Cloudhawk closed his eyes and focused on the sensation of the cool and refreshing water flowing over his body. From his head to his neck to his chest, all down his body every pore relaxed as the magnificent sensation washed through him. His mind began to wander, and the situation of Blackwater Base intruded on his relaxing moment.
This place was a legacy of the past - a refuge of the old days. Fifty years ago the base was discovered by the Seekers. Luckily they were able to get the water filtration system up and running, and from that point on the base was a functional sanctuary. By now most of the living quarters, laboratories, testing areas, manufacturing centers, logistics zones and the central control area were operational. Altogether there were about eight thousand people living here - not many in the grand scheme, but they commanded incredible influence and power. Here they were able to manufacture panacea, advanced weaponry, and special materials which they traded for essential goods. They were rich, more affluent even than Greenland Outpost.
The water slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped. Not even a drop was wasted.
More than once Cloudhawk nearly died of thirst out in the wasteland. He cherished water as one of the world's greatest treasures. He couldn't help the guilt that crept up within him at wasting all of this water to wash. Although the base certainly wasn't lacking for water, he didn't want to use any more than he already was.
After ten days under Blackwater Base's state-of-the-art care, there wasn't a scratch left on Cloudhawk. He was comfortable and safe for the first time in a while. Every day he would study the elysian language with Hellflower and the amount of information he retained was surprising to her. He already had most of the foundational vocabulary committed to memory.
And yet, though safe and comfortable, Cloudhawk was ill at ease.
He wanted to know what Academician Roste's plans were. What was he up to?
Today's tests had seemed without rhyme or reason. It was especially suspicious that they were willing to spend so much just to get resources for Cloudhawk's improvement. Where there was smoke there was fire, and the young wastelander wasn't convinced with the excuse Roste had given him. After seeing what had become of that bald mercenary his sense of unease had only grown.
Only ten days ago that baldie had been a normal guy! How had he suddenly become a monster? There was no mutation he knew of that worked so fast.
Cloudhawk knew there had to be more than they were telling him. However he didn't know what it was, where it was coming from, or who was behind it.
"Are you interested in becoming the strongest organism in the wastelands?"
Roste's strange offer echoed through Cloudhawk's mind, and for some reason it caused a chill to crawl up his spine. "Strongest organism" … it was a strange and specific phrase. He hadn't paid the detail much thought at first, but now it seemed uncomfortably telling.
But he still didn't look too deeply into it, for as the thought crossed his mind suddenly the door opened. Hellflower swept into the apartments smelling of booze, clearly she'd had a few. Her typically dignified and poised face was painted with splotches of red. Her first order of business was to put down the items in her hands on her work desk; a folder and a set of keys.
Part of Cloudhawk's training with Mantis had been to develop a habit of paying close attention. Most of the details from today's meeting with the Academician and his subordinates were still fresh in his memory - and unless he was mistaken, those keys used to be under the care of that thin and creepy laboratory director. Why did Hellflower have them now?
Somehow her face was even redder than when she entered and her eyes were blurry. However she was clearly fighting to keep her head clear as she spoke to him. "This data's very important, it needs to be translated right away and finished by tonight. I'm gonna make a copy and you start translating."
Cloudhawk took one look at her and knew this was no trivial matter.
He remembered their agreement; she would teach him elysian and get him whatever resources she could, and he would perform whatever duties she required.
But he noticed that Hellflower was out of sorts. He couldn't help but ask. "Are you alright?"
Since coming into the room and sitting down she'd started burning up. Even from a few feet away Cloudhawk could feel the heat radiating off of her. The first few buttons of her blouse had been undone, and the attractive plunge of her bust was clearly visible. Any man would be hard pressed to keep his head when that was his field of view, especially someone like Chimp.
Evidently the laboratory's director was caught in a honey pot, but Hellflower had paid a price herself.
"That repugnant monkey used a very strong dose." Hellflower tenderly rubbed her temples. "But that's not important. Get to work."
Chimp had spiked her drink with a powerful hallucinogenic or perhaps some sort of aphrodisiac. Any lesser woman would have been entirely at his mercy, but Hellflower had been prepared. She'd taken something to inhibit neurotransmitters, thus reducing the withdrawal effects of his drugs and negating the unsavory results of his aphrodisiacs.
She'd only managed to escape his filthy plans because of these precautions.
