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Monday, June 16, 2008

Chapter 1: Crash Landing

Without further adeau, here's the first installment in the Sunrise story.
Mackai Solen finds his future a shambles and his life in danger, both at the hands of an unlikely, but furious nemesis. Left no other choice; he flees for the stars to an unknown future on a never-ending job with a crew of strangers.

There was nothing quite like watching your things get thrown out of the window of your own apartment over a remote video feed from your office too far away to do anything. What was the clincher was that the blonde haired beast on the other end was a woman I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. She had what little commitment I could spare from my military tour, and I was beginning to realize even that wasn’t enough. Those clingy ones get you like that and never let go.

“MACKAI YOU SON OF A BASTARD!“ Ooh, there goes another kitchen chair. Eighty stories down… there was no way it was going to survive. “I can’t believe you took another tour in February! You knew how lonely I was you son of a bitch!” She said with zeal as she lobbed yet another heavy implement out the window with her cybernetic limbs. “You should know I’m cheating on your ice-cold ass and it’s all your fault!”
"... I started to spout out some reconciliatory words, then cut myself off after I finally realized what she’d said. I’ll admit, I didn’t think much for the next fifteen seconds. “You blame me for you cheating on me?”"..."

“You don’t know what I’ve been through!” she said defensively. “Do you know how it feels to be lonely!?” She screamed the word so loud that the remaining window glass in the room shattered behind her. Why the bloody hell did I go steady with a full cyborg? Hell, I didn’t even know her sanity credentials… oh wait now I did… crazy mofo’.

“Do you know how it feels to unleash a mind-fucking mega virus on herds of AI zombies who don’t know any better?” I yelled back reflexively. I was pulling the “my buddies died face down in the mud for this?” card. On the whole viral genocide of dumb AIs thing… It sucked. Those poor skynet-esque buffoons smashing apart planets and mining out entire solar systems were as innocent as a colony of ants. Still, we had to squish the poor buggers nonetheless. I was tired and angry simultaneously. Being tangry isn’t pleasant, like reliving one’s adolescence all over again.

“Sentries!” I roared into the call channel, fully unable to control the angry jitter to my output in my angsty stupor.

“This is Farsol emergency, how may we be of assistance?” came an amazingly sedate voice in my head.

“Yeah, there’s an enraged cyborg… tearing apart my apartment.” I barely managed to keep my output from cracking and stuttering as I slowly said the sentence into the security channel. It was about then I realized just how little I believed what was happening. First came the urge to cry and gobble like a schoolgirl. But then my manly man lumberjack training kicked in and I hastily felt like breaking things, too. Maybe my girlfriend and I could do lunch and break things together. I believe that would be what most people would call “SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY AT THE SUPERDOME!”

My squeeze paused and looked over into the room cam with sudden fear in her eyes, “What the hell are you doing?” I waited for it to click, feeling rather satisfied that I’d delivered some vengeance. “Farsol security? YOU BASTARD!”

She resumed throwing things out the window with massively renewed vigor- oh shit! Not the crystal drink glasses! “If I get out of aggression rehab, I’ll fucking kill-“ At that point I was almost too pissed to breathe, so I cut the line before I said something that would earn me a new stalker-slash-killer. She was buggered, anyway. The Far-sec sniffers would be able to find her in every square foot of the city given enough time. Hopefully I had that much going for me at least. So I suppose she’d just accepted the futility and was going to have one last hurrah of going medieval on my stuff before she went to psych therapy.


About then I held back the urge to vomit, aided by my stomach suppressor implants. They were lovely one day out of every month when you really needed them… whenever something really fucked up happened. This was definitely one of those days.

“What the hell do you mean she bloody escaped the paddy wagon?” For a few seconds there, I lost control of myself. Mostly because I was rather afraid they were already writing my will and I might as well get on with it and upload before she got a chance to kill me. Goodbye, old body, it’s been a blast!

“It’s alright, Mackai, that’s why I’m talking with you now.” The sun was way, way on the other side of the planet. Maybe it was shining over thar in gosh darn China on the other side of the earth. I had slept about twenty minutes in the past three hours. Thank the stars for emergency meetings, or I would have pulled my hair out and gone insane with anticipation of my uncertain future… had to relax. What the hell am I saying? I’m going to frickin’ die!

“I want to disappear, Jasper, you have to help me!” I pleaded.

“Active duty,” he grumbled in his basso voice. That was more a tentative question from His Manlyness the Grand Master Sergeant. That was because Sergeants of the Stellar Fallers didn’t actually ask questions, They didn’t have to because they had given them a ruthless suplex and told questions to call them daddy.

