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Psychopithicus

Souvenirs: Stories of a Mercenary and a Praetorian Clockwork

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(Hello, all! I'm relatively new to CoH and its particular brand of RP, so as a means of both acclimating myself to the lore and getting a feel for my characters, I decided to write some short stories focusing mainly on a couple of my Rogues and their pre-RP adventures. So, without further ado, let's dive in.)

 

Story 1: "Online"

Story 2: "Lost and Found"

Story 3: "Aggressive Negotiations"

 

 

Online

 

 

 

Her world suddenly came to life, text and numbers racing across her field of vision. Static and snow parted to reveal the world around her.

 

Surrounding her was a place that resembled a small warehouse. Several crates and boxes lined up on one wall, a rusty filing cabinet up against another. In front of the filing cabinet was a desk, sporting a few writing implements, several drawers, and little else. The odd light gleamed overhead, one directly above her shining its rays onto her person.

 

She appeared to be facing upward, directly into that light. The glow was already blinding, forcing her to turn her head away.

 

“Don’t move.”

 

The voice was sharp, commanding, and accompanied by the click of what sounded like a rifle.

 

“I had you put back together, but I can easily take you apart again. Permanently.”

 

She froze, though her head was already titled enough to the side that she was not eyeing the light. Without that light, however, her environment was dim. The warehouse looked as if none used it, but clearly, someone was using it. Perhaps its use was only recently? It looked rather unkempt in spite of—

 

“All right, now sit up.”

 

She obeyed, her metallic hands finding the arms of a chair beside her and using them to prop herself up. Now she could see the voice’s owner: a man with an athletic physique, human in appearance and garbed in a grey bodysuit. Over this bodysuit appeared to be brown armoring, its darker shade befitting the dismal warehouse but contrasting the white of his skin and red buzzcut hair.

 

“Good,” the man said, a purple-and-grey rifle in his hands. It was not currently aimed at her, but she suspected that could change in an instant. “Now, identify yourself.”

 

Her options had always been few; if she was given an order, everything in her drove her to follow that order to the letter. As foreign as her new situation was, this time was no different.

 

“I am Clockwork em-three-three-five-six-five-seven,” she answered. “My primary function is to uphold the highest standard of cleanliness in the Praetorian household to which I am assigned, and to support my host family in their daily activities.”

 

The man blinked. “…you’re a maid?”

 

His captive Clockwork hesitated for a moment; his surprise was unexpected. “In a sense, yes. Is that unsatisfactory?”

 

“Never mind,” the man sighed and shook his head, laying his rifle onto his shoulder. “Just wondering what made Maelstrom desperate enough to grab domestic robots for his plans.” 

 

She paused again, staring blankly ahead as her inner workings raced to recall the requested information.

 

“I…was recruited to serve Praetoria in a greater capacity,” the Clockwork replied. “I was gathered alongside my fellow Clockwork for a covert mission that would benefit Praetoria’s glorious—”

 

The rifle slid off the man’s armored shoulder and into his hands. The barrel aimed directly at her mouth, her captor’s own lips contorting into a sneer.

 

“You invaded my Earth,” he growled. “You were part of Maelstrom’s most recent act of betrayal against his own planet. You and your ‘fellows’ stormed into our Galaxy City to pick a fight with our heroes and force your sickening dictatorship onto us.”

 

Her eyes trailed down to the rifle’s barrel. A more diplomatic approach seemed to be in order.

 

“I…apologize,” the Clockwork said slowly. “I was merely—”

 

“—following orders, I know,” the man snapped, though he did withdraw his rifle and sling it across his back. “I’ve been a soldier, I know how these things work. But that doesn’t change the fact that your ‘orders’ were to give grief to the world I call home and defend as such. Fortunately, you’ll have your chance to make up for it. As of this moment, you’ll take your orders from me.”

 

She hesitated again, calculating potential routes for this conversation to take. Her first inclination was to obey; after all, that was what she had been built to do. Further analysis justified this, given that the man before her could not only destroy her, but could very well be her best lead on her situation.

 

“Understood,” she finally said, earning a nod of approval. “But I do not know your name, or what purpose you serve.”

 

“Well, fair enough. Name’s Deagon,” the man replied, shrugging one shoulder. “I’ve had a few ‘purposes’ over my life, but these days I work to keep my world safe from the kind of extraterrestrial and extradimensional threats that have been hitting it for God knows how long: Rikti, Shivans, Kheldians, Praetorians, and so on. Most would just call me a mercenary, though, partly because my equipment doesn’t come cheap and food needs to get on the table somehow.”

 

The Clockwork simply nodded; objecting to being in this mercenary’s care was not deemed a wise course of action.

 

“Now, then…calling you by your serial number will make things harder than they need to be, so you’ll need an actual name,” Deagon said. He took a moment to look her over before speaking again. “Ah, why not, let’s go with Robbi.”

 

The newly-named Clockwork blinked, staring in bewilderment.

 

“Robbi? As in Robby the Robot? Science fiction icon?”

 

The confused stare and silence continued.

 

“From the movie Forbidden Planet? 1956?”

 

More silence.

