Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Villains - or Heroes - of Old Ripley

"The town was an unassuming place named Old Ripley. It had a quiet population, a minor crime problem, but a security force that worked hard to make the streets safe for the general populace of this isolated town on Arcan. However, no amount of security in Drex can make those streets safe now."

The screen cuts away from the young NSI reporter, that smiling comely form quickly replaced by the snarling masses of erratics rampaging through a towns streets. Camera's swooped overhead on drones or light craft, capturing what they could before the tide of erratics - there were at least 50, maybe more - began hurling things towards the camera. Something struck hard, and the camera lost focus. The screen was replaced by the last image it clearly recorded - the erratic was about the size of a man, bipedal, covered in a light fur and snarling. Its open mouth revealed a set of fused-together teeth, and its eyes showed no compassion, no mercy, and barely any recognition. It was naked, and mounted on its genital was the skull of some unknown creature, still partially covered in flesh and blood. In the background, more of the display was pixellated than was actually visible. The screams, although digitally quietened, still spoke of terror.

Alexander quietly imagined the onrush of disgust from the people watching this from their comfortable fortress in the centre of Drex. Children turning away, mothers covering their eyes, fathers screaming in outrage. He didnt enjoy such slaughter. It was a battle well-won for his team, true, but he was a humanitarian above all things. He sought to rule as a God. What kind of God would he be without followers..

"However, within this tale of darkness, a brighter one emerges. Security camera footage leaked just hours ago speaks of a heroic battle between good and evil, and a story of, above all else, sacrifice and redemption. The supposed terrorists, known as LORE and Belial, part of the Apogee Four, were placed at this city only days before the current carnage. LORE's propensity for the dramatic was made clear when his announcement video of his location was broadcast service-wide on the Hyperreal. Security were quick to descend upon the Apogee pair - the supposed leaders of the Apogee Four, Ran-Samot Sako and Marjec Stone, nowhere in sight - and the town was evacuated."

"Many would speak of the coincidence of these events and call foul. However one eye-witness, present at the security station they were incarcerated within, had this to say about the team of surprising heroes."

The video cuts to an Onatan in shabby clothes. He smiles half-heartedly, not sure where to look, and begins talking in a soft, balanced voice. Alexander could recite the script off by heart, and he could even see the ANUBIS brand marked on his forearm. Another convert to his cause. Another poor soul purchased to redemption.

"Yep, I was in prison with them. The two Apogee guys, that robot and the Angel-"

"Aetherin..?" the reporter interrupts.

"Yeah yeah, with the wings. They knew the evacuation would help save the town from those erratics. They had two others with them too, a little Sigurn and a Ghoul, real mean fellow but kind-hearted. The four of them managed to get out of prison, knock out the guards, and take them to a ship - the one I pilotted out of there, at their request. They were kind fellows, real nice guys the lot of 'em. They wanted to save the town. And they knew they weren't gonna get out alive."

The screen cuts back to the reporter, who smiles her fake smile.

"But survive they did. In a research facility not far from the outskirts of town, long abandoned - or so the town suspected - these four heroes engaged in a battle of life and death."

A small window appears to the right of the screen. It has no sound, but the reporter is more than happy to talk everybody through it. It is blurry footage, hard to make out anything concrete, but Alexander was still surprised how much wasn't faked. They almost did appear to be heroes there...

"We see the team fight through the facility, fighting erratics and hoping to stem the tide, already aware of the impending flood of erratic soldiers. Further into the facility, you see them confront the leader of the erratics - none other than a Nonman, the reviled kin of the Exohumans. The creature rears itself, confident in its strength. The Flesh Sigurn, as you can see, risks his very life leaping into the fray to save another Sigurn, the only survivor of this terrible facility and its dark machinations. Meanwhile, LORE communicates with the AI of the facility and commands the release of the erratic army, held in stasis within the facility. The creatures, assumedly only half-way through their dark augmentations, are released dazed and weak, and flood clumsily through the facility. Belial, the Aetherin, fights them off with ease, the creatures still weak from their sudden awakening."

The screen only now goes full screen.

"But here is the real event. The Nonman, furious at the release of its legions earlier than required, rushes the group. You can see the Ghoul of the group debating with the team, and then waving them off. The Sigurn saving his kin, the one creature who may have answers to this horrible event, flees the facility, to ensure the town is safe at last. LORE and Belial both see the need to escape, and accept the Ghouls help with heavy hearts. Then, it happens."

You see the Ghoul, a tide of erratics behind him, rush the Nonman, and begin throwing punches at its face and chest, pummeling the towering giant.

"You see, time and again, the Ghoul throw a flurry of blows at the Nonman. Erratics clawing at his sides, the pain coursing through his broken body, he knows the only way his team can escape is if he distracts them long enough. The Nonman, overwhelmed by the Ghouls bloodlust and faith in his comrades, is pushed back, attempts to escape, and is faced again and again with the intensity of this lone Ghouls violent attack. You see one final blow, the Ghoul physically tearing out the Nonman's throat with his teeth, ripping off its head and rising it to the crowd of stunned erratics."

"But their leaders death does not weaken their lust for violence. Only now, with pinpoint timing, does the Aetherin Belial swoop down on her mechanical wings, and carry a weakened Ghoul out of the facility and into the arms of victory. The erratics, weakened, stunned and confused, turn to the town to satisfy their bloodlust, but find it practically abandoned."

The screen changes suddenly to show a flesh Sigurn standing centre screen. His body is bruised and weak, and he is obviously very tired. He is flanked by two steel Sigurn, bodyguards from Viatga no doubt. He talks, again soft and focussed with his words.

"The Nonman was breeding those erratics, raising an army. By releasing them early, those things were slow and clumsy and allowed everyone in the town to escape in time. They put me on the last ship and flew me out of there. I could see the tide of erratics in the distance, could see those heroes - that's right, I said heroe's! - returning to their own ship. They saved the town, no doubt. You saw the two huge erratics on the video, well, all of them would have been like that if it wasn't for those guys. All of them. I owe them my life."

The video is cut off. Only a picture of the Ghoul remains, now full screen, holding the Nonman head aloft, roaring in victory.

"Who was this Ghoul? How did they learn of this facility? Why was the town of Old Ripley important enough for these make-shift heroes to risk their lives to save? And were we wrong about the morality of two of the most hated terrorists in recent Cradle history? We continue these thoughts tonight on an Inside the Dyson Sphere special; 'Belial and LORE; Traitors or Heroes?' "

The feed cuts off, and Alexander sits in the darkness of the Scales of Judgement bridge. He crosses his arms over his chest, and smiles.

"Release it. It fulfills our needs, although a little more ham-fisted than I'd have liked. Make sure the Onatan is paid, and kill the flesh-Sigurn actor - we can't have him revealing to anybody that he is a fake. Ensure the real captive is ready for questioning soon."

"Yes, Alexander.." Calib, the ships AI, responds.

"And make sure Charybdis gets a fair reward. Not everybody can kill a Nonman. Or lead an army of erratics to destroy a city, half-abandoned or otherwise.."