Downloading updated protocols...
“You are the most fucked up, mealy-mouthed piece of shit to have ever stepped onto my deck of pain. The enemy will never have to fire a round at you, Holtman, you are already your own worst enemy.”
I remembered the words of THEMIS’ most notorious drill sergeant, Sergeant Korovitch, a Russian Orthodox Jew tasked with weeding out the shitheads and dead weight before THEMIS wasted precious resources bringing them online as their elite, the Myrmidons and the Erinyes. I thought back to his words every damned day, and probably would for the next ten years. In THEMIS’ eyes I was simply a fuckup they couldn’t simply be rid of, so they stuck me in a place where they figured I couldn’t do any damage until I paid off my debt.
I ran through the camera checks from my desk, occasionally glancing up to look at the faces of the people coming through, nodding pleasantly from my throne of impotence. I could have been chilling, jacked into the net or watching a vid, but simple pride kept me from doing so. Being the door guard at the THEMIS Medical Center, the company’s nerve cluster in North America for the building and augmentation of the mercenaries this company employed was a meaningless position.
I raised my eyes and nodded with a fake pleasant expression as three guys with that distinctive ex-military look to them wandered up to the desk. Just for the hell of it I scanned them with my cybernetic eye that replaced the one I lost in a vibroblade fight. My right eye clicked and overlayed them, running in concert with the control suite locked around my spinal column and brain stem, buried under the best dermal plating money could buy. A quick glance told all. No weapons, and their faces matched up with the lot of chumps who were enjoying their first days off in months before being thrown to the tender mercies of the docs.
Scanning… The cyber-eye bracketed the three faces and superimposed them, checking them against the photos on my clipboard for a match. In each case, cross-referencing them with the files on-site. Authorized. So nice of my cyberware to tell me what I could see with my own eyes.
I had to wonder, would they be Myrmidons like I had been before I got busted back to desk jockey chump detail to try and pay off my four-hundred-grand debt for the heavy cybernetic augmentation I had undergone, or would they exit the facility as one of the lithe and agile Erinyes? One could never tell, and even though I respected what the Erinyes could do I couldn’t understand why in God’s name someone would want to go through that process. From what I understood it hurt worse than Myrmidon conversion, and I tell you from experience that if you become a Myrmidon, when the docs are done you will cry like a newborn babe as you try to relearn to control your body.
Then there was the small matter that Erinyes were universally female when they exited the program. The Dragon-Blood serum could only be safely used on men, and the end result was female. Hence it was rejected by most military organizations worldwide. Didn’t stop me from eyeballing the end result though. The girls were universally gorgeous when they came out, and due to THEMIS’ recruiting tactics, unless you were in the know you would never, ever have a reason to guess that the girls were anything less than natural-born female.
The lead man came to the desk, “Hey, we’re kinda lost, we’re supposed to report to the docs for the augmentation, but we’ve never been here before.”
I nodded, relaxing a tiny bit and looking at each in turn. “Which programs you all here for?”
The two lead boys answered with “Myrmidon” in rapid order, and the third hesitated before saying “Erinyes” almost too quickly to catch. I approved of the fact that the two lead dogs didn’t even bat an eye or indicate that they disapproved of their companion’s assignment. The nascent Erinyes were always uncomfortable with touting the fact that they were going to be very, wildly female when the process ended. For all the societal advancements, homophobia was still a bright and shining star in the eyes of mainstream America, built on the bastion of freedom and family values that held less meaning today then magnetic acceleration held five hundred years ago.
“All right, Myrmidons to the second floor, room 212 for the medical orientation.” The two nodded.
I looked at the third, a well-built young man with a shock of fiery Irish red hair cut in the traditional military buzz cut, and looking about more than a bit nervously. “You are going to the twelfth floor, room 1201. Orientation has already begun, so I suggest you run. The stairs are faster.”
The red-haired recruit was gone with a speed that would have been shocking to anyone who was unfamiliar with the insane reflexes of the Myrmidons’ amped-up battle-sisters. The other two looked at me questioningly. “You’re not fucking with him are you?”
I shook my head. “Agatha’s a bitch. She likes starting early so she can chew out anyone who wasn’t there thirty minutes prior. I’d be more worried about your impending work. I suggest stocking up on about twenty bottles of Motrin, the big ones, each. It’ll help cut down the pain from the swelling once they kick you to rehabilitation.”
Somewhere in the back of the lobby the elevator opened and I got to hear the cheap, crappy music corporate types always felt the need to have playing in the things.
“Is it bad?”
“Yes, but it’s worth it. Get going you two. You have a date with a scalpel. Better to get it over and done with.”
Both nodded and left for the elevators. I snorted as they left. Sooner or later they’d learn a harsh lesson about elevators. I just hoped it wouldn’t kill them. There is a very good reason why I always take the stairs. I don’t give a rat’s ass if I have to climb to the top of a 200 story skyscraper, or to the roof of an arcology. I’m taking the fucking stairs.
I sighed and went back to staring at monitors and politely nodding to whatever asshole walked through the doors of the one building in THEMIS’ possession that you would have to be an utter idiot to pull something in. This was where we made Myrmidons and Erinyes, and there were always a couple on station just in case someone got froggy. You would have to be an utter moron to pull anything here. It’s why I’m here in fact. I was here in exile, pulled from the front lines blasting and playing cop from hell because I don’t have the proper corporate mindset. The bean counters didn’t agree with my assessment that the lives of our personnel and bystanders were an acceptable reason to engage in excessive collateral damage to save.
I don’t even have a function beyond door bitch. The real security work began past the lobby, out of sight of the teeming masses and prospective employees here to deliver resumes or to gather information on whether they wanted to take the plunge and become our elite troops. I’m here precisely because it’s the one job where I can’t conceivably cause any damage. I’m here, and I can’t do anything about it, even quit, because due to my own augmentation I’m still over two hundred and fifty grand in the hole. I’ve run the calculations, so long as I continue at my current salary and position I can pay it off in another decade, provided I’m willing to continue living in the spartan and minimalist manner to which I am becoming accustomed.
Protocol Update complete. Reboot?
I let the cyberware finished updating the security and Nanite damage control protocols as I continued my angry reminiscing.
I was a Myrmidon, one of the line grunts of THEMIS, one of the guys trained to blast holes in entire infantry platoons and go looking for seconds. I’m also stuck here in a dead-end job, begging for the corporate table scraps all because I couldn’t be bothered to let the people I was fighting alongside die to protect the company’s bottom line.
Six Months Earlier...
“All right Myrmidons, this one’s time sensitive! The tangos are holed up on the top floor of the supermall complex with the hostages! Our targets are Senator McKenzie, his family and the Yankees starting lineup. Our boys picked themselves an all-star cast, and they’re threatening to begin executions again!”
I looked up from my spot at the back of the VTOL and grinned at Dodson, my partner in crime as we began powering up the frames bracketing our body armor. The heavy weapons frames weren’t exactly power armor, we needed that shit like we needed a hole in the head, but the frames enhanced our strength enough that we could carry the old-school heavy weapons that were still just as effective in the modern day as they had been fifty years ago. We rammed the ammo feeds and spun the barrels on the Thunderstorm miniguns we were carrying, ready for the drop.
Sergeant Morris continued howling the FLASH brief as the VTOL banked steeply, heading for the target zone. “The primary insertion will be by Erinyes. Holtman, Dodson, you will cover the Apocalypse Twins while they go in. The rest of you knuckle-draggers will set up the cordon at the base of the mall and cover the primary escape route! Let the girls do the work, guys, we’re here to cover them not blow a hole in reality. This is a damn-near billion-dollar mall so I’d better not hear those miniguns fire unless you’re under threat, or you are given release authorization. Comprende?”
“Right boss, no fun time without permission!” I grinned as Dodson hollered the response up.
I grinned as the lithe forms of Chai and Kaitlin sidled into the seats next to us, unbothered by the wild maneuvering of the transport. I never got tired of working with the Erinyes, if for no other reason than they were awesome eye candy, plus I liked Kaitlyn Marksbury, AKA Boom-Boom. Honestly, what’s not to like about a statuesque redhead in form-fitting body armor?
“I’ll trade ya.” The primary object of my attentions held out her assault rifle, grinning at the minigun in my hands with undisguised envy.”
“What, give up Mamasita?” I chuckled. “You know I stay true to my woman, Boom-Boom.”
“Only on Tuesday!” I looked over as the ramp started opening. I could see tracers erupting to the sky around us, before the armor of the vehicle began vibrating. “All right, Me’n Dods will take the lead and cover you going in! You ladies are good, but I’m itching to play Terminator!”
“Terminator?” Chai’s exquisite oriental face was cocked, curiously. “You guys into old sci-fi?”
Dodson grinned at her. “When we clean these assbats out we’ll show you our old movie collection!”
Boom-Boom grinned. “All right, gunners, we’ll let you earn your pay.”
“Three seconds to drop.” The comm crackled as the pilot spoke. “Thirty feet off the deck, so try not to break those fancy rigs you two idiots are wearing.”
“Yes, mommy.” I waited until the line went green and jumped up, and out of the back of the transport, with Dodson right behind me. We may not be as fast, agile or skilled in close as our female counterparts, but Myrmidons are stronger and tougher. In the case of the heavy gunners, we’re even more so at the cost of a substantially higher debt rating to pay back for the cost of augmentation.
The thirty foot drop was enough to cause my cybernetic eye to lock in, highlight and flash threat warnings for over thirty enemies. All of them were armed, and I actually had to cut the data down so I didn’t get overloaded with technical information on armor and weapons. All I needed to know was if I could chop them into chutney.
I felt my feet hit concrete and took the impact on my legs and the power frame, crouching until my ass almost kissed the deck before springing back up as I heard the slam of Dodson landing beside me. Out targeting systems came alive with threat warnings as both of our miniguns spun and began shitting burster rounds, explosive-tipped 7.62mm rounds that would penetrate and explode. The effect on an unarmored body was gruesome as the two of us went back to back and began spraying the rooftop defenders like a pair of mad firefighters with a firehose.
Bullets hit our armor and deformed, feeling like a heavy rain as we tore apart the opposition, bodies literally exploding as our fire cut a bloody mess through their ranks. While we were down to business I had to check my fire as the two figures in shiny body armor hit the deck and rolled, sprinting for the entrance at a speed that seemed impossible for a human body while the two Erinyes showed exactly why they were the most efficient and effective combat troops THEMIS boasted.
The two door guards had only begun to bring their weapons to bear on the new threat when Chai and Kait cut them down with their mono-bladed katanas. The poor bastards stood as much chance against them as their buddies had against the massive, overwhelming fire my partner and I were laying down. The Erinyes were the epitome of the basic military adage of “mobility kills.” They did with finesse and speed about what me and Dodson were doing through sheer brute force. As much as I will extol the virtues of just how badass the myrmidons are, either Chai or Kait were only slightly less dangerous than Dodson, myself and our miniguns combined.
The two ladies were inside killing people long before we finished pacifying the roof three minutes later. A couple minutes later the transport cruised overhead dropping a pair of bricks on our position. I picked one up as Dodson ejected his battery pack and ammo unit as I connected another six thousand rounds to the back of his frame, and he repeated the action for me. A quick check showed that the heavy ballistic plates on Dodson’s armor were pockmarked in multiple locations and his chestplate had a hairline fracture. Mine had held firm against the enemy fire.
As the last known bad guy fell, my cyberware began scanning. No more targets on the rooftop. That didn’t mean there wasn’t some asshole hidden behind a wall, just that I was neither hearing, nor seeing anyone.
“Control, this is Myrmidon Heavy, the roof is secure, awaiting further orders.” I spoke into the com while Dodson moved to overwatch on the roof, covering the exits. Now was the time we had to be careful as we listened to the violence below on the Squad channels, as well as the two Erinyes’ comm net. From the sound of it, only me and Dodson had been having an easy time of it, though our boys down below were having a rougher time of it than the two women raising merry hell a mere floor below us.
“Roger Myrmidon Heavy, maintain station and cover the egress route.” Simons’ voice wasn’t one that would normally engender feelings of annoyance, unless you knew him personally. The control officer was a bean-counting weasel-dicked asshole whose sole purpose in life was to find reasons to garnish your pay. He got a bonus for every buck he managed to save on these operations. He was universally despised by every single Myrmidon and Erinyes operator who ever had the misfortune to talk to him for longer than the ten seconds it took to learn to hate him. The Erinyes were lucky. He didn’t get to do the bean-counting for them.
“Control this is Boom-Boom, egress below is cut off, the hostages are en route to secondary extraction point. We’re covering their... try that again asshole! Escape.”
“Look alive Mikey! We got us civvies to cover!” Dodson grinned at me and I moved to the door as the sounds of thunderous fire erupted from below.
“Ok Jake,” I nodded, “cover the other exits, I’ll get the civvies to the drop point!”
We began moving just in time as a swarm of civilians came pouring out, terrified and confused as I did my level best to herd them towards the extraction point. Men, women and children all, I approved. Chai and Kait didn’t stop at freeing the people who’d been paid for on the rescue. A quick count told the story, fifty hostages, almost twice the number we’d been assigned to recover, yet less than half of the number who’d been taken. The terrorists had been execution-happy during the first six hours of the standoff, and they pretty much only had the valuable hostages left, mostly people who were worth real money or their kids.
Targets marked. Weapons negative. The cybereye began flashing images of all the faces as I did a headcount. All the people we were paid to save accounted for.
“Control this is Myrmidon Heavy, we need two transports to the roof soonest. All targets plus twelve evacced.”
“Negative, Myrmidon Heavy, one transport. Put the people we’re here to pick up aboard and get on the transport. The extras can fend for themselves.”
“Bullshit Simons, you get that other fucking transport up here or I’m going to take Mamasita, ram her up your ass and loosen you up, I have kids on this roof. You will evac them or I will hunt your ass down again.” I had absolutely no tolerance for Simons’ nitpicky bullshit, and I have taken steps to discourage him before. The thirty-grand penalty accredited to my debt for his hospitalization costs had set me back, and he took every opportunity to penalize me for my temerity. But he had also learned not to screw with me when I made a call in the field.
“Wait one. Transports en route, Myrmidon Heavy. The boss wants to have a chat with you.”
“That’s fine you dickless wonder. I’ll take my medicine from her like a good boy.” I signed out of that particular line of conversation. Diana was going to tear me a new asshole, even if she agreed with me on principle. It was her job. The fact that I knew she agreed with me when I called my theoretical supervisor to task took the sting out of the severe verbal tearing she inevitably gave me whenever I got snarly about things like this. Simons didn’t give a flying fuck about anything that wouldn’t increase his bonus for a successful op with minimum collateral damage.
“Jesus Mike I know Diana’s hot, but there’s easier ways to get alone time with her.” Dodson loved ragging me for my supposed love affair for the Erinys who was now a field supervisor.
“You’re just jealous because the women always scream when they’re alone with me.”
“This is Boom-Boom we need backup, there’s a lot more of these bastards in here than we thought. We are pinned in the Food Court and unable to move, requesting backup! Chai’s hit and we’re running out of ammo!”
I looked over and saw the transports making ready to land on the roof. “Myrmidon One this is Myrmidon Heavy. You in position to render aid?”
“Negative, Holtman, we are dick deep in bad guys and I have four casualties. We are having a genuine Custer’s last stand situation down here. Control, we need some backup down here, these guys suck, but there’s a crapton of them, and they’re porting better arms than we were led to believe .”
Simons’ voice came in over the comm. “Negative Myrmidon One, our objective is complete, you are to withdraw and regroup. The Erinyes will have to find their own way out. Myrmidon heavy you are to escort the hostages to the staging area. These orders come down from on high.”
“We’re sorry, your request cannot be completed as stated. Try again asshole, we are not writing off those two while they’re still breathing.”
Simons’ voice was entirely too smug. “Myrmidon One you will follow orders or face penalties from on high. I have appraised them of the situation. The Erinyes position is untenable. You will withdraw.”
“Roger Control, we will comply.”
“I, however, will not. Fuck you Simons.” I snarled into the Com as I helped load the last of the hostages into the transport. I stepped off just as the ramp started going up and saw Jake do the same off the other bird.
“Let’s rock and roll, bro.” Jake smiled grimly and snapped his helmet visor down.
Targeting systems online. Ammunition Counter Online. Target recognition online. Thermographics online. Arming weapon. Armor at 98% efficiency.
“Myrmidon Heavy you are in violation of your orders and your contract. Board those transports and get to the staging area.” Simons was screaming as he saw the dollar signs in his eyes falling drastically.
“We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed, please fuck off and go away.” I began stomping toward the roof entrance as Simons howled about insubordination.
“Myrmidon One, change of orders, you are to intercept Myrmidon Heavy and make them return to the staging area.”
Sergeant Morris’ voice crackled over the comm. “Heavy, you realize what you’re doing.”
“Yeah Sergeant, we do,” Jake spoke grimly, “we’re doing the same thing we’d do for you. Don’t try and stop us.”
“Acknowledged. Control this is myrmidon One, I do not believe we are capable of forcing them to stand down.”
“Then shoot them down.”
“Simons I don’t think you get it you bean-counting little shit. I am not taking my squad against a pair of heavies with the firepower to kill a tank. I am executing field command authority. We will not intercept Myrmidon Heavy.”
“Good call, Boss.” I kicked the entrance door off its hinges and began descending into the thunder below.
The first thing I saw when I reached the top floor of the supermall was the lifeless body of a small child. Jake saw him too. Maybe if we hadn’t seen that things would have gone differently. Both of us began stalking towards the main sound of gunfire. The first tango we saw exploded as two streams of tracer fire blew him to ribbons.
“Control we need help, we are pinned down! We can’t run anywhere! We need fucking help!” Chai was screaming into the com.
