Enter the Spire (HoD 5)

rating: +1+x

Rhodesia, 1973

Nothing could have possibly prepared him for this.

The hill on fire, the ambush, the Great Zimbabweans working alongside the Foundation, and the charred bodies merged together in one mass — everything was like a blur in Jai's mind now, and everything had blindsided him like a moving truck. Whatever operation the Foundation had crafted had been meticulously planned out and executed… as if they had been waiting for years for the moment to finally strike the Scouts where it hurt.

And it hurt like hell. Practically nothing remained of the base, save for the burnt-out husks of vehicles and the mound of burnt bodies in the center, which had since began letting off a steady puff of white smoke as the flames died down, in part due to Mira's efforts in calming the inferno down. He watched as she kicked over a geometric symbol she traced into the dirt with her foot, muttering a slurry of swears under her breath, before walking off.

Then, everything was silent. Even the wind stopped, and listened, to the crunching of gravel beneath Jai's feet as he aimlessly paced around, as if in a trance.

She was right, anyway. They had been made, and the longer they stayed here, the more time the Foundation had to find and kill them, or worse. They needed to leave.

But what would they do? Where would they go?

What about their leadership? What about the Rhodesians? For all he knew, Hudson was dead, gone, or something in between. The Scouts were like a headless chicken now: leaderless, directionless, and slowly bleeding out until their eventual death, and he wasn't even sure what they were supposed to do at this point. If Mira's interpretation of the Chaos Insurgency was to be believed, then the Insurgency likely wasn't even aware of their demise at all.

The Rhodesians, similarly, were probably uncaring as well. Even if there was the slightest chance that they would come to relieve and reinforce them, Jai doubted they'd even be able to do so, let alone if they even cared to bother helping two Insurgents. They were fighting a totally different war, and had their own plethora of problems to deal with.

And… Great Zimbabwe. They had failed their mission, and given the Rhodesians' apparent lack of experience with fighting the anomalous, there was practically nothing stopping their enemy from finishing their superweapon and activating it. The aura of uncertainty hung over Jai now as he contemplated, but he knew that if their ziggurat was operational, only terrible things were bound to follow.

As Jai watched the smoldering mound of bodies cool off and stepped out the firebase, he turned around and saw that Mira had moved. She sat now cross-legged atop the hill, her rifle resting on her lap. She blankly stared at something off in the distance, well past the firebase, and was mouthing something unintelligible as she practiced a couple esoteric hand gestures.

Whatever it was, Jai didn't bother asking — maybe practicing thaumaturgy was a coping method of hers.

He trudged up the hill and walked over to her. "Mind if I sit next to you?"

She sighed. "Go ahead."

Jai sat down next to her and looked past her. He then realized what she was looking at: a herd of wildebeest had appeared over the horizon, sauntering across the savanna like a slow-moving tidal wave of blackness. Occasionally, one would stop, looking out towards the firebase and the duo on the hill, before continuing along with the rest of the herd.

He envied being a wildebeest now. At least they didn't have to live under fear of the anomalous or Veils or anything of that nature.

"You think they care about all this shit?" He asked aloud, pointing off towards the animals in the distance. It was a rhetorical question anyways, so he didn't bother letting her respond. "I dunno. They see us, and they probably got no idea what the hell they lookin' at. And yet, they just keep movin' on, totally ignorant, yet just… fine. Uncaring about everything."

Jai paused again. "I've got a dog back home, a little mutt named Jojo. He always seems to know when something's goin' down, like he's got some sixth sense or somethin'. Maybe they know, too. Maybe they're scared."

Mira rolled her eyes. "When did you become a philosopher, Jai?"

"Thinking ain't gonna hurt nobody," Jai replied, before correcting himself. "Actually, I take that back, but you get what I mean."

She smiled for a split second, before sighing, rubbing the bridge of her nose for a moment. "The difference between us and them, Jay, is that they don't have a choice in living the way they do. We were blessed — or cursed — with sapience — the gift of knowledge, and the ability to act on it. People like us know that things aren't the way they seem, that things can just fall apart at any moment, and that normalcy is but an illusion to everything. They don't."

