"Hatter's capabilities shouldn't astound me. He is little more than my intellect in an outmoded model. Nothing he accomplishes should surprise me. But I still felt a twinge of pride when he came up with a semi-workable automaton after 24 hours in the Mobius scrapyard. It's only somewhat workable, as Hatter isn't nearly as sophisticated in his programming as I am. He claims there is a way to make it as reliable as my own SWATBOTS, and although I doubt it, it's nice to see a little of me in those mad mechanical eyes of his. I would've had him elaborate, but something else came up. Pesky animals."
Wave after wave of the ironclad automatons came pouring through the halls, mechanically trying to stop the two intruders from progressing. None of them succeeded. The mecha Casey had hijacked brought them down with it's concentrated machine-gun fire, destroying the pieces that held them together and piercing their rusted hides before they could even fire a shot. The few bullets and blasts that did connect barely made a dent in the machine.
Casey had to admit, she was having a blast! After weeks of sorting through audio diaries in Rapture, an encounter with a lunatic where she hadn't been much real use, an 'assignment' in Hyrule where she had done even less, and being told to stand down when Jimi was captured, this was incredibly refreshing. There was something satisfying about mowing down wave after wave of adversaries with big guns. Good thing they were all robots.
McCloud stayed behind the mecha, being careful not to step into Casey's line of fire while allowing the mecha to block any stray shots from the automatons. His weapon had been spent, so he really couldn't complain about the girl's acquisition. At least now they were moving forward...to where though? McCloud kept his eyes open for any sort of clue on where to go next.
The rocker-driven mecha pressed forward through the hallways outside of the hangar, scraping against the ceiling in places. Casey had a few fragments of metal and sand stick in her hair, and decided to have a shower when she got back to Rapture. Nevertheless, she whooped with excitement as she stormed through the corridors. McCloud wondered to himself how Casey could stand the noise of the machine-guns and scraping of the automatons. He didn't know Casey was quite used to loud noises as a rock star.
After the two operatives turned a corner, McCloud saw a door with a sign that caught his attention. 'SECURITY OFFICE'. Bingo! Now, he had to hope that Casey wouldn't destroy whatever was inside with her guns.
Several more machines, larger and with stronger weapons than the army they saw before were guarding the door. They seemed to be roughly the same general model, but stronger materials and more sophisticated energy guns. They saw the mecha coming towards them and raised their weapons.
Casey, of course, simply pointed the machine guns right at the two robots. Instead of tearing the robots apart or breaking through the rust like the rest of the army, the bullets ricocheted off the advanced automatons and scattered into the walls. The two security robots didn't even get a scratch.
Casey frowned. This might be a problem. Unfortunately, the machine guns wouldn't stop shooting even though it was clear they were useless. McCloud took cover to avoid any ricocheting ammunition as he thought what to do now. He did have an idea, but he couldn't put it into action as long as the mecha's guns were still firing.
The guns kept firing as Casey desperately hoped they would somehow do something to bring these two down. They didn't. Seemingly not noticing the gunfire, the robots fired their energy blasts right at the threatening mecha. One shot was enough to blow off one of the arms, reducing the amount of constantly firing weapons to one.
Another shot hit the machine right in the 'chest' area, creating a large hole that Casey Lynch could be seen through.
"Shit." She squeaked, jumping off the mecha before another blast totaled the malfunctioning machine. The remaining machine gun stopped firing as the machine's engines stopped for good.
Casey was smart enough to back away from the machine in case it exploded. She quickly whirled around to find some cover, but she wasn't fast enough. The security robots aimed their energy weapons at the intruder and took a shot...
When McCloud suddenly jumped between the automatons and Casey, pressing some button on his wrist while facing the guns. In the blink of an eye, a hexagon-shaped energy shield appeared in front of him and Casey. The blasts hit the shield, creating a sharp ZZZACK noise.
But instead of the shield just disintegrating or absorbing the blasts, the reflector somehow sent the energy attacks right back to their source. Before Casey could even blink, the two security robots had their chests blown off their legs by their own energy beams. The reflector shield quickly disappeared, and Casey had to look twice at the smoldering piles of metal. Destroyed in seconds with their own weapons. She should write a song about this.
McCloud turned to Casey and smiled. "Nice, huh?"
Casey nodded. "Guess I owe you one."
"Let's call it even right now." McCloud responded before moving towards the security office. Time to do something useful...
"The Roboticizor must be rebuilt. My magnum opus, destroyed by that damnable hedgehog and that infernal Princess Sally! But with the materials we have available now…even with this generous new commission… Hatter, you are the expert in outdated technology, and the only one present with a fraction of my genius. See what you can cobble together, and don't talk to me until you have something workable!"
When the machines shot at them from a distance, Arbiter and Lara picked them off with their guns. When they came a little too close, they were sliced in half by Aven's energy sword. When they tried to retreat, they were destroyed by plasma grenades. When they fired at the operatives, they fired back.
