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Traveller of Both
Time and Space: Episode 11
The Chaos Marine was dead. Obviously so, with a puncture wound as wide as Shamshir Talatraís hand in his chest and both eyes ripped from their sockets. Nevertheless, Shamshir Talatra fired a bolter round into the Chaos Marineís head, which burst like a paper sack full of water.
You canít be too careful, Shamshir Talatra told himself.
The dead Chaos Marineóa former Space Shark before he had defected to the Red Corsairs, judging by his armorótroubled Shamshir Talatra. Mostly because he was seventeen days' walk from the Corsair camp that the Fighting Tigers had destroyed. Shamshir Talatra knew how many days walk it was because he had done it, living on everprev rations and a few canteens of water. He had trudged up and down hills, around bubbling pools of acidic chemicals, and across almost-perfectly flat plains marred here and there by cracks and fissures. It was on just such a plain where he had come across the Chaos Marine lying dead on his back.
Shamshir Talatra was no Apothecary, but he had seen plenty of corpses before. And this one looked fresh, as if the Chaos Marine had been killed yesterday, or perhaps the day before. And that, too, troubled Shamshir Talatra.
What were you doing out here so far? he wondered. And who killed you?
Someone shot Shamshir Talatra.
Or at least it felt as if he had been shot, as something struck his helmet, knocking him off his feet. He crashed to the stony ground and rolled onto his stomach. There was no pain. Glancing down, he saw that his armor was not damaged and that he was not bleeding. He slung the bolter off his shoulder, cocked it, and shook his head, boosting his helmetís audio receptors and eliminating the noise of his own ragged breathing.
What in all hells? he thought, looking around. Nothing but a slight breeze. No sign of who had shot him.
Still prone, he crawled forward using his elbows and knees, bolter ready, until his left arm brushed something unseen, though to all appearances the area was completely bare.
He glanced around. Still no apparent foe. He reached out his left hand. Something spongy. Through his gauntlets, he could not tell if it was wet or dry. He pulled back his hand, waggled his fingers. Nothing dripped off them.
Invisible? he wondered. Bolter still ready in his right hand, he used his left to tap several small studs on his helmetís temple, adjusting his visual receptors. Nothing on infrascope. Nothing on ultralight. He kept tapping, adjusting. Brightness down, contrast up, hues intensified, then washed out. Finally, with the world looking like a photograph negative, he saw the objectís flickering outline.
It looked like a collection of small, flat rectangles, ranging in size from no bigger than the tip of his littlest finger to the size of his palm. The rectangles were irregularly stacked, not flat and front-to-back like a pack of cards, but jumbled, some flat, some standing on edge, some even standing on a corner. And all of them attached to each other somehow, as if glued together by some mad artist.
Thatís just strange, he thought. Some kind of idiot house of cards.
He crawled to the other side of the object. Nothing tried to kill him.
Leaving his video receptors on their current settings, he looked around again. Something that looked like a bleeding gash in the ground nearby caught his eye.
He switched back to regular vision. It was another fissure, about two dozen yards from his current position. The fissure was thin, little wider than him, and about eight feet long. And the Brahman alone knew how deep: perhaps a few inches, perhaps a few miles.
Could be cover, he thought, if it isnít too deep or too shallow. He started to crawl towards it when someone shot him again.
No, not shot, struck him. In the small of the back, much harder this time, hard enough that he grit his teeth for a moment and let the pain rule him for a moment before he flipped over, bolter raised.
Nothing, in any direction. Only the breeze.
Gods damn it all, he snarled. Remembering his training, he recited the Litany of Mental Acuity to calm himself down. Donít lose it. Think. Think. Figure it out. Find the bastard and kill him.
He rose to a crouch and slowly backed his way toward the fissure. He glanced over, but even in the bright of day, he couldnít see the bottom. Squatting down, he grabbed a stone and tossed it into the fissure.
One, he counted. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
Poc, went the stone. poc, poc, it went again, bouncing off the sides of the fissure as it kept falling.
Gobara, he swore.
Something struck him in his faceplate, breaking his nose, knocking him onto his back. He swore, rolled, felt the earth yawn beneath his shoulders, his arm dangling over nothing. Kicking, squirming, lunging, he thrashed and rolled away from the edge in a blind panic and lay on his stomach again, blood splattering the inside of his helmet.
Calm, calm, he reminded himself. Remember the drones. Donít lose your temper like you did then. Thereís no one here to save you if you do. Think. Think.
There were no hills or boulders nearby where a sniper could be lurking, and anyway, Shamshir Talatra was sure that something was hitting him, not shooting at him from a distance. He was equally sure that whatever it was wasnít human. Tau? No. They left Varkoo and theyíre gone.
Itís something fast. Really fast. And invisible? Or at least partly.
He tapped his visor again, adjusting
his visual sensors until he could see the flickering outline of the mad
collection of rectangles.
What is that? Shamshir thought, and before he could think anything else, the pyramid thing wriggled off the top the rectangle collection, zipped through the air, and smashed into his chest, slashing with the star shape end as he fell backwards again. Something crackled inside his armor, and the heads-up display in his helmet informed him that the newly-repaired Iron Halo energy field device was disabled.
The thing was indeed fast, very fast. It was circling him, striking, zooming away, swooping in to strike again, zipping away, dodging his futile attempts to swat it, relentlessly going after the same spot on his chest, trying to pierce through the armor with its whirling, bladed, star-shaped tip. Just like the Chaos Marine, Shamshir realized. It killed him and itís trying to kill me the same way. Drill right through me.
As the thing flew off for another attack run, he got to his knees. It hit him again in the chest, but he managed to keep his balance. As it rocketed away, his heads-up display dryly predicted that his armor would fail after two more such strikes.
Shamshir Talatra fired his bolter. He missed his attacker but hit the idiot house of cards. It collapsed with a wet plop, and the pyramid-thing immediately rushed over to it. Hovering over the flattened mass, the pyramid-thing rippled as near-invisible fluid oozed out of the shattered rectangles.
Stay right there, Shamshir Talatra thought, and fired again, bolter rounds ripped into the pyramid-thing. It deflated and fell onto the pile of rectangles.
What WAS that? he wondered again, as he loaded a fresh magazine into the bolter. Some kind of life form? A type of robot? And the idiot house of card: some kind of tree, maybe? The pyramidís home? Its treasure? Its mate?
Canít be too careful, Shamshir
Talatra told himself. He walked over to the pyramid-thing and fired a few
more bolter rounds into it.
Burns, burning, burning, holy hells it BURNS it burns it burns stop help no
Blind and stumbling backwards, he
dropped his bolter and fell into the fissure.
Posted February 2007
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