Exile: Uprising – Chapter 16

The mechanical eyes of the enormous POD roved over the two trapped Teksar. It tilted its head to the side, affecting an air of curiosity that Tathek found vaguely offensive. Maintaining the charge still building in his arm, he glared up at the hulking figure.

L-Two, huh? So, a Vekara has come to face me directly.

Its expressionless face turned to Sarath, and before Tathek could reach her, it snaked a hand out, seized Sarath by the throat and threw her backwards. With a pained cry, she landed in a heap at the feet of the PODs that kept them trapped. Tathek jumped between her and L-Two and aimed his arm. Once again it cocked its head, seeming bewildered.

Tathek released the charge. It erupted through his muscles, distorting the air around his right arm, and blasted the center of L-Two’s triangular chest. The blue lights scattered across its frame flickered fitfully as it staggered back a step. The joints of its limbs seized, and Tathek grinned darkly.

The lights pulsed once and remained steady. L-Two looked down on Tathek, then drew back its long arm, the fingers curling into a fist. Tathek leaped away as it swung at him, swearing under his breath. The pulse charge… why hadn’t it disabled—

He rolled clear of another smashing fist, then another. He began to store energy for the weapon again, a slow process since he needed to move continually or risk being struck, but his Singh-Rak training kept his reflexes alert. Diving between L-Two’s legs, he aimed a blast at his foe’s back.

A heavy plate of gray metal thickened over the spine, and the energy diffused harmlessly along it. L-Two’s head swiveled all the way around to peer at him as it kicked back and caught Tathek in the stomach. His breath left him in a rush.

It augmented itself…

X-Zero, I don’t care how much it hurts. Do something.

Trying to suck down air, Tathek dodged another kick. Another slow build-up of energy thrummed through his muscles, more than he had ever channeled previously. His arm stiffened, and just as he thought it would vibrate out of its socket, he released the charge with a yell.

A warped ball of translucent energy hurtled toward L-Two’s head. The same gray metal enclosed its face, but with an addition: a series of grooves along its cheeks that lit with a sudden blue pulse when the energy struck. They flared, and a wave of force swept Tathek off his feet.

It had reflected the attack back at him.

X-Zero, help me! Now!

The awareness in his head was silent, its presence within him diminished.

Tathek’s opponent gave him no time to fume. It flexed the fingers of both hands as he scrambled back to his feet, and claws extended in mimicry of a Teksar’s. Instead of punching, L-Two slashed at him savagely.

Once again Tathek was forced on the defensive, relying on the modifications that X-Zero had already made to his body. He moved faster than he ever had before. L-Two could not match his speed… at first. Those blue eyes scanned him continuously, and with his every dodge and sidestep, its motions became more precise until he could barely dance out of range of the gleaming claws.

He still had access to the hastily constructed propulsion systems in his legs. In desperation, Tathek engaged them as L-Two swiped at him. The burning eruption made him cry out, but it blasted L-Two backward. Tathek went flying the other direction and clanged against the solid frame of one of the smaller units.

His enemy placed a hand over the blackened scoring on its lower body, as if analyzing the damage. Tathek had barely gotten to his feet before it rushed at him. The sunlight caught the claws as they swung high, then descended.

White lines of pain stretched from Tathek’s shoulder to his hip. He screamed and dropped to his knees. Retracting its claws, L-Two punched him in the jaw, and he tumbled to the ground.

X-Zero… please…

A metal foot kicked him in the ribs. For one terrifying instant he thought he felt the bones crack again, and a thrill of fear poured ice down his nerves. He heard Sarath screaming, begging for the POD to stop.

No. It wouldn’t stop. Tathek tasted blood in his mouth, and he spat it onto the golden grass. He threw himself out of reach of the next kick, rolled and came up in a swaying crouch.

If I die… you die… help me… now…

But X-Zero made no reply.

Tathek tried to duck the next punch, but it snapped his head back and he felt himself falling again. His enemy towered above him now. His vision swam as it walked away and performed a scan of the ship. Tathek pulled as much energy as he still could into his arm, weakly pointing it at the exposed side of L-Two’s neck. The giant metal figure raised an arm toward him without looking. Plates split alongside the arm, the metal hand folded back, and a dark barrel pointed directly at Tathek’s head. He heard a charge build up and knew that this was the end.

There was no flare of light, but he felt the energy discharge. A shadow streaked above him as Sarath flung herself between him and the energy bolt. Her body went limp as it struck her. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she landed face-first in the grass beside Tathek.

He shrieked like an animal gone mad. Suddenly his body felt neither pain nor fatigue as he leapt up from the ground. The implant responded to a mental command within the tumult of his mind, and a rending pain tore through both of his arms as the technology X-Zero had threaded within him obeyed his commands. A charge built up in both arms, and he fired beams of blinding energy faster than he could consciously control. The energy bursts lanced into L-Two, blasting an arm clean from its frame and tearing scorched chunks of metal from its body. Its knees locked. L-Two tottered and fell forward, and Tathek threw himself on top of it. His own claws were out now, reinforced with metal blades, hacking at the articulated skin of L-Two’s arms and neck. Thin strips of metal peeled away between his fingers, and sparks of electricity sent jolts through his hands.

L-Two’s head swiveled to face him. The body rolled over, dumping Tathek from its back, then kept going to crush him to the ground. An enormous weight settled on his chest. He gasped and blinked his eyes open. L-Two was holding him down, its remaining hand enlarged and distended to cover his torso, and its metal claws were buried in the grass like stakes.

It turned its gaze on Sarath. One leg extended to kick her onto her back, and with a start Tathek realized she wasn’t dead. Her orange eyes had opened, and she panted fearfully. She was alive, but paralyzed. An azure scan swept over her body, and her breaths came even faster.

L-Two looked between her and Tathek, and back again. Tathek watched in horror as the empty, burnt socket of L-Two’s frame rebuilt and extended itself in the shape of a weapon. An ominous hum of energy built up, but it was different this time, and Tathek felt a surge of heat rolling off the barrel. L-Two’s scan roved up and down Tathek’s body as it pointed its weapon at Sarath’s head. Tathek turned away and locked eyes with Sarath, desperately etching her features into his memory.

Tathek felt the recoil as the bolt burst from L-Two in a blinding flash. He blinked rapidly to restore his vision and stared.

Sarath’s head was gone.

He twisted away from the sight, screaming, sobbing, screeching unintelligible curses at the enemy that held him down, at the silent X-Zero within his own mind, and at himself. His vocal chords gave out, and still he screamed.

The metal hand binding his chest compressed. Within moments Tathek used up all the air remaining in his lungs and fought to draw more, but the pressure was too great. A void opened up with him, black and ugly, that clawed at the edges of his vision. Tears streamed down his face as they were squeezed from his body.

No matter the horror, Tathek forced himself to look one more time on Sarath’s body… she would be the last thing he would see, his last memory, as the void engulfed him.