Connor Rix Chronicles 1: Rules of Force (5 page)

BOOK: Connor Rix Chronicles 1: Rules of Force
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The nature of
the security work had taken a definite detour since she had started with Open
Sky. She was originally hired to oversee security at the launch sites, keeping
terrorists and industrial spies at bay. But the company had grown so large so
fast that she had been forced to deal with entirely new security situations.
These hyper-modified thieves were only the latest, but the most discouraging.
Besides their brutality, they had attacked so brazenly, so unexpectedly,
exposing holes in Open Sky's security that she was certain would ultimately be
pinned on her.

Angie 6 was
starting to resign herself to the idea that her original goals were never going
to be achieved. She had been attracted to the job as a way to get off-planet.
She was no pilot or asteroid miner, and possessed no particular scientific
expertise that could be expected to land her a spot through the usual channels
on one of the off-world stations. But Open Sky's asteroid mining operations
employed whole communities, requiring support personnel of all types, including
law enforcement and security. Everything she had been working for since hiring
on was aimed at positioning herself for one of those assignments. It was her
best shot seeing the world from space, her oldest dream.

She rubbed her
forehead. It had been a long night. She called her second over.

"I need a
couple hours shut-eye. I'll be on a couch in one of the executive offices down
the hall."

He nodded and
spoke quietly into his com, updating the other security team members.

She left the
room and headed down a hall to her right. She was turning a corner toward a
quiet-looking conference room she had scouted earlier when she came
face-to-face with Allen Venway, the president of Forward Aeronautics.
Speaking
of creepy eyes….

She had met him
before — he was one of Mr. Rohm's inner circle, and was at headquarters
frequently. Rohm had about a half-dozen high-ranking
 
associates in various related industries that he met with
regularly. She had plotted the security requirements for many of their visits.

Angie 6 was
never very comfortable in their presence. There was something about them that
threw her off. Venway especially. Like Open Sky's CEO, he had that peculiar
stare, as if his focus was boring into you, but also occupied somewhere else.

"How is the
information retrieval proceeding, miss Angie?"

"Well
enough, thank you. We have them all identified, basic bios, day-to-day patterns,
and leads on some associates. One of them was definitely a part of the assault
on our offices."

"Very
good," he said, then slightly cocked his head as if listening to another
voice.
 
"When you are
finished, I should like to hear your evaluation of our own security, in light
of the capabilities of these new Modified men. But you are tired, I see. Please
feel free to set up in conference room 4. There is a suite with facilities
there, and a most comfortable sofa."

"Thank
you," she said tightly.
And thanks for the crack about looking tired,
old man.

"My
pleasure. In the meantime, I wish to observe these men under questioning. And
then I wish to examine them. I have never encountered men altered in such a
way. I have certain… instruments… in another area of the building that will
reveal much."

She tried to
conceal her surprise. Was he some sort of doctor as well? She had never known a
corporate CEO to make such an odd, hands-on request. This whole operation was
getting stranger and stranger.

"The men
are separated, of course. My second, Mr. Keith, is interrogating one of the
uncooperative ones in room 15a. Feel free to observe. As for a more invasive
physical examination, I have no objections if it is alright with Mr.
Rohm."

He closed his
eyes briefly. As he opened them, a satisfied smile settled on his face. "I
have made my request, and he is in favor of the idea."

She watched him
walk away.
Weird damn person
. She
started to turn toward the conference room he had mentioned, when her eye
caught an unusual, but familiar pattern. Venway had a very faint web of
filaments at the base of his skull, barely visible through the skin on the back
of his neck. It was the same strange pattern that Mr. Rohm had, a feature that
had puzzled her since she first met the man. And now, Venway too. That couldn't
be coincidence.

One more
mystery. But it can wait. I need some sleep.
She found conference room 4 and found that it was, indeed, much more than a
simple "conference room." The bathroom was clean and well stocked,
and there were even sheets for the large sofa positioned beneath the windows.

She closed the
blinds, quickly threw the sheets over the sofa, and stripped off her jacket.
Her head was on the pillow for only seconds before she fell asleep.

It was brief
respite. She was torn from her shallow sleep less than an hour later by the
insistent chiming of her E-Thing. She groggily reached for the device. The
message was from Venway, with a highest priority alert attached.

"Yes?"

"I need you
in lab 27 immediately," he said tersely. He cut off the signal with no
further explanation.

