Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Drop pt1

The walkway clanked under the young soldier’s heavy boots as he stepped from the flight deck into the drop ship. The interior was dark, barely illuminated by two lines of pulsing blue lights running along the ceiling. He walked down the narrow corridor, past the enclosed forms of the men he’d trained with for the past few months, until he reached the open door of his own drop pod. It was painted a heat-absorbent black, its design functional and blocky, with his name and rank projected above it in blinking blue letters by the HUD in his helmet. He checked the seal of his suit, the armoured uniform he had grown accustomed to during training, now growing strangely claustrophobic. Then he unslung his weapon, a high tech automatic railgun, from his back. Reflexively, he pulled back the lever to open the chamber, checking the ammunition load and the blinking series of LEDs indicating the power level of the battery, even though he’d checked and rechecked already, waiting for the scramble order earlier that day.

He slipped the gun into the waiting receiver in his pod, and the machinery hissed as hydraulics drew the weapon into a recessed cavity. Another blue light blinked on above it, indicating that it was stowed correctly. He stood there for a moment, his mind suddenly blank and empty, until he remembered where he was, then stepped quickly into the tritanium embrace of the capsule. The doors hissed shut, and for a moment, the only source of light was the dim glow from the small window in front of his face. A burst of panicky adrenaline swept through him, filling him with thoughts of faulty equipment, sealing him into the robotic drop ship until it’s final kamikaze assault on the enemy’s base. A moment later, though, his HUD blinked and brought up a message reading ‘Seal Formed’, and the faint inside lights switched on. He took several deep breaths, his chest plate feeling tight around his ribs, and forced himself to relax.

Pod locked, all systems normal,” whispered the soft, calming feminine voice of the AI into his ear, confirming what his readouts had already told him.

He waited there in the dimly lit enclosure for what felt like hours. Every so often a rumbling vibration would come up through his boots, indicating the launch of another drop ship, or perhaps an orbital defense weapon striking the shields of the vessel he was on. His mind began to drift, back to memories of the past: stumbling upon his mother, crying silently in the kitchen in the middle of the night before he left, as he snuck downstairs to find something to eat. Later, his father, face solemn but proud, presenting him with his grandfather’s gold watch, the one he wore when he’d gone to war. His fingers went to his wrist, feeling the contours of the watch through his bulky protective gloves, and a strange feeling of calm filled his mind, settling him into a state of blank patience. Finally, there was a deeper vibration, the whole of the pod seeming to hum, as the engines of the craft that bore his platoon rose to life.

Warning, launch imminent. Warning, launch imminent,” whispered the AI, “Please ensure all equipment and personnel are stowed and ready.”

The scarred face of a technician appeared suddenly in the little window, startling him, even though he’d been waiting for it. The man tapped on the thick glass, and the waiting soldier nodded. The face disappeared, doubtless checking the rest of the men. “Now disengaging docking umbilicals,”, the soft voice continued, as a series of rapid thumps echoed through the young man’s feet. Finally, the quiet buzz of the engine rose in pitch, and the man felt a shift in his balance, as the craft tilted, then the strange pressure of acceleration, pushing him into the side of the capsule, the padding there cushioning and supporting him.

The feeling of acceleration rose, until it felt as though his whole squad was resting on his chest. The soldier's breath caught, and he unconsciously squirmed, struggling against the embrace of the drop pod. He forced himself to relax once more, and remember the breathing techniques the worn out old battle-axe of a drill instructor had taught him. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Feel your chest expand, push up on your diaphragm. Finally, enough oxygen was making it into his blood, and he felt himself calming.

"Warning. Warning. Atmospheric impact imminent. Atmospheric impact imminent," the artificial woman crooned into his ear, a note of urgency in her digitally generated tone. The young man twisted slightly, exerting his muscles to bring his chin to a switch, making a velocity and heading readout appear on his HUD. Just as he was focusing on it, though, his vision shook and his whole body was jolted and shaken sharply as the nose of the drop ship dipped into the atmosphere of the planet. His vision stabilized as the craft bounced up, and he studied the telemetry readout, but for some reason, he couldn't make sense of it. He knew he'd been trained to know what those numbers meant, but at that moment, when he tried to focus on the gibberish projected into his helmet, all he could think about was the watch on his wrist, ticking, ticking.

