The fighter fell into an even approach. Thrusters slowed and guns fired. A hole was blasted through the hanger bay doors of the warship. The one remaining ship called Solidarity.
Seth brought down the landing gear, turned up the shields, and forced his way through the ragged gap in the metal. The pitch-black interior of the hanger lit up as he switched on the headlights. As they set down he quickly blew the hatch.
Gregory was first to put boots on the ground.
Grabbing the handgun tucked beside his seat, he exerted some force to lift, catching himself on the capsule’s rim so as not to float away. “Mag boots?” he asked.
“Got mine,” Gregory replied. They stuck and walked, doing a short spin and looking around the hanger.
“Go night vision, then,” Seth told him. He reached down to power off the fighter’s lights.
They left the fighter behind, moving by memory towards the hangar exit. They’d both been here before. The layout like any of the other ships Seth and Gregory had been operating space marines on for years. They’d been stationed on the now destroyed vessel, Schaden, originally. Lately, it had been hectic, to say the least.
The door controls were unresponsive so Seth moved to the front with an expander. Sliding it into the seal, it cranked and crunched to pry it open. Doing that, they collected the expander and moved forward.
Gregory had the lead with his handgun forward. Now, in the unlit corridors of the Solidarity, they moved ahead briskly.
There were too many angles to clear effectively. Crewmember rooms and droid storage offshoot from the main hall which they tread. Any number of places for a surprise attack.
The power is out, Seth thought, it could be a feint. A trick.
It could be that Aku is offline. What that would mean, though, he had no idea.
The suspense of hidden danger loomed.
Seth’s hand rested on Gregory’s shoulder as he checked alternate doorways as they walked. The Commanding deck wouldn’t be far.
All the machines were conspicuously absent as the primary hall’s end approached.
The heavy double doors were clamped shut hard. Wouldn’t be a problem.
Seth latched the expander and Gregory watched their back. As the metal of the doors ground, they parted to show a crowd of androids.
Each with their alabaster faces revealed, they rested, almost posed, across the room. Starlight from the vaulted glass backlight their pale, twisted expressions. Slowly as the doors parted, their eyes moved free of their statuesque bodies to fix on the two of them.
They stepped through and Gregory collected the expander, the door snapping shut behind them. All at once console lights came on in the dark. They had to switch off their night vision, choosing the dim over the blinding LEDs.
With the androids unresponsive, Seth cautiously moved on. He had in mind the flight controls. If they could activate the emergency landing protocol, the Eidolons could secure the ship. He was sure they had a way.
The first step he took had every android shoot up. Gregory clasped down on his shoulder, pulling him back. He radioed to him, “we have to try.”
Gregory responded, “they’re unarmed.”
“About ten yards between any of them and us. Let’s trash them.”
They charged. Clambering over each other, faces lighting up with rage, every android rushed.
They lit up the crowd, pulling the trigger as rapidly as they both could. Some two dozen androids broke against their shots like a crashing wave, those at the back rolling over those downed in the front. It was an instant realization that they couldn’t stop them all.
Gregory pushed Seth forward into the remaining androids. They tore him apart as he tried to fire into them. With the added space between them and the distraction, he could fire through Seth and the remaining machines. In a few split seconds, the laser fire had tentatively ceased.
Greg stared at the mass of bodies, his back suddenly hitting the wall as his retreat ran out.
His own ragged breath was the only sound in his suit. Pulling his eyes away from Seth’s pieces, he caught sight of the captain’s controls. He went around the androids, thinking some might be playing dead. As he climbed up to the controls, he kept looking over his shoulder back to them.
The display was complex but familiar. He swiped through protocols, quickly seeing the auto-landing command. His finger flew for the button.
Gregory’s face smashed into the floor as his foot was ripped away from him. He kicked at whatever had a hold on him as he was thrown off the platform. He spiraled through the air, set spinning by the android which had pushed off while keeping a grip on his leg. He fought the centrifugal force to aim down at the androids climbing up his leg, their mechanical hands biting into flesh as easily as fabric.
Without thinking he blew off both the android’s face and parts of his left leg.
His own screaming echoed in his ears.
When Gregory stopped to catch his breath, inhaling sharply through clamped teeth, he couldn’t find his bearings. He was spinning on an upward path, on every rotation catching a glimpse of the oncoming ceiling.
