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A Dying Peace: Chapter 10

Chalice’s lukewarm air buffeted the flyer’s side portal as the vehicle soared over the Needle City’s busiest boulevard. Some called it The Boulevard, realistically it was the aorta of the metropolis, the spine of the habitat; It was also the only decent stretch of open-air one could find within the heart of the city, akin to a landing strip plunging through a forest, a neat canyon separating the jungle of spires and super scrapers. The strip was around a hundred meters wide and spanned the entire length of the city, joining the southern end cap to the wilderness in the north. Built on its boundaries were the headquarters of Chalice’s largest businesses, the iron barons, the more formidable of the Cartels, and the famous super scraper megastores, where most of the tourists could be found indulging in the plethora of dubious services Chalice had to offer.

Kilometers above the flyer, the light sphere was sliding along its track, pumping out a midday blaze which hurt to look at. The faux daylight was reflected back up at the flyer from the dizzying array of chrome, plexiglass, polished steel, and mirrored windows that coated every surface of the cityscape, from its buildings to the streams of airborne flyers which occupied the boulevard’s airspace.

Marcus Grimshaw watched the sparkling complexity of the midday traffic flit past in the opposite direction, conduits of airborne metallic shapes of every size and colour streamed down the length of the boulevard, diverging at a variety of points to disappear into the steel and glass jungle either side of the thoroughfare. Up ahead, perhaps ten minutes away, was the Gates Tower, both his home and place of work. The headquarters of Chalice’s largest criminal enterprise, the Gates Tower housed and protected The Angels of Chalice. In Chalice the label ‘criminal’ referred to the laws of wider civilisation, in any other habitat or planet The Angels would have been shut down long ago. But not within the lenient embrace of the galaxy’s most notorious Habitat.

The one that got away. Humanity’s greatest achievement bastardised by humanity’s worst. Marcus had realised long ago that it was the fact that Chalice was still intact, still thriving, still growing, which pissed off the Human Conglomerate the most. Despite a heady brew of the galaxy’s most ruthless, unstable, and wealthy individuals and their respective organisations, the big spaceborne barrel had maintained its integrity and continued to ferment its living cargo in a reasonably productive fashion.

Marcus straightened his tie which was doing its best to flee the confines of his black suit jacket and flap about in the breeze which eddied around the spacious interior of the flyer. Like all of the Angels’ foot soldiers, Marcus’s unit operated within the standard Harrington six-seater, a flyer that did its best to look like a chunky road-bound SUV of days long past. It was big, matte-black, blocky, and largely bulletproof. It wasn’t encouraged, but Marcus liked to ride with the rear doors open, to watch the Needle City slide past below him in all its churning metallic wonder.

With one hand on the handhold above the portal, he adjusted the strap of his assault rifle and pushed the weapon behind him. In the cockpit, Duke and Gareth were talking quietly off the vox, probably about management stuff. Duke was the deputy head of General Security, the foot soldiers. He was a good man, a great leader – charming but firm and always pulling well-thought-out plans out of his arse should the situation require it.

On the other side of the rear compartment, Mr. Karn was strapped into his seat just aft of the door, the man’s shaven head was tilted to gaze out the tinted windows beside him and in his suited lap was a matte black weapons case which was their cargo for their morning run. They had just paid a visit to a one Tanir Sharkes who had organised a custom piece for one of the heavyweights on the Angels board, Marcus hadn’t seen the weapon – the case was locked – but guessed it to be some kind of antique pistol; that or something military-grade nasty which Fred wasn’t meant to know about. It had to be important, Mr. Karn was the head of the Management Security Detail – the men and women trusted with protecting the heavyweights of the Angels organisation. Mr. Karn was a quiet man, and when he wasn’t, he was a cunt. Despite outranking Duke, Mr. Karn was oddly deferential to his more charismatic subordinate – Marcus couldn’t work out why. Perhaps it had something to do with the division of labor. Management worked hard to separate themselves from the rank and file – perhaps Mr. Karn was happy to let Duke take the lead, lest he give away secrets about the powers at be upstairs.

