Thursday, January 24, 2013

Turning Point: Chapter 6


I bolted down the stairwell to the sub-basement.  Fortunately I’d only been on the second floor.  Everyone on both teams – except the Alpha’s – was at that moment rocketing to my position.  I didn’t know where the other Close Security team had been, but I was kissing my luck over the fact that they hadn’t been in the hall.  Which meant they were Bernerd’s people.  If Sashe had been in charge of both teams, all four of them would’ve been closing in on me instead of two hanging back to provide rear security.  Bernerd’s always been more of a “layers” guy than Sashe.  Of course if Bernerd had been in charge they probably would’ve used a tranq grenade in the hotel room and then shot me while I was out.

I had no illusions as to whether or not the door would be locked.  Once they’d seen my pissy little show on the vid – and there was no way that Sashe and Bernerd weren’t hooked into the hotel’s vid link – they’d ratchet up the fuckery.

I’d been right about how the first steps would go.  Sashe and her people were good, but they weren’t the best and they were used to going after Demos.  The company hadn’t terminated a Security contract in over a decade.  No one in any of the current ops teams had been around for longer than eight.

Because of that, none of them were cranked enough to deal with me.  None of them had ever had to deal with a trained target with nothing to lose.  That ended with my little show.  They now had some idea of what they were dealing with.  Hell, at that point they had a better idea of it than I did.  I was making it up as I went along.

I jumped the last few stairs and ran for the sub-basement.  I went ahead and checked the door, because you never know.  Sure enough, the magnetic seal was engaged.  I let out a snarling grunt as I pulled the bag around in front of me and opened it up.  After a few seconds of digging I pulled out the splice-card and turned back to the door.

The card’s jack protruded from the narrow gray rectangle at the corner of the narrow end.  I plugged it into the door-scanner’s maintenance port and let it do its techy magic.  We called them “cards” because they weren’t much bigger than playing cards.  Plug the card in and it scrambles the lock open.  I didn’t comprehend the tech behind it and didn’t care.  Security teams used the cards all the time.  Mine was a free-lance model out of the Diggs and it had cost a full week’s pay.  But it was worth every cred.  I was confident it would work because I’d tested it.  I’m not completely stupid.

But popping the door was where the resemblance between the official cards and my independently contracted toy ended.  The official cards erased the fact that the door had been opened from the lock’s internal memory.  Mine couldn’t do that.  My card would keep alarms from going off, but that was about it.

After two heart-constricting seconds the door popped and I pulled the card free, shouldering my way past the door as I did.  Spinning on my heel, I slammed the door shut and re-engaged the lock.  Then I pointed my new pistol at the lock assembly and shot the hell out of it, emptying the magazine.  Hopefully it would cause a short somewhere and prevent the door from being opened.  For a while at least.  I slid the card into one of the bag’s zippered pockets and secured it.  I wasn’t too worried about the card getting broken.  Its case may have been made out of plastic, but it was ballistic grade.  On top of that, every one of the bag’s many pockets was padded.  The card was as safe as I could make it.

The next step was to pull out my comp-shades and to get them on and working.  They were another free-lance widget that had been worth their cost, which had been less than the card’s.  The frames were some sort of bitchin’ alloy and hollow.  Inside were crammed all sorts of cool electronics I’d never know the names of.  Those electronics turned the shades into a mini-comp and among other things gave the benefit of light-amp and anti-glare.  I turned my shades on and took a look around the room.

The room thankfully offered no surprises.  There were a couple of work stations and a few racks of tools.  Near the work stations were the frames of cleaning and maintenance bots.  None of that interested me.  What I was looking for was on the far wall and the floor beside it.  The floor held a hatch leading down into the maintenance tunnels.  That hatch was the reason I had run for the sub-basement in the first place, I’d half-remembered that the hotel had access to the tunnels.  The wall held the other thing I needed – a medical kit.

I snatched the med-kit from the wall, sat in a chair by a work station and set the med-kit on the station’s work table.  Opening the kit assured me that it had the immediate necessities – gauze, disinfectant, antibiotic cream and a stitch gun.  Then I pulled out one of my pretty new knives and started cutting into the skin on my left forearm.

Blood welled up and spilled over as I pulled the tip of the blade through the top bit of flesh.  I started the incision six centimeters above my wrist and cut for two before giving myself another just like it.  They made a “L” in my skin, right above my chip.

