Part 16 – Mamono vs Machine
Thirteen was confused. The mana from the armor facing her had changed. It now felt closer to… her own? How do I even know what my mana is supposed to feel like! But even as the question echoed in her skull, the chimera knew things had just gotten a whole lot more dangerous. The other mamono meant to capture her. This one was prepared to kill.
There was a rattling mechanical sound, as several pieces of metal attached the approaching armor’s left arm moved, snapping together into a shield, before there was a burst of light, and the now shielded machine hurled itself forwards.
She could barely get her arms up before impact, the force sending her crashing into the concrete wall behind her with both a crash, and an audible squish, as she frantically tried to use her slime tendrils to absorb the blow. In a lightning-fast motion, the shield was gone, and the armor began to mechanically pummel her, alternating blows with its metal fists like a metronome. Face, chest, shoulder, face, it was endless, until she finally got an arm up long enough to deflect the next hammer blow, sucking in a breath to shoot another plasma burst. No matter how much it hurt, she needed the space.
But as the armor saw her chest and throat beginning to glow, and it leapt backwards, snapping its shield up, absorbing the bolt. Then in a lightning fast move, it dropped the shield, and raised its other arm, a spinning contraption like the legged cannons’, but more complex. It spun up with an audible whir, and then her world turned to pain. It was like a thousand spear wounds at once, and trying to shield her head with her arms didn’t help, the projectiles ripping through both them and her torso with ease. It felt longer than it was, but in a few seconds, almost every bone in her torso was shattered, and she could feel her slime reservoir rapidly depleting, as she attempted to use it physically hold herself together.
By some miracle, or perhaps in a cruel twist of fate, she could still feel her legs, as she fell to her knees, the jacket of slime she’d encased her torso in bulging dangerously, before compressing once again. She wrapped her handicles around her torso as well, even though it left her head exposed, and mentally tried to force her regeneration to speed up. The armor approached slowly, retracting away the weapon it had used, and extending a set of wicked mechanical claws from that same hand…
Her vision fading, Thirteen visibly sagged, despite her torso’s significant regeneration. She was nearly out of energy, and wouldn’t be able to move until her bones finished knitting back together. In brief moment of irony, she almost wished her Commander was there to protect her. I can’t know whether that’s something they put in my head, or if it’s because I don’t want to die…
As Gloria approached the now kneeling chimera, several processes ran through her electronic mind.
This one has injured the Pilot, it must die.
However, the current priority is to capture it for interrogation…
Target status: Incapacitated – severe damage, current regeneration level: Unknown
Scanning…. Additional arcane energy signatures found within target, location: larynx
At the very least, I will clear this creature’s remaining obstructions. But I will not be gentle.
She extruded the combat blades from the tips of her right hand with a snikt, and paused to assess where to strike. But before she could swing, she felt a small hand on her right arm.
“Please… Don’t kill her.”
It was the baphomet they had seen in Corporal Tomkins’ transmission, and while she was clearly winded, the fact that she could still approach the fight between the much larger combatants was not lost on Gloria.
“I will not terminate her life. However, there is still an obstruction within her. I will remove it.”
The armor approached, and while she was grateful for her not-Commender’s intervention, Thirteen was still more focused on trying to not pass out. Hearing the baphomet plead for her life was reassuring, but the look on the armor’s “face” left no such reassurance. The rectangles of light that made up the creature’s eyes were not burning as fiercely as they had been, but there was still a severe presence exuded by the thing. Taking a knee, it gripped her chin with its un-bladed hand roughly, raising her head, and turning it from side to side, before swiping its blades through her neck. There wasn’t the cold shock of all sensation below her neck going numb, and the fresh ichor that now coated her front quickly stopped.
As did something else. The choking feeling she’d forced her breath and her screams through for the past few hours was now gone, and she could feel her throat finally regenerating completely, versus around and through the thing that had been in her neck.
