View Full Version : [Foil Embossed] Wreck #1: the Wreckoning

18th of September, 2005, 07:42
ANIWAR Station Zeus, Alaska.
Cold, Miserable, Bored.
11:20 pm, September 25th 2006.


The doors to the bar open in two stages. First into a coatroom where cold-proof jackets and heavy boots sit, oozing mud and meltwater onto the grates on the floor. A second door then opens in the the comparative light and warmth of the taproom.

Tracy Cavanaugh and Jake Argeist shoulder their way through the door and stand inside, sucking warm, smoky air into their frosty lungs. The barman, dully arranging magazines on a rack by the radiator shoots them a glance, his eyes creeping around a little as he wonders whether they're going to smash anything up tonight.

Contract guard duty on an isolated research base in the Great White Nowhere has its advantages. The pay, mostly. But in terms of thrills, it's slow, dull, and repetitive. The only remotely interesting thing that happened while you were patrolling the fence line this whole week was a hunter got turned around and wandered up to the edge of the restricted zone. He didn't even give you an excuse to pick a fight or run him in. So you have to make your own fun, whether that be getting drunk, brawling, or chasing the scarce skirt to be found in Elk River. It's a tiny, huddled settlement in the middle of the icy crags and jagged trees (or is that the other way round? naw) of the Alaskan wilds. It's mostly a trading point for the trappers and foresters of the region, with a few general stores, a doctor and this nameless bar.

One of the local kids plays pool, badly, over in the corner. Six of the workers from Station Zeus, electricians, labourers and technicians while away their off-duty time drinking and laughing across a couple of tables. In a quieter corner sits Dr. Amanda Klein, about the only brainiac from the base that'll say more than two words to you - though that's only when 'You idiot' won't suffice. She took it kinda hard when you broke the aerial spectral microwave generator, or whatever that thing was, she was working on. The barman, a Russian immigrant called Karl or Curl or Cyril or something makes his way back over to the prodigious drinks rack, still watching you warily.

"Hey... who the f*** is that? What does that mother****ing c***sucker f***ing think he's f***ing s***ing at?" Jake asks with unusual restraint, glaring at a stranger by the bar.

A hard-looking older man sits by the bar, a couple of empty tumblers of whisky and bottles of beer stacked in front of him. Crowded around him, simpering and giggling flirtatiously are Nicky, Tina and what's-her-name, the one with the thong... about the three only lookers in the whole town!

Jake scowls, cracking his neck as he flexes his shoulders. He's been applying his 'charms' to Tina for the past month trying to get a lay out of her, and he doesn't take kindly to competition.

7th of October, 2005, 04:05

If there’s a hell on earth, it has to be North Dakota. Alaska in the depths of winter, however, comes in a close second. Yet even now in the fall, just past the autumnal equinox, it’s a trying place to live in. The darkness surpasses the light. Although not that it matters much; the lack of activity within the town is ubiquitous, and cares not for time of day. If it wasn’t for the money, Tracy probably wouldn’t have even bothered with the job at all.

When pressed he’ll admit the land can be gorgeous. It’s pristine and beautiful in a way that New Hampshire just isn’t. The only rivals he’d seen in the States were Washington and Oregon, but those simply couldn’t match Alaska for sheer acreage. Besides, the Northern Lights rarely frequented Portsmouth.

This bar, and the rare bit of excitement that comes with it, is one of the few things he has to look forward to. Money aside, the occasional fight with a drunken lumberjack and the handful of honest-to-God attractive ladies that come in through the double doors are what keeps Tracy going.

Doc is in the corner, sipping her drink. She’s probably not half-bad to be around when she’s in the bag. By the looks of her though, she isn’t there yet and Tracy has heard “you idiot” enough to last a lifetime. Cyril is pensive as always when Tracy and Jake arrive. It’s not their fault his bar occasionally gets smashed up by the faces and hurled bodies of trappers and foresters. Maybe if they learned not to drink so much, or hit on a girl that Jake or Tracy had an eye on…

His comrade-in-arms explodes into profanity at the sight of the stranger and his entourage. Tracy takes a moment to size up the man: older, definitely, and able to hold his liquor by the looks of the empty bottles nearby. He must have something to land Nicky, Tina, and what’s-her-name. It probably isn’t money; no, Jake and Tracy make more than enough for this no-name town. Perhaps he’s a visiting suit? Someone with more charm than anything these locals could muster and with the capital to be able to leave the tundra and make for Anchorage, if not further. Like as not, those girls probably wouldn’t mind a man who could take them south for good, and just about anyone is preferable to Jake. Oh, he’s good to have your back in a scrap, but he hits on women the way he fights when he’s drunk: sloppy and awkward. Besides, they must know a guy like Jake wouldn’t give a rat’s ass once it was time for him to move on out.

“Easy,” he says, waving Cyril over. “Haven’t had a brew yet. Karl, two porters.”

Cyril likes money, and that Tracy and Jake err on the side of excess when it comes to their drinking is likely one of the few reasons why Cyril doesn’t protest more when things get out of hand. He slides the two black-labeled bottles across the bar with a uneasy glance toward the stranger sitting with the girls. Tracy keeps his back to the man, and takes a slug of the smoked beer. It’s good. Cyril has said something about it before, something about it only being produced in limited vintages and aging it in the bottle. Apparently the smoke can act like a preserving agent. Whatever. It gets the job done and doesn’t taste half-bad; that’s a winner in Tracy’s book.

“Who’s that?” he asks Cyril, taking another slug. “The new guy. He a suit?”

9th of October, 2005, 08:25

Jake stows his aggression for a while as you approach the bar and grab your drinks. Probably not a suit, you think as you sit down, catching a glimpse of the Navy SEAL tattoo on the man's shoulder. Suits rarely wear sleeveless vests and seldom sport bullet scars. Despite his grizzled, cropped hair and beard, the man's musculature is formidable. Jake glares over your shoulder as his teeth grinds on the neck of the bottle

Cyril shrugs at your question. "I thought he work at weather station, like you." The man down the bar nudges one of his admirers aside at this, and seems to cock an ear.

At that moment, the door opens, letting in another bark of cold air. Cyril looks past you, and his eyes widen. He dives under the bar as the short, pale older man levels the small-calibre pistol at him. The man, looking like one of the scientists from the station, unperturbed, turns the gun on you, then Jake, then the guy down the bar, then the workers in the corner, as if displaying it. His eyes are weirdly unfocused like he's on drugs, but his manner placid, as if he's sleepwalking. Blobs of snow fall from his lab coat as he stands there threatening everyone in the bar.

17th of October, 2005, 15:20

Not a suit, but a SEAL. Great. Tracy has always had a bit of regret for going with the Corps; seeing a SEAL scoop up all the women worth looking at in this no-name town is just salt in the wound. Then again, knowing his sometimes brash behavior, things probably would’ve played out the same as they did with the Marines. Oohrah, indeed.

Jake gnaws on the end of the bottle, dark amber glass rubbing against yellowed teeth. If he chews any harder, he’ll shatter it. Tracy can sympathize though. Having that SEAL march in here and nab those three is a slap in the face. He must be new. Has to be. Tracy would recognize another gun.

He hears the double doors swing shut, but pays the newcomer no heed. It isn’t until Cyril dives for cover that he cranes his neck to see what has the Russian ducking. It’s a scientist, so what?

His train of thought is sent crashing and burning into a mental ravine by the presence of, well, another gun. This time it’s literal, not metaphorical. He almost missed the dull gleam of bar lights on steel. He raises the bottle to his lips and takes another swig of smoked beer. Things just got interesting.

The scientist has a glassy look in his eyes that Tracy mislikes. The way he casually shifts the gun from one patron to another is odd. If he was looking to do some thievery, he would’ve said something. Besides, there isn’t a place to run to up here in the Great White Nowhere. With the nights getting longer, it’d be a bad idea to get in a jeep and drive. In the background, the jukebox is spitting out Stan Rogers’ Canol Road; if Tracy had a better sense of irony, he might’ve laughed.

