Horizon: Rebuilt Ch. 6

Three days after the rig explosions Horizon raced through a burning factory complex. One of Surtr’s regular moonquakes had finally overwhelmed the under-maintained safety systems of a fifty-year old chemical plant along the equator. Even with her FedTech environment suit and helmet the fumes from the open chemical vats, heat from the flames, and falling girders would tax her regenerative abilities, the rest of the Friendly Society didn’t dare to come within half a kilometer of the facility. One hoped that was far enough that whatever might be attempting to kill her wouldn’t splash over onto them.

Horizon leapt over a fallen beam blocking her path, glowing red with heat from the fires, and landed on a still-intact wall. Her metallic claws dug into the concrete of the wall as she scrambled up to a catwalk that had thus far escaped the quake and flame. So far, she had found no survivors, just corpses, most of them partially dissolved in spilled chemicals or incinerated by the flames. However, she couldn’t take the chance that there might still be someone still alive and trapped in the building.

There was an enclosed office space on the far side of the beam, held four stories above the factory floor on a scaffold. By no means did it look safe in this situation, already she could see that sections the size of whole rooms had fallen off of the suspended block. She’d already checked every other sector of the factory, this was the last one, was there anyone still trapped inside?

Her helmet had several sensors with better acuity than her augmented senses, she directed the auditory pickups towards the offices, tuning out the surrounding noise from the ongoing fires. Able to focus now she scanned the office, picking up the crackling of fires on board, groaning of expanding joints, and wait, was that a series of dry gasps?

Horizon triangulated the source of the sound and switched to thermal sensors. The room was heating up, but not yet combustion temperatures, on the back wall there was a person-shaped flicker in the heat images. Without hesitation she scrambled up towards the offices, diagonally climbing up and to the right. When she came within ten meters of the big gap in the office’s wall, she pulled her feet up under her and pushed off.

The raccoon sailed through the air, her suit extending wing-membranes between her arms and legs, allowing her to glide across the gap. “Uh, Tanya?” Sam spoke up just as she landed on the remnants of a floor and grabbed the wall for stability.

Horizon grumbled at the AI’s intrusion, what is it now?

“My analysis of the orb is nearing completion,” Sam started to explain.

The raccoon reached out for the nearest handhold and began to drag herself along the wall. Is it relevant to the mission at hand? she demanded.

“Possibly,” the AI started.

Well, if it’s not going to explode in my guts, Horizon retorted, pulling herself over to a locked door. I don’t need to hear about it until we’re back to base. She pulled a fist back and punched straight through the locking mechanism.

As she yanked the door open she saw the tableau inside. She saw a rodent with light tan fur, at first she thought he was a mouse but his head was more rounded, more like a vole, laying on the floor with both legs twisted at angles she recognized from too much personal experience as broken. He didn’t move to her perception, but she picked up shallow breaths just slightly too fast to indicate unconsciousness. Horizon started to carefully inch her way into the room.

“Hello?” Horizon called out as she tested the floor with her feet. “I’m from the Friendly Society!”

“Wait a second!” Sam appeared in Horizon’s view in front of the vole.

I told you I didn’t need to know the analysis yet. Horizon chastised her.

“Not that,” the panda pointed towards the vole’s legs. “Look at the angles, someone broke his legs intentionally.”

Horizon grimaced in silent disgust. You mean like someone broke his legs for talking back to his boss and just left him here?

“Maybe, but…” Sam trailed off as Horizon took one last step forward, and time slowed. A small box on a desk just three meters to the vole’s right let out a massive burst of heat followed milliseconds later by a visible bout of flame and shrapnel. A thousand little aerodynamic darts flew towards the posthuman raccoon, whose augmented reflexes weren’t quite enough to dodge or throw her arms up to block in time. As she dropped to the floor razor-sharp blades cut into her half-raised arms, legs, and helmet.

“I guess he was bait,” Sam picked back up. She appeared to examine the exploded box on the heavily damaged desk. “An anti-personnel mine, I guess someone really is trying to kill us.”

You think? Horizon thought as she pulled a dart out of the semi-hardened shell of her helmet. The exterior was hard polymer but the middle layer between the shell and the cushioning material was a non-Newtonian gel that became solid when impacted with sudden force. One of the few technologies that her implants had shared with the Friendlies, if only because it was so basic that it seemed strange that the Tiere system had lost it.

“Though,” the AI mimed a thinking pose. “It seems a bit odd that whoever wants us dead would just use an AP mine. You’d think they would know by now that it wouldn’t kill us.” Just as Horizon managed to get one foot underneath her there was a series of clicking sounds from all corners of the room. A quick glance around revealed three-meter-wide boxes in the corners outside the blast zone, each of them extending spindly robotic legs.

It was meant to delay me until the real assassins could show themselves. Horizon raised herself to a crouching position and prepared to spring at the closest robot. What are they?

