WARNING: Posts in this blog may contain profanity and adult humor.
If you do not wish to or are not permitted to view this content, it is advised you do not view this blog.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chapter 6: Operation Exuberant Penguin

For all of you that saw my format screw up, let's whistle innocently and pretend it didn't happen. I blame the fact that I had to rush this chapter somewhat, that and I was gone for four days out of my seven day update cycle. I'm also a website newb, so be gentle!

Mackai finds the sticky situation gripping Farsol has increased both in clarity and apparent danger. The conflict has devolved into open skirmishes, prompting the Stellar Fallers and Martani Security Incorporated to stop ignoring eachother and start cooperating. So; who else would be in the middle of this scenario but the only private security firm who ahs the right skills at the right place at this point, Sunrise Starwide.

EXCERPT: BUSEI Central Datacloud

TRANSLATION: Open-Bracket-Close-Bracket Semantics Ltd. Subroutines


Remote datasync, Bridge Highlands Central Relay, Orion Arm.

Translated at Relay Bot @ E. Eridani into Farsol Semantics

Approval stamp by BUSEI Quality Commons Commission

News file datalog [Timestamp equivalent to 3 Jan. 2455CE]

Thank you for using SpiderBot services, a communal subsidiary of the BUSEI committee.

SpiderBot, SpiderBot, doing things a normal spider does not.

Your search “security, infractions, operations, dispatches” has returned 1,200,329 results: Result returns are up 4% from previous inquiry.

1) Today, Tobaran Security, a multi-terrestrial firm operating in The Bridge Highlands executed a co-ordinated sting on a major Farren Free Mercenary cell operating from an isolated location there. Their teams of dedicated electronic attack specialists have completely decimated all but their core automations (in accordance with the Preservation of Life Act signed by the BUSEI committee.) Similarly, data requisition uncovered massive stores of material evidence stolen from the servers of 11 major societies in data-hit-and-run ambushes complimented by physical attacks by Farren starships. Exactly who has been contracting this cell to do their dirty work remains unclear.

2) Rogue prodigy Farsol is caught in the middle of a massive sting by Martani Security Incorporated. The sting continues on after nearly three days of intense logistics activity feeding the movement of over three-hundred field officers, over half equipped with motor-assist equipment. The press blackout has been intense and their intentions are mostly unknown, though they’ve made it abundantly clear that Farsol is at worst a bystander. This comes with great relief to the Chazaar Royal Diat, close allies of Farsol, who were poised to intervene.

3) The illegal activity market continues to inflate. General activity in this sector has increased to the point that most security firms are seeing massive fractions of their employee’s time spent in action. Some firms have even made emergency allocations of office staff to field duty in an attempt to respond to the trend. Rest assured MarsaniDefGariLa Central News will be on the Blorkvat first! [uh oh, translator’s having hiccups. Taking her offline for diagnostic. Sorry, boneheads.]

Sunrise Ep. 6: Operation “Exuberant Penguin”

The fourth level lobby of the Madison Marquee tower was dead quiet and devoid of everyone but the Stellar Fallers squad I was currently a part of. I was feeling rather lonely as these guys weren’t usually my crowd. Seeing as they were gruff, scary and often smelling of armpit.

That was even through their light kits. I shifted my boot laden feet nervously on the granite tiles, coated in some dust from destroyed fragile things. Those knocked over vases were partially our fault. However, most of the destruction took place after the fact of a rather nasty meeting. I raised my hands and caught the Fulcrum rifle the squad captain had thrown at me. It was about the most pointless weapon you could give a code jockey like me.

“Man!” I moaned. “This thing barely has any onboard guidance.” The captain had moved on so I kept on natting like he wasn’t there. “This thing only has a scope, this little laser aimy thing…” I did a quick uplink with the computer and gasped inwardly. “And this bloody thing barely has the computing power of a PDA!” I said accusingly.

The captain whirled around and stuck his nose up at me as he leaned in and snatched the rifle from my hands angrily. “Here,” he said, throwing me a lighter weapon. I uplinked with that… The Pistol-Submachinegun “Pelter.” Even worse guidance system!

“How is this any better?” For a second I thought he was just going to be sadistic and saddle me with a crappier weapon every time I spoke up.

“Cone of fire on the Fulcrun; this big,” he grumbled in his smoky voice (purely for show these days, some throwback to Sylvester Stalone) as he mimed a circle with his two hands. “Your guns cone of fire, THIS big,” he said testily as he spread his arms about to shoulder width… okay I could see his logic now.

“Just aim down the scope and fire,” he said. “I know you glitzy field-intelligence officers can do that at least… considering we ALL went through basic.” He scowled at me. “But that’s about all we have in common, Mr. Solen.”

“Sir,” I corrected him. I ticked off an item on today’s to-do list; do something ballsey and completely suicidal. The captain grunted at me, gnashing his thick jaw and walked off. Well, whatever, he didn’t have to say it. I’m not really the drill type of sergeant.

“Okay, boys, this is a pilot run… we’re the first squad linking up with Martani forces for a co-op-“ also known as a Joint Alien Human Fuck Up, klatu barata nikto! “Now, there’s a lot of crazy shit going on,” he slowly, menacingly turned toward me, barring his teeth like an angry grizzly in slow motion. “Most notably, our ‘advisor’ – who is MOST DEFINITELY more competent in this field than us –“ he glanced mockingly down at my training-wheels gun.

“Well, he’s a drone jockey…” All the captain’s underlings turned like prairie dogs who had spotted a hawk, raising eyebrows and looking me over like a credible THREAT instead of an asset. “But he’s also the employee of the only high-tier security firm not caught with its hand up its… and our contact with the Martani squad’s advisor. Treat him like on of your brothers so he doesn’t ‘accidentally’ bring the hurt down on us with a miss-called airstrike.” Everyone chuckled at a joke I didn’t quite get.

“Keep sharp and synchronized, and we won’t go SF, PD.” An old saying about halting states… System Fails, People Die. “Suits on, tack-ons tacked!” He barked.

I thoughtlessly obliged, folding my light kit out of it’s pack and digging out the extra systems – full armor cover, scan seonsors, networked optics, smoke-grenade blisters…

I subconsciously pulled out my jetpack and handed it off to the nearest squaddie. He slapped it down on my back; making me stagger under the weight, compact though it was. I caught one of the heavy, wedge shaped packs form another man and threw it down onto the power port on his pack, locking it in.

“Right,” said the captain. “Who are we, boys?” He yelled.

“Alpha wolves!” They all yelled simultaneously, me joining in quick enough to say “wolves.” This American-Football-Team mentality was very contagious, I grinned.

“Let’s show them what Farsol boys do besides crunch numbers!” the captain proclaimed like some prophet on a high hill. Ah, yes, the field division,as crazy as the office jockeys are nerdy.

Okay, wait for the roar of approval… two, one. “Hoah!” everyone agreed aggressively, though I had just let out an inarticulate roar, stupid me.

One of the squaddies chuckled. “Heh, that’s the spirit man,” he said, shaking his head and grinning stupidly. “Keep up like that and you’ll do a better job of scaring them than any of us.” I shrugged stupidly and wasn’t quite sure if I’d gained or lost clout.

“Michasol,” he said, extending a hand.

“Solen,” I said as I shook his hand tepidly. I was more likely to remember by voice, anyway. I was about to say something when I got a call on my squad networking port, it had the Captain’s credentials so I let it through. An innocuous little rectangle labeled “port” streaming a binary barcode popped up in the corner of my vision. The feed was going through my retinal interceptors and getting that weird fisheyed, woozies-inducing look to it.

A big column of bits started surging through faster than my eye could track them. Qe were syncing the squad net for full, highband, combat management. Overlays were popping up as if someone with a bucket of paint on too much caffeine were frolicking about splashing everything in sight with dayglow colors.

Building windows flashed from red to green to red as I shifted about, the nearby walls mapped in purple geometry covered in architect’s crosshatches. My weapons feed linked up and scanning sensors started tagging valid cover in yellow all over the place, lighting up like a Christmas tree.

“Net’s up?” The captain bellowed.

“Hoah,” we all said in unison, me included this time. Everyone sauntered around into a tight circle in the center of the room and pulled their fists back. I joined in as we punched ourselves in the fist simultaneously… old gesture and perhaps completely diluted in meaning by now besides “grr, I am Super Masculine Individual!” Something a bit odd as there were two lasses in the squad, hair tied up and buzzed short respectively.

The skipper motioned us out the door, which barely parted in time for us to rush through (not that it would have stopped us, being wee, pansy, sharp-angled glass and all.) “Visors down, these punk criminals don’t deserve to see our mugs!” We all willed our masks out and down, gray plates covering the only exposed parts left of us not covered by the flat black armor we wore.

All together with full kit we looked something like an old post-cold-war squad of stealth fighters if they had sprouted limbs and a head and folded in on themselves awkwardly. Datacorders were skimming off our cam’ and relay data as we ran down the pedestrian avenue, black-boxing the entire operation for analasys in a tactical propability sieve later.

“Target is three hundred meters down and another fifty left,” the captain said over the squad channel. “Rendezvous is at the turn. Squad Batou is on schedule.” I could only assume Batou was our squad of feathered friends.

