Lone Star – Chapter 35

Deliah was within sight of the metal building when she allowed herself to slow down. The cyborg body had performed wonderfully during the incursion.  She was especially impressed with its running speed- it had maintained 18 kilometers per hour all the way back.  She hadn’t felt the strain of running since she’d first been rebuilt, but her system always kept her appraised of the effort her cyborg body was outputting.  This one had been working hard, but could have kept up the pace for at least another hour.  She had spent a lot of time wandering through the rat tunnels, but once outside she’d made a straight run back to their rally point.  Her concern for the rest of the team was in the front of her mind- since they’d separated, their only communication had been through Jasmine.  Once she had teleported back out, Deliah had been in the dark about the team’s welfare.

Darien was inside, with Martiniros, Jasmine, and Tristan.  They were sorting through the data storage units, trying to organize them.  Their guests, the scientists they’d rescued, were excitedly picking through them, calling out the contents as they found one interesting or amusing.  They would hand them off to Tristan or Jasmine, who were building small piles on the concrete floor.  Darien was sitting slumped against the wall, exhausted more by the mental and emotional stress than anything else.  Deliah knelt beside him, making eye contact- such as it was- to make sure he was alright.  He smiled at her, nodding, and returned the half-embrace.

“Martiniros came out the worst of it, looks like,” he said.  Deliah cocked her head, then turned to look across the building’s floor to the dark corner where their resident vampire had put his sleeping box.  She rose, then began walking towards it.

“He’ll be ok,” Jasmine said, having read Deliah’s thoughts instead of overhearing Darien’s words.  “He came back into a patch of light, burned his arm and shoulder a bit.  He’s sure he’ll be healed by nightfall.”

Deliah stopped, then moved closer to the sorting operation.  “Good.  So we’re only waiting for Jacob, Torealis, and Kierla?”

Jasmine nodded.  “I’m worried about Kierla.  She was very upset by something, but I couldn’t tell what.”

Deliah stared back at the psychic.  “Too far away?”  She presumed the heavy structure of the lab complex- particularly the floors- would affect Jasmine’s ability to read minds.

“Partially, but I could still get some feelings from her.”  Jasmine paused, clearly worried.  “Her emotions went through a great change while she was in there.  I think she’ll need help when she gets back, from both of us.”

Deliah nodded, not understanding but trusting Jasmine’s guess.

Torealis and Jacob reappeared soundlessly, very close to Martiniros’ box.  The dragon had shifted her form into the green, tentacled monster from earlier in their trip.  Jacob had a small burn mark on his left shoulder, but didn’t seem to be bothered by it.  He carried a large canvas satchel over the unharmed shoulder, and looked very pleased with himself.  They looked around for a moment, getting their bearings, then strode quickly toward the sorting operation.  Torealis shrunk and changed shape again as she walked, and was in her favorite human form when the pair reached the others.

“Got a good haul here,” Jacob said.  “And a lot of it from your lab, I think,” he looked over at Helen.  He set the satchel down, and drew a few of the data units out.

“Yes, yes, these were mine,” Helen said, picking them out of his enourmous hand.  “Good.  How many did you get from my lab area?”

“Uh, all of them, I think,” he replied.  “A couple didn’t survive, but I got most of ’em.”

“Excellent,” she said, setting aside the units she held, then concentrating on the bag Jacob had brought.  He helped her unload the bag, then joined the psychics in the organizing.  Torealis moved toward the far corner, and sat down not far from Martiniros’ box.  Then she shifted form again, taking her natural shape.  She laid her massive head down on her forefeet, and closed her eyes.

It was only a few minutes later that Kierla reappeared.  Her techno-magical arrival was silent, but everyone heard a clatter from across the building.  She had dropped her teleporter device on the concrete floor, and it had probably broken when it landed.  She’d dropped her satchel of data units beside it.  Deliah walked toward her, slowly, but Jasmine nearly ran across the building.

She arrived at Kierla just in time.  The girl was sobbing, and the willowy psychic caught her just as she collapsed.  The two slid to the floor slowly, Jasmine easing her downward and cradling Kierla’s head against her own shoulder.  Deliah’s audio sensors keyed in on the two of them immediately, and picked up their whispers as she approached.

“No, no, please, stay out, just talk to me,” Kierla was whispering.

Jasmine nodded.  “I’ve seen enough, Kierla.  It’s all right, it’ll be ok.  It’s never easy, and it doesn’t make you evil.”

Deliah knelt beside them, and put a hand on Kierla’s shoulder.  The girl looked into Deliah’s electronic eyes.

“What happened?” Deliah asked, looking over at Jasmine.

The psychic shook her head.  “No, I won’t tell you,” she whispered.  “She needs to say it.”

Deliah nodded, meeting eyes with Kierla again.  It took a few moments before Kierla was able to speak coherently, but no one was going to rush her.  By now, Jacob had joined them and Torealis had lifted her head.  The large eyes shifted color from a lazy green to a deep blue, and even in dragon form, her concern was obvious.  Tristan and Darien were on their way over – Tristan had motioned for the scientists to continue their sorting.  Almost the entire team gathered around the techno-wizard now.