For Aven, it was almost like a dance. A dance of war. He hadn't had this taste of combat since the encounter in farmer's market…no, that wasn't it. That was an isolated incident, solved with a single shot. That wasn't a battle. And neither was his altercation with the burglar, or his 'duel' with the swordsman. No, this was a real battle.
And he loved it.
He loved the feeling of satisfaction as his so-called 'adversaries' were cut down. He loved the increased awareness he received during a fight were your enemies and allies surrounded you. He loved the power he felt as his enemies couldn't touch him. He even enjoyed the twinge of pain when an enemy attack did connect…it made him feel alive.
For the first time in all too long, Aven felt like a warrior. He hadn't been or felt this good in too long. Since the Halo wars. Since he fought as a Sangheili. Since before the war had ended and he was relegated to guard duty and trivial tasks. Years of frustration and bitterness he could finally take out on his adversaries. Words couldn't describe how refreshing this battle felt.
Unfortunately, the battle itself was too short.
The robot army didn't stand a chance against the League's firepower. Soon, every single one of the attacking automatons was reduced to a mess of broken metal scattered over the floor. Oil and red stained the pristine lab floors. All too quickly, there were no more enemies to fight.
Aven took out his disappointment on one of the fallen automatons, crushing it's head with his foot.
The others simply got their bearings back and holstered their weapons. "Shall we press on?" Lara asked Arbiter.
"No other course of action, I suppose." Arbiter sighed, and the cotingent moved forward. After stepping over the broken security force, the group continued onward until they came to another locked door.
Lara turned to Aven and smirked, motioning to the door. "Well?"
Aven smiled slightly. "With pleasure." Approaching the door, the Elite activated his energy sword and prepared to strike. Aven raised his blade to slice the door in half. After taking a moment to build up his strength, he brought his blade down onto…
Absolutley nothing. The door opened before his blade could make contact, causing him to overbalance for a millisecond. Aven exclaimed in surprise as his blade made a small scratch on the floor. He quickly regained his balance, though not all of his dignity. Luckily there was nothing behind that door to attack him this time. Lara suppressed a chuckle, and Aven suppressed a curse.
Arbiter's commlink buzzed back to life, with Casey's voice coming into his hear. "…hello? Helloooo?"
The commander answered. "Chronicler?! What is happening?"
The female voice took a second to confirm something to another individual and then answered. "Me and McCloud got locked inside. We just found a security office…"
Arbiter sighed. "You were ordered to retain position…"
"Hey, it wasn't my idea, alright? I'll explain."
Chronicler? Aven growled sourly. The thought crossed his mind that the dinmaker had lifted the lockdown at that precise time purely to humiliate him. He didn't voice his suspicions out loud, however.
Lara interjected. "Casey, are there security cameras?"
"Yeah, we're looking through a whole bunch of 'em. Can't see you guys, though…there aren't any cameras in the main lab."
"Can you see Sally Acorn? The target?"
There was a brief pause. Eventually Casey's voice returned. "No dice. I'm not seeing any Therianths. Lot of kids, though…"
"Kids?" Lara blinked.
McCloud's voice interjected. "We're looking at several holding cells. Apparently whoever set up shop here didn't just kidnap Sally." There was a disgusted undertone in his voice. "But why would…?"
"JIMI!" Casey suddenly blurted out.
"That's Jimi right there! Christ, what the hell is that thing doing?!" Her voice had lost it's casual tone, replaced with a very scared girl watching her best friend suffer. Arbiter and the others had no idea what Casey was seeing, but could tell from her voice that it was anything but pleasant.
"Chronicler, FOCUS. I realize you are concerned, but…"
Casey Lynch abruptly snapped back. "Concerned?! Easy for you to-"
"Ugh. I'm sorry sir, but I'm really not seeing Sally. She's ain't on any of these cameras. CHRIST!!" Another scream. Lara wasn't sure if it was Casey or her Pikachu screaming through the camera.
"Casey, calm down – "
Casey's voice promptly interrupted, having lost any and all civility. "Calm?! Forget F@#$ing calm, boss! I'm gonna get my friend outta that F@#$ing thing!"
"CASEY!" Arbiter snarled, enraged at the insubordination. However, Casey didn't respond, likely having thrown her commlink away.
Arbiter would've raged into the commlink had a more level-headed Lara interceded. "McCloud? Follow her and make sure she doesn't get killed. If Sally is anywhere, it's at those holding cells."
"Roger, Miss Lara." McCloud sighed on the other end before signing off.
Arbiter growled under his breath, then took a very deep breath to compose himself. Casey had outright ignored orders and talked back to a superior, but disciplinary actions would wait until after they were finished this assignment. Somehow this behavior from her didn't surprise him…and truth be told, he couldn't blame her for becoming emotional.
