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Of Gods and Horsemen


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#1
Ryu Connor

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2056
Outer Arm of the Milky Way
NUNS Selene

It had been the culmination of weeks of work. The start had been nothing more than a rumor passed to an intelligence agent on a far colony world. It was a needle of info that could have been easily ignored or lost amongst the far more actionable intelligence the NUNS Spacy receives. Somehow serendipity intervened and not only did the agency follow the leads, but when faced with an unknown obstacle the call was made to breach the security of the systems and determine what it was they had found.

What they had found was secret war project from one of the now autonomous colonies of the NUNS. The “hack” had exploited a vulnerability in an improperly configured external system and created the necessary foothold to burrow deeper into the infrastructure of the facility. The information stolen from the various system used by the facility left little doubt of their work. Toward the end of the fishing expedition even the keys used to secure their communications were stolen, unlocking the secrets of their communications to the outside world.

The communications destination address lead to a colony world, but that wasn’t really proof that the world was responsible for this. It was far too easy to use a location as a proxy for communications to hide the real puppet master. None of the information stolen revealed the source of the project either. This prevented the NUNS from using political pressure to solve the problem. On the other hand it also meant that if the NUNS destroyed the facility the situation would represent a political hot potato. If the host government condemned the actions of the Spacy it would mean admitting they were responsible for the facility and revealing what they had been researching.

With the diplomatic options unavailable the Spacy decided on eliminating the facility. Destroying the facility by capital ship strike or reaction weaponry might embolden the host government to believe that the Spacy destroyed the hard proof of what they were doing there. It was necessary to leave the facility intact in order to apply the appropriate level of fear of what may have been discovered. The choice was made for a tactical strike leveraging a single Valkyrie.

The NUNS had tapped the NUNS Selene stealth frigate to deliver Christian Kell to the scene. It should have been a solitary situation for him, but it wasn’t going to pan out that way. As someone else had a vested interest in this facility and the handiwork the Spacy had done to breach the systems had left them an opening to follow up on their tips.

#2
Vertigo

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"What a tangled web we weave..."

Megadami regarded the planet overwhelming her view from the shuttle view port. Unassuming, stable environment, not far off the main colonial migration lanes, fairly self sufficient save a few needed imports. All the qualities necessary to hide a project of dubious moral or ethical implications. "Hiding in plain view."

She brought her PDA up, reviewing the data one more time. This had been one of many hot points Eric had left her to deal with. How he had unerringly guided her to these operations was beyond her knowing. She trusted him. She tapped another data packet. Her screen assistant, in the form of an anthropomorphic rabbit, appeared and squashed the information in an comical style into a folder. Meg smiled as the AI brought another bit of information to her attention. "Thank you."

The trail of digital bread crumbs they had left for the NUNS was bound to have provoked a reaction. Too many people with too much to loose if what was going on ever got out into the public eye. In that way it was like Eric and Meg, though this particular operation didn't stretch back to the old administration. Meg sighed to herself. Too often the planetary governments on these sequestered planets grew the mindset of the falsely enlightened, willing to sell their souls for what they thought was an advancement of their personal power. Others felt that what happened on their planet would never be noticed or, rather, was their own business safe from prying eyes. Everything left a trace. Humanity in general should have realized that by now.

The information streamed quickly, Meg's enhanced cognitive powers soaking in everything at an accelerated rate. A single capital ship, same class as her own Pythia had arrived in orbit and already sent the NUNS representative down planetside. That the man chose to leave in a variable fighter spoke volumes as to his character. Meg already approved. He had to be good if Spacy had decided to send him alone, and the fact that he came prepared for a fight was only encouraging. It'll be that much easier to get in and out if he makes a scene. She brought up the dossier, then almost laughed out loud.

Christian Kell.

The man was legendary already in the fighter pilot community even before the events of the NUSA Rebellion. Whispered in the same sentences as Maximilian Jenius or Milliya Fallyna, Kell was reputed to be an ace among aces. Megadami had never met him before, though his piloting data had been incorporated into her training program within the NUSA. Eric had spoken about him on several occasions. Something about the only Skull pilot to truly have the skills to match his ego, and once about a suggested homoerotic situation between Kell and his former CO Connor, though she realized Eric had only been joking. She had sensed the grudging respect he had for both pilots, and a regret regarding a missed opportunity.

The file scrolled to Christian's profile picture, and Meg couldn't help whistle inwardly. Her little desktop bunny did the same thing, accentuating with a bear hug that crushed the image onscreen. "I know, right? Almost worth the trip alone."

The rabbit pointed at the list of engagements Kell had been in, then produced a pilot's helmet out of nowhere and donned it, looking at Meg with an inquisitive stare. "No, I don't think it'll be a problem, but have my Phoenix armed and ready to go if I need her. Atmospheric packs, if you would. Make sure Pythia stays clear of any NUNS forces. Its their mess to clean up, after all."

The rest of the trip to the space port went smoothly. Meg passed through the civilian port authority with no issues, her cover story of visiting family easily passing inspection. The better part of the day was spent selling her role. She visited several boutiques and went out for dinner, playing the tourist on holiday. All the while she left behind convenient data spikes, courtesy of her furry little data sprite, ranging all over the city. Timed for 2100 hours local time they'd subvert the local access to the GNN for about all of thirty seconds. In that time a two-way dump of data would flood out of and into the facility over an easily monitored data stream. Pythia, through an overly complex satellite relay, would send in data 'telegraphing' Spacy's actions to the facility. Meanwhile, the facility would broadcast a fraction of its research data, as much as the pathway could manage, along with several prominent names attached. Not anything the general public would ever see or hear. but enough that any intelligence group would be concerned about being discovered.

If that didn't get a suitable distraction for Meg to get over the wall and inside, well, she might just have to improvise. With high explosives. She looked at her PDA. The security bug confirmed Kell was on the property, though she hadn't gotten a camera update in over half an hour. The chronometer read 2055 local. Her data assistant pulled out a miniature detonator switch and smiled rather mischievously. "Time to be bad girls, cutie."

Meg waited patiently for the fireworks.

#3
Ryu Connor

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The night sky illuminated in orange, red, and the spark white of electricity as the mini-missile strike destroyed the electrical substation.  The loss of the substation had just terminated power for the local area and forced Kell’s target onto battery and generator power.  He guided the Excalibur into a lazy loop as he adjusted his heading for an intercept course with the facility.

