Halfway Lost
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Halfway Central Station was nothing like the other twelve transport terminals in Eurtec — crowded, decrepit, and weary with the tireless hum of androids. Only the exposed infrastructure and holographic memories far above the confused masses hinted at the station's past, before the Coalition's ruthless development had left it — along with the citizens of the sector — to the mercy of Eurtec's infamous lower sprawl: the Blood District.

Named after the illegal rubedo trade, those unfortunate enough to live — or, rather, simply survive — here had neither love nor pride for it. Ravaged by criminal thaumaturges and dominated by alchemical cartels, no aspect of life here was untouched by paranormal influence.

The privileged residents of Eurtec's Golden District did their best to forget that this world below their feet even existed. The mere suggestion of abnormality would present a threat to their false presumptions of objective normality — as enforced by the aptly-named Coalition Enforcers.

Speaking of which, Adrian Ross would have to keep an eye out for them as he shuffled through the stream of disgruntled travelers. He didn't usually allow his now damp, dark hair to drape over his eyes, but considering the fact that his hands were preoccupied with protecting several important documents from both the pouring rain and the occasional pickpocket, he didn't exactly have another option. He knew damn well that the contents of those files would be worth compromising his vision for.

Hell, it's a good thing the station doesn't have a functional roof, he mused. After all, the pounding rain made his dark leather coat significantly less suspicious. Otherwise, no one would be wearing so many layers in such a biologically humid environment without significant mechanical augmentation, or, he supposed, significant risk of stroke.

Adrian scrambled down a cement stairway past a pack of industrial workers crowded around one of the few remaining station holograms, tuned to the only channel that the lower city was allowed. The fact that would-be looters would only be able to watch Coalition propaganda did little to dissuade locals from dismantling the hologram systems for personal use.

"Good evening, Eurtec. We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you an update on the situation at the MAGE Computing office collapse. Current estimates put the casualties at nearly a hundred — more than the previous month's attacks combined, all believed to be connected to the paraenvironmental terrorist organization known as 'The Serpent's Hand'. In light of the recent terrorist activity, citizens are encouraged to report suspicious activity to their local GOC lower-court marshal immediately. If you have any information —"

Focus, he snapped at himself.

He'd already detailed his exact route to the subway car, which had just reached the station at that moment — something, of course, he had already planned prior. He would depart from the station at approximately 23:50 and reach the next station after twelve minutes. Still, he held little solace in his calculations, considering he had no idea where his final destination was.

Adrian quickened his pace towards the farthest doors of the subway car, trying his best to dodge the flood of vacating Eurtecians. He reckoned that he'd be less conspicuous in the back, with the added benefit of being near an exit in the event he was discovered. He grimaced over an already distasteful expression.

"Hey, eyes up!"

Adrian barely managed to regain his balance as he collided with a one-eyed straggler. The stranger muttered profanities under his breath as Adrian frantically searched his person, checking that he hadn't lost any of his essentials, before crossing the rather significant gap onto the subway car. Adrian suddenly felt a singe of remorse, remembering that any agency this man once owned no longer existed, forcing him only to drift, quite literally, into his way.

He shook his head, as though doing so would resolve the cluttered thoughts occupying his attention. Finally making his way towards the back of the packed vessel, he'd already figured he wouldn't be able to get a seat. Guess I'm gonna have to wait a bit longer to rest my legs, he grumbled internally. Adrian briefly scanned the crowd, finally allowing himself to pull his hair back, before glancing down at the series of documents in his hands. Despite having memorized all the information prior, he quickly reviewed the files, tracing his own meticulous handwriting before reaching a name circled several times over.

"Jaiden."

He hadn't even realized that he'd said her name aloud and quickly snapped his head to each side, praying that no one noticed. Then he realized that the other occupants were likely too preoccupied with their own business to pay him any mind. Besides, it wouldn't have mattered if anyone had heard him anyway — Adrian was the shadow of a ghost, an absolute nobody. His identity had been removed from every public record, leaving only a watermark of his past affiliation with the Coalition. He allowed himself to relax once again before pulling out an untraceable flip phone from his left pocket.

[RESTRICTED]: Market street. 5th door to left. Ask for the bartenders favorite. We’ll talk there.

At least I know where I'm heading now. Not that his unease was based entirely upon his uncertainty; his mind continued rambling senselessly as paranoia threatened his outwardly neutral resolve.

Stop it. You know why you're doing this. After all, the least he could do for Jaiden was endure a ride on the Eurtec metro.


