Honest Impulses 19: Battle Stations

Anar, Yavar 08, 03262

As Shandy had learned in her practice sessions with the suit, the inside was cool and quiet even as she was buffeted by the padding and straps. She concentrated on the unnatural way she had to think about moving her legs only slightly to make the suit’s legs move at a walk, or a run, her body’s behavior and her voice the only thing the suit understood anymore. The visual projectors in the suit gave her a full 360° arc of view, as if the suit itself were almost not in her way, and the tactical additions to her vision were mostly confusing. She’d had only a few hours of using it and was still getting used to its advanced features.

She ran into the quadrangle, her tactical awareness and the suits own safety systems dodging and weaving past any bystanders. The demolition drone was halfway through the destruction of Shandy’s dormitory. There were still a few police officers there, but none of them were equipped with anything stronger than a stunner. They were mostly keeping people away from the dormitory. A few students were arguing, trying to get back in to rescue favored items or unfinished projects, but the police held them back as well as they could.

Shandy ran past the line without stopping. The drone’s mass, the powerful physical assemblies that let it move, and its six legs allowed it to take grinding, deliberate steps that crashed through lighter construction as if it were cardboard, and when it encountered a more solid barrier it planted its rear legs and used the battering ram to shatter concrete and its claw to bend steel. If Shandy didn’t stop it, it could destroy a significant portion of the dormitories and would be making its way into the research libraries and browseries before any soldiers arrived.

Through the gap between two building Shandy could see the round, four-storey tall research library that held all of the artifacts recovered from the Second Chances. She stopped up short and looked at the drone. It was taller than she, each of its legs almost as thick as her suit, and it was heavily armored to withstand falling debris and survive the force of its own battering ram. She had no ranged weapons and the legs were shrouded in a dense steel lattice to protect their inner workings.

The drone paused as it set its rear legs to start a battering attack on a concrete wall. Shandy ran for one of the middle legs and grabbed that lattice, embedding her suit’s metal fingers into it. She clenched her hand inside the suit, felt the feedback in her glove and ignored it. Alarms whined. She got the grip she wanted, then dug in and climbed.

She pulled herself up to the first joint, where she got a grip with her feet as well. The suit shuddered and she hung on as a massive jolt pounded through the drone, the suit, and her bones. Concrete shattered. The drone began moving again. Shandy scrambled the last meter to get on top of its barrel-shaped engine.

The drone rocked, dropping all of its legs on one side, and Shandy fell, rolling toward the right side of the drone, falling. She scrambled and grabbed something, anything, but there was nothing to grab. Her suit rolled and fell off the side. Something brushed her flailing hand and she seized it before she saw it.

She’d grabbed the claw. It snapped at her, its hydraulic motor powerful but slow. Shandy dodged and kicked out with one leg to get above it. The claw’s main lines were covered in steel, but Shandy reached down. “Give!” she shouted as the suit’s hands followed her precise movements and she pulled off one of the shields. She reached in and tore loose a hydraulic line.

Dark, oily fluid spurted out. The machine swung the arm wildly, almost as if Shandy had hurt it, and she lost her grip, falling. She looked down as she fell two meters and landed on the top deck of the drone. She grunted with the impact, but the straps and pads of the suit absorbed the impact of her body against the inside of the suit’s chestplate.

The drone’s claw may have been down, but the arm was still swinging back toward her. The armature mechanism didn’t move quickly, but Shandy had to watch it in her tactical display and dodge when it tried to hit her. It also stopped and doubled back, harassing her even as the thing began to rock back and forth. Shandy fell to a crouch and clambered toward the middle of the barrel, more like an ape than a human, to reach the base of the demolition arm. A quick look showed several hydraulic cables wrapped in steel coil where articulation prevented plate armor. “Just like a tractor,” she said as she dug in with her suit’s fingers and pulled them loose before the drone could react. More fluid spurted out and the arm shuddered to a halt.

The drone dropped three legs a second time, and this time Shandy was too distracted by her success with the demolition arm. She toppled over, screaming as she fell.

She hit the ground five meters below, landing face-down with a hard thud and heard the loud paff of the microexplosive crash bags that inflated to protect her from absorbing all of the impact. She was face down in the grass. Her face felt cold, and liquid dripped over her upper lip. Her nose was bleeding from the impact of the shock bag. Tactical alarms screamed at her and she rolled over, dizzy, as the demolition drone’s foot pounded down where she’d landed. She looked up, saw the legs, saw the drone trying to step on her, and rolled again, this time coming up in a crouch. She ran for the middle leg.

