One of the bonuses of being a backer on our patreon is regular fiction posts. The following was first posted there on the 10th of March 2017, and is the introduction to a serialised story simply entitled “Academy”.
I won’t spoil too many surprises, as I’ll post the next part in July, but if you want to jump ahead and read up head on over to https://www.patreon.com/daregamesoz and back now to access the second and third installments! For those who already have their decks and want to support more development on the game but aren’t interested in rules previews, fiction like this is a great reason to back us!
It paced before them, a chrome like finish on an elongated, thin humanoid body giving no sign of intent. Low and angled forward out from its pointed shoulders, a triangular head occasionally swung towards them and then away seemingly at random, sometimes for an entire pass, then back and forth several times on the next. Some of them felt it was an aggressive social tactic, others wondered if it was awaiting another of them to appear via wormhole alongside them, one simply regarded it’s animalistic pacing curiously.
She wondered idly if it was another of Pinnacle’s cryptic tests. The alien was full of mystery and capricious whim. This didn’t feel like its style, though, and something of the green aliens gaze before she agreed to be taken by the wormhole had given her a sense of foreboding. No, it must be something new, an MI dabbling in human affairs yet again, or perhaps a posthuman recruiting for some strange new societal venture. Certainly the use of E-R wormholes was a sign of power, regardless.
She had been second to arrive in the formless place. Her neo human eyes, even modified as they were, could make nothing of it. No floor, no walls, no source of light. It could be a digital world, a simulation layered over her own consciousness. If her sense of clarity were not present, she would have wondered if it was a simple dream.
The hulking humanoid figure to her left seemed familiar, but none of her mem implants could conjure up any name for its species, though they archived its misshapen form. At least twice her size and mostly out of her limited frame of view, it could be a relic of the uplifts during the stellar renaissance, a product of human biosculpting, or an alien species entirely. All she knew was its name, spoken in Interlac as it shifted its weight in a subtle welcome. “Daisy”.
“Liliana”, she had replied, her golden eyes fixed upon the pacing figure.
Several minutes had passed before the next arrival, an enhanced human with poorly upkept cybernetic limbs and half his face replaced by ancient sensory equipment. “Who dares summon Ego Man” he had cried, arms wide in some form of challenge. No response from the pacing figure had come, and out of the corner of her eye as she watched it she had seen Ego Man freeze as he moved almost imperceptibly forward, as though someone had hit a pause button on recording. From her peripheral vision she could see even his breathing had stopped, but she had some sense that he had not been killed, merely kept aside somehow, until the time was right.
An avatar had been next to appear. She had only met three in her twenty years of life, and this one was as bizarre as the rest. With the body of a pink skinned shark, the arms and legs of a human, and an eyepatch over the eye closest to her, it had slowly materialised holographically as was the fashion of the purely digital beings. Perhaps this was a real place, then, obeying real rules. One could never be sure, but the difference in its arrival versus that of herself and Ego Man made her suspect.
After one last turn the chrome figure stopped, turning towards them. On the right side of its face a sullen, black dot appeared where an eye would be, slowly shaping itself into a dark star burst across the chrome finish. It rolled its shoulders forward, causing Daisy to shuffle her feet in nervousness while its’ shiny digits elongated into clawlike fingers. A hand raised, pointing at them as their perspectives bent and it seemed to fly backwards away from them, and it spoke a single word.
Reality splintered around them in an instant.
Her world exploded.
One moment she was standing in front of the metallic devil, a light sweat of fear forming across her taut muscular skin, the next something exploded in her face and sent her arms reeling as she fell back in some sort of padded chair.
Noise and blinking lights assaulted her from all directions, acrid smoke buffeting her face. A whirring sound sprang into being and the smoke was pulled away slowly, revealing an incomprehensible display of light and sound. Her hands reflexively gripped at a rod branching vertically from each arm of the chair, moving in her hands and revealing buttons under her fingers. She bumped the rods and fingers buttons accidentally, sending gravity whirling around her and creating more flashing light and a cacophony of noise.
The Mecha was shooting at the ground, bent forward and twisting at the hips like its pilot had no clue. Moron. He clicked thumbed a button and sent pulses of energy hammering into it once more, crushing the exposed head under the onslaught and triggering some sort of ejection from the back of it, likely a cockpit. He aimed as it rocketed skyward and thumbed the trigger again, for good measure.
A blaring noise warned him of incoming missiles, and he spun his own Mecha just in time to catch the brunt of them against a gigantic shield. Flames burst around the edges of it on his external view monitor, while he lined up his mortar on the wireframe grid view of a smaller star shaped construction. Three successive thuds followed another button click, and he pushed the stick forward, gigantic treads sending his Mecha powering behind a nearby ruin for cover.
The mortar shell bounced off his hull and exploded around him, scarring the metallic skin of the body he suddenly found himself in. Everything moved blindingly fast, sped up, as though his internal processes had been dialed back to a terrifying slow, near biological state. In the time it took him to adjust to the frame of the machine and swing it about he would normally have been able to write a symphony, devour a small species linguistics archive, or play a complicated game of obscurity with another machine intelligence. Reality moved unnaturally fast.
