Water, that's all that could be seen. No, not water, it did not smell like water. Water had a fresh smell. No, this was something different. It smelled pure, sterile, stale; as if it had been sitting for eons... or at least as far as could be remembered. Eyes opened slowly, as if for the first time and that was all that could be seen, this translucent watery substance that was, in fact, nothing at all like water. A horribly distorted figure moved into sight now and said something indiscernible and waved a warped appendage. Whatever it was, its actions and words could not be understood and so the strange thing was just watched in silence, the liquid between them, distorting reality.
Buzzing? Was that what was heard now? Yes, yes it was a sound! Something so distant, yet it was somehow comprehendible. The intelligence that beheld the sound understood that something was happening. Sight told it that things were moving around and the buzzing increased its insistence. Louder, more intense. The buzzing began to throb at a regular interval. Louder, always louder. It began to hurt. This discomforting pain only grew and now the questions. Why? Why was this happening? Why did it hurt? What was going on? What was it that was being seen? Why did something seek to inflict such pain and torment? What had been done? Why was punishment being brought down? What transgressions had been committed? As the buzzing intensified, it became a low droning. The bass of the sound began to resonate all over, infecting the mind and body utterly.
All the while, the view changed constantly. Strange distorted figures moved back and forth here and there. What they were doing was totally unknown. They did not hear the sound, or if they did, it did not affect them. Were they the ones making the noise? Why were they doing this? What had been done? Why did they torment? Struggling would commence now, and this would get the attention of many of the figures. Many more began to drift in and out of view now. Their features warped and distorted as they seemed to do nothing but huddle and watch... the buzzing always growing louder. It hurt now. A scream of pain? No, there was no sound, only the horrible buzzing! Why? What had been done? Make it stop... please! Please stop... I am sorry. I did not know... what did I do wrong? Just please make the noise stop...
Tyger screamed his frustrations aloud. Instead of his voice being drowned out and stifled, everything seemed to explode into utter nothingness. The same and yet different. It wasn't nothingness.
Instead of empty space, Tyger stood out on what appeared to be an infinite plain. No. not a plain, but an infinite sea. The water moved to and fro lazily as one would expect when watching the ocean from a ship. But it wasn't a ship was there? No! Tyger leapt backwards as if he had stepped on something hot, only now realizing that despite the appearance of depth, only the bottom of his feet were wet. So is it that shallow, or am I actually standing on water? This is different than the nightmares I usually have....
Tyger looked out over the infinite sea, confused and lost. Yes, this was a dream, but they never got this far. He had always woken up in a cold sweat, breathing hard by now. Why was it so different? No, the sea was not infinite. There, in the distance there is something!
Almost as if upon being noticed, the object in the distance began speeding towards Tyger. No. It was not coming to him, he was going to it! He watched from the bow of an old, though well maintained battle-carrier. The fact that he was now on the deck of a ship had gone unnoticed by the Clade, and as the object in the distance grew closer and larger. "Ready assault wing Alpha! This one should be easy boys! After this hit, we can settle down for awhile, so lets hit em' hard and fast!"
There was no preparation. No takeoff sequence. Tyger was simply airborne. He felt the neural connections, the same tightness in the pit of his stomach, the same secure claustrophobic sensation of being in the cockpit of a Power Armor... and yet... and yet there was not armor. Tyger was simply flying over the sea, eating up the distance between himself and his target. Despite his orders to scramble an assault wing, he was alone.
It was not until he had gotten closer, that he realized the object he was charging towards was Angelus. And yet it wasn't Angelus. Angelus is much larger. Despite being an artificial island, it was larger than some countries. This Angelus seemed to bear all the size and territory that Angelus possessed, and yet it all seemed out of scale. There was that total lack of expansive vastness. Tyger quickly found himself disoriented as he staggered in confusion down the winding streets of the metropolis. He knew he was looking for something, but what? What was it that he needed to find? The fact that he was no longer wearing his Power Armor, but instead the battered, heavy leather and metal attire he usually found himself in when he was off duty.
"...Tyger, you are not one of them anymore..."
That voice. Tyger looked around quickly. He knew it was familiar. He could even put a face to it. But where was it coming from? Oh! Of course, how silly. Around the corner of a rather large office building, Tyger stepped towards the 13th Precinct. Just as he had suspected, Nathan Carpenter was there in full XSWAT uniform.
"That's right. You're one of us now."
Standing next to Carpenter was Yiska Karuk, also in full XSWAT uniform.
"Even if you are a pain in the ass sometimes." Jamadagni Renuka added.
"So get suited up Sergeant. We have a lot of shit to do and not much time to do it in" the authoritative voice of Richard Hemelshot cut in suddenly.
Tyger stood in confusion before his squadmates. Did they really want him? Tyger looked down momentarily and then back the way he had come. Despite the fact that he knew he had crossed a good portion of the city, there was the edge right there at his feet. Beyond that, the infinite ocean, and somewhere out there was a battle-carrier waiting for him.
"Go on." A dark, almost menacing voice purred. "You know that you want to. All you have to do is step off. All will be forgiven and you can go on your way."
