Thursday, 22 November 2012



Sully was tightly strapped in to the tiny front compartment of the drop ship. His heart rate was picking up, breath coming faster. He needed to calm himself down, otherwise the AI would take note - the physiological condition of the marines competing was taken into account in the tender. He cycled round a couple of technical displays to try and distract his mind as the countdown in the top left of his vision slowly ticked down. Less than four minutes now. 
The drones he had loaded onto the drop ship displayed as ready to go. Weapons systems were all green lit. He was quietly confident that his pack would come in below Mason's in tender weight and cost. His pack consisted of just two ancient drones. Not that affectionately known as the ostrich, the Merton Systems 3ka drone was essentially obsolete these days. It had long thin legs, hinged backwards at the knee much like its avian counterpart. This was supposed to give it a speed advantage on the battle field of 50 years ago, although the legs proved to be susceptible to both enemy fire and uneven surfaces. Sully calculated that neither should be too much of an issue on Europa and against just a few enemy combatants; the AI said less than ten. The body of the drone was a small carbonite box which contained a distinctly below average electronic suite. Supported on top of the body was a large, multidirectional magnetic coil gun, capable of rapid low recoil fire. Meanwhile, on either side of the body were small missile racks which were also hinged to see them double as balancing limbs while the drone was in motion. Looking like wings, they completed the image of the bird like construction. 
Just a couple of minutes now until his first proper drop. Gumelar had come sniffing around as they completed their submissions. The sergeant maintained her brash demeanour, but in between the swearing and name calling was hidden some sage advice on tactics. Sully appreciated that; the sarge wasn't the monster that Brook painted her as. 
He closed his eyes for a few moments. That made no difference to the countdown that loomed large in his iris augment. More deep breaths. This was is. Less than a minute, then less that 30 seconds. Sully gripped the control rods that were at the end of the arms inside his tac-suit. Most controls were run via the iris augment, but control of movement and physical weaponry was also possible manually. He ran a finger over one of the triggers on the control rod. 
Here we go, 10 seconds, 5...
"WEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeee......" Mason's broadcast grew fainter as her drop ship entered Europa atmosphere. 
"FUCK FUCKY FUCKING FUCKERS" cursed Sully,  how the fuck had she tendered below him?
"Shit Sul, I was sure I had it" Fuller came on the communications augment.
"Tell me a-fucking-bout it" he wanted to hit the harness release and get out of the drop ship, but it was standard practise to remain in place while the successful marine completed their tender. The AI claimed it to be in case of emergency on the tender, but Sully had always suspected that it was purely to make the unsuccessful marines dwell on what they did wrong. 
"The tenders public yet? I can't see anything" Fuller sounded much calmer than Sully felt. Within a few seconds of the successful marine dropping, all the tenders were made public so that the marines could compare load-outs. Up until the drop these were confidential in order to prevent collusion. Any evidence of marines sharing plans before the drop was punishable by expulsion.  
"Nah. Looks like the AI is playing silly buggers" Sully kept refreshing his link to the tender depository, but nothing was coming up. 
"How the fuck did Mason do it? I added it all up, I was under her last load-out in cost, and not far off on weight" Fuller said forlornly.
"I was under on both. What the hell did you go for that cost less but weighed more?" Sully was trying to work it out.
"Just a single sodding thumper. Those things are fat fucks, but aren't half cheap"
"A thumper? For a probe recovery? The idea is damage limitation on recovery missions you know, not to decimate the damn thing" Sully shook his head inside the tac-suit.
“I'd thought of that. Loaded on a mortar with a few stun-bombs. Cheap ordinance after the slum wars, but effective. I used them when that protest at McGuire Air Force Base went bad. You remember? Single volley took out over a hundred of the hippy fuckers. Only 17 deaths and next to no collateral damage. My boss fucking loved me for that one"
"Not bad, knock 'em cold from afar. Assumes they aren’t in heavy cover though. Or on the run."
"They go on the run, then I got some stingray missiles ready to rock. It was a good tender. What you go for?"
"Couple of ostriches. Don't laugh."
