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Samantha's Journey
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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:42 pm    Post subject:  Samantha's Journey
Subject description: A rewrite of my oldest story that can still be found online.
Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I guess I start about a month ago, I decided that it'd be fun to rewrite the oldest story of myself that I could find online - just for myself, to see what I had learned over time.

That project grew immediately a little out of hand - I needed to make the characters work together in ways they didn't before, and I wanted the story to have a proper end (which it didn't, because I just stopped working on it after a point) - but with an ending to work to, it became just as much of a new story as a rewrite. But overall it went pretty well as far as inspiration goes, so there's that, and in many ways I'm also happy with how everything turned out.

This all being said, it's not novel quality - I wrote it and I re-read it to check for grammar and writing errors, but I didn't go through the tedious rewriting that would obviously be necessary if I aimed for a higher quality. In many ways it can actually compared with the original story in that regard, which I pretty much wrote on the fly without any clear plan - this story is pretty much the same in that regard. I can tell you this is bad for writing a novel, but then again, that wasn't really the point of this exercise.
That being said, I did have a plan and that enabled me to work towards it, giving me a clear target, though you can probably very well argue it wasn't the best plan - but again, that wasn't the point of this exercise, and I didn't want it to take a year - hell, it took over six weeks, which was already at least thrice as long as I planned... initially I thought I would do it in a weekend. Oh well.

Link to the original story: https://ppmforums.com/viewtopic.php?t=31503

I think it's time to get on with the first chapter - I'll post each chapter in its own post since they are actually quite lengthy.



I stared through the broken window. The anxiety of waiting for my father to return was just killing me. The iron fist of Nod was brutal at times, and it made me hate being alone, especially when GDI resurged. It made me feel vulnerable, exposed. Was that his car in the distance?  He is visiting the doctor for a check-up on his Tiberium mutation and after that he would buy some things at the market. I hoped he had brought some nice food. He always did, especially since my mother died, the Tiberium having ravaged her body until she practically disintegrated. My father's mutation developed a lot slower. Mine did not develop, though I did not quite know why.

But a patrol of Nod soldiers appeared from out of nowhere. And they halted his car. What was going on?  I couldn't hear anything, they were still a good hundred meters away, probably more. All I saw was more Nod soldiers crawling out of the dead underbrush, including one who was wearing a black cape that barely managed to hide the two fuel tanks on his back.

  What was going on? Two soldiers were taking the food out of his car, a third held my father at gunpoint. Suddenly, a bang echood through the valley. Dad! I resisted the urge to scream as he collapsed. Shit. I needed to get out of here, right now. Where do I go? Somewhere those soldiers wouldn't follow me.  I grabbed a few bottles of water from the basement, before nabbing my father's handgun. Where was the ammunition again? Even stretching myself, standing on my toes, I could barely reach the drawer that was stored in. But I found it. Sure, the large Smiths & Wesson revolver would not be particularly useful against armored infantry let alone vehicles, but my dad had taught me how to wield it and it was better than being unarmed and waiting to die when caught, or having a weapon that I did not know how to use. I quickly closed the door behind me, not even bothering to lock it before I bolted. The soldiers were already closing in.

  For
fairies' sake, I needed to get out of here. I ran alongside the sandy path that seperated our fields, past the battered greenhouse that was rendered unusable ever since the first ion storm four years ago.

  But it was no time to think about things. I forced myself to focus on the route I would take to escape from those soldiers, taking a steep mountain path that I knew like the back of my hand and hoping to dislodge the soldiers that way. I knew this path would eventually double back, so that would put me behind those Nod soldiers. But for now I had to run, tracing the path that was familiar even now most vegetation was gone and the trees were nothing but dry, dead wood. I kept going, eventually leaving the path behind me. No matter that my legs started to hurt as I kept running, longer and faster than I had ever done before, I had to keep going.

  And still, I had a very uneasy feeling something was chasing me. Nod soldiers?

  And there was. But it was not a human. A four-legged insect that was taller than me and had thick brown scales. It had a strange beak and sharp claws. Oh god. It was going to kill me. I grabbed the revolver, clicked the safety off, and fired a shot. The beast did not respond. Did I miss or did the bullet just ricochet off those plates. I knew I should've taken a bigger weapon. Now I'm going to die too. I fired again.

  And again. The bug staggered, but it still closed in. I was going to die! Somehow I rolled to the side as the bug barreled past me. Was it blind? I aimed the last two bullets into its back, one ricochetting off but but the second tore itself into its spine, and then I reloaded as the bug screeched.

  That vile bug needed to be dead and it needed to die now. I fired again and again until the second magazine was empty. Goddamn, its smell reminded me of rotting meat. It was gross.  Too gross. I gagged and vomited, spilling my half-digested breakfast all over the forest floor, and the putrid smell mixed with the already disgusting smell of the bug.

  Wait. Was it even a bug, with just four legs? Were its friends on their way? Had they lived this close to our house all the time?

  Time to make myself scarce. My legs were hurting and I had bruised my back when I dodged that Mantis and I was bloody exhausted, but I had to get the ztype out of there. Where would I even rest up if everything wanted to kill me? I barely remembered to switch on the safety of the revolver as I put it away to start running once more, crossing a river and and taking another mountain trail as I didn't want to run alongside such a major road for much longer, even if it probably fell into disuse a long time ago.

  And then I realized I had never been here before. Down below in the valley were nothing green crystals and mutated trees potentially housing too many things that I didn't want any part of. One tree looked particularly horrid, its bark shattered as a large, bulbous crystal was growing straight through and irradiated an eerie vibe. Even for someone like me, growing up with Tiberium and immune to random exposure due to a mutation, that emerald hellscape screamed to be a place to run away from really fast. So I climbed up higher, before eventually collapsing, exhausted, barely having the common sense to hide behind a rock to drink something and to be thankful that the weather was quite calm, if dry and hot. My chest heaved as I was breathing heavily. Where would I go next? It was already dark, and only the moon provided some faint lighting for me to see anything.

The landscape was too treacherous to traverse, and I just hoped I could sleep with everything out to hunt me. And to meet someone who could help me before those two bottles of water would run out.

But I could not find sleep. My body ached even more, the rocks were just too unforgiving and only served to make me feel even more sore, and hunger was gnawing away at my stomach and added fuel to the exhaustion.

  "Hey, girlie?" A male voice. I would have jumped if it wasn't for my legs being unwilling and heavy. They hurt so much, burning with exertion from the previous day. I must have ran for hours.
  ztype. "Yes?" My voice wavered.
 "Are you okay?" I looked up. A battle-scarred soldier loomed over me, a few more men lingering behind him. The eagle emblem sewed on his chest signalled he belonged to GDI. Okay. That's better than Nod soldiers, at least. GDI must have covered ground for real, no wonder Nod soldiers were running and scavenging.
 "I think so," I wheezed. I was exhausted and afraid, and my parents were dead, and I ran away. It could be worse.
 "Come with us," the soldier said. Why? Go away. You're scary. "I'm not very convincing, am I?" But that comment broke the tension, and a slender redhead shoved him aside.
 "Oi, Scarface, you should let me handle this." She paused in front of me, letting me take her in as the man shuffled away, to the others. This soldier was in her late teens, and didn't seem to be that experienced, though she also definately was not a rookie. But if anything, this girl seemed very friendly with the way she stared out of those blue eyes. "Don't mind him. I'm Domino. What's your name, young one?"
  "I'm Samantha Becker," I responded, my voice a fragile whisper. I looked around, noticing the soldiers. Six men, four women, including Domino.
  "How old are you?"
  "Fourteen," I wheezed. The woman stared at me, then nodded. I didn't blame her. Though my emerald eyes and dark green hair were probably more obvious signs than my small size.
   "You are mutating?" she whispered in my ear. I nodded at her. "And I assume that something else happened for you to be here." She offered her hand, which I gladly took, and I let her pull me upright. "No, we'll talk about it later." She pressed suit with me, which was awkward, but I was too exhausted and tired to complain. I sagged, still exhausted. Why was Domino not afraid of me? Most people I knew didn't dare to touch me. "Sergeant, do you mind if I take her back to base immediately?" She spoke much more clearly this time. "This little girl needs rest and some medical attention."
  "Medical attention, soldier?" the sergeant raised his eyebrows.
  "No, she's not injured, but she's exhausted, can't stay here and would only be a burden on our patrol. I'll take her back to base and take care of her, so she's ready to be taken to a GloboTech city as soon as possible." She winked at me, and it was clear she wanted to talk to me in private.  "Tsuki, can you join us? I'd like a pair of extra eyes."
  "Yes, I can, Domino." A woman standing to the side responded. She looked exotic, probably from Asia, and she was definately a few years older than Domino and looked far more battle-hardened. About half a head shorter too, just around one and a half meter in height, if I had to guess.
  "Stay safe, guys!" Domino said.
  "You too, Twiggy," the man dubbed 'Scarface' responded, followed by some of the others. The sergeant growled, but I paid it no heed as Domino led me along.
   
Tsuki seemed to be a polar opposite, as she immediately appeared to be very diligent, but Domino started chatting happily. Or would have, if I wasn't as tired as I was.

And barely an hour later, we arrived before a simple gate and some sandbags, which were surrounding a simple emergency compound at a rocky hillside. "We returned from the morning patrol early." She announced at the guardhouse. "We found this little girl about half an hour into our patrol, and learned she's been orphaned yesterday and on the run since - we thought it'd be best to get her here as soon as possible." The guard only now poked his head out, and I took a step back in shock as I noticed a large green patch on his right cheek. That was one hell of a mutation. "So here we are."
  The young guard nodded and shifted the bar away. "Come in. She needs to identify herself so we can check her background." How do I do that? I never had any identity card or something like that. Shit. But the soldier opened the gate anyway. "Okay, never mind, we'll take a DNA sample."

  The veteran soldier led me deeper into the compound, pointing towards the grey container that served as the soldiers quarters. There were a few more of these shelters, each of them serving as the living quarters of an entire platoon. There was another of those metal boxes but with blue bars, quite clearly the kitchen as well as the housing for its associated crew. A yellow walking tank crouched down with a pair of engineers performing maintenance on its guns. A few more vehicles behind it. I didn't care. I just wanted to rest.

  But I entered a truck with a red cross on top of it instead. "Come, let's have a shower first." Domino took off my clothes and entered a small bathroom alongside me. I struggled to stand, and only now realized how exhausted I was and I would've collapsed if it wasn't for Domino literally supporting me on every step. I still didn't like not being alone when taking a shower, but I didn't really have an option. "Come on, girl, admit you needed that." She grinned at me, before leading me to another room.
  "This is our first aid post, and we also have a laboratory in here," Tsuki added. I whimpered, it was awful to be not wearing any clothes. "We're going to take a few blood samples and such, too."  
  "Okay," I said, walking in further. Why did the doctor wear a lab coat and a gas mask? Was I that dangerous? Was he dangerous? I let her insert the needle anyway, I didn't really have a choice.
  "Now you can rest." Domino covered me with the towel before cradling me and carrying me outside. I entered one of them, and I was put on one of the topmost bunk.
  "Are there others sleeping here?"
  "Not during daytime," Domino answered. "Tonight, yes.  We didn't expect to run into friendly civilians, especially not civilians that we can't send to GloboTech or GDI controlled territory." She paused, squeezing my shoulders. "You're an orphan, therefore an outcast, and you're having a Tiberium mutation, therefore, an outcast. Can you imagine what other teenagers your age would do to you?" She put me down in the bed and covered me up, but remained at my side. "Anyway, don't think about it. We'll stay with you until you sleep." She lightly pinched my cheek, but I barely noticed as darkness overcame me.

---

Even when I woke up I somehow still felt tired, but I had to get going as I struggled to recognize my surroundings. I slept very close to the ceiling, surrounded by metal walls. It was a very simple box, with six bunks closely spaced together and a small sitting 'room' at the front, if you could even call it that. I pushed myself upright, stretching myself. My back hurt a bit, the thin mattress was not exactly comfortable. I stretched again, before noticing a pile of new clothes near my feet. Clean light grey underwear, a simple dark green sleeveless shirt, pants in an even darker shade, and a belt in the appropriate size. Even the holster of my revolver, though the gun itself was absent. And a letter. 'New clothes for you. We hope you have slept well. Don't worry, we will see you later. For now, go back to the labratory and ask if they have the results and if there's anything you need to know. Greetings, Tsuki and Domino.' My revolver wasn't anywhere to be found. Great. Hopefully I wouldn't need it again. Or maybe they would give it back to me later.

But I had an order, and no option but to obey it. So I dressed up, climbed down the bed, and walked back to the mobile laboratory.  The secretary responded immediately. "Samantha," she said. "Well, you're aware of your Tiberium mutation, and you have a variety classed T-E-gr-09, which is known to be extremely stable, that doesn't lead to any complications as far as we know other than greatly reducing both your aging and your relative physical growth. Your hearing and sense of smell are superior to that of other humans, and so is your reaction speed. Tiberium isn't around for long enough to know more. Finally, you're perfectly healthy." She paused. "Anyway, go out. You're not supposed to stay here." She pointed me to the door. Was I not supposed to this in this camp at all?
  "Where am I supposed to stay?" I was confused.
  The woman shrugged. "Depends. But I think the girls that brought you in want to speak to you soon."

And so I walked back outside. Finally looking around, I noticed how
grey the camp was. Even with the containers, the ground, the uniforms of the soldiers. They appeared to be tired, worn down by the long conflict. Domino's red hair actually formed a fair contrast with her surroundings, the girl smiling she walked up to me. "Hello Domino," I said. "And Tsuki." No, you are not sneaking up behind me.
  "Hello Sam," she said playfully. "You're up sooner than I expected. Are you okay?"
  "I think I am." My back and legs kind of hurt, and I was still really hungry, but those would be fixed. "Do you know when I can eat? Or where my revolver is?"
 Domino pointed to her bag. "I am carrying your revolver in my bag. Soldiers tend to be uncomfortable when they see a stranger carrying a weapon, since you can't really see from the outside whether it's loaded or not and we don't know much about you." Fair enough. "I took the liberty of cleaning your gun, though. It was used recently."
  "No shit, Sherlock,"  I exclaimed, the memory of the vile bug alone enough to make me gag. "Some disgusting four-legged bug chased me."
   "Ah, a Mantis. They're pretty gross, especially for the first time. They can be pretty hard to kill if you don't hit them dead-on, too." Domino grinned and ruffled my hair. "I killed a number of those creepy crawlies, though often alongside with my squad and always at a fair distance." She smiled brightly now. "Anyway, congratulations on taking one out! If you know where it happened, that might help us avoiding some casualties." I felt her arm snake around my shoulders, and for some reason I knew she would do everything in her power  to lead me to safety.
  "Okay. Do you have a map?" I wouldn't be of much use to the soldiers, but I could help them here. I knew most of this area by hand, I grew up here.
  "Follow me." Tsuki walked to briefing tent, where there was a detailed map of this area pinned against the side. I stared at the map, recognized most terrain features. The mountain near my house and the old destroyed village were marked, and the dead forest had a different colour too.
  "Here I lived," I explained, "and I ran this way after my father was shot on the road by Nod soldiers," tracing my finger alongside the landmarks, the path I took not marked on the map but the path just curved in between a pair of steep hills which were lined out. "Here, just before crossing this river, I ran into the bug." The bridge I took was clearly visible, and the road I walked alongside next used to be actually a major highway until the missile strikes of 2011. Then I took a mountain trail, an old road which was surprisingly also marked on the map. Apparently that road used to be more important as well.
  "And there we picked you up," Tsuki said with a smile. "Impressive. And thanks, because we're going to flag this area. I'd like my fellow soldiers to be aware of those bugs."  She walked to another container. "Lieutenant," Tsuki called, and a man appeared.
  "Yes, corporal? Aren't you girls supposed to be on patrol?" Corporal?! Tsuki never told me she was not a common soldier.
   "I had to return earlier because we ran into this little girl. But what I wanted to say is... Samantha here shot up a Mantis. There might be more near that location, so it's better to be prepared," Domino answered.
  "Here, lieutenant," I supplied helpfully, pointing at the map. The captain looked at me quizzically, wondering visibly how I had pulled that off.
   "With this," Domino continued, as she pulled my revolver from her bag for a few seconds, before putting it back in the holster on my hip. The officer just clapped me on the shoulder, staggering me.
  "We'll mention that to the patrol assigned to that area," the lieutenant said. "Don't worry about it, corporal." He paused, pulling his fingers through his hair as the young officer considered what to say next. "Dismissed." I was sure he wanted to say something else.  

  My stomach growled loudly, surprising the two soldiers. "I'm sorry." I was hungry as ztype.
  "No worries, Samantha," Tsuki answered, and I saw her roll her eyes as Domino lifted me by the waist. "I should have given you something to eat earlier." She took three bags of risotto from a crate. "Just rations, but they'll do." The cold rations felt really awkward to eat, but I was hungry. So I ate it anyway.
  "Thanks, Tsuki," I said as I began to eat more greedily, realizing I had not ate anything in bloody ages. "And you too, Domino."
   "You didn't eat for quite a while, did you?" Domino said.
  "Mhm," I nodded, not wanting to speak with my mouth full. "Not since yesterday morning." Domino just ruffled my hair in response, before letting me eat in relative silence.

   "Hey, our squadmates have returned," Domino exclaimed, giving the men and women a cheery wave.
  "Your squadmates. Not mine," Tsuki said, feigning anger. The Japanese woman focused on me. "I tend to be added to squads if they expect trouble. I'm a part of the platoon, but not of any section or squad." Fair enough.

  "Ha! She looks a lot better now. Well done, ladies." A soldier from before... Max, wasn't that his name? The lieutenant and the others were following him, the sergeant remaining near the door.
  "Yeah, a meal did her well. Good job, girls."
  "Thanks, lieutenant. Did anything happen on the patrols?"
  "No, Domino. Nod is withdrawing from the area for the time being as far as we know There isn't much they can contest here, except that Tiberium-filled valley to the northeast." The valley I walked past before, wasn't it? The man took a breath. "Anyway, do you think she can leave tomorrow? There was a bit of a fuss when she arrived earlier."
  Tsuki shrugged. "I don't think dropping Samantha in a GloboTech city would be healthy for her. She has a genetic Tiberium strain and while it's a mostly beneficial one as far as we know, it does keep her pretty small, so you just know how she's going to be treated in a GloboTech orphanage." They would pounce on me and tear me to shreds.
  "Join the army," Domino suggested, ruffling my hair.
  Fighting for a living. Maybe. I wasn't particularly vengeful. What would my dad want? He wanted me to live, to be happy, and to grow crops of my own when he no longer could. He wanted me to have some friends. He never really disagreed with Nod even if they plundered our food, since they helped our community in the past, but now Nod had killed him...
  "Are you okay?" Tsuki interrupted my thoughts.  Thankfully.
  "Not really."
  "It were eventful days for her," Domino said, placing a hand on my shoulder. "I think we should take it easy on her."
  "I'll join," I said, eventually. "If I can." I didn't know if I could do it. But dad would want me to be safe first and foremost, and retreating to GloboTech cities where I would be discriminated and abused didn't strike me as the best idea.
 
  The lieutenant arched his eyebrows, but said nothing at first. Tsuki was the first to respond, and I could see the sergeant what's-his-name was grateful.
  "Well, Sam," she said, taking a deep breath. "We first need to test whether you are a suitable soldier or not. We need to run a background check, too. We need to test your psyche, your physical abilities. It'll take a while, and in that time you have to do chores too."
  "Fair enough. Keep in mind I'm small, please."
  "No." Domino said. The redhead reeled me in. I didn't quite know if I minded all those hugs. It was weird. "Don't worry. Your military crash course takes a week or two." I smiled, grateful for the lessons of my uncle, my only family member that might be still alive and a major in the army of GDI. "Full training takes years, I trained for four years before I first saw combat, though I had a lot of additional military education." She paused. "But she'll never meet the weight requirement, even now it's lowered to ninety pounds for girls."
  "Who cares?" The officer shrugged.
  "By the way, do you know anything about my grandfather's brother, Paul Becker? He was a major when I last saw him, but that's years ago." I was kind of curious. He was the only family member I might have left.
  "Major Becker. I'll run that name through the database," the lieutenant said. "I'll tell you more later." He paused. "By the way, did I introduce myself? I'm lieutenant McGregor, the commander of this platoon."

The other soldiers of the section also introduced themselves. "I'm Jessica," one of the girls started. "I'm eighteen years old. Yes, I'm a bit of a rookie. I have an E-type mutation, like most of our section." I frowned.
  The other girl followed. "My name is Irina. I'm nineteen years old. I also have an E-type Tiberium mutation." She tapped a similar looking girl on her shoulder, but I hadn't seen her before. A sister?
  "I'm Maud, Irina's sister. I'm eighteen years old, eleven months younger than Irina. I'm a specialist, joining the section that is likely to need me on a patrol, using a recoilless rifle to deal with those annoying Nod Buggies and other light armor." She pulled her fingers through her brown hair. "I also have an E-type mutation. Most of us are mutating."
  "Our entire section is," another guy responded. "My name is Olaf, I'm the oldest soldier here. I have a D-type mutation for over as long as I remember, but I still have some time before I'm withdrawn from the front lines." His emerald hair was more Tiberium than not, and his skin was having a ghostly green tint to it.
  A blue-haired man sat down. He was visibly mutating, that hair was not normal. "I'm Victor. I'm probably the worst off, acquiring my mutation in G.D.I. service through a rather embarrassing incident a few months ago. But I'll make Nod bleed for as long as I can. I'm also twenty-two years old, but just a few months younger than Olaf."
  Another young man followed, one that looked distinctly average to the point that I expected him to be the first to fall. "My name is Bill," he said. "I don't have much to say, other than that I'm twenty years old, have fought for a while already and also have an E-type mutation."
  "I'm Max, but everybody calls me Scarface." The two scars were quite noticeable, for sure. "I'm the corporal of the section. I also have an E-type mutation."
  "That leaves me for last," another dark-haired man said. "I'm Douglas. Much like Jessica, I'm eighteen and basically fresh from the training grounds. And yes, I have an E-type mutation too."
  "Where's the sergeant?" I asked. As far as I knew, every squad was led by a sergeant.
  "He doesn't talk much," Irina said. "I doubt he'll join us.  Max's little sister might if she has a gap in her chores."  I guess I'll meet her later.  "Anyway, can you tell use more about yourself? We don't even know your name." Oops.
  "Well, I'm Samantha. I am fourteen years old, and as you can see I have been mutating too, having an E-type since before I was born." What else should I tell them. "I've learned some military basics from my uncle, who is an officer somewhere in the GDI. He was a major when I last saw him, but that's several years ago."
  "I look forwards to seeing what you know," Tsuki said.
  "Indeed," Domino added. "Come, I'll show you where we sleep. You don't mind sleeping with us, do you?" I did not. Domino seemed nice enough, if a little on the playful side. Maybe a little too much. Tsuki was a more distant and serious, but friendly and  helpful regardless.
But I was glad to have both women in my life, and I knew they both would do everything in their power to get me to a safe place.

_________________
Tales of War

Last edited by Vulture on Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:00 am; edited 2 times in total

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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread


  "I'm Erwin Bauer, but since I'm the staff sergeant, you have to call me by rank." I nodded, having a closer look at the brown-haired man in his late twenties. He seemed to be one of the more important members of the platoon. "Are you ready?"
"Almost, sergeant," I stated, finishing the last bit of my breakfast, dry crackers with vegetables and cheese. It was so nice to eat meals twice a day! "Ready!"
 "Good. Do you know the order of ranks?"
 I nodded. "Of course, sergeant. Soldier, third class at the bottom, second-rank and  then first-class, lance corporal, corporal, sergeant, sergeant-major, second- and then first-class lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, brigadier-general, general."  I paused.
 "Correct, except that you missed a bunch of ranks at the upper bracket, like, lieutenant-general and general-major. For now I think it's enough, assuming you know what most of these ranks entail." I nodded. Come on, it wasn't that difficult. "That's good. Another random question: What do you do with ammo casings that fall on the floor?"
  "Sergeant, you're asking. So I suppose you have to pick them up during or after the fight?"
  "Exactly, provided it is safe to do so." He paused. "Do you think you meet the physical requirements?"
  "Exercise-wise, sergeant?" I queried, at which he nodded. "Weight I obviously don't. Domino told me the weight limit is ninety pounds when entering service."
  "Yes, and I was accepted despite not meeting that requirement," Domino butted in. "It's a relic from when soldiers carried a lot more heavy equipment around and bulletproof vests were still really heavy." She paused. "Bulletproof vests used to weigh a hundred pounds on their own. My protective suit barely weighs ten and doesn't leave my limbs exposed. Shoes and helmet add a few more pounds and the weapon and ammunition weigh another twenty, but it's all pretty manageable."  
  "Is there something in my size, sergeant?" I'd like wearing something that doesn't leave me this exposed, at least not when fighting. Though it was an improvement over the rags I was wearing yesterday morning.
  "Sure. Once we have processed your data, you'll get yours," the sergeant answered. "For now, I just want you to do some exercises. I want to see if you meet the basic training standards." Domino and Tsuki almost burst out laughing, to my surprise. What was there so funny? "Forty sit-ups in two minutes. Twenty push-ups in two minutes. Five pull-ups in two minutes. And to be able to run two kilometers in ten minutes." Oh. That's why.
   Because it was incredibly easy.
 
