1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Winners SashaMerideth & darthjim Short Story Contest 81: Out Of My League

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Dec 20, 2010.

    SashaMerideth - What dreams may come

    Rosy looked around, she was in her charging station, the conclusions were that she must have been placed there by her roommate, Sarah. Rosy’s internal reserves sat at fifteen percent, not quite enough to move, but enough to maintain core functions.

    “No, stay put Rosy. Thank you for staying with me last night. You need to get charged up for today. Can’t have you shutting down while on duty.” Sarah said. She then smiled at Rosy, and went back to reading.

    “What are you reading?” Rosy asked, her voice was slow and a bit slurred. The fine motors that made her speak using the same mechanisms as a human took more control than her central power core could afford.

    “It’s just a map of the local region. We’re going to need to come out of five dimensional space soon, we just don’t have enough data. We’ll have to map the region the old fashioned way, and I just have this feeling that there’s a bit of curled up space somewhere nearby that can get us past the next thirty or so light years of space. I just need to find it.”

    Thirty percent. Rosy now had full motor control. “Sarah, it is going to be another few hours before I am fully charged, and I won’t actually be needed until tomorrow. Is there any form you would like me to take?”

    “No Rosy. I think you look fine. We’ve yet to deal with yesterday’s... unpleasantries. Just stay as you are, and make sure to top up those batteries of yours.” Sarah smiled at the automaton, and made her way to the bridge.

    While on route, she bumped into one of the other few crewmwmbers. “Lieutenant Handon.” She said politely. He just scowled at her, and stormed off. When she was fifteen feet from the bridge, the floor began to shake. Mildly at first, but by the time she was on the bridge the vibrations were far stronger than normal when exiting five dimensional space. The Captain was shouting for order, and Sarah ran to her navigational console and sat down.

    “Ensign Norba, I hope you are as good in normal space as you...” The Captain was interrupted by a heavy jolt as the ship entered three dimensional space. Sarah reacted quickly, and banked the ship, putting the sublight engines on full burn, and swung in a spiral. The engine exhaust passed within ten meters of another ship, scorching its hull and blistering the crude paintwork.

    As she turned the ship to bring it to a halt, the captain shouted, “Ensign! Get us out of here as fast as you can. We’re in no state to dance.”

    With a quick nod, Sasha pushed the engines over their rated capacity, and passed directly over the burnt ship in front of them. In a few seconds, they had reached fifty percent of light speed, and were barreling away from the ship.

    Eighty percent, it would have to do. Rosy bolted out of her charging station and on to the bridge. She pushed her actuators beyond recommended operating parameters, one was complaining of an imminent failure, but Rosy reached the bridge three times faster than any human could. She took to her station and looked down the viewer interface then said “The ship is closing at ten percent of light speed. It will intercept us in approximately seventy three seconds if we do not enter extra-dimensional space.”

    “I can feel it ahead. Prepping for entry in ten seconds... five seconds.. Two. One.” The ship shuddered and was traveling through a spiral course,jolting everyone around roughly. Three seconds later, the ship abruptly entered normal space, spinning quickly on all three axis, Sasha was thrown from her chair, and into Rosy. She felt Rosy’s strong arms grab her, and hold her tight, too tight. A rib snapped, and Sasha screamed in pain.

    “Get this damn ship under control!” The Captain shouted, struggling to stay in his own chair. The ship’s autonavigation system kicked in, and brought the spinning to manageable levels. Rosy laid Sarah down on the deck, and took her station, while Lieutenant Handon arrived to see to Sarah’s injury.

    “Do I have to do everything myself?” The Captain shouted, and took a seat at Navigation. “Where the hell are we? Ensign, where has this wormhole taken us?”

    Sarah didn’t have time to answer. They were joined by the second ship, greeting them with a barrage of explosive tipped projectiles and a well placed missile that shut down the main drive.

    The Captain hit a button on the navigation console and said, “This is Captain...”

    “Shut up!” A loud, gravely voice boomed. “I am Captain Kral of the Pirate Allegiance. Your ship is mine now. If ya get any bright ideas, yer dead! Filthy Earthers.” The intercom was filled with static for a moment before the Captain shut off the communication link.

    “What is our status?” The Captain said.

    Rosy checked with the computer and responded, “Sublight engines are dead, but reparable. Multi-dimensional engines at eighty percent power and charging. No damage to the exterior. The Pirate ship is armed primarily with missiles and explosive tipped projectile weapons. Missiles are capable of breaching our hull, projectiles are harmless. Commencing tactical analysis of the Pirate Ship. This will take approximately three hundred twelve seconds.”

    “Five minutes... Handon, how is she?” The Captain asked.

    “She’ll live” Handon replied, and left Sarah to stand on her own. “Her rib isn’t completely broken, and she’s on painkillers and stims.”

