Chapter 9: Knock, knock


Fists pounded on the door in an ugly staccato as Fae’s heart pulsed in her ear. Kita barked sharp and vicious, then growled, showing her teeth. Vera calmed her as best she could. They all looked at the door, the incessant thumping growing louder and more violent. The screen broadcasting the peephole’s camera was just static. On the other side of the door, a raspy voice was singing, “Hide and seek. Hide and seek. Ready or not, here we come!”

Vera ran through the house, picking up odds and ends: a few hard drives stacked on an end table, a few well-worn journals, a couple dog toys, and a change of clothes. Fae stood still—panicking on the inside—as Vera rushed through the three different rooms and crammed her trinkets into a small messenger bag. Kita stoically stood in the hallway, ready to pounce the moment the door opened. 

“Well don’t just stand there. Take this.” Vera handed Fae something that resembled a gun. The simple pistol grip fit into Fae’s hand easily, but it was front heavy and hummed with electricity. A small holographic display flickered to life on the left side of the gun. The barrel, or where it should’ve been, was the same three-pronged configuration as the rifle-sized weapon Vera had loosely slung over her shoulder.

Fae looked at the gun, unnerved by the constant hum, then up at Vera. The gun fit snugly in her hands, but Fae was uncomfortable. It felt foreign. It felt dangerous. Her palms were sweating suddenly.

“I’ve, uh, I’ve never-”

“No one has, sweetheart.” Vera smiled. “Or at least only a few. You’ve got in your hands my first railgun prototype. It was the last design I made before Sigma shut us down.” She took the gun from Fae, pulled out the collapsable stock and dropped down the fore grip. She pressed a button below the holographic display and a small circle icon hovered above the gun’s grip. 

Handing the gun back, Vera said, “That’s AIVA. Stands for, uh, AIm VAporize. Clever, right? She’s does a bit of everything, but mostly makes sure the gun shoots right. You still have to aim, but she does all the math for you. Rail guns are hard, she makes it pull-the-trigger easy.”

The circle icon silently swirled. The pounding got louder as the door bowed in. Metal thudded and hacked at the walls on either side of the apartment.

“I fried her vocal circuit when I shot the thing for the first time, but otherwise she works great. Each shot generates a shit ton of heat and the gun can only vent so much so fast, so keep an eye on it.” 

Fae’s hands were shaking as she lifted the gun to her shoulder. Her heart pounded in her temples like drums.

Vera lifted Fae’s gun barrel to face the door and looked Fae in the eyes. “If that door comes down and they start coming in, you pull that trigger. They didn’t come all this way for coffee, so protect yourself. AIVA will do most the work, you just point in the general direction of the bad guys.” Vera patted her shoulder and ran to the other room and whistled. “It’s going to be okay. Probably.” 

Kita darted to Vera in the other room, leaving Fae alone in the apartment’s main room.

They silently waited as the thud of the intruders chipped away at the walls. Fae’s palms were clammy and she readjusted her grip every few seconds. Sweat prickled her forehead and her hair clung to her face. Her lips tasted like salt and were covered with chalky grime. 

Vera broke the silence with a level voice. “Hey. You alright in there?”

“Y-y-yeah. You know, I’m really rethinking this visit right now.”

“Heh. I bet.” 

Metal tore through metal, shrieking through the tiny apartment. A devious looking impromptu ax head shred through the main door. Yelling voices got louder in the other room as holes were ripped through the apartment walls. Kita growled louder, her teeth bared, ears down.

Vera shouted over the noise. “You cover my ass, I’ll cover yours!”

Fae clenched her teeth and tightened her grip. Knuckles white, the hum of the railgun next to her hearing implant drowned out most of the metal on metal shredding. An eye looked through the opening in the door, then a mouth yelling “Found you!”

Fae breathed. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

Then she pulled the trigger.

Light burst from the snub-nosed railgun before Fae heard the high-pitched electric whine. The heat hit next - a heat like she was standing next to molten iron. Then the gun slammed into her shoulder. The gun’s stock compressed, compensating for most of the force, but Fae still grimaced from the jolt of the recoil. The bases of small bristly heatsinks around the three-pronged arms pulsed red-hot, cooling down quickly.

Fae saw another face look through the holes in the door, this time through the smoldering circle the size of an apple. She squeezed the trigger again. Light. Whine. Heat. Slam. This time a squeal of pain from the other side of the door. She fired. Again. Floating dots hung in her vision each time she blinked, remnants from the gun’s flash. More yells. Screams. Louder electric whines from behind her. Barely audible growls. Heat radiated from the gun, stinging her eyes. The smell hung in the air. Ozone. Burning wood. Singed metal. Roasted flesh. It turned Fae’s stomach.

The circle icon, AIVA, flashed red; a heat warning hovered in the display. Fae didn’t need a warning. She saw the aluminum heatsinks glowing bright red. She felt the burning heat spilling off the gun. Chest heaving, she waited, looking through the multitude of holes she had shot through the door. Her left ear was ringing from the gun’s whine. She could only hear out of her right ear’s implant, which had turned off during the shooting. Quick, shallow breaths rattled in her head.

Kita snarled behind her. Fae heard wet tearing noises. More bellows of pain. Electric explosions. Vera cursing. Chaos. Humming?

The shredded front door burst inward, the wood splintering and metal buckling inward like a bomb went off. Scabbed, pink with sunburn, and covered in blood, the humming man charged Fae. She pulled the trigger, but AIVA still blinked red. 

He was on her, toppling her over. Straddling her, he tried to use the gun against her, pushing it down against her throat as she tried to push back. He used his knees and jabbed her in the ribs. 

She recoiled. 

He pushed. 

Metal touched her throat. A heatsink pressed against her left shoulder. She screamed in agony and clenched the trigger.

They both flinched when the gun went off and sprayed concrete shards from the wall into their faces. The gun jumped up and Fae fired again, pitching it up further. She fired a third time, using the momentum to swing the gun - and another burning heatsink - into his face. He held on, trying to force the gun down again but, with one final shot, Fae used her leverage and lodged the heatsink in his eye. 

He released her, covering his mottled, peeling face with two crinkled, bloodied hands, wailing. Then, while Fae was shuffling backward on her elbows, he let loose a deep, primal growl and lurched forward. Fae leveled the gun at him and fired once, hitting him in the hip. He limped forward, eye unblinking. Fae aimed higher. 

Before she could fire, he was covered in a flurry of white, then pink. He fell to the ground in a heap, Kita’s jaw clamped around his neck and yanked at the sinewy flesh. The electric blasts of Vera’s gun got closer, the heat pulsed down the hallway.

“They’re still coming! Get off your ass, it’s time to get out of here!” Then she whistled. Kita snapped up and ran between her legs as they moved in unison again. Fae stood and held her gun in both hands. AIVA’s icon swirled blue as Fae popped out of the  apartment and looked down the hallways. Vera was right behind her.

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