  "Well done," the staff sergeant complimented after I was done. "You meet the basic training standards. No surprise." He smiled at us. "We need to have your weight, in case you get injured. After that you're off to go. You're not an official soldier yet... there's a lot more that needs to be done. But I think you're in good hands between the pair of Domino and Tsuki. They'll get you used to the army life in the meantime."
 
  "I think you need to practice self-defence." Domino rummaged a bit in a drawer, before handing me a pair of muffles, while strapping a small sandbag to her hands. "These are the smallest we have. Throw a punch at that me." I nodded, fitting the muffles. They barely fit my small hands, but they didn't fly off when I practiced a few punches in the air, so it was all good. I aimed at the bag. The blue-eyed redhead did not budge. "You can do better, Sam!" Domino cheered. No, I couldn't. I hit her again and again, but she didn't budge.
  "Oh well, you can't be good at everything." Tsuki said, throwing a punch of her own into that bag,  easily pushing Domino back.
  "Hey!" Domino shouted, slapping Tsuki lightly on her head with the improvised training item. "Anyway, try a kick, Sam!"
  I pivoted on one foot to get some momentum before lashing out. Now Domino budged, if slightly, but I wobbled a bit and struggled to regain my balance. Again! This time I steadied myself, but it still felt weird. "Is that normal?"
  "The balance issues from your own kicks go away with practice, but if you are standing on one foot, it is logical to be less steady." Domino walked up to me and gave me a light push with the sandbag, toppling me over. "Like that." She giggled as I pushed myself upright. It was kind of funny, I guess. I made a mental note to not let that happen again. Not that I could stop her. If an adult wanted to push me on the ground, I would be pushed on the ground.
  "Do we practice more self-defence with her?" Tsuki queried.
  "I think her real defence is speed," Domino answered. "She can't really do much in a melee. She is like hundred and twenty centimeters tall and weighs diddly squat." That reminded me. I still needed to be weighed. "Though I guess twenty kilo is a safe bet." I allowed the playful redhead to cradle me as we walked to the labratory where we met earlier.
  "Come on, Domino, she can walk on her own." She rolled her eyes. "You're a soldier, not a babysitter."
  "But she's cute." Tsuki sighed in resignation at that comment. I just decided to let it happen. It felt good to be accepted for once, and to be touched. My father was distant and practical, and my uncle wore a protective suit when he visited to help his 'little cousin' out and didn't dare to get close to me either, even if he taught me a number of valuable things. And the rest of my family was dead.

  The scale didn't even reach twenty, stopping at just over seventeen. Meh. I guess Domino would see me as a toy even more now. "Anyway," Tsuki said, as we walked back to 'our' container. "Before a certain someone," she pointed to Domino, "can treat someone as a younger child than she actually is," she said, putting emphasis on every word, "let's teach Samantha a few more things. Like cleaning her gun." I nodded. I never did that before. I knew it was necessary, I watched a few times when my dad cleaned his guns after some shooting practice, so I had a vague clue in how to disassemble and then reassemble the heavy revolver.
  "Sounds good." We quickly got to work, and it was surprisingly easy, though putting the gun back together took a little longer than I anticipated.
   "It'll always take a while when you do it for the first time. Eventually you can do it in ten minutes." I believed that.  Tsuki and Domino then walked me past the safety instructions of weapons, like 'always treat a weapon as if it's loaded even if you know it isn't' and 'always keep them in a safe location.' And a lot of other things. I yawned. I grew up around guns, of course I knew those things!
  "My dad taught me everything I needed to know," I said eventually. "From how to read and write, local geography, reading maps and calculating basic things to using a gun. My uncle taught me a little more about the military, but that's years ago, before my father had gotten too ill to teach me more." The last few years were really difficult. Dad's mutation had reached its zenith and began producing ill effects, the terrible weather ruined the harvests, starting with an ion storm that followed up on a deafening series of explosions. "My uncle told us he tried to get the papers to get us out of there, but that he failed." I don't know if he actually did do that, though. He might very well be lying for one reason or another. But after that giant explosion he never visited anymore.
  "Are you sure he spoke the truth?" Tsuki queried. I was just thinking about that and shook my head!
  "No. I can think of several reasons why he might lie about that, some good, some bad. He was always quite nice to me, even if he was horrified of touching me, but probably for good reason."
  "I can't exactly blame him." Domino pulled her slender fingers through my hair, and I couldn't help but leaning into her touch. It was so nice, so comforting. "I can hold you safely, and so can most of our colleagues here, hell, but someone who is not mutating yet... he doesn't know whether your mutation is stable and harmless, or not with that green hair."
  "Pretty close." Tsuki smiled. "It's not quite that bad, Samantha. There are definately Riparius strains in your hair, but they seem to be well-confined unlike the mess they made out of Olaf's hair."
  "It's more hair than Tiberium with you," Domino added, still stroking my hair. It was clearly a good thing. "Anyway, let's get out the cards. If you're a soldier, you need to know how to play poker."
  Tsuki raised her eyebrows.  "I don't think she has anything to wager."
  "It's not like we wager anything anyway. We just split the chips while we're teaching Sam." Domino gave my shoulders a squeeze before putting me back on the floor. Tsuki had already a pack of playing cards. I had seen those before, but the set at home was far from complete. "Anyway, let's get this going. Samantha," the redhead using my full name to get my attention. "Soldiers tend to have most of their smalltalk during a game of poker, generally after they finished their patrol for the day. As such we play this game quite a lot, and it's often enough more to wind down than about the actual game itself. So relax and don't worry about winning or losing." I nodded, absorbing the rules of the game as Domino and Tsuki explained them. It'd take some time getting used to the ability to fold. It was a bizarre idea to just refuse to play, but if you had a garbage hand it was probably a good idea unless you have overcommitted.

  Jessica, Maud and Irina joined in as the game started in earnest, and it seemed to be a bit of a girl's night, sitting on the floor in the center of the room, with a pack of cards in hand. I wondered what the other three girls would be like.
  Maud and Irina seemed to be mostly focused on each other, as expected from siblings, as Maud playfully shoved Irina to the side. "I was sitting there." Lies?!
  "I am always sitting there." Irina and Maud both moved to the side, sitting and forming a circle. "Anyway," Irina queried, "how's the new girl?"
  I shrugged. "I'm feeling fine. I just want to get to know you." For some reason I had the feeling I would spend a lot more time with these girls.
  "Then this game will be a good place to start. Whose turn is it to be the dealer?"
  "I think Samantha should be the last one to be the dealer," Domino suggested. "It's her first actual game."
  "Agreed," Jessica added, as she sat down next to me and started shuffling the cards. "So we go clockwise."
   A nine and a three. I just folded that immediately, content to let the others talk. "Anything I need to know?" I asked.
  "Well," Irina started. "This platoon is formed fairly recently, so we don't know each other that well in general. My little sister here only finished her training a few weeks ago." Maud nodded slightly in response.
  "And so did I," Jessica added. "I think about a third of this platoon are rookies, and just chosen because of our immunity to Tiberium. Most of the GDI army is born in the outskirts of GloboTech controlled areas and therefore not mutating, after all, though also a number of people from the more contaminated areas flocked to us." She paused a bit. "Partially because they have seen how much damage Tiberium can do, but they have no faith in GloboTech either to solve the situation."
  "I was added to this platoon," Tsuki added, "because I am mostly immune to Tiberium and a combat veteran, and they thought my experience would be helpful. After advancing for a few weeks we set up this temporary camp a week ago." So how long would I stay here? Probably not for long. I doubted the girls knew the answer right now.
  "As for me," Irina went on, "my platoon was practically disbanded a few months ago, so after I had my holiday I was reunited with my little sister." She paused, there was clearly something Irina wasn't saying there. I doubted that 'disbanding' was a good thing.
  Domino nodded.  "Irina and I were the only survivors of our section remaining in service, so we know each other for about a year." Then why did Domino choose Tsuki to escort me to this base rather than Irina? She probably had a good reason, but with that in mind her and Irina taking me here would have made much more sense. I pondered to ask exactly that question, but I decided against it. I was sure I would get that answer eventually.
   I overlooked the girls during the first two rounds, managing to hog some fiches as I started with two sixes and a third appeared during the flop, giving me a three-of-a-kind. But I was too obvious, the girls realizing my triplet, and they all folded. Should I've been more greedy? Nah. I decided to be happy with the luck I was given before the loss streak would happen. Maybe I could get a bit of a lead now. "Hey Samantha," Jessica butted in. "You lived close to here, right? Can you tell us something that we need to know about this area? Weather quirks, Tiberium-related issues, whatever. This little temporary camp is only standing here for a week or two."
  Yes, I could. "Well, yes. First, this area is quite close to areas that have been completely ravaged by Tiberium. I had to shoot a Mantis as I withdrew." That I knew, and the girls nodded. I had their undivided attention, and I decided to bring their attention to the main hazard of this area. "Second, most importantly. The weather. During summer violent storms seem to just ravage the land, ruin the harvest, and destroy everything. Last two harvests of us were ruined by large hail, and I've seen two tornadoes pass by my house in the past two years. Winter isn't as bad, but it tends to be incredibly dry, with harsh winds ravaging the land and leaving it no time to recover." I remember there being living trees when I was a small child, but everything that wasn't immune to Tiberium seemed to have disappeared in the past decade, especially the last few years were horrible.  Now the only living flora was in greenhouses.
  "Ouch. Is it that bad?" I just nodded. Currently the weather was quite passable, but spring generally had acceptable weather. Hot and dry, but the wind was manageable and violent storms flat out not happening.
  "We might be close to Exclusion Zones," Domino added. "Dangerous, even for us. I would expect we need to have more permanent housing if we insist on staying here, something that can actually resist an ion storm."
  "I wouldn't be surprised if we were withdrawn in the near future," Jessica continued.
  "Let's see where our next patrol tomorrow will take us," Tsuki said, pointing at me. "Samantha marked a large Tiberium field on the map, I'm sure the commanding officer wants to check it. I wouldn't be surprised if the lieutenant appoints us to do it if he didn't send a patrol to do it today instead."
  A shiver went through my neck. "Don't come close to it," I warned. "My hair stood on end as I walked past it, it's horrifying."
  "We might actually take you with us if you have your bulletproof suit, Sam," Domino said, smiling at me."You're more familiar with the surroundings than we are. Don't worry, we'll keep you safe." That didn't do much to comfort me. That field was terrifying.
  "Indeed," Maud said. "Both me and Tsuki will likely be with the section that is appointed to explore the outskirts of that field, unless they are scouting it with both sections that aren't at here."
  "That is quite likely, yes, but not a given," Tsuki continued. "I actually wouldn't be surprised if we'd scout that with two sections and leave one behind to guard the base."
  "Chances are," Maud responded. "That sounds quite sensible. I haven't tried the recoilless rifle against larger lifeforms yet, but I've heard it's quite devastating."
  "It's designed to do that, right?" Domino asked, looking at me. I shrugged. I didn't know.
  "Kind-of," Maud explained. "The anti-armour warhead was designed to punch through keratinous armor, which is what those infernal Scarabs and Tiberium Fiends as well as Floaters have.  Nod vehicles are quite vulnerable too, provided they aren't too heavily armoured, but that isn't what the weapon was intended to fight. There is also a high-explosive warhead, for use against infantry and unarmoured Tiberium lifeforms." That made sense. Samantha smiled as Domino revealed her cards. Wow, what a bluff! "By the way, Domino, that was dirty!"
  "Not my fault you fell for it." I couldn't help but agree, Maud feigning her anger at being taken out of the game. Thankfully I had folded the moment Domino raised, my starting hand was bloody dogshit, but having the big blind, I had no reason to fold before the flop. But Domino took away my a chunk of my fishes next round as I miscalculated, and Irina took the rest the round after, taking me out of the game. My three of a kind was not enough.
  After that, it was mostly silent, Domino and Irina the only ones left in the game. Until it ended. "Take that, Irina," Domino cheered.
  "I'm surprised how often you win," Maud questioned. "Isn't poker a luck game?"
  "Partially," the redhead answered. "Chance plays a role, but making the correct calculations is just as important, if not even moreso." She smiled. "I guess in theory, if everybody makes the correct calculations, poker does become a game of chance, but that never happens." She suddenly tapped me on the head, ruffling my hair. "Third place out of six is not bad for your first game, though, Sam."

  Someone knocked on the door. "Amanda here. I have a very small bulletproof vest for a girl I have yet to meet."
  "Come in," Domino shouted. The door opened, and a pretty, somewhat familiar face appeared. Her waist-long hair was a little clunky, and something about her told me she was not a combatant. If she was, she would've been told to cut that blonde hair a long time ago.
  "Hello Samantha," she said. "I am Amanda, the younger sister of Max. I'm doing most of the chores for his platoon, so the soldiers don't have to do as much." She smiled. "Now I'm bringing you your new bulletproof suit." She held the long sleeved vest out in front of me, and I took it in my hands. It felt quite heavy, especially compared to what I was currently wearing. A strange fluid was inside the cloth, all the way up into the turtleneck. "Also some reserve clothes are in this bag, because your clothes will get dirty and it's useful if you can wash them at least once a week. Laundry chores are cycled around, but it's usually done in pairs."
  I did not quite know what to say. "Thanks, Amanda," I stammered out. It was so surprising they had an uniform in my size at this base. And I was so happy to have new clothes. It was only now that it truly sunk in how much of an improvement it was.
  "Don't thank me, Samantha. I'm just the delivery girl. I'll be right back."
  "Then I guess I'll thank GDI," I said, smiling. I put it on, getting a feel for it. It barely hindered my movement despite the thick fabric and fluid inside. "And this is bulletproof?"  It felt hard to believe.
  "The fluid becomes really hard if something impacts it with sufficient force. It'll keep bullets and other projectiles out. I've been hit in my right arm and in my chest in a firefight once, and while it still leaves a bruise, I was perfectly fine and could remain on duty." Irina gave a smile. "It works wonderfully."
  Amanda returned with more stuff. "One pair of combat boots, an utility belt and a helmet for the little girl." I stared at the boots. Was I an official soldier? Or not? I decided to see how everything fit, putting everything on. Domino even handed me some rounds of ammunition to store inside the small bag on my utility belt. A surprising amount would fit in if necessary, as I fit in several dozen easily. Or maybe it was actually not that much. My revolver just did not have a high rate of fire.

And we went to have dinner.

And the alarm blared. What was going on? I almost panicked. The entire camp suddenly bristled with activity, and a megaphone started to activate. "We are under attack. I repeat. Nod is attacking our base." An explosion near the improvised gate rocked us, and we scrambled.
  "Put on your protective suit and your new boots," Domino said, hushed, as she handed me my revolver. "As for your orders... follow me." I nodded, my heart pounding in my chest. My first fight. Today already.
  "Okay." Domino was somehow already fitted out for battle, while I was still fumbling with my boots. I put a bit more ammo in that little bag, just in case I would need it.
  "Put on your helmet. I'll strap your boots." Domino was hurrying. Jessica and Maud were waiting, Irina and Tsuki were already out. But just seconds later, we were standing outside as well. "Good! How many rounds do you have?"
   "At least forty."
  "Take care, you'll go through that quickly." Domino pointed to Tsuki. "We have to defend that corner. Let's join the others." It was eerily silent, but the other girls were already waiting for us. No one was shooting? Where were the enemies? Was this just practice?
  "What took you so long, Twiggy?" Maud chided, before chuckling. She pointed over, and I didn't see anything but scrubs.  I squinted, hoping to see more. Not really. Where were our enemies? "They are supposed to come from the east. Watch out for the backblast of this recoilless rifle, make sure you stand in front of me." I nodded. We waited a few more seconds. And these seconds became minutes.
  Attack bikes ran past, pairs of rockets screaming out of their launchers. I instinctively took cover, hiding behind the sandbags until a loud bang just behind me snapped me to attention. I looked up, noticing that Maud had opened fire. "Did you hit anything?"
  "Nah," Maud answered. "But they were quite far away." I assumed that meant they were out of effective range.

   Someone else opened fire. It was Tsuki. Had she seen something? Muzzle flashes immediately appeared in response. How?! But those flashes were a target. I knelt down, ignoring everything around me as I took aim. Opened fire, the bang of the large revolver audible even between the assault rifles.
  The muzzleflashes disappeared. "Did we kill them?" I asked hopefully, at which Domino chuckled.
 "Probably not. They need to reload too, after all." Oops. "And not every hit is lethal. Most aren't, actually." She methodically reloaded. New muzzle flashes. Domino was right. They were definately still alive.  I aimed again, opening fire, aiming just
slightly to the left to adjust for the crosswind.
  One flash became disjointed immediately. "I don't know if that was good or lucky, but that definately hit something." Tsuki complimented, as Tsuki sprayed down into the bush, and more muzzle flashes disappeared.
  "Watch this," Maud said, as she blasted the bushes to smithereens. Burning branches rained down around the explosion and a plume of black smoke billowed into the reddened sky.
  "It seems they ran," Irina said. "They are no longer there."
  "Indeed," Domino said. "Wait, is that true?" She squinted, and I traced her eyes. There was something there. A Nod militant. Just one, sprawled across the rocks. I tensed up. Did I need to open fire again? "He's either dead or injured," Domino said.
  "Let me look," Maud said, as she pulled out a pair of binoculars. "Probably dead." We waited a little longer, but nothing happened anymore. The Nod soldiers had disappeared. Would they get reinforcements?
  "I'm uncomfortable here," Domino said. So I was not alone. But there was no shooting anymore, or any enemy activity, except another drive-by with the bikes to keep the entire base on watch duty.  But they did not open fire. Were it the same bikes from before, with their rocket launchers expended? However, Maud still had plenty and she opened fire again, hitting the rearmost bike and blasting it apart. "Wow!"
  "Wow," I echoed Domino, watching as the other Attack Bikes disappeared into the east.
  "Nice shot, sis!"
  "Hrmpfh," Sergeant James appeared. Or I assumed, as he was covered by his protective suit and unrecognizeable. "You girls were late on post."
   "What?"  The soldiers chorused. They were well in time, the Nod attack not attacking in earnest within ten minutes of them being at their post.
   "Come on, sergeant. They were in time and you know it," Victor said, drawing some of the heat.
  "Hrmfh. Make sure you're in time tomorrow. You too, Becker."  Okay. So I would be with the soldiers tomorrow.

  The lieutenant appeared, overseeing the aftermath of the fight. The Nod soldier's corpse was dragged in the camp to see if he had anything valuable on him.  Not money, I assumed, but probably some intel about their plans? It was unlikely, but maybe they were in luck. And assault rifle ammunition was pretty universal.
   The staff sergeant attracted our attention as he was loudly swearing at things that were clearly not working, before he calmed down, closed the door of the makeshift office behind him and rounded in on us. What did he want?
   "Girls," the staff sergeant said. "Yes, you too, Samantha."
   "Yes, sergeant?" I queried, surprised he was talking to us. It wasn't quite the first time, but we spoke rarely enough that I forgotten his name.  
   "I just wanted we have found the Tiberium field that Samantha mentioned earlier on our patrols today, it is roughly ten miles away. And absolutely huge." He paused, pondering what to say and what not to say.
   "What are the implications, sergeant?" Domino queried.
   The man shrugged, waving that it was not really the business of the common soldiers. Or maybe he was waiting for orders. "I just wanted to tell you that we managed to confirm everything you told us. We even found the corpse of that bug that you shot up, including an expended bullet to boot. We also confirmed that a major named Paul Becker exists, but he was removed from active service on his own request seven years ago." So they didn't know much either. That was fine. He was a bit scared of me because of my mutation and would not be too thrilled to see me. But he last saw me five years ago, and I strained my memories to remember whether he was still in service back then or not. For some reason I felt it made more sense if he had retired from active duty completely, but I could not put my finger on why.

   "I assume we are going to be withdrawn," Domino said, patting me on the head. "Sam, do you mind being even further away from home?"
  "What home?" I shrugged. I was pretty sure the Nod soldiers would have set it on fire by now. "How would a withdrawal go?"
  "Fairly simple, don't worry." Domino patted me on my shoulder. "It takes less than two hours to remove all traces of this base." Two hours? To pack all of this up?

  And then a horn sounded. The call to meet up. "Good evening, guys. We received the order to withdraw back to the primary front lines, so that is what we are going to do. We're going to pack up and leave, where we can refuel and rest." He paused, waving. "Everybody who isn't a driver is dismissed."

  And we started working. We put our clothes and other possessions in our backpacks, before removing the mattresses from the bunks, rolling those into a neat package and tying it on top of the backpack. Not easy. But by the time I was done Domino and Tsuki had apparently dismantled the bunks already. "Hey guys, are you done?" Tsuki shouted.
  "We are," Bill said, and we pushed against the metal. It was heavy, even for the six of us, but we got it moving, until it clicked, after which it became a lot easier to shove everything together.
  "Hurry up, ladies," the sergeant shouted. Shut up. "Faster."
  But we were already done. Domino walked to the half-open foxhole we had fought from earlier, and I followed her as they took the metal roof in their hands. "Back off, Sam. You're a little too small for this. Try to take a sandbag instead." I did as requested, taking one of the smaller sandbags as the bigger women dismantled the roof.
  "Good," Irina complimented. Ugh. The bag was heavy, probably heavier than I was.
  "Becker, you weakling," the sergeant shouted. "I'll make you do push-ups if you don't hurry up with that sandbag." I staggered under the weight, but I stopped listening.
  And the weight disappeared. "Don't worry," Maud interjected. "I have your back. You only need four men to demount the roof, so I can help you with this." With the two of us, it was a lot easier, and together we easily carried the bag towards the container. And then some more.

And the alarm blared again. "ztype, not now," Bill shouted. The attack bikes were already visible, storming  towards us, fired their missiles and turned away. I did not look away as the projectiles closed towards us and at least one careened into a Kazuar, the hit blasting off the right leg and sending the vehicle crashing to the floor. "ztyping hell!"
    ztype indeed. I hope the pilot managed to get out. I whirled around again, hoping to have something to open fire on, but the bikes were already gone. "They will keep distracting us," Domino whispered. "I doubt they will let us leave."
  "Then we fight," Victor stated. "Or run on foot. There are reasons they always come from the east, I expect the west to be mostly clear."
  "Where did those guys even come from?" Douglas queried. "I thought they were running away."
  "Probably a feint," Tsuki stated blandly. "They feigned retreat, then doubled back with reinforcements once they had reloaded and regrouped." That made sense.
  "So what are we going to do now?" I asked, but looking at the officers only a chill crept through my spine.
  "Just continue packing up," the lieutenant ordered uncertainly. Great. So he didn't know what to do either.
 
  So we loaded those sandbags into the folded container. Barely minutes later, we loaded the containers on a truck. First the officer's quarters, but the three containers of the sections quickly followed, the mounted crane making lifting the heavy containers look easy.
The kitchen was dismantled too, stored on the second truck. Wasn't that vehicle the medical labratory before? Wow. The stocky armored personel carriers, unimpressing vehicles I barely noticed before when compared with the walking Kazuars, started their engines. "Get in, girls," Domino said, her voice barely audible over the din of the engines.

  When suddenly one of the APCs exploded.  I heard screams, and Domino threw herself on top of me before rolling herself under me to absorb the contact with the ground. A blue pulse soared overhead and crashed into a rock.                        
"Goddamnit!" Irina groaned at our side. This was scary. What was going on? What did I have to do?
  "Back off," Tsuki ordered. "They are focusing on the vehicles."
   She was not a moment too late as the armored vehicle was torn to shreds by another shot. It was at that moment that I noticed a hovercraft charging our way, barely visible through thee flames that it was spewing out. And people screamed in agony. My stomach turned at the sight, but Domino clapped me on the back. "Come on, girl, let's run." Domino clapped on my back again.
  "Agreed," Tsuki stated. "We are fucked." More fires lit up the sky.
 
     "Yes, get the ztype out," Domino screamed, slamming her hand in my back. "That way," she said, pointing to the dead trees at our left. "Follow me."  They were so far away! We would never get there in time.
  "G-good," I wheezed, following Domino. Nothing else mattered right now. I  ducked as I heard a bullet ricochet off a container.  
 "Stay here, cowards! And fight!" The sergeant shouted.  I saw Victor and Olaf drop back and split up. But Domino still ran ahead. Tsuki too. Irina and Maud followed me.  
  "No, keep run-," the lieutenant overruled the sergeant, his voice becoming an agonizing shriek as flames engulfed him.  
   "Keep running, Sam," Victor said, as he turned into a different direction, opening fire at the vehicles to distract them. "Don't worry about us. Farewell!" I ran past him, trying to follow Domino.  She was so fast.  And what where Victor and Olaf doing? No, I needed to follow the corporals ahead of me.

