Upon reaching the site marked by the data recovered from The Perish data banks they find that the entire area is blanketed in thick snow, but nothing else.
“Whatever of importance had been here is long gone.” Ross had determined with the agreement of Isis, who has to admit that she felt a pang of disappointment in having to agree. However, she quickly asks, “Is there anything else?”
At first Ross offers no reply as he recalibrates the scanners to a wide burst to check as much of the area around them as the sensors are able. The first burst of the scanners pick up nothing, which Ross finds frustrating. Refusing to admit defeat, the AI sends out a second pulse with a marginal range increase. This time there is a ping, but he cannot get a full reading. So again Ross tries to boost the range of the scanners. He knows that his attempts may fuse the system and cause it to fail but still he circumvents the safety protocols and then emits a third burst. This final scan reveals a massive energy signature. In many ways it is familiar but also at the same time it is foreign to him. He wouldn’t call it alien though. He is fairly sure that it isn’t and that leaves only one possibility.
Ross checks the passage of time, according to the human definition, nearly twenty seconds have passed and he feels the urge to offer a response.
“There is an energy signature. Two hundred miles East. It’s massive. Purpose unknown. Sorry, that is all I can get from these systems.” Ross informs sounding frustrated that he can’t give Isis a proper detailed breakdown of what he has discovered. The tone from the AI results in a smile spreading across Isis’ lips. She finds it funny that he is frustrated by limitations that he clearly believes should not exist and that marks how human he is, even though he isn’t.
“Then we head for it.” Isis decides without a second thought.
“No, it’s too dangerous. There are just too many variables and unknowns.” Ross counters. His voice is stern as he speaks.
“What other…” Isis begins but never finishes as suddenly the craft that she is in is peppered with weapons fire. The rounds tear through the thin straight edged armour of the hull. Fires burst into life as the engine begins to belch acrid black smoke. The smoke pours into the perforated interior of the craft. If Isis were not wearing a helmet she would be choking right now but instead she just can’t see more than five centimetres past her visor. She is thankful that she can’t taste the smoke, though she wishes she could see.
“We’re going down. Brace!” Ross shouts directly into her ears seconds before an enormous bang throws Isis out of the seat. She bounces off a wall, then another. Finally the world stops spinning, or at least the downed craft does. But Isis’ eyes are still blurred and she is seeing double while the flames reach higher and higher just beyond the confines of the cockpit.
“Isis! We have to move. Engine’s critical.” Ross informs as Isis staggers to her feet feeling off balance as she manages to query, “How long?”
“A minute. Maybe less. Now move.” Is Ross’ short yet demanding response.
Isis makes no attempt to move and not because her vision is blurred. It isn’t now and she has a plan. Though, before she can enact it she needs to know one more thing. “Where are The Perish?”
“To our left. Why?” Ross answers sounding worried.
“Standby.” Is all Isis offers in response.
“Standby for what?” Ross demands to know with a confused tone just as Isis delivers the first of many hard kicks to the opposite side of the crafts tattered hull.
The first kick leaves a sizable dent, that the armour clad women decides isn’t enough. So Isis delivers another kick and then another.
With each successive kick the hull deforms a little more as it begins to balloon outward in a haphazard non-uniformed shape.
“The emergency hatch is on the other side!” Ross urges frantically thinking that maybe the blow to her head has caused some severe damage, but Isis tunes him out. She doesn’t have time to explain.
Then she delivers the hardest kick of all and the skin of the hull literally bursts open creating a hole to the world outside. Isis immediately shifts position and with both hands grabs opposite sides of the ragged hole and with all her strength wrenches the jagged edges apart until it is big enough for her to dive through.
“Engine detonation in five…four…three…”
Isis launches herself through the hole in the hull and then at the end of the dive tucks and rolls four times before finding her feet and then throwing herself left behind a pile of burning rubble that had once been the crafts long wing. The engine detonates just as Isis lands in cover with an almighty boom. The fireball from the detonation consumes the ravaged craft that The Perish are watching burn angrily from the far side. The Perish’s own transport, twice the size of the one they have just shot down, meanwhile sits a hundred metres away from the burning wreckage.
