Mars has it’s own unique sights at first light. The rusty flavor of red illuminates everything and sunlight that hits Mars has very little to do other than soak or reflect off the mostly shadowless face of the plain looking planet. The giant silver spires that reached to the skies from the different cities and the skyhook dot the surface along with the occasional breaks, canyons, mesas, and raging dust clouds.
With the surface of the planet widening a sole city pinned in the center grows larger. The five mega-domes that make up the body of the city draws closer. All the way down through one of the shabbier domes, through a pin hole of a crack that hisses at passing, and down into a dusty neighborhood through a window into the room of one Nicholas Cord.
Nicholas Cord was a broken man. A throw back to society completely stripped of all sense of personhood – once a proud father, a successful husband, long ago when Mars was still a developing colonist way station; when the Ranger job mattered and payed the bills. There was a time before the Fall when shiny buttons and the fresh holster of a weapon meant something. About the time Cord lost it all when the TITANs shocked the planet. He could see his family waving to him in the back of his mind with smiles plastered to their faces – well, what was left of them after he’d psycho-surgeoned all of the painful memories away. During better times when he cared about combing his hair; about shaving his face.
Tonto, Cord’s muse, woke him at the appropriate hour that he was adjusted too. The breakfast blueprints randomized at the wall-fabber from across the room as the window wall to his right opened to reveal the dawn of the Sun. With the light pouring into the room his eyes opened to the never ending stream of data that was the Mesh.
Trumpets and horns of an old western film signaled a victory through his entoptic info-box registering 5127 old stale notes, 47 currently rotating dialogues, and 1 fresh new message. Remaining in bed scratching at his unclean body reading through some of the circulated messages until reaching the bottom, to new message number 1 Nicholas groaned through the dark. The new mail looked so official as to be gold-wrapped through the VR tag attached to it through his endo. He reached out through the mesh to pick it up. Upon pulling it into view the envelope rendered invisible as the note self opened to a dense message. A new ego to hunt.
Tonto cross referenced information and began firing boxes loaded with info at Cord’s face. The memes included very important information including parties that referenced the original bounty and who that bounty had circulated through since posting. The tags went back for almost two years.
The Blonksy-ee Brothers Kemosabe. They get word from above. A new person we must find.
“This thing has prints all over it. Nobodies caught this guy?”
Bounty dropped from above by Tharsis Terraforming Office. They say this man. He is no good. He is crooked. He is a thief. Steals data and then dispenses it amongst anarchist networks. This man his bounty is posted by the TTO as twenty thousand creds.
“Sounds fresh. Got any leads?”
Mesh is broken around this man Kemosabe. He is a good cleaner, at covering his tracks. This will be hard to follow, but I will see in to it. Researching.
“Let me know,” as the fabber along the wall dinged ready. Cord could see the slop pile from across the room – it’s steamy scent traveling through the air to his nostrils. With mouth salivating he dressed himself rewarding inertia with food. Traveling down to the garage level where bike stayed he took off through the tall parking garage into the over-crowded streets of Valles-New Shanghai’s “Little Shanghai”.
The streets were dense from newly sitting souks that weren’t there just an hour ago. Random stops along the path were walled off by sitting eateries, hole in the wall artisans, and desperate gypsies hoping to turn a profit. The mechanical hum of robotics that made up the clanking masses was like a crowded room. The sound traveled everywhere through the streets and smells dabbled along the air from every open pot, shabby alley, and hollow souk. Traveling down the road dodging through traffic and clankers Tonto opened up a channel into Cage’s mesh endoptics.
Kemosabe! I have stumbled across a TTO open source about the terminal problems in New Shanghai being hacked all the time. There is an open source issue about patching in progress to route the data trails through more walls, but for now there are weak spots in the system. I see there in this network of information, many places that go unseen. This hacker who is taking from them he is able to program self-corrupting data. This is why no one can ever track him. But Kemosabe! I have found a public interface terminal where there is currently a hack in progress! No alerts signaled because the system was never tripped! This man, his ID reads Ju Nu Pai, and he is in the downtown center of New Shanghai’s corporate district right now.
