Monday, March 24, 2008

"Another Angel Down," Deep Down, pt. 1, 383 words

A hand grabbed me at the ankle, an iron grip grinding the bones together. I nearly screamed, and lost my hold on the wall. Only the grip, keeping one foot anchored in place, kept me from falling back. But it was too awkward. Held just by the ankle, my entire weight levered on my knee and hip, and it felt like something was about to tear. Some muscle had to give—

Whoever had grabbed me clamped another hand just above my knee, and then another – three arms? two people? – grabbed at my shirt and yanked. With the help of whoever had a hold of me, I stumbled, almost fell, into the hole several feet. I may as well have fallen into the deepest trench of the Pacific.

Complete darkness enveloped me just a few feet in, even the flames wreathing my head having gone out. My rescuers were swiftly turning into abductors, as they dragged me along into the depths of the hole. They let go of my leg and shirt and grasped my shoulders instead. I struggled against them, trying to wriggle out of their grip and get away, but their hold was too strong. I considered pulling out of my shirt, but the solid hold they had on my shoulders suggested against it. Any move that had a serious chance of escape, and they could crush my shoulderblades and collarbone like twigs, I had no doubt. It wasn’t so much my exhaustion and weakness as their fantastic strength that convinced me.

The floor descended sharply. At least they weren’t dragging my face against the rocky floor. Small blessings. I closed my eyes, trying to draw my strength together, and considered my options.

They weren’t many. I could go along peacefully, or I could go along kicking and screaming – and wasting my strength. If I had enough strength to fall apart, I certainly didn’t have enough to maintain it; I’d have to reform quickly, and they’d be able to just grab me again, even more exhausted. And, if the passage we passed through was indeed magical, perhaps there was a more benign reason they were carrying me. Traps or wards that recognized them, but required contact for someone else to get through safely.

I doubted it, but it was at least possible.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Continuity Core Brief Hiatus

Brief planning hiatus for "Continuity Core." Basically, I jumped into it to see if I could keep up two stories before I'd planned enough out to keep myself going, and now all this on-the-spot winging it is slowing me down way too much. I can do it when I have a clear idea where I'm going, but I don't right now.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"Continuity Core," CTC, pt. 7, 430 words

Mudry turned as he threw himself to the side, cracking off several shots at the body. He hadn’t switched to armor piercing rounds, though, and shots ricocheted wildly off. One struck a nearby drone and disabled it.

When he landed, he landed hard. Mudry fell on a drone, knocking his breath out, but managed to roll with the fall and kept away from the gun tracking after him. He rolled back out of the way, knowing the gun would catch him soon. It was probably dead luck, or something else, that had kept it from filling him with holes already.

Rijn’s movements took her by the nearest leg, and she hooked a hand around it to help change her path as she went by. The gun stuttered to a momentary stop when its field of fire crossed over the walker’s own leg. She took the opportunity to toss herself beneath the walker’s heavy armored body, moving with precision born of experience and jumped-up reflexes. Mudry may have been a better shot, but she was just plain faster.

As she rolled beneath the walker’s body, she opened fire. The pistol kicked four times and then she was out from under the walker, rolling on until she drew herself up on her knees.

The walker jerked to a halt, listing a little on one side. Mike stepped forward immediately, now that the danger was clear, and began to examine it closely.

“Low levels of neutron radiation,” he said, “but increasing. The power plant has been breached.”

“Holy shit,” Mudry muttered, getting to his feet. “What is going on in this place? First a fabber, now there are radioactives on hand? Is there some kind of super secret end-of-the-world bunker hidden down below our feet?”

“Whatever the case may be,” Rijn said, “let’s get going before we soak up too many grays. Unless you really don’t like the idea of having children, anyway.”

“Fixed already, thank you very much,” Mudry responded, though he hurried to catch up to Rijn as she set off down the hall again. Mike followed, silent as he ghosted after them.

Rijn rolled her eyes. “Wonderful. Can we focus now on the mission at hand?”

They continued in silence for several minutes, scanning the walls for any open doors as they went through the hall. After more than half an hour of their slow, deliberate pace and more turnings, Mike spoke up.

“We seem to have come back to near where we started. This hall circumscribes the main complex, with access to all four exterior sides of the building.”

Monday, March 03, 2008

"Continuity Core," CTC, pt. 6, 440 words

Pathetic, really. The plasma torches would have been a definite threat if they had come in higher numbers, overwhelming the team’s ability to clear them before they got close enough. While Rijn had no desire to have her feet burned off at the ankle followed by her face, these tactics showed the DI’s limitations. If this was the best it could think of…

Rijn paused once more, holding up her hand to stop the others. Listening carefully, she thought she had heard something more, beyond the whine and hum of the drones’ treads… With a thought, she upped the gain on her earbug and filtered out the drones’ noises.

There. A steady, steady clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk of feet, heavy like a tall fat man, but with a sound like metal… Steel soles? No, four feet moving in perfect unison, too perfect, and just too fast to be so steady a human gait unless there were a pair of six-foot obese parade marchers in steel boots hurrying themselves along from somewhere. It was hard to tell the direction; the sensor baffling built into the building’s walls didn’t soundproof the place very well, but had the intended effect of confusing from where the sound came.

Walker nearby,” she said quietly, dropping her hearing back to normal. So much for silence. Rather pointless, really, except for the fact that it kept people from distracting themselves. “Intel was wrong, there’s a fabricator here.”