Easing his body to face the scientist, Tracy allows himself a grimace. The guy is too far away to rush and a thrown barstool probably wouldn’t buy him much time. Besides, the look in the man’s eyes is freaking disturbing. Maybe he got into a colleague’s stash; maybe there’s something else going on in the lab. He throws a glance to Jake and then further down to the SEAL, gauging their intentions. Now’s not the time to make a move.

Wait for the geek, he thinks, hoping that the scientist might tip his hand. If he gets closer, maybe within arm’s reach, well, then that gun won’t do him much good at all.

23rd of October, 2005, 12:25

Two bottles of Torontan whiskey (for god's sake!) clink together on the drink rack as the wood shifts.

With stilted motions, the gunman creeps forwards, wheezing slightly and swinging his aim from patron to patron.

Out of the corner of your eye, you see Dr. Klein getting up and edging towards the gunman, a tense, focused - and more than a little scared - look on her face. She clutches her wine glass as if it would actually provide some kind of protection against the insistent kiss of lead. She could be going for the door, or for the gunman - either way, not exactly bright. The other staff in the back of the bar cover themselves with a sussurus of foul language, ducking behind furniture for cover.

The fireplace cracks and pops without cease.

You, Jake Argeist and the SEAL all slowly turn in your seats, and unfolding threat writ in fists and callouses. Jake tosses the bottle up and down in his hand by the neck, foreheaded knotted, as if considering turning it into a weapon. The other guy sweeps his arm slowly in a half circle, shoving the deer-headlight-frightened women away from him, and leans his elbows back slightly against the bar. Behind it, you can hear Cyril checking the breech on his dusty shotgun, and uttering a low, steady stream of Russian prayers.

Snowflakes whisper on glass.

The gunman staggers forwards, bringing his cold-flushed skin and chapped extremities into focus. It looks like he made the trip from the station on foot and without full winter clothing. The gun wavers across your face again, you skin goose-pimpling where the imaginary crosshairs lie. The man moves his lips, trying to force words out, but whether they're just too numb or he really is as crazy as a goat, nothing comes out.

The SEAL turns back to his drink, as if the situation bores him. He pays the gunman no further attention.

8th of November, 2005, 06:50
Well you can see it in his eyes as the stream against the night
And the bone white mackerel crepe upon the road.

The SEAL’s reaction baffles Tracy. He almost wants to spit. No, that’s not true. He really does want to spit, but at this juncture, he isn’t certain what will set off the glass-eyed geek. The gun’s imaginary line—from barrel to his chest—has Tracy feeling death’s cool caress. Gooseflesh dances across his forearms, back, and the nape of his neck.

Perhaps the SEAL is bluffing. Perhaps he figures his odds of being shot are lower if he ignores the man. But being seen with the three best looking bar floozies won’t help him avoid attention. Finding a looker in this town, who isn’t too annoying, is like finding a good bottle of whiskey: you’ve got to savor it, you’ve got to appreciate it, and you probably shouldn’t let anyone else know that you have it. Envy always runs rampant when women or booze are in short supply.

His eyes are too far open, his grin too hard and sore,
His shoulders too far high to bring relief
But the Kopper King is hot, even if the band is not
And it sure beats shooting whiskey-jacks and trees.

Jake, at the least, is staying focused. His beer sloshes around inside the amber glass; the label is already half-peeled from Argeist’s frustration. He’s doing just what Tracy is: trying to figure out the chances of this guy going off and whether or not he could get a hold of the geek before he gets shot.

Somewhere behind him, he hears the familiar click of shotgun shells being slid into their chamber. It would seem Cyril means business. Tracy hopes it won’t come to that, but mostly because he’s directly between the two gunmen. He has no intention of dying in this godforsaken place, especially as an innocent bystander.

And throughout all of this, Dr. Klein seems to have grown a pair. Well, Tracy can’t have her getting shot on account of her own stupidity. She’s one of the few that’ll spare a word to him, even if it’s usually uncivil. Then again, Tracy isn’t certain he’s ever had a civil thing to say in his entire life, so perhaps he can’t hold it against her that she returns the favor.

“Say,” he says, calling out to the gunman, inwardly wincing when the barrel swings back to him. “Looks like you could use a drink. You like whiskey?”

8th of November, 2005, 09:02

The man stares at - or rather through - you, his mouth opening as if he's trying to vomit up a billiard ball. His throat works, making soft gurgling sounds.

"Auw.... aoooor..."

Out of you corner of your eye, you see the SEAL leans forward a bit, apparently hearing the same sound as you, and he looks over the bar down at Cyril, wearing a minute frown above his brows.

"Auuuuuuuw...ranj... orange ju-huice..." the man finally manages to say, badly. Blood trickles from his frostburned lips where the strain of speaking tore them. "Orange juice... and tinfoil!" He gives a whole body spasm, the gun's aim spinning wildly for a heart stopping instant. " I need tinfoil! Gotta stop them..." He breaks off, panting.

"Simon? Simon Horton?" Amanda Klein says tentatively as she creeps towards the unstable technician. "Simon, you need to calm down... were you working on Zeus, Simon? Why don't you put the gun down... please?"

Horton twists, aiming the pistol at her. "Shut up! Shut up!" he screeches.

14th of November, 2005, 19:12
“Easy,” Tracy says, trying to wave the doctor off through sheer force of will. “Easy.”

Now he’s a bear in a blood-red mackinaw with hungry dogs at bay,
And springtime thunder in his sudden roar.
With one wrong word he burns, and the table’s overturned,
When he’s finished there’s a dead man on the floor.

For once, it’s a woman, and not Tracy, that isn’t able to take a hint. The man made a request, not a plea for interrogation. Like as not, Klein is going to get herself killed, or worse, get Tracy shot in the process.

He carefully places the now almost empty bottle on the well-worn bar. “Hold up, doc. The man wants some juice. We’ll get him some juice. Karl must have some back here for making screwdrivers,” he says, easing himself toward the edge of the bar. “I’ll get you some right now, pal.”

Stepping around the side, he sees Cyril with the shotgun raised against his chest, ready to pop up and splatter the man. Tracy doesn’t like having anyone wave a gun in his face, but finding out why the scientist, Simon, is in some sort of fugue state has his curiosity piqued. Keeping one hand below the bar, he raises a finger to Cyril, gesturing for the Russian to wait.

“Got a glass right here,” he says, raising the highball glass to show Simon. “Clean too. Well, ain’t that a miracle. Just gimme a sec to find that juice.”

28th of November, 2005, 11:37

You edge around the bar, passed the man with the SEAL tats. As you pass, he sucks the last dregs of beer out of his glass, and wipes the foam off his beard. "Waste of my goddamn time..." he mutters. From the back of the room, there's a scrapping of table legs against the floor as people try and take cover. A young man, hardly more than a kid - you think he's one of the drivers from the station - sobs. There's a pressure in the room, and with every little motion from the gunman it grows, straining the air until you're amazed the walls don't shatter under its force.

Dr. Klein cringes back from the barrel of the pistol as it's aim wobbles across her. Tenser. She glances at you for a moment, then back at Horton, and starts to back away.

"Zeus. Zeus. Zoos. Zoo-zoo-ka-koo!" he cackles. Almost instantly, though, his lips fall from the curve of black mirth into a grimace. He raises the gun hand to his temple, rubbing his head with the ball of his hand. Tenser.

Behind the bar, Cyril's face turns to you with a jerk, pulling the shotgun tight against his chest. He stares at you for several seconds, tense but far from panicking. Well, he does have a very thick piece of wood between him and Horton. He nodes sideways, pointing out the bottles of juice.

"Tinfoil?" Jake asks, spitting a contemptuous laugh. "What're ya gonna do, you fruit... make a little hat to keep the aliens outta ya brain?"

Yeah. Argeist's a helper. Pouring napalm on troubled waters.

Simon Horton rotates like one of those carnival clown games - his slack-jawed head twists, then his body rotates under it. He stabs at Jake's thick, hunched body with the pistol.

