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Muse's excursion into W4 had, while eventful, certainly been something different from Rink's exploration. She had found the main entrance of the western tower, and wandered inside while trying to act natural, even if she didn't have much experience with that. After entering, and concluding that it definitely wasn't a prison but rather seemed to be where the soldiers lived, she had tried to find some kind of map. The combination of an unfamiliar face - a female face, at that - and not appearing to know what she was looking for had led to the assembly of a crowd of people too eager to help out. As she couldn't really tell them why she was actually here, she allowed them to give her the tour - still under the guise of Morrigan Martinson, new recruit. Perhaps she could at least learn something about the base and thereby where she might find Markus. Halfway up the stairs to the second floor, someone pointed out her quiver, and before she had really figured out what to do about it, had been taken to the training grounds to demonstrate her archery. She didn't quite show off the full extent of her skills, and certainly not any of her specialty arrows. She would easily have been able to deal with the dozen or so Marine soldiers around her if she wanted, but that wasn't going to improve their chances of finding Markus any. Letting off a sigh as she hit the training target dead on after increasing the distance to it for the fourth time, she hoped Rink was having better luck and that she would give her an excuse to get out of her current situation soon.
Rink turned around. She still couldn't see anything clearly, but there was the obvious shape of a person sitting inside the cell, someone fairly wide. And the sound of their body was... human but different, but Rink also felt like there was something garbling up what she should be hearing.
"I didn't mean to wake you up," Rink said.
"What are you doing here?" the gruff voice from within asked. "You don't sound familiar."
"I'm, uh... new here. Just transf-"
"No, you're not."
"Let me ask you this... do you know who I am?"
"Hah! There's no way you wouldn't know about me if you were really a Marine here," the man said with a laugh. "Hell, just being a Marine in West Blue should be enough. And if you were new, there's no way you'd be sent down here. Not on guard patrol, not even as a hazing prank..."
"Fine, you figured out that I'm not really a Marine," Rink said and walked up to the bars. "You want a medal?"
"Ha ha... I'd be satisfied with knowing what you're really doing here."
"I'm... here to rescue a friend," Rink replied. "I know he's somewhere in this base..."
"All on your own?"
"I... have a companion, but she's investigating the other tower..."
"Hah! I'm impressed you got as far as you did, but you're going to need more help than that to find someone here."
"I'm starting to realize that, yeah," Rink replied. "But I have to do what I can."
"So I suppose that uniform got you through the gate, but I'm curious how you got in here..."
"Came across some keys... and then wandered through the sewers," Rink replied. "Not something I want to do again, but..."
"That's a new one," the man said. "Well, you seem to be quite the crafty one..."
"I've been around," Rink said. "And if you'll excuse me, I have to be on my way."
"Why don't we help each other out, here?"
"What do you mean?"
"You get me out of here, and I help you find your friend. I know the workings of this place..."
"And how do you suggest I do that? I don't think any of the keys I have are going to work," Rink said. "Well, I have a rifle..."
"You won't be able to shoot out this lock with something that puny," the man replied. "Not my shackles either."
"Maybe..." Rink said and got a tuning fork out of her pocket, walked up to the gate and struck the lock. She listened for a moment. "Okay, no, that won't work either."
"What was- well, never mind. You'll need the keys."
"And where do I get those?"
"The guard room, to the right."
"I came from there, just a maintenance room," Rink replied.
"Uh, my right."
"Oh. Yeah, there's something over there. And... a path behind me?"
"That's the main entrance to here, but that one's locked tight."
"Where's 'here', anyway? Not really sure where I've ended up..."
"The maximum security cell of W4, in the basement of the prison tower..."
"Maximum security, huh? You must be some big shot."
"As far as West Blue goes..."
"So before I help you... who exactly are you?"
"My name's Allen Roland."
"You're... Roland? The butcher of the 62nd branch? Three dead, eight injured..."
"Is that what the Marines turned it into!?" he exclaimed. "I should've known..."
"It's what it said in the papers," Rink replied. "That's not what happened?"
"I did attack them, but... it's not like I did it just for the hell of it..." Allen said.
"So what was the reason?"
"Maybe I can tell you the whole story once we're out of here."
