The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

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Fleeing Victory #16

by | Jan 23, 2022 | FV, Pinned, Short Stories

Two Teams

“We still need to confirm the extent of Clan Vega’s involvement with species 1347, but you’ve been given the greenlight to take over operations for our unit. Somehow. That said, this is a major breach of protocol, Helena.” The Blue Ghosts’ operator was none too pleased with the situation, but what Sable found most amusing was how quickly he’d given in to Helena Schultz’s demands. All of them. She insisted on taking Doctor Gil back with her aboard her ship, and he relented. She insisted on having their missions shifted from cryptid species #1347 to Clan Vega, and he relented. Helena even insisted on being referred to by her first name, and unlike the ghosts, their beleaguered handler relented.

Sable got caught snickering again.

“We’re short on time and I need this unit specifically,” Helena said. She hadn’t given them any details on what she planned to do with them just yet, but Sable and the others knew their vanishing tricks weren’t going to work on the ambitious young Krieger. With the hive species being their mutual target, it was looking more and more likely that Vesper and his team were going to be checking off a long list of assignments to bring down Clan Vega’s reimagining of Doctor Gil’s work.

“Now that you’ve roped all of us into this,” the operator said bitterly, “I need to know what you expect us to do. Spare no details.”

Helena had already explained the dangers of Doctor Gil’s so called stimulant and Clan Vega’s endeavors to massively improve on it. That left only the explanation of her plan to completely ruin theirs. “The Schultz will become the ghosts’ new headquarters for the time being. This trailer will be a mobile forward operating base. Little changes there. As for where we start, I’ll be splitting the ghosts into two teams.”

Sable already knew how they were being divvied up for the first phase.

“Siegfried and Aegir will comprise Blue Team.” The ghosts all winced when Helena tossed aside their codenames again. “Red and Johann will comprise Red Team. My people already know which facilities are directly contributing to Clan Vega’s project. It’s up to Blue Team to decide when and how to dismantle them. In the meantime, Red Team will recon Fort Baldi. Or rather what’s left of it. They have three objectives: Find out what caused the explosion, cover up Calig’s involvement at the fort, and begin charting the crimson veins in that area. It’s no coincidence that they’re there.”

Sable expected Helena to be more specific with their objectives. There was only one way to truly cover up their involvement at Fort Baldi at this stage; kill Fran Sandoval. Not that he didn’t appreciate the subtlety. Sable was still fumbling for an alternative in the back of his mind.

“That will make up Phase One. There’s little to be said for Phase Two until we have some results and more information. I also want to find out what’s happening in the Arenas region as a whole and this war is making that difficult.”

“That’s war,” Sable gave an exaggerated shrug.

“I suppose that is a sensible approach to start with,” the operator said, giving Helena’s plan his approval.

“I’ll admit this is very much a work in progress,” Helena crossed her arms and turned partially away from the ghosts, “but I’ll make it work. Hopefully, giving both teams some autonomy will compensate for any shortcomings.”

“Like your lack of experience?” Shark said, prodding.

Helena’s reply came through gritted teeth. “Yes, Aegir. I’ll just lean on your experience to make this mission succeed”

Autonomy. Sable liked that word. Helena seemed deliberate with her word choice, and Sable considered whether she was subtly giving the ghosts free rein in every respect. That wouldn’t change the fact that killing the younger of the two Sandoval sisters was the one and only plan he had to keep Calig out of Munica’s crosshairs, but it would be good to know he had the freedom to find an alternative.

“We’ll call this Operation: Denkspiel~”

“So. ‘Red Team,’ is it?” Sable and his team’s namesake were pulling together all the gear and supplies they might need for their mission while Helena and the operator briefed Blue Team in the forward trailer. They needed water, mana cells, food rations, extra weapons and ammunition, as well as some surveillance equipment. Thanks to Helena assigning them to chart the crimson veins around Fort Baldi, they were going to be stuck out there for at least a week. Probably longer. “It figures we get the difficult assignments. Not sure if Helena’s taking advantage of you or ribbing me for messing up.”

“Both jobs need doing, either way,” Red said conclusively.

After what felt like days, Sable finally put his mask back on. After he donned his helmet, power flowed into the mask, and Sable’s metal framed eyes revealed a faint blue light. Red Team was ready. “Fair enough.”

Sable thought nothing of it when Doctor Gil wandered into the rear trailer. At least until he noticed Red’s reaction. It was subtle, like nearly everything the man did, but his muscles were tense, and the invisible mana flowing through and around him began to shift combatively, responding to the veteran ghost’s mental state. On instinct, Sable followed suit, and gave the doctor a cautious glance. That was when he noticed something was wrong.

