[Ghost] (over the roar of the AV): What’s that gun you’re cleaning Drew?
[Drew]: An Arasaka Arms WSSE/R, Ghost. Alt gave it to me! Isn’t it sooo cool!
[Ghost]: It’s not automatic though … is it a sniper rifle?
[Drew]: That’s right Ghost, it’s a sniper rifle. Today I’m going in last! This thing has so much power it can take down a light-armoured vehicle, so I got it off Alt for when we meet the FBRs! They aren’t going to slow us down this time!
[Ghost]: We’re gonna meet FBRs again …? I don’t think I like that …
[Drew] (happily checking her nails, having finished cleaning the gun): Well we can’t get away on an oil rig, can we Ghost? So we just have to kill them first! And that’s why I’m here!!!
Sam and Theo (1)
They come to me with
But all I see is change and bodies burnt;
They come to me with
But all I see is blood and chances lost;
They come to me with
Choral fucking approval of every thing I do
But all I see is cost.
“Come on Samantha, we have to get away from here. Someone’s attacked the rig!” Theo moved away from the window and, pausing for timing, jumped through the madly oscillating iris door. Shotgun pointed down the hallway, he gestured for Samantha to jump through. “Be careful!” The madly-flickering lights of the hallway cast his his shadow in stark, jumping relief on the far wall, the sheen of sweat on his face gleaming dully when the lights flashed on.
Samantha jumped out and looked warily down the hallway for signs of her maddened followers. “They weren’t ready Theo! I was sure that their prayers and cleansing would have been enough, but they couldn’t bear it. Why weren’t they ready Theo!? How did I fail them?”
Theo started pushing her up the stairs, keeping half-turned in the downward direction, shotgun in hand. He was wearing his greasy work overalls, which were stuck in patches to his body in the intolerable heat of the oil rig. Samantha, as always, remained serenely unaware of the heat, rising above the concerns of the flesh as befitted her holiness. Her soul, sanctified and separate, would not be brought low by the grubbiness of flesh. “You didn’t fail them Samantha, they failed you! They weren’t ready because they’re frail. No one is good enough for you.” He flinched as the roar of heavy gunfire echoed up the shaft. They were walking on the inner stairs now, the central core of the rig’s living quarters and elevator shafts stretching up to their right, only a cage separating the prophet from the empty darkness of the pit. It was from down in that pit that the gunfire rang out, as SennTech killers mopped up the remaining crazies. The MACNIC was already gone, leaving a clot of chaos and destruction in its wake, stolen by SennTech raiders in the confusion. “Your followers in the higher sections seem to have resisted the madness, Sam, maybe we can try again with them.”
They reached Samantha’s study and conference room, Theo’s temporary goal. Here was a small room she could hide in, weapons, and a viewing deck over the rig. The door was slamming open and shut in a viciously random way. Samantha looked dubiously at it. “As if the rig itself has failed me,” she muttered, and looked to Theo. “Why does even inanimate matter rebel now, Theo!?” For a moment, lip quivering, eyes brimming, she looked almost mortal, like the young woman whose seeming she had adopted to walk this frame and spare her Children.
He grunted. “It’s not rebelling Sam, the MACNIC destroyed the husk! Christobel told me before …” His voice trailed off. In desperation, and to force away tears, he fired his shotgun at the flickering lights of the door’s control panel. The roar of the gun steadied his nerves, but not the door, which continued its paroxysms of mechanical indecision. Now it opened and closed more slowly though, a metallic tearing sound coming from inside somewhere where the gears ground. Samantha jumped in.
She turned to look back as he followed. “We can’t try again Theo, we’ve lost the MACNIC. After all we did it’s been taken from us!”
Theo placed his shotgun on the table facing the door. From the room beyond a roaring boom erupted, as an AV flyer outside crashed into the deck. Machine gun fire chattered. He was rummaging through a case, pulling out other weapons. “We have to convince Carnage to help us, Samantha,” he reassured her as he dug around, pulling out bullets and clips.
