spared Amonna one last glance, pitying her exhausted and battered form writhing
with invisible rage, betrayal, and confusion inside the decontamination
chamber, before he turned and walked away away.
A heavy sigh escaped him, one clearly laden with regret.
Security Drone ‘Machinator’ was waiting for him at the end of the hallway, optic sensor array trained on his face.
“ . . . Sir?”
The mechanical, slightly distorted voice was faint, almost gentle, as he approached. ‘Machinator’ placed a whirring, servo articulated hand on his shoulder with a mechanically precise motion.
“Sir, are you having second thoughts?”
Truth be told, he’d been having second thoughts every day for the past six months, and probably a few times a week in the years before that. Of course, when he was younger, the things he second guessed were simpler. Enlistment versus officer training school, prioritizing street level tech dealers over distributors to keep neighborhoods safer, community presence or effective surveillance of known hot-spots . . .
All of that seemed so petty now, so very small.
“What we’re doing now isn’t right. It’s very, very wrong. At best, I’d say it’s the lesser of two evils. But it is necessary.”
The mechanical officer nodded. “I’m glad you have the resolve and clarity of mind to act with such certainty. I don’t think any of the other organic members of the force would agree with your assessment.”
He exhaled through his nose, slowly.
“And now they’re all dead. Save one.”
They began walking down the corridor together, shoulder to shoulder.
“Have we secured the shipment yet?”
‘Machinator’ shook his optical array. “Negative, we’ve been unable to breach the Coryphaeus vessel’s hold.”
Verdock nodded slightly. “I’ll see to it.”
He’d tried to protect these very people, for so long. From dangerous new additions to galactic society, from black market tech-dealers trying to pass off barely contained antimatter batteries as vacuum energy siphons, from their own baser natures even . . . and now here he was, doing all of those things himself. He pulled a small hypodermic injector of his pocket. He wore loose fatigues, nothing denoting rank. He looked like a trainee fresh out of the academy going for a jog, really, and in some ways he felt like one. All of this was new, different, and could go very wrong at any moment.
“Just like old times.” He muttered, quietly.
He turned the small polymer auto-injector over in his hands a few times. It almost felt flimsy it was so light. The label had been mostly scratched off with a knife, but at one point it had been a “Vigor-Vitamin Immune Enhancement Injection.” A cheap, over the counter, supplement for those who were stuck on long space voyages in close confines with less than sanitary individuals. Now . . . it was full of a Class-2 Bio-Tech viral serum.
He weighed it in his hands once more. Deceptively light, he concluded, for how dangerous it was. He plunged it into the the side of his neck, grimacing as a tendrils of burning discomfort spread from the injection site. “Machinator . . . start a 36 hour timer, and escort me to the hangar bay.”
didn’t like the smell of office buildings. It was something he’d
always been keen to pick up on, in banks, dentist offices, and high-rise
corporate office space. It was a weird, almost metallic scent mingled with a
faint floral note. Not a pleasant note either. He guessed it was a mix of
anti-bacterial soap and maybe hot floor wax, but he could never really find the
source, and he could never really pin it down. Right now, he would have taken
weird office smell any day over the week over ‘dead alien elevator stink.’
“Oh my god Cas . . . it smells like this inside of a rotting whale carcass if a whale was made entirely of copper and rotten fruit.”
smallish, humanish looking girl with a shotgun just frowned at him. “People
are dead, Darren. People are dead and you’re saying they smell bad.” She shook
her head slowly. “That’s considered very rude in most cultures. Is it not rude
on Earth? Admittedly I only have a limited library of Earth cultures.”
He gagged a little, turning to face the door of the elevator, readying his leg-club. “I’m not saying it’s not rude . . . I’m just saying that bad doesn’t cover it.”
There was a soft ding, and a faint feeling of deceleration, and the doors slid open.
Darren wasn’t sure if a robot could look surprised, but as he took the equivalent of three sucker punches simultaneously, he sure hoped they looked surprised as he stayed standing.
Woozy, dazed, and in no shape to fight but standing.
Three of the beefy security drones paused, as if waiting to see if he was just going to collapse without the need for follow up shots when Cas slipped the shotgun under his arm and pulled the trigger. A smoking hole appeared in the chest of the drone on the far right with the screech of twisting metal and shattering ceramic. Moments later, he felt the flash of heat across his body, and the whine of a massive stack of capacitors recharging. There was a second deafening roar, things got fuzzy . . . and then there was the feeling of something buzzing inside his mouth.
