“This can’t be right.” Ross says directly into Isis’ ears. He sounds downtrodden and she can fully understand why seeing as there is no settlement here. At least it’s not a settlement that is still occupied anyway. In fact, by the looks of things this place, which is now in ruins, has been vacant for a very long time. Isis can’t say how long as she is no archaeologist but just from the corrosion alone her guess would be decades.

The truth is that it’s been abandoned for more than a century following a Perish attack that killed the vast majority of the inhabitants, most of whom had been scientists and civilians. They had hoped that clinging to the edge of a vast mountain would keep them shielded but it hadn’t.

“What do we do now?” Isis asks. She has ideas of her own but has no idea is they align with what her AI companion has in mind.

“Search those ruins for a weapon. You’re going to need one whatever happens next.” Ross admits with a distant tone of voice.

“Sure.” Isis replies not knowing what else to say before breaking into a careful stride. She knows that appearances can be deceiving, though she has no reason to doubt that this place really is abandoned.

Many of the half buried buildings have massive gaping holes in sections of their still exposed alloy walls and roofs. If the structures had been any colour other than that of rust before they certainly aren’t now. It surprises Isis to see the buildings are fashioned from metal seeing as she remembers something about similar box-like structures being composed of a plastic type material in her previous life. She tries to follow the strand of the memory but quickly comes to a dead end. However, she thinks a better analogy would be that the strand simply ends, as though it has been cut by a giant invisible set of scissors. That frustrates her but she puts it to one side as she continues to scan the space around her taking note that some of the buildings are listing heavily in one direction or another. Isis reasons that this can’t have been how they were placed, or constructed, when they had been in use.

Before long she listens for sounds but gets none. Even the air here is still and lifeless and that sends a shiver down her spine.

Her heavy metal boots sink into the soft dust deadening the sounds of her footsteps to essentially nothing. She is sure if she were walking on solid rock that her feet would be making pretty loud thuds with each step she takes but that isn’t the case here. Or at least it isn’t until she steps through a massive gaping wound torn into one of the much larger structures that once must have sat upended, but which is now laying almost flat. In this space and against the metal her footsteps boom loudly.

The interior of the space can only be described as gutted. The walls are scorched black from intense heat, likely the result of fire, while large puddles of ash lay dotted about. Isis assumes they are the remnants of furniture, but they could just as easily be the remains of people. She decides not to entertain the notion that they might have once been people. To do so might be too much for her to comprehend seeing how prevalent they are here.

A few minutes later and having found nothing of use, Isis has exited that structure and started to wander through the zigzagging avenues that slink this way and that around the next collection of ravaged structures. The abandoned settlement is larger than she would have considered it from her approach.

As she passes the structures Isis peers into the dull interiors through the carved open sections of what had once been the walls. Each seems as empty and haunting as the last. Isis has to admit that she doesn’t think she has ever seen anything like this before. She can’t be sure but the skin crawling feeling she gets from this place makes her inclined to believe it.

“There are composite signatures a hundred and forty metres to your left. They reside within the remains of what I assume was once the weapons vault.” Ross suddenly advises much to Isis’ surprise. She had assumed he was keeping quiet because he was running some sort of analysis. But it strikes her now that he may simply have been dwelling, perhaps on the loss that happened here, or as part of some perceived belief that he has somehow failed. If he dares to make such a suggestion Isis will shoot it down immediately. He hasn’t failed and this isn’t his fault. This lies entirely at the feet of The Perish. Then she realises that she doesn’t know what a Perish looks like or if they even have feet. She assumes they must but can’t say for sure as it may just be that she has a bias because she herself has feet. Quickly she concludes that it doesn’t matter whether they have feet or something else entirely. She could probably ask Ross for an image of a Perish, but doesn’t feel that it’s the right time at the moment. After all, she can always do it later, when they aren’t in what is essentially a graveyard. Though, she has seen no bodies. That doesn’t surprise her for some reason or another, but she knows that it is in fact a graveyard. There is no way most of the people that called this place home would have survived whatever force The Perish came bulldozing through here with. And bulldozing is certainly the right word seeing as the advanced alien species has torn through this small makeshift town without pause or by the looks of things a single shred of mercy.

