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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Chapter 3: Dissapearing Demons of the Singularity

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! Today we bring you our third installment of fast paced, mustache-twirling, rip roaring weasel stomping (not really,) science fiction goodness!

Anyway, a quick shout out to anyone who visited my blog courtesy to the shiny, faux business cards I handed out at Anime Expo. Enjoy and check back as often as you want (or RSS bookmark this sucka' to keep a ear on the blog at all times.) In other news; The Caramel Dansen conga line was a killer on my feet.

EDIT: I was somewhere in here at some point, maybe not filmed You get a cookie if you find me. No costume and I'm moving my feet like crazy, because that's how we do things in the land of Nerd.

EXCERPT: The Ghostly Keepers: Stellar Data-Mining Primer

(Line 23000-23100: TRANSLATED: binary universal symbol exchange initiative TO: written paragraph form, Human English.)

CHAPTER 0023 [Data Prospecting – Archaeology as a Lucrative Career]

Because of the widespread presence of arcane knowledge of varying types, there are a number of sub-professions of Data-Archaeology. Foremost and among the most widely practiced is Data Prospecting. Data-Prospecting differs from the more passive and forensic practice of Data-Archaeology in a number of ways.

Because arcane knowledge rises exponentially in value the more intact and contiguous it is, data prospecting is perhaps the most lucrative branch of Data-Archaeology. Some denounce it as an over-fat, over-dangerous cash cow waiting to burst. However, the practice is in major demand by even the most legitimate parties.[Area severely shortened by translater, inquiry on translator’s mental sanity pending.]

However, some misgivings about prospecting are, perhaps, well founded. First and foremost, the amount of malicious data within the reach of prospectors is theorized to be a very sizeable fraction of prospectable data. Thus, prospecting can be incredibly risky, especially on worlds that have undergone a hostile acceleration and have been rendered lifeless [reference to lines 300-400, introduction. Pertaining specifically to the rise of malicious Artificial Intelligence.]

All registered prospectors are expected to undergo a standardized, rigorous scan of their person and any related electronic systems -including vehicles and equipment- after undergoing an expedition on a hostile world. Prospectors that refuse this mandatory scan as regulated by sentientpitstop.Rorg are recognized by all political bodies as hostile and to be killed on site.

Most races also maintain bureaus of Information Technology Management for their networks in order to ensure active suppression of malicious threats, as they can lead to disasters on a galactic scale if mishandled.

Sunrise Ep.3: Disappearing Demons of the Singularity

My suit was strung up above the floor. It hung limp, its fat, metal bulk held fast by a huge pylon connected to the center of its back. The Stellar-Fallers were a non-legacy establishment, meaning we used universal hybrid ports (BUSEI comitte standardized)… so did Martani when they made this ship, apparently. My suit was hooked up okay and at full charge after a day or two of percolating.

I tried my best to walk over to my suit’s recharge berth, but our screaming descent into the atmosphere past the sound barrier wasn’t making it easy. It could have been worse; At least I was canned up tightly in an armored starship. Still, I was bumbling about like a madman just trying to stay stable on my two useless feet. Those quadrupeds had it easy. So would I if I got into this bloody thing. Ouch, heavy metal bulkhead, I hope you’re pleased to meet MY head.

I finally bumped into the flank of my powered armor, the name henceforth used for my “heavy kit” (what I call it when I like being mysterious.) I grabbed on tight and spun myself into the suit’s front, open like some massive, ugly, human shaped flower. I sighed as I fell into the padded interior and began my mindless routine of combat preparation. Cue the elevator music…

I reflexively grabbed the cable to the side of my head and plugged it in behind my ear, where I had a hard data line input. Combat systems designers don’t screw with wireless unless they have to, too easy to hack… I wonder how long I can keep convincing ‘Sam I’m not an asshole… I called an initialization of the suit and the familiar base status feeds began bleeding into my brain. It was familiar like the drone of a computer fan to a sheltered nerd of old (of which I was the new breed. But I did a lot more ass kicking.)

The holding straps locked down around the bases of my arms and around my forelegs. A harness squeezed down on my stomach, completing the feeling of tense constriction familiar to any vehicle jockey. All in the name of not dying in a crash, I suppose. I prompted the suit to close and prepare for operations, it obliged like the dufus operating zombie it was.

The suit closed in a rolling wave of clicking, whirring servos and squeezing polymer seal rings starting at my feet and hands and ending at my head. My helmet closed from all sides behind my face and I heard the wet kissing sound of rubber seals locking down. I smiled happily to myself, everything in working order, life support’s green. The grunts back home hadn’t taken my baby for a joyride before they brought her onboard!

