Wind Riders
By Timothy Maguire


“So what are you going to miss about the Moon the most?” Celine asked, arms propping her face up on the table. She was a short (at least to Kirsten’s eyes) blonde studying Environmental Systems at Valle Marineris Canyon University. They’d met the first night after falling over each other’s stuff in the hallway. From the stories her father had told her, it was the traditional method of meeting in halls.

“Gliding,” Kisten replied instantly, glancing out the cafeteria window. The canyon walls were immediately visible, rising up past the inclined windows and stretching out of sight. Built into the wall of the canyon were the massive vents of third section’s atmospheric reprocessing plant. Small figures wheeled in the warm air rising from the vents. It was only when you realized that they were humans (rather than birds) wearing artificial wings that the true scale emerged. The sheer wall of the canyon was well over a mile away and each of the vents was at least one hundred meters across. Her experienced eye immediately noted the scuffmarks on the platform in front of the cafeteria windows. Looked like she’d found where the university-gliding club met.

Gliding was practically the national sport on the Moon. It consisted of strapping a pair of wings to your arms and trying to fly like a bird. It wasn’t possible on Earth, despite numerous attempts, but with the lower gravity on both Mars and the moon it was, as long as the atmospheric pressure was high enough. It was a lot more complicated than that, of course, involving computer controlled aerofoils and the like, but at its heart it was similar to the fantasies of the earliest cavemen.

“Can’t you glide here?” Celine asked, also watching the wheeling figures. Occasionally one would dive down below the vents, swooping low to land on a small platform that jutted out to the left of the vents. Others were sailing dangerously close to the tilt-rotor traffic traveling just below the level of the building. One or two were pulling long dives, shooting through curls in the computer-controlled traffic, dropping below the levels of the windows.

“I’m a Loonie, remember?” Kirsten said, using the common nickname for lunar residents, pulling her long sleeve up and stroking the flesh-toned plastic of her exoskeleton. It covered her entire body under her long sleeved-clothes. There were small glove-like extensions that extended over her hands and others that supported her skull.


“Yeah but why does that stop you from gliding?” Celine asked, clearly not understanding. Kirsten sighed and picked up her glass. She squeezed it, watching the plastic flex.

“Safety,” She said shortly, “ My bones are a lot more brittle than a Terran’s or even a Martian’s for that matter. It’s less of a problem on the moon thanks to the low-gravity, but out here, even a minor accident like a short-stopped landing could shatter one of my bones, let alone break it,”

“So what are you going to do?” Celine asked, taking a sip of her drink. Kirsten looked over the student cafeteria, using her increased height to her advantage. She turned to her new friend.

“Find out if what they say about Martian men is true,” she said with a slow smile.



“We’re on,” Liz said with a grin. Curtis grinned, scrubbing at the lenses of his mask with a blue scrap of cloth. Douglas simply grunted, closing a maintenance hatch on his sleeve.

“Where do you want us?” Cassius asked, glancing back from the cockpit, his hands never leaving the controls.

Liz glanced at the LCD map in her hand, filled with the various icons of the craft in their vicinity. She manipulated the data slate for a brief second before turning to their pilot.

“Bring us in over the Central tower, Cass,” she said quickly, “We’ll take the high ground and hit them in their blind spot,”

The craft tilted upwards, unsecured items sliding to the back access hatch. Liz slid her helmet over her head, carefully pulling her hair inside the seal. The helmet ran through its start-up checks, menus scrolling up and down the inside screen. Her eyes flickered through the iris-tracking test, setting a new personal record for its speed.  Always a good sign, she thought.


Curtis slipped his helmet on and, from its motions, it was obvious he was still suffering from last night. It better not affect him today, she thought grimly.

“Malerna,” Liz said, seemingly talking into mid air, “Any luck getting a look inside their transports?”

“Not yet,” a soft voice murmured over the squad band. She could have contacted her individually, but Malerna preferred to talk to the entire squad whenever possible. She said it was because she was worried about them when she couldn’t see them.

“Are your drones in position?” Liz asked, her hands gliding over the feeds to her two shoulder guns. She thumbed the selector switch from neutral to the shoulder guns. Gripping the triggers, she focused on the target hanging from one corner of the craft. A gentle squeeze sent a triple round burst into the circle around the bull’s eye, an actinic flash joining the separated darts. Everything working fine then, she concluded.

“I’ve got three drones tailing them, but they’re deep in the traffic stream, so they can’t get too close,” Malerna replied, her voice distracted.

“We’re coming up on the traffic stream,” Cassius announced, the craft returning to level flight.


A flick of the eyes and a blink switched Liz’s viewpoint to the camera mounted under the front of the cockpit. Icons blossomed on the screen as Malerna updated her feeds. The images from two drones appeared to the left and right of the image, more icons picking out the two vehicles they were interested in. She sent the images to the other two, highlighting three separate routes.

“Douglas, you’ll take the van.  They’ve obviously got something in reserve in there, and I’d like you to ruin any plans they have. Curtis, you’re in support. I expect trouble to come from that van, knock it out before it becomes a threat. Primary objective for you two is to neutralize that van, stop it. I’ll take that air-car, the kid’s in there according to the intelligence Abduction gave us. They’ll probably try and flee the instant this starts, so, Cassius, I want you to follow me. If it all goes pear shaped, stop that car. Grab it with the landing gear if you have to. Remember, the kid is the priority. The instant that van’s down, you guys back me up. We’ll plan that out on the fly,”

The other two nodded to her quickly. Malerna flickered up on the screen mounted for her in the wall.

“What do you want me to do?” She asked in what was affectionately termed her puppy dog mode.

“I want you to get into the automatic traffic router,” Liz said, calmly, “Separate the vehicles in that traffic stream and then when we make our move, get ‘em out of the way,”

“Err, boss,” Curtis said quickly looking at the image of Malerna, “You know the Commissioner’s opinion on that.” The Commissioner of the Colonial Police had made his opinions on Malerna clear for quite a while. The only reason he put with her was that she was too useful to get rid of.

“He can get lost,” Liz said, demonstrating admirable restraint on the subject of the Commissioner. “Do it,” she said curtly to Malerna.

“Humans. I will never understand you,” Malerna said with a murmur, closing down the screen.

“And the same for you, honey,” Liz murmured, making sure the microphone strapped to her throat was off.



“So what’s there to do aside from studying?” Kirsten asked, trying to twirl a plastic fork between her fingers. She swore as the fork dropped out of her fingers and clattered onto the table. Celine grinned.

“Still not used to the gravity?” she asked with a dry smile, handing her the fork back. Kirsten shrugged and looked away.


“The student’s union runs a couple of good nights, but the best stuff’s off campus,” Celine said, waving a hand airily, returning to the original point, “There’s about three good clubs that have been kicking round since the tent went up. There are also a couple of fun amateur bands, but they’re almost random in their appearances.”

“And aside from drinking and dancing, what else is there to do?” Kirsten asked dryly.

“Well, there’s a whole bundle of sports clubs in the uni, but most them are probably out. I take it you don’t have a lot of stamina?”


Kirsten shook her head with a wry, inward smile.


“Well that knocks most of them out then. Ever thought of Basketball? With your height it’d be a winner.”

“Don’t go there,” Kirsten warned with a frown, “Besides, there are other things to do but sports,” Kirsten murmured.

“True, but most of them are boring,” Celine answered.


Kirsten laughed to herself.  “So what do you do?” she asked, one hand stretching behind her back.

“Windrider watching,”


“You’ve not heard of them yet?” Celine asked, surprised.