Isis having headed in the direction Ross suggested gets an update from the onboard AI. “Thirty metres dead ahead of you.”

His voice still sounds preoccupied but Isis says settles on not querying as she quickly closes the distance to a small shack-like building that she doubts could ever have been a vault. It is certainly not what she would call the ragged ramshackle shape. Maybe in whatever period she has been dead the meaning of the word has changed, or perhaps not. Perhaps the people couldn’t think of anything else to call it seeing as it would have almost certainly been one of the less important items on a probably very long list.

Isis isn’t even sure she can call the opening a doorway seeing as it is neither uniform nor in possession of a door. It dawns on Isis that it may have been both once, but she doubts it as while the alloys from which it is comprised are aged, the structure is clearly newer than those around it. Decay has not set in along any surface of the interior and it is just as devoid of furnishing as all the other buildings she has taken view of the interiors of. In fact, the only difference is that there is a single stack of black crates. Most of them are empty with the transit packing foam that keeps the weapons in place haphazardly hanging out from between the two halves of the ajar objects. Bar, that is, the top crate which for whatever reason is still sealed.

Isis hesitates. Her hands hang in the empty air a good eight centimetres from the fastened latches that are keeping the lid of the crate sealed.

“There are no booby-traps.” Ross offers trying to be helpful.

Isis had not considered that it might be rigged with a trap. She had instead hesitated encase it contained something far more visceral, like a human head. Though, after so long it would more likely be a human skull. But seeing as Ross has not given that as an option she doubts that is what she’ll find.

She pops the first latch, which makes an audible click, and then pops the second and gets the exact same noise. If she expected anything different she would have been severely disappointed but makes no delay in grabbing hold of the upper half of the weapons crate and then lifting it up high to reveal the contents within. Her eyes blink rapidly several times as she takes in the sight of the two weapons.

One is a pistol of some kind, though it is much longer and chunkier than she would have expected. She stretches out her hand and gently wraps her fingers around its black textured grip before pulling it free of the packing foam.

“That is a heavy pistol. This one has the designation Heaven’s Wake. It holds twelve rounds within its cylinder…” Ross begins before Isis interrupts, “Cylinder? Bit old fashioned.” She isn’t quite sure why she says it other than to accept that it was a reflex and not a conscious decision that made her blurt the words out and interrupt Ross.

“…Perhaps, but seeing as this pistol fires two rounds a time. One on trigger pull and the second on trigger release it was deemed a necessity.” Ross continues without seeming to have been bothered by Isis’ interjection.

The woman turns the pistol over in her hand examining both sides of its red and black aesthetic before angling it upward just enough so she can get a clear view of its barrel.

However, it would be more accurate to say barrels, seeing as the weapon has two of them. They are mounted vertically with a brake between them. Isis’ face contorts into a look of satisfaction and she has to admit that the weapon impresses her. It isn’t as heavy as she would have believed it to be from just looking at it and although it is a good roughly forty centimetres long it doesn’t come across as excessively large.

Isis spins the gun in her hand and then flips it violently to the side. The cylinder pops open to reveal that it is loaded and that the bullets are held in place by a loading ring. She guesses that is for ease of reload to allow for all twelve rounds to be slotted in simultaneously. Again she has to admit she’s impressed, yet she can’t help dispel a little scepticism seeing as the reload solution removes the possibility of reloading before emptying the weapon entirely. That grates with Isis a little as a section of her armour pops open to act as a holster. The presence of the holster on her thigh causes a smirk to slide across her lips in the moments before she slips the pistol, Heaven’s Wake, into position.

The motion of her action is so fluid that if she didn’t know better she would swear she has done it before with this weapon and while wearing this armour. That is one of the few things she is sure she can be certain of, as she hasn’t.

However, she quickly moves onto the rifle. The weapon is sleek angular and a dull matte grey in colour. It isn’t as impressive looking as the pistol but it somehow seems to suit her better she thinks as she takes hold of it with both hands.