We came around the corner where Chai and Kait were pinned, and they were swarmed by bad guys, who were pouring massed fire into their position at a leisurely pace that might as well have amounted to the almighty hammer of God. The fact that they were still alive was nothing short of miraculous.
Multiple flashes began lighting up as my cybereye marked the position of each of the terrorists. Forty enemy targets. Threat Condition Yellow.
“Erinyes put your heads down and pray. You are about to have mass fire on your position. Myrmidon Heavy, out.” I spun up the barrels as I spoke and the two of us let fly, and suddenly the tables turned on the terrorists. Two guns capable of shitting over five thousand rounds a minute with explosive rounds aren’t noted for their ability to maintain damage control. Bodies, concrete, and store property alike exploded violently as we cut loose. The Terrorists were slow to react, and paid for it, more than a few diving behind cover that was insufficient to protect them from our wrath.
We killed almost everything that moved in there before our ammo hoppers ran dry and our guns stopped screaming. Hooray for the element of surprise. No ammo, no point in keeping the guns as the last surviving tangos bolted the hell away from us. Well well, what do you know? Fanatics CAN be taught!
Boom-Boom popped up from behind one of the food court prep areas with her hands raised, grinning at us. “I surrender.”
Target Identified… Kaitlyn Marksbury… Erinyes heavy ordinance Specialist. Thank you oh gods of electronics for pointing out the obvious.
“Move it, woman!” Jake hollered as we shucked the power frames and the guns. Without the Myrmidon Heavy Plate armor hard points the assemblies would be absolutely useless. “We gotta get the hell out while the getting’s good!”
Me and Jake drew our own Mono-Blade swords which we had purchased from the company from our own meager pay reserves. The twin blades we each carried had been a godsend on more than one occasion and we never regretted the purchase. Without the bulky power frames we could run and do all of the insane shit that made Erinyes and Myrmidons what we were.
I went over and helped brace Chai as Jake and Boom-Boom took the lead. The roof was a wash, the transports were already gone. There was no way in God’s name that bean-counting, shit-stain Simons would release another transport to pick the four of us up, being the spiteful little piece of shit that he is.
The Erinys woman clung to my back like a gecko as I rushed forward behind the other two. She’d taken a few too many hits to the body armor and was probably sporting a few cracked bones and a couple small shrapnel bits penetrating her armor.
It didn’t take long for the terrorists to regroup as Jake took the lead charging down the hallways and crashing down the stairwell with Kait right behind him. We WANTED him to be the first thing they saw. They’d mistake him for a bigger threat than the redheaded hellraiser dogging his heels.
Murphy’s Law dictates that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It began when about fifteen terrorist assholes came swarming up the stairwell. It ended when the tangos had Jake slam into them before they could really bring weapons to bear. Kait, of course in true Erinyes fashion dropped right down the gap between the stairwells and rushed up at them from below, letting loose with that lunatic Ki yell they teach the girls to do. It was like watching a bear and a cougar fight over a steak. The two of them turned the mass of terrorists into chutney who’s greatest contribution in life would be to make it hard to walk on the stairs while carrying Chai. Intestines can be kinda slippery, don’t you know.
Two more small groups of terrorists later, me and Jake exited the stairwell on the second floor above ground level. Kait was actually confused. “Why are we getting out here? We need to be on the ground floor!”
I didn’t stop running as Chai answered for me, still clinging to my back. “Because they’ll be waiting for us to try to escape that way!”
An alarm chime sounded in my head as my cybereye went to active thermographics and my Cybernetic coprocessors began counting warm bodies.
“Bingo. Thermal’s reading eighteen ahead. How many of these assholes do they have?” I was not happy, half-expecting to find out there was a battalion of the motherfuckers in here. My cybernetic eye was marking targets as we rushed forward. Chai pulled my sidearm from the holster and cocked it from her perch on my back while I made ready with the blades. Kait took Chai’s mono-blade and ducked behind me and Jake while the two of us presented an armored wall for her to take cover behind.
The two of us bull-rushed the enemy position, while Chai tracked on tangos, shooting carefully over my shoulder. Three of them were already dead when I hit the first two and Jake ran up and kicked a field goal on another’s testicles, actually tossing the man while I demonstrated my awesome fencing technique of swinging the blades wildly as hard as I could, shearing through weapons, ballistic vests and bones with equal ease. Once the tangos fully locked their attention on us Kaitlin Marksbury jumped over our heads shrieking like a banshee and landing in the middle of the cluster.
Me and Jake, we were admittedly devastating. Kait made the two of us look like a pair of carrots begging a food processor for mercy. She was almost too fast to track, darting between targets slashing while me and my partner hit the bastards with the force of a cargo hauler. The only thing that could possibly have made things worse for the terrorists would have been if Chai had been in play with her blade. I knew from experience that the petite Thai woman made all three of us look like rank amateurs. The only person I knew who could keep up with her in swordplay was Vangie, and even then it was a near thing.
Oh look, the front of the mall. The three of us left a trail of blood and bodies when I slipped on the gore, running for the windows. Chai let a light shriek as I faceplanted in a pool of dead asshole . As I stood up I actually had to raise my visor to be able to see where the hell I was going. I’d landed face-first in some tango’s unzipped abdomen. That looked distinctively like a Jake wound. He thought it was funny to help people trip over their own guts.
Jake and Kait were already at the window as me and Chai caught up. The little darling fired three times , cracking the armorglass just enough for me to slam into it and shatter it. Needless to say I closed my visor before impact. Better to be slightly blind temporarily than eat fragments of sharp shit in my good eye. Let me tell you, sharp, pointy things in the eyeball are not fun. I speak from experience.
Chai let herself fall away as we fell the short distance to the ground. I landed on my feet as Jake slammed down in similar posture while the two girls rolled. Jake landed closer to Chai, so he sheathed his blades, and turned to pick her up when the fire erupted from inside the mall. I felt the heavy patter of rounds chewing up my armor as Kait scrambled to interpose me between her and the incoming fire. Smart of her, considering my body armor could suck up a lot more punishment than hers could. ‘Twas one of the benefits of being heavy infantry.
Armor at 82% efficiency. Left calf Mynomer auxiliary bundle damaged.
Jake wasn’t so lucky. His armor had been damaged badly on the roof, and more so on the way down to the second floor. An armor-piercing round found the crack on his chestplate and blasted right through the armor, and the subdermal reinforcement protecting his ribcage. My buddy went down like a wet sack, falling on top of Chai with a gurgling cry.
I howled and literally grabbed and threw Kaitlyn towards the reinforced line of cops, THEMIS personnel and other sundries. Thankfully she took the hint and vaulted behind a barricade as I turned and lumbered back to the two fallen, fighting against the tide of bullets slamming my armor, trying to push me back. As I grabbed Jake’s arm and hooked Chai I ran towards the barricades, feeling each impact, and my armor cracking, and coming apart finally. I only had ten yards to go.
Armor at 81%.
Armor at 74%
Six. Almost there.
WARNING! Armor below 70% efficiency rating, breach imminent.
I stepped into the bar for my second job, the one I used to make ends meet and keep from going so deep into debt I’d be spending the next twenty years paying it off. Being a bouncer didn’t pay well, but for Jake I’d have put on a dress and played serving wench in drag. He’d been my best buddy since we’d joined the Myrmidons together.
I dropped the reinforced leather duster behind the bar with Mindy, our bartender this week. We seemed to go through a bartender at least once a week whenever one inevitably pissed Jake off. It was so hard to find help that didn’t assume you could skim off the till when your boss was wheelchair-bound. Mindy smiled at me as I wandered up to my accustomed spot at a table in the middle of the bar. Everyone knew it was my table, everyone knew better than to screw with my table, and if that wasn’t enough the bright red shirt with SECURITY emblazoned on both sides got the rest of the message across.
The Silo had two major draws that kept it populated with patrons. The first thing was that Jake insisted that it always remain meticulously clean. The second was the fact that we had an open invitation to the Erinyes and Myrmidons, and a ten percent discount on the drinks. The civvies loved to drop in to gawk at THEMIS’ professional super-soldiers. They also thought it was the high point of an evening to see someone start something and get beaten mercilessly by an augmented human. Needless to say, as a bouncer, I did most of the beating. I also got to hear a lot of amusing conversation about whether or not Erinyes or Myrmidons were tougher. It was funny as hell to listen to.
The evening went by quietly, with a few people inevitably coming by wanting to hear war stories about the Myrmidons, or to arm-wrestle, or to see the bouncer rip someone’s head off and boot it up their ass before they died. I hadn’t done that to anyone, but I had given a few impromptu flying lessons. I smirked as the few regulars of the nascent bar filtered in. None of them were Myrmidons or Erinyes. Our boys and girls knew better than to have a specific bar they always hung out at. Too easy a target.
A pair of ex-Myrmidons weren’t worth the expenditure of firepower.
Jake rolled his wheelchair up to me and grinned holding up a deck of cards. “Hey Mike, how’s the day job going?”
“Boring, just like usual. You know how we bitched all the time about never getting a break from combat runs?” While I talked to Jake I listened to a pair of women argue about whether me or Jake were actually Myrmidons or just a couple poseurs cashing in on the THEMIS corporation’s rep.
“Yeah, don’t tell me you miss getting shot at!”
“I don’t but sitting at the desk for eight hours a day... I almost wish something would happen, just for a change of fucking pace.”
“You could always come work here full-time. I almost got my old debt squared off from what I’m making off the bar here. I could help you out Mike. You don’t deserve this shit.”
I sighed and stared at the cards before reaching over and taking them. “I appreciate it Jake, but I need to figure this out. As much as I hated running nonstop, I hate this downtime bullshit more. I don’t know how to explain this shit man.”
Jake smiled sadly at me. He understood something about me then that I never really understood until much later. As much as I bitched and griped and complained, I would never be happy except on the sharp end of the spear, running and gunning until the day I died. Staying with THEMIS loyally was my best option for doing that without going rogue and being hunted by a pissed-off pack of my former peers. Besides, I wasn’t sure where I could go. A Myrmidon or Erinyes released from their debt, should they choose to go solo could practically name their price, and damned near anyone with sanity and an interest in hiring them would meet it.
I didn’t have that option. No legit corp or merc company would touch a Myrmidon or Erinyes who’d skipped out on their debt. It was too high-risk. Not that Erinyes tended to stick with the merc work long after they paid off their debt. They weren’t in it for the money, or the glory. They were in it because the Erinyes augmentation process allowed them to live in a fashion they had dreamed of since they understood it. Almost every single one who survived through her full term vanished from the operator listings and retreated to normal life, content in the knowledge that they could pass as the people they were meant to be now that they had corrected the mistake of genetics that had made them born male.
Myrmidons were a different lot. We were in it for the money. We were in it for the glory. We were there to be the biggest badasses on the planet and revel in the fear and respect that brought us. When we retired from THEMIS we were almost universally sought as operators. We were considered accessible, and those in the know about the recruiting proclivities for the Erinyes usually found us less objectionable.
I didn’t even have that. I was a chump security guard with cybernetic enhancement. Yay me. Jake saw the depressed spiral begin and simply rolled away. I swear to Christ the only thing that cheered me up when I was in a funk was a good fight, or enough beer to get me drunk, but I wasn’t going to spend fifty NuBucks to get buzzed. I couldn’t afford it anymore.
Jake was on his cell within three minutes of leaving. More bar business. He always left me alone when I got in these shit moods since we got tossed out of the Myrmidons. You’d think I could let go of being disgraced by a merc group, just another bunch of corporate bag-carriers in a long line of corporate bag-carriers. Yes, I was depressed, and it was getting worse. Yes, I was feeling used and disillusioned. Yes I was feeling sorry for myself, and that there disgusted me.
Jake was crippled, numb from the waist down. Even the docs couldn’t fix his spine with cybernetics, so he was enjoying the wonderful world of catheter bags and liquid food diets. He still managed to pull himself out of the shithole and was getting himself paid out. Yet here I was, still wallowing in a dead end because I couldn’t think of anything better I could do. Hooray for ruts.
My reverie was broken two hours later when eight guys in drag, dressed as Erinyes walked in, shrieking and gesticulating wildly. “Hello boys and girls! We have arrived!” The voice was familiar, and when I looked, I started laughing. It was Sergeant Morris and the squad, in full bad drag glory as they swarmed about the bar horrifying the patrons. I was laughing my ass off at the atrocious parody of the elite troops of THEMIS as the guys split up and swarmed me and Jake.
My cyberoptic told the tale. The seven men and one woman were all done up in glistening, skin-tight costumes, and the guys were sporting falsies of ridiculous size. A mishmash of wigs completed the picture of horror, especially with Kiehl wearing the repulsive pink/purple concoction of a modern high fashion style that made me wanna vomit.
Branston was the worst, of course, shimmying up to me in what looked like kitchen cling wrap spraypainted to look like Erinyes Fury armor, wearing a hideous, spiked blonde wig and speaking in that rough, gravelly voice of his. “Hey sexy, buy a girl a beer?”
“Branston what the fuck are you guys doing?” I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. My foul mood was shattered, and with it, the hopes of a truly horrific beating to any troublemakers for the edification of the patrons.
“SHHH! Holtman, you’re not supposed to know us!” Sergeant Morris was hissing, until the next sentence, almost yelling it at the top of his lungs. “Myrmidons aren’t supposed to skyline themselves in public so we’re in disguise, brilliant no?”
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I just started laughing and it just didn’t seem to want to stop. It was too good, the kind of loopy bastard bullshit we always pulled before, usually to drive the Erinyes insane. And what’s worse? Less than five minutes later, Vangie, Diana, Chai, Cleo and Dallas walked in together, though I actually had to look twice when I saw them. No way Dallas was that short. The oddities mounted up, until a few seconds later I realized what was up. My cybereye allowed me to cheat, doing a facial pattern match.
“Dallas” on second inspection, under the Stetson, denim and shit-kickers had a petite Thai face and wasn’t much taller than your average thirteen year old girl. Chai was playing cowgirl, which would make the too-tall Chai, Vangie. Dallas was dressed up as Kait, and how I missed the fact that Cleo’s thick afro framed Kitten’s petite white-girl complexion I will never know. And when I realized that Diana, all decked out in her business suit and pulled-up blonde hair was Kait, I felt another bout of snickering coming on. It was too good, the girls wanted to be incognito, so their idea of a disguise was dressing up as each other!
The party began when Dallas , dressed as Kaitlyn, went over to the jukebox and queued up some very loud country music. The other girls screamed and threatened death when the “Erinyes” with falsies began picking them up and dragging them to dance. Many more death threats were given, though none were carried out. The bar regulars watched with stunned expressions as me’n Jake’s buddies made complete asses of themselves. It was truly awesome, and my foul mood died screaming and clawing.
Vangie was the first one to drop by to talk to me, once everyone had a chance to molest Jake. He wasn’t complaining when Kait sat in his lap and wheeled the two of them around the dance area, doing silly stunts with his chair. I looked over to the once-blind woman who sat across my little territory-table and grinned. “You know, the Thai look just isn’t you. You look better as you.”
Vangie smiled. “We’re in disguise. It wouldn’t do for us to be seen with those disgraced in the halls of high finance.” She reached over and put a hand on mine. I let her, and didn’t read much into that, with Evangeline that sort of thing was not an invitation. It meant she was relaxed enough to let some of her guard down. Some, but not all. I will feel a great swell of pity for the poor fool who decided to use the fact that she likes to touch people when talking meant something more.
Wait, who am I kidding? I’ll laugh my ass off when I see the dumbass who tries to push any of the girls too far, Erinyes or Myrmidon. The carnage would live on in legend.
“I’m glad to see the lot of you in here Evangeline. I was starting to go a bit bugshit.”
“So Jake said. Something about you being a giant, mopey goon who’s thinking too much.” She smiled mildly. “You know you’re the only person that ever calls me by my full name.”
“I could call you Evie, but you’ve already threatened to kill me for that.”
“So you bring it up again? Mike what is it with you and tempting fate?”
“What can I say? If I get too bored I get stupid.” I grinned. “But at least in one case I don’t regret doing something stupid.”
“Thank God for that.” Vangie smiled. “Wish you were back on the teams, Mike. It’s always nice to know that you have someone willing to cover you as backup.”
I nodded. It was always nice to feel appreciated. “So is it true Chai put Simons in the hospital again?”
“No, me and Kait put that bag of shit in the hospital.” I got hugged from behind by the petite Thai woman in a really bad blonde wig. “Well, Kaitlyn held him down. I did most of the hitting.” She got that sly, mysterious smile she was so fond of.
“Ah. One second... OY! Jake, the Apocalypse Twins squashed Simons! I have verbal confirmation!” I grinned at my buddy and he got a beatific smile that was almost serene.
Chai groaned. “Ratting out your buddies isn’t cool Mike.”
“Ratting out? Hell Jake promised if that rumor was true you two were getting free drinks the next time he saw you.”
“Oh well in that case...” She got that perky and happy look only she can do as Vangie groaned.
“Why do you encourage them?”
“Anything to put the screws in the minds of the corporate bean-counters Vangie.”
Evangeline shook her head. “So petty revenge in any way you can get it?”
I grinned. “Damn Skippy.”
“You’re hopeless, you know that, right?” Vangie had a smirk on her face as she said it.
“I am not hopeless!” I protested with every fiber of my being, “I am a perfectly rational individual!”
Kait took the opportunity to prove me a liar three seconds later when she plopped into a chair holding a beer. “Heya Mike, I was wondering. You mind if I crash at your place tonight? I seem to be a bit strapped.”
I nodded, without really thinking. “Sure Kaitlyn. I got a slice of space for you.” I realized both Chai and Vangie shaking their heads at me, with amused and exasperated expressions as I agreed to put up the Erinyes’ most notorious freeloader. “What?”
