“Breaking news just coming in; anti-corp activists claiming to be a part of the Almoravid group have entered into an ongoing gunfight with security at a Geon bio-farm. The Kestrel bio-plant is a synthetic meat facility that has recently come under heavy scrutiny from environmentalist groups after Kestrel burgers were found to contain abnormal levels of numerous antibiotics. Private Geon security have engaged the Almoravid at the plant’s perimeter and are currently holding a defensive line a safe distance from the main facilities. Handing over now to Yukiko Mori on the scene-”
“Yes, Shunsuke, I have a good view here of the combat; it appears Geon drone forces have been supplemented by bio-clones and cyborgs and are currently defending a small outbuilding close to damaged waste-product tanks. In fact it was Kestrel’s poorly-maintained waste-”
“That was Yukiko Mori on the scene of the attack, we’ll have more news as it happens. You’re watching Dokan News, and I’m Shunsuke Koutaro. Moving on now, famous major voice-actress Akagi Midorikawa claimed that following her divorce from film-director Hisashi Midorikawa, she is unable to continue voicing-”
The news-cast fell silent, and a rifle thudded heavily on a metal table, slipping slightly to one side as the truck swerved at some unseen threat.
“All right, you’ve heard what Dokan has to say on the subject, now you’re going to live it. Haqq terrorists have decided to raid a Geon clone plant and the on-site security aren’t holding out too well, so that’s where we come in. We’re sending a single fire-team, three drones and four biologicals, plus on-site medical support.” At that, Yuko looked up from her book with a tired expression, then let her head fall again. “Problem?”
“No.” There was no sincerity in that. “All right, children. If you get hurt I’ll do what I can to fix you.”
“So what’s the situation? The real one?” Lieutenant Nagisa Ai, leader of the team, looked to her captain with anticipation in her eyes. “How many te-activists are there?”
“Last report from sitesec was seven, including two snipers. Apparently one of the others has a thirty-eight MMG. Strategy?”
“The enemy are strongly committed to the left; we will meet them in kind. The damaged pipes make outflanking to the right too time-consuming and conspicuous, although I recommend Rei head that way in case they try a counter-flanking action.” The ECM operator nodded, wiping a purple hair-strand from her field of vision. “Yuko, I want you back by this abandoned air-defence gun to remotely provide field support; the facility has surgical drones for treating industrial injuries. Ever used one?”
“Good. We’ll have the drones forward, and the others behind. Ebihara?” The unit’s sniper briefly paused the adjustments she was making to her helmet to give a barely-audible response. “There’s no real vantage point for you I’m afraid. Stick back with the drones and provide fire support. That just leaves you, Yosuke; I want you to scout ahead and prepare a few traps for anyone who breaks cover. I’m authorising use of mono-field mines, I don’t particularly care what the news says.”
“Plan sounds like it will work. Approved.” The captain looked at the truck’s GPS. “We’re here. Kit up.”
Kestrel Plant sat on one of the suburban brown-field belts, where the city hadn’t quite grown into a parasitic, choking forest of concrete and metal yet and rough muddy scrubland fought against it. The activists had made their push at a part where the machinery was particularly run-down, and indistinct yellowish slurry seeped from broken pipes out of large drums. The air around bio-plants was always heavy with fermenting smells, and it was far worse here where the raw materials of life polluted the ground.
The truck had swung round to avoid the firefight and set up at Nagisa’s proposed entry point, a place where an anti-aircraft gun sat rusting in its mounts. Corps using such unsubtle means of security was long out of favour, and so many factories had abandoned fortifications dotted around their perimeters.
The PMC fanned out, signalling for the beleaguered sitesec to fall back, and Yosuke Ichinomiya was alone with his thoughts in the shadow of a cracked chemical tank. A broken pipe, large enough to crawl down if you didn’t mind a few inches of vomit-like chemical waste, was dripping its contents in a rough pool between the two sections, and that was where he was headed. While he wasn’t going to step into the mess blindly, he had a feeling others might be less prudent, and so it seemed a good location for one of his mines.
Bullets sounded off above him; from a distant tank, a sniper had clearly found a line to shoot and bursts of rifle-fire from the drones played back across the field. There was another burst, heavier-calibre, the thudding crackle of a machine gun, and then suddenly static on one channel. Just for a moment, a sharp burst like a connection faltering, and then a choking voice – Rei’s.
“I-I’m-I’m-” She barely managed to stutter out a word when the machine gun fired another burst, and then there was silence.
