The man studied the screen intently. As the numbers scrolled incessantly, the rapid flicker of the pixels clearly reflected on his glasses. The effect was hypnotic, and the man hadn't blinked for several seconds. Suddenly, the flow stopped. The column of numbers, now frozen, could be easily read:
0.00224 0.00221 0.00219 0.00217
A few seconds later, a new value appeared. And then another. And another. This time, however, instead of a quick, steady stream, the column advanced slowly, as if a great effort had to be made in order to display the next number.
Impatiently, the man repositioned the cursor on the screen. His fingers blurred as he rapidly typed on the keyboard:
> su genom Priority: 3 Password1: Password2: #> top
He studied the output for a few seconds, and proceeded to kill the offending process. Immediately, the adjacent window came to life, flickering with renewed vigor.
By the time he had modified the appropriate log files and covered his tracks, the column froze again. This time, however, the man proceeded to study the display and then quickly closed the window in which he had been typing.
0.00006 0.00003 0.00001 1.3527 - 0.0002i >
"Good," he thought, "the flow is stable. Genom's new toy should have no problem with the hypersonic hydraulics."
A beeping sound, which reverberated throughout the deserted lab, startled the man. He pressed a button on his wristwatch to silence the annoying noise and checked the time: 1:37 a.m. He logged out of his account, took the coat and scarf that hung from the back of his chair, and headed for the exit. As he walked along the empty corridors, he could almost feel how dozens of small videocorders captured every move he made. For some time after arriving to Genom, he would distract himself during these midnight walks by trying to pinpoint the location of the hidden cameras. He smiled as he recalled how verifying his guesses was the first thing he did after cracking into Genom's superuser accounts. He also remembered the first time he peeked into the company's highly classified directories, and quickly hurried his pace to get out of the building.
"Next stop, Kimagure station"
The gentle swaying of the train had always had a soothing effect on him. He actually enjoyed these metro rides, and as the empty train moved along swiftly, he would let his thoughts wander. He thought about the face some poor guy would make in the morning when he discovered his job had "crashed". A memory fault would be found to be the culprit, and in a couple of hours the holomemory would be replaced. He was sometimes amazed at how calmly the technicians took these mysterious equipment "defects". For a company that supposedly manufactured, among other things, the most advanced combat gear, they were sure lax when it came to scrutinizing these inexplicable failures. On the other hand, he had always viewed Genom's military products with contempt. Big bloated robots with the firepower of a warship, but with the brains of a pocket calculator. He knew the crippled servos he was designing would only make a marginal improvement on their performance, but it would be enough to obtain the bonus he wanted. Installing them in a power suit, which would have far more dramatic effects, was out of the question. No matter how well protected, its occupant would be crushed when he suddenly found himself accelerated at 30 g's. The only thing that had worried him were the smaller humanoid cyborgs. In spite of their limited power source and primitive weaponry, these machines had become quite agile, and the new technology would easily make them the most powerful assault force the military had ever seen. But his fellow scientists were simply too ignorant to realize that the synaptic incompatibility which rendered the servos useless on the GC-XX series had been designed that way from the start. He really couldn't blame them for their oversight, however. After all, it had taken him nearly two years to understand the complex engineering and subtle physical processes that made such motors possible, and he had had a real working model to study from the start.
As he stepped out he noticed a small plate attached to the train's exit door. It read only one word: GENOM.
Wrapping the scarf around his neck, he walked out of the station and was soon engulfed by the cool night's fog.
* * * * *
The haze in the bar was not unlike the one on the streets. It too hampered visibility, but it also had a sour odour to it. A quiet melody could be heard in the background.
The man looked around and immediately spotted the bartender waving at him. He took off his coat and scarf and proceeded to walk towards the bar. To his surprise, almost half the seats were occupied, but his "reserved" spot was empty, as usual.
"I see business is improving," he said, as he sat down.
"Yeah, things sure are picking up around here. Word gets around, you know," said the bartender in a low voice, as he motioned towards the corner of the bar.
There, illuminated by a dim spotlight, sat a little girl. She was playing a small synthesizer which she held upon her lap. With her eyes lightly shut, she was softly singing. The tune was slow and fragile, and the words she spoke about false hopes and lost loves were sad and bittersweet.
"Hollow men can stop you, with the twinkling of an eye Hollow men can take you, without even reaching out Hollow men have got you, long before you realize..." "The poison paralyses"
When she finished, everyone remained in complete silence. The girl herself sat motionless, without opening her eyes. Very slowly, as if it were made of crystal, she carefully laid down the instrument and gently looked up towards the bar. Her face suddenly lit up, her large honey eyes opening wide.
"Very nice, Little Girl!" said the bartender.
"Beautiful indeed," said the man, as the girl ran to him and gave him a hug, "I don't think I've heard that music before."
"It's a very old song," answered the girl, "I just found it at the library this morning."
"This morning?" exclaimed the bartender, "I think our Little Girl here is going to be a star in no time!"
"And I'm starting to write my own songs, too."
"Is that so? How about that, doc?" he added as he gave the girl a quick wink.
"As long as she dedicates the first one to me, eh "Little Girl"?" said the man, smiling. He glanced at his watch. "It's almost three, we should be on our way home"
"Is it?" the bartender looked at the clock that hung on the wall above the bar, "My, but it's already past closing time!"
As they left the bar and started walking down the empty streets, they could hear sirens wailing from far away. The fog had cleared, and except for the sound of their footsteps, everything had soon become quiet. Neither of them felt the need to talk, and perhaps it was the sharing of this silence which most eloquently spoke about their relationship. Both enjoyed the freshness of the night, the glow of the moon shining overhead and their mutual company.
Nothing else really mattered.
* * * * *
Leon really hated the night shift. And it wasn't only because boomers seemed to check in for work after midnight, but he was really tired of watching all those crappy afternoon sitcoms. As the flaming AV flew over his head, he was seriously considering buying the 2-head VCR he had seen the other day.
"Sir! We've lost unit 3!"
Leon looked at the officer. Hell, maybe he should just go for a 4H one. He pressed the SND button on his WT
"Where the fuck are those choppers?!?"