She sat for a
moment, forcing herself to fully awaken, gathering together the strands of
conscious thought that had wandered loose during her brief sleep. She pinged
Keith, her second, but he reported nothing out of the ordinary.
Mister bug
eyes must want a fresh cup of coffee
, she
grumbled to herself. She checked her weapons, left the room, and navigated the
hallways to lab 27.

Venway did not
bother with any greetings when she passed through the door to the lab.
"These men are being tracked," he said, not looking up from the red
man he had lying on an examining table, unconscious. He was slowly manipulating
some sort of hand held imaging device over the body. "Also, none of these
red men are going to live very long. Five years, tops. Yet another dead end on
the road to human development, and no help at all for my purposes."

Angie 6 stood
silently a moment, watching him, not sure what to make of his scattershot
commentary.
Focus. No time for distractions.

"Tracked?"

"Yes, a
fairly sophisticated bug implanted under the skin. Whoever these men work for,
they know they are here." He put down his imager and looked up at her.
"This is really going to cause an enormous amount of grief for me."

"Can you
remove the trackers?"

"Sure, but
it's probably too late. In fact… wait… ah, the drones are sending an
alert."

At that moment a
series of muffled thumps rumbled through the building.

"Yes,
definitely too late," Venway said, as his eyes tracked over to a screen on
the far wall. Angie 6 could see the screen from an angle, and caught the
movements of masked people running, lights flashing, red text jumping to the
fore.

She reflexively
reached for her gun and bounded toward the door. As she gripped the door
handle, she paused a second and turned back to Venway. "Hide
yourself," she said.

He looked at her,
no emotion visible in his eyes.

Angie 6 sprinted
down the darkened hall toward the noise. She tugged her optical mask over her
eyes as she ran and rolled her finger across the pressure switch that turned it
on. She had nearly reached the double doors leading to the room where the two
other red men were being held when a rending concussion blew the doors off
their hinges. She stumbled to one knee, reflexively covering her head.

She crawled
against the wall to her right and dropped flat on the floor. With shaking hands
she aimed her .40 caliber pistol toward the remains of the doorway. The laser
sight cast a web of light through the smoke billowing into the hallway.
 

 
Two men emerged — large, masked
— with weapons drawn. They glanced both ways down the hallway. One
pointed the direction Angie 6 had just traveled, toward lab 27.

The roar of her
gun echoed down the hall as she fired. One of the men crumpled instantly; the
other staggered, trying to raise his weapon and find a target. She fired again.
He collapsed and was still.

Angie 6
struggled to her feet and coughed from the smoke. She slid along the wall,
weapon raised, toward the smoldering opening. Taking a heartbeat to steel
herself, she darted inside, rolling to a secure spot behind a desk.
 
She exposed her head for an instant to
read the situation in the room. She could make out one of her men across the
room from her, behind a desk as she was, firing his weapon toward what was left
of the glass wall and door at the entrance to the large room. The unmoving
bodies of four of her team lay sprawled in unnatural positions across the
floor. Among them was one of the invading giants. The fire suppression system
in the ceiling sprayed the entire scene with a fine shower.

She could also
make out at least five members of the opposing force darting between covering
positions, occasionally rising to fire a variety of weapons. As she peered
through the dust and smoke, she saw that two of the men were the Fightin' Mads,
her former prisoners. Released from their bonds, they were eagerly joining the
battle against their former captors.

She attempted to
com Martin, her surviving team member, to coordinate a counteroffensive, but through
the noise, water and chaos could not raise him. The invaders were so focused on
him, however, they had not noticed Angie 6 enter the room. She ran, crouching,
along the wall to a position closer to the remains of the front entrance.

She took a breath
to steady herself, and raised her gun to fire. Her optics outlined her targets,
pulling coherent shapes out of the shadows. The smoke and dust cleared
momentarily, revealing a familiar face among the attackers. It was one of the
men who had been on the raid on Open Sky, one who had killed the people she had
been hired to protect. It was the copper-colored man, she felt sure.

She squeezed the
trigger. Simultaneously, she felt the bark of the gun and witnessed the look of
surprise on the man's face as her shot found home.
Vicious bastard…
She felt a split second of satisfaction knowing that
at least one of the murderers had met justice.

She moved to
target one of the others, but they were suddenly falling back as a unit. Before
she could isolate another target, a blinding flash of light seared her vision,
followed instantly by a thump she felt to her core.

Flash-bangs…

She staggered
backward, supporting herself against the wall.

Her optics
protected her sight from the worst of it, but even so, it still took a moment
to clear her vision.