 

“Said movie being loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and leading to Robby making appearances in numerous other films following Forbidden Planet?”

 

Still silence.

 

“No one has ever talked about any of these terms around you, or programmed you with even the most basic knowledge of them?” Deagon asked. “I mean, I know it’s an old movie, but it was good enough to make its mark on popular culture.”

 

The Clockwork shook her head. “The extent of my knowledge is that which is most relevant to my duties. Entertainment media would be filed under supplementary knowledge that I would acquire over the course of serving the family to which I would be assigned.”

 

Deagon sighed, putting a gloved palm to his forehead and muttering something about Praetorians projecting their lack of culture onto others before cutting himself off and addressing his charge again. “Well, at any rate, I’m calling you Robbi. Get used to it.”

 

Robbi merely nodded.

 

“Now that we’ve got that settled, we have work to do,” Deagon began, readying his rifle again. “I understand you Praetorian Clockworks are good at fixing things, including yourselves. Your job is going to be fixing my equipment, helping me install security around here, and whatever other technical tasks I need from you.”

 

“Acknowledged,” Robbi nodded. She paused, looking around. “Would I also be carrying out domestic duties?”

 

“We’ll figure that out later,” Deagon replied flatly. “First priority is setting up security. The things we need to do that are in those crates by the door. Get up and help.”

 

Robbi wordlessly complied, accompanying Deagon to the indicated supplies. Analysis indicated that her existence had taken a perplexing turn. It was true that she was capable of combat, but full-on mercenary work was not something she had been programmed for.

 

Adaptation was going to be key.

Edited by Psychopithicus
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Lost and Found

 

 

 

The first week in Deagon’s care had been an ideal time for Robbi to acclimate herself to her new surroundings.

 

Geographically, their location on Primal Earth was a collection of islands, formally called the Etoile Islands but informally referred to as the “Rogue Isles”. Deagon’s specific place of residence was in Port Oakes, a shipping dock connected to a small town. Robbi’s current location was within the warehouse Deagon apparently called home, sitting at a desk while surrounded by boxes of scavenged Praetorian Clockwork parts. The computer before her proved highly informative.

 

According to the internet, the Rogue Isles were governed by an organization calling itself “Arachnos”, with Arachnos itself governed by one Lord Recluse. Their spider-themed soldiers, outfitted head to toe in black with intimidating weaponry in hand, seemed to appear everywhere Robbi looked. Arachnos’ troops enforced local laws with a tight grip, with suspected troublemakers being openly targeted in a manner that brought to Robbi’s mind the tactics of the Praetorian Police Department. Yet in spite of this, Deagon’s word was that the Rogue Isles earned their name for a reason; criminals and villains of all sorts found their way here in search of power, and attempts at lawbreaking were encouraged by Arachnos in spite of their law enforcement efforts. What purpose would this paradoxical notion—

 

Robbi, do you read me?

 

Deagon’s voice over the communicator line pulled Robbi’s attention away from her web browsing. “Yes, Deagon. What would you have me do?”

 

I’m outside the south entrance,” the mercenary explained. “How’s that map looking?

 

In her capacity as Deagon’s support, Robbi’s duties now included maintaining radio contact as her benefactor ventured into the field for whatever task he had come upon. Today’s mission involved a trek into Port Oakes’ sewer system, a task Robbi puzzled over but did not question. She simply did as commanded and brought up the map on her computer screen.

 

“The south entrance will lead you down approximately two-point-three miles of passageways,” Robbi explained. “You will pass two four-way piping intersections before reaching a third one, whereupon you will need to take the rightmost pathway in order to reach the desired junction.”

 

Got it,” Deagon replied simply. “What about the reports of people ducking in and out of these sewers? Did they say anything about the numbers those people had?

 

“One moment, please.” A few more clicks brought up an online news article. “The Rogue Isles Protector article posted at seven forty-five this morning does not specify a number of individuals, but does mention that humanoid individuals of abnormally large size have been seen passing through a variety of Port Oakes’ sewer entrances over the past several days. Interviewed witnesses suspect that these are members of the hostile group referred to as ‘the Lost’.”

 

Guess that’s the best we’ll get,” Deagon sighed. “Ah, well, I’ll make do.

 

The shrill creak of rusty metal could faintly be heard on Deagon’s end of the radio, reminding Robbi of just how far the Rogue Isles were from Praetoria’s golden splendor. A second creak followed, sounding as if Deagon had just opened and closed an old door.

 

“Will you require anything else at this time?” Robbi asked.

 

No,” Deagon said back, a sharp edge to his voice. “In fact, I’ll need to go into radio silence. If I’m not sure I’m walking into, something vaguely resembling the element of surprise could tip things in my favor.

 

“Understood,” Robbi replied. Silence resumed, allowing the Clockwork to continue her browsing.

 

Armed with questions that no ideal servant should ask about her master’s actions, Robbi searched for the name of the gang Deagon seemed to be pursuing: the Lost. The results required several more searches, snapping puzzle pieces together until the larger picture took shape.