Everyone on Roach has a chip in them.  They’re just under the skin on the fore-arm.  They aren’t implanted any deeper because they need to be replaced sometimes.  But that’s something you got to the docs for.  Removing the chip on your own is against corporate law.

The chip keeps track of you.  It’s stated purpose is medical.  You get sick, you go to the doc’s.  The doc scans your chip and can tell exactly what’s wrong with you.  But the chip also lets Security keep tabs on you, a little beacon telling them exactly where you are.  It’s how Sashe and Bernerd knew I was actually in my hotel room instead of getting drunk at a bar.  Oh, and if you remove the chip it let’s out an inaudible scream to the cops filling them in on your new development.

If I didn’t get rid of my chip, the hatch in the floor wouldn’t do me much good.

Gritting my teeth, I probed into my self-inflicted wound with the point of the knife until I found the chip.  Hooking it with the knife’s point, I flicked the chip out of my arm and onto the table.  Then I smashed the damn thing into as many little pieces as I could.  Then it was time to set the knife down on and get to work on my new incisions.

Disinfectant got sprayed on, around and into the wound.  Then the antibiotics got put through the same drill.  After that I grabbed the stitch gun and plugged my little “L” wound with four pulls of the trigger.  Last was the gauze, to keep crap out of my hide.  After putting everything back into the kit and stashing it in my bag, I retrieved my knife and turned to the hatch in the floor.

The tunnels were my means to getting the next thing I needed – a way of getting to a part of the dome that security didn’t have monitored all the way to hell and back.  What I’d said earlier about “every stairwell and hallway under the dome” being bugged?  That was an exaggeration.  I needed to get to the Diggs and I needed to do it unseen.  That’s where the tunnels came in.

Ironically, the entirety of my time as a Contract Specialist had been spent bitching about how small the Security Division’s budget was.  My argument was logical – with a better budget, we’d have better equipment and the job would be that much more survivable.  I’d also interpreted the Company’s stinginess as a lack of regard for our safety and hadn’t always been quiet about it.  Now the Company’s unwillingness to spend credits on anything that didn’t magically multiply them was going to work in my favor.

The maintenance tunnels were unmonitored.

You see, there are miles of tunnels beneath and between the domes and Syrch didn’t see the need to spend money on watching empty tunnels.  Especially miles and miles of empty tunnels.  And that would be my ticket to the Diggs.  As long as I could avoid the bots and crews, I could get to a place where I could hide and plot.  At least for a little while.

I ran across the room and popped the unlocked hatch open.  I took a quick inventory of my gear, making sure everything was secure before starting down the ladder and pulling the hatch shut behind me.  The moment the hatch was settled I threw the lock-bar and jumped to the tunnel floor.

A quick glance assured me that I was alone.  I raised my right index finger to the comp-shades and toggled the compass.  A notched green line appeared across the top of the left lens, scrolling as I turned my head left and then right.  When I was facing a cardinal direction, an indicator would pop up beneath the appropriate notch in the little green line, telling me which direction I was facing.  Once I had myself pointed in the right direction I started jogging.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Turning Point Chapter 5


Thumper preceded me out into the hall as I swept her to the left, fully expecting what I was half-hoping to not find.  And there they were, Sashe’s Close Security, pistols aimed and barking.  I didn’t have to think about firing Thumper.  By that point in life it was automatic.  Too bad there were slugs hammering me in the chest and ribs as I pulled the trigger.

My shot went wild, burying itself somewhere in the wall or ceiling as I was staggered back by the impacts against my armored jacket.  Oh yeah, didn’t I mention that?  The heavy jacket and pants I’d changed into while talking to Mhik and Ahni were armored.  That’s why they were in the bag with the spare clips for Thumper, comp-shades, my illegal splice card and four concussion grenades.  And you have no idea how glad I was at that moment that I’d decided to bring the damn bag with me.  I was still staggering as I heard their pistols bark again.

I turned and ran for all I was I was worth.

The pistols barked a few more times as I tore ass down the carpeted hallway, adrenaline and a happy snarl singing in my veins.  Like I said, I’d only been half hoping not to see them there.  The other half of me had been swimming in my new hate-pool and very much looking forward to it.

It only took me a few seconds to get to where I was furiously sprinting – the door leading into the stairwell.  I heard one of them yell “Shit!” as I barreled through the door.  I didn’t slow down for the stairs and made it to the next floor before hearing them thunder into the stairwell.

“Which way,” one of them started before I let them know where I was.