I was feeling a lot like the question in that moment of sheer terror. I gulped. Full active duty was a nightmare, but it was where people who wanted to get away went. Though I was much too pretty to spend one out of twenty hours flying through a hellhouse and then spend the next nineteen (of the rest of my life) crying to a psychotherapist.

“Okay then… One last option,” he said, dark, piercing eyes glaring up at me over his arched hands. Apparently he had x-ray vision and could read the discontent screaming around and around through my mind at the mere mention of active. “Other than that, we make you full time office and put you under constant security detail.” I was also much too smart to spend the rest of my life in make-work jobs meant for washouts. After all, I was one of the best drone technicians the Stellar Fallers had. I grumbled absently.

Grand Master Sergeant Jasper Fahlsol sighed and suddenly looked very tired. “Mackai, you’re a good man to us, a good remoter and a good programmer. However...” he paused, thinking things over as commanders of massive, interstellar military firms must often do. “You’re running down my bag of tricks… Mackai.”

“I thought you said I only had that one other option-“ Jasper grunted and I shut up.

Jasper laughed slightly and grimaced. People like Jasper only grimace in the pig-flying event that a joke pierces their stoic nature, or in the more likely event they’re backed into a corner. “You’re a piece of work, Mackai. You ‘got balls.” I instinctively looked down at my jeans just to check. Yep, everything seemed in order from the outside, one thing my girlfriend HADN’T taken. Jasper laughed a sandy grind of a laugh at that

“Like I said, Mackai, I got one more thing for you. You sure you wanna’ disappear?” I nodded emphatically, remembering how my Girlfriend had told me about the hydraulic knives she’d replaced her ulnas with for “self defense.”

“Then I ‘got one word for you; insourcing.” I paused to think over this extremely heavy word. Insourcing was when a professional firm exported complete service of a particular form to another. Farsol’s Stellar Fallers had such insourcing services for hire. “It’s pretty much the foreign legion for any good talent we can export, you disappear.” He snapped his fingers with the last word and grinned like a card shark.

So it was about then I realized it was my only real option. I still remember this moment in hi-def - I made sure to archive it heavily and back it up for sentimental reasons. There was Jasper, arms forming a neat pyramid, hands hiding everything but his eyes, looking like the dastardly artificers of the past, if you know which one, you get a cookie! Anyway…

He was surrounded by the muted blue of the stratosphere out the shutters behind him. The room was dark, save the light from Shangri-La, the massive float membrane on which the Stellar Faller naval base hung in low orbit and upon the top of which we were perched. It was nearly five-hundred kilometers in diameter, so large it affected weather systems on a global scale. I called it home and I was about to kiss it goodbye.

“What do I have to do, Jasper?” I asked, surprisingly calm considering this moment changed my life as I knew it.


“Excuse me, but do you have my stapler?” Dwaine asked from behind me, I jumped and dropped my Tarantulas back into my foot locker. The little drones rolled into defensive balls and bounced a few times before settling. “Someone’s being naughty!” Sure, an employee in the office after his shift rooting around his company locker isn’t common. But, hell, not at all suspicious.

“Don’t want to talk about it,” I mumbled, and I sure as hell didn’t. I also, sure as hell, wanted my light kit on hand when I left the building, just in case.

“Have a case of the Mondays?” Dwaine crooned the last word like a fat office telephone operator, which made me roll my eyes. References to out of date, pre-jack entertainment were so passé… unless I was the one doing it.

“My girlfriend escaped from Farsol Psych, told me she’s cheating on me, and was last seen completely trashing my apartment.”

I could almost see Dwaine cringing behind me. Of course, that only lightly veiled his office-jockey sized drama vampirism. He was a full time cubicle spook, I never really envied him. “In that order?” he asked. He was also once my wingman when I was in an anti-sensor battalion, he’d washed out, I hadn’t. Nonetheless, the slight hint of empathy that masculinity allowed showed in his tone. I silently basked in it before I spoke.

“No, just the order that would create the most life-ganking experience possible.” I sighed as I finished and began charging my pack’s bays with stuff again.

“So, murderous intent or nay?”

“Homicidal bitch mode: one hundred percent. ACTIVATE!”

“I told you, you shouldn’t have dated a cyborg chick. At least uploads are good in bed. You won’t get torn in half switching positions in cyberspace.” I begged to differ, she was okay in the sack, it was when me and her opened our mouths to say something besides primal yells and sentences no more than two syllables that things went to hell. That and whenever we spent longer than a few days together. Thank god I didn’t get much shore leave.

The last thing I was thinking about was quality bedtime, though. Unless that bed time was me sleeping alone, not being plotted against or watched by evil, beady robot security eyes. It had been another five hours since my meeting and I’d spent the whole time getting my shoebox worth of stuff left from my wreckage –erm apartment.

