Horizon: Rebuilt ch.10

Horizon followed Mr. Qali into the strange building, she kept her eyes peeled for any signs of treachery ahead of her friends. The fox led them into a warehouse filled with assorted crates on shelves seven stories high. The augmented raccoon listened for threats hidden behind shelves, sniffed for the scents of other parahumans. She heard the rumbling of ventilation systems and the creaking of overloaded shelves, smelled machine oils, fox and bear and other species, but only the scents of Qali and his goons were still fresh. She stole a glance back at Jenny and Shawn, the squirrel keeping a hand on her dart gun while the vole cradled his rapidly healing fist.

She suspected that she should be more concerned about his recovery, but for the time being she was more concerned with making sure they weren’t ambushed again. For now Mr. Qali led them through a winding maze of shelves. Horizon made a map in her head of the warehouse as she went along, cataloging the different crates and shelves that they passed. At one point her mental map indicated that they had walked in an elaborate circle and they were going down the aisle they’d entered through. She poked the fox in the shoulder, “no more games.”

Mr. Qali jumped in place and adopted a nervous smile as he turned, towards the opposite side of the warehouse from his initial heading. She caught him mumbling under his breath, “…have to burn this place later.” A couple more turns later and they stopped in front of an unremarkable-looking crate the size of a tool shed and made entirely of sheet metal. Qali pressed his hand into the electronic label and it blinked for a few seconds, then the lock unlatched and he swung the door open.

Horizon’s eyes widened in astonishment as she took in the sight before them. The crate was filled wall-to-wall with computers, cables, batteries, and coolant pipes. She couldn’t see any input/output devices attached but every device had indicator lights that suggested they were active. In the center of the mess lay a half meter-wide gold cube with a single pair of cables attached, Qali laid a hand on it.

“Here it is,” he explained. “The quantum core processor you wanted.”

Horizon nodded towards Shawn and Jenny, who moved forward to take a look. The vole gasped as he took in all the electronics inside. “Are those octo-core J12 Premiums? That heat sink looks like something I saw on a documentary about naval FedTech? Are those batteries the entire power supply?”

“Focus Shawn,” Horizon reminded him. “Is that a quantum core?”

“Oh, right,” the vole stopped searching the smorgasbord of computational hardware and turned his gaze to the gold cube. “It looks like one, the gold acts as radiation shielding.” He cautiously reached a hand out and grabbed it by one of the small handles on top, he tugged at it twice but it barely shifted a millimeter. “Makes it heavy too.”

“It took one of the bears with a power lifter to move that thing here,” Qali explained. He glanced sideways at a raccoon who, without the concealment of her holograms anymore, did not look particularly muscular. “I don’t suppose you have a power lifter on you somewhere?”

Horizon rolled her eyes and stepped into the crate. She took up a bracing position next to the cube, bent her knees, and grabbed both handles in her hands. With a grunt the quantum core slowly lifted half a centimeter off the ground.

“You can’t sustain that for long,” Sam pointed out as Horizon shuffled her way out of the crate carrying the cube. “By my calculations, with your current strength and energy reserves you could hold that up for ten minutes at the most. Nowhere near enough time to get it back to the barracks.”

Horizon set the cube back down with a grunt and a thud. “This isn’t working,” she turned to glare at Qali. “Where do you keep the power loaders? I need to borrow one.”

Qali growled under his breath, “a quantum core, three heavily injured men, and a power loader? You’re asking for a lot for just fifteen thousand sacs.”

“First of all,” Horizon snarled. “The injured goons are your stupidity tax for trying to mug a posthuman and her associates. Second, two of them are just sleeping off some smart sedative and a few second-degree burns.” The raccoon thought for a moment before adding a third, “and if you wait a few more weeks we can get you double the original payment.”

The fox seemed to consider the suggestion for half a minute. “You know, that core brings in more than five thousand a month from our various… business interests. And it’s not exactly something that’s easy to replace…”

Jenny groaned in disbelief at Qali’s attempts to angle more money despite the precariousness of his situation. “How’s this,” she suggested. “We’re looking to decrypt a data storage device from a Federation starship. If there’s anything salable in the data we’ll share it with you before attempting to sell it ourselves. Is that acceptable?”

