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Heart of Darkness

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Santiago is completely different from Kamakura. Well, of course it would be, but Renji’s not complaining. At this point, he’s gotten used to moving to different locations in various countries around the world, and it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re sent off to a different base in a different country.

But even then, they’d been in Kamakura for some time until a month ago, so it’ll take a while for Renji to get used to the environment, especially since the seasons are reversed in Chile, and the new base. Instead of private quarters, everyone has to share a room with another, and Renji’s sharing a room with Hisagi this time. Again, he doesn’t mind. Hisagi’s a good dude.

It’s been two months since Okinawa, since Granz and Aizen were arrested, and just last month, Renji and his unit had been relocated to the capital of Chile. Meanwhile, there’s been a class-action suit against Weyland-Yutani back in Japan, and it was still ongoing when they were transferred. Renji’s been unable to access any news-channels to keep up on the investigation, since there aren’t many Japanese news channels, his English is poor, and he doesn’t speak any Spanish.

The weather today is fairly warm, almost bearing down on them during their outdoor training, but they manage to push through. Besides, Renji’s done training in hotter places before, so this is nothing.

Now that it’s late afternoon, Renji is just resting in a chair in the lounge, listening to music, and reading Starship Troopers, having finished his shower and changed into fresh fatigues. He’s waiting for the right time to be able to call Rukia and talk to her, seeing that they’re in different time zones, and he doesn’t want to piss her off by calling while it’s midnight there.

In about half an hour, he should be good to call her.

He’s about halfway through the book when the door slides open and Hisagi enters the room. “Oi, Abarai. You wanna go and check out Santiago with me a bit later?” he asks.

Renji glances up, removing an earbud. “Sure,” he says. “Once I’ve finished calling Rukia, I’ll come with you. That okay?”

“No problem,” Hisagi says, taking a peek at the novel cover. “‘Starship Troopers’? What’s that about? Looks kinda old.”

“It’s military science fiction,” Renji tells him, smiling slightly. “And yes, it’s pretty old, but it’s interesting.”

Hisagi smirks slightly. “Well, I’m goin’ for a shower now,” he says. “You finish your call with Rukia and then come find me.”

With that, he takes a set of fresh clothes and heads for the communal shower facility.

Renji glances at his watch and notices that half an hour has already passed, so he puts his bookmark into the novel and closes it before getting out of the lounge. After changing into civilian clothes consisting of a black tank-top and blue jeans, he makes his way down to the on-base call center to call Rukia.

After what happened in Naha, Rukia has quit her job at Weyland-Yutani, and General Kuchiki has helped her get a job with the Gotei’s science department. Renji can’t help but briefly wonder about Kurosaki, Sado, and Ishida, the three-man crew of the JCSS Zangetsu, and whether Rukia’s going to convince them to quit their jobs with the Company.

Considering that there is a huge class-action suit against Weyland-Yutani, Renji’s not going to be surprised if more and more employees are quitting. There’s no way the Company can just brush it off, right?

But then again, this is Weyland-Yutani they’re talking about. Renji’s not going to put it past them to do some shady stuff and pull some strings so they can get off the hook.

No, he shouldn’t think like that. This time, they will be answering for all their crimes. They have to.

When he enters the call center, Renji heads to a VidiCom terminal and enters Rukia’s number in the dialpad beneath the screen. It doesn’t take too long before the screen focuses and Rukia’s face comes into view.

Rukia looks like she’s just woken up. Her long hair is somewhat messy, her violet eyes look rather sleepy, and she’s wearing a bathrobe over her pajamas. In her hand is a yellow mug with her favourite childhood character Chappy the Bunny decorated on it. However, in spite of her tiredness, she smiles at Renji.

“Hey, Renji,” she greets him.

“Morning, Rukia,” Renji says with a grin. “Am I calling at a bad time?”

“Not at all,” Rukia says. “You gotten used to your new base yet?”

“Sure have. It’s a little weird, since the seasons are reversed over here in Chile, but I’ll get used to it,” Renji tells her.

Rukia smiles slightly. “Chile, huh? Where exactly are you stationed?”

“Just outside of Santiago. It’s such a nice city. Kinda loud and crowded, but that’s part of the appeal, I guess.”

“I’ve been to Santiago once,” Rukia recalls. “I don’t remember the full details, but I do remember enjoying it.”

“Nice. Anyways, how are you doing? What’s your new job like?” Renji asks her.