She shook her head. "They just.. live, Jay. I don't know how else to put it, man. They aren't scared. They don't have the mental capacity to quantify things like the anomalous or — or even goddamn Great Zimbabwe, like we do. They don't have the free will to challenge any of it. They're just… animals."

"Free will." Jai repeated, lingering on the word for a bit. Maybe things were starting to make a little more sense.

She paused, reiterating her words again. "They're just animals, Jay. No matter what happens, they'll just keep on living and keep on moving, because their instinct keeps telling them 'Don't freeze.' Maybe it's best if we start thinking like them, Jay and just go with the flow."

She flicked at one of the sling mounts against her rifle's stock, then leaned back in the grass. "I dunno, man. It's a thought."

Jai raised an eyebrow. "'Start thinking like them,' huh? What, livin' out in the open, not giving a shit that the whole world might end with the snap of a finger 'cause of GZ's little superweapon? Not giving a shit their way of living is just gonna be fucked up beyond repair, just like that?"

"You know, Jai, you're pinning a lot of this on GZ," Mira noted dryly. "They aren't the only anomalous powerhouse we should be worried about."

"Who should we be worried about, then? The GOC? Foundation?" Jai turned to her. "GZ's got a weapon that'll erase an entire country. I think I got a good reason to be concerned about 'em."

"And their civvies?" Mira challenged. "Whether you want to admit it or not, they've got just as many civilians as they do fighters. You can't just generalize them like that."

Jai scoffed, turning back to the horizon. "You know, you and I might agree on a lot of things, Mira, but never did I think we'd be disagreeing over some fuckin' wildebeest, man."

"If you knew half of my beliefs, Jai, you'd probably strangle me to death right now and call me a heretic."

Her tone was flat, so Jai wasn't sure if she was joking or being serious about that remark.

He shut up and continued watching the mass of wildebeest creep from one side of his vision to the other. He listened to a few of them as they made an occasional grunting noise while moving along in their big herd, totally unchallenged by the terrain in front of them. After a while, the herd gradually began to disappear over the grassy horizon, once again leaving the two alone atop the hill overlooking their ruined base.

Once this happened, Jai sighed and stood up. "So, what now?"

"Well, the world is your oyster, my friend." She shrugged. "My mission is done, Jai. I'm going home."

"Your" mission?

Her words repeated in his head over and over as he narrowed his eyes. "The fuck? But GZ is—"

"Do you even know how to get to Great Zimbabwe, Jai?" Mira asked, standing up as she collected her rifle and kit off the ground. "Do you even know where GZ is? I don't fuckin' know, that's for sure, moreover, I don't care. I don't even need an answer from you, either, because I know you don't have one."

Before he could raise his voice, she stuck a finger up to his face. "Don't even get me started on the Steps of the Plan, either. If you think I know how to decipher that shit, you've got another thing comin'."

Jai paused for a moment. "We have a mission, Mira. We can't just abandon it, there's got to be something we can do to keep these people safe from Great Zimbabwe's weapons. We have to find a way to get back to Command, maybe regroup with some survivors. We just— we've gotta do something — sittin' around and waiting ain't the way."

She scoffed, mimicking his voice for a moment as she rolled her eyes. "Tch, 'keep people safe' — you know, the more you keep up this kind of talk, Jai, the more I'm starting to think you'd fit in just fine with the Foundation — or, worse, the Coalition."

"Isn't that what we do, though? Save the world, keep people safe? Weaponize anomalies against the very monsters that wanna kill us dead?" Jai paused, his mouth agape for a moment. "You know, for the past two goddamn years, Nobody's been giving me a clear answer on what the Insurgency is. Maybe this is it."

She was quiet for a moment, but then gestured to herself with a closed palm. "Like I said, my mission is complete. Has it ever occurred to you that the Plan is multi-faceted, Jay?"

Oh, you fuckin' bitch.

Jai glared at the woman, feeling his fist ball, but not on his own volition. "You're from another cell."

"Like I said, you're a quick learner, so I'll have to commend you for that." She stepped past him, patting him on the shoulder and looking up to his eyes with a smirk. Her gaze was deepened, almost relaxed, and it tore into him like a predator, filling him with a flurry of feelings. The gaze was something that Jai interpreted as part threatening, part inviting, and part deceptive, but he was likely misconstruing his own feelings. He wasn't even sure if his assumption was correct — the woman was a total enigma.