“Good job Tonto. Start trying to run camera feeds in the area to see if we can track him that way. I want to know whats up.”
I see this man he is very smart. Most security sensors in the area have been re-programmed with a self-scrubbing system already. He will no longer exist in a few minutes as he is deleting all evidence of him being there! We must ride hard to catch him!
“On it,” as the accelerator to the engine hummed into a higher frequency and Cord’s bike chugged off into New Shanghai’s professional looking soiree of buildings. The towers that occupied the area blocked all sight after moving into them. The vague shapes of people and vehicles blurred by as Cord made his way via mesh-mapping. The revving of the bike’s engine geared down to a cooler locomotion with the pass down Zhongshan Road into corporate HQ districts.
Passing through the corporate area was different from Little Shanghai and it’s clanker populace. The diversity of biomorphs wandering through it could be anyone from anywhere. Cord drove by several buildings with a full army entourage guarding the front doors. Through the mesh feed all sorts of confessor, weird and corporate auto-boxes popped out of peoples chests, through guardian robots eye’s, even out of some of the windows that ran the great lengths of the buildings – their information vague or expressive, even cautionary. The center city of New Shanghai was wealthy and didn’t mind showing it with toppling greenery and life-signs. Knowing the layout by a grid in his HUD Cord parked to hoof it the rest of the way there.
At the Tharsis Terraforming Office’s building was where the public terminal was marked on the mesh-map. This particular public terminal was designed for privacy and so most work done on the mesh had zero records to show for it. Wandering straight up to it Cord found the terminal empty – he stared about accessing public sensory data only to find most information that he was sifting through to simply disappear at his fingertips.
Scouting the area Cord found a small cafe catty-corner to his location. Jumping into the cafe security system, Tonto right behind in his indian garb and a stone knife at hand, was a small matter. Accessing the simple security features of the system they punched through to the security feeds and found a camera optimized to look straight out the front door across the street where the terminal was facing the cafe. In the few brief moments he had to sift through data Cord snapped a picture of the lone man IDed as Ju Nu Pai.
Cord stared at the data feed to see his target through a brief moment at the terminal. When the man turned to walk away his face was washed in white with the detail fragmenting, the software cooked up the facial blueprint of what was left barely recognizing the geography of a face before the information self-annihilated. The hacker had donned a Sylph sleeve to blend in with his surroundings. Ju Nu Pai had taken a left after he’d finished his work at the terminal. Soon the data faded from the server and was gone.
Cord brought the software recognition blueprint of Pai onto his HUD and began to walk in the direction his bounty had left in. He crossed many people and with the help of Tonto multi-tasking in identifying other transhumans in the area. None of them matched the facial pattern of his target.
Moving down the road past many a corporate building the assortments of people and places began to shift. The sleeves started getting less and less corporate to more and more Martian. The walk took Cord down a particular street, where with the help of his optics and Tonto he marked a face that matched Ju Nu Pai. Keeping the pace was difficult with the population on the street as thick as it was.
Ju Nu Pai meandered into the slummier parts of the New Shanghai where souks formed and clankers dwelled. The Sylph moved gracefully between the alleys all the way to a ripper doc deep in the souk network. The front door was guarded by a couple of heavy looking biomorphs. Nicholas stopped outside to weigh his options; He took his chances and attempted to get in.
“Excuse me?” Nicholas asked the door guards, “I need a doctor. I want to have something implanted. Right now.”
“Theres a list, unless you can afford to pay more.”
“I got some cred but I can’t wait.”
“Then let me see if the doc can pass some patients up.”