Somewhere outside a brilliant light flashed, painting Samantha’s delicate features porcelain white for just an instant. Neither of them started at the explosion. “He’s faithless Theo. Why do I have to rely on faithless ones now, when I’m so close!?”
Somewhere out there in the spray and mist, her sister’s AV came growling in.
Hartigan was crouched to the right of the AV door, clipped on still because the assault path was hectic and the pilot, Goose, was throwing desperate manoeuvres as he barrelled in through the congested airspace above the rig. They were close, warning lights flashing on the door. Hartigan had set the plan and he was reviewing it now, voice strained and belting over the roar of the engines.
“There are at least two forces down there trying to kill each other! It’s chaos. We’re hauling in to the edge of one battle zone at the edge of the rig. On the inside edge of the rig there’s an entryway to the residential tower, it’s maybe 80 metres from our set down point. When we hit the deck we get out of the AV fast because it has to keep moving. Me and Coyote go out first and push forwards.” He tapped the massive machine gun strapped to his power armour. “If we’re lucky they’ll be so busy killing each other that they’ll ignore us till we get to the doors but if anyone notices, I’ll discourage them.” A grim smile. “Coyote, you let your dog get your back, just try and move as fast as you can to the door and then get us covering fire.” Coyote patted his dog – a robotic beast the size of a doberman with glowing red eyes and a nasty set of rocket launchers pointing out of its chest. The dog growled. “Ghost, once you’re down you run straight for the door as fast you can, once you’re at the door get into cyberspace and take down any serious threats. Drew will stay at the landing site and provide covering fire. Drew, take down the heaviest weapons first.” Drew nodded, eyes pale as ice, skin toned down to alabaster. Ghost looked green and shakey, even with Drew’s reassuring hand on his shoulder. They all nodded to each other, once, quickly, and drew their helmets on. Final comms check.
The AV’s movement changed. There was a sickening lurch as it wrenched into its landing pattern and roaring as it slowed to landing, Goose shouting warnings in their ears. The doors were already sliding open, to reveal a scene of slaughter. In front of them on the burning deck of the oil rig a small group of men were repairing a heavily armed AV bike, working quickly and crouched low. Machine gun fire echoed overhead and the air buzzed with flyers, wasp-like AV bikes flitting across the deck in pursuit of larger, heavily-armed assault vehicles. As the doors opened wider they saw another group of men, taking a pause in battle to smoke and talking to each other, guns ready. Off to their left three men in what looked like scuba gear were hacking a group of white-clad civilians to death with chain-machetes. There were bodies scattered around the decking, and on the far side of the deck near their destination they could see groups of white-clad civilians huddled against the wall or trying to help each other. One group must have recently been in combat, because they lay dead and smoking with their weapons scattered around them. The squad of guys who had gunned them down were turning to the AV, inscrutable in light combat armour and purpose unclear. This field of cruelty was framed on left and right by the spars of the oil rig, which stretched from its centre out to near the edge of the deck. Beyond those huge steel and plastic structures they could hear the sounds of combat.
The AV hit the deck with a crunching sound and they unhooked. As Hartigan, Coyote and the dog leapt out Drew saw two machine gun nests on the top of the left-most spar, one firing at passing AVs and one turning to focus down at them. She fired from the hip and the gunner disappeared, the gun sagging uncontrolled in his absence. “Machine gun nest clear,” she announced calmly, and dropped out of the AV onto the deck. It was already rising when she landed, crouched and ready. Ghost, Coyote and Hartigan were already well ahead, sprinting past the bike guys and fanning out. The smoking guys and the bike repairmen ignored them; the machete guys were still hard at work on their victims, who must by now be cold meat. Only the four guys on killing duty saw them coming, and turning round the first they saw was Ghost. All four opened fire, fast and loose from the hip. Most missed but a few struck his legs and he staggered, trying to take control of their cybernetics as he staggered but finding nothing. Pops skidded to a halt and opened up with his hip-mounted machine gun, turning the four of them to red mist.