The flyer banked to the left to join the parking lane, slotting into the slower moving stream of air traffic with ease. Marcus tapped the small lever on the door control mount and the armoured panel slid back silently and clicked into place, sealing the cabin from the outside air. Marcus bent his head to look past Duke and Gareth out the windscreen as the flyer banked again, approaching the entry portal to the Gates Tower. Up ahead the huge silver spire stood out from its neighbours, its formidable height marked it as one of the taller super scrapers in the habitat, and its chrome glass exterior made it Chalice’s largest mirror. Its vertical sides were unmarked by floor and no window frames were visible, each fifty-story section of the building was an uninterrupted expanse of perfectly polished reflective glass. At every fifty story mark, the building shrunk by ten meters or so on all sides, making the structure slowly taper as it rose towards the habitats centre axis.

The main entry portal to the building was situated two hundred meters from the floor of the Habitat, from the outside it looked like a perfectly square cave carved into a steel mountain, around twenty stories high and a hundred meters wide, the main landing bay was the buildings primary interface with the rest of the Needle City. As the Flyer slid past the uninterrupted chrome edge of the cave, the vestibule was revealed. The huge space was dominated by the open-air lobby, the marble laden foyer was about the size of a football field, with a long reception desk on the rear wall and huge stone pillars reaching to the warmly lit ceiling above, which lofted almost at the height of the portal’s entry. On each side of the space were cafes and lounge areas which were filled with well-dressed individuals talking about important things over superbly prepared pastries and expensive coffee. The Landing area resembled that of a high-class hotel, basically a flat paved strip in front of the lobby where flyers disgorged their patrons before being directed remotely into the parking areas which lined the walls of the cave-like a honeycomb of small garages.

The six-seater Harrington diverted from the landing strip and instead moved towards the periphery of the lobby where flyer sized lifts waited for returning personnel, where they could be spirited away into the heart of the tower without disembarking from their vehicles and disturbing the placid atmosphere of the lobby area with their automatic weapons and stern-looking faces. There were three open lifts ready and Duke directed their flyer to the lowest. The garage-sized lift admitted the large vehicle with a soft chime and as soon as the flyer had settled, doors slid silently to enclose the capsule. Marcus was aware of a gentle upwards movement as he opened the rear doors and stepped out into the well-lit vehicle lift. Mr. Karn stepped out behind him, holding the black case with a neutral expression. Duke and Gareth stepped down from the cockpit and slammed their doors into the silence. Gareth, the tallest of the four-man team, held his hands over his head and stretched left and right, yawning. Duke appeared behind him carrying the pair’s assault rifles and he handed one to Gareth when he finished stretching.

The lift came to a smooth stop and the personnel door opened in front of the group. Outside the employee’s elevator vestibule was quiet, most of the other teams were out. The group then moved out into the operations reception area, the huge room acted as a staging area for the Angels army of foot soldiers and other more specialised employees, it was where Marcus’s unit met every morning and it was where they received their orders for the day. Doors led off to every facility the team had access to; the armoury, numerous briefing rooms – some small, others large enough to fit a hundred employees – the clinic and hospital, and the operations offices themselves where Marcus’s bosses received their directives from above and then processed those into workable tasks for the troops. Whether it be units like Marcus’, the combat troops, the specialists, or the security teams, it was all managed from this section of the building. Marcus still found it amusing that he had no idea where in the Gates Tower the area was located; it was definitely above the lobby, he could tell from the movement of the elevator, but how far up, no one knew. No one was actually sure how fast the elevators traveled and Marcus would put it past the security boffins adjusting the speeds to further confuse the employees.

Duke led the way up to the long white desk situated on the far wall where numerous black-suited employees provided the interface to the operations centre deeper within the building. A blonde-haired male receptionist greeted Duke as their commander approached the desk.

