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zackrobbman last won the day on June 20 2020

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About zackrobbman

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    With all the force of a great, typhoon! BE A MAN! Get it? No?....I'm a guy.
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    Nothing I'd fight too hard for, and that is very depressing.
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    Quality Control Auto Body Technician....I'm a detailer....I clean cars.

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  1. It was fun! Thanks for the opportunity! This was my very first time writing in a thread like this, and I learned a lot. I've still been brainstorming an RPG system ever since I attempted to create one, and the one I've come up with is FAR LESS annoying and intricate than what I posted here. I apologize to all of those that got thrown of by it! Also, I suffer from the 'Not feeling it' thing too. I'm afraid mine is still going strong these days, mainly because of added 'adulting' stuff and very little sleep, but it's there nonetheless. I hope yours doesn't get too bad, because I believe a 'friend' of mine expressed interest in having you write with us on another project, which I was 100% on board for! No pressure'r nuthin' though! From what I've found out, pressure kills that artistic spark and makes it more of a job, and very few people enjoy going to work. 😄Doors always open though if that spark becomes a flame! So yeah...this was fun! I enjoyed this. With all of you! The site may closing down, but we may run into each other in the future. (Actually I'm pretty sure of it) So don't feel afraid to give me a holl'a if you see a dude named Zack that robs people. That was a joke. My name isn't actually Zack. Oh, and I don't rob people.
  2. Although she might not have known it, Mara's statement would have caused Marvin to reveal a bit of information that might've really gotten the gears in her mind moving in a rather unnerving direction. But she was spared this information due to Zack and Marvin's bickering. The society Martin hailed from was quite advanced, and one might begin wonder where all the knowledge came from when other nations hadn't even discovered steam energy yet. What they'd accomplished was essentially like an infant graduating college before it was a day old, and she was wise to note this. "Clive McTeague." Zack said in a dry tone. "He's a hopeless drunk with a nasty dead-eye, and he's also a reckless, thick-headed, MORON! If a cowboy wannabe ever offers to work with you, kick'im in the balls and walk away. I got these cuffs because he blew our cover on the jockey's airship! Hell, I almost DIED like thirty times during my escape! Had to bite a guys hand off to open a bunch'a doors, fell over two thousand feet and broke nearly every bone in my body, got caught up in this stupid war, got freakin' body-swapped at one point, beaten within an inch of my life by that Tin bastard, and wound up in the middle of all...this! All because I felt bad for him and wanted offer him some work! And this isn't even the first time! Last year, we took a job to-" "Are you done?" Marvin interrupted. "This seems like it's going to drag on and I don't want to be rude by pretending to listen to you." Zack gave Marvin a stubborn, angry glare that no one would be able to see because of the helmet on his head, so only silence accompanied it. Marvin took the silence as a sign of Zack's compliance before addressing the both of them. "Alright," he said, his eyes flicking between the two. "Any questions before we head out?" "What if I have to use the bathroom?" Zack piped up shamelessly. In fact, everything he said seemed to be bereft of any shame, his voice always sounding clear, unapologetic, and forthcoming. Like a child that was blissfully unaware of the concept of shame or dignity. "..." "..." "...You know something?" Marvin said as he winced pensively and nodded. "I don't like you." "Yeah? Well I don't like you either!" Zack shot back childishly. Marvin ignored him and focused his softening gaze on Mara, waiting for her to say something that would be less stupid than her 'tag-along'.
  3. "One gets...quite bored when he's locked up with himself for a few thousand years." Marvin shrugged. "In addition, and as you two may soon see, there are certain...varieties of the Strain that will require a more forceful and expedient solution. We have exoskeletons on hand in case we ever...when we become tangible, so that we'll be able to fire the gun without terminal hemorrhaging." "I've done enough flying today, thank you." said Zack with a dismissive shake of his head. "...You can fly?" asked Marvin after a brief pause. "Yeah." Zack nodded in a sarcastic tone. "If you consider falling with style a form of flight." "Yes, you don't look like you're very good at flying." Marvin grimaced. "Nope." Zack shook his head shamelessly. "I'm also not very good at getting punched, getting shot, getting stabbed, getting blown up, getting impaled-" "I get it." said Marvin as he held up a hand. "Let's get you two suited up." The 'Suit-Up' room wasn't anything flashy. It was just another white room with odd looking, full-body suits lining one of it's walls from one end to the other. The suits resembled S.W.A.T combat fatigues, only not nearly as bulky or inconvenient. The chest, arms, legs, and back were meticulously padded with white, metal armor plates that contrasted the black bodysuit underneath and matched the shape of the respective muscles they'd be covering. From the top of the spherical, glass-like, helmet to the bottoms of the comfortable looking boots, nothing seemed to be open to the air. "These suits will protect you from the miasma abundant in the city." said Marvin as he levitated two suits over to Zack and Mara with a small motion of his hand. "They're quite advanced, although they may not look it. Each suit is composed of billons of nanites, and woven into each one are thousands of sensors that will adapt to your body's shape and monitor your well-being. The helmet will display information gathered from these sensors on it's interior, allowing you to-" "Problem!" said Zack as he raised his cuffed hands. With a roll of his eyes and an exasperated sigh, Marvin raised a hand and did a looping motion with a finger. First, much to Zack's alarm, the Decimator strapped to his back unclasped itself and floated above him. Then the suit that had floated over to him appeared to dematerialize into a fine mist right before his eyes. Zack yelped and raised his arms to his face when the black cloud of nanites wafted over him. He clenched his eyes shut and waited for the pain, but all he felt was a strange tingle all over his body, like a tingling wind. When the sensation stopped, he opened his eyes. Marvin was staring at him with an impatient expression, and when he looked around him, the cloud was nowhere to be seen. When he finally looked down, he saw that he was now wearing the suit. His eyes furrowed in confusion as he raised his hands in front of him. Somehow, the suit had slipped on under his cuffs, his hands and wrist fully clothed in the futuristic garment. The rest of his body was no different, none of skin or the clothing he'd been wearing underneath visible or exposed to the air. Even the grenades and pistol he'd tied around his waist were now somehow tied along the utility belt on the suit, the Decimator once again strapped to his back. The only part of him not covered was his head, which the glassy helmet fell on the moment he noticed. It bounced off his head with an odd clang before falling to the floor. "Jerk!" Zack frowned before reaching down to pick up the helmet. He lifted it up and placed it on his head as best he could, the helmet seeming to lock into place and pressurize when he did. Immediately, various lights lit up on the suit as if going through a boot-up process. Digital displays popped up within his helmet, Zack unable to comprehend the texts as they rapidly scrolled up. He noted that he couldn't even tell that the helmet was on his head, being able to see and hear as if he weren't wearing anything. "As I was saying," Marvin continued. "The heads-up display within the helmet will allow you to monitor your vitals, the suits integrity, and the suits power levels." Zack found this out to be true after the boot-up process was over. He was already getting warnings about the injuries he'd sustained, some of them demanding that he seek medical attention immediately. One of the pop-ups displayed an error regarding his brain, which the suit claimed to have no readings on. He could also see a box on his top-right side. It currently read 'SUIT INTEGRITY: 100%'. "How do I get all of these pop-ups to go away?" Zack asked, the entire left side of his helmet filled with warnings. "And why doesn't it feel stuffy in here?" "Regarding the important alerts," Marvin corrected. "You can make them all disappear by taking your right index finger and tapping the right side of your helmet." Zack did just that, and every thing vanished aside from the box indicating the integrity of his suit. He figured it was pretty important, so it would likely stay visible no matter what. "When you want them to come back, just do it again." Marvin added. "But since the suit's are in pristine condition, one could only surmise that the pop-ups you're getting are regarding your compromised vitals." "I told you earlier," Zack said, his voice now synthesized through the helmet. "I'm fine." "You lie." Marvin nodded with a sly grin. "I know this, because numbers, do not. If there are alerts regarding your health, it means you could possibly die in the next few minutes. Your physiology must be...unique." "Could you talk slower and mumble less?" Zack asked. "Anyway," said Marvin after clearing his throat. "Regarding your second inquiry, the nanites in your suit can provide you oxygen for six days. This, however, brings me to my next point. The nanites need power to operate. Unabated and undisturbed, they can provide oxygen for the full duration allotted to each suit. But they will also use this same energy source to compensate for damage, keeping the suit air-tight to prevent any exposure to the miasma. This means that the amount of oxygen you have will decrease depending on how much power the suit expends. If the suits integrity reaches zero, it means that there is no energy left to replenish the lost nanites or provide oxygen. This will of course, mean a very painful death, so do please try not to get hit by anything." Marvin gave Mara's shotgun a warning glance, seeing what it had done to her shoulder when fired the way it was supposed to be fired. "Hold on..." said Zack with a suspicious tone. "I thought you said stuff-" "Breaks down when outside of the building's Constance field?" Marvin finished dryly. "Melvin designed the nanites to store the residual energy within this field so that they don't break down when outside. The energy wears away, but very slowly. Takes about a month." "But-" "We can't wear the suits outside because this residual energy is only a weak variant of the phase-particles needed to keep interactivity possible." Marvin interrupted. "We tried for years to see if we could transfer the base-particle outside, but we just haven't figured out how to do that yet. So although these weaker particles are sufficient to keep the them together and functional, the suits just...fall through us. And if we COULD figure out a way to transfer the base-particles to the outside, we would also easily be able to make ourselves tangible again. It'd be like matching the temporal frequencies so that our own particles could cease their dissonance on both planes of existence." "I'd be lying if I said I understood any of that." said Zack. "That was astronomically watered down version." said Marvin as he massaged the bridge of his nose. "Are you done debating the integrity of my words and motives, or can we get going? We need to seal these leaks before the Strain gets back into our world!." "Sure." Zack shrugged defeatedly. "Man....I never should've taken that job with Clive."
