by Corvus and ShadowWolf
©2011 Corvus and ShadowWolf

Home -=- #31 -=- ANTHRO #31 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-
Editor’s note: The Favor of Doom is the furfuraceous fifth story in the continuing saga of Reaper and Strider. It was preceded by Cleared for Departure in Anthro #5, Don’t Forget to Tip Your Assassins in Anthro #6, Fish, Barrel, Dynamite in Anthro #10, and You Say ‘Paranoid’, I Say ‘Adequately Aware’ in Anthro #28

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   A fleck of concrete dropped to the floor at my feet. For a moment I thought about dropping the tiger-striped moron who was responsible… naah, no percentage in it. But the moment a cost/benefit analysis suggested it would be worth the expense…
   “Don’t do that again, you damned, lumbering idiot! I have spares, but that thing is a miniature fusion reactor. You’re damned lucky it was almost out of fuel—”
   «We do have spares, right?»
   «Sure thing, Boss. That insane little bot you keep as a pet reported half a dozen.»

   “—and if you’re going to do it anyway, at least do it outside, okay? Even with the rad sheilding down here, pulling that stunt too many times might bring someone’s attention to my home!”
   Reaper didn’t say anything; just kept on looking at the gun like he wanted to marry it. An attitude I could understand—but I’d be damned if I was ever going to let one of my babies partner up with that overgrown rug-to-be!
   “Oh… never mind. It’ll put out the juice, but pull too much and it will let loose. One with a full load is capable of something like five megatons. Oh, and the garage is this way, Catboy. You coming?”
   “Five megatons? Huh… It did feel a little off for a standard power cell.”
   «Before we get near my cars, I need to know: You did double—no, make that triplecheck Reaper’s nanite-free status?» ‘Free’ of any nanites he hadn’t carried in to begin with, anyway. I had no doubts about that walking flea circus’ ability to survive even the most voracious nanobot attacks; I just didn’t want to risk finding out what the collateral damage would do to solid matter in the near vicinity of Ground Zero.
   Like, say, my favorite car.
   «You wound me, Boss! It was a direct order to make it such, so I did.»
   The concrete wall slid open, revealing my private garage. I walked past the Ferraris, Lambos, the Rolls I… procured… in Britain, several tanks and more than a dozen armored cars. Each vehicle in the garage had a special place in my heart. Had I but known that one, in particular, was going to see its last drive today…
   Okay, foreknowledge wouldn’t have made any real difference—I still would’ve blown shit up and wasted all those flunkies and legal-beagles—but it’s the principle of the thing, you know? See, I was seriously flush after I completed my first contract killing, so I commissioned a truly sweet ride from a speed shop whose name you’d recognize if I said it. It had the body and styling of an original 1969 Corvette; but inside and under the hood, that son of a bitch was bleeding-edge modern tech and nothing but. The high capacity supercaps and superconduting motors gave it a range and power that put its archetype to shame, and its body panels were made of enhanced-bondage polymers that could stop damn near anything that anybody might possibly want to throw at the car. The fact of the matter was, my baby actually had better armor than the tank that sat next to it.
   I popped the door and slipped inside, once again reminded that I’d ordered it with a special feature—the ‘maximized interior’. In the past, that term meant the car was simply a bit larger inside than I actually needed. What it meant now, however, was that it would fit both me and the equally massive Tigron with ease. “Well, what are you waiting for, Stripesy? Let’s get moving.”

   «Hal, get the route to Davidson Military Technologies on the HUD. Fastest route, period.»
   Directional arrows and a map overlay popped up on the window as I turned the key, engaging the thermo-power cells that would provide the initial charge for the super-caps. Transducers and speakers built into the chassis provided a roar like the original would produce, signaling that the super-caps were fully powered.
   Reaper shrugged and slid into the passenger seat, a surprised look on his face at not being cramped. “How the fuck did you get your hands on a TARDIS?”
   «A what?»
   «TARDIS, boss. Ancient flat-vid program. Goody two-shoes alien traveled the universe in a ship that was more than a thousand times larger inside than out.»
   «In other words, catboy is amazed at how roomy it is. Gotcha.»

   “TARDIS? I didn’t. However, I did pay good money for a car with the looks of a classic and an interior that could fit anyone.”
   With a grin I goosed the throttle and laughed as Reaper braced for impact. Seconds later, the solid-light and scan-faked wall slid around my ’Vette, and I roared out onto a road built into an ancient subway tunnel. With luck the nav system would lead me on a path directly to the Davidson Building—one that I’d be able to navigate at my Corvette’s six-hundred-kph top speed.


   Strider claimed he didn’t know what a TARDIS was, yet his car was a comfortable fit for even me? Not possible.
   «Sam! Run a scan on th»

   “I paid a lot of money for a high-end classic with an interior that could fit anyone.”
   “Fit anyone? Bullshit. There’s more to this vehicle! Wait…”
   «Sam, is that a—he’s—»
   “Wall… Wall!” I muttered under my breath, leaving deep claw marks in the upholstery as I braced for the impact that didn’t come.
   Instead of crumpling, the front of the pseudo-’Vette passed through the wall. A visible distortion raced up the body of the car, flooding the passenger compartment withpl a disorganized burst of light that disappeared immediately, leaving complete darkness.
   It took a moment for my eyes to re-adjust to the darkness; Sam added in enhanced UV, infrared and sensor overlays.
   The walls of an old, ‘abandoned’ subway tunnel whipped by outside the car.
   “You lupine son of a bitch! Don’t ever do that again!”
   «Sam, can you find a map of these tunnels?»
   «Do what you can.»

   Sam was just being cranky, probably from the nanite stunt that Strider had pulled earlier. ‘Our mangy friend’ was actually very good at piloting the super-charged vehicle down the narrow, winding tunnels. Each corner whipped by at full speed; the ’Vette barely slowed down. Only twice, a shower of sparks erupted from between the walls and body, followed by a stream of curses from the driver’s seat.
   Left, left, right left, right, left… the turns flew by faster than I cared to keep track of. Sam, on the other hand, watched everything, and he’d have a nice map ready for me if I ever needed it.
   “Fuck! Fuck! Hang on to your kitty litter! Those bastards will pay—”
   The tunnel ahead of the ’Vette flared to life, filling with a deep green glow.
   «What the hell?!»
   Sam kicked my neurokinetics up to the max for just a moment, bringing time to a near-standstill. The hazy glow that the ’Vette had been barrelling toward faded to ultra-sharp clarity, shrouded in silence; the tunnel just ahead of the car was crisscrossed with high-intensity energy beams so tightly packed that a mouse couldn’t safely pass through.
   The chest-pounding rumble and signature roar of Strider’s custom-built ‘Corvette’ came flooding back as he floored the accelerator in a last-instant attempt to breach the barrier through sheer velocity. It worked.
   Sparks showered off the ’Vette as green fire ripped at its shell; not strong enough to chew through the heavily armored projectile, but enough to deal her a fatal blow. Every beam left a deep score in her armor, some raking her thick hide, while others pierced like a lance to her heart, shredding her interior and flooding her bowls with smoke and bits of burning metal.
   Deep in the Corvette’s vitals, a tounge of flame poured out of the lacerated pyrolytic cells, the key to her final blow. High energy fuel and catalyzer caught, releasing all of their energy in one massive, uncontrolled burst. A billow of flame rushed out, engulfing the back of the car, sending the last of it rocketing through the energy barrier and into the ceiling.
   Strider’s pride and joy tumbled further into the darkness, raining small shards of metal in its firey wake before it rolled to a stop with nothing more than the protective cage around its occupants.
   While not entirely in working order, the car’s still- (!) functional fire suppression system triggered, flooding the least incandecent piece of debris—the roll cage—with a cloud of fire retardant, adding insult to injury.
   “What the fuck was that!?” I yelled, ripping myself free of the wreckage.
   “Those sons of bitches!” the wolf replied, not noticing the irony. “Over a million bucks gone! Completely one of a kind!”
   “Can you salvage it?”
   Strider gave me a blank look that was all that restrained the burning fire in his eyes, then pointed back down the tunnel.
   “I would if there was a piece big enough to be fucking pocket change!!”
   “Then they know we’re coming?” I growled back.
   Strider paused.
   “No. If it was Davidson, they would have had the professional courtesy to let us know it was them before we were dead. This is another rat that spawned in the last three months.” Strider’s voice chilled. “They’re dead. They just don’t know it.”
   «Sam. Show me a map.»
   «So we’re lost?»

   “Strider. How far?”
   “Almost a click that way.” Strider growled menacingly, picked up a couple of chunks of the charbroiled ’Vette and hurled them back down the tunnel. “I,” he declared, “will have blood.” His eyes flashed in a way that spelled annihilation for any obstacle in his path, then he tore into the darkness toward Davidson. With a blur of tail, wings and fur, I slipped into the dark passage after the bloodthirsty wolf.
   Strider stopped short. I almost collided with him; instead, I dodged and spun, to slide backwards down the tunnel. Ahead of me, the crazed wolf leapt to the ceiling and ripped off a large steel plate that clattered to the ground.
   “Fucking bastard!”
   Following Strider, I scrambled under the shaft and lept upward without thinking, to find myself out in the open, a dark alleyway under a moonless night sky.
   “Oh shit. Surface!”
   «Sam! Holo-disguise, now
   «SIR! YES SIR!»

   My image flickered, shrinking down as I fell back to the ground. When I landed next to the hole, I looked every bit like a human bum; those that never get more than one look in the dark and violent streets.