“Good morning, Duke, and Mr. Karn’’ He smiled. The secretary motioned for the bald man to continue. “Right this way, Sir”

Mr. Karn strode past the desk like a man with a crown and entered the waiting elevator which would take him up to officer country above.

Marcus watched the man go; what a wanker.

They got hit with patrol duty straight after the drop-off and they made it back to the staging area and picked up another pair of boots on the way back to the Harrington – one Armin Jackson who seemed fairly squared away. Soon they were back out in thick of the alloy whirlwind of flyer traffic and Superscrapers. The rest of the morning passed uneventfully, a blur of patrol duty – landing, walking, pressing the flesh, being seen and then back into the Harrington, onto the next megastore.

Midday rolled around and they were back cruising the airspace, on the way to another job. Meanwhile, in the cockpit Duke was chatting quietly to the new member of the team, Amin Jackson, who had replaced Mr. Karn in the squad.

On the other side of the rear compartment, Gareth was strapped into his seat just aft of the door, the man’s sharp face was tilted to gaze out the tinted windows beside him. They had just finished a patrol of one of Chalice’s many megastores, checking on the Angels’ pharmacies housed in the building. The pharmacies, as they were called, were the Angels’ point of sale for all of the company’s narcotics, both conglomerate legal and illegal, manufactured in the Gates tower and imported from other sources. The pharmacies were the Angels’ largest retail profit base, providing the tourists and locals of Chalice with the most extensive range of drugs in the habitat, both at competitive prices and unmatched purity. Of course, you paid a premium for the service, the reliability of the supply, and the quality of the product; yet the tourists were happy to fork out for a safe bet rather than risking one of the other thousand independent suppliers. Some of the larger stores had recreation areas and clinics within the same complex, allowing customers to try their newest purchases in a safe environment. The rec area had constant supervision and a compact medical clinic to deal with adverse drug reactions, allergies, and harmful interactions between drugs, should one be taking multiple products concurrently.

The superstore they had visited had been bustling with mid-morning shoppers, yet their team hadn’t encountered any trouble. The Pharmacies, due to a large number of stores and the value of their products, were often the focus of random attacks from thieves and addicts or coordinated action from rival gangs. The number of assaults had been increasing recently prompting more frequent patrols and a boosting of each store’s own security personnel. Previously, there had been an average of two guards per store, which had risen to two and a half in the last month. Every second day a store was attacked in some way and the casualties were becoming large enough to make a security posting at a pharmacy one the riskiest jobs in the Angels company, only the specialist units had a higher casualty rate.

The Harrington was soaring over the boulevard when Duke’s voice appeared in Marcus’ earpiece

“Just received a callout, boys. Looks like one of the pharmacies in Venus just got hit, we are the closest unit to respond.”

The voice disappeared as the Harrington banked down to the left, exiting the loftier, high-speed lane and into one of the lower exit lanes, Marcus had to hold onto the rail above his head to stop himself crashing into Gareth’s lap.

Up ahead, the Venus Superstore peeked from behind its neighbouring superscraper, a huge metal and glass monolith with vague green tint. As the flyer approached, one of many parking bays was revealed, the portals were a hive of activity; the entrances were expansive gaping holes in the buildings flank where vehicles of all sizes swarmed in and out of like robotic insects into a steel and glass nest.

Duke’s voice appeared on the vox again, his tone was much more serious this time “It’s bad, team. Really bad.” He paused “keep your stomachs tight” and to the new team member “Sorry you have to see this so early”.

Marcus readied his assault rifle.

____________________

The corridor which led to the Pharmacy was deserted, shops and service stores had been abandoned and the shop keepers had left their wares lonely and vulnerable in exchange for safety. Their team moved down the wide space with caution, all four of them had their Xenack M20’s raised to eye level, scanning the approach for the assailants. Marcus kept one eye peering down the holographic sight of his rifle as he and Duke led the team forward. Armin was just behind the pair and Gareth had the rear.

