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The next day, as expected, I was released from medical observation. My new cobalt blue metal hand was moving smoothly, and I was able to put my leather glove over it, fully concealing it.
We determined that it would not yet be safe for Vao to leave, as due to Lylan’s law, the council could not resume until the seven Elders (or all that were alive at any given point) were convened. This meant that for the Emperor’s power to be decreased, the Emperor would still need to be present. For that reason we did send a message to both Plasma and Pulse, saying that the Emperor was still alive, but in our custody. Thus if either party attempted to convene the government again, no votes would be legal.
Only Chance seemed apprehensive about the decision to keep Vao. This played right into the hands of the new break-off group. They had wanted to make a certain vote impossible, and as of now, it was.
Back in the Project Nero base, I had taken a picture of one of the reports on the table and sent it to the analysts. The report came back from the intel team: This new group, apparently calling themselves Southwind, claimed to be an elite task force belonging to Plasma. Chance, however, noted that the missions were neither sanctioned nor supported by Plasma, which had been formerly planning a more lawful method to prevent the vote, including filibustering and possibly kidnapping the Emperor for his safety, and resorting to violent tactics only as a last resort.
But the analysis was disturbing in one regard: the paper had stated a dual objective. While the fire was meant to disrupt the possibility of voting, it was also an assassination attempt on the Emperor.
Almost immediately I received my next mission, a co-op mission with Chance:
Operation: Scout Eagle
Co-op: Agent Phase
Objectives: Go to the location of the Southwind base and gain intelligence on any future missions.
Briefing: There is concrete evidence that a radical group has split off from the Plasma organization, called the Southwind. Your extended mission will be to locate the base at the coordinates sent (10 creds), and to infiltrate the base to gain intelligence (100 creds).
Deadline: 3 d:15 hr:09 min:02 sec
Mission Reward: 200 Credits
Accept this mission? (Y/N) Y
Mission accepted. Good luck, Agent Bronzewing.
Later that day, we stopped in a clearing to take a break from our journey in the forest, which went significantly faster with the laser skates at both of our disposals. I sat back against a tree, pulling my satchel off of my back. Chance curled up against the next tree over, as if he were getting ready to sleep.
Suddenly, though, he looked up. “What’s that?” he asked.
I blushed in embarrassment. He had seen me remove something from my satchel. “Oh, just my saber. It’s something I got a long time ago.” I unsheathed it and examined it closely, tracing my fingers over the familiar runes I had once carved into them.
Chance took a special interest in the curved blade. “It’s flawless. Ever use it?”
I chuckled to myself. “Yeah. It was my first weapon. They trained me as a melee agent when I was back at Pulse.”
“You were at Pulse?” Then he remembered the stories of his youth, the ones about a young girl about his age who could hold back 4 Plasma agents at a time using just her blade. “Why did you leave?”
I hated to divulge the truth, but I had to tell him. “They killed me.”
He was skeptical about this news. “But you’re here.”
“I know,” I grinned. “They really did kill me. But they didn’t account for something.”
“I’m the Revenant.”
Chance leaned back and sighed, confused about this statement. “Does Revenant mean anything, or is it just something you made up?”
“It does mean something,” I argued. “Revenant is a word from the old Earth. It means ‘one who returns’. I’m the Revenant because I came back. They tried to kill me, and I lived. I was the strongest of their kind, but when they tried to destroy me, I came back. And I want justice. I want to live in a world where I don’t have to worry about that happening ever again.”
The next day, we reached the coordinates. The base was not too cleverly hidden, except for the location in a dense forest. The entrance was easy to find.
Before I tried to break open the door, Chance took my wrist. “Are you crazy? There’s got to be a secret exit!”
I shook my head. “It’s strategic. Nobody expects me to come in this door, because it’s too easy. Either this group is stupid, or they want us to look for another door. I’m taking my chances that they are trying to trap us. Besides, this door must go into a downward shaft, meaning that there must be some type of ventilation we could possibly crawl through.”
He couldn’t argue. I opened the door and began to climb down the ladder, holding Darwin on my shoulder.
The ladder was about thirty feet downward. The ventilation that we did pass was too small to climb through, but there were no sounds from below, so we continued.
At the bottom was a small, crystal-blue room that barely fit both of us. I noticed some sort of card scanner with a keypad on the wall.
Chance patted down the wall after looking at the keypad. “It’s solid. There’s no way we’re going to…”
By then I had removed the keypad from the wall and shorted it out, opening the door.
He shrugged. “You’re good.”
“I ought to be. I’m the Revenant, after all. I’m their greatest fear. Besides, they wouldn’t ordinarily need a guard down here anyway. This security is fascinating.”
As Darwin, Fuzzball and Chance went through the door, I motioned for him to hold it open for me, in case my next plan went awry. I poured a little bit of corrosive liquid in the card scanner. That would damage the sensors so that whoever gets here next would be trapped. That way, we wouldn’t have to deal with more agents entering the base, but they could still leave with the keypad on the inside. As the door slid closed, I grinned. Someone would be in for a surprise.
We continued down the hallway. It was long, and the fluorescent lights flickered eerily. The ceilings had to be fifteen feet high, and the rafters were reinforced steel.
Then we heard footsteps echoing. Fuzzball immediately flew up to the rafters. Darwin luckily waited for me to give him my grappling hook before flying up there and hooking it to the beams. Chance was surprisingly adept at climbing, and I made it up in time to draw the rope before anyone came.
The source of the footsteps entered my vision. He was typing quickly on his handheld, probably in response to some kind of message. He never even noticed us, but he hummed somewhat nervously to himself. He entered his card into the inside card reader and exited the base.
