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by DKJ
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2208947
Normal, a concept of shared compromise. The Cartel continues to fight for their new family
         There’s no time to waste with an elaborate exposition. The girls were huddled in a room. “Did you hear that!” a voice asked among frightened screams. They all heard it. Nearby something or someone erupted out of the ground. A combat modified heavy Frame burst out of the sewer from beneath the far corner of the building. The Frame was normally used to manipulate huge cargo containers on deck or work in a Zero-G yard. The large machine had needed to be assembled in an artificial cavern underground. The attackers were taking advantage of the Earther’s two dimensional thinking.

         When you imagine a glorious battle, men fighting, courage and daring, you imagine its you. You’re brave, fearless even, you join the fight and maybe you get knocked down and hurt but you get back up to fight some more. The bad guys don’t matter, they’re not even people, just villains. The villains bring the weapons of cause, you’re not a psycho who carries guns and knives everywhere. Most of all, you know what’s going on. Then you save the day, you’re the hero.

         Tawny was scared. They were supposed to be safe now, she thought bitterly. The sounds of explosions, shouts and the cries of battle came from every direction. It did not sound like they were winning. The girls were stronger, faster, more powerful, more robust and more resilient, than any of them had ever been before in their lives. Yet, Tawny felt weak and impotent, she wasn’t alone.

         The Marines had retreated again gathering their wounded and taking a position for a last stand. The FBI were trapped isolated in pockets of resistance. All that they could hope to do was buy time and time was the principle commodity in this fight. New York Constabulary police were the first to arrive and they were forced back immediately. The Marines company Number Three rolled in with Accelerated Impulse Plasma Drivers. Even the Marines were checked by the perimeter formed by the drop ships. At least they drew fire away from the main attack.

         “I used to like it, when guys fought over me. This isn’t fun.” Hart exclaimed wearily.

         “Oh, I get it… Horny Tawny!” Darby remarked trying to lighten the mood.

         Tawny quipped, “I’ve not heard that one before...” shooting Darby a derisive look.

         A part of one wall began to creak and bow. The girls backed away apprehensively. Adelaide had disturbingly discovered her baby sister when she’d arrived in the Waiting Room. Now, all they could do was hold onto each other. Tawny had a younger sister but fortunately she wasn’t here. As the wall finally gave way and the Frame broke through, girls gasped and cried out.

         Tawny looked around, she imagined if Esme were one of these girls. Esme was Tawny’s sister younger by four months. Briefly, to not answer your question, it’s complicated. Maybe it was a snarl or growl either way Tawny charged the monstrous machine. The thing could have only been more monstrous if the man inside the canopy had shiny silver teeth.

         Before he knew what hit him, before Tawny knew what she was doing, she braced herself holding on with one hand and digging in with her toes. She drew back a fist. Then smashed it with all her strength into the glass canopy. The glass cracked. With a swipe of a mechanical arm, Tawny was sent flying and she cradled her hand. “Fuck me! That hurt.” she exclaimed. Experimentally she made a fist, her hand was sore but she could still use it.

         Conventionally, Lieutenant Walter used the door, he’d heard the commotion. He raised his Impulse to his shoulder and fired. The plasma burst shattered across the shield of the Frame. Kyle roared and charged. The thing was powerful but where it was lacking was agility, at least in a full One-G gravity environment.

         Darby and Naomi helped Tawny back to her feet. “Shit, you’re still live. That thing made you look like a rag doll!” Darby said.

         “That’ll teach him…” Tawny said ruefully. She’d already decided that she’d have another go.

         As the Frame charge toward him, Kyle dropped low and slid across the floor narrowly avoiding a burst of cannon fire. He discharged at point blank range into the machine’s back the plasma blow back almost did him more harm that the Frame.

         “What were you thinking?” Rena demanded.

         “What if one of you, were my sister.” Tawny said.

         “Who’s your sister?” Dannie asked.

         “Esme.” Tawny explained.