"Yesss!" he screeches. "Yes! Keep them out of my mind!" His arm stiffens, pointing straight upwards, aiming at God. Via the ceiling.







"Of my MIND!"

Trigger. Trigger. Trigger.


The silence of no bullets, no gunshots, is echoed by the silence of everyone in the room.

1st of December, 2005, 18:59

Empty. The fracking gun is empty. Tracy stands dumbfounded, with one hand still holding the highball glass and the other frozen in mid-reach for the orange juice. The oppressive tension in the room still lingers, but it is as a cup one moment before overflowing. In a second, maybe two, people will spring into motion. The SEAL, or perhaps Jake, will go over and beat the scientist bloody. Given the situation there’s no other choice; as a tough guy, you can’t let geeks get away with threatening you…ever. That Jake could potentially impress whatshername with his simian display of brutality would simply be icing on the cake. Tracy has enough presence of mind to recognize that this guy could either be totally worthless or completely invaluable. Either way, having him pummeled mercilessly won’t help Tracy figure out what the hell is going on here, particularly if Zeus is involved.

Zeus, he thinks. The name sounds familiar. Is that the guy with the thunder and the hammer? Yeah, Zeus. God of Hammers and Ass Kickings.

Tracy never was particularly good with mythology.

In this instant, everyone is still. The Stan Rogers song wraps up its jaunty little solo and dies, leaving the room blanketed in silence. Most of the patrons are still cowering behind bar and pool tables. The young man in the corner is still sobbing, his arms wrapped around his head as if they could deflect the pistol’s leaden caress. Cyril clutches his shotgun, ready to spray the wall with the scientist’s blood. There’s time though, time enough for Tracy to act first.

He drops the highball glass on the dirty counter and leaps over the top of the bar, planting his arm on the counter as a brace. It’s a surprising display of agility, but the fact remains that he’s a very big man. It barely qualifies as a vault. Vaults are something gymnasts do with their grace and flair. By comparison, Tracy’s vault would be like a gymnast’s highly inbred cousin: ugly and a bit clumsy, but hey, at least he can hold down a job. So too is it with Tracy; his leap isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done. His legs clip bottles and bar food, sending them flying. Peantus hail upon the floor below and a miniature Niagara Falls, this one alcoholic in nature, erupts over the edge of the counter. The spray of food and drink rather ruins the acrobatic image; fortunately for Tracy, he doesn’t give a damn.

Hitting the floor with a loud thump, he closes the distance in three powerful strides. One meaty hand clamps onto the barrel of the gun, wrenching it away; the other one propels the scientist backward toward the first set of doors.

“Doc,” he growls to Klein. “Outside. Now.”

1st of December, 2005, 21:42

As you leap past the SEAL, you catch the expression on his face. Yeah, he knew. He's the only one, bar you and Jake, that didn't flinch when the geek pulled the trigger.

The floors complains under the impact of Tracy's feet, just as Simon Horton whimpers and gibbers under the impact of his arm. You glance at the pistol, note the hazard stripes on the bottom of the grip. A safety clip. If it's safer than a normal ammo clip, how come they don't have the hazard stripes?

Hey, that's probably that 'irony' thing people always talk about.

You push Horton out into the cloak room, and Amanda Klein manages to pull herself from shocked immobility to tag along. "Don't you lay a hand on him, Cavanaugh... he's clearly mentally ill!"

"Son of a BITCH!" Jake roars out after the three of you.

6th of December, 2005, 19:45

Jake’s angry call resounds off of the metal walls of the coatroom. Inside, pairs and pairs boots are scattered across the floor, slush and snow melting off their treads and falling through the grate. It’s colder in here, only somewhat insulated from the Alaskan night’s terrible chill. Tracy’s breath makes itself known in swirling currents of steam. Outside, he can hear the whisper of snowfall.

“I ain’t gonna hurt him.” Not yet, anyway. “Get your coat, doc. We’re going for a walk.” He grabs his parka off the rack. It’s heavy and wet. The snow on it has had time to melt but not enough time to dry. Tracy’s lip curls; he hates wet coats. Yet he slides his arms through the thick sleeves all the same before jamming his feet into his boots.

Amanda Klein stares at him.

“You think I’m joking? I want answers. Bet you do too. Figure you can get them better than me. But if we don’t get his ass out of here now, Jake’ll kill him. Or maybe the SEAL. Or maybe Karl. Who knows? I’m going. If you’re coming, get your shit and let’s roll.”

Tracy grabs somebody’s jacket off of a hook and wraps it around the scientist, not bothering to get the man’s arms through the sleeves. He zips it up, getting part of Simon’s lab coat caught in the zipper in his haste.

“You know a place we can lay low for a while?”

13th of December, 2005, 11:07

Two thickly accented voices - one Russian, the other just Thick - rumble back and forth from the taproom as Cyril stops Jake by raising uncomfortable questions about who's going to pay for the damage. Maybe he's covering for you, maybe he's just greedy (and dumb, to try and prise cash from Jake Argeist's pockets, which are mostly filled with used hankies and other people's teeth) - but either way, your thuggish comrade doesn't give chase.

Horton stands catatonic as you dress him in the makeshift straightjacket like an uncaring mother. All the fight and panic seems to have gone out of him; he silently kisses the air with chapped, bleeding lips, staring into the middle distance with an absent but rapt expression.

It's not until later that you realise he was looking towards Station Zeus.

Up here in the Arctic, you learn to take certain weather-related precautions by habit. That's why, even as she breaks into a tirade of orders, complaints, questions, nagging and mild abuse, Klein sweeps back her short blonde ponytail under a woollen beanie and slips into a long, padded grey jacket.

"Let go of him, you cretin! He's been exposed to AT-sigma waves, which can cause neurosomatic alterations. Simon? Simon? Can you hear me?" Curiosity isn't one of Tracy's common emotional modes - and neither is concern for dumbasses that bring trouble on themselves. "'Lie low'? We need to get him to the medical facility on base, now!" So why is he doing this? "Simon..." she gives a nervous glance back at the bar. "Huh. Come on, Simon..." Klein tugs on the empty sleeves, and the technician stumbles with you into the hammer of winter.

"We're taking him to the base!" she shouts over the cold wind, jerking her arm northwards.

20th of December, 2005, 14:19

It occurs to Tracy that Klein might be right; a real doctor could do Simon some good. Then again, it also occurs to him that maybe the higher-ups won’t like his interference with whatever Simon was up to. Tracy is muscle, nothing more. He thought the pay was great because of this station’s being in the Great White Nowhere, but it dawns on him that there might be another reason. However, what he doesn’t notice is the irony of the doctor scolding him in a matriarchal fashion while Tracy yanks the coat over Simon’s body like the world’s least caring, or most fed-up, mother.

“Whatever, doc,” he says throwing open the door to the chilly outdoors, “we can talk on the way.”

He tromps his way outside, one hand firmly gripping Simon’s rather small upper arm. The scientist follows docilely enough, his feet shuffling and stumbling through the newly formed snowdrifts. Klein admonishes him again. “Hey,” he says in retort. “He needs to get someplace warm, right? I’m just helping him get there faster.”

They tromp in silence, with nothing but the crunch of snow under their boots to accompany them.

“Look, I know he needs to get checked out,” he says, actually admitting to Klein having a point. “But what the hell has he been up to? What’re you geeks doing in that lab all day that’d do this to a man?”

20th of December, 2005, 20:09





Chewing her lip and thrusting her hands under her armpits as you walk, Dr. Klein glances around at the blanket of white and black covering the buildings. "Ahh, hell. We won't get far in this weather! We need to go back for a car. I think Bill Ziegler left one at his... do you hear an engine?"

You do. With a cackling roar, a snowmobile crests one of the nearby snowdrifts, trailing steam and ice crystals. On top of it is a military driver in black winterised body armour - you think you've seen the type guarding the tech-bunkers in the middle of the base, rather than on the fences with the schmoes like you. He turns the mobile sharply, bringing it to a halt behind you, and throttles down the engine, waving firmly at Klein. The way he sits draws some attention to the SMG slung on his back.

