Brink of Hysteria

Series Archive » North Star » Chapter 0 » Brink of Hysteria

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February, 1999

"…and this is our common room." Albany said as the agents walked through the door. "Shit ugly couch, half-broken chairs, coffee table that's both too large and not big enough, TV with no channels, everything you need to feel at home."

"Lovely." Rigby said as he closed the door leading to the hallway.

"I'm joking, of course." Albany said, turning to Black, Milo, and Rigby. "The couch is only piss ugly. Now, your dorms." He pointed towards the several doors attached to the common room. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out three pieces of paper.

"I thought we'd be able to choose our room." Black said as Albany handed him a piece.

"They're all the same. And be thankful you get a room. Most site barracks are just a bunch of beds in a large area." Albany replied.

Black looked down at the piece of paper with a small '6' on it, then turned towards the corresponding door.

"What makes this site so special?" Milo asked, grabbing her piece.

"Site-47's a garrison site, making it one of the few Foundation sites to hold no anomalies. Which means there was more room on the budget for luxuries." Albany said, smiling to the recruits. "Now, drop your stuff off in your room, read the packet, change out of your Cadet uniforms and into the Private uniforms, then come back out here and we'll get to know each other a bit."

Black tucked his duffle bag under his arm and walked to his assigned door. Milo began walking towards the '5' door, and Rigby entered the '7.'

Black stepped into his new room and took in his surroundings. A made bed sat against the wall, next to which stood a night stand. A small booklet laid on the bed.

He tossed his duffle bag on the bed and sat down. Reaching for the pamphlet, he began skimming through its contents.


(For official use only)

Task Force: _Delta-4 ("Minutemen")_

Site-47 Edition

Black rolled his eyes when he saw that the Commander's name was redacted.

If it's redacted, why put it in at all? He thought.

He threw the pamphlet on the bed and looked towards the closet door on other side of the room.

That's probably where my uniform is.

Black got up and made his way to closed door. A fresh MTF uniform was greeted him when he opened it. He reached for the uniform, but stopped when he noticed a large, suitcase like box sitting on the floor. The words 'Agent Black' were engraved on the top.

Kneeling, he undid the locks and opened the case. There were several items sitting inside the box.

First was an MES helmet Black had seen in the pamphlet. Next to it was a heavy kevlar vest with the letters 'S.C.P.' sewn in on the front. Behind the vest were several black sticks, all with a different colored stripe on them. He wasn't sure what those were for.

There's no reason to gear up now. He thought as he closed the box and got to his feet. Grabbing the MTF uniform, he began to undress.

"Let me get this straight…" Albany said as Black exited his room. "You managed to acquire $200,000 in 6 months off pick pocketing alone?"

"Yep." Rigby, who was sitting on the couch across from Albany, said. "There was a point where I accumulated nearly $7,000 in one day."

"Telling more lies Rigby?" Black said, leaning against the back of the couch.

"It's true!" Rigby said defensively. "And what took you so long? Fall asleep?"

"What took you so early?" Black replied. "Did you even read the pamphlet like Colonel asked?

"The pilot pamphlets are much shorter than the infantry's." Albany said. "And the uniforms are a lot easier to put on."

Black looked down at Rigby's clothes. They were much looser and lighter than Black's or Albany's.

"You did read the pamphlet, right Black?" The Colonel asked.

"Yeah." Black replied. "Hey, I have a question. If the Foundation's just gonna redact the Commander's name, why did they bother including it in the pamphlet?"

Albany laughed. "Bit of humor, I suppose."

At that moment, the door leading into the hallway opened. The three agents turned to face the new visitor.

"Ah, Brian. Back from your mission?" Albany said. The agent, whose face was masked by an MES helmet, nodded.

Albany turned towards the Privates. "Black, Rigby, this is Corporal Brian. He will be a member of our squad."

"Hello." Rigby said, waving. Brian nodded… again.

"Hey Brian," Albany began, "Could you send Luke in? He needs to meet his new teammates."

"Agent Lukas was KIA." Brian said in a monotone voice.

"Oh…" Albany said in a softer tone. He stared at the ground for a few seconds before speaking again. "Well, let this serve as your first lesson, Privates. No matter how trained and experienced you are, survival is never certain.

"Lukas was a good agent. He had several years under his belt. But even with all his experience, he still found himself dealing with death. It's just how it is in this line of work."

Brian entered the door with a '4' on it. The three remaining agents sat in silence for several minutes.

"What's taking Milo so long?" Albany said, looking at the clock hanging on the wall.

