Authors: Joseph Picard
Alisia kept her distance from the edge
of the dome and its gore-filled moat while she gave another quick
look around. Alisia broke radio silence. After all, Erebus must
know where they were by now.
One bomb, please.
Anywhere.” She transmitted, then shut her comm down.
A few moments passed, and a sonic boom
cracked in the sky.
A few moments later, the tightpulse
made a sudden, short, loud, deep hum. At the same time, the little
wooden toy flipped over.
An explosion was heard some distance
away. Then everything was silent, except for the toy. The steel
ball had been flipped to the top, and it clacked its way down the
little slides. When the ball reached the end a second or two later,
it struck a little button that Alisia had not previously noticed.
An identical button sat on the other end of the toy.
Alright. That explains a
little.” Alisia said.
Regan tilted her head.
Well, Erebus has to shut
down all his nanites before the pulse, or they get fried. Problem
is, he’s just a program now too... he has to shut himself down
too.. So how does he start up again?”
Um.. some kind of
Yeah, fine, but any kind of
electronic timer would get fried too.. remember my
So.. he’s using the time it
takes that ball to fall down....?”
To hit his restart button.
Let’s take his toy.”
Chapter 64: One Shot
Regan looked at the bloody trench
around the dome’s perimeter. “We can jump that.” Alisia nodded at
Regan, and they began running towards the gap. Almost immediately,
the moat of gore began to move. “Aw hell!” They stopped a couple
meters before the gap, and backed off.
The moat of gore rose up inside the
dome frame, filtering the sunlight into a sickly dark red shadow.
It seemed at first that it was trying to coat the inside of the
dome, but soon structure began to emerge. Pieces came out, riding
the bloody ooze; smaller bones forming larger structures... ribs,
Are... are those wings?”
Alisia asked. They were. From the far end of the moat, as most of a
body assembled closer by, two large bony wings assembled. Between
these supports spanned translucent sheets of leather, human skin,
dripping blood on the floor below. The combined wingspan was around
half the diameter of the dome.
Dammit, let’s not just
watch, spread out and shred it!” Alisa broke left, Regan right,
firing into the forming musculature that was growing around the
huge skeletal structure. Firing near-constant streams as they
moved, some of the rounds ricocheted off the supports of the
A horned skull the size of a small car
assembled from bone pieces still being supplied by the flowing
gore. No questioning now, it was a dragon. Bone and muscle but no
skin except for the thin, translucent, flowing layer of blood,
which still streamed from the moat. Alisia yelled over to Regan.
“That idiot! Making a flying monster inside a giant
Are the bullets doing any
good here?” Regan yelled back. The flow of gore which coated it
seemed to be very good at quickly repairing damage. Bits that fell
off onto the ground just crawled like a worm back to the moat to be
fed back to the beast’s supply.
WHO DARES DISTURB MY
SLUMBER!?” The dragon’s voice was a distorted version of Erebus,
being piped out through a speaker in the dragon’s skull.
Idiot!” Regan yelled,
redirecting her fire to the skull, smashing off some sections.
Regan’s rage wasn’t terribly productive. The pieces that broke off
were already flowing back into place, but Alisia saw this as a good
enough distraction. The two of them had traveled far enough apart
that the dragon Erebus’ focus would be away from her if Regan kept
Alisia jumped the moat and started
running towards the tightpulse and its reset toy. A piece of
indistinguishable gore that had fallen from the dragon grabbed onto
her ankle, causing her to trip.
Alisia suddenly found herself flat on
the ground, in front of one of the partially completed Erikas,
staring into its dead eyes. This close, she could see that it was
moving it’s lips a little, as if talking to itself silently.
Choking down a wave of panic, she checked her own leg. The gore
blob had moved on. Its senseless programming had already realized
that hanging onto Alisia was taking it the opposite direction from
its destination moat. Alisia jumped to her feet and got running
Regan was fairly close to the dome.
Erebus could potentially reach her, but Regan was using the dome’s
supports as obstacles to the Erebus dragon’s grasping claws.
“Fucking moron!” She yelled while quickly swapping yet another clip
of ammo. Erebus was getting a little frustrated. The skull aimed
itself at Regan and opened its mouth enough to reveal a metal
nozzle with a little blue flame in front of it. “Oh, BULLshit!”
Regan quickly ducked behind one of the dome’s supports in time to
shield herself from a flood of ‘dragon breath’.
Alisia only saw fire where she knew
Regan had been. “Regan!” Erebus turned around to look at Alisia.
Safe for a moment, Regan peeked out and waved at Alisia. Alisia
turned on her comm just long enough to yell into it; “Bombs! Now!
Erebus cursed himself. He’d been
following the wrong target, and to make things worse, his fire
breath gimmick didn’t turn out to be such a good idea. Sure, it
looked great, but he had accidentally cooked five meters worth of
the moat, and the nanites in it. Time to go take care of that
redhead. He pushed himself off with his back legs and soared across
to Alisia, grabbing her easily in his front claw as he
An all-too familiar sonic boom cracked
overhead.. and another, and another. Dammit. He squeezed Alisia
tightly before having to shut down for the pulse.
Alisia groaned as the large bony
fingers seemed to want to crush her, but before Regan could scream
her name, the grip relaxed, the hand starting to ‘melt’. Below her
somewhere, she heard the toy attached to the tightpulse flip over
and the low sound of the pulse firing as the ball knocked its way
down the slides. That damned toy was so close, yet so
The ball hit the bottom and the grip
strengthened again as Erebus regained consciousness. Air being
squeezed out of her, Alisia called out to Regan as more sonic booms
fired overhead. “Can you get it??” Fire began to flood towards her
face and stopped just short, the grip relaxing again. Wondering if
she had any eyebrows left, Alisia heard the tightpulse fire again.