The talking guard turned to walk inside. From the doorway Cord could see the interior for a brief moment. Pai was standing in the middle of the room in conversation with what he could only assume was the doc who ran this little outfit. It took a few moments for the guard to return asking for payment before entry. Cord payed the fee and entered, only to find at this point his target’s conversation was at an end. The sylph handed the doc some sort of parcel. Pai moved for the exit right past Nicholas with no eye contact as he moved towards the door.
The doctor approached his newest patient and was about to start up a whole diagnostics procedure when Nicholas threw out, “Here’s the deal. I really need a biomod, but I forgot I have something very important back at my vehicle. I’ll be back.”
And with that Cord left the bewildered ripper doc’s office in hot pursuit of his bounty. He didn’t have to go far to find that the Sylph was still moseying down the street. Tonto registered some interesting information as they parted the crowds and made after Ju Nu Pai. There were three members of a Martian Hypercorp Ego Hunter crew dubbed “The Red Men” standing some ways down the street, proudly displaying their IDs on top of their heads like cops. They all seemed to have their eyes locked on none other than Ju Nu Pai, who remained naive of their presence.
When Pai turned a corner to take an alley Cord jumped into action and split from his spot down a souk to cut off the bounty on the other side. The Red Men followed the Sylph down the alleyway, and when Cord arrived on the other side he watched Ju Nu Pai cross the street to a motorbike and climb aboard. Without hesitation Nicholas drew his auto-pistol and jumped the back of the bike whilst holding the driver hostage.
“Wha?” was all Ju voiced when the Red Men at the mouth of the alleyway pulled their weapons on them. Tonto registered three hostiles within range of damage. A red outline was drawn around each of the Ego Hunters and they stood out amongst the souk clanker populace like sore thumbs. Cord whipped his gun arm around to let off a fury of rounds, his face framed in rock-n-roll rage.
In a brief moment with the start of a few gunshots the immediate vicinity turned to chaos. People were screaming, loud noises were booming, and gunshots wailed through the Martian air. The bike sped off down the street away from the insanity with a few stray bullets popping off the side of the bike, barely missing some very vital limbs.
At the border to New Shanghai’s walls they flew through the checkpoint and the bike churned Martian dust into the open air beyond the city walls. In flight Nicholas remembered seeing the Red Men tactically disperse from the scene. The open Martian desert was their destination – he kept his weapon to Ju’s ribcage.
Nicholas strained to look back to see a dust trail kicking up right outside the New Shanghai dome. Their pace would not be able to match the other ego hunters. Nicholas called in to the bounty broadcast network inside Valles-New Shanghai to register his score.
“Come in broadcast network. I am claiming a prize for the Tharsis Terraforming Office, come in, this is Nicholas Cord. I have bounty register number X-567AU9 New Shanghai office. I will be bringing him in myself, do you copy?”
“Be advised Nicholas Cord we have you on record as the captor for bounty X-567AU9.”
“Wait!” cried Ju, “I know things! Things you couldn’t possibly imagine!”
Suddenly the whiz of bullets fizzled past their ears as a pair of the Ego Hunters breached a small cliff and came down behind them. Cord jerked back to hammer one of the bikes, emptying the rest of his clip. Ju steered forward with fear in his lungs – the sound of gunfire and reloading so near.
As they sped out of a small canyon Nicholas managed to cock around and pop some vital mechanism on the second man’s bike causing it to explode. The man crashed into the floor nearby. Driving from the scene Nicholas watched over the horizon to see a flying car hover into sight to aid the fallen man.
With a sigh of relief Nicholas faced forward only to find Tonto and his AR screen registering extreme danger and death threat warnings from collision and terrain disruption. Which was overlapped by local news feeds of something falling from the sky as reported by immediate emergency broadcasts pouring out of Valles-New Shanghai’s primary facility alert station network. His entoptic display became overloaded with impending death and he was momentarily fixed on how he could possibly be in any imminent danger. The Sylph in front of him began screaming.
