by Graham Drew
Some guy hired some people to get some guy out of some building so they went to some apartment to make some plans.
"It was relatively easy getting' in," Lysol explained. "They keep the records so loose at the datastores they might as well be public."
They were all sitting on crates marked "C-12, High Explosives, Keep out of reach of small children" in Zak's doss. It was a fairly small place, and the stockpiles of weapons contributed to the effect. There were enough Ares Predators, FN-HARs and other guns and implements of destruction to equip a small nation, or destroy one for that matter. Lysol spread a large blueprint over the faded shag carpeting riddled with stains of whose origins he didn't even want to consider.
"Let's go in through the venty shafts. I want everybody to load up on Jell-O rounds, keep collateral damage to a minimum. When the drek hits the fan we're gunna need some major stuff though. Armor piercing, explosives, whatever you can fit in your boom-broom and still get it to go pop. I want silencers and sound suppressers on em too, no use wearin' a bit sign that says 'shoot my ugly hoop.' If you need ammo, I got plenty" Zak said, opening his closet. Inside, wrapped around numerous hangers were belts upon belts of ammunition. On the bottom carelessly pilled were clips of all sizes and shapes witch started to spill out onto the floor as the door was released. Everyone gasped, they had all known that Zak was a tad extreme but there were enough rounds to fuel the Desert Wars, both sides. Zak pulled a chest off of an overhead shelf, bowing under the weight; He quickly punched a code key into the blinking alphanumeric keypad as it popped open with a soft click. He pulled out a tan plastic cased Sony GPS unit and handed the object to Lysol.
"Load it up with the map, mainly the vents, from the plan they look like a network of mazes. From there we can drop straight into the elevator shaft." Pointing to Lysol again he continued, "you make sure the elevator is there when we are ready to drop". From there we can gain access to the third floor, where our friend's quarters should be. We run at 3 AM, he should be sleeping and an easy snatch. Any questions?"
"What's plan B?"
"We run like hell for the front door."
"Great, I'm looking forward to it" Stomper said.
"We'll remember the humor when we're talkin' with the organleggers" Zak said with a chuckle.
"What time is it" Banana asked?
"Fourteen till two" Lysol replied, looking at the small LCD readout on her cyberdeck.
"Let's move, we meet at the Stuffer Shack at half passed two."
Stomper, Zak, and Banana were assembled in the dark alleyway next to the target building as gusts of wind blew old copies of the Seattle Times across the bleak streets. Each was decked out in several layers of black stealth Kevlar armored clothing. Over that each wore an Ares Combat Bandoleer, which doubled as a climbing harness.
Zak slipped his Philips Tacticom unit around his right ear and placed the sub-vocalization microphone onto his through, it's sticky surface holding fast. The cold aluminum calmed him, assuring him of assistance at a second's notice.
"Comm check" Zak said at a volume below a whisper, the microphone picking up the vibrations of he vocal cords and broadcasting them throughout Seattle, or at least to anyone who could decrypt the signals.
"Loud and clear" Stomper responded.
Zak said, "Get on that rigger," to Lysol.
Zak and the rest of the team had already stealthily worked their way up the rusted fire escape, it's creaks and groans not noticed over the normal sounds of a breezy Seattle night. Once at the top Stomper removed a grapple gun from his sack and fired the hook across the gap spanning the two buildings. He gave it a firm tug to make sure it was secure, and then hammered a piton into the plastcrete at his feet. Threading the line through the eyelet, he tied it off tightly. He then motioned to Banana to start across as Zak pulled out Punch and Judy to cover the street. Stomper was next, the industrial strength cable sagging under the sheer weight of the ork's body. Upon reaching the other side, he jerked his Ares Alpha Combat Gun off his shoulder, checked the clip load and trained it on the street below, covering Zak. Zak then holstered the heavy sub-machine guns and started shimmying across the cable. 'Null perspiration' he thought to himself. Upon reaching the other side Banana produced a small stick from her bandoleer and touched it to the anchored line, causing it to crumble to dust as the released hook clattered to the ground. Stomper picked up the hook and shoved it roughly into his pack, stealth line, never leave home without it. The rigger was out on a coffie break so Lysol had no problems getting in.