   “Fuck!” I growled under my breath as I pulled myself from the twisted wreckage of what had once been my favorite car. I didn’t care who I ran into first; they would pay the price of calming me down so I could plan a wonderfully intricate and painful way to kill the bastards responsible for that trap.
   «Hal, I know I own this stretch of tunnel. Any lead on the people who set that trap?»
   «They left their fingerprints all over it, boss: FedGov. Got trans-human mutated wrecks invading tunnels, apparently. Get to the surface so I’ve got real bandwidth, and I’ll have more.»
   «Rrrrr… Fuck it. They’ll be installing something on Persephone that should let me destroy the planet. They deserve it—that was my goddamn ’Vette they cremated!»

   “What the fuck?” Reaper roared as he tore himself free of what was left of the armored passenger compartment.
   “Fuck! A million fucking credits gone! My ’Vette!” I screamed in anger, tearing apart what was left of the armor that had kept us from having to let the nanites do repair work. My baby was gone! I needed someone to kill, fast.
   “Can’t you get it rebuilt?”
   “From what? A pile of ash, fond memories and unicorn shit?” Okay, so I was really attached to that car. What can I say? It had been with me for years—I’d been planning on trying to sneak it onboard the Persephone.
   “How far?” Ah, right—priorities. Vaporizing the monsters who’d assassinated my car could wait until we’d finished dealing with the immediate task.
   I checked the maps Hal was providing. “About a klick.” With as much strength as I could muster I grabbed the remnants of the Corvette’s cockpit and hurled it down the tunnel in the direction of Davidson. “That way.”
   «Boss, found a shortcut in one of your old surveys. Old cargo elevator shaft intersects the tunnel.»
   «Have the thermoptics ready.»

   “Screw it,” I muttered and sprinted down the tunnel. My foot hit a puddle of something wet and slightly sticky as I reached where the exit Hal had identified was.
   «Hal, perimeter scan!»
   «Bodies, boss. Looks like the remains of the ’Vette got them.»
I was touched; most of my cars would never have given their mechanical lives for me like that.
   «Heh. Bowling for feds!»
I shouted back, then jumped and started working the section of the ceiling free. At max N-K boost it dropped out a second of real-time later and I bounded up the ancient, abandoned elevator shaft.
   Cool air spiced with the scents of biodiesel, alcohol and the exotic foods so common on the streets smacked me in the face as I broke through the thin layer of concrete that had sealed the elevators exit doors.
   «Stealth now!» I ordered. «And send Sam a beacon—no need for Reaper to get lost.»
   With that it was a calm walk down the streets to an alley less than 100 feet from the doors of Davidson. I stopped there to wait for Reaper to catch up; sure, I could make a suitably deep impression by myself, but it’d be more fun with a confederate I could trust to hate the targets as much as I did.
   Less than a minute later the kittycat almost walked past me.
   «Reaper! Hold up—we should just hit the CEO.»
   He slowed down and I fell in beside him, the thermoptics dropping in favor of a very business-like hologram that was a mish-mash of several politicians from earlier centuries.
   «Alright, wolf-boy. But if somebody starts trouble, I’m not holding back,» he fired off, obviously annoyed. Thankfully his hologram fit in; we looked something like FedGov agents.
   «Not a problem! Just remember, the CEO’s gotta be alive to sign off on the IOU, huh?» And after that, Mister Bigshot Executive was short-order toast. Very short-order. Like, milliseconds in the low three digits. He’d managed to piss me off by trying to ignore an IOU, and that was before those damn FedGov goons went and blew up my car! Today was not a good day to piss me off.

   The lobby was sparse and filled with inert display models of the various weapons that Davidson had produced over the years. Shouts rang out from the security desk as we walked right by for the elevators. Uncharacteristically, we made it to the elevator without any problems.
   As the floor numbers ticked by I tried to ignore the irritating advertising and music that Davidson insisted on piping into their elevators. The last shreds of my patience ran out when the digital readout over the doors had just ticked over to 60… so that’s when I opened fire on the speakers.
   Reaper was staring and I was uncomfortable about having lost control like that. “What? Don’t tell me you actually like elevator music?”


   Strider had stopped short, within view of the Davidson building. Even without Sam, it would have been a dead give-away with the giant sign that read Davidson Military Technologies: Making the world a better place, one bullet at a time.
   «So what’s the plan?»
   «We walk through the front door.»
   «I’ll take the guards on the—»
   «Hold it! No shooting until we’re in Froederick’s office.»
   «We need a signature and enough people left willing to do the work.»

   «What fun is that? Okay, fine. How do we get past the flunkies without trouble?»
   «You have to ask, master hairball?»

   Strider faded into view dressed in a well-tailored suit, with a very generic look about him.
   «Right. That card.»
   A handful of passers-by and at least a dozen cameras had seen me, so changing in the street was out of the question, and this world seemed completely devoid of telephone booths, so I’d have to make do. Damn dark entryways; they always leave a shadow on things.
   Another thirty seconds later, I was standing in the elevator. Peering over a pair of dark glasses at the security guards trying to scramble to the elevator, I adjusted my tie and grinned as the door started to close.
   “Too slow.”
   The ‘Government Goon’ look was pretty much the same on every Earth that’s dominated by Euro-American culture: Nondescript dark suit; conservative tie; clean, short-cropped hair; dark glasses; and an idle stance of ‘modified parade rest’. It was The Look, and it commanded respect where none was to be found. It screamed As a matter of fact, I am supposed to be here, you low-life scum. It made getting into places like this much easier. As with any other high-quality disguise, Sam’s standard sensory override made it completely real for me. It did no good to look the part if you were awkward playing it.
   Beside me, Strider was fidgeting. Death showed through the holo-disguise as he glared at the speaker. With one fluid motion, he went through the motions of drawing a weapon, hand coming up empty. His arm was aimed precisely at the speaker— which exploded in a shower of sparks, with a muzzle flash hanging in mid-air just before the Eta-blaster warped into view.
   Without leaving parade rest or breaking my stoic façade, I leaned forward and stared at Strider.
   He looked irritated and snapped at me. “Don’t tell me you actually like elevator music?!”
   “They say music soothes the savage beast. They’re dead fucking wrong, but ‘they’ do have good taste though…”
   Strider dropped his shades halfway down the bridge of his nose and gave me an incredulous look. “Ex-cuse me?”
   “No—really—I’ve got some recipes back on the Persephone if you want them…”
   The elevator ding’d, signalling our destination had been reached, the doors hesitating a moment before sliding open.
   «Sam, how’s it look?»

   A tactical scan flashed into view, outlines of all the personel, with a crude threat assessment.
   «That’s it? Maybe they don’t expect someone to storm a weapons manufacturer. Sucks to be them.»
   Stepping out of the elevator, a firm “How may I help you?” caught my attention from behind the receptionists desk.
   “Excuse me?” Strider replied in a gruff voice.
   “I said, ‘How may I help you?’ Do you have an an appointment?”
   “We don’t need one,” I replied. “We’re here to see the CEO about a—” That’s when the secretary cut me off with a cryogenic stare that could trigger an ice age.
   “You’re new here, aren’t you? Even government officials are required to make an appointment.”
   Turning to Strider I raised an eyebrow.
   He shrugged. «Yep, she’s right.»
   «Plan B?»
   «If you mean “gratuitous ultraviolence,” that’s always plan A. We just have to get past the security doors.»

   Strider turned back to the icy bitch of a secretary. “Let me rephrase that. We’re here to collect on a marker owed to ‘ShadowWolf’. Now, I don’t care if Davidson gets a reputation for not keeping its word, but I’m confident that your boss would care. Better for all concerned if I just get what I’m owed and we all walk away happy. Wouldn’t you agree?”
   At the word ‘marker’, her look got a little more sour. No, they didn’t want to be known for defaulting on a contract; they also didn’t want to have to make good on it either. Alas, the secretary would catch hell for this either way…
   “Please have a seat while I see if Mr. Von Fronkensteen can see you on short notice.”
   “Just open the door.” I growled.
   “I said, sit down!” the vaguely frail looking secretary snapped back before stepping back into a cleverly hidden entry portal.
   Without thinking, I quicky found a seat, the tone of her voice hit something that had been long buried from my childhood. A small voice in my hindbrain screamed oh-god-a-vicious-librarian! before finding somewhere in the dark to curl up. I checked my weapons and glared at the ornate double doors, hoping like hell that he wouldn’t notice.
   «Will they go for it?»
   «They have to; I used the magic words. They won’t bother scanning us because they’ll assume we’re armed to the gills, like we assume they’re armed to the gills. Everyone will play nice. They’ll try to give us a ‘hell no’ without explicitly saying it, and we’ll go away to report to ShadowWolf like good lackeys…»
Strider projected a grin over the comm. «Again: Let the CEO issue the orders we’re waiting for, then kill him.»
   Sam brought up an image of the current CEO of Davidson, Froederick Von Fronkensteen.
   «Yes, but if he gets hostile, mark non-lethal. He just needs to be breathing. Ready full EM camo.»
   «Hey, Boots: You wanna have a little fun?»

   I growled. «What do you have in mind?»
   «I’ll keep ’em distracted while you outflank and get more use out of those claws of yours than just ruining the furniture.»
   I looked down at the armrest to see that I had left ten slashes in the leather.
   «It’s better than all this pussyfooting around. What do you need?»
   «Give me control of your holo-disguise and sync with Hal.»

   I saw where the mangy mutt was going: He takes control of my holo, and I cloak. Bam—instant party of three.
   «Sam, we’re cutting over to cloak early. Contact Hal and—»
   «When did I tell you to do that?»
   «Fine… but quit talking to Hal

   There was no point in grumbling. Sam was designed to learn better ways to complete his mission and his mission was to keep me alive, which meant knowing what I was going to do before I did it.
   «Standing by, Strider.»

