"Do you honestly think I had anything to do with this? Have you considered ONI's tactics for getting rid of people they don't exactly want around? Me- not exactly ONI's best friend. They've sent me on so many suicide missions that they renamed them Easly missions. Grissom's dad was being manipulated by ONI, so they didn't like their indirect orders being disobeyed. Caesar here, well he's been around a long time and seen a lot of things he shouldn't have. Leo is the last surviving member of a raid that actually triggered this entire war. You, Dusk, I don't know much about you, but with your attitude, you've probably ticked off more people than the rest of us put together." - Colonel Jak Easly – ‘The Fifth Battle’
How I Learned To Stop Caring And Hate Everything
They call this club, ‘The Dark Side,’ It’s supposedly a reference to some amazingly popular film series or another. All I know is that I never saw the fucking things in my life. I come in here for just two reasons, there’s the cheapness of the booze and the dark little nooks they’ve got stashed away and most assuredly not the kind of new age pop they like to play ridiculously loudly. Apparently the girls around here are supposed to pretty easy as well but I’ve never had to opportunity to find out for myself.
“And you don’t certainly look like that type, so why are you here?” I finished the thought out loud to the smartly dressed lady who’d just slid into the seat opposite me. She lightly flipped me, her card. There was a media corporate logo stamped upon it along with the words: Lora Janus: Investigative Reporter.
I pulled out my gun, a very old, very battered MAP-410 and laid it on the table in front of me, letting my hand lie next to the pistol’s butt, the barrel pointing safely at a wall, but more in her direction than mine.
“So you’re a Reporter. What do you want?”
The young woman didn’t look at all worried at having a gun pointed nearly at her.
“I’m doing a piece on the war.” She said quite calmly.
“Ah,” I said, “I’m getting déjà vu all over again. I thought I already gave this interview, some years ago.”
“Well I’m going for a different angle for a different company, I think. War Veterans and their place in our modern enlightened society.”
“So naturally, you thought of me.” I drawled softly, leaning back into my chair and taking a long swig of the cheap bottled beer.
“Well one does wonder,” she smiled, “ here you are, a Major at war’s end, celebrated hero from some of the ISAF’s greatest Victories, slayer of the Warmaster, healer of heroes and dismantler of Tyrants; sitting in a very cheap, very nasty bar drinking terrible beer, living in an almost derelict apartment and what is it you do for a living, now? Drive a Cab?”
“A Bus actually.” She looked at me blankly.
“Major Ian Tiberous Smith drives a bus now?” she said, shocked and appalled.
I gave her a good long look. Lora Janus is in a word: Stunning. Pretty face, long legs, Beautiful golden hair and a rack that I’m not ashamed to admit I stared at slightly but spite this undeniably beauty and grace there was only one real thing that I thought when I looked at her: She’s so young. Probably doesn’t even remember the war years. God, that makes me feel old. Well its time to let her in on what those days were like.
“Yeah and just so you know, and don’t run off with some form of delusions of grandeur on my behalf, the only Warmaster I’ve ever slain was Trego and he obviously didn’t stay slain, he kinda regenerated in a couple of months but I don’t know how much of that ever reached the History Books and It was just the one ‘Hero’ who’s life I saved with the ol’ med kit. More than once, though now I think about it and the bugger never bought me that drink for it. That’s him off the Christmas card list. As for the Tyrants line, don’t even talk to me about that. I can't take credit for that days work.
Still, I digress, so you’re writing the big piece on how all we stalwart heroes of humanity have got the short end of the stick and are being so terribly neglected by the government of today that you feel compelled to speak out and decry our foul treatment?” She nodded, still looking some what shocked at my circumstances.
“Well then, Miss..” I corrected off a dark look from the young lady, “… Ms Janus, let me tell you a story…”
It was way back, my first operation, back way before you were crawling, back before I was Dusk: Stormcommando, a Major, a Captain or even a lowly Lieutenant. Back then I was just Private Smith in the ISAF Army, that’s the Army, not the Fighter Corp. or the Marines, Carnage or otherwise, and he was almost pissing his pants over his first drop. And like many drops it was hot, Switchblades and Juet'laks all over the place, with our pilots running escort for us as we went down as fast as possible or rather go down as fast as we could controllably go down. The difference was soon going to become apparent.
Anyway our escorts drop down to either side of us, a couple of fighters although I couldn’t tell you what they were, their flyboy pilots probably still remember them down to all the scratches on their canopies but I never was that interested. So they’re both sides of us, waggling their wings a bit and joking amongst themselves, and we hear over the intercom,
“This is Captain Jak Easly, call sign Vader, and I will be you escort for the day. Please have a pleasant flight.” There was half a snigger before the intercom cut off.
Now what are you looking at me like that for? Oh right, Easly, the great hero and saviour, well no doubt we’d both forgotten this particular incident long before we ever served together again and anyway right then he was as much of an asshole flyboy as anyone. Come to think of it he was still like that, the last time I saw him but regardless are you going to let me tell my tale? Or are you just going to get all doe-eyed every time I mention a famous person? Thank you.