"Lysol, you still with us?" Zak inquired.
"Yea, I'm fine. I've gained control of the system."
"Great, keep track of our position and look out for trouble. There's something strange in the air..."
"Affirmative, I'll look out for the boogie man while I'm working on the elevator."
Zak took the GPS unit of his sack, pushing the Remington 990 shotgun out of the way to access the zipper. He fixed the unit to he wrist, the kleen-tac backing keeping it steady. Studying it to make sure it was calibrated correctly, he motioned to Stomper towards the vent. Stomper walked over to it and in an amazing feat of strength, ripped the grating from it's mooring bolts.
"Next time, just use a wrench."
"Yea, but a wrench ain't no fun."
"Banana, go astral and check the vents."
Banana firmly closed her eyes in concentration as she felt her spirit leave her body. The astral plane, shadowy mirror of the prime material plane. Her astral body flew down the shaft, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
"All clear" she said, returning to he meat body.
"Good, let's move. I'll take point. Banana, you get the middle. Stomper, you follow up the rear," Zak said, pulling out Punch and Judy as he started toward the vent. He dived into the shaft, multiple layers of combat armor absorbing the brunt of the impact. He started clambering through the aluminum corridors, and soon replaced Punch's position in his hand with a heavy duty Xenon flashlight.
"Ok Peal, you're up."
Banana jumped down the shaft, using levitation to slow her descent, her light tennis shoes not making a sound as they touched the metal of the shaft. 'Showoff' Zak though. Stomper soon followed, his bulk straining the shaft beyond any of its original design specifications, but holding nonetheless with a protesting moan. With Zak carefully navigating down the seemingly endless corridors of dull aluminum ducts with the GPS, they made not a sound. The shaft to the right looked similar to all the others, the only difference being the grating at the end of the long monotonous tunnel. Zak was soon at the end and pushed it into the vertical elevator shaft. Five seconds later, he heard it hit the bottom.
"What in the hell is goin' on?" Zak yelled, "the elevator ain't here!"
"I don't know, all the monitors show it just below the third floor."
"Well the monitors are wrong, cuz it ain't here,"
"I don't like this" Stomper said with a hint of nervousness in his voice.
"The cameras or sensors are probably just malfunctioning, displaying old readings."
"Well, we can probably hitch the descenders on the main cable, if you can make sure the thing doesn't move."
"Seems like that's the only alternative, short of pulling out. That vent shaft was probably way too steep to get back up anyway" Banana said.
"Ok, let's move fast. If Lysol can't control that thing I don't want my head squished into a bloody pulp."
"Zak quickly clipped three hand descenders onto the main cable for the elevator, adjusting them to compensate for the unusual thickness. He grabbed the lower one's handgrip, the rubber pads gnawing at the calluses on his palm.
"Going down" he said as he squeezed the descender, plunging into the darkness. Stomper soon followed, moving Banana's limp body onto the cable and working her descender himself. Soon the three were hovering above the service panel to the area above the suspended ceiling tiles of the corridor, which housed the elevator door.
"Elevator is moving!"
Lightning in motion, a whisper in sound, Zak raised Judy as the HK227 spat out three rounds in rapid succession, each hitting one of the rusted securing bolts, shearing them off instantly and causing the grate to fly into the inky blackness below.