Keeping his cool he wiped his screen to see beyond to a humongous ship falling out of the sky right about where he was driving to. He immediately kicked the bike to the ground and clutched his twenty-thousand credit reward as the the ship came crashing down a mile or so away in front of them. They skidded a few feet and stopped to the feeling of a shockwave of dirt jumping up around them, the concussion literally popping rocks into smaller pieces.
The shake of the boom was Mars-shattering. The thunder-clap of the bass rocked the deepest echoes of the most wrong turn alleys of the mind. There may have been other-worldly sights involved.
Martian dust. It hangs like curtains on the air. This was an act on a much larger scale here, but the effect was the same. Dust hanging dust-walls for miles and miles. When Cord sat up through the grainy balled clods and streams of red dirt that crumbled off him he took a second to adjust to the new ambiance of things.
Luckily Cord’s Alpiner was built to deal with this sort of environment, but the Sylph might start having respiratory issues. He pulled Ju Nu Pai out of the dirt and got the Sylph on it’s feet dusting him off. Ju Nu Pai slowly opened his eyes to look around – scared shitless.
Clearing his throat Nicholas said, “Alright, hands behind your back. I can’t have any accidents at this point. Your too valuable.”
“Please,” Ju begged, “Don’t turn me in to the authorities!”
“Move it kid,” with a push.
The trudge through jumped soil was strenuous. Every few feet the Sylph would trip up under his own weight as he tried to acclimate to the new flooring. Nicholas kept an eye about but otherwise steered the bounty towards the downed ship.
After the short trek they were in front of a giant broken spacecraft – and not exactly the whole of it. Whatever part it had been connected to was missing, but they were greeted by a large chunk of hull and lots of engine with the tail end up in the sand. They approached the nearest porthole. Cord went on over-watch while Tonto engaged mesh overrides. After the electronic override failed Nicholas continued to rip a panel off the wall and wired the door open.
They stepped inside to a hallway where the heat and stress made them sweat. Wandering through the small maze of corridors they encountered no one. Until they reached a room that had a single person inside, a man that was just finishing his own procedure – so that he could evacuate as soon as possible.
Just beyond where they were Jack Honzo wasted little time after the crash in pulling the corpse to the floor and cutting it out of it’s suit. He brandished a knife to use for the surgery. Feeling at the base of the spine where the stack was located he dug in deep and hard to pop the bulb from it’s socket – a spray of blood inked his chest and he was done. He could hear the sudden footsteps of people. Maybe someone had survived like he did? He threw the corpse away into the dark.
Across the room a door slid open. Jack pulled his handgun and watched for a moment. The shuffling of feet on the other side told him it was two people.
“Hello,” came the voice of a stranger as a head peered into the room with it’s own gun, “I’m a Hunter with an arrestee. I was transporting him back to the city till your ship dropped right on top of us. Mind if I enter? I have him in cuffs.”
As Honzo lowered his gun, “Sure. That’s fine. Where exactly on Mars are we?”
“A good few miles outside Valles-New Shangai,” Nicholas spoke up, “I have no way of moving any faster, but a group of hypercocked ego hunters are trying to get to this guy and I can’t let them do that.”
“Must be a nice price-tag on your ear,” Honzo shifted to telling Ju.
“Please,” pleaded the Sylph, “I can pay you much more than any bounty on me is worth. If you help me I will share profits with you and you can go on without turning me in! What is wrong with you!”
“What knowledge could you possibly have that I want?” asked Cord.
“I won’t say too much. An AGI somewhere nearby Mars. He’s managed to materialize his own base. It’s main intention is AGI research and development. It wants to make a new AGI to compete with itself, but that possibly could lead to another event! I will say no more on this matter.”
“Hmm,” Nicholas pondered.
“That sounds quite interesting,” interjected Jack, “and actually I’d say that sounds like it’d be worth way more than twenty-thou. I just crashed here and I haven’t been to Mars before and I’m not really sure what to expect. So I’m down to get the hell out before something happens that I don’t want to be around for. Something like…”
“Something like what?” asked Ju.