“Oh hell,” Mudry muttered. A working fabricator could mean anything in the hands of a rogue DI. “What does traffic control need a fabber for?”

Rijn reloaded her gun with a fresh clip, armor piercing, and popped the chambered round from the previous clip of regular slugs. Caseless ammo meant no dealing with spent casings, but clearing the chamber had become a manual affair.

“Don’t know,” she said, “but keep your eyes open. It could come from any—”

A nearby door jerked open, and a massive figure bulled through. Four spidery legs protruded from a rounded central body, a perfect ovoid of black ceramic casing. The machine didn’t even stop to evaluate the situation, but rushed towards them immediately. It had no visible sensors, but the body split open along the equator and its lower half descended until there was a half-foot gap.

Two gun barrels extended from the gap and tracked around until they aimed directly for Rijn and Mudry. Both dodged sideways as the guns opened up, but there was no cover to dive behind. The door that the walker had come through had been the only open one they’d encountered so far, and that had closed back up already.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

"Continuity Core," CTC, pt. 5, 389 words

“You’re sick,” Mudry said, trotting a few steps to catch back up.

“None of this body’s systems are compromised by virus or bacteria,” Mike answered.

“Funny. The ‘over-literal robot’ routine. You know what I mean.”

“Knock it off, you two,” Rijn said. She pointed down the hall. “There’s a turning up ahead that looks like it should lead deeper in. Assume operational silence.”

Mike nodded and Mudry just settled into silence. Rijn came up to the turning and paused to peek cautiously around the corner. Just more hallway. She gestured for the other two to come forward, and stepped forth herself.

Rijn held up her hand, and all three stopped. She cocked her head, closing her eyes and listening carefully. After a moment, Mudry thought he heard what she was listening to: the whine of multiple drones’ treads, from ahead and behind. She’d always had sharper ears.

She pointed to herself, then forward, and then to Mudry and back. He nodded and half-turned to watch behind them. Rijn drew her pistol and peered forward into the murky darkness.

More than a dozen drones raced out of the darkness from each direction, backs folded open and waldos extended. Most of them had only the basic tool package, and probably wouldn’t be able to pierce any of the team members’ boots. Two coming from ahead and three from behind, however, had none of the regular tools. Instead, each bore a compact cylindrical device nearly identical to the cutting torch on Mudry’s hip, with a small gas cylinder attached. Their tips glowed painfully bright in the dimness, almost violet.

“Plasma torches,” Mudry yelled, and opened fire immediately. His first shot connected, blowing the torch apart on one of the drones and sending it skittering wildly into another one. Two more precision shots and the other drones with plasma torches were disarmed.

Rijn had fired upon her incoming drones as well, missing twice but stopping or destroying the two that had torches. Then the others were amongst them, but their telescoping arms couldn’t reach quite to any of the team members’ knees. In a move almost contemptuously easy, Rijn kicked one aside and dropped it on its back. It bent and flexed to right itself while she kicked forward through the rest humming around her feet, and the other two followed her example.

Minor Changes

Some minor changes coming up. Summarized here on that other blog of mine.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"Continuity Core," CTC, pt. 4, 405 words

Microsplicers in the contact end of the tap pierced the insulation of a lead that went to the wireless chip, patching directly into the drone’s uplink. The waldo jerked to a sudden halt and the damaged treads stopped their futile movements. Mudry and Rijn watched patiently as Mike tried to access the DI remotely.

“No good,” Mike said after a moment, withdrawing the tap. He tossed the broken drone to the ground. “The connection is too low-bandwidth for me to hope to achieve anything in any reasonable amount of time. We’ll have to look for something with a higher bandwidth connection along the way to the core itself.”

Rijn nodded. “Alright. Let’s move, then. Have you dug up a floor plan for this place yet?”

“I’m afraid not,” Mike answered. “Transportation and Security still haven’t responded to my interdepartmental information request. Based on previous response times, it’s likely that we won’t get the floor plan for another three hours.”

“Red tape.”

“So it seems.”

Sighing, Rijn scanned up and down the hall. The way the drone had come from seemed as good a direction as the other. She set off, Mudry and Mike immediately at her heels. “Keep mapping as we go, Mike,” she ordered. “Any luck with penetrating radar?”

“None,” he said. “The walls have up-to-date sensor baffling.”

“Lucky for us,” Mudry muttered. “It’s like they wanted to create a perfect opportunity let a dig’ go mad and then leave it a few hours to play unsupervised.”

“Paranoid thinking, Josh,” Rijn said, smiling faintly.

“Allegations of conspiracy against the upper divisions of government are subject to disciplinary action,” Mike said to no one in particular.

Mudry stopped dead in his tracks, staring straight at the biod. It was easy to forget that Mike was recording everything they said for the mission log.

“Though I’m afraid,” Mike continued, apparently talking to the wall, “that there’s been an error and the past thirty seconds have not been recorded in the mission log. Nor the next thirty seconds.” He looked back at Mudry and smiled, a rare enough thing from any biod that it looked a little creepy. “It looks like I shall still be working with you after all,” he said. “How fortuitous.”

That was the other thing easy to forget about Mike. He had a sense of humor with a bit of a mean streak to it, and liked to exercise it. Especially on Mudry.