"No signs of struggle." Adam said. "Like they all just left in the middle of dinner."

"I don't know what's going on," I lied, all disturbed and frightened like, "but we should find a hospital and get Miranda patched up as soon as possible, and some real food. " I had an idea of exactly what happened--or rather, what the United Nations Coalition Navy was afraid might happen.

The map in our heads-up displays indicated a hospital wasn't far from here, and we covered the few kilometers there at my growing impatience. Soon the cold fluorescent letters of the hospital hung from the multi-storey building across the street.

We got Miranda into the elevator quickly, under the crack of a brewing thunderstorm. I pushed the cold, glass handles of the double doors that led into the surgery room, and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the bright interior lighting. In each corner of the room were the semi-autonomous nurse's assistants.

The two boys gently set Miranda on the operating table, and once the yellow gleam of the sterile field lamps bathed her, they worked her free from the cracked armor and then bullet resistant suit, and finally let her start to take off the sports bra underneath.

Perhaps due to underlying psychological issues--or more likely, just human nature--I noticed that she briefly let the males glimpse at the full breasts that complimented her lean feminine body with a thinly veiled pride--back lightly arched and all while the bra was in her face--then quickly covered them out of fake modesty.

Of all the trainees in Velasquez Company, Miranda's improvement was the most dramatic. Physically, she was barely recognizable from the scrawny delinquent that picked fights just to convince everyone--and more importantly, herself--that she wasn't helpless and shouldn't be fucked with. Whatever arousal she aimed to invoke was instantly killed by the sight of the ugly bullet holes dug into her torso--crusted with congealed blood and coricidryl field meds. Chitra and Adam quietly and awkwardly backed away from her to stand guard at the double doors.

I couldn't help but smile at how amusing they all were. There was something in observing this once pitiful Miranda's efforts come to fruition that made me smile; Chitra and Adam were by far the most well behaved mercenaries the Coalition Navy ever assigned me while I took care of their dirty little wars and secrets.

The truth is, I felt responsible for them all. I couldn't just tell them what was really going on, but they didn't deserve to suffer just because some people saw The Intifada as a perfect situation to field test their latest pet project, no matter how justified.

To prevent causing anymore awkward tension, protocol demanded that I pretend I entirely missed what happened, I slowly approached one of the semi autonomous units even as its hardware address, manufacture date and technical specifications appeared in my sights.

I started my firmware upgrade with the unit at the "SDV:6C:62:6D:3E:D7:8F" hardware address on the wireuless network. This was the civilian variant of the Sentry Droids deployed as assistant combat medics. Far from durable, not even a shred of real wit, which made them about as cheap as a car. I commanded the machines to start the surgery immediately.

"Stay here," I told Adam and Chitra. "I'll go find us some food and supplies." Past the double doors, I stopped by the wide window along the hallway. Outside, a rainy spell bathe the city and soaked the glass panes in a gentle cascade.

Wane moonlight shone past the dull grey skies and set a bleak ambience, blended with the cold blue fluorescence of streetlamps on the roads below. A rough breeze whispered across the wet pavement outside and blew mild fog that browsed through empty alleys.

Then--suddenly--awareness struck through my mind like a lightning bolt. An empty targeting vector appeared in my sights, and for several hundred milliseconds I was terrified, eyes darting this way and that in genuine confused panic.

What's wrong with me? It shouldn't be this easy for anything to sneak up on me.

The doubt vanished, stored for later analysis while the combat thought patterns forced their way to the surface of my mind. The dripping cascade slowed to a crawl as my perception sped up and my muscles tensed; I looked up and the great bulk of the rogue Armorclad soldier crashed into view as a silent shadow cut into the stormy night--closing fast.

Shit, not now. You shit-heads, not--

An explosion rocked the hospital. I took a springing leap away as the airborne seven foot tall armored soldier eclipsed my tiny five foot figure like a vengeful god, impervious to any weapon I had, heavy set in thick Therrite slabs.