“Damn,” spat Nicholas, “I’m getting readings from radar that the ship is being surrounded. Probably scavengers. My muse and I will try talking to them.”
Nicholas stood still for a moment. Jack and Ju watched around the room. Their own AR overlays customized for different things in their subjective vision. Ju looked about for food and water tags as Jack passed through tech information about what was left of the ship. Some electronics such as doors were still activating and from the emergency readout of all the blowouts that did bring the ship down her engines seemed to be in working order.
“Theres three groups outside,” Nicholas said coming out of a trance, “They’re all Barsoomian. One group is claiming residence already, and the other two say they just want scavenging rights. Also I think an AV just landed on top because Im getting another reading of something larger almost directly above us. We’d better find a way out before they get in,” Cord kept on, “Also I thought I saw something blip off my radar a second ago, but hmm.”
“An AV landed?” asked Jack.
“I assume as much. I saw an AV come to assist one of those guys.”
“Why don’t we steal their ride?”
“You up to it?”
“Lets head to the ladders.”
“Sounds good, but wait. I’m getting readings from all over. There are four individuals that just arrived on our deck in that direction,” as Nicholas pointed to a wall on one side of the room.
“That would be the ladder I’d use.”
“They’re splitting up. Two are coming straight for us, get ready!”
The three split into three spots in the room. Ju simply hid in trash. Jack took to the shadows and became the darkness with his active camo. Nicholas held in the center behind a crate in the middle of the room, ready to spring a trap.
The two ego hunters who entered didn’t have a chance. The door opened to no sound and an empty room. Then Cord was upon them, spraying a full auto-mag into their chests and felling the two of them. Their deaths weren’t guaranteed, but the scavengers would pick them clean. Nicholas focused back onto his radar, but the only movement on their level was still registering from the three of them. Wait.
“It appears the other two are gone.”
“What?” asked Jack from the darkness, “I thought you said there were four?”
“I did. I saw four, but now we’re alone again. The other two that came in from the roof are somewhere behind us. No wait I have another reading pacing around in another room on the ship towards the front now. And the two above us are headed back to the AV! Ah screw it. Let’s move!”
They took the nearest ladder to the fifth floor where they made for the whereabouts of the hull breach the Red Men used. Jack paced on ahead intent to catch the AV, invisible in the near light. At the hole he found to the roof there was a nine foot jump to the ceiling Jack managed to cut off the escape of another man about to jump up – were it not for the burst of ammunition that Jack let off into his chest right before hand.
Nicholas kept Ju close as he came up on the rear trying to keep pace, the echo of gunfire in the vicinity. The unknown blip on the radar had just appeared on the fifth floor towards the aft side of the ship. Engaging his T-ray emitter he swung around to sift through the walls to see a strange sight.
A bouncer of heavy modification was making it’s way towards the three of them. The mods it carried gave it an alien look and the large helmet it wore made the morph look even more crab-chimeraic. Sort of put off by the strange vision Nicholas kept an eye on him for a moment when suddenly the being stopped it’s movement and turned to stare back at Nicholas. This disturbed Cord even further as he realized they were making real eye contact through T-ray emission. Snapping a quick shot he meshed the info to Jack.
“What is that!” exclaimed Nicholas through the short wave communications.
“Where did you get that picture?”
“It’s following us to the roof.”
“That can’t be good. One sec I got a baddie.”
A voice rang out from above through the hole Jack was waiting under. When a head appeared Jack plugged it with bullets clearing the path to the AV. Cord helped The three push their way through the ceiling to the parked vehicle – only to find ascending the side of the Black Claw were a group of other scavengers that had arrived just at the moment of their departure. Rushing into the vehicle Jack set forth turning the AV on, Ju piled into the back helpless, and Nicholas hung out the door with his auto-mag.
