Another blast rocked the corvette and I stumbled, catching myself just before I took a head first dive into the bulkhead. I looked over my shoulder at Remmi, half a dozen steps behind me, in time to see her drop to a knee briefly before throwing herself forward and using the momentum of the blast to launch back to her feet and continue her sprint. She saw me lock eyes with her and pointed. “Next left, we’re almost there.”
I grunted in acknowledgment and pushed on, digging hard into the floor with each step. I was tiring fast, faster than I would at a normal sprint, but still I channeled my will through my bones and into my muscles, imbuing my quads and calves with the strength to throw me farther and faster with each step. I was nearing the end of the ship, moving at almost 40 kilometres per hour. Four strides before I would have smashed into the bulkhead I threw my arm forward and unleashed a gout of energy. A wave of pressure flowed out of my hand and flew towards the side of the ship, sending an equal amount of force backwards towards me, causing my speedy dash to slow dramatically. I allowed the wave to spread out, so it made an enormous bang as it smashed into the metal hull of the corvette, but didn’t do any major damage other than knocking a few panels loose here or there and sending a shower of sparks up from some disconnected wires. I didn’t see any of that though, as I was already sprinting down the corridor that Remmi had pointed to. I glanced over my shoulder and saw her slide into view, trailing a large spike behind her, digging it into the floor to slow her own momentum down. Then she was up again and hot on my tail.
“There, at the end of the hall.” She yelled. “The X is in- Mugi look out!”
Her warning saved my life. I dropped to a slide as a government soldier stepped around the corner at the end of the hall, firing from the hip. Bullets whizzed over my head, but the soldier was already starting to adjust his aim, bringing the butt of the gun up to his shoulder, and another followed him into the hall. I thought it was over. I was trapped like a rat in a pipe. But then I saw the alcove to my left, covered in maintenance panels but deep enough to get me out of the line of fire. I had already started to send a blast of pressure to my right side which would redirect my forward momentum and push me into the alcove when I heard Remmi say “In here!” She followed her command up with a flourish of her wrist, sending a dagger sized piece of bone whistling through the air. I saw it lodge into the throat of the first gunman before I slid behind the alcove wall.
I slammed hard into the bulkhead, dislocating my left shoulder. A shot of pain lanced through my body but I buried it. A bum shoulder could be dealt with later, being riddled with bullets couldn't be. A moment later I felt Remmi kneel at my side. I looked and she had a huge shield of bone coming out of her left arm. It was peppered, I could see the spots where the bullets had been striking, and where a few had stuck in, but none had made it through. The whole shield shimmered with a soft pink haze. Her arrival was followed by a couple seconds of sustained gunfire before I heard a harsh command and the rat-tat-tat of the submachine-guns ceased.
“Well,” came a voice I knew and loathed, “I’d love to say what a lovely surprise this is, but I can’t say I didn’t expect y’all.”
I locked eyes with Remmi. “Valentine.” I said. She nodded in agreement, her lips tightening.
“Oh come on, don’t tell me you thought I wouldn’t call back. I’m not that kind of guy!” The last word came with a grunt and a second later there was a splat as a fleshy ball landed hard on the floor of the hallway next to our alcove. It was basketball sized and seemed to stick to the floor momentarily before it started to writhe and twist. Remmi grabbed my shoulder.
“Shit, we have to go, now. Remember that extraction from a few years back, at the button ups base planetside? Same plan, k?”
I looked at her, and then to her bone shield. “Are you sure you have the energy?” She smiled, then screwed up her face in concentration. The pink haze around her shield brightened and then stretched, the bone growing to fill the space it left behind. I saw beads of sweat roll down Remmi’s face and I worried for her, but if she said she could do it, I knew she could. As the shield grew she thrust her right arm forward and I saw a long, sharp piece of bone push out from her wrist. It grew longer and longer, narrowing at the tip and widening at the base, until only a few seconds later she held a full length longsword in her hand. By that time, the bone shield had grown to her full height and width.
“Ready?” She asked with a pained smile. I nodded and took my position behind her.