 

The HUD presented a tactical display of his target and highlighted the fuel tank for their generators.  It was time to leave them stuck on battery power.  Two mini-missiles streaked out ahead of his craft, the seconds ticking away as the travel distance created a calm in the heat of the moment.  The night sky erupted in an anti-climactic flash as the mini-missiles hit.  The small flash belied the gravity of the situation.  The fuel tank hit stored ten thousand gallons of deuterium for the local overtech generators.  Deuterium burns with an invisible flame leaving a sight only the infrared view from the Excalibur could see.

 

The Excalibur shifted to gerwalk, slowing its flight through the heavens, before it made one last shift to soldier and connected with the earth.  Kell pushed his white knight forward toward the facility, his steady run shifting into a leap as he crossed over the perimeter wall.

 

Sirens blared as the facility attempted to cope with the disaster.  The tank flame might be invisible, but the damage of the explosion lacked such subtlety.  It had evaporated part of the building and left the remainder mangled and broken with heat created flash fires throughout.  Bodies laid strewn about charred to a crisp, many were no longer whole.  The “lucky” survivors laid screaming, burned across their body, wounded to immobility, or even trapped under burning debris.  Their pleas for help and screams of pain bled into the blare of the alarms creating a cacophony of noise only Death would find tasteful.  It was a song that wouldn’t last but moments longer, the heat of the fire would quickly end it all.

 

According to protocol a fire of this resource and magnitude required an isolation of sixteen hundred meters.  The heat was fatal and the smoke toxic and as Kell saw the situation, it only left one outcome: evacuation.  His interpretation was rewarded as the ground ahead of the building began to slide open.  Two VF-171’s began to peer above the horizon of the hole as the lift pushed them upward.  Kell’s gunfire mixed into the collapse of the building and the last whines of the now failed siren as the last of its electrical bindings failed.

 

The first VF-171 fell backwards like a ragdoll as the gun fire pierced the cockpit and turned its pilot into blood sausage.  The next victim lost the head of the Nightmare, severing the optics and view of the world.  The pilot quickly shifted to gerwalk to regain visibly right as the PPB powered fist smashed into the cockpit and flattened the nose of the craft and what remained of the pilot into the now warped alloy lift.

 

Kell tossed the two Valkyrie corpses off the lift and snapped up one of the dropped rifles.  Tapping the control attached to the lift it began its journey into the bowel of the beast.  As the descending lift put him onto a level plane with one half of the sliding door.  His fist struck out warping the metal of the door and shattering some of the underlying hydraulics.  He walked over to the other now extending half, wrapped both hands tightly around the shelf, and pushed.  In the course of seconds groans gave way to the sound of metal tearing as the hydraulics failed and the door stopped its extension.

 

The exit was now clearly marked.  What remained was to see what awaited him in the dungeon below.



#4
Vertigo

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"Well, he certainly doesn't disappoint!"

 

Meg had sensed Kell coming long before the first missile had left its rack.  The crescendo of explosions that followed confirmed, to her senses, just how good this man was.  She vaulted the wall from he hiding point in time to see Kell dispatch the two Nightmares.  She had seen violence before and in fact had wrecked far more gruesome deaths than Kell had done just now, but she couldn't help but stop in rapt indulgence.  His 'aura,' for loss of a better term, was beautifully unique.  Most soldiers she had come across let emotion carry them in battle, others bottled them up, 'muting' their energy, as it were.  Some burned brightly, others burned dimly.

 

Kell's flowed like a symphony of warmth and cold, the 'tempo' changing from second to second, always fluid yet to the point.  Efficient and elegant.  Beauty in motion, as the poets would say.

 

Meg snapped herself out of it and dashed to the nearest no demolished building even as what uninjured staff flowed past her.  Kell was tearing the doors asunder as Meg bolted into on of the surface labs.  A single guard met her at the door, but a flick of the wrist vaporized the man's torso.  A scientist screamed as Meg walked by.  No threat at all, Meg simply drained her of enough spiritia to render her unconscious.  Meg stood for a second, concentrating on all the people she could sense in the building.  With a little mental push she changed fear into panic and sent them all flying from the building out into the night.  Hurrying, she found a data terminal and slapped her PDA in.  "Just as I thought."

 

The system was deleting itself, probably a fail safe as soon as the data bomb had gone off for her distraction.  Meg's hands flew, gathering what info she could and jammed whatever transmissions to the outside world she found.  Curiosity got the best of her and she started sifting through the files.  At first she only found info regarding old BDI models and psychological/physiological studies on human subjects.  Further in she found schematics for several test bed variable fighters, mainly older VF-11s, due to their ruggedness.  And then...

 

Meg blinked.  She shouldn't have been surprised, what with being a living, breathing black ops weapon herself, but this was truly horrifying.  Scenes of cockpits with the pilots splayed out like gutted fish, wires and tubing connecting them directly into their machines.  It all made sense now.

 

The screen blinked, a diagram of the underground facility hopping on to the display.  From deep below an icon reading TEST 1 made its way onto the elevator.  The mecha looked like some sort of Thunderbolt, but clad in heavy armor Meg had never seen before.  Five more icons blinked ACTIVATING, with at least two dozen more cycling up from below.  Yanking her PDA from the terminal she keyed her assistant online.  "Send down Phoenix by remote, just outside the compound here" she jammed her finger on the highway just outside of the facility, the only area big enough to land her F/AV-1 safely.  "Find Kell's IFF codes and let him know we're friendly."

 

Meg broke into a dead sprint even as the monster VF slammed open the doors with a massive armored shield.  Several bays slid open and a plethora of mini-missiles loosed in a massive unguided volley, making the VF's intentions crystal clear.



#5
Ryu Connor

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The smooth alloy circle gave way to the harsh glare of light as the lift crossed past the boundary of the earth and into the belly of the underground complex.  The security forces who had been the shepherd of the personnel out of the facility changed their tact upon realizing that what had returned down the lift was not one of their Nightmares.  The standard personnel were guided away as security formed a line, their rifles drawn against Kell.  He admired their courage, their willingness to present theatre and pageantry in a situation they undoubtedly knew was hopeless.

 

The lift came to a halt and silence fell over the room with the loud rumble of the hydraulic motors no longer active.  The GU-15 and the MC-17C were raised to the air and sat against his right and left shoulder respectively.  Kell lowered the MC-17C and aimed it toward the defensive line.

 

“It’s an easy negotiation.  I want past, you want on the lift.  Give to get.”

 

The situation didn’t call for negotiation and undoubtedly the Chief or Sergeant or whomever in charge of security understood that this was a gift.

 

The defensive line stood up and parted leaving the pathway open.

 

“Smart,” Kell voiced to no one but himself.

 

He holstered the MC-17C barrel back up against his left shoulder and began his march into the greater facility.  As he crossed into the hallway the security force began guiding the personnel onto the lift with substantial haste.

