His mother was the first casualty.
Barely minutes after they entered that Hellscape, that burning desolate wasteland of Elysium, one of those… things descended. Took her out in mere seconds. The Blood Red Dogs took that moment to rush everyone away, take them to safety. Most people didn’t even know who Mrs Hernandez was, and they didn’t have time to find out.
That was the death Hank still had nightmares about. It was the only one he could remember properly reacting to. He was young, far too young, and that scene was etched into his brain for the rest of his life. Her scream, the gunfire around. It was the only death that made him cry.
His mother had been the one who wanted to come to Elysium, she thought it would be a better life for their family. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
At the very least that first death was a turning point- he was able to have a moment of shock, a minute to mourn.
He’d caught his little sister Scarlet before she could run, clinging to her shoulder in the hope that he could stop her from dying as well. She’d sobbed into his arms as he tried to drag her to safety. He cried as well, and the tears in his eyes made it harder to navigate, more difficult to run. He was only 7, but he quickly learned that you couldn’t get upset. It happened too frequently, if you spent all your time crying over the dead you’d never do anything else. It put you in danger.
He felt numb as he watched other people die, he comforted widows and orphans with a heavy heart, he’d fight for them to survive. But he wouldn’t cry, He’d stay strong.
So he didn’t cry about his best friend, he didn’t cry about the other children. Every death after the initial attack was just a statistic. A tally for how many people weren’t going to make it back to New Albion. Their numbers depleted within days.
And every day it was the same. People killed by those ‘Angels’, People going missing as they tried to search the area for safe refuge, people who’d lost everything taking their own lives. It never stopped.
He’d lost two other sisters to Elysium by the time he was a teenager. Julie to a stray bullet, Olivia to the angels. Scarlet had gone missing recently, presumed dead. He was all by himself now.
So for now he’d just stick to doing what he always did.
No time to get upset.
Just Kill, Hope and Survive.
Hank was knocked out of his dark thoughts as he felt two arms wrapping round his torso, and a head resting on his shoulder.
Well, he wasn’t completely by himself.
He grinned, knowing who the arms belonged to. There were a couple of things in Elysium that made it worth staying alive.
“Lupe, you’re crushing my ribs.” He said, trying to shrug her off. His girlfriend laughed and squeezed him tighter, lifting him slightly off the ground.
“I haven’t seen you all day, I want a hug.” She said, complaining as Hank wriggled out of her arms. He turned to look at her, happy to see she hadn’t got any new injuries. She was tough, but still one of the younger recruits, she was more likely to bruise. She looked tired, and covered in sweat, but Hank still had to take a moment to admire her.
She had faded scars lining her cheek, new tears in her jacket and her wild curly hair was haphazardly stuffed underneath her BRD Helmet. And she was the most beautiful girl Hank had ever seen.
“That uniform makes you look like a dork.”
“Well you always look like a dork.” She shot back, Hank smirked.
“I’m not the one with ears on my helmet.” He said as he gestured up. She pouted, tilting her head.
“They’re cute. And I pull them off better than the other Dogs.” He smiled and she stuck her tongue out at him. He couldn’t disagree, even though he still thought the uniforms were a little too on the nose.
“That’s a fair point. Training go okay?” He asked. Lupe exhaled, puffing out her cheeks.
“Better than last time.“
“I heard some other kids whining about the new tactics.”
“I mean, I don’t blame them.” Lupe folded her arms. “Let’s just say that Yasser doesn’t do anything halfway. My shoulder’s killing me from how many times I had to try and hit them targets.” She rolled her shoulder back to emphasise, wincing. “But we’re doing something good, so I can deal with it.”
“You seem worn out, you wanna go sit and get a drink?”
“More than anything.”
The two of them headed to the makeshift Canteen area, which was essentially just a corner of the bunker that had a supply of water. As he filled up the cups he noticed one of the older women was there, Mary, but Hank decided it wasn’t the best time to talk to her. She had her gun rested on the table and a scowl on her face, and he didn’t want to find out why.