At the same time the second machine gunner noticed them, and starting turning his gun to bear. On one knee at the back in open space, calm and clear, Drew fired once. Metal and concrete cracked and the gunner disappeared, blood splattering on the wall behind him. “Machine gun nest clear,” she said calmly, and turned her focus on the rocket launcher…
Alt: Goose, are they in?
Goose: In, boss, but it’s a shit show in there. Carnage and the Children of Exalta are fighting but SennTech have come in too. The team’s fighting across the deck. Where’s the backup?
Alt: Coming but they got hit on the way. Is Carnage trying to get Samantha?
Goose: I don’t know, but it looks like civil war down there. Some kind of disagreement? The team will find her if she’s here. If they make it to the – fuck!
Alt: Stay focused Goose! What’s in the husk?
Goose: (after a moment) Sorry, under fire. The husk is a wreck. Someone activated the MACNIC and it’s wrecked the husk, except a part at the base of the rig that’s been evaporated. I guess that’s why they’re all fighting each other. MACNIC exposure. Could Samantha have –
Alt: NO! THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN!
Alt: Stay close Goose. Keep track of them. When they find Samantha I need to use you to link to them. You’ll be my relay.
Goose: I’ll do my best boss but – fuck! – sorry – wait – fucking die you fucker! – fuck – sorry! okay yeah I’ll do my best. JUST GET MY FUCKING BACKUP HERE
Alt: Stay cool and stay alive Goose I need you. They’re coming.
They ran forward. Drew shot the rocket man before he noticed them, hitting him in the head just as he was focused on another AV, but the power of the rifle rocked him the wrong way so his missile launcher didn’t fall where they could grab it. “Missile launcher clear!” She stayed where she was, near the edge of the deck with a view of the whole quadrangle.
The four smoking men noticed that action was starting, but before they could establish firing positions on Coyote Hartigan gunned them down, and they fell twitching to the slick deck. Ghost had stopped to check for signs of movement in the net, and to start hacking people’s cyberware. The bike repairers were ignoring the whole brutal scene, as if white-clad missionaries being hacked to death and chain guns at full volume were a normal part of the workshop experience. They ran, but Coyote noticed the three machete men were losing interest in their butchery, and that Ghost had gone into the husk, so he slowed down to keep watch.
One of the machete men noticed them and turned to move, tugging his machete out of a corpse and focusing on Coyote. Drew fired, and the man’s chest disappeared in a visceral cloud, his whole body twitching so vigorously that he spun on the blood of his victims. The other two noticed and began to run, one towards Coyote and one for Ghost. “Coyote, Ghost, trouble!” Drew announced calmly. Hartigan was running again, following the original plan because he hadn’t seen Coyote and Ghost break it. Coyote turned to face the rushing madman, drawing pistol and powerknife, and set himself. Ghost hauled himself out of cyberspace and opened fire on the incoming madman, but missed. In the chaos and blood of the deck, dodging that fusillade, Ghost’s assailant slipped short of the strike and came to a halt right in front of his rifle.
Man’s best friend
“Dog, defend!” Oh fuck that’s not just a cyberarm these guys are completely fucking robotic here he comes – uhn! – fuck strong agh
I WILL KILL YOU I WILL KILL YOU I WILL FUCKING GUT YOU AND YOUR FUCKING DOG AH fuck he’s fast
Defense protocol A701 onrushing single assailant heavily armed non-ballistic: initial strike to motile extremities.
FUCKING DOG HAS MY FUCKING LEG I WILL FUCK THAT HURTS I WILL GET OFF MY LEG YOU FUCKING SAVAGE THING I WILL – fuck it’s made of fucking metal
As the raging cyberpsycho tried to strike the dog he lifted his arm high, chain-machete in hand, but momentarily forgetting Coyote he was too slow. The dog leapt and pushed, and in trying to retain his balance the man waved his arm, slowed the strike. Coyote punched him in the guts, feeling not much yield from skinweave and hardened muscle but getting enough reaction to make time, and as the dog fell back he spun, powerknife whirling, and drove up from hip to shoulder under that outreaching arm. For a moment the cyberpsycho locked eyes with him and –
FUCKING DOG I WILL GET OFF ME YOU METAL FUCKING MUTT IT’S HEAVY BUT I WILL CUT ITS HEAD OFF I WILL – ugh fuck that is
– slowly reality dawned on him, the eyes clouding up, blood spurting suddenly in gouts from his mouth as his body slid apart, upper half to the left and lower half quivering slightly, then falling in a fountain of crimson away from Coyote.
