Chapter 10 - Stealth 100, Speech 0
It was warm when they awoke, though not as warm as it had been the night before.
The thrumming of the generator was gone, and the lights were off.
“G’day, everyone. Hm, everything’s off. That’s weird…” Harry got up and checked the now silent generator. “Damn, looks like it’s out of fuel.”
“Aw, no more heating?” Karisma yawned as she wriggled out of her bundle of blankets.
“No more electrical anything. This generator runs on petrol, and I don’t think we’ll find any of that here.”
Brent was also miffed, understandably. “Ugh, we shouldn’t have left it running all night!”
Harry shrugged. “Eh, there was probably only a little bit left in the tank anyway. It’s a bloody miracle there was any in the first place, who knows how long all this stuff has been here? We got a warm night’s sleep out of it at least, so it was well spent in my opinion.”
“But… there are all these other machines here that we could have tried,” Brent pointed around, unsatisfied.
Ray sighed as he rubbed his eyes in the early morning light. “Let’s be real, kid: How many of these highly scientific machines do you think would actually be useful for our situation? Do you even know how to use any of them?”
“Look, I’m not happy about this either, but what’s done is done. There’s still a fence and everything, we could even come back after our little manhunt and you guys can mess around with them. But for now, let’s get back on the trail of your target guy. It’s not likely, but they could have moved during the night.”
“Oi, let’s at least get a bite to eat first,” Harry suggested, “An army marches on it’s stomach, as the saying goes.”
They had a quick breakfast as they packed up. Brent was getting tired of the granola bars so he opened a pack of “Dombey-Tarts”. As one could have guessed, they were thin toaster pastries baked in the general shape of a cartoon rabbit, with pink frosting on one side and a fruity filling on the inside. They… actually tasted pretty good, though the crumbly crust left Brent’s mouth quite dry afterwards.
He checked his status:
|Weapon||M870 Shotgun (5/5)|
|Armor||Police Vest (Level 1)|
|Backpack||Tote Bag (Level 1)|
Darn. He was hoping the Tart would give him some kind of special buff, but apparently not. He washed it down with some water, and speaking of which-
“Oh, guys, there’s a water cooler in the dome to the left. We can stock up on water there.”
“No way. Why didn’t you say so before?” Karisma asked.
“Sorry, it… kind of slipped my mind,” Brent looked away, remembering the previous night’s mishap.
Karisma walked over to the door, then shivered as she felt the cold air seeping in through the tiny gap between the door and the wall. She returned to the center sheepishly. “Ehhh, on second thought, I’ll get some when we head out.”
“Nah, it’s alright. I can go over, just give me your bottle.” Harry volunteered.
“Really? Thanks so much.”
“Can you take mine too?” Brent asked.
“Sure. I’ll take anyone else’s if they want them filled up.”
They ended up all giving Harry their water bottles to fill. Brent felt a little bad about it, but he too wished to stay in the remaining warmth of the dome for as long as possible.
Inevitably, however, they finished eating and packing, and once again headed out in pursuit of Brent’s bounty.
Distance: Not Far
It was still on Not Far, so they hadn’t moved that much. Perhaps they might catch up if they hustled.
It was a cold trek, snow covered grass crunching beneath their feet. The fur coats did help stave off the worst of it though. A few minutes after leaving the research station they emerged into a clearing, improving their visibility. The sky was relatively clear except for a few wisps, but as Brent looked to the north…
He saw a massive front of roiling dark storm clouds, small arcs of electricity arcing between them. Though their movement was rapid, they didn’t seem to be getting any closer to their location, held back by some sort of invisible line.
The land and everything else beneath these clouds had taken on an ominous purple tint.
So this must be the ‘halo’ that Dombey Uno had been talking about all this time, the mechanism to deter people from leaving the predefined space of the arena. Brent was feeling pretty deterred.
Karisma, Harry, and Ray were similarly transfixed by the sight of the clouds.
“Scary,” Karisma remarked. “It feels like it could sweep over us at any moment.”
“Please don’t tell me your arrow points over there,” Ray said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Brent confirmed. “It’s still going in the same direction.”
“Phew. I don’t know what the hell happens to you if you go in there, but I’d rather not find out.”
The others were in agreement. They kept heading roughly westward, and as they left the clearing Brent saw the tracker update:
They were getting warmer now. But only in a figurative sense, as the air was still pretty chilly.
“Map.” Brent called up the display.
The region they were now in was called “Tumultuous Tundra” and just as they had seen, the northern edge of the circle was very close to the green arrow that indicated Brent’s current position.
“Oh yeah, I forgot we can do that too. Map!” Harry also called his own Map up.
