Authors: Mat Nastos
Tags: #cyberpunk, #Science Fiction, #action, #Adventure
“Don’t worry about it, Davis…with the
on board, it’ll be another Groundhog Day mission like all the rest,” joked another solider, one whose name Brazier failed to catch.
“Watch the ‘
’ shit, jarhead,” snapped Talborg from the position just off Arias’s left shoulder she’d claimed at the start of the mission briefing. The woman was a master at insuring her position in the center of things…a trait Brazier new he’d have to perfect if he wanted to move up in the Project Hardwired hierarchy.
“What’s our opposition?” The smooth, slow Southern drawl of Cestus calling out from the rear of the group startled everyone present. He’d said no more than ten words during the entire trip down from Berlin…most of the team had forgotten he was a living, breathing thing.
Arias, having dealt with the cyborg super soldier on a number of occasions, seemed to be the only one not thrown off by the man’s question. “
has no more than thirty hostiles on site. The Syrians are set to arrive with the stolen ordnance just before dawn with another dozen or so men.”
Gauss laughed, winking at his monitor. “We’ll go in hard and fast…I’ll walk right in the front gates and bring the whole place down on their heads. They won’t know what hit ‘em.”
“No,” refuted Cestus in a calm voice that still commanded the attention of those crowded around the briefing. “Designate Gauss will provide support and insertion for me into the enemy camp.”
A glare that could have killed blasted out from Gauss. The cyborg’s fists clenched tightly, his chrome eye lighting up like a star, as Gauss started to snap back at his rival.
“‘Support?’ Are you fucking kidding me?” Every piece of metal in the room responded to the chrome-armed cybernetic warrior’s agitation, twitching and jerking into his direction. “Where do you get off trying to take lead, Cestus? This is as much my op as it is yours!”
The power Gauss contained in his arms and the fusion generator housed in his spine were enough to cause Brazier to take a few rather deep, worried breaths. No telling what a loose cannon like Gauss could do in a military base filled with a nearly unlimited supply of ferrous metals to cause havoc with.
Spittle sprayed out from the mouth of Gauss, showering Cestus with liquid as the two super soldiers faced off. Explosions between the two top members of the Project Hardwired team had become more and more frequent as Cestus’s star began to rise and eclipse that of the more veteran Gauss. Only the omnipresent control of the Abraxas Array hot linked into the computerized brains of both men had kept their skirmishes from resulting in catastrophic violence…something Scott Brazier thanked God for even as he instinctively backed away from the blustering robot-men.
“Data shows an increase of friendly casualties by a factor of three with a frontal assault. The chances of hostiles retaliating with the chemical weapons on local citizens also increase by nearly forty-seven point three-one percent,” countered Cestus calmly. “Covert entry reduces collateral damage down to zero. Of the two of Prime Designates assigned, I am far more qualified to take point.”
Lieutenant Arias seemed to share Gauss’s incredulity. “Best guesses put the number of hostiles at thirty armed men or more. How do you propose to stop them on your own, Designate Cestus?”
“You arrogant little prick!” A vein throbbing on the forehead of Gauss seemed on the verge of rupture.
Fifteen pairs of battle-hardened US Marine hands gripped the weapons slung over their shoulders. They all had seen first-hand the sort of devastation both cyborgs were capable of creating and none of the soldiers were ready for a display.
“Lieutenant?” Sergeant Height’s voice seem to raise two octaves in concern. He wasn’t sure there was enough firepower on the entire base to take down one of the pissed-off cyborgs let alone two.
“Agent Talborg, get your man under control ay-sap,” ordered the mission’s military officer, sweat beading up across his brow. Lieutenant Arias’s hand hovered just over the dark gray grip of the Beretta nine-millimeter pistol holstered high on his right hip.
Before the thirty-something woman could respond, a voice squeaked out from the rear of the gathering.
“Abraxas agrees with Cestus’s recommendation.” The lilt and twang intruding upon Brazier’s voice did little to reinforce the air of authority he’d hoped to throw out. Nothing killed a man’s self-confidence more than twenty pairs of eyes all aimed at him.
