KATIPO I: Restart: Part Six
Her footsteps fall light in regret. She’s tasting her mistakes on the back of her tongue. All she can do to keep the shame from bursting through her ribcage is cross her arms and count her steps — three, four, five, six...
Even through the thick steel that now smothers her prisoners, she can hear the cries for help. Maybe it’s all just in her head, or maybe her ears are more sensitive than she remembered, but regardless, it’s there. She can hear it clattering like weapons of war; echoing like castle bells. So she quickens pace — sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen...
She rounds a corner, but she can still hear it. She continues down the hall, but she can still hear it. She enters AJ’s office, but she swears she can still hear it...
But all he hears is her entrance. “You took care of them?”
And the only answer she can muster is, “I thought you cared...”
The blue Eyrie before her stays silent, and though Tatum doesn’t want to, she raises her eyes to see what he is doing.
The answer is, currently, nothing.
The dull claws of his right hand tap anxiously against the panels of useless metal that line the surveillance screens viewing the room within which his “guests” now lie trapped — panicking. Tatum can’t see his eyes, but she’s almost positive that, if she could, they would read... confusion. Sympathy, maybe. Perhaps even apology.
But he’s been practicing how to put all of those useless emotions off for years.
AJ sighs, then he balls his hands into fists — drags his claws across the chrome — then finally spins on his heels to meet Tatum’s troubled gaze. “Used to, Tate,” he says, trying to fake calm — to fake confidence. “That was a long time ago.”
Tatum meets his eyes. She can tell that he wants to look away, but he somehow manages not to. “Not all that long,” she says, suddenly needing to sniffle back some nascent emotion she can’t quite place yet. “They still remember.”
AJ’s eyes narrow. “So?”
“You should have heard the way she... spoke.”
“I don’t care.”
“How can you be so positive?”
And this is when he starts a menacing approach.
Tatum takes a single step back, more reflexively than defensively, but then she holds her ground. AJ’s footsteps fall heavy. The metal floors clang! clang! from under his fury’s weight. “Do not question me, Tatum Xaine,” he threatens, though, again, Tatum can see in his eyes that the words are insincere — that he feels more threatened than she does in this moment.
But that just gives her hope, honestly. That just means... maybe he’ll give this all up.
She holds her silence.
And he holds his silence.
“You should let them go.”
And AJ just laughs, laughs, laughs...
But Tatum is patient, when she wants to be. She taps her toes on the floor, and she fiddles with the hem of her shirt, and her leftmost antennae twitches with her wanting to be acknowledged... but she waits.
Eventually, AJ silences his laughter — laughing, to chuckling, to humming, to nothing. He raises his eyes again. They read nothing but hollowness now. “And why would I do that?”
“Because I know that you still care, AJ,” Tatum says without a single beat skipped in her response.
The thing is, Tatum knows she has power. She knows she’s stronger than him — stronger than anyone in this alliance, even. She knows that, to some extent, even AJ fears her — fears her power, and what she could do if she got... annoyed...
But it doesn’t seem to be enough to make him listen. “Used to, Tate,” he echoes himself. “That was a long time ago.”
And she doesn’t buy it.
But he doesn’t need her to.
AJ spins around on his heels again, then shuts off the monitor — leaves his prisoners to rot unwatched. Then he turns to leave.
Tatum watches him with piercing eyes, impaling him through the back of his head with her gaze and her anger, but all she gets in response to the not-quite-an-attack is him saying a soft, secretly pained, “Give them their privacy, you know?”
And she holds herself tighter, then makes up her mind.
Sam’s tried zapping the door at least a dozen times while Riff stays curled in a ball at your feet.
You’re not sure why you’re more angry than scared, but you are. Maybe you’re just angry at yourself for falling for this now-obvious trap, but you’re purposefully trying to pin all the blame on Tatum instead. Maybe you’re angry that she was right, and you were wrong. Maybe you’re angry because you should have known better when you saw how pathetically empty this room was and how obviously useless it would be for anything other than some makeshift prison. Maybe you’re angry because the sound of Sam zapping uselessly at the walls and the blindingly bright flashes of the sparks across the ceiling and floors is making your head spin.
Eventually, though, you’re brought a little closer back to the now, and you’re able to mostly clear your mind... of all but the panic that you didn’t realise had begun nestling there. You give a furious groan — fury that you also didn’t realise had come to life — then spin around to face Sam. “You’re really not helping, Samantha,” you say, a little too snappily for her tastes.
