INTRODUCTION, (PART 1 OF X)

One day, several minutes into his first class of the day, an exceptional university student by the name of B.J. Vankoughnett arises from his Carleton residence bed, again realising he turned off the alarm hours ago. He groans, thinking "Why do I always set that thing so far before my class starts, only to fall back asleep? Now, how am I going to finish that physics lab, and go to CS class?".

As he attempts to stand, the five foot ten thin male quickly receives a head rush due to lack of sleep, propelling him back to his bed. He firmly and purposefully thrusts himself from his pillow, to prevent himself from returning to peaceful, comfortable sleep . . .

Rubbing his eyes, the future bachelor of mathematics quickly puts on a pair of blue jeans, socks and a teal T-shirt. His asthma inicking marbles here and there, with the occasional and distinctive sound of a marble hitting high quality hardwood, covered in hand-woven throw rugs.

Faint footsteps are heard, and they become progressively louder. A man in a white lab coat with the word "Blizzard" in blue written on the back walks up to the immense desk at which the figure sits.

"You have been monitoring the subject?", the man seated simply states, with disinterest.

The other, nervously scratching his neck "Yes, I have. . . I, you, will have him today, CEO."

The Chief Executive Officer's head moves up slightly, his voice sounding more intrigued, and content. "Excellent. Once you are finished . . . whatever you are going to do, LCG, bring him to me."

"Yes, sir. Gladly, sir.", rigidly and excitedly responds the lab coat guy, as he turns and quickly walks out of the gargantuan office of the CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, as he laughs maniacally.

Elsewhere, and also at the same time, yet another organisation, although patiently, waits for the correct tim today, CEO."

The Chief Executive Officer's head moves up slightly, his voice sounding more intrigued, and content. "Excellent. Once you are finished . . . whatever you are going to do, LCG, bring him to me."

"Yes, sir. Gladly, sir.", rigidly and excitedly responds the lab coat guy, as he turns and quickly walks out of the gargantuan office of the CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, as he laughs maniacally.

Elsewhere, and also at the same time, yet another organisation, although patiently, waits for the correct time to act. A dozen less one remain generally seated around a metallic table, five of whom are trying to prove it is combustible by lacing it with fire jets conveniently placed under their arms.

One, at the head of the table, begins to speak in the friendly, yet authoritative, tone of a leader:

"Since our formal leader has departed, and the multiple incidents of the internet demons, we are in dire need of new manpower to beef up our ranks. That said, and no one having any obvious candidates, there are confirmed rumours are that Blizzard is planning to construct a new weapon. It is imperative that this scheme does not come to fruition. Our objectives are: Find this weapon, and destroy or capture it, and do it with as little area damage as possible. We know that Blizzard has constructed a lab somewhere within this univerisity, and that it would most likely be in a any kind of science building."

The leader lets a second man instruct the other nine. "We'll do the buildings one at a time. Lucky for us, there are underground tunnels between these buildings. You must enter the science buildings, " pointing at a conveniently placed overhead map each time he says here, "here, here, here here. It is here, or here, you must keep an eye out for the flensers, since they will be guarding the lab from this entrance, and . . ."

The university student of which was previously exiting his residence to proceed to a class which he was already late for, did not notice the man in a black trenchcoat walk up to a conviniently located lamp post fifty some yards in front of him and tape a bright yellow flyer to it. Perplexed by the uncanniness of the bright piece of paper and unknowing of the character who just put it up, B.J. trudges to the lamp post, dreading another useless message. To him, it wasn't. It was a flyer concerning a new asthma treatment found. However, it was desperately searching for volunteers to have the treatment administered to them, and it started in three hours, at the biology building. "Good", he thought, "I can go after calculus", he rationalised to himself, " besides I could use the money, and the treatment if it works." Weirdly enough, the man with the black trenchcoat, whom the student of importance in this story is oblivious of, removes the flyer after the scholar passes.

After the class, B.J. returns to his humble abode, to waste time playing Starcraft, Diablo, assorted (negligable) games, and listening to his assortment of old nintendo midis, which he had a full day's wor. . .

"Aaaaaccccck! Not the Snake Man midi! No! Shut it off . . . ah . . . Metal Man, much better."

Er, anyway. . . he begins humming to the tune, to the exclusion of everything else, including his looming physics lab, and eventually peels himself from his computer, after talking to his grandparents over ICQ, to stagger to calculus.

