"I am sooooo booooored. I've been around this city at least 5 times, I know every nook and cranny, every security device, every angel. Sigh…I guess I should've gone with Eleanor and Mama Tenenbaum and the other girls. What do I…wait…what was that? Is that a whale? No it's all purple…I gotta check this out…"
A wolf trudged past a large billboard announcing Ryan Amusement's flagship ride, 'Journey to the Surface'. The ratted poster probably looked grand in the distant past. Not that the wolf was paying attention to the poster.
Link shook his furry head as the entrance door automatically opened. How did he get to here, and what was he doing? That weird girl, Masha, had asked him to play hide-and-seek with her. She made him close his eyes and count to 300. He did so…although how Masha expected him count out loud was beyond him.
Masha was long gone by the time he looked up. Fortunately, a piece of her ragged outfit had caught on a loose nail nearby, carrying a scent he could memorize and follow. This made the game a lot easier. Following the girl's scent trail, Link ran into the ride's entrance.
"Why hello there. My name is Andrew Ryan."
Link whirled around to see where the voice had come from. A rusted man with a yellow smiley face scrawled on his head was 'reclining' on a small chair behind a desk. Although he spoke – in a mechanical, jerky tone – his mouth never moved, and he shifted in such a lurching, uncoordinated way Link figured him to be little more than an automatic puppet.
"I built this city of RaAapture for children just like you, because the world above had become…unfit for us. But here, at the bottom of the ocean, it is natural to wonder if the danger hAs passssssssed. If those we – we left behind will ever come – their – senses."
Link kept walking, leaving the automaton of Rapture's long-dead founder to its recorded rambling.
"So let us imagine, you and I, what might befall us…on the surface."
The path Masha had gone down was a sort of wooden railway, where disused carts shaped like bathyspheres once rolled up and down. Now the seating carts had been all but destroyed, rusted and battered to the point of uselessness. Superimposed cutouts of Rapture's surfacescrapers bordered the track, which went up an incline. Masha's trail went up there, and Link followed it.
The first thing he saw was the word CAREFUL!!!! scrawled in multicolored crayons on the back wall.
The second thing he saw was the ramshackle turret whirring alive and pointing at him.
Instinct made Link duck back for cover. Instinct was correct…bullets tore up the wooden struts where he had been standing a second ago. Link caught his breath when the bullets stopped firing, the turret no longer seeing him.
Link very cautiously peeked up at the floor. The trail led trough the room, turning into a hallway to the left. The cobbled turret stood vigil in a corner of the room. Link peered around for a way to avoid the mechanical guardian.
He saw none…the room was almost completely bare. Unless…the tracks were actually on an elevated pier above a shallow pool of water, likely representing the ocean surface. If Link could keep low enough, he might be able to evade the eye of the turret long enough to get into the ride where Masha was hiding.
Link bolted into the water as fast as he could. He then laid flat on his stomach, waiting for the turret to react. It didn't. Breathing a sigh of relief that made bubbles in the water, the wolf crept around the pier. Pulling himself by his front paws, Link dragged himself slowly but surely towards the doorway where Masha had gone through.
Having gotten as close as he could to the next room, Link decided to make a dash for it. Leaping out of the water onto the tracks, the wolf charged into the area just as the turret noticed him.
Luckily, a pile of debris offered cover from the bullets. Link leapt over the pile of torn wood and twisted metal, but not before an accurate bullet got him in his back leg.
Link gasped for breath as the bullets clattered harmlessly against the debris. Link glanced at his hurt leg. The bullet had only grazed it, but it still hurt. Nothing threatening, luckily.
Andrew Ryan's voice began again. "On the surface, the farmer tills the soil, trading the strength of his arm for a hole in lands of his own."
Link glanced to where the narration was coming from. A scene Ryan's voice was describing had another lurching puppet with superimposed smiling faces. Two huge animatronic hands reached into a farmer's house as he watched with sightless eyes.
"But the parasites say Nooooo! What was yours is ours! We are the state, we are God! We demand our share."
Link rolled his eyes as he picked up Masha's scent again. He limped off deeper into the educational ride.
'Journey to the Surface' had been designed to look like a malevolent street with dark buildings labeled 'Disease', 'Hatred', 'War' and 'Censorship'. As Link walked through this artificial journey flanked with automatons, Andrew Ryan's voice came on again and again, not knowing or caring if the wolf was listening.
"On the surface, the scientist invests the power of his mind in a single miraculous discovery and na – ur – ly begins to ririse above his fellows. But the parasites say nooooo! Discovery must be regulated, it must b-b-b-b-b-bb-b-b-bb-b-b-b-b-b-b-*"
"On the surface, the artist…" immediately dissolved into an electronic gibberish as the automaton spasmed.