Gauss visibly deflated. Although every fiber of the cyborg’s being wanted to protest, both he and Agent Talborg had received notification from the artificial intelligence system back at Project Hardwired in the United State at the same instant Brazier did. They were all linked to the same information in real time and it was useless for the mechanical-eyed soldier to argue—impossible considering the override instructions coded into his brain. There was no way for one of the Prime Designates to rebel against his programming. At the merest hint of trouble, one of the on-site monitors, or even Abraxas-1 itself, could initiate a shutdown protocol to stop the cyborgs in their tracks. Having seen what kind of damage creatures like Gauss and Cestus could do terrified Brazier down deep and knowing shutdown was a couple of keystrokes away let him sleep better at night.
The thought of another Prime going rogue like Designate Siege was a horrifying thought.
“Fine,” spit Gauss, moving towards the plywood exit door, making sure to force his way past the unmoving form of Cestus along the way. “You just wait until a new hotness comes along, Weir…then I guarantee we’ll have words.”
If Brazier didn’t know better he would have sworn Cestus shot a quick grin out after the vanishing Gauss. But the reaction was gone as fast as it appeared, leaving the Engineer unsure it had existed at all.
With Gauss removed from the room, the tension quickly evaporated.
“All right, boys. Rack out. Birds head out at oh-four-hundred,” A wave of the lieutenant’s hand sent the rest of the group of tan camouflaged bodies scrambling out of the thin-walled building the company had been assigned by military command as their base of operations.
A sideways frown from Brazier silently asked Sergeant Height what about the civilians. The entire trip had been a whirlwind for both Brazier and Talborg, and neither one was exactly sure what to do next. Bouncing his eyes back and forth between the increased amount of work implied by helping the two government agents and the rather insulting smells wafting over from the DFAC, Height sighed and sauntered over to the pair of engineers.
Oh, well, he thought, the FOBs in Kabul didn’t have the greatest reputation when it came to the grub they served anyway.
Height spit a frog out of his throat to catch his commanding officer’s attention. The sound generated from within the bowels of his large form was loud, and crude, enough to tear Arias away from the stack of maps he’d turned to when he had assumed the make-shift HG had been vacated.
“What about our guests, El-Tee?”
Lieutenant Arias frowned as his eyes fell on Brazier and Talborg. Waving the burly gunnery sergeant over, Arias snapped, “Height, get the POGs some chow and prepped for deploy in the morning.” The gruff New Yorker followed up with, “They get blowed up tomorrow and it’s on your ass.”
Grumbling to himself, Height led the engineers out into the dry heat of the Afghan night thinking he should have taken his chances with whatever was being served at the dining hall on his own.
“So, how do you two like mystery meat?”
Oh-Four-Hundred Hours: Camp Eggers, Day Two.
Four a.m. came a lot quicker and was far more painful than Brazier had expected. The heat; the uncomfortably thin army cot assigned to him; the itchy, dark-gray blanket wrapping the engineer’s lower half turned it into a sweat-soaked burrito; the machine-gun fire being produced by a gaggle of sleeping marines a few feet from his bunk; the early hour. On their own each of those things were terribly annoying and magnificent sleep disrupters, but none of them were as horrifying as the sound of Gunnery Sergeant Height’s voice booming in Brazier’s ear or the smell of unbrushed teeth filling his nostrils. Those things underlined the blond man’s hatred for the situation he’d been thrust into. Triple pay be damned.
“Up and at ‘em, campers,” bellowed the plus-sized marine. Height yanked the blankets off of Brazier’s bed, nearly taken the much smaller man with them. “Time to get to work!”
A higher pitched voice echoed Height’s baritone with a more than a slight hint of mockery lining its tone. “No time to get your nails done, Brazier. Get your panties on and let’s go!”
Talborg, full dressed and looking fresh as a daisy, grinned wickedly at Brazier from just inside the barracks door. Somehow the woman was prepped and ready to go. A curse escaped from between the engineer’s thin lips. He swore he’d show the woman up once they were out in the field.
Feet, still clad in the perspiration-soaked socks they’d been encased in for the past thirty-six plus hours, slammed down hard into the pair of steel-toed combat boots resting near the foot of Brazier’s cot. Luckily, Sergeant Height had been kind enough to give the civilian a run down of what to expect the night before—and how to be prepare for the unit’s need to go from sleep to combat-ready in less than a minute. Boots on hand, gear already prepped for travel, bulletproofed combat vest within reach. The only thing Brazier wished the battalion had on hand was a proper coffee maker. As it was, all he had time for was a few gulps of the tar-like black concoction the other soldiers had left brewing over night. Still, it was better than going off to battle without caffeine. Brazier was almost positive that was against at least one article of the Geneva Convention.