  Could I keep up? Irina and Maud were ahead of me, and I had already lost Tsuki and Domino. Where were the others? Further ahead.
   Something slammed into a nearby tree, and dry wood scattered everywhere. I ran faster, somehow remaining on my feet as another explosion rocked the world.  Where were the others?
  I just kept running, loosely following them, finally reaching a new open field. Maud or Irina was on the other side, her long shadow faintly ainted across the field. With renewed vigor I gave chase, hoping to finally catch up and see the others.

  But they were waiting. Though I was missing so many of them.  I knew Olaf and Victor sacrificed themselves. And what about the other sections? Or the support staff?
  "Good lord," Domino wheezed. "Are you okay, Samantha?" I ran into her outstretched arms and embraced her.
  "Y-y-yes," I answered. "K-kinda..." I was scared. Domino just pulled me closer.
  "Hey, Sam, it's okay. It's okay to be afraid." She pulled her fingers shakily through my hair, and I knew the redhead was more rattled than she'd let on. "Is there anyone else?"
  "I don't know," Irina said. "Where are Jessica and Douglas? I thought I saw them follow us."   I didn't know. I followed Maud, someone I knew that was following Domino.
  "So... just the five of us made it out, right?"  
  "No clue. Max also ran, I just don't know where he is. And the Mobile Sensor Array bolted the moment hell broke loose, I don't know where they are." Maud stated.
  "Olaf and Victor split up and opened fire at the Nod vehicles," I decided to add to the conversation.
  "Brave and stupid," Domino said, facepalming. "Like always. What did they hope to achieve?"
  "Buy some time and keep sergeant James off our backs," Maud suggested.
  "Probably," Domino said. Her face was tired, her expression broken. "I feel it's just the five of us now."
  "Do we wait for others?"
  "A few more minutes," Domino whispered.
  "That was a nasty fight," Tsuki said. "Running like that is not my thing, but we had nothing to gain by staying there."
  "We had no heavy armor available against Inferno Flame Tanks," Irina whispered. "Only one way that can go. We didn't even have weapons at hand that can actually damage those things from the front."
   "Is Nod looking for us?" I queried. And suddenly the others were silent.
   "They might," Domino said, as she stretched herself. "So let's move on. Stay in cover, speed is less important than not being seen. And stay close to me." I nodded, staying close to the redhead as we crawled through the dead wood, staying in dry ditches. Where were we, even? The forest was filled with dread, and one of the worst dustbins I had ever seen. "I don't want to be a soldier anymore," she said, whispering. "Two times in a month that my squad was decimated by those infernal monsters. ztyping hell..."
  "Sssh," Maud said, trying to keep the tears from her eyes. "It's okay. We need to find something to eat and drink, because we left everything in our APC..."  
  "Where do we need to go?" I asked.
  "Under such circumstances, you tend to go back to your home base if you can," Tsuki answered. "For us, that is to the north. That way." She pointed ahead. How she knew where the north was in this darkness, I had no clue.
   
   I saw a wreck ahead of me. Fairly recently destroyed, as it was still smoldering. Maybe earlier today? "Should we check if there is some food and water left behind?"  
  "Good," Domino said. "We have no choice. Careful, though." The sisters lagged a bit behind, carefully covering our backs.
  I walked closer to the Buggy,  but it was completely burnt out, though it seems the crew had escaped. Probably not too long ago, if the smell of fire was anything to go by. A wooden cross was inserted into the ground at its side. What did that mean?
  "Let's enter the house," Tsuki whispered, as she quietly opened the door, and she tensed up. "There's someone inside. Upstairs."
  We quietly walked up, following the commando.
 
  A man, lying on the floor. "Hands up. Who are you?" Tsuki spoke clearly and decisively.
  "A Soldier of the Circle," he said, coughing. "Filthy Black Hand animals shot us up, killing my comrade." Tiberium Fiends? No, he said Black Hand. Was that a Nod subfaction?
  "Any food or water here?"
   The man was looking them over. "I won't tell you." Probably yes?
  "It's not like you have hidden it," Tsuki answered, pointing to two bottles and a pack of dry crackers. "Hold him at gunpoint, I'll tie him up. I don't want to attract attention by shooting him." Better be quiet.
  "Are you sure they are not looking for him right now?" We got chased by tanks after all.
  "I am sure they have other things on their mind," Tsuki said. "But it's best if we don't linger."

   And we moved out, walked along further. I had no clue where we were going, and all I did was hoping Tsuki knew. But we just entered the ruins of another house. Barely more than the foundations remained. "Girls, it's time to sleep. I'll keep watch for now," Tsuki stated, as she pointed to the basement.
  "I doubt I'll sleep," Irina said slowly. Neither did I, but Domino gently rested my head on her shoulder, acting as a pillow.
  "Probably not," Maud responded. "I wonder how long it'll take before we reach safety."  
  "A while." Way to kill our hope and dreams, Tsuki. "But we need to sleep eventually."
   But eventually Domino drifted off, and so did I, hoping no one would care about us for now. "Goodnight," I wheezed, and I fell asleep.

 Around sunrise, Tsuki woke us up. "I'm exhausted," Tsuki said. "I kept watch all night. Domino, can you take over?"
  "I can," Domino groggily responded.
  "So can I," I answered, not feeling much better than Domino. "I'm awake anyway." I stood up, dusting myself off and looking across the dry landscape, lit up in an spooky green colour by the barely visible moon, hidden behind clouds of Riparius dust that were blown over the various hills and mountains.
  "Let's do it together," Domino said. "Have a nice rest, Tsuki. We'll keep watch until daybreak." Maud fell asleep again, but we'd let her.

But the rest of the night remained quiet, and I wondered how many Nod soldiers actually were in the area, or if this area was mostly under GDI control. Or just heavily contested, and Nod forces were hiding just as much as us.

  What was that? A strange humming shook me out of my musings, and it quickly became louder. ztype! I shouldn't daydream when I am supposed to be on watch duty! Looking around hastily, all I noticed was Domino, who seemed to be daydreaming just as much as I was. I turned back. And something that looked like a giant sawblade soared towards us, lit up eerily by the dimmed moonlight. "ztype," I screamed, quickly opening fire in the hope that this would stop that thing. The first shot was deflected by the blades, but the second shot was not, and the third shot  struck it  near its bottom, causing it to explode and grind into the ground. Fuckfuckfuck, that was way too close.
  "What the hell was that?" Domino shouted, slightly joistling the boat as she turned around.
  "A Cleaver Drone," Irina stated. "Good job, Samantha!"
  "Okay, we're definately seen now. Where are the other drones? They rarely patrol alone."
  As if on cue, a second one appeared. "That one is mine," Maud shouted, and she opened fire, but her shot sailed over by inches. "Goddamnit!"
  "Don't worry, we'll take over." Tsuki, Irina and Domino raised their rifles, but the Cleaver didn't really seem to care all that much as it closed in on us. I didn't want to die!  Why did the chamber not close properly! Finally! "ztype! ztype! ztype!"  
  "NO," Maud shouted even as she fired her sidearm, as the thing closed rapidly.  I fired once. Twice. Something changed in its levitation, before it suddenly jammed up. I quickly ducked, the thing just skimming over us before crashing into the sand behind us.
  "ztype..." I breathed heavily. "E-ev-vry-b-o-od-dy o-ok-ke-ey?" My voice stuttered out of control, but two strong hands grabbed my chest, squeezing and steadying me.
  "Calm down, Samantha," Tsuki said.
  "I t-think s-so?" Domino said, rattled just as much as I was by this turn of events.
  "I am," Tsuki said, squeezing me even tighter. "It's okay, girls." No, it is not. We almost got ztyping killed by those ztyping floating sawblades, ztyping hell!
   "I am fine," Irina said, gently shaking Domino.
   "Y-yes," Maud continued, visibly shaking as well. "That was way too close, though. I need to hold my fire until that Cleaver is close enough and I cannot afford to miss."
    "It doesn't seem to do well against that revolver either."
    "Aim for its underside," I stated as I tried to compose myself. My heart was still racing in my chest. "It's q-quite weak. Hitting the blades is just pointless, the bullets deflect or don't do anything significant." The overlapping blades acted like armor even if the bullet wasn't deflected.
   "Good," Tsuki said. I dropped to the ground, exhausted.
   "Are you okay, Samantha?" Domino said, as she knelt over me.
   "I am, Domino," I said, wheezing.
   "You look quite pale." So do you?
   "You don't look much better, Domino." Irina chided. "But your precious little Sam will be fine, don't worry." She paused. "But I think we need to get the ztype out of here."
   "We do," Tsuki answered. "Let's get going and get a move on before it's daylight. Nod will surely notice this."
  I nodded, stretched myself, and pointed. If we ran through the ditch we had some cover in the mostly open ground. "Yes," Domino agreed. "That dry riverbed should provide enough cover." She pointed up. "I doubt we'll see Nod aircraft here, we are quite close to the Exclusion Zones."
  "So what's the plan, Twiggy?"
  "Move safely," Domino said. "We should go north, but I can't even see the sun now. I have absolutely no bearing on where we are." There was way too much Tiberium blown through the sky. We moved along further, the steep riverbed keeping us out of sight as we just kept moving, with Domino, Irina and Maud taking turns carrying me when I was exhausted, my short legs just not able to keep up with the adults.

  "Gosh," Tsuki stated. "Those supplies lasted us only for a day. We need to find more Nod soldiers to rob."
  "Hey, it meant we had food today," Irina answered. "But I doubt we'll find Nod soldiers in the Exclusion Zone." She pointed pointed to a Riparius monolith practically ahead of us. "Shouldn't we go the other way?"
  "We'll get killed if we try that. In the Exclusion Zones, Nod is not very active either. It's left to the Forsaken and the ion storms." Domino answered.
  The Forsaken? Nod newspapers always told scary stories about them, and I wondered what they were like. They were mutating because of Tiberium, but so was my dad, and he did not join the Forsaken. He just lived mostly on his own, because he wanted to be there for me for as long as he could.

  We moved on further, eventually climbing out of the ditch as we started looking for another place to sleep. "Stand on my shoulders, Sam. Can you see a house or something?"
  "Not really," I stated, wobbling a bit before leaping to the ground. "There are some dusty ruins ahead though, further to the south, I guess." If there was a town there one day, it was completely gone now, but Nod had bombed a lot of places about a decade ago. "A lot of Tiberium Riparius too, though."
  "Let's move on," Domino stated. "I want to cross more ground today." She pointed to the ruins.
  "But that is not the way home, Twiggy," Maud stated. I really should ask Domino how she picked up that nickname.
  "We are between a rock and a hard place, sis," Irina answered. "The question is whether you want to get fucked in the ass by Nod or by the Forsaken, but I think I prefer the latter."
  "What are they like?" Maud asked.
  "Very little is known about them," Domino responded. "There is no love lost between the Forsaken and GDI, but they absolutely hate both Nod and GloboTech, albeit for different reasons. Nod is rumored to have ran some cruel experiments on the Forsaken population and is basically at war with them, and GloboTech refused to help them when they could and ignores them, discriminating the mutated people and prefering to let Nod and the Forsaken fight each other than getting involved. GDI and the Forsaken are no allies either, but they share a common enemy and the Forsaken do have some positive experiences when working with GDI... provided the GDI soldiers aren't scared of the mutants, that is, but GDI's issues with the Forsaken seem to be mostly soldiers themselves discriminating them rather than on a structural basis like it is for the others, and GDI is no stranger to supplying the Forsaken with food and ammunition if necessary."
  "My father refused to join them. He was offered a chance when he was eighteen, but he wanted to see me grow up."
  "How old were your parents when you were born?" I substracted the numbers. Dad was twenty-seven.
  "They were both thirteen..."
   "That's even younger than my parents. Mom was fourteen," Domino stated. The others just nodded. Their parents were young too. "But many children from older parents were born ill or with unstable mutations, like my younger brother, who died of Tiberium-related organ failures when he was four." She tapped on my head. "He was just one year younger than I was." One year made the difference between being born with a C- or E-type mutation.
   True. "My younger sister died within weeks of being born," I added.
  "It seems there are fairly specific requirements at play for E-type mutations," Maud stated.
  No shit, sherlock! "For sure, Maud." Tsuki confirmed, coughing. "ztyping red dust everywhere. Let's stop talking and get some shelter before the wind picks up even more." Thankfully Europe used to be densely populated, and it didn't take more than a few minutes to find a brick house to take shelter in. It was quite well-maintained, with the tiled roof being still mostly intact as well as most windows, signalling that someone had lived here even fairly recently, though it was also clearly abandoned now, as a few broken windows seemed to suggest, though one had been planked off.
  Was this an Exclusion Zone, or just a place that was only overtaken by large amounts of Tiberium relatively recently? The latter for sure, because otherwise huge Riparius monoliths would have started forming already, instead of just the small fields that seemed to be scattered everywhere arround us. But there was an actual bed left behind in this house, an large wooden bed that seemed to be impossibly heavy, with a heavy mattress inside, and covered with a large blanket. Two pillows at the head made me think that a couple used this bed before. Domino and Tsuki shook the dust from the blanket and within moments we plopped down, the five of us sleeping like a log.

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Tales of War

Last edited by Vulture on Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:01 am; edited 1 time in total

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Vulture
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Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Ugh. Tsuki, why did you have to roll on top of me? Everything hurts now. I know it was an accident and that the ache will fade away, but it is annoying me now. I looked into the basement for anyting to eat, but nothing. The fridge was empty too. So we had to continue our travels right now, with food and water being the main priority.  But the scarred landscape was uninviting. At least there were roads to walk on, damaged they may be, but the chance of finding something useful would be significantly larger, even if the city in front of us was nothing but ruins, an once bustling but now abandoned city that was covered in red dust and grey debris.

  Destroyed houses and burnt out cars were in front of us, scattered alongside the broken road. A collapsed supermarket was to our right. Supermarket? Maybe there would be something there. No, it was looted, though we did find a receipt from barely a month ago. Was this city abandoned this quickly, or was it a process that had set in years ago and only ended recently?  But we had wasted an hour there, an hour that could have been spent elsewhere.
  A question that would remain unanswered, with no living being in sight, the entire city reduced to a ghost town. Thirst and hunger were harassing me. They were harassing the others.
 
  I was getting thirsty, but I did not complain. The others were thirsty too. I was hungry, but I did not complain. The others were hungry too. We trudged on, through more abandoned buildings. Supermarkets and other shops were looted and pointless to even enter. We entered the industrial area instead. Would there be anything to get there? Maybe in their supply storage, if that wasn't looted. But most of those factories were old and didn't produce edible things in the first place.
  "Maybe there?" Domino sounded hopeful as she pointed at a building. It looked like what used to be a distillery, with various copper boilers visible in a production hall, though the roof had already collapsed. Maybe. But getting drunk now was a very, very bad idea, when we were dehydrated, had an empty stomach and were exhausted. "No, silly," she continued, sensing my hestitation. "I want to see their supplies. Grapes, maybe water, I don't know." Wouldn't that be looted as well?
  There were no grapes. But there were barrels with water. Was it drinkable? It was stored at a fairly low temperature, deep in the building, even now. It was at this point that I realized this building was still used. Maybe not right now, but people had been here less than a week ago. Maybe even less than a few days ago, with footprints visible in the dust.
  But right now, we did not care. We needed to drink, and once Tsuki confirmed the water was clean we refilled our bottles. "Do we stay here for the night? It's getting pretty late?" Maud queried. Her voice was clear now, clearer than it had been throughout the day.
  "We probably have to," Tsuki admitted. "We could go back to the house we slept before, it's probably not that far away in a straight line." If you carry me?
  "No," Domino said. "We scavenged all day, and we did go through the entire city. I don't want to walk another two hours through the debris. My feet hurt like hell already." So did mine.
  "Good point, Domino," Tsuki answered. "Let's look for a somewhat comfy room to sleep." We exited the storage room, and entered the office spaces on the first floor. Those chairs weren't particularly comfortable, but there were two sofas in a corner, which we could share.
  I did not say no to that.  

---

  A gruff female voice was in my head. Was Tsuki that angry? What happened?
  "Good morning to you too," I moaned. I stretched myself, only to feel a pang of hunger in my belly, reminding me that I did not eat anything yesterday.
  "Good morning, Sam," Domino whispered. "How are the others?"
  "Awake," Maud answered with a soft whisper, as she sat on the floor. She knelt down on all fours, holding a finger in front of her mouth, before pointing downstairs. There are others inside. Irina was also awake.
 
  "What are they doing in this city anyways?" The gruff voice from before, but a lot closer. That was not Tsuki for sure. They had seen our footprints, probably. Oops. Why did we assume the ruined city was abandoned?
  "Should we just answer?" I whispered. For some reason I didn't think they were Nod soldiers.
  "Are you crazy? If they are Nod soldiers, we are screwed." Domino lightly tapped on my head. Good point. We had no way of knowing.
  The woman entered the room, walking past us at first. Her most obvious feature was her long, green hair that flowed down and reached to her hips, sounding like clattering crystals. She had an rocket launcher of some kind over her shoulder and probably a pistol in hand. She had a pair of large green scars, one on her cheek and another on her shoulder, and the Tiberium was visibly flowing through her veins. A mutant for sure. "Mom, there are people in there!" A shrill voice spoke up, and suddenly a girl opened the door.
  "Careful, dumb girl." The woman whirled on the spot. And the child screeched. "I knew I should have killed you before!" I winced as the woman shoved the scrawny girl to the floor and stomped her foot on the small of her back. That was cruel.
  "Don't hurt her," Domino shouted, pushing the glass door aside.
  "GDI soldiers?" the mutant woman roared, now more surprised than angry. "What are you doing here?"
  "We ran from Nod and got pinned twice, after which we had to turn south to avoid their attention," Maud answered. The woman finally removed her boot from the child.
  "I see." The woman, her aggression fading as two other women appeared. "Well, then I introduce myself as Lieutenant Claudia, the leader of a band of Skirmishers. We are trained in the use of RPGs." She smiled slightly, a wry smile that revealed a row of uneven emerald teeth. "Ellen here is my eldest daughter. I never wanted her, but she is not ill yet, despite her mutation." She spoke of her daughter with disdain. Thankfully one of the Forsaken seemed to care as one of the women had the decency to help the girl to her feet.
  "Hey! But yeah, we had to leave my little sister behind. She died when I was litle," the girl now named Ellen answered. Something was strange about her.  
  "Don't say everything. Do you want me to talk about how Nod tortured me when I was pregnant of you, too?" Wait, what? You started talking about that yourself, now.
  "Don't mind the Lieutenant. She can be in a foul mood," another young woman interrupted. "I can't blame her. We know we're going to die within a few years at most, some of us sooner than others, but Claudia is already weakening. Her time has come. My name is Maria, by the way." I was wondering how she was still holding up. Her lower arms were covered in hard crystalline sheets and her legs weren't much better. That must hurt. "I have a young son, but his Tiberium illness is progressing, so he's down in the car." Poor boy.
  "Then I introduce myself as well. I'm Chantal." The third woman looked healthy compared to the other two, even with her hair crystallizing and her skin covered in green goop in various places.
  "What's Ellen's illness like?" I queried. It seemed more like mine than anything. She looked kind of healthy, if tiny and probably starving, but her hair was healthy if a little green, and her skin unblemished. Other than a few nasty bruises.
  The lieutenant was about to bite my head off, and I immediately regretted the question. But she calmed down quickly, and cleared her throat. "Nod changed her mutation when I was pregnant of her," she answered. "They told me that they succeeded, but then they had to leave me behind before I could give birth, and they never picked her up. She has an E-type mutation, T-E-xr-02."
  "We have E-type mutations too," Domino answered. "All five of us, but we were born naturally with those mutations." The women in front of us nodded in acceptance.
  "T-E-gr-09," I said for clarification. "I don't know what theirs is."
  "Mine is T-E-gr-05," Domino answered. "Part of why I'm built so lightly."
  "I am both jealous and happy. Jealous, because this Tiberium infection is nasty, and happy because it means we can get Ellen out of this hell. We know she will outlive us, but now we don't have to leave her alone." Chantal said, a smile appearing on her face. "Her mother both loves her and hates her depending on her mood and we all know she's going to die within a month or two. I think it's time to get a move on," Chantal said. "GDI girls, follow us. It's going to be awesome."
  "Wait, what?" Maria, Irina, Maud and Domino chorused. What was going on?
  "First, we're going to refill our water supply. We're going to make a serious move, so I doubt we return here, so don't hestitate to take whatever you can. We might need it."
  "I'm sure the boys downstairs are doing fine." Claudia pointed down into the magazine. "Let's join them. We need more water supplies than normal."
  "How big is your gang?"
  "We travel in groups consisting of Skirmishers and Warriors. Girls with RPGs, and men with assault rifles." Chantal shrugged. She then gave a short smile, and I made a mental note to be wary of her mood swings. "There are ten of us, including the kids. We travel in a pair of APCs."
  "Anyway, follow us. You goody-two-shoes of GDI are going to enjoy this and we can use the help." Chantal seemed giddy about something.
  "We'll explain that on the road," Maria answered. "It is time to go out with a bang." My interest was piqued. They had planned something big.

  "Are you spilling all details to people you barely know?" That voice sounded like stone grating against stone, and sent a shiver through my spine. "Are you crazy?" I stepped back when horrifying green head poked through the door. How was he still alive? "No, you are not. Fellow mutants, if nowhere near as Forsaken as us." I grimaced as the voice assaulted my ears. That voice hurt!
  "Shut up, Jack. Your voice hurts everybody, including yourself," Chantal admonished him. "So yeah girls, meet Jack. His entire skull has turned to crystal and I am wondering how he is still alive." The man made a gesture as if he was about to be beheaded.
  "Yeah, he expects he can drop dead at any moment." Maria continued. I could not blame him. His hair was gone, it was just a clump of green crystals poked out of the back of his head in a frizzy mess which continued all the way to his jaw. Even the insides of his mouth were glowing eerily with Riparius, and more patches of green skin were scattered around his body, with another small crystal portruding out of another green plaque on his right arm. He was downright terrifying.


  They had filled several dozens of bottles with water, and we refilled our own again. All this water would last us for a week, and if those ramshackled cars would keep functioning and were somewhat fast, we could get to the other side of Europe in that time.
   We entered into the back cabin, and I took a seat next to Ellen. It was surprisingly cozy, and I even had a seatbelt to secure myself against the side of the car. "Yay. I'm not alone today!" I paled. Did they leave Ellen alone all the time? No wonder she insisted on going upstairs with the women. "I'm alone ever since Lisanne died. She was so brave..." She leaned into me, and I wrapped an arm around the pale girl. She seemed as if she was rarely exposed to sunlight. Maybe she was. Her mother hated her, and I was not surprised if she spent most of her time alone here, maybe even entire days.  
  The vehicle drove surprisingly fast, not even struggling with the broken highway. I had no clue how fast we were going, but it seemed we had the road for us alone. "Where are we going?" I was sure Ellen knew, and it was not like I could look outside.
  "We came from Vienna, but mom will be pissed if I tell you where we are going to. I can tell you that it's our finale. The last fight of the Forsaken. Mom wants me to sacrifice myself there, but she also wants me to live, so... I guess I'll make my own choice. But most of us don't have much longer, and they can't make healthy children." I'm sure Ellen could, once she was an adult. "So if I don't die, I'll be even more alone than I already am." She leaned into me even more. How lonely was she? "And our supply stations are running low, too, ever since the great blast." The great blast?
  "Let's see how the things go once we arrive at the fight, wherever that is," Domino supplied. "It can go disastrous, it can go very well, or otherwise not go as planned."
  "True," Ellen said.
  "And if we live, we'll take you with us. Right?"
  "Right," Domino said, without hestitation. "I hope we get something to eat though, we're starving." I had completely forgotten how hungry I was.
     "Food is hard to find, and mom often doesn't give me anything because I can't fight. It's Chantal who feeds me," Ellen said. "Can you tighten the cloth?" I winced as the girl lifted her shirt, revealing a piece of linen tightly wrapped around her tiny waist. It looked kind of painful.
  "I can," Tsuki answered, and she tugged at both ends of the fabric.
  Ellen gasped, and Tsuki pulled again. "Thanks," Ellen wheezed. "That should see me through until we arrive." The girl paused. "Food is hard to find, and mom doesn't always give me something because I can't fight. It's Chantal who feeds me then, but since we left Vienna I didn't eat anything." When you are that small, how are you even supposed to fight? Or how are you going to fight if you never eat enough?
  "So where are we now?" Tsuki requested. Always the practical type, sheesh...
  "We are in what used to be Switzerland." Had we crossed a border without noticing? Wow. And it meant they were traveling to the west if they came from Vienna. So whatever they were planning was likely in France.
  "Thanks," I said, smiling at Ellen before reeling her in for another hug. It felt too nice, and thankfully, it seemed she thought the same, as she clumsily tried to wrap a thin arm around me, and we remained huddled up until the vehicles slowed down.

