“Get to the interceptor,” says the Anvil, gritting her teeth. As Chun, Jimmy and Olsin exit stage left, she flexes her fingers and tenses. Autonomic sensors and variable defence pattern assessments are whirling around her brain. Her HUD is flashing multiple warnings, red, red, red. She’s outclassed by the hulking armature before her.
Shi-Cho is relaxed, almost casual. He doesn’t take his eyes off the Anvil. All his sensor readings indicate his power levels and damage capacity easily outweigh his opponent’s. He’s aware, however, sensors can be deceived, and challenges are measured by more than just heads up display data.
They move simultaneously, twin blurs of motion. The impact of collision cracks like thunder, shaking the room and making Chun and her companions stumble as they climb into the nearest jet—Shi-Cho’s interceptor. “What the holy,” says Jimmy, grimacing. Chun frowns and points to the rear bench, climbing in after him. Olsin takes the flight chair up front, strapping in and activating the console. Multi-turbine engines churn into motion.
Shi-Cho fires his MWEs blindly, but the Anvil has his arms held up and away from her bulk. Her own MWEs are out of their forearm housings, pointless in this position. She headbutts the big armature hard, but the resounding crack leaves both none the worse for wear. Their legs strain against the deck as they vie for position. Holes appear in surrounding walls like magic, plasteel melting like butter as random MWE shots miss their marks.
“Not bad,” says Shi-Cho. “But my little upgrade hasn’t shown what I can really do, yet.”
“Less talk,” replies the Anvil through clenched teeth.
She senses Shi-Cho’s power level increasing. At the same time readings show her own levels dropping–strength, leeched away. Staggering, she releases her grip. Shi-Cho’s fist strikes her chest and pain receptors go wild as she’s flung back into the hangar’s rear wall, crumpling the plasteel like foil.
Shi-Cho brushes dust from his shoulders. “This new model has a parasite flange. When we’re close enough I can drain your energy and supercharge my punches.” He smiles, smugly. “Just thought you’d like to know.” Shi-Cho marches forward through the debris, an ominous premonition veiled in dust and smoke.
The Anvil rises, fires her MWEs directly at his skull. The invisible beams have no effect. Moments later a Microwave Dismissal Field registers on her sensors—it must have been cloaked. She returns the MWEs to their housings. No point leaving them out. She can taste the iron of synth-blood in her mouth, smell her fear as if it was a tangible, lingering scent in the air.
“You are hopelessly outgunned,” says Shi-Cho. “Want to give up now?”
“I’ll take my chances,” says the Anvil, not as audaciously as she would have liked.
“I hoped you’d say that.”
The next impact drives the Anvil through the wall into the room beyond. Metal and plasteel debris, dust and synth-blood fill the air. She’s conscious of multiple wounds across her body. Pain is a constant cloud, mulling through her brain, racking her body. Damage inhibitors work overtime to repair her, taxed to their limit. The last thing she sees before passing out is Shi-Cho leaning over, a huge hand reaching down.
* * *
Memories flood her senses: she sees a boy, fresh out of cadet school, raising his first plasma rifle; now a teenager, making his way efficiently through a zero-g assault course; a weary adult male in jungle fatigues, sniping insurgents with gola rounds.
At the same time her daughter, laughing and playing on the rooftop garden of Bester tower. Several guards stand protectively around her. The Anvil sees the child smile at the man she pictured earlier, this time in a business suit. He smirks in return, puts his hand to an earpiece, responding to orders from an unknown source.
The Anvil is rudely awakened, screaming as her left arm is torn from its socket.
* * *
Lady Chao finishes Shi-Cho’s soldier off, twisting his neck until it breaks. The body drops listlessly to the floor. Alida looks on, eyes and mouth wide, blood-spattered face pale.
“Come now, Alida,” says Chao. “If you want to be my assistant, you’ll need to be made of sterner stuff.” She strides off to the waiting orbital shuttle, hanging vertically within its launch chamber and visible through the room’s transteel windows.
Alida stumbles behind her, glancing nervously back to the closed iris door they entered through prior to taking out the troops. “Won’t they shoot us out of the air?”
Chao smiles. “They will try.”
* * *
Olsin hovers Shi-Cho’s interceptor just outside the ruined hangar, fifty metres above roiling waves. The rain has started again, great torrents of water shadowing the surrounding buildings, flyers and seas below. Around them Shi-Cho’s fleet is assembled: multiple troop carriers, interceptors, bombers. They choke the open space between the waveruins, flitting this way and that, all with pre-assigned tasks, none paying attention to Olsin’s jet.
“Now’s our opportunity to get out of here,” she says.
“Of course, not until we have the Anvil,” says Chun, watching the gaping gash in the hangar entry for any signs of movement.
Jimmy glances anxiously from port to port. “It won’t be long before these guys realise we’re not their boss.”
Olsin grips the flightstick tighter.
* * *
Shi-Cho holds the Anvil’s left arm aloft, synthetic blood dripping, frayed plasti-synth muscle fibres dangling from bicep and tricep joins. Subdermal mesh closes over the gaping wound under the Anvil’s shoulder, protein revitalisers and antishock gels flooding her system. Her HUD registers massive system damage.
“This would make a nice trophy,” says Shi-Cho, before tossing it aside. “But I’d rather have your head.” He reaches down, fingers enclosing the Anvil’s mouth and lower jaw.
She murmurs something through his grip. Shi-Cho’s eyes widen as the world turns phosphor white.
* * *
The hangar erupts, a massive explosion ejecting debris into Shi-Cho’s interceptor. Most of it bounces off the vehicle’s shields. Olsin and her passengers are buffeted left and right by the blast. “What in the holy was that?” cries Jimmy.
“We have to go, sugar,” says Olsin. “Look, the guy is hot, but if we don’t move it we’re going to end up swimming, and I hate swimming.”
“Not yet,” says Chun.
* * *
The smoke is thick. Most of her sensors are out. The Anvil clambers over Shi-Cho’s unconscious form, shaking and weak-kneed, falling every few steps. Synthetic blood leaks from numerous gashes and tears across her male body. Her power is almost shot—a full discharge was enough to take out Shi-Cho temporarily, but she has nothing left. She can barely make it to the edge of the hangar, where flames play tag around distorted metal and transteel detritus. The Anvil collapses.
A shadow appears, tethered to nowhere, consumed by oily smoke. “Of course, you can stay here if you want,” says Chun. “But I think you’d rather be elsewhere right now.”
The Anvil manages a tight-lipped smile as Chun wraps an auxiliary tether around her battered form, then signals Olsin to reel them in.
To be continued…
Missed earlier instalments? Click here.
What is ANVIL?
ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.
Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.