Characters: C. Snippy/Sniper & C. Hatchenson/Pilot & A. Gromov/Engineer & Captain & Biomatrix/Cancer
Chapter 2: Technical Malfunction
With a black mug of hot cocoa in his hand, Dr. Alexander Gromov sat on his bed, his respirator and mask resting on a nearby desk. He felt terribly exhausted but content, feeding on the satisfaction of having successfully finished the flying machine. Working day and night for the past few days had strained him to no end, and even though he'd had a full night sleep, his head ached horribly. But he would finally get some time to relax now. With a sigh he ran his hands over his face, wiping away any excess weariness.
Snippy and Pilot weren't around and the engineer felt glad about their absence, welcoming every second of soothing silence that came as a result of nobody arguing in the background about every little thing.
As he had finished his cocoa, he set the mug down, got up from the bed and stretched his back with a pleasant groan, hearing his joints crack.
"Uh... what time is it now anyway?" he sleepily asked himself as he glanced at the lazy sun that shone through the dark clouds.
He was about to take a look at the old, wind-up pocket watch he had scavenged a while ago, until he realized that it wasn't in his pocket anymore.
"What the- Where is it...?"
He looked around, hoping that he had just left it somewhere nearby, but couldn't find it.
It occurred to him that the tiny watch could still be lying in the hangar, so he quickly strapped his face gear back on and stepped outside the door.
The area was as dead as it could possibly be. For once there was no one around to bother him; not even the Captain. It sure was a beautiful day today.
Back in the hangar, that was still a huge mess from days of working on the airplane, Engie started looking for his silver pocket watch.
Stuff lay scattered on the floor and all around the desks by the walls, but Gromov's had ways to keep survey over it all. He was accustomed to keep all the parts he needed for a project in transparent plastic bags that he had carefully labeled with a marker.
With a quick motion the scientist swiped piles of empty bags off the work bench, hoping to find his watch underneath. Like bird feathers they danced through the air, but only a few bolts, a plastic bag and some random junk clattered to the floor.
A filled plastic bag, Engie realized with fright.
Hastily he picked it up to take a look inside. Empty bags of nylon fell down all around him like giant snow flakes as he stood in the center, rooted from shock.
"Right engine upper left side bolts..." he quietly read from the label on the bag in his hands, twisting the bolts between his nervous fingers.
The airplane whooshed as Pilot started flying sharp curves across the sky, and Snippy could already feel his breakfast making its way up his throat.
"Stop it Pilot, please!" he pleaded, clinging to his seat like a frightened cat.
"Haha no... This is way too much fun!" the aviator yelled happily, yanking the machine around.
As Pilot flew another loop, the sniper felt something small fling up past his arm, falling down and disappearing into the sea of clouds below.
As he realized what had just gone missing from his holster, rage boiled up inside him.
"That was my gun that just fell down into the clouds, you idiot! All because you wouldn't stop doing stupid stunts, my only goddamn weapon is gone now!"
The madman behind the yoke just chuckled at the sniper's ranting. He knew that he wouldn't dare touch him up here, so all he had to do was ignore him until the man would finally get tired of wasting his breath.
Pilot was in his element here, and he was ready to attempt another daring feat... until he noticed a perilous rattling noise that got him to stop in his actions. Something was not right here – that slight dissonance between both engines had already caught his attention while doing stunts before. But as the flying machine suddenly stuttered, Pilot hastily started looking for the cause.
"What was that?!" the sniper cried fearfully, clinging firmly to his seat.
"I don't know!" the aviator replied while searching for a way to fix this problem.
On top of that he had to fight with the steering that had suddenly started to pull to one side.
The machine flew a wonky line, and Snippy guessed that Pilot had trouble keeping it steady. With no doubt they were losing height, and he didn't exactly feel fond of that.
"See, I told you to stop, but you wouldn't listen, and now you broke it!" Charles ranted, panic rising up in him.
"Shut up Snipster! It's not my fault, maybe you just weigh too much!" he mocked in return.
"What? You were pushing the machine to its limits! What if one of the wings is gonna break off?" Snippy yelled, glancing at the steel wings.
In that moment he caught a glimpse of movement to his right, accompanied by a clattering noise. He couldn't see the engine from his seat, but he figured that something must have either gotten into it, or a part came loose.
"I think we have a problem with the right engine," he managed to shout.
"It's not supposed to do this!" Pilot cried helplessly, still fighting to control it as the machine drew a sharp curve to the right.