"Alright, fine," Rink said. "I guess we have a deal. So... just get to the guard room, get the keys?"
"It won't be that simple... if you come from this side, they'll know something's wrong."
"Well, it's not like I can come from the other side without a lot of hassle, from the sounds of it..."
"There's no way to go around from here. We'll have to get some guards in here."
"Do they patrol, or something?" Rink asked.
"Not much.... they come by six times a day, including breakfast, lunch and dinner," Allen replied. "Last check is before they turn out the lights for the night, and then they don't come back until breakfast."
"I don't have time to wait until your breakfast."
"That would be a bad idea anyway, the best time would be now... the guards are fewer, the snails are dormant..."
"...snails? You don't mean..."
"Surveillance snails, of course... you would have passed some coming here, and there's two more in my cell."
"...so why have they not come to shoot me already?"
"The snails are sleeping... and as long as the lights are out, they can't see much anyway. They don't pick up too much sound, probably wouldn't even pick up our conversation if they were awake, but they're very sensitive to light."
"So... if guards come in here... they'll turn the lights on, and that'll wake up the snails, right?"
"I'm starting to like this plan less and less... but how are you proposing we do this?"
"I'm gonna wake up the snails in my cell."
"Okay, now I definitely don't like this plan."
"It's the only way to get their attention from here, without letting them know there's someone else around."
"How are you even going to do that?"
"Being loud enough will wake them up, so it won't be a problem," Allen explained. "They won't see anything, but... even if it's dark, the guards will note that they're active, and they'll have to come check on me. They don't take any risks when it comes to me, even if I haven't tried anything for as long as I've been here..."
"How long have you been here?"
"Gets boring, I take it."
"This is the most exciting thing that's happened so far..."
"So... you wake up the snails, then... what?"
"All I know is that they'll turn the lights on and come in here to check on me. There's not really anywhere to hide here, and there's no telling where the snails will be when the lights go on-"
"I don't think that'll be a problem, actually."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah... I can find them."
"Right... anyway, it's the only chance we'll have."
"Hmm... they'll have the keys with them, right?"
"Probably. They don't want to, but they have to be prepared for the possibility they have to enter my cell."
"And... as long the snails don't see it, nobody will really notice anything that happens down here until the breakfast patrol?"
"Pretty much... what do you have in mind?"
"I think I know know to do this now," Rink said. "So... any idea how many guards there'll be?"
"At least three, maybe some more... I don't know how many they have in the guard room at this time of day, not too many, but they'll want to cover some of the exits... and there'll be someone there watching the snail feeds."
"Alright... I have me an idea."
"Just give me some time to find a spot... then do your thing and I'll take care of the rest. And stall the ones that come in here for as long as you can."
"Trust me. You'll know when I do my thing."
"Oh, alright, it makes no difference to me if you mess up..."
"You'll be out of here before the sun goes up."
"Or we'll both be dead."
"Would you rather stay here and rot?"
"They'd get around to dealing with me eventually... but I do suppose you're right. I have more to gain than lose."
"Great. Give me five minutes, then let's do this."
"If you say so," Allen said as Rink turned around. "By the way... what's your name?"
"Rink Kazai. Remember it!"
In the guard room of W4's prison basement, six Marine soldiers were currently working - or something like it. Four of them were sitting around a small square table playing cards, and the other two were sitting at a desk with a grid of black screens in front of them, doing little more than drinking coffee and generally trying to not doze off for the remaining hours of the graveyard shift. But base protocol was that all stations had to be manned around the clock with a minimum specified number of personnel, and someone had to do it. This particular station was simultaneously the least exciting and most scary one, as while nothing requiring serious intervention had ever actually occurred in the maximum security section of this base, nobody wanted to be there if it did.
The expectation was that this would be like every other night. Nothing going on, do something to waste the time while somehow staying awake, then go to bed and sleep until lunchtime. But just as one of the soldiers put down a full house of aces and jacks, thus winning the current pool of 540 beli, a small light went on in the corner of two of the screens, each accompanied by a small blip. The initial reaction from the staff was confusion, as they had never seen them activate at this time before - and never while the lights were off. But as they watched the two active screens, there was definitely motion visible, even if they couldn't see any specific thing going on.