However, Isis doesn’t rest as she quickly springs back to her feet and accelerates up a nearby hill until she is near the top. It is at this point that she dives into a prone position and then crawls the rest of the way through the shrubbery.
“What are we doing?” Ross queries feeling left out of whatever plan Isis has devised and not shared.
“Right now they think we’re dead. I plan to use that advantage to get you data.” Isis mutters as she slowly pulls her Loquacious Peace sniper rifle off her back, barrel first.
She doesn’t dare reach over her shoulder in the usual, and far more comfortable, manner to claim the weapon as she fears that might just get her spotted.
Isis quickly spins the rifle and then pulls it up slowly and carefully so that the scope becomes linked to her visor. The long barrel of the rifle is barely visible among the twisting mess of brown branches that are around her. They look as though they would itch if she weren’t clad in the armour and thanks her good fortune that she is.
“Clever.” Ross replies. Isis smiles beneath her faceplate as she studies The Perish who are now beginning to spread out around the burning wreckage. It’s clear they plan to begin a search of the wreckage just to make sure that she is dead and she can’t blame The Perish for believing that she might not be. How they can think that might be the case however, she has no clue as there is no way she would have survived that explosion if she had still been inside, armour or no armour.
Before long Isis has marked her first target. She takes a deep breath and then on the exhale squeezes the trigger. The rifle isn’t suppressed but it won’t matter. She’ll drop all three of The Perish before they work out her position. The first round fires with a flash of the muzzle a second before the head of The Perish on the far right explodes into a plume of thin blue mist.
The two still breathing Perish begin to move but before either can raise or readjust their aim Isis fires again. This bullet too takes the upper section of its targets head off with a sickening plume of blue mist as proof of the kill.
The last Perish having guessed her position is about to unleash a hail of return fire when the last round from the Loquacious Peace rips through the large aliens throat and then explodes on the far side, turning the rear of the beasts neck and head into liquid.
Isis watches this last Perish’s lifeless body crash to the ground before she replaces the empty magazine with a fresh one. Her finger is still on the trigger, though she is putting no pressure on it.
“No other targets detected.” Ross offers to confirm what she already knew. Or at least that she thought she knew. She could have been wrong and if she had it could have cost her her life. Reckless is the judgement her subconscious passes on her actions but Isis is already on her feet, rifle on her back and Heaven’s Wake in her left hand as she descends the hillside.
The ugly low shrubs crumple beneath her heavy footsteps until she leaves the angled slope and finds her feet back on more level ground.
Isis approaches the larger Perish transport waiting for a surprise ambush, but no such thing comes so she orders, “See if you can hack this like you did before.”
“On it already.” Ross assures with a tone that sounds engaged, which he is as he sends corruption strains and decoys to try and confuse and overwhelm the security protocols in place. To a human like Isis this would be a battle that would take days but for Ross it’s a process that will only last minutes, at most. The corruption strains do their job and force the security system into a lockdown that actually declares their parameters for the decoys to spoof and then decryption rings to break through until suddenly the entire security system lurches and then fails. If it could be seen by the human eye it would appear spectacular as the corruption and failures erupt into digital fountains of reds and purples.
Now Ross has access to the data, he begins to sift through it. The AI glosses over the lesser archives leaving them to his lower tiers to review the tens of millions of reports and readings that The Perish have taken. They aren’t of concern to Ross or Isis. They provide no usable intelligence to guide their hands.
Suddenly Ross stops dead having come across a sub encrypted file. That is highly unusual for Perish, so Ross unleashes his strains, decoys and rings again to buffet and overwhelm this higher level encryption. It takes longer to break, but this tighter system fails too, this time in colours of green and yellow. Ross really does wish he could record this to showcase to humans, but he can’t. They’re patterns and events which only he is capable of viewing and that brings him a note of sadness to have to admit.