"Make it five, dammit!" he turned to the officer, "Get the backups! I want them to flank the bastard from the east and west! Regroup everything else we've got left to the north, and BLAST HIM! Do you understand? I don't care what it takes, when those choppers get here that sunnaovabitch better be south of the Keio highway! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!?"
"God I love this job," he thought, as he drew his gun. He ran towards the barrier the A.D. police had made with their vehicles. Taking cover behind one of the cars, he peeked over the hood.
A few dozen meters away the boomer was firing back at the AV's that where approaching from its left. One of the vehicles exploded, and Leon quickly stood up and fired away, emptying his gun. He was an excellent marksman, and soon the concussive bullets were exploding all over the mecha's chest.
Unfazed, the boomer pointed the 20 mm cannon in its arm towards the direction of the incoming bullets and fired.
The vehicle next to the one Leon had taken cover exploded in flames. The blast sent the two men behind it flying backwards, their mangled bodies making some extremely unhealthy postures.
"This is NOT good," thought Leon.
He looked over the car and saw that the boomer was now gleefully blowing away the second backup unit. The helicopters would be there any second and they hadn't been able to move it an inch. Unless he found a way to get the boomer into the deserted district beyond the highway, the ADX-II missiles the choppers were carrying would quickly solve the overpopulation problem of the neighbourhood they were currently in. As he reached for his WT to call off the attack, he saw the two aircraft approaching swiftly in close formation.
Suddenly, he heard a scream directly above him. He jerked his head upwards and saw the officer he had spoken to only minutes ago flying through the air directly towards the choppers. The desperate shriek of terror ended abruptly as his body smashed against the rotor's blades and violently exploded in a firework of blood. The boomer had thrown him with such force that the helicopter tilted to one side, crashing into the one beside it. Both exploded in a huge orange ball of fire.
"So much for plan B," he thought, as he put away his WT.
He looked back at the boomer. It had taken up finger painting the walls of a nearby building with the remaining backups. It reminded him of that Rorschach test he had taken a month ago.
Things were definitely getting out of hand.
The boomer then slowly turned around, scanning the area for any possible "threats". When it detected none, it started to head towards Leon.
"Seems it was saving me for dessert," he muttered to himself, as he quickly reloaded his gun.
The boomer was closing in fast. Leon knew he had only one chance. He had once stopped a 55-C with a single bullet directly in the eye. This fucker was much tougher, but it was his only hope. Leon stood up from behind the car and carefully began to aim. The boomer could have blown him away long ago, but it seemed to have something special for him in mind.
"Probably a good-bye hug," thought Leon as he pointed his gun.
The boomer was less than twenty meters away. Sweat began to get into his eyes. His finger tightened around the trigger.
"Don't miss now, you hear?"
Leon fired. The bullet flew over the boomer's head, missing it by almost half a meter. Suddenly, its left side exploded, and the boomer was violently thrown sideways. To the right, a Knight Saber stood, pointing her arm at the boomer. The mechanical monster quickly stood up, not really damaged, and prepared to attack. The Knight Saber, however, turned on her thrusters and headed south at full speed. The boomer did likewise, and flew off in pursuit of its new target.
Leon spun around in time to see the blue Knight Saber behind him leap in the air and turn on her own jets.
Blue then immediately darted down the street, following the boomer.
"Bitch," thought Leon, smiling.
* * * * *
The man couldn't sleep. As he stared at the ceiling above his bed, he could hear gunshots in the distance. They didn't worry him, however, as he heard the police raging their battles against Genom's robots almost every night. So far, they had been lucky. The abandoned district in which the building stood seemed to be of no interest to the boomers, or more precisely, the people who controlled them. Indeed, why should it? Evacuated years ago due to a chemical leak, the survivors never returned to it. Fear of contamination and a host of urban ghost stories had done most of the job. Gangs would sometimes roam the streets, but would soon get bored and move on. Only a few hobos spent a night now and then in one of the dozens of empty buildings. It wouldn't last, however, as planning of a new complex was underway, although nobody knew it yet (except for the few privileged with access to Genom's real estate secret computer archives). He didn't care. He knew there were things far more dangerous lurking in MegaTokyo's innards, and they weren't greedy developers or even crazed boomers. Leaving the city as soon as possible had become a top priority.
A particularly powerful explosion interrupted his train of thought. He got up and headed towards the window. He saw columns of thick, black smoke rising not far away.
"Is everything O.K.?"
He turned towards the girl, who was peeking inside his bedroom just outside the door.
"I don't know," he answered, truthfully.
She entered the room and stood beside him, looking out the window. The building were they lived was located on a street corner, and the room's window looked down at the intersection from the second floor.
Suddenly, two figures appeared. As they reached the cross- road they separated in opposite directions, and took cover behind a building on each side of the street.
The man studied them intently. He had certainly heard about the existence of the Knight Sabers, and probably knew more about them than almost anybody else. After all, he had spent days reading the hundreds of files and records on them that Genom kept stored in the computer. The technology within their suits clearly surpassed anything Genom had to offer, which, in his mind, was not much to say. But he had never actually seen them in real life, and was very curious to see how they performed in combat.
A third Knight Saber came flying through the intersection, and when he saw the boomer hot on her trail, he knew his wish would come true.
He recognized the boomer instantly. A BC-13C. Stupid but very, very tough. Things were getting more interesting by the moment.
Just as he expected, the mechanical moron flew right into their trap. He was impressed by the way Green sharply turned the corner, while the boomer, with its greater momentum, almost crashed into the building he was in. The three Knight Sabers now stood behind it, aiming their weaponry. As the boomer turned around to face them, they fired.
Three blazing blue pencils of light hit the boomer directly on the chest.
Just last month a lab technician was telling him about how they finally managed to incorporate a new highly effective multilayer phase conjugation coating into the BC-13 series' ceramic composite armour. Instead of absorbing or specularly reflecting the beam, it simply bounced backwards. The energy feedback had destroyed one of the HyperYAG lasers had they used during testing, he told him.
The feedback, however, took time, and the Knight Sabers weren't stupid. The argon lasers shut down immediately (and automatically, the man correctly assumed), but the element of surprise had vanished and the mecha now had the tactical advantage. It managed to maintain its perfect record of ineptitude by retaliating in the worst possible manner: a three way attack. As the 20 mm cannon raged against White on its left and the rocket launcher fired towards Green at its right it headed straight for Red in front while vomiting a blue ray of light. Both White and Green evaded the attack easily, but Red, for some reason, chose to set up some sort of barrier shield in front of her. Although it protected her from the laser blast, it didn't prevent the boomer from smashing into her, grinding her into the concrete street.
