Netherworld 2: Fragments

By Dave Eber

A line of a dozen prisoners, their upper bodies encased in blackout sacks were led out to the middle of the cavern by their guards, and then abandoned. Looking down on them from a ridge, Colonel Richtmeyer made a gesture, and the confining sacks were suddenly released. The prisoners shrugged out of the heavy black bags and then looked around them, gaping. They were in a wide, high-ceilinged cavern beneath a wide stone ridge. There was a pair of sealed Curboatite crates, 10 feet wide and high, on the other end of the cavern. At their feet was a line of new, fully loaded Buro Blue Spear automatic rifles. Richtmeyer, flanked by a unit of TacOps troopers, looked down on the bewildered prisoners and spoke.

"Attention prisoners. The Buro has selected you to take part in this exercise. Your instructions are simple: leave this cavern, and you will be pardoned of all your crimes. You are free to use the weapons at your feet if you wish. I repeat, all you need do is leave the cavern, and you will be free men. That is all."

Richtmeyer stared down at the prisoners, who stared back at him dumbfounded. Then they looked around, understanding sinking in. Some began moving toward the tunnels leading out of the cavern, while others picked up the rifles at their feet. Richtmeyer then gestured with his hand again, and a trooper flipped a switch on a remote. The hatches on the crates slowly opened, revealing a writhing, living, mass within each one. Once the hatches were open, the things swarmed out of the crate, revealing not a pair of beings, but rather a horde of small creatures that looked like nothing so much as a pair of living, razor-sharp jaws. The swarm instantly sped toward the group of prisoners, moving with frightening speed. Some of the prisoners panicked and ran, others began firing wildly into the approaching horde, while others still stared in shock, unable to comprehend what was happening. In moments it was all over. The swarm engulfed the prisoners, seemingly oblivious to the gunfire raining down on them. There was the brief sound of screaming, and then nothing. When the Buro troops were finished herding the creatures back into the crates, all that remained were puddles of blood and smashed bone fragments where the prisoners had stood.
Richtmeyer turned to face the man standing next to him. His companion was huge, with thick muscles and long, glossy black hair. A purple robe, trimmed in gold rested on his shoulders, and he was crowed with what looked to be nothing less than a miter.

"What did you think, your majesty?'

"Impressive." The man's voice was deep, and carried the rumble of thunder. "Very impressive. We are pleased with your demonstration. Come, we have much to discuss."

Debris rained down from the ceiling, filling the room with sparks and smoke and centuries of accumulated junk as the first rockets hit. The Prof stumbled, then looked around wildly. She picked herself up and began crawling through the wreckage as explosions rocked the junkyard. She finally made it to the surface, and looked up to see a massive robot moving slowly through the wreckage, its weapons indiscriminately spewing destruction. Then it stopped and turned toward her, and the Prof sprinted for cover as machinegun fire ricocheted around her.

The Prof scrabbled into the ruins of her workshop, ducking each time a rocket showered her with debris. She realized that the massive amount of discarded electromagnetic gear scattered around was probably throwing off the Drone's sensors, but it was only a matter of time before it locked onto her. She darted around, muttering under her breath as she rapidly sifted through the piles of junk. Finally, she found what she was looking for, a large metal backpack with a long hose ending in a nozzle that sported a pair of handles and several switches. She shrugged it on and quickly began fiddling with the controls, and was rewarded with the sound of the backpack humming to life. As the robot bore down on her, she grabbed the handle on the nozzle with one hand and rotated the other one to the left, and then pulled the trigger. A purple glow flared to life inside the nozzle, and then just as quickly dissipated as the humming of the pack dropped a device.

"Shi -"

The Prof didn't even have time to finish as explosions blossomed around her. She jumped to off to the side and under the cover of a pile of junk as a crater appeared where she had been standing just before. She desperately flipped switches on the backpack, and banged it once with her elbow for good measure. It immediately hummed to life again, and the Prof stepped out from behind cover, pointed the nozzle at the robot towering above her, and pulled the trigger. This time a purple beam shot out of the hose and stuck the Drone dead on. It stopped as purple arcs of electricity arced over its surface. Then the Prof had to duck for cover as the top of it exploded, raining hot shrapnel over the junkyard. The Prof looked up to see the remains of the machine topple onto its side with a loud crash, and a wolfish grin appeared on her face.

"Screw you, Boatman," she said.