Part 5 - The Cyclops.
The yellow mist billowed forth and engulfed her, farther obscured her vision. Hidden beneath the mist, the creature's height threatened twelve feet, heavyset with lean, formidable limbs, pure muscle rippling with obscene strength. Hunched forward the Cyclops' legs carried it at a surprisingly agile gait--fit for crushing stone.
The monster caught Unit 03 in a sudden snap of its forearm. The force shields simply exploded off her form; she described a number of sickening pinwheels into the air and then crashed and skidded clear across the lobby.
One soldier bellowed a war cry, more terror in his scream than anger and charged, firing as he went. When the Cyclops turned on him, it threw its fist in a blur. He flew to pieces and dashed across the floor.
It took a leap of a stride--caught another man's head in the thunderous clap of its stony hands. For a moment the soldier continued to back away and fire his gun, skull awry, then collapsed to the ground. The surviving balance kept their distance and opened fire. Their rounds sparked off the Cyclops' callused hide, as tough as stone, enraging the monster.
Unit 03 slammed to a bone-crunching halt against the wall on the opposite side of the lobby. Blood splattered the inside of her helmet, obscured her vision, salted her eyes.
"I'm administering the anesthetic," Captain Wilkes said. "Forget about defeating that thing. We have the code we came for. Just knock it down, then get yourself and the others outside. Hurry."
Rolling to her feet, she grabbed a length of diamond wire and balled a fist around the line. In the span of two seconds she rose to her feet and closed ten meters. Adrenaline burned through her veins and propelled her faster. When she jump kicked forward, her boot impacted the monster's back with a metric ton of momentum. She caught its neck beneath the loop of diamond wire as it flew, and drove it face first into the ground.
The soldiers dove away as the two crashed, and the snap of the wicked razor line into its neck cracked the air with a sonic boom. The diamond filament cut deeply, but before she had a chance to snap the cable a second time and take its head, the corner of a giant elbow smashed her aside.
It was upon her in an instant, foot raised like a piston.
The crunch of foot against shattering armor sang clear. It then hammered her face first into the ground; metal shards and spars exploded into the air as the orbital elevator's very foundation shook. It seized her by the neck--violently whipped her limp form into the wrecked shutters, then bore its sight on the standing survivors.
The soldiers, confronted by the monster's horrific strength, were momentarily too stunned to act.
At length, even the Cyclops must've thought her dead. Terrible fissures, inlaid with crimson, snaked through Unit 03's armor like red lightning captured on concrete. The living being underneath should've been completely pulverized from the vicious blows, but she hadn't.
Instead still fingers snapped to life, wrung the wrecked shutters in her grip, trembled with savage strength.
Unit 03 flew from the shutter; both combatants met at speed, with enough force to detonate a blast of air across the vast lobby. Locked in a contest of strength, her steel boots peeled through the metal ground in great swaths.
"Let. It. Go". Wilkes insisted. " You got the code. You won."
She wouldn't listen; blow for blow, they were now evenly matched, and in a desperate attempt to gain leverage the Cyclops threw all its weight against her. Instead of fighting back she dove even lower, and upon unbalancing the creature, tore its entire weight from the ground.
Unit 03 threw it overhead--spinning the titan skyward end for end--then caught its foot and smashed its back into the metal floor. Her open palm crashed into the Cyclops' abdomen; she felt the stony hide explode from the impact, followed by parting bowels as her hand drove elbow deep, then the sick scrape of her fingers against the spine.
She closed a fist around the haft of bone--and with a sharp twist--snapped it in half. All the strength and malice flew from the Cyclops' eye in a single despairing gasp.
Arms that moved to seize her fell slack, but she didn't stop there, could not stop there. Upon wrenching her hand free from the grisly mess, her fist came away full with hewn viscera. For a moment the hulk's entire weight balanced against its entrails in her grip--then it flew, the broken body flung aside like a ragdoll. A wounded cry bubbled up the titan's throat before it fell silent...disemboweled.
Unit 03 rose from the carnage clothed in hot blood, breath hitching in her lungs, and set her gaze at the soldiers, eyes lingering at their shaking guns. Clearly they were threats...
Suddenly she felt a mountain of steel crash into her body. She collapsed to all fours--screaming--as a blast of electricity shot through her body. The suit's inhibitors locked her down.
A firm voice, caring: "Don't ever do that again. You fight when I ask, and only when it will further a goal. I don't want to use your self-preservation measure. I trust you more than that thing."
"Good. Get going. The others need your help."
She emerged from the building and regrouped with the soldiers. Only empty land stood between them and the drop ship. Their pilot had neutralized the creatures near the complex, but she knew there were thousands more in the hollow.
They leapt into the troop bay while the craft was still meters off the ground. With a thunderous whirr, the powerful jets lifted the transport into the air like a sling shot, but with their ascension came a new danger.
The ailing moon shone with a jaundiced gleam, through the smoky cloud cover stirring over the mountains' hollow. Dark silhouettes leapt through the clouds--a flash of shimmering black, and then gone.
The Lotas strain of the plague was also known as the flying whale, in part because of their cetacean streamlined bodies. They resembled creatures of the deep sea more than airborne predators--bellowing subsonic cries similar to those of a mighty whale. Their pilot never saw them coming.
One Lotas vomited forth a torrent of boiling ectoplasm, such unspeakable heat that it split the clouds like a white-hot lance. The port wing melted from its mount and corkscrewed into the dark like a fired rocket.
The Raven pitched out of control just as it left the hollow and shot past the ridge line. Jets thundering, the transport plunged into a dive and nicked a wicked stand of rock cresting the mountain side.
The Raven bounced from the impact--ten, even fifteen feet back in the air, then crashed again. Crushed stone and ice sprayed on either side of the craft as it cut a twisting, sinuous swath down the mountain side. Two full kilometers down range, it slid into a rocky plateau and came to a screeching halt in a billowing dust cloud.
She regained consciousness thirty seconds later, a dozen feet away from the Raven's twisted husk, perilously close to a cliff edge. Beyond that, an emerald ocean churned and sent a wash of brine up the rock face. There was no sign of the other soldiers.
The wrecked mountain side loomed before her, crumbling boulders that pounded into the rocky plateau like the fists of an angry god. She saw six Loti shoot up from the mountain ridge and arrow down at the crash site.
She had seen death before. Many times she came so close she felt her mortal coils lift away, but her death was an elusive wraith. It was always a hand's breadth away, always taunting her soul with deliverance.
A heartbeat before the blast, she felt a subtle shift in the planet's magnetic field and braced. Meanwhile, the six Loti continued to dive forth like missiles, oblivious to the change in the atmosphere.
The night sky turned white. The mountain range behind the Loti exploded in a blinding flash. Viewed from the heavens, the thermonuclear blast ignited with the fury of a small sun, carving a molten crater through frozen stone and metal.
Braced as she was, she left the cliff in an instant. She flew twelve kilometers off shore and split the emerald ocean with a thunderous crack. There, the scalding heat found her beneath the waves, smothered her, until a gripping darkness swallowed her vision.