"Maybe she's…" Rigby started. "…nah, I'm not gonna say it. Don't want to get the reputation as the team's dedicated misogynist."

"Then it's best you bite your tongue." Albany said. "Heard she got 1050 on her marksman exam. Not someone you want to fuck with."

"Why don't you tell our new Colonel what you got, Rigby?" Black said.

"Oh fuck off." Rigby replied.

"No, I'm interested." Albany said straightening. "What did you get?"

Rigby turned to Black, before sighing and looking back at Albany.


"BLOODY 'ELL LAD." Albany exclaimed. "Were you able to hit 10 feet?"

"Why do you think they made him a pilot?" Black smirked.

"Eat the fattest of dicks Stitch."

"Only if it's yours." Black said patting Rigby on the shoulder.

"Fucken 720…" Albany shook his head. He looked back at the clock. "Milo's taking her merry time. Black, knock and her door and tell her if she doesn't get her ass out here she's gonna have an angry Scotsman to deal with."

Black turned and walked towards the door with the '5' on it. "Milo." He said as he knocked. No answer. He turned back to Albany.

"Go on in." He said. "If she's naked, it's her fault for not locking the door."

Black opened the door and peaked his head inside. The duffle bag Milo had earlier was laying open face on the floor. A Cadet uniform and several pairs of clothes were strewn across the floor. Milo was sitting cross legged on the bed, her back to the door. She was looking down at something in her lap. At first Black thought it was the pamphlet, but then he saw it sitting on the nightstand.

"Milo." She practically jumped when he said her name.

"You scared me." She said turning.

"One, I knocked and called your name. Two, Albany wants to know what's taking you so long."

"Oh. Sorry, I was just…" She went silent, think of what words to use. "…daydreaming."

"Well Albany says… and I quote… 'if you don't get your sorry ass out here you're gonna have an angry Scotsman to deal with."

"Well then." She placed something on her bed, then stood. "Best not to keep him waiting."

The two of them walked out and into the common room. Black looked around. Rigby was gone.

"Change of plans you two." Albany said. "Just got a message from the Commander. We're needed on a mission. Your gear should be in your closet. Go get ready to move out. Chopper's leaving in five minutes."

"Yes sir." They said in unison. Milo turned back into her room, while Black quickened his pace into his.

"Look at you, all dressed up in your gear." Rigby said as Black walked towards the helicopter. "I'm getting aroused just looking at you."

"You did want me to eat a fat dick earlier." He replied. "Nice shades by the way."

"Thanks. They came with the uniform."

Rigby turned and hopped into the pilot seat, while Black crawled into the helicopter's cabin. Albany and Brian were already seated.

"Seems like Agent Milo's the squad snail." Albany said.

"Who you callin' a snail?" Black turned to see Milo standing behind him. In her hands was a Barrett M82, as opposed to the M16 that Black held.

"When did you get here?" He asked.

"I… followed you?"

Black shrugged, then sat down and strapped himself in.

"So what is it we're dealing with?" Milo asked Albany when she sat down.

"No clue." He replied.

"Do you at least know where we're going?"

"Carson City."

Milo nodded.

"When we arrive," Albany said as the helicopter began to rise, "we'll meet up with the Delta-4 squad stationed there. They'll brief us on the situation. Once we get an idea of what's going on, we'll formulate a plan to hold off the anomaly until reinforcements arrive."

The squad members nodded in silence. Milo turned to Brian after a few seconds.

"I don't believe we've met."

Brian shook his head. Milo outstretched her hand.

"Jessica Milo."

Brian didn't take it, instead simply nodding. She dropped her hand.

"You talk?"

Albany laughed. "Only when he wants to. That's Agent Brian. He doesn't talk much, nor does he take that helmet off."

"What do you mean doesn't take that helmet off?" Black said.

"I mean," Albany said, turning to Black, "in the two years I've known Brian, I have never once seen his face. Even his personal file has him with his helmet on."

"Is that even allowed?" Black said.

"'ell if I know." Albany said shrugging. "Someone clearly approved it."

That sat in silence for the 45 minutes, the only break in the quietness being an occasional click as each agent checked their equipment. Eventually, Rigby's voice crackled into everyone's ear.

"30 seconds 'til drop."

Black looked out the window. The helicopter was slowly descending onto the roof of a building. He was unsure what the purpose of the building was, most likely offices.

Albany slid the door open as they landed. The agents stepped out and took in their surroundings. On the far side of the roof was an entrance to a stairwell. Two agents were standing in front of it. The one on the left was a dark skinned women, the other had their faced masked with an MES helmet.

