Chapter 6:


Badass (8-4D-455)

Location: Wild woods
Health: 90%
Energy reserves: 1%

The site of his shipmate's demise wasn't far and finding it didn't take long. After fewer than a thousand paces he noticed a lighter opening in the trees, a small crater underneath broken branches, a human body lying at the bottom in a bright spacesuit. No living human could have lain so without broken bones. Shocked, Badass stopped at the edge of the crater and lowered his head in mourning. What a terrible death. What must have they felt, rushing toward the ground with no chance of escape? Badass descended slowly to the centre of the crater and knelt next to the body. He closed his eyes, asked for the forgiveness of the deceased and, summoning all his strength, turned the body over. He opened the power bank's hatch on the back of the suit and jammed his wrist computer's tattoo-chip against it.

“Computer restarting,” the rig announced and Badass thought he should give a name to the artificial intelligence. “Computer, I'll call you Skinny,” he decided.

“My name is now Skinny,“ confirmed the computer. Badass stood for a while, listening. He had thought he heard a branch crack in the woods while Skinny was speaking. But other than the cawing of a two-headed crow that had landed nearby and the whisper of trees in the wind, the forest was quiet and Badass continued: “Skinny, charge your batteries and see if you can contact the suit's memory stores.”

“Connection established,” reported Skinny.

“Show me what you found.”

“Displaying the suit camera's last video,” replied Skinny and a holographic image appeared in front of Badass, shot with the suit's cameras high up in the sky.

“No! No!” the suit owner's voice, shrill with fear, screamed in Badass's ear as the ground rushed toward them with terrible speed, startling Badass. “Help! I don't wanna die!” The forest appeared before Badass, a wall of sharp spikes and, in the next instant, he heard a wet, tearing noise, the crunch of branches and a deafening thud.

The image disappeared. Badass swallowed. He had not wanted to see or experience this.

“Battery charge at 5%,” announced Skinny. At the same time, Badass heard a low growl behind him and turned, startled. Up on the ridge of the crater stood the most terrible creature he had seen in his life. Even the butcher-bot that Badass had encountered a few times on their spaceship, meant to repurpose the faulty clone bodies in the lab, didn't look as awful in its bloodiest moments. The thing that stood before him resembled a small bear, reaching up to Badass's chest as it stood on its thick hind legs. The animal's eyes were tiny and vicious, the sneering jaws displayed large fangs and a long stream of saliva oozed from one corner of the mouth in its battlelust. The brown beast was wearing the messily extracted skin of a large badger that had dripped blood into the unknown creature's fur. As its coat was quite thick, the badger skin must have been a matter of pride and not for warmth. The beast's paws were wide, with long threatening talons. In one mitt, it held the thigh bone of an unfamiliar species like a club, swaying up and down menacingly. It had already crushed someone's skull: the end of the bone was smeared with blood spatter.

“This is a wolverine,” identified Skinny.

“My meat, go away,” growled the wolverine and Badass realised that Skinny's translation program had activated when the suit's energy was restored. He wanted to scream in anger. That furry bastard of a wolverine wanted to rob him of a suit and leave him naked in the woods again. Badass clenched the stick in his hand, but it seemed a meagre weapon against the wolverine's claws and thigh bone.

“Yes, it's yours,” he mumbled through gritted teeth, “I'll just take a few things.”

“My meat!” the wolverine growled again and stepped closer, lifting the thigh bone for a blow. Anger flared in Badass.

“Die, dog!” he screamed, charging the beast. But the wolverine was faster and more dangerous than Badass had guessed. He dodged the stick and struck back immediately. Teeth gnashed and spit flew. Badass's face was spared the terrible fangs through sheer luck and, a moment later, the thigh bone whipped narrowly past his head. But Badass too had reached his limit and he swung his stick, howling wildly. He struck the wolverine's paw and the bone flew from its grasp, but that didn't stop the predator. Badass felth the wolverine's claws tear his clothes, but his fury gave him strength and his blows forced the beast back. It seemed the wolverine had not anticipated such fierce resistance and his opponent already turned to flee, but Badass's stick hit it on the head, dazing it. The next strikes crushed its skull completely. Gasping for breath after this immense exertion, Badass leaned on his stick.

“Who says I'm not Badass,” he mumbled to himself, panting.

“Vitals within acceptable limits,” Skinny chimed in. “Battery charge at 3%.”

Badass looked himself over. The wolverine's claws had torn a deep gash into his side, but luckily Skinny's nanobots were already mending the wound. If he hadn't managed to charge Skinny right before the fight, the results could have been quite different. Shaking his hand, Badass went back to his fallen comrade to finish charging Skinny's battery. He planned to pull the dead body out of the suit and climb in. The servos should have magnified Badass's strength ten times and two lasers on his shoulders wouldn't go amiss either.

Reaching the crater, Badass froze. The body was gone. The bottom of the hole was full of the paw prints of small wolverines, a couple of spacesuit pieces lay discarded, but that was it. The wolverine's family had cleaned up while he was fighting. Giving an angry shout, Badass stormed into the thick bush on the edge of the crater, looking for the thieves, but realized after a few metres that he had no idea which way they went.

He ambled sullenly back to the wolverine. He was certain that someone had already dragged it away too, but fortunately the beast lay where he had left it. The robber's family probably hadn't thought that a barefoot human with a stick could defeat their patriarch. Badass took the badger skin from the wolverine and wrapped it around himself. He weighed the thigh bone club in his hand and decided it was better than his stick. He threw the branch into the underbrush and armed himself with the bone. At least he would walk away with something.

He considered harvesting the wolverine's meat, but as he had nothing to cut it with, he gave up and set off toward the campfire smoke he had seen. If they won't feed me willingly, Badass thought, I will beat in their skulls and take their food. I have no intention of dying here, not under a beast's claws and certainly not of hunger.

He realised what he was thinking and had to admit that a peaceful space traveller had quickly turned into a bloodthirsty killer. It must be stress, he thought, but if bloodthirsty stress is the only thing keeping me alive, so be it.

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