 

His HUD laid out a tactical display of the facility.  His objectives included destruction of the computer clusters on level three and the experiment on level eight.  If the local government knew of or supported this facility wasn’t a known quantity.  There couldn’t be anything useful here for them to salvage.  Succeeding at that would mark off two of this three objectives.

 

His Excalibur navigated the narrow confines of the entry hallway before entering into the main chamber.  The floor was subdivided like a hive into multiple working “buildings.”  The size of this place lead Kell to believe that the local government was at least aware of its existence.  Four square “pillar” shaped work areas broken up into three rows, which generated five vertical and four horizontal intersecting paths.  The pathways didn’t represent a maze, but it didn’t stop Kell from feeling a bit like Theseus.  The design was clean and straightforward, other than perhaps the choice for the elevators to be positioned on the far back walls.  Their placement precipitated a long walk for workers to transition levels or to even simply leave.  It was unlikely that this was a coincidence.  It stood to reason the staff were divided out by levels based on their role and in turn this removed the need to transition levels.

 

He turned his Excalibur left as he exited the entryway and made his way down the initial straightaway toward the central vertical walkway.  As he neared the final row he could see the indicator for the elevator climbing upward.  He slipped to the side and pushed his back up against the faculty wall.  He eased the Valkyrie’s head out for a peek as the elevator doors noisily slid open.

 

He pulled the head back, his target identified as a custom VF-11 APS build.  The cockpit was too reinforced for a quick kill.  That left him only a few vulnerable points: the optics in the head, the shoulders, and the knees.  The shield would pose an additional impediment to hitting those target.  The machine thundered out of the elevator like a wild animal on the prowl.  The Minotaur stiffly shifting its weight and view left and right before moving forward.  Kell flipped the MC-17C in their air and caught the barrel in his hand.  Time to make an impression.

 

He swung the barrel out as he twisted, the VF-11 un-phased by his sudden appearance raised its left shield.  The weapon bent unnaturally before finally snapping from the sheer force of the hit.  Kell used the heavy hit to keep his Valkyrie in fluid spin.  His left hand now free of the broken gun and able to reach around the guarded shield.  He grabbed one of the hand grenades from the right hip of the Thunderbolt, his thrusters flared as he flipped forward and over the Valkyrie as the heavy shield swung forward for a now absent target.

 

He landed and twisted the Excalibur around, his GU-15 severing the right arm as his big game prey twisted too slowly to face him.  His target never finished the 180 spin before the grenade Kell had placed during the flip triggered blowing the Thunderbolt head and optics into fragments.  The explosion was large enough to cause disarray within the interconnecting controls in the Valkyrie chest.

 

Apparently not enough damage as every single missile bay popped.  Kell tossed himself to the left as his thrusters carried out operation “get the hell out of Dodge.”  The Thunderbolt now crippled and broken carried out a danger close missile strike.  The pilot most likely presuming Kell either hadn’t moved, had moved closer, and that Kell was too slow to escape.  Maybe that gave the pilot too much credit.  Perhaps it was a beaten man aiming for one final flip of the bird to the world.

 

The explosion shattered the floor, evaporated portions of the adjacent buildings, and buckled the central elevator doors.  It also finished off Kell's crippled nemesis, albeit a great deal of the Thunderbolt husk remained intact.  No longer able to sustain its own balance the Valkyrie fell forward and landed with a resounding thud.  The falling impact was the final straw as the damaged floor gave way.  Gravity carried the mixed mess - dead mecha, all the missile created debris, and the weakened concrete floor - into a makeshift grave on the level below.

 

Kell surveyed his handiwork and the damage as he pushed himself up.

 

“That’s one way to get concrete results.”



#6
Ryu Connor

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The primary elevator was shot from the explosion.  The missiles had buckled and warped the large scale doors to the point it seemed unlikely that the cable and pulley would be able to push the elevator down anymore.  The remaining two elevators were already engaged pulling something up from the depths.  Could be more staff looking to escape, though it seemed more likely that more Minotaur’s were on their way.

 

Destroying one had posed a challenge, more than one would be right pain in the ass.  The thrusters on the Excalibur fired and provided a soft descent as Kell transitioned to the second floor.  His opponent had been nice enough to open the door for him, it was the least he could do to step through.

 

He lowered the turrets on his head as he made his way toward the central elevator.  The floors for the remaining levels weren’t quite as expansive in terms of height.  That created a new set of problems from a combat perspective.  The sort of acrobatics he’d leveraged against his first opponent were no longer an option.

 

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” Kell muttered.

 

It was something Ryu was more likely to remind him of in a moments like this.  It was a token of how their friendship has colored each of them.  They had fed off each other and were more dangerous for it and the lasting impact had left them dangerous when apart.  The thought carried Kell into thinking about the rift that existed between them before he mentally closed off that train of thought.  It was a pointless distraction.

 

He set his rifle to the side of the central elevator door and began to pry the door open.  His opponent had provided another gift through breaking the elevator shaft.  If there were more problem children hopefully they’d rampage fruitlessly on the first and second floor for now.  He had business on the third floor and with luck maybe the noise might further distract the defense that remained away from him and his final target.

 

His rifle in hand he stepped out into the elevator shaft and began floating down as the elevator door sealed behind him.



#7
Vertigo

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Meg vaulted the highway divider that separated her from Phoenix.  Amazingly enough a few people had gathered to see the explosions and the appearance of her valkyrie.  She didn't have time for gawking spectators.  "Run.  NOW" she said firmly, pushing on the crowd's flight instincts as she stepped into the waiting hand of her mecha.  By the time she had tightened her seat restraints everyone in a fifty meter radius was running full tilt for the hills.  The human need to observe tragedy never failed to amaze Meg.

 

Shifting from GERWALK to Soldier she approached the facility's main elevator shaft.  Smoke was starting to rise from fires and fighting down below.  Not wasting any time she fell into the opening, rifle coming to bear.  The at the first landing impeded any further movement downward, so she instead decided to follow the trail of destruction.  A few moments brought her to the wreck of the first variable fighter.  She grimaced at the sight of the headless and limbless mecha.  Blinking, she felt the warmth still radiating faintly from the cockpit.  The 'pilot' was still alive, and in excruciating agony.  Meg bit her bottom lip.  This was horrendous.  The thing within was writing, still striving to get up and get after Kell.  So much so that Meg felt he or she hadn't even recognized her presence.  It was... feral.  It knew pain and it knew it had to stop whatever was hurting it.

 

Anger turned to sympathy.  Meg placed her mecha's open hand over the armored cockpit.  "Shhhh....  Its over."  Blue white plasma coated the cockpit and burned through the back of the VF-11 in a second.  The rage stopped in front of her.

