By Greg Burgess
Chapter 1: Prize from the Past
It all started when Bitters came in and tossed an ear onto my desk.
“Colonel Bastia says to sweep this for co-ords while we haul out to the Crypts.”
“The Crypts! I’ve had my portion of rads for the week just eating at Tiny’s. Why’re we goin’ to the Crypts for MOG’s sake?”
“Why you eat at Tiny’s?”
“Good toadfish.” I muttered.
“Toadfish? No wonder you’re full of rads for the week. And you’re the Bat medic!”
“Tiny has this way…”
“Just sweep the ‘crys and put on your leaddies.”
The ear turned out to be a pouch. I tumbled the datacrystal into my hand and noted the crack.
“Funk! It’s cracked!”
“The Raj and the Colonel says work around it.”
“Slog.” I batched up the ‘crys, my portacomp, some of my personal datacrystals, my leaddies and scudded to the crawler.
Once in my grab seat I inserted the junk ‘crys and began a sweep. It wasn’t too bad but boring as OxBox’s poems. Savage ignited the crawler and off we went. I gave her some general co-ords to get us in the vicinity then swept some more. We crawled past the precious reclaimed cropland then passed the boundary where Braveport’s Agrilords worked to reclaim fertile land from the Crypts.
The Crypts was a region of blasted slag thousands of kilometers in diameter, some areas literally sheathed in an obsidian-like melt of fused destruction. Other areas covered in chunks of porete and fused silcastone – stuff the Ancestors used to build their installs and whatever other techy-muck they chose. Still other areas were covered in slow moving, radioactive sludge that glowed at night like vile snakes, dripping and squirming along the blasted surface of an aching planet.
After awhile I plucked out the datacrystal Bitters had tossed me, put my logs in and reread some history I’d swept from a junk stall on Drag Street in Braveport–
No one knows for sure how it happened. Not even the Time Walkers. May they get lost on their travels! They say the end of what was is too far-gone for them to return and watch and learn and report back. All we have is what is, after what many are calling the Psykopalypse. The war of the psymutants. Those who were able to manipulate time, matter, space, and energy with mere thought.
Few are still with us. Evolution does not erase what it has created, if it can survive. Only humans are ignorant enough to do that. Mistrust them. Fear them. Shun them. Kill them. They brought the end times.
It is back to spear and bow, rifle and gun. Hunt for meat. Kill to live. Aim your weapon well and shoot for the brain if you see a wandering mutant stop to pluck a flower without using their hands. It is a Psypath and their powers are abomination!
— Scavenger Book of Warning
Well, the great prophet, Herbert George Wells, had it partially right. There was a war between two worlds but when it occurred, the outcome was beyond even his wild imaginings.
The Ancestors had advanced technologically to the point where interstellar flight was just breaching the horizon. The inner four planets, excluding Earth of course, were colonized and terraformed enough to stem the Malthusian pressure of population felt on earth.
The larger, outer four were outposts and sources of energies just waiting for the Ancestors to unlock and use to reach out beyond our own solar system. The deeper secrets of time, gravity, space, matter, and energy were beginning to whisper in their ears.
Perhaps that is why the Domitaurai declared war. Maybe they had been watching the Ancestors longer than the Ancestors had imagined and realized the Ancestors’ nationalistic colonial past would manifest itself in their eagerness to branch out from their solar system into the galaxy. Or maybe the Domitaurai were just like the Ancestors and had merely attained the technology ahead of them. History will never know as not a single word was shared between the two civilizations.
Yes they devastated Earth, just as H.G. predicted, and yes it was the single-celled warriors, the ones rarely thought about except when one feels under the weather, that finally laid the Domitaurai to waste before they obliterated the Ancestors completely from the universe (and no one knows if the microbes that brought down the Domitaurai were manufactured by the Ancestors or were Mother Nature’s own natural creations).
But the devastation, both from their weapons and the Ancestors’, was even more drastic than ever occurred in Mr. Wells’ ill fated prophesy.
The Null Time after the Psykopalypse, much more bleak than the Dark Ages after the Black Plague, were times of basic survival for life as we know it. Learning how to survive in a blasted environment filled with radiation sickness, inedible plants, mutating organisms and cells, and polluted waters was paramount. All the great technologies and scientific advances of the past forgotten, even feared, as the very few left roamed the barely habitable sections of ground, fighting for life.
During the plague ridden Dark Ages there were pockets of higher learning. Religious and social institutions that kept the inquisitiveness of civilization alive or preserved for better times. Not so during the Null Time. The Ancestors had been blasted back to their primordial roots.
Yet for the Ancestors’ species, its evolution continued.
Evolution, with its flexible DNA blueprint, interacted with its new environment in its usual determined, plodding, remorselessly adaptive, trial-and-error experimental way to create life that survives no matter what. One of the outcomes being an “I” consciousness for other species besides the Ancestors, and the ability to affect the physical world with mental cognition beyond mere tool making. Brainwave activity, Psy-Waves, of individuals with higher order cognition, became advanced to a point where certain bloodlines with psychokinetic powers developed.
