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A note from CoCop

Word Count: 117921

Once again, I might not get a chapter out tomorrow due to needing to write my Thursday Blessed Time chapter.

Sorry for the cliff :-x

Kat jerked her head back involuntarily as a pair of bullets clanged off of the armored door right next to her. A second later, the UAD sounded like it was in the middle of a metal hailstorm as automatic fire raked it.

“Whippoorwill!” Kat shouted frantically, the world swimming around her as the image of Elise getting shot replayed in her head. “I need the guns on this thing active a minute ago.”

“Christine,” the sobbed response was almost drowned out by another rattle of gunfire sparking off the rear of the UAD.

“Mourn later,” Kat glanced out an armored viewport in the side of the vehicle, spotting two samurai on the nearby second story roof, the muzzles of their rifles flashing, “shoot now.”

“But I can’t see anything Erinyes,” Whippoorwill’s voice was shaky. “Even if I trigger the guns, how will I hit anything?”

“Point them backwards, elevate them and just start shooting,” Kat yelled, knuckles turning white around her knife in frustration as another trio of shots skipped off of the UAD’s armor. “I don’t care if you miss everything, I just need their heads down!”

“Ok,” Whippoorwill muttered panicked uncertainty in her voice, “Ok K- Erinyes. I can do this. I can do this.”

The entire vehicle rang like a bell as a high power rifle, probably a fifty caliber, slammed into the armor. Kat jumped away from the wall, and wincing as the sound of the attack assaulted her ears.

“There,” Whippoorwill’s voice was drowned out by the sound of the UAD’s machine guns opening fire, shaking the vehicle. A second later, it rocked as its autocannons began punching massive holes in the concrete walls of the YMCA.

Kat opened the rear entrance to the armored vehicle once more. Tracers stitched random patterns across the nearby building and rooftops even while the impacts from the autocannon spat shrapnel everywhere. She could still make out a handful of samurai on the rooftops, but most of them were either lying prone or behind cover, content to let the UAD run out of ammunition rather than risk themselves.

More concerning, six men and women had exited the compound. Even as Kat watched, one of the women pointed at the three armored vehicles and motioned for the others to follow her.

Kat pulled out her pistol and fired three times in their general direction. By luck, one of her rounds skipped off of the asphalt right in front of the woman leading the samurai, and they scrambled for cover, drawing guns of their own as they dove behind the series of concrete half walls that protected the entrance to the compound.

“Smits,” Kat leaned around the door, firing another shot that hit vaguely near her target. “I’m going to need your help here.”

“Erinyes,” his voice came in a gasp, sucking for air in between words. “Elise she’s. They shot her, I mean I was watching when-”

“She didn’t get a chance to set off her charges,” Kat snapped off another two rounds, ducking back behind the heavy metal door as a submachine gun raked her cover. “I need you to go over there and finish rigging the auto cannon and machine guns.”

“I-” Smits stuttered.

Kat swore, as another five or six shots pinged against the heavy steel of the UAD. Clearly one of the rooftop guards had worked up the courage to brave the inaccurate counter fire long enough to rake her vehicle with bullets.

She popped out once more, puffs of snow popping up around a man that broke from cover, sprinting at superhuman speeds on chrome legs across the asphalt toward their parked vehicles. He swerved sideways, diving behind a forklift to avoid her return fire.

“Talk to me Smits,” Kat repeated herself angrily, wincing from the report of her handgun. Her earpiece provided partial noise canceling, but even with the sophisticated piece of technology, firing inside the echo chamber of an armored vehicle wasn’t recommended. She just hoped that Cure Wounds I could handle tinnitus.

“I can’t Erinyes,” Smits whimpered. “I’m trying, I swear to God I am-”

“Try HARDER Smits,” Kat growled, the slide on her pistol clicking open. She shifted back into her UAD, releasing the empty magazine to drop to the metal floor of the vehicle as she carefully slotted another into the weapon.

“My feet won’t move,” Smits was sobbing over the network. “Every time I think about stepping outside I see Elise and the breath just catches in my throat. It feels like there’s a car parked on my chest, and I-”

“Stop,” Kat fired twice. Her aim was improving, this time the shots were within arms reach of a Steel and Blood samurai. “Can you get to the door and cover me? I need you to keep their heads down or I’ll be dead as soon as I step outside.”