The sniper fired again, from her vantage point of rusted, vile-smelling metal. Again the little pink-and-black speck seemed to not be where it had been. She pulled back the bolt again and instinctively ducked the inaccurate spray of bullets that the polished crimson drones let off as a formality whenever they detected a threat. This time, though, something was wrong. There wasn’t the foothold where it had been. Had she moved? Had she dodged too far to one side, crawled off-target?
She felt her foot disappear over an edge, her boot catching on something jagged. She had the perfect shot, this had to happen now.
A stabbing pain in her ankle as a rusted spar found a thick black sock rather than toughened leather sent her abandoning the rifle to look down. The walkway was coming away from its mountings, slowly but surely, and there was nothing but air and a sickening drop to look forward to unless she moved. Bullets flickered against the tank’s carcase, and she had moved just too slowly, stumbling on a bent beam and suddenly the earth was sucked away and for a few moments she watched the walkway fade into the sun’s glare.
Drone Ichi had just confirmed the cessation of enemy sniper cover over the main operational channel when a three-round burst, 5.56 bullets neatly avoiding the concrete barricade, tore its main spinal power coupling apart. Far away, at the edge of the facility, Malak Ahmed cheered. He had not received the news yet that Adaeze had fallen to her death, and just knew that he and his comrades had killed two of the security forces in only a few minutes.
Yosuke laid his first mine, and then when no bullets tracked his movement laid another, settling the cylindrical things that for all the world looked like soda cans into the sludgy ground and twisting the activation dial. When triggered they would saturate an area in a fine, persistent cloud of synthetic shards that would at the point of hypersonic release punch through any known armour, and then persist both as lethal shrapnel that could sever a foot and as a vile cloud that shredded lungs and eyes. He kept the last for later, and slipped back to safety, knowing his optical distortion field had remained perfect protection from prying eyes.
He watched as with a screaming of jets a G-type air-droppable combat drone was released from a high-passing tiltrotor, and smashed into the ground like a curled-up metal pillbug. Green lights flickered into life across its body and it unfolded among a hail of bullets, the activists realising the threat it posed and unloading machine-guns and ancient rifles at its body. The G-type scanned the three threats before it and identified one, three-barrelled cannon on its forearm spinning up.
Ghufran Amjad pressed her slight body against the pipe and hoped the drone would pass by. There was an outside chance Adaeze could be saved, but she had to move quickly. “Nail! Nail! Cover me, damn you!” The janissary, a thickset man swathed in cloaks, balanced his machine gun on a barricade and unleashed another burst intended to suppress the enemy drone.
She ran, hearing the machine-guns speak to each other – Nail’s throaty and dangerous sounding, the drone’s high-pitched like a dentist’s drill. Suddenly the deeper sound fell silent.
“Nail?” Suddenly the safety of the wall seemed very, very far away. “Nail?”
“Damned thing jammed, Ghufran! Run!”
The drill-whine of the minigun filled her ears and suddenly she felt very light-headed and clumsy, then very tired, and the world seemed very dark.
Yuko’s eyes were, quite awkwardly, about a foot from the ground. Through the visor she wore the world was entirely that of the surgical drone, and it still took some getting used to. Attempting fine repair-work using its compound fingers, though, was instinctive. The downed D-type drone was only lightly damaged, and within a few seconds she had rewired its wrecked power coupling and it was pulling itself upright to continue an inconclusive firefight with a distant foe.
Malak could have sworn the drone had died once, but nevertheless it was back for more. He slammed with practised hands a new magazine into his rifle and fired again, ducking from its return fire, and then with a precise three-round burst brought it down again.
“Hey, Shareef, if they keep repairing that thing, do I get a tally-mark for each time I knock it down?” His comrade looked slightly incredulous.
“There are powers, Malak, that don’t appreciate deceit.” He’d forgotten that Shareef was still pretty seriously spiritual. “Do not presume to lie about your valour.”
The heavy drone’s gun hadn’t left Ghufran in a decent state. Nail had seen it, powerless as he tried to clear the antique gun’s jammed belt, mow her down. Now it was the machine’s turn to reload, and he had a clear shot.
The first rounds smashed its shin apart and the thing wavered on one leg before collapsing. Before it could stabilise the rounds walked into its torso and head and then the lights that dotted its face fell dark. Swinging the gun round he saw more enemies, and opened fire at what seemed like a cluster of drone-soldiers.
