Metro 2033 had primed Basil for underground adventures.
Taking place after a nuclear war, the video game series—adapted from a book Basil had never gotten around to reading—showcased a society of survivors struggling in dense subway tunnels, with tribal factions fighting over supplies in an epic struggle rife with moral ambiguity. Basil had expected to kill neo-nazis with his right hand and strangle Marxist-Leninists with the left.
Yet reality turned out to be a disappointment, even after it started running on video game logic.
The dungeons’ magic that turned Paris into an Egyptian exhibit affected its metro too. The underground was still the tangled maze of narrow passages, steep escalators, and train rails that Basil had learned to despise since his last visit to the city many years ago. Disappointingly, the changes since had been largely cosmetic: hieroglyphs appeared instead of ads plastered on the walls, and the smell of dry rot replaced the musty odor of the Parisian people. Fire Seeds dusted away a layer of sand covering the various train platforms. As for the vehicles themselves, naught but rusty husks remained of the once thriving fleet of subway trains.
No human pillagers had taken refuge underground, nor ambushed the party.
“We’ll build a gym here, to keep the rabbits healthy,” Bugsy explained as he and Shellgirl gave Basil a tour of the ‘facilities.’ The two hadn’t wasted time clearing up the metro station. “It’ll be right between the spa and the tennis court.”
“Tennis?” Basil asked absentmindedly. The news about the Incursion occupied his mind and he could barely focus on the current discussion. “Why tennis?”
“Because a golf field would intimidate middle-class shoppers and scare them away,” Shellgirl explained as if it made any sense. “I’ve read in a book that tennis is more popular with average human income earners, and since Paris is the most developed region in France, we’ve got to hook these fishes by the balls. The tennis balls.”
Basil had always known that once the nuclear dust settled, only tennis players would survive to rebuild civilization. The world was just that unjust.
“But that’s in the far future, Boss,” Bugsy said as they walked past a train platform. Vasi helped Plato train with illusions on the other side of it. “For now the priority is the chicken coop.”
“Of course,” Basil replied, before freezing in place.
A snack vending machine stood right next to a coffee dispenser, both leaning against a stone wall covered in hieroglyphs. The sight alone was strange, but neither device showed signs of having been ransacked by desperate survivors. A quick glance at them confirmed Basil’s worries.
Muggy (Caffeine Mimic)
Level 21 [Artificial/Slime]
Guild: Homeowners Revenge Association (Shellgirl World Company).
Snackmaster (Snack Mimic)
Level 21 [Artificial/Slime]
Guild: Homeowners Revenge Association (Shellgirl World Company).
“A coffee machine mimic?” Basil shuddered. “Now that’s just evil.”
“Oh, I haven’t introduced you to our new recruits!” Shellgirl waved a hand at the two machines. “This is Muggy and the stacked boy is Snackmaster! I found them in the tunnels and pitched them well!”
“Hello, Mr. Bohen!” the coffee machine said with a young boy’s voice. Eyes appeared above the device’s selection screen. “I’m so happy to join the Shellgirl World Company!”
“Yeah, it’s grinding time.” The snack machine’s delivery box opened to reveal teeth. “We’ll show you our resolve, sir!”
“I’m just the major shareholder,” Basil deadpanned. “Shellgirl is the managing partner.”
“That’s right, I’m the brain and he’s the mortgage,” Shellgirl gloated. “Now Partner, hear me out. These boys can produce real food and drinks after eating money. And who needs food and drinks nowadays?”
“Everybody?” Basil asked with a sigh.
“Exactly!” Shellgirl chirped. “Once the teleporting gate opens, humans with deep pockets will come out! We force demand to meet supply!”
“With a five percent cut!” the coffee machine chirped.
“I spent my time eating anyone passing by, but then Shellgirl told me I could make money without my food fighting back,” Snackmaster said. “You know what they say, steal from a human and you’ll be fed for a day. Teach him to steal for you, and you’ll be fed for a lifetime.”
“That sounds pretty smart,” Basil agreed. The longer he examined the coffee machine’s selection, the less he managed to resist his caffeine addiction. “Can I put in an order?”
“Muggy, this is your chance.” Shellgirl patted the coffee machine. “Try to pitch him as if he were a client!”