Remmi sidestepped into the hallway and I shadowed her movement. Immediately the gunfire started again, but I ignored it, turning my back instead and focusing on the flesh-ball. It had grown to the size of a small child, several leg-like appendages were kicking into the air and one end of it split open, revealing several dozen jagged teeth. I took in a breath and focused my energy into the palm of my hand, slamming it into the ground. Immediately a gash appeared in the floor, 6 inches deep and twice as wide. It flew quick as an arrow toward the fleshy monster and when it was beneath the beast I turned my hand palm up and raised it into the air. The flooring beneath the thing flew upward into the ceiling, pinning it tight, but not splattering it like I had hoped. It was contained for now though, which brought the threat level down significantly. I turned my attention back towards the soldiers at the end of the hall and tapped Remmi on the shoulder. The corvette shudder from another blast, and after a half second to regain her composure she started to move forward.
Only about 4 seconds had passed, and bullets had been raining down on us the entire time. I built up some more energy in the palm of my hand, pulling the power from my beaten, tired body, and waited. After 3 more seconds the gunfire stopped again and I sprung out from behind Remmi. I saw my targets at the end of the hall, standing completely in the open. There were two soldiers dressed in regular army fatigues, both in the middle of reloading, and a third figure dressed tatters of an officer’s garb. He had his shirt open and his head bowed. His arms were to down by his sides, palms out and fingers tensed into claws. Pink haze swirled around his hands. There was another soldier’s body behind him, a bone shard protruding from her throat and a large basketball sized chunk missing from her abdomen. That was all I could process in the half second I allowed myself to assess the scene and choose a target. I picked the soldier on my right.
I shoved my right hand forward and threw my will down my arm. A small, precise bullet of invisible energy flew forward at near light speed and smashed into the kneecap of the soldier, sending him sprawling and howling in pain. Even as I released that energy I started to gather more in my left hand. I waited a beat to get the timing right, spun in a circle, and brought my left hand down in an arc across the front of my body, accompanied by a scream of pain from my shoulder. As I was spinning the second soldier had finished reloading and was taking aim at my now unprotected form, exactly as I expected him to. As he pulled the trigger my energy came down toward him from above, sweeping across his body and causing him to spin and fall. I was a hair too late though, as one of his bullets tore into the muscle of my right leg, missing the femur by millimetres. I faltered for a half a step before pushing that pain from my mind as well. I knew that I would be a writhing mess of pain later that day, but for now it was fight or die.
The rest of his bullets continued to fire as he fell. The soldiers muscles clenched in pain from the hit, and he kept firing while he spun, emptying most of the rest of his clip into the first soldier, whose body danced with the impacts. The second soldier was finally able to release his gun, but it was too late by then for both of them. As soon as my second strike connected, Remmi lurched forward, her bone shield shrinking back to a more maneuverable size, and drove the tip of her sword into the soldiers chest. He gave a mighty shudder then slid limply off her blade, blood pooling beneath him.
I took a look over my shoulder and saw that the creature near the alcove had pushed its way free from the trap and was twisting on the floor, attempting to gain its feet. ”Come on!” I yelled at Remmi, and I ran forward toward Valentine.
The other caster had recovered from his spell and was staring slack-jawed at the mess we’d made of his soldiers. It took him less than 2 seconds to look at their bodies, look at us, glance down the hall, grin, and say “Have fun.” Then he turned tail and ran down the hallway. I started after him but Remmi put her arm out to stop me. “Leave him, we didn’t come here for him. Besides...” she nodded her head towards the end of the hall we’d just come from.
The monster had finally gained its footing and was staring us down. It was as big as a bear, with half a dozen legs, a huge, slithering tail, and an entire head filled with teeth. It let out an other-worldly yowl and started barrelling down the hall towards us. I pointed to the door in front of us and Remmi nodded. We dove through just as another missile hit the ship, the biggest blast yet, causing the monster and us to lose our footing. I gained my feet first by a fraction of a second and turned, slamming the door close button just as I saw the beast leap. There was a bang and a shudder as the abomination hit it full force, but it held easily.
