chapter 3

“A criminal is a person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.”

Howard Scott

 
“Hey-wake up! We can’t stay here!”
Rob emerged reluctantly from his dark slumber, to a fuzzy shape. He felt a sharp pain across his cheek, followed by a string of profanities. He shook his head, and the dark, fuzzy shapes began to make more sense.
“That’s it, mi-lad, you can do it!”
Rob groaned and sat up, looking around. He groaned again. Around him lay the APC. Or at least, what used to be the APC. In its place was a site that looked like a small scrap yard, until you noticed that the bits were all on fire.
“What happened?” groaned Rob, and winced as he leant in a particularly sharp bit of metal.
“Well, they saw the dust and, long story short, got a lucky shot. He hit the back, which is why you got smacked worse than me. The battle suit, however, seems to have protected you. Mostly.”
Rob shook his head. “OK. They’ll be down in a second, to check what they hit. We should get moving.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. They already did.” Rob sat bolt upright, pain forgotten, everything around him suddenly crystal clear. His hand reached back and grasped his machine gun. “Stop worrying! I hid us, and as far as they’re concerned, they destroyed a scout drone.”
Rob calmed down. Slightly. “OK. How far are we away from the main entrance?”
“Just a couple of feet, actually. They didn’t hit us until we were close enough to be determined as a threat.”
“Right.” Rob hauled himself to his feet. “Come on. You can’t stay here, and you might as well make yourself useful.” He handed Steven his pistol. “You know how to use this, right?” Steven nodded. “Good. Does this thing have a sword or something?”
“In the belt.”
“No wrist-mounted blade?”
“No. non-attached. But” he added as Rob drew the sabre “It has to be said-it adds a lot of mobility to the weapon usage!” Rob gave the blade an experimental twirl, and grinned appreciatively.
“It does at that. Well, should we get going?” asked Rob gesturing toward the door.
“Time to gatecrash, eh?” grinned Steven. “I wonder if they made enough tea for two more?”
“One way to find out!”

