“Giving us an edge.”
As he said it Arturo ripped his own COM unit from his helmet and dropped it on the floor, before he attached Sunshine’s. There was a sudden sound outside in the hallway, prompting him to pick up both pistols. He moved quickly to the window over the bed before firing several rounds though it and into the window across the alley until both had shattered.
“What was that?” he heard Ace ask over the second COM channel.
“Jump to the next building,” Arturo ordered Jack before receiving a confused look. “NOW!”
As he rapidly obeyed more gunfire lanced through the walls, and Arturo hurried after him. He gunned his boosters as he was midway over the alley, spotting Ace briefly before he entered the new building. Slugs followed them as Arturo twisted around to see Shade standing over Sunshine’s body. He had continued to fire, forcing both Jack and Arturo to scramble out of the way. Barely thinking of the consequences, Arturo then dove back into the line of fire and returned his own, which wasn’t aimed at Shade, who was now moving behind cover.
Instead the rounds managed to find Sunshine’s exposed fuel tank, which subsequently blossomed into brilliant fire. Shade was blasted out of sight as the explosion tore through the apartment’s roof and mushroomed out of the open window.
“Jesus!” Jack cried. “Nice shot!”
Had Arturo not spent the past several weeks fighting for the man that he’d likely just killed he might have felt some happiness at the lucky shot.
“Shade’s down! Shade’s down!” Fuse cried over the COM channel.
“Forget him,” Ace returned. “Arturo is on the move!”
Arturo was slightly shocked by the tone of Ace’s voice, which didn’t seem at all calm, as it usually was even in the most intense situations. Upon thinking about Ace’s words, however, Arturo decided that sounded like a good idea. He quickly forced Jack to get up and the two of them began moving through the attic that they had landed in, before reaching the end. A small staircase lead down to the second floor, which they descended rapidly.
“What the hell are we doing?” Jack questioned.
“We’ve got to get the fuck out of this town,” Arturo muttered. “And I don’t want to have to kill the other two.”
“Are you shitting me!?”
Arturo stopped to look at Jack.
“These guys are trying to fucking kill us and you won’t want to kill them!?”
At those words Arturo grabbed Jack’s armor and slammed him up against a wall.
“I’ve bled with these men for the past three months! They’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a family and someone is clearly putting bullshit into their heads; so no, I don’t want to kill them!”
As Arturo let him go and moved away Jack remained for a moment; almost stunned. Arturo walked to the corner of the new room that they had entered before he froze. He placed his finger on his lips as Jack opened his mouth to talk, and then he heard it too: someone was walking around below them. Jack lifted his left leg and moved it several feet, placing it down on the wood flooring. As luck would have it the plank emitted a long, loud groan. Within an instant of the sound Arturo dove toward the edge of the room, quite close to a window.
Luckily the entire room was empty, although obstacles would have been useful when bullets began blasting through the floor an instant later. The firing stopped shortly thereafter, at which time Arturo risked a glance out of the window at the street below. He noticed that they were now only a block away from the twelve story structure shortly before he heard the glass in the window directly behind him breaking. Jack was shouting his name by the time he twisted around to see a D-8 charge not fifteen feet from him.
Arturo barely even had a chance to think before the bomb detonated right in front of his eyes. For the first time he got to see how it happened—got to watch the chain reaction from detonator to charge. It happened almost in slow motion, and before he knew it he had been enveloped by flames. The force of the explosion blasted Arturo out of the window behind him and down two stories to the ground. At this point life sped back up to real time and he observed as the cloud of smoke enveloped the large structure that now had a large amount of open air space.
As he laid there Arturo realized that it had not been one of Fuse’s bombs, because if it had been the entire building would be leveled and he would have been incinerated. Instead he was on the ground with a high likelihood of broken bones and second degree burns on his face. Somewhat comically he would have never known, however, since the cocktail circulating through his bloodstream was still hard at work. He began to move when he heard a very familiar voice.
“Don’t,” Ace cautioned.
Looking up again, Arturo spotted his former squad mate standing at the opening of the now-burning building. Not wanting to get Ace jumpy, Arturo raised his arms.
