They didn’t try to hold onto Vietnam as hard as I thought. After I took down Universe Man, they began to pull back even further. Forget cullings in the countryside; they stayed to the cities, and then further to just few cities, moving north to try and extract from the country. The Vietnamese chewed them up along the way. They’re good at that.
They were less effective at dealing with the Praetors. There were still two left. One of them tried to cover the escape of a column with a premature winter. Fog, snow, and sleet bombarded anywhere but in front of them. Hail set off landmines in advance and made it rough for ambushers to set up or stay in cover. They don’t have winters like what he was doing to the place outside of Russia. I didn’t have to kill all the enemy myself. I just had to kill the guy keeping the Vietnamese away. He was a tough one. They told stories about trying to kill this guy. They’ve sniped at him and it doesn’t go through. They tried blowing him up with grenades and rockets, but he froze them. One brave son of a gun even tried to drive over him with a tank. The Praetor picked it up and threw it on top of an ice spike. Motherfucker impaled a tank.
Sometimes I wonder if all inhabited planets out there deal with this same shit, or if Earth is different like that. No wonder polite neighbors in the universe don’t stop by so often.
Sadly, the only well-mannered path to take involved a recent idea some of the Institute figured out. Smart guys. One fellow wanted us to have an accurate kinetic bombardment system that didn’t require orbital deployment. Another lady had developed a program whereby the nanites and autofactories based on nanobuilding could be used to clean the environment by extracting lead. Near as I can tell, they both went out drinking, him to stoke his creative side and her to celebrate successfully pulling lead out of stuff. There was a mixup with their papers, a bunch of papers tossed in the air, and someone ended up in the hospital after trying to throw an ash tray at a Flyer.
I only skimmed that incident report because I was eager to get to the good stuff at the time. The guy set about making updated versions of concrete bombs and lazy dogs. The first is a bomb that’s just a solid hunk of some heavy material used either for practice or whenever you need a non-explosive bomb dropped on something. Lazy Dog is similar, but smaller, meant for anti-personnel purposes. Imagine planes filling the sky with a bunch of lead spears or that are going faster than 200 MPH when they hit.
Now imagine the wonders of digital technology and miniaturization sticking guidance systems and rocket engines on lead spears 27 feet long. He called it the Dongyemochang. For our version of a better concrete bomb, there’s the Yong Ttong.
We’re going to have to get dedicated bombers and fighters someday, but I had a Psycho Flyer flew high above the blizzard moving through Vietnam and deploy the Dongyemochang first. I was keeping an eye on them from a safe distance away, spying through drones and satellites. The spears fell in a pair of bundles, a central one locking onto the target I’d marked. Fins adjusted where it pointed and rockets fired, increasing the bundle’s velocity. It finished quickly and unlocked, magnets spreading the spears apart a bit.
Most of the spears missed the Praetor, but some of them folded the retreating soldiers in on themselves. Vlad of Romania would be impressed at the way it put a man’s face through is anus. One caught the Praetor as well, but not lethally. It took his foot off. He created a dome around himself to guard against any other spears. They’d all landed by then.
I made a note that this really isn’t the best setup for spraying a bunch of enemies from above. It can be improved. As a method of assassination, it almost worked. Emphasis on almost, and then on the launch of the Yong Ttong. The Flyer loosed the bomb, which adjusted and aimed for the dome before accelerating to 18,000 mph. If it had been pointed the other direction, it could have escaped Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, the Yong Ttong made quite an impression on our invaders and the Earth itself. But, hey, no need to bury him.
I sent off my recordings to the Institute while pulling the Dudebot out of the dust cloud. The blizzard faded, but it’d still be a cold day under that cloud.
With the death of the second Praetor, the occupiers kissed an organized retreat goodbye. They were running. They were also looting. One village the Dudebot walked through had been robbed of as much food and valuables as they could carry. Women, too. Fortunately for that bunch, the Vietnamese insurgency caught them before I could.
I knew I had another Praetor to deal with. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the hysterical retreat meant we’d get a gunship soon, so I ordered in an escape rocket. That’s the rocket with a second rocket inside it that can get me out of a rough situation. I let them fight while the Dudebot waited in the escape rocket, set to fire and home in on intense light sources with an exception made for the sun and moon, if need be. Thus, the first I knew of the gunship’s appearance was when the rocket took off. I figured I didn’t have long for the ship to fully transition to our world. Lucky it wasn’t my actual body in the thing. Humans and homo machina aren’t meant to exist at the speed it reached.
I activated the short timer on the D-Bomb the Dudebot carried. Wouldn’t do me any good if it got over there and I couldn’t set it off. Almost as soon as I did, the, rocket smashed into the hull of a fully-transitioned gunship left behind when the breach disappeared. I cussed to myself back in Ricca and deactivated the timed bomb.
I didn’t have a way to stop the gunship myself and minimize damages to Vietnam. The rocket wouldn’t move it enough. So I kicked the Dudebot out of the rocket and checked around. It landed in some sort of compartment. I started to tear my way further inward, but alarms went off. “Attack Incoming,” a feminine voice said in a neutral tone.
They were really on the ball there. I’d barely set foot in there like that. The Dudebot carved through the wall with its Nasty Surprises and stepped out into a corridor where some young-looking guy in green coveralls skidded to a stop and fell on his ass. I grabbed him through the Dudebot and lifted him level with the helmet’s triangular “eyes”.
“Where is the bridge?” I growled.
The ship’s lights dimmed momentarily. In one ear, I heard Vietnamese chatter about Ho Chi Minh City. I pulled back a bit to spy on the situation from space and found the gunship had fired on the city. And a part of Hanoi was floating through the air.
