Chimp’s cowardice and perversion were secret to no one. It was these fatal weaknesses that Hellflower and Hyena were able to exploit. Indeed Academician Roste held a high and unshakable position in Blackwater Base, but his subordinates – Chimp, Hellflower, Hyena – also had influence. If the three of them stood together in opposition to Roste they stood a decent chance.
The conflict between Hellflower, Cloudhawk, Hyena, and the Academician was intractable. Either he would die or they would, and so no effort was spared or method ignored. If Chimp dared to disobey, things would turn out very poorly for him. He knew this intimately.
“Don’t kill me!” The director stumbled along as they shoved him onward. He whined submissively, “I’m begging you, please don’t kill me!”
As Cloudhawk watched the cowardly man he could not see him as the least bit reliable. Was there anyone who would listen to this wretch? But this was their best option, their only option. Perhaps they could use him to gain control over a few fighters and improve their chances of taking the labs, then ultimately the whole base.
Hellflower and Hyena had lost their voice when Roste took them. For Chimp things were different.
He was perverted, obscene, and afraid of death, but he had also been with the Academician for several decades. He had clout, especially among those who worked in the labs since he handled most of its business.
If they could incite a rebellion from within using Chimp’s influence and his people, they might have a way out. Every leader from Blackwater’s opposition faction had been killed by Roste’s ploy. Only Hellflower remained to call for their aid, but all that remained were a few hundred insurgents. That wasn’t enough to take over the base and truly change things, but it was enough for them to fight their way to freedom.
“You know what you need to say. Don’t make me teach you.” Hellflower pressed a gun to the back of Chimp’s head and shoved him into a small lab.
“Don’t hold on to the delusion that you can outrun my bullets. Do your job and I’ll forget about what you tried to do to me. If you don’t, even Roste won’t save you from what I’ll do.”
His whole body trembled but he managed to nod emphatically.
“Hey, where’s my shit!” Cloudhawk stomped forward and snarled in Chimp’s face. “Where the fuck did you put it?”
In the face of the young man’s seething hatred the older man shrank back. He knew that Cloudhawk – more than Hyena or even Hellflower – was looking for any excuse to kill him. After all, his torture had been looked over and orchestrated by the lab director. More than once Cloudhawk fantasized about what he’d do to him. The kid was young and impulsive, and if it weren’t for Hellflower’s intervention Chimp would already be dead.
Cloudhawk found his staff, cloak, book, mask and demonhunter token in a nearby box. Everything was there! Every item was important and he was thankful they hadn’t tossed anything out.
He flung the invisibility cloak over his shoulders, the mask over his face, and fixed the staff to his waist. Finally he felt like he could take a breath, at last he could protect himself.
Chimp placed an emergency call to his subordinates.
Over fifty fighters directly under Chimp’s control were summoned. In addition there were some fifty scientists who came as well. The fighters were decent, and their leaders were first-rate, about as skilled as the two men Roste had killed – Black Jackal and Iron Bear.
Cloudhawk was admittedly confused. How could this cowardly shit have underlings this skilled? What were they thinking? Out in the wastelands strength equaled respect, yet they were willingly allowing themselves to be bossed around by this man?
When they had all gathered, Chimp’s people stared in wide-eyed surprise. How could they not? They were face to face with Hellflower, Hyena and Cloudhawk! They knew Hellflower and Hyena were traitors and had presumably been locked away. They knew Cloudhawk had fled the labs right under their noses, but… here they all were!
Hellflower poked him in the back with the muzzle of her weapon.
He started to shake. Without any verbal command he stepped forward to speak.
His guards looked at him with dumbfounded expressions. The atmosphere was tense, heavy, as they waited for him to explain.
Chimp pushed his cracked glasses higher on his nose. He was clearly conflicted and uneasy with the situation, anxious eyes scanning the crowd. And then he sighed. “Everyone, you have eyes for yourself, you can see the situation. I have a very important announcement to make. But before I do, I will ask you right out – are you willing to fight with me?”
His men exchanged uncertain glances.
“We’re just awaiting orders!”
“Good, very good.” Standing amongst the crowd many thoughts flit through Chimp’s mind. The Academician’s image seemed to hover just behind his eyes. Despite how precarious the situation seemed, his face was resolute. “Twenty years ago I was a Seeker scientist, like many of you. We were betrayed from within, and a death squad from the elysian lands came. They wiped us out. Thousands of us were killed, it was genocide. By some stroke of luck I survived and became a refugee. Then, the Academician found me out in the wastes and brought me to Blackwater Base.”
Hellflower and Hyena watched nearby. Their faces hardened with every word. Where was he going with this?
Hellflower’s finger tightened on the trigger and her gun inched forward. Chimp trembled again but his voice remained steady. “Everyone, I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve watched as everything has changed. Every day the Academician has become more dictatorial. He doesn’t allow anyone to breathe a word of opposition. By whatever brutal methods he pleases Roste will go at any time of day or night to capture innocents and use them for his sordid experiments. All resources are directed to this research, all other options rejected. You’ll note that after years the population of this base has not increased and in fact has been reduced. Many of our most excellent scientists are gone since we’ve gotten in bed with the Dark Atom, and that’s a slippery slope.”
This was more like it. Hyena and Hellflower were less on edge.
But then, trembling even more acutely, his voice suddenly raised an octave. “But I still believe the Academician is right! I trust in his vision, in his greatness! Not everyone will understand what he is doing, but all he does is in the best interest of humanity! Although he has never formally accepted me, for years I have looked up to that man as the greatest teacher that has ever lived!”
