Horizon: Rebuilt Ch. 7

Horizon ducked just in time for the claw aimed at her visor to graze the top of her helmet instead. The drone tried to pull back the claw for another strike, but it stuck in the helmet’s gel layer and pulled her head with it. Aggravated the raccoon grabbed the clasps holding her helmet on and released them, freeing her head as the drone tried to shake the helmet off. She quickly assessed her situation; her legs were straightened out but still in agonizing pain. Horizon decided that she could ignore the pain if it meant greater mobility and started to rise, only for the drone to raise another spiked leg to strike at her stomach.

Time slowed again as the spike descended, inching closer and closer while her body sluggishly tried to dodge. Horizon felt her stomach sink in terror as the drone’s attack… swerved to her left?

The leg spike stuck in the wall next to Horizon, her side twinged at the close call, but she knew she had to act when she had the opportunity. Her HUD highlighted the dented armor plate covering the drone’s battery, she saw the gaps in the plating that the impact of the splintered desk left, and her fingers darted forth. Metal-tipped claws ripped the steel plate away, exposing the battery pack that she seized with her other hand. Acid spurted from the battery as her claws dug into its soft siding, but she ignored the sting as she ignored all the other pain she was feeling, as she had felt since that fateful day in the deep outer Tiere system.

With a yank the leaking battery came free, and the drone jerked a few times, then collapsed to the floor, power gone. Horizon tossed the battery aside and wiped her fingers on a patch of her jumpsuit that had thus far escaped damage or bloodstains. She turned to the teenage vole leaning against the wall, his eyes still wide in shock at the battle he’d witnessed.

“You,” he gasped. “You’re the…”

“The polite term would be posthuman,” Horizon cut him off. She took in his broken legs and lung puncture and attempted to calculate his odds of surviving until they made it to a Friendly Society medic. After just a few seconds she shook her head. “I can get you out of here, but the only way you’ll survive is if I infect you with the microbots in my blood. Do you understand what that means?”

The vole tried to pull himself up, and only coughed up another glob of blood. “I don’t want to die,” he replied. “Please.”

Horizon took a side glance at the AI’s illusory avatar in her peripheral vision, she could have sworn the red panda was smiling. Heal him, she thought as she reached down to pick the vole up.

She held the vole’s body against her blood-stained jumpsuit, the congealing fluid oozed into his wounds as she slung him over her shoulder. He took a couple more gurgling breaths before the microbots sealed the hole in his lung, allowing him to wheeze more gently. “What’s your name?” Tanya asked.

“Shawnathan,” the vole replied hoarsely. “Most call me Shawn.”

Tanya carried him over to a door that seemed to lead towards the exterior wall of the factory. She considered for a moment whether to give him her real name before stating “call me Horizon.” The door opened without resistance, and she stepped through, “how old are you Shawn?”

“Three,” he replied, “point three.”

Horizon was confused for a moment, then remembered that Surt’s orbit lasted roughly six of Jord’s years. That would make him about twenty. “Do you know where the nearest exit would be?” she asked.

He slowly turned his head towards the doorway, grimacing in pain as he scanned the wall. “Take the second right,” he suggested. “There’s a staircase that leads outside. We used to hide under it for hypnos.”

“You work here?” Horizon staggered out, looking for any signs of the stairs he’d referred to. She couldn’t trust the corporate government to clearly label the exits, especially if they thought employees hid in them while self-medicating.

“I guess,” Shawn gave a minute shrug. “The boss fired me yesterday.”

“Fired?” Horizon glanced at him confused. “So, what were you doing back here?”

“I don’t know!” the vole exclaimed. “I just went to bed and woke up here with my legs broken and fires blazing.”

Sam appeared leaning against the wall on fire, “of course. Trap a disgruntled employee in a room full of killer drones, then set the building on fire. They can claim he started the fire and got caught by their security systems.”

Horizon stopped in front of a door that looked no different from the others but was the second on the right. She tried the doorknob, it was locked, though that didn’t indicate anything. “I’m going to have to set you down,” she warned.

Shawn nodded and Horizon carefully put him down against the wall, hopefully out of the way of any shrapnel. She took a firm grasp of the doorknob, and yanked it clear off of the door. The raccoon tossed the doorknob aside and fiddled around the interior of the lock until it came loose.

She looked inside the room on the other side of the door, she saw a bare metal grate floor with staircases going up and down. Horizon carefully stepped in and took a look around, to make sure that it was safe. She heard a loud clanging sound as she strode on the grate, she stood absolutely still after that first step and listened carefully.

After the initial clank there was silence beyond the crackling flames on the factory floor. But just as she was about to take another step, she heard a series of rapid clanks coming up from below. Horizon looked down through the grate and saw shapes moving up the stairs.