“I… I killed them,” was the first thing Kierla said.  She looked around the group for a moment before going on.  “There was one birthing chamber… and inside…” her eyes returned to Deliah, as if the leader of the strike team could absolve her of a terrible wrong, “they were growing monsters.  They were so terrible, and they – they were in pain just being alive.  The machinery had to give them painkillers and anti-depressants just to maintain their sanity.  I…” she paused again, looking around at the others.  “I couldn’t leave them, let them live a life of pain.  I destroyed the machines.  I killed them all.”

Deliah nodded.  “It’s ok, Kierla.  You did what you thought was right.”

Kierla shook her head.  “That’s not all,” she said, nearly choking on a sob.  “Some of the staff came in while I was there, coming to find out what was happening, and I…” she closed her eyes, looking at the floor.  “I was so angry with them.  They’d created these monsters, these poor creatures, forced them into a life of pain and death without a thought for what they were doing.  The spirits that were born into those bodies have been hurt so badly.  Who knows how many they’ve created, and how many more they would…” she sobbed again, and couldn’t continue.

Deliah met Jasmine’s eyes, and the concern the psychic felt was great.  Jasmine looked back down, and whispered, “What happened in there, Kierla?”

“I don’t know!” Kierla whispered, emphatically.  She looked up, into Jasmine’s eyes.  “Can you see?  Will you be able to tell?”

Jasmine was silent for a long moment, concentrating on the girl’s thoughts.  Then she drew a breath, sharply, and her eyes widened.  Then her expression softened, and she smiled gently.  She caressed the younger girl’s shoulder as she spoke.  “There is a barrier in our minds, a wall that often prevents us from using all the power we carry.  But sometimes, strong emotion or desperate need can breach the barrier.  This is what happened to you.”

“What did she do?” Tristan asked, interested.

Jasmine shook her head.  “I can’t tell.  There was too much energy unleashed for me to see clearly.  But Kierla has very little experience with killing, so when the desire to end a life became too strong, that barrier in her mind vanished.  Whatever it was,” Jasmine shook her head in admiration, “we can explore it more when we get home.”  Kierla looked up with alarm- clearly she didn’t want to repeat the experience.  But Jasmine calmed her.  “If you learn to use this power, you will gain control over it.  And hopefully it won’t shock you so much next time.”

Kierla smiled, then laid her head down on the psychic’s shoulder and closed her eyes.  “I think I need to sleep,” she said, still shuddering.  Jasmine put another arm around her, and began gently rocking the two of them.

Deliah stood, and looked at the others.  “She’s said her piece.  Let’s let her rest.”  She jerked her head back to where the scientists were standing.  “We’ve got plenty to do, and we don’t want to be here tonight.”

Perridan seemed to appear out of nowhere, striding towards them from the door.  Deliah turned to face him, her cyborg face smiling as much as it could.  Then she stopped, trying to read her scout’s expression.

“How long have we got?”

Perridan smiled, looking mischevious and satisfied with himself.  “I’m not exactly sure,” he said, coming to a stop near the scientists and their pile.

Deliah cocked her head.  This was the first time Perridan had not had an instant answer for her on the movements of their opponents.  “Not sure?”

“Not exactly.  I’ll know more when Finjiarn returns.  But it seems our scheme worked out well enough.  Almost all the aerial units we’ve seen were headed Northeast, and ground patrol searches have been concentrating that direction.”  Most of the others had returned to the sorting operation, but each was keeping an ear towards the conversation.

“What did you two do?” she asked, her tone half-conspiratorial and half-scolding.

His forehead wrinkled, and if he’d had eyebrows, they’d have risen.  “You didn’t think we were merely waiting for you to complete your mission,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure.  I had thought you were going to assist the canines.”

“And we did that.  They’re on their way back to their village, and their human companion is in good shape – considering he’s been a guest of the Coalition States for a few months.”

“Good.”

“They will probably need help getting him home, though.  I doubt he’s in any shape to travel North alone, and he won’t want to waste time getting away from the area.  I would recommend -”

Deliah finished the sentence with him.  “- that we offer to take him with us.”  He nodded.  “Yes, we should.  I’ll visit them tomorrow, once we’ve found a better place to pass the day.”

“Already done.  We have the perfect spot for you all to stay over.  And the best part is, the canines have already agreed to it.”

Deliah cocked her head.  “Their village?  I don’t think that’s wise.”

Perridan shrugged.  “Even after your attack on the lower labs, the CS won’t go too deep into Pecos territory.  Not without a specific place to hit.  And there are hundreds of little villages they could choose from.  It sounds like they’ve got a juicier target than you guys, anyway… you heard about the two SAMAS units that went into the lower labs while you were in there?”

