Down in the dark, three pairs of boots splashed in the ankle deep cocktail of saltwater, sewage and tap water that seeped into the cramped tunnel from all around them. The rattling of pipes and groaning of metal made for an uneasy ambience as they fled the creature that had attacked them, the storm outside distant for the moment, but still present in its effects on the city.
Underneath Brightwater in the bulk of the Rim itself, ran miles and miles of tunnels, pipes, catwalks and conduits. The artificial island was fairly easy to navigate up top, sure, but below it was a maze that required either an extensive knowledge of the systems that made up Brightwater itself, or a keen sense of direction and a good bit of luck.
Fortunately, for Kaz and Benny specifically, Georgie possessed the former ...not to mention that he’d downloaded a map of the maintenance tunnels from the security computer before they’d left the subtran station.
“How you two holding up back there?” Georgie called back, his voice echoing up and down the walls of the tunnel, giving it a metallic tinge. Stopping at an intersection, he tapped on the left wall and motioned in the dark, the two just able to see him as their vision adjusted to the darkness.
For Georgie, well, he was the one that had the map, and there was just enough light from it to see the way forward so that wasn’t too much of a problem. He ducked down the next claustrophobic passage and Kaz followed suit, keeping steady with both hands braced on the pipes lining the walls of tunnel. Benny was just behind her, one hand settled on her shoulder for balance.
“Oh, I’m fine… just… a little cramped in here, that’s all,” Kaz responded, “and my tail’s getting completely soaked.”
“From the smell, I’m quite sure that some of this is refuse,” Benny remarked, adjusting his glasses in the dark with his free hand.
“Thank you for that reminder, dear…” Kaz remarked through grit teeth as they carried along.
“It’s not much farther, I promise! Once we get back to HQ, we can kick our feet up and dry out a bit.” Georgie called back, leading them forward through the dark.
“I’m just glad you showed up when you did, otherwise we’d probably be goners by now…” Kaz said, thinking back at the monster that had chased them down into the station.
“Well, I figured you’re Talon’s friends and it wouldn’t do to let anything happen to you if I could help it!” The seal responded with a laugh, “I was just on my way home, waiting for the tran when everything went down. The whole place shook. Lights flickered and everyone was in a panic, but we all stayed put pretty much, at least until one of those things showed up...”
“It attacked you in the station?” Benny asked. Georgie shook his head and sighed.
“It was terrible. Screaming. People running this way and that. It was scoopin' people up, no idea why. Some folks ran off into the tunnels, and others bolted up the stairs out onto the surface. I decided to hide out in the security room, because I figured that there’d be no way for the thing to open the lock.”
“Lucky, that.” Benny remarked before murmuring to himself in disgust as he stepped in something a bit more solid with an audible squish.
“Well, there’s one in each station. They’re usually out of sight, you know, hidden behind a facade or something. If you know where to look, though, they’re easy to find. I used to work in that one,” Georgie said with some pride.
The three of them finally made it out of the cramped tunnel into a larger maintenance area, this one criss crossed with pipes and valves. There were emergency lights in the ceiling above, only a couple of feet over their heads, casting the dank room in a deep red hue. Benny was careful not to smack his antlers on the pipes above as they climbed out of the little service tunnel, though not completely successful. At least the floor was dry and the three of them stopped in an open space for a moment’s repose.
“I figured I’d hide out in there until someone friendly showed up. I was there a bit, but when I saw you two coming down the stairs with the big guy hot on your heels, well I had to do something.” Georgie remarked with a smile, looking between Benny and Kaz. They returned the smile and Kaz gave him a light punch in the shoulder.
“Well we’re glad you did. Last thing I want to do today is get eaten by some sort of monster…” Kaz said before sitting down on one of the pipes.
“Where did that thing even come from? Did wash up with the storm or…” Benny asked, knowing about as much as the other two. Georgie just shrugged and shook his head.
