More SLA ficlets

Bury my Heart:
“Mrs Clayton?”

She swallowed and clutched Jason’s hand, so small in hers, he blinked up at her and she turned – hopefully – towards the figure that was speaking.

He wasn’t a doctor, that much was obvious simply looking at him. He wasn’t even out of his twenties yet, all slicked hair and expensive suit, earpiece radio wittering away from whatever company he was with, giving him a distant, uninterested look to his eyes to go with his practised smile.

With a due sense of fear and dread she offered a small-voiced. “Yes?”

“Excellent if you and…” He blinked a moment, getting an update through his Finance Chip, “…Jason would like to come with me you can see your husband.”

He gestured to the door and his false smile turned up a couple of degrees. She clutched Jason’s hand even tighter and he whimpered a little, tugging at her sleeve for her to stop. She stood, slowly, on shaking legs and shuffled in behind him as he strode on ahead, going through the rigmarole of his usual speech, she wasn’t really listening and he was making no effort to make her listen or understand. She only heard snatches of it as they paced down the antiseptic corridor in the warrens beneath the space-port.

“Injured…”
“Crimson Skull medal…”
“Not as you remember him…”
“Psychological damage…”
“Asking for you…”
“Don’t normally give access at this stage…”

She didn’t care, she just wanted to see him again, four years away on a Conflict World, four years when most people lasted thirty seconds or less. She’d been resigned to him dying, but that message had never come. Against all hope, he was home.

Through a curtain of plastic strips they entered the room together, he was still talking away but her gaze was fixed on the medical door at the other side of the room. She swallowed and picked her son up, wrapping him around her hip, holding him crushingly tight as the door hissed open, the scent of antiseptic coming stronger, a spreading miasma like a mist that rolled out across the floor.

What emerged wasn’t her husband. Wasn’t a man. Wasn’t human. Wasn’t… anything. The biogenetic tank that housed… whatever it was, glistened wetly and steamed. A thin skin covered the front of the pod, inside, mercifully hard to see, was something – meat and teeth and an eye.

Goosebumps rose on her flesh, she tasted bile, her stomach dropped through her to the floor, hot and cold shudders ran through her and she almost dropped Jason to the floor as the cold sweats made her skin clammy and slippery. When a noise came from that pod that was all she could take, tears streamed down her face, she dropped Jason, crying and startled to the floor. She turned, ran and never, never looked back.

***
On Call:

“Station Analysis, this is Communications Operator Jansen McNamara, signing on.”

Jansen sipped his coffee and tip-tapped his password into the console as the isolation door closed behind him, tapping the microphone to check it was working as the screens came up and began scrolling the information he needed. His Aug sprite came up, Sheila, the little cartoon devil-girl that helped organise his information. Wiggling her little red bottom and flapping her wings she flitted to-and-fro between the various screens, prioritising his reports and lining up the calls.

He coughed, once and began to tap at the screens.

“NIM, proceed to the spaceport, the female stormer prototype has been reported to have been spotted by a space-port shiver patrol in the company of a taxi-driver, unidentified but suspected to be a rehabilitated war veteran. Your pay has been authorised to double and the BPN has been upgraded to a red. Acknowledge?”

He nodded and clicked to the next channel.

“Razorblades and Icecream, do you have an updated ETA…? Good, good, I have an update for you. The cause of the incident has been determined to be DarkNight corruption of the office water supply. Security in the Axis Tower has barricaded themselves in and is stockpiling arms and fortifying. This is now a sweep and clear operation.”

Click.

“Oddbodies, come in Oddbodies?” There was no answer.

“Control, no contact with Team Oddbodies, last assigned to investigate the disappearance of newly inducted Necanthrope, codenamed ‘Bell’. Shiver units and teams in the area have been reporting temporal anomolies and a few could be sightings of Team Oddbodies. I suggest bumping this one up to a more experienced and higher SCL team.”

He stopped a moment and put in his eye drops, needing to concentrate and focus, it was a busy day and he had too many teams to coordinate.

“Mad Dog, your team is stationed outside the building with Shiver support. Can you give me an update on your situation…? Five men? Four men… well done. They’re not Thresher? Your earlier report said… I see. A soft company… you don’t know which one. So why…? Ah, the data tap. I see. I’ll see if I can get you some more help.”

A quick chat on the emergency line to his boss and that one was bumped up the line to Head Office. Something important then, no use worrying about it. No point worrying about it. Dangerous to worry about it.

Click.

“Operative Draig, you’re off-mission. You are not cleared for undercover work, you are not cleared for Soft Company contact, you are supposed to be on forced leave. No… no sir… I don’t think I should put the microphone there… why don’t you just come in before you’re declared renegade? You must be nearly out of drugs by now… If you want revenge, go through channels… fine, I’m alerting central and fuck you too sir.”

