A Farewell To Arms
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The O5 Council sat in silence at what they had just heard.

Finally, Four's gentle voice broke the reverie. "What did you say?"

"I said, it's hopeless."

Four watched the weathered old man slump in his chair.

"You're the last person I'd expect to hear that from, Ten."

"Look at the data. The Orange Zone has shrunk by 2%. We've lost two Sites' worth of personnel and skips in the last month alone."

Before he could continue, a blip on Eleven's screen borrowed her attention. She rubbed her wrinkled temple.

"Two more task forces are lost, Eta-5 and Phi-2."

One rose slightly. "Dead?"

"Eta-5 suffered catastrophic losses against a 3396-empowered living mountain range. No further details."

"And Phi-2?"

A pause, too long. "One member dead, the rest defected."

"Shit."

Two spoke up, finally. "We need to beef up ALABASTER. Every drop of resources goes to containment, or neutralization if possible."

Three joined in. "I don't like this. This isn't us anymore. Putting most of mankind in camps and labs is overstepping our place."

Two cocked his head. "You picked a really bad time to suddenly grow a heart, Three. It's just containment of anomalies. That's what we do. That's what we've been doing. Nothing has changed except the scale and the budget. There won't be a mankind unless we do our jobs, and do them now."

Four shifted. "A formal vote, then. For or against increasing the scope of Project ALABASTER and making containment and neutralization of the 3396 spread the Primary Foundation Mission Directive."

Silence.

A handful of voices quietly said "In favor", one after the other.

Three, Four, and Eight voted to oppose.

The remainder stood silently as history marched forward.


O5-2 disconnected from the holographic call and returned to his favorite chair. Not that his current residence had much of a view.

Thirteen bunkers were located around, inside, or near the planet. Each one containing someone who at one point would have been rightly called a king or queen of the world. One of these bunkers contained O5-2.

Designed by the Foundation's best and brightest, bristling with the most advanced technology on the planet, the fortress was located a kilometer beneath the desert sands of somewhere redacted.

A titanic block of concrete and various named and unnamed metals, all protecting a singular room, a heart, where O5-2 resided. The fortress defied any earthquake, hurricane, or asteroid that dared try to reach him.

But right now it had a huge hole in it.


Alarms blared all over the labyrinthine circulatory system of corridors. Classified machines bent the very fabric of space within the fortress, to confuse and disorient any would-be intruders, as well as protect from outside disasters. One could walk for a hundred kilometers and never get any closer to the heart, if they didn't know the way.

The flashing cognitohazardous emergency lights looked down upon miles of destroyed corridors. Massive guns lay destroyed, smoke still flowing from their shattered and melted barrels. Several humanoid bodies lay here, torn apart.

One indistinct, melted red corpse had its fist embedded in the broken remains of a Scranton Reality Disruptor. The air around it sputtered and rippled with the machine's dying breaths as the corpse's skeleton twitched.

What was once a laser grid defense whirred quietly, sparks dripping from it like tears. A motionless body made of sparkling crystal lay in pieces before it, and the deadly beams had left their mark both on it and the surrounding walls and guns.

Deeper still, walls were torn apart and corroded. One wall had been chewed to pieces by a swarm of fiery moths. Another had been turned to rock candy and shattered.

The further into the complex, the more esoteric the defenses, and the more strangely they had been overcome.

A turret was being chewed up by a Tyrannosaurus rex made of plasma.

A body most certainly did not lie crumpled in a ten-meter circle where reality was crushed flat to two dimensions and then rolled up into nonexistence.

A missile the size of a person sat in the air, encased in bone.

A defense drone melted in a puddle of cheese.

The Scranton Reality Anchors had sat quietly and impotently along the walls the entire time, for an anchor can hold a boat in place but it can't stop it from sinking.


Alarms kept blaring. Agent Palanez ran one last diagnostic check on his SEGURO suit and activated all systems. They would be here any second.

O5-2 was inside a SEGURO suit of his own. If it was to be the last wall protecting him, there were far worse options than a metal, polymer, and redacted-stuff shell, powered by a blackboxed skip, an AIAD to move it faster than he could think, and a lot of hope. Only problem was that his suit was still powering up.

Agent Palanez had always been a man of few words. "Secure."