This will be a challenge. Climbing vertically on ancient thrusters he rose above the cracked steelcrete building, spotting holes in the ruin of another across the wide expanse and sending his own missiles flying through the shattered structure’s gridded framework to seek retaliation on his assailant. Sensors he had barely had time to register reported direct hits in key locations on the enemy, a humanoid torso atop a truly ancient tank like lower half. In his mind he smiled a cheshire cat grin he had favoured his old crew with upon victory, as an immense mechanical limb from the tank bounced slowly into sight out from behind the ruins.
Ego man was down but not out, his main energy weapon had been attached to the arm the flying mecha had blown off but her own readouts told her he had two more mortar shots left and some sort of close range plasma ejector. Just watching the machine had given away it must be him, there was something cocky and brash about its movements and the way it had fired at the escape pod. Liliana expected that had been Daisy, of the four she had seemed the least combat ready, and she hoped the giant would survive.
Taking quick stock of the readouts and capabilities of the low wheeled mecha she herself had found herself in, she knew speed would be her advantage now. In comparison to her machine, even the flier moved sluggishly, although that could be a ruse of whatever MI the avatar had represented. Pinnacles training notwithstanding, her awareness of the situation had been sharp, and instinct had saved her from a barrage of the other humans mortar shells within seconds of the strange reality shift.
Dust kicked up from the wheels five times her height as she wrenched the stick left and right, speeding through ruins to circle around the combatants as the flier continued to fire. Her own swarming missiles had proved ineffective on the tracked mecha behind its’ enormous shield, but internal readouts of her rover showed an articulated arm wielding a pulsing energy baton, and she couldn’t help but smile glancing up through the glass at the cannon mounted over the cockpit. Somehow it reminded her of Pinnacle, possibly the tech base used in its design was similar to her mentor’s own, more likely he had some influence over this situation and had chosen it for her.
Small thrusters kicked in, boosting her over a large hole Daisy’s wild missile shots had left in the ruined city streets, while in the distance sensors registered a larger explosion as some archaic power device in Ego Man’s mecha exploded. The thrusters gave her an idea, and she swung hard to the right to put more distance between her and the flier and behind a series of gradually smaller buildings.
The reckless human in his mecha had been taken care of, having opened a vocal channel to shout obscenities and a challenge for hand to hand combat before the MI had blasted a hole clear through to the Bakshi Reactor. Please, I didn’t spend 40 years chasing raiders and aliens along the rim to be stupid enough to give away my advantage.
Surveying the ruined city with the dull array of sensors, he took a broader view of what appeared to be a makeshift arena with the familiar shimmer of energy fields penning them in. Two down, one to go? He spied the small wheeled rover as it skidded to a halt and spun to face him, his own body sliding forward and down in the air to avoid a minute swarm of missiles. The mecha was beginning to feel a more familiar body, but again the time his mind took to adjust frustrated him. The flash of a cannon took him by surprise, smashing high explosive shells into the front of him and tearing away plates of armour. So the little one does have claws.
He increased his forward speed. Clearly a game of some kind, he thought to himself, though why any sapient in their right mind would enjoy tech this absurd is beyond me. The size of the thing was barely equal to the drones he had sectioned himself inside previously, and it didn’t have a thousandth the speed let alone maneuverability. Clearly designed for atmospheric flight, even its propulsion technology was little more than a gravity nullifier combined with solid fuel cell jets. FUEL CELLS! Suicidal! Small mercies in the infinite, at least he wasn’t ground bound like the pilot of the smaller machine.
He found himself distracted by his own thoughts again, struggling to keep his mind on task as a sapient that could normally follow a thousand lines of thought at once. I’d hesitate to call this anything but a floating target, but I let’s see what I can make of it. He powered forward, his own cannon firing blasts of high energy particles ahead.
“That’s right, keep shooting” she muttered, jerking left and right in the cockpit as she swerved. The cannons on the flier appeared fixed forward, making their fire easily predictable, yet she purposely took one blast to the side of her machine tearing off the articulated arm and baton. “That way you won’t expect it when I do this”.
Fixed cannons? Isaac’s whiskers you could not design this more poorly. It was tragically hard to aim, turning so slow compared to the movements of the oncoming wheeler. Deliciously ironic I can aim this bomb easier. He primed the explosive device, his awareness judging the perfect spot to aim it where the wheeler would dodge next. Three.. Two… One.. With a thunk the bomb was free just as he fired the energy cannon.
The other pilot was smarter than he had given her credit. Thrusters flared the moment the bomb was free and the discharge of his own energy cannon caught her atop and near the rear of her mecha, blowing her cannon clean off and lifting the entire of the rover off the ground with an accelerated spin. More thrusters flared as the bomb exploded alone on the street below, while the wheeler continued to flip left over right with blasts of thrusters, landing it unerringly on top of the long building alongside. The wheels caught with grip shooting it forward along the building, then quickly up and off the side aimed straight at Santiago. He could could barely turn in time, and knew he would take the impact on the side.
He felt the crash through his sensors, his temporary body splitting apart under the impact. Well, I’ll be-