Conor, on his way home, finds exoforms and discovers something new about the exo-virus.
Thunder crashed as lightning lit the sky. Conor looked around, constantly wary. The noise the storm was making would mask any sound made if something were to sneak up on him. After all, he was who-knows-how-far into the middle of a thick forest. He knew his way home, though. He was walking on a road, serving only to connect the outskirts of his city to the backwater town that Martin James lived in. Not that there was any difference since the virus hit and the exoforms ravaged both. But every rustle, every crack, had him whipping his head about. The moment he lost his focus would be the moment he died. If something snuck up on him, there was no way a length of pipe could do anything for him. And currently that was his only weapon against anything that came. "That goddamn virus," he thought to himself. "It'll be the death of all of us."
Not much was known about the virus itself, dubbed exoformata. It appeared to turn the skin into a metal alloy, under which would generate tubes made of a surface similar to glass. These tubes housed the breeding grounds, where the glowing green fluid the virus created would split and reproduce, endlessly powering what appeared to be some sort of cyborganic amalgamation. People infected would basically turn into some high-powered robotic thing, and their minds would regress into a near feral state. It had been conjectured that the machines that "grew" were from memory, and that was the most widely accepted theory, though it had holes in its logic. What was known from firsthand accounts was that the virus took control within a few minutes, and for some reason made the victim violently generate guns and blades and such, which were apparently powered by the virus itself. However, after about a half hour, they just stopped creating new mechanical weapons and used what they had.
But it appeared the antigen being developed by the government could stop the machines from generating and, if applied soon enough, could even stop the mental regression. The only problem was, the government was simply killing all the exoforms they could and applying the antigen to their corpses. Conor viewed them as idiots. They didn't know what they were doing and refused to admit it. The doctors were just doing their job. Once the exoforms were killed, they were dead. Same as trying to use a defibrillator on a dead body. The antigen only worked before the full effect took place.
Conor was tired. Tired and cold. Tired, cold, and wet. Wet mostly. He was constantly trying to distract himself, make himself more attentive, but it wasn't happening. He wished he could have some sort of autopilot, so he could fall asleep on his feet and keep walking. Maybe if he could control the exoformata. Maybe using the antigen or something. Maybe it wouldn't work. Probably it wouldn't work. He was really tired. God, he was tired. Did the rain not feel so bad to him?
Conor Halpin woke with a start, groggy. Rain pounded on him. The circle of animals surrounding him jumped, startled, and backed away slowly. His vision was blurred, and he just saw gray. Probably squirrels. Gray squirrels. That was weird. Gray squirrels didn't live in this forest. Good thing they were partly green, he thought in his daze.
Conor snapped to attention immediately and jumped to his feet. The squirrels around him hissed, squealed, moved strategically. One uncurled a shiny silver tail, revealing a deadly sharp claw. Another squinted with a glowing green robotic eye, like a camera shutter. Yet another primed a tiny cannon attached to its back, which was being fed through the glass-like tubes of emerald-colored fluid moving through its body. He was surrounded, and he thought to himself, "You're dead now, Conor." Because as each one prepared its own deadly weapon, his own lay five feet from him. And even if he had it, this many would be hopeless to fight. Aggressive normal squirrels he would be fine with. But these were exoforms. They were all exoforms.
Conor dove for his pipe. An exoform with powerful hind legs leapt, leaning to the side and throwing forward a grossly oversized leg, with razor-sharp claws. Two others leapt as well. Behind him, he heard a mechanical whirring.
As soon as the loud, static-like noise split the silence, Conor threw his head to the side. A sharp pain ran through the right side of his skull, and he saw a green laser beam fly past him and extinguish itself on the wet ground. Conor knelt quickly and grabbed the pipe before jumping to the right, knowing he would be attacked during his moment of stillness.
Three more lasers zoomed past the left side of his head. None hit, though, and he was back on his feet in a second. An exoform had leapt, falling behind him. He stepped on it with all the strength he could, crushing its body before it could recuperate. You had to take out the brain and heart within a short time of each other or they would regenerate and survive. He heard the springing sound of a squirrel leaping, and swung mightily, catching the animal in midair like a star pitcher hitting a grand slam. Its body crumpled and broke, and it flew across the street.
More lasers. One burned through the top of his shoulder, and the other two missed. He heard the sound of the squirrel's body hitting the road across from him.
The rain. That must be why he wasn't dead. It had to be messing up their visual sensors or something, and by extension their aim. He took the opportunity to land a kick, knocking three into each other, and as another one jumped he simultaneously whacked it with all his might and ground down with his boot, taking out four in one go. Three left. One prepared to jump, but instead made a running dash directly at Conor, to psyche him out, and he kicked it at nearly a right angle before hitting it with his pipe. It, as well, crumpled and broke. Two more to go. One, with spring hind legs, jumped at him. He swung his pipe, but he barely connected. Instead of flying away from him, it sailed into a tree. A tube on its back shattered, releasing the exoformata and taking away its energy. Conor jumped forward, and with both feet smashed the last remaining exoform.
Blood pounded in his ears, one of which ached. He had won. He had survived an encounter with exoforms.
He heard a whirr and a click.
He turned toward the tree that the exoform had fallen into. The mechanisms snapped and moved. A high-pitched, tinny alarm came from the squirrel. A length of metal snapped from its body to a tree. It started to retract, pulling the squirrel with it. Another one zoomed into the tree that had been behind it. The squirrel itself began to convulse, generating more machines, more weapons, very quickly. More claws, more guns, more appendages. An eye built itself out of one of the lengths of metal, which were both thickening quickly. All the lasers aimed at him.
Many beams blasted out of the giant monstrosity of metal, and Conor jumped to the side, running. Hopefully the rain still helped his case. What the hell was happening?
More fired, and he kept going. The thing was immobile. It couldn't follow him, could it?
It expanded more, covering longer sections between trees, creating and spilling into a spiderweb of metal. More blasters formed, and more blasts came. He heard a humming sound, mechanical but not exoformed. It must be a car. Sure enough, a dark green sedan was coming from behind him. He turned around.
The car screeched to a halt. The window rolled down. Someone leaned out of it.
"Get in!" she yelled. Conor was still surprised. "Get in, fast!"
Conor shook himself out of it and ran to her door, opening it and jumping in.
The car quickly gained speed, zooming along the wet road as behind them more badly aimed shots whizzed past them.
They were soon out of range, and she slowed down as the car went around a curve.
"Thank you so much," Conor stammered.
"Don't mention it. I see you got into some trouble back there," she replied.
"Oh, yeah. I fell asleep on my feet and when I woke up I was surrounded."
"I could tell. The whole road was littered with exoformic corpses."
"Haven't heard that word before. I'll have to use it. But yeah, I doubt if I killed half a dozen."
"I was exaggerating to make you feel better about your skills," she said.
"I don't need encouragement. That was not a nice way to wake up," Conor said.
"I'll say. Anyway, my name's Sheila Denderi," she said.
"I'm Conor Halpin." he replied.
"I know who you are. I'm a friend of Yamato's. He sent me once he saw the storm moving in. Apparently, he knew you didn't have a car."
"That's Yamato for you. Always looking out for me."
Thunder crashed, lightning split the sky, and the rain poured down even harder. But finally, Conor didn't have to endure it any more.