Gavin Smith - [Veteran 01] - Veteran (v1.0) (epub)

By Mario Pierce,2014-03-28 06:01
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Gavin Smith - [Veteran 01] - Veteran (v1.0) (epub)

    Veteran Gavin Smith ?

    To Ruth & James Nicoll. Two members of an extraordinary generation. ? ? ?


     Dog 4

    The soldier’s environment is mud. It doesn’t matter where they go. Tundra, woods, jungle,even paved colonial suburbs, by the time a few thousand tanks, walkers and armoured personnelcarriers have tramped through it, once the defoliants have been sprayed, all that’s left ismud.

    What we terraform we can still destroy. It’s why all the colonies look the same to me. It’salso how I knew I was dreaming; I couldn’t taste the mud, couldn’t smell it. This was morelike watching a viz. My dreams were becoming less real than my time in the sense booths, butwhat was another loss?


    It had been a forest once. You could still see the rotted stumps of alien trees pushing upthrough the plain of mud. Defensive trenches ran across the plain in a way that was probablysupposed to be planned but looked utterly random to me. The harsh burning brightness of SiriusA was sinking beneath the horizon; even from the fourth planet it looked huge and too near fora sun to someone who’d grown up on Earth. Behind us the much smaller Sirius B was rising,

    casting its pale twilight light.

    I watched our shadows shrinking and distorting in the changing light. The strangeness of itadded to my feeling of being comatose with my eyes open. Four days, no sleep, kept awake bySlaughter and amphetamines. None of this seemed real and it hadn’t at the time. Which was agood thing because what we were doing was thought of as difficult and dangerous, drivingthrough an enemy armoured push.

    Off to my left I saw Mudge pop out of a trench as he gunned the armoured one-man scout hover.He was on point. He wasn’t even military, certainly shouldn’t have been out with us. He was ajournalist; sense, viz and even old-fashioned print if the heroin made him nostalgic. HowardMudgie, Mudge to his friends, a crusader when he started, then a war junkie, now a burn out andas good a soldier as any. That was why he was on point. His scout hover sank out of sight


    Nobody was talking. Our encrypted comms lines were silent; everyone was too tired. All aroundus They advanced. Their heavy tanks made out of what looked like chitin and reactive liquid.Their honeycombed ground-effects drives glowing pale blue like Sirius B. They were in astaggered line as far as the eye could see in either direction.

    According to the orbital data I had received, this new front was over two hundred miles long.They were just rolling up the joint British, French and Congolese task force as they went.Their troops were still in the tanks; they were big enough to act as APCs as well. TheirWalkers policed the gaps between the tanks. Organic mechs with tendrils and rotary shard gunsthat fired bone-like razor munitions. It was the Walkers that were making the Wild Boys’ life

    difficult, that and trying not to dump the Land Rovers in a trench. That would‘ve been crap as


    We were covered in mud. It was everywhere, except on the weapons, which had been treated with astay clean finish. Spinks slewed the Land Rover round a tank. They were ignoring us if weignored them. Close behind us Ash sent up a similar wall of mud as she followed us in thesecond Land Rover.

    I saw the trench coming but didn’t need to mention it. Spinks was jacked into the jeep. In theweasel-faced Essex wide boy’s head was a 3D topographical rendering of the surroundingterrain. It was as up to date as our orbital support, Mudge’s sparse scout data and thevehicle’s own sensors would allow.

    Spinks found the high ground and gunned the Land Rover over the trench. This used to beexciting. In the air, I saw Mudge shoot by beneath us in the trench. We showered him in mud,once this would’ve caused comment. I barely registered the jarring impact as the Land Rover

sank into the earth, the independently driven smart tyres biting into the mud for traction.

    ‘Walker,’ I said quietly as we skidded round another tank. Spinks didn’t show a sign ofpaying the slightest bit of attention but the Land Rover was suddenly going in anotherdirection. Straight at one of their tanks.