The group of hostiles that appeared in front of them came up in fives, all climbing a grappling-hooked rope from the floor level. Jack was able to get the AV started when the first scavengers showed up and began drawing guns to fire, so Nicholas blasted a high explosive round at the closest one knocking him off the lip of the edge. Enraged for their brother the next four continued to fire wasted rounds that popped off Cord’s Alpiner like toothpicks hitting a steel sheet.
When the engine began to purr like a kitten Nicholas stepped in to see the view change rapidly. Jack took them straight up for a brief moment, until they were disturbed by a sudden rocking of the boat. Engaging his t-ray Nicholas spied the very same weird looking bouncer clinging to the underside of the air vehicle. Jack pressed the gears forward and the AV sped off into the Martian sky at a blazing pace.
Directing the AV to Valles-New Shanghai yielded a peculiar result. The meshing in the vehicle was tuned to the city. They could access and broadcast anything, except that the AVs projector popped up a message from the ID of Captain Chan Lee of the VNSPM.
His thick Chinese accent was apparent, “Meestah Cord? I presume.”
“Yes. I’m having trouble getting the bounty home but I assure you I have everything under control.”
With a sigh of vehemence the ranked officer on the VR comm looked about, “I do not expect to talk to you again Meestah Cord so let me just say that if you can bring him in still we’ll triple the reward. As of right now though we are responding to a code red from some of our contributors. You understand.”
“Oh I got that loud and clear chief.”
Cord ended the transmission with a blatant stop to the conversation, “Divert away from the city. We’ll drop in the desert close to a community and send the car out. Maybe they’ll waste time looking for it.”
“Sure,” and Jack steered away into the Hinterlands.
When the course was re-plotted the anchor of weight that was hanging to the bottom dropped. The AV righted and Nicholas was relieved that the strange Bouncer had disappeared from clutching to the bottom. The AV flew for a good few minutes before Jack brought it in low enough for everyone to jump out. The hacking Jack left with it’s auto-program had the flash of its blue reflection flying off into the distance.
“It’s this way,” Nicholas started to walk.
The others dragged along for miles as the stretch of sight went on and on. Then a small settlement seemingly appeared as if it were a mirage. Getting closer they were finally able to jump into the nearby community mesh of the village, but were stopped by counter-intrustionists that spotted them immediately and began threatening to boot them out if they didn’t identify themselves. Nicholas took over and assured them that they were friendly. When they were allowed to enter the village they noticed its tallest spire was a stationary surface-to-air rail-artillery, and the populace was casting messages from the village walls in friendly-memefied overtures to welcome the new visitors.
Guards at the gate instructed them of weapons procedures and sharing rules of the more-so autonomist Barsoomian life. After a short time the guards instructed the crew to visit the house of Sleis-mon, the village elder. They left to roam the small grounds.
Past the walls the idea of a small community was immediately evident. Although there was openness space was overly used within the walls, cluttered with debris from long-hauls, salvage operations, and general techno-refuse. Passing by a few of the high-end synths kept the three on guard as some of the populace remained stand-offish.
The friendliest Barsoomians were just a few junkers that happened to catch conversation between Jack and Nicholas’, “We’ve got to get new IDs because if we wander the waste and the wrong people catch up we’re done.”
“I agree, but I already have a good cover,” mentioned Jack, “and no one knows who I am anyway.”
“We can help,” one of a pair of junkers intruded on their conversation.
“Yes. We can make a trade,” the junky junker’s friend added.
“We are programmers,” the first junker continued.
“And we can help you blend into the city like sand in the desert,” ended the junker’s friend.
Cord and Honzo reached an agreement as to the specifics of the IDs to the men. The programmers assure the them that they are quality writers. After a decent trade in supplies for the programming effort Jack and Nicholas left with coordinates and time dates.
In the meantime the pair wandered to the dwelling of Sleis-mon. They had to travel down a corridor where sensory equipment pinged with alarms at their weapons, but all were cut short by some executive order. A few synths wandered through the area but the main house where Sleis-mon dwelled was mostly empty.