A high-calibre bullet exploded – actually exploded – into the wall behind him, and he hit the floor. Firing blind, he heard another sniper shot hit and saw the dark stain it left slightly lower.
Ebihara swore a constant stream of curses as the enemy machine-gunner defied her every shot. The double-action explosive-tipped bullets were not cheap, and two of them now mocked her as misses.
Casting her eyes across the battlefield she spotted a flicker of movement on top of one of the containers, and radioed it through to Nagisa as the lieutenant advanced.
Moments later a bullet punched straight through her shoulder as the sniper, position now revealed, took the shot.
“Goddamn Yuko stop playing with toys I’m bleeding here!” The surgical-bot was happily repairing a downed drone as she bled, and she could see Nagisa climbing the container to ambush the preoccupied sniper. The machine-gunner was reloading from his firing point, and so biting back the pain (and god, it hurt a lot to life the rifle) she fired an exploratory burst – double-action rounds discarded for now, and simple high-calibre anti-materiel rounds loaded.
Nail felt the bullet hit him in the gut and fell to the ground, ammo belt discarded on the floor. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t going to die.
“Melisizwe! Sniper down by the barricade! Bitch got me in the gut, it looks like it’s up to you now!” Lieutenant Albaf had to act now; he had stayed back for too long watching his brothers die.
“Got that, Nail. Do what you can, and know you fought well.”
Malak broke cover, angered at the drone’s tenacity, and ran hugging the outbuilding wall towards its position. Only a few feet now. Only-
Drone Ichi came back online to see a viable target in the open, and fired. Malak’s body was carried by momentum, tripping and crashing to an ungainly halt in the mud. Behind him, Melisizwe Albaf used the momentary distraction to gain ground himself, climbing a fire-escape to get a better firing-position. He could see a repair drone, and with an almost effortless burst of fire did what Nail and Adaeze had died trying to do.
Yuko felt the inhuman sensation of losing neural link and ripped the visor off, shuddering in pain as her sinuses reacted badly to the drone’s death. A bad time to lose the surgical-bot, with Ebihara wounded. She watched the sniper fighting on with beautiful, noble tenacity, swallowing the doubtless excruciating grinding sensation of a bullet lodged in the shoulder to finally silence the enemy machine gun.
“Ebi! Get down! You’re-”
Melisizwe fired again and Ebihara staggered backwards.
Yuko pressed herself as small as possible against the gun-emplacement and prayed that these terrorists respected the rights of medics as prisoners.
Nagisa had not seen any of this; the sniper had heard her coming and what should have been a simple kill, the clinical insertion of a long-bladed knife between the vertebrae, had turned into a scrappy, unpleasant fight. The knife was just out of reach, and on her other side the sniper’s discarded rifle sat as its fork. She kicked up, feeling a heel dig deeply into flesh between armoured vest and belt. The sniper recoiled, a moment of relieved pressure which gave her arm enough freedom to reach the knife. It swung back and sank deeply into the terrorist’s flank, and a corpse laid heavily upon her.
Yosuke had been waiting for the enemy’s curtain-fire to die down, and now it had. He ran with the uneven loping strides of someone trying to keep camouflage on, towards where the shouting was. Or rather where it had been; Ebihara was dead, the drones damaged and Yuko was not responding.
A cursory thermal scan revealed a target just behind a wall, and he finally had a use for his final mine. Hot-arming it, setting the fuse before he had set it in place, he rolled it neatly around the corner and heard the snap as it went off.
Somehow, Melisizwe had survived the initial detonation, but he could feel his strength fading. Blood-blinded, trying frantically to remember the standard practice for chemical attack, he covered his mouth and nose and ran towards the source of the cloud.
He made it about a foot around the corner, to see Yosuke waiting with rifle raised, before he fell, a flayed man.
Nagisa surveyed the battlefield. The drones could be repaired – even the G-type – but the loss of Ebihara and Rei was a hard one. At least none of the attackers had escaped; sitesec had taken over the forensics to allow the PMC time to recover their dead.
“News just in that private security forces put down a terrorist attack on Kestrel Bio-Plant with extreme prejudice, leaving no survivors. Rumours that mono-field munitions were deployed have not been confirmed by Geon, but the presence of decontamination teams is-”
“Thank you, Yukiko. So to sum up, prompt and heroic action from a contracted security fire-team resulted in minimal damage to Geon property and the swift end to hostilities. You’re watching Dokan News, and coming up next – how Pan-Oceanic religious fundamentalists can use social media to influence your children! Don’t retune your sets!”