              *                                *                              *

Steven and Rob crept silently along the corridor. It had proved unnecessary to ‘blow the door down’, as the front door was, in fact, open. From what they could overhear, it appeared that there was a second scout party out after a guard noticed some movement. ‘That was close’ Rob had thought as he heard this. ‘It’s a good thing that we moved when we did.’
Now, though, they were inside and no one was the wiser, except of course Rob and Steven. They had initiated their cloak before stepping out of cover, and essentially walking past the guards and into the ‘hornets nest’.
For a hornets nest, however, it was quite quiet. They passed the occasional guard or servant buzzing this way or that, intent on whatever task they had been set.
“Which way?” whispered Steven nervously as they came to a split in the corridor. Rob looked both ways. The passage to the front and the right carried on for about 100 yards then turned sharply to the right. The passage to the left turned left immediately after the crossroads.
“If I remember the plans correctly” Rob said slowly, “then the right hand passage leads directly to the guardroom and the left one leads to an elevator that leads to the upper levels and the dining room, where our host is having dinner with a few old friends.”
“Other gang leaders?” Rob nodded. “And did you actually memorise the house schematics?” Rob nodded again. At this point I should probably mention that while they’re in stealth mode, they had a ‘sensor’ that detected suits on the same wavelength, and transmitted its position to the suits visor. Steven whistled quietly, impressed. “You sure are committed, aren’t you?” Rob didn’t answer, and although Steven hadn’t known him that long, he already knew when not to push Rob into elaborating when he didn’t want to. Silence reigned, until Steven couldn’t take it any more. “Left it is then.” He stated simply, and with that they turned and, sticking close to the wall, they made their way towards the elevator.
As they reached it, Steven asked a very good question.
“Which floor is it that we’re looking for?”
“The eighth. We’re on the ground floor at the moment. That’s 8 floors to avoid picking up guards in this thing! You want to do the honours?” Rob nodded his head toward the button that would call the elevator. As Steven reached for the button, however, he heard a noise. Sort of like a ‘ding’ sound, and machinery whirring into place.
“Uh-Oh.” They whispered simultaneously, before hurrying to either side of the corridor. With another ‘ding’ the elevator stopped, and the doors opened to reveal two guards in plain white military uniforms, identifying them as basic grunts in the gangs’ militia. They both carried an AI assault rifle, and their faces were concealed behind a white hood-like helmet. They had the letters ‘KKK’ emblazoned on their chests in gold, with a silver circle around them. They were chatting about something that Rob found quite interesting.
“They shot down an imperial scout drone today, not two hours ago” Rob started. He had only been in here for about 20 minutes, so he must have been unconscious for about an hour and a half-they had been lucky that Steven had woken up sooner, or they’d be in a prison cell right now. Not a great way to start a career in the OND (Organisation of National Defence).
“Yeah, I heard” replied the second guard “apparently there wasn’t enough left for the scrap yard!” they both laughed at that.
“I hope…….” But Rob never got to hear what the first guard hoped, for they had slipped into the elevator and pushed the button for the eighth floor as soon as the guards were out of sight, and the doors closed just as the guards voices were dying away down the corridor.
Cheesy elevator music accompanied them in the elevator up to the sixth floor, when the elevator ground to a halt. Steven and Rob looked at each other in a panic-stricken way, and flattened themselves into their respective corners-Steven the left, and Rob the right. ‘This is it.’ Thought Rob. ‘There goes our chance for a stealthy entry. Even if we avoid detection, we’ll still have to kill the guards if they don’t get off at seventh or eighth.’ Needless to say, Rob was panicking slightly. As the doors slid open, two guards entered the elevator. They were identical to the other two, but each had one silver stripe on their left arm, starting at the  left shoulder and running diagonally across and ending at the right hip, and one was carrying a shotgun, the other an AI assault rifle, who was carrying a tray of nauseating-looking grey paste. The strip identified them as prison guards, and Rob could not help but wonder who the prisoner was, and could not shake the feeling he should know. He looked across and saw Steven preparing to stab one in the back, and gestured wildly (but silently) to stop. He needed to find out who this prisoner was, because, yet again, he was curious despite himself.
“Food for the prisoner, Eh?” asked the one with the shotgun as he pushed the button for the seventh floor.
“Yeah. Hope she likes left over gruel!” responded the second guard.
“Now, I know she’s an imperial spy, but that’s just cruel. Fresh gruel could eat through cement!” for some reason, the guards found this immensely funny, and guffawed with laughter. Inside joke, Rob decided, at exactly the same time Steven reached that same conclusion. Rob wasn’t really paying attention though, because he had just remembered-mission command had told him that they had lost a spy in there, trying to assassinate the gang leader, and to not bother with her-she was presumed dead, and he was to complete the mission and get out as quietly as possible-an escaped prisoner would certainly draw unwanted attention to themselves. ‘Screw that’ Rob remembered thinking. ‘If the opportunity arises, I’m going to rescue her.’ It was with this in mind that as the doors to the seventh floor opened, and the guards stepped out, he gestured frantically for Steven to come with him and follow the guards. While wildly signalling that this was a bad idea with numerous inventive and obscene hand gestures, Steven still followed. It was times like these that Rob was glad he didn’t know sign language, as he was sure Steven was using that for his more spontaneous profanities. The guards were talking, but Rob wasn’t listening-all he was interested in was concocting a plan to rescue the spy with as little noise as possible. He had just reached a promising conclusion when the guards turned down a narrow passage way, and then proceeded to climb down a spiral staircase lit only by torches that were scattered here and there. They frequently passed cells, 3 of which held moaning and groaning prisoners dieing in their own waste and grey paste-like vomit, who were either laughed at or told to shut up by the guards. Finally, when Rob thought he could stand it no more after passing the fourth victim, they reached the bottom of the stairs, and a cell barred not with iron bars like the rest, but with bars of pure electricity. The guard who didn’t have the food placed a key from his belt into a hatch next to an iron rod sticking out of the wall, then pulled said lever, deactivating the bars. They walked in, Rob and Steven behind them, and placed the paste in front of a figure curled up in the corner. She looked up slightly, and, noticing the food, uncurled enough to reach it. She looked so desperate and resigned to her dinner and gradual decay through food poisoning, Rob did something he never wanted to do.
Rob snapped. He unsheathed his sword and cut the guard who’d had the food in half in one motion. It happened so fast, the second guard had only just started to turn around before Rob had twirled round and decapitated him, and if not for the stain shield around Rob to stop stuff like blood and brains sticking to it, Rob would’ve turned his camouflaged suit red.
In one final motion, he flicked the plate up with his foot, and chopped it in half with his sword before blasting it with a few rounds of his AIA machine gun. He switched off his stealth suit, as did an awed-looking Steven, and looked down at the bewildered looking prisoner. She was quite attractive, Rob decided, though how he could tell through all the grime he had no idea. Her hair could have been blonde, but right now it was raven-black. The only sure thing about her gaunt frame and face were her bright green eyes, which regarded him with a mixture of fear, wariness and relief.
“Well, what’s your name then, my little spy?” Rob asked in a voice that suggested that he was sorry he couldn’t do more to the deceased guards, and that he had deprived her of her chance of revenge.
“Jess. And who the hell are you?”
“That doesn’t matter right now. All that matters is that we get you out of this god-forsaken hell-hole right now.” He looked pitifully up towards the stairs, where fresh new moans were coming from the old and dieing prisoners. “Before you end up as beyond help as those poor souls.” He held out his hand. “Are you coming, or would you like to eat your gruel first?”