He stood still as she slipped past him, knowing he had no way of even standing a chance against the thaumaturge, let alone landing a finger on her. His fist relaxed as she turned to her, then stuck out both hands in a shrug. "So, you're just giving up and leaving, then? Fuck it. Fine by me. Where should I go, then?"

"Home, GZ, the wild, I don't care. You're the one with free will." Mira shrugged, slinging her rifle across her chest and resting her arms against either end of the weapon. "There's nothing stopping you from just leaving, you know."

So what was stopping him from leaving?

Was it a sense of duty? A loyalty to Hudson and the Insurgency? The Plan wasn't complete — it never was — and people like him needed to be there to help it come to fruition, to see the Insurgency's ultimate victory, whatever it may be. There was still work that still needed to be done — Jai just didn't understand what it was… or maybe he couldn't understand it at all.

Mira's words were impaling — maybe he did have a choice, and one of them was going home. He'd be leaving the Insurgency behind — leaving Rhodesia behind, and would be returning to a life behind the Veil, where one didn't have to worry about unspeakable forces encroaching upon them every day.

However, those things simply couldn't be forgotten, much like his memories from his time in Vietnam. Maybe it was better for him to confront them, rather than forgetting about them and shoving them into the back of his mind. Maybe that was a better alternative than just sucking it up and living in some new, anomalous world.

tak tak tak tak tak tak tak

Mira perked up and turned to the sound coming from the firebase, just as Jai's pistol cleared its holster. Before he knew it, both of their weapons were aimed at what remained of the central command building… where something was turning and clicking.

"Looks like we're not out of this yet." Mira murmured.

"I'll take point." Jai bounded down the hill and jogged towards the complex. His pistol swung up in his dominant hand as he cleared the left hand side of the firebase, before floating over to the right — nothing was in sight, but the strange noise still could be heard coming from the ruined prefab building.

tak tak tak tak tak tak

He switched to a two-handed grip as he approached the rubble, aiming towards it and advancing slowly. "It's coming from here."

"Stand back."

He did as requested, and watched as Mira stepped forward, slinging her rifle behind her back as she traced another triangular symbol around her in the dirt with a foot. An otherworldly light and shifting spiral pattern gathered in her palms as she pointed her hands towards the debris, the color of the light shifting between what he assumed was pink, red, and white.

He didn't realize that she was slowly muttering something under her breath until she said something unintelligible at speaking level. A gust of warm wind washed over them, very nearly knocking Jai off his feet as an impressive cloud of dust was blasted off the remains of the command building… along with the entirety of the debris itself.

Rubble, shrapnel, and rocks alike had been tossed like a child's toy over to the other side of the firebase, leaving the source of the noise in plain sight.

"A teletype." Jai muttered aloud, lowering his weapon.

"Hudson's teletype." Mira corrected him, kicking over her rune with a foot. The pair then looked at each other, a silent exchange of words occurring as if they had understood what this discovery meant.

With a gulp, Jai raised his pistol, then approached the machine himself.

It was big and bulky, shaped much like a typical teletype, and had a strange mechanism on its topside which printed each letter onto the page with a deliberate tak tak sound. Jai could see that the machine was currently typing up a storm of random letters and words at the top of the page, perhaps a sort of cipher or encryption, but he wasn't a communications expert at all.

He stared at the machine, lowering his weapon. "What the f— …do you know what this shit means by the 'height of moral folly,' Mira?"

She shook her head. "Give it a second."


He watched as the machine continued typing out nonsensical word soup. The fact that it was doing so much without being hooked up to some sort of power source already suggested that it was anomalous, but not too weird to draw Jai's attention away from what it was typing.

Jai squinted as he approached the teletype, as if to type something, then paused as the machine seemed to stop. He looked over his shoulder at Mira, who was similarly bewildered and confused at the move, then nearly shot the thing when it whirred back to life.

Its typing mechanism was working in overtime, the tak tak noise amplifying in speed and volume, almost resembling machine gun fire. Jai blinked, his jaw agape, as letters began forming phrases, and phrases began forming sentences.

