Web of Ruin: Chapter 11

Gwendoline Gutierrez waited patiently for a cup of coffee to finish brewing. It had been a week since the world folded in on itself and the team had been getting by in the base located deep in the great Smoky Mountains. There were the six heroes along with a custodial staff of twenty or so, all agents for the FBI or members of the military.

 

Information from satellites was difficult to come by; the new proximity of the moon had either caused most of them to crash or flung them off into space. From what they had gathered from Kronos’ scouting mission and what little data they could collect, by this point, over four and a half billion people had died in less than a week. A whopping one and a half billion were reanimated as zombies.

 

After a week, the hypercane, now called Medea, had cleaned Central America of a great deal of its multicellular life and was making its way across the Atlantic Ocean toward Northern Africa. That continent had fared somewhat better thus far since the sheer volume of landmass had spared all but the outermost reaches from the destructive waves generated by the moon repositioning. That would soon change as the hypercane moved over the continent, and more importantly, over the vast Sahara desert. Things would soon get much worse, not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world. That much dust in the air would likely block a great deal of sunlight, causing a “nuclear winter” of sorts.

 

Fortunately, this facility was staffed by people who had dedicated their lives to their work, which precluded having any close family. As a result, concerns over suicides were non-existent. The base continued to operate like a well oiled machine, although some of the formality had slipped since there was little America left to defend.

 

Carbon wasn’t wearing her armor today. Instead, she wore a comfortable pair of jeans that happened to be in her size and a sweater. Her sword was still strapped on her waist and she carried a pistol openly. Now there was nothing to hide. The people in this base were now her responsibility, not the good people of a ruined city. There was small comfort in the knowledge that the army of Ratpacks was little more than rotting puddles of dead flesh, and Al had informed her of how he dealt with what he hoped had been the original.

 

With luck, the little bastard’s cells had disintegrated and he was dead now. String was taking daily flights out into the surrounding area searching for any local survivors. They’d found nothing so far. However, he had also taken to lifting tractor trailers and setting them up like giant bricks around the perimeter of the installation in hopes that if an army of the walking dead were to wander through, they would be well guarded against them.

 

The outside was then sprayed with a metamaterial paint that obscured the base, making it almost indistinguishable from the forested backdrop. They had a safe base of operations. From there, they would coordinate efforts to rescue survivors, and hopefully find and strike back against those who had engineered these disasters. They had ample energy from both wind turbines and solar collectors, and in a pinch the String Theory suit could be hooked up to the grid and simply power the installation from the essence of reality itself.

 

Carbon poured some cream and then sugar into the cup and stirred. She’d been avoiding the monitors that gave running totals of everything from the number of dead, to the number of walking dead, to the expected weather all morning. All she wanted was a cup of coffee and to relax a little.

 

A studious looking little man with glasses shuffled by and offered a polite hello, accompanied by a tall, straight backed dour looking Marine who nodded in her direction. They were on their way to the gun range. Before a week ago, the tech staff of the facility had no need for firearms training. Now everything was different, and any one person might be needed for the survival of the whole.

 

She decided to join them later if they were still on the range. She was a crack shot with a sidearm, but her skills with submachine guns and rifles were lacking. She wanted to be as well rounded as possible going forward. She started to leave the room when Al walked in. He was dripping with sweat, wearing workout clothes with a towel draped over his shoulders. He took a long drink from his water bottle. “Hey. Mind hanging out for a bit? I could use some coffee, too.”

 

Gwen nodded and sat down at the small table at the side of the room. Al was a little over six feet tall, but his broad shoulders made him appear even bigger. He was powerfully muscled; even without the armor he was more than a match for most people. “The wall’s complete around the perimeter. Not a day too soon either, there appears to be a horde of thousands of infected people heading this way.” He said without turning around.

 

Carbon nodded. Both of them knew that they could, possibly should, cull the herd out in the wild. But they were both hesitant. For one thing, there was some difficulty seeing the seething masses of ravenous corpses as monsters and not people, although that stigma would fade fast. There was also the thought that they might accidentally hit someone who wasn’t infected, although that was highly unlikely.

 

“It’s sad.” She mused. “Just over a week ago, we would sacrifice ourselves to protect them, now we’ll mow them down to protect others from them.” She took a sip of her coffee. “What a stupid world.”

 

Al looked over his shoulder and smiled at her, his teeth looking stark white against his dark skin. “What’s left of it, anyway.” Carbon chuckled into her coffee. “By the way,” she said “how in hell did you survive being ground zero for a nuclear blast?”

 

Al turned around and sipped the black coffee. “Light. I changed into light and raced the leading edge of the explosion. The world seems to freeze, then it goes dark. Since I was light, i couldn’t really see the light. I just went as far as I thought I needed to to not get vaporized or cooked when I changed back.” He shrugged, as if it was nothing special. “Also, it wasn’t ‘A’ nuclear blast. It was five simultaneous ones.” Carbon’s eyes bulged and she choked on her coffee. “Five?”

