Chapter 6: Dropship
The Traitor and the Dragon
The next thing I knew I was lying on a bed. My head felt three times its size. Through the clear vision of an unnatural eye, I saw guards posted on either side of me. I felt strange like I lost my right hand. I glanced down and saw that the grapple hadn't retracted yet. When my hand is detached, the touch sensors are cut off. The cable connecting it to the grapple was thick enough for one wire, the wire used to control the hand. In fact the door handle was still in its grip. It had to be welded off. I released the handle and reeled my hand back in. One of the guards noticed me and spoke over a small radio. Haversom barged in demanding to know what was going on here. "Marci...hijacked ...shuttle. Tried to...stop her. Failed. Airlock... opened. Blacked...out. Need you." I whispered faintly.

I still felt incredible weak. Haversom dismissed the guards and ordered someone to bring in what I requested. The rest of Fireflight was brought in also. They were obviously concerned about my welfare. I was fading in and out of consciousness. I directed Eiran on how to access the interface plug and connect it to the screen. Cybernetics are tireless workhorses. Once the link was complete, I directed the recorder to run a continuous loop of the events in the bay before returning to blissful darkness. I don't know how long I was out or how many times Marci's betrayal has been played for all to see, but when I awoke, I felt much better. Larani was there and helped my to sit up. "That was a brave thing you did there, Fox." she said, "The bomb she planted on the other shuttle was on an air pressure trigger. It goes off if the pressure drops too much. Your intervention pushed her schedule forward. If you weren't there, we would have gone out in that shuttle and be scattered across the moon. Tell me, what made you suspicious of her?"

"First thing was that she said she had a busy day tomorrow at the dinner. I knew of no plans she was involved in. No, actually it was when she started asking all these questions at Eiran. She knows he tends to crack under social pressure. Quite a shy kid he is. Marci didn't seem to want to talk with me. It might have been because she was worried that I might have some metal that could detect her thoughts. Don't worry I don't have one of those. I began to wonder why she'd ask questions with the video available. So I decided to tract her and the rest you know. So what's the scoop with her?"

"You know most of it. She stole the report and took the shuttle to Algol. Thanks to you, we have learned where she's planning on going. Are you well enough to get up? There's a pre-mission briefing in a few minutes."

"Lead the way." I replied taking the interface plug then jumping out of bed. OUCH!! That's smarts! Next time I'll wait until after the IV's been taken from my arm. I slid it out carefully. Though my micro-vision, I could barely see the nanomachines hard at work sealing the tiny hole in my arm. My legs were still a bit weak, but I figure it will soon pass. I grabbed my coat and gun and went with Larani to the General's office.

The rest were seated there. I noticed that his desk had been replaced with a door on two oil drums. Currently the 'desk' was covered in papers. He received an inquiring look from me. "My real desk was destroyed in the fight yesterday." it almost sounded like an apology.

Over all the papers was a map of the Beta Quadrant and the general looked like he got no sleep at all the previous night. He stood up and said, "Firstly, let me congratulate you on a job well done. The final fatality count was only ten. If that thing had gotten past you, it could have cost the life of everyone on this base. It's a shocking reminder of how vulnerable we are. If we had the Comets promised four years ago, that wouldn't be a problem. I hope Delaney takes that information back to his 'council.' I'm sure you're wondering what that was. The fact is, so are we. The investigation team found where it was." He paused to throw a rock on the map.

"It was embedded in this, a volcanic flow over 2000 years old. As you all know, there hasn't been any volcanic activity on Dion in at least that long. It seems that the construction crew was using a laser digger and woke the thing up. The team also went over the area where the unit exploded; there's nothing left of it but ions. Now the bad news. The shuttle I sent with the message to Dr.Tal has been hijacked. My aide seems to have copied all the information we had on the thing, and forged orders to board the shuttle. She had also planted a bomb on the other shuttle set to go off when exposed to a vacuum. Thanks to Sergeant Conners, the bomb went off without hurting anyone. As of one hour ago the shuttle went off course. It seems to be making for the Sea of Mardak in the north of Algol. Specifically the island of Fiora, again thanks to Fox. We can't let that information fall into the hands of the general public. It would cause a planet-wide panic. We must assume that whatever it was it was both alien and hostile. Until I talk to Tal, I want this kept quiet. I need ten good pilots to go planetside to recover that information. Do I have any volunteers?"