    “I can keep going Sir.” Sarah said to the Captain. She gently took her position back from the Captain, and checked over her readings. After a moment she said, “Captain, I know where we are. We’re about two light years closer to Earth. If we keep drifting at this pace for ten minutes, we will be on top a weak spot that we can crack open and squeeze through. We’ll have to...”

    The ship jolted and the ship’s airlock alarm went off. “They’re boarding us. I doubt they will let us live.” The Captain said. Rosy typed something into her computer terminal and ran from the bridge. She secured the bridge door before anyone could even ask where she was going.

    “What the hell?” The Captain said as Sarah went to the Science Station.

    “Captain, she finished her tactical analysis. That pirate ship can take everything our defense systems can throw at it, except for a few places. It looks like there are parts of other ships welded on, and not all of these will withstand our fire. She’s programmed some maneuvers, and I can execute them if we can get loose of them. Main engines are offline, but I still have maneuvering thrusters. Do we do it?”

    “Yes, if we ever get the chance. Where did Rosy go? Did she say?”

    “Yes, there’s a message, and a countdown... Sir, the countdown is to execute these maneuvers... We’ve got three minutes.”

    “Where is that robot?” The Captain demanded.

    At the airlock, four pirates had just stepped onto the ship, armed with crude projectile weapons and cutlasses. Rosy stopped ten meters from the group as one more man exited the airlock.

    “Well hey there girlie..er..” this man said. He lifted his black eye patch to reveal a poorly fitted cybernetic eye. The flesh around it was putrid and infected, and the cybernetic eye stuttered until the pirate struck it. “Ow! Now you robot. Are ye going ta surrender this here ship to us or are ye gonna die?”

    “No.” Rosy responded.

    “No aint an answer. You two up front. I want this robots eyes, get em fer me.”

    Seventy percent. The two men put their guns away and charged with their cutlasses drawn. The first overshot Rosie, and was thrown back through twelve meters at the Captain. With a quick movement, he ducked his pirate minion, and stood to watch the second attack.

    The second man swung once, Rosy raised her arm defensively and the cutlass sliced into her naturaskin, and stopped at her skeleton. With her other arm, she grabbed his sword arm and crushed the bones with a quick squeeze. With a twist of the arm, she spun the pirate around, grabbed the back of his neck with her free hand, and snapped his neck. He slumped to the ground, dead.

    Sixty percent. Rosy was not designed for combat, and she had not expected five pirates. The pirate with the cybernetic eye said, “As Captain of this ship, I am offering you a place on my crew. You will make a fine replacement for these two incompetents.”

    Rosy said, “Sorry boys, you’re out of my league. She advanced on the airlock, and the pirate captain sent his other two men to her. The first had his windpipe crushed by a sharp blow, he would die in a short time drowning on his own blood. The second was more of a challenge. He moved quickly, and got behind Rosy. She was knocked down by a powerful blow that buckled her metal spine. This pirate laughed, and landed another blow that dented Rosy’s skull.

    “Your ship will perish, weak robot. You should have seen the battle robot that I got these arms off of. it was...”

    He collapsed to the ground as Rosy pulled one of his ankles up, then broke his leg. His screams were muffled as she took his cutlass and shoved it into his mouth, separating most of his head from the rest of his body.

    Forty five percent. “If this were an all human crew, you would have stood a chance.” Rosy said as she bore down on the pirate captain. He grabbed her arm, but couldn’t unbalance her. She could feel her metallic skeleton bending under his cybernetically enhanced strength. She pushed forward hard, he had one human leg, but the other would not budge. He started leaning back, as she pushed harder.

    Thirty percent. Rosy was losing her fine motor functions and several actuators had failed. Her android frame had never been so badly punished but if she could just get this captain to the other side of the airlock...

    Twenty percent. He was laughing at her now. “Yer a feisty android. Stronger than I thought you would be. Ya won’t be worth scrap when I am done with yer.“ The captain picked up Rosy and threw her against the wall, and she collapsed.

    Fifteen percent. Her environment sensors were giving out. The captain took a step forward, but it was with his cybernetic leg. Rosy charged, and the pirate captain was bowled over backwards. Rosy started to crawl back towards her side of the ship, just as her feet were on her ship, the pirate captain grabbed her and shouted, “Yer mine now wench!”

    On the bridge, the countdown timer hit zero, and the airlock slammed shut. The pirate ship was not set a signal notifying it of the emergency procedure. Docking clamps exploded, pushing the two ships apart, the pirate ship vented atmosphere for five seconds before its airlock shut, but my then the pirate captain was floating in the vacuum between the two ships.

    Sarah, executed the maneuvers exactly as Rosy had programmed. The pirate ship began venting where he defensive cutting lasers struck, and the force of the air escaping soon tore the pirate ship to pieces.