Still, it would have to wait. "Keep moving." He eventually ordered. "We still need to search this building." Aven and Lara nodded, and the contingent continued forward.
Several minutes passed as they continued through the deserted lab. Now that the commlinks were online again, Arbiter was able to contact the other groups in the building and the guards outside. The guards outside reported a large mecha rising out of the sand and attacking them, but they were able to destroy it and drive the pilot off before there were any significant casualties. Severe damage to the engines, but a repair crew was already on it. The other two groups in the lab had nothing to report except more of those machines.
The more Arbiter thought about it, the more he felt that this entire operation was a trap. Whoever was holding Sally had an escape manufactured, but he hadn't used it until the operatives were inside the lab. This 'Robotnik' had activated the lockdown right after his mecha had exited the building, apparently to seal the commanders in. With what? He had to have known it'd be easy to override the lockdown or simply navigate the laboratory. What was he hoping to do, keeping them caged in here? The easy answer was to facilitate his escape, but apparently he had been prepared to attack the ships outside at any moment. What was his plan?
Arbiter didn't have more time to pontificate, as a loud crashing was heard just ahead of them. It didn't sound like any of the iron automatons they had been destroying. It sounded like something bigger and more powerful. Everyone drew their weapons as they stepped into the next room.
This room was larger than the hallways, with several empty test-tubes and vials scattered around on hexagonal tables. Several strange-looking machines were there, and judging by the heat they emitted they had been used recently. It was difficult to describe the apparatus' around them, but one word came to Lara's mind when she looked at them. Painful. Perhaps it was best they didn't know what these machines were for exactly.
The crashing grew louder, and seemed to emanate from the room next to this one. Aven readied his new weapon and got ready to fire.
Whatever was in the other room burst through the walls. When the dust had settled, the commander could make out a mecha that was bigger and tougher than any of the automatons they had seen. It looked as if it was custom built, painted a strangly gaudy green. The mecha was ten feet tall, scraping the ceiling of the lab room. A large metal head with what appeared to be a drill attached glared down at the intruders. It's arms looked like drills, but then they opened up to reveal multiple energy weapons and guns. Tank treads crushed the tables underneath like cardboard. At the centre of the mecha's 'chest' was a red circle that seemed to have been closed off.
Within second, the mecha was firing powerful energy blasts at the group, forcing them to duck for cover. Aven readied his weapon and fired at the thing's head, but the blasts didn't seem to have an effect this time.
No matter. They'd bring this thing down anyway.
"Something's up. Used to be a lot of kids in the neighborhood…street rats and the like. I keep tabs on 'em, case I need a favor or some stuff. But now, almost all of the ones I've seen are gone. Just up and vanished! That twit Johnson tells me the kids just moved on, that the streets are getting cleared up, but it ain't that. I'm the gatekeeper at Pyrite, I would've noticed if they'd gotten jobs or moved. Something's going down, and it stinks."
Casey wouldn't be stopped. She barged through the hallways, armed with a blaster she had fished off one of the robot guards. Not that she was using it much…this area was strangely devoid of guards. There were only one or two automatons in the holding cell area, and they went down in seconds. One of them managed to swat Casey against a wall, but she had gotten back up and finished it off with a single shot. McCloud followed closely behind with the other guards blaster, being sure to conserve his ammunition this time.
Casey knew from a quick glance at the screens that the room where Jimi was being held was behind the door at the end of the holding cell area. That particular room was still a distance away, and McCloud wagered it would be guarded, so they proceeded quickly and with caution.
Although Casey was focused on Jimi, she couldn't help but look around at the other prisoners in this lab. The sight made her very queasy. Several young boys and girls were being held in these cells, for what Casey didn't want to know. They were all wearing what looked like tattered and used straightjackets. Some of them were very quiet, not bothering to look up when the two operatives passed by. Others were clawing the walls and prancing about with the most hideous insane grins cut into their faces. Many of the cells were devoid of anything but frantic scribbles on the walls. Casey and McCloud both retched at the sight. What was their captor doing with them? Why?
Casey would've opened the cages, but McCloud told her to wait. There were too many children here for just the two of them to contain. Besides, some of them looked very unstable. They would have to organize their freedom later. McCloud got in touch with the police outside to arrange just that as Casey promised some of the more stable kids they'd be free soon.
"Hurry." One of them croaked. "Hatter's started the machine again…"
Hatter? Casey wondered who they were referring to, but she knew immediately what machine he was referring to. The machine she saw Jimi strapped into on the video feed. Her pace got a little faster.
The deeper they got into the building, the more disturbing it got. Demented scrawling on the walls became increasingly more disturbing, depicted children with their heads cut off and replaced with clocks. Your next. For what, Casey figured she didn't want to know.
