2917 words | 12 Min
This was my birthday present for ElektronX last year.
Innumerable white particles stormed down from above. Every speck an individual without equal, never before and never again seen in the world. Their delicate, symmetrical hex-patterns were another miracle of nature. Each catching and diffracting the light that was caught by the next, ultimately rendering the world beyond unobservable. Yet at the core of each magnificent crystal lay a dark heart, for their beauty could not come to be without a seed of impurity upon which to grow.
Techtor, however, did not care for this. He and a quivering pile of blankets were holed up in a hotel room in a long-forgotten city. The room was decently insulated from the outside, but it had not seen any artificial heating in years. Thus, the greatest improvement that the inside held over the outside was protection from the wind.
The cold did not bother him. In fact, he liked the cold; heat increased resistance and thus energy loss in his circuits. Plus his remaining organic parts were so few and so numb that the cold was not felt. But there were others that enjoyed the cold far less than him. Techtor looked over to a pile of old bath towels in the centre of the room. A grey tail emerged from one end, and a snout from the other. Both, along with the entire pile, trembled every so often.
Returning to the window, he pondered possible courses of action.
While he might never completely eliminate the Anomaly Research Agency, he could eliminate one more of their sources of test subjects. His target was a mutant fighting ring. He’d started on the trail of this group back when he’d been investigating the ARA’s ‘Specimen Aquisition Purchases’. ARA didn’t mind specimens with injuries, even maimed specimens, so long as they could still be studied. Somewhere in this city, groups of mutant hunters came together to socialise, compare catches, place bets and have some competitive ‘fun’.
He had planned to hit them tonight, but then the snowstorm hit – effectively shutting down his plans. The upside would be that the humans would also be hunkered down, and have less chance of sighting him. The downside was that Scope was out of commission until the weather warmed.
Not that Scope ever listened to Techtor’s plans, let alone followed them. For the entire duration of the briefing of this mission, that lazy lounge lizard had been playing with his guns – summoning, disassembling, reassembling and unsummoning just about every single pistol he had added to his arsenal over the years. Scope wouldn’t even be able to find their target on his own.
Plus, as soon as any fighting started, he was liable to go in, guns blazing, and alert any remaining enemies to their presence. Techtor wanted to kill as many of the monsters as possible without alerting the rest, so he could have an easier time freeing mutants and putting a halt to their operations.
Perhaps it would be best for him to go alone after all. The humans would rely on visual or thermal surveillance, both of which now suffered. No one would stand watch outside in this weather. On the flip side, Techtor would still be able to sense signals from a decent range. It seemed like the snowstorm was a blessing after all.
He’d made his decision. Turning away from the window, Techtor eyed a bag that had been discarded beside what remained of a bed: the wooden frame, ruined mattress and scraps of a duvet. Inside it was some tech that he’d built for Scope. Wouldn’t be used for this mission anymore, but could be used another time.
“I’m going to continue with the op alone. Use the storm to my advantage, seeing as they’ll probably be hiding from the cold as well. You stay here, and I’ll come back when I’m done.”
He looked at the pile, waiting for a response. He received none but a shiver and the call of the wind outside. Techtor turned to leave.
“Yeah,” came a muffled voice, “whatever.”
He stopped and glanced back, before resuming his exit.
The passage’s once-opulent carpet had been worn and torn by whatever things had lived here since the humans left. Then they too had since moved on, or been captured, after a few very dangerous humans had decided to move back into this radioactive concrete jungle.
If there was one thing Techtor could admire humans for, it was their persistence and drive to always come out on top. Despite their weak bodies, they continued to create things that negated their weaknesses and made them stronger. They made themselves dangerous.
Past the elevator doors that hung ajar and down the spiralling staircase. Through the snow-dusted lobby and over the shattered front doors. Techtor now found himself in the midst of the storm. The blasting wind proved little hindrance to him, as he trudged through the snow.
Recalling the image file he had saved of the area map, he plotted his course. While signals might still work over short ranges, there was no chance that things such as GPS could work. He would need to stick close to the edge of the buildings, keeping them in sight so that he might navigate correctly by himself.
He’d tracked the hunters to a sort of headquarters in an old prison. In his scouting yesterday, he had found that they’d turned the gymnasium into their central fighting ring and the cells had been strengthened for the creatures they now held. A place of re-education – where the dregs of their society had once been expected to become better – had been turned into a place for intelligent beings to be forced to the savagery of the mere beasts they were expected to be. The hint of irony in the situation was not lost upon Techtor, cold and robotic as his heart may be.
