Sunday, May 25, 2008

at the center of the fury

We carefully stepped over what jagged shards remained embedded in the alien soil and passed through the carnage of the fallen Steel units. Circuitry littered the floors of the vast chambers, some still still glowing that ominous shade of blue-green. Some of them still twitched where they lay. I wished I had the time to spare to end their suffering.

We found the laboratory that Jeremiah had unleashed his madness upon our Sparkfather. Ash was certain that he could repair the equipment and use it to track friend and foe on-board the station, but I advised against. Jeremiah, or even Darien for that matter, may have set traps in the infrastructure to prevent the station from being taken over by the enemy.

It was an odd sight, seeing Jagers in full battle uniform stooping over to sniff at Father's bare footprints. They did succeed in tracking his scent. Kira seemed to be following the scent of the trail effortlessly as well.

I did notice some disorientation among the organics in our company. The lock-step of the Jagers was slightly off. They occasionally bumped into each other, muttering "Bitte" under their breath. If not for the obvious footprints I'm certain that the humans in our group would have gotten hopelessly lost. At first I dismissed it as battle fatigue, but then I correlated the team's pauses to the energy readings I was detecting. The time-space fluctuations were becoming more frequent, and if anything the epicenter of the singularity seemed to getting stronger.

I made a direct line of sight with Darien just as the chorus of "OVERRIDE! WORMWOOD!" rose to crescendo. Ash leveled his rifle and fired a blast just as the lead Arachnoid Steel was ready to pounce on the Doctor. The predator flipped skyward end over end from the shot to her head. The rest of the collective immediately turned their gaze to us as we charged forward. Dr. Mason took advantage of the distraction to lift his improvised weapon and open a large hole in the insectoid torso of the Steel unit closest to him.

As we closed in, Qli-2 extracted the Talons from her forearms that I had originally equipped myself with in Toxia. Her guerrilla warfare experiences in her Nova incarnation came through as she slashed her way through the colony. While the claws were not strong enough for taking on the colossus, they proved fast and sturdy enough to end the functions of several Steels.

As we struggled to keep them from encircling us, Qli-2 and Ash kept asking each other and me the same questions. Who felled that unit? What angle was that blast? We were too busy to answer each other's queries. The distortions were getting much stronger and denied us the ability to mentally graph every move in the midst of such an intense firefight. But we still knew something was not adding up.

The remainder of the Steels scattered in all directions. Was this some new strategy? It seemed to me more like a breakdown of their programming. A panic reaction. We surveyed the carnage. Too many dead Steels.

I whispered to Qli-2. "The disruption shifted its epicenter", I surveyed the hypnotic designs of the columns and vaulted ceilings warily. Dr. Mason had dropped his weapon again, trying to pull the seized gears of the engine room doors open as he called out for his son who was still enslaved on the other side of the barrier in his new form.

She responded as she scanned the archways along with me. "It's a tesseract...non-galvanic."

"A stealth teleport? Let's draw back in opposite directions", I replied. "We might triangulate..."

Darien was just fast enough to roll to the side as the glow of an aether sword disrupted his calculations. Even with the split-second humming and gout of solid light as a warning, the Doctor was unable to roll fast enough to save his mechanical arm. It clattered to the floor, the green syringe shattering against the tiles as he crouched for cover. The split second of seeing his father's face looming over him lingered in his memory.

"JEREMIAH!" Darien gasped as he dove out of the way. Ash bounded towards the good Doctor over our cries to stop. He pushed Darien aside as gently as he could and pressed rows of stone buttons furiously until the spokes of circular locks on the great door began to turn on their own. Kira leaped towards the growing opening, harnessing the last of her draconian strength to speed the opening of the gates.

As the aperture to the crystal chamber grew, we saw the maddening array of massive chains linked to pyramids of glowing crystals (the Avarian answer to cavorite) that hung at impossible was soon clear that the demon-winged, crimson-furred creature impaled on the hooks of the chains at seemingly every bone was serving as their center of gravity.

Kira's roar blended to a scream as she shrank back to her humanoid form and raced into the chamber, crying out for Koen. The semi-conscious victim raised his head, jostling the chains as he yowled.

"Kira! Look out!"

A swirl of black robes and the arc of an energy blade blocked Kira's way. Ash dove to shove Kira out of the way as the solidified aether severed flesh and bone. The world tumbled around Ash as his head slammed into the floor. After the flash of pain and and numbing shock, Ash discerned the black goggles and insidious grin of Jeremiah's face, staring down at him. As reality rippled again when the mastermind vanished into thin air, Ash's eyes focused on his own body, still standing upright until it tottered, fell to its knees, and collapsed to the ground beside him.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


The implements my sister and I found were only scratching the surface of the colossus as we dived at it on the back of Kira's cat-dragon form. Even Kira's whirling cones of sand (now much weaker than her original display of power, but still enough to rend flesh from bone) only scraped away large patches of the constructs dark patina, revealing the gleaming brasslike metal beneath.

