Chapter 111 - The Monster in the Lab

Academician Roste’s laboratories and test rooms were sealed behind an iron door only Roste and his director could open. It was among the more secure areas in the whole of the wastelands, adding a patrol or soldiers opening and the closing the door constantly would only detract from that. As such, besides scientists who remained in the labs full time, there was no need for internal security.

Cloudhawk slipped past the heavy iron door without any trouble with the help of his invisibility cloak. From there the rest was easy. He followed Hellflower’s directions to the specified lab, located Chimp’s safe and slipped the data back inside using his keys.

Hellflower had taken a great risk to steal this information. It had to be valuable. And yet, few precautions seemed to be taken to keep it safe. Wasn’t that careless?

In fact, in all of Blackwater Base only the Academician could understand the ancient texts. Besides him only Hellflower knew where his notes were kept, and the key to it was held tight by the lab’s director under normal circumstances. Both its contents and location were quite safe, for even if others knew where and what these notes were, who could understand them? Why should Roste risk revealing its importance by posting a guard?

What’s more, Academician Roste was a man rich in self-confidence. As far as he was concerned there was no one alive who could crack his research!

The scientists in this base could study half a century and still have no hope of grasping what he knew. Roste was a singular talent, unique throughout the wasteland. He’d spent his life researching these old technologies, so in the unlikely event someone got their hands on his notes and understood them, it was exceedingly unlikely they could do anything with the information.

Cloudhawk made sure the safe was securely closed.

The safe’s door fit flush against the wall, it was only visible if you knew where to look. He’d had to push aside two bookcases which further hid its location.

She sure as hell owes me one. What sort of favor can she offer?

Cloudhawk was careful to replace everything precisely as it was before he arrived out of habit. It was unlikely anyone would notice, but he’d become more cautious lately. He didn’t want to leave any opportunity for trouble.

He left and carefully locked the lab door behind him. The whole process was done without leaving a trace.

Cloudhawk was proud of himself. His first clandestine mission and he nailed it. Sneaking around would have earned him a decent living – it was a shame he hadn’t picked the life of a thief.

At any rate, once he got to the elysian lands he would be fine. Between the Bloodsoaked Queen’s recommendation and his trophy from the body of the demon he would live a life of luxury, no doubt about it. His pilfering skills would go unused.

Such were the lofty thoughts that swam through Cloudhawk’s head. He had the key to a good life, but the question was whether he’d live to enjoy it. Currently he was locked in Blackwater Base, a heavily fortified modern fortress with one way out, guarded by a heavy minigun and surrounded by a deadly bog. Escape didn’t seem possible. He was too weak to fight his way out, too. The problem was enough to give him a headache.

Such horseshit!

Whatever the case, right now the most important thing was to protect himself.

In the same vein he realized that an opportunity like the one he found himself in was rare. Since he already had access to the secure laboratories, why not take this chance to have a look around? So little was known about the Seekers, they were more mystery than anything else. Perhaps there was some intelligence he could uncover that could give him a measure of control over his situation.

He stood among their most secret areas. There were scores of research papers, medicinal concoctions, weapons schematics and whatever else. None of that interested him, though. He couldn’t understand any of it if it bit him in the ass. Ignoring all of the documents he wandered on, in search of something he could recognize as helpful.

He snuck down the hallways, careful to avoid the areas where work was being done until he ultimately reached a room completely different from the others. When he pulled the door open Cloudhawk was met with a shocking sight.

Rows upon rows of tanks with metal shells were scattered around, arranged around pipes that continuously dripped some unknown fluid. Although the containers were iron many were covered with rust. The whole room smelled strange, chemical.

Cloudhawk approached one to get a better look. It was about twice his size and had a viewing port. He pressed his face to the glass and inside he saw it was filled with a green liquid. Small bubbles rose through it toward the surface. He wiped the glass to try and see more clearly.

“Ah!”

A face suddenly appeared through the fluid of the tank. It was a man, naked as the day he was born, suspended in the tank. He was completely submerged in the strange fluid and his long hair floated through it like kelp. His eyes snapped open and looked straight out through the glass toward the masked stranger.

Cloudhawk was so frightened he threw himself back and fell hard on his backside. He scrambled away until his back was pressed against a corner.

What the ever loving fuck was that?! A living specimen? Or something else?

Cloudhawk took a few moments to settle his breathing. The tanks were definitely closed tight and whatever was inside couldn’t get out. Standing up he peeked into several more tanks to see that they were also filled, but not with people. They were mutated monsters, captured in dozens of tanks situated around the room.

He knocked on the glass. No response. Next he kicked a tank’s metal casing, still nothing.

Cloudhawk worked up a mouthful of saliva and spit. This fuckin crazy old man, what the fuck is going on? Is he growing these freaky things? Cloudhawk continued to curse the Academician but knew he shouldn’t stay. He slipped out of the room as silently as he’d entered.

He wandered past a few more doors before coming across a room full of cages.

