Monthly Archives: November 2015

Day 99 – Finale

Oh don’t go ’round tonight
It’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise
There’s a bad moon on the rise

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival


The transmat dropped us into the Light of Sol, and for a moment my visual receptors were overwhelmed, leaving behind a hazy static in my sight. I wondered what kind of damage I had sustained for that to happen. Ebony floated above my shoulder, his spines flickering into orbit as he assessed.

“Welcome back to the land of the living! Wait, that was a bad pun.” Farstride stood there before us, armed and armored, and flanked by a couple of humans in Future War Cult colors who were furiously working on a variety of boxes each about the size of a small suitcase. We were outside the mouth of the Hive nest, a wide open field several kilometers in circumference that ended at a ridge-line covered in bald shrubbery. It had reminded me of an impact crater when I had first approached it with the hunting party.

The Titan held out his hand and his white Ghost appeared and scanned us. “They’re both drained of Light,” Freyja reported. “We should have them returned to the Traveler.”

I shook my head. “No.”

Farstride cocked his head to one side. “You’ve been worked over pretty hard by the Hive, Morc. We need you repaired and debriefed if -”

“If you’re taking out this nest, I’m staying.” I planted my feet. “I came here to kill these Hive. I’m not leaving until the job is done.”

The Titan considered a moment, then turned and walked back to the boxes the FWC techs were working on. 2 were crates, open and absent the wires that marked the others. He reached in and pulled out a scout rifle, and tossed it to me underhanded. I caught it, checked the magazine and cycled a round into the chamber.

“OK, you stick with me while we coordinate,” Farstride said, tossing me a belt with ammo packs and a headset. Ebony began transmatting the ammo while I put the headset on. “Magnus, how’s it look downstairs?”

Cleared out for the most part,” said the Warlock that had wiped out the Hive below. “These warrens are much deeper than we expected. We’re coming back up now.

“I have 1 more set of explosives coming down now,” said Farstride. The FWC techs picked up their packages, stacking a couple each in their arms, and trucked toward the entrance.

Arianna will meet them at the second fork,” Drake replied. “I’m bringing the rest of the techs back.”

“Understood.”

Hive ships, cutting in!” Telrik’s voice came over the comm set. “5…6…8 total.

The air overhead groaned and shrieked like tortured metal, and Sol’s light was briefly blocked out by the arrival of Tomb ships slicing through reality overhead. Their flanks lit with Void energy.

“Stay in the tunnels until I give the all clear!” snapped Farstride into the comm.

The Tomb ships opened fire and bolts of slow-moving energy rained down on our position. Farstride thrust out his hands and a wall of Void light encased us. The attack made Earth shudder beneath our feet, and for a moment I thought we might be buried by the landscape around our shield being destroyed. The noise of the explosions was replaced a moment later by the cries and shrieks of Hive.

The Thrall charged into the protective bubble, heedless and enraged. We shot the first comers and the rest hesitated, circling our position, snarling and clicking. I tightened my grip on the rifle, preparing for the inevitable moment the shield came down and we were overrun.

3 Thrall collapsed in rapid succession, split into pieces by the force and size of the rounds that hit them. The rest scattered, looking for the source of the shots, and more fell. The Acolytes and Knights running to up to reinforce their shock troops slowed, and were likewise mowed down by huge rounds. The report of the shots were muted and long in coming.

We’ve got you covered for the moment. But those ships aren’t cutting out, and they’re dropping more troops,” Telrik reported.

Farstride spoke into his comm. “Hugin, Mugin? Encourage those Tomb ships to move. Morc,” he said to me, “we’re going to take cover in the warrens.”

In the warrens? With the explosives?” interrupted Arianna over the comm.

“We’re not fighting this war in the open. Telrik, once we’re inside have the Erikssons hold fire, we don’t need their position assaulted.

“The Erikssons?”  I interrupted, //hope filling me. “They’re alive?”

We’ve got you covered Morc-35,” said Emma – the real Emma – into my headset. “Father Eriksson doesn’t leave anyone behind, he says. And Rill says to tell you she’s going to kick your ass when you get back to the City.” I laughed – I couldn’t help it.

