Chapter 30:

Doorsteps to Hell

Code: Zero Defect

"Strider, Zephyr, give me a sitrep," Holiday came in through the comms.

He peeked his head around a corner. Down a dimly lit alleyway were two soldiers, armed and stationed in front of a door.

"Two on my side," he replied quietly. "They've got their blind spots covered.

"Blind spots won't matter in a tight squeeze like this," Zephyr said. "Say the word, and they're dead."

"No hostiles in the immediate area," Astrid informed. "You are clear to engage. Do it quietly."

"Got it," Strider answered. "Zephyr, you ready up there?"

"Always," she said. "On you."

With his dagger held tightly in his hands, Strider took a deep breath. He peeked his head around the corner once again before tucking the dagger behind his back. Slowly, he began walking into the alley. It took the guards no time to lift their guns.

"Halt!" one of them shouted. "Identity yourself!"

Yet, he did not. From the corner of his eyes, he saw a subtle glint of Zephyr's plasma blade coming from above. All he needed to do was keep their attention, and she'd handle the rest.

He forced a smile and spoke. "Sorry, guys. I'm a bit lost. Could you tell me where Demanche Dining is?"

"What the... Alright, kid. Hands up."

"If you'll just answer me, I'll be on my way."

"I said, hands-"

He was immediately silenced when Zephyr dropped from the rooftop and plunged her blade straight into his back. The other one turned around, panicked, yet he held his gun stiff nonetheless. However, it was too late.

Strider quickly rushed towards him, stabbing him in the back, before pulling it out and slashing at his neck.

Just like that, they were dead. The pair looked up to see a camera pointing at them, but they knew it was just Astrid critiquing their performance.

"Where'd you learn to act like that?" Zephyr scoffed as she lightly punched his shoulder.

"Minerva might've taught me a thing or two," he chuckled. "Strider to all stations, the west side is clear. About to move interior."

"Copy," Holiday said. "Loki and I have breached the eastern entrance. How's it looking up there, Astrid?"

"All clear," Astrid replied.


"Rally point is clear," Minerva answered. "Better hurry, though. I don't know how many more I can take out before they get suspicious."

"Understood," Holiday said. "Strider, you and Zephyr are clear to move in. Engage all hostiles in sight, but make sure you aren't noticed. We don't want to alert the High Order so close to the Spire."

"Understood," Strider said. "Zephyr, I'll take point."

She nodded her head and pressed her back against the wall next to him. Strider sheathed his dagger and pulled out a silenced pistol that Minerva made exclusively for him.

He never thought he would use a gun, mostly because they made too much noise. Even silencers can't fully muffle the ear-piercing sound of a gunshot.

With so little time between receiving it and now, he didn't have a chance to test it out either. All he could do was hope that Minerva was telling the truth when she said it wouldn't make a single sound.

Strider rested his hand on the doorknob and twisted it open, keeping his gun steady. At first glance, it looked to be a simple storage closet. After clearing it, he stepped inside with Zephyr following quietly behind him.

An open door sat at the other end of the room. Strider took one side while Zephyr took the other. Together, they peeked in.

Sprawled in front of them were hundreds of server racks lined up in perfect uniform. Alongside them was a cluster of unknown machines and computers. A system of catwalks hung just above them with soldiers patrolling.

Parts of the interior were sectioned off by walls, which eased the effort needed to silently take out the guards one by one. However, it would still prove to be difficult for Strider.

"Pst, hey," Zephyr whispered.

She nudged her head in a certain direction. Peeking over a small box on the catwalk was Holiday. When she saw the pair, she pointed at the four soldiers walking about.

"Captain," Strider whispered through the comms. "I'll take out the two on my end. You've got the other two. Nod your head if you understand."

She nodded.

"On my count," he said as he took aim. "Three. Two. One. Drop them."

He pulled the trigger, sending a bullet straight through the first one's head before instantly aiming at the other. The guard fell just as fast as the other two that Holiday shot, and they all landed with a metallic rattle.

Strider lifted his gun for a moment in awe. Truly, the gunshots made almost no noise. He heard the trigger more than he did the actual shot.

"Nice one, Strider," Astrid chuckled.

"I've had a lot of time to learn from you guys," he said.

"Loki, you okay over there?" Holiday asked.

"All clear on my end, Cap," she replied.

"Good. Everyone, regroup on me."

Holiday ran through the catwalk and made her way downstairs. All the while, Loki was poking her head around every corner as she attempted to locate them. The moment she found them, her eyes lit up, and a smile appeared.

"Look at you, sweetie," Loki snickered as she slapped his arm. "Takin' command from our dearest captain now, eh?"

"The captain was in no position to give out comms," he said. "The situation called for it, so I acted."

"And good thing, too," Holiday added. "You did well."


"Now, let's find our informant."

"No need," said an unfamiliar voice.

Loki and Zephyr immediately turned around with their weapons raised. From behind a divider, a girl stepped out.

Her round, yellow eyes looked to each of them with confidence, but when she saw Strider, the smile on her face grew wider. As she walked over, her straight hair of brown flowed gracefully behind her, along with the tail of her unbuttoned lab coat. Beneath was a black miniskirt.

She threw a hand above her forehead, a form of salute, as she winked. "Hey, hey! Good to see ya again, Calypso."