She spins around with a feral snarl, her claws making the most horrible metallic scratching sound against the floor. “I don’t see you trying to come up with anything, Cameron,” she angrily retorts.
Riff just keeps mumbling to himself from the floor by your feet.
You lie to Sam, “What did you think I was standing around for, then, if not trying to come up with something?” You can’t quite see her in the dark, but you just know she’s got her lip curled like she does when she’s got no comeback. “Just...” Well, now the problem is that you need to come up with a quick solution. It isn’t too hard. “Just give Riff some light so he can try to get his wristpiece working again.”
“It’s not gonna work, you guys...” Riff says, his tone worryingly absolute.
But Sam doesn’t listen. It seems that her frustration is immediately redirected towards him — at his hopelessness — and she storms over to him out of spite. You can hear it — hear her stomping footsteps. She’s the only one who can probably see in this blackness, you then realise — her with her fancy Werelupe senses, or whatever.
With a few light zapping sounds a spark or two of useless static, Sam eventually conjures up a little globe of golden light, holding it above Riff’s head — to his left — and the walls shine brighter than Kreludite from all around you.
You and Sam both watch as Riff’s expression grows hopeful when the light grants him sight, confused as he taps a few more keys, then hopeless once more as nothing switches on. “How, in Fyora’s good name, did they manage to jam all of my equipment so suddenly?!” he cries when absolutely nothing turns on, his volume suddenly tripled.
Sam’s ears press back as you shift your weight — still angry, for some reason. “They must have seen something like this coming,” you mutter to yourself, but both of the others definitely heard you. Riff asks you how they could have possibly known in the same second you say that the one who closed the doors on the three of you is the alien you’d interviewed — the one who helped you find this place to begin with.
“So she led us here, then,” Sam says, her frustration redirecting itself towards you again. “And you let her...”
“Do not start with that nonsense, Sam,” you snap, raising a finger at her, forgetting for a second that the both of you are about the same build now, and you’re actually a bit taller. She doesn’t have one up on you anymore...
But that doesn’t seem to matter to her. She’s trapped, and she’s scared, and so, of course, in typical Sam fashion, she reacts with nothing but fury. “Don’t raise your voice at me!” she shouts.
And Riff groans from the floor. “Neither of you are helping!”
The energy in Sam’s hands flickers brighter. “Shut up, you’re not in on this!” she yells down at him, and he immediately recoils from her volume and aggression.
Now you’re legitimately angry. “Why are you yelling at him?!” you scold her. “He didn’t do anything!”
“You’re all getting on my nerves!” she yells back.
You turn sarcastic. “Oh, and is that helping?”
Her snarl turns into more of a roar. “Don’t talk to me like that!”
“What, you can’t handle what you normally dish out?”
“Guys, stop...” Riff suddenly sounds like he could cry.
Sam ignores him. “Don’t turn this around on me!”
“I’m not I’m just saying.”
“You are too!”
“You’re only feeling that way because you know you’re bein—!”
But your last words are cut off as something clicks loudly from behind you.
Back at HQ, Tony is about to lose his mind.
He’s been repeating the phrase “I can’t see them” under his breath for the past fifteen minutes or so — or maybe it’s been a year, or two, because that’s how long it feels — though his volume has been steadily increasing, so at this point he’s practically shouting.
Over his shoulder, Iansaari has his thick Bori nails in his mouth, biting on them nervously, sniffling and crying in fear and hopelessness. “Where are they?”
“I can’t see them...”
“Are they alive?”
“I can’t see them...”
“Can you find them? Can we go after them?”
“Blast it, Ian, I can’t see them!”
And Iansaari already has his communicator out by the time Tony’s finished shouting. “H-hello?” he stutters into the tiny microphone chip. “Hello? Yes, th-this is” — he swallows hard — tries to swallow the hopeless knot in his throat — “this is I-i-ian Saari, operative... um...”
Tony tears the communicator away from Iansaari before the blubbering Bori can get another word out. Iansaari yelps in surprise, immediately starts biting his nails again, but he’s more than relieved, honestly, that Tony has taken over — he, the communications expert.