"Return to Site-47 and pick up any other Delta-4 squads that were called to join us." Albany said into his mic.

"Yes sir." Rigby replied. "Good luck everyone."

Black turned as the helicopter began to rise. Thanks, I'll need it.

"With me." Albany bellowed. Black, Milo, Albany, and Brian all made their way to the agents.

"Captain." The women said as she saluted the squad.

"It's Colonel now Jax." Albany said, returning the salute.

"Damn. Guess that means I can't order you around anymore." She said smiling.

Albany smirked, then turned to his squad. "Black, Milo, this is Colonel Riley Jaxon. Jaxon, these are the new recruits… and Brian of course."

"A pleasure." Jaxon said, pointing to the agent next to her. "This is Lieutenant Jenkins."

"Afternoon." The other agent said in a male, British accent.

"How's the arm, Jenkins?" Albany asked.

He shrugged. "Better, I suppose. It's fine with pain meds, but I can't twist it to much."

Albany nodded in response. "So what's the situation?"

"Come with us." Jaxon said as she turned and started walking towards the entrance.

"About an hour and a half ago, law enforcement got a call about some wild animal being lose in the building. Their last radio transmission was them claiming that the creature in question was 'otherworldly.' We were called in when they lost communication."

"Do we know where the entity is?" Albany asked.

Jaxon turned to him, still walking. "We managed to track it to the basement. We're doing our best to keep it there, but we don't exactly have a lot of manpower."

"Well now you've got four more bodies to throw at it." He replied, only half joking.

The group continued walking down the stair way. Eventually they reached the floor that was marked with a 'B.' Three agents stood in front of the door leading into the basement.

"Colonel." One of them said, saluting.

"Any problems or activity?" Jaxon asked.

"Negative Ma'am."

"Good. I'm gonna move in and attempt to apprehend the entity. Jenkins, Albany, Brian, and the two greens will move in with me. You three stay out here and make sure nothing gets out." Jaxon turned to the squad. "You ready?"

"Aye." Albany replied. "You ready for your first engagement rookies?"

"Ready as ever." Milo replied.

"Alright." Jaxon said, turning towards the entrance. "Moving in."

She pushed the door open, and the team slowly walked inside.

The basement seemed to be the building's archive center. Rows of shelves filled the room, all stacked with papers and boxes.

"The only thing we know about the entity is that it was described as 'other worldly,' so keep your guard up." Jenkins said.

The group slowly made their way through the basement. Guns drawn, their eyes darted across the room, looking for any sign of the entity.

"Hold." Jenkins said when they rounded a corner. Black was busy looking behind the group, ensuring they didn't get ambushed. A "what the hell?" from Milo made him turn around.

In the center of the room was a cardboard box. This by itself wasn't alarming. What was alarming was the fact it was floating, as if gravity didn't effect it.

Jaxon reach down to the radio on her shoulder. "Contact command. Tell them we may have a gravital and possible spacial anomaly. Still no sign of the entity."

All of the agents had their gaze fixed on the anomalous box. None of them noticed the beast lurking behind them.

A sharp pain shot through Black when something stabbed his arm. He yelled and stumbled. The rest of the squad turned to face him. Black felt something grab him by the arms.

He dropped his gun as he felt himself get pulled away. The thing dragged him around the corner and through the halls of the basement with incredible speed. Black thrashed around, trying to get himself free of whatever had taken him.

His insides began to feel warm. Swinging his arms became harder as he felt his body grown numb. Eventually, his body fell limp as he was unable to feel anything. Soon, only his eyes were able to move.

The creature began to slow its movement. Black felt himself get tossed to the ground. His head rolled to the side, allowing him to see the thing that had taken him.

Otherworldly was the only way to describe it. The thing was large, roughly seven feet tall, and was a sickly greenish-gray color. It stood on four legs, and had four arms. It's abdomen was short and wide, it's middle was long and skinny. It's head looked like that of a mantis. Actually, the more Black looked at it, the more it looked like a mantis. Only God was drunk when creating it's physical form.

Black's eyes moved to the spot where he first felt the pain. A stinger was erected from the creature's abdomen and impaling his arm. It probably filled him with some venom that paralyzed it's victims. His eyes moved around some more. That's when he noticed his surroundings.

All around him were corpses. The ones closest to him were wearing police uniforms, though most of the bodies were in professional work clothes. What shook Black the most were the faces. They were pale gray and sallow, and looked as if they had been drained like a raisin. Their eye sockets were empty, nothing more then black holes.

The creature retracted its stinger from Black's arm and opened its mouth. A proboscis began extending out of it. Unlike the abdomen stinger, which ejected toxins into him, Black assumed the purpose of this one was to extract. Extract Black's innards, leaving him empty like the corpses around him.