         “Awe, no way! But she’s like normal and… No, I see it now, Esme is kind of cute.” Dannie admitted.

         The Frame wasn’t designed for Combat, it had never been intended for close quarter combat. An arm glanced off the floor with such force that it nearly sent the Frame out of control. Kyle knew he had to stick close and move fast.

         Number Three company had contact with the enemy. Their advance was stalled. The Drop Ships were providing heavy fire to cover the Berserker force. Major Bale had called in air support. Two wings of drones made a run at the drop ships. The first wing was blasted out of the sky from orbit, then the second wing came in hot and low. As the second wing began their approach, the rules of engagement changed and the drones were ordered off the field.

         Kyle’s plan entailed, his Impulse out lasting the Frame’s shields. Of cause, that was only the first of his problems. Naomi made a run at the Frame, just as it was swinging for Kyle. Her hand slipped into the Frame’s shoulder joint and grasped essential wiring and conduits. Then she had to pull and bring her hand out before the gap closed and took her hand with it. Naomi came back with fist full of wires.

         Something had changed, the girls didn’t feel so ineffectual anymore. The left arm of the Frame spasmed and lurched many times before the pilot was able to get it back under control. This gave Kyle the opportunity to smash the but of his Impulse into the canopy of the Frame.

         The cracked glass wasn’t merely superficial, it reduced the vision of the pilot.

         Before the Frame could react, Kyle jumped away. Firing his Impulse into the Frames shield. ‘Buzzt’, ‘Buzzt’ came a moment later as the Impulse ran out of charge. Kyle was now left with only his sidearm, that had fifteen charges a fraction of the power of a single Impulse. Rapidly he fired his sidearm aiming for the centre of mass in the chest. His only reward was that the Frame was sluggish now. It didn’t have redundancy, the power spent on the shields was also power that would drive movement.

         Taking the fight from close quarters to hand to hand made the man piloting the Frame smile. All he needed was one good hit to knock Kyle out. So far, all Kyle had been was an annoyance, a major annoyance but that was all. Kyle charged with his fighting knife in hand, determined to find a target in amongst the circuitry and systems of the Frame. The machine was to slow to stop him but then Kyle stabbed and stabbed again tearing at wires, modules, coolant anything he could damage. The arm of the Frame threw him away.

         The Marine Soldier hit the deck with force. In pain and winded he couldn’t move. The Frame stomped toward him with a grim purpose. Tawny and the others could see now, reinforcements arriving. The Frame wasn’t alone anymore. Being a by stander was no longer an option, the girls were girding their loins and preparing to fight. The Frame raised a foot over Kyle’s head.

         Oddly, the Accelerated Impulse requires no more power than the Directed Impulse but it is a narrower, faster more compact delivery of the same charge. One plasma bolt cut straight through the Frame and pilot. The sleek powerful form a Space Force Infantry Drone sprinted into the room taking a position with a clear firing line along the corridor created by the large hole in the wall. The Berserkers determinedly continued their advance.

         The Frame crumpled into a heap as raggedly Kyle breathed. At least he was breathing. The Berserkers were hitting the Drone with everything they had. Plasma Impulses either disappeared into the darkness of the Drone hull or splashed like rain. The Berserkers erected their own shield wall but his slowed their advance. Then at the end of the corridor a three point five Carbine was erected. This was normally a heavy calibre weapon mounted on small attack ships.

         Just as the Carbine seemed like it was ready to fire, the Berserkers started to retreat. It was a matter of time. The US Space Force patrols would soon get targeting locks on the mother ship and the rest of the flotilla. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you’ve been drawn into a battle you can’t win. The prize had been irresistible. The prize had been the hope of a future with such unimaginable new possibilities. The Cartel would have to pull back and lick its wounds if it had any hope of surviving. This had been a bold move. Not only they had shown their strength but also revealed weaknesses.

