Aploz for getting this up late but I spent most of the day on the hop, running from doctor to dentist to doctor. I read Nathan Farrugia's Chimera Vector last year, with a view to giving it a cover line, which I duly delivered.
“Farrugia! Bringin’ the awesome from the first headshot to the last ‘splosion.”
Vector told the story of a woman raised by a secret cabal of secretive guys who control everything in secret, until one day her programming goes awry and she turns rogue.
What's not to like?
Seraphim Sequence follows up nicely with all of the headshots and splosions I was looking forward to reading again.
# # #
Damien closed his eyes, opened his mouth and let his ears do the searching. The air-conditioning rumbled at a low frequency and the fluorescent lights buzzed at a higher frequency. He filtered those out and tuned to the frequencies between.
Footsteps. Light, rubber-soled. Moving tentatively around the supermarket. He tried to identify them, make out how many and who was closer. He could hear one set that was particularly close. Two aisles left, a fraction back. He needed to calm his breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth. If his heart rate jumped any higher he’d hit the gray zone: even more adrenaline. A state of hyper-vigilance. He wouldn’t be able to move his fingers, he wouldn’t be able to think at all, he’d lose his peripheral vision and maybe lose his hearing completely. If that happened, he was as good as dead.
He opened his eyes. Staring him in the face: sugar, spice and all things nice.
He had an idea.
He selected a miniature bottle of paprika powder and held it between his teeth, then carefully moved to the rear of the supermarket. There would be more soldiers at the front than the rear to cover any attempted escape. On the way he snatched a box of Koko Krunch cereal. The koala on the front promised a Jango Fett figurine inside. He reached the end of the aisle and, cereal box in one hand, P99 in the other, checked his right. No soldiers at the end of the aisles, yet.
He retreated past a rack of egg cartons and emptied the cereal box in his wake. The cocoa shells skittered across the lino floor, along with a solitary plastic figurine in Mandalorian armor. Damien withdrew to the far right corner of the supermarket: an open aisle with generous displays of fruit and vegetables. No soldiers. Yet. He had thirty seconds at most.
He snatched an egg carton and emptied it in front of Jango Fett. The eggs broke across the floor. Taking the paprika bottle from between his teeth, he ducked out of view and tuned to the footsteps again. They were careful and faint, but their rubber soles occasionally gave a faint squeak. He pinged several at the other end, near the entrance.
He moved along the vegetables to the front of the supermarket, but held back a few feet. He unscrewed the cap from the paprika and waited. He needed to time this right.
The cereal he’d poured on the floor was to cover his blind spot and serve as an early warning system in case anyone tried to get the jump on him. The eggs were a precautionary measure in case he couldn’t cover himself in time. Even if the soldier didn’t slip — the egg yolks were more noticeable than oil — it would still slow them down by a second or two. And that would be the difference between alive Damien and dead Damien.
As CT soldiers, they’d drill for scenarios similar to this on a daily basis, their reaction times shaved to nothing. Chimera vectors or not, he knew that all it would take was a round to the head or the artery in his neck and he’d be dead in seconds.
Around the corner he confirmed two nearby soldiers. Moving now would be suicide. He picked up a nearby fruit — a coconut — and hurled it over to the rear of the aisle. It landed with a hollow clonk. Footsteps shifted and moved toward him. These soldiers weren’t stupid; he would take the corner wide.
Damien closed his eyes, listened. He heard the footsteps approach. And another set, about five feet behind. There was another soldier in the aisle directly behind Damien, halfway down. The others were too far away to pinpoint.
His heartrate had receded now. He’d managed to calm himself to the point where he had maximum awareness, maximum cognitive functioning, high physical functioning and good bloodflow. He knew what needed to be done.
He turned and shook the paprika bottle at the soldier. The powder shot out and coated the soldier’s face. His eyes were protected by goggles, but the paprika still blinded him and filled his nostrils.
Damien had to expose himself now. He moved into view, firing his P99 one-handed. The soldier in the next aisle pivoted, subcarbine barrel aiming for Damien’s chest. Damien fired his first shot on the move, then his second. The first went wide. The second caught the soldier through the goggles. Damien followed instinctively with a third. The slide on his P99 locked to the rear.
