By Jeff Skagen and Mike Surbrook

(This occurs in late December, 2033)

Shoko was lagging behind Anna and Uni as they blew threw the front gate, partially because of the weight of the Steyr Anti-Cyborg Rifle she had slung over her shoulder, but mostly because they'd assigned her to fire support, a role which required her to keep some distance.

She was just reaching the remains of the gate herself when she saw the spotted the first of the defending cyberdroids moving to intercept them. "On your left," she warned, her voice transmitted through the transceivers in the CBA suits they were wearing.

The cyberdroid was just about to fire at Anna and Uni, its "mouth" opening to reveal the glassy port of the ion cannon within, when a 30mm shell from her Steyr ACR ripped into its upper chest, blowing a large hole through its armor and knocking it back into the wall of the warehouse it was defending.

"Eat that," she muttered under her breath, sounding pleased, then "Oh nuts!" as the 'droid suddenly moved again. It took only a moment for it to whip itself upright and orient toward the new threat, but that moment was all Shoko needed.

As the head turned in her direction, she pulled the trigger on the Steyr a second time. Not fully braced this time, the recoil was enough to stagger even her for a moment, but the effect on the cyberdroid was far more dramatic as much of what was left of its chest exploded into shrapnel.

She watched it carefully for a few seconds through the gray and green view of the world her light-amplifying HUD gave her. "Clear!" she called when she was sure that it was going to stay dead this time.

Over to her right a white-hot flash announced the detonation of a thermite grenade. The pulse rifles were loaded with a full compliment of said munitions, and were perfect for destroying property as they consumed plastic, paper, sheetmetal, and rubber with equal efficiency. Add a fuel tank to the mix and one had an instantly denied asset.

Based on the racket as well as a rapid series of explosions, the Twins were doing, as they put it, what they do best. Already several trucks were burning, making the nightscope on her cannon pretty much useless.

"Dark Meat!" her transceiver crackled to life. "Look sharp, there's two more!"

Squinting past the glare of the fires, she spotted the two cyberdroids closing on the Twins from opposite directions. "I see 'em!" she called.

Dropping to one knee, she quickly fired at the closer one. The armor piercing round caught the 'droid low in the side, blowing its right hip apart and sending it tumbling to the ground. It was still trying to regain its feet, not yet understanding that its leg no longer worked, when her second shot blew its head apart.

"One down!" she called and turned to engage the other cyberdroid, only to find it had changed targets and was now moving toward her, mouth open and ready to fire.

She tried to bring the ACR around to bear on it, but it fired before she could and she yelped in pain as the particle beam struck her square in the chest. The next thing she knew she was tumbling head over heels across the ground and it was all she could do to hold onto the Anti-Cyborg Rifle.

As soon as she stopped rolling, Shoko swung the Steyr around and fired back at the cyberdroid, knowing that if she didn't take it down before it's ion cannon recharged—maybe three seconds or so—she might not survive long enough to get another chance. Despite being rushed her shot was a solid hit, the 30mm shell ripping deep into its body. As she started to line up for a second shot one of its high-potential batteries, damaged by her first shot, suddenly exploded in a spray of actinic sparks and the cyberdroid dropped to the ground, its power system fried.

Kneeling in the parking lot, panting, Shoko glanced around. There was smoke and flame, and the sound of weapons being fired on full automatic. A typical night out for the Puma Twins. A car was on its side a few feet away, the engine burning from what she assumed was an errant ion cannon strike. Crumpled near the rear bumper was a body. A body that certainly wasn't either Anna, Uni, or any cyberdroid she'd seen yet.

"Oh, damn..." she whispered softly, as she saw that the body was a woman dressed in light security armor, a sub-machine gun still clutched in her hand. Shoko'd known that in a combat mission like this someone might get killed, but she'd hoped that what flesh and blood security guards there were would have the sense to withdraw when they realized they were outgunned and caught by surprise. Apparently this one hadn't.

Moving up for a closer look revealed that the woman had cat ears, much like Shoko's own, projecting out of a head of light green hair. A Lynx, from the smallish build. Shoko felt her stomach knot. Why hadn't it occurred to her that synthetics might be guarding this place? Programmed for loyalty, they would never give up, even if they knew they couldn't win. They'd fight to the death...which is exactly what would happen to them, equipped as they were, going up against the Twins.

Eyes tearing, Shoko quickly keyed her transceiver, intending to tell Anna and Uni to stop killing the Lynx guards. A moment later she released it again, having realized how such an order would sound to the Twins. Besides, they could hardly stop fighting when the Lynxes were still trying to kill them, and the Lynxes wouldn't—couldn't—stop.

With a ragged sigh Shoko hefted her Anti-Cyborg Rifle back onto her shoulder, and started to head in the direction the gunfire seemed to be coming from. All she could do now was finish the mission, and try not to kill any of the Lynxes herself. She hoped there wouldn't be too many of them.

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