         All the girls were fascinated by the oily black statuesque muscular Infantry Drone. They were drawn to it like moths to a flame. A primal drive that overrode every rational thought was turned up to the max, just a small present from the Dingo’s. They didn’t care about the classified state of the art targeting systems or the miniaturised Accelerated Plasma Impulse Driver. The just enjoyed the heart racing excitement as their fingers traced over its taught muscular chassis.

         “Position secure.” the Drone’s terse synthesized voice said.

         If she hadn’t been distracted, Tawny would have been interested in the Drone’s systems. In some ways its bio-mechanical synthetic muscles were very similar to those of the augment girls. The Dingo’s had employed only the most cutting edge technologies. One selling point that they’d made was due to the illegal nature of their operations, they weren’t constrained by any patent laws.

         The spell was broken as the first civilian responders arrived. “Fuck!” one officer stated. Tawny blinked, she recoiled as if she’d been caught doing something illicit. The next thing Tawny knew was Sergeant Iro calling for a medic. One sense of chaos seemed to be replaced by a new ordered chaos with even more shouting.

         The girls were split up into groups. The groups then led out to waiting buses and they were to be transported directly to the Navy base. There was a sense of relief to be getting out of there, that came with a reassurance that the Navy base was going to be much more secure. Rena, Tawny, Hart, all the girls from the bus were in one group. They had to walk through the destruction, passed the bodies dead FBI agents and Marine soldiers.

         To describe the place as being like a war zone would be to take it literally. Walls had collapsed, men lay dead where they had fallen. The wounded were being triaged. There were prisoners corralled, under guard. Tawny particularly had to pick her way through debris unsteadily. They’d gone from heart pounding excitement to tragedy.

         Beyond perimeter the press and public were lined up. Tawny felt cute and ashamed, reading on their hardened faces, ‘your fault!’ On the feeds they were watching friends, daughters, cousins, nieces, sisters coming out of the ruins. There was a sense of celebration, what might have been the stolen generation were on their way home.

         Perhaps cute was the wrong word but it was certainly close. The girls, in fact all shared this feeling, to one degree or another. They were sharing the same experience and subconsciously picking up on each other’s reactions. It was odd for Rena and the girls getting on another bus. Rena anticipated powerful feeling of aversion to the bus but nothing had happened there. At least nothing that she or the others could remember.

         On the bus, Rena, Hart, Isabella, Dannie and Darby were all planning their next most intimate date with their respective boyfriends. Naomi and Lara also talked of the men they liked and Tawny tried unsuccessfully take her mind off it. Then an announcement came as result of the attack, they were being brought into ‘protective custody’. There were many protests from horny young women eager to scratch an itch.

         In the Marine’s Quanitico loan building the taskforce was devastated. Special Agent Smith found himself in charge. His job on the one hand liaising with emergency responders on the ground and on the other directing the investigation. This barely left any room questions of his own, like was there a mole in the investigation, how could he profile the criminal cells. Smith had profiled the girls to the nth degree. They all shared a peculiar mitochondrial structure and significant gene sequences. Special Agent Smith didn’t need to understand the specific genes but he’d found them.

         “Sir!” Probationary Special Agent Dill said, “We have the casualty report…” he sent the list to Special Agent Smith’s slate. Deputy Director Dietzen and Special Agent Mervin were both listed as casualties injured in action. The list of the dead was thankfully short but still too long. The special agent in charge on the scene was Special Agent Felshaw.

         “Thank you.” Smith said.

         “Sir.” Dill responded.

         Special Agent Smith brought up a comm to Special Agent Felshaw. “Kathrine, it is Kathrine isn’t it?” Smith asked.

         “Yes sir.” she said.

         “How are you doing over there?” Smith said.

         “The situation is contained. The victims are already being transferred to Quantico. We have started to process the scene.” Special Agent Felshaw said.

         “I wasn’t asking for a report…” Smith said.

         “Sir, we’ve just been attacked, I’m liaising with the Marines and Space Force commands. If you think I’m not capable?” Special Agent Felshaw retorted.

         “No. Katherine, I was trying to ask if there was anything you needed from me? If I can help in any way?” Smith said.

