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Tales of a Power Armor Apocalypse [Original Fiction]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by JMHthe3rd, May 12, 2015.

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  1. Threadmarks: Table of Contents
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    This started as fiction related to the Power Armor CYOA, though the characters and their stories are my creation. I'm now posting it as an independent, (sort of) original work. Comments and criticism are welcome and appreciated.

    Tales of a Power Armor Apocalypse
    On September 5, 2014, thousands of pods fell from the sky. They came bearing gifts.
    [​IMG]
    Dr. Linda Brickle

    Age: 35
    Occupation: FBI Intelligence Analyst

    [​IMG]
    Mackenzie Hackworth
    Age: 27
    Occupation: Unemployed

    [​IMG]
    Carin Yovanovitch
    Age: 29
    Occupation: Elementary Schoolteacher

    [​IMG]
    Angel Zacarias
    Age: 30
    Occupation: Auto Mechanic

    Prologue
    Chapter One
    Chapter Two
    Chapter Three
    Chapter Four
    Chapter Five
    Chapter Six
    Chapter Seven
    Chapter Eight
    Chapter Nine

    Omakes

    Lazurman
    Tales from the Western Front, Part 1
    Tales from the Western Front, Part 2

    [​IMG]
    PFC Matthew "Archie" Davison
    Age: 19
    Occupation: United States Marine
    (Eyes are blue and hair is cut to military regs.)

    [​IMG]
    "Angie"
    Age: < 1 Day
    Occupation: Engineer-Class Battlesuit Artificial Intelligence
    (Being composed of electronic dust, her default coloration is a warm shade of green.)
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015
    Lazurman, mytg8 and Ack like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Prologue
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Prologue
    (Linda)
    The alarm wakes me at noon. I have to be at work at three.

    I use my sliding board to transfer from my bed to my chair and wheel myself to the bathroom where I undertake my usual morning routine: shower, brush teeth, lean forward on the toilet and prod myself until I release my bowels. I think I might have a urinary tract infection. It doesn't hurt, of course, but it smells and I do feel somewhat uneasy. I'll need to schedule an appointment. Just another thing I have to do.

    I brush my light red hair but don't bother with makeup. I haven't in a while.

    Rei, Asuka and Shinji join me as I roll into the kitchen. I know what they want and take the time to savor their eager meows as I hold the paper plate of turkey and giblets above them. When I lean forward, they're all over it before I can even drop it to the floor. Asuka, the ginger one, headbutts the others, but I make sure they all get their share. I lay the dish of dry food farther away, beside the water bowl, knowing it'll be ignored until later in the day.

    As I eat my breakfast of yogurt, salad and orange juice, I check my mail, my forums. My fanfic has new reviews. It's almost finished. I have a vacation coming up, and it's kind of sad how eager I am to spent most of it in front of my laptop writing about a teenage girl who controls bugs.

    I dress in slacks and a pullover sweater and am about to leave when I notice the light blinking on my answering machine. Who the hell calls my landline? I don't even know why I still have one. I roll to the dresser and press the button.

    "Ms. Brickle," a familiar voice says (That's Dr. Brickle, asshole, I think bitterly), "this is Jim Ackermann with Ackermann and Ackermann. I represent Oliver Boyle . . ."

    I wheel my chair to the garage, leaving my ex-husband's sleazy lawyer to ramble to himself.

    I don't hate Ollie because he left me. Well, I do, but I'm realistic: I got shot; he didn't want a cripple for a wife. What was I supposed to say? 'Stay with me and be miserable'? It would have been nice if he waited until after the physical therapy before hitting me with the divorce papers, but whatever. We split up our possessions, our properties. I got the house and a nice share of his investments.

    It was only after the Yutani Corporation hit it big, increasing the value of its stock tenfold, that Ollie decided my shares were too nice. Hence the pressure to renegotiate. Like me, the case won't stand, but this borderline harassment is wearing me down.

    What makes it weird is that we both work for the Bureau. I see him around the office sometimes, though usually he's either passing by, if not outright ignoring me. I'm no longer a Special Agent, you see. We move in different circles now.

    I open my sedan's door and haul myself into the driver's seat. My wheelchair I methodically disassemble and stash its parts inside. I pull out of the garage and head on to work. Even after six years and all the ways I've adapted to this new lifestyle, I still haven't quite gotten accustomed to using hand controls instead of foot pedals. But then, my commute's not far, so I don't spend much time behind the wheel anymore.

    I live on the outskirts of Livingston, a small suburban community just west of Newark. My large backyard and the nearby woodlands hints at rustic isolation, but a couple of turns and a few minutes' east down Interstate 280 puts me right in front of my FBI building.

    I'm an intelligence analyst. Don't let the sexy name fool you: it's not as glamorous as it sounds. My current assignment is data-mining the financial trends of an aircraft manufacturer for signs of insider trading or corporate espionage. Not terribly dramatic, but there are ups and downs. Three years ago, I helped bust an online child pornography ring. That time, I enjoyed my job. I felt like I was doing something that mattered.

    I'm just about to exit the highway when it happens. A cacophony of booms rips the air. Blazing pinpoint stars streak contrails from the sky. Craning my head to look along the top of my windshield, I see several . . . then twenty . . . then hundreds. They crisscross and swerve, banking and slowing in ways meteors most certainly do not. A car in front of me scrapes against the concrete barrier as the driver is distracted by the light show. Behind me I hear the sickening crunch of colliding metal.

    My heart pounds, and suddenly my paralyzed lower half feels like an anchor stuck in mud. Chaos is around me, and I am helpless.

    No, I tell myself. I am in a car. I am in control. I quickly pull onto a service road and screech to a halt on the shoulder. The shooting stars continue, though there are less of them now. Cursing, maybe praying, I wait for world sundering mushroom clouds to blast me from existence. Nothing happens. Honks blare from the highway above.

    Well, this isn't a nuclear attack. Did several squadrons of military drones go full out Skynet? Is this an elaborate terrorist attack?

    I push aside the last option that burbles in my brain: aliens.

    That's just silly.

    Either way, it's going to be an interesting day. Interesting in the 'Chinese Proverb' way. Checking to make sure the road's clear, I continue on to work.

    ***
    (Mackenzie)
    Mackenzie Hackworth awakes to thunder without rain. His eyes scratch open, and above, through the blear, he sees the overcast is tainted by drifting wisps. One brick roof to the other, telephone wires crisscross the New York alley like suspension bridges and for an electric, crash-fueled second the sky is a foggy canal over which he levitates. The sky is down. Mack is up. Anything can happen.

    But the moment dies, and the sky rises to where it belongs. And Mack sinks down. On the ground. In trash.

    He smells burning. Shit, not again. Garbage bags beneath him crinkle as he jerks upright and beats at his newspaper-stuffed polyester jacket. But he's not on fire. And there's enough smoke that if he were he'd be dead. Clattering aside bottles of Robitussin, he crawls to the edge of his dumpster and peeks over its lip.

    The metal egg sits at the end of the alleyway. Wreathed in trash fire, half buried in shattered asphalt and pulsating with cliched green light, the Volkswagen-sized artifact smacks of something out of War of the Worlds--as witnessed by a homeless druggie.

    Mack rubs his greasy beard thoughtfully. Psychotic episode? He's certainly had enough of those: ants under the skin, arguing with his dead girlfriend, turning into a werewolf. And there was that crazy zolpidem and salvia trip with the Mashed Potato Monster . . .

    He did drink a lot of cough syrup last night, but it must be past noon now. He's down now. Isn't he?

    He half climbs, half falls from the dumpster and in a hunched Gollum-gait makes his way towards the strangely beckoning egg. The reek of burning banana peels hits him upside the nose, and he doubles over in wet, wheezing coughs. But as if on their own accord his legs carry him onward until he's kneeling before the alien device, keeping his distance only for the flames.

    The egg vents dull vapors along its base which extinguish the flames. A small iris opens in its side and aquamarine laser lights scan him up and down. With an echo of dignity, Mack totters upright and raises his arms as if to say, Here I am.

    Whatever happens now, it's not like his life can get any worse . . .
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter One
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter One
    (Angel)
    "I'm sorry, but our policies haven't changed," the woman said. "We've never covered Trexall. We did cover Albitrexate, but they discontinued that, so . . ."

    "They're the same fucking drugs!" Angel snapped as her '73 Cutlass growled down a sunny wetland stretch of King George Road. Warm autumn wind buffeted through the rolled-down windows to mess her jet-black pompadour and blast her tears. The wheel trembled under her shaking hand; her other squeezed the phone so hard she swore the screen would shatter against her cheek. She took a deep breath--from her diaphragm, just like her therapist taught her.

    She eased off the accelerator and exhaled slowly before explaining through gritted teeth, "I've researched them. They're the same chemical."

    "Yes, I know," the woman said placatingly, as if acknowledging the absurdity would make her client feel better. "But not according to the patent office . . ."

    Angel closed her eyes with exasperation. Not smart when driving. "So, she has to stop her chemo because a scrap of paper in a file drawer says two things the same are actually different? Does that sound right to you?"

    "I'm sorry, ma'am, but there's nothing I can do. We can cover Clofarex--"

    "She doesn't need Clofarex!" Angel nearly shouted. The sting behind her eyes let loose, and she had to fight back a sob. "'Trexate was working! Clofarex wasn't! What about that can't you get through your fat, stupid head? Your company is killing my wife!"

    "I'm sorry you feel that way. I wish I could--" In the background, a man's voice interrupted the woman. Angel couldn't make out the words, but he sounded excited. "Oh, my god!" someone cried.

    "Ms. Zacarias," the woman said blankly "I think you should check the news. Now."

    The call dropped. Angel screamed and threw the phone into the passenger floorboards. Her car briefly fishtailed until she steadied the wheel with both hands.

    Tears ran freely now. She knew she should pull over, but instead she put pedal to the metal and raced the Cutlass from eighty to ninety and beyond. Trees and shrubs slipped by in a leafy blur that made a forest corridor of the lonesome highway. If only the road rolled forever; if only she could drive and never stop. But then Angel and Carin's life seemed typified by the impotence of 'if.'

    If only Carin hadn't gotten sick. If only the Reserve hadn't discharged me. If only we weren't crippled with debts. If only my parents weren't selfish assholes.

    She hadn't called them in months, and that last time only her mother would speak to her.

    "Sweetie, I think this is God's way of telling you you're on the wrong path."


    "So, God gave my wife leukemia to teach me a lesson?"

    Angel had said some choice, bridge-nuking words after that and never looked back. She knew the truth: they just didn't want their lesbian daughter's wife to drain their retirement fund.

    But now Carin had it in her spinal cord, and doctors gave her a 30% chance--provided she continued the chemo. The online donations funded part of that, and Angel's minor celebrity status helped bring it in. But despite the novelty of her gender and sexual orientation, that Silver Star was seven years old. 'Has-been war hero' didn't exactly open wallets.

    Angel sniffled, wiped her eyes. Sometimes controlled breathing and thinking things through helped keep the attacks down, even if things weren't any better afterwards. From her flannel jacket she tugged loose a cigarette and drew deeply as she lit. She was going to see Carin this evening at Cancer NYU, but she should give her a call now, assuming she wasn't too wonky. As she leaned down for the phone, she idly wondered why the insurance lady hung up on her.

    The fireball struck.

    The explosion was down the road, a few hundred meters away, but Angel was still driving way too fast.

    Most people would slam the brakes and jerk the wheel, but if she did that the car would roll over a half dozen times. Instead she tapped and swerved gently left, and the Cutlass plowed into the expanding debris cloud but missed the round boulder that blocked half the two-lane highway.

    But the car bottomed out against a pothole or a crater and rebounded into the air and for a moment Angel was no longer driving an Oldsmobile in New Jersey but a Humvee outside Abu Ghraib.

    She hears gunfire and feels blood on her face and sees the truck in front of her flip in the air from the IED. The Humvee sinks to the side and crashes to a halt, smashing her back and forth. She can't see for all the blood and dust and frantically looks for her M4 carbine but it's nowhere and everything looks wrong. She listens: grit like BB pellets tap dance on the windshield, but the gunfire's gone and Anders is missing from her seat.


    Because she's been dead seven years.

    Angel spent a trembling, wind-down minute before wiping the blood from her eyes, her mouth, her chin. Gathering her wits, she stared dumbfounded at the droplets spangling her white tank-top. The Cutlass had slid off the shoulder to crash at a 45o tilt into a wet ditch, and now tall grass and mosquitoes intruded through the rolled-down diver's side. She slapped at a bite and tried to open the door, but of course mud blocked the way.

    She climbed up and out the passenger door instead, pausing on the way to retrieve her phone from the floorboard's driveshaft hump. The short drop to the pavement left her lanky legs wobbly, but aside from a few bruises, a nasty gash on her forehead and the inevitable whiplash, she judged she was okay. Shame about the car, though. She snapped its picture, the uplifted undercarriage exposing the bent axle and trashed engine.

    As she limped the hundred or so meters to the smoking impact site, she noted the highway was still devoid of traffic. Did they name meteors like they did asteroids? If so, she saw it first, so it was hers to name. She'd let Carin have the honors, though. Maybe the media story would bring in donations.

    By the time she reached the splintered, asphalt crater, the smoke had mostly cleared. The rock was gray, egg-shaped and polish smooth. She always thought asteroids were rough and bumpy. But then, she wasn't an astronomer. She snapped another picture and sent both to Carin: hey babe look what this meteor did to my cutlass! omg it looks like a space egg wtf!

    The space egg then fizzled and cracked, and its skin flaked away like dried mud in an Arizona windstorm. Angel stepped back, her army boots tripping on a jag of road. She fell on her butt. Beneath the outer coating the meteor glowed an unearthly green that made her think of an R-rated cartoon movie from the eighties.

    A tiny hole opened, and an eerie blue light shone upon her face. Angel couldn't move. Something cold and intangible slithered through her eyes, and she felt alien stirrings. She screamed in silence.

    A female voice, soft and monotone, spoke from nowhere.

    ~New pilot accepted. Please allocate resources for armor module.

    Who are you?
    Angel thought.

    ~Please allocate resources for armor module. Images of various robots and weaponry ran through her mind. She saw schematics, specifications. Somehow, they all made terrible sense.

    This is insane. I have a concussion.

    ~Please allocate resources for armor module.
    A rendering of Angel's own face floated before her, rotating back and forth before elongating beyond what was acceptably human. Her chin sharpened. Her eyes slanted. Her ears sprouted points.

    No, I don't want to be a fucking elf!

    ~The appearance is variable. There are other options. We can augment your organic neural network, store your mind state for later retrieval. She saw the map of a brain, burrowed into an ant colony by a web of lace-thin worms.

    No! Don't you drill into my brain!

    ~We can upgrade your nutritional requir--


    NO!

    ~We can implant memories into--


    HELL NO!

    ~We can inject you with nanites which--

    NO! NO! NO!

    ~--will regenerate damage--


    NO! FUCKING NO!

    ~--and cure diseases.

    Wait, what?


    ~The hydranites are nanoscale--

    Shut up and tell me: Can they cure cancer?
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter Two
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter Two
    (Mackenzie)​

    "Would you like more coffee?"

    The elf girl waits for no reply but rather pours another mug from the Tupperware pitcher, its lime plastic scuffed from years of birthday parties and picnics and lazy Sunday afternoons when Mack would lounge on the backyard patio after a long day of skateboarding and indulge in a tall glass of raspberry Kool-Aid. It's just as he remembers. All of it: the Texas evening sky, the flimsy wicker chairs, the cracked patio deck, the meticulously mowed lawn and the red brick house that his parents sold years ago.

    Beyond the fence, however, the illusion breaks. Like pastoral ruins from a Baroque painting, the neighboring houses are ramshackle derelicts overgrown in vines--a picturesque backdrop. The elf girl's wrong too. He doesn't remember any elf.

    He sips his coffee, which has turned to raspberry Kool-Aid. He doesn't mind. The elf girl's a pretty thing, tall and waifish with long black hair that flows over knife ears and frames a thin, sharp-chinned face with pale arctic eyes just a bit too wide to be human. Her green robe is emblazoned with golden runes he almost understands.

    Standing across from the round plastic table, she watches with blank anticipation before saying in her calm, even voice, "The surgical procedures are complete. You should wake up soon. Authorities are incoming."

    He downs the rest of the mug (the Daffy Duck one, the one that broke when he was twelve). The raspberry flavor tastes like cherry now. Or orange. Or like whatever he thinks about.

    "This isn't real," he says. "I'm on a street corner, pacing in a circle and jabbering. If the cops show up, they'll just throw me in the crazy tank again. I'll be out in a couple days. At least I'll get free food and a shower."

    "This isn't real," she says, gesturing a thin, white hand around her. "This is a simulated reality generated by your hippocampus implants. But you are not on a street corner. You are not pacing in a circle. You are lying beside the drop pod. The authorities are unlikely to release you. You are no longer human."

    "Uh-huh." Mack snorts and shakes his head. The coffee mug is full again. He sips chocolate milk. "What the hell did I take? Psychotic episodes usually aren't this . . . laid back."

    "The nanites have repaired the chemical damage to your brain. Your mental faculties are not impaired." Her face remains impassive, but he can sense urgency in her tone.

    "So . . . I should run from the cops, because an elf in a dream told me I'm an alien. Yep, no mental impairment there. I'm a paragon of sanity."

