Amanda hunched over her desk, tightening the screw on the side of the railgun prototype. A quick glance at the comm radio told her Olivia and Skulker still hadn’t called in. It’s working, right? She grabbed the comm, a ham radio she’d tinkered with, and checked the back. Still plugged in. All lights are green.
She shook her head and returned to the railgun. Quit worrying. I didn’t mess up. They’re fine. From the other side of the lair, she heard Miya’s knife carve into bone once again. She’s facing the door, and I think she said she can see through her golem outside. We’re fine.
The case of the railgun clicked as she forced the butt of the gun casing into place. Two more screws. Then it’ll be done. To her left, her computer hummed quietly as she finished the railgun.
She slapped the screwdriver down on the desk and arched her back. Her hand shot to her upper stomach as a lance of pain made her regret trying to work out the soreness in her back. She gritted her teeth and checked the clock on a computer.
How long has it been since my last painkiller dose? Almost time. Early couldn’t hurt. She rifled through her backpack on the floor by her foot. Her fingers scrambled at the cap of the orange bottle. She got the cap off, shook out a few little white pills onto her unsteady palm, then stopped herself. No, no, I need to start easing myself off those. I’ve still got one hour to go.
“Got it all wired up?” asked Rob over his shoulder as he worked at the desk behind her. She dropped the pills on the desk and spun her office chair to face him.
“Yep. Should be ready to go any time. And what are those?”
He set down what appeared to be a grenade next to a couple of its twins. “Wirepatches. Thing is, they’re good for makin’ a lotta light cuts. Robot couldn’t give less of a shit, wires’d bounce right off, maybe scuff the metal up a bit.”
“What exactly do they do?” she asked.
“Spit out tons of wires that cut up any exposed flesh.” He rolled his chair over to join her. “So anythin’ else I need to do for this?”
“Nope. Just thought you’d like to see the fruits of your labor. I had to alter a couple things, too.” She tapped casing of the rifle shaped railgun he’d designed.
“Alright, what exactly you change?” he asked. Why do you… oh, right, for future models.
“Not much. I drilled in a hole for this little red light.” She tapped a portion of the case above the trigger. “It’ll light up red once a thousand rounds have been fired.”
His brow furrowed. “Those rails can take just shy of fifteen hundred, why a only thousand?”
“Early warning. You wouldn’t want it to tell you it’s useless right when you need it. A thousand rounds is more than you’d be able to carry anyways.”
“Oh shit, right. How’d we not think of that earlier?”
“Don’t worry, I caught it. No need to worry your simple mechanical mind.”
“I also had to force the power source in, it needs about two millimeters more room. Oh, I don’t know if this will ruin the durability, but from what I can tell, we can get rid of that solid disk a quarter of the way from the muzzle.” At least, I think we can. Whatever, we’ll figure it out once we shoot this thing.
“Solid disk? You mean one of the-”
“The support things, yes,” said Amanda. “Couldn’t think of the word for a moment. That would also cut down on the weight.”
“If weight is a concern, we could make the disks like wheel spokes, rather than solid. I just made ‘em solid cuz that’s easy. But yeah, next time I’ll look at that.”
Amanda glanced at him. “Other than those things, it’s good, I suppose.”
He inclined his head with a smirk. “Why thank you.” They realized only an inch separated their faces. At the same time, they both leaned back in their chairs. Rob rubbed the back of his head as Amanda readjusted her glasses, staring straight ahead. What the hell was that?
She broke the silence. “So, um, I was thinking. Maybe use it as a stun gun?”
“Well, maybe modify the projectiles? Rather than just a slug, it could fire a hollow charged round.” I’d love to research this, but of course the internet is out. And thousands of shut-ins across the city are losing their minds.
Rob shrugged. “I guess that’s possible, but that’s black magic as far as I know.”
Oh come on. “No, there’s no magnetism involved with charging it, theoretically. The magnetism is what moves it.” It’s not that hard.
He gave her a blank stare. I explained this to you a ton already. She spun in her chair and wiggled her computer mouse, looking for the cursor. Fine, whatever. Need to program this anyways.