21st of December, 2005, 06:00

Well, so much for that.

He figured that Dr. Klein would give him the tried-and-true response. However, he had hoped that the circumstances might allow for her to overcome protocol just this once. No such luck for Tracy. Amanda is exceptionally devoted to her work, fearful of the consequences of blabbing to hired muscle, or there’s something big going on here.

“Okay, fine. I just…” he stops, listening to the whine of the fast approaching snowmobile. It’s been modified for paramilitary use, but growing up in New Hampshire—and spending many a weekend snowmobiling in the backwoods of Maine—Tracy can recognize the sound of a Yamaha anywhere. It conjures memories of cerulean skies and bitter winds and hurtling along a trail at literally break-neck speeds. His father had loved the winters in New England and thus Tracy had learned to love them too. They had even gone once with his grandfather, Niall Kavanagh, before that massive heart attack had laid him low in a Boston pub. These thoughts are bittersweet, and Tracy’s awkward smile dies with the snowmobile's momentum.

Well, shit, he thinks, noting the body armor and—more importantly—the SMG. Tracy guesses that this guy wasn’t sent over here to throw Simon in the brig. No, Klein’s vapid colleague has clearly gone over his head here. Whether he delved too deep into this project or utilized himself as a test subject is unknown to Tracy, and the arrival of the cavalry pretty much ensures that he never will known either. He briefly wonders if this black rider works with the SEAL, or worse yet, is the SEAL.

“How ya doin’?” He calls to the grim looking man. Grim? Between the armor and the snowfall, this guy could be Gene Simmons in full KISS makeup for all Tracy can see. “Simon here”—he jerks his thumb at the vacant eyed scientist—“said a couple wrong words down at Karl’s. I tried to get him a drink, you know, settle him down but he’d pissed Jake off. And you know how Jake is.” Tracy can’t see the man’s eyes, but he’s almost certain that he neither knows nor cares about Argeist. “Me and the doc are walking him home. Ain’t that right, Simon?” He claps the scientist on the shoulder, sending him stumbling forward.

21st of December, 2005, 20:43

The soldier dismounts the snowmobile, and takes a few steps towards the three of you, tapping the locator button on his belt. He pulls his helmet off, revealing a balaclava underneath; the skin visible around the eyes tells you it's not the older guy from the bar, though. Ignoring you, and sliding the gun to the front of his body, he yells at Klein over the hissing of wind and pine needles. "Dr. Klein? We've been sent to retrieve the tech. Has he been a physical threat?"

Klein snorts. "Physical threat? No, he wouldn't have been if you kept your penis replacements locked away safely!" She reaches over to you and pulls the safety-loaded pistol out of your pocket, tossing it to the soldier. It bounces off his shoulder, and he glances down at it.

"Not loaded," he states in veiled tones of contempt. Behind him, several more snowmobiles and armed riders slash through the frost and skid into a rough circle behind you.

An officer and two more soldiers, these with assault rifles on their backs, dismount and bare their heads. They look mean and professional, the two soldiers advancing on Horton with purpose. You note the tattoos on the sides of their necks: HzU. Where have you seen that before?

25th of December, 2005, 08:42

It’s been a hell of a night, and Tracy doesn’t think it’s about to get any better. The arrival of further heavily armed men confirms his suspicion that Simon is more than a geek who cracked from living in this dreary place. Even if the tech’s pistol were loaded, which it isn’t, would it really take four gun-toting mercenaries to bring him down? Tracy doesn’t think so. No, any one of these men could pick Simon off from fifty feet away in the middle of Cyril’s bar on a Saturday night. Must need him alive, he decides. The alternative—that Simon is somehow particularly dangerous—doesn’t sit well with Tracy.

Penis replacements? Tracy briefly wonders if Klein has gone mad and has begun referring to her marital aids. It’s actually not a half-bad fantasy; he imagines that Klein could pull off the bookish, but naughty, scholar quite well. The thought flees, however, as soon as he catches sight of the tattoos marking the necks of the newcomers. His mind races through his memory, but gets tangled with the receding Klein fantasy, and comes up empty handed.

What he does realize, though, is that now would be a very good time to play dumb. They might not put a bullet in Simon’s head, but there aren’t many people in this world that would miss an uncouth brute like Tracy Cavanaugh, particularly if he knew something that he shouldn’t. The act comes easily enough, being part nature and part practice. Everyone expects a behemoth like Tracy to be stupid, which makes it all the easier to pull off.

“Yeah, well, guess he must’ve bumped his head or something. Looks like you boys got your shit in order. I’ll just go back to Karl’s and have another beer. See ya around, doc.” He eyes the four men warily and takes a step backward, half-turning to go.

29th of December, 2005, 19:46

There's a lot in common about the five black-clad soldiers standing around Tracy Cavanaugh, Amanda Klein and Simon Horton. They all have a certain look, beyond even the spec ops chic couture of their armoured uniforms and peak-muscled physiques. All sport Kojak hairstyles, more severe than required by any outfit Tracy is familiar with; all have the barely-leashed murderlust of bleeding-edge training forced in a job that could be done by any half-trained chimp with a Colt C4 carbine. One is Hispanic, two are African-American, and the officer is white. The officer - an Lt., you think, pulls off his goggles, revealing eyes surrounded by knots of fire- and acid-scarred tissue. He seems to glare at you from out of two battlefield craters adorning his face.

Tracy's brain, never exactly an encyclopedia under the best of circumstances, struggles to recall if and where he's seen the HzU. He thinks once was a while back in Soldier of Fortune; an article about US spec ops teams? The other was more recent... stencilled on the side of a case inside a warehouse at Station Zeus, flanked by Biohazard and Nuke Hazard trefoils.

One of the men stamps the pistol into the snow bad-temperedly. "Replacement? I don't need to replacement, bitch."

"Stow it, Maure," the officer says in a precise growl. Two of the other soldiers grab Horton, patting him down roughly but professionally. The tech begins to make an autistic hum, alternating between blowing air through his teeth and sinuses.

"Guard," he says, turning those scarred eyes on you, "consider yourself back on duty. Escort the doctor back to base."

2nd of January, 2006, 11:02

Things could be much worse right now. Mandatory overtime is about the best he can expect from these men, and he counts himself lucky that their orders don’t involve putting a bullet to him. Hardened killers all, Tracy feels strangely out of place in their company. They’re men like him: built and trained for fighting. He’s no stranger to death himself, but there’s something about the look in the Lt’s eyes that makes Tracy feel as if there’s vast gulf between his exploits and those of the HzU. Perhaps that’s why they work the compound and he’s out at the fence.

Two of the others are busy checking Simon for weapons while the tech hums. For a moment it sounds like he’s trying to harmonize with the gusting wind. Watching Simon stare vapidly at a nearby snow bank, Tracy feels a rare thing: a stab of pity. Oh, he’s felt such pangs before, but usually it’s when he has to school a guy two-thirds his size who’s has too little common sense and too much Jäger. Not that such things stopped him from working the poor sap over, but he couldn’t enjoy it. With Simon though, it’s like he’s a little kid, and seeing a little kid get roughly patted down by the HzU doesn’t sit right with Tracy.

But he’s no hero and he sure as hell isn’t stupid. The Lt doesn’t fancy Tracy a threat. Sticking up for Horton now wouldn’t do a lick of good. Besides, what’s it to him if some geek gets put back in his lab?

“Yes, sir,” he says, his voice partly muffled by the wind. He takes a hold of Amanda’s elbow firmly, but not unkindly. “Let’s go, doc. No use sticking around here.”

5th of January, 2006, 09:21

Dr. Klein scowls, but realises that, trapped as she is between walls of barely-chained testosterone-fuelled aggression, there's not much she can do.

"I'll be checking on his progress," she warns the Lt. in a grand show of empty defiance. "He won't be harmed." The two you you trudge back towards town, to retrieve a vehicle or wait for one of the regular personnel vans to take you back to the station.