   I stood up and glanced back at the chair to find myself still sitting there, well, my holo-disguise anyhow.
   «“Have a seat” she said! Bitch!»
   Without a sound, I padded to the double doors and waited, with back to the wall, for the secretary to return.


   «You see the goons coming up the stairs?» I fired off over the secure link to Reaper.
   «Looks to be about 10 men and armed. Not a problem even if I was half asleep.»
   «Got an idea. Let the guys into the room—wait for me to snap my fingers and then take them all down at the same time. It’ll look wonderful on the cameras—and it’ll get us the meeting. Freddy-boy’s trying to play games.»
   «Sounds like fun, but why let them enter ?»
   «And let them know that I’m accompanied by someone in full EM camo? No—if I make it look like magic it’ll be a lot better.»

   Two minutes later the door to the stairwell slammed open and ten security goons in bad black suits and mirrored sunglasses came running into the room. Seeing what they thought were two Feds waiting peacefully, they pulled guns and surrounded ‘us’.
   “Oh, look at this—a welcoming committee. What can we do for you gentlemen?” A dull, lifeless monotone poured out from the lips of my holo-guise. Hal could work magic.
   “You two are leaving now. The CEO has said that he will not meet with FedGov garbage or anyone claiming to represent a dead man,” one of them said in quite calm tones. I was smiling underneath the costume, but Hal kept it as stone-faced as ever.
   “Really, gentlemen? You say I’m dead?” There was a look of shock and disbelief on the faces of the men that disappeared fast. “Well, I hope you have good life insurance policies.” With that I snapped my fingers and Reaper gave a pull to the molecule-wide, ultra-strong line he’d wound around their necks. Ten bodies dropped to the floor in a fountain of blood.
   «Nice one! You’ll have to tell me where you get that stuff—I can think of a million uses for it!»
   «Not now, wolf-boy.»


   Inside the plush and expensively decorated offices of Froederick Von Fronkensteen, the receptionist that had so calmly faced down the pair of men that had come in to collect the Marker owed to the contract troubleshooter—droid-speak for ‘assassin’—ShadowWolf was shaking and a deathly pale white.
   “Stop shaking! Get a grip on yourself, Julie! It’s a bluff! He’s dead! Those chaps from Hyperactive Media called in a specialist, and we’ve got footage of him being blasted!”
   “But Mr. Von Fronkensteen, the security team! From everything in the files and everything the info-tech guys have, that’s something he’d do! And ShadowWolf is the only one that fits that profile—you’ve seen the files yourself!”
   “Just… pull yourself together and send them in. I will deal with them myself. If nothing else, that little display has earned them a meeting.”


   In whatever school that it is all high-level executives get sent to, they have this class called ‘How To Negotiate’. They teach all kinds of dirty tricks, and making people wait for long periods of time is one of them. Another is threats of physical force. Hmm… «Hal, you said the bitch’s emotional state spiked during that little display of mine?»
   «You’re the one that bought the code that lets me read emotional states via out-of-sight scans.»
   «Why don’t we just walk in now, wolf-boy? Catching this Froederick Von Fronkensteen fucker getting his dick sucked would be a great bargaining tool!»

   «It would, yeah, but nothing like that happened. Check your scans; they were watching screens—probably security footage of this room.»
   The scan overlays showed that the CEO was moving back to his seat behind his desk and the receptionist was heading this way. It would be fun to see how she reacted to the bodies still littering the floor. I hoped that that ice-cold librarian-with-an-attitude bitch fainted.
   Seconds later the receptionist entered through the same hidden door she’d exited through and sat back down. “Mr. Von Fronkensteen will see you now,” she said calmly, motioning for the door. I stood and walked over there, opening the door and letting Reaper and the empty hologram walk through ahead of me.
   As the door swung shut I could hear her on the phone calling in a clean-up crew. I’d lost the bet I made with myself and smiled underneath the hologram. That was the type of woman I’d have killed to have gotten as a personal assisstant back when I was just getting started. Oh, wait: I actually tried that once—she nearly managed to kill me after a night in the sack.
   “Come in, take a seat. You see, I know you aren’t…” Freddy began.
   «Do some creative work with the holos, Hal, but give me the look he knows as ‘ShadowWolf’. And jam the security in here.»
   «Security already down. I’ve also taken the initiative and reported a murder to FedGov. They have a team on the way.»

   The world shimmered lightly and Freddy Von Fronkensteen was silent. “Okay, Freddy: Whatever you may have been told is wrong. Reports of my death are stupid. Now, we can play this two ways. One, you can pick up that phone and tell the company that you’re going to honor your marker… or two, I release all the data on this transaction to every company around the world and laugh as DMT’s stock price drops like an epileptic albatross.”
   «What are you doing, fleabag? Just kill him and use some of your techno-magic know-how to make it look like he’s giving the go-ahead to stand by that IOU!» Reaper’s growl and annoyance were clear on the com-channel.
   «Can’t, because DMT isn’t stupid. For this sort of thing, they’ve got some kind of secret codes to confirm that it’s a valid order. Need the meatbag to type in the right code.»
   “C’mon, Freddy. Just remember: I’m monitoring the data nets, and I’ll know if you try to double-cross me.”
   His fingers dashed across some controls and a screen slid down showing a very realistic rendition of my ‘death’. I recognized the setting—it was from the TransWar. Goddammit, those I.N. fuckers were really going to suffer!
   “ShadowWolf is dead and you are an—” He had a gun out and was proudly crowing.
   «Hal, drop my holo entirely—but keep Reaper’s running.»
   Freddy went silent as my true visage became visible. “See, Freddy, it’s like this: Your ‘friends’ from Interactive Networks showed you a bunch of garbage. I survived their little battle and got a nice new look from it all. Watch the screens for the truth—they played you, but good.”
   «Nice play, wolfie. But now he has to die.»
   «Oh, he will; just not by my hand. See those guys rapidly approaching? They’re carrying FedGov IFF transponders. He’ll have his gun drawn and won’t want to be taken in for any reason—it’d be bad for the company—so he’ll force them to shoot. And FedGov always shoots to kill.»

   “O… o… okay…” Freddy stammered and started punching various commands into the system built into his desk as the truth of the video played out. What had seemed to be my death was shown to be one of the I.N. security goons I’d personally killed.
   «Boss, just got a new response from DMT. They’ve agreed to supply a half dozen nano-cannons. Those will be at the Boston site.»
   “Nice doing business with you, Freddy.” I smirked and turned to walk out, the FedGoon hologram flickering back to life. Hal alerted me to the gun rising and the boom of the .50AE pistol firing made me smile. But Freddy had picked the wrong target—he’d fired on the ‘Combat Robot’ that Hal had turned the holo of Reaper into.
   I disappeared as the doors slammed open and real FedGoons poured in. Shouts to drop the weapon were met with the loud crack of Freddy firing again, followed by the FedGoons returning fire. I watched from the safety of my cloak as several hundred rounds of ammunition dissected Freddy like a coroner with Parkinson’s.
   «Let’s go, Reaper. Need to head over to Militech now.»
   As I passed the receptionist’s desk on the way out, I frowned. She was almost unshakable, and a true ‘bitch from hell’, but she deserved better than what she got. Freddie’s receptionist was missing her head—the round meant to take out my ‘backup’ had hit her in the head and exploded.

Davidson Military Technologies corporate office loading dock

   “I’m glad you guys are with me on this run. This place makes me worry about going home at night.”
   “Hey man, we’re just here on orders. Don’t get used to it,” muttered an ultra-generic guard in full tactical body armor. It was brown.
   “Besides, you’re the one getting the big bucks here,” said another guard, shifting his weapon slightly.
   In fact, a full squad were positioned around the loading dock, securing, while a lone man was unloading a heavily armored transport, also in brown.
   “‘Better pay’, nothing! You guys get to wear body armor!”
   “And the ladies dig the shorts, Jeff. What more do you want?” quipped a soldier who went by ‘Ice’, leaning on the frame for one of the overhead doors.
   “Like they did anything for poor Todd,” replied Jeff Larson, a delivery driver dressed in brown shorts and matching shirt.
   “Todd, Todd… one of his packages exploded when it reached its destination, right? Ah, I remember that like it was yesterday,” replied the first guard.
   The large crate Jeff had been moving thudded to the floor with a hollow, eerie sound. He paused, holding his breath for a moment, then breathed an audible sigh before turning to a guard that was only distinguishable by his name-tape which read ‘Marshfield’.
   “Mike, you idiot: That was yesterday!”
   “Oh.” Marshfield shifted, his body language displaying for the world that he was uncomfortable with that thought. “I suppose that’s why they sent us along.”
   “You think? Things are getting hot out here. The company wants to enforce the ‘Brown means business’ campaign. We deliver the packages, your job is to make sure we’re the only ones doing it. It’s stiff competition, especially now, with Lightspeed.” Jeff grunted and dropped another box on the pile.
   “Uhhh… rumor is it that Mr. Strider has an assassin on retainer.” A guard identified as ‘Kinsley’ blurted out.
   “Bullshit. Devin Strider is ShadowWolf.”
   A roar of laughter went up from the group.
   “Yeah, right, pull the other one,” snickered a recovering Mike Marshfield.
   “So who’s this ShadowWolf?” Jeff hesitated, glancing around at the guards.
   “Oh, only the baddest motherfucker out there,” Kinsley responded before anyone else could.
   “He’s right,” a soldier labeled ‘Warner’ piped up. “If you get a contract on you with that one, you’re done. ShadowWolf’s good, no doubt. He’s wanted by every government and corporation, especially after that business three months ago.”
   “Nobody’s heard from him since then, so he’s probably dead like they say, and the word on the net is that there have been authenticated messages coming from Strider, so he can’t be ShadowWolf!” Marshfield looked around for anyone willing to challenge him.
   A door slammed on the transport and another soldier. “Pucker those assholes and cut the chatter, ladies! I just got an update from HQ that the Feds are occupying the top floor. Some sort of emergency. Sanchez, Michaels, mount up!”
   All around the loading dock, the brown-clad guards stiffened up and made like the corporate soldiers they were; various combinations of “YESSIR” and “YES, SARGE” resounded off the walls. The two labelled ‘Sanchez’, and another with ‘Chuckles’ scrawled on a piece of duct tape covering his nametag, slung their weapons and dashed into the transport.
   “Report is that there was a multiple homicide. It’s in FedGov jurisdiction and they’re going to try to hold it. We’re here to make a delivery. Larson! Move your ass!”
   A clingy silence hung in the air for a moment before Jeff started moving the last few boxes.
   It was about then that a shadow stirred in the receiving area beyond the docks. Two figures detached themselves from the shadows and strode calmly past ‘Ice’, who snapped his weapon level with the first figure’s head. “Hold it right there!” Both stopped dead.
   “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave this area. Comply, or we will open fire.” This directive seemed to fall on deaf ears. The second figure stopped with all the confidence that could be contained in such a frame and stared at the Sarge with a grin that spoke volumes about the pain and torture that would come to generations of his progeny if the next words spoken weren’t what the figure wanted to hear.
   The Sarge stopped, a flash of confusion mixed with recognition came across his face.
   “You’re… oh. This is going to ruin my day, isn’t it.”
   The first figure smiled and responded, “Oh, yeah,” in a flat and emotionless tone.


