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Safe As Houses (solo)


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March 3rd, 2014, late evening


The air of Freedom City had the crisp snap taken out of by this time of year, but was still cool, especially at night. Around Greenback, with its crumbling disused warehouses and rusted disused traintracks, it had a certain dusty quality to it. And every so often, Noemi came across the odours of the homeless, a sharp pang of an impromptu latrine. Greenback was home to a number of Freedom Cities homeless. The old bricks, mortar, steel, and wood providing shelter at the risk of a collapsed roof. Every now and again she could a fire in the distance, as the vagrants huddled around to keep warm and tell stories. 


Safehouse detected. Proceed to building "Grin and Bear It". 


She didn't hear the words. She saw them. A print out only she could see, the white letters appearing before her. 


Inside her head there resided a computer. "Slave" it was called, but she wondered exactly to whom it was enslaved. Her eyes were not her own. Bright green and pretty they may have been, but completely artificial. Through them, the text of Slave was printed. 


She just thanked the fates that the Soviet scientists who designed Slave and put it in her chose text rather than a voice. 


"Grin and Bear it" must have been an old Russian trading shop, or warehouse. It was half derelict now, with a patchwork roof and big holes where bricks had caved in. She approached cautiously. It was dark, but her eyes could see well enough by starlight. Inside, Grin and Bear it was rotted and green. She saw a number of old Russian tourist tat, such as Polka Dolls and a number of tattered doll Bears with a fierce grin. The vodka bottles had been pillaged and consumed decades ago, no doubt but alcoholic scavengers. A bottle of vodka would keep the cold out for a day, maybe two.


She saw embers, still warm, glowing in one corner. Who was it? As she walked closer, she heard the rustling of blankets and trash...



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"Hey...hey man! Whose there! Stay back, man! Or I'll shoot ya!"


Beneath tattered rags was a man. Bearded, unshaved, unkempt. His eyes were wild and he was fumbling for something... A gun? The man threw off his blanket and pulled out something gun-shaped. 


Tactical Analysis of Threat: Target has a plastic toy gun incapable of ballistic offence. Threat level: Zero...


Perhaps in the bad light it might have worked. Perhaps. Not to the Red Rat. 


"Put that away, old man. I'm just a...uh...a...um...an environmental inspector, I mean....a structural engineer, that's all! This building is condemned! It could fall down at any moment!"


The man's eyes widened for a moment. Noemi could smell something like boot polish on his breath. He appeared unsteady. 


"What?" he said, apparently ignoring the unlikelihood of a single environmental engineer / structural inspector creeping into the building at night. 


"But...I been using this building for years! Good Solid Russian Building!" he said, giving a cautious tap on a rotted timber frame that creaked slightly. 


Target is aware of superior Soviet construction! Target is Working Proletariat, victim of Capitalist Wealth Distribution! Possible Target for Recruitment!


"I been here since the seventies, man!" he grumbled. Quite how the man had survived fourty years homeless was unclear, but impressive. "Dropped some serious acid, dropped out, never worked a day in my life! But its all cool, man! I'll have to find some other place to tune in, ya know?"


Slave was silent


"Yeah, sure, man, you do that. Just be careful out there, you...err...you dig, man?" answered Noemi. Sure, she knew about American Culture, but was pretty out of date with the slang. A few decades out of date. She tried to give the man a friendly smile as he pottered out, clutching his rag tag of belongings. 


Another day she might have given him money. She had a pang, but she was only just settling into Freedom City, and right now she needed every cent and dollar she had. Working at "EZ" Cabs was a way to keep her head under the radar and her nose on the streets, but it didn't pay very well. 

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A couple of hours later....


"Atkozott! I have to hand it to them. They hid this place well. Are you sure it is here?"


Soviet Safehouse located at present location...Further information Classified, level X...


"And merry Christmas to you, too, idiot" sighed Noemi. She had searched for hours, and even she got tired eventually. Maybe it was misinformation. Maybe the safe house had been destroyed, discovered, filled with concrete or burnt out. Maybe this, maybe that. Such was the world of cold war espionaige. 


She sighed, and sat down on a rickety wooden number that had once served as the cashiers desk and chair. Even the ol press key till was there, covered in dust and looted from years ago. 


