Articles and stories on the history and people of The Demon Archives world.

27

May 2016

Essence of Nightshade – Part 5

Posted by / in Lore / 3 comments

[Read Part 4]

While trying to determine possible locations for the underground bunker mentioned is Ms. Beshimov’s testimony, I found this article from Panopticon News.  Or should I say, “News,” given the unprofessional nature of the Panopticon.  Most of its content is anti-government conspiracy theories, but, Mr. Offer DOES do SOME insightful research into normally taboo topics.  As long as you ignore the gossip columns.

 

Panopticon News

MINERVA’S SECRET SISTER CITY EXPOSED!

He built it – he buried it! What was Atsushi Okane trying to hide?

By Jordan Offer

October 17th, 2089

 

The skeletons in Minerva’s closet are rattling again, and this time, they belong to Foundation member Atsushi Okane, former President of the now-defunct Okane Heavy Industries and architect of this great big sardine can we call home. The man was known to have a few tricks up his sleeve, to say the least, and just because he’s been dead for over twenty years doesn’t mean he can’t still make headlines. Today, Panopticon News is spilling the bones on one of the oldest rumors in the whole operation.

If you ask anyone wearing a badge or a nice suit whether or not the Foundation built more than one bunker before the War, you’ll get a blank stare and a cold shoulder. If you yell it out in public and make a scene, they’ll give you the official statement: Okane Heavy Industries began constructing a second bunker to support more refugees, but before they could even finish the outer shell, the bombs dropped and the project was scrapped. Now please be quiet and congratulations for making it on the Oculus Watch List.

Fortunately for you, my friends, Oculus isn’t the only one watching. Panopticon sees it all, whether they want us to or not. According to the party line, all usable materials were salvaged from the construction site and nothing remains of the second bunker but a fortified cave. So why is its location kept secret? If there’s nothing to see, then why erase it from the record books? Why not try to rebuild it? If you know who and how to ask, you’ll be told that our sister city, or more accurately, our Shadow City, would be too costly to repair. We’re still well below our population cap, and all our resources are tied up in rebuilding the surface world. The idea, they say, is to move our people out of bunkers, not keep them underground.

That sounds nice and all, but if you pay attention, you’ll notice that it doesn’t answer our question. Why the secrecy? Why is this second bunker not taught to our children or marked on our maps? It’s only natural that rumors would start to pop up around Shadow City like fungus from a dead body. Some say that the bunker was completed after all, and Minerva’s hidden upper class live there carte blanche. Some say Glaucus uses it as a laboratory for unethical experiments. Then, there are those who say that Atsushi Okane himself hid the facility away in order to use it as his private retreat. Colleen Okane was a little on the homely side; maybe he built a secret love den so he could hide his extramarital affairs out in the ruins of Shadow City? Propagating the species, indeed.

But you’re not just hearing this from anybody – you’re hearing it from Panopticon! Why speculate when you can get the truth straight from our inside sources? According to a top Oculus official (who wishes to remain nameless for obvious reasons), Shadow City does exist. Not in the past tense, but in the present. Its location was erased from the records at Okane’s request. Several times a year, from 2038 to 2044, the Founder would leave headquarters on “surveying operations” for days at a time until his health (or more likely his virility) declined. We’ve also uncovered evidence that Okane had an affair with Gabrielle Lavigne, his personal secretary, that went public in 2023, so it only makes sense that Atsushi Okane learned his lesson and used Shadow City to keep his philandering from causing further scandal.

But is that really all there is to the story? If we were to find the location of Shadow City, what might it look like today? Our sources couldn’t say. Maybe they don’t know, or maybe they still have something to hide, after all these years. What do you think, boys and girls? Sound off in the comments below!

And as always: remember who watches the watchers.

 

-Dramatic, yes, but… unfortunately insightful.  Fionne Okane is even likely to have known about this bunker.  Anyways, here is the next section of Ms. Beshimov’s testimony.

 

Okane. I see. The Family, they never say his name. He is Father, whispered with head down to the floor. No one look at him but me when I lay on the floor, naked and cover with shit. His face, it does not look cruel. It look hard and smooth, like face of a mountain. He speak to me with his strong voice, but I do not listen. I shake and cry and feel my skin hot and red. I have so much shame and pain I do not think, not even about death.

