Lone Star – Chapter 31

Deliah stood by the door of the procedure room, her oversized rail gun pointed down the hallway toward where she guessed the guards would eventually be coming from.  She kept her head moving, and her senses sharp, wanting to make sure she had plenty of warning if anyone approached them.  Level 6 didn’t have alarms going off, but many of the other levels did.

The procedure room they’d found themselves in wasn’t too large- 10 meters square, not much bigger than a normal surgery room anywhere else in the world.  The ceiling was 5 meters high, giving enough room for the tall machinery that had been rolled against the walls after its last use.  The walls and ceiling were plain, a light-brown paneling devoid of any decorations.  All the surgical, diagnostic, and life support equipment was on wheels.  An oversize operating table stood in the middle of the room, as if the last one to leave the room had forgotten to move it to the wall with the other equipment.  Deliah wondered how large a creature they could put on the table- it looked almost 3 meters long.

She didn’t recognize much of the equipment, and her on-board data system didn’t have profiles for much of it either, but Darien seemed to know what he was looking at.  He ignored many pieces, looking through drawers and cabinets.  In one of them, he found a handful of data storage devices, and these he stuffed into a small canvas sack.  Then he crossed the room, and rolled a few pieces of machinery aside until he reached a computer workstation.

When Arcturus had intruded on his own, he had looked over the computer network for whatever information they could get without direct access to the hardware on the base.  The result was disappointing.  Almost all of the information they were after was stored off the network.  While Arcturus could find out where on the base it was stored, he couldn’t get to the data itself.  And the data was scattered around the base- to keep it more secure, they’d guessed.

Fortunately, Darien had found a good portion of it so far.  While the techno-wizards in Tolkeen hadn’t been able to design a portable device that would crack the security systems of the data storage units, the did build one that would tell the team what information was there.  Having a file directory was better than wild guessing.

Deliah’s head snapped around again, startling the Shifter and almost making him drop the unit he was holding.  “We’ve got company out there,” the cyborg muttered.  “90 seconds until they’re on us, maybe less.”  She turned to look at her partner.  “You said this was the last batch?”

“Yes,” he replied.  They’d been to 7 rooms like this one, and three office-centers.  Each time they’d gathered up as many data units as they could, stuffed them in canvas bags, and then the Shifter had teleported them back to the metal building they’d come from.  This was the last location Arcturus had suggested, and so now their job was to get out in one piece.

But perhaps they could do a little bit more, Deliah thought.  If they could cause a bunch of trouble just before teleporting out, the guards would call for backup, perhaps diverting soldiers from other parts of the complex.  It might help out other team members, even if only a little.  Deliah pushed her rail gun out into the hallway, and was about to fire a burst to get some attention.  Then she had another idea.

“Get in the corner,” she said, motioning with her head as she swung the weapon around to point back into the room.  Darien didn’t waste time- he dragged the sackful of data units clear, then covered his ears.

Deliah spent far more ammunition than she should have on the equipment.  But there was no doubt when she was finished- none of the machines were usable.  Interestingly, the wall panels absorbed all the stray fire that hit it- there wasn’t even a scorch mark.  The primary goal of getting attention seemed to have been achieved, as well.  Shouts were audible from out in the hallway.

“Time to get out of here,” she said.

“I’m going to need more time,” he replied.  “Five minutes and I can get us and the data out.”

Her new cyborg face couldn’t scowl like her old one could.  Nonetheless, Darien seemed to cower a little when she looked at him.  “I wish I’d known that before making all that noise,” she grumbled.

“I… I can send the data now, and the two of us just a few minutes later,” the shifter said.  “You can keep those troops off us for that long, can’t you?”

“Not without killing a handful of them, I can’t,” she replied.  She was very familiar with their training and tactics, and knew how they would approach the room.  She looked out the door, and down the corridor.  Four soldiers had already formed up at the intersection, and two of them took shots at her.  She ducked back inside, and heard them shouting a report to their officer.

“So what’s the big deal about that?” Darien said.  His disdain for the soldiers triggered a response in Deliah that startled him.

“Whats the big deal?  Those men aren’t the ones we’re fighting.  They’re the unlucky bastards that get ordered around.”  She hoisted the railgun to point it at the ceiling.  “I used to be one of them, and I won’t kill any of them if we don’t have to.  And we don’t have to.”

