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Neutralizing the Threat
Stories » Neutralizing the Threat
It was cold as the stars in the Dead Forest, enough to even give Vienna a short pause and shiver through her fur. The roots around her seemed to sow themselves through the dirt with vile intent, blanketing the ground in a chaotic fashion. The silence was deafening—so much so that she could still hear the rest of the group making their way behind her a few dozen yards away. No traces of wildlife anywhere, and not even the faintest breeze.

She hated it.

It was well over a few hours before she came to the edge of the forest it seemed—an eerily convenient clearing with what seemed to be their destination on the other side. A soft, blue light traced Vienna’s face as numbers and calculations flitted about her vision, the pair of glasses on her face coming to life in an instant. Multiple pings went out into the surrounding area, scanning for any signs of life—mechanical or otherwise. Nothing, only the bodies of her team and herself. She turned her attention back to the clearing, giving it a once over. No cover, no recent disturbances from what she could tell. Only rusted metallic walls and what looked to be a rusted and broken down cargo vehicle. Rust or blood, that is. There were a few active terminals as well, but nothing functional, not from this range at least.

Vienna brought her wrist to her muzzle, a small light flickering as she spoke. “Look alive boys, we’ve found our target. I’m not picking up anything on my end, but keep your eyes peeled.”

ShELL was the first to respond, as usual. “Registered. We will be there momentarily to investigate.” Only a few moments later, Juno piped up as well. “I read ya, V. Crash or quiet?”

“Quiet. No signs of anything here, but I don’t like it.” The comm piece’s light dimmed as Vienna nestled herself into a nook in the roots, waiting for her team to show up as she scanned the clearing. Something wasn’t right.

It was a few more minutes before the two machines came into earshot, accompanied by a woman as well. The sounds of snapping branches and mechanical whirring were like a gunshot compared to the silence before. That was, until the glaring sound of a chainsaw howled into the stars above. Vienna immediately drew her rifle, training it in the direction of her team as her glasses adjusted and narrowed her sights to catch view of Xer0, weapon at the ready.

She cursed under her breath, bringing the comm piece back to her mouth. “Xer0, the hell are you doing?!.”

No response, of course. He only shouted into the clearing.

“Alright, assholes, come and get it! I’ll rip ya into pieces!”

No response.

“Xer0, stand down. Now.” She wasn’t one for direct commands in most cases, but at this point, in uncharted territory, she needed to feel in control. Especially when her team was on the line.

The war mech continued onward, throwing his arms wide in a threatening gesture as he stomped forward. “What, scared? Don’t think you can take me on? Y’all ain’t sh-” The words came to an abrupt halt as the sound of crunching steel and severed wiring echoed in the clearing. “Shit!”

A bear trap, laid cleverly in a mixture of brush and dirt, had found its mark. Old, but still effective by the look of the mangled metal caught between its teeth, squirming like a maddened beast.

Vienna only scoffed. “Serves him right.”, she thought. “Acting like a damned fool. Luckily there wasn’t anythi-”

The thought was cut short as it hit her nose like a well aimed punch. It was sickeningly sweet with a metallic tang, and unbearably strong even at this distance. Rotting flesh and blood. All at once, markers for some four dozen moving targets came into her vision. They were entirely surrounded by something—and it was moving fast.

“I hope you’re ready boys. We’ve got company, and they’ve got us on all sides.”

Vienna jumped into motion, making a dead sprint for the bunker in the distance as she barked orders through the comms. “ShELL, engage defense protocol 37b, now! Juno, keep your eyes on the war mech, and give me a visual up top. Xer0…” She paused, teeth grinding against each other. “…Don’t die until I say so.” In that instant, both ShELL and Juno burst from the treeline, ShELL charging forward in a rhythmic series of clattering mechanical parts while Juno rose from the ground, an intricately designed propulsion system activating in the combat suit she wore. Flames erupted from a pair of small turbines attached to her back as she began her ascent while she scanned over the forest before her.

