BEACON #9

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All four descended upon her- and that was when Zabda fired her rocket. It was an electrofield shrapnel shell that embedded itself into whatever it hit and sprayed bits of metal everywhere, each of which connnecting back to the rocket via invisible microfilaments that conducted powerful electrical charges.

Herod was protected by the rubble, but all four Neighbors were instantly fried by a powerful shock radiating from a tiny rocket none of them had seen fire. They fell twitching to the ground. The Gawain’s olfactory sensors detected the smell of burning flesh.

Herod pulled herself to her feet and gave Zabda a thumbs up. “Good shot, ma’am.”

“Not really,” said Zabda, unable to hide her pleasure from the compliment. “You did all the hard stuff.”

“Hey, that wasn’t half bad,” said Tamar, barreling forward. “You’ve got good reflexes, Herod. But you rely too much on the element of surprise- so you got caught flat-footed against these guys.”

“How do you win without it?” Herod asked.

“Simple! I’ll demonstrate inside.” Tamar casually stepped on the head of one of the downed Neighbors, crushing it to pulp under her half-ton weight. “Finish them off, will you?”

Herod nodded, walking over to slit the throats of the other three. “Is that really necessary?” Zabda asked with a shudder as Herod slashed through the first one’s scaly throat.

“Yes ma’am,” said Herod. “Spare their lives and they’ll get back up. Then they’ll keep trying to kill us.”

“Only good Romeo is a dead Romeo,” said Tamar cheerfully.

But as Herod went to finish off another one, its talons wrapped around her leg and it looked up at her with its bloodshot yellow eyes. The Neighbor let out a wet gurgle… it was trying to say something.

Herod pushed it off, then glanced up at the others. “Do either of you have a translation module?”

Neither replied. There was nothing else to do then but finish what she had meant to do.

“That was weird,” Tamar said as Herod caught up and wiped the blood from her sword. “I’ve killed more of those things than I can count… they’ve never tried to talk to me before. They don’t even talk much to one another, best as I can tell.”

Herod thought. “It was difficult to tell but it seemed… urgent. I don’t know.” She shrugged. “It probably doesn’t matter.”

They made their way inside. A BEACON rocket had collapsed a section of the tower, in the process forming a rubble staircase leading up to the third floor. The hallway was unnerving in a way that was difficult to describe… it didn’t look like something made by somebody, but it also didn’t seem natural either. The walls were smooth and carefully rounded, but they also led nowhere. A whole tower comprised of nothing but dead ends.

The sounds of fighting beneath them were impossible to ignore. Gunfire and screams from the birds, the slick wet sound of organic spearfire from the Neighbors. The damn reptiles didn’t make any noise while they were fighting, or really at all… so why had that one tried to talk to her?

“Amalek,” said Zabda into her comms. “We’re in.”

“Good, syncing with your optics.” Amalek’s voice sounded in Herod’s ear. “According to spectrometer readouts, there’s a mass of Neighbors on the floor above you. I think they’re guarding the fan room.”

“My time to shine!” said Tamar happily. “Can you guide us to directly beneath them?”

“Sure.” A few moments of silence. “Go down the hall and take the second left, then the third left.”

They followed Amalek’s instructions, although this hallway looked the same as all the others. “Let me show you two how it’s done,” said Tamar. “Herod, guard the door while Zabda works her magic. I’ll handle Romeo.”

The colonel raised one powerful arm and fired. Her heavy gun tore through the ceiling like it was paper, sending chunks of debris- and Neighbors- raining down.

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