Chapter 127 - Pandora's Box

The news of Roste’s death spread like a stone thrown in a placid lake. Blackwater Base was flung into chaos overnight. Although they were factions opposed to Roste they had remained secret for a reason, and not just because of his cruel methods. The Academician enjoyed stellar prestige in the base, he was their foundation. No other faction could come close to the influence he wielded, and so they waited and bided their time.

When the news that Academician Roste had been slain in a fight with Hellflower and Hyena, opposition arose almost immediately. The call went up for anyone loyal to Roste to gather and vigorously oppose his murderers.

“Hellflower and Hyena are traitors!”

“They killed Academician Roste and took over his laboratory!” 

“What do you say, should we fight our way in? Should we avenge the Academician?”

“Absolutely, we can’t let Blackwater Base fall into the hands of these ambitious snakes!”

Before long hundreds of armed fighters were marching on the labs. They hoisted their weapons, firing their guns into the air and shouting. “Kill the traitors! Kill, kill, kill!”

Many of these rabble rousers were supporters of the Academician, but more still were only seeking to profit off the chaos. Roste was dead and neither Hellflower nor Hyena would escape the matter unscathed. If they could be dealt with as well there would be nothing to stop those hungry for power from reaching out to take it.

Blackwater Base was hidden in the swamp and protected by strong fortifications. It had a water purification system that would be the envy of the wastelands if anyone knew they had it. Whoever controlled this place would instantly be elevated to one of the mightiest positions in the wastes, it was a worthy question to wonder how many were tempted by the thought.

Hyena was strong, but to put it bluntly he was a well-developed attack dog and little more.

The Seekers were different from other groups as they respected scientists above warriors. Hellflower was intelligent and capable, but a woman. Even among Seekers women were largely considered without influence.

A woman’s place was on a man’s crotch, what business was it of hers to vie for power? Besides that she was an outsider and didn’t have any standing to lead. No, instead whoever was the first to take power would use her for their own pleasure, for many wanted to enjoy the woman they called ‘first of the wildflowers.’ 

The mob clamored for blood, preparing to siege the labs.

Before they could, however, the sound of angry growls rose up from all around them. Suddenly they were filled with fear as they searched for the source of the noises. What was it? How could there be wild animals here in the base? When the mob recovered their wits they saw shadows all around, just moments before a hail of bullets and arrows descended upon them.

“It’s a sneak attack!”

They stopped screaming and took up a defensive posture, but before they could gather up beasts assailed them from several directions. Brutal eyes were set in ferocious faces, which snarled and howled as they descended upon the mob.

“Shit! Mutated animals!”

“Everyone, kill them quickly!”

“The lab animals have gotten free!”

How could these men hope to stave off over a hundred wild beasts? In the space of a few moments a good number of the rioters were slain. The rest were forced to throw down their arms and surrender. A large contingent of wasteland fighters followed behind the creatures with their guns and crossbows pointed at the mob. 

One of them separated from the rest, dragging the leader of Roste’s followers along with him. He fired a few rounds into the air then spoke to everyone through a loudspeaker, “We are the Opposition, and currently our highest ranking leader is Hellflower. Roste was a narrow-minded, power-hungry despot who over the years has done much to harm our base. He has been removed by the efforts of Lady Hellflower, at the behest of the people’s wishes, for this is a benefit to all of us. Starting today Hellflower is our new leader, and anyone who disagrees is welcome to stand up and say so!”

The head of the mob whimpered in the man’s grip. “Please don’t kill me!”

His captor apparently did not hear. Pointing his gun at the piteous rioter he pulled the trigger until the clip was empty. The gun’s kickback rattled against his hand again and again, then abruptly stopped. Once he was finished the man on the ground was riddle with smoking holes.

These were the soldiers who opposed Roste, over a hundred strong. They were joined with the hundred or so creatures the Academician had tortured and prodded. Together they were a strange and formidable band. How could anyone stand against them?

“Take them all away!”

The Opposition leader’s people tied up the rioters and took them away to await sentencing. Scenes like this had cropped up several times now, but none had lasted very long or managed to achieve much.

Hellflower had been a member of the Opposition for a long time already. She didn’t share their mindset precisely, but it wasn’t long ago that nearly their entire leadership had been wiped out during their ill-fated secret meeting. Who knew how Hellflower truly felt? Roste’s efforts had saved her the work of having to deal with those old fogeys and paved the way to make her leader. Ultimately it was thanks to him that she was now master of this base.

 That group that dispersed the crowd was not the only power the Opposition had. The organization’s reach and influence was large and each one of those old scientists Roste had killed had a reputation and followers. With so much support Hellflower was able to muster a team of three hundred warriors under her command.

But that was still not enough.

Hyena and Hellflower came to some agreement, though no one knew what it was. He gathered his former supporters and convinced them to join with Hellflower as well as organizing the animals to do their bidding. In the end, with their power consolidated, those who chose to rebel were viewed as only a small and irritating part of the new climate of Blackwater Base.

When all was said and done it was Hellflower who gained the most.

After stabilizing the situation, the first thing she did was break into Roste’s secret lab, despite her serious injuries. She ravenously searched for every scrap of notes and data left behind and took them for her own.

Cloudhawk saw how she managed the situation and found her both capable and moderate. It eased his heart and he felt that Blackwater Base was in good hands. However, there was a ghost of concern when he saw how covetous she was on Roste’s work.

The Academician’s research was vast and far-reaching, from various medicines to biological mutations. This included his ultimate work he spent his life on.