“Look, I’m going to ramble ASAP, Dwaine,” I was trying to sound as much like a cowboy as possible. I sucked at it, need to watch more westerns. “ ‘Dunno when I’ll be comin’ back,” I mumbled in a devil-may-care tone.

“Great we’ll throw a party!”

“Oh that’s okay,” I began, breaking the cowboy motif like china in a trash grinder, suddenly taken aback by what a kind gesture Dwaine was offering. “There’s not nearly enough ti-“

“Oh no, after you leave, and there will be moist, delicious cake.” Wanker

“You’re some joker, Dwaine.” I grumbled, feeling ice cold yet at the same time finding the mental faculty in my sleep-deprived state to laugh at myself.

“It’s cool. Look, no cake, okay? And,” he said, emphasizing the last word like a game-world host, “I’ll space your heavy kit for you!”

“Really?” That got me excited again; I hoped he wasn’t joking. Lugging out a heavy metal box full of things that liked to beep, fly hop and explode wasn’t number one on my bucket list. “Yeah, I’ll get it to wherever, beam me the address.”

I called up my take-along HUD and sent him a memory file. “hmm, high Shangri-La, huh? Looks like you’ll be spacing it after all.” I nodded with a mix of pride and fear as I stood up with my pack. “I’ll get the grunts to lug it right now… No more cubicle duty?” I nodded emphatically as the heavy metal door out of the closet armory slid away. “Man, you military blokes make us code jockeys’ days. How boring will the office be without you?”

“Very boring,” I said unenthusiastically as I stepped into the grubbily carpeted cubicle farm. There were a few workers with cords running from their necks sitting in flight chairs with stupid looks on their faces. “Ah, such bright eyes and bushy tails,” I said campily, panning my gaze about dramatically. Dwaine chuckled as he caught up with me.

We walked the short distance to the lift, which I had called in advance from a few ten-hundred stories downhill. The doors opened before us with a suitably futuristic swish. “I have to go down to the atrium, you on break?”

Dwaine nodded, “yeah, I’ve been nano-stockpiling an extra minute from my last one hundred breaks, I’ve got time to spend.” I nodded in appreciation of his cleverness as we stepped into the car that was docked alongside the glass façade of the building. The car was shaped like a pill long side down. At either end were two chairs and the floor was upholstered with the same drab office carpet as the floor I’d just stepped off of.

The doors closed as we took seats on opposite sides. Crash pads clamped down on both of our legs from the sides of our seats. Shangri-La had a famous and highly expensive personal rapid transit system for its workers. It was also mind-numbingly fast.

The tram did a little circle around the station line before it started picking up speed onto the merge for the main network. Soon enough, we were barreling down the slopes of Shangri-La. I was in the backward seat and got to watch Dwaine bare his teeth and practically pop his eyes out of his sockets as we passed six hundred klicks an hour.

“I never get used to this…” he trailed off. I just put my hands behind my head and leaned back in my harness. This was pleasant compared to getting dropped in an assault boat. Meanwhile, I watched Shangri-La’s extensive offices fly by and disappear over the artificial, curved horizon. Shangri-La was a massive arch-bubble construct designed to aid in transorbital commerce and logistics for Farsol.

It was thin as all hell and supported by antigravity mats on the underside. If we had a bird’s eye view, it would look like a large, white, shiny bubble with big arch-shaped holes at the bottom half. The spaces between the holes were used primarily for transitways to terra firma. Above that was where most of the lighter weight was, skyscrapers and office complexes. In the center of the dome was High Shangri-La, Farsol’s main harbor on Earth.

Shangri-La, like the scale of the entire Farsol government, was about as huge as they came around here. It was some odd four hundred and fifty klicks in diameter with anchorages in a dozen states of the old U.S. Me and Dwaine were screaming down the rails towards Dallas. Not many cities were around anymore, but they were big and tall these days. Dallas was one of the biggest.

There were a few resounding thumps as we began to level out from our steep descent. The nagging, helium filled, floating feeling in my stomach was slackening, much to my relief. “You have just been deflowered yet again by Shangri-La freefall, thank you for flying.” I said to Dwaine, much to his chagrin. He shook his head at me and frowned, all the while betraying himself with occasional chortles. “I guess it WAS good for you.” I added. He started cackling madly at that.

We swung around a banked curve somewhere under one hundred klicks an hour, past great arcing guideways. The guideways rose and fell, banking closer and further as they streamed past the rear windows I had a vantage out of. A Heavyback trundled up the main guideway carrying a starship on its massive lifting bed as smaller trams and passenger trains buzzed along the gravity defying guideways surrounding them.

“Dallas station, low capacity. Transfer to ground network, transfer to atrium-”

“That would be us,” I said clearly to the cab intelligence.