  4. "...Hollow fantasies?" Martin breathed, his grin slowly melting. Marvin was, to put it lightly, a little hurt by Mara's words. She didn't speak like most women he'd known in the past, having a cold, unattached demeanor that backed up her claims about being more machine than woman. When he looked into her eyes, he saw no remorse or hesitation when she spoke. She was like a soldier, her only attachment being to the task at hand. Still, he was a scientist. The reasons for her rejections were merely obstacles for him to overcome with his extraordinary intellect. More machine than woman? He could fix that. Him being more ghost than man? He could fix that too. If anything, the pain he felt from Mara's rejection was fueling his previously extinguished passion to regain his tangibility. But that couldn't happen if they wound up dead after leaving the lab. He cleared his throat and steeled himself so that she wouldn't see his eyes beginning to well up. Nothing hurts more than extinguished hopes, after all, and he'd literally only had himself as company for several thousand years. "Yes." he nodded, his hands behind his back. "Very...well then. This way, please." Zack picked up on the forced professionalism in Marvin's voice, realizing that Mara was likely the first female he'd seen in a very long time. While Mara was right to reject the advance and had stated valid reasons to boot, he couldn't help but feel for the man. His hopes and dreams had just been dismissed as irrelevant and trivial. He guessed it was for the best though. Zack figured that even if he managed to materialize his body again, he wouldn't be Mara's type. If she even had one. "These weapons are likely quite similar to the ones you're used to firing." Marvin continued as he led them to the firing counter. (or whatever they're called) "Only they fire an amalgamation of condensed particles and wavelengths that may resemble a 'light' bullet of sorts. Like a photon blaster, if you two know what those are. Upon contact with the Strain..." He deftly reached over and pressed a red button on the counter, one dignified hand still held behind his back. About a hundred feet away, a hole opened up in the ceiling and a clear tube descended from it. The tube began to rattle and something black came falling out of it. The black ooze plopped against the floor, but there was no splash. Just a slap. The ooze morphed and bubbled as it drew it's splattered form back together to form a gelatinous bump on the floor about the size of a truck tire. Deftly slinging the rifle from around his shoulder, he took aim at the creature and flicked a switch above the handle with his thumb. The light inside the various tubes coming in and out of the gun began to glow brighter. When he pulled the trigger, a bright blue muzzle flash accompanied the sound you'd typically think of when firing a futuristic laser rifle. The time of impact seemed to be instantaneous, the gooey freak of nature exploding into a spray of flurrying, bright, glowing, blue embers that dissipated in less than half a second. There was now no trace of the creature besides the burnt, smoldering spot on the floor where it once was. "It becomes unstable and explodes." said Marvin nonchalantly as he lowered his rifle. "The bigger the projectile the weapon fires, the bigger the explosion, hence the the creation of the quality weaponry the little troglodyte over there took for himself even though he can't use it." "Hey!" Zack shouted in offense. "....What's a troglodyte?" "None of the weapons need to be reloaded." Marvin continued unabated as he turned to look at Mara. "But they must be allowed to cool after sustained fire, or they may explode. This will likely kill you, so please practice extreme caution when the shift-light within the weapons begins to turn a bright orange. The higher the energy output of the weapon, the quicker it will over-heat." "The...'Super Shotgun' as Melvin insisted on calling it, can fire four times before needing to cool. Every weapon can be opened up to cool. Depending on the weapon and rate of use, it can take up to a little over thirteen seconds to cool. The shotgun there only needs a few seconds, but the kickback is....well...see for yourself." Marvin pressed the button again, and another glob of black death fell from the tube and smacked against the floor in the exact same spot as it's predecessor. "While I'm certain you possess the strength to keep a good grip on the weapon, this will likely not stop it from pushing you back a few yards, even with the added weight of your cybernetics. To avoid tripping backwards, lean forward when you shoot." Marvin stepped back and gestured for her to take her shot. "Oh!" he interjected. "And do be sure to flick off the safety before use. Alright, carry on."
  5. Melvin and Zack stared at the young woman as Marvin continued is articulately insane ramblings. While Zack didn't care to have an opinion on the matter one way or the other, Marvin was unsure of how to explain to the young woman the difference between her and Mara without sounding too...subjective. Being from an older time and civilization the thrived from mostly wise decision making, it was customary for him to appreciate the beauty of age and maturity, which Mara possessed the majority of. Well, there was that, and the fact that Martin (their original persona) had always dreamed of having a cyborg wife. Him asking his every date whether or not they'd mind amputating a limb to replace it with some sort of death ray or metal appendage was a very large part of the reason he'd never been in a relationship. "Metal arm, and confident." Marvin quietly muttered with a grin as he placed a hand to his chin in approval. "They never made em' like this back in the day." "Seriously?" said Zack as he gave Melvin a disapproving look. Melvin cleared his throat. "Of course." He nodded towards Mara. To this, Tessa did not react favorably. For some reason Zack could not understand, the woman who'd practically been on deaths door when they found her wanted to go back out into the foreboding and ominous hell they'd barely escaped. Did she enjoy near-death and suffering? Was she one of those thrill-seekers who only felt alive when they almost weren't? Whatever her motives were, Mara was right to exclude her and Jerry. Neither of them were in any condition to go out, and smaller groups were much easier to coordinate. Mara was also right to consider her potential backup if things went south. Although their line of work often demanded all-or-nothing maneuvers and plans, Zack accredited his survival to doing that as little a he possibly could and always having a backup plan. This is quite easy to do when you're talking about a paranoid, hair-trigger man who's always prepared for an invasion of lizard people. "No useless politics please." Zack pleaded curtly. Zack was taken aback by Mara's question, even though he knew she wasn't planning on going out there alone with a only a crazed scientist as her plus one. He looked at her with the look of an over-worked young boy who'd just been asked to work a double. He sighed, knowing there was only one right answer to give her. "Fine." he rubbed his hands down his face, jealous of Tessa and Jerry. Sometimes, he wished that he were a little easier to kill. Sure, he'd obviously be dead if he was, but maybe not since people wouldn't always expect him to take part in suicide missions. Or worse. Be bait. "Very well!" said Marvin with a snap of a finger. Shortly afterwards, a small, basket-ball sized robot hovered into the room from the hall-way. It had the shape of a football with circular disks on both ends, and a single, glowing light in it's center seemed to serve as it's eye. "Yes, master? the robot said in a courteous, feminine, robotic tone. "Please tend to the wounds of the young lady with the silver hair and the older man on the table." said Melvin as he pointed to Tessa and Jerry. "I will be going out for a bit. Please inform Melvin to meet me at the old lab in the city when he's done with his rambling." "Yes, master." The floating robot tilted forward with a nod before focusing it's single, soulless eye on Tessa. "Hello, there! My name is Aversa! I will be tending to your various injuries. Please remain calm and rejoice, for you will be the first organism I have ever given medical care! Doesn't that make you feel special? Also, please take note that any screaming will not halt the process. We do not possess any pain nullifiers in this building, and if we did, I must disclaim to you that the pain you may potentially experience may be far beyond the the capabilities and comforting embrace that narcotics can provide. Take heart though, since at the end of such a procedure if it is needed, you will emerge a much more mentally resilient individual! Now, please remain still as I perform a full body scan for your injuries, as any unnecessary movement may result in scanning inconsistencies, which may cause me to make unnecessary incisions on your soft, organic, body." "Sorry." Marvin rubbed the back of his neck with an apologetic smile. "We installed the