by Dan Swanson
Batterstar wasn’t about to just rush through the secret entrance into the council chamber. She was concerned about the information that Officer Friendly™ had provided on Lieutenant Dexter. Not long ago, Dexter had been a spinner in the military propaganda office in Martel, with no combat training of any kind, including combat armor. She’d been on the fast track for promotion until she had been court-martialed for insubordination, found guilty, and given an alpha-grade demotion. The fact that she was alive and kicking was strange, since according to Georwellian military regulations, an alpha-grade demotion was death by firing squad.
A superior officer propositioned her, and she kicked his balls up around his ears, Batterstar interpreted with some sympathy for Dexter. She should’a just killed him. Probably would have been promoted for getting rid of someone incompetent. If this really was Dexter, she wasn’t acting as if she’d been executed six months ago. Maybe the firing squad missed? the leader of the Justice Machine wondered in amusement. More to the point, she mused, her thoughts returned to the present, the automated defenses in the council chamber should be able to handle a single person, even in Mark 9 armor. There’s more going on here than Officer Friendly™ is aware of! But the monitors showed nothing more than Dexter, standing in the center of the devastated room, blasting anything that still moved. With a mental shrug, ‘Star slipped through the door, ready for anything — she hoped.
Her entry didn’t go unnoticed. The sleek, form-fitting Mark 9 armor turned out to be a holographic illusion. When the illusion vanished, a bulky armored green and blue figure almost eight feet tall remained. The armored warrior turned to face Batterstar, moving with the inexorable grace and precision of a heavy cannon turret. Her voice boomed, the room shook, and Batterstar was stunned to realize that she was close to panic.
“I am Banefactor, the next ruler of Georwell!”
The giant armored figure hovered motionless, a half-inch above the floor, saying nothing. For several seconds, nothing happened.
“If you’re waiting for me to faint from fear, darlin’, it’s gonna be a long wait. No wannabe dictator is going to succeed while the Justice Machine is around to stop her.” Batterstar forced a chuckle, though she felt ready to hurl. “Speaking of which… by my authority as the leader of the Justice Machine and an authorized law-enforcement agent of the Free Republic of Georwell, I’m placing you under arrest on charges of treason and murder.”
“Impudent bitch! I’m more powerful than any one of your terrorist lackeys in the Machine. I’ll easily dispense with you, the weakest Machiner by far!” Banefactor roared in amusement. Dexter swung her arm around and launched a projectile from a small linear accelerator mounted along the back of her forearm. The explosive round burst against Batterstar’s chest, tossing her backward like a rag doll. Though the tough material of her costume saved her life, she felt several ribs break, and she was further battered as she skidded to a halt on the debris-strewn floor of the council chamber. The armored villain floated forward slowly, apparently in no hurry to finish off her outgunned opponent.
“I’m more than a little tired of that ‘weakest by far’ bit, too!” Tyvain spat blood as she rose slowly to her feet. Her costume automatically constricted around her chest, temporarily binding her broken ribs. “You’re not the first to say that, and I haven’t been dispensed yet. Do you really think you’re any different?” Batterstar managed to quip. Her voice weak and wavering, she was starting to feel nauseous, her knees were starting to shake, and she could barely force herself not to break and run. She realized she was having trouble thinking as well. What could possibly be causing her to feel like this? She’d certainly fought more fearsome foes.
Not that Banefactor wasn’t intimidating. She was almost seven feet tall, and perhaps four feet wide at the shoulder. The bulky armor covering her head, torso, arms, and legs was a dark metallic blue, accessorized with dull, dark green gauntlets, boots, and girdle. On top of the helmet was a thin fin, which added another foot to her height, and there was a circular red emblem on the middle of her chest. Rows of vicious sharp spikes ran down the outside of her arms and legs. And yet, for all of her bulk and menace, there was something vaguely farcical about Banefactor, and ‘Star felt as if she should be laughing at the armored villain, rather than struggling to merely stand and face her foe.
“My cause is just and right!” Banefactor boomed again. Her amplified voice pounded at Batterstar; a little louder, and that voice could be a deadly offensive weapon. “Georwell is the most corrupt, repressive realm in the galaxy. I fight for the freedom of all the citizens of Georwell.”