An hour and a bit later, in the lobby of the biology building, students from assorted natural science and other programs are milling about, or strolling leisurely between classes, stopping to go outside for a smoke, or to buy a pop at some exorbitant price from a vending machine conveniently placed nearby. The occurance of which is particularly attention-grasping is a man in a white lab coat, unlike the previous encountered, except by the fact he had a white lab coat on and was a human male.

"Hello there, B.J.. Please follow me.", comes out of the scientist's mouth as our asthmatic friend, before any indication that he did have intentions, purposefully moved in his general direction.

This immediately caused a furrow of perplexity in the brow of the aspiring scholar. "How did you know that I was coming to see you?" After an uneasy pause, he stammers, "Yes, yes I am. I am here because the government won't give me any, any money because my parents make too, too much of it, despite the fact that they have four dependants!", shows his four fingers of his right hand for emphasis, which the scientist promptly ignored.

The overeager scientist walks hurriedly toward the elevator, while ignorant B.J. is still attempting to get answers out of the impatient fellow. He keeps receiving the response: "I am not the man in charge."

"But, I need some answers, before I agree with this!", was continually the futile answer which was being posed. He did manage to get one answer. They were expecting him. He did not like the sound of that. While being led to the nearest elevator of the building. Once inside an empty one, and the door shuts, the unknown researcher firmly presses the small, round, grey button labelled B3. It lights up in a typical red colour of elevators, and then descends.

It continues to descend, while the two occupants remain silent. The same red coloured LED display above the elevator door says "B1". It continues, no stops, "B2". The LED display doesn't show any number now, and continues to descend.

"Um . . . excuse me? Aren't we stopping here?"
"No, why would you assume such a thing?"
"Because that's the way elevators work? B3 is directly below B2."
"Not in this building . . ."

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REBIRTH, (PART 2 OF X)

The elevator finally grinds to a halt with the familiar "bing", as the LED now represents (accurately) B3. The elevator's sliding doors part, revealing a large iron door. The biologist extends his arm and hand, inviting the young student to step forward, which he does, hesitatingly.

With a typical iron clunk the door (albeit slowly) slides to its ajar position. As it opens, the scenery is beyond description in words. The entire room is crawling with biological entities that one would expect to be inanimate. Primordial slime drips from everywhere, and intiguingly complex organisms slide and crawl all over the laboratory. A few moments later, with B.J.'s mouth still agape, turns around to see the thick iron door slide shut with a disturbing sucking sound as the ooze firmly holds the immense door shut.

"Finally, you have decided to join us . . .". Spinning on his heels, B.J. faces yet another scientist, with a grin spread across his face. "No, not really. I am here to receive asthma treatment."

Obviously very anxious, the new scientist, guiding a confused B.J. to a large metal chair in another (sanitary) room, like the ones in dentist offices, without the padding, encouragingly saying "You will never have to worry about asthma again, that you can be sure about." He sits down in the unsurprisingly unconfortable chair, as a large metal covering lowers from the ceiling. The student, alarmed, starts to sit up, "The transfor, I mean treatment, is administered respitorally, so you must be encased in this metallic cocoon." Nodding, the student relaxes as the shiny metallic covering clamps down on him. The scientist turns to pull the switch, revealing a blue logo on the back of his lab coat. It says one word: "Blizzard".

In a conveniently shadowy stairwell of the Biology building, ten shapes are standing on a landing. One nods, and another kicks the door open, only to be greeted by several of Blizzard Entertainments guards. One of the lesser armed figures' hands extend to large swords and begins to charge, cleaving through the ranks, hacking up bone and flesh alike as it does. Another runs in circles, in terror, screaming at the top of its lungs, sounding quite feminin. Five immediately spew flame forward, right through their comrade, cremating it into a very small pile of ash, and stopping the irritating wailing.

Back in the biological lab, laughing evilly, the lab coat guy muses, "Now Blizzard can take out the leaders of all rivalling parties, take over the gaming market, and then . . . THE WORLD!!!"

"Not we, I.", from the numerous shadows of the laboratory, the CEO emerges, "Just checking on my investment."

