With that in mind I present to you a re-write/rework of some of the earlier posted material with the new tweaks and a few other changes. Enjoy!
The Karachi Arms Hand Cannon clicked empty as the panel next to her head shattered, spraying her with flecks of molten metal and shattered composite. Michelle pulled back behind the relative cover of the damaged rear door panel as more promised death slammed around her. On reflex she triggered the clip release and slid in a new magazine, knowing full well it would be utterly useless.
“We’re so fukked!” she shouted in the general direction of the transport’s forward cockpit. She was pretty sure that Bradley wouldn’t be able to hear her, given the wind through the ruined roof and the rapid gunfire, but it definitely felt better to yell.
The fire tapered off and she heard a keening wail.
She shoved a blood encrusted hand through a damaged safety rail and tried to brace herself. The transport lurched roughly to the side, rolled, and she found herself suspended over the long concave arc of a night cycled Angel Down, thousands of lights peeking through a smoke clogged patchwork of hab units and dark industry stretching into the far distance.
She looked up from the cityscape and the universe seemed to slow down. A bright shape was speeding toward her, a smooth cylinder of reflecting chrome riding an inferno of channeled violence. The moment extended and she found herself thinking of the darkness of the club, the sweaty desperation of the coffin motel, the bad drinks, the sound of tearing flesh, and an emptiness that swallowed every bad decision she’d ever made.
As she looked at what she was pretty sure would be the last thing she’d ever see, a deep part of her swore an oath to a power that her younger self could never believe in.
If I make it through this I promise to tear out Vance’s spine and shove it down his throat...amen.
The world turned a brilliant gold as she was thrown back into the transport and blessed oblivion.
“It’s a simple, no nonsense, easy smash and grab job. Nothing could possibly go wrong,” Vance said to the tiny room.
“Well: One,” Bradley held up three furry and repeatedly broken fingers. “You want to hit The Crusher, ya know, the worst Boss in all of Angel Down? Two,” and a finger went down, “if it was so fukkin easy any crap stain would have already done it. Three,” and another finger went down leaving only a single bent central digit with a tiny curved claw at the end, “fukk you and your stupid fukkin fairy plum spinning ‘easy no nonsense’ plans.”
Vance sputtered, his face turning a deep red, his hands balling into firsts on the table as he started to rise. Michelle reached forward and put her palm on her friend’s shoulder stopping him and pulling the man’s gaze to her own.
“Look, Vance, Brad might be 40 kilos of pessimism in a 1 kilo bag, but those are some valid...concerns.”
The room was close, hot, and echoed horribly, but at least it was safe. Michelle had swept it five minutes ago for the techno crap that other criminal scum in Angel Down used to keep track of each other and the place had come back clean.
“‘Valid concerns’? Really?!?,” Vance yelled as he shrugged off his friend’s hand and tried to stand away from the tiny table between the three of them. His foot slipped as he straightened and he only succeeded in stumbling. His arms came forward to try to catch himself but he landed awkwardly, keeping his ass off the floor but knocking their drinks into a dark corner instead.
Bradley rolled his slit pupiled eyes, his long ears twitching forward, as he waited for Vance to regain his footing.
“Wow, just...wow...and they say we’re the emotional species. Next round is on you by the way” There was a gleam in Bradley’s eyes and his whiskers sat relaxed on his muzzle. Vance looked back and sighed loudly, his ego deflating visibly and some of the tension flowing out of his body along with it.
“Look, Vance, I know you think this score would be sweet, I can see that,” Michelle coddled, “but I’m not seeing an angle. How do we get in The Hive, grab the thing, and get out before Crusher or one of its goons kills us and comes after everyone give a care about?”
Vance looked up and Michelle could imagine tiny fires igniting in his eyes, the antics of a few seconds ago forgotten in a sea of enthusiastic hope.
“See, Shell, that’s where the clever bit comes in…” Vance leaned in and for a moment he looked more feline than Bradley ever could.
“The Hive is 14 levels of dedicated shady dealings filled with everything from recreational pharmaceuticals to kidnapping and ransom. All of that run by the Crusher and his Bug family.”