first aid module in case we ever found a way to fix our intangible nature, and we didn't care to install a bedside-manner module since we sort of of gave up. I can assure you that she's joking though!" "I do no not possess the necessary module for satire, master." Aversa added, to which Marvin responded by quickly exiting the room while beckoning Zack and Mara to follow. The scientist walked at a brisk pace, leading them through the winding, white halls of the laboratory. They passed many rooms where they seemed to be conducting experiments on the black ooze they'd seen outside, the state of some of these rooms implying a mishap during the experiment. They even cut through what appeared to be a weapons testing area that was covered in various burn marks that sullied the otherwise pristine white lab. One said spot was still smoking. "Armory's through here." Marvin muttered absentmindedly as he led them to a metal door at the back of the firing range that slid open once they got close. Inside the room was a large wall where dozens of strange looking guns hung on metal hooks. While none of the weapons would match the look of any make and model Mara or Zack had seen, (or been shot at by) they seemed similar to high-tech energy weapons produced by the spire and some rich nobles outside of it. Still, the functionality of each weapon could be easily gauged by a quick glance. Rifles, shotguns, pistols, sub-machine guns, they were all there in their weird, futuristic glory. One of the shotguns appeared to have four barrels on it, four small engravings of a skull and cross-bones in the metal handle. There was even a small placard underneath it with the word 'Super Shotgun' written on it. Next to it was what appeared to be a minigun, the tips of it's barrels black and worn from apparent overuse. It looked small and light enough to carry on ones back, but Zack got the feeling it could level an apartment complex with about thirty seconds of constant fire. The 'Super Shotgun', despite being smaller, looked capable of doing the same thing with about four blasts. Or perhaps three. He imagined that it's kickback was truly a doozy. "Pick one." Marvin said as he gestured to the wall. "All of these possess a new form of light energy we developed a few hundred years ago. We call it, shift-light, and the Strain abhor it. It's like a laser, except...it burns things in more ways than one, if I were to put it in laymen's terms." Zack walked up to the wall, looking for something he could use while his hands were cuffed. His eyes fell on a strange looking pistol whose barrel ended in a rounded point. He reached up to it on the tips of his toes and grabbed the pistol off the rack, frowning at the weapon as he examined it. He seldom used guns and didn't have a lot of experience with them other than learning how to react when they were being fired at him. Oddly, despite Mikey's insistence that Charlie become proficient with firearms, Mikey only bothered to teach Zack the basics. Zack didn't mind since he didn't like guns anyway, but he was often mocked and made fun of by others in the business for his refusal to quickly resort to firearms. If only they knew what would happen if he did, then perhaps they and the rest of the world would be thankful that he doesn't. The next weapon Zack took was what appeared to be small, ergo dynamic rocket launcher or cannon of sorts, only being about three and a half feet long. The handle was toward the front of the weapon, meaning he'd be able to use it with an acceptable degree of accuracy with it's back end resting on his shoulder. It also appeared to a 'favorite' of the twins, showing signs of frequent use and having another placard underneath with 'Decimator' written on it. The weapon had a strap, but because of his cuffs, he had to go through a bunch of extra steps to unclip the strap and re-clip it so that it was hanging over his shoulder and strapped across his chest. He'd have to ask Mara to unclip it so that it could be used, but he figured it was better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. "Oh, and don't touch the ones at the back." said Marvin as he grabbed a rifle with glowing tubes coming in and out of it. "Most of those are unstable, immediately lethal to the user, or they may spontaneously explode. We've been meaning to throw them out, but Melvin insisted on fixing them instead. Apparently the preservation of failure is necessary to progress." "Hmm." Zack walked over to these unstable weapons, his eyes locking onto another pistol that looked very similar to the one he'd taken. "Feel free to test them out before you two get suited up in the foyer." said Marvin as he exited the room with his weapon of choice slung around his shoulder by a strap. "We believe the atmosphere in the city is deadly to living organisms. The spores hanging in the air there can get into your system and subject you to one of the worst deaths imaginable." "How do you know?" said Zack as he walked out of the room, securing a pistol to his belt. "You breathed in one?" "No, no." Marvin shook his head. "Our bodies are in a constant state of temporal divergence. Nothing in this world can touch us, as you may have noticed earlier." Zack eyed the gun hanging off of Marvin's shoulder. "So how can you-" "Touch and manipulate the objects in this lab?" he said as he walked in place while looking down at his feet. "Every thing you see in this laboratory is constructed of a metal alloy we developed a while ago. To put it simply, the quantum rift we currently reside in is finite. There is a barrier. We noticed that this barrier prevents even us from phasing through, and we also noticed that objects close to it become unstable and begin suffer a kind of...quantum incontinence. They become somewhat tangible to us. So we took a bunch of materials, found a way to speed up the rate of incontinence, and built this lab out of said materials. It still requires an encompassing field to negate this planes natural tangibility that occurs if taken away from the perimeter for too long, but it enables us to...ground our bodies and in extent...our sanity. Physical sensory deprivation can really wear you down, you know?" Zack took a moment to take all of this in, trying his best to wrap his simple farm-boy mind around what Marvin was saying. "So..." he began, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. "Once you leave this...lab or whatever, you can't touch anything outside?" "Correct." Marvin nodded. "In fact, I will also begin to float, since there is no all encompassing field outside to tether my temporal form to the gravity of this world." "So those things can't hurt you?" "Nope." Zack gave Marvin an annoyed look, his mouth slightly agape in confusion. "So why can't you make some gloves out of the stuff in this lab and go fix this relay thing yourself?!" "Were you not paying any attention, boy?" Marvin scolded. "The field around this building is the only thing keeping the materials within from losing their quantum incontinence. This means that any materials I take outside of this lab will just pass right through me and possibly even break down!" "So why do ya' got that gun!?" Zack asked as he pointed at the rifle slung around Marvin's shoulder. "I'm not taking it with me you fool!" Marvin exclaimed as he bent down to look Zack in the eye. "I'm just going to quickly show you how the weapons work!" "Oh....okay, then." said Zack, the annoyed look on his face slowly diminishing. "What, you thought I was lying to you?" Marvin asked. "It's difficult for me to trust someone who ain't got a shadow, ya' know?" Zack shrugged. "I see." Marvin added dryly with half-lidded eyes as he began to question the mental integrity of the the young man in front of him. "That reminds me. Do either of you require medical assistance before we head out? I've got drones on standby, and the kid here almost looks like a walking corpse." "No thank you." Zack answered quickly, remembering what Aversa had said to Tessa earlier. He then started to cough wetly, heaving as if he had something stuck in his throat. Once he hacked the offending substance up, he spat a glob of blood to the floor that was riddled with a few miniscule pieces of bone. Alarmed, Zack quickly cleared his throat with a dismissive wave as Marvin turned his face up at the new, bloody stain on his floor. "Don't mind that!" Zack said as soon as his throat was clear. "That's just left over from earlier. I'm fine. Don't call no robot over hear." "Sure, sure." Marvin nodded with disgust before turning to Mara, his expression changing to one of mild excitement. "How about you? Want me to take a look at that arm? My...um...drones do not possesses the expertise to service cybernetics." Zack squinted at the man, taking note of the look in his eyes, the rigidness of his smile, and the way his eyes kept flicking to Mara's breasts. He'd seen this look on someone else many times before. "You're lying!" Zack said with an accusatory point. He then turned to Mara like a child who was accusing his sibling of wrongdoing. "He's lying!" "Quiet, you little punk!" Marvin shot back.