Nodding, the LCG thrusts the lever up, just as a watch alarm goes off. The metal top slowly retracts toward the ceiling, as a very large amount of the "asthma drug" hisses off into the atmosphere. As the repulsive mist continues to obscure the view of the metallic prison, a sandy-yellow, hard, insect-like leg makes contact with the floor. Another does the same. Then, four more similarly looking appendages grasp the outside of the cocoon. A hulking, seven foot to the shoulder, insectoid, with six appendages, four arms with three digits (one of which is opposable), and four toed feet rises to its full imposing height. It stares down at the two men before it with two black, blinking compound eyes, before letting out a high pitched, painful shriek. The two cover their ears. The CEO smiles, moving forward, as the gargantuan insectoid blinks, "Can you show me what my new toy for beheading CWAL can do?"

Nodding, the LCG brandishes a rather complicated control pad. He presses a few buttons on the remote, and the insectoid steps foward, clumsily. Another, longer, sequence is pressed. The hulking biological prototype turns left and then rips a conveniently waiting table to shreds with a mere swipe of each of its arms. This raises the CEO's right eyebrow slightly. The behemoth walks forward, as a bead of sweat forms on LCG's forehead.

"My toy is not supposed to do that is it?", demands the CEO of his subordinate, whom simply squeaks a no, as the arthropod tears the remote to ribbons right in LCG's left hand. The gargantuan mutant steps back a step, as if amazed at what he was just did. It's mandibles moved about as if it intended to speak. "Bbbb . . . lllliiiii . . . . zzzzzzaaaaaaaaaaarrrd."

"It can speak", remarks LCG, in awe, "amazing." as the CEO immediately presses a button on his watch.

"Youuuu caaaannnnnot hiiide from meeee. One daaay I will claaaw out yooouur eeentraaaaiiiils!", it manages to utter, as the large iron door opens.

"That day is not today, my toy," laughs the CEO as he and LCG duck behind the door. The insectoid leaps at the door, easily clearing the twenty foot gap, only to collide with the closing door. Several footsteps are heard behind the door, and the all-too familiar bell of an elevator reaching the floor. The CEO (severly muffled through the fast door) orders the door opened, and fading manical laughing his heard as the elevator rises. The sickening sound of the membranous ooze losing its grip on the door is heard all around as the door returns to its previous open position. Several squads of security personnel wait at the door, ready to blast anything that moves. To their surprise, nothing does (minus the ooze). A squad leader scratches his head. Another looks from side to side, looking for some evidence of this thing, and doesn't find any. The remaining shrugs her shoulders.

All of a sudden, one of the middle soldiers arms morph into large blades as he begins to cut down soldiers from within. The entire elevator is swamped with duct tape as a heavily armed man breaks through the stairwell door. "Ice to see you", in a thick Austrian accent, is all that is heard as a chaingun opens up from the man's large arms, hewing down guards as they turned to return fire. Before that could happen, another net of duct tape immobolises another group of men. Five men with large back packs begin spewing forth flame on all of those on the left who remain. A female holds a stone in her hands, as one of the few remaining soldiers on the right explodes in a fireball.

In the elevator, the CEO paces, then asks "Did you get the procedure on this mutation?", which is responded to by a negative from the LCG. The CEO screams at the top of his lungs "Aaaaarrrrggggghhhhhh! Why don't ANY of my evil plots work!?"

The leaders, run into the laboratory, attempting to seal it, and one soldier follows. The chaingun slows down as it runs out of ammunition. A man armed with a launcher of some sort, with duct tape at his belt, drops from the ceiling, landing on the ground, between the soldier with his arms as blades, and the female who returns the ruby that was in her hands to her belt. The man with cooling chaingun walks up to the rest, and the five equipped with flamethrowers fall in front. They charge forward as the door glides shut in their faces.

"Whew! How are we going to get out of here?", exclaims the security guard.

"Over my dead body," comes a dry raspy voice, as the seven foot insectoid who owns it drops behind them. The four whirl around in fear to see four hands at each of their throats. One arm grabs each and lifts them off their feet. They all gurgle as they begin to suffocate. He then throws them away to the right wall, knocking all of them unconscious, as a voice shouts on the other side of the door:

"FIRE IN THE HOLE!"

Leaping across the large room, the mutation dives into the adjacent room, making horrendous amounts of noise. Though, not as much as the explosion. After the smoke clears, the nine run into the room to find little left of Blizzard's secret laboratory. Then the creature emerges from the side room, and stands, thanking them "Thank you for saving me from those security personnel."

