Pitch Black
rating: +10+x

Previously: Parabellum Waltz


During the Cold War, the increased scrutiny of normalcy preservation organisations meant that deploying massed manpower in most areas of the world became infeasible more often than not. Given that this was the typical approach to dealing with hostile, sentient anomalies, the Foundation needed to adapt.

Enter the blackout team.




Egret hears the thing pretending to be Henning coming from halfway down the hall. Her mind races through tactical considerations: he didn’t seem armed, but he might’ve been concealing a gun beneath the skin somewhere, and besides, it’s her job to consider the worst.

“Get under the bed,” she hisses, shoving Amitha underneath the mattress. “And don’t come out til I say.”

She limbers up, bounces back and forth on her heels to prep her muscles for her next action—and the moment the imitator steps in front of the door, she charges straight through it, hitting him with so much momentum they end up smashing into the room on the opposite side of the corridor. It’s empty. Good. She doesn’t need to be weighing civilians in her tactical calculus.

Her play’s bought her only a second to act and she takes full advantage of it, driving her knee into his chest and leaning her full bodyweight into a hold round his neck, trying to tear his head free of its moorings. The manual off switch. This particular model of homunculus lacks skin in its native state, and she can see the bones in his ribcage buckling as she pins him to the floor, but before she can break on through he reaches around her leg and wrenches it loose of its socket.

Egret screams—fear, anger, the humiliation of being one-upped by an older model—as she’s slammed into the wall like a straw doll. They wrestle on the floor for a little while, slashing and clawing and yanking and grabbing, til Egret finally throws him back out into the hallway with a concerted effort.

They stand opposite each other, both in boxer’s stance. Egret twists her neck from side-to-side. Puts her game face on. Pops her leg back into place.

“Alright, you worthless little fuck,” she gasps. “Let’s dance.”




A blackout team is the doctrinal cousin of the Mobile Task Force, with each unit having fewer members and employing paratechnological force multipliers to make up for the loss in manpower. Their typical engagement is twofold: firstly, present a seemingly impossible threat for a defending force to respond to; secondly, destroy their ability to respond to it and use that window to neutralise their target.




Egret expected many things from a Mark Four factotum, but a perfectly executed feint wasn’t one of them. A solid fake, followed by a backhand strike that hit her so hard it burst an eardrum; that was the kind of play you typically needed more than your hindbrain intact to carry out.

Dazed, she’s too slow to react when he grabs her head. She only has the strength to try clawing at his arm as he begins grinding her face against the wall like a paint roller, chunks of her nose tearing off as her blood draws a bright red line from their room all the way to the reception. Once he runs out of wall, he simply tosses her limply in front of the desk, before picking up the lamp from behind the desk and testing its weight in his hand.

Then he brings it down on Egret’s face.

“Amitha!” Egret howls.

Things are beginning to go fuzzy. She’s lost color in her right eye. He hits her again.

“Amitha!”

She can’t focus anymore. The lamp could be an inch away from her head or a mile.

“Ami—”

And then Amitha swings all thirty pounds of the bedside safe into the back of the factotum’s head.

He topples over onto the floor, stunned. His skull is dented like a soda can.

It’s not enough. Amitha isn’t stupid: she’s seen far weaker get up from far worse. So she finishes the job and keeps swinging til she’s turned everything from the neck up into fragments of bone and well-mixed sausage meat.

Then she collapses onto her knees and tries not to throw up.

For a long while neither of them speak.

Eventually, Egret licks the blood off her face and pulls herself out from under the body. Her eyes are glassy, her pupils dilated. “I… I totally had that.”

Amitha stares at her, too dumbfounded to speak.

“But that was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen you do.”

Then the lights go out.




In order to disrupt defensive responses, blackout teams typically come equipped with MIZARU, the piece of paratechnology which gave them their name.

At the center of each MIZARU is a synthetic photovore the size of a dime that, when released from its housing, consumes every frequency in the entire visible spectrum in a roughly three hundred meter radius. Infrared, naturally, remains intact, allowing properly-prepared operatives to coordinate where defenders could not.

The net effect is a set of shock-and-awe units that had a five-nines success rate over the thirty years it was in rotation, with fewer than twelve failures on record across its entire operational history.