“Telrik, you mount up and join Hugin and Mugin,” Farstride continued giving orders.

“Who are Hugin and Mugin?” I demanded. In answer the air split with a pair of sonic booms and 2 jump-ships in Dead Orbit colors shrieked by at low altitude, leaving behind a pair of fiery explosions that shattered 2 of the Tomb ships. The others began splitting apart, and debris rained from overhead, scattering the Hive on the ground.

“Tunnels, now!” We sprinted out of the collapsing shield into the tunnel mouth, gunning down any Hive in our way. Sniper rounds put down several as well, giving us cover until we were inside.

Going airborne,” Telrik reported once we were inside.

Arianna, Drake, and the Warlock Magnus stood at the largest intersection of tunnels, and a half-dozen men and women in FWC uniforms were with them. Farstride approached the oldest man of their number, whose name badge read Hiro. “Can we blow all the tunnels except the main passage and bottom chamber without bringing the whole thing down?”

Hiro blinked at him. “You want to set off the charges while we’re inside?”

“Can we do it?” demanded Farstride. “All of them, just leave the main cavern and this passage open.”

“Umm…” Hiro looked at his comrades. One spoke up. “We’d have to set them off out of order. It would still make the place unstable. But yeah, it could be done.”

“This is crazy,” said Arianna. She chuckled. “I like it.”

“Everyone below. Hurry,” ordered Farstride. Behind us Hive shrieked and growled. We ran down.

We were back into the Chamber Magnus had rescued me from. I fought down my //revulsion and turned to face the largest entrance to the cavern with the other Guardians. Hiro and his comrades began discussing how to blow the charges.

“Any time now, ladies and gentlemen,” said Farstride.

“OK, 3, 2, 1…” The ground shuddered and clouds of smoke and ash burst from the smaller tunnels into the room, leaving a fog. Hive cried out and were muted by the crunch of falling stone. An odd silence followed, and we remained still, guns pointed at the last remaining entrance. Then the tunnel echoed with a loud, angry roar.

“They have a cave troll,” said Magnus.

“The correct term is Ogre,” Drake said.

“Let them come,” said Farstride. “There are yet humans here who draw breath.” Arianna snorted.

The first Thrall and Acolytes burst through the settling clouds of smoke and dust into the cavern with mindless rage to be cut down by weapon’s fire. They came on in a continuous wave, heedless of the bodies they stepped or stumbled over. With nearly a dozen guns – the FWC had joined our line – it seemed we would hold them back.

Then the Knights entered the fray. These were old Knights, tall and covered in thick bony hide that stood up to the barrage of weapons’ fire long enough for them to advance several meters into the room. They threw up their shields of darkness in unison, close enough to effectively block our fire. Behind them, the lesser Hive gathered up like water behind a dam, preparing to rush forward and end the fight.

“Backup on my signal!” said Farstride. The Knights roared out orders I couldn’t understand. Then their shields came down and they rushed forward, boomers extended, Thrall surging around them in a river of filth and Darkness.

“Now!” shouted Farstride, and we fell back as he threw up another shield of Light. The boomers split one of the FWC techs into pieces. Magnus ignored the order altogether and thrust out his hands: the storm came to his call, and lightning split the air in a torrent of sound and Light, pushing back the river of charging Hive like a hurricane. One of the Knights lived long enough to strike out at the Warlock, and he reduced it to ash with a wave of his hand. Only then did he fall back into the protective bubble.

Then the ogre arrived, crushing the corpses of the fallen Hive beneath its feet. The ceiling was only just high enough to admit it, and it roared before turning its gaze onto the shield and emitting a torrent of Void energy.

When the ogre’s gaze didn’t break the shield it roared and charged, swinging its huge claws. We all scattered, firing as we ran. It smashed another FWC tech under its foot. Hiro cried out and stopped running, shooting wildly at the ogre, and unfortunately gaining its attention. The hulking Hive beast turned and stomped in his direction.