She blinked away
tears and saw the outline of two large men lift a conference table, wielding it
as a shield, and rush Martin on the far side of the room. A third man, larger
than the rest, wearing some sort of facial covering that shimmered and
distorted his features, walked upright behind the table, almost casually. She
watched Martin fire blindly into the table. The large third man dropped to one
knee and slid to his right from behind his cover. He raised his arm, a chunky weapon
in his hand she did not instantly recognize.

The man fired.
With horror Angie watched the barrage of darts and blades from the flechette
shotgun shred the desk Martin was using for cover, and with it, Martin as well.

She cried out
and raised her gun.

Without even
glancing her way the giant raised his arm, flechette weapon aimed precisely in
her direction. He fired.

Angie 6 stared
in shock at the man. Her head then dropped as she surveyed her own body,
although she could not seem to see it all clearly. Blood was running freely
from her arms and chest. She felt consciousness slipping away, and with it, she
knew, her life.

Too short…
Not enough.

She slumped to
the floor on her side, eyes open, unable to move. As she lay there, vaguely
awake, she could still see movement in the room. The men coalesced around the
largest man, the one obviously in charge.
 

"Go find
our other red man, and anyone else in this building," she heard him say.
He turned to one of the other men. "Arrange their bodies in the usual way.
Then gather our dead. Leave nothing of ours behind."

Angie 6 did not
know how much time passed, but soon the red man who had been on the examining
table in lab 27 was escorted into the room, along with the owner of Forward
Aeronautics. He showed no emotion as he was pushed down to his knees.

The last thing
Angie 6 witnessed was the large man placing his flechette gun against the head
of Allen Venway, and pulling the trigger.

 

 
7

 

 

Rix drove
through the night back to New San Antonio, satisfied that the Open Sky team
would extract the information they needed without his assistance. He was tired
and sore from the workout and the actual fighting afterward, but one his
favorite features of the blood boost paks was the increased stamina they
provided. If he needed to go 'round the clock he could. Anyway, he was
unwilling to spend yet another night in a hotel.

He arrived in
the quiet hours of early morning, slipping silently into their room. With his
optics he didn't need to turn on the lights. He could see Marie in bed, awake
of course, smiling at him. With her Modifications, even he could never sneak up
on her.

"Catch some
bad guys?"

"Yeah.
Caught some bad guys."

She stretched,
eyes on him, and reached to turn on one of the lights.

"I can't
think of anything I'd rather do than get in that bed with you, but I really
need to shower first. Care to join me?"

"Mmm. That
sounds nice."

"You sound
like you're feeling better."

"Oh, I'm
feeling better. You'll see." She slid the sheets and blanket off,
revealing her naked body in the soft light.

Rix exhaled
happily, restfully, finally at home. Home with that body. And that smile that
had made him forget all other women.

He pulled his
shirt over his head. He winced slightly as the skin and muscle over his ribs
protested.

Her eyes
widened. "That's a helluva bruise."

"Yeah, but
I'd hate to see the other guy's fist right now."

She raised an
eyebrow.

"Plenty of
time to hear the story later," Rix told her.

She followed him
into the bathroom. He turned on the shower, stripping off the rest of his
clothes as he waited for the water to heat. They walked under the stinging
water together.

She faced him
and looked into his eyes, then down to his bruised ribs. She then deliberately
studied the rest of his body, occasionally softly touching a new-found bruise
or scrape. She slowly washed him, pausing a couple times to massage his
shoulders or neck.

He turned her
around, her back to his chest, while his hands moved caressingly over her
breasts, down her stomach, and back up to her shoulders. He held her tightly
against himself, letting the water pour over them.

Later, in bed
after their lovemaking, Rix draped an arm over Marie and looked into her
half-open eyes. He was sliding into that welcome state between sleep and
consciousness, perceiving reality from different directions.

He pushed aside
the worries that had been lurking in the back of his mind, and let himself feel
the deep satisfaction from his union with Marie.

He smiled
slightly as he relived their lovemaking in his mind. It surprised him that the
subject of sex rarely ever came up when people discussed the aftereffects of
undergoing physical Modifications. When you're lying on some cold operating
table or hooked into a web of IVs, and some doctor — an actual doctor if
you're lucky — is giving you a stern warning about the potential
side-effects of altering your body in such fundamental ways, nobody's mind is
on sex.