So anyway we hit atmo and everything quickly goes to shit, there’s squadrons of Ark Fighters in there and everything gets turned into one massive furball for the fighters and of course Easly and his wingman, start blasting away and soon enough they start chasing the fighters, so they can vape them and paint little pictures of them on their planes and guess who gets left all alone? The Army Dropships of course. Ripe pickings for agile fightercraft.
We were halfway down when it happened, two Juet’heks, slip out of the dogfight casual as you please and get in a decent strafing run, walking fire from their two plasma cannon from the prow to the stern in one pass. The plasma beams cut right through our ‘made by the lowest bidder’ dropship and out the otherside. And I do mean that quite literally. There were harshly melted tunnels right through the ship, half of them passed through the troop compartment. My very first combat drop and I was one of about six people on a dropship ship that should have carried seven times that, splattered head to toe in other people’s blood and all I could breathe was the stench of roasted flesh. We taste a lot like pork you know…
By this point Lorna had gone white as a sheet but she doesn’t ask me to stop the tale. I wondered if she believed me or whether she thought I was trying to lay it on a bit thick and maybe I was but it still all happened I was not exaggerating. I shrugged to myself wondering if I had a harder war than anyone else. Well no-one ‘cept the lucky bastards that died early, I decided and I continued my story.
Well not only were we all shot up, the ship wasn’t going to fly with that many holes in it was it? The co-pilot was still alive and did his best but he had near as no engines to work with, so we spiralled down out of control for a good while before we finally smacked into the ground and rolled and slid to a stop. I either passed out on impact or during the fall, the inertial compensators were junk of course so we were spun around a lot.
Anyway, I seem to be saying that a lot don’t I? Anyway, when I woke up there was sun on my face and a Terina was looting the corpse of the man seated opposite me. My rifle had been locked into the wall next to me and had been halved by a plasma beam anyway. I pulled out my sidearm out of its hip holster, an MX Handgun I think, and shot him until the clip ran dry. Yes, I shot him the back. Its not like I could wait for him to turn around was it?
Luckily for us there was only the one looter, odd for the military but it happens, he probably wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near us. Still me about 3 others had survived the strafing run, the crash and the looter, two other, more experienced, privates and a slightly charred corporal. We rearmed ourselves with the weapons of the dead men, who obviously didn’t need them any more.
The Corporal, Denning his name was, managed to get the radios working.
“Beta-Charlie-two-niner, Drop ship down in grid three-five. Require assistance asap. Repeat Army Unit Beta-Charlie, requesting assistance at grid three-fiver. Out”
The effect of this short transmission was rapid. Half a dozen Nahktars traced the call and got the drop on us. The first we knew about it was when one of the sentries got hook kicked through one of the remaining bulkheads, broke every bone in his body, well maybe not the really small ones in his ears but you know what I mean. Collapsed his ribcage and pulped his organs at least. His screams cut off what ever reply Command was buzzing out the radio and there was only the brilliant glow of plasma fire. I got tagged almost immediately, clipped my leg, burned away quite the furrow, I’m sure I let out quite the shriek as fell squeezing off rounds from my rifle at random, The Corporal dragged me behind cover, only reason I lived through that. The other private, the one that didn’t get hook kicked I mean, well he didn’t make it either, took four hits, centre mass, dead before he hit the ground, lucky bastard. Probably the first person I ever saw die, one of the reasons I remember this so well. So there we were me and the Corporal, holed up in the back of a wrecked Dropship, outnumbered three–to-one. And since these were Nahktars probably out massed six to one. Cut off, no back up coming, Command had said it was way to hot for a rescue and surrounded. And this let me reminds you this was my very first mission. It seemed that death was the one way out.
That is where I finished my little story for her; half because I liked to leave her hanging with the sense of mystery the rather open ending provided but mainly she looked so horrified that it seem unchivalrous to carry on. The point had been made. I finished off my beer to wet my throat again.
“So why am I telling you all this? Is the supposedly silent Dusk becoming a garrulous old man? Well, you seem to think we vets are getting screwed over, I just wanted to show you; we were always fucked. Ever since day one.”
I set my bottle and picked up my gun, I was rising to leave when I saw them. Three humans and more oddly a Terina and a Nahktar, walk in through the main entrance the opposite side of the club. They were looking straight at us, raising guns.
“Look out” I yelled at the girl as I knocked the table over and jumped back as shots impacted all around us. There were screams from the patrons as they ran away from the gun shots and out any exits not occupied by the gunmen. Gunmen who let them go, clearly only after a couple of individuals. Fortunately either they were bad shots or the guns weren’t particularly accurately, luckier still the curved walls of my little hideaway actually gave the two of us cover to stand behind.
My training came back to me in an instead as I aimed my gun from cover, exposing only my gun hand and right eye to possible incoming fire. I glanced over to my left and saw to my very great surprise, the reporter had produced two sleek and modern pistols and was firing back at our assailants, dual handed. She was hitting jack shit of course, firing like that but it was useful suppression fire at the very least.
Under her covering fire I took careful aim and squeezed off my first shot, with only 8 rounds in the pistol and no reloads; I had to make the shots count. Through long experience and a couple of xenobiology courses, my bullet tore through the terina’s torso, severing an artery pumping oxygenated blood out of its heart. It hit the ground hard. My new friend had clicked empty. Twice. She was trying to reload her pistols and making a hash of it.
