Thursday 4th May, 2051
The Lazarus Team and their ally Tillie Jones are in an elevator on the 2nd floor of the British Biotech Inc. lab complex, looking at the slumbering forms of three cleaning staff that have just been knocked out by a gas grenade. Outside, the rattle of small-arms fire is becoming a rising din as the security forces at the complex respond to a diversion staged by a unit of White Mice, the British Resistance Army. Just once, there’s the whoosh of a rocket launcher, followed by an almighty explosion – perhaps the Mice have taken out a light armored patrol car or maybe the security guards are better armed than expected.
Having suborned a droid earlier in their infiltration, the team are now in possession of floorplans for the complex. Tillie consults her pocket-comp and throws up a holo-display. “This elevator only goes to the floors above ground. Looks like we need to get down one level, then head for this security station and the door beyond it – that’ll take us down into the basement levels.”
Mac looks at the sleeping staff, then nods. “What’s the best path?” He begins scanning the floorprints, looking for an efficient way that might let them bypass the security bunkers.
Pitbull takes a long drag off of his freshly lit cigarette, and services his Gauss Rifle as he listens intently.
Mac starts shaking his head, he begins tracing a line through the display. “Best path… best path… Path of least resistance… air follows the path of least resistance. The air ducts. There’s one for each floor. We find them, we get to the right one, cut it open and we’re in. Unless they run incinerators in the duct, we’ll be fine.” He points to the location of the ducts on the map. He looks over at Able. “You think there’s any benefit in running a disguise with one of the janitor’s jumpsuits? As long as it doesn’t get in your way, might buy us a few extra moments of peace here and there. If we want to be standard about it, we can take the lifts, but there’s a security bunker at each one, and we’re twelve shades of stood up if their team get control of the doors back.”
“I can try to cut into the ducts, maybe – or we can blow our way in with one of the explosive packages – but that might bring the house down a bit.” Tillie says.
Mac nods. “In more ways than one. They don’t know our destination yet, with any luck. We should keep it that way for as long as possible.”
“And we’ve still got to bring the house down entirely later. I don’t think using the explosives yet is a good plan.” Able takes a moment to look over the janitor’s clothing, then fiddles with his neural interface for a moment.
Mac looks over at Able. “You know, back in my day, we actually had to wear the mark’s clothing.” He pats the staff down, looking for identification, keys or keycards. He finds nothing, then shoots Tillie a look.
“Yeah, yeah, and you had to walk to school uphill, both ways,” Pac grins as he starts setting up some equipment, “I think I have something that’ll work here.”
Tillie produces the male janitors ID and security card – he seems to be the janitorial supervisor.
Able’s morphwear clothing expands and simplifies as whiskers begin to spread from his jawline and his hair begins to recede. A few moments later, where once stood an athletic man of indeterminate age with a forgettable face and a full head of hair, clad in black-and-gray tactical gear, now stands a mid-fifties balding man who has had maybe ten hoagies too many… every day for the past thirty years, dressed in a typical blue janitor’s jumpsuit. Able nods to Tillie as he picks up the man’s ID and security card. “Danke.”
Able clips the badge on to his shirt, underneath his tactical trenchcoat. “I’ll have to leave one of you my coat if I approach the guards, but this could work.”
“Every time I see that, I have to do a double-take, Able.” Tillie grins. “Come on, this way I believe.” She sets off at a lope.
A message appears on the team’s HUD: Mice say one Cat got out of the hole – pursuing but clock is now ticking for Cat Infestation.
Mac blinks a few times. “Sister, you have no idea.” He trots off after Tillie. “And I thought my analogies were tortured. Set the clock, gentlemen. The races are on.”
Pitbull racks his rifle before following Tillie, quickly catching up to her with his thunderous booted stride.
Able tosses his coat to Pitbull as he waddles out in front of the group, visibly panting with the effort of moving his bulk.
“Best thing for a cat infestation?” Pacoy comms, “A Pitbull, right?”
“Damn, Abe. You really let yourself go in the last… ten minutes.” Pitbull chuckles, as he catches his coat.
