"There is another body over here." Suriyawong said into the internal microphone of his suit's helmet.
"Is... Is it her, Suri?" Zerro said as he knelt and fingered through a still smoldering pile of rocky debris.
"No, it is wearing fatigues. Searching for tags: wait one," Suriyawong replied as he lowered himself onto a knee and traced his armored gauntlet around the fallen soldier's neckline. After a few seconds he fished out a pair of blood-stained dog tags that reflected the amber light of the small fires in the distance. "They belong to Commander Phillips. He was not able to evacuate with the other survivors."
Zerro breathed a short sigh of relief before a slight tinge of guilt hit him. At least it wasn't the Doc. "Okay, keep searching. We are not leaving here without her."
"Roger." Suriyawong replied as he solemnly set the metal ovals onto the Commander's chest and stood up again.
Site Bravo, codenamed F.O.B Huntress' Hall, was considered to be one of the most well-guarded outer-world installations The Alignment had. It was concieved to support the needs of over five hundred personnel from the Research and Development division and was where Captain Valencia and her team frequently visited and used for training.
Site Bravo was also where The Alignment housed some of its more valitile research projects. The largest surplus of Crimsontium had been stored here as well as The Alignment's most productive Renastic fiber production facility. Multiple terraforming techniques were tested in controlled climates within Huntress' Hall along with hundreds of preliminary, highly-advanced medical projects which were intended to improve the quality of life for the local, underdeveloped population of this foreign world.
Along with the science staff came their families, a company-strength security force, mess crews, sanitation engineers, architectural engineers and other supporting elements from within The Alignment. Expanding from its humble beginnings, when it barely sustained five hundred cramped scientists, Huntress' Hall grew and expanded to shoulder the wants and needs of over two thousand people.
But it had all been undone in one fateful evening.
Setting his rifle down, Zerro utilized his suit's augmented strength and lifted another large, jagged slab of concrete and sighed woeful as what lay beneath. Another body. This one however didn't have fatigues or dog tags or weapons nearby. She was small and lithe and the Hello Kitty pajamas she wore were soaked in blood. The raven, shoulder-length hair on her head was coated with dust and rubble. Zerro's eyes examined the girl's small, broken frame for a moment and noticed that her arm had been outstretched. Tracing to where her tiny fingers had been reaching, he shifted over and lifted another segment of wall. There, crushed under plaster and dilapitated mortar, lay a lonely, stuffed animal. Zerro stared at it then back to the girl before slowly shaking his head ruefully.
"Found another body." Suriyawong's voice said into Zerro's helmet.
"Yeah, I got one too. A little gir. She was reaching for her teddy bear when the building fell in."
"Mm," Suriyawong grunted in reply, "Can we not at least take her back with us?"
"No Suri, we don't have the means to. Take one body back, you have to take em' all." Zerro glanced back toward the stuffed bear and carefully lifted it before solemnly laying it under the girl's hand. Then he gripped the stock of his rifle and stood back onto his feet, "There isn't much we can do here now besides finding the Doc, so let's keep at it."
"Roger." Suriyawong affirmed.
The two probed, prodded and shifted through the ruins of Site Bravo for several hours afterwards, finding more bodies and slowly losing more hope. It was becoming clear that if someone hadn't managed to escape with the group of survivors that arrived at Reality Prime a few hours ago, they had most likely died when the Crimsontium storage depository had been blown.
"Umbra," Zerro growled through gritted teeth as he came upon the body of another child, "I swear to God I am going to make you die a slow, excruciating death for this."
There was now doubt in his mind that that large-eared bastard had everything to do with the destruction of Huntress' Hall. He and those fanatics from The Sanctum of Virtue and Order were all going to die for their continuous crimes against humanity. This was their seventh attack in the past month and was, by all accounts, their most vicious. They were all going to suffer for this. them and their "Goddess" too. Zerro vowed to see to that himself.
When the clock in his helmet's HUD read 0230, Zerro had Suriyawong rendezvous back up with him and the two proceeded to scout around the northern most sector of what used to be the scientific research quadrant of Site Bravo. Continuing their mission, they managed to uncover a reserve of unrefined Crimsontium that had been relatively untouched by the attack. It was quite a miracle to find the precious, energy stone intact after such a calamity but Zerro ordered Suriyawong to ignore the stash and to remain on task.
"I know I trained you better than this Suri. Stay focused on the mission. We are only here to find and extract Doctor Mohini," Zerro said as they marched in a close, sweeping formation.
"Roger," Suriyawong said as his head moved from left to right, quickly scanning his surroundings with his helmet's thermal imaging setting, "I am sorry for-"
Just then the two halted in mid-step as they both spotted a figure standing about fifty feet to their left. It was human; no tail or large furry ears, but with the combination of night, the low light of small, scattered fires disrupting the light from the two moons and the smoke still rising from the ruins of building, there was no way the pair could discern who it was. Instinctively, they both shouldered their rifles and crouched low, so as to present as small a target as possible. But the figure had already noticed them and was awkwardly making its way forward.
"Stop! Hands where we can see them!" Zerro yelled through the external audio system of his helmet.
"Oh do shut up, Project Zero," The figure replied as it limped closer, "I have quite the migraine as it is."
Zerro's heart pounded against his chest as both he and Suriyawong instantly lowered their weapons and ran over to the irritated person.
"Shit! Doc!" Zerro said, barely managing to restrain his relief at having found her alive and well enough to walk. "We were looking all over the damn place for you!"
"Yes well, here I am." Doctor Mohini said as she reached out and slid her arms over both Zerro and Suri's armored shoulders for support. Her normally stark, emotionless demeanor was now replaced by one of apparent agitation. Agitation which was especially obvious due to her use of her usage of The Alignment derived moniker 'Project Zero' when addressing Zerro.
"I see that you've decided to take your time in finding me."
"Yeah, I was so busy tip-toeing through the all the destruction and dead bodies that I completely lost track of time. Can you ever forgive me?"
For the first time since they'd known each other, Doctor Mohini didn't respond with a snappy, well-timed rebuttal. In fact, she appeared rather apologetic for a moment. She sighed as she moved her gaze around the remains of Site Bravo, "Look at what they've done to us," She said in bewilderment, "Look at the lengths in which they are willing to travel to harm us."
Zerro hadn't ever seen this side of the Doc before. She was always cold and calculating with an air of justified superiority about her. Never before did she unsure, let alone fearful or surprised. He felt a strange urge to comfort her and tell her that everything would be alright but his logic told him to otherwise. She was just in shock. She had been caught up in a devestating attack of terror. She had been injured, abandoned and faced uncertainty for hours by herself. A situation like that can rattle even the most experienced of soldiers, and here she was, a fifty-two year old scientist from Bangladesh with no family except for a deceased sister.
However, no words came to him. He knew nothing he said would hold much value at this point in time, only action would. After such a devasting strike, there was only the future to think about because there was no turning back or shying away from the current issue.
"C'mon, let's get you out of here Doc." Zerro said as he lifted her into his arms and began to retrace his steps back toward the Insertion Site. Suriyawong silently followed suit. "We can think about all of this once we get back to HQ."
"Indeed. We have quite the bit of work ahead of us in light of these substantial loses." She replied as she slid her arms around the plating of Zerro's neck for extra support.