As the subway pulled out of the station, Halfway Sector would catch the last beams of moonlight available that night. Halfway, he recited, is situated halfway up the height of Eurtec. Meaning the pillars of the Golden District cast a permanent shadow over Halfway's unfortunate residents. Limited by the constant expansion upwards and the presence of the Undercity far below, Halfway had nowhere to expand but inwards, he continued. And so, much to the chagrin of the city's self-appointed caretakers — the Servants of the Silicon Nornir — a network of tunnels burrowed into the city's own infrastructure — a network that became the infamous Blood District.

The result somewhat resembled an ant colony that some depraved child had dropped a rock onto, which had since been removed — the centrally situated Halfway Downtown remained somewhat exposed, but the fringes of the city were comprised entirely of mechanical passages. Under miles of urbanization, passengers sped through the tunnels of Halfway breathing recycled air and noting the occasional light as it streaked by.

Secondhand oxygen for second-class citizens, mused Adrian. It was a phrase he'd heard often, accompanied by complaints about the Coalition's unsustainable development. It was no secret that the GOC had no love for Halfway's anomalous population, but the terms of the 1984 Coalition Administration Agreement prohibited open aggression. Because, after all, the GOC might be officially in charge, but there was no question that the city itself was operated by the Silicon Nornir — three sentient supercomputers that stretched from the Undercity all the way to the peaks of the Golden District.

For a moment, Adrian's memory drifted to the first time he was in Eurtec. The first he saw of the city were the gleaming spires adorning the Urthor Transport Terminal, where hundreds of Ways to the most exotic destinations met at the so-called "capital of the Coalition." Adrian allowed his mind a moment to wander in the relative safety of the subway, back to when everything was right.


"Hey, Sparks?"

Adrian barely turned to face Jaiden. The two of them were seated in a small crowd that was desperately trying to stay awake as the centenarian and nearly senile Director November mumbled about the “pride of the Coalition."

“What?”

“Director Ukelele’s asleep,” she smirked.

Sure enough, Adrian sighted an extremely ugly individual snoring through a Cheshire-cat grin near the front row.

“Well, he’s never been one for formalities,” remarked Adrian.

“Sure. But it does make me wonder if I’d be allowed to doze off, though,”

Adrian snorted. “He’s a director. We haven’t even been inducted,”

“Oh, please. You know full well I’m going to get inducted one way or another,” she huffed, crossing her arms.

It was a fair point. She’d practically grown up in the GOC as part of some discontinued paranormal rehabilitation program for children whose parents were killed in anomalous incidents. Of course, the Coalition discarded rehabilitation programs the instant they were able to mass-produce amnestics, but that wasn’t exactly an option back then. It does take quite a bit of time to dissect an 800-kilometer long eel-deity, after all.

“Maybe. But they might put you in with 1151."

"Me? With the Reprobates? Never," she pouted.

Adrian grimaced slightly, glancing towards the attending members of Assessment Team 1151, the infamous "Reprobates." They were known to be ruthlessly efficient, but it wasn't exactly an honor to be selected for 1151 — as its name implied, the unit was founded as a place to lump together skilled assessment personnel that didn't fall in line easily. They were damn good at what they did, and their merciless team lead only served to "foster good character", or, rather, break down personality.

Jaiden leaned over his shoulder to see what he was looking at and caught a glimpse of the infamous Angel — an ex-convict given a second chance by the Coalition thanks to his sharp senses and extensive experience as a cartel hitman. It was said that his callsign came from the many tattooed wings adorning his back, although no one really knew why he was so fascinated with them. What everyone knew, though, was that Angel was short for Angel of Death — when it came to high-profile assassinations, he was the first-draft pick.

Angel briefly caught the pair's eyes before returning one of his own signature death stares, which was more than enough to dissuade Adrian and Jaiden from gazing even in his general direction. They turned once again to face Director November, who was finally concluding her speech and was preparing to read out the long list of initiates.

“Yeah, there’s no way I’d survive with Azrael or whatever as my team lead,”

"You'll make it into Overwatch for sure," reassured Adrian.

"Maybe. But I already told you that I'm not accepting Overwatch if you're not there with me."

Adrian scoffed. "Only an idiot wouldn't accept an appointment to Overwatch. Hell, you’d be only the third initiates ever to have been invited to join them right out of the academy."

Jaiden shrugged and reclined in her seat, crossing her legs. "There's plenty of skilled personnel out there. But there's only one Adrian Elliot Ross."