“No,” Kirsten said bluntly.

“There isn’t much glider crime on the Moon is there?” Celine asked abruptly, veering off topic with amazing speed.

“No, asides from massive traffic violations,” she said with a smile.


Celine laughed.  “Here it’s more of a problem. The way this place is built,” Celine said gesturing out at the bulbous, almost hive-like buildings around them, “Gliders can get around a lot easier than tilt-rotor traffic, especially as they’re outside the traffic controls.”

“The same holds true on the Moon, as well,” Kirsten pointed out, finishing her drink.

“True, but, here it’s worse and, with the added gravity, police tilt-rotors can’t manoeuvre as well as gliders can. They just can’t match the sort of stunts that come naturally to most gliders. That’s where the Windriders come in,”

“And they are?”

“Their proper name is the HMSPF. It’s something along the lines of High Manouverability Special Police Force, I think. Glider cops,” Celine said quickly noting Kirsten’s expression.

“Glider cops? That’s a new one. I’ve never met a cop who glides, thought it was against their religion.”

“They don’t,” Celine said with a laugh, “They’re not actual cops.”

“They’re not actually cops?”

“They’re just gliders who’ve been deputized to the police force. They’re not officially cops.”

“That’s weird,”

“Yeah, but it works. They’ve cut glider crime in half over the last month.”

“The last month?”

“They’re new, only been working a month.”

“And you watch them?”

“Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of us, in uni and out of it, who try and watch them practice when ever we can.”

“Practice?” Kirsten asked, surprised.

“Yeah, they use a patch a few miles downstream to practice.”


Since the canyon’s creation by water had been proved, upstream had come to mean further up the canyon, while down stream had come to mean closer to the main body of the Valle Marineris Canyon (the city being built along one of its smaller tributaries).

“I might have to come along and take a look,” Kirsten admitted, looking intrigued, “How do you know so much about them?”

“My dad’s a cop, works high up in the traffic division,” she said with a shrug, “The HMSPF make him look bad on an almost daily basis. He complains about them and their ‘special budgets’ and their ‘idiotic amateurs’. He doesn’t like them very much,”

“That why you like them so much?” Kirsten asked perceptively.


Celine laughed and shook her head. “I just like them.” She shrugged, searching for the right words. “You have to see them to understand, really. They’re the best; simply stunning. They’re the most graceful things I’ve ever seen.”

“I can see what you mean,” Kirsten said dreamily, her eyes focusing on something only she could see. “When I first saw the Lunar Olympics I was in love. Watching the acrobatics, watching the races, watching the games, it was what I’d been looking for. I signed up for training the next day.”

“You any good?” Celine asked idly.

“The Selene cops certainly thought so,” Kirsten said wryly. “They tried to get me up on charges at least three times.”

“The Cops!” Celine gasped, “What for?”

“I was good at city running.”


Celine nodded her understanding. City running was a fusion of speed navigation and skill, seeing who could get from one point in the city to another in the fastest time. It was also frowned upon as it was also the most dangerous, not to mention the most disruptive.


While city running wasn’t technically illegal, cops generally took a dim view of it, periodically arresting the more leading racers, which did a lot more than it should do for its popularity.

“How did you give it up?” Celine asked politely, “I mean it’s obvious that you love it.”

“True, but the future is here.” Kirsten sighed and looked out of the window. “This planet has only truly been a world, rather than a desert with people struggling to survive on it, over the last twenty years. It’s no longer about surviving; it’s about thriving, finding new niches to fit into. I mean look at the moon fifty years ago. Then it was just a cluster of barely buried boxes by the equator and a box by the polar ice. Ten years later, there were four separate cities up and another three nearly finished. We’re in the same situation here. Aside from this tent, what else is there? A couple of mining and scientific settlements? The port? What else is there? We’ve got this one chance to build a new world and I want to be here.”

“Wow, that’s deep,” Celine said, obviously impressed.

“Plus, my dad moved out here,” Kirsten said with a shrug.


Celine’s expression slipped into puzzlement almost instantly. Kirsten watched her for a second, then stuck out her tongue and burst out laughing. Celine stared at her before joining in with the laughter.


Malerna dove into the data stream with a shiver of pleasure. She knew that the colonial police kept a close eye on her regardless of their official position on her existence, which often meant that she couldn’t travel outside of her personal network. However once she had instructions from her boss, she had a whole lot more latitude in what she could get away with. She’d got pretty good at interpreting various comments as orders when she felt like it. She never did that with Curtis, because she never wanted him to get into any trouble.

She quickly flung programs into Cassius’ craft and the three suit’s computers. She’d helped design their software herself, so it took her less than a millisecond to slap the additional programs in and check them. Then she turned herself to her more challenging assignments. She could easily penetrate the traffic computers, but avoiding being noticed would be harder.

She checked her programs once more, and then checked over her three drones. She plotted probable courses for the fleeing fugitives and activated hidden drones all over the area. Finally she was ready. She insinuated herself into the traffic control building’s maintenance computer. Its security was far lower than the actual traffic control computer’s and, besides, she’d been in and out of it several times before. She flicked into it and quickly rearranged it, rooting through files, changing a record here and a line of code there. A single subtle flick buried invisibly in the computer’s inflow triggered the show.

A fillip of power, barely a millisecond long, was her key through the security system. For that moment, the entire transportation system crashed. The entire system nose-dived as the power was cut across the board. Backups were already coming on line, sidelining the compromised main systems. She dove into the system as barely used security programs booted up for the first time in weeks.

She slid down into the employees’ database. It was the work of microseconds to arrange a new user account with external access. Hiding it took even less time. She slid out of the system as the main system booted back up, slipping past the security programs as they returned to their natural state of awareness. If anyone ever noticed they’d trace the error back to a small mistake in the code of the power management computer that was in the center of the five year old program.

She slid out of the city nets within a second of entering. Checking on the others, she was amused to see that they’d barely moved in the time it had taken her to set everything up. Humans, honestly, they could be so slow.

Curtis flexed his arms, watching the armor move. It gave almost complete freedom of movement, except some angles above the shoulder. He carefully kept his fingers away from the triggers ready in his palms; he’d been ribbed about that one once too often already.

“Get into position,” Liz ordered, matching actions to words. She stood, her feet spread against the motion of the transport. She reached up and inserted her hand triggers into two brackets mounted on the wall. She locked them in place before raising her feet up. The flat soles extended, tapering into long half-needles. She inserted these into small holes built into the wall. A soft click signaled them having been locked into place.

Curtis swiftly followed suit, locking his hands and feet into the wall, Douglas alongside him. He held on as the wall tilted, rotating him over until he was upside down. He was now on the outside of their craft, facing down. He swallowed instinctively as the Canyon was revealed in all its glory.

The base of the canyon was hidden behind a wall of dust, dust stirred up by the wind that now stirred in the canyon and the passage of the many tilt-rotors in the city. Rocks and buildings rose out of the dust cloud like lone menhirs on a mist-shrouded hill. Their transport banked round a particularly large pillar of rock and Curtis’ view tilted.

The Central tower was the largest building inside the tent, aside from the massive Pylons that supported the tent, which was barely surprising as it contained the entirety of the Martian administration. Orbital Control, Colonial police and every single one of the bureaucracies the planet ‘needed’. Suiting the bureaucracy’s popularity, Central tower was also the ugliest building in the city. Some architect popular with the authorities back on earth had designed it, so of course it reflected opinions back there. The building looked like it was built to withstand a nuclear blast, which it was. It was designed for earth gravity as well, which when compared to the surroundings, made it look squat, despite its height.