 

Bastards.  Meg thought.  Human weapons.  To think they would do this again!  Will they never learn?

 

Megadami refocused on the environment around her.  The facility was something of a labyrinth, cross paths and corridors leading laterally across the entire grounds.  There were four elevator shafts, she remembered, giving access to all but the final level.  There were berths for each one of these monstrosities at various stages of development spread all over the grounds.  From the looks of it Kell had dealt with the early defender rather swiftly.  Hopefully that was all there was to this floor.

 

Movement on the far side of the hallway proved Meg wrong.  Blast doors parted to admit two of the Minotaurs onto her floor.  Bedecked in heavy armor, the first one sported a beam adaptor on his rifle.  Not wasting time he thrust the barrel towards Meg's chest and pulled the trigger.  A lesser pilot would have been speared and vaporized by the blast.  A lesser machine wouldn't have been able to respond as quickly as needed.  Fortunately, the NUSA had put together a fine variable fighter and the Committee had known what they were doing with the Project.  Meg rolled forward and out of the way, the beam passing harmlessly overhead to drill through the back wall.  Meg brought her own weapon to bear, but hesitated in pulling the trigger.  Normally in a fight Megadmi could distinguish the living pilots from the dead machines they piloted by the living energy field they projected.

 

There was no distinction between the pilot and the mecha.  The entire thing radiated, however thinly, a life presence.

 

The second mecha launched two missiles at Meg, snapping her from her revelation.  Again, she hopped out of the way.  Surprise now spent Meg leveled her rifle and barked three Hi-Vee rounds downrange.  The first caught the beam rifle, causing it to snap in two in the Minotaur's hands.  The next two took the heads off of both mecha.  She read the panicked need to charge in the lead mecha even as it reversed its grip on the rifle and swung it at her like a club.  Ducking the clumsy blow she came back around with a PPB enhanced punch, cracking the armor plating over the chest micromissile launcher.  Kicking the machine back into his partner Meg dumped both back into the doorway.  Her twin head lasers came to bear over the rent in the weapons bay and lanced into the waiting missiles there.  Chain reactions ripped the abomination apart, subsidiary explosions washing over his partner.  Meg stepped up to deliver the coup-de-grace when fire blossomed around the remaining opponent.  Slipping free of its heavy armor the living valkyrie swatted aside her rifle and lunged for her optics.  Damn.  Sloppy!

 

Meg brought the rifle back around to ward off the attack.  She moved in to the attack and hooked her arm under the opposite shoulder of her target.  Popping Phoenix's hips upward she tossed the Minotaur away.  It landed hard, the impact enough to shake a normal pilot.  However, the living valkyrie got back to its feet almost immediately, bring a sigh of frustration out of Meg.  It reached down and threw some of the debris from Kell's earlier engagement at Meg.  Batting the masonry aside with her shield, Meg cycled her gunpod magazine onto the heavy penetrating rounds.  The enemy valkyrie reared up with a large I-beam brandished two handed like some barbarian of old, only to drop like a puppet with its strings cut as Meg's round landed dead center, passed through the pilot's compartment, and then through the 'pilot' itself.  She approached the corpse and prodded it with one metal shod foot, making sure it was truly dead.

 

I'm wasting time!  Meg's mind shifted, expanded to view the entire complex.  Six more of the guardians were coming up to her floor.  Two floors down she felt Kell.  He was closing on the final section.  That was a problem, if she didn't hurry.

 

Not wanting to battle through any more of the grim golem mecha Meg snapped back to the room and focused her emotions.  Power rippled up into Phoenix's open fist again, and she thrust it downwards.  Plasma cut its way through two floors of brick and steel, creating a clean passage about two hundred feet from where Kell was.  Hoping that the IFF code she was broadcasting worked, Meg dropped through the floors.  "Friendly coming down!"



#8
Ryu Connor

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The third floor of the facility posed a greater risk than the rest of the facility.  This floor was dedicated to the processing power of the lab as a whole.  The design of this floor was radically different than the others.  The other floors allowed for the greater height of Valkyries through their expanse.  This was as much a concession to the great machines used to hollow out this facility into the earth as it was to support the size of multi-level pillar labs that dotted the landscape of each floor.  Here though a different decision was made.

 

The third floor lobby allowed for great machines such as his Excalibur to enter, but at that point the ceiling of alloy narrowed to only allow vehicles and people to pass into the remainder of the level.  What he would find beyond the security gates of the roads before him were modular datacenters.  This choice was most likely twofold.  It allowed them the ability to truck in a datacenter for specific research projects and upon completion or closure of that project truck that datacenter back out.  The data retained within could now return home for some future use or even for the purpose of proper sanitization.  This design choice also represented a considerable expense reduction for what already represented a significant expense into a government research and development project.  The future had not changed the reality that government projects were not as efficient as their private sector counterparts.  Customizing this floor into a proper datacenter that would have supported the numerous cooling and power requirements would have increased the cost of this facility substantially.  Nor would have such an investment into a proper facility addressed the need for portability to remove the retired projects.

 

This facility as a whole might have seemed a modern marvel sixty years ago.  Today it was merely quaint.  Modern access to a galaxy full of materials, engineering and architectural advancements that allow giant cities traverse the heavens, had made difficult construction like this facility easier and cheaper than any time in human history.  A society that had conquered FTL and the stars themselves was no longer daunted by the non-trivial task of building into the ground.

 

The Excalibur shifted into gerwalk and the nose angled 45 degrees to the ground.  The cockpit raised up revealing a pilot rummaging behind the seat pulling out a large satchel and a carbine rifle.  Kell shouldered the satchel and then rifle.  He slapped in a magazine and pulled the bolt.  He checked the safety before releasing his rifle and removed his flight helmet, revealing his matted golden locks.  He dropped that into the back as he took out an infantry helmet with night vision goggles gracing the front on a lever to raise them up and down.  The battery power of this facility was going to expire momentarily.  He needed to be prepared for that outcome.  His final task involved checking the light attached to the rail interface on his rifle before attaching his last accessory to the muzzle, the sound suppressor.

 

He hopped out of the Excalibur, pressed a button on a small remote mounted by Velcro to his hip to begin closing the cockpit, pulled up his gun by the grip and forward grip into a defensive position, and disabled the safety.  As he made his way toward the security gate the battery power finally failed draping the facility into darkness.  All that remained now was a secondary battery system that powered dim LED guide lights used to help people to the manual emergency exits.  In this case the light would be a boon for Kell’s night vision equipment.  If he got into too dark a spot he’d have to rely upon the rifle mounted light.  Kell pulled his hands from the forward grip, snapped down the night vision goggles, and proceeded through security and into the central hall.