“Hopeless...” The two of them are really creepy when they speak in unison.
In my defense, Boom-Boom is really hot, and fun to be around. Just don’t give her anything that explodes. Or has bullets... Or has any capacity to cause any structural damage whatsoever....
Ok I’m hopeless, bite me. I still don’t regret it.
A week later, and I’m still letting the adorable little freeloader sack out at my place. There’s something to be said for a tall redhead who can look you in the eye without wearing heels. But, I left her to huddle under the bed covers while I got up and got dressed in my THEMIS Peon attire. The white security chump shirt went really well with the black pants that seemed to pick up every goddamned hair they came in contact with. Fancy that, more than a few red ones.
It was seven AM when I was ready to roll out the door and face the next long-ass, boring day. I was also terminally short on funds until payday, which meant as much as I liked her, Kaitlin had to go. She’d been stealing my supply of Rocky Road ice cream, and with her metabolism, I could only afford to feed her for so long. So while I am perfectly willing to do incredibly stupid things to save her life, her free comfort stood a distant second to my eventual freedom from indentured servitude to THEMIS.
“Kaitlyn, wake up.” I gently shook her. A groan and her rolling over and pulling the bed sheets more tightly about her was my reward for being nice. “Kaitlyn, get up. I gotta go to work, and you need to get off your ass and go kill people for money.” I shook her again.
“C’mon Dad, I don’t want to go to football practice.” Her murmered reply explained so much about her personality.
Well shit. Some days it just wasn’t worth chewing through the leather straps. If I left her like this I’d come home to an empty fridge, again. I reminisced that sometimes being one of the theoretical “nice guys” just didn’t pay off as I went and poured two cups of caf. The sickening-sweet soy flavored caffeine substitute did wonders for focusing my priorities. I couldn’t afford real coffee, or even good tea.
So, with my newfound purpose induced by tailored bio-engineered plant-based drink I walked over, and made my right eye glow red, a useless feature I’d had installed in the bionic because of my love for old Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I kicked the bed frame once and made it jump, rattling Kait’s cage enough to get her to sit upright with a mildly freaked, somewhat ready to kill look in her eye.
“Sarah Connor?” I was pretty good with the Ahnuld impressions, and unfortunately, like everyone else from my generation, Kaitlyn Marksbury was a video Phillistine
Her reply of “Huh?” was rather eloquent under the circumstances, I’m sure.
I tossed the mattress, rolling her onto the floor and began speaking in my faux-Austrian accent. “Wake up redhead! Rise und slime! You have a very busy day, for you need to go find work, and get paid, so up and at ‘em! This is your eviction notice! Get up or I grab you and turn you into Alka-Seltzer tablet! Plop-plop, fizz-fizz, no more you!”
“Mike, what the hell?”
“Well, Marksbury, nice to see you can join the land of the living!” I dropped the movie-drama act and handed the porcelain mug of caf over. Whether that look was one of gratitude, or a debate on wether to shatter the mug and gut me with the fragments I’m still not sure. But the joke was on her! I’d given her decaf! Yes, I know, decaf caf is an oxymoron, and also unnecessarily cruel. It also prevented the hyperactivity known to destroy the sanity of everyone around her.
I’ve had more than one lovely conversation with Vangie or Chai after allowing Kait to drink anything with caffeine, or any other stimulant at swordpoint. Feeding Boom-Boom chocolate was similarly punishable by death in their eyes. Diana simply told me she would run me through the Dragon-Blood protocols without anesthesia if I ever did it again. No. On so many levels no to both the dying and to becoming an Erinyes.
“Ugh.” Boom-Boom shared my opinion of the caf, but she swallowed it down. “That time again?”
“I’m afraid so. Unless you’re planning on a more permanent relationship I can’t afford to feed you.” I grinned as I spoke. There was no easier way to scare Kait out of one’s home than to mention anything resembling marital commitment. I only hinted because I didn’t want to scare her off permanently.
Yes I am a bastard, learn to cope with it. I did.
“Where’s my clothing?” She looked around as I tossed something I pulled out of one of the dressers. Yes, she’s been a repeat offender at my shitpile of an efficiency apartment, did we not already establish that I’m fucking hopeless?
“Come on, Red, I’ll drop you off at central so you can wheedle some table scraps from Diana.”
“Gee, thanks Mike, you’re such a pal.”
“I aim to please.”
The trip to Central was a short one, and I dropped Kait off the back of my Takesawa rice-burner motorcycle at a mere thirty miles an hour. She was improving. It used to be she’d tumble when she tried that. Well, she still tumbled, but this time she didn’t get scraped up. Bloody Erinyes always had to show off. Three miles at 150 MPH, two dodgings of a traffic cop and three collision warnings later, I got to my destination.
My arrival at the THEMIS Medical Center was heralded by the shrieking wail of the metal detectors and weapons sensors at the front door. Oh yeah. I was supposed to turn on my IFF before going in. A quick eye-twitch later and the alarms stopped going. Thankfully the lobby was more or less empty. I grinned as Colton gave me an irritated look from the front desk. Unlike most people, including him, I had more metal in me than some family cars. I also had more than my fair share of nasty tricks to go with it.
“Mike why the hell do you do that at least once a week?” Colton’s face looked like he bit into something sour. “Now I have to file an alarm report, again.”
“Hey Louis, if it weren’t for me this would be the most boring job in the world.”
“I like boring. So can we get this change-over done so I can go see my lawyer? My wife’s trying to gouge more alimony out of me since she found out about my fifty-cents an hour pay raise.”
I grinned. “See, that’s why I don’t get married. Women are crazy.”
“Really? I thought it was because you’re an asshole that no one sane would spend time with.”
I was about to protest when I remembered that Boom-Boom was my most frequent ex-girlfriend. I only call her that because it annoys her, but truth is truth. She’s fucking insane. It’s one of the reasons I like her so much.
The changeover was smooth as silk, as always. I took over my primary duty of desk-dork and began my routine of putting on a false smile and greeting every Tom, Dick and Sally who walked past my desk while pretending I was important for the clueless berks who didn’t know any better. For a THEMIS building, there was very little traffic in the Erinyes and Myrmidon department. Only one or two regulars who had climbed the corporate ladder came in the front, as well as the odd visitor dropping in to see someone they knew in the tanks.
I wiled away my time during dead hours of the day by plugging my datajack lodged into my brain behind my ear into a net-node and playing reindeer games with the security mainframe and the two tech nerds plugged into it 24/7. Bryce and Millie weren’t exactly what one would call social animals. I swear THEMIS paid them solely in Caf and snacks. The two of them probably didn’t even have the social presence of mind to recognize each other as the opposite of gender and try to go out on a date or something. Otaku anyone?
Sadly, my game of “shuffle the filing systems” ended abruptly when Central actually called me up on the internal comm system they had so kindly wired into my skull and spine. The otaku twins seemed disappointed when I logged out. I was actually a challenge for them.
The beep in the back of my brain got annoying so I answered. “Myrmidon 112-Delta, lack-of-help desk, misdirection and misquotation department, how may I annoy you?”
“That’s not the response procedure, Holtman.” Oh goody, it was Diana, calling little old me on the comm. She sounded annoyed. Good, that meant all was well in her little world.
“I’m also not supposed to be communicating on this net, chicka. Make it quick, since I don’t feel like having another inquiry today.”
“Just because you’re not under my direct authority...”
“No offense, boss-lady, but I’m seriously not supposed to be on the tactical commo system anymore. They put a section-ninety on my data file, so if they catch me using it they can all but smelt my ass down for car parts.”
“Fine. I’ll file the exemption right now.”
“Muchas gracias Seniorita.” I ignored the incoming desk traffic for the first time in weeks, praying that this wasn’t a social call and that I would be doing something other than staring at camera monitors and smiling at every shithead who had delusions of corporate grandeur. “You have my undivided attention.”
“Thank you, Holtman.” I had to hand it to her, Diana was the supreme queen of numbers and corporate bitchmongering that everyone came to hate on principle, because she was the one handing out the liability and collateral penalties. Fortunately, in her defense, Diana wasn’t nearly as bad as Simons. First of all, she actually had a personality that wasn’t akin to washing with a bar of shit, in fact, when you weren’t actively pissing her off she was downright pleasant. Secondly, unlike Simons (she was pretty much his opposite in every way except for being an anal-retentive bean-counter) she had also done her tour of duty running and gunning like every other Erinys the company had. This meant she was more likely to let unavoidable shit slide, as she was personally familiar with what it was like to be on the deck getting shot at when an op went tits-up.
“All right Diana, I’ll cut the shit. You’re calling me, so something’s thoroughly dicked up. What do you need from me?”
“I’m getting the runaround on the psych evals for three of the newbies. Two Erinyes, one Myrmidon. Someone on high wants these three in the high-pay bracket, and they aren’t giving me the full skinny. I need someone to get me a copy of those profiles and hand-deliver them.”
“If I do this, it’s my ass Diana and you know that. I got no more strikes left here.” Gosh I do have a penchant for understatement, don’t I? If I pissed in the wrong bowl of corn flakes at this point I’d have gone from the shitlist to the ‘poor bastard died in a car accident’ list.
“You do this and I’ll see what I can do to force a downgrade from a section-ninety to a section-eighteen. Don’t get caught Mike.”
I made my decision in less time than it would take Boom-Boom to pull a trigger. “Have Dallas pick it up in thirty minutes. Gimmie an upload on which fools you need twigged.” A section-eighteen was a field operative term for ‘last chance.’ If you fucked up on an op you wound up pulling desk detail... rather like I was doing at the time. Get back in the field, with a black mark, or sit snug and secure in my desk-jockey job playing it safe and praying that I would be able to pay off that debt for all the cybernetic hardware I wasn’t putting to use.
The data-dump was almost instantaneous, and the three names and ID numbers popped up in my optics. “Care to gimmie the skinny on what’s got you so worried here, Diana?”
“I’m hearing some unpleasant things about the three of them barely scraping past the psychopath filter.”
“Another Ayumi situation?”
Diana’s voice was somewhat less than friendly. “By all indications, somewhat worse.”
“All right, I’ll get you the data, Dee.” I knew calling her that would piss her off, but I didn’t feel complete without hearing her dulcet voice shrieking at me in a rage at least once a week. Sadly, she didn’t seem to notice.
“Thanks Mike. I’ll see what I can do to get you back in heavy. It might take a month or two to get the paperwork pushed. Simons is going to fight me all the way.”
“I’ll give you a nickel to slit that turd-eater’s throat.” I knew the offer would sorely tempt Diana, since she was a mercenary to the core.
“I’m not that cheap Mike.”
“You drive a hard bargain. Ten cents.”
The pause before she said no and signed off indicated she’d actually considered it. It’s so nice to know your coworkers’ proclivities.
The actual data steal took about twenty seconds. Ten seconds were burned generating a random sample request for most recent psych evals, one second to insert the three names into the random list, and another nine seconds to doctor the file to look like it came from on high. I pulled this kind of shit for my squad leaders all the time. For a low-grade request like this, it was cake. I just made it appear that it came from the Med Center director’s office.
Thirty seconds later, Millie dumped the files into my desk for the scheduled pickup. A quick perusal of the three files buried in the mash told the story of how bad the rumors had to be for her to stick her neck out for me. There was no way in hell Diana wanted these three in her department. These were the kind of lunatics you bopped over the head and sent to a third-world country where people didn’t nitpick about things like mass murder and randomly shooting the occasional passer-by. THEMIS didn’t employ too many sick fucks like these three, but they did have their uses. Preferably they were used as far from the civilized world as possible.
I chopped the data to a chip and palmed it. All I had to do was wait. Twenty-nine minutes later the tall blonde with the cowboy hat, mile long legs and a set of tits you could comfortably use as pillows walked in. Dallas’ smoky blue eyes and body screamed out to the world that she’d picked up what was commonly known as the standard template used by most Erinyes for their body types. The effect was absolutely gorgeous, even if it was somewhat more than normal human genetics was capable of producing. Personally, I preferred a woman’s breasts to not individually take up the same volume as her head. I don’t exaggerate by much.
“Hey honey, thought I’d bring you a bit of lunch.” She leaned forward so that the button-up shirt she’d tied off like a bra to hold her breasts like a halter showed off her cleavage. Another thing that I did like about the Erinyes. Now that they had it, they generally flaunted it. And hell, the general invitation was too tempting to resist.
I got up, leaned over the desk and gave Dallas a kiss like we were old lovers. I really do not give a rat’s ass who she was before, nor will I apologize for it any more than I regret my on-again, off-again relationship with Kaitlyn. Besides, it entertained the hell out of me and gave me an excuse to feel her up while I dropped the chip into her cleavage. When we parted, she gave a smile and sauntered off like the cat that got the canary. Thankfully no one in the area knew better than to buy into that shit. Me and Dallas figured out early on that if we were going to try to become attached, one of us would leave the relationship dead. We were too much alike in all the wrong ways, and I quietly disliked most country music. That alone would have marked me as an enemy in her eyes. If only I knew then what I know now...
The rest of the day was boring, routine and everything I despised about my current position. The only light at the end of the tunnel I could see was the fact that when Diana promised to do something, it got done. I could wait one or two more months playing company chump if it meant I’d be back in the hotseat where I belonged.
By the end of my shift the only thing odd was a group of third-gen myrmidons coming in for their medical tune-ups promised them in their contracts. There were about seven of them, two women, five men, and some chickadee with natty brown hair and severe dogface disorder. Dogface wasn’t a myrmidon, unless she had a way of spoofing my cybereye, my hearing that had been tweaked so that I could hear the whine of old-model Mynomer muscle enhancements, or pick up the THEMIS IFF transmissions from their implanted radio transmitters.
When Miranda took over, I took a moment to appreciate one of the few women who stuck to the looks she was born with. There is something to be said for a girl who doesn’t feel the societal need to have one’s body altered to fit some cookie-cutter, perfectionist mold. Actually, it might just be I was a stereotypical guy. If it’s got tits, a vagina, two X-chromosomes and a pulse, I’m interested. Yeah, I think I’ll go with that, since I’m trying to be honest with myself here. Jokes about pets, livestock and wild animals will be punished by death.
I wrapped up my work and wandered upstairs. Part of the end of shift routine is a walkthrough to make sure everything is where it should be. I trucked up more to talk to the newbies who were awake, to give encouragement and support. I knew from experience that the conversion from man to Myrmidon was excruciating, and it helped to have a friendly face drop in to make sure all was well, besides the all-business doctors and nurses whose bedside manner was caustic enough to strip chrome.
I wasn’t supposed to go near the secured areas or even check doors. That had been spelled out in my work orders very clearly. Due to my actions, as reported by Simons, there hadn’t been any real recourse but to make a huge showing of how I was not to be trusted. My patrol and door checks had been relegated to the Emergency Response Team that happened to be cooling their heels at the office. Normally this sort of arrangement guaranteed a level of hatred for the poor SOB that had earned the wrath from on high. I was the exception, and the two Erinyes who were rotated out of the duty every five days generally volunteered to do it without even griping once they saw the name attached to the “Security Threats” list.
There were perks to being known as someone who the girls could count on to back them to the hilt. The Myrmidons were already well aware of the fact that they could trust me, whether or not the corporate hacks agreed with them. So most of the low-grade hostility directed at me was from my fellow working Peons who could count on never having to fire a shot in anger. Unfortunately I couldn’t spend a whole lot of time talking to my silent allies for fear some other Peon would raise a ruckus and they be tagged as a potential liability for their association with me. It was all very petty, paranoid, and stupid.
The one group to whom I retained unrestricted access was the newbies. They desperately needed a friendly face on the few occasions they were actually conscious between stints with the docs. I talked to them, joked with them, played spades with the few who could, and generally helped reinforce the lie that the company cared about them. They would learn that for a Myrmidon or Erinys, the only person you could count on was a Myrmidon or Erinys in due time. I simply did my best to make their medical misery less torturous, telling them simply that I had retired from active duty in the Myrmidons and was simply taking time to relax with a job that didn’t involve having grenades thrown at me for a little while. If nothing else, it gave IA’s monkeys watching me an idea that I was unwilling to rock the boat any more than I absolutely had to.
The first room the night crew docs were working on a pack of sedated “Gruesomes,” larval Myrmidons having 25-75% (depending on whether they were to be heavies like me) of their muscles stripped and replaced with Mynomer bundles that would allow them to almost pick up and throw a family car once they were fully online and their bones reinforced. None of these kids were in any condition to talk to me, and I wasn’t inclined to distract the docs while they worked. We called them Gruesome because until all of the implants were installed, the scarring and musculature mismatches were fairly horrific to look at. They looked like something Doctor Frankenstein had cooked up after an all night bender followed by dropping a few dozen doses of Trippers, designer hallucinogens.
The recovery ward was packed with bodies in various stages of the augmentation process. As I stepped in, I noted the 3d vids were playing the harmonious nature scenes carefully chosen to provide an illusion of serenity and calm. The kids were all bald, ranging from their mid twenties to one older broad who looked like she was pushing thirty-five. Yes, I call anyone who hadn’t put in at least six months active in the two combat arms of THEMIS kids, regardless of age. One of the benefits of the augmentation processes was the reversion of appearance to about twenty years old if you were of an older age. It wasn’t true rejuve, but it did add some years to your life-expectancy if you could survive the combat contracts.
“Anyone alive in here?” I didn’t get loud as I walked in. I figured if they were asleep, it was best not to wake them up.
The older-looking woman and two guys who looked about my age raised their hands, or tried to. The woman was closest. “All right folks, I’m just here to visit. I’ll get to each of you that stays awake, and talk for a bit.” The responding nods were a bit grateful. As a rule, families didn’t visit these medical centers, so the recruits were usually starving for attention.
