Elsie ducked as the fighters shot by overhead, wings extended and engines pulled together into an aerodynamic position for atmospheric flight, the turrets under their noses chattering away at the Barlon Technologies corporate headquarters with lasers and flechettes at maximum rate. A point defense battery returned fire, sending a volley of exploding shells into the air around the fighter and forcing it to break off with its shields badly depleted. Then another fighter shot around the building, its gravity-based engines leaving a trail of tormented air behind it, and turned to line up with the point defense battery, its twin graviton cannons powering up.
Elsie glanced up as the air started to curl around the graviton emissions ports, the cannons twisting gravity to their own devices, and grabbed Ben by the nape of the neck before pulling him off the bench and jumping behind a small landscaping wall. He hit the grass and she landed on top of him, bracing with her limbs to make sure she didn’t hurt him, as the fighter’s cannons finally let loose their gravitic fury. In space, the cannons were those old fighter’s ultimate weapons that could destroy other fighters in a single shot, but in the grand scheme of things their power was minimal. In atmosphere on the other hand, even a Great War era fighter-class graviton cannon was as powerful as any assault weapon ever devised and it felt like it.
Elsie felt the very ground around her tremble as gravity twisted and folded in upon itself, and then it ended as the sound of the explosion washed over her. Debris rained down on her for several seconds, burning holes in her black outfit and scorching the equally black armor underneath, before she looked up over the landscaping to see the smoke rising from the landing where a point defense battery had been.
“Thanks,” Ben whispered with a pleased smile as she stood back up, careful not to step on him. Did males never get their minds away from that?
“What else should we think about?” he asked and she blinked. How had he read that? Psionics weren’t supposed to be able to read AIs. “Your organic datacore. Sometimes I catch feelings off it,” he answered her confusion with a smile.
“Read this,” she responded with an annoyed thought that told him exactly what he could do with himself. How come he’d never told her before? He was such a louse. Then she turned to take in the rest of the building’s outer grounds as he chuckled behind her. The ten story tall pyramid had landings at every other floor on the way up where the point defense batteries could roll out and be fired. And of course where guards could walk out and join in the fire.
Another fighter shot overhead, raining fire down on the green slopes surrounding the headquarters as guards caught out in the open fired back while running towards the landscaping walls that could double as foxholes. But AI parts still scattered in every direction as lasers and flechettes designed to damage fighters shredded the trees, shrubs, landscaping, and any AI unlucky enough to be in the way into little tiny pieces. The ground rumbled below her as another fighter hit the opposite side of the building with a graviton blast and Elsie winced.
Then, one after another, AIs up on the landings started exploding as she winced again. Nova was on the warpath now, doing what she did best. Sniping. It was getting dangerous for AIs under Barlon employment.
Power reserves at 48%
Jamming field disengaged
Absorption field disengaged
Wrist emitters disengaged
Personality subroutines disengaged
Absorption field emitters at 50% functionality
Damage control nannites operating at maximum capacity
Power reserves at 47%
Vanessa vaulted around the corner as the constant status reports droned on through her processors while the building rumbled around her. A quick scan to either side as her legs flexed and pushed her off the far wall noted no guards at this intersection and she nodded curtly to Jack before turning simply and walking down the corridor with an energy-conserving gait. She turned as she reached the end of the corridor and looked at the light fixture, before grabbing it and pulling down. The wall beside her swung open and she walked in quickly, scanning the straight tunnel as Jack followed.
Power reserves at 46%
Damage control nannites operating at maximum capacity
Onboard generation capabilities cannot maintain energy levels
Alternative power generation required
The wall closed abruptly, leaving them in pitch darkness but Vanessa’s optics could see well outside the “visual” range of light and the new corridor blazed with electromagnetic light. She turned abruptly to Jack as she pulled the glove off her left hand and extended it to him. She noted the confused look on his face as his contacts, also designed for no-light situations, relayed her action to his eyes.
“Hold my hand,” she noted coldly. “I have need of the electromagnetic energies your body generates.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked nervously, but gave her his hand.
