Blindsiding
rating: +6+x

Boom.

The guard's head explodes in a fine mist of blood and bone, a smoking cyber-spine augment all that's left as he collapses to the ground, hands still clutching the heavy repeater blaster he never got the chance to use.

That's your cue.

You race towards the headless corpse, thinking about how lucky you are that it's not a face scan this task demands. Your blade works swiftly, cleanly removing the skin from his right thumb, retrieving it faster than blood can get to it. Gingerly, you place the skin upon your own finger, then press it against the door’s security scanner. It pings positively, recognizing a pulse beneath the fingerprint, and the meter-thick barrier recedes into the ground.

From afar, H-41 nods affirmatively, their eyes drifting from you to the cadaver. The message is clear: they'll watch out for and blow up as many guards' heads as needed, but once through that doorway, you're on your own until you get out. No comms either: if even one of you tries using the network this close to a corporate vault, the whole mission's a bust. A morbid thumbs up with the guard's thumb skin still glued to your own, and it's back to work.

Inside the facility there is only a long hall, its sole contents silence and faint, greenish light. No guards in sight; seems like Gibborim Bio-Innovations' head honchos think too highly of themselves to invest in decent security. After all, who'd dare to rob them here, in Blue Central, their seat of power? Corporations like these, like Anderson Robotics, like Prometheus Consolidated, think themselves to be beyond the reach of the likes of you; if only they knew that even here, in the beast's den, there are those who'd dare steal fire from the gods.

A smile forms behind your faceplate as you locate your destination, the room at the end of the hall. You'll still have to check for any booby-traps, but this job keeps getting easier and easier.

There it is, no door to keep intruders outside. Only a meek forcefield, not strong enough to keep anything bigger than a mouse from crossing it, stands between you and your prize. Gibborim really did underestimate New Gomorrah's criminal element. Their mistake, your gain.

It takes you only three seconds to realize the mistake is yours. The field is not meant to keep you outside, but to keep them within.

The chamber holding your target is crawling with bugs: small, big, chitinous, slimy, moving about each other, squirming as they wait for prey, as they wait for you. There are so many of them that the floor and walls look alive, a chittering, breathing shroud of legs and wings and probiscis. It hits you now that this is the reason there was but one guard: why hire more men when your company engineers its own tiny instruments of death?

These are no regular crawlies: Gibborim's creations are the stuff of nightmares on some worlds, where sun-blotting clouds of bugs just like these have razed a thousand crops in a matter of minutes, where whole armies have been swallowed by the swarm, leaving behind nothing but bones and dust. Gibborim crafted the perfect weapon to lay waste to entire planets, and you're about to enter a room full of it.

Your bodysuit is military-grade hardware, fit to shield you from even high-caliber abrasion from a moderate distance; tonight, it'll mean the difference between success and an agonizing death at the pincers and mandibles of the war-bugs. How long will it hold? Better be quick enough not to find out.

You take one last breath through your mask's filters, hoping the faceplate's enough to keep the crawlies from creeping up your nose. Then you step into the gateway, and death rains down on you.

The bugs' reaction is immediate: no sooner have you crossed the doorway, they drop from the walls, from the ceiling. They crawl up your legs, biting, chittering, trying to find a tear in your suit, a place they can dig in with their mandibles and stingers, a bit of flesh on which to feast.

You race over the moving carpet, crushing shells under your heel, trying not to trip and fall into the voracious mass that tries to pull you in. There's no time to think about it, no time to hesitate: your prize awaits, calling to you from the center of the room.

There, atop a small pedestal, protected by an energy field much stronger than the one locking the bugs in, lies a tiny slide of crystalline material, a sterile container for a cluster of living tissue: your prize, the pride and joy of Gibborim Bio-Innovations.

You reach it just as a red-lettered message appears before your eyes: Suit integrity at 90%.

These things are fast. Already can you notice the tears on your suit's arms, where a dozen bio-hacked arthropods have been cooperating to dig. You crush them in one swift strike, only for a dozen more to immediately take their place.

Suit integrity at 83%.

The forcefield's the kind that vaporizes anything it comes into contact with; it couldn't be any other way in a room full of vicious bioweapons. With the amount of energy required to keep it running, one could easily power an entire city district. That means that, if it's meant to be kept off grid, the power generator must be very potent and very close.

Suit integrity at 78%.

You prep yourself, breathing in and out, readying for what comes next: your special thing, the reason you and you alone got sent in here instead of a stronger teammate. The palms of your hands light up with dotted lines, from your thumbs to your little fingers: a small network of augments to focus and enhance your natural talents.

Suit integrity at 66%.

The creepers have not paused to let you concentrate. A sharp pain makes you wince as one of them finally pierces the suit close to your left thigh, tasting your blood before being swallowed by the frenzy of its bloodthirsty colleagues. Don't stop now, not now…

Suit integrity at 57%.

Your mind slowly empties itself, paced by your breathing. It's a technique you've learned through the years, a way to keep the energy from overwhelming you: once you start feeding, you won't be able to stop until you've drained the whole thing. It's good then that you've got your technique honed to perfection: if there's one thing worse than being eaten alive, it's overloading and blowing up.

Suit integrity at 50%.

You reach for the energy field just as the swarm finally breaches your suit, as they finally dig in and tear and bite and sting… The pain is unbearable for the briefest of instants– and then the world lights up.

