[su_accordion]Chapter 172: Know Thy Enemy[/su_accordion]
“What did you find?” Sharon asks, groaning as she sat up near Celeste. It seemed the Priscilla was right about it not taking long to recover that level of injury. Though, her armor may need some repairs later.
“It’ll be easier to explain if I show you.” I felt Celeste nod in response. “I’ve got a full map of the compound now, though. This place seems to be a simply research and scouting outpost. As for the location of their main base, these two didn’t know that. They only ever moved between bases via the warp gate.”
Seeing that Sharon was able to move again, Celeste helped her to her feet. Sharon accepted the help with a small nod of thanks, then looked to the Deus Ex. “So, where are we going first? You said you had something to show us.”
Celeste gave a firm nod, then began leading the way. Thanks to obtaining the memories from the previous guards, she already knew the layout of the entire complex, and their security procedures. As such, she was able to navigate the team through as few fights as possible. Although they still encountered some resistance, Celeste was able to give warnings for each one, allowing them to breeze through it.
Soon, they arrived at a wide room, and immediately I knew it to be a temple. There were rows of pews lined up, but there was no god’s statue here. Instead, there was a statue of a man, one I had personally seen during my trip through the memories of the men who tried to kill me at Tokemi’s party.
Standing tall with a broad, muscular build, General Martin’s statue was all-too vivid. At the base of the statue, there was an engraving. ‘Stanley Martin, Champion of Abzul.’
Sharon asked from behind Celeste, in a confused voice. “What’s going on, Celeste?”
Celeste nodded her head, turning around to look at the others. “This is the leader of the Empire, a man who has set humanity on a ‘holy mission’ given to him by the God of War himself. From what those men believed, every major advancement that the Empire made in the last six years, all of it was passed down from the heavens. Given to Martin so that he could advance the human cause.”
Sharon clenched her fists, gritting her teeth as she spoke. “So, a god really is pulling the strings for this war?” Her words caused Yin next to her to frown, putting a reassuring hand on Sharon’s shoulder.
“That’s right.” Celeste chuckled, as if amused by something. “And they don’t even know the face of this god of theirs. Martin has asserted that it is a human god, and that he will help humanity rise to be the dominant power of the entire universe.”
“He’s not?” Yin asked, an eyebrow raised in confusion.
Celeste simply shook her head. “No, he’s not. Not like it really matters, at this point.” She then looked back at the statue, and sighed. “No wonder they were able to get so far, they literally had the hand of god guiding them.” I felt the smile on Celeste’s lips turn cold. “But, they weren’t the only one, were they?”
“The Qu’Lopti!” Priscilla exclaimed in surprise. “Weren’t they being guided by their god to rapidly advance, too?”
Celeste nodded at that. “That’s right. I don’t know if this is some game between the gods, to see who will win, or if there is some other reason behind it. Either way, we’re stuck between two powerhouses.”
Sharon paused for a moment, and then gave another nod. “Let’s move this along. You said this is a research facility, so at the very least there will be researchers, and we can learn a thing or two. We’ll need as much intel as we can get if we want to take on a god.”
Once again, Celeste led the way, though this time they encountered far more resistance. In their first encounter, they came across five human officers, and a proverbial horde of the four-armed aliens. Again, there was a warning from Celeste, so the fight was not difficult. Meanwhile, I was focused on something else.
Malthan said that there were rules for how they could interfere. He was able to advance the Qu’Lopti like he did only because I did that big quest to save their species, and one of the rewards was to have the Qu’Lopti advanced enough to be of use when I needed them. But, the General shouldn’t have been able to do a quest of that scale. So, how is he giving them all this help?
By the time I had finished my thought, the scene Celeste was showing me had already been dyed red in blood. Aside from the last few grunts, the enemy force at this checkpoint had already been entirely wiped out. Once that was taken care of, she spoke to the others. “There should only be one checkpoint left. By now, the other teams should be in the facility as well, so they can’t focus all of their attention on us. However, the last checkpoint has additional safety measures.”
“Such as?” Sharon wiped some blood off of her cheek, looking to Celeste.
“They use proper laser turrets to guard the research itself, not the lightning turrets we’ve fought until now. Additionally, this base has a self-destruct code. If the final layer of defense is breached, it will be activated. After that, all of the doors will close and lock. Sixty seconds later, the base will explode, killing everyone inside.”
Sharon furrowed her brows. “Is there an abort code, or any way for people to evacuate?”
Celeste shook her head. “It’s a completely automated process. If the final layer of defense is breached, the base is assumed to be lost. All personnel are written off as either dead or dying, and the base becomes a death trap. If we don’t take out the shield generator within that sixty seconds, we’ll have to lose these bodies.”
Sharon blinked, confused for a moment. “Why don’t we simply take out the shields first, then?”
“Because, if the shields are destroyed, the self destruct is also triggered. And, I’m sure we can all agree that getting the research is more important, yes?” The girls all nodded at that. “Alright. We’ll head to the labs first, and I’ll see if I can grab a few researchers to stick in my grove. That way, once we’re back at the ship, I can search their memories for information whether we take the shields down or not.”