Al nodded, a sober look on his face.”All low-grade, with the intention of creating as much debris and fallout as possible. Whoever organized it knew their nukes. I have a nagging suspicion of who did all this, but we haven’t been able to track either of them down for the better part of a year.”

 

“Who?” Carbon asked. She was used to small time crooks and criminals, this was beginning to sound like it was out of her scope.

 

Kronos sat in a darkened room filled with monitors, both the desktop version and giant, wall sized ones. Each displayed satellite data and information from any other source they could find. They used any existing cellular networks to hack into mobile devices to get perspective on any area they could find them in. Many of them showed zombies milling about looking for food.

 

Most, however, simply showed dead, empty streets. Any that came from clear skies at night showed a truly huge moon looming in the sky, bathing the streets in light almost bright enough to read with. Many of these views also showed lumbering dead prowling the streets.

 

Kronos was proving to be more than just a man with amazing superpowers, he was also an intuitive genius when it came to electronics and was proving quite an asset in their surveillance efforts. He not only seemed to have a natural talent with gadgets and equipment, but he could learn how they were built and worked in seconds (technically, it was hours or even days, but to the rest of the world, it was instantly).

 

Cobalt seemed to have taken the young man completely under his wing, making sure that he received the help he needed to deal with the utter destruction he was now witnessing every day, and ensuring that he received the training and equipment necessary to operate and modify the various special weapons systems they had on hand.

 

The Smoky Mountain facility was mostly underground, ten stories of levels straight down, in fact. The underground footprint was easily four acres per level, although the above ground section of the facility was little more than a warehouse and a shed located on two acres of concrete surrounded by cyclone fence and state of the art stealth materials that kept it invisible from both the air and ground.

 

Hidden in the concrete ground was all manner of defensive systems, including phalanx automated miniguns, anti aircraft missiles and microwave crowd control devices. All of them were secreted into the the floor in perfectly hidden compartments that blended seamlessly into the rest of the tarmac. A special cement that included carbon nanotubes was used, giving it the look of regular cement but the flexibility and strength of steel.

 

Still, they had not wasted time in setting up a perimeter of trailers thanks to String Theory, and equipped the surrounding forest with everything from motion sensors to infrared and ultraviolet cameras. They knew every time a chipmunk buried a nut or a butterfly landed on a flower. The entire facility was coordinated by a super computer AI called BIG Mac*. Mac as they typically called it, managed climate control, security and communications. Along with Cobalt, Kronos was becoming fast “friends” with the computer. It appeared to have a personality and opinions on everything from Star Wars to which side and team was best to play in Counter Strike (they both agreed; counter terrorists as SEAL Team Six. Mac was designed by patriots, after all).

 

They had been working on a second drone like the one Kronos had been using to survey the destruction so that he and Mac could work in tandem searching for survivors and hopefully determine who was responsible for the state of the world. The drones were currently be retrofitted with an energy source similar to the one that powered the String Theory suit; one that drew on the energy inherent in the very makeup of reality to provide power.

 

Additionally, a genius Army engineer named Corporal Marcus Forge had dreamed up an updated version of the drone’s miniguns that used coalesced energy for bullets instead of actual ammunition, meaning they would never need to be reloaded. The rounds provided the same concussive force that String fired out of his hands in combat, only on a smaller scale and much more rapidly. Each drone would be worth an entire Air Force’s worth of aircraft, especially given their ability to loiter without any need for refueling and lack of need for rearming.

 

Corporal Forge had also commandeered Cobalt’s suit to retrofit it with several updates, including a shoulder mounted minigun, miniature missile launchers in the wrists, and several other tricks he ensured the onboard computer would know when and how to use.

 

When they discovered who was behind the attacks and where they were located, those people would be up against a formidable force.

 

At the same time that the heroes were regrouping, Golem’s last contribution to the apocalypse was rising up from the earth. Months before, a modified version of his robot-manufacturing stealth ship was let loose on the planet. It flew to every continent, to every country and planted seeds. These seeds were pre programmed nano factories drew on natural resources to build robots. Each one of the originals set up underground “factories” of sorts that went about drawing iron and other elements out of the surrounding ground, water and air to build more robots.

 

In the end, millions upon millions of robots were grown out of the land and sea themselves. They came in multiple shapes and sizes; large, sinuous whale-like transports, stingray-like aerial attack drones and large seven foot tall humanoid robots with built in bladed weapons and guns and capable of carrying a plethora of hand held weapons the factories had built for them. There were even some designed to look like various types of animals, including centaur shaped robots for transporting individual robots over land, and millipede like land transports that acted like land-based aircraft carriers.