The fourth automaton scene was where Link tracked Masha to. The scent trail led into a stage where two adult puppets and a child puppet were intently watching a 'Please Stand By' screen.
"On the surfifaface, your parents sought a private life, using their unique talents to provide for you. They learn to twissst the lies of church and government, believing themselves masters of the system."
Another huge hand appeared to drag the boy on a rail into a dark corner. "But the parasites say * The child has a duty! He will go to war and die for the nation!"
The puppet was 'dragged' past a storeroom door that Masha's scent had gone through. The wolf entered the place to find a bunch of 'parasite' hands kept in storage. Following the scent trail, Link clambered up one of the hands to a ledge leading to a balcony.
Link found Masha crouched behind a stack of crates on that balcony. She was surprised to see Mr. Woof, but smiled.
"Wow, you found me already, Mr. Woof? Wasn't that fun?"
Link was unavailable for comment.
"Ok. Now uh…oh yeah! That favor I need! Come into my place, we'll talk about it there."
Masha began walking to another maintenance door on that level when she saw Mr. Woof was limping.
"Ooooh…did Mr. Gun hit you? Ouchie." Masha grabbed a first-aid kit from a nearby crate and bandaged the leg. "Sorry. He keeps all the bad guys away, but I guess he can't tell the difference sometimes. I'm friends with him, so he doesn't…hmmm." An inspiration struck Masha. "Say Aah, Mr. Woof." The girl swiftly thrust a q-tip into Link's open mouth. Removing it just as quickly, she smiled at the puzzled wolf before scuttling through a door labeled 'Keep out! Masha's place!'
"Stay, Mr. Woof! I'll just be a sec." was all she said before she disappeared through the door. Link peered down at his bandaged leg. It was a bit sloppy, but it would serve its purpose until he changed back…somehow.
Masha's crooked but cheerful face peeked out from behind the door. "You can come in now!"
Link walked into the room and saw another turret. He leapt back in surprise, but Masha stopped him.
"It's OK, Mr. Woof! I told him about you and now you're his friend and won't fire at you."
Link was unconvinced until he saw the ramshackle gun on a pivot wasn't firing at him.
Masha smiled her odd smile. "See? You're friends now. Go on, say hi."
A very bewildered wolf blinked at the girl and the machine. "Woof?"
Masha let out a childish giggle. "Good boy, Mr. Woof."
Link looked around at his surroundings. Masha's place was a small room covered in crayon marks and filled with scraps of technology. There were three posters on the wall, depicting a cute little girl with a needle. One showed the girl staring at and climbing into a vent – 'Hidey Hole'. Another showed her kneeling beside a sleeping man with a halo – 'Good girls gather'. A third one showed the girl hand in hand with a large man in a diving suit – 'Always stay with a friend'. The third poster had been drawn on…the girl was holding the hand of someone in a brown, ragtag diving suit with two eyes in a diagonal formation and what appeared to be a cannon on his shoulder. A blue butterfly was on his face.
"That's me and Daddy." Masha noticed Link staring at the picture. For the first time, Masha's face looked sad. "My daddy was the best…He always kept me safe from the monsters, even after we got…well, he's dead now, I think." She sighed miserably.
Link left her alone and walked around the room. Masha had lived here ever since Sofia Lamb's reign had ended, and she had kept herself busy by doodling all over the place. Childish drawings of sea life, other girls, and…
Link looked closely at a recent picture. It was difficult to tell – Masha was hardly a professional artist – but the people in the picture were unmistakable. Arbiter, Lara, Jimi, Snake, McCloud, Casey and himself. The League.
Masha reappeared beside him, in a better mood. "I saw these people come in the day they arrived! They were the first new people I seen in a while, so I've been watching them." She pointed to the drawing of Arbiter. "That's the leader. That guys the smart guy, that's the tough lady…oh, and he's cute." Masha pointed to a little yellow thing that was supposed to be Jimi.
"That girl…" she pointed to Casey, "She seemed upset, so I gave her a present. Wasn't that nice? So I made some more presents. For him and him. With those." Masha gestured towards two machines at the back of the room. One of them had a neon 'U-invent' sign over it, and another had a banner reading 'Power to the People'. Both were half open and had a maze of wiring connected to them. Scattered around them were machine parts Masha had taken apart and put back together.
"I love making stuff. I wanna make something new, but…well, the place where they keep all their stuff is blocked off now. I need a part of something to finish my new gift. Now, the place to go to get stuff is the Farmer's Market, but the vents are all closed off and…I'm scared to go alone."