  Apparently, we took a bit of a break. I noticed there were a lot more men in the truck than I initially met, at least four or five, as well as that little boy that I had yet to meet. At least we got something to eat. Not much, but even a few dry crackers with some pickles were better than nothing.  I checked my surroundings. A dry lake, another destroyed city in the horizon. No smoke at all this time, just ruins of a city that was abandoned a long time ago. "Those are the outskirts of Geneva," Chantal said. I shrugged. I didn't know where that was, but Domino and Tsuki clearly did. "The center of the city is nothing but a bomb crater, ever since 2011." She paused.  
  "So, we are going to France?" Tsuki questioned, Oh. I knew where France was.
  "Yes. We'll rendezvous in the assigned base. We'll reach it by midnight assuming we aren't interrupted by an angry Raptor," Chantal joked.  
  "Does that happen?" I thought Tiberium Raptors were only a myth.
   "It does, but they only live in the largest Tiberium fields, hidden between the Tiberium glaciers, or in those old bomb craters." Chantal smiled. "So that is why we stay clear of the city or the dry Lake of Geneva." I took the momentary lapse in the conversation to have a look at Maria, an ill woman cradling her ill son in the sunlight. Neither of them had long left and both of them knew it, no matter how young the boy was. Just a toddler, really. But he was in horrible pain, and I did not even want to know how the mutations were affecting him. "How's northern Europe? I have heard stories it was mostly clear of Tiberium again?" The woman sounded hopeful, and her crystallized hair chimed in the wind.
  I shrugged. The woman shouldn't look at me for an answer, I've never been there, growing up in southern Germany, and while this was pretty livable in the first few years of my life, the amount of Tiberium became significantly worse in the last few years. "I can't help you with that, Chantal."
  "I can tell you it is," Tsuki said. "I don't know to what extent, but a significant portion of northern Europe has been cleared."
  "Yes," Domino answered. "Northern Germany, Scandinavia, the Baltic and Scotland are all mostly free of Tiberium." She paused. "But the Exclusion Zones also have expanded, the Italian, Spanish and Balkan zones having merged and now covering the entire Meditteranean and expanding now north of the Alps as well. It's the moderately contaminated areas that have shrunk massively, at least in Europe... though it seems that the expansion of the Exclusion Zones is no longer going anywhere near as fast either."
  "Thanks for telling me," Chantal answered.
  Domino shrugged. "It's hardly secret information. Any civilian that comes into regular contact with GDI, let alone GloboTech, knows this." It was clear the the Forsaken didn't. "Nod knows it too, not because we tell them but because we have sent them scurrying out of those areas and Exclusion Zones are inhabitable even for them, so they are being jammed into ever-decreasing amounts of land."
   Tsuki butted in. "Even big volcanic eruptions right underneath a major Tiberium deposit have a silver lining."  She paused. "Nod suffered so many casualties that they are generally on the back foot in Europe ever since, and now Europe has both the largest Tiberium-free area as well the largest Exclusion Zone on Earth." What??
   "I see," Chantal stated. "Though we have suffered too. Ever since the great explosion, whether that is that volcanic eruption or not, we struggle to get the required supplies, and there have been a lot more mutants too. Even our... arms dealer... struggles to get supplies, and many of their workers have mutated too. And without new armament, what are we going to do against Nod?" The question was rhetorical. The answer was clear.
   So I threw in a question of my own. "Are the great explosion and the volcanic eruption that Tsuki mentioned the same event? The great explosion was like four years ago, wasn't it?" I still remember how the entire house shook from that terrible blast.
  "Indeed," Chantal confirmed. "I remember those explosions like it was yesterday."
   "The volcanic eruption, the great eruption of the Campi Flegrei in Italy, was also four years ago. It's probably the same event, considering how loud that explosion was. I was fighting in Norway at the time, and even I heard that explosion. It sounded like cannons firing." She paused. "It was the biggest volcanic eruption in seventy-five thousand years." So it was the same event. Was that... what would eventually lead to where I am now? No, where we were now. It had caused the climate shift that allowed GDI to push south, but also the climate shift that allowed the Exclusion Zones to expand and cause the food shortage that in turn made Nod scurry around Europe like scared dogs with the eruption having reduced their numbers. Which forced me to leave home, running into a GDI vanguard that had pushed even further south, and together we ran into this gang of Forsaken that are all grouping up, as the rapidly expanded Exclusion Zone caused a lot of people to mutate at once, gutting their long-term future potential but increasing their short-term potential just as massively. They needed to strike now, to fight before they would die of the poisoning that Nod ultimately inflicted on them.
  "Anyway, we need to get going again," Maria interjected, shaking me out of my musings. "Get in the car."
  "Okay," Domino said. She cradled Ellen in her arms, and I followed them into the truck. The constant interactions must've exhausted the child.  Nobody seemed to interact with her much, the hatch to the front cabin always closed. So she was alone.

---

I woke up, joistled awake and covered in sweat as the screams of agony from those soldiers that were burned alive still echoeing in my head. The car stuttered again. Did we stop? I yawned, feeling like I hadn't slept nearly enough. But nightmares like that I didn't really want either.
  "We have arrived," Chantal said, as she opened the door. "Feel free to leave the vehicle, but stay close." I nodded, overlooking a massive mutant camp. Headlights were on everywhere, and it was bustling with activity. People that would talk for possibly the last time.
  "What are you guys going to do with Ellen?" Domino queried.
  "It's up to her," Claudia stated. "There is a handful of other children like her, but I don't know if they are still alive." She paused. "Most children are like Michael. Waiting to die." Harsh. I grit my teeth at that, and looked at Ellen. I sat still for so long, I needed to move. I needed to shake off that nightmare. Ellen looked surprisingly playful. So I pounced her lightly, pushing her to the floor.
  "Hey!" Ellen said, giggling as I tickled her. It would be fun to have another child to play with.
  "You're not going anywhere, little Ellen!" She giggled as she tried to push my hands away, but I took them and pinned her. Ellen trusted her hips up in an attempt to push me off, and I decided to follow her movement after her second try, getting off her and giving the smaller child a chance to come back. It had to be fun, after all!
  "I escaped!" Ellen giggled, and she now jumped on me. She was really light, so I wrapped my arms around her, and gently lowered her to the floor again. "Awww..." I giggled and placed my hands on her shoulders.
  "Nice to see you enjoy yourself, Ellen. I didn't think you could." Chantal gave us a thumbs up. "But do you want something to eat?"
  "Yes," Ellen said, as she leapt off the ground.
  "That'd be nice," I added. "I'm quite hungry. When are we going to attack?"
  "We're staying here for another twenty-four hours. Then we make our move, leave the Exclusion Zone and strike at dawn. We take no prisoners." I hestitated at that last comment.
  "Sounds good," Tsuki said, "even if I still don't know what the plan is." I nodded, remembering the faces of the members of Domino's squad. How Olaf and Victor sacrificed themselves to buy us a few seconds. Did any of the others manage to escape?
 
  Chantal visibly decided that she didn't know how much to tell us. "Well, I actually don't really know much of the plan. We just gathered at a vantage point in the Exclusion Zones because Nod might listen along. Claudia is the only one who does know more, but she hasn't talked much about it. But she picked up the message and she makes the decisions, so we went along with it." She paused.  "There are things we do know - we are going to strike hard at Nod, no matter what. I don't know our exact targets, but I know at least three targets have been assigned. I think two will just be diversions, the third attack will be with most of our forces." The woman pointed down, into the valley. "I think most of us have arrived at this point. We were quite late already... I've never seen so many Forsaken in one place." It was hard to guess how many there were in the darkness, but it must be quite a lot, with all those lights.

  But I was exhausted, and I really wanted to sleep some more. "Hey, Domino, I wonder about something." And I wanted to ask before something important happened.
  "Yes, Sam?"
  "How do soldiers get nicknames? I mean, Max being called 'Scarface' was pretty obvious, but how did you pick up Twiggy?"
  "The same as how Max did, really, as it points to my appearance. I'm taller than the others, but I'm also lighter than the others." She sighed. "The drill sergeant said that I was twig-like, and Twiggy it was." The redhead pointed to Tsuki. "Some of us never used the nicknames that we picked up over time. Tsuki hates them, and I prefer calling people by name, too, but I use the nicknames when they serve a purpose. Like when we first met and Max was scaring you."
   "Yes, you called him 'Scarface' right away."  
  "Indeed," Domino stated, as she started pulling her fingers through my hair. I loved it when she did that, it felt so nice. "He never minded the nickname. It took some time for me to get used to it, which is probably why I refrain from using them normally." I didn't even know the nicknames of Maud, Irina and Tsuki. "But you can say about me what you want, I am built like a twig."
  "Indeed," I answered, as I leaned into her touch even more. "Do you mind that?"
  "Not really," Domino said.  "The real issue is when I need to lift heavy things. I need help with things that other soldiers don't, I just can't carry things like ammo crates and the likes for an extended amount of time." She smiled. "But I can also do things they can't. I can fit through tighter spaces, I can hide behind smaller objects, and I can climb faster, or help others cross an obstacle faster."
   "Domino?" Maud interjected. "Do we have enough ammo for a long fight? I really have to be careful myself."
  "How much do you have left?"
   "I fired two shots since I last restocked, both armor-piercing. So I carry four armor-piercing rounds, two high-explosive rounds and two proximity-fuzed rounds. I also have a few more magazines for my pistol." I decided to check as well, opening the small bag. It wasn't much. But with my relatively slow rate of fire, it would last me for a while.
  "I have a few dozen rounds left."
   "Careful, that doesn't last you as long as you think," Domino warned. "I have six magazines left. I can run out of that in half a minute if I'm careless!"
   "I'm not much better off. I have eight magazines with me," Irina stated, before cuddling up with her sister.
   "Same," Tsuki continued. "I have eight magazines, as well as two hand grenades."
    Chantal butted in. "Yeah, ammo is an issue for us as well. Most of us are going to suicide. I think you can take some of ammunition from us... we use the same caliber I think."
   Wait, what? I knew they planned to not return, but...
  "Are you?"
  "I don't know yet. I have another year left in me, and  don't want to leave Ellen alone. It depends a bit."
   "You're talking as if you are the mother," Domino said.    
   "Sometimes it feels that way." She gestured. "Both Claudia and Maria are going to suicide though, and so are the boys. Maria is queuing to euthanize her son." Poor boy. But understandable. "Most of us are, really. Some of us will provide some support fire at the start, but even most vehicles will be blown up." I could see why. Better destroy everything than letting Nod get their filthy hands on it.
  "It terrifies me," Ellen interjected. "I don't want to be alone."
  "Don't worry," Domino said. "We will take care of you. Goes for you too, Chantal. Don't worry about Ellen. The real issue is getting her to a place where we want her to grow up, not that she won't be taken care of." She gave the child a quick hug.

   The night was sleepless. I just sat back in the seat, thinking. I was nervous. How would this operation go? It was clearly a complicated plan, and I still knew jack about it. Most of us seemed to know fairly little, actually, probably because the Forsaken were afraid that Nod would tap wireless communications and know in advance of the plan. So how would this be handled? Would we die? Would we be sacrificed, because we were GDI soldiers and not Forsaken? Or would they want to keep us alive, as fellow mutants with a lot more to risk?
  Tomorrow everything would fall into place.

_________________
Tales of War

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Vulture
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Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread


   "Good morning," a speaker announced. "I want everybody, with an E-type mutation to gather on the C-field, whether they are Forsaken or GDI members. Children younger than thirteen may take one guardian with them." I heard a few gasps across the field. Was that because of the presence of GDI was shocking, or because parents were forced to leave their children behind?
  "Let's go," Chantal said, nudging Ellen. Where was the C-field?  
  "Everybody else will be on the A-field for now, to await further instructions." The man announced.
  Okay.
 
 Chantal pointed to a deployed Sensor Array, the yellow vehicle familiar even to me. A simple wooden 'C' was tied around the mast.  
  A familiar face! "Amanda," Domino shouted, running up to the teenager and embracing her. We followed suit, dogpiling on her, even Ellen joining in for good measure. "How are you?"
   "So scared," Amanda stated, and Domino pressed herself even tighter against her. "We bailed at top speed with the Sensor Array. The Eclipses shot after us repeatedly, but missed everything, but a near miss damaged the hover jets, and we were sent into a spin." She broke down and started to breathe very heavily.
  "Calm down," Domino said, embracing Amanda again. "We are here now."
  Another young woman spoke up. "Yes. They showed up in our town with their mobile Sensor Array, and it was quite badly damaged. We replaced the hover engines with our own anti-gravitation engines that we have copied from Nod." That is impressive. "It doesn't work perfectly, but what do you expect when the vehicle hasn't been designed for such a radical change of propulsion. Anyway, those guys that operated the Sensor Array took an old car and drove away in the middle of the night, the cowardous assholes. Luckily we didn't tell them anything... they won't snitch to Nod willingly, but if Nod captures them..." A shiver ran through my spine. That would be brutal. "Anyway, I digress. Amanda wasn't with them, and she remained with us as we abandoned our town. Scared little girl, she is. She's been through a lot." I just nodded. Those guys were ztyping assholes to leave her behind like that. "Anyway, my name is Umagon." I took a closer look at the woman. She was in her late teens or in her early twenties. Emerald eyes and long green hair made her mutation easily visible for everybody to see, but it seemed stable enough otherwise. She looked physically strong, as if she worked out regularly, and coupled with her being fairly tall she could be intimidating if she wanted to, something only aided by the sniper rifle strapped to her back.
  We introduced ourselves to her, and she nodded in approval. "How are the children going to be handled?" Chantal queried. "As Ellen's guardian, I have to ask."
  "We'll talk about that later," Umagon said. "Don't worry too much." She smiled. "I think we keep Amanda with the children, too. She is too scared. But hey, she knows how to operate the sensors, so she's useful even in the back." I looked around me. How many people would we be doing this diversion with? There were only a few dozen adults, most of them just teenagers, and a handful of children. Ellen, two boys, and three other girls. And me of course, but I was old enough to be considered an adult by Forsaken standards. A few more adults with progressing mutations stood around them, similar to Chantal. Parents, or guardians like Chantal.
 
  A man started to talk. The voice from before, the man who made the initial announcement. "I'm Colonel Villeneuve," he announced. "I'm sure most of you have heard of me, but I am also sure a lot of you did not." I nodded. I never heard of him, but he must be a high-ranked Forsaken officer, whose mutation was progressing a fair amount if the green carapace on his body was anything to go by. "Good. We run four diversions, and one primary attack. We will be one of the diversions." I looked at the people surrounding me.  "Captain Umagon knows most of the details. Captain, if you wish..." Umagon nodded, and we stepped closer to her, before sitting down in a half-circle, so she would not have to raise her voice too much. There was a map behind her."

  "Well, we are going to attack a small isolated Nod research facility, in the southern Auvergne," she said. "We attack it from the east, through the mountains." She pointed loosely on the map." We try to have a look at what they are researching there, and hopefully take some data." She smiled. "We take this passageway because there are several ways to withdraw if things don't go well, but I don't expect much trouble. The biggest threat is the single Laser Turret near the gate, though there are a few guardhouses with Militants and Rocket Infantry inside." She paused. "We need to be fast though, Nod can destroy equipment or maybe even call for an air attack on us, and we need to prevent that, but we can do it." She pointed to her sniper rifle. "I saw barracks for up to two platoons there, as well as a few scientists. We take no prisoners, but we are not going to kill any noncombatants either. There will be a number of them." She cleared her throat. "Are there any questions?"
  "Any clue on research that's being done there, captain?"
  "Something that doesn't rely on outside supplies much. The base has no Harvesting operation or Tiberium facilities of its own, and from what our scouts have reported most of the deliveries are the bog standard supplies which arrive irregular, probably just when they can be delivered safely. It's not the most important facility, but hey, it means we can take it on, get some data or force them to destroy it, and withdraw. Take some supplies if we can, too." It was not a big operation, that was clear. It was simple and practical. I wondered why such a base was relatively unguarded. "The relative lack of guards makes me assume that it is something that is either unimportant, or has lost its importance a long time ago. Though it's still apparently important enough to upkeep..." That made some sense. "As for the vehicles we take, we will just take four of our APCs. After the battle is over, we'll turn north towards GDI territory." She paused. "This Sensor Array, as well as our other new vehicles, will go to GDI directly, without fighting. Hopefully the number of small raids will allow us to transfer this new technology to GDI without interferance." She paused. "Any questions?"
  "How are the children going to be handled?" Chantal repeated her question from before.
  "They are going to stay with us. Amanda can keep an eye on them while we fight." She paused. "I personally scouted their patrol zones, but they don't seem to be very diligent. I doubt they'll find the cars."
  "I guess, captain," Amanda answered.
  "You'll be fine. I don't expect any trouble, and I'll be with you guys. I'm the only person with an E-type mutation who is a specialized sniper." I see. So she would probably take out a few of the guys on watch duty herself, so we could enter the base safely? That made sense. "A small question is what Samantha will do? She's not underage by our standards, but she is still very young."
  "I think I'll go in to the fray, captain," I stated. "My revolver is useless at longer ranges and I want to help." Sitting idle would be worse.
  "Fair enough." She paused. "Good. It's a five hour drive from here, so make sure you are well-rested. We strike, raid and leave."
  "What is the route we are going to leave on?" Tsuki asked.
  "If everything according to plan, we take a southern approach before attacking the enemy from the east." She pointed at the map again. I barely knew any of the locations other than Paris, but she traced a road with her finger. "We leave our objective by going straight north, though we have to avoid most Nod defences that lead from Paris all the way to Strassbourg." She paused. "Therefore, we go to the coast in the northwest, which is occupied by GDI." She ran a different trace with her fingers, from what I supposed to be our current location. "This second route is the one taken by our high-tech vehicles. They are not supposed to meet us until the very last moment, but we have more than a dozen alternative routes planned out if things go wrong, so we might meet earlier one way or another." She raised a hand. "Any more questions?" None were forthcoming. "Dismissed. Try to sleep, because we attack in the middle of the night." She paused. "I'll give the drivers some extra instructions."

  I withdrew to our APC and drifted away quickly.

  Until the car suddenly started moving. "Hwrah?" Domino grunted next to me.
  "Don't worry," Chantal stated from the front of the vehicle. The hatch was open this time. "I'm just moving this APC to the gathering point." I couldn't see anything, and I only felt that the vehicle stopped. "Are you nervous?"
  "A bit," Ellen said from my side.
  "Tsuki, can you take one of the front seats? I think we get a few more children in the back of our APC. Captain Umagon joins us as well."
  "That's okay." Barely seconds later, a brown-haired girl in her early teens jumped in, plopping down next to Ellen.
  "Hello kids," Domino welcomed them. Amanda waved.
   "Hello. I'm Mylene." She introduced herself.
   "Is it me, or are men and women kept strictly seperated?" I queried, though I already knew the answer.
   "Yes," Chantal said. "We don't want... accidents. Maria almost died when she had her son, and I've known a few women who actually did die, their infection too far progressed for them to carry a child." I could not imagine how painful that must be.
   "In the GDI army we are less strict," Domino explained. "Though we make sure people never sleep alongside people of the other gender, and that if a section has both men and women, that there are enough women to make up a proper squad. Though our squad still had a guy in there, Douglas." I only barely remembered him. I remembered him introducing himself. And I thought I remembered his scream. "But he slept with the other guys, so our squad the room to fit in all the platoon specialists. Maud, Tsuki and Amanda." She paused. "Amanda was supposed to have the sixth bunk, but... that's up to her to explain."
   "I always slept alone," Amanda added. "I don't sleep well when I am in the same room as others, so I slept in the deployed Sensor Array."
   "How are you holding up here?" I queried. She had very few chances to sleep alone recently.
  "I didn't sleep at all since we left the town." Ouch.
  "Try to sleep anyway," Domino said. "We're still driving a few hours. We take care of you, don't worry."
  "Mhm."
   "Yes, you'll be fine, Amanda," I encouraged. "Focus on us." I hugged Ellen. "Close your eyes, and think of us, but in a distant, safe place."
  "Somewhere where you feel safe," Domino clarified, and I smiled at her.
   "Indeed. Keep thinking of us, sitting there together, enjoying the peace and quiet." I spoke calm and rythmically, because it instinctively felt right under these circumstances.
  We remained silent as Amanda drifted away, finally having a bit of a hold on herself. I was pretty nervous myself, too, but I didn't want to terrify the younger girls. I'm sure Domino wasn't much better off, as she was trembling slightly. Irina and Maud seemed to be perfectly comfortable, and Tsuki was chatting with Umagon like they knew each other for years. Who knows, they might.

   We drove through the night, and I occassionally peered through the hatch to see what was going on. Chantal was a careful driver, understanding the hazards of driving on broken roads. "We arrived," Umagon stated. My heart skipped a beat. We left the car, though others entered it. Young boys, young girls. The other children. I smiled. Amanda would take care of them.
  And I would not disappoint them. "Climb down," Umagon ordered, as we skidded down the hillside. "Careful."
  I nodded. I saw the enemy base already, the red line of the laser turret clearly visible, and so were a trio of brick watch towers, with the lights lit and the guards easily visible against the background. "Woah," I whispered. My heart was beating rapidly.
  "It's your first asssault, Sam. Ready?" Domino whispered.
   "Y-yes," I said.
  "Fire the RPGs," Umagon barked. "Dismantle that Laser Turret, now." She opened fire with her sniper rifle, and suddenly the Nod soldier in the furthest watch tower dropped dead. Damn! That guy was pretty far away. Impressive.
 
  Rockets screamed, and fire and smoke hid the Laser Turret from view. "Push on," Chantal ordered. "Take care of Ellen for me, okay?"
  Wait, what?! "Of course," I said, as Chantal fired her RPG into the brick wall, punching a large hole in it. The woman then broke into a charge, dropping her weapon. She was out of ammo already? I thought she had more.
  And she disappeared in a blast of yellow flames that lit up the night sky. Chantal! No! People shrieked in agony all of a sudden, and I shook my head to focus. "Charge," Umagon ordered. She fired her sniper rifle again, and I knew another militant had just fallen. Umagon led the charge, pointing ahead. Wait, I thought she'd stay behind with the kids?
  "Get them," Tsuki shouted, as she opened fire through the breech in the wall. Poor sod was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he was mowed down.  

Stepping over the broken wall, just behind Tsuki and Umagon, I felt bile rise in my throat as I saw Chantal's severed hand, covered in blood. A few Riparius crystals were embedded in the surroundings. A Nod soldier was crumpled to the floor, blood oozing from his corpse. Large green crystal shards pierced his chest. Metal shards had shredded his legs into an unrecognizable mess. His neck was bent in an awkward angle. I forced myself to look away when I saw something moving in the corner of my eyes.

  Another Nod soldier. ztype! In a split second I knew I had to kill him. Or he would kill me and the others. I stared at him, and he was just as shocked to see me as I was to see him. It felt as if there were minutes between me pulling the trigger and the bullet leaving the barrel of my revolver. He dropped his weapon the moment the bullet entered his skull.
  The bullet squarely hit him in the face, knocking him over. Irina clapped me on the back. "Nice shot, girl." She slapped again. "Focus." I gulped, resisting the urge to vomit. I had killed someone, for the first time. Irina slammed me on the back again, throwing me forwards. "Focus!" I nodded, as the woman pointed to the barracks, just noticing how Tsuki threw a hand granade inside. Screams of agony sent shivers through my spine. The entire building was on fire already... I did not want to know what they even stored there for it to burn so quickly, and I wasn't planning to look as men were literally burned alive.
  "Let's finish this." Umagon pointed to another facility, made out of black concrete in typical Nod fashion, with no windows. "The research laboratory. Take care, we want to take the data. I assume it's stored on the top floor." I nodded, taking in the building. It had only two floors that weren't on ground level.
  And a basement, which was clearly used frequently.  What was going on?
   
  "Let's have a look downstairs," Domino stated. I nodded, Tsuki following us. Irina and Maud followed Umagon upstairs. There were guards around the corner. Two, possibly three.
 But Tsuki threw out a hand grenade. Didn't she say she only had two left? Then this was her last one. We stumbled back across the stairs as the building shook, the blast easily knocking us back.
   "Let's have a look, girls," I said dizzily, trying to stop myself from gagging at the sight of the bleeding corpses of the two Nod soldiers. Forcing myself to look straight ahead, I noticed four metal doors on each side of the corridor. What was their purpose? What did they hide? They looked like cellars, like prison cells of some kind, with small bars hidden in the doors acting as a small window. I tried to open one, groaning as I pushed as hard as I could, but the heavy door barely budged. But the door opened, and eventually I slid through and fell on my back. That wasn't fun. Better let Tsuki do that next time.
 