“What?” said Rob. “You ain’t that good at explainin’ stuff. ”
“What’s that do?” he asked, pointing to a section of code on the screen.
“I don’t know, but if I get rid of it everything stops working.”
“Seriously?” he asked.
“Seriously,” she repeated back.
He blinked. “I couldn’t fuckin’ stand that.”
Amanda glanced at the complex mass of gears of his partially disassembled armor and asked, “You know how all that works?”
“Yeah. If I don’t know what a gear does, it ain’t goin’ in ‘til I figure it out. Actually almost done. Just need to put some pieces back together.”
“And believe me, I’d love for that to be the case here. But if it works, don’t question it.”
“But I am questionin’ it.”
“Welcome to the wonderful world of coding. Suck it up,” she said with a smirk.
“Ew. I’ll pass.”
“Excuse me?” asked a woman’s voice. Amanda whipped her head around to the source of the unfamiliar voice.
A woman in an impeccable charcoal grey suit stood just inside the closed and locked back door. Miya, halfway across the lair, looked up from her bone carving and nearly jumped out of her seat. Rob, poised halfway out of his seat next to Amanda, reached for the screwdriver.
“Please, stay seated. We only have some questions for you,” the woman said in an even, pleasant tone. Her empty hands rested in front of her, a grey metal watch on her wrist. She simply stood by the door, posture easy and relaxed.
Rob and Amanda exchanged glances. Who? What? Why?
The woman took their silence as acceptance. “You three are Amanda Lafitte, Miyahuatl Teixeira, and Robert Alderman, correct?”
“Yeah, who are you?” replied Rob. If the woman noticed he now stood with a screwdriver in hand, she didn’t show it. Amanda’s eyes flickered towards her armor. No time to get that on. If I move quick I can grab a baton, though.
“You may call me Smith. The others, Benjamin Alderman, Christopher Collins, and the feral Olivia are absent, correct?” Is that a code name, or just a fake last name? No way in hell that’s your real name.
“Yeah,” said Rob. Amanda kicked him in the shin. What are you doing?
The woman nodded and said, “Amanda, you accessed the records of the Houston Feral Research Institute after you had broken Olivia out.” Amanda felt the blood drain from her face. I’m pretty sure that’s a federal offense.
In the same pleasant tone, Smith continued, “The records in question were Olivia’s blood samples. After we did some digging, we found that the records had been changed in a rather clandestine way. Was this your doing?”
Oh shit. Let’s test the waters. Before Rob could speak up, Amanda said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I would ask that you do not insult my intelligence. So long as you do not continue this behavior in the future, no charges will be pressed. We have larger concerns. What we really need to know is why you did this.” The woman held Amanda’s gaze.
“We didn’t change anything. We were checking on something.”
“Do not play coy with us. We can and will bury you if you do not cooperate.” The room grew very still.
Well, what’s the harm in telling her? We were just looking at the number of blood samples. “Just the number of blood samples. Three of them vanished when we broke her out.”
“And why would you check on that?”
Amanda glanced at Miya. “We had suspicions. About Overlord. We think one of the doctors was working for him.”
Damn government spook. Hold on, how do we know she’s with the government? Amanda looked Smith over again. She never gave a badge or what agency she worked for. Despite the fact that Rob and Miya looked ready and able to stab her, Smith remained calm. She wouldn’t be calm if she wasn’t able to handle us. Or maybe that’s just what she wants us to think. Or maybe… fuck it.
“Based on?” asked Smith.
“He vanished,” said Amanda.
“I heard him mentioned before,” said Miya.
Smith nodded and stayed silent for a moment. To Miya she said, “In the report you gave to the police after Freedom Fighter’s attack, you claimed you had been experimented on by Overlord. Documents seized in the aftermath corroborated this. The real question is how you managed to identify an Overlord agent.”
“I know what I saw and heard,” replied Miya.
Smith paused again. “Olivia left before more comprehensive tests of her abilities could be administered. Though her abilities are magic based, they are far more varied and powerful than any typical mage’s. This begs the question of how exactly she manipulates that amount of magical energy.”
