forces on the Island, Dok, continue to make their gestures and their talking, raving on and on about something Jerry rightly did not care to understand.
“Oi!” Jerry shouted his voice a little shaky then he liked it to be. The Commander stopped their ranting to pay close attention to the Fox in a shredded, ‘sonic blue’ hoodie.
“You talk too fucking much!”
Dok was furious with this intruder. The Commander was going to torture this Fox in every fashion and form their twisted little mind could imagine.
The blow Dok delivered had been a solid one, good impact. At first, it seemed to knock the fight right out of the scrawny Fox. They were on the ground, struggling to rise.
Savoring the sense of fear that just had to be bleeding from the intruder’s cracked ribs, Dok had intended to take their dear sweet time. Venting much of their frustration first into a triad of exactly what they were going to do with every bone in this Fox’s body.
Then the Intruder had the nerve to stand up.
They even had the courage to interrupt the Commander with a poorly jabbed insult.
“I talk too much?” Dok started laughing.
“Like some pink panty wearing Overlander ass muncher,” Jerry replied, his voice gaining strength. There had been even had an edge of sarcasm laced within the words. Dok knew they had struck Jerry square in the chest. But Jerry was smiling at Dok. A cold one that sent a chill down the Platypus’ spine for but a moment.
Then the indignity. How dare that Fox look at Dok like that. How dare he!
Yet as they made their verbal sparring at each other, Jerry studied their stance, their body movement. He deduced their strength by the overly ornate metal enhancements of the arms by the damage of the weapon, the armor, and the distance traveled. The way Dok moved and talked about crushing, there had pride in that strength, and they were already angry.
That chilling, wicked smile spread further across Jerry’s lips.
“Kinda hit like a noodle armed child,” Jerry added, their head tilting to the side as their tone now filled with mockery. “That sucker punch meant to be a love tap?”
Dok was not thinking straight after that.
Jerry did not have to look long for the right button to push to send his enemy into a blind charge. They were bearing down on him with their arms poised for an embrace meant to break Jerry’s spine.
Jerry slung the ruined armor, catching the Legion Commander directly over their bill and forcing them to slow their charge to deal with the obstruction, though briefly.
As Dok ripped the armor asunder, Jerry darted towards them, drawing his sabers and thrusting forward for the Commander’s exposed belly as the steel left the leathers. What Jerry hoped for was a brief encounter turned on the Fox when the Platypus parried with one arm, sweeping both blades away and punched straight ahead with their other fist.
Jerry barely ducked off to the left, using his momentum to carry himself past Dok. The Commander quickly followed with a downward strike with both hands as they aimed to make good on their promise to ‘crush’ Jerry.
Metal clanged on metal as Jerry managed to roll away again, the floor erupting upward from the sheer force and power behind Dok’s blow. The Fox regained his footing, spun, then lept back into range of his swords, both opponents swinging to end the fight with one blow.
The exchange between the whirling combatants scored no definitive hits. Jerry twisted and turned his body to avoid the bone-shattering strikes of Dok, while Dok displayed an uncanny if not enhanced ability to read and deflect Jerry’s sword’s strikes with their armored plated arms. Sparks flew as they danced around each other in their narrow arena, time seemed to stretch between them as they poured over each other’s defenses.
Control could do nothing but watch from wherever she was watching from, unsure on who was gaining ground.
Dok was, and they knew it.
Jerry, tired, worn down, could not keep up the relentless pace. A fist came dangerously close, so close that he could feel his cheek fur brushing against it. This had to end, end quickly, and in his favor.
It came to him in a spark of inspiration, and a momentary pang of regret. Jerry fumbled a thrust, Dok sensing opportunity, snatched the sword upward with their crushing grip while keeping Jerry’s other sword, his Father’s sword, at an awkward angle with their body.
