Authors: Mat Nastos
Tags: #cyberpunk, #Science Fiction, #action, #Adventure
“Move!” shouted the Lieutenant, filled with none of the mirth infecting the rest of the group.
“What? Not a ‘Predator’ fan?” pouted Brazier quietly as he dropped into the line of men filing out and down the chopper’s rear exit hatch.
“Local authorities aren’t prompt, but they will come to investigate if things get out of hand,” said Arias, leaning out of the open aft bay doors of the lead Blackhawk as its rotors began to whine in preparation for take-off. “If the situation gets messy, your team will have no more than twenty minutes to clear out before the nationals arrive. We’ll have birds on hand for evac, but if you aren’t here, you ladies are on your own. Clear?”
“Clear,” repeated Brazier and Talborg in unison. Neither one of them liked the sound of being left to their own devices in the middle of semi-hostile Afghan territory.
“This is your show, Agents, but Sergeant Height is your den mother. Listen to him and you’ll all make it out just fine.” Arias spun his finger in a circle over his head without waiting for a response from the two engineers, silently letting his wall-eyed pilot know it was time to leave.
Sand, dust, and pebbles pelted Brazier in the windstorm left behind by the fast disappearing helicopters, leaving a grimy feeling in his skin that only a ton of high-priced exfoliant would be able to wash out.
“X marks the spot, people. This site is rally point one. Mark it on your head’s up display. Use it as your common ref-point…this is our ‘six.’ If things go FUBAR, this is where we fall back to,” lectured Height as the other marines went into autopilot around him. While this was old hat for the big man’s team, he still liked to run down the list, especially for the benefit of the civilians. There was nothing worse than a POG getting lost during an op and having to waste time and resources tracking them down.
“‘FUBAR,’ Sergeant?” Brazier had never heard the term before.
The entire battalion of soldiers chuckled as one.
“Fucked up beyond all recognition,” called out Private Grundy, one of the unit’s sharpshooters from beneath a helmet over-flowing with a mane of bright red hair that would have made Ronald McDonald green with envy. The good-natured, lanky soldier was nearly as pale as the moonlight. He seemed to be having as good a time as possible with the mission.
The other half of Grundy’s sniper team, Private Hochberg, added in a tone much more military in cadence, “It means things have gone tits up, Agent Brazier.”
Brazier couldn’t restrain a laugh that was a shade too loud and too mirthful given their position deep within enemy territory. “Is that an official US marine term, Private?”
“Yes, sir. It’s in the manual.”
A grunt from Sergeant Height ended the banter. “We’ll get you a copy when we get back to base. Now, if you ladies are done with your tea party, it’s time to get your game faces on. Hochberg, we need eyes on the compound.”
A small cloud of dust trailed behind the tall sniper as he bolted for a small rise completely barren of vegetation, and dropped flat with the long barrel of his gun trained on the subtle yellow light that spilled over the enemy’s high reinforced stone walls.
“Six Tangos on the wall—four gunners ready to direct fire on the gate and two walkers with AKs,” reported Hochberg without looking up from the night-vision scope of his rifle. “Action seems to all be up top. We’re clear to the southwest.”
“How does your team want to handle this, Agent Talborg?”
Gauss jumped in before the woman could answer. “Maneuver Beta-16.”
“Agreed,” added Cestus.
Brazier smiled. He’d seen the action performed in playback a handful of times, but the thought of getting to see it played out in person thrilled him to no end.
“We’ll just sit back and enjoy the show, then, Designate Gauss. Let us know when you’re ready,” said Height, silently signaling his men to attention with a series of hand gestures.
“Now is as good a time as any…our time under cover of darkness is limited. Sunrise is in forty-five minutes,” added Talborg, eager to get her two cents into the conversation.
The chrome eye of Gauss looked Cestus up and down, analyzing the cyborg fully. The two super soldiers stood nearly the same height, and were both broad shouldered and good looking. Cestus was the senior of the pair—he’d been in his late thirties at the time of his admission into Project Hardwired, a good ten years older than Gauss. Both sported tightly cropped military-style haircuts, and each was loaded with tactical paraphernalia and armaments from head to toe.
“You know the drill, Slick…gear off,” said Gauss even though the two cyborgs had been on numerous operations together and performed the maneuver many times. “And lose the gun.”
