Old Wounds Chapter 07 Part 1

Chapter 07

“I kinda thought we’d be taking the space elevator.” Penny said as she strapped herself in.

“Can’t.” Captain Niazi shrugged as she buckled her own harness. “Insurgents crippled it eight years ago. Now when we go from ship to surface, we take the fast lane.”

“Oh Yeah.” LC Amrah hollered. His eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas. “In the Marine Corps, we put the drop in ‘Dropship’.”

Penny resisted the urge to grip the harness tighter. She didn’t want to give the Jarheads the satisfaction of knowing she was nervous. It had been a long time since she had made planetfall like this.

The hum of the magnetic catapult warming caused a hush to fall upon the marines around her. Excited looks flicked between them and the entire ship, collectively, took a deep breath.

Captain Niazi bellowed “BOMBS AWAY!” and with a loud metallic ‘Clank’ the restraining claw released its grip on the dropship. The tension ignited. The voices of a platoon of marines became a single, unified roar as the dropship blasted down to Aloysius.

Penny suddenly didn’t give a care what they thought of her and squeezed the harness till her knuckles turned white.

She looked down at the vidwindow beneath their feet. The planet rushed up to meet them and the entire ship began to shudder violently as they broke atmosphere. Air rushed passed the ship so fast it ignited. Over the roar Captain Niazi yelled. “Activating energy shields.”
The orange glow that had overtaken the view through the vid-window turned white as the energy shield leapt forward to part the air before the heat could reach the drop-ship. The shuddering calmed a little and Penny forced herself to at least pretend to be relaxed.

After a handful of heart-pounding seconds they reached the lower atmosphere and fired the deceleration jets. The shuddering returned with a vengeance as engineering wrestled against gravity, until the ship slowed enough for the repulsor engines to take over and allow the dropship to hover. The vidwindow beneath their feet showed nothing but endless ocean, making it impossible to tell if they were five or fifty metres from the surface.

“Well.” Penny breathed. “That was something.”
From their place over a random stretch of ocean the dropship rose and rocketed off towards its destination. Captain Niazi unbuckled her harness and moved down to the floor of the craft.

“Ears peeled Marines. Let’s go over this again for our guest.”
Niazi clapped and a series of vidwindows appeared in the air before her marines. Penny saw the front of a prefabricated, two-storey, civilian house and a corresponding orbital image of the same, besides both of these was the computer map showing its street address.

“This, is our target. Intel has identified it as a safe-house of the Black Mask Society and our own OP has confirmed seeing BMS agents coming and going from it. Including our mystery woman.”

Captain Niazi added the image of the woman in the pageboy cut to the screens.

Penny brought her hand up to her chin and rubbed it thoughtfully.

Captain Niazi turned to her people. “I know it looks like a text-book takedown but I need everyone to be double and triple checking every detail on this one. Bravo team’s ordnance tech noticed nothing unusual, they went over the place from top to bottom and the whole thing went up like a truck full of roman candles. So stay focused people, your lives depend on it.”

Penny moved her hand from her chin. “Ain’t gonna to be worth it.”

Every pair of marine eyes turned towards her.

“You won’t find intel in there worth a tinker’s damn.”

Niazi narrowed her eyes at Penny. “Intel has seen a top-tier target like Rodgers’ assistant in the vicinity. High Command isn’t going to let this one go without us at least taking a look-see.”

“I get that.” Penny said. “But it’s a Trojan horse. One of my first assignments in the Rangers was to infiltrate behind enemy lines within major Periphery cities. We’d set up trap houses just like these and use them as waypoints as we returned to base. We’d wire up the place with enough explosives to blow a hole in the side of the world and then set up Rube Golderg-style booby traps, the kind that don’t show up on your disposal droid’s sensors. The last squad you sent into one of these likely bought it when they picked up a book with a string attached or opened the wrong cupboard in the study.”

Captain Niazi folded her arms. “Then what would you suggest we do?”
“Well if if it were up to me I’d requisition orbital support and turn the entire two-storey property into a vacant lot. But they ain’t gonna let you do that are they?”

Niazi shook her head. “They ain’t. Not on your word alone.”

Penny nodded. “Then I’ll make you a deal. Let me take your disposal droid out for a spin and I’ll get you and High Command all the proof they need that safehouse is nothing more than a death trap.”

For a moment Captain Niazi’s features took on a softness that seemed out of character for the gruff Marine commander, but she quickly smirked it back into its hiding place.

“Alright Ranger, you got a deal.”
Penny brushed a hand across the cold, dew-covered railing beside the worn brick steps leading up to

the safe house. The disposal droid’s hand reported the ambient temperature and noted the humidity, but otherwise no sensation of cold was transmitted to her.

Penny never liked controlling a droid by remote. The insulation from the real world made her numb. Even her eyes and ears felt duller somehow, despite the droid’s high-definition sensors.

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Old Wounds Chapter 05 Part 2

“Yes Corporal.” She replied.

“Hmmm.” Said an impressed Penny as she turned and made her way up the next flight of steps. Even the PFC spoke perfect English. Being Recon Marines this squad could all speak at least one language beyond their planetary standard. Pity the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the Jarheads.

The Marines lead Penny up two more flights and across several tight corridors until they reached the General’s office. Like ocean-based naval craft of old this ship had no turbolifts or broad walking areas. Hand-holds spaced at regular intervals ensured that the crew could continue their duties in the event of an artificial gravity failure and the corridors were sectioned into five metre segments, each bordered with an open pressure door. Wu felt a little better when he noticed this. In the event of a pressure loss the bulkhead doors would shut and localise the damage only to the section hit.
The General’s office was situated on the Bridge deck just down the hall from the office of the Jagganath‘s Captain. LC Amrah left Wu outside with the rest of the Marines and accompanied Penny inside.

