By Timothy Maguire
“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
“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
“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.
“Still not used to the gravity?”
she asked with a dry smile, handing her the fork back. Kirsten shrugged and
“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
“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.
“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.”
“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
“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,
“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
“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
“The Cops!” Celine gasped, “What
“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
“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
“Wow, that’s deep,” Celine said,
“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
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
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
“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
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,
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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.