Copyright© 2017 by Dragon Cobolt
Science Fiction Story: Chapter 1 - Dey and Loki are back - and enjoying their vacation. But vacation for a supersoldier and her AI companion in the 22nd century involves more than laying around on the beach and getting a tan. Treasure hunts, terrorist plots, and the threat of global anhillation? All in a day's vacation.
Lieutenant Jonathan Belview leaned back in his seat and looked out at the vast, flat pancake that was the Arizona desert and thanked every god that he could think of that he was inside. Inside with the air conditioning. Inside with a screen.
“I’m just saying,” Balder said, quietly. “The new American flag isn’t quite worth the new state.”
“What?” Jon asked, cocking his head to the side as he looked at the screen. The digital representation of Balder – the internet spanning sentient news sorting program that had rapidly transcended from Google pet project to global intelligence – shook his head ruefully. Being an A.I, Balder hadn’t bothered with anything as egotistical as a handsome face. Rather, he looked like an average, every-day American. Brownish, wide nosed, with a few jumbled facial features here and there.
The fact that he was named after a Norse god had given some racist idiots apoplexies, back in the 21st century. Jon had a pet theory that the outrage had actually led Balder to make his facial design even more racially mixed.
“Well, look at it,” Balder said, gesturing to the side. His head skimmed left and the screen filled with the image of the agreed upon design for the American flag. The 21st century had brought many changes to the world. The first and most important hadn’t, shockingly, been the advent of artificial intelligence. Rather, it had been the creation of the DeVilbiss Drive by the eponymous Paul DeVilbiss. A wafered collection of room temperature superconductors, the DeVilbiss Drive – also known as a DV drive – could warp space/time via the creation of negative energy.
With it came the stars.
And with it had come American colonies.
And with those had come new states.
And with new states had come a new flag.
Additional stars had been debated, but the simple fact was that there were distinct differences between the old states and the new. Hamilton, Lincoln, Franklin and now Hancock were all on other planets, in other solar systems. And so the design had shifted, with a white circle containing the fifty one stars of the earthbound states and a series of other stars surrounding the circle representing the extrasolar colony.
But now, the push had come for a new design, that emphasized the unity of the Union. So, now, the stars were all jumbled into one big square.
Jon had to admit.
It did look a bit jumbled.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Jon detected movement. He looked up and out the window of the security post. His brow furrowed as Balder’s voice faded into the background. He stood. “Red alert!” he said – Balder’s voice cutting off mid sentence as the entire base smashed down jammers. The gate beside his security post hummed as the buried shield generators activated. Micro-sized DV emitters powered up and created a bubble of space that would redirect the kinetic energy of anything that came close.
But that didn’t stop the truck barreling towards the facility.
Jon had a few seconds to try and figure out what the truck was. It was oddly angular, covered with rickety looking protrusions – all matte black, carbon fiber finish shining along the sides. He realized, moments before the truck hit the shields, that it had been covered with radar reflective and absorbent materials. Then he hit the deck and the shields cracked as the truck slammed home.
The shields worked.
The truck flipped up into the air.
And then the back exploded.
Batteries in the 22nd century weren’t batteries. Rather, they were micro-DV emitters used to compress a mechanical spring into a tiny space. Rather than lithium or iron or any other heavy metals, a K1 was just a kilometer of spring. And when the emitter was disabled with the safeties off, the spring uncoiled into realspace. It chewed through the truck and had enough strength and structural integrity to smash into the shields. The micro-DV emitters underground ran out of power and overloaded.
The mangled, molten wreck of the truck smashed to the ground.
And then, shooting above it, came a skimmer. A civilian vehicle, towed right behind the truck, with several armored and shielded men and women on it. Jon, his ears ringing, clapped his hands over his head as bullets thudded into the desert, the walls, the console. Then the skimmer was past. He scrambled to his feet, looking through the window of the security station. The window had cracked, but the safety glass hadn’t fully shattered.
Jon tapped his communicator bead. He got nothing but static.
The skimmer banked and a series of rockets thudded into the side of the base. Smaller, bright white blasts – M1 charges, rather than a K1 – exploded. The wall came down. Three of the men hopped off the skimmer and rushed inside. The other two remained on the pintle mounted weapons. Jon ducked down as a string of bullets hammered into the wall above his head. More gunshots filled the air. Confused shouts. More static over the com bead.
When Jon stood again, he saw the three men returning. One of them was limping, but he moved fast enough to get onto the skimmer. The other two were dragging heavy looking black boxes. Within a moment, they were on the skimmer, and the skimmer was shooting back over the mangled truck.
Jon stood in the midst of chaos, panting quietly.
“What the fuck-”
“-is going on?” President Auali snarled as she walked through the doors into the oval office and to her desk. She sat down, her palms laying flat as she watched General Makfune and Admiral Sherman taking their seats.
“The preliminary forensic responses are clear, Madame President,” Admiral Sherman said, crossing one leg over his other. “One of the attackers was ex-Gunnery Sergeant Thomas DuBois.”
President Auali rubbed her temple with one finger. “So, he’s one of our own.”
