Chapter 15: A Hostile Environment

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The corridor that led back to the central crossroads antechamber was still clear, though now at least it was lit. All the better to see the aftermath of the slaughter that had occurred before they'd touched down. At least Trent now knew what the troops had been running from in that tunnel. What were these things? He'd wanted to stay behind a little bit longer, study the corpse some more, for whatever good it might do, but even he could feel the press of time. He kept turning the memories over in his head, trying to glean more information about the...whatever it had been.

Trent had fought a lot in his time, though mostly it was just mercenaries, guys with guns in armor. Sometimes he fought alien wildlife. He could recall a thing like a cross between a dog and a crocodile coming after him with a massive maw stuffed full of teeth. He'd seen things that flew, things that could snatch a man up and rip him in half, armor and all, in a second, on some worlds. Or creatures that burrowed under the ground, left traps in the dirt for you to fall into. He'd even faced down lean creatures, like furless cheetahs.

Arctica had been a nasty awakening for him. There was much more to the galaxy than he'd ever seriously considered. Facing down those twisted nightmares had proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt. But those had made a kind of sense, they were experiments gone wrong, horrible, hideous things likely meant to be used as shock troopers in some long-forgotten war. But these things, these cyborgs, were an entirely different beast.

They seemed so...perfect. Everything about them expertly crafted. From the way they looked to the way they moved...that thing in there had been an economy of movement, nothing wasted as it took on all three of them. The thought that there were more of them sent chills of nervous anticipation rippling up and down Trent's spine. Just one had been hard to kill. He tried imagining facing down two, or three, or a roomful of the things...

He couldn't.

At least, he couldn't see himself getting out alive from that situation. Maybe they could handle two, perhaps three at once if they were very, very lucky. He and Drake were good, and Genevieve was obviously fantastic, but these things were on a whole other level. Which was why it was so important they fired up the defenses.

They came to the end of the corridor and moved into the antechamber. Still nothing, but Trent thought he could hear noises, echoing at them from elsewhere in the base. More cyborgs, coming closer, coming for them. They hurried back into the security checkpoint without a word, clearing it as they went, and managed to get into the ruined room without incident. Genevieve stood before the last remaining intact terminal and set to work while Trent and Drake stood guard. Seconds began bleeding into minutes.

Finally, Genevieve straightened up, an irritated huff escaping her mouth. "It's as you said," she murmured, staring at the screen, "these consoles are too far gone to really do anything. I did manage to figure something out, though. Automatic defenses are down due to a malfunction. It didn't say what, but they have a small alcove where they route the defense network through. If we can get there, I bet I can get them back online."

"So where is it?" Drake asked.

"In the command wing. Unfortunately, we're going to have to cut through a few areas to get to it," Genevieve replied.

Trent sighed. "All right, let's do it."

They memorized the route there, then headed out of the security checkpoint, making their way back into the crossroads antechambers. Still nothing waited for them, but Trent felt like he was being hunted now.

Genevieve opened the door that lead to the command wing. Unlike the utilities and (presumably) the dorms wings, this one didn't just have a straight hallway that allowed access to every room. Smart, Trent thought, but a pain in the ass. Which was the idea. They'd have to go through several areas to get to where they wanted to be. The first room was another security checkpoint, the far wall directly ahead of them made of bulletproof glass and steel. Overhead, twin drone guns hung, silent and inert like sleeping wasps.

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