Zak leaped off the descender, continuing it's mad flight down the cable. He barely caught the lip of the shaft in his hands, but had no time to reflect on this. In one smooth motion he somersaulted into the shaft, his back forcing the weakly suspended ceiling tile to give way, falling to the floor and shattering. Judy still in his hand, the heavy weapon spat out three more rounds at the elevator control panel, engaging the manual release mechanism. With a strength of muscles augmented by the best docs of Chiba, he braced his feet and back against the door, flinging it open. All within the time frame of two seconds. Stomper and Banana quickly leaped into the opened door. Stomper made the jump, his booted feet cruelly impacting with the floor in a loud thud. Banana, however, wasn't quite as lucky. Seeing that she wouldn't make the edge Zak continued his spin, using his free hand to grab Banana's wrist and tossed her against the tan wall of the corridor just as the elevator passed over where she had been only seconds before. Two bullets ricochet off the doorframe as Zak pulled Stomper to the dusty linoleum floor.
Zak continued his spin, pulling Punch out of his dusty holster and ending the motion with both barrels pointed at the two security guards at the end of the hall, Zak engaged his Smartlink II system in a nanosecond, two crosshairs appearing on his retina, and the range to target appearing within centimeters. They never stood a chance, Judy's hard rounds entering the short barrels of the Colt Manhunters in a direction they were never meant to take, setting off the EX explosive tips of the rounds loaded in the heavy pistols. The guns blew apart, singing the guards' hands. They had no time to feel the pain, however. Punch's gel rounds impacted with the guards' chests with enough force to cause them to slump into unconsciousness, even through their light armor.
"Hey man, you see the armor those boys wee packin'?" Stomper said, "musta shopped at K-Mart."
"Whatever the hell you guys just did down there triggered something nasty. Benchmark says the system jumped to a Red-10" Lysol said, extremely nervous.
"Alright, we gotta move. Stomper, help me with the meat, we better make sure when they wake up they don't tell their buddies about us."
Zak and Stomper each took an unconscious guard by the shoulders and moved them up into the space above the ceiling tiles.
"We better get going, somebody may still notice they are gone, and we have a mission to complete."
They sneaked along the tan corridors, staying close to the walls, weapons at the ready.
"Have... a ... slight... problem" Lysol managed to spit out over the commlink, putting too much attention on his meat body and not enough on the matrix was suicidal.
"You ain't the only one" Zak yelled over the song of bullets in flight.
A group of heavily armed guards had shown up, assault rifles and all. They didn't shop at K-Mart.
The runners and guards shot each other. Thje runners won.
"Zak, you O.K. man?" Stomper hollered.
"Yea, vest caught them both" Zak lied. The vest had caught the first round, but the second was lodged just above his left lung. It wasn't fatal but it hurt like hell. Zak ripped the tab on a stim patch he had affixed above a vein on his upper arm. Immediately a pre-measured amount of pharmaceuticals flowed into his blood stream, deadening out the pain of the wound.
"Peel, on my mark distract them from behind," Zak said over the commlink.
"Gotcha" Banana replied, projecting herself into astral space. She flew along the corridor, to a spot behind the guards. She then started manifesting and singing "I am the very model of a modern Major General." "Now!" Zak yelled, rolling back out into the corridor. He noticed he had taken down three of the guards in his last volley, and two of the remaining ones were severely wounded. Two of the guards turned around just when Zak rounded the corner. At that moment Stomper too decided to bring the under-barrel mounted grenade launcher to bare on the remains of the unit, and launched a high explosive grenade about a meter in from of the guards, the detonation's smoke obscuring the guards' view, but causing no problem to Zak. He quickly switched to thermographic overlay mode on he electronic wrap-around mirror shades, seeing a perfect image of the guards scrambling to get up. Scrambling to get straight into Zak's line of fire the crosshairs aimed directly at the guards' heads, the APDS rounds piercing though the thin armor of the head guard like a needle through thick paper, and ricocheting inside the skulls. Instantaneous death.
"Lysol, you still with us?"
Yea, yea. I'm fine, nothing as night at Dante's can't fix. You guys O.K.? Sounded heavy in there."
"Yea, we're all fine. They were nothin' but a few rent-a-cops. The slag shouldn't be but twenty five meters, we're pressin' on."