In a main dining area they found the Ruster sitting to himself. Garbed in a symbolic robe of utmost respect towards his proof of clan membership, his pride. Adorned at the skull by a cybernetic crown, a weird aura pulsed through them as they entered the room. Sleis-mon’s face was framed in utter dignity with a hint of happiness curling at the corners of his mouth, he stood at the end of a table – the tassels of beads and feathers, ringlets and chains, do-dads and keep-sakes, fetishes and gifts all chimed on his body as he moved about.
In French-African, “Welcome to my house strangers.”
Cord spoke up responding in the language as Honzo and Pai’s muses attempted translations, “Sleis-mon. We’ve come from the desert seeking refuge. I regret to inform you that we are however evading forces from the city.”
“The TTO is not welcome here. Nor that VNSPM with all it’s mockery. All their foolishness. They will all be turned away. They will not be allowed to enter. Barsoomian city is this that you have found yourself. The Outbound we call it. Tell me stranger, have you come from the city?”
With that Cord and Sleis-mon converse about the changes that have taken place on Mars since the Fall. Sleis-mon is very hospitable and assures them they are safe while they rest for their voyage back to town. The visit ends with Sleis-mon’s evading hand wave and the small confines of the village walls to comfort them the rest in for the night.
The next day they rise to Barsoomian home-stock foods. Grown vegetables and freshly harvested vat-meats all whipped into a lovely community breakfast to start the day. They run in to Jort.
“Eh boys, you lookin for some action?” Jort asked in a very slanged out Cantonese.
“We’re staying here another day or so for a package,” Jack informed him.
“What did you have in mind?” asked Cord.
“These people have a heavy hauler that beamed the community a distress last night, few clicks from here. Their not really mercenary in here so I figured you all might stand to make a profit while you wait? Nothin but sand-ghosts out there anyhow.”
They agreed to meet at the Eastern doors after gearing up. Wandering about they found a few supplies they needed to take with them into the desert. Pai loaded up with cold gear and survival equipment, while Honzo found a few items and Cord rested mostly. They linked up to find Jort waiting at the door, his six-cylinder spinning about his trigger finger.
“I’ve got us tac-mapped and our feeds are encrypted so we can all see what each other is seeing,” Nicholas informed the crew as they adjusted to the new input inside their respective endos.
“Good,” said Jort, “Now we won’t lose each other if theres a storm. Alright we’re hoofin it. This way ladies.”
Their walk ranged far beyond the community into the Hinterlands. The spine of a road was passed several times as they over-lapped its underlay in their hurdling straight-line direction. The bounce of Martian gravity helped to pass the terrain up, some of it looking more hellish than normal. When they had clicked almost 16 kilometers away from base they stumbled across a site they weren’t expecting.
The hauler lay in the middle of the road looking a wasted heap. Surrounding it was a small host of scavengers, each of their helmets a fiery red color. Over the simple communication system handicapped to them Jort beamed the message, "Fire-Skulls: techno-scavengers.
A lot of the scavengers were at the back where they could not be seen, a pair stood about at the front of the hauler, and one lone sentry stood at a tall rock spire off the road. Jack and Jort intended to split in order to attack from all sides. Jack slipped away in his camo to ambush the sentry, while Jort snuck around south to get a better view of the back, and Nicholas took Pai, who was weaponless, straight up the center.
Jack Honzo moved down a short path and checked the spire sentry every few meters after moving. He remained a ghost to the sight-bound sentry in the rough martian terrain. Sneaking around behind he spared little time dispatching the guard with the power and silence of his rail pistol, while drawing the body back before being seen.
With over-sight into the parameters of the scavengers operation the tac-net dispersed the information of the killing between Jort, Nicholas, and Ju. Creeping over the edge of the cliff Jack’s vision also worked to reveal the scavengers were working with about six other men on the back side of the hauler, plus a large gorilla-labor morph. The scavengers were working frantically to rewire some systems on the hauler and dump the trash heap collected in its bed.