At that question, Rukia seems to brighten up a bit. “Honestly, working for the Gotei is a lot better than when I worked for Weyland-Yutani,” she tells him. “Though, everyone is always being incredibly polite towards me… probably because I’m the General’s adopted younger sister.”

Renji chuckles. “Benefits of the job, am I right?”

“Not really, to be honest,” Rukia says with a light chuckle.

The humour fades away as Renji asks his next question. “Any news about the investigation into the Company?” he asks her. “I haven’t been able to keep up with the news lately, so what’s going on with it?”

Rukia’s smile fades away, and her expression becomes much more grim. “It… didn’t go too well,” she says.

“What do you mean by that?” Renji asks, not liking where this is going.

“In spite of all the evidence that’s been collected, the judge threw the case out,” Rukia says. “The Gotei underestimated just how good Weyland-Yutani is at damage control, and I honestly believe that the Company might have bribed the judge and the victims.”

Renji’s heart sinks. “You’re kidding, right?” he asks.

“I’m not,” Rukia says with a sigh. “All they got was a slap on the wrist.”

At this point, it shouldn’t be so surprising. In spite of all the evidence they’ve found in Okinawa, in spite of all the testimonies they’ve gathered… Weyland-Yutani still managed to get away with it all.

A bitter laugh escapes Renji’s lips. “Fuck…” he sighs. “I should’ve known. That goddamn Company will do everything they can so they can keep on fucking people over.”

“If it makes you feel better, you’re not the only one who’s upset,” Rukia tells him. “Nii-sama is absolutely furious, and he’s even been talking about leaking some of the evidence to the press and to the government themselves. He’s made a lot of back-up copies of whatever evidence we have: the decrypted documents, witness testimonies, and even Urahara’s data banks.”

Renji can’t help but smile slightly at that piece of information. “Leave it to him to be prepared,” he says lightly.

“Even the public is outraged. There’s even been protests going on; a lot of human rights activists and former WeYu employees have taken to protesting in the streets,” Rukia continues. “There’s a lot of pressure to get the case reopened, but it’s getting way out of hand right now.”

Protests? Now that’s new. But Renji’s definitely not complaining; if people are protesting against the verdict, then maybe this could eventually lead to the Company’s downfall. But he shouldn’t get his hopes up too high.

And if those protests are getting out of hand…

“Wait, what do you mean by ‘out of hand’?” Renji asks her.

“It’s getting violent,” Rukia says, shaking her head slightly. “People are protesting outside the Company’s Japanese branch headquarters in Tokyo, and the PMCs have been resorting to using sheer force to stop them. They’re firing tear gas and rubber bullets on the protestors.”

“Seriously? How many casualties?”

“There aren’t any official numbers, but the hospitals are getting more crowded,” Rukia tells him. “Also, it’s not just in Japan. There are a lot of other protests going on at their British and American headquarters in London and San Francisco. And I think there might even be one at their headquarters in the Sea of Tranquility on Luna.”

“Sounds like people have finally had enough of them,” Renji observes, feeling a little bit better after hearing this. “Hopefully something actually comes out of these protests.”

Rukia nods in agreement. “Yeah. I’ve also heard that a lot of people are jumping ship and quitting their jobs with the Company,” she adds. “You remember Kurosaki, Sado, and Ishida, right?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Well, they’ve recently terminated their contract. Now they’re doing deliveries for a smaller company that’s contracted to the Gotei.”

“Nice,” Renji says. “So, what are you doing in the Gotei’s science department right now?

“Oh, we’ve been working on developing an antidote for those polar flowers,” Rukia explains. “Ise and I are heading the project, and we’re using the samples from Naha in our experiments. And don’t worry, we’re being very careful with it.”

“I know you are,” Renji says with a mild chuckle. “How are Ise and Orihime doing?”

“Ise’s doing fine, and she told me to tell you she says hi,” Rukia tells him. “Orihime’s also been doing well. She says her semester is going fine, and she hopes to see you again.”

Renji smiles. “Thanks. Well, it was nice talking to you, Rukia,” he says. “I should get going now. Hisagi and I are gonna check out Santiago.”

“Nice. Take care, Renji.”

“Take care.”

The call disconnects and Renji shuts off the terminal before heading outside, where he sees Hisagi waiting for him, dressed in a black sleeveless vest over a red tank top and blue jeans. “How’d it go?” he asks.

“Rukia’s doing good,” Renji says, shrugging slightly. “Well, let’s go so we can get back before curfew.”

“Yeah.”