General Ram leaned back in his chair like a school principle about to dress down a delinquent. No AR rank insignia floated beside his head and unlike every other marine on board he wore no combat armour. His rank and as his campaign ribbons were plain to see on his uniform shirt.

Only two kinds of commanders flaunted combat regulations when it came to 24/7 pressure suit duties: ‘Down with my ship’ types and arrogant bullies for whom the rules applied to everyone else.

The General’s office was mostly spartan save for three flags across the back wall. Penny only recognised the Terran Federation flag on the far right, the one on the far left matched the shoulder decals of the Marine’s combat armour, so she guessed that flag was for Vishnu, but the one in the middle with the green, white and orange stripes she had no idea.

In the meantime Penny strode in and threw a smart salute. “Rangers lead the way sir.”

LC Amrah hesitated before translating. General Ram snorted like a cartoon bull and fired off a quick response.

Amrah turned back to Penny. “The General says. ‘All the way’.” He looked puzzled for a moment. “What does that mean?”

Penny lowered her hand. “It’s how Rangers addressed our superiors during the war. Even though we’re glorified cops now we still salute that way when we gotta mix with regular forces. Reminds you Jarheads and Voiders that we didn’t always wear a badge.”

General Ram snapped his fingers and barked again. The only word Penny caught was ‘Corporal.’ Then another staccato of words shot from his mouth. When he was finished, he crossed his arms and waited.

LC Amrah apologised quickly. Penny could only tell from his body language. Though it was interesting to see him with a facial expression other than ‘smirk’.
“The General asks what your business on Aloysius is? He wants to know if you’re here to break up a narcotics racket or some kind of smuggling operation amongst the troops?”

Penny smirked. “I had a feeling your boss had dealt with us before. Tell him I have good news: I’m after this man.” Penny sent Amrah a photograph over her PAN.

“Whoa.” Amrah said. His eyes widening. “Going straight for the big man.”

Amrah passed the image to General Ram’s PAN. The General looked at the invisible image floating in his augmented vision and shrugged before replying.

Amrah popped up his eyebrows at the General’s words. “He says he’s got forty-thousand troops trying to catch the Masked Ranger. What difference does one more make?”

“The Masked Ranger?” Penny said. “Really flexing the ol’ creativity muscles there ain’t cha?”

Amrah shrugged. “Marines tell it like it is.”

General Ram fired off another vocal volley and made a brushing away gesture with his right hand.

Penny sighed. “I take it I’m dismissed?”

“He says if you’re just here to shave rocks on a grindstone, it’s no concern of his. But he’s told me to take you down to the briefing room where my C.O. will fit you in on the situation planet-side.”

“Thank you kindly.” Penny said. She threw General Ram another sharp salute, which he returned, and they filed out of the room.

As they collected Wu and headed towards the briefing room Penny perked up with. “Care to settle a curiosity of mine Corporal?”

LC Amrah grinned at her again. “I’m sorry to inform you that I am happily married Ranger.” He puffed out his chest and flashed his pearly teeth at her.

Penny smirked. “Don’t flatter yourself honey.”

“That won’t stop him.” PFC Verma butted in. “Commending himself is his favourite thing in the world.”

“It’s not my favourite…

“Favourite thing you can do outside your rack then?” Penny suggested.

One of the bigger Marines laughed. “She’s got you there Corp.”

LC Amrah crossed his arms and turned his nose up indignantly. “Hmmmpf. You’re all just jealous of my Lucy and the love we share.”

“Lucy’s his dog right?” Wu asked the big man. “No wait, you’re Marines, it’s his rifle.”

LC Amrah unfolded his arms and pouted. “Don’t want to talk to you no more.”

“That won’t last.” Penny smiled at him. “So about my question…”

“Yeah, go ahead.” LC Amrah grumbled.

“Those flags in the General’s office…”
“Ah. The green, white and orange one is the Indian flag back on Earth. The one with the orange and white striped tiger on the green background is the flag of Vishnu.”

Penny nodded. “So he’s trying to say he’s proud of his heritage, loyal to his home world and a patriot of the Federation.”

Amrah shrugged. “He’d phrase it differently… and for a lot longer, but basically yeah.”

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Old Wounds Chapter 07 Part 1

Chapter 07

“I kinda thought we’d be taking the space elevator.” Penny said as she strapped herself in.

“Can’t.” Captain Niazi shrugged as she buckled her own harness. “Insurgents crippled it eight years ago. Now when we go from ship to surface, we take the fast lane.”

“Oh Yeah.” LC Amrah hollered. His eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas. “In the Marine Corps, we put the drop in ‘Dropship’.”

Penny resisted the urge to grip the harness tighter. She didn’t want to give the Jarheads the satisfaction of knowing she was nervous. It had been a long time since she had made planetfall like this.

The hum of the magnetic catapult warming caused a hush to fall upon the marines around her. Excited looks flicked between them and the entire ship, collectively, took a deep breath.

Captain Niazi bellowed “BOMBS AWAY!” and with a loud metallic ‘Clank’ the restraining claw released its grip on the dropship. The tension ignited. The voices of a platoon of marines became a single, unified roar as the dropship blasted down to Aloysius.

Penny suddenly didn’t give a care what they thought of her and squeezed the harness till her knuckles turned white.

She looked down at the vidwindow beneath their feet. The planet rushed up to meet them and the entire ship began to shudder violently as they broke atmosphere. Air rushed passed the ship so fast it ignited. Over the roar Captain Niazi yelled. “Activating energy shields.”
The orange glow that had overtaken the view through the vid-window turned white as the energy shield leapt forward to part the air before the heat could reach the drop-ship. The shuddering calmed a little and Penny forced herself to at least pretend to be relaxed.