They looped past it, bearing down on the traffic stream they were interested in. Swooping low, they matched the traffic’s route, hovering at least five hundred metres above the nearest vehicle.

“Malerna, separate them out now,” Liz said over the radio, confident she was listening.


The traffic stream immediately began to separate, each vehicle slowing and splitting from its neighbours, leaving plentiful space between them. Tilt-rotors were bizarre looking vehicles, combining the sleek edges of sports vehicles, with oversized, flat fan blades which could be tilted to provide the necessary lift. The largest vans had six rotors spread about their bulk. Obviously, humans couldn’t control them very easily, so tilt rotors were generally under computer control. Of course, various individuals had a tendency to remove the computer controls, mainly to annoy the police.

“Drop,” Liz ordered from the other side of the transport, before suiting actions to words.

She dropped away slowly, the Martian gravity making her fall slower than Curtis, watching her, naturally expected. Still not used to Martian gravity, am I, Curtis thought to himself. With a smile, he cut himself loose and fell away.

Douglas dropped alongside him, curving away to give them enough space. He brought his legs together, the clamps automatically locking them together, turning his lower body into a streamlined spike. Once the small warning light on the inside of the helmet had died, he flicked the triggers across once more and squeezed.

The wings snapped out from his back and opened wide. He brought his arms up and wide. The wings wrapped themselves around him and his hands slid into the gaps. Forcing his arms out wide, the wings opened with a snap, forcing him up into the air. Bringing one wing down, he wheeled slowly, bringing the column of tilt-rotors back into view.

Small carats on his visor indicated the positions of Douglas and Liz. Cassius was flying above them somewhere, ready to add some heavy firepower if the situation warranted it. Given Cassius’ aim, that was a last ditch plan. Douglas swept under him, his blue and gold armor unmistakable even without the small golden karat surrounding him.

“Now,” Liz snapped from up ahead, arcing down. The traffic abruptly surged, the front of the traffic stream racing ahead. The tail end fell away, leaving two vehicles suddenly alone in the air. Douglas dove for the larger one, a six-engined van emblazoned with the Feedwell Corporation logo. They’re going to look stupid when this gets on the news, Curtis thought to himself, curving towards the van.

The car traveling alongside the van suddenly darted forwards, the rotors whining loudly. Liz dove for it, her two afterburners lighting off with a bright blue flash. The van tried to follow, all six engines rising in pitch. Douglas dropped low, diving for its roof. It twitched away, but a subtle flick of his wings, barely noticeable to any non-glider, brought Douglas back into line.

He swept over the roof and flared his wings, bringing him up short. His legs separated, his feet spikes digging into the roof. His wings folded around his shoulders, wrapping around his body armor, shielding him. His shoulder guns snaked out from their flight position and arced up over his shoulder, following his eye movements.


I so hope the Abduction department gave us the right targets, Curtis thought for a second, as he watched the metal of the van tear.  Ah, well, we’re insured.

The van dropped down, the back doors opening. In an act of apparent suicide, two men jumped out from the back, starting the five hundred-metre drop to the base of the canyon. The reasoning was quick to understand, as they opened wings and swept away, downstream.

Curtis wheeled, plunging down after the two escapees. This just got challenging, he thought with a grin.

Douglas clung on as the van pulled a manoeuvre the designer had never intended it to do. The talon-like design of his gloves bit deep into the van’s metal roof, driven on by the mechanical muscles of his armour and his own prodigious strength. That looks expensive, part of his mind pointed out. He forced his foot spikes deeper into the van roof, freeing an arm.

He reached back, the trigger grip sliding into his hand. He fitted his fist into a small hole in his thigh armour, the clamps sliding across. A section of his armour slid away, revealing a short rifle-like device. He raised it and looked around. The van had dived deep into the lower layers of the canyon, where the buildings were much closer. He took careful aim and fired.

The grapnel shot through the air, the line hissing as it unreeled. It smashed into the wall of the skyscraper to his left, the harpoon blade punching through and locking in place. The line began to unreel with horrifying speed, slipping out of its container as Douglas watched. He raised the weapon again and fired it downwards, directly into the van’s roof. He dropped the weapon and leapt off, his wings opening wide.

He slotted his arms into the wings, bringing them down in a hard down sweep even as his legs snapped back together. He curled sideways hard, just above stall speed, bringing the van into view. His eyes flickered over the iris menu, scrolling down. He blinked twice acknowledging his selection.

The van began to list sideways as the harpoon cable snapped tense, connecting the van to the wall of the skyscraper. The van engines whined as the van surged against the cable, bucking like a bronco. It began to slowly turn, spiraling in towards the skyscraper.

A tone chimed in Douglas’ ear and at the same time the carat following the van changed colour, becoming a blinking red diamond. He grinned ferally as only he could and pulled the right trigger once. A massive blow threw him backwards, almost stalling him in straight flight. The missile scorched away from him, leaving a thick plume of white smoke behind it. He folded his wings around himself and dove, rotating to keep the van in sight. The missile followed the van as it continued to try and shake the cable loose. The rocket engine cut and it crashed against the van roof.

The missile bounced from the van and fell away, seeming to do nothing and at the same moment, every piece of circuitry in the suit died. The visor view flickered out, plunging him into darkness. Bereft of the fine-tuning the onboard computers provided, the wings lost much of their inherent aerodynamics, making him drop. Before his mind could react, the visor returned to life, sprinting through the start up sequence. Power returned to the wings, automatically reshaping them to restore their aerodynamics. With the visor still down, he had to act on reflex, curving his body slightly and beating strongly with the wings. The visor burst into light, showing the rapidly approaching wall of the skyscraper he’d shot earlier with the harpoon.

With a short involuntary scream, he banked away, beating frantically with his wings. He shot along the wall for a few brief moments before curving over onto his back. For one brief glorious moment he stayed like that, flying along, his eyes gazing up through the clear glass of the Tent, to the light red sky above. This is what life is all about, he thought, a smile of pure joy on his face. Slowly, imperceptibly, his vision began to fall, the red walls of the canyon beginning to creep up, blocking away the sky. He closed his eyes and folded the wings around himself. He fell like a stone.

Opening the wings with a thump of displaced air, he angled his dive, aiming for the top of a small factory that was barely a hundred metres high. His visor flicked briefly to infrared as his eyes selected an option from the menu. His vision was overlaid with the varying heat levels in front of him. The various chimneys of the factory were belching warm air, which was all he really needed to know. Flicking his vision back to the visible spectrum, he wheeled towards the nearest of the chimneys.

Flying through the nearly invisible emissions of the factory, he felt his wings swell, the hot air forcing the delicate membranes wide. He soared upwards, already turning towards the next chimney. He lost a little forward speed in the climb, but the next heat plume more than dealt with it. He spiraled up riding the heat waves until he’d reached six hundred metres.

Looking across at the skyscraper he’d almost collided with, he grinned slightly. The van was dangling from the length of cable, swinging slightly in the ever-present wind. Its six rotors were dead to the world. Douglas’ experienced eye could just see the terrified pilot sitting in his seat, looking at the drop. The EMP missile had an effective range of just over five metres, permanently fritzing the electronics in the area, which made it useful in this sort of situation. Unfortunately, devices outside the five-metre radius had a tendency to quit for a brief moment, just like his suit and wings. However it was still the safest way to disable an unfriendly vehicle, if you weren’t too worried about the crew. The double harpoon was a simple device intended to ensure that the disabled craft didn’t crash after being hit, especially important on Mars and the Moon, which were the only places where tilt-rotors were used regularly.

