The sounds of shells landing abated, the dust settled in the tunnel. New Guy looked around and saw that the others were recovering from the shelter stance, returning to business as usual. It had been a fiercer bombardment than usual. He checked his watch, gifted to him by an old timer just before the Battle of Chicago; it had been passed from soldier to soldier, a token of good luck. Swiss motion, 24 hour dial, even after the hardscrabble life of campaigning, it still worked beautifully.
1357, he had his meeting with the Boss, Saint Petawatt, in three minutes.
The shelling would resume in 13 minutes, the pajama boys operating the heavy pieces demanded a 15 minute break every hour and Herself was a generous God-Empress to the contrite and faithful. They had kept up the bombardment for months now, blasting the earth away, hitting bedrock, slowly mining it out one shell at a time. It’d takes a year to breach the honeycomb of deep bunkers at that rate. Maybe longer if they slouch on their breaks, he thought to himself.
The tunnel he was in was one of dozens, maybe hundreds that had been carved out by ‘Steel Balls’ Sloop when the war started going south. At first it had been almost like a party, a festive atmosphere, a group of people united in just cause. Stone heads had been carved into the rock around the arsenal doorways. Sasquatch sketches appeared above the bunkhouse entrances. By christmas everyone knew that the war would turn around.
That’d been two years ago.
The lights flickered weakly, the halls echoed with calls to help move ruble.
“Hey, you the new guy?”, a woman poked her head out from the sliding steel door next to where he was standing
He nodded, “Yeah, is it time?”
“Saint Petawatt will see you know.” The young blonde motioned for him to follow.
New Guy walked through the door and down a small flight of rusting metal stairs that groaned under his average weight.
The blonde lead him down a narrowing corridor, until they reached an office door. The pressed teakwood contrasted starkly against the dark granite. On the door a simple brass plaque: BOSS
“Alright New Guy, Saint Petawatt doesn’t fuck around. Especially since they got the Old Man. Answer her questions, be direct, don’t be afraid.”
The young lady knocked three times on the door and a powerful voice called from within:
She opened the door and New Guy walked through.
The office was small, spartanly arranged: a few shelves of combat manuals, a map of the US on the wall, marked with flags, a small blue cluster surrounded by red stood out. On the desk, a laptop and a picture of an old man, who looked like every inch a mad scientist. Between the picture frame and laptop a Taurus Judge sat, well maintained but clearly used.
The Boss stood, she was short with silvering hair and a hard gaze, softened behind yellow lenses. She motioned for him to sit.
“Welcome, please take a seat. I wish we were meeting under happier circumstances, but…”, she gestured around, “There’s not many of those left these days.”
He sat in a hardback dining room chair, the only one available.
The Hacker pulled out a manilla folder from a file drawer and laid it on the desk. She began flipping through, and after a moment looked up.
“Why did you join us?”
“Why are you here, in this bunker, fighting for us? It says here you were in Chicago, Herself released a general amnesty after that. You could have tossed that pin on the ground and never had to worry again.” She pointed at the pin in his collar, a face, moustached, wearing a tophat and monocle. “You didn’t, though. You stuck it out and now you’re stuck here.”
As she spoke the ceiling began to tremble, dust falling in small streams. The barrage had begun again.
“I’m fighting for freedom.”
She flipped the folder closed, “We’re losing this war, newbie, every day those shells dig another few inches out of the granite. They’ll breach our defenses eventually. There’s no way out,” she sighed and took off her yellow shaded glasses, pressing the arch of her nose with her fingertips. “We just got word, the last transmission from our bureaucratic sympathizer came through. They poisoned his breakfast, replaced his unsalted butter with salted, his tap water with mineral water. The sensation of taste caused a brainstorm. We just lost our last connection to the outside. The news he sent wasn’t great, either. The Southwest has been cleared. Vhyrus and his harem along with Sharpshooter were holding down half the pajama boys in the country. They were crushed by a landslide of brass. Now every Pajama Corps is on the way here. They were the last of us holding out, outside this bunker.
Hell, they’re sending everything. Every Pajama Corps’, the commie mechs, they resurrected the Moment. Even Herself may be arriving soon, in all her tentacled glory.