“Couldn’t tell you. With all this talk about aliens lately, they might be from outer space for all we know!” He said, a little more excited than he needed to be. “Doesn’t much matter, though. The boss will know how to deal with them. That’s why we’re heading back to HQ. She’s the only one who’s got the equipment to straighten out a mess like this, aside from the cops, and I imagine she’s not going to be eager to wait on them to make the first move. If anyone can deal with something like this, it’s her.”
“Well, you did pretty well yourself, George, what with the little… bomb thingies and that.” Benny said, sitting down next to Kaz and putting his arm around her. It was subtle, but he could hear her tail thumping against the inside of her coat and he pulled her closer, resting his chin on her shoulder… and accidentally bonking her in the side of the head with an antler.
Kaz looked to him and snorted, a smirk on her face.
Kaz was obviously worried about everyone else. Her mom, and Talon and the rest of their pack. But he was worried about her, and it was good to see her smile a little.
“Oh! I grabbed those out of the locker in there, they’re… um... diving flares. Welders and such use them underwater in emergencies, so that people can find them in case they’re stuck or something happens down there. Figured the bright flash and loud bang would be enough to scare the pants off whatever that thing was. Not that it had pants, but you know what I’m saying...”
The two just chuckled in response and for a moment they all just stood there in quiet before Georgie turned his attention back towards his PDA.
“Bah… still nothing.” Georgie murmured, Kaz looking down at the PDA with like irritation. Georgie shook his head and put it back in his shirt pocket.
“Well, if you’re both good to go, we should probably be making for the surface soon. The map says there should be hatch that leads up to the street around here, couple of block from the HQ.”
Kaz and Benny nodded in response and looking at each other, they both took a deep breath and stood again.
“Alright,” Kaz said, a little exasperated, “let’s get a move on. Maybe your boss will have some net access…”
“Need to make a call?” Georgie asked, starting to head towards what seemed to be a way out of the cramped room.
“I’m worried about my mom. I was talking to her when the dome went down and I want to make sure she’s okay… Plus, Talon and Shen are running around out there somewhere, and if they run into that thing, they’re going to need help.” Kaz and Benny followed, and proceeding into another cramped corridor, they approached a set of metal stairs leading upwards.
“Well, we’ll do what we can. The hatch should be just up here…”
Emerging from below, the three found themselves in a secluded area of the city. Large skyscrapers towered all around them, their faces dark, either completely abandoned or shuttered up to protect those inside, their bulk sheltering the group from the wind in the street below as the hurricane continued to churn overhead.
The rain still managed to drive itself downwards, but the clean water was a welcome change, washing away some of the ick from the contaminated brack down in the tunnels.
It was a small comfort. There were still some lingering doubts in Benny’s mind, of course, but any hope of safety in this storm was worth the exertion to get there. The whole situation was absolutely terrifying.
What was that thing that had chased them? Where had it come from? Was it trying to eat them, or take them back to perform horrible experiments on them?
It didn’t seem friendly, at all, and any sort of higher intelligence it might possess was completely lost in translation as far as he was concerned.
And why now? Why during the storm, of all times? Was it because they were vulnerable or did they have something to do with it? There were so many questions and absolutely no answers.
Kaz was also preoccupied by her own thoughts, following along in a bit of a haze. At the moment, more than anything else, she just wanted to get some sort of line out to somebody.
The more time that passed, the more antsy about it that she had gotten. She had friends and family out there, possibly in great danger, and as much as she valued her own personal space, there’s nothing that she’d have welcomed more than a call from her mother at that moment.
Benny’s presence was a blessing, of course. At least he was safe, and being near him calmed her somewhat, but Talon and Shen were still out there somewhere, on their own. And who knew how long Tommy would be safe at work? She had to round up the pack somehow.
So they carried on, sticking next to the buildings as it offered the group some relief from the torrent itself. The three proceeded in their shadows towards the SecTech Headquarters, carefully negotiating the debris and abandoned vehicles along the way.
