The Last Contingency, Part 1: Ashley's Peculiar Adventure

4

As part of ongoing repair and systems upgrade work on Sites 93 and 26, all Beta and Alpha-class objects which can be viably transported have been moved to temporary containment areas within Site-002. All Site-002 personnel are advised to consult transfer documentation for further information. Remember, the elimination of anomalous cross-contamination is your responsibility.

Ashley Davidson, RPC-016-5 to those who knew her, was not having a nice day. She never had nice days in her cell, but this one was particularly bad already. She had awoken to the floor shaking, and the sight of her e-reader falling off the bedside table, cracking its screen in the process. To make matters worse, when she'd hit the intercom to call for a guard, no one had answered. And now it seemed they had forgotten her breakfast.

She did not have the time to cry, however; the very moment the first tears began to well in her eyes a large, armoured vehicle drove through the west-facing wall of her containment cell. Printed on the large spiked ram mounted on its front was the legend {HELLO KID WANT TO GO ON AN ADVENTURE?}

In the same moment that she registered the message, Ashley had flipped her bed over on one side. She didn't even notice the large gash torn in her forehead, caused by a chunk of flying concrete. Dropping behind her new cover, she ripped a machine pistol from the palm of her hand and began firing wildly at the machine. There was no response or movement, save the creak of the horribly damaged cell wall and the clattering of little bits of architecture settling.

She waited for a few long, tense breaths, then popped her head up over the edge of the bed. The tank was still there, its long, angular hull scratched and twisted by the force of the impact. Only now the ram read {STOP THAT I'M ON YOUR SIDE, IDIOT.}

As she watched, a series of delicate metal plates on the outer hull spun and, with a clattering noise, the message was replaced again, this time with {THE AUTHORITY IS IN TROUBLE AND I THINK WE NEED YOUR HELP.}

She said nothing, readying a second, much heavier pistol. It took a little bit of concentration to get denser bullets this time— the Davidsons had prepared to be able to take out light armoured vehicles before— but this one was going to be tricky. The moment whoever was inside came out… they'd regret it.

Something across the room went click, and she heard the hiss of hydraulics, followed by the unmistakable sound of booted feet on metal. Bizarrely, the sound was accompanied by a rising set of percussive thumps and bangs from the vehicle, almost forming a beat. She set it aside in her mind as a problem to be solved once she was done shooting something. Rising smoothly to her feet, she brought her pistols to bear and was struck down by a violent wave of… of… of jazz? It was as if someone had hit her across the pit of the stomach with the comfiest, most aggressively pleasant club in the universe. Her head felt like it was wrapped in pink clouds of cotton wool. She half-sagged over the bed, pistols clattering to the floor as a young man with a trumpet advanced on her, his rosy cheeks puffed out ridiculously as his playing dribbled to a halt. The uncanny drum-machine routine from the tank stopped dead.

"Look, miss," he said in the voice of someone very accustomed to making introductions to young women, "you're really gonna want to listen to Claudille here."


Ashley sat on the end of her still-overturned bed, turning the pair of red headphones over and over in her hands. The trumpet player, who'd introduced himself as "Jack Anderson, One-oh-Five if you like", had handed them to her soon after she'd clawed her way back to her feet. Her head still felt like it was slightly removed from her body- the whole experience was uncomfortably similar to coming back from the dentist.

"So when you play music, people, uh…"

Anderson gave a wry grin. "Let's say… feel good. Maybe a little too good."

The clattering came again.

{THAT'S ONE WAY OF PUTTING IT. HAH.}

Ashley glanced over at the— the vehicle. Something about it was deeply offputting, mainly the way she was sure it was staring at her even though she couldn't see any eyes.

"And you and this… machine here, are what, trying to escape? If you are I'm flattered but I don't need—"

The front end of the tank bloomed like a metal flower, its tiny panels shifting against each other so fast it was almost impossible to follow what was being printed.

{LET ME GUESS, YOU'RE ONE OF THOSE BIOLOGICAL WEAPON PLATFORMS-}
clatter clatter clatter
{THAT THINKS JUST BECAUSE THEY CAN SUMMON UP SOMETHING SCARY FOR A FEW GUARDS-}
clatter clatter clatter

"—wait, hold on-!"