    “Well done Ensign” the Captain praised Sarah. Can you get us out of here in case any of their friends show up?”

    “In two minutes, we will automatically enter five dimensional space... I need to find Rosy.” She ran from the bridge as her Captain began to protest. She was at the airlock moments later, among the dead pirates, she found Rosy, powered down and hanging upside down from the center of the airlock. The airlock had sheared off her legs, just above the kneecaps. Hydraulic fluid oozed out around the crushed section, and ran down the airlock doors. The Captain caught up to Sarah as she broke down and started crying, collapsed on the floor.

    The Captain looked over the scene, and decided it would be prudent to come back later and to help someone else dislodge Rosy from the airlock. He had read Rosy’s message to Sarah, even though he knew it was a private communication. Sarah needed time to be with Rosy, no matter what.
     
  2. Gannon
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    darthjim - LOWER

    Street rats. Vermin that live off the pain of others. They swarm like a locust plague through the city; the police are swamped, the authorities too disinterested to care. Why spend time and resources on those that can't afford to grease the wheels of the system? Let them fight it out in their squalor and desperation; as long as it's contained below the Open Sectors, it's not their problem. It doesn't exist.

    They make me want to vomit.

    It's cold down here, the Dark Sectors plunging away to a cavernous depth all around, sunlight unable to penetrate in even the smallest measure. No morning, no sunrise, just an unending blanket of darkness, punctuated daily by the thumping rain of the sprinklers as the Uppers graciously douse the fetid mess that lurks below them.

    No amount of water could wash away the despair and injustice we wallow in. Sirens blare constantly, screams and shouts punctuate the inky blackness, all too often cut abruptly short. All pervavsive is the staccato rhythm of a million machines, whirring and clanking away for the betterment of the Uppers. The main walkways are bathed in the pallid light of a thousand blinking and broken neon signs, people scurrying with their heads down, avoiding eye contact and always, always, staying in the light. It's the first lesson you learn here, and one you usually only get one chance to remember.

    Pools of lights from passing aircars and speeders–ancient, worn and belching smoke–briefly illuminate alleyways and crevices in the buildings. Malformed shapes and dark figures swiftly duck back into the darkness, their world momentarily exposed by the hated light.

    I stand here in the shadows. Still. Barely breathing. Watching. Listening. Waiting. I'm not bothered by the dark shapes that hustle past in the cloying murk. I doubt they even know I'm there.

    The rain begins again. Barely a trickle at first, then suddenly a rushing downpour that fills the air with thunderous reverberation as it bounces of walls and windows. Even the thumps rumbles of the factories and mines in the industrial sector are masked. The roaring of the nightly monsoon fills my senses, briefly providing a respite from the cold and wretched air. Something else for the sense to focus on.

    They come through the rain, thudding dully along the walkway, the booming rain masking the whine of their motors and pouring in rivulets from their gigantic limbs. Their crimson steel hides glisten slickly in the wetness. Searching with beams and sensors, looking for an excuse. Guardians. Metallic enforcers and executioners. Heaven forbid the Uppers should have to risk their own necks keeping the law down here. Hell, who would want to? No one that wants to outlive the week, that’s for damn certain.

    I finger the safety on the grapple-gun and silently take the cylinder from the pouch on my belt, sliding its switch from green to red. They're close now, nearly close enough. Just a few seconds more, too soon and they'll cut me in half. Heart pounding, not daring to breathe. Grip tightening. Thump. A little closer. Thump. Thump.

    I leap out, roll in flooded street and fire the grapple-gun, hooking the shoulder of the steel-monster nearest to me. The motor in the gun whines in complaint as it hauls me swiftly through the air onto the thing's shoulder. A split second later cannon fire turns the spot were I was standing into a glowing crater. I've got to move swiftly. I take the vibra-blade from my belt and hammer it home, right between the beast's shoulder blades. It bucks and twists clumsily, hands uselessly grasping for me, just out of reach. It's booming mechanical voice orders me to stop. Tells me I'm under arrest. Contravening some damned law or other. Funny, I’m planning to contravene a few more before the night’s out. One hand gripping the steel plates on its back, I use the blade to prise them slightly apart and wedge the cylinder into the gap.

    By now the monster's companion has lumbered around within reach of me. Clanking and clumsy, it brings its massive hand down into my side. Feels like I've been hit by a train. I drop to the floor, ducking and rolling, gulping to catch the breath that's been knocked from me. No time for this. No time for breathing. Get it done or die, you idiot.

    I fire the grapple again, hauling myself onto the second beast's lower back, stabbing and hacking at it's primary cortex shielding. It's getting hard to hold on. Hands bleeding, cut by the rusting, sharp-edged skin of these steel behemoths. Wrenching back the broken shielding, the cluster of wires are exposed. One quick stabbing slash and the giant collapses to its knees, the walkway shuddering and groaning in protest. I grab another cylinder from my belt, flick the switch to red, ram it home and run.