Brent had discovered that it was possible to pan around and zoom on the Map interface by gesturing on it with his hands, much like the touchscreen on a smartphone. An outside observer might have found it amusing to see the four of them swiping and pinching at seemingly nothing.
Zooming in on the green arrow, Brent spied a smaller, yellow tinted circle just to the west of it, labeled “Bounty Location (Approximate)”.
“We’re very close,” Brent announced.
“Oh, finally,” Karisma sighed. “This was a lot farther than when we were looking for Brent.”
Ray looked around with his scoped rifle. “I don’t see anyone.”
“Well he could be behind a bunch of trees. According to the map Snello should be right up ahead.” Brent reported what he saw on the Map interface.
“Alright, it’s go time. Let’s move in folks,” Harry said, “but try to keep it quiet, so we don’t alert anyone else that we don’t want knowing we’re here, right Brent?” He grinned, and Brent nodded back.
The four of them proceeded on cautiously, taking light steps and keeping their eyes peeled. The woods grew thicker, and Brent found it harder and harder to avoid stepping on a fallen branch or twig.
Movement up ahead caught his eye. A short human figure dressed in red was trudging along the snowy ground, facing the other way.
“Wait,” Brent whispered, and everyone stopped.
“Is that the guy?” Harry whispered back, pointing, and Brent nodded. His red compass arrow was pointing directly at the figure. There was no doubt that this was Snello.
Brent motioned, and everyone ducked behind the trunk of a particularly wide tree so as not to be seen accidentally.
“Okay, we found him, what now?” Karisma asked.
“We want to appear as nonthreatening as possible, so he doesn’t get spooked and run off or shoot,” Harry said, “So here’s the plan: Three of us stay hidden behind this tree while one approaches him alone, weapons holstered, to offer an alliance. If the bloke accepts, show a thumbs up sign so everyone else knows to come out.”
Ray peered around one side, continuing to observe their target. “Hm. He’s pretty short, and not going very fast. Actually, I think he’s a she.”
“A little lady, huh? Okay, I’m gonna go chat her up,” Harry made to step out, but Ray stopped him.
“No. Let the kid go first.”
“What? Why me?” Brent hissed.
“Holmes can come out after you make contact. I figure if she turns out to be hostile, it’ll be easier for Holmes to talk her down when he’s not being held hostage or something himself.”
In other words, Brent would be the one held hostage ‘or something’, probably shot. “Uh, I still don’t see why it has to be me. Why can’t you go first?” the boy said, struggling to keep his voice down.
“I’ll be watching our backs, make sure nobody sneaks up on us while you try your little recruiting thing. Besides, she’s your target.”
So that’s how it was. Ray still didn’t trust him and was trying to use him as a scapegoat. Despair began to fill Brent’s heart, and he couldn’t think of a response. What could he even say? Ray was more physically fit and knew his way around guns, making him the most competent person here. He had probably been protecting the group with his combat skills for at least the past day. What could Brent do compared to that?
Harry scratched his beard. “Eh, if Brent doesn’t want to-”
“Hey, if she turns out to be friendly, Brent will be just fine, right? Why else would we come all this way then, if you didn’t think that would be the case?”
“Okay, this is getting really stupid,” Karisma interjected, “If you guys can’t decide, how about-”
“No no no, it’s fine. I’ll go,” Brent said with heavy resignation. He just wanted everyone to stop arguing, which they did at that. Frankly it was a miracle that Snello hadn’t heard their chattering already.
“Are you sure?” Karisma asked.
“Yeah.” Brent resolved himself to the task. Someone had to do it, and if it wasn’t him, it would now feel like they were going in his place.
“Remember, no guns. Look nonthreatening, be polite.” Harry reminded.
Right. Brent put his shotgun into his backpack, inhaled, and stepped out.
Snello was still trudging along in the same direction, her steps slow and stiff. Brent slowly padded after her, taking care not to make a sound. But… he was going to have to make a sound at some point, wasn’t he?
He was getting close now, and she still hadn’t noticed him, which he felt pretty proud about. In RPG terms his Stealth level was 100. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what he needed in this situation. Talking to someone and convincing them to join you was more of a Charisma thing. Actually, why wasn’t Karisma the one doing this? Girls looked less threatening than guys, or at least that was the common conception.
Snello’s brunette hair was tied up in short braids. The red she was wearing turned out to be a sweater, and from her shoulder hung a tiny pink handbag with a floral pattern. Brent felt a little better. Bad guys didn’t wear pink, right? Well, there was the Dombey Uno robot, but that was an exception.
Knowing the others were watching him with bated breath, Brent cleared his throat.
“Ahem… uh, Snello?”
She stopped in her tracks.
“Uh, don’t be afraid. I just want to talk.”
With the same stiff steps Snello turned around, and Brent found himself face to face with… a little girl.
