Research Assistant Richard Moss ran. He could safely say that he had never been this afraid in his entire life. The events of last twenty minutes buzzed in his head like bees. Explosion. Sirens. Security breach. Attackers. What was a Chaos Insurgency? Gunshots. Deaths. Lockdown offline. Running. More explosions. More bullets.
There was some bizarre form of music filling his ears. Everything seemed to fall into a rhythm: his breathing, the thudding of his heart, the pumping of adrenaline, the scream of the emergency alarms. The bullets were behind him now. For how long, he didn’t know. Not long enough. He barely knew how he ended up running down this hall, or what he had done to acquire the item now tucked under his arm like a football.
He skidded to a halt, nearly tripping over his own feet with his momentum. This was the chamber he wanted. Panting, he scanned his ID card. Under normal circumstances, this would have been useless during a security breach. The uninvited guests had provided an unexpected blessing in taking out the lockdown procedures.
The door slid open with a hiss. Richard jumped into the room.
The slug turned the nub of its head towards Richard.
“Oh, good morning. While you obviously know of me, I don’t recall having ever met… what’s wrong?”
“Sorry sir. Can’t chat. Security breach. Need your help.”
“Calm yourself and catch your breath, man.”
Richard paused for a moment. His panting slowed.
“The site has been breached and there are enemies on their way here. I don’t know if we can hold them off ourselves, so I’m letting you out and hoping. There’s a key card in my pocket that can get you into your vault: stairs down the hall to the right, three floors down, chamber sixteen…” his voice trailed off as he strained to hear the dim scream from up the hallway. “Shit! You know Latin, right?”
“Why yes, I began studying it as a boy back in primary school. What does that have to do with an attack of any sort?”
“Just trust me: you’re going to be using it soon.”
Richard lifted the tarnished helmet out from under his arm and placed it on his head.
Publius Carthephilus Aetius began to regain consciousness. Death was much like sleep, he had decided: deep and dreamless. The blackness faded away at the edges of his mind. Heat and sensation and hearing gradually flowed into his perception. Without time, the process took both years and mere moments. The final push was like falling from a great height as the blurred colors and sensations whirled around him in a last mad maelstrom before snapping sharply into focus.
He was standing in a small, plain room. The only things of note were a small desk, a filing cabinet, and a glass tank filled with water, some tropical corals, and a brightly colored slug. Beyond the room he could hear a loud, repeated screeching noise. He looked down at his new body. Gangly. Thin. The usual orange jumpsuit had been switched out for the long white coat he had seen the doctors wear.
“Are you all right?”
It was an older man’s voice, though he did not recognize the language. Publius glanced around the room. There was no one else there, same as before.
“So you’re why he said I’d need Latin.” It was the same voice, this time in very formal, accented Latin, coming from the glass tank.
“Who are you? Where are you hiding?”
“I’m not hiding anywhere, my good man. But that isn’t the time for that: we must get out of here quickly. There are enemies coming this way.”
“Wait, what? Who? Who is attacking?”
“I don’t know, but I intend to find out and stop them, whoever they are. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.”
There was an awkward pause as Publius looked at the slug. Seeing no other reasonable option, Publius removed the lid of the tank, reached inside, and picked up the slug. He placed it in the breast pocket of the lab coat, where it poked its head out of the opening. Publius stepped outside into the corridor, wincing at the alarm sirens.
“To your right, and then down the stairs, and we can… oh, lovely.”
There was a shout from three figures to their left, perhaps thirty feet away. There were two men and one woman: The woman was shaved bald, a skull tattooed on her face and a machete in each hand. One man was bleeding from a small circular wound in his shoulder, yet still held a butcher’s cleaver in his good hand. The other was completely naked, with tangled hair down to his waist and smeared with blood red war paint, armed with a makeshift spear.
Publius’ mind sprung into action, analyzing the situation in an instant. Three enemies, all armed, one wounded, against one unarmed man and likewise unarmed slug. Judging by their looks, crude weapons, and slack postures, they lacked any sort of professional training or discipline. These were simple thugs. Still dangerous, of course, and more so than what they would have been with this unfit body.
The naked one attacked first. Publius sidestepped the spear thrust, shedding the doctor’s coat and the slug as he stole the weapon from the man’s hands: the attacker’s momentum sent him sprawling to the floor. Publius swung the spear around and hit him hard on the head with the haft, knocking him unconscious.
He was barely able to dodge out of the way of the woman’s first machete swing. In his peripheral vision he could see the wounded man running away, back to find reinforcements, no doubt. That was a problem for later.
The woman was a better fighter than the spearman, to be sure: she kept herself moving, preventing Publius from slipping around behind her. He dodged her swings by uncomfortably small amounts, waiting for a opening. His spear was no use at this distance, he needed some way to get space between them, but she had good reach…
There. An opening. She had swung too wide, too hard. Publius leapt back and threw the spear.
It struck home, its jagged scrap metal point puncturing the woman’s neck. She managed a moment of bloody gurgling before falling dead.
Publius pulled the spear from her corpse, wiping the blood on her clothing and picking up one of her machetes. With it, he walked over to the unconscious naked man and hacked off his head. He left the labcoat where it lay, instead picking the slug out of the pocket and placing it on his shoulder.
“Nicely done. Now quickly, back down the hall.”
Publius ran as directed, despite his complete disorientation. He would trust the slug for now: it knew more than he did about this place, though he knew next to nothing to begin with.