As you're walking, it suddenly comes to you, and you click your fingers to mark the rare arrival of a thought. HzU: the Hazard Unit. Yeah, former SEALS, Rangers, Deltas, picked for extra training in small unit combat and hostile environment work: radiation, fire zones, biowar and chemical interdictions. You recall some debacle a few years ago when this crazy-ass nova broke into a nuclear power station and used his mojo to destabilise the reactor, making the whole area glow like Chernobyl. the HzU was formed after that, a body of troops able to handle the kind of weird crap environmental distortions that metahumans can throw around.

You shake your head. You'd have to be crazy, really crazy to go into a hot zone full of aerosol weaponised Ebola wearing an extremely-not-bullet-proof rubber suit.

Not long after, you find yourselves back near Station Zeus, surrounded by its multiple layers of high zap-wire fencing, guard towers, satellite overwatch and heavily armed security teams. Further within, the various bunkers house labs, comm gear, storage for chemical and electronic equipment, and the admin blocks. Behind it all is the massive radio transceiver array, looking like one of the old Strategic Air Command early warning radars from the Cold War, but pointing upwards.

12th of January, 2006, 16:44

The Hazard Unit: a squad of former soldiers who are half-crazy and half-insane, but all badass. He shakes his head as he tromps through the snow with Amanda Klein. You couldn’t pay him enough to go up against a nova. Well, maybe you could, but it’d have to be a lot of money. He’d once heard of one who could create flames with a wave of his hand. He could set anything on fire, even water itself. Tracy saw footage on the news: fire on top of water. That it could have been oil on the surface hadn’t occurred to him. Fiery water? Nuh-uh. It would take a hell of a payday to convince him to go up against a meta like that.

“Yeah, so,” he says, “this is where you get off.” Heh. Or where we get off. He looks around, spotting the dim shape of the barracks he sleeps in. Unless something changed with the lookers at Cyril’s, Argeist will likely be there, and he’ll be pissed. Whatever. Always have been able to handle Argeist. This ain’t no different.

“Simon’s probably fine, you know.” The words don’t exactly ring true to him. Klein’s threat seemed to have carried some weight, but those five guys are probably some of the craziest assholes living in Alaska right now. Then again, anyone who’d actually live here must qualify for the status as well. Still, the HzU undoubtedly beats the residents of this state at the forefront of crazy assholedom. He shrugs. “Where do you stay around here? There some quarters for techs?”

14th of January, 2006, 11:42

ANIWAR Station Zeus, Alaska.
High Security Chemicals Storage
8:47 am, September 26th 2006.

Sure, it's just more guard duty. But it's guard duty that's on concrete instead of snow-covered roots and shifting gravel, inside the perimeter fences, and there's a hut nearby with a radio and piping hot coffee. Plus, it pays 10% better for cushier work.

You'd be inclined to think that it was reward for not making waves about the whole thing last night, except that Argeist also got the transfer. That blows out of the water any theory about it being for good behaviour.

The chemical storage bunker is low to the ground, with a trapezoidal shape. A bit of snow piles up around the sides, but not on the ramp that leads down to the below ground-level steel door. Most of the other nearby buildings have their backs towards this area of the base, meaning there's hardly anyone to spy on you (except for the featureless black plastic spheres of the 'covert' camera pods), and there are plenty of crates and barrels to lean against.

Every now and then you have to check one of the trucks that rumbles through the gate for explosives or infiltrators, but that's easy work. Send the sniffer-bot under it, scan the driver's ID badge, and check in the back - which is invariably filled with canisters marked with the HzU tag and Biohazard trefoils. That leaves with you with little to do but enjoy the fact that the colder weather seems to have blown itself out for now, and the sun gets a look in occasionally.

The other eight men on this detail are in the guard's hut, probably listening to the game, you reflect. Jake returns from checking out the integrity of the fence, his assault rifle over his shoulders like a yoke.

"Man, did you hear that SEAL guy last night?" he starts, ignoring the fact that you obviously couldn't and didn't. "That guy was hard core. He was telling me he used to run explosives into Nicaragua to the pro-harvey's* - and not off the books, either. We're talkin' full on black ops. Said he was spotter for the guy that shot that Russkie chief, what was his name?" Jake clicks his fingers. "Garbage-chef. Somethin' like that."

* = "Harveys" is slang for the supporters of the Harvester, a particularly gruesome nova that ran the country a few years back, until his defeat by the Centurion. Following this, certain elements of the Intelligence Community decided that supporting the now headless Harvester militia would be a good way to stop hostile political ideologies from taking control in Nicaragua.

18th of January, 2006, 20:17

“Ask Karl. He’d know,” Tracy replies, raising the Styrofoam cup to his lips. The coffee isn’t particularly great, but it’s hot. The weather has moderated some from last night’s wind and snow, but it is still nice to feel it warming his insides.

He has his misgivings about the “promotion.” The pay is better for easier work—no complaints there—but the nature of the job and the presence of Jake is troubling. Why Argeist, one of the few men here who is both dumber and meaner than Tracy, would get the same assignment is beyond him. Maybe his conversation with the SEAL had been productive.

Klein could have had a hand in it. He did keep Simon from getting a cosmic beating last night. The tech could have been worked over pretty badly by either Jake or the SEAL. Judging by Jake’s stories, the SEAL could’ve done a real nice job too. Still, she had been silent in her departure, vanishing into the quarters without as much as a thank you.

“Any luck with those broads last night?”

27th of January, 2006, 08:56

"Them? Pfagh, no. Goddamn dykes." Jake scowls. "Couple of them left with that hard case old bastard." He skulks around the perimeter for a bit, kicking clods of snow in an impatient fashion.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Kellinger, head of this detail, sticks his parka-covered head out of the guard shack. Caffeine-flavoured steam instantly condenses on his moustache. "Cavanaugh, Argeist! Get your Rent-an-Ape asses over to the gate! We've got incoming cargo."

Sure enough, a large ChemTransport is rumbling towards your compound.

27th of January, 2006, 15:29

“Huh,” he says. That Jake struck out is a bit of comfort to Tracy. If his night didn’t go well, it’s good to know that someone else’s didn’t as well. It’s petty, to be sure, but Tracy’s always been a big fan of misery loves company. So it is that he’s quite jovial in responding to Kellinger’s bark. “You got it, Sarge.”

The snow crunches under their boots as Tracy and Jake follow the order and approach the incoming truck. Like as not, it’ll be more HzU and biohazard materials. It’s hazardous, hence the symbol, and Tracy is reminded of Simon and Project Zeus. Perhaps they’re using these chemicals on human subjects. Maybe the HzU needs another layer of protection and they’re experimenting on patsies like Simon. Or maybe it ain’t none of my business, he thinks. Hey, he gets paid 10% more now to not ask those kind of questions.

“You get the bot, Jake,” he says, walking up to the driver’s side. “I got the ID and the back.”

15th of February, 2006, 08:08

Jake's fingers mash the pad of the control unit vindictively, causing the little disc-shaped bot to scamper out of its housing module with an electronic ERROR squeak. The fellow merc waves the controller, and the scanner bot darts under the ChemTransport. It's a big, khaki HEMTT, angular fronted and with a stark white tarpaulin over the back. The hydraulics snort as it rumbles to a halt just inside the gate, the ice chains kicking chunks of gravel and asphalt into your shins as it settles.

You swagger over to the cabin, and the window rolls down, revealing a hefty driver wearing a Keep On Truckin'! hat with no visible irony. "Heyman," he greets in a thick Texan accent.

Brumm, brumm!

24th of February, 2006, 12:57

"Morning," Tracy calls, casually appraising the trucker. "Where you from?" He shakes his head. "Bet it's warmer there than here. You got your ID?"