She couldn’t be more than middle school age, and Brent’s tongue got a bit tied as he shifted gears into his very underdeveloped “talking to small children” mode.
“Oh. Uh. Hi. My name is Brent, what’s yours?” Wait, he already knew her name, was that a dumb question to ask?
The girl didn’t respond. Brent noticed her face was in a blank expression, just staring at him. There was a weird glint in her eyes. She was holding an assault rifle with a large handle on top spanning more than half its length, which looked comically over-sized in her small hands. She raised it, and somehow Brent already knew she was going to fire.
Thuk-thuk-thuk! The shots sounded low and heavy, and the recoil made it jerk violently back in her hands.
Brent flinched, then realized he hadn’t been hit. But Snello didn’t show any signs of stopping. After the rifle steadied in her hands, she fired again. Thuk-thuk-thuk!
“Urgh!” This time he did get hit, a hammerblow directly in his gut sending him staggering back.
It seemed like his armor had absorbed some of the damage, but it still hurt like hell.
“Shit! I knew it!” He heard Ray shout.
“Brent, get out of there!” Harry called.
Cover. He had to get to cover. Brent ran for the nearest tree, putting it between him and the now murderous little girl.
Before he knew it, a fight had broken out. But why? Why was she doing this?
“Please, stop!” Brent called out to her. “We don’t want to hurt you!”
Thuk-thuk-thuk! He was answered only by another burst of gunfire.
Ray stepped out and fired his own rifle. Crack! A puff of snow flew up around Snello’s feet.
“Hey, you! That was a warning shot,” he announced, “Drop your gun now, or the next one goes through your head!”
“What? You can’t just kill her Ray, she’s just a child!” Karisma whispered.
“Yes, a child who is trying to kill us,” Ray snarled back.
Snello turned towards Ray, her rifle still up.
“Aw, shit.” Ray ducked back behind the tree as she fired again. Thuk-thuk-thuk!
Karisma yelped as the shots hit the tree.
“You got any bright ideas, Holmes?” Ray said. “Because if not I’m taking her out.”
“No, don’t take her out,” Harry urged, “She’s probably just scared of us big scary strangers. We need some other way to convince her that we’re friendly.”
“Well what is this other way?”
“We’re literally dying to find out!”
“Does anybody have any toys? Like a teddy bear or some soft plush thing?”
From the sound of it, the other three didn’t know what to do.
Brent wasn’t a fan of killing her either, so he started brainstorming. He was bigger and stronger than her, so if they could just get rid of her gun she wouldn’t be as much of a threat. His mind drifted to the numbers. It seemed like Snello’s rifle only fired three shots at a time, and a single shot had done 24 damage to him. If he ran at her now he could close to melee range before she had time to fire a second burst, so in the worst case scenario he would get hit at most three times, perhaps less as her accuracy wasn’t too good. Three shots would bring him down to 4 HP, but he’d still be alive and standing. They could heal him up with bandages later.
Although, that didn’t account for how much it would hurt and other side effects of getting shot. He might be in too much pain to do anything once he reached her.
The shooting stopped. Brent peered out to see Snello struggling to reload her weapon.
“Alright, she’s out of ammo. Time to end this,” Ray stepped back out.
“Ray, no!” Karisma shouted.
It was time to act. At least he didn’t have to worry about getting shot now.
Brent stepped out as well and sprinted towards Snello, his sneakers kicking up snow and dirt around him.
He quickly closed the distance, and the girl turned to face him, the empty magazine dropping out of her rifle.
Perfect. As he came within reach, Brent seized the rifle with both hands in an attempt to disarm her. As expected, she couldn’t match his strength. But she kept a tight grip on it though, and as Brent tried to pull it away he just yanked her whole body along with it.
“Please, just let go!” Brent begged as he continued to try and wrest the gun out of her hands unsuccessfully, tugging her this way and that. “We’re not going to hurt you, I promise!”
His words sounded hollow, especially since Ray was still watching them down the sights of his rifle.
Snello didn’t seem to hear any of it though, simply grimacing in exertion as she resisted being disarmed. What was wrong with her? Was she deaf or something?
As he looked at her face, Brent saw that up close, the glint he had seen earlier turned out to be some kind of glowing red outline coating the irises of both eyes. Huh. How odd.
He didn’t have time to dwell on this though, as the girl suddenly let go of the rifle.
Brent wasted no time in flinging it away to the side, making sure it was out of her reach.
Success! It seemed like Snello had come around. Hopefully she would be willing to talk with them now. Brent held his hands up. “Whew, uh, okay, I’m sorry about that. But you were attacking us-”
Still wearing a blank expression, the girl reached for her handbag. She flipped it open and pulled out… a shiny metal revolver.