Tyger looked over his shoulder and then turned in the direction where the voice came from. Standing in place of the entire 9th Squad was Lieutenant Shade, standing in full dress uniform. His hands were clasped behind his back, with a sinister smirk on his feline features. Was that a hangman's noose he was holding behind his back?
"Do not listen to him Tyger." Another voice resonated. This one was nowhere near as commanding as Hemelshot's, but the charisma more than made up for it. Leo stood beside Shade, clad in a crisp, clean business suit. "You're a little rough around the edges, but you serve my purposes better if you stay with XSWAT and clean up your act a little...
"Trust me Tyger, it's for the best. XSWAT doesn't need people like you in its ranks. You cause more problems than you solve." Shade interrupted, showing no lack of irritation towards Leo.
"He has a point... but you can change, right? I can't have you ruining what I am trying to establish here. Otherwise you are useless to me, and you may as well just leave."
Tyger frowned and looked over his shoulder towards the sea. He could already feel the cool sea lapping at his feet. It was then that he realized that he had been backpedaling since Shade and Leo presented themselves. Though they had not stepped any closer, nor had they moved any further away, and he did not recall making any movements himself, yet he was already at the edge.
And then the shouting began. Leo and Shade were yelling at him, telling him different things, agreeing and yet disagreeing. Many of their arguments were towards each other, but their voices, their gazes, were locked on him. Behind the other two Clades, Tyger could see the 9th, standing at the ready, waiting for him to join them... and yet they were getting further away.
He tired to move forward, to get closer to his teammates. But as Tyger tried to move through the water that now gripped his ankles, they only got further away. No matter how hard he tried, Shade and Leo were not getting any closer. What was worse is that he felt the water had already reached his knees. It was hopeless, and although he continued to try anyway, he could feel that it was a losing battle.
"Tyger..." a voice that he knew intimately came to him even as he sunk deeper into the water, which now passed his knees. "Tyger, you promised! You promised that you would stay." Tyger began struggling against the water, forcing himself to surge forward. With each step and movement that he made, it seemed to become more difficult to continue to move. "...Tyger please!" the voice seemed to plead.
"I... I'm coming Marcy!" Tyger shouted in response and fought harder against the water that fought to keep him down. "Why won't you help me?!?" Tyger growled at Leo and Shade, both of whom now seemed within arm's reach.
"I'm sorry Tyger." Shade replied with a predatory grin. "But you are a liability. To XSWAT, Angelus and to everybody else.
Tyger growled under his breath and looked to Leo. "And you, Leo?"
Leo said nothing, but he did seem a lot closer than Shade. Reading Leo's face though, Tyger could quickly tell that as much as he wanted to help, he simply could not.
A bitter growl passed Tyger's lips as he surged forwards "FINE! I'll do it myself then!" Liquid that was clear like water, but clearly far more viscous, seemed to pour from his thighs, knees and legs as he dredged himself from the quagmire.
Shade looked over to Leo, his smirk fading upon receiving the Rights Activist's bitter in return. "Tyger, don't fight it. You will only die tired and make my job a lot harder." Leo said nothing, his arms still folded over his chest. However, he did take a step closer to Tyger, much to Shade's chagrin, though he still refused to offer his hand in aid. Despite that change, Shade was not stopped from goading the pilot further. Shade looked over his shoulder pointedly in the direction that Marcy's voice seemed to emanate from "If you're worried about your little friend, don't. I will make sure that I take good care of her, just like I intend on taking care of Jama."
That did it. Instead of thrusting Tyger into the pits of despair, he only grew more enraged. "FUCK YOU!!!" Tyger then surged forward with a growl of rage and hatred.
It was only a couple of steps before he was free of the grip that bound his legs and feet. At first there was an expectation that the exertion would have worn out the Clade. Instead, however, Tyger only moved forward purposefully. Leo, in response to this uncrossed his arms and stepped aside; giving Tyger all the room he would need to pass. Shade on the other hand continued to be a barrier, which was soon passed with Tyger shouldering roughly past the Security Officer with utter contempt.
As he shoved past Shade, Tyger went through a metamorphosis. His battered, worn armored trenchcoat, his shirt, armored boots, his entire appearance changed to that of the XSWAT combat armor. The old clothing shed as if he walked through mist, or fell from him like dirt being washed away by rain. Tyger did not look back as he moved from Shade and Leo. He did not even slow down as he stepped towards Marcy, who was waiting for him.
"Hmmm... you give him far too little credit and you underestimate him far too much." Leo muttered to Shade as both of them watched Tyger leave.
"But you didn't have any faith in him either! You were going to let him go too." An angry, yet astonished Shade retorted.
"No, I was there, ready to help him if he needed it, but only if he really needed it. And as I expected... he did not."
Tyger raced towards Marcy, and although she was not moving, again there was that sensation that the closer he got to her, the farther away she seemed to be. But still he continued forward undaunted.