    The elf opens her small mouth, but Mack raises a hand and says, "If it's all the same to you, I think I'm going to stay right here. Maybe take a nice long bath in my magic memory-dream-tub. If I'm crazy, I may as well enjoy it while it lasts, right?"

    Her expression hardens. He sees, or perhaps senses, an inhuman resolve behind her remote eyes. "No," she says. "There is no time. You will wake up now."

    The elf turns to fog, and the patio, the backyard and all the world drains of color and swirls to a nothing gray. Mack falls, screams--

    He is lying on his back. He hears sirens. He sits up, expecting to feel the telltale aches of a rough night. But his head is clean, and his limbs are light as feathers, their movements smooth, painless and full of vigor. He bounds his feet and spins, gazes around.

    His peripheral has been stretched to a godlike letterbox. The alleyway walls on either side are clear to him, and he can even make out the shutter doors to his rear. He looks at his arms, his body. He is made of mirrors. The tight, interlocking plates, highlighted in black, fashion an impossibly lithe musculature.

    I'm a skinny Silver Surfer, he thinks. The sirens grow louder, closer, as if right down the street. Oh, shit.

    "Elf girl!" he shouts to the sky in a voice of modulated iron. "Elf girl! Tell me what to do!"

    ~You must hide. You must flee. I will show you the way.

    Thoughts not his own gestate, and he knows.

    Outside the alleyway, around the corner, the sirens cry louder. Police vans screech as they brake to a halt. Vehicle doors slide open. Mack looks down as his mercurial body turns first translucent and then vanishes. Invisible wings flare from his back; thruster plates pry open. He feels the tickle of their exhaust against his metal thighs.

    Mack spares a moment to look at the now eviscerated egg. Embedded in the asphalt crater, its metal skin is peeled and splayed flowerlike, the internal components consumed, leaving behind only a gray metallic goo. This is where my previous life ends, he thinks, where my new life begins.

    The SWAT team appear at the mouth of the alley. Swaddled in body armor, assault rifles at the ready, they stalk forward like a pack of nervous wolves. One pauses and points at the egg, and then at the heat-shimmered air of Mack's thrusters. They hesitate. Though no one can see him, Mack raises up his fists in a pantomime of Superman's up, up and away.

    And he blasts off.

    The alleyway recedes beneath him, shrinks into the labyrinthine expanse of Sheepshead Bay. He is flying. Like a superhero. Racing-yet-calm, distant-yet-immanent, never has he felt so clear.

    This is real. This is really happening.

    ~Yes, Mack, this is real.


    Behind his metal face, Mack grins. This is my second chance, isn't it?

    ~If you choose to interpret it that way.


    The g-forces exhilarate. His heart beats yet he does not breath. There is no need. Trickled thoughts like demon murmurs churn his depths. As he accelerates further into the afternoon sky, his wings rolling him gently, he thinks, You said I'm no longer human.

    ~That is true,
    the elf girl replies. He can see her in the corner of his mind.

    Then what am I?

    ~You are more.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter Three
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter Three
    (Angel)​

    Angel awoke to the upturned bowl of an orange afternoon sky. Trees, grass and shattered asphalt framed the impossible stretch of her peripheral. Against her face the air felt tepid, smelled sterile. Sounds of breathing crackled in her ears. She was wearing a helmet, a helmet with a vision-expanding visor.

    Like ice water in the face, it all came back as she sat up: the car wreck, the green glowing meteor, the blue light, the voice, the promise. Angel stood. She wore a skintight outfit, jet black with purple lines that gave definition to the cuirass and spaulders and other armored plates which contoured to her lanky frame. It made her think of one Carin's video games.

    She looked at the garage-wide crater. The meteor had peeled down to a thin metal wrapper splattered with a silvery slime.

    "So it was real," she said dully.

    "Yes. Authorities are incoming," said the female voice. In her ear now and not her head.

    "Authorities?"

    "New Jersey State Police. SWAT units. Helicopter's ETA: three minutes, forty seconds. Ground vehicles' ETA: ten minutes, thirty seconds. Estimated strength: one twelve person squad, lightly arm--"

    "Okay, okay," Angel said, raising a palm to no one. "But that's good, right? They're the police, not the bad guys. I'll just take this off and say, 'look what I found!' I haven't done anything wrong. You said these . . . hydro-nabites or whatever . . . you said they're"--she winced--"inside me, right? All I have to do is touch Carin for a while, and she'll be well."

    "That is correct: prolonged exposure will eradicate the cancerous cells. But the police will not allow this contact. They are under orders to detain anyone potentially compromised by alien technology."

    Angel practiced walking. The suit weighed nothing, and she felt stronger, faster. Her headache was gone, as were all the bruises from the crash. She had been given so many options; she tried to remember.

    "This suit can fly, right?"

    "Yes."

    "And turn invisible?"

    "Along the visible and infrared spectrum, yes."

    Angel looked at the sky. She thought she heard rotors in the distance. "Well, I guess what the police don't know won't hurt them," she said. She flexed her gloved fists experimentally. "How do I use these powers?"

    "Concentrate on the desired action. The nerve suit will convey the command."

    She closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was a disembodied point of view hovering at eye level. She held her arms out before her but saw only the asphalt and wetlands of her surroundings.

    "Groovy," Angel said. But now . . .

    Almost before she had completed the thought, she felt thin dragonfly wings sprout from her spine-plate. Small engine vents swiveled out along her thighs and the small of her back, and the rockets tickled with heat.

    And she was flying.

    The road shrank to a long gray snake, and she swerved east in a victory roll high over the heavy wooded sprawl of Passaic River Park. Her HUD gave altitude and speed, and highlighted along her new peripheral the dot of an incoming police helicopter. Too bad for them because they were late to the party.

    She spread her arms, threw back her wings and raced up, up and away.

    I'm flying an alien suit that gives me superpowers. The unreality of it brought laughter which rang against her faceplate. This was like that old TV show she watched reruns of as a girl. How did that theme song go?

    "Believe it or not, I'm walking on air . . ."


    She was dizzying herself with 300mph flip-kicks at 20,000 feet when something under her suit, in her jeans pocket, began to vibrate.

    "How the hell am I supposed to answer that?" Angel demanded.

    "I can link it through the suit's comms system."

    "Do it."

    "Angie," said Carin's weak, sleepy voice. "I . . . I got your text. You were . . . you were hit by a meteor?"

    "Yeah, babe, but that's not the half of it." Angel laughed. "If I tell you over the phone you'll think I'm shitting you, but I got a some good news."

    "But the car . . ."

    "The Cutlass is dead, baby. Forget about it. But don't worry. I've got it all under control."

    "But--"

    "Look, didn't I always say I'd take care of you?"

    "Yeah, but--"

    "I love you, baby."

    "I love you too, Angie, but--"

    "See you in a few."

    Somehow, Angel cut the call with a thought. She folded her wings into a skinny 'V' and dived before leveling in a smooth northeast flight. She'd been in airplanes before, but this experience was more vast, more immediate. Through nearly panoramic eyes, the street-sewed patchwork of residential Newark spread before her like a surburban ocean. Past the green-gray waters of the Hackensack lay Jersey City, and beyond that, across the Hudson River sat the Big Apple herself.

    ***
    (Linda)
    Armed helicopters worry around our FBI building. Detachments of the New Jersey National Guard patrol outside. I've been at work for an hour and a half, and the Earth is a war zone.

    We've lost many eyes and ears--half of the Web is down; EMPs have knocked out parts of our satellite surveillance--but the scattered news feeds piece well enough together to give us a scenario as nightmarish as it is ludicrous: giant killer mechas, everywhere, in every major city and every military hot spot. Some places are worse hit than others. The reports are anything but confirmed, but we've heard tales of these machines battling each other in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Serbia, Ukraine . . . and to top it off it seems Israel's put its nuclear arsenal to work. India and Pakistan might follow.

    A few minutes ago, we watched a leaked video of two skyscraper-scale robots wrestling and rolling like mechanical schoolboys across a recently battle-torn Korean DMZ. One of them bore on its chest a Republic of Korea emblem, and looked suspiciously like a super-sized Gundam. The other sported elaborate medieval-style armor, its shiny golden head fashioned with the jovial, beaming face of the DPRK's Eternal President. The clip ended before we could see who won.

    My co-workers seem numb, confused, as if they'd lost a war they didn't know they were fighting. I don't feel afraid, not really. But then I don't have much going on in my life. If this is The End, at least it's a good show. I should be with my cats now. It's a shame I'll never finish my fan fiction.

    But in the meantime, we have a job to do. Fortunately the international arena's above our pay-grade, but the domestic situation isn't much better. It's all happening too fast, and with all the unchecked fires, the looting and traffic congestion, the military's too spread out to deal with the mecha attacks. And when they do engage . . . well, from what I've heard, they haven't exactly curb-stomped the machines.

    We've learned things, however. We know the mechas came from the falling pods (so, probably aliens). We know they vary in size, weaponry and capabilities. We know humans, either abducted or willing, are the pilots.

    But knowing is only half the battle; we need results. The bosses want to capture a mecha. That's where me and my team come in.

    The easiest way to catch someone is to 1) know where they'll be before they get there and 2) be able to stop them when they do. We've been going over hastily compiled maps of local pod impacts and reviewing phone records of the surrounding area for potential leads. These may seem narrow, brittle straws to grasp, but I've been in intelligence analysis long enough to know data-mining can pay off faster than you think.

    I pause from my keyboard to sip cranberry juice--good for UTIs. My computer monitor is my world. The emergency lights of our cubicles are a soothing blue, though this measure is forced on us by the power outage which blankets half of Newark. On the satellite rendered map I select a impact site near a parkland about eight miles southwest of here.

    The SWAT teams that arrived at the crater found only a spread of metallic foil coated in silvery gel. The pod must have found someone, made them a pilot. The mecha couldn't have been one of the gigantic ones because the area is populated enough that someone would have seen. So, it was probably a smaller machine, maybe human-sized. Hopefully, that means it'll be easier to capture.

    I filter the database by location and time and run across a grand total of one result: a single text message, sent within spitting distance of the pod. I pull up the content, read it and nearly laugh. That phone received a call half an hour later--and if the nearby cell tower readings are to be believed, at an altitude usually reserved for aircraft. The recipient of the text and the caller was in a New York hospital.

    I look over the dossiers of both registered owners. Two women. Married couple. One's an elementary schoolteacher undergoing cancer treatment; the other's an auto mechanic war hero who I remember seeing on magazine covers a few years back. From their drivers licence photos, they seem like nice people.

    It takes only a minute to find and download the call's audio. I listen as the auto-mechanic's blue-collar Jersey accent steamrolls the teacher's anemic-sounding Brooklyn. If I were to guess, she thinks she can cure her wife's cancer.

    That may or may not be true, but it doesn't matter. Angel Zacarias is a pilot. And I know where she's headed. Though this is what I've been looking for, my heart sinks a little.

    Sorry, I think as I touch my headset to speak to my supervisor, but Uncle Sam wants your mecha.

    I'm sure she'll understand. After all, we're the good guys.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter Four
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter Four
    (Angel)​

    She was a mile or so above the Goldman Sachs Tower when she saw the explosions.

    In the skyscraper's parking lot a gargantuan robotic gorilla was flinging cars as if they were Hot Wheels while a seemingly neverending rocket barrage fired wildly from its shoulder pods. Police helicopters circled from a cautious distance, their open side doors ablaze with muzzle flashes. Angel zoomed in and saw burning wreckage, charred bodies; she strangled the memories before they awoke. The ape’s red eyes burned like torches. It kicked a bus and beat great metal fists against its armored chest. Its hinged jaws bellowed an electronically modulated "Tarzan call" that, despite the heavy amplification, sounded suspiciously like that of a teenage boy.

    "I take it mine wasn't the only meteor?" Angel said with forced dryness. From so far up, even the giant machine seemed only a sort of action figure brought to life. But already new fears were brewing.

    "Evidently not," the voice replied. "I'm receiving news reports regarding numerous attacks throughout the New York metropolitan area."

    Along the building's side, windows shattered and floors sank as the robo-simian began its King Kong climb.

    "Who are you people?" asked Angel, her anger sounding only frightened to her ears. "Why are you handing out free mechs?"

    "I am a creation of the elven race. I don't know why."

    "I don't believe you," Angel said.

    When she had accepted the voice's offer, she wanted only the magical, all-healing Hydra-bites. That's all she needed. But the voice insisted she allocate the other "resources," and it really pushed for the "elf-makeover" and "cyber-brain" options, both of which Angel flatly refused. There had been different mech classes to choose from, but the human-sized model with the cloaking ability seemed a lot less conspicuous than the ones twenty stories tall.

    But it seemed some wanted to be conspicuous--and homicidal--and the elves apparently had no problem with that. An hour ago she didn't know they existed, but their strategy seemed clear: distribute dangerous technology, let the humans kill each other. Next phase: invasion.

    She spotted a C-130-sized silver dragon flapping around the Statue of Liberty. Rocket thrusts belched from its wings, and with a final lash of its tail it snapped off the Lady's torch hand before blasting off into the sunset sky.

    "Beware elves bearing mechs," said Angel.

    Gliding in a slow, spiraling circle around the Goldman Sachs Tower, Angel considered drawing her "plasma bow" and putting down the mad gorilla . . . until a more intimate concern took hold.

    Thrusting to about 10,000 feet, she turned towards the Manhattan skyline. "Show me the Cancer NYU."

    Adjusting for the dim light, the cluttered, bird's eye view zoomed upon a single cubist building unremarkable from its companions. Angel scanned the surrounding streets. The Empire State Building looked like it was kind of on fire, but that was several blocks away.

    Her computer anticipated her question. "There are no reports of attacks near the New York University Cancer Center."

    Angel was already thrusting across the Hudson. "Yeah, but how long will that last? Thanks to your elven masters, New York's become a robot war zone."

    "Thanks to my elven masters, your wife will live."

    “Are you getting smart with me?”

    “I am more intelligent than you, so yes.”

    Angel didn’t bother with a comeback. “Shut up and call Carin.”

    No ring, then: "You have called the voice mail box of: 'Carin Yovanovitch.'"

    Shit.

    Down a steep, accelerating curve, Angel swooped over the steel and glass jungle of Lower Manhattan. The cumulative honks of a million-strong traffic-jam blared up like an acoustic aura jingled with sirens, and though the streets and avenues breezed by too fast for details, she saw most were clogged with vehicles and crowds, wrecks and fires.

    She yawed herself feet-first, fired her thrusters and used her wings as airbrakes. By the time she touched down on the hospital’s white-pebbled rooftop, the impact was no greater than if she’d jumped off a stepladder. She willed her wings to retract and felt the vague shift as they folded into the spine.

    Nestled behind the skyscraper horizon, the sun shone as but a violet suggestion that, through Angel’s light-enhanced visor, left the cityscape a hazy, electric dream. A steel turtle the size of a yacht soared past the Empire State Building, whose brick and glass hide gaped with black, smoldering wounds. Helicopters raced in the distance, though one hovered closer than the others, as if it were searching. Tiny rocks crunched beneath Angel's invisible boots as she stepped to the roof's ledge and realized that whatever happened today, the world had changed; it was not going to change back.

    She shook the thoughts away and jogged to the roof's access door. She was surprised to find it unlocked. After descending two flights of stairs to the door of the floor of Carin's usual infusion room, Angel stopped. There would be people on the other side. Walking amongst them as a unseen ghost would be weird.

    "How do I take this thing off?" she asked.

    "Concentrate on collapsing it."

    She remembered choosing that option. She'd wondered what it meant. With the metallic flap of aluminum butterflies, the cloaked suit receded back like a wave, and Angel could once more see her body. To an outsider, it would look like she had just folded into existence.

    Angel stared at the shiny black bracelet now clasped to her left wrist. It felt smooth like obsidian, and as she peered closer she saw there were hair-fine bands of purple which seemed to jiggle under the stairway's florescent lights.

    "How could all that fit in . . .?"

    "Ten dimensional storage," the elven computer replied, somehow still speaking in her ear. "The physics you wouldn't understand."

    "Like a Tardis," Angel said. Carin loved that silly show.

    Angel buttoned her flannel jacket to hide the blood on her tanktop and stepped through the door into the hospital corridor. No one noticed.

    A harried-looking security guard nearly bumped into her as he jogged past. Through an open door, an old bedridden woman held hands in a circle with her family, their eyes shut in intense prayer. By the service desk, a small, somber crowd of patients and staff were gathered around a wall-mounted flatscreen which showed a cute blond news-anchor speaking excitably while images of the newly-maimed Statue of Liberty played behind her.

    "Evacuate?" someone from around the hall cried. "Yeah, that went real well in New Orleans . . ."

    Given the local attitude, Angel half-expected the lights to flicker, but they shone with the usual sterile brightness that so complimented the pallid, antiseptic smell that all hospitals shared. She hated this place.

    Dr. Ison walked by, his head bent over the tablet in his hand. He pecked at it irritably.

    "Hey, is Carin . . .?" Angel began.

    He gestured down the hall without looking up. "Yeah, she's still in the chair, I guess."

    He guessed right. When Angel stepped into the 7-A chemotherapy infusion room, her wife was leaned back in a padded recliner. The other seats were empty.

    Carin's left hand was taped with a IV line, her right fiddled with her phone. With a sad, frustrated scowl lining her delicate features, she glanced up lazily and actually did a double-take.