“I will crush you,” Dok growled, closing their fist around an already damaged blade. The Strength Enhanced Commander could feel the metal giving beneath the pressure, “I will break every bone in your frail, weak body,”
Dok broke Jerry’s sword. The mistake had been assuming the crackling snap would demoralize the Fox.
Instead, the instant of the sword starting to break, Jerry’s ears folded against his bandana swathed skull, and his expression remained one of a predator facing prey, complete with that same, chilling smile in the Platypus’ face.
With a jerking thrust, Jerry pulled free the jagged remains of his weapon, no more than the length of a knife, then buried it up to the hilt in Dok’s throat who did immediately react to the sudden savage flurry of movement. A look of confusion spread across the Legion Commander’s face as their body went limp, their eyes blinking desperately in an attempt to understand what just happened.
Despite the burning pain in his arm, Jerry held the mortally wounded being up on their feet. Craning his head closer, putting those cold, gold eyes near to the fading green, Jerry growled sinisterly with a wide, wicked smile, “Say something now,”
A sputtering, wet gagging noise was all Dok could manage.
The Fox leaned back, and with one arm overlapping the other, he sent his Father’s sword singing. The body fell abruptly after, though the head continued to roll a few feet deeper into the base.
Jerry caught whispers and gasps behind him towards the ruined entrance where a few Centurions, mostly the wounded helping each other, gathered to watch the duel.
Slowly, Jerry turned to face them, presenting them a grizzly sight as he extended his gore-stained weapons towards them. That cruel smile remained, the expression on the Fox's face one of pure enjoyment.
They were gone in an instant.
Jerry collapsed soon after.
"MARS4, You got to get up and get going," Control ordered. And she continued to order, but Jerry could just barely make her out in his ear.
The male was spent, his breath was coming into haggard gulps as he desperately sought to catch it. His body, soft from months of personal abuse and self-inflicted sorrow, screamed at him with burning aches. Control called for him, minutes dragged on and still, he could not move.
"Jerry,” Control pleaded, a hint of desperation cutting through his exhaustion-fueled haze. ”I can’t afford to lose you,"
Jerry was needed still. MARS3 still needed help. Control needed him. There was still a Fight. And Jerry was still breathing.
“If I can breathe,” Jerry growled at himself as he clutched at his Father’s medal. His ears flattened against his skull once more as Jerry gritted his teeth from the effort to just stand.
“Not losing me yet Control, MARS4 in route to Three,”
Jerry would live, or he hoped he would, he still needed to get there. He gathered what he could, what was left of the SAS-G, the hilt of his broken sword, then started towards the ruined entrance. Staggering, over the rubble and all the way to the edge of the Jungle, the operative known as MARS4 patted himself for his cigarettes. Instead of his cherished smokes, Jerry found the detonator for the explosives in his pocket with the odd disc-like object Control wanted.
“Ahhh fucking fantastic,” Jerry griped as he pressed the button on the detonator before chucking it over his shoulder.
MARS4 did not even flinch when the charges he set leveled the topmost floors of the Barracks.
Verlos, groggy from the medication and lack of sleep and Jerry, worn down from his one Mobian attack against a lightly defended Legion Base, helped each other aboard the Transport. Before the Transport lurched upward, neither of Specialists stayed awake long enough to see the Great Ocean slip beneath them. They were out cold when Jeebs announced that the Legion Reinforcements were more interested in their Base then a rogue vessel, but took measures anyway just in case they tried to pick up the trail shortly after.
When they finally arrived back in the hangar, neither Jerry or Verlos were responsive short of shallow breathing.
Mag had been keen that they should not be disturbed too much, so Jeebs took their time carrying both Specialists to the infirmary in through a short side passage on the same floor as the hangar.
Jerry slept deeply for five hours before he awoke with a start in what looked to be a medical facility. His eyes shifted about beneath heavy lids, seeing little more than whitewashed walls and dim lighting before they settled on Jeebs’ red plated body between him and the door.