I shouted and fired until my magazine was dry, trying to divert the monster, and then tripped over something. I looked down and saw the sword of a Knight at my feet. I picked it up, rushed forward at the Ogre’s back and leaped into the air, raising the sword over my head with a shout. When I was at the apex of my leap I brought the blade down and buried it to the hilt in the putrid flesh of the beast.

The ogre roared and bucked while I held on, gripping the weapon as firmly as I could and tried to twist it, to cut something vital. Then Solar flame engulfed us both, once, twice, thrice, and then the ogre’s body disappeared into ash while I fell.

“You’re welcome,” said Arianna. She extended a hand to help me up and I took it.

“I had it,” I groused.

“Sure you did, but we’re in a hurry here,” she quipped.

Tomb ships are scattering!” reported Telrik.

“Let’s blow this joint,” said Farstride. “Hiro, let’s get topside and finish the job.”

Hiro was kneeling over the broken body of his comrade. “She’s alive!” he shouted. “Help me!” His team gathered round, gathering their fallen up, and they rushed toward the entrance.

“Wait,” ordered Farstride. “Hugin, Mugin, Telrik: we need transmat for 10, 1 critically wounded, now.”

A few disorienting seconds later, we were topside. “Sparrows, everyone. Eriksson, give us covering fire.” Ghosts began linking our rides out – even the FWC crew had rides. Mine wasn’t really mine, but it was good enough. We kicked the vehicles into gear and sped away from the Seeder.

We hit the ridgeline in moments. Arianna sped hers straight up the side of the ridge, flipped into the air and somersaulted to the ground. The rest of us merely slowed and dismounted. I had barely set foot to ground before I was tackled by a very alive Emma. “Morc!” She laughed. “I told them you were alive!”

Rill was there as well – in fact the entire hunting party was, plus a few more, Father Eriksson excepted. She approached me, an old rifle hanging from one hand and slugged me in the shoulder much harder than I would have expected. “I’m going to kick your ass,” she said.

“You’re welcome to try,” I replied, as gruffly as I could manage.

“I’d say I have a shot with this new arm,” she said, holding up the hand she’d hit me with. It was a robotic prosthetic.

“Oh,” I said slowly. Rill rolled her eyes at my tone. “Stop. This is the best scar from the whole expedition. Even Emma’s face cut doesn’t measure.”

I noticed Emma’s face for the first time: it was fully healed, a pale band of raised skin on her dark flesh. I knew the Eriksson’s penchant for keeping and displaying their scars, but…

“How long?” I asked. “How long did it take you to come get me?”

They looked at one another. “6 days,” said Emma finally.

“Oh,” said Ebony softly.

“We’re going to split the fame for the hunt,” said Emma, trying to change the subject. “I get to hang the head for the first kill, and Rill here gets the rifle.”

“Yeah,” I said. I turned to look back at the Seeder in the shadow of the surviving Tomb ships. 6 days?

“We’re ready,” said Hiro to Farstride. Farstride took a detonator from the tech and looked at me. “Morc? Care to do the honors?” he asked.

I nodded and accepted the small detonator.

Something’s coming out of the tunnels,” reported Telrik. I could see his ship on the edge of sight, circling just out of range of the Hive ships’ weapons. Beneath the Tomb ships a tiny figure sped out into the open, floating over the Earth and moving at unnatural speeds. I imagined I could hear it shriek in rage before disappearing into a Tomb ship, all of which immediately cut out of reality to wherever they had come from. I activated the detonator, and clouds of ash and smoke billowed up around the Seeder’s protrusion. It sank into the ground with a rumble, a spike of defiance thrust out in defeat before disappearing altogether.

“Let’s go home,” said Farstride.

“Agreed,” said Drake. “Oh, Morc, found this down there.” He tossed me my gun-belt, holding my hand cannon and knife.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anytime.” Jump ships roared in overhead, mine among them, and we left the site of the battle behind.

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Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Part 4

Don’t go around tonight,
Well, it’s bound to take your life,
There’s a bad moon on the rise.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival


There was brief flash of green light and then –

…Why don’t you listen? LISTEN! I can’t keep doing this, she is killing me, killing you, stop, fight…

– I was up again with a flash of Light and on my feet, charging back at the Knight without a thought. I felt that sense of //weariness again, but I attacked anyway, grabbing up the fallen Knight’s sword.