Chance had the idea to cross the base via the rafters. I agreed that it would raise less suspicion and go much more quickly. Replacing the grappling hook in my bag, we continued onward, balancing precariously on the bars.
We had to stop moving twice more, once for a single agent and a lynx partner, and once for two identical Astentians (Twins, I thought) and their identical cats. The first agent had only whistled, while the lynx only purred quietly to itself.
The twins, though, had more information to share. “And I heard that the next target might be the Greybirch Woods.”
Greybirch Woods? That was the location of the Delta Force’s main base! I immediately flipped open my handheld and began to frantically type the information.
“Greybirch, huh?” The other twin noted. “When do you think? After the West Cliffs?”
The West Cliffs were the location of another auxiliary Delta base, on the west coast of Lylan. If any attacks were to go through in both locations, the Delta Force would die out. I added the intel to the report.
“Yeah, I’m thinking both are going to be Code Red. Maybe Gold on the Cliffs, but I don’t know. I don’t make the decisions.”
The rest of their conversation was drowned by their own echoes, but it sounded like meaningless chit-chat anyway. Now I simply wondered what Code Red and Code Gold were.
When they exited the hallway, we climbed down from the rafters, and I broke open the door at the end of the hallway. Darwin and Fuzzball went first, and returned silently without a warning. The coast was clear around the next left turn.
The ceilings in this room were much lower, and I knew we wouldn’t be able to hide anywhere. That would take a severe blow to our plans, but I simply activated the laser skates, told Chance to stay behind me, and silently slid down the hallway.
About halfway down, we heard someone coming, and luckily, there was a single open closet on this hall that we could duck into.
This agent had no partner and looked like an official. He was staring into his handheld, interjecting at random intervals. “Copy that, I’m only attending to what appears to be a lock malfunction at the front entrance. — I’ll be back at my post shortly. — Negative, no threats in the area for infiltration. Nobody could’ve gotten here that quickly, not even on horseback. Nobody triggered the seven-mile perimeter wire.”
I grinned as he rounded the corner. Thank goodness for the Laser Skates, or I’d be captured by now for triggering that wire. To add to his frustration, I found a special chemical in my pack once he was gone, and I used it to seal the solid metal doors closed indefinitely.
Chance and I kept going, trailed by Darwin and Fuzzball. There were no more interruptions in our travel. Soon we were in an atrium with three doors: Mission Control, the Conference Room, and a set of doors leading down another hallway. Chance thought the safest option would be to check out the conference room.
The room, sure enough, was empty, except for six tables with six organized stacks of paper. Looking more closely around the room, I suddenly spotted a camera in the corner. Pushing myself in its blind spot against the wall, I crawled closer and surgically cut the wires to the camera with my sword.
The compromisation neutralized, I walked up to one of the stacks on the tables and found a special Southwind key card, a name badge, a uniform, and two manila folders. The first held new agent information. I scanned every page briefly with my handheld and with my eyes, learning the ins and outs of becoming a Southwind agent.
When I was finished scanning, I turned around to check what Chance was doing.
Chance straightened up. He had put on the uniform and slipped on the special hat. “What? We need to go undercover, or we’re not going to make it! We’re too obvious!”
As much as he looked ridiculous in the blue cape hood over a navy uniform and black pants, I realized he was right, and I would have to do so too. I quickly slipped the shirt and cape over my own uniform; I was already wearing black pants.
Though it pained me to do it, I took off my mask, hiding every trace of it in my satchel. I kept my glove on to conceal my metal hand.
I looked back over my shoulder. Chance was staring at me, and I was uncomfortable with that. “What?”
He blushed. “You have beautiful eyes.”
I was not expecting that answer, but it was sweet of him nonetheless. Half-smiling, I put up the hood to shadow my face. We exchanged information from what was in both of the packets to determine how to make ourselves look legitimate in any situation. Then we left the room, key cards in hand.
We opened the door and looked both ways, and seeing nobody, decided that we would look at Mission Control on the way out, as it was the most likely place to have security checks – or a ton of people keeping tabs on the missions. Thus we continued down the hall.
We passed many rooms that we did not bother with. Cafeteria. Human Resources. Tech. Then we got to the personal offices. A Southwind sergeant passed us on the way, grumbling that he had to let Corporal Shadow-23 out of the entrance.
We quickly found his deserted office. His papers were all over the place. I took a quick overhead image so that the analysis agents could see something, and then I decided to leave before he came back. I supposed they could read enough information with their high-tech software.
Sweeping down the hallway, we used my newly acquired card to swipe the door open. Then we kept going. There was not much of interest in the other rooms, just agent training and dormitories.
We decided to walk back, but we were overtaken by a group of agents, each holding a crowbar. “Okay, men! East entrance, the atrium doors!” They ran past us into the hallway and disappeared around it. I heard a lot of grunting and clanking as they attempted to pry the door open.
I chuckled to myself. Chance and I decided to check out Mission Control, and then try to make a break for it.
The door to Mission Control was open, with the lights off and nobody in sight. I took out my flashlight and entered. Darwin followed me. Chance carried Fuzzball into the room as well.
The room was painted pale blue. Computers and office chairs lined the walls, but every computer was off, and there wasn’t a paper in sight. All of the headsets were hanging from hooks on the walls.
Why was this place so empty?
Every one of my footsteps disappeared as soon as it was made. Scanning the area with my flashlight, I didn’t see anything of interest.
Something made a creaking sound. I looked at Chance, and he shrugged. He turned to leave.
The door suddenly slammed shut. Chance looked sideways at me. “Oh no,” he whispered through his teeth. He jiggled the doorknob. Locked.
Darwin immediately hooted a warning and extended his wings to make himself look bigger. I dug into my bag and retrieved my mask, immediately detecting a need for my identity.
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