Some believe that the Ancestors were already on this evolutionary path and that the pre-Psykopalyptic environment merely hastened their talents. Others believe the alien Domitaurai genetic material somehow fused with the DNA of Earth organisms, and still others believe MOG had to send her Angels and Demons down amongst the Ancestors to save and punish them and grant the faithful powerful gifts for their loyalty of belief.
Whatever the case, Earth is now home to many more cognitive beings than it once was. But what sentient species will finally dominate?
— The Genetitech’s Pocket Database of Facts and Truth
The year is some unknown time in Earth’s future as all records were lost in the Cataclysm.
The Ancestors, the sentient beings who developed the skills to manipulate time, space, matter, and energy with their tools and, eventually, minds brought about the End Times.
The Ancestors, who had to rely on their intelligence and tool making to survive, adapted even further to where they began to, almost, no longer need the technological machines they created to manipulate the world around them.
Psyki power. The ability to create fire out of thin air. Heal by touch. Bend another’s will with one’s own through mere thought. All these skills began to develop.
But the Ancestors’ vanity, lust for power over others and their environs, and struggles to extract resources, especially that rare commodity, water, took over and led to the ice mining of the outer moons.
It wasn’t some great war of the psypaths that brought the Ancestors to their knees and blasted them back to their genetic origins. It wasn’t a conflict with an alien race. It was the shattering of Europa for her water and the subsequent kilometer sized rubble that slammed into the inner, inhabited planets that caused the almost complete obliteration of life in the Solar System.
There was war and famine and darkness, yes. But it was due to sentient life’s struggle to survive the aftermath, not some great Psykopalyptic War or alien invasion. We now live within the rubble of blasted cities, ancient machinery, and scattered biomes that provide the meager sustenance on which we depend for our survival.
We can bemoan our fate or we can rejoice! The Great Gaia has allowed us, Sapiens all, a chance to Re-Evolve. To adapt to our environs instead of attempting to make them adapt to us.
Humble yourself. Shun the Ancestor technologies. Cultivate your natural abilities. Let the crops grow as they will. Harvest them with care so that they will produce again and again and again following Mother Earth’s native cycles of birth, death, rebirth. Live simply so we all can simply live!
— Environmentalist Stone of Sacred Truth
Welcome to Earth! No one really knows what happened but suffice to say there is much one needs to do to survive these days. What you can see around you as you go out looking for food and artifacts is that whatever happened, it was a big shit-storm of devastation and mayhem and those left who were our progenitors deserve our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly prayers of remembrance for surviving such a maelstrom of destruction.
All I can say is keep your crops healthy, protect your herds, make sure you have more tech than your neighbor, make alliances from a position of power, and slay your enemies. Also be wary of us psypaths. We can be deadly.
Oh, and also take time of for fun and reproduction.
— Hanksel Frenken, Telesensor A guide to your new life on earth
I closed my porticomp, stretched, rubbed my eyes and yawned. History, while important, could get very boring if one spent too much time snout in data and not enough time snout in, well… other things.
Of all of the passages I had decided to copy about our world’s origins, I appreciated Frenken’s the best. The past is past. Keep surviving and take time out for fun and reproduction. Also he seemed like a bit of a smartass, which I have a certain affinity for.
I must admit these passages I collected in my datasweeps didn’t have much to do with finding warehoused gadgets, but I like to think someday beings are going to want to know how and why, not just where and what. Funk when. When is now.
Sentimental I know, but I am also trying to create an archive for the Battalion. To give the grubs something to cheer for when they hear about their exploits. Bastia gave me the go ahead.
Keeping a historical record may seem trivial in the face of the daily deadlines we all meet, but it keeps me sane.
Luckily for me and my grey cells, a big part of survival is negotiating the middens, cities, installations, and supply stations of the past, which, without accurate Intel, can be deadly. Historic docs, if you can find any, help navigation to potential caches of artifacts, which, in turn, can heighten your survival potential and, heh heh, wealth and power over others.
I know it’s a base urge and, according to those Environmentalists, one that brought about the Ancestor’s annihilation. But wealth and power sure beats scudding through some radioactive slog to try to find a gizmo that might fend off the next ssSauri or Wyrm attack.
Sit back and let your minions do the dirty work while you get to pursue fun and reproduction. Yeah, I was beginning to really appreciate ol’ Hansel’s philosophy on life because…
I was one of those minions doing the dirty work.
I, and my brethren of Battalion 17, like to think of ourselves as free mercenaries, serving with each other in the contracted service of others. But let’s admit it. We’re minions, slaves, the flesh and blood buffer between those fortified wealthy Agrilord settlers and the beasts beyond.
Sure we might be able to overthrow a village, or stronghold even. But to get the populace to serve us? We’d not had longstanding luck with—
“Hey Rake! Drop what you’re doing and come along! Colonel Bastia wants you f ‘n’ c with those search and dig co-ords!”
