Ch.4

Underground

Toicho kept his head down as he made his way through the rows and rows of cells from which berating slurs rained down like meteorites. He plugged his ears, a frail attempt to shield himself from such depressing prattle. His captain, Disevretos, shook his head disapprovingly. Tapping Toicho on the back, he said

"No weakness! It only makes our job harder."

Toicho reluctantly lowered his arms and made a valiant yet ultimately futile attempt at a stiff upper lip. The two halted as they waited for the security door to scan them. Standing shoulder to shoulder, it was times like these that prisoners would wonder how such a beanstalk like Disevretos could be the tough one between the two. But, then again, they'd know better than anyone. The two proceeded through the door which slid shut behind them. Disevretos turned to Toicho

"Get some rest, man. You earned it. And that's an order!" He patted him on the back and started jogging off for debriefing

"Good work today!"

Toicho rubbed his eyes. It had been a long night for him. No one knew what had been going on in Solarium, but mutations were popping up in people all over the place, almost randomly. These mutations were largely unexplainable and left the victims with strange and fantastic powers. There didn't seem to be any adverse side effects, other than the huge spike in crime! It was becoming a might makes right world, a world that they had sought to avoid. He and Disevretos worked day and night in attempts to keep the peace, stopping those who would use their gifts for evil and selfish reasons, but they were sorely understaffed.

Toicho's mind remained mostly blank as he made his way to the officers' quarters where he entered the separate room reserved for the APS, his team. The tiny room only housed Disevretos and himself for now, so it was sorely underused. Toicho flopped down on his bunk, narrowly missing hitting his head on the bunk above him. As his athlete's body landed with a muffled thunk on his cot, it ruffled the nearly untouched sheets. He righted himself and closed his eyes, attempting sleep in his dirty and torn combat uniform. The black and yellow garb reflected light softly as the lights dimmed around him. He meandered on a thought about how his captain could possibly have enough energy left to jog anywhere, but it soon made way for the dreams of his past. He felt the rush of wind as he charged down the field, the blissful crack of skin against skin, the euphoric rush of slamming his opponents into the dirt. He was lifted up into the air by his fellow teammates and all the fans were cheering

"Conroy! Conroy! Conroy!"

But like a flame, they were all hushed with a breeze and a single voice cut through the air like thunder clapping.

"Harris!" She shouted, "Harris, please! Help!" The field melted away like an atom bomb had went off, vanishing instantaneously from his mind's eye, and all that was left was the blackness of the void. The darkness dragged on. For how long, he didn't know. It pierced into his psyche. He tried calling out, but his voice was instantly swallowed by his own shock. Ahead of him he saw two bloody red lights, burning like coals. They morphed in shape, never achieving true roundness, swinging from left to right in the darkness. Eventually they stopped, two perfect orbs floating in the distance, and floated still in the stagnant air. They grew larger, or was it nearer? Toicho had no idea, stuck as he was.

As the light grew brighter, he found himself strapped to a metal slab, bound by the wrists and ankles. He attempted to break free but found himself too weak to budge. He attempted to illuminate the room with his trademark hard light generators, but nothing happened. A second look at his predicament provided a shocking clue to the situation.

His wrists were slender and feminine, smooth and white, polar opposite to his normal self. The orbs were now right in front of his eyes, burning into his mind. The crimson light reflected off of the slab, revealing two hollow holes from which the light emitted. Toicho's eyes widened in stunned silence as a wet squelching emitted from the space in front of his face. He felt something cold and wet running down his leg, a steady stream which trickled onto the floor, making the sound of a leaky roof dripping into a steel bucket. He heard a voice cut through the darkness,

"Shit! Re-administer the sedative!"

A few seconds passed and the blackness returned. He jolted up in bed, slamming his forehead against the bunk above his. Strangely, his room was no less dark than his nightmare. He blinked several times, unsure whether his eyes were open or not. He attempted to emit light from his generators, another failed attempt. He began to sense a pattern. An unfamiliar voice spoke,

"What did you see?" It asked, firm yet understanding.

"Who's there? Show yourself!"