Evidence of a gun battle became obvious as they approached the Pharmacy which was positioned on a corner of the corridor as it made a left-hand turn. There were a plethora of spent casings littering the white marble floor and gun smoke made the air acrid to the nose and left a slight haze near the ceiling.

They found the first body just outside the entrance to the store; it was the corpse of the first security guard. The woman’s black suit was shredded in multiple places and blood had seeped out to stain her white shirt dark crimson. In fact, not a patch of white material remained on the guard’s body and the woman’s face was an unrecognizable mask of matted hair and clotted blood.

Casings were distributed randomly around the body and numerous bullet holes cratered the white stone wall behind her corpse. By the size of the casings and the shape of the impact craters, Marcus guessed the attackers had similar calibre assault rifles to their own Xenack’s..

The team moved cautiously up to the entrance to the store, the automatic sliding doors had been shattered and broken, leaving glass to crunch under their black leather shoes. Inside, the front of store looked like any other drug store, shelves upon shelves of every pharmaceutical you could imagine. Curiously though, there didn’t seem to be any evidence of theft so far, the shelves had been left untouched.

Duke murmured over the vox commanding Gareth and Armin to watch the door and the two men stopped at the broken entrance moments later, pointing their Xenack’s down the deserted corridor.

The next guard they found half-buried under a fully stacked shelve, blood was splattered over the white floor around the corpse and a small network of tributaries was spreading slowly from a mutilated arm which was just visible poking out from under a pile of pill bottles.

Duke moved deeper into the store, scanning the left flank while Marcus covered the right. As soon as the team had entered the store, Duke’s cortical web had been linked into the store’s security system, giving him access to the pressure sensors and motion detectors distributed throughout floors and walls. If there had been anyone alive and moving in the store, the pair would have performed a full sweep, however, with no hostiles around, their first directive was to ascertain the reason for the attack and confirm casualties. Thermal output and visuals had located the chief pharmacist in one of the storage areas behind the counter and Duke voxed Marcus to locate the body while he checked the store’s accounts hardware for signs of electronic theft.

Marcus rounded the large counter and moved into the employee’s only area. The storage room with the body was the last he checked, right at the end of the service corridor. When Marcus rounded the corner and moved into the room the Xenack dropped to his side and he took a step back involuntarily.

Some reactions were so primal, so deep-seated and tightly wired that trying to override them was something that could only be achieved by burning away the connections over a lifetime. What Marcus saw flickered down his optic nerves, fluctuated around his visual cortex before hammering into his amygdala and limbic system so hard one of those uncontrollable reactions flickered into life and surged its way through to all the necessary hardware. Marcus stumbled back and choked on the saliva in his mouth.

Marcus had never seen a mutilated body before.

He had been in a few gunfights, seen people get shot, and had treated the resultant dribbling holes the lead made in flesh. He’d watched one man die, that was a curious thing that had stayed with him for a long time. He’d found the experience awkward and uncomfortable, only after the event had the sadness crept inside to weigh him down. As life had bled away from his comrade, like heat from a warm meal, it was Marcus’s humiliating inability to help the man which had coloured those last moments.

However, staring at the body in front of him, Marcus recognised that this was something he would be stuck with forever. There was no awkwardness or sense of inadequacy staring at the pharmacist’s body, just revulsion, and horror, emotions which were attached to the image in his mind with rusty nails.

The arms had been cut off and placed beside the corpse, and these chunks of flesh were now oversized ships grounded in their own dark red ponds. The neck was only half the width it should have been, Marcus guessed that the rest of the flesh had been used to create the bloody mosaic on the rear wall of the small room.

The man’s face had been left untouched, but it was what was on the man’s head which was what Marcus’s horrified stare fixated on. A crude crown had been twisted out of dull steel wire and wrapped around the man’s forehead.

It didn’t end there.

An energy weapon had been used to burn a set of wings into the mans exposed chest in deep blackened trenches. The associated smell was boiling up into Marcus’s nostrils in slow waves.

