By Dev

October 2030
Sorboski PharmCorp, Netherlands

The world is quite an amazing thing to behold, 850 feet above the ground. Skyscrapers were but tiny building blocks from our vantage, the lights from the city dazzling specs from a microboard, stretching as far as the eye could see. Cold air whipped through the open port of our assault bird, causing me a slight case of the shivers.

Eight men were seated in the small heli, two pilots and six operators. The pilots chatted amongst themselves while myself and the rest of my mates kept silent and to ourselves. We were but one of three PAT (Precision Assault Team) units in on this particular operation. The operation was a complicated one, but one me and all other PAT operators trained for exclusively.

We'd be infiltrating PharmCorp, a ten-story private owned building, one team taking the first 3 levels, the second taking the next 3, and my own team level 8. Why was my team assaulting one level and not three like the other two teams? Recent Comint had supplied strong evidence that our hostage was being held on the eighth floor; the other two teams were merely clearing the bottom levels in order to prevent the escape of any of the terrorists.

The prime hostage was Niva Sorboski, the daughter of Mileik Sorboski, the founder of PharmCorp. Although Niva was the prime hostage, over 60 PharmCorp employees were trapped in the building as well. Apparently a rival pharmaceutical corporation finally got fed up with the game and decided to up the stakes. Corporate wars (or 'shadow wars' as we operators called them) were the inevitable result of CE (corporate espionage) gone messy. What has caused the current situation, I hadn't a clue; it wasn't my business to know. My only business was what I was getting paid for today.

My earpiece came to life. "Unit-3, do you copy?"

Glancing over at Pat-4, our team Commander, I watched his lips move as his voice registered through my earpiece. "Roger that, Unit-3 copies, over." I knew that the Intelligence officer on the ground would be hearing the exact same thing and readying the other two teams as our assault bird soared downwards towards the target building.

Looking away from the Commander, I returned my eyes to the starry sky outside the small bird. "Unit-3, move within 100 meters and standby over." Good. It was game time.

The Commander responded simply, "Roger that, moving, over." And with that the bird was off. Within seconds we were circling the target building overhead.

I checked my M41-A and made sure, for the third time, that the magazine carried 45 rounds, five less that its total capacity. I didn't like to load the mag to full, more chance of a stoppage that way. Better to leave the spring some room for itself.

The standard grenade launchers had been removed from our rifles; Precision units had little need for them. HK (Hunter-Killer) and RP (Reconnaissance-Patrol) units found them useful, but for PATs, we preferred to attach tactical flashlights under the muzzle instead. Efficiency is always the order of the day.

Again, my earpiece lit up. "Unit-3, on my order."

All six Commandos rose from our seats and did a quick last minute check on our tactical vests. All in place, I moved to the open port and kicked the fast rope over the side. Gripping the rope, leaned my shoulder against the interior to steady myself from falling prematurely.

Pat-4's voice came to life. "Go! Go! Go!"

A lot happened in the 60 seconds that followed. Within 10 seconds, PAT Unit-3 has fast-roped onto the roof of our target building. If all went according to plan, Units 1 and 2 would be blowing open the ground doors and making entrance as well. In the next 10 seconds all of my team had grabbed onto the six prearranged ropes attached to the roof and rappelled down to level 8. The next 10 seconds were spent entering through windows and into a deserted office room.

As Pat-1, I was designated the 'entry-man', and responsible for—well, entering the room. Slinging my M41-A over my left shoulder, I unslung an assault shotgun and began the 'stack'. A stack is where all team members line the wall and hunch over the man in front of them with one hand on the shoulder of the man in front of them. I waited for Pat-2 to give me the affirmative squeeze.

Feeling it, I position myself at a 45-degree angle from the door and wait for Pat-2 to cover the doorway for me. Once he was in position, I pump my weapon and fire at the metallic handle, blowing it clear inside the target room. Giving the door a good kick, I spin and place my back against the opposite wall, shouldering the shotgun and readying my M41-A.

Pat-3 tosses a flashbang grenade inside and ducks back as it explodes. In went Pat-2, followed by Pat-3, then Pat-4, and so on. Being the entry-man, I wait until all Commandos fill the room, then roll in to clean up the mess.

The Close-Quarters-Battle was over in seconds. Having been stunned by the flashbang, the terrorists hadn't a chance against the assault team as they covered their respective fields of fire and 'dropped' anyone holding a weapon. By the end of the minute, Unit-3 was searching the hostages, making sure none of them were a threat.