Adrian grinned. "That's so cliche,"

Jaiden beamed back. "Maybe. We'll see. But wherever you end up, I'll be there with you."

Just then, Director November, who'd been fumbling through the numerical designations sequentially, arrived at Assessment Team 280.

"Please welcome Adrian Ross to Assessment Team 280 "Quicksilver."

Adrian stood up and began making his way to the stage, where he'd be presented with his new uniform. Gleaming silver and white heraldry adorned the uniform's sleeve, as seen on the arms of his soon-to-be comrades Medusa, Lynx, 2N, and Vesper.

Three of the four would eventually be killed in action. Three people, who were once three promising recruits in the same spot that Adrian stood that day. They had their replacements, sure, and the remaining members would welcome them all the same, but they just weren't the same.

There's plenty of skilled personnel out there. But there's only one Jaiden Sheridan Collins," thought Adrian as he stood alone amongst the packed crowd on the way to find her again.


By the time Adrian had awoken and emerged from the station, most of the functional streetlights had been deactivated. He couldn't help but sneak a glance towards the horizon where, unsurprisingly, the brilliant neon glow of Halfway Downtown defied the Coalition's city-wide curfew. Unfortunately, the fringe districts weren't as bold, often finding themselves subject to the scrutiny of the Coalition.

Adrian kept close to the graffitied walls of the shadowed buildings and used them as a guide while his eyes adjusted. In the distance, he could hear the distinct blaring of sirens while white and blue lights flashed through cracks in the the far edges of the city. His body naturally tensed in anticipation before the colors faded back into the night.

Night patrols, Adrian warned himself, continuing towards his destination. He'd memorized the back alleys and tunnels in advance in order to avoid Enforcers, but he knew full well that this didn’t make him immune to being apprehended. Gritting his teeth, he remaining overtly cautious of his surroundings, just as he'd done as an investigative operative back in the Coalition.

After several minutes of careful travel, Adrian began to notice more details of the nearby buildings. Realizing his eyes could focus enough to distinguish between the varying degrees of debris that lay along the crudely-carved tunnels, he mustered the courage to step away from the walls and began walking faster, praying that he wouldn't have to come close to any more Enforcer vehicles.

Soon enough, Adrian was able to catch glimpses of light through the gaps of buildings and windows, suggesting the locale was not as vacant as he was initially led to believe. Turning right onto Market Street, he could just barely make out several silhouettes standing in the distance, none of whom were facing him.

No matter how many rules you lay down, you can't stop someone who lives to defy them, Adrian scoffed as he made his way past rows of empty market stalls and temporarily abandoned storefronts. Counting carefully, he traced his destination to a derelict establishment constructed against the base of a large metal pillar, no doubt supporting the hundreds of floors overhead.

"May we help you?"

Adrian's body once again tensed in subconscious anticipation as a hooded man made himself visible to Adrian. He was considerably taller than Adrian had anticipated — and if he were any good at combat, Adrian's thin, light frame stood no chance against the hulking brute before him. He just hoped that it wouldn't come to that.

"Depends," Adrian responded. "If you're still open, would you mind giving me the bartender's favorite?"

The man paused before giving a slight nod of approval.

"Follow me to the back," he grunted.

Adrian willfully complied, making his way into the largely abandoned bar. As a direct result of the Coalition's curfew, business in such establishments plummeted; now, only a few lonely souls drinking themselves into oblivion were scattered around in the building, paying no attention to Adrian as he followed the hooded man through a rusty door.

Behind that, Adrian found a small table illuminated dimly by neon lights. Five people looked up as the two of them entered, seated on crates in a circle.

"Sit," commanded the hooded man.

Finding his place among the strangers, he took a moment to study the room's occupants. There was the hooded man standing beside him, who had now taken off his jacket to reveal a dark-skinned head paired with a mechanically augmented torso. Beside him was a masked middle-aged woman, who was sitting nearly completely still. On his other side was a relatively young Asian girl with short hair who was smoking a cigarette that produced a heavy, purple-tinged smoke.

Purple Haze. Highly illegal — not for its properties, but for its contents, among which include copious amounts of rubedo. He glanced away from the dim glow of the cigarette to see a disheveled-looking, pale man with a deep gash along his right eye. Looking deeper at the wound, he now noticed a black, tar-like substance sticking along the outside edges of the incision itself. The man gave him a passing glance, causing Adrian to momentarily flinch in senseless preparation.