Observing from the sidelines as Cestus did as instructed, dropping every bit of equipment he had strapped to his back, caused Brazier to shake his head. Seeing the shiny new SCAR-H assault rifle hit the ground and send up an ashy cloud of dust increased his unease tenfold. The fidgety engineer couldn’t believe the cybernetic soldier was giving up his weapons so easily…not that Cestus really needed the gun—or any of the rest. The man was a living, breathing weapon on his own, and his computer-enhanced senses gave him senses well-beyond anything that could be issued by the United States government.
Still, thought Brazer to himself, it never hurts to have a big gun on hand…just in case.
“Range to target is approximately four-hundred fifty-one meters…” The ice blue eyes of Cestus were laser-locked onto the Afghani terrorist compound, nearly invisible to the normal humans in the party without the benefit of bionic upgrades.
“I’ve got it,” groaned Gauss, stamping his feet like a thoroughbred waiting on the starting line. The man’s impatience was becoming palpable to all around him.
“Wind speed is just under six klicks,” continued Cestus, going down some unseen checklist.
“I know my job, Cestus…quit stalling.”
Twin arms of mirrored titanium-carbon alloy slammed together, generating a shock wave around the tightly packed military group. Brazier watched in awe as Gauss began to build a magnetic field around his body, weaving it in and out in preparation for what was to come next. Tiny pieces of metal—zippers, d-rings, dog tags, even ammo straps—began to twitch and shudder, rising up in place to face the cyborg’s humming form. When the warble began to crescendo, a shining hand shot out towards Cestus, lifting him roughly a few centimeters off the ground before bouncing him back to the earth.
“Be prepared to compensate for the low atmospheri—”
Gauss cut Cestus off, jerking his hand skyward, palm up and fingers spread. With the motion, the sound spiked into a frequency more felt than heard by those present…a high-pitched squeal just out of the range of normal hearing. Along with the sound, the magnetic wave enveloped Cestus in a cocoon of energy and flung him out into the darkened abyss of space stretching out between the military unit and their unsuspecting foes. If Brazier didn’t know better it looked like the soldier was tossing a ball up in the air rather than sending a six-foot two-inch, three-hundred plus pound cyborg flying.
“Fastball special.” The sheer insanity of what had just played out before his eyes hit Brazier hard. “Just like something out of a comic book.”
Watching as Cestus landed, nearly five-hundred yards away with a tuck-and-roll and tiny mushroom cloud of dust, just beyond the outer perimeter of the insurgents’ high-walled compound, Brazier found himself smiling. As safe, secure, and comfortable as he’d felt in all the missions he’d monitored remotely from Hardwired headquarters back in California, the thin man had to admit there was nothing quite like the surge of adrenaline he got from being out live in the field with its heat and mosquitoes. It got his heart pumping, his blood racing, and, he was almost ashamed to admit, things were even stirring down below.
Perhaps, if things went well Brazier would be able to hook up with the cute Air Force flight commander who had accompanied the Project Hardwired team on the flight over from Germany. They’d had a couple of nice moments between them during their time in the air and the young engineer was pretty sure he could pick things up right where he left off.
An irritatingly shrill hiss snapped Brazier’s attention back to the work at hand and, sadly, knocked the inspired muscle in his pants back down to six o’clock from noon.
“No time for love, Doctor Jones,” thought Brazier as he peeked over his shoulder into the darkness in an attempt to locate his counterpart. She was out there, hunkered down in a foxhole just like he was, sitting back and waiting with Gauss while Cestus went in to do the government’s dirty work. The pair of cyborgs had been out on four joint missions in the past 3 months, all with a high success rating. To the eternal annoyance of the chrome-armed Gauss, his role had transitioned to one consisting almost completely of support, dropping his actual combat time down to zero. For a hardened killer like Designate Gauss, it had been a hard pill to swallow. Still, pondered Brazier as he requested Talborg to repeat her transmission, at least ‘Magnet Boy’ could share in the spoils of having the best mission record in the department.
“I said, ‘Designate Cestus is in play.’ Switch to night vision and watch point…in other words, pay attention, Scotty-boy,” said Talborg with as much professional and personal disdain as she could muster.
