System Shock 2: Cortez - By: Tristan Palmgren

UNN Von Braun
July 21st, 2114
64 Trillion Millions from Earth, near Tau Ceti V
Deck 5, Recreation

"Delacroix? Is that you? Itís me Cortez! Iím still alive!" I pounded enthusiastically on the fogged window looking out of the Deck 5 Crew Quarters. Another human being, not affected by thoseÖ those things! We may make it to the Deck 6 Escape Pods yet!

"Weíre still alive!" I repeated, "but we need help. Weíre trapped in here, and we canít find theÖ" I trailed off. The face that stared back at me through the window wasnít a familiar one. It was human all right, but it had been changed. This type of change I hadnít seen the Many do to a personÖ his eyes were shielded by a blast screen, there were wires that plugged into his temple. I immediately recognized them as R-Grade Cyber-modifications, the kind that have been illegal since the SHODAN incident. I remembered what the Many had done to my date, Nurse Bloome. There was no doubt the Many had a new incarnation for us.

"Hey, youíre not Delacroix!" I pointed out uselessly. "Shit!" And without waiting for a further response, I ran. Already wary for anything that may have sneaked inside while I was busy, I pulled out my pistol, and held it at the ready, then advanced towards the lift to the second level of the crew sector. Kilgalen and Pole were holed up in a room there; I told them to stay put, I had group of survivorís only pistol and clips.

I checked my belt, yes, all the clips were still there. After that encounter with the cyber-human, I wasnít about to take any chances. I havenít survived this long because I was stupid. My senses kept me alive. The same senses that were now telling me something was very, very wrong.

I was outside the room, and everything appeared normal to the eye. But to my ear, I donít know, there seemed to be something off in the background noise. Otherwise it was eerily quiet, as usual.

Keeping my pistol at the ready, I carefully opened the door. Kilgalen and Pole lay there silently. Dead, I could instantly tell. There were burn marks deep into the chests of both of them. Kilgalen had an expression of terror frozen on his face, and it looked like Pole had barely had time to react. She was face-up, with the air of stupefied surprise permanently on her once graceful face. Also, a small fire was burning the center of the two, and the nearby furniture and carpet was likewise charred with blast marks.

Protocol Droid.

I scowled darkly. I was alone now. It was just me, and the Many. I knew who was the most likely to win. At least with three of us we had a chance to make up to Deck 6, to the escape pods. Now I couldnít even attempt to leave the Crew Quarters, the entire thing was locked down. I was surprised to find that a sob had escaped my lips.

I knew something else now. When there was one XERXES protocol droid, there was another. Carefully, I stepped out into the corridor. Those dirty things. I hated them before, before they were annoying. I never expected them to become deadly.

I advanced towards the prow direction of the hallway. One step at a time, anything that movesÖ kill. However, I wasnít sure I could penetrate the armor of the droid with my standard bullets, before it detonated.

"Thatís the Tri-Optimum Way!"

SHIT!!! I wheeled around, the noise was behind me. There it was, standing innocuously at the corridor bend. Facing me with a dead and inhuman face. Instinct took over, and I pumped three bullets into before it could react. It just shook the bullets off, and began waddling towards me. "Please donít do that," it complained in a preprogrammed monotone voice. I squeezed the trigger again. Nothing happened. The droid closed to 20 feet.

Damn, out the clip was out. Furiously, I backpedaled, and tried to slam a clip into the gun. I was panicked, and it slipped out of my reach and landed on the floor. I resisted an impulse to reach down and grab it. Instead I ran around another corridor bend, while the droid continued to follow.

"Please come back here, sir!"

More collected, I pumped another clip into the pistol, and got into position. I was halfway down the corridor before the droid rounded the corner. Again I squeezed the trigger, and the welcome kickback of a bullet shot rewarded me. But again, the droid showed little reaction. I pumped off shot after shot, and then a sudden blast wave of heat hit me. I shielded my eyes from the molten metal, and felt myself slam into the carpeted floor. The barrage ended, and I felt relief, victory, at my fresh kill. I patrolled the square-pattern hall then for sometime, looking for signs of any more intruders. I was about that time that I noticed the door to the rest of the Recreation DeckÖ it was open!

I stood shock-still. Who had opened it? One of the Many? Delacroix? That cyber-modified human? There was still no sign of life below. Cautiously, very cautiously, I descended, making sure that my clip was full.

Below, there was still no sign of life. I checked my pocket, and next to my clips, I still had my Athletics sector access card. I could go and turn on the transmitter the resistance had set up there! I could warn Earth of the Many!

Full of purpose, I marched down the hall.

Back in the crew sector, (Player-Name-Here) stepped out of one of the crew doors. He thought he saw a receding foot he through the exit, but dismissed it as the workings of his very frayed nerves.

I opened up the athletics sector, then locked it behind me. I didnít want anyone following me. Pistol at the ready, I secured the locker room. It was empty.

This new course of drastic action was new to me. I was used to never acting without the consent of Kilgalen or Pole, or both. It hit me again. I was completely alone. So very alone.

I walked towards the gym entrance, where I knew anything could be waiting for me. I had purpose here. I MUST warn the Earth. Nothing can stand between me and me goal. I rounded the corner, and stopped dead. I knew I was dead. Facing me was something I had never seen before.

It was muscular. It wasÖ huge. It was what later generations would call a Rumbler.

After the quick and almost-fatal battle, after (Player-Name-Here) had killed the Rumbler and examined what remained of it, he regarded the fresh human kill with interest. The bodies he encountered werenít usually this warm. He searched the corpse, as usual, and encountered only a few broken clips. Then he moved on.


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