Dash burst through the window in a shower of glass shards, stomach lurching as she fell forward, plunging through the air. With a flick of her wrist, a hook extended from her gauntlet, her fingers closing around it as it tore into the side of the building. Her body jolted as it immediately slowed her descent, sparks flying where the metal connected.
Laughing wildly, she felt her heels connect with the side of the building, metal screeching as she slid down the face of the Needle. A scientist called out as she flew past, thumping on the window of his laboratory. The shriek of metal on metal filled the air, ringing loudly as she watched the ground rise up to meet her. Her feet collided with the solid pavement, knees bending as her boots took the brunt of the force. With one final whoop, she retracted the hook and bolted, angry shouts filling the air as scientists emerged from the Needle.
“Come back here! Someone grab Thiroux’s blasted daughter!”
Dash ran for the edge of the street, launching herself over the railing and falling into the darkness of the Sprawl. Propelling herself off a rooftop, she made her way onto the streets, falling into step with some of the workers making their way home from the mines. No one looked in her direction as she reached into one of her pouches, withdrawing a small metallic orb.
“Kinda small, aint’cha?” Turning it back and forth between her fingers, she found a connection port on the side of the orb, and a few gaps in the plating. “Thought you’d be bigger. Still pretty heavy, though,” Dash muttered ducking through a side-street as she headed for the Midtown Markets.
The pounding in his head was what woke him up, slowly registering the familiar sharp ache that followed a blow to the back of the head. Hissing through his teeth, he tried to raise a hand to check the wound, but immediately realized that he couldn’t move. After a long moment, Ricky Royce opened his eyes, squinting in the bright light of day.
A tall man with a patchy beard kneeled in front of him, gaze dark as he stared blankly at Ricky.
“Mornin’ sunshine. Y’been sleepin’ for ages.” He scratched his beard idly, squinting. “Wasn’ sure if ya’d wake up.”
Ricky didn’t answer, gaze flicking to the side as he took in the rest of the room. Wherever they were, the building was certainly rundown, showing all the usual signs of the abandoned buildings of early Metrix. The bright shine of copper had given way to vivid, waxy blue-green patina, water-trails leaving patterns on the walls. Several of the windows had been boarded over in an attempt to conceal the shattered glass panes, while the rest seemed to shake in the slightest breeze.
“Hey, I’m talking t’ ya.” The man snapped his fingers in front of Ricky’s face, drawing his attention. “Yer Ricky Royce, yeah?”
“Why y’ lookin’ fer him?” Ricky glared, jaw clenching. It was beginning to come back to him - turning up at the Cogwerx factory, finding the shipment unguarded, these crazy gits running in to claim everything. None of it explained what they were doing here, or why this lot hadn’t killed him yet, or why the man knew his name.
“Yeah,” the man grinned. “See, we gotta plan to cause some trouble for Metrix, and ‘parently, this kid’s good at that. ‘Course, you don’t know where he is, maybe I kill ‘ya now and be done with it.”
“Al’rite, al’rite.” Ricky rolled his eyes.” Yeah, that’s me.”
“Good. Here’s the deal-”
“No, no deal.” He cut the other man off, shaking his head. “Y’ gotta show me the others first. I don’t wanna hear anything until I see ‘em.”
The man whistled through his teeth, and a moment later, the doors opened to reveal some other members of the man’s group each holding one of the street kids who had been part of Ricky’s heist.”
“Where’re the other two?”
“Dead, kid. Died at Cogwerx. Y’know those security bots? Shot ‘em full’a holes.”
Setting his jaw, Ricky looked over at the members of his gang, but before he could look for injuries, the group took them away, closing the door once more. The leader - for that’s what he had to be - took a knife out of his pocket, twirling it between his fingers.
“Yer the leader of that little group, aint’cha? If ya want those squeakers to live, y’ gonna do what I tell ya to.” He struck out with the knife, driving it deep into the wall next to Ricky’s head. “Boss wants us to cause some trouble. Yer gonna help us make sure we ain’t gonna be interrupted ‘fore we’re ready. You try to trick me, mess up my plan? I’mma cut up your little buddies one by one. Got it?”
After a long moment, Ricky tipped his chin upward, glaring. “Fine. Whaddya want me t’ do?”
As she drew closer to the heart of Metrix, Dash made a left turn, disappearing into an alleyway and scampering up a ladder to the levels above. As she emerged above the Sprawl, entering into the Coppertown sector, the air became thick with the sharp, sour smell of sulfur, smoke turning the world around her slightly hazy. Climbing higher, she made it up above the stalls of the Midtown Markets, scouring the crowds below.
Checking that she was out of sight, Dash activated the induction chamber, withdrawing the connection cable from her D.R.E.S.S. and attaching it to the port in the orb. The orb fit perfectly into one of the ports on her belt, sliding into place with a neat click.
Light travelled along the surface as the device came to life, drawing on the power of the induction chamber. Lifting her arm, Dash watched as her D.R.E.S.S. calibrated with the orb, sending its display to the unit on her wrist. Slowly, it began to calibrate, giving off a faint pulse as it attuned to her surroundings. Then, finally, it let out a single shrill beep.
