Authors: Mat Nastos
Tags: #cyberpunk, #Science Fiction, #action, #Adventure
And the Abraxas-1 system had done an amazing job at creating one of the coldest, most efficient killing machines Scott Brazier had ever seen in action. Designate Cestus was the golden boy of Project Hardwired and Gordon Kiesling’s star. Whenever Congress came snooping around to see how the billions of taxpayer dollars had been spent, Director Kiesling rolled out footage of Designate Cestus in action: breaking up riots, assassinating heads of foreign states, destroying terror cells, and taking on all the dirty wet work the politicians in DC wanted done quickly, quietly, and discreetly. With a hundred percent success rating, the cyborg had killed more people than small pox.
Designate Cestus was unique…his mind a product of binary brain-surgery and computer calculations.
The other eleven Prime Designates were an entirely different story. Each of them still retained their original personalities and memories—they were all essentially the same men they had been before they joined Project Hardwired. Of course, all of them had been hard-line connected to the Abraxas Array and could be taken over by the system at any point, but for the most part, they acted on their own.
Height continued, “Magnet Boy there and the others aren’t fans of his. I think he reminds them that they’re all just one step away from being glorified robots. I know I wouldn’t like it one bit.”
“And what can you tell me about Gauss?”
“Magnet Boy?” Height chuckled, firing a conspiratorial wink back at the smaller civilian. “He’s just an asshole.”
Uncomfortable seats and ever-present, mind-numbing heat aside, the remaining hour long ride turned out to be rather illuminating for Scott Brazier. Surprisingly, Sergeant Height revealed himself to be a vast source of knowledge when it came to not only being on a mission in exceedingly hostile territory, but also in the practical side of working in close proximity with the Prime Designate Units from Project Hardwired. The blustery marine and his battalion had been on loan to Hardwired since the program’s inception, and they had been part of nearly every large-scale operation assigned to the cyborgs throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. All told, Brazier wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the soldier had logged more combat time with the Designates than all the current engineers combined.
Hell, the man had even been around for the early missions with the earliest Primes…he’d been there to help clean-up the devastation caused during Designate Siege’s first, and only, assignment. They’d been able to blame the Fukushima Daiichi incident on a tsunami caused by the Tōhohu Earthquake, but it was the worst disaster in the newly formed super soldier project’s history, and one that almost resulted in it being mothballed by the bigwigs up on Capitol Hill.
It was also the main reason why civilian techs like Brazier and Talborg were sent out on what had otherwise been military operations. Having a couple of eggheads in the field with the ability to shut down one of the temperamental human killing machines was a very small concession for Executive Director Kiesling to agree to.
Swatting at what seemed to have been the millionth mosquito to feast upon his tender flesh, Brazier wasn’t quite as convinced as to just how small that concession had been. He much preferred the first few months of his time at Hardwired when the only danger he faced was carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Spending a weekend in ‘beautiful’ Afghanistan was not high on the mid-Westerner’s list of preferred vacation spots. If anything, Kabul fell somewhere under the ice planet of Hoth and only one position higher than San Diego during ComiCon.
A sigh of relief summoned from somewhere very deep inside Brazier’s being burst free in response to the mission’s military head, Lieutenant Arias, announcing their arrival at Camp Eggers. The LT’s brusque Yonkers accent barked out a series of orders over the radio headsets every member of the strike force wore over their left ears. Although the assignment was a joint operation between Project Hardwired and the US Marine Corps, and had been signed off by every level of the government up to and including the President of the United States himself, the details were top secret and not to be shared with anyone at the base not already in the ‘know.’ As far as the base’s soldiers checking the team in through the heavily fortified security checkpoint were concerned, the twenty-man unit had been assigned to help set-up a new communications relay for the new Afghan government.
The reality of the situation was far more important than satellite connections and cellular towers.
Disembarking from the darkened interior of the massive MRAP transport and falling into line with the quintet from Project Hardwired, Brazier allowed the specifics to run through his head as the soldiers of Sergeant Height’s First Recon Battalion of the First Marine Division efficiently unloaded their gear.