"I'm almost to the main datastore, the real one."
"Ok, Stomper, you cover me. Peel, start working on the exit," Zak said, his padded shoulder resting on the door to the target's room. Punch and Judy were up in a ready position, Zak's finger squeezing with just enough pressure that any more, even a microgram, would cause them to spray bullets into the floor. Zak knew his equipment well.
"Ready," Stomper said, switching his assault rifle into semi-automatic firing mode. It wouldn't be too great to geek the slag they were trying to extract, the Johnson would have their hides upholstering his executive washroom. Zak twisted the knob, his body's weight throwing the portal wide, and the only sound being the knob hitting the bump pad on the wall. Zak kept moving though, reflexively diving towards the floor, tucking into a roll, and shooting out a booted foot, bending his knee and resting his weight on it. He scanned the room, nothing. He switched back into thermographic mode, nothing. The only object in the room was a life-sized cardboard cutout of Bob Hope.
"Damnit, they musta known we were commin'" Zak said, firing a single round at the figure. It passed straight between the cardboard eyes, through the bridge of the cardboard nose, and lodged itself deem in the plastcrete wall on the other side.
"Lysol, you got to the data yet?"
"Almost" Lysol said with a slight pause. "There, wadda ya want to know?"
"Cross-reference the data we got on the slag's retinal pattern, see if you can get his actual location."
"Wait a sec, if they went to all the trouble of making a fake shell system and loading up a fake room, where's the trap? If they went to all this trouble..." Stomper said, cut off in mid sentence. As if on queue the commlink crackled to life as the familiar thunder of gunshots erupted in the distance.
"Incoming" yelled Banana, hurling herself through the still opened door. She quickly snaked her arm though the closing doorframe, and jerked it back, sack to tools in hand. Eyeing the Ares Light Fire in Banana's hand, Zak scowled.
"I wouldn't use that piece of drek for my backup" Zak spat out, shrugging the Remington 990 shotgun off his shoulder, grasping the strap in his hand as it started to fall. He shoved a hand into his pack of ammo, and it emerged holding a heavy belt of shotgun shell. He tossed them both at Banana, who caught them in mid-air.
"Your gunna need a lot more than that popgun in a second" Zak said, motioning toward the light pistol. "Stomper, get those grenades ready. You know the drill."
All three moved in perfect precision, Zak rolling, Stomper spinning, and Banana strafing into the hallway.
"I've got that data you wanted" Lysol chimed in over the commlink."
"We're kinda busy right now," Stomper said as he lofted two airfoil grenades into the squad of guards at the end of the hall. They exploded in mid air like petals of brightly colored flowers retracting into nothingness. A few of them managed to squeeze off a few rounds before the blast blotted out their vision, but they merely impacted with the bullet barrier Banana has erected in front of the team. Only one passed through, and it impacted with the windows behind the team, shattering to bits, the sound of the pieces hitting the floor distant wind chimes. In synchronized procession they all opened fire, wave after wave of deadly projectiles flying towards the guards sprawled on the ground and blind. The echoing image of the grenade blasts burned into their retinas, the last most saw. Zak and Stomper's suppressed fire was softer than the sound of the bullets impacted with plated armor, and ripping through multiple layers of flesh and bone. The two Joes tied to the ceiling panels got off easy; it was like the wrath of God had swept down the corridor, blood spattered across the walls giving them a unique shade of magenta.
"Lysol, what was that on the data?"
"Right boss. The corp roster registers the slag as down two floors in the executive quarters. It looks like the ID badges all of the suits wear have microtrackers, whether they know it or not. Internal security grid says he's in one of the labs in the level right below you."
"OK, I'm hooking the GPS unit up to the tacticom. Feed in the transmitter location of the slag and pinpoint the locations of any bathrooms. Connecting... now," Zak said, while pulling a short datacord out of the rear of the GPS unit and plugging it in to the auxiliary jack on the Philips tacticom. There was a hoard of whirring and clicking, ended by two staccato beeps. Zak quickly unhooked the two units, slipping the comm back over his right ear and attaching the GPS back onto his forearm. Examining the map, he once again spoke.