I hauled a chair over to the woman, who once had pale, chestnut hair. She was covered by a blanket, but I could see the lumps and deformations of someone who was undergoing a hard-augment. The back of her head was immobilized and I could see the raw scars and seeping bandages of someone who had recently received the neural jack, and spinal control system that would be a part of her life until the day she died.
“Hey Molly,” I spoke as I sat next to her. “How you holding up?” Molly Yakubsin had been here for three months and was just about to undergo her final series of augments and the nanite anti-aging treatment before she joined the newbies in physical therapy to help her learn to control her new body.
“Hurts, but not… as much now.” Her voice wasn’t so raspy now, and I looked down behind her head and noted the wire jack passing from her skull to a series of monitors. The prognosis there made me happy.
“Pain suppressors are coming online, kiddo.” I grinned. “Just think, in a day, maybe two, the docs won’t need much anesthesia on you anymore. You’re about ready to go play with the brawlers.”
She gave me a weak smile. “I’m glad. It means this is almost over. I never thought I’d feel something worse than getting shot.” Her voice was quiet, a far cry from the hellraiser Marine Drill-Instructor voice that had arrived at the THEMIS Center before. She and the two boys she’d come in with were the ones who were awake. The three of them had gotten through screening together, carrying each other where they were weak. They had passed on the strength of that teamwork, and been accepted because people who thought to cover their buddies were a rarity. Our three-year training and weed-out course hadn’t managed to break them of that, so they were already being fought over by the squad leaders, who would all go berserk if the three were split up.
“Well from here it’s all gravy. You and your boys are at the top of the request board at Mym central. The boys and girls are itching to pick up three newbies they don’t have to smash over the head with the teamwork bat.”
“Nice to be wanted.” She gave another wan smile. “So how about you, Mike? You’ve heard our story, what about you? What did you do before you came to THEMIS?”
“Not much to tell. Like you and your boys there I’m a vet. Power Armor driver, specifically, but I never drove anything with wings. Infantry all the way, because I sucked at the piloting aspect. I couldn’t get a Power Suit to dance like a lot of the other guys, but I could lay down a blanket of pure hell with the weapons. So when I came here with Jake, they stuck us with the Four-Grand contract and built us into heavies. Basically what that boils down to is I’m tougher and slower than the other myrmidons, but I can carry a heavier load without problems, and I can soak a lot more punishment.”
“Stronger?” She asked.
“Put it this way, never let a heavy get hold of you in a sparring match. We’re not really that great at close in work, especially compared to the Erinyes, but we’re more the ‘wade in and smash’ types. You’re probably gonna be a light plate fire team, so you’re gonna be doing the hard work and getting the glory.”
“Cheaper debt payout, too.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. Four-hundred-thousand NuBucks. Makes me wonder if I shouldn’t have gone for the light suite and gotten the three-hundred contract some days.”
“How fast you pay it off?”
“I was careful with my cash, so in the first fifteen months I burned off a bit over a quarter of it. A hundred and thirteen thousand later and I was ahead of the game.” I wasn’t going to mention that I was still carrying two-hundred, eighty-seven thousand NuBucks of debt around. It was a fucking miracle I hadn’t been billed for that food court, but our overhead insurance covered it.
“So there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Yes Ma’am, and Myrmidons have one thing in common with the Marines. We never leave our buddies’ behinds. Or was it buddies behind, I can never remember with the Marines.”
“You must have been Army.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“You know Army means Ain’t Ready to be a Marine Yet.”
I grinned. “Just like Marine stands for Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Essential.”
She tried to laugh, a pained thing. We’d both heard it all before, but the camaraderie meant so much more than the quips and jabs at each others’ services. “Go. I think I’m going to try to sleep. Keep my boys company.”
“You got it Molly. See you on the firing line.”
“Good night Mike.”
I stood and walked over to the two guys who were awake, carrying the chair with me. “Howdy, Wilde, Thomlinson, You two are looking remarkably ugly today.” I noted their Pain Suppressors were online fully, though they wouldn’t be able to move much until the Mynomer bundles were jacked in and had come fully online. Right now they looked like a pair of skeletons wrapped in linen sheets with living heads.
“Fuck you Mike.” Simon Wilde was looking almost cheerful, probably as a result of the lack of shrieking agony. His shock of black hair set him apart from the dirty blonde Alex Thomlinson. “I see you’re making time with Mom over there. Be nice to her or we’ll break you.”
“Yeah yeah, I’m not fucking you, I’m not a marine, and I don’t go in for that shit.”
Alex chuckled from the other side. “You bring your cards there, Myrmidon?”
I grinned. These two were a pair of gamblers, and from my experience they worked with each other and Molly to chisel the shit out of anyone foolish enough to play, then split the take between them. They were going to be the terror of the Squads once they got into the real work.
“I brought my cards, you ready to lose more money?”
“Gee, if I recall you were the one who lost all his money last time.”
I chuckled as I pulled up a tray for each of the crippled men and began to deal. They were right. I lost again, and they divvied up the five NuBucks we’d bet quarters from when I left.
The Erinyes recovery and augmentation area was always less populated than the Mym side. This was a given, since Myrmidons outnumbered them five to one. It’s an odd dichotomy, the Erinyes and the Myrmidons. The altered women were wildly more efficient in combat, and cheaper to build by a wide margin. One Erinyes has roughly the combat efficiency of a Fire team of four Myrmidons, or two heavies, usually with less collateral damage, unless we’re talking Boom-Boom or Dallas. Hence they tend to get paid more. Unfortunately two things work against the Erinyes completely edging out the Myms.
The first issue is psychology. Yes, there are a lot of Transgender types who would cheerfully sign their lives away for the THEMIS contract to become women because it’s a full genetic and reproductive shift. Once these ladies have paid out their debt, and are getting ready to move on, they’re taken off the mandatory birth control protocols. You can’t get that even with the best biosculpt. The second thing is when all is said and done they are superhuman. There is a certain psychological set THEMIS is looking for. If you can’t make the grade they won’t do it, even if you offer to fork over the cash up front. I’ve heard rumors about someone managing to scam past that, but if the rumors are true, that little witch-to-be was still in THEMIS Boot Camp. We shall call her Experiment X. But what it boils down to is the number of TG types who fit the profile we’re seeking is a miniscule fraction of the ones who apply.
The second major problem is biology. Ok, you say if you can’t use it on guys without turning ‘em into women, just recruit women. Sadly, this is not an option. If a woman receives the Dragon-Blood protocols, she has a slightly better than ten percent chance of surviving. The rest die in agony as their bodies basically melt. Needless to say THEMIS has some standards of ethics, so the women who apply to join the THEMIS combat arms become Myrmidons.
All that being said, during the transition process, there is nothing so pitiable, pathetic and helpless as a transitioning Erinys. Most of the transitioners were unconscious. There was no reason to keep them awake through most of it unless one had a penchant for cruelty, and I’m told the experience of having one’s bones and muscles reduced to the consistency of Jell-O was excruciating.
I looked at the suspension tanks of Shok-Gel where fifteen naked bodies in various stages of transformation were suspended. The pale, greenish gelatinous stuff gave each of the new women an eerie cast. Fifteen new Erinyes would account for the losses and retirement replacements for the continental North American Federation over three full months, since their numbers were so low, unless something deeply fucked happened.
It was almost like a twisted surrealist’s vision, looking at people hanging with nothing but a breath mask in a fluid dense enough to suspend them but thin enough to not cause their bodies to warp and deform randomly from pressure. These women would remain here for three months, until the physical changes completed themselves. Then they would get another two in physical rehabilitation before being turned loose to special training classes, and limited on the job training for the first six months of their female lives.
Thankfully, there were no random visitors to see the nascent Erinyes hanging in limbo, stripped of their dignity, like experimental meat puppets on display for a mad scientist’s twisted pleasure. I moved on quickly, as the sight of this still unnerved the hell out of me. I want to say that it’s the twisted wax museum feel that creeps me out rather than looking at people who were neither male, nor female, halfway between who they were and who they will be. I’m still not sure what it is.
There was only one person in the prep ward. I recognized him as the redheaded guy from the week before who had rushed off like his ass had been on fire to meet Agatha, the hellraising hosebeast that was primarily responsible for orienting the new girls. He was unconscious, skin almost transluscent, seemingly dead to the world. He was already far enough into the process that he’d be dumped into a tank like the others soon. The initial de-ossification was probably the most hideous portion of the process, and the pained expression and labored breathing told the score. They had to keep you out of the coma until you were ready to go into the tank. You will never, ever meet an Erinyes willing to talk about that first week, except to say that it makes Hell Week of THEMIS basic feel like a Chinook, a warm wind in the dead of winter, pleasant and refreshing.
The recovery ward was empty. They’d moved Cassandra out to rehab and training. I was kind of glad, as the Erinyes wards almost invariably felt... off, almost funerary. As if the people leaving were the last mourners of dead men for whom there was no tomorrow. The end of one life and the beginning of the new had been a symbolic part of humanity, death, rebirth, transformation all intertwined into a confusing whole. The ward made me think existential thoughts, and I wasn’t a fan. By and large the Erinyes didn’t share my opinion, but they were the ones who had sought to escape a prison of flesh and bone built wrong, so they got a bit of leeway on that score. All the proof I ever needed to see existed in Kaitlyn Marksbury, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who was more unabashedly, unrepentantly, and gleefully female even among the Erinyes.
Yes I’m biased, what the hell were you expecting from me? Deep thought and an impartial accounting? Hell no, I’m a grunt. Emotional and impulsive bias is part of who I am. Piss off.
Unfortunately all was not well in my world as I was passing the tanks. Three orderlies, two male, one female were screwing with one of the tanks. I didn’t recognize any of them, and I had photo files of everyone allowed into the building past the lobby. These people... these people were familiar. My eyes bugged out as I recognized the dogface woman and two older-generation Myrmidons who had been coming in, listed for routine medical maintenance. They looked like they were setting up to pull the half-woman suspended in the tank out. The shock of that could kill her, never mind that without the gel supporting her, without any support from her rubbery bones, she could literally crush her internal organs, including her brain, with her own weight rather like a beached whale.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I started barking almost as soon as I saw them, marching forward with a purpose.
They didn’t try to bullshit me, or come up with some lame-ass excuse about transferring a patient. The three of them simply drew sidearms and fired, silenced bullets piercing my skin to impact on the sub-dermal plating and Kevlar tac-weave mesh buried under my skin. Unfortunately, while the low-velocity slugs didn’t penetrate, they did throw me on my ass. The wounds shrieked pain for a split-second before the pain suppressors kicked in and I got an electronic equivalent of morphine.
“Get this one out of the tank before another hero shows up.” The woman seemed at least marginally in charge. “Marks, get the nanoshredders ready and drop ‘em in the other tanks.”
One of the men, Marks I’m assuming spoke. “Shit! That guy flashed a panic code! That’s a Mym!”
Oh damn, my subtle playing of possum didn’t work. So much for being clever. None of the other Myrmidons, or the two Erinyes on babysitter detail answered my flash code, so I had to assume they were out of action. These bastards were planning on butchering the Erinyes in their sleep, and I was the only one awake. Screw subtle.
I came up howling like a demon and charged, sucking another four rounds to the body, and one that lodged in my bicep. I decided I could fix it later.
The woman tried to run, but I hit her first, whipping my fist at her head to hear a sickening crack as her neck snapped. Well, it was a good bet she was just a normal hominid. Oh well, no interrogating the dead.
The second guy dove on me while his buddy started screwing with a canister of some type. The two of us started slamming each other around like a pair of pissed off Kodiak bears fighting over a trash can. He punched me twice in the skull, rocking my head back and forth. When he hit me I felt it. God did I feel it. If the pain suppressors hadn’t been working I’d have been floored. I hit him back, rocking him similarly, and grabbing his orderly jacket.
I jerked him down and pushed him face-first into the ground, raising my hand and slamming it down like a hammer right above his kidney. The results were spectacular, and gratifying. I’d heard the servo-whine of a third-gen or earlier Myrmidon. Whoever this asshole was, he was porting around our old gear we quit using at least two years before, and that gear had a very specific weak point. If you hit them in the right place with enough force, it blew the tamper-proofing on all the gear, and fried every cybernetic system instantly.
He screamed like a child that got burned and went into convulsions as his entire rewired system locked, fused and paralyzed him. While he was twitching on the ground, wishing he was dead I looked at his compatriot. He was standing next to a tank holding a grenade-like device in one hand. “Stop right there or I toss this into a tank. Get on your face.”
“Why, so you can drop it on me?” I pulled one of the guns off the floor, aimed and fired. My first two shots missed. The third hit the device and cracked it wide open. He screamed as his own nanoshredder started tearing his own arm apart at the rapid rate, seeming to melt and slough away as the killer nanobots ate him faster than his body could cope with. As he sloughed to the floor he was dead from shock and cybernetic feedback long before the nanites reached his chest and began liquefying his internal organs.
Targeting system, online. Of course, a day late and a NuBuck short.
I did a fast sweep and exited, locking down the ward as I ran for the Myrmidon ward. These bastards were not going to murder my tank-babies and gruesomes on my watch.
When I arrived the scene was one of violence and carnage. Two of the intruders were quietly using silenced weapons to execute the men and women strapped to the tables. The first four were dead before I entered, and I got a clear view of a fifth going down right as I crashed through the door, firing. All of the bullets, mine and theirs, found their mark. Not a damned one of the subsonic, silenced rounds penetrated far enough to do more than piss us off. I slammed into the first one and went rolling with him, leaving streaks of blood from my gunshot wounds all over the place. I didn’t even slow down hitting him in the skull with my appropriated pistol several times until I heard a sickening crack as the reinforcement in his skull gave out and his brain ate a concussion that killed him.
His buddy had been helpfully shooting at both of us, and I was starting to feel it. Pain suppressors or no, there’s only so much cybernetics can do for multiple gunshot wounds and blood loss. I charged him, and we wound up tumbling over one of the now awake and panicked gruesomes. The brawl went on for another three minutes with the two of us slamming each other back and forth. I was slowing down. Even dermal armor and mynomer muscle replacements couldn’t protect the bits of soft tissue underneath forever, and I was hurting. I was desperately wishing I had my armor, and thanking whatever god was watching that they didn’t have it.
Warning! Damage to subdermal armor. Left arm bicep actuator damaged. Possible concussion.
I was also thanking Christ, his mother and God above that none of the bastards I’d bumped up against were heavy myms. Early-generation or not these SOB’s weren’t a whole lot weaker or less tough that I was. Another heavy mym, fresh and ready could have snapped me in half as damaged as I was.
I finally got the rat bastard in a bad position and slammed him above the kidney, several times, causing him to go into siezures, and slowly pulled myself to my feet. I went over to the one who’s head I had cracked, and yanked a chip from his head. Typical. The bastards hadn’t updated their internal comms. As I jacked in the chip I began hearing chatter from my comm system that told the story while the gruesomes tried to get my attention and ask what was going on. “Shut it folks, we’re boned.”
I linked to Central tac, the channel I was never, ever supposed to link to and started speaking. “This is Myrmidon 112-Delta I have attackers at the Med Center. Emergency team is not responding, I repeat, not responding! I have at five bad guys down, at least three more in the building. They’re myrmidons, early-gen myrmidons! Control please respond!”
“Sorry, honey, I don’t think control’s listening right about now.” The voice was female, and sounded familiar.
“Who the hell is this?” I was snarling as I began stalking to the control Area. I stopped long enough to close the doors and crush the locking mechanism shut. The gruesomes were in a near-panic, but unless someone was willing to cut through the doors to get them, they would be safe.
I started walking towards the security area, ignoring the sporadic, panicked employees who were rushing about like chickens with their heads cut off. They were running for the doors. I ran into the security area as a throaty laugh came over the comms.
“Oh an old friend. Tell you what Mikey boy I was absolutely thrilled when I heard you were going to be here, love. It just makes things so much more interesting.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard that before, right before the girl told me she was pregnant.” I tore open the doors to the security area, and stepped into hell.
The security team on site was very brutally, messily dead. It had to be a nanite weapon. Normal people don’t melt into slime-drenched skeletons around a card table, with credsticks in the open. Normal people don’t become pools of gelatinous biomass unfit for even a spider to consume. I’d seen what happens when a nanoshredder hits someone before today and I never wanted to again. The results were repulsive beyond all belief. Eight piles of gore around myriad metal cyber-implants and two dissolved masses in Fury armor gave testament to what happened to the team in charge of the safety of the Center. They hadn’t even had time to go for their weapons.
My guts heaved, I felt bile rise in my throat and I choked down the spate of absolute, bitter rage as I marked the name tags on the myrmidon uniforms. Morris. Branston. McClellan. Tylers. Dietz. Sandoval. Ziewalt. Kiehl. My squad I’d been working with lay dead in a pool of their own ruined bodies. I didn’t dare look closely at the two dead furies. I was too afraid I would find the Apocalypse Twins. My best friends besides Jake, the ones who went out of their way to make my exile to Limbo less hellish lay dead in quite possibly the most gruesome fashion I can imagine.
“You fucking bitch, I’m gonna KILL YOU!” I was screaming mad when I cracked open the weapons lockers, searching. What I found and took was on the list marked: DO NOT OPERATE WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION FROM INFAX. I took the fucker anyway. Even if I couldn’t talk to INFAX, or Control, my people were dead. I had five dead gruesomes and God only knew how many of the helpless newbies would live if I didn’t do something.
I patched up the bullet holes with the medical kit by hitting them with a slap-patch, thankful that my arteries were protected, otherwise this would have been a really short fight. The screaming and loud gunfire began in the lobby as I was heading to the door. I prayed I was wrong as I opened it.