“Liz, this is Douglas, the van’s down,” he said, the first thing he’d said since the mission had begun, “I’m going to assist Curtis,”



“Allen, Mark, where the hell are you?” Peters screamed into his microphone. He’d heard Joseph go off the air a minute ago, which meant the first one of their team had been captured. Where had the HMSPF come from? No one had seen them or known where they were, so how the hell had they been made?

He only had to glance down at his dashboard screen to see how much trouble they were in. The cop with the tiger-stripes was hovering behind him, matching his every manoeuvre. He’d been on him as soon as they’d realized they were being pursued. Another in green had dropped on Allen and Joseph as soon as they’d launched, shredding their contingency plans. Mark had always known that he was the most likely to be captured, but that hadn’t fazed him, until that cop had landed on his van.

He slammed the car into a sharp turn and the freak in the back seat screamed as it slammed against the door. He snarled with anger as it whined with fear. He didn’t know why his sponsors thought this one obscenity against nature was important. However they were the ones who’d brought him and his brothers to this dust bowl, so it paid to do what they said. The authorities would take a dim view if they ever found them, as each one had been convicted of at least one offence against ‘Re-Engineered Life Forms’ and their sick breeders.

He snarled, letting out some of his frustration and anger out. ‘Re-Engineered Life’ indeed! It was corruption of life itself, twisting and defying the very nature of evolution for the short-term gain of a few cowards. The proof of it was behind him, a monster in the form of a human girl. It clung to the seat and door with all four hands, whimpering loudly.

Peters cut the power to the front two engines while simultaneously flaring the power to the rear two engines. There was a brief moment where nothing happened, then the car practically stood on its nose. The wind resistance killed its forward speed in an instant, forcing it down in something to steep to be called a dive. Peters slammed back into his seat as he engaged all six rotors, hurling him down.

He saw the cop match his manoeuvre in a second, folding his wings and diving. A blue flare from behind his streamlined body indicated some sort of afterburner, a suspicion that was proved as he loomed suddenly on the screen. His hands moving almost beyond conscious thought, he spun all six rotors and ramped them straight up to full speed. The car shot across horizontally, still facing down. Spinning the madly roaring rotors, he leveled off and roared straight up. Catch me now; Peters thought wildly, as he hammered the car into a wide turn.

Curtis rolled sideways, almost instantly snapping his wings out to soar upwards. As soon as he’d risen, he flared his wings and dived. He pulled out of the dive behind the glider that had outflanked him. Triggering his after-burners, he screamed up behind the glider. He clenched the triggers, his shoulder guns spitting, slamming against his shoulders in a repetitive tattoo.

The twin darts lashed against the body of the glider, the cracks of discharging electricity audible despite the wind. The glider sagged, the pilot stunned by the successive electric shocks. The wings collapsed, and the entire thing fell out of the air, the wings trailing up behind it. Folding his wings, Curtis followed it.

His wings curved like a falcon’s, Curtis dropped straight at the plummeting construct, facing almost directly down towards the ground. He lit his afterburners again, slicing through the air. His wings began to vibrate, not designed for the speeds he was putting them through. The glider suddenly seemed to accelerate towards him as he matched and overtook its downward velocity. It loomed up into his vision, racing towards him with increasing speed.

At the last moment, he released his wings, his hands reaching out to grab the glider. His wings flared out behind him, trailing him like a pair of banners. He crashed bodily into the glider, spinning them round. Holding on with one augmented hand to a strap across the unconscious pilot’s body, he frantically began to search the spinning body. Where’s the freaking button? He tried to ignore the altimeter, which was beginning to flash frantically. There was a good twenty meters leeway on the meter either way anyhow. Most of the time.

He grabbed a second hand hold and began to search the other side of the pilot. Gliders were renowned for customizing their own control systems so the button could be anywhere.  Really gonna have to support that standardization bill, he thought, patting down more of the pilot’s outfit. Finally, his hands grasped the oversized button. He slammed his thumb down on it and simultaneously kicked himself clear of the glider.

Two things happened almost instantly: the glider and its stunned pilot exploded upwards, and Curtis fell away, facing down.


He grabbed for his wings and winced. In his hurry, he hadn’t righted himself, now his wings were stretched out behind him, utterly useless. The small motors in the wings weren’t capable of pulling them against the wind, and he couldn’t reach the wings thanks to the armour’s design.  Note to self, need to be able to remove shoulder armour, he thought with a grim smile. He ignored the rapidly approaching red cloud, focusing on the challenge

Separating his legs, he grimaced. This was dumb, trying something from half remembered emergency EVA training. Cocking his left leg, he fired the afterburner mounted on the back of his thigh. The flare smashed his leg up towards his chest, the flame already dying as the automatic cut outs triggered. The damage had already been done, pain flaring through his leg, but it had worked. He curved over backwards like some sort of slow motion martial artist, the wings thrashing around him. The wings snapped up across his body streaming up past him, pointing at the sky.

His arms whipped across, inserting the handgrips into the wings with the ease of long practice. His muscles straining, he straightened his arms, forcing the wings out wide. He immediately spun, now facing back down, falling head first towards the ground. Straightening the wings, he forced himself into a steep dive, thin red clouds beginning to stream off his wings. His muscles straining, he tried to force his wings down, lifting him up.

He dove into the thick red clouds at the base of the canyon, disappearing below them for a second before rising up, contrails of red dust curling along the edges of his wings as he skimmed the top of the clouds. Glancing to either side, he watched the effects for a moment, before glancing behind himself. The bright red safety balloon was drifting safely a couple of hundred metres above, the glider and pilot dangling from it. About a kilometre behind it, he could see a rescue vehicle manoeuvring to capture another balloon, still visible despite the distance. The glider hanging beneath wasn’t visible, but he knew it was there. Mission accomplished.



Liz banked hard, following the light car’s sudden move. It had the flat line speed advantage on her, but she could manoeuvre far better than it. Now it dove down, screaming under an enclosed corridor connecting two buildings. The car curled to the left, darting down low, practically skimming the red clouds at the bottom. Seconds later she flashed over it

Move for move Liz matched it, refusing to play power games she had no chance of winning, but always staying close to it. Once or twice early on in the chase, the pilot had tried to ram her, but he seemed to have given that up. She needed to finish this chase now. Despite the use of mechanical muscles to increase endurance, she was getting tired. In addition, the fuel for her twin afterburners was low giving her only another few moments of use.

She swept over her options. The usual approach of an EMP missile was out of the question: while injuring criminals or suspected criminals in the course of a pursuit was generally accepted, injuring a hostage, especially a child, wasn’t. She couldn’t simply harpoon it either, as that would put the child in as much danger. The only thing keeping the child alive was the pilot’s determination to avoid her. If she removed his chances of escape, the equation unbalanced: he became unpredictable and therefore dangerous.

There was only one choice: she had to get the kid off the car. Thankfully, the car was just the sort for the job. It was a limo design, featuring two separate environment pods, one for the driver and one for the passengers.

“Malerna,” she said into her microphone, “ I need you to go over the specs for the Elrond five-thousand. Is the driver’s compartment single-seater?”

“Yes,” the reply came almost instantaneously, “From it’s manoeuvring, there’s also a good chance there’s only one person on board as well as the child,”

“So the kid’s in the back then?” Liz said to herself. Malerna, typically, answered her.

“Well, she’s got to be somewhere on it. I suppose she could be in the driver’s compartment,” Malerna suggested thoughtfully.


