Life of Zu – Part 4

by holojacob

Link to Part 3

The squad opened fire, trying to take down this horror the pirate bioprinters had spawned. I cut loose with my rifle on full automatic, but something turned the shards away before they hit their targets. The shards struck the corridor. Their Absolute Containment fields collapsed on impact, releasing the pre-heated plasma within. The corridor became a purple-tinged inferno.

The creature stepped forward, a pair of predatory lenses focused on us. None of its skin was visible underneath its armor. Two more identical creatures turned the corner.

“Demon pack!” I shouted, loading another clip.

A sniper rifle cracked the air. The shot veered off at the last moment.

“They have grav shields!” Nine shouted.

The three demons sprinted at us on all fours, closing the distance with startling speed.

“Grenades!” I shouted, querying my suit. Smart-matter guided a grenade in my leg pouch up to my wrist. I pointed just below the lead demon and fired.

The grenade’s rocket ignited. Purple flame bloomed from my wrist, catapulting the grenade forward. The lead demon’s grav shield caused it to slam into the floor, but that’s what I wanted. The explosion flung it into the air.

I opened fire. The demon’s shielding couldn’t protect it from every angle, and my shards stabbed deep into its exposed belly. Each AC shard breached on impact, expelling its packet of plasma. The demon’s armor melted away in molten globules. The flesh underneath sizzled.

The demon let out an inhuman yelp. Plasma roasted it alive. With temperatures as hot as the core of a sun, that didn’t take long. The scorched husk crashed to the ground. Two more demons leaped over it.

Grenades from the rest of the squad blew up around the lead demon, knocking it around. It struggled to steady itself. A concentrated shard volley pierced through its shielding and set it ablaze. The creature screamed and died.

Nine fired a shot at the last demon. The air in front of the creature distorted. The shard flew true, striking its head with explosive force. It toppled to the ground, blood pulsing from its ruined neck.

“Ah. So that’s what they’re for,” Nine said.

“Gravitic penetrators, huh?” I asked.

“I knew they’d be useful.”

The lights in the corridor brightened to daytime settings.

“And there’s our power,” I said. “Come on. We need to get that bridge deployed. Which way?”

“S-straight ahead,” Six said.

“Let’s go!”

We followed Six’s directions through the control nexus, down several levels, and around massive tanks of reserve smart-matter, until we came to a small room near the middle. Six went to work on the controls while we posted up for a standard defense.

“Something’s coming,” Zeta-Thirteen said. “I have intermittent contacts a level above us, closing.”

“Scout them out.”

“Right.”

“But—”

“Yeah?”

“But be more careful than Zeta-Three.”

“Got it.”

Zeta-Thirteen slipped away. He came back five minutes later.

“Two pirates heading this way. I don’t think they spotted me.”

“What are we up against?”

“The pirates are in heavy armor. I think they’re carrying implosion drivers, but I didn’t recognize the exact type.”

“Any demons?”

“None that I saw.”

“At least there’s that,” Nine said.

“We need to fight them away from the controls,” I said. “Six?”

“I need more time.”

“We’ll make sure you get it.” I turned to Zeta-Thirteen. “Lead the way.”

“Right,” Zeta-Thirteen said. He guided the squad out of the room and to the right, looping around one of the larger smart-matter tanks. A guard rail to our left was all that stood between us and a fatal drop to the tower’s depths.

Suddenly, Zeta-Thirteen stopped.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I just lost their signals.”

I looked around. Dark emptiness surrounded us, enhanced to visible levels by my visor. Shafts of sunlight threw glowing ellipses across the spherical control nexus.

“I don’t like this,” I said. “Head back.”

The squad began to turn around.

Two pirates flew up from beneath the railing. No thruster flames or mechanical sounds gave them away. They ascended in sheer defiance of gravity. It happened fast, too. One moment, there was nothing wrong. The next, we were under attack.

The pirates were fully enclosed in form-fitting armor like polished brass, the same armor the demons used. One of them pointed a long-barrel driver at me and fired.

The implosion disc cut through the air and struck my chest, knocking me to the ground. My suit triggered an emergency purge. I could already feel the disc starting to alter local gravity. The skin of my suit squeezed in around my chest. Two of my ribs broke from the strain.

Smart-matter tendrils leaped out of my chest, wrapped the disc in a cocoon, and ejected it from my body. The black cocoon flew clear of the railing.

I vomited blood into my helmet. Scrubbers purged the interior so I could see again. Two smart-matter tendrils stabbed into my chest, setting and reinforcing my broken ribs.

