by Van Allen Plexico
Coming June 2012 in paperback and e-book from White Rocket Books
Raven’s eyes flickered open.
Deep, dark, nearly black eyes, they moved in quick little jumps, from left to right, up to down. Behind those eyes, however, Raven’s mind was only just awakening, just beginning to try to make sense of the scene before her.
Where am I?
She had scarcely more than two full seconds to study her environment before the assault began.
This is what she saw:
She was in a dank, dimly-lit chamber. A broad, round, open space in the center of the floor and the corresponding wide gap in the ceiling revealed that the entire complex was constructed of multiple levels. She was standing against a metal slab of some sort which projected out very close to the edge of the hole in the floor of her level. Wires and tubes lay coiled all around, ultimately connecting to wall sockets on either side of her. No other living being was visible anywhere. Through the gap in the ceiling, the room appeared to go up and up into the dark distance; as her eyes flickered downward, a similar sense came to her from that direction.
Those impressions were formed quickly; she had no additional time to study her surroundings. For at that moment she was assaulted from within and without.
First came the mental invasion: Information flooded into her mind with the force of a torrent, taking her legs out from under her and sprawling her on the cold metal floor.
Get up, boomed a voice that echoed through her head. Quickly. There is danger here.
Raven wasted no time in questioning the voice—who it was, where it had come from, or why it was speaking to her. She reacted instantly, springing up onto her feet with catlike agility and taking four quick steps forward. As she ran, the wire that had been connected to the back of her head popped loose. She ignored this, though a part of her consciousness noted that the wave of information assaulting her mind ceased.
A second attack came hard on the heels of the first. This one was physical, signaled by metal ringing sounds echoing up from where she had just been standing. Ricochets from gunfire, she knew at once. Someone was shooting at her.
Moving instinctively, she ducked and rolled, sprang upwards, soared out over the abyssal drop-off, and grasped a projecting metal bar with both hands. Continuing her momentum forward, she swung upward, somersaulted, and with all the skills of a great gymnast, landed gracefully on the metal latticework flooring, one level higher and on the opposite side of the chamber.
Surely, she thought, that would throw off the attacker—at least, long enough for her to assess her tactical situation.
And she knew with complete certainty that she was quite adept at assessing tactical situations. The torrent of information that had flooded into her brain in the split second before she’d moved into action was slowly resolving itself into accessible knowledge, and that knowledge included the fact that she was a Raven, an internal affairs operative for the Machine. A quick glance down at her uniform—tight red material with blue trim and a low, green collar—confirmed this. As such, she more than possessed the power and skills to protect herself—and to bring all hell to her enemy, wherever that person might be lurking.
Her supreme confidence served her well, driving her forward with a single-minded determination. She clung to the shadows—the darkest depths of the already dark chamber—and moved quietly, stealthily.
For several moments only a deathly silence reigned; naught but the drip-drip of water from some hidden source far above as it fell down through the openings to land far below, and the soft tinkling of chains that dangled from a piece of heavy machinery set into the wall above and to her left.
Then the enemy struck. A barrage of gunfire from some sort of automatic slug-thrower gun raked the wall just over her head as she crouched in darkness. She sprung out, body extending and then tucking in tight as she landed near the edge of the hole in the floor. Another spray of bullets sent sparks flying past her head and vibrated the floor. She gripped the metal latticework beneath her with both hands and swung out, her back to the void as she pivoted and dropped down.
The blinding flash of laser or energy-beam weaponry dazzled her vision but she held on until her momentum had carried her in a tight arc back over the floor of the section beneath her. Letting go then, she performed a mid-air spin with her arms tight to her body before landing in a crouch.
Silence all around. Silence—but she could feel it now. The enemy was near. Approaching, approaching…
Pitching forward, she caught herself on the floor with her left hand, spun around and lashed out with her right foot, bringing tremendous force to bear.
Her foot struck something—struck it hard—but whatever it was, it did not yield to the force of her blow. Raven staggered back from the force of impact, dropping onto her seat, then sprang upward just before a massive fist from the shadows smashed down onto the spot she had just occupied.
Bullets sprayed out at her again from the darkness, and only her astonishing gymnastic ability prevented her from becoming perforated. She leapt and spun and dived and twisted and somehow managed to stay a half-step ahead of the fearsome attack.
And even as she moved, her eyes snuck occasional quick glances in the direction of her foe. Though he’d never once emerged fully from the shadows, she had gotten the impression that he was big—very big—and covered in some sort of armor. Clearly he was armed with a variety of weapons systems. And he was extremely dangerous.
But so am I, she thought. And, Enough of this.
Even as she sprang from a ledge and soared across the open gap in the floor, her hand reached to her hip, searching for the pistol she knew should be there.
It was not.
Frowning, she hit the opposite deck and rolled to a stop, her hands feeling for any other weapons.
Where are they? Where—?
Her fingers closed around the hilt of a bladed weapon of some kind. The memories injected into her brain instantly cried out, “Katana!”
Her powerfully-muscled legs launched her across the space between her and her enemy even as she drew the sword from its sheath on her back and swung it out in a broad arc.
The blade met something—something big and broad and tough—and slashed it.
An unearthly cry resounded from the darkness.
Bullets sprayed out again, but Raven was no longer where she had landed. Dancing to her right, she crouched and slashed out again.
Another cry, another spray of bullets. Again the target had already moved.
Another slash, followed by a downward stroke.
Now bellowing in rage, the big adversary stumbled forward—into the light. Raven could see him clearly. She leapt upward and caught an exposed piece of pipe, so that now she was hanging out over his head, looking downward.
Standing more than eight feet tall, the muscular behemoth wore rugged black armor trimmed in silver. A faceless helmet jerked from side to side as he searched for her. Guns bracketed onto his forearms cycled and spun, preparing to open fire the instant the target was reacquired.
“Who are you?” Raven whispered to herself as she studied the strange figure.
The helmet jerked upward and he stared straight at her. His arms redirected themselves at her, guns powering up.
Raven dropped onto his back, her sword clutched tightly in her right hand. A sword, her injected memories told her then, that had been constructed of a complex alloy and that could cut through almost anything.
The gunfire sprayed out, bullets missing her by mere millimeters.
One quick motion with her sword.
She leapt away even as the bullets kept firing. But now, she knew, they were firing through pure reflex alone.
For the attacker’s head had been cleanly separated from his body. It dropped to the deck with a sickening thud.
The big, headless armored body kept firing its weapons for another few seconds—and, ironically, during that time, the bullets came closer to hitting Raven than they had at any point previously—before the ammo ran out and the body slumped lifelessly to the floor, guns still cycling and clicking impotently.
Raven stood over it, breathing heavily, her sword held tightly in her right hand. As she breathed, as she came to be certain her foe had been defeated, she allowed her grip to loosen and the tip of the long blade tilted downward.
She formed the words in her mind, then: Machine. Are you there? Can you hear me?
Excerpted from HAWK: HAND OF THE MACHINE by Van Allen Plexico
Copyright 2012 by Van Allen Plexico and White Rocket Books