Snippy caught a glimpse of parts coming off from the right wing, before the plane jerked under a fatal explosion. From that moment on all hell broke loose around them.
"The engine is on fire!" Snippy cried, helplessly watching it burn and emit sparks as the environment changed around them.
The machine started flying circles, but as Pilot managed to win over the control, the curves slowly became wider and more steady again. Nonetheless, the damaged right engine kept pulling them to one direction.
They plunged into the dark cloud, and its moisture seemed to have a cooling effect on their problem. The flames slowly diminished, until the last spark faded and the engine left nothing but a trail of black smoke behind in the air.
"We are going to fall from the sky if the engine stops working or comes off!" Snippy yelped, panic stricken. "You have to safely get us back down to the ground somehow!"
"It's not that easy!" the aviator yelled, sweating hands trembling in agitation.
They descended from the thick layer of clouds, back to the world they knew – though this place looked nothing like the city they called home. In fact, there were no buildings to be seen here at all. Only a charred land with rocks, mountains, dead forests and small groups of houses scattered few and far between. It was completely foreign to them.
"Where the hell did you take us..." Snippy asked under his breath, doubtful that he would ever get back to his city again should he survive this plane crash.
Pilot tried to accommodate the left engine to the broken right one in order to fly a straighter line, even if it made them come down even faster.
"Prepare for a rough landing," he informed Snippy, before steering towards the forest.
The airplane faltered wildly, and trying to control it started to feel like riding a bull.
"Watch out, Pilot!" Snippy yelled as the plane headed towards a crag.
In the nick of time Pilot jerked the steering to cut a curve around it, but the next moment he lost the last bit of control he still had over the machine up to that point. They were roughly thirty meters above the forest as the damaged right engine died and dragged them down by one side. The plane spun in the air, and the terrified sniper lost record over what was up and what was down, his heart racing to no end.
The machine went through intense buckling as it touched the tree tops, and a noise of thunder jolted through their bodies as the machine was jerked around violently, finally sending its passengers flying through the air along with countless splitters, bars and parts. Snippy was free falling as an engine hit a tree and exploded in a bright light. That was the last thing Snippy could perceive before the world around him went black.
Dr. Gromov dashed out of the building, making his way back to the base with some batteries firmly grasped in hand. The moment he hurried through the open door, Captain happened to be standing in his way and the engineer crashed right into him, sending them both tumbling down onro the carpet.
Jumping up in sheer embarrassment, Gromov apologized what seemed like a hundred times, before Captain could even speak up.
"How many times have I told you? No running inside the house!" Captain scolded, getting up and adjusting his hat.
"I'm sorry, I'm so terribly sorry... It's all my fault..." the engineer spluttered agitatedly and dropped to his knees.
"Well, it sure is! You ran straight into me while I was innocently standing in the hallway observing a painting!"
"No, it's something else... something much worse... I don't know where to start... it's complicated."
"What happened?" Captain inquired now. "Speak up, mein minion. Pour out your heart to your Captain."
Not knowing how to put it in words, Alexander Gromov brought his hands up to his head in despair.
"Is there something you are keeping secret from me, Mr. Engie?"
"The airplane, it is- I think there is... a small problem- the engines... one is- ugh..." he kept babbling as the words got stuck in his throat.
As if an idea had suddenly struck his head, he jumped up and rushed past Captain.
"Hey! No running away while I'm talking to you!" the Captain called after him.
Finally he found the scientist rummaging through a drawer in the room they had declared 'Engie's bedroom'. Promptly the commander paced over to him, stopped by his side and cleared his throat.
"Mr. Engie, I want you to tell me what happened. Now!" he sternly admonished him.
"I... I can't!" Alexander cried, and continued hastily digging through the drawers.
"Do not test my patience! Now tell me what is wrong with the flying machine!" he urged. "I don't want any more secrets kept from me!"
"I... made a terrible mistake," Dr. Gromov muttered in shame.
Fear of the punishment that Captain might deliver hindered him from speaking. But the commander was waiting for an explanation, and Alexander knew that his punishment would be far worse if he didn't confess now.
"What is it that you did?" Captain pushed him furthermore.
"I... messed up on something as I built it. There is a engine that is partially loose, and now the others are out there, flying a plane that is condemned to crash!" he cried.
Now that it was out, his agitation was at the verge, and Captain falling silent didn't help.
An unbearable tension clogged the air, but lastly it dissolved once the engineer finally held in his hand what he'd been looking for: a square little device with a big screen, a few buttons and an antenna.