 

As he reached the first modular datacenter he swung along the left side of the unit until reaching the center and dropping down onto a knee as he scanned left to right.  He had no reason to believe that any staff had remained behind after the emergency situation he created, but he wasn’t about to assume anything.  The defeat of the armored VF-11 upstairs may even been the very last defender, but he wasn’t about to assume that either.  Something else was operating the remaining undamaged elevator lifts.  Thankfully those lifts were now inoperable with the primary battery power drained, but if there were Valkyries within them, that would hardly stop them from transitioning floors.

 

His Excalibur really wasn’t in the safest of positions, but this had to be done.  Given what had happened so far the confirmed enemy sightings – in other words him – had been above ground and on the first floor.  The active stealth systems of the Excalibur should have further masked his current location and with the Valkyrie powered down it should be even harder.  With him no longer on the first floor it stood to reason that protocol would call for resuming protection of the labs themselves and thus skipping this location that wasn’t even accessible to Valkyrie defenders.  It was uncharacteristic for someone who showed up in a Valkyrie to exit it, he hoped they’d continue to follow that reasoning.

 

If he did lose the Excalibur he had a contingency, he would use the manual evacuation path and make his way to the extraction point.  Destroying both the data center on three and the project facilities on eight were the ideal outcome, but destruction of the research data alone here on three would represent a significant setback.  It could be considered a win, albeit an expensive one with the loss of an AVF.

 

He used the rifle strap to hold and set his rifle aside while he dug into his satchel and slipped out an explosive charge.  He attached the bomb to the side of the container and set the counter to thirty minutes.  One down, seven to go.



#9
Vertigo

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Meg came down with both her Battroid's feet flat.  At the same moment the lights finally gave out, accentuating the effect of her landing.  The loss of lighting barely affected the advanced sensors of the valkyrie.  However, the humor of the universe was still working at full power. 

 

"Oh, damn it....."

 

While she had managed to land near the entrance to the third floor she had totally forgotten that this floor had been compartmentalized for individual research projects.  Normally large enough to accommodate variable fighters it now could barely fit them rolled along in fighter mode.  Meg brought up her data assistant.  "Defensive mode.  Stay here, watch the door.  Shoot anything not me, him, or his ride."  The rabbit produced several wooden signs with exaggerated images of guns, lasers, and missiles.  "Yes, anything.  Whatever it takes."

 

The variable fighter lowered itself on its haunches, extending one hand to the cockpit hatch as Meg released her restraints.  Grabbing a Y-harness from behind her seat she hooked it into her belt and stepped out on to the waiting hand.  Phoenix let her down gently as Meg drew the slide on her SIG 226.  The pistol was more for show than anything else, as was the Steyr TMP Mk III held on sling to her back.  She didn't really know how Kell would react if she started throwing lances of plasma around.  Not well was the term that came to mind.  She donned a starlight visor, the world going into shades of green as it took what ambient radiation was left in the environment and turned it into a visible medium.  She might be able to sense spiritia, but right now the only thing producing that on this level was Kell.  Wouldn't be seemly to trip over some lab jockey's desk in the dark.

 

Approaching the entrance she saw the Excaliber's foot in the opening of the main door.  Edging around it she observed the mess the evacuation had caused.  They must have panicked.  Good.  Sliding past another one of the containers Meg found her target setting another charge.  Coughing to draw his attention, she tightened her grip on the pistol and brought it level with Kell's back.  "Please tell me those are set for more than thirty minutes."



#10
Ryu Connor

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Kell kept his hands on the charge.  He turned his head so he see her through the night vision.

 

“Just hit fifteen seconds and counting and it takes a pin code to disarm.  Your move, but I wouldn’t take long to decide.”



#11
Vertigo

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Fearless and inventive, I believe the line goes...

 

Meg flicked the safety and dropped the Sig to the ground by her feet, kicking it away from both her and Kell.  "Punch it in quickly" she said as she took a step back, focusing herself in the event that she would need to project a field to save her from a serious amount of falling masonry.



#12
Ryu Connor

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Kell grabbed the grip of his rifle and aimed it toward her. He kept his eyes on her as his fingers rolled over the pin, eliciting a beep after several pressed keys, and then one more as he hit a final key. The bomb timer reset and synched with the other presently armed bombs in the facility.

He raised up from his knee while watching her, triggered the light attached to his barrel, and shined the light into her face. He moved his free hand into the satchel and pulled out another bomb, keying a code in with his thumb.

He backed his body up along the outer edge of the container and tossed the armed bomb he was holding in his hand toward her. He proceed to roll out of sight behind the container and into a full run.



#13
Vertigo

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Enhanced body or no, when someone points a flashlight at your while you are wearing light amplification gear it tends to be unpleasant.  Meg's world went a blinding white as the visor soaked in the beams light.  Using the natural instinct to rear back Meg went into a handstand kick over and pushed back behind a station even as she tried to blink the world back into focus.  Reaching out with other senses she located Kell's aura.  He was making a break for it.  Probably to get a better position.

 

The next thing she heard was the metal casing of the bomb plinking against the metal frame of the lab station she had taken cover behind.

 

"Oh, fucking A...."

 

Emotional control was key concept to the Project.  One had to control fight or flight, lest it overwhelm and pervert action.  It wasn't that Meg was afraid of a bomb of that size.  She could easily deflect a blast of much greater magnitude.  But that would be revealing a secret way too soon.  Enhanced reaction and perception kicked in, bringing the world and the surroundings into a sort of 3D tactical plot within her head.  In less than a second she had scooped the bomb, pivoted, and aimed.  Muscle cords tightened and the bomb took off far faster than a normal human should have been able to throw.  It flew right into one of the open containers and hit hard enough to embed itself into the back wall with a thunderous clang.  The impact actually rocked the container back, causing the open doors to slam shut.  A few seconds passed, then the bomb exploded, blowing the container apart like a cardboard box.  Debris rained all around, a single slab falling short of Meg's position.

 

She reacquired Kell's position, reassuring herself that he was still alive.  Interesting.  Let's see how good he really is.

 

"Nice try!" She yelled out as she slid the Steyr forward and racked the bolt.  "Game on!"

 

With that Meg reached down, grabbed the slab, and hurled it towards Kell's general location, but aimed to fall far short.  She did make sure, however, that it cleared the height of two of the containers, if he was paying attention to details like that.  She tabbed the visor to auto-compensate for the flashlight, in case he tried that stunt again, then ducked back up the row of consoles, heading for the next row of containers parallel to Kell.  She wasn't going to kill him.  Maybe wound him some place not vital or incapacitating.  But she would have fun with him.  She had time for that.