“Chimp! Do you want to die?!”
“Hahahaha! Want to die? Yes, I do! Are you afraid of death?” The lab director spun around and glared at them through bloodshot eyes. His face was full of anger and reprimand. “Hellflower, you have always worked toward your own selfish ends, and in spite of the consequences you conspired to steal the result of the Academician’s decades of hard work! Hyena, you once begged the Academician to save your life, but now you betray him? Ever since he elevated you to your position he never once mistreated you and yet this is how you repay him. Do you think you’re worthy of his brilliance?!”
Cloudhawk was stunned into silence. Hellflower and Hyena were no better off. Chimp’s reversal was so entirely unexpected they weren’t sure how to react.
“I can’t fight like you, Hyena! I’m not as talented as you, Hellflower! Neither of you have ever looked at me with anything other than contempt, like garbage! But do you know what? I find you repulsive, too. I could murder, I could rape, I could perform all evil deeds under the sun and live in shameless depravity. But there is one thing I will never do. I am not a traitor!”
A bullet tore a hole in Chimp’s chest.
“Tell the Academician… that Chimp never betrayed him!” Chimp swayed unsteadily and looked down at the gushing hole in his chest. All of his strength left him all at once but he kept on his feet. The anxious, weak man seemed to summon all the strength of his lifetime to let loose a final scream. “Brothers, avenge me!!”
Hyena, roaring like a feral beast, lunged forward and nearly twisted Chimp’s head from his body. The frail man’s neck spun around like a lump of fresh dough a hundred and eighty degrees until he was looking straight back behind him.
When he hit the ground Chimp’s eyes were wide. He knew these were his last moments, a realization that made him deeply afraid. But he didn’t regret what he did. His last hope… his last wish… his last desire was that his bones might adorn the Academician’s neck.
“Kill them! Avenge Chimp!”
The director’s men were loyal and seeing him die instead of betraying his leader set their blood to boiling. Dozens of guns were leveled at the murderers and fired. In an instant the whole room was a deafening cacophony of gunfire, a deadly tempest of bullets.
The three offenders dove for cover.
Hyena was almost mad with anger while Hellflower was at a loss. Never in their wildest dreams did they think Chimp would get one up on them like this. Cloudhawk looked at Chimp, laying on the ground and unable to breathe. He was just as angry and surprised as the others, but also puzzled.
Why did the world have to be this way?
Not long ago Hyena and Hellflower respected the Academician, now they were at odds. Meanwhile Chimp, that worthless man desperately afraid of death, chose to die rather than give up on the man he adored.
Great treason is like loyalty. Great loyalty is like treachery. Great falsehoods are like truth. Why did the world make people so inscrutable? Why where their hearts beyond comprehension?
Dozens of soldiers emptied their clips wildly at Cloudhawk’s hiding spot. Everything in the lab had been nearly blown apart. If any of them so much as stuck their head out they would immediately be sporting several new holes. There could be twice as many of them and they would still have no way to fight their way out!
Academician Roste would be here soon and the three of them together couldn’t face him, much less with the addition of fifty well-armed guards. Hiding here wasn’t an option.
Hyena’s talons anxiously clawed at the ground leaving ragged gashes in the metal. He was like a cornered animal, desperate and furious. He would rather die than be captured alive again, as a soldier he couldn’t suffer the indignity of being someone’s puppet.
“Kill our way out! If we die, we die together!”
But Cloudhawk called him back. “No! Don’t give up, we haven’t lost yet. There’s still something we can do.”
Hellflower turned skeptical eyes his way. “What’s your plan?”
“It’s not certain, and very dangerous. But if it works we can kill the Academician!”
“Well now’s the time! If you’ve got an idea then get to it!”
“Alright, first we need to get out of here and still be breathing.” Cloudhawk pulled out the Gospel of the Sands. He went on. “Remember to work together!”
The gunfire was beginning to wane as many of the soldiers reloaded their weapons. Cloudhawk focused his psychic energy into the Gospel and all of a sudden the room was engulfed in a sand storm. The fain grains not only impeded vision but got in their eyes and forced them shut.
“Now’s the time!”
Hellflower’s powerful legs launched her into the air. She soared out of cover with a gun in each hand and though she also couldn’t see she knew where every target stood. She pulled the triggers in rapid succession, each bullet dropping one of their attackers.
Hyena bounded out from behind cover on all fours and charged into the crowd. As easily as a wolf among sheep he flung aside three soldiers effortlessly. Another he mangled into ribbons of flesh.
Suddenly blind and under attack, Chimp’s people lost their composure. They couldn’t keep up their barrage.
“Don’t get caught up in the fight! Run!”
Cloudhawk grabbed Hellflower and dragged her behind him out of the room. Hyena leapt through the throng tearing through opponents with his razor-like claws until a path was clear and he, too, fled.
Three minutes later.
Academician Roste arrived at the lab, followed by a contingent of mutant soldiers. What he found was a gory mess of a dozen or more corpses and the rest of the soldiers in disarray.
“Academician. Boss Chimp, sir. He…”
Roste saw his director’s broken body among the dead. He hardly seemed to register the fact. Cutting off the soldier, the old scholar pressed him for information. “Where are they?”
“They fled. I think toward the animal containment section.”
Academician Roste left without another word, beckoning for the flock of mutant soldiers to follow.