"That has GOT to hurt," thought the man.
Indeed, the Knight Saber wasn't getting up, and the boomer lifted its right fist to deliver the final blow. Suddenly, the boomer seemed to explode, and it flew backwards across the street, smashing against the building from where they were watching. The whole structure trembled, but the man was too fascinated by the fight to worry about his own safety. He didn't notice the little girl at his side glancing apprehensively at him.
The brutal attack had been fulminating. White had punched the boomer in the "ribs", just below its right arm. It was one of its weakest spots, and the force of the blow combined with the explosive insertor in White's fist had ripped apart most of its power supply. At the same time, Green lashed a mono-streamer directly through the boomer's neck, severing its head (not that it was of much use, anyway, he thought, chuckling). In an impressive display of agility she had used the other whip to cut off the boomer's left arm at the elbow. Last but not least, Blue was now standing right down the street, smoke coming out of her densematter gun.
While the Knight Sabers attended their fallen comrade, the boomer appeared just below the window. Its secondary brain in its stomach, only slightly more primitive than the one in its head, had somehow managed to get it up again. But it was in very bad condition. Gusts of dark green hydraulic liquid spurted from its neck and severed arm. Its rocket launcher was useless, the energy supply quickly loosing power. It was incapable of doing anything, and was just about to fall over when suddenly Blue stood up from where Red was lying. She pointed something which looked like some sort of gun, but the nozzle's size was much too large for normal bullets. The boomer was already on one knee, faltering.
Blue fired. As the rocket flew in the boomer's direction, the man felt himself violently jerked back.
With lethal precision the rocket's armour piercing tip penetrated the headless boomer's chest, sending it reeling backward, crashing into the weakened building behind it. It went through a couple of walls and fell on its back. Within its chest the highly explosive charge went off. The whole building immediately collapsed in a huge cloud of pulverized concrete.
Deep beneath the rubble lay two motionless bodies. The smaller one lay on top the larger, hugging it, as if trying to shield it. The crushed corpse between the girl's arms, however, made it clear that she had failed.
* * * * *
"If you exercised your body half as much as you do your brain you wouldn't get clobbered all the time!"
"Well, that's because, unlike you, my brain is not a muscle!"
"Why you little..."
"Now, now, girls, behave yourselves," said Sylia, as she entered the room, "and you Linna, really, instead of laughing you should help me controlling with these two"
Sylia sat at the table beside the small living room. She slowly sipped her tea and took a deep breath. Finally, some peace and quiet. Nene had given them quite a scare, but fortunately it wouldn't go beyond a few bruises and a bump in the head. Even her hardsuit had resulted largely unscathed, and she had been able to fix it in less than two days.
"So how's the new rocket gun coming along?"
"You, Priss, of all people, should be the last to ask that question," responded Sylia.
"Well, what did you want me to do? That's why we took on the boomer in the first place, wasn't it?"
Priss, of course, knew that this wasn't the reason she had fired at the boomer. She also suspected that the others knew it also. But Nene had had everybody worried sick, and, in her case, very angry too.
"That boomer's armour was already weakened to the point of fracture, firing at it in that state is hardly a test of the missile's performance"
"But at least we verified your suspicions about the new reflective coating," said Linna.
"Yeah, good thing about the automatic shut off mechanism you designed into the lasers," added Nene.
"Well, it was only a matter of time before Genom's engineers found a way to neutralize the laser beams in an effective manner," responded Sylia, "so as soon as we get a chance to really test the rocket gun I'll begin adapting it to our suits. In the meanwhile, avoid using the lasers against boomers."
A beeper interrupted their conversation. Nene quickly turned on the small radio on the table beside the sofa. It was permanently tuned to the A.D. police band, and Nene had wrote a little program to monitor the transmissions for a series of keywords.
"... age facility, I repeat, we have a code 233 at the Koto storage facility. All available units respond..."
"Code 233" was one of them. It meant a confirmed boomer attack was in progress.
"McNichol here. What do we have?"
"Unknown boomer type inside the Koto storage facility"
"Koto? Isn't that were Genom's main chemical deposit is located?"
"Affirmative. The building is Genom's chemical storage site"
"Let me get this straight. A boomer has attacked Genom property? And they're asking for OUR help?"
"Talk about poetic justice," sneered Priss.
"O.K., so what are we talking about here?"
"Boomer's model I.D. is unavailable"
"What? Look, if those assholes don't want to cooperate they can just ..."
"Leon, get your ass over there NOW," another voice cut in.
"What the...? Is that you Chief? What the hell is going on?"
"Genom thinks a boomer has broken into the facility. Their surveillance system seems to be out, and since they don't know what they're up against they don't want to send in their stuff. They think it's too dangerous"
"Strange," thought Sylia.
"O.K. I'll need at least eight AV's and air supp..."
"Leon, you don't understand. This must be a surgical procedure. No heavy weaponry. Powersuits and portable weapons are all you'll have."
"WHAT THE...? No way, Chief. We can't even take on those suckers WITH the heavy artillery. We don't have a snowball's chance in hell fighting the thing in some lousy..."
"Leon," the Chief interrupted, wearily, "the plant is a tritoxen deposit"
There was a long silence. Nene, Priss and Linna looked at each other, and then turned to Sylia. She was intently staring at the radio.
"How much?," asked Leon, in a low voice.
* * * * *
tritoxen, a compound formed by a combination of tritium and oxatane, an oxygen isotope. Although its general properties are widely know, there is little available information regarding the chemical and physical characteristics of tritoxen. Discovered by Genom industries (q.v.) in 2029, this remarkable substance is capable of spontaneously fusing its tritium and oxatane atoms to generate 4He, water, and vast quantities of energy. Hailed upon its discovery as the solution to the world's energy problems, its disadvantages soon posed major technical difficulties. Tritoxen is extremely unstable, and can only be stored in liquid state at temperatures under 0.03 K and very high pressures. Superconducting magnetic bottles are normally used for this purpose. Unlike thermonuclear devices, where plasma leaks lead to an interruption of the fusion process, failure to contain the tritoxen will immediately cause it to begin fusing uncontrollably. So far, Genom's secretiveness regarding tritoxen and their research has made it difficult to assess the current level of development. It is hoped, however, that the above problems will be overcome in a few years, and tritoxen energy plants will soon be a reality. Major ref. 13:307b.
-Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2033
The KnightWing landed in the parking lot just beside the police barrier. At least 40 A.D. patrol vehicles where scattered around the area.
"Hello ladies, welcome to the party"
Although trying to disguise his feelings by acting as the jerk he really was, Priss could notice a definite tone of worry in his voice.
"Hello officer," responded Sylia, in her usual cool manner, "we know about the tritoxen. What's your plan?"
"We're waiting for the specs of the plant's layout from Genom's people. Once we get them we jump in our new ACE suits and mop the place up. It'll be a good opportunity to test them out," he grinned.
"It'll be a good opportunity to get you and your men killed". This time it was Priss' voice which sounded worried, although the electronic distortion didn't let it show.
"What about the boomer? How did it get in?" asked Linna.
"We... don't know," said Leon, uneasily.
Sylia's mind was racing. Nothing made sense. Why did Genom call the police? Their own equipment, including powersuits, was far superior to whatever the A.D. police had to offer. And the tritoxen. It was inconceivable that Genom would actually admit to something as dangerous and illegal as storing tritoxen, let alone tell the police. And finally this mysterious boomer. Boomers weren't particularly subtle, and this one seemed to have teleported itself into the plant, conveniently knocking out all detection systems. It was a trap, thought Sylia, it had to be. Genom's people knew that such a threat would bring out the Knight Sabers, mercenaries or not. There was no tritoxen, but a small army of boomers ready to leap upon them once they got inside.
But that didn't make sense either. It simply wasn't the way Genom operated. Genom was above all a business corporation, and it was exposing itself way too much. This wasn't just some rogue boomer that "accidentally" got out of control. It was a danger which threatened the entire city.
There was something missing, but what?
"Sir! We've just received the plant's layout and defense system specifications," an officer came running up to Leon, holding a small data chip in one hand and a printout in the other. Leon turned to face him.
"What do we have?"
"It's confirmed. Two thousand tons of tritoxen are stored in twenty cryogenic tanks thirty meters below the surface. They've managed to seal off all the lower levels and cut the flow into the plant's piping system. We can fire our weapons without worrying about hitting a pipeline, but rockets and such are too dangerous, since the vibration may affect the tanks below"
"What about the plant's defence systems?"
The man hesitated for a second.
"Sir. We think we know the type of boomer that attacked the plant"
He took a deep breath, and then quickly replied.
"The plant's guarded by three boomers, sir. BU-27SP"
Leon looked at the man. He then slowly turned to the Knight Sabers.
* * * * *
The way a boomer "thinks" is, by and large, a quantum mechanical process. The connections within its neurochips are essentially a series of nano-junctions which electronically attempt to simulate the vastly more complicated electro-chemical synapses within the human brain. As such, their behaviour can be modeled and, to a certain point, fixed, by simply choosing the appropriate eigenfunctions which will determine how it will react to a given situation. The keywords here are, of course, "to a certain point". Quantum mechanics is not a deterministic theory, and indeed, multiplying the eigenfunctions by their conjugate will lead to a probability distribution. The great triumph of cybernetics had been in manipulating the shape of these functions in such a way so as to mimic the human mechanical thought process. But there always remains a trace of uncertainty, which, some people argued, was the key to producing machines capable of creative thought. Others, however, claimed it was because of this unpredictability that no machine could ever hope to reproduce the precise and subtle series of steps that lead to cognitive reasoning.
Cyberneticians, nonetheless, had been capable of duplicating some of the basic human instincts. Foremost among these was the most primal aggressive behaviour. A normal boomer could of course be programmed to cause havoc, and indeed, it happened almost every day in the city. But some boomers had been designed so that their aggressive behaviour could emerge spontaneously. This series of boomers were the BU-27SP, or "Dobermans". They were the ultimate combat machines, capable of what one Genom executive had described as "creative bloodshed".
The first two Dobermans ever made had been designated to guard Genom's ultra-secret space station. A large percentage of the most advance military hardware Genom made was developed on the station. Cutting edge boomers and sophisticated powersuits were constantly being designed and tested in space. The new boomers would be the ideal "guard dogs" (and hence the name). But one thing that the cyberneticians had underestimated was the Doberman's aggression. Theoretically, it could only be triggered during a fight, and would only stop as soon as either them or their target was destroyed. But quantum mechanics does not allow for such definitive projections, as the station's maintenance crew soon found out. The Dobermans suddenly started savagely ripping them apart during a routine check. Much as with the tritoxen plant, the station's crew was unable to use the heavy weaponry they had available against the Dobermans for fear of seriously damaging the station itself. But they did have Genom's most sophisticated boomers and powersuits at their disposal, and proceeded to use them.
In less than two hours all the 73 crew members, technical staff, scientists and guards were dead.
By the time the Genom shuttle arrived with backups, the Dobermans had already destroyed each other. Despite Genom's efforts, the news leaked, and Dobermans were strictly prohibited on earth. In a surprising demonstration of self-restraint, Genom complied. They, of course, could continue to develop the Dobermans in outer space, and they did. They revised the theory and made an exhaustive series of tests. Soon they had the problem under control. They had so much confidence in the new design that they thought it would be perfect to guard their most secret and dangerous project to date: the "chemical" plant where they planned on making the first tritoxen fusion reactor. For two years everything had worked without a glitch, the Dobermans performed just as expected.
* * * * *
It was the ultimate irony. The Knight Sabers were actually going to help Genom stop the Dobermans. They had no choice. No powersuit was powerful enough to tackle these boomers, and even though Leon had insisted on coming with them they soon dissuaded him by locking him in a car and welding the doors shut. Only their hardsuits had a chance to defeat them, and everybody knew it, including Genom. Sylia wondered who despised the current situation more: them or Genom's executives. It didn't really matter. The Dobermans had to be stopped.