Thirty-six hours earlier, US anti-terrorist intelligence agents had intercepted word that three high-ranking members of the
would be meeting at an outpost ten kilometers north of Kabul. The Syrian-based terrorist were due to receive more than a thousand kilos of sarin gas and a BM-21 Grad rocket launch vehicle stolen from the Russian army in Lebanon. The large volume of chemical weapons being brought in caused the level of panic which hadn’t been seen in the intelligence community since the 9/11 attacks. If the Syrian branch of the
was able to gain control of an arsenal of that magnitude, they would be able to wage a war on the West the likes of which had never before been seen. It was Project Hardwired’s job to make sure that didn’t happen.
Brazier’s team was given an assignment in three parts:
First, gain control of the chemical weapons by any means necessary.
Second, liquidate any and all terrorist forces on site. There were to be no survivors, no witnesses, and no mercy. Scorched Earth was the order of the day.
Finally, gain any intel on who was selling the deadly nerve agents to the Syrians.
In order to guarantee all points of the mission were carried out to the letter and without fail, Executive Director Kiesling himself had chosen the unit assigned. Designates Gauss and Cestus were pulled from their respective missions in Sŏngch’ŏn Kun and Shiraz. Although their mutual dislike ran deep, the two Prime units were the most effective pairing Project Hardwired had developed. Gauss was to be the hammer and Cestus the scalpel. With the two cyborgs riding shotgun, no enemy of freedom of the United States had any hope.
Engineers Talborg and Brazier had been given their assignments, along with triple hazard pay, by the current heads of Project Hardwired’s weapon division, TJ and Jason May. For all intents and purposes, it was a dream assignment. The sort of high pay, high profile gig that resulted in promotions and more.
Dust, the rumble of tanks, and the smell of unprocessed diesel fuel battered Brazier’s senses to the point of numbness, forcing the man to reevaluate his choice in career for the umpteenth time.
“Over here, Scotty boy,” called Talborg, summoning her colleague over to a burgeoning crowd of soldiers with a backwards flick of her wrist.
Brazier wasn’t sure how she did it, but the woman could pile enough snideness in the words ‘Scotty boy’ to choke a horse. Being in tight quarters to Talborg for an extended period had quelled any attraction to her the engineer had built up in his mind. She was as much of an asshole as Height had proclaimed Designate Gauss to be.
Lieutenant Arias stood tall in the middle of the troupe of fourteen marines, two civilians, and quartet of cybernetic humans, looking as impatient as he was imposing. It was easy for anyone halfway paying attention to see that the soldier was not an even-tempered man.
“Our bunks are in the buildings there.” Arias nodded in the direction of a cluster of small, hastily constructed buildings covered in the digital desert camouflage paint that seemed to coat every inch of visible equipment in the camp—vehicles, buildings, tents…even the men were covered in camo dress. “Stow your gear and pull all pertinent data for a confab at seventeen-hundred.”
Grabbing a pair of tan and gray duffel bags massive enough to hold a man’s body, Sergeant Height barked out to the crowd of marines and their civilian guests, “You heard the El-Tee. Hit your CHUs and make yourselves pretty like. It’s all asses and elbows from here on out, boys.”
Falling in line with the rest of his team, Brazier chuckled to himself.
Turning to Designate Cestus, he quipped, “You feel like we’re on the set of ‘Heartbreak Ridge?’”
The cyborg stared at the small engineer blankly and pushed passed him, making a beeline for the containerized housing unit set aside for the four cyborg soldiers. None of the regular humans, not even those assigned by the powers-that-be of Project Hardwired, bunked with the cybernetic men. The policy of separate housing for the Designates and GMRs had been implemented early on in the project’s formation. It was unsettling enough to be around a bunch of testosterone-filled marines, but that was nothing compared to being forced to sleep next to a quartet of half-robotic killers with little connection to humanity left in them.
Shuddering at the thought of sharing a room with Cestus, Brazier strained to haul his rucksack up to his shoulders before double-timing it to catch up with the rapidly dispersing crowd he’d been assigned to.
Better to take his chances with the ice queen than the Pinos, Brazier mused to himself.