She tried to get free in the few seconds she had, but the lifeless
grip was still very stiff.
She got a foot up to try to push a bony
finger away as the grip began tightening again. She heard a single
shot being fired. The flame thrower in Erebus mouth warmed up once
more as sonic booms cried out again.
Goodbye Jonathan!” Regan’s
voice came melodic and gleeful.
Before he had to shut down again to
protect himself from the tightpulse, Erebus turned his head to look
at Regan. She was just standing there, smiling, hands behind her
back, holding her P90. Crazy bitch. Erebus’ world grew black
Alisia felt the grip go loose, and some
distance away, Regan’s laughter could be heard. Alisia stopped
struggling, realizing that the time had come and gone for Erebus to
reawaken. The dragon continued to melt, setting a cautious Alisia
down on her feet gently. The bony hand came apart around
Regan dropped her P90 and ran madly to
Alisia. They threw their arms around each other, Regan ecstatic,
Alisia confused, until she looked over to the tightpulse. The toy
was shattered from Regan’s shot, the steel ball missing, having
He’s gone! He’s dead and
he’s gone!” Regan said, still giggling with adrenaline. Without the
tightpuse being triggered repeatedly by Erebus, missiles were now
impacting various parts of the city.
Alisia gently pushed Regan away. “He’s
asleep.” She walked the few steps over to the remains of the toy
and the tightpulse control panel. She knelt down and bashed off
Erebus’ attachment with the butt of her rifle, exposing the manual
trigger. Keeping a hand on it, she reached over to the reset button
in the broken toy. Hitting the reset, the dragon’s body began to
twitch to life. Regan ran for her P90. “What the hell are you
Alisia fired the tightpulse, with its
short, deep blast. The rising dragon pieces fell again, this time
with a faint smoke rising from it, and from the gore trench. With a
momentary lapse in the bombing sounds, nanites and servers all over
Now he’s gone. Now he’s
Alisia relaxed and sat against the side
of the tightpulse, holding an arm out to Regan. Regan flew to her
side, and held Alisia as tight as she could. Regan was a fountain
of emotions. Thrill of victory, remembrance of her brother, the joy
of having Alisia. Her giggles melted into tears. Alisia was
profoundly tired, and just squeezed Regan back for a moment. She
then turned on her comm and Vtag. “Okay boys, enough with the
bombing. It’s over. Kris, come get us.” Confirmations came back and
the bombing ceased. They waited silently in the surrounding quiet,
which had gone from eerie to peaceful. They held each
How about we go
Chapter 65: Ashes and Sand
It had rained in the Yute desert since
the second fall of Autar.
The ruins had been charred dust for
some time, but the rain had caked the ash in most places. Their
boots disturbed the surface, occasionally kicking up a little ash
that was sucked away by the wind, down the streets to find the
Alisia followed a few paces behind
Regan, who wandered around trying to see the city that had been her
home for so long. The streets were easy to make out, although
wreckage blocked them in several places. Walking more than a block
meant getting your hands dirty, climbing over some barricade of
toppled, burnt buildings.
They made it to an intersection and
Regan stood on the hood of a burnt out car. She gazed down one
direction, then another. Alisia looked up at her and wondered if
Regan was remembering the Autar before the first fall, full of
people, or was it the fallen Autar, the one she had to herself for
so long? Maybe she was just trying to see a memory of her
Alisia sat on the hood of the car and
latched onto Regan’s calf lazily, sympathetically. Regan looked
down and put her hand on Alisia’s head, her somber expression
gently melting into a smile. “Alright. I’m done here. We can leave
A little over a month later, the AZU-1
airlimb set down on a familiar sandy shore, this time next to a
civilian class aircraft parked not too far from a large, newly
built beach house connected to a large new pier.
Coming?” Parker asked Kris,
who was making herself comfortable in the ops room of the
Kris casually looked at him with a wry
smile, and politely declined. “Nah, I’ll wait.”
Parker paused, but decided not to fight
it. “Kay.” He hopped out of the airlimb bay door and started
walking towards the house. After four steps, he stopped and decided
his boots weren’t needed for this mission. He plunked down, and
took his boots and socks off, tossing them back into the airlimb
before continuing barefoot in the sand. He neared the pier and
looked down it. He saw a figure sitting at the end that he barely
recognized. She looked so civilian that if it weren’t for her
unmistakable red hair, he might have thought her to be a stranger.
He walked down the pier to greet her.
Alisia didn’t stand, but turned around
with a smile, her hands sorting out a tackle kit. A fishing rod sat
nearby. “Parker! Hey kiddo! They let you out!”
Parker chuckled, “Yeah, I’m going back
on duty soon. Not sure where, or doing what though. We managed to
work a detour in to say hi.” He smirked, and glanced out across the
sea. “Retirement seems to be treating you pretty well, Major.” He
sat next to her on the pier.
Pretty damn nice, actually.
And make it ‘Alisia’. No Majors here anymore. Kris
She stayed in the ‘limb.
She’s... still got issues with Regan I think, I dunno.”
Alisia rolled her eyes in the relief
that she didn’t have to deal with it. “So, uh, you and
Yeah. We’re gonna give it a
try, anyway. It’s been a bit more... normal between us since I got
Er, sorry again ‘bout
Pfft. No biggie. It was
that or watch Erebus use me like a meat puppet to kill you, so,
hey! Worked out OK. I guess Regan’s broke now, huh? That house over
there sure went up fast, and the new plane...”
Oh lord no. She’s friggin
loaded. I thought she just took wads of cash out of Autar. It was
all these stocks and bonds and stuff!”
Oh I get it now!” Parker
joked, “You’re all about the bling bling! Some girly comes along
with a couple zillion bucks, and suddenly you’re all ‘oh, yes, I’m