Marcus realised this wasn’t just an attack on the Angels – this was a message to someone much higher up in the chain of command, and it was highly likely that this very image was surging up Gates Tower faster than the building’s elevators. Marcus looked up and found a small pinhead camera in the corner of the room and stared at it for a while, imagining his face on every holoscreen in Gates Tower as the horrifying image was relayed to hundreds of important people throughout the organisation.

Marcus was confident this would be setting numerous events in motion. This kind of shit just didn’t happen in Chalice.

For one, Fred industriously removed the psychopaths from Chalice often before they were able to indulge their sinister desires. Secondly, even if those psychopaths managed to avoid detection, they were never organised into a team that could raid an Angels’ pharmacy, kill the two well-trained guards and have time to create this gruesome sculpture out of the pharmacist. The speed of the attack, the weapons they had used, and the proficiency of those using them, implied training and intent. Psychopaths abducted vulnerable people and tortured them in private, and then they were disposed of by Fred. They didn’t go out of their way to attack an institution and leave a cryptic message for its management.

So a rival gang then?

But again, torture and mutilation were against the rules. Doing this kind of crap was what attracted the baleful gaze of Fred, the stuff that made the higher-ups disappear. Shootings, ambushes, raids, abductions, were all tolerated. But terror crimes were pushing the boundaries; none of the Angel’s rivals would order this. So therefore it had to be someone new to Chalice, and importantly, someone with reason to provoke Chalice’s most powerful gang.

Duke was pinging his vox, asking for confirmation of the casualty. Marcus backed out of the room as he pinged his response. He moved into the corridor with the image of the corpse sticking to his mind’s eye like mosaic made of grains of sand, every time he blinked it was there, scratching the surface of his brain.

When he found Duke standing next to the counter, the man noticed the damage straight away.

“Bad huh?”

Marcus stared blankly back at his commander and blinked. “Yeah”. He grimaced.

Duke nodded slowly, staring back at his comrade, probably thinking it should have been him who found the corpse. Marcus just shook his head slowly and checked his Xenack, desperate to break eye contact with the other man. When he looked up again Duke was staring off into the distance with a blank expression, then his brow furrowed and he looked back at Marcus

“Apparently Fred located the assailants for us, another unit has engaged them in the twenty-third floor atrium”.

__________________

It took them five minutes to reach the firefight. On the way, they passed fleeing shoppers who dodged their group with wide eyes and the frantic, jerking movements of animals in flight. They hadn’t seen any civilian casualties so far, which made Marcus even more certain that these were pros, not lunatics.

Bright-lit shops and escalators blurred past as the four suited men homed in on the fight, they crossed spacious food courts and slid on the marble floors as they sprinted down long corridors.

Soon gunfire echoed around the emptying superstore like thunder in a temple. The staccato bangs of automatic weapons reverberated around the stone interior, sending the slower civilians into fits of screaming hysterics or uncontrollable sobbing. The team surged through the thinning crowds in a diamond shape, cutting through the flow of people with ease. Black suited men with assault rifles were easy to avoid.

The four men rushed down the final escalator as the shooting reached a crescendo of ear-piecing intensity and rounded a corner at the base of the landing.

Two men in civilian clothes were firing over the balcony onto the atrium below with bursts of automatic gunfire, Marcus and Duke acknowledged the pair as targets and sighted down their Xenack’s.

Marcus held the red dot on the left man’s back for half a second and then squeezed the trigger. The Xenack’s compact barrel erupted with a triple report as Marcus loosed a three-round burst, stitching a line of three shots between the man’s shoulders. His target arched his back as he slammed into the railing in front of himself, before trying to turn around to return fire. The sight hovered just above the man’s collarbone before the weapon barked again with another burst.

With no armour covering his neck and face, blood spat into the air as the rounds found their target. To Marcus’s left, Duke was pummelling the crumbling form of the second shooter who was pinned up against the railing by his constant fire. Even with light body armour, fifteen rounds were enough to start breaking bones and lacerating organs. One final burst then split the hostile’s head like rotten fruit, sending blood cascading onto the white marble.

