Sunday, 4 November 2012

Part one: last bit

            A little while later Sully was alone in drone control. Numerous tactical displays surrounding him, detailing every aspect of Mason's run on Hebe. It didn't take him long to work out how she'd done so well. 
It was mainly down to her being a psychopathic nut-case.
She'd used the ship's polymerisation synthesis facility to produce a small army of plastoids. Not it's normal function by any means - the synthesis facility was used by ship AI to fabricate replacement parts, usual for the hull to patch up micro-meteorite damage. Sully hadn't seen a plastoid in years, and never in a combat situation. They harked back from the early days of the scientific breakthroughs made in the new field of polymer-biotics. Essentially a new sort of plastic "muscle" was created. A semi-gelatinous polymer that when a electric signal was passed through it would tense into a slightly different shape. It's main application was in the medical field, aiding with artificially limb construction and a variety of degenerative diseases. Then some bright spark had the idea of building an entirely humanoid drone from the substance - a plastic humanoid, or "plastoid" as the social websphere promptly named them. The idea was that they could operate where larger drones struggled, from helping old people around the house to squeezing (literally as their polymer construction allowed for some flexibility) into tight spots to make repairs or clean.
It never really took off as an invention. The synthetic muscles were quickly rendered obsolete by developments in nano-biology; building living muscle mass from the cellular level. Meanwhile plastoids couldn't quite hit any particular market niche. People found them generally unsettling to have around, the dull green tinge and slightly odd proportions were disconcerting to potential domestic customers. They were also technologically limited. You couldn't have a plastoid taller than about a metre before their, already stubby, legs could no longer support the weight. Nor could they be used in applications of high temperature (they melted) high noise (the vibrations messed up their movement) or sterile environments (they were ever so slightly radioactive) and so finding an industrial use for them also proved challenging.
They were even more useless in military situations. Even the weakest of weapons would cut through them like a hammer smashing a jelly. Equipping them with the fancier AI control hubs was pointless given how easily such expensive components would be damaged in combat. Their lack of strength made it impossible to fit any armour to them. Nor could they carry anything more than very basic weaponry - higher calibre weapons had the nasty habit of knocking off the plastoids' arms and shoulders with recoil.
So why had this mentalist used them?
 Sully was studying the overhead footage collected by the ship in orbit. He watched as Mason covered the ground quickly in her tac-suit, while the plastoids - six of them - bounded along at her sides. Like that irradiated mother hen had hatched puke green chicks. Sully shuddered, but he was enrapt. How on Earth was she going to take down that mining drone with a pack quite as pathetic looking as this?  
Mason and her pack closed in on the mine. She had risked going much closer to the mine than Sully had. While the tac-suit was capable of packing a punch, it was designed to be more of a mobile command and control centre rather than a front line participant. The idea was to let the drones do the dirty work, while the pack leader pulled the strings from further away. Not through any concern about keeping the human pack leader safe, but more because the tac-suits were fucking expensive. 
But Mason was going in close. Just as Sully was wondering if she was going to go toe to toe with the mine drone, she stopped, close to the slag heap where Sully's rock-hoppers had made their move. The plastoids fanned out and surrounded the mine then stopped. The mission-time counter Sully had running at the top of the display telling him that three minutes and 37 seconds passed while nothing happened. Sully frowned. He re-wound the footage to try and work out what was going on, but no further insight was revealed. He rewound it again, this time overlaying a variety of technical displays, trying to figure what was happening at the electronic level. 
And things started to make sense. Mason had been busy running numerous scans, pretty much every tac-suit process possible. Which was why she'd had to go so close. While Sully has been able to route his scans via the powerful electronic warfare suites of his rock-hoppers, Mason didn't have that option. The plastoids didn't have that capability, they couldn't physically carry the tech needed, so she had to do it herself. Risky.
With the scans complete, Mason made her move. Four of the plastoids worked their way through the mine camp, using the small lasers they carried to slash through wires to the surveillance cameras and other sensors the dig-lead had set up. That was an old school tactic - Sully had simply infiltrated the surveillance scanners and patched in spurious clean scans while the rock-hoppers prowled. The four plastoids had then swarmed onto the mine drone, three chiselling their way into its central command core while the other plonked itself down in front of the drone's front facing camera.
And gave it the finger. 
What the fuck? Sully replayed the footage three times, on the third pausing it, the overhead high rez picture leaving no room for doubt. The plastoid had sat on part of the drill rig directly in front of the camera. It then clearly extended its right arm before raising a middle finger. Sully didn't even think that plastoids had middle fingers. Certainly the versions back on Earth had more of a mitten or claw like setup, individual fingers being complicated to engineer. Mason must have specified individual fingers when she fabricated them. A thought struck Sully. He refocussed the overhead cameras on one of the other plastoids that had clambered onto the mining drone. Zoomed in. 