An arc of pure energy surges from your fingertips as you touch the death ray, lightning coiling around your arms and coursing your body, instantly incinerating the swarm as it tries devouring you. You were right about that generator; your mind has but a second to process that you're standing right on top of it before the full brunt of its power hits you like a hyper-train.

The rest of the bugs scatter, but they cannot escape your blighting light as you redirect the energy towards them, as you take the fire of gods and bend it to your will. You're drunk with power, a mad tyrant enacting a holocaust upon the legions of bugs. You burn and laugh and make lighting strike from your fingertips until the generator burns itself out, until the last of the crawlies is turned to ash, until all that surrounds you are the smell of triumph and dead bugs.

At last, the power leaves you, and you find yourself burnt out and panting, smoke exuding from the tiny vents that line your backbone. The suit is torn and filthy with your blood and the bugs' remains, your fingertips hot and aching. So much energy for a single leecher… you can already feel an incoming hangover.

With the death ray gone, you take your prize from its pedestal. Looks can be deceiving: who'd tell that this tiny cluster of bio-hacked cells is worth almost as much as the company that engineered it?

Better start running. With the generator fried, there's no doubt a squad of heavily-armed Gibborim goons are less than a minute from here.

Your cyber-brain pings H-41 to let them know you've been successful; no use keeping comms down now. Their answer comes quickly: be at meeting point ASAP, Gibborim Security Squad's ETA 2 minutes.

Once again, you race through the hallway, out towards the only exit… and find it blocked.

A small platoon of armored guards stares you down through the scopes of their guns, high-caliber rounds aimed at your head and chest. Guess a lone guard was too good to be true.

You raise your hands slowly, letting them know you're not armed. Like that'd make a difference; it wouldn't be a surprise if they've been instructed to kill you as soon as they secure their employer's asset. The bugs did a great job eating at your suit; even a graze from one of their rounds will tear out chunks of your flesh.

One of them, the commander, undoubtedly, orders you to get on your knees, not even waiting for you to do so before striking your abdomen with his gun. You pant and drop as he puts his boot on your neck and starts ordering the rest to search you. They haven't even gotten close enough to touch you when you hear a familiar sound, a faint sizzling that quickly grows louder and louder, until one of the guards starts screaming in pain and horror and finally…

Boom.

The guard's head explodes, splashing his teammates, drawing screams of ire and disgust and fear…

Boom.

Another one falls to the ground as the commander screams and tries shooting his unseen foe, making the fatal mistake of taking his foot off you. Now it's your turn.

The commander screams for the briefest of instants as your hands clasp his nape, as you suck his lifeforce dry, his cybernetics smoking as they fry along with his entire nervous system. It's a risky move for someone like you, but it's worth it: a high like this, the high of consuming biochemical energy… it's inebriating, maddening… addictive.

You struggle for control under your drunkenness, reaching for the guard closest to you and reversing the process: the sudden energy surge cooks him from the inside out, his eyes and tongue melting under your touch. He doesn't even have time to scream.

Incredible. You still have enough juice in your system to run a marathon without breaking to sweat. Power like this can only come from a source as grisly as organic life, and you… you want more. An ancestral drive pulls you towards the sole remaining guard, a furious hunger nested deep inside your being. Drink me, eat me… the call echoes in your ears as you advance towards the poor, cowering young man, reduced in your eyes to a sack of flesh suited only for being drained, for being feasted upon. You are an apex predator, and him… he's nothing but your next meal.

It's been so long since you've felt it this strongly… the hunger, the lust, the–

An engine's roar interrupts your predatory musings as a streak of white, green and gold strikes the last remaining guard with enough force to send him flying; something tells you he won't get up again. Your ride has arrived.

The car's driver looks like an anthropomorphic version of it, her white racing suit emblazoned with the green-and-gold dragon that has dominated every New Gomorran racing circuit these last two months: Mei is really risking it by being your getaway driver. At least she could have used a different car.

You run towards the car, the shock of Mei's arrival suppressing your hunger, and get in as H-41 emerges from the shadows, their robotic shell quickly magnetizing onto the vehicle's roof. Mei punches it and the three of you speed out into the night as the sound of an armored troop carrier reaches your ears; WAN willing, you'll be out of their sensors' reach by the time they land.

"Did you get it?" Mei asks excitedly.

No answer exits your mouth, but you lift the stasis container aloft for her to see. A smile forms on her face as she leans in and kisses your faceplate.

"Give you another one when we get home… without the mask," she teases before setting her eyes back on the road, not willing to reduce her speed until you're out of Blue Central, until the corporate district is nothing but a vanishing glow in her rear view.

You smile beneath your faceplate, trying not to think about what just transpired, about how you felt as you drained the commander. The hunger… You hope it's nothing, nothing but a small relapse, but your gut tells you something's not right. When was the last time you felt it this strongly? Please, WAN, don't let it be the hunger again…

"Those are some nasty bites," Mei says, not privy to your fears. "As soon as we get home, I'll patch you and your suit up. Get you both good as new!"

Right. Patched up. Fixed. All a leecher like you could ask for in a world like this one… people to call friends, family.

A place to call home.

You're tired. You place your head on Mei's shoulder as she drives and, cradled by her touch and the engine's purr, you drift off into dreamspace.

Sweet dreams, Laurent.


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