“She don’t know, an’ we don’t either. If your white coats can’t figure it out, then we got nothin’,” said Rob, his voice heated. A tiny frown tugged at the corners of the woman’s mouth.
“It’s unconscious,” added Miya. “She doesn’t control it.”
“Very well.” Smith looked at her watch and hit a button on the side. “Blackjack, if you would?” Who?
A man materialized behind Rob. Before Amanda could shout a warning, an arm wrapped around her neck. She thrashed, her air supply cut off. A needle pierced the side of her neck. Her struggles grew sluggish as the man behind her murmured something, the words lost to her as she blacked out.
“Delta! Delta!” Skulker’s voice screamed from the comm.
Amanda snapped back to reality, her head foggy. She sat in her chair, the completed railgun before her. It’s done? Oh shit, right. Her neck itched as she leaned in and pressed the button on the radio to talk back. Behind her, Rob and Miya stirred to life in their chairs .
“What? What is it?”
“‘liv’s hurt,” barked Skulker, his voice fuzzy through the static.
“What hap-” Amanda cut herself off. Rob appeared by her side. No time. Priorities. “Where are you?”
That’s… shit, I can’t look it up. Where is that? “Where?”
“North, on Kipling.” She heard a couple gunshots over the radio.
“We’ll get there as soon as we can.” She received no reply. Rob grabbed his keys and shotgun.
“What about curfew?” asked Miya, jogging up behind them. “There were tanks out there.”
“An’ I don’t give a shit,” said Rob, looming over Miya. “That’s my brother out there.”
“We won’t be able to help if we’re dead.”
“Won’t be able to do anythin’ here either. You wanna stay here or come with?”
Miya bit her lip for a moment. “I’ll come.”
“What about you, Amanda?” Rob asked, turning to her.
And be the only one here while Olivia and Ben are fighting for their lives? No thanks. “Yes. Give me one second.” Rob nodded.
Painkillers. As she reached down for her bag, she noticed three of them on her desk. What? Whatever, not important right now. She scooped them up and swallowed them dry.
That taken care of, Amanda jumped out of her chair, ignoring the lance of pain in her upper stomach. Need the neutralizer, baton, and helmet. No time for full armor. She spared the railgun a glance. No, not for this. She grabbed her gadgets and put on her helmet. Beside her, Rob strapped a long knife to his belt and slipped on his grinning mask. What’s his code name? Gears, right.
Miya passed her a pistol and a couple spare magazines as they followed Gears to his truck out back. Miya’s golem climbed into the bed of the truck and they were off.
The drive only took three minutes, but Amanda kept twisting her head around, on the lookout for anyone else on the road. I’d like to get through the night without getting shot. That’s all I ask. She heard tapping from Miya in the seats behind her. Amanda checked her gear, making sure it all worked. Her eyes flickered over the controls in her helmet. Damn it, should have at least brought that glove. Would make this easier.
She called up Skulker again. “Any news?” she asked.
“No. We’re holed up at the front. ‘liv is out, bots are circlin’ ’round. Purifier’s coverin’ them. Heard sirens earlier.”
“Alright. We’re close. Don’t shoot us.”
Skulker chuckled and cut the line. The library and several spotlight drones overhead came into view. Several bots fired at the front entrance. Amanda thought she saw a muzzle flash from the door. Wait, why isn’t Rob slowing down? Everyone in the truck jostled as Gears drove straight over a curb. They barreled right for the front door.
“Down!” barked Gears, ducking down and jerking the wheel. What are you doing? Amanda screamed on the inside as she joined him in throwing herself down on the floor of the cab. Gunfire shattered the windows and bullets zipped by overhead.
The truck skidded to a stop. “Move, now,” bellowed Gears.
Amanda jerked her head up and scrambled for the door handle, bullets hammering the armored flank of the truck. She tumbled out of the car, right in front of the library. Miya’s golem burst out of the back and charged towards the bot.
“Delta, here!” yelled Skulker, waving to her from behind the bullet ridden front door.