“Worse. DuBois is ex-special forces. Ten years in the marines, five years in SpecOps with Section Six. He did missions on Charon, in Trappist, two years in a Huntress enclave. If you can name an alien or an enemy national, he’s killed one. Yahaag, Russians, Belgians for god’s sake. Hell, he’s killed Shockpods with his bare hands!” Makfune said, shaking his head. “The only thing we have going for us is he’s not a Devil Trooper.”
“And we’re sure that he took the Q-Keys?” President Auali asked.
The two military leaders nodded.
Auali leaned back in her seat. The chair was older than she was – a holdover from at least two administrations ago. She frowned as she ran the pieces over in her mind. A century before, one of her predecessors had to face a world with ancient enmities, cyber-warfare, bio-terrorism, standard terrorism, and more than twenty five thousand nuclear weapons. On his watch, ancient hegemonic powers had trembled in the face of a changing climate and radical transformations in technology and demographics.
She envied Obama.
She would have gladly murdered a kitten for the problems Obama had.
Currently, the United States was one of five interplanetary superpowers. Imperial Russia, the People’s Republic of China, the Pan-Brazilian Federation and the European Union. Each of them had multiple extrasolar colonies. Each one had roughly the same total war deterrent system as the United States. Land based missile silos, submarine based missiles systems, plane dropped bombs and orbital weapon systems. In a vain bid to try and dial back the terror of mutually assured destruction, each nation-state had adopted fluxbombs that were natural extrapolations of smaller batteries.
DV engines at that scale ran hot and wore out far faster than smaller engines. Thus, the T1 missiles that they used needed to be replaced roughly as often as the tritium in the warheads of old nuclear bombs.
But hey. At least in the case of a total war, the destruction would only kill billions while not producing radioactivity. That made things much safer. Much more sane.
Safety concerns kept T1 warheads from being primed until they were needed, as a single catastrophic drive failure would mean ending the lives of thousands, if not millions of people in an instant.
Security concerns kept the warheads from being primed by anything but a physical quantum key. The risk of a single rogue AI, or malignant alien intelligence, or anything really setting the weapons off by remote was too intense.
And the Q-keys for a quarter of the entire orbital defense platform system had just been stolen.
“Madam President.” An aide opened the door, sticking his head in. “We just received a communique. From DuBois.”
Auali nodded. “Put it on the screen.”
The screen at the far end of the oval office crackled on. Standing there, framed by darkness and looking entirely too smug for his own good, was Thomas DuBois. He was a lean, tough looking man, with epicanthic folds, olive brown skin. His left cheek had a trio of scars that had to have come from a clawed creature, reaching up to right below his left eye. He grinned as he nodded to the camera.
“Madam President,” he said. “I’m sorry to contact you in this way. But I’m afraid I’ve got little choice in the matter.” He grinned. “So, lets not mince words. We have a quarter of the US’ detquad on lockdown. You have a week to transfer a hundred and sixty five billion euros to the following bank account. Once we’ve transferred the money from those accounts into our accounts, we’ll return the Q-Keys. If you fail to transfer the funds, we’ll let everyone else in on the fact that if they attack ... you can only retaliate with boomers.”
He nodded. “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing, Madame President.”
The screen blipped off.
Auali tapped her fingers together. “Just to be sure, we cannot simply replace the warheads with new ones?”
“We could,” Makfune said. “But that’d require launching unscheduled orbital ships to each of our defensive platforms a mere day after we loaded them. If we break schedule like that, the Russians or the Chinese...” He made a face. “They’re still at war, and they might see that as a preparation for us to attack them. Informing them of the reason could be interpreted as a ruse, or they might take it at face value and consider an attack.”
Auali nodded. “So, for the next month, we’ve got a chink in our armor. And if we don’t pay in a week, everyone knows it.” She tapped her fingers on the desk.
The fact that there was only one decision didn’t make it any easier to shoulder the pressure.
“Find that ship,” Auali snarled. “Now.”
“Ma’am, we tracked it to near orbit. It vanished. Not into FTL, though – we can’t detect it anywhere,” Admiral Sherman said. “It’s like it just disappeared.”
Auali frowned, tapping her fingers on the desk.
“Lets start collecting the money,” she said, quietly. “But get the CIA. Get the NSA. Get the DHS. Get SS8, S92, get everyone you can and find me DuBois!”
Wind ruffled Captain DeShane Gallagher’s hair as she let herself hang from the ropes that led to the Enterprise’s sails. She let her eyes close and simply felt. She felt the rocking of the waves. She felt the brush of the wind. She felt the heat of the metal under her thin shoes. She felt the sun baking along her tanned skin. She felt her hair shift and ruffle behind her. She heard the creak of the sails.
She heard the scrape – of hull on half-submerged rubble.
Dey’s lips skinned back across her teeth and she opened her eyes. She yanked to the side on the sail and the Enterprise skimmed to the port and banked smoothly around one of the buildings that emerged from the ocean. There, she saw the other ship – marked black and red. They had two crew, and those crew-members hastily brought their guns up, abandoning all attempts to try and clear themselves from where they had gotten grounded.