“I,” she heard the sound of shuffling. “I think so Erinyes. Yeah. I can-”

“FUCKING START SHOOTING THEN!” Kat screamed, summoning Shadow a couple of paces past the door and firing through it a handful of times before diving out of the UAD.

Distantly she heard the Smits shooting his handgun, but it was hard to concentrate on his performance with her heart pounding in her ears as shots began to crack and ricochet around her. At least one or two of the samurai on the roof had seen her, and decided to risk the inaccurate machine gun fire to take some pot shots at her.

She activated Cat Step, burning through her stamina as she shifted and juked around Smits’ vehicle, trying to ignore the sporadic shots flying in her direction. Puffs of snow and asphalt blossomed around her even as Kat’s world narrowed, swerving past the front of the middle vehicle en route to her target.

Then she was at the final UAD. Kat clenched her jaw, before throwing herself on her back. Her momentum and the dirty slush of the carport slid her in between the looming vehicle’s treads.

For a couple of seconds, shots continued to plink off of the metal behemoth above her, but then they cut out to save ammunition. Kat sat still for a second, catching her breath in the dark under the vehicle.

Groaning against the pain in her side, Kat pulled herself toward her right, forced to keep her back on the ground as the low clearance of the vehicle prevented her from rolling over. Almost immediately, the cold began seeping from the asphalt through her insulated suit.

Belatedly, Kat realized that the carport was relatively silent other than the sporadic defensive gunfight between Smits and the advancing samurai.

A quick tap to her earpiece changed the broadcast channel.

“Why aren’t we shooting Whippoorwill?” Kat asked, frustration in her voice as she warmed the high explosive putty in her hands to make it soft enough to work.

“It keeps saying ‘ammunition empty, manual reload required’ on the machine guns,” her partner responded frantically. “We still have missiles and another thirty two rounds for the autocannon but you need to reload the internal ammo drums on the machine guns.”

“That isn’t happening,” Kat grunted as she began placing dollops of the high explosive along with a primer on each of the metal wheels that powered the tread. “I’m not in the UAD. Right now I am under fire and trying to complete the sabotage of Elise’s vehicle. I need a distraction Whip, think of something.”

“Maybe if I fired the missiles?” The girl asked uncertainly. “If I managed to hit something, I’m sure it would be a distraction.”

“Sounds good,” Kat responded, pressing down on the six blobs of explosive to make sure they were properly seated on the tread. “Just make sure the turret is aimed more than degrees to your RIGHT. It’s hard to miss the building, but we don’t want you shooting Smits.”

“I-” Kat heard the hacker gulp as she began sliding her body out from underneath the UAD, “I think I can do this.”

“Fire in five,” Kat replied, gripping the bottom front of the vehicle’s armor with both hands even as she cast Levitation on it. She took a deep breath. Smits wasn’t firing anymore, either out of ammunition, pinned or shot. Kat tried not to think about it.

“Launching,” Kat barely registered Whippoorwill’s words.

A second later the world shook and Kat slid herself along the slush, her ribs twinging from where she’d taken the elbow as she skidded along the ground away from the UAD. Before anyone could register that she was in the open again, she pressed down on the walnut sized detonator that had come with the explosive.

A wave of pressure battered into Kat, pushing her along the ground even as a wall of heat and noise slammed into her. The entirety of the UAD’s right tread erupted, flipping the magically lightened vehicle up and onto its left side.

It was the best she was going to be able to do. The armored vehicle’s weapons were still active. She hadn’t gotten a chance to retrieve Elise’s detonator, but with one tread ruined and the UAD impossible to access without specialized help, it was out of the immediate fight.

Kat struggled to her feet and ran toward Smit’s UAD even as the snub nosed turret on the vehicle controlled by Whippoorwill rotated slightly. A gout of flame launched from the front and the back of one of the boxes on the side of the gun mount, and Kat was almost knocked off her feet as the second story of the compound erupted into another fireball, the missile blowing a almost person sized hole in the aging cement.

She activated Cat Step, struggling to catch her breath as she blazed by the side of Smit’s vehicle and slammed the door open.