  "Woah," Domino gasped. I wondered what caught her attention, before following her eyes. An extremely scrawny, blue-haired girl. Her skin was pale, her body thin, alarmingly so. She wasn't very tall either... No, she was even shorter than I was, it was just that she was so slender it distorted my sense of height.  "Oh dear." Her arms were tied above her head, her feet were tied together and a piece of cloth was covering most of her face. "Sam, stay near her, while I look for the keys to release them. Tsuki, guard the stairs. We don't want any surprises."
 
  I focused on the girl, not knowing what to expect as I removed the blindfold covering her face, and suddenly I found myself staring into a pair of intense azure eyes. "Who are you and how old are you?" I queried, bringing my face close to hers.
  "I have no name. I am nine years old." The girl just whispered, blinking as she tried to get used to the sudden increase of light.
  "What do you mean?"
  "My only purpose is to provide the Marked of Kane with data." The girl stated, her voice quivering. Who are the Marked of Kane? I thought they no longer existed? But it was not important right now.
  "You are not a guinea pig," I stated vehemently. "You are a girl, with your own hopes and dreams." The girl tried to argue again, but this time I wrapped my arms around her. The girl started to squirm, so I held her even tighter. "Better now?"
   "I am the sixth object with T-E-xv-01," the girl answered, her voice still nothing more but a soft whisper. She trembled slightly in my arms. Was she that afraid I would hurt her?
  "I just call you Roxanne, then," I interjected. I was not going to call the girl a ztyping object! "What are your dreams?" The girl was quite meek and obedient, she would tell the truth once she felt safe.
  Or in this case, she was thinking. "To be never hurt again."
  I smiled at her. "That can probably be arranged. Listen to one of us, and you'll be fine."  
  "Thanks." The other doors were open, and the others appeared. They probably heard our conversation. "Roxanne sounds nice."
  "Let's get you out of here," Domino said, as she returned with a bunch of keys, and she quickly released the girl, causing her to drop to the floor, but I managed to catch her just in time. I wondered what the purpose of these girls was. It was clear they were an experiment of some kind. The mutation they suffered from felt stable enough, though it shouldn't be possible if it was Vinifera-based. Was this Nod's experiment? I hoped Umagon would find out more.
 I noticed more familiar faces, and it was clear that Tsuki's grenade had drawn Irina and Maud back downstairs. "Yes, let's bail," Irina said, and I took a double take when I noticed that she carried one girl on each shoulder, with Maud carrying a fourth girl, who seemed to be really dark skinned, at least compared to the others. The other four cells were empty. Where were the boys? I was sure there would be boys here too.  It made no sense to keep just girls if they wanted research data. Roxanne tugged at me, gaping at the other girls. It was clear that all four girls had never seen each other before, though they must have been aware of each other's presence to some extent.
  "I can't imagine there are just girls here," I stated. "Where are the boys?"
  "Good question," Domino admitted, as she suddenly had a pile of clothes in her hands. "But this floor is empty now, so let's go back up again." I nodded, lifting the stupified Roxanne and wrapping her arms around my neck. Hold on, girl.
 
  "What happened down there?" Umagon shouted, though there was no anger in her voice "Oh."
  "Sorry," Domino stated. "But we didn't want to leave these girls behind. Nod would surely kill them after this raid. Did you find anything?" That was a dumb question, considering the files of data she was holding in her arms. That was some serious amount of paperwork.
  "A lot of data about a a mutation program from Nod, taken over by the Marked of Kane about fifteen years ago, and the first partial succesful mutation was classified as T-E-xv-01, though apparently they consider it a practical failure I didn't check anything else as of yet, but there are notes about all kinds of tests that they have performed on a group of fourteen children, eight boys and six girls." She smiled. "I guess we find more about the results and why they considered it a failure once we had some time to delve into the data. I'm pretty sure they deleted the electronical data, but they didn't destroy this." She raised the hardcopy a little higher.
  "We only found four girls," Domino stated. Indeed.
  "Five boys were killed when we attacked," Umagon stated. "The guards killed them, even if it meant we could shoot them up while they were doing that. We don't know what happened to the others, but we can't keep looking for them." Harsh, but I kind of agree. Besides, they might just as well be dead in which case we're looking for something that has been buried six feet under. "We need to get out of here."
   "Let's get back to our cars. It's a five minute walk."
   "Are you sure the girls don't have tracer devices?" A young man asked.
   "They aren't wearing anything right now." Domino found some simple uniforms, but they barely fit them. "I doubt they ever left this building in the first place. They were locked up quite securily, with no way of escaping." Not just that, they were tied up. The girls were also quite dependant, they didn't seem to do or say anything on their own. Thankfully Roxanne was light enough for me to carry on my back.
  Maud was trying to talk with the girl in her arms, but all I picked up was that she was not named either. Thankfully I was not the only one who was repulsed by that notion, if the look of disgusted surprise on Maud's face was any indication.

  And we entered our car again.  "Mission accomplished?" Amanda queried, with seven pairs of eyes glinstening in the darkness. The children.
  "Yes," Domino responded. "Did you hold up?"
  "It was quiet," Amanda answered. "I don't think anyone saw us." She smiled slightly.
  "Nice," Domino said.
  "Where's Chantal?" Ellen queried. Oh, shit.
  "She blew herself up," Umagon answered. "The last thing she did was request us to take care of you."
  "And we will," Domino continued confidently. "There are a lot of kids we have to take care of now," she continued, as she helped the newcomers put on their ill-fitting clothes. Why did those jackasses keep them naked at their base? Then again, they didn't even name the poor children. And the boys were apparently just murdered in cold blood. "We need to name the other three girls still." I wasn't the only one who thought of this.
  "Let's do it quick. I call you Melanie," Irina stated, pointing to the tallest of the blue-haired girls, though she was still at least half a head shorter than I was.
  "Then I call her Sakura," Tsuki continued quickly, pointing to the shortest one.
  "Then I guess I name this girl Alexandra," Maud finished, as she finally allowed the girl in her arms to stand on her own legs. The three girls looked at each other, about to complain, but we ushered them in the car. There was no time to waste. They could complain while we were on the move.

  We squeezed together in the vehicle, Amanda taking a front seat as well so the four newcomers could fit in together. "How many casualties did we actually suffer?" Tsuki asked, as she took the seat behind the driver's wheel. If Tsuki was driving, Umagon could read.
  "Seven," Umagon stated. "Chantal blew herself up near the gate, and three others with progressing mutations blew themselves up inside the power plant." She paused. "Someone else with a B-type mutation sacrificed himself on the top floor so we could advance, and two girls with E-type mutations got injured and are treated for those as we speak." She paused. "The entirity of our group has an E-type mutations now." Umagon put the car into motion, and we drove down the road already. Darkness would cover our escape. "Thanks Tsuki, for driving. Gives me time to do some reading."
  "Anytime," Tsuki answered. "I have the map, I'll find my way."
  "Someone else is driving in front this time, you only have to follow," Umagon answered. I felt Ellen lean into me again, and I wrapped an arm around her, smiling. The girl must have been exhausted. I couldn't blame her, and I really hoped we would have a quiet life once we arrived in GDI territory. I was kind of done with this bullshit.

The radio buzzed on. "Road has been blocked by a rockslide. Plan Epsilon," a hazy voice sounded, the signal being incredibly poor. "I repeat, plan Epsilon." The voice again disappeared in the static. What was going on?
  "Okay," Umagon confirmed. "We'll regroup with the high-tech vehicles and form a single convoy soon. Here." What is here? I can't see the map. "I guess I hear what happened later."
  "Can we be roadblocked before that?" Tsuki queried.
  "We can, but I doubt it will happen. Nod subfactions have withdrawn most activity from these areas, as they are fighting with GDI around the coastlines. Besides..." Umagon let the word linger, to convey how unlikely it would be. "We are supposed to rendezvous before dawn."
  When was the sun even going to rise? I doubted it would take much longer, though it was hard to see from here. Everything was dark inside this car. Then again, did there need to be light? Ellen was still snuggling up with me, and even Domino had wrapped an arm around me. It was quite cozy like this, and we couldn't do anything to change fate right now, anyway. We had cast the die. Let's roll with it.

  "ztype!" Umagon screamed, waking me from my slumber. What was going on? The car stumbled as it slowed down.
  "What's going on, captain?" Irina questioned.
  "The road is wrecked," Amanda stated, facing us to relay what she saw.
  "On the good side... we've reached the rendezvous point. On the bad side, an aircraft has crashed into the road and turned it into a crater." Umagon's voice was surprisingly dry.
  "Can we go around it?" Tsuki questioned.
  "The hovercrafts can, but the road is flanked by a valley. One misstep with driving and we are all dead. They'll arrive at any minute now. Just put the vehicles in cover while we decide on how to continue."
  "So we have to go further west."
  "Yes." Tsuki parked the vehicle, and we left the car. It was good to stretch my limbs. Maud decided to take over driving, allowing Tsuki to rest for a bit.
  "It's the first time I've seen the sky," Roxanne stated. "It looks strange."
  I didn't blame her. It was coloured in dark crimson clouds, as if an Ion Storm could spawn in an hour or two. It was clear we had entered Exclusion Zones again. "It looks better in areas that are not as damaged by Tiberium."
  "What is it like?" I dug in my memories.
  "Well, Roxanne, it used to be less grim at night, with nice white sparkling dots that are called stars... and then there is the moon."
  "I see." I wondered how the other three girls were holding up, but Mylene was fawning over Melanie, and Domino and Umagon were taking care of the others. Tsuki just grit her teeth.
  "I'm a soldier, not a babysitter." The Asian woman grit her teeth. I giggled at that expression, it looked downright comical on the short woman. Tsuki had always been friendly and helpful, but she was more practical. She would help me and teach me to fend for myself, whereas Domino wanted to make us feel comfortable first and be able to fight second, and even when we sparred she put my wellbeing above all else. Gosh, that seemed ages ago. Domino seemed also to be a bit of a cuddlebug, a strange trait for a soldier. Though Irina and Maud also hugged each other... well, they were half-sisters or possibly nieces born practically within the same year. It was understandable they were close.
  "It's fine, Tsuki," Domino stated. "It's a bit of a mess right now."
  "You should probably take a break from frontline service. Why do you even feel the need to hug that girl like that?" Sakura was now completely folded up in Domino's arms. "Do you even know she wants to be hugged like that?" The child seemed to be quite content. "I know I wouldn't."
  "Probably..." Domino agreed. "Do you...?"
  "I think so," the tiny girl responded. "I'm feeling a bit weird, that is all." No shit, Sherlock!
  "Of course you do," Umagon responded. "You are with different people that don't just experiment on you, but see you as actual human beings, no different from anyone else." She pointed at Tsuki. "Look at Tsuki over there. I mean, she doesn't hug you, but she doesn't hug anyone. Domino is hugging you, but again, she hugs everybody who lets her." The joke broke the tension a bit. "It's okay." She smiled, before tapping Domino on her shoulder. "However, such a trait would probably cause you to be withdrawn from frontline service."
  "She only picked it up a month ago," Irina said. "Ever since we had our platoon decimated. It was horrifying... and it happened to us again less than a week ago." It felt like a year had passed already.  "I have a feeling it became worse in the past week, though." She paused. "I don't feel exactly right after all of this either, though. I have nightmares about fires."
  "I don't think anyone would blame you for that," Umagon said. "Once you're back you would probably be withdrawn from the front lines." I smiled. The Forsaken captain was surprisingly compassionate.
  "Probably," Irina said. "Domino for sure, but I might."
   "I think I would be too," I added.
   "Of course," Irina deadpanned. "You're fourteen. You would get some years of military instruction first, even if you are holding your own now." That made sense.
  "We first need to get to GDI territory. How long do we still have to wait?" Tsuki continued. "I know it's nice to talk about being safe, but that's quite far away right now."
   I nodded again. But the convoy finally arrived, and we entered our vehicles again, forming up with the tank in front, the sensor array just behind it and the APCs next in line, with the armed hovercrafts that seemed to be equipped with some kind of strange missile pod making up the rear. It annoyed me that I couldn't see what was going on, though.
 
 And nothing was going to plan anymore. The road was apparently blocked again, this time by a massive meteor impact. "This is the Périgord Meteor Crater, also known as the Genesis Pit. The road we were supposed to take was that collapsed bridge we saw earlier." The sky was getting increasingly dark, and white flashes burst through the clouds. The Ion Storm was eminent. "Never mind, in that weather we are not going to find plan Zeta either. Take split road we just saw five minutes ago, and turn to the right."
  "Isn't that to the south?" Tsuki queried.
  "Yes, but that ion storm is spawning to our north. It's a big one, I don't want any of it." Umagon sounded decisive about it, and I couldn't entirely disagree. From what I could see it was ominous even at best.
  "Fair." The Asian veteran did not even argue that point.
  "I just want to get out of Nod territory, too. We are a pretty large convoy now, and while they are still dealing with our primary attacks, they will be more vengeful the moment they encounter us, though we made sure to focus our attention on the strongest faction."  We kept following the damaged road, dozing off again, only picking up some words about how barren plains became scorched wastelands and then turned into mountains.

  Mountains. "How far south are we? This can't be the Pyrenees, are they?" The confused tone in Tsuki's voice woke me up. The maps didn't even cover this part of France. Umagon was visibly surprised, and it was clear we were completely lost. I looked at the others. Ellen was asleep. Roxanne and Mylene were leaning into each other, also asleep. But the others were awake.
  "Isn't Spain mostly under Nod control?" Umagon queried.
  "It used to be. But the Exclusion Zone expanded a lot into Spain, and GDI performed a landing into northern Spain three years ago. Nod suffered a few minor defeats at the start of the campaign, and a few more significant ones later, and their usual infighting only made things worse, and I know at least a few subfactions withdrew from Spain, and GDI completely eliminated the Black Hand presence in the battle of Vigo two years ago. But GDI ultimately withdrew as the frequent Ion Storms and hot summers made fighting against Tiberium a nearly futile task The Tiberium that was cleared in winter just grew back in summer, and I heard GDI withdrew in September, but for some reason I think that's a half-truth as it would be kind of stupid to stop harvesting when you have uncontested Tiberium fields at your disposal." Tsuki probably knew more about GDI's operations than any of the other soldiers.
   "Did they clear the underground Tiberium as well? It grows underground too." Umagon pointed out.
  "No, GDI mostly uses Harvesters for clearing. GloboTech uses sonic technology, but I think only on the surface, but the GDI-GloboTech alliance was shattered a long time ago, though much like GDI and the Forsaken, they aren't enemies either as they share many goals."
   "And is Nod still in Spain?"
  "No one knows. It might be that there is literally no one present. Nod might have been afraid to end up boxed in between the Exclusion Zones and GDI. There might be some fellow mutants still."
   "Sorry to interrupt," Maud said, "but I've been driving through this cursed wasteland with its broken roads for hours and I would like to take a break."
  "I'll take over again," Umagon stated. "I'll announce a short break over the radio."
  "Thanks," Maud replied. I yawned. I had woken up barely minutes ago, but I was still so tired.
   She turned on the radio. "Attention. Umagon announces a break to shuffle drivers and our final destination - the northwestern tip of Spain!"

_________________
Tales of War

Last edited by Vulture on Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:34 pm; edited 2 times in total

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Vulture
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

No movement. The vehicles had stopped. Where were we? The doors were open. The air was clean, the dark sky crystal clear, the full moon clearly visible. Were those little twinkling dots stars? I barely remembered what they looked like. I blinked the sleep from my eyes, and stretched myself, before having a closer look. Stars.
  "What is this?"
  "It seems to be an abandoned GDI base," Umagon said. "I want to check if everything is capable of running."  Having a look at my surroundings, I noticed the pavement being undamaged. Buildings were seemingly undamaged. It was just... abandoned. But GDI was surely not stupid enough to leave everything unlocked for us to use, right? Right?
  "Which buildings are there?"
  "Our deployed Sensor Array detected a power plant and a workshop, seemingly with its own sleeping quarters that were probably for the engineers. There were also a handful of hangars, probably used for APCs. There's also an unidentified building that seems to have acted as barracks and armory. Scans seem to indicate there being a water purifier as well as a desalination plant, but we aren't certain. Lastly, there is a smaller power plant underground." Probably for emergencies. "Thankfully we have the drivers of our vehicles with us. Our engineers might be able to get all this stuff running again, hopefully before their mutations kill them." Oh wait, they did not have strains of the E-type. "We have our own blueprints too, so we might be able to build everything we want and need and do what GDI failed to do - clear Tiberium where we don't want it. But the water supply and by extension, electricity, have top priority right now."
  Domino pointed south. "What is that?" The building had an old feeling to it. But it was mostly intact, and the walls were new. Domino walked up to the building, apparently noticing something, and I decided to slowly follow her.
  "I don't know," Tsuki stated. "It looks like a medieval castle in layout, but the walls have definately been replaced with armed concrete. Maybe even the internal layout has been changed."
  "This is apparently Castelo de San Felipe, a castle which I assume was originally built  in 1557. GDI seemingly built their barracks partially on top of its ruins, which may or may not be after it was destroyed earlier." Domino pointed out. "At least, that is what I assume." I saw the sign Domino pointed at. 'Castelo de San Felipe' and 'MDLVII', though written in typical GDI font. "I wonder how much of the old layout has been kept." Are you distracted already, Domino?
  I noticed two turrets, though the weapons were removed. "So, GDI used this natural harbour to land, huh?" Irina questioned.
  "I guess so," Tsuki stated. "Makes sense, too. Nod apparently bombed the town to smithereens in 2011. GDI cleared the Tiberium after they landed, but apparently it's growing back already."
  "So that tells us that GDI never cleared the underground Tiberium. No wonder it grows back so quickly. Question is how much we clear, really, since Tiberium is beneficial for us as mutants. We need to call GDI for some supplies regardless - we have no food and water." Can we call GDI? Why didn't we do that before? "But we can't call GDI until we have the command post up and running... which is probably somewhere inside the castle. No clue where it is yet."
   "Did GDI leave a lot behind?" Tsuki queried. "I wonder why this place is abandoned."
   "We don't know yet." Umagon stated. "Within a week we should know a lot more. I'd like to carve out a good place to live."
  "Anyway, boys, girls... I think it's time to prepare your sleeping quarters." She paused. "I'd like the vehicle crews to sleep in those at the Factory, and those with the E-type mutations to sleep in the barracks."
   We entered the concrete castle, the entrance not reinforced like those heavy bunker doors to the Refinery and the Factory, and Tsuki had no problems opening the door. I immediately noticed that the building was dry and clean, and it felt wonderful. I don't know why I assumed it to be damp and wet for some reason, but whatever GDI did to keep those barracks functioning worked, even after the building was abandoned for half a year. "Okay, a reminder that men and women are seperated," Domino stated. "Children and adults can be seperated too if you want." Roxanne and Ellen nodded their heads immediately, but I hestitated. I didn't really want to be seperated from Domino, and I didn't mind sleeping with the soldiers. And besides, someone needed to take care of the little girls.

   We walked through the building... it was large, fairly complex, and the walls were deceptively thick, with at least three seperate barracks in various places, a multitude of watch towers, a kitchen with some kind of large empty room above it that was probably a hospital in the past, a structure which used to be some kind of command center if all the sockets and desks were any indication, and even an empty armory and a water purifier hidden far away from the entrance, as well as a passageway that was completely blocked, requiring 'clearance'. I'm surprised nothing else did, but then again, nothing of military value was stored here, it was just a husk left ready for GDI to use at a later date if they wanted to, and the building was more or less locked until we entered it.
   "There are several seperate sleeping quarters," Tsuki confirmed. "I think I'd like to actually sleep up high." We walked along the lowest battlements now, close to the sea.
  "I actually prefer nice and close to the sea," Domino voiced. "Small and cozy, too." I was not so certain about that. I could not swim. Then again, we were still sleeping at least several meters above sea level.
   "I don't," one of the men answered. "I prefer to sleep up higher."
  "It's settled then." I walked outside, up to the battlements. The old stone was replaced with dark gray armed concrete and was sunk straight into the seabed. The lights were dimmed, but apparently already running, and made everything easily visible, and I immediately noticed a large watch tower to my side, and entered it. Why were all the doors so easy to open? Was GDI planning to return here? I would assume them to lock things up better.
  "Old and new are blending together here," Domino said. "I like it." So did I. The building was a little overcomplicated, but it gave us a lot of room to be on our own or have some privacy if we wanted. There were so many nooks and crannies that I wanted to explore in daylight. "I also noticed that the bedrooms are a lot smaller."
  Wait, what?  "What do you mean?"
  "Tiny rooms for pairs of soldiers, at least here. The other rooms in the higher walls are significantly larger, similar to our mobile containers. I assume these were for officers?"
  "Nah," Umagon dismissed the thought. "There is no real space to work here, not even a small desk." Good point. "I think they were for civilians or military non-combatants, but who knows." I guess we'll find out one day.
  "Might be," Tsuki said. "But still, I agree with the men. I'd like to sleep up higher, in one of the barracks there."
  Umagon nodded. "I think we are going to use these smaller sections down here for non-combatants... though I assume we are all going to be mostly non-combatants unless we are attacked. I like the idea of just settling in and not giving a ztype about anything until we have no other options. I don't know about you, but I need a break... though we have to forage for food one way or another. But Domino, from what I have seen, that goes especially for you. You'd work well with most of the children, and let's face it, Samantha is too small for the frontline too." I nodded. One one hand, I wanted to fight Nod... for my dad, for Jessica and Douglas... But at the same time, I was a very small girl and battles were terrifying, and I wanted to study, to learn more. I would finally have the chance.
  "So are you saying I should bunk with Samantha?" Domino pointed out, and it was only then Umagon's comments finally caught up to me.
   "Let's face it, it's not a bad idea. I assume Mylene is going to bunk with Ellen, and the two other girls are going to bunk together too." The other girls nodded in agreement, and so did the blue-haired quartet. "I like using this third floor for you, girls. Come on, settle in. We are going to look for other spots to sleep for the others." Umagon said. "Let's meet again tomorrow morning. Take it easy, but try to be up around nine o'clock." We probably would be.
  "Wait, what about me?" Amanda questioned, visibly distraught, and I facepalmed for forgetting about her.
  "You always slept alone," Domino pointed out. "There's a guard tower on the other side of this wall. That way you are close to us, yet all alone." She paused. "You can always just opt to sleep downstairs or elsewhere - there's a lot of empty space." Domino's eyes started to twinkle. "But you know what I really want to do right now?" She pointed up. "I want to go back outside, tear off this dirty uniform and lay down in the grass to gaze at the stars." That sounded wonderful.

Our problems were far from solved, but finally I felt the semblance of peace that was gone for so long. Things would become better, given time.



---- EPILOGUE ----

And things did become better. Tsuki and Umagon managed to contact GDI on the evening we arrived, and GDI quickly arranged to supply us with food and clothes as we set up the power. We couldn't get the workshop to open until they gave us clearance, but they did do that fairly quickly, enabling the engineers to start construction on parts for the first Tiberium Spire, which we intended to build near the town itself.

But outside of the mechanics putting to work, the base was pretty calm as we slowly made it more habitable, more of our own space. It was no longer GDI's - which they were kind of okay with, and as long as we had enough food we had no reason to go out and forage. Some of the soldiers kept on watch duty, though the base was slightly too big when compared to our manpower. We just didn't have enough men working to keep a permanent watch or to construct buildings and vehicles in the workshop, let alone to do both. And the first of the engineers were already dying, as their Tiberium mutations took their toll.

Despite the struggles, it was the calm life that I needed. Domino was quite happy just babysitting and trying to arrange some basic education for the children, and even the blue-haired girls did pretty well. Nod's experiments had broken them and rendered them passive, but they at least started to eat and enjoyed the fresh air whenever there was an ocean breeze. They would regain some strength, given time.

Orca Transports arrived once every other week dropping food and supplies, and it wasn't long until we started constructing a few greenhouses of our own and even growing crops inside. We wanted to become more independent, and with now two Tiberium Spires clearing the surrounding area, it would work out even in the long-term future. Umagon even handed a few blueprints to GDI. I can't blame them for being interested in the Tiberium Spire... or in the anti-gravitation engines the Forsaken engineers were so fond of, and they gave us a blueprint for the walker locomotor of the Kazuar in return, and the surviving engineers somehow managed to build a trio of walkers within weeks. For some reason I felt Tsuki had a hand in naming them with the anti-infantry named version being called Tsurugi and the anti-armor version being named Nodachi. Both looked a lot like the Kazuar, though the arms seemed to be different, and the walkers seemed to be slightly better protected. Maybe that was just because I never had a close look at a Kazuar.

Lastly, a Harvester was being constructed, an armed version for our personal usage in case we needed it, but it was never finished, as our last engineers suddenly declined in health one after another, and in the end it were Maud and Mylene who puzzled the final pieces together and got the vehicle floating across the courtyard.