“Slog! Bitters! You know this takes tick. Tell the old witch to keep flicking the flies off her butt and I’ll come up when I have something!”
I actually had found the co-ords a while ago but I can’t let Bastia know just how easy it is for me, otherwise I’ll have K.P. like everyone else. Also with my med duties, well, I do aspire to be a man of leisure.
I opened and plucked around a bit more at my porticomp, put in a new datacrys just for show, and squinted at the screen as Bitters hadn’t yet left. I mistakenly popped in some digiporn some ol’ ‘mento had stored for those late night left-handed all alone love fests. The species wasn’t right for me, but Bitters didn’t know that.
“What the hell, Rake. What kinda place are we digging in to? Is that what this place was? A perverto-den? What’re we gonna find? A buncha skeletons and used spankers?”
Caught blue-pawed I ejected the ‘crys.
“K-k. I’ll be there nanotime!”
I ejected the ‘crys and closed the comp. For all the grief I’d had mentoring under Master Slintock trying to hone my psyki, the old bastard had taught me some protoling, which gave me a literacy level beyond most of my peers and allowed me access to some Ancestor database.
Although I can sling a gun like the rest of my brethren while they are scavenging ‘lastisteel, metal frags, bullets and powerchips for their armor and weapons, I can usually be found grubbing for datacrystals.
I must admit I’m a bit of a hacker at heart and this has gotten me out of some hotter front line duties as Bastia, while she can push a man to tears, let’s me have some liberties as I have increased her chances of vulturing some choice goodies that others have missed. Not to mention have kept the Battalion in better health than the last sawbones.
What can I say? I have a way with organic biology. My hands work miracles with the thread and needle and I can lay on hands and seek out illness at least as good as any Medalyzer ‘bot. Of course Medalyzers are few and far between, especially functioning ones. And they require a lot of precious Joules to crank.
Me? Get me a plate of tasty K-cals and a jar of aged, golden, peat-smoked hooch and I’m good to go for a couple of hours… well, unless the damage is severe. Then I may need to eat and sleep for a week before I can face even the slightest infection again.
Psywork takes its toll, I’m tellin’ you. I can drop 15 pounds of cals a serious near death session. And that’s nutri-weight, not brow sweat. Secret: us psypaths eat a lot. They call me Rake ‘cause I rake it in but stay thin as.
None of my brethren know my special skills. It’s just not popular. What with the Psykopalypse myth and all.
Well, Bastia awaits. I can’t press her good will or my good luck, if any, for too long.
This must be a highly valuable cache for her to go out on a mission. She must’ve known more about what we were expected to find than what I could get from the datacryst the Raj of Braveport gave us to work with. Most seek ‘n’ snatch missions would have been an NCO and a patrol, but here she was, leading by glare and grunt. In the flesh.
The ‘crys did indicate top-level secrecy, but were mostly compound schematics and co-ords. It worried me that we had no Sec-Com Intel. There was no knowing what sort of internal security this bunker had or what may still be operable.
I climbed out of my grab seat in the crawler and squinted as the harsh sunlight glinted off the reflective, obsidian-like slag covering what I knew to be an Ancestor SpecTech lab bunker about 10 or 12 meters beneath our feet.
Probably of porete or Fluxmold construction so I needed to locate an entrance ‘cause blowin’ slog up can get messy and breaky and, well, you should save the bunker busters for the likes of, say a Gobbler or Spice wyrm. Those funkers can swallow a whole patrol at one gulp. And if you can’t blast your way out you’re wyrm calories.
“O.k. Rake. Now that you’ve gleaned all your dingle berries, where do we start drilling, dammit?!”
Colonel Bastia stood, bandoliers across her breasts, looking like a four-legged frown.
She’s Centauri. A Pantherataur negrera. Part black panther, part woman and 100% no bullshit, never give up, never surrender toughass bitch. We all love her dearly and fear her daily. She could claw you to death with her front paws and record a vid with her human hands while doing it.
Aside from the paws and claws she’s a master strategist and has kept the battalion together after Colonel Tok took that fluxion duster at his field com stat. If Bastia hadn’t been Majoring our flank sweep she’d’a been at field com stat and duster dust as well-
“Yes ma’am!” I saluted and she rolled her eyes.
“Just get on with it sergeant suck-ass.”
I looked at the lay of the slag and took bearings with my compass, sextant and laser sight.
I located a good drilling spot with a high probability of success based on my calcs and waved to Saul, sitting in the Mole, to follow me to where to park it.
Saul looks like a mole with his tight fitting leather skullcap, brown, full-body, overalls and thick, welder’s goggles he likes to wear.
He’s paranoid about the lack of ozone and worries excessively about cancer. Says its ‘cause he’s humanish and has no fur to deflect the UV. I keep telling him he’s more likely to get eaten by a flying Draego than live long enough to die of skin cancer but that doesn’t seem to provide him with much comfort. I can’t say my bedside manner is stellar, but I try to give perspective.