“Cliff,” I heard a familiar voice whisper to me over the combat network. Ah, it was Michasol! I patted myself on the back for remember- a CLIFF?

The three squaddies ahead of me jumped and kicked their jets, blasting upward for a split second. Their thrusters spat compressed gasses, sending them into a flying leap across a chasm between skyscrapers… four stories up. I gulped as I continued to run for the chasm…

Just like a powered jump… just with no ground underneath if you screw up. I wasn’t going to lose my nerve though, that infectious Team Titanic Testosterone thing again. I took a flying leap from the ledge, between the safety posts stopping civilians from walking there, and kicked my jets.

Unfortunately, my burn was a bit hard and sent me into an agonizingly slow forward lean as I headed for the other side. Luckily I didn’t miss the brick-tiled square at the other end… if you count landing head-first in the fountain. I clacked and clattered through the cement, square shaped basin. Though, I was completely saved from injury by my light kit a.k.a. full body bike helmet.

I hastily jumped from the water and tried to pretend like nothing had happened. It seemed to work as everyone seemed rather focused on running like greyhounds after a lone, fuzzy rabbit. I seemed in the clear when someone in the squad yelled “Sploosh!!”

The rest of the squad gave a resounding, communal call of “SPLOOSH!” over the squad channel, making my head ache a bit as I grunted in embarassment. We continued running, the squaddies laughing like misbehaving children.

“Shaddap, you miscreants,” the captain said over the channel. “Turn in twenty,” as if we didn’t know by the giant flashing diamond sitting in the middle of the walkway ahead of us. Though his calling out the waypoint was another SF, PD avoidance thing. We all kicked up a storm of ground brick as we kicked off to turn left, diving down the second street. As we hit a flight of grand stairs, we fanned out, some more showsey lads started jumping up the sides like ninjas.

No matter the finesse used, we cleared the stairs at about the same time and came to a stop on the walk. “Christ,” the captain said. “They’re late.” As he said late, a bunch of semi-humanoids in obsidian black armor with thick facemasks and green eye-cameras studded all over them seemed to materialize out of red, green and blue ghosts of themselves, like some bad TV picture coming into focus.

There were about eight, I clutched my weapon and pivoted around to face them. “Squad Alphonse. Your identifier is Whiskey-tango-foxtrot, Alpha Wolves,” a familiar, saxophone-pitched voice said via loudspeaker from behind me. I whirled around and there was a seven-foot tall armored form scarcely a yard away, feminine curves showing through the armor. She spared a lackadaisical wave as I looked at her, killing her aura of badass that had originally been so thick you couldn’t have cut it with a katana.

I tried to snuff my jackhammer heart-rate. It seemed we’d linked up with squad Batou. The captain sauntered up to ‘Sam in his massive infantry suit and I followed. I was tempted to keep him on a short leash for various reasons – foremost I thought he was a hothead, plus I was feeling a bit covetous when I looked at ‘Sam... His pointed visor pulled over his head and fell back into the armor’s massive shoulders. He stood almost as high as ‘Sam because of the suit’s extended arms and big, dog-like legs.

Even then, the skinny shield maiden seemed to have him dwarfed. “Mighty sloppy for being the best firm in these parts,” she grunted. He moved to say something but I elbowed his flank slightly, not a good idea to break down this early. Of course I inwardly regretted it as I realized I was in danger of getting clocked in the face (with a guy that big it would be over-clocking, harr.)

“Anyway, I’ll expect better from you lot. Tawret here says this is serious shit,” she said calmly as if we weren’t about to hit action. The Armored Avians on the walkway shifted uneasily, heads twitching madly to seemingly stare at a lot of areas at once… they had enhanced field of view, I’d guess… old habit, maybe?

They got out of the way of a gent in blue-striped armor who hopped over to our merry command-band. ‘Sam lowered her mask and I stupidly followed suit. A few seconds later, he did the same. The spearhead-shaped helmet popped up and slid down into a recess in his armor’s chest. It revealed a mug covered completely in day-glow red and blue feathers, save its brown and yellow beak, hooked at the end.

“Good tidings, captain Vashisola,” it croaked in a voice like an old-time radio announcer, and at least as articulate. It was fairly impressive, if a bit disquieting. “You may call me Tawret Accipiter.” He did this weird forward, down and up movement like he was dodging an oncoming metal bar. Weirdly enough, ‘Sam made eye contact and returned the gesture, so did the captain. This time, it was his turn to elbow me. Though he more or less hit me on the head because of his height. But I got the message and did the head-bob, not wanting to be attacked again.

“We’ve got a fix on our target’s current location,” ‘Sam began like a cool SWAT captain out of some old cop drama. “They’ve holed themselves up about ten floors high in a corporate office. They’ve taken over everything from the foyer to the CEO’s office. Luckily they were all out on holiday.” What holiday was that… I Have a Bad Feeling About Today day? “We’re not sure of enemy composition, though.”

“I thought it was just some mafia riff-raff,” the captain said.

“Hardly,” Tawret said. “The meeting that dispersed from your original location about two of your earth hours prior was between a party such as that you spoke of and one which concerns us greatly.” He sure was a tight-lipped bugger, in spite of the fact that he had none. That weighty conversation had revealed only one thing… things are screwed up and we don’t quite know how yet. Durr, though we know there are bad guys involved.

“Right,” the captain said. I was still being a good little schoolboy and shutting up. It seemed my only peer in height was Accipiter over here. He also seemed to have much more authority. I was apparently the weakest intimidation leak between the four of us.

“We move in and incapacitate all contacts,” ‘Sam said. “As would be expected, we want any enemies left intact so we can apprehend them right off the bat. Just to be sure, MSI has a heli’ that’ll lock down anyone trying to upload back into Rele-space.” Well, I felt some solace knowing who was on the receiving end here, the captain looked thoroughly duped and was the one taking the orders.

“First phase, we breach the lobby just down the walk. Phase two, we split into individual fire teams and flank when possible. This is a no-hostages situation, maybe covering for something else. We find out what while we mop up, clear?”

“So we wipe out the infestation?” I finally spoke up. Not only was I feeling more confident… I was also feeling more and more concerned. I was trying to wrap my head around why Martani of all firms had chosen to resort to open, shameless planet-sitting to wipe out their target. There were no fancy seizures of the target organization’s assets, no small-scale ambush stings, no carefully planned tactical strikes out of left field – nothing very snoopy, in fact. How unlike them.

Or maybe they had done that stuff, but it just hadn’t been enough and the target organization had managed to worm its way out of their trap. I nervously shuffled and shifted my gun closer. More than ever I really didn’t want to lose a hold of the thing, this was really serious open, total assault.

‘Sam sighed. “You got it,” she confessed in my general direction. “Let’s merge our combat control and comms networks, captain.” He nodded wordlessly, now seeming a lot more sober, and somewhat more terrifying. I wasn’t sure what was scarier – going into battle horsing around or going into it with a face that could kill a man.

There was a general clamor over network channels and short-range radio popped in my ears as we switched over to a hybridized net’. Our respective mobs glanced around as they got re-accquainted. I looked over at our Big Fucking Building, now capped with n x-ray roofline that I could see straight through the building façade. Mapped hallways that looked like worm tunnels dug into the digital map of the roofline reached down to our main objective, another purple waypoint. There were two red and yellow arrowheads labeled “Cairo” and “Dahlia.”

I pulled up their blurbs, written in code-speak that seemed perfectly geared for me to worm my mind around… maybe churned out procedurally by a human-neural-mapping automation so the blurbs wouldn’t compromise us if our net were hacked. They were backup squads ready to pull in the muscle if we hit resistance, apparently speed was of the essence. Force Right Now!

The captain and Accipiter stared each other down blankly for a few seconds before the captain piped into the squad channel. “ UCT on, boys. We’re going in. The captain of Batou has an acoustic sounder we’re going to use to map targets and the building as we go. Stay with him and I’ll be on oversight and fire support.”

“Hoah!” we all howled into the comm. The next few seconds of silence seemed to lasta lot longer. I heard the whining rat-a-tat of helicopter blades and looked up to see a chubby looking craft circling the building. It reminded me of a vulture circling a soon-to-be kill. As it circled, we got new data. It was gradually peeling away the layers of the building with some form of RADAR, getting us any updated data that may have changed since the last floor plans were updated to the building’s project site…

“Game faces! No chatter!” Accipiter turned and trotted down the walkway bridging across to the BFB on his complex legs. I wasn’t sure if they were vehicle controlled or his own limbs, but they sure trumped human legs on degrees of freedom. As he trotted off, his squad followed and the captain waved his free hand in his direction. “Go, go, go!” he yelled out. Like a pack of attack dogs just out of slumber, everyone including me perked up and strode away at full speed for the entrance.

A few gents ducked and rolled to a stop behind Jersey barriers and I dove down to hide behind the bridge’s contours. Accipiter’s acoustic systems raised up on a mast like one of those spinning plate tricks, balancing a scanning sensor dome perforated with holes. As it spun, we got a very vague picture of the first few feet… the front windows appeared to be blocking.