No fingers
Holly fuck, she was properly batshit crazy. Who would go to such lengths to engineer a tactical situation purely to allow you to flip off the target? Bonkers. Sully slowly shook his head in disbelief, then zoomed out. He wanted to see how this ended. He then realised that he'd lost the remaining two plastoids. The footage was once again rewound, back to when they first surrounded the mine facility. This time Sully followed the two plastoids that had broken off from the rest of the pack that were targeting the surveillance equipment. They went straight for the mine head, covering the ground in just a couple of leaps in the low g. They disappeared into the mine shaft, where the overhead camera lost them. Not for the first time since watching the footage, Sully frowned. He cycled through the readings that Mason would have been able to access from her tac-suit. Commanding the plastoids in the mine would have been difficult for her. Their onboard AI wasn't sophisticated enough to act independently, while the dense rock of Hebe made direct communication difficult, impossible if she hadn't been so close to the action. Sully, like Mason at the time, had to settle for a shaky visual feed from the underground plastoids. They moved quickly, working together to cover angles while remaining hidden. That Mason was able to co-ordinate this while the plastoids on the surface went to work was impressive. For a psychopath. 
It took Mason and her two plastoids less than two minutes underground to locate the target in a small antechamber off the main shaft, about 25 metres down. The air lock at the neck of the chamber was hacked and cycled, alarms turned off by Mason's incursion software so that the plastoids could enter the room unseen. Sergeant Gumelar had improvised, dressing one of the ship's maintenance drones as a crude approximation of a human. Mechanical arms connected to a squat body, and in place of a head the Sergeant had used epoxy resin to attach one of the medicine balls from the gym. And then painted on a face. Nice touch.
One of the plastoids took out the single hanging light orb with a shot from the small laser carbine it carried, the other leapt for the mechanical dig-lead, producing a knife which it held at the junction of medicine ball and drone. Via a small speaker in the plastoid's throat Mason relayed over her command.
"You are in contravention of your tri-witnessed contract with Lanark-Horishmo and are hereby relieved of you position of dig-lead at Hebe mine xza31d. You are instructed to surrender all command protocols immediately."
"I....surrender....protocols....surrendered" a crude speaker set up on the drone's body crackled in to life, a burst of data in one of Sully's displays indicating that the dig-lead had surrendered control of the mining drone and reactor. 
Sully paused the replay, mentally conceding that it was a smooth run. Very little ordinance used, just a few low calibre lasers to recharge. Very little drone ware, the plastoids could even be melted back down into ship stores. Even less damage to company property than Sully had managed (and an order of magnitude down on Fuller). And less than 5% of the pack weight that Sully had shipped down to the asteroid and back - a big fuel saving there. He nodded in approval, even if she was a couple of drones short of a pack. 
He was just about to shut down the scenario run replay when he noticed on the counter that there was still 18 seconds of footage left. Usually it shut off as soon as the scenario was registered as complete, so Sully's interest was piqued. A play command was sent and the footage from the plastoids in the mine resumed. Sully watched from the perspective of the plastoid that had shot out the light. It had switched to night vision, so the picture had a green tinge. The plastoid focussed on its compatriot who remained stood behind the mechanical approximation of the dig-lead, knife poised where the neck would be. There was a few seconds pause, presumably as Mason registered that control had been surrendered by the dig-lead. Then the speaker at the plastoid's throat barked into life, an excited edge in Mason's voice unmistakable. 
"Not good enough"
The knife flashed at the epoxied neck, the head fell in slow motion in the low g, hitting the floor    then rolling towards the camera on the second plastoid. The footage ended with the crudely painted face staring vacantly at the camera. 
"Fuck me" gasped Sully. Suddenly he felt a little exposed, he turned round quickly, mental image of Mason stood behind him with a knife. 
Mason was stood behind him with a knife
In years to come Sully would be ashamed to admit that he screamed, but scream he did. Mason just smirked. 
"Like what you see?" she inquired 
Sully wasn't quite sure if she meant the footage or her appearance with a large serrated knife that gleamed in the overhead light, reflecting back the displays Sully had floating in front of him.
"It was an, er, interesting approach" he assumed she'd meant the footage.
"Indeed it was" her smile was wide, but her eyes registered none of the amusement. 
“I have, er, got to go. Said I'd play cards with the guys" Sully edged towards the main hatch.
"Sure thing" she moved to the side to let him past "I look forward to when we tender against each other for real"
Sully paused at the hatch
"Yeah, well, may the best, er, person win" he gave a nervous laugh as he turned to look at her. 
She was giving him the finger. 

No comments:

Post a Comment