'The Strayed One'Mature

This future is looking more and more like our history. The planets are under the banners of feudal lords and loose congregations. Privateers plunder the cosmoways while commissioned explorers travel outward looking for the paradise-planets of yore.
Something sleeps in the ink of space. And these turbulent times may wake it.

Nueva Terra
Hub to ten billion sentients, and the home of the Confederate capital. A spitting image of Humanity's birthplace in it's later years, with it's great continents illuminated by the webs of city-lights. It is the most heavily fortified body in the three systems under their crossed flag, with over a thousand commercial vessels entering each thrity-one hour day. Destiny Spaceport on the northern hemisphere is big enough to be seen from space, and the government's airfleet surrounds it like a metal cloud.

The great industrial wasteland is shrouded most of the day in a twilight, but the polluted stain quickly becomes apparent if you watch for the vast gray patches on the southern hemisphere. Remnants of the landers, those who brought the great towers that bred the oxygen producing organisms from Terra Prime; Earth.

The technology for terraforming died with the algae and the alien disease that wiped it out in a single year. Humans quickly tore open the planet, hunting for new materials to support the half-formed atmosphere. Their haste left much of the south irradiated, and undesirable. A century later and the lands are still quarantined while the council funds missions to sift through the ashes for any remains of the first-landing ships.

The retired Homeborn port is a thousand square miles of uncontrollable dust and wreckage to the far south of the wasteland, bordered by vast waters and a near absolute killzone. In truth, the Confederacy can do little more than preform occasional airstrikes, as the last three troop movements failed to do little more than result in the total annihilation of the 101st , 167th , and 109th companies that tried to bring order to the dead lands. A million criminals and small insurgencies take residence there, and contraband flows freely in it's borders. Beneath the surface is a web of tunnels and tracks that stretch far beyond the concrete flats, providing shelter during the invasions and strikes, and rooting it forever into the planet.

Homeborn is an entity in and of itself itself, it chooses who may enter, and shreds those it denies. Less have the right to traverse it freely, and the skill to make it through the border undetected.

During the summer, a large number of ships hide in the cluster of commercial vessels heading for Destiny. The true destination is the black markets, where Nobles and other higher-class individuals come in secret to participate in weapon auctions. All hoping to get the edge over their fellow noblemen.

Importing arms is not just heavily regulated in the legitimate trade, but anything that could put a single individual's military might above the unified armada is banned entirely. Thus, many men who find the very notion of traveling to this cesspit revolting are forced to come and buy, or be subjugated.

One such baron, Lessdith Srowden, who'd made the annual pilgrimage without fail for thirty years did not arrive. His chopper had arrived punctually, the great black windowless gunship sliding through the defensive perimeter and landing at the ancient hangar chosen this year. But when the door opened, only a single man emerged. Wrapped in a great cotton cloak, wearing the usual plaster mask to preserve anonymity, but clearly not the Baron himself. There was talk of the emissary. No-one knew of him, not even those who maintained a business relationship with Srowden.

But their wonder was overshadowed as the sun fell, and the stage lights turned on as the hangar door were pulled aside. A wide crescent stage had been hastily constructed, the unappealing structures hidden by exotic fabric and rugs. The announcer was hidden in his huge satin garment and beaked mask that was fitted with some sort of night vision device on the right eye.

“Welcome esteemed individuals! The auction begins now, so without further ado, let us bring out the first product.”

He snapped, and a heavy industrial lifter marched forward with an enormous metal package in it's metal claws. The hydraulics wheezed as it lowered the box to the floor.

“Brought in from the exchange is the Arkham Anti-Aircraft battery. With a range of ten kilometers and advanced tracking systems, it can be set to strike out missiles no more than a couple meters long-”

The cloaked man stopped listening, tuning out as the box unfolded to reveal the stripped down weapon. He wasn't here to buy, he had other matters to pay for. Specifically, returning an old favor to an even older acquaintance. He waded backwards through the wave of raised holographic signs that's numbers increased exponentially as each man clamored to obtain the system.

There were guards at either corner of the warehouse, and hidden in the towering skeletal scaffolding were the glow of sniper rifles watching over for dissenters. A gap in the crowd let him push through to the back doors. Mercenaries stood with weapons at the ready, long bayonets barring the exit.