Tony’s words are fast, desperate, and over-enunciated — he doesn’t want to have to repeat himself. “Hello, this is Tony Bianchi speaking, KATIPO operative perm ID number two-six-six-point-two, Interrogation and Investigation department number oh-oh-twelve. We have an emergency. Three operatives off the coast of Market Town have gone offline. No, absolutely nothing. Not even a light. Not even a heat signature. No. No. Yes. No...”
Iansaari’s ears droop further down when Tony is forced to hold his silence by whoever is speaking on the other line — some nameless, faceless mod who now, possibly, holds his friends’ life in their hands. Each passing second feels like another nail in his friends’ coffin. Each blink of his eyes seals their fate.
Finally, Tony breathes out something akin to a sigh of relief. “Yes, I will send you the coordinates of their mission’s location immediately. We thank you for the help.” Then he terminates the call.
Iansaari’s already back at Tony’s side by the time the Tyrannian Skeith has swivelled around in his desk chair and begun to type something up — something for the ModStation. “What’s happening?” the Bori desperately asks, grabbing onto Tony’s sleeve with his slobbery fingers. “Are they sending someone?”
Tony nods his head frantically, finishes typing, then hits send — practically punches the key. “They’re sending someone — or, uh, someones — to get them. I don’t know who, and I don’t know how, but they’re sending ‘em.”
Iansaari sniffles again, then pulls Tony’s sleeve tighter. “Do you... do you think they’re safe?”
And Tony holds his silence.
Silence in thought.
But all he can bring himself to say in the end is, “I hope so.”
You know that the sound has come from the door even before you turn to look — came from the door that had slammed shut behind you not too long ago. The light in Sam’s hands grows brighter as she turns around, still snarling, practically drooling like one of the Werelupe King’s own pack in her rage and panic — wild and ruthless, vicious and ready to maim.
You feel at your blaster again as the door behind you smoothly opens. If it were a rescue team, the door probably would have been blasted open, or battered down, or just generally opened in some aggressive manner... but it wasn’t. It opened with ease. It can’t be a rescue team...
And it’s not.
As the lights in the room flicker on once more — though the ceiling still stays shut tight from above — you see that it’s Tatum, and you practically shout, “Oh, now what do you want?”
Riff and Sam look confused, though, as they look towards the alien Aisha, then over to you in silence. It’s here that you remember they have no idea who she is. They weren’t at the interrogation, after all. They must not have seen her looming above you all as the ceiling had closed. Maybe they willingly ignored it. But, upon hearing your words, Sam suddenly starts to snarl again, and growls out an angry, “Is this the one?”
Before you answer, though, Tatum lifts her hands in surrender, showing that she holds no weapons or devices. She takes a deep breath, takes a few steps forward, then, “I promise I’m not here to do anything bad,” she says. “I just wanted to release you.”
“Oh, and we totally believe that,” Sam snaps, mirroring Tatum’s few confident steps, making the Aisha back away just ever so slightly.
Only slightly, though. Her leftmost antennae twitches, and she fiddles anxiously with her hair, and you can see in her delicate eyes that she’s a bit afraid... but she still holds her ground. Maybe she’s bluffing, but... “I’m... sorry,” Tatum says, still holding her hands up, completely beyond submissive and shy. “I tried to warn you, but you didn’t listen, an—”
“Oh, so it’s our fault?” Sam snaps again.
This time, you shush her — she wasn’t there when Tatum had called you, after all. How could Sam possibly know what she’s talking about?
You shake your head in your frustration with your colleague as Tatum simply continues. “I tried to warn you, because I can’t just not listen to AJ when he gives me orders, and... and I didn’t want to trap you, but I had to while he was there, and I did, and...” She grunts, then finally lowers her hands — slaps her palms against her thighs. “But now he’s not watching, so I can let you out. Which is what I’m doing.”
She takes only a short pause, watching Sam worriedly as the Werelupe’s growling continues to thunder. Eventually, though, she tears her eyes away from Sam’s, then turns and begins to walk away from all of you. “Just... you don’t have to believe me,” she says over her shoulder, slowing her steps, but still continuing to walk back up the stairs, “but at least get out of here. And quickly. Please stop digging around. I just...”
She suddenly looks you right in the eye.
You feel it in the pit of your stomach.
“I just... don’t want you getting hurt,” she says, then begins to speed pace again.
You try to pretend like her words don’t bother you.
Sam starts cussing under her breath as you watch Tatum’s slender figure climb the stairwell, her footfalls soft and slow. You can tell that she’s walking slower than she would be if she were in danger because she wants to give you all time to follow, and part of you still doesn’t trust her... but the rest of you does. The biggest, loudest part of you.