Hundreds of mutated creatures were locked up inside, and each one languished in their prisons. Suffering. He walked past them but none so much as lifted their head to acknowledge his presence.

They were big and strong, but it was clear they’d been bred for generations in captivity. These mad scientists were injecting them with drugs to stimulate mental development and increase the rate of their mutations. Survivors of lethal and crippling experimentation, these monsters endured unthinkable torment every day. No wonder they seemed so lifeless.

As he passed the dire rat cages Cloudhawk suddenly stopped. There were about ten of them in the cage, and they all had the same appearance and bearing. It was one he recognized, exactly the same as the rat king he’d encountered months ago. The one he saw in the experiment room when he first arrive was in the process of transformation, so these had to be the finished product.

Cloudhawk was sure of it. Those rats that nearly put an end to the Tartarus mercenaries had come from here!

Weren’t these the rat king’s brothers and sisters? He remembered the strength of that creature and shuddered in fear. Ten of them fighting together was a terrifying thought.

The royal rats sensed that someone was standing nearby. They opened their eyes and glared at him with beady, cold orbs. Their gaze made him shiver, filled with calm and loathing. It was a look he was only accustomed to seeing from humans.

Cloudhawk felt his hair standing on end.

Super rats were unsettling enough, but there were cages upon cages stretching through the room, each one with ten or more different sorts of monsters. Every one of them had been brutally mutated and even given intellect! If one day these creatures escaped it would be a catastrophe. Hundreds of them, so strong the thought of them running free was horrifying.

One day these freaks would be free to terrorize the wastelands and that nightmare would be realized. Mad experiments had made them impossibly strong and cruelly gave them intelligence. A disaster waiting to happen!

Cloudhawk hadn’t recovered from the shock when he heard a sound coming from down the aisle.

Splat!

It sounded like a slab of meat striking the wall. Based on the blood-curdling wails, it sounded like one of the mutated beast. Strange, would any of these creatures have the will to fight?

Cloudhawk slowly picked his way down the lane to have a look. When he reached the dim area near the far wall he saw the outline of a burly figure kicking a hundred pound panther against the wall. The strength of it was hard to believe as it tore the massive predator apart.

Such terrifying strength!

Cloudhawk didn’t know what these panthers were capable of, but they had to far surpass the likes of any dire rat. Despite that whatever monster this was shattered its bones with its powerful kicks.

The panther lay on the ground like a pile of refuse.

The lumbering figure, seemingly incapable of holding itself back, lunged down and clamped its mouth on the panther’s throat. As the skin tore the mysterious beast drank deeply of the hot, fresh blood. Its victim struggled feebly but to no avail, in half a minute the panther was drained dry.

Still the dark figure was unsatisfied. It ripped open its flesh and tore at the organs within, stuffing the bloody meat into its mouth with relish. It ate quickly, as hungry as a dozen starving refugees.

Whoever it was ate these creatures alive. Who the hell could they be?

After sizing it up Cloudhawk figured the silhouette was roughly the size of Hyena. Could this be him? He’d spent some time with the Seeker and though the man had the strength of a wild animal he was usually calm and collected. He didn’t think Hyena could have such a vicious, bloodthirsty streak.

Beasts were beasts. It didn’t matter how they hid or pretended, a monster couldn’t change its nature! Even if you cloaked it in a human’s skin.

The man-shaped beast stopped its gruesome meal suddenly. It seemed to have caught a scent, and a dangerous growl issued from its throat. Its powerful legs shot out and the beast bound like an arrow toward its target.

The snooper was nowhere to be found.

Looking left and right the monster searched with a puzzled expression. Blood dripped from its maw onto his bare chest. Half his body was unclothed and drenched in fresh blood. Razor sharp teeth peeked from behind its lips as it gave a wolf-like snarl, and glowing jasper eyes hungrily glared all around.

Cloudhawk slipped out of the lab, shuddering and gasping for breath. His stealthy excursion was draining, especially consider the danger he’d just desperately escaped.

It was dangerous, but revealing!

That blood-drinking horror was almost certainly Hyena. He was the only one who could kick the life out of such a powerful wasteland beast in one blow.

It was perfectly normal to find beasts in the wastes that ate its prey alive, Cloudhawk had witnessed it plenty of times before. But the expression he saw on the monster’s face was different. Down here in Blackwater Base they weren't starving, so he had to want to eat raw flesh. It was like he’d lost control, and for a moment gave in to the beast.

Odd did not begin to describe it.

Cloudhawk wasn’t eager to be Hyena’s next meal. There was still much for him to do.

Although the Academician hadn’t spelled it out, and although Hellflower hadn’t revealed anything to him, Cloudhawk was beginning to guess what they were planning to do to him. He had to find the key, something that would make it all clear.

Eventually a smile crept onto Cloudhawk’s face. He plucked the string of keys from his pocket and chuckled dryly. They belonged to the Academician’s right-hand man, the lab’s director had to know plenty. He was faced with an opportunity, and that creepy bastard deserved a little bad luck.

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