She picked up a rotted "Grin and Bear it!" toy bear from the desk. It had only one eye, but was defiantly holding onto all of its limbs, even though the stuffing had been knocked out of it. 


"What do you think, Medve*?" she said sadly to the bear.


"I can make it. Even without the safe house. I can make it in America! Land of freedom, of dreams! New life, new beginning!" she said defiantly. 


"No papers, no I.D, wanted for questioning..." she said, slumping with reality and sighing. 


"Well, I guess its just you and me and the infernal machine in my head, Medve*, I'm going to take you home and give you a good stuffing..heh..." she laughed weakly. She actually quite liked the little toy. On an instinct, she pressed a key on the Til. 




The faintest of sounds, barely audible. Perhaps a trick of the night. She wasn't even sure it happened. 


"What was that?"


She switched to X-ray vision, scanning the till. Inside, a lot of complicated hinges, springs, and bolts. And wires, leading....below!


The Safe House was here!


"Slave, was there any number for the Safehouse? A serial number? an asset number?"


Processing...Asset number 74M35-80ND


Who new what the letters stood for. The digits, however....


She pressed them in, carefully, one by one, each click of the till key accompanied by another faint click. Each click, surer than the last. until the last click, more potent than the rest. 


And the floor slid back, creaking, groaning, crying for oil, but back in slid, revealing a dusty iron set of stairs, down to the Safehouse. There was even a flicker of electricity, and the way down was lit by old, dim lights. 

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Almost as a reflex, the Rat pulled her gun. A Soviet PSS, complete with silencer, the last weapon she had used, just before the Wall came down, Berlin shut down, and she went to sleep for over two decades. 


What am I doing? This base has been abandoned for...for how long?


22 years...307 days...16 hours....15 minutes and...


Yeah yeah...


She filtered out the rest of the text. She had gotten pretty good at that over the years. 


"How do you know, anyway?"


Primitive Superior Soviet Computer System detected. Accessing data banks...


Figured. Slave was designed to hack into any computer systems. It would have no difficulty in breaking into an old Soviet Safehouse. Probably knew all the access codes. Good. That would make things a lot simpler. 


Warning: File System corrupted. Unable to retrieve operational data. 


Or not. 


In  any case, the Safe House was too good an gold mine to pass up. She was living in the States with no identity, and wanted by UNISON. She knew how to stay undercover, and Slave would help. But without any support, it was a tightrope walk. Somewhere to hide would be invaluable, and the Safe House could have stored up a lot of the tools of the trade. 


The lights flickered as she descended the last step into the Safe House proper. 


It was a functional, rather than homely, place, which was unsurprising. It was bigger than she had expected. Several spacey rooms, or halls even, off a central round hub. Steel was the material of choice, and plastic for the furniture. Electric lights round the rims of the ceilings, and the rims of the floor. A power generator hummed in one spoke of the hub. God knows what it ran on, but it hummed away quietly content anyway. It was dated, of course, but not to her eyes, that had slumbered the last twenty years away. 

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Bank of computers, old but functional, lit the central hub of the Safehouse. Noemi was no expert, of course, but she had seen plenty of similar Soviet technology. Listening stations, monitoring the radio ether for choice information. The computer system was for decoding American signals, and encoding its own Soviet ones. She never got too involved in the cut and thrust of information duels, each side trying to crack ever more sophisticated codes with ever more sophisticated decoders. But she could admire the feel of it, and its somewhat crazy circles. 


Hack into this, will you?


Establishing Link...


A progress bar flashed in her cybernetic eyes. 10%...20%....30%....


Error...please wait...




Unable to penetrate computer defence protocols....Analysis....




Superior Soviet Defence Programming of Target is impenetrable to...Superior Soviet Penetration Software....Error...Superior....Error...Superior....


Oh shut up...


The Red Rat ignored Slave and started cautiously pressing a few likely looking buttons. SHe picked up an old style microphone and gently spoke into it. 


"Hello? Hello?"


Her voicewaves sparked and undulated on a circular screen, a green ambient light. 


And something slid open beneath her feet. 


"Hello? Hello?" she repeated as something rose up on a dais from the hole. 


Whats this? Another level?


No, not another level. A robot! It looked like it had been born from a 70s Sci Fi Show. All bubbles of steel, plastic, and clumsy pincer claws. Moving on waddling legs, looking like a metal Michellin Man. The head was perspex with red glowing eyes, tubes, and fluids bubbling gently away in transparent pipes. 


"Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!" The Robots voice was primitive, basic. A screeching artificial sound with artificial intonation. 


Warning. Hostile Counter Measures Detected!


Yeah? No kidding...

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"Subdue Target Protocols!"


Target has activated Subdue Protocols...Flashed Slave, uselessly, in front of her eyes. 


The Red Rat wheeled back, quick as a fox on her plastic wheeled chair would let her. It wobbled, spun, and tipped her over. Like a cat, she rolled, tumbled and sprung into a dive behind one of the banks of computers. 


"Hey, what if I don't want to be subdued?" she asked the mindless automaton. 


The lumbering thing has a slow, waddling gait, but it was sure footed and its pincer hands snapped together in a menacing manner. 


She glance up the stairs, the exit, to see a steel plate had slammed shut. 


Analysis...Containment Protocol Activated...The Safe House is now sealed and Safe...


Safe for who? she asked Slave in her head. 


A blistering sizzle of electricity sparked just below her head, hitting some computer banks. Sparks flew, and there was a crackle of static. 


"One less thing to work out how to use..." She said to the fried circuitry. Slave was great at breaking into computer systems. Not so great at repairing them. 


She still held her gun. The robot was slow. Although its waddling gait made it hard to draw a bead on, it was still an easy shot. 




The bullet flew off the Robot as if it was steel plate. 


Analysis: Target has superior Soviet steel plating....


The Red Rat let out a big sigh, pulling herself under cover again. 


"Hey! I am a Superior Soviet Agent! Stop firing at me!" she yelled from the Cover. 


"Subdual protocol...deactivated...."


"That's more like it!" sighed the Rat, slumping in relief. 


"Extermination protocol...activated! Lethal Force in operation!"

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The Red Rat through her pistol away disgustedly. 


I need an upgrade. Freedom City is full of people and things that can shrug off my peashooter like a gnat. 


She scanned the room, until she found what she was looking for. 


In case of fire, Break Glass


Better than her pea shooter, a fire axe. 


She dived and rolled, sprung up and elbowed the glass which dutifully shattered. 


Zap...Zap Zap....


Bolts of electricity thundered beside her as the Axe fell into her hands. She had never used an axe before, but how hard could it be. She gave it a twirl, feeling its weight, as she danced to the side of the Robot, trying to out flank it. Slow, it was, but not slow enough. 




Too close for comfort, but not close enough, thank the fates. She spun round and gave a glancing blow to the Robot. 


"Come on! Come on! Break!" she screamed as she swung left right and centre at the Robot. She scratched it, but that was all. Another swing, and a crack in its metallic shell. This thing was tough!


Analysis: Target is tough...


Oh come on, tell me something I don't kn...




This time the robot hit her on the shoulder. Electricity flowed through her, and she could vaguely smell burning. She hoped it was her jacket, not her flesh. The Red Rat could take a lot of punishment, but there was a limit...


Come on! Slave...stop being useless and do something! How do I stop this thing....


Analysis: Attempting Security Shutdown....Please Standby...


"Oh wait, yeah sure, whilst Robbie the Robot is trying to fry me!" she said to the room, as she ducked under another blast of electricity...

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Another two blasts of electricity flew through the air, one of them sizzling the Rat's hair. 


"Hey! Don't mess with the do!" she sniped back, rolling for cover. She had the edge on speed, at least. She could keep running around the hub just ahead of the waddling metal zapper. But she fancied she would run out of juice before the robot did. If this place had been going for twenty years. 


What is the battery life on that thing anyway?


Analysing....Superior Soviet Technology will last Superior two hours at full Superior charge...


Two hours...she was more than able to run for two hours...but...




Another bolt. Missing her. But it was only a matter of time. She could duck and weave, but it would surely hit her at some point. Its remorseless waddling gait would pin her at some point. 


Unless....she looked again at the Michelin legs. It was not the most agile. 


Worth a shot. 


She rolled again, towards the robot this time, and stuck the fire axe between its legs with a double clunk of steel against steel. The robot hardly looked down, but its pincers clenched in artificial vexation. 


She pulled herself up, and to the side, the axe working as a lever of sorts. 


