Authors: Steve Statham
Rules of Force
Connor Rix was
there at the beginning, when the second-generation Brazilian steroids first
arrived on the scene, along with the blood boost packs. It was his job to keep
the newly-superhuman rowdies under control and shut down the most poisonous of
the new Modification labs. Not an easy job, but unbreakable bones and
state-of-the-art optical implants sure help.
But now the
list of bio-engineered miracles available to the public has grown as broad as
the desires of mankind. And one man is leaving a trail of bodies across the
Texas Republic as he brutally takes control of the market in human
Modifications and suppresses all competitors.
What will it
take to stop him? And what price must Rix pay to bring the man to justice?
Fortunately, Rix isn’t working this job alone. He has a nearly 7-foot giant on
his team with a one-of-a-kind exoskeleton boosting his strength off the charts.
And then there's the night owl who never sleeps (or so she says) but that's not
her only Modification. The woman Rix wants to make his wife is along for the
ride too, if she can keep her fears in check.
must square off against an army of Modified enforcers to bring down the man who
seeks to rule the bio-enhancement trade. And somewhere along the way they have
to figure out if their famous benefactor is a friend or foe….
Rules of Force
By Steve Statham
Dedicated to the memory of
Michael James Statham
Table of Contents
They staged the
raid at night, not that the numbers on a clock mattered much. The Great Hall
was equipped with infrared sensors, patrolled by guards with night vision gear,
and watched over by a protective cover of private drones.
All of which
would have worked as designed if the intruders did not have an insider’s path
into the Hall.
The team huddled
up near the cab in the false compartment of the delivery truck, uncomfortably
close. The first gate was no problem. Things had gotten tense at the second
checkpoint, but the credentials had passed there, too, thanks in part to the
volume of trucks trying to get past security and deliver their goods. Getting
onto the loading dock without drawing attention was going to be the hard part.
Mr. Blue hated
rush jobs, and this was a rush job. The Open Sky researcher they had paid to
steal the information and samples they wanted had been fired that very
afternoon, before he could complete his theft, and they did not know how long
they would have before the company changed the access codes and passwords.
Surely not more than a few hours, and even that would require luck.
had managed to acquire only part of the formula, as key sections of it were
segregated as part of the company’s security procedures. Likewise, the manufacturing
process was broken up into “need to know” cells. He had promised he could get
the rest eventually, but then the asshole went and played ass-grab at the
office and got himself fired. And later that day, far away from Open Sky’s
facilities, terminated permanently, as Mr. Blue had witnessed.
And so this
haphazard raid, which Mr. Blue had no doubt would get messy before everything
was over. The sneaking around would work for a while, but he was certain brute
force was going to be required before the night was done. But the prize was
great. And the boss was insistent.
It will work
, he told himself.
Open Sky’s internal security was sound, he had judged when planning the raid,
but, like a lot of companies, they never truly anticipated a physical frontal
assault, a battering ram at the gates. Risky, but their best shot.
He gave a final
look around the confines of the van, taking one more reading of his men. Yellow
was grinning like a coyote enjoying a mouthful of warm guts. Red looked nervous.
Green was engrossed in his Everything Device, grasping for last bits of
information. Mr. Blue believed they all relied too much on the E-Things, but
such was the world. Copper was quiet, eyes focused in the distance, but then
Copper was always quiet. Black, the least conspicuous of the team, was driving.
He had been giving a quiet running commentary in Blue’s earpiece. So far so
behind Building Six, and Black backed the truck up to dock 6F. Black got out of
the cab, walked around to the back and raised the rear door. He walked past the
dummy cargo and into the back of the enclosed truck, where he unlatched the
nearly invisible panel to the false compartment.
The men filed
out quickly, silently. Except for Black, who stayed behind to guard the truck,
they jumped over to the loading bay and fanned out according to plan, running
down the warehouse aisles toward the doors that led to the engineering and
Mr. Blue arrived
first and passed the late researcher’s security card in front of the reader. He
held his breath for half a heartbeat. Everything hinged on this. They were
gambling mightily that Open Sky employees were people like any other, not some
pack of hyper-competent supermen. If the company had already deactivated the
card, and changed the security codes….