“The sniffers have detected a still operable power source so that’s something… Keep an eye out for SecBots or Andros. This was a high tech lab. Deep r-search.”
I hopped on a skimmer and waved for the convoy to follow. Bastia bounded up to the cencom of the crawler while our sweepers branched off to our flanks. I scared the pants back on Noncom OxBox Nob as I skimmed over his makeshift toilet. He was taking a dump while waiting.
“Pox Rake! Can’t a grub get a bit a’ quiet on the slogger?”
“Orders does as orders is! We’re movin’ out so pinch it off, double-time!” I said as I narrowly missed his scaly hide.
I have us go about a half kil from where we were and figure the spot to be closest to what was once a main entrance I had located on the compound specs. I jumped off the skimmer, scanned some more data, and made a big red x marks the treasure trove for Saul to dig hole.
We excavated a good portion of the afternoon away and by nightfall had cleared away the dirt and slag that had accumulated around the old, metal framed double door entrance. There must have been some sort of electrical field barrier at one time because the one intact door was just a metal frame with nothing inside of it to keep anything, including us, out. Saul and his crew scavenged the door alloys to add to stock. The drawbacks about the entrance were
One: The wall construction was Fibermesh over Fluxmold which meant even a bunker buster might only make a dent and
Two: TroyBoy couldn’t fit.
TroyBoy is our Battle ‘Bot, or, as he likes to call himself, Cyborg, which we all think is putting on airs. Granted he is a combination of flesh and machine, but basically he‘s a brain in a ‘bot. Cyborgs tend to have their fleshy parts still retain most of their original shape as the tech is interfaced with body parts.
If he’d declared he was Biotechanoid, we’d never’ve let him live it down. No way was he one of those scary-as lithely lovelies.
They’re more than ‘borg. They grow the tech slog themselves. Or must as they look so naturally unnatural. Uber-tech. Deadly but you gotta admire the Genetitechs and Engineers that put that life form together. Luckily they are rare and eat their young.
Biobots are basically a robotic structure with a sentient brain inside and usually the brain has undergone strict behavioral training ‘cause you really want to make sure a thing with that much FP, uh, FirePower, doesn’t go rogue on your ass.
We found TroyBoy hooked up to the dying embers of a fusion power plant in what must have been part of a crashed interplanetary cruiser. He was barely alive. He was deactivated with only the bare essentials of his systems operational.
For the longest time I was the only one who could communicate with TroyBoy because of my protoling skills. I taught him our ling and we developed a friendship. Every time we activate him he asks if we’ve found any Wireless Energy Transmit power. Sounds like voodoo tech to me. I’m a plug ‘n’ play boy. Radio waves, yeah, but full on atmospherically conducted Joules? Though the Ancestors cooked up some dazzly slog, I was suspect.
“K-k Rake. F ‘n’ c. Take what firepower you need and hunt point.”
“Point? Hey I found it. Can’t Nob poke out this slog?”
Nob glared along with Bastia.
“Maybe you’re right, lieutenant lead-ass. Don’t want to give you all that cool bunker air through your fuzz after leaving us out to fry in the noonday while you viddied porn for 30 ticks.”
It was my turn to glare at Bitters.
“Lieutenant, when was I promoted?”
“When you so eagerly volunteered to hunt point. It’s a temporary field commish. Mission focused. Full share. Slog, Rake. You know your ling-ling and intel’ll give you the best bet at sniffing nasty slog before it bursts.”
Couldn’t really argue with that but I did anyway.
“TroyBoy’s better at flashing old Sec and neutralizing it as he is old Sec. Can’t he hunt point?”
Guffaws all around and even I had to grin at the straw I’d snatched.
“If you’ll hacksaw out the skinnyhole we’ve surfaced, sure, TroyBoy can hunt point. Oh wait! But you’ll still have to hack ahead so… No!”
“Looey pick Squad?”
“Looey pick Squad.”
I grinned. “Bitters, OxBox, Clumsy, Can-Can, Clowner, Fuzz, Slash, Maddy, Clutch, and Bicker, f ‘n’ c!” Bitters and Oxbox glared at me. We’ll that’s what you get throwin’ ol’ Rake beneath the Crawler.
“Clumsy and Can-Can?” asked Bastia.
“Looey pick Squad.” I looked at my sorry bunch of hunters. “I want heavy FirePower and loaders for swag. And F-frequency Batt Packs that won’t throw the sniffers.”
They all groaned except Clowner, who grinned, and Can-Can and Clumsy, who went to get their FP without question. F-Frequency was the heaviest and most potent Batt Pack for energy weapons but I couldn’t have a variety of Batt Packs scramming the sniffers and F-Frequency was what we had the most of so everyone could have one if they so chose an energy rifle. I’d just damp out the F-Frequency in order to locate other wavelengths. Of course that meant that if any SecBots were packin’ F-Frequency we’d have to see them the old fashioned way, by eyeball.