As they approached the balcony, shouting echoed into the expanding space as the terrorists realised they were being attacked from the rear. Marcus moved to the right wall of the corridor to check the corner while Duke did the same on the opposite side, behind the pair, Gareth was covering the rear while Armin moved to support Duke.

Marcus pointed his Xenack to the floor and peeked out from behind marble wall, risking a glance towards the atrium stairway. He started yelling while pulling his head back, but the sound was quickly drowned out by the approaching ordinance. White flashes assaulted Marcus’s vision and the associated crashes near but eliminated his hearing. The wall just in front of Duke and Armin shattered in explosions of disintegrating marble and glowing red slag, the pair had hit the ground after the first impact and were scrambling away from the barrage, covering their faces as superheated stone chips sprayed the area.

Marcus backed away from his corner as plasma-bonded rounds chewed into the marble in front of him as well, even three meters away, the heat from the plasma was intense on his face. The clip ran dry and silence revealed echoes racing away down the hall behind the group, bouncing out into the empty shopping centre and fading in distant crashes.

-Duke, you all good?

-Yeah, but our boys below are fucked. Fred says they’re all wasted.

Their commander got to his feet, checking himself for holes before doing the same to Armin, the new guy looked shaky, but professionally determined.

“The fuckers are going for a flyer in the landing area.” Duke snarled

“You bringing the Harrington round?”

“Yeah”. Duker replied as he reloaded his Xenack.

“What about that plasma fixture?” Marcus asked

“Fuck it, we’re nailing these guys. Gareth, you’re upfront with us, Armin has our six”.

Duke pointed towards Marcus’s corner and raised his rifle, Marcus got his gun up and rounded the corner, trusting his commander that the enemy had moved on.

They found the stairs and the atrium empty, the bodies of their four Angels comrades were distributed around a small cafe on the left-hand side, some had limbs missing and were severely burnt, others were full of ragged holes and now lying in glistening pools of their own blood.

A huge archway led from the atrium out to a small park and executive flyer landing area, as they stepped out into the midday sunshine, shots were crackling away in the distance, coming from the left-hand side where Marcus could see a group of flyers hastily rising into the air like startled birds. They crossed the small open-air park, slipping slightly on the freshly watered grass as they passed under small trees and dodged around the waist-high shrubs.

As they approached the steps up to the landing platform, automatic fire began hammering away somewhere ahead, and in response, more flyers rose quickly, one shuddering as tracers embedded themselves in the light-weight steel of its emerald hull. Marcus bounded up the steps, with Gareth and Duke close behind, and found the platform in disarray, screaming passengers struggled into their flyers, some dragging bloodied companions with them. Marcus spotted a group of armed men on the far side of the platform, one was reloading a light machine gun as he ran behind the rest of the group. They had started targeting civilians, they were getting spooked.

Marcus pummelled the light machine gunner, sending him crashing to the ground in a tangle of limbs.

-They have two flyers. We’re going for the orange one. Fred’s tracking them both.

Two more flyers rose quickly on antigrav assisted retros, one was blocky and orange, the other sleek and green. The vehicles split and headed in opposite directions.

The team scrambled up the steps as the black Harrington swept around the side of the building and flared its retros in a braking descent, the autopilot was bringing it in as quickly as it could manage. The sturdy machine touched down just as Marcus reached the rear door. He wrenched it open and piled in, Armin was close behind. Duke and Gareth entered the front seats just as quickly. Duke jumped into the driver’s position, with his hands still on his Xenack, using his cortical web to direct the flyers computer which could fly the vehicle better than any human could.

As soon as they were airborne, the Harrington shot off away from the Boulevard, following the orange flyer which was already streaking between the Superscrapers at dangerous speeds, weaving between traffic streams and dodging parking vehicles. Marcus struggled to stay in his seat as the Harrington gunned the engine, also traveling outside of the traffic lanes.