               *                               *                              *

The trio sped along the empty corridor towards the elevator. Jess had immediately agreed to go with them, and had turned out to be quite tall, about 6 foot-2 inches shorter than Rob, but about an inch taller than Steven-but had had problems standing up straight, because of all the months of being curled up in her cell. She had picked up the second guards shotgun that had been slung across his back, just as Steven had picked up the first guards assault rifle. Unfortunately, the guns didn’t have a stealth setting, so they had abandoned stealth and had resolved just to kill any guards in their way. Thankfully, though, as yet they had not encountered any guards, or even a servant. When Jess commented on this, however, Rob just smiled grimly. “That will all change on the eighth floor, I promise you.”
“Oh yeah, the dinner you told me about. Well, I’m glad I’ve got this!” she hefted the shotgun onto her shoulder as she ran.
“Ha! If I was them, I’d be really scared!” Steven laughed “In fact, I’d be halfway to new new Mexico by now!”
“I’m scared just running next to her!” grimaced Rob.
“Think how I feel-I am me!” said Jess. They all laughed.
“I think you spent too much time in that cell! You’re going nuts!” Jibed Steven. “What do you think, Rob?” Rob didn’t answer. “Rob? What is it?” Rob held up his hand for silence, and gestured for them to follow him quietly. It was then they heard a ‘ding’, and Steven and Jess realised that through all their joking, they had reached the elevator. How Rob had known the elevator was coming, they didn’t know. When queried on this later, he told them that he ‘Just paid attention’.
The doors opened, and they all hurried to opposite sides of the corridor to hide. Rob ended up next to Steven behind some curtains, and Jess behind the opposite curtains (Very unimaginative hiding places, I know, but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got!).
Anyway, the doors opened, and Rob’s heart sank, because in the lift stood three guards. Two had the one horizontal silver stripe on their chests identifying them as corporals, and carried a machine gun each. It was, however, the third man who had Rob worrying. He was carrying two mini-railguns (same size as an Uzi, but had a greater rate of fire, and more power), and a ceremonial blade on his left hip, which was still quite deadly if used. It was these features and the one gold strip running from his right shoulder to his left hip that identified him as a captain-it was a fair guess that he had some sort of personal protection. Rob wasn’t religious, but at that moment, he prayed. ‘To whatever gods might be listening, please let us get away this once! PLEASE!’
Just as the guards were walking past, though, Steven wrinkled his nose, and started to breathe in sharply.
“AH, AH, AH-” Rob desperately put his hand over Stevens mouth and nose, which stopped Steven from sneezing. ‘You’ve got a mean sense of humour, you know!’ thought Rob. He hesitantly took his hand away.
“Sorry, Rob. Lots of dust in here!” Steven whispered. The guards were almost past their hiding places, when disaster struck. “-CHOO!” finished Steven. Rob swore colourfully, then, as it was impossible to avoid detection now, he burst out of the curtain and mowed down the corporal nearest him with a withering hail of bullets. He glanced to his left at an almost silent ‘crack’ sound, just in time to see the second corporal fly backwards into the wall next to him as he was hit with Jess’s shotgun at point-blank range. They turned around and unleashed a lead-storm at the captain, who just stood there laughing.
Rob ordered the others to cease fire, as their bullets were having no effect because, as Rob had suspected, he had a bullet-proof personal shield.
The guard laughed again, and Rob thought he could see the mans eyes sparkle, even through his white helmet. “Is it my turn?” he asked, levelling his guns at them. “So which one will die first? The short one?” he moved his guns to Steven “the tall one?” he pointed them at Rob “Or the prisoner?” he sneered, looking Jess up and down with disdain. “I thought that they should have killed you the first time!” Jess’s eyes narrowed.
“You!” Steven and Rob looked at her, then the guard, then her again. “He’s the one that captured me!” she explained.
“Yes, I remember. First, she attempted to shoot me. You’ve seen how effective that is.” He laughed scornfully. “Then, she tried to punch me. Ha! The helmet it is tougher than the average helmet! As you can guess, I’m a valued soldier.” He added rather smugly. As Rob was trying to formulate a plan to use the captains’ ego in their favour, though, Jess took a completely different course of action.
“Defend against THIS!” she snarled, and kicked him as hard as she could between the legs. Steven and Rob winced as the captain went down like a ton of bricks. “I’ve wanted to do that for three months.” She stated happily. She noticed their shocked expressions. “Oh, come on, whatever works, right?” they just nodded weakly. She rolled her eyes. “Boys! They’ll happily decapitate someone, but just mention hitting the privates, and they get all squeamish!” she gestured towards the elevator. “Ladies first!” she said sarcastically.