But wait. I say no one look at him, but this is not true. I see Amon Kelter behind the Father, he stare at the back of his head and he do not blink. I think he hate this man he call Father. I think maybe he kill him like he kill Headman Nogoyev. Kelter, he just stand and stare. Why else does he do this? Still, he do not move. The Father, he bend down and wave to me, like he want me to stand. I remember what he say to me next.

“Let’s get you clean up,” he say. He tell me that we talk about become family later. Then, he stand and tell everyone in hangar to meet for town hall in one hour. A man in mechanic jumpsuit come and pull me up by the arm. My cut, they sting and I cry out, but he do not let go. He keep his eyes down until we walk past the Father. I think, maybe if I am not to die, I must see the Family in their home, maybe to plan escape. I look while the man walk me out of hangar. The brother in armor, they already open crate of ammunition from scum dog Hamid. They come from all over like flies to dead goat. They cheer and throw each other clip, grenade, even whole rifle. My worm food husband give them everything. I never hate him more than now.

The hangar look old and smell of dirt, and do I say that there is no light in the roof? Yes. The light, it come from stand on each corner of the room. This place, their home, it is built like Minerva building, but it does not work. It is all broken, so they bring even their own light to here. They have tool, and I see five AUV on the wall, they are to be fix. I see space for many more, but only two AUV come back with us. The rest burn and sink in the sand. Out of second APC, four men drag out a body in suit like Amon Kelter. I think this is Ndaiye, the man that Nightshade try to kill. His chest, it explode out, and the front of his suit, it is red with dry blood. I see his ribs, they stick out of the metal. This give me hope, sirs. It prove that nothing can stop Nightshade. Not even if you wear a tank like this. This is why I say that if she want you dead, you make arrange for your burial.

The man, he take me to a hall, it is dark and cold like the hangar, but they string light bulb along the roof. I see many dark room with open door. Then, he take me to long room with smooth, cold floor and row of metal case. Past the metal case, there is hole in the floor and a chain that he lock on my leg. The man, he leave me in the dark, chain to this cold floor, until a Family brother in uniform come with bucket of water and sponge. He rub my skin very careful, and I see he do not spill one drop of water. I think he love this water so much, I should kick over the bucket. I do not care to be clean. I still feel the scum on my skin.

This man, he say he is sorry. He say he do not have antibiotics. He try to clean my arm, but he say they maybe have to cut off. I think he speak to someone else. I cannot imagine what he say. I cannot imagine to lose my arm, but it still burn worse than before even after he clean. I stare at my arm, at the red cut that rise up out of my skin. Kelter, he ask me where I want to grow. I see that my arm, it grow with disease. I forget to kick over the water bucket.

This Family brother, he wrap me in a sheet and tie the sheet with rope, then he show me a small black box in his hand.

He say, “We try to keep you in one piece, but if you run, or be a pain in the ass just once, we hobble you.” What is hobble?

Sounds like they were gonna cripple you.

Ah. I see that they do this. I see a woman in their home who walk on one leg. Now I understand. I think it has to do with the box in his hand. He press a button, and electric light jump from the end. It sound like the way Nightshade, her glove sound when she touch the metal pipe. He take me out of the long room with the box press to my back. He take me down the hall, up stairs, and into part of the home with more light. They have light bulb on the roof and light on stand, like in hangar. Here is where I see more people. I see women, some in thawb or kaftan or Minerva clothes, some in sheet like me. I see men, but not in armor. Some men have jumpsuit and some have white coat. I walk past a open room with men and women in coats, and I see something I never expect. I see green. These people, they grow food in this place. Row and row of plants. The people wet them with small bottle and shine light on them. I hear the Family is only men of Aegis. Why do these people also help the Family?

You must be referring to the Glaucus teams the Family kidnapped. They were attacked on the road several months ago. We’ve already spoken to the survivors of the attack, and they say that they were forced to build a hydroponics lab inside the Family’s base of operations.

Forced? No. These people are not forced.

How do you know that?

I see the way the women are, the women from the towns, and I see the way these people are. The women, they are beaten on inside and outside. They are not scared, because in their brain, they are dead. They are not hungry, because they forget what food is. The people in white coat are scared, just like the Family brother are scared. They are hungry, just like the Family brother are hungry.