Hefting his holdall, Mac hustles along, trying to figure out exactly which duct they need. “I’m not sure we’re going to be able to get out the way we came in. We might have to get out the hard way. This place doesn’t have any stairs down here? What do they do in the event of a fire, let everyone die? I’d not be surprised, but good researchers and employees are hard to find.”“Not if you’re cloning them. Mac,” Pacoy answers, “Then you just call it a bad trial and reboot the program.”
Tillie smiles without mirth. “Actually, Mac, that’s exactly what you do — if the labs they work in are dealing with recombinant DNA, retroviral splicing and chunks of mutated animal genes. Better a deadly fire than an escape of wild mutagens. Remember Gen-Nu?”
The team turn down a corridor, heading towards the ventilation plant – and a door ahead bursts sparks, then opens to reveal three men in black body armor and dark-visored helmets emblazoned with the Umbra logo.
Mac frowns. “But… those gnox are really tasty.” His eyes harden as he reaches for his gun.
Pitbull shudders as he remembers the second mission of the team. “Yeah. Let’s not have another Gun-Nu…” He trails off as the Umbra Soldiers come into plain view.
Mac’s eyes dilate as the world slows to a crawl. He hear’s Pitbull’s drawl continuing past the end of his sentence as he shrugs his carryall off his shoulder. His other hand slips into his pocket and wrestles his revolver out of his pocket, bringing his other arm across his body. Barely letting the muzzle of the barrel get loose, he fans the hammer three times, letting the rounds free to find their homes embedded in the soldier’s armor, having done not much of anything. His bag hits the floor with a disappointing thud.
Seeing the familiar Umbra logo and knowing what it means in a situation like this, Pacoy boots up his Insta-Soldier and goes for his rifle.
Tillie pulls out a short, fat and snub-nosed automatic pistol and in one fluid movement squeezes the trigger. Three thin hyper-dense needles flash downrange, and two of them end up in the guts of the lead Umbra guard, boring through his armor and into his liver. He drops, screaming.
Pitbull’s militant instincts flare into life once more as he releases a three round burst on the next Umbra crony. As all three rounds hit, coroners would find that the man died upon the impact of the second round. The crony crumples then ragdolls onto the ground as Pitbull grins then grates, “Don’t mess with Texas, bitch.”
The guard fires his PDW at Tillie as he begins to fall – hitting her three times. Her ghost suit stops the first bullet, her toughened, bio-enhanced skin the second – but the third penetrates into her chest, leaving a shallow wound which knocks the wind from her even so.
The still-standing guard unleashes a burst at Pitbull, but the single bullet that hits is stopped by the big Texan’s body armor.
“The fuck did I just say, boy?! Don’t mess with Texas, bitch!” Pitbull roars at the confused and now startled guard.
Able shuffles his bulk up to the guard at as much of a dead-run as he’s able. “Oh god! Oh god! Please tell me there are more of you!” As he passes the guard, he spins around and activates his reflex booster. His hands reach out to grasp the man from behind by his helmet, and with the full force of his cybernetically-augmented muscles he pulls.
With a crack, the vertebrae break under Able’s pressure, and he falls to the floor, quite deceased.
Pitbull languidly walks over to the last living guard, now lying on the ground bleating in agony. He plants his boot on the guy’s neck and twists, snapping his neck with a sound likened to the breaking of a chicken bone.
He lights another cigarette as though nothing happened before growling, “Shall we?”
Mac grimaces. “Was that… necessary?” He sighs as he looks at his revolver, fitting three more rounds into place before replacing it in his pocket. He digs through his bag, bringing out his looted rifle before slinging the bag across his back.
Tillie staggers and sits down hard – then slowly climbs to her feet again. She reaches to a pouch at her belt, retrieving forceps and a can of spray bandage. “Anyone care to do the honors? One of them scratched my left tit. Pacoy?”
Pitbull arches an eyebrow as he looks at her, cigarette still pressed between his lips.
Mac turns away, rapidly averting his eyes, searching for anything else to look at. He pats the ex-soldiers down, checking for any items of utility by way of distracting himself from Tillie.
“Can honestly say I’ve had more awkward work,” Pacoy says as he stows his rifle and brings out his medkit, heading over to Tillie.
Able looks through the door the guards came out of as the resident medic takes care of the injured boob.