His mind raced as he tried to think of how to escape this predicament. He had to do something, otherwise he would die.

He would die.

I'm going to die.

Black suddenly came to the realization most people did in situations like this. He realized something that should have been obvious, but never occurred to him until now.

I don't want to die.

Panic rose in him as his eyes darted around, looking for anything to help him. Even if he found something, his paralysis ensured he wouldn't be able to utilize it.

Black felt his breathing grow fast and sharp. He felt himself (or at least what little he could feel) grow hot as his adrenaline rushed through his body.

The creature moved closer to Black, the stinger inching towards his chest. Black tried to let out a yell for help, but his paralysis turned that scream into a muffled whimper.

Please don't let me die.

A loud bang came from somewhere outside of Black's field of view. He saw the creature jerk back as a chunk flew off its head. It let out a shriek and turned towards the source of the noise. There was another bang, and another chunk was blown off its face.

Despite the damage, the creature didn't go down. Instead, it turned and scurried out of Black's view. Silence filled the room.

Silence, except for the sound of footsteps quickly growing louder. Milo appeared in view after a few seconds. She was aiming her gun towards the way the thing went. She stepped in front of Black, looking around with her gun drawn. She knelt down next to Black after a few seconds of scanning.

"Black!" She said both worryingly and out of breathe. "Please don't be dead…"

She reached down and pulled Black's helmet off. He blinked rapidly and moved his eyes to let her know that he was, in fact, not dead.

"Oh thank God." She said with a sigh. "Damn you're pale. Can you move?"

Black didn't say or do anything. Not because he wouldn't, but because he couldn't.

"Fuck. Uh, if you can move, blink once. If you can't, blink twice."

He blinked twice.

"Shit. This is going to make things a lot harder." She put Black's helmet back on. Then, she reached down for his arm and heaved him onto her shoulder.

"Fuck you're heavy." She said as she began to slowly walk. "We're gonna need to hurry if we want to get out of here."

Black felt himself become light headed as she walked. Eventually, he started hearing noises. These noises included clicks, moans, crashes, and other worrying sounds. He didn't know if these were real or if the venom was playing tricks on him or if his light headedness was making him hear things.

Something he heard that he knew was real was Milo yell out.


"KEEP THE DOOR OPEN!" A distant Jaxon yelled. Black heard scuttling and gunfire, though he wasn't able to see the source of either.

"HURRY!" Albany yelled, followed by another volley of gun shots.

Eventually, Black and Milo passed the basement door they had entered through. It slammed with a bang, and Milo placed Black down sitting up against the wall.

"He's. Alive." Milo panted after taking his helmet off again. "He's. Just. Paralyzed."

Jaxon reached down for the radio strapped to her shoulder. "We need a medic down here now. Maybe a mobile hospital."

Milo took off her helmet and practically fell into a sitting position. She was red, sweating, and heavily panting.

Jaxon and Jenkins had began a conversation with each other, though Black wasn't able to hear what they were saying.

Brian and the other agents were watching the basement door intently. One of them had their gun drawn.

"I stand corrected, Agent Milo." Albany said, making his way over to them. "What you did was incredibly brave, managing to save Black."

"Thank. You. Sir." She said between breathes.

"It was also incredibly stupid." Albany stopped direct over the two. "You had no idea Black was alive or where he was, or what we were even dealing with. Not to mention violating a direct order."

Milo's face tensed a little, but didn't react outside of it.

"Regardless of whether it was stupidity or bravery that motivated you," Albany continued, "there's no denying that you're lucky."

Albany pointed at Milo. "I'll let this slide since you DID save him, but don't try to be a hero again. You may only end up increasing the number of body bags."

He turned and walked away. Milo's expressionless face stared into nothing.

"What seems to be the situation?" A voice said. Two agents stepped into Black's field of view. Both were wearing similar attire everyone else was, the only difference being a white armband with a red cross on it. One of the medic's face was exposed, while the other was covered in an MES helmet.

Jaxon turned towards the medics. "We're all fine. It's that one that needs attention." She pointed towards Black.

"What's his need?" The medic with the mask said as they made their way to him.


"Oh, is that why he's lying limp on the ground?" The one without the mask said sarcastically.

The other medic took off Black's kevlar top. Then their ran their middle and index finger along his neck and spine.

"Not feeling any damage to the spinal cord." They said. "Regardless, we'll need to take him in a mobile hospital. You called one in right?"

"It's on it's way." The helmetless medic said. "You want the legs or the head?"