Agent Figueroa continued. "Contain."

O5-2 felt a chill down his spine. "Protect."

KA-BOOM!

"Get behind us, sir!"

Palanez moved quickly and generated a force field seconds before a gigantic column of burning acetylene erupted from the one of the attackers' hands.

One instance with two arms holding two more disembodied arms made of brass led the charge of about twenty five mutants.

The two bodyguards braced. Their suits were experimental and only superficially tested. Still, they had a job to do.

Agent Figueroa stepped forward and went on the offensive. She let loose a pulse of energy that threw the first wave back and gave her a second to breathe, before shooting a gray-skinned two-headed man in the chest with her laser.

One mutant extended its veins and arteries, which now ended in sharp points, and began to pry at the armor plating while another attempted to distract Figueroa with blasts of magma. A burst of electricity from the suit shot into the veins but the mutant held its ground, screaming.

Another mutant, with only mouths on its face and neck, opened all of them to scream at Figueroa. She dodged more magma and swung the vein guy into the path of the devastating sonic waves, disintegrating him. The scales of armor he had managed to scrape loose fell off as well.

Just gotta hold on…

Palanez wasn't holding on as well. After narrowly escaping another plasma Dakotaraptor and dispatching it with a magnetic field generator, one older man had affixed both of Palanez's feet to the floor with an ultra-strong pink adhesive gunk, and was currently attempting to dissolve the armor with acid while two more mutants held Palanez. Palanez diverted power to his right leg and moved it, ripping up a piece of the floor along with it. Off-guard, the chemical mutant was sliced in half by Palanez's energy blade, but his job was done.


Rita grit her teeth. Now or never. Seconds ago she had just watched Ernesto die to give her the opening she needed. She stayed behind Dylan and his rapidly breaking stone wall, and extended a single hair from her arm.

The hair grew in length, and stretched out past the rock wall, past Ernesto's remains, past David, desperately absorbing the armored man's blasts, and towards the millimeter-wide breach in the suit. It then entered the gap, and weaved its way past the layers and cracks, past the carbon-woven undersuit, right down to the agent's skin. Rita's single black hair touched a brown one on the agent's arm, and her eyes widened.

In her mind, she spoke the word that she had felt when the blessed goo had raised her up, the Word etched into the DNA of her every cell.

THRIVE.

Palanez felt a pinprick on his arm, then a shudder that pulsed through his entire body. Every one of his hairs stood on end. And they wouldn't sit back down. The hairs grew longer and longer. Some doubled back into his skin, creating new follicles that instantly sprouted even more hair. The hair filled the suit, and the pressure began to crush him. His nose and ear hairs had nowhere else to go, and he could feel himself suffocating.

A bad hair day indeed.

Exhausted, Rita fell to the floor as Palanez asphyxiated. His heart finally stopped, and the suit systems executed one last command. The outer shell fragmented and the pieces shot out at twice the speed of sound. The rest of it exploded, turning a six-meter radius, including Rita, David, and Dylan, to nothing but atoms and light.


One down, two to go.

Armando clenched his fists, all 12 of the ones he had active right now. The blessed blue-green gift had merged with his original anomaly and pushed him far beyond what he ever thought he could be. After spending so many years in a containment cell, he was finally in control of his anomaly. And soon, he would control his own destiny as well when the Foundation that imprisoned him was gone.

The second guard was more vicious. She had just torn one of them in half, and then nullified a retaliatory swarm of electricity wasps.

Rita's down. Ernesto's down. We're gonna have to tear the whole thing open to kill her.

Armando tore off an arm made of solid heptanitrocubane. Using several more arms in a chain, he hooked the dangerously explosive arm around the agent's neck.

BOOM!

The explosion threw the remaining mutants back and filled the room with smoke. One mutant clapped his hands and the smoke coalesced into black metal needles which converged upon the agent. She flung them away and into another mutant, then activated the artificial gravity generator, bringing everyone else to their knees. It took a pretty big chunk of power, but Figueroa deemed it worth the chance to pick them off.

She moved towards one gold-skinned woman, who shielded herself and the scaly man next to her under a glowing force field bubble resembling a tumbleweed.

Figueroa knew it would take too much time to break the shield. She cranked up the gravity near those two for a split second, crushing them.