    ‘There’s not enough ground clearance,’ I muttered, mainly to myself. Spinks was alreadycommitted. Shards started coming our way. Something hit my helmet. At first I thought I’d beenshot but it was Gregor folding the heavy plasma gun down and lying on the bed of the LandRover.

    ‘Get your head down,’ he told me. If he hadn’t, I doubt I’d have had the presence of mindto do so. Under the tank their ground-effects drives pushed us and the Land Rover down. It waslike a warm wind. I heard something get torn off the wagon and we were out the other side. Ibarely noticed when we hit the second Walker.

    Spinks wrapped the front of the Land Rover round the Walker’s legs. We stopped and it had itslegs knocked out from beneath it. I was vaguely aware of Gregor bailing out of the Land Rover.I looked next to me to find an alien war machine lying on the wagon, tendrils flailing. Itlooked like parts of the alien machine were bathing in what used to be Spinks. Flailingtendrils flung bits of him around. I tried to feel something for my friend and squad mate but

    there was nothing there any more.

    I could hear shouting from the rest of the squad. I climbed out of the Land Rover, and thenstopped. I’d forgotten my SAW. I turned and went back for the weapon. More shouting. TheWalker was trying to right itself. By rights one of its tendrils should’ve torn my head off bynow. Then I had the SAW in my hand. The smartlink connected to the palm receiver, and theweapon’s crosshair appeared on my internal visual display. It sounded to me like I started

    screaming. There was an orange blossom, flickering but permanent at the front of the SAW, it

    seemed to go on for an age. The Walker’s carapace looked as if it was rapidly distorting as I

    played the SAW across it.

    Things went quiet as my audio dampeners kicked in. Gregor was at my side, his railgun held highon its gyroscopic mount as he fired it down into the Walker. The SAW muzzle flash stopped. Atsome level I knew that meant I’d fired off the entire cassette. I’d put two hundred roundsinto the Walker. I felt a hand on my arm, strong, boosted cybernetic strength pulling me back.It was Gregor. How did he have the strength, always there getting me out of trouble?

    Mudge was in front of me. I was pushed pillion onto the bouncing hover scout. I heard the soundof superheated air exploding behind me. Hydrogen pellets heated to a plasma state impactedagain and again into the Walker as Bibs fired the heavy plasma cannon on the other Land Rover.I was vaguely aware of the sensation of moving as we began to bob across the mud.

    ‘Where the fuck’s our artillery! Where the fuck’s our air support!’ Mudge screamed withmore anger than I could muster, but he always had better drugs. He knew the answer, like I did.We were finished here. Dog 4 and the rest of the Sirius system was Theirs now. I just hopedThey’d let us get to an evac site.




    I awoke from the dream with a start. My knuckles ached from where I’d tried to extend myblades; I ran my fingers over the domed locks, a compromise to let someone with my capabilitieswalk free after he’d served his country and his species. A right that had been won in bloodand vacuum.

    The bruises from last night’s pit fight were now tender memories, thanks to my body’simplanted internal repair systems. As ever I wondered why the same systems couldn’t help mewith the white-hot throbbing lance of pain that was a dehydration headache. The pain seemed tolive just behind the black polarised lenses that replaced my eyes. Why was it that man couldcreate millions of tons of complex engineering capable of travelling across space but couldstill not find a cure for a hangover? One of the many skewed priorities of our society.

    Too much good whisky, the real stuff made in the distilleries out in the National Park, hadcaused my hangover. I sat up on the cot in the porta-cube, massaging my throbbing temple withmy left arm, the one that was still flesh. The matt-black prosthetic right arm reached for mycigarettes. Like the whisky, the cigarettes were the good stuff, hand-made somewhere in theIslamic Protectorate.