“That is the Loquacious Peace. It has a three round magazine consisting of armour piercing composite rounds capable of tearing through most forms of armour before delivering a sizable shrapnel detonation.” Ross informs sounding more upbeat now. That could just be Isis’ interpretation of how she thinks Ross sounds, but she would swear that it isn’t.

“These are nice. Real nice.” Isis remarks as she raises the Loquacious Peace up to peer through the four times telescopic zoom that it relayed directly to her armours visor while still providing readouts such as the compass, elevation, wind speed and direction. Again the weapon is longer than she would have expected it to be at one metre fifty, but its weight is just as light as the Heaven’s Wake had been for its size.

Isis happy with the targeting takes her hand off the forward grip of the rifle and releases the magazine to find this weapon is fully loaded as well. In all truth, she would prefer more than three rounds a magazine, but she isn’t going to complain after having been without protection since her… Should she call it resurrection? She doesn’t know. Maybe revival? Reanimation just seems too sciency for her. She slides the magazine back in and listens for the audible click. It’s very low but still discernible. Soon after that Isis slings the rifle over her shoulder and onto her back. It’s a reflex and as soon as she does it she realises her mistake as there is no sling attached to keep the weapon in place. But the rifle has adhered to a section of plating on her back. That surprises her and she blinks several times to convey her shock, not that anyone can see it.

“Isis, I have to admit that I am not sure what our next course of action should be. My directives were to revive and then direct you to the closest human settlement. However, it seems my data banks are considerably out of date and I have no other destination to provide within a three hundred mile radius.” Ross suddenly admits sounding depressed.

However, before she can utter a single word Ross speaks again, “Perish inbound. They’ll be on us in two.”

“How many?” Isis asks on reflex.

“Five. Standard Perish scouting team.” Ross relays without a hint of emotion to his voice now.

Isis wonders whether she should call Ross a he, but sees no reason not to as she pulls the Heaven’s Wake from the leg holster on her thigh and then tightens her left hand around the grip. If she doesn’t call him a he then what else can she call him? An it? That doesn’t sound right and nor does relentlessly referring to him as an AI. Him it is then, she decides in the second before she asks, “Which direction Ross?”

“South-southeast.” Is the succinct reply from the AI.

Isis spins on the spot until she is facing in the correct direction and to her surprise finds that it is the direction through which she entered this misshapen area.

She breaks into a job, there is no reason for a full sprint, and manages to get as far as the wide centre of the abandoned town before she catches sight of what must be The Perish.

The aliens are roughly two metres twenty tall with six arms and armour that only covers their mighty chests, forearms and shins.

Isis has no idea if The Perish would refer to their limbs in the same manner as she does and doesn’t rightly care.

As the five figures continue toward her she can make out their leathery looking hides are predominantly grey in colour, though flecked with tan mottles. They also have square heads and faces, the lower third of which are obscured by breathing masks. Isis wonders what it is that the aliens breathe if it is not oxygen. Perhaps she will never know but if they are wearing breathing apparatus there is a good chance she can use that weakness to her advantage, if necessary. She hopes that it won’t be but she knows that you can never be sure.

The Perish are close now and clearly having concluded the same begin to raise their wide weapons. Isis doesn’t give them a chance to level them fully however as she fires off a double shot of her Heaven’s Wake. She curses having forgotten that pull is one round and release is another. Still, it sends a message as the twin rounds slam into the second Perish from the left who is stopped dead in his tracks moments before the massive hulk of its now dead body collapses backward to the floor. Isis smiles beneath her helmet. She likes this heavy pistol. It really packs a hard punch. Then she fires again. A single round this time and much better aimed. It burrows through the gap between the central aliens two banks of eyes of four eye clusters.

Isis hadn’t noticed until now that The Perish have eight eyes split into two groups of four which sit on either side of their heads in angled lines of maybe twenty degrees. Not that it matters as the shot has the desired effect and sees the alien crumple to the floor dead. She had expected The Perish to be more formidable than this. In fact, they seem almost too soft of targets for her, but right at that moment they open fire. The remaining three being to bring with weapons to bear in the time it took Isis to down two of their group.