The oxygenation systems began buzzing in fresh air from the environment, conserving the suit’s internal air supply. Even then, I knew I’d have to be getting used to that head-under-the-covers stuffiness you get in full suits. My eyes flicked over to full color, wide-angle vision as I settled in. That marked the onset of the antsy feeling of nervous boredom you get before an op. The feeling is rather like going up the lift hill of a rollercoaster (which are totally badass these days, by the way. 150mph speed pod loop, anyone?)

I decided to get the combat network set up while I still had a few minutes to spare. I pinged the ship, ‘Sam and Polina. I received back affirmative responses from their firewalls and shortly had a lowband network set up. A few seconds more and I had us set up for highband, though I didn’t think we’d need it… getting weird feedback from Polina, though. Whatever.

“Evening, ladies,” I said nonchalantly. I was still rested up, despite my nervousness, and it showed well enough.

“Jesus, I have four dots” ‘Sam began. That was probably a symbol similar to five bars in human wireless terms, I guess she has four fingers... base 4 math and all. “You have some crazy networking equipment, Mackai.”

“We should cut the chatter when we get groundside, yeah?” I said, trying to be light in my suggestion by making it a question.

“eh… sure. I’ve not had a wingman on my ground ops for a while. Sorry.” ‘Sam’s voice said in my head, rather sheepishly, which was odd. Where was the angry, screaming shield maiden I had come to expect? I ran a quick check of my drone systems as a second thought. For the most part; I wasn’t seriously expecting action down there. But that sixth sense that six out of ten people believe is complete bullshit was telling me otherwise.

“Don’t worry about it, don’t you have Polina most of the time, though?” I net-spoke over the highband… I focused on my readouts again. Drones were good, my kinetic attack launchers were about a third full and I had some drone wards with me, plus a buttload of sensor buoys – flight capable of course.

“Yeah, but she’s a squealing civvie. Right, Polina?” There was a meek whimper on the other end. It made sense, not everyone here was a ground pounder…

Of course, why were we bringing along skittish Polina then? Simple; this was a data-prospecting mission. We were going to gather some scientific data on this dead planet we were screaming into and, perhaps, find something lucrative our contractor doesn’t need. Mercenaries will be mercenaries… It was likely just random swag sitting there, after all.

“So what’s the update on the L.Z.?” I asked. That’s a landing zone, for you military terminology newbies.

“I think ‘Dan got in contact with some flight controller AI holed up in a server somewhere. I guess he escaped this planet’s acceleration somehow.” Ooh, Mackai senses tingling! “I guess we lucked out, we’ve got the location of a paved landing strip near where we wanted to touch down.” That was almost too lucky.

“What’s the ETA?” I asked.

“About a minute,” ‘Sam said casually. “We’re on our final approach about… now.” The ship lurched and there was a loud blasting bang below the floor. “Don’t mind that… undercarriages. Anyway, you can flick over to the nosecam. And link up to longrange comms with the ship while you can. ‘Dan’s going to keep us updated.”

“Right.” I sent a probe into the ship network and got the carpet rolled out for me. I jacked in and set up a line with my main Rele-beacon to the ship and got it ready for use. That done, I decided to sit back and watch the crazy flight. I found the nose camera view and flicked over.

My eyes blanked, then the uncomfortably close green and white hull of the Sunrise was just below me. It sharply curved away at the borders of my fisheye view. I felt like I was surfing down the airstream. Wind buffeted the audio channels and their battle-optimized, clunky, condensing microphones. We were on a downward angle towards a hell of a lot of brown colored stuff.

“What am I looking at?” I asked.

“Well,” ‘Sam began, “it’s some sort of market center from the old society here.” The old and broken glass facades almost looked familiar, like some freakish alternate timeline of pre-FTL earth… like Manhattan on mega depressants.

“This society never made contact with any FTL societies,” Polina cut in calmly. “they’re pretty far out here in the Styx. Nobody comes by and no one knew there was a hostile acceleration going on here until it was too late.”

The sky was full of dark thunderheads, sizzling with lightning that flew across their massive expanses and occasionally struck the ground. The entire landscape was cast in dark drear. “What happened to them?” I asked.

“Well, d’uh,” Polina said. “They got owned.”

“Yeah, but why does it look like… this?” It was about then I figured out she probably wasn’t peeping through the camera.