-Marcus, the centre compartment.

Duke was pointing to the equipment hold which had risen out of the floor, one of the racks silently rotated and presented Marcus with a large black weapon.

-Are you fucking mad? Fred will make me disappear.

-The big man suggested it, now fucking grab that Sharde Rifle.

Marcus lurched in his seat as the Harrington pulled g’s weaving past parking vehicles, the screen in front of his seat showed they were gaining on the orange flyer which was likely being piloted manually.

Marcus reached towards the weapons rack and grasped the large black rifle with both hands, lifting it from its storage slot. The weapon was probably fifteen kilos and Marcus almost dropped the enormous thing as the flyer continued its celeritus pursuit. Its long plasteel frame was difficult to manoeuvre within the confines of the passenger compartment, the barrel itself was almost half a meter long and ribbed with compact heat sinks and god knows what else. Marcus found the safety and switched it off. That activated the small panel just below the holographic sights. It wasn’t even loaded.

-You ready Marcus?

-No! Fuck! I need ammo.

Marcus tilted back towards the equipment rack, grabbing a blocky magazine that felt about as heavy as a plasteel brick. Meanwhile, the huge rifle was smacking into his collar bone as the Harrington swerved every three seconds. Marcus jammed the magazine into the receiver and the small panel lit up, indicating he had four shots. The weapon began vibrating ever so slightly in his grip as the servos whined softly and the first shard round was loaded and activated.

-Marcus, you better be ready

The inside of the Harrington shuddered and rhythmic hammering on the hull plating signaled they were under fire. Marcus ducked away from his window as the barrage began jackhammering the door beside him.

-How the fuck am I going to fire this thing?

The crystal polymer window cracked under another broadside from the flyer beside them,

Marcus had little doubt the reinforced glass would hold, as long as they didn’t have any more plasma fixtures. 

-Marcus, you going to have to retract the window to fire-

-Your fucking kidding me right?

-I’m going to put some distance between us first.

The Harrington swerved to the side and the Sharde rifle almost went flying. On the other side of the rear compartment, Armin was holding onto the armrests of his seat with clenched fists and his face was taut with anxiety. In the front Gareth was speaking into the Harrington’s coms unit, no doubt liaising with the Tower. On the other side, Duke’s face was blank with concentration as he watched the movement of the other vehicle which was still doing its best to get them all killed as it survived near misses with parking flyers and the local architecture.

-I’m retracting the window Marcus.

-Fuck, alright.

Despite being worse for wear, the window slid away quickly and silently, letting the warm Chalice air billow into the cabin, along with the menacing bark of an automatic weapon. Marcus leant away from the window and wrestled the heavy Sharde rifle up to the rim of the portal, resting the barrel on the blocky frame of the door.

He pressed his cheek against the Sharde rifle’s cool steel frame and peered down the holographic sight. With the slight magnification, he quickly found the orange flyer dancing through the busy airspace. The weapon was giving him range and all sorts of other data but he ignored that and focused on holding tiny red targeting cross on the constantly moving vehicle.

-Try and disable the vehicle, Fred wants at least one of them alive.

-Fuck’s sake. Ok.

Marcus shifted his aim from the driver’s compartment to the front hull section of the flyer and began to slowly squeeze the trigger.

The weapon thumped and bucked in his grip, sending a large projectile with a purple tracer across the void between the two vehicles. The shot just clipped the rear of the flyer and there was a modest flash of superheated plasteel, yet the damage was minimal and the flyer quickly corrected its flight. God knows where the stray shard round landed, Marcus hoped he hadn’t killed anyone.

-Fire again Marcus.

He quickly sighted again but the orange flyer swept towards them as a weapon was shoved out the side window. The automatic machine gun began hammering away when the two flyers were about twenty meters apart and Marcus ducked as rounds began lodging themselves into the side of the Harrington. Duke was swearing over the vox as he tried to create distance between the two vehicles.