Soon, Casey and McCloud had reached the room where the machine was. The door was cast iron, and seemed rather tall when compared to the rest of the building. As McCloud had predicted, two more of the advanced automatons were standing guard at this door. Cautioning Casey not to waste ammo, McCloud readied his reflector just as the guards opened fire.
No more guards. Casey didn't waste any time as she forced the door open, bursting into the room with her weapon and ready to wreak havoc.
What she saw stopped her dead in her tracks.
The huge machine looked like a cross between a steampunk factory gizmo and a medieval torture device. Pistons, gears and steam vents poked out of it at strange angles as the most hideous noises emanated from within. A conveyor belt exited the contraption like a devilish grey tongue. Blood splatter with the words 'You're next' was scrawled on both the machine and the walls. But that wasn't the most horrifying part.
One of the children was being carried over the machine with a huge metal claw. The vice dug into his skin mercilessly as the crazed child struggled vainly to free himself. Before McCloud or Casey could do anything, the claw dropped the child right into the machine. The boy screamed in agony and fear from inside of the engine as metallic scraping and smashing became louder and louder. Casey couldn't breathe as she stood helplessly outside the machine.
Then, the screaming stopped. And on the conveyor belt coming out from the machine, a cast iron Automaton. The same ones they had been destroying all through the entire lab. A chute took the transformed child away to another part of the lab.
Casey and McCLoud's eyes went wide with horrible realization. All the satisfaction and pride they had felt at getting to this point unharmed went right out the window. It was replaced by a sickening lump in their stomachs that felt like it would never go away. Casey couldn't handle it, and broke down crying on the floor. McCloud could barely hold it together himself, teetering unsteadily.
McCloud glanced up to see several blueprints scattered on the floor. They must have been dropped when the owner of this monstrous factory had fled. Eager to look at anything other than that horrifying machine, McCloud went over to pick them up. They showed a drawing of a chipmunk Therianth in the middle of a large mecha. "Dear lord…"
An audible surge of electricity caught Casey's attention, and she looked up to see it's source. She gasped as she saw Jimi in glass case, strapped in and wired to some very painful-looking apparatus connected to the damnable machine. Her pet was being used to power that machine!
A furious rage overtook her disgust, and she charged at the glass cage shrieking like an animal. Brandishing her blaster, she would've destroyed the entire mechanism…
If something hadn't stopped her. With a WHACK, Casey found herself knocked into a wall. She shook her head clear and looked up at her attacker.
'Hatter' was eight feet tall and incredibly thin. An almost comical bulbous green nose was perched below two hateful mechanical eyes. The thing was wearing a tattered straightjacket with several belts and a large top hat covered in astronomic symbols. He brandished a cane with a teapot at the head, holding it like a battle club. Hatter sneered at Casey, advancing on her menacingly.
"Your Hair wants cutting, and your neck could use a trim too!"
"Oh frabjous day! Robotnik's precious Roboticizor, rebuilt! Sadly, the materials we have available do not lend themselves to the …complexity of his original creation. The mindcontrol function is lacking, for example. No matter. I can still make it work. I just need to use some of Ciphers brainwashing technology to fix that issue. What I need now are test subjects. Reliable help is so hard to find these days."
Arbiter and his contingent kept firing on the green mecha, but their bullets and plasma blasts barely dented the mecha's tough skin. Whenever the machine readied one of it's weapons, everyone had to duck for cover. The energy blasts were very powerful, punching holes in the walls and turning the room into swiss cheese. This was a very dangerous opponent.
Still, little by little they were able to cut into it. Aven circled around back to avoid it's gunfire and found a unprotected point at the base of it's neck. He didn't have time to use it as another gun attached to the rear forced him to find cover. The Sangheili rolled out of the way and took a shot at the point. The machine buckled in response. Arbiter blinked. Could this thing feel pain?
Aven would've fired again but one of the arms whirled back and swatted him away. Aven slammed hard into the wall, but maintained enough of his wits to roll out of harm's way before the mecha could fire another shot at him.
Then Aven noticed the red circle in the mecha's chest. Was that a point? Would the maker of this machine really be stupid enough to advertise a critical point? Still, it was worth a shot, and he knew that Hunters could be brought down if you fired in the right place. So he fired at the red circle.
It paid off. This hit was dead-centre this time, and the machine seemed to scream in response. Regaining it's stature, the guns on it's arms started blazing again, forcing everyone to find cover again. Aven smirked from around the corner as he got ready to take one more shot…
When the commlink suddenly buzzed to life. "BOSS!"
"Casey?!" Arbiter snarled. "This is not the time…"
"There's something you gotta know – "
"It can wait until we're not being attacked by this machine!"
"Wait…green machine, tank treads, drills with guns?"
"YES! We're trying to bring it down…"
"Well, you better f@#$in' stop!"
"Your target? Sally the Therianth? She's in there! Sally is inside that machine!!"