Darien didn’t agree at all.  He’d seen what those common soldiers were capable of during his last visit.  But he didn’t press the point.  “So what should we do?”

“You go.  Take the data and ‘port yourself out.  I’ll go the hard way.”

He gaped.  “Its that important to spare them, that you’ll take that kind of a chance?  I’ve seen what the common soldiers are like, Deliah, and they’re just as cruel and heartless as their officers.”

“Not all of them, and right now we don’t have time to separate the wheat from the chaff,” she replied.  “Get out of here.  I can get past a whole platoon of these guys if I have to, but not if you’re with me.  I’ll see you back at our safe-point.”

The Shifter shrugged, then lifted the sack of data units over one shoulder.  He stepped toward the mess of destroyed machinery, muttering as he walked.  His hands glowed for a moment, and then he vanished.

Deliah turned back to the door, peeking out again.  The guards were 10 meters away, and now there were two teams of 4.  They fired wildly, not even hitting the door she ducked back through.  She reached into the storage compartment in the small of her back, drawing out one of the ‘nifty little toys’ she’d brought with her.  She couldn’t use a static grenade on the troops outside; while it would disorient their helmet’s data and vision enhancement, it would do more damage to her.  So instead, she’d brought along the old-school smoke grenades.  The Dead-Boy armor would filter the air the soldiers breathed, and the helmets had a handful of sensory upgrades to help see in poor conditions like smoke.  However, the helmets would switch to infra-red first.  And since she was mostly cold metal, she wouldn’t register right away.  It was only worth a few seconds of surprise, but that’s all she would need.

They noticed the grenade immediately, stopping their advance for three seconds while they debated whether the weapon would explode or not.  By the time they began advancing again, the corridor was almost completely clogged with smoke.  Deliah switched her primary vision over to infra-red, and picked up the soldiers immediately.  They didn’t even get a reading on the door as it opened- and she was among them before they knew what was hitting them.  She burst through their formation and disappeared around a corner.  And from there, she was loose on Level 6, not so concerned about being hidden as she was when she’d first arrived.

A coded message from Arcturus came to her just after she was out of sight.  She destroyed a pair of surveillance cameras before taking another turn, then ‘read’ the message while she ran.  “There are two SAMAS units on their way through the rat tunnels.  They claim to be rescuing a pair of scientists being held illegally on Level 7.”

She paused around another corner, then recited the message in her own head.  She wasn’t sure if Jasmine would be able to pick up the message from another floor, but it was the only communications link they had.

*****

Torealis was enjoying herself immensely.

She’d been on 4 different levels so far, and had changed her shape every time she’d moved.  She’d started her work on Level 2- she and Jacob had found themselves in the midst of a training session for a platoon of very young mutant canines.  Torealis had been in her favorite human form, but Jacob had disarmed and knocked down their drill instructor in a heartbeat, and the young dragon had made a great show of raising her glowing hands above her head before teleporting the two of them away.  Now every one of the canines on Level 2 was going nuts, certain a powerful magic-user had just been there, and most of them not knowing how to react.  The instructors were trying hard to restore order, but that would take time.  And guards, human and canine, were flowing toward Level 2 to find out what happened.

She was currently on Level 7, trying to draw the guards on that floor away from Jasmine and Tristan’s area.  She’d changed her own shape to match the guards themselves, leaving Jacob to cause trouble in one of the procedure rooms while she moved around.  She had been challenged for her ID by one of the officers, and had responded by pushing him into his subordinates and ducking around a corner.  When they came to find her, she’d ducked into another large procedure room and shifted back to her natural, full-size form.  Her roar had sent the guards fleeing, and a moment later she’d changed back into a guard and run down the corridor after them.  She charged past a security checkpoint and around a corner before the officer noted her presence again, and followed her.  When he came around the corner, she’d changed form again- into a Coalition SAMAS power armor unit.  They won’t expect THAT, she thought.  She didn’t need to appear to fire a weapon- a full strength punch from her send the officer sprawling, even if the armor absorbed most of the damage.  She turned another corner, shifting form again- this time into a CS Skelebot.