I stood up and said in no uncertain terms that I wanted to go despite any wounds I might have received from exposure. Marci had gotten away and was very dangerous. I vowed that I would bring her in because of what she did to me. The Edgerunner rule number fourteen, 'Keep your list of enemies short,' was definitely appropriate here. Then the rest of the team stood up and volunteered. Tammis said that we were a team and if she messed with one of us, she messed with all of us. "Excellent, I'm sure you will succeed. Though both shuttles are gone, there is a drop ship with roadstrikers arriving in half an hour. It will be another half hour to refuel and prepare it for a return trip. You will leave as soon as it is ready. Dismissed."

As we started to leave Haversom asked me to stay behind for a minute. "Son," he said, "I don't want you to go if you don't feel up to it. Don't let the drive for revenge could your better judgement."

I told him I felt fine and not to worry about it. "Some kinds of revenge which will consume your sould if you let it. Others just give you an incentive to do something you'd normally do. Marci leans towrad the second."

"If you say so, but do try to bring her in alive so we can question her."

"No promises General. Trying to kill a Night City Edgerunner only gets you into more trouble than anyone can handle. Marci is going to learn that. Even if it kills her." I finished my statement by having my metal eye briefly flare a bright green then left.

You shouldn't take attempted murder lightly, especially when you were almost the victim. At home you learned that if you let a person who tried to kill you live, that they were going to try again and probably succeed. I knew I was no solo, but I could make up for it in a pinch. D'able was about to be Dis'able-d. I laughed silently at my own joke as I went back to prepare for the journey.

Not having much to begin with, I decided to take everything with me. Since this mission could last a while, I though it would be best. Never know what you might need in the field. By the time I was done packing, only a few scraps of paper and a messy bed was all the evidence that anyone was ever here.

The next stop was the science labs. All the scientists were gone, probably asleep, but a note was left for me. It said that they have figured out most of the weapons and have grasped the basics of cybernetics. But they would need more time before they could produce fully functional items. What they were able to do was reproduce the ammo for all of my guns and there was a stack of them on the table. Rule number seven of being an Edgerunner, "There's no such thing as too much firepower." I took the cartridges and put them all in my bag. I also noticed there were a few weapons that they were done with. It wasn't much, a couple of pistols and two medium SMGs. I took them also. Then it was off to the mekton bay for my armor and mauser.

I was there first and watched as the remaining repairs on the remaining shuttle. The drop ship had landed outside and a boarding tube connected it to the base. It was much bigger than any shuttle I've seen, bigger than some buildings. It was marked as a transport vessel by it's lack of windows on the main body. The only windows it had was a strip near the top. The drop ship was about twenty five meters tall. It had mekton sized doors on the side. Judging form the size of the doors, I'd say it could hold about a dozen mektons. The engines were separate from the main body. They stuck out a bit and held in place by a series of tubes. On the underside of the ship there was this large concave disk painted space black which I took for a heat shield. A small buzzer sounded and the entrance to the boarding tube opened up. At about the same time the other members of Fireflight arrived. "Do you really think that you'll need so many weapons?" Karin asked dryly.

To which I answered yes reminding her that we might have to search for the traitor on foot without the benefit of those overgrown tin cans. She asked me if I wanted to leave mine here and go on foot. "No thanks, we're in a hurry so we don't have time to drop one off here. Besides, they might prove useful in case Marci's someplace where the mektons can fit."

She turned away from me and I wondered what these roadstrikers looked like. They didn't sound too big. I might even be able to use my cannon with it. More people showed up and within five minutes everyone had assembled. Larani gave us the order to board the drop ship. Soon we were all strapped in and set to launch. The trip was going to take about a day so after we left, I took a quick look-see of the place. There was no crew, Tammis was driving with the assistance of the computer. There were six rooms set in the back. Each room only contained a sink, table and a pair of bunk beds. This ship was not made for long term living. One day shouldn't be too hard. I ventured down to the bay to check out our assigned mektons. As I expected, there were small, less than 4 meters in height.