He and Lupe sat on the floor, drinks in hand and backs rested against the metal wall of the room. Lupe intertwined her hand with his, and her head once more propped on his shoulder. She was a lot taller than him and had to lean down at a weird angle, but it was nice. He’d come to savour these days when there weren’t alarm bells ringing all over to the bunker, where for a moment he could pretend it wasn’t a life or death situation. He’d been outside a fair few times and despised it.
Lupe pulled her helmet off, setting it beside her, and her hair flopped down, tickling his face.
He’d never known Lupe before Elysium, but during the first months there she’d saved his life. Back when they were still wandering to try and find a place to hide. Hank had got separated for just a moment and attracted the attention of one of the creatures. He was certain it was about to kill him, but it was knocked away before it had a chance. Lupe was only a kid, barely a year older than him, but she’d picked a discarded gun off the ground and figured it out. The Angel’s claws may have hit her across the face, but she’d managed to blow up it’s chest before it could get another swing at either of them.
Hank was immediately infatuated, but it took him a good year or so to work up the courage to talk to her again. They’d started sparring, then hanging out in the rare moments of peace, and then eventually falling in love when they were in their teens. They confessed for the first time after Lupe got injured just after joining the BRD. Hank had been helping bandage her wounds, and they’d both admitted it.
Hank knew in his heart it was a dumb idea to fall in love. But being with Lupe gave him a reason to stay alive, rather than focusing on a threat of vengeance or an empty promise at going home.
“Do you ever miss New Albion?” he asked, rubbing his thumb across the scar on her hand. She sighed dreamily, with a far off gaze.
“Every day.” She said, breathing slowly. “It’s been so long though, I feel like I’m just over glorifiying how nice it was.”
“I mean, anything would be a step up from the this, the bar’s pretty low.” He watched as she smiled, about to speak. He raised his hand a pointed. “If you’re gonna make a short joke about me, I’m gonna tip this drink over you.”
“That’s not what I was gonna say.”
“Well what were you gonna say?” Lupe pursed her lips, and took a sip of her drink, not answering. Hank slapped her knee a few times. “But yeah” He took another swig of water “I miss it too.”
It had been 11 years since they’d first crossed over, but Hank could still remember the city perfectly. He could remember the mountains, the sun, the starlight. Elysium was so bleak, so dark. He always wished to go home, but he wasn’t about to risk jumping back. He’d seen what happened when people did that.
And besides, it wouldn’t be the same when he went home anyway. Sure, he and Lupe would be safe, but it wasn’t like his family would be going with him. They couldn’t come back. He didn’t want to have those thoughts now, but his heart sank as he thought about his family. That glimmer of hope that his remaining sister was still alive was dimming by the day. She and the other scouts had been out in Elysium for days, they couldn’t survive that.
Lupe seemed to notice him tense up, and lifted her head to look at him.
“Just thinking about Scarlet.” Lupe squeezed his hand gently “It’s been a while.”
“I’m sure she’s still out there. She had a whole team with her, and they were all armed. They’re probably just in a rough area and can’t contact us.”
“I sure hope so.” He said, but not sharing her confidence. There was a faint beeping and Lupe leant forwards, looking at a device on her wrist. “Who is it?”
“Yasser, he wants the Dogs to group up.” She showed him the watch, which flashed green intermittently. Across the room, Hank saw Mary grab her weapon and sling it onto her shoulder “I need to head down.”
“Be careful,” He said as she stood up. Lupe leant down and kissed him.
“I think it’s just a briefing, otherwise he’d have called. I’ll meet you in the bunks afterwards, about an hour?”
“I’ll be there.” He replied, grabbing her jacket and pulling her back to kiss her again. She laughed and waved as she left the room to catch up with Mary.
Hank sighed as he sat alone in the canteen, finishing off his water. He felt bad not being able to help, but sending out too many recruits at once was too much of a risk. So this time, he’d stay behind. He didn’t mind, but he always felt like he wasn’t doing anything productive by just hanging round the bunker.