And not much later, we could celebrate our first vegetable harvest as well. It was wonderful, and finally I felt most of our worries slip away. We would no longer depend on GDI for food supply, and our dream of independence became as close as it could be for such a small society.

For some reason I felt that these peaceful tidings would not last. It felt almost surreal to have six months of peace. But I would enjoy it for as long as it lasted.

_________________
Tales of War

Last edited by Vulture on Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:15 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Vulture
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Tiberium Mutations:

With seemingly minor changes in someone's circumstances leading to a different mutation that butterflies on, and many Tiberium mutations having their own complications, a comprehensive catalogue was necessary.
Roughly twenty thousand different mutations are known and identified by GloboTech, but it is assumed that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

GloboTech officially manages the list of mutations, but both GDI and Nod support it, GDI because they think it helps them to support the people and help the Forsaken, while Nod uses it to further their Divination project and conveniently catalogue their own less than ethical research.

The sheer number of different mutations makes developing a cure very difficult, though GDI has developed one fairly recently that stabilizes the mutation, though it only works on a small subset of genetic mutations. There are also a few medications developed that someone would have to take their entire life, but halt the mutation's progress.

However, technology and knowledge about mutation has advanced far enough that the mutation affecting the person can be determined within minutes through a blood sample, and a lot of mutations have been dissected.

T: Tiberium-related illnesses
-
A: Highly unstable mutations (life expectancy <12 months)
B: Highly unstable mutations (life expectancy 12-24 months)
C: Unstable mutations (life expectancy 24-72 months)
D: Unstable mutations (life expectancy 60 months or more)
E: Stable mutations (E-type mutations don't progress over time - effects on life expectancy unknown but it is assumed they lenghten someone's life)
-
e-g: Exposure (e) or genetic (g) or otherwise (x)
r-v-c: Riparius (r) or Vinifera (v), Aboreus (a) or Cruentus (c)  
-
###: Numbers are in order of official discovery and genetical dissection. Not in order of appearance.

General notes: Exposure-based mutations tend to be significantly more unstable than those that directly affected someone's genetics. With the 'x'-classed mutations, tendencies are harder to guess because many of them are manmade, cruel experiments from Nod as they tried their hand at a process called Divination, and they are willing to sacrifice countless people to get there.
Another discovery of scientists that seems to be counterintuitive, is that mutations that affect the whole body seem to be significantly more stable than the ones that don't.

Tiberium variety also comes with its own general tendencies - Riparius-based mutations tend to be significantly more stable than those that have spawned from other Tiberium types, and mutations acquired at a younger age tend to be less unstable than those acquired at an older age.

There are as far as scientists currently know no exposure-based mutations in the E category, nor Vinifera-based mutations that aren't Nod's attempts at Divination, let alone Aboreus or Cruentus.
Something else to note about E-type mutations - all of those naturally occuring have a direct relation with T-C-er-07.

Lastly, almost all mutations seem to enhance the senses and physical abilities of the mutant in question, as well as to grant the ability to heal in Tiberium.


Examples:

A:

T-A-er-02
A rapid mutation that starts where shards of Riperius pierced the skin of an adult enough to reach a vein. These shards grow rapidly while also spreading through the veins, first enhancing their physical capabilities where it isn't impeded by the growing crystal, but after a month or two the Tiberium has taken over too many vital systems and shuts them down in a rapid fashion, becoming lethal in another few months.

T-A-ev-03
A Vinifera mutation developed in early adulthood through a sudden increase of Tiberium within the veins through sexual contact, where it follows the standard mutation pattern if rather slowly, enhancing someone physically and mentally for a few months until the body suddenly collapses after half a year. The mutation renders the inflicted person infertile within hours.

T-A-ev-06
A brutal mutation that mostly affects the brain as well as the directly affected area where shards of Vinifera pierced the skin of the head of an adult. However, after a while, they will quickly turn harsh and vicious, as they struggle to understand the changes to their own body as they rapidly mutate - first rapidly increasing their physical prowess, before suddenly crystallizing.

T-A-ev-07
A brutal mutation that mostly affects the brain as well as the directly affected area where shards of Vinifera pierced the skin of the head of an adult. However, after a while, they will quickly turn harsh and vicious, as they struggle to understand the changes to their own body as they rapidly mutate - first rapidly increasing their physical prowess, before suddenly almost disintegrating.

B:

T-B-er-08
A common mutation that develops if a young but healthy adult breathed in a small amount of Tiberium particles. Tiberium spreads throughout the body, but after just over one year it will slowly crystallize the lungs and lead into an agonizing death that takes a few months.

T-B-er-09
One of the common mutations that develops if a young healthy man has intercourse with a female suffering from a D-type mutation. More exact prerequistes are unknown still, but this mutation develops quickly leads to infertility even while the body is still enhancing. After roughly ten months, the victim's legs will suddenly give out, becoming unusable, but otherwise his body will keep enhancing for another few months. Eventually the person will die because of organ failure.


T-B-er-020
An uncommon mutation that develops if a qualitatively malnourished person in their puberty that is suffering from protein deficiency, is exposed to a sudden increase of Tiberium Riparius through the water supply. Tiberium spreads throughout the body, enhancing physical capabilities, but after one and a half years it will start crystallizing the stomach, and internal organs will malfunction shortly after, leading into a quick, but agonizing death.
The only B-type mutation that can produce offspring with an E-type mutation, if only under fairly specific circumstances.


C:

T-C-er-04:
A fairly common mutation that develops if a teenager is exposed to a small amount of Tiberium dust on the skin of their arms. Tiberium spreads throughout the body, first enhancing the physical abilities while simultaneously reducing the need of sustenance, but the places where the Tiberium first touched the person will start to light up like Riparius. After four to six years it's too much and the body collapses.

T-C-er-05
A common mutation that occurs when a young adult is exposed to water that is slightly contaminated with Tiberium.
It spreads evenly through the body, enhancing it in practically all aspects before the body reaches its zenith after roughly twenty-one to twenty-four months, after which decline sets in.

T-C-er-07
An somewhat common mutation, especially in Europe, developed when someone lived a rather normal childhood, except that they have been exposed to water that is slightly contaminated in their early teens. The transformation slightly slows aging and reduces growth, but enhances physical abilities also slowly but steadily, before the mutation reaches its zenith after four or five years and the mutant will rapidly detoriate afterwards.

This mutation is especially interesting to researchers since offspring produced by people suffering from this particular mutation tends to have a very stable mutation provided the parents have received the mutation in the past year or so.

T-C-er-012
An uncommon mutation that develops if a quantitively malnourished child in their early teens with a vitamin B-12 deficiency, is exposed to a slight-if-sudden increase of Tiberium Riparius through the water supply.
Tiberium spreads throughout the body, first enhancing the physical abilities while simultaneously reducing the need of sustenance, but after three to four years it's too much and the body collapses.

T-C-xv-01
One of Nod's attempts at making a Vinifera-based mutation for the followup to the original ReGenesis program, based on T-E-gr-07 and T-E-gr-02. The mutation spiraled out of control relatively quickly and the test subjects died before they turned four.


D:

T-D-er-06
A mutation developed in early childhood through a sudden increase of Tiberium within the veins, slowing aging but also increasing growth, causing health issues that way, usually because a tiny Riparius shard gets embedded in the skin like a splinter. The body of tries to mutate to adapt but ultimately fails once puberty is over, and after another few years it becomes more visible from the outside and other more traditional Tiberium-related health issues start to surface, at which point someone's physical abilities rapidly enhance before Tiberium causes their body to malfunction.

T-D-gr-02
A common mutation, developed when a mother receives a relatively sudden exposure to Tiberium in the late stages of her pregnancy, leading into a T-B-er-08 mutation.
The child develops relatively normally, if slightly slower, enhancing until reaching their zenith at the age of twenty-four. After that, their body disintegrates within a year.

T-D-gr-04
A somewhat rare mutation developed when both parents suffered from T-C-er-07, but the mutation of the father was just a year or so too far along to lead into T-E-gr-02.
It has a very similar development process as T-C-er-07, except that everything takes slightly longer and it will eventually run out.

T-D-gr-09
A rare mutation that occurs when the mother suffers from T-C-er-07, while the father was unmutated, but the mother was a young adult, so her mutation was too far along to lead into a stable mutation.
The child has a slowed growth but develops fast otherwise, reaching their peak at the age of five or six, after which point their heart will start taking significant damage from the mutation, crystallizing out within a few months.

T-D-xr-01
One of Nod's first succesful Tiberium enhancements, starting in the late 2010s, and one of the few mutations of the D-type even when it happens to adults. It has a lot of positive benefits, like enhancing eyesight, hearing and strength, while vastly increasing reflexes.
However, it's not ideal, and not just because it's complex to administer, requiring a few dozen of different Tiberium mixtures to be applied in the correct order and at the right time. Even then, after about five or six years the mutation grows slightly out of control as Tiberium starts growing uncontrollably through the spine. However, by replacing the human spine with a cybernetic counterpart, this downside can be averted.

However, despite its flaws, it is still a fairly common man-made mutation, as it forms the basis of Nod's Infector program.

T-D-xr-02
Another one of Nod's early Tiberium enhancements, and it provides a fairly stable mutation if applied to young children, and it would be an E-type mutation if it wasn't for the fact that the mutation doesn't exactly remain stable on its own, and as such the person in question needs to take the serum with this mutation once a week, as otherwise the mutation would rapidly devolve in a B-type mutation that spirals out of control.

It has a few positive effects, like enhanced eyesight and strength, but it's overrelience on both taking the serum every week and dosing exposure to Tiberium was ultimately more trouble than it is worth, and Nod discontinued the project in 2030, letting the test subjects die.


E:

T-E-gr-01
An uncommon mutation that someone acquires if the mother has the T-C-er-07 mutation in an early stage, in a later stage the mutation inflicted on the newborn is far more severe) while suffering from quantitive starvation, while the father is healthy and not mutating. Like for the other E-type mutations, chances are significantly greater for a stable mutation if the last few months of the pregnancy happen to be during winter.

In a number of ways this mutation hovers between T-E-gr-02 and T-E-gr-05, except for a curiously good hearing.

T-E-gr-02
A common mutation that one acquires if both parents have the T-C-er-07 (or T-D-gr-04) mutation in an early stage.

It slows aging and reduces physical growth, and doesn't have much in the way of downsides, or upsides for that matter, other than the ability to heal in Tiberium and an enhanced sense of smell. Changes in physical appearance are restricted to the green colouration of the nails.

T-E-gr-03
A rather common mutation that one acquires if the mother has received the T-C-er-07 mutation, while the father was not suffering from a mutation yet.

It slows aging and reduces physical growth, but not by all that much, and it doesn't have much in the way of upsides and downsides otherwise, other than the ability to heal in Tiberium. Changes in physical appearance tend to be absent or just restricted to the nails.

T-E-gr-04
A fairly rare mutation mutation that one acquires if the (teenage) mother has received the T-C-er-07 mutation, while the father was just starting to suffer from T-B-er-20 in the past few days, and during pregnancy weather should be humid and fairly cool, avoiding temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.

It slows aging and reduces physical growth by a noticeable amount, and grants than the ability to heal in Tiberium as well as slightly better senses and greater physical strength. Changes in physical appearance are restricted to the green colouration of the nails and emerald green eyes.

T-E-gr-05
A rare mutation that one acquires if both parents have the T-C-er-07 mutation in an early stage, usually because particles crawled within the food or water, but the mother started to suffer from quantitative malnourishment during the pregnancy, and the last few months of the pregnancy must take place during an exceptionally cold winter.

It slows aging while delaying and reducing physical growth, and provides an enhanced sense of smell, greater endurance and the ability to heal faster in Tiberium. Changes in physical appearance are restricted to the green colouration of the nails. However, it's worth noting that the reduction in physical growth is not so much in height as it is in width, giving the people with this mutation a very slight build.

T-E-gr-06
A somewhat common mutation mutation that one acquires if the (teenage) father has recently received the T-C-er-07 mutation, while the teenage mother had yet to start mutating.

It slows aging and reduces physical growth, but not by all that much, and doesn't have much in the way of downsides, or upsides for that matter, other than the ability to heal from Tiberium. Changes in physical appearance are restricted to the green colouration of the nails.

T-E-gr-07
A rare mutation that occurs when the mother has recently acquired T-C-er-07, while the father has a stabilized T-D-xr-01 mutation, in other words, is part of the Nod Infector program.

Physically, this strain  slows aging by a rather significant amount, but it doesn't affect physical growth - it'll just take longer. It comes with a number of upsides, from enhanced eyesight and hearing to significantly better reflexes and endurance, and they have an easier time building muscles (though no naturally increased physical prowess). However, in no way they match up evenly with the T-D-xr-01 mutation. Like other mutants, they can heal in Tiberium. Appearance-wise, there are a number of changes, most notably green hair, eyes and nails.

T-E-gr-08
A still-rare mutation acquired when the mother has started to suffer from T-C-er-03 in the few months before she got pregnant, while the father lives with T-E-gr-02. Weather is practically irrelevant as it isn't too hot, especially not during the last months of the pregnancy.


It slows aging and reduces physical growth, and doesn't have much in the way of downsides, or upsides for that matter, other than the ability to heal in Tiberium and improved senses. Changes in physical appearance are restricted to the green colouration of the nails, and eyes and hair both have a slightly green tint to them.


T-E-gr-09
A rare mutation acquired when the mother started to suffer from T-C-er-12 in the month before she got pregnant, while the father has recently acquired T-C-er-07. Weather also plays a role - for this mutation to happen the temperatures during pregnancy need to stay below 27 degrees Celsius at all times and below 20 degrees Celsius during the last three months of pregnancy, with the average temperature being significantly lower.

This mutation is however stable, with mostly beneficial effects to someone's health, though the rather significant slowing of aging (nearly forty percent) and  reduced physical growth stacking on top of that is enough to be a double-edged sword. Other effects are a better sense of smell, a better hearing and eyesight and slightly faster reaction speeds, and the ability to heal to Tiberium exposure at a relatively fast rate. Greater endurance and enhanced muscles are present, but not really enough to make up for the loss in size. There are slight changes in their physical appearance - eyes are emerald-coloured and hair and  nails have a green tint to them.
They also seem to have the uncanny ability to feel whether someone's mutation is stable or not even without actual research, but this is not scientifically verified.



T-E-xr-01
A trio of Japanese doctors, having a bunch of children under their monitoring with a variety of Tiberium mutations, including T-E-gr-05 and T-E-gr-09, amongst others. Noticing that some children had a slight destabilisation in T-E-gr-09, they tried to correct the minor difference. It is not exactly an easy process and it requires the child to be not exposed to any source of significant heat for prolonged amounts of time, but if done correctly the mutative gen that destabilizes the mutation can be shut down within three months, leading to a child that's very similar to a child that would have T-E-gr-09.

While that success motivated doctors to look for more stabilizers, they would not be lucky until Ignatio Mobius found a cure for T-D-gr-04 several years later, but he was at that point already in the terminal stage of his own Tiberium mutation.

T-E-xr-02
Ignatio Mobius always wanted to either cure or at least stabilize Tiberium mutations. Curing proved excessively difficult, but he managed to devise a stabilizer for T-D-gr-04, though it has to be administered to the newborn from the get-go and for about a year until the changes to the mutation are succesfully applied.
The children with this mutation develop relatively normally - they age a little slower and take longer to reach full maturity, but that is normal for Tiberium mutations regardless, but they have an increased eyesight and hearing, and significantly faster reaction times, while the external changes now remain minimal, restricted to a greenish colouration of the nails.

T-E-xr-03
Nod's succesful try to combine the positive traits of T-E-gr-04 and T-E-gr-02. With Nod scientists rejoicing, most test subjects were all killed off after they reached the age of three years old and it was clear that the mutation was succesful. Little else is known about his mutation, except that it was Nod's first.

Whether anyone with this mutation is still alive is unknown.

T-E-xr-04
A succesful attempt from Nod to see which Tiberium-related gene changes were responsible for what, this time through T-E-gr-09 and T-E-gr-05. Unwilling pregnant mothers were locked in a cold cell, starved and even beaten as this cocktail was administered weekly by Nod scientists, and then they were left behind. Many children were kept by Nod for research and eventually killed, but others were not and are still alive.
Children with this mutation tend to be tiny and slender, with deep emerald eyes, green nails and soft, emerald-coloured hair.

The mutation is still used by Nod to control unwilling populations and reduce the chances of revolt, since the children spawning from it are physically weak, despite their enhanced reflexes and improved eyesight, and children with some longevity make parents less willing to sacrifice themselves in a guerilla war even if they know they are going to die fairly soon themselves. If this is the case, Nod usually tells the child that they have the T-E-xr-02 mutation, but for those familiar with the differences this is a blatant lie.

T-E-xr-05
Another stabilizer devised by the same Japanese doctors who had the very first success. It is very similar in many ways, and this time it corrects the difference if the mother was suffering from the mutation just a little too long already when she became pregnant for the child to remain stable. Thankfully, this stabilisation also works if the mother happened to be slightly too old instead.
Frustratingly, it only appeared a decade after the first, and it appears that the initial success was a fluke.

T-E-xr-06
From captured data from Nod and research of their own, GDI wanted to either cure or at least stabilize Tiberium mutations. Curing proved excessively difficult, but they managed to devise a stabilizer for T-D-gr-04, though it has to be administered to the newborn from the get-go and for about a year until the changes to the mutation are succesfully applied.
The children with this mutation develop relatively normally - they age a little slower and take longer to reach full maturity, but that is normal for Tiberium mutations regardless, but they have an increased eyesight and hearing, and significantly faster reaction times, while the external changes now remain minimal, restricted to a greenish colouration of the nails.


T-E-xv-01
The first partially succesful attempt from Inner Circle with their Divination project, where they attempted to make a Vinifera-based counterpart to the Riparius-based mutations of T-E-gr-09 and T-E-gr-05 after other combinations failed and they wanted to see if it was easier if the test subjects had a slower physical growth and whether the research was worth continuing. With that indeed being the case, this led into the first discovered stable Vinifera-mutation. The test subjects mutated through this process have a very slight build, deep captivating azure eyes, blue nails, and blue hair. But while they met some of the requirements, like greatly enhanced reflexes and improved senses, they happened to be very peaceful and are kind of apathic when something happens to them, and as such Nod ultimately deemed this project a failure, executing most of the test subjects when GDI and the Forsaken struck the research facility in southern France.
Their bodies, while not particularly vulnerable, are extremely sensitive to pain, which is probably part of the reason of their pacifism.

T-E-xv-02
Noticing the very small stature of the T-E-xv-01 children, Nod wanted to make improvements, and did exactly that, though it is a lot more complicated than it is for T-E-xv-01, as it requires a trio of complicated concoctions to be administered to the pregnant woman in order to affect the child, and the mother must already suffer from a fairly recent Vinifera-based but somewhat slow-burning mutation (at least for the 9 months of pregnancy) herself, which is not the most common to begin with.

But this mutation is an improvement over T-E-xv-01 from the perspective of creating a super soldier, fixing most of the first issues while having a soldier with also greatly enhanced physical strength and a fairly broad build.


T-E-xv-03
This is much closer to what Nod wanted with their Divination process, and the current pinnacle of Tiberium-related bioengineering, where Nod started from scratch, only using the pointers provided by other stable mutations and previous succesful attempts like T-E-xv-01. This mutation is very stable, and while it slows aging by roughly forty percent, physical growth isn't hampered even if slowed, and they have enhanced senses as well as faster reaction speeds as well as muscles and bones that are incredibly strong compared to other children of their age. There are changes in physical appearance beyond size and muscles - crystalline turquoise nails and hair, and luminous lilac eyes are noticeable.

Not much else is known, since none of the test subjects with this mutation has passed the age of four yet and the children with this mutation are very well guarded by the Inner Circle, but it's assumed that these children reach the height of seven feet once they are fully grown after roughly thirty years.


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_________________
Tales of War

Last edited by Vulture on Tue May 11, 2021 9:18 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Sat Nov 14, 2020 10:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I found this little story on my harddisk, taking place in a similar setting, so I decided to include it here, even if Shilian is unrelated to the other characters in the story above.

White fluff slowly crept out of the torn fabric of the pillow. I pushed it back in. I had nothing better to do in the dim room, where sunlight was filtered through a dusty atmosphere and then again through an old, dirty window. I did not care. It meant people who passed by could not see me if they looked inside, if there was still someone alive. It's not like the lights inside the house still worked. The last lightbulb had burned out a long time ago.

I focused on the pictures that stood in the windowsill. The largest picture was my father. Buried in the old graveyard. Next to him was an old picture of my mother. She was buried next to him. My Chinese teacher, little more than a vague memory. His corpse was found one day. A cousin, who fell ill and was buried there too. Next was my friend, she died when we were seven. Also buried. My math teacher and his wife, the woman who taught me how to dance. Both were six feet under. The woman who used to live at the end of the street, who chose to fight and disappeared when I was a toddler, but who was apparently a close friend of my mother. Next was a broken picture of my neighbours, a family with their young son. The child died first, the woman died a little later, and the man set his house on fire and elected to stay inside as it burned. And finally another neighbour, a boy about two years older than me whose parents died when he was a toddler. He left when I was nine, but he had no hope to survive the green crystals that consumed him alive and didn't want to saddle me with the task of burying him. And ever since he left I was alone.

But their pictures were still here. Their memories were still here. It was as if they spoke to me. 'Shilian! You loved to dance. Why don't you dance again?' Shakily, I stood up. It was better than just sitting here, waiting for my mutation to worsen, the canned food to run out or the water purifier to break down, so the Reaper could harvest my soul.

Standing up, I put on the recording of the music. I stumbled over my own feet. The radio did not work. Of course it didn't. But it was embarassing. I stared at the pictures, and all I did was just hope that their souls didn't watch me right now.

I tried to turn the radio on again. This time it did work. I went through the practiced motions. Like yesterday, and the day before. Every day the spirits wanted to see me dance.

I had long forgotten the name of the singer, or what she sung about. I vaguely recalled the teacher mentioning something about love. But I did not understand English. Now I no longer cared.

Finally bowing to the pictures as the music drew to a close, whispers of applause appeared in my ears. It was just a memory of what used to be, but it would make due.

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Tales of War

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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Tue May 11, 2021 9:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I had some inspiration to add a little slice of life to the characters since they are likely to stay more or less out of conflict for the time being.

Due to some things that should have been added a long time ago, I updated the mutation sheet as well. I'll probably add more onto that in the future if it comes up.


"You okay, Domino?" I queried. She seemed forlorn and it was clear she had something on her mind. Even now she was in her early twenties, the slender redhead still looked like she was fifteen, but something in her seemed tired.
  "Yes, darling, it's just..." The lithe woman smiled and spread out her arms and I leapt up, wrapping my legs around her waist and my arms around her neck in a practiced motion.  "So much has changed, but we aren't making any progress anymore. Tiberium expands faster than we can clear it with our limited manpower."
  "Yes, I know what you mean," I admitted. Originally the plan was to clear the entirity of the northern half of the Iberian peninsula of Tiberium, but with only three Harvesters and a quartet of mechs there was just a limit of what we could do. We could not even build that many Spires, as the tall structures were obvious and it took us a few weeks to construct one, and there were large packs of hostile lifeforms not even all that far inland, only about thirty kilometers or so. It was not all bad, though; having a large xenoformed barrier against Nod-controlled Africa was just quite advantageous. Nod doesn't know we are here, and the longer that is the case, the better... "Even GDI's reinforcements are not enough." GDI had sent us about several hundred people with E-type mutations to reinforce the few dozen survivors of our splinter faction in several batches across the past few months... but a good number were still underage and mental problems were omnipresent. Possibly not too surprising, but it made constructing a long-term society difficult. It was clear that if Nod ever went for us we would be hopelessly outnumbered. We had probably less combatants than we had when we first arrived here, though there was no denying that our society as a whole was significantly healthier overall.
  "Indeed."  Domino ruffled my hair. "The Tiberium is growing faster as of late, faster than we can clear it. Even the Spires are getting overwhelmed." She paused. "How's Mylene, by the way? She's hard to approach recently, but you spoke to her earlier?"
  "Yes." I answered, smiling. Mylene was never too easy to approach, she was becoming more and more of an introvert that enjoyed hiding away in a corner to study or to build some gizmo. "She is studying how to repair vehicles, and she's now waiting for her next study material, though she seems to be more practical in that she learns the most while she's actively working in the hangar with the engineers and mechanics.
  "So..." Domino spoke up. "She's doing well?"
  "Yes," I confirmed. "Better than most of us, at least." Most of us had no family left, most of us had been traumatized by one thing or another, most of us had been abused by someone in the past. But being sent here was just as much of a new beginning as it was considered an exile, and as a result quite a few mutants had refused to be relocated here. "Still, it is realtively peaceful."
  "Crazy, right?" Domino smiled. "It won't last forever, but the I enjoy this peace. It feels wonderful. Why do humans even go to war?"
  I shrugged. "Dunno." It was all I really had to offer. "Shall we go and meet Shilian?" When talking about traumatized people, you needed to look no further than the Chinese girl. She struggled so much with everything, but it seemed visiting her regularly kind of helped.
  "That is a good idea," the redhead agreed.