Toicho attempted to stand but only stumbled again in the darkness, crashing to the floor. He leaned up against his bed frame, attempting to see anything in the darkness. The voice spoke again,

"You don't know me. What did you see?"

"Show yourself first!" Toicho commanded. He kicked himself for the tremble in his voice and thanked the heavens that his captain wasn't there to scold him.

"Very well," the voice said. A dull blue light washed over the room. Before him, Toicho saw a tall, black man. Aside from that, he could tell nothing about him aside from the light reflecting off of his dark sunglasses and the sheen reflecting off of his shiny head.

"I mean you no harm. What was in your dream?" Toicho paused, still adjusting to the peculiar circumstance. He managed to collect his thoughts and remember the frightful apparition.

"I... I'm not sure. There were... orbs..." He managed.

"Do you really believe that?" The strange man asked.

"No... It was something else. Something..." He shuddered "sinister," the man seemed satisfied by his answer. His hand flashed in the darkness, disappearing again in what Toicho guessed to be a pocket. The last thing Toicho saw before the man disappeared was a folded piece of paper fall from his hand onto the floor. The dull blue light vanished along with the man's presence and the lights in the room flickered on again.

The first thing Toicho did was test his generators. A familiar golden light solidified in front of him and swirled around, changing at his command. When he was satisfied with his test and his breathing stabilized, he got back up into a respectable position and took a look at the paper on the floor. Scribbled on the top of the paper was an instruction of sorts. It read

"B9, 1513 Trenton" Toicho recognized this as an address and floor level, the sight of a robbery that he had helped to stop earlier that week. Below the address was an intricate map, like an architect's blueprint, with a path marked clearly in red. The path trailed from the elevator to that floor and ended at a wall marked with a skull drawn in green, continuing off the page. Toicho didn't know what he was going to find there, but he knew he had to hurry. He had a sneaking suspicion about the meaning of his dream, and he didn't like it one bit. Despite his eyes weighing him down, he made haste to the parking lot outside and borrowed a cruiser. Sirens blaring, he raced through the streets of South Solarium to the address specified.

He arrived at the tower, another tree in the concrete jungle that went for hundreds of miles around. Disregarding the stories that towered above him, he deactivated the cruiser and made directly for the elevator inside. Once inside, he mashed the button for the bottom level, nine floors underground. A panel lit up on the console, requesting a key to access restricted levels. Toicho aimed a hard light generator at the keyhole, illuminating the inside. From the light materialized a shiny golden key which fit perfectly into the whole. Manipulating his creation, Toicho turned the key in the lock and the elevator jerked as it began its descent.

Toicho counted the levels as he went down, seven... eight... nine. The elevator slowed to a stop and the doors opened. Stepping out into the hallway, he involuntarily shivered at the blast of cold air. He pulled the map from his pocket and followed the dirty brick walls to where, to his best estimate, the line continued off the page. He knocked against the bricks and listened hard. He could hear it, barely a whisper, on the other side. He pushed against the bricks and noticed a slight give.

That was enough for him! He took a step back and aimed his palms at the wall. A shining golden beam blew the wall apart to reveal a clean, white hallway. As he took a step forward, he was greeted with a powerful blast of frigid air. He noted as he stepped over the rubble that the shattered bricks were the closest thing to dirt that he could see anywhere inside. His breath formed in the air as he took tentative steps down the hallway which ramped steadily into the earth.

As Toicho was forging a new path through the mysterious facility, Disevretos was wrapping up the week's debriefing. Though he looked forward to resting, he found himself unable to upon entering the APS quarters. He knew there was no good reason for Toicho to be off anywhere else, and immediately turned around to search for him. Little did he know that Toicho was about to make a shocking discovery.

Toicho had reached a point in the hall where the floor leveled and, ahead of him, opened up into the maw of a monstrous cavern. The tile of the hallway stopped abruptly and was replaced by rough stone that had only recently been unearthed. In contrast to the hallway, the cavern had very few signs of advancement other than the catwalks that hung high overhead and a particularly clean section that caught his eye across the way. Dim lights kept what appeared to be two large slabs shrouded in darkness as they illuminated Toicho's way to them. As he drew nearer, he began to make out the shapes of a man and a woman, the man a gargantuan hulk compared to her petite frame, with blond hair and a medical covering the size of a tent and a pair of dark sunglasses on the table next to him.