GRAVITON GENERATOR SHUTTING DOWN

Shit.

The outer shell wouldn't hold much longer. That last explosion had managed to crack it, and the magma earlier had disrupted the polymer gel. The lowest layer of genesis weave was overworked trying to repair itself fast enough to cushion blows.

With her partner down, and the O5's suit only at 61%, she'd have to improvise.


Three of them remained: Armando, Angela, and Erik. They could see the breaches in the remaining guard's armor. If they could take her out, they could crack open the O5's suit like an egg at their leisure.

Easier said than done, of course, but desperation was one hell of a drug.

Armando and Erik rushed the guard, who responded with a sonic pulse. Armando quickly ripped off an arm and grew a wing, of an extinct anomalous bat, that negated the sound. Erik jumped high, and Armando grabbed his leg with three more arms and swung him downwards at the guard, who extended her right arm into a shield. Erik increased his mass 100-fold at the moment of impact, smashing the shield and throwing the guard to the floor.

Not giving her a chance to respond, Armando pinned her to the ground with seventeen heavy metallic arms while Erik hammered away at the armor plating with ultra-dense fists.

SHELL INTEGRITY CRITICAL

The genesis weave began to give. Power systems were shorting out left and right. Figueroa was sure she had cracked a rib or two now.

She activated the magnetic repulsor field, and sent the arms holding her down flying away. She charged one last shot on her psychic amplifier and liquefied Erik's brain, before her left wrist erupted in a shower of sparks. Armando slammed a Brachiosaurus front leg into her face, which she managed to block, then fired two energy balls right into Angela's face and stomach without missing a beat.

Armando grabbed her with several long octopus-like tentacles, but Figueroa let off a charged shockwave from her central power core that sent him flying. He hit the wall, but managed to tear off some of the armor with the tentacles' suckers.

Armando summoned more mass than he had ever used, and grew an arm with a nanometer-thick neutron star skin. He couldn't maintain it for long, but he was desperate now. The gravity overwhelmed Figueroa and pulled her towards Armando, and he slammed her in the midsection, sending cracks spiraling through the rest of the suit and breaking her faceplate.

Figueroa didn't care that her face was exposed now; she had this in the bag. She reached to her side and threw her only null grenade, the gravity of the arm directing it. Armando ripped off the arm and threw it as hard as he could towards her. Figueroa flinched as the grenade erupted into absolute nothingness, leaving an empty void of reality right in front of her face where the arm was.

Then she diverted power to her palm cannons, held her wrists together as a ball of blue plasma glowed in her hands, and extended her arms to fire the beam at Armando.

He frantically generated arms as fast as he could to block the brunt of the beam, but Figueroa kept walking towards him.

Then she stopped. The beam flickered and then cut out. Figueroa gave one single cry of pain, followed by silence, as her right arm and face turned into translucent crystal. Armando turned his head and saw Angela, barely breathing, straining to keep her three good eyes open, and holding the fourth bloody, disembodied eye in her own hand. The gaze of all four eyes turned whatever she looked at into salt, as long as she kept them focused intently on the same thing. The suit shifted, repairing the transmutation almost as soon as it happened, but Figueroa was done for. Her heart crystallized, and the suit exploded, less forcefully this time. Angela dropped the eye and collapsed, finally succumbing to the gaping hole in her body.

O5-2's suit unfolded, as it was programmed to upon the destruction of the other two. Better to fight at less than 100% than to be a sitting duck, they had reasoned.

Armando spat blood, and put up a dozen more fists.

"Sudden death. Winner takes all."


Armando stood over O5-2, who was gasping in the shattered remains of the suit.

"Where is your power now?"

O5-2 coughed up blood. "Was it worth it? All the lives you threw away to get here?"

Armando narrowed his eyes. "That's real rich coming from you. Every single one of us volunteered. We knew what we were doing, and we all decided the reward was worth it."

"And that reward would be?"

"A brand new world. Where there's a place for us that's not a cell." He took a deep breath. "Unfortunately, I don't think there's a place in our world for you."

Armando had more hands than anyone, but it only took one for him to strangle the man.

Another crack in the foundations of the old world, hewn by the dead citizens of the new.

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