Garage Level One
Davidson Military Technologies

   The elevator slid open silently. It was a different car than we had taken on the way up, but it, too, had bullet casings littering the floor and a broken loudspeaker. Davidson really needed to do a better job keeping their elevators in decent condition.
   Strider stepped out of the elevator, still fully cloaked, but his beacon was moving toward the back of the building.
   “What’s the plan, Fido? Checking on the quality of their service?”
   Sam had managed to find building schematics and had put up a floormap on my HUD. We were making straight for Shipping and Receiving.
   “No. FedGov’s at the front door, so we go out the back. We’ve got business at Miltech…” Strider’s step hesitated. “…and maybe a chance to teach the ‘brown shirts’ a lesson.”
   ShadowWolf took shape to my left. He wore the disguise he’d used while engaging in his other business; the same face and form I’d chased around the globe once before.
   “Fine,” I growled. “Let’s get this taken care of.”
   «Generic top-dollar thug disguise number five—and keep sharp, Sam. Those dozen signatures ahead probably mean trouble, and dogboy knows it.»

   There were thugs, and there were high-end thugs. The usual brand of riff-raff wore whatever was convenient. High-end thugs were kind of like government goons– well, exactly like, but with less of the meat-popsicle thing going on and just a bit more personality.
   No Davidson personnel bothered to be found between the elevator and Receiving. Too busy covering their asses from the mess we’d left upstairs, or just taking the opportunity to Not Be Found. Either way, Strider and I made it without incident, though just before hitting the doorway, a thought occurred to me.
   «Pup, it would be faster to just get to Miltech fully cloaked than to deal with this lot.»
   «And how do you expect to travel the 225 cliks without my car?»
There was a deeply irritated growl that flooded the comms. «Besides, this is more satisfying.»
   I stepped onto the loading dock and made a quick assessment: Full tactical squad taking defensive positions, an armored transport of some type and one currier.
   «Sam? Assessment?»

   Sam was right. The soldier to my left had drawn a weapon on me and mumbled something like “hold it.”
   «Can’t let them think there’s no hope, can I?»

   The soldier obviously in charge stepped forward and trained his weapon on Strider. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave this area. Comply, or we will open fire.”
   «What’s with the package carrier brigade, Strider? This your competition?»
   «A useful diversion.»
Strider glared at the soldier threatening him.
   «Well then…»
   “Oh, this is going to ruin my day.” The look on the poor schmuck’s face reflected a long career that he didn’t expect would end so soon.
   I grinned. “Oh, yeah.”
   The soldier in brown who’d levelled his weapon at me opened fire, yelling as he did. Sam registered a score of hits and updated them on my HUD.
   «Sam, show ’em.»

   With bullets still riddling the body armor exactly where my holographic head should have been, Sam disengaged my holo-disguise, letting it dissolve around me. The soldier promptly stopped firing and stared. It must have been my dashing good looks… well, them and my claws, wings, fangs and me-portable munitions depot.
   «Wolf breath?» I sent over the comms and glanced over to see Strider already having cloaked and gone straight for the one in charge, who was now dangling half a meter off the floor in mid-air.
   «Busy!» he sent back.
   «…let’s dance.»
   «Sam, these may be small-fry, but let’s not get sloppy. Get target lock.»

   Before ‘Ice’ was able to blink, he had a face full of the business end of a MAC-10 and about one kilo less brain matter to worry about.
   Before my less-than-fortunate acquaintance hit the floor, the remaining soldiers brightened and acquired little bits of tactical data, the most prominent being a target reticle on each of their heads. Mr. Ice had provided Sam with some excellent scans and an obvious proof of concept. Soldiers, medium squishy; heads… very squishy.
   I bolted through the soldiers flanking the left side of the loading dock, my weapon barking again, speaking to the second faceless wonder, who apparently did need another hole in the head; a spray of crimson red errupted out the back of the helmet belonging to the late ‘Samuels’, a fine mist streaking out across the room.
   Nametapes ‘Marshfield’ and ‘Harris’ each emptied half a clip, nicking armor wings and fur before a single round flashed through the marker hovering in front of Marshfield’s face. Liquified ex-merc rushed backwards through the helmet and neatly out the new drain hole at the back.
   The brown-clad soldier labelled ‘Harris’ stared at his spent clip ejecting, seeming to will it to move faster as my weapon swung level with his facemask. I let it hover for just a moment to be sure ‘Harris’ knew the inevitability of his fate, then pulled the trigger.
   Harris’ faceshield collapsed inward, the muzzleflash searing what wasn’t shattered by the force of the bullet as it passed through. The force of the round picked the former soldier off the ground and launched hiim backwards to follow the shower of brain matter and blood, but not before I snatched up the large knife he’d secured to his utility harness.
   Without looking, I hurled the knife backwards, down through a light hail of bullets, and bullseye’d the marker hovering over faceless-minion-of-the-brown ‘Jones’. The blade shattered the soldier’s mask and buried itself in Jones’ skull with enough force to launch him back against the wall, to dangle three inches off the floor.
   Sam eased back on my reflexes and perception as the last of my kills hit the floor with a dull thud and a hint of squish.
   «All clear.»

   There was a dull metallic thud as something heavy landed on the concrete floor a few meters behind me.
   At the same time, Sam brought up every scan mode he had, increasing my field of vision to 360 degrees.


   «Hal, quick-route to a cache with a vehicle large enough for me and the cat!»
   «Garage, two buildings back from the loading dock. You’ve got that tank you took from the cyborg there.»

   That dictated the direction and destination. Good thing we were already in the elevator heading for the loading docks. Running a mental inventory, I noticed that my gear felt heavier than it should and my stomach was rumbling a bit.
   «Hal? Didn’t we solve the energy problems with this form?»
   “What’s the plan? Checking quality of service?” Reaper quipped, cutting off any response from Hal.
   “FedGov’s out front, so we’re going out the back. Got transport this way—” I started to reply.
   «No time to argue that, boss. Targets, with UPS transponders!»
   Instantly indicators popped up in my vision and started marking targets—almost all hidden by the contents of the dock.
   “—and maybe a chance to teach UPS a lesson.” I finished, making sure the safety-strap holding the Eta-blasters in place were secure. This was going to be a very clean hit; Davidson had paid their marker, so the target was just UPS.
   When the gun came level with Reaper’s illusionary head, I knew he’d missed the hidden meaning to what I’d said. And he wasn’t running his scanners at the same level I was—though I could forgive him for that. After all, this world is where I grew up, had hunted and been hunted; having all kinds of scanning active was the smart thing to do. ‘Paranoia’, my ass—it was why I’d lived as long as I had.
   The guards were all shouting something, but I’d had Hal filter them out the second the gun came level with the apparent location of Reapers head. Then the gun barked and Reaper’s hologram dropped.
   «Hal, combat speed. Clean tactical. Drop the holo. Which is the commander?»
   «Near the truck, different cap. Sensors can’t penetrate the truck and two disappeared that way when we showed up.»

   That was all I needed to get moving. UPS security officers carried high-end tactical digital interface units; if I could snag this boy’s TDIU before he triggered the self-destruct, I’d have access to the company’s latest tactical reports, as well as the various units’ orders. For him it was an eye-blink, his hand still in motion towards the ‘arm’ switch of the self-destruct when I ripped it off his belt and lifted him into the air.
   «Hal, get me the data now!»
   «Boss, it’s war: UPS has slated LSC for destruction. Oh, and they also say you’re dead and the warning was a fake.»