Six minutes later, accompanied by the four cybernetically-enhanced members of the Project Hardwired team, Brazier and Talborg were wedged tightly into seats mounted in the rear of a stealth-modified MH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, bound for the group’s target insertion point twenty-two kilometers away. Sergeant Height and his team followed closely behind in a pair of Blackhawks of their own.
Although flying at less than 500 feet above the surface of the light-starved desert below, the air inside the helicopter seemed anemic and oxygen-starved to Brazier. He had been covered in a cold sweat that manifested itself along his brow, neck, and armpits within seconds of lift-off. He screwed his eyes shut and tried to modulate his breathing—it was all in his head. Just his nerves overreacting to the influx of adrenaline.
“Nothing to be ashamed of,” he thought, trying to block out all external stimulus. It was his first field mission, after all. Completely normal to be a tad nervous. Leaning back and pretending to sleep, Brazier hoped no one else would notice his anxiety.
A noise from across the tiny cabin dispelled that hope with a series of deep-throated chuckles.
“Don’t be so uptight, Scotty. If the
get wise, I’ll generate an EM field to keep their SAMs off our tail.” Gauss’s voice annoyed Brazier as much as the cyborg’s attitude. The guy really was a dick.
?’” The term felt sour in the engineer’s mouth. He was stunned by the blatant racism flung about by the super solider. And, looking over at how the Designate’s handler was grinning and nodding in agreement, Brazier was just as stunned by Talborg’s own callousness.
Before Brazier could formulate even the most basic of reprimands to launch back at the two, he was cut off by the even, nearly mechanical toned voice of Cestus emanating from the seat next to him. The tempo of the cyborg’s speech pattern was stilted, unnatural, and disquieting to Brazier’s ear.
“Negative, Designate Gauss,” corrected the computerized warrior without the slightest hint of emotion, or humor.
“Any magnetic field you generated strong enough to deflect airborne rocket ordnance would be sufficient to disrupt the electronics of our own aircraft.” All eyes in the cargo hold of the Blackhawk trained on the cyborg. “Evacuating the vehicle from the rear access point and deploying parachutes would be the course of action producing the highest probability of survival.”
Groaning, Brazier added halfheartedly, “Wicked burn there, Cestus my man…wicked burn.” Of course, thought the engineer, it was just his luck to be given the cyborg without a sense of humor programmed into his sub-routines.
“Chatter to a minimum, people. We’re going silent for final approach,” said the pilot, a tall, nearly emaciated looking man with a lazy eye so extreme it had caused Brazier a near panic attack when he saw the man strap into the helicopter’s cockpit for lift-off. If there was one thing Brazier looked for in the person given a high level of responsibility for his survival it was a pair of eyes that pointed in the same direction. To Lieutenant Arias, standing in the doorway between the forward flight controls and the main cargo bay of the helicopter, the pilot added “Touchdown in T-minus sixty seconds, Lieutenant.”
“You heard the man…lock and load. Prepare for rapid deploy.”
High caliber rounds ratcheted into place in response to the command from Arias. A dull red light flooded the interior of the aircraft, giving Brazier the feeling he was sitting in some giant heart as a quartet of rotors pumped away just over head. The thumping above and jostling from within did little to help ease the skittish computer technician’s nerves. The thought of twenty marines prepping for battle and armed with enough firepower to vaporize a small town accentuated his unease. In the midst of the restrained chaos surrounding him, Brazier had a clarifying thought that wrenched a chuckle from his gut and allowed most of his tension to drain away.
As the black-skinned stealth helicopter shuddered and jerked onto the ground, Brazier turned to the soldier next to him and said “Jeez, you got a big pussy…jeez, you got a big pussy.”
“Haw! Because of the echo!” Sergeant Height’s laughter was contagious and spread quickly through the men in his command.
A loud bang cut off the group’s merriment with a sharp metallic note. Arias gestured out of the now wide-open ramp leading from the crowded interior hold to the hot Afghanistan night area beyond.