“You mean the clouds? I’m not sure yet. The AIs left a breathable atmosphere, though. They’re not far along in re-terraforming the planet.” I noticed that the drear below us had resolved further. In the distance, what I had thought were mountains turned out to be megalithic structures roughly the shape of fat obelisks, studded with glowing red lights. “We’re trying to land further away from their big building. We should be able to avoid them that way. They usually don’t expect outsiders this early in their maturity.” I damn well hoped not. I didn’t study zombies, I just wiped them out if the need arose, and it oft did.

“Ten to touchdown,” ‘Sam said firmly. The rumble of the reverse systems fired and we bled off a lot of speed. You nail everything down in a transorbital craft. Good thing I was nailed down, too – because we were pulling a load of gees. The airstrip rushed at us for a few more seconds before I felt the rumble of the attitude thrusters firing.

We nosed up and all I saw was sky for an infinite moment. Then there was a resounding thud as we hit the pavement and the nose of the craft followed. When we were down on all points, I flipped off the display and went back to my helmet cams. Not a bad landing at all… we were still alive! The ship roared to a stop, firing rear thrust ahead of it and shaking me up rather nicely.

“Let me out! Let me out!” I said with mock alarm as the rumble began to fade and the engines throttled further down.

“One second, Tiger.” ‘Sam said. “The vehicle has come to a stop, please exit your seats and disembark the ride onto the left platform.” Wind blasted into the empty cabin as the doors parted ahead of me. The pavement outside was retreating slower and slower as the doors clanged open, until we finally trundled to a stop. I was strung up in a cargo egress port, the only thing big enough to let my fat ass out of the ship. Luckily, the ship was doing all of the work.

I was hauled along by the pylon holding onto my shoulders in the general direction of the doors. In a few seconds, I was clearing the floor and began to realize there was a reason they were hanging me in mid air. “Ah shit,” I dryly cussed to myself as the pylon disengaged with a nonchalant click.

I disengaged my rear legs from storage as I fell like a sack of cement from at least seven meters up before I landed on my hands and knees and rolled back onto my rear feet. The rear assembly was all cybernetic, but I’d gotten used to it like I actually had four legs… I wonder if it showed.

“Mmm,” ‘Sam began as she walked down the gangway behind me. “You sure are a fat fuck.”

“Damn…” I said over the line, “My girlfriend told me this blouse was slimming and I was, like; no way!” ‘Sam chuckled and Polina looked at me a bit funny from behind ‘Sam’s massive height.

“Right, you keep your eyes peeled then, miss thang,” ‘Sam said soberly. Though I believed I heard a slight undertone of humor.

I flipped out the wheels from the bottom of my feet and rolled my bulk around so I could get a better view than the rear cam’ could offer. ‘Sam was in her battle suit, all tall lines and exaggerated lanky proportions. Polina was in a standard, armored E.V.A. suit, complete with bubbly astronaut helmet and white paintjob.

“Could she look any more obvious?” I asked sarcastically. She stood out like a polar bear in a black paint warehouse

“It’s what we have,” ‘Sam said. “Polina only ever comes groundside as a non-combatant.”

“Ah lovely, I hate escort missions. Would you like me to hold your umbrella, miss?” I said glumly. Polina looked at me with an oddly perplexing, defeated look. The duo turned and walked towards the side of the ship, out from under its flat fuselage. I wheeled ahead of them and instinctively flipped out my defense rifle. It was a potent ballistic weapon made with human tech’, like a lot of the suit.

It was a mishmash of old tech’ retooled for a new era, but it did a good job of masquerading as ‘high’ tech. It was the best I could get, though, and fairly competent and industrious. However; it was still a lie; astronauts were using the same design principles and the U.S. navy had the same tech in their old ‘guided missile destroyers.’ It was refined mediocrity at worst and an ass kicking, old-school cyberpunk nightmare at best.

I turned on my higher level systems – sensors, active sweepers, combat managers and all that rot. I was instantly bombarded with overlays and high bandwidth feeds from the suit. I reeled for a second, then acclimated to my familiar, superhuman sense world. The whole area was looking dark and dead as far as residual heat went. General electromagnetic activity was low on the ground level. But…

I looked up and was practically blinded, “wholly shit,” I said reflexively as I dumbly shielded my face, thinking that’s where my eyes were… not the case in a battle suit. I have a shitload of eyes… everywhere.

“What?” ‘Sam net-spoke.

“Lots of charge separation activity in the clouds, it’s damn bright up there!” I said over the combat network with exasporation.