The squad opened up with everything in their arsenal. The pirates floated in the eye of a fiery hurricane.

A disc hit Zeta-Ten. His suit tried to dislodge the projectile, but the disc spun up and burrowed into his chest. It triggered a localized implosion field. Zeta-Ten collapsed into a grotesque package no larger than my head. Blood spurted out under high pressure.

Zeta-Nine shot one of the pirates in the chest. His shard cut through the grav shield in a brief ripple of energy and erupted into a bloom of super-heated plasma. The pirate burst into flames and fell away, limbs flailing.

The second pirate dropped faster than free fall. He curved out of sight amongst the tower depths.

“Sorry,” Zeta-Thirteen said. “I thought I knew where they were.”

“It’s okay.” I widened the squad channel. “Six! Status?”

“I’ve almost got it,” Six radioed back. “Hold on. This may be a bit rocky.”

The whole control nexus lurched upward. It began to ascend along the tower’s superstructure.

“Once we’re closer to the top, I can begin laying out the bridge.”

The control nexus creaked along the outlying branches until it reached the main trunk. The support structure groaned under the shifting load.

“It’ll hold,” Six said. “Probably.”

“That sounded strangely optimistic,” I said.

“Don’t get used to it.”

*          *          *

The control nexus docked against the SolGov tower’s outer shell. Smart-matter drained out of the reserve tanks and flowed through elongating pipes that connected to the shell. A bulge formed along either side of the tower’s skin. The outer bulge arced towards the nearby Exemplar tower. The inner bulge stretched a ramp towards the waiting squads led by Zeta-One and Zeta-Fourteen. A smaller ramp formed atop the pipes, providing my squad with a path up to the growing bridge.

The bridge’s shape solidified, forming a long, armored cylinder that pierced into the side of Exemplar tower. The SolGov tower’s shell parted, revealing a naked, ribbed interior with flat, grated flooring.

“Not bad, Six,” I said.

“I try,” he said.

“Let’s go.”

I led my squad across the smart-matter pipe and up our ramp. The rest of the platoon was already crossing the bridge.

An explosion on the outside rocked the center of the bridge. It galloped up and down. The soldiers inside hung on. Another hit, and the armor near the center breached. Two soldiers vaporized in a bluish flash.

I ran up to the bridge’s entrance. Smart-matter flowed out from the control nexus, closing the gap and reinforcing the structural beams. I tapped into one of the cameras Zeta-Six had printed for the bridge exterior and swung it around.

A hellion interceptor swooped towards the bridge, guns blazing. The bridge rocked violently from heavy, staccato impacts. The hellion shot past, climbing. The squads on the bridge ran for Exemplar tower. I held my squad on the SolGov side.

“What are we supposed to do against that?” Six shouted.

“I’ve got an idea.” I opened a channel to SolFleet. “Priority support request! We’ve got a hellion hitting us near Exemplar tower!”

“You’re wasting your time!” Six shouted. “There’s no way they’ll send help for us!”

“Wait and see. We’ve got a guardian angel.”

“It’s coming around!”

The hellion looped tightly and dove towards the bridge.

The channel crackled with static, then a soft, feminine voice spoke.

“Priority request acknowledged. Stand by.”

“Ha! Told you!”

The hellion cut loose with its nose cannons. The bridge shuddered from the sustained stream of hits.

A burst of shard fire flashed by the hellion and exploded against the ruins below. The hellion veered off sharply and accelerated. Two SolFleet stilettos buzzed the bridge and gave chase.

“Go get him, Vance!” I shouted, grinning. Vance was probably controlling both stilettos and much more from the frigate in orbit.

“The bridge has taken a lot of damage,” Six said. “I don’t know how much longer it’ll hold.”

“We cross now! Move it!”

We ran onto the still heaving bridge. The other squads were already across.

I checked the external camera. A glinted of brass detached itself from Exemplar tower, dropped low, and flew underneath the bridge.

“Pirate beneath us!” Thirteen said. “I think he’s laying an implosion charge!”

“Six! Give me an opening over the pirate!”

“On it!”

“On my signal!”

Six found a nodule along the bridge’s spine, tore the covering off it, and stabbed his infector glove inside.

“Ready!”

I stopped over the pirate’s position.

“Now!”

The floor opened like an eye slit. Stringy bits of smart-matter sagged between each edge. The floating pirate looked up at me, a thick metal disc in his hands.

I forced my rifle into the pirate’s face, past his grav shield, and pulled the trigger.

TO BE CONTINUED …

Link to Part 5

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8 Responses to “Life of Zu – Part 4”

  1. I need some smart matter!

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