 

Almost a decade prior to Robbi’s arrival, Primal Earth had endured an onslaught worse than anything Praetoria could have conceived. An alien species called the Rikti had launched an unprovoked attack on the planet at large, forcing Primal Earth’s citizens to mount as best a defense as their inferior technology could muster. Though the Rikti were repelled in the end through the aid of heroes and villains alike, enough damage had been done. Primal Earth took years to recover, and the carnage had ripped many of its people from their homes.

 

In time, those homeless people would congregate into communities, as many in their positions would do. But these communities behaved quite unlike a simple group seeking shelter; they were organized, and they were hostile. Passers-by who found the Lost on the streets claimed to hear them preaching and plotting, anticipating a great “change”. Furthermore, reports claimed that they had access to strange technology similar to that of the Rikti.

 

Technology of extraterrestrial origin.

 

Robbi paused, her eyes tearing away from her computer screen and scanning the area around her. The warehouse’s security system had been set into place on her first day as Deagon’s subordinate, but boxes of Praetorian Clockwork parts remained.

 

Boxes of technology that originated outside of Primal Earth.

 

Then Robbi looked down at herself; her own body seemed…off. A pause for a quick self-diagnostic revealed no malware or malfunctions of any kind, and she physically resembled the average Praetorian Clockwork, but there were parts and lines of programming that she did not recognize as her own.

 

Parts and lines of programming that belonged in a non-Cleaner Clockwork, like a Builder or a Mender.

 

Son of a--!

 

Deagon’s swear over the radio was cut off by the sudden hum of futuristic machinery, followed by the blaring shriek of something whizzing past the radio.

 

“Deagon?” Robbi asked, her ever-monotone voice belying the urgency she recognized in the situation. “What is—”

 

The feed abruptly fell silent with a crackle.

 

Robbi’s entire world seemed to follow suit.

 

She pushed her chair away from her desk, but did not stand. She remained in her chair, folding her hands on her metallic lap. There was no longer anyone who would give her orders, but action was nonetheless required. The decision on what specific action to take now rested solely in her hands.

 

Option A: leave Deagon to whatever fate the Lost had in store for him. After all, she had fallen into the care of someone who clearly held no love for the land she called home. Should he be removed, perhaps she could find someone else to guide her through Primal Earth? But how would she proceed in doing so? Who would she talk to while stranded in what many would call a city of villains?  Further consideration yielded further holes in this plan; it would have to be rejected.

 

Option B: stage a rescue. Deagon was her best lead on how to navigate Primal Earth. But outside of the modifications made to her frame, she had little to no combat experience; the Primal Earth heroes she encountered in Galaxy City made short work of her and her fellow Clockworks. Furthermore, if a trained soldier like Deagon fell to the Lost, what chance would a simple Cleaner Clockwork have?

 

…unless, as her self-analysis suggested, she had become more than a simple Cleaner Clockwork.

 

She looked around at the technology Deagon had collected. And then she made her first independent decision.

 


 

The sewers were alight with laser fire as Deagon’s rifle traded shots with the Lost’s alien weaponry. Bolts of blue and green sailed through the air, striking everything from flesh to piping as several hulking humanoids collapsed onto the concrete. Deagon ducked down behind the massive pipe that served as his cover, a mass of green energy blazing over his head amidst the Lost’s chaotic chorus of words.

 

“You shouldn’t have come here!”

 

“You can’t prevent destiny!”

 

“The change will come!”

 

Beneath his rebreather-bearing helmet, Deagon gritted his teeth as he took one hand off his rifle and reached for a grenade on his belt. He turned his head just enough to see the advancing Lost—a wall of behemoths armored in trash cans, street signs, barbed wire and more—and threw the grenade. The resulting explosion filled the cavernous junction with fire, swallowing all in its path and forcing Deagon to duck down again. As the fire cleared, the mercenary poked his head back up, only to swear under his breath.

 

One Lost stood before the rest, his head stretched and pressed into a horrific crescent. His scar-matted face pulled back its lips into a snarl, eyes radiating a purple glow as he held out his misshapen hands.

 

“No one can stop what is to come!” the lead Lost declared, sweeping his hands wide. The smoke and flames of the explosion from Deagon’s grenade seemed to part in time with his motion, albeit slowly.

 

“Let me guess, resistance is futile?” Deagon snapped back, readying his beam rifle as he darted out from behind his cover. He rushed across the room, firing off a volley of lasers at the lead Lost, earning a pained grunt from the beast with every shot that struck his massive chest.

 

“Protect Ted!” one of the monster’s followers cried, opening fire with his alien rifle. Laser blasts pulsed and trilled in pursuit of their target, Deagon abruptly changing course and rushing aside in an effort to dodge. A shot at his feet soon tripped him up, however, leaving an opening for several additional bolts to pummel the mercenary’s torso.

 

Deagon fell to the ground, biting back a groan. One hand clutched his rifle beside him as the other clutched the sizzling burns left behind by the Lost’s lasers. He looked up, watching the Lost brandish all manner of strange weapons in preparation to finish him.

 

Something suddenly grabbed hold of Deagon’s shoulders and pulled him back, however, out of the Lost’s reach. Laser blasts roared by as Deagon’s rescuer pulled him into a corner, behind a large rotating machine.

 

“Hello,” Robbi said simply, releasing Deagon’s shoulders and allowing him to turn and face her. “You appear to be in need of medical attention.”