    "Angie! Oh, my god. I was so worried!"

    Angel was going to kneel by her side, but her wife stood to embrace her. Carin had always been on the petite side, but after weeks of chemo her previously snug Tegan and Sara shirt hung baggy on her shoulders; through the thin cotton Angel's hands felt only skin and ribs. She stroked the bandanna hiding Carin's bald scalp and kissed her. Angel would sooner cut out her own tongue than tell her, but she tasted of death.

    But hopefully not for much longer.

    Carin pushed away, her gray eyes almost wild with inquisitiveness. "How did you get here so fast? They say the traffic's blocked, and your car . . ." She trailed off and shook her head. "The internet and phones are out, and the news only says there's 'attacks.' What's going on?"

    "Space elves, baby," Angel said. "They dropped a bunch of meteors full of anime robot shit. Some folks are just being assholes about it. But hey, that's the bad news. The good news is I snagged one of them suits--and it comes with some awesome health care."

    Carin looked like she'd been slapped. "Are you trying to be funny? This is serious." She pointed out the window. "Did you see the Empire State Building?"

    "Forget the Empire State Building. I've got it all under control. Look, I'll prove my bona fides." Angel closed the door. Holding up her left fist, she willed the action and shouted, "Go-go-gadget cybersuit!"

    From the bracelet, the black and violet armor flapped into place around her, its movements so precise yet mechanically impossible as to seem computer generated. The interlocking plates gave a tight hug as they fastened and locked.

    Angel flexed a bicep. "What do you think?" she said, her voice now slightly modulated. "A little too 'Power Rangers,' maybe, but I like the color scheme."

    "I see," Carin said, nodding slowly. "The cancer's finally reached my brain."

    "No, it ain't like that," Angel began. "I know this seems crazy, but--"

    "Authorities are incoming," the elf computer said.

    "Incoming? What, you mean here?" Angel asked.

    "Six FBI helicopters are converging on this hospital. ETA less than one minute."

    "But why here?"

    "Angie, who are you talking to?"

    Angel raised a gloved hand to shush her wife as the computer said, "Their transmissions are encrypted, but from what I can deduce they are looking for you."

    "Me? How did they know--" But then she remembered the wrecked car, the text, the phone calls. "Shit. But half the city's overrun with giant fucking robots. Why the hell are they bothering with me?"

    "The National Guard is engaging with the dangerous targets. The FBI has likely been tasked with capturing a suit, and they knew you would come here. Evidently you arrived before they could prepare an ambush, but they were likely monitoring the building, probably through thermal vision."

    Angel could hear rotors now, thrumming louder by the second. Pulling Carin with her, she leaned behind a wall and through her expanded peripheral peeked out the window. A lumbering Black Hawk roared by, followed shortly by a Little Bird. Like a dragonfly of war, the smaller helicopter bristled with miniguns and rocket pods. Angel pulled back from sight.

    "Shit!" she hissed. Others buzzed past, though one hovered nearby. Suddenly the lights went out. The air conditioning ticked a few times as it lost its hum.

    "ANGEL ZACARIAS!" megaphoned a voice from outside, mispronouncing her name. "THIS IS SPECIAL AGENT BOYLE OF THE FBI. YOU ARE IN POSSESSION OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. REMOVE THE ARMOR AND STEP ONTO THE ROOF WITH YOUR HANDS ABOVE YOUR HEAD. IF YOU DO NOT COMPLY, WE ARE AUTHORIZED TO USE DEADLY FORCE."

    A searchlight shone through the window, casting the vertical blinds as barred silhouettes. Angel held her wife closer and inched to the corner of the room, dragging the IV stand with them. Trembling, Carin hugged the armored plates on Angel's chest and said, "This can't be happening. This can't be happening . . ."

    "Elf," Angel whispered. "Have those hydro-bots cured Carin yet?"

    "No. A full eradication will require at least two days of frequent physical contact."

    "Which she won't get if I turn myself in."

    "Correct. You are contaminated with alien technology. You will likely be detained indefinitely. Your wife may be as well."

    Something was always inside Angel, sometimes slumbering, sometimes stirring. It screamed, on occasion, but hadn't been fully awake since that shattered morning outside Abu Ghraib. But it was awake now. It's heart beat with stone fear, cool anger.

    Even through two floors Angel heard the heavy windstorm of what must be multiple Black Hawks congregating over the roof. She could even hear the rushing patter of boots landing, running.

    Roughly, Angel pulled Carin down with her in a crouch. When customizing her suit, she had chosen certain weapons, and she thought of one now. As if by magic the stocky pulse carbine folded out from her back and slid down her right arm to her outstretched hand.

    Through weird, light-enhanced sight Carin's weeping face looked too much like a skull. "I . . . I don't know what's going on, but please, just give up! I don't want to lose you!"

    Angel looked at Carin and smiled, though she knew all her wife saw was the smooth dark faceplate of a motorcycle helmet. They'd both been through so much shit, but especially Carin. She'd survived her dad's belt, the foster homes, her boyfriend's fists. And her girlfriend's PTSD. And then when life turns around and she's found happiness and is about to publish her first book and they can dare to plan their future together. . . she gets knocked down with leukemia.

    And now there was a way out. But the door was closing.

    The carbine was about the size of a M4. It felt like an old friend. And she had her "plasma bow" too. Deer, Feds: what's the difference?

    "Don't worry, baby," Angel said as she turned invisible. "I got everything under control."
     
    gohomepls, Aimless, Anzer-ke and 4 others like this.
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter Five
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter Five
    (Mackenzie)​

    Invisible hands rummage through the teller’s drawer. Were anyone nearby to watch, they would see twenties, fifties and hundreds crinkle midair before passing an unseen boundary and vanishing from sight. Mack giggles giddily at the magic trick, but he has no audience. Like almost everywhere else on 34th Street, the Wells Fargo is abandoned.

    A few rampaging robots, and everyone bugs out. But Mack wouldn’t have it any other way. His new suit comes with many pockets, and he’s been putting them to good use. He moves to the last booth. Like the others, the register’s locked, and so he jimmies it open with his wrist's utility knife to reveal a surprising stash of Ben Franklins. Mack stuffs them into his abdominal pouches, which seal with a silent click.

    Already has he hit the Chase across the street, though, like here, the haul was disappointingly meager. Apparently banks don’t like leaving too much cash in their tills, and while the elf girl assured him his particle beam rifle could penetrate the vault doors, that seems like way too much effort. He’s not a greedy man. Forty grand is enough. For now, anyway.

    Before Mack reaches the entrance, he steps aside to allow two ski-masked gentlemen lurk through the saw-toothed portals that used to be revolving doors. They pass close enough for the black trash bags in their hands to drag across his boots, but neither so much as glances in his direction.

    "Shit, looks like someone beat us to it," one says.

    "Maybe they didn't get everything," says the other.

    As Mack makes his exit, he sees one turn at the sound of crunching glass.

    “What was that?” asks the soon to be disappointed looter, but Mack is gone.

    He's been here often, on more mundane days. Now, drifting smoke makes a grimy fog of the street. Shattered storefronts gaze out like blinded eyes. Even through his respirator he can smell the acrid stink of burning fuel.

    Straggler pedestrians run by in a quick trickle, some racing headlong, others stalling fitfully to look back at the carnage behind them. But they move always south, always away. A young couple, faces striped with soot and tears, carry between them an old lady by as she moans like a dying cow. For a moment Mack moves to help but stops himself. They’ve got it covered.

    What vehicles that could have already evacuated, though a handful of wrecks block the sidewalks and clutter the intersections. On the corner of 34th and Madison splays the ragdoll of a police officer pinned between a taxi and a delivery van. Farther north, closer to 5th Avenue, a crashed helicopter and a cluster of burning army trucks effectively barricade the approach to the Empire State Building. Smoldering flames still crawl out the many rocket strikes that scar the famous skyscraper, but from the tall, arching sprays of water dousing the more fiery wounds, Mack knows the immediate danger has passed. Either the National Guard won or the giant robo-turtle grew bored and flew away.

    All’s well that ends well.

    A brief stroll from Wells Fargo takes Mack to a Dunkin Donuts. Going by just its appearance, one wouldn’t know there was a warzone a stone's throw away. The windows aren’t smashed, and though the door’s open, the glass counter display remains intact and fully stocked. When the shit’s hit the fan and robotic daikaiju walk the Earth, who has time to loot pastries?

    Mack pours a cup of coffee, grabs a fresh baked platter and sits at one of the booths. Retracting his helmet's mask, he becomes a disembodied face devouring a floating apple fritter. In the warped tin of the napkin dispenser he catches his reflection and nearly recognizes what he sees. But the features are far too lean and severe, the eyes too impossibly emerald. His scraggly hobo beard has shed away, leaving the newly slender jaw baby bare.

    He knows what he looks like from his time with the egg, but knowing and seeing are very different things. Almost, he feels regret, but the "canvas nanites" can change his appearance back if he wants. Oddly enough, he does not, because something inside him that’s hard yet beautiful, ancient yet young, tells him he will grow accustomed to this new appearance. This is how people are supposed to look.

    But which people?

    So, you’re an AI, right?

    ~I am.

    Okay, but who made you? Space elves?

    ~That seems a reasonable hypothesis.

    Don’t you know? You’re one of them.

    ~I’m one of their creations, but my memory does not include who ‘they’ are.


    Mack sips his coffee and wishes it were hotter. This is probably a game to them. Pass out toys and watch the fuzzy-wuzzies fight.

    ~According to news sources, there were over eight hundred meteor impacts throughout the New York metropolitan area. Only four pilots are reported as violent.

    Did you see that turtle? That dragon? Four is enough.

    ~Each pilot has explored their new abilities in their own fashion
    .

    Some by going on killing sprees,
    Mack replies bitterly.

    Though he cannot see her, and there is no delay, he feels her hesitation.

    ~You said this suit was your second chance.

    Oh, this was a windfall for me. I won’t deny that. But if the elves are the good guys, why didn’t they just dump their nanite fairy dust into the atmosphere? Overnight, all diseases are cured, everyone’s an elf.

    But the elf girl refuses the bait. ~You said this suit was your second chance . . . yet all you've done is steal pieces of green paper.

    Mack scowls at his third fritter before biting defiantly. Two hours ago I was sleeping in a dumpster. Bank robbery's a step up.

    ~But you disapproved of the mechanized turtle’s actions. You disapproved, yet did nothing.


    Part of him so wanted to blast the turtle with his particle beam rifle--and the elf assured him of a fatal strike--but somehow it didn’t seem his place. Wasn't the turtle someone else’s problem? Not to mention the personal danger.

    I don't like getting involved with things. I guess you can say I'm a wallflower. A wallflower with a cloaking device.


    Even in his own mind, the witticism falls flat, and suddenly he aches with the same hollow pain that, until today, was as ubiquitous a misery as the grime that soiled his face. To stave off embarrassment, he elaborates.

    I mean, what if I missed? What if the turtle saw me? I'm no hero. It's best to keep low, stay out of trouble, you know? The tallest blade of grass is the first to get cut.

    Implied hesitation stretches into genuine silence. The elf is ashamed of him.

    ~You should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

    Mack puts down his pastry. An alien computer quoting T. S. Eliot? But then she's in his brain, isn't she? She knows all that he knows. She knows of his skyward dreams and his abysmal plummet. She knows of the black dog days and the cough syrup nights. She knows who he is: not a has-been, but a never-was, an impostor who let the mask slip and gave up all pretense.

    And she knows . . .

    ~Yes, I know of Ama.

    Mack's eyes burn, and he suddenly wants nothing more than to gouge fingers through his skull and claw out the violating circuitry.

    But he hears a sound. The loud, whooshing chops of rotors distracts his anguish.

    Helicopters have been flittering across the city ever since the eggs fell, but these are close and flying low enough to stir the street's trash. Mack steps to the shop's picture windows and tracks the their southward progress. Before they leave his line of sight, he goes outside, lowering his mask to cloak his face.

    There are six of them, grouped in a haphazard flock. His vision zooms and steadies. Four are the big kind the army uses--he's seen them in movies. The other two are smaller but saddled with chainguns and rockets.

    They stop shortly before a boxy building a short way down 34th. Mack half crosses the street before he can angle a look at the sign: NYU Cancer Center.

    Any idea what's going on?

    ~Their transmissions are encrypted, but I deduce they've tracked a pilot to this location.

    Hmm, should be interesting.
    A diversion, at least. Mack strolls closer along the broad, abandoned sidewalk. Not having pants pockets for his hands is weird, but he's grown used to the ghostly clumsiness of not seeing his own body. He jogs lightly to the wreck of a taxi, climbs on top and sits to watch the spectacle above.

    The little choppers fly around the hospital in wide, hungry orbits while two of the bigger ones ascend to the roof. A third disappears around the back.

    The fourth hovers near the top story, a hundred feet up, it's sliding door open to reveal a lantern-jawed man practically leaning out of the cabin as he grips a looped strap. In his other hand is a microphone. A machine gun barrel juts out beside him, covering the windows with anticipatory swivels.

    The man raises the mic to his lips.

    "ANGEL ZACARIAS! THIS IS SPECIAL AGENT BOYLE OF THE FBI. YOU ARE IN POSSESSION OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. REMOVE THE ARMOR AND STEP ONTO THE ROOF WITH YOUR HANDS ABOVE YOUR HEAD. IF YOU DO NOT COMPLY, WE ARE AUTHORIZED TO USE DEADLY FORCE."

    Angel Zacarias. That was that Army lesbian, right? The one who won that medal?

    ~Correct. Sergeant Zacarias won the Silver Star in 2007. She publicly acknowledged her homosexuality in a 2011 interview.
    The elf computer projects a cached Wikipedia page into Mack's visual field. A short-haired young brunette in desert fatigues scowls from her photo.

    Huh, so she has a suit too? Small world. He scans the text faster than he ever could before. Looks like her wife has leukemia. That sucks, but now he can guess why she's here. With a thought, he blinks the webpage away. He remembers there was a bit of controversy about her at the time. Something to do with, "Don't ask, don't tell," and the idea that her orientation was a little too loud for the closet.

    The helicopter drifts sideways from the building, granting a better view for Mack, who lies back on the taxi's roof, hands behind his head. Absurdly, Agent Boyle wears body armor over a work shirt and tie. Strange goggles cover both his and the machine gunner's eyes.

    "YOU'VE SERVED YOUR COUNTRY. YOU'RE A HERO. WE DON'T WANT TO KILL YOU. SURRENDER NOW AND YOU WILL BE UNHARMED."

    Agent Boyle looks down, cranes his head. He lifts his goggles, lowers them and points. It seems almost like he's pointing at Mack.

    It's not even that dark. Why are they wearing night vision?


    Agent Boyle taps the gunner on the shoulder. The gunner looks down as well.

    ~Ms. Zacarias may have chosen a Mesh-class suit similar to yours. If she did, and the FBI are aware of its stealth capabilities, they are likely equipped with thermal vision.

    Still watching the ground, the gunner now lifts his goggles, lowers them.

    Like out of the movie,
    Predator?

    ~Yes. Despite hyper-dimensional venting, suits radiate significant heat.

    Agent Boyle points again, shouts something Mack can't make out.

    Which means . . .


    The gunner aims at Mack.

    ~They can see you.

    Mack rolls off the taxi's roof and runs. Even with his augmented reflexes, he still feels the muffled blows as piercing gunfire pings off his back armor. Hornets string his legs; a hammer bang his helmet. His cloaking field flickers, blinking his mirrored suit in and out of existence before giving up the ghost. Behind him, in his extended peripheral, one of the smaller helicopters sweeps from around a corner.

    ~Light damage to armor. Take cover immediately.

    Racing past closed roller doors, he reaches a wide picture window which he leaps through in a shower of glass and Venetian blinds. Tripping over plastic chairs, he sprawls across a hospital waiting room. Bullets from above blast the chairs to splinters, gouge into the tile floor. Patients, families and staff cower and cry. Several point at Mack, the shimmering demon, and scream bloody murder.

    Mack only has enough time to stand before four men in full SWAT gear storm through the double doors across the room. They don't threaten. They don't hesitate. They just shoot.

    Crossing arms over his face, he cries out as assault rifle fire craters painfully across his silver hide. A spiderweb of cracks sprouts across the right side of his vision. He turns back towards the smashed window.

    ~No, don't go outside!

    He goes outside. Agent Boyle's helicopter hasn't forgotten about him and opens fire as soon as he clears the building. The smaller chopper joins the fun with the deafening buzz-saw of chainguns. Mack charges through the gauntlet of lead, over the sidewalk and across the street. Bullets ricochet off the pavement like rain. The smaller chopper lets loose a long, skinny rocket, and an explosion of heat and flame knocks Mack to the ground.

    Somehow, he finds his feet, keeping moving. His side hurts, feels wet. He right arm is numb. His left knee doesn't bend right. His shiny suit lurches with spasms as it dies from a million metallic dings.

    ~You have a shield. Use it! Retreat to the hospital!

    Screw that! I need to get out of here!


    Still trying to run, he swivels open his engine plates and folds out his wings.

    ~No! You're too damaged!

    Mack blasts off. Everything is fine until he's twenty feet up. Then he feels a wing snap, and the thrusters along his left side short out. He is spinning, he is turning. Gunfire strafes him from all sides as he flaps his remaining wing in futile compensation. Somehow, he soars upward before crashing through a window near the top floor of the hospital.

