Hartigan’s new Rail Gun had its own voice. A gun this big needs its own voice, to match the heft of its action. This gun was so heavy that it had to be mounted on his armour with a special harness that bore the weight and enabled him to move it freely in its firing arc; it was too heavy for a normal man, even a strong man with cyber-enhancements, to carry, and the only reason he could take it into the ruins of this building and up those stairs was the power armour he had attached it to. Such a gun, with such heft, that fired a fist-sized slug of super-heated magnetic metal at hypersonic speeds, deserved its own voice. This was the kind of gun that didn’t just back up your opinions; it had its own.
Hartigan was slightly disappointed, then, to discover that his gun’s voice was the voice of a demure Japanese lady. He had enough insane gun-girls in his life, he didn’t need one inside his helmet, but there she was.
“Please wait, I am charging!”
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting! Please fire at will!”
“Let’s enjoy recharging together!”
“Attention! Heat warning! If the power pack melts, your situation will become hazardous!”
“I think my harness is jammed! Impaired mobility can be fatal! Please release my harness!”
Fortunately he hadn’t heard the last two yet, but he still had to grit his teeth every time he fired up the rail gun and heard her welcoming him with her little Arasaka speech. She was so breathlessly excited about firing super-heated fist-sized slugs of magnetic metal, and so indomitably cheerful about the destruction her work wrought. An attitude of careless abandon he was all too used to in his other team members, and did not need every time he squeezed the trigger.
Oh, but what a gun – and what a battle it saved him in.
He was meant to be stealthy in the building, taking a cover position so he could blow the ACPA away from afar. You don’t carry a rail gun because you’re expecting trench warfare, so he and his guard dog so carefully picked their way up the stairs in that ruined building, taking their position near the front of the building with a view of the crater and the sprawling mess of this part of the Pit. The ACPA was standing there, silent in its vigil just beyond the closest wrecked building. It stood, a giant robotic steel human, maybe 3m tall, hoverpack engaged but not active, a huge heavy machine gun in one hand and a massive power sword extended from the other. Somewhere in that super-armoured shell was a human, operating the mecha frame as if it were his or her own limbs. Even with a rail gun, anything but a head shot would be a waste of time. But Hartigan was not planning to shoot the ACPA – he was trying to get a clear shot at the stone in the centre of the crater. One shot on that and the entire area would be cleared out.
Unfortunately, the ACPA heard him. And it was fast. It burst from its standing start skywards and into a firing position so fast that Hartigan didn’t have time to move. That huge gun fired as it hurtled over, blowing his cover away in a rain of concrete and hammering him back in shock. As he fell the robodog leapt forward, taking the remaining shots in Hartigan’s stead and then bouncing back into him, scuttling away into the shadows. The ACPA flew closer, shell casings scattering behind it. Hartigan didn’t have much time and his aim had been broken by the rain of concrete and twisted metal, but he had to do it; targeting systems flicked back to the stone, servos whirled, and he fired.
“Great shot!” She declared, a huge force of beaming encouragement resounding through the statement. A moment later the distant stone burst into blue light, the flashguard on Hartigan’s helmet dimmed, and when he looked again the Arasaka force had been obliterated. Two small figures hurled themselves out of cover and down towards the stone. Job done! Drew and Ghost were heading for the stone.
Then the rockets hit. The bare stone floor shuddered and rippled and moments later he was falling from the open window, projected outwards by the blast of the ACPA’s rockets and hurtling to the rubble-strewn ground five floors down. For a split second as he somersaulted uncontrolled through the air he remembered he was wearing an AV Belt, hijacked from the Children of Exalta, and started desperately trying to remember if it was one of the belts that had taken damage. Would it take? The world spun, somewhere up above fire billowed from the cover he had been hiding in, slivers of stone and broken metal careened past him, then a dizzying perspective of dark sky and bleak wreckage-strewn ground, alarmingly close and spinning madly. Then with a wrench the AV Belt surged to life, just in time to send him sprawling over a pile of broken metal. Pain roared across his back but the power armour took it, and a moment later he was lying on the rubble in silence, watching a slowly-expanding cloud of smoke and dust from the building he’d been hiding in, desperately scanning the sky for the ACPA.
As he struggled upright and backed into cover behind the rubble he heard Drew and Ghost in his earpiece.
“Ungh, ugh – ” sound of heavy gunfire, “You – ” heavy breathing, more gunfire ” – Ghost! I got the Samurai! Get the stone!”