He pushed the
door open and his team spilled through. They walked quickly down the hallway
toward the R&D sector. Mr. Blue was relieved that this area was indeed
deserted at night, as they had anticipated. Open Sky's assembly and launch
areas had night shifts and work schedules that never ceased, but the engineers
and researchers mostly worked traditional daylight business hours. Mostly.
Still, he knew
they had been under at least some electronic surveillance since they jumped out
of the truck. Time was short.
down the hallway another 50 yards. Blue shook his head —
size of this place is impossible!
they found the corridor they were seeking on the right. They turned the corner,
increasing their pace, reading the numbers and names on the doors.
They had just
found the door they wanted when two security guards rounded the corner. One was
moving a handset up to his mouth, the other reaching down for his weapon.
His men moved so
fast that even Mr. Blue could not quite believe it, although he, least of all,
should still have been surprised by their capabilities. Yellow reached the man
with the handset first and jabbed out with a shockingly fast blow to the
throat. The man staggered and collapsed before uttering a word. Yellow swung
backward with his other arm simultaneously, knocking the shock gun away from
the second guard. He then delivered a crushing kick to the stomach that sent
the man backward into the wall with such force that they could hear what
sounded like the wall cracking. Or bones breaking.
over the two men. They were gasping. Last breaths.
Yellow said. “This ain’t no Bollywood spy movie. This is a smash and grab. And
I feel like smashin’.” He still had that grin on his face, which looked even
more sinister behind the prosthetic features and yellow tinted skin.
have to watch this guy more closely,
But now Red and
Green were grinning too. Bloodlust was traveling fast.
There was no
time for regrouping. Blue ran the security card through the slot and was
frankly amazed when the door opened. Not that it mattered much, this far into
the job. If it had not worked, he had no doubt his crew could have just broken
down the door. They rushed inside. People — lots of them — looked
up from workstations, heads swiveling from all across the office.
Mr. Blue strode
over to the nearest desk, where a middle-aged woman sat, her expression
radiating shock. He grabbed her by the throat. “Tell me what I want to know,”
he said, slowly squeezing tighter, “or this will go badly for you.”
struggling to speak — Mr. Blue was pretty sure she was prepared to tell
him what he needed, when from the other side of the office a man lifted a phone
to his ear, a movement that was obvious in the still room.
Green vaulted over the cubicle wall,
grabbed the phone from the man and crushed it in his hand. He then punched the
man in the face so hard that the people within view gasped. Another man rushed
over to the cubicle, yelling at Green to step away. A woman ran toward the
cubicle as well, calling out the fallen man’s name.
Green stood up
straight and laughed, while Red rushed over to join him. They struck out at the
people converging on the cubicle, dropping them instantly. Other Open Sky
people who had taken a few tentative steps toward the fallen man hesitated, and
Green and Red, followed by Yellow, waded into them, embracing the mayhem with
apparent joy, delivering savage beatings.
Mr. Blue shook
He leaned in
closer to the woman he still held by the throat, looking straight into her
“Tell me. Tell me how to get this,”
whispered fiercely, holding up the screen of his E-Thing in front of her. The
display cast a soft glow on her face, casting her terrified look into stark
relief. “You know what it is. I need samples and all data.”
From across the
room two people screamed in agony.
She told him.
He called to
Yellow and Green to watch over the people in the room. Copper sat at the woman’s
terminal and downloaded the files they needed, while Mr. Blue and Red used the
combination supplied by the woman to open and gather samples of the product
from a refrigerated locker.
Material secured, they left the office
and ran back toward the truck. The need for stealth was obviously no longer
necessary, so they pulled out their guns as they ran. They used them once in
the Great Hall, and twice in the warehouse.
Black had the
truck running and waiting. A security guard lay on the ground, motionless,
about 30 feet from the truck. Mr. Blue jumped into the front seat this time, as
he would need to help navigate the truck to the helicopter pick-up site. He put
on the optical headset that would help him locate the airborne drones overhead,
and reached for the fulgent gun that would blind them.