At the upper right hand of the document, a logo had been printed, and Jai saw bolded red text appear on the paper for the first time.





"That insignia," Jai murmured. "I've only seen that insignia once before. The card Hudson gave me when he first recruited me."

For a relatively impassive woman, he saw that Mira's eyes spelled confusion, curiosity… then widened, as she finally realized what this was. "Jai, that's the Insurgency's insignia."

"I thought ours was black with a—"

"No." She shook her head. "Different cells, same goal, remember." Her voice trailed off. "But this… this is The Chaos Insurgency. The one that split from the Foundation decades ago, the one our "Insurgency" is merely a shadow of, and they're giving us new orders."

Without delay, the machine began to type once again.

12. STEP EC-73/005:

Alpha-class operative Jai and Beta-class operative Mira are to eliminate rogue Gamma-class commander Hudson Croix at Great Zimbabwe.


The machine powered down at that point, its typing apparatus shifting to the left most side of the paper. Jai took the orders with one hand and perused the text, reading it over and over in his mind as things began to click.


Mira approached from the rear. "What's it say?"

"It says Hudson's gone rogue. It wants us to go to Great Zimbabwe," he murmured. "And it wants us to kill him." Another pause. "We have to kill Hudson."

She snatched the paper from him and read it over in half the time he had taken, before passing the document back to Jai. It was given to him more like a shove that hit him right smack in his chest, and he immediately knew why. Mira let off a quick, inappropriate giggle, as if she had heard a hilarious joke, and turned away from him.

"There's a typo," she added cynically. "It says you have to kill Hudson."

"Not funny." Jai muttered. "This shit is serious, Mira. These are new orders, from the goddamn Insurgency itself. We got a job to do."

She stuck a finger out at him. "You think I'm going to risk my life on some absurdist bullshit, Jai? After that ambush — where I very nearly fucking died — mind you, trying to save your ass? And now… and now we're going after a man who could probably kill us with his goddamn eyes closed? Are you even listening to yourself speak, Jay?"

Her voice faltered for a moment, before her vigor came back in full force. "And… and you aren't even questioning that you're being ordered to remove your mentor?" She scoffed sardonically. "What, did the Marines indoctrinate you into blindly following your orders a little too much?"

"My background with the Corps is irrelevant. Killing Hudson's possible," Jai spoke without thinking. "It just… it's just that it feels like it's what I should be doing. It's like it's natural, you know? I can't describe the feeling."

"Look, Killing Hudson isn't even the point, Jay." She sighed loudly. "This is meant to clean the slate — a tabula rasa. Just like how you signed all those NDAs with the Feds, we're getting decommissioned by the Insurgency by going on a suicide mission against Hudson. I've been doing this shit longer than you, and I know damn well I'm not going to follow some cryptic orders from some Engineer that probably doesn't even exist, just so I can get tossed aside by Delta because I'm expendable. You're expendable."

Jai frowned. It was funny: she sounded exactly like how he was two years ago.

"The ambush broke you, didn't it." He croaked. It was phrased more like a statement than a question.

Mira rolled her eyes. "Of course it fuckin' broke me, because my mission to observe Hudson's Scouts — to observe you, to be Hudson's little thaumaturge… it's done. Everything's done. I have no point being here anymore. The Foundation's raid fucked everything up and ruined all my plans, and now I've realized how infinitesimal I am in the grand scheme of things. I want to live, to embrace the anomalous, to be myself, not bound by some misguided commanders who don't even know the nature of their orders."

She turned to Jai, a fire in her eyes that he had never seen before. "Don't you want to live?"

There was silence for another minute as he and Mira stood there, staring at each other and the document in their hands. They never realized how much time had actually passed until they heard the sound of tires against a gravel road, and turned towards the entrance of the base.

Mira's rifle swung up. "We have company."

A white Land Cruiser entered the base, its windows far too dark for Jai to see who or what was driving. As they pointed their weapons at the vehicle and waved it down to stop, Jai paused, hearing the sound of music thumping from inside of the vehicle as it slowed to a halt.

"You go back, Jack, do it again, wheel turnin' 'round and 'round.. You go back, Jack…"

Steely Dan? Jai thought to himself. Someone had good taste.