"Come on! Come on! Fall over, you heap of bolts!" she roared, muscles straining. She was stronger than any woman of her build had any right to be, but this thing weighed a ton. She kept straining, and then put her shoulder into the robot. 


And down it went, with an almighty thunk. Its pincers kept pincing, its legs kept waddling, but it was upended, flat on its back, and unable to get back up again. 


"Bit of a design flaw, that" said the Rat, wiping her brow. 


Soviet design is superior and without flaw


Clearly Slave had a different opinion. In the interests of censorship and propoganda, it blanked out the vision of the Robot from her eyes. Leaving no trace of him. She still had ears, and a memory though. She could hear the waddling and rolling, the click of pincers. 

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Exploring the Safe House: Living quarters...


A while later....


The clacking of pincers and the rolling of feet eventually slowed to the tune of an out of flat battery, the whirring sound lowering in frequency and volume. The robot had stopped. She couldn't see the thing, thanks to Slave's censorship of Superior Soviet Technology, but from the sound of the fizzing and sparking, and one final bamf signalling an explosion, together with the acrid smell of burning plastic, she reckoned that it was done for. Even superior Soviet Technology had its limit. 


Credit were it was due, it lasted over twenty years without maintenance. It was a miracle the thing had any steam left in it at all. 


She had to be careful, not knowing where the Robot was exactly, unable to see what it was doing. So she had hidden off in the living area of the Safe House. 


Comfortable? Probably not. But comfortable enough, surely. Six small rooms with bunkbeds in, capably of having twelve people overall, if doubling up. The beds were hard, lumpy, functional, just like the pillows. 


Sheesh if I am staying here, I need a proper mattress....


Quite how she would lug a mattress here was another matter. Still surely she could do something with the place. Maybe make one room a little less like the inside of a bullet. 


She propped the ragged toy bear up against one of the rooms. 


That was a start. 


The living quarters had a small recreation area, and a small kitchen / dining area. All the food had gone off, of course. She could smell that even if Slave protested that superior Soviet food technology would keep forever, and pixillated the contents of the plastic containers. To be honest, Noemi reckoned that the food never smelt to good in the first place. 


Into the incinerator they went, in a flush of fire and smoke. 


Ok, so it wasn't the Ritz, as they said in England. But it was manageable. She could hide down here indefinitely, providing she had food and the water recycler did not pack up. 


Yeah...water recycler....she hoped that unit fed on rainwater rather than the latrine...


And she couldn't bring her own beds in, but given a couple of runs with a suitcase, she could spruce it up a little. Get some proper music rather than Soviet Sanctioned music from the 1980s. That was a thing she needed to catch up. Modern music.Upgrade the TV to a plastic one. 


The only thing of any colour or entertainment value was a pool table. She stroked the velvet. Yeah, this she would keep!

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Exploring the Safe House: Bad Medicine...


The defence robot was smoking by the time she returned to the Hub. Even Slave could not censor all the fumes. 


Hey, I don't want to suffocate down here from smoke....


She stopped, closed her eyes, and concentrated a moment. Her body could adapt to hostile environments. It just needed a little concentration, and...


...she couldn't tell it how to evolve. The results were occasionally, or even always, unpredictable. 


She looked at herself in another dull, small and functional mirror. Two gaseous sacs had grown out of the side of her cheeks. It looked like two tennis balls had been surgically implanted. Of course, tennis balls would not inflate, deflate, and gurgle with every breath. 


"I wont be winning a beauty contest, that for sure. And I wanted to try out for Miss KGB this year..."


youch...even her voice sounded different, scratchy and frog like, as if she was speaking through bubbles. 


Still, she could breathe the smoke now. 


As the ventillation systems whirred, she got a fire extinguisher and put it to good use on the robot, which she still could not see. The result was messy, but put the thing out. 


She went to the medical bay. It was somewhat odd to find an infirmary here. Of course, agents got injured in the field, and a place to hide out and patch up was much appreciated. This, however, was beyond that. Three fully equipped medical bays, and access to a plethora of equipment and tools that The Red Rat had little clue about. 


Surgical training was not part of spy training...but hey, at least I can get a shot of Penicillin....


She put down the vial of antibiotic. Something had caught her eye. At the end of the bay, a large block. White, cold, clinical. 


So what the hell is this?


Analysing....retrieving files...standby....processing...