“V, you ain’t gonna like this. I’ve got visual on at least 23, no, 27 moving targets.” There was a pause as the ground shook and a deafening roar cascaded over the treeline, multiple dead trees falling in wake of something. “Something real fuckin’ big is coming our way too.”

Vienna gave a haphazard laugh. “Can’t catch a break these days… You know the drill. Take out the ones closest to our position. Buy me some time while I bust the bunker door open. Oh, and do. Not. Die.” There was a familiar scoff over the comms before they cut.

She was halfway there by the time they began to break the treeline —grotesque creatures of pallid flesh that only barely hung onto their bones. Pale eyes darted about the clearing erratically in sunken sockets. Teeth seemed to snap and cut the air, looking almost the same as the jaws on Xer0’s chainsaw. What the hell had they gotten themselves into?

The first few creatures skittered across the clearing at a blinding speed, bones and joints contorting in unnatural ways as ShELL and Juno began their rain of lead on them. Each pellet left chunks of rotting flesh scattered across the ground, though they kept coming, making their way towards Xer0 as the main source of the sound. They were met with the grinding teeth of his chainsaw all the same, split in pieces at its mercy. With a final slam of his fist, the bear trap loosed itself from Xer0’s leg, although his bindings were quickly replaced by numerous creatures swarming him on all sides.

Vienna had come within range of the bunker’s terminal mere seconds afterward, the controls coming up on her visor’s HUD. She immediately went to work trying to access the door directly, only to be met with multiple requests for a passcode. Of course. She exhaled sharply as she set to work deciphering the encryption put in place, pausing only to bark more orders.

“ShELL, Juno, Xer0—fall back closer to the bunker. I need to hack into this terminal and I don’t need something catching me blind. Juno, keep a visual from the air. ShELL, get on the cargo vehicle and keep a suppressing fire as best you can. Xer0, pickup anything else that gets through. Keep them occupied up front.”

Each of them set into motion, even Xer0 to Vienna’s surprise. The freaks were still coming from the treeline, although fewer and fewer of them seemed to follow. There had to be at least 30 of them by this point, rabidly charging after the group. She hadn’t quite noticed before, but after glancing back at them, ShELL was looking rough. Sparks and bridges of electricity catching between wire and steel riddled his body. Xer0 was looking similar, most of the plating on his leg having fallen off to expose the circuitry beneath. Juno seemed fine, but it was only a matter of time until the fuel on her jet pack would run out. She needed this door open.

There was little time to consider any alternatives as another thunderous roar shook the ground once more—much closer this time. It rattled the steel of the bunker, causing time itself to seemingly stop. All at once, the monstrosities that had swarmed them turned and ran, screeching into the trees and fading. Trees fell in tandem as finally, breaking through the clearing, a beast at least a fair few yards taller than the bunker itself emerged. Atop it, another of the creatures rode, a mangled wooden staff in hand with a shimmering jewel at the end. Suddenly the world snapped back into motion as it began charging forward.

Vienna cursed again, throwing aside the terminal’s controls and setting her HUD sights on the charging beast. “Alright, new plan. Take that thing down, and make it fast.” There was a roiling rage inside of Vienna by this point. If only they had done this her way—if they had listened and snuck through, this wouldn’t have been an issue. ShELL was on the brink of malfunction, Vienna couldn’t even tell if Xer0 was capable of walking with the amount of damage his leg had sustained, and Juno had finally landed to allow the turbines to cool. For a moment, she only watched as Juno began to unleash round after round into the beast as Xer0 dragged himself forward, meeting it head on as he plunged the chainsaw into its hide. A few moment later, a flurry of bullets flew from the side of the truck as its wall fell, revealing ShELL holding a mounted mini-gun.

“Finally, something good for a change.” She gave a slight smirk as she raised her rifle, locking onto the creature riding the beast. They were doing well enough keeping it somewhat still—enough for her to get a shot in.

Boom.

Just grazed it. Its eyes were on her.

Boom.

Shoulder. Just a little more to the left. The creature atop the beast began to raise its staff. “Come on…”

Boom.