Batterstar’s ears and nose started to bleed. Why hasn’t she attacked? she wondered as she fought to think clearly. She’s just mocking me!
Deep inside her mind, Tyvain felt a tiny tinge of something deadly, stirring like a spark struggling to become a flame. She recognized that tiny ember as the first heat of her berserker rage, and the possibility of being overwhelmed by the gangr terrified her more than any opponent possibly could. Centuries of training in self-discipline kicked in; she began a mind-clearing exercise, and a half a second later, she was able to think again. The gangr withdrew to a tiny corner of her mind, temporarily stayed. She could feel its disappointment, almost as if it wasn’t a part of her, but a totally separate entity whose takeover attempt she had foiled.
She’s not attacking because she is attacking! Batterstar realized. Later, if she survived, she’d laugh at that thought, but it was accurate. Banefactor was attacking, right now, using some unseen weapon. ‘Star categorized what was happening to her, and the answer popped into her head. She was being bombarded by subsonics. With the realization that her fear was being forced on her, rather than arising from inside her, the panic receded. But she could feel the physically debilitating effects caused by high-intensity infrasound continuing to mount. She thumbed a switch on the handle of her multi-blaster and fired a burst of a liquid that hardened almost instantly on contact and drenched the front of Banefactor’s armor. The subsonics died instantly.
Banefactor shrugged, and the coating of ultra-hard epoxy on her chest shattered. ‘Star ducked behind some debris for safety. She switched loads in her pistol and fired again from cover. A stream of bullets stitched a line of harmless explosions against Banefactor’s armored chest.
Banefactor floated forward, ignoring the ineffective explosions, reached out, and grabbed ‘Star’s pistol. Her powered gauntlet closed, crushing the pistol, then she casually tossed the remains over her shoulder. Tyvain screamed; her trigger finger had been dislocated when Banefactor yanked the gun away, though the tough material of her glove saved her from losing the finger entirely. The gun’s crushed power pack exploded violently, and the unexpected explosion behind her rocked Banefactor forward. The armor’s combat computer took control of the armor, and it tottered and staggered for several seconds as the computer fought to regain balance.
The suit itself had shielded Batterstar from the worst of the explosion, and she watched the impromptu dance with intense interest. As the armor’s jitters finally stilled, ‘Star raced around behind Banefactor, pulled a device from her utility belt, and slapped it on Banefactor’s back. There was a force-field wrapping the armor about a half an inch from its surface, and the field jolted Batterstar backward, as if she’d touched a hot electrical cable, but the device clung. ‘Star smashed into a wall with a sickening crack and slid bonelessly to the floor at the same time the powerful shaped charge exploded. Once again, the armor’s computer managed to retain their balance.
“You’re really a very good fighter, much more dangerous than I’d expected,” Banefactor complemented the Justice Machine’s leader as the suit rotated smoothly to face her again. “Though your actions are certainly hurting you more than they are me. It’s a shame that you serve as a lackey to such an oppressive government, since I intend to destroy every trace of Council Central and those loyal to it. You could save yourself a lot of pain by joining me.”
“And just how long would that partnership last?” Tyvain snapped in reply. She pulled another device from her belt and threw it. The suit’s battle computer temporarily took control again, and faster than ‘Star could follow, the villain’s hand twitched, and the device was speared by an energy beam — which was exactly what Batterstar had hoped she would do. The device was an electromagnetic grenade, and it released a focused EM pulse that raced through the path of ionized air Banefactor’s beam had created and washed over the villain. The armor’s outer force-field was overwhelmed and it collapsed, but it was designed to be expendable. The suit’s battle computer routed a little more power into the liner field, and it expanded to replace the vanished outer field. Inside the armor, Dexter didn’t even notice the transaction.
“Yes, very dangerous!” the armored anarchist’s voice boomed out again. “I assume that is the EM grenade that Georwellian forces used so successfully against the Yavak tanks in the Zheng war? A good weapon in its time, but long obsolete.” She stopped speaking for an instant as she gave a mental command to the suit’s computer. “I think I’ve seen enough of your toys!” ‘Star screamed again as another beam lashed out and vaporized a section of her utility belt, which fell to the floor and melted a large patch of her costume beneath the belt. Still under computer control, the armor raced forward faster than the heroine could see and ripped the bandolier from ‘Star’s costume before knocking the heroine into the air with a powerful kick. Before Tyvain landed, the computer blasted the belt and bandolier into ashes.