{THEY'RE HOT SHIT. I'M GUESSING NO FAMILY ANY MORE? ALL ALONE? WANTING TO BROOD A BIT?}
clatter clatter clatter
{WELL, TOUGH, KIDDO. THIS IS SITE-002. HARDEST PLACE THE AUTHORITY HAS, APPARENTLY.-}
clatter clatter clatter
{SOMETHING STRONG ENOUGH TO SCREW WITH THIS PLACE IS STRONG ENOUGH TO MAKE US ALL DEAD.}
clatter clatter clatter
{SO DROP THE EDGY ANTIHERO ACT AND LET'S FOCUS ON GETTING OUT OF THIS IN ONE PIECE. TOGETHER.}
clatter clatter clatter
{L'UNION FAIT LA FORCE, RIGHT?}

Ashley was at a loss. What was most disconcerting was that she had the distinct impression that the machine was disappointed in her. It was eerily like her mothe— she forced the thought down. Anderson sighed and stood back up, making a lazy gesture at the headphones she was still holding.

"I told you to listen to Claudille. Now, put those on when I tell you to, okay? If I need to play you don't want to listen. We should head out, see if we can't pick up anyone else along the way."


The anomalous individual who called himself Michael Belrose was in the cafeteria not far from his cell when it happened. They had served pancakes and hash browns for breakfast- the food here was better than on Site-26, that was for sure. The guards on either side of him were relaxed, one sipping at a mug of coffee while another flipped idly through the morning's issue of the Authority Central. They had long experience escorting RPC-330. He was willing to cooperate, and so their role was little more than a formality at this point.

In the space of a few seconds everything changed. There was a single blurt of a klaxon, quickly silenced, a faint tremor in the ground, and then everyone in the room except Belrose vanished. He watched the coffee mug shatter on the tabletop, the hand holding it suddenly absent.

"Awwww, hell."

It took only a few minutes for him to establish that he was alone not just in the room, but possibly the entire wing. They'd issued him with an emergency alert beacon, something to call in security if anything went wrong. It buzzed, unanswered, until he'd lost count of the time and shut it off again.

"Awwww, hell."

He walked for what seemed like hours, past empty offices and research labs. The power and lights were still on, Janet was still filing papers silently, the automated display screens still cycled through their usual notices and security warnings, and yet… everywhere were signs of the sudden dematerialization of people- scattered clipboards and notebooks, small fires in testing areas, abandoned handguns near security checkpoints. He picked up what he recognized as one of the pistols the guards used, tucking it into his belt like he'd seen in movies. It kept awkwardly slipping out of place, forcing him to stop and readjust.

"Fat lot of good it'll do me if I hit a Gamma," he muttered to himself.

None of the security doors to the Alpha or Beta areas seemed to be locked, and at one point he had to duck 'round a corner as a small swarm of long-legged things scampered past him, jabbering incoherently.

Finally, distraught and with aching feet, he collapsed in one of the facility's small arboretums, the artificial sunlight and faintly misty breeze doing little to console himself. Curling up at the foot of a tree, with the pistol digging into the small of his back, he had himself a quiet, undignified cry. He barely noticed as the mist in the air grew thicker and thicker, forming slowly into a dense cloud several meters across above his head. A few dense drops awoke him from his miserable stupor.

"Great," he sniffed, wiping snot from his upper lip, "and now it's literally raining on my parade."

In response to his words, the cloud flickered and shifted, its edges taking on a rainbow hue. To Belrose's deep consternation, part of the swirling mass took on the appearance of a vaguely human hand, and gently patted him on the shoulder. At its touch, he gasped. The weight of the world lifted from his shoulder. All was well. He found himself standing up despite himself, new courage in his heart.

"Christ, what are you?" He gasped, as the mass of cloud drew in on itself, forming into a rough sphere. It seemed to sway for a moment, as if thinking, then spun rapidly into a cursive number 127.

"Okay, so you're RPC-127. And clearly you understand me and aren't trying to kill me yet?"

It folded and whirled into a slightly lopsided smiley face.

"Any idea what happened here, cloud?"

The smiley face became an X.

"Well, shit. I guess we should find our way to one of the command centers? See if there's some way of figuring out what just happened? Way I figure it, the place couldn't be under attack because we'd know it. Someone must have poked an anomaly too hard and everyone just… peaced out? If they were dead, I would have picked something up by now. Anyways, this place is gigantic. No sense in staying still."

The smiley face came back, and the cloud gave him a gentle shove- which, it occured to him, should not have been physically possible- towards the door. Any doubts he had about taking directions from a sentient weather pattern were quickly dispelled by how goddamn life-affirming it felt to get touched by the thing.

"Stay close, okay? I haven't seen anything dangerous yet, but I'd like to play it safe."

Three minutes later, he came around a corner and literally ran face-first into a terrified teenaged girl with an anomalous skeleton and a pair of machine guns.

Bang.

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