Although Hellflower had pilfered and translated the key parts of his research it still wasn’t enough for her to grasp the bulk of Roste’s technique. She needed to study all of the Academician’s notes to acquire what secrets he’d uncovered.

“Hey Hellflower. I’m tellin’ you, this stuff just doesn’t seem right.” Without any particular reason Roste’s final words whispered in Cloudhawk’s mind. “I really don’t think keepin’ it will bring anything good. Better to just burn all this shit up.”

“Now you’re on about this, too?” She chuckled at him, a laugh that was charming. She was as ever a beauty that was inexplicable and just out of reach, always leaving people guessing. “I assume Roste said something to you before he died?”

Cloudhawk was insistent. “All I’m sayin’ is this stuff was created by taking countless lives and spilling a lot of blood. None of this is any good!”

“That’s where you’re wrong. In fact in my eyes knowledge is neither good nor evil. Since this research has taken so many lives, don’t we have even more responsibility to protect it? Otherwise won’t all those sacrifices be in vain? One day there will be someone else like Roste, then another.”

Cloudhawk was silent as he thought on her words. They weren’t entirely without merit.

“In this world every eventuality will have its time, it’s inevitable.” Hellflower pushed her goggles higher on the bridge of her nose. This simple motion made her seem erudite and beautiful all at once. “Mankind’s knowledge is the fuel that feeds the fires of civilization. It is our responsibility to pass on what we learn so that there is always progress. The destitution of today is because that lineage was broken. We lost our history and all the knowledge that came before us. I refuse to cast away the knowledge we’ve worked so hard to scrape together. It’s work that must continue.”

Cloudhawk wasn’t much interested in Roste’s warning before, and after Hellflower’s lofty words he paid them even less mind.

“Alright, enough about that. We have someone to send off, Hyena’s ready to leave.”

“Hyena’s leaving? Why?”

“The beasts he commands have harmed people since they were released. You know they’re wild animals, even if they’re smarter than normal. They can’t constrain their wild nature forever, and the people of the base won’t tolerate them staying. I can’t put them back in cages, so the only option is to let them leave.”

She said it calmly, but Cloudhawk suspected her intentions.

Hyena was popular in the base and the animals he commanded were a staggering force. If he remained at Blackwater Base he would enjoy a high position. However, the wolf matriarch’s death showed him that he was no longer a man. He could not control his wild brethren, and sooner or later their feral nature would lead to disaster. He made the decision to lead the intelligent animals into the wilds once he helped Hellflower take control.

“Is it safe for him to just go like this?”

“There are conditions, of course.” She shrugged and spoke nonchalantly. “They wanted the notes related to Roste’s mutation process. I’d already studied it, so I let them have what they wanted.”

This was unsettling news for Cloudhawk. She gave them this precious and dangerous material so readily?

Cloudhawk finally understood the difference between Roste and Hellflower. The Academician was responsible for incredible things, but he never released his findings into the world, not even to Hellflower or Chimp. It wasn’t that he was covetous of what he learned, but rather that he knew knowledge could be dangerous. He did not want to pass on that power to those who did not understand its implications.

For Hellflower things were different. She believed the farther knowledge spread the more meaningful it became. She felt that wider dissemination was integral. But giving this away to Hyena… somehow this felt wrong.

A hundred figures hovered around the gates to Blackwater Base. Hyena stood in the center of the crowd, his body half man and half beast. Among the beasts he did not seem the slightest bit out of sorts. Be it bearing or countenance he was just the same as the mutated beastmen around him.

Hellflower strode forward, her silvery hair dancing in the breeze. Her mouth was arched in a crescent smirk. “Where are you going to go? Is there some way I can help?”

“Thank you for your kindness, but no.” Hyena had no kind feelings toward this woman. He knew her gentle smile was just a mask. Her heart could be as black and malicious as Roste’s, and if he had any other choice Hyena would rather have nothing to do with the likes of her. “All of the wasteland is our home. I’m ready to lead my people out to create our own history.”

Hellflower nodded. “Then go with my blessing.”

Hyena nodded, then turned and lead his people out of the gates.

Hellflower watched them go with that smile still on her face. “Interesting… very interesting. They were never completed, but maybe if they were there’d be another race. A fourth race along with the gods, demons, and humans… the werebeasts!”

Cloudhawk’s face turned into a slight scowl.

Hellflower always knew the possible consequences.

He thought again about Roste’s second request; find a way to destroy all of his sordid creations. All of a sudden Cloudhawk felt like he was releasing a danger onto the world, but how could he accomplish Roste’s task on his own? He posed no threat to this new race.

But he saw it clear. This species of intelligent beast-human hybrids was a danger to the wastelands. They would grow and multiply, spreading out until some years later a new society, with its own history and goals, would emerge.

The scene today at the gates of Blackwater Base would one day find its way into the annals of history. Its consequences, however, were hard to determine. At least as far as Roste had been concerned, this was a mistake that would lead to terrible suffering.

Hyena galloped off on all fours. He and his people disappeared into the marshes.

Cloudhawk didn’t know if he’d run into Hyena again one day. If they did in some distant time, he wasn’t sure whether they would meet as friends or foes.

But for now, this wasn’t important.

He remembered something the old man once said. Here beneath the stars men were naught but dust. However much they tried, a man could only control his own life. In this twisted era no one cared for what was right or wrong.

“Come on, let’s head back.”

Hellflower lightly clapped her hand on Cloudhawk’s shoulder. She kept it there as the two walked back inside.

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RWX's Thoughts

Pandora's Box has been opened.  What are the implications for the wasteland?  Any speculation?