The room shuddered, tossing Sian from restlessness into the waking world. His breath came in with a sharp gasp as he scanned the room. He let the air from deep within his chest cavity slowly escape before sitting up. The lights on the walls around him, as if responding to his sudden movement, slowly eased up from candlelight level, illuminating the room.
He turned, extending his feet to the warm floor beside his bed, and stood up.
“Scylla, mind telling me what’s causing all that commotion? Do you have access to surveillance just outside this room?” said Sian as he gingerly slipped a few fingers through the mane of feathers spanning from the top of his head to the back of his neck. They flung back into place, giving Sian momentary satisfaction.
The room filled with a cold green presence as the low hum of strange machinery whizzed on. “There are a few roughnecks taking part in an illegal duel in the main atrium, but other than that… oh, there is something,” said the presence, known as Scylla, in a monotone drone.
“Is there someone outside?” Sian slid an ultra-lightweight orange torso armor onto his body, and then a long, thick, drab cloak overtop that.
“Someone is. A big someone. Their goofy lumbering hinders their scariness by at least 31%, however.” Scylla’s monotony turned into a slight droll.
“Wonderful. I’ll assume he’s the one causing the banging, then?” asked Sian. His armor automatically adjusted itself to a tightness he was comfortable with, and at once a 3D holographic interface filled his view. A lumbering behemoth was displayed as it walked by one of the complex’s ceiling-mounted cameras, which was being broadcasted into Sian’s neural interface with Scylla’s help.
This one rocked Sian off his feet as he teetered into the wall. The green voice giggled. “Well, I certainly don’t think I’ve pissed anyone off lately, so I doubt he’s here for us. He could just be passing through. But, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared,” said Sian through gritted teeth, before grabbing a slim green device that contained Scylla’s core processes and shoving it into a satchel, which he outfitted overtop his cloak before throwing a hood on his head.
Sian glanced around the small room. It was a temporary single-resident occupancy customized based on the payment plan of the tenant (Sian, in this case). Any person could rent one of nearly a thousand of these identical residencies if they had the money for it. Modular residencies of this nature could be found in nearly every major locale and mass transportation station. Sometimes, they were found advertised in suspicious signs on the side of ragged roads. Sian had decided to choose the suspicious option for sleeping quarters on this night.
In case the big guy was to open the door to his abode, Sian grabbed the rest of his belongings (which wasn’t much else) and hid beside the door.
At once, a piercing alarm blared. The door to his room quickly glided open and into the wall. Outside, the tens of doors down the hallway to the main atrium opened in turn.
The room flickered, before a whoosh noise traded the holographic, augmented reality illusion of a nice residence with a disgusting bunghole. Whatever the alarm was complaining about, it must have thrown all ornamental processes off to conserve power. Refuse littered the corners, the walls immediately unveiling a gross rust-brown coating, and an exotic bug Sian had never seen before slithered over his right foot.
Sian jumped. “Gross! Scylla, did you know all this mess was here hiding in plain sight?” he snapped. The familiar green snicker washed over him once more.
Sian hesitated, realizing he hadn’t put his boots on. He had put on his gear and grabbed his equipment, momentarily forgetting his boots.
He slipped them on and tripped out into the hallway, wielding a repulsion shield along his left forearm, which could be powered on at a moment’s notice to face any opposition that might—
“Oof!” Sian was immediately bodied by the lumbering beast from the security footage.
“Oh, I didn’t warn you about the fat one. That’s unfortunate,” said Scylla. Her voice echoed off the walls. “Loudspeaker mode. My fault.”
The fat one stopped in place as Sian rose. The beast was just over three meters tall, his shoulder width easily taking up half the hallway. He didn’t seem to care about Sian bumping into him, but he did draw the line at Scylla’s verbal attack.
The fat one turned around and opened its mouth to shout obscenities. “Who are ye callin’ fat?” he belched. He was a particularly obese Cervyal local, a feline race that populated the Prydwen region along with six other species, including the avian people known as Kyrians that Sian belonged to.
This particular beast was clearly not a fan of regular exercise, except for his muscled arms, which were nearly as big as Sian’s head. “Aye, you’re the dirty Kyrian that just bumped into me! C’mere, you dead runt,” bellowed the brute, before charging at the curious speed of elevated cholesterol levels.
The lumbering Cervyal grabbed Sian by his right shoulder and lifted him up with the grip of a single paw. Around the pair, pandemonium possessed all other residents in the hallway at the same time. They stormed out of their abodes and began to go up in arms with one another.