“Friends of yours?” I shot at her. The look she shot back was full of puzzled fear. I shrugged at her. Obviously not.
The firing stopped. There was some dry laughter.
“Hiding behind girls again, Smith?”
I peeked another quick look. The Nahktar and three human where still there, pointing weapons but they’d been joined by another man and tall man in a sharp but outdated suit with dark glasses and long white hair pulled into a tail behind his skull. I recognised him.
“That you, Agent Jones?” I asked.
“Former Agent, as you well know, Dusk.” Came the cold reply.
“Yeah, well you look like shit.”
The shooting resumed.
“Looks like this is my bad.” I grinned manically at the Reporter, who’d finally got new mags in her guns. “I’ll cover for you, stay load and you can get to than exit.” I pointed at a gaping emergency exit. Lorna looked at me, terror all over. I dropped my voice. “Don’t worry. We’re going to make it. Gonna go all the way. Just stay low and you’ll be fine. Ok? Go. Go Now!”
I stepped out, revealing more than myself than was prudent and started firing, making the thugs duck and cover. Seven rounds, they seem to go in an instant in these circumstances. Shit. Why didn’t I bring the fucking reloads? Or borrow one of Janus’ guns, she had too many for her to handle anyway. More bullets hit the walls spraying me with plaster. Shit. Shit, shit, shit!
There was suddenly more fire streaking back at my attackers, I looked towards the exit, Lorna was again firing both pistols haphazardly even managed to actually hit something time, one of the humans took a couple of rounds in the arm and shoulder and dropped his gun with a shriek. The Nahktar casual swatted him with a fist before firing at me again.
“Well?” She shouted at me, “move soldier!”
I moved. I crouch-ran, weaving through the upturned and bullet holed tables, pointing my tapped out pistol and pulling the trigger at our foes, hoping they might take cover if they though a gun was being pointed at them. It’d didn’t work particularly well, bullets hissed there way past me. I gasped as one grazed my arm, leaving a long thin furrow that oozed red blood. I careened to a halt just outside the doors, dragging Lorna out of the line of fire.
“Well, I haven’t done that for years,” I gasped, laughing.
“Get shot?” She said pointing at the wound.
“I was thinking ‘move that fast’ but fair point., fair point. You wouldn’t happen to have a car would you? We rather need to get away from here as quickly as possible.”
She did have one as it turned out. A cheap rental hovercar barely worth the name. She drove. I don’t drive anything smaller than a van these days for love nor money these days. I grabbed one of her guns off her dashboard and popped the mag and checked the chamber.
“You got any more mags for these.” I yelled as another car round the corner behind us.
“Glovebox!” She replied as she gunned the engine. I yanked it open and magazines scattered all over the floor.
“Shit, Lorna, How many wars where you planning to fight while you were here?” I grabbed one, slapped it in the first pistol and making very sure the safety was on, shoved it in my waist band and quickly went through the same process with the other pistol. Round in the chamber, slap in the new mag. Rule one: enter any combat scenario with full loaded weapons. Just then the first shots hit our rear windscreens, it cracked and then shattered, spraying the backseats with sharp shards, luckily our chairs kept most it away from us.
“Oh, I hate doing this,” I muttered as I kicked open the passenger door, twisting around the bring my pistol to bear on the car behind , awkwardly with my right hand. Shit. I couldn’t even see our chasers. They were more to the otherside, trying to hit the driver. I abandoned the door and sat on the dash board, bracing my back against the front windscreen and aimed my gun two handed through the empty hole where our windscreen was supposed to be. I tried to give a Janus a cocky grin but it comes out more like a mad rictus.
“Don’t crash,” I said, “No seriously. Don’t.”
Our pursuers are thugs, over excited at the prospect of death, and totally lacked any sort of fire control. They were squeezing off rounds like they were candy. No sense of when to hold back and feel the shot, wait for the sights to line up and fire. I do. I breathe slowly, calming myself and wait. Two infinitely long seconds later I pulled the trigger, that was a blast and a bullet shot through the shattered window and… missed the targeted gunman by a clear foot. Fuck! Bloody old man can’t hit a target anymore. Rule Two: Use guns you can actually fire. I adjusted my grip to better handle the weapon. Rule three: Learn fast or die. I fired again. A stream of bullets just to make sure. They walked across the targets, the two men in the front care, shattering the windscreen, unlike us their seats weren’t there to protect them, jagged shards of glass rent their flesh, the car swerved madly and hit a wall with a final crunch.
I dropped myself back into the seat and pulled on my seat belt.
Once we were sure we’d lost them, I gave her directions to my apartment, she didn’t really need them having been there before but It made me feel somewhat more useful. We slid to a stop down the back alley. I got out quickly and closed the door. The glass fell out of it. I winced then leaned down to talk to Ms Janus,
“Thanks for your help. Now drive away, get off planet and forget you ever heard of me.”
She also got out of the car. Totally ignoring my words.
“Did you hear me?” I growled.
“I heard you. But I’m not dropping a Story like this. This is pure gold. A Soldier being hounded by his own government. Just like the old days.”
“Haven’t you been listening to me at all? The Old days were pure hell. You need to get the fuck out, while you still can.”