“Well, there’s plenty of space in there, something like three cubic metres in total. More than enough for an adult and a child,”

Liz decided not to comment. Sure there was enough space inside the driver’s compartment to get two people inside in theory, but no one would willingly try it. There was only the one seat, and no one was crazy enough to try and pilot a tilt-rotor with a squirming child in his or her lap. It was hard enough to pilot one without any distractions; that was what the computers were for.

But that was life with an AI. Malerna could be remarkably perceptive at times, but she was generally remarkably obtuse. She was famous for ‘sensible’ solutions to design problems that either involved high voltage currents running through the human body (The resistivity is low!) or engineering solutions (what do you mean it won’t fit around that?).  She also had many things to say about human relationships, most of which were hilarious, afterwards.

While Liz’d been distracted by the AI, the car had skimmed round the University halls of residence, a series of high-tech structures sprouting from the wall of the canyon. It dodged beneath a protruding balcony-like structure several stories high. Liz flew over it, cutting low to skim the glass windows, filled with suddenly staring faces.

The car emerged from beneath the balcony and dived down, racing for the nearest building, the University proper. It towered above the dust clouds, a massive pillar of red rock, decorated with bud-like buildings sprouting from the rock. The car redlined its engines and surged ahead, the rotors tilting almost vertical as the engines strained.

It was the wrong thing to do. The manoeuvrability of tilt-rotors dropped at high speed, all six rotors revved up to full speed, meaning he was trapped on that vector. Liz snapped the wings down, pushing herself up into the air, before dropping down. She curled the wings around herself, mimicking a falcon. Angling herself carefully, she plummeted into the car’s blind spot, the area directly behind the back of the pilot’s head.

At the last moment she back swept her wings, killing her forward velocity in a moment. Even as the thump of expanding wing echoed in her ears, her legs separated. The sharp tips of her leg armour retracted, replaced by a ring of ridged plastic and joined by a pair of extendible pads, designed to mimic the human foot. They landed on the side of the car and a second home snapped down with a hard click. Electromagnets built into her legs held her in place as the vehicle twisted in the air. She slapped her hand down on the emergency release mounted to the right of the rear passenger compartment. Bolts exploded around the swept back plastic dome, launching it up into the air and backwards. A quick flick of the selector slide and a pull on her left trigger caused a blade to snap out of her arm. One quick slash cut through the belt holding the girl in her seat and, the blade sliding back into her arm, she picked up the terrified girl. Before the pilot had even reacted, the girl was up in Liz’s arms. She was plainly terrified, shivering and barely moving, clinging to the ridges of Liz’s armour.

The pilot’s canopy exploded off, barely missing the pair of them, and the pilot spun in his seat, a gun in one hand. Liz spun on one foot as he drew a bead on her. The wings snapped round her uncontrollably for a brief moment, as she brought her left foot down. Three bullets sparked of her back armour, punching through the folds of her wings. One severed a strut on the right wing, destroying several essential control lines. The wing went from the pinnacle of muscle-powered flight technology to just a useless weight on her shoulders.

She glanced down at the rear right turbine, her shoulder guns tracking. The triggers slipped back into her hands and she fired. Four double bursts struck the engine cowling, flashes of blue light exploding from the impact points. The engine stuttered, the repeated bursts of electricity disrupting the electric motor’s timing. The rotor stopped, sparks spurting from the fan’s joints. The tilt-rotor veered to the right, dropping out of the air as the three fans failed to compensate for their missing partner. The pilot spun and lunged for the controls, trying to regain control.

It dropped and tilted, Liz crouching reflexively and grabbing the hull with her free hand. The small talons on the tips of her fingers dug into the metal hull of the car, scoring lines in the steel. Her wings snapped backwards, flapping uselessly in the wind. She glanced up measuring speeds and distances with an experienced eye. The craft listed and simply dropped for a brief second before screaming engines raised it up again. Finally the pilot surrendered. He yanked the cord attached to his seat. There was a massive thump as the gasbag inflated, the explosive charge filling it in a millisecond. The chair rocketed upwards, dangling beneath the cable. Unfortunately the pilot didn’t follow it. He cursed as the chair slipped out from under him, the lose belt and buckles designed to keep him in the seat streaming behind it, depositing him on the bucking steel floor of the car. He grabbed for the controls, realizing his predicament.

The car had dropped at least three hundred metres in its dive since she’d damaged the engine. It was beginning to look like that wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done. Despite the best efforts of the man at the controls, the car was listing towards the University building. A quick glance at her laser rangefinder output told her the truth; they were almost two hundred and fifty metres away from the building.


Suddenly, her lips quirked with amusement.   I watch way too much of Curtis’ merchandisee, she thought to herself. One eyeblink later, a panel in her right thigh armour opened and she thrust her hand into it. She retrieved the dual grapnel and swung the stubby weapon up into line. She fired almost instantly, the target being slightly hard to miss. The cable hissed in the air, chasing the lethally sharp harpoon as it raced towards the towering University building. She quickly reset the device, letting the whole length of the cable spool out.

Just as the last few loops of cable slipped from the weapon, the line went limp. The harpoon had crashed into a wall of exposed rock, positioned half way between two of the University’s buds.


This is so dumb, Liz thought before leaping off the car.

Holding tight to the grapnel she swung down, away from the car. The girl screamed, waking from her terror. It took Liz a moment to realise the girl was screaming in pleasure.  Why me? she thought plaintively, her jaw aching from the effort required to prevent her own screams. She’d never hear the end of it if the others heard her.

I really, really wish I could reel this cable in, she thought, already trying to find her landing spot. They were coming down in a long arc, heading straight for an immense glass expanse that covered a large open plan restaurant of some kind. How reinforced is that glass? She asked herself, gathering her feet under her.

Almost the entire population of the cafeteria was on their feet and watching before the Windrider had fired his device. They’d first noticed after the spectacular dive had landed him on the car. Gliders and members of the unofficial Windrider fan club had crowded forwards, noses practically pushed against windows. Kirsten and Celine had joined them, taking advantage of their forwards seating to get prime viewing positions. Consequently, when the car listed towards them, one of its rotors obviously disabled, everyone noticed. There wasn’t any worry at first, because the car was so far away, but as it continued to list towards them, people began to worry. A few had begun to back away or glance at the exits. The Windrider was the last straw, when he began to swing down, obviously heading straight for the cafeteria, people began to scatter, heading for the various exits scattered around the edges of the cafeteria. Celine looked round uncomfortably, already measuring distances to the exits. Kirsten smiled reassuringly.

“This is diamond glass, right?” she asked gently. Celine nodded convulsively, swallowing as her eyes stayed on the plummeting figure.

“I guess so,” she muttered, eyes wide. Kirsten smiled gently at her, catching her eye.

“Don’t worry!” Kirsten continued, pitching her voice louder than was necessary, “There’s no way, he’ll come through. Trust me, my dad’s an engineer. You could hit this stuff with a car and it wouldn’t break. I’m pretty sure it’ll survive one person landing on it.”

The crowd relaxed slightly, an effect that was spoiled as the car dropped several metres. It immediately lurched towards them, the strain of staying in the air showing as the pitch of the engines changed, rising into a high scream of tortured bearings. The pilot spun the car on its axis, turning towards the nearest landing site, the platform outside the cafeteria. People began to leave, as the car head towards the site in fit and jerks, the motors screamed like an army of banshee groupies.

