I looked down at the swirling maelstrom below me. The combat suit’s magnetic attachments kept me suspended in the dropship. While regulating the loss of body heat to the subzero temperatures of the upper atmosphere, I checked my internals. Status reports came in. All was well, although I did wear more electronics than before. The dropship rumbled as it struggled to stay in geosynchronous orbit over the almost frozen planet below. A thin band of greyish-green plant-life stretched throughout its southern hemisphere, but the white threatened to overwhelm it. My breath fogged the interior of the helmet. I heard it, controlled as it was, as gasps amplified by hollow tubes. The scent of copper entered my nostrils as the suit electronics powered up for re-entry procedures. Even up here, I could hear the faint screams of the winds below, moving fast enough to rip a small ship apart. Extending my senses, I felt the ice-cold metal of the dropship interior through my hardened gloves.
A red light signaled my drop. The world below rushed up to greet me. As I gazed forward, I saw the system’s sun blink below the horizon. Only my suit lights illuminated the way. I extended my limbs and allowed the gravity shield to expand outward. I observed the trails of fire surround me as I pierced the atmosphere. The shield around me grew as bright as the sun. If anyone was observing, they would believe me to be a meteorite. Then the fires stopped and I freefell.
As I descended towards the storm, the winds howled with the force of a thousand explosions. An indicator told me that the stealth field had activated. I now masked myself in the planet’s electromagnetic shadow. As I entered the maelstrom, jagged spikes of ice swirled around me at a thousand kilometers per hour. Any impact would be enough to rip a man’s face off. I felt nothing. A little bit lower, visibility became poor. I activated my suit’s gridspace generator and shifted into the space between the real and the grid. A different type of storm replaced the ice storm. The red swirls of the grid danced with flowing white. I found the compound ten klicks away from my landing point, its realspace signature burning like a candle. Tendrils of gridspace energy threatened to envelope me, but the partial materialization prevented my destruction.
Soon enough, I saw the ground, or what I presumed to be the ground. According to scans, this world consisted mostly of frozen lakes and snow. A small colony had been set up at the equator a hundred years ago, but the unpredictable and fierce weather forced most of the inhabitants out. Those who remained did so because it suited them. This world also lay near the Ramanujan Expanse, a region of the Milky Way filled with high densities of electromagnetic phenomenon. The massive amount of interference confounded any conventional sensors. A perfect place for an outlaw to hide. Or someone with a secret.
The gravity shield softened the impact on the surface. It scattered snow and revealed a hard grey crust. As I landed, I kneeled and rolled to prevent any unnecessary damage. Standing up, I saw several more realspace signatures at the compound. UAVs, perhaps. I retracted the grav shield a millimeter away from my suit, comforted by its slight insect-like buzz. The personal gravity shield, implanted above my breastbone, was the newest in Republic protection technology, its development ‘assisted’ with the knowledge of my masters. The name was a misnomer, as I could manipulate through thought any area of space-time in visual range. Not just for protection, either. Direct weapons like impact rifles still provided a better punch, but my sort of gravitational distortions killed just as well and tripped fewer sensors. A crude and vulgar use of such advanced technology, but who was I to question my masters? I doubted anyone would find me, but one could never be too careful. Checking my chronometer, I noted that the time I had left until the stealth field deactivated. One hour. That was enough. I went into a lunge, and then sprinted at near-sonic speed towards the compound. Towards my target.
When security had forced itself into Senator Sacra’s office, they found it completely stripped bare. All files, all equipment, and all electronics were gone. Her relations, even under torture, had no clue where she had gone. We looked to the data capsule for any clues. The main encryption defeated most of our attempts to penetrate it as it changed itself every nanosecond. Using my penetration software, I was able to detect a slight pattern with each change, enough to discern galactic coordinates. Perhaps this was a backup for the courier in case we compromised the Senator. All public information on these coordinates indicated only empty space or gas. I had to break into Naval Intelligence’s backup computers to find information on this desolate world. Right after the Inari incident, she disappeared to this location. Sacra was a cunning woman, and she had powerful friends.
I shifted back into realspace, my footsteps leaving no depressions in the thick snow. As I approached the compound, its architecture struck me. Looking like a fairy tale castle, the building rose up from a rocky outcropping, a dozen spires standing like sentinels. Lights flooded the main areas and my suit optics detected numerous patrols, each guard carrying impact rifles at their deadliest settings. Their presence also displayed themselves prominently in the streams of gridspace. Their weapons did not worry me, as I would absorb any rifle fire. However, if the alarm was raised too early, the senator might have time to escape.
On the east side, a twenty-foot wall greeted me. Focusing the gravity shield into claw-like projections around my hands and feet, I grabbed a section of the wall and started climbing. I felt the slight vibrations as my climbing created cracks and indentations in the reinforced stone. I wondered if these markings would alert the sentries. No, I thought, the chance of a guard finding my trail was remote, especially with my stealth field on. I jumped over the top of the wall and landed in a small courtyard.