Women. Never understood the bloody things. I’d reloaded the pistol as we drove, so I tossed it to her.
“Fine. Keep this and keep the car running. I’m going to grab some stuff from my apartment and then we’re both running. If you see anyone we know. Shoot them.”
I quickly walked into the apartment block and up a couple of short flights of stairs and through a thick door into my apartment. If, indeed, it warrants such a name. The heating works in the Summer only and the Air Con only works in the winter. It’s small and the rents a crime. Plus it’s a tip but I don’t really have any one to blame for that but me. I light foot over all my discarded clothes and a scattering of empty or half full boxes to a wide chest of draws. Crouching low, I pulled out the bottom draw, exposing my collection; a miniature arsenal of weapons and magazines. Most of them were in pieces; there were at least two separate Revolving parts and only one frame, which was bent out of shape by some long forgotten mishap. Loose single rounds in various calibres rolled around freely, bouncing off half expended clips and semi-disassembled semi-automatics. A couple of throwing knifes and old blunted scalpels were imbedded in the side of the draw. I pulled one out and experimentally flicked the dial on the side. The blade didn’t hum at all; the vibro-mechanisms were broken. I cast it down again, muttering. I’d always meant to sort this draw out and now it was too late. But still there under everything else, stretched diagonally corner to corner, at the bottom of the draw; 3 feet of titanium folded around a vibro-mechanism like an old friend; My Sword, a beautifully wrought single edged Vibrosabre. Still, as aesthetically and sentimentally pleasing as it was it was also not much use to me in my current situation so I pulled out what seemed to be the only functional firearm in the whole mess instead. Another Em-ah-pee-four-ten heavy pistol. I pulled the empty one from my shoulder holster and checked and reloaded both the pistols, chambering rounds then popping the clips to top them up. I carefully extracted a combat belt from the mess of my arms draw and noticed something was already hanging upon it.
A quartet of grenades. Three frags and a plasma. I hung the MAPs on my new belt and pulled Lorna’s other pistol out of my waistline and placed it top of the drawers in preparation for pulling the belt on. It was then I just heard the slightest of noises and something big moved just at the edges of my peripheral vision. I turned just in time to see a flash of scales before I was thrown across the room. I hit the wall with a thump, all the air went out of me as slumped to the floor with a dull wheeze. I looked up.
The nahktar from the bar towered over me.
Now consider this, nahktars are roughly twice the size of humans and have far too many joints for us lowly humans to comprehend. I’m really not sure how the damn thing was able to fit into my pre-war apartment, let alone sneak up on me. Oddly he didn’t seem to be carrying any guns, this time but with those claws all over his hands and feet, he doesn’t really need to. He kicks at me, a casual foot ball style kick that would lift me off the ground and probably slam me into the ceiling. I escape that by collapsing prone to the floor. I’m showered in cheap plaster and wall insulator as his foot knocks a torso-sized chunk out of the wall separating me from my bathroom. I half rose and went stumbling again from a casual back hand. Just lucky I didn’t catch the claws. Fuck me. I’m too old for this shit. I got up again in time to twist away from a slash of the claws and backed off again from a punch. The third attack nearly got me, a quick gutting motion with the foot claws, I stumbled back the tips of the claws scoring the flesh over my ribs.
And this was how the fight continued me dodging, dipping, ducking, diving and dodging around any attacks I could, minimizing the damage of the ones I couldn’t. Without a handy exosuit fit for a Carnage Marine Officer I couldn’t hope to take the offensive against the hulking nahktar, not hand to hand and the bastard lizard was between me and all my weapon. So I waited and waited until finally he tried the hook kick.
The hook kick is an old favourite among nahktar warriors and since they’re twelve feet tall and have legs that are two thirds of that, its not hard to see why; they can throw an ungodly hook kick. But kicks are only good if they land and it being the old cliché I was counting on him throwing one, no sooner than his foot had left the ground than I was diving past him, landing hands first, one hand in my arms drawer and one on the floor, turned a neat somersault and came up swinging. As I’d dived my hand had found the hilt of my sword and it came out of the draw and is scabbard in a spray of spare rounds and gun bits. There was a deadly thrum as I whirled the blade in a short arc; hacking through a knee two thirds the way up of the Nahktar supporting leg before his kicking foot even hit the ground again. There’s a shriek and a spray of white blood as the de-limbed lizard collapsed. When they’re on the ground it doesn’t matter how big they are. My next two strokes fell on his neck severing his head from his freshly minted corpse.
Oh course our little scuffled attracted attention, by way of the lizard’s back up, three human thugs. Jones had obviously hired more mercs than he’d bothered to send into the club, the man underestimated how much it takes to kill me. He always did. Strangely enough none of my neighbours seemed to be making a peep, maybe the doozey lot hadn’t noticed or maybe they were too scared for their life to stick their head out of their doors. They probably don’t give a damn about me; I’ve given them no real reason to.