Grumbling I went to weapon storage and lifted a plasmo blade, bang stick, plasma pistol and Demo pouch. I was worried. First she’s on this mish, and now she’s risking myprecious hide? I’m her number one data weasel and co-ord comper and she’s having me hunt point? She must think something magnifitech is down that rabbit hole.
I hefted some fragger chucks but thought better of it. In those close quarters I’d frag myself and whatever I was hurling them at. When Clowner grabbed some frag I just shook my head. “Close quarters?” he asked. I nodded. “Funk! What can I use to blow slog up?”
“Your charismatic personality” I quipped, then pointed out the Demo pouches. “You rated on fuses?”
“Point ‘n click, not tick-tick. But I’m better with fraggers. Know where the prey is before I throw.”
“Well drop and lure with a Demo pouch is all the Boom-Boom you’ll get to play with on this mish, k-k?”
“K-k.” He picked up 4 demo pouches and an F-frequency Batt plus a proton gattler to attach it to. They were heavy but Clowner is Ursid so he’s literally built like the bear that slogged in the woods. He’s got the furry Ursid head with the hunched back ridge fur, the rest of his hairless body humanoid complete with two opposable thumbs on each paw.
I couldn’t take a rifle because I needed to have my hands free to use the cipher kit and sniffer to hack into old Sec protocols and zero in on energy sigs. I may be hunting point but my patrol packed the major heat.
I ducked into the gaping black hole that might become my tomb.
The entryway was plastimold floor to ceiling and some sort of metallic arches every 10 m’s along the walls. There were odd frames along the wall that were an off shade from the grey plastimold. I checked radio sig but this install was shielded so no com with command.
I flipped my wave gogs over my eyes and immediately drew my plasma pistol as I spied energy sig at the end of the hallway that opened up to a two-story foyer. Don’t know why I hadn’t flicked on my sniffer before entering. Too busy worrying to actually do what would protect my sorry butt.
I motioned for Squad to approach with caution and trained my pointer in the midst of the sig, crouched and stalked down that barrel like the fish I was.
I felt a hand on my shoulder holding me back. I turned and found myself looking into OxBox’s steely reptilian gaze. He had his finger to his lips. He passed me and crawled up the wall scampering along the ceiling with those freaky finger and toe pads of his.
He went 2 m’s in then waved us forward. We crept along at his pace until we got close enough to eyeball it. It was a Gynoid with a damaged faceplate. When we got within its activation radius it began sputtering something and holding out its paw. What itwanted we never knew ‘cause OxBox fried its cranium and that turned out to be a bad decision.
Red lights went on. A wall slammed down behind us and I heard running footsteps from the left of the foyer.
“Drop your dongs and follow along!” I shouted as I bolted for the hallway to the right. Can-Can, Clowner and Clumsy laid down a wall of fire of our own and I caught a glimpse of Andros packing some nasty FP. All was light and burn.
I hauled off down a narrower corridor that must have been on the cracked part of the datacrystal as I heard more footsteps coming from down the larger passageway I had taken. These AndroSec were everywhere now that the install was awake.
The corridor opened up into a huge hanger with plenty of space and some vecs that would make any force drool down to their paws for all the marching they would alleviate.
The Andros following us laid down some withering plasma arc slash as we all spilled into the hanger, slamming the metal doors down to slow our pursuers. OxBox popped a quick slagseal over the hinges fusing them in place.
“Could use some frag now, eh Looey?” quipped Clowner. I just scowled as I set up my demo pack about 20 m’s from the closed doors that were becoming cherry with plasma cut.
“Back, back, back! Find cover!” I shouted as I stuffed the remote detonator into the blast gel and flicked on the temporary wave damper. Sparks began flying out of the cut appearing in the doors. I scrambled back 40 m’s and managed to get behind some sort of hovercraft with a nasty looking symbol on its ailerons.
The Andros burst through the doors and slowly entered, eyes glowing dull green with ultra/infra-red sensors sweeping the hanger. They didn’t enter like I’d hoped. Rushing in like bloodthirsty maniacs.
The 20 m’s put them at the edge of the demo pack blast radius so I did what any ignorant swashbuckling rookie looey would do to protect his Squad. I flicked off the wave dampers on my vest and stepped out from behind my cover, waving my paw like a street trick. I hoped I was out of their range but that would be quickly remedied by their superior speed.
“Ooooh hooo! Babies!” I cried as I ran deeper into the hanger. The Andros responded as I knew they would, pouring out from the corridor in organized ranks, running efficient flanks and by-their-book tactics which drew them around my Demo pack, slicing the air around me with plasma bolts. One fried my back plate just as I let loose with the remote and sent Andro parts skittering and slagging all over that once neat hanger. Clowner cleaned up with his gattler while the others came after me.