“My power reserves have dropped below acceptable levels,” Vanessa noted as she grasped his hand firmly and began walking down the corridor.
“From two battles?” Jack asked incredulously.
“I am designed for undercover operations,” Vanessa responded, her voice devoid of emotion. “My energy reserves are not equal to that of combat AIs as such levels would be easily picked up by security scanners.”
“Then why use those energy blasters? Why not use something that uses less energy?”
“An autocannon in my arm would be simple to detect as a weapon. My wrist emitters are not. My design necessitates problems in prolonged combat that an avatar designed for it does not encounter,” Vanessa continued as she walked down the corridor, Jack in tow.
“So what’s your situation?” the Terran asked nervously.
“Engaging in combat operations at this time would be inadvisable,” Vanessa noted simply as she finally came to a stop at the end of the corridor.
Armor at 65% functionality
Absorption field at 54% functionality
Damage control nannites operating at maximum capacity
Power reserves at 45%
“I need to rest now,” Vanessa continued as she sat down before the end of the corridor, pulling Jack down with her. He sat down awkwardly, and then relaxed like normal, finally accepting the current situation as another rumble ran through the building. “Lie down,” she added in a business-like tone and he blinked at her for a moment before following her orders. After he was down, she took off her other glove, lay down on top of him, and tucked her head under his chin and as she grabbed both of his hands tightly.
“It’s not often I get to lay down in the dark with a beautiful woman,” he noted casually, enjoying the feel of her curves against him.
“I am no woman,” Vanessa returned in a business-like tone, her breath warming the skin of his neck in ways that most definitely got his attention. “I need time to complete repairs to minimum acceptable levels. I have no other motives for this.”
“You know, I’m betting that armor tends to slow down this energy transfer of yours,” he began casually, “have you thought about-“
“Yes. Energy expenditure compared to conversion is not favorable in the time allotted.”
“And that time is?” Jack asked.
“One minute, five point seven eight three nine seconds before we must leave or the risk of being captured reaches unacceptable levels.”
“I see,” Jack whispered calmly. “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s with the cold shoulder?”
“I do not mind,” Vanessa noted simply as she monitored the progress of her nannites. “All unnecessary operations have been disengaged to conserve power reserves.”
“You sure do seem to be doing a lot of talking then,” Jack whispered nonchalantly.
“Verbal communication with my Terran counterpart is required,” Vanessa noted flatly as another rumble ran through the building. “But silence would be appropriate in this case,” she continued and Jack nodded slowly, enjoying the feel of her face on his neck and smiling at the wall opposite them.
“Well, in that case, I guess I’ll shut up,” he responded casually and lowered his face to hold it more tightly against her, enjoying the feel of her skin. Vanessa didn’t respond, conserving her energy. That was perfectly fine with Jack.
Elsie looked up as another Barlon security squadron came shooting in from the spaceport and split up to take on the six fighters over the building. Lasers, flechettes, and graviton bursts filled the sky as the fighters twisted around each other like some mad sculpture of destruction. An explosion threw Ben and Elsie to the ground and shattered windows in the building behind them. When Elsie finally looked back up, one of the defending fighters was simply gone.
Then she winced as one of Cat’s fighters took a graviton shot to its port engine bank and began corkscrewing towards the building. The cockpit ripped open and the pilot shot out mere moments before it hit, blowing a hole in the side of the building, and Elsie stood up to gauge the traffic on the street. It was empty with all of the previous traffic having already taken the hint and gotten away while the getting was good.
“We’ve got to move now!” she yelled and jumped over the landscaping to run out onto the street as she pulled two pistols out of their holsters. “Watch my back!” she finished as the fighter duel in the sky heated up again with another defender disabled.
“My pleasure!” Ben shouted back happily as another explosion rocked the area and jumped to his feet to run after her.
“Very funny.” Elsie fired both her pistols, blowing away two guards as they opened fire on the ejection module, and Ben followed up by shooting a third before two more exploded without seemingly being hit by anything. Thanks Nova.