The windrider hit the inclined glass with an incredibly loud thump, regaining the students’ attention. He bounced once against the glass before releasing the cable. Balancing on the glass, a child under one arm, he began to crawl backwards down the sloping windows, heading towards the platform, evidently trying to get down. His armour evidently wasn’t designed for climbing; the armour’s feet were shaped more like hooves, leaving nothing toe-like to fit into the gaps between the panes. Also the mask he was wearing wasn’t designed to look at his feet, which meant he couldn’t see what he was doing. He was having problems, his feet slipping and sliding almost constantly.

“Come on,” Kirsten said, already moving. She pushed her way out of the crowd, her height a great aid for once. Celine followed her, only stopping when they reached the air lock to the landing platform outside. Despite the tent’s pressurization, there wasn’t enough water available to humidify the several cubic miles of canyon under the tent.


While the lack of humidity wasn’t fatal, it was unpleasant, so all buildings still maintained their own atmospheres. In addition, in the unlikely event of the tent de-pressurizing, the occupants had a much better hope of survival.

“You have to be kidding me,” Celine said, stopping, even as Kirsten pushed the button to open the inner door.


Kirsten grinned at her. “Of course not, she said before stepping into the airlock, pulling Celine with her. She hit the button to close it. As the door closed, she pulled the two emergency breathing masks from the locker inset in the wall of the airlock, tossing one to Celine. The outer door began to cycle as Kirsten hit another button. Celine hastily donned her mask, while Kirsten pulled up her left sleeve to reveal a small panel. Sliding a panel back, she quickly tapped a code into the small keypad concealed.

“Emergency mode activated,” a very blatantly computer generated voice intoned.


Calipers slipped over her hands, stretching thin plates over her fingers. Celine looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

“My dad designed it,” Kirsten said uncomfortably.


Celine looked surprised. “I thought you said he was an engineer, not a cyberneticist,” she asked. Kirsten grinned and hit the button to open the outer door.

“I lied,” she said with a laugh. The dry, dusty air of the canyon flooded into the small compartment; bring tears to her eyes in a second. She tucked the mask into her belt and began to look over the window. She grabbed the edge of one of the panels and hoisted herself up.

“What are you doing?” Celine asked, standing as close to the window as possible.

“Getting the kid down and maybe getting your favourite celebrity down as well,” Kirsten replied, reaching up and testing a new hand hold. The windrider slipped again, obviously burdened by the child.


Kristen coughed, her throat already sore, her mouth parched.

“At least put the mask on,” Celine begged, watching her climb further up the glass, she was maybe ten metres below the windrider and five metres across from him.

“The kid needs it more,” Kirsten replied, her eyes streaming. She coughed again and climbed up another layer of window and began to shuffle across the row of windows.

She quickly swarmed up the rows of glass panels, her extra height an advantage. She slid along the panels, straight for the windrider. Up close he was a lot less impressive. The egg-shaped torso armour made him look squat, while the armour couldn’t hide how short he was. The fashionista part of her mind also noted that the tiger stripes was not exactly the most flattering color scheme. Both of the wings were flapping uncontrollably in the wind, one obviously damaged. The wind rider was holding the child under one arm.

The girl turned towards Kristen, glancing up at her, making her gasp in surprise. The girl’s head was hairless, with a pair of impossibly wide eyes set deep in the skull. The ears were atrophied, merely small lips surrounding holes in the skull. Her nose was flattened, little more than slits in the centre of her face. She grinned wildly at Kirsten, waving with a free lower arm. The Windrider glanced over at the movements from the child and finally noticed Kirsten.

“Pass her over!” Kirsten yelled over the wind and the noise from the frantically snapping wings. She moved closer, ducking under the snapping wings. Pulling the belt from her jeans, she looped it over her shoulder and gestured to the child. The girl, who couldn’t have been couldn’t have been more than six, smiled in that charming, trusting manner all children have and reached over, grabbing her arm. The young MGARELF (Micro Gravity Adjusted Re-Engineered Life Form) swarmed up Kirsten’s back, hooking herself onto the belt with three of her hands. Kirsten handed her the breathing mask, which she pulled over her head with the ease of long familiarity.  That was easy, Kirsten thought, surprised by the child’s calm manner. Then she remembered some the rumours about their design, how the designers had tried to imbue all MGARELF’s with a constant sense of calm to prevent them from panicking in emergencies in orbit.

“Go,” the windrider said as Kirsten paused. The voice was surprisingly feminine, a soothing contralto, humming with a mix of gratitude and amusement. It emerged from a speaker hidden up on the left side of the torso, but the voice was remarkably clear. The mask, with its alien arrangement of five lenses, turned towards her and nodded once. Kirsten nodded in agreement and began to clamber back down the glass.

She reached the bottom in a few minutes and quickly handed the girl to Celine. From somewhere Celine had got another breathing mask, which Kirsten donned gratefully, her breathing immediately getting easier, or so she thought. It was probably a psychosomatic response, but that didn’t make it any less welcome.

The windrider was making better time now that she had both hands free. She’d obviously followed Kirsten’s movements, moving over so that she was almost in the middle of the glider platform. She clambered down another line of glass panels, her feet skidding on the glass.


Kirsten immediately began to clamber up as Celine took the small girl back into cafeteria. She reached the windrider, who’d managed to climb (read controlled fall) down another level of glass, only leaving another four. Kirsten clambered up alongside her.

“I’ll give you a hand,” she yelled, ducking under the wildly snapping wing. It cracked down, bouncing off her back. Thankfully, it glanced off the exoskeleton covering her back, but it still stopped her for a second, a harsh gasp of pain escaping her lips. She shuffled under the wings and dropped down another panel. She took the windrider’s left foot and guided it down into the next groove in the glass, making sure the foot fit tight. She guided the other foot into place quickly and the windrider was able to get down another level.

Moving like this, Kirsten was able to get the windrider down within a few minutes, the two of them, moving in a mute, almost instinctive teamwork. Kirsten was shocked by the woman’s height. She’d become used to being taller than everyone else on Mars, but the windrider was tiny. Even in the armour she was barely five and a half feet, which meant she looked like a child beside Kirsten’s eight-foot frame. Albeit a heavily armoured child, but still a child. Once she was on the platform, she triggered some kind of control that made the wings wrap round her like some form of cloak. The damaged right wing drooped limply across her body, while her left wing maintained a more dignified appearance.

“Can you turn those off?” Kirsten asked, her eyes following the two guns tracking her. The two weapons were quite small, but still intimidating. They were up on small arms that allowed them to twist and move to find their targets.

“Sorry,” The contralto said cheerfully, with more than a little amusement. The two weapons folded up into her shoulders, the muzzles just jutting up over the armour’s shoulders.

“Thanks for the help,” the windrider said, a smile inherent in the comment, “I definitely didn’t think this through,”

“No problem,” Kirsten replied with a shrug and a smile “let’s get inside,”



“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Cassius muttered, watching the telltales projected up onto the windscreen.


A few seconds ago, the icon representing Liz’s armour cheerfully announced that her right wing was off-line. He’d been rushing to her rescue when the icon had changed. It had cheerfully announced that she was about to use her dual grapnel at exactly the same moment she came into view. He’d immediately made the connection between her posture and her choice of weapon.

“This cannot be happening,” he said the same instant she leapt off the car. He couldn’t help but stare in horror at her insane move. He was coming up behind the car, which gave him a grandstand view of the lunacy. She swung down in an arc, which looked to intersect one of the University’s massive outgrowths.

“Cass, car,” Liz ordered over the radio. His eyes immediately swiveled to the vehicle she’d just abandoned. It was weaving, moving in fits and starts in all directions. Smoke was beginning to pour out one fan housing, while the others were spinning madly. He was amazed it was still flying. It lurched downwards several metres, before listing sideways. His eyes narrowed as another engine quit, leaving just one on the right hand side. Not good.