The drone stopped and tried to shake her off. It hammered its own hydraulic system to send tremors through the leg, but Shandy held on, stopping at the first joint, hooking her suit’s legs to hold on, and swinging underneath. She found the same cables as those on the demolition arm and pulled. They tore free and hydraulic fluid hit one of her cameras. Part of her field-of-view display went dark.

Other cameras compensated and filled in. The picture wasn’t as clear, but it was enough. She was jolted as the leg shuddered. She heard a metal ringing sound and the leg moved again. She kept climbing, repeated the move with the joint where the leg attached to the body, then slid down the leg to reach the ground again.

She ran to the rear leg. The same strategy worked, even as the drone tried to shake her off, and she was able to disable a second leg. She heard the ringing sound again and this time saw what it was: the safety lock on the leg to keep it from collapsing if the hydraulics were disabled. The monster was trying to stay upright.

But with four legs working it was still capable of forward motion, and it dug its way further into the dormitories, the battering ram still functional, the whole of the machine still a massively powerful engine of destruction. She had to take out at least one more leg.

The Tokyo Police LMWS-05 was designed to handle light urban combat. It could handle a long jump, landing on concrete, and successive forward tactical movement. Shandy jumped. The suit, which she had so carefully restored, landed. The right knee failed.

Alarms screamed as she collapsed to the ground. She grunted as some of the takeup mechanisms also failed, delivering much more impact to her body than she’d been prepared for, and she was on her knees and one hand. A tactical whooping sound alerted her that the monster was moving again.

Only the front leg on the right side was still working. She used her hands, scrabbling her fingers in a complicated dance to make the suit’s hands and arms pull her forward, dodging the rear left leg that had moved to stomp her. She reached the right front leg and climbed again, this time with only one leg for extra help. She ignored the middle joint this time. All she had to do was cripple it. She reached the main joint and found the cables she wanted.

She reached in, grabbed them, and pulled. They gave way. “You are done!” she shouted.

She heard the metallic ringing sound again, this time not from the leg she’d just crippled, but from the other two as the drone shoved itself backward, then suit collapsed to the ground with her caught underneath it. Shandy screamed once more. She hit the ground with a hard thud, blacking out momentarily.

When she came to, red telltales filled her vision. Her suit was trapped, crushed under the drone. Her arms and one leg still worked, but they couldn’t get free of the tons of demolition drone holding her down. She heard Trianna shout, “Shandy, get out of there!” Panicked, Shandy scanned the displays. She had nothing left to work with. The drone shuddered, and Shandy’s panic rose. Her suit was in the path of the battering ram. She looked in her tactical, saw Trianna shouting at Detective Damarcius. She remembered him saying, Do you recognize this?

“Aye,” she said. She reached up for the chest plate, flipped open a plastic shield, and punched the broad, red button underneath it.

A massive bu-boom! slammed into Shandy’s body as the protective bags redeployed around her body and then the rescue bolts, the kind that had killed Saia Mertum, pummeled her as they shattered her suit’s chestplate outward, taking some of the drone’s body with it. Her head pounding, her ears ringing, Shandy’s shaking hands unclipped the chest belt. The shuddering halted. Shandy’s body trembled as she pushed herself out of the suit. Even as she hit the ground, the battering ram’s gas cylinder fired and it slammed into the suit, crushing it and hurling it down into the grass. Shandy stumbled, then began to run.

“Shandy! Shandy!” Trianna, Linia, and Damarcius were running toward her. “Shandy, are you okay?”

“Aye, I think so.” Trianna and Linia each took an arm and helped her away from the still-flailing machine until they were at least fifty meters away, where they could watch at a distance as it tried to rise. Its last-ditch attempt to stop Shandy had effectively paralyzed it; it could no longer rise on its left legs, and its right ones dug deeper and deeper into the ground as it tried to find some traction and dig its way forward.

“You’re bleeding,” Linia said. She put her hand up to Shandy’s face. Shandy flinched, but Linia just ran her hand gently across Shandy’s cheek. “Your nose isn’t broken, just bleeding.”

“That was foolish. And quite amazing,” Damarcius said. “Here.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.

“Thank you,” Shandy said, holding it to her tender nose. “I no could let it wreck the archives,” Shandy said. “Too much of Miss Ffanci’s life is in there.” She felt nauseous again. Her body was buzzing, as if she were filled with bees. “I no feel good.”

Linia reached forward and put her hand on Shandy’s head, then between her shoulder blades and then on her back. “You’re not injured. Bruised, but nothing’s broken. You’ll be okay, but all that adrenaline will take a while to filter out.”

Shandy nodded. “When did you get here?”

“I headed here the second everything went—”

Shandy felt another hard, strange wave roll through her, as if another universe had tried to break through right in front of her. She looked up and saw everyone else reeling. Linia stood stock still, then fell over.