Chapter 43: The Lawless City
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Despite having an impressive name, Storm’s City was in fact quite ordinary on a larger scale. Sure, it had a decent population and some infrastructure, but so did every other city on the planet. It wasn’t the capital of the province. It wasn’t a major manufacturing center, nor was it close to key military bases or airfields. The only thing somewhat of note was that it was close to a minor shipyard, but shipyards of that size existed all over the planet. It wasn’t important enough for significant Imperial forces to attack or major Decima legions to defend.

This was precisely why Athena chose this city to stay in for a while. The same shipyard that had no significant value to either side could be her path to unlocking powerful Terrans machines of war.

The light rail took her to the center of Storm’s City. After getting off of the relatively empty train, Athena contacted Dash again and learned that they had found a room in one of the larger hotels in the southern district of the city. After consulting a map of the city and seeing that she was thankfully already within walking distance of the hotel, Athena left the train station and began walking.

However, almost as soon as she left the train station, Athena began noticing a few things that she didn't quite expect. For one thing…was that a trio of bodies hanging from that highway bridge? And the holes on that wall next to the store…were those bullet holes?

“Uhhh…did I just teleport back to Mexico in the 21st century?”

Somewhat confused, Athena slowly got closer to the bridge for a better look. A crowd had already gathered under that highway bridge. As she approached, she also saw a number of Decima police officers doing their best to keep the pedestrians back. Those were indeed bodies that were hanging from the bridge, and all of them were clearly tortured before their death. All of them were stripped naked, revealing entire patches of raw flesh where the skin had been removed. One of the bodies was missing her eyes.

Athena wasn’t really bothered by the gore. She had seen more than enough in this galaxy to be unhealthily desensitized to violence. She was just flat-out confused. Back on Earth, she had heard about this type of atrocity in countries like Mexico. They were usually the work of criminal organizations that wanted to send a message. But even then, this type of thing usually happened in countries where the government had little control. Storm’s City wasn’t the most important city on the planet, but it was still located on the capital planet of a kingdom that controlled an entire solar system. This really wasn’t something Athena expected to see here.

“My apologies, commander. My knowledge of Storm’s City is limited in terms of data regarding public safety.” The adjutant said.

Athena nodded. For a while, she stood there and observed the others in the crowd. A number of them looked disgusted, but none of them seemed especially surprised or horrified. This might be something they had gotten used to. A few of them were even filming the bodies for reasoning Athena had trouble comprehending.

After a few minutes, Athena shrugged and turned her focus back to heading for the hotel. It seemed like there were aspects to this city that she wasn’t aware of before, but she doubted they would pose any real threats to her. Her current objective was to meet up with Adrianna. Anything else could wait.

The hotel Adrianna chose was an establishment belonging to a local hotel chain called Second Home Hotels. The particular establishment was an 8-story tall building that had its own restaurants, bars, exercise rooms, and swimming pools on the first floor. After communicating with Dash again, Athena made her way up to the 6th floor and knocked on the door to one of the rooms.

The door opened, and a familiar face greeted Athena. “Sir.”

“Thanks, Dash.” Athena looked around the room and noticed Dash was the only one there. “Where are the others?”

“Adrianna went to one of the bars downstairs to collect some intel. Link is with her. They should be back soon.”

“Great.” Athena silently wondered if Adrianna was really collecting intel or if she just wanted a drink. She hoped it was the former, but the most likely answer was she was doing both at the same time.

Using the opportunity, Athena stepped into the bathroom and took a shower.

As the warm water flowed from the showerhead to her hair and then to the rest of her body, Athena stood there, closed her eyes, and enjoyed the moment. This was the first good break she had in a while.

After half a minute, she opened her eyes and began scrolling through the game, more as a force of habit than anything else. She quickly went through everything. Her resource count. The structures of all three races she had built in the game. The armies of units on the screen. She had done this countless times before, mostly when she was bored. Perhaps due to the mysteriousness of how the game found her in the first place, a part of her was always concerned that these units would leave her one day, and she had to constantly check to make sure they were still there.

This time, just before she was going to close the game and go back to enjoying the shower, Athena suddenly saw something to the right of the screen that wasn’t there before. It was a small icon, and the icon in the image looked oddly familiar to her...

Athena hovered the mouse over the icon, and the text that popped up confirmed her hypothesis.

Commander: Abathur (6% unlocked).

“Abathur? When the hell did that get there?”

As the water was still showering her body, Athena’s mind quickly began turning in an effort to come to terms with what was going on here.

Abathur was the evolution master of the Zerg Swarm. During the age of the Overmind, when the Zerg first showed up in the Starcraft lore, he was already in the service of the Overmind and was responsible for creating the Queen of Blades. When Kerrigan took over the Zerg Swarm, Abathur was still her valuable asset, helping the Queen of Blades design various new units to be added to the Swarm. In fact, he was responsible for creating some of the most disgustingly overpowered units in the SC2 campaign.

More importantly, Abathur was also a co-op commander. During the End War, Abathur would lead numerous Zerg units in the war against Amon. He had the unique ability to use enemy biomass to mutate his combat units, turning even the most basic roaches and mutalisks into mighty brutalisks and leviathans that could decimate entire armies and fleets. Athena had always considered Abathur one of the more overpowered co-op commanders in the game.