I switched to infrared. A total of forty humanoid shapes dotted the compound. Any of them could be the senator. I turned to my internal sensors. My sense of smell increased a thousand fold, comparable to an especially keen gene-augmented bloodhound. The scent of roses caught my attention. Years ago, the senator liked to wear one as she filibustered the war bills. They dotted the sides of the compound. Protective fields covered the vulnerable plants from the frigid weather. One of the spires contained enough of them to convince me that was where she resided.
Jumping thirty feet onto the spire, I landed on a turret overlooking the courtyard. The gravity generator prevented my feet from making a sound. A bored-looking guard sat on a chair staring at the sky. I smelled the trace of caffeine pills on his breath. Behind him stood a door locked by a DNA scanner and observed by a camera. Observing him for a few seconds, I noted that he was not moving from his spot. I could not enter without raising his suspicion. Shaping the gravity shield into a knife-like projection, I maneuvered myself around him. He yawned, the stench of his breath filling my nostrils. I deactivated my smell augmenter. When I moved directly behind him, I grabbed his head in a quick motion. Before he could scream, I stabbed the gravity projection into his back, exactly like a knife. Dots of blood colored the snow around our feet. As his life ebbed away, I interfaced with his mind, searching his fading consciousness. In his memory, I watched the Senator enter an unmarked door within the spire. Good, I had what I needed.
A device I carried locked the camera into a repeating loop. Anyone watching long enough would detect something wrong if they looked long enough. No matter. I still had time. Manipulating my DNA to resemble the fallen guard’s, I pressed my hand on the scanner next to the door. It opened with a soft click. Carefully checking to see if anyone was around, I entered into a wooden hallway flooded with lamp light. How quaint, I thought.
I slipped into a larger room with a carpeted staircase and a small guard station. In infrared, I saw a person hunched over an electronic tablet. I took a step. The person looked up, but did not bother to visually confirm me.
“Bill, is that you? You’re back early. Your shift’s not over yet.” It was a woman’s voice. I adjusted my voice to imitate Bill.
“Have a problem, Anne. One of the drones broke down in my section. Going to need your sign-off on it so that the repair bot can pick it up.”
“Dammit, Bill! This is the third time this week. You know how cold it is out on this dump? Crap!”
“Welp, it happened. Need you anyways. I’ll be waiting next to it.”
Anne sighed. She picked up her coat and tablet. She cursed under her breath. “Goddamn regs, why do they require me of all people to do this? Can’t the stupid robots do it?”
After she left, I climbed the stairs and entered another indiscriminate hallway. But I knew this was the right place. Doors with hand scanners led into rooms inhabited by the senator and her staff. I approached the door from the guard’s memories. Inside, I detected a single person, sitting at a desk. I tried the hand scanner, which the door promptly denied. Bill did not have access to the senator. I touched my hand under the scanner, accessing the door’s internal controls. It slid open.
Inside was a middle-aged woman, typing a message on her screen. She stopped when the door opened and turned around. Her brown hair fell among a slightly pale face with high cheekbones. Her eyes opened wide, and then narrowed. She reached for the panic button on her desk. I extended my gravity field and ripped the desk into splinters. She pulled her hand back, barely saving it from being impaled. She shuddered as she realized her near brush with pain.
“So, you’ve found me. I didn’t think they’d be that fast.” Her voice quavered. She stank of sweat.
“Yes,” I replied.
“You’re too late. It’s already started.”
I observed her, like a hunter examining a trapped animal. After some time, she raised her voice. “Well, what are you waiting for? Do it, then! Rip my throat out! Kill me! Do the bidding of your masters!”
In less than a millisecond, I was upon her. I grabbed her head, wrapped my left hand over her mouth, and inserted my finger into the entrance I made on her forehead. She struggled as the images filled my mind. Many of them were quite interesting and many of them quite concerning. Enough that I would need to alert the Advisor. He would be particularly interested in the Artifact. As her neurons died, the alarm sounded. Her vitals must have been connected to the security system. I heard distant footfalls heading toward me. Tossing her into a crumpled heap, I glanced quickly at her terminal. It was a goodbye message to a person named Charlie.
I stepped out into the hallway. Immediately, I was surrounded on one side by coated guards with electrified riot shields and the other side by soldiers with impact rifles aimed at my head.
“Stop right there!” The lead guard on my right shouted.
I answered with an insect-like buzz.
Later, I sat in the dropship as it rose above the atmosphere. My communicator pinged. The face of the Adviser appeared on my helmet display.
He shook his head. “Was all that violence really necessary?”
I shrugged. “I got what we needed.”
He placed his right index finger on the side of his cheek. “We’re going to have to talk about your behavior sometime in the future. Even better, we should dissect your brain. We could tweak your reasoning patterns and maybe adjust it to one that’s a little more discreet.”
Before I could answer, I detected a missile fired from the orbiting warship, headed towards the compound. In a few microseconds, a warning message sounded on my suit, telling me that a nuclear warhead had detonated nearby. I watched the suit’s display render a large shockwave scattering the spires of the fairy-tale castle, as another sun appeared for a moment on the frozen planet.