“I-I, I’ll give you a wish if you take a cappuccino!” The coffee machine let out worried sounds. “I… I accept all currencies except rubles!”
“It tastes like vodka,” his snack machine twin said. “Pay me with it and I’ll vomit a live grenade.”
“Duly noted,” Basil replied before slipping old euro coins into Muggy’s hole. The coffee machine made a strange sound that sent shivers down his spine. A cup appeared in the detector and started to fill up with precious black liquid. It warmed Basil’s heart. Even if he were to die in three days, at least it would be with veins full of black, bitter liquid.
“So, uh…” Muggy’s words trailed off as the cup filled out. “Nice weather, uh?”
“If you call a giant rift in the sky threatening to exterminate my entire species nice, then yeah,” Basil replied sourly. He noticed Bugsy and Shellgirl exchanging uncomfortable glances at his side. “It’s ‘nice’.”
“Oh, oh, that’s rough, buddy.” The coffee machine clearly struggled with small talk. “I struggle with future anxiety too. I always wonder when the next high-level monster will emerge from the tunnels to eat me.”
“How do you deal with it?” Basil asked. “The anxiety?”
“By brewing coffee,” the mimic replied. “I find purpose in simple things.”
Steaming hot milk dripped from the machine as Basil watched on in silence. The white liquid melted within the tight confines of the cup, tainting the bitter blackness of coffee brown. Basil couldn’t help but think of something else as he observed the scene unfolding before his eyes.
“I’m finished!” Muggy declared with pride. He sounded vaguely exhausted by the effort. “I hope you’ll like it! I poured my heart into it!”
Basil wondered if the mimic meant that literally as he seized the cup.
“Be gentle, Partner,” Shellgirl whispered. “You’re his first client.”
Basil Bohen was a coffee addict. Caffeine fueled his body and soul more than water. Yet for the first time in his life, he looked at a cup with apprehension rather than hunger.
“Y-You don’t like it?” Muggy asked in panic.
“It’s hot,” Basil said. He immediately regretted the turn of phrase. “I’ll drink it later.”
“Oh, okay. Take your time.” Muggy’s eyes closed in happiness. “And uh… about your question, can I suggest something?”
“Sure,” Basil replied absentmindedly.
“The world is a very complicated place. That’s what makes it scary, I think.” The coffee mimic let out a sound that sounded like dripping water. “When I was born a few months ago, everything felt so big and strange. I didn’t know what to do. So much stuff happened around me and I had no idea how to deal with it. So I stopped trying.”
“You can’t just ignore everything happening around you,” Basil pointed out. At least, he couldn’t.
“No, no, ah, I’m terrible at this…” Muggy paused a few seconds until he found the right words. “It’s not that I ignore all the complex stuff, it’s that I focus on the small things I can truly change; not the things that I think I can change. I can’t beat the high-level monsters around the city or clean up the tunnel… but I can brew coffee. If each cup I create brings happiness to someone, then it’ll have made a huge difference in the long-run.”
“I think the same too!” Bugsy chirped happily. “Even if they walked over it, a fence will still slow down an invader for a few seconds. It might seem meaningless, but it could give a rabbit precious seconds to escape!”
“I don’t know what a rabbit is, but sure!” Muggy replied. “Small simple cups add up into big black puddles, see what I mean?”
“I do,” Basil replied. A little. Although he hadn’t expected that kind of philosophy from a sentient coffee machine, he felt a little happier from listening to the creature. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Muggy replied. “I’m always here if you need to talk!”
And like that, the mimic had earned its first repeat customer.
“Are there mimics for every home appliance?” Basil asked as Bugsy and Shellgirl continued on with the visit. He heard the two mimic machines exchange tips to help clients feel better as he left them behind. Basil found it strangely uplifting.
“Almost,” Shellgirl replied. “We’re very good at adapting to new markets. At this point, the chests are probably extinct.”
“Many monsters in the tunnels were eager to join us rather than fight,” Bugsy added. “The Incursion message spooked many of them.”
A wise choice. With the huge jump in power from the first Incursion to the second, weaker monsters faced a choice: either they struggled to earn as much experience as possible within the next three days… or they banded together for safety. Quantity was a quality all of its own.
“Shellgirl, Bugsy.” Basil cleared his throat. “Why are you doing this?”