I lowered my M41-A and walked amongst the mess. Seven terrorists lay dead, thirteen hostages all on the ground, secured. All but one.

A small girl, no older than five, stood, quivering in the corner. She was standing over a jacket, bundled on the floor. Lifting my visor, I force a smile and put on my happy person face.

"S'okay," I say in strained English, "s'okay." She shudders as I kneel down and place my arm around her small frame, pulling her close to me. That's when I heard it.

Nudging the jacket with the muzzle of my rifle, my eyes grow wide and a sick feeling fills my gut. <Get out!> I screamed.

My mates look over at me, stunned, as I drop the M41-A, grab the girl, and run for the window. The air around me seems to pull away towards the jacket, and within the span of a heartbeat, turn into a shock wave, shattering all the surrounding windows and hurling me out the one directly in front of me.

Deafened by the explosion, my ears rang and the empty air engulfed me. An odd inner silence filled me, despite the ringing. Headlights rushed up towards me as I tumbled end over end, struggling to get a sense of my body in relation to the street below. Twisting violently, I tighten my grip on the child, and lean over her as best as possible.

Facing skyward, the lights of the target building were the last things I saw as we collapsed through the top of a commercial transport.

My cybersuit absorbed most of the impact. A few weeks later I'd wake up in a hospital, with two shattered shoulder blades and a severe concussion. The little girl I tried to protect wouldn't pull through.

Although I never met up with the Commandos again, I know that the mission would have gone down as one of their worst failures to date. Not only did they lose an entire PAT team in the explosion, but our principle hostage, Niva Sorboski, was toast as well. Not to mention thirteen other employees.

Something else occurred to me as I fled into the Canadian wastelands. Fear had so gripped me upon recognizing the bomb that the warning I had given to my mates had been in my native tongue. Unfortunately for them, I was the only one who spoke Korean. They had never even had a chance.

February 2034
Zero Zone, Neo York

Shivering in my seat, I took another sip of coffee. The meeting place was a small Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of the Entertainment District. I'd already circled the block once, keeping track of the individuals who stayed with me any measure of the way. So far, so good.

Sitting at an outside cafˇ in the middle of February wasn't one of the smartest things I'd done in my life, but this was the last safety measure before I committed. Sipping gradually at my brew, I kept my eyes on all the sets of clothing that passed me by. All new outfits; unless they were more clever than I at counter-surveillance, I was confident I wasn't being followed. Time to move.

Rising, I tossed my half-full coffee cup in the bin and crossed over the crowded street. Someone cut in front of me as I neared the entrance to the restaurant; I let them pass and followed them in.

An older woman holding a baby, and a man in his early twenties sat at the front desk eating their lunch. Both wore white shirts with black aprons. "Pick up, or sit-down?"

Caught off guard, I turn and see a young Chinese woman, twenty if she was lucky, smiling and holding a menu. She must have come up on my blind side while I was watching the other workers; oh well, whatever.

"Yes, I'd like to be seated please," I say, measuring my English carefully. I didn't speak much of the language, and what I did speak was picked up during my tour with the Royal Marines. Thanks to that fact, not only was my English horribly broken, but it carried with it a thick South London tilt. My sympathy always goes out to whoever is forced to listen to me.

"Preference?" she asks, according to the preset code.

I smile. "In the corner, please," I continue.

As I take my seat, she sets the menu down. I continue the sequence.

"I know what I want. Green tea please."

Her smile falters, and for a moment I began to flap. Did I screw up the safety sequence?

"Ginseng with it?" She continues. I breathe a little easier. If I did bugger it, at least she was overlooking the mistake.

"No, thank you. Too healthy," I say, now all business. Now that the prearranged dialogue was finished, she sat down and motioned to the young man I saw earlier.

Leaning back in my chair, I put my hands in the front pouch of my sweatshirt. Clasping my hands, I try to generate a bit of warmth. She calls out something in Cantonese as the young man disappears to the back of the restaurant. Turning to me, she swallows, obviously nervous, and gobs something off to me in her native language.

Whether it was my blank expression or the way I shifted uncomfortably, she caught the hint. "Sorry," she said in careful English. "What I call you?"

"Mitsuo is fine," I say looking up at the young man as he comes back around the corner. He offers me the green tea, and I take it reluctantly. I didn't really like the stuff, but at least they were smart enough to play it off in case anyone was paying attention to our little exchange.