They both get on a bus that will take them to downtown Santiago, where they’ll get off at the Plaza de Armas. During the bus ride, Renji continues reading Starship Troopers while Hisagi reads through a guidebook on Santiago to see what to do there.

The drive goes by quickly, and before they realize, the intercom announces that they’ve arrived at the Plaza de Armas. Renji and Hisagi disembark along with a ton of passengers, and they’re immediately hit with the warm evening air and the loud conversations all around them.

Renji shuts his book before looking around the square. There are quite a few street performers, live musicians, street vendors, local artisans, and even people playing chess. But what really catches his attention is the large fountain and the amount of Spanish architecture here.

“Nice place,” Hisagi says. “Kinda reminds me of Spain, you know?”

“It does,” Renji agrees.

“Where do you want to go here?” Hisagi asks. “There’s a lot of historical buildings we can check out.”

“Let’s just take our time right now,” Renji suggests.

And so that’s what the two of them do. They just casually walk around the plaza, checking out some of the local artworks being sold, and even stopping to see some of the performers.

The atmosphere seems to be a lot more energetic than usual, which is curious. Renji asks about it to one of the locals, who explains that it’s almost Día de la Raza, or “Day of the Race”, a public holiday. There are typically a lot of celebrations around this time, especially leading up to the actual day.

Renji tries to let himself get caught up in the infectious energy and enjoy himself, but it’s so difficult right now. No, he’s not feeling sad or upset, but for some reason, something deep down in him is telling him that there’s something bad about to happen. He doesn’t know what it is, but he feels like something truly horrifying is going to happen very soon. His fight-or-flight instincts just won’t calm down, and Renji doesn’t know why.

Maybe it’s because he’s been reading too much military fiction these days? Well, if that’s the case, then… that’s just stupid. Or could it be because of the Company managing to come out unscathed from the lawsuit?

Just calm down. Renji thinks to himself, taking a deep breath. It’s a beautiful evening, have some fun.

But in spite of telling himself those words repeatedly, Renji just can’t let his guard down. He tries to enjoy himself, enjoy the sights around him, but it’s getting harder to ignore that gut feeling.

And it’s not even a very pleasant feeling. It’s a very weird kind of dread, like something doesn’t feel right. Renji tries to tell himself that it’s just nerves, but after a while, he’s not so sure.

It doesn’t take long for Hisagi to take notice of Renji’s turmoil, so he asks him, “you wanna sit somewhere quiet?”.

Renji blinks slightly before glancing at Hisagi. “S-Sure,” he says.

Hisagi takes him to the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, and the sudden quiet is a welcome break from the loudness of the plaza. Plus, the inside of the cathedral is gorgeous, which is another benefit.

They head to one of the pews in the back and take a seat, and Renji just takes a drink of water from his bottle before he stares up at the ornate ceiling.

“Alright, what’s going on?” Hisagi asks him.

Renji glances at him. “What do you mean?”

“Ya think I didn’t notice? You’re kinda acting like this place is a combat zone, and well… not really relaxing,” Hisagi tells him. “Don’t deny it, Abarai. I know you’re a lifer and all that, but even Zaraki knows when to relax. This isn’t training or combat, so what’s wrong?”

Well, he’s got a point. Renji just sighs and buries his face in his palms.

“Okay, well…” Renji rubs his face and looks back at Hisagi. “You ever feel like something bad is gonna happen, but you don’t know why?”

“Kinda, I guess,” Hisagi says, shrugging.

“Well, I’m feeling that right now,” Renji tells him. “No matter what I’m telling myself, there’s something telling me that something bad, something really fucked-up, is gonna happen soon. And I don’t even know what or why I’m feeling it.”

Hisagi frowns slightly. “What does that feel like?”

“Like some really weird kind of dread,” Renji says. “My chest feels tight, it feels like something’s not sitting right in my stomach, and just… I’m on major fight-or-flight and I don’t know why. I’m really not liking it at all.”

Slowly nodding, Hisagi then looks thoughtful. “Maybe it’s just belated culture shock?” he suggests.

“We transferred here last month,” Renji points out. “I’ve had plenty of time to get over that. And like I said, it’s like a… a premonition, or something like that.”

Hisagi shrugs. “I dunno what to say, Abarai. I mean, I’m not Unohana,” he says. “Maybe if you talk to her, she might know something.”

“Yeah. I should book an appointment,” Renji agrees.

“Or maybe it’s from that book you were reading earlier. ‘Starfighters’, you called it?”

“‘Starship Troopers’, actually,” Renji corrects him.