Toicho looked to the woman and was surprised that he recognized her as Skyler Rodgers, his first bust as part of the APS. He gasped in horror as he noticed an IV tube leading from her arm and into a computer terminal which regulated the flow of whatever drug was keeping her under. He noticed that she was sweating profusely, like she was fighting something inside her. Her body squirmed weakly to break free and a short groan wheezed out of her mouth.

"Good lord, what have they done to you?" Toicho asked as he brushed her light brown hair from her eyes. Her hair fell to the side and Toicho let out a shocked gasp.

Glaring back at him was a glowing red dot, blinking like a third eye in the middle of her forehead. He ran his fingers over the dot and felt warmth emanating from beneath her clammy skin. He snapped into action, going first to the computer terminal and looking for a way to release the restraints. From some far off corner, he could hear movement. A sort of skittering, arachnid sort of noise. He heightened his pace in hopes of not finding out what was making it.

He searched through the terminal until he found a control screen. He quickly scanned the screen with his eyes, but he was preparing for the worst in his head. He could hear the skittering growing louder and louder as he worked, echoing off of the cavernous walls above him. He didn't dare to look as he heard a loud thump behind him. He felt hot breath on his neck, and something wet running down his back.

Mustering all of his courage, he whipped himself around to see... nothing? He knew that something was there, how could there not have been? He reached a hand to his back to see if the foreign liquid was still there, but found nothing but dry fabric as usual. More than that, the noise had stopped as well. Questioning his sanity, he went to turn back to his work but was stopped by a tremendous force which knocked him to the floor, where he skidded far away from the terminal.

The creature was upon him faster than he could react. Its body was fleshy and raw, like its skin had been turned inside out and stretched thin, but it had a hard and bony exterior. Its body would have been human in appearance if not for four pointed appendages protruding from its back on which it carried itself, its arms and legs dangling to its sides, unused. Its face, which towered above normal men, held resemblance to a skull, cracked at the middle to form a twisted mouth from which its black tongue lolled, dripping on Toicho's face in hot globs as it sniffed him up and down. Its hollow eyes glared rhythmically at Toicho, scrutinizing his very existence in its home. They glowed red from the depths of its head, two perfect orbs floating in front of his face. Toicho laid still, not daring to budge. The creature hung low, suspended by its spindly legs, dragging itself over him as it inspected him. It practically licked him because of its low hanging tongue.

Mustering all of his courage, Toicho kicked up, throwing the beast from his body. Scrambling to his feet, he stretched out his arm and fired a golden beam of light at the creature. The creature regained its footing and ducked under the bolt with a hiss. It reared up on its hind stilts and smashed two more beams out of the air, where they dissolved into dust. Toicho made a dash for the computer console, constructing a barrier behind him which was easily smashed by the beast as it pursued him, slashing at his heels. Toicho slammed into the console in his haste, but managed to fumble at the keys for a few fleeting seconds before one of the creature's piercing arm whizzed past his head, barely missing the flesh of his cheek. As he turned around to meet his opponent, Toicho ducked his head under another stilt which grazed past his forehead, drawing blood. As another blow approached, he dove towards the IV machine. Ducking under the tube, he took up a fighting stance on the other end. The creature cut cleanly through the tube in its charge.

This minor victory accomplished, Toicho grabbed the topmost stilts and dug his knee into the creature, repeating the blow against the creature's sturdy carapace until he felt a satisfying crunch. His victory was cut short when the creature thrust into his side with its lower stilt, below his ribcage, causing him to cry out in agony. The wound burned like the sun as he clutched his side and fell to the floor. Hot tears welled up in his eyes and ran down his face as he writhed on the floor, sputtering and coughing from the wound. He rolled out of the way of another piercing blow which glanced off of the floor next to him.

Toicho wiped the tears from his eyes and looked up at the creature. There was a large crack in the shell plating over its stomach from when he had kneed it. From the wound dripped crimson blood, running and parting like rivers down its torso and pooling on the stone floor. One arm still cradling his side, Toicho sent a blast of hard light careening into the weak spot, sending bone fragments into the air along with a spray of blood which misted to the floor. The creature threw back its head in agony and loosed a horrible, grating hiss which echoed through the cavern. It fell back from its stilts, finding more stability on its humanoid legs.