He looks over to Jake, who's sending the bot scurrying underneath the truck in search of, well, he isn't sure of what, but it's doing it's job well enough. While it makes sense to check security, Tracy can't imagine why someone would try and screw with things up here. His brain can't really recall if the HzU had made any serious enemies among the supers, but if they did, he imagines they wouldn't sneak in by hiding underneath the truck...or planting anything under there either. They'd probably fly in and start blasting. Tracy makes a mental note to run like hell if he ever sees something like that.

"Uh huh," he says. "What're you hauling today? Yeah? All right, lemme check the back."

4th of March, 2006, 09:35

Jake takes a childlike pleasure - in the mean, tiny-spirited, creepy sense - in making the bomb-scanner bot slam into the ChemTransport's wheels. His fingers jab the keys and levers mercilessly as it squeaks, proximity alarms blaring. He grins, breath forming thin blades of ice between his clenched teeth.

The ID card and code of Corman, Buddy James checks out once he's handed it to you with yellow-nailed fingers(from Dorito flavours and dyes, not nicotine, if the smell is anything to go by). He shrugs at your question.

"Whut'my haulin'?" He grimaces. "I ain't get paid'nuff to ask that question, know-whut-I-mean? Made me sign some goddang 'wavier'" he mispronounces the word with a French twist, like 'Perrier' "'bout not suin' 'em fer steer-ility or cancer of the go-nads." He shrugs. "I figure must be them cell-phone bat'ries, know-whut-I-mean?"

Jake glances at you, and mouths a four letter word with a grimace.

After replying or not to the driver, Corman, you move around to the back of the truck, noticing the kevlar-canvas has been sealed with thick adhesive rubber strips on all sides. It's a bit loose on the back, so that's where you pull it down and step up on the rear bumper to get a better look inside. You pull out your Maglite from an insulated pocket of your snow-jack, and flash it in.

The back of the HEMTT is stacked with stocky, grey barrels. They're about 1.5m tall, and set in white plastic scaffold to make them square and stable. They look solid, like nuke-waste canisters or something; Tracy remembers hitching a ride with the old merc squad he as with on a train bound for Yucca Mountain, the US's radioactive waste depository in Middle of Nowhere, Nevada. Definite similarity in profile. The difference is that these have the triple-whale-tail Biohazard trefoil, rather than the three-wedge symbol of Radioactivity. Each barrel also has a screen built into it; luminous red, yellow and green bars track temperature, pressure, acidity, and other esoteric figures beyond your ken.

For some reason, it sends a shiver down your spine when all the temperature gauges drop a few points as the canvas is slid open.

Nothing explodes, however, so you swing the light around. Something catches your eye at the back of the compartment, behind the barrels. There's some kind of a shapeless mechanical lump, a figure of angles that looks almost abstract or impressionist, in khaki and gunmetal tones. It doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the contents.

7th of March, 2006, 19:14

“Yeah, give me a minute to check the back, Buddy.”

Regardless of Buddy’s Dorito addiction or thick as molasses accent, Tracy has a job to do. Still, he rolls his eyes at the driver’s comments as he rounds the back and pulls up the canvas. Dumbass, he thinks. Everyone knows it’s cancer of the balls.

He arches his eyebrows at the interior of the HEMTT. He casts a glance at the trefoil and shakes his head; biohazards—always a crowd pleaser. The maglite crawls across barrel, barrel, barrel, and...what’s that? He flicks the light back to the mechanical object lying in the back. Curiosity piqued, Tracy lowers the covering in the back and moves around to the side, trying to undo the Kevlar canvas.

28th of March, 2006, 17:15

Tracy mutters darkly as the adhesive seals stick to his gloved hand when he pulls them off, and then the other hand when he tries to free the first. Eventually, though, he manages to peel it back enough to get at the thick nylon rope lacing the kevlar-canvas taut. He finds a catch, and starts to loosen it enough to get a peek inside.

Until a huge, mechanical fist punches through the material.

Articulated metal digits (if an unpainted Abrams tank had fingers, these would be them) grab hold of the torn edge of bullet-proof material and rip it open like wrapping paper, so as not to catch the barrel of the wrist-mounted 5mm rotary cannon on it. The hand, easily twice as big as Tracy's becomes an arm as a towering, armoured figure unfolds itself from the back of the HEMTT in a purr of electro-reactive synthetic muscles. It drops from the back of the truck to the ground with a dull THUNK that the merc can feel through his boots.

It looks nothing like the sleek, sexy battlesuits he's seen on TV. This thing is all angles, bullet-deflecting armour plates and guns; rocket pods, mortars and mini-howitzers jut over the shoulders and around the arms. The US flag is neatly painted on one shoulder plate, and the chest has a campaign-ribbon rack... though each badges there is black. The head-piece, more like a metal bunker for the wearer's face than a helmet, regards Tracy featurelessly as snowflakes settle on it.

25th of April, 2006, 16:33

The big man stumbles backward, thick arms pin wheeling to keep his balance. He does so. Eyes focused upon the unfolding armor, he doesn’t notice Jake’s yell of alarm. The machine is ugly, but it looks brutally effective. In a heartbeat, Tracy falls in love. The very thought of firing a salvo of rockets while spraying covering fire from the 5mm canon makes him tingle in all the right places.

“Awesome.” The word defines his mood. He reaches out with one hand and taps the suit on the shoulder, marveling at the armor plating. Most likely for the HzU, Tracy reconsiders the thought of tangling with novas while wearing something like this.

“You seein’ this, Jake?”

26th of April, 2006, 09:10

Straightening to its full nearly eight feet of height (though some of that is made up by the hunchback weapon systems), the battlesuit twists at the waist, surveying the area. At some internal command, a mortar tube limbers into place with a dull thudd. The armour braces, bending slightly at the knees and leaning forward.

The rapport is a physical blow, this close, leaving Tracy's ears ringing and knocking the breaht out of his lungs.

A ball of flame, shrapnel and concrete fragments erupts from the flank of the bunker, just above the recessed door. The echo is mostly lost in the frosty Alaskan sky.

The armour straightens, and the rotary cannon slides down the arm into firing position, a fat ammo belt uncoiling from the shoulder. From the other side of the truck, you hear Jake curse and a clang of something falling

"My advice? Kiss concrete," a voice rumbles from the speakers. Why does it sound familiar?

Somewhere in the base, klaxons begin to sound.

9th of May, 2006, 16:16

Kiss concrete. It’s more than just friendly advice, but Tracy can barely hear it. A high-pitched whine dominates his hearing, ringing through his head. He falls to the ground, rocked by the impact of the mortar. He can’t hear the sirens’ wail, but he sees the flashing lights.

Tracy has always identified himself as a manly-man. It is a key piece of his self-perception. When the opportunity presents itself to assert his masculinity, he seizes it. Be it an arm-wrestling match, or ten shots of Jaeger, Tracy feels compelled to appear as a pillar of strength.

However, what he isn’t interested in is dying. Being killed by some crazy robot in the middle of the Alaska tundra is pretty low on his list of places and ways to die. So his pride is largely ignored while he squirms away on his stomach, seeking cover.

27th of May, 2006, 11:03

Powerful, mechanised legs storm across the paved courtyard as the armoured figure moves away from the ChemTransport. As he passes the cab he throws out his right arm, and the gun emits a deafening rattle, shell casings falling like hailstones but oh-so-much faster. The guard shack, a flimsy shelter of thermal insulation and plywood doesn't really stand a chance. Holes in the walls rapidly shred the material, the repeated high velocity impacts smashing down the door, blowing out the electrics and heater, turning the windows into powder and ripping men in half. The suit leans forward against the recoil, the shoulder twisted into line with the targeting apparatus on the helmet, and another mortar round impacts the door, smashing the outer portal open like tinfoil on stove-top popcorn.

Tracy hears a metallic rasping and peeks out from the arms wrapped around his head. His eyes widen in alarm and he jerks his leg up, just in time to avoid the cannister that rolls off the back of the truck through the hole the battlesuit tore, hitting the ground with a CLANG like a cannonball. The sight of a metal barrel marked with BIOHAZARD and EXTREME THREAT TO LIFE rolling around is... unnerving.