"Our job is to destroy . . . this?", quietly questions the woman, looking up slightly.
"It would appear that way, Jade", whispers the security guard.
"Deamon says, it's time to pump you up", taunts the man with the expended chaingun in a thick Austrian accent, to which the creature backs into a defensive position.
"Gnarly, one nasty bug. Anyone up for a barbeque?" asks one equipped with a flamethrower.
"I don't think that will be necessary, Speds.", replies the man equipped with duct tape.
"Bummer, Magni.", comments another Sped.

Magni, putting his hand up, requests the others to stop. Turning to the large and thin insectoid in front of him, he states "You are going to have to come with us, so we can sort this . . . misunderstanding out."

"Fine," it nods, and resumes its normal position "please, refer to me as ßetaMantis, since now my real name is irrelevent, since I am no longer human."

"Agreed." replies Magni.

They shake hands, and then Magni explains he must be put unconscious, to which ßetaMantis consents. . .

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EVOLUTION, (PART 3 OF X)

ßetaMantis awakes in his residence room. His head having a dull throbbing feeling, the all too familiar feel of a headache. "It's all been a dream!" He exclaims. Then he attempts to get up.

"Oh crap . . .", he mutters as he realises that he is still insectoid, because he still has the novelty of the two extra appendages, thin, sandy coloured, and hard. He sighs, then moves to the door. As he places one of his numerous hands onto the doorknob, it is pushed open by yet another man in a lab coat, in his mid twenties.

"Ah, correct room," he states, as he closes the door behind him.
"That it may be, and you are affiliated with whom?", replies ßetaMantis, suspiciously.
"You are currently in the headquarters of the command cell of the Circle of the Shadows, the group who saved you from Blizzard Entertainment. I am Whyte, lead engineer of the organisation," he explains, teacher-like.
Rubbing his head with one of his many hands, he surprisingly realises the truth, "Wait a minute! This isn't my residence room?"
"No, no it isn't. It is simply to ease the transition you are undergoing. While you were unconscious, I did some testing on your physiology. I have some results, good and bad."
"Uh, Whyte, didn't you say you were an engineer and not a doctor?"
"ßetaMantis, I am versed in all forms of science. Which would you like to hear first?"
"Bad, may as well. The good'll make me feel better afterwards."
"The bad news is I cannot change you back to your human self anytime soon. The good news is that this mutation is temporary, however, the span of time it takes could be anything, . . ."

Whyte continues talking, although his audience has stopped paying attention. ßetaMantis, head drooped, absorbing the disturbing knowledge. His head snaps back up as Whyte says the phrase "may be able to accelerate the mutation"

"Accelerate the mutation.", he unemotionally says.
"I can only do so for a period of time, once and only once, are you sure?", he replies, somewhat shocked.
ßetaMantis nods, "Yes, nothing would please me more than to be able to return home, my family must be worried sick."
"Fine, give me a hour."
"Agreed.", and with that, Whyte proceeds out, hurriedly. ßetaMantis calmly awaits the imminent procedure.

An hour passes. The door is opened, and Whyte proceeds in. "It is time."

Whyte, accompanied by ßetaMantis, walk through the winding and featureless walls of the COTS HQ, until they reach Whyte's lab. There is a gurney set up, with a few more straps than usual. Several COTS security personnel standby in case of . . . technical difficulties.

Whyte motions to the seven foot ßetaMantis to lie down. He motions the few security personnel to strap him down, they oblige him, and then leave. He explains, "I have no idea what will happen, as you are in the earliest stage of the mutation. As I said before, you are lucky that Blizzard didn't make this permanent, for some unknown reason, as we got there before they could finish the mutation," he says, as he places electrodes on various parts of ßetaMantis' mutated body, "This may be . . . painful, good luck."

With that, Whyte places a white sheet over ßetaMantis, turns and begins typing away at a nearby console. A few moments later, he stands up, walks over to the wall and pulls a large switch. An excrutiatingly and abnormally high volume of inhuman shrieking is heard, and it modifies slightly, getting somewhat higher. The lights in the lab go out, and the sound of leather and fabric being torn is heard, along with the breathing of someone, or something, more accurately, in pain. The lights flicker, only for a short time.