But two
well-matched Modifieds could generate a lovemaking bout that few normal people
could equal. The same softness and tenderness was evident, of course, if the
two people wished it that way. But there was also a new and definite
physicality possible, as well as an unexpected dimension of sensitivity. With
the combination of two enhanced people applying amplified strength against
amplified strength, in addition to improved stamina, new frontiers of sexual
activity could constantly be explored.

Rix was
daydreaming of the latest exploration as he slid into a deep sleep.
  

 

****

 

They drove down
Broadway, windows open in the mild South Texas winter, for a late breakfast at
one of their favorite places. It had been a quiet morning. Rix and Marie had
settled into a satisfied silence since awakening among the tangled sheets an
hour earlier.
 

They passed the
old zoo, still intact and a tourist draw even after the war. The private
universities and museums in the area had largely escaped the damage that had
befallen the military bases and some of the downtown areas during the war. It
was the same comfortably familiar avenue that Marie had known her entire life.

Rix turned into
the narrow parking lot of Beto's Cocina. The small, bright blue building was
snug right up against the edge of the sidewalk. The windows were a riot of
competing colors, with the week's specials painted on the glass.
 
There was a rack with a free weekly
Spanish language newspaper by the entrance.

They were
greeted inside by a waitress who smiled as she recognized them, and led the two
between the tightly-spaced tables, each covered in a brightly colored vinyl
tablecloth. They were seated at their usual spot by the front window. Marie
ordered
huevos con papa
breakfast tacos,
Rix settled on
Chorizo con huevos
.

Rix tried to
feign a positive mood. As fantastic as the night had been, this morning was
shaping up differently. Rix was feeling the early warning signs of another pain
wave, which troubled him. It was way too early for another bout. He tried his
best to ignore it.

He also knew he
needed to bring up a subject that always proved to be sobering when the two of
them discussed it.

They made light
conversation as they ate their food, teasing each other as they discussed how
they would spend the money from the Open Sky job.

As their plates
were cleared away, Rix leaned back, one arm draped over the extra chair next to
him, the other hand gripping his iced tea glass.
 

"I need to
go visit Jake."

She looked up,
levelly meeting his gaze.

"Yes, I
think you should," she said, carefully keeping all emotion out of her
voice. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"It's been
a while, yes," he said, glancing out the window. "I mean to visit him
more often, but something always seems to come up."

Marie was silent
for a long moment. "I think you avoid him because he's a constant reminder
on what can go wrong with these fabulous Modified bodies of ours," she
said at last.

Rix resisted the
urge to snap a reply to her. They'd had this discussion before. There were
always going to be people who didn't get rigged in the right way, just as there
had always been people who had screwed up with plastic surgery, or abused
normally beneficial drugs. The positive effects of the new physical
enhancements were overwhelming, but nothing worked out perfectly for everybody.

When Rix had met
Marie, she had been eager to undertake the Modifications. After what her family
had gone through during the war, she was determined to make herself stronger,
less vulnerable. It had drawn them closer, him leading her through the tangle
of options, side effects and potential of Modified physiology. But lately she'd
been making more comments that made him wonder if her heart was in it anymore.

"Sounds
like you're having second thoughts," he said. "Biofilm fever still
got you down?"

"Just
trying to see it clearly, that's all. Don't want to get drunk on the
power."

They sat in
silence for a few minutes longer, sipping iced tea and casually looking around
the restaurant.

"I'll drop
you off back home and then swing by to pay him a visit," Rix said at last.

She nodded, and
they got up to leave.

 

****

 

Jake was the
last guy you'd expect to end up in the new Texas Republic. A New Yorker, thick
accent, always telling stories about a restaurant his family ran in one of the
boroughs. Rix always forgot which one. He'd fought on the other side of the
Breakup War, and seemed the very prototype of an ASA citizen.

But a year after
the conflict had ended, he'd shown up in New San Antonio. Jake had opened a
gym, the kind of gym where MIs worked out. Rix had met him there and the two
developed a friendship based on a mutual enthusiasm for the newest
Modifications, although both men were cagey about admitting too much.

Rix had asked
Jake one time why he'd ended up immigrating to Texas.

"Hell, you
ever try to open a business in New York? There's like 47 separate permits you
gotta beg for before you can even open the doors," he'd said, in his quick
New York cadence.
 
"I mean,
it's always been that way, but since the ASA flags went up it's even worse now.
I move down to New SA, and I've got a gym open and running in three
weeks."

Jake had purchased
a large, anonymous suburban house in one of the neighborhoods just inside the
loop. It was a completely typical house for the area, but more than once Jake
had bragged to Rix about its size, about how much house he got for the money.
"You Texans got no idea how good you've got it," he had once told
Rix. Then he quickly corrected himself. "
Us
Texans."

