Battles of Times to Come

The Memory

She takes the steps in twos, her bionic eyes scanning and gauging each of the traps, enabling her to avoid them. She could be a thief or assassin-one of His best-but she is a spy and a leader, serving a higher power than Him. She serves herself. And her people.

More hidden cameras, more tracers, more little "surprises" He placed inside the walls vanish with the sound of metal scraping against metal, a short rasp and hiss. Though she remains undetectable by the electronics, she takes all the necessary precautions. For her, returning to this place after even all this time, may be called madness, may be death.

But there is something she wants here, something she needs.

In her home.

The last time she walked these halls she was alone, unsure. Terrified. She feels all those things now. She remembers the smile on his face as He destroyed her parents, her sister, even her pets. The sight of her struggling cat being thrown to His pack of rabid Followers remains vivid, crystallized in her mind in full, grisly color. The stenches of blood, urine, and fire are etched into her memory. The smells of death, the scent of fear. She shakes her head as the chants threaten to fill her ears, when He'd taken her eye...

"Overseer! Overseer!"

The moment when he took her eye still has the power to distract her. The fact that the Overseer put it on a pedestal to gaze upon him, unblinking, as He sleeps sends shivers down her spine. The knowledge that He was so sadistic as to do such things on the mumblings (if that man were still capable of mumbling) of an insane prophet made him all the scarier to her. She hadn't been the first, she had not been the last, but she was determined that from here until her death, He would not Force another. Never again.

She reaches the guts of the structure, clawing her way through the multitudes of wires that have turned this place into an informational beehive. The only consolation left her, going through the wreckage that was her halls, her den, is that every thread of thin silver wire she severs, every stretch of glass tubing she slices, is another connection dead to him, impossible to reestablish.

That, and what she is promised to find.

Finally, she discovers it. The tiny black box, wrapped in gold ribbon, resting on her pillow.

Shaking hands unwrap the paper, an eye clouded with tears watches as the ebony cellophane falls, the other registering the exact square footage of the wrapping, box, and the assumed object inside it. Thin razor sharp claws shred the cardboard, a tiny metallic heart spilling into her hands.

Her fingers curl around it, holding it close to her breast. her red eye had already completely analyzed the golden valentine, the chip inside it, and the note that rests with it. These are committed to memory, sent via satellite to the base, where Serna was probably already checking its significance. So she has just enough time to break down and cry before the threat her eyes is registering now-the bomb set off by her entry-goes off.

"What in all Hells is taking her so long?" Herid asked, nervously rubbing the hilt of his long knife. Strands of blond hair fell into his eye, the highlighted streaks blending into his untanned skin. The large number of earrings that studded his left ear caught the eerie flash of neon lights that emanated from the house.

Cari blinked at him, and shrugged, raising the bow across her back slightly with the motion. "Damned if I know. Why she dragged us all the way here with her just to make us sit outside while she goes into that goddess forsaken fortress to get something she 'can't tell you about right now' is beyond my understanding. We mere mortals just have to wait."

She threw back her mane of sapphire hair, casting her pale blue eye about her. The cobalt gem glittered in her right eye socket, it's unflawed facets allowing her to see better at night, the light fragmented and refocused into a bright point. Full lips spread into an uncharacteristic smile, twisting around a newly rolled cigarette.

"I hate waiting. What in all the Four Hells is she doing?"

Cari sighed, shaking her head. Herid was pretty new, and so he hadn't learned to live with Lasir's little eccentricities. He hadn't yet learned how lucrative they turned out to be. He had not been told-at Lasir's request-that it was one of her whimsical three am strolls that saved him from the minions of the Control.

She lit her cigarette, giving it a few testing puffs. Nicotine wasn't what it used to be, and there was precious little of the stuff left. This batch of tobacco seemed more synthetic than pure, but it was real enough for her needs.

Herid looked forlornly at the building in front of him, his one good eyes focusing on the spot where his teacher should emerge. He tensed, the flaming hole where his Utachex had ravaged him flashing. It flared, almost painful to even her eyes, then went down to a dim glow. He lost his glazed look and turned to face her, his expression troubled.

"Something's wrong."

She rocketed up the stairs, ignoring the alarms and miniature explosions her footsteps set off. Each bomb only propelled her forward ever faster, her legs pumping furiously as soon as her feet found purchase. She chased her path back through the house, her eye ticking down the seconds she had left. She burst through the door, gasping for breath. The tiny bell sounded, signaling that her count was up. She turned in slow motion as the explosion flew towards her, the last of Serna's protection spells slicking into place.

Lasir had told her, "Cari, act like you're in charge, but follow his lead." She tried to remember those words as she turned towards Herid, a look of amazement on her face. Lasir had never told her what this boy's Utachex had upon him in return for his eye. He stared back at her, the flame in his eye pulsing.

"Something is really wrong, Cari."

She heard the rumble and swoosh of a bomb bursting, and saw the outline of Lasir silhouetted in the front doorway. A huge fireball engulfed the figure, then rushed out to the street.

"By the Gods!" Cari shrieked, beginning to run towards the unmoving body that was her friend. Herid grabbed her by the arm and whipped her around to face him.

"Don't go. We've got other things to worry about."

He pointed up towards the crest of the hill behind him, at the huge hulking structures that stood there, looking down upon them, their huge bodies beginning to crash down towards the concrete. The Crawlers.

The Crawlers were huge spider-like machines that had been developed by the Control in order to capture members of the Second Rebellion. They walked on eight legs, could bite with huge talon like fangs, and had the added bonus of long spiking barbs on each leg, making even the slightest brush with one a potentially deadly experience. Each of the spiders were controlled by a single person inside the mind of each one, people who'd been picked at birth to be a member of the Crawlers. They learned to "see" through the eyes of virtual reality, register the infra red shapes of variety of objects, and to hear through the mechanical whine produced by the whir of the monstrosity's engines and computer systems. They were deadly, elite, and nearly impossible to put down without the aid of a large hunting party. And there was a score of them.

Fortunately, they made a hell of a lot of noise when they walked.

"Holy-" Cari yelped as Herid pulled her back away from Lasir's body, positioning himself for battle. Cari wiped away a tear and strung up her bow, opened her quiver, and aimed.

She let the arrow fly.