“Don’t do this man,” he pleaded. “You know that this is all bullshit!”
There was a brief silence as Ace seemed to consider this. During this moment Arturo spotted Fuse up on the second floor above Ace, where the deuterium charge had gone off thirty seconds before. He glanced down at Arturo, and then over at Ace with an unreadable expression as he waited for the verdict.
Arturo jolted as gunfire erupted, though to his shock he didn’t watch the bullets blast through his own body, but through Ace’s. They went through his back and out the front, moving in a downward path from his right shoulder to his waist. It was at this point that one of them managed to hit a D-8 bomb still on him.
Ace was gone in an instant—he was replaced by a fireball that grew exponentially in size as first one, then two D-8 bombs exploded, followed by the fuel tank on his jet pack. The entire building that he had been standing in completely disintegrated, and Fuse fell screaming into the burning debris as portions of the two buildings around it collapsed in on themselves. Arturo could do little else than watch in horror as the last two members of his team were swallowed by fire.
“Arturo,” a voice groaned over the first COM channel.
“Jack?” he asked.
“Yeah; Jesus what happened?”
“When you shot Ace you hit his D-8 charges and set them off—where are you?”
“I was in the back of the house when it happened. The blast blew me clear out the back door and into the alley. I’m coming around now, stay put.”
Arturo obeyed his friend’s request as he struggled to sit up. The entire time he found himself unable to remove his eyes from the crater twenty feet in front of him. After a minute he zoomed out and actually twisted his head around to look at the town. Fires were now burning in several areas, marking the path that he and Jack had taken. The flames blazed brilliantly against the night sky.
A large piece of debris toppled over from one of the side buildings suddenly and Jack slid down the heap of wreckage. He was a mess—almost all of his combat suit was now charred, and his faceplate had been seriously cracked. Once he reached Arturo he offered him a hand, which he gladly accepted as he stiffly got to his feet.
“Thank you so much,” Arturo whispered.
“Come on,” Jack muttered. “Let’s get inside.”
The two men then limped together across the street to the twelve story building. It really did seem tall when standing at the base of it, especially around structures that were substantially smaller than it was. Jack smashed the glass on one of the automatic sliding doors since, being locked, they didn’t slide open. Their two lights illuminated the simple lobby fairly well, although it was still quite dark.
“Hang here, I’ll try to find some lights so we can think.”
Arturo gladly obeyed and moved over to one of the lobby’s four supporting columns before sliding to the floor. It only took Jack a minute to find a panel behind the security desk, and so the room’s lights flickered to life. In the better illumination it was easier to see just how plain the area was. Aside from the security desk and the columns it was empty. Two hallways branched off on either side of the desk, one labeled as leading to the elevators, and one to offices. The light panel that Jack had activated only lit up the lobby, causing there to be a barrier of darkness a few feet down each hallway, which seemed quite creepy.
“Christ this is a mess,” Arturo muttered as Jack walked over to him.
“No shit. Where do we go from here?”
“I have no idea,” Arturo whispered. “Someone in command obviously wants me dead, so I can’t go back there.”
He stood up suddenly, seeming to startle Jack.
Jack eyed him closely as he paced back and forth, before he turned and looked at him.
“I never even found out why you ended up on my side,” Arturo said before turning back toward the door that they had entered through.
He spent a moment staring at the broken glass, half expecting an answer, though not the one that he received.
Jack’s tone of voice changed completely when he said it and Arturo turned around, not fully comprehending what he said until he saw the barrel of a gauss pistol pointed in his face.
“Jack?” he asked nervously. “What the hell are you doing?”
“My job,” he replied without emotion.
Arturo glared into his eyes in complete disbelief.
“But…my team….You helped me kill them!”
“Of course,” Jack started. “My assignment was to terminate you, and due to their proximity to you, your team. I deemed it easier to help you eliminate your team first considering the circumstances at the time, and now that we’re alone, I’ll deal with you.”