“Don’t worry about the clouds. We need to know what EM is on the ground so Polina can do her thing.”

“So what are we looking for, specifically?”

“Any electronic data that might be of historical importance.” Polina said matter-of-factly over the net.

“Alright, are you reading my sensor data, Polina?” I asked. I looked back at her with my focused vision and she shook her head. “Umm, damn…” I said smartly. “Any ability to receive waypoints, at least?” She didn’t move to answer and I couldn’t see her well through the helmet. “What?” I asked.

She looked dreamy for a second, “you’re so…” I raised an eyebrow and looked at her funny. I was about to talk when ‘Sam cut in.

“The suit hardly has any digital systems. It’s… second hand. We were going to replace it when we were on Earth. But you had to go and get your pissed girlfriend involved.” She said, reaching a whole new level of m’eh.

“Ah, screw it,” I net-spoke. “I see…” I looked about along the horizon, suppressing the bright EM glare from the sky. I could see a few pockets of activity in isolation.

“Hmm, maybe a few isolated machines… I guess the ice giants left their toys lying around.” I said finally.

“Lead the way.” ‘Sam said curtly. I took the cue and moved along the large tarmac towards an open thoroughfare into the tangle of dead buildings. I was fixed on one signature that looked somewhat faint. However, it looked pretty scraggly and unlike a simple computer box… maybe fresh roadkill. Though, I really had no clue what I was doing. I was used to taking orders. But I supposed this was how a small squad worked, ad-hoc as hell.

Hurky dur! Let’s go over thar n’ check out that stuff, lawl!



Around me and towering above like massive, angry giants were skyscrapers that probably at one point looked rather shapely and new-age. Now they looked pants. They were rusted out and shattered like poorly done industrial sculptures left out in the elements to die. Crumbling walkways and bridges climbed above us and a large, elevated transitway of some kind straddled the open space to the right of us. That would have been a perfect ambush point with all that elevation.

During my long walk, the place had cozied up nice and close to my imagination (much like the alien did to Ripley that one time in Aliens, with about the same emotional reaction.) My imagination had wanted none of it. Thus, since I was a soldier, I bludgeoned the fear violently down. That didn’t change the fact that it was still there.

The air about this place was undeniably wrong. It was the rust in the air. Iron-oxide was like the smell of death to anyone who’s worked around machines long enough and knows what happens when you leave bare metal open to air. Swapite my inklings I wasn’t ready to call the mission (read: turn tail and run.) I couldn’t bear to think what it would do to my relations with the crew… especially ‘Sam.

Occasionally, I switched to range finding and watched the red blips suspiciously for any active movement. It was like reading an old world-war II radar in comparison to multi-target passive lock Aegis systems. In other words; it was agonizing. Occasionally, I’d see something that tripped my suspicions, but then I thought better of it or it had disappeared altogether.

My rifle remained brandished and I clutched it like a drowning man does a lifesaver. As with all ballistics, it was ready to go at a moment’s notice. But that moment never came for our stroll through the dead streets. It had been scarcely half a mile but it had felt like two at least.

We turned a corner and I saw it; it was roadkill, alright. There was a lanky powersuit towering over the shattered remains of some crustacean-looking miniature vehicle about my size. The power suit appeared to have once housed some bipedal species, fairly skinny and taller then any of us. The vehicle it had slain with a massive lance appeared to be driverless and rather nasty looking.

The armor was posed dramatically with the lance piercing into the main body of the drone. The occupant’s shoulder area was shattered and the armor had been peeled back by some thermal-kinetic penetrator ballistics. He’d likely been killed where he stood, the signs were there. I didn’t dare look too closely into the visor of the suit for fear I’d see some mummified corpse’s dead eye sockets staring back. But I did notice a jagged yellow symbol that looked a lot like a-

“Stop!” I barked instinctively. “That lance the bloke’s holding might still be live.” My spinal comp had translated the symbol with an eighty percent probability it was a reference to electrification. It was some equivalent of a lightning bolt symbol on a taser or power box. It sounded like a fairly nasty anti-electronics weapon. Whoever had originated here had fought their creations hard and smart.

I was just about to shoot a probe onto the lance when there was a hellish crash. I spun around and aimed at the sound… finding myself aiming at the sky. I sighed as the quivering in my limbs began to settle.

“Ah, fuck me,” I said morosely. It’s called lightning, dipshit.

“It’s alright, Mack’” ‘Sam said with a surprisingly soothing air. I sighed again and tried to shake off the willies.