That was when she ‘heard’ Jasmine pass along the message from Arcturus.  Two SAMAS units were coming down, trying to free a pair of locked-up researchers.

“Oops,” she said, chuckling.

*****

Martiniros was more or less unseen as he moved around Level 5. One of the gifts he’d discovered since becoming a creature of darkness was the ability to move among humans without being noticed.  Not that he was invisible… just not noticed.  He was sure the surveillance cameras would pick him up, but the officers operating those cameras could do little more than guide soldiers to him.  He could move fast enough to evade those.  And while the Dog Boys seemed immune to this skill, there weren’t many of those on Level 5, either.

For some reason, the security wasn’t as thick there as he’d expected.  There were a few patrols, and a few security checkpoints, but most of the floor was manufacturing space.  He spent some time exploring before getting to the real work.  A good share of the manufacturing was automated, but there were still machinists and welders at work.  He left these men alone, not even making them aware he’d been there.  Not yet.

The second room he’d visited seemed to be dedicated to ammunition manufacture.  It was divided by short, concrete block walls.  Much of the ammunition was for energy weapons, and wouldn’t explode it something went wrong, but there were some missile systems for aircraft and conventional bombs here and there.  He also found a small pile of NPD-14 scuttling charges, which he had been told by Arcturus to look for.  He would be back for those- they would do most of the destructive work on this floor.

In one of the manufacturing spaces, he saw his greatest chance of causing chaos.  An entire room, 30 meters square and with a 15 meter ceiling, dedicated to assembling giant combat robots.  Best of all, there were only a dozen or so people there.  Scaring them out of there would be easy, and then he could do whatever he wanted in there.  Against one wall was an oversized elevator, presumably to get the finished combat machines up to the surface.  A decent potential escape route, depending on where it came out above-ground…

He made a mental note to find his way back, then got to his primary task.  The office space on Level 5 was easy enough to find- it was the central part of the floor, with the manufacturing spaces radiating out from there.  It was mostly open space, a roughly circular room with columns scattered between shoulder-high partition walls.  Keyboards clacked here and there as the designers and code-writers worked.  There were quiet conversations and meetings at small tables.  Around the outer perimeter of the room, wood doors led to private office rooms.  Most of the data Martiniros was after would be in this room.  It was more centralized here than it was on other floors, but that suited his purpose.  He would be able to retrieve his allotment of data faster, and have more time to interrupt the manufacturing in the adjoining rooms.

There were two guards at the entry he came through, in armor but with their helmets off.  He didn’t bother to make himself un-noticed.  Instead, he snarled at them, showing his fangs.  They both shrieked.

“Run,” he said, simply.  The two dashed through the offices, shouting warnings at everyone they passed.  Heads popped up and around the workspace partitions, and every reaction was the same- confusion, then horror, then a mad dash for the exits.  There had been sixty or so people in the room at first, but it was empty within 90 seconds.  As he walked among the deserted offices, the vampire wondered idly if they’d been drilled on evacuating the office.  They probably have fire drills, or something.

There were three data-centers in the room, he remembered.  While almost every workstation was set up with a dock for a personal computer unit, and the engineers and coders would interface their own units when they arrived for work, the data was all stored here.  No one was trusted enough to carry their work out of this room.  That was more or less the standard procedure for the Coalition States.

The data-centers were the loudest machines on the floor.  While they weren’t all that loud, the office was more or less silent now that everyone had run off.  They hummed happily, and Martiniros’ supernatural hearing led him right to them.  The data-modules were right out in the open, readily accessible.  They were removed for storage daily, and stored elsewhere.  He had disconnected a handful of them, gently dropping them into a canvas sack he’d brought for the purpose.

A soft click behind him got his attention.  He turned, and moved aside just as a long white streak soared past his head and into the data-center he’d been working on.  The computer sputtered for a moment, throwing sparks, then lost power and went silent.  The projectile was not unlike his own, anti-vampire weapons- a half-meter long shaft of polished silver, two centimeters around.  There was no hilt on this one- apparently there was no need for one.