“Yeah, we know that bit…”
The Crusher wasn’t technically a member of the Big Four Corporate Council, like Xibulba Technologies or Mars Limited, but it definitely exerted so much influence in Angel Down that it might as well have been. It was effectively a Corp in all but charter with all the sovereign rights and obligations anyone could ask for. Those that worked for it got protection, health care, even a pension if they didn’t screw up or get too greedy. That kind of support bought the closest thing to loyalty that could exist in Angel Down. It might have been the least opulent of the three rings in Angel’s Torus, but in a lot of ways it was where the real power lay regardless of the average credit rating of the residents.
Michelle paid her “rent” to one of The Crusher’s people after all, so she was intimately familiar with the lay of the land. The other bosses hated the situation of course, since most of them were humans, or near enough, and working with a Bug tended to rankle. The Ordo had managed to win their war with the Bugs years before so the insects tended to be polite and mind their own business but The Crusher didn’t seem to care about that kind of thing.
“I know it’s considered to be impregnable, all those layers built in the district wall, right next to the diamondoid partitions. It would take so much heat to melt through the outer walls that the whole ring would go up and decompress into space before you got through the first layer. So we can’t just blast in, but we could walk in like we owned the place," Vance said with a cocky grin.
He reached into his jacket and pulled out a pair of rectangular Idents, each ringed with alphanumerics and each containing who knew how many nanoscale security encryptors.
Michelle reached down and gently held one of the cards between her fingers. It was lighter than she expected and warm to the touch, warmer that it should have been even for just coming out of Vance’s pocket.
“How the fukk did you get these?”
Vance leaned back from the table, his face the very definition of smug.
“The less you all know the safer you’ll be.”
Bradley make a coughing noise in the back of his throat, “Oh here we go with your vaunted immunity. I bet you’ve never actually met a real Mindbender. That guy was just shining on the idiots and you fell for it like...well...an idiot!”
“Think whatever you damn well like fur-ball. I’m just saying that if The Crusher has hired a psychic you’ll want the guy that can’t be read to hold the best cards.”
“Aren’t Bugs immune to that kind of stuff anyway?” Michelle asked as she put the Ident back on the tiny table. “I mean they’re aliens right? No offense.”
Bradley let out a low growl before spitting on the floor, “God DAMN IT, I’ve known you our whole lives and you STILL don’t get this? Someone save me from ignorant fukkin hick assclowns too lazy to pay attention to the learning software piped into every forsaken hovel in this rat nest. Nekko-Jin are Chimara you fukkwit, my great grandmother was as hairless as both of you morons.”
Michelle’s hands went up in a traditionally conciliatory gesture that had been with humanity since before time was time.
“Ok, I’m sorry, shit. Look, let’s get back to this ‘clever plan’ Vance claims is rattling around in the echo chamber he calls a brain,” Michelle said as she looked to Vance with hope in her eyes. "Some Idents alone won't be enough to get you know what from you know where."
“Fine, so the next step…”
Michelle adjusted her cap for the 24th time, cursing herself for having Vance as a friend. The maintenance uniform didn’t exactly fit and she was acutely aware of the Cannon tucked in the supply pocket against the small of her back. In theory the pocket was scan-proof thanks to the mandatory shielding sewn in since it usually contained volatiles and broadcasting adjusters that would play havoc with the Hive’s tech.
The Hive might have been impregnable, but the place was a hodgepodge fortress of improvised subsystems and wishful thinking. It had originally been a series of storage compartments angled into the flooring of Angel Down, back when the ring was still thought of as an equal member of Angel’s Torus, instead of the bastard stepchild of inequity and squalor it was today. The degeneration had attracted all manner of operators from across Human Space and that’s how The Crusher had come to burrow into the place like a tick and build a nest out the desperate and the violent.
Michelle wrinkled her nose and resisted the urge to sneeze as the Bug musk wafted over her. The Ident had worked, shockingly enough, and she had made it deep into the warren. Now she was only a few chambers from her goal and the stench was nearly overpowering. She’d never had much direct contact with Bugs until now and was definitely planning to avoid it if she got out of this in one piece.
The Bugs were everywhere in these lower levels. Most were tiny things, no bigger than a toddler. Sure, that was way larger than any insect had a right to be, but so far she hadn’t seen the really big ones, the bastards were supposed to be the size of ground vehicles. Most of the Bugs she had seen looked armed, or at least that’s what she assumed the long tubes strapped to their legs and sides were. She had no idea what those things fired but she wasn’t in a great hurry to find out.