Trudging through abandoned cities normally felt lonely and perhaps a little creepy, as there was a good chance that things could come jumping out of the shadows at any time. But now the sense of isolation reached an extreme, as only a few buildings loomed in view at a time, seemingly lost and alone themselves.
As Techtor, at last, neared his destination, he slowed his pace. After confirming that he had indeed turned his suit’s lights entirely off, he devoted his full attention to the environment. He searched for any light, movement or signal as he cut a hole in the fence, then crossed the sports fields. Any sign of activity.
Two groups of signals approached. Each set were the devices carried by a different human. They chatted over radio earpieces despite being only a few steps from one another. Techtor was surprised they could even do that with the strong winds that should have rendered the microphones and earphones useless. Yet the mics continued to mostly pick up the humans’ voice instead of the howling wind.
They were heading towards where he had located the pool yesterday. It had been drained of water and scorched. What could they want there, in the middle of a blizzard?
“Man, that last fight was a let-down. Brutus shredded this one before the fight had even started. What was its name again?”
“Don’t know, don’t care. Another step closer to me raking it in! Did you really put your money on the capuchin? When that alligator is competing?”
By now Techtor was close enough behind them to see that they were in full body hazmat suits. They were pushing a cart,and not paying attention to their surroundings
“Hey, I have great expectations of li’l Blinky!”
“Yeah, yeah, and I have great expectations of you paying up.”
The two stopped walking. They had reached the pool. Bending down, they huffed as they lifted the cart, dumping its contents into the pit.
Too late did they notice something looming behind them. Plasma blades ignited from robotic gauntlets. Smoke blew away with the frigid wind as skin, bone and grey matter were vaporised. The snow ran red.
Techtor stood solemnly, trembling with rage. If he had had more time, he’d give every last one of these freaks the slow, painful deaths they deserved. But he had work to do. More than just the snow would run red today. He quickly scrubbed their phones for data that could be analysed later before walking away. He made it a couple steps away before turning back to push the two bodies and cart into the mutant-viscera-filled pit.
Once at the prison, he approached the back doors. They were barely big enough for the cart to fit through. He could not sense anyone’s devices directly on the other side of the door, but there were two who stood up a staircase to the left. Two more pairs further along the second-floor passage. He calmly opened the door.
“Hey Sam, Nic, the next round is gonna start soon! Get ready to do some more cleanup.”
The man then apparently noticed the unexpected silence and the absence of the wagon, as he and his partner began to slowly descend the stairs. They held high-tech plasma rifles at the ready. Techtor stepped back from the door and hid behind the adjoining wall.
“We know you’re there!” the other man called, “Come out with your hands in the air!”
“What can I say,” Techtor replied, and stepped into view, “you got me.”
“Oh, s-” the hunter was cut short as he tried to fire his weapon, but it instead experienced a critical electromagnetic plasma containment field failure. An exceptionally unfortunate event, as all three failsafe systems also experienced a statistically impossible simultaneous failure. He ultimately met his end by a weapon through which he brought about so many others’ ends. In short: Ka-boom.
Acting quickly to take advantage of the other now-disoriented guard, Techtor moved in for the kill.
“That wasn’t as quiet as I would have hoped,” Techtor muttered to himself. He heard shouts from the guards upstairs. Fortunately, thanks to the storm, no one else was in an audible range of that small blast. “Could have been worse.”
“CP!” Someone spoke into a radio. “We’ve got an intruder!” Techtor picked up the plasma rifle from the non-particularized dead man. “Small explosion by back field entrance.” If he had to fight at range, Techtor liked plasma weapons. “CP? Come in CP?” They were clean, quiet, powerful and very safe to use. He had no need for that ‘thrill’ that Scope so craved. “Someone go warn-” Another life, so tragically cut short as Techtor reached the top of the stairs and discharged a round, followed by a small venting hiss from his gun.
The other three tried to return fire but instead found their weapons had failed. Mind you, they did not explode – Techtor could not afford for the more explosions that might be noticed. But all three rifles did release warning beeps as a safety measure kicked in, venting the extreme heat of a misfire out the sides of the weapons and preventing further shots.
With three calmly and coldly placed bolts of searing-hot unstable plasma, the guards’ troubles were over.
“Over here, green one!” This time, a call came from inside one of the reinforced cells, “That one has the keys.”
A strange chitinous appendage stuck between bars of a cell door and indicated the human who had tried in vain to radio for backup. As Techtor walked down the passage, he passed cells both empty and filled. Occupants of the rooms all stood by their bars, some watching him with intelligent eyes, but others with a mere animal interest.
“Do I know you?” Techtor asked the voice. He hadn’t noticed any head sticking out of that cell, and didn’t think it had seen him.