“Okay, thank you very much for using SLTA services, take care.”

“Thank you,” I said curtly to the half-sentient hijacking the cab’s speakers. Our guideway swung in to join a lower artery sweeping under the main one. We dove into a tunnel and began to decelerate. Work lights flew by at decreasing speeds until we finally exited into the massive covered park they call the Dallas Atrium.

The car stopped with a click and the doors bumbled open, sliding away out of view. “Underfoot park?” Dwaine asked.

“N’ah, I’m expected down at the Hub Terrace.” I said as I stood from the parting lap harness and rotated myself out the door.

“Hmm,” Dwaine said as he fell in behind me again. “I want to see the bounty hunter who you’re going to be answering to.”

“Oh bugger, Dwaine, you’re hard to ditch.” I said, reaching back and clocking him in the shoulder as I finished the joke. “I’m going to have to ‘accidentally’ walk into the girls bathroom and escape through a vent or something, won’t I?”

“Hey, if that’s how you want to see naked women… not really my bag.” I frowned; he was good. We walked away from the car as its doors closed with a thud. By the time it sped away, we had crossed the large paved platform raised above the tree line and started down the stairs.

“So, how’d you know about the insourcing I was going into?” I said, getting back on the subject. Dwaine just tapped his wifi implant. “Ah, Jameson from human resources?”

He nodded, “The guy’s still thankful I got him through his certification test. Besides, rumors get around, at which point they subsequently become the property of gossip monkeys, including me.” We walked along the walkway and down another flight of stairs towards the main pad. People walked to and fro at modest paces, passing Dwaine and I without even a glance. “So,” Dwaine said, “any foreword?”

“None at all,” I said apathetically, “They’re supposed to be a pretty advanced group, they’ll be doing all the briefing.” We were just about under the treeline, climbing down the shiny, utopian-esque paths contrasting with the wild park below us

“How much do you want to bet your boss is a fugly slug alien with beady eyes and-“ we passed the tree cover surrounding us and were about to descend the last flight of stairs when I stopped. “Woah,” Dwaine said tersely, mouthing what I would have said had I had any sense at that moment.

"...There was a seven and a half foot tall humanoid holding up a sign in poorly scribbled analog script that said “Solen.” She was clad in an armor skeleton that would put any civilian racket to shame. It was all curves and thick polymer armor with jade camera eyes jutting out every which way. She appeared to be vaguely mammalian, with a relatively human form, but she was covered in dark gold fur maybe an inch in length with white covering the underside of her chin. Furthermore, her oddly feline features made her look like a reject from Captain Ahab 3120AD...." Oddly, though, she was stunning in an amazonian sort of way.

“You have an appointment, mate,” Dwaine said.

“And you have break time, c’mon!” I said as I grabbed the shoulder of his business suit and dragged him along. No way I would be able to summon the balls to walk up to a massive amazon like this woman (clearly a woman, I won’t say any more.) My light kit clunked along as I descended the flight of stairs. I hit level ground and walked over with Dwaine in tow.

We stopped a few meters short, she still hadn’t noticed me, girls like her had a stare like drill bits. “Well man, this is it, I guess.” It WAS it. My apartment was trash and there was someone likely out on the hunt for me, I didn’t plan on coming back. In fact; I wanted out soon.

“Alright, keep in touch,” he said as he patted me hard on the shoulder and headed off on his own mission.

“Mackai Solen?” I turned around at hearing my name. The battle she-wolf who’d been holding the sign looked down at me with angular, purple rimmed, catlike eyes. I nodded. “Good, you’ve kept me waiting long enough,” she said, a slight hint of spite escaping her casual tone. “I’m –“ she said something that sounded like ‘samteesoap’ said in fast forward with air escaping from a balloon in the background.

I paused, “can I just call you Sam?”

“Sure, that works,” she said tersely in a brassy voice that sounded oddly human. I supposed her species had a rather versatile set of vocal chords. “Anyway, I’m here to give you the tour. ‘Have to get some supplies while we’re planet side as well. I’ll brief you along the way, good?” She said in a clipped manner.

“Yeah sure, you guys are already parked in H.S.L.?” She nodded as we started down the main concourse. The floor sunk into a high street of commercial shops as we walked toward the ground exit. “So why don’t we just order this stuff over the net?”

She sighed like I was a two-year old tag along. Too stupid for my own good, I reasoned. “It’s too easy to forge feeds. You humans don’t do it too much. But; out in the Abyss, it’s easy for the superpowers to do.” I nodded. “Your firm shop locally?”

“For short orders, yes,” I said. “There’s a few good places, if that’s what you’re thinking.”


Two drone logic units, military grade ox’ supply, and fifty kinetic attack drones, fighter grade. These guys didn’t screw around.