A hail of paintballs thudded into the side of the Enterprise. None got close to Dey as she kicked her rifle into her hand. One handed, she aimed – and fired. One of the men was struck right in the center of mass, green paint expanding across his shirt. He threw up his arms with a loud groan. The other man shouted something at her in Spanish.
It’s not complimentary, I can tell you that.
Dey shot the other man in the chest.
[You don’t say?] Dey thought back, grinning wider as she kicked an automatic device into gear. The sail swung to the side and the Enterprise caught the wind once more.
“Another ship down!” A booming voice echoed out over the ocean, ringing off buildings. “That’s another point for Team Gallagher – we’re going four oh!”
[I’d say this was unfair, but I’m awesome, ] Dey said. [And I did warn them.]
The wind picked up. And with the wind came two more ships, coming around the corner of another wrecked building. These ships were dual hulled canoes done in the Polynesian style. Their crews were all bearing weapons and they shouted, whooped, and cried out in excitement. Dey grinned broadly. She stepped backwards, then lifted up one hand, waving at the crews.
They came within range.
Dey fired off her grapnel. It was implanted into her arm and one of the many advantages of the modern age. A DeVilbiss generator could expand space and it could compact space. It could, for instance, put almost five hundred meters of thin cabling into someone’s arm without taking up more room than a small bead. The grapnel bit into the top of a skyscraper and then the other DV generators built into Dey’s body kicked on – guided by the voice in her head.
Unlike some people, though, the voice in her head was real.
And could calculate the warp the fields required to completely negate her mass.
Her feet thudded into the side of the skyscraper. She undid the grapnel. She dropped. Landed behind the crew on the ships.
“Hello!” she said, cheerily.
When they walked into McAlystair’s Bar and Grill, Dey was completely dry and clean. The fifteen other men and women who had signed up onto red team were covered with bright green paint. They walked over to the bar and Dey slapped two of them on the back, looking over their shoulders at the bartender.
“This round is on me,” Dey said.
The other team looked mollified when McAlystair started to place drinks before them. The tall, genderfluid man who ran the Bar and Grill for the past decade grinned wryly at Dey as she took her stool at the end of the row. He was handsome, in a kind of feminine sort of way, and had grown his hair long, straight and dyed in an iridescent cascade of colors. He tapped the bar, bringing up a glowing series of rectangles underneath each drink, which combined, then flicked down to float before Dey’s field of vision. She pursed her lips.
“Are you making the drinks more expensive every day I show up?” Dey asked.
“Yup,” McAlystair said, his voice casual.
Dey flicked her finger through the glowing rectangle, sending it back down into the counter-top. “You know, I fought for your freedom to overcharge me.”
“You’re a tool of the hegemonic imperialists that have run this country since it was founded,” McAlystairs said, dryly.
“Hey! I’m a hand of the hegemonic imperialists at the very least,” Dey said, sticking her tongue out at the man’s back. As he stomped off, one of the captains of the other team took a seat beside her.
Penelope shoved her finger at Dey’s nose. Dey resisted the urge to bite it. Penny would just take it as an invitation. Not that Dey minded inviting her. Penny had taken the word that it was the future and decided to go all in. She wore rings held in place with micro-scale magnetic impelling fields, hovering around her wrists and ankles. She dyed her hair neon blue and did her eyebrows with LED studs and had bio-luminescent, shapeshifting tattoos along her narrow cheek bones. And, right now, she was waggling a finger whose extremely long fingernail fluoresced in colors that Dey was fairly sure only a Yahaag could admire without needing thermal goggles.
“You owe me a new shirt,” she said. “Not just a round of cocktails.”
“They serve cocktails here? Also, who wears their best shirt in a paintball naval battle?” Dey asked.
“Someone who expects to win,” Penny said, darkly.
“Well, uh, hate to break it to you, Penny,” Dey said, tapping the counter top for emphasis. This brought up the interface and a helpful anthropomorphized drink called Winky the Whisky. Winky’s speech balloon blipped into the air: If you want a darker flavored lager, I’d suggest-
Dey scowled and waved her hand, banishing Winky back to the nightmarish hellscape from whence he came. “I’m badass,” she finished.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t use your shields, though,” Penny said.
“I didn’t,” Dey said. Then, grinning. “I just used my grapnel, inertial dampeners and targeting AI. See? It was basically a level playing field.”
The door to the bar swung open. Playing to stereotype, everyone turned to look. Most people turned back to their drinks and conversation – but Dey kept her eyes on the alien in the doorway. Though alien wasn’t the right term for someone born in Miami. But Skylar wasn’t a human being. The discovery of faster than light travel had rapidly brought humanity in contact with many races. Some, like the Xeth or the Perseus Mumblers, remained enigmas, referenced by other races as shadowy monsters that should be avoided. Others, like Shockpods or Yahaag, were chronic enemies that butted heads against humans left and right.
And some, like the Squids, were just good neighbors.
Skylar moved on his tentacles. That meant he was crazy buff for a Squid, as most of them preferred to slither along the floor when on dry land. But Skylar managed to step from tentacle to tentacle, his hexagonal central mass held upright, his eight eyes looking forward, his beak clicking happily as he approached.