I landed face first in some sort of maintenance bay, oozing charred backflesh, breath knocked out of me. I tranced out and began feeling my way around the wound. It was mainly skin and muscle with a seared kidney and lung. I started frantically rebuilding tissue, rapidly inciting my mitos into action and having my existing skin elas-out to cover the hole. I was burning K-cals of lipo but this was an emergency. I’d go muscular if I had to. Luckily I’d chewed some ‘dactyl jerky for lunch so I didn’t. I was going to need to requisition a weeks worth of flank steak from the mess and four 12-hour nights excused from duty if I got out of this fun’kin tomb alive.
OxBox got to me first.
“Funk, Rake! wWhat the slog was that?”
“Had to draw them into the demo pack and away from Squad. First thing that came to mind was run away.”
“Slog, Rake, don’t you know you’re too slow for heroics? Leave that slog to Clumsy and Can-Can. I thought that’s why you gave them this cherry mish. Anyway you k-k?”
Clumsy and Can-Can were Gynos. Basically female mods of Andros. They were fantasy-fetish models that got reprogged for combat by some Hacker. Whatever data they had about the before was replaced by tactical progs. If it wasn’t for them Squad might not’ve made it to the hanger. Especially Can-Can. She’d taken full charge while Clumsy and Clowner made it through the door. No rebuild as there was nothing left but melt. We had her backed up on ‘crys but no chassis.
“Could use a ‘nesto hit” I winced. “They’re in my left hip pouch. I felt him rummage around a bit then the sweet cool of a hypospray on my back. The pain receded and I could sit up. I’d managed to close the skin before OxBox ‘nestoed me but my kidney and lung were still a bit charred. I focused on the lung ‘cause I could get along with the numbed kidney but the lung I needed for full O-two production.
“Thanks. That hit the spot. Could you get a head count on Squad? We’ve got to keep on the hunt. Haven’t found anything portable and are going to have to get those swag lifters we abandoned in our glorious retreat.”
All were accounted for except Maddy. Seems she never made it down the corridor and is either Andro slag or was caught behind the security door. Hopefully the latter. If so she could relay Intel to Bastia and the rest about our situation.
I wasn’t sure we’d gotten all the Andros but none seemed forthcoming right now and my back was mostly healed and numbed so I got up and looked around. I left on my wasted chest armor as the front could maybe still deflect a bullet slug or three. But the electrics were shot. No wave damp for me. Nice to hunt point, eh?
I grabbed a throwlight and looked at what we had in the hanger and my heart dropped. There were three what seemed to be single pilot flyers that looked like they would scream if they could be fueled. Also there were two personnel barges that could probably carry 50 grubs easy. And there was what I took to be a hovercraft, which turned out to be some sort of heavily armored and armed vec. What broke my heart was there was no way to get this slog out except piece by piece. Which we’ve done before, but putting it back together can really get ahead of us and mostly we end up with a pile of parts. I sent Clowner, Clumsy, Bitters and Fuzz back for the lifters.
“We should probably sort out those SecDoors before more hunting. Right now our rear is blocked and there’s no other scud-out channel,” Ox suggested.
“Right-Right, Ox. See if there is any swag in this hanger: tools, frag, Fire Power, you know the drill.” I got out my Threader for hacking and went back the way Clowner and the others had just gone. They were bringing the lifters back as I nodded past them.
I got to the doors. They were some sort of metal iris. I sniffed around the perimeter until I located a faint energy sig. I got out my torch and began cutting the wall material. I located the cable controlling the door, tapped in with my Threader and proceeded to hack code.
It took longer than I’d thought it would. This must be some special secret bunker. But it was just a security door after all so I finally opened it and saw the fried remains of the Gynoid greeter as well as a stain that was once Maddy. I sighed and made a note in my portalog to write her a fitting eulogy.
Having finished I turned about and scudded back to Squad.
There was some portable swag in the hanger and on the vecs but it sure brought a tear to a vulture’s eye to not be able to take the vecs. The hanger was a dead end so we were lucky to have taken care of the Andros when we did.
I chose to go down the right corridor where the Andros came from. This time sweeping like crazy for energy sig but none was forthcoming, just the initial sig we’d spotted from above, except the sig was louder so either we woke something up or were just in closer proximity.
I kept careful but no new Andros surfaced. We found their storage den and lifted a good cache of weapons and armor that would come in useful for the Bat.
We kept going on this downstairs route until we came upon some sort of large amphitheater with a huge flexmold bowl and ladders leading maybe two or three steps down to nothing. It must have contained some sort of grain or something and the ladders were for personnel to go down and check on it.
While we were sweeping this room something swooped down on Clumsy and Fuzz. Fuzz let out a horrible scream and went limp as this winged thing that was all legs and bite went scudding away with him.
The one on Clumsy had her pinned in two claw-like appendages but hadn’t dragged her away as she was struggling and kicking. I saw two more of these flying beasties coming from across the theater. They looked like some sort of huge flying spider with claws. Clowner hit the one on Clumsy with a plasma blade and it let out a horrible sonic pitch which caused our skin to bruise and our ears to throb. We clamped our ears with our hands. Clowner proceeded to chop the beast up with his blade as Clumsy raked two of them out of the air with her sting rifle. When the shriek stopped we all dropped our hands.
