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We were in the lobby of the hospital. I thought the outside was dark, but it was nearly daytime compared to the dark and forbidding hallways inside this building. Unlike the Rink which had been picked up by the people living there, or the building which was abandoned to everything but pests, this place was somehow worse. It was lived in, but it was lived in by animals. If I had to describe the feel of the hospital, the only thing I could use to describe it was one of those homes with the person who hoarded cats and then allowed them to breed and take over the house without oversight.

The smell was rank, and the floor was filthy. It was the product of creatures coming in and trotting mud in and out hundreds of times while never making any attempt to clean it. There was definitely an area in the lobby that had been used as a bathroom for years on end, and that didn’t even cover the bags of bloody remains that I hoped weren’t human.

As I chocked on the thick air, covering my mouth, I looked at the others who had twisted mouths. “I thought these things were intelligent.”

“Intelligence doesn’t mean they value cleanliness like us. We clean because it keeps us healthy and alive. Beasts are so hearty that they don’t need such things to remain alive.” Jacques said. “Now, come on, the security is this way. With luck, other than the few up front that hopefully, Snipe should be finishing off as we speak, the rest went to check on the explosion.

“I thought you said the hard part was coming up?”

“The hard part is when they come back. They may already be suspecting we’re up to something. That’s why we need to move.”

He didn’t bother with a further explanation. He didn’t need one. He broke into a run, and this time I started running before Katarina had to grab my arm. I glanced back to see Kiera keeping up with me. Her face didn’t show much after entering this place. That only told me that she had probably experienced something worse in recent memory. I gulped and continued to move down the hallway.

Whenever we reached an intersection, Jacques would stop and carefully check down each hall before moving on. His movements were methodical and practiced. Although I had felt comforted with Katarina, she was just one person, and she always looked like she was one step away from losing control of the situation. With these mercs, it felt like everything was on their fingertips. After that initial mad rush, I began to calm down, even after three mutants charged around a corner and the group gunned them down. This time, Katarina did help with the shooting.

I was surprised by how much the mutants took to bring down. They seemed to raise their hands over their faces, blocking headshots as they moved forward. With that done, they seemed almost invincible. One of the Beast charged us, but two of the others took cover and started firing back. In the end, the encounter could only be ended by Truck tossing down several grenades of explosives. Even that wasn’t enough to kill the monsters, but Jacques and Punk ran up to them once the explosions went off, and loaded three bullets into each head before they could get back up.

Still, that seemed to eat up the rest of the time we had, and Jacques went the rest of the way at a near sprint, not even checking the last corner. As we reached the door to the security room, I heard a shout from behind us.

“There they are!”

“Humans!”

Nearly ten armed mutants started to pour into the hallway. Truck pulled the thing off his back, and when the sheet fell to the ground, it revealed a massive Gatling gun. He lifted it and cocked it. Jacques grabbed my arm and yanked me to the door, as I was just dumbly watching Truck work while cowering in the corner.

“Door is locked!” He said, glaring at me.

I looked down at the door, and it took me a moment to realize it had a port for my connector. I pulled it out and plugged it into the door. With bullets starting to fly both directions, I was feeling rushed, so rather than reset it, I hit the Master Code and unlocked the door in two seconds.

“That was quick, not bad!” Jacques opened the door and pushed in, dragging Punk and me behind him.

Katarina remained in the hallway with Truck. A moment later, a loud drilling sound was heard, which had to be the Gatling gun at work. I imagined how much it must be wrecking those mutants, but then remembering how tough they were, I realized it might not be as powerful as I hoped.

“Come on, kid. Quickly!” Jacques walked up to the row of machines.

I found the port instantly and plugged into it. My impulse was to just push Master code, but he had already noticed how quick the door was. That was a simple override. If I took over the security that quickly, he’d be asking questions. I hit the factory reset instead. The computer screens all flickered for a moment, although that hadn’t been on in the first place. I could hear a high-pitched whine that started to rise. The bar on my watch was going up slowly.

“Come on… Come on…” I cursed to myself as I watched it go up insanely slowly.

Outside, I could hear the gunshots going like crazy. Any one of those could kill Katarina. It left me feeling extremely anxious. When the loading reached 100%, my hand went for the connector. However, it stopped just before pulling. I glanced back to see Jacques at the door, watching the hallway carefully. Although Punk was right next to me, he was watching Jacques, showing just a bit of worry himself. It was clear they were both starting to worry a bit. My hand went back to my watch and I struck the Master Code.

The bar reappeared only taking a second now. It struck 100% just as Punk turned back to me. “Come on! How much longer?”

I pulled out the connector. “I’m done.”

I moved quickly to hide the fact that Change Ownership was available on my watch, as well as Activate and Program. I had full access to the security now, but I did reset it, so I had to wait.

“Good!” He shoved me aside and plugged his in. His hands danced along the Perco eloquently, although it was anyone’s guess what he was doing.

Turning away, I still felt some frustration over trying to keep my secrets. Had I just changed ownership, the security would already be up. Instead, Katarina and Truck were under even more pressure. I grabbed onto Veronica tightly and walked to the door. Feeling a rise of panic, I took two deep breaths to calm myself.

“L-let me out t-there,” I said in a shaky voice.

“Wait a moment.” Jacques shook his head.

“Let me out there!” I said, my voice has a bit more confidence.

Jacques glanced at me, looking up and down my body. “You’re not ready for this kind of stuff yet.”

I looked down, feeling a bit angry. “Even so…”

“I got it!” Punk’s voice called out just then. “We’re back online. Turning on turret out front… and…”

Another sound of droning fire erupted out in front. Jacques’s eyes remained on me for another moment before he turned and opened the door. Truck shoved his way in, and Katarina fell in behind him. She was holding her side though and limping. She was covered in filth and sweat and looked to be in bad shape, gasping like she was in pain.

“Katarina!” I called out.

She pushed out with her hand and shoved me aside as she fell into a sitting position on a nearby chair. “I’m fine.”

I went to my Perco to bring up the RegenX, but she reached out and grabbed my hand.

“Daniel, I’m fine.” She said, her eyes severe, but with just the slightest degree of gentleness.

Truck looked to be in better shape, but only just. Jacques looked at him questioningly, and after he pulled a flask from his side and drank it, he met Jacques’s eyes.

“The turret caught them by surprise. A mark II. Sent them running. We have some time until the next attack.”

Jacques clapped the man’s shoulder. “Good job. Take a rest. Punk?”

“I have control of the security right now without taking ownership. I’ve closed down the doors and allowed them a path to escape, but one they’ll take major injuries. Daniel did his job. We have control of the hospital.”

Jacques nodded.” Good… good.”

Something about what he said caught me by surprise. “You didn’t take ownership? I can just factory reset it again though?”

“Perhaps…” Jacques glanced down at me. “But, I don’t like to take chances, and you’re a rogue element.”

“What?”

He pulled out a gun and pointed it at Katarina. She went to lunge at him, but he pulled the trigger before she even made a step. Two bullets exploded in her chest and she fell back to the chair like a ragdoll.

“Master!” Kiera stood up only for Truck to hit her in the back of the head with his gun, causing her to fall to the ground unconscious.

“What are you doing?” I cried out, leaping over Katarina far too late.

Without even thinking, I put RegenX in her, but Katarina didn’t respond.

“Sorry, mon amis… it’s just business. The Syndicate paid more.” He raised his gun to me and pulled the trigger.

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