It was going to be a long day.
Seventeen-Hundred Hours: Camp Eggers, Kabul, Afghanistan
The smell of sweat, dust, and socks gone one day too long without a wash filled the cramped twenty by twenty foot square modular building made of particle board and canvas. Twenty men and one woman were packed into the front of the single room structure, surrounding a small metal folding table covered with satellite maps and local intelligence reports of Kabul and the outlying territory. Spy drones had been swarming thicker than flies on shit in a fifty mile radius around their target zone since 10pm the night before, and there wasn’t an inch of the arid, unwelcoming landscape that hadn’t been photographed for analysis and over-analysis by everyone from the army to the CIA.
Staring at the four cyborgs accompanying the team from Project Hardwired, Brazier wasn’t completely sure he should be counting Cestus and the others as part of the ‘men.’ Outside of Gauss and his abrasive personality, the rest of the cybernetic soldiers acted like little more than robots focused on nothing but the mission ahead. Sure, that was expected of the two GMRs from Rho-Unit. They had very little going on upstairs at all. If the techs controlling them back at headquarters didn’t tell them what to do, the Gomers would just stand around collecting dust.
But Brazier had expected Cestus to be different…to be more human like Gauss and the other Prime Designates. After all, hadn’t he been programmed with a fully integrated personality construct by the Abraxas Array? The whole point of his existence was to pass for human on his missions. Instead, the cyborg was cold, distant, and completely unapproachable. Brazier could see why Cestus made the other Primes uncomfortable. He made Brazier uncomfortable.
It was something the engineer would have to bring up at debriefing.
The strong tenor voice of Lieutenant Arias popped Brazier out of his contemplation better than a bucket full of cold water dumped on his head.
“I hope we’re not boring you, Agent Brazier. I know how trivial things like apprehending international terrorists bent on taking the lives of American citizens can be a bit tedious for someone with your busy schedule. Perhaps you’d like us to reschedule until it’s more convenient for you?”
Nineteen pairs of eyes refocused on the young engineer, causing every ounce of blood in Brazier’s body to make a beeline for his face. What made things even worse was the look of triumph swimming in a half-grin that had found its way onto Agent Talborg’s face. Getting caught daydreaming by Arias was bad enough, but having it pointed out to his frenemy was far worse. Brazier was sure the bitch would find a way to bring it up in their post mission reports.
God, he hated her more and more.
“No, Lieutenant…” Brazier stuttered, trying to improvise his way out of the embarrassing situation. “Just running through the mission details in my head to make sure we aren’t missing something important.”
Eyes rolled inside the small meeting area in unison. Although no one really bought Brazier’s halfhearted excuse, it was a valid enough attempt at explanation to allow Arias to continue with his sit-rep.
“According to intel, this is our target,” Arias tapped a large, tanned and immaculately groomed finger nail in the upper left quadrant of the map spread out before them, nearly punching through the thin paper it was printed on. A circle of bright red marker ink surrounded the area he drew the team’s attention to. “Its heavily-fortified complex belongs to one Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Before the war it housed a small auto-manufacturing plant. Since then, we suspect it has been used as a base of operations for the
.” Running his digit around in a tight circle just inside the line of red, Arias continued, “The compound’s main line of defense is a hardened wall of concrete and steel, standing four meters high. The only openings are twin hydraulic iron gates mounted in the northwest quadrant of the facility. Gunners operate four Soviet-made PKMSN machinegun placements, set up in pairs on each side. There was word of an ancient
4M2 on-site, but the boys in Intel say it shouldn’t be anything for our ground-op to worry about.”
One of the soldiers, a shaven-headed man Brazier had taken to thinking of as ‘Lex’ in spite of a name-tag that read ‘Davis’ on it, chortled. “Of course it’s easy for the Fobbits in intel not to worry about anything…they’re all sitting pretty, safe and sound back in the green zone sipping mint juleps,” he said. The remark, in addition to being nearly incoherent to Brazier and Talborg, drew a round of laughter from nearly every military man present. Only Arias remained untouched by the humor so readily accepted by his underlings.