After a handful of heart-pounding seconds they reached the lower atmosphere and fired the deceleration jets. The shuddering returned with a vengeance as engineering wrestled against gravity, until the ship slowed enough for the repulsor engines to take over and allow the dropship to hover. The vidwindow beneath their feet showed nothing but endless ocean, making it impossible to tell if they were five or fifty metres from the surface.

“Well.” Penny breathed. “That was something.”
From their place over a random stretch of ocean the dropship rose and rocketed off towards its destination. Captain Niazi unbuckled her harness and moved down to the floor of the craft.

“Ears peeled Marines. Let’s go over this again for our guest.”
Niazi clapped and a series of vidwindows appeared in the air before her marines. Penny saw the front of a prefabricated, two-storey, civilian house and a corresponding orbital image of the same, besides both of these was the computer map showing its street address.

“This, is our target. Intel has identified it as a safe-house of the Black Mask Society and our own OP has confirmed seeing BMS agents coming and going from it. Including our mystery woman.”

Captain Niazi added the image of the woman in the pageboy cut to the screens.

Penny brought her hand up to her chin and rubbed it thoughtfully.

Captain Niazi turned to her people. “I know it looks like a text-book takedown but I need everyone to be double and triple checking every detail on this one. Bravo team’s ordnance tech noticed nothing unusual, they went over the place from top to bottom and the whole thing went up like a truck full of roman candles. So stay focused people, your lives depend on it.”

Penny moved her hand from her chin. “Ain’t gonna to be worth it.”

Every pair of marine eyes turned towards her.

“You won’t find intel in there worth a tinker’s damn.”

Niazi narrowed her eyes at Penny. “Intel has seen a top-tier target like Rodgers’ assistant in the vicinity. High Command isn’t going to let this one go without us at least taking a look-see.”

“I get that.” Penny said. “But it’s a Trojan horse. One of my first assignments in the Rangers was to infiltrate behind enemy lines within major Periphery cities. We’d set up trap houses just like these and use them as waypoints as we returned to base. We’d wire up the place with enough explosives to blow a hole in the side of the world and then set up Rube Golderg-style booby traps, the kind that don’t show up on your disposal droid’s sensors. The last squad you sent into one of these likely bought it when they picked up a book with a string attached or opened the wrong cupboard in the study.”

Captain Niazi folded her arms. “Then what would you suggest we do?”
“Well if if it were up to me I’d requisition orbital support and turn the entire two-storey property into a vacant lot. But they ain’t gonna let you do that are they?”

Niazi shook her head. “They ain’t. Not on your word alone.”

Penny nodded. “Then I’ll make you a deal. Let me take your disposal droid out for a spin and I’ll get you and High Command all the proof they need that safehouse is nothing more than a death trap.”

For a moment Captain Niazi’s features took on a softness that seemed out of character for the gruff Marine commander, but she quickly smirked it back into its hiding place.

“Alright Ranger, you got a deal.”
Penny brushed a hand across the cold, dew-covered railing beside the worn brick steps leading up to

the safe house. The disposal droid’s hand reported the ambient temperature and noted the humidity, but otherwise no sensation of cold was transmitted to her.

Penny never liked controlling a droid by remote. The insulation from the real world made her numb. Even her eyes and ears felt duller somehow, despite the droid’s high-definition sensors.

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Old Wounds Chapter 04 Part 2

Penny leaned in towards the camera some more. “So what’cha callin’ for Dylan? Official Ranger business is supposed to be run through Seera.”

Sundance smiled slyly. “Well you know me girlfriend. I trust that glowing pixie as far as I can throw her little digital behind. No I heard through the grapevine that a certain Ex-ranger had holed up on a particularly unpleasant periphery rock and was leading the local resistance there.”

Penny’s composure remained largely the same, but Wu saw her hands on the console snap into fists.

“Who’d you hear this from?”

“Ranger Wayne just rotated out of duty in the Pantheon of Saints. When I caught up with him he said the Black Mask Society have been making a major push in that area. Especially on St. Aloysius.”

Wu perked up at that. “Aloysius? The locals there hate us almost as much as the Feds.”

“That would be the first thing that caught my attention yes.” Sundance replied. “I dug into it a little and it wasn’t long before I found this:”

A still image appeared in the corner of the screen. It was blurry from movement but the resolution brought out the details in the black ranger armour clear as day.

He’d even left his name tag on.

“Rodgers.” Penny muttered.

“I figured you’d want first dibs on this. But with your perp in tow I guess…”

“No.” Penny said suddenly. “He’s mine. I’ll put in a course for Aloysius and head out there immediately.”

“Really?” Wu asked, one eyebrow raised. “What about me?”

Sundance tipped his hat to Penny. “You do what you gotta do Ranger. I’m just passing on your intel like you asked. Sundance out.”

Penny saluted the camera. “Thank you Dylan. Dreadful out.”

And with that the screen returned to the progress bar, which reported that the scan was complete.

Wu rounded on Penny. “What the hell Ranger? You won’t go against your orders when a life is on the line but this is okay?”

Penny grabbed the collar of his jacket and pulled his face up to hers. “You know damn well I said if you could give me anything on Rodgers I’d have let you go back on Ernutet. Now I know he’s on Aloysius, I am NOT letting him get away again.”

Penny released him and Wu returned to his seat. He shook his head at her. “Typical fed. Your needs come before anyone else. What about Hae Lee? You think she’ll be happy you’re keeping this ship for however long you want?”

Penny summoned a vid-window displaying the navigation data in her augmented vision. Without so much as a sidewards glance she said. “If it means more time to spend with you, Hae Lee would let me take this thing on a round-trip of the whole spiral arm. If you want me to give her this ‘nudge’ of yours you’ll sit tight and keep the whining to yourself.”