Still holding her chin in one hand, the armor poked through the gore it had removed from her neck, before picking up a partially crushed tube of dark metal, purple glowing runes and tracery still flickering on its bloody surface, pinching it almost delicately between two bladed fingers. Turning to her approaching Commander, the armor released her, and held out the item for inspection.
“This is the obstruction. There are several other traces of similar energy within her, but they are fading rapidly. This is the sole source which remains.”
Beth’ver’sheth looked at the gore-stained item before her and bit back a curse in the ancient tongue. It was a suppressor, likely it had been clamped around Thirteen’s brainstem, or more likely, slipped between most of the structures in her neck. The initial injury that had almost killed her had obviously torn it loose, and the chimera had been trying to regenerate around it for the past several hours… The structure of it was particularly telling, as it was clearly intended to fully control the subject’s brain, or failing that, to be detonated on command. Wincing at the mess, she gingerly took the object, and supported it in her palm, before angrily crushing it. Violet sparks spit from her fist, and when she opened it, she let the remains fall to the ground as fine sand.
“That… was one of the foulest things our superiors had come up with.”
“It was some sort of control device?”
“If by “control” you mean: ‘total suppression of all free will and limitation of remaining thought’, then you would be correct.”
“By your reaction, I assume you were not privy to its presence within your subordinate?”
“I was told there were controls in place to reanimate Thirteen, and command her, not that her mind was intact.”
Further discussion of what was clearly a grisly subject was put on hold, as the chimera in question took a deep breath, and coughed violently, expelling a mix of ichor, mucus and soot, before breathing deeply.
Moving to kneel in front of her charge, Beth placed a hand on her shoulder. “Thirteen, can you hear me?”
Thirteen could feel all of her limbs, and her torso had finally stopped hurting. In fact, all of her major pain was almost gone, but she was desperately thirsty.
“Water… please…” she croaked.
The baphomet – she refused to think of her as her Commander, and surprisingly, that thought didn’t hurt either – Held her free hand palm up, and a glow emanated from it, before a trickle of water began to flow, splashing on the ground, before she brought it close, and the chimera began to drink. The almost dried-looking slime covering her torso began to look shinier, loosening up and becoming liquid once again, and she pulled it back into the openings along her spine, leaving regenerated flesh behind. Once she was sated, the baphomet stopped the flow of water, and helped the much larger mamono sit with her back against an undestroyed section of concrete wall.
“Can you tell me your name?” she asked.
While Beth tended to her now docile charge, Gloria had stood back, and off to one side, silently communicating with George. Despite his unawakened state, the armor sent along diagnostics indicating his occupant was rattled, but conscious, and a brief peek through his cameras found the two wurms from earlier had propped him up, while his charge had opened his upper chest plate, and was getting some air.
Now, she had the breathing room to attend to her own pilot…
“Sergeant… Sergeant… You must wake up.”
There was a sharp scent that dug its claws into his nose, and Sergeant Rawlins awoke with a start. He tossed his head, trying to get the offending scent out of his nose, only to be brought up short by the harness that still secured him inside his armor.
Wait, armor? Right, he’d gotten juked by the chimera, and landed facedown. If the ache above his forehead was any indication, he’d smacked his head against a compartment brace, which, despite being padded, and with a helmet on his head, had still managed to knock him out… That particular flaw was definitely going in his report to tech division when they got back. But who’s voice was that?
“Gah! I’m awake, dammit!”
“That is good, Sergant,” said the voice, as his cabin fans kicked on, and he felt the air system purging the smell. In a moment or two, the space was quiet, and the air smelled neutral. “I must apologize for my rudeness, but the mission is not yet finished.”
“Who? Wait… Gloria?”
“That is correct, Sergeant. The injury you sustained hastened my awakening, and I was forced to finish the fight in your stead.”
“I see… I have a lot of questions, but I think those will have to wait. What’s out status?”
“Combat is currently finished, and while Corporal Tomkins has sustained some minor injuries, she is largely unharmed. Your own status is similar, although I would suggest seeing the base doctor once we return, as you have likely sustained a mild concussion.”