With the touch of a button on the side of his helmet’s visor, the world went green for Brazier. The sights popping up through his equipment’s low-light infra-red mode had become familiar through the remote viewing Brazier’s team had done for much of the previous nine months. Of course, having to actively move his head and zoom in-and-out on his own were a bit trickier than following along with the playback of a field-drone’s camera systems…especially when he had to keep up with the constantly moving and dodging form of Cestus as the super-soldier worked his way up and over the twelve-foot high bare concrete walls of the target facilities to gain entry to the courtyard they protected.
“Wow,” was the extent of the eloquence Brazier could muster when he saw the first pair of Afghan terrorists fall to the ten-inch blades that slid quickly from housings deep within the forearms of Cestus. Two backhanded swipes left a pair of heads rolling away from twitching corpses.
“Your boy is on fire,” commented Private Grundy with a grin that split his long face from ear to ear.
“I want two squads of six. Davis, Purcell, Freeman, Schmidt, and DeVito, you’re with me. The rest of you are team two. Hochberg and Grundy, keep us covered from Rally One,” said Height, prepping his gear and getting ready to march across the moonlit plain to where Cestus had already begun his killing.
Grace scowled at Height’s order. “And us?”
“Agent Talborg, you, Designate Gauss, and your men remain here with Grundy and Hochberg.” The two marine snipers dropped to the ground a few feet from the civilians, already prepping their .50 caliber DARPA EXACTO rifles. “We should have the target secured and ready for you in less than ten. Be ready.”
Brazier stepped past Gauss and the two members of Rho-Unit, doing his best to completely ignore the blistering look Talborg kept shooting his way as he did, and asked, “Where do I set up, Sergeant? Should I monitor the progress of Designate Cestus from the rally point?”
The large head of Height gave one shake before training it’s gaze onto the engineer.
“Best place for you is with my team following Blades in. Stay close, keep your head down and your mouth shut. If we’re lucky, Designate Cestus will have the Tangos cleared out and we’ll be back to base in time for breakfast.”
“More mystery meat?” Brazier groaned at the thought of having to spend another meal at Camp Eggers. All he wanted was a hot, identifiable plate of bacon and eggs…the kind from a chicken and not powdered from a box.
“Only the best for our Project Hardwired guests,” chuckled Height, pushing the smaller man down a small dirt path leading towards the golden glow of the terrorist compound out near the horizon. “Bring the fitties, leave the rest,” ordered Height, sending his men into motion. “I want us knocking on their front door in two minutes. Let’s move!”
Oh-Four-Thirty-Seven: Ten Kilometers North of Kabul.
There was nothing better than feeling like he was the head coach of the Super Bowl winning football team. Sure, you may not be the quarterback leading the team from down on the field, but you were still the place where the buck stopped. The man seen as ultimately responsible for getting a big star in the ‘win’ column.
Hunched down in a small, dry culvert just outside the
compound, covered from head-to-toe in the mealy tan dust that seemed to cover every square inch of the area, that sense of pride, that sense of accomplishment, filled Scott Brazier to overflowing. Seated in the sand, surrounded by a group of ten well-armed marines, he stared into the tiny flat-screened tablet computer allowing him to monitor every move his cyborg partner made on the grounds inside the stone walls stretching for three hundred feet on a side. What he witnessed was a ballet of death that would have been scary had he taken the time to analyze it. Two minutes into his breach of the enemy’s perimeter and Cestus had already dispatched more than twenty terrorist soldiers with the ten-inch razor sharp blades extending from each finger of his metallic hands. Silent and deadly, each of the Afghani insurgents fell to the cybernetic killer without ever having the opportunity or awareness to fire a single shot.
The mission ran with the kind of clockwork precision a mission engineer like Brazier only ever dreamed of. Things moved along better than any simulation the tech had ever run back at Project Hardwired. He almost wished Grace Talborg and her own metal-armed thug had tagged along. Seeing the arrogant duo sit idly by while Cestus was inside doing the real work would have made putting up with her foul demeanor and Gauss’s cocksure attitude worth it. Well, almost.
Oh, how much fun writing the end of mission report was going to be, Brazier grinned. He’d make sure everyone got a copy…two for frigid little Grace and her pompous Pino. If that didn’t take some of the wind out of the woman’s sails, then nothing would.