He crouched down behind the rubble, which looked like it must have once been a couple of cars parked around some kind of electrical charging point disguised as a statue. They were all mashed together now, a jumble of metal and stone surmounted by a car aerial with a Mercedes symbol on it, which he had flattened in his fall. The aerial was bent double over the wreckage, the Mercedes symbol twisted over so now it looked like the famous Oil Age Peace symbol that had passed away into history with nation states. Looking through it like a gunsight, Hartigan saw movement at the top of the building he had fallen from. The ACPA was moving slowly to the edge of the roof, looking for him.
He had time, the gun was charged. He aimed carefully, waiting for the machine to peek a little further over. Inevitably it did, but before he could take a shot it opened fire, and to his horror that mess of carbon fibre, steel and concrete in front of him dissolved in a hail of bullets. After what felt like a millenium the firing stopped, the dust cleared and he found himself standing in the open, several metres back from his point of cover and surrounded by fragments of statue and car.
He grunted. Somehow he thought he should be dead. His power armour was shredded in places and he stung all across his chest, but Hartigan didn’t give up just because of a couple of bruises. He planted his feet, and from somewhere deep inside him arose an implacable will to carry on. He remembered his daughter Sayuri, laughing and happy in his home, then broken and crumpled on the stairs, empty shell of all his dreams. Her empty eyes stared accusingly at him, reminding him of everything that he had failed to protect, the consequences of weakness. She was gone, but somewhere behind him there were people depending on him, a young girl like Sayuri might have become, friends who trusted him, friends who had put him here with this gun to do just this job, and do it right. This time.
Anger rushed through him, and the pain faded. He grunted again, fired. The gun roared, harness kicked, behind him a swirl of dust ballooned outwards, and moments later the ACPA’s face exploded.
“Good job!” The rail gun whirred into rest mode.
A slow release of breath as the dust cleared. The ACPA swayed for a moment on the edge of the parapet, smoke and sparks rippling across the cowl of its head. Then it leapt into the air and came hurtling towards him, its enormous rifle tumbling away into empty space as it charged. He had a brief moment, watching it spearing towards him, to think he must have hit its targeting systems, and then it smashed into him, hitting with its right knee as it came sliding in to a crashing halt amongst the remains of his cover. Its knee hit him square in the chest with the force of a steam train, jarring through all his body at once and hurling him back through the air. As he spun skyward somewhere in the back of his consciousness he felt something break, and noticed that he would probably not be able to breathe for a couple of seconds, and then only painfully; but through the fog of anger and obstinacy these feelings didn’t really register. A moment later his bruised body jerked as the AV belt kicked in, and he landed on his feet, miraculously facing the ACPA and still breathing. Now he stood about 20m distant from the thing, which was standing there in open space looking at him, breathing hard but not yet dead, somehow.
Somehow, his assault rifle had ended up in his hands. He must have grabbed it on its harness as he was careening through the air. Whatever. He grunted, and opened fire, released the entire clip straight at the stupid machine. It kicked and writhed in his grip so hard he had to grit his teeth and cling on, but after a few moments it went limp in his hands and he dropped it.
The ACPA was standing there, looking at him. He could swear it tilted its head slightly, as if it were wondering how he was still alive after that knee strike, and why he was exhausting such a pathetic weapon on it. Somewhere inside its multilayered composite armour shell an Arasaka operative was planning his imminent death. And tilting its head as if to wonder why he was still trying to fight, the arrogant little bastard.
The ACPA crouched, started to lower itself into a squat ready for another leap. One arm did something and a huge sword slid out of the casing on the arm, shivering in the dusty air as some kind of power blade activated. That thing would cut through his power armour like butter. It raised the sword and tensed its legs, sank down and prepared to leap.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting!” The gun declared in a chirpy voice. “Please fire at will!” A light blinked on inside his helmet and the rail gun slid smoothly into operative position, fixing by default on the last known target – the ACPA. Hartigan touched the fire button and the gun roared, pushed him back a metre in a cloud of dust and super-heated gases. “Good job!” The gun declared in its perkiest little-maid voice.
The ACPA came to a halt just before its leap. It stopped, swayed a little on its tensed legs, and seemed to stare at Hartigan blankly. A moment later the head exploded, and sparks and fire started coruscating across its chest. It swayed in place for a moment, sparking and smoking, and then crashed gracelessly to the side.
“Coyote here. AV inbound, prepare for evac.” Coyote’s gruff, reassuring voice came in over the radio. Hartigan turned towards the crater. “Good job!” He whispered, patting the gun, and set off in the direction of his team.
His body started to hurt. Nearly there, Sayuri, nearly there. We’ll get this done yet, I promise you.