“Gahh!” He shouted as he landed. Gregory quickly tried to push off using only one foot but bashed his stump in the process.
His vision was going black.
Welling up from his suit was a foam sealant, but the loss of his limb and the open vacuum meant his blood pressure plummeted.
As he tried to guide himself down towards the control panel, he stuck out his hand. With his thoughts slipping, Gregory could only hope he hit the button.
The Deus Ex was dead in the water, it seemed. Porter dusted himself off as he came up the hill. The impact had been a little rough. Hasami’s sword was attached to his back.
Over the Martian hills and far away, the valley where they’d begun rested between two grand rocks. No more cloud of drones flew overhead.
He traveled the distance quickly. In this instance, he could teleport it.
Then, looking down from one of those grand rocks, he could see the forest valley, every tree felled below. Disturbingly, he could see no living people.
Porter leaped down off the rock, hit a hill and slid to a stop. Sprinting the rest of the way into the valley, he could see more clearly. Among the fallen trees and hundreds of unmoving black spheres, there were quite a few dead Utopians.
But not enough.
There would be survivors. With every drone dead, they would have moved on, he reasoned. Porter’s eyes scanned the horizon. He remembered, there had been a nearby settlement reduced to rubble. They might have gone there to look for survivors.
He traveled again, out of the valley and to the grassy Martian plains.
They hadn’t gone back to the Monastery? He wondered.
No, they had to be around here somewhere. He sensed it.
Where would they go? They had a better sense than him, what might they be waiting for, then? What reason would they have to stay?
Porter craned his head up to see a massive blackened warship descending from space.
That’d do it.
He traveled one last time.
The crowd was gathered out in the open of a Martian flatland. A perfect landing space.
They gave the ship some distance as it set down, a massive groaning and dust cloud billowing. Porter let the wind wash over him before catching up to the crowd and flagging down the first Master he saw.
Wulff was by his five or so remaining students. Cobb was somewhere nearby and Babba too was around. He didn’t see O’Reilly, but he thought he would be there. That was it.
No Smith, nobody else. Only a couple dozen students remaining. He counted among the crowd a few suited Eidolon, military men. He could see in the distance one running over the hills towards them. They will have dotted the landscape with their escape pods.
“Porter,” Wulff acknowledged him. “What’s the situation?”
“You first,” Porter replied, still counting heads.
“The drones were an onslaught, Porter. What you’re looking at was the best case scenario. Harrison wasn’t making it. Smith wasn’t making it. I knew that going in. You were supposed to die too, actually. What happened up there.”
Porter grimaced. “Hasami,” he said.
“I can’t account for the highly unlikely.”
“You take the safe option,” he accused. He wasn’t happy. The soldier, Brice, had shaken him a little. He’d exerted a different form of power and it changed him. “You calculate. Not the long shot, the one with the most variants you can see. That’s what you picked.”
“I could have tried for Harrison if that’s what you’re saying. But it became exponentially statistically unlikely. So yes, I chose a plan with a number of fallbacks.”
Porter stared at him for a moment as the Utopians broke off towards the now settled ship. They were climbing up to a hole in the hangar bay doors.
“The future you were least likely to die in,” Porter said. “I know how you set goals, Wulff, it’s not hard to see. You planned for her death and for mine.”
Wulff narrowed his eyes. “You remember, Porter, the time the Anarchists won the War Games? The only time they did. You were on their side, I know, and everyone knows you don’t take a hit. You’re a metaphysical tank, but you ran into the same problem then that I know you did today. You couldn’t be Anarchist because society can’t be. You remember it now as your defining badass moment, Quinn, but you forget how ineffective you can be when the fight is against anything the least bit conflicting. You forget that I was on your side, then. And that you haven’t won a game since.”
Wulff started off for the ship, calling back as he walked away. “Don’t forget it again, please.”
Porter was tempted to kill him but didn’t think it was quite justified. Yet.
He fucking hated it. Wulff and Christopher. Manipulators. He wasn’t built for it.
Porter belatedly followed along. With the Utopians having already having gotten the engines running, a shield purge initiated. The laser burns were cleaned off by the warship’s surface and the metal could begin its self-healing process.
As he walked he could see appearing on the ship’s side in bold white letters the name, Solidarity.