Wu seethed quietly, his jaw clenched. But he pushed away from the pilot’s console before he did anything he would regret.

“Good.” Penny said, then she put enough emphasis on her next words that Wu knew she was putting a new command into his collar. “Stay in that chair.”

Sure enough, Wu heard the collar ping to indicate it had received the new command.

Penny turned back to the console, made herself comfortable in her chair and turned her attention towards her own Headspace.

 

When Penny opened her eyes again she was standing in a field of sunflowers.

She’s modelled her personal Headspace after the fields out the back of her parent’s property on Bast.

Being surrounded by the places she used to run and play through for hours as a kid never failed to calm her.

But right now Penny had work to do.

“Summon Seera.” Penny commanded the air.

There was a flash of light beside her and Seera’s feminine form appeared in a glowing outline of electric blue.

“Good day Ranger Dreadful, how may I help you?”

“I need you to relay a message to Ranger High Command.”

Seera nodded. “Go ahead.”

“I believe I’m being followed by the Black Mask Society, who are likely attempting to retrieve their companion. I have considered my options and I believe my best course of action will be to Run Silent for the next little while. At least until I can lose them.”

“Are you sure Ranger?” Seera said, not a hint of suspicion in her voice. “Would you prefer we coordinated with the navy for additional protection?”

“We’re too far away from any naval vessels in the immediate area. I need to go quiet and drop out of sight for a while. Maybe take a long detour, see if I can shake them off.”

“If you believe that is wise Ranger, I will pass that on.”

“I believe it is essential.”

Seera nodded again. “Very well Ranger Dreadful. I will pass this on to Captain Harrison for you. Be advised that you will only be granted three weeks of silent running, after which you must report in to Ranger High Command with your exact location and the current status of your mission. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary charges being laid against you.”

Penny nodded back to her. “I’m well aware of the risks.”

“Understood. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No Seera.” Penny saluted. “That will be all.”
“Then good luck, Ranger.”

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Old Wounds Chapter 04 Part 1

Chapter 04

Wu parked himself in the copilot’s seat and waited for Penny to finish locking him out of the controls. She’d put his personal area network on the exceptions list shortly after she’d taken control of the ship, but now she was locking him out of the manual controls as well.

She hadn’t done this already for safety reason. In an emergency, if Wu needed to steer the ship out of danger and Penny and Hae Lee were unavailable he would need access to at least the manual controls. The perils of deep-space travel made the trade-off in security more than worth it. But right now Penny was of sound mind and body and she needed to make sure Wu didn’t touch anything she didn’t want him to.

“Alright. That’s that.” Penny said. “You make yourself comfortable there Mr Wu. And I’ll go back to the exciting life of software checks and system scans.”

Wu swept another mouthful of stir-fry into his mouth with his chopsticks. “Mmm-hmm.”

Penny slumped her armoured body into the pilot’s chair and stared at the status monitor for a moment, watching the system scan itself for errors and bad sectors.

Penny started on the noodles first and tried to make as little a slurping noise as she could.

“So…” Penny said after a moment. “This is riveting.”

Wu chewed on his bamboo shoots for a moment. “Yup.”

Penny let that hang in the air while the progress bar at the bottom of the screen inched forward again.

Then she turned to Wu and asked. “So how far have you and Hae Lee gone exactly?”

Wu smirked and got his food down before answering. “Foul two.”

Penny blinked for a second. “What?”

Wu fished around in his stir-fry for another broccoli. “Baseball terms.”

“Yeah I know that.” Penny said. “But that’s measured in bases. First base is kissing…”

“Exactly.” Wu replied. “But we haven’t made it to first base, she keeps hitting fouls.”

“Really?” Penny took another look at Wu. “Because I got the impression you and her…”

“Nooo.” Wu said, shutting her down. Then he nervously glanced towards the door. “But I would like to talk to you about that. It’s just… could we have this conversation ‘in private’.”

Penny knew what Wu referred to. Private Chat meant the two of them speaking over the Personal Area Networks on their nanoputers instead of speaking aloud.

Penny reached into her nanoputer’s system and set up a secure channel, one that Wu could only manipulate through audio and with severely restricted volume limits.

[Okay, how’s that?] Penny asked when the connection declared itself complete. Wu heard the words as though Penny were throwing her voice right behind his ear, though her lips never moved.

[Loud and clear Ranger.]

[So what did you want to talk about?]

[I need you to give Hae Lee a gentle nudge. She’s kind of throwing herself at me. I’ve walked in on her in the shower three times and yet she keeps ‘forgetting’ to lock the door.]

Penny shrugged. [She’s making sure you get a look at the goods.]

[Oh… I’ve seen them.] Wu nodded. [And they are indeed good. But she reminds me of an ex I had in university.]

[Hey hang on, that ain’t really fair on Hae Lee now. You can’t punish her for your ex’s mistakes.]

[She reminds me because she’s doing the same things that annoyed me about my ex. She wants me to settle down, start a family, change the direction of my entire life to better suit the idea she’s got in her head. I’m a revolutionary, I’m going to spend the rest of my life fighting the Federation or rotting in prison, neither of which is going to mix well with her dreams of a white picket fence.]

Penny noticed the progress bar was just over three quarters of the way through, she kicked back and put her boots up on the console.

[Alright, I’ll talk to her. I don’t know what I’m gonna to say but I’ll take a whack at it. Gotta warn you though, if the promise of running her own ship isn’t enough to keep her from helping you, there may not be a way.]

A melody of beeps, the consoles’ hailing alert, cut Wu off before he could reply. With the system in maintenance mode the ship’s backup computer was handling the systems and its AR interface burned out years ago, according to Hae Lee. No-one ever remembered to replace it.

Penny checked the screen for the hail I.D.

“Mmmph?” Penny said aloud.