Right between of the eyes…

Suddenly, a dazzling beam of light shot out from the staff, aimed right for Vienna. In a flash of light, it slammed into the door behind her, throwing about a cloud of dust and debris. In the same instant, the beast before them let out a pitiful groan—a wailing acceptance of death as it crested the edge of life.

The comms cackled to life for but a moment as the beast fell. “Alright, lets take care of this…”

As the thunderous cacophony of debris and shattered metal began to subside, a thick cloud of dust hanging in the air, the sound of boots in the dirt grew closer to Xer0. The clattering of a rifle could be heard as it fell to the ground, followed by the methodical sound of a pistol’s slide being set, the chamber loaded.

“You don’t fuck your team over, Xer0.” Through the dust, the figure of Vienna could be seen, the pistol aimed calmly at the back of Xer0’s head. “You don’t fuck me over.”

Xer0 had a sudden snap in concentration, twisting his gaze back as his eyes darted between the now destroyed door, Vienna, and the barrel. “Vienna? What the he—” The words were cut short by the impact of a bullet, set neatly in the facing console of Xer0’s mechanical frame.

Vienna stepped forward, standing over the now limp war mech. Lights flashed before her eyes as countless commands scrolled past her vision—each linked to some aspect of Xer0’s systems. She could see him desperately trying to compensate for the damage, trying to divert power, trying to disperse nanobots through out his body. She set to work accessing his own systems, locking all commands one by one and shutting down his access to his own body to fabricate a prison of his own mind. She could see him screaming in binary within his own console as he watched each screen fade to black, each executed command returning a litany of errors.

As the final surges of power seemed to grow dim, she allowed one simple command to come back to life—his audio sensors. She knelt down close, a thin and steely tone filling her words. “I hope you can hear every word of this, Xer0. There is always a use for people like us. You just happened to waste yours on being a fool. This is the price you pay. Lets hope you savor this like I will in these last fleeting moments.” Soon after, she allowed another command to come through, forcing all remaining power to ensure it’s function—allowing his tactile receptors to come to life. “And I hope you feel every last bit of this.”

Vienna stood back up as she stared down at the disappointing heap of scrap before her. Her eyes briefly flickered to the HUD on her visor.

9 bullets left.

8…

7…

6…

5…

4…

3…

2…

1…

0…

Click…

Click…

Click…

By the 7th bullet, there was hardly even a response from his systems. It didn’t matter. She kept going, until only the echo of the empty chamber was left in the cold darkness of the Dead Forest. Juno and ShELL just watched. There were no words for the lingering energy that held in the air. It was suffocating, near palpable as Vienna dropped the pistol to the ground, leaving it atop Xer0’s corpse.

ShELL was the first to speak. His audio was full of static, a consequence of the severe damage dealt to his systems. “Vienna. He’s finished. It is done.” There was a pause. If there was something reminiscent of fear that a machine could feel, ShELL felt it. “I can’t say I would have allowed this to happen, in any other circumstance, but I feel I could not have stopped you either. He has caused enough trouble for us, let us leave him.”

Vienna’s gaze didn’t break from Xer0. “You’re right ShELL. You couldn’t have stopped me, and you wouldn’t have.”

ShELL flinched at the words. “I understand. I only mean this as a warning, not a threat. Had he been living, I cannot guarantee my programming would have permitted me to allow your aggression towards him. I am simply a personal defense mech. I have a derivative to subdue whoever shot first. That being said, I wholly swear my life to protect and serve you so much as I am able.”

Vienna’s eyes darted up to ShELL, a deep breath filling her lungs as she turned away, making her way back to the rifle she left on the ground. She traced its form with her fingers as she pulled the strap over her shoulders. “I understand. A warning for you as well then, as well as a threat.” The words came with an unheard of sharpness. “I will not let myself, or my team, get dragged to hell by some fool’s desire for self-destructive glory.”

She pushed her rifle aside, making her way towards the bunker. “Lets go. We have a job to do.”
 
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