She nodded, slowly.  “What were they doing there?  I didn’t hear.”

“Rescuing a pair of scientists who were imprisoned on Level 7, apparently.  A squad of fighter jets was dispatched after them, and soon after, an entire air wing lifted off and headed that direction.  Half of the base’s SAMAS units are searching for those two, it seems.”  He shrugged.  “I hope they make it to wherever they’re going.”

Deliah nodded her head again.  “Any other news you have for us?”

“I have some,” came another voice from the door.  Everyone turned, and saw Arcturus enter, carrying a huge weapon in each hand.  He set down one of them, a power-armor sized missile launcher by the look of it, and carried the other to Jacob.  The skelebot handed the huge weapon over, and Jacob had to make a visible effort to heft it, even with both hands.  It appeared to be a pulse laser rifle, but it was bigger than any Deliah had seen.  The juicer smiled, eyes running the length of the weapon.

“It is meant for the Terror Trooper power armor, so it might even be too big for you to use without a support.  But I thought you might enjoy it.”

“I sure will try,” Jacob said, looking like a little boy with a new toy.  He sat down, setting the weapon across his lap, and began looking over the controls.

Arcturus approached Perridan and Deliah.  “Those two SAMAS units were chased by Major Claval.  He was killed in the encounter.”

“I don’t know who that is,” Deliah said, looking to Perridan.  His expression told her that he didn’t either.

“He was commander of a special unit attached directly to Laboratory Administration- Mutant Containment and Retrieval.  His job was to hunt down escaped mutants, but in reality,” Arcturus’s head bobbed side to side, in a gesture that was not characteristic of a robot at all, “he and his team were effectively a private army under direct control of Lab Administration.”

“The personal shotgun of the administrator?” Deliah asked.

Arcturus nodded.  “More or less.  Anyway, the network reported loss of contact with his personal communications unit, and at the same time a SuperSAMAS power armor unit assigned to him reported critical damage just before breaking contact.  The wreckage has been retrieved, and death confirmed.”

“What does that mean for us?” Deliah asked.  “It won’t be MCR that comes after us.”

“No, but Perridan recommended we visit our runaway canines this evening.  You had concerns about this.”

“Yes, I did.  They may send a strike force into Pecos Territory if they think they know where the canines went.” Deliah was getting a little impatient- Arcturus was taking longer to come to his point than usual.

“I agree,” the robot replied, “but as far as runaway mutant hiding places go, Claval was the expert.  He was the person they would ask for possible targets.”

“And now, he’s dead.”  Deliah nodded, beginning to understand.  “Won’t he have that sort of data on the network somewhere?”

“No.  I tried to find it myself, to see what sort of data they would have to work with once they found Claval was dead.  I located several markers for suspected runaway hiding places, but not the data entries themselves.  Think of them as signposts that help locate networked data.  And these signposts all pointed to the same place – Claval’s personal communication unit.”

“He kept them on his private computer, and that would have been destroyed with him and his power-armor.”  Deliah’s cyborg face attempted another smile.

“Mutant Containment and Recovery will be in chaos for a long time.  Not only do they need to find a new commanding officer, but he will have nothing to work with, no data to start from.”  Arcturus shrugged.  “This information will be valuable to our canine friends, I believe.”

“It certainly will,” Perridan said, also smiling.  “It’ll mean open season for them to get runaways clear.”

Arcturus looked around the room for the first time, apparently noting everyone’s presence.  His eyes stopped scanning when he saw Jasmine, still holding the team’s mechanic.  “Is Kierla allright?”

Deliah relayed what she knew of Kierla’s experience.  Arcturus nodded.

“The network did report catastrophic failures in growing chamber 5.  Then a power spike of some kind hit the computer systems.”

“That power spike was our mechanic,” Deliah said.  “She took it pretty hard.”

Finjiarn appeared beside his elder.  The two inclined their heads toward each other, and Finjiarn spoke in a series of fast whispers.  Perridan nodded, and smiled again.  Then he motioned for Finjiarn to relay his report to the others.

“The fighter jets sent Northeast have returned to base.  They were being refueled when I left.  Two groups have left the base- one heading Northeast, the other heading due east.  Almost all of the SAMAS and SuperSAMAS are out, along with most of the other power armor units and many of the larger combat robots.”  He cocked his head, thoughtfully.  “Theoretically, if someone did want to stage a full assault on the lab complex, now would be the time.  They’re at less than a fourth of their normal strength.”

Deliah chuckled, and Arcturus made his crackly-static sound.  It caught the two psi-stalkers off-guard, but they relaxed after they realized it was his best impression of laughter.

“Well, lets have a look at the data here, and see what we’re bringing home.  Perridan, I think we’ll take your suggestion and ask the canines to let us spend the night in their town.”  She paused.  “I suppose I should have you warn them about Arcturus,” she said, looking at the skelebot.

“They’ve met me twice now,” he replied.  “Perhaps another meeting will give me a chance to explain my actions.”

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