A bunch of gibbering and squawking went up through the squad channel. “Buteo, sonic that,” my babbler chimed in in a clear and human-like amalgamation of Accipiter’s voice. One of the Martani bruisers rose up on his chicken legged limbs and raised a huge, under-slung weapon with his ‘arms.’ He snapped it nimbly and effortlessly into position before there was a resounding “THWUMP!” that didn’t seem wholly audible. A split second later, the entire front of the large glass wall for the foyer spiderwebbed with cracks and fell feebly in a crystal shower.

As it settled, Accipiter put up his mast and we got instant mapping for a huge chunk of the first floor and vagues almost the whole way to our target. I beamed with anticipation inside my mask. It was still by the books, we may still get through this without someone losing it… maybe this would actually be a clean op.

My smile was gobbled up by a Farsol failsafe mantra… never let your guard down, I thought.

Accipiter jumped up and boogied into the foyer, arms raised up like a zombie on uppers trying to do the Thriller dance with far too much arm movement. We all jumped up like a pack of angry gophers from our holes and leapt into the Foyer. There wasn’t a pause this time, just a fast and focused run up the grand stairs and into a hallway.

Before I knew it we were on floor two, no resistance yet. All the same I kept my weapon tracking where my view went. As we went down the elevator pool, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I glanced back and Michasol was looking at me and pointing two fingers off towards the left turn where the lobby merged into a hallway. The squads fanned out into pairs alternating left and right down the hall.

Two human duos and a couple of Martani were with me and Michasol as we rodey ran along the hallway, boots smacking noisily on the floor. Accipiter merged in with us as we made a right again, acoustics still blazing away and giving us a nice heads up. Michasol was ahead of me when I noticed our sonic map had holes popping up in it. Maybe that meant-

I put my right hand on Michasol’s left shoulder and pushed him against the wall as I ran past him and spun flat on another patch of wall a few meters ahead… why the hell did I just put myself on point?

Though me and Michasol were stacked and ready to storm around the corner, Accipiter seemed to not give a damn. He strode by with his duo of Martani like some heroic knight on horseback, passing us, arms up again. He pulled against the wall right next to the corner and motioned one wing-like arm back towards the corner. Without skipping a beat, one of his cronies tossed him what looked like a grenade, but made of circular sequins with a blinking green LED on top.

He smacked the top against the wall and the LED went red. Without second thought, he lobbed it over his head and around the corner like it was some spent can of soda he was throwing into a dustbin in the park. There was a brief warning beep –too late to warn anyone on the receiving end- followed by a clapping, fizzling bang of static. The pressure wave from the detonation was fairly weak, so I knew it wasn’t a boomer, maybe a flash? Or maybe it was something more potent.

Either way, during the commotion, Accipiter’s two cronies had sidled up beside him and they busted out in a freaky delta formation. I saw why Accipiter had been going zombie style the whole time; He opened up with arm-mounted ballistic cannons, tattering away at whatever was down that hall. They pulled off to the sides and crouched as returning small arms fire ripped into the wall past where they’d been.

Michasol immediately made for the opening as the small-arms stopped. I followed and twirled around past him into a crouch. The two of us had a square view on the hall where there were two Martani in suits that looked almost MSI standard, but had a few details wrong – like they were older, customized or something else.

Didn’t matter, I responded to the rat-a-tat of Michasol’s gun by adding in my own. The gun shivered and bucked in my grip as it spattered lead all over my firing line. Shots peppered the front suit and he got knocked over and incapacitated. No blood, though.

There was a big plastic crate the guy had sidled up beside. I curtly shoved him out of the way as I ran over and stole the opposite side of his cover. The other bird was going down by the time I crouched. The other duo of my squaddies was back behind Accipiter, who bolted like a madman past me.

Michasol and the other duet caught up with me. As we got close, Michasol prompted the lot of us to join in a fire-team. He was lead, me and this gal named “Linda” were squaddies and “Jasenn” was boom-boom explode specialist. He seemed to be adequately armed – sporting a full-armor specialist suit with interior ordinance bays and hefting a big ol’ machinegun.

I wordlessly made eye contact and nodded with all of them and we settled into a diamond-shaped pack as we ran down the hall. Stairs were ahead of us that another group had been up, “fire team 2.” So, going by the briefing, we continued down the hallway at full speed, guns tracking the horizon. There were more stairs another forty meters down. We hopped up those and-

Fire sprang past us and smacked my left shoulder as we crested the landing. I instantly turned and fell down against the stairs, letting my suit take the impact against the steps. I bounced a bit unexpectedly and didn’t get a hold of the step I had been reaching for. I got the next one as I stopped clattering clumsily.

I would have done a better cover maneuver if I hadn’t been freaking shot. I was shaking, but okay. My left arm was stiff and felt like it had one huge ass bruise… but I was okay. Though my damn SMG wasn’t in my hands! “Fuck!” I snapped at myself as I looked around. It was down, a few more steps. I craned down and grabbed it as my fire team started spewing fire back at the enemy in the hall.

I almost knocked the gun down the steps as I grabbed madly for it. But I managed to snag it and throw it ready over my shoulder. It was harder to go by ape-vision in this light above and beyond the landing. The whole hall was flooded with subdued indirect lighting flooding from unseen spaces in the ceiling. What made things more confounding was the uneven floor, composed of a wood walk with holes showing through that had giant boulders of varying pointyness and size sticking up out of them.

I crawled prone up the stairs next to my team and bursted my gun a bit low. Bullets zinged off the floor as I adjusted my aim and zeroed in on a guy manning a mounted gun.

I squeezed the trigger and peppered him and the gun a bit… they had some strong ass armor, he still wasn’t down! I held down a cleaner burst and fought the weapon to keep it level. My shots and a good peck from Michasol’s rifle knocked him over. There were some other guys… humans! There was Party No. 2.

A bloke with a red, rising sun headband jumped up from behind a crate and howled wildly. Idiot thought he was a Samurai! I stopped being amused when he actually pulled out a carbon fiber katana. His face exploded open on mechanical seams, laser sights and eye-bulbs popping out like pez candy from a dispenser.

“Oh shit,” Michasol commented involuntarily over the radio. Linda pew-pewed at him, but the sword was between him and the bullets in a flash. In a flurry of movement and gnashing metal, the bullets had deflected off into the walls. “Shit, SHIT!” The guy turned in a flourish as bullets zinged past where he’d been. He broke out in a run straight for Michasol as I jumped up the stairs and raised my gun.

Michasol twirled against the wall and the rest of the team jumped up and scattered at the edge of the stairs. Jasenn seemed to have run down his bullets and was throwing another clip in, fumbling with the machinegun to unlatch the old magazine and cussing to himself.

Meanwhile, the cyborg ran on. I tattered some rounds off at him, distracting him as he ran for Michasol. As the cyborg looked my way, Michasol twirled his rifle around and caught him under the chin with the butt of the gun. There was a cracking splatter of metal and oil as the various unnecessary bits of the cyborg’s face crumbled away. Most of the mechanics on him were still intact, though.

I raised my gun and shot for him, but he dodged off to the side like a ribbon in the wind, out for a vengeance for my act of trickery as he bolted for me. Howling, his mangled, many eyed tarantula face getting bigger. For a second all I heard was his warcry and saw that damned carbon katana raising itself on its way to my midsection. As he got close, I dropped and raised my right arm. There was a gnashing screetch as the blade streaked through my gauntlet… no breach!

Not missing a beat, I straightened out my gun arm and let loose somewhere ahead of me. Bullets pinged and zinged, sending sparks across the cyborgs body and ripping through the faux flesh. He shuddered, but he seemed to have a hard metal, full endoskeleton that stopped the bullets. I just didn’t have the caliber!

Suddenly, there was a wheezing roar as giant slugs streaked through the air and into the Cyborg. He got hammered by Jasen’s machinegun rounds and fell limply to the floor. He twitched a bit, still functioning. There was a hurried clomping of feet on wood as the remainder of the enemy forces retreated, letting out panicked gasps in an oddly human yet digitally incompatible language. The fireteam moved up, the lot of them looking between me and the corpse. Hopefully we’d locked him down and snagged his mind. Otherwise…

“Safety subrout-t-t-ine,” he mumbled through the speaker behind his metal jaw. “the t-truth will no-not be known.” His main processor exploded in a shower of sparks, letting out the magic smoke that we all know electronics REALLY run on. My brain wasn’t working about then, but my answering machine was on.

“What,” a voice that sounded like mine but wasn’t said. “What the fuck?” A hand reached under my right armpit and pulled me up from the ground.

“Solen,” came Linda’s voice. “You can’t take it, look away from the bastard!” Couldn’t do it, a smoldering heap of metal and wires that had been so alive, wanted to kill me… was it over? “SOLEN!”

Thank you for holding, you will now be directed to the next available operator. “What!?” I yelled, snapping my view up to Linda’s masked visage. She nodded and let me go. I staggered a bit, then unconsciously brushed myself off. “I-I almost d-died, killed… guy.” Well, I didn’t kill him. And him dying as a lump of electronics rather than a… didn’t want to think about that, did make it less traumatizing.

“Solen,” Michasol said. “are you an office jockey or a soldier?” I half-realized I was leaning against a wall and slowly slumping back down to the floor. “This is an op, solen!” he said in a rather commanding voice.

