Sleepless Flame

By Odin Oxthorn


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6 mins



He knows I’m here , Nara scowled, raising her rifle. L et’s see how determined he is to avoid me.

She gently squeezed the trigger, ejecting a soft pulse of energy from the barrel of her gun. The bolt splattered over the visual disruption, delicately nudging the trespasser’s shoulder forward. The intruder’s cloaking effect flickered and broke apart in spidery cracks, revealing a black metallic shell of armor underneath.

Before Nara could cycle the charge, the camouflage healed itself, shrouding the man’s armor back under its illusory blanket. Undaunted by the warning shot, the thief resumed their objective, extracting a shiny glass vial from inside the cryo container.

Oh, fuck this shit, Nara fumed a she watched the vial levitate through the intruder’s cloak. Fuck the alarms, fuck security. No more time. He needs to leave.

With a snap of her wrist, she commanded the needles of the inhibitor to disengage from her body. Pangs shot across her limbs as the device complied, the barbs tearing away from her muscles as they retracted back into her armor.

Her chest burst open as it expanded to its natural capacity, enabling her freedom of movement as she savagely devoured heaping swallows of air. The swirling around her head began to subside as her first aid system took over, numbing the flesh wounds created by the malevolent device. Mental clarity returned to her with a rush of chemical stimulants, and she raised her rifle again, flicking the switch to a more lethal setting.

“Forgive me, comrade. I can’t let you do that, ” she apologized under her breath. She purged the remainder of her sickly fatigue through a restorative exhale and fired once more.

Molten red exploded from her weapon as a vicious missile sliced through the air with a howling war cry. The noise ceased with a crackling splash as the charge hit its mark, engulfing the pixelated haze below her with synthetic fire.

The force of the impact threw the intruder forward, and his faceplate smashed into the lip of the container with a shattering crunch. As the thief unconsciously thrust an arm out to brace himself, the glass vial launched from his grasp, disappearing into the murky atmosphere.

The man’s armor fizzled in angry sparks as the surge of energy tore through the synthetic illusion, unmasking the gruesome damage Nara had inflicted. A jagged chasm split apart the protective shell across his shoulders, revealing corpse-pale flesh dripping with sickly black organic fluid. Silvery liquid metal crawled over the humanoid’s back as the armor reacted to the injury, meshing and hardening to its normal blackened state in a fraction of an instant.

Unhindered by severe physical trauma, the figure snapped back upright, clawing at the table as if possessed by a deranged spirit. The maniac bolted after the lost vial, disinterested in the adversary with the smoking rifle behind him.

You fucking asshole , Nara growled as she vaulted over the railing, infuriated by the resilience of her rival.

Thermal smoke whooshed away from her form as she landed on the ground floor, only to immediately swallow her up with its misty veil. Just as she lifted a foot to pursue her quarry, the green lights illuminating the chamber above clacked off, replaced by a bloody crimson smolder.

Its slumber disrupted by the rowdy quarrel, the facility’s security system bellowed a warning inside the chamber:


Transmissions flitted across the network channels, commanding the maintenance drones in the vicinity to break from their routine tasks and engage the intruders.


The chamber detonated in a flare of white light, causing Nara to recoil as her visual sensors overloaded. While her cameras scrambled to recover, a streak of the red outlined humanoid blazed past her peripherals.

The hell do you think you’re going? Nara challenged as she chased after the figure.


Really? 0975? she grumbled as she slid under a table, waiting for the inevitable reinforcements to appear. They couldn’t have bothered to put my name in their system? Now I’m insulted.

Echoes of mechanical fluttering droned inside the chamber as the maintenance bots swarmed at the central pillar. Their multitude of limbs extended from underneath their square frames, briskly accelerating them to their destination.

Nara ignored the spectacle above as she spotted her rival dashing to the corner of the room. She patiently watched him as he feverishly scoured the floor for the precious object, letting him hunt for the vial in her stead.

Ignoring his observer, the man frenziedly twisted around, diving to his knees as he frisked the ground in front of him.

Nara burst out of her cover, sprinting to catch up to the thief. She slid into the man and planted a truculent knee to his ribcage, cutting off his search as she knocked him over onto his side.

Reacting with the grace of a street dancer, the man pivoted around on a hip and swept a leg behind her knee, pulling her down to the floor with him. With his attacker distracted, he scrambled to snatch the devious vial rolling away.

Nara growled as she recovered her balance, latching onto the man by the calf. As her opponent’s fingers brushed the base of the glass vial, she injected a debilitating shock from the palm of her hand.