Pitbull stands and watches, arms folded and grinning as though watching a show, cigarette still held between his lips with each drag illuminating his face enough to see exactly what his eyes are on.
Beyond the door is a small rest area with a dingy card table and three chairs. A box of tools lies on the floor by the door and the lock mechanism has been destroyed from the other side. Across the room is a door marked with big yellow warning signs. “Restricted – Biohazard Containment Area – High Tension Machinery.” It’s the ventilation plant.
With hardly a grope, Pacoy manages to expertly patch up the flesh wound.
Mac nabs a small computer and a biometric scanner from one of the Umbra guards, stashing the scanner before beginning a casual review of the contents of the PC. “At least we’ve come to the right place, gentlemen. Pacoy, do you massage machines to make them less tense? Is that how it works?”
Mac, inspecting the fallen guards, sees his own face and those of his team mirrored in the HUD of one. On closer inspection, the faces are tagged with a “Dangerous – extreme sanction authorized” logo and appear to be from an image-recognition software package in the belt computer.
Tillie closes her ghost suit and works her shoulder a little. “Thanks, Pacoy – if we’d left that bullet in there a couple of hours my skin would have grown over it… and that just wouldn’t have felt as nice, would it?”
“If that’s a proposition, Mac, you’ll have to try better than that!” Pacoy grins, “What would Angie think?”
“Huh. So this is what it’s like to be famous.” Pitbull growls, as he catches his and the team’s pictures in the helmets.
Mac scoffs. “Well, it looks like they’re onto us being here. That was quick…” He laughs at Pacoy, “Oh I don’t even want to think about that. Looks like we should pick up the pace, lads and gal.”
As Pitbull inspects the helmet image, he sees it flicker, as if for a split instant some other image replaced it.
Able steps back in the hall. “I think we’ve found the ventilation room. Hurry up.”
Mac straightens up, stepping through the portal, checking around for reinforcements, hefting the rifle uncomfortably. “I think that’s Pacoy’s department.”
Pitbull’s sun damaged face contracts into a squint as he notices the image change. He scrutinizes it further…
Whatever was there is gone now – the screen displays exactly what it did a few moments ago.
Able quirks an eyebrow at Pitbull’s hesitancy. “Found something for the resident techies to handle?”
Inside the ventilation room, three large pipes rise floor to ceiling. Each is about five feet across and encrusted with gauges, monitors, and power junctions feeding fans that must be at the top of each pipe – and possible further down.
Pitbull lobs the helmet at Able. “It has our wanted posters playing in there, but the display changed to something I didn’t quite catch.”
Able catches the helmet. “Did your implant record it?”
“Wait… fuckin’ computers…” Pitbull growls as he rolls his eyes back and rewinds the footage of the recent event.
He looks down at the helmet, peering into the spectacles through his nightshades.
Pacoy quickly attaches a few parts to a small tank, “Plasma cutter, online.”
In Pitbull’s computer memory, for a single instant the screen is shown changing to a face…
Pitbull pauses the footage, wills his implant computer to take a screenshot, and sends it to his compatriots. “Anyone know this fucker? Looks kinda like Phil Collins, but I doubt he has anything to do here.”
Able shrugs as he feeds the image into his facial recognition program. “Not off hand.”
Mac glances at Pacoy as the cutting. “Say, is that from something? It sounds like it’s from something.” He returns his attentions to from whence they came. “I don’t think he’s ringing any Bells. Tillie, what’s Merlin look li—-” Suddenly, Mac’s knees go weak and he almost falls over. Shakily standing up, Mac’s voice quavers. “Guys.. this… this doesn’t feel good. I have a really really bad feeling about this.”
Tillie shakes her head. “That’s not Merlin.”
Able shrugs. “Looks vaguely familiar, but my facial rec search isn’t getting any high-confidence matches. Closest one is an old, dead banker.”
Mac’s face falls. “Old? Why did you have to say old, Able? How old?”
Able shrugs. “He died back in 2038.”
Mac shakes his head. “No, no he didn’t. I don’t think he died at all. Not in the sense that Tillie might understand, at any rate.” He swallows. “You remember how Omaha ended, lads?”
