Chapter 2:

An Unexpected Hero

The Legacy of Xaero: Unit 561

 A klaxon keened, waking them abruptly. Before any of them could get to their feet, contingents of Unimus soldiers entered to restrain and escort them out.

“Hey hey hey, easy on the merchandise!” Powers shouted as he was being manhandled.

“Can anyone shut him up?” Sloane whined, as a soldier roughly rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

One of the soldiers actually complied, punching Powers in the gut, making him fold over and cough blood.

“Uh, thank you?” Sloane replied. The soldier responsible grunted in response. Hunter and the other imprisoned soldiers rolled their eyes in exasperation.

Their captors escorted them out of the cell and into a large atrium filled with other prisoners. Overseer Ascee observed them all from a raised balcony, his expression revealing nothing. Behind him, a bound captive with their head obscured by a bag writhed.

Soon enough, the doors closed on them all, and their restraints unlocked.

“I hope you all enjoyed your first night,” the Overseer boomed. “I will confess, I didn’t think any of you would take me up on my offer. It warms my circuits that you fleshies are every bit the uncultured and destructive primitives I was lead to believe.”

“Sounds like he enjoys hearing the sound of his own voice,” Mareel murmured. A few others chuckled and muttered their agreement.

“But we have had our first determined soul murder his squad in the waning hours of last night.” Ascee continued, pulling out his captive compatriot and removing the bag from his head. “And I feel compelled to congratulate Private Alan Jenkins for his bravery.”

“Murderer!” Someone shouted from the crowd.

“Traitor!” Another bellowed.

The Overseer’s grin grew as a few souls continued to voice their outrage.

“He’s trying to divide us against each other,” Mareel whispered to the rest of them. “Don’t listen to it.”

“Sarge, Jenkins killed his own team!” Sloane protested.

“And you think he deserves death because he wanted to believe the Overseer’s lies?” Hunter interjected. “The man set honey and you’re upset a fly took the bait. He may be guilty, but he deserves to be tried by the judicial council, not by a mob.”

“I… R-right.” she muttered, at a loss for words.

Above them, Overseer Ascee had pushed Jenkins halfway over the balcony’s railing as more prisoners began to grow enraged at the sight of him. He was clearly enjoying the outrage he had manufactured against them.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to ensure your safe return home, Jenkins!” He exclaimed with relish, barely maintaining the charade of concern for the soldier’s predicament. “Perhaps it will be better if I deliver you to these understandably upset soldiers for what you’ve done?”

“Please, don’t!” Private Jenkins screamed. The fear in his voice was palpable. The Overseer’s grin grew wider as he pitched the soldier down and back up. “I did what you asked! I did everything you asked!”

“He’s gonna drop him!” Henderson yelped. Without saying anything else, he and the rest of the squad began to fight their way to the spot beneath Ascee and Jenkins, leaving Hunter and Sloane to reluctantly follow behind.

“Fragging your own teammates would be considered an offense meriting capital punishment, Private.” Ascee continued. “And I think my arm is getting too tired to even contemplate filling out that kind of paperwork.” Once more, the overseer pretended like he was about release Jenkins to fall to the crowd below.

“Do you really think we’ll be able to beat back everyone here?” Hunter asked as he and Sloane caught up with the rest of their squad. “I hate to say it but the poor kark is probably gonna die.”

“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it,” Henderson snarled as the rest of them were doing began to do their utmost to secure a safe perimeter below Jenkins.

Before the Overseer could drop Jenkins, the strangest thing happened. A bolt of plasma shot past Ascee’s head, nearly searing his hair. Its impact against the wall silenced the rioting prisoners, drawing everyone’s attention towards the end of the catwalk, where Doctor Sylvia Rosette stood, a child in her left hand and a still smoking wrist mounted plasma gun on her right.

“Sir, will you kindly please stop meddling with the prisoners?” She asked bluntly. “This isn’t your personal jungle gym where you can throw your weight around.”

The overseer’s smile transformed into a ferocious snarl as he exchanged glances with his chief scientist. “You don’t have the authority,” He spat. “This is my prison!”

A pair of guards appeared from the other side of the catwalk to stand by Ascee, plasma guns pointed towards the scientist. To her credit, the doctor refused to back down to her superior. “And they’re my experiments,” She barked back, taking a step forward. Her gun whistled in anticipation as she aimed directly for the Overseer’s head. “Your job is to make sure they don’t escape. My job is to collect data for His Majesty. I can’t do that if you kill everyone with wanton abandon. So stand down now or I will personally release every soldier here.” Sylvia glanced at the child in her arms and smirked. “And we both know you can’t do anything to stop me, sir. Not when I have the codes to their restraints.”