The employees were evacuating the building. Well, they tried to. The attackers waited until they reached maximum density at the doors leading out and opened fire. Screaming THEMIS employess started falling like flies as the three remaining Myrmidons opened fire with their Personal Assault Systems, combat rifles well-suited to the task. I about shit an explosive brick on the spot, nearly forgetting to run the targeting controls on the toy I was carrying to my neural jack.
I waited the three seconds as the power system on the four-foot long weapon came Online, stepped around the corner and put the crosshairs of my cybereye on the first Myrmidon woman firing.
The woman literally exploded to the tune of a shrieking bang, the liquefied pieces of her body and cyberware flying backward to stick to a wall behind her as the Personal Rail Cannon drove a piece of metal the size of a pea through her chest at about mach fifteen. They stopped firing, staring down at me in disbelief as I tracked on the male of the trio and turned his sorry ass into a pink mist and bits of ruined cyberware decorating most of the lobby. The last woman turned to run as I shot her through the back, ending her life in a brief cloud of red.
My ears dampened the hellish noise enough to keep me upright, but the shock and sound had been far too much for the poor bastards trying to flee the lobby. They were all more or less unconscious, and most of their ears were bleeding. Better that than the alternative.
“Who’s thrilled to see me now, bitch?” I growled maliciously as I tracked the lobby for more targets.
“I am, actually, Mikey. Now I don’t have to pay any of those fools! Thanks for doing such a thorough job. I didn’t realize I could count on you.” That smug bitch’s voice was rather gleeful. “Don’t worry Mikey, you’ve won. I’ll be taking my leave shortly. I’m almost done anyway.”
I snarled and walked over to my desk and accessed Millie and Bryce’s net by jacking into the second port behind my ear, above the old one and ran a sensor trace. Millie and Bryce didn’t respond to queries. I swore when I realized what this bitch must be after.
Six seconds later I had a solid download of the full layout of the medical center down to the last millimeter. Some hasty extrapolation and locking later I let my control rig responsible for regulating all the cybernetics in my body aim the next shot, relaxing and allowing my body to pivot and aim at a point along one wall. As I settled, I pulled the trigger, blasting a hole through the wall, through three offices and straight into the hardened vault where the main computers were. I saw each of the icons for the computers go offline as I was dumped from the building net, and for all intents and purposes THEMIS Medical Center ceased to exist to the INFAX data network. If that didn’t bring a horde of screaming Myrmidons and Erinyes shrieking to the site I didn’t know what would.
The scream of rage and pain coming over the comm was music to my ears, although it meant I’d missed the mysterious woman who was beginning to seriously piss me off. Still, it couldn’t have been fun to be that close to a rail strike. The building went dark, and emergency transmitters shrieked to life, fulfilling their programming and keeping the nanites and life support systems for the gruesomes and Erinyes tank-babies running properly so they wouldn’t die.
“How’s the pressure bitch? No data stealing for you.” I made the ultimate mistake of charging into the hallway towards the computer mainframes. To my credit, there is no way in hell I could have expected what I got.
Tracking. WARNING! Incoming…
I had precisely one second from the time I saw the glistening, black-clad form ricocheting off the walls and bounding towards me at speeds I could barely track. Three rail gun shots flew down the hallway, and not a damned one connected. Not even the horrific overpressure was enough to even slow down the Erinys who was coming at me with intent to kill. Even if she was as fucked up as I was, I was screwed.
I had a split-second to reflect on the fact that this was, quite possibly, the worst possible thing that could happen to me. The slick, shiny, black form hit me in the chest feet-first with enough force to drive me back, while grabbing the thin cord running from the PRC to my head and leapt away with a yank that made me shriek in agony from feedback as the connection terminated abruptly and painfully.
She hit me at least six times while I was stumbling around like a drunk, driving her knuckles, heels and toes into various tender parts of my body. Not everything was armored, and I have yet to meet an Erinys who couldn’t beat down even a Myrmidon heavy in hand-to-hand unless the Mym got lucky and caught a grip on her. Easier said than done, and that it had been done before was still unconfirmed apocrypha amongst the current generation of THEMIS combat troops.
I recovered my wits in time to discover the joy of having my nuts kicked by a woman capable of throwing a manhole cover like a frisbee three times. While my eyes crossed and a high pitched whine began to leave my throat, I felt a jab to my throat as even that sound was cut off. I tried to hit her, I really did, but she simply danced and weaved around the wild swings like a fast child avoiding an angry fat kid. The kicks to the kidneys cinched it and I went to my knees while my spinal control unit shrieked warnings into my ears and a scrolling list of damage poured down my cybereye’s vision. I couldn’t even muster the concentration to turn that shit off.
Warning! Pain Suppressor overloading.
My head jerked back, and I felt a light touch as a woman’s finger traced my jaw and cheek. “Mikey you always were the best ride I ever had.”
I screamed as the hand came pack and I felt something pierce my left eye, the one I had been born with, and pain exploded in my head well beyond what any human, even one as tough as I had been built, was able to cope with. As I lost consciousness, the words that would haunt me for the rest of my life scrolled across my vision in the cybernetic eye I had remaining.
New nanites detected. Downloading Dragon-Blood control protocols.
The recording on the flat screen ended as the INFAX Board of Directors looked down at the veritable horde of Myrmidons and Erinyes wearing everything ranging from business suits to sun-dresses, and terrifyingly enough they were all on their best behavior. Not one snide comment or wiseass quip escaped their lips while the board met in a public forum for a shareholder meeting. There was no sign whatsoever of weaponry or body armor among the assembled, though in this forum they hardly needed it. To those in the know, the sight of Ayumi and Evangeline sitting next to one another with nary a hostile glance was enough to know that something was afoot. And that something was named Mike Holtman.
Diana Davenport, the supervisor of the New York office for THEMIS stood before the board while the presentation ended. “As you can see, the sensor data from the THEMIS Medical Center in Highland Park is choppy, fragmented and distorted at best. As near as we can tell, three nights ago, the center was attacked during shift change for the static desk security personnel. The security officers were Michael Holtman and Miranda Hossman. Hossman was coming on-shift; Holtman was going off-shift.”
She turned to the inert display showing a grainy, blurred image of a crouched, helmeted figure next to one of the medical center mainframes. “The lead intruder appears to have been accessing mainframe 2, the one where the technical data specs for the Dragon-Blood process and the gen-three Myrmidon specs are contained. We have no reason to believe the intruders were after the gen-four or five Myrmidons, as they incorporate technical advances unique to THEMIS, and aren’t easily replicated.”
The image flashed briefly as the mainframes literally exploded in a line, throwing the intruder across the room and into a wall. “This is the point where THEMIS Medical Center went offline and we received any indication that something was wrong. Mike Holtman, the Myrmidon who was serving out the remainder of his contract for violations in the field,” she made a face of distaste, whether at the thought of the violation or her opinion of that assessment she gave no indication, “killed the attackers and blew the mainframe using a Personal Rail Cannon inside the center without authorization when he figured out where the intruder was.”
She held up a data disc. “This is the data we pulled from Holtman’s cybernetic controller before it went offline. With that data we have been able to extrapolate the probable identity of the lead attacker that took him out.” A picture appeared on the viewer, showing a sweet, girl-next door face with golden blonde hair and deep sky blue eyes. Her heart-shaped face was that of a professional heartbreaker, a sweet, innocent thing that begged to be protected.
A murmer of rage passed through the assembled Myrmidons and Erinyes as Daisy “Kudzu” Wentworth’s visage was recognized. Quite possibly the most hated Erinys in THEMIS history, the woman was responsible for over two hundred homicides, including one of her own Erinys “sisters.” The slippery woman was the mistress of backstabbing, and had escaped custody after she had been brought in after being beaten within an inch of her life.
“Daisy Wentworth’s voice patterns were recognized by our software once Holtman cracked the encrypts by stealing the ‘crypt chip from a dead attacker. She’s back, and she was after the medical data. Holtman managed to prevent that loss.”
“What was the total loss at the medical center?” The question came from one of the front seats of the INFAX board section of the auditorium.
Diana didn’t even hesitate. “Fourteen million NuBucks in physical damage, most of which came from the destruction of the mainframes, though we’ve gone over the projections. If they hadn’t been destroyed we would stand to lose more in the THEMIS edge in biological and cybernetic upgrade processes. The more telling losses were in terms of loss of life. Five myrmidons undergoing augmentation were executed while they were helpless, the other thirty-two are still alive. The attackers were preparing to kill all fourteen Erinyes converts in the tanks, and very likely the fifteenth undergoing the preparations for placement in the tanks. The killings there were interrupted. The Security team Consisting of eight Light Plate troops, and two Erinyes were killed using a nanoshredder grenade. Then the attackers killed eighteen of our regular personnel and twenty-three more are wounded, including the ones undergoing treatment for hearing loss from rail gun fire inside the building.”
“As a further note, both of the Electronics security personnel responsible for handling the net, and one Nanotechnician are currently missing and presumed kidnapped. The Medical Center Director was found in his apartment dead, looks like the same kind of nanoshredders were used to kill him and his wife as were used in the attack.”
The INFAX board decided commenting on the monetary damages due to the lives lost and medical compensations being handed out was unwise, given the three hundred Myrmidons and Erinyes sitting in the auditorium.
“What is the disposition of the security guard who fought this attack down?” The chairwoman of the board leaned forward. “I am led to believe that this man was considered a problem before, and now he has cost us a significant amount in monetary damages.”
Diana managed to not glare at the woman, instead following the well-choreographed dance to its finish. “Michael Raymond Holtman, and his partner, Jacob Dodson are typical examples of the type of candidates accepted into the Myrmidon Heavy program. Dependable, disciplined, destructive personalities abound, and the one common trait we look for psychologically is loyalty. These men and women tend to be ferociously loyal to friends and their fellow troops. We choose them because they are the types who are unwilling to abandon their fellow myrmidons, and by proxy, the Erinyes in the field.”
“Michael Holtman is representative of the fact that we have had problems with the Heavies like this at least twice a year. Nothing so spectacular as the supermall incident, admittedly, but problems invariably crop up when the heavies are ordered to abandon still-living personnel in the field. Holtman and Dodson were merely the most violent in their response. What Holtman lacks in fiscal responsibility, he makes up for in loyalty to his fellow Myrmidons. People like them may be problematic, but they are good for morale among the troops. For example, I imagine there will be quite a few Myrmidons and Erinyes who come out of the conversion process thinking he’s their bloody hero.”
“Why is that Miss Davenport?”
Diana gave a tight-lipped smile at the Board members present. “Mike Holtman’s tactical data recording show that his first action was to assault and kill the ones who were trying to kill the converts. Once he’d secured them he moved on to security, discovered the team there was dead and then neutralized the other attackers besides Daisy when they began attacking our civilian personnel.”
‘Where is this myrmidon?” The chairwoman asked. “Why is he not here to answer questions about what happened?”
Diana gave a tight-lipped smile. “Michael Holtman is in critical condition in the medical center having his augments stripped to keep him from dying. Wentworth injected him with the Dragon-Blood stage one nanites. We believe her secondary objective was to target the Myrmidon team for death and Holtman especially, since they were the team that caught her and dragged her in. He was the one who put the pieces together and convinced the others that she was pulling black bag ops on the side involving those murders that occurred last year and the previous three years running.”
“Shouldn’t that be impossible? Nanites are regulated. They should not have gone active.”
“Agreed, ma’am.” Diana nodded. “Wentworth did her homework on this one. There is a scenario under which the Dragon-Blood nanites could be used as a weapon. That scenario was considered such low-order probability that it wasn’t worth worrying about. When Mike blew the mainframes to prevent her from stealing the information, he disabled the control units designated to regulate the process. The secondaries went online, simple transmitters meant to detect what phase the nanites are in and continue the process. Wentworth could have personally killed Holtman at any stage of the attack. She waited until after the primary controls were dead, the secondaries were hot and then injected Holtman with the nanites through his eye, deliberately destroying it like she took the other eye before.”
Diana looked at the Chairwoman with a tight-lipped smile. “Michael Holtman’s cybernetics detected new nanites and automatically downloaded the control protocols because the mainframe wasn’t online to automatically disable them. We discovered this last night when his bones’ ferro-ceramic sheathing began coming apart. He’s already well into the first stage. Unless steps are taken we expect him to die in two weeks without immediate action. We have a four day window while his cybernetics are being removed to decide whether or not to continue on to stage two and three of the process. Without that Holtman will die, and there is nothing, no medication we can use to dampen the pain completely. Wentworth took one of our myrmidons and guaranteed he would be effectively tortured to death because he blew the lid on her little murder incorporated scheme. Because Mike went unconscious from the damage he’d sustained he was unable to override the whole thing.”
“Four day window?”
“I have a signed statement by every Myrmidon and Erinys in the New York area requesting a one-time re-evaluation of the Euryale project with the intent of saving the life of Michael Holtman and returning him to duty.”
“Why the Euryale project? That program was determined to be a dead end.”
“Ma’am I’ve already had one of my best numbers agents look at it. The cost using gen-five Myrmidon upgrades would be the equivalent of building a Myrmidon heavy.”
The Chairwoman frowned. “Why Gen-Five?”
“We looked at it Ma’am, the Gen Five interface and mynomer are the only systems that come close to being able to interface and operate at Erinys speed levels. And we believe it would be easier for him to learn to cope with the alterations than a full bio-rebuild which we estimate would take optimally take two years, and about three times the cost. Holtman’s about sixty percent cyber-augmented, and that means he’s missing a lot of the original parts.”
“Very well, the board will require a more full briefing on the events at the Medical Center tomorrow afternoon. We will adjourn and determine the final disposition of Holtman within two days, after a thorough evaluation of the information.”
“Oh, one last thing, Madame Chairman.”
“Yes, Miss Davenport?”
“I would like permission to evaluate the possibility of rehabilitating Jacob Dodson as an employee of THEMIS, and determining where best we could use his talents. Quite bluntly, ma’am, as I said before men like Dodson and Holtman are good for morale.”
The chairwoman smiled tightly, without good humor as she nodded and left with the rest of the Board. It wasn’t stated, it wasn’t obvious, and it would never be commented upon, but the presence of three hundred of THEMIS’ biological and cyber-augmented combat troops and investigators at the meeting was nothing short of silent blackmail. The message was clear, the Myrmidons and Erinyes would only accept one verdict, and none of the Board was willing to find out what the lot of them would do if they said no.
Diana didn’t wait for the decision before she intercepted Vangie at the front door. “Hold it right there.”
The dark-haired, unblinking woman froze among the throng of Erinyes and Myrmidons leaving the building.
Vangie looked at her boss curiously. “Uh, did I do something wrong?” The woman ran through a mental catalogue of things she had done, hadn’t done, trying to figure out if any of those had gotten her boss’ attention.
“No. I need you to do something. Get your little coterie of hellions together and get down to the Med Center. You have three days to come up with a body and appearance for Mike that will hopefully not result in him walking into a closet with a gun and a bullet. You three know Mike the best, so you all have the best shot at coming up with something that he’ll be able to live with without going insane.”
Vangie winced. “I know Mike well enough to know that he’s not going to take waking up female well.”
“That’s a given, Evangeline. But, if you lot cook up something he might take it better because you’re his friends. You won’t let them simply slap the standard template on him and kick him out the door. Somehow I doubt Mike will take well to having double-D’s when the tech weenies get done.”
“Okay. One caveat. I’m bringing Dodson in on this, and it’s not negotiable. He knows enough about Mike to veto any body that might cause a thermonuclear reaction.”
Diana nodded. “Why are you still here?”
On the second day of deliberations, word came back that Mike had been approved for the Euryale program. That didn’t help the disposition of Jake, Vangie and Chai as they went over yet another stack of rejected body types that Jake had pulled his veto on. The pile was getting thick when Kaitlyn finally dragged herself into the room; having navigated the hastily cleaned up, if not fully repaired Med Center.
The redheaded Valkyrie woman brought in a large bag of food she’d appropriated from the cafeteria as she settled in to meet the glares of the three people she should have been helping the day before. “What?” The question was fielded in the vapid innocence which she was known to show when she was being given the third degree for excessive force in investigations.
“You are aware we called you yesterday to come help figure out what body we were going to inflict upon Mike, right?” Vangie fixed her with an unblinking glare.
She nodded. “I know. I figured I’d give you a day or so to hammer certain things out of your systems. Besides, no one actually expects me to contribute anything meaningful here.”
Chai grimaced at the accusation, but none of the three argued the point. The notorious Boom-Boom wasn’t known for her overabundance of wisdom and insight. All in all it was almost a relief to not have her visions of Valkyries with large breasts gumming up the works.
“Mind if I take a look at the reject pile? I’d like to see what you all have so I don’t wind up going over old ground.”
“Have at,” Jake said sullenly. “I haven’t had much insight into this either. I keep locking up on the idea of Mike becoming female, and don’t really have a whole lot to say.” He rolled his wheelchair over to her and handed a decent pile. Kaitlyn smirked when she saw the auto-shotgun strapped just under his armrest.
Kaitlyn nodded as Chai and Vangie went over the latest design they were cooking up. She smirked at the body models they were working off of. She had to keep from laughing as she recognized Evangeline’s penchant for classic movie starlet looks, a few of whom she actually recognized. She detected Chai’s handiwork in most of the non-Caucasian bodies put forth. Chai and Vangie had very definite ideas on what made for a good body.
While the two nattered on about pertinent details, Kaitlin occupied herself by crumpling up each idea one by one and banking them off the walls into the waste bin, more or less suppressing chuckles. She managed to look bored enough that the other two finally looked at her in annoyance.
“Do you have anything constructive to add, or are you just going to sit there and do nothing?” Vangie was annoyed, and Jake shook his head and sighed.
The red-haired queen of explosions shrugged and looked at the three of them diffidently. “I don’t know, do you actually want my input? “ She crumpled up another description that was more playboy centerfold materiel than even Kaitlyn would have liked. Most Erinyes drew the line at looking completely vapid.