Cassius thrust all four sticks forwards and plunged for the car. He released the upper two sticks, controlling his vessels motions with only the lower two, while he began to fiddle with the controls for the landing gear. Unlike most vehicles under the tent, the Dragonfly had adaptable feet rather than skids, letting it land on more varied surfaces. That wasn’t the only difference between the Dragonfly and tilt rotors. Instead of the four or six rotors, the dragonfly was modeled after its namesake. The four thin wings beat almost 300 times a minute. In addition, minute variations in the wings’ angles could give the craft almost more maneuverability than an old-style VTOL. The only trade off was slightly less acceleration than a tilt-rotor (that and masses of paperwork to get the transport of the ground in the first place).

Of course he had a fun solution to the problem. His two lower arms thumbed the red buttons mounted on their sticks. Raw hydrogen dropped down in front of the engine exhausts, igniting and hurling him forwards.  That is far too much fun to be legal, he thought for a second, before returning his mind to the job at hand.

The car had dropped into a wide spiral, the single fan on the right hand side unable to compete with its three competitors. The pilot was desperately trying to right the car, but was obviously having no luck. He thumbed the loud hailer button, swooping down into the pilot’s line of vision.

“Cut your engines,” he ordered into the microphone hanging in front of his mouth, “I’ll rendezvous with your and get you out of there,” For a moment it crossed his mind that this guy might be crazy enough to either refuse or try and take the Dragonfly with him.

The angry whine of the fans beneath him cut, so it was obvious the guy was suffering from an outbreak of common sense. Not one to stare a gift horse in the mouth, Cassius immediately began to follow.


The car dropped like a stone now that the fans had cut, immediately tilting upwards thanks to the weight of the batteries at the rear. Cass dropped the nose and flared the afterburners. Dropping the undercarriage into a more suitable position, he began to manoeuvre for a quick and dirty dock.

Something flickered across his field of vision, racing past him and the car. One of the screens mounted to his left burst into life, showing a wobbling end of view of the two vehicles. Another burst into life showing the two vehicles from the left. In it he could see a small rotor humming away madly a few metres in front of the damaged car. He smiled slightly.

“Ta, Malerna,” he muttered, before forcing his full concentration on to the job at hand. His eyes flicking between the three monitors, he eased himself over the car, the adaptable feet braced alongside it. It took an eternity to line them up with the falling vehicle, but he managed it. He hit the controls that drew the undercarriage together, watching intently as the armored toes braced themselves against the skin of the car, buckling it slightly. He then, finally, turned his attention to their imminent demise. He slapped the button he’d never dared use before. It even had a little note saying do not use.

Liquid mercury was forced into the long tail of the Dragonfly, changing its center of mass at incredible speed. The wings doubled their speed, frantically clawing at the air.

The Dragonfly and its cargo practically spun in mid air, suddenly dropping on their vertical axis, rather than head first. The wings’ angle changed but not their speed, concentrating on providing the maximum downward force.

The image on the side on screen vanished in a cloud of red dust at the same moment the windscreen was dusted over. His stomach seemed to slap into place as the last of their frantic acceleration cut out. Okay, way to close, he thought as he dropped the wings back to place holding mode, looking out the quickly clearing windows at the mess of cables and pipes normally hidden by the red dust that the franticly beating wings had revealed.
I am going to kill her, he swore to himself, a satisfied smile on his lips.



The other windriders had arrived by now, standing around the cafeteria, evidently awkward with the crowd surrounding them. Word had spread through the University and now hundreds of students had filtered into the cafeteria, all trying to pretend they’d come into the cafeteria for any thing other than open gawking. There was a small clear area around the windriders that no one seemed willing to enter.

The only exceptions to this were Celine and Kirsten. Celine had busied herself with the young girl, getting some Coke and a chocolate from the servers before playing some odd little game with the girl, which mainly seemed to involve much giggling. Kirsten could tell that Celine was more than a little stunned to be in the presence of her heroes and was covering it up by looking after the girl. The girl herself was smiling and giggling now, seemingly not affected by what she’d gone through. She bounced up and down in her seat, laughing as Celine lost again.

Kirsten, meanwhile, had collapsed into her seat. Despite the help from her exoskeleton, she’d burnt too much energy fighting the Martian gravity. Various parts of her arms and especially hands were aching from the strain she’d put them through. She hadn’t got around to disabling the emergency mode yet, which another was a sign of her exhaustion, given the more than slight illegality of the upgrade. She groaned, all she wanted to do was sleep.

The car had been picked up by the windriders’ transport, which had somehow picked it out of its near crash and was winging it and its, by now, terrified passenger to the nearest police tower. She meant winging, by the way. Somehow the designer had managed to build a craft that mimicked a dragonfly’s wings. It looked amazing even at a distance, the wings shimmering in the weak sunlight.

She glanced across at the three windriders who were stood talking quietly amongst themselves. Their wings were wrapped round them, evidently some sort of storage system that protected the wings. All three of them had retracted their guns, so they were no longer waving weapons at everything in sight. They’d also removed their masks, making them look far more human.

The one she’d rescued was Lieutenant Liz Markham (“call me Liz,”), the leader of the group. Her face was almost offensively non-descript, average eyes framed by average features and short brown hair. It was only when you looked closer that you began to realise her strengths. Her hazel eyes were clear and determined, obviously very focused, yet also very calm and understanding.

Her neighbour wasn’t as tall as Kirsten, but definitely out-massed her, even out of the armour. Most of that was thanks to his genes. Douglas Samson was an AEARELF (Aerological Enviroment Adapted RELF), which roughly translated to thick black scales covering most of his body and something that was more impressive than a barrel chest. Kirsten had noticed he had a remarkably quiet voice for such a large man. He was also obviously devoted to Lieutenant Markham, judging from the look on his face when he’d thanked her earlier. She smiled at the memory.

The third one was the tallest, but still shorter than her, but he was definitely the strangest. From what could be seen with his armour on, Curtis Folsom was obviously scrawny, without the slightly built-up neck and shoulder muscles most gliders routinely developed from their exercises. He looked vaguely bookish, with wide eyes and sallow complexion, though she had to admit that it was a little hard to get a tan out here, what with the difference in orbital radii and all. He seemed nice enough from the brief greeting he’d given her earlier.

She leaned back to get a better look at the strange trio. The independent (and bright!) colour schemes they had on their armour reinforced their irregular status, which really added to their mystique. Kirsten found herself wondering about the trio: what did they do normally? Liz was a lieutenant in the police force that much was obvious, but the other two were mysteries. She couldn’t really imagine the other two as police and from Celine’s comments, they obviously weren’t. She tried to guess at their jobs. It was probably immensely racist to think the RELF was in construction, but unfortunately close to the truth. The other guy was harder, probably something to do with a lot of books, but books were expensive to transport all the way here. Maybe he was a programmer?

As she looked over, her eyes narrowed, what on earth was that? Suddenly she was up on her feet and running., before her mind had fully caught on.

“Sniper!” she yelled, her eyes focused on one thing. The small red dot danced on the blue of Douglas’ armour as he began to turn and look at her. Kirsten covered the few metres between her and him faster than she’d ever moved in her life. She dove across and tackled him, her shoulder smashing against his armour. She winced as she felt something snap. They fell towards the ground.

Some one raised a giant hammer and smashed it down on her back. Pain blossomed all over her body, slapping through her exoskeleton like it wasn’t there. Her head smashed down on the armour, her nose exploding into blood. Incredible searing agony lanced in her ears. The hit the ground and bounced, smashing her against the unyielding armour again.