Sian swung his legs backwards before kicking with both feet into the feline’s chest. He pushed off and swung to the left, pivoting around to the opposite side of the Cervyal’s chest. With the momentum from the jump, he whipped his left forearm down, activating the repulsion shield, which was shaped more like a blade than a shield. The spine of the shield was filled with superheated liquid tungsten, which then struck his attacker in a soft spot just below the ribs.
The giant gave a shrill yelp, letting Sian drop to the ground, unscathed. Sian turned around to escape, but was at once immersed in a viscous purple fluid that escaped from a door across the hall. It was a Qwell resident, a local amorphous race that typically coalesced into a nearly solid bipedal whole upon the cusp of maturity. Of course, there were the few rare cases caused by genetic defect where this didn’t occur, and to Sian’s luck, one of those kinds of individuals had come to play.
“Get off me, jelly brain!” hissed the Cervyal fiend, who had also been immersed in the liquefied form.
“I can’t help it! I was born this way!” said the Qwell through muffled vibrations.
Sian kicked free and out of the membrane, then fled from the action to the far, dim end of the hallway. A red light flickered as the alarm continued to blare. A half a dozen steps later, and Sian found himself face to face with a small underpaid security detail, who were armed with shock batons to quell the confusion of prison-riot magnitude.
“Return to your residence or we will engage with force against you!” shouted one of the lead security members. In a swift move, Sian ducked and slid to the left, before regaining his bearings and jumping straight back into the liquefied form.
“This sort of thing should be illegal,” murmured the Qwell as Sian swam through to the other side, and then out again. Up ahead, the hallway continued until it met a vast mezzanine which wrapped around the interior of the complex’s main atrium.Artificial daylight spilled into the hallway and covered the entire atrium. The light attempted to mimic more than daylight, as it was paired with the broadcasted sounds of nature. This was in stark contrast with the shrill wail of the alarm.
Sian weaved in and out of the traffic of various bedraggled residents and made it to the mezzanine, where he peered down a few stories to the main level. The roughnecks that were previously fighting on the ground floor were now being handled by a security detail that slipped small yet heavy duty restraints around their wrists.
“Scylla, do you have any information on what’s going on here?” asked Sian as he coughed up violet mucus from the Qwell incident.
“There appears to have been a breach in the main lobby. If there are any hostile entities entering the complex, I haven’t been able to track them,” responded Scylla in a firm tone.
Sian wondered who would breach such a low-importance building such as this. New Mount Hedara, the shipbreaking village that Sian was staying in, definitely had a reputation for being host to illegal activities. But only a fool, or a layperson, would engage in those activities inside a place as well surveilled as this one.
Regardless, several nasty scenarios played in Sian’s mind as he tried to shed light on what would cause this. One of these scenarios was the thought of Lord Bryn, his former employer, sending a squad of his finest pirates to convince Sian to come back to him.
Another was the thought of amped up military police coming by to run a highly dangerous but absolutely warranted search on a high-priority suspect in the area. This didn’t disclude the potential for the military police’s T.H.R.E.S.H.E.R program to swing by and instill fear into potentially criminal citizens. This would occur in the form of a shady attack on the premises, including the use of mass production killbots to track down and apprehend miscreants.
Sian definitely dabbled with one of the more unsavory of crowds, so that fear could very well be justified.
Sian descended into a ghastly tremble. “Scylla, there’s no way this could be the Verdant, could it?”
“I wouldn’t rule it out. Anything’s possible. It would certainly explain why there is an overt breach, but nothing that points to a cause. If this is another run-in with the Verdant, then I wouldn’t rely on the luck of the draw to keep you safe,” giggled Scylla. This was not a laughing matter. But Sian flashed a sharp grin in reply.
Of all potential scenarios that played out in his head, the re-emergence of the Verdant was certainly something that Sian would have no difficulty getting caught up in once again. The grin on his face morphed into the gritting of his teeth, and Sian tightly gripped the copper railing at the edge of this level of the mezzanine.
The squeal of the alarm behind him, and the beat of forest animal mating calls in every other direction, continued to battle one another over the crescendo of tenant commotion. Sian, wanting to find peace of mind in this auditory onslaught, gazed upwards to the top of the atrium, where the rays of artificial sunrise peered down to fill his vision.
As he closed his eyes, the world turned black.