His two friends tensed up. “Doing what?” Shellgirl asked, pretending not to know.
“Apollyon will cross over the portal in three days flat. The next Incursion will kill millions unless we can stop it, something which may be entirely beyond our power.” Basil sighed. “So why this circus about tennis courts and adventurer economy? Shouldn’t you focus on more important matters?”
He didn’t want to scold them, not now, but he was at his wit’s end.
“We are focusing on what’s important, Partner,” Shellgirl replied with surprising seriousness. “Namely, lifting your spirits.”
Basil frowned in confusion, so Bugsy went on to elaborate. “Shellgirl and I spoke after receiving the Incursion message, Boss. We thought you would appreciate a good distraction.”
“I appreciate the gesture,” Basil replied. “But we don’t have the time for it.”
“Look, Partner, we aren’t blind.” Shellgirl crossed her arms and stood her ground. “All that stuff about Apollyon, gods, Kalki, Dismaker Labs, and souls and whatever, it’s been weighing on your mind since that fight in Château Muloup. But you don’t share that weight.”
“Of course I don’t,” Basil snapped in frustration. At the end of the day, he was the leader of his little group. He set his party’s direction and his morale affected everyone else by osmosis. He couldn’t afford to look worried or confused, lest it become contagious.
“Boss, I admire you, I truly do,” Bugsy said with worry. “But I have to tell the truth. Your behavior… It’s unhealthy. You take on all our fears and sadness on yourself until you drown in it.”
“You only really open up with Plato, and Vasi now that you’re dating her,” Shellgirl pointed out. “We want to help too.”
“You already do,” Basil reassured them. “But trying to change my mind isn’t the way to go–”
“It is!” Bugsy snarled.
His sudden outburst snapped Basil out of his melancholy and made him step back in surprise. “Bugsy…” he whispered, but the centimagma wouldn’t let him finish.
“Boss, I have to set my foot down on this. Everything changed since the house was destroyed, I get that. Things will never return to how they were before. Our happier times are behind us.”
Bugsy let out a sigh of smoke.
“But there are happy times ahead of us too,” he said. “There are happy times happening now. That’s why we moved from one side of this human country to the other. Not to survive, but so we can live happy moments. Shellgirl and I wanted to remind you of what we’re fighting for, Boss.”
“Someone had to.” Shellgirl smiled kindly. “Vasi and Plato do their best, but we have to pick up the slack too. You said it yourself. This is a democracy. We all have to contribute or else it doesn’t work.”
“I…” Basil opened his mouth and closed it immediately. The wise opened their mouths because they had something to say, and the fools because they had to say something. Bugsy’s words had given him pause.
Indeed, it felt like a lifetime since Basil had left the house and his simpler life. Each new fight, each conflict had broadened his horizon and increased the scope of his war against Earth’s invaders. Basil had looked at an ever-increasing picture, until he forgot how much he enjoyed the smaller details.
Maybe Muggy was onto something. Maybe Basil needed to take his eyes off from the vastness of the universe when it overwhelmed him.
“Partner, I’ve realized something as we traveled,” Shellgirl said with a hand on her chest. “I’ve sold items to humans and bought others from monsters. And while I love money and grinding it out, neither is an end in itself.”
“Now you jest,” Basil teased her.
“I know.” Shellgirl chuckled, although her eyes showed her inner thoughts. She spoke from the heart. “What I wanted most of all was to make friends. To do something other than fight everyone I encounter, as this System demands.”
Basil had suspected as much for a while, so it didn’t surprise him much. But to hear Shellgirl say it still shook him. He looked at her and remembered their first meeting, when she showed up at his house unannounced to peddle wares and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
How much she had changed since.
“That's why I took these two in.” Shellgirl glanced at her fellow mimics. “They’re like me, small little monsters who don’t have it in their heart to be monsters. They deserve our help too.”
“Monster lives matter?” Basil said with a smile. “I’m kidding. I get it.”
“You better.” Shellgirl smirked. “It’s not always about saving humans. Other lives count too.”
Especially since many of these monsters were reincarnated humans in the first place. Basil briefly wondered if Shellgirl’s maturity came from her past life, before realizing otherwise. She had survived an Apocalypse Force culling and came out of the experience wishing to become something more than a mindless killer.
Each monster was its own individual, unrelated to the past. Her wisdom was all her.
