Harp was just cresting over the top of a skyscraper and about to begin her initial run on the NME Hive when Ai’s plan arrived in her message queue.
“So how are we going to handle this one?” Sil asked. She’d taken her customary position off Harp’s left wing without any discussion or fuss.
Harp’s imprisonment could have left a deep fissure of distrust between them, but Harp couldn’t hold it against any of her techno-mechanical sisters. It wasn’t surprising the Valkyries had listened to Doctor Raju. She’d been more than mentor to them. Raju had given them each new lives. Ones that were unimaginably better and more fulfilling than any they’d dreamed of before their transformations.
Learning that there had been ulterior motives at work didn’t phase Harp either. She’d always known there had to be something more than pure selflessness behind Raju’s interest in them. If anything, learning that Raju carried the weight of her own mistakes made the machine-lady seem a lot more human than Harp had ever felt her to be.
It also explained the odd contrast she’d noticed in Raju between the unquestioning ruthlessness which with she’d had them strike down NMEs and the deep insistence on preventing civilian casualties she’d required from their battle tactics.
There were people inside the NMEs. Or the remains of people at least.
Harp’s heart had been hardened long before it was transformed into multiple armored blood pumps. Given the dangers NMEs possessed, she was fine with destroying them, even if the people inside could potentially have been saved. It had always seemed odd though that Raju had never asked them to try to preserve their foes to a point where the original humans could be exhumed from the wreckage.
It had been scant odds that had pulled Harp through her transformation, and a part of her always wondered if the humans inside the NMEs deserved the same chance, however unlikely it was. Raju hadn’t offered the NMEs that chance because she knew what was left in them. In a sense she was showing the NMEs the mercy which fate had denied her. Even if something could have been saved, the resulting being would know either madness and rage or overwhelming guilt and sorrow.
That thought wasn’t precisely reassuring as Harp’s sensors began locking onto the absurd number of fully transformed NMEs that were active in the remains of the night market.
“Standard recon pass?” Dee, one of the Valkyries off of Harp’s right wing, asked. The Valkyries had all taken their usual flight positions, accepting Harp back into their ranks as though she had never left.
“Can’t give them that kind of time,” Harp said, opening up Ai’s planning files.
“They’re already acquiring target locks on us,” Sil said, linking the data from her active scans to the other Valkyries. “That’s a lot quicker than usual.”
“These are upgrades right?” Platinum, who was flying in the tail position, said. She couldn’t see the NMEs yet but in a few milliseconds she’d have a line of sight to them and they would start locking onto her.
“Fortunately, so are we,” Harp said. “Interdiction fields up. Nano-chaff bursts on cool down.”
A field of communication killing interference radiated from each of the Valkyries, overlapping and combining to nullify everything except the nearest of electromagnetic communications. At the same time, each Valkyries began firing small bursts of material that exploded around them like fireworks, to confuse their enemies sensors and prevent the kind of lock-ons that could prove swiftly fatal..
On the ground the NMEs went through a brief period of confusion. They’d been mobilizing and marching outwards from the night market in packs but their footsteps faltered as the communication web which bound them together shattered.
A few NMEs fired missile attacks but with chaff distracting the missiles guidance systems and the Valkyries maneuverability the attacks posed no danger at all.
“So we’ve got a plan,” Harp said as the Valkyries banked downward into a dive. “Ai’s got a scheme that might work. As a warning, her previous idea of a good plan involved throwing herself off a building and pretending to be dead by actually going splat on the ground and being just dead enough to fool people.”
“So we’re not going to like this plan, are we?” Sil asked.
“Probably not,” Harp said. “We’re the ones in the field though, and it’s on us to execute it, so if any of you can spot a hole, or can come up with a better idea, we’ll go with that instead.”
“Lay it on us boss,” Dee said.
“Step one is, and I’m quoting it exactly here, so get ready for a lot of detail,” Harp said. “Kick their asses.”