The engine — and the music — cut off, and then the driver side door opened. The barrel of a machine gun poked out alongside the head of a soldierly white man with combed blonde hair and a bushy handlebar mustache. He wore a solid red T-shirt and an open olive drab flak jacket, along with something Jai had definitely seen before — a Cambodian krama scarf wrapped around his neck.

He stepped out of the vehicle, and Jai and Mira stood down as they saw him rest his hands atop the menacing-looking RPK machine gun slung over his chest. He towered over Jai by probably a couple inches, and his gaze immediately snapped over to him. "Hey, you. Does the black moon howl?"

Jai stood still, his outstretched hand wavering as he sized up the man. If this was a running password, he wasn't sure what to answer, so he shrugged his shoulders. "Who's askin'?"

The passenger door opened, and out came a skinny brown-haired white man in civilian clothes, with a white labcoat worn over everything. He was around Jai's age, possibly way younger, sporting an Astros baseball cap, and some of his hair protruded from the underside of the cap. He stumbled away from the vehicle, fumbling with the Uzi that he clutched in one hand. The way his eyes seemed quickly to dart around beneath the lemon yellow lenses of his aviator sunglasses suggested that he was nervous.

Jai and Mira looked at each other. They were still outgunned, but at the very least, they weren't dead.

The scrawny man in glasses spoke up first. "Hey, Whiplash, a-are these the guys or…?"

"I don't know, Richards." The blonde man replied, teasingly. "Maybe you should ask them yourself."

Jai and Mira glanced at each other as the "Richards" person approached slowly, lowering his Uzi down to his side. "Hi. Um. Are you Jai and Mira?"

Jai repeated what he had said before, narrowing his eyes. "Who the fuck's askin'?"

"Delta is."

His view shot up to the muscular white man, the "Whiplash," according to Richards. He placed his hands in the pockets of his jeans as he walked up beside his associate, and his voice was low and slow, almost as if he was relaxed, in spite of everything.

"I'm Agent Whiplash — all caps, by the way — on behalf of Delta Command. This is Rese-Doctor Richards, of the Gun Club, an Insurgency R&D cell." He paused for a split second. "Delta Command is looking for you — rather, they're looking for your commander. Hudson. Where is he?"

“He looks awfully too young to be a doctor,” Mira quipped, much to Richards' chagrin.

“My question.” Whiplash shifted. “It remains unanswered.”

"Well, if you’re looking for Hudson, you’re shit out of luck, pal." Mira replied. "He's gone, and I have no idea where the hell he is. He's probably lost in the jungle trying to find GZ or something — he never gave us any information about the place anyways, aside from the name."

"Then shit out of luck we are," Whiplash muttered. "And lost in the jungle doesn't sound too far-fetched either, knowing Hudson. You two haven't realized it yet, have you? What's been goin' on lately?"

"What's happened?" Jai asked. "Are we being relieved, is the fight still going on?"

"You've missed a lot, buddy." Whiplash began, shaking his head. "The Insurgency and the Rhodesians split. Already there's been reports of a few skirmishes and raids against each other. All the while, your boss took the Bell of Entropy and Staff of Hermes and fucked off to God know's where. Now, you're being tasked with taking the man down. Congratulations on your new assignment as assassins."

Jai's jaw was agape as Mira sighed, swearing to herself. He exhaled out his nostrils. "Unbelievable. Now what?"

"I'll tell you more on the way to the Gun Club," Whiplash continued. "For now, you're going to get in my car, and I'm gonna get you out of here, before the Foundation really wipes this place off the map."

As if to encourage them, he opened up the door and pushed his seat forwards to allow the two to enter the cramped back seats of the Land Cruiser. "Don't get too comfortable. We've got a long day ahead of us."

Ahead of them was an art deco building nestled in a clearing around several patches of acacia trees. Rows of the trees lined the dirt road that led up to the remote lodge, ending in a circular driveway with another Land Cruiser parked in the front of the complex. At a nearby water hole, a group of antelope raised their heads up momentarily, spotting the vehicle and staring at it as they approached the compound.