 

They rose out of the ground everywhere on earth. Even the sandblasted Central America spawned their own army, since they operated underground. Each robot knew its purpose, and was capable of scanning for life in several bands, including visible light, infrared, ultraviolet and even x-ray. Each machine communicated to those in range via radio signals, and had been designed to use powerful anti-virus software to prevent intrusion from an outside source, and if a unit was deemed compromised, it would be immediately dropped from the network and terminated.

 

Their program was very simple; hunt down pockets of humanity and transport them to predetermined locations, based on where the robots emerged. But there was a catch; they wanted no more than a billion people worldwide, so until that number was reached, they were to kill, indiscriminately, anyone they found. Across the world, millions of people fled or fought with the automatons, some occasionally scoring a fatal hit on a machine, only to receive a hail of gunfire or mechanical crossbow bolts in return.

 

Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered as waves of machines tore through their neighborhoods, not even bothering to use firearms, simply trampling, slashing and crushing everyone they passed. Some of the whale-sized transports would fly through a city, diving straight through skyscrapers as if there was nothing in front of them, dropping hundreds of thousands of pounds of rubble onto the city below in a single pass.

 

A patrol of these robots wandered through the mountains of Tennessee when they encountered something as unexpected as they were.

 

Carbon was the first to notice something was off. She had cleared the perimeter and was testing out some modifications that had been made to her armor. It was slightly less bulky now, and Forge had built into the outer fabric of the entire suit a material that allowed her to, for limited chunks of time, become fully invisible in all spectra. Even radar and microwaves could not be used to detect her.

 

While sneaking up on a single deer standing in a clearing, it happened. She approached with all stealth, planning to walk up to the animal and gently touch it before likely scaring it off. She had almost reached it, and was stretching out her arm toward it when the side of the animal suddenly exploded and it fell over, twitching. She ducked behind the nearby tree, all of her senses open to their full capacity and her sword in her hand without a thought.

 

She glanced around, then heard a subtle whirring noise accompanied by heavy footfalls. She looked around the tree and saw a single robot. Seven feet tall, forest green, and armed with a massive gun that appeared to fire one inch bullets, the robot’s single-eyed head surveyed the dead deer before starting to walk past. Carbon gritted her teeth. She’d seen so much senseless killing in the past week, so much that she had been powerless to prevent, that the death of this one beautiful, peaceful creature pushed her over an edge. With a growl fueled by pure, primal rage, righteous anger, and helplessness, she rushed around the tree up behind the robot. There was a slight shuffle that accompanied her snarl, and the robot turned to meet her, although it had no idea where to look exactly. As it fired on where she had been, Carbon thrust her sword through its back. the force of the blow staggered it forward.

 

The machine turned and fired again at where she had just been, but once more she had leapt out of the way. She twirled around behind it again, this time using the momentum of her spin to carry her blade right across its shoulders and cleanly severing its head. Sparks sputtered from its exposed neck for a second. She looked at her handiwork with a grim smile. Her smile melted away a moment later when she heard more footsteps, many more footsteps. The forest seemed to come alive with more of the same kind of robot, as well as twelve foot tall robots shaped like a horse with an oversized man-shaped torso fused to the front. These larger robots carried three or four of the kind Carbon had just dispatched, and sported huge cannons on their shoulders.

 

She realized instantly that she was outgunned. What was worse, however, was that the army was headed in the same direction as the base. They may not be able to overpower it, but if their secret was out that they even existed, then they could be compromised and they may have to evacuate. Since it appeared to be the only safe harbor left on the planet, she couldn’t let that happen. She grabbed the gun from the robot she’d killed and fired it randomly into the incoming crowd. She chuckled in satisfaction as the oversized bullets hit five of the machines, including one centaur, and appeared to kill them instantly.

 

Small fires lit up as one of the robots exploded, apparently its fuel source having been hit. Carbon dropped the gun and turned on her cloaking and ran. The forest erupted in gunfire as the robots tried to hit back at her, but as with the first robot, she was nowhere near their target by the time they started firing. Any satisfaction she felt in dealing any blow to them was quickly lost in the hail of bullets that shredded the forest behind her. When she was within visual distance of where she knew the base to be, she started shouting. “We have company. A battalion of armed robots of some kind is on its way here! Mobilize!”

 

Al’s voice cracked over the headset. “Do they know we’re here?” Carbon responded as she scaled the nearly invisible trailers in front of her. “I don’t think so, it looks like they were just on their way in this direction when I ran into them.” Al responded. “Roger that, sounding the alarm.”

 

Minutes later, String Theory was hovering over the fog shrouded forest scanning for approaching warbots. Kronos and Mac’s drones were scouting the ground level and Cobalt had joined Carbon on the perimeter in case any got too close. Al’s first sign of the approaching army was when a series of aerial bursts exploded near him. He looked down and zoomed in to find a centaur-like robot with both cannons facing him firing a barrage of anti-aircraft rounds at him.