"You're human!? How? And why are you wearing a trenchcoat?", asks Whyte, perturbed.
"I am not, Whyte . . .", replies the slightly higher, dry voice of ßetaMantis.
"What!?", he exclaims as the lights illuminate themselves.

The hulking insectoid known as ßetaMantis has undergone some sort of metamorphisis. His colour had deepened to a, well, deep yellow. Draped over his shoulders were a pair of what appeared to be vestigial wings, that gave him the appearance of a human in a trenchcoat. He was holding the wings over his midsection with his lower arms, and holding his upper arms as a normal human would, almost naturally. "Wow, this could be useful, during night-time situations. . .", exclaims Whyte, his eyebrows raised.

He steps forward toward Whyte, who now almost stands at the same height as he, depressingly stating his opinion, "I don't know at this point if that matters . . ."

"Oh my God do you have any idea how more eligible this makes you for a COTS member!?", Whyte excitedly explains, "Originally, Magni (you know him, he is the C in C of COTS, currently) decreed that you could not be in this organisation because you needed to be able to be stealthy. With this . . . modification, you may actually be able to join us! Would you like that?"

After the careful consideration of a mere few moments, ßetaMantis decides, on the basis that he cannot return to his old life, that joining this organisation may be a good idea, he asks one question:

"What does COTS do, what does it stand for? I do not mean the abbreviation."

To which Whyte promptly responds, "COTS is an organisation designed to actually make sure that software, once it is at the desired quality, is then given to the public. In other words, we prevent unnecessary delays of software, by whatever means that the situation dictates."

"Really? That sounds interesting enough. I would like to take the opportunity as it presents itself," replies ßetaMantis, after a moment's thought, "It is a lot better than nothing, now isn't it?"

Smiling, the teenage genius says "You won't be sorry, supposing you do get in."
"And what do I have to do . . . exactly?", poses the evolved arthropod.
"You'll see, soon enough, whatever Magni decides is necessary to prove yourself."

If insects has eyebrows, this mutated one would have raised them in puzzlement, he simply stands there, with his head cocked to one side. "Um . . . ok. So I just head back to that room, and await Magni's decision?"

"Yes."

Whyte accompanies ßetaMantis to his new room, much like the last one he lived in. There he waited, as Whyte reported the new information to the interim commander in chief of the Circle in the Shadows, Magni.

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RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, (Part 4 OF X), and X is probably five or six, for those who care.

In his new room, similar to his residence one, ßetaMantis calmly awaits his future. The room was in the headquarters of the Circle of the Shadows, the group who engineered his escape from the evilness that is Blizzard Entertainment. He searches the room, looking for discrepancies. Surprisingly, the computer is his same old obsolete "paperweight" (as he called it, affectionately). The closet contains an insane amount of laundry, exactly the same as home. "Hmmm", he thought, "they've done an exceptional job at this. I am impressed."

In the office of the CEO of Blizzard, in Irvine, California, the LCG and CEO have returned. The CEO is still cursing the LCG for failing. Sitting on the expansive desk, is a metallic spring resembling that of that children's toy that walked down stairs, alone or in pairs, and . . . ahem, sorry.

The CEO sees it and says, "Oh, Slinky . . . how could we fail on such an important matter? We delayed Diablo Two so we could complete the research, and we failed. We may have to release the game, or cancel it. . ."

Slinky responds with a whole pile of nothing. The CEO stands up straight "What am I talking about? Just because the mutant had some help from both COTS and from the inside, like you so eloquently said, Slinky, is NO reason to fold to the gamers' whims! I am the Chief Executive Officer of Blizzard Entertainment, the most despicable pit of evil on the face of the Earth! I will never give up, and I will never surrender!"

Slinky again responds with nothing, but enthusiastically. The CEO walks up to the desk, sits down, and places Slinky on his lap, petting him. "And I could never do it without you, right Slinky?" The inanimate spring continues his evident lack of response. LCG just turns and walks out of the office, accustomed to this behavious out of his superior, thinking, "Who helped the mutation, and where did the plans go?"

After an hour of reflective, introspective and prospective thoughts, ßetaMantis then decides to seat himself at the computer, and proceeds to turn it on. It seemed the same, or so he thought. After a mere handful of seconds (contrary to the accustomed handful of minutes, as ßetaMantis expected), the computer is finishing starting up, although it is altogether changed. A communications program is up, similar to the program ICQ, but much more elegant. It seems to have folders of people up.