He placed it on the drawer, unhinged the back cover and pushed the batteries inside. Then he hurried outside, the Captain at his heels. Curiously the tall man peered over Engie's shoulder, trying to find out what he was doing with this strange device.
"Care to tell me what this fancy looking toy you've got there does?"
"It's a GPS. I originally modified it for Pilot a while ago, because he told me that his monster worm runs away on a regular basis and that he wants to know where she goes. This device could track her down if she wears the counterpart: a tiny, red blinking gizmo," he explained. "But Pilot eventually forgot about it, and I certainly wasn't gonna remind him... So we never attached it to the monster worm. Instead I integrated this blinking gizmo into our airplane. That means we might be able to track them with this."
An interface opened up, and after Engie pressed a few buttons, a red dot blinked up on the screen.
"I think I found them. This red dot that is slowly moving over the screen shows us their current position. They laid back quite some distance..."
"Why did the dot stop moving?" Captain noticed.
"What... it stopped? They're not supposed to stop there..."
The engineer was fazed, aware that this was not a good sign at all. Hoping that it was only the screen that froze due to an error, he slightly shook the device, but that didn't help. The red dot continued blinking in the same position as before.
A cold shiver ran down Gromov's back. A thousand thoughts shot through his head, all leading to the same conclusion.
"I think they crashed."
Snippy woke up on the cold terrain, opened his eyes widely and gasped. In utter confusion he hastily looked around, but all he could perceive were blurred, dark colors and shapes; even after blinking several times. A sharp pain manifested itself in his midsection as he tried to move, and his breaths became more shallow and cautious.
As he tried to remember how he had even gotten here, the terrifying memories slowly began to recoil in his head. Sniper remembered how they steered towards the forest, but couldn't quite recall what had happened after, and figured that the machine must have collided with the trees. So there he lay now, stranded somewhere in a forest far away from the city he called home. On top of that he was stuck with a madman and he had no idea where the screwball even was.
Aside from the soothing, low crackling sound of burning branches, the forest was rather silent, but the sniper perceived another sound in the air. Soft whimpering noises, sounding like they were coming from someone sobbing somewhere nearby.
"Pilot?" He asked, but his voice only came out hoarsely.
Receiving no reply, the sniper thought that he should go check after his fellow.
At one go he tried to sit up, but it only caused his midsection to start throbbing painfully, forcing him back down.
With a ridiculously enormous effort he managed to shakily lift his arm and ran it over his abdomen where it bumped against something hard and sharp-edged that protruded from him, emitting a pulsating pain. His vision had merely recovered enough to make out the blood on his hand.
And if that wasn't enough, he felt his stomach suddenly churn and quickly yanked down his respirator before retching it all out in a gut-wrenching coughing fit.
"Goddamn it..." he uttered with a trembling whisper.
Tensing up his whole body had weakened him, and he felt like he was on the verge to pass out again, but with deep breaths he fought to stay awake, which was a lot easier now that his mask was down.
"Why... Oh, for fucks sake, why do I keep agreeing to do stupid things..." he quietly muttered to himself. "I should have never gone on this test-flight."
As far as he knew it would take a while to bleed out and die from an abdominal wound, but that wasn't even the worst thing. The crash must have allured the whole forest. Soon, lots of vile creatures would come to the crash site. Being eaten alive didn't seem like the best way to die, and he knew that his chances of surviving wouldn't be very high if he couldn't get back to his feet soon.
"Having a bad day, Charles?" a strange voice talked to him, startling him mercilessly.
Fearfully he glanced around, but stopped as it suddenly became clear to him. He knew that voice - how could he have forgotten? The mighty biomass, the manifestation of a nightmarish fiend that used to feast on organic life, now reduced to a puny, fleshy red fashion accessory.
Snippy could remember the moment when he had first touched it in the Arbitrator's shell. It had wrapped itself around his arm and neck like an aggressive snake, started boring through his skin and extending itself in his body, invading Snippy's spine and binding itself to his flesh. An alien parasite that had taken over his cells like a virus, though it was more than just that. It possessed demonic powers it was ready to share with him, built up on the condition and hope that Snippy would one day kill the Captain.
"What's the matter, Biomatrix...?" Charles uttered in a weak hiss. "I'm still alive, but... I can't get up. There is a hole in my stomach, and... it hurts an awful lot," he paused for a moment, looking down at the bloodied steel bar. "You have to fix me... I know you have control over my cells and can do that. Put me back together, like you did before... And we'll get away from this place."