So, why did you join us?”
“I want to make the world a freer place. If I die here, then I know I’ll have left a legacy, real resistance to evil power that want to conquer everything.”
The Hacker put her glasses back on, “Well, you won’t be dying here. Hate to break it to you. But you might just get your chance to be a martyr, in another time, a different place. Come on,” she stood up, holstered her gun and gestured for New Guy to follow her. They walked over to a bookcase, she pulled a volume out and the bookcase swung away. She went down the tunnel, lit by a string of hanging lights. New Guy looked around then followed her.
The tunnel opened to a small room, a glass cube looking down into a large chamber with a dais in the center. Directly in front of them was a bank of screens; external camera feeds, graphs and scrolling walls of code.
Sitting and staring at the screens in a swivel chair was a grotesque thing. A neckbeard, arms from knuckles to elbows covered with a layer of cheeto dust, a crust of unidentifiable dried, well, something, formed a sort of sheath that held the dust tight. He turned to face them, a nervous tick pulling at his cheek.
“Petawatt! Good to see you! <Snort> It’s been some time since you graced us with you superior presence <snort>,” he collapsed into a chortingly mess at his seemingly hilarious pun.
Petawatt shook her head, “Right. I’m here to check on the status of the Chamber.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, I took the code Titor sent us before that whole incident at the CERN black hole. I mixed in some of my own prose. I think we’ll have enough to rip open a portal.”
New Guy looked around, “What is this place? Nobody ever mentioned this.”
“This is what all of Q’s bequeathment went to,” she spread her arms showing off the room. “He left a substantial amount of (((gold))) to use in the event of his death, and after those perfect holographic tits lured him over a cliff, we used his (((gold)) along with the Old Man’s to finance and build a time machine. Titor was helping before Herself’s forces trapped him in the event horizon of a singularity. The formula was incomplete, but fortunately Neckbeard over there has figured out that mixing his prose with the partial formula will activate the machine.”
“Is that what my mission is?”
Petawatt was about to speak when the base was shook with a massive blast. An alarm cut the air in perfect 4/4 time. Two men rushed into the room from her office tunnel.
A large man in fatigues with a SIG SG 550 slung over his shoulder was first. Shortly behind him was another man, almost as tall, wearing a pickelhaube and sporting a perfect handlebar moustache.
“Commander, Sloop,” she greeted them in turn. “Sitrep?”
The commander went first, “Serious breach, looks like a shaped explosive, blew a hole through the security door at one of maintenance tunnels.”
Sloop followed up, “We’ve got units responding, but I think this is the big one.”
The Intercom suddenly buzzed, Imperial Troops have entered the base! I repeat. Imperial troops have entered…, the voice was just as suddenly cut off.
“Scheisse!”, the commander cursed.
They all turned to face the neckbeard, who was pointing at the screens from the exterior CCTV. The images showed thousands of pajama boys rushing the freshly blown breach. On another screen more pajama boys ran from another tunnel, just as an explosion consumed it. Once again the base shook. Several wire bundles fell from the ceiling and the lights dimmed. After the second they came back up. A third explosion tore the air. This time the lights stayed dim.
“Damn,” the hacker exclaimed, “Damn! We need to buy more time.” She looked at Sloop, then the Commander. She gave them a slow nod and off they rushed. She slapped the neckbeard on the back. “Altright pudyanker, let’s see if we can make this work.”
He began furiously typing. The alarms cut off, came back on, and then with a whine stopped.
The hacker snatched a radio off the desk, “Commander, you copy?”
“I’m here, en route to the first breech with a battalion of Swiss Guards. We’ll hold for as long as we can.”
“Good Hunting, Commander. Rufst du, mein Vaterland! Over and Out”
She switched through channels before getting on again, “Sloop, you copy?”
“I’m here, got the killdozer rolling, got my amazons with me, isn’t that right, darling?” There was a loud war whoop, “Ready to lay those commie mechs out. We’re heading for the second breach now.”
“Good Hunting, Sloop. It’s been an honor. Over and out.”
