Chapter 3:

Ominous Space

2173: Second Akro-Mars Conflict

  I try to brush off the bad memories as the three of us slowly make our way through the dark ominous tunnels surrounding the underground of the smuggler’s base. I’m sure Claire feels the same, and surprisingly, even Franklin has gone quiet. Just outside the operational range of Akro’s defenses, I can’t help but still feel uneasy and anticipative of its dangers.
  This place feels as ugly as ever: we can see acid dripping on the side of the walls sometimes and even with our poison masks the terrible smell is notorious. Those tunnels would be pitch black if not for the light of our devices' screens, but we're trying to emit the least amount of light possible; with night vision equipment, we can have a low profile.

   We reached the tunnel system through an old secret entry on a cave close by, from there it's a walk to the newly excavated tunnel system, which would be used for a future second attempt at invading the Megalopolis.

  We were vaguing for about 20 minutes; radars and radios in hands, poison masks, and every last-generation body equipment and carriable guns we could take. I used all my savings on these.

– We better avoid a confrontation with these guys, especially outnumbered. – I said – they’re not getting ready for an invasion very soon, so we have time.
– Do we really? – whispered Franklin – I mean, if we use this time to wait for your friends and they don’t show up, we might find deep trouble…
– His friends were kind of my friends too, Franklin. – responded Claire – Ideally, we’re looking for them right now. I don’t think every single member of the organization was on par with the government…
– And I’m not sure they’ve been betrayed again, Claire – I say – the only reason our plan A depended on them in the first place is the new administration. What I think that happened was a full-blown take-over, I mean, the Federation is always going at it with the Crime Lords surrounding the city…
– But it’s too much of a coincidence, right? – Franklin says – they basically captured their ticket of entrance in this “sudden offense”
– That’s right. The Federation is most likely figuring out how to repeat our feat from 8 years ago– I inquire –, but we can only imagine their process of choosing whoever is entering...
– Ooh, the obnoxious Federation politics, right. Who do you think is leading this mission for them? Official Phillips? Captain “Crook”? – Franklin excitedly teases – Now that I think about it, we DO have time. Always in endless debates about how to screw us over, they are.

  Well, that’s pretty much what Claire told me about Franklin. She met him in Europe and told me he wasn’t the most gifted of the spies where she worked when distanced from the Akro situation, but he has a tendency to oppose authority, a virtue we really appreciate.

  And he seems familiar with the Federation’s politics, as the cousin of a mid-tier European-division senator.

– It’s a good question though, I’d like to know who we’re dealing with – said Claire – but I guess it’s the sam-
– Wait wait wait – I interrupt while receiving a very slight return on the radio – shhh...

  I walk some slow steps ahead, trying to make sense of the sound, while my companions stay behind.

– “τηε ηαωκ..”

  Oh my, this is...

– “τηε ηαωκ σεε'σ, τηε ηαωκ ηεαρ'σ, στατε ψου'ρ ρεασον'σ” – the voice asks, and I recognize it
 Taking the radio and reminiscing about my long time without using this far-fetched encoding, I respond

– Ι'μ νοτ α ηαωκ, Ι'μ α ρατ ανδ Ι'μ α υοιδ, come on Bruce, where you at?

  Franklin and Claire let out a sigh of relief.

– “It’s been a long time, my friend”