Chapter 23 – Extraction

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“I just don’t see any alternative. The relays are too badly damaged. The crew could have repaired them in time if it weren’t for the sudden bout of insanity that swept through. The only option we have left is the plant.” Commander Exal said.

“We don’t know if Link was successful or not. You can’t condemn him like that.” Saito said with as even a tone as she could muster, standing her ground and staring down the Zora sternly.

“I understand your concern. I truly do. But if this is what the Triforce asks of us–what the goddesses ask–then we must have the resolve to follow through.” he said, sounding more like a religious fanatic than was comforting given their current situation.

“What the Triforce asks of us!? Are you listening to yourself!?” Saito cried.

“If we seal the vent, then the cult will never be able to reach it. Yes, Link and Ralin will die, but they will die knowing the cause was worthy. If they can’t resurrect Ganondorf without this one shard, then we’ll have succeeded in preventing this… reclamation you mentioned.” Exal said.

“I don’t give a damn! I’m not leaving him down there to die!” Saito shouted.

“Commander,” interrupted one of the Zora warriors, “We’re seven minutes away from containment failure. All systems report ready to engage the plant. Waiting on your command.”

“Two minutes more. We’ll wait two minutes more. Then we start the process. He’ll have five minutes to get-” Exal said, cutting himself off as he went rigid suddenly.

His hands rose and clutched the sides of his head. A cry of pain escaped him as the rest of the Zora crew underwent similar agony. Saito and Bruno backed away and readied their weapons. The other four followed their lead. As they watched the crew writhing away, they saw outside in the water the horde of Zora flapping about with unbridled fury, hurling themselves about. Something was happening with the shard, something intense.

Deep below, Link lay on his back, groaning as he clutched a tiny lump of gold in his hand. The force with which it escaped its burial threw him to the ground. He grunted and rolled onto his stomach and tried to stand up.

“Ralin?” He waited a moment, “Director? Where are you?”

As his head stopped spinning, he began to hear an unpleasant sound. It came from the writhing form just a little ways down the tunnel. It was the Zora woman he had called out to. She was screaming in a fit of pain.

“The shard, Link!”

Zelda cried out in his mind, snapping his attention back into focus.

“The shard is harming them! You have to shield it before it drives them all mad!”

Quickly, he collected the canister he had been given and slipped the fragment into it. He sealed the vessel and shoved it back into its holder, watching as it retreated back under his armor. His display confirmed it had been locked in place and notified him as it generated the containment field. It even acknowledged the new frequencies that had been added to the program. Instantly, Ralin’s form relaxed and she panted heavily, groaning as she uncurled.

“Director!” Link cried as he turned her onto her back and sat her up, “Are you alright!?”

After a moment, she responded with a nod, dazed and shaken.

“I’m… I’m okay. What the hell was that?” Ralin asked.

“I don’t know exactly, just that the shard is the cause. Now we need to get the hell out of here.” Link said.

Above, the crew came out of their fits and looked about in a daze. Saito peered out the glass as soon as she was sure they wouldn’t turn on her people. What she saw was a mass exodus towards the vent. All of the Zora who had gone mad focused their rage there. Unfortunately, removing the source of the radiation had not restored those who were already feral.

“Link has the shard. And they know it.” Saito said.

“Major! Major do you copy!?” the Lieutenant shouted through the radio.

Never had Saito felt so much relief hearing his voice and a sudden upsurge in tension knowing what was heading for him.

“We copy, Link! Good to hear you again!” she replied, “The feral Zora all know you have the shard and they’re headed your way! We can’t power the field much longer! It’s about to collapse! Exal’s going to drop the platform down onto the vent to seal it like it was designed to do! You’ve got less than five minutes to get out of there!”

“Understood, I don’t have much time left before our screens wear out anyway. We’re heading out.” Link reported.

“Be careful!” Saito said before she turned to Bruno and the rest of her unit, “We need to distract the schools long enough for Link to get free. We can’t use our suits, what else do we have?”

“You have me,” Exal said as he stumbled out of his chair, grunting as he wobbled on his feet, “I’ll draw them away. You and your men get to the escape pod.”

“You don’t stand a chance. They’ll tear you apart. There’s a better way to do this.” the Major said.

“My warriors and I will cover your escape. If they’re all charging for him, they’re clearing out of the platform as well. Everyone who locked themselves down should be able to move freely now. I’m ordering an evacuation of the station. Go. Get the shard somewhere safe. Complete your mission!” Exal replied then turned to the Zora under his command, “Begin lowering the plant into place. We can at least seal off the vent. And ready your weapons. We’re going for a swim!”