My pleasure, Nova responded, echoing Ben’s words as she took out another AI about to shoot at Ben.
Then Elsie lined up two targets as her pistols locked another round in place, powering up the barrel again. Finally the pistol grips vibrated, noting their readiness, and Elsie pulled the triggers to take down the targets as she jumped over landscaping embankments on her way to the ejection pod’s landing spot.
It landed and the pilot spilled out onto the ground, coughing up blood on the grass as Elsie came to a stop near it. She kneeled in front of the girl and pulled her helmet off, letting long red hair spill onto the ground.
“Drink this,” she whispered firmly and pulled a bottle out of her jacket pocket. Eyes coughed again, doubling over in agony, before reaching out for the bottle and bringing it to her lips. She barely managed a single swallow before another cough wracked her body and Elsie noted the numerous bloody holes in her flight suit. Elsie stood back up, looked around for more threats as the pilot took another careful swallow of the nannite mixture that would hopefully save her life, and smiled as Ben came to a stop beside her, his gun arm scanning back and forth as he looked for threats.
“How is she?” he asked, not wanting to lower his guard, and Elsie scanned the area with him, bringing both of her pistols up to guard them all.
“Not well, but that should heal her,” the AI muttered and looked up as another squadron arrived from the direction of the spaceport, turrets chattering at maximum fire rate at the Barlon security squadron. “Way to go, James,” she continued softly. “We’ve got ‘em on the run now”
“Look’s like Jack’s good for something after all,” Ben whispered with a smile as one after another of the defenders began to fall. “Oh no,” he added in a startled tone as he looked around the escape pod at the building and Elsie stepped out to follow his gaze.
“Oh no,” she repeated and aimed her pistols as fast as she could.
For the better part of a minute, they simply lay on the floor, holding each other as Vanessa monitored her damage control nannites and their progress in repairing her overstressed combat systems. Again and again the building around them shuddered as hits from the attacking fighters smashed through its defense grid to damage the structure. Finally, she released his left hand, rolled off him, rose unto her feet, and pulled Jack to his feet with her.
“It is time,” she noted as his limbs straightened out, holding him up and then she released his hand to pull her gloves back on. “Internal sensors may have been restored,” she continued simply. “If so, we will soon be in an undesirable situation.”
“Gee, thanks for the warning. And here I was thinking I never wanted to leave this place,” he responded sarcastically and she palmed the end of the corridor open, not even giving him a response. It swung open into another corridor, and Vanessa vaulted through, scanning to either side through a cloud of dust. She noted guards on this side of a thicker cloud of dust and debris, jumped off the wall to run down the corridor towards them, and brought her jamming and absorption fields online. Arrayed at the nearest corridor junction, one on this side and the other on the opposite side, both of them had their backs to her, looking towards where the dust billowed out of the ceiling.
With her personality subroutines offline, she moved as fast as she could towards both of them without any wasted motions as they turned to assess the situation of the noises from behind them. They were far too late though as she approached the first one and simply punched his back as hard as she could, smashing through the outer and inner armor layers, shattering his power core. She felt it failing under her assault as she shot by into the corridor and towards her next victim.
The first guard hadn’t even begun to fall when she realized her mistake. Around the corner, a third guard began turning to engage her, but she didn’t have the time to deal with him first. She continued, her momentum pulling her forward, and smashed the second guard’s power core before turning to deal with the third guard. That was when her sensors picked up the energy surge and she ducked, stopping the blast from ripping through her. Instead it simply ran down the back of her armor, burning its surface like a side of bacon, as she stepped forward into the last AI at the intersection. His weapon didn’t have time to recharge, but she saw the punch coming the moment she began standing up again and moved as fast as she could, trying to keep it from hitting her power core.
She succeeded, but a punch with all the power an AI can muster slammed directly into her stomach, shattering outer and inner armor alike, and throwing her back into the wall like a rag doll. The guard brought his weapon up to burn her down but Vanessa simply moved her right hand. The wrist emitter snapped up and locked on target before blasting the AI with enough power to burn through its armor and melt the power core. One by one, each of the guards fell to their knees and then down on their faces like puppets with their strings cut.