My sister Qli-2 screamed, "Kira! Incoming! Dive under the trees!"

As we swooped down under the canopy of this massive arboretum, the great vaulted ceiling of glassteel above us shattered, gleaming shards falling like flood waters from the mountain cliffs.

We saw a score of feline Steels closing within range of us scatter as they were crushed by the avalanche. Shadowy canopy quickly disintegrated above us from the raining death. Kira covered each of us with a wing and craned her neck upwards, blowing another mighty gout of sand skyward, enough to divert the glassrain to embed in the soil around us. She curled her own head under as a few stray shards bounced off her hide. I heard her roar in pain and I clambered out from under her span, climbing her back again to wrap my hand around a dagger-sized shard lodged in her fur. A quick pull and a momentary gout of blood, and the wound quickly sealed. As the thick hot air of the space was pulled upward by the currents beyond the bare frame of the roof, a squad of Jagers on metal aetherboards descended in formation, landing quite skillfully on some the next wave of feline Replicators before drawing their weapons and opening fire.

I saw crossfire in the chamber connecting ours. Baron Wulfenbach and Colonel O'Toole cut a swath through the swarm as they joined our hasty formation. The giant turned its face down towards us, twisted in a permanent grimace that surely frightened even the Trolls that designed it. The Jager rays reflected off its chassis as stray shards of glassteel fell it lumbered closer.

The Baron surveyed the destruction around us, them up at the colossus.

"It's guarding the trees! Even though they're dead now it's not stepping on them! Move off the walkways!"

The brittle metal cruched under our boots as we ran or flew to where the shards glimmered a deep green from the decimated plant life beneath them. While we still dodged energy bolts from the Replicants behind the ripped stumps of alien trees, Kira blew another torrent of wind and sand, propelling thousands of jagged missiles at the feline constructs, severing their circuits and shredding their frames. New ground forces surged over their fallen sisters with no sign of abating.

"These can't all be alternates of us, Qli! It's mathematically impossible!" I shouted, trying to be heard above the din of war.

Qli-2 passed me the raygun of a wounded Jager as she ripped open his medical kit to bind the warrior's wounds.

"Jeremiah must be mass-producing them even as we're fighting!" she shouted back as she kept her gaze on her patient.

"Qli-3?" Hotspur asked as we both took pot-shots at the advancing forces. "Does Avarian read left to right or right to left?"

"What? Right to left." I answered as I kept shooting.

Hotspur grabbed the blade I had dropped and charged past the claw of the colossus that was looming closer to us. The giant had stooped to try and pull us from the obliterated garden like weeds. It withdrew its trememndous claw and started to rise up again, likely to regain enough balance to crush the Colonel.

Taking advantage of the distracion we quickly crossed what was once an irrigation ditch to more defendable position.

Hotspur raised his blaster and hit a direct blow at its face. I glimpsed a canvas of white and deep red as the giant swung its hands downward clapping its appendages together with a CLANG so loud I could feel the ripple of the impact like the thunder of a nearby lightning strike.

I saw movement behind the giant. Hotspur was using the blade to pry open the armor plating on the back of the robot's foot. A concave square of metal the size of a door tumbled to the ground, and as the giant raised that foot to strike back Hotspur leapt and climbed inside the hollow space of its leg.

As we expended the last charges of our rayguns, Herr Veles gave the order and the Jagers affixed their bayonets. The Baron drew his aether sword. I noticed the number of Steels lunging at us were thinning out. Kira seemed to have run out of her breath weapon, but was doing an excellent job playing cat and mouse with android cats that tried to race their way around her to get to the rest of us.

There were muted sounds of blaster fire, and gouts of flame billowed from the giant's right knee, then its hip joint. It tottered unsteadily as the surviving Replicators dashed for cover.

With an impact that caused the floor to tremble, the glass sifted downwards into the irrigation ditches as we clambered onto jutting rocks for safety. Kira circled the fallen giant overhead warily. Hotspur crawled out of the opening in the heel, his uniform and face black with oily smoke but otherwise unharmed.

And sister, I swear, the vainglorious idiot was grinning!

"Right, that's done for him!" he shouted, sprinting back to us, maniacal glee writ large upon his visage. "Who's next?"

"Handy gun, this!" he quipped, staring at the fallen giant and back to the blaster pistol. The two Qlippothics stared at the face of the colossus, their faces expressionless.

"He must have made an impression on them," I quipped.

"Indeed," answered Qli-2.

The eons of grime that were blown away by Hotspur's ray revealed distinct facial markings on the giant's mask. The pattern was unmistakable. It was the countenance of Bloodwing.