Luckily it wasn’t just scuttling Bugs. Humans and Chimera were going about their own tasks, most sporting some form of self assured swagger. These people were familiar to her, or at least their types were. Burglars, thugs, hackers, and conmen. They were as vital to Angel Down as the poor schmucks that maintained life support, and most of them knew it.
Hell, Michelle and her buddies were all members of this group, though not as successful at it. If that job hadn't have gone sour they would be working for The Crusher instead of robbing it.
“One minute,” Vance’s voice came over the microbead nestled invisibly against Michelle’s eardrum.
The tunnels seemed to go on forever but eventually she stood before the door to her destination, a slab of metal covered in armor plating and studded with tubular gun ports that tracked her as she approached. She swallowed hard and slowed her steps, imagining the pink mist and splattered gristle that she would become if Vance fukked up the next part of the plan.
The door was guarded by technology, certainly, but there were sure to be Bugs monitoring from somewhere else in the complex. She clutched her Ident as she took unhurried steps towards the door.
“3...2...1...and yes!” Vance yelled over the bead as the hall lights flickered, the door guns rotating to point into the hall instead of converging on her. Michelle reached into the pouch at her back and pulled out the Hand Cannon, pushing the Ident against an interface panel next to the door and tried to think lucky thoughts. There were a loud series of clicks around the door’s frame as the slab of metal slowly slid towards her.
A stronger scent hit her as the door cracked open, a smell like burning plastic and rough sex, and it put her teeth on edge. She thumbed the selector on the cannon and took careful aim at a blank section of wall beyond the door the moment it was visible. She pulled the trigger and a mini detonator flew, ricocheting off the wall and careening into the room beyond. She heard the hissing squeals of panicking Bugs for the three seconds it took for the round to explode. There was a deep thump followed by silence.
The door continued to open and she ducked low and entered an antechamber clogged with smoke and the charred remains of Bugs.
“Heat,” she said as her vision shifted into ultraviolet. The center of the room was cooling, as were the gory chunks splattered across every surface, but she could see a large shape shifting on the other side of the smoke and heard clacking as it grew into something massive.
Michelle felt her face go cold and she fumbled at the cannon, trying to spin the selector in a blind panic.
There was a roar and the shape charged through the smoke, a tyrannical, burning monster to her temperature adapted eyes. Michelle tried to jump to the side to avoid the charging thing, with its promise of shattered bone and liquefied flesh, but the creature managed to clip her leg just the same and pain flared making her vision spotty. A scream was forced through her rattling teeth and she slammed into the wall, slumping to the floor below.
“What’s happening?!?!” said a dim voice in her ear.
She shook her head as she tried to clear her vision. She pulled herself up to a sitting position and followed the sound of grinding metal. The monster was pulling itself out of the crumpled Door like a dog tearing through cheap packaging.
“Juggernaut…” she breathed.
The creature pulled the last of the door away, tossing the thick metal down the hall with casual annoyance. It stood and tried to stretch to its full height to place its head a full three meters over Michelle’s rapidly paling face. It turned and regarded her. The beast’s face was a huge pair of compound eyes set above a complicated mass of armored mandibles that twitched and ground against each other. They rapidly opened and closed, flashing serrated growths along their inner edges, sharp angular things promising pain. It hunched back down and bent its legs for another charge.
She noticed the weight in her hand and remembered the Cannon she somehow still held. She tried to brace as best she could, aimed the weapon, and held down the trigger.
There was a deafening tear as the weapon fired, numbness shooting up her arm. The Juggernaut staggered under the impacts, its chitinous chest caving in as round after speeding round smacked into it. The gun went dry in a handful of seconds but she still held the trigger, staring at the creature as it staggered, shaking that terrifying head like a bear flinging water from its muzzle.
“Shit shit shit!”
Michelle forced her finger off the trigger as she leaned forward to get a shaking hand into the storage pouch for another clip. The Juggernaut tried to stand but slipped on a floor now covered with its own ichor. It cried out in frustration and slammed a hand into the wall, digging claws into the metal like it was wet clay, and pulled itself up. A cinnamon stench was suddenly layered onto the room and it burned Michelle’s eyes as the monster took a step forward.
Michelle’s fingers found the clip and she tried to steady her hands as she slid it home on the third try. She thumbed the selector again and took careful aim at the Juggernaut’s head as it took a ponderous second step.