Horizon’s head shot around to look at the squirrel. “Would you mind if we had a moment to discuss this?” she asked Qali. At his shrug she strode over towards Jenny and opened a subvocal channel.

Horizon: What are you thinking?

Jenny: I’m thinking that we can get a really good deal on a quantum computer.

Horizon: You can’t give Federal military data to this scumbag.

Jenny: You’re assuming that’s what’s in the sphere.

Horizon: I know the sphere contains the software for controlling an artificial gravity generator. It seems reasonable that the rest of the data is along similar lines.

Jenny: We don’t know anything about what’s in there. Only that your friend probably considered it important. For all we know it’s his diary.

Horizon: Now wouldn’t that be something, but no, I knew MechRat too well for that. Besides, even if he made full VR lifelogs for a century it wouldn’t take up as much memory as that data does.

Jenny: Okay, maybe it’s nanofabricator design templates, there’s only about half a dozen working fabricators left in the Tiere system. He wouldn’t be able to do anything with the data.

Horizon: Except sell it to one of the factions who do control a fabricator. Doesn’t the Company have one?

Jenny: It’s just a rumor that the Surt Company has one. The only confirmed fabricators are in the inner system, now that the Nebula Company’s base ship has been destroyed anyways.

Horizon’s gaze grew vacant as she found herself flying into a battle in the black of space, lashing out with claws of x-ray radiation at dilapidated spaceships, hurling projectiles of death at a giant ship populated with thousands of families…

Jenny: Tanya?

Horizon: Sorry.

Jenny: Are you okay?

Horizon: I

Jenny: Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.

Horizon: We cannot let him have anything that can be used to harm people.

Jenny: That’s a very broad category.

Horizon: No energy, projectile, or missile weapons. No biological or memetic pathogens without sharing them with the Friendly Society. No self-replicating nanotechnology.

Jenny: Okay, that’s fair.

Horizon slowly turned back to face Mr. Qali, “we’re willing to offer any non-weaponizable data recovered in lieu of cash payments. If none is found we are prepared to offer up to fifty thousand sacs and return the quantum core to you.”

The arctic fox’s eyes shot wide open and his ears stuck straight up. “Well, that is certainly a very tempting offer. I think I just might take it.” The sound of heavy equipment hitting the pavement echoed down the aisles. “And it sounds like the lifter just arrived.”

Horizon listened to the approaching noise, letting Sam parse out the different cacophonous sounds. “That sounds like at least three pairs of legs in exoskeletons.”

Qali turned towards Horizon with a snort. “What? You think I might be stupid enough to try to pulling something again? Maybe you should get your augmented ears checked!”

Horizon acted quickly, she grabbed Qali and threw the short fox at Jenny, shouting “hold him!” Then she leapt four meters straight up and landed on a half-emptied shelf. “I’m going to check it out,” she called down before scrambling across, above, and between the various crates filling the shelf. She leapt across an aisle to another shelf, following the sound of the thumping feet. Within the minute she spotted the source of the noise.

Three figures, three and a half meters tall and covered in heavy metal plates, colored with white and blue ripples, from their forearms hung assault rifles and shock batons. “Looks like the SWAT team has arrived,” Sam commented.

Strategies? Horizon inquired.

“There’s very little public information available on their exoskeletons,” Sam explained. “They shouldn’t be too maneuverable though. If you take out the lead one it should block the passage for the rest of them.”

Sounds good to me. The raccoon leapt from her hidden position and landed squarely on the lead trooper’s shoulders. He started to lift his arm with a baton to block her, but she was too fast for him. Her claws dug into joints and seams, probing for weaknesses, as he swung wildly, trying to shake her off.

The other two troopers stopped, leveling their rifles at her. “Get the Hel off of me!” the first trooper shouted, his voice booming through the speakers in his helmet. His companions opened fire.

Horizon felt their bullets slam into her arms that reached around the trooper. The first few punched holes in her skin that cut down to the bone, but as her jumpsuit stiffened into armor the following rounds did nothing more than leave bruises. “Hollow-point rounds,” Samantha added. “I don’t think they were expecting us specifically.”

The hail of bullets halted. One of the other troopers called out, “primary target engaged. Seeking secondary targets.” The trooper who’d spoken extended his baton and shifted into a melee stance, while the other crouched down as if to spring into action.