"Ross." A fifth person leaned forward through the smoke, studying Adrian with a stone-cold stare. He cocked his head patronizingly, irritating Adrian more than he'd have liked to admit.

"Thanks for coming. You can call me Garter."

"And the others?" Adrian asked, squirming slightly on his crate.

"Cobra escorted you back here. The lady next to him is Viper. To your right is Python, and next to her is Mamba."

Adrian nodded, keeping his gaze softly fixated on Garter.

"I assume you're here because of our recent discussions?"

"Not exactly," Adrian admitted. "Word on the streets is that you've been snagging your goods," Adrian paused to nod towards the stacked crates in the corner of the room, "from some bad people,"

Garter chuckled slightly. "We all seem to be 'bad people' in this neighborhood in the eyes of the gockers,"

"Nonetheless, you didn't mention anything about where you got your goods from during our discussions," Adrian asserted. He could feel agitation bubbling in the back of his throat. Adrian swallowed his emotions, making sure that his slip-up wasn't noticed by the audience. "But that's not what matters to me. What matters is what you know about your suppliers, and what they do,"

Garter briefly paused, taking a moment to release a deep-rooted sigh.

"In this line of work, we have to interact with the lowest of scum, yes. None of us find pleasure in being involved with them, but our associates need answers. Our people are being kidnapped and sold, right on the streets. Our city is being corrupted by greed and wealth. Tell me, Ross, what would you do in our shoes?"

Adrian couldn't answer that. He figured it'd be better to respond with a question of his own.

"If you know what's happening, why haven't you done anything to stop it?" Adrian asked, noticing the relative stillness of spectators around him.

"We are in a very delicate position," Garter continued, his eyes remaining focused on Adrian. "We're having a hard enough time staying afloat as is, while the Coalition continues to mobilize more and more task forces to shut us down. The Hand doesn't have limitless resources, and fewer still to spend on a few small-time rubedo smugglers — we're simply stretched too thin, Ross," he paused, reading Adrian's expression.

"Which is why we'd like to ask for your help."

Adrian remained silent.

Garter continued. "We want the same thing. It's pretty simple — you help us, and we help you. You'd have an easy task, all things considered."

"And what would that be?"

Garter smiled. "I know you, Adrian. If you're asking that, I can only guess that you've accepted my offer." He slid a small folder across the table to Adrian.

"That has everything you need to know, including times, places, people, and all of the rest. We can discuss more at a later date —"

The sudden scream of sirens and gunfire interrupted whatever statement Garter was concluding. Coalition Enforcers. Adrian stood up immediately, seizing the file, as the others around him began to realize what was going on. Garter's expression had also shifted by that point, reflecting what Adrian could have only assumed to be disgust and anguish.

Garter glanced towards Adrian. "We can continue this some other time. You need to leave now. The back door is to your left. Take it, follow the instructions in the file, and we will find you. Go, now!"

Adrian nodded before sprinting towards the exit. In that moment, nothing mattered to Adrian more than withdrawing himself from the conflict completely. Under no circumstances could he let himself be spotted by the Enforcers.

He allowed himself a moment to watch as the five individuals sprinted into action. The masked woman began throwing arcs of lightning towards the Enforcer vehicles as Cobra positioned himself in front of the others, acting as a shield with his metal appendages. Viper sprang into action wielding what appeared to be a ten-foot long naginata, and Garter began firing a standard-issue Coalition rifle with surprising accuracy. They fought in unison, as though they were one living, breathing entity.

Just like we used to, he realized.

Adrian quickened his pace, making his way towards Angle Street through a nearby back alley. A large explosion behind him convinced him to run even faster.

I can make it, he thought. He focused on that singular thought, using it to reinforce his resolve. The danger dissipated behind him as he spotted the intersection of Angle and Market Streets.

I can make it.

Suddenly, Adrian was forced to stop in his tracks as a black Coalition hoverbike grinded to a halt directly in front of him. Conveniently positioning itself directly in front of Adrian, he immediately began scanning for an out as a rider covered from head-to-toe in black tactical gear swung off.

Adrian racked his brain for an excuse. “I heard gunfire, somewhere near Market Street. I was on my way to report the incident. If you need my name for identification purposes, it’s Glenn Forrester.” 2N’s name — no one would be searching for him.

“Funny. Vesper told me that 2N's been long gone,"

The man rolled up the sleeves of his jacket, revealing arms covered with the familiar winged motif of the Angel of Death.

"Fancy seeing you here, Ross."

I… might not make it.


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