Riff seems completely neutral in this whole scene — he’s still sitting on the ground looking helpless — looking between you, to Sam, to Tatum’s shadow — so you address him rather than the still-fuming Werelupe. “Riff, let’s go.”
He stands quickly and eagerly, then walks briskly to your side. Sam opens her mouth, probably about to complain about how you all shouldn’t trust this alien and blah, blah, blah, but you ignore the words she hasn’t said, cutting off her sentence before she’s even started it, calling out a deliberately too-loud, “Tatum, wait up!”
You catch the Aisha’s attention just before she disappears out of eyeshot. You can see her shoulders rise and fall in a sigh of relief as you and Riff make your ways over to her side, and she turns around as you reach the stairwell’s threshold to give the two of you a very genuine, very calming smile. “Thank you.”
The three of you are about a dozen steps up the stairwell before Sam apparently decides that she’d rather not stay in your makeshift prison while the rest of you attempt an escape. You see a blinding white flash come from behind you, and feel a surge of electricity up your spine, and hear a loud crack-snap! as her magic strikes the walls — probably just a ticked-off outburst to calm herself — then you hear her claws click-clacking on the metal floors as she jogs after you.
Tatum speeds pace once Sam has finally joined your small party. “We need to move fast, or he’ll see us,” she says, now suddenly sounding desperate — maybe threatened. “I’m going to lead you three to the exit. The, uh, other exit. The one with less cameras. Okay?”
You’re already tripping over your own feet as the four of you scramble up the narrow stairwell, but you and the others all nod and mumble out affirmative yesses and okays.
When Tatum reaches the top of the stairwell — first, of course — she’s already running, looking over her shoulder and motioning with one hand for you three to follow, “Come on, come on, hurry!”
You wait at the doorway until your partners have made it safely out, then follow behind as close as you can, staying back to guard the rear, your eyes darting everywhere as you look for... whatever. You’re not sure. Just anything that could be considered a threat, you suppose. Your hand still grips your blaster. Your hair is a tangled mess in front of your eyes. Your legs feel suddenly weak with a random surging of panic, but you hurry as fast as you can.
You stay as close as possible, and the hallways turn bright to dark; chrome to steel; monitored to empty. Tatum suddenly takes a sharp right with a little gasp as one of the heavy metal doors from in front of you closes shut — slamming firmly from the ceiling to the floor — and it’s here that you realise someone has been watching you. You speed pace as best as you can as you hear doors behind you slamming, mixed with the sounds of Tatum’s panicked, “He’s seen us — hurry, come on, come on!”
Your thoughts are a mess. Your body is aching. Your throat is dry from the desperate ice in your lungs that you really shouldn’t be feeling, but is there, and is miserable.
From behind you, you hear doors slamming still — one, then another, then another, then...
Then it comes from in front of you, and you have to scurry back to avoid being crushed.
You hear Riff yelp as the door almost slams shut his tail — it cut so painfully close between the two of you — and then you hear Tatum’s panicked voice through the thick steel door — “No! Cameron, run!”
But you can’t.
There’s a slam, then a slam, then a slam, then a slam, as all the surrounding hallways close — doubly.
All, except for one.
But you dare not enter.
There’s a figure standing there, and its facing you.
Your hands trembling, you finally pull your Virtublaster from its holster, your vision hazed with nerves and sweat. You can hear Tatum and the others all pounding on the door to try to open it — screaming and calling and obviously scared that you aren’t responding.
But you can’t.
From out of the shadows, a blue Eyrie approaches — one with light blonde hair and dark green eyes. A posture that seems so familiar, but still so changed.
Your fingers are eager to pull the Virtublaster’s trigger. You’re so, so terrified.
But you can’t.
The Eyrie speaks. “I had... the worst feeling it would come down to you and me,” he says, and something about that voice...
You lift the blaster in a threatening aim. “Don’t come any closer.”
But as he reaches the full lighting of the room that the two of you now stand in alone, you can see that he just looks... pained. Heartbroken. Wounded, like a petpet in hunter’s a cage. “Do you... really not remember?” he asks. “After all of the” — he chuckles — “the little guessing games we’d played? Is this really the form that trips you up?”
And something clicks in the back of your mind.
And then it hits you.
To be continued…