Usually he’d go and spar with his sisters, but that didn’t seem like an option anymore.
After a few minutes, Hank stood up, deciding to at least walk around to try and clear his head, focus on something else. He continued down the winding hallways of the bunker, noticing a new room that they’d put together recently. He was always impressed with how the Undergound bunker had held up. From what he’d heard, the Original Voodoopunks had brought a few Arcadia vehicles in through the portal in order to transport their belongings, and over the years those vehicles had been torn apart and repurposed as their protection. Walking round he could spot the occasional faded Arcadia Logo upside down on the side of a door.
He wandered, empty headed until it was filled with a song he almost recognised. He felt as if he’d heard the song a couple of times, but couldn’t place where he knew it from. He followed the music until he came to the control rooms, and finally connected the dots of where he’d heard the voice.
He knew that Control Room A was their main communication hub, where they attempted contact with people lost in Elysium and conducted research on the Portal. But Hank never knew what Control Room B housed, he just knew Lee Morgan spent a lot of time in there recently.
Hank opened the door slowly, and was surprised to see how casual the room was. Control Room A was strict, professional. In Control Room B, there were paints littered round the room, and the blanket on the floor suggested someone had been sleeping there. He caught the last part of the song Lee was singing, it was a number far too peppy for Elysium. Hank smiled, he hadn’t seen that guy happy in months, years even.
“You sound good.”
Lee slammed his hand on the keyboard, turning to see Hank. His sour expression definitely didn’t match the song.
“How long have you been there?”
“Not long. Hey how come you keep telling Becky Smith that you don’t wanna join in the with the Voodoopunk chants anymore? I always thought it was cause you didn’t sing, but clearly-“ he gestured to the mic.
“This is different.” He was always surprised to hear Lee didn’t join in with VP stuff anymore, considering he was one of the few people that still committed to their ritual makeup. Hank feared for his skin, because the stuff he had on his face in a skull pattern at that moment looked very similar to the paints on the floor. Lee swung his chair round to face Hank, his eyes bloodshot. “Do you want something?”
Hank had known Lee a very long time, they were never close, but Lee had been in the same VP group as his aunt. Hank had always viewed him as a cool, untouchable uncle figure. He’d seen him get jaded and angry over the years, but he couldn’t blame the guy, he’d been through a lot.
He’d lost his boyfriend early, and only a few weeks ago an Angel had managed to claim his right arm. His shirt was torn and knotted at the elbow, but he still gestured as if he had both hands.
“I’m just checking on you, people say you’re down here a lot.” He propped himself up on the desk beside him “And all the Dogs left, now I’m bored.”
“Sorry that Elysium is boring for you.” He said as he typed something into the monitor. Hank looked over, trying to make out what he was doing.
“What are you working on?”
“It’s complicated.” Lee looked over at the photo beside him, a worn photo of his old boyfriend Adrian and him. Hank could feel Lee getting annoyed at his presence, but he wanted to know the latest developments.
“VP stuff or?”
“No.” He was quiet a second, as a large green line appeared on the screen. It was still for a while, then spiked slightly. “I think I might have set up a frequency to get our messages back to New Albion.”
“Really?” Hank knew how long Yasser had been trying to do that and so far every test had come up short.
“I don’t want to get everyone all worked up yet, so don’t go spreading it round. But yes, I managed to establish communication briefly.” Hank noticed he didn’t use the word ‘singing’. “I think I managed to broadcast to New Albion for a second, and the monitor was picking up feedback from someone.”
“That’s incredible.” Hank remarked, he looked at the other screens where he could see other spikes and data that he didn’t really understand. He knew what it meant though. If they could get across that they were still alive, someone could start up the old portal.
“It was only a half a second, But if I can keep that connection going…”
“You could send a full message.” Hank watched wide eyed as Lee struggled to type with his left hand. The line on the screen jumped slightly.