“I suppose at this point it couldn’t hurt. It’s not like we have been getting anywhere here.” Chai’s voice was grudging, as was Vangie’s slow nod.
“So what’s on your mind, Boom-Boom? I know you and Mike had a thing going, so what can you add to the pile?” Jake looked at the pile of rejects in front of him with disgust.
“So why did you reject all of these?”
“I dunno, they felt off. I can’t really put it better than that.”
“Any ones that might be salvageable?”
Chai picked up a tiny handful of appearance profiles from the table and slid them over. “Just these, but Jake’s iffy on them.”
Kaitlyn nodded solemnly as she perused the new offerings. It was impossible for the other three not to envision her thought process as akin to a hamster running on an exercise wheel, fast but going nowhere. Two of the eight pages struck her as something that might not provoke an immediate reaction from her off-and-on provider of housing, decent food and personal entertainment.
“Okay. Do you all mind if we start from zero here? We can hammer some stuff out, but bear with me.” She set the maybes down, face down and looked at the three. Jake looked curious, and Chai and Vangie had dubious expressions of whether or not she could provide useful input. “Ok first off, before we begin let’s set in a few limits. I’m not sure if you all did this before, and were just working out of ideas as they came or what.”
The three nodded, and let her speak again. “First off is her height. Don’t screw with it. Mike’s about as tall as I am, so let’s keep him there. The frame will have to be adjusted to a more feminine form, granted but I think Mike will react slightly better if he doesn’t have to look up at everything like a child.”
“Hey! What’s wrong with not being oversized?” Chai looked mildly annoyed.
“Nothing, if you were born that way or wanted to be that way.” Kaitlyn gave her first shocker by showing some modicum of tact. “Let’s face it. Mike’s a guy who was pretty comfy being a guy. To an extent, no matter what we do he’s going to hate it. We just need to think of getting him a look that won’t freak him too badly in the short term, and he can get used to in the long term. If we can avoid changing something too drastically, let’s not.”
Jason nodded slowly. “All right, she has a point. I keep trying to think of what kind of body Mike would like, as opposed to what kind he’d scream the least about being stuck with. That might be why this all isn’t clicking.”
“All right, Kaitlyn, you have my attention.” Vangie decided not to admit her shock that Kaitlyn had shown anything resembling common sense, even if she and Chai had figured out that angle already. She had honestly been expecting to have to explain it to Kait.
“Face, we have a bit of play room with as well as body type, since there is no really good answer. But what we can do is try to take what we know about Mike and give him something that even if he’s not thrilled about it, can get used to in the long term. This means no supernatural hotties, and no dogfaces, or wildly plain Jane.”
“I would think Mike would be more comfortable being more on the plain side.” Chai looked quizzical.
“Yeah, that’s true, at first. But mike’s the kind of guy who always took pride in his appearance. It’s why even when he was looking scruffy, it was a good scruffy. We should probably give him a pretty face, maybe edging on natural beauty, but I emphasize natural, with all the imperfections that make her look more like a real person to him and less like a sex toy.”
“She’s right,” Jake sighed. “If Mike can cope he’s not going to thank us for making him ugly or a wallflower for which there isn’t any real recovery, mentally.”
Vangie actually blinked, for once. “Okay, so that gives us a bit of wiggle room. If we were going on that bent, we should make him tall as he started, possibly with a more smooth and athletic build. Gymnast build? Almost nonexistent breasts?”
Jake grimaced as Kait shook her head. “No on the tiny tits, but a definite yes on the athletic build Vangie but more with a bit of definite muscle tone. I’d suggest enough breast to get across that yes, she’s attractive and female, but not so much that she couldn’t hide them under baggy clothing or even tape ‘em down if she’s feeling really freaked. Good figure, but again, something she can cover if she wants to, and believe me, she’ll want to.”
“So why even bother with them if they will freak her out?” Chai knew the answer already, but she needed to hear it.
“This is Mike. I’ve seen how she copes. If you let her she ignores the problem and just trucks on until she finds something she can’t deal with. We can only insulate her so much, and if we make her look like something that lets her forget she’s female for a bit how the hell is she going to react when she gets aroused? God forbid what’s going to happen when she starts having a period? We do get those after all.”
Jake slowly caught on. “If he’s forced to be aware that he’s female and can’t just blow it off until a freak-out. He‘ll be forced to cope rather than letting himself get blindsided.”
“All right, that makes sense.” Vangie looked at Kait and Jake. “So we’re going to want him to be cope-with-it female but not so that he pushes his own buttons.”
Kaitlyn nodded as Chai cut in. “So we should avoid hitting him with anything that looks like us?”
Kaitlyn wiggled her hand as though it was on a seesaw. “Yes and no. Obviously she’s not going to have our own sense of ‘make me wildly female, by god!’ By the same token, we can’t insulate. So let’s make her beautiful in her own way, but in that way that says natural born rather than designed. That way if she wants to avoid attention, even if she is hot, she could duck behind another Erinys and not stand out above the local lookers.”
“Okay, we can work with this,” Jake said. “Let’s start with the height and build.” He scribbled something down, and then loaded it into the image viewer.
Kait scrutinized the image briefly, before tweaking it slightly, making the breasts a bit fuller, if slightly smaller than what Jake had dialed in. “What do you all think?”
Chai and Vangie blinked as they began to follow Kaitlyn’s simple logic, finally remembering that even though Jake was Mike’s best friend, Kaitlyn had been involved with Mike off and on, and she probably knew exactly what pushed the man’s buttons, because from Jake’s looks of wary approval, she was avoiding as many of them as she possibly could.
“Okay,” Chai began, “let’s do the face. It’s going to be the first thing she sees in a mirror, and it’s going to be the hardest to get without a screaming fit.”
“Eyes first,” Vangie suggested, “maybe a steel gray color?”
Kaitlyn shrugged. “Hazel.”
“Any particular reason?” Jake asked.
“What are the eye colors of most of Mike’s girlfriends?” Chai asked thoughtfully.
Jake looked at Chai and blinked. “Blue, grayish, and green were the ones I’d seen.”
“Wait, no Gray eyes because they’d provoke a ‘potential girlfriend’ reaction?” Vangie looked confused as Jake nodded slowly again from his wheelchair. “I would have thought it would come off as less feminine.”
Kaitlyn smiled and leaned back in her chair. “Hazel,” she repeated with a knowing smirk.
“Kait, why do you keep calling mike ‘she?” Jake looked at her quizzically.
Chai blinked. “Because she’s already started the process.”
Vangie sighed before speaking softly. “This is surreal. I can’t believe that’s Mike in there.”
“Much as I hate it, we have to get used to Mike being one of the sisters.” Kaitlyn made a sour face. “I hate this, but all we can do is help Mike try to cope.”
Although there was much debate, and more than a few frustrated moments, the four managed to put together a face and body over the next several hours, and finish off the new appearance by the end of the next day. Kaitlyn won the argument over the eyes.
Four nights later…
“Careful, careful you fucking moron! We can’t let this one get bumped around, he’s got almost no body mass left!” The technician snarled at his partner. “You fart wrong and he’ll fall apart, dammit. We need to carefully, very carefully get this one into the tank without injuring him. The nanites will have to finish the deconstruction on the ferro-ceramics in the gel.”
“Why are they starting the phase two already?” His partner looked at the pathetic mass of bone and skin, looking like a twisted nightmare of skin and sticks dangling from the harness as they applied the breath mask. “Those bones will take another week to attain the proper elasticity.”
“They’re programming this one for a slow shift. Poor bastard’s going to be under for a long time. Those cybernetics that got pulled dicked up the equation something fierce.”
The first tech sighed as the pathetic thing was lowered gently into the gel. “All right, gently, gently, stop. We have proper suspension. Seal the tank and have the cleaners sweep the gel for contamination before we get started.” He looked over as his partner performed the task. The harness actually began to dissolve and vanish as the microscopic robots released into the tank began systematically destroying and removing any contaminant they could find that weren’t the poor human hanging in the gel, the mask running to the oxygen supply, or the nanites busily deconstructing the skeleton of the man hanging inside.
“I can’t believe that’s Mike, man. This just doesn’t feel right. He’s going to be semi-conscious through this, and it’s going to take a couple extra weeks.”
“All right, cleaners are green. Begin the DMSO flood.”
“Yeah, you got it.” The second tech punched in the codes to release the chemical in question into the sealed tank, allowing things such as drugs, nanites and nutrients the body needed to survive to be absorbed directly by the skin. It also allowed the nanites inside the body to begin carrying waste and things they cleaned out the same way. Within minutes the gel surrounding the body was surrounded with a pale, glittering cloud as the ceramic-titanium bone reinforcements were slowly ejected from the skin, layer by layer, molecule by molecule in a process that was never meant to handle this sort of thing.
“I’ll be honest, I was expecting INFAX to write him off and order us to salvage the parts off him.” The first tech shook his head. “You don’t even want to know what it’s going to cost to fix this guy.”
“Yeah right man, you tell the Myms and Furies no on this one. I’ll stand over here.”
The first tech gave a barking laugh. “My ass. I’m not telling those crazies anything. Word on the street is this is going to cost at least another four hundred thousand, and he’s still got a bit under three hundred thou on his old debt still.”
The second tech winced. “Think they’ll stick him with the debt for this?”
“Again with the Myms and Furies and the telling them. I have a funny feeling INFAX is going to write this one off as a necessary expense. This stone-cold nutcase is way too important to them.”
“Why is that? I never quite got why a guy like this could have the loyalty of all the buggers.”
“He doesn’t.” The first tech shook his head. “Hell more than a few of them think he’s worth about as much as a used sheet of toilet paper. They care because this guy’s proven that their lives are worth more to him than anything. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty, man.”
The other tech nodded. “All right, the protocols are set. Once our boy here marinates for a bit, the reformation process will begin. I feel sorry for him; this shit’s agonizing and they say you can feel it the whole time even in the coma. And do you know what the worst part is?”
“He’s the only one here who never wanted this?”
“Yeah. I really hope we’re doing right by him man, this feels wrong.”
“Better than letting him die the way that bitch Kudzu wanted him to.”
“Yeah. Even so, this is just foul. I’m gonna need a few beers to get to sleep tonight after seeing this.”
“I think I’ll join you for that.”
The two technicians packed up and left after the tank sealed, leaving the maimed and broken man to his fate. Mike hung, suspended in the green fluid, on display in the horror of the wax museum showcasing the transforming Erinyes. Most of the muscle mass had been removed to make room for the Mynomer bundles that replaced them. Now those bundles were removed, along with every piece of wired cybernetics and metal they could find in him. Even the fillings of his teeth had to be removed in order to allow the process to run unimpeded. All that remained was for the nanites to finish stripping the fused bone reinforcements so that body could be reformed, then re-hardened.
No one who entered the room could look at the sightless, skeletal thing hanging in the gel for long. The skin hanging from bones that had been stripped like a side of beef at a meat market gave a gruesome testament to just how much of his body had been replaced, internally. The most disturbing thing was the eyes, or the lack. He just had two sockets, half-concealed by lids that didn’t close fully. The technicians, doctors, and well-wishers had to leave shortly after they arrived. Rather like Mike’s opinion of the Erinyes percolating in the adjacent tanks, no one liked seeing him naked on display, stripped of dignity, barely looking human. It was probably better that he could not see, so he didn’t wake to see his friends looking in, horrified, biting back tears during the brief instants of consciousness.
I don’t know how to describe it, the feeling of floating nowhere, the darkness, wondering if you are asleep or awake, alive or dead, deprived of sensory input that held meaning save for the searing agony that was felt fully but never quite there. I don’t remember the dreams, but I remember the pain. I don’t know if I ever woke up, really. I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear. All I could do was feel, and I’m not sure how much of that I actually did. I’d heard that being placed into a medical coma screws with you but I’d never even contemplated the reality.
There is no way I know how to describe the pain, that excruciating, throbbing ache any more than I can explain why a brain all but shut down save for autonomic functions can feel pain and remember it. The current pop medical theory is that it’s a phantom, a reflection of what would have been a memory, trying to resurface, seeming to stretch on forever in the brief moments it takes for the mind to fully reawaken. I don’t know, all I know is that I experienced an eternity in the tank, and it’s hard for me to remember, but I can still feel it. Now I know why the Erinyes can’t talk about the experience, simply moving on and thankful they weren’t driven mad from the experience like so many of their sisters over the years.
Actually waking up, or at least I think it was waking up, was pure hell. My entire body was shrieking in agony as the soft sheets rubbed against skin unaccustomed to stimulation. I tried to talk, scream, speak, see, move. Nothing worked. All I could do was feel weight as my body was settled on a cushion, covered in some kind of linen. I felt like a puppet with its strings cut.
When you can’t see or hear, and the only thing you can smell is hospital cleaning agents, it’s very hard to tell how time passes. It’s even more so when you can’t muster the strength to reach up and pinch yourself to see if you are awake or not. Unfortunately during the few times I was awake and knowing it for sure, I wished I wasn’t. Periods of frustration and boredom were the norm, and the infrequent visits by someone who liked to manhandle me with a wet sponge was terrifying, made worse by the fact that I was helpless to fight back against anything they chose to do to me.
By the time the pain began again I was thoroughly confused, scared and pretty incoherent of thought. I had come to recognize the empty-socket feeling of my lack of eyes, especially when the docs came to clean them out on occasion. I’m told the wailing shrieks actually unnerved more than a few myrmidons going through augmentation. I wasn’t even able to hear it. The cybernetics rebuilding my inner ear had been pulled. My world was a rush of boredom and sensation all in one, with pricks and pokes, and one terrifying moment when I realized someone had completely wrapped their hand around where a bicep should have been, touching thumb and fingertips together with room to spare.
There were few comforts, though I remember hands in mine, squeezing comfortingly. I remember fingers pushing the unruly mop of hair back away from my face, and gentle hugs, with cheeks pressed to mine. I think that was probably what kept my sanity when the familiar pain of augmentation began anew. I’d say that it hurt, but the fever-dream of agony that I can still feel made this seem like a friendly slap-fight by comparison.
I wasn’t aware of how long I was down and out, but the slow, ever-growing sensation of having my skin and flesh packed tight like a plushie being stuffed, as I struggled to remember what that was. I was able to remember the sensation of having the Mynomer fiber-bundles packed into places my muscles had once occupied. I relived the pain of having a portion of my skull excised and fused to a neural jack. I felt the searing agony as the control interfaces were fused to my spine. I felt that and more, both familiar and unfamiliar as I was rebuilt into something feeling more familiar, yet alien at the same time. I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to feel like.
It wasn’t until after my unseen tormentors did something to make my empty eyes and ears feel packed to bursting that I fully realized what was happening. I was being put back together. They were repacking all the cybernetics into my body, though I couldn’t figure out why they had been removed in the first place. I should have been deathly afraid of what I knew was coming after that, but I wasn’t. After the pain before, getting hurt probably would never worry me again.
My first clue that I would be waking up to the world in full form was when lightning struck my spine and raced to the back of my head, a flash of brief agony that ripped through my entire body immediately after. Muscles I was unused to having spasmed as the mynomer bundles tried to contract all at once, an action that would have torn a normal human body apart. The Ferro-ceramic bone sheathing and impregnation kept me from becoming a modern art masterpiece on the spot. There are few sensations quite as painful.
Suddenly I felt everything I touched in a way I never had before. I could feel the individual fibers of the sheets under and above me along my skin, and it was the most eerie thing to have your tactile acumen suddenly jump through the roof. It was when my cybernetic ears and eyes came on that I learned the true definition of sensory overload.
Everything was suddenly too loud, to bright, too fast. I heard myself scream and twitch, trying to escape the sudden surge of sensory input I hadn’t dealt with in a long time. The scream hurt too. Even clamping my eyes closed I couldn’t escape the flood of input and sensations as I could hear every breath, every step, every incomprehensible word, and the cybereyes flashed streams of data that I couldn’t comprehend as it scrolled and blinked in and out far too quickly for me to see and try to decipher. Not that I was in any mental condition to comprehend what I was seeing.
I tried to move my arms, my legs, and my body, winding up simply jerking as though I was having a seizure, unaccustomed to controlling my once helpless and inert body. In my sensory induced panic I didn’t feel the three pairs of hands grip mine and hold me comfortingly. When I calmed down, the first thing I became aware of were three voices speaking words that meant nothing to me. Soft voices were too loud, and far too much light filtered in through my eyelids as I felt every contour of their skin touching mine. As I started concentrating on one thing I started being able to understand what I was seeing and feeling.
“All right, everything’s online, but be gentle. She’s got a long way to go before she can move around.” The voice was unfamiliar, but for the first time I could filter out a sentence and comprehend what was being said.
“Hey Mike, how are you feeling, honey?” I recognized that voice, and that soft hand rubbing my forehead. I cracked my eyes open and saw red, literally lots of red, as I processed the face and mass of wild hair I was seeing.
Identifying... Kaitlyn Marksbury, AKA Boom-Boom. File to follow...
I groaned as the familiar, yet painful use of my optic nerves commenced, and I had a wash of vertigo as my brain tried to process all the senses at once. I started heaving for a second as the mad Valkyrie’s face screwed up in concern.
I opened my eyes again and forced myself to take a deep breath. As moved my eyes back and forth, I tracked on two faces familiar as though they’d been born of a fever dream. Vangie’s unblinking stare and Chai’s sweet, unassuming face met my gaze as I tried to smile. There was a man in a myrmidon uniform standing tall and proud at the foot of the bed. I succeeded at smiling as I recognized Jake’s bulky, tanklike form. Then it hit me. Jake was standing.
“Mike can you hear me?” Kaitlyn’s voice was still too bloody loud, but I was too happy to see four of my good friends alive and well.