There was a maintenance computer on the wall which I used to learn more about it. The first thing I learned was that it was called a Stallion and that it can transform into a motorcycle. It's controls were similar to the Otto and was armed with two missile launchers and a blade blaster. The later was an interesting device that converted from an energy sword to a laser pistol. It's size was comparable to my mauser but bulkier. A quick visual comparison between the two weapons told me that while it was not possible for it to use the cannon without modification. Fortunately there was some scrap metal at the repair station (actually it was just an empty mekton hanger with a few tools and spare parts). I checked out my idea on the computer. While the idea was easy, actually installing it would be difficult.

The idea was to weld a harness for the cannon to the left arm and run a wire between it and me. In vehicle mode it would be mounted on the top left side still available to use. When I originally had the mauser modified, the techie used an interface plug to run systems checks on the gun. When he was finished with the directed improvements, he worked with the plug so that anyone who was hooked up to the gun via the plug could not only fire it with a thought, but received any revellent information about the gun's condition. It was a perk I made little use of until now because it was hard to aim a gun you weren't holding. I called Larani and Eiran down and told them my idea. Eiran was happy for the chance to actually work on a mekton, but Larani had her doubts about the unauthorized modification of government property.

I told her that what was going to be done, could easily be undone leaving only a few scratches on the surface and that there was no tampering with the inner workings of the arm. She gave her approval on that condition. For the next few hours, Eiran and myself worked on the mekton. Well, he did most of the work, I mostly observed. He said that since he knew more about this than I did, he should do it. But I was no slouch in repairing either. I was a skilled gunsmith and knew a bit about basic technologies. I could have even done this myself once told that it was possible, but Eiran insisted on making sure I did it right. Personally, I think he was just happy to get some time away from the others. It would be some time before he felt perfectly at ease with the team. I made use of the time by connecting a socket to the control board where I can use the interface plug. From there I ran the wire outside along the arm to where Eiran was attaching the harness leaving plenty of slack.

The job didn't take long and when we were through, there was a way to quickly connect the power of Earth's weapons with the abilities of Algolian mektons. Not a bad job, it might someday become standard equipment. But that would mean that there would be a personal weapon big enough to be of use on a mekton. That worried me a bit. Well no time for that. We had finished and it was time to go upstairs to the others.

Tammis set the autopilot and was desperately trying to win at one of the two card games going on. Each game had four people. In his game, Celine and Tharis were competing to see who had the biggest pile of chips. Funny, I never though Celine would be much of a card player with the way her emotions were always shown in her expression. But she had one of the best poker faces I've seen. Karin was there also looking cold and depressed who's pile of chips was almost as small as Tammis's. Across the room the game looked evenly split, though I thought that Larani had a few more chips. "Care for a couple more players after we put our tools away?" I said.

Celine and Cedric agreed mentioning that they could use some fresh meat. Celine even offered me a chair next to her. I'm sure you could imagine my delight. Some people never give up. It wasn't that I didn't find her attractive, it was that the age difference was too great for my comfort level and the fact she tended to flirt with anyone male, handsome, and has a pulse. In my bunk I pulled out a new kind of poker chip, a skill chip that had every single card game on file plus how to win at them. There was even a special feature which gave the user an edge in the rare case where the game wasn't on file. I slipped it in and returned back to the game. The poker chip came with many useful features like letting you know if you're face is revealing how good your hand was, it also provided a card counting function.

The nipor (their name for poker) game was a set of card games one of which the dealer selected. The deck was made of sixty cards of five suits and a dozen ranks. What was being played right now was six card draw (here called pistol). How you played was the same as five card draw with the only difference being the extra card. I've played it many times in my youth against Uncle Dave. He was good, taught me a lot of things about poker. I could almost feel his presence at the table as I won the first few hands. Between games I inquired about why the called the game pistol.

They said it was from when Algol was first being settled. The pioneers often used guns containing six bullets. They played the game (and got into gun fights with accused cheaters) often enough that they started calling it pistol in reference to the pioneers. It reminded me of an old program about the history of the English language about how beaver skins were used as money in the frontier thus altering the word buck to mean dollar.

