Chapter 24: Dion1
It was obvious that Eiran would eventually be proved innocent, but what would the guards do when they see a man with a really big gun near the crime scene? The answer was equally obvious so I hightailed it back to where the Rimfire quarters were. After returning my cannon to my room, I told Larani about what happened. Everyone was shocked to hear that Eiran had been arrested for the murder of Arkon. Before breakfast, there were rumors that not only has he been arrested, but had also been executed as well. When noon rolled around, there was still no sign of my teammate, or of Ariel, and no rumor to counter the first. The others were getting nervous, and I was entertaining thoughts of revenge. It's been a long time since I've been motivated by vengeance, and the feeling was not entirely unwelcome.
Preparing for the worst, I strapped on my combat armor and carried my heavier weapons. But now Korax had called us to his personal rooms, and we headed toward the door hoping that his sword wasn't red with my friend's blood. Korax was staying in a house in Dion City, and it was to here we have been called. An Imperial guard opened Korax's door when we knocked. We were quickly searched and our weapons removed, they even strapped several metal braces around my arms. You'd think I had a weapon in there or something.
We entered a darkened room. Through my thermograph vision, I could see three figures. Two were on a raised platform, and were sitting. The last was kneeling on the floor only feet away from us. The familiar smell of blood found its way into my nose. As the door closed behind us, we heard Korax's voice, "Do you believe that Eiran Alestain could have murdered Arkon Verian? Speak slowly, and one at a time."
Larani stepped forward, "As Eiran's commander I can-"
"Yes or no."
As Korax wanted, each of us spoke alone and each defying the accusation that Eiran was a murderer. I was last and bored deep into Korax's eyes and made the decision unanimous, daring him to believe to the contrary. Suddenly the lights came on, and we saw the contents of the room. In front of us was a mutilated body, the chest is blown open and burnt. Ariel is at the figure's feet, weeping. I immediately recognized the figure as Arkon. Eiran was sitting to Korax's right side.
The Kargan Emperor spoke, "I would be insane to think that Ariel would have anything to do with her father's murder, and she by all accounts was in the room before your friend."
He turned towards Eiran, "I am sorry to keep you here, but I needed to see if the murderer would try to flee while we were 'questioning' you. As for my friend's body being here, it's simply a ritual. We in Karga always watch over our dead. You may go now. We need to prepare our friend's soul."
And with that we were dismissed. Eiran asked if he could stay to comfort Ariel, but was refused. On the way out, I told the guard that he had something of mine, namely my guns and the key to the bands. The Mauser had just been given a ballistics test and it was confirmed that it hasn't been fired for several weeks and could not have been the murder weapon. Besides, it would make a much louder noise and left a much bigger crater at such close range than what happened. The humid air in the cavern really got to me in this heavy armor. By the time we reached the elevator to get back to the base, we were thinking the smell of blood with never leave us.
As we waited for the elevator, the others came to the same conclusion I had made upon first seeing Arkon's dead body: somewhere on the base was a cold-blooded killer. The elevator took us back up to the base; there were signs that the area is undergoing construction, and that it will be closed off for two hours. Absently checking her watch Aleoi realized that the time is now. The elevator should not have been working. Then the power went out and in the distance a door slammed shut. Cedric and I pried the doors open. We were now in a dimly lit hallway where only emergency power flowed. Down the hall I could head something approaching, something mechanical. It sounded familiar, almost like....
It was, a mekton, a AUX-01. "At the other end there's a security door. If we can find a computer station, Aleoi can use it to bypass the computer lock." Larani said.
"And how are suppose to get there? That AUX looks like its got our name on it!" Tammis replied.
"I'm the only one here with guns big enough to dent that thing, Larani. You know where you can get something more?" I asked.
"There's an armory somewhere around here. There should be weapons we can use that are powerful enough to beat that thing."
I readied my Mauser and activated the reflex boost, "Well hurry if you want some fun. Just don't expect the pilot to still be alive when you get back."
As Fireflight opened some of the doors, the mekton in question lumbered around the corner. As it raised its shotgun in my direction, Karin came out from behind a door. The mekton turned its gun towards her and fired. She leaped behind me in the nick of time. "Storage room!" she shouted.