Without thinking, Kat slapped aside the frightened man’s handgun, sending it flying across the cab of the UAD even as she grabbed his wrist. He looked up at her, faceless under his white mask even as his chest heaved almost uncontrollably.

“Smits,” Kat took him by the shoulders and shook him, “it’s me. You need to calm down.”

A burst of gunfire on the outside of their UAD seemed to shake some sense into the jumpy infiltrator.

“Oh God,” he mumbled. “Erinyes. I thought you were one of the Steel and Blood samurai. There were enough of them surrounding me that I couldn’t even open the door enough to start shooting. I thought they were just outside.”

“Slow down,” Kat replied, picking up his pistol but not handing it back to Smits while he was hyperventilating. He was a better shot than her, but Kat had lost her gun in the explosion that overturned the final UAD. Something told her that it would be more useful in her hands, at least until Smits managed to grab a hold of himself.

The floor bucked under them once again as the other UAD fired its third missile. Kat pursed her lips. One left.

“Smits,” she put a man on the shaking man’s shoulder. “I need you to get into touch with your support and see if he can put us in control of the UAD. The mission’s done. We need to get the hell out of here.”

“Can’t,” he mumbled, shuddering like a leaf in a hurricane.

“What the fuck do you mean by that,” Kat closed her eyes, clenching her teeth as she tried to clam herself. “We will die if we don’t get out of here. Hiding forever is not an option.”

“No,” Smits responded bleakly. “Marcus didn’t want to risk a power surge from the counter intrusion software. He just opened the door and triggered an endless loop of diagnostic checks. The UAD is locked down. It’ll take hours to get it running again.”

Kat just stared at him, her mouth hanging slightly open. An explosion from outside knocked her into a wall as Whippoorwill fired the final anti-armor rocket from the external racks. They needed to get back to her initial UAD if they wanted to have any hope to escape the brutal firefight, but it seemed like half of the Steel and Blood samurai in the compound were targeting it.

“Erinyes,” Xander’s welcome voice filled her ears. “As much as Tiamat appreciates your little distraction, you need to get out of there. Steel and Blood are repositioning heavy ordinance in your direction. Those missiles got their attention, but if you don’t get out of there soon you will be overwhelmed.”

“I don’t know if that’ll be possible Exe,” Kat closed her eyes. “Smits and I are unharmed but holed up in a disabled UAD. We’re under heavy fire right now. I don’t think we’ll be able to make it out of here without getting tagged by someone on a rooftop.”

“Fuck,” Xander spat the word out. “Look, the Hoffman Estates Band has broken through their outer defenses and Tiamat is right behind them. You’re going to need to leave on foot and hole up somewhere until the cavalry can arrive. I’ll see if I can create enough of a distraction to get the two of you out of there.”

Kat exhaled. Opening her eyes.

“Smits,” her words grabbed the trembling man’s attention. “Exe is going to create a distraction. We’re going to need to run for it.”

“I can’t,” he grabbed her arm, begging. “As soon as that door opens I’m going to lock up. There has to be another way.”

Kat just shook her head. She empathized with Smits, but he was in over his head. She wasn’t enthused with the plan, but sometimes the quickest way past a fire was to jump through it.

“There isn’t,” she stepped away from him, checking his pistol in her hand to make sure that it was ready to fire. “Exe says they’re bringing heavy weapons. Unless you can make this tin can move, we’re going to die if we stay here.

“But these are tanks,” Smits pled, his grip on her arm tightening in desperation. “Even if they have heavy weapons-”

“These are armored vehicles,” Kat cut him off, sliding his hand off of her arm. “They’ll handle most infantry portable weapons, but anti tank equipment will tear them apart pretty quickly.”

“Quit whining and get ready you two,” Xander’s voice interrupted, scratchy from static and distance. “I’m almost there but they’ve broken out the big guns, you need to-”

He was cut off by an explosion. Kat’s eyes flickered to the UAD’s armored viewport. A spray of pyrotechnics erupted from the vehicle Whippoorwill was controlling a second before another blast rocked the carport.

“ERINYES,” Kat winced as Whippoorwill’s voice shrieked in her ear. “What’s happening? Both of the active countermeasure strips on the left side are down and it looks like there’s some damage to the hydraulic system.”