The ship bounced twice more, rattling him about in his capsule, and making him feel like a child's toy, then broke through into the atmosphere of the planet. The external temperature gauge began to rise, as the friction of the craft's passing against the air heated it's armour plating rapidly. The soldier braced his hands against the side of the pod; this, he knew, was when the true danger would start. The acceleration eased off, releasing the pressure on his chest, but he couldn't seem to draw a full breath. His tongue felt too big, and his mouth dry and scratchy. In seconds the calm voice of the AI would announce a countdown into range of the planetary anti-air defenses. He knew that his ship was the most advanced around, with the best stealth technologies, and the smartest pilot program that money could buy, but the terror remained in the back of his skull, like a little spiny worm.

"Now approaching combat envelop. Evasive maneuvers active in 5...4...3....2..." murmured the AI, confirming the young man's fear, but her last words were lost, as the whine of the engines suddenly blossomed into an ear-piercing shriek of rage. He felt the ship twist to the side, then all sense of balance and location were lost as the computer threw the vessel bodily into a series of impossible twists, turns, jukes, dives, and spins. As it did, the soldier cued up an external view through his helmet feed. His breath came short as he tried to make sense of the tumbling perspective, the red ground spinning away to be replaced by the orange-ish sky, all punctuated by brilliant green blossoms of defensive blaster cannon fire surrounding them. Suddenly, the ship seemed to drop out of the sky, the altimetre spinning upwards as though flicked by the finger of God. The man's heart leaped into his throat, and for a moment he was terrified, convinced that the engines had been destroyed by a lucky hit, and he was moments from death. Then, the craft stabilized, settling into inhumanly precise terrain-following flight.

"Now entering drop zone. All units, prepare for launch," the calming AI woman whispered, "Repeat, prepare for launch, drop imminent."

Adrenaline surged through the soldier's limbs again, but this time, he didn't try to push it away, instead, he embraced it, made it his own. His heart was pounding, and his helmet felt to small. He felt out the small handles on the sides of his pod, and gripped them tightly, his knuckles white under his gloves. The ship juked, then jumped once, then, with an mighty thud which echoed through the panels to the young man's feet, the first drop pod was away. More crashes followed in rapid succession, sweeping up the ship to fire each soldier at extreme velocity towards the ground, until suddenly, all the lights on his HUD went a deep blood red. He bit down hard on the rubber tongue-guard, and let out a deep breath, then the world exploded with velocity as he was crushed into the bottom of his capsule. His vision went grey, a tunnel appearing at the corners of his eyes, and then he impacted onto the surface of an alien world, and the safely enveloping cocoon of his drop pod spat him out with his weapon, to fight.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Smoking Gun

The bar was poorly lit, a haze of smoke hanging in the air. The ceiling and walls were bare, unadorned, leaving the rusted steel bulkheads and girders visible. It was located in the Egbinger system, in an abandoned mechanic's workshop in the bowels of a station belonging to CONCORD. I sat at the bar, and beside me was thin Sebiestor man, his features seeming ageless, a permanent smirk fixed to his face, his blue eyes twinkling with madness. The bartender set a glass of whiskey in front of me, the amber liquid seeming to glow in the half-light. I drank a measure, savouring the feel of the alcohol burning its heat to my core.

"So, Coffee," I began, "The kid. Has he said anything about his father?"

The other man laughed, and shook his head quickly. "Nope, nothin'. But he's a weird little bastard, insists on helping us where he can, keeps goin' on about 'making amends for past misdeeds'." He drums his fingers on the bar, producing a frantic, off-beat rhythm. "I've put him to work doing logistics and accounts, he's got a head for numbers. Must be all that expensive Gallente schoolin'."

I felt a frown tugging at my mouth, and covered it with another gulp of whiskey. "Nothing? Damn it." A sigh escaped my lips, but my companion only smirked wider. "Well, I guess we can assume that he's gone for good, at least."