“Yeah, that.” Hisagi raises an eyebrow. “Anyways, what’s it about?”

Renji smiles slightly in spite of himself. “Well, it was published in the 1950’s. It’s about a bug war between humans and aliens in the future,” he says. “Sure, sounds kinda cliché, but it’s well-written. There’s a lotta interesting stuff as well; stuff about war, militarism, coming-of-age and all that.”

“Huh. You know, I never would’ve thought you were into that kind of stuff, Abarai,” Hisagi says. “All the vintage and retro stuff… never figured you liked that.”

Renji shrugs. “Dunno. There’s something kinda interesting to see how people in the 20th century saw the future,” he says.

Hisagi chuckles slightly. “You feeling anxious because you think there’s gonna be a bug war or something?” he teases.

“Oh, shut up,” Renji mutters, rolling his eyes. “That’s completely unrelated.”

“But you do feel better, right?” Hisagi points out.

Not completely, to be honest. But Renji just shrugs a little. “I guess I do.”

“Then that’s good.”

Renji smiles weakly. “Yeah, I guess.” He then glances at his watch. “We should head to the bus stop soon so we can make it back before curfew.”

“Good idea,” Hisagi says.

With that, they get up and leave the cathedral before heading to the bus stop. And despite their earlier conversation, that feeling of dread hasn’t gone away at all.

Renji just knows he’s going to have a nightmare tonight. He just knows it.


The next morning, Renji wakes up from a night of bad dreams, his heart nearly racing as he slowly takes a deep breath to calm himself down. That dread and premonition of something fucked-up hasn’t gone away at all; if anything, it’s only grown stronger.

As Renji gets ready for the day, changing into his fatigues and tying his hair up, he quickly realizes that there’s something eerily familiar about this kind of dread. He can’t put his finger on it, but he hopes that a talk with Unohana will be able to quell his worries.

Unfortunately, the rest of the squad is quick to pick up on Renji’s turmoil at breakfast.

“Ya know, the food isn’t that bad, Abarai,” Yadomaru jokes.

Renji nods absentmindedly. “I’m not very hungry,” he admits.

“Something on your mind, man?” Bazz-B asks.

“Just thinking about today’s training,” Renji tries to lie.

“Come on, you really think we’re gonna believe that?” Mila Rose asks.

Renji’s about to speak when Akon enters the mess hall and approaches the table. “Sergeant Zaraki is waiting for all of you in the briefing room,” he tells them. “He’s requested that you all come immediately.”

Nodding, Renji stands up and picks up his tray. “Alright, guys. Let’s head down there now,” he says, his voice becoming a bit more authoritative.

On the way to the briefing room, Renji gets that premonition again, and it’s not going away in spite of him trying to calm himself down. Breakfast probably isn’t agreeing with me. He tries to reassure himself.

Deep down, he knows that’s not the case.

When they reach the briefing room, Renji takes a seat next to Hisagi and Kira and starts sharpening his combat knife. A short while later, Zaraki enters the room and turns on the giant screen, which displays a map of the world.

As Zaraki controls the map to zoom in on South America, the door slides open. To Renji’s surprise, Kyoraku enters the room.

“Attention!” Kyoraku commands.

Instantly, everyone stands up, and Zaraki turns to salute Kyoraku.

Kyoraku nods. “At ease.”

Everyone sits back down, and the dread that Renji’s feeling only amplifies even further. His heart is beating quicker, he feels some knots in his stomach, and his Inuzuri instincts are slowly beginning to kick in.

Why’s Colonel Kyoraku here? What the hell is going on? Renji wonders.

His squadmates are also looking quite concerned at this.

“You’re probably wondering why Colonel Kyoraku is here,” Zaraki begins, his voice unusually serious as he paces a little. “Let me tell you this, first of all. This is no ordinary mission we’ve been given. This is a very serious situation we have to deal with.”

Renji’s stomach sinks slightly.

“Remember this creature? You encountered it on LV-352,” Kyoraku begins, pressing a button on a remote.

Renji’s eyes widen in shock, and he tenses up as the image appears on the screen. A biomechanical creature with no eyes, an elongated head, inner jaws hidden behind a drooling, perpetually-leering mouth…

Xenomorph XX121.

This isn’t happening, Renji thinks to himself, his horror steadily mounting. It can’t be.

“This… This isn’t real, right?” Mila Rose asks, her voice just as shocked as she asks what everyone’s thinking.

Kyoraku’s expression becomes grim.

“I’m afraid it’s very real, Private,” he tells her. “They’re here on Earth.”