#14
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The third floor objective was now compromised.  Best he could hope for was the crates he’d already armed would destroy enough of the data to impede re-creation.  He slipped between a series of crates, his back pressing flush up against the cold metal.  He toggled the flashlight off and pulled one of the few remaining bombs from the satchel and began manipulating the interface.  He had wanted a delayed timing, but at this point any remaining defenders in the adjoining floors will be coming.  They might not be able to walk into here, but they could trash his Excalibur and start collapsing the ceiling.  Being buried alive was not on the agenda.

 

The sharp reverberating ring of metal filled the area as the large fragment of metal Meg threw hit the ground nearby.  It was too long after the explosion to have been propelled by the explosion itself.  Either there was some larger coincidence of events from the explosion or he might have discovered one of the projects in this place.  Genetically engineered warriors from an ancient empire, willpower draining inter-dimensional demons, rogue AIs, cyborgs, and aliens so old they embody Clarke’s third law.  After seeing all that what’s surprising by the appearance of a lithe magical girl?

 

He slapped the bomb onto the container he was leaning against and pressed a key confirming the changes he’d been idly entering as he worked through his thoughts.  Silence was no longer a goal, so might as well get things popping.  Another explosion sounded as the crate she appeared at detonated.

 

He used the noise and fire to mask his next move as his he crossed through the collection of crates toward the six parked vehicles used by the maintenance staff.  He slipped one his remaining two bombs from the satchel, mashed the keys with his thumb and idly tossed the bomb into the center of the mass of vehicles.  He hopped into one of trucks and pulled the remaining bomb, keyed it and then tossed it into the back.  He pressed the starter and another explosion sounded.  He floored it, only make it a few feet before two bombs triggered in a staggered succession.  He slipped onto one of the delivery roads and set the cruise control.

 

One bomb used on the enemy, one detonated on the last crate, and then two that just triggered.  Four more should start their staggered chain any second now and then he had five more seconds until the bomb with the vehicles exploded.  Once the last explosive triggered he'd have five seconds left to escape this vehicle.  It was a narrow window, but it gave him a small amount of leeway and with luck the truck blowing up the security gate would bring down the area and seal it off.



#15
Vertigo

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Meg rolled to her feet, finishing the somersault the exploding canister had forced her into.  Squealing tires brought her attention around as Kell rounded the corner towards the service road.  Explosion rocked the motor pool as he gunned away from her.

 

"Eric never mentioned he was the mad bomber type.  I thought this guy was supposed to have style."

 

Catching him, while technically possible, would burn a lot of energy.  Considering she didn't have a five course dinner to offset the energy she'd already expended, nor was there anyone around she was willing to drain to similarly compensate, Meg shrugged.  Retrieving her Sig, she jogged around the flames to see Kell's tail lights far down the corridor.  "Well, this should make it interesting for him."

 

The pistol barked once, and a bullet bounced off the rear bumper with a rather loud metallic clang.  The second shot purposefully went wide left of the driver's side, hitting the gate far down the corridor.  The third bullet zipped overhead, and the fourth took out the passenger side mirror.  The fifth passed over his right shoulder by an inch to crack the wind shield, just to let him know she was there.  Finally settling on her true target Meg stoked the trigger and sent a round into the left rear tire, blowing it out into fragments.  The truck fell on its haunch as metal met concrete flooring and sent sparks flying.

 

Meg was dimly aware of the creaking of the ceiling around her as she watched Kell handle the truck.  Let's see if he can still pull it off with that handicap.  Falling back, she keyed her wireless to the Phoenix.  "He'll be coming through in a minute or two.  Take the fighter up a level and wait for my signal."

 

Amidst the debris and falling masonry Meg laughed to herself.  "Well, at least it is turning out to be a fun day."



#16
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Kell was mildly pleased to discover that the truck lacked an ABS as he worked the steering wheel, gear shifter, and brakes of the vehicle around to compensate for the blown tire.  Inertia was a fascinating thing and in this instance it even did him a small favor.  The truck slipped from the spin into a slowing backwards roll as the air resistance and friction had burned his original momentum.  The back bumper met one of the security gates with a mild bump as Kell hopped from the truck and decided to return the favor of the bullet fire.  He feathered the trigger of the carbine as he backpedaled.  A semi-automatic thump followed each muffled shot as they flew down the road ways toward the last spot he’d seen the target.

 

As his body touched the back of the parking arm barrier, he twisted, hopped over the barrier and broke out into a full run.  He made it off the roadway and into the corner nook where the Excalibur parked right as the truck exploded decimating the security gates and compromising the ceiling, which caused the large metal security grate to slam down to the ground closing off the two areas.

 

Kell tapped the control on his belt as he made his way up the nose of the Valkyrie.  He slipped his combat helmet into his left hand as his right hand nestled the selector on the carbine back onto the safety.  He dropped the helmet back behind his seat, pulled the empty satchel bag, carbine, and their straps over his head and placed them in the back, and picked up his flight helmet and slipped it on.  He flipped the switch to start closing the cockpit as he pressed the ignition to wake the reactor back up.  The temporary flare of the engines before active stealth could activate would create an unfortunate blip.

 

This mission was getting more fucked up by the minute.  He wanted to gather his thoughts, but he didn’t really have time for that.  Working on instinct was his only choice.  He shifted to soldier and pushed open the elevator doors before leaping onto one of the pulley lines and started a one hand slide down the “rope” to the lower levels.



#17
Vertigo

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Meg regarded the large metal door sitting loose in its track baring her way.  Interesting that they had put something like this on what was nominal just a data center.  Must have been concerns about the test subjects getting loose and making their way up here.  Better to be locked in for days than open game for a half mad living machine.  She kicked a small piece of debris to the side.  Most of the local ceiling had collapsed and scattered the containers about.  It had been mildly annoying to waste good energy projecting a bubble to deflect the concrete chunks.  But it was necessary.

 

Meg waited, feeling Kell as he boarded his valkyrie and made his way down the elevator shaft.  She let him have enough of a start to be firmly out of the way before she focused herself.  Stretching out both arms she gestured at the door.  Blue white flame lanced out and cut its way cleanly through the metal.  Meg stepped through the hole gingerly.  She didn't really want to expend herself like this so early on.  She flicked her wireless on.  "Ok, you can come down now."