Immediately, one that reads "Command Cell" opens up. Several names, which ßetaMantis recognise, pop up, such as Jade, Deamon, Thunder, and Magni. However one, Dark Nexus, is unknown to him, and is offline.

The name Magni flickers on the list, after it automatically opens the folder up. ßetaMantis moves the mouse pointer over the letters and presses his middle button (which he configured as a double-left through the Windows registry). This highlights the aforementioned text and causes the computer's hard drive commences its familiar droning, the unremarkable red LED flickering away like there's no tomorrow.

The screen clears to black, and the words "Decrypting incoming message from Magni, Acting Commander in Chief of the Circle Of The Shadows . . ." fade into existence on the screen in a deep yet intense blue colour.

They fade out, and the image of the familiar face of Magni appears.

"I am here to inform you of the decision regarding your attempt to join the Circle in the Shadows, the organisation which I now lead as interim Commander in Chief. As such, it is my decision whether or not you become a member of this organisation. It is in my opinion, that one of your talents may prove useful. In light of your recent . . . modifications with Chief Engineer Whyte, and your recent conflict with Blizzard Entertainment, at 14:08:18 Eastern Standard Time, January third, two thousand, I hereby conditionally welcome you into the Circle of the Shadows. Congratulations."

A period of silence is observed, as ßetaMantis feels a burden lifted off his shoulders, and a wave of happiness wash over him.

He continues, "COTS is a very regimented military organisation. You will require physical training. If you pass this physical training, you will become a full officer. On this machine, which was designed to fit your former life, but slightly upgraded, lies a map of the entire compound of this headquarters. You are required, as your first task, to proceed to the training room on the second floor at 1500 hours. Magni, Interim Commander in Chief of COTS, out."

The screen turns black, then resumes its "normal" operation. ßetaMantis easily finds the electronic map, and spends a few minutes finding the training facility, logs off, and deactivates the computer. He then walks out the door, into the hallway, and then proceeds to where he was charged to.

Magni awaits in the training wing of COTS HQ. At around 2:50 pm, ßetaMantis walks/clambers into the room, and stands in front of him.

"Well, I have taken upon myself to train you personally", he states, "you shall train for the next week, then your position is decided. You will be taught in hand-to-hand combat, melee combat, marksmanship, discipline, and a few things which one of your abilities may find useful, climbing, stealth and silence. Since we know that Blizzard intended you to be an assassin, we will train as a stealthy, quick soldier."

ßetaMantis merely nods his approval, which was unnecessary, but he did it nonetheless. And so, began the training of the initiate.

In one of the numerous labs of the Blizzard compound the LCG is mixing chemicals, taking notes, and modifying a machine composed of a metallic cocoon like the one ßetaMantis was mutated in. "Hmmm," he pnders aloud, "and if I mix this, and do this, and . . . no that's not it. Ummm, what did I do here again? Er . . . maybe this . . ."

After several days of grueling and brutal training, a physically, emotionally, and mentally fatigued ßetaMantis stands tall in front of Magni.

Magni, with his arms folded, grins. "Well, I am impressed, somewhat. More surprised, actually. From what I heard of you, I never expected you to pass the training this well. Be in the ceremonial deck in one hour to receive your enlistment recognition."

ßetaMantis responds, wide-eyed, with as good a smile as he can muster, along with a salute. "Yes, sir!"

At more or less the same time the LCG emerges from his lab in a flourish from a week of hard research, with an amazing amount of papers and folders in his hands. "I've got it!", and begins laughing maniacally. He stops after a few moments of reveling in the glee of success. "Now, I need a subject to test the reresearched operation upon . . ."

An hour later, many soldiers, in full dress uniform, stand upon each side of the expansive ceremonial room. At the far end of the room stand the officers of the command cell. The doors opposite them, and the new member of COTS enters. Many soldiers are taken aback as a six foot, tan, chitinous insectoid, dressed in his new uniform comes into view. Aware a new recruit was entering COTS, but not knowledgeable of his . . . makeup, many are, understandably, truly shocked. His movements are evidently much more graceful, swift, elegant, accurate and deadly. Magni stands in the centre, with Whyte and Thunder on his right, and Jade and an unfamiliar man in peak physical condition, wearing a pair of sunglasses, on his left.