Could you elaborate on that, Mrs. Beshimov? Could you be more specific? This is a very serious allegation. Are you sure you understood what you saw?

Yes. I see something else. The Family brother behind, he stop us at a room full of plant. He call a man’s name in friendly voice. He ask something, and a man of Glaucus, he walk from inside the room. He have a…banadoorah? No. Tomato, in English. He give the tomato to the Family brother. He look happy. The Family brother, he laugh and bite it hard. The tomato, it is so full of juice, it splash on back of my neck. They laugh together and talk in low voice. This is not forced.

Again, this is a very serious allegation. I give you my word as an Oculus counselor that we’ll investigate further, but right now, please finish your testimony. Your health is our first priority, and I don’t want to keep you from the triage center any longer than necessary.

I understand. But I know that these people were not prisoner. That is my story.

The man with the taser, where did he take you?

He take me to the town hall. It is largest room I ever see. Three, four level to walk on, with big open space below. I see a video once of Minerva’s home, and it look like this, only Minerva have light and plant and a statue that run with water, not empty box and hole in the ground. In the empty space, I see a Minotaur tank. There is wide hallway behind it, maybe lead to hangar. The ammunition case, it is already moved to this town hall, and it sit by the tank. There are oil drum on all level and across the floor that burn to light and heat this cold room. To see a oil drum, it make me sick and want to vomit again. I think maybe these barrel have people inside once.

Many Family brother fill the room on the ground and on the level below. The women and the people of Glaucus, they also stand with the brother of the Family. Then, I see the Father, he walk out from under the level we stand on. Amon Kelter, he walk behind, still wear his suit and carry a new rifle as big as him. Another gift from Hamid the demon-fuck traitor. Okane, he cross the floor and he sit on the front of the tank. I see from the fire light that he have a tomato in his hand.

First, he thank the brother and sister of Glaucus. He hold up the tomato, he praise it in his strong voice, and then he bite it, slow, not like the brother next to me. He swallow, and say that it taste like food of the gods, and he say that there is enough for all. The Family cheer. Then, he walk to the case of ammunition and open it to show the magazine and rifle and bomb, all mix together by the rush in the hangar. He thank a “friend of the Family” for this gift, and I want to vomit again, but for different reason. He say any brother who does not have fresh clip should load up.

I remember he say he is sorry for the terrible thing his children have to do. He talk about fear, about how fear make Minerva weak, and the Family is small but with fear, with the terrible thing that they do, they can defeat Minerva. He say Aegis is weak now, and they have firepower, and they will return to Minerva to take their home and return order. He promise it will be over soon. The man next to me, he lean over and shake his rifle in the air. His cheer make my ears ring.

Some of the Family brother, they step forward and take ammunition from the case. While they do this, the Father, he say that there are new wives to welcome into the Family. He say next there will be matching. The Family cheer again. I feel the Family brother next to me, he put his hand down my back and squeeze my ass. My heart begin to pound, and I think this hell, this punishment never end. Maybe it still become worse. Maybe I become like the women with the dead eyes who walk on one leg. This is my future. The Father, he hold up his hand, and some men, they come to him and place metal chain in his hand. Lieutenant Nayar, he teach me this is called dog tag. The Father, he tell his people there eight new wife, eight lucky winner. He say he draw tonight, and tomorrow there is ceremony. The men are very loud and I cannot hear.

Then, I see Amon Kelter, he rush forward and raise his rifle. He step in front of the Father and point at something below us. The room go silent like a switch turn them off. I still see the Father behind him, and his face change to frown. The Family, they whisper and mutter like pig to themselves, and then, I see a…like a wave in the floor. It like the floor bend in the light.

The wave, it speak in the voice of Nightshade. She say, “You are a hard man to find, General.” Then I know that this is what Nightshade look like from behind. This is the power of her cloak. She is almost…what is the word? Invisible? Yes.

I am not surprise to see her. I know, when I see the man call Ndaiye with his armor break open and his chest explode, that she will not be stop by anything. The Family, they are surprise, they cry out and raise their rifle. The man next to me, he let go of my ass and aim his rifle down. I move away from him, but he does not notice. His face is tight with fear.