String theory inverted himself and flew straight down at the robot. He swooped down just in front of it, then swung up with a mighty uppercut that threatened to rip its head off its shoulders, followed by him dropping his elbow onto its forehead, crushing it. The damaged machine shuddered and fell over, and the three robots that had been riding on its back jumped off and began firing at String. He turned and blasted off through the trees. The three robots began to follow, but he had already swung around and flew at them from the side.

 

Converting into depleted uranium, and weighing several times more than he would if he had been made out of lead, and landed on one of the bots in a crouch. Momentum carried both another twenty feet, digging a deep furrow into the ground. There was no doubt that that robot had been destroyed by the impact. Ast the other two began to fire, Al picked up the broken remains of the one he’d just killed and blocked the incoming fire with its body. He then flung it at one of the other machines with enough force that the impact crushed the robot’s gun and sent it sprawling.

 

Al leapt up, put his hands together, and then fired off a blast of energy that tore a hole through the remaining robot and slammed it into a tree. The one that had been struck by the first one began to rise up, but String Theory walked over and punched his metal fist right through its chest, driving it to the ground. After a few bright flashes as components inside the robot failed, its lights faded and it went dark.

 

Al flew up into the air to find more targets.

 

The first several robots started emerging from the woods about a football field away from the base. They did not want to activate any of the built in defenses, hoping to stop the advance long before the were exposed. Cobalt looked over at Carbon, or where she should have been, but he couldn’t tell because she was invisible.

 

“I have an idea.” The older soldier jumped down from the trailer wall and approached the robots. They immediately lifted their guns to fire, but he started running a circle around them. As they shot after him, he closed the distance between himself and the machines. He was hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered, but direct fighting was not what he had in mind. In one pass, he had touched over twenty robots and only had a few scratches from glancing shots to show for it.

 

The robots, however, had not fared so well. Their forest-colored bodies had changed; they were no longer a dark green that would let them blend into the forest, but a brassy silver gold. “What are you doing?” Carbon asked over the headset. She could hear the smile in Cobalt’s voice. “I turned them into cesium. You could cut them with a butter knife now, although I imagine a sword would do just as well.”

 

“Or, you can just spit on them. Cesium reacts violently to water.” He said, a slight snicker in his voice. Carbon shook her head. She honestly had never heard Cobalt joke before, so it was almost as unsettling as it was reassuring to hear it. She jumped down from the trailer wall into a controlled roll, then leaped up and charged the first several robots. They had no idea she was there, and to anyone watching from the it outside would have appeared that the robot’s limbs simply started falling off in showers of sparks.

 

Cobalt had modified another group of ten or so robots near a stream, and coaxed them into following. Ast they stepped into the stream, they immediately began to fizzle and spark. Seconds later, their entire legs were exploding from the chemical reaction between the volatile material they had become and the water of the stream. Soon, the entire forest shook with the sounds of robots falling into the stream and dying violently. Those nearby that were splashed by the explosions themselves began to tear themselves apart.

 

The early part of the fight went incredibly well for the heroes, with the robots scoring few if any hits against people who could shrug them off, and each of the heroes taking down tens of machines in minutes. When the drones piloted by Kronos and Mac arrived, it appeared as if the one-sided battle would soon become a rout. Then the streaking forms of the stingray flyers flew overhead, followed by the rumbling sound of several whale-sized carriers.

 

Off in the distance, attracted by the sounds of conflict, a large crowd of undead shuffled in approach.

 

Kronos had been geared up to begin shredding robots in the woods when the fighters flew overhead. “Ah crap.” He muttered as he raised his drone above the treetops in order to get a better view. Mac calculated instantly that there were at least forty flying robots and two of the long ribbed transports bearing down on them, bringing who knew how many other robots into the fight.

 

“Mac, focus on the fighters, I am going to get a closer look at the transports and see if I can find a weak spot.” The computer replied “I will Roger that.” Mac pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees in an instant and flew off after the stringray shaped ships bearing down on the base’s location. In a matter of seconds it had marked each of the two dozen robots and began firing the newly designed miniguns at them. Bolts of energy struck robots, hundreds hitting every second, shredding their wings , ripping through fuel and ammunitions.

 

They exploded spectacularly over the forest. In seconds, only sixteen remained. The robots were well programmed, however, and the group broke ranks and a full-on dogfight was on; ray-shaped bots zigged and zagged, the low, percussive sound of their guns firing shaking the sky as their large caliber rounds zipped by and just barely missed the round, compact drone. Mac answered back with a rain of energy rounds that shredded another four from the sky in a single volley, in one case, the force of the impacts driving one bot into the one next to it, crushing its engine and sending both spiralling toward the ground below.