Before Saito could stop the Commander, the platform began to descend, a siren filled the air ordering the evacuation, and the aquatic soldiers were on their way out the door. She sighed, offering them a silent prayer for their safety.

“Alright boys,” Saito said as she looked to her own troops, “You heard the man, let’s get to the escape pods and get the hell out of here! Link! General evac has been called! The platform is coming down! You’ve got less than five to get clear! Exal and his people are going to cover our escape! Try to get to the escape pods on the top level of the station!”

“I’ll do what I can! We’re a little busy down here!” the Lieutenant shouted back through the radio.

He kicked as hard as he could with Ralin just a meter or two away, outpacing him. Those damned Zora, even their least athletic could out swim the best Hylian. The protection field loomed up before them, the bottom of the platform approaching the sea floor at an unsettling pace.

“Hurry up, soldier! You don’t wanna become a permanent resident!” the Director shouted.

She had quite the personality to her. She reached the edge of the field and stopped, staring down a monstrous horde of her rage-blinded countrymen. They hissed and clawed fruitlessly in the air, not daring to pass the barrier and risk a painful but rather sudden death.

“Don’t wait for me! Go!” Link shouted.

“Trying to figure out how to keep from getting stuck in traffic! You got any bright ideas!?” Ralin shot back at him.

There was only one solution the Lieutenant could imagine. He readied his weapons and took careful aim. It wouldn’t be terribly effective, one man against a hundred or so Zora. Still, he had to do something. As he selected a target, ready to fire, a powerful blast of light struck the mob from behind. A concussive wave rippled through the party and even down through Link.

“Come on you bloodthirsty bastards!” shouted an angry and familiar voice.

Another volley of rounds found their way to the mob, decimating their numbers and drawing their attention away from the pit. Exal led the charge, screaming furiously as he dove towards the horde. His warriors followed suit. The majority of the enraged Zora turned to fight, leaving a much more manageable cluster waiting for Link’s own volley. He charged forward and fired, silencing one, then returning his blade to normal before slashing powerfully at the next.

“Move, Ralin! Get clear!” the Lieutenant shouted.

“I have to get to the platform! I need to get my people out!” the Director cried.

Link grabbed the woman’s leg before she could get too far.

“No!” he ordered, “They’ve sounded for evac! Get to the nearest Zora settlement! If all the feral Zora are out here, then your people, the ones who are still sane, can get out on their own!”

Ralin protested, but relented seeing Exal and his team fighting to give her a chance to run. Other Zora emerged from the platform and rather than joining the angry mobs, they turned to flee. It was the mass exodus to safety. That was all the Director needed to see to be convinced. Link watched as she vanished into the crowd swimming away before he turned back towards the fight behind him. He prepared to fire again. Just as he took aim, Saito interrupted him.

“Link! Get a move on! We’re about to launch!” the Major shouted.

“I can’t leave them like this!” Link shouted right back.

He watched as the battle went exactly the direction that was expected. Already two of the soldiers were motionless, clouds of blood oozing from various wounds. They were badly outnumbered.

“You have to! You’ve got the shard! We can’t let them get a hold of it! Get up here now!” Saito ordered.

Link floated there for a moment, torn between his desire to help and his need to get the shard away from evil hands. In his indecisiveness, Exal cried out as he began to fail to fend off the horde. During that brief moment where his defenses began to fail, the Commander spotted the Lieutenant.

“Run! Get out of here!” Exal roared.

His frantic swings bashed several of his attackers away. With his arms free, he brought them in to his chest. He was operating something. A gesture and cry sounded, commanding his surviving warriors–now down to four–to do the same. When they all received the message, Exal gave in. His last act was to roar with all his might, as loud as his voice could muster.

“For Hyrule and the Goddesses!”

A powerful blast reverberated through the water, shredding through a good number of the feral horde. Link was thrown back, the wind knocked out of him. It had stunned him completely. Four more blasts ripped through the water, rocking him again. With no one left to save, he had no choice but to turn and flee the surviving feral Zora. He began to kick and swim as fast as his limbs could carry him, passing the outermost edge of the platform. He searched frantically for the escape pods, hoping he might be just in time.

“What the hell was that!?” Saito screamed through the radio.

“That was Exal’s death rattle!” Link shouted, “Where the hell is your escape pod!? I can’t find you!”

“Bruno! Can you disengage us from the platform without firing up the engines?” Saito asked.

The soldier was already on top of the request before it escaped her lips.

“I’ll try, but all I think I’ll be able to do is hold it for a minute or two before it engages. It’s hard wired in to launch.” Bruno answered.