She heard it coming but it was Hartigan’s warning that brought her to bear on it. “Drew, flyer!” She twisted and saw the vicious wasp-like AV bike bearing down on her, the pilot cocooned in metal and bullet-proof glass, some kind of net hanging below the cockpit ready to be dropped on her. No matter, Alt’s toy was designed for this. She fired once and somewhere at the back of the bike something exploded. It twisted in mid-air, the pilot looking suddenly surprised, and coiled off out of the melee zone, spinning in the air and leaving a thick trail of acrid smoke. Somewhere on the other side of the spar it exploded, and oily cloud of thick black smoke washing under the spar and rolling over the pile of bodies like a vengeful ghost.
“Loading!” She ejected a cartridge and slammed in the next. The last. Arasaka WSSE/R ammunition is not available on the open market and Alt had only given her the two.
Best make them count. 30 metres away Ghost and the last cyberpsycho were frozen in a tableau, the cyberpsycho on his knees right in front of Ghost’s gun. Ghost opened fire but somehow the man dodged, smashing the gun aside and leaping to tackle him, hitting him in the chest and knocking him backwards. They fell to the ground, cyberpsycho on top, chainsaw machete raised and Ghost’s screams of terror in everyone’s ears. Hartigan couldn’t do anything because the bike repairers had finally noticed the battle and were pulling out weapons, and he had to gun them down where they stood. But that moment of frozen terror and the leap were enough for Drew, who slammed that last cartridge in and fired. The cyberpsycho twitched manically as the bullet hit him but somehow a gun that could take down an armoured bike couldn’t kill this maniac, and ignoring everyone else he reached down and started clawing at Ghost’s armour, trying to rip it open so he could do some surgery with that machete.
Ghost went limp, dropping back into cyberspace, but he wasn’t alone. It’s easy not to notice in a battle, but Ghost had also acquired a new toy from Alt: a small floating drone, a ball about 30cm across that drifted near him in battle. Mostly used for surveillance, it could extrude spider-like legs and had a small but vicious laser it could use to attack when needed. Ghost had intended to use it for advance scouting but here was its moment of glory. Under his instructions it landed on the cyberpsycho’s back and grabbed on, letting loose with the laser on his helmet. Distracted by the sudden burn, he grabbed the ball and tried to throw it. As he threw Ghost reached into his neural systems, shuffling through catalogues of cyber equipment until he found the most essential and the most vulnerable: the man had cyberlungs. He shut them down.
As the choking started he threw the man off and staggered to his feet. They ran.
Sam and Theo (2)
How shall I explain the dying that was done?
Shall I say that each one did the math, and wrote
The value of his days
Against the bloody margin, in an understated hand?
They will want to know
How was the audit done?
And I shall say that it was done,
By those who knew the worth
Of what was spent that day.
“Carnage might be faithless Sam, but he’s still trying to defend the rig.” Theo was at the window of the inner room of Sam’s sanctum, looking out of half-open blinds at the chaos outside. “Maybe he can help us still.” Puzzled, he watched a squad of four armoured men slaughter their way across the deck, an AV lifting off erratically from where they had set down. As it lighted away flyers from both sides – SennTech and the rig – attacked it. Somewhere below, out of Theo’s line of sight, a group of men finished murdering a handful of Sam’s followers, turned to open fire on those men, and were gunned down without ceremony. Things were moving, and Samantha could only see fragments of the machinery behind that movement.