"What's the job," I ask, sipping the warm tea.

She leans forward a little bit, looks around nervously, and then returns her eyes to mine. "The Triads," she says quietly, "They're taking too much from our business." I must've looked confused, because she continued in earnest.

"The Invasion has forced everyone to desperate measures." Her face takes on a more sorrowful sheen and she stops for a moment to consider her next words. "Triads use to take only 15%; now they take almost 45%, just to fund their war. It's too much on us."

Sipping my tea, I look away from the young woman and let my eyes wander around the room a bit. I had to keep myself in check lest I do something out of pity instead of sound thinking. Her story wasn't at all uncommon here in the Zone, especially after the Invasion. But the way she said it was enough to stir the emotions. Knowing something is a reality and having to gaze into the face of it are two different beasts.

She pushes on. "My family will close down restaurant next month," she says, stopping for a moment. She seemed to look for a proper translation before continuing. "My mother cannot continue in this way."

My eyes travel to the front desk. The older woman was wiping something from the baby's mouth. Taking another sip of tea, I do my best to ignore the ache in my left shoulder blade.

"Here," she says taking an envelope out of her blouse and pushing it across the table. "Please help." Her expression is one of quiet desperation. I couldn't blame her, I'd be pissing if our roles were reversed.

Stealing another glance at the infant at the front desk, I push the envelope back across the table. The young woman bows her head sorrowfully as she reaches for the money.

"Any positions open?" I ask. She lifts her head, confused. I nod towards the young waiter that brought the tea.

Completely confused, she tilts her head. "Sorry, I do not understand."

I smile weakly, the way an idiot does when he's about to do something incredibly stupid. "I'm going to need a job after this one."

Zero Zone
The Wild Cherry

It took nearly twenty minutes for my eyes to adjust to the neon strobe lights flashing wildly around the club. Dancers knocked into my table on a regular basis, and I had to pick up my beer before I ended up wearing it.

It seemed this was the asian hangout in this part of the Zone. Wasn't too bad a place I guess? Not that I was a certified clubber or anything. A young Chinese girl bumped into me and smiled drunkenly. Eyes on her tight black skirt, I smiled too.

This was the place. And this was the night. I'd done CTR (close-target-reconnaissance) for the past four days, spending the night in a sewage ditch with little more than a holey blanket for warmth. I'd kept a schedule on the comings and goings of the Red Tigers, a small gang of twenty-year-old Chinese kids who did hits for one of the local Triads. Apparently they were the Triad's messengers in this part of town. Unfortunately for them, they were about to become mine.

There were five faces that I'd come to accept as the core of the gang. I checked my watch. 22:48. They were due in any minute now. Setting my beer down, I rose from my seat. I wanted to take a piss and get back to my spot before they made an appearance. Someone grabs my arm, and I nearly piss right there in my pants.

It was Short Skirt. She was smiling at me, her eyes grabbing for my attention. She says something in Chinese. Grinning sheepishly, I shrug my shoulders. She frowns. "You stay," she says smiling again. "Buy me beer." Blinking, I do as she says. The last thing I need is for a scene to draw attention to me.

She calls out to the waitress and says something in Chinese. I swallow, a bit uncomfortable. She could order the whole damn bar and I wouldn't know about it until I got the tab. Things were not getting off on a good start.

Just as the waitress brings over Short Skirt's beer, the Red Tigers make their entrance. Standing up, I watch them all the way into a back room. No time for that piss after all. Glancing down, I see that Short Skirt had already made her exit. At least it was only one beer.

Paying my tab, I set off in the direction I last saw them. That's when surprise number two walks out of where the Tigers had gone. A familiar, middle-aged face appeared amongst the crowed of young clubbers. Mr. Hoshi, my contact within the Yakuza. Who he was or how much power he had in the organization, I didn't have a clue. I only knew that he was the man who had showed up both times the Yakuza had offered me a job.

Turning slightly, I avert my eyes. People have a sixth sense and can sense things like that. My peripheral caught him as he neared the exit—and someone I hadn't seen before. A woman, Chinese by her looks, walked abreast of Hoshi. If it were anyone other than Hoshi, I'd assume it was a call girl from the club. But not Hoshi. From what little I knew of him, I could tell that wasn't his style. Then who was she?

As if on cue, she turned, her eyes scanning the club until they met mine. I tried to look away but my curiosity got the best of me. A smile tugged at her lips, as if she was amused by me. I turn away, pissed that I had allowed myself to make eye contact.