“I see. And the status of our… Irregulars?”
“Irregulars, Sergeant? Ah, you are referring to the mixed group of mamomo who are accompanying us. Their status is nominal, with Ruby and Selena having sustained the most injury, however, due to their nature, they are largely healed and fully mobile. Beth is uninjured, although she did sustain some moderate scorching, along with minor burns. Infantry Armors Joan and Maria are undamaged, and are currently speaking with/guarding the undeads Carrie, Linda, and Deana, who are also uninjured.” His armor finished crisply.
“All right, and lastly, I need you to get in touch with Bass and Pistol, inform them of the situation, and see if Command has sent any further orders.”
“And this city, ‘Detroit’, Why do you suppose the ones who held us under their control had decided to arrive here?”
“Ah wish I could answer that, miss Aina.” Bass responded. He and his charges were currently quartering their assigned patrol area, and had seen almost nothing, save for the occasional drone overflight, and even the far-off sounds of combat had faded.
“I don’t think they did…” Tamera began slowly. “It’s not like there was much mana left in the world when you journeyed to the castle, right? And my memory is hazy at best. I can’t remember anything after agreeing to let them study me while I slept.”
“While you slept?”
“Yes, I wasn’t in… a good place, and sleeping made things hurt less. The lich I spoke to had said they could ‘learn so much’ from my body, and the way it processed mana, even while I was asleep.”
“Miss Tamera, you don’t have to go into too much detail-“
“But I want to. Talking about it is… helping.”
And so the zombie dragon relayed her strange tale: Waking up in her former cave, having apparently died for the first time several decades before finding her way to the lich stronghold where she’d been enthralled, along with Aina and the others.
“But, how did you even know where to go?” The minotaur asked.
“We dragons can sense mana, even when we’re… like this. And the strongest concentrations were in that castle, everything else felt… gray.”
“I’m sorry Aggrandize, or one of the others isn’t here, Corporal. They could probably explain it a bit better, but unless I’m mistaken, the lich’s castle was drawing all the remaining mana out of our world, and concentrating it, probably to make the jump to this one.”
“That fits, ah suppose. Guessin’ y’all were the last group to leave, if’n events over here are anythin’ ta go on.” The Corporal finished, before holding up a mechanical hand. “Hol on, got a call coming in from the Sergeant.”
While the message about an “Incoming Transmission” on his comm screen was fairly standard, what happened when Bass picked up was not. Instead of the interior view of Gloria’s piloting compartment, he saw a woman’s face. She was reasonably attractive, her hair cut short, and her striking green eyes staring at him from a pale blue face, with faint lines of binary code running vertically through it, her bare shoulders disappearing out of sight in the display.
“Corporal Hayes? This is Gloria, serial number A7G-2885. I’m coordinating operations while the Sergeant continues to recover, and updates Command of the current situation.”
“Gloria? As in our Gloria?”
“Yes, Corporal, the current situation at our location is under control, and while we are somewhat the worse for wear, there is no permanent damage. I am calling to inquire of you and you team’s status.”
“Uh… gimme a sec here, it looks like things definitely got interesting for y’all,” The human responded, his accent slipping out.
“I understand, Corporal. Rest assured, I did not wish for our first meeting to be this rushed or disorganized either. However, I can transmit the appropriate codes to verify my identity if you wish.”
“Please do that, and then I’ll get you up to speed.”
“Acknowledged.” There was a brief audible modem sound, and a secondary display flashed the words “Encryption Keys Verified.”
“Ready for verbal authentication.” The human stated formally.
“Authentications confirmed, Corporal. I trust this validates my identity?”
“Indeed it does, Gloria. How should I address you?”
“I believe my name is sufficient, until such time as my formal designation is sorted, something I have reason to suspect may take quite some time. However, that is for when the mission is completed.”
As they spoke, Bass made a mental note the his Sergeant’s armor remained efficient, even under the current conditions. Something to keep in mind when filing my own report… he decided.