The air felt cool as it flew by my face; thick, steamy, sluggish, with just the touch of the hinterlands of Lorrisi, a nearby forest tainting the air with its pungent spores. This would not have been the first time I died, so I don't want you to be upset if I should expire during the course of this story. It is simply an occupational hazard in my line of work, hence my familiarity with the strange things you notice, just before you kick off this mortal coil.
As I was falling I noticed blood was streaming into my nose and mouth as I was turning and tumbling, cloying, choking blood from an injury to my head. I tried to orient myself but could not seem to focus. I was simply unable to right myself. "Secondary neural complex activating. Activating nanostructure repair. Impact in 3 seconds, harden structure, activate impact aerojel."
I heard the sound of a burst of compressed air from my belt buckle, and a tiny capsule hurtled toward the ground at the nearly the speed of sound.
"Three, two, one."
Fortunately a parked gravcar, and a cushion of flash aerojel protected me from the forty story fall with nothing more than a two dozen serious lacerations, a dozen contusions, two minimal hairline fractures on my right forearm which broke my fall nicely. Then the shock overwhelmed me and I lost consciousness.
"Major," said the quiet voice that I heard speaking to me on my way toward the ground.
"It has been 48 seconds since the first shot was fired, and you have been unconscious for 36 seconds."
"You have suffered 10% loss of neural material due to the round you have taken to your skull. I have begun the nanotech repair of your neural network. Unfortunately, this will take some time. Your skull and facial reconstruction are already underway. The skull will be repaired in two hours. Facial reconstruction, will take another two hours. The rest of your body has suffered relatively minor damage and you have only lost nineteen percent of your physical capacity."
"And the good news?"
"Your fractures are already under repair and will be completed within the hour. The lacerations and contusion damage have been sealed and your blood loss has been minimal. The damage to your skull and your memory center will likely take days to regenerate completely without the Frame's support. Until we are able to get back to the Frame, your memory backups will be inaccessible."
Okay, now to the important things. "Who is trying to kill us?" I get up from the remnants of the aerojel, which is designed to break after five seconds, but leaves a bit of residue on everything. This gravcar is never going anywhere again. A body weighing six hundred pounds from forty stories leaves a mess. Sitting in the seat of the car with the hood crumpled around me, I see people starting to mill around the car.
"Major, we have company. Across the plaza, two humanoids, armed with weapons matching the Ajax 320 Pulse Rifle with select fire options."
"Do I want to know how you determined their weapons at this distance?" I was a bit incredulous that the AI could possibly know the weapons of our assailants so early in our conflict.
"We were bombarded by infra-sound ranging technology common to the Ajax 320 Pulse rifle. Considering our proximity to Ajax and the cost of shipping goods in this system, it is the most likely candidate for small and medium firearms in this sector. Since the Ajax is used in thicker than Earth-normal atmospheres and uses infra-sound for that reason, it was a logical conclusion, bolstered by the fact that I am now correct."
I get up from the wreckage and pick up a small piece of the grav-car, likely part of a gull-wing door and use it as a shield. Yes, it would be easier for me to dodge their attacks and normally I would, but my image told me I had neural damage, so until I am able to assess that damage, I have to "creatively utilize my surroundings" as my Sensei was so fond of saying.
"You are no longer human," said the tiny soldier dressed in a Mil-spec interface armor. The armor was black and grey, a close-fitting mesh, covered with tiny overlapping scales like that of a fish. His face was calm and serene and he was far different than my first drill instructors decades ago in my first basic training.
"You have had the final stage of your Mil-spec enhancements to your skeleton, neural net and musculature. As formidable as you were in your previous lives, and you were chosen for that skill, you are not again as children in your understanding of your capability. For the next two years, you will live here on Soldanis Four and relearn your bodies. For now you have all been set to one sixth of your actual full strength. This approximates your normal human strength before your transformation. You have been dialed down in order to understand just how different you are now.
