Chapter Thirty-Five – Leah Can’t Catch A Break
142 0 16
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

Chapter Thirty-Five - Leah Can’t Catch A Break

“It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”

– Road Rash, beating the crap out of a pair of robbers while livestreaming




The counter for the active defense horseshoe blinked in my vision and resized itself until it covered the entire corner it was in.

Shit. I’d blocked five projectiles. My heart thumped painfully, fear punched me in the gut, and with a panicked, Leah!, I dropped low and jerked around.

A very fast glance told me she wasn’t overtly bleeding or injured. Shocked, but still holding her gun, acquiring the last Four. Reassured, I turned back to the front.

The Five had taken out most of the doorway. My sticky ropes had smacked themselves uselessly across the wall to one side when their anchor points on the other were obliterated.

Since I wasn’t dead, wasn’t even injured, and whatever Antithesis that was needed to die, I kept moving sideways until I could finally see it properly.

It was a large ursoid creature, bigger than the Six had been, by about a head. It stood on six legs with swamp-colored, green and black, plate-armored plant flesh, large enough to stomp on me. If I let it. 

I got only a momentary look at damp green quills covering its head and back, pointed in my direction, when they suddenly flashed towards me and I saw several black hexagons appear for a split second, just before they went off like mines and sent shattered quill fragments tumbling through the air.

It was already preparing another set of quills, and that counter in the corner had me crapping my pants as I read only six plates remaining. I wasn’t going to block a full salvo again.

I sighted and pulled the trigger in a hurry, and missed the head. It sagged anyway, when everything supporting it disappeared.

Thank fuck those bullets do collateral damage so well. Having an explosion vacate your neck and half your head, does wonders for a quick demise. 

Breathing heavily, I took in the scene, and made sure there were no more aliens around. The thirteen explosions had pretty much wrecked the room in front of me. My traps had been thrown every which way, sticking in tumbles wherever they’d landed, the floor was pitted with quill fragments sticking out here and there, and the walls around the doorway had clusters of holes in them.

“Tynea? I don’t recall all the details on the Five.”

The wet-looking quills are covered in an extremely debilitating and painful neurotoxin. Of the low-digit models, these are perhaps the most deadly to Vanguard in direct combat—a single hit can leave you defenseless. If you did not have ways to automatically dispatch enemies, you would likely be killed only seconds later.

Yeah. If I didn’t have the defenses I did, I would be dead. I think. 

Shit, Leah, too.

The thought of leaving her alone again, here of all places, really made me queasy.

I turned to her, and quickly moved closer. She had her helmet off and looked woozy, tilting this way and that as she hugged the stairs, looking up at me with a sort of disoriented look, and muttering a litany of curses and grumbles.

There was blood trickling from her ears.

Ah, crap, the explosions. They’d probably blown her ear drums. But why hadn’t the helmet protected her?

Looking at it, I saw a single quill sticking out of it, right at eye level. Deep enough to have broken the displays inside, leaving her blind.

She’d probably ripped her helmet off her head to see, only for my second set of explosions to go bang in arm’s reach.


She didn’t react. Yeah, her ears were blown out, and she had no more protection for her head. If the helmet just barely stopped those quills, I wasn’t going to bet on her overall doing any better.

And worse, the next group had to be really close.

I tore off my antenna mufflers and focused outside, and on the spy cam data. 

They were only seconds away.

“Tynea! That shunt grenade!”

It popped into existence in front of me, I caught it, activated it, and chucked it a few meters outside. It’s chaotic void-sphere appeared, and my counter jumped a few points.

“Firebomb! Long burn time!”

A larger package spawned, and I aimed my throw right into the doorway, where it promptly lit up and created a curtain of flames.

Finally, I could pick up Leah and race ourselves to temporary safety below and take a look at her injuries.

There wasn’t a lot of blood, for a head wound, but it was still flowing out of her ears in small rivulets.

Should I get her nanites, or did we have the time for another breastfeeding? How many points did we have anyway? My counter gave me seventy-seven points, and I was still in the red emergency funds.


“Tynea, how long would it take my bionites to heal her eardrums?”