For a so-called "Gun Club", Jai thought the place certainly fit the description of a "club," although the lack of any guns so far was somewhat jarring to him. In spite of all this, he was still a little wary of tagging along with Whiplash and Richards — hell, at this point, he knew more about Mira than he knew of the others.

The fact that they were still alive, though, was enough for him to know that Delta at least still wanted them — if Mira was to be believed, of course. Ever since their argument, they had never directly spoken a word to each other, not even on the long ride to the Gun Club. Maybe she needed some time to cool down.

“We’re here.” Whiplash announced, parking the vehicle and clambering out, followed by Richards. Mira left soon after, leaving Jai as the last out of the vehicle.

“So, this is a safehouse? This is the nicest place I’ve been at in months, maybe even years.” Mira looked up at the front façade of the building. A sign up front in English indicated that it was owned by the “Conestoga Independent” company as a hunting lodge, a pretty on-the-nose pseudonym.

“Lodging isn’t free, y’know…” Richards stepped up to the front door, bringing up a jingling lanyard of keys as he unlocked the door. "Oh, uh, also. W-while, uh, you're here, guys… you're, uh, under the Gun Club's house rules."

Jai tilted his head. "Fuck's that supposed to mean?"

"Everyone here follows his rules, including me," Whiplash replied. "Don't touch nothin' unless he says so."

The door unlocked, and as Richards pushed it open, Jai was met with a refreshing blast of cold air in his face. The front of the air-conditioned building was as standard and fancy as hunting lodges got, though the fully-stocked bar, taxidermied animal busts, and vintage firearms hanging on the walls were enough to pique his interest.

"You gotta nice place," Jai nodded his head. "Got any guns for us, or what?"

"Yeah, about that."

Jai stopped to look at Richards and Whiplash, who were descending down a flight of stairs into presumably a basement. The presence of a brick wall at the bottom of the stairwell, however, seemed to suggest that the stairs led to nowhere.

He exhaled out his nostrils, looking at the men taking slow, methodical steps towards the wall. "Man… what the fuck is this shit?"

"Right foot first," Richards explained, "And make sure you're visualizing a door ahead of you with every step. One step at a time."

He blinked — and then Richards and Whiplash were gone. He looked over his shoulder at Mira, who just flashed her hands, showing that her palms were empty. "I've got nothin', Jay. Go on."

"Should we trust 'em?"

"Your call, but I'd be careful around them. Personally, I've got trust issues."

Jai scoffed. "Yeah, I know."

With his right foot forward, he carefully descended the stairs, gripping tightly to the railing. One step turned into two, and then two turned into ten, but his eyes were laser-focused on the seemingly impenetrable barrier ahead of him.

He imagined a door ahead of himself as he reached the bottom steps, envisioning himself stepping towards it and moving his hand forward, as if to push it open. As he felt the air shift around him, Jai twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open, stepping through the doorway into the underground facility.

The seemingly underground facility they had entered was small, but advanced, as if made dozens of years ago with architecture that was considered modern today. Fluorescent lights buzzed above them, the retro-futuristic corridor ahead of them lined with various offices and storage spaces, some filled with humming computers that took up much of the room space.

Jai let out a whistle as he and Mira continued, catching up to Richards and Whiplash. "Woah."

The storage spaces, although mostly empty, had various trinkets and items inside, ranging from ham radio sets and innocuous-looking shotguns, to swords that probably looked like they would've fit in some fantasy movie about dragons. Many of these, much like the microwave he had used to kill the monster with the day before, likely had some sort of strange catch or caveat to their abilities — but their destructive and tactical potential was not to be underestimated.

"So, you guys gonna let him test run some of these things or what?" Mira sneered, watching Richards unlock the door to an armory ahead of them. "Y'know, Whiplash, Jai's begging to try out whatever you've got that'll let him kill Hudson efficiently."

Jai rolled his eyes and groaned, turning to the woman. "Oh, will you knock it off?"

"Just stating the obvious, Jay."

"Look—" He shook his head. "Just… you're right, damn it, — I ain't got no damn clue where that man is right now," He paused, gesturing to a machine gun lying on a rack in the armory. "And it ain't like I can just use a M60 like a compass or whatever. It's about as useful as a hammer in a jungle."