Wu tried not to look like he was reading the I.D. out of the corner of his eye. It wasn’t an official government channel, he could tell that much.

Penny smirked at the screen and hit the receive button.

A voice like that of a cartoon chipmunk blared out of the speakers.

“Hiiiiiiidddeeee Hooooooooe.”

Penny laughed. “Dylan!”

“What’s up girlfriend?” The speaker asked, now sounding like a defensive linebacker mimicking one of the cheerleaders.

“Eurgh.” Penny made a show of rolling her eyes. “It’s a long story. I’m haulin’ in a perp to headquarters.”

“Ooooh, well aren’t you just the eager-beaver. Who ya got?”

“See for yourself.” Penny slid her chair to the side and beckoned Wu over. “Wu, may I introduce Ranger Sundance.”
Out of sheer curiosity, Wu rolled his own chair over to the pilot’s console.
“Dylan, this is Wu Gang Shu, bodyguard of the Incense Master to the BMS’ Tang Sing cell.”

As Wu had expected, the figure on the other side of the screen was a man in ranger armour. Everything else was a bit of a shock. He wore his helmet open, so he could perch a white ten-gallon hat over his head of radiant blond hair. Upon seeing Wu he beamed a friendly smile, revealing perfect teeth. He tipped his hat to him. “Pleased to meet’cha Mr Wu. I hope you’re looking after my girl here.”

Wu smirked at him. “This may shock you, but she and I are not friends.”

Ranger Sundance winked. “Give our some girl time, she grows on you.”

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Old Wounds Chapter 02 Part 2

Sadly, unlike the spoiled kid from the broadwalk, the Interceptor kept his pistol on single-shot. Theresa barely wasted a quarter of his ammo before he twisted around and pulled his hips out from under her. Theresa clamped her hands down tight on his gun and wrist, rolling herself over him, she spun around on the ground and twisted the pistol right out of his hand.

As Theresa’s fingers closed around the pistol’s grip a warning flashed in the corner of her vision. The Interceptor had locked the pistol to his own nano ID. Theresa cursed as she heard the quiet click of the weapon’s safety catch locking in place.

The Interceptor’s hand shot out to regain his grip on the pistol. Theresa pulled the gun away and his hand closed around her arm instead. She quickly shifted the pistol to her other hand and as his arm yanked her down onto him she belted him in the face with the handle-end.

The hit stunned him a moment, giving her the time to hit him with the pistol again.

His hold slackened enough for Theresa to break out and step away from him. But he was already getting back to his feet.

She hurled the pistol over the rows of boxes and heard it hit the ground some distance away.

Growling like an enraged beast the Interceptor threw himself into a tackle, trying to grab Theresa around the waist. She threw her legs out behind her just before he could wrap his arms around her hips. As they fell to the ground together Theresa kept on top of him, pushing him into the concrete floor.

But the Interceptor kept his arms down to break his fall and pushed right back up, unimpeded by Theresa’s meagre weight. Both fighters got their legs under them at the same time, but the Interceptor brought himself up with a lunging knee at Theresa’s ribs.

She blocked by driving her elbow down into his thigh before he could get the knee all the way up. While his leg retracted Theresa jabbed out at his side with a pecking-fist strike, following up with hook to his head, which he blocked, and a ridge-hand strike to his neck, which he didn’t.

Theresa smiled as the first two hits of her nanohacking sequence landed true. If she could complete the sequence she could upload a virus into his own nanoputer that would lock up all of his joints and paralyse him.

The Interceptor responded with a wide-hook Theresa ducked under, but as she moved around beside him she was yanked right back by the fistful of her hoodie he’d grabbed instead.

He scored a light hit to the ribs and another to her shoulder while she was still unbalanced and before she could right herself again he pulled the hood over her face and turned her around. Theresa tried to keep turning to defend herself, swinging back with an elbow, stomping on his shoes, but the Interceptor got in close and struck Theresa four more times, completing his own nanohacking sequence.

Theresa felt every muscle in her back tense up involuntarily. The painful spasms travelled down her legs and through her arms until she collapsed onto the cold concrete floor.

The Interceptor smirked and reached down to the socket on her wrist. He pulled a wireless dongle from a concealed pocket in the collar of his jacket and slotted it into her arm.

Helpless, Theresa grit her teeth as the Interceptor’s allies hacked through her nanoputer’s security and dug through her personal data.

The Interceptor smirked as the information they sought scrolled across his vision.

“Well would you look at that. The Black Mask Society really do have people squeezing the marines. Guess that wasn’t just them blowing smoke after all.”

A warning beep sounded in Theresa’s nanoputer and the command ‘Restore Factory Settings’ flashed into her field of view.

Theresa did her best to growl through her paralysis as her own nanoputer began a total wipe of her wetdrives and reinstall the operating system.

The Interceptor’s smirk graduated to a deep chuckle.

Then without warning a skylight on the other side of the room exploded. A lone figure dropped down to the floor, landing in a crouch as shards of plexiglass cascaded off its armoured body. The figure was decked from head-to-toe in the uniform of a Federation Ranger, its colour-shifting surface set to a jet black. The figure got up from the floor and looked out at the Interceptor.

With a dark voice that held authority like a clenched fist he said. “That’s no way to treat a lady.”

The Interceptor’s hand instinctively reached for his pistol, stopping only when he found the empty holster. The Interceptor put on a brave face. “What I do is none of your business Fed.”

The Ranger squared his shoulders at him. “Wrong twice son. I ain’t no fed. And if y’all causing trouble between the factions and distracting us from our real enemy, you just made yourself my business.”

“Yeah?” The Interceptor replied. “You want your data back? You come get it.”