Pressing her face to the armored viewport, Kat felt her mouth settling into a grim line. About fifty paces apart on the second story, two samurai stood with recoilless rifles, one loading a round into their weapon while the other settled theirs over a shoulder and lined it up on Whippoorwill’s vehicle. Behind them stood two smaller figures, each carrying a backpack full of the shells used by the heavy weapons.

“Disconnect Whip,” Kat’s voice felt distant even as she said it. “The UAD is a lost cause and I don’t want you getting hit by any feedback.”

A second later a flash of light from the rooftop heralded the warhead streaking into the motionless vehicle. Kat squinted her eyes against the explosion as the armored vehicle rocked heavily from the blast. When it settled, there was a soccer ball sized hole in its armor. More than enough for the superheated gasses of the shot to flash fry anyone unlucky enough to be inside.

Kat opened her mouth to swear, only for her earpiece to crackle, cutting her off.

“This is your distraction,” Xander puffed for breath, “if you make it, meet me in the secure mainframe. If you don’t-”

“I’ll get a nice card for your families,” Kat could almost see the bitter smile on his face.

Compulsion,” Xander’s voice carried a weight she wasn’t used to hearing. On the rooftop, a nimbus of violet appeared around the samurai with the loaded recoilless rifle. Almost in slow motion, the figure put the weapon to their shoulder and aimed it at the ground between them and the other samurai.

“Follow me or die, your choice” Kat hissed, slapping the pistol into Smits hand.

The world rumbled once again, but Kat was already moving, slamming the metal door aside and sprinting out of the UAD. The one good thing about Steel and Blood bringing in their heavy weapons was that the ground teams trying to root them out had backed off.

A couple guns fired in their general direction, but most eyes were focused on the growing mushroom cloud on the nearby rooftop.

Kat jolted toward the overturned armored vehicle. Activating Cat Step to minimize the time she spent out in the open. She didn’t even look behind her. Either Smits was following her or he wasn’t. At this point there was nothing she could do. Kat wasn’t sure about her ability to save herself, let alone the panicky infiltrator.

She rounded the corner of the smoking metal vehicle only to almost run into two Steel and Blood Samurai. Both of their eyes widened in surprise as Kat frantically began to focus her mana, even as she ripped a throwing knife from her bandoleer.

One was a big man, hunched over and holding a submachine gun with a folding stock. The other was a thin woman holding a pistol, a cranial jack clearly visible in the back of her neck.

Maybe it was her increased reactions stat from The Tower of Somnus, maybe it was that the two samurai thought that the heavy weapons team had neutralized, but either way her spell activated, striking both of them before they could bring their weapons to bear.

The woman clutched her head, falling to her knees as the spell robbed her of the moisture in her system. The man was made of sterner stuff, squinting in pain as he brought his gun to his shoulder only for Kat’s throwing knife to take him in the head, glancing off of his skull but opening a huge cut that poured blood into his eyes.

Kat’s feet crossed over as she juked to the side just as he blindly fired the weapon, spraying bullets into the air. A second later her foot struck his hand, a clean side kick that broke his fingers against the side of his gun.

She whipped a second throwing knife into his leg, frowning as it sparked off of subdermal armor, only scratching the big man’s skin. Silently she poured mana into Pseudopod, reaching out with the water tentacle for where he’d dropped his weapon.

The man stood up, trying to wipe the blood pouring into his eyes away with his injured right hand as he turned his left hand palm up and tried to point it in her general direction.

Kat’s eyes widened and she threw herself at the snow, tucking into a roll just as his palm exploded, the thin layer of fake skin shredded by the short barreled shotgun he’d hidden in the cyber limb.

She grimaced as the pellets creased her back, coming out of the roll bleeding but with the injured samurai’s submachine gun in her arms. It fit neatly into her shoulder as Kat pulled the trigger firing a half dozen bullets.

Only two hit as the gun’s kick pulled her aim high, but those two shots were in the samurai’s cheek and head, killing him instantly.

Kat turned to the injured woman only to see Smits shoot her, arms trembling slightly as he lowered his pistol from the classic shooter’s grip. Double handed and shoulders squared at his target. Hardly useful in any normal firefight, but effective enough under the circumstances.

