Tower of Babel
The air was thick and heavy with the stench of Death. A pall permeated the place, unseen yet clearly present; a portent of evils sensed but elusive. The incessant buzzing of flies was the only sound that broke the silence -- the diaphanous wings beat at a dizzying rate creating a hum that was at once greedy and gnawing and maddening. It seemed like the final step before the precipice into Paranoia.
Lt. Willa "Jomo" Kenyatta stood as still as an exquisite figure sculpted from ebony by a master craftsman. The perspiration glistened on her muscular yet shapely arms and on her out-thrust and determined chin. A bead of sweat slid slowly down the front of her neck, collected for a moment in the hollow of her throat, and disappeared down her shirt. Dark, dangerous eyes moved slowly to take in the scene before her, as she ran a moist tongue over big, sensuous lips. She inhaled deeply through flared nostrils and gingerly stepped forward.
She was in a small, four-cornered green marble chamber with recesses in each wall, and a short pedestal in the center with switches all around. But the symmetry of the room was the last thing on her mind as she stared aghast at the wall recesses. There, splayed against the stone, were the very beasts that had been the stuff of her waking nightmares for the past few days. "Goat Guys" she used to call them, for they had powerful, hairy, and hoofed legs, and heads that were like large goat skulls. Their torsos and arms were those of a man -- a wrestler in his prime perhaps, or a heavy-weight boxer. She had grown to hate yet admire them, because, like her, they were tough and relentless, warriors to the bitter end.
And yet here they were, chained and eviscerated like they were haggard beggars that had dared ask for a seat at an emperor's banquet. Their throats were ripped open and their guts hung out, the green blood oozing from the wounds. One was missing most of an arm, another a foot, and yet another lacked anything below its wrist. What could possibly do this to them? she wondered with some trepidation. "Something big!" came back the reply from the deepest recesses of her brain. "Something big and EVIL!"
The gleaming blue battle armor caught her eye, and she slipped it on thankfully. Whoever this had belonged to would almost certainly not be needing it. It was a standard fit medium, and was slightly large for her; nevertheless, it would provide nearly the same degree of protection as if it were custom made. Her mind went back over the turmoil of the past few days -- running, hiding, fighting, sleeping with one eye open and her finger tight over a trigger, scrounging for every bit of armor, health, and ammo she could find. "Hellish" would be a mild word to describe her experience, and yet she knew she was far from done.
Four switches. Four choices. It was just like rolling the dice in the many games of chance she enjoyed back on Moon Base Gestalt. Only this time she might be rolling for her life. Battling the exhaustion threatening to engulf her mind and spitting out the flies that swarmed around her nose and mouth, she tried to concentrate. Hesitantly she reached for one of the switches, and then with an air of resignation she pressed it.
Jomo heard the characteristic sound of stairs being raised into place. She walked around the switch pedestal and climbed the four steps, raising the wall to a larger chamber to the West. It was lined with neat rows of crates, each filled with rockets and each marked with the distinctive Union Aerospace Corporation logo. In the middle of the room was the blue orb, an artifact that she knew would boost her life balance two-fold. Then she heard the half-grunt, half-moan of those cursed flaming skulls and she knew she had no time to waste.
Darting into the half-lit chamber, she grabbed the blue orb and rockets from as many crates as she could pry open with numbed and bleeding fingers. She ran out into the open, into a swarm of the flaming skulls. Before she knew it they were thick around her face, scorching her dark, smooth skin and tormenting her very soul. Instinctively she fired off her side-arm, again and again, wildly at the leering and grinning faces that had no bodies.
Jomo heard the thing before she saw it. A deep bellow-roar that echoed around the mountains surrounding that desolate place. It seemed to emanate from the depths of the earth, perhaps from Hell itself. It was as if hatred and evil had been distilled in the dark wastelands, and the essence had been infused into that sound. She stood paralyzed with fear, seemingly impervious to the attacks of the fiery skulls, which were by now pouncing on each other as well. And then she saw it.
