Assault And Battery
What do I, what just—
Fuck fuck fuck.
A cheery little overlay pops up while Prophet’s blood and gray matter trickle down my faceplate: CN COMBAT SOLUTIONS. NANOSUIT 2.0. Suddenly I can’t move. I’m in the middle of some kind of war zone, my entire squad has been massacred by a flying saucer from Zeta fucking Reticuli (there: I said it), the one guy who might have been able to give me some answers now ends at the mandible, and my magical new dream suit has stuck me in place like an ant in amber. Something’s stomping around on the roof, acting in no way scared or cautious or the least bit worried about being discovered. Which only goes to emphasize how very much I should be feeling all those things.
On the plus side—if you can call it that—I’m not dead. And according to the medical diagnostics racing across my field of view, I should be. My back is broken in three places. My larynx is crushed. My femoral artery is torn. There’s more blood in my lungs than air. The list goes on. Nanosuit 2.0’s rattling off diagnostic and wet-repair capabilities like I’ve never seen outside a full-blown VA hospital—and while it’s got me rooted in place like a garden gnome, it’s also pumping me full of antibodies and autocatalytic fibrinogen and a dozen kinds of engineered osteoblasts to knit my bones back together. All things considered, immobilized in a custom-fitted body cast is not a bad place to be right now.
Just as long as I’m not immobilized when the bad guys come calling.
Eventually the biotelemetry slows to a drizzle. Scenery peeks out from behind the stats; the BUD gives up all the visual real estate except for a dusting of ice-green icons scattered around the edge of vision. Nanosuit 2.0 reports that it has INTEGRATED NEW DNA PROFILE, and unlocks.
I can move again.
And something up on the roof is just waiting for me to do that. Every now and then it stomps on the iron sheeting just in case I’ve forgotten, like the bogeyman who pushes just a little bit harder on that one squeaky stair outside your bedroom door. He wants you to know he’s out there.
I know, already. I step over what’s left of Prophet—roaches scuttle away from my shadow, the place is infested with them—and scoop up his pistol. BUD snaps a tactical silhouette around its edges, serves up an ID: M12 NOVA AUTO LIGHT PISTOL.
Empty. I fucking hate it when people use the car and return it without any gas.
Stomp. Clatter. More dust settles from the rafters.
“Welcome to the end of the world, marine.”
It’s just a chip voice buzzing in my ear, but I jump anyway. I run my eyes over tactical, looking for some kind of comm link. Each icon brightens in turn as I focus on it. Saccadal interface. Cool.
“Everything’s online,” the voice tells me. “The N2 is functioning within normal parameters.”
Not comm. Suit AI. A bit of fuzz in the upper registers. Damaged speaker, maybe.
It sounds like Prophet.
“There’s been some minor structural damage to the intercostals and the Ballard-stack couplings; estimated time to suit repair is twenty-six minutes. Estimated time to host repair is unavailable at this time.”
Scratch that; it sounds like something trying to sound like Prophet. You can recognize the impression, but it’s not gonna fool anyone.
I look around for another gun, a knife. A board with a nail in it. My surroundings sink in for the first time: some kind of dockside warehouse. I’m in an aisle formed by two rows of big green shipping containers, stacked to each side, unmarked except for the red cross decaled across the door of each. No weapons. The floor’s littered with spent casings, so there could be fresh ammo nearby at least. The aisle dead-ends against a wall about ten meters in front of me. There’s a little fire flickering down there, a pile of smashed wooden shipping flats that’s just about burned itself out. Filtered sunlight spills over the top of the cargo pods to my left. It looks like there’s a way out down at the other end of the aisle, a gap between the pods and a stack of big wire cages that look like giant mutant shopping carts stuffed with rags. There’s a bad transformer or breaker box down there, too, judging by the buzzing.
I start moving. The thing on the roof starts moving, too.
I think it’s tracking me. I think—
I think those aren’t rags.
I don’t think that’s a bad transformer.
There are feet sticking out of those cages. Arms. Some look almost normal, some are wormy with rootlets and tumors. Something glistens from the shadows in all that clothing; before I’m close enough to make it out I already know it’s looking at me. And it is. There’s a nice clean bullet hole in the forehead right above it. Flies crawl and buzz and do little joyous loop-the-loops around the windfall.
I look down at casings scattered around the floor like leaves in fucking autumn. Standard military issue.
Not one of these people is in uniform. At least two are wearing surgical scrubs.
I’m running so short of headspace to process all the nightmares—hostile aliens, savior suicide, the Thing On The Roof, and now a massacre of goddamn civilians?—that I almost don’t notice the bright new icon blinking upper-left. All that registers at first is a sense of minor irritation, some vague tugging at the back of my mind. I stand there like a moron for a good five seconds before I notice the damn thing flashing at the corner of my eye. But the moment I focus, it jumps front-and-center and starts talking:
“Find Gould. Nathan Gould. It’s all I can do now, you’re all I can do. I’m sorry, man. I’m so fucking sorry. It’s all on you now.”
Text crawls across my eyeball—