"Is that a fact?" I returned firing at the AUX. A target as big as a mekton's torso in such cramped quarters is hard to miss. The bullet flew through the armor and appeared to have shattered some sort of inner workings as fluid began seeping out. Karin ran along the right side of the hall, firing her rifle. The bullets bounced off her target and served only to get herself noticed. She was barely able to duck under a blast from the plasma cutter before sliding through the next door. I ran towards it letting loose another shot.
I shattered its clawed left hand and for the first time, the pilot spoke, "Die Cyborg!"
Shotgun pellets and plasma impacted on the floor where I was just a second ago. Shrapnel dinged against my leg armor as I rolled between its legs. He tried to back up for a good shot, but I moved with him. If I fired, the mekton might fall on me. At least now it wasn't attacking anyone. I glanced up and noticed the rear thrusters. It was a good three meters above me, but it gave me a sneaky idea. The AUX finally found a way to aim the shotgun at me. To avoid becoming a red stain, I started climbing up the back of the right leg.
"Get off me and flight like a man!" the pilot shouted, desperately trying to scrape me off with the stub of its left arm.
hough it was too short, it was able to cover the rear thrusters. Then I got my opening. I tossed a frag grenade up its exhaust and leaped off and ran into a convenient door. I slammed the door and leaned against it when the grenade went off. Karin was there along with Cedric and Aleoi. Aleoi was working at one of the many computers here. Karin and Cedric were holding large rifles. "Think it's dead?" Cedric asked skeptical.
"Off hand, I'd say not at all. Circle around and I'll provide a distraction. How are you doing with the computer, Aleoi?"
"All I need is time. Just keep that thing off my back!"
I took a deep breath and prepared myself mentally before bursting out the door. The mekton was lying on its front, the back charred and melted. It was trying to get up but something happened to its servos and with each attempt, the limbs collapsed worsening the damage. I climbed over the twisted metal using my weight to keep it helpless until I reached the cockpit. It took only a kick to knock off the canopy.
The next thing I knew I was flat on my back skidding away from the mekton. My ears were ringing and the breath was knocked out of me. The pilot had climbed out of his fallen mekton holding a tube device I took for a empty rocket launcher. He was fumbling for another rocket when someone shot him several times. Karin and Cedric ran to the wreckage as the others emerged from the various corridors and rooms, their searching done in vain. They huddled in a group talking amongst themselves and pointing their guns inside the cockpit.
After what seemed like a day, they finally noticed me. Cedric mouthed something, my hearing still recovering. Tammis and Larani fumbled with my chest plate and I felt it get lifted off. That pilot really did a number to it. There was a black scorch mark covering the center. I was helped to my feet and led into the computer room. Aleoi was still there trying to crack whatever code the pilot placed on the door. With some help, I was able to remove my combat armor so I could check for injuries.
Eiran ducked into another room and soon emerged with an arm load of medical supplies. Now my breath was recovered and my hearing was returning to normal. Because I didn't know much about first aid, the medical devices were of some help. My armor protected me from most of the blast but some of the force got through. A scanner showed that I had several cracked ribs. Nothing life threatening, but extremely painful. By the time Aleoi was able to open the door, I felt ready to walk and was pretty close to normal.
The sound of heavy door opening was quickly followed by the footsteps of a large group of people. Soon Haversom and Korax had found us. They, and their guards, were wearing heavy armor and a few of the Dion1 guards had weapons that looked suspiciously like my mauser cannon. Larani explained what happened, answering all the questions to the best of her ability. After thanking us for our part in the 'apprehension' of the villain, Haversom offered to arrange a trip for me to the hospital. I refused convincing him that my injuries were too minor to be concerned with. We went to the hallway to further examine the body.
Korax looked more disturbed than anyone else here, and seemed to brood even deeper. When I asked what was wrong, he said, "This murderer wanted to die and I want to know why."