He turned and pointed downrange at an obstacle course and picked up an Ajax Pulse Rifle. There were several steel targets approximating the shape of human beings at a range of three hundred meters. Each target was holding a wooden prop of a weapon of one sort or another. I could barely see them. And then he moved. He went from a standing start to a run that literally kicked up dust behind him. He turned down range and fired his pulse rifle six times, one for each target. After he made his shot he covered the distance in thirteen seconds and proceeded using a Vibron Flex Sword to strike each of his targets and slicing them in half. He did not slow down for any strike, made three per target, covered the distance between them in thirteen seconds and returned to us in the last thirteen seconds.
We double-timed it downrange and when we got to each target, three things were apparent. No target had a head. It was nowhere to be found. It had been blasted off by his initially volley of six rounds of pulse fire. Each steel statue has been sliced in three completely separate pieces. And he had done all of this while moving at over eighty kilometers an hour. I had never seen anything like this. Even the smallest mecha suits which offered similar capabilities weighed over five tons and still could not work with the precision Sensei did.
"You are all now capable of performing similar feats with the proper training. You will learn this here. This is a pass or fail course. If you fail, you have died and will not reach the final stage of your development, access to a Resurrection Frame. Of the one hundred of you gathered today, fifty of you will fail to complete this course and will be horribly maimed. You will be repaired to the best of our technology, dialed down to normal strength and fitness and returned to your former duties if possible. Most of the damage will be neurological so you will be reduced to a vegetable and unable to participate in even feeding yourself. You will spend the rest of your life in a military hospital. Fifteen of you will die due to a failure to inculcate the nano-machines and bio-mechanical adaptations required to complete the transformation. I am obligated to offer you one final time to return to the life you know. You will be dialed back to a human-level performance and allowed finish your military career. You will remain in the military for the rest of your life, as you will need care to maintain your prosthetics. Only with your graduation to the Frame will such care, no longer be necessary. The Frame will repair you, and will ultimately become your life.
No one refused. Having spent decades on the battlefield as an infantryman, a light armored trooper or heavy armored trooper, none of us had ever seen anything like Sensei. Armed with the proper technology, a single soldier like him was worth a regiment. We would die to possess such abilities. And many of us would.
Hefting the car door, I noted its solid construction and considered it to be more than adequate for my needs. I was wearing my combat mesh beneath my uniform but the fewer people remember seeing that, the better. Rounds pelted the car door and I ran toward the two shooters, careful to keep my speed down and maintain the appearance of humanity.
"Majoris, we need to hurry and resolve this. A call for Peacekeepers has gone out. This system has both Bal-ha and Mariovel Peacekeepers. I don't need to remind you of their formidable abilities, do I?"
"Not good, pinpoint the others if you please, I will deal with these two." The two soldiers who were approaching me were wearing light exoskeletons and carried heavy rifles. A tiny metallic bead shot away from my forehead and streaked toward the building we fell out of a few minutes ago. With my image gone, I could feel the difference in my physical condition, I was a bit slower and clumsier because it was compensating for my injuries. But these injuries were nothing I hadn't dealt with before. With the image gone, I could also do things proscribed by its safety protocols. Once the exo-armors were within fifty yards, I increased my speed and closed the distance, in what would appear to them, instantly, using my inertia, I spun and hurled my car door at the leading armor, decapitating him before he realized I had moved. The second, surprised both by my speed and the violence of my action, hesitated, and in that two second window, I pulled my flex-sword, charged it, and sliced off his weapon arm before he could pull the trigger. I needed him alive, but a little shock wouldn't stop me from getting what I wanted.
"I have them. In addition to the two that were in the office we jumped out of, there are four others who are meeting with the others in the parking facility. They are carrying much heavier weaponry. I think a strategic retreat is in order."
"These two are down, one incapacitated, the other in shock. What can you do for a vehicle? Using the one we came in is likely not the smartest idea."
"There are several non-sentient AI's I can coerce into allowing you to ride and not broadcasting their location to the grid," the Image sounded as if it might enjoy that process.
"I am going to head toward our car and see if I can detonate their charges as a cover. Get a damn car and meet me there."
I turned back toward the two soldiers who were down and that's when I became aware of the Bel-ha descending from the sky.
"Desist activities and resist not. Comply, please," it's mechanical voice was created by a vox-coder but it was clearly commanding even while it was polite. The Bel-ha prize politeness above all else.