Horizon’s claws found purchase in a seam on the exo-suit’s back, she shifted her arms to attempt to pry open what felt like an access hatch as the trooper began to turn around, facing his comrades. She pushed off the trooper’s chest with both feet, he didn’t give any indication that he felt anything through the armor but it gave her enough momentum to swing over the trooper and behind him.

The other two troopers acted in unison. As she was swinging over the first trooper the second fired another burst from his rifle and the third sprang upwards. Horizon felt more bullets slam into her torso while the third trooper leapt a seemingly impossible height for someone so heavily armored and arced over her and his companions.

The bullets exploded in mid-air as they approached Horizon, shooting out shards of metal that stung as they pierced the armored smart fabric and her skin. “Crap he switched to armor-piercing discarding sabot rounds!” Sam explained. Horizon saw a quick video of a bullet with a sharpened tip breaking apart as a secondary charge propelled the tip at even greater speeds.

Looks like they were expecting us after all! Horizon thought irritably as she forced the exo-suit’s access panel open. She could feel the rounds sinking into internal organs that she hoped weren’t that vital anymore.

The panel on first trooper’s armor flew open and his back was exposed to the furious posthuman. She sunk her claws into his shoulder and yanked hard enough to break his arms as he was forced out of the reinforced shell of his powered armor. His wordless scream of pain and terror distracted her from the third trooper firing at her until she felt the bullets penetrate her titanium-reinforced ribs, shoulder blades, and skull.

When Horizon regained consciousness she found herself slumped against a crate, her mouth full of blood. She ran a quick diagnostic and found dozens of different wounds scattered all over her body. Bullets, already starting to dissolve thanks to her leukosynths, blunt force trauma despite her spongified tissues, electrical damage. Then she found the injury that gave her pause, a needle-width hole in the base of her skull. Sam, what just happened?

“You took a bullet to the brain,” the AI explained matter-of-factly. “Survival protocols took over and finished the fight while repairing the damage.”

What do you mean by… Horizon finally took a look around her surroundings, and almost passed out again.

The floor was covered with pools of blood, shredded parahuman bodies, and exo-suits cracked open like the discarded shells of nuts. Taking in the wounds on what was left of the troopers, Horizon realized that the blood she tasted wasn’t just her own. Shaking, Tanya rose back to her feet and carefully shuffled her way out of the aisle.

Just as she was stepping onto clean floors, she realized something and turned back to look at the carnage she’d left behind for but a moment. “There’s only two suits of armor!” she said out loud. “Where’s the third?”

“Reviewing,” Sam started humming for a few moments. “The trooper who leapt over us and shot us in the back ran off towards the quantum core.”

“No…” Horizon broke into a dead run, ignoring the pain from the still-healing wounds in her legs. She retraced her mental map to the place where they’d been shown the quantum core and its peripherals. As she took in the sight before her, even worse than the previous scene, she braced herself against a heavy crate so she wouldn’t collapse.

Blood covered the floor again, Shawn sat on the floor leaning against the door of the hacking module, Mr. Qali draped wide-eyed across his lap, both of them riddled with bloody bullet holes. But the worst part was what wasn’t there.

“Jenny?” Horizon called out, searching for her friend. “Jenny!”

Shawn gasped and slowly raised his head to stare at Horizon. As he started to speak he noticed the dead fox lying on him and hastily shoved the corpse away.

Horizon staggered towards the vole, scanning his wounds as she approached. She could see sealed scabs through the holes in his clothes, all but confirming her suspicions. You infected him with full leukosynths! she scolded Sam mentally. Verbally she asked, “where’s Jenny?”

“A SWAT trooper showed up,” Shawn gasped. “I tried using that asshole as a hostage,” he nodded towards Qali’s body. “But the bastard just shot us both.”

“What about Jenny?” Horizon insisted.

Shawn coughed twice, then spat out a red splinter of metal. “She… ran,” he rasped. “But, that exo was faster than it looked. I heard a scream, then he came back, carrying her slung over his shoulder.”

Horizon reached out and grabbed Shawn by the shirt, yanking him close to her bloody face. “Was she still alive?” she demanded.

The vole slowly shook his head, “I.. don’t know.”


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