Chapter 10 - AI

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Terris stepped in front of Haden, eyes searching. The look of betrayal evaporated and Haden's countenance was as passive as ever. The young man had been prepared to body check the android to prevent him from advancing on Tyronden.

Standing before the android may have been all that saved his life.

The explosion threw the entire group into the opposing wall. Haden took the brunt of the hit, but Terris lay in the tangle of bodies attempting to get air back in his lungs. Smoke and dust nearly choked him when he took his first breath. He coughed violently, waving a hand to move the particles away.

"Dawn!" He shouted for her, but received no response. His mind was muddled, his thinking unclear. He felt around, finding first Tyronden, then her. He checked both for a pulse, using his tactile senses in the sightless aftermath. Terris felt their bodies for signs of blood or broken bones. When he got to Tyronden's left leg he spat a curse. Not just broken, but the bone in his upper thigh was protruding from the skin.

"Terris?" Haden grabbed his ankle. "I can't see you."

"I'm good. Tyronden needs medical. Dawn seems alright." The young man swept his hand down her cheek, his fingertips brushing her lips. No response. "Both are unconscious. What the hell happened?"

"I'm fine, too, Sir. Your concern is deeply touching." Terris looked around in the cloud of dust, expecting to see Haden's eyebrow cocked in sarcasm. Jokes. Even at this time. Terris smiled.

"Sorry about that, Haden. Figured you were indestructible." Muffled shouts entered into the room. "Quiet." Terris ordered.

The shouts came closer. Mentally, the pilot drew a schematic of the room they were in. The blast came from the door. Though he couldn't see it, he knew the door was blown from the mounts. He crouched and quickly moved around the table, feeling the wall for location. Stopping by the entryway, the smoke and dust began to settle, an acrid smell of burned sulfur permeating the air.

That they had been attacked was unquestionable. Why and by whom would have to wait.

He heard footsteps stop just outside the door. A metal cylinder, perhaps an inch wide poked through. Terris didn't wait for more.

He reached out for the cylinder and pulled as hard as he could. A loud crack split the air. Gunfire. The barrel in his hand bucked and heat entered his palm. Thankfully, his hand hadn't extended over the muzzle. He twisted the barrel and brought his other hand up to grab the body of the rifle. A man, armored in white plate gave a rather confused look at Terris. Without a weapon, the pilot had little alternative. He hammered the top of his forehead into the man's nose. It was like watching a light flicker out as his opponent slid to the deck with a thump.

Terris looked down at the suddenly acquired rifle. The design was unknown to him, but he identified the butt, the trigger, and the barrel. He brought it up and pointed at the mostly obscure door. When he pulled the trigger, he was surprised at how little recoil he felt. He was also surprised at the warm, wet feeling that splattered onto his face. Silence preceeded another thump.

Had he just killed someone?

He fought down a feeling of revulsion, remembering an unconscious Dawn behind him. No time to think it through. He must protect her. Terris squatted again and maneuvered into the hallway. No more voices could be heard.

"Haden!" His voice was a shouted whisper. "Get them into the hall!" Immediately, he heard motion. Within seconds, the android appeared, dragging Tyronden and Dawn by the ankles, their limp forms dragged unceremoniously over the bodies of the two armored men. Haden let go of his charges and knelt.

He inspected the one Terris shot. "They're androids." His voice was curious, but solemn. "Why would AI attack us?"

A voice shouted at the end of the hall. Terris could see the corner in the distance, if only just. He raised the rifle and sighted down the barrel, finger already applying pressure to the trigger.

White armor slid around the corner and was answered with a rifle report. Black spray ejected from the neck and the body fell.

"Do they die like us?"

"No... they're controlled remotely." Haden stood and looked deep into the young man's eyes. "Feel no guilt, Terris. They attacked us without provocation. Even if you were ending their lives, it's them or her." He looked back at Dawn. Terris followed his gaze. Blood smeared her face and lips where he had touched her. She was bleeding. Hurt. Defenseless.

A spark of defiant anger flashed through his chest, budding almost instantly into a lightening storm of rage. Whatever Haden saw as the adrenaline surge swept through the pilot, made him take a step backwards.

"Keep cover and follow me." Terris growled. He walked into the hall, rifle butt buried in his shoulder, barrel sweeping the distance. He moved quickly to the downed man and shot a quick glance around the corner. Two more soldiers crouched there, eyes widening in surprise when they saw him.

Rather than wait for their attack, he launched into the wall opposing them, jumped sideways and positioned his feet between the wall and his body. With a shout, he shoved off of the wall horizontally, dropped the rifle butt to his hand and hammered it onto the closest soldiers head. His momentum carried him into the soldier as he smashed into the wall. Terris dropped to the floor, spun on his heel, brought the rifle up hastily and fired a round through the second man's lower jaw, sending black liquid across the ceiling.

When he turned, Haden stood there, eyes wide, hands clutching the ankles of his charges. Without a word, Terris took off at a sprint, covering the distance to the next turn. One unfortunate soldier walked out of cover and Terris jumped, planting both feet in his chest. The young man rode the soldier to the ground, cracking the butt of his rifle into the man's head at the last second, then rolled off and aimed the rifle as he slid to a stop. Three more. He pressed the trigger and nothing happened.

He dropped the rifle and charged the remaining three soldiers, his mind gone savage. Terris took a rifle barrel and shoved it into the nose of a soldier taking aim. The man let go and Terris whipped the weapon around, sending the rifle sling around the neck of another. Using it as a pull bar, he spun, and yanked the rifle down with both hands, lifting his opponent off the ground, over his back, and careening into the last man. The two went down in a jumble of limbs.

"Stop! Please!" Terris snapped his head to the source of the voice. A boy stood there in the glistening white armor of his companions, unarmed. It was the 'please' that caught his attention and allowed him to gain temporary control of his demons. Terris picked up another rifle and drew a bead on the boy, finger twitching.

"Why did you attack us!" He shouted as he advanced on the boy, his sense of reason returning.

"It wasn't an attack, Terris! It was a rescue!" The boy put his hands up defensively, backing away.

"Explain." He growled, his advance slowing.

"These people have possession of a Guardian ship and it's crew. They have blocked all inbound communication and deployed a contingent of attack fighters to prevent a ship from coming for you." The boy stopped, his eyes pleading. "You were being held hostage."

Haden's hand reached out to lower Terris' rifle. The two locked eyes.

"There may be truth, here. The moment we entered this system, the Guardians were to make contact. This is protocol. I have received nothing from our command carrier. I do not know the reason, but we need to hear him out."

Terris lowered the rifle, but kept his finger on the trigger. "You could have killed us."

"Directed explosives. All you would have felt was the concussion."

Terris looked back at Dawn and Tyronden laying on the deck. "We felt the hell out of it. Who are you?"

"I am known as One. I am the Guardian general and command the Shield." At this, Haden took a step forward.

"Prove it."

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