Two weeks after the death of ten scientists working on the project, Lieutenant Brandon Riff found himself driving his jeep towards the pickup zone.
Well, here we go. After today, I'll be promoted, on a new payroll, and have superior command of half the army. He pulled the vehicle into the chopper pad and got his bags out for the trip. In a few minutes, a helicopter settled down in the middle of the pad; the copilot jumped out to help him with his luggage.
"Good morning, sir. Sleep well?"
"Nope, I'm a little nervous. I just hope this thing doesn't blow up in my face." The man laughed.
"Well, I guess I can't blame you. Rumor's going around that the thing killed some of the techs that were testing it." He saw Riff's face blanch. "Uh, well, yeah…I'm sure it's just a rumor. You ready to go?" Riff forced a weak smile.
"Yeah, let's get going."
"Good morning, Lt. Riff!" General Richards slapped him on the back as soon as he entered the room.
"And a good morning it is, sir. Are we ready to get going?" The general paused for only a second, but long enough for Riff to catch the glint of fear in his eyes.
"Huh? Oh, yes, yes. She's all ready for you, Riff. Just remember what we taught you, and you'll do fine." Riff shook the general's disturbingly sweaty hand and left to suit up for his test. It wasn't much longer until an officer came to his room and led him down to the loading bay, wishing him luck before he left.
"I definitely can't say I'm too eager about the job anymore," he said to himself. Within moments, he found himself alone in the bay, accompanied only by his new partner, the CORE-03.
General Richards didn't realize that he had been pacing back and forth until he noticed that every eye in the observation deck was dutifully trained on him.
"Get back to work! A man's life is on the line today, so don't slack off!" The rest of the room turned back to their terminals, all aware that it wasn't so much the man's life that he was worried about, but the hefty government fund he was riding. "Jamison, what's the status of the pilot?"
"It looks like he's integrated with the controls now, sir. He should be ready to bring her out. Should I give the command?" Richards nodded, wiping the steadily growing stream of sweat from his brow.
"Let's pray to God that it works this time. We can't hide another failure like the last one." Ignoring his plea, Jamison reached for her microphone and gave the final order:
"Lieutenant Brandon Riff, you are cleared for activation. Start the reactor core now."
Outside, the doors to the bay creaked open slowly, or, as Richards was thinking, strained against the inevitable chaos to come. Five hundred Army personnel waited outside the bay, some to watch, some to protect. All of them had their eyes on the darkness past the doors. Deep in the shadows, a light came on. A second flipped on after the first, and a third completed the triad. With a metallic thud, the lights began to advance towards the open doors. Richards waited in silent agony as the thudding continued.
Finally, a giant hand gripped one of the doors as a massive foot stepped from the shadows and into the sunlight. Five hundred soldiers gasped in awe at the same moment; above them was the two-hundred-foot behemoth, the CORE-03 Strike Combat Unit.
"We have a continuous feed to the control stem, sir, and the pilot's monitor is okay. There's still no sign of her consciousness releasing; Riff is in full control of the unit." Jamison hunched over her laptop and waited for Richards. With a sigh of relief, he wiped his brow again and slumped into a chair.
"That's it, Jamison. Our first fully operational Strike Unit is ready. Send out the order for the next forty units; if they clone the system, there shouldn't be any problem in having the first ten ready by tomorrow." Outside, the robot nodded a salute to the observation deck and to the captivated troops. Shaken from his trance, the field commander raised a megaphone.
"Twenty-one gun salute!" The officers raised their rifles and fired shots into the air on both sides of the unit, congratulating its activation. Richards nodded and smiled. After the salute, every soldier waiting outside with a weapon raised it high in the air to commiserate the event, and every weapon raised high in the air fired another shot.
"Jamison, we have a set of hosts ready for the process, don't we? If not, I want them found tonight. We need ten activations tomorrow morning." He hadn't noticed her face cloud over with fear. "What? What is it?"
"It's spreading……it's taking control of the system. The seal on her consciousness isn't holding her, sir…she's free again." On the screen, the thousands of cerebral links from the core to the stem began turning from green to red. Out on the pad, somebody screamed.
"All troops, man deactivation posts! I want that thing down now!" The officer didn't get a chance to repeat his command. He barely had enough time to discern that the wall hurtling toward him was, in fact, a foot.
