By reader demand, I proudly present a tantalizing follow up to the previous sneak preview of my upcoming mecha/Mil-SF series Combat Frame XSeed.
“The institute is entrusted with caring for the most extreme cases—those who exhibit disorders not seen in the colonies since before the Collapse.”
The doctor’s pedantic voice filtering into his cell roused Zane from his brooding. He eased himself off his bed’s foam mattress, crept across the spongy floor, and crouched beside the narrow slit in the padded steel door.
“I see.” The stern male voice kindled dim recollection in Zane’s mind. “Tell me, Doctor. How do you deal with these prisoners?”
The voices were getting closer, along with the click of footsteps on the hallway tile. There’s three of them. Two are about the same weight, wearing men’s dress shoes. One’s a lot lighter, in boots with raised heels.
“We refer to them as patients,” Zane’s doctor said. “Sadly, the cases in this ward pose a danger to themselves and others. The best we can do is keep them confined to their rooms.”
“You mean incarcerated in their cells,” said a girl whose soft voice took the harsh tone of a taskmistress. Just hearing her felt like ice water flowing down Zane’s back.
“I was speaking to your father, young lady,” the doctor said. “I’ll thank you not to interrupt.”
“My responsibilities to the Coalition afford me no time for children, Doctor,” said the second man, annoyance creeping into his stony voice.
“I apologize, Director Sanzen. I’d assumed this young woman was your daughter.”
Sanzen Kaimora? The head of the Coalition Security Corps? Zane wondered if he really was psychotic and the conversation in the hall was just a hallucination. He risked a peek through the slot in his door.
Zane already knew the graying, lab coated figure of Cody, the facility’s head of psychiatry. A tall lean man who, unlike most in the Coalition, looked used to manual labor, faced the doctor in the middle of the hall. The only hair on his head was a severe black goatee. The lapel of his charcoal gray suit bore a gold O’Neill cylinder pin—the emblem of the SOC. Definitely Sanzen. But who’s that with him?
A petite young woman stood behind Sanzen in a matching skirted suit. Black hair with a deep blue sheen fell past her shoulders to the small of her back. Dark eyes set in a pale narrow face scanned her surroundings with the calculation of an artic she-wolf. Her gaze met Zane’s, and he recoiled from the door.
“This is my adjutant Sekaino Megami,” said Sanzen. “She is here to advise me on my decision.”
“Yes, of course,” the doctor stammered. “As per your request, I’ve assembled a list of all patients who were originally part of Block 101. The first of them is right down this hall. His name is Zane Dellister. He’s been with us for several months.
“What’s wrong with him?” asked Sanzen.
“Zane developed a strange form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Oddly, symptoms manifested after he arrived here in Chicago but before his unit saw combat. He was arrested in an abandoned warehouse following a rash of thefts from Seed Corporation. Evidently he’d been building his own combat frame out of parts stolen from Seed’s factory, the CSC’s own inventory, and even destroyed enemy units.”
“He sounds resourceful,” said Sanzen. “But why wasn’t he confined to the stockade?”
“Zane harbors an unhealthy attachment to this Frankenstein combat frame. He put three security personnel in the infirmary during his removal from the warehouse. Since then, he’s displayed behavior verging on dissociative identity disorder.”
“Fascinating,” Sanzen said dryly. “Put him down as a candidate for transfer to Metis, and let’s move on.”
“Who’s next on the list?” asked Megami.
The doctor’s stylus tapped on his tablet’s screen. “That would be Eiyu Masz, our most violent case. I’d advise caution in…”
Zane’s manic words drowned out the conversation outside as the doctor led his esteemed guests farther down the hall. “Did you hear that, Dead Drop?” he asked his absent combat frame. “Metis—that’s the asteroid they towed to L5. Turned it into a CSC base when they’d mined it out. They want to send me back into space. But I’m not going without you!”
A high time preference was among the personality traits that Cody said aggravated Zane’s dysfunction. That didn’t mean Zane was incapable of long-term planning. He could be patient when necessary. He just didn’t like it.
Zane had waited almost a whole hour after Cody, Sanzen, and Megami had passed back down the hallway and out of the ward to enact the escape he’d been planning for months. He stood before the mirror embedded in the wall behind a thick polymer sheet and pulled his light blue pajama shirt up over his head of buzzed, platinum blond hair. Then he stuffed the shirt down the drain of the small sink built into a wall recess and opened the taps.
His slippers came off next. These he wrapped in plastic hoarded from weeks’ worth of prepackaged meals and jammed down the tankless ceramic toilet. The water flow valve was hidden in the white padded wall, so Zane kept flushing as cold water sloshed onto the floor. He knew security was watching him over the pinhole cameras installed in his room, and he knew they’d send orderlies to deal with his misbehavior. In fact, he was counting on it.
It didn’t take long for the overflowing fixtures to flood the small room five centimeters deep. Zane lay face down in the rising water and held his breath. He was floating, and his lungs starting to burn, before the heavy door hissed open.
“He was like that for five minutes before the second shift guy came on and saw the monitor,” said a male orderly who burst into the room, fighting the outflow of water.
“Get him up,” said another man behind him. “If he drowns, it’s our asses on the line!”