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Old Wounds Chapter 02 Part 1

Chapter 02

Theresa flicked the switches on the dusty wall panel, turning on two switches and then leaving the third switch off before flicking on the fourth. Not a single light turned on but she heard a low click from behind the panel before she reached up and pulled it off the wall.
The safe house key was still on its hook.

Theresa glanced around sharply while she pocketed the key, but the empty industrial streets failed to produce a threat. Physical keys were almost unheard of in these days of nano-computing and faster-than-light travel. But she didn’t need the key for the front door. Pressing her finger against the door’s sensor let it sample the authorisation in her nano-machines and it unlocked.

Theresa closed the door behind her, leaving the faint moonlight shining in through the dirty windows as the room’s only illumination. Theresa closed her denim-blue eyes and when she opened them again they glowed a faint emerald green. Physical augmentations beyond nano-machines were illegal under Federal law but you could still pack a lot of toys into a pair of contact lenses.

With a gentle tint of green exaggerating the tiny refractions of light Theresa made her way to the farthest corner of the room. She slipped her key between the seams on an old plastic crate and opened it up to reveal her cell’s terminal box. Theresa pressed her hand against the box and accessed its network connection.

A vid-window appeared in the air in front of her allowing her to access the machine’s secure voice chat. She dialled up her cell leader and waited for him to pick up.

The screen went black and displayed the words ‘Audio Only’ across its surface. The gruff but tense voice of John-Paul, her cell leader appeared in her mind.
[Finally. We thought you’d been picked up. Where are you?]

[In the old safe house on the edge of Peter’s Gates.]

There was a pause. [The Order’s turf? What are you doing out there?]

[The idiots bombed the train station, I had to head out on foot.]

[Is the data secure?]

John-Paul couldn’t see but Theresa patted the side of her head. [I’ve got it right here. Do you want me to upload it to you?]

[No.] JP replied. [If you get caught with the data we lose one valuable agent, but nothing else. If they find this information travelling over the network we lose two safe-houses and anyone connected to them. I need you to maintain the risk for a little longer.]

Theresa nodded. [Understood.]

A loud metallic ‘clack’ sounded from the far end of the warehouse. [I think someone’s here. I’ll see you on the other side.]

Theresa took her hand off the computer terminal and pulled the crate over it before pocketing the key. Then the door Theresa came in by swung open, revealing the flash of a silhouette before it slammed shut.

Theresa didn’t need to hear the voice that called out to know who it was.

“Yo, Free Aloysius, you in here?” The Interceptor yelled. “I saw you come in and I ain’t seen you go out. So how ’bout you step into the moonlight and we walk a while?”

He got nothing but silence in response. The Interceptor shrugged and moved further into the room, his right hand straying to reach just behind his hip.

“What’sa matter?” He asked the shadows. “I thought you geeks loved to talk. All your racket about ‘Freedom to sin’ and ‘Separation of church and state’. You talk about succeeding from the Feds, but you sound just like ’em.”

From the back of the room Theresa called out. “We don’t say anything about ‘Freedom to sin.’ We just say ‘freedom.’”

The Interceptor locked his eyes on the origin of the sound and approached slowly, drawing his pistol from under his jacket but keeping it behind him.

“Like I said, just like the Feds.”

As he passed each rack of boxes he took a cautious glance down the aisles. His gun staying where it was. But she wasn’t down any of the aisles so he continued on.

At the last aisle the Interceptor whipped out his pistol and dashed around the corner. Theresa exploded at him,  falling upon his gun-hand to turn it away from her as he squeezed out his first shot.

Theresa felt the single-bullet punch through the hood of her jacket, just below her ear.

Twisting around under his arm Theresa moved to get behind him when the Interceptor reached around his back and swapped hands on the pistol.

Whipping his new gun-hand around the Interceptor tried to get a bead on her.

Quickly, Theresa dropped low and tackled the Interceptor to the ground, his shot flying wilding over her head. Theresa scrambled up him and grabbed for his gun again. Holding all of her weight onto the arm across his chest Theresa closed her free hand around his wrist and sent the nanosignal to squeeze over and over again, putting round after round into the boxes right beside them. Coughs of acrid chemical dust sputtered out of the box with each round that hit it.

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Old Wounds: Chapter 01 Part 3

Theresa landed in a roll and stayed low, the constant crack of gunfire overhead encouraged this further. Crawling through the stock room she reached the shop’s back door. Despite its bullet-riddled surface, the locking mechanism looked unharmed.

Theresa swore under her breath. She moved so she could kick at the door without getting up and slammed both her heels into it. The door didn’t budge.

Theresa forced herself to remain calm. There had to be a way out, between the rock of the door and the hard place of the goons, there had to be a way to slip out the middle.

The crunch of plexiglass crystals told her the Order’s men had stepped into the building. Theresa stilled her breathing and got up off the floor. She turned to face the Order’s goons and stood right up, her hands in the air.

“There she is.” One of them yelled.

Theresa quickly ducked back out of view. The sudden movement startled the goons and they opened fire again. Having moved into the close-confines of the store they’d set their rifles to ‘Hammer’ and blast after blast flew in Theresa’s direction.

The hammer-blasts tore fist-sized chunks out of the back door, Theresa waited for another lull in the shooting and rammed her shoulder into it. The battered plasterboard yielded easily, allowing her to tumble into the back alley.

Theresa rolled out of the way of the door and was up and running before they could resume fire. Sprinting full-tilt down the alley she frantically glanced around for some means of escape. The Order’s goons would be through the shop and back in line of sight any moment now.

Then Theresa noticed an old fire escape on the apartment block up ahead. She poured on the speed, jumped up, kicked off the wall and grabbed hold of the ladder’s lowest rung. The locking mechanism held despite its age and she scrambled up the railing and vaulted up onto the balcony.

Down below the goons burst into the alley, their weapons pointed in all directions. Theresa raced up the stairs to the roof. Another couple of seconds and she’d be out of sight.