It wasn’t long before they made their approach.
Security Technology and Applications, Inc. was Brightwater’s largest supplier of doors, locks, cameras and other such personal security devices. Not that crime was necessarily rampant in Brightwater to begin with, but it was the personal philosophy of the company head, Hibachi Takahashi, that if you make crime unattractive, difficult, inconvenient and/or painful then the majority of people who would be inclined to attempt such a thing will be stopped at the first roadblock.
To that end “SecTech” had made a name for itself outfitting everything from secure doors and keypads to camera security systems and motion detectors… as well as a small squadron of personnel whose job it was to monitor and support all of this equipment. It was rare that any of them had to do more than chase away the occasional graffiti artist or help someone who had locked themselves out of their house, but it had an important place in the community, and it was this presence that George, and many of his coworkers, prided themselves on.
Of course, it was a bit of an open secret that Miss Takahashi wasn’t just content with your basic security staples. Sure, outfitting people with locks and cameras was all well and good, but she had more ambitious designs as well… and that’s what Georgie was counting on.
He paused for a moment and looked around, then nodded to himself before turning back to Benny and Kaz.
“Alright, I know where we are… the SecTech building should be just around the next block. We’ll get in there and hole up. I’m sure the boss is already talking with the Ministers about the situation and formulating some kind of plan to catch or scare off that thing. And if she hasn’t, I’m sure she’ll be happy to. Seems like the kind of thing she’d jump at…”
“And we’ll be safe, yeah?” Benny asked, George nodding back at him.
“ The place is a bastion. Nothing and nobody gets in or out if the boss doesn’t say so. She can lock up the place tighter than a clam, and nothing’s going to change that, short of leveling the building.”
Reaching the concrete wall around the perimeter of the SecTech building, the three followed it, past the company sign and along its length to the front gate which was currently open to traffic. The booth next to the gate was empty as they approached.
“Hrm, guess everyone retreated inside. Makes sense. I wouldn’t want to be stuck out here either.” Georgie remarked.
“Are you sure this place will be secure, George?” Benny asked, following along towards the entrance, his arm entwined with Kaz’s.
“Of course, once we get in we shouldn’t have any problems.”
George rounded the gate and stopped dead in his tracks.
“Oh, well… that’s a problem…”
Kaz and Benny stopped behind George, looking past him at the scene. Before them stood the SecTech building, or at least that’s where it sat, perhaps, lay. The three story building had been reduced to about a half a story, total, the heavy stone and metal walls knocked down and crumpled in a large area. On one side was a large black mass, about a third the size of the building itself, buried a good ten or fifteen feet into the ground, the structures and landscaping around it having been obliterated by its apparent impact. The portions of the building further away from the landing site had been knocked sideways and toppled over by the force radiating out from the impact site, the remains of the building itself folded up like cardboard boxes. The whole place seemed to have been flattened by the event, all the security systems within meaning little against such a display of Newtonian physics.
“Ah… I guess we’re going to have to come up with a new plan then.” Benny remarked, speaking loud enough that the others could hear him over the wind and rain.
“What the hell is that thing?” Kaz shouted, stepping around George to look towards the strange black object. It didn’t seem like something artificial. Its faces were too regular and flat to be just… a space rock. But it didn’t seem to have any sort of mechanical or architectural features either. It was like someone had quarried out a rock, cut it perfectly smooth and then threw it in a pit.
A moment later, as the three were regarding the big black object, a large section of the rubble lifted up and one of the strange, alien creatures emerged, carrying what appeared to be some broken computers, shrugging off debris as it moved over them with its many legs back towards the impact site.
Frozen in place, the three remained completely still until it was apparent that the creature had not noticed them. Then, when it was clearly not looking their way, Kaz, Benny and George scurried quickly back around the wall, ducking into the gatekeeper’s booth for cover.
Squatting down to stay out of sight, they huddled near the floor to converse and discuss their next move.