One of many recurring nightmares that haunted Jerry smashed through his mind, spurring tired muscles to sure as he scrambled out of the bed in the opposite direction.
“No!” Jerry shouted, panicking as he landed hard on the hard floor. The Fox crawled quickly to the corner, clutching at anything to defend himself, which happened to be a bedpan.
“Sir?” Jeebs inquired, moving to the side to get a better view of a bedpan wielding being, who stared at them with wide, fearful eyes.
“Stay away!” Jerry snarled, trying to look as menacing as he possibly could, pan and all.
“I will Sir,” the SWATbot replied as soothingly as a machine could manage, “But I would advise you to calm yourself sir before you strain yourself even further,”
For a second longer, Jerry was re-living the moment the stun had worn off and he was held down by four SWATbots, preparing him for his enslavement.
He kicked, struggled, screamed and cursed, even bit a metallic hand or two trying to escape to no avail. In was one of many horrific things Jerry had experienced in his scarred life. Waking up to see Jeebs triggered this almost primal response.
As a slow realization of where he was and when, the Fox’s expression relaxed, the threatening bedpan lowered, and his body slumped against the wall. Fleetingly, he was absolutely thrilled that he was looking on Jeebs.
Then Jerry remembered it was Jeebs, what happiness he felt quickly became dismissive.
“How did I get here?” Jerry asked quietly, straining to stand up.
“My apologies,” Jeebs responded, “But I carried you here, Sir,”
Jerry ground his teeth, more out of revulsion than pain, and he fought the urge to clench his fists, though his fur stood on end.
“Don’t.” Jerry finally growled, trying to find some smidgen of appreciation, to say something nice.
He almost succeeded but failed miserably.
“Don’t apologize, just, thank you,” Jerry managed to nod, his eyes shifting about the room as he spoke, looking anywhere but the SWATbot, “Tell anyone else I said that you’ll be missing vital circuits when I can start moving again,”
“My lips are sealed,” Jeebs remarked, placing a metal hand on his chest-piece as he bowed as respectfully as a robot could.
"Deleting Observation Files,” the AI, Wade, chimed, though Jerry was vague on the whole Wade/Jeebs connection, but he was pretty sure Jeebs made the AI say that to be ‘funny’.
Verlos, who lay on the bed near him, chuckled, confirming the Fox’s suspicions.
“Ahh-damn you to the hells,” Jerry muttered, exhaustion clutching at him again. He crawled back in the bed, his limbs becoming dead weights once more, and his thoughts hazy.
“Fuck the both of you,” Jerry finished with a very rude gesture, just before falling asleep again.
Mags watched the feed from Jerry’s recording device, wincing visibly at every life the male snuffed out with cold efficiency.
"I do not approve of his ruthlessness," Control spoke through the speakers around the Sparrow. “He did not need to slit those people’s throats, nor shoot that downed enemy,”
“It borders murderous and bloodthirsty,” Margaret agreed grimly.
"However," Control countered, displaying the two Jerry had spared, ”He did spare a few, one I think it had been a tactical reason, the other I am not so sure,”
“He spared the one to get them to call for backup, making it easier for the infiltration. Yet, even with a softer target, he is very eager for a fight,” Margaret frowned as she watched the fight between Jerry and the Commander play out from the Fox’s perspective, “Lucky too,”
"What he does border on is insubordinate," Control replayed Jerry’s grim remark of “I don’t run” before continuing, ”I was on the verge of ordering him to withdraw and lose the target in the building, but he wouldn’t let me. He put himself at great personal risk without seeking alternatives,"
Margaret thought back a moment, making a gesture towards the display as she mused. “Victory or Death.”
“Wonder where he learned that?”
“No matter the Cost," Jerry’s voice played through the speakers, another recording, the old Sparrow wondered just how much Control kept on record.