“Sissin, are you secure..? Good. Head office wants an update, are you in? Good… no suspicion? Do you think you can win? I’ve been instructed to tell you to humiliate them, it’s not enough to expose the Trang, they must be shown up completely. This martial arts mystique must be stamped out. Check in tomorrow, same time.”

“Team Golden, psychologists predict a fifty-percent chance that the inhabitants of the secure media-room will join forces and try to escape rather than complete the reality show format. Please update your status to orange and get non-lethal weapons on hand. LiveDead Media would prefer the twelve contestants to be subdued and keep the show going. You will..? Thanks.”

A sip of water, his throat was dry, he span his chair left and right, shifting his bottom on the mock-leather seat to stop it going numb.

“NIM, is the situation resolved? Excellent… got another BPN if you think you’re up to it, your luck to be in the right area. Yeah? Good stuff, I’m authorised to pay a twenty-credit bonus for picking this up. Alright, there should be a ship coming in from New Paris in the next hour. There’s a wanted paedophile serial killer on board, codename ‘Lion’, he may have a young female accomplice with him. Take her alive if you can, TWEP him. Alright, I’ll log that for you.”

“Solstice, this is Jansen with Station Analysis, we’ve got confirmation that the Thresher drop ship has been disabled on its way out of orbit. We’ll be sending you in to board it. Yes… I appreciate you’ve been sat there for two and a half hours doing nothing… no, that doesn’t qualify as hazard pay. I’ll mind you not to swear at me if you want help in the future… apology accepted. Good luck.”

His stomach rumbled and he laid his hand on his belly, glancing at the time on his Finance Chip, not quite time yet Sheila reproached him, waggling her finger and tutting. He sighed and tapped up the next call.

“Operative Espada no, for the fiftieth time we have no reports of a six fingered mutant infiltrating downtown and rising in the ranks of the criminal gangs. I am also tasked, according to your file, to remind you that you are a Stormer and, thus, have no father. I am also required to remind you that you have missed two psychological evaluation appointments and that if you miss your next one… tomorrow at eleven-hundred standard time… a BPN will be issued for your forcible keeping of the next appointment after that… I don’t know what you just said, but it sounded obscene… good day.

Who’d be a call officer? Really? Oh… yes… people who didn’t want to be unemployed.

“Cereal Killaz, got some preliminary information from Solstice about that Thresher drop pod in your zone. Apparently it contained a sleeper agent who may not even know, herself, that she’s a Thresher agent. You’ve probably only got a window of twenty minutes to track down a ‘stranger’ in that area before she moves on. Don’t envy you… yeah, heh, yeah… good luck. Ask Stacy if we’re still on for tonight? Thanks, over and out.”

He was really hungry now and the screens were hurting his eyes, he took a deep breath and decided to risk it.

“Jansen McNamara signing out, unscheduled toilet break. Shift stream to Operator 124”

If he took his time, it’d be lunch.

***
Standard Procedure:
“The Necanthrope is, besides money, the most powerful weapon in SLA’s arsenal.” The drill sergeant barked, marching up and down in front of the recruits. “It is also their weakness, a mark of their reliance on the strange, the unknown. A living metaphor and symbol for SLA itself either ugly as sin, a ravaging terror, or a beautiful and beguiling lie. Take down a Nec and you’re taking down a symbol of SLA.”

The suit was in pieces back there, torn, burnt, frozen, shattered, even a powersuit wasn’t build to take that kind of punishment all at once but she managed to escape, crawling out the back into the rubble and debris while ceramic melted like wax and metal caught fire, bullets cooking off like popcorn. The inner suit, gashed and leaking coolant, wasn’t any protection worth a damn, but better that than naked.

“Rule one when fighting one of these unnatural bastards… don’t get out of your suit. They’ll eviscerate you, boil you, freeze you solid, rain acid down upon you until you’re nothing but bone and a bad smell. You’ll only be able to stand up to them – toe to toe – in the heaviest armour you can find.”

She clutched her pistol so tight her hand bled, squirming through the shattered concrete like a worm, a pale maggot, leaving a slick trail of coolant behind her, cocking her head, listening, his heavy clawed tread was crushing the debris even more, wearing it down like it had worn the armour down.

“Rule two, heavy weapons. You need a cannon or something fully automatic at the very least, DPU is a must when taking on this opponent. Get your weapons laced with it, make sure you have a mag or drum of the good stuff in reserve, just in case. Not a lot else is going to get through a high end deathsuit and you know they’re going to have more than that to defend themselves with.”

Gouts of light and flame were blasting into the rubble now, sending red hot fragments scattering in all directions. It was looking for her, toying with her, playing with her, it wasn’t taking her seriously. It was kind of insulting, but it made sense, what kind of threat was she now?

“Rule three, don’t. If you can at all avoid it do not engage with these sons of whores. Leave it to some other poor fuck or hit them from orbit.”

Ah screw it… what did the sarge know? She’s escaped, she was underestimated, she had the element of surprise? What was the worst that could happen?

She cocked the gun, slipped off the safety tensed… and sprang.

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