Chapter 2 — Command Decision
Cycle of the Shroom: Chapter 2
"Pinkie's on the wire." Conrad looks up at me from her comms unit on the tunnel floor. Her combat mask covering her face is bloodied, but I can hear the fear in her voice.

"Patch him through," I say as I stand on top of the converted armoured personnel carrier we kitted out for Shroom running, and survey the damage.

The one they call The Cleric came at us hard. The Cleric Conradus, and we had no choice other than to engage.

Now, we've got three dead and a burnt-up batch of Shroom, but one of theirs is still alive and that's all we need.
"To say I am displeased —" Pinkie's voice crawls through the headphones in my combat helmet, sending a shiver across my scalp, "— would be an understatement."

"I made a command decision," I say. "We've got three dead."

"We can replace the men without a second thought. There is little more that the broken youth of this vast conurbation want than to fight for us," he pauses. "The Shroom, however…I should have your finger for this, Kurtz."

"We've got one of them alive," I say, kicking a handful of spent machine-gun shells off the roof of the APC. "I thought that might remedy the situation."

"This is better news. Are they talking?"

I jump down from the APC's roof and land on the broken tunnel floor. The one we've got is hanging out of the vehicle's blasted side wall, occasionally twitching and uttering murmurs of pain.
I lift her head by the hair of her mohawk. "She's breathing, that's about it."

"That's all I need," Pinkie says, "Patch me through to your visor." His voice creeps through the headphones, layers upon layers of it.

His presence alone is enough to induce a regular street-thug, a young punk, into a quivering mess. But, once he talks? There's a darkness that flows from him that few can handle.

I nod to Conrad, and she punches a few buttons to patch Pinkie through.

A shiver runs down my spine. "What do you want me to do?"

"Stay quiet while I fire up the circuits, read the smoke."

The tunnel's silent other than the creak and moan of broken infrastructure, and the sound of Pinkie huffing on the Shroom, doing what he does, going down the path only he knows. Deep down, somewhere dark, somewhere none of us ever want to visit, or, when necessary, from which we fight to break away. He took me there, once, when I joined the clan, that's the way he knows if you'll make it. I never want to go back.

Pinkie's different. He treads that line; he walks to the edge of the abyss when we all scramble to escape it. He uses the Shroom to see things, to see into things, into people, and now, he's going deep.

Art & idea: Stefan Große Halbuer
Storytelling & writing: Richard Galbraith
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