   I canceled the neurokinetics—a dramatic ultimatum loses something in the ‘intimidation’ department when it sounds like a chipmunk on benzedrine. “Listen up, asshole. You already know my name. You won’t live, but be grateful—that means you won’t have to worry about finding a job when I finish destroying UPS,” I growled, then I snapped his neck.
   Three bullets slammed into my back as I dropped the body. The bullets didn’t penetrate—didn’t even hurt, really. But they did tickle, and the fact that I’d let someone actually get the drop on me really pissed me off. I drew a pistol as I spun and let experience do the aiming as I pulled the trigger three times. Two of the .45ACP rounds slammed through the kevlar of the UPS uniform, center-of-mass, and the third blew through the plexiglass face-shield, erasing the head of unlucky Guard #3.
   Following indicators shown by Hal, I turned and fired two more times. Two more brown-shirted UPS goons flatlined—and then it was time to change the mag. As it slammed home, a pair of loud clangs sounded from the back of the UPS delivery van.
   «Reaper, you got that FEL on you?»
   «Yeah. I see it too.»

   «Boss! Got bad news—you need to get to a buffet or something. Reason your stomach is going off is that you haven’t eaten since that meal after the TF Wars.» Hal had to choose the middle of a fight for this kind of news, didn’t he? Always picking the worst time…
   «Shut up, Hal! UPS has mechs
   «Fang-face, SAM says those things are carrying I.N. transponders!»
Reaper growled over the com-link.
   “Fuck!” I muttered and holstered the pistol. I’d left my big toy on the Persephone, thinking it wouldn’t be needed, but even that wasn’t going to be enough. Sprinting to the side of the truck, I put together a few blocks of C4 with detcord and good caps. With one quick motion, I put one block on the side of the truck, and the other in the wheel-well.
   «Bombs Away!» I sent as I jumped away from the shit-brown van and hit the switch. The C4 went off with a satisfying whump! and a nice fireball, throwing the UPS delivery van five feet. Sadly, the mechs survived—though one was smoking bad and seemed to be having trouble staying upright.
   «Boss, I suggest the XD-40s if you want to kill those things. Scans say they have more armor than any of your private tanks.»
   Like I needed Hal to remind me that I had some heavy artillery on me. I’d kept the big guns holstered so far because of collateral damage possibilities. But if his scans were right, I’d be lucky if a round from one of the XD-40s over-penetrated. Who could say? Not me—not unless I actually tried it, that is.
   A quick tap of a switch and a silent pull brought the railgun into firing position. Reaper’s FEL hummed and a lance of brilliant, actinic blue light slammed through the smoking mech. That left little choice of target, so a quick order to Hal gave me a targeting reticle on the head/optics cluster of the still standing mech.
   «Goodbye,» I transmitted on a tight-beam at the mech, on a frequency I knew it would be monitoring, and pulled the trigger. Seventeen depleted-uranium core, boron-carbide coated slugs leapt from the barrels and tore the head off the mech. Fountaining arterial blood told me that, uncharacteristically, these mechs actually had the pilot’s head in their head.
   I holstered the railgun and looked at Reaper. “Come on, Sylvester: There’s a garage I own a block that way with an oversized APC in it.” I motioned with my head and started calmly walking, as the hologram of a generic black-suited goon reappered.
   “First stop, though… UPS needs to be taught a lesson. They had I.N. gear, and they’ll be able to tell us where they got it.”


   Lowering the FEL, I watched with satisfaction as my target crumpled to the floor, coming to rest amid burning debris from the ill-fated delivery van.
   On my targetting overlay, the mech’s power signature began to fluctuate wildly. Not critical damage to its power core, but given a few minutes there probably wouldn’t be much left for that to matter much. The life signs readings were more promising: they were dropping like osmium hailstones. The readings, along with the distinct tang of charred flesh drifting in the air, mixed with the smell of hot metal and burning rubber, all meant the target was down for the count.
   «Sam, FEL status?»
   «Good. Only 20%?»
   «Yeah, need to have Perse scan and add one to the ammo stores before I blow this one up, too.»

   “Come on, Sylvester. I’ve got an APC stored a block from here.”
   The reason I couldn’t catch the bastard the first time I was on his home world was that he seemed to have hideouts and ammo caches practically everywhere he went. His work wasn’t just his work, it was his life. I could relate; as long as I could remember, that’s exactly what my existence had been.
   “You son of a bitch! How many more tricks do you have?”
   Strider responded with a satisfied grin and loped out of the loading docks, the suited goon image materializing around him as he cleared the wreckage.
   “Miltech will have to wait. UPS is using gear with Interactive Networks tags; I want to know where they got it.”
   «My Leige, why are you letting that wolf-thing call the shots?»
   «Have you been listening in this whole time, Perse?»
   «Of course I have, Sir! It’s not like I have anything better to do. This roof might have a good view, but it’s really boring here and you’ve been hogging all the fun.»
   «First, it’s his planet. Second, he’s right: If IN is meddling here, there might be some more concrete leads. Now stay put and be quiet… no, scratch that. Keep cloaked but fall in for air support. Cover my position from 2 kilometers.»

   I followed, my holo-disguise flickering back to life.
   As soon as we hit the streets, my mind wandered to my itinerary. Oddly, the business with IN left a pretty large gap in things. Strider was supposed to be a hard run-down, even if he was from an un-initiated world and they didn’t leave much to go on, so I’d left about a month open. There were a few jobs that I could have looked into, but they were probably resolved already anyhow. That left maintenance on Perse. She was due for a full spread of operational checks, but those would have to wait until after the bickering clowns on this planet got around to doing their promised retrofit. Besides, Perse could do all that herself. Then there was breakfast… I’d skipped breakfast ever since that box of cereal I’d managed to acquire; of course, the milk had gone bad at least two weeks ago. Sam pretty much kept me from needing to eat too much, at the expense of my environment, but like they said in the training course: Never get too dependant on your nano-augmentation. There may come a day when you might need to survive without it! Come to think of it, when did I ever have a training course? Anyhow, I was out of milk, currently on hiatus and on the run, just not from anything.
   After weeding out everything that wasn’t necessary, my to-do list now contained two items:

   “Hey, Mouser? Not to interrupt your touching internal monologue, but we’re here.”
   The building the crazy wolf had led me to was nondescript, like the rest of the buildings for blocks around. Other than a deliberate attempt to keep prying eyes out, it would be completely unremarkable.
   Someone had gone and set up a strong local jamming field, which, to the right eyes was a giant ‘look at me’ sign.
   “Well? What’s behind door number one?”
   “Krieghammer Model K APC. Asshole tried to run me down with it.”
   “Mark?” I muttered as a random aside.
   Strider shook his head slowly.
   “Rush hour. Nobody’ll miss him.”
   «Really? If it’s not on file, how can you tell it’s German?»

   I didn’t know if Sam was joking or not. Probably a little of both, since German engineering on every version of Terra focused more on function than form. It was a long ride.
   After a moment or two of Strider staring down the door, it began to roll upward. Street lights cast stark shadows that fled from the opening chasm and poured off of the large armored vehicle Strider had mothballed here for some insane reason; probably this one.
   “All aboard the hairball express.” He motioned to the APC.
   “This one staying in one piece?”
   The only reply was a low growl.

   A few hours and one random firefight with a small army of hobos later, Strider brought the APC to a grinding halt behind an outbuilding of a bombed out factory half a clik from a large sign that simply said ‘UPS’. In much smaller letters or rather, between them it read Yes, we really are UPS, now go away. This was emphasized by an automated 120mm cannon on either side of a six-meter gate and a regular cycle of armed guards.
   The APC creaked a little as I stepped out onto the ground, betraying everything that the holo-disguise I had Sam activate meant to conceal.
   “The transport business really is cut-throat.”
   “This?” Strider smirked maliciously. “It’s nothing; should have been here for the great DHL takeover of 2219.”
   “Well, you got a plan?”
   “The usual one isn’t good enough?”
   Strider took position on the corner of the bulding, his expression going blank for just a moment before he disappeared behind the shimer of his EM cloak. I followed suit, with a quick expression of intent to Sam.
   “Fine by me!” My grin was the last to disappear.
   «Perse? Controlled burst. Take out the sentry guns.
Instead of taking the low road, I took to the air in a high arc toward the hapless minions of the shipping regime. Death from below, fire from above and enough time to slip the FEL rifle around and shoulder it in before I was within range.
   «Yes, Mon Capitan. On your mark.»

   My first shot passed cleanly through one of the guards patrolling the fence. He stood motionless for a moment before crumpling to the ground. The second round blasted another guard into the fence where a shower of sparks erupted.
   Sam’s targeting aide locked on to a third guard and I was about to fire when a plasma burst came streaking out of the sky to engulf the gate, artillery, vehicles, my target and everything else within 20 meters that wasn’t made of industrial-grade ‘not the fuck there’.
   A quick scan showed only a few stragglers in the area and most of those were engaging Strider. I banked around to take care of the rest, easily picking them off with a quick target lock, weapon center and squeeze.
   After circling Strider a few times, I dropped to the ground in front of him with a soft thud; he gave me the strangest look of unsurprised I’d ever seen, if such a thing as unsurprise could be condensed into a look.
   “Ha! It’s about time that card came to play.”
   “How long have you known?” I glared at Strider.
   “A while now. All this pussy-footing is making me cranky. It’s not like the air support is unwelcome, but they know we’re here now.”
   “Well, let’s get this done then. We’ve got an appointment with Militech and I’ve been on the ground too long.”
   After turning toward the crater that used to be the facility’s front gate, a paw came down on my shoulder.
   “Not so fast, catboy! I just had an idea for a bit of fun, now that the little secret about your ship is out. Care for a little wager?”
   I kept still for a moment.
   “Yeah, I think it’s something you’ll like. Just get Perse down here.”

Half an hour ago

   «Boss! Weather monitors keep reporting a strange, localized pressure difference following us around.»
   «A klick or two up? Then it’s the
Persephone. You can bet the AI is piloting a safe course to keep watch over us, and Reaper knows it.»


