"Quickly! Get the N-Ring out of here!" A voice that strained to stay loud against the weathering effects of age blasted through the hazmat suits of every scientist on the RRF (Ring Research Floor).
"Initiating Ring Lockdown Procedure!" said Emi. She sprinted over to the main control panel monitoring the N-Ring. Flashing alarm lights on the ceiling cast a threatening red hue over the entire research floor. They were soundless so as to prevent the N-Ring from reacting too much, but the silence only made the situation that much more tense.
Emi pressed the wrist of her suit against the touchscreen. The screen read a strip of light on her suit and reacted. The images and numbers showing the ring's structure and stability disappeared.
Instead, large red letters spelling of LOCKDOWN covered the now blackened screen.
The metal tiles and panels under the N-ring's spherical container opened up, revealing a tubular pathway that led further undergone, down into the deepest depths of the vaults.
Several voices echoed through the scientists' communications.
"Energizing magnetic rails!"
"Booting anti-gravity stabilization!"
"Encasing the ring with Null-alloy shielding!"
Mechanical arms attached interlocking pieces of vantablack null-ore around the N-Ring container. The tube underneath it lit up with twin strips of light as the magnetic rail system readied.
In the span of ten seconds, everything was ready. This was technology on par with the best labs in the world, those funded directly by the Panopticon or Megacorporations. Nobody would have expected something like this to be in the desert wasteland dumps in the middle of nowhere, especially not in Meteor Labs, a research center that, on paper, focused on variant cell culture grafts - an incredibly over saturated field dominated near entirely by Sheshanaga and its heads.
The N-Ring container slid down, guided by a magnetic rail system that ensured a speedy and stable escape. It would head down to the lowest floor of the vaults, in a specially designed chamber that was, for all intents and purposes, absolutely impenetrable.
"What's the deal! What's going on?" said a scientist. "Dr. Ziegler, your orders!?"
"I am assessing the situation," said Dr. Ziegler, head of the research team at Meteor Labs. A former U.S. government researcher who was even now wanted with a bounty of 10 million credits - a 'S-rank' bounty - solely from the knowledge he had about alien technology.
His voice was aged, weak, and yet, full of strength borne from years of experience.
Dr. Ziegler swiped at the space in front of him, creating a holographic screen with his power. From it, he could interface with all the technology coded to him and modify it.
In essence, the entirety of the labs was under his control, though with his advanced age and Crystallization, not nearly at the level it had been when he used to be the A rank hero called Machine Mind.
"I see," said Dr. Ziegler.
"What do you see!? Now's not the time for cryptic one liners, old man!" said a panicked scientist. "We have to get down to-,"
The scientist's voice stopped.
"I have cut Jonathan from our communications," said Dr. Ziegler. "Panic is a disease whose spread I care very little for. Now, I will explain what we are to do.
Currently, Shuten Doji is engaged in combat against the Unbreakable."
"The Unbreakable!?" said Emi. "My dad can't handle him! He lost to him before already. He's going to die!"
"As I have stated before, I will not tolerate panic. Emi, I afford you one transgression due to your excellent work, but no more than that," said Dr. Ziegler.
Emi gulped and said nothing.
"Shuten Doji is not the same man he was five years ago, but it is undeniable that any fight against the Unbreakable is one that eventually becomes a losing one," said Dr. Ziegler. "The ether traces left by the recent geostorm have cut us off from outside communications for approximately another forty minutes.
I am seeing the battle between Shuten Doji and Unbreakable through every camera, sensor, and drone linked to this network, and my assessment is that Shuten Doji is capable of holding off the Unbreakable for that long."
"How about sending him reinforcements?" said Emi, calmer now, though there was still urgency in her voice. "We have a ton of Cyclops battle bots from ARMA. Red grade, too, best of the best. And newly upgraded just a few months ago. Those should help, right?"
"That is where a problem arises. We have been infiltrated," said Dr. Ziegler.
"Infiltrated? So the Unbreakable's attack is just a cover up? Who is it? Nomads?" said a scientist.
Dr. Ziegler looked at the screen in front of him as it flipped from outside cameras to inside ones, showing the warpath of the infiltration group. Already they had taken down one Cyclops with a high end, custom designed EMP charge. Not just that, but they were a formidable force too on their own.
"I am scanning the faces of the intruders and referencing them to a facial recognition databases." Dr. Ziegler nodded after a few seconds. "One of the attackers is Diamondback, second in command of the Spearhorns. Expected, considering the Unbreakable is here.
But the others…
There are former students from Blackwater."
"…Blackwater? What is that?"
Dr. Ziegler ignored the question. Most of the scientists here were just that: scientists. All of them knew they were working in a criminal enterprise, but beyond that, there was not a single illegal bone within them. They were here for their love of discovery and progress. And, of course, generous compensation that toiling away in government labs could simply not afford.
"Consider it like a mercenary organization," said Dr. Ziegler. He pondered this development. The Blackwater students, to his knowledge, had gone missing during the Haven raid and then turned up as allies of Thanatos.
The Trident still speculated as to how Thanatos managed to do this, but the prevailing consensus was that his abilities, once utilized on those that were dead, could allow him to freely control them.
Much like Nzambe, the S rank villain that threatened to destroy the fabric of the Pan-African Alliance a decade ago. She with her army of unending zombies had been called a 'Queen of Death', but now it seemed a king had risen to take her place.