Before Arturo even realized what he was doing, he took two steps forward and shifted his head as Jack fired. He then grabbed the pistol and twisted his arm around until he’d broken Jack’s wrist. At that point he groaned and dropped the pistol to the floor, though Arturo kept twisting. Bones audibly cracked until Jack had been forced onto the ground, at which point Arturo kicked away the pistol, fell onto his chest, and placed his hands around his neck.
“You two faced mother fucker!” he cried.
“Wait!” Jack choked.
“Why the fuck should I wait another second for you!?” Arturo screamed.
“I know my fucking name! It’s Arturo you son of a bitch!”
“That’s your first…I know your last.”
“Oh really? Then what is it asshole?”
The grin that was plastered across Arturo’s face a second before completely vanished. Nearly a hundred images flickered through his mind in an instant, and he released Jack.
“The son and murderer of Arcturus Mengsk,” he murmured as a smile crept across his lips. “Is it all making sense now? Never wondered why we only let you into basic military outposts, and never sent you anywhere near a populated area? You’ve only ever been around resocialized convicts, so it would be hard for anyone to have ever recognized you.”
Jack took the opportunity and punched Arturo in the jaw, sending him sprawling backwards. He hardly even moved after skidding to a halt. He was in a state of shock.
“Madison decided to ship you off to the “Reaper” program after you murdered your father, though not before you were resocialized. He knew that by doing that he could keep you out of a legal system that had the potential to bring out some fairly ugly things—and with the enormous death rate in the program he assumed the missions would do the job that the gas chamber could. I must admit you’ve proved to be quite a skilled combatant, and have thus broken every record the Reaper Corps has to offer.”
By this point Jack was back on his feet, and had drawn his second gauss pistol from his belt. He aimed it once more at Arturo, who was now finally regaining some sense, though his eyes still were glazed over. Jack grinned suddenly.
“When I told you earlier that Madison declared you were to be put to death today I was telling the truth,” said Jack. “What I didn’t tell you was that I’m the executioner.”
At that instant gunfire erupted, and Arturo was jolted from his trance. He looked down, expecting to see blood flying everywhere, but instead saw Jack slip to the floor with two holes in his left shoulder. Looking up, Arturo saw a burnt and battered Fuse standing at the door, with his gauss pistol in hand.
“You slimy mother fucker,” he spat. “This whole fucking time you’ve been playing all of us!”
To Arturo’s shock this comment was not directed at him, but at Jack.
“I bet you helped make up that bullshit story on Arturo too, didn’t you!?”
Jack continued to sprawl around on the floor and Fuse came closer and closer until he was practically on top of the man. As soon as Fuse stopped, Jack did as well.
“Get up you piece of shit!”
Jack remained still until Fuse bent down, at which point he suddenly twisted around and brought the muzzle of his gauss pistol to the armor over Fuse’s stomach. He squeezed the trigger and the first two rounds were caught by the armor. The third, fourth, and fifth rounds, however, blasted clear through his abdomen.
“NO!” Arturo screamed as he scrambled to his feet and moved at Jack.
The latter was unfortunately faster, slamming the pistol into his forehead as he flung Fuse to the ground. The force of impact caused Arturo to flip in the air before coming down on his neck.
“Pathetic,” Jack muttered as he threw Fuse’s gauss pistol out into the dark night.
He then moved swiftly over to Arturo and kicked him square in the face. He grunted in pain, allowing Jack time to remove both of Arturo’s weapons before placing them in his own holsters. Jack squeezed the trigger on his own lightly, allowing one shot to blast into Arturo’s knee cap.
“It really is amazing how much you managed to clean things up for me tonight,” Jack said over Arturo’s screams.
He grabbed Fuse, who was now bleeding profusely, and froze, noticing the one remaining D-8 charge on his waist. Jack smiled as he removed it and tossed it on the floor before sliding him next to the security desk.
“Thanks to you, every one of your squad members was essentially disintegrated through a blast, leaving hardly any trace that anyone was ever here. Once the fires have all burned out tomorrow the military will move in and sort through the wreckage. Conveniently for Mr. Madison, there will be nothing to find.”