             *                                 *                              *

‘Ding’. The elevator doors opened, and as soon as they did, every guard in the hall of the eighth floor was instantly mowed down by mini-gun fire (Jess and Steven had each gotten a mini-cannon. Rob got the one hidden in the guards back pocket. They couldn’t find the personal shield generator, and they didn’t want to look further. You know what I mean). As they picked their way through the corridor that was littered with bodies-some privates, some corporals and a few captains- Jess asked “how much further have we got to go?”
“It’s the door at the end of the corridor. That’s the dinning room.”
“Bit convenient, isn’t it?” asked Steven.
“Apparently the leader doesn’t like to walk long distances. He likes things to be convenient.” Replied Rob.
“The door is locked!” shouted Jess, who had run on ahead and was trying to break the door down. Only the slightest shaking of the thick oak door gave any impression of her efforts.
“Here, let me try.” Said Rob, holstering his machine gun. He grabbed the door by its edges, and heaved with all his might, his suit adding greatly to his strength. He felt the door come loose, so he backed off. Then, drawing his mini-gun, he signalled the others to get ready. Steven got out his mini-gun, whilst Jess opted for her shotgun, and chucked Steven her mini-gun. Steven caught it with his free hand, and levelled them both in front of him.
“You first, Rob.” He said, nodding his head towards the door. Rob nodded, and took a run at the door. At the last moment, he raised a bent leg, and kicked through the door, sending it flying towards the opposite wall, where it splintered upon impact to shower the room with splinters. And all hell broke loose.

             *                                  *                                            *