“Yeah.” Basil nodded to himself. “Yeah, we’ll make the world better. For humans and monsters alike. And we’ll find happiness somewhere along the way.”
“That’s the spirit,” Shellgirl said. “It’s not always about business.”
“I’m with you, Boss,” Bugsy chirped. “Every step of the way.”
Basil felt warmer inside, and not just for the coffee cup in his hand.
After this heart-to-heart chat, Shellgirl led the group to a railway tunnel. Fire Seeds finished binding together a great ring of stone spanning the subway entrance. Zachariel traced runes of power on its surface.
“A Stargate prop?” Basil mused. “Is that truly necessary?”
“Perhaps not, Sir,” Zachariel replied as he added the final symbol in a long sequence. “But Lair features aren’t an exact science. All details help.”
“Alright, it’s my big moment.” Bugsy gathered his breath. “Claim Lair!”
Bugsy registered the Lair: Metro Station Maisons-Alfort Les Juilliottes
Faction: Homeowners Revenge Association (The Bohens)
Field Type: Industrial.
- [Corrosion], [Metal], [Fire], [Water], and [Lightning] elements are empowered.
- [Soul], [Wood], and [Wind] elements are weakened.
- [Improved Processes]: Buffs and positive effects last longer.
The same Field Type as René’s house. He hoped the mimics would grow attached to this station too.
“Teleport Circle, I, II, III!” Bugsy shouted. The ring of stone immediately started to glow as the feature activated. Basil drank his cappuccino while everyone watched the runes glowing on their own. “It’s working!”
Space bent within the ring’s confines and rippled like water. The surface took on a blue hue, much like a very famous TV series. Basil glimpsed vague reflections of a cathedral hall and stained glass on the other side.
Armored soldiers soon walked out of the functioning portal, Neria Elissalde first among them. To Basil’s surprise, General Leblanc followed after the Major. The French leader had come not with a chest full of medals, but a bulletproof vest.
“Congratulations, Bugsy,” Basil said before offering a military salute. “General? You came in person?”
“Of course,” the old man replied before shaking Basil’s hand. His hold was firm, but warm. “You have taken great risks to reach this place and help establish a foothold, so I came to congratulate you in person. What kind of war commander does not visit the front now and then?”
The cowardly kind. Basil was glad that at least some authorities rose up to the challenge rather than staying safe at the rear.
“I am glad that you all made it through to Paris in one piece,” said the General as he surveyed the area. “Is your dragon outside?”
“She’s keeping watch over the entrance, since she can’t fit inside the tunnels,” Basil replied. “I’ve designed a workaround, but since it’ll weaken her I intended to keep it for later.”
“We’ll relieve you.” The General turned to a few of his soldiers. “Go outside and establish a defensive perimeter.”
“Yes, Sir,” the soldiers replied before moving towards the exit in short order. Their firearms glowed with the power of runes. More of their comrades crossed the portal to occupy the metro station.
“How many soldiers did you bring?” Basil asked.
“Not much,” the General admitted with a scowl. “The new Incursion forced me to reassess my plans. Our allies report rifts forming all across Europe.”
Basil could read between the lines. Since the chances of preventing the Incursion were slim to none, the army needed to deploy forces to secure other population centers rather than focus on Paris. Basil couldn’t fault them. Blowing up dungeons and capturing Benjamin Leroy were both long shots.
“I sent you as many squads as I could afford to.” General Leblanc turned to face Neria. “The Major will be in charge of them.”
“Unfortunately, it will take us a few days to bring our heavy equipment through the portal,” Neria said, her arms folded. “We should be ready by the day of the Incursion, but we’ll be undermanned until then.”
“So we’ll infiltrate the pyramid on our own,” Basil decided. He had already planned as much without expecting support. “Apollyon will enter our world through Paris’ portal in three days.”
“Oh, we’ll welcome him properly.” Neria smiled. “We’re bringing heavy artillery. We’ll shell the bugs with lead and death.”
“I love the sound of that,” Shellgirl commented with a grin. “I can’t wait to eat Apollyon.”
“I thought you were a vegetarian?” Bugsy asked in confusion.
“I will make an exception for him,” the mimic replied, her arms folding. “That hornet deserves it.”