Larani was surprised by Korax's conclusion and respectfully asked how he derived it. "If he had wanted to live, why didn't he try a shuttle or using his mekton to escape instead of trying to kill Fireflight? He knew that he would eventually be killed if he stayed here."
Haversom, who just finished examining the body said the pilot's name was Jhon Talma. We went back to the computer center to learn what we could about him. Talma was a former Kargan citizen, and was well-respected in social circles. There was nothing to indicate that he neither had any hatred for Arkon nor any connection to Axis. I volunteered to go down to his quarters to check for clues. Cedric, Larani, and Karin were sent with me. The room itself was a mess, with papers and other junk scattered throughout.
After a quick search, we found a few interesting things. There was a picture of Larani as a young girl. She was sitting on her father's lap, wearing his officer's cap. Larani identified it as the one her father keeps in his office. Also Jhon had a book about Algolian myths. The part where an Aggendi turned into a winged woman and showers the hero with gifts was highlighted. There was a photo of Celine with a large 'X' drawn on it. It was during the graduation ceremonies and all she was wearing was a loosely buttoned uniform top. She was saluting, while a strong, handsome cadet held her up.
In a file there were other photos, taken from the computer records of Overwatch, of the rest of us and copies of our personnel files. Another picture was of Arkon Verian. This one was cut in half. Under the book was an unsigned letter reading: "The time is near, soon someone will visit you; this will allow you to do that which needs to be done. With the Viper dead, we may progress against the softness of the Throne. Our friend will allow you to approach him, under the thoughts of one he trusts; you may then proceed. Only after he is gone can we act."
Lastly there was another computer printout, "I have helped you, now help me. Destroy the UAA interlopers in my affairs. Here are pictures of two of them. One had already died through the hands of my agents. You can find the rest in the computer files. Override Command Number 3554728349400-2341."
A quick check found the number was current, and Haversom had no idea how anyone could have managed to get it. Only the top officials had access to it. With that code he would have had total control over the base. I ran a check on the cadet with Celine in the photo. His name was Terrin Fellai and was currently AWOL from his base in Koriel. The only good news came later that evening. Dass radioed that Emilia had located the Axis transmitting device, and that she is in the process of transmitting the data to him.
Once the information was in, and the ship finished refueling, plans were made to strike. But I left the strategy to the pros. Right now I wanted to relax, to try to forget about that rocket which practically ruined my armor, along with my life. But there was something else that concerned me. I was the same age as Ariel when my own family died. I knew what she was going through. When I caught up with her, Eiran was already there for her. They had not seen me yet, and I decided not to interfere.
The nearest bar just started their happy hour. Soon I was sipping something called Domarian Sunset. Didn't have much of a bite, but at least it was nice to look at. Thinking back, I remembered how many jobs I had started in a bar. The Mr.Johnsons offering company's money for covert and highly illegal actions against a rival. The neophytes to the veterans, they all want a job done and to keep their hands clean. They'd sit in a shaded spot as people they'd normally avoid, waltz right in and be rudely blunt. An offer is made, info given, the offer haggled then accepted. If you were new, you'd get ripped off. But if not, profit was yours.
Yeah, though the bar was a familiar scene, there was a lack of such wheeling and dealing. It made this more alien than anything else I've lived through so far and it got to me. So much so, I felt I had to leave quickly. The Dion scientists said they can get my armor repaired by sunrise as good as new. They had learned much about Earth cybernetics, and were in the preliminary stages of developing their own. There was even an idea to translate metal limbs to mekton scale, improving control and flexibility. But they were still in the planning stages.
I noticed that somehow they had made scans of my Mauser and had built a prototype version for a mekton. It was under heavy guard. The technitions allowed me to watch a test firing of the weapon, commonly referred to as The Colt, which I accepted. I was taken to an upstairs room. I saw some familiar faces and some completely unknown. The room was overlooking a hallway over twice as large as the one where I fought a mekton. At one end there was a huge stone block, probably from the moon itself. An equally huge piece of machinery was at the other end. It had a barrel the size of a healthy man and had a mass of wires. After I put on a pair of ear phones someone passed my way, a siren wailed and they fired The Colt.