As they walked along the plant's corridors they kept track of their positions by the map that appeared on their viewscreens. Genom had supplied them with the plant's interior layout. There were three Dobermans, and each was activated as soon as an intruder was detected within its proximity. The problem was, if one of them had gone berserk and started roaming around the plant, it would soon activate the other two. With the surveillance shut down, they had no way of knowing how many were operative. Furthermore, no one was really sure how they would behave. Under normal circumstances they were programmed to team up against an intruder, but now it was impossible to tell that they would do.
All four walked as a tight unit. It was far too dangerous to split. Sylia and Priss walked in front, Linna and Nene followed closely. The corridors were large and well illuminated. Their first objective was the main control room were the surveillance system was located. If they could get it up again they would be in a far better position to plan their next step. The room, however, was located at the heart of one of the Doberman's "zones".
Soon they reached the entrance which led into the CR.
"Linna, Nene, cover us." Sylia ordered through their suit's radios, "Priss, we go in on my signal"
Three okays were the reply. Priss prepared her densematter gun, Sylia activated the explosive insertor in her hand.
Both women entered the room in one swift move, and immediately started to scan their surroundings, with their weapons ready to fire. The room was triangular in shape, with a door at each of its vertices. On one wall lay the control panel. In the middle of the room, on the floor, lay one of the Dobermans, facedown.
Or at least, half of it was.
As Linna and Nene entered the room Sylia ran a quick scan on the body. Priss was still pointing at it with her gun, but it was clear the mecha was "dead". It was practically cut in half. It had been split in two and left twisted on the floor in a pool of green hydraulic fluid. Its right arm was severed at the elbow, and was nowhere to be found.
Nene knelt beside it and turned the torso faceup. She gasped. Its head had almost been destroyed. It looked as if someone had forced its mouth open, ripping it apart. The laser in its mouth had been smashed inwards all the way into the "brain".
"Somebody out there is very pissed." Priss kept staring at the body. "I think our friends have started bumping into each other, and they're not getting along very well"
"The control panel isn't in much better shape," said Sylia, "it's been completely smashed"
That was rather odd, she thought. Destroying it couldn't bring the surveillance down, as it was controlled through the computer. But it sure made it impossible to get it working again. Very strange.
"Linna, look at this cut," Nene pointed at the place where the Doberman had been split in two, "what do you think about the edges?"
"They're very smooth, like... my whips!"
"Yeah, just as I thought." Nene peeked more closely, and almost fell back.
"What happened?" asked Priss.
"It's his arm... I've found it"
Whatever had attacked the Doberman had shoved its arm deep inside its torso.
"Like I said, very, very, pissed"
Suddenly, they heard footsteps coming towards the room, very fast, as if running. Almost in unison, the four Knight Sabers assumed battle positions, and pointed their weapons towards the doorway. As the footsteps grew stronger, their fingers started to increase the pressure on the triggers within their suits.
Something dashed across the entrance, so quick it was almost a blur. The Knight Sabers kept their positions, motionless. Nene was the first to speak
"Did you guys see what I saw?"
"How the hell could she have gotten into this place!?" Priss turned to Sylia
"I don't know," responded Sylia, "but we have to get her out of here before one of those Dobermans eats her alive"
"Do you think she triggered the boomers?" asked Linna
"She'd already be dead," answered Sylia.
A shower of bullets ripped through the air. The Knight Sabers violently spun around to see a Doberman flying towards the room, firing at them. It had almost reached the entrance when Priss started firing back.
"Linna! Nene! Go get the girl! NOW!" Sylia ordered, as she turned towards the incoming boomer.
Nene hesitated a second, then saw Linna heading for the exit after the girl. She looked back once more as Sylia began firing, and hurriedly followed after Linna.
Linna and Nene moved quickly along the maze of corridors.
"How could such a small girl move so fast?" thought Linna.
They could hear the bursts of machine guns reverberate along the corridors. They suddenly saw the girl dart across an intersection ahead of them.
"Stop!" yelled Linna. Both of them ran towards her.
A fist exploded through the wall just behind them. The second Doberman was smashing its way through the corridor's wall.
"Go after her!" yelled Linna, as she turned to face the boomer.
"But Linna, I can't..."
"Shut up and do as I say!"
Nene had never heard such anger in Linna's voice. The Doberman was almost inside the corridor.
"I said GO, DAMMIT!"
Nene turned around and ran.
* * * * *
The two Knight Saber were furiously trying to keep the Doberman back, but neither Sylia's laser nor Priss' densematter gun were capable of penetrating the Doberman's armour. The mechanical monster advanced relentlessly into the control room, firing both its machine-gun and the laser in its mouth. The room became an inferno of bullets, laser blasts and explosions.
Both women were desperately trying to avoid the boomer's onslaught, but evading its fire was becoming harder by the moment. Soon the Doberman would be upon them.
* * * * *
Linna managed to evade the first wave of slugs and immediately retaliated by firing her machine-gun. The bullets weren't even slowing it down. The Doberman opened its mouth to fire the laser as Linna lashed her mono-streamers. These penetrated the mecha's armour but weren't capable of slicing through it. The ray hit her on the shoulder, but the reflecting coating of her suit managed to protect her. This time. As the boomer advanced towards her, Linna could swear the monster was snarling at her, a bloodthirsty growl of undiluted hatred.
* * * * *
Nene walked along the corridors through various storage rooms and labs, but she hadn't been able to find the girl. She finally reached a long corridor about 100 meters long at the end of which a metal door was tightly shut. According to her viewscreen's map, behind it lay an elevator shaft which lead directly to the tritoxen deposit underground. The door was made of a 30 cm thick titanium alloy, and was used to seal the lower levels in case of an emergency.
She spun around violently as her scanners detected something right behind her. The girl was staring at her, less than half a meter away.
Nene was momentarily startled by her sudden appearance. She got a close look at her for the first time. The girl was physically very small, even smaller than she was. Her head barely reached her shoulder. She also was extremely thin, as the tight black leather suit she wore delineated her child-like figure. She had on a trench coat and some sort of knee-protectors where her bright red cloth boots ended. Her small hands hung loosely by her sides wrapped in black leather gloves.
Her face was framed by thick black hair. She was not particularly pretty, but her large beautiful honey eyes were captivating. She stood motionless, glaring at her, a cold expression on her face.
Nene wasn't sure what to do. Should she get the girl out of the building and then come back to help them against the Dobermans?