“I’m, I’m a s-soldier?” I stammered.

“That’s right,” he said aggressively.

“I’m I’M A SOLDIER!!!!” I yelled a few times before Linda cuffed me in the shoulder and I finally got a hold of myself. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at my own stupidity or cry at my own, slight insanity. I’d get PTSD for this kind of shit… I knew.

“Let’s go!” Michasol said over our channel. Op’s back on! Game face, don’t crack… dunno’ if I could take that kind of stuff again. “This is FT. 3,” he said coolly down the wide channel to all the squads. “Met heavy resistance, fully augmented cyborg wielding carbonized slicing weapon. No casualties,” as he finished that last bit, he glanced back at me to make sure. I nodded.

We clomped along the wooden platforms and bridges over babbling waterfalls and moss gardens. We found our way up another set of stairs, clear this time. This was getting weirder and weirder… then again, we were in Los Angeles’ ethnic district, go figure. I glanced at the building overlay again. It was topped with a virtual signpost reading “KeGon Center Tower.” I groaned, this was a definite bastard mission… weird terrain and more places to potentially screw up.

I jumped out of the way of one of our human squaddies fireman carrying another one of ours. He flew down the stairs from whence we came and was gone at full stride. That left only us four and the captian… maybe.

“Solen!” Yeah, there was Smokey-voice the forest fire bear now (he doesn’t stop them, he starts them.) “What happened down there?” My stomach dropped again as the memories flashed back. I stammered a bit as I fought to put what happened into words.

“Like I said,” Michasol interjected, stepping between me and the captain. “big guy with bigger pointy implement. Tried to cut down my friend here,” he said, pointing back at me. “Then had the audacity to die right in his face.”

The captain looked startled, his mask up, revealing his bouncing, catarillar eyebrows playing a rough game of king-of-the-mountain over his forehead. “Yeah?” he said in amazement. “did our newbie here gun him down?”

“Yes and no,” Linda said, stepping up with Jasenn, silent, brodding and generally being a badass. “He distracted the bloke while we clobbered him, mostly.”

“And saved my ass from being in two pieces,” Michasol commented. The captain nodded approvingly.

“Solen, your credentials were good for a nerdy prodigy… but you don’t cease to surprise. Don’t let it get to your head,” the captain said to me. I nodded warily.

Meanwhile, there was all manner of spying equipment crowding the center of the wood-floored intersection. Acoustic sniper snitches, motion trackers with glowing red arrays of LEDs, even a crate full of surveillance drones. What exactly were we going up against?

“New orders,” the captain said. “We’re forming into one group and going for the throat. We’re going up the main lift while Cairo and Dahlia cover our entrance.”

“hoah,” we all said obediently. There’s no room for ‘dangerous cops’ a la far too many action movies in the chain of command. Security firms aren’t ad-hoc like civilians and not as mean as any of the old militaries. It meant things were different.

“When we get in, fan out in the sky lobby and we move straight for the objective point.” I looked up about fifty floors through the ceiling where there was a purple, flashing waypoint labeled “terminus.” Lovely bit of foreshadowing, that. “Okay, no delay, boys.” A few drones burst out of the crate and a duo of Martani activated the motion tracker. It rolled around on sphere casters, bumping along the wood floor after them like an obedient dog.


We rolled up the lift, straddled alongside a massive, artificial indoor waterfall cascading past damp, faux-wood balconies and commercial business signs, left without any of their animating light after the building was evacuated. Twenty floors from go time. The entirety of our fire team had taken a knee, weapons forward. I was staring at the polished, ornately carved hardwood slabs that made up the elevator door, twitching nervously. The motion tracker’s spindly legs were curled up and it was making itself inconspicuous in the corner.

Ten to go time. I checked my ammo count over the weapons link, full. Network was on full combat data only – waypoints, motion contacts, gunfire and the tactical map. As we began to level on our destination, I heard the staccato roar of automatic fire occasionally punctuated by a loud “FUANG” from some induction weapon.

There was another ripping rasp as the elevator chimed. I tensed and stared down the sights as the doors parted. The scene unfolded split second by split second. Big far walkway with cronies in front. They were facing everywhere but in our direction. In fact, there was some unlucky rogue Martani guy manning a turret right in front of us. I bet he’d thought it was safe because the action was across a giant chasm in the wood flooring. He was wrong.

I was about to fire when he turned, but Jasenn swatted me on the shoulder and bum rushed him. It was an unconventional tactic, but it worked. Jasenn planted the butt of his gun into the gent’s helmet and sent him rolling. My fire team rumbled out of the elevator and covered the bloke as he staggered. The captain flipped out a funky lookingg pistol and snagged him with a rather innocuous looking geometric sphere of adhesive and meta. There was a whining buzz and it appeared to not be so innocuous. The rogue Martani’s suit froze where it was and he was trapped there, inoperative. We’d detain him later.

Meanwhile, our Martani allies had fanned out around the barricade surrounding the gun and opened up. This was all after Jasenn had hijacked the gun’s controls and let loose with a hellish “FUANG!” against a pack of enemies that had been holding back Dahlia across the chasm. Cairo appeared to be waiting out of visual contact, remaining an ace in the hole while the rest of us mopped up admirably.

Michasol leaned down over the bloke, he seemed to have gone unconscious as he’d shut up fairly well. So Michasol turned him over with a good heave and he clunked around onto his back like a big statue. He glanced around the neck seal of the suit, looking for a data port. Hopefully Martani wasn’t a legacy establishment and they’d have Universal Data Ports on their kit. I glanced back and let loose some fire before I looked over again.

Michasol had found the port and clicked into it with a wired jack coming from a mobile proxy computer at his left hip. “Status?” I said in my most convincing military voice. As I looked down on him, I saw the name marking him said “Tanner.” Well, there we go, now I know all the first names.

“Err,” Michasol said in confusion. I wasn’t prepared for that, as his general message usually boiled down to ‘oh snap, son!’ or ‘don’t worry about it.’ So I turned my attention toward him, expecting something big. “Data’s wiped, I’m getting absolutely no vitals, no semantics feedback from his sensory headers… what the hell?” Another kamikaze information insularity lover? For once I was guessing big time. Whenever things had gotten like that before, there had been some shocking, novel-thriller-esque revelation.

I didn’t like those.

Well, I could beat them to the punch and solve this! I just had to consider the who, what, where and why. Who was crazy enough to die voluntarily? More than that; who was crazy enough to die for money? It had been heard of, illicit soldiers whose families would be set for life and then some if they joined a suicider squad. But- shit!

A bullet zinged right past my head and I got right back into the center of the real world. Now, apparently wasn’t the time to worry about missing connections. Jasenn took another shot with the cannon, prompting the captain to come rumbling out. “They’re scattering!” he yelled. “Go, go, go.” Jasenn didn’t seem to need another word on the matter. He jumped up from the control bars of the weapon and let the turret sag, still unlocked, as he ran.

As for me and the rest, we were running along the peculiar, retro-throwback footbridges made of thick steel cable matrices and cement planks, first in line to cross. As we ran, Tanner kicked his jets ahead of me and shot forward into a diving roll. He plopped down at the end of the complex, nineties gunfight-esque maneuver behind a giant plant box. I slid down beside him while Linda and Jasenn took the wooden topped doppleganger at the opposite side.

We were holed up at the entrance to a large sky lobby, two stories ceiling clearance and lit up like a Christmas tree. That would never do. Bullets thwacked against the tree occupying the plant box stooped above us as I talked down the squad line. “Smokes, captain?”

“Do it,” he said curtly as he stepped up, small arms fire clinking futilely on his heavy sternum armor. “Two only, you and Linda.”

“Rogger,” we both said as I aimed my shoulder mounted smoke blisters toward Linda and she aimed in my direction. In an instant, streamers of white, visually impenetrable smoke shot away into the air and completely obscured our position ins seconds. These weren’t your grandpappy’s smokes, they obscured a large portion of all electromagnetic emissions, meaning infrared and all the like were blind too.

The captain thoughtlessly hot swapped out his ammo barrel for one with a big flame emblem on it. He raised the weapon and let out a steady loop of explosive grenade rounds. It was a short burst, mostly meant to deter so we could move in. He wordlessly motioned through the smoke with his hand.

Seemingly in response to the order (which really wasn’t meant for them) The Martani squad rushed out from behind us and raced ahead. Of course, the almost comically absurd timing of this had us distracted at first, but it seemed we all shrugged it off well enough. We raced out of the cloud of smoke and toward the far end of the lobby where two halls branched and there was an ominously large set of double doors.

I raised my weapon and peppered the last rounds in the high-capacity clip against a rather stunned rogue martani. He jittered with the impact and fell limp to the ground with a muted but quite-alive grunt. I took cover as I heard the whining screech of servomotors and turned in time to see the shoulder bays on the captain’s gorilla suit open up. Two concussion mortars rocketed out of two of the bays, making him jolt from the pushback of the tiny, dumb rocket rounds.

There were two loud pops that rattled through the big room and deafened me for a few seconds, even from behind cover. When I turned around, I saw a duo of damaged, armored cyborg chassis, human and rather bootlegged looking. There was my girlfriend’s party. I wondered just how many odd groups we had here… how long would this sweep last? My stomach knotted, but I was broken out of my reverie by a loud, splintering crash.