Never in her wildest imaginings or most feared nightmares had she ever conceived of such an abomination. Almost twice as tall as her it stood, eyes ablaze with malice and lips pulled back in a feral snarl. From its abdomen sprang wires and servo controls, a cyber prosthetic device made up one of its legs, and one of its hands had been replaced with a rocket launcher. It seemed to be part man, part beast, part machine, and as it stomped in her direction it roared once more as if to petrify all in its path. Then it raised its cyber arm and three rockets sped out in rapid succession.
If the flaming skulls weren't swarming around her, Jomo might have perished in that moment. Instead, the rockets exploded against the skulls before they reached her. Some of her tormentors peeled off from the pack to hurl themselves against the advancing behemoth, which was momentarily distracted by their assault. It was all the time Jomo needed. Her advanced tactical training kicked in, overcoming her terror, and providing her the momentum to race away and take cover behind a pillar. There she cowered, her knees trembling uncontrollably and her hands shaking as if with the ague. She was not a coward, but something about that giant horned beast formed a hard knot in her belly and blanketed her mind with an unyielding panic. Gradually she caught her breath and mustered her wits, until finally she was able to sprint around a corner to safety.
There were more skulls, which she deftly avoided, and continued running past a chamber full of rocket crates. More skulls and another chamber, only this time she glimpsed something metallic. Her heart skipped a beat as she swerved towards the chamber and saw the rocket launcher. The skulls swooped down on her, pummeling her from all sides, tearing the flesh off her back. Ignoring them, she dived into the little room and clasped the weapon as if it was her life-line back to Earth. Then she hefted it onto her hip and with DooM in her eyes she spat onto the floor.
"You want a piece of me, you bastard?" Jomo said through gritted teeth. "Well, then, come and get some if you've got the balls!"
She loosed off a couple of rockets and vaporized several flaming skulls. She could hear the steady pounding of the demon's footsteps as it sought her out, and she conducted a quick scan of the area. There were numerous pillars, adorned with hideous visages, that offered cover. She realized the thing was not as fast as her, so she figured she had an advantage there. Now all that remained to find out was how tough the big guy was. She loped cautiously off in the direction of the pounding.
Ducking around a corner she saw the monster advancing towards her. She planted her feet firmly into the dirt, steadied the heavy launcher tube, and squeezed off the trigger thrice. The missiles whooshed out to deliver their deadly charge at the hulking target. She knew that she'd have to hit it with more than three -- even the Goat Guys took five, sometimes six rockets before they collapsed braying to the ground. But she was totally unprepared for what she saw -- the demon shrugged off the attack as if it hadn't even occurred, and continued its relentless pursuit. Dazed and confused, she squeezed off several more rockets at the beast, again with the same effect. This time, however, it stopped and raised its weapon.
In a panic Jomo turned and fled, but she had been too slow to react. The first rocket slammed into her back, sending her sprawling into the dust. The other two rockets sailed harmlessly over her twitching form before exploding into the far wall. The pain was incredible -- for a moment the blood rushed into her brain blurring her vision and making everything red. She rolled around on the ground, screaming in agony and certain she was at Death's Door. All the while the demon thumped heavily onwards, and Jomo believed the end was upon her.
Once again she was saved by a pack of flaming skulls, which zoomed around the roaring gargantuan, harassing and annoying it. It swung around to loose off rockets in every direction, but it was slow and clumsy, and there were many of the pests. In those few precious moments sanity returned to the stricken woman. Gathering up her fallen weapon, she crawled away as far as she could go. She could feel the life draining out of her, and the tattered armor seemed like it wouldn't even stop a bullet, much less an exploding missile. In despair she staggered to her feet and stumbled into the relative cover of one of the chambers.
As luck would have it, there was a blue orb in the center of the room. Like a starving woman at a buffet table she pounced on the artifact and devoured its life-giving energy. Slowly she felt the blood returning to her veins and her vision clearing. Standing up, she gathered rockets from the crates that were lying around. Then clasping the rocket launcher against her hip she ventured out into the arena, where she had not long to wait before her nemesis appeared at the far end. With her life energy substantially restored, Jomo was able to think more clearly, and she realized that she'd need a different strategy. Standing toe-to-toe with this monster and duking it out would be the surest way of sending her on a one-way trip to a very hot place. Instead, she'd have to be constantly on the move, take cover frequently, and snipe at her foe at every opportunity. If she found herself on open ground, she could try strafing at it while she circled around.