He turned again, seeing the source of the projectile hiding behind the desk of one of the private offices.  A middle-aged, overweight engineer was pointing a sort-of rifle at him, with what looked like a short-barreled gattling gun attached to its business end.  From each barrel- except one- the tip of another silver spike was visible.  The engineer’s hands were unsteady as he lined up another shot- the weapon looked heavy.

Martiniros snarled again, leaping and twisting in mid-air.  He landed just outside the office door, and moved aside as another spike flew out, drilling into one of the office partitions behind him.  The weapon cycled itself quickly.  The assembly of barrels turned, putting another loaded barrel in place and preparing to fire again.  But not fast enough- the vampire was over the desk, pointing the weapon at the ceiling as it fired.

He pulled the engineer to his feet, and locked eyes with him for a long moment.  Then he looked at the weapon.  “Your work?  Experimental weapons?”

While terrified, the engineer hadn’t been terrified beyond words.  He looked more defiant than the vampire had expected from an office-worker.  “No- one of my associates built this.”

“Tell him to make it lighter, so you can operate it better,” Martiniros said, pulling the weapon away and breaking it over his knee.  Then he threw the pieces out into the rest of the office space.  He stood between the door and the engineer, who now moved backward and bumped into his chair.  It made him lose his balance, and he ended up sitting in it.  Martiniros harrumfed at him, then looked around the office.

Covering the walls were schematics and sketches for what was obviously combat machines.  Photographs were pinned here and there, showing some of the machines in action- a thick-limbed Terror Trooper wrestling with what looked like a giant insect, an old Enforcer-class robot standing beside the new IAR-2 Abolisher.  Some of the designs were very outlandish- one looked like a huge scorpion with an assortment of cannons in its tail, another like a 2-meter-tall skull with 6 spidery legs protruding from the side.  One schematic in particular caught his eyes- it looked similar to the new model of SAMAS he’d seen in the air patrols over the past few days, but bigger and… spikier, he thought.  The forearms each had three blades or spikes, probably vibro-weapons.  There were two air intakes instead of one, and over the shoulders were additional cannons.

“This looks impressive.  A new SAMAS prototype?”

“Is- is that what you’re here for?” the engineer stuttered, more confused now than frightened.  He had expected to be killed outright, and since the vampire had not killed him- yet- his initial shock was beginning to thaw.  “You’re too late to stop that project- its already in production.  But it won’t matter much to you… they’re all headed north.”

“Won’t matter to me?”  Martiniros chuckled.  “The CS is destroying far more lives than it is saving.  Hopefully someday you’ll see that.”

“We destroy the things that have invaded our world.”  The engineer seemed to draw some courage from the statement.  “You vampires, the dragons, the magicians- we could live in peace if you would just leave us to our world!”

Martiniros shook his head.  “There are many creatures out there that would hunt you and destroy you, yes, but to kill off every dimensional being, without a second thought, those are the actions of murderers.”

“This is our world!” the engineer shouted.

The vampire sighed.  “You take pride in your work, don’t you?”  He motioned to the schematics and photographs.  “You like the job of creating weapons that will kill innocent creatures.”

“We have to defend ourselves!” the engineer nearly shouted.  “And we will!”  He leaped out of the chair, pulling another silver spike off the desk.  He was a civilian, though, not a fighter, and had no chance of being fast enough.  Martiniros caught the attacking hand, then pulled the man close enough to bite him.

“If I was the soul-less killer you think I am…” he whispered, “why are you still alive?  Why do I not just drink you dry?”  He took a deep breath through his nose, and felt the man shiver in terror.  “The temptation is strong, of course… My quarrel is with those humans who think they alone have a right to this Earth, and you certainly seem to be one of those…”  Then he released the man, taking the silver spike from his hand.  He moved toward the door.  “But perhaps sparing you will make you think twice about the other dimensional-beings you indiscriminately kill.  Perhaps it is too much to hope for… we shall see.”

Martiniros closed the office door behind him.  It opened outward, into the office area.  He drove the silver spike into the wooden frame, pinning the door shut and trapping the engineer inside.  Then he returned to his sack of data units, and headed toward the manufacturing spaces.