         “Thank you, sir. I… No, I’m on top of everything here.” Special Agent Felshaw said.

         “Good, that’s all.” Smith said and he closed the comm.

         “What do you have so far?” Special Agent Smith asked Special Agent Goggi.

         “Someone in the Jackson field office has been accessing our confidential files. The thing is sir, the access log lines are marked with Delta level clearance. These are the only access times which correspond with known information leakages. Significantly, the last breach occurred when the Pirate Assault Team began their retreat.” Special Agent Goggi explained.

         “I will get clearance for the logs. In the meantime this is still a priority, get the names of everyone in that office at that time. Get backgrounds, everything, think of this as just like any other case, follow your instincts and use your training.” Special Agent Smith ordered. The only difference is that the leads in this case are coming out of one our field offices, Smith told himself.

         Special Agent Reichs was a young man who stood out virtually anywhere he went. He wore his clan tattoos on his arms, body, neck, legs and face, his hair was cropped short drawn into bright green spikes and this all contrasted markedly with his FBI suit. The Clans were the remnants of the Arian Supremacy Legion, now generally applying for re-admission back into the human race. When most people met Special Agent Reichs, they were surprised that you could not find a kinder, gentler and more generous person. After the Clans’s history of violence and hate, their members were finding themselves as a minority culture fighting prejudice. So, the wheel doth turn.

         Special Agent Reichs was a specialist from the E.T. Unit. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like the Extra-Terrestrial Unit. So, what if the E.T. Unit was named for a famous movie. Members of the E.T. Unit provide law enforcement to small civilian orbital platforms, mining outpost, shipyards and many more off world US concerns and territories.

         “Sir,” Special Agent Reichs called out urgently as alert caught his attention.

         “Yes?” Smith asked.

         “We’ve just received a notification of a CRI Shark Blade in a Lunar traffic violation. It’s trajectory tracks back to the Earth. Lunar authorities are querying its point of origin and flight plans. We don’t have any record for a CRI Shark Blade. Given the vessel’s configuration and lack of official records I believe this may have been the ship that attacked us.” Special Agent Reichs explained.

         “Why didn’t our orbital defences respond?” Smith asked.

         “They seem to have been using some kind of diffusive jamming technology. The ship’s signature breaks up into many much smaller fuzzier vessels. It creates Transponder echo’s that can’t be accurately read.” Special Agent Reichs said. “I’m tracking their trajectory back…”

         The gigantic ship should have been easily spotted. The pilot had navigated into a synthetic geo-stationary orbit above East Africa. They had avoided alignment detection as best they could but at the time no-one was looking for them. Cargo haulers use reference features as navigational aids but also as points of scale. Once in alignment with two or more references, an anomaly may have its vectors

calculated. These vectors then inform of a threat.

         “The Shark Blade looks like it was parked in a synthetic geo-stationary orbit over East Africa, where we have no jurisdiction. They’d parked themselves under two major trade corridors. If we had detected her, and engaged her, that could most likely have created an international incident.” Special Agent Reichs explained. He managed to acquire several fuzzy images from local amateur night watchers while she was loitering. From a distance the Shark Blade almost looked like a purpose built war ship.

         “I want anything you can get from Lunar authorities.” Smith ordered.

         Deputy Director Dietzen opened a comm to the Task Force. When he answered, Special Agent Smith thought that she looked like a pirate. The woman’s hair was mussed up, her suit was ripped and torn, she was covered in dust and soot and she had a patch over her left eye. “I don’t look that bad… do I, Percival?” she asked gently.

         “Worse, Cote.” Special Agent Smith said.

         “We gave ’em hell!” the Deputy Director remarked with a wry smile. “The Attorney General has ordered me to Washington. It looks like you’ll be taking the reigns a little while longer.” Cote said.

         “I’ll keep you updated.” Special Agent Smith said.

         “Regular reports will do. Now, do your job, Percival. I expect you to have this all wrapped up by the time I get back.” Cote said.