 

“Wha—Robbi?!” Deagon sputtered. “What the hell are you doing here?!”

 

“I am here to provide assistance, should it be welcome,” she replied.

 

“Well…at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get. The Lost need to go,” Deagon sighed. “Assuming you have a plan and didn’t just come here to wing it by yourself.”

 

Though Robbi’s face remained blank, Deagon could swear he saw the faintest trace of a smirk on her android lips. “I did not come alone.”

 

A repetitive clunking, the sound of metal against metal, began to echo through the tunnels, growing steadily louder. Deagon readied his rifle in anticipation of hostile assault, but stopped at what he saw.

 

“What in the…?”

 

A small horde of blue-and-silver robots barreled onto the scene, all of hasty construction and composed entirely of the Clockwork parts Deagon had scavenged. Robbi pointed to the Lost, opening her mouth and emitting a series of strange noises that sounded almost like programming code, and the new robots complied by charging into the crowd without a second’s hesitation.

 

“STAMPEDE!” one of the Lost yelled as a robot leapt onto him, tackling him to the ground.

 

Deagon looked to Robbi. “Are those…yours?”

 

“I noticed that I was rebuilt using components foreign to my original construction, specifically from Builder and Mender Clockwork types,” Robbi explained. “I was able to utilize their programming to construct and manipulate those drones.”

 

Deagon let out a huff, taking his rifle into his hands. “Well, I won’t say no to reinforcements like these. Let’s clear this place out.”

 

Robbi nodded, and as Deagon rejoined the fray, his Clockwork sidekick stood at the junction’s entrance, calling out commands to her drones in her computer code and directing them with gestures. Deagon’s beam rifle shots found their marks, felling Lost who were otherwise occupied by Robbi’s drones. Even Ted, the great behemoth, struggled to remove multiple drones that had latched onto his arms.

 

“No! Get off!” Ted cried, the glow of his eyes magnifying as he threw his arms wide. Though the psychic wave sent the drones scattering across the floor, Ted’s gesture left him open. Deagon aimed his beam rifle directly at the behemoth, his weapon humming as energy swirled around the barrel.

 

“I hope this tells your masters to get off my planet,” Deagon snarled just before he fired.

 

The resulting beam tore through the air and into Ted’s chest, coursing through his mutated body. Energy gradually enveloped his form, and in moments, Ted as a whole seemed to utterly fade from existence. The remaining Lost found themselves falling to Robbi’s drones, beaten down by their misshapen fists or gunned down by plasma blasts.

 

Eventually, the battle drew to a close. All was calm again.

 

“Well,” Deagon said, holstering his rifle on his back and freeing up his hands to favor his wounds. “I guess I owe you one, Robbi.”

 

“You have suffered injuries,” Robbi pointed out. “Seeking medical attention is highly advised.”

 

“We can grab some medical equipment for us to use ourselves,” Deagon replied, kneeling by the fallen Lost and picking up their discarded weaponry. “Hospital staff in the Isles is questionable at best, so self-care is our ideal option here.”

 

Robbi paused, as if processing this information, then nodded. “Understood.”

 

“At any rate,” Deagon said as he stood up, “I’m honestly surprised you came to bail me out.”

 

“Remaining in your charge grants me the greatest chance of safely navigating Primal Earth,” Robbi replied without a hint of emotion. “Aiding you here was my most logical choice.”

 

“At least you’re not getting overly sentimental on me,” Deagon chuckled. “Hold out your hands for a second.”

 

Robbi complied, allowing Deagon to toss a silver object with a green glow into her outstretched hands. She looked down at the device, staring at it for a moment.

 

“Souvenir for you,” Deagon explained. “I’ve had some experience with Rikti weaponry, so I’ll teach you how to use that pulse rifle when we get back to the warehouse. Might make things easier for you if you make a habit of bailing me out.”

 

Robbi nodded, clutching her new rifle. She looked down at it, though her analysis was on the events leading up to the weapon’s landing in her hands. The decision she made of her own accord had led to an ideal result, symbolized by this weapon.

 

Her overall situation was much more satisfactory at this stage.

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(Hello, all! Finally got this third story put together after God knows how long. It's noticeably more lengthy--which is part of the delay--but is also one of my favorites to date. Hope you enjoy!)

 

 

Aggressive Negotiations:

 

 

 

 

Events were now progressing in directions Robbi found favorable.

 

Today was her first day truly accompanying Deagon on his latest escapade. The fact that he had allowed her this privilege, in spite of his disgust for her previous actions in support of Praetoria, was certainly promising. Further benefits included the ability to see more of Primal Earth, or at least of the Rogue Isles.

 

At the moment, however, all Robbi could see was thick steel walls and shipping crates marked with spider-like emblems.

 

According to Deagon’s instruction, departure from Port Oakes required stowing away on ferries used by Arachnos for transport of goods from island to island. Doing so was apparently a common practice; Robbi counted at least three other stowaways joining them on their particular cruise.  

 

Eventually, however, the ship stopped. The stowaways all departed through whatever openings they could find, Deagon and Robbi doing the same. The two came out onto a dock, Deagon hefting his rifle onto his shoulder and observing the path ahead.