She turned the frequencies again, this time a general broadcast, “Attention Everyone! This is Saint Petawatt. The Boss. The Imperial forces of Herself have breached our base at multiple points. Report to your squad commanders for orders. I know that each of you will do the cause proud. Stay strong, make them pay for every inch. Do it for the Old Man, do it for the orphans, kick ass and take no prisoners!”
“Uh, Boss,” the neckbeard pointed at the external screens again. A slithering shape cut across them. One by one the cameras cut off; a slimy, scaly tentacle the last image before static. “She’s here.”
“Alright. Seal the room.”
The neckbeard hit a large red button on the desk, a blast door dropped from a hidden compartment above the entrance tunnel, closing off the room.
“Get him down there, start the process. I’ll direct it from up here,” she ordered the neckbeard, who gestured for New Guy to follow him. They went out a door on the side of the glass cube, down some stairs, out to the floor. On the dais a large glass cylinder was lowering from recessed storage.
“They ever tell you what happened to the Old Man?”, the neckbeard asked, scratching at the orange perma-glaze on his right arm.
“It was the second strike they made against us. The first was when the got HM with a supersonic shockwave from a THICC killbots’ twerking. About twenty minutes after that, us founders, we called an emergency meeting, cause we knew it was happening. Only without the Ron Paul laserlight gif. They slung 20 pounds of semtex under the Old Man’s panel van, had a chemical trigger, set to blow at the presence of underage pheromone. We were scraping him off buildings halfway across town. Couldn’t take the chance that he’d get away.” He sighed. “They’ll be scraping us off the walls of this room by tonight.” He idly scratched at his other arm, sitting in contemplation. “Well, better make sure they need a mighty big power washer.” He belched with finality.
“So, here’s the mission you’ve already accepted: we’re using a machine to send you back in time, we need you to do two things. One, make sure that the Glibs assemble and impress upon them the warning of doom from the future. If we are united and given a forewarning we stand a better chance. Two, once we’re assembled you need to use your future knowledge to help us find a counter-candidate to leverage against Herself. Someone so different that Herself won’t be able to beat them, like Rand Paul, but with charisma.”
“But why me? I’m just, well, I’m nothing special.”
“Yeah but you’re an unknown normie. They nailed Titor, Guy. You don’t just ice a time traveller without knowledge of how they operate. That means the forces of Herself might just have access to time travel. They know our faces. If one of us went back, well they’d try and stop it. But you? Eh, they’ll not see it coming. Why would we choose some rando from the ranks, right? Uh no offense,” he finished with a nervous chuckle.
‘Alright, come on,” he extended a hand. New Guy demurred, stepping up on the dias himself.
“Well, while Saint Petawatt is revving the system, let’s see how it’s going, shall we?”, Neckbeard flipped in the walkie clipped to his belt.
The radio was set to cycle, the white noise was intercut with horror.
“This is tunnel three, flamethrowers ineffective against tentacles.”
“Has anyone seen the killdozer? Red Mechs are in bay 12, we’re getting slaughtered.”
“If anyone can hear me, tell my wife I-”
“…стрелять в них всех…”
The last transmission he got before he flipped it off was simply the slurping sound of tentacles knotting and pulsating with excitement.
Turning, the Neckbeard waved at the Hacker, the intercom clicked on, “Yeah?”
“You listening to the radio, boss?”
“No. I’m revving up the machine. Why?”
“It’s bad. I’d say from the chatter you got five min-”
The blast door sounded, a deep –CLANG-
Then another -CLANG- and another.
A buckle appeared, a dent, from their low vantage point they couldn’t see the door properly but they could see Saint Petawatt snatch up a shotgun from its boot under the table, sling it over her shoulder.
Neckbeard looked at New Guy, in rushed and aspie tones, “If you would kindly step onto the circle, please, now please.”
New Guy stepped in the circle on the dais, the cylinder above him began to lower.
There was another loud -CLANG-, the blast door fell inwards. Saint Petawatt spun around, hurriedly typing, smashing a key before a figure emerged from the dust cloud.
From the dais, they could only see the top of its head. A glorious shock of blonde hair.
The figure was across the glass room in a second, with a single blow it swiped at the Saint Petawatt, throwing her through the glass wall and onto the floor below. She rolled as she landed, coming up to a kneeling position, slinging her shotgun around and leveling her aim. The figure hopped down the the cube.