         “Fuckers!” Devin remarked, “Why can’t they do their own jobs?” This was the part of the job he hated, sat at a desk sifting through records and writing reports. A request landed on his desk for break down of the CRI Shark Blade that had violated more Lunar traffic ordinances than he could count. “Why are they asking us for info on one of their ships?” He asked no one in particular.

         “Haven’t you heard?” Brad said, “Someone big attacked the Ground Pounders.” Brad was an Earth born native but he was still a kid.

“That could be your family down there.” Devin reproached.

         “Sorry.” came Brad’s contrite voice.

         “You will be Kid, if it’s your family one day.” Devin said. “This may be the first but it ain’t likely to be the last.”

         The Shark Blade had navigated a course through restricted zones of Lunar traffic. The Lunar Lagrange, Point Memorial and Castar City had all tracked it. Lunar Lagrange had been closest, the platforms operational defences had made detailed scans. Point Memorial the US run Lunar Orbital platform had also trained their sensors on the ship.

         It was what you’d call a hybrid war ship from a modular construction. Some compartments were from US Space Force origin. The Communications module had come from the Israeli Union. The ship’s main cannons which most everything other than the engines were built around had the distinctive sandy red of the African Alliance. The most novel and original part of the ship was its transport containers for the drop ships. Even the defence web had been ‘salvaged’ from a Chinese frigate. Salvaged being a term used to describe what happened after an encounter with some prepared pirates. Engines looked very much like those which it was rumoured to have disappeared from an EU shipyard.

         “How the hell’d you get all of that to work together?” Devin asked rhetorically.

         “You’d expect that defence web to target her own engines!” Brad agreed.

         “Hey, they said you guys are the people to see about my missing friend, Charlie.” Dana said emphatically.

         Devin was going to pass him on to some other poor sap. Then he saw an opportunity. “I’m a little busy myself but I have the right man to look for your friend right here.” Devin said.

         “Thank you! Thank you! You have no idea, I’ve been asking for help all day. Everyone is either too busy or they’re the wrong department. I’m so grateful.” Dana said.

         “We need to get some details. When did your friend go missing?” Devin asked.

         “Well, we arrived here three days ago. Charlie likes to explore when we get some where new. He likes to check out old haunts or discover new places to hide. He usually gets back after about twelve hours. I cut up some fruit and put it in a bowl for him. Sometimes we don’t see each other for over a day or a bit more but none of his fruit has even been touched!” Dana explained.

         “Has Charlie gotten lost before?” Brad asked.

         “No, he’s very loyal.” Dana explained.

         “Is Charlie your partner?” Devin asked.

         “No, he’s about four and half. He’s a rescue.” Dana said.

         “Four and a half that’s a lot of independence to allow an infant.” Devin remarked.

         “He’s a Tamarzee, a Monkey.” Dana explained. “They’re very expensive. I’m afraid some one might have stolen him. You can’t keep him in a cage that’d kill him. You don’t expect to get so attached to the retched animal but he’s smart and I swear he understand more than he lets on.”

         “Do you have any pictures? We’ll need his picture to show around.” Devin said.

         Dana sent an entire album to Devin’s slate. “Look, he’s kept me sane when I should have gone mad. He completes tasks under pressure, he’s saved my life. Please find him!” Dana said.

         “Hey, leave it with us.” Devin said.

         Dana left only feeling slightly reassured. Charlie had spent more time breaking things than he had fixing them. Dana had spent too much time chasing the animal around his launch threatening to kill him.

         “What’s a Tamarzee?” Brad asked.

         “You don’t know? Well, I guess they’re illegal in most places these days. They’re the original designer pet. Kind of part monkey part dog. They were supposed to be like personal aid animals for the blind or disabled people. I mean can you imagine a guide dog in Zero-G. They’d let you design your own little monkey. You could give it a life span of up to sixty years. Then a few months later you got a baby monkey to train. They were never that cheap.” Devin explained.