 

“Well…here we are,” Deagon remarked. “The Nerva Archipelago.”

 

Robbi, too, gazed out ahead. The Archipelago did not seem all that different from Port Oakes. While it lacked Oakes’ shipping focus and associated docks, the structures seemed similarly bare-bones and run down, as if every settlement on the Rogue Isles lacked proper maintenance. The distant horizon was dotted with what seemed to be large figures, statues of stone that stretched to the heavens.

 

“We’ll need to watch our step here,” Deagon began, drawing Robbi’s attention. “Nerva’s the odd one out of the Isles in that it’s a United Nations protectorate, which means Arachnos doesn’t have as much of a presence here. The ones with the biggest foothold are Longbow, an arm of the UN’s ‘Freedom Corps’.” He punctuated his statement by using the fingers of his free hand to imitate quotation marks.

 

Robbi merely blinked. “What is this…Freedom Core?”

 

“It’s a government peacekeeping agency with some Primal Earth heroes involved,” Deagon explained. “Longbow is their more aggressive branch that’s headed up by Ms. Liberty, one of our more famous heroes. Or infamous, depending on who you talk to. Negative impressions certainly aren’t helped by Longbow’s soldiers being gung-ho about their version of justice and decidedly condescending towards those who don’t follow their specific rulebook.”

 

His Clockwork sidekick paused, slowly nodding in understanding; judging by Deagon’s bitter tone, she would have to tread lightly with this subject. “How will I recognize Longbow personnel?”

 

“Bright red and white spandex, occasionally wearing star-spangled capes. In the Isles, they stick out like sore thumbs,” Deagon scoffed. “At any rate, we have a contact we need to meet. You remember the plan?”

 

“Yes,” Robbi nodded. “I recall my role in this affair.”

 

“Good,” Deagon nodded as well. “Just make sure you leave some room to improvise, if the need comes up. Not every plan goes as smoothly in practice as it does on paper.”

 

Robbi nodded, and without another word, Deagon turned to venture ahead. His Clockwork companion followed, already calculating routes to take. Deagon’s level of trust in her—and potentially the amount of time she would be allowed to familiarize herself with Primal Earth—would depend on how well she performed the task he gave her.

 

She would have to avoid disappointment.

 


 

Their contact was waiting for them at a local beach. Alongside that contact was his entourage.

 

A trio of soldiers stood on the beach, all but one sporting green uniforms and charcoal chest armoring. One of the soldiers in green covered his face with an armored mask, the other opting for a simple hat and goggles. The final of the soldiers dressed in a garish blue spandex, his costume’s limbs ending in dark gloves and boots with face similarly shrouded. A crate rested between the three, big enough for an adult—like the hat-wearing soldier—to sit on.

 

All eyes turned to Robbi’s mercenary benefactor as he approached, sand groaning beneath every footstep. Deagon, with rifle now on his back, was the first to speak.

 

“Archon Britt?” he ventured.

 

“Ah, Mr. Deagon, yes? Welcome! Lovely beach, yes? Aside from the odd Coralax incursion, of course,” the hat-wearing soldier grinned, tipping his hat and rising to his feet. “The Council has heard of your exploits, in particular your one-man raids against sects of the Lost. Quite impressive for an up-and-coming mercenary!”

 

All three soldiers’ eyes focused solely on Deagon; Robbi seemed virtually beneath their notice. In spite of this, she remained silent and followed their gaze, watching as the mercenary performed his role.

 

“Well, I’m sure you can imagine that an up-and-coming merc won’t focus on groups like the Lost forever,” Deagon said. “At some point, I’ll be expanding my net and setting my sights higher. I’m told you have an interest in giving people like me a leg up?”

 

“Indeed,” Archon Britt nodded. “The Council will rule this world someday, and those who aid us in our pursuits in any way—big or small—shall be rewarded for doing so. You are, of course, more than welcome to fully join the Council, but we do recognize the benefits of having freelance mercenaries in our pocket. For instance…Adjutant Nebble?”

 

He snapped his fingers, prompting the spandex soldier to open the crate. Soon, he lifted out a strange device, resembling a rather long rifle with pulsating red energy emanating from its open barrel.

 

“How much do you know about the Kheldian race, mercenary?” Nebble asked, a mild sneer in his voice as he hefted up the massive rifle.

 

“I’ve heard bits and pieces,” Deagon shrugged. “Wouldn’t hurt to hear more, though.”

 

“Kheldians are energy beings from outer space, capable of bonding to beings of flesh and blood and bestowing great powers upon them!” Nebble explained, illustrating by leaning his head back. A pulsing darkness soon filled the eyes of his mask, only to fade shortly after. “But, if one finds the correct energy frequency and applies it to a bonded Kheldian, they can be forcibly—and painfully—separated into human and Kheldian. This is their greatest weakness, and one this Quantum Array Gun exploits.”

 

“Kheldians bonded to humans have become quite prominent in the hero community, categorized into groups called Peacebringers and Warshades,” Archon Britt added. “Should you ever find yourself against one of either, our Quantum Guns may prove most handy…if you decide to purchase one, of course.”