   “What’s the plan, furball?” The com-link crackled and hissed, showing the trouble Hal and Sam were having evading UPS’ near-infinite capacity to capture EM radiation around their bases and undo encryption.
   “What? The usual getting too hard for you?” I fired back, triggering the cloak and preparing to start a high-speed assault run through the massive complex.
   A half-minute later, just as I’d plotted a course for maximum casualties and minimum collateral damage, the front gates exploded in a blaze of FEL fire and plasma. I laughed and shook my head. Air support would make this so much easier. But an air-drop entry… hrm… that had promise.
   “Lookie there, we get to see how good an AI warship can shoot! I wondered when you were going to play that card!” I fired off to Reaper and headed for the nearest chunk of open-ground large enough to accomodate the Persephone.
   “How long have you…”
   «Hal, package up all the evidence you collected that the Persephone is run by an AI and also package in all the data about how we knew she was following. Then send it to Reaper.»
   “I see,” Reaper replied, non-committal and apparently not believing that his ship’s AI had made all those mistakes. “Well, let’s get this done then. We’ve got an appointment with Miltech, and I’ve been on the ground too long.”
   «Boss, there are a number of better ways than—»
   «Cut it, Hal. You’ve given me a great idea!»

   Before he could walk through the gates, I grabbed his shoulder and chuckled. “Hold it, furby! I’ve got a better idea. And you’re gonna love it.”
   He spun around, nearly taking my hand off in the process. “Oh? Do tell.”
   I took a breath, jumped to max neuro-kinetics to get all the words straight and had Hal put together a few info-graphics. Dropping back down to baseline NK, I started with Hal sending him the info-graphics package. “We’ve got a ship here that can take us up, say, two klicks. Rather than just walking in, we jump—without parachutes. To survive we use our weapons recoil. Whoever stays in the air longest, wins.”

   The air was cold when we jumped from Persephone’s hold. At two kilometers, the distance would normally be a bit much for the range of the weapons we were using. But these weapons, the ones me and Reaper carried, were mostly rebuilt for both power and range. Two kilometers? At that range, I could hit a man’s head with my chaingun, and I could empty a cup of coffee with my rifle.
   «Alright, Reaper—first one to land is a loser!» I fired over the com-link as I unlimbered the hefty sniper-rifle I’d pulled out of storage that morning and started picking off brown-shirted goons. With the recoil slowing my descent I figured I could wait until I’d dropped to about a kilometer, then pull the chaingun and really have fun.
   The altimeter Hal was hovering in my vision bounced around, seemingly randomly changing between 800 meters and 1200 meters. But if you were watching it at the same time you were listening to the sweet sound of my chaingun firing, you’d know different. I was having the time of my life, falling through the air and doing a decent job of holding position a klick up using nothing more than the recoil from my gun.
   It helped that they didn’t have anything that could touch us up here with any accuracy, not since I’d taken out the snipers that were using .50’s to try and take us down. I think I surprised ’em—they were cleverly hidden and had good thermoptics going. BFD: Thermoptics don’t cover gravitic signatures.
   A roaring explosion, and the updraft that threatened to send me into a spin, pointed out Reaper’s work. He’d nailed a gas truck that had just hooked up to the in-ground tanks in a part of the marshalling yard. It could have been bigger—hell, it could have been a BLEVE*—but really, it did a lot of damage.

*Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion

   «Dammit, Reaper. I’d like to have this place in one piece! It’s a parting gift to LSC.»
   «Right… You’re just jealous that I got about half a thousand kills with that trick, putting me out in the lead.»

   He was right, in a way. He’d jumped past 2 kilo-deaths with that blast and I was still down around 1.8 kilo-deaths. Still… I was taking out every turdstain-like UPS goon that I could—at a rate of over 4 kilo-rounds per minute. Whoah! What the fuck was…
   «Boss, tanks.»
   Right: UPS had a tank and it had just taken a pot-shot at me with its 120mm main gun. Where the fuck had they gotten a tank? Damn, a fucking shit brown tank. Looked like a variant on the 200-year-old Leopard 2. Erase and correct: Not just a single fucking shit-brown tank—four more had just pulled out of the garage, and the heat signatures showed more inside with engines running. When had they found the time to assemble an entire division of fucking shit-brown tanks?
   «Hal, we still got the gravitic-round programs for the chaingun?»
   «You left those in-storage back at the base. But you do have—»

   Null-Space, the wonder of the next-millenium! A flat, hockey-puck shaped chunk of technology that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside, and could normally hold a non-energy weapon massing less than four kilos. Okay, the thing does have a tendency to explode like a baby nuke when its power dies. What’s your point? That’s not a bug, it’s a feature! Anyway, mine are prototypes I’d liberated from Davidson when I went in to get the secret of the technology for one of their competitors. Mine could handle energy weapons—as long as the amount of energy and the mass of the weapon didn’t pass a mass-energy equivalence of 50 kilo’s.
   Shit! Another burst, about 30 seconds long, brought me up to 1300 meters and I kicked the neuro-kinetics to full-blast. With my altitude secured, I pulled the 44 kilo mass-equivalent railgun from the Null-Space holster that was part of my standard load-out. Bring the long-barreled weapon to my shoulder, take a moment to let Hal put pippers on the five spots I wanted to hit each tank, and open fire. Driver, Commander, Gunner, Loader, Engine—the crews and the tanks were down and the doors to the garage well blocked.
   But the building itself had to come down—the UPS Plaza’s automated air defenses of the UPS plaza might not be able to target the Persephone or either of us, but things like tanks were manually controlled and could be targeted at us. What? You think automatic targeting can handle something with the best camouflage the multiverse has to offer, or two man-sized figures? If we were doing a standard parachute insertion, or using classic rocket packs, then sure, the systems would have had something to lock on to. The thing is, nobody ever considered someone would be crazy, or skilled, enough to try something like a recoil-slowed insertion.
   «Alright, Hal. We still have that gravitic transference load for the long-gun?»
   «Inventory reports several nano-factories… in the armory, where that stupid robot hides them.»
   «You know that building needs to come down—what do we have for it?»
   «Ever turned that knob on the Eta-blasters all the way up? Scans report that the “Red-Black-Red” stripe setting is full-power.»
A quick change of the N-S holster’s micro-fusion cell and I put the rail-gun away, then flicked the switches on the Eta-blasters and drew them. The solid heft of the guns brought a smile to my face and I waited for the altimeter that had reached over two klicks to get back down to around 1000 meters before opening fire. Ten pulls on the triggers—twenty blasts in total—and the building was a smoldering, melted crater.
   «Hah! Beat that, Reaper! It’s even radioactive!»
   «Big deal. You’re down to 750 meters; looks like I’m gonna win.»


   «But my Leige! I’m a warship. What am I supposed to know about weather patterns?!»
   «Never mind. Just don’t let it happen again… and if there’s any malicious intrusion in your systems… fry first, ask questions later.»
   «Yes, Captain Happyfeet! Does this mean I can’t talk to Sam?»
   «Grrrr… no, it does not mean you can’t talk to Sam!»
   «What about Hal?»
   «Stun Hal if you have to, but no, it doesn’t mean you can’t talk to Hal either. Behave! What’s our position?»
   «We’re where you asked to be, Sir: two kilometers above that UPS complex. Should I open the cargo door?»
   «Go ahead.»

   Strider stepped onto the massive cargo door as it clanged to a halt level with the deck plating. He padded to the edge, weapon resting over his shoulder and glanced over the edge, with no trace of humanity’s respect for heights.
   “You up for this, mittens?”
   “I have the clear advantage here,” I said, flexing a wing. “You’ve already lost!”
   “That’s what you think!” He laughed for a moment and stepped backwards off the platform.
   After two quick steps and a mid-air somersault I was free-falling above Strider with the complex spread like a shooting gallery below.
   «Sam, bring up full neurokinetics and paint all targets.»
   «SIR, YES SIR!»

   As the world slowed, I spread my wings.
   What should have been a sharp snap as my free-fall came to a stop instead seemed to take a few agonizing seconds, with every bit of the negative G’s ripping at my body. Thankfully, what everyone else calls ‘pain’ was stripped out by Sam’s neuro-filter, and what was left became a dull itch distracted by the blanket of targets popping up below me.
   Strider fell a second or two more before opening fire, to pull a freaking yo-yo act in the middle of my flight pattern with his chain-gun blazing.
   “Leave it to a wolf to piss on his enemies.” I muttered to myself, shouldering both the FEL cannon and Gravitic Displacement Blaster.
   «Sam, kill counter. Perse… some Wagner… on all channels!»
   The score showed Strider ahead by forty kills before my first salvo rocked the compound. Actinic blue bolts from the FEL cannon mixed with slower rounds from the GD Blaster created an ever-widening field of dead bodies and smouldering wreckage, with Ride of the Valkyries blasting across every radio and comm channel. Every round splattered its target into small, meaty packing noodles and then exploded to in a ball of plasma that melted concrete and set nearby troops alight.
   Strider’s kill count was climbing steadily higher while he bounced up and down through my slow decent, riding his overpowered pea shooter.
   A blinking reticle to my right caught my attention. It was streaking toward me at a damn quick pace and I had just enough time to roll out of the way before a stream of large calibre shells started whizzing past me.
   «Origin point of incoming targets, Sam!»