    I lit the cigarette with my antique trench lighter, a family heirloom, apparently. Family. Whatwere my parents thinking when they had me? The war was already thirty years old then. Why wasanyone having children? Mind you, they’d been patriotic, probably thought it was their duty tobreed so their offspring could grow up, get recruited, indoctrinated, chopped, augmented,mangled, chewed up and spat out to be a burden on society. I wasn’t on active duty so I likedto consider myself a burden. I inhaled the first pointless lungful of smoke of the day. Myinternal filters and scrubbers removed all the toxins and anything interesting from thecigarette, turning my expensive vice into little more than an unpleasant affectation. It’sthese little luxuries, I thought, that separate me from the rest of the refuse. When it camedown to it, the hustling, the leg breaking, scheme racing and pit fighting was just to makeenough euros to augment my paltry veteran’s pension. After all, what’re a few bruises andcontusions if it means good whisky, cigarettes, drugs, old movies and music, and of course thebooths.

    I considered starting drinking again as I had little on that day. A quick scan of the crampedplastic cube that I existed in told me that I had drank more than I thought I had last night.Which would explain the constant pain in my skull.

    ‘Shit,’ I muttered to the morning. I thought about checking my credit rating but decided thatwould just upset me further. A search of my jeans turned up some good old-fashioned black-economy paper euros. I’d won them for second place at the pit fight in Fintry. I’d beenbetter than the kid who beat me but the kid had been dangerously wired, dangerously boosted andhungrier than me. I reckoned he had maybe another six months before his central nervous systemwas fried. He’d probably been fighting with the cheap enhancements to feed his family.

    I’d just wanted to get drunk. I counted the money, stubbing the cigarette out in the already-full ashtray. I had enough to spend a day in the booths. Almost mustering a smile at this goodluck I dragged on my jeans, strapped on my boots and shrugged on the least dirty T-shirt Icould find with a cursory search. Finally I pulled on my heavy tan armoured raincoat. I ran afinger through my sandy-coloured shoulder-length hair; it was getting too long. I tied it backinto a short ponytail. Sunglasses over the black lenses that used to be my eyes and ready toface another day. Ready to face it because I was going to the booths.


    The Rigs were so poor that we didn’t even have advertising. It had started before the lastFinal Human Conflict over two hundred and fifty years ago. Apparently there had once beenfields of fossil fuels in the North Sea and these huge rusting metal skeletons had been

    platforms designed to harvest the fuel. When their day was done they had been towed into theharbour to be dismantled at the Dundee docks. When they had stopped dismantling them the Tayhad just become a dumping ground. More and more had come until they filled the river and youcould walk from Dundee to Fife on them. Provided you knew how to look after yourself.

    Quickly they had become a squatters’ heaven for people largely considered surplus by the greatand the good. This of course included veterans - vets. I stepped out onto the planks of themakeshift scaffolding that ran between the stacked, windowless, hard plastic cubes thatsignified my middle-class status in the Rigs. Off to my right Dundee was a bright glow incomparison to the sparse lighting on the Rigs.

    Lying on the ground by the door to the cube was a young boy, no older than thirteen. He wasunconscious. A victim of the intrusion countermeasures that I’d added to the cube to stopmyself from getting ripped off any more than was strictly necessary. I sighed and pulled a stimpatch out of my coat pocket and placed it on the kid’s arm. Scarring over the boy’s chesttold me that he’d already fallen victim to Harvesters once.

    ‘Wake up,’ I said, shaking the boy. ‘You want to get harvested again?’ I asked him.Startled eyes shot open and the kid backed away from me so quickly he almost went off thescaffolding and into the liquid pollution that passed for the Tay these days. I watched him ashe got up and ran off.

    ‘And don’t try and rip me off again!’ I shouted redundantly, before wasting some more moneyand lighting up another cigarette.

    It was a hot night. Quickly sweat began to stick my clothes to my flesh. I cursed themalfunctioning coolant system in my armoured coat. I could’ve done without the coat but thatwas an invitation to get rolled. My dermal armour was good but not a patch on the coat. Itcovered me from neck to ankle with slits in the appropriate places to allow me access toweapons, had they not all been locked down. I could get the coolant system fixed but I only hadjust enough money for a day in the booth.