Shouts rise all around the camp, and flames belch out of the guard shack. Under the body of the truck, Tracy spots Jake crouched and moving towards the burning building - or rather, the armoury locker next to it.

2nd of June, 2006, 16:34

The battlesuit, dark metal gleaming in the cold sun, unleashes another salvo and, for a short time, hell on earth is unleashed on this little stretch of tundra. Mortars pound the ears just as much the buildings and the roar of gunfire rips through the air. It is beautiful. It is terrible.

He scrambles backward, crab walking, away from the biohazard. Tracy’s heart hammers at the same rate as the gunfire tearing through the guard shack. Oh, he’s seen combat before, but never like this. The battlesuit is an entire squad rolled into one deadly—and shiny—package. The orgy of destruction caused by it is awesome.

“Jeezus,” he whispers.

A glance over to Jake reveals the man’s intent: weapons. Tracy makes to follow suit, but he has no intent of taking a shot at the battlesuit. It looks built to survive much more than small arms fire and Tracy doesn’t relish the thought of being cut down here. Still, a gun in his hands will make him feel better, bolder, and will look good to his superiors.

8th of June, 2006, 10:39

A grey cloud briefly fills Tracy's mouth with the tang of burning metal; the base guards are throwing smoke grenades to cover their advance. Coughing, the merc scuttles along the ground, out of the worst of it. The continual thunder of the battlesuit's assault goes unabated, though it now stands in the clear, the sub-ground level door blown open.

He ducks under the HEMMT's frame as Jake reaches the locker and smashed the lock off with a chunk of burned, shattered concrete thrown all the way over here from the bunker. He jerks the door so hard he wrenches it off the wall, and grabs one of the M-4 carbines out of it. A wide, savage grin splits his face as he looks around and sees Tracy moving under the truck. His eyes are like poached eggs of madness. “Hey, man, get ya hands on this!” He tosses the gun, sending it skittering across the ground to bump Tracy's knee, then rips our two more for himself. “Grenades... gotta get grenades...” Jake seems oblivious of the gutted, bullet-torn remains of the guard shack next to him.

The door of the ChemTransport's cabin swings open, and Buddy, the big Texan driver slumps out, white as a sheet. He scrambles to the ground and, displaying remarkable flexibility for a man with the classic trucker's build squeezes under the vehicle with Tracy.

“Whut the Jesus-fakkin' hell, man?” he whimpers, clutching Tracy's brawny shoulder for comfort. “Whut the Jesus fakkin' hell's that thur thing, man?”

25th of June, 2006, 04:14

The weight of the assault rifle reassures Tracy. Its mere presence emboldens him, lending courage that he lacked a split second earlier. Here is a weapon that spits hellfire and kills men with its roar. Jake sends a spare magazine skittering across the ground. Tracy tucks it into his belt. He pulls the charging handle back and lets it go. The gun metal grates an affirmation of its status: ready to roll.

“Stay low,” he barks to the trucker. “And try not to get yourself f*****’ killed.”

Jake continues muttering, half-mad, about grenades and Tracy agrees, wishing that his gun had an M203 mounted on it. A grenade would go down about as smooth as a shot of Bushmills right now. From some unknown corner of his mind, a phrase floats across his consciousness.

Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done.

He doesn’t recognize who said it or even what it means, but he puts the fire selector on SEMI all the same and takes up position around the side of the truck.

27th of June, 2006, 09:45

For every ounce of sensible circumspection in Tracy's body, there is a pound of murderous thug in Jake Argeist's.

“Eat this, you metal pussy!” he howls, leaping out from the side of the HEMMT and firing a long burst, the clattering of gunfire barely audible over the one-man arsenal of the attacking battlesuit. Only the muzzle flash from the two carbines, one in each hand (does he think he's in a Seagal movie or something?) illuminate him as another thread of smoke washes through the enclosure.

"Dumb, boy. Real dumb."

That guy from the bar. The SEAL. Tracy can almost feel his ears pricking up as he recognises the man's voice, despite the electronic distortion of the speakers.

The armoured figure barely even staggers as Jake paints it with lead. He half-turns, glaring at his attack through a blank metal helm, and the arm with the chaingun rises. Jake hurls himself sideways, displeased by the lack of effect his barrage had, and even more displeased by the storm of small-calibre bullets that fill the air over him. They ricochet off and shred the metal and fabric of the truck's flank -

- and for a freeze-frame moment, Tracy sees the chemical canister tipping precariously out of the cargo compartment -

- and then it drops onto Jake, crushing his legs and bursting open into a spray of a vomit-brown fluid and metal slivers.

He roars in agonised terror, the guns falling from his hands as he slams them into the side of the barrel, trying frantically to keep it from rolling over him completely. An acrid stench stings Tracy's nose and eyes; he can see liquid skin and muscle and fat dribbling off Jake's fingers, arms, shoulders and face where the chemical touches him.

“Hellllllp meeeee!” he screams.

10th of August, 2006, 16:39

No man is an island.

Wrong. Every man is an island. The ability to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world is what keeps us sane. The suffering and misery that run rampant in the world threatens to overwhelm the empathetic.

Sometimes, it’s on a grand scale: war, starvation, earthquakes, genocide. These are the easy ones to ignore. We turn our backs and stay on our island and tell ourselves that those things will never cross the ocean and reach us. We tell ourselves that we couldn’t make a difference anyway and we go about our lives.

But the little things—the ones that we can see first hand—are harder to ignore. It’s the homeless man waiting at the off-ramp of the highway, cardboard sign begging for help, or the paraplegic struggling to make his way up a steep sidewalk. It’s the fat kid shunned by his peers or the girl from a poor family who’s taunted for having ragged clothes and smelling of cat piss. We close our eyes and wait for the storm to blow past. We have to. Superman couldn’t save everyone. We certainly can’t help everyone.

Tracy is not a great man. Tracy is not a kind man. Tracy isn’t even a decent man. He doesn’t particularly like Jake—the man is as cruel as he is strong—and Tracy certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him get cut down to size. Given his past deeds, death is likely something Jake has coming to him. But not like this. Not like this.

Brown toxins liquefy flesh and muscle as easily as butter on a hot stove. Jake’s screams are gut-wrenching.

Tracy leaves his island.

The smell is atrocious. Tracy nearly wretches, tasting the acrid taste of bile in his mouth. But his strong hands grip the sides of the barrel and his muscles contract as they wrench the metal away from Jake’s melting body, leaving him writhing on the snowy ground.

14th of August, 2006, 10:35

Tracy leaves his island.

Tracy covers the ground in a few powerful strides, leaving a trail of deep bootprints as testament to his speed and size. He grabs hold of the chemical canister, getting a feel for its size and weight through his gloves, and strains with all his might. Sinews stand out like wire on his neck, the thick muscles of his shoulders and legs stretching with colossal force, and then suddenly it shifts, pulled from the hands of inertia – and the soupy mess of organic matter and toxins that glued it to the ground. Tracy heaves it to the side like a cumbersome shotput, barely glancing at it as it lands with a sloshy clang.

The thing about islands is...

The bang-SHZZZZZZIM of hyper-velocity rounds – two-stage sabot flechettes that accelerate to thousands of metres per second after leaving the barrel – slices the air. They rattle off the armoured hull of the powered armour like hailstones, but the support gunner leans into the recoil and keeps blazing. Soldier shout clipped commands and contact announcements in strangled tones as they burst through the gates or scramble up the de-electrified fence, trying to flank the attacker, trying to bring in the heavy weaponry needed to crush it.

...that sometimes the inhabitants aren't friendly.

Jake Argeist rises from the ground, screaming like a banshee.

Horrible, tissue-wracking waves of mutation pass through his heavy frame. They start at the peripheries. His lips swelling like grotesque, bee-stung sausages. The tendons in his hands growing, growing, growing, until they burst through the liquefying skin like fat, wriggling earthworms. Tracy hears a crunch as Jake's superior oblique extraocular muscle, one of those responsible for rotating the eye swells, breaking the bones of his skull. The deformities soon spread, and Jake's major muscle groups, across his chest, arms, back and legs bloat like sinewy water balloons full of pus. In an agonised dance of spasms, he bloats to over seven feet in height – his connective tissues tearing and knitting, tearing and knitting. One accidental swing of his arm sends Tracy flying – it's like being hit by a wet, bony falling tree.