    They might be wounded, but they're still deadly. High-powered canons hack the walkway to pieces around me as I weave and dodge. A shop doorway - it's enough. I throw myself in. All I need is a second of shelter. Pulling the transmitter from my coat, I hammer the trigger. Instantly, the beasts erupt from within, the plasma cylinders pouring a ghoulish green fire through their every joint. Bolts of electricity firing out wildly momentarily bring a cold, harsh daylight to this dungeon world. A secondary explosion rips through one of them, tearing it in half and flinging its tortured remains high into the dark. It falls, streaming flame, to the depths. The walkway finally collapses and drops what remains of the beasts into the darkness below. The crashes echo from the towers all around as burning debris drifts down around me, like fireflies dancing in the darkness.

    I gasp for air, lungs burning, hands on my knees. Adrenaline and stubbornness the only things keeping me upright. The whole episode lasted less than twenty seconds, but I know I need to get away as quickly as possible. Already, the sirens sound closer. The Guardians are a clumsy yet powerful symbol of the Uppers' might and rule, but there are far more effective, far more dangerous agents of the Uppers out there, in the dark. And they'll all be headed my way now.

    Quickly, I break into a headlong run, hurling myself across the void the walkway once spanned, landing messily and painfully on the other side, the flaming wreckage of the beasts all around me. With any luck, what I'm after will still be here. I scour the wreckage. There it is, glowing cobalt blue in the wreckage - a power core. The practically indestructible and unending power supply of a Guardian. It's tiny, little bigger than my fist, but worth a thousand times its weight in gold.

    For a moment, her voice rings through my head, clear as if she’s standing next to me. “You always did bite off more than you could chew”.

    Yeah. Always did. Probably have now, but what else could I do? Stand by the sides and watch? Complain and do nothing? See another family broken, someone else cradling the lifeless shell of someone they loved? I’d rather die.

    Shouldering aside a piece of twisted metal, I wrench the power core free, careful to hold it by its inlet valve and thrust it into the shielded pocket in the lining of my coat. Touching the actual core would paralyse my arm for a week. I learnt that little nugget the hard way.

    All at once, the adrenaline ebbs away and the pain hits me in great rolling waves. Blood is pouring from my hands, hot streaks of agony race through my back, side and legs as I pull my coat tight about me and limp away into a nearby alley. The rain hammers down still, masking my escape as I slip into the shadows. Merging, disappearing. Just another Lower.

    ------------------------

    Damned alarm. It's still dark. It's always dark. The memory of the previous night comes back like a sledgehammer to my joints. Back complaining like a rusty hinge, I drag myself out of bed. I can't do that again. Frontal attack on two Guardians? What the hell was I thinking? Stupid. Stupid and lucky. Very lucky. Head's ringing like a damn bell. She was right. Some fights are beyond you. You need to know your limits.

    What have we learnt today? That we're human after all. But I can’t let a small detail like that stop me. Things have gotta change. Don’t see anyone else doing anything about it. Just a lot of moaning and bellyaching from folk that don’t want to risk anything themselves. Well, like I said, things have gotta change.

    Pain lances through my side as I stretch. Feels like a couple of broken ribs. I better take it easy for a day or two. I'll be no use to anyone dead.

    They'll be searching for me already, of that I've no doubt. Up until now I've been able to get what I need from the streets - you can acquire almost anything, even in the Dark Sectors, if you know where to look. And if you've enough money. Or are prepared to fight for it.

    Last night... Well, that was more of a test than anything else, to see if I could get what I needed and stick one in the Uppers’ eye while I was at it. I didn't know if it was even possible. I'm still alive, if a little sore, so I guess it was. I'm gonna have to get smarter though.

    The coffee's hot and strong, that's about all I can say about it. We don't get anything decent in the Dark Sectors, just the rubbish that the Uppers won't pollute themselves with. I inspect the bandages on my hands. I did a better job than I thought. Cuts weren't so bad. Bled like swines, but they weren't too deep. Nothing some Bio-glue couldn't fix.

    Food. When did I last eat? Hell, I can't remember. Belly thinks my throat's been cut. Not sure I've even got anything in. I slump down at the table just as the door explodes inwards and the air fills with the sound of gunfire.

    Agents. How the hell did they find me? Tracers. The cores must have tracers. Idiot. Stupid mistake to make. Ruined everything. Try to get up, but my legs don’t seem to want to work. That’s when I notice the blood spilling from my chest. Strange. There’s no pain.

    I hear her voice again. I laugh, coughing blood as I echo her sentiments. “Yeah, I always did bite off too much...”

    A single shot echoes out. I never did hear her again.
     

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