She wasn’t too sure how an unlocked Abathur would work. Would that automatically allow her to produce the units Abathur could produce? Would that allow her to upgrade her current units?

There was also the fact that she wasn’t too sure how to completely unlock Abathur. She was certain the icon wasn’t there before the assault on Prison 09, so what contributed to the 6% that had been unlocked? Was it her conversation with Doctor Vincent? Or maybe the fact that she controlled the doctor? Or did it have something to do with Item 1? She was fairly certain the icon didn't exist after she killed Delta-3.

Athena quickly summoned Kir to see if she had any useful information to give, but Kir admitted she knew nothing about this. It was Athena to figure out the unlock condition.

“I guess I have to do some experiments in the future.” Despite the confusion, Athena was quite glad about this surprise. Not only was it good that she might be able to get Abathur, but this also meant she could likely unlock other co-op commanders and their various overpowered combat units. It was just that, by the look of things, unlocking these commanders needed her to meet various conditions.

When Athena emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes after entering, Adrianna was already outside waiting for her.

“You’re back sooner than I thought,” Adrianna said, holding onto a glass of some type of bubbled drink. Her face looked a little red.

“Well if I stayed longer I never would’ve made it out. The emphasis of a surprise attack is the surprise part.” Athena shrugged.

“And that prison?”

“Let’s just say that’s not going to be a problem to anyone in the future, but enough about that. What did you learn about this city?”

“A lot, actually.” A small smile suddenly climbed onto Adrianna. Athena recognized that smile as one of mockery. “Did you come across any bodies on your way here?”

“Couple times. They’re quite a mess.” Athena admitted. If she encountered several bodies on the short walk from the rail station to the hotel, then how many were dead all over the city?

“I know. Well, if rumors are true, they are the work of the Lee family. The Lees are a crime family that controls the underworld of this city. They’re infamous, and from what I’ve heard they’re very blatant with what they do. People say they have businesses in bribery, kidnapping, murder, and money laundering, but their main focus is on the distribution of illegal narcotics.”

“Wait…crime family? Are you serious?” Athena had expected something like this, but she was still caught off guard a little. “A crime family is going around murdering people and displaying their bodies in public?”

“Unbelievable, I know. That was my reaction as well, but I asked several different people and they told me the same thing. A random crime family in a small city is basically declaring war on the entire government.”

“Yeah…that still doesn’t make any sense. If anything it feels like someone is framing the Lees.” Athena was unconvinced. “Criminal organizations don’t survive by going to war against the government. They survive by lurking in the shadows and abusing the negligence and corruption of law enforcement agencies.”

“That is possible,” Adrianna admitted. “Several people I talked to told me the Lees aren’t usually like this. They were vicious in the past, and they would often murder anyone who crossed their path, but never before had they murdered this many people so brutally. This is basically slapping the face of all the Decima law enforcement agencies.”

Athena nodded gently. Regardless of whether the Lees were framed or just went insane all of a sudden, it was obvious they had quite the power in this city. In other words…they could be useful assets to her quest for new unlocks. Their money. Their connections. Their numbers. More importantly, they had no real connection to her Terran units.

Athena’s original plan was to assault the shipyard with her Terran forces, but after the battle at Prison 09, she had no doubt that the Decima forces in this province would be on high alert for anything out of the ordinary. Using the same units that attacked Prison 09 to attack another Decima facility would likely attract the full wrath of the Legions. A frontal assault could work, but it would be extremely risky. Chances were a surprise attack could quickly devolve into a full-scale battle.

The Lee Family offered her an alternative. Many workers in the shipyard likely lived in Storm’s City, and if she could get to them using the Lee Family, she might be able to steal schematics or data from the shipyard without firing a single shot.

As brutal as the Lees seemed to be, Athena still had little respect for the threat these gangsters presented to her. She had just taken out a secret research project by the Kingdom of Decima and slayed over a thousand of their best soldiers. The Lees might have dangerous murderers on their payroll, but Athena really doubted they would do well against Protoss zealots or even just Terran marines.

The only concern she had was the need to maintain secrecy. A handful of zealots could likely slaughter the Lees to the last, but they would also attract a lot of attention she couldn’t afford to have on her.

In that case, perhaps the infestors would be the best for this mission. She would investigate further, but if only a fraction of what she heard about the Lees was true, then being taken by neural parasites was a fitting fate for these gangsters.

Speaking of the infestors…Athena turned to Adrianna again.

She and Adrianna had known each other for over six months. The redhead had proved her loyalty to Athena several times, and while some might believe that loyalty simply meant a higher price to bribe, Athena was fairly confident she could trust Adrianna with more of her secrets than she currently did. So far Adrianna had also handled the presence of the Terrans quite well.

Perhaps it was time to let her in on more of her secrets.

“Ummm…you good, Athena?” Adrianna said uncomfortably as Athena stared at her. “Is there still cake on my face?”

“Nope. It’s just that there is something I want to show you.” Athena sighed. This was going to take a while. “So…remember the xenomorphs back in Outpost Delta? The ones that killed a lot of rebels? There is something about them that you should know…”