Then, thankfully, it ended. Her eyes closed and she slipped into unconsciousness.

Kirsten woke slowly, fighting up towards consciousness. She opened her eyes and looked around. She’d guessed before she’d opened her eyes that she was in a hospital, the rhythmic bleeping a bit of a give away. Also, it smelt too good to be her digs.

Her lips twitched into a smile as she saw her father, slumped over in a chair, his head resting on the side of her bed. Pulling one arm free from the covers, she gently nudged him, the weakness of her arm slightly terrifying after the assistance of the exoskeleton.

“Dad,” she murmured, shaking his shoulder gently. Her voice sounded oddly flat to her ears as if it had lost some of its tone. It was odd as her throat was one of the few parts of her body that didn’t hurt. He raised his head and smiled wanly at her.

“Hi honey,” he said softly, old fear in his eyes, “You had me worried there for a while,”

“Sorry Dad,” she said, flushing slightly. He sat up and hugged her, holding her tightly. She lent into his shoulder, holding him tightly.

“It’s not that I don’t approve or anything,” he said, still holding her, “I think you did the right thing, but did you have to do it so soon?”

The last part came out as a plaintive whine and Kirsten laughed, a laugh that was cut off by the pain that came from her ribs. She winced. Her father released her and leaned back.

“The doctors say you broke three ribs. You also broke your left collarbone,” he said gesturing at the bandages holding her left arm in place, “your ear drums burst in the blast, but everything else is just bruises thankfully.”


Kirsten groaned, slumping back in her bed.

“I wouldn’t worry, the doctors say you’ll be fine in about three weeks, at least the gravity’s good for something,” He said with a shrug. On the moon, it took forever for bones to heal, the low gravity not applying the force needed to kick-start the healing process. Here, with bone-matrix guides, it would take far less time.

“Dad, what happened to my exoskeleton?” she asked, looking round. Normally it would be leaning up against the wall in her room when she wasn’t wearing it (which wasn’t often), but she had no idea where it was now.

“It took the brunt of the damage,” her father said simply, “The entire back section’s a write off, including the CPU.”

“Oh Dad, I’m sorry,” she apologised, glancing away. She knew how much time her father had spent on them, not to mention how much money they’d cost as well.

“This seems as good a time to butt in as any,” a cheerful voice interjected from the doorway. Liz waved from the doorway, a bundle almost as big as her under her arm. Out of her armour she was even shorter, definitely less than five feet. She grinned, leaning the bundle up against the wall.

“My engineer took a look at this. The entire back section needed to be junked and the CPU was minus a dimension, but that was really about it,” She said with a small smile, “He was able to rebuild the back plate, thankfully it isn’t particularly complex (at least compared to some of the other parts), but the CPU was different. We’ve scavenged up a chipset identical to the one you used, but we couldn’t get a copy of the control algorithms. We’ve got it working, but it doesn’t fit any of us so we couldn’t test it out. We did keep the more interesting parts of the design in place” She said, adding an amused smile to the last sentence.

“Thank you, I…I don’t really know what to say,” her father said after a brief moment of surprise, “I’ve got a copy of the control algorithms in my rooms, I’ll be able to download them soon.”

“I should be thanking you, it’s not every time someone saves one of my men,” she said with a friendly nod to Kirsten. She flushed again and glanced down.

“Any how, little Marie Angelus is back with her parents now,” Liz said more seriously, “No small thanks to a certain young lady,” Kirsten blushed once again. She was really getting tired of that.

“What actually happened?” Kirsten asked suddenly, glancing up. Liz grimaced.

“It was a Gauss cannon,” she said unhappily. Seeing the look of incomprehension on their faces she elaborated, “It’s an anti-tank weapon developed by the Americans and very popular with militants with enough cash and connections. Think a small magnetic catapult,” Magnetic catapults were the devices used to send raw materials between the orbits of various planets. If they were aimed right, they were incredibly useful, if they weren’t aimed right, they could be amazingly destructive, “Someone took a shot at my second in command with one from the roof of the student halls,”

“If it’s that powerful, why am I still alive?” Kirsten asked slightly stunned. She’d read about such devices, they could penetrate the armour of an old-style battle tank for goodness sake!

“You haven’t seen the cafeteria, have you?” Liz said with a laugh, “Half the windows blew out. It didn’t actually hit you, it struck Douglas’ back armour and glanced off, thanks to you knocking him askew,” she said with another small nod. “Actually all that hit you was the shock wave,” Liz continued, “Your exoskeleton absorbed most of the blow, like it was supposed to,” she said with a glance at Kirsten’s father. He shrugged slightly in embarrassment.

“The shock wave?”

“Twenty five grams of depleted uranium traveling at slightly under mach twelve produces a bit of a shockwave. Trust me, it was one hell of a bang. It blew out the windows for goodness sake.  Both Douglas and I owe you. He’d like to thank you himself,” she produced a small card, spinning it between her fingers. She flicked it out and handed it over, dropping into Kirsten’s hand.

“Once you get out of here, give us a bell,” She continued, tapping the card, “We’d all like to meet you.”


“I’ll do that,” Kirsten promised, nodding. Liz grinned and bobbed. She turned towards the door.

“See you later then,” she said, before walking out. Kirsten turned to her father, a slight look of surprise on her face.

“That was sudden,” she said with a grin. Her father looked at her for a second and then laughed to himself.

“Yep, just a little,” he let out a breath in a loud whoosh and leant back into his seat, “Looks like you’ve already made some friends, maybe not exactly who I’d imagined, but they seem nice,” he smiled for a second, then glanced around, “Where’s Celine? She said she’d go get some coffee,”

“How should I know? I’ve only just woken up,” Kirsten complained, amused, “How long have I been out?” she continued plaintively.

“Almost three days now,” He father replied absently. “I’m so glad I gave the release codes to the University medics now. They’d got you out of the exoskeleton before the ambulance had even begun to take-off from all accounts,”

“You’ve been here all that time?” She asked, surprised and pleased in equal measure.

“Of course, Celine and the Lieutenant have kept me fuelled with caffeine.” He groaned theatrically, “I need sleep.”

“You and Celine getting along?” she asked slyly, puncturing his sympathy-attracting demeanour with ease. “Besides you live off caffeine anyway. ESA used you as an example of a non-water based life-form, for goodness sake!”

Celine appearing at the doorway cut any further familial conversation short. With a squeal of (probable) pleasure, she dived across the room and swept Kristen up in a hug, somehow managing to deposit two plastic cups of coffee on a side table safely.

“Celine, that kinda hurts,” Kirsten remonstrated, thankfully not feeling anything moving around. Celine immediately released her and sat back on the edge of the bed.

“Sorry,” she said, instantly apologetic, before switching to a safer topic, “You do realise you’re famous? Everyone’s talking about you, the Loonie heroine.”

“Oh god, no,” Kirsten moaned, bring her free hand up to her head. Celine grinned at her brightly.

“You remember how you said you wanted to meet some martian men?” she asked, her voice full of amusement, “Trust me, play this right and half the university’s gonna be chasing the ‘Mysterious Lunar Beauty.’ This is going to be so much fun,” she finished with an unnervingly evil grin.

Kirsten turned to glare at her father, whose coughing fit sounded far too much like laughter to her. Celine grinned at her, her eyes wide and disingenuous.

I’m so screwed.


The End



© 2004 by Timothy Maguire.  I am a Rocket Scientist. Or at least I will be when I finish my course. In the mean time I write when my work load's sane.