And all the while, he keeps screaming.

Tracy lands in a heavy pile against the side of the truck, the back of his skull ricocheting off the metal and cracking his teeth together. Dazed, he shakes his head, looking up at the ever-changing mass of tumorous muscle that stands where Jake was. Bulges of powerful growth surge along every limb, all put plastering rough lumps of new muscle onto his already-packed body. Jake stretches his head back – difficult, with the thick rings of flesh around his neck – and howl at the snowy sky.

The power armoured intruder stops his assault on the bunker, and turns.

"Oh, hell."

25th of September, 2006, 03:45

No good deed goes unpunished.

The man-thing that was, is, Jake Argeist writhes in mutated agony. His cacophonous screams fill the crisp Alaskan air. One massive, pulsating, arm backhands Tracy and sends him hurtling through the air. It reminds him of bailing hay…minus the freakish chemical induced monster and power armored Navy SEAL. Another tortured wail fills the morning.

His skull collides with the metal truck, sending pain-induced explosions scattering through his vision. Tracy shakes his head, attempting to clear them away. It works, but the pain lingers.

The sheer horror of the transformation finally sinks into Tracy’s muddled head. This thing is the product of those chemicals mating with flesh. Jake is a one-time drinking buddy and fellow merc turned abomination. He’s now a twisted play on humanity, grotesquely out of proportion and full of terror and rage. Tracy tries to stand, but his legs can’t, or won’t, respond.

“Jesus,” he whispers. If Christ could see this he’d probably say the same thing.

30th of September, 2006, 15:35

The adapex was hydrophobic. Its chemistry rejected the water of the snow, violently, exothermically; it melted clear to the asphalt below where it spilled in a gulging channel from the broken canister.

No-longer-Jake starts to walk.

He has too many joints in each limb.

The uncurled mass of meat and gristle and fear and rage – above all, rage – tops seven feet, and continues to grow. Arms that stretch and bunch, coils of muscles flopping off them in red excess bend, tightening into an angular mass of gnarled deformity as no-longer-Jake lifts his oversized hand to his face, pale blue eyes staring wildly from taut, ravaged skin. He opens his mouth as if to speak, but his teeth chatter as muscle fibres grow through his gums, distorting his attempt into a frantic yowl. A bubble of saliva, seething with toxic levels of androgens oozes over his lip. Staring through his own fat, throbbing fingers at the walking tank of the power-armoured aggressor, he snarls, and his thick legs twist painfully, wrongly as he lumbers with prodigious speed towards the man.

It was the colour of excrement and poison and filth and decay. It smelled... it had no known odour. To smell it would mean that you were inhaling volatile molecules released from the body of the fluid And that would mean those molecules were inside you. Changing you.

Every person that experienced adapex first hand reported a unique experience.

Once-Jake swung one of those grotesque limbs around as he charged, burbling and roaring. The battlesuit staggered back, trying to open the range between himself and his horrifically organic attacker, flicking a snub-barreled weapon into place under his arm. It barked, and for a moment Tracy caught a glimpse of a folded, flexible black disc of some kind, like a beanbag round emerging – before a plume of flame erupted in no-longer-Jake's face. The mercenary screeched and howled in wet fury, reeling back.

Tracy could smell wet dogs and tire fires. From the sundered container, raw mutagen washed over his legs and hands as he scrabbled for purchase in the slick, melting snow.

12th of October, 2006, 15:38

It’s all over him. Toxic chemicals wash over his hands and feet, soaking through his winter gear. His legs are blanketed in the greenish-brown substance and the mutagen easily worms through the fabric of his pants. Tracy can feel it working into his skin. He opens his mouth to scream but he can do nothing but gasp in panic. His hands are slick, so very slick, and they cannot find purchase amidst the hydrophobic adapex. It melts away the snow as easily as Jake’s flesh, and coats the asphalt in a horrific puddle. One of his arms slips out from under him, sending his shoulder into the sludge.

Oh, God.

Terror seizes hold of Tracy’s heart, his mind making the simple connection of what has just happened to Once-Jake. He scrambles again, trying to get away, pushing against the fractured canister and sliding toward the edge of the pool.

5th of November, 2006, 14:17


His skin burned. Tracy flung out his arms, reaching for some purchase to pull himself free of the metal case and its biotoxic payload. His fingers scrabbled on the rough, black surface of the military courtyard. Somewhere behind him - the sudden dread and horror of his predicament making the strife of others infinitely irrelevant – came the sound of meat hitting metal. A jumbled, jangling crash overwhelmed the bursts of sporadic gunfire as no-longer-Jake body slammed the battlesuit and sent it clattering across the ground. He gave a wet, throaty scream of bestial hate, his jaw momentarily elongating from behind his lips, wriggling teeth gnashing. A cord of muscle erupted through the flesh of his right forearm, like a bloated sinew-red hosepipe rupturing the liquid pink skin as he clenched his hands, staggering towards the staggered assailant with deadly intent.

Got to get...

His myofibrils burn. Then a fistful of asphalt and concrete came away in Tracy's grasp, crushed into a grossly irregular sphere by his fingers. High-density construction materials deformed like plasticine with every twinge of his hand. Bewildered, desperate, the mercenary sank another hand into the ground, punching finger-holds into it with terrifying ease, and pulled.

Thought used to the sensation of wearing a muscular body, Tracy was still somewhat surprised when the suddenly, massively hypertrophic bulges of his deltoids almost crushed his neck.


With impossible ease, he dragged himself out from the mess of ruined metal and hazardous spillage. A hasty shove with one arm sent it arcing into the air, only to land with a clang (merely adding to the chaotic soundscape of the panic-stricken ANIWAR base) across the courtyard. It craters the ground and crumples, even as the battlesuit rises to its feet with a servoelectric whine.

"To hell with this. I'm done here."

The armoured figure straightened, and metal flaps opened on its legs and back. The roar of awakening rocket engines filled the air.

5th of January, 2007, 15:00

The chemicals worm through his epidermis and into him, changing him. Biotoxins permeate the membranes shielding his eukaryotic cells, and for a moment Tracy can feel each and every change: from his mitochondria to his chromosomes. His entire body burns as it soaks up the sludge like water in dry sand. He has little time to appreciate this singular consciousness of his whole being; a powerful, primal fear grips his mind. He has to get away from here.

His foot catches—briefly, every so briefly—on the remnants of the fallen canister. The next surge of his leg sends it hurtling away, the metal screaming in protest as he tears free of it. It collides with a bunker, just another dull clang in the cacophony here on this stretch of tundra. The SEAL’s rockets begin propelling him upward. Having to hoof it, Tracy isn’t so lucky.

Once-Jake’s bravura, or the more likely madness that seizes his mutating body, is not contagious. Tracy, unarmed and terrified beyond all reckoning, surges forward, his legs sending him in short hops and bounds. He flees, running for the now-inactive electrified fence and tears a stretch of it asunder with trembling but mighty hands.

It’s a shame, really, to die at his age and in this way. Certainly, Tracy does not deserve life—not in the way that many do. Yet he wants to live very, very badly. Part of him, beneath his panic-addled consciousness, is sorry. He’s sorry for not speaking to his mother more, before the cancer in her lungs wasted her away to a bag of bones. He’s sorry for bullying Jimmy Cohen, a gentle, dopey fustilug who had the unfortunate misfortune of sitting near Tracy in Mrs. Taylor’s third grade class. He’s sorry for not going to his grandfather’s funeral or speaking with his father for the past five years. Tracy has done much that’s wrong in this world and little that’s right, but he’s desperate for another chance to make good and rise above the cycle of violence and thuggery he’s trapped himself in.

Unfortunately, some things never change.