I blinked. Alive. I remembered the screaming battle, the violence of the deaths in the security room, and the black-clad Erinys beating the hell out of me before stabbing my eye. As it began to filter into my mind what the hell I was feeling from my body I remembered the last thing I’d seen burned into my optic nerve. My cybernetics had downloaded the Dragon-Blood control programs. I knew what I was feeling, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it, even as my eyes flickered down to see the shape under the covers. I didn’t want to acknowledge the unruly mass of hair I felt behind my head.
I must have given Jake a somewhat panicked look, because he got a solemn look and simply nodded at me. I don’t know what the hell ran through me I just started crying, unable to find words. I didn’t want to be a woman. I didn’t want to be one of the Erinyes. I just let myself cry, while my friends who had shown up to see me wake tried to comfort me.
“What happened?” I finally managed to rasp the words out an hour later once I’d cried my eyes out, helplessly and then concentrated my efforts into relearning how to use my vocal chords. I wasn’t liking this situation by any stretch.
Vangie spoke first, “Wentworth happened. She deliberately set you up to die from the stage one nanites, Mike.”
It took me a moment to process that information. First I had to try to remember what the hell nanites were, then remember where I’d heard the name Wentworth. “Kudzu.” My voice was a bit clearer, and it didn’t sound like me, too high and soft, with none of my accustomed hardass growl.
Daisy “Kudzu” Wentworth held a special place in my heart, where I kept my list of people who needed to die in screaming agony. I remembered the sweet, southern belle looks and her girl next door charm lit behind those baby blue eyes. She looked like a literal angel, but had a personality born in the ninth circle of hell. She’d been known as the office backstabber long before I finished my training as a Myrmidon, known for stealing cases from other Erinyes, double-dealing and gleefully screwing over her peers with a wild abandon, all while doing it with that sweet, innocent act which made one wonder if it had been deliberate. We called her Kudzu because she kept surviving situations that should have killed her off, like the weed we’d named the bitch after.
She’d also been responsible for a hit ring involving herself and about fifteen myrmidons that had racked up a body count of about two hundred over three years. Their little murder incorporated group managed to stay under the Erinyes radar by dint of the fact that the only two who even caught wind of the situation were killed before they could alert anyone. My Myrmidon Squad had been the ones to put the pieces together slowly over six months. Once we had the evidence we suckered the bitch into an eight foot square room with all of us and beat her within an inch of her life because she had no real place to run and escape ten pissed off cyber-soldiers. Then we dragged her into Diana’s office screaming and presented the field supervisor with the evidence.
I had been the one to put the pieces together, taking bits of information from the others and stringing them into a cohesive picture. When all was said and done she blamed me especially. As I reflected on this I realized that we should have shot her down instead of bringing her back alive for the truly insane bonus that had paid off a good chunk of all of our process debts.
“How long have I been under?”
“Little under a year, hun.” Chai looked at me sympathetically. “We were almost beginning to think you were never going to come to.” The tiny Thai woman climbed up behind me and pushed me up, before leaning me back as Kait handed her a white hospital bowl. Hell I couldn’t have resisted, whenever I tried to give my muscles a command they started spasming.
“A year” My eyes were probably trying to pop out of my skull.
Jake nodded. “Yeah Mike, that bitch really ran a number on you. Near as we can tell I think she was expecting you to die while THEMIS debated what to do about it.”
“Why didn’t I die?”
Kait got a smirk while I watched. “We said no.”
Jake grinned. “Bro the Myrmidons and Erinyes were ready to riot if INFAX wrote your ass off. None of us were willing to sit and let them pull the plug on you. Especially not after you got boned twice saving the lives of people you were working with, or will be working with.”
“What happened to Kudzu?”
Vangie made a face. “She’s still ghosting somewhere. We haven’t been able to pin the bitch down since you got ripped up in the Med Center, Mike.”
“So how the hell did this happen to me? The Dragon blood nanites were the most strictly regulated things in the damned med center. They never should have gone hot, even if I drank a vial of them.”
“That’s just it, Mike,” Chai spoke softly from behind me, pulling the mass of hair away from my shoulders. “You’re right. They never should have gone live. Wentworth deliberately provoked you to destroy the mainframes, which are where all of the interface control overrides and safeties were. The secondary transmitters aren’t meant for anything other than to keep the new ones from dying. So she hit you after those safeties were gone. She did this deliberately to kill you.”
“But why didn’t my cybernetics shut them down? The control unit should have shut them off.” My voice was pained, plantitive, and I wanted an answer, any answer other than what I got.
“Mike, without you to tell it to override the nanites, the control unit detected them as new hardware and just downloaded their control profile. You were unconscious before the download was done.” Jake’s voice was anything but pleased with the situation. He looked miserable trying to tell me this, even if I was definitely sure that his misery at the prospect of my living as someone I never wanted to be couldn’t match mine.
“Fuck.” I didn’t know what the hell else to say as I tallied up my options for fixing this. It was a really easy number. Zero. Once the Dragon blood Process was completed, there was no way on God’s green Earth that you could go back. There were even maintenance nanites tasked with keeping the body healthy and in that female state until doomsday if need be. I was stuck, and there was no going back.
“Would you like to see?” Kaitlyn looked a bit antsy. She had a hand mirror gripped and looked at me.
I didn’t want to see, I really didn’t. I wanted to pretend that none of this was real, that I’d wake up from this fever dream whole and still me. I didn’t want to do what I did when I croaked out a hesitant “Yes.”
The pale, oval-ish face had fine cheekbones and a delicately pointed chin. Her mouth was somewhat small and the lips weren’t big, nor were they particularly small either. Her nose was slightly long, and aquiline, framed on either side by a pair of slightly large, doe-like hazel eyes, framed by a mop of reddish-brown curls (the girls told me the proper color is russet). The girl in the mirror had a natural beauty that didn’t have the sculpted perfect looks favored by almost all Erinyes. It wasn’t me, though. Unfortunately it was me.
I saw the face rapidly go to despairing and I turned my head away, the tears welling up again. A year of my life was gone. I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I felt helpless, unable to do anything but wonder what the hell I was going to do, could do and not having any answers. All my squadmates save Jake were dead, and I had that psycho bitch Daisy Wentworth to thank for the destruction of my life as I knew it. Were I able to move anything I honestly couldn’t tell if I would have gone berserk hunting her, or found a gun and shot myself. In retrospect it’s probably better that I wasn’t able to move.
I spent the next hour talking and catching up while Chai went to work on my head with a pair of scissors, cutting away masses of russet hair and slowly and carefully shaping my hair into something I might be able to live with, rather than letting me take a set of clippers to it as we all knew I would. Women generally didn’t look that good bald. I can attest to this.
We didn’t talk about Daisy, and I didn’t ask if they’d caught her. The girls and Jake would have gleefully told me if they’d dragged the bitch in. What we did talk about absolutely boggled my mind.
*Snip!* More russet locks fell into the bowl they had near my head.
“So of course, nothing ever goes right,” Vangie was saying, “And the damned Saints had the boat rigged! It was supposed to be a dead lead for the kid to get a taste of real investigation work. We were expecting it to be cleaned out but nooooooo. The damned thing had attack drones and was rigged to blow.”
“Wait you blew a floating habitat up?” I boggled, although it was the earlier parts of her story that had me completely stunned. The sheer amount of damage that would cause should have put her into debt for life.
“Hey! How were we supposed to know that our dead end was still hot?”
I chuckled. “I’m still boggling over the fact that you let the Apocalypse twins in the Smithsonian. I mean, I love you two, but that’s kinda like letting Jake loose at a buffet. Only fun if you don’t have to pay for it.”
“Be nice.” Chai gently swatted the top of my head.
“Yes, Momma Dragon.”
She swatted me again.
I tried to process the implications of this one… “Boom-Boom… With a Santa sack… Filled with high-explosives.” The implications boggled my mind. “How much of the city is still standing again?”
“What do you mean you found Jimmy Hoffa’s remains, Vangie?”
“So this poor woman was insane, in pain, and insanely fast. I wound up in the nano pod twice before all was said and done.” Chai spoke quietly from her perch behind me while she cut my hair.
“She actually almost killed you? Three times?” I was incredulous. I had actually sparred with Chai before. Once was more than enough and I swore to myself, never again.
“Hey, she didn’t, and that’s all that matters to me.”
I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was going to do with myself as the girls regaled me with their wild stories. I wasn’t ready for this shit.
Diana looked on quietly at the two women on the sparring floor. Rife with obstacles from loose shopping carts, to barrels, to concrete walls and street dividers, the training room was rigged for the maximum possible realism for a battleground. Chai vaulted off a wall, spinning a foot at the much larger woman, who twisted like a snake at speeds too quick for a normal human, but not fast enough.
The tall, lithe woman who spun to the ground wasn’t the perfect picture of sculpted beauty that the Erinyes tended to be, and her reflexes and speed left much to be desired. What she had going for her became rapidly evident when she kipped back up onto her feet with nary an indication that she’d been hit, slamming a fist through one of the concrete walls where the diminutive Thai woman’s head had been mere seconds before. Chai was good, but she couldn’t manage that level of strength.
Sadly for the former Michael Holtman, Chai made her pay for that wild over-extension of her attack, and she took two punches to the side, and barely managed to stop the bone-shattering kick with a forearm reinforced to a level that the Erinyes couldn’t match. There was no doubt in Diana’s mind that it still hurt like hell to be on the receiving end of, though. In over an hour of going at it, neither woman had been able to get a solid advantage over the other. Chai had the speed and agility that allowed her to get in and out of the larger woman’s guard and the skill to make good on that advantage. Her opponent was quite possibly one of the strongest, and toughest women outside of the Myrmidons, and the fastest outside the Erinyes. It was hardly a perfect blending of the talents but it had some interesting connotations.
In all fairness, Chai was holding back.
“You know, throwing Mike at Chai is sort of like throwing a tree at a wood-chipper, boss.” Jake’s voice sounded behind the blonde field supervisor as the massive Myrmidon entered the observation area.
“I hardly expect Mike to beat Chai straight out of the tank, Mister Dodson.” Diana looked thoughtful as she watched the display. “She’s the best hand-to-hand fighter the Erinyes have had in a long time. Besides, that’s not the purpose of this exercise.”
“I know, it’s to get Mike familiar with his... her new body I know, and to evaluate whether or not that enhanced Ki attenuation you chickas all seem to manifest holds true for her as well.” Jake looked down at the practice area in time to see the newly-minted Mikaela Holtman simply jerk a stop sign out of the concrete and swing it at her diminutive opponent. “Damn, I keep forgetting just how much us heavies take our strength for granted until you see it from outside.”
“Well she’s kept that much going for her. Her speed’s somewhat low for an Erinyes, but we were expecting that. She’s not going to be quite as strong as she used to be, but she seems to be making up for it with the typical stoic Myrmidon tank behavior. The subdermal plates, bone reinforcements and pain editors are making her just as tough as one would expect, and she’s fast enough that Chai isn’t simply able to out-speed and disassemble her.”
“How long have they been going at it, Diana?”
“About fifteen minutes now. Chai’s taking it easy on her for now, and Holtman’s been playing the defensive game, feeling out her capabilities.”
“Fifteen minutes? Last time me and Mike tangles with Chai in a training room she took a grand total of five to trash both of us. She was taking it easy back then, too, theoretically.”
“Like I said. Mike’s fast enough that Chai can’t simply speedball her. Chai’s actually having to resort fully to her skills.”
“That’s bad enough, boss. God forbid the little ninja gets the drop on you.”
Diana nodded then pointed. “Watch this, you might appreciate it. Mike is showing some Ki aptitudes, but neither I nor Chai have been able to figure out exactly what she’s doing.”
Mike actually caught the edge of Chai’s Fury armor with the stop sign, spinning the small woman about as the larger woman darted forward and caught her ankle. Mike flung her like a rag doll at a wall twenty feet away, at a speed that would have sent a normal person pinwheeling.
Chai twisted and angled herself to take the impact on the wall as though she had simply dropped off a short ledge to the ground, absorbing the impact with her legs and hitting a crouch, touching her palms to the concrete. The diminutive woman simply dropped off the wall to the ground and darted around a corner behind cover.
“Bad move on Mike’s part,” Jake said disapprovingly, “giving Chaiaima an edge like that is tantamount to asking to die.”
“Keep watching Jake. What’s Mike not doing right now?”
“That’s bizarre.” Jake noticed that his friend was moving slowly, carefully towards the tightly packed cover of the training area. Normally anyone sane who knew Chai would move away, retreating to the most wide-open clear spot and try to spot her. Jake knew from experience that it was easier said than done. Chai could damn near hide behind a blade of grass, and Mike used to love ribbing her about having to climb up onto his shoulder to look him in the eye.
Diana nodded. “It is bizarre. Mike knows better, but this has happened four times over the last two days, always after Mike gets hold of Chai and throws her.”
“Why throw her? I’d opt for pounding her. But then I’ve never been able to get hold of her.”
“Mike found out the hard way why that’s a bad idea.”
“I’ll take your word for... Holy fuck!”
Jake leaned forward, startled by the sudden flash of dark silhouette as Chai dove straight at Mike’s back, going for the kidney shot from behind some debris. Mike didn’t look back, didn’t seem to see it coming, yet she lashed out with a mule kick right into the diminutive woman’s path. The kick glanced off Chai’s body armor as she and Mike lashed out with fists and feet at one another even as Mike tried to get turned around so she could square off properly. Needless to say it didn’t work well until the bigger woman dove straight forward, away from her opponent and came up facing her tiny assailant, swearing the whole time.
“Now you’ve seen it Dodson, this makes the fifth time for me, and I still have a hard time believing it.” Diana nodded to herself slightly. “Mike’s reflexes and speed are well behind what would normally be considered acceptable by Erinyes standards, yet is still well ahead of the curve for normal, or even other enhanced operatives, and her strength and stamina follow the opposite track, but the only ones who beat her out there are the Myrmidon Heavies.”
“So how the hell did she know Chai was there?” Jake watched quietly as the two women continued to assault one another.
“That’s what I’d like to know. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone able to perceive Chai stalking, much less react in time. Could it have anything to do with the cybernetic senses?”
“Not unless she’s got them dialed to the max, and then any solid noise or bright flashes would overload someone’s ability to function. You actually have to slowly disable the filters that protect you to get that kind of sensitivity.”
“Well did Mike make a habit of doing such?”
Jake shook his head. “Not a chance, not with the Thunderstorms primed. Although there were a few games of ‘guess what I ate last night’ with the scent tracers.”
“And here I thought you two had no charm.” Diana’s voice was deadpan as Mike threw a fifty-five gallon drum at her gleefully fast opponent, buying only distance from the diminutive whirlwind.
Jake grinned widely and shrugged. “Look boss, the other possibility is that she’s getting the full feed, even with the filters. The data all pours in, but the filters keep you from getting overloaded. Maybe that funky Erinyes Ki shtick is letting her process a lot more data subconsciously than she would normally. I know that cybergear tends to bork the Ki field around the body something fierce, which is why most of you Erinyes wouldn’t touch the stuff. Mike’s had that shit integral to her system for a couple years now, and with the re-implantation of all the hardware she can actually function.”
“That might make sense. Care to test this theory?”
“Sure, boss, what do I gotta do?”
I was breathing hard, numb, and actually able to recognize all of the myriad, painful bruises that my dearly beloved Chaiaima (I may someday forgive her for this) had inflicted upon me. Were it not for the pain editors, the first time she punched me in my shiny new tits, I would have passed out from pain. So much for the theory of the groin being the weak point of the human body. I felt those hits like I was getting slammed across the head with a crowbar.
I was a bit more preoccupied with not getting my skull slammed around some more when Chai was kind enough to land a kick straight in my solar plexus. I took it on the subdermal armor and gave her a backhand swat in return that sent her rolling a few feet back. Unfortunately she was really good at rolling with the hits, and came back to her feet like I’d tried to tickle her. I might try that next, seeing how nothing else seems to work on her.
Actually landing a hit on Chai requires you to do stupid things with your body, like letting her land one of those pickup-truck impacts she calls punches in order to clip her. Under normal circumstances doing so is tantamount to suicide, but I had the reinforcement. I may now look like a petite little (okay, sweetly amazonian) woman, but I weigh as much as a normal adult man who’s pushing seven feet tall and bench-presses three hundred or more pounds easily.
That being said, even after four days of blissfully taking out my aggressions on Hogan’s Alley, I was still forced to realize that nothing worked right. My reflexes were jacked up from what I remember, I was weaker and taking the heavy hits I used to was right out. That being said, being able to speedball my way around like an Erinyes (almost) really screwed with me. Trying to figure out how to adapt to the reflexes alone was almost enough to forget everything else wrong with my body, almost.
I could move just fast enough to keep Chai from crawling all over me and unscrewing all my cybernetics with her fingernails while I thrashed about blindly, but I wasn’t fast enough to do much more than land the occasional glancing hit on her, which she invariably shrugged off.
By the time we were nearing the end of the day’s acclimation training I was tired, I was hungry, I was frustrated and my body felt WRONG. I think it was the fourth time she’d punched me in my new breasts that I snapped and just went full assault. I plowed forward, taking the three strikes, and feeling the impacts as I began forcing her to duck with the rapid-fire (to me) hammer-hand strikes. Seeing Chai grin and dodge each one just made me madder when my senses started shrieking “DANGER” at me all at once.
Threat at 176°... I read the line after I reacted.
Chai looked mystified as I ducked right, into the direct path of the roundhouse kick, took the pain and rolled behind a mass of trash. Chai looked less mystified at the sudden eruption of splat-cap dye all over her shiny Fury armor. I don’t know how I knew it was coming, any more than I knew why I was able to react to Chai’s little ambushes before the threat warnings hit my optics. All I knew was if my instincts screamed at me to move, I moved. Preferably that movement either took me out of the path of attack, or caused bruises in Chai.
