Didi's goggles show her numbers, scrolling through the count of her enemies as the stout, furred forms gnash their huge, yellow teeth at her, whippet tails thrashing against metal with odd booming, ringing and bell-like sounds, a chorus of music to accompany their attack.
They hold back, though, long snouts quivering, the giant one who seems to lead them sniffing her out as Didi holds her ground, the weapon now in her hand leveled in his whiskered face. Trash rats aren't easy to frighten off, but if she can take out their king, they'll scatter long enough for her to make a run for it.
"We need a place to hide." Pip quivers on her arm.
"You could fly off," she snaps at him, not sparing him a glance. Her finger closes on the trigger of her g*n. She can only hope her new modifications give the results she hopes for, or they could be overrun quickly. There's no promise-the one test she did wasn't all that satisfying, frying a small hole in the side of a plastanium hull about the size of her fist. It should be enough to take out a trash rat. Except there's more than one, isn't there?
She should be afraid. Didi catches her lips twitching as badly as the rat's tails, though, feeling like one of those heroes in her vids who wins out despite impossible odds.
"I'd never abandon you in a time of need." Pip's shock and arrogance makes her bark a laugh. The lead rat hops backward, his twenty pound body slinking low to the ground. Another transfer from a distant system, trash rats are common in the piles, but most are fearful and small, living off the carcasses of the dead. These are the largest she's ever seen, and makes her wonder what is out here they've grown so huge.
"Then hush," she says to the muttering crow. "And get ready to spread those wings. I won't be able to carry you and run."
She waits, as the king rat waits, taking his measure. She can see him returning the favor and grins, showing her teeth. Has to be fifty pounds, his long, round body low to the ground, feet tipped with sharp claws. He squeals at her, his pack joining him, her goggles settling on twenty- four in total.
"That's a lot of rats." If Didi's the hero, her crow is the opposite. Pip's breathlessness reminds her of a damsel in distress.
Her g*n never wavers. The king must recognize it's a weapon, because he continues to hold back. Smart these trash rats, smarter than they have a right to be. Stalemate in the dark and the trash between a slim girl and a cyborg crow and a pack of giant rats. She'd write a song about it, if she knew how.
When the king makes his move, she sees it coming, her goggles giving her warning through readings of his subtle muscle shifts. If she was ever grateful for the tech she's adapted, it's now. And with a faint prayer to the gods of all guns and ammo, she pulls the trigger of her cobbled weapon.
The g*n in her hand might have offered a small showing when she tested it previously. Tonight its power appears to have risen to the occasion. A giant beam of green builds up at the tip of the tarnished silver muzzle, the barrel distending slightly as the charge bursts forth like a bubble, exploding into a fist of energy that hits the charging king directly in his beady little eyes. Didi stumbles backward in surprise, Pip cawing and backwinging into flight as she stares with delight.
The king rat flips a*s past the skimmer, bouncing like some inflated toy over and over, tail taking out three of his hovering pack. He crashes with considerable force into the side of a crushed spacer, collapsing on his side with a gurgling sigh. Blood gushes from his open mouth, over his yellow fangs, pouring onto the trash beneath him.
Didi looks down at her weapon with a grin of delight, even as a deep keening begins, the pack gathering around their king. Pip's claws hook her shoulder, tug at her, but she remains in place, one hip c****d to the side, confidence returned. He buffets her with his wings, only to be waved off as she points her g*n at the pack.
"Take that then, squeeby squealers." They turn to face her, staring her down. Didi's anxiety makes a sharp return, but she's got her weapon. Let them try a thing and she'll take them all out.
The first one advances, a big female, the queen, most likely. Didi twists her lips in contempt. "Make me do it, then," she says. "I'm all for it." The rat continues her creeping progress and, with a flip of her hair out of her goggles, the clever girl shrugs and pulls the trigger, all casual like.
When nothing happens, Didi grunts. Shakes her g*n and tries again.
"Didi." Pip's voice holds the same kind of quiet horror she's beginning to acknowledge growing in her chest. "Didi, run."
"Well, blast it," she mutters before spinning on one foot and doing as he says to the skittering sound of the pack's pursuit. "And dang it to blazes."
Rats to the right of them, rats to the left of them. She's heard that litany before, but different. It sticks in her head though, a cadence in time with her thudding boots. One of the pack comes too close, leaps for her and Pip, but not before Didi's heavy sole lashes out, the deflection shielding crushing its furry chest.
It's not the rats one at a time she has to worry about. She can take them, if she can find a place to defend, maybe even turn the tables and chase them off. But if they circle and trap her, come at her all at once... fifty pounds times twenty-three-now twenty-two-is more than she can handle.
It would actually be easier to find her way if it weren't for Pip hovering like he does, his wings flapping in her view, blocking off her scan of the area. She swats at him, though doesn't want to risk knocking him down. She doesn't have time to stop and the rats would kill him lickity.
She scans the piles of trash around her, but none are easy to climb and only the vague, natural channels that are common place on Trash Heaven offer a place to go. She knows there has to be a reason the garbage dumped here seems to form a labyrinth of pathways, but she's never sat down to squidge out the equation and probably never will.
"Didi, be careful!" He chooses the wrong moment, as Pip often does, to distract her. She spotted the downward pathway, had half turned to avoid it, only to have his cry turn her head at the same moment one of her boots gave way. With the augmentation shorted out-they just weren't meant to take such a pounding in unknown territory-Didi stumbles sideways, down a metal ramp.
"Bad idea, Pip." Her clenched jaw aches but she's on a trajectory now and can't halt it. She was looking for a defensible place, high ground. This is the exact opposite. The garbage climbs around her on both sides, the slim path leading her down and down until she's at a dead end and is forced to turn around.
They have followed her, though maybe it's not as bad as it seems. The pack can only come at her two at a time on the ramp. She's feeling better about it, looking around for a weapon, until the sound of chittering overhead makes her look up.
They're above her, too, ready to leap on her head. Didi's shock is more powerful than her fear. If she'd been asked just this morning how she'd die, it wasn't at the teeth of a stupid pack of squealers.
Her back thuds against the hard place behind her, sounding hollow, echoey. "Pip!"
"I won't leave you." He settles on her shoulder as she half turns and scans the barrier. Yes, a door. How did she miss it? The controls are even faintly lit under the panel when she pops it open.
"I didn't ask you to, coward," she says. "Get ready."
"For what?" He's quivering his fright. "Didi, this is my fault, I got you into this, forgive me." His throat vibrates, a warble of distress escaping. "I'm a terrible, terrible friend."
"Some days," she says as the door hisses open under her touch. "But not today."
He shrieks protest as she grabs him bodily from her shoulder and throws him into the dark passage beyond, throwing herself after him. She can hear the skitter of claws approaching, knows she has a mere second to save them, leaping to her feet and for the inside of the door. Her fist finds the interior panel, pounds on it and she grins in the face of the queen whose wriggling nose she catches in the whoosh of the sliding door.