He let out a
Christ, I hope Mr. Cunha knows what he’s doing. This stuff
better make a man sprout wings and fly. Because these guys are going to go
images of the dead and dying bodies ended at last, the room darkening as the
light from the screen faded.
They sat in
silence for a moment.
should take a break,” said Angie 6, the Handler for the negotiation.
Rix replied, after a moment.
They left the
small room and walked into the Great Hall, footsteps echoing softly. Pale
winter sunlight streamed in through the colossal windows. They did not speak as
they walked the length of the Hall. Angie 6 led him to another room, this one
with leather-covered seats, arranged stadium style, facing outward toward Open
Sky launch site No. 3 in the distance. A viewing room.
“Wait here,” she
said, looking off in the distance, eyes hard, jaw set. “I’ll be back with you
He sat in one of
the seats, cool leather against the sweat of his shirt. Looking out, he could
see the activity at the launch site, the structures and machines in constant
motion as they prepared for the next flight.
He leaned back,
closed his eyes, and took a deep breath as he calmed himself, forced himself to
set aside his initial reaction to the brutal images they had just viewed. It
was all recorded on his optics, of course, and he would have to watch it again
later. But a certain level of professional detachment was going to be required
as quickly as possible.
The pain was
also starting, faint still, just a background irritation, but nonetheless the
familiar pattern. He steadied his breathing, relaxed his muscles, slowed his
heartbeat. No telling how long this meeting would last. The pain would have to
After a few
minutes, he stood up and slowly made his way around the viewing room,
inspecting the details of the architecture and furnishings. The structure was
every bit as magnificent inside as out. The Great Hall was immense, a graceful
mountain of stone and steel, glass and wood. Some were already calling it one
of the wonders of the world, if such a title still had meaning. He had wanted
to walk these halls, inspect these rooms, ever since he had seen the first
images, released by the company after Open Sky’s triumphant landing on asteroid
Cayton 28, when the flood of mining contracts came in from all over the world.
Nobody had built such a structure in this part of the continent in decades, if
ever. The beauty of the building lifted his spirits, at least as much as was
possible, given his reason for being here.
It was longer
than he expected before Angie 6 returned, and he was surprised that she came
into the room alone. She sat down, an open seat between them, and turned to
“As you can
imagine, we are extremely motivated to find these killers,” she said.
“We lost not
just colleagues, but friends. There are… other issues at stake here as well. So
I’ll be blunt, Mr. Rix. We have our own team that will go after these people.
I’ll be leading it. But your name — and background — are known to
us. We want to retain your services as well.”
“I see,” he
said. As he had suspected when he first received the message from Open Sky,
they had dug deep. “And what is it in my background that you believe will help
Rix saw that the slightest movement of
her mouth, a smirk half-formed and quickly suppressed. “Have it your way, Mr.
Rix. We know that you have particular experience in dealing with Modified
Individuals. And clearly this assault team was loaded with MIs, as was obvious
from the security video.” She hesitated for a second, then continued. “It’s not
that we initiated any surveillance or targeted snooping regarding your
background, Mr. Rix. It’s just that some government records aren’t as secure as
they used to be before the Breakup. And in some of those records, your special
duties in the Navy stood out. May I ask you about those duties?”
although it seems you already know more about my official record than I do.”
“We have written
reports and records of service, but not a lot of specifics,” she said.
exotic. I was a Master at Arms. An MP, basically. Then the second-generation
Brazilian steroids arrived, simultaneously with the blood boosts and Level One
implants. With sailors and marines suddenly rigged up, policing the local bar
took a lot more than just handcuffs and batons. I was part of the initial team
assembled to respond to crimes committed by MIs in service.”
As he spoke she
broke eye contact briefly, looking him up and down, almost an involuntary
glance. Rix had the impression she trying to read his abilities by sight and
Good luck with that.
“Is it fair to
say that that isn’t the type of duty you get assigned unless you have
Modifications of your own?”
fair to say that.”
“I know it is
rude to ask, but may I enquire as to the particulars of your Modifications?”