"Yes," the semi-omnipresent voice followed after his words, ”He may be able to pull this off and live if I can get him to avoid a fight,”
“That means you have a definite plan on taking out that ship?” Margaret inquired, looking up to the ceiling.
“I’ve always had a plan," there was a pause as if Control was hesitant to continue speaking, ”Though, a Plan wherein the asset lives had not been viable until now,"
Jerry felt something warm across his lap. Despite this, he was ignoring it, this was the first time in what felt like ages that he had slept with only one nightmare. Then the smell hit him.
He cracked open a gold eye, then both, finding a tray across his lap with all sorts of sweet-smelling foods all over it. Sitting in the seat next him was that Wolf, Verlos. No. This one was a Female. Fur had been a darker gray, and surprisingly enough, she seemed taller than the wayward MARS3.
“Good morning,” the Female smiled and bowed in the chair “My name is Aila Swiftwulf. I am Verlos’ wife. I also run the Medical Facilities here,”
Jerry just stared in silence for a moment, before croaking up a simple “Jerry,”
“I understand you undertook the mission to save my husband, I thank you,” all the while she bowed once more. Silently, and if not awkwardly, Alia slid away to settle next to Verlos, who was already chowing down on his own platter of fish and vegetables.
They started to talk as Jerry half-listened, the Fox contemplating just how many beings knew of this facility and what was done here. It was meant to be a secret, right? The married couple chattered about some incidents in the Tavern as well as how much one missed the other. To Jerry’s surprise, Verlos, who seemed rather grim-looking, was easy to offer a laugh and provide their wife with a smile.
Jerry almost smiled himself, almost. The moment was ruined as he patted himself down, looking for a cigarette.
There was more in his room, but there was food in his way, and his legs were stiff as boards. The desire for subsistence took over Jerry’s carnal cravings for chemical relaxants, and he started eating hungrily.
Still, Jerry half-listened to Verlos and Aila’s conversation, and politely keeping himself out of it.
Soon, they had stopped talking, and flicking a glance over to them, Jerry smirked. Aila had crawled in bed with her husband and snuggled up to him, the male wrapping his good arm around her, nuzzling into her hair. It reminded him of-
-the thought was shaken fiercely from Jerry’s head, and he turned his attention to his food.
Jerry finished what he could finish, moved the tray to a nightstand, then slowly, if not painfully, begun the process of moving himself out of bed. The Fox noted immediately he was wearing some sort of gown, something he instantly swore at as he walked stiffly for the door.
“Troubles?” Verlos asked quietly.
“Nothing a good walk won’t fix,” Jerry replied gruffly. “Thank Aila for the meal,”
With that, Jerry left them alone.
Jerry had showered and put on his Royal Guard’s Uniform only because he did not have anything else to wear. He had stopped by the armory to inspected his broken weapon, picked out new armor, then wandered aimlessly back towards his room, only to find himself in the Command Room. This room was nowhere near the route back to his quarters, but Jerry might as well be here and study the terrain around that Bulbous Battleship further.
"Feeling better I see," spoke Control, and Jerry half turned before realizing who was speaking.
“Damn, stop that,” he growled as he returned to study the map. She always seemed to be right behind him. It was nerve-racking.
"Your Mission to Rescue MARS3 has cost us Equipment, I prefer to lose Equipment then Specialists," Control replied, and Jerry could tell she was amused with his discomfort, ”I thank you, I did not want to lose another MARS, not so soon after Susan and Wade,”
“We are Expendable,” Jerry responded, looking up at the ceiling, “Though I appreciate the fact that you’d send your only asset in to save another, do you even know what that means?”
"Yes, I do, sadly enough, and until you rescued MARS3 the plans I have been reviewing all had an extremely low probability of extraction. With his rescue, your odds have become favorable again,”
“Meaning what?” the Fox asked, returning to look down at the screen.
"Meaning I will not-" Control hesitated, longer than what she normally would when giving an answer, and Jerry was looking up at the ceiling again, ”-I will not feel as bad as I would have, sending you in there to die,"
That response was not something Jerry had expected, and he quickly looked back down again.