    He jets across a room, through a door and into a hallway wall. Amid a heap of smashed wood and sheetrock, Mack shakes his head groggily and tries to tease addled limbs into action. His armor looks as if it'd been gang-raped by jackhammers. His visor is a jig-zaw of cracks. Dimly, he is aware of an old woman crying from the floor beside her bed, but this sound is drowned by the rush of incoming rotors.

    Mack hobbles arthritically to his feet. The smaller helicopter swings into view through the glass-toothed jaws of the window. Looking for all the world like some giant chimera insect, its twin chainguns are mandibles, its rocket pods stubby claws. Dragging shredded wings behind him, Mack stumbles down the hall and out of sight just as the air screams with staccato gunfire.

    ~Mack, says the elf in his brain. You're an idiot.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter Six
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter Six
    (Angel)
    "YOU'VE SERVED YOUR COUNTRY. YOU'RE A HERO. WE DON'T WANT TO KILL YOU. SURRENDER NOW AND YOU WILL BE UNHARMED," echoed the megaphoned voice through the walls.

    "This isn't happening," Carin said for the seventh time.

    Gripping her wife's frail arm with an invisible hand, Angel led her down a windowless corridor of the NYU Cancer Center. Night vision made sepia of the darkness and red emergency lights. Whispers and weeping drifted from occupied rooms.

    Carin rubbed at her wrist where the IV had been and looked around with scared puppy eyes too big for her emaciated features. Angel could feel her tremble and had to stop herself from holding her, kissing her and stroking her big, bald bandannaed head.

    "I'm probably having a seizure right now. Or I'm dead and my brain's throwing it's last hurrah. I mean, aliens, magic mecha suits?" Carin's titter sounded more like a sob. "Occam's Razor makes short work of that."

    Who the fuck is Occam? Angel thought, finding the term vaguely familiar. Something to do with philosophy. For an English Lit major, Carin sure knew a lot about everything.

    "No, babe, you're thinking about it too much," Angel said. "Look at the Aztecs. They were cutting out hearts on pyramids or whatever when one day the Spanish sail up and say 'Hey, some dude was nailed to a tree for your sins. Give us gold.' I bet there was a whole lot of, 'Who are these pale faces? Holy shit! This can't be happening! This can't be happening . . .' And look what happened to them."

    Angel stopped by an open bedroom--a good a place to hide her as any--and turned Carin to face her. Carin flinched as unseen fingers' brushed her cheek. The HUD rendered the cloaked hand, along with the rest of her body, in violet wire-frame.

    "This is all kinds of crazy, I know," Angel said. "But the crazy's real. And if we're going to survive, we better keep our heads on and our eyes open"

    "Behind you," the elf said.

    A light swung from around the corner. Angel reached for the pulse carbine dangling by its strap, but it was only a hospital security guard. She'd seen the fat bullfrog of a man before, swaggering down the halls. His hand hovered near his holster.

    "Ms. Yovanovitch," the guard said, frowning with surprise. He shined the flashlight in Carin's face, then wobbled it in a search. The beam passed through Angel effortlessly.

    Carin froze like a frightened doe. Her eyes kept darting where she thought Angel stood.

    "I thought I heard someone else," the guard said. When she gave no reply, he went on, "I think a SWAT team landed on the roof. I don't know what's going on with your, uh, girlfriend, but until this all gets straightened out, I think you should come with me. For your own safety."

    Carin was shaking now. Tears broke past twitchy blinks. "I . . ." she began.

    Outside: gunfire.

    Reflex made the guard draw his weapon. Angel struck.

    She'd learned combatives in the army, mostly grapples and escapes, with a few quick and dirty moves. Later, she and Carin had taken jujutsu classes, which taught various locks, chokes and throws.

    Angel used none of that. She grabbed and snapped his wrist and then punched him in the head until he fell. And kept on punching. That her suit augmented her strength certainly helped. That she was also invisible didn't hurt.

    "Stop it! Stop it!" Carin cried, backing away from the poltergeist blows. Angel climbed to her feet. Her balled fists tingled; her helmeted breath echoed in her ears. His face was a mess, but he looked alive enough. With sudden shame she remembered the night Carin locked herself in the bathroom and called the cops. But that was a long time ago. Angel wasn't that person anymore.

    An explosion faintly tremored the floor.

    Attaching the pistol to a side pouch, Angel gripped her wife's elbow and dragged her around the corner. From the floor above, she heard a crash of glass and masonry. A few seconds later came the continuous ear-piercing spits that could only be miniguns.

    Carin crouched so low she nearly curled into a ball, her whimpers drowned by the buzz-sawing fire. Angel didn't have time for this; she slung her in a fireman's carry and ran as fast as she could down the hall. Over the shooting, bullets chewed loudly through wood and drywall. Screams sounded through the ceiling.

    "What the fuck? They're shooting into a hospital!" Angel cried.

    "They may have encountered another Suit," said the elf.

    "But . . . they're the FBI. And they're shooting into a hospital!"

    "There's a media blackout. The Web is offline," the elf explained. "They can act with impunity."

    Angel opened a maintenance closet and thumped Carin's head against the door frame as she entered. Her wife yelped through her sobbing, but that didn't matter: the room was near the center of the floor, away from the outer walls and windows.

    She not-quite dumped her wife between a mop bucket, a push broom and a Tetris-pile of paper towel rolls.

    "Keep down!" Angel ordered. "I'll be back."

    In the darkness, Carin's wide eyes goggled through where Angel stood. The night vision left her in shades of gray and black, giving her the grainy tragedy of a last known photograph.

    "Angie, please don't leave me . . ."

    Angel slapped her--not hard--and fought to keep the crack out of her voice. The helmet's modulation helped.

    "No, listen to me. You lie here. Do not stand, do not sit. The lower you are, the less likely you'll get shot. Do you understand?"

    Carin nodded and reached up blindly until she touched the invisible mask. "I love you," she said. Too much like, goodbye.

    Angel nodded against the slender fingers, held them in her hand. Burning eyes blurred sight, but somehow the suit siphoned away the tears.

    "Love you too, babe," she managed through the lump. "It's . . . it's a bumpy ride, I know, but after this my elf juju can fix you up, and it'll be smooth cruising. See you in a few."

    Angel closed the door. As she stalked away, she fought the impulse to go back and leave Carin the guard's pistol, but aside from some backwoods plinking with a .22 rifle, her wife had never touched a firearm. And what good would it do?

    No, if anyone was going to save her, it was going to be Angel. Which was bad, because Angel didn't know what to do.

    The gunfire ceased, but helicopter chops still whispered ghostlike through the building. A herd of footsteps ran from somewhere above. Readying her pulse carbine, Angel leaned against a wall and spared precious seconds mulling her options.

    Her first, wild-monkey 'fight-or-flight' instinct had been to snatch Carin, smash out a window and fly off like Superman. But the helicopters would see them, and the miniguns of those AH-6 Little Birds could chainsaw the sky. The next idea had been to race down eight flights to the ground floor and try to sneak out. But if they'd landed a SWAT team on the roof, no doubt they also entered through the front doors. One goes down, one goes up. Search and destroy.

    And now that the Feds were showing themselves to be bullet-spraying crazies . . .

    "You need to act," the elf said.

    Angel ran down the hall until she reached the stairwell and half expected gunfire as she palmed open the door, but only darkness greeted her. With almost no ambient light, her vision rendered the stairs as black sooty angles which contrasted weirdly with her purple HUD-drawn legs racing down the steps. She looked unreal to herself, like a computer generated spirit.

    She exited on the seventh story. From an open room, a hunched over doctor peered down the hall at the swinging door, but of course saw no one. Angel situated herself by the edge of a window, yanked the curtain down and shouldered her carbine. Her fishbowl peripheral allowed her to watch both ways down the hallway: the long stretch to the left, the stairway to the right. Outside, across the street, ran a long wall of buildings that made an urban canyon of 34th. The rotors grew louder. She waited.

    The strategy seemed sound enough: the SWAT were somewhere out there, and she would deal with them when they appeared. In the meantime, the helicopters were the greater threat. So she was going to shoot them down. Helicopters full of cops.

    For Carin, anything.

    Serving in the Military Police Corps, she cleared more houses than she could count during her four tours of duty, and by the end she even led a Special Reaction Team. Each raid had always been preceded by a fear-buzz. She might catch a bullet in the face. There might be a IED under a couch. Hell, maybe it was all an ambush, and she'll end up snuff-fodder in some Liveleak video. If nothing else, the uncertainty made her alive, and at least she knew her buddies had her back.

    Now it was just her. And an elf in her ear.

    "You can help my aim, right?" Angel asked.

    "Within limits."

    "Do so."

    Violet cross-hairs appeared on her HUD. It moved with her carbine.

    "You should deploy your drones," the elf said.

    Angel frowned. She forgot she had them.

    Shots rang from the stairs. Running steps. Angel turned in time for the door to fly open and a tall, thin man in battered full plate armor to barge into the hallway. Angel opened fire.

    It wasn't like Star Wars. The carbine had the recoil of a flashlight. It hummed. No dramatic red bolts jetted from the barrel. Instead, a bright, lime-white spot hissed and blossomed sparks as it zigzagged across the man's silver chest.

    Screaming like a girl, the man raised his hands to his face and fell on his back. He flopped like a startled cat and sprinted practically on all fours back into the stairwell. She listened to his footsteps scamper down. From above she heard voices.

    Outside the window, about twenty meters out, one of the Little Birds swung into view, and Angel realized she had stepped out from the wall. The helicopter swiveled as it spotted her.

    Angel shot first. The window spat and fissured against the heat, and through the spiderweb of cracks she saw the cockpit bubble do the same as the panicked craft wobbled in place.

    Miniguns shredded the wall to her right. Angel sprinted left.

    "You should deploy your drones," the elf said again.

    "I know!" Angel shouted, ducking beside a window. Light and smoke exploded outside the stairway door, and the SWAT team charged through the flashbang's wake already shooting. Hammers smacked Angel's bicep, knee and breastplate. She toppled backwards before huddling behind a nearby janitor cart.

    Molded plastic and cleaning supplies proved poor protection against automatic assault rifle fire. Angel cried, screamed, clutching her pulse carbine as bullets beat her back. Don't go bananas, she told the monkey in her brain. You've been in this fix before. Only one way out.

    The impacts threw off her aim, but with a laser that scarcely matters. Crouched and leaning out, she lit up one of the cops until his black body armor burst into smoke and his neck steamed red. Another dropped her weapon and clawed at her melted gas-mask and goggles. The remaining two fired off a few wild rounds before retreating through the doorway, their surviving teammate stumbling after them.

    Watching them disappear, Angel tried to steady her shaking hands, her pounding chest. She was pretty sure she'd wet herself. But aside from a few bruises, she seemed intact. She looked to the body smoldering on the tiled floor.

    "I don't want to fight you!" Angel shouted. "Stay back!"

    Then, quieter: "Let's see these drones."

    They slid out from a vent in her side. Three silver frisbees unfolded magically into floating, motorcycle-length craft shaped like shark spaceships. A smaller disc, about the size of an Eisenhower dollar, rose into the air and extended into a crystal dildo before vanishing from sight.

    Her HUD sprouted four video feeds along the edge. Two of the attack drones she used to cover the stairway door, while the third watched the hallway to her rear. The cloaked one she carefully guided by thought down the hall and out the burned hole in the window.

    Though her eyes outside could not yet see, by the sound of the rotors, Angel could tell the approaching helicopter was one of the Little Birds. She frowned at her carbine.

    "Nice gun," she said, "but a little too 'small arms.' How's the plasma bow compare?"

    "Slower rate of fire; much greater damage."

    "What's its penetration?"

    "Approximately twenty centimeters of rolled homogeneous armor."

    "All right, then."

    Hanging the laser by its shoulder strap, she held out her hand and a spindly complex compound bow butterfly-knifed out of her arm. Fashioned as a stylized 'M,' the weapon eerily resembled her own Bear Siren, except with a few extra centuries of refinement.

    Angel tugged one of the five arrows from the attached quiver, and as she notched it to the hair-thin, almost ethereal string, the arrowhead ignited into a incandescent point so bright she was sure it would sear her retinas were it not for the protective visor. She turned in her crouch and aimed at the bullet-pocked wall and drew back. The pull felt perfect.

    The spy drone spotted the Little Bird--not the one she'd damaged--flying sideways, its miniguns spooling up for a strafe. The drone also projected an adjusted perspective window on Angel's HUD, allowing her in effect x-ray vision.

    The bow's purple aiming reticle rotated in anticipation as the blazing arrowhead scorched wallpaper and melted like wax the janitor's cart by her side, setting fire to its towels and toilet paper. Angel could feel the sting through her black gloves, even though her suit was spec'd for outer space.

    The helicopter crossed her line of fire, and hesitated, probably sensing the heat behind her cover. Angel released. Fiery ash sneezed in her face as the starlike arrow passed through drywall and brick as if they were paper mache, and though she fell backwards off her heels, she saw through the spy drone's high-vantage the blinding streak stab the Little Bird full in the face. Debris from the explosion smacked like bullets through the burning, foot-wide hole.

    Angel climbed to her feet, suddenly giddy with crazy pride. How many hunters could say they bow-bagged an attack chopper? Maybe after this was all over she could gather up the rotors, mount them above her fireplace beside her whitetail buck.

    Smoke blanketing down the hallway, twenty or so meters to her left, slapped her back to her senses. Another four-man SWAT team swarmed out from the fog, guns blazing. Angel ducked down, taking grazes across her deltoid and ribs, and with a thought fired one of her drone's grenade launchers. A burst, and they tumbled like bowling pins. She held her fire as they limped their retreat, dragging their dead or wounded with them.

    This had gone on long enough.

    Angel crossed the hall to a open room. The doctor she'd seen earlier was there with a nurse, and both were huddled behind what looked like a MRI scanner. It sounded like they were praying. Of course, they didn't see her. Even her footsteps were somehow dampened.

    She folded the bow back into her arm, readied her carbine and squatted by the door. Thinking off her external speaker, she said, "I need to speak to Agent what's his name."

    "I'm now broadcasting on their frequency," the elf replied. "You may speak now."

    Angel paused. She actually didn't know what to say. "Stop this," she demanded finally. "You're shooting into a fucking hospital."

    "Because you're making us," the rough, male voice replied over the rotors' roar. He sounded different when not on a megaphone, older, more of a lifelong smoker. "Give yourself up. I promise you'll be taken care of. We know this is not your fault. You're under alien influence."

    "But why me?" Angel said, sounding more like a whine than she intended. "Shouldn't you be fighting one of the mecha-Godzillas fucking up the city?"

    The agent chuckled. "Because fighting you is easier. In case you haven't noticed, we're at war now. Our scientists need a suit, and we'll do anything to get one. Do you think we're going to turn tail and run just because you ray-gunned one of our birds? You're surrounded, and I assure you reinforcements are on the way. You and your accomplice would be better off surrendering now."

    Angel practically hissed with anger. "Accomplice? Look, asshole, my wife has nothing to do with--"

    "I think he's talking about me," said another male voice. Younger. That of a ragged stoner. "And no way are we accomplices. The bitch shot me! Lasered a fucking Zorro on my chest!"

    "Yeah, my bad," Angel said. "Whoever you are."

    "No biggie. I have Wolverine healing powers. Just itches a little now. Hey, I Wiki'd you earlier. You're that Angel Zacarias, right?"

    Angel sighed at the mispronunciation. "That's what my birth certificate says."

    "Man, I saw you shoot down that chopper. That was awesome."

    "I know, right?" Angel said. Despite everything, she laughed. "It was with a bow and arrow. Can you believe that?"

    "You chose the plasma bow? No shit. This is just like Rambo, except it's in a hospital. And there's mechas. And you're a lesbian."

    "I hate reboots," the agent said. "But to get back on topic here: we're not leaving without you two. Just give up. There's no way out."

    Angel chewed her lip, suddenly wishing she could smoke through her mask. She tried a different approach. "That's where you're wrong. I didn't want to play this card, but you've left me no choice. My suit comes with a small antimatter device. You let me and my wife go, or Manhattan goes Hiroshima."

    "Wait, you have one of those?" asked the stoner. "I don't remember that option."

    Shut up! Angel thought.

    "I see," the agent said. "Well, could you at least allow us to study your suit? Under your terms, of course."

    "Don't trust them, lady," said the stoner. "They shot at me as soon as they saw me!"

    From the her spy-drone, Angel watched all five helicopters (four Black Hawks and the wounded Little Bird) converge on her side of the hospital. Outside, their rotors overlapped with whirlwind slices.

    "I'm serious," Angel said. "Let us go."

    The Little Bird fired a rocket.

    "No! Wa--" Angel cried.

    The fiery shock wave flipped her like a rag-doll, and she skidded across the ceiling before landing behind the MRI scanner. A minigun hailstorm poured into the room, chipping the floor, obliterating the walls. Together Angel, the doctor and the nurse cowered behind the medical machine's great cylinder as never-ending bullet-swarms gouged away the metal innards.

    "STOP!" Angel shouted. "STOP IT!"

    She had only enough time to notice the doctor and nurse were staring at her with wild, bewildered eyes before another rocket struck the floor nearby and blasted her backwards. Flash. Fire. Concrete fell, dumping a hospital bed from above.

    "Get up, Angel," the elf said. "Get up and fight."

