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TRILOBYTE | Now Available for Pre-Order on Kindle!

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  • TRILOBYTE | Now Available for Pre-Order on Kindle!

    Kindle Cover

    Trilobyte drops on July 1st and is now available for preorder on Kindle here.

    CHAPTER ONE | Night Fighter
    © 2020 by JL Bourne

    One Year After
    Whidbey Island, Washington

    Drifting through the trees in the darkness of the killing fields.

    No fear.

    But not fearless.

    It’s more accurate to say that I have come to terms with the reality of my usefulness. I was a mature investment; I’d deactivated twenty-three of them in the past year, not counting humans. I don’t know what the kill ratio was in the EM War, but I think I could have hung with them if I’d only been born a decade or two earlier.

    My mother would warn me back then, “You need to put those soldier dolls down and put on your gogs, Junior. If you don’t log four hours of STEM, the toys are all going in the trash!”

    She wasn’t kidding, and her persistence is the reason I’m alive today.

    Dad died in the war, leaving me with his military college fund, and Mom made sure I used every coin of it.

    A cracking noise ripped me from my mental family reunion, back to the reality of the darkness, and of the metal monsters that seemed to always hunt under the crescent moon’s beams. They stalked without regard for natural predators. What they didn’t seem to grasp was that they weren’t the only dangerous things in the woods.

    The night-vision binoculars attached to my helmet were advanced, not the old type requiring infrared illuminators to see in total darkness. If that had been the case, I’d have been killed already. In fact, nothing on my body or kit emitted anything—neither light nor RF waves—unless I told it to. Hours under a soldering iron and microdrivers saw to that. Everything was automatic. One of my specialties, thanks to Dad’s college fund, was figuring out how to de-automate and electronically shield everything.

    The branchy sector of my homestead was northeast of the barn where I’d taken up a sniper’s hide in the loft. The advanced white-phosphor-and-digital hybrid tubes of my binoculars gave me sharp images of the tree line from where the noises originated. I flipped the manual switch next to the loft’s opening, completing the signal that provided power to the speaker-and-microphone network surrounding the property. The faint electrical signal must have spooked the mechanical demons; I could hear the snapping and clicking of titanium joints and servos, along with the wet, raspy breathing of the ones forever trapped somewhere in between machine and man.

    I flipped a second switch on the right side of the window, blasting a thousand-lumen torch at the tree line. A knob next to that switch actuated the controlled movement of the lamp on a cable span that stretched between two large timbers.

    The things went for it, sending the more expendable biologicals out first. They had plenty of them; Cynosure Corporation had seen to that. A few years ago, the nightmares that came out of those trees would have caused the average person to clutch their pearls and faint. The skinny things with no faces ran from cover in a sprint toward the light where they thought the calories might be, and from the looks of it, they needed them.

    Gaunt skeletons with Gen 2 Trilo masks were at the lights in seconds. I designed the first switch boxes to listen. The second set was bait. And the third . . . well.

    Shooting the biologicals was always a last resort.

    They used to be . . .

    They used to be mothers. Fathers. Sisters and brothers.

    The third switch didn’t target the biologicals directly, only the Trilos that imprisoned them in a forced symbiotic loop of meat, exhaustion, and killing.

    It didn’t matter. The end result was the same.

    I flipped number three, sending the powerful, directed electromagnetic pulse across the wave of Trilos swatting at the spotlight. The pulse rocked them as if they’d been hit by a train. They flailed in such a manner that the scene resembled a moving Picasso painting through the image intensifiers in my goggles.

    The Trilos began to release their tireless grip on bones, nerve endings, brain, and soul. I watched as the Gen 2 metallic appendages became slack, leaving the Trilos hanging loose on all the faces below as their biological hosts passed on into the void.

    Twenty-three still—biologicals didn’t count. Even so, I knew twenty-four was nearby.

    A Cynosure Homebrew was out there somewhere. A nightmare metal abomination created by the AI. In the very early days, they weren’t much of a threat, just copies of human creations. But they adapted quickly, sending out more advanced hunters as weeks turned to months. I could hear the servos through the amplified analog speaker. The machine could follow the faint signal from the buried and jacketed copper wire to the barn, sure, but I’d run the same wires in thirty directions at random lengths, all configured to activate and randomly energize any time a Series 1, 2, or 3 defense switch was flipped on. The only way to confuse them was to force them to make a choice between identical data sets, praying the odds would fall in my favor.

    It was a waiting game.

    I turned the switch banks and microphone off and adjusted my binoculars, letting in more intensified light so I might catch a glimpse through the trees. I’d been squatting for an hour straight, assisted by Dad’s old TALOS exo. The lean, lightning-strike-carbon-fiber and titanium exoskeletal frame put me somewhere on the same spectrum of physical strength as the Homebrews, but that depended on what make, model, and configuration I was up against. Homebrews were built by their own AI, and their design is difficult for humans to understand, until you look down and see that weird appendage you were initially curious about sticking out the front of your chest, harvesting your heart calories for the Trilos.

    I press checked my rifle. I had twenty-seven armor-piercing rounds in the mag and knew that the hunter-killer wouldn’t fall for the same bait as the Trilos. Leaving the loft and going to ground was not an option. Some of them could sprint at cheetah speed and leap like a kangaroo. I prefer not using guns on hunter-killers; knowing where to aim to disable their core is problematic. Newer generations randomize their core locations, or up armor them. Plus, the noise, even when suppressed, draws attention.

    A few minutes had passed since I turned the microphone array on and off. I wasn’t really certain where the hunter-killers might be. Taking a risk, I flipped the switch again and listened to the different speakers, each one amplifying noises from a different area of the property. I could hear night bugs chirping through all of them except the central microphone.
    That one was located inside the barn.

    Just then, a deafening crack played in stereo, both in real life and through the speaker in the barn. Splinters blasted up into the loft as servos from the killer machine whined. The thing appeared in my night vision at the loft opening. I immediately opened fire with fifty-year-old surplus steel-penetrator ammunition, obliterating what looked like the face of the six-legged machine as it climbed up onto my level. A mechanical tendril lashed out.
    My TALOS exo allowed me to parry and then jump through the wood framing to the other side of the barn. I kept firing, hitting timbers and striking unknown alloys, throwing bright sparks throughout the loft. After fifteen rounds, the robot was disabled, thrashing on the floor, spraying black fluid everywhere like some twisted, wacky water sprinkler.

    I grabbed one of the EMP emitters and tossed it across the loft deck. It was heavy and slid easily, dragging the wires that supplied its power. The emitter clanked against the wet frame of the damaged Homebrew, and I pressed the button. The EMP device made a high-pitched charging sound ending with a loud pop. My TALOS exoskeleton went into reset mode, releasing my weight, and my night vision flickered but remained on. The machine went limp, giving me enough time to get to it and sever all the wires going in and out of its processor and power core.
    Twenty-four down. A billion to go.

    Secure your copy of TRILOBYTE here, before the machines find you.

  • #2
    Awesome Thanks for all the hard work you do