Pitbull stomps over to Mac. “You telling me that the fucker we just saw was Siri’s uncle?”
Able stands guard at Pacoy’s back as he begins to work upon the wall. “Soldiers raining from the skies.”
Mac shakes his head, looking Pitbull square in the eye, his own eyes frozen in fear. “Father.”
A message appears in all your HUD’s. +++CounterHack! Strong. Move it! M3RL1N
“So… BritArms, Armatech, Umbra AND evil robot demi-god, sounds about right!” Pacoy grunts as he cuts through the piping, “Just about through, guys.”
Pitbull’s eyes widen in realization. “Yeah. Time to move. Assholes and elbows, let’s go!” Pitbull growls, masking his own concern with his gung-ho and clichéd saying.
It takes about six minutes for Pacoy to complete his work. During that time, the lights, which have been emergency-power dim, suddenly flicker then brighten to full power. Then a voice comes through your comms – someone who sounds about 16 and is very scared. “We’re fucked. Ted’s deck burned. I’ll try to keep them out of their comms relay as long as I can, but that’s about it! Merlin out!”
Tillie curses. “Merlin’s like a prodigy – a Mozart – and he’s getting his ass kicked?”
Able swears as Pacoy finishes his cutting, then grabs the wall panel and tosses it to the floor before dropping the ladder on the floor and diving head-first into the ventilation shaft, trusting in the others to follow after him.
Mac shakes his head, trying to mask the terror in his voice. “He never stood a chance. He was just being played with. Our best bet is to get out of here as quickly as we can.” Setting the ladder, he hurls himself down the shaft after Able, climbing down as fast as possible.
“If we’re dealing with a demi-god personality that has been uploaded into a computer, than that’d make sense. Even if he’s a prodigy, he’s still fighting something that’s arms and legs is the computer, while he’s only got chop sticks.” Pitbull growls sourly.
Tillie follows Able without a moment’s hesitation.
Pitbull rushes behind as well, topping off the clip on his rifle as he runs to the shaft entry.
Pacoy quickly closes a valve on the torch, removes a clamp and turns two knobs to their maximum setting before giving the ting a heavy shove down the hall and following the crew into the shaft.
Below, there’s a thirty foot drop to a square concrete chamber about ten feet across. A massive impeller fan is imbedded in the floor, unmoving while ducts run off from all sides of the chamber. Tillie consults her holo-map. “That way to the labs,” she points. “That way to something called ‘Birth Monitoring’. That way to the security station and the elevators.”
Mac looks down the ducts. “We’ve got to deal with the labs and the monitoring station, don’t we? To make sure we hurt them as much as possible?”
Able nods. “And the birthing chamber. That’s where the new soldiers will be; I expect heavy resistance there.”
Mac frowns. “The labs first then – less resistance, and greater long-term damage. Then we get rid of what they have created.”
As the team watch, three locations glow red on the holo-display. The folk helping them have analyzed the plans and come up with three structurally significant pilings running through the entire complex. Blow them apart, and the upper floors will fold down into the lower ones.
The three are equidistant around the level – one by the labs, one by the monitoring station and another right next to the level’s security station – where it supports the elevator shafts as well as the roof.
“Or we just blow those red spots up and watch this place collapse on itself like a cheap Chinese tire.” Pitbull adds.
Mac analyzes the map. “Looks like we’re going to be heading to each one of these places. Hopefully we have enough munitions to bring this entire place to so much rubble my brothers would never be able to shift any of it.”
Able looks down the shaft leading to the birthing chamber – likely a mirror of the one he himself stepped out of so long ago. “Either way, we’re up against some stiff resistance. Watch yourselves out there.”
“I ain’ afraid of no killer lab rats. They may think they’re soldiers, but they ain’ Texans. Easy pickins.” Pitbull growls with equal menace and humour.
Mac looks at Pitbull, then hefts his rifle in a manner which his friend does often. “Nothing we can’t handle. Father’s backing the wrong horse, and I say we bring this damn house down around his ears.”
Pacoy looks at the schematics and curses his lack of foresight in adding demolitions expert to the InstaSoldiers catalog. Oh, well, that sounds like the start of new project!