The three rush in here when they here the nahk’s hissing death rattle, they just been expecting to stand watch while the lizard ended me. They didn’t expect to come n and find it’s limbs scattered across the place. I Lunged forward with my blade, totally mistiming the stroke so instead of cleaving the man with the first third of the blade, it smacked into his shoulder, impacting about halfway up the blade and tried to cut his entire torso in half. Bad idea, there was an explosion of red and the blade’s descent halted halfway into the man’s ribcage. He twisted away from his killer as he died and didn’t have time to extract my Vibrosabre before the other two mercs were on me, a poorly aimed blow clipped my skull. I heard snide giggles.
Its been twenty year since the war, twenty years since I was a fighter in my prime. I haven’t aged particular well; my hair’s more white with occasional streaks of colour than vice-versa and my scars are softened and obscured by the slow folding of flesh but I am far from the fragile old man. These snot nosed little pricks picked the wrong guy to pick a fist fight with.
The first guy swung hard and fast but left himself wide open, I twisted aside from the blow, stepped in and socked him in the face, before I could follow through though the other guy jumped me from the right, crashing a heavy blow into my side. I fall back, deflecting another blow and countering it with a punch that flattened the man’s nose, sending him sprawling, as blood flowed down his front. The first guy leapt forth again, launching a quick series of punches then withdrawing outside the range of any retaliation, quite the talented marshal artist this one. Good think I don’t play fair. The next time he stepped in, I boot him in the knee. A sloppy bar room brawl style technique. Still the popping sounds that came out of his leg indicated its effectiveness. The punk dropped to his shattered knees, his head the perfect height for the follow up: A roundhouse elbow that smashed into his temple. He whimpered incoherently as he slumped into unconsciousness.
A foot landed in the small of my back, propelling me forward, I half-spun around to meet a fist flying into my face. My jaw snapped shut with teeth rattling force. That was going to hurt in a second but for now I just used the momentum of the blow to turn full circle into a spinning side kick into the second man’s sternum, with such force as to lift his feet a couple of inches off the ground. He collapsed and I pounced on him, hitting a straight punch into his already broken noise, so his head bounced off the cheap floorboards with a resounding thunk! He laid still.
I grabbed my gun rig and quickly buckled it around my hips. Stupid old man. Of course they know where I live. But I didn’t have time to berate myself, or even to finish off these bastards (like they richly deserved) to make sure they didn’t follow us again. If they were inside the building then they were most definitely outside as well. I took the stairs two at a time, until I burst out the front doors.
Jones stood there, behind Lorna holding her still, holding a gun to her head.
You must never hesitate The words of the boot camp Sergeant come back to me still, after all these years, his words engraved all over my soul.
I didn’t hesitate I pulled my right hand MAP and fired twice. The first superheated round punched though the back of Jones’ hand, through the handle of his pistol, fortunately failing to ignite any rounds within, and out again taking off the tips of his fingers. Jones screamed and fell back as the second round entered through his mouth and blew off the back of his head. He collapsed bonelessly to the floor. And ran forward and grabbed Lorna’s she flinched away, clearly rather traumatised. It took a moment for me to realise that a man who was drenched in to separate kinds of blood approaching her was not exactly going to calm her down. I didn’t really have time to be gentle. I shook her slightly,
“Lorna? Lorna! Look at me. You’re going to be alright. Ok? You hear me? You’re just fine.” I tried to chivvy her down the alley to the car, “I need you to drive Lorna, can you do that for me?”
Behind us, Agent Jones, formerly of ONI, sat up.
I pulled out my second gun and let them both rip. Six rounds from my right gun and eight from my left, I don’t have much truck with dual wielding most of the time, I can’t exactly concentrate on two targets at once, so what’s the point? But when one needs to do maximum damage to a single target its seems appropriate. Each bullet hit centre mass, blasting irregular tunnels through the man’s flesh. Tunnels which immediately began to shrink. Damn.
“Lorna. Now is the time to RUN!”
Jones Stood up.
“Shit, Jones where the fuck did you get Aduro?”
Jones brushed the dust from his suit.
“Well its not quite the real thing you know, but its quite amazing how close our oh-so-patriotic illegal narcotic manufacturers can get with their little chemistry playsets.”
Luckily Jones didn’t seem to have a spare gun. He just watched as I grabbed Lorna and hurried off, she wasn’t in any state to drive, so I bundled her into the passenger seat, our former rides was blocked in and shot up anyway so we took Jones’. The keys were in the ignition. Behind me I could here the Agent’s voice,
“Don’t run Dusk, you’re going die this evening. Just accept that. Don’t Run. You’ll just die tired.”
I gunned the engine.
The car shoots off. It’s thrice as fast and ten times as maneuverable as anything I’ve driven in the last dozen years.
I made for the motoway, needed to put as much distance between me and him as possibly. Spaceport was way out down though across the New Callahan Bridge, a long way away for those being hunted. The car was so responsive, it seemed to weave its way through traffic more on his thoughts than his hand of the wheel.
“Y-y-you shot him.” Lorna muttered. “I saw the holes in his chest”
“Yep,” I replied, dodging around a heavy lorry, “That, I did.”
“But he got up.”
“Yeah, He did.” I zoomed past a trio of dawdling people carriers.
“Ian, what’s Aduro?”
“Aduro, you mentioned it when Jones got back up.”