But the movement caught the eye of one of the goons and he opened fire at her. Theresa dashed up the last few steps, jumped up to grab the ledge of the roof and hoisted herself over as the Order’s bullets tore up the brick around her.

Theresa hit the roof running, covering the length of the apartment building in seconds and leaping across the next broadwalk to the row of townhouses opposite it, much to the surprise of the pedestrians underneath. Theresa landed, rolled out and was back to sprinting with only a second’s loss.

Then the hum of speeder engines reached Theresa’s ears and she looked up. Swinging around behind her was another civilian people-mover. The side door was already open, something the Order’s mechanics must have modified its safety protocols to allow. Waiting in the open doorway, leaning casually in the rushing air was a black man decked out in running shoes, cargo pants with armoured knees and hips, a padded motorcycle jacket and black military cap. He slipped off his sunglasses as the speeder moved in closer and stashed them in his pocket.

Recognition flashed in Theresa’s eyes and she cursed. He was the Order’s top freerunner, they called him The Interceptor.

The Interceptor jumped out of the speeder and landed on the townhouse rooftops. Like Theresa he landed in a roll and was up and sprinting in the next moment.

Theresa changed direction and leapt right off the two storey townhouse and down to the roof of a parked speeder before rolling off and hitting the street below, her own armoured jacket protecting the places her acrobatics training could not.

The speeder circled around to keep her in sight. The Interceptor followed her route exactly, jumping off the speeder’s roof to join her on the street.

Theresa turned down a trash-strewn alley and dashed to the end. Noticing the dead end looming before her Theresa scanned her surroundings without slowing down. In an instant she took in the chain-link fence at the end, the wheelie-bins lining one wall and the stray milk crate beside them.

Theresa jumped again, stepping stoned over the milk-crate to reach the wheelie-bins and from there up to the top of the chain-link fence. She grabbed at the fence, laced her fingers in between the wire mesh, kicked off the side and vaulted over the top. Just barely missing the dumpster on the other side.

The Order’s speeder roared overhead, but Theresa couldn’t yet see it for the rooftops. Behind her the Interceptor rounded the corner to the alley and charged down after her.

She pressed herself up against the side of another civilian speeder parked outside a townhouse and looked around. Moving quickly she slipped off her jacket and reversed the sleeves, swapping her olive-drab for black. She threw the jacket back on, zipped it up and pulled the hood over her head before emerging from behind the speeder with a passing family. As the Order’s speeder glided overhead she stuffed her hands into her pockets and slouched.

The Interceptor rushed out into the middle of the broadwalk and slowed down. He glanced around, worry and sweat breaking out on his face. Up above the speeder stopped in mid-air, like a cartoon character pulling a double-take. As Theresa crossed the street and continued down the far-end the speeder held its position before finally taking to the skies. The Interceptor cursed loudly and kicked a trash can.

In the shadow of her hood, Theresa grinned.

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Old Wounds: Chapter 01 Part 2

“Hey, Apostate!”

Theresa stopped and stifled a sigh from getting too loud. She turned to face the voice and saw a trio of youths approach her. They strode like kings, but were barely out of high school. The one in the front, the blond one in the red blazer had a pistol stuffed into the waistband of his trousers, which did not look comfortable.

That might explain why his left hand was constantly toying with it.

“Yeah.” He beamed. “You look at me when I talk to you.”

So much for being on the same side.

Theresa kept her gaze up and on the three sets of smiling eyes approaching her. The two youths flanking their friend kept silent. Their attention alternated between her and their leader.

Theresa concentrated on her peripheral vision and took in the broadwalk they were on. It was two footpaths wide and bordered by abandoned shopfronts at the edges, she was firmly boxed in. The only ways out were to turn and run or go right through the three youths.

The leader’s pistol complicated those plans.

The youth looked at Theresa and sneered. “What do you think you’re doing here? You know your kind aren’t welcome in the Gates.”

The words ‘your kind’ made Theresa’s shoulders tense. She narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m just passing through. I don’t need to be welcomed.”

He stopped at arms-length from Theresa and his hand closed around the pistol’s grip. “Perhaps I’m being too subtle. Take your skanky apostate self off the streets of our fine city, you’re not wanted here.”

Theresa felt her hands clench into fists. “I go where I like. You can’t stop me.”

The youth beamed at his entourage. “Looks like we got some fight in this one.”

He pulled the six-barrelled pistol from his pants, at the same time his two boys moved up to flank her. Pulling retractable batons from their jackets as they approached.

The youth raised his pistol at Theresa.

Before he had it all the way up she snatched his wrist away and bent his arm towards the youth on his left. A subtle programming command transferred through her nano-machines to his hand, causing it to clench tight around the pistol, squeezing the trigger.

Unfortunately for the youth the leader had left his pistol set to ‘hammer’ and a shot from all six barrels punched through his chest. While he stumbled to his death Theresa intercepted his friend on her other flank with a kick to the gut.

The Leader swung his fist out at Theresa, but she was already on the move, slipping around to his back, she twisted his arm between his shoulder blades. Another nanohack command from Theresa forced his hand open and the pistol dropped into her grasp. Theresa hugged close to the leader and stuck his pistol in his kicked friend’s face.

The last youth gasped, his mouth fell open and his hands came up. He noticed the baton in his hand and quickly threw it away. “Oh God. Please don’t kill me.”

Theresa tilted her head down the street. “Leave.”

Without a second’s thought the youth obeyed. The leader struggled, reaching to his departing friend. “Travis! Don’t you leave me.”

Theresa stuck the pistol’s barrels under his chin. “Relax tough guy. I’m not going to kill you unless I have to. Does that sound fair?”

He panted a few times before saying “Y-yes.”

“Good boy.”