“I’d have hoped we’d gotten further by this point, but I’ll take what we can get.” He tapped his hand on the desk “All I can say is-“
His words were cut off as he looked at the monitor, which began flashing red, overtaking his work. Lee slammed his fist down on the keypad and brought the conversation onto the main screen.
“If anyone’s listening please respo----we got----And a handful of surviv----the Bunker’s defences, Over.” The message cut out every few seconds, but it was easy to make out the voice and the gist of the message.
“Lupe, this is Lee Morgan” He responded, leaning down to the mic. ”How far are you from us? Over.” Hank listened in Horror, unaware she’d been sent out, at the very least she didn’t seem panicked, which he took as a good sign.
“Did you know they were going?” he asked, Lee waved him away ad the crackle of the Comm started again.
“Not far--last Few--- back within the hour. Over.” Hank was relieved to hear it, and without thinking pulled the mic away from Lee and leant towards it. Every rational though he had went out the window as he spoke.
“Lupe, this is Hank. Be safe out there. And… I love you.” Lee sighed but made no attempt to grab the mic back. He mouthed something to Hank as he sat waiting with no reply. “Oh… Uh, Over.” He heard a static laugh from the other side of the transmission.
“I love y--- too Hank, Over.”
The Transmission cut off and Lee pushed him away from the mic with his shoulder.
“That was really professional.” He said, sarcastically.
“Would you have preferred I sing a song?” Lee didn’t answer, as he pulled the data back up onto the screen “Look I don’t have a private Comm so I don’t usually get to talk to her when she’s out there. I just wanted to let her know.”
“And now all the Dogs know too.” He said, wheeling his chair round to face him. Hank stopped.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a hivemind Comm, they all pick up the same audio.” Hank’s felt his face reddening. He should’ve realised that.
“Great.” He watched as the screen spiked up again. “I’m sure they’re fine though. They had all the Dogs.” He said to himself, trying to be reassuring. He shook his head and turned back to Lee “So, uh, any idea who would have responded to your message thing?” He asked trying to revert the conversation. Lee was quiet, thinking.
“I guess it could be my dad. He knows we’re here, and he might still have access to Arcadia tech.” He clicked his fingers “But him actually helping us depends on if he wants to see us again. Entirely possible he cut communication as soon as he figured out it was me.”
Hank could relate, his own dad wasn’t exactly the best of people. But he trusted that even that asshole would try to save his family from Elysium.
“I mean, it might not be your dad, maybe it’ll be some well meaning Ex VP or something that come and help.” Lee sighed, shutting down the recording.
“We can only hope.”
The Blood Red Dogs, as they’d agreed, were back to the bunker within the hour. Hank had shot out of the Control Room as soon as he heard footsteps. He looked round eagerly to see her again, happy to see that none of the Dogs felt the need to mock him for the words spoken over the Comm. Each one passed, grizzled Veteran Dogs, young Vps who’d joined recently, but he couldn’t see her face among the crowd.
The last Dog to enter was Yasser Latef, who looked as if he’d managed to get a couple more injuries in the fight, a large gash on the side of his forehead. He approached Hank with a face like thunder.
“Seems rough out there, what happened?” Hank asked, as he watched blood drip down the side of his face. Yasser wiped it away with the back of his hand.
“Half way through the meeting we got a garbled message from the outskirts, there was a group of scouts hiding out there.” He stopped, his usually cool demeanour was completely shaken up. His eyes darted from side to side. “Hank, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault if you couldn’t save Scarlet.” He said quickly, he knew where this story was going and he didn’t want to hear the pity. Yasser stared at him, and bit his lip.
“No, no. We… We found Scarlet, she’s okay.” Hank took a moment, trying to process it. He’d considered the thought, but he never believed it would be true.
“She’s alive?” Yasser nodded, but Hank prepared himself for what he was about to say. He willed his thoughts to not go down a certain path, but he knew what was coming. He could see she wasn’t with him, he could read between the lines.
“Yes. But…” He took a breath “Hank I don’t know how to say this, Lupe didn’t make it back.”