His mask had polarized lenses so he could watch the guards without arising suspicion. The glimmer of a red laser swept in his direction, and hovered over him for a moment before moving on. He had an idea of the layout now, and could tell the hostiles were sweeping in patterns. He quickly raised his bidding hologram to reinforce the guise of a buyer. He had only raised his price slightly so he would immediately be outbid.

He moved again, diving into the sway of satin robes. On the floor, like he'd expected was the hidden electrical hatch. The problem with moving the auction every year was that they could never account for every secret in the new location. It wasn't even sealed in any way. Now was the tricky bit. He'd have to slide in without any notice. He'd haft to wait for the next product to come up on stage.

The round ended, and the crate resealed itself. The loader pulled it off into the dark, and replacing it was the sparkle of human armor. A new powered suit, promising advanced protection from ballistics without a cost to the mobility of the classical models, and woven with captured dynasty fiber.

The light moved for a moment, and in the chaos of the loader moving around he popped the hatch and slid through, feet shuffling over and stamping it closed as he descended into the piping. It was pitch black, so he popped a flare from beneath his cloak, and removed the limiting mask. His natural hair fell back into place as he ripped away the blond wig he'd used. He inverted his cloak too, back to the royal purple he was used to.

The tunnels were small, and winded beneath for a long while. He ignored the first hatch and moved on to the next one nearly ten minutes later, which brought him up behind the building. A set of cargo space-planes were parked around, and a guarded team unloaded the contents.

A craft of extra-terrestrial construction was what he was after. Traders from the Dynasty, the one power that rivaled the confederacy's might, or might have even surpassed it now. He spotted it on the far end, a wide machine with a shallow, curved wing and four pointed noses at varying lengths. Human array systems had been retrofitted into the hull, blending the two cultures seamlessly.

As he closed in, he caught a glimpse of some non-humans working as well. They were giant, nearly twice the height of the workers. Long, multi-layered garbs made of deep blues and reds wrapped them tightly, peaked hoods concealing their ornate respirators entirely. The Tehrist royal merchant guild. Tehrists were the leading species in the Dynasty, with the lower classes made up of various other races. A human member of their crew walked beside, filing through the usual bureaucracy from the shadow of her alien captains.

“Alright, unload the hardware. But for the peace of Kai, don't let it go anywhere without guards!”

A low ranked Tehrist in full armor twitched a nod out and swept back to the ship. A pair of human guards moved in, followed by some armed automatons. They creaked and jerked a servo driven march in perfect sync. The platoon assembled beneath the ship, ready to greet the package. A puff of water vapor sprayed from the circular doors as they slip open underneath and dropped a long wire elevator. Standing was a larger man, a tight black box held close to his chin.

He raised a hand to a stem of his six-pronged mustache and wrapped it around his finger. A greedy grin on his face as he stepped into the hall of metal soldiers, his flowing attire a human variation of the Tehrist captains. The Saboteur unsheathed one of his pistols from it's sheath. He had managed to conceal the pair of firearms with a bit of sensor trickery built into the holsters. The great wrapped revolver was basically a block of steel, barrel hidden in the long square rails and bordered by curved armor plates. The automatons were blocking a good shot. He traced over the main two guards with the grey tip of the iron-sights.

It couldn't be helped, he would have to rush them. The Automatons had only a basic notion of friendly fire, and having them in lines would likely force them into a state of confusion when their aim crossed. With that decided, he put his mask back on and made his final preparations.

He threw himself from the crates, silently charging through the scraped ship parts. He was mere meters from tackling the nearest machine, when his path was suddenly halted. He felt a metal whip snag his ankle, pulling him back into the ash. He collided with the ground backed by a roar of heavy laughter.

He looked up behind him, seeing now the shifting plastic cloak of a stealth operative who'd blended with the rubbish. Three green eyes peered down at him, gripping the heavy iron composite cord in it's cybernetic gauntlets. He looked back, greeted with the muzzles of twenty or more automatic rifles. The Dynasty ambassador entered, a shit eating grin directed at the fallen man.

“Yes yes, there are traitors everywhere. I make it a point to at least keep one servant from every household in my pocket. Helps the Guild keep tabs upon you putrid sows,” He smiled wider as if he had pride in influence that he had bought, “so, little swineshit. I'm very curious about the why of this whole matter. Don't tell me Srowden has had a saintly epiphany, and suddenly thinks that private interests are getting out of hand? If he really wanted, he could've purchased it for himself.”

The saboteur simply stared at his captor's face. Nothing showed, not even contempt.