“Fuck!” I yelled before tearing the door to my right open and jumping into the hall.  I kept the door open a sliver as I holstered Thumper.  I listened to Sashe’s team’s progress and reached into the bag.  I pulled out a grenade, popped the safety and started the short-count.  They’d be close enough when it was time.

Four, three, two, I counted as my pursuers pounded down the stairs, and, I yanked the door open and tossed the primed grenade towards them in a short arc.  Then I threw myself back around the corner and sprinted the hell away from that door.  I wasn’t worried about catching much of the blast myself.  The comparatively vast open space of the stairwell would allow the concussive force to dissipate too quickly to do any real damage to anyone on the other side of a wall.   But you do not fuck about when it comes to explosives.  People who do that tend to not have the full inventory of parts for long.  So I moved.

When I heard the crump of the grenade going off I looped back to the stairwell.  I didn’t have to worry about getting the door open as the grenade had taken it off the hinges.  Didn’t disperse as much as I thought it would, I mused as I stepped over to the bodies of my former pursuers.  Shrugging, I bent down and started stripping them of their gear.  I didn’t bother going through their pockets, just stripped them of their equipment belts and the serious gear.  The pistols I found a few feet away.  One went into the bag.

I zipped up the bag and slung it over my shoulder and across my back.  Then I methodically dropped the clip from the pistol I had kept in my hand, weight-checking it for ammo.  The pistol’s ex-owner had changed mags before tearing down the stairs.  Good.  I nodded, slapped the clip back in and checked the chamber.  I chuckled as I jacked the slide, seating a round in the chamber.

Time to let ‘em all know just what I think of this shit.  I turned to glare up into the corners where the walls and ceiling met.  That was where the cameras were.  Not where they would be, but where they were.  Every stairwell and hallway under the dome was plugged for sight and sound.  You learn that sort of thing in my line of work.

I glared at the cameras.  “Not much of a psych retrieval, fuckers.  Your bitches were packing slugs, not tranqs.”  Then I turned to the still forms on the floor and put two of those slugs into each of their already bleeding skulls.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Turning Point 1.4


I was in that odd world of half‑sleep.  Some part of you knows that you're not awake, but you keep responding to your dream as if it were real.  In my dream, someone was calling my name.  In the waking world I was used to people calling my name all the time.  Whispers over the com during a hit, sudden shouts full of rage in the middle of fire-fights and sometimes Marce would cry it out during a bout of passion.

This voice was different.  It was soft and distant with an edge like broken glass.  Somehow loving and hostile at the same time.  Dangerous.  In the logic of dreams, some part of me recognized it and remembered being able to ignore it when awake.  But here in the world of dreams and half‑memory I had to answer.

Gritting my teeth, I answered.  There was silence for a second, then I was called again.  This time there were either a lot of voices or a skittering sound, I wasn't sure which.  That's the way it is with dreams sometimes.  I realized at that point that the sound/voice wanted me to turn around.  I didn't want to, but it insisted.  Knowing there was no real choice, I turned.

I was surrounded by a dark gray blur, and as I finished turning I could make out a yellow tinge to it.  Suddenly, I was looking into a bright blue‑white sun shining over yellow hills.  There was a smell like burnt coffee.  A sense of something important began to rise up in me when I heard a com-deck buzz.

I jumped and moaned in my sleep.  The com buzzed again and I rolled towards it.  I was rewarded with a flash of pain in my skull and a nearly overpowering urge to use the latrine.  Hangover.  Big one.

The com deck buzzed yet again, bringing another flash in my head.  When I hit the answer button all the com gave me was a mess of static on the screen and an extremely irritating hiss on the speaker.  I reached to shut the damned thing off.

Stupid data terminal, I thought.  Must’ve told someone this was a mainframe.

Just before I punched the disconnect button, I paused.  Something in my dark and confused memory was trying to get my attention.  I prepared to take a deep breath and it hit me.  There was a security override that Mhik had taught us all a long time ago.  It disguised a com call as a bank transaction.  I dredged my mind for the right code and punched it in.  As the white lines faded and the static vanished, Ahni's worried face appeared on the screen.

“Alec, my friend,”  She sighed.  “You have gotten yourself into a world of shit.”  She looked to her left.  “We've got him.”

Mhik stepped into view.  He looked tired but relieved.  “You know, Alec, its a damned good thing that we got to you before they did.”

I made a sound.  It was meant to be a word, but the ethanol poisoning had convinced my tongue that it was dead.  I cleared my throat and spat on the rug.  Shaking my head, I tried again.  “Who?”  I finally managed.  “What time is it?”

