Chapter 260 Resolution
“How are you even alive!? This doesn’t make any sense!” Alan put a hand to his head, his face contorting as the whites around his steel grey eyes reddened and watered. “I must be in a dream. Yeah, a nice dream for once, after busting my balls off repairing and wiring and taking care of the old man…”
“Calm down,” said Aldrich. “Let’s take this slow. What do you know about what happened to us?”
Aldrich gently put pressure down on Alan’s shoulder, getting him to sit down. Alan slumped into his chair and took in a deep breath. He closed his eyes, took a few seconds, and then, when he opened them, his face was fine.
A tiny wet trail from a single half formed tear trickled slowly down his face, flowing fast from all the grease and oil caked on the skin.
“Sorry,” said Alan. “Really, I’m sorry about that.” He took the chunky bolter pistol on the table and stored it in a shelf. “I don’t usually get like this…all in a wreck, all worked up for nothing.”
“Not nothing. Elaine meant a lot to you. Just like she did to me. That’s not nothing,” said Aldrich. He sat down as well, taking a creaky seat in front of Alan. Because of how much larger Aldrich had gotten, he barely fit in the chair, but he managed by leaning forwards.
“Right. She sent videos of you, you know, you and Adam. Every week or so, just to let us know she’d made friends and that she was doing well,” said Alan. “From what she told me, I thought she was happy. She seemed to be on track to graduating and getting her license. AA technos get paid well – she was so excited to bring us back some money.”
“Us – where are the rest of you?” Aldrich looked around, seeing nothing but the messy innards of the workshop where tools and half built machine parts and whirring engines and cybernetic metal shells lay scattered but not the two other apprentices under Randall that should have been here.
“Oh, Sarah and Amhed? They both dipped out a while ago,” said Alan. “When the old man’s Waste Lung got too hard for them to deal with and the customers stopped coming in.”
“But you stayed?”
“Yeah.” Alan put his hands together, staring at them, at the cracks and old scars and calluses that stood as testament to all he had built and repaired. “Randall took me in when I was nothing but a shitty little scrapper stealing things in free cities. Would’ve probably gotten taken out to the back of some seedy building and shot if he hadn’t.
I owe him a big one. I owe him everything I know. I couldn’t just leave him.”
“Elaine did always say you were the best here,” said Aldrich. “She said you had the skills to make it in a chop shop in a proper tiered city.”
“She said that?” Alan’s face brightened up for a brief moment before he shook his head. “She always exaggerates things. I’m not like her. I’m no genius.
I can deal with most cybernetics, but a chop shop in a walled city? You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that’ll take a dirty old nomad like me.
Why do you think I’m out here in the edge districts where hookers and junkies come to keel over and died? Because nobody, not even here in this shitty tier 3 city, wants to hire me.”
Alan looked up at Aldrich. “But you must know a thing or two about that. You, Elaine, and her other friend, Adam, all three of you were powerless, weren’t you?
Must have gone through a hell of a worse time than me, people looking down at you like you’re just old trash waiting to be cycled out of the system.”
“It’s just something we had to learn how to deal with,” said Aldrich.
“Yeah, I figure.” Alan scratched his dirt stained grey hair. “Anyway, Blackwater sent us a message when you all died. Said that you guys wandered too far from the compound and got eaten up by variants.
No bodies, nothing left to send, nothing left to bury.
Just a shitty little fifty thousand credit compensation fee.
We tried to ask for your belongings, but Blackwater said they had to lock that shit up too, that it was technically their property.
Fuck those slimy bastards.”
“Do you want to hear what actually happened?” said Aldrich.
“Sure as hell I do.”
“It isn’t pleasant. Are you sure?”
“Hit me. I can take it.”
“We were all killed in cold blood. Blackwater covered up our deaths. Why they confiscated our property, well, I’m going to get to the bottom of that soon.”
Alan stared at Aldrich with wonder. Then how are you alive? And who are those two behind you?”
“The two behind me, well, that’s difficult to explain, so I won’t get into it. Just know they’re my allies,” said Aldrich. “As for how I’m alive…that’s also hard to get into.
I’d prefer not getting into it at all.