“This one knew you would come, great siphon!”
“That does not answer my question.”
“You do not know us, but we know you. Knowledge of your crusades against the oppressors has reached us many a time!”
“I am on no crusade.” Techtor arrived at the cage of the speaker. “I am driven by self-interest.” It seemed to have once been some kind of ant but was now grossly grown and deformed – as the rest of mutantkind were.
“Yet here you are.”
“I seek to stop ARA to protect myself and my brother.” Techtor continued walking towards the body with the keys. He could slice these bars, but they looked to be strong. Better to conserve the power if an easier option were available.
“This one does not believe you do it for you alone. Yet, even if so by protecting yourselves you protect us.”
“Don’t be so sure of that.” Techtor now had the keys.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,” a voice boomed over not-distant-enough loudspeakers, “Geeeeet ready! We have a new challenger! In the red corner, we have Brutus, an aptly named alligator who needs no introduction. And in the blue corner, we have Blinky, a capuchin who can blink! Creative names tonight, folks!”
The insect clicked in an agitated fashion. “Give the keys to the simian. It can free this one and the others. Return once you have triumphed. You must return this one to us. We know the location of a bomb that poisons the land. This one knows you seek those but does not know all that we know.”
“Return you to your hive,” Techtor asked for clarification, “so that you can tell me where a nuclear bomb is?”
“Yes! Now go, quickly!”
Techtor rushed to the cage he’d seen a mutant chimpanzee in. “Can you manage to open the cells of everyone that won’t try to kill us?” he asked. It silently nodded, and he handed it the keys then ran.
Nearing the gymnasium, desperate pleas were heard. “Please! I said don’t want to fight! Why don’t you understand?!” It sounded almost human, but not quite.
“Hah,” the voice on the microphone taunted, “the animal asks us if we understand? Does it even understand what it says? What do you think? Let it free?”
Countless jeers and boos were heard.
“Democracy has spoken! You fight, monkey!”
Techtor burst into the gymnasium to see a small monkey hiding at the corner of a battle-cage, teleporting small distances to dodge taser-rods attempting to prod it and the alligator with bifurcated jaws attempting to get a hold of it. Yet it remained trapped in the cage. Humans stood crowded around the cage and on grandstands further away. It was little consolation that they would die of radiation poisoning before most humans.
Now was not the time to wait around. Quickly analysing the situation, Techtor decided on a plan of action. He sliced the supports of the grandstand closest to him, causing all the humans on it to fall over backwards and get tangled with one another. This gave him a chance to take others out while they got back on their feet. He rushed to the next grandstand and began his bloody harvest. Screams of alarm, terror and pain echoed across the prison.
In the chaos and confusion, he easily cut down half of the crowd before any substantial response could be mobilised. But when they had grabbed their weapons, the situation quickly took a turn for the worse. It was as if he now stood in front of a firing squad.
Techtor powered up his shields just long enough to retreat outside the gymnasium and hide behind a solid wall. That much sustained fire from so many weapons, both conventional and technological, could not be blocked for long. Even already the wall began to crack and crumble around him.
Showered with concrete dust, Techtor realised that in his rush to stop the fight he had not made the wisest decision. Perhaps it would have been better to free all the captives, then attack. No, that would have gotten many of them killed. Perhaps he should not have gone-
“Grenade!” Screams of panic. A series of explosions. Unmistakable maniacal laughter. The lounge lizard had come after all.
Techtor ignited his weapons and entered the fray once more, a ballet of bullets and blades. There were but a few still left standing, and they could not be very effective against either attacker. It was not long before the last of the hunters had been felled.
Yet, in the cage at the centre, Brutus tried to do the only thing it still knew how: kill. Blinky now hung from the top of the cage, no longer forced down by taser rods, while Brutus gnashed and growled. Techtor approached the cage, and the creature lashed out at him, releasing a terrible cry of pain and anger.
“There’s no help for this one,” he concluded and put it out of its misery. He then cut away a bar so that the monkey could get out. Blinky indicated her gratitude but kept her distance. She was clearly afraid of Techtor. But instead of running off on her own, she remained in the same room as the brothers.
“Thanks for the save,” Techtor surveyed the mess he and Scope had made. Despite them being amongst the humans he hated most, even this made him sick.
“Hey, don’t you go try to start any parties without me again!”
Techtor silently turned away and marched back to the repurposed cell block.
“What’s the next plan, bro?” Scope had come after all, even though the snowstorm still raged outside. Despite his faults, Scope was still certainly a benefit to the team.
“Next we disarm a nuke.”