“Now I want this EXACT stock on this palette delivered to pad Northeast twenty-one. No funny shit.” Sam was looming over the short, synth-scalp clad merchant in his own warehouse acting like she owned the place.

“Yes ma’am, and I’ll make it priority.” It was working. She nodded, clearly satisfied with the “negotiations,” yet still wearing a strong scowl.

“You didn’t have to pick him up by the collar,” I offered with slight tentativeness as we turned to walk out. “Around here, the Global Business Bureau keeps these guys under a microscope.”

“Doesn’t hurt to keep them on their toes.” A valid point, the merchants around here had grown fat on port business. A little rough play now and then wouldn’t hurt. We walked out shoulder by shoulder from the warehouse into the daylight.

“Anyway, like I was saying,” she began smartly. “We’re a special missions firm, we handle the exotic jobs mostly. Things that pay top dollar,” and only go to the craziest sons-of-bitches out there, I finished for her. Some people to fall in with, this lot was. “Anyway, we know you’re some top Farsol polish. We’ve made some accommodations in our equipment for you. We’ve been needing an information warfare man for a while so we’re hoping you don’t disappoint.” Depends on what you’re offering.

“Anyway, we have some benefactors with quite a bit of money to pull. They’ve been trying to move their planet’s market into the offworld game, almost single handedly.” She was getting warmer. We continued walking along the dusty cement culverts and arroyos of the supply sector in the lower levels of the city. These spaces were meant for the heavy vehicles they used to lug ship-grade cargo around. We passed through stray avenues of sunlight bleeding down from the crowded, claustrophobic skyline far above as we meandered back towards the Dallas atrium. I wished we’d go faster, security was only at the cargo scan checkpoints… this was no man’s land.

“My superiors are prepared to offer you some top of the line systems to use on duty on the condition you deliver good productivity.” Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner, folks! She looked down at me with a wry grin. “It’s at least as good as the bath toys you ape militants call weaponry. It’s getting on a bit, but it’s ex-security equipment, so you know it’s good.” Could I get any happier? No.

Sure, Farsol looked after its troops better than most government militias, but they also had to supply a few million heads with said equipment. The going was better when you were the sole receiver of hand-me-downs from the rich. So, being a hacker, programmer and warfare expert, I love things that cost money. Thus; I’d struck gold. I would never be bored again! Huzzah!

“Found you, you louse!” Umm… not-huzzah! The scorn with which the last word was said was enough to tell me who was on the other end. I didn’t piss many people off back then, but when I did, things flew and made scary explosions. Melyssiah Medrosol was the current example… if that was her real name. Lover, fighter, ex-girlfirend-from-hell-who-just-trashed-my-appartment… ah to hell with it.

I quick-turned, hoping I was wrong, but there she was. It was about then she decided to extend the hydraulic knives, about as long as my arm, open up her dermal plating so her synth’ muscles could work at full and flip out an automatic firearm. Damn, well… she had looked and, honestly, felt, like a normal dame when I’d first met her. Damn how I wish I cold do a rollback on time.

Beside her were two light model utility bodies, full synthetic and not at all human. Their limbs were as long as I was tall and at their ends were some rather shiny, rather nasty looking shiv claws –likely carbon-infused for maximum killing potential.

“s-s-s-SENTRIES!” I squeaked. She smiled and wagged her finger at me.

“Not this time, Mackai,” Melyssiah said ruefully as a rather portly looking armored suit walked out of the nearby alley. His torso and head seemed entirely concealed by a massive metal sphere that slightly resembled a diving bell if it had been painted in technology. The main eye gimbal sticking out of the top spun wildly and turned to stare at me -red glare, laser sight and all. He looked like a giant screwy-eyed gorilla. “You’re all mine now, Mackai, my buddy here has suppressor gear, no radio, no rele-pulse. I sure hope you have someone within shouting distance or this will be boring.” I instinctively looked at ‘Sam, her eyes were flitting between my ex’s merry gang of military misfits and me.

“What the fuck were you up to while I was gone all these months?” I squawked as I turned to face her again.

“Ah, you know, making friends in the underground, pulling favors. Just doing what I have to, mostly. Nothing new,” she said. Why in the hell did I never check her background record when I met her? It seemed kind of stalker back then. Now I knew it would have just been good measure.

“What the hell is going on, Solen?” Sam quietly grumbled in my direction. I glanced at her in confusion. She glared at me for offering no help, then turned to face my ex. “If you have a bone to pick with Mr. Solen, you should know he is now under the employ of Sunrise Starwide, a company of Badha-“

“Blah, blah, blah,” Melyssiah said with childish ire. “Talking won’t get you and your hussy anywhere, Mackai,” Jesus, she was hell bent on staying completely focused on me and making everyone else out to be secondary. “You’re both unarmed.” How goddamned blind was my ex? Not very, but she had a reputation for being almost harlequinesque in her stupidity.