“It’s a miracle drug the Ark came up with back in the war, boosts the immune system to seemingly physics defying levels, massive trauma, missing limbs, being caught in multiple frag grenade blasts, don’t bother you with you’re on Aduro. You just heal over in a few minutes. Bastard’s practically unkillable until its out of his system. Oh and just so we’re clear. You never heard this and I never told you alright? It’s probably still ultra classified.”
“But if its so secret how’d did he get a hold of it?”
“First, He used to be ONI so he probably knows all about it and second, he’s not using genuine Aduro, sounded like he’d got it brewed up illegally, probably mixed up with Smack or Spank or whatever the hip new illegal drug is. He’ll burn out sooner or later. Maybe sooner if I’d pushed it a bit further. No matter, we getting off world, he’ll crash before he catches up with us after that.”
We’d turned off the motorway, I fumbled into my pocket for some loose change as we decelerated rapidly. New Callahan Bridge was a toll bridge, not many people used it at this time of night. I tossed a couple of coins into the meter and the gates swung up far too slowly for my liking. We zoomed off again.
“You know you really should bandage that up.” Lorna said, indicating the bullet graze from the bar, “You’ll get a scar at this rate.”
“Yeah but I’ve got scars all over. You wanna see?”
Surprising she gave me a good long appraising look up and down, and even more surprisingly smiled.
“Maybe later,” she chuckled.
There was more silence. Though of a more comfortable nature. We whizzed past another large support pylon. We almost halfway across the long bridge. A hundred foot drop to the river surface on either side.
“So, why does he hate you?”
“Jones? Well from what he was ranting the last time he tried this…”
“…he’s done this before?!?!”
“Well yeah but, anyway, do you remember Billarius Minor?”
“I did do my research before hunting you down you know. Big battle, Ark got the drop on you, you were one of four survivors. You got your officer’s commission for it.”
“Jones is the reason they got the drop on the base. No-one was supposed to survive,” She opened her mouth, “Don’t bother asking me why. I’m sure ONI had some perfectly good reason. During your research did you happen to note the other three survivors were all killed on their very next mission?”
She stared. Obviously not.
“They have a place for people who refuse to die when ONI wants them to: Its called the Stormcommandos. And when I didn’t get killed there either I think that send Jones more or less over the edge. ONI’s a very competitive organization you know, those couple of failures probably busted his entire career and me being the only one left alive meant it was all my faul-”
There’s where a series of pops and the sportscar shuttered with multiple impacts. It twisted in its flight as I yanked the steering wheel around again by sheer brute force, keeping us on the road. I looked in the wing mirror and saw two sleek cars fall in behinds us, before the second volley took out the window mirror. That’s seven years bad luck for someone, I thought. Hope its him rather than me.
“Lorna. Drive.” I cried, not looking to see if she grabbed the wheel, as I pulled myself out the window. I could feel the wind of the back of my head and see the two sleek deadly sportscars, move in behind us. I pulled one of the frag grenades, I dialed down the yield to a minimum, so as to avoid collateral damage; I was already going have a hard time qualifying this as self defense, then I tried to judge the distance, adjusted he timer according, pulled the pin out with my teeth and dropped it.
There was a boom and a blast of grey smoke. Too long. It exploded far behind our pursuers. I compensate with the second grenade. It detonated just before the car would have passed over. The front end of the vehicles was peppered with shrapnel and smoke erupted from the bonnet, the vehicle slowed dramatically and fell far back. Down but not out.
I pull out my last fragmentary grenade, put the driver’s was onto my by then, constantly varying the throttle, not staying a steady difference behind us. I cursed him roundly, constantly changing the fuse dialer back and forth. Never Hesitate. The words came back to me too late. Their next shots found me, the first skimming my shoulder taking a chunk of flesh off me, the second glances off my ribs, I feel something explode as I collapsed against the window frame, the unarmed harmless grenade dropping from my useless limp grasp.
“Ian!” I heard someone shriek, “Ian!” I felt soft hands grabbing me and I am pulled back into the car. Such a display of concern almost touches me. Pity, she took her eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to do to it. The car’s path strayed to the right. A support column towered over us.
When I came to, I could hear hissing from somewhere, somewhere close. The fuel tank was leaking; we’d gone clear off the road and were on the very edge, not a metre away from the door of the car was the start of a hundred feet drop into a raging torrent. Shit. I looked across. Lorna was miraculously alive, didn’t even look hurt but she was certainly dazed and out of it. I gave her a shaky grin and pulled myself out of the car and then helped her out. We staggered away and I slow let he sit down next to a pylon a safe distance from the wreck. 10 metres away one of the sleek cars had stopped as though to aid the poor crash victims. Jones stood there, his long overcoat and white locks thrashing and blowing in the wind. He was smiling. There’s a large pistol in his hand and A wicked looking ornate knife on his belt.
“I told you not to run. I told you you’d only die tired.”
“Fuck you, Jones.” I replied. I’ve never had many delusions of eloquence.
“Not very smart, taking my car. Its practically crawling with bugs and trackers you know. Then you were never very bright were you? Just had an ability to avoid dying at the proper time. Much like a coackroach in fact.”
He pointed a gun. Considered it and then lowered it.
“Too easy,” He smiled, mirthlessly, “No satisfaction. I want to see you suffer”
“You’ve said that before. Look where it got you.”