    I kept my head down as I ran the gauntlet of begging vets. I tried to ignore the staringinfected empty eye sockets, the scarred bodies and missing limbs of the decommissioned cyborgvets who did not have the cash to pay for civilian replacements for the enhancements that hadbeen removed. Head down, collar up, I considered turning on my audio dampeners to filter theirpleas out.

    ‘Not today, brothers,’ I muttered to myself as I strode by. It could just as easily have beenme there had I not made special forces. The augmentations and the training I’d been given werejust too expensive and bespoke to throw away on a human scrap heap like the other vets. I’dbeen canny enough to arrange a military contract that had not rendered me a lifelong slave, buteven after my term was up they still had the right to call me back as a reserve. Despite thedishonourable discharge I was still on the books (though no one ever really came off) as partof the wild-goose-chasing XI units, but they were largely a joke.

    There had once been a disastrous attempt at dumping ex-special forces types into space. Thiswas cheaper than paying our paltry pensions and it meant we couldn’t go home and become reallywell trained and dangerous burdens on society. However, a change in policy meant we were stillconsidered valuable enough to remain whole, even if that whole was mostly plastic and alloy. Ofcourse all the most lethal stuff was locked down until they needed it.

    I glanced down at the locks just behind the knuckles on each of my hands. There was anotherlock on the shoulder of my prosthetic right arm and I could always feel the inhibitor in one ofmy plugs at the base of my skull that dampened my wired reactions. In many ways the dampenerwas the worst. Reactions like I’d had when I’d been in the SAS made you feel like you were ona different plane of existence to the rest of pedestrian humanity. Giving that up had beenhard. I still felt like I was walking through syrup sometimes.

    Hamish looked after the booths. Hamish was revolting. He had a thick curly beard and a mass ofnaturally grown, curly, dirty, matted hair. He was naked, filthy and fat; eating some kind of

    greasy processed confectionery in the armoured cage from where he overlooked the sense booths.I tried hard to suppress my disgust at the man, whose foul odour I was managing to smellthrough armoured mesh. Nobody ever saw Hamish leave or sleep. He always seemed to be here. Hisbulk was such that he probably couldn’t leave if he wanted to.

    ‘Jake!’ Hamish cried enthusiastically. Instantly annoying me. I didn’t like the contractionof my name. ‘How long?’ he asked, wiping bits of the pastry on his bloated hairy torso. Iheld up the dirty paper euros.

    ‘A day please. My usual,’ I said with as much pleasantness as I could muster.

    ‘You sure? No nice virtual snuff orgy? Maybe you want to have sex with the pres? No? Usual itis. Let’s see the readies.’ I pushed the paper notes into the secure box. Hamish scanned themfor authenticity, liquid explosives, contact poisons, surveillance and various other thingsbefore they slid through to his side. The sense pusher counted the notes, his greedy smilefaltering as he did so. I felt panic rising within.

    ‘Uh Jakob ...’ Hamish began.

    ‘What? What!’ I demanded. ‘There’s enough there!’ I shouted.

    ‘Guess you didn’t hear I’m putting my prices up. Not to worry. There’s enough here for halfa day and some credit for your next trip.’

    ‘No!’ I said, unable to believe, or at least cope with what I was hearing. In my mind I ranthrough the numerous ways in which I could kill or cause pain to Hamish. Of course some of themmeant I would have to touch him. I lifted my prosthetic arm to punch the armoured cage thatprotected him. I felt rather than saw the cage’s protective systems activate, weaponsunfolding from the walls and ceiling to cover me.

    ‘Now, now, calm down,’ the still-smiling Hamish said in a conciliatory and patronising tone.‘I was just joking; a day it is.’

    ‘Really fucking funny, Hamish,’ I muttered, lighting another cigarette. There was an ever-so-slight shake in my left hand, the one that was still flesh. ‘You do know what I used to do fora living, right?’ I snapped.