Just know I’m dedicated to taking down Blackwater.”
Alan spoke firmly. “I can’t let you see the old man unless you tell me something that’ll convince me you’re you. You could be someone with a shapeshifting power.”
“Thought you might get suspicious.” Aldrich reached into his cloak and took out a chip from his suit pocket. “Here. Plug that into your body port.”
“Let me scan it first.” Alan took the little golden chip and held it up to one eye. The pupil narrowed and whirred and clicked, revealing that it was in fact cybernetic. “Nothing wrong with it. Alright.”
Alan put the chip into a rectangular opening in his wrist. His eyes started to glow as he processed the contents of the chip. His mouth opened in surprise. “These…these…”
“Yeah,” said Aldrich simply. Those were recordings from the shared server Aldrich and Elaine had. There, they recorded moments they had together. Combat exercises, experiments with upgrading their Frames, birthdays, pranks, gaming milestones, and the like. “That’s stuff from the server I shared with her. You need proper biomarkers and mind signatures to access it.
A shapeshifter can forge fingerprints, but a mind signature’s unique to every brain – you can’t forge that.”
Alan sat still in silence, taking in the recorded moments. He smiled. “Atleast…atleast she was happy. Truly happy. I always thought in those video chats with us, she was just faking it for our sakes.”
“Keep the chip. Both you and Randall. It belongs to you two just as much as it did to me,” said Aldrich. “Reach the end of the files there. And be ready. It isn’t pleasant.”
“Alright.” Alan concentrated for a few seconds, his mind navigating the tech. His face showed surprise at first, then, after a minute, anger, his lip twisting into a snarl as he put a fist to the worktable.
Alan had found the last recording Elaine had taken. The one she had threatened to release before they all died. “Those bastards! That’s…that’s how they killed you all? Like that!? Just like that!?
Put down like dogs!?
I swear, when the old man’s passed, I’m going to hunt them all down-,”
Aldrich shook his head. “No need. Every single person you saw and heard in that recording, everyone directly responsible for killing us – they’re all dead.”
Randall blinked. “What? How?”
Aldrich’s eyes flashed green, his gaze narrowing. “I killed them all. I hunted them down. So you don’t have to.”
Alan shrank back in his chair, fearful, knowing full well the glint in Aldrich’s eyes, one of pure determination seeped in killing experience, did not show a single scrap of falsity.
It was also a stare that made Alan more than aware that he should not be questioning it. That it was backed by many, many deaths.
“And Blackwater as an organization is next,” finished Aldrich. “Rest assured, if it’s vengeance you want, it’s what you’ll get.”
“I’ll come with you for it. There’s more meaning in it if I join in as well” Alan fumbled for the bolter pistol under the table.
“No you won’t. I’m not storming Blackwater the moment I leave this place. And besides, I won’t have the blood of Elaine’s family on my hands,” said Aldrich.
“I can handle myself!” said Alan.
“Even if you could, I wouldn’t let it happen. That’s another thing I came here to talk about. I’m taking this shop over. I’m going to give you two a space to work with that’s safe. Randall will get the best care credits can afford. I know there’s an experimental cure for Waste Lung out there too.”
“Wh-what? With what money? With what influence?” Alan stared at Aldrich in disbelief, but when he saw Aldrich’s dead serious expression, he knew there was only truth there. “You’re actually serious?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry to say, but you don’t have a say in it either. The moment I revealed myself to you was the moment you worked for me. Don’t worry, though, I haven’t been called a terrible boss yet,” said Aldrich.
Alan looked puzzled at first, then excited, then, something hit him, a wave of negativity that brought his lightening spirits dead down, his stare dragging to the table, his head shaking.
Aldrich furrowed his brow. “What?”
“Credits won’t save Randall. Care…care is all we can give him. Cure? At this point, there is none,” said Alan. He stood up. “Here. I’ll show you into his room.” He looked at Valera and the Chrysalis and tried to smile. “You two coming? I promise I won’t go grabbing bolters and lashing out and whatnot.”
“You had better not lest you value your life, threatening my dear like that,” said Valera.
“Huh?” Alan blinked.