"Unless the fucker comes back for his kid." He chuckles, seeming delighted by the prospect. "Maybe even monsters find family important. Hell, you tell me, you're a monster, aintcha?"

"You're one to talk, Mr 'Good Coffee'," I replied, forcing a smile onto my face, and staring into his slightly unhinged gaze. "But if he comes, we'll be ready for him."

The man laughed again, and nodded, then turned away to receive his drink. As he did, I heard from behind my back the door to the bar creak open. I swiveled on my stool, and watched three young looking men saunter nonchalantly into the place. They were out of place for a spot like this, well-groomed, and dressed in the uniforms of CONCORD trainees, arrogant expressions on their faces. I turned away, pulling the jacket of my suit back on, letting them see the embroidered 'V', symbol of Veto Corporation, and finished my drink in a single pull, the liquor making a path of fire to my stomach.

They sat down across the bar from me, ordering drinks, and talking quietly, but I could feel their gaze on my back. Coffee's elbow nudged me in the side, and I turned to see his ever-present smirk.

"Hey Raxip," he grinned, "Some of these things are not like the others. One gets you ten they try and make trouble."

I rolled my eyes, and fished out a bit of coin to pay the bartender. "I don't bet, you know that, Coffee. And besides, that's a sucker bet for you: Why else would they be here?"

As I finished my words, I felt a man's hand fall heavily on my shoulder and a voice from behind my back. "Hey, scumbag. I don't like seeing murdering filth in my new bar, so get the fuck out."

I turned slowly, slipping off my chair, and looking up at the man who spoke. He was the oldest looking, maybe twenty, his hair shaved in a crewcut, his jaw smooth and free of stubble. He was lean, with the build of a martial artist. To either side of him were his two companions: to his left, a chubby looking kid with glasses, but big, probably breaking six feet, and to his right, an arrogant looking fellow with a well-trimmed moustache.

"No problem, boss. I was just leaving," I answered, smiling pleasantly at him and adjusting my suit.

"You mouthin' off at me, boy," he responded, his eyes narrowing. Suddenly, his hand shot out, smacking against my cheek. He hit hard, clearly with some training, and I let myself roll with the blow, turning away from him, and letting him think the strike had connected properly. From behind me, I heard Coffee begin to chuckle, and knew he'd be no help here. I wrapped my fingers slowly around the back of the chair I'd been sitting on, as if to keep my balance.

Raxip, I thought to myself, This is probably a bad idea. They outnumber you and out-weigh you, and you're unarmed. But it didn't matter; I could feel the anger rising up in me. I clamped down on it, controlling it tightly, and channelling it, not letting it take me over. My fingers gripped the chair, and I spun suddenly, lifting it into the air and hurling it towards the big one to my right. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it impact against his face with a crunch, his glasses shattering, and blood squirting from his nose. He stumbled and fell back, tripping backwards onto his ass, but I was already moving, stepping in quickly before anyone else could react, and driving my fist as hard as I could into the leader's midsection. He made a 'whomph' as the air rushed out of his lung, and began to bend double, but I wasn’t finished. I moved in again, and reached up to grab either side of his head, bringing it down with all my strength towards my rising knee. There was a loud crack, and a blossom of pain from my leg, as his face smashed into it, and another spurt of blood, as his nose squashed flat from my strike. I let my foot go down between his, and slammed my elbow into his chest, hurling him backwards to tumble to the floor in a heap.

From behind me, I could hear maniacal laughter, and turned reflexively to see Coffee half doubled up, gales of laughter erupting from him, as he pointed at the two men I'd dispatched. Then, time seemed to slow as I registered a faint click from the final man. I turned back towards him, taking in his lazy smile, and the glint of light reflecting from the barrel of the pistol in his hand, the circular opening of the weapon pointing at my face. I froze, and straightened up, letting my hands fall to my sides unthreateningly.