    ‘You and everyone else round here, pal. Booth twelve’s free.’ I turned and stalked into thesense arcade.

    Inside was a long corridor lit with dim red lights, many of which were broken. On either sideof the corridor were reinforced steel doors. I found booth number twelve and looked up at thelens before the door and gave Hamish the finger, so of course he made me wait another minute.Finally the steel door shot up. Inside, a vet minus both his arms, one of his legs a jury-rigged and botched-looking home prosthetic, was sitting on the foam mattress of the bunk. Hewas still plugged in though obviously not receiving. He ignored me.

    ‘C’mon, man. That was never two hours. My daughter sent me the money for this. It’s hercombat pay! She fights to keep you safe... I fought to keep you safe from Them, you bastard!’he screamed into the air. Hamish was as ever deaf to this.

    ‘You and me both, pal,’ I said and grabbed the vet with my prosthetic arm, my left armremoving the plug. Augmented muscle slung him out the door and across the corridor into theother wall. I tried to ignore the sound of a homemade prosthetic snapping. The metal doorrapidly slid down, cutting off the sobbing. The booth was red plastic. It smelled strongly ofsemen; some users had no imagination. I lay down in the niche that formed the bunk, sinkinginto the cheap foam mattress. I reached behind my head and inserted the jack into one of myplugs.


    I was gone, immersed in the usual, the program that Vicar had written for me. Subtle,beautiful, other-worldly (though not in a way that would induce horrors) music played as one byone my senses were deprived, as I divorced from the self. I faded away. I stopped existing.

    Everything that was me, the pain of wounds inflicted and received, the terror inflicted andreceived, all that I’d seen and done drifted away in a sense of profound dislocation. Thethings that I didn’t think the human mind was supposed to deal with, acts committed in the waragainst Them, the genocidal alien other locked in perpetual conflict with humanity, were gone.All that was left was an unfeeling abstract floating in nothing.


    And just like that I was yanked back. As ever it was too short but this time something was notright. I checked my internal clock, a mere two hours. Enough was enough. I was going to find away to kill Hamish; he was taking the piss now. I pulled the jack out from the back of my neckand slid off the bunk towards the door, but it did not slide open. I hit the manual door switchbut nothing happened. I was getting concerned. This was beginning to feel like some kind ofburn.

    ‘Hamish, you’re just making things worse for yourself,’ I said evenly. Just the slightesthint of threat in my tone, assuming that Hamish was listening.

    On my internal visual display the integral communications link was flashing. Opening it upformed a small split screen in the corner of my vision. I recognised the man on the video commslink, short dark hair neatly trimmed, suave features, a degree of refinement to an underlyingfeeling of malice and violence. A warm smile belied by the absence of feeling in two very paleblue eyes.

    I tried my best to remain passive in the face of the comms icon of a man I hated, a man who’dtried very hard to kill me.

    ‘Sergeant Douglas,’ the man said. He sounded genuinely pleased to see me. His tones educatedand cultured, pure upper class of a vintage old enough to remember a time when breedingactually mattered.

    ‘Go and fuck yourself. I’m not in the army any more. You and I have nothing to say to eachother.’

    ‘Nonsense, Jakob, mutineer or not you’re still a reservist.’ Major George Rolleston said,smiling again. ‘We have a code eleven, you’ve been reactivated.’ I barely gave this asecond’s thought. A code eleven. XI. Xenomorphic Infiltration.

    ‘A bullshit wild goose chase. Get someone else. Turn my program back on.’

    ‘Don’t be like that, Jakob. I recruited you especially. After all, who more than I knows yourefficiency?’

    ‘Even if I agreed to be reactivated—’

    ‘Nobody’s giving you the choice, Sergeant,’ Rolleston interrupted smoothly, breaking theunwritten rule of special forces etiquette again and using my rank.

    ‘Even if I decide to be reactivated,’ I reiterated through the sub-vocalised equivalent ofgritted teeth. ‘I won’t work with you, you piece of shit.’ Rolleston merely smiled.