“Hey Skylar. Find anything good this time?” Alystair asked, smiling.
Dey tried to relax and get her hands to unclench. Down, Dey, it’s okay, Loki murmured.
[I know that. You know that. Tell my hind-brain that, ] Dey muttered.
Her last mission. The reason why she was on leave and not kicking ass for Uncle Sam. It had ... involved bad things that had left bad memories of tentacles in her head. The hell of it was that it hadn’t even been a Squid. Squids were made, as far as she knew, out of the same mixture of carbon and bits of water and some calcium that humans were made out of. Not exotic dark matter. It didn’t quite help.
“Oh, just the biggest find of my life,” Skylar said, drawing himself onto a stool between Penny and Dey.
“You say that every time,” Alystair said, amused. “What was it? Some old wreck from the Great Wars?”
“No.” Skylar waved his tentacle. “No, no, I found this on the internet!”
Everyone who had been listening turned away, and started talking with one another.
“You have no excuse, Skylar, you were born here,” Alystair said, sounding despairing.
“What does Skylar do anyway?” Dey whispered to Penny. Being only in town for vacation meant that she hadn’t gotten a chance to learn every piece of juicy gossip. Fortunately, Penny was always more than eager to tell her.
“He’s a treasure hunter,” she whispered. “Finds wrecks and ships and stuff.”
“I have found the location ... of the TITANIC!” Skylar spread his tentacles wide.
There was a long, poignant pause. Dey could almost see the desire on everyone’s face to not be the ones to break the news. She sighed and stood, trying to sound casual as she said: “Uh, Sky, I hate to break it to you, but ... the Titanic is in the National Irish Nautical Museum. They raised her fifty years ago.”
“N-No, not that one!” Skylar waved his tentacle. “The Titanic ... Two.”
Skylar was swearing as he walked around the corner. Dey followed. “Hey, hey, wait!” she said, running to catch up.
[Hey, Loki, record this, I want to prove to my shrink I’ve got this, ] she said, her hands sliding into her pockets.
I’m not sure he’ll buy it, Loki said, sounding wry.
Skylar turned to face Dey. “What? You want to laugh at me too?”
“Nope,” Dey said, shaking her head. The sound of laughter had faded, the bar door swinging shut and cutting off the last snickers. “My dad told me stories about the Titanic Two. He called it the classic hubris of the early 21st century, personified in a single megawealthy boondoggle.”
“Well, I call it payday,” Skylar said. “A half dozen of the world’s most wealthy plutocrats had family on the ship when it went down, and they left behind who knows what valuables. Information. Secrets. Classic data caches. Even if we recover one measly USB that survived, or a single pre-synth diamond...” He waggled his tentacles excitedly in the air.
“Yeah, but you said it went down in the Indian Ocean when an ice berg hit it,” Dey said.
“Actually, it hit the ice berg,” Skylar said, chuckling softly, the sound a strange combination of loud trilling and a human laugh – the translation necklace he wore flickering in time with his words. “It’s classic human comedy of errors. First, you fuck up your climate enough to break off an ice berg the size of a small state-”
Dey didn’t look amused.
“Then you push it out of the major trade routes and let it get blown around willy nilly without even tracking it,” Skylar said, laughing.
“I get it!” Dey said, rolling her eyes.
“But no, it gets better. The conspiracy types, they say that the ice berg and the Titanic 2 met on purpose. They say ecoterrorists seeded what was left of the ice beg with powdered wood, to keep it intact long enough that it might hit shipping in the Indian ocean. They say that the Titanic 2’s captain was insane and thought he had been possessed by the original captain and recreated the original accident as closely as he could. They say that the first Devil Troopers tore it to pieces and the ice berg was blamed-”
“Wait, Devil Trooper?” Dey asked. “The Titanic 2 sunk in 2022 ... we hadn’t even invented Balder. DV drives were only a few weeks old. How the fuck could there be a Devil Trooper then?”
“Ah, that’s what makes the theory so juicy,” Skylar said, walking around her in a slow, eager way, his tentacles sketching pictures in the air, his voice making it more evocative than the best holographic display. “They say that DV drives were invented way before people thought. They say that the Apollo mission found them on the moon and they were behind every major invention. Some people say that there’s still a Huntress ship in Area-51.”
“So, why would a Devil Trooper rip the Titanic 2 apart?” Dey asked, skeptically.
“Because the Titanic 2 had some of the biggest Chinese buisness tycoons on it! Sabotage, mass assassination, maybe even a bid for casus belli!”
That’s latin for a cause for war, Loki said, his voice droll. Also, half of these theories are on fucking TruthOuts.
[Why am I not shocked?] Dey muttered, her arms crossed over her chest. At the very least, listening to Skylar’s voice was easing her tension about his tentacles. For one thing, he sounded like every conspiracy nut she remembered back in high school, who had gone on lengthy diatribes about how the destruction of the first Charon colony had totally been an inside job. For another thing, he just sounded so excited about it all.
“You do know this is all absurd, right?” Dey asked.
