Field Trials

Summary: A scientist in the Borneo jungle is isolated by uninvited guests. It provides an unexpected opportunity to test a new drug delivery system.

Doctor Jake Murphy was not born in the Bornean jungles, but he did not intend to die there. The Metalhead buzzed and clicked as it scanned for him. It was clearly once a woman, given the body that carried the metal done that replaced its human head. He sunk deeper into the roots of the tree, futilely hoping they'd ignore him.

Murphy recalled his lectures on abnormal cyborg psychology in Miskatonic University in New England. The Metalheads reproduced by capturing human brains, scanning them, assimilating the knowledge, and using the body as a drone to collect more processing substrate. He'd simulated their growth for a portion of his thesis, how they operated in the gaps in international security. Since the chaos of Sunfall, their numbers had exploded.

Murphy heard his radio beep. He hoped it was camp, trying to get in touch with him. His heart sank as his mind corrected him with depressing alacrity. The Metalheads were trying to triangulate his position with his safety tracker. It was their standard procedure, he recalled, after jamming common communication channels. He clutched his only weapon tighter as a headless body fell from above.

Murphy grasped the Magnetar Injection Revolver as he studied the fallen body. It was an orangutan, likely triggering the Metalhead's microradar. Beyond it, he saw the Metalhead from earlier, with a machete in one hand and bloody primate head in the other. The uncanny dome-head turned towards him with an inhuman celerity, but he'd already fired once.

Murphy recalled the target drills that the Initiative made all field personnel take. His original purpose for coming here was to tranquilize and tag samples of the recovering orangutan population. The dart revolver used a laser rangefinder to modulate the velocity of each micro-dart via magnetic launcher. The entire system was calibrated not to injure the target, and to ensure proper penetration velocity of the projectile. It used a magnetic field instead of compressed air or gunpowder, so it was entirely silent. Ideal for research, but it took him a split second to realize he needed a second shot.

Murphy was used to the pop of a pneumatic dart pistol, but the Magnetar was something else. As he pulled his second shot, the Metalhead took another projectile to the torso. The double dosage would've been harmful to an orangutan, but enough to stagger a human. The bio-nanites acted faster than conventional pharmaceuticals, causing the uncanny cyborg to stumble like a punch-drunk boxer. He was gone when the Metalhead's blade arrived where he'd been.

Murphy sprinted towards where he remembered setting up camp. He cursed himself for the recklessness of setting off alone, especially in the rainforest. He loaded a fresh cylinder into the revolver, in case another Metalhead stumbled into his path. While he planned to one day transition to a cyborg body, he resolved to do so on his own terms, not at the hands of demented hivemind.

Murphy heard clicking and droning behind him during the dash to safety. Other Metalheads were likely scanning for him, with only the thick foliage to block their pursuit. He darted down the muddy trail, his gray protective jumpsuit splashed with dark mud. Half exhausted, he crashed through a green vortex, half expecting to see a ring of Metalheads prepared to add him to their ranks.

Murphy exhaled. He'd instead arrived back at camp. His comrades were there, saying words he could not quite make sense of. As the adrenaline wore off, he realized he had failed at his initial mission. He held the coil revolver in hand. He realized that at least, his new design was successful. Hopefully, he mused, the next field trials would be more forgiving.