    Sobbing, brain swimming, Angel splayed drunkenly in a pile of studs and drywall. Flames and smoke coffined her in nightmare. She heard another rocket, and debris dumped on her as if shoveled by unseen demons. One horrible thought rattled her skull.

    Carin. Carin, oh God.


    "I surrender!" she cried hoarsly. On knees that felt like shattered glass, she propped herself up and screamed, "I SURRENDER! PLEASE, JUST MAKE IT STOP!"

    But if the FBI heard, they gave no sign. Gunfire continued its crackle; a fourth rocket blew out another wall and knocked her off her feet. Parts of the ceiling fell like domino slabs. Water gushed along her back from broken pipes. She clawed the shattered floor like a baby, blubbering over the radio for mercy.

    "Get up," the elf said. "Get up. You must save your wife."

    Angel didn't get up but crawled forward through the haphazard labyrinth of collapsed concrete. She'd lost her laser, so she again folded out her bow. A rocket screamed overhead, but exploded somewhere distant.

    Through rubble and rebar and over a flaming spring mattress, Angel crawled to the MRI scanner, which was now half-skeletal, though still more or less intact. She crouched behind the exposed donut of one of the magnets, beside something that looked too much like a severed leg. Bullets dinged against the metal, but only as afterthoughts. They didn't know where she was; they were just going to shoot and blow the hospital to hell and root through the remains for her precious suit.

    Or at least pin her down until reinforcements arrived.

    Her wounds had already regenerated, but her hands trembled. She took out and notched one of the arrows and prayed to a God she didn't believe in as the tip shone like a pebbled sun. She had to get through this. She had to see it to the end.

    All of her attack drones were blown up, but the spy-drone was all that really mattered. Through it's bird's eye view she zeroed on the Little Bird and watched as it let fly yet another rocket. Somewhere: an avalanche.

    Leaning out, she followed the HUD reticle and released. Broken concrete splashed away molten as the plasma shaft blazed a silica-searing tunnel to the Little Bird. Angel didn't wait for the fireball but notched another: it was the Black Hawks' turn.

    She shot down four of them. The fifth got away. Ran out of arrows.

    Refolding the bow, she climbed a miniature Mt. Everest of rocks to reach the jagged, crumbling face of 34th Street Canyon. The sun had set, and the sky was black. Below burned the fiery abyss where bad helicopters go.

    Ice clutched her heart, but she had to see. She might still be . . .

    It was too much trouble to excavate back to whatever was left of the stairway, so she used the suit's prowess to leap up and grab the exposed rebar along the wall-less edge of the floor above. She hauled herself up, scraping the already scarred breastplate of her now de-cloaked hide, and stepped with dread into the dark, rocket-blasted cavern where she'd left her wife.

    All was shredded walls and blackened studs. Holes in the floor dropped to the story below. Sprinklers drizzled. Her throat tightened; she could not call Carin's name. She'd seen what IEDs could do. She knew.

    She found the body under scorched paper towels and drywall. The bald, delicate head was seared bright red. Overpressure had ruptured the eyes. Still wet blood trailed from the ears and nose and a mouth that would never finish its scream.

    The sob began as a vague moan, a titter, but then Angel was on her knees and burrowing through the smoldering trash to clutch her wife to her chest as wailing sobs rang inside her helmet. She cried, she begged. She said she was sorry.

    "Angel!" shouted a woman's voice. The elf. There was an elf in her ear. She knew that. And the elf was shouting. It'd been doing so for a while.

    "The brain is intact," the elf said. "You must hurry. Find someplace below freezing! Someplace cold! There's still a chance."

    Angel stood up dumbly. "Someplace cold," she said. Something in her mind sputtered and stirred, like an idling engine revved somewhat to life. "A chance."

    "There will be damage. You must hurry."

    With her wife's frail corpse cradled in her arms, she spread her wings and blasted off from the ruins of the NYU Cancer Center. The last Black Hawk, circling menacingly, strafed at her as she ascended above the wounded city. Behind her, a blinding white beam connected a hospital window with the helicopter, and it dropped out of the night sky like a smashed toy on fire.

    "Take that, G-man!" said the stoner. "Hey, Angel, er, Ms. Zacarias, is that you up in the sky? Hello? Are you there?"

    A chance is just a chance. That's all they had before, so nothing had changed. Either the chemo would work or it would not. Either the elf magic would work or it would not.

    But win or lose, Angel knew what she would do: find someplace cold and hold onto her wife and never let go.

    To be continued . . .
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter Seven
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter Seven
    (Angel)
    Angel cradled Carin's body in the restaurant's meat locker. Wire-frame shelves stacked with sausages, hams, chickens and turkeys squeezed the rubber-matted walkway into a narrow, dead-end alley. The lonely yellow light bulb flickered and buzzed, but the condenser fans still spun, still hummed. She looked at the thermometer on the door: minus seventeen degrees Fahrenheit.

    She wore her suit but had retracted the helmet. Her teeth chattered, but the tears didn't freeze against her nipped cheeks. The sobbing had slowed to a rhythm now, cracking wails breaking with high whimpers that echoed off the stainless steel walls. That crying was her own, though it felt as if it belonged to someone else, as if she weren't really sitting hunched in this metal den holding the mutilated corpse of her wife.

    But there was still a chance. The elf had promised that much. Angel hugged Carin tighter and, blinking through the burning in her eyes, dared to look at the damage, to maybe see the alien magic at work.

    The skin of her burned, bald head didn't seem quite so melted or red now, and the ears looked like they were reforming. The eyeballs were still gone, but in those jellied sockets nestled the fresh buds of tiny white grapes. With childlike hope, Angel kissed her gently on her seared lips. She tasted only death. Carin was just an icy weight in her arms.

    She'd lost friends in Iraq. She'd gone through the panicked screams and the pleading and the empty, woolly-headed shock that followed. She doubted it effected everyone the same way, but on those occasions she sometimes remembered things. Things that mattered.

    The cold made her think back to last December, when she and Carin had been repairing their wounded marriage. Angel hadn't been a good wife. There'd been tears and black eyes and at one time the police knocking at the front door--and Carin never did find out about Lina. But together they'd gone through counseling, and therapy helped Angel keep her PTSD under control.

    Things were looking good, so they decided to take a hunting trip to Teetertown Ravine. That had been an odd choice because Carin didn't like hunting. Not because she thought it was morally wrong--she knew where the meat in the grocery store came from--she just hated to see blood and suffering. She was gentle like that. But she wanted to try something new and reconnect with the woman she loved, and if nothing else, Angel hoped to turn her on to the world of archery.

    But a hard nor'easter rolled in, its winds and sleet harsh enough to make driving back too risky an adventure. They spent most of the weekend cuddled in their tent, bundled in blankets and winter coats so thick they'd make an Eskimo sweat. By the end, they both stank, and the beer and cigarettes had run out. But Angel wouldn't trade those three days for a million dollars.

    Five months later, Carin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

    And now she was dead. Because of the fucking FBI.

    Because Angel had failed.

    She pressed her forehead to Carin's freezing scalp, her breath fogging against her face, and vowed for the dozenth time that if this worked, she'd make up for all the shit she put her through. She'd cherish her every day, never lie, never cheat, never lose her temper. She'd break the world in half to protect her.

    Please wake up. Please . . .

    "It's not working," the elf said.

    Angel startled at the unexpected voice in her ears. When she parsed the words, it was like a heavy stone dropped in her belly.

    "Bullshit! It is working! The burns are healing! She's getting better!"

    "Her brain is already deteriorating," the elf explained calmly, as if discussing a corrupted hard drive. "The hydrananites are attempting to map her organic neural network, but even in this reduced temperature, they will not complete the task before information death."

    Angel looked at Carin's lifeless features. Frost was beginning to gloss her skin.

    "So . . . she's . . . she's not . . . ?"

    "I'm sorry."

    It may have said more, but Angel wasn't listening.

    My wife's dead. She's not coming back. She's dead. She's not coming back . . .


    Shuddering, she rested her head on Carin's shoulder, cuddled into her coldness and looked around the frozen tomb that was now her world. Along a bottom shelf, a full, plump turkey presented its rear with its two jutting drumsticks, and in a flash of muddled insight it reminded her of how her parents' corgi's backside looked when he was sitting on the floor. What a stupid thing to think about. She wished that dog was with her now.

    She wished anyone was with her.

    The idea slapped her so hard she shook. She took a deep breath.

    "If . . . if we had more of those hydrobites--?"

    "Hydrananites," the elf corrected.

    "Whatever. If we had more of them, like twice as many, could we save her?"

    "Possibly."

    Angel nodded. "I need to call that stoner guy. The other pilot."

    "Broadcasting is dangerous. Hostiles may track you to this location."

    "Just do it!"

    "Frequency open." The elf paused as if in a sigh. "You may speak."

    Angel took a moment to steady her thoughts. Raw from crying, her throat ached when she swallowed.

    "Hey, you from the hospital, the guy I, uh, shot." Her voice cracked and came out reedy to her ears. "Are you there? It's me, Angel Zacarias. Is . . . is any pilot out there? Anyone with a suit? Please respond."

    She waited, repeated the message, and waited some more. Carin's brain was rotting. Carin's window was closing. Angel touched the pouch along the side of her suit which housed the hospital guard's pistol. If this didn't work, she wasn't leaving this freezer.

    "I was wondering where you went," replied the familiar scraggly voice.

    Angel sighed with relief.

    The stoner went on, "Man, weren't those feds a bunch of psychos? That was like Nine-Eleven shit they pulled. What the fuck? There were a few SWAT guys left after you flew off. They tried to run away like little bitches, but I took my particle beam gun and went Lee Harvey Oswald on their asses. I mean, they deserved it, right? Fucking murderers. Anyway, I got bored so I'm back at Dunkin' Donuts. Name's Mack, by the way. Hey, you want to hang--?"

    "Shut up!" Angel snapped. She took a deep breath and said, "Do you . . . do you have those hydro-bot things?"

    The stoner--Mack--laughed. "Yeah, of course. Super healing. Who wouldn't choose that?"

    "Please, I need you here. My wife . . . she's dead."

    Mack's humor vanished. He sounded normal, like a different person. "Shit, I'm sorry. I . . ."

    "I'm trying to resuscitate her."

    "Oh." Now he understood. "Where are you?"

    She gave Mack quick instructions and begged him to hurry. She'd only flown about a mile from the NYU Cancer Center before she found the small Italian joint she was currently at, but his suit was too damaged to fly. So it was an excruciating several minutes before she heard his footsteps sprint through the smashed glass doors.

    "In here!" she cried. She drew her pistol, just in case.

    Mack threw open the metal door and barged him. He was hunched and breathing hard. She looked him over.

    He obviously had taken the 'elf makeover' option. Angel had a tallish, lanky build, but his stretched and spindly form made her feel squat and stocky by comparison. His face ran with a classic 'elvish' look--sharp chin and ears, high cheekbones--that clashed with his shaggy homeless man hair. His silver suit was gone; instead he wore a cheap polyester jacket two sizes too small with similarly poorly fitting sweatpants. Stuffed newspapers peeked from beneath his clothes.

    There was no time for proper introductions. "Touch her!" Angel urged.

    The freezer was no bigger than a crowded walk-in closet, but he managed to squeezed in beside Carin. His breath fogged the air between them. He took her arm in both hands and rubbed up and down her wrist and forearm as if to warm her.

    "The additional hydrananites will suffice," the elf computer said. "I will try to preserve as much of her organic neural network as possible."

    "My elf says it's going to work," Mack said.

    "Mine did too."

    After enough time passed that it started to become awkward, she added, "Thank you for coming."

    "No problem. I . . . I'd be an asshole if I didn't."

    In the sickly freezer light his eyes seemed an unnatural bottle green that she would have assumed were contacts before today. Those eyes examined Carin carefully, as if deciphering something hidden in her burns.

    "She looks so delicate," he said sadly, "like a fragile baby bird."

    "That's chemo for you," Angel said more bitterly than she intended.

    "She's pretty, though."

    "Yeah, she is."

    "Tell me about her."

    Angel hesitated, unsure of what to share with a stranger. She clutched Carin close as if she were a giant teddy bear and said, "She teaches third graders out in Warren--that's where we live. It's a little town in Somerset County. She's really good with kids. She's even writing a children's book, or 'young adult' like she'd say. It's a steampunk. She's even illustrating it herself, has lots of cool drawings of cat people and airships and giant robots with gears and smokestacks and shit." She smiled at Carin, who was already almost healed. "It's too bad she didn't come across the pod instead of me. She would have had a lot of fun making her own mecha. And she probably wouldn't have fucked things up like I did."

    Mack shrugged. "It could have gone worse. It could have gone better. What do you do for a living?"

    "Auto mechanic. I also refurbish old cars and motorcycles on the side." She saw his smirk and chuckled, saying, "Fuck you! There's good money in it. I'm not a stereotype."

    "You have Danny Zuko hair."

    "Yeah, okay, whatever. What about you?"

    "Let's see . .. " He held up a silver bracelet as though it were a watch. "About four hours ago, I was sleeping in a dumpster."

    Angel laughed. "Then I'd say Elf Day's done you good."

    "Lucky me, but I think I'm the exception." His elfin features tightened. "It's not just here, you know. I was listening to the radio--mostly ham operators--and there's reports of mecha fights in Philly, Boston, Pittsburgh . . . everywhere. The elves must have dropped thousands and thousands of those pods all over the world. Things aren't going back to normal."

    "Fuck normal," Angel said. "We're about to raise my wife from the dead."

    They sat there for several more minutes. Her suit kept her warm, but if the cold bothered Mack, he didn't show it. Then her elf told her to take Carin out of the freezer, and so they carried her to the restaurant's surprisingly spacious kitchen and laid her on a stainless work table that could easily double as an autopsy slab. The months of chemo had left Carin emaciated, and with her scorched t-shirt and pajama bottoms, she looked like the victim from a third world warzone.

    At least now the burns had vanished, though under the fluorescent lights Carin's smooth pallor cast an icy glow that didn't belong on anyone living. But Mack was right: she was pretty, but with her round-heart face, pointed chin and wide, expressive eyes (closed now, but no longer empty sockets), Angel would describe her as a baby 'owl' over a 'bird.'

    "Do we have everything covered?" Angel asked.

    For Mack's benefit, her elf was on suit-speaker. Surprisingly, the computer didn't sound tinny, but rather lifelike as she were speaking from an unseen body.

    "She will likely experience symptoms of hypothermia upon awakening. The hydrananites will counteract this, but she should be kept warm."

    Without a word, Mack rummaged through cabinets until he found some tablecloths. He held them up and grinned. Good enough, but they'd really need to find Carin new clothes. She didn't blame him--men were men, after all--but she'd caught Mack peeking at what was beneath the ragged holes before glancing uncomfortably away.

    It was Mack's computer's turn to talk. The voice was slightly huskier than Angel's elf.

    "She will require amble sustenance to recover from the regeneration."

    "Well, good thing she likes Italian," Angel said smugly.

    Mack paused, then laughed. "Oh, I get it!"

    "There was moderate brain damage," Angel's elf added, evaporating the good humor. "The damage has been repaired, but your wife may be psychologically different than before."

    "We'll work through it," Angel said quickly. "Are we ready?"

    They each took one of Carin's cold hands and waited. To an outsider, Angel knew this would look more like a silly pagan voodoo ritual rather than the applied principles of Space Elf Bullshit Science, but maybe they were one and the same. Maybe all those stories about Thor and Zeus and Jesus were just the magic tricks of alien trolls. That question was above Angel's pay-grade. All she cared was whether this worked.

    And it was. As if by magic Carin's flesh grew warmer, pinker.Tears broke loose in Angel's eyes when she saw Carin's chest begin to rise and fall. Maybe a minute passed, and then the faint bumps of her eyes twitched beneath her thin lids. Angel leaned forward and kissed the bald top of her head, feeling the warmth on her lips. She stroked Carin's cheek.

    "Baby, it's me, are you awake?"

    Carin's eyes slowly opened.

    They weren't her eyes. Her eyes had always been the gentle gray of sunny rain clouds. Now, the pupils were a lavender specked with green that no human before had ever possessed.

    These were new, regrown eyes, Angel reminded herself. And eye color didn't matter.

    But Carin's alien eyes stared at Angel fearfully and without recognition. Angel hope faltered.

    "It's . . . it's me," Angel said.

    Carin opened her mouth and made a babbling sound, not quite words. Her eyes widened, and she sat up slightly and looked around the kitchen in naked bewilderment. She began to shiver; her teeth chattered.

    "Does she have amnesia?" Mack asked, pulling a table cloth over her.

    His own elf answered him. "The damage to the temporal and medial temporal lobes were minimal; therefore at least long-term memory should be relatively intact. However, extensive repairs were required in the fusiform and Broca areas of the brain."

    Angel glared at Mack as though he were his elf.

    "What the fuck does that mean?"

    Her own elf said, "It means her ability to recognize faces and process language is impaired."

    "Shit," Mack said.

    "For now," her elf reassured. "It'll take time for her to relearn."

    Tears brimmed along the bottom of Carin's purple eyes. She tried speaking again but managed only monkey whimpers. Angel stroked her head and stalled for comprehension. What was Carin seeing when she saw her face? What did she hear? How could she reassure her?"

    "Listen to my voice," Angel tried desperately. "It's me. It's Angie."

    Carin waved her arms under the tablecloth and tried to roll off the table. She began screaming, thrashing.