---

  Shilian was hunched over her desk in a cozy room that would not look out of place for a teenager three decades ago, even if the pop music had been replaced with metal for once. The girl was born deep in China's heavily infested interior and only found by sheer accident by GDI commandos during a diversionary mission deep in enemy territory.
 How she could concentrate on that drawing with the electric guitars screaming through the room was something I did not understand, but at least the young woman was happy as she was drawing  a medieval castle that would not look out of place in Arthurian legends. Yes, the girl was by no means a good artist, but at least she was enjoying herself. That was more than that could be said for many others.
  "Hello, Shilian," Domino stated, waiting until the Chinese girl had noticed their presence.
  "Hello! How are you doing?" I followed up quickly
   "Hi. I am tired, all still feels weird." Shilian's English was noticably improving, but it was still broken.
  "Understandable," I responded. I would feel weird too if I had people around me after being locked up alone for five years. "Does it still feel like a dream?"
  "A bit," Shillian admitted, as she dropped her pencil and allowed us to hug her. "But I'm getting used to it." Shilian was almost schizophrenic because of how lonely she had been.
  "Take it nice and easy," Domino added. "I still have nightmares about... the battles I have been in." Domino attempted to mask the hestitation in her voice, and I quickly squeezed her hand. I knew how flamethrowers still haunted her through the night.
  "Indeed," I followed up. "Anything on your heart?"

---

   Domino and I walked through the narrow streets of the castle grounds and to the deployed Sensor Array, where Amanda and the four blue-haired girls were working. Amanda was inside, still operating the sensor itself, while Roxanne and Alexandra were cleaning one of the anti-gravitation engines. Melanie was stretching herself to clean more of the vehicle's exterior, and while she was the tallest of the four, she was still significantly shorter than even me and struggled to reach many parts of the vehicle. Sakura was just sitting in a chair that had been moved out of the vehicle.
  "Howdy," I announced, distracting the four girls.
  "Hello," they chorused, and Melanie let herself go, the bluenette dropping on all fours and attempting to relax herself a little. And failing.
  "How is it going?" It was their first chore after all, and during the winter too... it was not too cold, but sitting outside in thin a sleeveless shirt would probably still be uncomfortable, even if this place was relatively sheltered against the cold winds.
  "Awkward. Everything is so big, and we are so small..." Sakura stretched herself, and for some reason that made her look even more diminuitive. She was so tiny, and even once she would become an adult in a few years she would unlikely to be more than four feet tall. Before the arrival of Tiberium, an adult of that size would be shocking, but now... while it was still rare, there were more than a few mutations that caused humans to grow into something significantly smaller than what used to be the norm, my own T-E-gr-09 mutation being also one of those. Granted, almost all people with such mutations had yet to reach adult age. I was only fifteen, and possibly one of the oldest persons alive with this mutation.
  "Indeed, but eventually things become easier," Domino pointed out. I doubted it, as someone with a very slow growth myself. "ztype, I have drone duty in a few minutes. See you later, Sam!"
  "Yes, I can," I answered.

  An awkward silence fell, but eventually I just decided to sit down alongside Sakura. "Are you okay?" The girl was now just stared in the distance.
  "I'm afraid," she whispered, but she did not elaborate. She just froze up.
   "Why? Do you want to walk with me?"
   Sakura nodded, and I took her hand.
  As we started walked around the base, I was making sure to press the diminuitive girl against me to protect her against the biting ocean wind when necessary. It was December and that was something that could be felt.

Someone else had clearly no such concerns, as I saw a short dark-haired woman sitting exposed on the concrete battlements, with a crumpled, dark brown piece of paper in her hand.

Tsuki, what are you doing? Most people are not outside in these winds unless they have to. It was nothing like her.
  "Hello, Samantha, hello, Sakura." I took a closer look at the card. It was of some kind of old Japanese game, probably played before the Tiberium infestation struck the country in full force.
  "Not playing poker today, I see?" I stretched my arm, offering the woman to walk alongside us.
  "Nah. I'm getting bored of the game. We play it everyday and every night, for fairies' sake, and sometimes it is just too much." She twiddled with the card in her hand. I noticed tape holding the card together.
  "Can you tell me the story behind it?" I queried. "It's clear the card means a lot to you."
  "Yes," Tsuki answered. "It's the only possession of my father that I still have. I have nothing anymore that belonged to my mother." She paused. "Jackasses auctioned literally everything off after my parents died, but a few things escaped their greedy fingers. This card was one of those things - it was already folded twice when I first saw it." She smiled slightly. "My classmates played the game a fair amount actually, with cards that were just as old." She paused.  
  "What game was it?"
  Tsuki smiled. "It is a Japanese game called Yu-Gi-Oh. It might've been exported globally had the Tiberium crisis not intensified, or maybe if GDI had won the initial conflict, but since it didn't happen and the infestation of the green menace in Japan worsened, the opposite happened, and new cards were no longer designed after I was born, albeit printing resumed for a few more years." She held the card a little closer to me. "This card is named Eldeen. The card was awful in terms of playability, but... it is more of a heirloom than anything else."
  "Any other cards you remember?" Operation Distract Tsuki starts now.
  "A few," Tsuki answered.  "There were those cool dragons, like the Blue Eyes, and some wizards like the Dark Magician and its feminine counterpart, but they were more flashy and famous rather than good."
  "It looks like you would like to play it again. It might be an improvement over all those poker nights."
  "I actually barely played it as a child. I mostly watched, but as an orphan... I just had not the money to get new cards." Tsuki made a slight face before patting Sakura on her head. "What do you think?"
  The small child shrugged. "I don't know. I do not think I ever played games." I pulled her a little closer at that. I did not own many toys, and now none at all, but even I played plenty of games as a kid. Now it was just poker, with the occassional game of chess.
  She turned to me. "And you?"
  "I would like to." Just like Tsuki, I was getting bored of poker, but unlike Tsuki, I could actually play chess even if I was atrocious. "Tsuki, can you reproduce the game?" I suggested.
   The woman lit up, but faltered quickly. "I don't remember all that many cards. Not enough to get some varied decks running. The game had hundreds of different cards, and you could build many different decks from those cards still even if many cards were best described as unplayable."
  "Try it." I smiled. "The game does not have to be an exact replication. Just try to emulate it as close as you can, and maybe we can design some cards ourselves to round it out." I felt my smile widen. "We'll help you if we can."
  Tsuki grinned back. "Oh, I am surely going to try. If anything, it'll occupy my mind." She paused. "I wonder when some of us will have celebrated their boredom by getting pregnant." That was a good question. Not that it would happen to me anytime soon. I was mentally just not looking for those things yet, my mutation slowing down my physical growth and delaying my puberty by so much that I had yet to start it when I was going to turn fifteen in a few months.
  "Tell me tomorrow how it's going!" I answered with a smile.
  "Sure!" Tsuki shouted back.

The young woman almost broke into a sprint, and her excitement was wonderful to see. It marked a change, and I wished it would infect the others. I was seriously sick of the dreary mood after the initial hope had worn off, and I did not just want to fight the rest of my life.

---

"Hey Samantha!" Damn, that was loud. The woman had basically barged in my room, knowing I had plenty of time on my hands. Yes, I was doing a lot of little things around the base, we piloted scout drones or occassionally manned the radio, but that also meant that most of the time we were in our room. Even when piloting scout drones most went on the automatic pilot and only takeoff and landing was really done by hand.
 "Hey Tsuki!"
  "Howdy! You're cheerful today!" Domino stood up and stretched herself, before focusing on the woman in front of her. It was rare Tsuki entered these parts of the complex; she simply had no reason to be here. If she was here, she was here for
them.
   "How's your little project going?" I wondered how quick the progression was.
   Tsuki smiled. "It's difficult." She smiled. "I mean, a few cards I remember practically word for word, but many of those were kind of useless but flashy capstones that are not easy to play out, and of the lesser cards... the cards you play the most of the time, I actually do not remember all that many that well. I don't even know the attack or defence values of most cards anymore, or what affinity or type they belonged to."
  "Well," Domino said. "It's what I tell the children here too; be systematic. Think of those affinities and types. List them to the best of your ability. Then try to think of what cards belonged to those affinities and types." She was trying to speak slow and clearly, mostly in order to not misspeak herself.
   "Yes," Tsuki said. "I have already kind of done that." She smiled. "There are a few cards of which I remember the name and affinity but nothing else, there are cards I remember the effect of but not the name, and from other cards only remember the stats but nothing else. Like, people were always happy if their monsters had more than fifteen hundred attack because that got over so many common monsters that had fifteen hundred attack or twelve hundred defence."
  "Did the opposite also happen?" I queried.  "Or am I asking something stupid."
   Tsuki blinked. "No, you are not." She smiled. "The answer is yes. I had almost forgotten about the Beaver Warrior."
  What? "That sounds silly." I had to resist the urge to throw a fit of giggles.
  "It kind of was. But well, the card was designed in the year after the Tiberium infestation started... so maybe it is not too surprising." She gave a wary smile, almost melancholy, even if the mutant was too young to remember what life was without Tiberium; hell, like the majority of people with a genetic E-type mutation, it was actually very likely they would not have been born at all without Tiberium. The teenage pregnancies that they required tended to be rare under normal circumstances. Hell, even Tsuki's parents were likely to be small children when Tiberium was discovered.
  "Indeed," Domino continued. "People actually still thought Tiberium would disappear at the time." She shook her head. "But now it pretty much dominates the world. GDI and GloboTech can't even fully clear it in the parts of Northern Europe that never left their control." Maybe that was changing now they had access to Tiberium Spires of their own.
  "Yes," Tsuki said, with a smile. "And quite a few of the card designs will reflect those better times." The short woman paused a bit. "Not all, though. Some of those old cards really don't, there were some absolutely creepy fiends around. Others were kind of cute, like Sangan. That bugger was good too, it could search other monsters below a certain amount of attack... forgot the exact number though."
  "Who cares," I answered. "Just get a list of playable cards. It doesn't matter if it is a perfect replica or not."  I'd love a new game to play. Yes, we had some dices and cards, even 3D-printed chess sets, but little else.
  Tsuki grinned. "Might be for the better. Some cards were kind of dumb, and many, many cards were just really bad." She shook her head. "Even the only card I own - the Eldeen here - was objectively atrocious, and its only value is sentimental." She smiled. "And yet there were many cards worse than it."
  "So," Domino started out. "That also means you don't need to copy all the forgettable cards. Just make sure we have the good ones, and the iconic ones, and we'll round things out later."
   "Thanks. Might be for the better than spending a month trying to remember what the effect of Dark Magician Girl was. I know it had an effect, but I can't remember what that effect could have been, even if two people owned it. They sure as hell didn't play the card, though..."
  "So the effect was bad?" I pressed on, hoping to spark the memory of the combat veteran.
  Tsuki shrugged.  "I don't know. If it was truly atrocious people would have made fun of it, so it was probably more forgettable than bad. It had an impact in the official series, though, I remember that much."
  "One could argue that if an effect is insignificant to the point it does not justify what the card gives up to have that effect, it is a bad effect." Domino answered. "Don't worry. You haven't seen the cards for over a decade and possibly longer... no one blames you if your memory fails you."
  "Indeed," I added. "How many cards do you already have written down?"
  "There are like nine cards that I remember perfectly, or I think I do, at least. Otherwise there is a list of about two dozen cards of which I remember bits and pieces. I don't think I even remember all monster types, though I do think I remember all affinities." Tsuki paused.
  "Maybe it'll come back. Are there any other famous cards you miss. You mentioned the Blue Eyes earlier... is there another card like that? The eye colour strikes me as specific."
  "Thanks." Tsuki shook her head. "You're sharp. Yes, there was. There was a Red Eyes Black Dragon. It was a lot worse than the Blue Eyes, so nobody truly played it. Same summoning conditions, but its attack and defence were lower."
  "Weird," Domino deadpanned. "Sure you aren't missing something?"
   "Don't think so. There were a few details, but the level difference between seven and eight was irrelevant as far as I remember. But I was like eight at the time... so who knows, really. Neither monster had an effect, that I do know for certain." Tsuki clapped Domino on her back, almost throwing the willowy redhead right off the bed.  "Anyway, there are a few more cards I really want to note down now. I will show you the list tomorrow." She pointed to the small computer in the corner of our bedroom.
  "See ya," I answered, Domino electing to remain quiet, still a bit dazed by Tsuki's excited gesture.

  "Well, that happened. When did she come up with this idea?" Domino queried.
  "Yesterday," I confirmed, smiling. It was rare to see Tsuki excited, or anyone at this point really, and maybe it would be the sign of something bigger. "I saw her reminiscing in the cold and our little conversation inspired her." I knew Tsuki was hoping to have her game complete relatively easily. It wouldn't be too hard... the game did not seem to require anything more than cards, which we could print even in this base in the middle of nowhere.
  "It's good for her," Domino confirmed, and she wrapped her arm around me. "Sure, Tsuki is friendly, and there's no one I want more to have at my side when shit hits the fan, but... she's distant at times, and struggles to reveal parts of herself." And Tsuki hated hugs...
  "Tsuki probably also has some problems from her past that she has to deal with." Who knows what she had seen on her missions.
  "For sure. Most soldiers have, and women moreso than men. There are reasons why GDI always makes sure the smallest units are segregrated, so any given lance consists either of only men or only women. it is kind of important that your allies keep their hands to themselves, after all."
  "Did that also happen to you?"
  Domino nodded. "The segregation had already happened when I joined the army at the age of fourteen, so six years ago. I was trained by women, taught by women and then served with women in GDI." She paused. "But women are not always innocent either. And before that, it did happen at school. I got bullied by everybody and it got pretty nasty at times." I had the feeling that this was a bit of an understatement.
 "At least you will never see them again, Twiggy." I turned, and embraced the young woman. First being an orphan, then bullies, and then having your squad burnt away from you twice...  I could see why she often could not resist hugging someone she trusted.
 Domino squeezed me in her arms. "That is, indeed, quite likely."
 
---

"Ellen, how is it going?" I queried.
  "Dunno." She pulled her fingers through her green hair, frustration evident on her face. "English grammar is stupid."
  "But you have to learn."
  "I know, I know." The girl sighed. "But sometimes it is hard. Other than Mylene, everybody I knew a year ago is dead." She paused. "I miss Chantal sometimes, and I miss my mom, or rather, the person my mom used to be when I was little." Aren't you still little? "But when I study, I always think about how they thought me how to read..."  
  "I get what you mean. I miss my parents too, and my dad's personality also changed as his mutation progressed." But he actually became a nicer person and taught me as much as he could in the last years of his life.
  "Some things are weird, though. Why do I remember my mutation being T-E-xr-02, while GDI and the others think it is T-E-xr-04?"
  "Has that never been explained to you?" I queried. It seemed to make the most sense to explain it to a girl that actually had to deal with those inconsistencies first. "But it is quite simple, really. Nod just wanted to hide the true extent of their Tiberium research, and wanted to keep their own mutation secret. So they used an established mutation as a scapegoat, basically." Using the right words to convey the truth was actually pretty difficult. "So Nod told their victims that they had a T-E-xr-02 mutation, but since that classification is already used for another mutation, the stabilizer devised by the late doctor Mobius, it received the next number in line when it was discovered; T-E-xr-04." I paused. Even now there were not all that many stabilizers for Tiberium mutations. Literally hundreds of mutations were known, but only a quarter of the D-type mutations and a handful of C-type mutations could be succesfully stabilized at this point. The research was frustratingly difficult, but sadly I was not smart enough to help here.    

  And the still-existing stigma on mutations within GDI made it so those departments received little money. Instead they preferred to hide the problem. As for GloboTech... it was clear as day that they did not care at all.  

---

The ruffling of paper shook me out of my conversation with Roxanne. Was Tsuki already finished with the game? I expected it to take far longer. I looked up, wondering whether I should stand up or not, as laying on your stomach on the floor while reading homework on your laptop wasn't an ideal way to address an adult.
  "Hello girls. Good to see you too, Roxanne."
  "Hello, Tsuki," the three of us chorused, but I knew the tiny bluenette just wanted to hide. She was always a little shy, but Tsuki's more distant demeanor sometimes scared her.
  Thankfully, Tsuki seemed to realize this, and she quickly adjusted her posture, and dropped down practically next to me, inserting a data stick into the portable computer and even wrapping her free arm around me. I was surprised at this, Tsuki was normally not really a hugger, but it broke the ice a bit, which was necessary with the anxious bluenette. "This is the cardlist," she noted, and I felt that Roxanne had crawled into my other side. so she could read the list much more easily.

  The space behind the laptop became suddenly quite cramped as Domino also took a closer look just as Tsuki quickly summarized the rules. While she had already told me that the rules were relatively simple in that Card A was bigger than Card B it would win (depending on the position it was in), she now went into more details about Spell Speed, regarding effects, and that stuff made my head spin.

  "So about fifty cards," I pointed out.
  "Yes," Tsuki confirmed. "A few things are still missing. I can't remember any Angel or Fairy for the life of me, the entire type is just absent." She paused.  "I remember a card with a creepy eye on a shoulder pad, but I basically forgot whatever else it was. Angel of Silence or something." She paused. "Harpies aren't much better."
  "Wait, there are Equip Spells?" Domino queried. "Maybe we can have one that recycles equip spells?"
  "There's some kind of Faith Magician which can kind of do that, but I don't think anyone wants to. I have yet to think on how I'm going to translate the Japanese name." Fair.
   "I mean a Fairy that specificially gives back Equip Spells," Domino suggested.
   "Sounds good," Tsuki agreed, and she quickly penned down something on an empty piece of paper. "Something else that's missing is a card that gives back health. There were some, they were just bad."
  "Another effect you are looking for?"
  "Yes," Tsuki confirmed. "I think I placed most other card effects I remember - kind of - but there was also a card that banished monsters of your choice from the Graveyard if it did battle damage, which was situational but really good against some decks. I forgot if it had huge attack or defence, but... yes, that was a thing too." Tsuki smiled.
  "Put those on the same card." I suggested.
   Domino brightened. "Evil. I like it."
  Tsuki also grinned. "Yes, that really fucks with that Chaos card that requires you to banish yourself."
  "I was thinking of Monster Revive," Domino voiced, "but yes, that too... I think."
  "We all 'think', Domino," Tsuki added, smiling. "I have no clue how this will play out. For all we know this little game is going to suck some serious balls and we will all be cheerfully playing poker after this failed adventure."
  I decided to go back to an earlier subject regarding the game, as there were plenty of questions that buggered me. "Talking about Monster Revive which revives, other than that Chaos card, is there anything else that Special Summons?" I hoped I was using that game term correctly.
  "There should be," Tsuki pointed out, but I could feel she blanked with the way she tensed up.
  "What about a monster that Special Summons itself when you Normal Summon something else... fairly specific but not quite... like a level three Fairy?
  "Not the worst idea," Tsuki admitted. "Can be scary with Tributes... ohwait... you have to waste your Normal on that Fairy." She smiled. "This would also be a way to get actually playable weak monsters, because they tend to rely on effects in many ways. The game had so many absolutely unplayable weak normal monsters that I have forgotten most of them."
  "Not worth writing those down?" I queried.
  "Not really. I mean, who is going to play some minion with piss attack and poop defence, and that was somehow not even the worst that was around!"
  "Fair," I noted, ruffling Roxanne's hair. Unlike Domino or me myself, the tiny girl had barely said anything, and even if she was out of her depth, I still wanted her opinions.
  Domino shifted herself. "Well, what about giving it an effect that weakens those Chaos monsters you talked about? If they were so strong, an answer might be preferred. Cutting their stats or something?"
  "That could be workable," Tsuki admitted. "A lot of Light and Dark monsters are very strong, stronger than the other affinities. So having a counter or two would not be too bad." As she was writing down. "With all the talk about Banishing, there was a variant of the Trap Hole that banished, but I completely forgot what it was."
  "A Chaos Trap Hole?" I queried, but I was more throwing random stuff around here. "Like, a trap that just kills off the Light or Dark monster before they can do anything?"
  "I don't think that is quite what I meant." Tsuki grinned. "That certainly did not exist... at least, not yet." She cuffed my hair. "For some reason that is the kind of card that I would see being created had the game existed for longer than it did..." She started penning it down. "If we want it to entirely negate the summon, it could be a counter trap?"
  I had no clue what that meant. "Up to you," I answered, but I couldn't stop myself from smiling. It was great to see Tsuki be so excited for once. She never was like this, and I would enjoy it while it lasted.
  "Maybe also the opposite?" Domino suggested next. "Like, a card that can protect your card against removal?"
  "Yes, that sounds nice. Needs to be either a Trap or Quick Play spell." Tsuki nodded. "I wonder whether it should protect against the Chaos Trap Hole though."
  "Banishing is not the same as destroying?"
  "They are not. Also, if this protection card is a normal Trap or Quick Play spell you can't even activate it in response to that Chaos Trap Hole, at least if it becomes a counter trap, if I remember correctly."
  Fair enough. "Sorry." I did not quite understand what Tsuki meant, but I did understood that phrasing on a card could be very specific with all those weird game terms.
  "Don't worry. I am surprised I remember so many of the rules as I did. I should probably write them down so we at least have a baseline rather than a vague memory to go off." Tsuki smiled.
  "Very useful." I nodded. "Should this spell protect against everything, though?"
  "Or should it protect only one group of monsters?"
  "Something to think about," Tsuki confirmed. "I wonder whether we need more removal for spells and traps?"
  "We have some negations, but none of the removal for spells and traps is on creatures." I pointed out.
  "That should not be the case," Tsuki pointed out. She tapped on the paper. "There should be one flip monster that destroys traps, but I can't find it in the list. Five hundred attack, eleven hundred defense, Dark..."  Her voice degraded to a whisper.
  "Tribute summon into trap removal?" Domino opined. She could not see Tsuki and might not even hear her properly either with how soft the Japanese woman was speaking those last few words.
  "That is not the flip monster I was thinking of, but it sounds fair." Her voice was louder this time.
  "You can always add both," Roxanne opined, her voice soft and quiet.
  "That is probably fine," Tsuki agreed.
  "Don't be afraid to voice your opinion, Roxanne," Domino added, pressing herself closer against the tiny girl. "It's okay. Anything else you want to add?"
  "Equip Spells," Tsuki added. "I only have one, but most were absolute trash as they boosted only one monster type by a small amount... I forgot their names, even, except the Laser Cannon Armour, but I forgot to which type that one belonged."
  Oops. "What about an item that boosts all monsters irrespective of their class, but one class more than others?" Roxanne suggested. "Like some magic that buffs Spellcasters?"
  "Not the worst idea," the Asian woman admitted. "I need more equip spells than this, but that is not the worst idea. I'll see what I can come up with when I will be typing in everything in my laptop." She smiled. "Some of the old art has copies posted online, but not much."
  Tsuki grimaced. "Outside of the two main dragons, I only found the original art for the Dark Magician and the Dark Magician Girl. But otherwise... probably not. I know the game has been mostly forgotten even in Japan - cards haven't been printed for over twenty years now as far as I know." She finally stood up, stretched herself. "I guess I'll see you girls in a few days again. It's getting late and I still have a watch duty later tonight."
  "Take care!"
 
  "Well," I continued, as I also stood up. "I think it's pretty much bedtime for Roxanne here."
  "Mhm... Can you come with me?"
   "Yes...? Is there something?" She slept in the adjacent room with the three other blue-haired girls, and there was no need for me to follow her.
   Roxanne placed her hands on my shoulders, attempting to pull me closer. "It's Sakura," she whispered.
   "Okay," I said, a little worried though I did not expect it to be anything severe. If it was, they would have called earlier. Besides, Sakura was always a little quiet and often had to be prodded into motion. "I'll be right back."
   
   Alexandra was reading an old comic.
   Melanie was changing into her nightgown.
   And Sakura was lying on her bed, listless.
 
   "Sakura, are you okay?"
   No response other than a slight tilt of her head. I quickly jumped on the bed, causing the tiny girl to bounce up. She was always the smallest of the four, but I did not expect her to be that light. "Leave me alone, please."
   "Leave you alone?" I wrapped my arms around her neck. "Does anything hurt?"
   "No." Her voice was clear. "But I want to be alone."
   "Why?"
   "Does it matter?" Sakura stated. "What is the purpose of life? What am I living for?"
  Thrown for a loop, I realized that the child was probably depressed. "Well, no one knows what its purpose is." I never believed in a god myself. "But... as for what you are living for, that is up to you to decide. What do you want to do with your life? Is there something you enjoy doing?" I squeezed her shoulders.
  "Dunno."
   "Dunno?!" That was not an answer. "What do you like to do?"
  "Nothing."
   "Focus on me, Sakura."  I inched even closer to her. "Did something happen to you recently?"
  "Feel free to talk about what bothers you, Sakura." Roxanne piped in.  "Samantha has the patience to listen." She dove on the bed as well, and Melanie and Alexandra quickly followed.
  "We are here for you, Sakura," Alexandra added.  "We are worried about you."
 