    ‘But Jakob, both Josephine and I are looking forward to working with you again,’ Rollestonsaid, and there was the threat, I thought. Josephine Bran, Rolleston’s pet killer, RoyalMarine sniper, SBS with Rolleston and then seconded to Special Operations Command, someone thatthe other operators feared. A pale, quiet, unassuming girl, a shy girl who enjoyed and excelledat killing far too much, they called her the Grey Lady. She was the perfect servant for mensuch as Rolleston.

    ‘You turned on your own men. You tried to dump them; they served you and then you tried tospace them.’

    ‘Perfectly legal and as per my orders,’ Rolleston said and it was true: a vagary ofinterstellar and colonial law had meant that there was a loophole covering the wholesale murderof a government’s own troops. A loophole that had since been removed in the outcry thatfollowed the British government’s attempt to alleviate the social problems caused by specialforces vets.

    ‘You tried to kill me, you bastard!’ I spat at him, losing my temper. Suddenly the smiledisappeared from the Major’s face.

    ‘And you led a mutiny, a court-martial offence for which you and that journalist should havebeen executed.’ Then the smile returned to Rolleston’s cold face. ‘That reminds me. Have youheard from Howard recently?’ Suddenly I was even more suspicious. My co-conspirator in thetroopship mutiny that had saved our lives and the lives of other special forces andintelligence operators had disappeared shortly after Earth fall. All attempts to find thewhereabouts of Mudge had turned up nothing. The last I’d heard from him he said he was tryingto find Gregor MacDonald, another disappearance that Rolleston had been involved in.

    ‘What do you know?’ I demanded. Because Rolleston knew all right: he’d have done somethingto Mudge. He’d know what happened to Gregor, he knew it all, and he knew I knew. He’d stringme along on hope to get me to do what he needed. His smile disappeared.

    ‘Let’s stop messing around, Sergeant.’ The door to the sense booth opened. ‘You have beenreactivated. You are back on full pay, and if you track the XI and bring this matter to asuccessful conclusion I will award you a bonus sufficient to fund your addiction for a week.’I stepped out of the booth and looked up and down the corridor, almost expecting to see PrivateJosephine Bran waiting for me, but the corridor was empty.

    ‘I though all this XI was bullshit,’ I said. ‘I didn’t think They stood a chance againstour system defences let alone Earth’s.’

    ‘Can you see why we would want people to think that?’ Rolleston asked somewhat patronisingly.I found the idea that They could infiltrate Earth side somewhat disturbing. I really didn’twant to find myself fighting the same war again, except this time unpaid and in the streets ofDundee. A text/picture file appeared on my internal visual display. ‘This is what we know sofar. Keep me up to date. Oh, and one other thing,’ the Major said, smiling. I did not respond.‘We’ll unlock you, but keep the locks; you’ll need them again when this is over. Collectyour weapons from your strongbox.’ With this Rolleston’s face disappeared.

    There was a faintly audible clicking noise from my knuckles and shoulder. Smiling I looked downand picked the locks off like they were scabs. From thin slits just behind each knuckle fourrazor-sharp, nine-inch ceramic blades extended slowly, and then suddenly disappeared again atmy mental command.

    Next I reached up and opened the Velcro-secured concealed panel on the shoulder of my armouredraincoat. On silent servos the shoulder-mounted independent laser slid out and ran through itsfield of fire. A small screen appearing on my visual display showed what the weapon saw,superimposing a crosshair on where it would hit if it fired.

    I lit a cigarette. I’d been putting off the best until last, afraid that they were not goingto give me this, let me be this free. Taking a deep breath of smoke, I held it, reaching behindme for the restraining plug wired to my central nervous system inhibiting my boosted reactions.It came away in my hand and suddenly I was alive again. The world slowed down as I sped up,feeling like a razor cutting through a slow-moving and turgid reality.