“That massive energy spike is a dome.” Ross offers now that he has reviewed the data that had been held within the sub security system he has just cracked into.
“It’s where what left of humanity has gathered and The Perish intend on cracking the planet.” Ross continues before pausing for a second. He doesn’t need to pause as he has reviewed the entire sub section, but he does it nonetheless.
“Why? How?” Isis questions in response barely able to comprehend what she is being told.
“The Perish have so far been unable to crack the domes defences. So they’ve settled on taking the brute force option. It’s direct but would be effective. Nothing will survive the cracking.” Ross answers Isis’ first question before moving on to her second. “They have an orbital bombardment platform that will fire in two days, once it has gathered enough energy from the sun to be at full power, that is.”
“Shit!” Isis spits angrily before calming herself just enough to ask, “Is there any way to get up there?”
The armour clad woman doesn’t know how The Perish are siphoning energy from the Sun, especially from this distance, but sees no reason to question Ross’ words.
“Yes, but we’d need an army to take it down. And we don’t have one.” Ross answers honestly. He hopes Isis will not ask next what he thinks she might.
“What about the Paragons?” Isis queries asking the question he had hoped she would not. He isn’t sure how to tell her what he found in a separate section of the data banks. A section that holds data recovered from humans killed by The Perish, but that was never broken into. Still, he knows he has to give her an answer. If he doesn’t she will only keep asking, so he issues the response of, “There are no other Paragons. It seems you are the only one Isis.”
“What? I can’t be. You said…”
“I have the files right here. The program was abandoned. It was dubbed a failure. No suitable specimens were returned within a defined more than suitable period of fifty years.” Ross assures after having cut her off. If her being cut off annoys Isis she doesn’t show it as she replies, “No. That can’t be true. It’s The Perish. They want us to believe it failed.” She is trying to reason away the truth, but there is no use.
“Isis the data was recovered but The Perish never subverted the security protocols.” Ross feels terrible to have to say the words aloud, but Isis has to understand that he is speaking the truth. That this is not part of some Perish subversion or propaganda, and that she really is the only Paragon.
Ross can barely believe it himself. And he was the one who reviewed the truth that is written write in front of him.
He shares the hollow feeling that he is convinced Isis is also feeling and that is why he is surprised when she asks, “How can I get to that platform?”
The question catches Ross off-guard and at first he doesn’t know how to answer it as there is no way that he can let her do that. It would be suicide. He wasn’t joking when he said they would need an army to attack that orbital platform. But after a few seconds he responds with, “I’m not telling you that. I can’t let you throw your life away.”
“What other choice do we have?” Isis fires back in protest.
“We could try and contact the people under that dome. Get them the data and organise a counterattack.”
“And what are the odds of that succeeding?” Isis queries. She doesn’t know the answer but her guess is that it will take longer than two days. But even if somehow they do have enough time, Ross and her have no idea what those peoples capabilities are. They might be the only ones able to fight and all they would have accomplished is wasting time they don’t really have to learn that.
“Slim, at best.” Ross admits defeated by her logic. He had hoped that she wouldn’t be so logical. Though, these reports detail exactly what capabilities the humans under that dome possess and it isn’t good. Most are too young, old or weak to fight and that is before considering the severely limited supplies they posses. How much worse the conditions have gotten since these details though, he cannot anticipate, except to say that they definitely would have gotten worse.
“Then I ask again, how do I get to that platform?”
“The Perish transport is capable.” Ross admits with a meek resigned tone.
“Can you pilot it?” Isis is sure that he can but asks anyway. She has caught the tone of the AI’s voice and while she can’t be sure as to why he sounds that way, she can take an educated guess. But there are bigger things at stake than either of their lives. She knows Ross understands that and truth be told she doesn’t want to die. But she will forego her life for the sake of humanity.
“Yes.” Ross confirms seconds before Isis turns and heads for The Perish transport and says, “Then it’s time we go on offensive.”