“Or could he? I'd heard rumors that his agritech had suffered a catastrophic failure, but I never expected him to actually spend money to fix it,” he licked his lips at the prospect, “he doesn't have the budget to bolster his army, does he?”

“The warhead is a threatening prospect. While all of those men in there would hate to lose it, they'd cry even more if some aggressive other kingdom acquired them. By the end of the day, I'll represent common interests.” The assailant replied, slowly raising himself by his arms.

“That's your justification?”

“I don't need such a thing.” He replied dryly.

“Good, then you'll go to hell with a clear conscience.”

At that moment, the man on the floor was suddenly up again. During the conversation he had been twisting back, creating just enough tension to unravel the coil on his ankle. The automata followed him, but still didn't have any authorization to fire. The whip wielder was suddenly grappling with his prey. The Saboteur snagged his wrists, pulling his head into his airborne knee. The man's face collided, the delicate mask sensors cracking and crunching as the goggles broke and scoured his face with glass.

“Shoot!”

The kill command came, but in the scuffle the two men had traded places. The words had overridden the safety checks in the AI's, drenching the area in tracer fire. The operative was riddled with rounds, and his prey had made a move for better cover long before they had begun. The machines could track him precisely with their motion sensors, which made up for there other faults.

“You shite stained AI's! Kill him!”

The machines processed the request, a squad of five breaking free to rush the boxes. They unleashed suppressing fire as the wall pushed inwards. The sensors didn't read quick enough as they surrounded the assumed hiding spot. The snap of a revolver blasted from the right, blowing through the automaton with a pop of red cooling fluids and severed servo wires.

The closest one focused it's lens in the direction of the shot and sprayed a layer of fire into the darkness. Another bullet from thirty degrees hit it square in the nuero-conduits. The other two pulled back in sync, draining their machine guns into the crates and leveling most of the ancient debris.

They vanished in a puff of electronic smoke, their cooling fans screeching as they fell to the dirt.

“So, these are the “Strayed One's” famous weapons. Come on we don't have time for this. Wipe him from the surface of the world!”

The machines turned in lockstep, creating a wall for their human owners. The sabetoure watched through his mask as the three humans rushed towards the stage. He tossed aside his cloak, revealing a bandoleer of several grenades across his stomach. An infrasonic 'dazzler' device was his first choice. A rare model that had saved him from a pack of Dynasty automatons years ago.

He winded up and released, pitching the noisemaker right into the middle of them. A ring of multicolored lights on either end flashed wildly, and a low-frequency tone blared. Humans couldn't hear it, but everything in it's effect range certainly felt the soundless noise vibrating their eardrums. shaking apart delicate robotic circuitry.

The automatons within a couple meters burst into flames as the kinetic force destabilized their batteries. The guild man and his guards fell to the ground, clenching their ears as the machined whined inaudibly. The Strayed One lifted his cloak across his shoulder, guarding against the wall of burning metal. In an instant, he rushed the blockade, pulling the trigger on the grenade's detonator. A powerful snap and a glow of phosphorous flowing it blinded the already stunned soldiers.

He switched hands to the other gun; the muzzle flash from it was far greater than it's twin. Signifying a different payload was inbound. The bullet hit the wrecked machines, bursting with enough concussive force to briefly quell the fire around. By the time they reignited, the attacker was in the hornet's nest. Sprays of confused fire passed harmlessly into the air over his head.

The tradesman made a defiant move for the ceremonial sword in his garb, stopped by a violent kick to his shoulder. The box in his hands was wrenched away as he fell back into the ground.

“I knew it was those wretched guns!” He sputtered at the beast before him, “Verque! The Guild will never let this pass!”

Verque Freniquez had vanished long before the first syllable. But it wasn't as if he hadn't heard it all before. By now the guards would be responding, and even he didn't have a plan to fight off a small legion of mercenaries. Midway down the runway he paused, raising an arm towards the barren wastes ahead. The lights of a hidden chopper flickered to life, as it's near silent rotors beat quickly for the extraction. This extra vehicle was a precaution to help shunt any of the blame from the baron, making it seem like a third party had stolen his vehicle and perpetrated this heist.

The helicopter leaned forward, moving over the runway at scarcely a few meters.. Hanging from it's belly was a small cable net. He chuckled silently as he grabbed onto the cables and hooked in for the getaway.

“I wonder if guild will regret not buying those anti-aircraft missiles?”

The End

10 comments about this story Feed