Even with the phones, the sound was deafening. The block shattered and there was a good sized dent in the wall. Unfortunately The Colt shattered also. Nevertheless I was impressed by the show. When our ears stopped ringing the scientists rushed down to find out what went wrong. The computers kept close watch about what happened. The Colt was a complete loss. Apparently the cannon wasn't able to handle the kick. The same is true for the original before Ratchet modified it.
There was no doubt about it, they are going to do a complete examination of my Mauser before that weapon would work. But it was not something I was willing to let them do, especially after today. That battle in the hall reminded me to always be prepared for a fight even when you feel at home. If I wasn't feeling paranoid this morning on the way to Korax's, we might not have gotten out as well as we did. Now someone wanted to direct this miracle of Night City science then make a larger version of it. I admit the idea sounded fine, even appealing. Plus what were the odds of my actually needing it? But this was MY gun. What would happen to its uniqueness if it was enlarged then mass produced? Then there's the possibility of Axis stealing the plans. But they could also steal the mauser and create their own Colt.
I also had to consider how such a weapon would affect the UAA. It would make our ships and mektons more powerful, but Axis could use the use of such devices as proof that we were megalomaniacs. Unable to find the best decision, I did what any person has done. I passed the buck. Went straight to General Haversom and plopped the decision in his lap. Not that he was too happy about it, of course. But if he thought I was going to let history smear me for making a choose that could alter the balance of power, he had another thing coming. But the good general didn't want to be bothered by my "little" problem and passed the buck right back to me.
I was distraught until I remembered what Lady Attica told me, that I alone had the power to save the UAA or destroy Algol. Was this the decision that would decide Algol's fate? Did I just try to pass up the chance to defeat Axis because of my own moral cowardliness?
Ultimately I concluded that The Colt will be developed anyway. They already built the bare bones. All that was left was fine tuning, so what harm could a little push do? Returning to the lab, I told the nearest techie that I would allow them to examine the recoil compensators on my Mauser on the condition that they will have it back together and if full working order before Rimfire left. All the researchers abruptly stopped getting ready to leave for home to slice and dice the thing which saved my life so many times.
It was a sight I couldn't stand so I left for a good nights sleep via inducer. The full examination took a full two days. Most of which I spent staring at them like a father of a sick child. Ratchet's recoil device was explained by using more technological jargon than an episode of "Punks in Space". However adapting it to the larger version would be a technological miracle. While their description was unclear, I got the impression that the device's smallness affected how it worked. "The effectiveness was inversely proportional to the size of the object." as one tech put it. Making it bigger would reduce its ability to absorb the kick from firing the massive weapon.
There were some mysteries that they could not unlock, nor were they likely to for some time. Things like the improved targeting scope and the connection to my interface plugs. But when they finished their examination and put my Mauser back together, they had enough details to make their own. The also conceived a new idea, if they were unable to enlarge the Mauser, then maybe they can make more of them, a Mauser galting gun sent more chills down my spine than their plans for the larger scale Mauser. They assured me that this info would be kept top secret, but I wanted to be sure. They showed me all sorts of computer systems and security measures. I wasn't convinced. As an Edgerunner, I've hired, and even was a member of, teams who broke into places as tight as this on a regular basis. Sure, these guys can feel safe, they aren't the ones who would be looking at the business end of this if Axis gets its way. Still unsatisfied, I went to bed using the inducer.
Awakening from fast sleep the question on the security was still in my mind. Maybe a test was in order. I gathered what I had that I normally used on such a mission. Fortunately my fateful trip to Miltech with the C-Team left me well prepared. Dark clothes, IR/UV goggles, simple tools, and a sidearm with my only clip rubber bullets was all I needed. Using a common terminal, I found the basic layout around the security area and worked from there. I was just about to try to go through the air ducts when I saw a patrol robot pass by one of the grills. Without more knowledge of them, it would be best not to take that route.
When I reached a check point, I found the guard dead and the hand print ID station smashed. Someone had beaten me to the punch. The radio in the checkpoint was also destroyed, but I still had my portable communicator. I alerted the base about the intruders, but requested that the alarm not be sounded lest they know we were onto them. Carefully, I slithered inside. I went with my instincts and went to the weapons research computers. Sure enough hunched over the screens were three people in black clothes. One was typing on a keyboard as the second watched him. The last was on look out fortunately his head was turned away from me when I entered the room.
