‘Z342’ by Benjamin Buxton
This story is one of two Highly Commended for voice and viewpoint in the 2020 Antares Action Fiction Competition.
“Two, one, execute breaching.” The wall panel crashed onto the floor of the adjacent corridor. Assault drone Z342 pointed a ripclaw at the nearby biologics. Its swarm mates scaled the corridor walls, dodging the furious barking of plasma carbines. One fell and Z342 flew over its collapsing body. Kill, its programming instructed. Its fusion flamer swept over the nearest foul biologic, who screamed in response.
Termination complete. It scanned its surroundings. Z357 had pierced another biologic. However, in its final moments the abomination fired a plasma pistol point blank into its drive. They fell together to the floor. Inefficient termination. Z342’s scan was incomplete when from a distance away a plasma lance fired and struck the wall behind it.
“Drone Z342 terminate the threat,” came the instruction.
Z342 fired its drive and flew down the corridor, twisting right and left, dodging another lance blast. It swept to the ceiling and then dropped onto the target firing its flamer. Bang! A plasma grenade detonated behind it. Tail lost, agility decreased 20%, its programming informed 342. Somehow its foe still stood. The infestation’s armour was stained black. There were gaping holes in places. Biological liquid seeped out. A plasma pistol barked at Z342. It swerved, the shot missed. Z342 struck with a ripclaw, then another. Hyperlight armour crumpled and gave way.
Destruction complete. The infestation slumped to the floor as it pulled out a claw. Behind it, the remaining foul biologics screamed as they were eradicated.
At the other end of the corridor, another wall collapsed. “Constructors vanguard, assault drones rearguard,” Tertiary ordered.
Z342 followed the instructions. Constructors engaged. A ripple of deadly plasma obliterated three constructors as they swarmed through the hole. Hostile drone. Constructor drones swarmed protectively around Tertiary.
Z342 fired up its reactor once more, using a constructor as a shield as it swept towards the biologic’s own drone. Fusion flamers flared and missed. Z342 struck with both claws as the hostile drone spun around. Success. A ripclaw pierced the drone and it wailed. Z342 struck again and again. Sparks flew. Metal shrieked.
The biologic’s drone crumpled onto the floor.
“More biologics incoming,” chimed Tertiary. Constructor bodyguards swarmed around it protectively, a fluid wall of deadly fusion cutters.
Z342’s sensors picked up an atmospheric change in the corridor as a number of the biologic scourge approached. Its warrior swarm fanned out as programmed to meet the threat and constructors swept out of the breach in support. Plasma carbines fired upon them. For every constructor that fell, another took its place. Expendable. Z342’s depleted swarm instinctively placed themselves behind the constructors. More constructors fell, obliterated into fragments. Waiting for optimum fire arc. NOW!
With their superior programming each assault drone fired their flamers through gaps between the shielding constructors. Whoosh! On cue, constructors swept straight forward at the mobile biologics. Surprisingly, some of the infestation simply bounced away, sidestepping flailing tool appendages. Two constructors were blasted away by a biologic as they swept towards it. Strike now!
Z342 swept around the disintegrating constructors, catching the foe by surprise. Its flamer hissed over the infestation, immolating it. But it was still alive. The biologic jumped and fired as it screamed past, sweeping its barking carbine left and right trying hit Z342. Z342 dodged and pursued, swept left and right, barely evaded blasts of plasma as it hunted its foe.
With a burst from its drive, Z342 reached the foe. Strike! A ripclaw punctured the biologic’s leg. Its sensors scanned straight into the foe’s visor as the biologic fired an x-sling. At the last second, it dropped, shearing a leg off the foe’s body. A muffled scream was followed by a crash. Seizing the moment, Z342 struck again and again into the prone enemy.
“Assault drones regroup.” The order came just as more biologics arrived from the opposite end of the corridor.
Swarm mates fanned out to meet the threat and Z342 closed the distance, driving its motor hard. Plasma lances and carbines barked out. Two assault drones were instantly obliterated. Z342 feigned moving to the right before grasping the wall to the left with a ripclaw and launching itself at a biologic. It punctured the infestation’s armour with its other claw, then it struck again with the first, pulling the terminated foe to the ground.
Suddenly, Z342 was thrown to the floor as a wave of plasma struck it. Constructors wailed. Around Z342, fragments of constructors crashed onto the floor. Left ripclaw inoperable. It fired its flamer again. Another infestation fell. Alarm! There at the other end of the corridor stood larger, bulkier biologics. They aimed; Z342 aimed. Plasma barked; Z342’s flamer hissed in reply.
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