It seemed she didn't have much choice. But she was scared, both for herself and for her friends. She resolved not to let the girl sense her fear.
"Hello, don't be afraid. What's your na..."
Nene's visor exploded.
As she staggered backwards, she could feel the transparent kevlar splinters cutting into her cheeks and forehead. Instinctively, she covered her face with her hands.
A second blow, this time a kick, caught her directly on the sternum. The ceramic armour of the hardsuit cracked and small tile-like pieces flew apart. The impact forced the air out of her lungs, and she found herself incapable of breathing. All the while she kept reeling backwards in an almost comical fashion.
A brutal punch just below her right arm went almost all the way through the suit, and the dull sound of crunching metal and cracking ribs echoed throughout the corridor.
Nene was blind with pain. Her suit's shields were down, and the vicious attack was unlike anything she ever encountered or trained for. Each blow was systematic, calculated to cause the maximum damage without actually killing her. She was slowly being crushed inside her suit.
Fear gave away to panic. In a desperate effort she tried to retaliate. Moving her right arm was impossible, as the pain in her side swelled beyond words. She made a swing with the left. Had she actually hit something, it would have been a pulverizing blow. However, her fist simply cut through the air. She looked at her attacker. The girl now had a firm grip of her arm. In one swift move she violently jerked it down as she lifted her leg. Nene's eyes widened in terror as she saw the girl's knee go through her elbow. Both artificial and organic limbs snapped with an atrocious crack.
Nene screamed in agony.
As the girl slowly kept pounding her body, the suit started to crumble. She could taste blood in her mouth, her broken ribs already having punctured her lungs. Nene began to black out.
Suddenly, it stopped. Nene staggered backward a couple of steps and hit something. The door. She had been pummeled along the length of the corridor.
Crouching against the thick metal wall, she began to sob. Tears formed streaks on her bloodied face. She painfully started to whimper.
"Please, no more. Please, I beg you, don't hurt me anymore. Please, please don't hit me. Please, don't..."
She felt two hands gently take her head. Slowly, they lifted her face until she was looking directly into the girl's eyes. The girl had the same cold expression as when she first saw her, as if nothing had happened. She placed her hands over Nene's ears and softly wiped the tears with her thumbs.
A ray of hope surged in Nene's mind. The girl would forgive her! She would live! Through the pain she began to feel some relief. She looked again into the girl's beautiful eyes, as if grateful towards an executioner who had just spared her life.
Suddenly, her vision started to blur.
The spherical shock wave radially propagated inward within Nene's skull. Tissue, blood and cerebral fluid were suddenly violently compressed.
Her brain was imploding.
The massive pressure then began to cause a tremendous increase in temperature. Small bubbles of superheated vapour started to form inside the now shapeless mass of tissue. Within a few milliseconds it would explode.
Nene, of course, never felt a thing.
* * * * *
Linna evaded the Doberman's fist which smashed into the wall a few centimeters from were her head had been. At the same time she jabbed the boomer with her Knuckle Bomber, but the explosion barely managed to dent the mecha's incredibly tough armour. She put some distance between her and the Doberman, but it was already preparing to attack again.
Only her mono-streamers seemed to be able to penetrate its hide, but not enough. As the boomer charged towards her she performed a somersault which propelled her over the Doberman's head, just centimeters from the corridor's roof. At the same time she lashed her whips at its neck, and these tightly coiled around it, digging into the metal. She then turned on her jets, maximum thrust.
The jerk almost ripped the helmet off her head, but the mono-streamers dug deep into the Doberman's throat. It thrashed wildly trying to break free but the harder it pulled the deeper the streamers burrowed into its neck. Suddenly Linna tumbled forward and crashed against the wall. The whips had managed to sever the Doberman's head. But the mecha continued to fire blindly in all directions, violently smashing its fists against the walls trying to connect. Linna got up and jumped on its back. The Doberman violently stepped backward crushing her against the wall. Linna's scream turned into a cry of rage and fury as she savagely rammed her fist down the Doberman's neck and began firing. The machine gun exploded within the mecha's body as the bullets ripped apart its interior mechanisms. The Doberman began to convulse violently as if it were suffering an epilepsy seizure. The noise coming from within its torso was an infernal scream, a mix of screeching metal and deafening explosions. Linna kept firing for ten, twenty, thirty seconds. Even after she had exhausted the ammunition the gun's barrel kept spinning furiously as she continued to pull the trigger. Finally, she let go. She climbed off the Doberman's back. The mechanical monster stood in place, like an empty shell, its innards completely destroyed.
Linna stood there, contemplating the remains of the Doberman. She was breathing heavily, a tinge of madness in her eyes, her arm smoking and dripping the dark green liquid which had once been the mecha's "blood". She had single-handedly defeated the beast, and the feeling had been exhilarating, almost orgasmic.
Suddenly she remembered Nene. She thought she had heard her calling through the radio while in the heat of the battle. She tried to contact her, but got no response. She slowly detached the empty magazine from her forearm and let it fall on the floor. She then took a second one which was strapped to her thigh. The new magazine clicked into the recess where the old one had been.
If Nene had been hurt, she would hunt down whatever had harmed her, and then blow its fucking head off.
* * * * *
In the control room all hell had broken loose. The Doberman was gaining ground. Sylia and Priss had to do something.
"Back me up!" yelled Priss, as she darted towards the Doberman.
A bullet grazed her shoulder, chipping her armour, but she managed to maintain her balance. In one swift move she shot her fist into the boomer's mouth as she detonated the explosive insertor. The laser in its head blew apart, but the Doberman caught her with a backhand swing that smashed her against the wall, trapping her body with its arm. Priss lifted her right arm and fired the densematter gun at the Doberman's face. The slug went through its eye, ripping apart its head. The Doberman roared in fury as it pointed its machine-gun towards her face.
* * * * *
Linna went through the maze of corridors towards where her viewscreen's map indicated Nene's position with a small red dot. Each hardsuit was equipped with a beacon and she had superimposed the plant's map on the suit's signal. She seemed to be at the end of a long corridor which led to an elevator that had been sealed off. She was right next to the door, and didn't appear to be moving.
She arrived at the entrance of the corridor, and readied her gun. She went in.