Sam grabbed his shoulder. “My people are dying Theo! And he doesn’t care! He’s locked away upstairs and his men are just fighting for the rig.” She turned away, slamming her hand on the unyielding steel of the rig. “He just cares about property, his possessions. He just …” For a moment Theo thought she would break down. “… he wants his … possessions.” She rested her head on the wall. “Just like Blue.” Deep breaths, and she turned to look at him, eyes steely with that famous resolve that had brought her across the world into Theo’s orbit, no, that resolve that had bent the earth and time and space to its will so that he could be drawn into her orbit, to look upon her, to be near her, to protect her…
“We can’t let him get the MACNIC Theo, I thought he’d help me but he was just using me. We need to find a new way to get it back before it’s too late. SennTech are weak, maybe we can find them, or find someone who can get it back. We just need to stay free. Let’s find a way out of this. Get weapons. We need to get ready to go.”
How does she do it, he wondered? How can she remain committed to such a path? First Blue, now this setback with Carnage. They had lost so much to steal the MACNIC from Biotechnica, and now they lost it almost immediately to a company everyone thought was dead, after days of arguments and threats and infighting with Carnage. And already she was thinking there was a way to get it back. Such ferocity…
He stared at her in awe until she slapped his shoulder. “Weapons Theo! I will pack up the notes and research discs. Get ready to leave! Gather anyone who is still listening! We have a fate to meet!”
They hit the wall, panting. There was a half-broken door and a tunnel, with white-cloaked men and women crouched around it, praying. Inside the tunnel some of their compatriots’ bodies were piled up in front of a half-broken door. Getting through that door looked like a death trap. Coyote grabbed the nearest white-cloaked croucher and showed him a picture. “This girl! Where is she!?” He pointed up, at the top of the tower.
They looked back at the bike-repairers, dead or twitching around their bikes. Other bikes were parked under the spar. The deck was empty except for bodies, smoke, and blood. They ran, and flew.
The top of the rig was barricaded, a kind of lighthouse structure with storm shutters drawn down. They landed on a narrow ledge and dismounted, but there was no obvious way in through the blast shutters. A narrow, wind-blasted flight of stairs curled down around the tower. Below them flyers flitted by, firing at each other. This precarious ledge was no place to stop and make plans. They ran down. Ghost guided them, hacking the local ‘net to find entry points. Some distance down they found a door, which they broke through. There were people inside, white-cloaked, in residences clustered around a central column of empty space. These people greeted them with whispers of “The messengers”. It was subdued and reverential, but from somewhere far below they could hear gunfire, and distant laughter. They ran up, until they met a blast door that obviously sealed off the topmost section of the tower. Was Samantha in there?
There were residences here, and unthreatening sane people, probably Children of Exalta. While Coyote and Hartigan set them to work building barricades against the people below Ghost investigated the entryways to the room beyond the door. The door was impregnable, but he found an airconditioning duct. Into this he slid his floating drone, which went scuttling off down the duct. Soon it found a gap from which it could look into the room below. Ghost broadcast images to the team on a tight channel.
Inside the room was terror. A group of men were arming up a set of wicked-looking AV bikes, much more heavily armed than the bikes already in the air outside. Beyond the busy-work on the bikes was a spacious room, with control panels and a lot of weaponry spread around. In the middle of a room, at a large control panel, a milky-eyed, half-dressed young man stood swaying in ecstasy, head thrown back, microphone in hand, yelling into the microphone.
Outside, on every level, and inside at regular points throughout the pit, speakers broadcast his screams. The whole rig reverberated with that one word like an avant garde rock concert. Outside people died, hid, ran, jumped into the sea, to the rhythm of that thin man’s screams. Beyond him stood a wasp-waisted, vicious looking man made almost entirely of metal, sheathed in a mimicry of skin. Carnage, the boss of the rig, head of the “Santos” family. Sometime ally of the mysterious Samantha. Smoking, calm as a Russian mercenary, watching his men preparing the second wave of bikes. A man with no fear.