With her back pressed against one of those hateful pillars, she waited until the sound of the demon's footsteps were near. Then she swung around and fired her weapon at almost point blank range. She smiled with grim satisfaction as she saw the missiles make impact and heard the creature grunt. Then she swung back behind the pillar and sprinted for the cover of another. Again, she waited and again she attacked, and then again and again until slowly her confidence returned. "I can do this!" she muttered. "I just need to be patient."
In her excitement she had failed to realize that her stock of missiles had dwindled. She reached for a reload, groping along her bandolier for a rocket, and spat out a curse. Ducking into the nearest chamber, she found only the splintered remains of crates that she had already plundered. Cursing more loudly now she sped around the arena until she spotted some crates on the floor of one of the chambers. At the far end of the arena the lumbering beast stopped to discharge its weapon, but Jomo evaded the missiles easily and dove into the room with the crates.
With numb and bloody hands she pried open a crate and greedily fed the ammunition into her weapon. Tense and nervous, she opened another crate, and then a third. And all the while the ominous thunks of the demon's footsteps drew closer. With jaws clenched and blood pounding in her ears she broke open another crate, spilling its contents on the floor. "Leave them!" a voice in her screamed. "LEAVE THEM!!!"
Swooping the rocket launcher into her hands she darted past the doorway, but she was a shade too late. A rocket thundered past her head and splattered on the marble stonework, sending a shock wave and shrapnel hurtling in every direction. The explosion swung her around and brought her down to her knees, sending spasms of pain through her chest. Two other rockets blasted against the doorway and jolted her sideways. Gasping for breath she rolled away as more rockets kicked up the dirt near her. Finally, she reached the cover of a pillar and pulled herself to her feet by the sheer strength of her will. Stumbling around she fired wildly, her rockets streaming in different directions. Some struck the advancing juggernaut, but it kept moving purposefully towards her.
"Die, damn you!" she half screamed, half sobbed. "Why don't you die?"
Leaving the safety of her pillar she staggered towards the next one, weaving as she went like some drunken sailor who hadn't seen land for months. Some rockets sped past her, but her guardian angel was working overtime, because the deadly missiles missed her more by chance than because she was trying to avoid them. Every breath she took was painful, the air rasping through her bloody nose and into her bruised lungs. Sweat mixed with blood as it dripped into her eyes and threatened to momentarily blind her. Her muscles, sleek and dark and powerful, were gripped in the relentless jaws of a deep and debilitating fatigue. She knew she wouldn't last much longer.
She thought about her brother and sister back home on Earth, and of her home and friends. A terrible fear overtook her as she thought of this abomination that hunted her and the many others that she had laid to waste. She pictured her family, helpless against this merciless thing, doomed to perish, their last moments a hideous pageant of terror and agony. And then a rage began to build up in her breast. It was a terrible, overpowering emotion that maddened her and gave her strength and purpose. Her lips, sensous no more, stretched back over her teeth in the snarl of a leopard, and a deadly light sparked in her eyes. Stepping around the pillar she dug her heels into the ground, raised her weapon on her foe, and set her sights.
"Go back to the Hell from which you came!" she croaked through a dry and parched throat. "Go back to Hell, where you belong!"
The last of her missiles flew like arrows of retribution against the cyber-demon. As if in slow motion they struck the beast, exploding on its torso, its abdomen, on its head. A great and terrible roar filled the air, terrifying in its intensity. The great beast's head snapped sideways and its arms flung outwards as it's chest was ripped open by a massive explosion. A fireball swelled and expanded, sending chunks of bone and metal raining down around her. In a moment, all that was left of the raging demon was its titanium alloy foot, which stuck up grotesquely from a pile of already putrefying flesh.
Lt. Willa "Jomo" Kenyatta staggered up to the hateful remains, and looking down she gathered a wad of sputum from her throat.
"I have a message for your friends, wherever they may be," she growled. "Tell them that Jomo is waiting for them."
Then she spat on the vile metal stump and walked away.