"I can take the head."

"Alright." The medic said, walking up to Black's feet. The other medic side stepped and grabbed Black under the shoulders.

"On three." The medic without a helmet. "One. Two. Three."

The two medics picked up Black and began carrying him up the stairs.

"Don't worry Colonel." The helmetless medic said. "We'll have 'em patched up and back in the field in no time."

They stepped into a high end lobby of some kind. Hugging the wall was on was a receptionist desk, though it was long abandoned. Next to it was a series of chairs and couches in front of a large, fake fire place. Eventually, they moved through what seemed to be the main doors and into the now overcast day.

MTF agents surrounded the building. Flashing lights and 'Do Not Pass' signs were everywhere. Black and the medics stepped into the back of a black, unmarked van. Inside was a stretcher, IV bag, and other medical equipment Black couldn't even begin to comprehend.

They placed him onto the bed and closed the door. He felt the van begin to move as soon as the door slammed shut.

"We'll need to do a blood test." The medic at his feet said. "Get ready for that." He turned towards Black. "First mission huh? Not the gatecrasher you were hoping for I bet. Guarantee you it will make a great first mission story over the water cooler."

Black could see the arm of the medic behind him roll up his sleeves. They then stuck a needle into his arm and drew blood. Fortunately, he wasn't able to feel it. Or maybe that was unfortunate.

The medic at Black's feet stood up and walked out of view. He wasn't paying attention to the words being said by the medics, not that he could understand what it was they were saying. He had long since calmed down from his panic attack earlier. Though, he had to admit his anxiety towards his paralysis. Still, it was a situation far preferable to getting your insides sucked out.

"Ok, so, good news and bad news." The medic without a helmet said, returning to Black's feet. "And when I say good and bad news, I mean the single piece of news is both good and bad.

"The good part of the news, your blood is filled with a toxin that paralyzes you from the nose down, similar to what spiders use. This is good news because A, it's non-anomalous. And B, it will eventually leave your body, and you'll make a full recovery.

"The bad part of the news, your blood is filled with a toxin that paralyzes you from the nose down, similar to what spiders use. This is bad news because A, you can't move anything below your nose. And B, it's gonna take a long time for it all to get out."

As he was speaking, the other medic set Black up on the IV next to him.

"Fortunately for you, we can help speed this process up by isolating and removing some of that nasty crap from your body. It can be quite painful. But, we're going to put you under so you won't feel a thing."

The other medic inserted a syringe into the IV tube.

"It may be a few hours before you wake. But when you do, you'll feel nice and refr-"

Black was unconscious before the medic finished his sentence.

There was a dull pain in Black's left arm and chest. He shifted uncomfortably.

Where am I? He thought.

He opened his eyes and looked around. He was lying in his dorm at Site-47. That's when it all came back.

He had been attack by some… thing… and was paralyzed. He only got out because Milo saved him. Milo saved him. She risked her life for him.


Black sat up, and was surprised at how normal he felt. His fingers were still a little tingly, and there was a dull pain on his chest, but apart from that he felt fine. How long had he been out? Black turned to the clock on the nightstand.

10:30?! He thought to himself. Even if it was post meridiem, it was still several hours longer then he would've expected. It was roughly one o'clock when Black was taken out on the van. Had be really been asleep for nearly nine hours?

He looked around the room. The lights were shut off, but his eyes had adjusted in the few seconds since seeing the time. His duffle bag laid in the closet. It appeared to be empty. Hanging above the bag was his MTF uniform.

My MTF uniform?

Black threw the covers off himself and looked down at his body. He was in a casual black T-shirt and pants. He tugged at his collar to get a look at his chest. Bandages and gauze were wrapped around where the creature's stinger had impaled him.

Welp, my sleep schedule's fucked. He thought as he rubbed his eyes. After nine hours of sleep, he wasn't exactly tired. Standing up, he walked to the door.

The common room was far darker then it had been earlier. The harsh white ceiling lights had been replaced by the soft orange glow from a lamp in the corner. The only noise in the room was the humming from the ventilation system… and someone's soft breathing on the couch.

Black walked over to the ugly, L shaped couch and peaked over. Rigby was lying on his side, asleep.

"Rigby." Black said.

"Hmm?" Rigby said, rolling over and rubbing his eyes. "Stitch! You're awake." He said with a yawn. "I got pretty nervous when they rolled you out on a stretcher."

"Aw, you got nervous for me?"

"Well…" Rigby said, shrugging, "maybe nervous is too generous. More like, mildly annoyed at the dead weight being brought onto my heli."

