He’s not Handsome Jack: An excerpt from “The Prometheus Engine”

This is an excerpt from my Nanowrimo project, “The Prometheus Engine”. For stupid lawyer reasons, the Jack in this novel is NOT Handsome Jack from Borderlands, even if they do sound alike (he even pinches “son of a taint”, which IS a deliberate homage though) right now. Mostly just showing my inspirational debts at this point.

To set the stage for you: FREAKING ROBO-SPIDERS ARE EATING THE COLONY RUN FOR YOUR GODDAMN LIVES!

PS: The Robo-Spiders are NOT Replicators from Stargate SG-1. </blatant lies>


“Um, a little help here?! I have no idea what these things are, but they are lively, belligerent, and they are goddamn EVERYWHERE!”
“Korran, holy crap man, are you okay?” Jack blurted.
“NO TALK! GET THIS OFF MY FACE!”
Jack finally registered the giant metal arthropod climbing up Korran’s neck, and swiped at it with a bit of broken pipe. The good news about having the colony fall apart all around you while under attack from weird alien spider-bots was finding you had access to lots of bludgeoning instruments, but that was about as much good news as you tended to get given that your colony was falling apart around you while under attack from weird alien spider-bots.The spider fell off of Korran, but was otherwise undeterred and took to attacking Jack as a priority target.
“Kill the bad bug KILL THE BAD BUG!” Jack screamed, cudgeling the spider over and over until it was just as much scrap metal as the pipe that dispatched it had been.
Jack helped his friend up with his free hand.
“Grab something. Preferably a really big shoe. And then we are so out of here.” Jack said.
Korran grabbed a stick of metal that flattened out at the end into a paddle-like shape, or more like a fly-swatter by Jack’s reckoning, and they made their way out of the square and headed for the communications tower at the end of the colony tube.
“Here’s the plan: we send an SOS from the tower to the fat cats on Luna, and then we get the hell out of dodge before we end up extra crispy.” Jack said, mostly reciting his plan less for approval and more to keep the chaos at bay.
The two ran, hand in hand like children, through the burning wreckage of the giant orbital station that they had called home just fifteen minutes ago, barely pausing to admire the alien spiders efficiency. Through rosy smoke could only be seen more rubble. A pile of brick and steel where once had been the home of Miss Georgia Luca, the kindly old woman who ran the local bakery. There, where once had been a tenement complex home to at least fifty people, a mound of debris and liquid metal that was not molten– more spiders simply crawled from the pool as the preexisting spiders broke down the metal and foundations of the colony to make more of themselves. A statue of Wernher Von Braun was barely recognizable now under its arachnid progeny. The sons of Von Braun were ravenous, and destroyed and killed seemingly indiscriminately. The clattering of their metal feet across Rhea made a symphony of destruction and chaos, like distant drums in the night from a rival tribe to mankind’s ancestors would have been. And like those distantly past drums, the spiders were only the vanguard of a much greater problem– the colony would soon lose structural integrity and depressurize, all at once, firing whoever was still alive of the near five million colonists aboard, and all their hopes and dreams, into the black of space like so many grains of dust scattered by the winds of a storm. A handful might get lucky and have put on their astro-suits before this happened and might be picked up by a rescue flight from a nearby colony in a few hours. Most of that handful would likely find the suit punctured by debris, and be no better off than they’d be without one. Others with the suits would die from impact trauma, or simply run out of air before they could be rescued. Most though, would die horribly and quickly. Those who tried to hold their last precious breaths would not be able to counteract their interior pressure from overwhelming the lack of exterior pressure; these people were doomed to inflate, like a meat balloon, but would never actually burst, becoming a mockery of their own forms while their lungs exploded, releasing air into their circulatory system. Those who were smarter, and exhaled, would still swell up, after about ten seconds as the water vaporized inside their own flesh. If they were incredibly lucky, they might survive for two minutes before suffering irreparable damage to their bodies. The last thing they would probably remember would be the moisture on their tongue boiling from lack of pressure, and they’d be mercifully dead or unconscious well before they got to feel their blood boil and then freeze. After death, their whole bodies would freeze on the night side orbit of Nemesis, floating for ages around a planet they never even got to see up close; they would mummify in the Sun’s radiation as their corpses crossed to the daylight side, never decomposing in the airless environment; an eternal spectacle of death and a permanent reminder of the frailty of man and the lost colony of Rhea.
Jack and Korran vowed to not be any of those people.
Jack and Korran also hated knowing exactly what would happen to them if they WERE those people.
They had to move faster if they were going to avoid being corpse-sicles.
“Won’t Brother already be broadcasting a distress signal?” Korran asked as they climbed up the stairs to Jack’s office in the Communications Tower.
“Yes, but it’s merely local. It’s meant to alert the other colonies to send rescue flights and clear civilian ships to a safe distance.” Jack explained, “We need to send a tightbeam signal to Armstrong City on Luna and Zi on Mars, and let them know Nemesis is home to freaky alien spiders that eat colonies for hors d’oeuvres. Colonial security doesn’t have the kind of equipment to deal with this sort of crap. We need badasses –Marines– for this shit.”
“You’re assuming they’ll help us at all. They may just wait for the spiders to freaking starve to death and then send new colonists to start over.” Korran said.
“Silence, o doubting Thomas!” Jack reprimanded, “Colonial Administration will usually only help if neglecting aid will affect their bottom line. These colonies take years to build and plenty of resources. I’d say that ‘Colony Eating Spiders From Outer Space’ most definitely qualify as “affecting their bottom line”. They have to send Marines, Special Ops, crazy-ass exterminators with nuclear powered backpacks and friggin laser beams, or… or…” Jack forced the door to his workplace.
“Or what?” Korran asked.
“Or we’re all royally screwed.” Jack said, his mouth agape. The Spiders were everywhere in there. “Ohhhhh… son of a taint.”


 

In “The Prometheus Engine”, Mankind is exploring a planet called Nemesis, which was discovered approximately 1,000 years ago, and its orbit now home to the vast majority of humans in the Sol system.

After a horrific attack from the planet’s surface leads to the deaths of almost half a billion humans living in orbit, and a key scientific expedition goes missing after encountering a mysterious set of ruins similar to ones found on Mars, the colonies send a team to investigate, and request reinforcements from Humankind’s other colonies.

What the investigation discovers is a group of Martian stragglers, the last holdouts of an ancient and once-great and mighty empire— holdouts who will do anything to secure an old dominance, and do not care how many humans are harmed to make their dreams a reality.

Humans also discover alongside the Martians a legacy from the world’s creators, called the “Cloak of Responsibility”, which could endow whomever uses it with unimaginable power, and a terrible burden to match.

Blinded by mutual greed, both species race to locate the Cloak, never truly realizing the implications of the curse that comes with Responsibility, the greatest power in the universe.

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