“Will you assholes stop gossiping like a bunch of fucking teenagers and get geared up?” Cole snapped.
I waved at myself. “Already done, sir.”
“Helmet,” he demanded.
I rolled my eyes but tapped the release switch above my collar that triggered the helmet. It rolled over my head, and I blinked as the osys around my wrist synched with the info screen.
At once the image views from the osys covered the top left of my visor, and to the right popped up the heart rate monitors of all the rest of the C Squad. It always comforted me to watch that even, calming rhythmic line pulsing under “R Mackenzie”.
Cloris Chan joined us a few minutes after, and, by the time we were geared up, Franco Garcia and Billy V showed up as well, looking miserable for having their shore leaves abbreviated.
We all were. It had been a solid year without a break. Three days off wasn’t even enough for the bruises to fade.
From the exterior security post at the south end of the tourist biodome there was a five-block walk down the primary boulevard to the civilian station. On either side of the station, tall skyscrapers reached to the top of the biodome. It was a congested battlefield, and it made me nervous, trying to find security in such an urban setting.
The station itself was a long, thin structure that stretched the length of the boulevard to the tracks on the other side.
“Toreli,” Cole ordered. “I want you on the rooftop of the station. Mackenzie, Chan, Baker, Garcia, take positions on the north end of the platform. B Squad is north of us and going to push them in our direction. Everyone else with me on the south exit in case they get past. Commlink station thirty-three.”
“Copy,” we all said and then moved out. I hoisted my long-range energy rifle over my shoulder. Mack caught me by the shoulder and bumped his helmet against mine, the closest thing to a kiss we could get in full combat gear.
I walked into the ornate station and headed up the staircase until I reached the fifth floor. The entire station was empty save for other military personnel, who didn’t give me and my big gun a second glance.
My osys info screen on my helmet couldn’t download detailed specs of the building, so I had to go down three separate hallways before locating the primary emergency staircase that led to the roof. The door was bolted, but I had a maglock that worked on almost every lock keyed for Calypso security forces. The door opened with a groan.
On the flat roof, I was only about twenty feet beneath the top of the biodome. The air was hot up here and humid from the water control systems. The biodome rains started at eighteen hundred every evening and turned on and off every hour. In another twenty minutes, I was going to get soaked.
Sol 10 had started to set in the east behind me, and it lit the foggy glow of the urban metropolis with a fading golden light. It shimmered over the bright yellow sands of the planet, glinting with fragments of naturally formed glass. Seventy meters below was the covered awning of the train platform, and beneath that, the silvery streaks of the train tracks. They stretched to the north, then turned where they pierced the biodome lock. Metallic debris glinted near the entrance, and the exploded remains of the train lay scattered over the track, looking like a child’s toy set from this distance.
I could smell the burned-out hull of the exploded train car, even through my helmet filter. It smelled different here, like oil and hair. I was used to the smell of scorched soybeans and wheat.
The roof had a low solid wall about one and a half meters in height, and a slight lip over the top, under which I could crouch if need be. I leaned over the edge and set up my long-range rifle so I could see Mack and the others in my sights. It used to bother me, not being down on the ground with Mack. But when it became clear I was much better at distance accuracy than anyone else in the Land Force, I resigned myself to the fact that I would perpetually work alone, isolated on a high point, killing men and women before they got within sight of my lover.
Cole got on the commsystem and reminded us that our goal wasn’t to shoot on sight. There were an estimated four revolutionaries in the area, and they wanted at least one or two alive for questioning. It was unusual but not unheard of. Powerful Calypso corporations funded us and wanted details on who was sabotaging their businesses. But it complicated things.
I watched Mack and the others through my enhanced scope and listened to the chatter over the commline.
“East alley view— clear.”
“Moving toward wreckage.” That was Mack. I saw his body swivel, saw him swing back to look at the station. I couldn’t see his face through the helmet at this distance, but I know he looked for me. I smiled.
“No movement spotted from up here,” I stated.
We didn’t have the B squad coms patched through, but Cole did, and he gave us reports of their sweep on the other side of the blown biodome entrance.
I saw the glint of something near the wreckage at the biodome lock.
“Movement at lock,” I said, quickly re-aiming.
There was a deep thud
and a burst of light. I squinted but didn’t move my rifle. It was an electrical grenade, short range. At once Mack and his team crouched, then moved into formation.