And I intended to comply, because it had asked me so nicely and because its psionic powers were reputed to be so formidable it could stop my heart with a casual thought. I really did plan to stop but as it descended, slowly and majestically right over the bodies of the mercenaries, of which I really needed to take one of, I heard the sound of a detonator switch on and decided to dive for cover instead. This was the right choice, as the explosion dug a twelve-foot hole in the ferrocrete beneath the bodies and sent shrapnel over my head, which I had conveniently located on the ground. I did not expect to see much of the Bel-ha cephalopod, except maybe some sushi clinging to the local plaza art. Imagine my surprise when I saw the Peacekeeper lying about 12 meters away in relatively good shape, a bit crisp, alive but quite still. Remind me never to get on the bad side of one of these aliens.
"I've damaged the local constabulary and lost my leads. Tell me you have better news on the transport front." I was being snarky but was really pissed because this would put me on the top of the local Peacekeeper hit list.
"The vehicle selection was wide and excellent, all with low grade intelligence engines, easily swayed by my magnetic charms. I am on my way, keep your pants on. ETA, forty-five seconds if you are standing near our car. As a minor aside, there has been a secondary call to the Peacekeepers and it has been acknowledged as an escalation and possible terrorist attack. Did I mention, I was being chased by heavy armored assault suits in hover mode? My recommendation is to jump in as I pass, as slowing down would be bad. I'll remember to roll the window down, this time, I promise."
"Now you realize, I should stop to render assistance..."
"Majoris, this is Biyu, the base is under attack, requesting orders." Biyu Chenggang never panicked, but the stress in her voice was evident.
"Talk to me."
" Light and Heavy Infantry suits, likely Denar-surplus, armed with bunker-bunkers and anti-personnel weaponry. Base personnel are providing resistance but are equipped with light infantry only. They were not expecting a heavy assault. I estimate they will last approximately two minutes. I am also detecting the approach of six to eight fast aircraft converging on the base, below the lidar systems. The planetary defense systems have come online and aircraft are scrambling toward this position and a position in the city. I would guess that is your position. The ship is cloaked above the airfield and targeting the facility where the Frame is housed."
"You make sure they do not get the Frame. You do whatever is necessary. Authorization A-6, full release."
"Understood, full release is authorized. How did they know we were here, Thomas?"
I had no idea, only the military could know since they directed me to this secret research facility with the understanding, no one would see us enter or leave. "I don't know, Biyu. We are on our way but have run into some heavy opposition as well. Hold the ground, till we get there. Our ETA is..."
"Eight minutes, if the Major can get the lead out. Coming alongside. Is eighty kilometers an hour the best you can do? Fall a few dozen floors and the next thing you know, you're wanting to take retirement pay."
A modern grav-car, with an exotic grill and lighting system, roared around the corner, nearly hitting everything in its way, but touching nothing as it came full tilt up the street. I spared exactly one second to assess it before moving up the street into oncoming traffic at my top speed. I could also hear the air fans of the heavy assault armors as they followed behind my Image's getaway vehicle. I activated my flex armor field, and blasted away my civvies. All bets were off now, no sense in dying to maintain my disguise. I felt just the tiniest bit safer, but knew if they were armed with the right equipment, I was only a tiny bit safer than wearing nothing at all. As the gravcar came up behind me, oncoming traffic peeled away, due to the infrastructure's safety features. I counted on this, and my Image's pathological need to create as much mayhem as possible to work to my advantage as it pulled alongside.
"Windows?" I waved my arms frantically trying to get my Image's attention. That exactly when the mercs decided to open fire, and the first three rounds whizzed uncomfortably close, and the forth hit my flex field right below my ribcage, directly into the housing of my biomechanical augmentation systems. Heavily armored and shielded by my flex field meant, no penetration, even of a highly sophisticated round. What it also meant was it hurt like hell and I decided to just jump through the window again, using my flex field to disrupt the window integrity. Glass shattered and flew through the vehicle but my Image was the size of a raisin nestled comfortably in an ashtray and was uninjured. What luck.