  6. "So tears are the term people now use to refer to the quantum rifts we dabbled with." Melvin stated, the expression on his face changing to one of intrigue. Then worry. "Wait...this artifact...did it look like a clay vase of sorts?" "Yeah." Zack nodded. "How did you...know that?" Melvin slumped back in his chair and looked up with an exasperated sigh. His breathing seemed to pick up as his eyes darted around the ceiling as if it were a connect-the-dots picture. Zack stared at him, dreading the answer to the question he was about to ask. "Uh...something wrong?" he asked tentatively. "That artifact you all were messing around with?" said Melvin as he closed his eyes and shook his head in irritation. "That was the inhibitor keeping this rift closed! If what the fair maiden just spoke was truthful, it has been destroyed, and the fail-safe was almost tripped!" "Inhibitor?" Zack repeated. "Rift? Fail-Safe? What are you talking about, man?" "No..." Melvin muttered with a horrified expression as he leaned forward, placed his elbows on the table, and held both sides of his shaking head. "No....no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO, NOOOO!" Zack flinched back, seeing the concentrated abhorrence in Melvin's eyes. It looked as if he'd just lost a winning lottery ticket that he'd spent all his life savings on. Or perhaps like a man who'd just been informed by a doctor that his wife had passed during childbirth and the baby was still born. In short, it looked like his perception of reality had been hit with a wrecking ball. "E-Easy, man." said Zack, raising his hands to place one of them on Melvin's shoulder. Melvin swung his arm out as if to knock it away, but all it did was pass through Zack's arm. Zack retracted his arm instinctively, noting how Melvin's body had suddenly developed a blurry fringe. He was also staring at Zack with a look of such intense hatred and fierceness that one might think he was thinking of slowly skinning him with a spoon. "Easy?" Melvin repeated. "EASY! YOU DAMNED FOOLS!" "What'd we do?!" Zack asked, shrinking back. "ALL of this damned work!" said Melvin as he quickly stood out of his chair and glared at everyone. "ALL of this damned TIME we've spent TRAPPED in here! ALL of the people that DIED to prevent this! The MADNESS I've experienced in this hell-hole! ALL of it! All of it means NOTHING NOW!" "I don't understand!" Zack said quickly, wondering if they start running. "What are you talking about!?" "THE STRAIN!" Melvin yelled back. "You're meddling resulted in the inhibitors destruction, and not only is the rift OPEN, but the fail-safe didn't WORK like it was supposed to! Now the STRAIN will leak into the world and WIPE OUT the REST of humanity!" "The Strain?" said Zack. "You mean...that black stuff?" "I can't believe this!" Melvin threw up his arms and walked away from the table a few steps, ignoring Zack's question. He then started pacing side to side, mumbling a bunch of scientific lingo that Zack wouldn't be able to understand if he were given a decade to do so. Most of it sounded like numbers and equations, only being broken up by the occasional 'No', 'That doesn't make sense', or 'Impossible'. Zack called out to him a few times, but got no response. All the while, the blurry outline Melvin had was getting worse, Zack having to squint to focus on him. Despite this oddity, Zack got up and walked over to Melvin, waving his hands through the man's intangible body in hopes that he'd notice. Not only did he not notice, but Melvin absentmindedly walked through Zack, giving the young bounty hunter an odd feeling. Like a sensation of goose-bumps on his bones. Zack was beginning to get angry again, not a fan of being out-right accused of something and then being ignored so that he couldn't defend himself. He turned to look at Mara and Tessa. "Do you guys understand anything he's saying?" Shortly after their response, footsteps could be heard echoing through the hallway out side of the room. Soon Melvin's doppelganger, Marvin, peaked his head into the room, a worried look adorning his identical features. "....What's going on in here?" he asked, his eyes darting between his copy and the others. "Ya' twin's freakin' out about some kind of inhibitor getting destroyed." Zack answered directly, not at all considering the chance of Melvins twin also having an introverted mental break-down. "Something about a rift and the Strain leaking through? He blamed us!" "Oh....wait...WHAT?!" shouted Marvin, his eyes widening into dinner plates as he stared at Zack in shock. "You...you're joking right!?" Zack stared at him blankly. "...No?" "You got-damned son's a b****es!" Marvin yelled again, his voice booming in the small room. "YOU'VE DOOMED THE PLANET!" "HEY!" Zack shouted back. "WE didn't do nuthin'! I don't even know what you guys are talkin' about! How'd we doom the planet?!" "BY DESTROYING THE ONLY-" Marvin bit his lip looked away, and closed his eyes, apparently trying to calm himself. He then took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly before opening his eyes and looking back at Zack. "I understand you all may not know what you did, bu-" "WE...." said Zack as he gestured to himself and the others. "Didn't do this! It happened because we were trying to stop a REALLY bad guy from getting his hands on your...inhibitor or whatever! It was a freak accident!" "You should have LET HIM!" Marvin yelled back. "Got-DAMMIT! I didn't expect the first contact I've had with other people to be with IDIOTS!" "Again...WHAT are you TALKING about!?" Zack shouted irritably. "WHY would we let some-" "Because even if he were able to produce the temporal dynamo necessary to perpetuate a divergence from he tether-lock we created to this side of the rift, the device would detect it, begin an overload, and activate the fail-safe!" "WHAT is this FAIL-SAFE!?" "That...that doesn't matter right now." said Marvin, the angry look fading to one of worry as he raised a thumb to chew on his fingernail. "We...we need to...ummm...well...if you managed to get through, that means there are loopholes. The Strain could leak out somewhere, and it doesn't take much. Hmm...maybe..." Marvin looked over to Melvin, who was still pacing and mumbling equations to himself like a chanting cultist. "Well, he's useless right now." Marvin muttered before locking eyes with Mara. Just like his identical counterpart, his eyes lit up when he saw here and briefly flicked to her breasts. He did the same with Tessa before shaking his head and looking back at Mara. "Y-You!" Marvin said as he pointed at Mara. "Fair maiden with the cybernetic arm. You tech-savy? I'll need someone to be my hands once we leave." "...Leave?" Zack froze. "Like....go back outside? With the...scary black monster things?" "Yes." Marvin answered dryly. "If the numbers don't lie, the rift's fail-safe has only partially triggered, meaning that there's likely a circumventing feedback between the two planes that's compartmentalizing it to neutral...white hole of sorts." "...What?" "I believe we can stop the feedback if we can repair the relay in our old laboratory and then inverse it to match the feedback. Doing so will allow the fail-safe to con...tin..." Marvin trailed off and the thoughtful look on his face melted into that of a deer in headlights as he looked at Zack, Mara, and Tessa. He paused, his mouth hanging slightly open as he seemed to ponder his next words. He cleared his throat before continuing. "It'll close up the loopholes and stop the Strain from getting out." Marvin nodded, his features exhibiting an oddly unnecessary amount of confidence. "We may even be able to send you back to the world."
  7. "Yeah, that was weird." Zack nodded in agreement as he absent-mindedly dug a finger into his nose to pick out a obstructing booger. "Not really willing to encounter it again though. Even if that thing had something to do with how we got here, I get the feeling that we got lucky that first time. " "Haven't seen one with claws yet, though." Zack shook his head. "Especially ones sharp enough to turn metal into butter." Zack thought back to the jagged grooves he'd seen earlier on the dropship. He'd seen plenty of claws throughout his life, not excluding the time he spent on his world as a kid. "Hmm." Melvin looked down and drummed his fingers on the table again, his eyes distant and contemplating. "While our existence proves that ones consciousness and ones existence can be vaguely intertwined, the thought of some creature producing the energy necessary to tear a hole in time space is quite unlikely in the most extreme sense. Then again, we've had everything we thought we knew about quantum theory get torn down and crudely reassembled during the millennia we've been here. However, It would be unwise to rule it out. I do have a few inquiries regarding the rest of your synopsis though." A look of genuine curiosity adorned the mans face as he looked at Mara, like a kid who was hanging onto a good story about his or her favorite superhero. "You mentioned a...tear artifact? I don't believe I'm familiar with the terminology, and I'd like to know a bit more about it since you claimed that it's destruction or activation served as a precursor to the creature that boarded the ship. Did something happen when it was destroyed? Does it have anything to do with the thousands of lives that are on the line?"