There it was. He felt his chest close up.
“Where is she?” Yasser was silent, clearly searching for the best way to word it. Hank braced himself, staring straight ahead. He knew the answer.
“She spotted your sister and went back for her” He spoke slowly, as Hank absorbed every word. “But one of those damn creatures was following her. She held it off while Scarlet escaped.”
“Lupe’s dead.” Hank said, breathlessly.
“There was no way she could survive that, but she wanted to get Scarlet to safety. If it helps ease your pain, she went down a hero.” Hank nodded, unable to say anything else.
He pushed passed Yasser and headed to the bunks, shutting off every light and candle in the room till he was in the darkness. And for the first time in 11 years, he let himself cry.
Hours after the recruits got back, his sister had woken up. He’d gone and sat beside her, and they held eachother as they both shook. She recounted her days in Elysium and he comforted her, trying to stay strong. It was horrible, and he hated talking about the outside. But she needed to tell someone, so he sat through it all and heard her tales of the horror.
He tried not to talk about Lupe. He didn’t want to. He knew that he’d cry again and he didn’t want anyone to see that weakness.
The BRD mourned her, but they didn’t have long before they lost another member and the grief had to move to them. They’d seen too much heartache to dwell on every loss.
He wished he could do the same, but his mind was stuck. He kept thinking about her, feeling like a stupid lovesick child again. He meandered round hallways alone, trying to avoid talking to anyone if he could help it. The quiet drove him crazy, but all the conversations were worse. The pity, the sad looks. He didn’t want it.
When the pain got too much, he considered spending time with the old Voodoopunks, since they didn’t really do casual conversations. And he wondered for brief moment if some of them were still able to channel spirits. It was a wild idea, but he’d heard the Mcalistair legends enough times. It could be done.
But he didn’t want to speak to someone else channelling her spirit, he wanted her to come back. He wanted to be with her again.
There was one morning where he’d walked into the canteen and spotted one of the Dog’s rifles discarded on the bench. He walked over to it, unthinking, and held it in his hand. He didn’t know much about souls and Elysium. There was a risk, but a pay off. His finger hovered over the trigger for a second. It had already been 11 years here, he didn’t know how many more he wanted to face by himself.
He placed the gun down again quickly, feeling uncomfortable. He wanted that thought out of his head.
That had been 4 days ago, and his brain was still reeling from it. He sat on the floor outside the training room, just waiting and lingering till someone would break him out that state, fearing that if he was left thinking for too long he’d head right back to the rifle.
He felt like a child. The other soldiers saw death all the time. Mary had watched her own children get slaughtered for heaven’s sake. It was a given, and he wondered why he was being such a baby.
“You’re up early.” Said a voice across the room, finally snapping him out of those thoughts. He looked up to see Lee, closing the door. He was surprised to see him around, he was another guy who tended to keep to himself.
“So are you.” He said, trying to push his thoughts away. He definitely didn’t need to get upset in front of him.
“Gets lonely in the control Room sometimes.” He scratched the back of his head with his hand, a loitered in the hall. “Mind if I join you?” he eventually asked.
“Go for it.” Hank said, and Lee settled down beside him with his knee pulled up to his chest. “Anything further on the messages?” He asked knowing Lee had been holed up in their all day.
“I think so. It’s vague though.” He clicked his tongue. “Any chance you know Morse code?”
“Damn, I’ll have to ask around. I got some blip through but I can’t figure them out.”
“I’m sure someone knows.” Hank said, not fully listening to the conversation. There was silence in the hallway for a goof few minutes before Lee spoke again. Hank knew the line that was coming, and he braced himself for it.
“I heard about Lupe.” Lee said. Hank felt his throat close up. Of course he had, everyone had.
“I really don’t want to talk about this right now.”
“From what I’ve heard, you haven’t talked to anybody.” He said. Lee seemed awkward, but pressed on with the conversation “I know how you feel. I’ve been through it.”