Then Nightshade, she say, “You have one chance to surrender and come with me.”

The Father, he laugh like thunder.

 

-I hate to keep ending on suspenseful notes, but I’m going to anyways.  I only have one more entry after this one, and want to space it out with the rest of my research, including this penultimate log entry.

 

1 September 2100

Sometimes, I wonder if this is all my fault. I wonder if Okane would have quietly retired and written memoirs or lectured at the academy until the tumors finally killed him off. I blame myself for creating the Family, as if I could have known what the investigation would touch off. As if anyone could have known. The truth is that Okane’s mutiny was too calculated to pin the blame on anyone except the man himself. He had contingencies on top of contingencies in place for just such an occasion, and that’s not the sort of thing you do when planning a quiet retirement. The trick, which we have just realized, is to stop chasing after the Family and to start dismantling the contingencies.

I returned late in the afternoon. Again, they hadn’t been expecting me. Scratch one more Hercules suit. Caught Gang Zhao with his helmet off, so I know it was him. I also managed to nick that bastard Kelter in the arm, but I was using incendiary rounds and I doubt they even pierced his armour. Now it’s just him and Ndaiye, give or take about sixty men in various states of mental and physical disrepair. They escaped Naryn with only five civilian casualties and no prisoners, so yesterday should feel like a victory, but it doesn’t. I lost them, like I always do. We’re never going to stop them piecemeal, even if I smash the last two Hercules suits. I won’t feel like I’ve won anything until I find the rat’s nest, and I won’t be able to do that until I find a way to get ahead of them.

Summerland was already bent over the holoprojector in the central pod, and I could see she was working on the map again. She was also wearing an Aegis uniform, which was a sight to behold. Usually it’s bathrobes and embroidered silk kaftans, but today, I could see she was all business. She’d even tied up her wild mane into a bun.

“Catch anything this time, my love?” she asked, without turning from the projector.

“A rather large one. Zhao is dead, and so is his armour. I think I damaged Kelter’s suit as well.”

“You think?” She didn’t try to mask her disapproval.

“They scarpered off so quickly that I couldn’t exactly take a microscope to it.”

Summerland laughed and looked up at me for the first time. “What, scared of a little sprig of nightshade?”

“I hope I haven’t scared them too badly. We need them to stay bold if I’m to track them to their home base.”

“Yes, well, you seem to be the only person they’re afraid of at the moment. They have Aegis all figured out.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, leaning on her back and resting my chin on her shoulder. She had been plotting two separate lines, one red and one blue, in a jagged spiral around our map of Minervan territory. Upon closer inspection, I saw dots, dates, and names segmenting each spiral.

“I mean I’ve cross-referenced the local patrols with the towns they’ve hit. Exactly two days after Aegis comes through, the Family strikes. The next patrol is at least two or three days away. They hardly need to bother jamming the emergency signals, but I suppose the Khan hasn’t survived this long by being careless.”

“They couldn’t be going off of memory alone. Hasn’t Commander Kubek changed the patrol routes by now?” I asked, gently scooting her over so I could take my place at the holoprojector.

“He has, many times over. That means they still have people on the inside. And not just a few of them. We already knew he had someone toying with the Oculus satellite data, but this is a horse of a different colour.”

“Are we in danger of being compromised?”

We don’t exist, my dear.”

“Okay, then…” I struggled to reach the point she was trying to make, but I took a stab at it anyway. “Have you been able to backtrack their raids? Find their point of origin?”

“How about the next best thing? I think I might know where they’re going.”

“You think?” I jabbed, giving her a cheeky smile. She elbowed me in the ribs, which felt, inside my Atalanta armour, like a slight gust of wind.

“You’d never let me hear the end of it if I’m wrong, so let’s play it safe and call it an educated guess. They’re moving in this clockwise pattern, probably trying to stay ahead of the patrols. If we extrapolate their path of destruction, there are three potential towns they could hit.”

“Kulanak, Al-Tanaan, and Gulnara,” I said. Summerland gave me one of her fluttering little rounds of applause. “That’s still quite a lot of ground to cover. Assuming your educated guess is correct.”