The surviving Knight attacked Rill, swinging wildly at the nimble young woman. She slipped aside from his attacks but he was clearly herding her to a corner. Emma stood rooted to the spot, eyes round with terror. The cavern seemed so large. They were so far away…

I was too slow. There was a crunch, a short scream, and Rill fell as the Knight’s sword clove her in 2. It raised its bloody weapon and roared in triumph.

I sank to my knees and bowed my head. I couldn’t save her. Why, why could I not save her?

“We have to run!” I felt Emma tug at my cloak. “Morc, we have to run!”

“No.” I was so //tired. “No.”

The Knight’s feet appeared in my vision. I was going to die…and I could not even bring myself to care.

I heard Emma sigh. She knelt next to me and grasped my chin in her clawed hands and jerked my head up to look her in the eyes, lit with deep green fire. “I had hoped you had more in you. This has been fun, but I suppose you’re out of juice.” She laughed as if she had just made a particularly funny joke, her pointy teeth dripping with dark fluids.

I raised the sword in my fist, clumsy and slow. She knocked it away casually. I was vaguely aware the other Knight was gone. Demonic Emma wrapped her claws around my head and lifted me from the ground to my feet.

“You were a bit difficult to wear down, but I admit, the taste of fear on you, and your exhaustion…well, Exos don’t often get exhausted. It adds flavor to your Light.” She licked her teeth.

“My Ghost can just transmat me out,” I said, trying for //defiance.

“Oh?” She laughed and lifted Ebony in her claw. His eye was faded, almost completely dark. “I doubt this little ball even knows where it’s at now, it revived you so many times it has probably lost count. I’ll strip it for information after I finish stripping the last of your Light, of course. But you’re not leaving. Not now.” Claws wrapped around my arms and dragged me to the floor. The Acolytes snarled and chattered in their own tongue, shoving aside a crowd of Thrall that had gathered, as the Wizard floated overhead, her skirts swishing in some unseen breeze.

“Well, this is goodbye. So goodnight, sweet Guardian,” said the Wizard. “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” She laughed at her own joke again, a shrieking sound that grated against the ears.

Her laugh was suddenly drowned out by a thunderclap that rattled the cavern and forced my ears to compensate for the overwhelming noise. She dropped Ebony and whirled toward the cavern’s main exit that now glowed with crackling Light.

A Warlock floated into the open space, Arc Light spitting and grounding off his body as if he were being held aloft in a super-conductor. Without a pause he rushed into the open space and extended his hands, bolts of lightning flying from his hands in sheets.

The Thrall attacked. The Acolytes had enough sense to flee. Both responses were fatal. The Warlock mowed down the Hive with Light, reducing them to ash and powder while the storm followed in his wake, cracks of lightning and thunderbolts heating the air to an unbearable degree in the confined space. Only the Wizard withstood the onslaught. She shrieked and flung Arc energy of her own back at the Warlock.

I rolled away, grasped Ebony in one fist and the sword in the other, and crawled away from between the two combatants before I was fried. I heard the Wizard shriek in fury once more. Then the sound of the storm quieted and faded away. I stood and put my back to the wall, sword out, clutching Ebony to my chest.

The Warlock was alone in the space. He spoke without removing his helmet. “The main cavern is clear, but the Wizard escaped. I have Morc-35: he’s alive but in need of med evac.” He waited for a moment. “Understood.” He looked at me. “Have your Ghost lock for transmat.”

“Back off!” I raised the sword to make my point. “I’ve had enough of Hive messing with my memory processes.”

The Warlock raised his hands. “Morc: you’re out. The cavalry is here.”

“Back. Off.” I sidestepped toward the exit, clutching Ebony even closer.

