Episode 1 Scene 21
“Why the hell aren’t we dead?”
“Give it time. We’ve half a building on top of us,” I answer.
“But we should be crushed.”
“The bike’s protecting us. It’s got a field up.”
“And the Scyther?” Mikey asks.
“Probably cueing up for the kill shot.”
“So what’s stopping it?”
“The same half a building that’s on us,” I say. “That, and the bike’s running interference.”
The heads-up display continues to be overlaid in orange, so we’re still not good. But at least we’re not at the red stage. You see red, and you’d better be refamiliarizing yourself with your deity of choice. The bike’s shield is solid. It can hold for a while, especially since it’s been fueled up recently. But we don’t want to start taking direct hits from the Scyther.
“What can you see from where you are?” I ask the rig-rat.
The helmet display shows a small tunnel heading off into the guts of the building. It’s possible Mikey could squeeze through.
“It’s pretty dusty, but I don’t know, a gap maybe?”
“Can you get in there, squeeze through?”
“Yeah, maybe, probably. You want me to try?”
I give this scenario a quick think. With her out of the way, more proactive options open up. The n-comm bleeps, and the bike beams the icon for the DUCs into my neural pathway. The depleted-uranium pellets would get most of the building off us and possibly make a dent or two in the Scyther, but Mikey would have to be somewhere else.
“Yeah, do it. My display says you’ve got a tunnel, maybe all the way through. Head forward and down, not left or right.”
“Forward and down, got it.” Mikey shuffles around and gets oriented. Shit, she’s got guts. She didn’t even question the decision.
“When you hit the basement, find a storage room, or freezer, something like that. Get in and shut the door.”
“Yep, got it,” she confirms. “And, Keeper . . .”
“Yeah, Mikey? What?”
“Don’t die on me, or I’ll come back and kick your dead ass.”
I laugh. “I’ll give you sixty seconds before I shoot.”
There’s a distant boom and a shudder, and small pebbles and debris fall around the edges of the force field. The Scyther must be trying to clear its way in.
“I’m going to turn the shielding off. You head for the gap.”
My bike complies, and the shielding goes down. The small, secure area that formed around the shield remains solid, and Mikey crawls off.
My n-comm goes into active mode, and I consider my options. They all involve setting off heavy ordnance and hoping I can ride it out. Between the bike’s shielding and my armor at maximum, this should be doable.
I switch across to infrared and check the display. Mikey’s offscreen and probably somewhere more secure than here. There’s no point waiting around. I brace myself against the bike; my semiautonomous weaponry has calculated the rough trajectory to fire up through the mass of rubble. We don’t need to hit the Scyther, just get close.
I set off a light shard, and the compressed photon packet sears its way through the stone and rebar. A light shard’s essentially a laser in a bottle. It cuts through anything solid and explodes on impact. It won’t get through a frequency-modulating Scyther shield, but that’s fine, I’m just using it to clear a path for the DUCs.
The depleted-uranium pellets inside the canisters I have in my other threat tube violate all of the international arms agreements from my time period, but that type of useless legislation hasn’t been enforceable for years. Besides, when you’re up against a Scyther, you want any edge you can get.
The shard does its job: a pathway’s cleared. But that’s strange. Through the narrow channel, my ride scans the Scyther more clearly. The shard missed the target. Not a problem. We were just making it easier for the DUC to get through. What’s strange is the Scyther. It has no shielding up. It’s completely exposed. Whatever. It’s not like I’m paid to play fair.
The threat tube spits out the DUC, and the bike’s shield flares to full power. I wait. Nothing happens. No explosion. Shit. I n-comm my ride. It drops the shield for an instant, pulses the collapsed building around us, and shoots back confirmation. The DUC’s out there; it just didn’t detonate. Christ, unexploded ordnance is a pain in the ass in any era.
I cycle through my options. I don’t want to send another DUC up the pipe: the risk of a sympathetic detonation’s too great. I’m not sure my shielding can handle two DUCs going off simultaneously.
There’s another thump as the Scyther chips away at the rubble. Something’s not making sense. The Scyther’s taking a softly, softly approach, removing the barriers between us a layer at a time. Why the hell would it do that? Sure, it doesn’t know precisely where we are, but that’s what you’ve got the big bombs for. They take the guesswork out of killing. And why no shield?
Another thump and more slippage of rocks outside the protective dome. My display shows the narrow opening Mikey crawled through has now collapsed. Good. That’ll make it more difficult for the Scyther to detect her. There’s a strong chance she’ll get out of this. I think more and consult with my ride. I get it to run a diagnostic on the dud DUC. Crap. The DUC isn’t a dud: the Scyther’s running a suppression algorithm to prevent the explosion. That’s why there’s no shielding. This tech’s way up the line, so far ahead of this era I didn’t even contemplate it as a possibility. Somebody’s messing with the rules.
The bike fires me a short warble and flicks across to the tracking display. Enough of the surface rubble has gone for us to get a full scan of the Scyther. This is good for two reasons. First, we can see it, but it can’t see us—our tracking technology advantage. We can now target the Scyther without it immediately realizing; we have a second chance at a first shot. But how useful is that given the suppression algorithm?
Second, we get to see exactly what we’re dealing with. My ride gives a shrill whistle; it’s not a happy vehicle. It’s getting conflicting readings, but the Scyther’s at least a generation beyond us. I’ve dealt with something like this type before, but then we were more appropriately equipped. Perhaps this explains the light shards and DUCs I have available—someone on our side’s also not playing by the rules.
I give myself a couple more seconds. I see a way out of this now, but my concern’s longer term. The only difference in this deadly dance of Keeper vs. Scyther is the personnel involved. Not us, not me and the Scyther. Variations of that ballet have played out across time and space for a while now. The only new player’s Mikey. She must be the only reason the Scyther hasn’t gone ballistic on me. It doesn’t want her dead. Interesting. But I save it for later. Now it’s action time.
My threat tube jerks alive. My ride drops the shield for a microsecond, and a light shard streaks off. One big advantage light shards have over more kinetic ammo is the speed that you can get one off. They also cause a hell of a dent, even if they don’t explode. And a suppression algorithm won’t physically stop them. It’ll need to be dealt with. My shield blinks back up, and things begin to get interesting.
The Scyther instantly detects our shield reduction and the trajectory of the light shard. Its own defensive system swipes up. Man, they’re quick. As the Scyther’s defensive maneuver is completed, the command signal to the suppression algorithm is cut. I smile.
Boom goes the DUC.
Depleted-uranium pellets cause a hell of a mess, and the comparative lack of rubble between the blast cone and the Scyther makes for an excellent impromptu kill zone. The Scyther’s shielding gets shredded, but it and the vehicle remain relatively intact. My shield drops, and another light shard arrows through the debris and strikes the Scyther bike. Kill the bike and the self-destruct automatically triggers.
Boom goes the Scyther.I share an n-comm high five with my ride and chalk this particular fuckup to experience: don’t take your eyes off a Scyther while chucking a War Clan Battle Master through a time eddy. Hell, that shit’s so wise, you could make a T-shirt out of it. All I had to do now was find Mikey.