Noemi drummed her fingers on the cool fridge, trying to peer through frosted glass. 


The answer was most surprising, when Slave had finished digesting the user manual. 


A cloning machine. Apparently losing assets mid-operation was not an option. Years of undercover infiltration could be lost. Whatever project Darwin and the KGB had cooked up for operations in America, this was the most bizarre, and quite possibly the most useful. 


A clone could be grown in a week. A blank slate, as it was. The agent would then download his memories and brain waves into the hard drive. If he was lost, those patterns would be implanted in the clone, over the course of a day, and the agent would be back, ready to go. A few missed memories might be a hitch, but on the other hand, the cover was not lost, and neither was the agent. 


Hey...I could....


Analysis...Cloning device still operational....advise utilisation...




...Unit is also able to implant Superior Slave Cybernetic System!


Even Slave sounded surprise in the white text flashing in her artificial retina. The cloning system could back her up!


Her fingers stroked the fridge lightly. It was an uncomfortable feeling, a clone. More uncomfortable than the fact that the Slave system had been installed. Where they planning to use her in America? Most of her work was done in Europe. The fact that she was the only known case of someone tolerating the Slave system meant....


It was impossible to know, only speculate. 


Whilst dying and having a clone raised metaphysical anxiety, it was a good sight better than just dying. 


With some trepedation, she put on the helmet beside the Fridge, sat down, and closed her eyes...

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Exploring the Safehouse:  All your computer are belong to us


Did she doze off? Or was the helmet sedating? It was like a gentle buzzing in her head. It must have taken a half hour, she guessed. She felt a little muzzy in the head.


A quick blood sample into the machine and it was ready to go. At least, she hoped. She planned on not dying to test it out. But, back up plans were always good.


The ventilation system had cleared the smoke, at least, and she forced her DNA back to normal. The ghastly sacs on her cheeks slunk down, revealing her chiselled cheekbones.


Much better….


The hub was now clean aired, and she could examine the computer banks at her leisure, with Slave working tirelessly to analyse them. They were, understandably, somewhat out of date, even “retroâ€, but they certainly served their purpose. It was hard to know how long ago the Safehouse had been abandoned. By the looks of the computer systems, it could not have been too long. Admittedly, the computers were about five to ten times the size they should be, by modern standards. But they worked, and Slave reluctantly admitted…


Superior Soviet Technology can be updated with [….] technology.


She guessed it meant “Westernâ€, but from what she had gleaned it could as easily by Chinese or Japanese.


Rows of bleeping lights, a few keyboards, and some old fashioned monochrome monitors. Perhaps she could update some of these, anyway, with Slave’s help.


The communications equipment was more impressive, as befitted a listening station deep under cover. Every conceivable machine was there, monitoring the airwaves in every conceivable frequency. Recording, analysing, on and on, endlessly. In the centre of the hub was a power generator that she could not make head or tail of. Not conventional, surely. She damn well hoped it was not radioactive. That would send her mutating in all sorts of directions, and most of them were even less pretty than the two breathing sacs she had sprouted in the smoke.


No, it couldn’t be radioactive. She would have felt it. She quickly examined her toes and feet for any extra digits, webbing, or even missing digits.


All there!


It was no use inspecting it further. Maybe it ran on air, or communist passion, for all she knew. It worked, anyway. And from what she could see, the hidden trapdoor could be manually locked and opened, so even if it did run out of power, she could get out. 

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Exploring the Safehouse: Develop Mind and Body the Good. 


The next spoke of the hub was divided into two sections."Develop Mind and Body" said the serious Russian caption overhead. 


Noemi had loved to read when she was younger. It drove her to university, and she devoured classics of literature, fiction and non-fiction, with equal relish. Even now, she loved a good book. Or a newspaper in the morning.


In Hungary, that consumption of literature had given away to anarchist sentiment and revolutionary zeal against the Soviet regime. She had started to read less, and shout more. Which, she reflected, did not end well. Now, the rough edges had been shaved off by experience.


The Safehouse had an impressive library, of European, Russian, and American history, written in mainly English and Russian. A few German and Eastern European texts were there. Glancing through the tomes, her fingers touching the books, she suspected there was some censorship, as could be expected. Some tomes were marked with a sticker to indicate some kind of caution or note that it might be Capitalist propaganda.