 

“I’ll admit, that does sound tempting,” Deagon nodded. Robbi continued to look on, even as the mercenary spoke further. “But I’ve also heard rumors about the Council having mercenaries of its own. The, uh…Void Hunters?”

 

“Oh, yes, our elite anti-Kheldian force. But I’m sure one of your profession would have no desire to split his profits,” Archon Britt replied, dismissively waving his hand.

 

“Ah, but that’s the thing,” Deagon held up a finger. “The Quantums aren’t going to last forever. If I buy them, I’m going to need to come back to you over and over for maintenance, more ammunition, and so on. And I just so happen to have heard about groups of Freakshow who’ve also had dealings with the Council and came away with more than just the Quantum Guns. They got powers like what your friend here was showing off earlier.”

 

He nodded over to Adjutant Nebble, whose grip on the Quantum Gun’s handle tightened. Archon Britt and his allies exchanged glances.

 

“Tell you what,” Deagon continued. “If you give me some background on how one gets these powers, we’ll see if we can reach an agreement. And those abilities are worth more than a few weapons, right?”

 

The Archon pursed his lips for a moment, slowly nodding. He glanced to each of his two allies; the masked soldier in green merely shrugged, while Adjutant Nebble slowly shook his head. Eventually, Britt looked back to Deagon.

 

“Very well,” the Archon said. Nebble’s head noticeably sagged in response, but his superior paid it no mind. “There are several ways one may receive such powers. The standard method is to bond with a specific type of Kheldian called a Nictus, who have turned their once-bright bodies dark in search of power. On the other hand, a Nictus whose life comes to an end will crystallize, and fragments of these crystals—N-Fragments for short—can be implanted in a human being, which has given rise to our Galaxy troopers and Void Hunters. They will not have as much power as a true Kheldian, but it will be power nonetheless.”

 

“Granted, if the procedure goes wrong, you’ll end up as one of our War Wolves,” the green-masked soldier finally spoke up with a shrug.

 

Robbi paused, blinking as so many terms sailed over her metallic head. Deagon also paused, slowly raising a finger.

 

“…let me see if I’m understanding this correctly,” Deagon began slowly. “Implanting fragments of a dead, crystallized Nictus will give someone Kheldian abilities…but if the process isn’t done a specific way, the person having the implants done will instead turn into a giant wolf monster that has nothing whatsoever to do with Kheldians.”

 

“Of course!” Nebble declared proudly. “Don’t you know anything about science?”

 

Britt grinned widely and nodded along. Deagon merely sighed and shook his head.

 

“All right, you know what? I’ll take that risk,” he declared. “How much for the N-Fragment treatment?”

 

The Archon put a hand to his chin, nodding thoughtfully as he looked Deagon up and down. “Well…you do seem a fit enough individual to make good use of the N-Fragments. And, as you pointed out yourself, such a process would bring us more funds than a simple Quantum Gun sale. Sergeant Vane?”

 

The green-masked soldier stood at attention, both he and his superior ignoring Adjutant Nebble’s dejected sigh.

 

“Ensure that we are not followed,” Archon Britt ordered. “We shall escort Mr. Deagon to our nearest laboratory and conduct our transaction there.”

 

Deagon slowly nodded in what seemed to be satisfaction, then looked over to Robbi. “You keep on lookout, too.”

 

Robbi nodded. She turned her gaze around the area, eyes scanning the group’s surroundings and taking note of all she saw. Mobsters in pinstripe suits interrogated victims in the relative safety of an alleyway. The odd Hellion waved around a torch without a care in the world. Rusty satellite dishes stretched to the sky.

 

Her gaze lingered on the dishes, mouth opening slightly and metal tongue clicking, as the Council soldiers led her and Deagon away from the beach.

 


 

Archon Britt led his party into a maze of warehouses, many of them several times the size of the tiny storage facility Deagon and Robbi called home. The inside of the particular warehouse Britt selected seemed just as mundane, even when the Archon happily led his associates to a blank wall and knocked on it. Soon, however, a section of the wall faded away, a pair of glistening silver elevator doors in their place.

 

“Right this way,” Britt said with a grand gesture to the opening elevator doors. Deagon simply shrugged and played along, Robbi and Britt’s subordinates following suit.

 

The elevator soon descended, carrying the group down further and further into the earth until finally halting. Once the doors opened, the Council’s true base was revealed, a sprawling underground facility laden with all manner of technological marvels. Soldiers marched to and fro with assault rifles in hand, guard robots in black stood rigidly at their stations, and more blue-garbed Galaxy troops manned the numerous computer terminals.

 

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Archon Britt grinned. “The fate of all who join the Council and prove themselves worthy will be to partake in such splendor!”

 

“One step at a time here, Archon,” Deagon reminded him. “We still have a transaction to finish.”

 

“Yes, of course,” Britt nodded. “If you’ll follow me?”

 

The Archon led them deeper into the compound, Deagon lightly elbowing Robbi’s side. As if on cue, the Clockwork’s eyes again began to wander. Massive pistons rose and fell from the ground, overseen by more Council soldiers. Massive tanks, seemingly made for fuel, were under guard by at least three soldiers each. All of it seemed very important to the Council, perhaps to this base in particular.