“Auuh . . . Aff?” Talking wasn’t working right, and though he tried to form words, something was blocking him. Quite literally.
Cas was . . . kneeling over him, with her hand inside his . . . mouth? Zarniac looked like he was going to be ill, and Tilantrius was covering his eyes. “Whaff . . .” He reached up to pull Cas’s hand out of his mouth but she swatted him away, not averting her gaze. “Stop, I’m putting your teeth back.”
His eyes bulged a bit. “Bwha-”
“SUSH.” She added, sternly. “You’re only making this take longer.” The cyber dragon from before leaned over him. “Wow, you’re awake already? That’s . . . impressive. Making a note here, never picking up your bar tab, ever.” The red figure grinned, and a disgusting squelching sound emitted from Darrens slack jaw. jaw.
“Anyway, so uhh, turns out security drones are much better shots than drug addicts. And the remaining two drones decided to just . . . shoot you in the face. A lot. Cas finished them off with ‘Ol Reliable.” Chryso swung the space-shotgun up into Darren’s view, giving it an affectionate few pats. “But not before your face looked like paste. And most of your teeth were smashed. Fortunately, they’re the durable kind of teeth, that just pop back in.”
There was another squelch. “There, done.” Cas sighed, quietly. “I should have been a human doctor. Your species goes back together very neatly.”
“Mah faphe is nahmb.”
Darren reaches up, poking at his entirely numb face.
“Howb yoo doo dat?”
Chryso grinned wider, before pulling out a small bottle of something bright blue. “Drugs!”
That made sense, Darren reasoned. Drugs did lots of things. Drugs explained the electric girl, two little grey men, and cyberdragon doing surgery on him in an elevator that looked like a clown-slaughterhouse. Not a slaughterhouse run by clowns, but one for clowns. A slaughterhouse run by clowns sounded terrifying, he thought after a moment. A shiver went through him.
“Noooo . . . clowns . . .”
Chryso kissed the small, now half empty blue bottle. “Really good drugs.”
Verdock was burning up in his jumpsuit, the fever came on hard, and fast. He had just shrugged his tactical vest off, dropped him ammo belt, and even ditched his boots along the way. His head was foggy, and his joints ached. He hadn’t thrown up yet, but it was just a matter of time. “Captain . . . you are not well.”
He chuckled at Machinator. “Is it that obvious?”
Even as he joked, he began unbuttoning his uniform shirt, beginning to strip out of it as well.
“If locomotion under your own power becomes non-viable, please inform me. It is in the interest of operation success that I render appropriate levels of assistance.”
Verdock groaned, peeling the sweat darkened uniform top off, leaving only a sheer white undershirt clinging to his virus riddled body. Anyone else would have taken that comment for a standard, flat, low level AI response, but Machinator had been his adjutant for nearly 8 years. That was banter, at his expense.
“Knife.” He kept staggering along, steading himself on his AI companion with one hand, as the other he held out expectantly. Machinator obliged him, slapping 10 inches of mono-molecular edged high-frequency resonant alloy into his hand. “Thank you.”
He flipped the curved, vicious looking combat knife in his hand, and holding the cutting edge away from him, ran the tip across his chest and then down the side of his abdomen. It left two long, shallow, bright blue gashes in his flesh, just as he planned. His undershirt dropped away, having been sliced clean off, and he quickly slipped the knife into his boot. He pressed his hand against the open wound, before running it through his sweat drenched hair, letting the mixture of sweat and blood trickle down his face.
“Uhh . . . sir?”
That definitely wasn’t banter. That was legitimate bewilderment he was hearing from his longtime partner.
“Weakest part of Coryphaeus security systems are the people operating them.”
He stepped over a trio of bodies that had been cornered at the elevator leading to the hangar deck.
“ . . . I still don’t get it.” Machinator crackled a burst of static that was the machine equivalent of a sigh as they entered the elevator together.
He suddenly perked up, tilting his sensor array slightly as if he couldn’t believe the transmission he was receiving wasn’t some kind of statistically improbable distortion or mis-communication.
“Sir . . . our security checkpoint at the primary cargo elevator has just been breached by . . . a C.A.S.I.I. module with an illegal energy weapon and technically sentient ape.”
A wave of nausea pulsed through Verdock as the artificual gravity flickered. He never liked artificial gravity at the best of times but running around with a fever this high wasn’t making it any more tolerable.
“Let them go.” He managed to gasp, doubling over, putting almost all his weight on the hand railing with an iron grip. “P-pull back . . . pull back to an observation perimeter. Be ready to board the Coryphaeus vessel once I take care of the team inside.”