“Hussy?” Sam paused, I guessed her babbler was trying to assemble the meaning of the word for her from an offline database, fairly slow. Then she bared her teeth and howled an ear-shattering roar at my ex. “I barely know this man!”

“And we are fucking armed!” I said with vigor… for once. On queue, my kit sprang to life. The containment field flickered to life and I was encased in an energy repelling bubble. The air around me shimmered and sparked slightly as the shoulder mounts with combat sensors lowered into place. The pack flattened as the exoskeleton unfolded gracefully from it. I had scarcely said ‘armed’ by the time most of my body was encased in a light carbon armor conducting an energy barrier. You should have seen my heavy kit.

Quick lines to my heart rate and my equipment status began feeding into my brain through the suit cybernetics as the visor clicked down over my face. I was endowed with wide-angle vision as the sensors clicked on and bypassed my own eyes with a sensory software header.

Sam took one quick glance at me and deployed her own suit, that was much less involved. The helmet slid down over and below her head, slipping shut over the front of her pronounced muzzle. The overall effect seemed rather intimidating, like a demon weasel with glowing blue eyes. The eyes were pretty impressive, compound models that probably let her pinpoint the exact position of a fly a mile or so away.

A rifle sprang around her shoulder and slid into her right hand, she fingered the power on as I turned to face Melyssiah again, still undaunted and angry at me as all hell.

“Ooh,” she crooned, eying the both of us predatorily. “Some hot bitches want to tangle after all?” I swear; this was not the woman I met a few years ago. The big jammer tub stepped forward to protect my ex, but she waved him back. Who the hell was that bloke being all defensive about? I suppose I now knew who she was cheating on me with… or thought I did… great.

Without any warning, my ex bum rushed me with those knives which had previously seemed so nasty. I instinctively positioned my arms over my face as she brandished the buggers at me. Her knives bounced and skittered off the carbon plating over my arms as she tried to leap over me. Then I heard a grumbling blast of energy off to my right as Sam let rip somewhere over me.

I jumped back as my ex flipped over and landed slightly behind her blokes. “You wee bitch!” She said, the skin to one side of her face wrinkling unnaturally and blackened to a crisp. The faux skin was healing before she even began speaking, it took more than a few stray shots to kill a cyborg.

The tank man was up upon us, weapons bays popping out of his bulbous torso. Energy weapons mostly, I stepped forward so my containment field could soak up the damage. The bolts that followed hopped and sizzled around me and made the field sputter and spark madly. A whiff of ozone escaped into my mask as I stood, pausing and still having failed to fire a shot. Capacitors at twenty percent, wow, what a volley!

The tank man made to rush me and I jumped out of the way. I rolled to the ground in a manner that would have made my CQC instructor nod approvingly. Before I even finished flying butt over head, though, I heard a roaring screech of fire from Sam’s direction and a resounding, crackling crash. I suppose the bloke wasn’t prepared to deal with energy weapons.

Now that the jammer had ceased jamming, he was likely uploading out of the crumpled heap that was his mechanized body. I stood and looked at the smoking, sputtering remains. My ex and her two remaining goons were motionless and speechless. I suppose they shouldn’t have messed with a chick who was over seven feet tall with a rather large plasma spray gun in her hand.

They looked around briefly, then bolted like the dogs they were, running down the alley. “I’m not surprised at that outcome…” I said breathlessly, “Except for the whole us not getting torn to shreds thing, that was a lovely surprise.”

“Why the hell didn’t you fight back?!” Sam roared at me as her helmet hid itself away behind her. Did I mention, as well as sucking with women, I suck with close quarters combat… well the actual combat mostly.

“Uhh,” I said intelligently, “My resume says it all, I’m a remoter and programmer, I don’t do CQC.”

“You don’t what?” She said in utter disbelief. “If you intend to join a mercenary group like us, you better frickin’ learn it!”

“Look, let’s just get the hell out of here, she’ll be back and my heavy kit’s at the docks.” I said in a rush.

“Oh great, you have bigger guns… Bigger guns are only of any use if you USE THEM!” She roared, not hiding any ounce of rage in her as she turned dramatically and started sauntering the way we had been going.


“’Dan, I want you to have the Sunrise ready for takeoff as soon as possible, and by as soon as possible I mean right the hell now or you’ll be short on crew,” Sam said over our shared conference space.

“I understand, there has been trouble?” A synthetic basso voice warbled from nowhere, oddly apathetic.