The balance of power changed over the next hour. Tammis was still low on chips but now the main competitors were Karin and myself. Now, everyone had folded but us and the pot was getting high. As a final bet, Karin suggested that the loser tells a tale from their past, they'd rather kept secret. I had two three of a kinds and was feeling confident. I agreed on the condition that the story would not get either of us demoted or worse, that this was all to be kept in fun and to never to go outside the ship. By now the other table had come over to watch us and everyone was rather excited. We laid our hand down. Karin had a straight flush one of the two hands that could beat what I had. She laughed triumphantly and immediately got comfortable in her chair, waiting for me to pay up. I got a large cup of soykaf and reminded everyone that this was to remain secret.

"I guess the first thing you should know was that Rapid Fire often involves itself in illegal weapons deals. We kept the cops off our backs by offering them discounts and occasional donations of heavy weapons to their cyberpsycho squad, cops who capture (or destroy) people who have so much cyberware that they go nuts. Don't worry I don't even have a third as much in me to make me go crazy.

"Anyway there was this new gang in town. No one liked them. They were rude, crude, and well armed. They often fought with other gangs to carve out a territory. Called themselves the Dragons and frequently used flame throwers and other such weapons of mass destruction. I refused to deal with them when such things were involved, but they were interested in buying assault rifles which I sell them. Later there was this rumor floating around that the Dragons were building their own punkunaught. That's a homemade hover tank and, needless to say, incredible dangerous. If such a thing was completed, it could spell disaster not only for Night City but for my business.

"I also heard that the local army base had received some new pieces of light artillery. This gave me an idea. The army is famous for 'losing' various items so I made plans for them to lose one of those artillery pieces. I borrowed one of their trucks then hired some friends of mine to dress up like the Dragons and steal ur acquire the target. When I heard they were in the clear after the job, I immediately contacted the leader of the Dragons, Pyre. 'Pyre' I said, 'I want to improve relations with your gang. I have heard that you are building your own punkunaught. That true? Cause if it is, I got a deal for ya.'

"'Yea,' he says back, 'We got one. Goin to be ready tonight for a little part at City Hall. What ya offerin?'

"'An authentic 200mm Howitzer with a dozen shells. That thing is worth almost 300,000 eb. Interested?'

"Now the Dragons love big guns, they don't tend to think about where they come from or who might be looking for them. I could see him drool in anticipation as he asked me how much. He wound up giving me over fifty of his gang's smaller weapons (SMGs, pistols, a few shotguns and rifles) plus about 25,000 eb cash in small bills for it. I accepted and the transaction went off without a hitch. I learned that they planned to leave for City Hall at 11pm which gave me four hours to get ready. I donned my disguise and went to a bar near the base.

"It wasn't long before some officer asked if I knew anything. 'Can't tell ya, they'll kill me if I do.' I slurred.

"'It's a matter of national security.' he shot back. Then he got me a beer then asked again.

"'OK, OK, I'll tell you but you got to promise there will be no survivors.'

"'Listen pal, you don't have to worry. What they did is going to bring the whole base after them. Now tell me!'

"'It was those Dragons. I heard them boasting about how they pulled a fast one on the army. How they stole a piece of artillery. Now I didn't believe them until they said they were going to put in on their punku-something or other and nuke City Hall at eleven tonight. Then they saw me. Bought me a beer and told me to keep quiet or else.' I finished my little performance by drinking the beer in one gulp then burping loudly.

"'Well don't worry old man. We'll get those bozos. None of those punks will get out alive. Here's something for your trouble.' He gave me five hundred euro which I immediately used to start a tab at the bar.

"I left soon after he did then headed home. He was true to his word. The next morning the news was alive with the report that the Dragons tried to attack City Hall with a stolen army Howitzer. The attack was foiled by an ambush. There were no survivors. Fortunately, outside the gang, casualties were nil and everyone was happy. I made enough off reselling the weapons to make a cool profit of 50,000.

"Sales perked up for a bit afterward as the other gangs fought to take as much as they can of the Dragons' old territory. But it settled down after a week and things were back to normal except for the fact I had a new friend in the army and a bunch of money invested in the business. Also I spread rumors about how the military had some new surveillance equipment (how else did they find out about the punkunaught?) and sold some sets of anti-intrusion software and equipment."