As Rix pulled
into the driveway of Jake's house, however, it was clear that Jake had stopped
doting on the property. The grass was overgrown, the shrubs untrimmed, small
repairs were obviously needed. As he walked to the porch, he noticed how many
weeds had broken up through the grass.

Cathy, Jake's
wife, answered the door. She pulled back a half step in surprise.

"Why,
Connor… How are you?" She stepped onto the porch to hug him. She was a
short woman, starting to fill out a bit. Rix could see bags under her eyes;
clearly she was tired.

"Fine,
Cathy, fine. How are you?"

"Oh, you
know, we get by. But you must be here to see Jake. Come in, come in."

She led him
through the living room. "I'm sorry the lights are so low," Cathy
said as she led him up the stairs. "It's to protect Jake's eyes. They're
so sensitive these days."

The wall along
the stairway was lined with family photos, Mets baseball paraphernalia and a
framed poster from the family's restaurant; the mementos of a lifetime spent in
New York.
 

Cathy stopped at
a room at the top of the stairs and turned to face Rix. She leaned in to
whisper to him. "You haven't been here for a while. You should prepare
yourself. He's not getting better." She gently tapped on the door with her
fingernail, and then pushed the door open slightly. "Baby? Connor is here
to see you. You awake?"

Rix followed her
into the darkened room. The only light seeped through the slats of the blinds.

What was left of
Jake rolled over and lifted his head slightly off the pillow. "Hey,
superhero…
 
you come to save me or
somethin'? It might be too late."

"What? They
told me this was a super villain's hideout, and you were holding 17 smokin' hot
babes hostage."

He smiled
weakly. "I think you got some bad intel, buddy." His head slumped
back down on the pillow.

Jake was a short
man who, through the years of body-building — and Modification —
had at one time built himself into a compact powerhouse. As he stood looking
down at the shrunken man in the bed, Rix had trouble convincing himself he was
viewing the same person, a man who had been in his prime a couple brief years
ago, shortly after his gym opened. Now, subcutaneous bruising gave Jake an
unnatural pallor. Rix tried not to stare at the biceps that no longer held a
natural shape, as if Jake's muscles had partially liquefied.

Rix didn't know
all of the Modifications Jake had tried to incorporate — some guys
boasted, but, given the quasi-legal nature of the trade, most found it made
good sense to never admit
everything

but he did know the primary source of Jake's physical breakdown. He had fallen
for the "nanobot" scam. Nanobots, the microscopic little robot
helpers that were supposed to patrol the bloodstream and repair and enhance the
human body from the inside, had made an enormous splash when the word had
gotten out about their availability. It was the kind of tech that many people
immediately took to be plausible. The public had been reading about
nanotechnology in popular magazines for years, and countless movies and TV
shows had used the little buggers as a plot device. With all the other biotech
breakthroughs suddenly being made, why wouldn't this one be legit too?

And, in fact, legitimate
nanotechnology was indeed moving forward, at least that's what Rix was hearing
from his sources. It turned out in this case, however, that the nanobots were
entirely fictional. Or more accurately, there
was
a crude attempt at the technology dumped on the
market to make some quick money. Ultimately, they were probably intended to be
a placebo, a harmless enhancement that, at best, simply promised far more than
it delivered. But the reality had turned out much worse. At least, Rix had
always supposed it was a defect and not deliberately destructive.

With
Modifications, the trick was always getting them to all work well together. For
most people the nanobot scam had proved harmless, but for others, the
blood-borne technology, combined with the assorted new-gen steroids, blood
boost paks — even the mech hardware — had resulted in bodies being
turned into war zones, as competing imperatives fought for control. Jake had
turned out to be one of the latter unfortunates.

Whatever the
intent of the makers, the "nanoscam" was largely responsible for the
current low opinion of Modifications held by the general public. It scared a
lot of people, scared them bad. There had been a minor panic when rumors spread
that the nanobots could eventually find their way into the water supply. Even
in the normally liberty-minded Texas Republic there had been talk of heavy,
heavy
regulation of the Modification industry. With a new
nation to build after the Breakup War, however, the issue had been subsumed by
more important things. But in the court of public opinion the fake nanobots had
already done considerable damage, delaying the acceptance of Modified biotech
and driving much of it underground.

BOOK: Connor Rix Chronicles 1: Rules of Force
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