"Prick." Black said smiling. "I'd hate to wake you, but what exactly happened? First off, why aren't I in the infirmary?"

"Do you need to be in the infirmary?" Rigby replied, raising an eyebrow.

"Good point."

"I flew you back to Site-47. They wheeled you out when we go there. Told me you'd be fine and recover in less then 12 hours. How are you doing by the way?"

Black shrugged. "Not horrible. My fingers still feel like their asleep, and my wound is a little sore. But mostly fine."

"Good to hear. Anyways, after I dropped you off, I was sent back to pick up the rest of the squad. They were sent back into that basement after you were taken out. Not alone though. Apparently Lambda-5 was sent in to assist. Guess that call ended up being more then just a wild animal.

"They all made it out ok. Tired though, especially Brian who had JUST finished a mission. Anyway, it was about 7 when we got back. Me and Albany checked up on your unconscious carcass, then we all went down to the cafeteria to get some dinner."

"Including Brian?"


"Did he take his helmet off?"

"Kinda sorta. He only took it off enough to expose his mouth. Clean shaven, though Albany says his facial hair rather is inconsistent. After we finished, everyone went to their dorms, and I haven't seen anyone since."

"Why aren't you in your dorm?"

"I was waiting for you to walk out. Guess I ended up falling asleep instead. Despite my joking, I really was worried about you Black."

"I know." Black replied. "I'd be worried about you too if you were under medical."

Rigby nodded. He sat up, stretched, and yawned. "Well. If you're ok and aren't in need of me, I'm going back to bed. My actual bed, that is."

"Sure. I'm not tired, so I'll probably just hang out for a while."

Rigby stood up and made his way to his dorm. Black stopped him just as he grasped the door handle.

"Is Milo in her room?"

Rigby turned to him. "Yeah. Everyone's in their dorm."

"You think it's too late for a visit?"

Rigby looked at the clock that hung over the TV. "It's only 10:30. But like I said, she was exhausted when we got back, so… your funeral if she bites your head off."

"Thanks." Black said sarcastically. Rigby entered his room and closed the door… and almost immediately opened it and poked his head out. "You don't plan on… thanking her, do you?"

"I do." Black replied. "I'm going to say thank you, she is going to say you're welcome, we are going to shake hands, then I'm going to leave. Clothes on."

"Right…" Rigby said, before slowly pulling his head inside and closing the door.

Black stood in silence for several minutes, before once again walking over to the door with the 5 on it and knocking.

"One minute." Milo called from the other side of the door. Black stood with his hand behind his back for several seconds.

"Alright, come in." She said. Black opened the door.

The room was practically unchanged from when he first entered it. The only difference was the Delta-4 uniform lying in the center of the room.

Milo was sitting up in her bed. She was wearing a light gray T-shirt, and her blankets were pulled up to her waist.

"Howdy Black." She said. "How're you feeling?"

"Good." Black said. "Can we talk?"

Milo nodded and gestured him to enter. He took a step forward and closed the door behind him.

"Hey, uh, I'd like to start by saying thank you." Black began. "Seriously. When that… thing… brought my motionless body to that place… and it opened it's mouth… I… I really thought I was going to die."

"No problem." She replied.

"From what I heard, you defied orders to save me?"

Milo nodded. "Albany declared you KIA when you got dragged away. He ordered us not to go after you and to retreat to the door. But, well, I couldn't do that."

"And I'm guessing you're expecting this next question, why?" He leaned his back against the wall. "You had no idea where I was, if I was alive, what we were dealing with. Hell, you were directly ordered NOT to try and save me. So why did you?"

They sat in silence. Milo simply stared into space.

"You know…" Milo started, looking up at Black. "I've been wondering the same thing for the past ten hours. When we were sitting there waiting for the medics, when we went back in with the White Rabbits, during the entire operation, during the flight home, and up until I went to bed, I've been wondering why as well.

"And you know what? After so many hours of thinking and contemplating, I still don't have an answer. All I know is going after you was more stupidity than bravery. And it's not like we knew each other very well, only sharing a small conversation in the cafeteria. So why did I do it?"

Silence once again filled the room.

"I guess that's something we'll never know." Black said. He looked over at Milo's nightstand to check the time. 10:44. That's when his eyes fell on something he had not seen before. Sitting on the nightstand was a framed picture. A younger looking Milo and a black man were smiling at the camera, their arms around each other.

"Who's that?" Black said, pointing to the photograph.

"Oh, him…" Milo said. Her voice was different, more somber. "Um… that's… um… his name was Benjamin, and… uh…" She took a shaky breath. Black didn't need to be a mind reader to take a hint.