    I passed Hamish’s cage; Hamish was not in it. I walked out onto the rough planks of the jury-rigged catwalks that ran through the Rigs. I finished the cigarette and flicked it into thesuperstructure. My shoulder laser spun up, tracking it. There was the bang of explodingsuperheated air as a ruby-red light momentarily illuminated the corroded orange metal of theancient oil rig. The cigarette butt ceased to exist.



    I made my way through the tangle of metal and shanty town back to the stacked plastic cubeswhere I lived. I clambered up the stairs sending the code to open the door to the porta-cube.Entering, I looked around trying to remember where I’d left the army-issue strongbox. Finally,in a pile of dirty washing and antique, actual paper books I found the supposedly unbreakablecomposite super-dense plastic box. Touching the lock button it clicked open.

    The two matt-black guns lay in their moulded foam surround. I picked up the Tyler Optics 5first. I slid a battery into the handgrip, checking it manually and then running a diagnosticon the laser pistol. I placed the compact weapon into a moulded holster and attaching theholster just behind my right hip. I clipped a battery holder to my belt, and placed a flatrecharging cell into a slimline compartment in the raincoat.

    Next I took the Sterling .454 Mastodon revolver out of the box. The enormous, solid, old-fashioned revolver felt like a toy in my prosthetic right arm. It was this trusty large-calibreweapon which I’d rely on to put one of Them down, if one of Them had made it Earth side. Istripped the revolver down and cleaned the already-clean weapon. Then I checked the revolver’saction. Satisfied, the Mastodon became a familiar and welcome weight beneath my left arm in itsshoulder holster. I clipped speed loaders with different loads to various easy-to-reach places.

    I practised drawing both weapons through the conveniently placed slits in the armouredraincoat, checking the smartgun link, ensuring it was calibrated properly; the crosshairsappeared in my line of sight -in theory, where the bullet or beam would hit. First with onegun, then the other, then both, and finally with both weapons and the independently targetingshoulder-mounted laser. Eventually I was satisfied that all was as it should be.

    Holstering the weapons I headed for the secure storage cube I rented to get my bike. After all,the government was going to be paying for fuel for the duration so there was no sense inwalking. On my way down to the storage cube I split-screened my visual display and began toread through the information that that piece of shit Rolleston had sent me.

    I rattled down the scaffolding steps past various plastic sheeting and cardboard lean-tos.Grubby, scrawny, suspicious faces, illuminated by the flickering flames of foul-smelling trashburners, glared at me. To them I looked well fed and wealthy. I ignored them as I enjoyed thebuzz of having wired reactions again. I read through the Major’s report, it was like an old-style UFO sighting. It was full of ifs and speculation.

    The crux of it was one of the strategic orbital platforms, part of Earth’s supposedlyunbeatable ring of defences, had detected a faint echo in some rarely used spectrum. The echowas regular enough and moving towards the Earth with sufficient speed for the commander toorder speculative firing on this ghost. The result of this firing may or may not have been ahit on something that may or may not have been space junk. The sensor system that had cost thetaxpayer millions of euros was inconclusive. AI analysis of the ghost’s trajectory suggestedthat if it had been something and indeed had been shot down it might have landed on theoutskirts of Dundee. Orbital imaging of the area had again proved to be inconclusive but hadfound what it termed a ‘disturbance’ and a ‘possible trench’.

    I shot down the Kingsway, my enhanced central nervous system and reactions jacked into thecontrol system of my Triumph Argo. No longer sure where I ended and the bike began. I wishedI’d had access to my boosted nerves when I raced in the schemes. It would have saved me from anumber of nasty wipeouts. I raced past row after row of identical fenced-in corporate wage-slave habitations. The guards at the gate watched me go by. I was travelling fast enough thatall they would see was just a fractal line of light as I shot past.

    By the time I’d finished reading what amounted to one of the vaguest briefings I’d ever beengiven, in a lifetime of vague briefings, I was pretty sure it was just another wild goosechase, an overzealous air force officer shooting at dust. I was overjoyed at the idea of

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