Theresa was about to speak again when she heard the roar of speeder engines descending behind her. She spun around, keeping the boy as her human shield. Coming in to land on the broadwalk was a civilian transport speeder, basically an airborne minibus. The side door slid open allowing two men to jump the last metre down to the street while a third trained his rifle on Theresa. They wore no uniform, just jeans, leather jackets and crew cuts, but it was clear they were the Order’s militiamen. They carried themselves like they had absolute authority.
The closest of them, a hard-nosed man with a permanent scowl, called out to her.

“Just what the hell is going…”
Theresa didn’t wait for him to finish, she tightened her grip around her captive’s neck and bolted for the nearest shop front, unloading a hammer-shot into each corner of the window before throwing the boy into it.

While the Order’s goons got their weapons out, Theresa dropped low, switched to full-auto and emptied the last of the pistol’s ammo at the door-gunner. Her rounds pinged loudly into the speeder’s hull, causing the gunner to duck behind it for cover.

 

Theresa took her chance and dashed through the shattered glass into the shopfront. The youth reached up from the debris-covered floor and snatched at her leg, catching her at the ankle and pulling her to the ground.

A moment later the Order’s goons opened fire. Bullets tore through the rest of the shop-front, obliterating the what was left of the window and sending hot steel and plexiglass everywhere.

Theresa rolled onto her back and lashed out at the bloodied youth with her other foot, catching him square in the face. Theresa felt the cartilage of his nose give way and his grip on her ankle released.

Outside one of the order’s goons yelled. “Form up.”

Theresa pushed up from the ground and charged towards the back of the shop, vaulting over the counter just as the goons caught sight of her and opened fire again.
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Old Wounds: Chapter 01

Chapter 01

The checkpoint guard turned his eyes towards Theresa. Biting her lip, she brushed her stringy black hair behind her ear and stepped forward.

Behind her the commuter crowd formed a queue that went all the way back up the stairs. The Federation lacked the troops to man all the turnstiles, forcing the milling crowd into a bottleneck two at a time.

Theresa felt her heat rate pick up and did her best to ignore it as she approached.

“Hal-lo.” Said the guard in his heavy Indian accent. The United Federation of Terra, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that Vishnu should provide the latest rotation of garrison troops to pacify St. Aloysius. Even from a distance Theresa could tell he was reading off a phrase sheet in his augmented reality vision. He sounded like a grade-schooler trying to memorise their lines for a school play.

“Please to be giv-ving your arm for the scan-ning of your nano-mo… namo… your mano-machines.”

In her nanoputer Theresa moved her identification protocols to her public network before obediently raising her left hand.

Bahut-shukriya.” The guard said in his native tongue before he could catch himself.
Theresa cast a wary glance towards his companion, who watched the crowd behind her like a strict head master at a math test. Both men wore the lighter, open armour of the marine infantry squadrons. So making a nanohack attack was still within her options should this go south.

She did her best not to look like she was tensing up, but her mind was already racing. If the scanner revealed her falsified I.D. she would have to act quickly, the fresh bullet holes along the back wall stood in grim testament to his off-sider’s itchy trigger-finger.

Before she could formulate the rest of her plan the first guard smiled unconvincingly and waved her on. Theresa returned her own plastic smile and got moving.

 

The next train out of the Green Zone stopped at the platform right on time. Theresa found a seat and felt a little sorry for the commuters still at the checkpoint. By the time the next train came that mass of humanity would have to fight for elbow room.

Theresa sighed and leaned into the seat. The train zoomed out of the tunnel and she looked over the clean streets of the Green Zone, a sight marred only by the constant presence of uniformed soldiers. Armoured troop carriers and aerial drones buzzed around the district like flies on a dung heap. Theresa snorted at them. At their shiny, totalitarian, dung heap.

The train entered another tunnel and came out again in the city proper. Out here the garrison troops treaded lightly as they patrolled the streets, ducking between narrow alleyways and dodging the crumbling remains of turn of the century buildings. This close to the Green Zone was no-ones’ territory and the civilians here knew it better than anyone. If you were in trouble here, you had microseconds to work out exactly what kind of trouble it was before going to the correct faction for help, choose wrong and your trouble was only beginning.

Theresa saw the ride from the Green Zone back to the HQ as the perfect metaphor for the Federation Core worlds and what they called ‘the Periphery’.

As the train sped further away from the Green Zone the well-worn streets began to give way to cracked pavement and the ruined statues of saints. The closer the train got to the neighbourhoods of Aloysius’ pre-war elites the worse it got.

Theresa turned away from the window. The territory of the ‘Order of Latter-day Saints of Aloysius’ wasn’t even worth her scorn. If anyone deserved to live in the mess their planet had become it was the Order.

As the train approached the next station the A.I. driver’s calm, feminine voice spoke over the P.A. system. “Due to terrorist activity on this line, all passengers must alight at the next station where alternative transportation will be provided. We apologise for the delay.”

Theresa cursed under her breath as the train began to slow. Alternative transport meant the Feds were diverting troop carriers to ferry the civilians to their destination, after dropping soldiers off at every nearby station to increase security.

Theresa bit her lip again. Would it be better to hide amongst the commuters in full view of the garrison troops or try to get to the next station on foot through civilian streets? Even if they were crawling with the Order’s supporters, they were all on the same side right?

 

While the small huddle of Green Zone civilians filed into the waiting area Theresa passed through the garrison checkpoint and slipped into the streets.

She couldn’t believe even the Order were stupid enough to attack the train lines. The mag-lev system was a planet-wide infrastructure project the feds had paid for as part of their hearts and minds campaign. While Theresa may have recognised the propaganda stunt for what it was only a fool would bite the hand that spends billions of credits to improve your way of life. Why make them waste funding on repairs when they could be giving Aloysius more?

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