"I'm sorry, if you don't want to…"

"No no." Milo said. "It's about time I spoke about him with someone. It's about time I get this off my chest." She looked down and started picking her hands. "Black… despite what I just did, despite saving you… I'm… really not a good person."

"Come now Milo." Black said. "Everyone's made their mistakes, and are flawed in one way or another."

"No. I'm like, REALLY, not a good person." She was still playing with her hands. "I, um… fuck…" She hissed, turning her head. "Just fucking say it you piece of shit." She muttered under her breath. "I… I lived in Tennessee, and well… I used to be apart of the Klan."

"The Klan? Like with a K?" Black said. He had to admit, he did not see this one coming. She nodded.

"I never knew my mother, but my father was a fanatic. Took me to klan meetings and indoctrinated me since I was a baby. But the really shitty part? I never once questioned him or the klan. I burned crosses, I used slurs, I made fun of the local black folk because of something as trivial as their skin."

"It sounds like you regret your choice."

"Regret? That's an understatement. I utterly loath my past self. I was one of the scummiest human beings to every exist. Believe me, if I could go back in time and kill myself, I would."

"So how did you get out of it?"

"Benjamin." She glanced at the photograph, smiling. "He saved me. It's… a really long story."

"I have time." Black said. He sat down on the floor. She took a breath.

"I went to school with Benjamin. I made fun of him behind his back, but we never really interacted. Anyways, he asked me out to the school prom when we were 16. I didn't know if he knew about my klansmanship, but I said yes. Not because I was liked him, but because I despised him.

"I was going to get him to fall all over me. Have him open his heart to me. Then, I was gonna shatter it. A cruel joke from a cruel person. He told me to meet him on top of the hill that over looked the town. So, I met him there, but instead of going to the school, we just… talked."

"Is that how he convinced you?"

She nodded.

"It's weird, I know. Most people think that to make someone not racist you have to give a grandiose, long winded speech about how the almighty made everyone equal and that black people have feelings too and how wrong you are for thinking the way you think."

Milo gave a small laugh. "Believe me, I've encountered PLENTLY of those kind of people during my time with the klan. Most of whom were politicians. Thing is, that grandiose righteous nature doesn't work. In fact, it usually makes people dig in and become more radical.

"No. What got me to turn over was just sitting and having a conversation with him. At first I was just playing along, raising my love points to eventually crush him. But the more we talked, and the longer we sat on that hill, the more I realized just how similar we were. 16 years of indoctrination, wash away in a single night. All because I took the time to hold a conversation with the person I was raised to hate."

"You guys ever make it to prom?"

"Nah." Milo laughed. "We watched the sunrise on that hill. We started seeing each other after that night, and I'll tell you what, he treated me better then any white boy in that entire state. For example, while all my classmates were making fun of my crossdressing, Benjamin assured my that I was the most beautiful girl in the school." Milo let out another laugh. "I hated being called beautiful, which is exactly why he kept doing it."

"I'm sorry, crossdressing?" Black said confused.

"Haven't worn girl clothes since I was 6." She said, pointing to her closet. "Uncomfortable, no pockets. No sir, I shop in the boys section, or at the very least gender neutral."

Black nodded. "So when did you take that picture?"

"When we were 17. One year anniversary of us meeting. It was… a really nice day."

"What did your father think of the situation?"

"He never found out. Least, not immediately." She sighed. "Just because I stopped being radical didn't mean I stopped being stupid. I told myself that he was still my father, and that I needed to respect him. So, I continued to wear my cloak. I continued to burn crosses and attend meetings. Then, I would sneak out and meet Benjamin on the hill.

"I justified my attendance as me not having my heart in it, and that I was only there for show. 'Course, I attended less and less as time went on. Dropped out completely by the time I was 22."

"How long did this last?"

"Up until 6 months ago." Milo said. Her voice grew sad. "We should've skipped town. One day, me and Benjamin were sitting up on the hill as usual. Chatting, drinking, what we always did. Then, he leans over to me and says:

"'Jessica. I knows you want nothing more then to be rid of the name Milo. And I am willing to help you achieve that goal. How would you like to adopt the last name of Tucker?'"

"He proposed?"

Milo, who had let out a small smile, nodded. Her face immediately went back to sorrow. "We heard footsteps soon as I said yes. We turned, and my father was standing behind us. In his hands was a double barrel buck shot. Without a word, he aimed it at Benjamin's chest and tore him in half."

"Fuck…" Black muttered.