When the world goes dark, Amitha realises a few things:

Firstly, they’re fighting a blackout team. They might be outnumbered either four or five to two, and their only real fighter is missing half her face. And neither of them have a gun.

So that means she needs to level the playing field with magic. But even though she has a contagion link lying dead and decapitated on the floor, it’s not a good enough sacrifice. He’s already dead. Egret is even worse.

Which leaves her.

Amitha fumbles in the dark and scoops up a handful of mashed brain, pinching her nose before she throws it back in a single gulp.

“Egret,” she chokes out.

“Yeah?” The homunculus’ voice is the smallest she’s ever heard it.

“Get behind something.” Amitha wipes her mouth and gags. “And don’t come out til they’re all dead.”

“But—”

“That’s an order.”

Egret sounds like she’s about to cry, but she complies, bunkering down behind the desk as best she can.

The ritual Amitha needs comes to her without thinking. Dipping her finger in the still-wet gore, she slips the robe off her shoulders and begins drawing the necessary geometry on herself in blood, chanting under her breath.

Even she can hear them coming now. Ten seconds away—

Five seconds away—

Now—




Blackout teams are equipped to handle the worst: rogue bixbies dusted out of their minds, monsters half-hanging out of other planes of existence, bog-standard soldiers with suitcase nukes.

So when Mod-2 rounds the corner to find her target totally unarmed, kneeling on the floor with her hands behind her head: well, it’s the natural response to raise her shotgun to bear and send fifty grams of beryllium bronze buckshot down the hall.

Which is exactly what Amitha is counting on.

The first law of magic is contagion. The impostor was a part of the squad, and Amitha’s just literally made him a part of herself. In the eyes of magic she’s now a standin for the blackout team.

The second law of magic is the rule of three. Mod-2’s just blasted the ritual equivalent of her entire squad with a shotgun designed to supercavitate a reality bender. Multiply the incoming force by three and—

Splash.

The last thing that goes through the heads of each member of the blackout team is their own small intestine.

Reality reasserts itself. Light returns to the world.

And Amitha, losing blood from fifteen brand-new holes in her body, lets out one last laugh before she collapses forward onto the motel floor.




In the nightmare delirium of bloodloss, Amitha is the guest of honour at a wedding, or a masquerade party, or a high school dance. The lights are strange here, shifting between neon pinks, deep blues and a swirling mist of blood.

She’s been eating plates of cake for the past three hours, but she still isn’t full. The other guests are laughing at her. One of them cuts into their own slice of cake and she can see it’s full of raw beef mince and weevils. Right as she locks eyes with one she can feel another squirming around in her mouth. She opens her mouth to scream but that only lets in more of them.

They’re laughing, louder and louder and louder and—

—and Amitha jolts awake.

“Ami?” Egret asks, voice quavering.

It takes a couple of moments for her to remember where she is: the motel, the shotgun, the bodyguard currently cradling her body. For whatever reason, she isn’t bleeding anymore—small mercies—but she doesn’t remember having… lady fingers? in her mouth when she was shot.

Amitha continues chewing for a few stunned moments before she bites down on a bone, and the mystery of what she’s eating becomes horrifyingly clear—it’s literal fingers. Gagging and choking, she spits them out of her mouth and gasps for air, trying not to think about why they tasted like spongecake.

Her slapshod attempts to get the taste out of her mouth come to a halt when Egret finishes the job by kissing her. It lasts for a slightly uncomfortable amount of time, and Amitha swears she can feel something moving around in there that isn’t a tongue.

Then Egret pulls her in for a hug so tight that she swears it’ll reopen all her wounds.

Amitha grimaces. “Must we?”

“Yes, you fucking lunatic. Letting you get trucked by a goddamn Scranton 12-gauge like that: Three would’ve killed me if she was here! If I didn’t just cut half the fingers off my hand trying to keep you alive I’d choke you out with it.”

“Those were your fingers?”

“No shit, idiot. One of us has a healing factor and it’s not you. I had to improvise.”

As if in response, Amitha’s stomach gurgles. If there’s a recommended dietary maximum for homunculus flesh, she’s almost certainly gone over it and then some.

“I need a drink,” Amitha mutters. “Tell me you didn’t break the bottles in the pizza bag.”

“Sorry. Probably knocked them over with his body back there.” Egret fumbles through the corpse’s pockets for a few moments, before her face brightens. “But guess who has the keys to the minibar?”


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