At the end of the corridor Linna could discern two figures. As the visor's optics zoomed in, she recognized the small girl kneeling with her back to her. Something was behind her, leaning against the wall. The girl suddenly stood up and made a half turn, glaring back at Linna. Nene's lifeless torso slid sideways, leaving streaks of blood marked on the wall.
The girl vanished.
In a split second the computer within Linna's hardsuit had identified its target. As Linna swung her left arm upwards in a defensive stance she glanced at the reading from the pulse doppler radar. 61 m/s. She started to point her right arm as she looked up. The helmet's viewscreen had already focused on the girl, and a small red rectangular sight was locked on her forehead. 152 m/s. The girl was already more than halfway there. Linna aimed the power gun. 210 m/s. The sight turned green. 231 m/s. She fired.
The gatling gun started spewing 2 mm depleted plutonium slugs at over a 500 rounds/min. As the bullets shrieked through the air the machine gun's nozzle lit in fury. The bullets, however, never hit their target. At five meters from where Linna stood, the girl had leaped. She jumped head first and spun in mid-air as the bullets streaked below her. She came out of her spin with her feet aiming directly towards Linna's head. The doppler radar froze at 243 m/s.
Linna grinned, grinding her teeth.
As the thermic whips lashed out at the girl at mach three Linna knew she had won this fight. The IR thermal jet signature was absent. The boomer girl was too small to carry any thrusters. The moment she had lost touch with the ground she had become unable to control her direction or speed, and was therefore helpless to avoid being split in two by the whips. The suit's targeting mechanism had automatically made the appropriate trajectory calculations.
The girl was already dead.
At a combined speed of over 4500 km/hr it would take less than five milliseconds for the whips to make contact. 0.001 seconds after she had straightened from the spin the girl had begun another maneuver. She stretched out her arms and for a millisecond formed a perfect cross in mid air, the plane of which was parallel with respect to the floor. 0.003 seconds later, she had folded her body in two at her waist, her knees almost touching her chin. The whips crisscrossed the space where her chest would have been. The girl then straightened out again, this time head first. She held her right arm tightly against her body, and positioned her left forearm just below her eyes.
She could see the knife's shiny metal reflecting off the hardsuit's helmet.
Almost instinctively, Linna realized something had gone wrong. It was only because of her years of training and almost superhuman reflexes that she actually managed to fasten her stance and tighten the muscles in her left arm to lock the suit's servomotors in place. 1/50 of a second later, Linna saw the knife's blade.
Its edge was coming out of her wrist.
Everything began to spin wildly around her. She tried to read the electronic gyros but it was useless. A massive power failure had blacked out all displays. Stabilizers were out. Nothing seemed to respond. She was completely helpless.
Suddenly, she hit the ground. She was becoming increasingly dizzy and couldn't understand what she was seeing. The girl was now towering over her, motionless. Behind her she saw somebody in a hardsuit, facing opposite to the girl.
By the time she realized the hardsuit was her own, she was dead.
* * * * *
Priss closed her eyes, but the final explosion never came.
She opened them to see the Doberman looking quizzically at its right arm.
Or, more appropriately, towards where its right arm should have been.
The Doberman's head suddenly appeared to grow a horn, like a unicorn, as a blade erupted from its head.
Sylia, after having severed its arm, had plunged her vibroblade upwards through the mecha's throat, all the way through the top of its skull.
The arm which it was using to pin Priss to the wall slackened a little. In one swift move she freed herself as she stuck a small charge to its chest.
Both women covered themselves the best the could as the charge went off. The force of the explosion hurled the Doberman backwards, smashing it against the control panel. As Sylia and Priss looked up the saw the Doberman was still standing, with a hole the size of a bowling ball in its chest.
Priss fired her densematter gun into the hole. Needless to say, the Doberman did not get up again. Ever.
"Linna! Nene! Do you read?"
As Sylia tried to get in touch with the others, she saw Priss falter.
"Priss! Are you O.K.?"
"Uuungh. That last blow must've broken my arm. Don't worry, I'll live," she said, trying to smile.
"I can't get them on the radio. You get out of the plant, I'll trace their beacon"
"No way! I'm with you!"
"You're hurt. Get out. That's an order!"
Priss grinned. She was feeling like shit, and didn't want to argue. So instead, she reasoned with her.
"And what if I bump into the third Doberman on my way out? Huh? Then what?"
"Damn!" thought Sylia. She had a point.
"O.K., but whatever happens you fall back and cover me, got that?"
They started walking along the corridors towards the two red dots on the map. They where at the other end of a plant, in some sort of corridor. They slowly headed towards them, carefully entering each room they had to go through.
They were halfway there when they found themselves in a huge room full of valves and pipes. The walls were webbed with thick tubes, each thoroughly wrapped with electric and heat insulating material. The tubes were empty, of course, since all tritoxen flow had already been cut off.
As they scanned the room in search of the Doberman, they saw her.
The girl was crouching at the corner of the room, her face to the walls. She seemed to be holding something in her arms and was gently making a rocking movement with her whole body.
Priss ran a scan on the girl. There was something strange about her. The EEM aura, the brain's electrical signature which only humans possessed, was there. But other readings did not make sense, such as the huge temperature gradients over her body,
"Sylia, be careful. There's something weird about that girl"
"I'll get her. You stay here"
As Sylia approached her from behind, she could hear her humming. She then began to pray. She was, in fact, softly singing.
"Hollow men have got you, long before you realize..."
Sylia put her hand on the girl's left shoulder.
"Come on, we must get you out of here," she said, in a soft but firm manner.
The girl stopped her cradling. She remained silent for several seconds. Sylia was getting impatient. She was about to pick her up when, without lifting her head, the girl whispered,
"The poison paralyses"
She started to bend to carry her, when suddenly the girl thrusted what she was holding into her arms.
It was Linna's head.
For a moment, Sylia faltered. She looked at the face of what once had been Linna Yamazaki. The corners of her mouth had been ripped apart, so that her lips where now forming a grotesque smile. The blood that had oozed from her mouth and nose had been smeared on her cheeks, as if it were a macabre rouge. Her eyes bulged out, as her eyelids had been shoved behind the orbs. The overall expression was that of a maniacal, monstrous jester.