"It's..." one of the Marines at the desk said.
"It's him," the other one filled in. "Roland..."
"What's he doing?"
"I don't know, but it looks like he's awake... and we're going to have to deal with that. Lights!"
One of the card-playing Marines got up to flip a switch next to the door leading to Allen's room, and the rest of the screens quickly switched on as the light that flooded the corridors woke up the rest of the snails. They showed nothing out of the ordinary - just nondescript gray concrete walls and floors - and the only thing to take note of was Allen's cell. He was roaring and thrashing about as much as he could with his restraints, but there was nothing that gave any clue as to why he was doing it.
Allen Roland was a large man, both in length and width, with quite the muscular build. He had brown hair that went past the shoulders, clearly not having been taken care of in a while and with facial hair of the sort one would expect from not having had any opportunity to shave for four months. He was clad in the regular white-and-black striped prison garb, sitting with his legs crossed, his cuffed hands resting in between, shackles on both legs with chains attached to sturdy loops embedded into the cell walls. He was staring at the surveillance snail with angry, yellow eyes and a scowl on his face. The signal was clear - he was mad for some reason, and they had to deal with it.
"We don't have a choice, do we?" one of the Marines that had been part of the card game said.
"No... we have to figure out what this is about, and... put a stop to it."
"I don't like it..."
"Nobody likes it, but we don't want to give the commander any reason to chew us out."
"Right. You two stay and keep a look out for anything strange, the rest of us..."
"We'll pick this game up later, then," another one said and put his hand of cards face down on the table. After grabbing their rifles that had been left resting against the wall, they opened the steel door leading into the now-lit up maximum security level. In single file, the quartet made their short but important march towards what they believed to be the level's only inhabitant. Three of them placed themselves in strategically chosen locations surrounding the innermost part of the level, and one of them - the one appearing to have the highest rank of them - walked up to Allen's cell.
"What do you want, at this time?" he asked.
Allen scowled behind his beard and stared at the man in front of him. "How long are you going to keep me here like this?" he growled. "If you're going to kill me, just do it!"
"The Commander hasn't-"
"Oh, I know what Roth wants," Allen said. "I'm his trophy. I'm the proof he's the strongest Marine in West Blue, and I'm the key to his promotion."
"Commander Roth will give the orders of what to do with you when it's been decided," the Marine replied. "There are many who'd want to see you publicly executed for what you've done, or sent to Impel Down."
"Then tell him to just do it," Allen shouted. "You can't treat people like this."
"You don't deserve anything."
"I haven't been outside for months, and the air in here is stuffy. I don't even get to stretch my legs when you let me use the toilet!"
"And that's why you're throwing a tantrum now?"
"You try sitting here, in the same place, in the same position, for months and see how long it takes you to snap," Allen replied. "You wouldn't last a week."
"Empty words," the Marine said. "Criminals can't expect humane treatment."
"Big words," Allen said.
"What do you mean?"
"You talk about criminals, yet you work for the worst ones of them all..."
"I will not dignify that with-"
The Marine soldier fell silent as the lights suddenly went out. Allen smirked, knowing nobody could see it.
"What happened? Why did the lights go out?" the soldier asked.
"How should I know?" Allen said, knowing perfectly well what was going on.
"Go tell those clowns in the guard room to turn the lights back on!" the soldier shouted to one of his companions. "If this is their idea of a joke, I'll..."
"Scared?" Allen asked with a chuckle. "You never know what I can do..."
"You can barely even move with those shackles, and I doubt even you could get through those bars."
"You're right, I wouldn't worry about me," Allen said as a few impact sounds were heard from elsewhere. Footsteps were closing in from the left, stopping close by.
"What's going on?" the soldier asked the person who had approached.
"Sir!" a voice said. "Lights out!"
"Wha-" was all he managed to say before he got a knee to the stomach followed by a bash to the head, dropping to the floor without spotting his assailant. Allen heard some shuffling around in front of him before the familiar jingle of a keyring, and soon the sound of keys entering a lock, eventually unlocking it. As the gate to his cell swung open, the flame from a match lit up the space immediately in front of him, illuminating a one-eyed, smirking face.
"And that's how you do it!"