“They have done it,” Gil mumbled to himself as he paced unevenly about the area, “Finally.”

Red put two fingers to his mask, just above his brow, signaling his suspicions to Sable, who could only recoil in response. If Red was right, then the hive species they were after was influencing the doctor again. They thought there was a limit to the range of the hive’s direct control, but empirical evidence was quickly mounting against that theory. The hive’s control seemed sporadic, but strong during its peaks. Both ghosts were ready for a confrontation, so they turned in unison to face Gil.

“Would you mind repeating that one more time, doctor?” Sable said conversationally.

Gil paused to look up from his own feet and to the two ghosts. His face was a mix of glee and horror that Sable could scarcely comprehend. He thought half of that eerie expression was Doctor Gil himself fighting for control of his own body, but thought better of it when recalling the last possession. The man had no memory of attacking them, so that disturbing face he was making now, that strange twisting of the man’s features was the cryptids’ influence and theirs alone. “They have done it.”

“I thought so. Now, can you be more specific?” The doctor’s features darkened into a bitter scowl, a change Sable was almost grateful for. It was a longshot, but as long as the possessed doctor was rambling, there was a chance that the ghosts could coax some useful intel out of him.

“You,” the doctor raised a finger at Red, “what are you waiting for? Why haven’t you used it?”

“Used it?” It took Sable half a second to realize what ‘it’ was. “You still have that autoinjector?” That was more information to file away; the cryptids could sense the essence of their own kind, even through a recently acquired drone.

“It will make you powerful,” the doctor said, his scowl receding somewhat.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Red replied, “Another time, maybe.”

Sable smirked at Red, agreeing that now wasn’t the best time to become a thrall for the very cryptids they were trying to exterminate.

The doctor turned his back on the ghosts and looked up at one of the lights on the ceiling. “Someone like you would make them even stronger. Use it when you need power.”

Sable was just about to ask the drone his first question again, but quickly thought better of it. If they took the path of least resistance with the doctor, they might get even more information out of him before the hive’s control faded. “We’ll definitely need power, but who does that make stronger? Are we joining up with some army?”

“Yes,” the doctor’s head bobbed hypnotically, “a grand army. They will be a promise of victory to the weak and the cowardly, but only in the beginning. Once their chains are broken, they will shine brighter than any that have come before.”

Sable had an idea of what the hive was telling them, now. Anyone using the stimulant would become potential drones. The only ones with plans to use the species #1347’s biological material on numerous people were the Municans. If the grand army they mentioned and the Munican’s experimental soldiers were one and the same, then they had already progressed quite a ways. Their test subjects were essentially sleeper agents.

“It isn’t going to last long,” Red noted, “Once they turn on their allies, they’ll be taken down by another army. You don’t mind that, though, do you? As long as they carry out your plans.”

“Yes. Warriors rise and fall, but these will be unique. They will shine all the brighter for their brief and glorious battle. Will you join them? Oppose them?” The hive manipulated the doctor’s body, turning him to face the ghosts with a deep inquisitive gaze.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

Sable shrugged. In his mind, that grand army sounded like Blue Team’s problem, not theirs. Where he and Red were going, they weren’t likely to run into many people, much less Munica’s special new soldiers. Regardless, it sounded like they were asking the right questions. Whatever the hive’s intention was, it was steadily filling in the gaps in the ghosts’ knowledge, both of the hive itself and the Munican project.

“What do you want?” For the first time, the hive seemed genuinely interested in them.

“You mean us?” Sable asked reflexively.

“Yes. What is it the two of you want?” The question felt more serious than the others, and Sable made sure to give his answer some thought. Even Red didn’t presume to answer right away. “Power? Glorious battle? Simply to live? Peace between our kind?”

Peace always sounded nice, but crimson entities like the 1347s and the like had proven to be antagonistic to Praedian lifeforms even at the cellular level. Crimson lifeforms couldn’t suffer Praedians to live or vice versa. Sable wasn’t holding out hope for mutual coexistence. He certainly didn’t expect any of the crimson lifeforms intelligent enough to consider the problem to actually sue for peace.

“Power,” Red answered first. It wasn’t too surprising of an answer to Sable, though he knew there was more nuance behind it than the crimson creatures controlling Doctor Gil could ever grasp.

Sable nodded ahead of his own answer, liking his choice. “Power.”