“Okay, so that’s out the window. What do we do next?” Kaz asked, her elbows propped on her knees as she glanced back and forth between the boys.
“Alright, well, we can head back to my house for a bit. It’s not too far from here and you’re welcome to ride the storm out there,” George suggested.
“But how do we know that it’s still standing?” Benny said in response. George furrowed his brow with a bit of a frown.
“Well, I would hope it is. ...I just remodeled the kitchen.”
“To be fair, we don’t know if any building in town is still standing at this point…” Kaz said, pausing for a moment to think about that before steeling herself a bit and looking back and forth, “What about the City Center? That seems like somewhere people would take shelter, and maybe the emergency lines in the Consulate are still working. If it’s in one piece, it might just be our best bet.”
George nodded in agreement.
“That seems like a good plan. And, if we make it all the way there we can always send out a message to have others come to the Center and hole up there with us. Safety in numbers and all that.”
“But what if we attract that… thing?” Benny asked. “We could be broadcasting to it exactly where we are,” he hissed and looked back and forth between Kaz and George.
“We don’t even know what it is. It might just be a big animal, and even if it’s not, who knows if it understands our language. It could just be a bunch of gibberish to it.” Kaz retorted.
“You don’t know that. It could have been waiting years for this; listening, watching, planning. For all we know, there could be more of them watching us right now.”
A loud crinkling of glass and a groaning of metal above their heads caused the group to pause and look upwards. A few feet above them, a few pairs of bright yellow eyes gazed down at them, mandibles clicking curiously as their owner gazed down at them. The creature had stuck its head in through the opening to the booth and cocked its head curiously as they remain crouched, frozen in place.
“ ...well, it’s good to know you have some sense of humor.”
The three scrambled out of the doorway, scrabbling on their hands and feet as the creature squirmed about, trying to pull its upper body out of the small booth.
Standing up to its full height, it ripped the small plastic, glass and metal box from its mounts and threw it backwards as Kaz, Benny and George tore off down the road.
As such, the chase was on. For the second time that day the three of them found themselves running for their lives, down avenues and through alleyways, cutting through whatever small gaps they could find before emerging out into an open grassy stretch. Just ahead was the Brightwater Municipal Shopping Center.
The Mall, as it was generally and generically referred to, was several stories tall and covered a large area. A huge structure with terraced gardens, a wide, sweeping food court and several wings of stores and amusements, it was a leftover from times when there were a lot more people present in the city that had mostly been foregone in the present day for the smaller local community centers. It still contained a large selection of shops and open areas for recreational and public use, however, and the Consulate liked to keep it well maintained as a point of pride so even if it didn’t see a ton of business, it was still generally a nice place to go if you had the time to do so.
Kaz, however, was not concerned about shopping. At this moment, right now, it was a large maze-like building that she was pretty sure the three of them knew rather well and had a lot of small places to hide.
The wide open park around the structure itself, however, was very unfortunate as the wind tore across it more or less unabated by the few trees and chest high walls littered around the paths leading to the Mall. This made it extremely hard to see, run or keep on a straight course, but the creature behind them had no such difficulty.
By the time they’d made it to the parking garage, the monster was only a scant few feet behind George’s ankles as they barreled down the ramp and into the calm dark below. There were still a few scattered petras around, and coming to the bottom of the ramp, Kaz hurtled the first one she came to, Benny following in quick succession and nearly falling on his face. George made a quick detour around it and the monster just kind of barreled over it immediately afterwards, rolling the poor machine across the pavement without concern as it re-established itself.
George pulled one of the diving flares from his pocket and squeezed the lever down, the pin popping off the casing as he turned himself around to get its attention.
Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough distance this time, and sweeping two of its arms, it knocked George sideways into another parked petra, the flare tumbling out of his hand as he flipped over the stationary vehicle.