Three walls of tiny dots race toward Isis who on instinct drops to one knee and then rolls once to her right before bringing her pistol up to fire. She releases her hold on the trigger which had started to become a strain to keep depressed.

She watches as the bullet slams into the shoulder of The Perish on the far right. The alien turns sideways under the force of the impact but barely slows. Isis curses. It was a test to see if she had to aim for the same places on these targets like she did in her previous life. Another memory! Isis screams in her head with delight, but she hasn’t the time to follow the thread now. Right now she has to survive.

Another trio of bullet walls fly her way; though this time they are spread instead of being focused on her current location. Not as stupid as you look, Isis says to herself as she dives and rolls to her left one revolution and then a second. As she goes she returns the Heaven’s Wake to its holster on her thigh and then once stationary pulls her Loquacious Peace sniper rifle. She wonders if the round from this weapon will stop one of The Perish no matter where it is hit. Immediately she decides that she isn’t about to take the chance and find out. Once had been a test, twice would be suicidal. Change of weapon or not.

Instead she shoulders the rifle and peers down the sight which less than a second later becomes linked to her helmets HUD. Instead of immediately firing, Isis waits. She wants to know how long she has between shots from The Perish. She just hopes that they don’t start to fire at staggered intervals. They don’t and a few seconds later unleash another trio of bullet walls. Isis rolls left once and then right twice. The action clearly confuses The Perish who all seem to stagger for two steps and then regain their forward pace. Two more volleys and they will be on Isis. She’d prefer to be facing one by the time that happens, but reckons that two shouldn’t be beyond her capabilities.

However, right now that doesn’t matters, as she readies and then fires a single shot from the Loquacious Peace. The bullet explodes out the long barrel and before The Perish on the right has a chance it tears a clean hole through the left grouping of eyes and then explodes into a shrapnel cloud just at the rear of the aliens head. The backside of its head is eviscerated and sees the mighty dead beast topple forward. Isis sees the cloud of blood but can’t make out its colour from this distance.

The two remaining Perish take note of the latest death among their ranks and bellow a roar from deep within their masks. Isis might not know for sure but surmises that it means that they are both pissed. She can’t say that she blames them, but she doesn’t expect them to suddenly break away from one another like they do. Though, she quickly assesses their intent, which Ross confirms as he declares, “Pincer movement.”

Isis slides the rifle back over the magnetic mounting plate on her back and then pulls her Heaven’s Wake again. She cannot afford to use the sniper rifle here. If she does her focus will be too narrow and could result in her being taken from behind.

She raises the heavy pistol but has to roll backward almost immediately to avoid a wall of bullets. She hadn’t heard The Perish’s weapon fire. Not that it matters now that she has narrowly avoided most of the pellets, but not quite all. A few have caught her right leg sending jolts of pain up the appendage in the seconds before Ross advises, “Working on a fix.”

She prays that he means for her leg and not something else as she pushes the pain aside with much greater ease than she would have thought possible and then attempts to bait a volley from the other Perish. Except this one refuses to fire, or at least he does until she raises her weapon angrily, at which point the beast of an alien lets loose. Isis dives and rolls again but this time doesn’t rise back to her one knee as she instead looses off a two round burst into the Perish that clipped her leg.

“All patched.” Ross declares as though he had been reading her mind. She is sure he can’t, but maybe she should ask just to make sure. It wouldn’t be a problem if he is. Though, it would make things a tad easier if he could.

The twin rounds slam into The Perish. The first cuts deep into the aliens centre mass while the second spears through its breathing mask. The Perish immediately drops to its wide knees and then begins to gasp. Isis can’t tell if the gasp is the result of a lack of whatever it is that they breathe or because of the bullet. Frankly however, she doesn’t care as she fires a third round at the struggling Perish. The bullet hits the alien square where any human’s nose would be. The Perish have no noses, which creeps Isis out a little seeing as it makes the already strange faces look utterly wrong to her. Still, the third bullet has the desired affect seeing as the alien falls backward off its wide knees, dead.