Ahni bored into me with her bright green eyes.  “You have been the subject of an involuntary contract revision.”

Fear and adrenaline shoved the hangover far enough back for me to ignore it.  “What!?”  I couldn't believe it.  “They're terminating my contract?  What the hell for?”

Mhik chuckled.  “No, no.  They're not terminating your contract, they're revising it.  It seems that Security Division no longer deems you worthy of the position of Contract Specialist.  You have officially been declared mentally unstable.”  He grinned.  “Like that's something everyone on our team didn't already know.”  Mhik seemed a little too amused at the news he and Ahni were giving me.  I however, was not amused at all.  Free wheeling psychotics are hunted more desperately than Demos.  Only instead of quick, clean deaths they were given lifetimes spent in the hell of the psych wards.

I knew exactly how very fucked I was.

“Shit!  How long do I have?”  I started gathering the few things I had brought with me.  Unfortunately, I had passed out in my clothes.  I was kicking my boots off when Mhik responded.

“I found out about an hour ago.  I hacked the system to find out what was going on, and did some checking.  They were gearing up right before we called you, so between getting there and setting up you've got about twenty minutes before they jump up your ass.”

I glanced at the clock and saw that I had only slept for three hours.  Then I glared at the com screen.  My ball of hate jumped about eighteen degrees and started hopping.  “So why the hell are they doing this to me, Mhik?  Is it 'cause of the Su‑Fin?” I had my pants off and balled up in one hand.  I shoved them into the bag I’d grabbed just before leaving the con-apt and pulled out a pair of heavier black pants.  I was shoving myself into them as I turned back to Mhik.  “They decide to psyche me just ‘cause I pumped some rounds into a fuckin’ dead guy?  What the hell is this?”  My last question came out as little more than a snarl.

Mhik snorted and turned away from the screen.  Ahni gave him a little glare and answered my question.

“No, Alec.  According to the records it goes back a lot further that that.  Mhik downloaded your files while he was checking on the sitch.  Even the secure files.  There's a lot of shit in here, Alec.  Stuff that goes all the way back to when you were a kid.”

I was in my boots and shrugging into a zip-up jacket that matched the pants in color and weight when I looked up at the screen.  “Like what?”

Ahni’s eyes bored into me.  “Like the fact that at the age of 9 you burned through 10 milligrams of Glycon in less than two hours.”

“I what?”  I froze for a second before reaching for my bag of toys.  Glycon was a heavy-duty sedative.  Operatives use it to tranq helpful neighbors who get in the way during a hit.  Six milligrams of Glycon would normally put an adult to sleep for three hours.

“Yeah,” Mhik said, coming back on-screen.  “It was while they were head-shrinking you after your mom’s death.  The file says you got violent with a counselor.  Jumped over his desk and started biting his face.  When the nurses charged in they tranqued you.  As they thought you were going under one of the nurses mentioned your mother.”  He gave Ahni a grim look.  “She lost her ear in the struggle.”  Mhik looked back to me with the most serious expression I had ever seen him wear.  “According to the files, you had several incidents like this, Alec.  All of them disproportionately violent.  When you were twelve, Security tried to have you committed.”

I froze in shock.   “What?”

“A gentleman named Conrad Arthur intervened on your behalf.  He had you assigned to Security Division instead.”  At this point, Mhik started to look amused again.  “Guess he figured you were a natural.”

I gave Mhik a glare of my own.  “I don’t recognize the name and I sure as hell don’t remember going psycho on any nurses as a kid.  Who’s this Conrad guy?”  God, my head hurt.

Mhik and Ahni glanced at each other.  Mhik shrugged his shoulders and Ahni spoke up.  “We don’t know who he is Alec.  We couldn’t find anything that pinned down his title or division.  Just that he kept you out of the psych wards.”

“Alec!”  Mhik’s “command voice” snapped me back and I continued to gear up.  “The point of all this is that Mr. Arthur covered your ass at a critical time.”  He paused.  “And that he isn’t now.”

None of it made sense.  Yeah, I’d gotten into trouble as a kid, but nothing serious.  Nothing like what the files were telling Mhik and Ahni.  And I’d never heard of any Arthur Conrad.  “So what burned me?”

“This.”  Mhik pulled out his mini-comp and pushed a button.  The mini-comp played back several seconds of the tirade I had launched at the computer in the Sub-Tram terminal.  “Security Division pulled your contract before anyone had a chance to find out.”