An armored fist split the hallway on the ground I'd been on, blinded me in a storm of shredded concrete and set me in a split-second free fall; I pushed down a boulder-sized chunk to let it pass beneath me, slapped another aside--then a massive boot cut through the dust and caught me dead center in the chest, shot me through the window and out into the night.

I gasped for air but couldn't breathe, the planet stretched out beneath me drawing ever close as the abandoned cityscape and starry night sky tumbled end for end. I never thought it could be so oddly rhythmic--the sound of my own ribs cracking as I crashed into a car half a mile away.

I slammed to a bone-crunching halt, then came to my senses with a gasp, hysterical and delirious, the breath hitching in my lungs a dry wheeze. Every muscle felt strained, and for an agonizing moment I collapsed into an epileptic tremor--screaming silent--as what felt like glass shards cut through the insides of my ribs while they excruciatingly knit back together.

A heartbeat later, a black dot appeared over the moon in a leaping arc; a full size truck exploded beneath the massive soldier's weight, then just as quickly a giant hand seized my neck before I could react, my body still partially locked down as it slowly repaired itself from the impact.

The massive shock-troop lifted me as if I were a doll and cast me down into a brutal choke slam, detonating a cloud of sparks, disintegrating Therrite and concrete--sanded down my helmet against the cracked pavement.

I was blinded and deafened by the savage impact, felt like my eye balls were about to burst as my hands automatically grabbed the metal fingers fastened about my neck and struggled to work them free. The instant the Armorclad's fingers came loose, I planted both my feet square against his chest.

When I pushed with all my strength, eight hundred pounds of man and machine flew back--pinwheeled away with the force--and speared head first into the scaffolding and then brick wall of an antique Wells Fargo bank.

A moment later, the Armorclad burst free and knocked down the entire wall in the process...not even concerned as the scaffolding and cinderblocks rained down upon him.

I had him where I wanted, yet the shock-troop was upon me in a flash--his entire weight and multiplied strength launched behind a flat sturdy palm as a lancing strike certain to pierce the cracked Therrite plating at my chest and impale my dainty form.

I can't win like this, I realized as I redirected several tons of momentum, wheeled the Armorclad overhead and threw him into a scoop power slam with such force that inertia-dampening gels burst from pressure valves at his abdomen.

The human inside the JAW-1021 armor was still dazed as I turned him by the inhuman, faceless helmet, set with a thin red status indicator that ran as a band of light from ear to ear like a grinning mouth. With my other hand, I slammed the fingers beneath the armor at his left shoulder blade and wrenched--hard.

He's at least ten percent stronger than me, I thought while the Therrite slab flew clear and bedded deep into a metal wall behind me, exposed the bullet resistant suit underneath at his shoulder and spine.

The Armorclad threw a giant elbow to crush my ribs; I back flipped away to the safety of the collapsed scaffolding. I'm just barely faster than him, and he's so protected in that suit. I might as well be in a fist fight with a main battle tank.

As the Armorclad tried to rise I rolled up with my foot a nearby steel tube from the collapsed scaffolding, kicked it up to chest height. When I launched the instrument, it flew like a lance and blew apart against his helmet, staggered him to a knee.

I rolled up another lance, hurled it--but the Armorclad slapped the missile aside in mid-air.

"Fuck you," I laughed, spat the blood into my helmet. "I'm supposed to be the monster here."

"Nothing personal," he replied. "You're their big gun, and I'm the same for my employers."

"Oh, I don't know if I am the big gun."

"Is that supposed to intimidate me?"

"No. Just realize I'm the weakest one."

"Enough talk. Let's end this."

I bent another scaffolding tube in half for added strength, struck the reinforced steel with a four finger lancing strike, but that only crushed it and took too much effort; a two finger stab ran clean through it with almost zero effort. To the Armorclad's exposed shoulder blade and spine, my two finger strike might as well have been a tungsten-carbide knife.

"Well, since you asked so nicely."

The End

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