The creature pounced, throwing its full weight onto Toicho's stomach which knocked the air out of him. Now struggling for air that he had barely had in the first place, Toicho rolled over, switching their positions and collapsing on top of the creature. The creature used a stilt to brush him off like a speck of dust and raised itself to its feet. it ran a stilt through his shirt and hung him in front of it. Toicho, now hung up to dry, barely clung on to his consciousness as the creature ran its bony hand under his chin, coveting its catch. It slammed him to the ground and stomped on his chest triumphantly, raising its eyes to the sky and letting out another tremendous hiss.

The hiss was short lived, however. The echo was soon replaced by a thunderous bang which rang through their ears as a hole was shattered through the creature's jaw and cartilage splattered to the floor next to Toicho. As the echo faded away, he turned his head to the entrance of the cavern.

There, holding a sniper rifle half the size of his body, was Disevretos. Toicho smiled as his eyes rolled back in his head and his head fell to the stone, finally able to rest. Despite his desire to help his teammate, Disevretos remained silent and assessed the situation. Still wary of his surroundings, he vanished from sight and slowly approached the stilled body of the creature. As he crept closer to the incapacitated creature, he saw its chest heaving under the stress of the wound he had inflicted. Its jaw had been torn off by the bullet impact and dangled by a thread off of the creature's face. It turned its head to him, smelling his location, but its body refused to listen to its command. Disevretos knelt down by the creature and drew his knife from his boot. Shaking his head in pity, he shoved the blade up through the roof of the creature's mouth. It let out its last hiss, barely more than a whimper, and went limp.

Disevretos rushed over to Toicho, calling out to him and shaking his shoulders. His eyes slowly opened, and he said

"Sorry Captain, I broke an order." Disevretos gave a confused look.

"What are you talking about, Harris?" he asked

"You told me 'get some rest, and that's an order' but I came here anyways." Disevretos laughed

"Well, now you're going to have to get up, okay? We need to get out of here." Toicho shook his head

"No. We can't leave alone," he said, pointing to the slabs. Disevretos helped him to his feet and walked him over to the bizarre setup. Laying Toicho down by the gigantic man, Disevretos went to work at the terminal. Toicho looked nostalgically at the passed out Skyler Rodgers.

"Do you remember her?" he wheezed "She was our first assignment." Disevretos looked over his shoulder at her.

"Yeah, I remember. Skyler Rodgers a.k.a. Gnosi. I memorized the file. A lot of memories in this room…" he said as he typed away. Toicho cocked an eyebrow

"What do you mean?" he asked. Disevretos motioned to the gigantic man.

"He was my first. Ronald Young a.k.a. Atomos." Toicho's eyes widened at the news.

"I remember that fight! I didn't think anyone could beat Heracles in the ring. It was awesome!" he sputtered under the stress of his own enthusiasm. He cleared his throat "Did you really take him down by yourself?" Disevretos nodded his head,

"The trick was his eyes. I had noticed how protective he was of them while staking him out, so I made it a priority… shit!" he pounded his fist on the terminal "Damn thing's got more security measures than the SPD! I think we'll need a 'manual override'" he said, turning to Toicho. Toicho nodded and struggled to his feet. Stumbling over to Skyler's table, he blasted at her bonds, loosening the steel. He repeated the process for the others and dragged her off of the slab. The second her body left the slab, the terminal began flashing red and blaring sirens, causing him to drop her in shock.

Disevretos sprang into action, tackling Toicho away from the area which was encompassed by a huge steel wall. Toicho was still dazed as Disevretos dragged him across the floor yelling at him to move. His legs unwilling, Toicho watched in horror as the steel bent under a huge impact that echoed through the cavern. Another huge impact followed the first, busting through the steel and revealing the monstrous arm of Atomos. The arm retracted and was replaced by a steely yet ferocious gaze, blue eyes turned purple, and he roared a spine chilling yawp which reverberated through their bones.

To be continued...