 

“Now, the procedure is completely painless, but there may be some internal sensations you—”

 

An alarm’s sudden but telltale blare cut the Archon off. Red lights on the ceiling flashed, the soldiers beneath them scrambling for their weapons. Deagon simply folded his arms and looked on, his posture relaxed and seemingly content.

 

“What? What’s going on?” Archon Britt snapped into his radio. “Intruders?! How can this have—”

 

“We can worry about how this happened later,” Deagon interjected. “What’s important right now is driving these intruders back. Any idea who they are?”

 

Britt held up a finger, listening to his radio for a moment, before sneering one word. “Longbow.”

 

“Well…in that case,” Deagon began, “Robbi can help your people fight them off right now, but you and I go ahead and get that N-Fragment procedure done while Longbow is busy. Having one more person with powers might be what turns the tide here.”

 

Robbi blinked, but maintained a careful silence.

 

“Fine, fine, do what you will!” the Archon snapped. “Deagon, follow me.”

 

The mercenary nodded at Robbi, prompting her to turn and march back to the elevator. Once the ride finished, she exited the doors and made her way further out into the open, making herself a single blue-and-silver beacon amidst a sea of shelves. She tilted her head back and opened her mouth, emitting several lines of Clockwork code.

 

The sounds of battle echoed from ahead of her: the thump of falling bodies, the hum of energy blasts, the shriek of shredding metal, the roar of rapid gunfire. Soon, the cacophony of violence faded away, the faint noises of post-battle chatter taking its place. Then came the telltale repeated thumps of boots on metal. Footsteps.

 

Robbi remained where she was, face blank but mouth drawn in a thin line. In the windows above her, she glimpsed sight of the drones she called as they took their positions. The footsteps within the warehouse grew louder as the intruders approached.

 

And then they arrived.

 

Longbow really did wear very bright red-and-white spandex. Some even accompanied it with bulky jetpacks and helmets resembling half of a grey egg. Most of them carried standard firearms such as pistols and rifles, though the occasional gasoline tank could be seen mounted on a few rifles.

 

The group paused when Robbi—a single Praetorian Clockwork standing seemingly alone in the middle of a vast hallway—entered their field of vision. She took this as her cue.

 

“Good day,” she said politely. “I am Clockwork em-three-three-five-six-five-seven, dubbed ‘Robbi’ by my benefactor for simplicity. I have standing orders to prevent you from further accessing this compound. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

 

A few of Longbow’s soldiers looked to one another in confusion, some gesturing at Robbi as if asking their fellows if they all saw the same thing. A young woman with strangely purple skin muttered something to a few of her comrades before stepping forward. As she did so, a dark glow in her eyes—almost identical to that demonstrated by the Council’s Galaxy troops—seemed to subside.

 

“Hey there, uh…Robbi, was it?” the woman asked. The Clockwork nodded. “My name’s Pulsumbra, I’m an officer with Longbow. My squad here got a tip about a Council base in this location, which I think we can safely confirm after fighting through a few squads of Council soldiers to get here. You said you’re under orders to keep us from getting further?”

 

Robbi nodded.

 

“Okay, so…do you mind if I ask who gave you those orders?” Pulsumbra ventured.

 

Robbi paused, evaluating her options. Her ultimate goal was to buy time for not only Deagon’s procedure, but for more of her drones to make their way into the most strategically-important sections of the Council’s base. With this in mind, she elected to keep the conversation going.

 

“My benefactor is named Deagon,” Robbi answered.

 

Pulsumbra paused, as if waiting for more information, but Robbi’s silence pushed her to speak. “Uh…okay…Deagon, got it. What can you tell me about this Deagon?”

 

Now Robbi responded. “I do not possess a great deal of information regarding my benefactor. I am aware that he is a mercenary active in the Rogue Isles, but I am not privy to further details regarding his operations due in part to only being in Deagon’s care for a short time.”

 

“Well, that’s helpful,” one of Pulsumbra’s comrades sarcastically remarked.

 

“Hey, easy, you’ve worked with Clockworks like her, right?” Pulsumbra admonished him. “When you have ever known them to lie?”

 

Robbi blinked. “…you are familiar with Praetorian Clockwork?”

 

“Huh? Oh, yeah!” Pulsumbra spoke up, clasping her hands together. “We actually have some specialized Mender Clockworks working with us in Longbow, designed by Dr. Alec Parson himself. They’ve been really helpful as support units!”

 

Alec Parson. A name Robbi recognized. A name from Praetoria. A name connecting her to the world she had lost.

 

“…Dr. Parson is on Primal Earth?” One could almost hear a faint hope in Robbi’s monotone voice.

 

“Yeah, he is!” Pulsumbra replied with a smile. “Actually, he’s working with this super group over in Paragon City called the New Praetorians. You can probably guess this for yourself, but that group’s made up of survivors from Praetoria. Kind of like you, actually!”

 

Another of Pulsumbra’s allies spoke up. “Warden, we’re kind of on a schedule here, can we make friends with gutter-dwellers another time?”