“Okay, little buddy!” Dash grinned, slowly turning as she listened for feedback from the device. “Where are we going?”
Choosing a direction at random, she began to walk toward the outline of Zinnia Park, listening carefully. In a day, she could cover the whole of the Midtown Markets, and a part of Lowlake. The next led her down into Coppertown, scouring every street for the slightest signal from her device. However, it continued to stay silent.
Every time Dash booted up the device, it would release a series of high-pitched beeps, confirming that it had calibrated correctly. Yet after weeks of searching Metrix sector by sector, Dash was beginning to wonder if perhaps the device hadn’t calibrated correctly after all, or if there was an issue with the connection to the induction chamber.
Old Metrix was a failure, and the East Rise didn’t produce a single signal. As she entered into the Expanse, she was startled to discover that the orb began to signal, beeps sounding faster and faster as she drew closer to the source of the tenatan.
A light blinked into existence on her display unit, flashing a faint green. On closer inspection, she discovered that it was producing eight different directional lights, seven of which were currently inactive. When she turned around, the light turned off, and a different one lit up instead, now turned to face the same direction that the other light had been pointing previously.
“Oh, hell yeah!” Holding the device out in front of her, Dash ran toward the northeast, watching as the light blinked faster and brighter with every step. Finally, she found the building, coming to a halt in front of one of the Teklo Corporation’s various laboratories. “...Oh. Right.”
It was the first of several, as Dash found herself pulled to multiple laboratories, peeking in the windows to discover scientists in the process of testing raw tenatan.
After several long, exhausting days, Dash finally eliminated the Expanse from her search, turning her attention to the Sprawl far below.
“At least I know it works,” Dash muttered as she slunk back to her room, tossing the device onto her worktable. “Where the hell are you, rat boy?”
Ricky watched silently as the men unloaded several cases from Cogwerx, sorting the weapons into piles. Anything explosive was placed on the main table, sorted by size and yield. Armed with the knowledge of their combined explosive power, seeing them all together made his skin crawl. They set ‘em off by accident, we’re all gonna be ashes and dust.
“So, we can def’nitely get in through the access panel?”
“Yeah,” Ricky responded, rubbing a hand over his face. “We dunnit plenty, all y’need is a driver and y’ can pry the scanner righ’ off.”
“An’ yer sure there ain’t no guards?”
“Nah, they just got the scanners fer security.”
“Alright.” The leader, Mo, lifted his bat over one shoulder. “Y’know what happens if we get caught.”
“I know.” Ricky sighed. “Already said, I dunnit before. ‘S gonna work fine.”
“Right. Hope so, for your boy’s sakes.” Mo signaled to the rest of the group, whistling through his teeth. “Hey! Listen up. Boss wants this done neat and tidy, no fuck-ups. Bigger the mess, more we get paid, but any o’ you assholes screw up and get us caught early, we ain’t getting nothin’. So get your shit together, and let’s move!”
Dash was passing through the streets of the Sprawl, head bowed over her wrist display, when the device suddenly gave off a beep. She came to a standstill in the middle of the path, slowly turning as a very faint light appeared, pointing north.
“Thank fuck for that,” she breathed, beginning to walk in that direction. Yet as she drew closer, the light growing stronger, it suddenly switched directions, pointing west. “Don’t you short-circuit on me.” As she turned to continue walking, it beeped loudly at her, all eight lights flashing simultaneously.
“Up top somewhere, huh? And movin’ fast, from the looks of it.” Dash craned her neck backward to look at the levels above, quickly identifying the nearest ladder. The moment she passed into the streets of Coppertown, it switched directions once more, pointing toward the center of Metrix.
Dash ran as quickly as she could, relying on the extra boost from the D.R.E.S.S. as she made her way through the crowded streets. Passing through Lowlake, she scrambled up a ladder, hauling herself up into the Midtown Markets. Here, the crowds were even more dense, as Dash struggled to slip between the masses.
Squeezing between the stalls and patrons, Dash realized the device was directing her up once again. Using a nearby stall as a stepladder, she craned her neck to scan the crowds, looking for a gap in the flow of traffic. Her gaze landed on a ladder near the entrance to Goode’s, leading up to the miner’s walkways that connected to the Gigadrill Elevator.
Dash cursed under her breath as she pushed her way through the crowds, grasping onto the ladder and throwing herself onto the upper level. As she climbed higher, the signal grew stronger and stronger, leading her onto the maintenance level of the Gigadrill Elevator. Past the main walkways, there were few miners up here, making it much easier for Dash to follow the bright blinking light.
The device led her to one of the maintenance doors, its access panel torn off the wall. Dash quietly reached down and turned the tenatan detector off, silencing its shrill beeping. Her heart raced as she listened carefully, staring at the loose panel. Beyond the door, she could hear faint shouts and the occasional curse.