Tawret happened to be standing in front of the doors and was knocked down to one knee. There was a human sized walker standing on chicken legs right where he’d been. It stood dormant in front of the doors and had MSI emblazoned on the cockpit like dome that made up its body. “What the hell?” the captain said. “The thing’s not on our squad registry… Tawret!” he yelled over the comm. Accusingly.

“I don’t know!” Accipiter responded innocently. “I’m trying to make contact…” His speech trailed off as I saw the suit come to life, whirring as it whipped its brandished its two cannon arms with a whipping motion. He aimed straight at the closest target, Accipiter

I didn’t have time to form any words to say. Hell, I hardly formed any thoughts. I just ran along the left wall and got roughly alongside Accipiter, then turned and kicked my jets hard. There was a grinding screetch and my shoulder jarred. Then the floor came by to say hello and then the wall introduced itself to my head, ending our sliding jaunt along the smooth tiled floor.

Gunfire erupted too late to hit anything. The captain yelled in surprise. I looked up, everyone to my right standing. On my left, the walker was turning on us deliberately, stomping along on its laden legs. Before it could bead us, however, a combined fusillade of explosive grenade rounds and kinetic attack mortars exploded all over its side. It reeled, dented, but not by much.

Accipiter raced out from under me and I jumped and ran abck for the squad. I jumped down behind another planter box just as all hell broke loose. Cairo turned the far corner at the end of the lobby we’d gone in through, motion tracker in tow. The tracker reared back and blinked, glaring LEDs scanning the area and flashing in my eyes.

Meanwhile, another spindly walker stampeded in. I was about to yell out, but it ran right past us and stood beside the planter box I was hiding behind. It looked similar but different to the one that had attacked us, complete with MSI logos on it’s flanks. However, plates opened from the flanks of what would usually be the cockpit. But this design was armless and appeared to be some sort of remote drone, as there were four Vulcan cannons hiding in the cockpit instead of a pilot.

They folded out and briefly revved up before they ripped into the staggering armor suit. The bullets ripped away chunks of mechanical bits and sent the thing collapsing on a downed leg, the heavily armored, gunmetal and blue pod more or less intact. The hellish racket finally stopped and gave way to the droning rev-down of servos. I regained my senses in the comparative silence of hissing coolant systems and the clink-clink of cooling components aboard the sole remaining walker.

Everyone was okay, even Accipiter. As I looked at him, he flicked his head to look at me, a little bit unnerving. “Speak with me later,” he said through his spear-headed helmet. “Let’s go.” As he said that, I looked over our reinforcements, some Martani in heavier suits and one sidled up beside the drone, likely it’s remoter. Oh, and among the comparably short giants…

“Mackai!” a familiar voice said jubilantly over a whisper channel as a window opened in my peripheral. It buzzed to life as ‘Sam flipped her helmed head at me in acknowledgement. The view generated a faux video feed of ‘Sam’s face, the procedural generation surrounded by a nonexistent background bleeding through to the real world beyond my helmet. “That was impressive!” I suppose she would be freaking out if she had my constitution, but as she’d said, she’s made of tougher stuff. I smiled. “Remember that bet for later, Mackai.” Smiling from ear to ear now. “And don’t pull a Soap Opera and die before then, or something. Because I’ll friggin’ kill you!” I chuckled a bit as the window closed.

“Let’s go, stop acting like confused Alpha Pups. Let’s earn our name and finish this!” Sure enough, there was a purple waypoint with a flashing 100m designation through the office doors and a bit higher. “We’re fast strike. Cairo is handling heavy assault. Dahlia is minding the door.” Wolves be nimble, wolves be quick, wolves PLEASE don’t get your butts kicked! I sighed as I mentally recited the mantra to clear my mind. I stood up and loped after my squadmates, weapon up. I had to be prepared for anything.

We stacked on the sides of the door as Cairo, assault suit, motion tracker et al moved into position to blitz the door. Tawret was behind the suit with his cronies as they rushed through the doors, all the Martani doing zombie impressions as they ran. “Go!” the captain howled into the comm. I rose instantly, I’d run this by the books. Maybe then I wouldn’t almost get cut in half… or shot.

I got back on track and swiveled through the door after Cairo. Our mean, lean fire team was followed by the rhino charging boogeyman that was the captain. I glimpsed ‘Sam ahead of us beside the assault suit and it’s remoter, the machine synced to his head movements. Since he was Martani, the movements were quite spazzy.

Red lights went on everywhere in the room and lasers started scanning. I backed up as an almost cliché, solid, ruby beam of light danced my way. The captain carelessly crossed a beam and shrugged as a miniature and rather overly high tech looking popup gun chattered out of a box that had been sitting innocuously in the corner. That was, until it started spewing fusillades of small arms bullets.

The captain shrugged as the bullets bounced harmlessly off his armor, then whirled around and blasted a single shot into the vulnerable workings of the cannon, reducing the fragile electronics inside the armored box to smoldering giblets. Without a second thought, I turned on a nearby box and gave it a good long blast of slugs, making it bounce and rattle. By the time I was done with it, it was smoldering.

Assault was at the foot of some stairs at the far side of the room. ‘Sam jumped up the stairs in a single bound, landing up on the balcony where she kicked over some electronics. Always pays to be safe, I suppose. And when your run assault, the way you increase safety is you break anything mildly suspicious. I had to admit, they seemed to be doing an admirable job.

The room was clear in no time and the only thing ahead of us were some innocent looking oak double doors. So we thought. Tawret motioned the captain forward and he nodded. With a few huge lopes and ine one continuous motion, he splintered the door with his massive right shoulder.

He rushed into the dust and we all wordlessly followed. We were up the stairs in a few seconds, synth muscles at a high enough canter that we were ripping up the cheapo carpet underneath our feet. The captain turned into a side hallway on the left and fired mortars from his shoulders at an unseen enemy.

“Cairo, Alphonse, Batou!” a squawky voice chimed in my ear through the operations channel. Strategic downlink says you have company! East side, flying vehicle vectored on your floor for a drop!” Ah, how lovely it was to have an area completely besieged by information warfare systems.

“Fire team, optimum fields of fire!” Tanner barked. The authority he swung with that suggested he was fairly confident it was the windows they were dropping into, they could always pull a Darth Vader and weld through the ceiling, though… never mind. I just thought it would be a cool thing to see.

There was a growing, chattering rumble through the polarized, weather resistant glass. It was a heli, and it was close. We wouldn’t have time to take knees. Me and Linda happened to be in front when the captain moved to carpet the hallway, so we just fell backwards and slammed to the ground.

I curled up and trained my gun over my folded knee while the others aimed above my head. There wasn’t much room to the sides of the cramped hallway, so we had it pretty much blockaded. I looked right just in time to see several blurred forms make for the window, bombs? No! Troops!

The glass ahead of us blasted apart as more rogue Martani rolled onto the ground, loosing the lines they’d swung down as the chopper’s whining chatter faded away. I didn’t get much of a chance to hear it as we all opened fire simultaneously. Jasenn cackling madly over the commas he loosed mortars from his two shoulder bays and let rip with the squad machinegun he was lugging.

Half had dropped before they could return fire. The rest pulled arm cannons and under-slu8ng rifles. They fired from the hip nd generally spazzed, they had storm trooper aim! Scratch that! Damn, left shoulder! Jasenn jumped back as rounds flew past me and dug into the carpet.

My wide, field vision caught side of a rhythmic strobe where I was feeling agony… flashing in time with, explosives! I reflexively ejected my left shoulder pad and Hauled Linda up with my right arm. I kicked some of the ingenious little rounds out of the ground as I ran, the rest of them with me. The rapid-fire pangs of overpressure waves shimmered against my shield as the four of us dropped to the ground. I looked up in time to see the captain turn toward us, then dropped my gaze to see his stomping feet settle. He didn’t waste any time and let loose with decidedly legal explosives, unlike the cheat rounds that had taken my left shoulder pad.

Those were some kind of sheathed, spiked, delayed detonation rounds, secondary fire besides the small arms. Anything that stuck or had a delayed fuse like that was a “pilot killer.” All members of the BUSEI committee had banned those. As silence settled around us I realized I had been letting out an uncontrollable scream of cusses that would have made my fairly cultured but worldly parents have a simultaneous, dual heart attack.

I stood up slowly as everyone gathered and took up positions. I turned and looked at the carnage, crumpled, armored bodies, hopefully just disabled, but they’d deserve worse for what they did. Bastards…

Someone should have told these guys to don blue jumpsuits and wear yellow hardhats, because they were being thrown at us like lackeys of some cinematic evil genius. I hated people who spent life so easily, it was un-civilized, archaic… terrible.

Tanner patted me on the shoulder. “Let’s go, champ!” I nodded over my back at him and the fireteam formed up around me. We did about the only natural thing and continued advancing north toward they waypoint. Down the hall around a corner and… more double doors. I sighed as we went by the books and stacked two on each side.

The captain ran in, about to bulrush the door again, when Tawret ran up beside him and cut him off with the wave of a hand… limb… gun thing. He motioned for me to move so I sidled away from the door, shifting a somewhat disgruntled Jasenn with me. Tawret took my place and put what looked like the palm of his hand gently against the door. The waypoint was barely twenty meters ahead.