A few moments later, a cylindrical object began to float up from the top of the platform, lights shining from inside.

“Look to your nine o’clock! I can see you!” Saito shouted.

Link spun in the direction he was given, spotting the craft easily. Without hesitation, he launched himself towards it. The hisses of the mob sounded behind him, already closing in on him.

“I’m not gonna make it! It’s just too damn far away!” Link cried between grunts of pained exertion.

He was so tired from everything. The fighting, the swimming, the trauma of the mission. His body just didn’t want to give him any more.

“Hold the engines as long as you can!” Saito ordered, “Do we have any weapons on this bucket!?”

Bruno shook his head. The Major turned back to the window, watching in futility. Link strained himself, his arms and legs burning from use. He couldn’t help but think this was how it would end. If only he had turned and gone when he was told to. He would be torn apart and the shard would be free to do even more harm, and it was all his fault. Knowing that, he couldn’t give up, no matter how badly he wanted to rest, to let the dark sea claim him.

“Link, look on your belt. There should be something there that can help you.”

Again the Potentate chimed in to give him guidance and focus. This was becoming a regular habit. He continued to kick as he looked down, feeling over the various tools hanging about his waist. One in particular caught his attention. As soon as he spotted it, he began talking to himself.

“I’m only gonna get one shot at this. Make it count, hero!”

A black device, round and about as long as from the heel of his palm to the end of his longest finger, was removed and held out. The grip at the bottom had a button to trigger it. The other side had what looked like a claw. He aimed carefully and fired.

A cloud of bubbles escaped the far end of the device as the claw raced out with terrific speed, tethered back on a thick, durable line. Link held his breath as he watched the grapple charge through the water. The satisfying sound of metal striking metal rang out as the claws closed around one of the skids under the pod. He sighed in relief and began to retract himself.

“That’s it! I can’t hold it any longer! Link! Brace yourself!” Bruno cried.

Three thrusters fired up under the pod, pushing it upward. The capsule raced towards the surface unbelievably quick. The slack that had developed in the line was suddenly pulled taut and Link was jerked forward and up. It was so powerful a jolt that it shook his head inside his helmet, leaving him dizzy. His arm screamed in pain from the initial wrenching, but then calmed down for a moment. The angry fingers of the mob swished just barely out of reach as he was dragged away. His shoulder complained powerfully, hurting more and more as the seconds ticked by, but he didn’t dare let go. The suit had failed to protect his arm from the force. It must have been damaged, leaving just his own strength to keep him attached.

The water raced by. The sound was actually somewhat soothing, like white noise. The Lieutenant panted and sighed as he began to relax. His shoulder refused to stop hurting, but his exhaustion allowed him to block it out somewhat, almost on the verge of passing out. The thrusters cut out after a short while, when light returned to the water above. Up they floated, growing nearer and nearer the world above with every passing second.

The rough surface of the water was breached quite sharply by the capsule. It tossed about in the heavy waves. Immediately, their dropship converged on the vehicle. The hatch opened and the team inside was lifted out of the water one by one as Link finally surfaced as well. The line was lowered for him and he took hold with his uninjured arm, happy to be hoisted out of the ocean. He was hauled in and the panel was closed behind him while he lay sprawled on the deck, gripping his still screaming shoulder. The troops were all shoved aside as the pilot moved in to assess the situation.

“Lieutenant! Can you hear me!?” the pilot shouted.

Link nodded, “I’m… I’m okay… My shoulder hurts. I think it’s dislocated.”

He thought it was terribly odd that the pilot was so concerned with him and not being a pilot. The craft suddenly rocked to one side as an explosion caught the entire crew off guard. The pilot was thrown against the wall, helmet coming undone from the impact.

“Ma’am! I need you back up here! We’re being fired on! The cultists have found us!” called out the co-pilot

“Get us the hell out of here! Back to HQ on the double!” the pilot shouted back.

Now that his head wasn’t quite so fuzzy, Link began to recognize the voices. He sat up and dragged himself to one of the seats to strap in, just as he saw the pilot pick herself up. Her helmet fell off in the process, revealing a young lady, hair pulled back in a neat bun, with a very familiar visage.

“Minister Roslin?” Link asked.

“Shut up, strap in, and don’t die! That’s an order!” she barked at him.

The First Minister dove back into the cockpit to assist the co-pilot, her visor opened to reveal it was Impa. Together, the two brought the shuttle about and powered the engines with all due haste back home. As they came about, Link and the team caught sight of what had attacked them. It was a large, dark vessel, no doubt designed in form and appearance to inspire fear.

The conflict had just escalated. The word was out about the cult at this point, and that word was ‘destroy’.

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