The drone withdrew. The group withdrew. Samantha was not there. Coyote grabbed a nearby white-cloaked woman. “Where is Samantha!?”
She pointed down. They ran down.
Ethics on the precipice
I have no excuses, least of all for God.
Like all tyrants, he is not worthy of the spit you would waste on negotiations.
The deal we have is infinitely simpler – I don’t call him to account, and he extends me the same courtesy.
They found Sam and Theo halfway down the pit. Sounds of desultory gunfire floated up from below, and weak-willed Children of Exalta hung around, waiting to ambush them and running away when confronted. At some point there were no more Children, and they found Theo in the doorway, full body armour now and shotgun in hand, brave but obviously outnumbered. Still, a doorway and a shotgun – not a good outcome. They talked, made no progress, until Sam came out. Somehow Drew got inside, stood on the far side of the room. Hartigan took off his helmet, they started to talk.
Somehow someone revealed they were here from Alt, to rescue Samantha. She panicked. Alt? Alt didn’t have Samantha’s interests at heart! How did they get here!? How did they know about her!?
Now that’s a long story, with much pain and blood (mostly theirs). No time to talk about it now. But Theo was standing there with a shotgun, and Samantha was refusing to budge. Hartigan will kill a man for not much but he won’t touch a young woman for a bounty. An impasse.
Coyote stepped forward. She knew his father, a scientist at the institution where the bad things happened. She quivered. Really, him? Dr. Kruger, the only nice man at the institution? She remembered him. Coyote made an offer – they would leave here, head to the Crash Zone together, set down there and talk about what to do next. The rig was falling apart so they had to get out, if they left now they could get away before Alt’s reinforcements arrived, and for a few days at least everyone would be safe. Fair?
While they talked Ghost dived. He felt something, something bad, so he dived into the ‘net to find it. There it was – threads of connection reaching out to all of them. Their neuralware hacked! He cut some strands and followed one back to find – Goose – and beyond that, a link to Alt. Alt was using Goose as a relay to hack into everyone’s neuralware and spy on everything they were doing – just as they were negotiating with her sister! Ghost couldn’t hack that thread to the mighty transsubstantiator, but Goose was in battle and distracted – so he fried Goose. Burnt out all his neuralware and his cybermodem, so no one could contact him. That meant burning out his smartgun link and his vehicle link, probably his eyes. Goose was toast.
So what. No one intrudes on Ghost’s mind. Let Goose drown out here in the South China Sea. Then he tried to get out. But Alt was coming in through other links, soldiers on the rig or satellites or distant incoming AV pilots. Ghost tried to fight them all but he couldn’t. He broke the connection and yelled to everyone
TURN IT OFF TURN IT ALL OFF GO FLESH GO MEAT GO LOTECH WE ARE FOUND WE ARE HACKED SHE IS IN US
They shut down their neuralware. How much did Alt know about their deal? How fast had Ghost been in frying Goose?
Time to leave …
Some kind of exit
They ran up the inner core of the rig, passing discarded cultists and the detritus of a spiritual mission spurned. Now it was just Theo and Sam. From below came screams and gunfire as someone cleaned up the last resistance. Outside were explosions and death. Goose was gone but Ghost could feel the pressure of Alt’s incoming reinforcements, AVs hurtling in at hypersonic speed. They barreled out of the rig and onto the narrow, precarious stairs. Down below cleanup was underway, Carnage’s men murdering Children of Exalta and the few remaining SennTech soldiers alike. Flyers still fought but now Carnage’s better bikes had flown the nest, and the attacking AVs were being pushed back.
They should have realized then that they were in trouble. Their bikes were parked at the tower’s top, by that bulbous shuttered top room – right where Carnage was waiting. But now those special bikes were out – he had raised the shutters and joined the fray, which meant he had seen their bikes when he released his own. He must know about them.
They sprinted around a corner, hitting the last stretch of the steps to their bikes, freedom in reach, and there he was, stubbing out a cigarette and turning to look at them.
“Well hello there.”
fn1: 29 on 9d10, wtf?!