The man choked out a stifled cry as the surge coursed through his body. A violent spasm thwarted his command over his muscles, and with a sharp clink of glass, he involuntarily slapped the vial deeper into the mist. Wrenching his leg from Nara’s grasp with a retaliating kick, the man scrambled to his feet and chased after the accursed object.

Nara dashed after him, only to be interrupted by a message on the security broadcast.


She glanced over her shoulder to find a giant metal cephalopod scuttling along the walls of the chamber. A bundle of glassy spires jutted out from the center of the saucer-like torso of the mechanical beast, each casting a shifting rainbow of colors as the golem approached the intruders.

“Ahh, shit!” Nara exclaimed as she darted behind a set of cooling tanks. A thin streak of cobalt pierced the ground next to her, instantly vaporizing as it hit the flooring.


As the bot pondered over its next destination, Nara pinpointed the man sprinting through the haze. She fled from her cover and barreled after him, intercepting his flight path. Pitching her weight forward, she slammed her shoulder into the fleeing perpetrator, knocking him underneath a catwalk.

The man took several rebounding steps to the side as he was propelled from his target, whirling his arms in controlled arcs to counteract the force.


Well, this will be just a wonderful fight , Nara grumbled as she tuned in to the clunking of the security bot’s gait.

She lunged to grab at the man’s shoulder, but her arm seized up as a blur of motion cut off her strike. A gasp stole the air from her lungs as an impact sliced through her abdomen, the sensation shadowed by a searing pain gnawing through her flesh. She unconsciously stepped back while her brain pieced together the attack in her memory. Confidence in her combat ability waned with a sinking feeling in her gut as a glimmer of the offending weapon caught her eye.

A silvery streak of metal protruded from the man’s armor in a honed edge, tracing a lethal border around his forearm. His fingers merged into a single knifepoint, slick with a fresh coat of her blood.

Having stunned his opponent, the man whirled around and charged into the mist. The savage blade liquefied as he retreated, relinquishing control of his fingers as it receded into the armor.

Fuck, he is no longer playing nice , she griped as her first aid system reacted to the injury. Vital reports chastised her actions as she snapped a pistol into her hand. The pharmaceuticals pumping into her veins steadied her nerves as she took aim at the fleeing figure. She slung curses in his direction as she ran after him, releasing a flurry of shots at the intruder’s legs.

Nara caught up to the man as he staggered forward, his armor struggling to absorb the onslaught. She sprang onto her quarry, wrenching him toward her as she slithered an arm around his neck.

As the thief thrashed in her grasp, she stamped a foot behind his knee, bashing him off balance and shoving him to the ground. She let out another shock from her armor’s defense system, paralyzing her victim with a volley of numbing lashes.

Seizing control of his twitching muscles, he conjured another blade from his armor. He jerked his chest forward, pulling Nara down on his back as she clamped onto his throat. Feeling her leg shift behind him, he whipped his arm around and slammed the dagger into her shin.

A metal shriek pierced the air as the man drove the edge deeper, tearing through her suit with minimal resistance. Her organic carapace diverted the impact of the weapon, but the blade continued to gnaw at the chitinous matter underneath. Each grating scratch sent shivers up her spine as her attacker persisted with a second blow.

With a sickening crunch, he cracked through her plating, burrowing the point into her soft flesh until it met with bone.

Nara hurled a vehement roar into the chamber, causing the delicate machinery around the combatants to shudder with the agonized vocal resonance.

Her first aid system screeched warnings in her ear, administering emergency medical fillers around the invasive metal. The cold liquid scorched across her nerves as it set to its task, patching the tissue around the embedded dagger.


FUCKING . . .” she thundered as she redistributed her weight onto her functional leg.

With the knife still buried in her muscle, she violently wrenched her quarry up by the neck, hauling him behind a holding chamber. Through clenched teeth, she sharply pivoted her shoulder, flinging both of their bodies out of the security bot’s aim. As her quarry strained against her grip, another bolt blazed past them, letting off a taunting piff as it harmlessly evaporated on the ground.


Shards of pain forced Nara to release the man as he savagely twisted around, yanking his blade out of her leg with a spray of blood and medical fluid. Refusing to give her a chance to recover, he smashed the back of his helmet into hers, propelling her backward as she wrestled to keep herself balanced on her injury. As she braced her footing, he coiled around her and released a quick-bladed jab underneath her ribs before fleeing from her grapple.

I need to get that vial away from him , Nara muttered internally as she doubled over. He’ll destroy me if I fight him outright.

She limped out of the droid’s vision as her systems sealed the voids in her flesh with synthetic braces.



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