I finished getting my gear together and did a quick pre-combat inspection.  While I made sure that I had everything and that everything was in its place, I struggled to sort things out.  “Those files aren’t right.  Somebody had to have rigged them.  Mhik, I still don’t-”

 “Look,” Ahni said, interrupting me, "this is all fascinating  but you need to get the fuck out of there.  Now.”

“Ahni, I can handle it.  They’ll start off with a routine retrieval op.  I can deal.”

Ahni’s eyes blazed.  “Alec, you don’t seem to get it.  You’ve been classified as a Case 9 Hazard.  They’ve invoked the Sierra Protocol, sent Sashe’s and Bernerd’s teams after you.  Do you really think you can take them all?”

I whistled through my teeth.  There are only ten Hazard levels. Lethal force is authorized for anything over Case 7, and Sashe’s team was good.  Almost as good as us.  Shit.  Maybe I wasn’t going to get the option of a rubber room after all.

“Thanks, guys.”  Something clicked in my head and I felt a sudden surge of guilt.  “Ahni, will you tell Marce that I had to go?”  There was a sick moment of vertigo as I set my mind on the current problem.  I stared into Ahni’s deep green eyes.  “Will you tell her that I’m sorry?”  She nodded.

“I’ll tell her.”  She dropped her gaze to the floor.  “Hey, Alec.”  She looked back up and gave me a feral grin.  “Kill one for me.”

My smile was hard.  “I’ll kill ‘em all and we’ll have a party.”  Then I broke the com connection and was alone in the dark.

Fortunately I knew a lot about how level 9 teams worked.  Up until then I’d been a member of one.  They’d hit balcony first, tossing a tranq or concussion grenade into the room.  After that the shooter would come in and mop up.  If this was a psych retrieval they’d use tranq gas.  I cursed at the thought, regretting that I’d never had the chance to get my hands on a protective mask.  Gas masks aren’t for sale to employees and hellishly expensive in the Diggs.

But in spite of what Ahni had told me, I suspected that Sashe and Bernerd were going to be tempted to skip the whole “capture” bit.  They wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of using non-lethal ordinance with a Case 9 hazard.  I sure as hell wouldn’t be.

At that moment my internal clock was off by a factor of seven and I desperately needed to not be in a small room.  I glanced at my watch.  Damn!  When had Mhik and Ahni’s call come in?  How long had we actually talked?  I couldn’t remember.  Suddenly my gut contracted and my icy rock was back.  I was used to being the hunter, not the hunted.  Then something inside of me screamed a warning and I dove for the latrine.

I had barely cleared the latrine doorway when I heard the window shatter. So much for Ahni’s twenty-minute deadline.  Damnit all, why had I gotten a window room?  Marce was right, I had been acting weird lately.  I slammed the latrine door shut and bunched myself against the wall, covering my ears and clamping my eyes shut.  Right on cue the grenade went off, knocking the latrine door off its hinges and onto the floor beside me.  It hurt like hell, but I didn’t have time to pay attention to pain.

The concussion grenade confirmed my suspicions.  Psych retrieval indeed.

I had two things going for me, both courtesy of the concussion grenade.  First, the sleeping room was filled with a debris cloud.  That would keep the sniper blind for a good minute.  Second, the shooter on the balcony was going to be just as deaf as I was.  That still had the numbers coming up short and I needed to cheat.  Contract Termination teams were used to taking out Demos filled with passion and lacking in brains.  As far as Sashe’s team was concerned the knowledge I had would be as good as loaded dice.

I barged out of the latrine and ran across the shattered sleeping room.  I came on to the balcony trailing streamers of dust-cloud just as the shooter was climbing in.  My momentum fueled the kick I planted in the shooter’s chest.  His jumper absorbed most of the impact, but it was enough to spin him in a tight circle and back out over the sidewalk. 

Dumbass, I thought as he tumbled through the initial arc of his descent, should’ve kept the grippers on and stayed put.  Shot me from over the balcony edge.

Cursing, I drew Thumper and bolted away from the crack of bullets that were now gnawing their way across the balcony toward me.  Sashe’s Delta was obviously on top of things, having already swapped from the sonic to the rifle it was attached to.  They were taking my Case 9 status seriously.

Half blind and choking on plaster dust I stumbled through the sleeping room and out the suite’s door, grabbing my bag on the way out.  It was time to see if Sashe’s Close Security was as good as her sniper.