She dropped the gun she was holding, its slide locked open. The male samurai probably had more ammunition, but she didn’t have the time to search his body.

Reaching down, Kat picked up the woman’s handgun, a compact nine millimeter that was better than nothing. Standing back up, she winced at the pain in her back.

Touching her injury, Kat’s white gloved hand came away crimson.

“Erinyes,” she could see the gun shaking in Smits' hand as he babbled. “You’re hurt. We need to find some place to-”

“Secure mainframe,” she grunted, trying to ignore the pain and warm wetness as she sprinted toward the fire exit she’d spotted in the compound on her run to sabotage the UAD.

Behind her, Kat heard the sound of poorly tuned engines and gunfire. She slammed her shoulder into the door, eyes returning to the battlefield for a fraction of a second as she turned the knob.

The compound was smoking from multiple holes. At least one fire rampaged unchecked in the upper level where the two samurai with recoilless rifles had been.

On the ground eight trucks formed a semi circle around the UADs. Each one had at least two people in the back, firing at the dodging shapes of samurai. Just behind them were two heavy vans, covered in metal plates with machine guns chattering wildly as grinning men swept the lines of tracer fire across the cover that the Steel and Blood samurai had frantically thrown themselves behind.

Even further behind the advanced force, dozens of trucks, ChromeDog Samurai hanging from the sides, rumbled toward the compound.

None of the defenders were in position. Their defenses had been so focused on bringing the three UADs in line that Steel and Blood hadn’t even noticed when their sentries went dark one by one.

Now, with their guards away from fixed emplacements, Steel and Blood was at an extreme disadvantage. Samurai fell, riddled with bullets unable to get back to their cover, machine guns, and mortars.

It was a slaughter Kat realized grimly. One that Elise had bought with her life.

She slipped inside the compound, knife in her right hand and pistol at her side. Behind her Smits held his gun nervously as they moved cautiously through the hallways en route to where their briefing had identified the mainframe.

Their wariness was unneeded. The attack had taken the compound by surprise, and every person capable of holding a weapon was out trying to hold off the incursion. Whatever internal security the building might have had, they had long since abandoned their posts.

Finally, the two of them reached the secure mainframe. Xander sat on a rickety wooden chair, eyes glazed, the cord from the back of his head plugged into the man sized secure computer.

“Watch the door Smits,” Kat grunted. Her entire back was red, slick with her blood. She cast Cure Wounds I, the strange incantations seeming to wake Xander from his data induced stupor.

“It’s good to see you Erinyes,” he smiled tiredly, his eyes still dull. Even as Kat healed herself she noticed a deep slash in Xander’s forearm.

“It’s good to see you too Exe,” she replied, cutting off her spell and moving closer to him to heal his arm. Her back still hurt, but it was no longer actively bleeding. It could wait. “Find anything interesting in their records?”

“Yes,” Xander frowned slightly, his eyes still unfocused. “They’re incredibly detailed. Invoices, ledgers, records of movements. Every day to day action of every Steel and Blood member is recorded. It goes back years. This is easily five times the level of information we’ll need to prove that they were the triggermen behind Haupt’s killing, it’s just that-”

The lights in the room flickered, and a smartglass lowered itself from the wall across from the mainframe. The screen was already on, displaying a woman in her early fifties wearing severe business attire at a dinner table. In front of her sat an untouched plate covered in meatballs. Two men stood behind her, fear in their eyes and their backs ramrod straight as they pressed themselves against the wall.

“Oh dear,” she smiled without any real warmth. “It seems my Anna has been acting up again. It really is a shame that she decided to commit such unforgivable crimes. Even with my influence I won’t be able to shelter her from the fallout.”

“Of course,” the woman continued in a conspiratorial tone. “It’s not like I would have been able to protect myself if I had gotten caught engaging in the same dastardly acts.”

“Hello Xander,” she nodded at him before turning to Kat, her eyes sending a chill down Kat’s spine through the screen. “Hello Katherine. It’s good to meet both of you at last.”

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About the author

CoCop

  • United States
  • Founding Member of the Zard Skwad

Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night

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