The red scarf manifested a skull head at its end that stared down at him with glaring red eyes. Then it uttered a demonic laugh.
"It will never cease to amuse me how fragile you human beings are. But fear not, dear Charles, we will reassemble your body soon enough. In fact we already started way before you woke up. You had several bone fractures in various parts of your body," it explained. "But you didn't feel any of it, because we activated and drastically increased the production of endorphin in your body to numb your physical pain. As a side effect you might feel a... slight form of nausea or dizziness."
"Why did you stop?"
"You weren't awake, and we need you to be in order to continue the procedure. I'm not entirely sure, but I doubt that you really want to live with a steel bar of five centimeters in diameter in your abdomen, so I recommend you remove it first. That is something we can't do for you."
"You've got to be kidding me..." the injured man hissed irritatedly, hardly believing in the sobriety of the alien's words.
"Relax, Charles. We will give you the required strength to pull that bar out of yourself, so we can proceed by reassembling your shredded muscle tissue and organs. Are you ready?"
There was no such thing as being ready to pull a steel bar out of oneself, but Sniper gave the biomatrix a quick "Yes" before he placed his hands around the object and grabbed it as tightly as he could.
"We numbed the area for you, so this is probably not going to hurt at all," the red deer skull at the end of his scarf told him.
Noting that, Snippy put all his force into what he was about to do. He mentally counted to three, before he pulled the bar out of his abdomen in one go. In that moment such an overwhelming wave of intense pain shot through him that he thought he was going to faint. Croaking out curses, he rolled to the side, writhing in pain and pressing his hand on the wound as hard as he could while he heard the Biomatrix chuckle over his painful groans.
"Sorry that I lied," it spoke to him. "If we had actually done that, you wouldn't be able to walk for at least three more hours."
"You could have just informed me about that," the trembling human muttered.
"Why? It was so much more fun to watch this way! On a side note, there was no better method to convince you to do it."
"I hate you so much..." the sniper uttered huskily, glaring at the red skull head that was hovering in front of his face.
"Oh you really shouldn't," it told him in a jovial tone. "Look, your injury is barely a scratch now. And the pain isn't that bad anymore, is it?"
Just as the words were spoken, Snippy sat up surprisingly easy and quickly pulled up his shirt. He could hardly believe his eyes. It really was as the Biomass had said. The gashing wound had been reduced to a narrow cut on his skin, and he could literally watch as it healed over, leaving only a red scar and a dull ache behind.
Even though he'd been reassembled by the biomass before, he'd never gotten the chance to watch that miracle happen, and now that he had he felt quite awestruck.
Feeling as good as new, the sniper got up from the ground - perhaps a bit too quickly. An overwhelming dizziness engulfed him and for a moment he swayed, then his knees gave in and he tumbled to the ground.
"Take it slow, Charles" the scarf told him. "The side effects I mentioned will remain for a little longer."
"I'll keep that in mind," he stuttered.
This time he got up a bit more slowly, using a nearby tree for support and took a deep breathe as he put his gas mask back on.
The Biomatrix had returned to its resting state around his neck, and what had been a glowing red deer skull two minutes ago was now merely a boring red scarf loosely hanging down from his neck.
With squinted eyes the sniper surveyed his environment. It was quite murky here and he could barely see through all the smoke, but he knew that it was early morning when they had taken off, so he tried to find a logical explanation for the darkness. As he looked up, he noticed that this forest was very dense. Then he spotted a hole in the globe of branches above where the machine had crashed through, and realized that it allowed only little light to pass through due to the thick clouds that plagued the sky.
The airplane had shattered the moment he and Pilot crashed into the forest, leaving a mess of burning branches and machine parts laying scattered all around the crash site and lighting up small areas of the dark forest. Snippy noticed a strap jutting out from below some burning branches and pushed them aside with his foot, feeling a smile form on his face as the backpack he'd taken with him earlier was revealed underneath it. Glad about his lucky find, he checked the inside for a bottle of water, took a big gulp and swung the backpack on his back before he moved on.
Amongst the parts and fragments, a red blinking device the size of a watch caught his attention and, curious as he was, he decided to pick it up.
What could this thing be? He wondered as he twiddled it in his hand. Whatever it was, something in the back of his mind told him that it must be important.
A quiet sound caught his attention, and the sniper turned to where it came from. There it was again, that wailing voice he'd heard earlier. Charles let the gizmo glide into the pocket of his jacket and followed the sound to a pile of heavy branches and what looked like one of the wings.