The cylinder had lowered completely around New Guy. Neckbeard stood close. Working feverishly on a dropdown laptop. Laser focused, seemingly unaware of the action to his back.
“Libertarian Moment!” The man proclaimed, running a hand through the hair and pulling the leather jacket straight. His face was shocking jigsaw of sewn together flesh, oozing pus from the rough stitching. “Join us <Facial Software Scan>, Saint Petawatt, <Scan> Supra Prime,<Scan> Surprise Pe-”, Saint Petawatt blasted the man in the face, the shot sluiced away the sewn skin, bits of green pus and blood painted the wall behind him.
The voice raised an octave, “To be sure, your act of aggressive self defense is justified but it won’t stop the,” octave drop, “Libertarian Moment!”
A metal skull with yellow glowing eyes fixed on the Boss. The machine advanced, one step at a time, with each step another burst of buckshot tore away skin, revealing the machine beneath. The Jacket and Hair remained pristine.
Neckbeard finally finished on the laptop, spun around, pulling a large revolver from his threadbare sweatpants.
Saint Petawatt fired the last shell, but the Moment kept advancing, now stripped save for the Jacket and Hair from the waist up, the pants and leg flesh sheared off, like a snake molting. It reached her, grasping her throat with metal fingers.
Neckbeard fired. The first round took out an eye, the next round the other. The Moment dropped the Hacker and clutched at its blown out sockets. He walked quickly across the room, emptying the wheel gun into the chest of the bot, with each round another burst of sparks shot out.
Getting to Saint Petawatt he gave her a hand up, “The honor is yours, milady,” he bowed and extended his arm towards the twitching machine.
She stepped forward and fished out her pistol. The blind and dying robot groped out, looking for flesh to rend, but she sidestepped the arms and pressed the barrel against the machine’s head.
“My website was better.”
She pulled the trigger, the metal skull exploded into bits of hot steel and silicon.
With a deep sigh she holstered the gun, turned towards New Guy, gave a thumbs up, then patted neckbeard on the arm, “Good shooting, pudyanker. We’ll get you that creepy cartoon pillow, yet.”
There was a squealing noise as the Hat and Hair tried to slither away, find another bot to assimilate.
“Oh no you don’t!”, she fished into her pocket and pulled out two neon red shells. Quickly, she grabbed up the shotgun, racked the rounds and fired. A burst of flame shot from the barrel, then another, incinerating the crawling things.
“Are we ready?”, she turned to Neckbeard
He nodded eagerly, “Yeah, we’re ready, just got to hit the ignition.”
At that moment there was a terrible noise. A sopping roar, that chilled all living things to the bones. New Guy felt it in the cylinder, he doubled over, doing his best not shit himself in fear.
A tendril crawled through the broken glass of the now ruined control room above them. Then a larger tentacle followed. Soon a great whirling mass appeared, it’s trembling tip turning about, searching for something. The mass shivered with anticipation when it honed in on the Petawatt and the Neckbeard.
“Get to the keyboard,” she whispered from the side of her mouth.
Neckbeard turned and scrambled up the dais. His movement triggered the wet, green mass, which shot out, knocking the Hacker over, then subsuming her in a mess of slimy appendages. Several thin tentacles wrapped around Neckbeard, even as he reached out to hit the final key. They swarmed over his body, seeking purchase and perhaps more.
“Tentacle rape? Really? I’ve had wet dreams worse than this,” Neckbeard snarked, in a single clenching movement of his laborious cheeks he sheared off some tentacle ends, this shocked them enough to slack just enough. He hit the Enter key.
The great roar was renewed. A helmet dropped down from the ceiling, blocking out New Guy’s vision. There was a bright flash and suddenly his mind was filled with dates, names, addresses. The helmet retracted, the cylinder was surrounded.
With Octopus-like tenacity the tentacles were seeking out a single crevice. The chamber began filling with gas. Blue, smelling of marijuana and petrichor. New Guy suddenly felt a falling sensation, his vision dilated. The cylinder cracked open, a thousand tentacles burst in. A single one wrapped itself around him before darkness fell.