She climbed to her feet and dashed to the door, the pain in her stomach drowned out by the rush of adrenaline. Behind her, she heard a couple thuds from Gears’ shotgun, followed by Miya’s feet hitting the ground.
Amanda joined Skulker in the library. Olivia lay bleeding and unconscious in the corner. Amanda rushed over to her. What the hell happened? Gears and Miya ran in moments later.
“Bots circlin’ ‘round in the buildin’, Purifier’s keepin’ ‘em back,” said Skulker in a rush. “How we gettin’ out?”
“Truck,” said Rob.
“The golem has the bots’ attention. Not sure how long. They’re organized.” Miya froze. “And… fuck. Army is here.”
Delta checked Olivia’s wounds; a great variety of cuts and lacerations all over. Not too bad. No major bleeding, I think. Just a lot of little things. OK. I think she’s OK.
“The actual army?”
“Yeah, guys in camo and humvees. They’re coming in from two different sides. They’re shooting the bots now. I’m bringing the golem back.”
“We need to move,” said Rob, grabbing Olivia’s arm and hauling her up.
“Grab Purifier,” said Skulker, wrapping Olivia’s other arm around his shoulders. Together, they dragged her towards the truck, their heads ducked down.
Maybe this will fuck up the robots. Delta hit the switch on the spike. Neutralizer on. Unless they’re hard wired to each other, the bots can’t talk now. She and Miya ran further into the library. It didn’t take them long to find who they were looking for.
An armoured man with an enormous curved axe held overhead bulled towards a cluster of bots. Yep, that’s Purifier. Rather than firing, the robots pulled back and spread out between the bookshelves. The axe cleaved down on empty air.
“The fuck is that? The fuck is that?” asked Miya, backing away with widened eyes. Delta grabbed her arm and pulled her down. A couple bullets whizzed through the air where she’d stood not moments ago.
“Focus,” snapped Delta, drawing her pistol.
Miya nodded and drew her own. They moved to the side of Purifier and opened fire on the bots, weaving their way through the book shelves. Some sort of hot shock wave burst from Purifier, toppling shelves, women, and robots alike. Damn it. Delta dodged out of the way of a falling shelf of books, loosing track of Miya.
A robot, minus its rifle, pulled itself out from under a bookshelf in front of her. As Delta took aim, the robot held up a hand and begged, “Oh god, please don’t kill me.”
Delta froze. The robot lunged forward and tackled her to the ground. Her pistol flew out of her grasp as she hit the ground. The robot wasted no time, climbing on top of her and striking down at her throat. She twisted, letting her shoulder take the blow. The next punch rammed into her helmet. She struggled to get her arms free. The next blow to the head got a cracking sound from her helmet.
She tore her left arm out from under the bot’s leg. The blows stopped. Knife! She grabbed the electric baton at her side and shoved it into the robot’s armpit as it raised its knife. The robot spasmed and collapsed. Its screaming cut off.
Oh thank god. She coughed, rolling the still robot off of her. Helmet’s broken. Don’t think I have a concussion. She sat upright and returned her baton to her hip. Miya jogged up to her. She offered her hand to help her up.
“Bots ran off, lots of army guys outside battling it out with them. Come on.”
“Wait, hang on. This one’s intact.” Delta checked the downed robot. I could totally use this.
“Are you insane? Leave it. We don’t wanna get tracked,” said Miya. Purifier joined them, axe in a sheathe on his back. Miya gave him a sideways glance and edged away.
“This spike thing is keeping them from communicating.” Delta tapped the spike in question on her hip. “Should keep them from tracking us, too.”
“What? How?” asked Miya.
“Destructive interference. Just trust me on this.”
“That’s really not a good idea.”
“Thanks for the help, but that’s a terrible idea,” added Purifier. “We should get out of here.”
But… there’s so much I could learn. Something outside exploded, snapping her back to reality. Later. She and the others sprinted back to the truck. Gears hit the gas the moment the last person climbed in and sent the truck thundering through the parking lot turned battleground.