  8. "Very well, very well." said the man with a surrendering gesture. Mara's glowing eyes already possessed a lively fierceness, so the impatient look she was giving him was the all the more reason to do as she said. He'd been waiting thousands of years for this moment. What was a few more minutes? "I'll try to explain it simply and keep it short." he added, clearing his throat before continuing. "You four are in a pocket dimension we created a very long time ago to contain the threats I'm certain you've encountered on your way here. Think of it as an air bubble in a blood vessel. Time-space is stretched and expanded to create more of itself at a central point, but in this extra space, there is nothing but...air, I guess you could say. Think of the blood in a vessel as the flow of time. There is no blood in this air bubble, so time, as we theorized, must not exist. Only space. But this is impossible. Time is one of the only things that can exist in a vacuum, and will perpetuate itself from nothing to fill an empty space even without intervention or a point of origin. But once this happens, the time that is created becomes a...different blood type. It will not be of the same chronology as it's host, causing a rift to form in which it exists separately within this empty space. So one could refer to it as another plane of existence entirely." "What in Sam Hill are you talkin' about?!" Zack interjected, not able to follow. "Bear with me, if you'd please." Melvin nodded. "I'd wager that what I have explained is necessary to both our respective plights, since your existence here debunks a theory we long thought irrefutable. You see, one does not simply enter or exit a pocket dimension. It's a one way door. You can neither enter or leave. We have tried to escape this place for several millennia, but to no avail. Because, as we previously thought, there was no exit. No point of entry for which we could go back through. But now are theory has shifted. You four unknowingly found a way to get here, meaning one of two things. First, you happened to wander into an entrance of sorts, which I highly, highly doubt. The second theory, you all somehow created an entrance to a pocket dimension from a timeline not compatible or connected to it. Such an act would require a form of powerful, deliberate intervention, which I have surmised none of you had. So, I am worried that you four, whom I thought to be our saviors, have in a sense, wandered into the jungle and forgotten the way back." "So...you're saying..." said Zack as he furrowed in eyebrows in reluctant understanding. "That we're...stuck here?" "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but considering that you all somehow got here by accident and don't recall what could have brought you here, I'm afraid I'd have to say yes." "...You're joking right?" Zack asked. "I already told you." Melvin shook his head. "Marvin is the funny one. And the situation is quite dire for you four as well. You see, we haven't aged since this bubble was formed. We haven't felt hungry, thirsty, or tired. This is because what you see when you look at me is naught but a an amalgamation of my consciousness that took hundreds of years to bring together. We're essentially light energy that's shifted and formed in a way that makes us look human. You on the other hand, do not suffer such a curse. You four will require food and water to live, none of which we have or need. The closest thing to sustenance this bubble has is that wine cellar a ways back from whence you came, and I think that wouldn't make a good diet. Probably die from the Strain before malnourishment though." "No!" Zack said with an angry shake of his head. "We gotta' get outta' here, man! You HEARD her! There are potentially COUNTLESS lives on the line! There's GOTTA be a way out!" "Well, you DID get IN here somehow." shrugged Melvin as he rubbed a hand on his chin and looked down. "Perhaps if you gave me some details as to how you got here, I could begin a hypothesis." He addressed the request to everyone, although he was mainly directing towards Mara. She looked to be the most competent of the four, mainly because she wasn't throwing chairs at people or drunk enough to ask for coffee.
  9. Holograms. Zack hadn't encountered one for a while, but he'd heard of the utility they offered. Feigning a military presence or a person of interest were just two of the things they were used for, and they often very effective. Nothing messes with people's heads like false hope, and Zack knew the feeling. There'd been an Underground assassin he'd run into once before, and he was somehow able to create holograms at will to disorient others. Zack had been far, far out of his league in trying to fight him and was nearly killed. The only reason he'd lived was because the assassin had thought him dead after a shot to the head, which Zack improved in a desperate attempt to preserve his own life. What he couldn't preserve however, was the chunk of his sanity the encounter had stripped from him. Because of this, the idea of the two men being holograms did not comfort him at all. In fact, it made him even more jittery. The time that had passed since the encounter was a certainty that kept him from thinking that he was still being tormented by the assassin, but paranoia has a way of making sensible things seem untrustworthy. "I doubt they'd be sticking around in a place like this if they had the option to leave." said Zack, his eyes darting around the room in a futile search for anything suspicious or out of place. "Well...unless they're just crazy or something. They're clearly scientists of some sort, so maybe they're here conducting unethical experiments. Maybe one guy accidentally cloned himself or something. Or did it on purpose. Doesn't matter! I say we bounce the moment they try anything weird!" "You won't have to worry about that." Zack spun around in his chair with a manic expression, ready to spring into a fear-induced fit of violence. His eyes locked onto one of the scientists, who didn't seem at all concerned with the look Zack was giving him. In fact, he was completely calm looking, his hands held behind his back in a poised, sophisticated fashion. He was standing in the doorway, his double nowhere to be seen. "I can assure you," continued the scientist. "I bear no ill-will against any of you, and I hope you are of mutual standing." "Where's your shadow!?" Zack spat out quickly, nodding his head to the mans feet. Like before, there was no shadow beneath him. "It doesn't exist." the man replied simply as he eyed Mara's cybernetic arm. And then her breasts. "Your answers are pissing me off!" seethed Zack as he jumped out of his chair and bent his knees as if to pounce. "Stop giving me answers that piss me off!" "You believe that I jest?" asked the man, finally making eye contact with Zack. "Marvin's the joker. Not me." "THAT'S IT!" shouted Zack before grabbing the chair and slinging it at the man. To Zack's confusion and horror, the chair passed through the man as if he weren't even there, his form seeming to shimmer and blur a bit as it did. The metal fold-up chair sailed out of the room and clanged off the opposite wall of the hallway, the impact badly mangling the chairs shape and cracking the stone wall. "Wha-" "Hmm." hummed the man as he turned on a heel to observe the fresh crack in the wall. "Forgive my candidness, but you seem a tad too small to be capable of such brutish force and temperament." "Where's your projector?!" Zack shouted as he started to look around the room again. "Where's the Tin Man?!" "Projector?" the man repeatedas he turned back around, raising a hand to his chin in intrigue. "Tin Man? Are there others?" "DON'T you play dumb with me you...hologram!" Zack said pointedly. "You think I'm a hologram?" the man grinned with a nod. "Hm. While a reasonable assumption, it is still incorrect." "You expect me to be dumb enough to think you're a ghost or something?" Zack glared. "There ain't no such thing as ghosts!" "I agree." nodded the man calmly. "Which is why I guess I should make haste with an explanation before I ask you all to answer any of my questions." "Like I care about a hologram explainin' himself!" Zack shot back, foolishly sold on the idea that the Tin Man had set all of this up. "Right, right." the man nodded once more before slowly closing his eyes. Shortly afterwards, the ruined chair Zack had previously thrown began to stir. Zack furrowed his eyebrows in confusion as he watched the chair levitate into the air. Once airborne, it started fix itself, the metal returning it's original shapes until it was no longer damaged. Zack could only stare, since he knew the chair wasn't a hologram. He watched as the chair was levitated back into the room, where the man reached out to grab it from the air. The man opened his eyes and gravity seemed to return to the chair, the man's arm jerking a little when it did. He then walked over to the table and placed the chair back on the ground before taking a seat. As he did so, his eyes once again fell on Mara's cybernetic arm. Then her breasts. He blinked and jerked his gaze away, clearing his throat before cuffing his hands on the table. Zack's untrusting gaze switched back and forth between the scientist and the cracked wall. If one stared hard enough, they'd probably be able to see smoke rising from ears as he tried to figure out what was going on. "Before I start, let me introduce myself." said the man. "Our name was Martin. My name is Melvin. The other me is Marvin. I'll explain that later, but for now, were there any specific questions you had for me?" He directed the question at Mara, although he'd exchanged glances with Tessa a few times.
