"Prancing twats," Murdoch said as he keyed the button for the armory.
"Yeah," Mark agreed, "but they pay well."
The elevator went past the holding cells to the armory of the prison ship below, and once there, the two men went to their weapon racks and the two women to theirs. The rundown armory deck was derelict, save for the two crates and two assault rifles on the metal ground.
"That one's yours, Princess." Claire pointed at a metal crate, painted olive-drab, with a stern warning in a blocky font: J.A.W-180 SERIES (DMR/SPEC-OPS), CHIRON TL-191e BUILD. UNAUTHORIZED ACTIVATION STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
"Get over here," Claire insisted. "I'll help you in and you help me in. No hard feelings, ok? " Claire chuckled, "Fuck; if your parents have a few million in the bank, hire us immediately after this and we'll get you home nice and safe."
Claire shrugged, pressed a thumb to the fingerprint scanner.
The hard case cracked open; mist spilled forth and revealed the Therrite armor plates neatly stacked on one side, the bullet-resistant jumpsuit on the middle, and the power cells and field-med canisters on the right.
"And please," Claire said as she helped Kael into the jumpsuit, "don't try to kill me again."
Kael laughed, "just what makes you think you can trust me?"
"I know you. Peril is your music."
The jet black jumpsuit was made of a special flame-retardant Kevlar weave, with cushioned padding and Peltier cooling cells on the interior, a vented layer in the middle filled with inertia-dampening gels to distribute some blunt trauma, and sturdy anchoring points on the exterior.
"Your employers might," Kael replied, "but you don't know shit about me."
"Don't have to. I know a psychopath when I see one."
Next came the modular micro-exoskeleton framework that anchored to hard points on the jumpsuit and assisted both weight bearing and movement on the legs, back and arms, as well as aim stabilizing. "I see. So I'm clearly the psychopath here."
"Well, maybe psychopath isn't quite the right word. At least not the obvious criminal type that inevitably gets thrown in jail." Claire stared off again with that bemused smile, those grey eyes still devoid of emotion.
"No. You're more like the snake-in-a-business suit variety, hidden in plain sight. There's that time where you abandoned your wounded friend in the grass without even a moment's hesitation. Then, you calmly walked off into the jungle unarmed and on your own."
"I was under fire and reacted."
"Yeah, but a rational human being would try to find strength in numbers."
"Which would've made your day. See, I try to think things through."
After Claire installed the micro-exoskeleton, she attached the compact, highly efficient power supply. With this on, the Peltier cooling cells transferred the building heat from the jumpsuit's interior, through the inertia-dampening gel to the exterior.
Kael's arms and legs now moved with fine, articulated precision.
"You think like what you believe a professional murderer would," Claire replied as she installed the individual Therrite plates and articulated strips on the midsection. "Then you avoid being where you're expected and hope you're right."
"I've had training--"
"But that all doesn't matter. You won't try to kill me because you aren't afraid of me, those bastards in the other locker and my employers, or the fact you've been kidnapped and will be sold for money. You want revenge on the people who fucked with you, and won't kill pawns like us when it will make your own survival and the chance for vengeance vanishingly slim. "
"After them, you're all next."
Claire broke into a fit of hysterical laughter.
"You know what? I'd love that. I'd really fucking love that, sweetheart, but you have to get in line. That you can calmly hold a conversation with me after I did my very best to kill you, and now plan to sell you is the height of unhinged lunacy."
"I don't have to prove myself to you. I'm nothing like you."
"Oh god--heavens, no," Claire said as she offered Kael the helmet. "I really thought you were holding back the tears and emotions, but in your mind you're really more curious about what we lowly insects will do next more than afraid."
"Then what does that say about you?" Kael said as she put on the helmet.
"That I'm crazy and know it, and you are but don't. Now, help me into mine."
As Kael helped Claire into her JAW-180 suit, the heads-up display lit and showed system diagnostics--all green for now--but the whole interface looked old. In fact, a closer inspection revealed the suit's subsystems were controlled by a pirated and cracked firmware suite.
"Let's go." Claire said as she picked up her rifle. "Stay behind me at all times."
Moments later, the customized radio designations for what passed as her current squad appeared: BULLDOG and CHUPACABRA to Murdoch and Mark in the men's area; FRIGG was assigned to Claire, and the letters PRINCESS were at the bottom of Kael's display.
Squad name: GLASGOW RIPPERS.
I'll never become one of them, Kael convinced herself as she picked up her rifle. I don't care what happens to me; I don't care what happens to these bought savages. I'm going to find the real shit-heads who fucked with me, and I'm going to kill them all. Every single one of them.
As she followed Claire, a sharp odor took to her nostrils like a spike. At first Kael mistook it as some sort of gas leak...then she remembered a familiar scent just before the ambush in the rainforest, every muscle drawn taught by nervous tension.
"Incoming drop ship." She heard Murdoch hiss over the radio, "...oh shit, oh SHIT! Brace for--"
Kael hit the deck and grabbed onto a nearby railing; an instant later, an earthquake crashed into the prison ship with such force that Kael flew from the ground--wrenched railing in hand--and shot straight up towards the ceiling.