“I’m estimating a 77% chance that those are the HK-87s that went through the floor,” Sam manifested next to her, pointing downwards.

Horizon shot her a dirty look, how long until they get up here?

Sam made a pose that looked like she was thinking hard about it. “I’d say between three and four minutes. Too bad you broke the door.”

Horizon sighed and dashed back into the hall. She grabbed Shawn and yanked him up, “change of plans! Is there another way out?”

The vole blinked in confusion as he was slung violently over the raccoon’s shoulder. “What, why?”

“Can’t use the stairs!” Horizon shouted as she broke into a run down the hallway. “Is there any other way out?”

“Uh…” his eyes started to roll back as he struggled to think. “The elevator maybe? But we’re not supposed to use that in emergencies….”

Horizon spotted a pair of automatic sliding doors and ran for them. “No good,” Sam warned. “No physical controls, wireless mesh access only.” The raccoon quickly scanned the walls around the elevator doors and confirmed the AI’s statement. “Honestly, calling the wireless here a “mesh” is generous, it feels like they’ve got a centralized network that went down the moment the fires started.”

So you can’t hack into the elevator? Horizon groaned audibly.

“No, and even if the network was online, it would take longer than those drones would give us.”

The skittering of robotic claws behind her reminded Horizon of the danger stalking her. Well, if we can’t hack in electronically, she dug her claws into the crack of the elevator doors and pulled. We’ll just do it physically.

She yanked one door open to an open shaft and glanced down. “That’s a twenty meter drop straight down!” Sam shouted in her ear.

Horizon glanced over her shoulder at the first drone rounding the corner and preparing to charge. I can handle it, she thought and stepped over the threshold.

The feeling of freefall was oddly comforting to the long-time spacer, even though she knew intellectually that they were in considerable danger. Her stomach rose into her throat as she fell, weightless, towards the ground below. She saw one set of elevator doors zip past her, then an eternity later a second, and a third, wait, was she slowing down?

Horizon reached for the cable in the center with her free hand, it burned, but not as much as she’d feared. The last time she’d slid down a cable like this with bare hands it had ripped through her gloves faster than the smart fabric could repair itself and stripped the skin off her palms. This time she barely felt it tearing.

Another door flew past. “Ground floor is the next one,” Sam said. Horizon swung her feet out towards the door as it came up, her toes skidded down the metal surface. She pushed off the cable and swung her hand towards the door with claws protruding through her glove.

Horizon’s claws screeched against the aluminum door before the cuts they made were deep enough to sink in fully. The sharp edges of the freshly cut metal sliced into her fingers even as a sheet of aluminum tore away from the door. Her feet managed to catch on the threshold of the doorframe before they fell back into the open shaft. She leaned Shawn against the other door and tried to find some leverage to force them open.

As she was struggling with the door the vole’s head swung back and glanced upwards. His eyes shot open in terror in a second, “they’re coming!”

Horizon took a moment to look up and saw that he was right. The remaining two drones, beat up as they were, were slowly climbing down the side of the shaft, their spiked legs piercing the concrete and raining down gravel. The raccoon turned back to the elevator doors and thought at her AI, is there anything you can do about them?

“Yes, hold on tight.” Horizon tried to puzzle out Sam’s suggestion for a moment, then decided she’d be better off securing herself. She grabbed hold of the hole she’d made in the door so tightly she felt blood leaking from her palm, then wrapped her other arm tightly around Shawn and sank her claws into the door on the other side of him. The crunching of the drones digging into concrete came closer and closer to them.

Horizon’s stomach sank in fear, whether for herself or the latest innocent to get entangled in her life she did not know. A heaviness descended upon her as a stream of powdered concrete flowed down her back. Then, with a sickening crunch she felt the wind produced by a large object falling behind her. She glanced up in time to see the second drone lose its footing and fall towards her as well, though she tried to press herself against the door one of its flailing legs managed to slice down her back on the way down.

In the shaft behind and below them Horizon heard a deafening boom and felt a scattering of shrapnel against her tail and thighs. She took a cautious look downwards and saw the scorched and twitching remnants of the two drones, it looked like at least one of their batteries had taken enough of an impact to actually explode. Horizon slid the doors open and staggered out onto the factory floor. What just happened? She thought.

Sam appeared next to an open door in another column supporting the office complex. “You told me not to distract you with the results of my analysis,” the virtual panda reminded the cyborg raccoon.

Horizon scowled at her while staggering towards the doorway. Within she found the bottom of the staircase she’d seen earlier, with another door leading to the exterior of the building. What is that thing in my stomach?!

The AI sighed, “to put it simply. It’s a microscopic black hole.”

Horizon: Salvaged Heroes has made it through the paperback approval process on DriveThruFiction, go look up Joel Kreissman on drivethrufiction.com to find it.

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