“Good work Clowner!” No response. “Clowner you k-k?” Again, no response. “Clumsy?”
I walked over to Clowner who was patting at his ears from which blood trickled. That shriek had ruptured something important. I put a hand on his shoulder and he whipped around. I spoke but he just shook his head. I took out my med-kit and got out a viz probe.
“I’ll see to Clowner, OxBox take a fire team and sort out Fuzz.” OxBox scudded out nanotime with Clumsy, Bitters and Slash. Clutch and Bicker took watch.
As I looked inside his destroyed eardrum I laid my hands on his skull and started moving cells, exciting mitos, and stimulating mitosis. Once I started the cells growing on their own I checked the other ear and did the same thing. He wouldn’t be able to hear for a while but I’d set his tissues on the road to recovery. Damn I was hungry!
OxBox and the fire team returned. OxBox shook his head. “Sucked dry. Man I hate spiderkin! Think those were a subspecies of Banshee. They weren’t in the field threat database.” Another Eulogy, damn!
“K-k, no one else get hurt! That’s an order!” The Squad nodded k-k.
As there wasn’t much here we doubled back and found some stairs leading down with indecipherable symbols and colorings on the walls. We came to the most amazing room I’d seen in my years of crypt diving. It was lined with what appeared to be upright caskets. Many were cracked and filled with skeletons but one glowed and flickered with what looked like the normal functioning of Joule fed tech. As we approached I felt the hairs on my skin goosing. I couldn’t believe what I saw in the container.
We’d found a fun’kin Ancestor! And a live one! Probably the only one in existence. I nearly grew a third baby-maker in my fatigues! This was historic. I recognized one of the readouts as it pulsed with the regular beats of a mammalian heart pumping blood. This Ancestor had been in stasis a very long time.
It was… perfect. Hairless skin. A blue torso and arms and reddish lower body and legs, except the face was swarthy, like the creamy tan sands of Ilyeria beach resort. I couldn’t see any genitalia or milk-tips on its mammaries but it definitely resembled the ancestors I’d seen in some archives, except for the varied skin color.
“Uh… Rake. What might this mean?” OxBox pointed his sting rifle at a console that had some pretty flashing red talking points and a countdown bar that was rather close to completion. I couldn’t cipher the ling but red generally wasn’t good in any ling and watching the glow move closer to its destination and timing its movement I estimated we had about 60 ticks to figure the outcome, which could be an intro to MOG with all her Angels and Demons so I said, “Time to scud out, boys, nanotime! Don’t know the gist of the thing but could mean 40 virgies each for all.”
“All?” quipped OxBox.
“Well, maybe not yours truly.”
It took more time than I liked to remove the stasis chamber from the wall and put it and a batt-pack on the hover-lift. Off we go, Geronimo.
We made it com-shouting to the others to scud out, no tick left. Us on patrol secured the goodies we’d gleaned and Bastia was so impressed by our skittering that she wasted precious Joules ramming the crawler into an a-grav leap. The sweeps were much faster and scudded out ahead of us in the crawler. Still, with the a-grav jump, crawler weight and speed we’d mustered, the shockwave knocked us sideways sending shards of slag our way and giving Savage, the pilot, a slog-sandwich of pitch, yaw, lift and dip.
Bless her gentle soul she managed to only complete two barrel rolls before righting the boat and plowing into a sand bank. There was a long line at my med tent that evening, beginning with my separated shoulder. Two dead, one in need of a new chassis, and a lot of broken and bruised grubs.
But we’d vultured an Ancestor!
On The Loose
I was gnawing into a whole roast swine after my med bay rounds when Clumsy came in. I’d dropped 4 kilos tending to the damaged grubs from the Crawler, not to mention what I’d done for my back and Clowner’s ears.
Clumsy carried a sack of Andro parts and heaped them on a spare bunk in the med clinic.
“I got these to rebuild Can-Can.”
I wiped my greasy paws on my tunic. “Fine, but I rebuild organics, not tech. Those should go to Bogger. He’s the tinker.”
“Bogger says he’s working on the Crawler. Rake, I thought if you asked he’d maybe consider Can-Can more of a priority.” I poked around the parts.
“These’re Andro slag. How’s Can-Can gonna feel getting a gender swap?”
Clumsy looked puzzled which was unique for a non-organic. In fact her seeking out a new chassis for Can-Can was unique for any sort of indie-progged tech. Generally they followed orders and responded to situations that mimicked sentience but Clumsy and Can-Can definitely had or were developing personalities. That was some hacker who’d reprogged them. Or maybe they had been allowed to retain their experiences longer than normal. Who knows?
“I’m sure she will be content being operational. Being non-functional is not optimal.”
I grinned, “no it’s not.”
“I also have some uploads to add to her back-up. You have it, right?”
“Huh? Yeah. What do you mean you have some uploads?”
“We maintain experience files for each other. She telemitted hers to me prior to dysfunction. I got it all up to when the Android Security terminated Maddy. That was hard. Can-Can liked Maddy.” She handed me a ‘crys.