“You have only one choice,” Banefactor’s amplified voice beat painfully at the battered hero. “Swear allegiance to me and help me bring a benevolent government to Georwell, or die, slowly and painfully!”
“That sounds like two choices, Baney. I like the third one even better. Fight and defeat you!” Batterstar painfully touched a spot on a decorative ridge that ran down the outside of the leg of her costume. It came loose and stiffened into a quarterstaff, reinforced by a powerful force-field. She moved slowly toward her armored foe, holding the staff in front of her and occasionally using it to prevent a fall. Her head was bloody, she was bent partially over to favor her broken ribs, she was unable to hold the staff properly in the hand with the dislocated finger, and she was unable to bend one knee. But she came on anyway.
She swung the staff with her good hand, and when it hit Banefactor, there was a crack like lightning, and the armored revolutionary was knocked backward. Moving much faster than Banefactor was willing to believe, ‘Star limped forward, and though she moaned with pain and her motions were awkward, she rained blows on her foe. Every blow had an explosive impact, as the force-field in the staff reacted violently with the force-field protecting Banefactor. The villain had been so sure of victory over her injured, much weaker opponent, that she had maintained control of her battle suit herself, but the beating she was taking, painful even through the suit’s protection, convinced her otherwise. She couldn’t wait to tear this bitch’s throat out with her armored gauntlets, so she released the armor to full computer control.
‘Star noticed that Banefactor’s actions had suddenly become faster, surer, and realized that Dexter had surrendered control of the suit to its battle computer — a brand new Georwellian military Mark 9 battle computer, unless she missed her guess, installed in a fifty-year-old suit of the discontinued Mark 4 combat armor, covered with a new skin to keep people from recognizing it. She was certain her guess was accurate, and she was pretty sure she could even guess the serial numbers of both the old suit and the new computer; the military kept an exceptionally accurate count on every suit of armor ever made, and there were very few that had somehow been lost.
So all she had to do was outfight the best combat computer ever designed, installed into the most powerful combat suit ever produced? Piece of cake.
She relaxed into the rhythm of the quarterstaff and slipped into a light combat trance. Adrenaline was released into her blood, and her body began to move more smoothly. The staff sped up until it became a blur, and initially she managed to force Banefactor backward and keep her off balance. Battle armor was rarely involved in hand-to-hand combat, and the Mark 9 had only rudimentary programming for this kind of fighting, but it learned quickly. Blocking the blows of the staff was counterproductive, as each contact produced an explosion, and the cumulative effect of these explosions was starting to produce damage. The computer judged Batterstar’s human reaction speed and calculated that its own reaction speed was enough to dodge the staff rather than block it, while advancing to reaching distance. The Mark 9’s orders changed quality; it forced the suit’s driving motors to full speed.
Ironically, this was what Batterstar had been counting on. The Mark 4 armor was not built to operate at computer speeds, and it failed to protect its occupant from the effects of that speed. Almost instantly, Dexter was violently battered into unconsciousness. And only a few microseconds later, the armor itself began to vibrate almost imperceptibly with each movement. Like positive feedback, every frantic order the Mark 9 computer gave to counteract this vibration instead made it worse, and within microseconds, the armor was thrashing as if it was having an epileptic seizure. The thrashing was deadly dangerous — the flailing super-powered limbs of the suit destroyed everything within reach. Fortunately for the Council Complex and those people still remaining nearby, the old Mark 4 armor had emergency cutoffs installed, designed for just this type of malfunction. The cutoffs cut off, and Banefactor fell to the floor, the warrior inside unconscious, the computer shut down, and the suit totally without power.
Batterstar collapsed to the floor and slipped into unconsciousness herself. When she awakened, Chief Prosecutor Bettan and a team from his office had arrived to take charge of the captured villains, and Spectrum and Collapsor were arguing (as usual) about what they ought to do about her.