Augmented eyes flash over tensile strengths, sizes, distances, GPS powered location all streaming into her crystal-clear vision overlaying walls, doorways, floors.  Long multi-coloured lines reaching out in front of her showing quickest, clearest, most efficient routes out of the building.

Dao has been built and trained to the peak of physical, mental and technological ability, yet she can’t seem to shake thing chasing her through the office complex.

The staff have cleared out, the security alarm going up a few minutes before that thing came smashing into the office where she was downloading data from a secure server.

Fortunately, this was a data run.  If she needed to extract some staff, there was no way she would have been able to escape it with people in tow.

She had analysed the data flowing into her mind from a myriad of sensors embedded in her body with every tool at her disposal, even uploading the data to the secure satellite for her handlers back at the office to see if they could figure out what it was.

It had no mass, it didn’t trigger the infrared sensors in her eyes, so it didn’t give off heat.  It did trip her radar and sonar sweeps and it did show up on various parts of the visible light spectrum.

Then there was what it looked like.  Oily black tentacles held a shimmering body in mid-air gripping on walls, door frames, tables, anything it could grab a hold of.  And it was fast, grabbing and propelling itself through the corridors behind her with a speed which kept pace with her incredibly fast augmented sprint.

The noises it made were the worst, the squelching of its tentacles as it grabbed onto something, like the photocopier she could see it using to propel itself around the corner in her rear-view camera.

But the mass, the photocopier stayed put, something that big and fast throwing its weight on something not bolted to the wall should throw it in the opposite direction.

As she kicked open the door to a meeting room, jumping over the middle table and flying through the glass on the other side she zoomed the little rear-view window in on what she thought would be its face, if it had one.  Was that a glimmering of razor sharp teeth she saw resolve in the shimmering darkness filling the little window, or was it just her imagination?

Whatever she did, it stuck on her tail.  She was starting to get tired, the adrenaline reservoirs in her body augmentations starting to run dry.  It had been chasing her for two hours straight now.

At least she would have wasted a lot of Wyke-Veillon’s company time with their staff all moved to other offices, and she got the data she was after which was a plus. Unfortunately, an interlock on the data means she can’t just upload it to the secure satellite and get it to the office, she needs to physically transfer it to the company analysts to extract it from her mind.

A stream of bullets flies down the corridor as she crosses over into the office beyond the meeting room.  They ‘pling’ harmlessly off the wall behind her, not leaving a mark in the pristine paintwork.  SPU15 smart bullets, the latest military hardware to come out of Belgium with a small self-destruct primer and RFID friend or foe system making sure they disintegrate well before endangering any friendly personnel, or in this case saving on maintenance costs.

She turns sharply and hops across a leather couch smashing into the wall furthest from the security force who were crouching at the end of the corridor, the black oily thing close behind her.

She’s out in a stairwell now, more smart-bullets whizzing down above her, four black helmets peering down over the railing seven floors up.

She raises her arm as she sails over the railing and a small black disk flies out beneath her wrist and sails up to where the helmets are ducking back under cover.

It explodes, tiny titanium filaments peppering the security force above her as she falls several floors.

She spins mid-air, little aerofoils twisting in her legs to control her rate of yaw and grabs hold of the bannister which rips free of the wall and swings her down to the floor below it.  She rolls off the metal and comes up, her palm out to smash the stairwell door off of its hinges.  It pops out of its frame and lands a few feet down the corridor.

She pushes forward, as the black oily thing slams onto the stairs behind her, it’s tentacles reaching out to support itself on the walls surrounding itself.  It squeezes through the doorway and continues its chase, just behind her.

It’s too close, if it was further away she would have a chance of finding a hiding place, but it’s always too close for her to disappear somewhere.

She sends the telemetry data of it landing to the secure satellite, it catches itself with its tentacles as if it was a lot heavier than it is.

Suddenly a security support chassis rips the door off the door in front of her, sleek black carbon-titanium frame matt black in the harsh office lighting, yellow and red warning labels informing staff to stay away, mind their fingers in the moving parts and to not stand in front of the long barrels poking out from various parts of its body.

An arc of little blue spheres shoots out from just behind its shoulders, probably EMP grenades but Dao doesn’t stick around to figure out – she picks up the explosion profile as she tears down an adjacent corridor.  It was a good guess, she manages to get just out of range of the electrical blast – she needs all the power she can get now.

Speaking of, her energy reserves are getting dangerously low as she has been pushing herself so hard, she needs an exit, and she needs one now.

The dark mass is still close on her heels, ebbing and flowing down the corridors, preventing her from stopping or catching her breath.

Dao sizes up the wall in front of her, the map says there is a large canteen on the other side, and more offices beyond that.  She measures the thickness of the wall and scans it with her mass spectrometer, it should give easily under her weight.  She dives head first into the canteen, bits of plasterboard sticking to her infiltration suit.

The dark, oily thing pauses for a second, then dives through the wall behind her, somehow absorbing the plasterboard still drifting through the air in the newly created hole.

She picks another wall and her sensors reach out to analyse it, another hole in weak plasterboard is created.

A corridor now, she skids to a slight pause and races down in a random direction, running out of ideas.  The map suggests a vent in the corner which she can slide down to get to maintenance, the map gives her a 40% chance of escape and evade – her best choice according to the map.  She goes for it, selecting the path and racing along the virtual blue line until the corridor comes to an abrupt turn.

The map requests she runs through the wall to the maintenance section beyond, but its slightly more robust than the office internal ones she was hammering trough before.

She ramps up the speed and activates a repulse system which should knock the wall away before she touches it.  The map thinks that will do the trick.

She hits the wall full speed, her arms up to protect her face.

And suddenly there is a strong current of wind.  She drops her arms, eyes wide with fear as the floor goes out from under her, cold London air hitting her in the face.

She desperately spins to try and grab the floor of the office she was just running through, aerofoils snapping round to spin her in the air.  She reaches out, but the repulse system was too good, it’s flung her too far from the building to reach back.  She realises it’s too late and she is already falling.

Thanks to the aerofoils she is now in a spin, legs flailing in the air as she crashes towards the clouds.  The air is thin, and she gasps for air – too panicked to think clearly enough to turn on her internal rebreather.

She lets out a scream as she arcs down through the clouds, unable to think what to do.  She desperately tries to figure out what happened.  Someone must have hacked into her smart-systems and changed her map, her sensors, even her vision.  But that was impossible.

Dao breaks cloud cover, the Chelsea slums reaching out below her.  The run-down houses, once worth millions but now filled with squatters racing up towards her as she struggles to stop the panic filling every part of her mind.

Her last living thought, as she slams into the grey roof of an abandoned townhouse miles below the hole in the side of the Birchwood Global campus, is quite lucid and sensible.  She wonders that if someone has hacked her smart-systems, maybe the oily monster chasing hadn’t even existed at all.

Chris Harden
Author Works


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