George had just enough time to get back on his knees to see the flare go off a few feet from him, the seal letting out a string of curses as he was momentarily blinded by the bright flash.
Thankfully, this did, at least, distract the thing. It stopped its pursuit momentarily to turn and look at the commotion, being rewarded for its curiosity by having a riding helmet bounced off the side of its face with great force.
“Alright you big, ugly jerk,” Kaz snarled, grabbing some poor sod’s travel roll off the back of their petra with one hand, “You leave us alone!”
Tapping her PDA in her pocket again, her boots whirred with a soft sort of energy as she loosely tossed the roll out into the air in front of her. Taking a step and a hop, she gave the compact bedding a solid soccer kick, her boots letting off a soft ‘thoom’ as sent the roll off like a shot, bouncing the fifteen pounds or so of weather-coated synthetic fiber off the creature’s cranium as she had with the helmet.
It stumbled back and shook its head, its eyes widening as it let out a loud angry screech at the two of them. Benny ducked down a bit to get a little further behind Kaz.
“It was nice try, dear, but I think you’re just pissing it off.” Benny said, taking a few steps back, ready to run again.
Kaz snarled and reaching over, grabbed another helmet off one of the other petras nearby.
“You want to go?! Come on! I have more where that came from!” Kaz yelled, not really knowing actually how much loose material she could punt at this thing. Maybe she could drive it off, or at least she could stall it until George was back on his feet again.
There was a moment of hesitation as the creature seemed to make up its mind before finally bearing down to go after Kaz and Benny again. Kaz tapped her PDA again, turning up the strength of the field before they were both distracted by a loud screech from behind the beast.
This stopped it cold and it twisted around, its body arching as something impacted its face, again, with a loud smack from the other direction.
This time, however, it wasn’t just a flung object. It was a person, holding a large, plasteel riot shield in one hand, and an old service baton in the other. Her other two hands free, she grabbed ahold of the thing’s head and neck even as it began to thrash, hanging on tightly as she started to bash it in the face repeatedly with her shield.
A wasp, yellow with black stripes and short trim hair under a white SecTech cap, she had most of her uniform still left, though large portions of her sleeves and pant legs had been torn off and were fashioned into bandages wrapped around various red stained spots on her arms and torso to compliment the actual bandages that had already been applied. Her wings buzzed angrily and her little stinger twitched behind her as she laid into the beast, screeching and swearing wordlessly.
The creature rolled, nearly smashing Kaz and Benny in the process, the two diving out of the way just in time as it threw its new assailant off to the side. This was only a temporary setback, however, the woman landing on her shield and righting herself almost immediately with a quick flick of her wings. Then, she was immediately back on the attack.
Taking shelter behind one of the support columns, Kaz and Benny watched she latched onto the downed creature, her high pitched screeching morphing into a sort of delighted laughter as she jabbed the thing with her stinger over and over, the monster yowling in pain.
“I think she’s crazier than you are, babe.” Benny said quietly, still more or less hiding behind Kaz. She just rolled her eyes and jabbed him firmly in the ribs with her elbow as they waited to see the possible outcome.
The creature finally found enough purchase, bringing a couple extra limbs up to push her off, the wasp uttering a soft “Whoops,” as she lost her hold and was thrown back onto the ground, bouncing a few times on her back before coming to rest nearby the pair..
The creature wasted no time in righting itself and holding its face and neck, turned and bolted for the exit ramp, stealing out into the storm in a great hurry and leaving the four to themselves.
Calm had returned, and after a second or two, Kaz and Benny emerged from their hiding place behind the column to assess the situation.
Their sudden savior was laying flat on her back on the pavement taking deep breaths, staring up at the ceiling quietly. Her wings buzzed occasionally but otherwise she lay still.
George clambered atop the capsized petra next to him, rubbing his eyes to clear them of the little congregation of spots they’d acquired before he blinked and took a second look at the person on the ground.
“Boss!” he shouted and scrambled off onto the floor, jogging over to her as Kaz and Benny approached from the other side.