About a minute per ear if the damage includes the bones. If it’s only the membrane itself, then only a few more seconds. Leah still has bionites from your previous session, so she should not need further supply. Ypsi already took control.

Okay, new protection, then.

I took her helmet in hand and studied it a little closer. The spike had actually fully penetrated, the smallest tip of it poking through. 

“How deep does the injury need to be for the toxin to work on humans?”

As long as it breaks the skin, the damage is done. A small amount will already cause pain that’s been described as ‘hellish’. It may not disable you, but it’s the kind of injury you just cannot ignore. Any amount would distract you to a potentially lethal degree.

Leah was lucky not to have nicked herself on it, then. She would’ve been safe with me around, but I really didn’t want her to go through more pain anymore, either.

She needed a new helmet, or something like my horseshoe. Or both.

I sent her the suggestion via text, but with the disoriented way she was wobbling about, she had trouble focusing. I got back some garbled reply that basically read “yesn’t” and just gave up on it for the moment, in favor of a proper good hug.

The fire was still going strong, up above, and I got a few points that indicated more than one plant alien had been careless. They weren’t going to get through it, in the short term.

With the air currents so disturbed by the heat, my picture of the space above was rather blurry and unreliable, plus I had no connection to the camera or uplink down here, but I really couldn’t trust that the situation hadn’t already changed outside.

Between the loud crack-whistles of my HSRP, the activity of both the fire and live Antithesis, and the fire itself, I was going to have to figure out what sort of new aliens we’d be facing very soon. 

I sent her another text message that I’d be scouting, watched for a moment as she moved her jaws like she was trying to pop her ears while giving me a much less dizzy nod, and ran up the stairs again.

I was really getting a workout in this place, wasn’t I? Well, if my body weren’t already so far beyond needing one…

Back on the ground floor, I carefully led the way with my rifle, creeping up so I could gaze above the final step. The entrance was still on fire, I couldn’t get a connection to the uplink through it, and I could see the burnt and melting corpses of several Threes that had pushed right through. I thought there was more motion outside, though I had difficulty telling any details.

I moved left and right, trying any angle I could get to see through the fire, but found no targets. Nothing big enough to need HSRP either.

When I reached the walls, I touched my antennae to them, which helped me determine where the sniffing Antithesis were positioned, and how much they had to weigh based on the tremors from their movements. All small units, no Sixes, or Fives, or anything else bigger than a single Four.

I called Tynea. “I need bullets that can go through these walls and kill them. Don’t need guidance, I don’t think. Actually, could I even use any, with the wall blocking the Sentinel’s sight?”

Your cerebral augment would require an upgrade to interface directly with the projectiles. That would allow you to use your antennae to provide tracking data. Alternatively, you could buy a weapon that is capable of indirect fire based off of audio, which you could send via your augmentation.

The weapon would probably be a lot cheaper, but the upgrade is permanent.

Whatever. I didn’t need either, right now.

“I can hit them from here myself. They’re pretty close to the walls and not moving fast.”

Understood. I’ll supply you with a magazine of dumb-fire cartridges to penetrate the obstacles.







7.62x33mm 'Hole Punch’ Penetrator, Magazine of 30






Remaining Points


The design of these bullets is rather simple as far as our technology goes. The bullet is made of a special steel alloy and inserts itself into the wall, where it turns into a duct. A single dart—flechette—is passed through the duct and kills the target. Use the Sentinel for this ammunition; its railgun benefits from the duct and can accelerate the dart to lethal velocities even against model Three or Four armor. Touch the barrel directly to the wall.

I’d have to dismount it from the rifle, then. Or so I thought, but the blocky tower of moving plates and bulging ammo-stores slid forward on the rail and shifted its shape, until the sidearm’s barrel extended just beyond the rifle’s. Now the entire thing’s balance was way off, but my new alien-sponsored strength meant I just didn’t have to care.

“Okay, ready for the mag, Tynea,” I sent and held my hand out, palm up. A black magazine appeared just above it, and I held it against the Sentinel’s top and let it consume the projectiles.

With a mental command of “Penetrator!”, I switched over to the new ammunition type, and moved up to where I’d, literally, stitch the aliens some new holes.