  10. The two men didn't respond immediately, instead choosing to gawk at Mara for a few seconds in genuine wonder and...something else. "Hey!" Zack shouted, being of the same mind as Mara. "R-Right, right!" said one of them, the pair visibly shaking and tripping over themselves as they ran out of view. The four of them were left to wait as the doppelgangers did whatever it was they were doing. Zack looked over to the others, noticing that Jerry's eyes were closed and his body was limp. "...Is he dead?" Zack asked, looking at Mara and Tessa. "Did he just die?" The hole below them began to grow larger, allowing them to see a bit more of the lab. Then, without warning, the gravitational anomaly that kept them suspended in the air vanished, and they began to fall towards the hole. *** The four of them were now sitting down in a room that mirrored a lounge, except there were no TV's, couches, magazines, microwaves, stoves, fridges, or anything really. The only things in the room were a few fold-up chairs and a single, round, table in the center on which Jerry's unconscious form had been lazily thrown. A light overhead illuminated the room and made the spotless white walls and floor stand out. Like the rest of complex they'd seen thus far when the two men led them to the room, it looked as if it hadn't even been lived in. There was no dirt. There were no scuff marks on the floor or walls. It was strange. It was also the only room that lacked any lab equipment. The rest of the place didn't have a single counter top or table that wasn't occupied by some weird, glowing, contraption or a set of liquids inside various beakers and tubes. Zack was no scientist, so he could make neither heads or tails of what the two apparent scientists were doing, and when he asked them, they didn't seem to hear him. They were too busy whispering to themselves and muttering science lingo. The two men didn't even address them until they reached the room, telling everyone to sit tight for a while. So sit they did, and after a few minutes, Zack's paranoia started to get the better of him. "So...I'm not the only one that noticed that neither of them had a shadow, right?" Zack asked, drumming the tips of his fingers on the table nervously. The look in his eyes displayed his growing unease, his words becoming faster paced. "I've seen a lotta' stuff over the years, but I've yet to see an undead. Have you guys ever run into ghosts? Do they try to possess you or something? Should we dip on these guys? Let's call a vote." Zack took one of Jerry's hands in his and raised it into the air. "Got a vote for me and the spineless pilot. Need one more..." Zack's eyes darted between Mara and Tessa, waiting for one of them to raise a hand. "....Juuuuuust one more. One more hand. That's all....just one...team 'no-fight ghosts'."
  11. Zack could appreciate Mara's optimism, seeing as their situation was probably hopeless. According to the merc and Tessa, the landscape was in a constant state of shift, changing into something wasn't before. They'd seen signs of this thus far, so the chances of them just happening upon the ship by heading in the same direction they were going seemed low. Regardless, there didn't appear to be anything even faintly resembling a plane where they were, so they could increase their chances of locating it by not being there. Like they had a choice ayway. "...What's all that?" Jerry said quickly, pointing behind them through the flames. Upon turning to see what the fearful pilot was pointing at, everyone would be able to make out an approaching blackness in the distance from whence they came. Like dozens of little black dots floating towards them from the sky above. Their Vantaa-black surfaces contrasted with the thick fog in an unnatural way, much like the thing they'd just killed. "I think the walkie-talkie was pointing that way." said Zack quickly as he nodded up the street in the opposite direction of the approaching death. *** Zack wanted to break out into a run the moment he saw the glistening dots in the sky, but Tessa's condition, Jerry's age, and the fact that the creatures moved just over walking speed caused him to reconsider and settle for fast walking. He also figured that moving slower would decrease the chances of them literally running into trouble and getting killed before they could react. This is what may have saved them, because as they walked, they were able to spot the unnaturally black growths clinging to buildings through the fog and avoid them. Zack surmised that they reacted to sound, since none of the growths broke off from whatever they were growing on as long as they moved quietly. Of course, they were still cautious to avoid getting close to any of them, meaning that a lot of turns and detours were involved. Some streets or yards were completely covered in black, pulsating growths, the massive veins branching off from them digging into the street at some points. Zack had many questions, but kept his mouth shut. He figured he could ask questions later, when doing so wouldn't result in a possible, instant death. Do to the increase in the veiny roots growths, they were eventually forced to take a shortcut through what used to be park. It was barren and there wasn't a single tree to be spoke of, not even their remains able to be spotted. The grass had long died and disintegrated with age, leaving an infertile, crunchy dirt plain. They passed what appeared to be what was left of a play-ground, but it was now little more than a drooping puddle of metal that had solidified ages ago. They also passed a few small buildings that were in the same shape, now nothing more than pillars of warped steel and crisped stone. It made no sense to Zack that the creatures they'd encountered could still be around after whatever had happened to this place. Had they come here after the fact? Where did they come from? The growths had become minimal as they ventured deeper into the park, getting smaller and less intricate until they no longer saw them. It was odd at first, but the reason why became apparent not long after. The dirt ground began to gradually slope off until it became difficult not to slip or slide on the dry gravel. They'd have to move slowly to avoid falling into a roll. Jerry, not being as coordinated, lost his footing. "DYAAH!" he yelped as he felt his heel slip forward. He tried to stop himself from sliding down with his hands, but the brittle dirt and sediment gave way the moment his fingers dug into it for support. So down he went on the slope, rolling, clawing, and screaming for help. Zack knew that he too would lose his footing if he went to help him, but he was already moving before this thought crossed his mind. He dove forwards to get a hold of one of Jerry's clawing hands, grabbing one tightly. Jerry grunted in pain as he felt Zack yank him up, the old pilots body being flung backwards as Zack continued to slide down. Zack tried to dig in with his heels, but the ground treated him no differently than jerry. Also, the slope was getting even more steep, until it was practically a ninety degree angle. Then the slope ended. Zack held in a scream as his body went into free-fall. He could see nothing but fog beneath him, and expected a world of hurt. Maybe he'd land right into the maw of some eldritch horror and get slowly chewed up until he passed out from blood-loss and pain. Maybe he'd land into pit of bubbling, sentient, tar and be crushed into a paste that could assimilated into it. Or maybe he'd just get impaled on a standing piece of metal jutting out of the ground. His mind was filled to the brim with possibilities, his paranoid subconscious forcing them on him. Had he not been cuffed, he might have even tried to flap his hands in defiance of whatever the abyss had in store for him. Strangely though, he started to slow. The wind pushing up against him began to get softer, his clothing and hair billowing less as a result. Instead of air, he felt something else pushing up against him. He wasn't sure what, but it was slowing his decent. He felt an odd prickling sensation, the hairs on his body standing on end as if he were surrounded by static electricity. A white, circular light started to come into view from below. The closer he got, bigger it became. "W-W-What the?!" he cried desperately as he rolled, twisted, and flailed helplessly. The light now appeared to be half the size of a baseball stadium, it's brightness causing Zack to squint and look away. He could feel himself slowing even more now, a faint humming noise emanating from below. Eventually he came to a complete stop, his flailing and twisting body now just floating mid-air as if he were in zero-g. He froze, at a loss for words or action. Why was he floating? Was this just another weird thing in this world? Was he still going to die? The questions kept piling up on top of the millions he'd had the moment he'd entered this odd place. He didn't move for a full minute, unsure of what the blinding light below him was. It repelled him as if he were a magnet being levitated by another of the same polar axis. He could fall no further, although he didn't really mind. "Oh, got-dammit!" Zack's head perked up at the sound of the unfamiliar voice, which seemed to be coming from somewhere inside light. "Another one got through!" "That's impossible!" said another voice, one that sounded exactly the same as the first. The only reason Zack was able to conclude that it was coming from another person was because it seemed to be sounding from a different place within the light. "Apparently not!" yelled the first voice, which