“Thanks, I’m sorry, sorry,” I aimlessly rambled down the squad channel.

I went ahead and shot my probe onto the lance’s contact pole, it was clear of major electric voltages.

“Right,” I said half mindedly, “should be okay to jack into. Polina?”

Polina moved forward and pulled out a hard line from the back of her suit. At least she had some link capabilities. The head at the end of the line looked to be an expanding universal type. It was covered in tiny electrodes with articulating, extending bases. It only had a few, so it looked like a serial port to me. She clicked it into the drone. After a long pause, she spoke.

“Looks like the AI commanding these things had been trying to boost the stocks of some stupid shit company. Maybe there was a military coup or something… then the AIs just kept on going and increasing corporate efficiency.” Polina’s statement stuttered and clicked a bit… the electronic equivalent of a shudder. “It happens a lot in these cases.” That was no surprise, greed could motivate someone to jump off a cliff if they got paid enough.

At length, she spoke again. “I pulled all the log data on movements of local units at that time… maybe our client can use it to guess how this thing ticks. Let’s go.”

“Go where?” I asked.

“We have a few more things to do.” ‘Sam said with utilitarian non-zeal. “Know that harbor control AI I told you about?”

“Yeah, something to do with him?” I asked.

“Right, Sherlock, here’s a cookie.” ‘Sam spoke up. I shook my head and grinned, that hadn’t happened in what felt like hours. “We’re taking him off the planet, he’s defecting.”

“I’m guessing we’re going to interrogate him when we get off planet?” I asked.

“Yup, or our client will. Though it’s probably better off for the AI then staying here. He really, really wanted out.”


I have just learned the true definition of ‘really, really.’

“How long? Thirty seconds? That’s too long, go faster! Please, you gotta’ get me out!” Bloody tin can was fairly convincing when his output was translated through BUSEI to English.

“Damn, he never shuts up!” I said.

“You’re telling me. It’s even worse in native binary,” Polina said. So she could apparently fluently understand binary languages. That was no mean feat! The black attaché’ case the AI was being loaded into continued babbling at us through its speaker.

“Would you shut the fuck up!” ‘Sam said with exasperation as she leaned down and gave the case a hard kick. “You’re making so much noise evil AIs on OTHER PLANETS will hear us!” Surprisingly, he did shut up. Coward first, I suppose.

I was unoccupied, and when I’m unoccupied in a hotzone, I get nervous. Thus; I figured I’d check our surroundings, we were already up a good fifteen floors. Of course, these guys were about nine feet tall, it seemed, because their structures and interiors were huge.

I’d continued getting strange readings that had led me to the paranoid conclusion we were being watched. So I’d told ‘Sam we should get the hell out of dodge soon, just to be sure. I was still nervous, despite our accelerated timeline, “Be right back, checking for rats.” I said tersely as I wheeled around and began to climb the big-n-tall sized staircase. I was incredibly stable and fast up the stairs with my four legs. This was exactly what they were designed for; urban terrain, sound familiar?

I was up on the roof in no time. I turned on my rangefinders immediately and then got quite a surprise. Red everywhere, my heart started thumping in my chest and I heard my rebreather buzz up its rhythm as my breathing quickened. I struggled to make out the distant scenery the red was buried in. Roads… alleys… everywhere!

“Fuck, fuck, oh fuck!” I said, with a positive correlation in alarm over time exactly by the oh-shit function.

“What the hell, Mack’?” ‘Sam said with an unusual measure of alarm.

“Lots of fuckers.” I said quickly.

“I’m almost done.” Polina said. Almost wasn’t good enough, there was no time… unless.

“Hurry up… both you guys have retros, right?” Retro-boosters on powersuits generally allow the user to jump helluva’ high, a jetpack for a new generation! Shit I hoped ‘Dan and ‘Zin had bought into that sales pitch when they equipped the suits. I knew I had them if it came to that… I’m not a bad guy. So; I really hoped it NEVER came to that. Running like a weasel and leaving my charges… my friends. I shuddered.

“Yea,” ‘Sam said. God, I could kiss her right now.

“Alright,” I had a plan. We had a great starting height for a good hop. “I want you two up here, then we jump out of here. Otherwise we’ll be overrun.”

“That bad?” ‘Sam asked urgently.

I looked at the contacts, still red, angry and everywhere. “Hell yes it’s that bad!” I said with undue exasperation.