 

Meanwhile, Kronos’ drone zipped by the gigantic transport craft. They were shaped vaguely like a centipede, but were longer than a blue whale and several times the mass of one. Their sides appeared to be made out of metallic ribs, and the front end was dominated by a single insect-like eye. The “legs” resembled a cross between a sea turtle’s fins and an oversized razor blade. As the drone approached, several pockets opened on the side of the organic-looking robotic vehicle, and several cannons emerged and started firing.

 

Kronos slowed time to a halt, but only briefly. Several cannon rounds hung in the air, still surrounded by the chaff from the gunpowder exploding, and surrounded by a shell of expanding air, the shockwave. Kronos’ drone swooped just inside those shockwaves, firing small grenades from a launcher hidden under the right minigun. He then swooped toward the second transport, allowing the normal flow of time to return. his rearward facing cameras, visible as a small subset screen in his heads up display showed the transport turning to try and bring its guns to bear on him.

 

A second later, a ripple of explosions tore down the side of the lumbering ship. More explosions erupted as the ammunition Kronos had hit with the grenades exploded inside the monstrous ship. It cavitated violently as its internal structure succumbed to the brutal onslaught it was never designed to protect against. Hangar doors along the underside opened up and flaming, shattered robot warriors dropped like dead rats flung from a fiery sinking ship.

 

With a great moan of flaming, tearing metal, the giant transports fell from the sky, tearing a giant furrow through the trees as it plowed from a hundred feet up into the mountainside. A great ball of fire erupted from the impact site, and Kronos was suddenly afraid that he had just crushed and/or incinerated some of his friends.

 

Carbon had just managed to dodge out of the way of the enormous wreckage as it crashed into the ground, and felt the hot rush as the explosion blew around the large tree she had just managed to dodge behind. Pieces of destroyed robots flew past her, and a surprising number of parts were embedded in the trees around her. Based on what she had seen before running for her life, the crash and subsequent explosion must have destroyed several dozen more robots.

 

She looked up and saw Kronos’ drone whizzing off after the other transport and decided that she would be better served getting as far away from that part of the conflict as possible. A centaur bot galloped past and she leapt out, still invisible, and slapped a hand against its flank, her gloves adhering as surely as if she had been superglued in an instant. The robot dodged trees easily as it galloped along at what must have been fifty miles an hour over broken, rough terrain.

 

One other robot sat on its back, both seemingly unaware of the new baggage. The pair veered toward a platoon of robots, these appeared to be armed with missile launchers. That was bad news if they reached the base and discovered it, which they likely would when they walked face first into the trailer wall. She crept up the back of the running robot, and as it was set to leap over the platoon of warrior robots, she sprang into action.  She jumped forward, planting a double-footed kick into the riding robot, then smoothly drawing her pistol, firing three bullets through its head, and then holstering the gun. In the same fluid motion, she drove her sword through the right hand side of the centaur bot’s head and wrenched it hard to the right.

 

Far from leaping over the platoon of warriors, it fell short, and a ton of speeding metal plowed into their ranks, flopping and rolling over the group, smashing them into the ground or throwing them into trees, shattering them to pieces or simply causing them to explode under the force of the impact. Before it had fallen, Carbon had leapt up into a tree and grabbed the branch. The speed with which she hit the limb wrenched her shoulder right out of the socket, but as she used her other arm to hoist herself into the tree, she could already feel the torn muscles mending.

 

She sheathed her sword and scanned the area to plan her next attack. The broken and confused remains of the robot platoon opened fire on anything that moved, which unfortunately for them was each other. of the four that weren’t outright destroyed in the crash, three were killed by friendly fire, and the last by a well placed shot from Carbon.

 

Cobalt had decimated nearly a hundred robots by converting them into volatile metals and either ripping them apart or simply getting them wet. He was ready to test the newest addition to his suit, something he had not had previously, and had always been just a little jealous of String Theory for. As a group of a half dozen centaur bots bore down on him, their cannons fixed on his position, ready to blast him into fragments, he fired his boot rockets and launched straight up into the air. Several trees were ripped to pieces by the errant cannon shots, but Cobalt was rocketing straight up into the sky, safely away from their shots.

 

Still new to this mode of transportation, he unwittingly flew through the flight of robots Mac was engaged with. The impact of several bots sent him flipping through the sky, three of them hitting him succession and exploding, but leaving him unharmed. After a second, he got his bearings and allowed the onboard computer to begin tracking targets. Mac noticeably fell back with his drone, and in a matter of seconds, Cobalt’s shoulder mounted gun began firing bursts of energy bullets at the swarming robots, sending several into out of control flaming spins into the ground below.