"Oops. Sorry about that, it's so hard to figure out where they hide the window controls in these modern vehicles." The engine roared as the vehicle picked up speed and continued to disrupt oncoming traffic. With a bounce, the gravcar returned to the proper traffic lanes with the exoskeletons in hot pursuit. We were able to maintain our lead and distance, and keeping a clear lane of fire for less than a second or two for about three minutes.
I flipped down my HUD visor and saw a satellite view of the city with a military and police overlay. The base was less than four minutes away, but the two assault helicopters would be intercepting us all in about thirty seconds.
"Major, the base has been breached. The Frame's containment area has been broken. I am going to begin my attack. The incoming spacecraft will arrive in three minutes. This will be my only chance to intercept. Biyu, out."
There was no point being angry or anxious, we would get there or we wouldn't. The one thing I can say about working with professionals, is everyone is so good at their job, there is no need to backseat drive. I was carrying nothing but light weaponry, nothing strong enough to penetrate those suits back there, but the two assault helicopters were going to take care of that problem unless they decided to make a break for it. They had to know they would not make it to the base. Suddenly the mecha blew off most of their armor and heavy weapons. This technology explodes as four smaller contrails streak away from the ground. On lidar, two of the eight approaching spacecraft turn away on an intercept course to the four contrails. The remaining six continue their approach, but two hang back approaching slower. The four contrails disappear in a flash of tractor activity and the two ships turn back toward the sky. The two slower ships stop their approach and the first releases a small star-like missile, the second activates a super-heavy tractor beam. The remaining space-craft peel away releasing another swarm of missiles toward the city's incoming attack aircraft.
"I'm stupid, thick, thick, thick. Biyu, come in, it's a trap!"
Biyu turned Travelling Light's four cannons toward the wreckage of the armored warehouse building where four heavy suits had entered and disappeared from sight. Four light mecha waited outside with their weapons primed. Each mecha suit was targeted.
"Torpedo bays activated and primed for launch. Two incoming targets quiet-locked," Travelling Light's soothing male voice indicated. Biyu silently acknowledged the telemetry and as the four exoskeleton's were visible moving the storage container of the Frame into view, she dropped the ship's cloak and fired upon the four mecha with tachyon pulse weaponry. The exotic weaponry released a tachyon beam of faster than light particles. These particles were entangled with an antimatter magnetic resonance which would only be affected by super-dense matter. The type of super-dense matter found in armor or other barrier-resonating fields. When the two collided, the antimatter was fully returned to our space-time and detonates, violently. The four mecha were instantly obliterated, and the resultant explosion knocked the remaining exoskeletons off their feet. The remaining building was destroyed in the explosion. The container storing the Frame was undamaged.
Immediately after firing the tachyon beams, Travelling Light swivels smoothly skyward and launches two torpedoes as eight incoming craft lock on with their lidar-targeting systems. Their returning volley of micro-missiles darken the sky. At the last second, two ships streak away from their dive and turn toward the city center. The remaining six continue their approach as their targeting systems lock onto Travelling Light. Two of the six ships take the torpedoes on their shields, dropping them immediately and damaging a variety of systems onboard those ships. Small explosions flash across their hulls and a few seconds later both explode from internal power-plant containment failures. The fifty micro-missiles striking the shields of Travelling Light and the remaining missiles batter the ground, causing explosions that obscured the ship from view.
"Shield power at 80%, reactivating cloak, moving to intercept Frame." The cloaked ship moved through the debris toward the containment unit. Biyu climbed out of the pilot's chair and grabbed her personal heavy pulse pistols. She was confident she would be able to handle the four light exo-skeletons in the time it would take the last ships to reach the ground. She would use the cloaking field and shield from the ship to protect her from incoming fire. After the initial volley of missiles, the ships had switched to beam lasers and heavy blaster fire, both would be insufficient to penetrate the military-grade shielding of the Travelling Light.
As she dropped to the ground and started running toward the four exoskeletons, her heavy pulse pistols, fired at full auto, tearing into the armors of the mercenaries, who were attaching something to the containment unit. They were gravity compensators. She stopped in her tracks as she heard the part of the scrambled message from the Majoris "--it's a trap!"
Thaddeus' expertise lies in the information tech industry for small and medium-sized businesses, online marketing, educational markets, and print/design media. He currently lives in Hayward, California.