I looked around the room, searching for our target. It was mostly empty, there were some lockers along one wall and a bunch of empty tables along the other. At the far end of the room, on the only table with anything on it, there was a light and an open laptop covered in files. I pointed to the lockers, but Remmi was already on her way towards them. She dropped her bone sword and snapped the shield off her arm, letting them clatter to the ground, where they instantly started to dissolve into pink mist.
Remmi started ripping lockers open, looking for the supply of X, while I walked over to the lit table. The laptop screen had an email window open on it, with another reply box hovering overtop. The reply had a greeting and an opening line on it, but was otherwise empty. I hit the close button and looked at the email they were replying too. There was another slam against the door, but it didn’t even budge. I dropped my eyes to the files on the desk and started to absently flip through them when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I slowly lifted my eyes to look at the computer screen again and reread what I thought I had seen before.
Attached you will find a full report of the new methods of radiation separation. I believe you’ll be very pleased in the ability to cut costs with this new method. Indeed, it does have a higher startup cost as you’ll have to invest in newer equipment, but you’ll find that the overall cost to imbue each new soldier with compound Xenysta IV drops dramatically. This new method may also increase the half life of the compound once infused into the soldiers, allowing for longer cycles between injections, but more testing will have to be done to confirm...
My mouth dropped open slowly. I looked at the papers on the laptop again and saw that they were formulas and diagrams for separation machines and injection techniques. There was another slam against the door, and this time one of the hinges bent in a little bit. I snapped back to attention and gathered all the papers into a neat pile and slipped them into my backpack along with the laptop. I turned around and saw Remmi loading up her bag with the X she had found in one of the lockers.
“Is that it?” I said. She nodded. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my comm device. Clicking it on I punched a couple of commands into it, then brought it up to my ear. A moment later I heard my husbands voice on the other end of the line.
“Are you ready for extraction?”
“Yeah, I’ve given you the coordinates. This room has an airlock leading off of it, can you get here soon? One of Valentine’s pets is trying to smash its way in.”
I heard him suck air through his teeth. “Valentine was there? That wasn’t in the reading. Jarrol should have been able to see that in the bones.”
“Well, he was, and he didn’t. What’s your ETA?”
I head a clicking sound come from the far side of the room, next to the lockers, and the airlock snapped open. Daniel’s voice came over the comm again. “Estimated time of arrival is right now, babe. Get in.”
Remmi shoved the last container of X into her bag and slung it over her shoulder. She hurried through the airlock and I followed right behind her. I slammed my hand into the back of Daniel’s seat twice with a “Let’s go” and then saw the airlock door close. There was a jerking motion, and the evac ship dropped away.
Once we were away from the corvette Daniel looked back at us worry in his eyes. “I don’t understand, Jarrol knew how important this mission was, why didn’t he tell us that Valentine would be here. He read the bones and had 3 different Artisans confirm his reading. I just...” He shook his head and looked forward again in silence, piloting the drop ship away from the space skirmish behind us.
His words washed over me, barely scratching the surface. I was too deep in my own thoughts. Yes, Jarrol read the bones. He always read the bones and they told us our next moves. And those moves were always sound. At least, that’s what we are told. But now that I was looking back, I remembered the missions that went wrong. I remembered the missions when we brought back bodies, which then went straight to Jarrol for X recycling and the Casting of the Bones. And now that I thought about it, all of the artisans he got to “confirm” his findings were from his branch of the church. I was holding the bag with the papers and the laptops in it tight to my chest. Remmi looked at me, tilting her head and gesturing to the bag. “Was there some more X on the tables?”
“No...” I said, my mind clearing and returning to the present moment. I ran my hand across my face and combed my fingers through my beard. I felt like I was coming off a hit of Stripe that had me tripping for 3 days straight. There’s always that moment of euphoric clarity afterward, and I felt like that now. Like I had discovered the greatest secret in the galaxy. “Not X. Something... something better. Something that’s going to win us this war.”