  If she needed something for her psychic wellbeing that we could provide, we should provide that if reasonable. We might spend many more decades together, and with how Tsuki and Umagon seemed to age (being in their mid-twenties and still looking like twelve year olds at times) I was slightly suspicious of the idea that Tiberium might heal the effects of aging entirely and render us practically immortal as long as nobody actively killed us. And would
that not be awkward?!

   Sakura blinked.

   "Do you want to talk? Now or tomorrow," I finally asked? "Right after breakfast." I had a sector to scout tomorrow in the afternoon.

    "That's fine," she finally conceded. "Tomorrow," she clarified.
    "Good to hear." I gave her one final hug before returning to the room I shared with Domino. I really wanted a shower at this point, and that new Tiberium soap was wonderful. It was made specificially for mutants, and it felt really good. It probably helped that it was my only regular exposure to Tiberium, as the base itself and the surrounding areas had no traces of the material left, the closest fields being around ten kilometer away now, on the other side of the bay, and a pair  of nearby Spires were already shut down.

---

Domino and I were a little earlier than usual as we picked up the girls for breakfast. But Melanie, Roxanne and Alexandra were preparing to do their morning stretches, and it surprised me how flexible they were. "Good morning." I smiled at them. "When did you decide to do this?" I queried, as it was clear they had a daily routine. Normally Domino and I just arrived after they were finished.
  "About a month ago," Roxanne answered. "It just feels good to stretch in the morning, especially when you compared to the stiffness when you have spent months being tied up." She stared at me, and a frown marred her face. "Is it bad to do this daily?"
  "No, not at all." I defended, before forcing out a smile. Domino had practiced gymnastics as a child, but Domino and I now do those exercises only once or twice per week, but in their shoes I would have done the same thing and have repeat them more often. "I was just surprised, but it is great that you exercise. Can we join in until you're ready for breakfast?" We, because Domino was standing right behind me.
  "Sure," Roxanne said. "Sakura?"
  The bluenette nodded, and she joined at my side. Her movements were tired, and I just felt bad for her. She must have not slept at all last night. Still, we did our routine with the six of us, for the first time in quite a while we did it all together, and I noticed how flexible Alexandra and Roxanne had become. They just pushed their bodies a little more, and I could see why they did this. It was also an amusing middle finger to Nod who basically prevented them from moving as much as possible, though I doubt that was a conscious decision.
In fact, if Nod had been more stable, it might very well be that they would have spent more time exercising under their 'care' as well. Instead, the girls had shifted hands repeatedly between the various factions of Nod, and the Marked of Kane just ultimately didn't care much about them as they were obsessed with cybernetic enhancements. I knew from the captured notes that their research was probably better summarized as torture to the point it was surprising they were still alive. Their appearances were so fragile, and to withstand that kind of abuse... I did not want to think about it.

At least it was behind them now.

After breakfast, I took Sakura apart and into Domino's rarely used office.

Where she needed a shoulder to cry on.

---

During the late afternoon, Tsuki visited once more. She had her patrol now cycled much earlier in the evening and another one in the early morning, so she could not visit anymore at her usual time.

I didn't really care - I had plenty of time, though I had two drones in the air right now. Boring shit, nothing really happened especially when you had an ocean sector to scout for four hours a day without seeing anything. Thankfully, radar and IFF had been invented, so she didn't have to look at a screen all day while the drone flew on autopilot. Unless something happened, I wouldn't need to return to the screen for another hour to land the two long distance scout drones. Because taking off and landing was the only thing those drones couldn't do on autopilot.

  "I just wanted to show you the preliminary list." Tsuki placed a hand on my shoulder and pulled me slightly closer. It seemed she was warming up slightly. Maybe she was just lonely in her own way. "Sixty-four cards are  done now, but I expect the list to expand still a fair amount during the time I'm looking for artwork and formatting everything." She pointed to the new additions at the bottom of the list, with a card named White Magical Hat being last on the list. Discarding cards from the opponent's hand?
  "That looks scary. Are there counters to that?"
  Tsuki slowly shook her head. "There should be, but I would need to check the entire list. I'll probably add a card or two to give someone using a card like this some considerations... or the Chaos monster I added that sends cards from both player's hands."
  I nodded in approval. "So when can we play?"
   Tsuki thought for a bit. "I don't know, probably in a week or two if I request a break from the patrols." She paused. "It's not like all that much is going on. "
  I shrugged. "True. Does Nod even know we are here?"
  "Don't think so," Tsuki answered. "We are several hundred kilometers away from the closest inhabited town."
  "Crazy," I answered. I mean, it was a known fact for some time now, but even where I had lived in what used to be southern Germany, there were still villages spread a few miles apart.
  "I know what you mean. Japan was densely populated as well." The commando smiled. "Anyway, see you next time! Probably not tomorrow, though... possibly when all the cards I currently have are formatted properly."
   Fair. "That is good. We do not have that much left to talk about." Ultimately I was just going off my gut feeling in how I felt about cards, and Domino and even Tsuki were doing the same. "See ya."
  "Bye!"
 
   It seems we had something to look forwards to.

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Vulture
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Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2021 10:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

So... I was working on a part for Nod, but I decided that one of the things I wanted to do would work significantly better with the characters I was already using.


Urgh. I was thirsty. How late was it?
  Only three after midnight. Well, better make no noise then. I slowly shifted the blankets away, quietly climbing down the ladder of my bunk and putting on my purple bathrobes. I opened the door, careful to not wake Domino, before walking to the living quarters, where I got myself a bottle of water.
 
  I needed that. Thankfully our clean water supply was not rationed. Now, back to bed.
  In the darkness of our room, I saw something moving. Domino, you okay?  I inched closer to her, my eyes adjusting to the darkness. She was writhing and groaning in her sleep, her luminous eyes blank but wide open and she was babbling to herself uncontrollably.
 
  I did not hestitate, leaping on top of her. I clasped my hands into hers, but Domino did not resist as much as I expected, and my belly landed on her face.  "Wake up, Domino," I said, forcing myself upright, now straddling the young woman.
  Silence. All I felt was her chest heave beneath me as the woman came to her senses and reality slowly set in. "Thank you," the redhead stated. "I needed that." She paused, before making a disgusted face. "Blergh, I'm absolutely drenched. Mind to get off me so I can go to the bathroom?" Her frown was visible even in the darkness "Sorry for waking you."
  "No worries," I whispered, and I threw myself off her. "It's okay. Besides, you did not wake me up. I was just thirsty and when I returned I saw you having that nightmare," I explained.
  "You can go back to sleep," Domino suggested, as she stood up. Something about her appeared older than usual, but it might just be the weariness caused by that nightmare and the lack of light that caused her veins to contrast with the rest of her skin. It was very rare for us to be both awake at this hour of the day.
  "I don't think I will sleep. I'm a little worried about you."
  The reedy woman shivered. "I know, but it is not something for you to concern yourself with."
  "I think I already do."  Come on, Domino. We attempt to help the others, but you really need to allow me to help you.
  The former soldier took a deep breath. "Yes, you are right. Let me refresh myself, and then we can talk for a bit."  The girl turned on a dim light, illuminating the room just slightly.  I gave her a thumbs up, before leaning back on my elbows as I was waiting for her to return.

  She returned pretty quickly. "Feeling better?" She clearly looked refreshed.
  "Yes," she said, and she settled down next to me, wrapping her arms around me. "You are such a sweetheart, do you know that?"
  I smiled at her before returing the favour, pulling her practically on top of me as I embraced her. "Mhm. I just try to do what is right. Spill the beans, Domino." I kept my voice as quiet as possible. With her face being barely inches away and our sensitive mutant ears there was no need to speak out loud.
  Domino increased the distance between us just slightly, hestitantly releasing me from the hug and now sitting in front of me. And she started talking. We knew the drill at this point, though we usually had these conversations in the morning after breakfast rather than in the middle of the night.

  "You know," I concluded. "Our base will become more and more difficult to crack as time goes on."  
  "I do know," Domino answered. "But..." She paused, taking a second to roll her shoulders. "But Nod will also be more likely to find us. Or other Shiners, and we will be outnumbered possibly ten to one." That was a possibility. Stable mutations were exceedingly rare, and while a significant portion of adults with stable mutations were already living here, there were ultimately just not enough of us.
  "But we can match quantity with quality." The new Nodachi II was groundbreaking, superseding both the Tsurugi and the first Nodachi. While the previous walkers were basically Kazuars with different weapons, this new walker had a newly designed chassis that came with much more robust leg joints that could take a greater load and were easier to maintain. Another upgrade was the new fusion plant design that was 'borrowed' by GDI from GloboTech and passed on to us, and this truly allowed those brilliant engineers to upgrade its capabilities. But even knowing it had a much newer engine, I could hardly fathom how the designers managed to make such a heavy machine leap over a wall, even with the aid of jump jets. Or how they managed to power not just a particle projection cannon, but also two pulse lasers in a chin turret and two photon launchers in the remaining arm. It was an amalgation of all the technology we had access to, even if I doubted GDI sent us anything that was truly state of the art. "Just look at our new mechs. They are such a huge leap forwards."
  "Well," Domino started. "Yes, the the new walker has literally the same firepower as a Gorilla, two Nodachis and a Tsurugi, but it's still just one vehicle and our pilots still have to get used to it."
  "We both know we will have a few more ready by the end of the month." With our vehicle hangar being upgraded into an actual War Factory, building vehicles in a timely manner is no longer an issue. It are the crewing and maintenance aspects that are the real problem. Crew getting used to the new vehicles would take a while as well, but this was a much more temporary problem, especially when the controls were apparently quite similar to the Kazuar and their immediate successors.
  "Great. Let's say we build five of the fuckers. Nod can still come at us with fifty vehicles or more and what do we do?"
  "I don't know, Twiggy," I admitted. We had plenty of defensive emplacements scattered across the area, but we would probably still have to run against any well-planned attack. "But do not let your fear overtake you. At least enjoy life." I really needed to divert Domino's attention. "Do you want to play a duel? I doubt we can sleep after this conversation." Tsuki wanted us to test her second batch, not to mention that she changed a few cards of the first batch too. But I doubt she expected us to start playing at four o'clock in the morning.
  "Yes, let's do that." The girl grinned, pondering on how to continue. Did she not change her deck? "Tsuki changed a few cards, though."    
  "Yep. Big hit to Pot of Greed." Most other cards weren't really changed, but everybody was playing three copies of the Pot, but now the card actively discouraged you from doing that.
   "Yes, that was the biggest one. Did you already make a deck?" Domino queried.
   I blinked. Had she not sees me doing that? "I already played with the new cards against Melanie yesterday." And I would play against Tsuki later today. I pulled my deck out of my drawer and started shuffling the sleeved cards.
  "How did it go?" Domino smiled, grabbing her own deck and following my example.
  "Let's just say that you need to get a little bit more careful with Summoned Skull." I increased the light within the room just a little more. It would be nice if we could read our cards, since we were by no means familiar enough with the cards to just play them off the artwork.
  "Yes, Tsuki talked about giving that a downside as well. I saw it when I rebuilt my deck." Domino never played dark monsters other than Summoned Skull, so I doubted the changes would be that big, but I had prepared my side deck if she did switch it up. "It looks like it is still the best monster."
  "But it can be punished." I smiled, very satisfied about resolving Tsuki's new cards the way she had intended. "Sister equipped with that sword cleared it nicely, and when my Dark Magician Girl hit the field next it was over." I probably shouldn't play that card, but... the art was pretty. "The next game I played a King's Guard. She could not deal with it at all, so that is something to watch out for if it happens too often." Tsuki would know what to do if it was a problem. Hopefully. Tsuki didn't really want to change cards anymore, but we all expected that a few more cards would get a change or two. Not to mention that Tsuki would probably add like fifty cards or so as well throughout this beta stage, aiming to release the game in full somewhere in May or June.
  "Maybe I should dress like a Dark Magician Girl once the weather improves," Domino opined, a bright smile on her face. She was almost twenty years old, but when she laughed like that she could pass for a girl that was so much younger.
   I giggled too. "Sounds like an idea." Much better than scary dreams about flamethrowers. "But do you want the guys drooling over you?"
   Domino placed her cards on the table.  "Ha." She placed a hand on her chest. "I could be in a bikini and I won't get any attention over someone like Amanda or Umagon." Her voice was calm, without the bite that her words suggested. "Still, I am glad for my lack of sexiness. It helps me avoid undesired attention."  
  I remembered a sentence Domino said earlier when asked about this. "The Way of the Twig is to have no boobs and no ass." I was not going to be much different. While I was only fourteen years old, and with my mutation that was basically the equalivent of a ten year old 'normal' child, everything pointed to me becoming just as much of a stick as Domino, except that I would remain significantly shorter than her.
  "You remembered me saying that, didn't you?" The young woman smiled at me, stretching as she leaned forwards. "But I know you would love to see that dress." Her thin fingers ruffled my hair.
  Domino was teasing, but two could play that game. "Twiggy, you would look adorable in it." Granted, it wasn't hard to look cute in something when clothes were constantly contrasted against military uniforms. There was still a big elephant in the room, though. "Do you know how to make your own dress?"
  The teenager waved her hand. "Of course. Soldiers learn a lot about mending clothes and making clothes in basic training. Obviously that tends to focus on the more practical aspects." She smiled at me. "Don't get me wrong, though, making a dress like that is something I have never done before. I'll probably botch an attempt or two."
  "Fair enough." I guessed it would still take her a few months to make that gorgeous blue dress. But like the redhead herself had already pointed out, it was not something you wanted to wear in winter. "Are you ready?" I spun the titanium coin between my fingers.
  Domino nodded. "As ready as ever! I call heads."
  "Then I have tails." I flipped the coin, and the game was on.

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Vulture
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Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Tue May 25, 2021 3:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Sometimes there is a little less time between updates. This addition was more than necessary, even if I in my 'infinite wisdom' decided to shove it all into a massive dialogue.

"Hey, Umagon," I greeted as the tall woman had just left the command center. "I'm sorry if you are busy, but there's something I have always been wanting to ask..."
  "Go ahead," Umagon allowed.
  I took a deep breath. No turning back now. "How was our group founded?" It was clear it had a degree of history, I just did not know how much. There were reasons why we could use drones to scout, why we had access to technology that was still in common use with Nod, GDI and GloboTech, while other groups and warbands of 'Shiners' were just scraping by.

  "Ah, yes," the tall woman started. She raised to her full height, and was quite imposing. Unlike in my case, or even Domino's, Umagon's mutation actually increased her height and put her at over six feet tall. "That is quite the story," She smiled. "I really need to write it down, because it is actually quite useful to have access to. But it starts in two seperate places. I will start with the oldest." She motioned over to the canteen, and I nodded. It would be better to sit down for what was probably going to be a somewhat lengthy explanation. "This was before my time, hell, it started around the time I was born, on the island of Monte Isola, when engineers from various Italian companies, decided to move their resources into a secret underground facility in an unexpected location to hide assets from Nod. Nearby Greenhouses were used to supply the workers with fresh supplies and some water purifiers made the water from the lake drinkable for the time being even as Tiberium was expanding in all directions and strained resources otherwise. Former GDI troops, since GDI had officially disbanded at the time, provided basic security and drove their vehicles, even handling the local Tiberium mining operations."
  "And I assume this was not disturbed for quite a while," I queried.
  Umagon nodded. "Yes. Nod left Italy after a while, though this new conglomerate had to bribe visiting mutant warbands a few times. But with access to Tiberium Harvesters since prior to the first Tiberium War, this was only a minor inconvenience. This led to those mutants even deciding to fight for them, and they even delivered various parts of captured or destroyed Nod vehicles, many of which would be reverse-engineered." That was impressive, even factoring in decades of experience in manufacturing weapons and vehicles alike. "They kept maintaining the status quo up to and until after the eruption of the Campi Flegrei. But even for the year after that they could basically develop whatever they wanted, still running harvesting operations on the mainland." She paused briefly. "This is a brief summary of the first half." There was obviously more to it, but I assumed Umagon wanted to squeeze the entire story within her coffee break, something I did not blame her for. I had a free afternoon after handling half a dozen drone patrols in the morning, but Umagon did not have that luxury.
   "It's good enough," I admitted. "I guess I read it into more detail when everything is finally written down."
  "Sure," Umagon responded, smiling at me. "The second half started at this time with a charismatic GDI Colonel Villeneuve who had started mutating in the conflict just before the eruption, but due to stabilizers he was able to delay the inevitable. He wanted to do something for the mutant communities that GDI mostly abandoned. This is also where I join, as I was sick of my treatment amongst my allies of GDI, so I was assigned to Colonel Villeneuve as we - together with about a company of other mutants that willingly joined - to make contact with the mutants of northern Italy." She paused. "The responses were mostly hostile, since most mutant clans trust no one but themselves and often respond to any approach with an attack, but the mutants of the Monte Isola were much more willing to cooperate, accepting our supplies and help as they were much more advanced and much more capable of taking the effects of the eruption, and they were glad to hear GDI still existed, if skeptical about the  goals." And rightfully so.  "They could avoid the internal struggle and repel the increasing amount of external threats as more and more mutant warbands plundered the area, and initially, they were even able to more or less maintain the status quo."
  "It raised their numbers, didn't it?" I recall Chantal saying something along those lines.
  "Indeed, that was the major change." Umagon said. "Everybody that survived the volcanic explosion started mutating," she explained. "And a lot of existing warbands did band together to kill the newcomers, but we were capable of taking the survivors in even as Tiberium rapidly spread northwards and eventually our stronghold was practically untenable under continuous ion storms. Even though literally everybody originally working for the founding companies was now mutating or even already dead, we managed to keep everything running until the end." Umagon was clearly proud of that achievement, and I thought she had all the right to. It was not easy to upkeep such a large facility in an area ravaged by Tiberium. "But everybody had started mutating, and we knew our end was near. We fanned out to the north, created checkpoints and supply stations in insuspicious places while we looted everything from our own old base before Tiberium would destroy everything. We had created new weapons for use in this battle as we had to phase out conventional weapons, and we wanted to preserve those to pass on to GDI to repay Colonel Villeneuve and the soldiers that were guarding our facilities since the very beginning.  We gathered even more allies, as there was still a large influx of new mutants due to the rapid expansion of Tiberium and we wanted them to join, and the combination of Tiberium and our rapidly expanding forces brushed away more vidicative warbands, while the more cooporative ones joined forces with us, and there were many more of those than usual because they mutated so recently. Many were just kind of confused and did not know what to do now their death was closing in." Understandable.
  "But this could not last," I continued, based off that implication, but also what I remembered of Chantal's short explanation. I knew where toe story was going. I had been one tiny cog in that colossal wheel.
   "Exactly. We all knew our time was very limited. All those new mutants were suffering from highly unstable mutations and most of us would not be living much longer. We wanted to go out with a massive bang and we wanted to strike Nod down for making this mess so much worse than it  needed to be."
  "The Last Ride of the Day," I realized. "Chantal gave it that name. Probably."
  "That was not how we called it, but I like that name." She paused.  "But yes, that is exactly what it was. You were with us on that crucial day, with your friends and allies. But we struck hard, even if we personally were only involved in a minor diversionary mission."
  "Yes," I answered. I remembered every moment of that day, no, that entire week. More happened in those few stressful days than happened in my entire life beforehand. "We rescued those four girls." I remembered how I found Roxanne in that cellar, fragile and vulnerable.
  "Yes, we did." Umagon smiled brightly. "Are they doing well?"
  "Yes, they are. They struggled a bit initially with depressions and nightmares, but it seems they are slowly improving, slowly feeling better. We are starting to enjoy life again."
  The woman lit up. "Wonderful, wonderful. There is nothing to fight for if we can't enjoy our freedom after all." She leant across the table, inching closer to me. "But I have some news too: Nod  has been driven out of France and Germany."
  The cogs turned in my head. "So does that mean there might be some minor Nod elements in Spain?" I queried. If they crossed the Pyrenees?
  Umagon was taken aback. "Smart girl. But yes, it might. I doubt they will find us, but let's be vigilant." It was clear she had not expected me to connect the dots.
   "Well, if they follow the coast they will run into us."
  "Exactly, but Nod might be hestitant to do that because GDI does control the Bay of Biscay. Still... it is a risk, so we need to keep it in mind."
  "Did we prepare extra measures?"
  "I made sure to deploy a few more automated Sensor Arrays on the more obvious angles of approach a while ago, but recently our engineers have been kind of busy with those new Nodachi II walkers. We might have a fully operational War Factory, but manpower is still an issue. Still, there is a huge nest of turrets and bunkers, so once Nod arrives we can put up a serious resistance."
   I nodded. "Does GDI still send people over?"
  "Yes." She looked at the clock. "But the problem is that not all that many mutants have stable mutations; I am pretty sure they already sent most of the people with stable mutations over." The woman leaned back. "Manpower will always be an issue, even if we start breeding like rabbits."
  I snorted at the mental image. "I am almost fifteen years old, Umagon," I clarified. "It won't be until I am in my twenties that I am fully grown, and some other mutations take even longer to mature." Yes, others take a much more normal time, like Domino's, but a child was not all that valuable to society until more or less grown.
  "Yes, it does not solve anything in the short term... but it is definately part of the future. At least for me."
  Well, not for me. Pregnancy didn't sound me for a girl my size, even as an adult. "Wouldn't I be too small?"
 "Well, the technology is there for you to avoid that hazard," Umagon pointed vaguely in the direction of the labratory. "Nowadays you can reproduce as long as you have two people, irrespective of the gender combination." She tapped on the table. "Personally, I just don't have the time for dating, let alone everything that comes with being pregnant. I have too many commitments." I understood that. Umagon was a busy woman and I was quite surprised that she was taking the time to sit here with me.  "Even then, technology is not the answer for me. I would need a babysitter to take care of the child fulltime." She made a face in disgust. She really needed someone who could fill in for her. "I know you have it a little easier. How is it going in your little corner?"
  I felt the scowl involuntarily appear on my face. "It is hard sometimes, but we are enjoying ourselves. Tsuki's new game is helping to add some variety between the endless rounds of poker."  Poker is now really just reserved for our weekly hangout with Tsuki, Irina and Maud. "But ironically, it are the adults that struggle the most."
  "Yes, I understand. I know the girls that arrived here with us are doing better than expected and I know Domino is doing fine." I would not say that so decisively. Domino was also struggling, it was just really not as noticeable during the day, in between her drone shifts and her other activities. "But how are Shillian and Amanda doing?"
  "They struggle still. Shilian is doing well as long as she is not alone." The Chinese girl was surprisingly chatty now her English was improving, and she even joined us in the canteen whenever she could. "She has some hobbies, like painting and baking, and she wants to learn how to pilot a drone. She is definately getting there." I doubt she would ever be ready for frontline duty, but ultimately that was only a small component of an army. Then again, even I held my own on the frontline for a few days, so maybe she could. "Amanda is still struggling, sadly." At least she was still operating one set of sensors, but it seemed to be more of a coping mechanism than anything else for her. She was raped as a child in an incident that saw her parents killed and her house burnt down. And in the army she heard the dying screams of her cousin, and then was abandoned by her spineless 'comrades' not much later.  
  Umagon smiled. "That is not too bad." She grimaced drew itself on her face. "Sadly we don't have professional help for Amanda. The psychological aspects of warfare are known since Vietnam, but it is as if the knowledge is lost in time after Tiberium arrived." Umagon stood up, stretching herself. "Probably one reason why Nod focuses on cyborgs. They can be made to be much more resilient to the stress of war, provided you don't build them like Esmeralda, or if the unconfirmed reports happen to be accurate, the specimen going by the name of Atlas." She smiled. Yes, Esmeralda... I didn't know the cyborg child very well, she had only arrived barely a month ago during the Christmas break and lived in another section of the base. What I did know was that she had been suffering from a quasi-stable mutation, somehow survived as it stabilized fully and was kept alive through being a guinea pig for GDI's cybernetic research. Probably started through captured data from Nod. And I assumed said experiment had probably not been as succesful as GDI had hoped, and then Esmeralda was sent here. "Anyway, Samantha, it was nice to talk to you."
  "Indeed. Thanks, Umagon. I was glad you could lighten some things up for me."
  "No problem. It was nice talking to you." The leader picked up her briefcase. "By the way, before I leave, when is your birthday?"
  "On the seventh of March. I will turn fifteen." I answered.
  "Thanks, I had been wondering." She waved. "I have a meeting in ten minutes, so see you next time!"
   So probably until my birthday, but that was fine. Umagon was a nice woman, but ultimately I didn't need to speak to her very often."Bye!" I waved back, stood up, and sought out Domino. It was time for a slightly belated lunch.

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