That was a fond memory and just about the sneakiest scam I ever pulled in Night City and gotten away with. "You sold the stuff you robbed from the military to a bunch of criminals?" Karin asked in shock.

"With the intention of wiping them out. Thanks to Rapid Fire, the criminal population in Night City dropped five percent. Look at it as community service. Try looking at the big picture, Karin. A vicious gang was flatlined, a city grateful to the army and all it cost was one piece of equipment. They needed some good PR. Anyway we returned the truck and the driver was released form the hospital after a week."

"I can see why you want this thing secret. But that was before you came here. You've proven your worth to Fireflight twice now. What you did in the past cannot affect you in the present unless you let it. There are no gangs on Algol for you to restart you business so don't even try. Your place is here." Larani said.

"I'm glad you understand. Don't worry, I decided that making a new Rapid Fire on Algol is a bad idea when I joined Rimfire. Fireflight is my home now whether you like it or not." I directed the last sentence toward Karin.

I think she got the message now. Everyone agreed that it was a good story and there were several requests for another. But it was getting late. I offered to pass around the sleep inducer for those on the night shift. I went first then Tammis and finally Aleoi. She looked like she was going to fall dead asleep so we put her on the floor and put the inducer on her. No one seemed to be in a talkative mood that night.

Algol loomed in front of us. It looked like Earth in some ways. Algol was a pretty sight from above. You could see the ice caps filling the upper and lower quarters of the planet and the main continent at the equator. Several swarms of tiny islands were scattered over the ocean. Above all it looked clean. Every bit of land looked a healthy green. I could find no deserts or wastelands. It was all forests and plans with only a few mountain ranges stretching north and south like a scar upon the land. I took the opportunity to search through my skillchip library.

With what was originally in my pack, about two dozen I swiped from Miltech's supply on the way to the lab, plus those of the C-team I had a pretty big collection. Aleoi sat across from me and inquired about the chips. I told her that each chip contains a certain skill which a person can access via chipware socket. She asked if she could see mine, which I was happy to do. "Some chips are just knowledge like history, mathematics, languages, sciences, you know. They're called MRAM. Plug on in and you have the skill. Others are APTR. They deal with dexterity based skills, like using a weapon, piloting, martial arts. It takes them up to a week for them to get used to you ... normally. I got something better." I pointed to the top most chip.

"This is a Body Coordination Learner (BCL). It learns my muscular and mental patterns and stores them. When an APTR chip is inserted, the BCL sends the necessary information to the chip allowing for instant use of the skill without the usual wait. The BCL takes about three weeks to totally adapt, but once that's over with, you have a real edge."

She was very curious about this and asked how hard they are to make. I said I didn't know, but I might let her study one if I had a duplicate chip. For the next hour, I searched through the fifty-odd skillchips. There was 15th century French history, game chips, my Maximum Lover chip, five military visual recognition chips, several Spanish and Japanese language chips, three basic tech (one of which I loaned to Aleoi), a math chip, and many more covering a wide variety of subjects. Few of which had any value here, but you never know.

MRAMs are generally easier to create so I also loaned her the math chip (I already knew more than the chip) and my spare military recognition chip. I made a suggestion that she might try using the last one as a blueprint for one valid for this world. A visual recognition chip for mektons, fighters, uniforms, ect. She said it sounded like a good idea and went to work learning about skillchip programming.

My chips were put in three piles: interesting, but useless (like Earth history and languages), very relevant (weapons, social, survival and the like), and dump (duplicate skills but at a lower level than one I'm keeping and poser chips [makes you act like famous historical figures]). The last would be the first to go when asked to donate some for study. When I was done, only a half an hour passed. I spent the quiet hours reading the history book.

At one point or another, every nation was fighting every other nation. With the exception of the Muirans. They had been isolated for some time and contact with the outside world was minimized. Their nation must be quite a place to be able to keep the peace within itself for such a long time. I wondered how quickly Laian would be able to adapt to mainstream Algol culture. Probable about as long as it would take me. So with my legs propped up on the council, I went back to reading.