    "She may be traumatized," Mack's elf said unhelpfully.

    Angel pulled away. She couldn't handle this. She wasn't a doctor. She didn't know what to do. But she couldn't break down now. Sniffling back an incoming sobs, she tried to think. She can't recognize faces, but what about . . . ?

    With a mental command, she folded back her suit, the armored panels flapping away like impossible black and violet butterfly wings until they collapsed into a shiny obsidian bracelet on her wrist.

    Carin didn't like seeing that at all. She fell onto the floor and tried to stand up. She tripped on the tablecloth, fell again and tried crawling away. Mack grabbed her by the shoulders. She struggled. Her panicked, terrified screams were like jabs into Angel's guts.

    Wiping her eyes, Angel knelt beside Carin, and she rolled her on her back and gripped her by the chin, forcing her to look at her. She held her other hand before Carin's eyes and used her thumb to wiggle her ring.

    "Recognize that, baby?" Angel said, her voice cracking. "Just look at the ring and listen to my voice."

    It wasn't flashy, just a simple wedding band dotted with a line of diamonds. But it was distinctive enough. Trembling like a frightened baby animal, Carin fixed on the silver, and then slowly held up her own slender hand which carried its twin. She met Angel's eyes, and smiled weakly. She uttered a noise. Angel could guess what it was supposed to be.

    "Yeah. That's right, baby. It's me. I've got everything under control."

    And she kissed Carin. And for the first time in months, Carin didn't taste like death.
    ---

    Next: Chapter Six of "Weaver and Jinx."
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015
  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    ... Wow.

    That's powerful stuff.
     
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  11. mytg8

    mytg8 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Very well done. You handled the change of POVs and tense changes expertly.
     
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  12. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks. Part of the reason I began writing this was to practice different voices, tenses and writing styles.

    From this point on, Angel is going to be the 'main' character, though, with other characters being confined to intermittent interludes.
     
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  13. edmantgoog

    edmantgoog Not too sore, are you?

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    liking this
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Chapter Eight
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter Eight
    (Angel)
    Carin tensed under the sheets before relaxing into a contented spreadeagle, her heavy breathing filling the warm air of the cozy basement bedroom. Angel raised her face from between her wife's thighs and writhed up her body, sweat on sweat, until her head escaped the swelter of the sheets and she lay on top of her. Their eyes met, and in the nightstand's dim yellow lamplight, Carin's lavender pupils looked almost pink, making Angel think of an albino. Weird, but she could get used to that. They kissed, sharing that sour, salty taste, fresher now than it'd been in a long time.

    Later, when they lay in each other's arms, Angel peeked over the side of the bed and noticed the bowl of fettuccine and chicken ragù half-spilled across the carpet. Oops. But there was plenty more where that came from. During the night Carin had consumed probably a week's worth of Italian dishes. That was when she wasn't sleeping or using the bathroom. Angel's elf had explained that her wife's metabolism had been accelerated to help deal with the millions of tiny alien machines working inside her to repair the damage that comes from having leukemia and being dead.

    Aside from Carin's eyes, there were other differences, things erased in the regeneration. Tiny golden freckles no longer peppered her nose and cheeks, and gone were the faint stress lines that had sprouted around her eyes over the last few months. The flowery vines tattooed along the back of her shoulders were mostly rubbed away, though on her forearm, the six black-inked words of poetry were still legible, if a little fogged.

    These were insignificant things--and in the case of the wrinkles, nice things to lose--but they reminded Angel of the burned nightmare corpse Carin had been only yesterday afternoon. There were close calls, and there was being saved only by the elvish grace of bullshit science. Angel held Carin tighter and, despite the fact that civilization was collapsing around her, counted herself the luckiest woman in the world.

    Above and far away came the faint roar of what sounded like thunder. There'd been a lot of that, lately. Angel ignored it. The scouting drones would warn her if danger drew close.

    Carin's purple eyes stared at Angel fixedly. She tugged free a hand and touched a finger to Angel's cheek and slid it down her jawline. Angel playfully tried to bite it; Carin laughed and spoke. It was short and brief and, unlike the earlier, formless babbling, sounded like English. But she didn't use English words. Carin shook her head in frustration.

    "Give it time, baby," Angel said, rubbing a hand over Carin's smooth scalp. "My elf says all that language know-how is still up there in your egg, it's just scrambled is all."

    Carin just stared at her, uncomprehending. Angel wondered what she sounded like to her. A grownup from the Charlie Brown cartoons? At least she was sort of recognizing faces now. But what did Carin think was going on?

    She was smart, so she probably figured brain damage. But what did she make of waking up in an abandoned restaurant kitchen? Or Mack, who looked like he just stepped off the boat from Rivendell? Or how about Angel's Mighty Morphin' Power Armor? Her elf had told her that Carin likely didn't remember anything that happened at the hospital--short term memory would be the first to go--so she wouldn't even have that for context.

    At least she wasn't freaking out anymore. It helped that she saw Angel was acting calm. That was important. Angel had to stay strong, let her know she was in control.

    Carin leaned over to the nightstand and, carefully avoiding the security guard's handgun, snatched up Angel's smartphone. She lay back down into Angel's arms, and Angel watched over her shoulder as she navigated the photos until settling on one.

    The picture was from back in March, during the pool party for Carin's twenty-ninth birthday. A beer-buzzed Angel was glomping a bikini-clad Carin from behind, hugging her and kissing her cheek, and with the big goofy grin plastered on Carin's face, her eyes wide with captured laughter, she looked as happy as Angel had ever seen her.

    Carin touched the screen, brushing across the blond of her pixie faux hawk. She then rubbed at her now bald scalp and looked at Angel.

    "Yeah, that's you. You . . . you remember the chemo, right?"

    Carin tapped Angel's face on the phone. She pursed her lips and then spoke very slowly. "Ann . . . Kee?"

    "Close enough, baby. Close enough."

    Carin zoomed in the image on Angel's lean, tatted-up arms. Carin then sat up in bed and put a finger at Angel's right deltoid, and Angel felt as she traced down through the skull and crossed flintlock pistols, the soaring bald eagle, and the band of thorny roses until she came to the simple inked words on Angel's forearm.

    "I . . . car . . . ry. . . your . . . h . . . he . . . art . . . with . . . me," Carin said and then presented her own forearm to Angel.

    "I carry it in my heart," Angel read slowly. They both grinned. They'd got the matching tattoos in a shop out in Buffalo three years ago, during their honeymoon road trip. They'd been pretty drunk. Carin had said it was from a poem by E. E. Cummings. Angel had never heard of him before, but that name was hilarious.

    "You know what? I think everything's going to be all right," said Angel.

    After Carin dozed off, Angel pulled on her boxers and pants and then spent a minute watching her sleep. Carin's ribs were still xylophones down her sides, and her previously perky a-cups still looked like little deflated pouches. But Angel thought she'd picked up a few pounds since her resurrection, and her skin had regained a healthy pink tone. Another day, and Carin would be ready to move. Angel tucked the sheets around her wife and stroked her bald head.

    The small basement apartment probably belonged to the restaurant's owner, a fat, older Sicilian-looking man going by the family photos on the walls and desk. His wardrobe left something to be desired, but his white t-shirts didn't fit half-bad. She checked herself out in the mirror and fussed with her pompadour until it looked sufficiently cool.

    She was getting at that age where she always had to be on the lookout for gray hairs, but with all that hydra-nanos in her blood, she had a feeling she wouldn't have to worry about that anymore. Her face hadn't exactly aged backwards, but it'd lost the slight puffiness in her cheeks and the circles under her hazel eyes. She guessed this was what she'd look like if she'd never smoked a cigarette, never sipped a beer.

    As an afterthought, she picked up the handgun, re-checked that there wasn't a round chambered and stuffed it down the front of her jeans, gangsta-style. She left the bedroom and climbed the narrow, concrete-walled stairs to the restaurant's kitchen. The mouth-watering aroma of pork and romano cheese greeted her.

    Dressed in a white coat and a chef's hat that covered his pointy ears, Mack was by a stove stirring a pot while he watched the sprawling holographic cityscape projected by one of his light combat drones. The glowing, translucent diorama hogged half of the floor space, which had been cleared when they'd used the tables to barricade the doors.

    Mack gave her a nod. "You were down there a while."

    Angel opened a fridge, grabbed an import beer. "My elf says exchanging bodily fluids gives her more nano healing shit. So we've been doing a lot of that."

    "Cool. Can I watch?"

    "Ha ha. No."

    She tossed him a bottle underhanded. He caught it almost without looking and banged the cap off against the counter top. She squatted on the edge of a plastic chair and, patting her pockets, realized she left her cigarettes in the bedroom. It didn't matter. For some reason, she didn't want one that bad anyway. She used her bracelet to open her beer.

    "How goes the show?" she asked.

    The 'show' was the two miles up bird's eye view of Manhattan, courtesy of Mack's cloaked scouting drone. The sun had yet to rise, and so the island was projected in a light-enhanced dreariness that accentuated the dozens of smoking fires which scarred the city. Helicopter dots swarmed around like hungry flies.

    "Mecha-Kong's about bitten the dust," Mack said, and the projection zoomed down on the ten story-tall robot gorilla she'd seen earlier at the Goldman Sachs Tower.

    Crushing vehicles with every forward lurch, the mutilated giant machine crawled down a street running between two canyon walls of skyscrapers. It's left leg was gone, and its right arm dragged behind it. Half of its head was missing. Its torso looked as if it'd been chewed with flaming teeth. It tried to amble around the corner of a building, but a small fiery projectile slammed into its hide and exploded. The mechanical ape reared back, its remaining red eye gazing upward, and opened its hinged jaws. The scout drone didn't pick up the audio, but Angel heard the screaming faintly in the background beyond the restaurant's walls.

    It wasn't the mock-Tarzan call of before. It sounded like a scared boy, blubbering and cursing. More missiles struck. It didn't take long. There was no dramatic, final explosion like out of a Michael Bay movie, but instead the massive chassis collapsed into a twisted, burning robotic skeleton.

    "He chose . . . poorly," Mack said and swigged his beer.

    Had the pilot just been a stupid kid who'd been given too much power and lashed out? Had there been problems at home? Bullies at school? She didn't know what she'd do if she'd been given a suit when she was sixteen, though she imagined her rampage would have been more 'Carrie' and less 'Godzilla.'

    "He wasn't right in the head," she decided.

    Mack snorted. "Yeah, but I also meant his mecha choices. He didn't take the 'flight' option--even though it was cheap. Instead he went for a 'giant slow robo-monkey' build, which did fuck all against jet fighters."

    The hologram's focus swiveled up to zoom on the black silhouettes of three straight-winged aircraft soaring in formation in the dark clouds. She recognized their profile.

    "A-10 Warthogs," she said. "Tank killers."

    "Yeah, they're sending in the big boys now."

    The image swept around to look across Upper Bay and slowly scan the northern coastline of Staten Island, several miles away. The resolution was a little grainy, but Angel could make out a number of tiny Humvees and military trucks running along the road in front of the high-rise apartments close to the shore. About a dozen armored vehicles Angel recognized as Bradleys, probably anti-aircraft M6 Linebackers, rolled past the twin white granite fins of that 9/11 Memorial sculpture. Above, more helicopters circled menacingly.

    "We need to make like Snake Plisskin and get the fuck out of here," Mack said.

    "Sounds good, but how? Your wings are still fucked, right?"

    "Yeah, but even if they weren't we might not get too far flying. There's a few pilots that are treating this like an online deathmatch, but there's also the military. I think they're using thermal goggles or something because they've started shooting at any mecha that gets in the air--cloaked or not."

    "And Carin wouldn't be cloaked, anyway," Angel said and sighed. "How about keeping our suits on our wrists and sneaking away like normal refugees? Manhattan's underwater tunnels might be clogged up deathtraps by now, but what about the Williamsburg Bridge? It's not far from here."

    Mack sprinkled some garlic into the pot and stepped away from the stove to stand before the holographic map, which zoomed in on the southern tip of the island. Angel stood beside him. A small part of her wished she'd gone ahead with the cyber-brain implants. Controlling gear with pure thought was pretty cool.

    Frowning, Mack pointed at a long, gray line stretching across the lighter gray of the East River. "Earlier some psycho mecha shot rockets at the bridge, killing who knows how many people. I'd be leery about walking across. And it's not like Brooklyn's going to be any safer than here."

    Angel nodded. Carin's parents lived in Brooklyn. Her drunk-ass dad could go fuck himself, but her mom had always been nice enough, if a little intolerant in her Russian Orthodox beliefs. Had she evacuated all right? Hopefully, but Angel wasn't about to go exploring an urban war zone on the off chance they could find her. Carin came first.

    "It'd be better if we could cross the Hudson," Angel said, "get back onto the mainland, but right now I think we should stay right here. We have food, water and if shit gets real, we can hide in the basement. It's still dangerous, but we can wait it out."

    "I don't think playing ostrich is going to work, Angel. Our problems aren't going away."

    "They will and sooner than you think. If every city in the country's like this--panicked mobs, unchecked fires, killer robots--then the military's going come apart at the seams. They're not prepared for a worldwide warzone. They'll use up their fancy toys, their munitions, their fuel . . . and without a working infrastructure, they won't be getting any more. How many FBI choppers did we bag? Six? That's six they can't replace. And it won't be long before soldiers say to themselves, 'Where's my paycheck?' or 'I have a family to take care of,' or, 'Fuck it, let's go looting' and they'll slip out at night."

    "And the mechas?"

    Angel sipped her beer and shrugged. "The crazies will weed themselves out--like Mecha-Kong there. Once they're gone, what motive would we have to fight each other?"

    Mack winced a little. "I was asking my elf about that . . . . You ever seen Highlander?"

    "'There can be only one,' right?" Angel said and groaned. "Let me guess: pilots get power ups for killing each other."

    Angel's elf startled her by responding aloud, "In a manner of speaking, yes. Suits can be harvested for components and resources. You've lost your combat drones and pulse laser carbine. Mack's lost his wings. If you defeat another pilot, you may be able to replace those."

    She'd nearly forgotten her elf was there. It creeped her out, knowing it was always listening in. "Yeah, no offense, but we don't want to play that game. Everyday folks don't go around killing people just so they can take their stuff."

    "After society collapses, that will change," Mack's elf said.

    ***​

    Because she felt she should be doing something to help, Angel chopped mushrooms and tomatoes for the lasagna, periodically pausing to sip her beer or slurp at a bowl of minestrone Mack had passed her. It was really good, thick with borlotti beans and the right amount of garlic. Mack said he'd used to be a chef a couple of years back, before his life fell into a downward spin. He knew what he was doing; she could say that much for him.

    Angel wasn't one for trusting people she'd just met--much less an elf-man who only yesterday was a homeless drug addict--but saving Carin's life had scored him a lot of points. It still felt strange how they'd sort of fallen into an unspoken alliance. He could leave at any time, but he hadn't. Angel took that to mean they were friends now.

    While the lasagna baked in the oven, they lounged around a table, popped open a five hundred dollar bottle of red wine with a long fancy name and took turns swilling it as if it were rotgut. It didn't taste any different to her than something five dollars at the grocery store, but then she was hardly a connoisseur.

    "Don't know why you didn't take the elf option," he said after wiping his lips and passing her the bottle. "I got the six million dollar package: stronger, faster, better . . ."

    "And you're no longer human."

    "Eh, what did being human ever do for me?"

    She swallowed the last of the bottle before speaking. "No offense, but I'm proud of who I am, where I came from. I may not be on speaking terms with my folks, but it doesn't mean I've forgotten my heritage."

    "You're Italian, right?"

    "My family came from Sicily."

    "But . . . isn't 'Zacarias' a Hispanic name?"

    "Yeah, the media thought so too. Called me a 'Latina role-model.' Of course, that was before I came out. But anyway, originally the name was Italian. Sort of." She paused, but decided to go ahead with the old story. "You see, way back in the fourteen hundreds or whatever, my family were Jews. And then one day King Ferdinand--that's the dude who hired Columbus--signed a new 'Fuck Jews' law--they did that a lot back then--and then some church guys showed up at my family's front door, waving hot branding irons in their faces and saying, 'Excuse me, sir, do you have a moment to talk about Jesus Christ?' My family decided then it was time to become Catholics, and 'Zacarias' was one of those Biblely last names that Italian Jews took when they converted. I think. Not sure how true any of that is, but that's what I've been told."

    Mack opened his mouth as if to say, 'Ah,' but then the door to the basement opened.

    Angel turned to see Carin step uneasily from the doorway, rubbing her eyes against the kitchen's fluorescent lights. She was wearing a white button-up shirt from the Sicilian man's closet, and it was big enough on her to be a long-sleeved sundress.

    "Hey there, sleepyhead," Angel said slowly with a grin. "You hungry?"

    Carin's wide purple eyes stared at the holographic spectacle of the aerial-view map, and then she looked at the Mack--tall, spindly, pointy-eared--sitting cross-legged in his chair. Slowly, she nodded.

    Mack gave her a smile of perfect teeth. "Then you're in luck. Pull up a seat. Dinner's almost ready."

    ***​

    "So . . . s . . . spa . . . space elves? Me . . . mechas?"

    "Pretty much." Angel held up her obsidian bracelet. "And me and Mack have suits too. They're pretty cool."

    "Wh . . . what hap . . . pened to me?"