still sounded annoyed. "I've got a bio-mass reading." "But emitters!" said the second voice. "We've seen that they keep those things away!" "Well maybe this is a new one! One that's built up a resistance to them. And it's ruining my concentration!" "Then zap it! Just zap the damned thing, you're ruining my concentration!" "Oh, shut the hell up you!" There was silence for a while, Zack unsure if he should call out to the voices or not. The silence was soon broken by high-pitched wine. Then came the pain. "AAAAAHHHGE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE-GE GEEEEERRRRRRRRRRLLLLLRRRRRAAAAAAAHHH!" Zack screamed , his body overcome with agony as he felt thousands of volts of electricity pass through every inch of his being. It was almost as bad as the surge he'd feel from the electrified floor whenever Zack wasn't able to perform a task in the training room within the allotted time Mikey gave him. Soon after he started scream though, the electricity stopped, leaving him gasping for breath, smoking, and twitching. "Good heavens!" said the first voice. "They scream now?" "Of course not, imbecile!" added the second. "They don't possess the capacity for speech or any sound. They have no need for them!" "Then what the hell did I just hear!?" "Probably something wrong with the inhibitor cathodes. It has been a while since they were last used." "Mmmm. I dunno. That sounded a lot like a scream." "Moron! There's no one here but us! We'll just have to go do some maintenance on the cathodes later. Or perhaps the coils have loosened. Try it again so that we can be sur-" "NO!" Zack shouted, shaking his head frantically even though he wasn't sure if they could see him. "NONONO! PLEASE! DON'T! I COME IN PEACE!" There was another silence, Zack's teeth gritted with anxiety. His heart was just now getting back into a rhythm, and he was worried it might not do that in rhythm if they zapped him a second time. If not that, he'd be set on fire. He could already smell a few spots on his skin where the electricity had seared it. "Oooookay." said the second voice. "Stop hallucinating." "I'm not hallucinating! It's probably you!" retorted the first. "...My brain scan shows that I'm fine!" "So does mine!" There was another period of silence, Zack nervously waiting for it to end until he could bear it no more. "H-Hellooo!?" Zack called out. "Who are you people!? I can't see anyone!" More silence, which irritated Zack a great deal. But before he could voice his anger, a small, circular patch of the light beneath him started to dim until he could see what was underneath it. He could see what appeared to be some sort of pristine laboratory through the hole, it's walls and countertops a near spotless shade of white. Numerous beakers and strange devices sat atop the counters, and a man stood next to one of these counters looking up through the hole. He was dark skinned and bald, sporting a greying goatee and stubborn, brown eyes. Although he seemed to be in the middle of working on a complex, cylindrical device that Zack could neither make heads or tails of, he wasn't dressed like a scientist. He was wearing khaki's and a dark green, button-down dress shirt, both of which looking tattered and worn. The man's expression shifted to one of disbelief and borderline horror as he stumbled backwards, catching himself on a nearby counter and accidentally knocking over a stand of vials. The glasses broke upon contact with the floor, staining it with the black liquid inside. "...No." muttered the man as he began to shake his head. "No. NO! No got damned way am I seeing what I think I'm seeing!" "What!?" said the second voice from somewhere unseen. "What are you seeing?!" "I-I-It's..." the man stuttered, still shaking his head as if he were staring at an alien. "No...this is impossible. There's no way! There can't be a way in...because there's no way out!" "Got dammit Lupin, WHAT are you SEEING!?" shouted the other voice, the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps accompanying it. Another man stepped within view of the circle, and he looked exactly like the first man, down to the very last detail in both his body and clothing. He too was taken aback at the sight of Zack, shrinking away slightly as if he'd seen a ghost. "...What's going on?" said Zack, his eyes darting between the two men. "Am I seein' double? Who are you two? Why'd you ZAP me?!" "T-There's more!" said one of the men as he pointed up. Zack realized they were pointing passed him and turned around to see three familiar figures falling towards him.
  12. Zack's head perked up when he heard Tessa's yell, relieved to know that she was at least alive. He followed her voice, making his way over to a house that collapsed in on itself. His eyes locked onto a faint blue light from within the wreckage and down some steps in what he assumed to be the house's basement. Immediately, he alarms started blaring in his mind for three reasons. Firstly, he doubted there was any electricity or functioning power grid wherever they were given the age of buildings and lack of people. Second, if there was power, why was the light blue? A blue light wouldn't make it easier to see in the dark, and it couldn't have been fire since it lacked the flickering and dimness associated with an open flame. Thirdly, every time a strange light appeared, near-death always seemed to follow. Explosives, luminescent mutants, killer robots, laser beams, some psycho with cybernetic enhancements, one of Charie's pranks, or the 'Improv Light' in Mikey's training chamber are just a few. This time it could be a lizard person imitating Tessa's voice, and he wanted to be ready. Still, he needed to see if Tessa was still alive. So he cautiously approached the building, tensing up when he heard footfalls upon the stairs. He exhaled in relief when he saw that it was Tessa, shaking his head at the half dozen plans of action he'd thought up on the off chance a bi-pedal reptile emerged from the basement. He noticed the three glass bottles she held in her arms, raising an eyebrow when he realized they were Molotov's. Zack turned around and looked back down the street at the now diminishing flames. "Pretty sure." Zack nodded, squinting just in case something started to stir within the fires. "Where...did you find those?" Zack asked before noticing how she was looking down. The bottoms of her pant legs had been ripped off, likely to add the finishing touch to her makeshift explosives. Zack followed her down the steps, his interest piqued by the presence of the blue light and the glasses of flammable liquid Tessa carried. A bomb had gone off wherever they were at some point in the distant past, one big enough to glass the streets coat the area in a deep shade of black. The concept of any thing inside the homes surviving the bombing, the passage of time, and the gelatinous freaks they'd been fighting could be a good sign. The source of the light was a glow-lamp sitting atop a table in the corner of the basement, and the light it cast upon the strangely clean room was all Zack needed to surmise that someone had been here after whatever calamity struck the place. "That doesn't make any sense though." said Zack as he examined the shelves lining the walls. He noticed that the only things on them were wiring, metal scraps, strange looking devices, and a bunch of alcohol. No food. Had they taken all the food and decided that the alcohol wasn't important? Or had they left to find food somewhere else since they'd run out and simply not survived the ordeal? What food could even be found out there? Was there a shelter somewhere that had been constructed and stocked in preparation for the bombing? It still didn't make sense, since he was pretty sure the ruins of the neighborhood they were in seemed to be hundreds if not thousands of years old. Having that much food seemed unlikely, but Tessa's assumption seemed to be correct. Someone had been there recently. Tessa grabbed an open bottle of alcohol and held it out to Zack, it's aged stench wafting over to him from the sloshing liquid inside. "No thanks." Zack shook his head. "Momma' always told me that drinkin' was for hippies and idiots. No offense." Zack's face suddenly froze and his eyes became distant as he recalled something very important "Speaking of idiots..." Zack turned on a heel and sprinted up the stairs, his eyebrows creased in worry. He practically flew out of the basement, his momentum causing him to become airborne at the top of the steps. Although his trajectory was in line with the door, he was too far up and wound up smacking his face against the top of the door. Because it was so old and his head was so hard, the wall and doorframe gave way and his head traveled tough it as it would a cracker. He landed on the front lawn in a clumsy roll before getting to his feet. He then ran out to the street and searched the ground. "Shoot!" he cursed before running over to a rectangular object lying in the middle of a puddle of burning sludge. He reached into the fire and grabbed the object, wincing as he felt the it's already melting metal exterior touch his skin. The glass monitor on the walkie-talkie had already cracked and melted, a wad of the burning sludge from the creature having landed right on top of it. "TS-AH!" he yelped before dropping the device to the floor and trying to wipe the molten metal that had oozed onto his fingers on his pants. Something about the goo made the fires burn much hotter than usual. "...Aw, man!" said Zack as he scratched his chin and looked down at the melting walkie-talkie. "WALKIE TALKIE'S BUSTED!"