Well, crap. At least the Chinese missiles would be impacting any second. Time to 3D print another robot copy, I thought. The view of the gunship was disrupted when a new breach opened up and surrounded it with bright light. I plunged back into the Dudebot, reactivating the timer, then got the fuck out. I’m pretty sure I won’t be tossed into another dimension with my mind inhabiting a robot body, but I’m discussing this during an invasion from another dimension where a giant bee-woman suplexed a feathered triceratops. Maybe the medicine Max makes me isn’t working; maybe the rest of the world made me sane by comparison.
The gunship disappeared. The nearest missile detonated itself. I know, I know, “The Chinese just set off a nuke over Vietnam?” Fun fact: blowing them up is a decent way to disarm a nuke. They have to undergo a specific process to initiate the fission process.
People talked on this frequency, yelled on that one, cried on another. Hanoi was still floating. Ho Chi Minh was a smoking wreck. It was getting hard to make sense of everything as a disembodied digital watcher, so I tried pulling back. My confusion remained when I blinked and looked up into a smoke-filled sky next to a car. I pulled myself to my feet, looking this way and pulling my hair out of my eyes when I did so. Blonde hair, two arms, and a gadget on my forearm.
Oh, wrong body. I must have been pretty discombobulated to end up in Dame, of all people. She was something of a thief who was pretty good at finding me and not too fond of bodycounts. She also turned out to be part of the Three Hares conspiracy, and played a part in my capture and memory wipe. When I got my hands on her, I “cyberized” her brain so that I could slip in and take control any time I wanted. It did come with the side effect of her memories popping up, though.
Something else popped up though. Some bird-thing that opened a fan of colorful feathers around its neck as it opened its mouth and hissed. The thing was only about the size of a dog, but it somehow reminded me of that thing from Jurassic Park that kills the hacker who messed up the security system. Instinctively, at least as far as Dame’s instincts went, I used her device to phase into non-solid form. The dinopeacock spat at me, the spit going through me harmlessly. I walked over and unphased long enough to grab its neck with one hand and ring it. I remember one of my boyfriends taking me along hunting once, showing me how to finish off a bird. No, Dame did. I learned that trick a different way.
I tossed it aside and turned, phasing by reflex when I caught a glint of light. A raider’s sword passed right through where my neck had been, and there were two more in two more hands waiting. With a trio of raiders right in front of me, I figured I’d keep Dame’s body for a little bit. I ducked, pulling the raider’s metal skirt up. I headbutted, solidifying just long enough to make contact, then phased again and rolled through him and his friends. I spun once I got past him and went solid long enough to reach up the skirts of the two in rear who were also turning around in a circle. I held my hands, and their balls, in one place. They didn’t react so quickly and did most of the damage themselves just by turning to face me.
A sword passed through me, but it meant letting go of their balls. I backed off while one of the pair doubled over along with the one I’d headbutted. The other’s must have been fucking brass because he swung wildly while advancing on me, teeth bared. I kicked at him, turning solid just long enough to make impact. I did the same when I grabbed for his sword arm, becoming solid only once I’d taken hold of it. I slammed his forearm down on my knee. Dame’s not as strong as me, though, so I think I only sprained it. I grabbed for his sword with both hands and pulled it free, leaving my back to him. He threw his free arm around me.
I slammed my head back into his nose while bringing my heel up between his legs and calling, “Tenderizer!”
I spun the sword around and stabbed it back next to my neck. Blood splashed on the back of my neck and into my hair as the man gurgled. I quickly pulled free with the sword and went insubstantial again. The other two raiders were starting to recover and rushed me. One tackled through me. The other tried to stab me in the head. I ducked again, and thrust my sword into his belly. He gasped and looked down, then laughed at the ghostly blade that stuck in him harmlessly.
He stopped taking it lightly when deactivated my gadget. I tried tugging the sword out, pushing it along, sliding it from side to side. Finally, with a great heave, I pulled it loose with a spray of blood and the stink of opened intestines.
My hair was yanked back. I went off balance, the third raider raising his sword to my throat. I threw myself back onto him and knocked him down. The blade shifted in the fall and he slit my forehead. Fuck, Dame didn’t have my tolerance for pain. I grabbed the sword’s blade and pulled it away. I’d dropped my sword in all that, so I turned and slammed his hand into the ground. I straddled the raider, who reached up to squeeze my throat with his free hand. Meanwhile, in Dame’s weaker form, I had to use two hands to keep his sword hand where it was. I growled, leaving that to one hand. The other reached in and pulled one of his eyes out. He screamed and weakened from the pain. I shifted around, shifted around, and stomped on his sword arm. I finally pulled the sword free and used it to saw through the arm he choked me with at the elbow.
I coughed and crawled away with the sword. I kept an eye on him in case he tried anything else. He cared a lot more about the bleeding limb. The difference between us is that I recovered more quickly from choking than he did from losing half his arm. He isn’t recovering from the blade in his brain he got when I felt well enough.
While resting after that one, I looked around and found a weird little power control collar like the one I’d so recently used against Universe Man. That one didn’t look like a smaller choker, though. I laughed and slice through it with the sword. After that, I wandered around, trying to look for a safe spot to let Dame have control again. A couple streets over, I heard someone call my name. Her name. “Dame!”
A man in an elaborate black and white outfit came running up, his chest two rows of black spades. He panted, but said, “You look like shit. What happened?”
I pointed with the sword toward the direction where I’d taken out the raiders. “Bad run-in with a one-armed bandit.” And all the better I was in control when it happened, too.