“Totally,” Skylar said. “It’s just a big boat that sunk in the second most unlikely historical mishap in the history of your species. The first most unlikely historic mishap in the history of your species is that guy who was at Nagasaki, got nuked, then went to Hiroshima, and got nuked. I mean, you only dropped two nukes on cities in your whole history, and he went to both. That’s nuts.”
Dey felt herself relax fractionally more. “But there’s a big problem, bucko, even if you’ve found the exact location of the Titanic 2. Which isn’t necessarily true, remember. Lots of data got screwed up between the 2030s and now, just from copying errors and changes in programming. But you’re not even dealing with the fact that the pirates have been raiding ships in the Indian Ocean for the past two decades. The ROI has a standing bounty on them, for god’s sake.”
“You’re right,” Syklar said. “I need to hire a ship. A crew. Mercenaries!”
He rubbed his tentacles together.
Dey rubbed her chin.
Dey... Loki spoke, his voice warning.
“Mercenaries, huh?” Dey asked.
Dey, are you sure this is a good idea? Loki asked.
“Yes, they’ll need to be skillful. Brave. Deadly,” Skylar said. “I’ll need to find them cheap too. I only have a few K left in the bank...”
“I’ll do it for a split in the profits,” Dey said, grinning. “But you need to make sure you get a ship that can get me to the coast in under an hour in case I get recalled unexpectedly. Got it?” She prodded his hexagonal torso. Skylar’s beak hung open as he looked at her, tentacles going slack enough that he almost face planted on the ground.
“Seventy five twenty five?” Skylar offered.
“Assuming I get the seventy five since if we get shot at, I’m the one saving the day,” Dey said, nodding.
“No!” Skylar exclaimed.
“Then I’m going to have to ask for fifty fifty or you can find some hard bitten mercenaries somewhere in suburban New-Miami. Which is a thing that I’m sure will happen,” Dey said. “I mean, I’ve seen Burn Notice, mercs seem to crop up everywhere. You can’t take five steps without tripping over them...”
“Sixty forty?” Skylar suggested.
“Hmm,” Dey rubbed her chin.
“And!” Skylar thrust his tentacle into the air. “You get first dibs on any data-devices we find!”
“Deal,” Dey said.
Skylar held his tentacle out. It hung in the air between the two of them. Dey gulped, looking at it – and felt the memory of tentacles writhing against her starting to rise. She forced them down. She took the tentacle.
“Deal,” Skylar said, cheerily.
“This is my ship,” Skylar said, gesturing to a part of the pier that led to a series of ropes going underwater.
“It’s a sub?” Dey asked, kneeling down.
It’s a Cameron 82-9K Solar, Loki said, quietly. Two person seats, but it isn’t really made for long distance travel.
“Sure is!” Skylar said. “I take breaks, though. It is a bit cramped if you stay in it for more than a week or two.”
“Well, my ship’s the Enterprise. It’s bigger and it has an actual cabin and a DV locker for food and storage and stuff,” Dey said, turning to face the squid. Standing this close felt okay. She could handle this. She smirked. “How about we see if we can couple the two together and set out with both?”
In the end, it took the better part of the day to get the two ships connected. The Enterprise was only semi-modular, but the Cthulu – as Skylar named his ship in the most comforting name choice in the entire history of the human race – was made to fit to everything. The fact that Skylar could breathe underwater just as well as he could breathe on land made it a lot easier to handle the changing out of parts.
Skylar was dragging himself out of the ocean, though, while Dey was sending off mental orders through Loki to get supplies from Amazon while undoing the cable that would let the Enterprise cast off. [And the SPAS-12, I think, ] she thought. [That should round us off.]
That booming voice filled the pier, bouncing off the distant buildings thrusting from the ocean that surrounded New Miami. Dey dropped the rope to her feet and turned around.
Walking down the pier in full battle armor, bearing a curved katana in both hands like the most stereotypical anime fan in the world, was a Shockpod. Genetically engineered from an alien species that had once resembled dolphins, Shockpods were already terrifying creatures. Plating them in armor and strength enhancing exoskeletons just made it silly. The stubby arms were in segmented plates that clicked and clacked together, while the broad, bottle-snouted face was contained in an almost conical helmet, like an olden style knight. The shoulders were protected and the chest had a dark red symbol spread across it.
“I have come to finish what you began!” Kuz the Shockpod boomed. “We must do battle.”
“Do you know this guy?” Skylar whispered.
“Kinda,” Dey said. “I shot him like, ten times.”
“That’s basically a proposal for a Shockpod.”
“Don’t you know that’s cultural appropriation?” she asked, jerking her chin towards the Shockpod.
Kuz stopped about five meters away. He looked down at the katanas he held, then looked up at her, his face unreadable behind the conical helmet. There wasn’t even a vision slit, at least not one that Dey could see.
“These are the finest blades produced by your species according to my research,” he said.
Now, Loki said.
Dey nodded. “Well, see-” she snapped her hand out. Space warped between her palm and the katana in his left hand. Her hand closed around his hand at a distance and she jerked the blade from his fingers. Shockpods one main weakness was their weak grip – a reason why, in normal battle, their weapons were built into their armor. They had been designed by the Yahaag to be their heavy infantry, and the Yahaag had wanted them to be tough, strong and able to withstand almost fifty Gs of acceleration without blacking out.
