Union in Crisis (Book 1, Union Trilogy)

The view through the rifle scope provided a bizarre mixture of colors and textures. The light enhancement feature painted the world in a wash of pale green that robbed the eye the ability to gauge depth. The scope's onboard computer was able to partially compensate, but the effect was never as good as the naked eye and it presented an image that was vaguely surreal.

The thermal imaging module added in colors ranging from a blue so dark that it was almost black, to a molten, fiery red. The imager painted objects on a sliding scale based on relative temperature and heat loss, with the coldest objects being colored in black, warmer objects edged towards the red end of the spectrum.

Her primary target looked like a photo negative, if the photographer was taking a hallucinogen. The target's shipsuit appeared to glow an orange-to-yellow gradient as it moderated his body temperature. His head, neck, and hands were uncovered and warmer than the body or the ambient air. They were colored in a bright orange, with some areas, like the lips, eyes and ears, limned in red.

The man she was watching was a touch over 2 meters tall, weighing in at a reported 102kg, and he had the wide shoulders and narrow hips of an athlete. Even the baggy shipsuit he was wearing did little to disguise his well-toned build. The buzzed haircut and the gliding steps he took, never letting his foot move more than an inch or so above the surface, screamed spacer to anyone who cared to look. His ramrod stiff spine and the constant movement of his head as he scanned his environment spoke of training beyond his folio's claim of being an agricultural machinery importer. This guy was military, or ex-military, make no mistake.

She shifted her attention to the secondary target, the shorter and slighter figure of a woman in a dress that did nothing to insulate her from the elements. There was very little difference in color between the material of the dress and that of her skin. Interestingly enough, her undergarments did a much better job of holding heat in and the resulting image was like a boy's fantasy of x-ray glasses. The drink tumbler she held in her hand was a deep, cerulean blue, much colder than either her hand or the air around her, and when she raised the glass to take a sip, her lips cooled to a darker, orange color. The woman's figure fit almost exactly to the local definition of desirable, neither too thin nor too fat; not too tall or too short. Her dress and hair were of the most current styles and even the vehicle she had arrived in was both popular and common. She was wholly unremarkable except that she was here with the primary target, and that made her a player.

He was selling military secrets but was protected from prosecution by his politician father, she was just part of a honey-pot trap, a nobody really. The assassin had been paid for two kills, the man and his date, and she was going to deliver two.

The woman behind the rifle glanced at the time hack in the upper corner of the scope view, then eased back from the eyepiece and pulled the tab on her disposable coffee container. The integral heater had the beverage piping hot in seconds, ready to drink before she had even pulled up the targets file on her wrist comp. She perused the data for the nth time as she carefully sipped the coffee, looking for anything she may have missed. There wasn't, but then again, she didn't really expect to find anything. She was a professional and this was not her first contract.

The plan called for her not to take the shot before 0100 local. Sooner and this would become an interplanetary scandal and the ensuing manhunt would certainly put a kink in her escape plans. One minute after and this would end up as a blip on the local law-enforcement blotter, forgotten when other, more pressing issues arose. She had to admit to herself that even knowing why she had to wait, she hated letting others dictate the details of a hit.

Scooting back from the edge of the roof until she was sure she was not silhouetting herself, she shifted to a seated position and scanned her surroundings. The gravel covering the tarred concrete on the top of this abandoned warehouse would crunch and rattle under the feet of anyone who tried to sneak up on her, but she depended more on the half dozen IR and motion sensors she had placed. Her wrist comp displayed the sensor grid and reported that the targets and a couple of sea birds were the only living things within 200 meters. Perfect.

The cool night air was redolent with the stench of the seaport. This bass-ackward world was still mired in fossil fuels; internal combustion engines making the air stink of diesel and exhaust fumes. Overlaying that was the smell of rotting fish, polluted harbor water and the ever present, almost subliminal hit of ozone. The ozone was a by-product of the hydrogen fueled engines on inner-system freight haulers that launched from the spaceport on the far side of the bay.

Kat stretched her compact 1.6 meter, 65kg frame and moved back to the prone position on the padded mat she had set before the rifle. From the open case at her right elbow, she extracted a power cell and inserted it into the battery well, glancing at the load indicator to make sure it was seated properly. Snugging the rifle stock into her shoulder again and placing her eye on the rubber eyepiece, she scanned the deck of the ferry docked below. The primary target was now sitting in a deck chair and the secondary target was kneeling between his legs, her head bobbing up and down.

Kat grinned, and then checked the time hack again. One more minute to go. She watched the primary target's head lean against the backrest, following it with the crosshairs. The target's mouth was opening and closing, his head moving slowly from side to side. Apparently, the secondary target was doing a good job.

Thirty seconds ... The target rested his hands on the back of the secondary target's head and his hips started hunching to meet her mouth. The secondary target's pace increased.

Five seconds ... Kat disengaged the safety, rested her finger lightly on the trigger and took two deep breaths, in and out, in and out. On the third inhalation, she held it, waited for her heart to beat and then, between one beat and the next, she slowly squeezed the trigger. A beam of what looked like coherent light speared from the end of the barrel to, and through, the left temple of the primary target. The man's body arched, becoming rigid for a second before collapsing limply back into the chair. Even with the rifle scope's computer compensating for the thermal bloom caused by the electromagnetically accelerated metal pellet, there was a faint after-image floating in front of Kat's eyes as she shifted her point of aim to the secondary target.

The woman, still on her knees, was raising her head to look at the man in front of her. Whether she knew something was wrong or was surprised that he had stopped urging her on, she didn't appear overly alarmed. A second steel pellet from Kat's rifle entered the woman's right temple and exited through her left cheek in a spray of blood and bone. The woman slumped forward, head in the lap of her erstwhile boyfriend, and lay still.

Kat observed the targets for a couple of seconds, then pulled back from the rifle and moved to a kneeling position. Packing the gear was the work of moments and within just a couple of minutes, she had gathered in her sensor net and sprayed the entire area around her perch with a weak acid solution.

Rail guns tended to spray minute amounts of sublimated metal when the outer layer of the pellets were super-heated by the induction coils. These traces could be identified as such if the forensic examiner knew what to look for. The acid she had sprayed was formulated to break down that residue, rendering it indistinguishable from any other metallic dust.

Ten minutes later she was a block away, at the wheel of a rental vehicle and headed for the spaceport. Another planet, another city, another job.

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Story tagged with:
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