Suddenly I was back, a younger man, nearly twenty years earlier, Captain I.T.Smith fresh from the assassination of Warmaster Trego, back with his Army boys, commanding a regiment protecting some far flung base. It was a disaster. The Barracks exploded just before the attack, taking most of my men with it. I find myself on the front lines again. Firing my ol’ T2B-C Rifle. Triple barrelled. Independent targeting. Full auto. Good gun. I’m helping my men hold a pass against overwhelming odds. Well obviously not totally overwhelming since we were holding it… but still. Damn near as. Suddenly there was a blast that picked me up and threw me back. When I woke up I was look at a dapper suited man pointed my own huge three barrelled rifle at me.
“Hello Dusk,” the mysterious stranger said, “you ruined my life, so now I’ll end yours!”
Jones raised the gun again and fired. At Lorna. I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t even think. I just sidestepped. In front of her. White pain seared through out my body as I felt the impact. Fortunately the bullet lodged inside me not exiting and making the whole thing pointless. I collapsed.
“What the fuck?” I cried, “You some kind of overly melodramatic traitor?” My Armour picked up is IFF Signal and Flashed up: ONI SECTION I, CLASSIFIED, CODENAME: JONES.
“Oh no!” the man chuckled, “No! That would just be too easy. I want to see you suffer,” he lowered the rifle, “ I want you to know, dead man, I want you to understand.”
I didn’t and didn’t much care to either. I lashed out with an armoured boot. Propelling him back.
“No-one gets what they want in this world.” I quipped, rolling and coming to my feet in a fluid turn that turned in to an arc kick.
He pulled the trigger on his appropriated weapon just as I kicked it away. The three barrels spat great arcs of fire in random directions as the weapon bounced and rolled away and then dropped of the walkway we found ourselves on.
He lunged at me, fists raised.
“Well, close enough,” said Jones, “Some quite touching heroics, Smith. Now we all get to see you expire through your own incompetence.”
I gritted my teeth and groaned, laboriously dragging myself onto all fours, blood dripped to the ground from the holes in me in a slow trickle. A boot hit me in the stomach sending me crashing back down. Arrogant prick.
“Now stay down and die quietly, will you?”
Rage and adrenaline coursed through my system.
“Never,” I coughed, “You’re never going to have that satisfaction.”
I lunged at him, fists raised.
We grappled back and forth, on that walkway, deep in the smoking remnants of an ISAF Base, brave men and women fought and died against the Ark around but I was locked in a brawl with some vengeance mad ONI Agent. And he was good, well trained but he hadn’t ever been in an earnest fistfight before. That was for sure. He moved in a text book series of blows, high jab to raise my guard followed by a low reverse punch to the sternum. All very prim and proper, and didn’t really work against someone who knew what was coming. I dodged around the block and kicked him again, high in the chest. Followed by a couple of punches, he even managed to block one, but the other landed well high on his temple. He staggered, I tried to push my advantage until I took a sidekick in the guts. I stepped back a bit, losing the intiative, but not much breath as I was in full armour, where as he was just in a snazzy business suit.
On a narrow service walkway at the very edge of the bridge, with nary between us and a hundred foot drop, we grappled; he’d gotten better in the intervening years, obviously been in a few more fights but I still liked to think I was better, or at least would have better if I’d not already been battered by giant space iguana, thrown around, crashed in a wall and shot several times already this evening. He swung, I blocked, he kicked, I grabbed his leg and twisted. Not hard enough, another punch hit me in the face. Very hard, I’m sure I heard knuckles crackle and pop upon impact but his wounds would heal in seconds, my face wouldn’t. Blood flowed from a new gash on my face. I fell back, dazed.
I grin as easily sidestep a kick, “I’m faster than you” we said. As he easily avoids my wild swing.
The back of my armoured fist sends him sprawling, We say, “I’m stronger than you.” His fist flashes and I felt something explode within me.
A missile from a strafing Juet’Lak hits the building next to us and we’re both send flying in to Darkness. Next thing I knew I was on a med-evac transport far away from there/
I collapsed to the deck, bleeding profusely, the cold windows blast around me as Jones stands over me and leans close. Wrapping his hands about my throat. I gurgled as my air was cut off.
“I’m stronger than you.” He repeated. “I’m Faster than you.”
He grinned madly. My vision wavered but was still fixed on something on his belt. A knife hilt.
“And I can’t die.”
In a massive burst of effort, my hands lashed out, almost of their own accord. My left hand smashed into his neck, crushing his throat, a move I remembered even worked quite well against the Aduro-ed Trego when we thought we’d assassinated him. The right pulled his knife out from its sheathe, It whirred around in a vicious back hand stoke that gutted Jones. I gripped my last plasma grenade, Dialed the fused to as high as it could go and shoved it in his gaping guts, yanking his hand and the grenade’s pin back, just as his drugged out healing factor closed the hole. Jones gapped.
“C-can you Fly?” I growled and gave him a shove out into the open air.
He screamed as he fell. About a third of the way down, the plasma grenade went off. A fireball burst out of his belly and wreathe his entire from in greenish yellow flames. The drugs tried, they really did. He was putting flesh on almost as quickly as it was being burnt off by the flames. I reckon he was still conscious when he hit the water surface. Too fast to be survivable of course. Ash and bubbles expanded in circles from the impact point. I staggered backward.