“Oh, where are my manners?” the slug said from his shoulder. “I am Lord Theodore Thomas Blackwood, a servant of her majesty, queen Victoria of England.”
The name was barbaric, and his queen and country meant nothing to Publius. Nonetheless, it was only proper to introduce himself to the slug that spoke.
“My name is Publius Carthephilus Aetius, a soldier under Gaius Marius in the war against Jugurtha and a… reluctant survivor.”
“Ah… that explains matters. Bound to the helmet, I suppose. You’re quite a long way and time from home, my friend. But, we can’t let that get us down. Your body’s prior owner told me where my collection was being stored, and so that is our goal. There is superior weaponry there.”
Publius glanced down at Blackwood.
“You do realize that you’re a slug, correct?”
“Oh yes, very funny. I’ve heard that one before, I’m afraid.”
Hazzard Jack beat a man’s head in with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. He loved the feel of the pulp between his tattooed fingers. The rest of the gang was likewise enjoying themselves: there was nothing like some rape, arson and pillaging to start the day.
He took a deep breath of the smoky air before splattering himself with the man’s blood. The fun was running dry here. Time to move on.
Those fools in the Foundation. They thought they could protect the world, keep it spinning, keep its destiny locked up and “secured”. The concept was childish, really. Entropy always won, and Hazzard Jack liked winning.
Fuck bitches, kill bitches, raise some hell and spread some chaos. That was his motto.
Wait…what was this? Running from a fight? Some coward had run back. He only had a bullet to the shoulder, that was nothing. He said something about a man in a helmet down a couple levels, someone tough.
Hazzard Jack would see about that.
“Exactly how is this supposed to work?”
“You use a keyhole. It is a key, after all.”
Publius looked at the keycard. It was not like any key he was familiar with, though of course everything in this place was alien and unknown to him. He had decided that writing it all off as magical would be the best option for the time being.
“I can’t find any keyhole.”
“Still disoriented, I see. It’s right there, next to your hand.”
The “keyhole” was a smooth black box with a slit in it, positioned on the wall at chest height next to the door. Publius looked at the card again. Everything he had seen so far seemed to have a parallel to the world he knew, just magical, for lack of a better term. This must be much the same. He inserted the card into the slot, and the door slid open, revealing the vault beyond. Emergency lighting kept the room dim: the stuffed and mounted animals seemed ready to leap at them from the shadows.
“Now then, I have some dueling swords which would interest you, but what we are really looking for are my particle destabilizers. They will be long metal tubes, hollow, with a wooden attachment on the end opposite the hole.” Blackwood said. “With two pairs of eyes we should be able to find them easily enough.”
It was a stroke of good fortune that the room was well organized: animal specimens here, plant specimens there, artifacts separated by area and time period. The muskets were quickly found within a glass display case, next to the sword rack and other, more mundane, firearms. Publius opened the case, took one of the guns of the shelf and inspected it. In his mind it seemed like some sort of club, but why would they bother adding a metal handle, much less a hollow one? He looked to Blackwood for an explanation.
“Oh, yes, you wouldn’t know how to use this. Don’t worry: it is quite easy. Simply point the end with the hole at the enemy and pull the trigger located there, and you should be…Oh dear, they haven’t even set up the aether collectors. They’re all about as useless as sticks at the moment, until we find the reserves…aha! Those glass balls over there, if you take those and insert them to those brass slots on the side of the tube…”
The instructions were simple enough, and Publius had finished within a few minutes. He hefted the gun, finding a good way to hold it as Blackwood had told him. The wooden part fit against his shoulder
“Well done. That should last for a few shots at…”
The room shook as the door and most of the adjoining wall exploded. Publius dove to the floor, showered with dust and rubble. Over the ringing in his ears he could dimly make out some footsteps and foreign conversation.
“Are you all right?” Blackwood said quietly.
“I… I think so.”
“This will be dangerous, but I have to ask you to stand up. We do have an advantage. Just trust me."
Publius sucked in a breath, braced himself, and stood up, gun in his hands. His vision swam, but he could make out eight rather barbaric individuals in the room similar to the three before that he had fought, all still bearing a wicked assortment of tattoos, piercings and homemade weapons.
“Well lookie here!” One particularly brutal-looking raider walked towards the pair, swinging a wooden bat wrapped in barbed wire back and forth. “It’s helmet-man! It’s like it’s fucking Halloween or something!” The rest of the gang laughed.
“What’s he saying?” Publius whispered out of the corner of his mouth.
“Just insults, ignore them.” Blackwood focused on the hooligan in question. “It would be in your best interest to lay down your weapons, sir. We’re willing to avoid violence if you are.”
“Is that so? How about I tear you a new asshole instead?” The man shouted, leaping at the two. Publius swung the musket at the attacker, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger. A bright beam of red light sprang from the barrel, illuminating the chamber. And hitting the man directly in the chest. His body went rigid, limbs bent at angles they were not meant to go, his skin and clothing charring black and peeling away like an onion. The light faded. The ash drifted to the floor.
Publius looked at the gun in shock, then at the pile of dust, then at the gun again, and then at the slack-jawed insurgents. He grinned.
“Velim caput tuum devellere deinde in confinium gulae cacare.”
Lord Blackwood shook his head as best as a sea slug could.
“My God, man. That’s just foul.”