"You don't want to do this, buddy," I told him, keeping my voice even and quiet. "It'll make a mess, and cause you more trouble than it's worth. Besides, your friends are gonna be fine. A little beat up, but they'll get over it." As I spoke, I could feel the anger draining out of me, replaced with a cold determination. I glanced about quickly, taking in my surroundings, looking for my best defense.

"You're nothing but criminal filth," he spat at me, his features twisting in a sneer. "If I put you down right here, no one will care. Hell, I'll probably get a commendation."

"Listen, man. I have clones backed up. And I'll come back for you, I will hunt you down." I kept my voice quiet, but felt the steel of the certainty of my survival creep into my tone. Then I realized that behind me, Coffee had grown suddenly and completely quiet. I began to spin just as I heard the cadet let out a shout, then there was a flash of light and a booming thunderclap, and I witnessed from the corner of my eye the young man's left leg explode in a welter of blood, just above his knee. As he began to fall, I completed my turn, to see Coffee now standing straight, a huge silver revolver in his grip. Smoke curled up from the cylinder and barrel, twisting towards the ceiling. His face had lost its customary smirk, and was set in a deadly flat expression. He raised the gun, and began to sight down towards his victim, now writhing on the ground and clutching his grievously wounded limb.

"Dammit!" I shouted, and took a quick step, slapping Coffee's gun down with the palm of my hand, just as it fired again. I felt the searing gasses escape from the chamber across my hand, but the round smacked into the floor, instead of the kid's head, where it had been aimed. "Void, Coffee, what the fuck are you thinking? This is not the appropriate time to be killing a bunch of stupid kids."

He slowly turned his head to look at me, the smug smile back, and the madness twinkling in his eyes. "He pulled a piece on ya, Rax. No one pulls a fuckin' piece and doesn't expect to get shot. He had it comin'." His voice was measured, completely calm. I rubbed my burned hand, then reached out with the other and grabbed his shoulder, sweeping my gaze quickly over my former assailants. The leader was passed out on his side on the floor, completely out cold. The fat one was sitting against the bar, his broken glasses dangling from one ear, clutching his smashed nose and quietly sobbing. The last one was squirming on the ground, a pool of blood spreading from his shattered leg, as he moaned quietly in pain. I tossed a few ISK onto the bar, telling the bartender to call for some help in a minute.

"Come on, man, let's get the fuck out of here before one of them comes to and calls friends." I led him out, as he chuckled quietly, flipping his hand-cannon open to replace the fired shells.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Terror in the Spacelanes

The young man sat in the back of the transport ship, converted to be a passenger liner. He kept his head down, trying to disappear into his seat. The violent shaking had mercifully ceased, but the lights were flickering, and the formerly ever-present rumble of the engines had stopped suddenly. The captain had said that he'd done this trip many times, and it was safe, he'd never been hit, before the young man had agreed to board, but it seemed that his luck had run out. He didn't know what was happening, could only guess that they were under attack from pirates. The lights flickered, and dimmed, casting a shadowy amber haze through the compartment. The young man wondered if this was it, if he was about to die. He was sure that at any moment, there would be a flash and then nothing, as he was disintegrated by nuclear fire.

He heard a hissing noise, and squeezed his eyes shut, knowing that any breath might be his last. Then a small metallic click. He frowned, and looked up. Confusion filled his mind, the sound hadn't been some horrible weapon, but the door to the rest of the ship opening. Framed in the doorway was a small man, silhouetted by the brighter lights in the bulkhead beyond the entrance. The figure stepped in, and the young man blinked, his confusion only growing. Standing there was a Brutor, no more than five and a half feet tall and slim, his hair in dreadlocks, tied back from his face, his eyes hidden by a pair of aviator sunglasses. He was dressed, bizarrely, in a bright purple three piece suit, over a pink shirt, completed by a red bow tie. A smile formed on the young man's lips. Surely, this had to be a joke. This was just the craggy old captain playing a practical joke on them. Then, the smile faded, as two other men stepped in to flank the small intruder. They were another story entirely; huge, imposing men, dressed in black fatigues, armor strapped to their bodies, the logo '-=RANSM=-' in red and grey painted onto their chest plates. Their masked faces swiveled to assess the room, and they held black, viciously functional looking weapons in their hands.