 

Mac followed suit, and those bots the computer could not track, Cobalt used his wrist-mounted guns to shoot them out of the sky. The robots returned fire, but were outmaneuvered and outgunned by the Cobalt/Mac pair. There was a loud, metallic roar from off to the side, and both turned to see the remaining transport veering toward them, Kronos’ drone peppering it with energy shots. This one had apparently learned from its partner ship’s demise and wisely refused to open fire on the persistent Kronos’ drone.

 

Instead it flew straight toward his friends, apparently intent on punishing him by crushing them. Cobalt aimed toward the giant ship and rocketed off. He attempted to stop short and fire a burst of bullets into the eye-like face of the robot, but instead accidentally flew into it head-on. He bounced off its face and then several more times off its back before skidding to a stop on its ridged back. Kronos noticed that the impact had cracked the seemingly impenetrable dome covering the thing’s face. he focused all of his fire on the front of the machine.

 

Mac zipped and dodged around, picking off the flying robots that swarmed around the transport trying to protect it. Kronos noticed things were about to get much worse; the hangar doors for the robots carried within were beginning to open. He opened fire on the first few, killing several robots before they had a chance to deploy, but there were just too many to catch at once. A familiar voice chimed in.

 

“Forget to invite me?” Came Al’s sarcastic announcement. String Theory flew up underneath the transport, firing round after round into the opening bays, destroying robots and sending them up into the belly of the beast. Cobalt had regained his bearings and grabbed ahold of the outside of the transport. Focusing all of his energy, he concentrated on converting the mass of the giant, nearly indestructible robot into weakened aluminum.

 

String flew up and over to see what he was doing, and as he saw the shade of the robots hide change, he offered a salute to his older friend, then dropped below the flight path of it, and flew up into its interior. He smashed through two robots that were trying to exit, and focused beam after beam of concentrated energy into the inner hull of the cyclopean machine.

 

he converted, ever so briefly, into a small, man sized pulsar. A shockwave of intense radiation and energy ripped through the interior of the craft. Its new aluminum frame was not able to contain the crushing outward force, and the walls of its midsection ripped outward, shearing the back quarter of the ship off. The shockwaves perpetuated forward, exploding the front off the ship and sending it careening toward the ground. Cobalt managed to fire his boot and back rockets and lift off the crashing machine, while String merely flew through the weakened side of it.

 

They all cheered as the titanic robot dropped out of the sky. However their cheer was short lived; the falling transport smashed into the trailer wall that String had built. A huge hole opened in the metal wall, leaving a section without the obfuscating metamaterial spray, and leaving the interior of the base wide open to any prying eyes.  Over a hundred remaining robots all instantly changed course to head for the now-visible outpost.

 

And largely unnoticed in the general din of battle, a thousand plus army of undead was filtering through the forest destruction and was even then a fraction of a mile away from the flaming hole that lead directly into the heroes’ stronghold.

 

Robots raced toward the breech in the base’s defenses. The built-in anti-intrusion systems kicked in within seconds. Phalanx systems sprang up out of the ground in the area surrounding the breach. As the first robot crossed the flaming threshold, a minigun’s barrels spun up and a wall of hot metal slammed into it, sending it sprawling back into the others. As more poured through, the other guns lit up, each tracking a warrior bot, shredding it with a hail of bullets, then moving and repeating the same process with the next in line.

 

As fast as the phalanx was ripping robots to shreds, more were flowing in behind them. String Theory was the first to arrive at the scene. The crashed transport was laying partially in the breach, with the rest of the wreckage wrapped off to the side at an odd angle from the wall. A hole about twelve feet across was left in the defensive barrier, and the robots were massing on the outside and rushing in through it.

 

Enough had made it inside the perimeter to begin firing on the phalanx systems. One was quickly destroyed, its ammunition feed spitting unfired rounds all over the ground. The robots inside wasted no time in trying to destroy as much as possible. Several had zeroed in on a hummer that had not been put inside the hangar. String focused on this. As he swooped in, he fired a shot, one from each into two of the advancing warrior bots. They burst into flames and spun to the ground.

 

He landed next to the vehicle, but it was too late to save it. The robots had fired hundreds of rounds into it, breaching its armor and leaking gas all over the ground, which had begun to pool near the broken phalanx. His body changed into high carbon steel, and he delivered a brutal punch into the face of one robots, sending it reeling, and then a vicious uppercut into the chin of the next one, the force of which tore its head off.

 

Five more approached, firing as they advanced. The bullets pinged and ricocheted off his armor, but soon he knew that they armor piercing incendiary rounds they were firing would take their toll and he would have to leave. He had no intention of that, so he turned and punched a hole in the side of the ruined Hum-Vee. Grasping the engine block, he kicked the side of the vehicle and sent it scooting sideways across the concrete ground. The huge eight cylinder engine was still clenched in his fist.