In this case I opted to run, as the fellow with the paintball gun was kind enough to eliminate my opponent who’d had me on the verge of screaming in frustration for the last hour or three. More paint splatters erupted in front of me, and I found myself skidding, backpedaling and reversing my direction where had I been the old me I would have blundered right into the path of fire. Not getting hit does have some distinct advantages.
I had a pretty solid idea where the shooter was, even as I used the local detritus to cover my movement. Unfortunately the latest bout of fire was punctuated by my spider-senses tingling once again. Oh all right, my battle-senses, Christ on a crutch I swear when you work for INFAX copyright infringement, even in jest, is a serious thing.
In any case, as I was saying before the legal-eagle opened her mouth, (this is your invitation to shut up now, dear) I had another, less midget-sized, example of an Erinyes clad in skintight, armored latex-substitute try to ambush me. I have no idea who it was, but she wasn’t as fast as Chai, nor were her moves as good. I clotheslined the bitch off her feet and hammered her into the concrete while taking only a moment to scream in agony from the kidney-punch she’d managed to land. As she stood up groggily I slugged her in the tits as well, while still screaming in pain.
I was tired, I’d about had it, and I wanted some time to myself. So when the shooter got himself in position behind me I simply gave him the finger over my shoulder and started walking out of the Alley, to the tune of multiple splat caps bursting all along my back. Getting into the locker room and stripping off the sweaty clothing and getting into the shower was the most blessed, painful and yet disturbing experience. This new body was going to take some getting used to. I hated it already.
Jake put down the PAS rifle and shook his head at the Erinyes on the ground. “You know, I don’t think ‘I told you so’ quite covers this one.”
“You never said that, you big oaf.” Diana pulled the helmet off and groaned as she stood up again. “Dammit I need to start getting back in practice.”
“You underestimated Mike.”
“What?” Diana gave the big man a dirty look.
“You underestimated her.” Jake looked at Diana and shrugged. “You came at Mike like a newbie Erinyes, when you should have been coming at her like she’s a fast Mym. I know you were paying attention to the fight with Chai.”
Diana spit on the ground and grunted something that was distinctly unladylike as she regarded Jake. “Fast Myrmidon? Christ, now I’m the one making newbie mistakes. I think it’s time I started practicing with Chai again. Flying a desk is no excuse for losing your edge.”
“Good idea, boss.” Jake gave her a sly look. “So how hard does she hit?”
“Hard enough that I probably need to get my ribs checked. If she’d hit me square on we’d be needing an ambulance.” She looked around. “Where’s Chai?”
“I dunno I haven’t seen her since...” Jake’s voice cut off abruptly and in a small voice, almost childlike said, “found her.”
Diana almost laughed when she looked back at the Myrmidon. On his back, like a child getting a piggyback ride, was Chai, holding a glass-edged Daikatana to Jake’s throat.
“Hiya Diana, anytime you need the workout I’ll be here.” She turned her attention to Jake, and let her Dragon-Lady persona come forward, accent and all. “Now Jakey, we really MUST have a chat about your aim. I understand being rusty from disuse but I am afraid you get to help me practice for the remaining hour I was scheduled to have Mikaela here with me.”
“You two have fun.” Diana stumbled out of the Alley area, clutching her side, and wobbling a little bit. As she did so she promised herself she would never get caught making that kind of mistake again.
I’m not going to belabor my physical recovery any more than I have to. I got over the shakes from cyber-implantation faster than I had before, but that was more due to my nervous system having been hardwired to machinery before. Mentally, I wasn’t so well, given to fits of absolute rage, bouts of crying and periods of wanting to curl up in a corner and die. The psychs diagnosed me with Gender Dysphoria, due to my lack of ambition towards becoming female, combined with my current combination of X-chromosomes. Hooray for stating the obvious.
You know, I never before understood it when any of the girls talked about how they grew up feeling like they were in the wrong body, identified with the female gender more, and wanted to correct a problem. Being wrenched from a comfortable place and drop-kicked to the other side of the gender divide is an eye-opener, I tell you what. I felt WRONG. Even with the Apocalypse Twins, Vangie, Jake and Diana coming in to check on my progress, and help me deal with my problems I still have some serious issues to deal with.
None of that goes very far explaining how I felt. It’s not really something you can make someone understand who hasn’t been there. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional stress of looking into a mirror and seeing a stranger’s face looking back. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotions I couldn’t seem to just pop a cork into and carry on as usual. I wasn’t prepared for the docs to tell me that what I was dealing with was perfectly normal for a young woman. They weren’t prepared for my psychotic reaction. Fortunately I was able to keep the pure frustration locked down enough that I only broke a bookshelf, though I spent about an hour trying to make the tears stop.
Physically, I was as fit as an ox. Granted that ox had more metal in her than some newer family cars and weighed as much as a weightlifting man, but still an ox nonetheless. The exercises teaching new Myrmidons how to control their strength and not shake a building by walking down the halls were a breeze. I’d done them all before and the gen-five Mynomer bundles were slightly less powerful than the gen-fours. What they lacked in power they made up for in efficiency, however, and I was continuously performing to expectations, both in the Physical Therapy ward and on the mat with Chai.
The reflexes, as stated earlier, were a bitch to get a handle on. The first time I did a turnaround for one of the docs I about gave myself whiplash as my body completed the action before I was fully done thinking about it. The gymnastics exercises to help me get used to my new balance and center of gravity would have been impossible were it not for the three small gyros mounted on either side of my seemingly too-wide pelvis, and centered in my lower abdomen. Because of those things when I fall, I have a real hard time not landing on my feet, on all fours, or some other position that allows me to absorb shock. The gyros cause my body to jerk into a better position when they detect that I’m about to lose my balance unintentionally.
Among the upgrades were better cybernetic eyes that processed image and data better than my old one with various new vision modes, updated sensory inputs, a new spinal unit that was lighter and more durable than the old cybernetic control unit, upgraded comms, a better cyber-modem, and joy of joys, some smartass had seen fit to install a nanoshredder injector into my upper jaw, like a snake’s venom sacs run through my canines. That last one pissed me off immensely when I found out. Humanity’s best nightmare weapon of the age and I spit the shit. Generally, once a girl figures that one out the hope of a kiss is pretty much gone.
Combine all of that fun stuff, and I was pretty much raring and ready to go back to work. I really needed something to take my mind off the fact that I now had to sit down to pee, had breasts, and a disturbing opening between my legs that I really wasn’t ready to think about fully yet. Gunning down assholes who were playing terrorist does wonders for the soul, specifically my soul.
Sadly, the docs wouldn’t let me go until I had “come to terms” with my new body. That one stumped me until I figured out how to get away from their hated presence. Masturbation is a lot more fun when you don’t have to fake the orgasm, but even though it felt interesting, I was way too freaked to actually enjoy the sensations. But that, combined with my “model citizen” behavior convinced the psyches that one Mikaela Holtman was ready to face the world. The instant I stepped out into the main lobby of the medical center they had me cooped up in and met the public at large... I wanted to die.
It took another three months for the docs to check me off as fit to leave the building and take me off suicide watch.
I actually spent a half-hour in the parking lot of the main offices for THEMIS, absolutely paralyzed, standing next to the city transit stop I had gotten off at. The appreciative looks I got from people walking by weren’t helping my mental state, even though I knew I was going to get them. At my height and current build, I was striking, and I can’t imagine the panicked look in those doe-eyes someone had seen fit to grace me with made me look anything but lost. I wanted to get back to work, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Would anyone remember me? Recognize me? Would anybody care? Standing out front in a loose t-shirt and jeans was hardly professional attire, and even with my body more or less hidden under the baggy clothing I felt horrifically vulnerable.
I literally had the clothing on my back, and an ID card in my pocket. My previous landlord had decided that since I wasn’t there to make rent, he was good to rent out my apartment and sell all my stuff. Thankfully Jake and Kait had been able to break in and liberate my weapons and my ancient movie collection. My motorcycle was gone as well, stolen in my absence, probably sent to a chop-shop and parted out long ago.
I don’t remember what got me going but I do remember trying to adjust my bra, yet another annoyance I was learning to deal with, for the thousandth time. It was beginning to turn into a real nervous habit with me, honestly, playing with one of the things that made me very uncomfortable. Kind of like explosives. You can’t not play with them.
I must have looked like a deer in headlights as I was met by the two Myrmidons on door guard detail. The older one smirked a bit at me and the new guy looked bored. I didn’t recognize either. I handed the older guard my ID, and he ran it through the scanner, checking the details of the card against the data brought up by the reader, and comparing it to my face. As he did he got an odd look on his face.
“Holtman?” His voice indicated he recognized me, even if the return wasn’t the case.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and nodded, steeling myself.
The kid was staring at my face when his partner said my name. Thankfully the boy kept his trap shut as the older guy handed me my card back.
“Welcome home, Mike.” The older Mym actually went to ramrod attention and nodded solemnly. I could feel my face go hot and red as I returned the nod. The kid simply stood there, shocked.
“Thanks.” My reply was, admittedly, somewhat weak.
As I walked into the lower floors of the building I realized that most of the norms who did all of the administrative scutwork didn’t give me a second thought except to glance up at me to see if I was their boss coming to ride herd. The reactions of the Myrmidons and Erinyes moving about doing various tasks and got a good look at me were wildly different. Here and there a man or painfully gorgeous woman would stop, look me over and give me a quiet nod. For each of those brief seconds, I felt like I was coming home.
My face was still getting red from embarrassment, and I tried to return all of them, but self-consciousness won through quite a bit. No one tried to stop me, ask if I needed help or otherwise bothered me as I began heading towards the elevators. It was weird, seeing respect and sympathy from the faces of the people I had fought alongside, or who had always been there with a prank, or even threatened me with death before. It was a strange experience and I didn’t really know what to make of it all.
As I entered the small elevator I looked at the buttons. Nineteenth floor was where I was going, and as I pushed the button I heard a voice both strange from not having heard it in over a year, yet made a shiver of loathing run up my spine.
Targeting system online... Invalid Target. Override? Y/N.
“Hold that elevator!” Simons, that blonde, immaculately groomed, buddy-fucking son of a bitch was pointing at me, taking his leisurely time coming toward me. I’ll admit the temptation to pin his head in the doors and make the elevator go up was nigh overwhelming, but I opted for my old standby of hitting the “close door” button and smiling while giving Simons the finger.
No way in hell was I going to stand in an elevator with that cocksmoker for nineteen floors. The doors would open and the walls would be painted in gore. Yes, I have issues. I also think he’s a filthy oxygen thief who needs to be punished for his crimes.
As the door opened and I walked into Myrmidon Central, everything came back into focus. I knew this place, I knew the people, and some of the creeping unease drained away as I stepped out of the elevator. The place was always bustling, almost to the point where anyone who wasn’t a Myrmidon was in danger of getting bowled over or nailed by a flying object on a ballistic trajectory for another Myrmidon’s head. Simons was a frequent recipient of flying objects, now that I think about it.
The few Myms in the hallway stopped and looked at me, both men and a few women just stopped. I wasn’t prepared for the onrush of familiar faces, or the abrupt, and heavy pats on the back, handshakes and voices of welcome.
“Welcome back Mike.” “Good to see you again!” “Fuck I am glad to see you walking.” I lost track of who said what, but I actually recorded the greetings of the men and women whom I’d fought and bled alongside as they welcomed me home, carefully dodging the topic of my new appearance. For those brief, blissful moments, I was Mike Holtman, the Myrmidon coming home. I wasn’t a woman off the street to be fussed over or ignored. That recording has saved my sanity many times over the intervening years.
It didn’t last forever, as of course someone came around the corner and started staring at me. I tried to ignore him, but actually seeing someone lock their eyes on your chest and cock their head just so made me start shaking again. One of the Myrmidons, Sheryl Bassinger, took one look and propelled the idiot out of the area and started screaming at him. Sadly, the damage was done and I felt like a drag queen trying to fit in at a country bar.
“Hey you, when I say hold the elevator it means...” the voice prompted an instant, gratifying reaction that I wasn’t really conscious of and Simons stopped talking mid-bitchfest.
I stood there and took a deep breath, then another, and then realized that Simons was turning purple. I dragged him in close. “Simons, this is your one warning. Do not talk to me.”
It’s hard to imagine oneself as intimidating when your voice is one that would get any man’s attention in a crowded room.
“Mike, let go of his neck.” I don’t really know where Jake came from, but I didn’t really fight as he pried my fingers off the office weenie’s neck.
I stood there, trying to breathe steadily and not have another freak-out while Jake led me away from the suddenly wheezing man, clutching his neck on his knees. Had it been anyone else touching me at that particular moment I think I’d have tried to kill them. Fortunately I trusted Jake with my life, and the only things he was touching was my wrist and my shoulder as he guided me out of the Mym offices.
“You feeling a bit better Mike?”
“No.” Understatement. I felt fucking miserable, and I was about to have another bout of tears that I desperately tried to fight down, mostly successfully.
“Come on. I figured something like this would crop up. We moved your shit up to the Erinyes offices.”
“Would it seem like I was being unnecessarily bitchy if that thought didn’t comfort me?”
“Nah, I got you set up between Chai and Vangie. Someone screws with you there, and Chai will eat them.”
I giggled, despite myself at the image that popped in my head of the tiny Chai mauling someone taller than her, which was pretty much everyone. I hate giggling, but chalk it up to a nervous habit on my part.
“You know you’re kinda cute when you’re being a spaz.”
I hit him. I just hauled off and slugged him square in the chest hard enough to make him take a couple steps back with a satisfying thunk. I was about to kick his knees in when Jake grinned. “Now there’s the murderous fucker I shared my toothbrush with. Welcome back Mike!”
I narrowed my eyes at him and growled. “Oh boy you are gonna pay for that one, you lead-skulled asstick.”
“I look forward to you trying, you egomaniacal coffin stuffer.”
I couldn’t help it. I started laughing and for once, even with the wrong voice, it felt good. Of all the people I had to deal with, the odd looks, and the damned craptastic feeling of being built wrong, I needed Jake around. He wouldn’t treat me differently than he used to, he didn’t suddenly see me as more fragile, or dating materiel. He was Jake, the guy who I’d gone through hell and back with, and he was still my best friend.
Jake led the way to the elevator quietly, leaving me to my own thoughts, which were centered around the creepy, too-wide sway of my hips and the jiggling of my chest at that particular moment. Even after nearly nine months of rehabilitation, the feeling was still alien. I didn’t think about it so much except on those rare occasions I was seen in public.
We got into the elevator and were joined by a big bruiser of a man wearing the blue-on-black uniform of the Jason company, INFAX’s recovery specialists. The recipients of yet another process, the Jason boys and girls were absolutely full of themselves, smugly convinced of their own superiority. Their enhancement process was simple tendon reinforcement and minor reflex enhancement, allowing them to lift more than your average human, move a bit faster and be a bit tougher. They considered themselves the cream of the crop.
Any Erinyes worth her salt could consider ten-on-one to be a fair test of her abilities.
The guy looked over at Jason, and my urban camoflage fatigues and snorted as he looked at our name tapes. He got a disgusted look and snorted.
“Got a problem, dipshit?” Jake growled low. One of our favorite pastimes was beating Argo-nerds from Jason to a pulp in the bars.
The man looked at us contemptuously. “Yeah I have a problem. I’m sharing space with the two shitbags that got themselves blacklisted for pooching an operation and going triggerhappy.” He looked right at me and snorted again. “And you, if it weren’t for the fact that the Erinyes and Myms threw such a hissy-fit over your stupid ass you’d have been parted out and recycled as you should have been.”
Jake pinned me to the wall as I strained to reach forward and abruptly relieve him of his limbs. Jason boy smirked smugly, looking at me. “Grow a pair of tits, turn into a pussy and suddenly you’re a celebrity. Maybe I should go get a sex-change too.”
That stopped me cold as the floor indicator rang out at his stop. I wanted to cry again, or kill him, or just go back to my cell at the psych ward and hide for the rest of my life. Seeing Jake grab the protesting moron by the scruff and slamming him into a wall hard enough to shake the elevator made me feel a little better. Grabbing him one handed myself and throwing him bodily from the edifice made me feel a lot better, more like me.
He was still bouncing and rolling past his coworkers as the doors closed and we began rising again. “Remind me to go break him in the parking lot tonight.”
Jake looked at me. “Are you going to be okay, Mike? I can’t imagine this is feeling good right now.”
“No, it’s not, buddy. However, if I don’t get back to running and gunning now, I don’t think I ever will.” I hated my new voice. I sounded like a petulant girl. HATE!
“Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re going to have to worry much more about what people think of you. The only ones who count are the teams, and the girls.”
I nodded. “Time to go see the ladies.”
The elevator rang out the correct floor, letting the two of us out as we came around the corner my breath caught in my throat as I saw the office.
The big sign reading “WELCOME HOME MIKE!” ran from wall to wall, interspersed with glittery lettering and what seemed to be bloodstains and bullet holes. The Erinyes girls had a warped sense of humor. Every single one of them in the office was standing right there, with my friends in the crew up front, smiling at me. Every single one of them was decked out in one of my favorite sights, hot bodies crammed into the too-tight Fury armor that shined and hugged every curve like a second skin. I gotta hand it to them, they really knew how to perk up a bad mood.
I stood there frozen and started smiling, Simons and the dick in the elevator forgotten, as me and Jake got hugs from most of the girls in the room. Even the eerie sensation of their breasts sliding against mine failed to unnerve me. There are some things that just overcome my discomfort with my new form. Hot chickadees pressing their bodies against mine was one of those things.
I’m not going into the details of everyone’s reactions. Hell, most of the girls barely knew me except by reputation, for good or ill. But it was a nice touch.