“Uh huh.” He responded, hoping to ease the conversation away. He knew what Lee meant, but it wasn’t gonna make him any happier.
“It’s-“ Lee paused, trying to find the words. “It’s difficult, and I’m not gonna pretend it get’s better.” Hank raised his eyebrows. That was a new one.
“Excellent conversation, thanks so much.”
“I’m trying, okay?” Lee responded, fist clenched on his knee. His posture was tense, he clearly didn’t want to be talking about it either. That gave Hank a bit of comfort. At least it didn’t feel like empty pity. “It hurts, but you don’t want people to know how much it hurts. But you shouldn’t hide from the grief. When … When Adrian died, I didn’t talk to anyone about it, and it nearly drove me insane.”
“How did you deal with it?”
“I didn’t. I still haven’t really dealt with it.” He leant back, resting his head on the wall and laughing without emotion “I’m fully aware that I should follow my own advice, but this isn’t about me.”
Hank knew Lee wasn’t one for discussing his feelings with people, so at the very least he wasn’t mad. This felt like a genuine attempt at helping him. He thought about what Lee was saying, and figured he could at least give it a shot.
“I miss her.” Hank said, wiping his face with his hand. “I miss her a lot.” He could feel tears stinging in his eyes, but he didn’t make an effort to hide them. It wasn’t much, but he felt the pain in his chest lift slightly. “I miss my family too.”
“And you’re allowed to.” Hank thought for a second, and realised he was right. Just because the other soldiers were emotionless and strong, didn’t mean he had to be.
“No problem.” They sat there, both feeling slightly awkward but a little better. Lee tapped his fingers on his knee and turned to face him, changing the subject. “You know what I really miss? Alcohol. I’d kill for a shot right now.” That was something Hank hadn’t ever thought about it.
“I’ve never had it.”
“I was too young before we came over.” He’d heard good things about it in the last few years, but his mother would have never let him try it. Lee widened his eyes, suddenly remembering.
“God, You’re like 18 right?” Hank nodded “Wow. Okay, first thing we do when we get to New Albion is buy you a beer.” Hank liked the sound of that, he needed something to look forward to when they got home.
“I’m here for that. Second thing we do is get you fitted with a cool robot arm.” He responded, feeling the tension die down a bit. Lee smirked, nudging him with his shoulder. Hank sniffed, but found himself smiling.
“Sounds like a plan.” Lee stood up, stretching. “I’ve gotta head over and talk to the Dogs, but if you wanna discuss anymore, you know where to find me. And we’ll talk about them, yeah?”
“I’d like that.” Lee smiled before heading off, leaving Hank sat alone once more.
Eventually, Scarlet rounded the corner. She looked more healthy now, more awake, but Hank could see the toll the outside had taken on her. He stood up and hugged her tightly, telling her how happy he was to see her again. Scarlet seemed like she was avoiding talking about what happened, but Hank knew they needed to. So he asked about Lupe.
Scarlet thought for a second, her face dropping and she thought back. She spoke with admiration, and sadness.
“She saved me.” She replied, eyes shining. “My gun wasn’t working, and I thought it was gonna kill me. But Lupe, she came back and…Hank you should’ve seen her.”
“She must’ve thought very highly of you.” He said, smiling despite the tears welling in his eyes. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I’m glad you’re okay.” She said, wiping away the tear that fell down his face. He hugged her, squeezing tightly. He felt stupid for getting so upset when she was the one who suffered outside, but he didn’t feel bad. Lee was right, he was allowed to get upset.
And was gonna do the best he could to make Lupe’s sacrifice worth it.
He and Scarlet were gonna survive, they’d make it out of Elysium, they’d be home. Even if they were the last one’s standing, they’d power up that portal and make it home
They’d have a proper funeral for all the people that had been lost. His mother, Julie, Olivia. All of them. They’d be ready to tell stories of Lupe and his family to the people of New Albion.
He swore it to himself. He’d make sure she hadn’t died in vain.
They were gonna make it home.