Richards sighed, resting a hand atop the machine gun as he looked off towards nothing. "Dumb simile aside… I, uhh, think we'll just have to take some inventory for now, I guess. So!" His gaze snapped over to Jai. "What're you good at in particular, Jai? Sniping? AT?"

"I qualified as an expert marksman in the Marines," Jai explained. "You got anything that I might like, let me know."

His voice trailed off as he saw Whiplash mutter something, before turning to the young man in yellow aviators. "Whaddya think, Richards? Give him the Asset?"

"No, I'm not giving him the damn Asset, Whiplash."

"What else is he gonna use, a knife? I'd say it's poetic justice."

"It's dangerous, and you know it."

"But it's a good shot at fulfilling the Plan. All we need is your approval…"

"No means no!"

Seeing as the two were too busy arguing to help, Jai threw his hands in the air and stepped out of the armory. "Alright, I'm just gonna look around, see if any of the Items you got is worth my time."

Stepping back into the hallway, Jai sighed, then began perusing the various storage spaces and gawking at their often nonsensical and silly-sounding codenames. "Fuckin' hell."

There were all sorts of strange tools and weapons behind the wired glass in the rooms; some looked as mundane as the pistol on his hip, while others looked like a drawing from a child's diary made physical, with fittingly flowery names.

There was one room, though, that contained only a case for a rifle, and several metal boxes of ammo beside it. The room itself was unmarked and unordinary, but the plaque by the door spelled out an ominous name: "THE ASSET". Below the plaque, a warning; a yellow triangle symbol with a black eye in the middle stared back at him.

Jai felt a presence behind him, and looked over his shoulder to see Mira beside him again. "You know, I didn't mean that last remark, Jay."

"I thought you weren't gonna talk to me no more," Jai cocked an eyebrow, fully facing the woman. "What happened to going home, too?"

"Well, truth be told…" She smiled. "I'm not gonna walk 500 miles just to get to Salisbury, wherever it is in relation to us. Might stick around some, before you go off to kill Hudson."

"So, you changed your mind."

"You could say so."

"Hmm." He nodded slowly. "Well, that's good, I guess. I'm gonna keep movin', that thing's giving me bad energy."

As he turned the corner, though, his nostrils were suddenly bombarded with a flurry of scents that he recognized immediately. Jai's eyes widened as he jogged down the hallway, his nose leading him down the center of a T-shaped passage that led to another large room.

"The hell's that?" He sniffed the air and stared at the door, where the smell seemed to be originating from. "You smell that, Mira? It's like… I can smell my home, my momma's cooking, the jungle, death…"

"What are you smelling?" Mira scrunched up her nose. "All I smell is wood, vanilla, and mowed grass."

The two looked at each other for a moment, then down the corridor they had come from. They saw Whiplash and Richards approaching the former only looming above the two as the latter stepped forwards.

With a dramatic pause, Richards gestured to the door. "That… would be HALMAS."

"HALMAS?" Jai tilted his head.

"Hallucinogenic Memetoamnestic Substance," the scrawny man explained. "Essentially a reverse amnestic — a mnestic, if you will — uh, that the original members of Mobile Task Force Alpha-1 used for 'tactical circumstances,' you see. The reason you are recalling smells from the past is because mnestics directly target the user's memories, uhh, giving you near-total recall and perception far beyond human capability."

"The hell's all that supposed to mean?" Jai asked. Admittedly, he was too daft to figure out what that meant.

"Back when the Insurgency split from the Foundation, a number of us stole the substance you're smelling right now," Whiplash explained. "They realized that HALMAS not only gives us the ability to clearly perceive the past, but also the future. In the right dosage, HALMAS enhanced subjects' information retention, induced clairvoyance, and even prescience."

"You're telling me I can see the future with this stuff?" Jai scoffed. "Why haven't we been using this, then?"

"Because it's been discontinued. It's dangerous, and it's expensive." Whiplash added. "Getting exposed to a cognitohazard while on HALMAS can irreversibly alter a person's mental state, rendering them totally compromised. Not to mention, a gram of this stuff costs a fortune to develop. We don't exactly make it anymore."

Jai stopped to think for a moment as the doors sheathed open.

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