She clamped her legs shut and took a deep breath. A drop of sweat trickled down her uncannily smooth face, down the line of her chin and ultimately dripped into the valley of pale skin below before vanishing in that crevice. Sweat was pouring off of her now and made her clothes cling to her every curve. Her white clothes were nearly transparent - a fact that did not escape Cloudhawk's notice.
He stared at her, dumbfounded.
The scientist's face was beguiling and yet serious. She tried to pull herself together by pushing her glasses up no her nose and arranging the data in the folder. Delicate fingers snatched up a pen and she started to transcribe its contents. Even drugged her hands her dexterous and scrawled across the page like flowing water.
She certainly had supernatural levels of willpower to actually keep her mind on her work.
Cloudhawk looked over the data, covered in a mess of formulas that seemed haphazardly scribbled across the page. All of the figures made his head spin. However he did see that they were annotated with the ancient script, words he recognized.
The parchment and ink were fresh so Cloudhawk figured the data had to be only a few years old. This told him that there had to be someone else in the base who could understand the ancient text. Based on Hellflower's status among the Seekers, if she still wasn't being taught how to read it this meant the only person who could understand the writing had to be the Academician.
Hellflower must have planned to use her charms to pilfer the keys from the Academician's most trusted student, Chimp. That must mean she stole this data - she was brazen, that was for certain. She would dare to steal from the Academician!
As she transcribed the information she hid large chunks of the formulas, and restructured the paragraphs in such a way that they made little sense. For Cloudhawk he was given a veritable mess of words and figures to sift through and couldn't puzzle out its meaning. All he could do was focus on one sentence at a time, translating what he was given line by line. .
This woman was incredibly cautious!
Cloudhawk wasn't able to piece together everything, but there were several words that kept cropping up; transformation, organism, strengthen, gene… Cloudhawk's thoughts sudden went back to the bald-headed man and how he could have suddenly changed so much. What method turned him from a normal man into that green-scaled monster?
And Hyena! His abilities certainly didn't come from any normal mutation. Was he also a result of whatever process was hidden in these notes?
The gall of this woman to actually steal something like this. Was she trying to pilfer his research for herself?
Cloudhawk worked quickly. By the time morning came he had translated almost all of the Academician's work. Hellflower took it when he was done and locked it in a safe in the wall of her bedroom.
Then she collapsed.
Cloudhawk unconsciously reached out and grabbed her. As she rested against him she felt as soft and full as a cotton doll. Sweat beaded on the bridge of her nose and her warm breath trickled from plump red lips to wash against his ear. For some inexplicable reason he felt his heart rate increase.
Hellflower was anxious. She was helpless, the neurotransmitter inhibitor had run its course. Right now, even the slightest of sparks would be enough to set off an explosion. She had only the faintest bit of will left to support her against the base urges the drugs inspired in her.
Luckily this kid looked like an idiot. He wasn't going to take advantage of her in this state.
She kept her breathing even and spoke softly to the young man. "I don't think I can move. Help me with something."
When he didn't respond she struggled to press the files into Cloudhawk's hands. "In Academician Roste's first secret lab, on the bottom of the right wall, there is a safe. Help me return this to it. It's already getting light, you don't have much time. Half an hour at the most - you can't delay."
Was this necessary? Cloudhawk was not the sort to stir up trouble. Although he wasn't sure what was in these papers he could tell by Hellflower's nervous expression that this was a matter of life and death.
"Here are the keys you'll need to open the laboratory." She pressed the keys into his hands. "Chimp should be at the bar, still asleep from the anesthetic I slipped him. If you can, try to sneak the keys back to him without him noticing."
"What makes you think I can do this?" He looked at the stack of papers and then at the keys. He was at a loss. "How can you be sure I won't turn you in?"
She laughed bitterly at him. "Then so be it. But if you help me I'll owe you one. I'll help when you need it most"
"Alright!" That was enough. What Cloudhawk needed more than anything right now were friends. He nodded resolutely. "You rest."
She answered with an appreciative smile. She wanted to stand, but she couldn't move her limbs. Cloudhawk had to carry her to the bed and lay her down. He gathered up his invisibility cloak, donned his mask, and left the apartment.
"He really is a simple guy."
She was surprised by how pliable the young man was. He was as pure as a sheet of unused paper. If he had wanted to do anything at all to Hellflower she would have been completely at his mercy.
She hoped it would all go smoothly!
In the three years she'd spent in the base she had desperately wanted to get her hands on this data. She knew she could no longer delay, that it was a gamble to make her move now, but with those formulas solved there was no longer anything here that interested her. There was nothing to keep her here.
1. Pfft, good luck getting a decent translation without context!