“Yes, it is rude
She looked away
briefly, out the viewing windows as some motion at the launch site caught her
attention. He got the impression that she had not actually expected him to
reveal how he was rigged. But of course she would ask.
wouldn’t be at any handicap if you encountered these individuals face-to-face?”
wouldn’t be a problem.”
She was silent
again, looking toward the launch site again, eyes not entirely focused. He took
the opportunity to turn the conversation.
“This level of
brutality was… uncalled for… in what looks like a basic theft of industrial
tech,” he said. “It would help me if I knew exactly what they were
softly, almost unnoticed. Then her expression hardened again. “Please
understand that what I’m about to reveal to you is proprietary technology. If
you were to talk about it… well. There would be repercussions.”
And yet it appears that someone knew enough to steal it.”
“Yes. As you are
aware, Mr. Rix, we have an increasing number of people in orbit, and beyond,
for longer periods of time than ever. Radiation exposure is a constant concern.
So we’ve developed a Modification that enhances human skin, the basal layer,
making it more resistant to the hard radiation of space. I'm no researcher, so
I can't explain all the details, but it involves increasing the keratin
filament density, among other things. Our people will be able to stay out
longer now, with few of the side effects people suffered in the past. It is the
files on this treatment, along with physical samples, that were taken in the
“That would seem
a valuable commodity.”
“But that’s just
it, it really isn’t, not for anyone on earth. It might keep people from getting
deep sunburns, but that’s hardly a Modification worth staging a raid and
killing people for. This treatment was designed for deep space. It really has
no particular enhancement powers, at least not as they are understood in the MI
market. We have several other techniques that would seem more valuable.”
“So then it has
value to other space-faring nations? Such a treatment would give your people a
substantial advantage, even moreso than they enjoy now.”
could possibly be stupid enough to stage this raid on us,” she said. “If we
identified any such nation, we would immediately freeze them out of any
contracts for the resources we're bringing back from the four asteroids. It
would be economically catastrophic to be cut out of that loop. Plus, since we
are the sole corporation actively clearing out Earth's accumulated orbital
debris, there is enormous international pressure to leave us to our business.
Not to mention we have effective control of low earth orbit, so any nation that
committed violence against us could say goodbye to any com satellites they have
flying around up there.”
“A rival company,
She smiled a
cold smile. “You’ll just have to trust me on this one, Mr. Rix, but we know all
of our competitors very well. And that is simply not a consideration.”
He was silent at
that. What an astonishing leap of faith.
“We were hoping
that your experience with the MI underground would be an asset in this search.
The payment will be as you specified. Will you sign on?”
“Just so I’m
clear, our contract allows me access to Open Sky’s parallel network?”
She gave him a
level stare. “To the extent that this hypothetical parallel network exists,
“Then can I get
the hypothetical device recognition protocols and access codes?”
He nodded. “Then
will be your contact. Please forward any leads directly to me.” She shook his
hand, looking him directly in the eye. “And Mr. Rohm sends his personal
They left the
room, but this time she led him down another wing of the Great Hall to a
different exit. He tried not to look like a tourist, agog at the Great Hall,
but could not help himself, casting furtive glances at the soaring beams
clasped together overhead and at each new overlook.
She took him to
an exit with an oversized door, made from some metal he couldn’t identify. It
looked new, yet with a patina that suggested aging. It was hard for his eye to
capture a coherent pattern to the stonework surrounding the door and spreading
along the wall. It was as if the stones had been thrust up from the earth
itself, unguided by the hand of man.
guards eyed him with obvious suspicion, despite his escort. With his own
optics, Rix could see the electronic impulses racing across their visors as
they followed him with their eyes.
“So will I get
the opportunity to meet Mr. Rohm?”
Angie 6 said.
I get to find out why you're Angie number six?"
She gave a
non-committal half-smile. "Perhaps in time, if we get to know each other
Rix grinned in
return. "Fair enough. We all have to keep some secrets."
But at least the
timing was good, with the meeting over. The pain was building up again, great
waves of soreness that traveled the length of his body, from the inside out.