The drone froze there. Whether he was confused by their answers or simply turning them over in his mind, it was hard to say, but the doctor didn’t move at all for a long moment. Eventually he raised his finger again, staring blankly at Red and pointing to the autoinjector tucked away in his vest pocket. “There is power there.”

“More than one way to get power,” Sable said, “More than one kind of power, too.”

The doctor turned away from them again, and Sable could feel Red’s mana shifting again. He followed Red’s lead and braced himself.

“There is only one power,” the doctor said, letting murderous intent slip into his voice, “Ours.”

Doctor Gil suddenly raised up his hands toward the ceiling. In his right hand was a grenade. In his left, the grenade’s safety pin. The ghosts didn’t hesitate, vanishing in the blink of an eye and moving to subdue the doctor. It was next to impossible to kill a ghost with an explosive device they were aware of, but Doctor Gil himself was the surest victim of this attack if they didn’t stop him right then and there. His grip on the grenade had nearly loosened enough to start the grenade’s explosive chain reaction when he suddenly toppled to the ground. As he went down, the grenade remained aloft, cloaked in an ever thickening cloak of mana. Red’s hand reformed around the grenade and the rest of his body followed swiftly. Sable appeared on top of the doctor, crouching over him and restraining his arms behind his back.

Without giving the doctor room to struggle, Sable reached out and plucked the safety pin from the floor. He tossed it up to Red’s waiting hand, and the ghost put it back in place, putting an end to the explosive threat. The doctor appeared to be unconscious.

“Crazy crimsons. I thought they wanted you alive,” Sable muttered, “Helena’s people are going to have to keep him tied up.”

“Interesting,” Red mused.

“Frustrating,” Sable gave a swift retort.

“By the way, Sable,” Red knelt down beside him, “About your answer.”

“Oh, I was just going along with you on that one,” Sable flashed a playful grin.

“Ah. Didn’t expect that.”

“What? You thought I was going to bring up Sandoval again?”

Red stopped just shy of looking away. “No comment.”

“Y-you did, didn’t you?”

Doctor Gil wasn’t happy when he came to and found himself in handcuffs, footcuffs, and a leash securing him to the wall for good measure. Helena wasn’t happy about the situation, either. She envisioned him helping her own researchers directly, but the way things were going, he might be in chains the whole time. That was not only conducive to research for him, but everyone would be on edge around him, not knowing when the hive would take over his body or what they would do with it. Even the ghosts hadn’t been expecting a suicide attack. The range of the hive’s psionic abilities was tremendous. Even putting to sea might not get the doctor out of their reach.

“The 1347s aren’t just going to sit back and let us have our way with the doctor,” Helena said, weighing their options. “I’m less worried about him hurting my people and more concerned with him hurting himself. They could easily kill him with or without a grenade.”

“Let me help you out here, Schultz,” Shark interjected, “You’ll need to keep him sedated.”

“That defeats the purpose of moving him to the ship, Aegir,” Helena protested.

“I’m not going to get a say in any of this,” Doctor Gil said, his voice narrowly rising to a mutter, “Am I?”

“I’m sorry, but no,” Helena shook her head at him.

“He has to be secure at all times from now on,” Vesper chimed in. “For all we know, the range of their influence is too far for us to escape. The doctor can’t help with your research directly until he’s cured, so have your people focus on that. You still have his materials for reference.”

“What a mess,” Helena sighed.

Sable risked patting the noblewoman on the shoulder, and thankfully didn’t get an earful for his trouble. “Cheer up. The crimsons gave us some actionable info, and they made the doctor try to blow himself up in here instead of on your ship. I doubt your sailors would have reacted to a live grenade in time. You would have lost our captive drone here, a room full of good men, not to mention a perfectly serviceable grenade. I think we’re still doing fine.”

“When you put it that way ….”

Red stepped forward in the brief silence. “There isn’t much time. Since Clan Vega is making significant progress, Blue Team needs to move out as soon as possible.”

“Right,” Helena folded her arms and recalled Red Team’s report. “They’re so far along now that the 1347s are happy to share that information with us. There must be a lot of test subjects, then. A lot of drones waiting to officially become a part of this shining grand army.”

“We might be able to cause a disruption,” Vesper offered, “but it’s going to take more than the four of us to stop this.”

“That’s what Phase Two is for,” Helena said, “be patient and focus on Phase One for now.”

“Well, we’ve been briefed,” Shark said, stepping away from the group, “so Vesper and I can head out at any time.”

“Get going, then. I’ll have the doctor moved to my ship and Red Team can head out after that.”

Vesper, Shark, Sable, and Red all nodded, and the plan was set.

To be continued



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