"HA!" Fuller couldn't help himself "Sorry Sul. Didn't even know we were carrying those antiques"
"Spotted them when Gumelar made me do that bastard physical inventory a few weeks back. She had me slung under a drift-drone for fucking hours" 
"So you were gonna peck the pirate fucks to death?!"
"Divide and conquer my friend, divide and conquer. Get the ostriches running in and about them, drive them off the probe, then splatter them all over Europa with the coil-guns I'd got loaded."
"Uh-huh. Thought I'd win the tender and get marks for artistic impression. Imagine the look on Gumelar's face having to commend me for running a fucking ostrich pack"
"That would have been sweet" Fuller sniggered
"Tell me about it. Instead Mason gets all the glory" 
Almost as if hearing her name, a contact request from Mason popped up in their feeds. Sully really didn't want to have to put up with listening to her gloating, but with the AI still refusing to reveal the winning tender, he could at least hear it from the horse's mouth. He accepted the request and Mason’s face popped up in the corner of his vision. 
"Hey losers, greetings from Europa. What a beautiful day it has turned in to" she cooed.
"How the fuck you do it Mason?" Sully got straight to the point. 
"By producing......the best.....tender, of course" her sentence was disjointed as she intermingled communicating with them with commanding her drones. Multitasking was a key skill for the marines. 
"What was the tender? No way the AI could have selected your plastoids over what Sul and I came up with" Fuller joined the conversation.
"Why of course I'm....using my little men. All so...eager to obey, I like it"
"How many of them?" Sully asked.
"Six, two...per pirate"
Sully frowned, something wasn't right. Fuller hadn't noticed, so continued the questioning.
"Six plastoids with even suck-ass pulse rifles would have come in more than our tenders" the big marine asserted.
"Who said anything about....rifles....when all I need...are knives" she briefly flashed a grin. 
"Fucking psycho" Fuller muttered.
"How'd you know there were three pirates" Sully had worked out what had nagged at him.
"What?" asked Mason irritably.
"You said six plastoids, two per pirate. The brief never said how many. All we were told was exact enemy numbers unknown, but under ten" 
"Would stay....and chat,'s time. Toodle pip" and with that the link was cut. 
Sully and Fuller were left in silence, mulling things over. 
"You reckon Gumelar told her?" Fuller broke the silence "She maybe wanted to give teacher's pet an advantage?"
"Doesn't strike me as Gumelar's style"
"Yeah. Oh well, any luck, it'll be thirty pirates, not three and we'll get to go save the day" Fuller said more in hope than any expectation. 
Sully didn't respond, he just sat and brooded some more. Mason's smug face just peered out from his mind's eye - no iris augment involved. What a fucking bitch. And what a shitty day this was turning into, sat there in the dark, waiting for the mission complete message to pop up. In fact the only thing that could make it worse would be....
"Greetings meat-heads"
....Si over-riding his communication augment.
"I'm really not in the mood for your shit Si" Sully responded briskly.
"Can I presume from this that your tender was unsuccessful?" Si asked.
"You know full well dickhead" Fuller chipped in.
"And Mr Fuller, but no Mason on the line. Did she win the day, again?"
Sully tried to shut off the coms link, but wasn't able to. His loathing for Si stepped up a notch. 
"We're not in the mood for your gloating" said Fuller.
"No gloating from my end. I just wanted to see who had won the tender"
"You could have simply checked with the AI, save hassling us" Fuller pointed out.
"AI isn't playing ball. I actually thought the other ship must have won the tender, speed it's still coming in at. Will be with us inside half an hour. My ladies shall go to the dance."
"Hang on" Sully spoke up "How comes the mighty Si can't get the low down from the AI?"
"I could if I really wanted to, but it just seemed easier to talk to you losers" the machismo in the tone of his voice sounded put on.
"What's going on Si?" Sully pressed him.
"Just some glitches. I'll get on to it once the tender's complete. That's all"
"Really, Anyway, gotta go" the communications link broke. 
"So you keep asking difficult questions and people keep hanging up on us. There a pattern in that you reckon?" questioned Fuller, suspicion in his voice. 
"Maybe. You think Si sounded a bit, well, scarred?"
"Yup" replied Fuller.
"Something isn't right here"

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