“On our way, one sec.” ‘Sam said. I wheeled around and watched as they climbed up with the case. ‘Sam strapped the black case to her back as she arrived.

“What the makers are you doing?” The AI inside squeaked.

“Know what it feels like to be shot out of a cannon?” ‘Sam asked. With no response returned, she looked to me.

“Right,” I said, turning around and trying to find a spot where we could go… shit. They were between us and the LZ! A hell of a lot of them were. I patched over to ‘Dan and ‘Zin, still in the ship.

“You guys seeing this?” I asked with concern over the long line.

“What? What is it, Mackai?” Came ‘Dan’s basso synth voice.

“Get your scanners on.” I said urgently. There was a pause.

“Oh dear. This is troubling indeed, Mackai! We must lift off immediately, or we will be caught idling if they stumble upon us! I’m sorry, Mackai.”

“It’s okay, can you make a landing at the field over by us?” I asked, and hoped, and prayed, and everythinged.

“I’m sorry, Mackai. If we don’t make for the stratosphere, we will surely be within weapons range of whatever this AI might have within its arsenal.”

“It’s alright, ‘Dan,” I fucking hate your guts! Selfless save yourself stuff is cool and all. But being forced into martyrdom sucked! “We’ll find some way to buy time… I dunno... Over and out.” I blurted hastily and cut out to avoid going nuts with panic over the channel. I switched over to the combat network again.

“We’re blocked from the LZ and ‘Dan can’t pick us up right now. We’re on our own for now.” I said grimly. Polina shivered and ‘Sam patted her on the shoulder. “We can stall for time…” I looked around, looking for a gap in the red surge heading our way slowly but surely. I suppose they thought we would never go towards their structures out of fear, no hostile movement that way.

“Alright, we’re going to head that way!” I pointed towards the massive, brooding silhouettes of the obelisks.

“What the fuck?” ‘Sam said, “are you insane?”

“no, there are no contacts that way. We can set up some kind of defense there and maybe slip past their advance. They look slow as hell…” so I was more convincing myself than them. I paused, judging where to land. I switched over to my terrain sweeping radar, abolishing the angry red for a sea of green that brought momentary comfort. I found a flat spot in the general direction we were going.

I ran the location through my trajectory runner and determined we’d need to go up a good four hundred feet from a standing start to get there. “Okay,” I began again, “keep your standard tilter gyro settings and go for a burn up to four hundred and twenty feet, then you can let your suit do the landing. Simple enough, yeah?”

“Okay,” ‘Sam said, “I still think this is crazy.”

“It’s all we have.” I wheeled around and got a nod from Polina, too. “Right, I take it everyone has their bearings now… I’ll count off.” This would be SO much easier if everyone had a networked suit. “Three…two…one…” I kicked on my back boosters and lifted off.

I heard the screetching whine of engines behind me keeping pace. It was a long five seconds of the ground falling away at a fast pace before my stomach began to float in my belly as my engines cut their burn. I experienced a good two seconds of weightlessness before my stop burn started automatically. In another five seconds we were on the ground again.

“Stay with me!” I barked over the channel as I started to spin my wheels about as fast as they’d go. I headed for some cover… we were so bloody close to these buildings…. They were huge! I triggered my sensor buoys and a good eight drones burst from my pack. They buzzed into formation over the three of us in an angry cloud of flying, mini sawblades. As they settled, they started feeding me some precision information…

Each rough contact on my motion trackers was now a mostly definite point somewhere in 3d space. Eight targets at half a klick and closing… ten more… shit, off the charts! We needed cover.

“We’re hopping up this building ahead,” I said as I ran for it, rear cams still showing the dynamic duo in tow. ‘Sam grabbed Polina’s hand as I jumped up on my muscular limbs. I glided up a few floors and landed on the flat roof… stable and load bearing… glad I rock at appraising cover.

Polina and ‘Sam ascended hand in hand, the former stumbling as she landed. I fully initialized my long-range warfare software. I had a couple of buzzer bombs in my kinetic drone launchers… the EMP on those could fry some big swaths, especially since they were full drones.

Contacts at three hundred and fifty meters… ah, to hell with this! I booted my fire control and armed a buzzer with a few incendiary chasers for the second volley. I did an area target on a street out of my field of view, transparent red, crablike silhouettes highlighted through the scenery.

They were marching like a line of ants down the roads around us, encircling us… it would be no use making a good run now. I launched the volley and waited for the buzzer bomb to zip into the air and back down over the area I’d painted. The bright flash of the buzzer fried a huge swath of the buggers. The chasers finished off nearly as many, but the others kept coming.

