(For New Readers: See where it all started!)
3. Enter Stage Right
Trevor adjusted his cap for the 24th time, cursing himself for having Vance as a friend. The maintenance uniform didn’t exactly fit and he was acutely aware of the Cannon tucked in the supply pocket against the small of his back. In theory the pocket was scan-proof thanks to the mandatory shielding since it usually contained volatiles and broadcasting adjusters that would play havoc with the Hive’s tech.
The Hive might have been impregnable, but the place was a hodge podge fortress of improvised subsystems and wishful thinking. It had originally been a kind of storage compartment angled into the flooring of Angel Down, back when the ring was still thought of as an equal member of Angel’s Torus, instead of the bastard stepchild of inequity and squalor it was today. The degeneration attracted all manner of operators from across Human Space and that’s how Crusher had come to burrow into the place like a tick and build a nest from the desperate and the violent.
Trevor wrinkled his nose and resisted the urge to sneeze as the bug musk hit him. The Ident had worked, shockingly enough, and he had made it deep into the warren. Now Trevor was only a few chambers from his goal and the stench was overpowering. He’d never had much direct contact with Bugs until now and was definitely planning to avoid it if he got out of this in one piece.
The Bugs were everywhere in these lower levels. Most were tiny things, no bigger than a toddler. Sure, that was way larger than any insect had a right to be, but so far he hadn’t seen the really big ones, the Juggernauts. Most of the Bugs were armed, or at least that’s what Trevor assumed the long tubes strapped to their legs and sides were. He had no idea what those things fired but he wasn’t in a great hurry to find out.
Luckily it wasn’t just scuttling Bugs. Humans and other creatures were going about their own tasks, most sporting some form of self assured swagger. These people were familiar to Trevor, or at least their type was. Burglars, thugs, hackers, and conmen. They were as vital to Angel Down as the poor schmucks that maintained life support, and most of them knew it.
Hell, Trevor and his buddies were all members of this group, though not as successful at it. If a couple of jobs hadn't gone sour they would be working for Crusher instead of robbing him
“One minute,” Vance’s voice came over the microbead nestled invisibly against his eardrum.
The tunnels seemed to go on forever but eventually Trevor stood before The Door, a slab of metal covered in armor plating and studded with tubular gun ports that tracked him as he approached. He swallowed hard and slowed his steps, imagining the pink mist and splattered gristle that he would become if Vance fukked the next part of the plan.
The door was guarded by technology, certainly, but there were sure to be Bugs monitoring from somewhere else in the complex. He clutched his Ident as he took unhurried steps towards the door.
“3...2...1...and yes!” Vance yelled over the bead as the hall lights flickered, the door guns rotating to point into the hall instead of converging on him. Trevor reached into the pouch at his back and pulled out the Hand Cannon as he pushed the Ident against an interface panel next to the door with his other hand. There were a loud series of clicks around the door’s frame as the massive slab of metal slowly slid open.
The a stronger scent hit him as the door cracked open, the smell of burning plastic and sex, and it put his teeth on edge. He thumbed the selector on the cannon and took careful aim at a blank section of wall beyond the door the moment it was visible. He pulled the trigger and a mini detonator flew, ricocheting off the wall and careening into the room. He heard the hissing squeals of panicked Bugs for the three seconds it took for the round to explode. There was a deep thump followed by silence.
The door opened further and he ducked low and entered. The antechamber was clogged with smoke and the charred remains of Bugs.
“Heat,” he said as his vision shifted into ultraviolet. The center of the room was cooling, as were the gory chunks splattered across every surface, but he could see a large shape shifting on the other side of the smoke and heard clacking as it seemed to grow into something massive.
Trevor felt the blood drain from his face and he fumbled at the cannon, spinning the selector in blind panic.
There was a roar and the shape charged through the smoke, a tyrannical burning monster to his temperature adapted eyes. Trevor tried to jump to the side to avoid the charging shoulders and their promise of shattered bone and liquefied flesh, but the creature managed to clip his foot and pain flared up his leg. A scream was forced through his rattling teeth as his vision blurred and he slammed into the wall, slumping to the floor below.
“What’s happening?!?!” said a dim voice in his ear.
He shook his head as he tried to clear his vision. He pulled himself up to a sitting position and followed the sound of grinding metal. The monster was pulling itself out of the crumpled vault door like a dog tearing through packing material.
“Juggernaut…” he breathed.
The creature shredded and pulled the last of the door away, tossing the thick metal down the hall with casual annoyance. It stood at full height, or as near as it could get given the size of the room, with shoulders scraping the ceiling three meters above Trevor’s body. It turned and regarded him. The beast’s face was a massive pair of compound eyes set above a complicated mass of armored mandibles that twitched and ground against each other. They opened slightly, flashing serrated growths along their inner edges and sharp angular things in the darkness beyond. It hunched and bent its legs for another charge.
He felt the weight in his hand and realized that he still held the Cannon. He tried to brace as best he could and aimed the weapon at the creature. He held down the trigger.
There was a deafening tear as the weapon fired, numbness shooting up his arm. The Juggernaut staggered under the impacts, its chitinous chest caving in as round after speeding round smacked into it. The gun went dry in a handful of seconds but Trevor still held the trigger, staring at the creature as it staggered, shaking that terrifying head like a bear flinging water from its muzzle.
“Shit shit shit!”
Trevor forced his finger off the trigger as he reached his other hand into one of the pockets on his suit. The Juggernaut tried to stand but slipped on a floor now slick with its own yellow tinged icker. It cried out in frustration and slammed a clawed hand into the wall, digging into the metal like it was wet clay, and pulled itself up. A cinnamon stench filled the room and burned Trevor’s eyes as the monster took a step forward.
With shaking hands Trevor slid in a new clip and re-braced himself. He thumbed the selector again and took careful aim as the Juggernaut took another step. He pulled the trigger a single time.