There was a pop on the squad channel before we suddenly received a piggybacked downlink from Tawret, audio only. There were some muffled voices, like from under water, then some clicks and fizzing before the audio got MUCH clearer. It was almost like the whole lot of them were whispering in my ear. Hell, it was like Melyssiah was whispering… wait, what-the-bwah?

“Look, my dorkey friend,” Melyissiah said in her ‘I’m pissed and am going to take it out on you’ voice. “I want that golden parachute plan you promised! You don’t enter into deals with willing individuals to break them!”

“Oh, cuite lite my rovely girl. However, prans change. My prelogative has similarly shifted.”

“Your huh?” Melyssiah said, suddenly skeptical.


“Prerogative?” Well, she never used big words with me! I feel offended!

“Indeed,” the all too unmistakable Imakurusu said jubilantly, followed by what sounded like an affirming clap. “Ah, but, as you know. Thigs have gotten velly bad for my olganization. Thus, we must withdraw.”

“You can’t do this to me!”

“Oh, but I think I-“ Now, let me pause. We among the esteemed security firms operating under the BUR sanctioned security regulations of the galaxy value intelligence gathering over quite a bit of other things. However, we also had a perp to catch. Sorry, just had to excuse us as a collective lot for what we did next.

Acippiter pulled back and the audio feed cut, he then raised his arms and minced the flimsy locking mechanism on the doors before kicking them in. We poured in like a mob of crazed lemmings on a hallucinogen overdose induced rampage.

Everyoune fanned out around the big table in the center of the room, surrounding the big wood conference table in the center, along with the three occupants in the room. Lights trained on the three, all frozen and rather taken by surprise.

“Stop right there Daiesuu… diesukee… ima… imaaa,” the Captain stammered. “Ah, Fuck it!” he barked. “hands up!”

Mister Crazy-Hair himself was first to speak up. “Ah, good ebening genturamen,” I didn’t like the way he smiled, so I aimed specifically for him. “You seem to have caughtu me.” Passé accent is passé.

“Damn right,” the captain snarled. “On the ground, hands behind your back.”

“I’m afulaid I can’t do that,” he said dismissilvely.

“Oh,” Accipiter squawked. “Yes you can.”

“Oh no I can’t,” Daisuke said. There was a growing buzz in my ear and we were getting garbled feeds from what I thought was Dahlia, too muchs tatic to tell. But they were yelling. This wasn’t good. The feed cut completely, then our network got nosied out of existence. The waypoint disappeared, targeting, everything. My vital feeds to the fire team went and I looked around stupidly to make sure they were there. The whole lot of us were looking about in confusion. But the captain didn’t care, he still had his explode cannon primed and on target. “Bye bye, folksu,” Daisuke said smartly from his vantage across the table, suddenly seeming very distantant, about four useless bags of networkless dead weight between me and him. SF, PD.

There was a familiar wheezing buzz that grew rapidly, I kicked the captain in the back of the leg, more of a love tap because of his heavy suit. He looked up, realized what was coming and jumped back, anyone who hadn’t noticed got tugged back by the collar. Moments later, the conveniently placed roof glass blasted apart, ripped by glowing tracer rounds of a high enough caliber to punch down into the floor.

I reflexively rolled backwards, accidentally knocking over a few people as I took a knee and curled up amongst the storm of munitions and glass. When I looked up through the glass, occluders now busted and the blue sky visible above, I saw a big, side-by-side, overly sexy and sleek looking chopper brooding above the room.

Daisuke was riding a metal hand-and-foot carriage up into the cargo doors beneath, by the time I managed to aim up, the chopper was already flying away.

“Bastard!” I yelled. Wasting lives, politically irresponsible player! I mindlessly ripped away at the chopper with my SMG, any bullets not stopped by the last vestiges of the window harmlessly pinged off the heli’s armored hull. He was gone before anyone could recover.

Meanwhile, I pouted my lips angrily and turned my gun on Melyssiah.

“Nigel!” she yelled. “Shoot the lights! We’ll get out of here!” I looked over at ‘Nigel,’ he was a heavy set lad in stereotypical suit-and-sunglasses. “Whata re you waiting for, Nigel?! Get them!”

Nigel sat there smartly, impassively contemplating the middle distance through his polarized shades. “This girl doesn’t pay me enough,” he said at length. “I’m just a hired gun. Go ahea dand take this whiny brat in and I’ll tell my organization to debrief you, solid?” he grunted in a voice like granite.

“We’ll talk,” the Captain said, making sure to say indecisive. Meanwhile, no one but me noticed Melyssiah kick her musculature to full, bust open her dermal plating and rampage away for the nearest floor-to-ceiling window. I launched after her and was on her heels until I realized what she was doing.

She turned and smacked her back through the window, arms out and legs tapered majestically together as she fell into a backward dive. Well, the plucky cyborg policewoman who had made that famous back in Port City tended to do this sort of thing with a catch line….

“Oh shiiit!” Melyssiah yelled as she plummeted. Anto crash webbing exploded from the building, anchoring on the facades opposite themselves below Melyssiah. Gee, even now I wonder if I would have minded if they malfunctioned… no, I’m not that terrible!

She oofed as she was caught and bounced a bit. Patrol craft were on the scene and had her pinned down with live weapons in seconds. Well, at least we didn’t come away empty handed.

Full post. |Syndicate us: Add to Mixx! Simpify! stumbleupon.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chapter 5: Return, Egress

Bad news, everyone: I'm running out of buffer chapters! (dun dun duuuuuun!) To compound problems; I'm also going to see Charles Stross at a book signing at Mystery and Imagination up in Glendale CA (more info here.) You can probably sense my glee leaking through your monitor, can't you? Anyway, I've digressed long enough!

Mackai finds he's called back into action by his old company not as an employee, but as a contracted mercenary. It's up to him and the crew to smooth over one of the largest fiascoes to take place in the last decade. Farsol, the massive corporation Martani Security Incorporated and an unknown, third party are all mixed up in the massive scandal, can Mackai keep his old company afloat or are things truly headed down the drain?

EXCERPT: Network-wide distress transmission ID16: 1e03fa
TRANSLATION: All revisions by Open-Bracket-Close-Bracket Semantics Ltd. Subroutines
Sent: Farsol Relevance-Spatial Tap, Orion Arm
Received: Relay Bot @ E. Eridani
Forwarded: BUSEI WAN Distributor
Automated confirmation echo received
Annotated: Relay Bot @ E. Eridani for civilian usability.

Attention: Stellar Fallers declare an SOE. Things are now utterly FUBAR due to incursion by unaffiliated NSFP to neutralize UTPWBEWOD [Unknown Third Party With Big Explosive Weapons of Doom]

[paraphrase: Pardon us, we’ll be out trying to extract a very large splinter from our bum cheeks for the next few weeks. We apologize for any unfilled orders that result in critical malfunction of the second rate crap we sold you last year…
Oh, like I’ll actually have anyone to translate to in the next few weeks if this goes crazy. Goodbye, stinky flesh bags. May you collectively indulge your disgusting urges in whatever pointless afterlife you’ve dreamt up for yourselves.
By the way, if you’re reading this… You are currently in a militarized zone full of crazy apes and birds having a food fight. The correct safety procedures for a situation like this are as follows. If you hear gunshots, do me a favor and run STRAIGHT for the noise. Ciao.]

Sunrise Ep. 5: Return, Egress

What the fuck was going on down there?

I glanced back down at the scanners through my specs’ again. The orbital circles were mad with activity. They shined at me as if my spectacles were a window through to daylight in the darkness of the bridge. We were on action stations and ‘Sam was leaning over my shoulder.

I was looking over a quartet of satellite windows while ‘Sam explained the lot of them. They were optimization GUIs for every station on the bridge. I was fiddling with the windows, in my own world of programmer OCD, as ‘Sam went on.

“So you just activate this gesture and the pathways unlock-“ I kicked on the gesture and all the gray crap suddenly went vivid. Yay! Options enabled! I looked over my main window, a massive tree of connections and lines. I immediately spotted a few dozen bottlenecks just by glancing at it.

“Damn,” I exclaimed. “What have you been doing with this network?” I immediately unlocked the pathways, then downloaded the user guide myself and began mulling over it… there’s the reconfiguration system!

I immediately started swapping connections and proxies with speedy abandon, using my hands to drag and reconnect the lines in 3d space. “What the hell are you doing?” ‘Sam exclaimed as life support cut for a second. She leaned back and gawked at me like I was crazy, which was weird because I was – Nerd-on-an-optimization-jihad crazy, that is.

Everything clicked over nicely and I smiled smugly. Control delay was down about fifty percent from before. The engineering automations had been replaced with a nice framework family I used in my own drone programming. Finally; I’d updated fire control.

“The hell did you do?” ‘Sam asked, accusation in her voice. “Wait a second…” she was probably running a micro-sim of my new frameworks. “Da-a-a-a-mn,” she said in awe. I grinned smugly. “Okay, you DO know your stuff.”