 

Silence greeted her.  Meg's sight traced up to the hole in the ceiling, expecting to see her remote controlled variable fighter coming down.  Instead, she had to dodge back as the bullet ridden corpse of one of the wired valkyries came tumbling down.  Seconds later another followed, Phoenix astride it and blazing away at the Minotaur's chest.  The two hit with a thunderous clap that caught Meg by surprise, dumping her on her rear.  The Minotaur got up first, but twin energy beams pumped through it as Phoenix got to its feet, its arms thrusting the smoldering wreck away.  A third VF landing behind the NUSA fighter and clubbed it down with a double hammer fist.  Shoulder cannons swiveled into place as it went for the kill.  A single bullet rang off the side of the VF's head, bringing its attention around and down on the little human standing defiantly in its path.

 

"Don't.  You.  Fucking. TOUCH HER!!!!"

 

Bring her focus to a point just in front of the Sig's barrel, Meg let loose with another shot.  This time, however, the bullet was encapsulated in a sheath of blue white expanding fire.  Hitting just below the neck of the battroid the plasma capsule exploded, annihilating the top half of the valkyrie.  The legs comically fell to the floor twitching.  Battle senses expanding once again, Meg 'saw' through to the upper floor.  A veritable swarm of enemies was piling about, trying to flank the intruders.  More were activating below.

 

Hurrying over, Meg thumbed open the armored hatch to the cockpit, dumped her gear unceremoniously behind her seat, and sealed the hatch.  Reaching for a small compartment below her seat she retrieved an energy bar and a packet of water.  She tore into the bar with her off hand as she brought her mecha upright.  "Next time, missy, tell me when we have a swarm of insane robots coming, okay?"  Gulping down the bar between swigs of water Meg felt the exhaustion dull.  She was going to have to be more careful.  Threat warning indicators blared as several grenades rocketed down out of the hole at her.  Cursing, Meg brought Phoenix's PPB between her and the explosions.  The VF ready a 15 percent decrease in efficiency as the explosions subsided.

 

Two more armored Thunderbolts landed, with a third VF, this time a Nightmare, backing up the pair.  "I am not in the mood for this, boys"  Meg said, cycling the last Hi-AP round into the chamber and thrusting her gunpod forward. 

 

The armored duo charged, energy beams lancing at Meg's fighter as she dodged between them.  She spun, clubbing the left side 'Bolt with the butt of her rifle.  Continuing the motion she lined up with the other 'Bolt and let loose.  The round sped into the shoulder assembly, totally ignoring the reactive armor, and severed the port side arm.  Her gunpod empty, Meg flipped it end for end and wielded it like a baseball bat, swinging for the fences.  She connected with the 'Bolts other shoulder and smashed the beam assembly into splinters, along with her rifle.  She bent backwards even as the Nightmare pointed both its arms at her and let loose with its lasers.  Flipping backward she sprang backwards feet first into the undamaged Thud, slamming him against the lobby's wall.  More tiles and ceiling debris rained down from the jarring impact.  Not giving her attackers and instant Meg righted Phoenix and pushed back again, this time slamming the bulky VF with her back.  Her intuition had been right: the VF staggered like a punch drunk boxer.  She reached overhead as she ducked down, grabbing the enemy VF by its face and shoulder.  Pulling with all her AVF's might she hoisted the machine over her shoulder in time to turn it into a shield from the combined beam and missile attack by its two compatriots.  The mecha wrenched itself apart under the impacts, little left of it before the other two stopped firing.  Taking what little fragments were left in her hands Meg hefted them at the other armored 'Bolt.  It fell backwards towards the elevator shaft.  Again, not missing an opening Meg pounced on the Nightmare, easily parrying aside its counter laser blasts with her PPB.  She twisted in mid air, coming forward with a double punch between her assailants outstretched arms.  Armor crumpled over the chest as the energy bleed over dissipated from her enhanced punch.

 

"Think you're bad, don't you?" Meg said over her PA, kicking the Nightmare over onto its back.  "Think you're the only secret out there?"  She brought the Phoenix's right leg high, the point of its foot pointed almost straight up.  "You don't even rate, buddy!"

 

Bringing the foot down in an axe kick she put a bit of herself behind it.  The stamp completely crushed the Nightmare's torso, its limbs spinning off to ricochet around the room, the left arm coming to rest right at the foot of the damaged VF.  Meg spun.  No clever words, no taunt.  She launched herself into a shoulder rush with a bestial scream and drove her enemy into the side elevator.  Grappling with her, the Thunderbolt punched and swung at her with its only remaining arm.  It would almost be comical if her opponent hadn't been so massively outclassed.  On the third blow Meg snaked her left arm around the VF's right, locking it under her own valkyrie's armpit.  She swung horizontal across its face as they fell, hitting knuckles first and then reversing into a backhand, over and over again.  She was so locked in to the moment that she almost missed passing Kell in the adjacent shaft.

 

Realizing she was going to come to a very abrupt and possibly fatal stop, Meg kicked off from the Thunderbolt, back and leg thrusters flaring as she slowed, stopped, then started climbing back to the fifth floor landing.  Reaching the landing she triggered her hip and head lasers, blasting the doors open.  Getting a foothold, she stepped through the opening.

 

Sifting through the data her data assistant had turned up earlier, Meg keyed Kell's comm frequency.  "Hurry up, there's a whole lot more of those things coming down!  I need a new rifle and they've got an armory on this floor."



#18
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Kell did his best unintentional mimic of Spock, his left eyebrow raised upon receiving the unsolicited communication.  He didn’t have a great chance to meet the scrappy lady from the data center.  Only a few terse words had been exchanged before they had tried to kill one another.  She had demonstrated inhuman ability, an inhuman ability that rattled some old memories.

 

It was always possible they had simply gotten off on the wrong foot.  Of course if that was the case he was having trouble imaging a more screwed up meeting in his long career.  He couldn’t trust that to be the case at this point, it was too convenient of a trap and he had a mission to complete.  A mission made messier by her interference thus far.

 

He pried open the elevator doors for the eighth level and stepped through.



#19
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Meg waited.  And waited.  And for shits and giggles loaded another MC-17A with a beam adapter and strapped it to the Phoenix's back, giving her a pair plus the spare GU-15 she had found.  Either this was some profound payback Kell was playing or...

 

Meg extended her senses, zeroed in on the only other human sized spiritia source in the facility.  He was on the eighth floor.  "Oh, goddammit..."  She momentarily considered hefting the XS-06 laying on the floor but decided that would just be too impractical.

 

Going back to the elevator shaft she peered first down then up the shaft.  Another one of the VF-11 minotaur valkyries was headed her way, but two quick bursts took out all its main thrusters.  Physics took care of the rest as the machine hurtled past her to smash into the bottom of the shaft.  Confident no one else would disturb her she jetted out into the open space and quickly descended to the eighth floor.  Cross flow would take her to Kell's position and the final shaft leading to the "dungeon" levels of the facility.  Meg sifted through her mind.  The data on the final experiment had been incomplete but had indicated something biological in nature.  Given the nature of the Minotaurs so far she was expecting a living Konig Monster down there.  Or three.  Didn't matter, artillery machines of that nature always had the disadvantage in close quarters.  About the only thing she'd have to worry about is if one of them actually tried hand to hand with her PhoenixThat'd be just freaking hilarious.