Not seemingly aware of her surroundings at first, as soon as the three got close, the wasp woman bolted upright, her eyes wide and a big smile on her face.
“VICTORY!” she hollered in her reedy, buzzy voice and held her two sets arms aloft like a heavyweight champion.
Startled for a moment, Kaz broke into stunned laughter and with Benny’s help, grabbed her arms carefully and hoisted her to her feet.
“That was… amazing! I wish I’d seen it!” George said, smiling and still rubbing his eyes with his hand to chase the rest of the spots away, “It’s good to see you, Boss! After we’d saw what happened to HQ, I’d been worried you hadn’t made it.”
“Bah! Takes more than space alien ships landing on your head to kill a Takahashi!” she said before letting out a high pitched cackle.
“Well, you’re definitely a match for any alien, that’s for sure,” Kaz said with a grin, dusting her off a bit, “I mean… I could have handled it, but… I’m glad you came along. I was running out of things to kick.”
“It is not a problem! I am here to serve the citizens of Brightwater in any and all capacities that I am capable of! That is the motto of Security Technology and Applications, Incorporated! Observe, Protect, Preserve!” She let out another laugh and George put his hand on her shoulder.
“Kaz, Ben, this is my boss, Miss Hibachi Takahashi. She owns and runs SecTech.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Takahashi,” Kaz said with a grin, shaking one of her hands enthusiastically. The wasp was eager to reciprocate, a big smile spreading across her face, mandibles and all and held the gesture for several seconds.
“Please! Hibachi is fine! Or Bachi! Just not Hachibachi, only my sisters call me that and I hate it.” She remarked.
“Ah yes, I remember you from the ballot last year. You ran against Walter Underpaw for the Consulate, didn’t you?” Benny asked. Hibachi’s eyes narrowed and she hissed softly, causing Benny to recoil a bit.
“Yes! I ran against Walter, and I should have dislodged him, as well, but apparently it takes more than providing an entire city with public security to match up to running a tiny little police force.” Such dourness only lasted a moment, however before she perked up again immediately.
“But now that the city is under siege, we can rise to the occasion. We will secure the populace, take back the city, then drive the invaders into the sea one by one! We will be heroes!” She let out an enthusiastic cackle and put an arm over George’s shoulders as the two of them begin to walk, supporting each other, towards the entrance to the mall proper.
“You mean there’s more than one of those things?” Benny asked with some trepidation.
“Oh yes, dozens. Maybe hundreds! But it is no matter! We will rise!” She remarked and laughed again. “For now, however, I think there is a slushie place nearby that is calling me.”
“What were you doing here anyway, boss?”
“Oh, I was just coming to get supplies because I used mine after everything was exploded and I got into a fight with another one of those big thingies, so I came here and I saw you under attack so I came to the rescue, as I should.” Miss Takahashi said, speaking quick enough that it may have been slightly hard to follow her. She maintained a serious countenance for about half a second before cracking up again.
“This is so exciting!”
Benny and Kaz held back a bit, taking a breather that the moment afforded them before turning to one another. It had been a long day, and it wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.
“She’s… colorful, isn’t she?” Benny said carefully.
“I dunno, I kind of like her.” Kaz said with a smirk.
“You would…” The gazelle retorted, giving her the side eye over his glasses.
“Would you like it better if she was a nurse?” Kaz’s smile widened to a grin and Benny rolled his eyes, giving a soft tch.
“Well…” Kaz paused for a moment as she leaned against Benny, “at least we might be able to find something to eat.” Kaz said quietly, putting her arm around her partner.
“And fog off all this grime…” Benny returned the gesture and squeezed her through her coat.
“Maybe we’ll find some way to send out a message here. I’m sure the management have a line or something.” Kaz said hopefully.
Her partner nodded in agreement and with that, the two of them proceeded on, following after George and Hibachi into the mall, and hopefully, a better situation.