He slammed the butt of his P99 into the nose of the paprika-sprayed soldier, then brought the pistol down, guiding the soldier’s subcarbine to one side and clear of his own body. He brought his other fist up, empty paprika bottle still firmly in hand, and jabbed it into the operator’s Adam’s apple.
Damien moved his attention to the aisles and the supermarket’s front. He was close enough to make an escape, but already he could see two more soldiers emerging from the aisles ahead, shotguns, submachine guns and subcarbines locking onto him. He still had the paprika soldier as a shield, and the guy wasn’t dead yet. He could run, but he’d be lucky to make it ten feet.
Two soldiers positioned themselves for a better shot, moving in an arc on both sides. There wasn’t much space at the front of the supermarket. The soldier on the left was cut off by an aisle and the soldier on the right was hampered by cash registers. Damien pushed his paprika soldier closer toward them, planted one leg behind the soldier and jerked his helmet to one side. He stumbled toward his colleague on the left, trapping them both in a corner.
Damien pressed the paprika soldier’s subcarbine against his belly and, leaving room for the ejection port, aimed at the operator on the right. He squeezed and a burst of rounds caught the soldier in the stomach. Following through with the motion, Damien drove his elbow into paprika soldier’s face. His head snapped backward, smearing Damien’s hand with spice, and his helmet collided with the left soldier who was now cornered behind him. Damien sidestepped the paprika soldier and moved toward the left soldier.
The guy saw him coming and quickly adjusted tactics. He brought his subcarbine to bear, magazine pointed at Damien, and used it as a blunt instrument. Damien caught the magazine and flipped it up and over. The subcarbine spun in the soldier’s hands until it was in Damien’s grasp. He turned his hips, driving the muzzle into the soldier’s stomach and knocking the air from him. Then he thrust the muzzle upward, catching the soldier under the chin.
In the same movement, Damien withdrew the subcarbine and forced it down on the unbalanced paprika soldier’s forehead. Paprika soldier fell backward. Damien squatted, his knee positioned under the guy’s spine as he fell. He bounced off Damien’s knee and rolled across the crimson-spattered floor.
In his peripheral vision, Damien spotted the right soldier getting to his knees, shotgun in both hands. He’d taken the rounds in his stomach — protected by a vest.
Damien slammed the butt of his subcarbine into the left soldier’s groin. He gave a silent scream and collapsed. Damien aimed the subcarbine and fired a three-round burst into the shotgun soldier’s head. He jerked the subcarbine back, driving the butt into the left soldier a second time. This time, the butt connected with the soldier’s head and rendered him unconscious.
Damien heard a crunch from his left, in the distance. Someone was trying to circle around, stepping over the discarded Koko Krunch. Another soldier appeared in front of him, five aisles ahead. Damien took cover in the aisle on his left, pausing for a moment to check himself over. Adrenaline masked pain, so he needed to run a free hand over his body for anything sticky or wet. No injuries, just the soldiers’ blood. He ran to the rear of the supermarket. Subcarbine in one hand, he scooped up a large rectangular tin of oil and windmilled it, still running. He heard someone slip on the broken eggs, a weapon clattering to the floor.
There were footsteps ahead. Two pairs.
Damien kept his movements light and fast, the tin of oil swinging and the subcarbine aiming from the hip. It wouldn’t be accurate, but he needed to close this gap as quickly as he could. Inside of twenty meters, a rifle or pistol wasn’t particularly effective.
The operator on the left appeared, barrel just visible. Damien released the oil tin and watched it fly toward the firearm. By the time the tin reached the end of the aisle, the soldier had walked into range. The tin caught him in the shoulder and rolled into the side of his helmet. He recoiled from the blow, falling against the glass display of cold meats with a satisfying smack.
Damien grabbed whatever was to hand — a bottle of vinegar — and smashed it across a second soldier as he appeared on the right. The bottle struck him in the chest, not the head as Damien had hoped. He brought his boot into the side of the soldier’s leg. The operator slipped and, covered in vinegar, fell into a display of frypans.
Damien snatched a frypan as they tumbled and brought it around to the soldier on his left, who was now coated in egg and cocoa shells. But before he could strike with the frypan, they both slipped and fell together on the egg-slicked floor.
‘Fuck,’ Damien said.