As he said these words he dragged the writhing Arturo next to Fuse, who was losing consciousness and blood. Jack then proceeded to pick up the D-8 charge, and began arming it. Arturo did his best to block out the pain, knowing that he had to do something. He looked around frantically for anything that could help them. After a moment he spotted something that got his adrenaline pumping again—it was the gun from earlier. When he had kicked it away from Jack initially it had slid back behind the security desk. It was out of his reach.
Running thin on options very rapidly, Arturo managed to sit himself up against the back wall beside Fuse. He attracted the attention of Jack briefly, though he then finished arming the charge. As he was about to place it on the nearest column, Fuse spoke.
“You’re forgetting one thing, Jackass,” he spat with what was easily a grin. “That’s not D-8—it’s D-9.”
The very instant Fuse had ceased speaking Arturo lunged for the gun, knowing full well that if he didn’t reach it they were both dead. For once luck was on his side, and his fingers closed around it. By the time Arturo had brought it to bear on the other side of the security desk Jack was already pointing his own pistol right at him. There was a single shot, and then time seemed to freeze.
Arturo honestly didn’t know if it had been him or Jack that had gotten the shot off first, but that question was solved an instant later. Time suddenly sped up, and in front of him the D-9 charge erupted into glorious flames. They engulfed both the column and Jack as Arturo slid in an effort to grab Fuse. He managed to pull him behind it with not a second to spare.
The explosion erupted in front of them as two entire floors above the charge were incinerated. The enormous security desk was bent backwards by the sheer force, and flames lashed over them into the wall. At that point Arturo shut his eyes and prayed for the first time in his life.
The roaring stopped six seconds later, and was replaced by a loud rumble as the building began to shake.
Arturo’s friend laid unmoving next to him. Several ceiling panels fell to the floor as Arturo tried to shake him awake.
“Wake up God damnit! We’ve got to get out of here!”
To his great relief there was a response. After a moment Fuse moved his head slightly as if he was trying to lift it. Arturo assisted by flipping him onto his back.
“Fuse!” he cried. “Come on!”
“You’ve got….” Choked Fuse. “You’ve got to…to go without me.”
“I’m not fucking leaving you damnit!”
Arturo grabbed Fuse at that point and began to drag him.
“No!” he shouted more clearly than any of his previous words. “Leave me here Arturo! Get out!”
Arturo couldn’t take his eyes off of the man that had saved him. From the moment that he’d been told the lie that his friend was a traitor he had not wanted to believe it. Arturo had seen it in his eyes every time they glanced at each other. And now he was dying.
A portion of the roof collapsed on the other side of the security desk, prompting Arturo to stand once again, and start moving away.
“Arturo, I’m sorry,” Fuse whispered, too quietly for it to be audible as his squad mate backed away.
Arturo limped from the building painfully as the final column supporting the lobby splintered and sundered. As soon as it had the entire lobby was violently crushed by the floor above it as it slid downwards. Every one of the twelve floors shifted, causing them to pancake on top of each other and buckle under the weight. Arturo moved frantically to a safe distance as he watched the top of the building sway and finally pick the side on which it toppled, birthing a massive cloud of ash, dust, and smoke.
It took only twenty minutes for Arturo to mass a large amount of medical supplies, at which point he sat down in the street to watch the buildings burn. He carefully tended to each of his many wounds, all the while thinking. He had an identity now. It wasn’t a good one—wasn’t even one that fully existed anymore—but it was a start. There were still pieces missing; Jack hadn’t filled in all of the holes. The more he thought about it, however, the less that bothered him. He had to find Madison, of that he was certain. Arturo didn’t like the future that he now had in store for him, though he felt that he could accept it. For Seven months he’d survived Zerg, Terrans, and even his own unit. Now he had a different enemy; that was obvious.
As he finished wrapping the wound on his knee he did his best to stand up, before taking one last look at the flames before him. He watched them move back and forth, almost as if dancing, and he smiled.
“I am Arturo Mengsk,” he muttered. “And I am a Reaper.”