Gareth came over the vox for the first time with his distinctive bluntness.

-Marcus, put that cunt down.

Marcus was busy flattening himself against his seat as the orange flyer swept towards them again, dodging another smaller vehicle as it banked closer. The gunner opened up at the closer range and suddenly tracers were flying through the open window of the Harrington and embedding themselves in the interior composite.

-Fucking move Duke!

The Harrington swept left, narrowly avoiding another flyer and the shots drifted over the external hull, ringing the reinforced hull plating with staccato metallic tattoo.

Marcus glanced to the left and found Armin slumped in his seat with what remained of his head spilling a gruesome concoction of vital fluids over his suited legs. Blood and brain matter had turned the whole left-hand interior of the passenger compartment into a grotesque mural whose ghastly paint had begun to slide slowly downward as Marcus watched.

-Armin’s dead, Duke.

The commander glanced into the rear compartment and swore.

-Fuck this, Duke, tell Fred to deal with these kooks.

Gareth wasn’t too happy about the prospect.

-Shutthefuckup and shoot them. Or give me the Sharde Rifle and get the fuck out of this flyer.

-Take them out, Marcus, who gives a fuck if you waste the whole lot of them, there’s always the other flyer.

Marcus grunted in approval and tentatively sighted down the Sharde rifle again, angling himself into harm’s way. The orange flyer’s rear end was still smoldering from the first shot and suddenly Marcus had a burning desire to see what would happen if he scored a direct hit on the passenger compartment. He sighted the mid-section of the flyer, just below the portal wear the gunner had been firing from.

Marcus depressed the trigger and the weapon’s kick hit his shoulder as another projectile erupted from the rifle with a violent crack and a purple spray of super-heated ions. The shot crossed the gap almost instantaneously and hit the flyer exactly where Marcus had aimed. There was an incandescent flash accompanied by a deafening metallic boom as the flyer was struck. Almost at the same moment, pieces of plasteel and gasses erupted from the other side of the flyer, spat out from the interior with tremendous velocity which carried them some distance before they rained downwards in a smoking cascade of fiery debris. The flash disappeared and revealed a glowing hole within the side of the hull approximately half a meter in diameter and black smoke began bleeding from the opposite side. Just to top it off, a truncated blackened corpse toppled out of the perforated hull and began tumbling downward in the fashion of a discarded ragdoll.

The flyer was wobbling now as the flight computer struggled in vain to handle the abrupt change to its aerodynamic profile, yet the pilot managed to keep it in the air with shuddering and graceless manoeuvres.

-I hope they are all fucking dead.

-Hit the engine Marcus.

Marcus fired again, this time targeting the front of the vehicle. A similar flash and bang left a huge rent in the significantly denser engine block. This time, smoke and flames began spewing from the black wound and the flyer began losing altitude as the antigrav plates lost power.

-Good shooting Marcus.

Marcus felt amped as he watched the faltering vehicle drift downward with its ineffectual struggle with gravity; his mind couldn’t help but conjure up images of what the inside of the passenger compartment would look like. Black with carbonised materials and torn open on either side, with fragments of the shard munitions embedded in the shredded interior composite and the remains of at least two humans plastered or burnt onto the walls. He glanced over at Armin and had to hold his stomach down as it lurched with revulsion, Marcus could clearly see the shattered border of the man’s skull with the skin and hair clinging to the bloodied edges.

-The Tower has a recovery team en route, we are going for the other flyer.

Marcus tore his eyes away from the corpse.

-Fuck. I have to reload.

-Hope you can get more range out of that thing. If they hit us with the plasma fixture we might end up like those poor fuckers.

-I’ll do my best.

Marcus leant over, leaving the heavy Sharde Rifle resting on the window frame to grab another cartridge from the weapon rack. The flyer banked and began weaving through a pair of superscrapers, leaving its dying prey to fall to the ground like a wounded bird, shedding feathers with every meter of altitude.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Adventure, Fiction, Sci Fi

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