An explosion crumpling the building to his right as if it were paper.
Three more blasts in quick succession, the last close enough to spew out a lethal hail of masonry. The kinetic shielding on his armaments belt protected him so the rubble bounced away, but the screaming beside him was cut off abruptly. What had been two human beings a moment before, was now a pulped mess.
To his left stood a man with his arms held out in front of him, veins bursting from his tanned skin. He was clenching his fists in rapid succession at speeds he could not comprehend. The rubble was crumbling to dust around him. As if in a time warp, he smiled appearing almost bored with his task as he yelled out over the chaos.
“Hey. I’m Darek Kemp. Best surfer on any Earth. Looked like you need a hand and I was just flying by.”
And with that, the flyboy took flight and the air was still.
A shattering silence followed. Jaz had no time to wonder what was going on, who that had been or where they had sprung from. He could see troops advancing – eight – and five more still in cover behind them according to the Lattice screen. With three bursts he dropped two of the nearest, the rest scattered for cover.
“Leader Four-Delta from Prime. Withdraw immediately.”
The voice in his ears at last.
Relaying the order to his three surviving team members, Jaz put down covering fire as they retreated. The Lattice was pounding him with information through his scalp implanted data-port, faster than he could absorb it: numbers and location of the enemy, their armaments, expected movements, ground plans, suggested paths he could take. More.
“Leader Four-Delta from Prime. Lattice is showing you are surrounded. We are unable to support. Repeat. Unable to support.” A pause, before the voice added: “You’re on your own out there, Jaz.”
“Acknowledged.” Snarling the word, he focused on keeping up covering fire. He knew they were surrounded. He could see what was going on. The handful of Special Legion troops he had been given for this job were being sacrificed – a feint – so the rest of his unit could hit the main enemy base largely unopposed. Except of course no one had told him that. It crossed his mind to wonder who he had pissed off enough so they chose him for this suicide run. If – when – he got out of this he would find out and make them pay. Then the thought occurred that it was probably nothing personal at all. When you were living out a death sentence, you shouldn’t be too surprised to be treated as completely expendable.
“Well that’s not very polite now is it?” Darek landed positioning himself defensively back to back. He was wearing surf shorts and flip-flops like he just left the beach. “Looks like we’re surrounded. What now boss?”
“Now we get out of here,” Jaz said, tightly, “I want to prove those bastards wrong.”
A sudden blossom of light caught one of the three whose retreat Jaz was covering. It impacted in the centre of the spine and the figure’s arms went wide, briefly embracing air that was suddenly red with a haze of vaporised blood, flesh and entrails. Jaz swore and pulled a grenade loose from his belt, sending it in a skillful parabola back towards the enemy to cover his own retreat.
Darek was proving to be an effective teammate. He disintegrated anything in their path as he plucked the guns from the hands of the visible enemy, telekinetically. He hummed a tune that sounded like a nursery rhyme and smiled, seemingly unfazed that his life could be over with one misstep.
Another of Jaz’s surviving team went down to a sniper shot, but the third was trying to offer what covering fire she could from behind a partially demolished building and was being pretty effective. Jaz ran, rolled, then vaulted the lowest part of the wall, crouching beside her, checking Lattice screens, looking for any way out for them.
“Nice shooting young lady. I am Darek Kemp. Best surfer on any Earth…shit. Look out!” Darek warned and took flight.
More blasts exploded on either side and the world disintegrated. Finding himself suddenly under a pile of tumbling masonry, Jaz shook free of it like a wet dog shedding water. But beside him, one arm was all that was visible from beneath the rubble – that and the blood. He started running again.
“You got some muscle I see. The girl?” Darek asked flying beside him. Jaz shook his head quickly and got back to the business of focusing on the mission. This was not how it was normally, this was strange…
Watching the environment.
Watching the screens.
Checking the Lattice data overlays.
A movement on the screen broke the profile of the low rise building beside Jaz, some kind of accommodation block. Appearing on screen: ground-plans, elevations, positions of people, their predicted paths. The data projected into his visual field, augmenting his reality. He turned, raking fire across the facade. A figure fell and a fusillade of energy fire came his way from the building.
“I’m seeing six assholes and some big ass guns,” Darek announced Jaz stared at him, wondering just how the hell he could know that and Darek offered an explanation with an innocent shrug of his shoulders. “You got muscles, I can see through shit. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back boss.”
Then the Lattice visual was showing Jaz six men in the building. Lattice data was telling him they were armed with anti-mech heavy weaponry, which he knew they would now be turning on him. The energy threshold of his kinetic shield would be zero defence against that kind of power. Lattice data flashed up a helpful message warning him of the over-ride risk. Better late than never. He cancelled it and pumped more of the adrenalin based cocktail of drugs through the intravenous clip fixed into his torso. Speed was his only defence now and not much of one.
He ran. Darek flew.
Who the hell was this freak and where had he come from? But there was no time to question it.
Using cover. Darek disintegrated the enemy.
Changing course. Darek dived and dipped in the air.
His whole focus on making that speed.
The buildings ended in a high wall and as he made the final sprint towards it, he tried to decide between tracking along it for a break or scaling it and risking exposure. Checking Lattice screens for the information he needed to inform the decision. A close burn sent him diving into the last available cover before the wall but –
The screens all went dark and a mild voice was speaking calmly in his ear:
“You are not logged on to the Lattice. Please be aware when the countdown hits zero your brain implants will self-destruct – you are not -”
Fuck the bastards.
Jaz cancelled the voice and ignored the timer as its chilling digits counted down his heartbeats on the edge of his visual field. There was nothing he could do. The coms drone has been pulled out leaving him to die. For a moment he felt the futility of fighting. They had abandoned him, he was not going to get out this time.
“Boss? What’s the plan?” Darek asked. “You do have one right?”
Jaz shook his head.
Then he heard it.
Distant sounds of a firefight.
He felt an almost dizzying rush of relief – these were the sounds of death that offered him some small hope of life. A moment later he was up and running.
“Ah, the wall. You know I can fly you up…”
Somehow Jaz was not inclined to trust that so freeing the climbing line on the belt, he fired the grapnel, barely waiting for it to impact before swarming up the high wall. He felt incredibly vulnerable – naked to the guns behind. Then he was flattening himself, sliding over the top, dropping down and sprinting.
“Or not. Look out!”
The warning came just as a trace of light caught in his peripheral vision, making him break into an evasive diving roll. He saw, not felt, the next splash of energy. The shock of it impacted afterwards, horrific and crippling, tearing out his strength and will.
He hit the ground and stayed down, unable to rise, unable to think, his consciousness hollowed out by the pain.
Darek slapped his face repeatedly. He could barely make out his words. “Hang on Boss. Hang on. Someone is coming. One of your people.”
The smell of the dark ground beneath his face, musty and sweet – an alien soil. The beat of his heart timing the steady flick of numbers that counted down to the moment oblivion would devour him.
Something moving, lifting him, an arm under his shoulder. A voice – his brother’s voice – Avilon Revid.