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Once my armor was on, I felt kind of ridiculous standing around anyone else. Even Kiera didn’t have any kind of protective covering, but I looked like I was about to play paintball or something. The sheets protecting my back and front looked like they’d take a blow or stop a knife, but I only hoped they’d be able to stop a bullet. Then again, I’d rather that I wasn’t shot in the first place. I had my phase knife in one hand and Veronica in the other. Jacques only gave me one spare clip. He said if I wanted more bullets, I’d need to buy them myself.

Considering the amount I had wasted practicing during the day, this was more than fair. I’d only fire when I was certain. Conserving ammo was important in the wasteland. Even if it was cheap, you could only carry so many. Once you ran out, you were dead no matter how cheap bullets were. That was the value of the smart gun. Although it only held a single clip of 24 bullets and recharged rather slowly, it meant that all you needed to do was hide for a bit and you had a chance.

 Looking out the window, the street was dark and foreboding. No light only made every crevice and corner more intimidating than ever. Looking at my watch, the time was about 11 pm. In an hour, it’d be Sunday. I should be doing homework and thinking about my next exam. Instead, I was wondering if I was ever going to see my mother and sister again. Life just sort of ended up this way.

I left the room with Kiera and Katarina in tow. We ended up in the main lobby of this building, which appeared to be a small office building at some point. Perhaps, it was a doctor’s office, given its proximity to the hospital. Anything that might have shown it as such had long been scrapped away. There was a reason that only large secure areas had the potential to find items anymore. In the last few decades, every other inch of this city had been scrapped of everything valuable possible. Unless you lucked out on a corpse or an abandoned camp, then these were the only places left with supplies.

Jacques, Truck, and Punk were waiting on us. The other two were absent.

“Snipe is already up in position. He’ll watch your back better than any of us down here, at least until we get indoors. Then, he’ll do his best to relay positions. Darling is setting a distraction. The mutants will come to investigate. There is a catch. Although it’ll pull mutants off of us on this side, she’ll be attracting mutants from within their territory. That means everything relies on the security systems being intact and capable of holding off the mutant attack that will follow, and believe me, it will be a full out assault. They don’t like giving up the ground they’ve already taken.” Jacques explained.

“Is there enough security?”

I had worried about this before. If all of the security droids were trashed, or if the turrets were malfunctioning, there would be no point.

“According to recon from earlier, there is a force of about thirty mutants in the hospital. If we do our distraction, we can expect another twenty. As for turrets and droids, it’s hard to say which ones will turn on, but best case scenario, there are 5 destroyers and 5 sentinels, as well as ten turrets. Two of them appear to be mark III, and five of them are mark II. That’s a small army in power terms.

“The sentinels float. They look a bit like a flying saucer. They’re mostly made to patrol.” Katarina explained to me. “Destroyers are pure firepower. They look like the droid we rescued from the jeweler, but that was just a personal security droid, this is army grade stuff.”

“Exactly… so it’s imperative that you restart the security and factory reset it.” Jacques explained.

“Alright, so I just get to the security terminal… and then…” I was trying to visualize what I was going to do.

“You’re just going to factory reset the security system. A factory reset scrubs the security system clean. That’s all you need to do. If we restart it, there is a chance they might start shooting everyone, us included. Once reset, it won’t know heads or tails of whose an enemy and who is a friend. They will be completely passive unless attacked. Now, a mutant is dumb enough to attack a droid, so we might take out a few, but ultimately, we’ll want Punk here to reprogram it to battle the mutants.

“But…”

He held up his hand. “I’m sure you could program it yourself with that Perco 7000, but we need speed here. Can you promise the entire system is up in ready in under a minute? Exactly… do the factory reset, and then after the mutants have fallen back, you’re welcome to reset it again and put it all in your name if that makes you feel secure.”

I didn’t argue with him. In reality, I could take control of the security system myself in moments. With the Master Code, I could change ownership to myself, without having to remove the programing that targeted mutants. It would be much faster. However, that would also require me to reveal that my Perco isn’t exactly normal. Although the mercenary team was starting to grow on me, I decided not to reveal this information.

“It’ll take about a minute for a factory reset,” I answered honestly.

He nodded and then pulled up a map on Punk’s Perco, one I didn’t have. “That’s expected. That means, we’re looking at two minutes. According to the hospital map, the security is located around here. That gives us about three minutes to get in, presuming the distraction lasts five.”

“Mutants have short attention spans.” Truck said.

“Well, hopefully, Darling will work hard to keep their attention a bit longer.”

“What is the signal?” I asked.

“It will be obvious…” Truck said in his deep, heavy voice. “I set it up myself.”

Boom! As if he had planned it ahead of time, as soon as he said those words, the ground shook as an explosion sounded from somewhere a few blocks away. A fireball could be seen rising in the air somewhere behind the hospital.

“She’s early!” I said in a panic.

“We got five minutes! Go!” Jacques didn’t hesitate to run out into the street, the rest joining him.

I was still standing there stunned, but thankfully, Katarina grabbed my arm and pulled me along. They weren’t concerned that it was too early. Instead, they were just ready to go. I had hoped for a few moments to mentally collect myself, but we were already sprinting down the street toward the hospital. Everyone had their guns out, and with the heavy armor on, my shuddering breaths were the loudest thing I could hear. After the explosion, it was like the night was far too quiet.

That was when someone shot, and then there was more gunfire. I kept running. I wasn’t even thinking if Kiera was following, and I was barely aware that Katarina was in front of me. I could hear the fire coming from the other side too. Gunshots were coming from the rooftop too. I started to panic until I remembered that it was Snipe up there.

“Daniel! Come on!” Jacques shouted, gesturing toward the opened double doors of the hospital.

I made it two steps when a giant monster jumped down in front of me. I looked up and up until I saw a beastly creature nearly nine feet tall. Its head was balled and it had a wrinkled face with two tusks jutting from it’s lower lip. Its skin was a sickly brown color with mixtures of yellow in it.

“I’ve found you!” It said excitedly, raising an item I realized was simply a board with a nail in it.

“Burst mode.” A computerized female voice suddenly came from it’s back.

“Huh?”

Boom! The creature’s head exploded, and then it collapsed to its knees. Even then, I could barely see Katarina standing behind the mutant with her gun pointed up to where its head had been.

“Daniel! Focus!” I blinked and then ran around the creature.

It was then I realized that Kiera was holding my hand. She had been holding it the entire time. At first, I thought I must have been dragging her along. I only realized as she ran next to me that it was the other way around. I had been holding her and keeping her from leaving. She had happily stayed by my side, even while gunfire was pouring all around us. Even while a mutant stood before us, she had held my hand. I hadn’t even considered attacking with a gun, but I had held her hand so tightly that I realized I had probably hurt it.

Once Katarina saw us entering the building, she fell back as well, and we moved into the dark building. At this point, I noticed the light on Punk’s Perco and so I turned mine on as well. I felt a bit embarrassed, but it was only the third time I was ever in a gunfight. It was the scariest and most frantic. I didn’t think I noticed even one monster until he jumped in front of me. If he wasn’t so stupid as to jump into the open, and use only a board with a nail in it, I definitely would have died.

Jacques walked up to me and grabbed my shoulder with one hand while lightly slapping my cheek with the other. “Merde! Snap out of it, mon ami. That was just the beginning. Now, things get dangerous.”

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