“Sir, I don’t mean to offened-”
Verdock half groaned, half snarled in pain. His blood felt like it was on fire, his joints felt like they were lined with sandpaper, and there just wasn’t enough damn air in the tiny box of an elevator.
“ . . . but you don’t look like you could win a fight with a tranquilized stuffed animal, let alone a half dozen of the Core World’s best.”
The elevator dinged softly as it reached the hangar bay, and the gold and ebony colors of one of the most advanced spacecraft for 300 light years were made clear to him. “Stay out of sight.” He mumbled, before weakly staggering towards the Coryphaeus vessel.
There were a dozen shattered security drone bodies scattered around, in various states of being pulverized. He could feel the pulse weapons charging as he approached, almost drunkenly staggering towards the rear cargo hatch of the ship. It looked regal, and opulent. More like an exotic sculpture than a ship of war, but why have form over function when you could afford both?
“My name . . . is Captain Verdock . . . I am . . . I was the commander of security forces on this station . . .” He shouted at the vessel, his words sounding ragged and desperate as he clutched at his bleeding side. “ . . . I’m requesting . . . evacuation on your vessel.”
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as its point defense system locked onto him.
But then the rear hatch cracked open with a faint hiss, and three heavily armored commando’s burst out in confident, practiced formation. “Secure the VIP!” One of them barked, his voice heavily distorted by the full faced helmet he was wearing.
Two more commando’s streamed out of the craft, the clatter of their boots echoing through the desolate hangar as they swept up to him. Each of them slung their rifles over their shoulders, an electric buzz filling the air as magnetic clamps plucked them out of the air and snapped them to their backs. The three on the ramp scanned for movement while the other two grabbed Verdock under each arm, and hoisted him aloft, struggling to shuffle along at an even pace to get him inside to re-secure the vessel.
Another full body shiver rocked through him. “We need a medic!” They dragged him up the ramp, and dumped him to his knees in the cargo bay. “Sir, what the hell happened here? We’ve been trying to get launch clearance for the past 15 minutes, but our Nav system is locked down, and the security drones have gone nuts . . . they’ve been attacking in waves and- . . . sir, are you bleeding green?”
The commando in question likely had more than 4000 hours of simulated combat under his (or her) belt, in everything from zero-G to silica storms with 200 kilometer per hour winds. But right at that moment, nothing in their training had prepared them for what to do when a VIP pulled a knife out of their boot and thrust it through a squad-mate’s groin.
Verdock was vicious. Before the one on his right could even blink, he’d opened both femoral arteries of the Coryphaean commando. His blood pressure dropped like a stone, and he might not have even realized he was dead. The one on his right managed to push out a half syllable of “F-” which could have been an expletive or an order, but his throat was slashed from ear to ear in a single reverse cut before he could finish the statement. By the time the first one had hit the deck with a dull thud, and caused the three on the ramp to turn around, Verdock was among them.
The finest armor that the galaxy had to offer. Lightweight. Impact resistant. Modular. Fitted individually to each and every soldier. Thermo regulating. Self sealing. Pressurized. In-built cyber-warfare suite.
All of that counted for shit when a knife punched through the helmet gasket. Flexible materials were needed to allow a soldier to move, so overlapping plates made a ballistic attack almost impossible, but a knife . . .
A shower of sparks echoed across the deck as he rammed his blade through a part in the first one’s breastplate. They seemed to be moving in slow motion to him now. Their voices were dull, and distant. And he could make out the intricate details of their gear. The second one was left handed, for instance. His sidearm was on the wrong side of his body. Verdock slapped his rifle aside as before ducking under the shot of the third one, the almost certainly fatal blast missing him entirely, only to blow the head off the first trooper. Before the weapon even had time to cycle Verdock had planted his blade in its weilders armpit, slicing his heart clean in half from the side. A powerful headbutt smashed the ballistic lens of his helmet for good measure, before Verdock turned his attentions on his final obstacle. He delivered a bone shattering kick to an armored knee, and the joint reversed with a scream. As the last living commando on the deck collapsed, Verdock caught his helmet in both hands and twisted sharply, cutting the scream short.
He pressed his finger to his ear, body trembling. “We’ve secured the . . . “
He stumbled to the right, catching himself on a support strut, taking a few moments to catch his breath. Adrenaline was a hell of a combat drug. “We’ve secured the primary objective.”
His vision was growing dark around the edges, like he was being pulled out of the world and back down a long tunnel. “ . . . proceed to stage two.”
And with that, he allowed himself to collapse.