On hands and knees, I made my way to the power cable in the back of the computer bank. The cord ran from the computer to the wall. It was on the floor as if begging for some klutz walking by to trip and fall on it. With a quick yank, I foiled their plans. One yelped his surprise. Then the guard spotted me. Only by rolling did I save myself from being ventalitated by a SMG. Without real bullets, I would need some pretty creative thinking to stay alive. I did a backwards somersault kicking the agent's gun out of his hand. With practiced ease I was up on my feet in time to catch his gun.
Before I could use it, I had to duck behind a filing cabinet to avoid more flying lead. Karin signaled over the radio that she and a security team were preparing to move in. I reached from behind the cabinet and fired the SMG blindly. The intruders cursed as the bullets flew in their direction. From the sound of things, I think I might have hit at least one. As their footsteps traveled away, I emerged from my hiding place. A trail of blood told me which direction they went. I followed it around a corner and down a hall. They seemed to be headed towards the hanger. If I didn't stop them soon, they would escape. Then more gunfire could be heard down the corridor. I went the last part of the way carefully. When I peaked around the corner, I practically ran into one of the agents.
He sensed me and turned around only to meet me face to fist. The force of my punch knocked him back into one of his teammates. Both got hit by rifle bolts and fell to the ground. The third was already dead. I yelled for them to hold their fire and we inspected the bodies. Aleoi was there along with Karin and Cedirc. Aleoi did a quick inspection of the portable computer's memory. The plans for the Colt had been encrypted and only about half was downloaded. Of that half, enough of it was so scrambled that it wouldn't do anyone much good.
"I assure you that the plans will be safe." I said to Cedric mocking the techie's voice as I kicked one of the bodies over.
"We already have plans to tighten our security. There will be no further need for your interference, Sergeant." the chief of security said.
"We will have to see. Try splitting the data up among several computers. The more time potential thieves spend searching for their objective, the greater the chance they'll be detected."
The chief looked impressed and said that he would see that it would get done. It was too late for the others to get a decent night's sleep, so again I let them use the inducer so they would be bright eyed and bushy tailed in time for the award ceremony. Korax was going to award us the bronze star, a high Kargan military honor, for our part in investigating the murder. Eiran spoke to me earlier about him and Ariel. They had become real close and in some of my conversations with Ariel, I concluded that Eiran was now just as important to her as her father was. The subject of marriage popped up rather often. It was here where Eiran wanted help.
"Listen, you know I'm not the best person to talk to about marriage. I'm nearly twice as old as you and never even thought about it." I told him over a soda (I still thought he was too young for beer).
"You mean to tell me that you have never been in love with someone so much that you wanted to spend your whole lives together?"
"Well there is one woman. But it could never happen even if I return to Earth." I absently stirred my drink with the straw as I thought back. Her name was Sun UnSuk, leader of the Korean firm Sungan Industries, a weapons manufacturer I've had many dealings with. We were so much alike. We were both independent fixers who had built our own weapons businesses and had our family stolen from us. But her society didn't really approve of a woman in charge. If we were to get married, I would be considered the new leader of Sungan Industries, something neither of us wanted. She worked too hard to get where she was and refused to give up her position. I didn't want to take that away from her anyway. I was happy where I was, in Rapid Fire, and did not want the added responsibilities of running a corporation.
But we got along fabulously, practically made for each other. She repeatedly told me that if it weren't for the social barriers others had placed between us, that we would already be married. It was an idea not unpleasant to me. But while I couldn't have the love of my life, I shouldn't stand in the way of another's happiness. I approved of Eiran plans to propose and gave him my blessing, for all they were worth. The ceremony was uneventual except for when I had the star welded to my newly restored armor. Plus when Eiran got down on one knee and asked for Ariel's hand in marriage. I was glad that he finally conquered his shyness when it counted. She accepted instantly and plans were made.