 

He quickly turned and swung the mighty new weapon at the closest robot, sending it broken and sprawling on the ground. He backhanded the next one which went flying into a heap, then punched straight out at the next one, folding it in half. Three more advanced, shooting, and he used the momentum of turning to face them to fling the giant engine, which tore into their ranks and ripped them apart like a chainsaw-edged bowling ball. He flew up again, and began firing round after round of energy from his fists, blowing chunks out of advancing bots. Cobalt landed on top of the burning transport and opened fire with his new guns.

 

The gap in the wall became a robot slaughterhouse. The guns the bots carried were ineffectual against Cobalt and String Theory’s armor, and every shot they fired seemed to drop another bot. But then several centaur bots arrived. Their much larger cannons proved a bigger threat. One managed to score a double hit on Cobalt, throwing him from the wall into an uncontrolled spin onto the ground. String Theory retorted with a double-fisted blast that left a basketball sized glowing hole right through the center of it. The robot shuddered and collapsed.

 

The remaining ones took aim on String Theory in the sky and opened fire. Soon, he had to abandon the breach and focus on dodging anti aircraft fire. Worse still, he received a warning that one of the phalanx systems had run dry. He checked in with Mac and Kronos, who had their hands full with the remaining stingray drones.

 

He called out for Carbon, but received no response. He knew she would weather even the worst injuries, but this was one of the most brutal conflicts he had ever witnessed. He tucked away his concern, having faith that she was okay and simply had a good reason to be quiet.

 

Carbon sat quietly in a tree, watching the crowd flow between the trees below her. Their moans and cries had reached a fever pitch as the hungry undead shuffled toward the greater conflict, drawn by the noise and smell of smoke, hoping to find human food. There were enough that she was worried that making her presence known would incite them to try and climb the tree, and there were enough that they might be able to bring it down.

 

She figured she would survive such an attack, but like the week before, she did not relish the idea of surviving being eaten alive. As soon as the last few of the few thousand had passed underneath, she began calling out frantically. “Zombies guys. More than a battalion’s worth is approaching. Clean and close the breach, ASAP!”

 

A pair of late arrivals emerged from the garage, armed to the teeth. Lightfoot and Trembler had been enjoying some husband and wife time, alone, so they had not been aware that they were under attack. More than a little embarrassed, as soon as they had realized something was wrong, they suited up and rushed outside.

 

“Miss us?” Trembler said over his headset. There was an audible sigh of relief from String Theory over the headset. “What took you guys so long?” He asked. Trembler smirked. “It’s a husband and wife thing…” Al didn’t joke back. “Well, I hope you’re relaxed. We have a perimeter breach and a few thousand walking corpses bringing up the rear of a robot military force.” Neither husband nor wife was fazed even a little by the report.

 

They ran toward the flaming hole in the trailer wall. Robots streamed through and took aim on the pair, then opened fire. Neither of them wore any real armor, opting for comfortable clothing that allowed them to move easily. This would have been a problem for most other couples, but not for these two. Lightfoot threw up an hand , and in the space between the robots and the pair, she created a concentrated gravity well. The oncoming bullets were swallowed by the tiny singularity, and instantly crushed into a ball bearing of incredible density. Trembler returned fire by punching the ground in front of him. Seismic waves rippled from his hand and shot through the concrete toward the remaining machine warriors. The ground shook violently, throwing most of the remaining robots off their feet. The barrage of cannon fire directed at String Theory suddenly halted as the centaur bots struggled to keep their footing.

 

A second later, everything from just inside the breach, out to the last centaur bot, lifted off the ground. Lightfoot was smiling as she concentrated on the expanding field of microgravity, experiencing each machine as it lifted from the ground. She levelled off the field as most of the attacking force was a good forty feet off the ground. String zipped through the floating bots firing shot after shot at them, blasting holes and sending them wildly spinning into one another and trees. They tried to return fire, but the inertia generated by shooting in zero-g caused them to veer and fly haphazardly.

 

One robot was struck by another and drifted out to the edge of the gravity field, falling to the ground inside the perimeter. It immediately honed in on the couple and opened fire. Acting quickly, Trembler lifted a heavy piece of metal that appeared to be a piece of the destroyed transport. He managed to get it up at the last second, saving his and his wife’s life. The remaining phalanx sprayed the robot with bullets, causing it to dance and flail as it was torn to pieces. Nearby, the empty phalanx tried to shoot as well.

 

Trembler felt a sharp, burning pain in his calf. Looking down, a large hole had appeared in his left leg muscle several inches below the knee. Cold fear gripped him as he turned and looked at his wife. She lay still, and blood covered the left side of her face. “Oh no…” He said as he crawled over to her. He checked her pulse first, and it was still strong. On closer inspection, the impromptu shield had absorbed the force of the gunshots, and had spun up and cracked her in the head. Apparently, one of the bullets had gotten past and hit him in the leg.

 

In the instant that she had been knocked out, the gravity field she had created blinked out of existence, and the robots came crashing down. Several of them were destroyed in the fall, landing on their heads or crashing awkwardly into rocks and trees.

