Sorry about having two weeks in a row of this story. I just can’t fiction this week. Also, TW, use of ableist slurs by a character.
Seth coughed and massaged his neck. “Holy shit, you’re fast,” he said.
“Yes. Besides, I’m not the only one who’s unarmed.”
“Actually, you are.” Seth reached into the pocket of his jacket and withdrew a small blaster pistol.
“That’s hardly going to do much against a soldier with body armor, let alone an AMWS,” said Nadeshiko.
Seth looked down at the blaster in mock shock. “You’re right! Well, guess we’d better give up, then.”
“All right, what’s the secret?”
Seth smiled and began pulling more things out of his jacket’s seemingly endless supply of pockets — a stock with built-in powerpack, a collapsible barrel, a scope — and several very fast and highly illegal modular modifications to the pistol later, he’d assembled them into a rifle.
“Neat trick,” said Nadeshiko.
Seth shrugged. “Made it years ago. Figured I’d need it sooner or later. Anyway, no matter how fast you can move, you’re still not going to be able to do anything through body armor.”
“No, but I can give you a distraction so you can slip by them. Or were you planning to fight your way through a squad of trained soldiers and multiple AMWS?”
“Well… yes. If necessary.”
“Just hang back until the panic starts, all right?”
Seth sighed. “All right. Just don’t get killed, okay?”
Nadeshiko started to smile. Was Captain Jerk actually concerned about her?
“I mean, I don’t get paid if you’re dead.”
“Right,” she said. She should have known. “Let’s go.”
Nadeshiko walked with every appearance of calm right through the middle of a group of men with bayoneted rifles.
“Stop!” one of them called. “This area is off-limits.”
She blinked at him. “But, I’m supposed to be leaving today!”
“No one in or out until we get our man.”
“You’re not police, though. Who are you? What right do you have to stop me?”
The man regarded Nadeshiko with the caliber of open, dismissive contempt only an armed bully is capable of displaying. “Turn back.”
“Get out of my way!” she snapped, and tried to push past him. He shoved her back with his rifle, and another of the men grabbed her arms, pinning them behind her.
The man who had spoken, apparently their leader, raised his rifle. “You can turn around and leave the way you came, or you can not leave at all. Your choice.”
Nadeshiko sighed and relaxed. The man holding her, unfortunately, didn’t. That meant she’d have to do this the hard way. And when she was already tired, too!
She jackknifed forward, slamming the man holding her arms into the man in front of her. As she did, she heard something in her arms crack sickeningly, but she had all pain blocked. She slithered out of his grip and straightened, both arms flopping uselessly at her sides, broken.
“God help us, she’s mad!” shouted the leader, struggle to disentangle himself from his inverted compatriot.
Nadeshiko rolled her shoulders and snapped her no-longer broken arms into a defensive stance. She could almost hear old Master Rajeesh repeating the maxims of self-defense: Never fight when you can run. Never provoke when you can avoid. Control your own will, and you need never impose it on another. Control your own will, and none can impose theirs. “Sorry, Master,” she thought. “I have to do something.”
“Not mad!” shouted the leader, finally getting to his feet. “Mizrahi! Don’t let her get close, just shoot her!”
Time slowed as Nadeshiko squeezed her adrenal glands. Nearly dry; Viri had been right about her needing time off. She wouldn’t be able to keep up peak performance for more than a couple of minutes in her current state.
She’d never fought people who seriously wanted to hurt her before. But no matter; simply run down the list. First, eliminate the distractions. Nadeshiko ran herself through the biofeedback routines that years of training had made as natural as walking. An army of nanomachines spread through all the tissues of her body responded catalyzing some reactions and inhibiting others, suppressing a brain sector or accelerating reuptake of a neurotransmitter. Pain, physical and emotional, vanished. Hunger, thirst, tiredness; all were eliminated. Her very self submerged; there remained only objectives, capabilities, and analysis.
Masters of the Mizrahi Arts were often called fighting machines. This was not inaccurate. The error was in placing the emphasis on machines. Every human is already a machine. Nadeshiko simply knew how to turn off the parts unrelated to fighting.
Time was still moving glacially. One or two of the other men hesitantly raised their rifles, but they were obviously not prepared to shoot. Good. That meant if she took out the leader, she was almost certain to survive. Side kick, round kick — tearing noise. Had she injured something? Everything still seemed to work, so she lunged forward for a rapid one-two punch and down the leader went. Low-profile armor was great against beam weapons and bullets, but it couldn’t handle being struck by a broad surface like a foot. And all the armor in the world couldn’t protect against a punch to the face without a helmet.
She heard someone stepping up behind her, and lashed out with a backward punch. It impacted hard, right in his face. She’d had to tear every tendon in her elbow wide open, but no matter. Toss the arm forward, into more or less the right position, and the nanomachines repaired the injury.
She dodged, kicked, and punched, taking the half-dozen men down one at a time, letting them get in each other’s way. Her strength and speed were perfectly within the normal range for a young woman of her build and admittedly extensive physical training, but her rapid healing and the flexibility it gave her made her almost impossible to predict.
Even a Mizrahi Master might have been hard pressed to defeat six trained warriors at once, but the men Nadeshiko was fighting had trained to fight Divs. Monsters and demons in hideous forms they could handle, but a pretty young woman whose limbs kept bending the wrong way, who could move like a graceful dancer or a corpse on strings, who kept breaking her own bones and didn’t care? That was beyond their experience. Scientia did not go to war, and the students of the Mizrahi Arts learned self-control and avoiding conflict long before they learned to use their abilities to fight. There was neither opportunity nor demand to learn to fight Mizrahi, and so these men were utterly unable to respond.
The last man standing dropped his gun and ran. Nadeshiko took three steps after him, then stopped. Exhaustion was pulling at her body. She’d pushed herself too far; the deep ache in her muscles meant both that the nanomachines were no longer blocking her pain sensations and that they were too busy to repair the smaller tears. By this point, they were probably consuming the muscle to keep themselves alive. She needed water, rest, and food, very soon and in that order, or she was going to pass out.
But there was something else to do first. Quickly she checked the half-dozen men she’d knocked out. No contusions or signs of concussion; good. They were all breathing, and their pulses were steady. Now to get away from here before somebody less squeamish shot her from a distance. The fleeing man had run away from the spaceport, so that was the direction from which his friends were most likely to come. That meant her best bet was to head toward the spaceport.
So… yeah. I’ll get more into it later in the story, but Nadeshiko is a member of a very small ethnic group within the nation-state of Scientia, the Mizrahi, who share a common ancestor about 500 years ago and are born with curative nanomachines–a technology which was fairly commonplace in the original games and used to justify having healing “spells” in an SF setting–swarming through their bodies, continually repairing them. This has a number of advantages, obviously, such as resistance to disease, incredibly rapid recovery from injury, and vastly extended lifespans. The downside is that their metabolisms are through the roof, and if they don’t get enough rest or food, they start suffering fast. The Mizrahi have their own martial art which is based on the surprising things you can do when you don’t particularly care about things like ripped tendons and broken bones, and which also involves using biofeedback techniques to “trick” the nanomachines into doing things like increasing or decreasing the outputs of particular glands, thus theoretically allowing a degree of emotional control impossible for other people. Which is what I meant by saying that I thought later sections would solve what looked initially like standard “calm boy, emotional girl” garbage–it really is just that Nadeshiko is introduced on a terrible day, normally she’s got a great deal of awareness of and control over her emotional states and moods. While Seth… very much does not, since he’s got a bit of Hot Blooded Shonen Protagonist in his DNA.
Next part is the last of this chapter.