*****

Out of everyone on the strike team, Kierla felt the most need to be careful. The guards were mostly distracted by the time she was moving through corridors, and much of the 4th floor’s security was skelebots.  She’d seen two of them, gone haywire in one of the procedure rooms, shooting up equipment and causing non-lethal destruction at Arcturus’ orders.  The human guards all over the floor had been called away to deal with the robots.  She was sure she’d be spotted on the security cameras, but it meant she had to be careful and quick.

To this point, either she’d been doing a good job, or she’d been very lucky.  She stuck to the computer laboratories, gathering data storage units and sabotaging the systems that weren’t in use.  She’d found an entire ‘growing room’ that was cleaned out and awaiting the next generation of mutants.  She walked by each of the crucibles, looking up at the empty plexiglass cylinders and the machinery around their bases.  She placed a hand on each of these, letting her natural talent peek inside the metal skin and look for weaknesses in the circuitry.  Once she’d found the weak spots, it was simplicity to walk by another, lay a hand on it, and send a mental jolt that would melt the irreplaceable processors and fragile components inside.  400 crucibles in one room, and within 5 minutes, none of them would function again.  She smirked, and moved on to the next ‘nursery’.

She passed by one that was in use, not going inside, but looking through the viewing window.  The crucibles each had a tiny puppy inside- well, an almost-puppy.  They had started to form opposable thumbs, and the legs weren’t quite natural.  They’re so cute, she thought.  If only we could wake them all up and get them out of here.  She trusted Arcturus’ work, and moved on, afraid to get caught.

It was the last of the growing chambers that stopped her.  This was the one Arcturus had stopped at last, and was still partially in use.  No technicians were currently inside, but 30 or so of the units were in use.  And these weren’t canines.  She’d seen the growing mutant felines in another nursery, too, and they looked nothing like what was before her now.  These were monsters.

Some were obviously a long way from being full grown, others looked about ready to be awakened.  But these creatures weren’t even remotely attractive or cute.  They made Kierla feel a revulsion that she couldn’t explain.  She entered the room slowly, morbidly curious and disgusted at the same time.  The first crucible she approached held something that looked like it might stand upright, and had opposeable thumbs on its hands.  But it also had wicked looking claws at the end of its fingers.  The face was part feline, but had what looked like the tusks of a warthog.  It was covered with a coat of short, coarse, grey fur, and muscles bulged under the skin.

If they believe non-humans are all monsters, she thought, what place will these creatures have? She shook her head, and moved on to the next crucible.  On and on she went, and the creatures she saw became more and more terrifying.  After stopping at a half-dozen of them, she alarmed herself with the thought of destroying the machinery mid-cycle.

“No,” she whispered aloud.  I can’t kill something unborn, no matter what sort of creature, she completed the thought silently.

Some part of her brain replied with a question; Even those born un-naturally by the CS, with no purpose but to fight and kill?

She almost became angry with herself, and found herself whispering aloud again.  “Even these creatures could show love if they were taught it, if they were given the chance.”

And again, her subconscious replied almost clearly enough for her to hear aloud; The CS will teach them hatred, war, and killing.  And that will be the whole of their lives.  Destroying them now would be merciful.

She felt her eyes well up.  She knew it was a losing argument.  The only way for these creatures to have a chance at a life of peace and friendship would be for her to smuggle them out.  Even as monstrous as they were, they would at least be given a chance in Tolkeen.  But that was a foolish, if idealistic, thought.  There was no feasible way to do it.  Even waking one of them would be a huge risk- the ones closest to being finished were twice her size, and who knew how they would behave upon waking?  Newborn babies often threw tantrums- what kind of tantrums would these things be capable of?

She had her hand on the machinery at the base of the crucible she stood before, and could feel the magic flowing through her fingers before she was fully aware of it.  And just as before, she had found the same weaknesses in the circuitry, the same processors that would cripple the machine.  She jerked her hand away, still not able to do it, not ready to kill an unborn creature.  She looked back up, through the plexiglass, and tried again to see the occupant as something other than a monster, a killing machine.  It was an immense mutant feline, based on a tiger but with white stripes mingling with the black instead of orange.  The face and skull were misshapen, as if the intention was to make it half-feline and half-human, but had failed.  One eye-socket was shrunken, and the nose was off-center.  The thing’s back was twisted forward, and the shoulders were out of place.  Its ribcage expanded and contracted slowly, breathing with the assistance of a mask strapped over its mouth and nose.  Its heartbeat was monitored on a small display screen that was mounted on the side of the machinery, at Kierla’s waist height.