         “So, if they’re illegal what’s this guy doing with one?” Brad said.

         “It’s not illegal to keep them but they are illegal to manufacture. It’s the ‘manufacture’ term, the animal rights people don’t like. Your client got a rescue. These animals rarely wind up in good homes.” Devin said.

         Brad took up his slate, “Locate Tamarzee, Charlie.” He ordered. The home screen on the slate dissolved into a page saying, ‘Charlie, Location Unavailable.’

         “If it was that easy, they wouldn’t need us. Start in the Zone. Then try around the Docks.” Devin offered.

         Being sat on a bus for hours, starring out of a window. Tawny almost forgot she was a girl. Her hand was a little sore, otherwise everything felt normal. She let her mind wander, last summer, Tawny had built a Repulsor-raft as a project. Strangely the Frame that the soldier had fought reminded Tawny of the raft. She could let go completely of her boobs and stiletto boots, if it weren’t for the nagging fear at the back of her mind that the convoy might be attacked.

         Oh, that and being told, ‘knees together dear, that’s not lady like’ and ‘stand up straight, good girl’ and ‘don’t stick out your tush’ and ‘chin up dear’ all the time. Tawny wasn’t sure if the girls were trying to be kind or just tormenting her.

         Another day, the same blank room. Dougal sat patiently. He’d run operations before, he knew that however much of the picture you think you’ve got there’s always a bigger picture. Though, the difference between running an operation and being out in the cold, is you’ve got a lot more autonomy and freedom out in the cold. In the cold, you have to be able to make decisions in the moment. Yet, running an operation most decisions are the result of careful planning and information gathering and after all that you needed to get permission. Of cause, that’s so long as everything is going to plan.

         At least a couple of hours passed before Hamish arrived. “Good morning Dougal. Sorry, it’s so late. Shall we get started.” Hamish said.

         “Aye.” Dougal intoned.

         “Let’s start at the beginning. The CRI Shark Blade, what was that all about?” Hamish asked.

         “The Carnival came to town. They do that every six to eighteen months. It’s like a mobile city visiting a city. The Harbour Masters office is constantly busy, you don’t get time to think.” Dougal began. “The Shah is the man who runs it. A pompous little bastard, he’s smart and knows how to get his own way. He has his court, his harem and his own security force. When the Carnival is in town, we have to adopt their traffic ordinances and defer to their security officers. The man knows which palms to grease, I’ll give him that.”

         “The situation is an odd one. The nobles act like they own the place and never pay for anything. While everyone around them bows and scraps. The Travellers, they’re a mixed bag of artisans, traders and the Shade, that’s a kind of black market slash red light district. Of cause, you can’t forget the Circus itself. Everyone hates them and the thieving bastards rob the place blind yet when the Carnival leaves we're all somehow a bit richer than before.”

         “Some part of the Shade set up a brothel in the Deacon’s apartments. I don’t know how they did it but he wound up working as their Concierge. They ran a real high-class establishment in there. The word was, you didn’t get in without an invite. Some people suggested that Harem girls were sent there as a part of their training. Deacon sits one the Lunar Lagrange Board, normally he’s a very important, high status man.”

         “Point Memorial the holier than thou ass-holes. They’re always a pain the ass. When the Carnival’s around they’re worse. They won’t take a bribe or look the other way. Usually we have unofficial jurisdictional boundary. They patrol one sector, Lunar Lagrange patrols the other. That changes, they don’t like rich pricks lighting up civilian traffic. The Carnival patrols they’re pimped. They look like they mean business but at least once or twice they’ll take on a Point Memorial patrol in a dicks hanging out fire fight. Point Memorial patrols aren’t pretty but they’re highly trained and well equipped. They tend to cut through the show cops like butter. Then it’s the civilian authorities who have to work things out.”