But Isis doesn’t get time to celebrate the victory as the last Perish is suddenly on her. She hadn’t forgotten about the alien, though she wasn’t aware of just how close it was to her until Ross had advised, “Danger close.”

On instinct Isis had ducked out of the way and narrowly avoided having her head taken off by the mighty alien as it swung its wide bullet wall firing weapon at her. She doesn’t know if it would have taken her head off. She would rather not find out.

Quickly she spins round and then releases the trigger to fire a single round into its armoured gut. The impact halts the black soulless eyed alien’s forward momentum. The look of shock in the beast’s eyes obvious in the moments before Isis fires two more rounds. But the rounds don’t have the effect she had been hoping for as The Perish instead seems to simply shrug these impacts off. Clearly it had been expecting them this time and braced suitably in response.

Then its mighty four digited paw launches toward her and at a much greater speed than she would have expected. But the alien doesn’t punch her as it instead wraps its fingers around her right wrist. Isis roars angrily but The Perish tosses her aside like she is little more than a piece of paper.

Isis goes sailing through the air before crashing, hard, into a section of ragged metal that spears through her right side, just below her rib cage. Isis screams in pain but the scream quickly dies as Ross initiates the aerosol painkillers.

“You’re stuck.” Ross quickly says sounding concerned in the moments before he adds, “You must get free or The Perish will pummel you.”

“Not before it dies it won’t.” Isis says as she lines up the shot and fires the last four rounds of her Heaven’s Wake in quick succession. The kick and recoil of the weapon being fired in what is essentially full auto is extreme, but Isis manages to handle it and deliver all rounds on target. The first blinds The Perish on its left side. The bullet sliced across the surface of its face, while the second and third rounds puncture the aliens’ right shoulder and hand forcing it to release its grip on its weapon. The weapon drops to the floor harmlessly before the fourth and final round bores a hole through most central of the right cluster of eyes and into its brain. The Perish staggers two half steps and then slumps to the ground with a heavy thud.

Isis feeling the burn sensation from the wound wrenches herself violently off the jagged piece of metal that has speared through her flesh. She drops the short distance to the rocky ground, which she slams into before letting out a sigh.

It crosses her mind that she should consider checking the bodies, but concludes that she’ll instead rest until the damage is repaired. She doesn’t know if it can be but she assumes it can. If it couldn’t she hopes Ross would have informed her before now.

“So is that how you intend on fighting all The Perish?” Ross asks after a couple minutes of silence has hung in the air.

“No. I was just getting my eye in.” Isis replies with a smirk. She can feel nothing from the wound in her side now.

“Good because I am not sure the armour will last if you continue to be that reckless. However, I must congratulate you on achieving what no other human on record has.”

“Are you serious?” Isis asks with a mixture of concern and disbelief.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Ross replies honestly and with a decent amount of sadness in his tone.

“Great.” Isis says with a roll of her eyes before asking, “Please tell me you have a plan now though?”

“I considered attempting a hack on The Perish data logs held by your fallen adversaries…”

“But…” Isis says waiting for the punch line that she is sure she doesn’t want to here.

“Do you wish for me to proceed?” Ross asks.

“If it’ll help then yes. You don’t need my authority for that.”

“Actually, I do.” Ross corrects.

“Then you have my eternal permission. Never ask me again before hacking Perish data banks, just do.” Isis mutters as she rolls onto her back and then stretches left and right to test the response her body gives. She doesn’t know what data banks are but can guess from the name.

The response Isis gets to her stretches are positive and she gets no jolts of pain or sounds of tearing flesh so queries, “Am I patched up?”

“Of course.” Ross replies as he continues his hack on The Perish data banks.