A millisecond of silence passed on the Valkyries secure comm lines.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Harp said. “For Step one anyways. There’s a comment too. Ai says ‘you all fight better than anyone I’ve ever met or even heard of, I’m sure you can make this part happen, sorry about what comes afterwards though’.”
“I thought you said this woman was a genius?” Platinum said.
“Our reputations may have gotten a bit out of hand,” Dee said. “Oh, you’re the Black Valkyries? Just go perform a miracle for me, would you then luv?”
“The accent’s wrong, but yeah, that sounds about right,” Harp said. She was smiling and the smile deepened as gravity boosted the speed of their descent.
They were flying into the closest thing to Hell on Earth that Harp had ever seen. There were far too many NMEs below them. Even with the power they’d been holding back, even with their new upgrades, the fight before them was impossible.
There wasn’t anywhere else Harp could imagine wanting to be, or anyone else she could imagine facing these odds with. This was her family. Her sisters in blood and battle, and it was time to show the world exactly what they were really capable of.
“That one,” she said, locking onto one of the biggest NMEs. He was sleek and refined, visibly more advanced than any NME they’d faced before. And he was firing on them already, shooting a stream of hyper-velocity flechettes that could pierce the hardest armor and turn sensitive components to swiss cheese. “Let’s make an example of him.”
When the Black Valkyries struck, the dome of the sky rang like god had brought a hammer down on the world.
The first NME was obliterated. The facade of the buildings around the night market were blasted into the empty rooms left behind by the humans who had fled the NME Hive’s awakening. Windows for blocks around the impact site shattered and dust and debris filled the air, obscuring visibility along a wide range of wavelengths.
The NME packs, which had been dispersing to rampage through the city, shot communication tendrils to one another, forming smaller, more localized hive minds and even as they moved to gain more advantageous ground.
“Going somewhere?” Sil asked as she rammed a sword blade of blindingly hot plasma through the NMEs torso and slicing it in half vertically.
That didn’t slay the beast. Far from it in fact. Rather than fall into separate pieces, the NMEs two halves extend thousands of tiny wires towards each other, rejoining as fast as Sil could cut the pieces apart.
Harp used the distraction Sil was providing to send an arc of electricity through the NME that was strong enough to reduce its entire structure to a saggy pile of metal slag.
Dee threw up a shield to cover the three of them from a volley of incoming fire while the other Valkyries took to the air again and reigned hellfire down on the NMEs that were successfully acquiring target locks through the impenetrable cloud of dust.
“We only have a few seconds before they’re all linked up,” Sil said, spinning directly through the body of another NME, her plasma cutter tearing it into thousand of pieces as she went. The largest pieces she then annihilated with a barrage of explosive blasts.
“I know,” Harp said. “We need to make those seconds count.”
Dee took a hard shot from an NME that had scaled the building high enough to shoot past her barricade. Harp boosted directly into it, blasting it off the wall, through the building and out of view. It would be back, but that was a problem for the distant land of several seconds in the future.
“It’s not bad,” Dee said. “Lost an eye, but I’ve got a spare.”
“Good,” Harp said. “Stand strong here. We’ve got to sell this right. We need them to fear us.”
“How much of the city do we need to leave standing?” Sil asked.
“Ai says this block is empty,” Harp said. “The survivors are a block further away now in all directions and fleeing.”
“That’s not going to be enough if the NMEs go after them,” Platinum said.
“I know,” Harp said. “Punish any NME that tries to move away from this street.”
“One punishing strike coming right up,” Sil said.
The building on the eastern side of the night market’s square was empty. When Sil’s attack landed on the pack of NMEs trying to flank them, the building was, briefly, both empty and missing its first two floors, then it was tumbling to the ground.
NMEs are extremely tough. Buildings however are extremely heavy. Even with bodies constructed from materials at the cutting edge of durability, the NMEs still lost their battle against the thousands of tons of building that crushed them into the earth.