"I knelt down in the pool of blood and organs and held what was left of Benjamin in my arms. It didn't take long for the life to fade from his eyes. When I screamed 'why' at my dad, all he said was: 'no daughter of mine's marrying a filthy-'" Milo's voice broke before she finished the sentence. She took a deep breath.

"Well, you get the picture." She said, sniffing.

"I'm sorry Milo." Black said. "Let me guess, the police didn't do shit about it."

"No, actually. The police were the one GOOD party involved. Sheriff threw his ass in jail soon as I reported it. The problem was the courts." Her voice grew bitter. "Every single jury member was a klansmen. Which explains why, even after my testimony, they managed to pull a bullshit self-defense justification out their asses."

"He walked?"

Milo nodded. "That's when it really hit me. Like, there was at least some hope of justice when Benjamin first died. But when they found him not guilty? It was like… being water boarded in a stormy ocean, except the ocean was every negative emotion imaginable."

"He still at large?"

"No. After the trial, I was enraged, depressed, and in a less-then-stable state of mind. So, I made a brash decision, though not one I regret.

"My father loved fishing. And the very next day he was out on his boat catching trout. I took my hunting rifle, I stepped out onto the dock, and from three quarters of a mile away, I shot him in the head."

"You killed your father with a head shot from three fourths a mile?"

"Yep. You know, it's ironic." Milo laughed. "I hate everything about my father. But there's one thing that I have to thank him for, and that's my aim. He taught me how to hit anything within a mile of my barrel."

They sat in silence for a minute.

"Did they find out you killed him?" Black asked.

"It was no secret who did it. Everyone knew I was pissed about the trial, so finding my father dead would've made me the number one suspect. Fortunately for me, Sheriff got to me first. Turns out he was apart of Iota-10."

"The Damn Feds?"

Milo nodded. "He knew I'd spend the rest of my life in a cell if I stayed. Told me he knew a place I could go, someplace where I could use my aim for good. Desperate and scared, I said yes. Next thing I know, I'm on a plane to Site-47."

Silence once again filled the room.

"I don't even know what to say. I'm… I'm really sorry Milo." Black said after a few minutes. "It sounds like this is your first time talking about it."

"It is. For 6 months I've just been… existing. Thinking and contemplating and coming to terms with what happened. I've done a lot of reflecting, and only then have I realized how truly awful I was. I mean, I knew I was bad, but I never really understood how horrible of a person I was.

"That's another reason I joined the Foundation. I was told I could do good. After all the harm I had done before Benjamin… I needed to redeem myself."

"Well." Black said standing. "You saved my ass. That's pretty good to me."

Milo smiled. "I suppose that was just the first of many deeds I need to do." She let out a yawn.

"You probably want to go back to sleep." He said. She nodded again. "Ok. I'll leave you alone now. Thanks again for saving me, and I am sorry." Black turned and began to walk towards the door.

"Black." Milo called out. He turned around. "Thank you… for listening. This was something I really needed to talk about."

"No problem." Black said smiling. "And if you need to speak with anyone, you know where to find me."

Milo laying her head down was the last thing Black saw before closing the door. He looked around the common room, thinking what to do now. He looked up at the clock. 10:57.

Realizing he hadn't unpacked, Black made his way to his room. He moved over to the closet upon entering. Kneeling down, he took inventory of everything in his duffle bag.

3 pairs of T-shirts, 4 pairs of shorts, 4 pairs of long-sleeved shirts, 3 pairs of pants, a copy of American Caesar, a copy of The Rise and Fall of Prussia, and a copy of The Great War: American Front with a book mark roughly a third of the way through.

As Black was reaching for the books, he noticed the suitcase hugging the wall. He stopped, and decided to see what was in there. Snapping the case open, he saw his helmet and vest resting inside like they had been this morning.

Are those the same ones I had worn or are they a different pair? He idly thought.

His eyes moved across the box, and eventually landed on the black sticks with stripes. Black picked one up and examined it. On the top was a cap of some kind. Unscrewing the cap, he popped the tip off, reveling what looked like marker underneath.

I've heard of these. He thought. They were meant for decorating armor. From what he heard, the Foundation had some pretty strict rules for what you could and could not do to your armor.

But you could do something.

He thought for a few minutes on what to do with his armor. Then an idea hit him like a truck.

He grabbed the red marker and went to the bathroom. Staring in the mirror, he carefully drew a line across the helmet. The slash mimicked the scar that ran down Black's face. Satisfied, he return to the main room and put his helmet and paint away.

Grabbing The Great War: American Front, he walked over to his bed and sat down. Opening to where he had left off, he began biding his time for when he would be called into action next.


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