Outer armor ruptured
Inner armor fractured
Sensor baffles compromised
Damage control nannites incapable of complete field repairs
Jamming field disengaged
Absorption field disengaged
Power reserves at 23%
“Jesus,” Jack whispered as he ran up and looked at her stomach as the biological skin stretched over the fist-sized hole. Before his eyes, in a matter of seconds, the skin sealed the breach, making it look as good as new, but he’d seen a glimpse of the damage underneath before it sealed. “Can you move?”
“I am functional,” Vanessa noted simply and moved to stand up slowly, pulling her feet under her. After one attempt, her circuits failed and she went back down on one knee, temporarily unable to bend her limbs to her will. He quickly came up under her, wrapping her right arm around his shoulders, and helped her up onto her feet.
“And just how functional is that?” he asked as the equivalent of electronic pain slashed through her circuits.
“I can move,” she responded flatly and stepped away from him carefully, trying not to jar circuits her nannites were laboring to repair. It wouldn’t do to cause more damage by walking, but they had to move. The exit was on the other side of that falling dust and debris. “My nannites have commenced repair work but my sensor baffles have been compromised. Sensors will now be able to detect the fact that I am an AI,” she finished and he looked down at what looked like a perfectly formed stomach, complete with belly button, in the hole of shattered armor. His eyes glanced out to take in the numerous fractures radiating out along the armor and shook his head slowly.
“You have to rest.”
“I can not,” Vanessa noted flatly and turned to walk towards the exit carefully. “Reinforcements are coming. If we remain here, we will die.”
“Then we can go back into the maintenance tunnel,” he whispered urgently as he moved to follow her.
“It is not concealed enough to avoid determined searching. We would be found. We must leave now.”
“Fine,” Jack finally muttered in an annoyed tone and brought his pistol up to keep it ready. “Just let me fight now. You’re in no shape for it.”
Powercore failing. Cascade collapse commencing.
“Just what I need,” Vanessa whispered, her face becoming animated again as her feet continued to carry her forward. “Relying on a Terran for protection,” she added, emotion returning to her voice.
“I thought you were conserving energy,” Jack whispered as the emotions in her voice registered and Vanessa smiled back.
“Energy doesn’t matter any more,” she returned with a sad look on her face. “This avatar won’t survive much longer. Cascade failure’s begun. The nannites can’t keep up.”
“But you just said they were repairing you,” Jack whispered in confusion and she cocked her head at him sadly.
“That was over five seconds ago,” she returned and kept walking forward. “A lot can happen in that amount of time. The nannites are losing.”
“Fine,” Jack whispered and holstered his pistol before reaching forward to grab her. He put one arm against her back, the other behind her knees, picked her up, and began carrying her towards the exit, marveling at how light she was. He’d expected her to be heavier, being an AI and all. But on second thought, if she were heavier, simple weight sensors would be able to tell she couldn’t be human. He shrugged and kept talking. “This is faster then waiting for you.”
“You’re a fool,” she muttered back in an annoyed tone. “Now if they catch you, you won’t even be able to fire back.”
“Well, I was hoping you’d have the power to use those wrist blasters of yours,” he responded nonchalantly as he walked through the cloud of dust into an unguarded intersection.
“I will for another couple minutes,” Vanessa whispered back as the dust covered her features and wrapped her right arm around his neck. He wondered if it was to steady herself or because she just wanted to hold him. Deeper down he questioned which he would prefer.
“What do we do then?” he asked, pulling his mind away from that thought.
“If we aren’t out of the fire by then, we’re dead,” she muttered as they finally stopped in front of the exit and he nodded as he looked down at her.
“Once more into the breach, dear friend,” he whispered softly and she smiled up at him as she reached her left arm over to tap the pad beside the door. It opened and Jack walked out of the Barlon Technologies Corporate Offices into the wild outdoors and open skies.
But the only things he had eyes for were the waiting gun barrels of a half dozen security AIs.