Tyger was eventually within reach of a smiling, very relieved Marcy. However, just as he was but mere inches from touching her, he was suddenly thrown back onto his back harshly. As he recovered from the blow he looked at what had disrupted his approach: a massive metal hand lifted from the ground with Marcy in its grasp.
As the hand lifted higher, the body that it was attached to also seemed to lift from the ground, slowly with the groaning of angry metal and armor: the Blue Steel Zero. And yet it was not the Zero. It was different somehow, different and evil.
Upon reaching its full height, the parody stood half again as tall as the Blue Steel Zero. The dark metallic blue armored plates seemed to buckle and writhe as if something were trying to get out. One hand held Marcy securely, the other hand held the infamous chaincannon that he favored in battle. The machine leveled the weapon at Tyger, and spoke, a cruel malignant smile could be heard in the twisted sounds that, as a cacophonous admixture of angry growls, metal grinding on metal and howls of hatred and rage, created a parody of a voice. "I told you... you CAN'T win!" at that, the chaincannon had its say: with a scream of heat and steel, the muzzle of the weapon belched flames as bullets poured from the weapon, tearing into the ground and area all around Tyger.
Tyger dodged and weaved, darting this way and that to evade the relentless hail of bullets and shattered concrete. As he moved, Tyger drew both his C-60 MK I Maser and his Gyro-Jet auto-pistol. In doing so, he managed to keep two or three steps ahead of the strafing gunfire and Tyger fired both weapons simultaneously at the armored monstrosity. The shots, though they hit true, were utterly ineffective against the armored hide of the Blue Steel Zero.
Tyger frowned as the shots seemed to simply bounce off of the superior armor. He continued to run though, staying just a few steps ahead of the chaincannon as the gunfire ate up the ground behind him. The Clade only stopped moving when the weapon ceased firing as it entered a forced cool-down sequence. "Sorry... I guess I'm too stupid to realize when I'm beat!" Tyger quipped as he sought to move closer to the armored mecha.
"Then you will be destroyed!"
"Yeah... yeah, sure whatever. I've heard it before an' I'm still breathin'" Tyger used the opportunity presented by the cooling sequence of the chaincannon to get under it's firing arc. As he stood near the Blue Steel Zero, it seemed to grow immeasurably larger.
As Zero's size increased, so did it's malignancy, its anger and hatred to the point that not even the heavy, reinforced armor could contain it. Armored plates buckled and split, issuing forth thick gouts of bright crimson fluid. Blood. Beneath the plates, thick ropes of flesh, muscle and sinew became visible, almost as if the mechanical systems, servos and hydraulics were being replaced with unnatural flesh. At some points, the sickening, black muscle and thick tar-like tendrils whip and bind themselves to the armor not at all unlike how Tyger had witnessed some humans suddenly twist in body and form as they became possessed by an Entity. However, unlike possession, where the Entity overtook the body, the Blue Steel seemed to actually become an Entity of sorts; a twisted combination of his beloved Power Armor and an Entity. The visored head of the Blue Steel split, becoming a tooth-filled maw that drooled thick, black ropes of ichor. The Combat Computer data array twisted and became a horrible, alien, eye, the triangular pupil focusing on the, now diminutive Clade at it it's feet. "You cannot win. Give up. Go back where you came from you weak, pathetic fool."
"Yeah... piss off." Tyger retorted in the only way he knew how as he exhaled a pall of smoke. He wasn't sure how he got there, or how he was doing it in the first place, but he was soon running up the corrupted surface of the Blue Steel Zero, specifically up the leg, along the torso and towards the arm that held Marcy.
Strangely, as he ran up the abomination, Tyger did not have either of his pistols drawn. Instead it was the Sten-Blade, and yet it was not. The blade had the same width and overall shape, but the length was far longer, more like that of a sword than a combat knife. It didn't matter to him one way or the other. Running down the length of the deformed arm, Tyger reached the wrist of the massive power armor-turned Entity.
Unfortunately, Tyger didn't notice that massive power armor-turned Entity had moved its arm. He did not realize that Marcy was screaming a warning to him, even as the sword he wielded severed the hand from the wrist of the mecha. He tried to leap after the falling hand, that even is it plummeted to the ground, it fell slowly, almost serenely and gently.
But he didn't.
He never got the chance. Just as he was about to make the leap when he looked over his shoulder; right into the horrible, drooling, malformed, jagged, gaping maw of the Blue Steel Zero...
Tyger woke up suddenly with a start. His breath shallow, ragged and his heart racing. Subconsciously he looked over to see a still slumbering Marcy at his side. He released a sigh of relief and smiled as he looked at her sleeping there so peacefully. He sat there in silence, watching her sleep, his hand casually raking through her hair as he watched her sleep.
After a time, Tyger silently slipped from the bed and made his way towards a window to look out across the limited view that the apartment gave him of the city of Angelus. It was still dark outside, and he did not bother turning on a light as he lit a cigarette and took a long drag from it. He glowered out the window, his gaze cool and unrelenting. The only thing betraying the effects of that dream was seen in the nervous bobbing of the smoldering end of the cigarette clutched between his fingers.