The strangely dressed little man ran his gaze along the rows of passengers, then spoke, a slight smirk on his face. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Raxip, and I will be your pirate for today. First, a sad announcement: You are all dead, you just haven't realized it yet." A shock jolted through the young man's body at the words. He had hoped that perhaps, he might survive. He thought maybe the man had been planning on ransoming them, but it seems he was just playing some sort of twisted game.

"Now," the man continued, "before we proceed with your deaths, I have some business to complete." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a scrap of flimsy with something written or drawn on it. After studying it for a moment, his eyes swept up, and his gaze locked with the young man's. They both froze, the small pirate's brow furrowing, his mouth growing tense. "This isn't right," he mumbled, glancing back down. Then he took a step forward. Suddenly, a tall thin Gallente gentleman, several rows ahead of the young man, shot to his feet. He locked eyes with the diminutive Brutor, and smoothed down his extravagant white mustache.

"See here, young man," he commanded haughtily, "You can't simply stride in here and babble on about nonsense like this. I'll have you know that I am a very powerful man in the Federation, and you would be sorry to-" As he spoke, then smaller man's eyebrows shot up over the top of his shades. Midway through the gentleman's words, the pirate nodded to the two soldiers to either side of him. They raised their weapons, and the young man's world dissolved into thunder and lightening, his eyes blinded momentarily by the flashes of the guns. The fury died in moments, and the young man blinked, his vision filled with spots. Slowly, he grew aware of warm liquid running down his face. He touched a hand to his cheek, and looked down at it, horror filling his mind with the realization that the substance was blood. His gaze flicked up, to the gentleman. The back of the man's expensive grey suit was ruined, shredded by the passage of the bullets. There was a spray of blood across the floor and on the wall. The man still stood, swaying slightly on his feet, and then he collapsed, crumpling slowly to the floor.

The compartment was bathed in a strange tense silence, and then all hell broke loose, as the rest of the passengers panicked. The small man stood there, grinning, and looked around. Suddenly, his movements snakelike with speed, he grabbed a sidearm from the man next to him and fired it into the air. Silence once again filled the room, and the pirate spoke again. "Ladies and gentlemen, you really try my patience." He looked around, meeting each person's gaze. "Would anyone else like brighten up my day? No? Great." Suddenly, his eyes stopped on the dead man's wife, a painfully thin Gallente woman, dressed in fine cloaks and a dress that probably cost more than the ship. She was huddled in her seat, spattered with her husband's blood, shaking slightly. He stepped towards her, and she shrank back, causing him to chuckle lowly. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna hurt you." He grins crookedly, handing the gun back. "At least, not unless you make me." He leaned forward, brushing her hair away from her neck, revealing to the young man a choker necklace, of black silk. The intruder ran his hands along it, then reached around behind and unclasped it, oblivious to the woman's shaking. Raising it to the light, he suddenly smiled, turning it this way and that, the square obsidian jewel in the center glinting in the yellowish glow. Then his face hardened again, and he stuffed his spoils into his suit, and locked eyes again with the young man. The young man froze, his hands shaking slightly, trying to repress his fear, show a brave face, as the smaller man crossed the small distance between them.

He studied the young man's face for a moment. "Durynx?" he asked, his voice cold. The young man opened his mouth to answer, but found he couldn't make a sound come out, so he merely nodded. "Got a new clone, didja? Nice young body to try to escape your age?" Confusion grew in the young man's mind. How did this pirate know who he was? What did he want? Suddenly, the intruder was right up next to him, his arm snapping out to grip his collar with an iron grasp. The small Brutor grinned predatorily, lifting the young man out of his seat, so that their eyes were level. "I'm afraid I've got some plans for you, Durynx. But on the up side, you get to live a little longer." Suddenly, and with strength surprising for his size, he threw the young man down to the blood spattered floor, his head bouncing against the metal edge of a chair as he flew. Darkness welled up to cover the young man, and as consciousness faded, he heard the man say "Cuff him, and get him to my ship. Then kill the rest, and plant the bomb."