Zane pushed up from the flooded floor and drove both feet into the first orderly’s stomach. The air escaped the man’s lungs in a pained gasp, and the torrent swirling around his shins assisted in knocking him backwards into his coworker.
Drawing a deep sweet breath, Zane sprang to his feet and rounded on the orderlies who lay in a sodden tangled heap outside. The man on top struggled to rise, but Zane leapt from the doorway to stomp on his chest, driving both orderlies back down. He knelt, bounced both men’s heads off the tile floor, and ripped the security badge from the top man’s white scrubs.
The exit from the ward lay down the hall to Zane’s left and around the corner to the right. But the keycard alone wouldn’t get him out. The exit used an airlock system with two doors and a small booth in-between. Only one door could be opened at a time, and the whole booth could be remotely locked down to hold an escapee till security showed up.
Which Zane was also counting on. He hauled the first orderly—a pudgy man with short brown hair—off his unconscious counterpart, bound his hands with his shirt, and stood him up. Zane positioned himself behind the semiconscious orderly and encircled the man’s neck with the chain from his extendable badge clip. He held the makeshift garrote closed with one hand while pushing him forward with the other. The fat man sputtered as they slogged down the hall.
When they reached the security door giving on the airlock, Zane opened it with the orderly’s keycard. A beige steel box waited beyond with an identical door on the far side—a door that couldn’t open until Zane shut the one behind him.
Security was certainly watching Zane’s every move. They knew he was in the airlock and that he had a hostage. The smart move would be to lock down the room when Zane closed the door and wait him out, regardless of the risk to the hostage. But Zane’s time on earth had acquainted him with a fundamental difference between himself and other colonists. Socs couldn’t stomach making hard decisions. Instead, they jumped straight to excessive force.
Zane shut the door behind him. He tightened his feebly struggling hostage’s chain and waited. Sure enough, the facing door slid open to reveal four guards in dark blue CSC uniforms. They all carried carbon polymer batons, but they hadn’t taken the time to don riot gear.
“Release the hostage and get on the floor with your hands behind your head, now!” barked a security officer with tan skin and a short crewcut.
“I’m crazy-ass spaceman,” cried Zane. “I’ll do what I want!” He released the chain and kicked the orderly through the door. The security officers jumped aside, and Zane charged right between them into the outer hallway, stepping on his former hostage.
The two rearmost guards lunged at him. Zane grabbed the guard to his right by the wrist, kicked his leg out, and levered him toward his oncoming friend while prying the baton from his hand. As the second guard struggled to prop up the first’s dead weight, Zane spun to intercept the two guards who’d stood near the door but were now charging him. He ducked under a vicious swing from the guard on his right and drove the butt of his own baton into the man’s stomach.
With the man to his right down on all fours struggling to breathe, Zane launched himself at the guard on his left. His new opponent’s brown eyes widened, and he froze as Zane’s baton crashed into his temple. He folded to the ground.
The first two guards were back up. The one who still had a baton brought it down in a whirring arc at Zane’s head. Zane angled his body to one side, letting the stick blur past and punching his attacker in the throat. That made three guards writhing on the floor.
Zane let the last guard run down the hallway, yelling for help and took a detour to the right. A short sprint brought him to the commissary for low-security patients. He rushed through the pajama-clad dinner crowd, past a wall cluttered with disturbing finger paintings, and into the steamy, savory-smelling kitchen. The mostly female staff shrieked, and dropped trays crashed as Zane bolted for the back of the room and plunged down the trash chute.
The dumpster where Zane landed smelled decidedly worse than the kitchen above, but this air was free. Almost. I just need to cross the yard and get through the fence. Then I’m out, and no one will keep me from you, Dead Drop!
Zane didn’t bother looking for the baton he’d dropped upon landing on squishy trash bags and broken down cardboard boxes. He vaulted out of the reeking metal bin and took off running across the cracked asphalt of a loading dock. Broken glass stabbed his feet, but he ignored the sting and fixated on reuniting with this black combat frame.
A wide green lawn sloped down from the low gray building that housed the institute. The cool grass soothed Zane’s tortured feet as he ran for the razor wire-topped fence encircling the campus. A pair of wheeled gates flanked an enclosed guard box thirty meters away. Zane sped up, dashed across the road leading to the gate, and dove at the box.
The panicked guard inside shot at the window, sending the reinforced glass sliding away in a spiderwebbed sheet. Red hot pain engulfed Zane’s mind as a bullet slammed into his right leg. His momentum carried him through the broken window and into the screaming guard, who didn’t get off a second shot before the back of his head collided with the opposite window. He slumped back into his chair.
Breathing like a furnace, Zane hammered the gate button. More gunshots cracked behind him, and bullets ricocheted off the guard box and the fence. He ducked out of the box and rushed through the gate. But his wounded leg betrayed him. Zane stumbled and went rolling the rest of the way downhill. He splashed down in a drainage ditch at the base of the slope. A concrete pipe yawned to his left. Without thinking, Zane scrambled into the filthy darkness.
To be continued in Combat Frame XSeed, coming soon!
In the meantime, check out my already completed space adventure-horror series, the Dragon Award-winning Soul Cycle.