"How are you feeling?"
That question had the Fox rotating his shoulders, testing his muscles out though he winced as he moved his legs.
“Sore, but Fighting Fit,” he answered, shaking his legs, “I’d get the job done if you sent me now,”
"Mission briefing will be tomorrow morning," Control informed him, ”MARS3 will be attending, as well as Jeebs,"
Jerry did not want Jeebs there. Nor did he want Verlos either. Verlos was already hurt, he had a wife, maybe children, Jerry did not stop to ask.
Jeebs? Jeebs was a machine, and they were going against other machines. It was bad enough they were facing unthinking foes, but to have a somewhat smarter version did not raise the bar too much in Jerry’s opinion.
Yet he kept his objections to himself, Jerry was a good Soldier. At least, he tried to be a good Soldier.
“Give me a time, and I’ll be there,”
“I will, though Jerry, I’ve a question,”
“Last time you wanted to ask a question,” Jerry muttered sarcastically as he looked around a moment to ensure he was not about to be ambushed, “You are the boss,”
“I understand beings die in combat, and I am not questioning your methods, but, the Legionnaire you spared in the jungle, I can speculate. But why did you spare the one in the Control room?”
“He was beaten,” Jerry replied without thought. “Was I wrong to show mercy?”
Control took a good long time to respond. There had been no emotion or remorse on Jerry’s face, even when he questioned her back.
“I would prefer Mercy over Mercilessness. If you do not need to kill the enemy, don’t.”
Jerry shifted on his feet, his eyes scanning the room a moment before looking up towards ‘her’ again.
“I will make you a deal,” Jerry started, folding his arms over his chest, “From here on, so long as you put me in the Fight, I am yours. Your Weapon. Keep me in the scabbard if you want, until the day I die. Send me fighting Badniks barehanded for all that helps, you order me forward into the hells itself, I will go without hesitation. You want me to show Mercy I will oblige. Just don’t ask me to run, I will not run.”
“Can’t or-” Control started a cliche query.
Jerry snorted in contempt. “-Neither. Never.”
A moment lingered, and Jerry continued when she was silent, or formulating a response. “Missions over, fine, I’ll give you that. I’ll suffer that. There is always another Fight to go to.”
“But turn my back on the Enemy? Retreat Mission Unfinished or with Comrades Bleeding? Never. You understand me? Never!” Jerry growled softly as he stared out into the empty room as if hunting for her.
That smile returned, however. That cold one, the one that revealed Jerry’s true face, that bloodthirsty nature hidden behind that normal, placid mask of indifference. “I’ll be your armor, your shield, your weapon. A weapon, once drawn, that will slaughter your enemies and send them screaming to their Gods or die in the attempt.”
“Against anything. Everything. But I will never run. Never.”
Again there had been a long silence. Control had been thinking, calculating. Perhaps she had been conferring to another, Jerry did not know. As the minutes went by that smile lessened, Jerry realizing he may have shown his hand, that murderous intent very few Mobians had in them.
Control spoke quietly, tentatively and with caution in her tone when she finally answered.
It had been hard to acknowledge the terms of the faustian deal. Control struggled with it. She had choices, different options, different plans with different assets. Yet, there was an evil before her. She knew it. She had seen how easily Jerry had slew those Legion Centurions. There had been no hesitation, no second thought in it. Then Jerry questioned if he had been wrong in showing Mercy. Jerry was not offended, nor defensive, it had been a casual question asked if they had made a minor mistake.
Wade had been adamant about not contacting his old Squad. Control now suspected why Wade did not want to include them in the MARS program. They were not Scouts in the Great War. They were something else.
Something far more sinister. Something willing to kill for her. Die for her. And Control was not going to pass up on the opportunity.
“I will wield you wisely,”
Jerry did little else than smile.