“oh my..” there was voice off to the left. I turned to see Lorna, she’d obviously revived for the finish.
“Hey.” I waved slightly, slowly walking towards her and away from the bridge edge.
“People really say things like that? I mean, like in the movies?”
“Wuh?” I waved vaguely. “Oh the one-liner? Yeah, it’s the adrenaline rush, makes that kinda thing actually sound witty.”
Speaking of adrenaline rushes, that was about when mine gave up the ghost. I collapsed, Again/
Then I noticed I appeared to be lying flat on my back, my head was resting in someone’s lap. Sure was comfy. My mind drifted.
“Ian, Ian. Ian!” Someone was saying.
“What?” I weakly replied, looking up at Lorna Janus.
“Oh thank god, you’re still with us.” Lorna.
“I’m fine!” I was answered with a sceptical snort.
I could hear sirens in the distance, Police Sirens. Good. The cops around here were as incompetent as hell, but not bent. Sirens meant we were safe.
“What? You know I’m still here, dammit.”
“Yes but there’s something I have to know. A question you have to answer.”
“Anything” She leant closer and said,
“How the hell did you survive that first mission?”
I laughed and then winced in pain.
So there we were, me and the Sergeant. What? I said Corporal before? Well I must have been right the time when I didn’t have a couple of bullets in me… So me and The Corporal, where there, crouched at the back of a burnt out Dropship, four, maybe five nahks outside. Armed to the teeth, with all manner of atomisers and plasma guns, they were and dead set on killin’ us all. We were pointing our rifles, they were the old Hurati ICW-57 Assault models, basically an old M-16 like you see in the museums, remarketed on the cheap. Crap gun but it shot straight and that was all that mattered to us at the minute.
Me and the Corporal. We know our numbers up, the lizards could have sniped us long distance or chucked a grenade in there at anytime, but that’s the Nahktar way. They had the whole honoured warrior schtick going on. So there was only one way this was going down, they were going to charge us. We’d probably take a few with us because of it two. But still it took a lot of bullets to put down a Nahk, maybe even the entire mag, and we were outnumbered three to one. Not a good combo. We could take one with us but we’d be toasted before we’d reloaded. Our cover wouldn’t stand up to repeated plasma fire.
So we were there knowing we were dead and just waiting. In circumstances like that, seconds feel like hours. Then there was the sound of weapons fire and the hissing screams of enrage and engage Nahks. They boiled around the corner but surprisingly only a couple peppered us with suppressive fire. Most were firing up and to the side. There was plasma fire going both ways!
Then came the sound. A long series of booms, like repeated grenade explosions.
I just saw a nahks consumed in blood-white explosions as something washed over them kicking masses of Dust into the air, obscuring everything. We waited again, seconds stretching on for an eternity. A large dark shape approached through the smoke. We shouldered our rifles, then dropped them as a suit of gleaming power armour walked out. His armour supporting a Smoking 50 mm Autocannon, more usually found mounted on vehicles or in fixed defenses. He stopped. We could make out on his shoulder plate a box. The text in it read:
Capt. Leo J. Bateau,
What? Oh come on! You can’t get that gooey about Leo, he’s married ferchrist’ssake
“Hiya Folks!” His speakers boomed, “I’m Lord Hood and I’m here to rescue you.”
We stared for a while.
“You do know how very pretentious that sounds don’t you?” I shot back.
Here I lie, much later, in my bed, in my new apartment on another world entirely. Well I wasn’t going to stay on that lousy rock was I? I’m just glad, Lorna was around for that whole escapade, I’m sure the courts would never have believed it had all been self-defence with out her and her mad-media connections. Still the hearing was quite fun in the end, old friends kept popping up. I swear I should get arrested more often. Hadn’t seen Leo in a decade before this, he’s always been very busy General-ing and building up his very own next generation badass teams but he even brought his wife and kids along but she’s never liked me much. I think it was that quip I made when we first met, I would have thought the fact I’d just taped her husband’s guts back together would have earned me some gratitude but still… I even remembered to ask Leo when he thought we first met, afterwards in the bar off course, not during trail. He seem to think it was back when we were Stormcommandoing together. I didn’t blame him, I wouldn’t remember me either, Elisa was very amused about the story of me first meeting him though, I wonder why.
Lorna’s article cam out in a quite respectable news paper recently. I think I saw the hand of an editor at work. Especially in the bits quoted by me, I’d been rather frank, hoping to dissuade her from writing anything about me at all but she wrote it all down and about everything that happened afterwards, during that night. The editing seemed even more obvious in those bits; Aduro, Jones all given the treatment. That smells more of The Government though than of her editor. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
She still visits me, a few times a year. Sometimes she even takes pity on the old man and there’s sex.
Next to me, she murmurs in her sleep, snuggling up against my chest.
There’s been a lot of stuff on Chatternet recently. All the gossip channels are talking about war, its even sneaking into the more respectable news channels. Its all over the place, its time for another war, people are talking about Andromedans or some such shit. I don’t care. I’ll survive. I always do. To some, I stroke her blonde hair fondly, I’m a hero.
And Heroes never die.