         “Don’t you go thinking that Cartel and the Carnival get along either. It’s the competition, the Cartel likes to think of itself as the law. The only official law that crosses the boundaries of Lunar, Mars, Jupiter, the Carnival, Pirates and Smugglers. It is widely reported the Cartel is really just a bunch of loosely associated gangs. That appears to be the belief in the Carnival too. As far as the Carnival is concern so long as everybody’s watching what the circus is doing, no-one’s paying too much attention to the rest of them, except the Cartel. There’s a war coming, I don’t think its going to go the way the Carnival are expecting. The Carnival isn’t nearly such a strongly autocratic totalitarian purpose driven society as the Circus would have you believe.”

         “What’s any of this got to do with the Shark Blade?” Hamish asked.

         “Everything, I have contacts in the Carnival. They’re not so well developed. It’s hard to earn someone’s trust when they’re moving around so much. One of my contacts brought me a ‘job’ via an old legend. This came on the basis of a recommendation. Though the legend wasn’t operational, I decided it would be worth while breathing life into it. They wanted to hit a research module in Castar City. Industrial espionage, couldn’t be simpler grab some tech and get out. What we didn’t know was that someone in corporate security had already burned a mole into the customer. We started planning, I conducted background checks on all my contacts in the group and their affiliates.”

         “I must have missed something.” he went on, “I hired a crew from the local talent pool, The Tegress bar.” so named because the owner couldn’t spell ‘Tigress’, “The job didn’t look too challenging. It was simple break in, snatch the materials and get away in an old skiff. I was in on it as a favour. I owed the favour to Scarab. He’s a black man, one ninety five centimetres by about eighty three kilos. Aged twenty four to twenty eight. Scarab is the kind of man who lives an interesting life. He is a man with ties to the African Alliance.”

         “The Shark Blade was a retired pirate skiff that had seen better days. I bought the Shark Blade and tied it up in so many ownership records and leasing contracts, it was near impossible to trace. Our first mate for the operation was tasked with scrubbing up the drive. This was supposed to make the drive look inefficient and unstable. He seemed to have done a good job. When she accelerated the Shark Blade shook like a whore on a five buck stud. It turned out that his cooking was actually better than his work on the engine.”

         “The job of the Shark Blade was to deliver a three man team to the module and rendezvous at the extraction point. Only on the night of the operation, the team it seems had a bit of a disagreement and they murdered each other. Scarab was determined to go ahead without them but the instability in the Shark Blade’s drive tore the skiff into three parts. Only the first mate was on board at the time, his was the only registered death.”

         “I suspected sabotage. As the Deputy Harbour Master, I had the wreckage examined. I got copies of the raw inspection scans. There was no sign of foul play, other than the first mate’s own particular handy work. We had one other member of the crew who wasn’t on board at the time of the drive failure and hadn’t reported for duty at the time operation was due to start. I couldn’t rule out Scarab or our missing man. The corporate security guys had him. Scarab and I arrived at the target at the same time. After a few moments of miss trust, we agreed to work together. We hit the target hard, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The man, he was our forward observation and recon operative, he was begging us to kill him. Scarab obliged.”

         “Tell us more about Scarab, please.” Hamish asked.

         “He’s charismatic. Scarab always has a following of young men. He tells stories, mostly tall stories but exciting adventures about his exploits. My first encounter with him, ‘The Scarab’ had been hired as our local fixer. I kept mostly to myself and focused on the job. That I think frustrated Scarab, he likes to be the centre of attention. Perhaps he’s a bit of magician like that, he wants you only looking where he tells you to look. In that job we didn’t get much direct contact. I suspect he tried to test me by having one of his acolytes try to steal some of my equipment.”

         “The next time our paths crossed, it was operation Hard Deck. I’d inserted into an Oxygen Drifter, we were months out from our next drop. This wasn’t a Cartel targeted op, we were bait for a pirate. Styled himself ‘Black-beard’, vicious son of bitch. He only ever left survivors so they could tell everyone about his depravity. We reached our drop without incident, I'm telling you that was the longest four months ever. That meant though we have to find another way to draw out Black-beard.”