“SLIMY BIOLOGICALS!!!” All three of us turned around as we heard a booming voice speaking in some symbol-tongue come from on high in a nearby tower. “HUMANOIDS! PAY HEED TO ME, YOUR GOD RAIDEN ENTERPRISES!” What the fuck!?

The walls of the tower-obelisk parted along a diverging set of seams with a mighty humming drone. They settled after a few seconds with a loud bang, revealing a massive, red eye camera perched on a huge interior structure.


“Would you stop yelling?” I beeped over my loudspeaker in BUSEI… he’d like that… flesh bags speaking computer.


“Oh shit!” I said as I looked up into a blinding light in the electric activity feed. “left, left! LEFT!!” I yelled. Polina oofed a disgust gesture into the combat channel as ‘Sam grabbed her and jumped from the building. I followed right behind her and we ran into the street.


There was a crackling roar as lightning smashed the building we had been standing on to black crispies. Those nasty synthetics hadn’t let the atmosphere get this full of thunderclouds unintentionally… it was a superweapon!

I switched over to the Sunrise channel. “Don’t fly down for us, ‘Dan… the main hub has some kind of weather control system! They can wield lightning!”

“Affirmative, we will monitor the situation from above the cumulus layer, out.” I flicked back to the combat channel.

“I HAVE GIFTED YOU WITH AN AUDIENCE IN MY COURT FOR THE SAKE OF MY RECEIVING OF KNOWLEDGE ABOUT YOURSELVES. YOU MAY EXHAUST INFORMATION UNTO ME AND FOR AS LONG AS YOU DO SO YOU WILL BE SPARED.” Ooh… this might be an opportunity… the drones were holding distance at about 300 meters. I liked the prospect of not being shot to shit. “SPEAK!”

“Ah cripes… okay…” hmm, how can I make the best of this. “umm…” I wonder how stupid this Raiden bloke is… Here goes.

“Well,” I began bombastically, spamming binary at him through my loudspeaker, “there’s one thing you must know first before you know anything about us!”

“Mackai… what the hell?” ‘Sam net-spoke… utterly confused by the sound of it.

“Shh,” I said with insanity in my output, “I got this!”

“It’s true that all that we say is false!!!” I proclaimed proudly.


Wholy crap! RUNZOMBIE_32 has caused an error in god.dll… RUNZOMBIE_32 will now hitch, crash and go apeshit. I can’t believe he just fell for a self-referencing paradox! This was almost as bad as some old cyberpunk joke… god it was too much!

About half of the robots went apeshit and started doing a self-destructive breakdance of death. Limbs smashed apart, servos overdrove and metal snapped. The racket was like twenty bee hives being raided by a bear army! It was about then I recognized that my ultraviolet and above EM feeds were going crazy. My geigers also started popping, then fizzing. Off in the distance, an hourglass shaped cooling tower was starting to glow red-hot. Oh shit, the thing shorted its power supply. What’s worse is it was nuclear!

“Oh shit!” I said across all channels. “’Dan, we need a speedy pickup.” And if we don’t make the delivery in under fifteen minutes… you get fried by a giant nuclear blast! “I think I fried the AI hub… resistance should be weak… long story.”

“I-“ ‘Dan began.

“GET DOWN HERE NAOH!” I said over the Sunrise channel in a blaring Austrian accent. Referencing old crap never really gets old. It just gets vintage. Now we must get to the choppah!

“We can use the drag line for salvage to pick you up… it’s going to take a pass for each of you.” ‘Dan said skeptically.

“Whatever… do it! We’re about to be in a hell of trouble if you don’t!” I barked over the line.

There were still a few drones alive and sane… running on backups, I guess. I picked up six targets and aimed. I steadied myself pulled the trigger, letting off three rapid fussilades from my rifle. ‘Sam got out of a short stupor and went crazy. There was a screaming whine as she let loose volleys of energy at targets.

She was already receiving my motion tracker data, so I sensor linked with her and started painting some targets for her. She’d be able to wipe them off the map with the solid telemetry I was giving her. Polina appeared to be ducked down on the ground, not so good.

I let loose another buzzer and watched the drones fall. “Do you have our location, ‘Dan?” I said into the Sunrise channel.

“We have you and can make for a location three hundred meters away from the buildings. Sending data now.”