"OK, looks like the easiest way to get down is to take the good old manual stairs. Fifteen meters down the hall, second right and fourth left," Zak said, grabbing Stomper's assault rifle and swinging the strap onto his shoulder. "Let's move. Wait, Banana, can you check the way in astral?"
"Yea, wait a sec." She brought her fingertips to her temples, the disconcerting effect of leaving her body coming quickly. She flew down the corridors, looking for anything strange. She reached the stairs without incident, but waiting at the landing above were three guards holding what appeared to be hand grenades.
"Small problem guys. Guards on the upper stairs. They're carrying some nasty presents for us, too."
"We go in there, they see us, and they drop. Can you take 'em out?"
"I'll try. Still a little groggy from the bullet shield."
Banana backtracked her position to the door, and quickly switched to astral perception, the auras of the guards burning bright. She unleashed two arrows wrought of pure magical energy, looking like straight-shaft arrows with hawk heads for tips. They impacted almost instantaneously, knocking the guards into the inky blackness of unconsciousness.
"I got em. Don't know how long they'll stay down though," Banana said with spots in her vision as she staggered to the stairwell.
"Take it easy, I'll scout. Lysol, see if you can keep the guards occupied. Don't need any more trouble at this point."
They went down the stairs.
"OK, chummers, it's clear."
"Gotcha, we're heading up."
"Lysol, did you redirect the guards?"
"No, apparently most of them were on the third level. It looks like they expected you to bail when you had the chance."
"No chance of us hard asses doin' that, eh?" Zak said with a chuckle.
"They are moving a few guards down from the top trying to assess the damage."
"What about below us?"
"Looks like they pulled most of them up."
"OK, we grab the slag and exit through the from door. Any objections?"
"Sounds good to me," Stomper said.
"Alright, I think we could all use a good trip to Big Mike's," Banana said, referring to a local street doc.
"OK, let's move."
The trip to the lab where the suit resided was confusing but with Lysol's directions and the GPS unit, they made it in record time, evading the few checkpoint guards. All that was in their way to the suit was a thick door marked "Lab 5668."
"OK, Stomper, you watch the hall. Peel, cover me."
Zak removed the device from the electronic lock, stowing it into the rucksack slung onto his back. He then raised his knee to the door and twisted the knob. Zak felt a sense of deja vu as the door flew open. This time, however, Zak's knee fell to the floor, almost doing the splits as Punch and Judy came up to bear.
"Which one of you is Doctor Dzivago? " Zak yelled roughly.
One researcher meekly raised his hand above his shaking head.
"I am," he said, his voice quavering.
"Everybody else, in the corner," Zak yelled. He then sighted each of the computers and punched a single bullet through each of the CPUs.
"Let's go, doctor," Banana said, grabbing him roughly by the upper arm and leading him out the door.
Zak once again attached the black box to the card swipe.
"Lysol, I want you to fuse the lock."
"OK, I'll try."
A high-pitched whine emitting from the box caught the team's attention as sparks started to fly off the box. The whine got higher and higher in pitch until it reached a peak and died. The box shot off a puff of smoke.
"Better scan the slag first," Zak said, tossing a headset at Stomper. With his one good hand, he caught it and fitted it on the doctor's head. The green light blinked twice and the number ninety-seven appeared on the LCD screen.
"Ninety-seven percent accuracy, it's him," Stomper said. Zak meanwhile was coolly studying the GPS unit's map.
"Lysol, what's this blue area?"
"They are reconstructing the floor. File says they had some problems with an unstable fuel. The workers aren't here now, though."
So they went down the hole and out the building, got their money from the guy, and lived happy kevlar-plated lives.
©1999, Graham Drew - used with permission