  13. Zack examined ground zero of the creatures smoldering grave, searching for any movement among it's bits. The only movement he saw came from the flickering flames, but Zack's paranoia still moved him to keep his distance. He had no idea what had just attacked them, so being lax and expecting it to stay dead weren't mistakes he was going to make. "THINK SO!" said Zack as he jogged towards the sound of Mara's voice. He saw her waving over Jerry, who wasn't far from her. Both of them seemed to be okay, although the look in Jerry's eyes was that of a child who wanted a nightmare to end. Zack expected him to be a little harder to scare given his age, profession, and willingness to take a job from the Tin Man. Zack turned around to peer down the street. Sighing, he jogged around the flames and their epicenter to search the other side of the street. He wasn't sure which building to look into, but he knew it couldn't have been far from the one he and Mara had been in. He hoped Tessa was alright. Given Mara's strength and the heat of the moment, Tessa could be lying on the ground unconscious or dead with a broken neck. Or maybe she'd been impaled on a jagged piece of glassed rock within the house. The chances were that she was probably fine, but worrying was heavily engrained in Zack's mind. Situations like this were unpredictable, and he found himself wondering if he'd walk into one of the houses to see Tessa getting bitten in half by another gelatinous freak. Then he imagined running back to Mara to tell her what had happened only to see the same thing happening to her and Jerry. Then he'd lurch forward and look down to see a wriggling tentacle protruding from his chest. He shook the thoughts away and tried not to think about very real that scenario could be. "HEY!" Zack shouted as he slowed to a walk. He hadn't gone that far, but the flames were less prevalent where he was at. "SOLDIER LADY! YOU GOOD? WHERE ARE YOU!? SAY SOMETHING! YOUR SILENCE IS FREAKIN' ME OUT!"
  14. In Zack's head, the plan went as follows: Mara slings the grappling hook up and then down on the creature. With her strength, it would impact with more than enough force to embed itself within the things squishy hide. It would then target Mara, who would throw the rope under the beast to Zack while she was concentrating on not getting killed. Zack would grab the slack and yank down from behind it before it could push the hook out, giving the flames on the coat enough time to ignite with the tar while it was being yanked deeper into the creature. He'd hold on to the rope as long as he could before it would start to focus him, but hopefully it'd be too self-aware of it's own coming demise to do so. If not, he'd just let go and run, hoping that the flaming hook would react with the things insides as it would if it were thrusted into a vat of gasoline. He wasn't sure if it would explode, but he had a hunch that it would not survive being roasted from within. It was a risky plan, but if it worked, they'd be able to dispatch of the creature without the expense of any single-use equipment that he wanted save for a possible encounter with the Tin Man. The Tin Man never fought fair or honorably, necessitating forethought on their end. While victory wasn't impossible with him and Mara up against him, it was extremely unlikely unless they knew exactly how to dispatch of him. It could be a long, hard-fought victory, or a gruesome, three-second end to their lives. Unfortunately, his plan had of course, hit hiccup. She'd slung the burning grapple-hook up and then down on the creature as he'd planned, but she hadn't waited for it to get airborne. This meant three things. One, Zack or her would not be able to pull down on the hook to force it deeper into the creature. Two, she would not be able to throw the slack to him unless she slung it overhead, which would take too much time. Third, she was now the target of the creature and was still holding the slack while trying to run around it. The chances of her getting skewered were nerve racking for Zack. But he'd surmised all of this the moment she'd slung the grappling hook into the air and thought quick. Mikey often told him that forethought was the beginning of salvation and to get good at it. Zack took the advice religiously, mainly because he suffered greatly during training if he didn't think ahead while on the move. Mara deftly dodged the creatures tentacles while sludge built up where the hook had impaled itself into it, ready to pushed it out. But before it could, and before it could get float off the ground, the same steel-beam that had struck it before came down on the spot the hook was embedded like a hammer. The ground shook from the force, Zack having swung it down as quickly and desperately as he could. The hook was practically injected into the creature, the fires attached to it beginning to really catch with the rest of it. The blow apparently dazed it again, because a few of the tentacles it shot at Mara fell limp onto the ground. Zack was scurrying away in fear while they were sill falling, afraid that his attack may not have dazed it at all and not wanting to get punched through by a parasitic appendage. Behind him, the creature's shape began to morph. It looked like it was trying to expand to account for a sudden presence within, bubbles popping on it's surface to release puffs of smoke. In short, it looked like it was having indigestion. The tentacles still extended from it's body shook and writhed as if in pain, the bulging and bubbling mass they were connected to starting to have bright, fiery spots come into view just below its surface. When it exploded, it sounded oddly wet, and the blast wasn't that much larger than proportionately sized concussion grenade. Despite being over a hundred away, Zack was still blown off his feet and into an roll. Burning sludge was sent soaring in every direction, bathing the area in coat of sizzling fire. One glob of sludge smacked Zack square in the buttocks. "AAAHHHHHH!" he screamed, his eyes going wide in pain as he felt the sludge burning through his pants. Unable to reach behind him, he dropped to his keister and started dragging it across the ground in a desperate attempt to get the sludge off. His efforts resulted in success, but not before a gaping hole was burned through to reveal his now lightly seared buttocks. "Ow! Ow, damn!" he cried as he got to is feet, trying to turn twist his head and body to survey the damage. Once again, he felt foolish for not purchasing the fire resistant trousers Mikey and created. They were expensive, but now he wouldn't be able to sit without hating it. "I-Is it dead!?" shouted Jerry, slowly peeking out from behind an upright, stone slab that was now burning from where a bit of sludge had hit it. "Did ya'll die?! Are ya'll dead?! Please don't be dead! I'm too old to get through this kinda' stuff, eh'!" "Tss! Ah-Ow!" Zack grunted as he turned to look at Jerry. Most of the street was covered in fire and so were the ruins of a few of the homes closest to the blast. He saw Jerry, but couldn't see Mara. His expression shifted to worry. "METAL LADY!" Zack called, unable to see her passed all the tall flames. "SILVER LADY! WHERE YA'LL AT?!"
  15. "WHAT?!" Zack shouted, starting to throw things at his gelatinous attacker. Anything that wasn't too brittle to break on impact got stuck in the things gooey exterior before getting spat back out in a spray of slime. He knew there'd be a hiccup in his plan, but at the start? He narrowed his eyebrows in annoyance as he tried to look around. His eyes fell on the healthy fire Mara's makeshift spear had caused earlier. The sludge it had spat out was still burning, and he'd lured the creature away from the spot. Damp or not, it was their best shot at getting the coat lit up. "JUST LIGHT IT OVER THERE!" Zack yelled as he pointed to the open flame down the street. He flipped to the side to avoid another tentacle, but another one swung into him mi-air, knocking the air out of him and sending him flying. His body smacked up against a steel beam sticking out of the remains of a wrecked home, the back of his head slamming into it and sounding a dull clang. He fell to the ground atop the burned out remains of the house. His ears were ringing and his side was exploding with fresh, familiar pain. His liver had been ruptured for the second time that day. Tired of being literally smacked around, he growled angrily and got to his feet, eyeing the surreal beast with focused, beady eyes. The creature lashed out with another sweeping tentacle, Zack choosing to duck this one to avoid another mid-air smack. The tentacle slammed into the steel beam with enough force to rip it out of the ground, a slab of concrete still attached to it's base where it had been forced up. Zack spun to his right to avoid another volley of piercing tentacles, bending down to grab up steel beam mid-spin. Despite it being eight feet tall and weighing over five times his body weight, he slung the thing at the beast at the end of his spin with a mean-spirited growl not befitting a man of his temperament or size. The concrete end of the beam hit the creature with an alarming amount of force, the concrete busting apart and the beam bouncing off of it as if it had connected with the side of a van. The force caused the creature to be knocked backwards, apparently dazing it enough to forget how to float. It fell out of the air and landed on the street with a loud squelch, cracking the glassed asphalt and sending tremors through the ground. It appeared to be a little deflated now, black liquids pooling from it's carcass. "JUST BUST YOUR LIGHTER OPEN ON THE JACKET AND THROW IT IN THAT FIRE!" Zack shouted, knowing that the creature wouldn't stay down for long. He once again found himself wishing that he'd brought Charlie instead of Clive. It never really occurred to him just how convenient a walking flamethrower could be. Probably because of how inconvenient it usually was. Just as he'd predicted, the oozing mass began to stir. He heard muffled sloshing noises as it began to inflate again, the large dent Zack had made in it getting filled back in with groups of tiny, black, veins. Zack reached within his tattered (and borrowed) cloak, his hands closing on one of the grenades (also borrowed) clipped onto his utility belt. (Again, borrowed) He'd only managed to get two from the mercenaries he and Mara had beaten up on the ship, but he figured this was his best shot with the creature still on the ground. He didn't want to use it and preferred that they kill it some other way, but he was also eager to end this encounter as quickly as possible. If another one overheard the chaos and showed up, they were done for.
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