Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Fiction: The Evil Possum and the Eurypterids part 7!

 For Halloween week, I'm posting the finale of the Evil Possum adventure as a two-parter. I'm putting this up after finishing most of what will be the next installment. By the way, I had a whole vignette for the "state assignments" that didn't get in, also the introduction for Chelsea. As usual, here's links for first and previous installments.

As sunset approached and passe, the great bird walked with Percy down a throughway to the courtyard of the precinct building. “I reviewed your file,” Dhahka Kaan  said. “What’s on record, of course. I will admit, you have come to my attention before. Even for an AI officer, your service is exceptional, for duration alone.”

Percy shrugged. “It’s what I was built for,” he said.

“Even so, there are opportunities,” Kaan said. “It would appear that you were actively turning down promotions.”

“Maybe a few,” Percy said. He looked back at his new partner and the rookie named O’Keefe. The rodent was looking at a small autofabricator, shaped like a globe on a tapered pedestal. He put in a triangular coin, and it discharged the likeness of a finbacked protoreptile. “I stay where I can do the most good.”

“I can appreciate that,” Kaan said. “If you don’t mind my saying so, I have turned down certain opportunities myself. Of course, I hold a place on the City Council. There are people who would have liked to see me in a Directorship. I might still take it, but for now, I have preferred to focus on my ventures. New projects, improvements to my properties, better quality of life for my tenants. Care, that’s the thing. In that, I should like to think, we are the same. Ah, excuse me…”

The bird fished a personal organizer out of his cloak with a tiny mechanical claw. He spoke into it. “Yes, this is Kaan… Of course, I have been briefed… I see, that is unfortunate…”

Percy looked over his shoulder, and found Chelsea also on the phone. “Yes, I handled the account, but I left the administration some time ago… Wait, what?”

Just then, Percy’s wrist organizer buzzed. He swiped to accept. “Hi, Daisy, what’s… I’m sorry, this really isn’t… Hold on, I can’t understand you… Daisy, you gotta calm down, breath like we talk about… Listen, I really don’t have… Waitaminute, you’re where?” He looked over his shoulder. Even from ground level in the courtyard of the precinct building, he could see the Deck looming in the near distance. “Aw, frink…”

* * *


Daisy was close to finishing a plate of spaghetti and chili, and Wes was halfway through a salami sandwich, when they first heard sounds like gunfire. She followed his gaze to a bank of screens that were unexpectedly on the same stream. One of the staff brought up the sound.

“…Citizens Net breaking news, we have a live feed from the spire of the Deck where an outbreak of exotic eurypterids was reported earlier, showing what authorities have identified as a decorated Quarantine special agent heroically engaging one of the creatures.” The screen showed what could only be the marsupial fighting an especially large eurypterid covered in strange encrustations in what appeared to be a kitchen. “Any and all citizens in areas affected by the disturbance are advised to remain at a safe distance. Render aid to those who may be injured or in need, but avoid any direct contact with the creature…”

The noises they heard were no longer from the video stream alone. There were crashes, then screams, and then patrons and staff came running, by ones and twos at first, then in a solid wave. The couple at the nearest table retreated, with the young man carefully shielding his partner, moments before their table was completely overturned. Wes leaned out and pulled the woman to marginal safety. She crouched by Daisy’s side as the crowd passed.

No-Hands emptied his revolver point-blank into the carapace of the eurypterid, trying to aim for a suture in the middle. Just one shot brought a spurt of fluid to show that it had penetrated the calcified shell. He swung the cylinder open as he shifted, hoping to find an angle to fire between the segments of the body. He looked up just in time to see the incoming tail spine. It was too late to dodge, but he ducked fast enough that the stinger only tore his vest. However, it snared the strap of one of the Panzerfaust antitank weapons slung over his back. The tail snapped back, dragging him aloft. He swung in tight circles as the tail lashed about, until he was finally flung clear when the strap broke. He went tumbling across the floor, barely ahead of the advancing creature, while the Panzerfaust clattered to one side. When he came to rest, he raised his head long enough to see Wes and Daisy. “Call Percy!” he called out. He discharged his shotgun, but aimed only at the legs and claws. “Tell him I need a decontamination crew and an assault unit with plasma weapons!” That was when the eurypterid came into view, bearing hundreds if not thousands of eggs on its back.