Lord Vimark of the KKK was having dinner. Roast chicken-‘very good, I must order more of that’ he thought to himself. Some petty gang leader from the Ofricon Union was chattering incessantly in his right ear about how “crime was getting difficult because of the rise in personal security in the OU”, or some such nonsense. It was very irritating-he was tempted to have him shot. What was his name? Steven? Brian? Ryan? Yes, that was it, Ryan (personal joke for those who know me personally-don’t worry about it). It was a surprise he had any enemies’ left-five minutes in a room with him, and they’d shoot themselves!
That last thought was just working its way through his head when several things happened, seemingly at the same time. First, gunfire could be heard on the opposite side of the door, screams, then silence. Everyone present bought out guns from their pockets, which they weren’t really supposed to have with them (but it is a room full of criminals, so if you set rules, you can guarantee that at least one will be broken!), and hurried round to the opposite side of the table. The door started shaking, and the guards took up position in front of the door. The door was gripped from the outside, and the door buckled outward. Then, the door flew off its hinges, smashed through the four guards, and struck the wall above Vimark with such force that it showered the gang-leaders with splinters. Vimark wasn’t injured, but three out of the ten guests he had visiting were-they dropped their weapons and clutched arms, legs and other body parts. Vimark wasn’t paying attention, however, because three figures had just charged through the door, and were firing bullets at the gang-leaders. All around him, people were falling, having been shot and either killed or disabled. One upside, though-Ryan had been hit in the head by one of the first shots fired, so it wasn’t all bad. His guests kept falling either side of him, until only he and two others remained.
Rob was still firing, but they had been forced back behind what remained of the door as they had failed to terminate every target in their initial charge. It turned out that the door he had kicked had taken out the guards and three gang leaders, and their hail of gunfire had killed around four more. There were three left, hiding on the opposite side of the great table they had been eating at, chicken, beef and who knows what else strewn over the floor of the large, lavishly decorated hall. Great Satin curtains had giant holes ripped threw them, and the expensive paintings were splattered with gravy and wine, scattered along the floor, which also had great splinters from the door imbedded into it.
Two of the three were hiding behind the chairs they had been sitting in on either side of the third, and were dressed in simple travellers clothes-obviously guests, travelling undercover. The third, however, Rob knew immediately. With his tall and slightly muscled frame, his dark, intelligent eyes and his pale skin, in stark contrast with his jet black hair. He wore a long, flowing white cloak, with silver trimmings and a white robe on underneath. He held a mini-gun in his hand, and looked at them with disdain and loathing. Looking into his dark, malicious eyes, Rob saw no hint of warmth, and sensed only a black, emotionless soul. He knew then that he was looking at Lord Vimark himself, leader of the KKK, his target.
He popped round the corner and unleashed another storm of bullets at the trio. He hit one, but at the cost of the last of his mini-gun ammo. He threw them onto the floor, and swung his Assault rifle off his back and opened fire with that, ripping through the table, and forcing the two remaining gang leaders to take cover.
“We’ve got company!” shouted Jess, straining to be heard over the constant sound of gun fire. Rob glanced back to see guards rounding the corner and exiting the elevator. Jess turned round and opened fire with her shotgun, sending the front three men flying back into the men behind. The trio ducked behind some conveniently placed boxes, and Steven split his arms so that one gun was firing inside the door, and one at the elevator. They remained like this for some time, until there was a lull in the action on the elevator side-the guards seemed to have run out for the moment, so they needed to take advantage of it-and quickly. Rob emptied the last of his assault rifle ammo into the second gang leader, and returned his attention to Lord Vimark. There was no way he was going to kill him with a laser pistol. Sure, it had recharging ammo, but it was severely lacking in the strength department, and didn’t have sufficient effective range to be of use. It was with this in mind that he yelled to Steven and Jess to cover him as he ran towards the overturned table, firing his pistol as he went to keep Vimark pinned. He reached the table and leapt over it, and tried to bring his weapon to bear on Vimark, but Vimark delivered a punch to the stomach, which although it hit armour, still made Rob stagger. Vimark followed up by tackling Rob, and then they proceeded to roll around, where it devolved into the equivalent of a playground brawl. Rob landed a punch to Vimarks’ cheek, which was returned by Vimark kicking Rob off of him. They staggered to their feet, but Rob had lost his pistol in the melee. Vimark had also lost his gun, but just smiled. In one swift movement, he drew a blade from the inside of his robe and leapt towards Rob. However, Rob managed to draw his blade and met the attack. He pushed Vimark away, raised his blade ready to fight. The tensing of Vimarks body was enough to tell Rob that he was about to charge, and prepared himself. As Rob predicted, he did spring, and met with a solid defence. Vimark slashed at Rob’s head, but Rob successfully parried and launched an attack of his own, but every strike he tried met Vimarks blade, until Vimark stumbled backwards over a chair that had been knocked aside, and Rob took the opportunity to push forwards and thrust his sword into Vimarks chest. They stood there for several moments, until Rob withdrew his blade, and Vimark slumped to his knees.
He touched the place where he had been stabbed, and looked at his fingers, sticky with blood.
“Is this……my blood?” he gasped weakly, looking up at Rob. Rob looked into the mans dieing eyes, watching the little light that had originally been there flooding out as if a damn had been opened. “This isn’t……what…..I….want-” before he could finish the sentence, though, he fell onto his side and, still clutching his stomach, a smile slowly crept onto his face, as the peaceful arms of death embraced him.
Rob spent one more moment looking over Vimark, before turning round to walk back to the others. However, Jess and Steven were already walking over to him, wearing triumphant expressions.
“Ha!” laughed Jess. “We sure showed them, didn’t we? I don’t think the KKK are gonna be doing anything else for a while, eh? And I’d say that we crippled a fair amount of other syndicates today as well!” she grimaced briefly. “Although I’ll want a transfer out of the OND, if their going to hang me out to dry!”
“Its over.” Rob slumped onto the ground, his adrenaline rush over. “Now we can get some rest and relax for a couple of days.” They heard a dropship overhead.  Rob sighed. “Either we’re going home, or we’re boned.” They all laughed.
“Well, bring em on! I’ve still got ammo I want to use!” bellowed Jess, lifting her shotgun into two hands.
“Well save some for me!” guffawed Steven, putting up his fists in a classic boxing stance.
“Well, you two have fun. Wake me when you’re finished!” sighed Rob, flopping backwards onto the floor, narrowly avoiding several splinters and a roast chicken. “I’m going to sleep!” Steven and Jess flopped down opposite him, and waited.

The End

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