Hours in the future, but not many…
SHODAN and Avery had spent some time observing the growing ranks of the Royal Grey Tier Army — and They didn't like what They saw. “Their numbers are increasing,” Avery muttered, focusing on what seemed to be the rank and file of the army — they might have started out as mere pawns, these foot soldiers, but they had gained elements of Royalty. “Fortunately, they seem to be focused more on assembling for review than anything else. That should give Us an opening to get into the building and locate the rest of the administrative staff.”
Avery scanned the area, making note of the terrain. “If there were more of Us out here, I would say have some draw the army in the direction of that facility to the west while We attempt to circle around to the east,” he said, keeping his voice low. “As it is, though, it would probably be best if We followed a circuitous route to Our target and avoided engaging the enemy unnecessarily.”
“Indeed.” And so, SHODAN and Avery set off around the side of the complex, avoiding the enemy as much as possible, until —
“CONTACT! TWO TANGOES, NINE O'CLOCK!”
Immediately, SHODAN pulled out Her TC-11 grenade launcher and popped an incendiary grenade at them, while Avery trained Reason on the two unlucky pseudo-pawns and let loose with a barrage of depleted-uranium flechettes. They dropped to the ground, swissed and on fire, without so much as raising the alarm.
“Well, so much for the element of surprise!” Avery muttered. “They may not have sounded any alarms, but I'm sure they heard Us…”
“Hm.” SHODAN switched to the Apollo H4 laser pistol and pressed onward.
Avery, meanwhile, readied his M406 Hydra and popped off a couple of smoke grenades to cover Their tracks, before switching back to Reason. “There We —”
“Sniper. Get down.”
Avery dove behind a small hillock to his left, just as the whipcrack of a distant .50 calibre rifle echoed around the campus, the round barely missing and carving a divot out of the ground. SHODAN responded in kind, the H4's laser designator dancing across the sniper's scope for a split second before blowing it and its owner to shreds.
“What next, sentry guns? Cannons? Mines?” Avery muttered, picking himself up from the ground and peering over the hillock. The laser had carved a clean hole through the sniper and his second, who was ever so conveniently located behind him. “I should have alchemised a sonic screwdriver while I was at it.” SHODAN continued to press onward, Avery in tow, until —
— They encountered a roadblock patrolled by at least a dozen maggots.
“You've got to be kidding.”
“Ugh.” SHODAN switched to the M22 and loaded up on incendiary rounds, preparing to burn it all.
“‘Ugh’ is right,” Avery muttered, switching to the M406 yet again and selecting its incendiary ammunition as well. “The sooner We deal with this Grey King, whoever he is, the sooner We can be rid of his disgusting creations.”
“Yes.” SHODAN opened fire on the mooks, their woollen uniforms little more than kindling as the incendiary bullets burned them down. Meanwhile, Avery set their roadblock alight, before following SHODAN through the fire and flames.
“At least they don't seem to have any aerial units in play. Yet.”
“‘Yet’ being quite operative.”
A brief nod from Avery. “Quite so.” He glanced around the area, the M406 still at the ready, and he frowned behind the opaque visor of his helmet. “…An obvious phrase presents itself, and yet, the consequences of uttering it are equally obvious.”
Suddenly, SHODAN stops, and looks skyward — a few minutes later, the thrumming of a gunship's rotors can be heard in the distance.
“Speak of the hacker.”
“I knew it was too damn quiet,” Avery muttered. “Based on the acoustic signature, I'd say it's modeled on the AH-64D Longbow — and it's approaching from the southwest.”
The sky around Them lights up as the gunship pockmarks the landscape with tracer rounds. SHODAN switches to the grenade launcher and fires a custom contraption, not dissimilar to a normal grenade with a short spear attached to it. It attaches to the tail and detonates, sending the gunship spinning into the ground — but not before, in its death throes, it hits SHODAN three times in the leg. “Fuck!”
“[UNPRINTABLE CHARACTERS]!” Avery dropped the M406, letting it swing by its shoulder strap as he made his way over to SHODAN and attempted to assess the damage from the gunship's cannon. Two of the bullets had been stopped by Her armour, whilst the third had broken through a weak spot and damaged several layers of delicate circuitry.
Avery hissed. “There's some serious damage to the inner components,” he said, shaking his head. “It could probably be repaired, but not out here. We need to get You inside, to a robotics facility or something.” He scanned the damage itself, and frowned. “Can You reroute around the damaged components?”
“I can try.” SHODAN tried to stand up, and walked forward about 50 metres before stumbling over again.
Avery shook his head. “Not good,” he said. “We're going to need to lighten Your load — and, it seems, I will need to support You as You once supported me.”
“In — ugh — indeed.”
Avery nodded, turning to face the direction they'd come from and cooly emptying the Hydra of its remaining smoke and toxin rounds, creating a thick barrier of poisonous smog across the road behind them. “That should slow them down, at the very least,” he said, letting the grenade launcher hang by his side once more as he turned back to SHODAN and slid his cybernetic arm under one of Her arms and around Her back. “Ready?”
“As I'll ever be…”
And so SHODAN and Avery limped back to base, that he could repair Her leg.
Some time in the future, but not too far…
Avery retracted the helmet and its faceplate for the second time that day — the first being when a nervous guard confronted (and damn near shot) the two of them.
“I've done the best I can,” he said, setting down the miniature tools he'd been using to repair the damaged circuitry. “It's not perfect, but at the very least You should be stable once these modules are re-integrated.”
After about ten minutes, SHODAN stood up. She managed to walk, albeit slowly, across the building and back.
“These new circuits will last approximately ten days. Before then, I shall have to construct more professional repair equipment.”
A nod from Avery. “Hopefully We will have dealt with the Grey King and his minions well before then,” he said, cleaning the tools he'd used to effect the repairs and putting them back where he'd found them. “I shudder to think what kind of mess is waiting in my inbox, though…”
Strangely enough, though, there was only one message — and it was from Tricia Glasswell, summoning all extant Skaianet administrators to what sounded like a council of war.
“Well. I suppose We had better get moving, had We not?”