The creature smashed through a chair in its path. It seized another with its claws and lifted it high enough to strike it with its tail. The marsupial barely dodged the chair as it came tumbling straight at him, with enough force to fracture a window behind him. The exertion was enough to scatter several of the globes on its back. The possum snarled and used the shotgun to blast two of them. Wes bent down and picked up another. It was milky but translucent on close examination. Within, he saw a tiny creature no bigger than an ant. It stirred, waving two palps. He crushed it instinctively, all the way down to the squirming kernel of life within. There was a moment of resistance before the unhatched creature was crushed.

“Hurry!” he called to Daisy.

“Just a sec…” She finished the last of her spaghetti, then hurried after him. “Hey, I finally got through to you about not wasting food!” Only then did he realize that he was still carrying his sandwich.

* * *

“That’s it!” Lorne the prep cook said to his partner Jaeckel. “You saw that thing, and that stuff all over it! It’s laid eggs, and if they aren’t all destroyed, they’ll turn into more of those things! We gotta do something!”

“Do what? For who?” Jaeckel said. “The network said not to get involved! And what would we do, anyway? Maybe we could kill it, but how would we deal with the eggs?” Even as he spoke, they both looked toward a boiling pot, and a serving cart beside it.

* * *

The first the select patrons on the upper level heard or saw of the battle was a rush of less distinguished patrons scrambling up the stairs. Most withdrew themselves, sensibly and in good enough order to calm the newcomers. An elderly woman with two younger and well-muscled male companions gave a nod, and the pair headed toward another stair on the far side of the restaurant. Their final retreat ended as they reached a crowd of patrons pressed against a locked door that opened onto an actual, unenclosed balcony.

The expectant fellow patron spoke to Daisy as they came up. “I’m Mariyah,” she said. “This is my husband, Jonny. Say… were you and that nice man paired by state assignment? No offense, that’s how we met…”

“No, we hooked up after work,” Daisy said. “You know, the old-fashioned way… Best thing that ever happened, isn’t it… Wes?” She looked around, but he was nowhere to be seen.

The marsupial continued his retreat across the restaurant, while the patrons made their way to the stairs. The advancing eurypterid made a whirring sound with its mouthparts, the first sound he had heard beside the clicking of their claws. It was the challenge of one rival to another, the best it could offer against the small creature that somehow bore the odor of four slain brothers and even two of its sisters. He roared in answer, just as the three-fingered claw that served as his right hand snared a ring on the side of his artificial leg. It was enough to make the creature veer to one side, already recognizing that the little not-quite-prey was reaching for something it had confidence in. A chamber swung out from the side of his leg, ejecting a spent case. He started to reach for his bandoleer, but he already knew it would be empty. He roared again, louder, irritated at his miscalculation rather than his failure. From the other direction, he saw two well-dressed gentlemen approaching.

With the few seconds and short space the diversion had bought, No-Hands unlimbered his remaining Panzerfaust. It was more than two-thirds of his half-meter height, with a nearly cylindrical incendiary warhead the size of a soda can. He took aim, but shook his head.  “Disable fire suppression systems for Mile High!” he called out. In place of the shaped-charge weapon, he drew another that had an incendiary warhead. He fired to one side, straight at an abandoned cart with a half-dozen bottles of wine. The warhead went straight for its target; a belching jet of flame went the other way, scorching the carpet. In another fraction of a second, he might have caught the foe in the flames. But what he did was good enough: An eruption of blue flame and shattered glass that quickly ran from one side of the restaurant to the other.

The eurypterid stopped in its tracks, its mouthparts whirring. The two gentlemen reached into their jackets and each drew an identical weapon. The marsupial bounded into view, and they both paused when he shouted, “Do not fire! The creature must be destroyed with its young!” The evidently senior man narrowed his eyes and nodded. The creature buzzed its mouthparts one last time, before lumbering back onto its own trail of destruction.

It was at almost that moment that Daisy’s scream came reverberating up from the level below…

And Percy zeroed in on Wes, leaning over the rail of a balcony 1400 meters in the air.

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