 

The purple-skinned Warden shot her comrade a warning glare, but nonetheless looked back to Robbi. “Okay, Robbi? I’ll make you a deal. If you turn yourself in now and let us pass, we’ll see if we can get you to meet the New Praetorians. What do you think?”

 

Another instance in which Robbi was required to make an existence-altering choice. Primal Earth seemed to be littered with them.

 

Dr. Parson had seen to the proper functioning of many Clockwork in Praetoria, Robbi included. An encounter with sons and daughters of Praetoria—of Robbi’s home—was an extraordinary opportunity. But how would she get to that point? Pulsumbra’s opinions seemed rather isolated; would Longbow follow through on her word? And even if they did, would Robbi remain as she was once within Dr. Parson’s sights?

 

There were too many variables. There was too much uncertainty. There was too much risk. Her best option became to stay her current course.

 

Robbi merely tilted her head back and emitted more Clockwork code. The noise of shattering glass soon echoed through the warehouse as her drones broke through the windows above, dropping abruptly onto the Longbow squad. Panicked yells and gunfire filled the air as the squad fought back, culminating in several blasts of dark energy knocking several drones aside.

 

“All right…fine,” Pulsumbra sighed, cracking her knuckles as her eyes began to glow much like the Galaxy Adjutant’s had. “We’ll do it the hard way.”

 

Dark matter surrounded her hands, prompting Robbi to draw her Rikti rifle. Before either could fire, however, a small sphere sailed over Robbi’s shoulder and fell at Pulsumbra’s feet. The Warden’s eyes went wide, her arms crossing in an X-shape in front of her just as the grenade burst. Robbi merely stared ahead, the explosion small enough to not reach her but large enough to stir up a cloud of dust and fire. As the smoke cleared, however, Pulsumbra stood entirely unharmed, shielded by a purple bubble of energy she had apparently generated around herself.

 

“Okay, the gloves are off now!” the Warden cried. “I need Miniguns and Nullifiers up front, Eagles on flank, and—”

 

The sound of a laser blast cut her off, a single green bolt piercing the ceiling. Robbi paused, turning her head to find Deagon behind her, his smoking beam rifle pointed upward. He gave his Clockwork companion a nod as he strode by her, shifting his rifle into his arms and focusing his helmet’s visor on Pulsumbra.

 

“I’d hold your fire if I were you, Warshade,” Deagon declared. “You’ve got more important things to worry about.”

 

Robbi, as if on cue, opened her mouth and began clicking her tongue again. Each and every one of Longbow’s soldiers aimed their guns at the duo, but a grimacing Pulsumbra held up a hand to stop them.

 

“I take it you’re Deagon?” she asked, earning a simple one-shoulder shrug from the helmeted man. “What are you talking about? And why are you—”

 

“Warden, the drones!”

 

A light on each of Robbi’s fallen minions began to blink, accompanied by a loud beeping noise that accelerated its pace as the seconds passed.

 


 

Down below, the drones standing by critical structure points in the Council’s base also began to beep, freezing in place and ignoring every attempt at stirring them. Archon Britt could only snarl.

 

“That accursed mercenary!” he spat. “He played us like a damn fiddle!”

 


 

“EVERYONE AROUND ME! NOW!” Pulsumbra roared, throwing her arms out wide as her soldiers gathered. A purple energy began to course through her body, spreading a field out to her comrades as the dark aura in her eyes intensified.

 

“That’s our cue as well,” Deagon commented, putting a hand on Robbi’s shoulder. “I’m admittedly taking a gamble here, so brace yourself.”

 

A dark energy identical to Pulsumbra’s began to flow across Deagon’s arm and onto Robbi’s body. The Clockwork blinked, but before anything could be said, darkness swallowed her field of vision. In what seemed like a split-second later, the darkness peeled away, revealing the gloomy sky of the Nerva Archipelago. That sky was soon lit with orange, however, as a nearby warehouse burst into flames from a multitude of spontaneous explosions from within. Even the ground beneath the warehouse began to sink and crumble, as if something beneath it had just been destroyed.

 

“Well, I’d call this a successful venture,” Deagon remarked as he dusted off his hands.

 

Robbi stared into the flames for a moment, hesitating before speaking. “…did the Longbow squadron perish in my drones’ detonation?”

 

“Unfortunately, that’s not likely,” Deagon shook his head. “That Warshade was prepping a teleport of her own to get her people out. We might run into her again, or we might not. Either way, it’s best we keep on our toes.”

 

Robbi nodded, though her gaze remained on the burning warehouse that had once sheltered the Council base beneath.

 

“For now, it’s time we head home,” Deagon said. “I’d like to try and master some new tricks before our next bit of field work.”

 

He lifted up a hand, allowing dark energy to course through it; the implantation of N-Fragments had evidently been successful. Robbi simply nodded once more, and turned to follow the mercenary as he departed the scene of his arson. Their mission had finished, and her benefactor seemed pleased with the results. This was an acceptable set of circumstances.

 

Still, the possibility of encountering Alec Parson or other Praetorian survivors existed. Perhaps, someday, she could meet them. But, for now, Robbi would hold steady in her role as Deagon’s accomplice.

 

She needed no more drastic changes in her life.

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