Drawing in a deep breath, she wrapped one hand around the hilt of her Teklo-assigned plasma pistol. When she raised her hand, pistol at the ready, she was proud to note that her hand barely shook at all.
Moving closer, she spotted someone standing near the door, just out of sight behind a pillar. The guard stood close to the edge of the metal path, gazing out over the city. With a deep breath, she dashed across the space between them and shoved, sending him flying onto the lower level. Ignoring his angry shouts, she booted the door open, pointing her pistol into the maintenance room.
In front of her, six men burst into action, reaching for nearby weapons. In a split-second, she glanced at the back wall, where she saw one man with a patchy beard standing next to Ricky, who met her gaze with a slack-jawed expression.
“Grab a fucking weapon, rat boy!” Dash yelled, backing up as one of the men came at her with a nail-studded baseball bat. Even as she ducked, avoiding the blow, her mind dimly wondered why the man was wielding a bat, and not one of the endless varieties of Cogwerx or Teklo-produced weaponry.
Gathering herself, she lashed out with her fist, the gauntlet deploying knuckle guards as she slammed it into his jaw with a sickening crunch. He collided with the floor with a thud, yelling as he scrabbled for his bat. Turning on her heel, Dash fired the pistol at a man reaching for her, narrowly avoiding the knife that he wielded with one hand.
“Shit!” The shot went wider than she expected, hitting him in the gut instead of the thigh. He went down like a ton of bricks, clutching at his stomach with a weak groan. Another of the men lunged at her, swearing loudly when her boot collided with his ribcage. Lashing out with her other fist, she accidentally deployed the gauntlet’s circular saw, which tore through his shoulder like a hot knife through Centennial-produced butter.
Leaving him slumped to the floor, she turned and fired at a fourth man, hitting him in the mid-chest, narrowly avoiding another attack from the fifth. He bared his teeth at her, yelling wildly. A second later, a long copper rod connected with the back of his head, a hollow thunk echoing through the room. As he collapsed to the ground, the man revealed Ricky standing behind him, wielding the rod with a grimace.
“Enough!” Mo help up the detonator, thumb over the red button. “You fuckers ain’t gonna stop me, you hear me!”
Dash immediately turned and dove across the room, grabbing Ricky as they soared out the open doorway. Behind them, the bombs detonated, her D.R.E.S.S. immediately responding to the shockwave by deploying a dissipation shield. The shockwave sent them both straight over the edge, plummeting to the ground below. She barely had time to register the sprawl of the plaza below them before they slammed into the pavement.
For a moment, everything was still, her ears ringing as Dash pressed her face against the cool stone earth. With a groan, she slowly pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, looking at Ricky just next to her. The shield faded away as he stood, wavering slightly on his feet.
“You ‘right, rat boy?” Her voice was croaky, but he heard her regardless, raising his head to look at her.
“Think so. You got any broken bones?”
“I think I’m good. You?”
“Nah, I’m ‘right.”
“Good.” They got to their feet, looking up at the silhouette of the Gigadrill Elevator. High above them, near the top of the Gigadrill, the plasma flared wildly, bolts of light arcing between the metal as molten plasma dripped down the side of the structure.
Dash looked across the plaza at the miner’s entrance to Pit 3, watching them spill out of the elevator in a frenzy.
The light flared, a deafening shriek filling the air as the metal skeleton of the Gigadrill warped seemingly instantaneously. Energy raced down the face of the structure, crackling loudly as it collided with the outer edge of Pit 3. With a thunderous crack, the main body of the Gigadrill parted in two, its halves whining as they separated, bending toward the nearby buildings of the Expanse. The maintenance level crumbled, pieces of foundation and glass tumbling to smash on the pavement below.
With that, the Gigadrill shuddered to a stop, and the plaza became quieter than Dash had ever heard it.
“...well, shit.” Ricky whistled, shaking his head. “Thanks, ‘teks. Wouldn’t have wanted to be up there.” He turned to look at her, eyebrows furrowed. “‘That your suit?”
Dash laughed breathlessly, gesturing to the chestplate.
“Yeah, you’re looking at the final design of the D.R.E.S.S. We’re lucky I decided to incorporate a shielding module.”
With a dry chuckle, he shrugged.
“Well, I take it back, that’s pretty cool.” They turned to look at the Midtown Markets, watching as people emerged to look at the remains of the Gigadrill.
“You had guys with you for the heist, right? They weren’t up on the maintenance level, were they?”
“Nah, I was the only one that went with ‘em for that.” Ricky frowned, running a hand through his hair. “They’re still back with the rest of that group. Said we’d all be set loose once the job was done.”
“Do you know where they are?”
“Yeah, paid attention when we left. Old building on the outer limits, jus’ past the junkyards. We gotta go now, ‘teks, there’s still some’a those men with ‘em, and I don’ trust that they won’ just ‘cide to kill ‘em off.”
“Let’s go, then. Probably best we get away from this, anyway.”
Ducking between the stalls, they hurried off, turning their backs on the twisted remains of the Gigadrill, smoke rising behind them.