 

Meg was so deep in her musings that she almost missed the enemy mass up at the cross elevator and empty out onto the floor.  Adrenaline overloaded and slowed the moment down, giving her time to react as a full quartet of VF-17 Minotaurs let loose with every beam cannon they had.  Meg erected a small barrier to deflect the two more vital beams as the Phoenix's own PPB blocked a third.  Evasive maneuvers spun her out of the way of the rest of the fire, though she did take a single blast to the right leg as she attained cover.  The computer updated the leg's condition to a mild yellow with no loss of functionality, though her little bunny assistant winced at the damage.  "I know, I know!  Keep you opinions to yourself!"

 

Two of the Minotaurs barreled around the corner and shouldered into Meg.  She took the charge head on, spinning the first Nightmare around in a counter throw and flowing into the second one.  It wrapped its arms around her mecha a pushed with every thruster it had on it.  Crashing into the wall the two sailed through.  Meg leveraged Phoenix's right leg into the Minotaur's waist and pushed up while pulling down on its shoulders.  The Nightmare flipped end for end as it went sailing down the corridor past Kell.  Looking up from her prone position, Meg said  "Oh, hey, you!  A little help, please?"  She pitched the GU-15 to him and then rolled onto her side to get her legs under here as the two covering Nightmares entered through the gaping hole in the wall.  It was a gamble.  She had given Kell a relatively fresh gun with no guarantee he wouldn't promptly empty it into her back over mistaken intentions.  Still, she hoped a combination of enemy of my enemy and let bygones be bygones might buy her a temporary reprieve.

 

Meg made a mental note to re-evaluate her reasons for doing these chores for Eric. 



#20
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Fate, ever the fickle mistress, would not give Meg the time to confirm her faith in Kell.  With a heave the flooring buckled and gave way, dragging everyone down into inky blackness.  One of the Minotaur valkyries tried jet itself out of the yawning abyss, but heavy debris smashed it from the air and rent in upon the ground below.  Two of the other Nightmares were similarly crushed under what remained of the previous floor, the fourth landing on top of the pile with Kell's Excalibur and Meg's Phoenix.  It took a while for the Phoenix to find a light level appropriate for the dungeon they know found themselves in.  Laser range finders made the room to be one massive structure easily a mile square supported by several hundred pillars of various widths.  The ground was broken and uneven, pools of waste and piles of wreckage strewn in every direction, like some abandoned play room.

 

It took Meg a second to realize that that image was exactly what this place was.

 

The last Minotaur Nightmare was flailing about, its sensor head jerking in every direction, a dull mechanical screech emanating from  mecha.  The first emotion to hit Meg was fear.  The man-machine was terrified to the point of irrational panic.  It was as if Meg and Kell had ceased to even register as threats in what passed for the thing's mind.  Every where it turned it jabbed its rifle at the darkness, expecting something to jump out at it.

 

A flicker of movement caught Meg's attention.  Something blurred by her fast even for her enhanced senses.  The Minotaur noticed it too and brought his gunpod around, a tongue of fire leaping forth and rounds proceeding downrange.  Some of them must have hit as Meg noticed the stream of slugs disrupted briefly, but whatever they had hit was barely phased.  The gunpod was smashed apart in the VF-17's hand, the remains smacking against a nearby column.  The Nightmare rocked back on its heels and fell over, its scream growing louder.  Meg was held in morbid fascination as a gigantic fleshy limb emerged into the light of the shaft above.  Five fingers, if they could be called that, purposefully merged into one large sickle of a claw and struck down with blinding speed.  The blow cleaved the back off of the Nightmare and speared its hip section, paralyzing the mecha.  The claw then broke apart back into its component digits and sagged down to envelope the Minotaur, whose keening had changed into the shriek of a dying animal.  The middle digit came to rest over the back of the mecha roughly where the cockpit would have been.  The other four each picked a limb.  With a quick scissoring motion arms and legs popped off.  The limbs inverted to spear the body of the Minotaur, lifting it off the ground.  Even as this happened, the main finger shifted and boiled, spreading out and splitting down the bottom.  A large proboscis emerged and stabbed into the Nightmare.  The wailing stopped as the mecha's head went rigid.  The proboscis emerged, carrying a dripping red mass of tissue and organs.  With a sickening slurp the fingers closed down on the mass and folded in, retreating back into the darkness.

 

"It ate him."  Meg blinked.  What with the experiment and all that had gone on during the War and in her travels, Meg had never expected to be so horrified or stunned in her life.  "It fucking ate him!"

 

The moment passed, and Meg's own instincts kicked in.  She raised her rifle and moved her shield into a defensive position, backing up to stand next to Kell.  Fumbling behind her shield, she produced a large vibroknife and handed towards the Excalibur.  "Here, you're going to need this."

 

As if to punctuate her words, a pseudopod wrapped thick chitinous fingers around one of the lit pillars and dragged an immense bulk forward.  The two pilots got their first good look at the monstrosity the colonials had kept hidden in the basement.  Its body flowed with a sickly grace, its mass easily twenty times their own.  Limbs seemed to form and disappear back into the central body as it brought itself up, looming over the two.  Armor slabs and assemblies could be seen merged into the flesh, the body of the Nightmare just so recently eaten flowing up the closest forearm.  A gruesome head composed of several valkyrie sensors regarded them with an electronic blink before a jaw extended and bellowed a bestial scream of insatiable hunger.

 

Meg reacted first, snapping a shot off with one of her purloined firearms.  The stream of rounds stitched into the closest arm.  Bits of meat blasted away before micro-tendrils flowed out of the body an snapped a mismatch collection of armor plates into the line of fire.  Another limb flew out from the body and wrapped itself around the gunpod, wrenching it from the Phoenix's grasp.  The limb retreated, the weapon absorbed into the body.  It quickly reappeared with several more gun barrels accompanying it.

 

"Oh, hell..."  Meg pushed Kell out of the line of fire as she dodged the other way.  The volley of fire annihilated the spot where they had been standing.  The protean monster bellowed again a followed after Meg, who converted to GERWALK and jetted off to the south eastern corner, tossing two missile behind her.  The explosions did little to dissuade the monster in its pursuit.

 

"Hey, Executioner!  Time to live up to that reputation of yours!"






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