“Do you even need to ask? Also, get ‘Zin to get Trebuchet one and two ready to launch ordinance, would you?” We were barreling up a guideway towards High Shangri-La, on the run from a number of scary people wielding many sharp things.

“Indeed there has been much trouble.” The basso voice said inquisitively. “The charge is secure?”

“Umm, hi,” I said, coming to the tentative decision that now was the time to chime in.

“Ohh,” the synth-voice trilled in excitement, “very good! How long until you arrive?”

I guessed Sam was going to make an estimate, but I decided I knew the place better. “It should be any minute now, we’re about to get to the Northeast concourse.” We were, too. The buildings of Shangri-La proper were receding behind us into the distance and the mooring masts and lights of High Shangri-La were rising to meet us. Any second now, any second now and I’d be safe!

“We were already preparing to leave, ‘Dan will make hasty arrangements.” The Basso voice said over the channel.

The car began to decelerate as we passed clean off the surface of the dome into open space miles above the earth. All that was below us was a thin guideway, suspended under the great protrusions of the harbor. The panorama was swallowed in darkness as we disappeared down an airlock tunnel. The car stopped and there was a muted hum ahead of us as the interior doors parted and the exterior ones far behind us closed.

We passed into the posh, red-carpeted interiors of the terminal and began to stop. “Your kit ready?” Sam asked hurriedly.

“Why?” I asked, hoping she would say no reason other than caution. She pointed to the left of the car and right at my ex’s face. She was standing proudly with her two massive bodyguards.

“Fu-u-u-u-uck!” I said, there she was again… AGAIN!

“Please open the port doors!” I said hurredly.

“Okay, security is currently busy, I can’t call help, I don’t know what’s going on.” The halfie said through the speakers. Oh hell, we were screwed, even the ‘bot was out of ideas!

The doors bumbled open and me and Sam squeezed out, backing away in the opposite direction of my Ex. Idiot must have not thought that the cars had two sided doors. She scowled at me with mild amusement, then she and her guards performed a flying leap over the track to our platform.

“Not getting away this time, duckey!” She said spitefully.

I heard a series of clicks and swishes, then watched a fusillade of hot plasma bolts streak into my ex’s face. She collapsed, but both Sam and I were under no illusions she was going to stay down. I was already deploying the musculature of my kit so I might manage to run at least close to cyborg speeds.

“Run!” Sam said, I was way ahead of her on that. We both bolted and I didn’t even spare one backward glance. There was a massive raucous behind us filled with gunfire. Hot lead and glowing plasma buzzed and pinged around the reinforced walls of the concourse and ricocheted against the heavy-duty containment fields keeping people inside from shooting through to vacuum. I ducked under my hands as I ran, having heard what sounded like a clown car full of homicidal gangsters unloading at a police station behind us. Someone had brought lots and lots of friends, and they had big, explodey things… lots and lots of big, explodey things.

Bullets zinged past my lowered head as we ran down the concourse. “Bugger!” I heard my ex’s unmistakably angry voice behind me, “If you fucking shoot me in the face again…”

I didn’t hear the last words, a helmeted officer was motioning us through the security checkpoint past a number of heavily armed soldiers and armored suits. Me and Sam weren’t going to keep him waiting. As we dove past the detector arch, a defense barrier blasted up behind us. The crude metal thing wouldn’t hold long. Sirens futiley rang out behind us and I expected to hear a silky, inexplicably female, computer announcement say “five minutes to total destruction.” THEN we would have been in a bona-fide science fiction action sequence!

We ran on down the dock concourse. I counted the labels for the connections… nine… ten. There was a wrenching shriek behind us as the barrier was torn in two. I glanced back just long enough to see the two massive, lanky, bodyguards tear through the barrier. I heard pinging ordinance smacking forcefield in all directions and guessed the mechs were jumping all over the place. They’d be baffling the security officer’s targeting systems with sheer agility, like cyborg space ninjas (pirates watch out!)

Sam turned, began to backpedal and took a few shots at the buggers, now on the ceiling, before turning around. She hit the turbo and kicked up to perhaps eighty clicks per hour, I jumped to catch up with a good twenty meter leap. Thank you, synth-muscle assist. Ten… fifteen… twenty. I hit the brakes, skidding a good twenty meters on my poor shoes and leaving a path of burnt, low grade rubber behind me. Thank god all my joints were reinforced by the musculature or I might have lost a foot.

“Let’s go!” she yelled. The door to port 21 opened as we scrambled in. The guideway we were entering suddenly felt incredibly exposed. It was a glass tube with flashing lights running down in sequence toward the end, which was far too distant for my liking. We sailed down the tube in long leaps in the gravity of low orbit.