         “Rumour had it, Scarab was one of Black-beard’s victims. You have to understand first and foremost Scarab is a business man. He has only two loyalties, one to protecting himself and the second to the highest bidder. I made contact through an asset from the previous job, offering him revenge as a payment. He asked for ten million Draq, the local currency. In Dollars that’s about two hundred thousand dollars. He also had to be a part of the strike team.”

         “This kind of reminds me of a story that started something like… It was a cold dark night. Rain was striking the tin roof like a drum in a marching band. In walks a Dame wearing a dress that said everything. She had luscious ruby red lips and long wavy hair. Breasts straining for release from their fashionable prison and a figure that could stop a man’s heart as easily as a bullet. You know the kind of story I mean.”

         “Scarab gave me an address to meet him. It was little more than a tin box and hit by a dust storm made your ears ring. Only there was no busty woman. Black-beard had grown weary of traps. Our ploy was not the first attempt to end him. Plus, he was moving up in the world, hitting bigger targets and Cartel targets as well. Scarab knew of couple of rich kids, travelling on the vector. Just the right kind for Black-beard. He particularly liked to rape little rich girls, make their fathers feel powerless. He’d tell them, ‘What kind of monster would murder a pregnant woman’. Except of cause Black-beard was exactly that kind of monster. He’s made good money for some discrete private schools.”

         “Scarab spent a night with these two rich girls and for their troubles, he paid a local brothel to keep them quiet for a few days. We took their launch, while Scarab had made an indiscretion or two leaking the girl’s travel plans. Then all Black-beard needed to do was make an appearance. Black-beard certainly had plans on our little launch and to ransom off the girls. We stowed away expecting to be breached, instead his cruiser knocked out our engines and it docked.”

         “None the less Scarab and I stuck to the plan. Scarab, he talks too much. We let the pirates secure the launch and then we initiated our strike. As soon as they realised the launch was deserted the pirates raised the intruder alert alarm, if I’d had time, I’d have been impressed with their response times and procedures. We went in hard and hit the bridge with a concussive charge, only taking time to confirm the kill of Black-beard. Scarab neutralised the cruiser’s weapons systems from the bridge and extracted via a drop ship. My plan had been to hit the engineering compartment too and disable drive and power. Scarab’s strategy was more efficient and required less risk.”

         “Operation Solo. On the Packard Platform, we needed a Vapour Condenser for the fusion ignition system of our ship, our operation budget was blown. Scarab was by this time a known contact and he was in the region. Using my old legend, I reached out to his to source the needed part. Scarab was able to supply it immediately and on credit. Oversight gave permission to accept his credit. Operation Solo proceeded.”

         “And the Lunar research module? What was going on there?” Hamish asked.

“Now that is a mystery. I wasn’t able to learn much with the available resources at the time. Scarab wasn’t talking either. Which in hindsight I guess should have been a clue. All that I could find out was that they were doing some of cybernetic telepathy memory sharing kind of deal. The medical applications their net site talked about reconstructing memories after a trauma or recreating synthetic muscle memory like how to hold or lift a cup after an injury. The non-medical applications are much more sinister. The research module looked like it could belong to one of our sister companies but I couldn’t confirm any details.” Dougal explained at length.

         Once they got off the buses at Quanitco, there was some waiting around. “Boop!” Rena said cheerfully as she poked Tawny on the nose. Rena was much more of usual self now, now that they weren’t being shot at. Tawny was now in her mind a fully paid up member of the club that is the girls. “Hey, Tawny.” Rena began, “You’re coming with us on a girls’ night as soon as we get out of here. It’s short skirt, tube top, scandalous socks, too much make-up and your prettiest smile for the boys… Something to look forward to, okay?” she said.

         Tawny nodded, “Sure, I guess.” she said. Certain that her definition of getting out of here included being the male sort of guy she remembered again. Otherwise it was hard to think of letting Rena down. They were left to settle into their new life on base, a life was right at the beginning of forming a new definition of normal for the girls. The Marine Corps was welcoming them the only way it knew how.
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