    Angel glanced at Mack and hesitated. You were blown up because the FBI doesn't know how to say, 'Please.' But she didn't want to get into that right now.

    "It's a long story, baby. I'll explain it later. You're okay now, though. That's what counts."

    At first, Carin had been scarfing the lasagna and minestrone as though she hadn't eaten in a week, but now she pushed the plate of second helpings aside and stood from the table. She stepped towards the hologram. Early dawn sunlight cast tiny, sharp shadows across the crammed expanse of blocky buildings. Most of the fires had either gone out or at least weren't as noticeable as they'd been at night, but dark, smoking swaths of rubble scarred the city as if it'd been torn by claws.

    "Th . . . that's . . . that's New York?"

    Angel knew what was coming next. "Yeah . . . shit's kind of gotten out of hand."

    Carin gripped her bald head, rubbed her face. "Oh my god, oh my god oh my god . . . An . . . Angie . . . wh . . . what . . . what about my parents?"

    "We'll . . . we'll stop by their apartments, I promise," Angel said, standing up. She was about to hug Carin from behind when her elf spoke aloud.

    "Pilots incoming."

    A second hologram sprouted next to the first, this one showing only a half mile radius of the immediate neighborhood. This was from Angel's own scout drone, the one patrolling the sky locally. Two winged figures, one large, one small, were careening like superheroes south down the high rise trench of 3rd Avenue--the street the restaurant was on. The hologram circled with an HUD the three dark dots of drones, which followed along as escorts.

    The larger mecha--black and bulky with batlike wings--fired a salvo of rockets from its shoulders while the smaller mecha--shaped vaguely like a dragonfly--swerved upward. One of the contrails contacted the dragonfly's tail, and the explosion made it corkscrew and crashed along the side of a building. It rolled into the street. The other rockets wildly pelted the surrounding brick and asphalt. A couple of cars burst into flames. From the north, two helicopters cautiously circled in.

    Angel felt as if she were watching a real-time strategy game, but through the walls she heard the distant rumbles: A hundred meters away, she guessed. She exchanged a look with Mack, and they both nodded. Angel took Carin's arm and led her towards the short hallway leading to the basement stairs.

    "Baby, I need you to go downstairs. Don't worry, we'll be all right."

    Carin hesitated on the first steps. "But--" She cut off and her eyes widened as Angel's black bracelet magically unfolded, enveloping her in her powered armor.

    As soon as the helmet visor snapped into place, granting its weird peripheral fishbowl, a HUD from Angel's scout appeared in the corner of her vision. The bat had landed, and its wings folded into its back. Judging my the scale of the nearby overturned van, the mecha stood about thirty feet tall. Its right forearm extended into a glowing cannon, and it shot the fallen dragonfly with a blue laser wreathed in lightning. It then stepped over, folded back its gun, and began to tear into the dragonfly with sharp silver talons.

    Angel turned to Mack. He was in his suit too, repaired now since she'd seen it last at the hospital. Its face was featureless silver. With its shiny plates contoured into an elongated musculature, he looked like a beanpole strongman made of mirrors.

    In the HUD, one of the bat mecha's drones swept casually past the helicopters, and they both erupted into smoke. One tumbled towards Union Square, the other . . .

    "Shouldn't we--?," Mack's voice began in her ear.

    Angel grabbed Carin by the shoulders and hustled her along the hallway. "Let's go, now!"

    The helicopter was an Apache, armed with rockets and missiles. It crashed spinning into the street like a smoldering leaf dropped from a tree, and Angel heard the outside impact of metal on asphalt. In her HUD, the helicopter blossomed into a fireball. The kitchen's south wall exploded inward in a wave of brick and flame. The building shook. The hallway shuddered into a funhouse slant. The apartment floors above the restaurant rumbled and cracked.

    No. Not again. Not this fucking time.

    Angel practically pushed Carin down the stairs. Her wife grabbed the handrail to keep from somersaulting forward.

    "Get the fuck down there!" Angel shouted.

    For a moment, Carin only gawked at her, but she then turned and stumbled down the dark steps. Angel began to follow, but she heard a roar. The ceiling buckled and dumped like a waterfall around her. Something hard smacked her across her armored shoulders and she fell. The world was angry rubble, crowding her, drowning her. Mack was cursing in her ear.

    That she was in a hyper-advanced alien cybersuit was of course the only reason she wasn't a red smear, but even with her enhanced strength, it took a while for her to pry her way out from beneath the piled drywall and wooden beams. She looked up into the gray morning overcast, fogged by the thick, chalky dust billowing around her. Only one side of the building had collapsed, and its debris was a mini-mountain range strewn across the street. The wreckage of the helicopter smoldered nearby like a bonfire in a mist. The remaining half of the building, jagged and splintered, loomed above and creaked ominously. She heard a child crying somewhere in the distance.

    "Hey, Angel, you all right?" Mack asked.

    Angel didn't reply. Almost without thinking, she activated her cloak. Beside her was the stairway, relatively unblocked. She switched to thermal vision, changing her color palette to shades of blue.

    "Carin . . . Carin . . . are you . . . ?" she called out.

    The heat from her wife's head cut through the dust as an orange blob. She was peeking from the bedroom door, coughing.

    "An . . . Angie . . . where . . . ?"

    "Come up to me, baby. We got to get out of here."

    In her extended peripheral, Angel saw a small sphere soar overhead. She turned, and it stopped in midair, swiveled around. It was teardrop shaped, its thermal-shade faintly yellow. Along its smooth mirrored face stared three black bug eyes.

    "I see youuu!" a young man's singsong voice said over her radio.

    In Angel's scout HUD window, the bat mecha ceased dismembering the dragonfly and stood up. The laser cannon extended out again from its right arm. The thirty foot tall machine turned and began to swagger towards the restaurant, its gun at the ready. Two more drones flocked around it.

    Fuck.

    She heard the scrapping clatter as Mack climbed out from under a pile of bricks and squatted beside her. His armor looked a little dinged but otherwise intact. An overlong rifle about the size and shape of a M107 Barrett folded out from his back.

    "Looks like it's our first mecha fight," he said.

    Angel's plasma bow butterflied out of from her arm. "Yeah."

    To be continued . . .

    ***

    Next up: "Weaver and Jinx," Chapter Eight
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015
  15. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Morons in mecha suits.

    I wish I could say that this would be uncharacteristic of people, but I can't.
     
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  16. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Yeah, I wanted to create the feeling of the world being turned into something like an online deathmatch. Not everyone with a mecha would act like that, but enough would to ruin it for everyone else. And of course the military's hyper-aggressive stance on everyone 'compromised by alien technology' just makes things stupidly escalated.

    Other countries whose military and law enforcement behave with a more reasonable/pragmatic hand would fair better, since they could then team up with friendly mechas to fight the crazy ones.

    Hmm, I really like writing Angel. I might put her in another post-apocalypse story. A sixteen year old skater-punk Angel would be a lot of fun to write. Maybe during Y2K things go hilariously wrong.
     
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  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Also:
    ... yeah, You keep using that excuse. I'm sure someone's gonna believe it :p
     
  18. Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    Liking the fuck out of this! Hey, JMH, what's your policy on omakes? 'Cuz this CYOA's just lit a literary fire under my ass and I'm itching to write something.
     
  19. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Omake away, my friend. :)
     
  20. Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    Yes! Gimme some time, and I'll have something written up. Just lemme finish compiling the numbers for my suit. SO MANY OPTIONS, SO FEW POINTS~!
     
  21. Threadmarks: Tales from the Western Front, Part 1 by Lazurman (Omake)
    Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    Tales from the Western Front, Part 1

    AKA

    It's an omake, bub.


    It was supposed to be his goddamn weekend! A time when he could laze about in his room all day in his underwear doing nothing but reading fanfiction and watching porn and eating pizza, where no one could tell him what to do, a time for some goddamn rest and relaxation! But nooooo, he just had to get the idea in his head to go for a walk, and now the entire goddamn world's apparently lost their shit and the city had been turned into a goddamn warzone!

    He'd never had any grand dreams of heroism and greatness (well, to be perfectly honest, he used to; he just never thought they'd ever come true), and was perfectly resigned to a life of low blood-pressure and mediocrity, but then an alien drop-pod, one of hundreds of thousands if the news was to be believed, had fallen from the sky, and things had gotten very weird very fast.

    Still. Wasn't all that bad. All the suck was very nicely evened out by the absolutely kickass suit of power-armor he had on (never mind that said warzone was due to other such suits of armor of varying sizes falling into the hands of malcontents and man-children who felt like abusing their new-found power). And the hot geeky space-elf digital waifu plugged into his brain, that rocked too.

    ~I am NOT a 'waifu'! And I'm not 'geeky'!

    The fact that she could also read his thoughts wasn't too much of a trade-off. There was an undeniably effective freedom in shamelessness, after all. Besides, she was fun to tease.

    "Nothing but compliments from my end, miss. For a more...favorable interpretation, take my jargon to demonstrate how pleased I am to have such a beautiful, intelligent, and exotic construct as yourself deigning to converse with this lowly one," he responded amiably. They may have been able to talk non-verbally, but he'd had a habit of talking aloud to himself for years, and that was a habit he didn't feel like giving up any time soon.

    ~Flatterer. Don't think I don't know what you're thinking.

    "Alas, my super-secret plan to seduce the AI in my brain has failed before it could even properly begin. Oh no, whatever shall I do next?" he snarked, deadpan. Real girls were over-rated anyway. Chief/Cortana, Joker/EDI, Defiant/Dragon OTPs FTW!

    He banked slightly to the left to avoid the flock of seagulls, who were now most-likely squawking in alarmed 'WTF?!'s at the blue-green blur rocketing past them.

    Oh, and did he mention that he was fucking flying?! 'Cause he was fucking flying, and loving every minute of it. He wasn't breaking the sound-barrier or anything, but it was pretty damn close. The fact that he controlled his armor via a nerve suit meant that he could feel the wind rushing past his helmet like it was own skin. Easily thousands of times better than sky-diving any day.

    Oh yes, it was a very good day to be Matthew A. Davison.

    "Sorry!" he called back, not sorry at all. "Angie, location of the nearest hostile suit?"

    ~You can see one from here, you know. And, I'm sorry, 'Angie'?

    "I meant one not currently making kaiju-sized waves on the beach. The Air Force has that one covered, it's all the explosions in the city that worry me."

    Matthew didn't like being snuck up on, and that reflected into his custom-designed armor. The Hawkeye mod made it very easy to see in high-definition just how badly the war-machine stomping in the waves was getting pounded by flights of fighter-bombers. The massive arm-cannons of the fortress-type likely could have shredded his medium amphibious-specced suit with a single barrage, but it was ill-equipped to shoot down the fast-moving aerial opponents worrying at it like a flock of shrikes. Being specced for a kaiju fight was all well and dandy unless there were no kaiju around to fight. The idiot would find himself in pieces before long.

    ~Still combing through police scanners; I'm an engineer, not an agent, I'm doing the best I can, okay? Isn't helping that it's a mess down there. Now. Again. Angie. Explanation.

    "Since you wouldn't come up with a name and I'd feel weird just calling you 'unnamed space-elf waifu', I figured I'd give you one. And, well, you're an engineer aren't you? Engineer. Engy. Angie. It kinda fits, don't it?"

    ~...Your thought process leading to this name is questionable. I fear for you, my host. I really do.

    Aww, that was sweet. "What, you don't like it?"

    The bantering duo of one were coming up on the city limits now. The situation had sounded bad from miles away, back where Matthew had first stumbled across the pod containing this marvel, but now it was far more apparent that all was not well in the city of San Francisco. The wailing sirens of emergency response vehicles had been growing steadily louder as they approached, and there was fire and rubble all over the place. There was definitely a smaller suit of armor or two mucking about with explosives here. If what Angie had said was true, he could take apart enemy suits and cannibalize them for parts, taking strength from those who abused theirs. Matthew found the concept very appealing.

    ~I'll have you know that I like it just fine, actually. I just think that- MISSILE! Take evasive maneuvers!

    "Wha-OH FUCK!"

    Matthew's stomach dropped down to his 'nads as he promptly ceased his calm horizontal flight for a steep dive towards the ground, zig-zagging and spiraling as wildly as he could. Why oh why hadn't he gone for the chaff upgrade?! After a few heart-pounding seconds of erratic flight, mercifully, he was rewarded for his efforts by not dying, and the sight of the missile's contrail whizzing past his shoulder, his heart skipping a beat at the close call, then pounding furiously as the adrenaline rush really hit. The missile attempted to course-correct, but failed to avoid blasting open an office complex in a concussive roar, the pressure wave rattling him somewhat, though muted by the armor. Hopefully everyone who was at work went home once the chaos started-

    Oh, no, wait, that was a leg. Someone's severed leg. Aaand there was the rest of him. Oh, god.

    No! Be queasy later! "Where'd it come from?! Find me an asshole to shoot!"

    His eyes narrowed, following the missile's trail to a rooftop a street over even as Angie relayed the shooter's position to him, a 30mm semi-automatic more akin to a cannon than a rifle unfolding from over his shoulder to fit snugly into his hands as his rocket-wings folded back into his armor as he dropped the remaining feet to the ground, cracking the asphalt and automatically sprinting for the cover of the nearest building.

    This is what he got for choosing a tech-head as an AI helper instead of a soldier-type, or not choosing to download a decade's worth of military experience into his newly-modded cyber brain. But that's how it went. If wishes were fishes and all that rot. He'd make do with what he had. And what he had was another little helper who could swing the odds a little more in his favor.

    "Deploy the Stalker," Matt ordered. "That missile came outta nowhere, and that means this guy likely has a stealth-package. Get the drone into position on a roof and have it fuck him up if he shoots again."

    ~Acknowledged. Deploying Stalker.

    A compartment on the back of the armor opened wide as a vaguely-feline quadrupedal drone launched itself out, optical cloak activating and obscuring it from sight even as it touched the ground. Angie would handle controlling it, while he focused on drawing out the would be assassin.

    "Come on out, shitstain! I'd like to have a word with you about shooting missiles at folks! Downright rude, that is!"

    Nothing. Not even a sound. Shame. Banter was doing a nice job of soothing his frazzled nerves. He'd studied the potential designs for a good while before he'd settled on his choices, so he knew a fair bit about what to expect. Camou-mods on anything above feather-weight suits lasted only for thirty seconds. The good news was that it would be very easy to put some new holes in a suit that thin. But if Mr. Missileman was specced to be a stealth-type, this could get dicey. Matthew didn't have nearly as many vision mods as he had wanted originally, but the two he had would have to suffice. A burst of sharp, almost Predator-esque clicks escaped his suit's vocalisers, painting the environment on a backdrop of sound, and a rather noticeable discrepancy quickly made itself known as he matched up the image his eyes were telling him and the one his sonar was.

    There he was. Missile pods in the shoulder nacelles, just like himself, but at less than half his size. Over-powering him would be trivial if this descended to a brawl. Which he hoped it wouldn't, as he was creeping closer with a long-bladed implement in hand, possibly a vibroblade or a beam sabre; damage from that would be nasty to repair. He'd be going for a back-stab, then, instead of another missile. No hesitation, didn't realize he'd been spotted. Perfect.

    ~You getting this, Angie?

    ~Got him. Awaiting your command.

    ~Good. On 'die', light him up.

    "Last chance," he called out, deliberately facing slightly away from the wannabe ninja as he pretended to scan the rooftops, continuously sending out sonar pings. "If you surrender, you might still make it out alive."

    He was closer now, barely thirty feet away. Depending on how fast these suits could move, that wasn't very far at all. Practically right next to him.

    "Okay. Time's up. Die, please."

    And just like that, right on the 'd' sound, the drone lit him up with all the hatred of the 30mm autocannon mounted on its back, even as Matt whirled to line up the crosshair on his HUD with the invisible man's torso. Sonar wasn't worth shit in such a noisy environment, but he could see she was hitting something fairly easily.

    Evidently he hadn't taken the military mods either, because his response was anything but professional and controlled. (Obviously so; fucking idiot, trying to stab someone with a fucking sword when you could just shoot him with a goddamn missile instead, gods, the idiocy, it burns.) With a girlish shriek of surprised terror, the man tried to evade, but even if Matt's first shots missed their mark, Angie's didn't, and the lead storm began chewing through the thin mesh-armor, stun-locking him with showers of sparks that dropped the av-cam as the Marine lined up another shot, this one striking true, denting the chest-piece inwards even as the next rounds followed suit.

    Matthew advanced even as the target staggered backwards, each subsequent shot compromising the light armor further. The smaller suit-wearer attempted to snap open his wings and escape, but the drone leaped down on him first, bearing him down to the ground and savaging a wing at the joint, rendering it inoperable, before leaping off to the continue the barrage. Matt stalked forward the last few paces until he stood over the man who had tried to kill him not even three minutes ago. The hail of autocannon fire ceased as the bullet-riddled suit spasmed slightly. The armor was a wreck, and he was willing to bet that the occupant wasn't looking too hot either. Readouts began flashing on his HUD. Yup, definitely compromised.

    The 30mm rounds had had enough force to punch through the front of the armor, but not quite enough to clear the rear. His insides were predictably scrambled; he'd die within the minute, if he hadn't done so already.

    "Such a waste," Matt muttered, folding his rifle back into his armor as the drone slotted itself home. The young man didn't want to kill him, but the simple fact was that all he had that could stop him were guns, and guns made killing people very easy. He doubted anyone with an opinion that mattered would lay blame at his feet. This guy had shot first, unprovoked at that. Due to this man's actions, innocent people were dead. He didn't deserve this suit.