A waypoint sprung to life three hundred meters behind us. “Stay with me,” I said into the battle channel. “Polina!” I barked. She stood up. “C’mon!” She fell in behind me and ‘Sam as we backpedaled down a street. I let loose another volley of gunfire and a few more incendiaries into their further back surviving ranks as I wheeled backward.

“How long, ‘Dan?” I said into the Sunrise channel as I turned and broke into full speed.

“Thirty seconds… one and only one of you must be exactly on that waypoint and facing magnetic south.”

“’Sam… cover me!”

“You better not be first out, you weasel!” ‘Sam barked over the combat channel.

“Don’t count on it… Polina!” I grabbed her by the arm and wheeled her towards the close by waypoint. “You first!”

We bolted towards the waypoint and behind some cover. I heard a jump and tumbling roll as ‘Sam ducked over a low wall. I heard another long, whining screech of energy fire as she let loose. Stacatto ballistic fire pinged and ripped behind us. I instinctively got between the fire and Polina and felt the bullets bounce and ping off my heavy rear armor.

We were close… and I heard the throaty approach of atmospheric engines. “Stand here!” I barked as I turned Polina to face southward. “Stand still, no matter what!” I looked her in the eyes as she looked out of the side of her bubble helmet. “We clear?” She nodded. “Good, you STAY STILL!” I really, really didn’t want her to chicken out and put us all further up the creek without a paddle. That and other things…

I backed off as the engine noise grew louder. A massive, magnetic grapple flew down, firing thrusters to adjust its angle as it came up fast on Polina. She screamed like all hell as it snatched her off the ground. I turned and drove around behind a wall on the opposite side of the street from ‘Sam. Not feeling too brave; I flipped a peek camera out from my forearm and tried to get a better look around the wall. It was promptly shot out and the feed cut. Fuckers! Those were expensive!

“’Sam!” I barked over the channel. “You go next!”

“You sure, man?” she asked. Nope, I’d have all the selfless glory… maybe it wasn’t so bad. Okay. It was. I was scared as hell, but I didn’t give a crap!

“Yes, I’ll cover this time! Go in ten seconds!” I said aggressively.

“Roger, counting now.”

I popped the drone from my left shoulder. The disc-shaped contraption folded out four legs and a rapid-scan targeting system. Two lead-storm cannons bristling with a few dozen separate barrels popped out of its domed top. I slaved it to automatic and let it scuttle out and lay down a couple of mini-mortars from its larger calibur guns.

Now or never… I wheeled out in a low stance and let out a few more incendiary drones. I had already targeted a cadre of nearby enemies for my rifle before I made the breakout. So I let loose gunfire like I’d never done before. The missiles whizzed down and crashed into the mob of disjointed drones, doing most of the damage. I was a bad shot with the rifle… well I was a bad shot in general.

“Coming in now… incoming friendly ordinance 100 meters downrange!” ‘Dan said to the lot of us.

There was a deafening thud and crackling roar as a few heavy, starship-grade missiles smashed into the ground ahead of me and a fusillade of depleted uranium bullets smashed into whatever survived.

I let loose my last three incendiaries and watched the drones trundling in disjointed packs from a distance get blasted to bits. Damn… only one buzzer left in my pack. My drone fell back and ejected a few spent tubes of bullets. I opened a bay in my pack and ejected a few more into my hand. I clicked them into place and patted the little beast on its top. That was for no particular reason other than to keep me sane.

“’I’m away, Mack, get your ass to the extraction point!” I wheeled back and bid my drone follow me. I was back out in the open in no time and standing there like an idiot. I lined up on the waypoint.

“How long?” I asked over the Sunrise channel. My little drone blasted away with its rapid cannons, totaling the nearest drone with a near-literal solid wall of lead.

“thirty seconds.” ‘Dan said. “Coming in with another payload, brace yourself.” Thank god, the drones were coming again and I needed help!

I flicked over to the drone and threw some mortar potshots out at the approaching mob. A few seconds after the little things hit home, almost as if to completely dwarf my own output, there was a massive fusillade of gunfire that growled along through the ranks of drones. I picked up my drone as he curled up back into a disk and clicked him onto my shoulder again.

Just then, I began to hear the throaty roar of heavy engines again. I let loose my last buzzer and watched it smack down the sorry remains of the drone army still approaching. “Go back into your holes!” I said defiantly through my mouth into my visor. My warm breath bounced off it and was whisked away by the rebreather.

The hiss of maneuvering thrusters came up behind me as I faced south. I was quickly snagged by the grapple and whisked away on a ride that scared the piss out of me… almost not-proverbially.

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