Still, the set up had clearly decided that reference materials needed to be accurate first, politically correct, second.

Alongside these, were various books on medicine, psychology, sociology, and so on. A focus, she suspected, on how to manipulate and control individual and population.


Opening a book at random, she saw it was well preserved, if old. A stamp on the inner cover said “Grin and Bear It!†with a happy smiling bear reading a book. The dilapidated building above her must have been used to fill the Safehouse.


At the end of the Library was a small computer, and banks and banks of microfilm. Inspecting it herself, she saw it was quite serviceable, and with a little help from Slave, she could improve it further, storing electronic journals and reference materials.

Further on, there was an area of metal and steel, the gymnasium. The agents down here were presumably encouraged to develop both body and mind. Racks of dull grey weights and some complicated benches with pulleys and weights. Some old, but functional running and rowing machines. Even a few gymnastic apparatus.


Noemi was a regular gym user. Not hours a day, but five days a week, solid hour. Her body was able to adapt and recover quickly, giving her an impressive strength. She worked for it, but she would have to admit, she worked less hard than others would have to. A gym here was the first sign of luxury she could actually appreciate. It would save on her gym membership, for one thing.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Exploring the Safe House: Parking is not Forbidden


The last spoke of the Hub was enormous. A huge cavern. 


In fact, a hangar. 


It was not in the best of shape. It would need a hoover, that was for sure. But it was workable. What looked like three large helipads, and a ramp for vehicles. Goodness knows how large, trucks maybe. Tools and fuel lines the sides of the hangar. As she entered, there was a control panel nearby, a desk with lots of cool looking buttons, readouts, and dials. 


The place had an eerie echo as she stepped to the desk. How they had managed to build this took some imagination. She could only imagine they either had super powered help or access to the most incredible machines. Or they had hypnotised half of Freedom City whilst building it. 


Was this the only secret house in Freedom City? The prospect of more, and ones still operational, was unnerving. 


The desk had all sorts of controls. Raise ramp, lower ramp. Fuel depot levels. Lights. Temperature Gauge. Humidity. 


And...open. And close. 


Her fingers brushed the buttons, wondering if it was safe to do so. 


She would have to sooner or later. 


The roof flowed back. Silent as night oil, without a whisper. Above, the starry sky. The hanger had become a pit, with just the ramp down to the bottom. 


It was perhaps the most impressive thing she had seen yet. 


She could even drive her taxi down here!

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A few hours later....


"This place is awesome!" said Charlie Chalks. 


Charlie was the radio operator at the Big EZ. She looked like a punk, with short spiky hair, a nose ring, and attitude. She had a big mouth too. She was tall, skinny as a rake, flat chested, tattooed, but looked beautiful all the same. She just had a knack of attracting the wrong guys, and the wrong girls too, for that matter. If trouble was a moth, she was a candle. 


Charlie knew all about the Red Rat. She found out when Noemi accidently devolved into a hairy ape-woman in front of her. That was an interesting night. Fortunately, the two women where close. And Charley, for all her big mouth, could keep it closed when it mattered. When it really mattered. 


The taxi had driven them straight into the Safehouse. They had brought one or two luxuries. An old TV, a few blankets, some music and a CD player. Even some Pot-noodles and coffee for the kitchen. 


"Party!" shouted Charlie as they entered the living area of the Safe house. She wasted no time in setting up the CD player and blasting out the Sex Pistols. 


"Sheesh, good thing this place is sound proof, Charlie" sighed Noemi as her friend danced away, examing the rather spartan furbishments. 


"This place needs some living in! Some livening up!" declared the punk girl, spinning on one foot. "Are you sure we cant have a house warming party?" she said, pleading. 


"Not unless we find some drug to knock them out and make them forget they were ever here" explained Noemi. 


"Bingo!" smiled Charlie, bringing out a large bottle of Jack Daniels. 


"Charlie you are getting us into trouble" sighed Noemi, with a big grin. She took a swig. 


"But I guess we could do with a celebration! This place was a find!"


Intoxication with Western brand alcohol leads to sub-optimal functioning...


Great! Maybe you should have a drink too?




THe lights on the cloning machine blinked...and the lid of the machine slid silently away. Dry Ice, cool and crisp, flowed to the floor. And a pale white, veined, almost transclucent hand reached up from the frost...

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