Isis meanwhile, leaps back to her feet. It was an unnecessary manoeuvre but one she felt compelled to attempt to test her repaired body. Full use and flexibility are the conclusions she comes to in the moments before she scans the carnage around her. She doesn’t feel sorry for The Perish, especially as they came at her. Still, she hadn’t expected them to be both worse and better than she had expected at the same time.

“Oh.” Ross exclaims after a time. That can’t be good, Isis thinks before she turns her head as though he is stood right next to her. He isn’t and never has been, but she concludes that it must just be an instinctive reaction she has. If Ross noticed it however, he passes no comment as it is instead Isis who speaks next, “What?”

“Things are far worse than I imagined Isis.” Ross replies without giving any details.

“How much worse?” Isis questions in response.

“The Perish have nearly wiped humanity out. The Perish believe there are maybe a couple hundred thousand humans left and have issued continuing orders to hunt them mercilessly. That puts The Perish in the last stage of this forced extinction.”

“Shit!” Isis spits in response. She had figured things were bad. It didn’t take a genius to work that out. The signs are all around her in this abandoned settlement. But to think that The Perish have almost accomplished their disgusting goal, is something that she couldn’t have dreamed in her worst nightmare.

Then Isis asks, “Is there anything in that data we can use?” She sounds more hopeful than she intended to and that worries her.

“There are six destinations marked as being of strategic interest. No other details provided, which is odd. Closest marker is over a hundred miles from our current position though.” Ross informs.

Isis says nothing else. She doesn’t have to. Ross has already given her what she needs and is even outlining in red The Perish vehicle. It’s like he has read her mind but again she isn’t sure he can. This isn’t proof in favour of the possibility that he can. Anyone would be able to guess what her intent would be. Still, she is no less thankful for Ross’ presence as she jogs out of the ruined settlement toward the vehicle, which looks identical to the one that shot at her before. She can’t be sure that it’s the same one as The Perish likely have countless of the airbourne craft. Still, she feels a little wary of the stubby nosed mass as it rests lifeless ahead of her. Isis is half-expecting it to suddenly rise up into the air and then unleash disc projectiles at her. She can remember how those felt as they tore wounds in her flank and she’d rather not experience that again. Though, at that time her suit hadn’t been fully operational. Ross has since assured her that it is and she has no reason to doubt him. He’d already saved her life several times already.

As Isis gets closer to The Perish craft she asks, “Are you present with me?” She isn’t quite sure why she is asking the question and has to admit that part of her regrets it immediately.

“I am. There is a slot at the base of your helmet where a chip is inserted. Upon that ship is where is reside.” Ross confirms much to the relief of Isis, who had been expecting him to take issue with the question, for some reason that she can’t give.

“Are you a singular AI?” Again Isis isn’t sure why she is asking as she issues the question.

“I am singular to you and exist to serve the Paragon, in this case you, which I reanimate in any way possible until one or both of us are no longer capable of functioning.” The manner in which Ross delivers his response both comforts and concerns Isis. That is when she decides the round of questioning is over, at least for the moment anyway.

Isis covers the remainder of the empty space to The Perish craft and boards it. Ross has already informed her that there are no life signatures within the bulk of the craft. So she simply slips into the cockpit of the craft, which is more cramped than she would have guessed, and then slides into the oversized seat. The controls before her leave her with a visible, if her faceplate wasn’t present, look of confusion. None of that she is faced with are what she would consider controls. Thankfully Ross seems to have the problem covered as he remarks about the firing of the engines in the minute before the craft lifts free of the fine dust on the surface. Before long the craft rises a good sixty metres into the empty air and then he ignites the afterburners, which send the craft rocketing forward. Isis is pressed into the oversized seat by the g-forces generated by the acceleration but gives little conscious thought to any possible danger she might be in.

The craft banks a long seemingly slow turn right and then climbs another several metres, yet it doesn’t seem to gain anymore speed. Suddenly the disc launcher on the short wing of the vehicle fires unexpectedly.

“Oops. Sorry. I was just testing.” Ross admits having picked up the sudden spike in Isis’ pulse following his accidental discharge of the weapons system.

“Just warn me next time.” Isis replies with a nervous chuckle.

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