“Gimme a second,” Sam made a show of looking over the robot spiders as they shed bits of their camouflage and repositioned other panels to form armor. “Look like HK-87 boarding drones, developed by the WarBastard Collective.”

Who sell to everyone, Horizon thought. She leapt and slammed into the desk that had held the mine, the force pushed the desk violently into the drone behind it. I was hoping they’d provide some clue as to who sent them.

“If it comforts you, I doubt they came from Princeps.” The panda’s tail pointed behind Horizon, and she followed it to spy another drone leaping into the air. “The Federation has far nastier things.”

Horizon rolled out of the way of the drone’s claws, one extended leg piercing the floor just centimeters from her side. That’s not particularly comforting, she retorted. Does the data you’ve sucked off our infosphere include any tips on fighting these things?

“Well, they’re designed for extreme close-quarters fighting so they don’t have ranged weapons.” Horizon kept rolling away from the drone’s plunging claws until she managed to get enough space to find her feet again. “If you don’t mind collateral damage and have the space most recommend picking them off with railguns from two kilometers away.” The drone was joined by the other one that wasn’t currently trapped by a desk. “Otherwise use tanglers to immobilize them and pile-drive their battery packs,” Sam highlighted the locations of the batteries in Horizon’s HUD, they were under armor plates, but she supposed that was still useful.

I don’t really have any of those things here, Horizon reminded the AI. The drones tried to herd her into a corner, but she leapt past them, accepting a slash to the leg as penalty for the rash action.

“On the fly battle strategies are not exactly my thing,” Sam said with a shrug.

Damn, Horizon slid out of the way of another striking leg. The floorboards cracked under the point of the limb, sending splinters of synthetic polymer to pepper the raccoon. She glanced at the pattern of cracks left by the impact and had an idea.

She crouched down, keeping an eye on the drones, and leapt straight up into the air. She twisted and flew backwards, away from the drones, and struck the floor. Horizon’s injured legs buckled under the pain of the impact, and she fell to one knee.

Sam glanced down at her with exasperation. “That wasn’t enough force you know,” she commented.

Horizon watched the drones scurry towards her. I didn’t have any other ideas.

The maw of Sam’s fluffy virtual tail opened and spoke three words, “do that again.

As the drones came within half a meter of Horizon, the raccoon climbed uneasily back to her feet and, with great pain, sprang and leapt. As she reached the apex of her leap it felt like Surtr’s feeble gravity reached up and yanked her straight down to the floor. Her legs crumpled, eliciting a scream of pain, and the floorboards erupted in a two-meter wide spiderweb of cracks.

Now roll,” the tail’s words brought Horizon’s attention back to the drones skittering onto the cracked boards. The leading drone raised one fearsome spike over her head, and she just barely rolled through the excruciating pain she was feeling to evade. The spike pierced the already weakened floor, and it began to crumble.

The drone sank into the collapsing floor as Horizon continued to roll away. She felt the boards fall away beneath her even as her twisted legs screamed in agony. An eternity later she met the wall, and dared to look.

One of the drones was gone, the other scrambled to maintain balance on the edge of the hole. Horizon quickly evaluated the condition of her legs and sighed. Her lower legs were bent in half, useless for walking until her thermoregulation implants activated the memory metal coating their bones. Her arms, on the other hand, had largely sealed the wounds left by the mine and hadn’t been harmed by her little stunt. Grateful that the gravity on the moon was relatively low, Horizon lifted herself up on her hands and swung her ragged tail towards the drone.

The long but light appendage barely phased the machine, even as it was trying to balance on three precarious legs, but it did obstruct its sensors long enough for her bent legs to slam into its main body. The drone’s legs flailed uselessly in the air as it tried to find purchase on nothing, instead falling to the ground four stories down. Once Horizon settled herself back down, she carefully inched across the floor to peer down through the hole.

The drone flipped itself over, barely showing a dent, and scurried off out of sight. “How long would you bet it takes to climb four flights of stairs?” Sam asked.

The raccoon felt her already agonized legs burn and shooting pain climb up and down the limbs as a localized fever activated the memory metal. Hopefully longer than it takes my legs to fix themselves, Horizon retorted. She began to drag herself towards the injured vole her unknown foe had used as bait.

He looked barely out of his teens, at most, and his leg injuries had been joined by a number of cuts and abrasions from stray shrapnel. The end of a dart protruded from his chest, weeping a small amount of blood that had the raccoon worried. “Hey kid!” Horizon shouted. “Can you hear me?”

The vole’s eyes opened a crack, and he made a faint gurgling sound. Horizon reached a comforting hand for him and felt his chest. His heartbeat was slow, but steady. “Just hang on a bit longer, I’ll get you to safety!”

Abruptly the vole’s eyes shot wide open, and he spat a half-congealed wad of blood into Horizon’s face. “Look out!” he gasped.

She turned just in time to spot the overlooked third drone’s leg as it descended straight towards her face.

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