I saw one of the revolutionaries in a bio-suit skitter around some of the wreckage. For a moment I hesitated. We only had four, and the bosses wanted two alive. But I also had a shot.
While I debated, the rev stepped out of cover, raising another energy grenade toward Mack’s team. Like my armor, the revs’ suits had helmets that would retract with the flip of a switch—or a correctly aimed shot. It was something I was renowned for in Calypso Recon. I breathed out and shot three quick shots into his or her helmet.
The third shot triggered the helmet release. And while he was distracted by this, Mack shot the rev in the arm that held the grenade. The team swarmed forward.
“Rev down,” Chan cried. She slammed her hand against the outside of her helmet. “Shit. Can you guys hear me?”
“Yes,” I said. I noticed Mack fiddling with his helmet too. Chan’s and Mack’s heart rates shot up in my visor.
I heard the muffled whoosh whoosh
of a gyropod before I spotted it—appearing as if from thin air from around the southern side of the station. It rose above me so fast I didn’t have a chance to aim at the pilot, and my weapon couldn’t damage a transport pod with a class C engine.
Besides, I had to stay focused on Mack on the ground. If there was one rev on the ground near them and armed, there would be more. Mack kept hitting the side of his shell helmet, as if he had an earache.
Bullets hit the rooftop from above, and I flinched and curled tighter, ducking under the lip of the roof.
“Baker, wanna do me a favor?” I called out on my osys.
Ginger had the grenade launcher, and yanked this from her duffel. But nothing happened when she fired. “Shit! Fucking thing is empty! Sorry, Toreli.”
More shots fired from the gyropod and I shot back, although with that armor it was pointless. At least they weren’t using shrapnel.
I quickly sat up to glance over the edge to see Mack fussing with his helmet. “What’s wrong with Mack?” I demanded.
“His helmet’s down,” Garcia told me, sounding winded. “Our tech’s been shorted by the electrical blast.”
I glanced down at them again. No one was left to approach them from the sides, and they moved toward the rest of the squad. Both Mack and Chan had their helmets retracted. Through the scope I could make out his expression of serious concentration.
“Gyropod behind us,” Mack said, his voice less echoey now that his earphone was out of the helmet. “Two revs ahead spotted in wreckage. Moving forward.”
I took another pot shot at the gyropod, hoping to get lucky, but it moved behind me.
I got hit in the back by a spray of bullets and slammed forward into the roof tiles. The polymesh absorbed most of the blow, but it still knocked the shit out of me. I struggled to catch my breath. I turned over and got shot again in the shoulder. As I scooted on my back to crouch under the lip of the wall, a series of bullets slammed into me from the gyropod and I lay stunned, body beaten by each blow. The polymesh heated as it absorbed the energy and I began to burn. I tried to scramble farther under the lip.
Both Mack and Chan shouted suddenly. I saw their heart rates go faster, and my own heart stuttered in terror. I forced my body to move, even though I remained under assault. On the bright side, my suit could take dozens of shots before the armor gave. Unfortunately, the first part that usually gave was the enforced silicon helmet. I kept my head down and looked for Mack and Chan. I saw three revs on them, disabling them and forcing them to their knees, hands behind their heads. With Mack’s helmet off, he looked so exposed and not a little scared. One of the brawnier revs kicked him in the stomach.
My gun was still set up on the roof wall. I moved toward it and got shot for my efforts. Two bullets hit me in the helmet, and the sound reverberated through my head. Not good. I had to hope they’d run out of ammo.
I managed to get my hand on the butt of my rifle, but I couldn’t aim while being shot at. A break in the gyropod’s assault offered me a chance run to the staircase and off the roof.
But that meant leaving Mack and the others without cover. Fuck that.
Besides, my body hurt so badly there was no running
in any scenario. Crawling was about the best I could manage at the moment.
I concentrated on the view scope, tuned out the way my body felt pummeled, and squeezed off a shot directly to the head of the man who’d kicked Mack. Before he hit the ground, I shot the other revs. One of them managed to get a head shot to Chan and she dropped in a heap. Her heart rate flat-lined. I finished off the rev in sudden fury. Fuck the no-kill order.
“Shit!” Cole cried. “B Squad, move in for support!”
A cable dropped from the gyropod. Company. I unlatched the rifle from the mount and swiveled.
I only had a moment to take in the scarred face of the man who lowered himself from the bungee cable. I had a fleeting thought: he doesn’t look like a rev
. But then I recognized the shrapnel canon in his hands, and realized I was fucked.