Zephyr lowered her weapon with eyes full of shock. "Blanc...?"

"In the flesh!"

"Blanc!" Loki exclaimed before running over to hug her. "Wait, what are you doing here? I mean... How did you even know we were here?"

"The ol' cap'n ain't tell ya nothin?"

They all turned to Holiday, who was more or less unfazed by her sudden appearance.

"I've been in contact with Blanc for a little over two years now," she said. "We had to minimize our communication, lest the High Order caught on."

"Would've been nice to know at least," Loki sulked. "Hoggin' our sweet baby Blanc all to yourself."

"I'm glad you're safe, Blanc," Zephyr smiled.

"Aw, thanks! Ain't nothin' the High Order can do to me when I'm their lead scientist."

"They don't know yet, right?" Holiday asked.

Blanc snickered in response. "What, that I'm rollin' with Calypso? Who do you take me for? I'm sort of a masterclass of an espionage agent if I do say so myself."

Strider could only watch from the sideline. Another defect? Not only that, she apparently works for the High Order. A part of him doubted her, yet the others seemed to trust her. Ultimately, he decided not to question it.

Suddenly, Blanc's eyes turned to him, which was then followed by silence. She met him with a smile as she approached him.

"Hello, Solas," she said, which caught him off guard.

"Do I... know you?" he asked.

"Hehe, I'd be surprised if you did. Alisa Blanc, at your service. I was Calypso's commanding officer back then. Your sister... was my best friend."

His eyes shot wide open. At last, he felt as though he had finally uncovered Nelia's past, yet more surprising instances arose. He couldn't help but feel like he only made it this far due to being her brother, and he'd be lying if he said he didn't feel just slightly guilty.

"Commanding officer?" he asked. "Was Nelia not the captain of Calypso at the time?"

"An astute deduction, my dear friend," Blanc winked. "You're right. She was the captain of the squad, but I was the one who directed them. Every squad had a commander, so it's not that special. Still, I was the commander of 'the' Calypso squad, so I'm better. Haha!"

"Blanc," Holiday called. "Let's save the introductions for later."

"Ah, right, right."

Blanc pulled out a small box and tossed it on the ground, and out popped a holographic projection of the tower known as the Spire. It is the most important structure in the city, as it provides power and functionality to everything. As such, it is heavily guarded.

The Spire holds exactly one hundred floors. From server farms that house the most extensive network in the city to laboratories used for research and science, the Spire is a hub for many activities.

"I'm not sure how much you remember about the Spire, but little has changed since your insurrection," Blanc said. "Took a long time to rebuild the damage you did."

"Irrelevant," Holiday mumbled. "Where is the star-grade code located?"

"The highest level, I'm assuming," Loki threw in.

"You would've been right five years ago, but not anymore," Blanc said. "Something as important as that can't be housed just anywhere. Took me a while to find out where, but again, I'm just that guy. Uh... I mean, girl."

"And? Which floor?"

Blanc crossed her arms and pushed up her left hand. She curled her fingers to form a zero.

"Floor zero," Loki said. "It's... underground?"

"Bingo," Blanc hummed. "The star-grade code is being held in an underground facility. If you looked up from the undercity, you could see the belly of the structure. However, there's no way in-"

"Except for the Spire itself," Zephyr finished.

"Heh, looks like Calypso hasn't lost their edge. That's right. I know you girls aren't willing to climb the interiors of the mountainous undercity and breach it from below. So, the only way to get inside is by accessing the elevator in the Spire."

"I see..." Holiday muttered before turning to Strider. "Strider. This mission will be extremely dangerous, unlike anything you've faced so far. I won't force you to come with us. If you want to go back, tell us now."

A part of him did want to go back. As much as he hates to admit it, he had to be realistic. This sort of mission is way beyond him. He knew better than anyone that the gap between the augmented and himself was extremely wide. That difference will only become much clearer if he engages the Queen's Guards.

However, his resolve did not wane. He was prepared to face the worst the moment he stepped into the Golden District as 'Strider.' Turning back now is definitely an option, but he won't be making that choice. Even if it's just a small role, he wanted to help.

"I'll keep going," he answered.

Blanc whistled sharply. "You weren't lying, Holiday. Kid's hardheaded as fuck."

"Told you," Holiday sighed.

"I suppose I'll have to keep watching in order to find out whether it's unwavering bravery or extreme stupidity he's got in that thick head of his."

Blanc then pulled out a small keycard and handed it to Holiday.

"The only general you have to worry about is Prostatis," she said. "He'll surely come out once you get the Spiral Gates to open, and to do that, you'll need this."

"Hey, guuuys," Minerva suddenly came in through the comms. "There's about forty dead bodies behind me and counting. I'm gonna need y'all to hurry up a bit. Only a matter of time before they find out."

"Copy," Holiday said. "Calypso, move out. Thank you as always, Blanc. Stay safe."

"You too, girls," Blanc smiled. "Now, go. Quickly."

Strider followed behind the others, but not without taking one last look at Blanc. She waved her hand gleefully.

"Nelia would be so proud of you," she said.

He gave no reply. Instead, he ran off, leaving her alone in the dimly lit laboratory. The more he continues this, the more he thinks that Nelia probably wouldn't be proud of him. If anything, she'd scream at him for doing something so dangerous.

Nonetheless, he has made his choice. The only thing left is to see it through.