The doors to the terminal closed and sealed behind us as we made for the spearhead shaped ship attached to the mast we were leaping down. I languished in the sudden silence, deathly afraid that a railgun round the size of my entire body would rip through the mast and kill us in explosive decompression, that my Melyssiah’s people would have fleet support.

My heart thumped against my containment field, making the skin on my arms annoyingly prickly. I had to get out… almost there. I was distracting myself picking out the metal greeble all over the hatch surface when it opened a yard ahead of us. I took one last large leap and dove into the hatch.

I smacked into the ground hard, suddenly under about point eight gees. I guessed by the fact that I didn’t lose a tooth when my jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t see a thing through the pain and barely managed to roll over and notice that the door at the opposite end of the mast was being smashed in. I sure as hell hoped no one I was in good standing with was on the other end of that door when we spaced. Containment would seal the nearby area but whoever was breaking that door was about to be VERY surprised.

Our end of the hatch closed swiftly. “’Zin, punch it!” Sam yelled over the conference channel, making my head throb.

“Detaching from mast 21 now, we are away.” My stomach lurched as we drifted free. I had just enough time to see a set of heavy metal doors sail down the mast tunnel and smash into our hull before our ship rolled free. What followed them was rather vindicating, the two lanky guards flew out of the tube, flailing madly. Likely no one would be around to rescue their bodies, weather or not they required oxygen to operate.

“Give the vacuum a kiss on the cheek for me, dumb shits,” I mumbled. “And happy uploading.” I hoisted myself up off the ground and shook off the pain in my ribs.

“Any contacts, ‘Zin?” Sam asked tentatively.

“Nothing on Rele-trace, no pursuers, we’re clear. I’m getting us out of here, neither Farsol nor whoever your attackers are will be terribly happy with us. The former I can negotiate with, however.” There was a pause on his end. “I’m making the leap for orbit, grab something.” I hastily stood up at the mention of escaping orbit. Even a low-orbit to high-orbit transfer was bumpy.

“C’mon,” Sam said tersely, “there’s crash seats this way.” We ducked down a hallway clad in tan plastic fittings, humming with machinery that made it sound like an atmospheric hopper plane. We hung a quick left and slipped through a narrow hatch. Sam collapsed into a chair immediately beside the door. There was a window on the far end. So, being a grandstander, I jumped over and took a seat beside the thick window bay.

The cabin lights shut down and ‘Sam and I were bathed in darkness. I fumbled with my straps in the dark service lighting and finally clicked them in place. They sized up my physical model and tightened accordingly. It was pretty impressive these guys had adaptive restraints, who was on this crew that they’d need it?

I was punched in the gut as the main thrusters kicked on. A low roar grew around us and our chairs shook. The room was bathed in muted blue light from the sun on the opposite side of the ship, bathing the earth in warm sunbeams. Shangri-La was in the lower extreme of the window.

The sight was mesmerizing, a white jewel shining in the sunlight, capped with a forest of spires. “Hey,” I said, not tearing my eyes from the vista. “Check this out!” I glanced back to see if ‘Sam was looking. She was craning her neck to try and get a view, but failing miserably.

She scowled and unlatched from the seat, landing on the far wall and walking lithely on all fours, much like a cat. She reached a seat across from me and plopped herself down into it with a sigh. “This had better be worth-“ She stopped cold as she turned to watch. She stared down with wide, saphire eyes.

“Damn,” she said.

“Yeah, it’s about all we’ve got.” That said, it was damned amazing. The sun glinted off the white reflective surfaces of Shangri-La as though it were a bubble of fresh snow. Its center was accentuated with harsh spires and glowing blue tapestries of light, hiding in the shadow confined sides of the great skyscrapers there.

“Why’d you guys build it?” Around Shangri-La were occasional thunderheads, further away the oceans reflected a pearl essence.

“We needed something to keep the squatters out. I think you might remember a few centuries back when there was an attempted invasion here…”

“The Sol-Hunter Group Farce?”

“The one and only… we only escaped because of a stupidly brilliant NASA project. It taught us a lesson about the relay industry. Out here in the Styx, no one can hear your cries for help.”

“It’s true,” she said matter-of-factly, “I guess you guys got it right. I respect that.” For some reason, it meant a lot hearing something positive from a woman who had so far been a fully functioning negative-factory…

I took in the view, disappearing below the lower lip of the window, falling out of view. I’d likely go through hell and high water before I returned to see it again, much less to stay.

“All crew prepare for relevance Space insertion for rendezvous with buoy 110324,” the ship’s communications channel said in my head. Goodbye, earth.

There was a hum and a flash. Space stretched in a thousand different directions, bleeding away like a drop of water exploding in zero gravity.

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1 comment:

Naxos said...

Hola! FRIST! haha. Looks like you put a lot of work into this story so far. I haven't read it, yet, but I will!

Keep it up.