“And you owe me a small favor, miss gambler,” I said, satisfied with my victory. She grumbled and paused, likely figuring out some response. She’d bet that I wouldn’t learn how to pull weight for another day or two. Lies!

“Yeah,” she said with too much confidence for my liking. “I’ve got just the thing, okay waiting a week or two?” I turned about in my seat, any vestiges of confidence dissipated completely. “It’ll be worth it,” she said mischeiviously. I raised my eyebrows in surprise as my spine tingled of it’s own free will, reminding me I had an artificial implant buried there, not pleasant “Agh,” she said, narrowing her slit-pupil eyes at me. “Not like that, you twat!” I wiggled my eyebrows, grinned and turned back around.

She wordlessly walked back to her seat and plopped down. Hopefully she was grinning, too, or this would be a long tour. I kicked back over to the sensors and watched the pretty lights. I was feeling pretty pensive, trying to figure out why the military frequencies had lit up… I’d call my boss, Jasper, but I wasn’t sure of his temperament at this moment. He could be plotting some hairbrain strategy against whatever was going on out there, or pulling his hair and wracking his brain in the process of coming to terms with what was going on. You didn’t bother him when he was in either mood, ever (ever.)

I’d migrated some of my personal software onto the full-enhanced-reality systems onboard. So, I wasn’t surprised when a cherry red, old-style phone labeled “Moscow” appeared out of thin air above the tactile plates. I went to pick it up, then realized I’d be borrowing ship bandwidth. “’Zin, you mind if I-“

“Go right ahead, Mackai,” the spider said jubilantly over the babbler. I supposed he knew the call was coming, as it was through his ship’s network. Good eye. I reached down and picked it up.

“Oval office,” I said as I raised it to my ear. The phone phased out and a video window appeared in it’s stead, dominating my forward vision.

I was a bit surprised to see my boss staring back at me - devious beard, chrome-dome haircut and all. “Well, Mackai,” he said with the little pleasantness he was physically able to muster (evil geniuses aren’t the pleasant type.) “How was day camp?” It was shorter than I expected. So much for ‘good bye, Earth.’

“Ah, you know; pleasant,” I said, grinning. “We made little key-chain lizards out of beads and learned how to fish.” He cackled a bit. “Then we got to play volleyball-“ he suddenly stopped laughing, making me stop smiling.

“Okay, enough riffraff,” he said tersely. “I’m not contacting you to make sure you’re snug and comfortable. We trained you to worry about it yourself.” Well, they trained me to not have to worry about it… by having us go for a swim at 3am in Anaheim Bay. That was so cold my goose-bumps turned into goose-mountains.

“I called you because, congratulations! It seems you’re part of the only special missions firm in the neighborhood!” he threw his hands up in frustration. “This crazyness has caught us off guard,” he continued more calmly. “So, we are up the creek, it has hit the fan… but I’m guessing you knew.” I nodded, it wasn’t a big stretch for me to guess it was that bad. “We trained you good, then, Mackai. Why don’t you kick me over to your captain?” I was VERY quick about that. Once a minion, always a minion.


Bass was pounding my eardrums, in spite of the membrane suppressors currently closed over my inner ear canal. I usually don’t mind techno… when I can control the volume, and there aren’t masses of strobing, scanning, Technicolor lights blasting about a room with no ceiling… not to mentioned the enhanced reality tripfest that would have dominated everything ten meters above my head ad I not turned it off.

Notice I didn’t mentiona ceiling. That’s because there was none. Now, there wasn’t a ceiling here because… well, the room was a giant bloody cylinder. I risked another glance skyward and spotted a blond girl standing haplessly on an upside down floor. The craziness of the situation almost made me puke. Nerds are to clubs as vampires are to garlic. That’s not to mention that this club was “Vertigo: an out of this world experience.” Whatever suit came up with that one… they should die for ever. They suck for even considering a club like this.

Jasper hadn’t known too much yet. Starships identifying themselves as members of Martani Security Inc. had dropped out of Rele-Space and right-the-frig into low-Farsol orbit. It was pretty impressive they could do that without us knowing.

Security shuttles had started making hot-drops onto the planet, no mechanized units, just light security. What Martani had to do with this was unknown. Though, it would be cool to see these guys in action.

That said, it wouldn’t matter if either of us shot eachother in the foot trying to get out of the way. We had no beef with M.S.I. From what they’ve broadcasted, they had no beef with us. This was an unrelated sting, apparently… But of course, coincidence was so people could make excuses to be chronically stupid.

I was supposed to be trailing a target, I had a snooper on the club network watching wireless traffic for any of his packets. I’d have maybe ten seconds of active listening once I got a bite on the line. After which club security would click in, ask the program for validation (which it had) and alert everyone in the club there was a cop here. At which point, my mission would fail.

That’s why it had an automated self-cannibalizing command to turn into random binary if anyone got wise. Traffic, bingo! Time to trip the sniffer!

“No contacts, boss, covering the south end.” A generic white guy said in my head.

“Man, I gotta’ take a leak, watch the back for me.” Convenient much? I kicked in the cannibal, just to be safe. I didn’t need the program anymore. Time to get information from the source.

I swallowed a lump in my throat. The Stellar Fallers trained all their field officers in hand-to-hand and close quarters combat routines. Trouble was it was all dumb computer-instituted conditioning. Any agent worth their salt could outthink routines like ours, but it might just get me by here. I really had no choice, the target had made a good decision moving himself and his team into this crazed light-and-sound show to drown out his signatures. Good for him, trouble for me.

I legged it along towards the small buildings in the back of the cylinder. They were curved like some Seusian, cherry-wood paneled nightmare. Atop a shorter one was a flashing blue and pink symbol of a stick-man and a stick-woman (ooh, she’s wearing a dress, definitely designed by a traditionalist, bloody vocal wankers.)

Not too far off now… ah, a bloke with a trim cut, sunglasses and a formal black suit and slacks. Can you be any more obvious? He was doing a bit of a pee dance, amusingly enough, as he jumped down the door, splashed by blue mood lighting. I casually walked in behind him.

There were a few ways I could do this… I had a taser in my pocket and knew how to use it. The Stellar Fallers had also indoctrinated my reflex memory with routines for a stickup. I just hoped this guard wasn’t very ballsey, because I didn’t know enough CQC to fight the guy if he didn’t freeze up. He was a good fifty pounds over my weight.

He promptly slipped into a urinal cell. I made for the one two apart from it, minding unspoken bathroom manners. I checked my routines, they were there. There was a prominent growl of a zipper as I prepared… okay, sidestep! In one fluid motion, I twirled around and got one arm under the gent’s shoulders. Now what? Taser! I’d delayed for a split second, and the gent’s right elbow was almost positioned to hit my head. However, I found my right hand was now brandishing a taser directly at his neck.

“Don’t move, I’m authorized to use lethal force and will not hesitate to do so.” That was my voice, but not mine, kind of flat. All us security boys had some sort of “now you’re buggered” phrase indoctrinated into our skulls. What you heard was the signature phrase of the Stellar Fallers.

He cussed toward the tile wall ahead of him, staring straight ahead. I came to my senses again and couldn’t help a quip. “Look at this optimistically, duckey. At least you don’t have to worry about peeing your pants.” He grunted in protest. I just hoped he didn’t realize I only had a stunner to his neck. Otherwise he might get the best of his cowardice knowing he’d wake up even if he screwed up. “Tell me where your charge is.”

This was definitely not a clean op’ I’d have to get this over with and leave this guy for club security to find. That would distract them well enough so I could continue. My hands would have been shaking, but my implants were suppressing the jitters and I was high on manufactured adrenaline. Being a security officer these days can make you more than just vanilla Human. Sure, I was no million dollar man, but still.

“Hovel five,” he choked out, that was way too easy. I suppressed my feelings of not-so-easy-ness.

“Good rent-a-cop. Now; tell me why he’s here.”

“Workin’ for the birds.” Odd phrase, that. At first I thought he was crazy, then I remembered that the Martani were a race of flight-impaired Avians. Birds – for the stupid doo-doo heads amongst us. Shit, was he one of MSI’s?

“Keep on talking,” I pressed the taser harder into his neck. My stomach flipped as he slackened complacently under the lock he was in.

“Heh you don’t ha-“ I stepped back and fried him with a nonlethal dose of voltage. When I came back to myself I was about a yard away from his prone form. His front was covered with what I hoped was water and, thankfully, he’d zipped his fly back up. My failsafes had triggered, he was about to tell me he knew I didn’t have a gun. He should have never tried to psych me out. The Stellar Fallers had seen that coming when they put those failsafes in there.

I picked up a hard line and flipped him over with the underside of my hand, trying not to leave fingerprints, it was mostly a half measure in this age of hyper-forensics. It might delay tracer officers a bit more. Just as I’d figured, he had a hard jack in the back of his neck. Those smalltime boys relied on routines so much that they needed the high-bandwidth and security of those kind of things so they could shove more crap into their brains.

They jacked up on routines. Not my style, but it was a benefit now. I took the hacking proxy’s line from my pocket and clicked it into the back of his neck. Okay, now how should I make him painfully obvious? Wholy crap! Trace and intercept tracker was going crazy, ten seconds to intercept? What kind of defense watcher did this guy have?