Unfortunately, only some of the NMEs were hit by the collapsing building.
So Harp dropped another one on them.
The second pack of NMEs didn’t fair any better than the first did, but too many were able to avoid the devastation.
And too many were able to adapt to the battlefield conditions.
Platinum took a round of concentrated fire that blasted off bits of her extremities before she fell low enough that a capture cable landed on her.
Dee tried to tear the magnetic cable loose from Platinum’s injured body but a series of concussive blasts knocked the two apart.
“They’ve got our number,” Sil said. “It’s going to get ugly from here.”
“We can’t give up yet,” Harp said. “Ninety percent kill ratio. We hit that and the rest of this has a prayer of working out ok.”
Getting an accurate destruction count on the NMEs was impossible in the chaos of the battle field but from their shared telemetry the Valkyries could be certain that at least 37% of the NME Hive was destroyed, with the possibility of an additional 21% being fully inoperable rather than temporarily impaired.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us then,” Sil said, taking a position at Harp’s back, ready to tear into the trio of linked NMEs that were advancing on them behind a shield wall from that direction.
A aerial package delivery truck, ladden with fuel, crashed into the NME going up in a fireball that light the predawn hours like the rising sun.
“I can’t be there with you”, Ai said. “Doesn’t mean I can’t help.”
More and more unmanned aerial vehicles came raining from the sky and the final struggle was on.
Sil lost a hand to one of the NME capture cables. She cut it off without thinking and reconfigured the stump into a piercing spike for broadcasting corrosive code directly into the NMEs systems.
The NMEs regenerative capabilities were unbelievable, superior even to the ones the Valkyries possessed. So Harp made sure to bath them in streams of radiation that ionized the NMEs to the core, disrupting the hardiest nanoscale machines within them.
Dee was caught in a pile of NMEs just as the Valkyries kill count reached a guaranteed 63% with a possible total of 74% depending on the status of units that couldn’t be visually inspected.
Two more Valkyries were taken out of the fray as the totals reach 75% with 77% as the outlying possibility.
The NME numbers had shrunk, but the ones who remained had learned, and reconfigured themselves.
And the Valkyries were running out of resources.
No more aerial vehicles fell to support them. None of them had the reserves to drop another building on the NMEs massed before them.
Still they fought on.
And so did Valkyries.
Harp looked over the battlefield, boosting briefly into the air to escape a series of NME probes that could have shut down her systems.
Her sisters had accomplished a miracle alright. In one encounter they’d defeated more NMEs than they had throughout all of their years together.
But she was the last who remained.
Not the last alive though.
As Ai had predicted, the Valkyries were too valuable to the Research Group to destroy. The NMEs hadn’t needed to kill them though. Dee was in pieces, still alive but helpless under the weight of the NME that was absorbing her for transport. Sil was bound up in electric netting that had shorted out all of her external systems. The other fallen Valkyrie weren’t faring any better.
They’d come so far, but in the end they’d come up 23% short. The algorithms the Research Group used for guidance would have predicted an outcome within the observed parameters. Armed with that knowledge, the Tython Resource Group would proceed with their plans, confident that they knew exactly how well their tools performed and what the best their opposition could do was.
Unless Harp changed that.
“I’m ready,” she said, and engaged the newest mods to her cognitive systems.
It was like time stood still.
When she moved, the air crackled around her, sonic booms exploding with every motion.
She didn’t engage any particular weapon systems. She just hit her foes.
Her blows shattered steel. With her bare hands, Harp ripped NME after NME apart, rending their components apart from one another and turning them into showers of mechanical confetti.
By the time her surge faded, by the time the heat in her body had left her blistering to the touch, Harp had pushed the Valkyries confirmed kill count to 97% of the NMEs in the night market.
There were more left, too many for anyone else to fight, but it was enough.
Darkness reached up to claim her and Harp gratefully tumbled into its embrace.