She turned to Link. "So can you come with me? Pleeeeeeeeease? I just need to grab something there, and then I'll open that door for you. I promise!"
Link nodded slowly. What could happen?
"I'm t-t-telling you, there's guh-ghosts here! I was getting some air at Arcadia, walking by where the m-market is, and I hear these voices chattering about a 'little sister', 'Adam', and…and vents! Then there's a cuh-clattering and then a gunshot and then a scu-scream…and when I look, there's n-nothing there but a bloodstain! First a vanishing c-cat, then a hand in the pipe and now g-g-ghosts! What a crazy place."
The soldiers on the Master Chief were mobilized the minute Arbiter's order came on. 'Zeus' was attempting to board the ship by the docking cell, and they had to repel him. The group ran out into the ships corridors, led by Snake and Lara. As the army loaded their weapons and said their respective prayers, Lara noticed something.
"Where's Pyramid Head?" He would've been impossible to miss if he had been present, and it was unmistakable that he wasn't.
One of the soldiers at the back peered behind him. "He's not in the room, and that blade sleeve of his is just lying there."
"He must've taken a different route."
"Who cares? We gotta get Mercer. We can handle him without Mr. Knife."
"I wouldn't be so cocky, Snake." Lara reprimanded him as they rushed towards the docking cell.
"Regarding your request for pilot action…Slippy, I have seen your flying skills. I have also studied your track record, and it is clear that you are something of a liability in the air. We need soldiers, not reckless amateurs who need to be rescued repeatedly. I am sorry, but I think you will serve this league far better working as a mechanic."
The docking cell was where banshees and other airships were stored and released for combat. A toad therianth was under a Banshee, fixing the ship's plasma gun when he heard the scraping at the door. Slippy was hardly an experienced fighter, but he knew it wasn't one of the ships or pilots returning. He instinctively grabbed a plasma gun as he watched the door.
A loud voice boomed out over the intercom as the scraping became even louder. "Alex Mercer is attempting to board the Master Chief through the docking cell. All noncombatant personnel are to leave the area immediately!"
The pudgy mechanic looked down at his weapon. He was a combatant, wasn't he? But seeing the door buckle, Slippy smartly decided to move out of the room. An unearthly screech emanated from the other side as the toad ran as fast as he could.
He wasn't fast enough. Slippy heard the door blow open behind him, the blast knocking him to his feet. The unlucky therianth scuttled under a nearby carrier, not bothering to look behind him.
'Zeus' had been badly wounded by the colossal explosion of the Johnson. His monstrous frame was severely burned, the metallic sheen of his appendages tarnished like rusted tools. The monstrosity shambled into the platform slowly just as the army showed itself on the other side of the room.
No-one argued, and Zeus was once again peppered with gunshots and plasma bursts. Everyone focused fire on the abomination as it screamed in fury. It through a few whirling blades at the army, but the creature was so weakened they didn't connect. The blasts were forcing the monster back through the doorway, and it soon had to use one of its metal pseudopods just to hold on.
No-one noticed Pyramid Head sneak in through another entrance.
Seeing everyone fire at the monster, Slippy decided to contribute, blasting at the creature from his position under the airship. Unfortunately, the attack gave away his position to the monster. Zeus saw something that was close enough for him to catch.
Slippy found himself snatched by one of the blade-like protrusions and brought towards the monster. "HEEEEEEEEEEEELP!" Slippy grabbed a nearby electric cord to stop.
McCloud saw his friend caught by the creature. "Aw no…"
In order to grab Slippy, Zeus had to release one of his holds on the platform. That was his big mistake. The blasts continued, and soon the creature lost its grip completely. With a cry, it plummeted over the edge with Slippy.
McCloud gulped. No-one moved for a moment, wondering if the monstrosity was truly gone not wanting to risk getting close to where it was last seen.
Then Slippy cried out. "McClooooud! Help! I'm hanging by a thread here!"
McCloud broke out of the crowd before anyone could stop him. Looking out the hole where the docking door had been, he saw Slippy dangling by the cord he had grabbed…and no Zeus, just the ocean far below. McCloud grabbed the cord, crying out behind him. "Mercer's gone! Someone gimme a hand with this!"
A few of the soldiers grabbed the cord and began pulling it together. Soon, Slippy was back on deck, panting for breath. McCloud whooped with relief as he smiled at his friend. "Didn't you hear the announcement?"
"I tried to get out, he was just too fast!" Slippy explained. "He's fallen into the ocean, now let's get –"
He never finished.
Before anyone could blink, Pyramid Head had rushed out of the shadows and impaled Slippy.