Grip strength had been a secondary concern.
Dey took the katana in her hand, then brought it slamming down into her thigh. With a bit of help from a focused warp field, she sheered the blade in half.
“B ... Bu-” Kuz said. “I, hey!”
His other katana leaped into her hand.
It joined its friend on the ground, making four chunks.
“That’s ... cheating!” Kuz said, looking at his hands. “That’s a Huntress trick!”
“Kuz, I’m charmed, really,” Dey said. “But I’m pretty sure you broke half a dozen laws by coming down here in that. Power armor isn’t protected by the Second Amendment, you know.”
“It has arms!”
“How, uh, did you get down here?” Skylar asked – his tentacle had drawn out one of his cellphones. The immigration of millions of Squids to Earth had produced a wave of hysteria, acceptance, cultural exchange, tension, and radical advances in waterproofing consumer electronics. He had the 911 numbers inputted, but hadn’t put the call in yet. Dey nodded to him, grinning. She liked to see that kind of forward thinking.
“I fell,” Kuz said.
“Fell?” Dey arched an eyebrow.
“This suit is rated for a Class-2 drop,” Kuz said, rapping his knuckles against the armor. “I hit the ocean, swam ashore, and interrogated one of your...” He paused. “Starbucks. The fighter pilot establishments.”
“I ... what?” Dey looked confused. “They sell coffee.”
“To fighter pilots,” Kuz said.
“How do-” Dey shook her head. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. So, you found your way to New Miami and found me how?”
“You post on Twitter!” Kuz said.
Dey scowled. [I am going to kill my shrink.]
A healthy social media life is important. Apparently, Loki said, dryly.
Kuz stepped forward, lifting one arm. “I shall duel you in mortal combat. You did not defeat me the last time we fought. I was merely incapacitated by your lover of many orgasms!”
“W...” Dey held up her hand. “How did ... did...” She scowled. “Did Marin tell you he fucked me?”
“I interrogated him,” Kuz growled. “I needed to learn more about you.”
“You dick!” Dey snarled.
Kuz laughed. “That’s why he said!”
Dey shook her head. “Kuz, I’m not going to fight you. Because if I fight you, one or both of us are going to die.”
Kuz shook his head – making the gesture as large and exaggerated as possible so it was clear while he wore a helmet. “You will die, certainly.”
“I can warp space time with my hands.” She paused. And? Loki prodded. “And Loki’s help.”
Thank you! Loki said, sounding so pleased that she blushed.
Kuz laughed. “Well, I-”
I’ve located the actuator for the left arm, Loki said. And the right.
Dey lifted her hands, stepped forward, and placed her palms on the Shockpod’s shoulders. Micro-scale DV emitters created atom thick cutting blades out of folded space time and she ripped to either side. The actuators came free with a whine and hiss, sparks flaring from the Shockpod’s armor. The arms, due to being designed by people who weren’t total idiots, dropped to the ground, leaving his bare arms visible in the air. Dey then casually grabbed onto the snout of his helmet while he was shocked and Loki pulsed upwards. A warp field expanded space between her palm and his head and sent him flipping backwards onto the pavement.
“See you later, Kuz,” Dey said, stepping onto the Enterprise.
The instant the Enterprise entered into international water, Dey got a ping. She had been expecting it, and it still caused her to groan in irritation. For the past few hours, she had been dearly enjoying the isolation of the waves. Sky had moved to the Cthulhu and left her to the deck of the Enterprise. Undisturbed. Unbothered. Nothing but her and the vastness of the ocean and the faint sheen of genetically engineered oxygenerative kelp that ate acid.
“Captain Gallagher,” Major Moon Two, her direct superior, appeared before her. It was a neat trick, made possible via both of their AIs and their integrated neural cybernetics. It was a lot less clunky and distracting than a vid-phone, and both AIs were skilled enough to take measurements from Dey’s inner ear and her own visual input – not to mention the computer systems built into the Enterprise herself. All that information was put into the simulation of Moon Two’s generally humorless visage, so that he actually moved and rocked with the ship as if he had simply teleported there.
“Major,” Dey said, snapping off a salute and coming to attention – if somewhat sloppily. “What brings you out here?”
“You’ve left the country without-”
“With respect, I don’t need to file paperwork to leave the country,” Dey snapped. She already saw that that was a mistake. Moon Two looked irritated. But he forced that irritation away.
“Captain Gallagher, we at the Big Top are aware of what happened last mission and the psyche evaluations are good,” he said. “You can return to duty – and we may need you any day now. But actions like this throw former good evaluations into jeopardy.”
Dey sighed. “Sorry, sir. Just. Had a big reminder why putting things on the internet lead right to trouble.”
“We are not Twitter, Captain Gallagher,” Moon Two said, his arms crossed over his chest. “Though, I suppose you have a point.” At her questioning look, he continued. “The ICE aren’t quite equipped to dealing with illegal immigrants in power armor.”