Suddenly, she felt herself being jerked to the right. The girl had gotten hold of her wrist and had somehow managed to put her off balance. She now stood facing the girl towards the corner, with Priss behind her.
She didn't realize she was being used as a shield until it was too late.
The girl had a firm hold of her right wrist, and had placed her legs between the hardsuit's, so that her feet were firmly locked just below and behind the knees. Sylia's legs were immobilized.
Sylia's only hope was the explosive insertor in her left hand. As she lifted her arm to deliver the shattering blow to the girl's head, the girl placed her open hand on her shoulder.
Sylia howled in pain as the suit's surface temperature indicator lit up, blazing red. Her fist froze in mid air, mere centimeters from the girl's temple. In less than a second, her shoulder junction had been welded into place, the actuator within now a formless mass of molten metal.
The girl now slid her incandescent hand over Sylia's chest, just above her left breast. She could hear the electric arc cracking heinously as it pierced the air.
Upon touching the surface of the hardsuit the ceramic composite layer exploded as the plasma jet violently increased its temperature to 40000 K. The titanium- carbonfiber superalloy underneath immediately turned white hot as the girl's hand effortlessly cut through the armour.
Waves of excruciating pain swept through Sylia's whole body. Droplets of boiling plastic and metal pierced her skin as the interior surface of her hardsuit started to melt and bubble. Within the suit the stench of burning flesh began to swell.
As the girl's hand penetrated into the armour the pitch of her scream rose to a shriek of unbelievable pain and terror.
Without stopping, the girl's hand plunged into Sylia's chest. Her flesh dissolved as the plasma ravaged through her torso. Tissue and bone burned away, and Sylia's head jerked back in one violent spasm that broke her neck. In a paroxysm of pain, her whole body went into convulsions.
The plasma jet faded. Incredibly, Sylia was not dead yet. Within her chest the girl had cupped her heart in her hand, and had felt a beat.
Before she felt another, she closed her fist, crushing it.
* * * * *
Sylia's agonizing scream still echoed in Priss' head as the girl untangled herself from the remains of the hardsuit and the body within.
In less than five seconds she had seen her two best friends murdered while she stood helpless to do anything. The moment she saw Linna's head drop on the floor she had aimed her fist gun, but the girl had already shielded herself using Sylia's body. As Priss started to advance towards them Sylia's piercing scream exploded in her helmet. For the first time since joining the Knight Sabers, she felt true fear. She froze. A second later she had recovered, but it was too late.
The girl stepped back, and Sylia's body collapsed.
Her right hand was crimson red, and the remains of the heart she had tore out of Sylia's chest slid down her fingers and fell to the floor. Staring at Priss, she slowly lifted her hand to her face and with her index finger traced a red streak under each eye.
Priss was paralyzed.
The numbing pain in her arm combined with the shock of what she was seeing was making her black out. It was a nightmare beyond imagination. She was in Hell.
Suddenly, the scent of burnt flesh reached her nostrils. She gagged. She pointed her densematter gun at the girl. As the vomit reached her throat, she fired.
The girl's shoulder exploded. Pieces of metal and dark brown droplets of liquid flew in all directions. Her arm right spun in the air and bounced against a wall before hitting the floor. The bloodied hand twitched twice, and then froze.
The girl stood motionless, looking at Priss.
She grabbed the hilt of the knife that she had strapped to her remaining arm and lifted it over her head.
Priss fired again.
This time the high-density titanium-tipped plutonium slug hit her directly in the stomach. The force of the blow was such that she was almost split in half, her legs and waist held up by a thin strip of "skin" on her right side. The girl had managed to remain standing as she sustained her upper torso by holding onto the knife which was now deeply incrusted into one of the deposit's pipes.
Her arm then split open just below her shoulder. Six short, needle-tipped, metallic pencils could be seen inside.
Priss pointed her gun, for the last time, at the girl's head.
As the sight on her visor locked on her forehead and turned green, Priss hesitated.
The girl was smiling at her.
With her head slightly tilted sideways, it was a beautiful smile. Her eyes almost closed, it radiated warmth and love. But above all, it was an infinitely sad smile.
It was the same smile a friend had given her a long time ago as he said
The electrical discharge from the little girl's arm went through the knife directly into the tube. Once inside, it spread at lightning speed through its conductive interior surface.
In less than a microsecond it had travelled along the tube's length directly into the heart of one of the huge tritoxen tanks ten floors below.
And the wrath of God stormed the earth.
As the temperature at the center of the explosion rose to 6 million degrees, everything in a 10 km radius vaporized instantly. In the blink of an eye fifteen million people had ceased to exist.
Buildings exploded as the shock wave advanced destroying everything in its path. It crushed earthquake-proof structures as far as NeoYokohama. The fires that then began to rage covered an area of over 2000 square kilometers. A tsunami that formed within the city's bay soon reached Yokosuka and Chiba, flooding them under billions of litres of water. The once proud city of MegaTokyo had been obliterated in less than a minute.
By sunrise, thirty-nine million people had perished.
* * * * *
The man stood before the ruins of the semi-destroyed bar. It was one of the few structures that had survived. Looking around, he noticed that the only buildings that remained standing where almost perfectly aligned radially away from where the explosion had occurred. Facing towards the blast's direction, he suddenly understood why. A couple of kilometers away a huge black pile of molten concrete and metal could be seen. He had once heard that the tower had been built to last a hundred thousand years, a symbol of Genom's everlasting power. It didn't quite make it, but the fact that its charred ruins remained standing was indeed a tribute to their engineering prowess. He sadly smiled when he realized the cruel irony.
The same company that had destroyed everything he ever had, had also saved his life.
For the last time, he entered the bar. He went to the small room in the back where he had lived for so many years and in which he would never sleep again. He walked between the tables, most of which had been crushed by the heavy pieces of concrete that had once formed a ceiling. The wall where the dartboard used to hang was no more. He slowly slid his hand over the counter behind which he had spent most of his existence. It was cracked and covered with debris.
As he was about to leave, he saw something lying on the floor near the corner of the room. It was the little girl's synthesizer. As he picked it up he noticed a few music sheets underneath. It was the song she had been writing. It had no title. It never would. The only name it would ever have was the dedication scribbled at the top of the page
back to the Short Story Page.Nemesis, 9 March 1996