Taking the initiative Nicholas took aim at the synths at the front of the hauler and opened fire. The shells whined out past his ear and their slugs smashed home into one of the synths, causing the other to jump for cover. Jort’s mag could also be heard firing away in the background, and Ju’s tac-vision stayed relatively still.
With the noise of gunfire ringing in the air Jack wasted no more time laying prone. His first action was to fire upon the gang leader, placing a well aimed hole in the rib area. The shot man fell to one knee and after a brief moment to engage some sort of pain-editor the scavenger leader jumped into the bed of the armored hauler, his men in shocked disarray.
The battle was swift. Nicholas wasted the first bad guy at the front of the truck, his clan buddy jumped for cover. At the rear the group of men with their Gorilla synth dispersed to take action, but not before a couple were blasted by Jack’s hidden fire. Raging at this point, the gang of scavengers pop some chems and are now ready to fight.
The lone ganger in Nicholas’ sights moved with the speed of a ferocious animal. Before Cord could draw a bead the speedy son of a bitch was already past him around the rocks; a frightened Ju Nu Pai’s hands could be seen up in a begging motion on the tac-net. Before Cord could reposition to fire a bullet the ganger had already erected a set of two foot long metal teeth from his knuckles hidden underneath the flesh of his forearm. With a blinding stroke Ju Nu Pai’s tac-vision blurred to a muddy red. Nicholas just managed to clear the top of the ledge to try to shoot down at the killer before he could finish Ju, but his mag suddenly crapped out with a presumptively loud click. That only got the gangers attention. Jumping up to ledge height the ganger made to lunge but wasn’t powerful enough to pierce Cord’s Alpiner skin. So Nicholas popped his emergency mag from his sleeve and shot the man down were he stood, the smoke of Cord’s pistol barrel enshrouding the air around him.
Meanwhile the group at the rear of the hauler had taken action. The gorilla-synth jumped to the height of the top of Jack’s ledge while another ganger swooped around to flank. Invisible to the naked eye Jack held his position as the enemies lured themselves in. The gorilla-synth looked about for hostiles, while the ganger got lucky and spied the edges of Jack’s silhouette. When the ganger fired a missed shot at Jack he spun about to shoot back at point blank, giving his position up to the giant synth. Before the gorilla could grapple him Jack made a long jump for the next nearest rock spire like a ghost on the wind.
Cord jumped down to Pai’s aide and spent a brief moment trying to stabilize the wound, Pai’s sleeve wasn’t setup for massive damage and the trauma was likely to kill him if he went unassisted for too long. With Honzo distracted with his particulars, Cord would have missed the next opportunity had he not been paying attention when the engine of the hauler suddenly roared to life. Stepping out onto the road to meet the vehicle Cord aimed a straight line between the sights of his gun and the beginning of the gang leaders face, who was driving with a member in the shotgun. Nicholas pulled the trigger three times.
Jack landed with a thud. He thought he was safe for a moment when he turned back to see the synth staring in his direction, priming it’s stance for a leap. Hesitating Jack missed with his first mini-missile, the shrap digging in at the backside of the giant synth. The gorilla jumped right after that, tracing the smoke tail of the missile to land right on top of Jack. So Jack had to jump as well or face being crushed, which he did and aptly to the same spot he jumped from originally. The synth was in trouble now, as Jack aimed true a mini-missile into the chest of the hulking brute. It was still alive enough to jump all the way back to Jack’s spot again. Before Jack could dodge about the ape made a wild swing and caught Jack in the chest, knocking him off the spire onto his back on the floor. Where with a last attempt to defend himself he loosed another missile at the gorilla at the top of the rock; the missile dug straight through the chest cavity with an explosion big enough to shatter the sleeve into a hundred pieces. A brilliant sight.
The combat was over. The hauler sat idle covered in bullet holes and blood, a couple of corpses hanging out the windows. Their friend Jort Durkor returned from his stint behind the rocks and they all climbed aboard the Barsoomian hauler to take it home.