Her subconscious spoke again.  They are no different than the power armor suits or giant combat robots the CS builds.  They are war machines, and will be used against your friends if you allow them to be completed.  A tear finally broke free from her eye, landing on her fingertip  and closing the tiny space between her skin and the metal skin of the machinery.  The liquid transmitted the pent up energy into the circuitry, following the wires and connections meant to keep the system ‘grounded’ and safe from a static discharge.  But her own discharge overloaded almost everything inside, triggering a few series of sparks and popping sounds from inside the metal skin.  The lights above and below the plexiglass cylinder went out, but Kierla could still see the creature shudder slightly, and heard the monitor beep a series of warnings as the heartbeat slowed.  She watched the whole process, not wanting to abandon the creature she had just killed, feeling she owed it her company at the least.  Another tear fell, and soon she was sobbing, unable to stop.  The creature shuddered a few more times, but then went still, and a moment later, the monitor reported heart failure and brain inactivity.

She stood there for a long time, trying to rid herself of the sorrow she felt.  She tried hard to see the dead creature as her subconscious had named it- a war machine, just like the power armor or combat robots.  She’d disabled and destroyed plenty of those in the past.  But those had pilots that were human, and she’d never harmed them directly.  As much as she tried to turn off her emotions, she felt them merely changing shape, and turning into anger.  And the anger she felt was directed at the scientists who brought these creatures into being, with no thought for the suffering these creatures would feel, let alone cause.  And as the anger built, she felt her own magic pulsing through her fingers.  Not knowing why, not knowing if it was possible, she pointed her right hand at the next-nearest crucible, and felt her energy connect with it at a distance of 4 meters.

She’d never been able to influence machinery or electronics without physical contact.  Not before this.  But the anger was so great, and needed an outlet so badly, that it leaped across the distance like a bolt of white-blue lightning.  It burst the metal sides off the machinery base, throwing sparks and cracking the plexiglass crucible.  The fluid inside leaked out quickly, forming a large puddle on the floor as it made its way toward the floor drains.  The creature inside was soon lying on the base of its container, no longer floating but curled up in a ball and trembling.

Again, the magic leaped out of her, impacting the base of another crucible, then another.  Each one sparked, some burst their metal skins, and several others cracked the plexiglass above and leaked.  Soon the floor was slippery with the thick fluid from the cylinders.  One of them burst, dropping its half-formed occupant on the concrete floor.  As the sparks stopped, the room filled with the quiet but insistent beeping of the monitors, each reporting a catastrophic failure.

“What the hell happened here?” shouted a voice from the other end of the room.  Kierla hadn’t heard the far door open, but now she spotted a pair of people walking between the destroyed crucibles, their mouths agape at the ruined machines.  The one who’d shouted was an older man, bald and overweight, with large eyes behind small spectacles.  He was flanked by a willowy young woman with a high nose and an air of superiority.  Both wore white labcoats.  At first, Kierla wasn’t sure which one outranked the other.  When they noticed her, they froze.

It was obvious that she wasn’t cleared to be in the room- her clothing alone gave it away.  But her fingertips still glowed from her exertion, and the two shrank back as she stared at them.

“You,” Kierla whispered.  She didn’t care if they’d heard her.  The anger grew again, and when she lifted her arm to point at them, energy again leaped from her fingertips.  When she felt that energy connect to the two scientists, the shock was almost unbearable.  She fell to her knees, vomiting- thankfully close to a floor drain- and wiping her mouth on her sleeve before looking up at the two people across the room.

She heard them before she saw them.  They were still sizzling slightly.  The smell hit her a moment later, and she almost vomited again.  Then she stood, moving back toward the door she’d come through earlier.  The urge to leave, to teleport away, washed over her like a chill, like a phobia.  She picked up the satchel of data storage units, then pulled the teleport-machine from the pocket of her jacket.  And just in time, too- a squad of dog-boys had arrived in the hall outside.  Their officer was pointing at her through the huge viewing window.  She had no doubt that their rifles would break the window.  She pushed the green button, and vanished just as they opened fire.

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