The child in her arms blew a raspberry as if to punctuate Sylvia’s threat. It struck Hunter that the little girl looked like she was a virtual copy of Doctor Rosette. A daughter, maybe a clone experiment? Either way, Sylvia seemed completely in control and capable of the threat she made.

“Wait, is she trying to help?” Sloane asked in bewilderment.

“Let’s be honest, she just doesn’t want to waste resources.” Mareel replied.

“And we’re the resources…” Powers chuckled.

“Who is that little girl with her?” Henderson wondered.

“What does it matter to you?” his sergeant hissed. “She’s still the enemy.”

“C’mon sarge,” Henderson protested. “Not everything is always so clearly defined.

“What part of “and they’re my experiments.” makes you think she’s on our side?!”

The soldier could only wordlessly mouth his disapproval, cowed by Mareel’s attitude. Above them, the Overseer and Chief Scientist continued to stare each other down, daring the other to tempt fate first.

Overseer Ascee scowled, then reluctantly pulled Private Jenkins back onto the catwalk. He pushed the soldier away, cueing his technosoldiers to escort the human away. With the main event now over, the doors unlocked, allowing everyone to disperse.

A few Unimus soldiers began corralling the prisoners towards a mess hall. To Hunter’s surprise, Doctor Sylvia was seated at one of the tables already eating with the child she had on the catwalk with her. Her eyes caught his, and the faux-elf waved.

“Ignore her.” Mareel said sharply. He sucked in a breath as Henderson ignored him to walk over to the scientist. He scowled as the rest of them followed suit. “Am I invisible?”

“I saw your team trying to help,” Sylvia said by way of greeting as she was helping the child eat her food. “That was very brave of you. You’re lucky the Overseer was too distracted by me to notice, or you all would probably be in solitary or performing some other horrible punishment he can think of.”

“What’s with the kid?” Hunter asked bluntly.

Doctor Rosette’s eyes brightened considerably. “Oh! This is my daughter! Say hello, darling!”

“Hiiii!~” the child replied. “My name is Sylvia!”

She looked very much like Doctor Sylvia Rosette in miniature, Hunter thought. A virtual clone of the doctor, without a care in the world. No, not a perfect clone. She lacked the white pupils of her mother, proving she was a true silvan elf, and not an Unimus imitating one.

So what was she? Another lab experiment?

“I understand that it may be confusing she has the same name as me,” Doctor Rosette chimed in as her daughter started eating her food on her own. “So you can refer to her as Sylvia Rose, and myself as Sylvia Rosette.”

“Is there any particular reason you’re eating down here?” Henderson asked. “It doesn’t sound very safe to be surrounded by prisoners.”

Doctor Rosette waved away his concern. “We have nearly three hundred prisoners, and our work force is only a third of that. I’m outnumbered either way.” A knowing smile touched her lips. “I’m not unreasonable, soldier. I just know my value. Without me, Ascee would have killed you all already. So really it is in my best interests to be as close as possible for everyone’s sake.

“So don’t worry about me; Worry about the Overseer. I’m just a scientist, doing what I do best: science. I don’t even care if the war ends poorly for my people or not. All that matters is ensuring my baby girl grows up to be happy, healthy and ready to take on the world.” She paused to nuzzle her daughter’s cheek. Sylvia Rose giggled in delight. “The only one here who wants all you organics dead is Ascee.”

Her words made sense, Hunter had to admit. Science was inherently neutral, and it’s application determined the benefit or detriment to society it would pose. But a nagging thought lingered in his mind, warning him not to trust the Unimus. She protests too much. He thought.

Hunter had killed his fair share of Unimus in this war. Many that would have gladly returned the favor had he hesitated or been distracted. So why was the scientist here so willing to develop a rapport with them? He glanced over at Powers, an elf born and raised in the Republic. Both Sylvia, her daughter, and even Powers embodied them, at least in appearance. But none of them were like the posh brown nosing idiots of the Silvan Empire. There was more to them. Powers was annoying, yet in a way that kept morale high and senses sharp. Doctor Rosette and her daughter were unknowns.

It would be prudent to keep his guard up around her.