   A large reticule popped into view over what Sam had described. Incredibly, it was the fueling depot! Crazy bastards…
   «Nice work, Sam!»
   The GD Blaster was set for overload and discarded. It plummeted to 15 meters before exploding in an air burst over a group of brownshirts. At the same time I dialed up the FEL rifle to use the remaining charge and fired a burst at the small bunker. The FEL beam held steady for a moment, then the rifle belched a -very- dense burst of blue energy at its target which melted away without hesitation. The beam, however, didn’t stop there. It bored a hole into the ground where the air defense had been and dispersed throughout the refueling station.
   Vaporized metal mixed with the fuel and remenants of the FEL round all went up at the same time, creating a plasma firestorm that inverted the fueling station and melted the façade of a nearby building, taking five hundred and eight target markers with it.
   Like Mom always used to say: There’s no kill like overkill.
   Then an angry voice burst across the commlink. «Damnit, Reaper, this place is a parting gift for LSC!»
   «Hah! You’re just mad because the five hundred kills put me in the lead!» True, my half-a-kilocorpse had done that, but it also left me without an effective weapon to use at range…
   «Shit! Perse, give me the biggest, rapidest-fire, lowest-recoil weapon we’ve got!»
   «Coming right up, My Leige!»

   Beneath me the air crackled and the familiar glow of Perse’s teleporter sparked a momentary glow in the air that quickly took a large spherical shape. The rest of the thing filled in as it materialized into a large grey ball that looked like it had been slapped together out of parts from a few thousand plastic model kits.
   «Perse!? What the hell IS this!»
   I grabbed onto the sphere just before it started falling and tried to keep it airborne, but even I couldn’t keep a 10-metre sphere up in the air unaided; I went along with it.
   «Funny; the brochure said it was a really stellar killing machine that could take out a planet in one shot… I think this one’s a small-scale model. Maybe the brochure meant the full-size one?»
   «Where on Earth did you get this fucking thing!? Now is not the time to be screwing around!!»
   «It wasn’t on Earth, Captain Grumpy Pants. It was just floating by one day. And it should have a button. These things always have buttons. I have buttons!»
   «There IS no fucking button!»
I shouted at Perse so loudly it blead onto the normal comm channels.
   «Sam! We need to get this thing to fire, pronto!»
   «Don’t have the time?» I echoed back, puzzled at the response from Sam. He flashed an altimeter reading up in my vision; I had taken too long arguing with Perse while dropping like a stone… a very large stone.
   «Fuck this game, I’m bored. You win, wolfboy! I’ll get you next time, my pretty!» I forced across the intercom, trailing off with a peal of insane laughter.
   Perse’s weapon selection was still useful. Instead of abandoning the space flotsam so riddled with plot holes it was next to useless as a weapon, I rode it down until just meters above the ground then used it to springboard myself upwards, rolling once in the air before spreading my wings. The gray ball from space held station, then languidly pulled away as my descent slowed to keep me high above as the gray sphere slammed into a large outbuilding.
   The building was annihilated and as the sphere drove through it, the hull buckled, collapsing outward like a ripe fruit and a shock shock wave billowed outward along the ground. Seconds later the whole of the sphere exploded, knocking me about and sending a mushroom cloud skyward.
   I circled downward around the billow of smoke, nearly free-falling, flaring at the last moment to land heavily with the wreckage to my back.
   «Perse, scan the space lemon for any tech this backwater rock shouldn’t have and put it in locker B. These monkeys have caused enough trouble without any help.»
   «Sure thing, boss! I’ll just put it back where it came from!»
   «Sam. Tactical assessment: Show me ground targets that are a threat only and the quickest way in.»
   «SIR! YES SIR!»
Most of the blips in my vision dropped off, leaving only two dozen along a nav corridor to what looked like a service door. «SIR, THERE’S A—»
   «—I see it, Sam. Good work.»

   Moving quickly along the ground, I drew my custom MAC-10s and plugged the first two brownshirts that happened to be in my way with a burst from each .50 cal.
   True, they weren’t much of a threat, technically speaking. Nor were the next eight that were staring in shock at the mass of wreckage behind me. But since these were the only ones that still had weapons pointed in my direction and weren’t flat-out running the other way, they qualified.
   By the time I’d gotten to the service door, there were no sentries to be found. They probably shared the same sentiment that the last turd I half-heartedly fired a disabling shot at muttered under his breath; something about “not getting paid enough for this shit”.
   The door put up only a little more fight, with its lock glowing an annoying shade of red, blinking ‘insert badge’; the damn thing mocked me with its very existence. I raised an eye at the indicator and its futile message before sinking my claws into the soft steel of the door and yanking hard enough to pull the frame out of the wall.
   “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.”
   «I’m inside the main building. Where did you and your mange get to?»
   «Already ahead of you, puss. And where did your boots get to? They’re definitely not here, on the other side of the building. Five floors up. You lose.»

   «Fine. Where’s the executive level? You wanted to turn this place over to Lightspeed, and we can’t do that with legitimate management around.» I fired a round through a security station -- and the guard manning it. He must have thought an internal office wall was cover, not concealment; he sure learned different!
   Strider flashed me a floor plan of the building and the most direct route to the thirteenth floor.
   «Why the thirteenth? This building has at least twenty floors.»
   «Twenty-two. What we want is on the thirteenth; I was here for negotiation with an underling over our last dispute.»
   «Wining and dining, you sly dog…»
   «Night insertion, and the job was a bitch. Now get your feline ass up here.»
   «That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to squeeze down these tight hallways!»

   The first checkpoint Strider had sent me was the service stairwell, a few turns further down the corridor I was in. While the halls were cramped, it wasn’t impossible to maneuver in them, and they offered no cover for any brownshirts stupid enough to be not running the other direction. For the half-dozen that were, a face full of BMG .50 cal erased any traces of “who goes there” before they could escape.
   I caught up with Strider on the twelfth floor, gleefully picking off suits in a large office space.
   “What the hell are you doing?!” rawr’ed my old instincts.
   “They’re lawyers! I have a license to cull the herd.”
   “A license?”
   “Yeah, FedGov supplied it as part of a job I did for them a few years back. Still good—seems there was a typo in the expiration date. Anyway, just evening out the score.”
   “That’s nice. Are you done playing around?”
   “If you’ve caught back up to the present.” A lawyer stuck its head above a desk across the room and screamed; without looking, Strider downsized the weaselly lawyer all the way to a para-legal by clipping it in half with a single round to the torso.
   Yawning as only a feline can, I slipped out a frag grenade, popped the button and flicked it to the far side of the room.
   “Heel, wolf-boy. It’s time to go.”
   There was a low growl behind me as Strider pushed past me and into the stairwell, heading for the executive suite. It was his show, after all; a bang echoed down the hall behind us, followed by the sound of raining debris.
   The thirteenth floor was magnificent. It had glass panelling everywhere, trimmed with dark oak and inset with frosted murals of Roman conquest. Obviously the person who controlled this space felt it was untouchable.
   «In the large, opaque office just ahead is the man who owns this whole regional operation and pays part of his profits to UPS headquarters. If he’s dead, it’s all up for grabs; possession is ninety-nine percent of the law.»
   «Those are real cut-throat business practices!»

   Strider made short work of the door before stepping through, shattering it all over the pristine office. I followed and got my first look at the man running this operation: round, greasy and wearing a bad suit, almost a complete antithesis to the architecture of the suite.
   “Who are you and what are you doing here?! You’ve a lot of mayhem to answer for!” Fatboy had been watching everything on the holo-vid displays lining his office.
   Strider slammed his fist down on the desk between him and the suit; it cracked in half. “You declared war on Lightspeed Couriers. I can’t have that.”
   “That doesn’t explain why you’re here,” the man replied, unfazed by Strider’s response.
   Picking him up, I grinned. “Well, it was either this or a horse’s head; yours fit the bill better.”
   Haughty and dim-witted, the suit laughed. “You wouldn’t dare! I own this town—there’s no place you’d be safe!”
   A smirk spread across Strider’s lupine features. “What makes you think I’m sticking around? Reaper? Kill all communications.”
   «You heard the… er… man, Perse. Target main power, auxiliary power and anything else that puts out more juice than a toaster. Jam all unsecured comms and EMP the building please.»
   «Coming right up, My Leige!»

   There was a pause, then a series of large explosions that rocked the building and the lights went out. The emergency lighting began to switch on but was immediately countered with a crackle and tangible whoomph echoed through the halls, followed by the combined sizzle of burnt circuitry and a sudden acrid smell.
   I chuckled and held the squirming suit out toward Strider. “Done.”
   As the last glow from the dim lighting faded, Strider leaned close this king of the proverbial shit-pile. “You never owned shit. Think about this while you die: I was Devin Strider.”
   Before the thought could fully register, Strider snapped the head clean off of the former regional UPS manager, and held it so the last firing neurons could catch a glimpse of their own corpse as I let it slump to the floor.
   “So now what? You rifle through his pockets for the keys to this kingdom?”
   “Nah. I’ll have my lawyers lay claim to it in the morning.”
   “You… have… lawyers?” I could hardly get my words out between the bouts of laughter.
   “I have competent lawyers,” Strider said as he lay a card on the desk. “The ones downstairs weren’t on my payroll.”
   “Kilroy was here?” My question came as a snicker.
   “My calling card. Now, let’s get that ship of yours over to MiliTech for her tuneup.”
   “Next stop: MiliTech.” I whistled a bit of Wagner, and slipped out the door.


   Taking advantage of running at full NK boost, I swapped back to my chaingun and opened fire. As the altimeter reached 900 meters, Reaper shouted something about being tired of the game. I watched as he followed a huge sphere to the ground, then bounded free and rode a thermal when it detonated like a baby nuke.
   «Hal, what the fuck was that
   «It looked like a movie prop, but detonated like it was carrying a massive fusion reactor. Only hit I can find for a weapon shaped like that is from an ancient flatvid movie.»