 

The rest provided easy targets for String Theory. Behind the wall, Cobalt rose to his feet, his head swimming. He looked over and saw the fallen Lightfoot and Trembler and without any other thought, ran to their aid. The sudden dropping of the transport and some of the surrounding trailers had reduced the breach to a mere five feet across.

 

Unfortunately, through the remaining hole crawled masses of ravenous walking dead.

 

Carbon had descended from the tree as quickly as possible once the army of undead had passed, and began taking a circular path through the woods back to the base to lend whatever hand she could. The sounds of fighting up above were dwindling, and she was hoping that Kronos and Mac would be able to return to the base and provide cover fire while String Theory worked on fixing the hole.

 

She kept just outside of hearing range of the undead, making sure they remained on her right while she approached the base.

 

String Flew higher into the sky to get his bearings and to get a look at how Kronos and Mac fared. In one second, there were a dozen remaining ships dogfighting with them, the next, the flaming wreckage of eight of them fell from the sky. Apparently Kronos was tiring of the fight. String theory flew toward them and in seconds, between him and the other two, no more stingrays remained flying.

 

“Follow me, boys, we need to close up a hole in the perimeter and I could use some cover.” Oddly, both drones appeared to nod, and the three flew off back toward their facility.

 

Cobalt stood over his fallen friends and comrades and fired a stream of energy bullets into the approaching wall of dead flesh. he could stand and shoot all day, literally, but if he did not get Trembler inside, he might die of blood loss. Already he was pale and appeared to be showing signs of shock. Lightfoot appeared to be breathing, but had suffered a head injury and needed medical attention soon as well.

 

Then there was the concern that as far as he knew, Carbon was still on the other side of the wall. He tapped into the camera feeds from the approaching String Theory and drones and saw that the army of zombies was fanning out around the entire base. They could not see the wall, but seemed to realize that since they were walking into something that there must be something on the other side.

 

“String, buddy, close that gap!” Al circled the base and shouted back. “Get them inside, don’t worry about anything else!” Cobalt nodded and gently reached down to help Trembler up as his minigun continued to track and shoot incoming undead. “What about Lightfoot?” He asked as he was guided toward the opening garage door. “I will go right back for her, but you have to go, now. how pissed do you think she would be if she knew I let you die to save her?”

 

Trembler gave a weak smile and almost collapsed before two medics grabbed him and carried him inside. Two tall, broad-shouldered soldiers flanked Cobalt as he walked back for Lightfoot. Surprisingly, the small gap in his shooting allowed over twenty zombies inside the base. The two soldiers stalked forward, SAWs against their shoulders, firing burst after burst of bullets into the heads of approaching undead. People in all manner of dress from doctors to women in pajamas fell dead (again) from their shots.

 

Cobalt gingerly lifted his friend off the ground, careful to not move her neck or back any more that absolutely necessary. His two escorts motioned for him to get inside and they slowly fell back behind him. Nearby, the two phalanx systems whirred as they tried to shoot the incoming threat, but their empty ammunition cases prevented them from being of use. The inner defenses did not fire any of the missile defenses for fear that they would damage the trailer wall further.

 

String Theory fired a steady beam of energy into the whole, but there were simply too many shambling bodies flowing through the hole. Many dropped dead or caught fire, but many more continued on. The two drones flew down to ground level and began shredding the throngs of undead with a steady stream of energy bullets. While their efforts did blow them to pieces, any that did not receive a headshot continued to crawl forward hungrily.

 

String flew over to the dead transport.he located a section that seemed to have collapsed to roughly seven feet in width, but still seemed solid. Focusing a powerful beam of light projected from one hand, he sliced a section out of the ship. As he flew down to pick it up, hundreds of ravenous zombies fell on him. They could not hurt him, but they slowed down his efforts considerably. He converted into solid flame, a human-sized pillar of burning phosphorus for several seconds. Those touching him were reduced to ash while those further out spontaneously combusted.

 

He used the split second’s reprieve to dive under the section of transport and fly up into the air with it. The base was now crawling with several hundred zombies. “Girl, I hope you’re far away right now…” He mumbled into the chat network and hoping Carbon could hear him. From fifty feet up, he dropped the massive piece of broken robot over the hole. Despite being two feet too wide, the sheer weight of it caused its sides to crumple and form a solid fit. The zombies caught underneath flattened with a sickening splatter, shooting gore all over the interior of the complex and the forest outside.

 

String Theory and the drones entered the sealed facility from the rooftop entrance. Everyone was quiet; no one had heard from Carbon since she alerted them to the undead attack. String stared at the monitors tied to the security cameras, hoping to get a glimpse of her. “Come on girl…” He mumbled to himself. For the first time in a long time, he was very worried.

 

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