"Oh-three! Stop! Stop, damn you, STOP!" Riff was fighting with the controls, flooring pedals, flipping switches. "You're my machine, and I will blow you the hell up if I have to! Oh-three!" He reached for the detonation pad and punched in his code.
S-stop…calling me that!!! His hand hovered over the button.
"Who is that? Who's calling me!?"
I'll kill you all…I'll kill you! Through his viewscreen, and through the giant's eyes, he could see fists launching out at bunkers, jeeps, and screaming victims. Truckloads of escaping soldiers were picked up and crushed to oblivion between the tree-trunk digits. Through the layers of armor, Riff began to feel a dull vibration coming in intervals. He ripped his mic set from the wall and screamed for help.
"Stop shooting, you morons! Don't shoot! Oh-three, SHUT DOWN!" Before he could say any more, his monitor shot off in a blur of static and was replaced with a three-dimensional projection of a distraught young woman.
Please, please, please……please, please…
"What the heck is going on? General Richards! Commander Jamison!" The woman reached out with her hand, as if to touch him on the cheek.
Please…don't do this… …I can't take it... I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE! LET ME GOOO!!! Her hand shot back and clutched her head, fingers tugging at her hair. LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO ME! I'M GONNA KILL YOU!!! The screen cleared as her throes and wails of torment faded away. What Riff saw didn't make him happy.
"Oh, sonofa-" Fifteen artillery units opened fire on him, chucking aside spent shells and raining death. The massive robot took every blast in the chest and toppled to the ground in a heap of metal.
"Fire! Fire, fire, fire! Bring the bitch down!" The artillery commander swung his arm again and again, snapping orders through his headset as fast as he could speak them. Far above him, F-18s with air-to-ground missiles begin bombarding the fallen giant.
"All available troops, use whatever armament you may possess and attack the Unit. Heavy armament is preferable. Thank you." Jamison worked the PA, rallying the frightened forces into retaliation.
Hee-hee, ha-ha-ha…you might've taken my body, but this new one works so much better! Apparently undaunted by the force of the anti-tank fire, the mecha crawled to its knees and doubled over in agony. Richards…Jamison…I'm gonna eat you… Ah-ha-ha-hee-hee… With an earsplitting scream, the robot, on its hands and knees, unhinged its jaw. The artillery began easing back from the creature while still firing at its face, doing little to inflict damage or stop its maniacal laughter.
Doo-doo-dee-doo…"Pop" goes the weasel.
A column of energy belched forth from the robot's mouth, incinerating the artillery and whatever was behind it.
"No…I didn't…it's not my fault. I couldn't…I, It wasn't..." Riff, having lost complete control of the kamikaze machine, grabbed his head in his hands. "No, no, no! Why!? Oh-three, answer me!" The woman appeared in front of him again, hands curled up into fists.
My name…is Raina! A hand shot into the sky to claw at a fighter; it plummeted to the ground, obliterating a pair of fleeing APCs. He watched in horror as the death machine finished its destruction of the entire facility.
Alone, on her bed, a beautiful young woman sleeps. The window lets a slight breeze in, bringing with it the smell of lilac on the wind. She turns in her sleep. What is she dreaming about? Something happy, apparently; a smile spreads across her delicate features. Clad in white silk pajamas, the angel-on-earth grins wistfully and turns again-but is awoken, for a split second, as a syringe connects with her neck and injects a swift darkness.
A flash of light, and the woman is conscious. She's strapped to a metal bed frame, connected to instruments both strange and absurd, those perhaps of a Frankenstein-esque dungeon. A military man, tall and heavyset, enters the room with a young brunette in a lab coat. The mad scientist immediately senses that she's awake. With fluid motion, she injects a substance into the woman's IV as the victim watches in horror. Within seconds, she is paralyzed.
"Richards, she's ready. Shall we begin the extraction? Her vital signs appear normal enough, and the genetic samples have been confirmed as four-positive."
"Yes, Jamison. Do it now. Make sure it's done right; God forbid her soul coming after me, literally or figuratively."
She barely senses the IV needle slide from her arm, or the cables and wires eject from her skin. There is nothing to be seen, heard, or felt for several moments. The weeping subject believes she may die in peace, but the harsh hand of reality hits when her body bursts aflame with electric charge. Splitting agony and horrific pain seem to last an eternity; a scream rises in her throat, but her body hangs limp before it can pass her lips.