Sharon nods, then looks to Priscilla. “You and I will head to the shield generator as soon as the last line of defense to the labs is taken care of. Smashing things is generally a lot easier than fixing them.” She looks back to Celeste before finishing. “Can you get us a map to it?”
Celeste nodded, pulling a device from her upgrade inventory and linking with it. Soon, a holographic map appeared in the hallway between them. Judging from the layout, it seemed to be the compound they were currently in. A red dot lit up at what should be their present location. “We’re here right now.” The dot extended into a line that curved through a few more hallways. “This is the last area we should have a real fight before the labs.”
After that, a green path branched off from the red one, leading back towards the far side of the facility. “And this is the way to the shield generators. You’ll need to move pretty fast, if you want to get there by the end of the countdown.”
Sharon watched the map closely, committing the two paths to memory. Once Celeste was done, she gave a small nod to her. “Alright, let’s go.”
It was a bit odd that they hadn’t received any communication from the other two teams, but I could confirm from my end that they hadn’t been taken out. At the very least, they hadn’t left their clone bodies yet. Most likely, communications were one of the things blocked out with that shield. I was probably only able to watch because the link between Celeste and myself was not exactly conventional.
Anyways, it didn’t take them very long before they were standing before the next checkpoint, making their own preparations. Celeste equipped her wristband cannon, Yo morphed into a fully armored form, and Yin… well, she’s pretty much in her prepared state at all times. However, she did pull out her whip.
As for Sharon and Priscilla, they looked to each other and nodded. The rabbit girl walked over to Sharon, and gently grabbed her hand. “See you soon, Mistress.” She spoke with a small smile, her body starting to glow.
When Priscilla’s body shattered into strands of light, those strands then curved and struck towards Sharon’s body. At first, I was confused, as it looked like some kind of attack, but Celeste managed to remain calm. I watched as Sharon’s body became more lithe, her legs extending slightly. White, furred ears sprouted from the top of her head, and a strange glow seemed to come from her eyes.
“I’m ready.” She spoke, walking up to the door. Just as she had done many times before, she was getting ready to knock down the door to announce their arrival. However, this time, as soon as she got close, the door was blasted towards her, throwing her back down the hall.
Had it not been for her merging with Priscilla, she would not have likely been able to correct her posture in midair to land on her feet. Though, once she did so, she let out a furious shout and charged forward, far faster than her body would normally carry her. On the other side of the doorway, there was a single human. This human was wearing a large, metal exoskeleton. Without a doubt, it was power armor, and he was aided by two rifle-wielding humans in the back, and over a dozen grunts.
Oh, and did I forget to mention the laser turrets dropping down from above his head? Yeah, those were there, too. Still, Sharon charged straight towards the new mech, taking advantage of its heavy build and inability to quickly make adjustments. Within a moment, she was behind it, one blade stabbing through the man’s chest from the back.
Her other hand let out an explosion of fire that engulfed the remaining two humans, and the majority of the grunts. “Sheesh, going so far on her own.” Celeste clicked her tongue, taking careful aim and shooting down anyone that managed to survive Sharon’s initial assault. Yo stood just in front of Celeste, ready to take out anyone that happened to get close, while Yin stood at the very back, waiting to see if she would need to participate in this fight.
This battle only last a few moments, before the last grunt had fallen. Although the laser turrets had significant offensive power if left alone, they had been Celeste’s first targets when she opened fire. Having knowledge of the area completely changed the situation.
Once the battle was over, there was a red light flashing through the base. The door they had come through before encountering this final obstacle, which had been left open before, suddenly slammed closed with a clicking sound. Celeste looked towards Sharon and shouted out. “Sixty seconds, go!”
Sharon looked back to her, nodding, before turning and abruptly running back down the hall. Rather than raise her fist to batter down the door, she brought her arms in an X shape to shield her head, putting more force into the final step before she reached the door. There was the sound of tearing metal as Sharon jumped into the door, opening a hole through it and continuing on without pause.
For Celeste and the others, they made a beeline towards the labs, finding several panicking humans in white labcoats. Some tried to pull out weapons to offer a last token of resistance, but it was obvious that none of them had been properly trained for battle. Yin glared at the group of them, and there were dozens of sickening crunches issued out from the surroundings. A moment later, the researchers all fell to the ground, where Celeste began grabbing them to store in her grove.
“Take this and see if you can find a computer to plug it into!” She shouted out, tossing what looked like a small USB drive to Yin, who caught it in one hand and rushed toward the counters. I could only watch as Celeste hurriedly stuffed as many bodies from the researchers into her grove as she could.
“Come on, come on…” She muttered to herself, likely tracking the time. Losing these bodies would not be a major loss, but each one represented a full level for the body’s owner. And for those that leveled up without rampantly killing monsters, each level represented a certain amount of skill proficiency.
“Ten seconds…” I heard Celeste say under her breath, before a distant explosion rocked the base. With an expression of excitement, Celeste immediately activated her comms. “Teleport all teams out, now!”
Light appeared from above to wrap around her, and as she was pulled out I could see a blinding flash of light appear from below the base.