“Right. So let’s narrow it down a little more. What do we know about these attacks?”

“They…seem to be after supplies, mostly. They rarely take men prisoner, apart from that Glaucus convoy. They jam all emergency signals, they usually take two APCs and about ten buggies. They’re in and out in less than three hours. The towns with defensive walls open their gates with minimal damage to the perimeter, which suggests either the Family is very persuasive or they have some sort of man on the inside. Their stockpile of chemical weapons suggests the former, but Okane’s enduring influence suggests the latter.”

“Yes, but they only used VX gas once, on Terkul. That doesn’t help us. Instead, let’s assume that Okane has people on the inside. The man spent nearly twelve years out here fighting raiders and protecting villages. He might still have some good will among the natives.”

“They must know what he’s become,” I pointed out.

“I’m sure they’ve heard all the horrible things we’ve said about him, but the problem with gods is that it’s very hard to stop believing in them.”

“Thou shalt have no other gods before Okane,” I muttered, and suddenly I saw the smashed idols at Terekat not as the victims of cultural genocide, but as rubble left in the wake of a petty and vainglorious ego. “It’s thin. Likely a dead end.”

“I could put the map up on the wall and we could throw darts at it instead,” Summerland said. She got up and passed a second holotab my way. The blue slice of light slipped right through my hand. I’m still not used to manipulating these bloody remote screens. Sometimes it even gives me a sense of cognitive dissonance, to think that I grew up in a world of mud and fire, where a crossbow was considered the pinnacle of technology, and now I’m learning how to control hard light with the tips of my fingers. The first world will never leave me, no matter how hard I try to reconcile it with the new one. I suppose that’s what makes me so well suited to this sort of work.

“What’s all this for?” I asked, catching up to the holotab as it floated away from me. Summerland was already settling into the master terminal.

“We’re going to look through dossiers. Every member of every family living in Kulanak, Al-Tanaan, and Gulnara. If we find a link to Okane, then we’ve got something to work with, and that’s more than we have now, dear.”

It’s odd, working together with her as equals. Looking over from my screen and seeing the same uncertainty on her face as I expect to be glowing on mine. She’s never been uncertain about anything before. But that’s how desperate this situation has become. If we don’t stop the Family, then Minerva will surely collapse from within. We’re the only ones Commander Kubek can trust, fighting a war on two fronts, and all we can do is take shots in the dark.

We’ve got a short list of possible suspects. Two of the largest families in Al-Tanaan were once a nomad tribe that an 8th Company patrol saved from bandits in 2085. According to their dossiers, they spent less than a day traveling with the patrol until they arrived at Al-Tanaan, and none of them had any personal contact with Okane. There’s also a man living in Gulnara named Hamid Beshimov. He was an orphan from the siege of Halat, and he was pulled from the rubble by the 8th Company. Okane took him under his wing for about three months until he could find a new home for him in Gulnara. Now, he’s a defense engineer at a major Minervan supply depot, and if Summerland’s theory is correct, he’s a prime target for the Family. There’s only one way to find out.

We leave tomorrow for Gulnara. There’s no way to predict when the Family will strike next, but our dustup yesterday will likely buy us some time. We’ll have to plan as we go – Tom Fury is ready to fall to pieces, but if I run into Ndaiye or Kelter without him, I’m proper fucked, so I can’t afford to send him in. Summerland suggested that I ring Agent Manas for backup, but I’d rather rub shards of glass into my own eyeballs than speak to Luther again, so that’s the end of it. Besides, we don’t even know if Beshimov is our man. All I know is that this may be my final journal entry, and if that’s the case, then I hope the next person to find my personal terminal erases this self-indulgent tripe forever. It’s of no use to anyone other than myself, and even that much is questionable.

 

-These log entries are rapidly converging with the testimony I’ve found, as you may well be able to tell.  It all comes together in my next entry.  And while I’ve already read it, it seems silly to include my overall conclusions before the end of the evidence, and I really don’t have anything else to say about this part.

[Read Part 6]

[Essence of Nightshade was written by guest contributor Josh Connor, author of the webcomic Steel Salvation, with Dan providing story guidance to make it canon along with writing the archivist commentary.  Art by Robert Jackson.]

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