Liked? Definitely something I hadn’t known about our Gynoids. That they would like us. Not that it mattered. We all liked them. They’d saved our sorry carcasses on more than one occasion, Can-Can’s recent sacrifice for one. Bogger was being a real vermin poker for putting the Crawler before Can-Can.
“K-k I’ll definitely have words with Bogger. Choice words.”
“Thank you Rake.” Clumsy turned the head of the Andro parts and looked into its lifeless eyes. “At least it’s a good-looking Android. That should please her.”
I couldn’t tell if she was joking or serious but it was definitely an unexpected comment. “I guess if you’re going to gender switch it might as well be into an appealing chassis” I replied, grinning.
Clumsy looked at me deadpan. Then grimaced into a grin, “that’s what she said.” Again, joking? I couldn’t tell but as she was grinning I laughed.
“Shoo! Shoo! I’ve got to check on our new prize. See how it’s doing.”
Clumsy turned to go, said “Thank you, Rake” and exited.
I popped Can-Can’s backup ‘crys into my main comp then added the ‘crys Clumsy gave me and melded the two. I wondered just how much data a Gynoid could handle, or the new chassis could handle. Bogger might know the specs but there was much about Ancestor tech that was a mystery. It took much trial and deadly error to sleuth-out all the weaponry the Bat had vultured. It kept Bogger and his crew up nights. But, still, Can-can was grub and while tech kept us in the game, grubs came first. At least in my book. Doesn’t matter what species or origin a Bat grub had. Once a member, always a member. To death and MOG with all her Angels and Demons.
That’s one thing that the Bat had over other groups, I felt. Our camaraderie. Lots of species prejudice out there. Most folks stick with their herd and put down non-herd. If you fought with and for Battalion 17, didn’t matter if you were Centauri, Avioid, Saurid, Sectid, Ursid, Android, Gynoid, Cyborg, Biomech, Reptid, or Manoid like me, you were grub and grub you were.
So I was going to have some choice words indeed with Bogger.
But first I wanted to check in on our little darlin’ before the big guys decided its fate.
Bastia had me hook the Ancestor up in a separate room in the med area of the barracks. I’d picked one that had Joules and a way to keep quarantine as well as effective Sec.
Grinn, Quake, Sometimes, and Lieutenant Claude were guarding the hatch. Some of Bastia’s closest commandos. No regular Sec this.
They crossed FP and Claude waved his face tentacles back up the corridor. “No admittance. Colonel’s orders.”
“C’mon, pups! Just checking vitals. Can’t let this pretty prize expire from medical neglect.”
Claude’s tentacles just continued to wave towards the other end of the corridor and I could feel his icy stare from behind his protective eyewear. Being octoid his eyes needed saline solution here in this dry climate where we were currently stationed. Most of his herd-type lived near water. I also had fashioned a special ointment for his exposed skin. One of my own brew that I was rather pleased with. Like I said, I have a way with organic biology.
“Orders is as orders does, Rake,” muttered Quake; and that meant something. Quake doesn’t speak. Not much, anyway. Usually lets his FP or hand-to-hand express his thoughts.
Normally I’d’a just said ‘to MOG with it!’ and let the higher ups make the critical mistakes. But something inside me urged me on. I left the Wall of Hurt guarding the Ancestor and slunk back down the corridor towards my clinic. I turned the corner but instead of entering the clinic I continued on to where I knew there was another way into the Quarantine. A way I had discovered when I had initially sifted this compound when the Battalion had first arrived to serve the Agrilords of Braveport. I had forgotten about it but now remembered that I had made it a priority when choosing the quarantine bay but don’t recall why I had thought it important at the time to do so.
I removed the rusty linknuts to the ancient, obsolete conduit and squirmed in and along until I made it to the cell that held the Ancestor. Bastia’s Commandos were facing down the corridor so I just dropped quietly in and kept out of the line of sight of the hatch viewport. I tiptoed over to the casket, looking at all the electrical attachments me and Bogger had rigged. Everything was still in place and the lights that blinked in the bunker were blinking… uh… differently. I scurried over to the viewplate and gazed down upon our prize. The eyelids suddenly opened and I thought, what beautiful gold irises just before I…
Two gold eyes appeared in a backdrop of swirling images. They appeared to look around then stare directly ahead. The screen went blank.
The Raj waved his bejeweled hand across the comp screen in anger and the now jumbled images of the escaping Ancestor cascaded into nothingness as the screen went black. “So do you keep thought downloads of all your troops?”
“No, Rake is unique. Wanted to document the Battalion’s exploits or history or something. I didn’t know he was doing it realtime. Dumb luck I came across his personal datacrystals. Seems he didn’t put them away before this.” Bastia removed the crystal from the comp’s port.
“Seems your medic was also a psypath.” Bastia remained mute as she stared down the Raj with her emerald, cat-like, eyes. “And he’s unleashed an unknown quantity into our equation.”
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