ßetaMantis eventually makes it to the end of the room and immediately bows down. After this, Magni speaks. "ßetaMantis, because of your abilities, physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically, as Acting Commander in Chief of the Circle in the Shadows, I hereby officially welcome you into COTS. Congratulations," he waits for a moment to add tension, then continues, "and due to your demonstrated ability of leadership, I immediately promote you to the rank of Captain. Rise and be praised by your peers."

As the surrounding soldiers applaud their new superior, ßetaMantis rises, to be saluted by Magni, and the other four main officers of the command cell, to which he returns a happy and fulfilled salute. "Thank you, sir! You will not regret this."

Magni takes him aside, after the formalities, with a look of confidence "I know I won't, Captain. Now to meet the remainder of the command cell, a little more . . . casually."

Eventually, Magni and ßetaMantis find Whyte. Whyte turns around, once tapped on the shoulder, and faces Magni, with a slight nod "Oh . . . Magni", then he faces ßetaMantis and does the same, "ßetaMantis. As you already know, I am known as Whyte, and I am the Chief Engineer of COTS. I run and oversee all the technological development and research done here. We don't really use names here, we go by aliases. It's a little more secretive that way, I suppose it allows us to remain shrouded in secrecy. If you ever feel up to some intellectual exercise, drop by, I could always use a hand."

Thunder comes up behind ßetaMantis, "Ah, yes. Captain ßetaMantis, I am Commander Thunder, head of Security and Armed Forces, lover of one-liners and ammunition eater. Glad to meet you again. Seems as though we'll be seeing a lot more of each other."

Thunder taps the tall, blond-haired Jade on the shoulder as she passes by. She jumps, then turns. "Oh! Hi everyone," then notices ßetaMantis, blushes a very little bit, she mutters an oops under her breath. "I am Acting Commander of Special Operations Jade, the only mage existent within COTS, you may want to learn a thing or too from me."

"The last you must meet is Deamon . . .", states Magni.
"You mean the disguised Blizzard soldier that had the blades inside his uniform?", asks ßetaMantis.
"Yes, but you must understand. Deamon is a flenser, fearsome robots employed by Blizzard Entertainment, and excellent lines of defense. He is one of the Mark VI models. These ones, as you remember from training, are shapeshifters, doppelgangers, and masters of disguise."
"That's quite . . . interesting . . ."

The man seen earlier, wearing a pair of sunglasses, walks up to the group. "Hello. I am Commander Deamon, in charge of Special Ops. The body you notice me in right now is actually a mark six flenser. You will have encounters with newer models of this Flenser type. Beware of the flenser, it is much more powerful than you would think. They can and will give you more fight then you could possibly bargain on. Just look at what I did to Blizzard's soldiers when you were . . . retrieved as a small sample of what they can do."

ßetaMantis nods his understanding, and the ceremony continues to welcome the new officer.

Meanwhile, PatN walks into the CEO's office. CEO looks up, from playing with his marbles with Slinky. PatN mutters "He's losing his marbles to a spring again."

To which the CEO confirms. "Argh! Not again! Best three of five?" He then notices PatN's presence. "Ah, Pat. What news do you have of the CWAL Diablo 2 raids?"

"Well, sir, we have fought the majority of them off, and they got the C&C Decoy a couple days ago." He snickers. "That was such a great idea, sir. Anyway, that is not why am I here, I bring other news."

"Well? Give it to me already! The tension is high enough! There is no need for dramatic pauses! Pat!"

PatN is startled from some sort of daze. "Oh! Sorry. LCG thinks he has the mutation formula reresearched. For the research to continue, he needs a subject.", to which the CEO only smiles, "I have unconfirmed reports that the mutant that managed to escape LCG's secret biological lab on that university campus, which, as you already know, was purged last week," the CEO nods, waiting impatiently to continue with his marble game with Slinky, "is now a part of COTS."

"What!? The mutant that LCG failed to completely muta. . .", he pauses for a moment, looks at Slinky, whom is just sitting on the desk silently, the continues, "sorry, and I failed to mind control, and completely mutate, is now part of that annoying, pwerful, and yet, seldom seen, organisation? Arrggghh! We created them a new member! Please tell me he is not stationed in Irvine . . ."

PatN only responds with a nod, to which the CEO rants, rambles and screams. PatN decides to leave, having reported. As he does, the CEO screams at him, "Find him and crush him like the bug he is!"

To be continued. . .