“She’s joking.” Aldrich shooed Alan forward.
“I am not-,” began Valera, and Aldrich gave her a look that got her quiet.
“O-okay.” Alan walked down a corridor, lifting his legs up high to dodge odd bits and pieces of metal and parts here and there.
As Aldrich followed, he turned back to give Chrysa a pat on the head. “Are you okay?”
“Mhm,” said Chrysa. “The grey man scared me for a moment, but I realized he was just being sad. He’s a good person, isn’t he?”
“He is,” said Aldrich.
“Then we save him? Fight for him? Like heroes?”
“Heroes don’t always have to save and fight and do all that big stuff,” said Aldrich. “Sometimes, just helping is enough. That’s what we’re doing now.”
“We’re here,” said Alan at the end of the corridor. It was completely dark here, even the dim lights from before shut completely off. “Sorry that it’s lights out. Randall doesn’t like light. He spends most of his time sleeping, anyway.”
“We’re used to the dark,” said Aldrich.
Alan nodded. He slowly turned the doorknob of a beat up, spark scorched door. A door that must have seen decades of repairing and welding and torching across the years now left alone in the dark.
Aldrich could see Randall’s body even before he went into the room with his[Death Sense]. It looked like a glowing green silhouette. A frail, thin, small things, crumpled up and wasted away so much it was hard to believe it was even human.
Valera, too, grimaced, smelling impending death in the air.
“Someone’s hurting…” said Chrysa, she too having some form of ability to sense death. Perhaps from melding with Aldrich?
The door opened. Alan stepped through and held it open.
Inside, it looked just like a hospital room. Randall’s stick-figure like body, the skin all darkened and wrinkled and wasted away, lay atop a queen sized white sheeted bed that seemed to utterly dwarf him, as if at any moment, the bed could just snap up and devour the deteriorated old man whole.
Beeping from life support machines and the rhythmic ebb and flow of ventilator assisted breathing sounded from a small bed in the middle of the room.
Unlike the rest of the shop, this room was completely clean, wiped down and mopped to a sterile shine.
Alan noticed Aldrich glancing at the floors. “I try to keep this place as clean as possible. Don’t want the old man catching anything.”
Aldrich nodded. He came over to the edge of Randall’s bed.
Randall’s sunken in black eyes looked like little dots as they stared up at Aldrich.
Alan pulled up a few rolling seats for Aldrich, Valera and Chrysa by the bed. He put a comforting hand on Randall’s shoulder and asked, “Old man, you have visitors. You remember Elaine’s friend? Aldrich. This is him.”
Randall blinked. His hands trembled but the rest of his body did not move – that was the extent of how much he could move. Waste Lung did not just destroy the lungs, it eventually poisoned the entire body, disabling the connection between nerves and the brain.
Cruelly, the brain was the last to go, some scientists theorizing that it was because aside from the Alter Organ, the brain held the highest concentration of Ether energy.
But because the brain lasted, sufferers of Waste Lung were conscious until the very end of their ever decaying lives.
“I remember.” A synthetic voice chimed out of a screen jacked into a body port on the back of Randall’s head, translating his thoughts into spoken word.
“It’s the first time I’m getting to see you, Randall,” said Aldrich with a respectful nod. “I heard a lot about you from Elaine.”
“How are you alive?” said Randall, getting right to the point. “Is Elaine alive?”
Aldrich motioned to Alan to bring out the chip. “Can he handle this?”
“His mind’s still there, even if his body’s like this,” said Alan. “And Randall’s tough. Always been tough.” He took the chip and inserted it into Randall’s wrist port. “These are recordings that Elaine took in Blackwater.”
“Take your time looking through them. It’s my attempt at giving you closure. In the end, you’ll see how she died. How we all died,” said Aldrich, not sugarcoating his words.
Randall did not react. His beady black eyes glimmered with a faint glow as he sifted through the recordings. Slower than Alan; Randall took more time to enjoy each and every moment Elaine had saved.
The elderly man’s eyes glistened, tears flowing freely, pattering into growing splotches on the bed.
“Can we help him?” said Chrysa, worried.
“We are,” said Aldrich. “That crying-it’s the good kind.”