“Honestly, sir, that actually makes me feel a lot better about the deescalation of police/civilian relationships,” Dey said, grinning. “So, that’s a reason to stay out of the country if a Shockpod is hunting for me to get his balls back.”
Moon Two nodded. “Granted. But irrespective of the alien and his, ahem, goals ... the Big Top and most of the other sections have gone on high alert – why is classified need to know.” He said before she could ask. “And we’d prefer if an agent who, within the past few months, saved the entire human race from an ego-maniac didn’t go haring off on some Squid’s idea of a treasure hunt for the Titanic 2.”
Dey crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, when you put it like that, this does seem a mite silly.”
Moon Two frowned. Then, sighing. “You’re still not on active duty, Gallagher. But stay found. Got it?”
Dey nodded. Moon Two vanished. She shook her head. “I wonder what bug crawled up their butt...” She frowned.
Well, it can’t have been something hands on. We’re not intelligence. Loki said.
[To be fair, ] Dey said, trimming the sails slightly, feeling a shift in the wind on her skin. [We can do intelligence. We’re just better at the whole punch face, shoot bad guys thing.] She grinned. [They’ll call us in when there’s time for that. And if tacking an extra thirty minutes for a scramdrop to swoop down and grab us will doom America, then I don’t think us being in Virginia would change much.] She sighed.
Plus, you really want to loot the Titanic, Loki said.
The hatch to the front of the Enterprise opened up and Sky pulled himself out with a grunt.
“Say!” he said. “Did you know that we’re being followed?”
Dey’s brow furrowed. “It’s not a Shockpod, is it?”
“No, no, no,” Sky said, shaking his head. “The sonar signature I’m picking up on the Cthulhu makes it look like a civilian submarine. But they’re going on the same heading, at the same speed and they change heading when you tack.”
“Sounds like an autopilot,” Dey muttered, rubbing her chin. “Want to go check them out?”
“ ... no?” Sky asked.
“Aw, you’re the one who can swim,” Dey said. “And sonar can’t pick up people. At least, not civilian ones.”
Sky crossed his tentacles before his beak. “I’m pretty sure I hired you and am paying you to do the dangerous stuff so I don’t have too.”
Dey blew out a sigh. She looked to the side. [Loki, how are we for charge?]
Could stand to get some more, Loki said, sounding concerned.
Dey nodded. She pointed at one of the socketed cables that were sunk into the side of the solar generator on the back of the Enterprise. “Hey, Sky, can you pull that cable out.” She turned her back to face her, then reached back, rolling her shirt up, revealing her sports bra. Sky slithered over ... and for just a moment, Dey froze. She froze and tensed and her eyes went unfocused as Sky’s voice seemed to echo in the distance.
“ ... oh, I see the plug...”
A tentacle touched her back.
There were downsides to having an artificial intelligence supressing your emotions sometimes.
When they weren’t on the switch, the feelings could crash into you. Hard. Tentacles. Touching. Squirming. Writhing. Touching her. Don’t. Fucking. TOUCH ME! Her brain screamed at her.
DEY! Loki’s bellow slammed into the back of her head like a hammer.
Dey shook her head, blinking as she saw that she had grabbed onto two of Sky’s tentacles and twisted them together. Her nose almost touched his beak and she panted softly, her heart hammering She stepped back, shoving her hands away from his tentacles. Sky fell backwards, his eight eyes wide. He slithered backwards to the side of the boat, grabbing onto the railing.
“H-Holy shit, are you okay?” Dey and Sky said at the same time.
Sky blinked – his eyes closing and opening in a rippling pattern.
The boat rocked backwards and forward in the chop, the sails correcting under the direction of the auto-pilot. That made Dey shake herself a bit. She unclenched her hand. Loki caressed her shoulders and she blew out a slow sigh.
“S-Sorry,” she said.
“No, seriously, are you okay?” Sky asked. “Listen, the last time a girl reacted that way-”
Dey held up her hand, silencing him.
Sky sighed. “I get it. Okay? No touching your back.”
Dey closed her eyes. She shook her head. “Who was she?” she asked, her voice sounding rough.
“Girlfriend, if you can believe it,” Sky said. When she opened her eyes, she saw him wringing out his tentacles. “I’ve always had a thing for human girls, and she – well, we hit it off, and only after I touched her back did, uh...” He coughed. “Well, it triggered the same reaction. But holy shit, she wasn’t strong like you.”
Dey tried to smile. It came out jagged. “I do got guns.”
“She told me about it when she was ready. And, hey, we’re not even friends,” Sky said, pushing himself to the tips of his tentacles. Dey wondered if it hurt him to do that – or if he just liked demonstrating his physical prowess. “We’re business partners. But I’m also, you know, not an asshole. So, like, if you want to talk ... ever? You can just say so.”
Dey laughed. “It was...” she paused.
You don’t have to, Loki said, quietly.
Dey clenched her jaw. [Yeah, I don’t have to. But you know what? Fuck this trigger, fuck Mordin, and fuck him controlling my fucking life.]
&That’s the ... spirit?* Loki sounded bemused. His arms enfolded her – virtual simulations and far more real than any lover caressing her had ever been for Dey. Loki was always with her, always there. For some people, that’d have driven them utterly insane.