“Guardian, any second this whole place is going to be a war zone. Lock for transmat…”

I turned and fled up the tunnel. I felt better, and this detail managed to make its way into my consciousness: I wasn’t as tired as I had been. I had been bathed in Light when the Warlock attacked, and already I felt stronger for it. I slowed my retreat and looked at Ebony. He blinked at me, the glow of his eye a little brighter already. “Ouch,” he said at me. “I did not think you were listening to me.”

If I were human, I might have wept with //relief. “I don’t understand.”

“When she forced me to revive you between bouts, I tried to talk to you. I didn’t think you heard me.” He floated up of his own accord and whirled. “Friendly contacts. Lots of them…and lots of Hive. We need to get out of here. Quickly.”

“Hence, locking for transmat,” said the Warlock, coming up behind me. “Ready to listen?”

I nodded.

“Good. Ghost, lock for transmat. We’re about to kick some Hive ass.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Part 3

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival


Ebony’s scan pulse flickered over the cave’s entrance, bright beneath the slate gray sky. Father Eriksson and I waited for his results while the rest of the hunting party stood guard.

“It’s deeper than I would expect,” the Ghost admitted after a moment, blinking toward the cave mouth. “The seeder may have opened new passages, or maybe they burrowed them out after they landed. We don’t have the explosives to take it down.”

I looked up at the aforementioned seeder, a spike of gray metal thrusting into the sky like a bony finger. “Any Hive present?” I asked.

“Most likely.”

Father Eriksson grunted. “They will have power cells. And if the impact opened up caverns like you suspect, they may be unstable. We can use the cells to collapse the tunnels.”

“Hive are experts at reinforcing their nests. That Ghost’s information that raided the Worlds’ Grave told us a lot about how they make them,” said Ebony. His doubt was evident.

“Then we clean out the stragglers and wait for the rest to return. We can hole up inside and let them try to take it back, turn their own nest against them.”

“That sounds like asking the Hive to bottle us up and starve us out, or worse, burrow in behind us,” said Emma, approaching. The wound on her face was still angry and red against her dusky skin. Her dark eyes were baggy with exhaustion.

Father Eriksson grunted. “Then we kill the Wizard and the Knights. Without them, the Thrall will be directionless.” He looked at me for confirmation.

“The Acolytes will still be dangerous, but yes: the Knights and Wizard are the backbone of their structure. It might draw a tomb ship in, however, to reinforce them,” I said.

“A risk. And if that happens, perhaps the Vanguard will send more Guardians.” He looked at me. “Where are your comrades?”

“Most are on Mars right now,” I groused. “They received our message, but it will take time.”

“Then we will soften up the Hive and return to the City with trophies, and bring the wrath of the Vanguard and the Chosen Dead on their heads,” said Father Eriksson decisively. He turned and whistled sharply to the hunting party. They gathered round: 10 weathered men and women altogether, each with a long rifle short of ammo and a long knife blackened by Hive ichor. All but Emma and myself were born into the clan – we were “Firsts”, first generation adopted children that the clan brought in to swell their numbers and grow their connections.

“The Wizard did not attack us in the woods,” Father Eriksson told them. “That means she is most likely here. She will be dangerous if cornered here, and she can destroy us alone, even without her Thrall or Knights. If we find her, let Morc know.” He looked at me pointedly. “She is your kill. The Knights,” he continued, “must be brought down quickly: rifles only. Do not try knife work with them. The first one who brings down a Knight shall hang its head from the Tree and shall be given my father’s rifle.”

This brought murmurs from the others. Emma interrupted. “I’m sorry, what rifle?”

“A weapon passed down 6 generations,” he said. “Only our finest warriors bear it into battle or hunt. When that warrior dies, the clan leaders declare a challenge for who may claim it next. I declare that challenge now to avenge our fallen. Now we go down, teams of 2 and sweep each chamber. If we fall, perhaps we will rise to fight again someday.”


 “Only a handful of Thrall,” I said. //Doubt filled me as I examined the last of the Thrall bodies, shot where they had gathered around the piles of bones they had been gnawing upon. We had descended to the bottom chamber.

“Where is the Wizard?” asked one of the hunters, Rill. She was the youngest, mouse-brown hair and with eyes that looked too hard for someone so young.