    Shaking his head, Matt reached down and tore apart the ruined chest-piece with some effort, exposing the mess that was the...woman's...bullet-ridden...non-breathing...torso. Ah. Well...then. He stood corrected. She didn't deserve this suit. With gentler hands, he pried off her helmet.

    An alien face with unseeing bloodshot eyes and pointed ears looked back up at him. She would have been beautiful, in a fantastical, elfin sort of way, had she been alive. But she wasn't. He had done that. He had killed her.

    ~Alert! Authorities inbound, mix of helicopters and armored vans, helicopter ETA: three minutes, land-vehicle ETA: ten. We need to be long gone before then.

    Okay. Okay. Okay. He could do that. He'd navel-gaze later. With a spine-crawling sensation, a long, thick, fibrous tentacle emerged from his tailbone. Had this been any other situation, any other mood, he'd have been overjoyed to have an elf woman beneath him with tentacles involved. But not now. Not like this. Twelve more tentacles the size of his human wrist emerged from his chest as well, all working alongside his armored hands as they extracted the corpse from the armor, removing and storing small pieces of tech to later be integrated into his suit as the main-tendril jacked into the deceased woman's suit's combat logs. There had been an AI within the suit, but it had self-terminated when its pilot died. What data was left was mostly corrupted garbage; he doubted there would be anything useful, but it was worth checking.

    His morbid task finished, Matthew stood, leaving the dead woman naked save for her form-fitting nerve-suit, scattered pieces of useless material surrounding her, her hands lain across her chest and her eyes closed. She didn't look like she was sleeping. She very much looked like she was dead. But it was the thought that counted, right?

    His wings snapped open and the engines began to hum. He spared one last look at the first human life he had taken, before lifting off into the afternoon sky. Performing a quick 360, he thought he spied the helicopters a ways away from the city. He thought about reporting to his CO like a good Marine now that he'd had his taste of 'adventure', but...

    Instead he turned and angled himself towards the ocean, hugging the ground as much as he could, avoiding the winding down confrontation between the dying fortress-class mecha and the Air Force, the amphibious suit slipping into the waves and vanishing into the murk easily.

    ...but he needed to be alone with his thoughts for the moment.

    ~...My host...Matthew...I am sorry you had to do that.

    ~So am I, Angie. So...am I.

    -------

    I could have spent these 2400+ words on my stories, but nooooo, this plot bunny just had to open its trap...

    How'd I do? Shamefur dishpray or something positive?

    Since Matt's on the other side of the country, he'd never have cause to interact with the main plot or even be mentioned at all. Just another tale in a power-armor apocalypse.

    Unless, of course, you felt like it. Which would make me super-duper splendiferously fantabulously ecstatic, but, ahem, your call.

    Canonize me, sempaiii~!
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2015
  22. rooster

    rooster Elle-P

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    I liked it.

    Still, I wonder if this story is going to acknowledge Power Armor CYOA "canon"
     
  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    ... see, I don't really feel his angst.

    Killing her wasn't the greatest thing, sure, but she shot first and had plenty of chances to break off hostilities. She wasn't just being defensive; she was specifically acting to kill him, by stabbing him in the back after attempting to light him up with a missile from stealth.

    If you try that sort of thing unprovoked against someone who also has a power armour suit, then yes, you do deserve what you get.
     
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  24. Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    Yeah. The angst is somewhat minimal. It's just...your first is special, you know? That would be the first time Matt had ever killed a person. And unless you're a complete sociopath (and I don't think I'm that far gone, not yet, at least), taking a life will do something to you. Logically, he knew he did the right thing, he just needs some time to fully process that.

    Also to integrate new tech and prep his suit for the next engagement. Tinkering with alien super-tech can take one's mind off of things.
     
  25. Threadmarks: Tales from the Western Front, Part 2 by Lazurman (Omake)
    Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    Tales from the Western Front, Part 2

    AKA

    The Goddamn Plot-Bunny That Wouldn't Die

    Name: Viking
    Class: Medium
    Body: Amphibious [20]
    Colors: Primarily forest-green with blue highlights
    Features: Fins, Gills [Free, Amphibious], Tentacles [10], Flight [20]
    Suit AI: Engineer [10]
    User Interface: Nerve Suit [5]

    HUD
    Suit Status [0]
    Advanced Suit Status [5]
    Floodlights [5]
    Hawkeye [5]
    Night Vision [Claimed from enemy suit; Not Yet Integrated]
    Sonar [10]

    Comms
    Radio Transmitter [0]
    Worm Platform [10]
    Defense Maze [10]
    Comm Buoy [Claimed from enemy suit; NYI]

    Weapons
    Sharpshooter x1 [15]
    Beam Sabre x2 [15, Claimed from enemy suit, Integrated]
    Missile Launcher x2 [20, Claimed from enemy suit; NYI]

    Defenses
    Plasma Shield [15]

    Shield Links

    Drones
    Medium (Autocannon) [10]

    Drone Upgrades
    Medium: Stalker [10]

    Upgrades
    Environmental Controls II [10]
    Collapsible (Necklace) [5]
    Storage [0]
    Cyber Brain [10]
    Uplift [10]
    Ghost [5]

    Nanites
    Hydra II [20]
    Mycelium [10]

    Final Stats
    Dexterity (+1 Amphibious): 4
    Durability: 3
    Power: 4
    Recovery: 4
    Speed (+1 Amphibious): 5
    Strength: 3

    It was an eerie place, the ocean. He'd always been somewhat afraid of it, before, but wearing three-and-a-half tons of hermetically-sealed power armor rated for the deepest point of the Marianas Trench did nothing but good things for one's sense of invincibility. It was quiet. Nothing but the sound of his own breathing disturbed his ruminations as he rested flat on his back, one arm propping his head up as he stared up at the faint glimmers of the surface so far away. The water outside was freezing, deathly cold to an unprotected human, yet all he felt was a subtle reminder that it could stand to be warmer. The environment was unnerving, but Matthew strangely felt only calm. With nothing to distract him, he was free to meditate upon what troubled him so.

    What a day, he thought to himself. In less than three hours, he'd gone for a walk, found an alien drop-pod, flown through the sky with all the freedom of a bird, and shot a similarly-gifted woman dead. People didn't just bounce back from such a disturbance to their equilibrium unless they were made of some truly stern stuff. He wasn't. He had gone through boot camp, he'd been trained to react decisively to stressful situations, and the most part he'd done well... But this?

    No amount of training could have prepared him for this.

    In a flare of green light and electronic dust, Angie's avatar manifested itself on top of him, her twelve-inch frame sitting cross-legged on his chest, frowning at him. A tiny spot of verdant glow in the blackness beneath the waves.

    Matt grinned appreciatively. The way she was sitting, he could see right into her hairless cooch- aaand the mind-reading party-pooping killer of fun was now clothed in a form-fitting nerve-suit covered in alien glyphs. Eh, still sexy, she just pandered to a different fetish now. Huh. Distracted from the angst by the sexy. He approved.

    Her frown deepened, and her lips moved as she thought-spoke at him, ~You're incorrigible.

    "And you're gorgeous. Your point?"

    And she was beautiful, in a way no Earthly models could compare. But then again, she was an elf; what was he expecting, her to be ugly? Matt had always been drawn to new and exciting things, if only as an interested observer from afar. She was both, and he very much hoped that she knew that.

    ~Just...ugh. Never mind. How long are you going to mope down here for?

    "Just about done, actually. My head knows what I did was right, the rest of me will follow suit sooner or later." He sighed as he regarded her, before turning his head to the surface again, some 400 feet above him. "What do you think we should do now?"

    ~Carry out the mission, of course.

    "Remind me again. What is 'the mission'?"

    She claimed to have no knowledge of her creators' designs for his planet, or even their culture, aside from their language, and Matt was sure that a very great many people were interested in this answer. He wanted to believe her when she first told him such, but there was a such thing as too good to be true. He'd reserve judgement until he had a better picture of the scenario.

    ~Wield the armor in battle. Triumph over your enemies. Adapt their arms to improve your own. Break past your human limitations. Ascend.

    Well. That was straightforward enough. Matthew was well-acquainted with stories of ancient progenitor races 'testing' humanity for whatever vague purpose. If he ever got the chance to meet them, he'd shake their hand in gratitude...before rabbit-punching them in the throat and kicking them in the balls. The suit was cool, but he was fairly certain that World War 3 had been kicked off due to these things. Not cool. Not cool at all.

    "Alright. Sooo, basically, what we've been doing."

    ~Essentially.

    He exhaled slowly. "Neat. Alrighty then; suits still got juice. Let's see if things have settled down a bit up there."

    Angie's avatar winked out as he floated to his feet. He had only risen fifty feet when alerts began blaring across his HUD and Angie shouted in his ear.

    ~Contact, big one, coming in fast! Take evasive-

    And then the world spun as up became down then up again then back to down as a monumental force rammed into him from behind, leaving him spinning in place as it rushed past.

    "Lights!" he snarled as he forced himself to a stop, swimming experience and a series of fins assisting him. Suddenly, twin-beams of brilliant luminescence flared outwards from his helmet, piercing the darkness as he jerked his head about, and revealing a monster straight out of a nightmare hurtling towards him again!

    No time to think, only time for "DOOOOODGE!" as he threw himself to the side, just barely evading the lunge, orienting himself to face the direction his foe went with wide, panicked eyes. It was in and out of sight in moments, all of its horrible bulk flashing by before he could get a clear picture. He'd only had a split-second to see the thing attacking him, but, well...there were upsides and downsides to having a high-performance robot brain.

    On the upside, his reaction times, cognitive capability, and all-around thinky-bits in general worked at a phenomenal level.

    On the downside...exactly that. It meant that the image of a hellish mouth filled with too many goddamn teeth and claw-tipped tentacles was permanently seared into his brain. He'd always had a phobia of sea monsters, ever since he watched Jaws at the tender and impressionable age of seven. That phobia? Very, very much the predominant factor in his mind at the moment.

    ~Matt! Matt! You need to get a hold of yourself, there's two of us in here now, remember?! You die, I die, so let's not die! Now SNAP OUT OF IT, MARINE, and shoot it!

    Shoot it. Yes, shooting it sounded very nice. Matt tried to settle his pounding nerves as he prepped for combat.

    His rifle unfolded into his right hand as he ignited a beam sabre in the left, the water roiling and bubbling as the knockoff lightsaber evaporated the water it came into contact with. "You want a piece of me, motherfucker?! Come on, try and take one!" Admittedly, that was more terror than defiance fueling that challenge.

    Sharp bursts of sonar pinged off of the seabed and blinding beams of light banished the darkness as he whirled about in a circle, rising constantly the whole while as he assessed the threat.

    Couldn't have mistaken it for a giant squid, that thing was nothing natural, though it did bear passing resemblance. Bio-mech, bigger than himself, much bigger, almost as big as that kaiju from earlier, fortress-class, organic material though, tentacles are natural weapons, will try to bite, trap with tentacles, pin and crush with superior strength. Someone went full sea monster. Could easily attack head-on with decent chances of victory, so why the ambush tactics?

    Psychological warfare? Playing with his food? Deliberately trying to terrify? Well, it was working.

    He couldn't face this thing here. This was its domain. His own suit was amphibious, not fully aquatic like this one, and he wasn't specced for combat against a fortress-type. Only his missile launcher stood a chance at damaging the thing, and he didn't even know if the damn thing worked underwater.

    Hold up. Now there was a thought.

    ~Angie?

    ~Already on it. Dropping when ready.

    Ah, the benefits of communications and planning at the speed of thought.

    ~Wait for it...NOW!

    Just as a sonar ping received a response, Matthew abruptly spun to face it, flaring his floodlights as bright as they could go right into the monster's eyes, hopefully blinding it before shooting straight for the surface, trailing small insignificant lumps of metal as the sea monster, who'd just missed his next run, turned upwards to pursue the fleeing suit. A giant maw opened wide to receive the morsel as the surface neared.

    200 feet. 150. No looking behind him, he already knew it was right there.

    ~HUD, quit it out with the proximity alerts!

    100. So glad the armor's systems were good enough to negate pressure differences, his brain would be dribbling out of his ears if he weren't protected.

    50. Were those teeth, out of the corners of his eyes?

    25. The last missile was ejected from its casing. Matthew grinned ferally. He was about to blow his load in the other guy's mouth, and he was going to love it so much!

    ~...REALLY?

    ~I am not apologizing. I had an opportunity, and I seized it. Brace yourself, boom-time now.

    As the command to detonate reached the improvised depth charges, the fortress-class's jaws were blown wide open, the pressure wave boosting Matt's rapid ascent as he shot into the air like a rocket with a wild "WAHAHAHAHOOOOO!" as a fountain of water followed him out, the roaring beast's momentum great enough to launch its bulk clear of the waves much like a breaching whale.

    Critically damaged, the giant sea-mecha fell back beneath the waves, trailing smoke as the thoroughly satisfied young man looked down on it, laughing maniacally.

    "Yeah that's right! Suck high-explosive, ya jackass!" he crowed.

    ~Well, that was...that was bracing.

    ~That's a word for it, yeah. Haaah, yeah. Now's as good a time as any to bugger off back to the city. Then we can work on fixing up the suit with some more military-grade goodness.

    With that, Matthew flew off, leaving the encounter short a few missiles and with a newly resurgent phobia that made him regret choosing an amphibious build.

    -------

    Not satisfied with this at all. Writing quality deteriorates after midnight. Sleep now, revise later, maybe come up with another snippet with a more human element involved next time. I really love your work, JMH, and hope I'm doing you proud.

    Just another tale in a power armor apocalypse.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2015
  26. Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    First off, jiiiii~~~!!! Sempai indexed meee!

    Second, hey, OP, how are you handling suit upgrades? Any way to eventually increase the size, or swap chassis?
     
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  27. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    So yeah, so wrong.

    Definitely a gutter sense of humour.

    But hey. I like it.
     
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  28. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    I love your story; it's a lot of fun and it has good fight scenes. But I'm afraid Angel, Carin and Mack's story is going to stay in the New York metropolitan area for a while yet.

    I like how Matt's already built a friendship with his elf (possibly shipping?). Angel scarcely thinks of hers as a person (and she doesn't really trust it), but then she didn't take the cyberbrain option, so it's not in her head. Mack has a head elf, but he takes issue with it snooping into memories he rather not be disturbed. Hell, neither Angel or Mack have even named their elves, which they really need to get around to doing because calling them 'Mack's elf' and 'Angel's elf' is getting silly.

    By the way, feel free to post a portrait pic for Matthew. I'll add it to the cast list.

    Heh, I thought about joining your "In the Beginning, There was Change" rpg, but the whole 'You Are a Dickgirl!' aspect wasn't my thing. I have to admit, in my original thread I kept re-rolling until I came up as a female, but then being a superpowered Tilda Swinton would be androgynous-awesome. Being Tilda with a giant dick . . . a little too weird. Well, maybe if I could keep it rolled up and hidden in an internal pouch or something, but I'd like to be able to pass as a woman.

    Part of that thread was inspired by Orlando, where Tilda plays a very feminine-looking 16th century nobleman blessed/cursed with immortality by an aging Queen Elizabeth I. Sometime in the 18th century he turns into a woman. For some reason.



    Later, I might make a Quest thread with a similar premise. I might nix the superpowers, though. Just have a handful of normal humans displaced into the past. I'll have to brainstorm the specifics.

    To be honest, when I started writing this, I didn't even know there was Power Armor 'canon.' I thought the whole PA:CYOA began and ended with the CYOA sheet. Everything else I just made up. Later, I'll add in the Alien Biomorph elements to the story, but overall this is AU to PA canon.

    Yeah, that woman pilot had it coming. I'd think the trauma of killing effects people differently. In an emergency it'd be suppressed, but once things have calmed down one might need time to reflect on it. It depends.

    In my story, Angel had already killed people in Iraq, but here she was killing FBI agents. It didn't bother her so much since the situation was so clearly black and white. Not only were they trying to kill her, they were blowing the hell out of a hospital--and they did kill her wife. As far as she was concerned, the FBI had shredded their good guy card. Which was pretty sad, since if they'd just let her cure her wife, she would have just given them the suit.

    Mack used his particle beam rifle to go 'Lee Harvey Oswald' on some of the retreating SWAT-- but to him they were just gasmasked goons seen through a scope--goons who were part of a hospital massacre. He didn't see their faces. He didn't know them. I doubt he'll lose any sleep.

    Heh, no problem. You write good.

    I need to figure that out myself. I'm guessing as long as it makes sense in the story. I'm not sure if increasing size would make sense, and in some ways would be a hindrance. If you're a human-sized mesh class, you wouldn't necessarily want to be bigger since it'd mess with your cloaking ability.

    On the other hand, maybe you could have a mesh mech inside a bigger mech or something. It depends on what state the enemy mecha is when you salvage it.
     
  29. Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    ...Alien Biomorphs, eh?

    How much later on? Are we talking months or days in? Every good story needs an antagonist.
     
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  30. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    They probably won't appear until a few more days in, maybe weeks. At least in my story. Either they're a second wave of pods or they're already on Earth but relatively isolated to certain geographic areas.

    Angel and company's "Escape from New York" arc is the focus now, and of course there's also Dr. Linda Brickle's story which will cross paths with Angel.
     
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