I thought quick and uploaded the song “I’m Fat” by Weird Al to the guard’s systems. I then set it to broadcast the media file unencrypted on all available networks with a twenty-second delay. I added some encryption and bounced it onto another network to hack the guy again just in case his firewall spotted it before it went off.

I jumped off the connection with about two seconds to spare. Not only would I have been on the maps of whoever I was tracking, my proxy and external devices would have likely fried to a crisp in my pocket. I stood up smartly and walked out of the bathroom at a brisk pace. The floor around me was fairly empty so I guessed no one would get to the guy before I was out of sight.

No security camera could get my face in this darkness, all they had on me was grainy night vision and IR. The smaller firms were way behind the curve in that tech. It was mostly because we’d passed notes with a few other firms from other parts of the galaxy early in the game. Ah, the advantages of being sociable.

“Your butt is wide,” the song began broadcasting over the wireless.

Hovel five was a ways down. I started making my way along the trippy terrain towards it. Meanwhile, I paged Tomas, Dwaine’s friend in intelligence, I’d been using him as a tail-along for this mission.

“Well, mine is too,” the song continued as the link went through.

“Tommy, what’s up?” I thought over the connection when it cleared.

“Better watch your mouth,” the song went on.

“Questions, stupid man?” he quipped.

“Or I’ll sit on you…” I lost all focus on the song. I knew something big was about to go down and I didn’t want to die in the process.

“Who’s stupid? Should I mention that military intelligence is academically an oxymoron?” I quipped his quip. He grunted over the line. “I have questions. You have my case number still? I need to know if this guy’s with Martani.”

I was a few dozen meters off from the hovel when I saw my target. He sure was bizarre enough of a human to warrant hanging with the alien crowd exclusively; feathery hair like pulled cotton, pointy goatee and very dramatic eyes. His name was Daisuke Imakuruz, people with names that ethnically concentrated weren’t generally from around here. The guy had a non-Farsol history, that was for sure.

“He’s not,” Tomaz said flatly. My stomach dropped, what birds was he working for, then? “Oh man, you’ve got a priority dispatch. It’s Jasper. He wants a secure channel.” I ducked down beside a wall and made as if I was scoping out the floor for ‘prey.’ The act was very tough, as the angle still made me want to puke.

“Mackai,” Jasper said rather urgently. I would have rather heard the usual heart-stoppingly cold demeanor he typically donned. “Martani just contacted me about your target. He’s a high priority boy, and he’s not working for either us or Martani. Well, not really, anyway.” Indecisiveness from the Fearless Leader? Iz no good, Natasha Fatale.

“He’s with MSI Section thirty-four, some front-man for their operations here. They were conducting an illegal probe of Farsol,” Tomas cut in over his own niche in the channel. I peered around the wall over at my target again and couldn’t believe my eyes, Melyssiah was there at the table WITH my target!

“MSI has been hunting the guy, it’s weird that he shows up now,” Tomas said leisurely. I started to sweat.

“You know what else is weird?” I stopped before I could answer my own question, because Melyssiah flipped her pointer finger right at me and nodded at my target. For a second, I panicked, then my spinal piggyback jolted me back up to speed again.

There were two guards built like giant walls making for my ‘hiding place.’ I reached to my side for my sidearm, shit! I’d left it in my light kit and left that in the ship! I hate myself so much right now! “ ’Sam!” I thought down my outbound link. She’d been very quiet for a while. No response. “’Sam!!”

“WHAT?! Friggin’ spaghetti mosnter, what’s the problem?”

“Compromised, I’ve been spotted,” I spat over the link.

She cussed into the link. “Be there soon, had some front guards to take care of, I have an idea how to get to you fast. Still in the club right.” I broke into a run

“Yes,” I barely managed to say before I smacked hard into a heavy bloke. He kicked me in the shins and I reflexively dropped. Next hit landed on the side of my face.

“Well, I’ve never used a phone booth,” the song went on carelessly, unlike me. I was crumpled on the ground, “and I’ve never seen my toes…” like the kind that had landed on my left cheek, funny…


I came to with my hands tied and crossed in front of me. It was a rather natural pose… how did these guys spend time thinking of this stuff? They definitely weren’t as smalltime as I thought. Club security would be too stupid to notice I was tied up.

“Well, I was just thinking about you recently,” I heard a voice I hadn’t wanted to hear for a very long time, if ever again.. “And, well, here you are!” I had one hell of a headache. What’s more was my glasses were at an odd angle, still on, but forced into autistic mode. I activated a command in them and the bent nosepiece righted itself. Welcome to the future, biznatch!

“What could you possibly want with me, Melyssiah? With these binds I’d think something kinky.” She scowled at me for that one. I noted, though, she stayed right where she was.

“Ah, Mackai, I’m thinking I can finally put our relationship behind us. It’s been fun, really!” Behind as in…

“What?” I exclaimed.

“Ah, yes, we’re through,” she said smugly. “Not only that, but you’ve gotten my racket a good sum of money. I’ve got some clients who are interested in… talking one on one with a Stellar Faller security officer,” she smirked like a T-rex. “That is, while they’re busy cutting apart your mind.” I felt the blood drain from my face and my stomach suppressors flared again. How many times am I going to be in a state of almost-puke in this line of work?

Not very many, anymore, I suppose. “Ah,” said another voice that reminded me of the mad-hatter, but with a distinctly engrish accent. How passé was that? He could have just learned out that accent with a simple retrofit program. “He is ah’very lesponsive.”

“What?” I said. I was saying that a lot. I mean, who expects massive conspiracy in this line of work?

“Lesponsive! You foorish cletin!” he said in a rather lispy and consonant-deprived voice.

“Why the hell do you talk like that?” I asked incredulously.

“Ah, what a gracious intloduction.” he interjected in a suddenly controlled tone. I looked up, there was that dustball gray hair and jet black goatee. Yes, that was my target. Weird guy. “Mackai Sorren, I presume.”


“Yes, Sor-“ he said

“el” I interrupted him, sounding out the letter he seemed to enjoy switching out. “And you’re Daisa- diesukeee, Ima- imaka…”

“Daisuke Imakurusu is my name,” he said, his tone smug and tinted with rather aristocratic confidence. “I rarely meet anyone who can say it properly. Although, personally, I think it’s a rather fine name in my homerand.” He paused, damn he could talk, on and on. “As a mattel of fact I now find it to be exerrent. A unique name, a unique-” hairstyle, that’s what I thought. “identity.” Damn, I was wrong.

“Now then,” Imakurusu began again at length, “I suppose we should make this deal expedient for if we ringel very rong-“ there was a keening blast that piped over the music of the club. I craned my neck to see what the blazes it was. Sure enough; there was the profile of obsidian black, curvey armor making a beeline on a rope down the cylinder. Lesson one of shady deals involving distressed protagonists; you wait too long and the cavalry will ALWAYS arrive.

I smiled victoriously, but was soon grabbed by the arm and yanked from the booth so hard I was almost thrown to the floor. My girl sure had some burley guards. Oh wait, that’s HER hand on my arm. Good thing going full cyber-body had taken her off her monthly cycle or she would have jumped on it and ran me over long ago.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” Melyssiah yelled over the sudden racket of blasts and gunshots ‘Sam was raising. “Then we’ll just relieve his brain of its body…” oh, fuck that.

“’Sam!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. She had disconnected the line from the far end of the club and was now diving down to the floor amidst way too much gunfire. She was crazy to pull that off. “Watch out!” As she landed, half a dozen guards flew up into the air in rapid succession before she busted through the mob of ruffians like an angered Tiger.

We were getting lost in the rush of retreating clubbers and
I was beginning to doubt the ability of the cavalry to actually focus on saving my ass. “I have a number of medical plofessionals under my pay,” Imakurusu said as Melyssiah pretty much dragged me along. I mean, what better way to slow her down than be dead weight? It worked for angry kids being dragged to their rooms. “We may operale and dispose of the body quickry.”

“Oh, no,” Melyssiah said casually, “I’ll hold on to that.” Nope, not disgusting at all. Melyssiah ratcheted up a good twelve billion clicks on my deprave-o-meter right about then.

“Dear god!” I wailed, “Stop this crazy bitch!” she nearly wrenched my arm out of my socket with a defiant pull as she continued dragging me. Hmm, gotta’ get the crowd away so I’ll be seen… That’s it!

“BOMB!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “I’ve got a big bloody bomb and I’m also homicidally psychotic! Booga booga!” The lemmings among the crowd – most of them- bolted in every direction straight away and cleared like a falling tide around a sandbar. For once I was happy that terrorists still existed… yes, I’m terrible sometimes.

‘Sam looked straight at me and power-sprinted the last few hundred meters. By the time she got to me she was booking like a rhino-powered freight train and just about as unstoppable. She grabbed my other arm and nearly wrenched both out of my sockets. Luckily, though, she took Melyssiah by surprise and I slipped easily from her grip. Well, for a cyborg at least. My arm was pretty bruised.

“Bitch! That’s my man!” She yelled, the wording rather lackadaisical.

“N’ah!” I yelled, airborn behind ‘Sam’s loping form. “You said we were over, remember?”

Full post. |Syndicate us: Add to Mixx! Simpify! stumbleupon.com