It meant that Thanatos had started to make his move against the Trident. And there was no worse time than now.
With Thanatos housing Casimir and causing the Red Circle slaughter, it was inevitable that conflict would soon bubble.
But this was much too soon. The executives thought that Thanatos would have too much on his hands establishing his new Sentinel state to worry about the Trident.
It was why the Prongs were rapidly mobilizing to defend Blackwater until they could find a suitable techno to inherit the Machine Heart.
Or, perhaps - did Thanatos know? Was he seeking to strike while the Prongs were weakened, their forces stretched thin in Blackwater? To take the blue N-Ring during this recent inter-Trident civil war?
In any case, he knew that there giving up the N-ring now was not possible. It was one of the keys to control the world. To understand beyond this world, too.
To give it up to the hands of a megalomaniac lord of death was an utter waste.
"Stephenson. Garrick. Reed. You three come with me," said Dr. Ziegler. "Emi, take the rest of the team down to the bunker. Take refuge there and maintain diagnostics over the N-ring's condition."
"And what about you, doctor?"
"The infiltrating force is dangerous, but not outside of my scope to handle," said Dr. Ziegler. He paused as the screen in front of him showed the face of Ace. "The force was stealthed until the seventeenth floor. I wonder if they were supposed to have been stealthed all the way to here, but no matter. This gives me time to organize a most rigorous defense against these intruders."
"Doctor, why did you have us stay behind?" said Reed, a young, brilliant scientist newly graduated from one of the top variant research institutions in the United States. "And…why are we in the Biostudies Vault?"
"I've…never been here before," said Stephenson, another young, bright mind.
"It's creepy," commented Garrick, the most talented of them all, being here at the young age of seventeen.
They were in a rectangular room about as big as an empty warehouse. Instead of storage and shipping containers, there were instead two rows of cylindrical glass chambers filled with blue tinted liquid. Within them, the silhouette of various monstrous entities - variants - lay suspended in animation.
The Vaults were organized into three different storage units. One for weaponry, one for biological specimen, and another for extraterrestrial containment.
Aside from Dr. Ziegler, nobody, not even the lab staff, were allowed entry into the vaults without explicit authorization.
"I require your assistance," said Dr. Ziegler simply. Behind him, two Cyclops battle bots, each standing an imposing four meters tall with gleaming red dot eyes that fit snugly into the archetype of 'murder bot', followed behind with heavy, powerful steps whirring with hydraulics and moving machine parts.
Dr. Ziegler headed to the end of the vault where one container lay separated from the rest. Within the glowing blue liquid of this chamber, there was not the silhouette of a variant, but rather a humanoid.
"What…is this?" said one of the young researchers. They stood close to the chamber with wide eyes behind their hazmat suits, their innate curiosity stoked.
"A human specimen? Dr. Ziegler, I know we aren't operating strictly in legal boundaries, but isn't this…unethical?"
Dr. Ziegler spoke. "Prepare subject for awakening."
In response, the chamber's blue liquid lit up until it looked like a pillar of solid light, completely engulfing the specimen within.
The three researchers jumped back, but they were stopped dead in their tracks by the two Cyclops bots. The bots stood in front of Dr. Ziegler now, their twin autocannon arms aimed at the researchers.
"SUBJECT 6A IS NOT FULLY DEVELOPED," said a female A.I. voice. "IT WILL LACK A SUFFICIENTLY DEVELOPED MIND TO OPERATE WITH."
"Prepare for biomass integration."
The floor in front of the chamber, where the three young researchers stood, filled with countless glowing blue rings that swayed chaotically like distorted space.
"Dr. Ziegler!? What's going on?" said one of the researchers.
The three young scientists tried to move away only to find their feet were anchored to the ground, the blue rings wrapping around their feet in a chain link of energy that crawled rapidly upwards, attempting to enmesh them whole.
"You devoted your lives to progress. Now, you can prove that devotion to its end," said Dr. Ziegler. "Your sacrifices will provide a mind for my child. A brilliant, youthful mind."
The young scientists screamed for only a minute second before the link of rings covered their mouths, eyes, noses, everything. The rings dug into their flesh like butcher hooks before splitting them apart.
Not in a grotesque way. Rather, in a strangely clean, methodical way. It was as if the three men were made of countless little cubes, little pixels, that unraveled down into the ground as the rings pulled their biomass apart.
Where the three men stood, multiple circuit-like streaks of bright blue energy started to path upwards, into the chamber.
"BEGINNING GENESIS OF SUBJECT 6A…"
"APPROXIMATE TIME UNTIL GENESIS: 9 MINUTES"
9 minutes. Not enough time until the infiltrating force made their way down here. As things were right now, the labs were not well defended enough to withstand a task force of that caliber, especially when they could handle the Cyclops with their EMP charges.
But subject 6A, well, that was an entirely different matter.
If Subject 6A got out, then Dr. Ziegler was confident that he could repel the invaders. It would be the least he could ask for with the three brilliant young minds he had sacrificed.
Dr. Ziegler had to thank fate, if such a fickle concept even existed, that the task force had so sloppily tripped a sensor to give him the time to set this up.
But even then, it was hard to tell if subject 6A had the time to leave its birthing chamber.
Dr. Ziegler looked around, gazing at the twenty other chambers, all with variant specimen floating within them.
"Release all other specimen when I leave," said Dr. Ziegler.