“She must have been with the others in the field,” I said softly.

Emma knelt near the entrance to the chamber, using leather straps and torn cloth to bind her knife to the barrel of her rifle to make a crude bayonet – she had used her last shot on a Thrall. There were branches of tunnels all around us, but we stood in the largest cavern, lit by green crystals that grew from the wall in jagged spikes. Moths flitted near the light sources, and a huge centipede scurried near Rill’s foot, which she promptly squashed with her heel.

“Father Eriksson,” I said into my com, “we are all clear down here. No Wizard.”

Very well.” I could hear disappointment in his tone. “Come back up. Everyone return to the entrance.”

I stood and took a step toward Emma, just as a scream of pain ripped through the caves, the sounds bouncing off the walls into a dozen more. I drew my gun in time with Rill.

“What?” asked Emma confusedly. Her wide eyes flicked around the chamber. “Where did that come from?”

“Teams, check in!” I snapped into the com. I didn’t get an answer before the Knight stepped into the chamber, flanked by a pair of Acolytes. They flung a body aside as they entered and charged us.

I snapped off 3 shots, and both Acolytes were down before they even had a chance to fire. The Knight didn’t even slow when the third bullet ripped into its bony hide. But then Rill’s rifle roared, and it staggered. Then Emma let loose a blood-curdling scream and, in spite of Father Eriksson’s warning, flung herself at the Knight with her bayonet.

The blade sank to the hilt in the Knight’s eye and it fell to its knees, clutching at the barrel. Metal groaned as it squeezed. Emma screamed again and thrust her whole weight behind the weapon. The Knight jerked, then collapsed with a clatter of bone. Its sword rattled as it struck the stony earth.

“Well done,” I said, approaching the body.

“Guess the rifle is yours,” said Rill, “seems like you need a new one anyway.” She cycled a fresh round into her weapon. Even as she did so there was another bone-shaking roar, and the second Knight charged in, swinging its cleaver. She ducked and rolled away from its charge without even looking. Emma pulled her weapon free of the dead Knight and leaped away as well, leaving me closest to the Knight. It closed the distance faster than I could raise my weapon and lashed out with a fist.

The cavern rushed past me, and I had just enough time to realize I was flying through the air before I slammed to a sudden stop. There was brief flash of green light and then –

…listen to me! The cold, it is not natural, to be cold, to be here, I don’t want to, she has no soul, does not belong here, listen…

 – I was up again with a flash of Light and on my feet, charging back at the Knight without a thought. I felt that sense of //weariness again, but I attacked anyway, grabbing up the fallen Knight’s sword.

The surviving Knight attacked Rill, swinging wildly at the nimble young woman. She slipped aside from his attacks, but he was clearly herding her to a corner. Emma stood rooted to the spot, eyes round with terror. The cavern seemed so large. They were so far away…

I was too slow. There was a crunch, a short scream, and Rill fell, the Knight’s sword cleaving her in 2. It raised its bloody weapon and roared in triumph.

I stopped, //shocked. How could I be so slow? Why couldn’t I reach them?

Emma seized my arm. “We have to get out!”

I stared. “What?”

“We have to run! RUN!”

I ran with her. As we ran I heard the comm fill with screams. We ran up the tunnels, to the entrance.

“Ebony!” I shouted. “Call in the ship!”

Silence.

“Ebony?” I slowed. I tried to summon him. I stopped. “Ebony?”

Silence.

I turned around. “We have to go back. My Ghost is gone!”

Emma shook her head. “We can’t help him!”

“I need to go back!” I pushed past her. “Ebony!”

Something pushed against the back of my head. The distinctive click of a hammer being pulled back made me freeze.

“Alone, in the end.” Emma’s voice was…wrong. I turned around. She held my hand cannon…except it wasn’t. It was black, the metal twisted into jagged edges. Emma’s dark skin was ashen, and her eyes glowed with green fire. She bared a smile full of jagged teeth at me as she thrust the barrel into my forehead. “Even Guardians can die, Hunter.” Then the hammer fell.

darkness, cold, only Darkness, listen to me!…

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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