“It’s payback time,” Basil said. “One way or another, he won’t escape Paris alive. I swear it.”
The General nodded in agreement. “We must prevent the Horseman of Famine from crossing over if we can, and if we fail, destroy him before he can establish a foothold on this side of the rift. His demise will be a crippling blow to the Apocalypse Force.”
“What about the Unity?” Basil asked. “Anything new from their side?”
“That’s the great unknown,” General Leblanc conceded. “The ISS is positioned above Paris in a stationary orbit. I suspect they have learned of Apollyon’s arrival and intend to intercept him once he crosses over. We have plans in place to shoot down the ISS if necessary, but I’ve decided to hold off for now. Orbital missiles are a trump card we can’t afford to overplay.”
Neria’s expression turned grimmer. “Basil, I will be on standby if you ever need to activate… you know what.”
The nuclear activation device remained safely in Basil’s inventory for the entire trip to Paris. He had considered using it to blow up the Louvre Pyramid from afar and be done with it, but Kalki’s presence inside the dungeon complicated matters.
“Can’t use it yet,” Basil said. “Not until Kalki is safe and sound. Even then, I’m not sure it would destroy the dungeons. These things can recover from almost any damage unless the core server is destroyed.”
“There is another alternative,” the General pointed out. “Rifts work both ways, correct? If we fail to prevent the portal above Paris from opening, we can simply send the package through. It would deal a powerful blow to the Apocalypse Force.”
It would be one way to off Apollyon for sure. Yet somehow Basil doubted it would be as easy to pull off as it sounded.
“I won’t judge,” General Leblanc said. “As I told you in Bordeaux, Bohen, you and Major Elissalde have carte blanche to make the call.”
“I hope we won’t have to use it,” Neria admitted. “But if the situation worsens… we might not have a choice.”
“Yeah, I agree.” Basil nodded. “Alright then, we’ll be on our way to the catacombs then. We’ll stay in touch through the Logs to coordinate.”
“Before you leave, young man, I have some good news I wanted to impart on you.” Much to Basil’s surprise, both General Leblanc and Major Elissalde smiled at him. “It’s confirmed. She is alive.”
Basil’s heart skipped a beat. He had a pretty good idea of who the General was speaking of, but he still felt compelled to ask. “Who?”
“Your mother, of course,” the older man replied.
How strange how two simple words could weigh so heavily on a son’s mind. They rang in the back of Basil’s mind as his comrades turned to look at him with unreadable eyes. His facial expression didn’t change, but his mind worked furiously to process this new information.
“Aleksandra Bohen, wife of the late Dragan Bohen, mother of Basil Bohen and working in Varna’s suburbs as a grocery shopkeeper before the Apocalypse,” Neria listed. “That’s her, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Basil replied. His throat suddenly dried up, and he struggled to come up with an answer. “Yes.”
“Your countrymen showed their mettle,” General Leblanc said with a hint of respect. “A large guild of them, the Swords of Saint George, has managed to maintain order in the eastern side of Bulgaria. Their leadership informed me that your mother was evacuated to a safe zone soon after the System’s arrival.”
The news filled Basil’s heart with pride. He always knew the proud Bulgarian people would triumph over anything.
Yet, as much as it shamed him, a part of Basil had already expected his mother to have perished in the apocalypse. She was a middle-aged shopkeeper on her way to retirement, not a soldier. Basil doubted she ever unlocked a fighting class of any kind. In a way, it had made it easier for her son to process the apocalypse. He couldn’t fear for his mother’s safety if he had already lost her. Out of sight, out of mind.
He had been mistaken. His mother had survived against all odds.
Basil wasn’t sure what he felt at this realization. He hadn’t spoken to his mother in a long, long time, though he still cared for her. None of their issues nor disagreement could change the fact that they were family.
“Can I talk to her?” Basil asked. His own words surprised him. Six months ago, he wouldn’t have uttered them.
“Not today, young man,” the General replied. “Sadly.”
“But soon,” Neria promised. “I’m working to establish a line of communication. I owe you that.”
“I… I would be thankful.” Basil nodded sharply. “Thank you, Neria.”
Basil expected the threat of the next Incursion to fill his heart with doubt. Instead, he peaked with newfound resolve. His friends were there for him, and he would live to talk to his family again.
No matter the cost.