But they don’t let those people become Devil Troopers.
“I was raped,” Dey said, the words blunt. “By an alien. He also had tentacles. But he wasn’t a Squid.”
“And then I ripped him apart with my bare hands,” Dey said. “Loki helped.”
“So, that’s one of those things that ... uh ... is awesome in theory, but now I am suddenly very nervous,” Sky said, sounding like he was trying to joke but wasn’t entirely sure he had managed it. Dey grinned, feeling a slight weight slipping off her shoulders. She sighed. “Now, I’m going to charge up my implants and say hi to a civilian submarine.”
She grabbed a mouth breather from the supply locker, slipped it into her mouth, plugged her K9s into the charging port. They were military grade batteries, but at the end of the day, all batteries worked on the same general principle: The charging port literally just used the solar energy to run an electrical engine that could wind the cable inside of the K9 to maximum tautness. In some way, knowing that she was using technology that was in part older than everything else on the boat and using it to do the closest thing humanity had gotten to magic made Dey feel ... happy.
Dey grinned at Sky. He waved a single tentacle in her a salute.
“Sure you can reach them by swimming?” he asked. “I mean, I know you’re a scary badass special forces, but-”
“Whoever said I was going to swim?” Dey asked.
Loki activated the DV generators implanted on her back. Electrical energy surged through them and space warped – making the distance between her and the sub following them vastly shorter. It felt a bit like stepping through a thick curtain, as the atmosphere between the two of them was compressed as well. Then Dey was through and dropping into the water. She arrowed down and fired off her grapnel. The grapnel was slowed down by water – but less than one might expect, due to its arrow-like design. It thudded into the side of the submarine as Loki painted Dey’s vision in blurry false-colors. He was basing the image off the sonar signal from the Enterprise and the Cthulhu, augmenting Dey’s vision.
She slapped her palm against the submarine.
And that was easy, Loki said, laughing as he sliced through the firewall on the submarine. Most things were networked. Civilian things, at least. With a military sub, they’d have had to find an access port.
The submarine surfaced a moment later, Dey already standing up as water sluiced off her body. She yanked the breather out of her mouth, blinking salt water from her eyes as the hatch sprang open. A pair of hands thrust from it and one of the sailors from the red team stuck their head from the hatch. He was one of the Cubans, Dey thought.
“Sorry, senorita!” he said, laughing. “I, ah, didn’t know you were so, ah...” he coughed. “Sorry.”
Dey crossed her arms over her chest. “Let me guess ... you’re after the Titanic 2 ... too.” She paused, wondering if there was a better way to phrase that.
“Whaaat?” he said, with an exaggerated look of innocence.
“How many others?” Dey asked, leaning forward to look down at him. Looking past him, she saw that the inside of the civilian submarine had been filled with DV storage lockers. He was packed with enough gear to last him as long as his batteries wore out. And considering he had an RTG packed back there, it was going to be a very long time.
“No one! This is a solo boat, senorita!”
“No, how many other people are also going for the T2?”
He looked uncertain.
Then, smiling. “Six other boats, senorita. Seems Penny checked the source El Calamar was spitting about, and she got convinced. And, well, hey...” He shrugged. “Why not?”
Dey laughed. “It’s a race, then?”
“Si.” He nodded.
Dey looked at the sky. Then she held out her hand.
“It’s a race,” she said, shaking his hand. “Send a ping to everyone else. Lets set up some ground rules...”
“Huh,” Paul said.
The Yahaag spoke remarkably good English. He also filled half the heavily modified personal yatch that Paul had borrowed quietly from the New Miami docks some months before with his bulk. The Yahaag were polar opposites of the Shockpods they had designed. Desert creatures, covered with armor plating and thick fatty folds that stored water as greedily as could be. According to rumor, they had once been svelt creatures. But moving en mass off a desert world and to worlds rich with water and building space stations on comets and drinking their fill, their desperate, never ending fill ... it had made them into a race of obscenely bloated creatures.
It hadn’t made them any less deadly.
“Oh, just,” Paul said, tapping the screen. “It seems the transie bitch thinks this is all fun and games.”
The Yahaag looked at him with those four slitted eyes.
“Why do you always refer to her as that?”
“She’s a transhuman augment,” Paul said, shrugging. “She, and the rest of the Devil Troops...” He spat the words. “They take the human form and they fuck it out of commission. They stick inhuman AIs in their brains and we’re supposed to fucking look up to them?” He shook his head. “Fuck no. Fuck that.”
The Yahaag inclined its head.
“Well,” Paul said. He turned on the laser com to one of the tiny chunks of debris that floated in Earth orbit. There were entire companies who were built around moving and collecting space trash, to keep the space lanes free. But there were literally millions of humans traveling from Earth to the greater galaxy every single day. They’d never run out of trash, and they’d never find the tiny, fist sized com-sats that Paul had made sure would be orbiting before the plan started.
Once he got a message linked in, the screen filled.
Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Thomas DuBois scarred face looked back at Paul.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“You’ll never guess whose coming to visit, Gunny.”