   The shockwave’s impact cut my planned answer short, but the second I saw Reaper land, it was fun time. With a laugh I changed tactics and fired a short burst (two realtime seconds) from the chaingun. The lateral acceleration that provided sent me flying into one of the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows ringing the fourth floor. Three fusion grenades cleared the resistance and got me into a stairwell.
   «I’m in. Where are you?» Reaper’s growl brought my attention to the fact that I was running real-time.
   «Fifth floor. You’re slow, Puss. Where’d you leave your fancy footwear?»
   Okay, so I’d cheated a bit to get into the building ahead of him. But my last foray into this territory had revealed a disconnected mainframe-type system on the sixth floor, and I wanted to get a copy of every bit of data on it. Reaper didn’t need to know about it—it was likely something required by the Shitpile they call UPS World Headquarters in Los Angeles. However, Lightspeed might be able to use the data to force UPS to call off any retaliatory wars.
   UPS Security dumped a load of turds in front of me. Rather than waste ammunition, I reached for the box of business cards on the desk in one of the cubicles.
   «Hal? These stiff enough for the old ‘deadly deck’ trick?»
   «More than that, boss. Smart-ass who owned that cubicle got a bunch of smart-tags made into business cards. Those are more metal than paper.»

   Dropping back to real-time, I let loose a full-bodied Evil Laugh™, which made the advancing wave of shit pause for a split-second. Enough time for me to flip back to full neuro-kinetic boost, open the box and begin flinging business cards at them like shuriken. The shower of blood and bone, accompanied by the plaintive wailing of those that I’d only de-limbed or given flesh wounds to, was the music that accompanied my slow walk to the doors of the executive stairwell that was the access-point for the sixth floor.
   «Now, where in this monument to corporate stupidity is the executive level?» Reaper’s inquiry was one I expected. And if I’d never been in the building before, I wouldn’t have been able to answer as fast.
   «Thirteenth floor.»
   «This tower has at least 22 floors, and the execs are on the thirteenth?»
   «Yeah, it’s stupid. Told them as much the last time I was here for… negotiations.»
A night insertion, skirting what security I could and having Hal redirect other bits so I could make it to the executive level and leave… let’s call it a ‘present’… for the VP of Sales and Marketing from his counterpart at a software firm.
   «You’ve been here to negotiate?» I guess Reaper hadn’t really done his homework when he’d first started hunting me a year before. Honestly, it’s amazing where the world’s most sought-after assassin gets to.
   «It was a night-insertion and not… classical negotiation,» I replied cryptically, while kicking open the door to the sixth floor.
   Five steps and a flick of the wrist brought down the only shit-shirted goon stupid enough to try and stop me. Three more and a swift side-kick got me into the mainframe’s access room. «Downlink it, Hal. Vampire mode.»
   «Already going, Boss. Transfer 40% complete. This thing has info-war weapons on it… including stuff that the Eunuchs and FedGov tried to destroy, back during the last World War.»

   Color me impressed. If it had any of the really cool toys from the cyberwar division of any of the powers that had fought in World War 4, I was going to keep a copy of it all for myself. The code-cutters they used have become things of legend, alleged to be capable of shattering a 128-qubit-keyed encryption in less than half an hour.
   «Download complete, boss.»
   That was my cue to get going. Up the secret stairs to the thirteenth floor—or that was the plan before I saw the label next to the door for the twelfth floor. In large black letters was a word that made me change plans almost immediately: ‘Legal’.
   «Hal? Our lawyer-hunting license from FedGov is still valid, right?»
   «You know it is, Boss-man.»
Which was true enough; I just liked to hear him say it. «Going hunting?»
   «Just make sure you’ve got your target-markers ready to go.»

   I stepped through the door and calmly snapped the neck of a lawyer standing by a water cooler just inside the door. In my loudest voice I announced, “Under the auspices of the Judiciary Redundancy and Legal System Cleanup Act of 2210 I must inform you all that I am licensed to remove any lawyer or legal functionary in the employ of any corporation that I deem to be redundant. In accordance with the statute, I am now informing everyone on this floor that I find you to be redundant.”
   «Hal, seal the floor as best you can. It’s Shyster Season!»
   To add to the challenge I released the chaingun and pulled my Eta-blasters, then watched the countdown on the timer Hal had thoughtfully provided. Thirty seconds, that gave the secretaries time to vacate and the lawyers a chance to arm themselves. As the timer ticked over to zero I opened fire, pacing myself and making extremely precise shots to try and preserve as much of the building’s decor and structural support as possible.
   My fun was almost over when Reaper finally caught up to me.
   “What the fuck?”
   Another lawyer showed himself as he ran for a fire-door. Bad move on his part: One hiss of electricity and smell of ozone later, the jacketed particle blast slammed into his back and detonated.
   “Cull-” Three suits (senior partners, judging by the cufflinks) charged out from a side office, bearing automatics. “-ing the herd.” They made it four feet before they died with miniature mushroom clouds replacing their heads. “I got a license.”
   “A license to extinctify?”
   “Perk of doing jobs for FedGov. They never asked for it back.” That last sentence was strictly true; none of the FedGov spokesthings assigned to reclaim the license had lived long enough to say much.
   Hal reported ten figures huddled by the elevators, behind some plastic shrubbery and one nearby. I was going to let them all live when the closest one—another damned lawyer!—tried to run. I fired and hit him in the crack of his ass. Cleaners were going to have fun with that one; cleaning shit out of a shit-brown carpet.
   “Heel, wolfy.” Reaper shouted and tossed a grenade at the last group’s hidey-hole, then turned and walked back into the stairwell. I shrugged and followed; the grenade’s detonation brought a smile to my face.
   A single flight of stairs later—elevators can be turned off, you know?—and we’d entered the ultra-modern, glass and glossy-black steel corporate offices. I snarled in disgust and did a quick scan of the surroundings.
   «In that opaque monstrosity is the guy that owns this monument to stupidity,» I fired off to Reaper so he’d know the score. «Sure, he sends money back to the fucking ugly, shit-brown headquarters, but he actually owns the entire east-coast branch of the company. Take him out, and we get the property.»
   «Actually, Boss… The Corporate Warfare Normalization and Regulation act of 2141—sponsored by SMM, Microsoft and Amazon—makes an action like that legal and a rare, but expected part of a hostile takeover,» Hal interjected, cutting off whatever Reaper had replied with. I laughed internally and tore the lying fatman’s office door off its hinges. The glass shattering was unintentional—I’d actually wanted to add it to my collection of trophies.
   “Who the fuck do you think you are?” Marvin Helfstigler Holstein screamed as his guards dropped their weapons and ran for the supposedly-secret exits that every CEO had dotting their offices.
   I slammed my hand onto the mahogany-and-teak monstrosity he called a desk and answered with a hungry grin. “You declared war on Lightspeed Couriers. I’m their response.”
   “But… that doesn’t explain why you are here!” he stammered, quickly pulling his air of professional unconcern back into place.
   It took almost every ounce of self-control I had to not laugh when Reaper dragged the fat sack of shit out of his chair and told him, pointedly, that we were after his head. The smug self-satisfaction and mask of disinterest he affected were shattered—his mouth popped open and worked open and closed—like a fish drowning in the air.
   “You… you can’t do this! I own this town!” he finally managed to shout, amazing me with the sheer amount of emotion and self-satisfaction he managed to stuff into his boast. Okay, if he wasn’t going to break fully, it was time to add to the tension.
   “Reaper, kill all communications,” I said, transmitting an explanation for the order alongside the words.
   The building shook as Persephone took out power supplies. As the emergency lights struggled to come out of their life-long coma, a whip-crack of electricity surged through my body and the emergency lights died, accompanied by the delicate aroma of EMP-generated ozone.
   Reaper smiled and held the squirming blob out to me, saying just one word: “Done.”
   The smell of urine and shit that emanated from the bloated once-human sack of flesh—coupled with the almost manic gleam in his eyes—told me that all it would take would be one more tiny push and he’d break completely. I leaned in and said, “Oh, and one more thing: I’m Devin Strider.”
   That revelation did it: Whatever threads of sanity he had left were ripped away. Good example to follow—I ripped his head from his shoulders at full neuro-kinetic boost, then turned it to look straight at the sad sack of piss-and-shit-coated filth it had once been attached to. Then I set the head on the desk.
   “What now? Rifle through his pockets for loose change?” Reaper said with only mild snark.
   “Nah; my legal staff will register this as a legitimate corporate takeover.”
   «Hal, get a snapshot of that for the logs—I think I just managed to stun Reaper!» I ordered, laughing inside.
   “You… you have lawyers?” he finally asked, in between paroxysms of laughter that threatened to leave him gasping for breath.
   “I have competent lawyers. Nothing like the disposable shysters I culled a floor down.”
   Enough was enough, though. I’d spent more time in that office than I’d planned. To the tune of ‘the entire time I’d been in it’. All their fault, of course; until the fuckers tried to ambush me outside Davidson, I’d just as soon have let some of the turds in the shit-brown shirts live.
   With a smile and a flick of the wrist, I dropped my calling-card on the desk. I hadn’t left one in years, but in this case it was just to make sure people knew that I’d been there. And while I didn’t plan on returning to the planet after I’d left it—nothing left there to give me the needed adrenaline fix—it would be good for people to be left wondering where I could possibly show up next.
   “Kilroy?” Reaper quipped.
   I laughed at the joke, then smiled. “Nah, it’s my calling card: A wolf’s-head ace. Get your ship down here and lets go call on the idiots at Militech. Perse needs her upgrades.”

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