Walking slowly towards the back of the room, I look over my shoulder to make sure Hoshi and his female friend had left. Pleased with what my eyes had not seen, I round the corner and enter the rear hallway.

Restrooms were to my right and three doors straight ahead. Two of the five Tigers were standing outside the far door, one drinking and the other talking up a young teenage girl. Miller-Light turned my way and lowered his beer. Obviously pissed, he yelled something in Chinese and waved his beer at me. Pedophile and his underaged girlfriend laughed at his joke. Wish I could be in on it though, I sure could use some humor right now. Instead, I lower my head, and stumble towards the restroom, holding my stomach as if sick.

Pushing through the Men's door, I find a stall and close the door behind me. Drawing my M9, I eject the mag and check it; all fifteen accounted for. Sliding the topside back, I see the glint of a chambered round. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out the suppressor and quickly attach the item. Satisfied, I stuff it in my jeans and pull my sweatshirt down over it.

Exiting the stall, I stop at the door. Closing my eyes, I grit my teeth and begin to psyche myself up for the hit. An image of the little baby in the restaurant enters my mind, strengthening my resolve. Talking three quick breaths, I exit the restroom and enter the hallway.

Miller Light is in the middle of taking a sip when he catches sight of me. Pedophile must have gone somewhere with the girl, because Miller was all alone. Without missing a beat, I stride toward him and draw my weapon. Eyes wide, he drops his beer and stumbles backwards. Lifting the M9, I squeeze off two rounds. At two meters, instinctual fire isn't all that challenging.

Miller took the first round in the chest and the second above the collar bone. He backs up against the wall and slides down, sitting there in unbelief. I kick him under the chin as I move towards the far door; only four left.

Clicking the safety on, I kneel by the door and put my ear towards the bottom. Loud music and plenty of laughter. Judging by the squealing, I'd guess I found where Pedophile ran off to. Rising I clicked the safety off. Game time.

I step back and then take a hop-skip before kicking the door just under the knob. It bursts open and I waste no time in rushing in. Pedophile is on the bed, offering a hit of something to his little honey. One boy is down on the couch, while two others are at the coffee table with a deck of cards. A .45 is on the table between them.

Turning on Ace and Spade, I immediately fire, attempting to drop them before the .45 leaves its peaceful spot on the table. Ace takes two rounds in the side as he attempts to leap out of his chair. He tips over to the floor at about the same time I turn on Spade, squeezing off three more rounds. How many hit him, I don't know. I just know that he doubled over and took the table with him. Good enough for me.

Turning I see that Sleepy is wide awake and heading for the door. Without time to draw a bead on him, I begin squeezing off rounds, and watch him run right into the door frame.

It all happened so quickly that I hadn't even the soundness to count the rounds as I fired them off. Pain lanced into my shoulder and a yelp escaped my lips. Whirling, I see Pedophile on the bed, loading rounds into a revolver. Girlfriend was doing a wondrous job choking me as she hung on my back. I raised the M9 and squeezed off four rounds before I heard "dead-man's-click". Pedophile disappeared behind the bed as I reached over my right shoulder and grabbed a handful of hair. Bending at the knees I rolled my shoulders and flipped Girlfriend over my back. Landing with a curse, she shook her head dazed.

Reaching up, I pulled the syringe from my left shoulder and approach the young girl. She rises, and turns towards me, her eyes filled with anger. She runs towards me, swinging wildly and cursing in her native tongue.

I'd had enough for one night. Grabbing her wrist as she flailed about, I twisted it and brought her to her knees. Lifting the syringe, I returned the favor, shoving it in her Carotid Artery. Her eyes glazed over a bit and a smile spread across her youthful face. Speaking quietly in Cantonese, she crawled slowly for the bed.

Frowning, I quickly made way for the overturned table. Whatever was in that syringe would be making its way through my bloodstream and its effects wouldn't be far behind. I had to finish up and get out of here quick.

Grabbing a playing card and a pen, I scribbled my message in Japanese using Kanji as much as possible so my intended audience wouldn't miss it. The message was simple: Fund your own war.

Pushing through the shattered door, I staggered down the hallway, leaning against the wall as much as possible. As I rounded the corner and entered the crowd, my vision began to blur and the techno-rave music came to me in odd and exaggerated sequences.

Shoving through the crowd wasn't a problem; the ravers actually helped bounce me to the exit door. Leaning against the doorframe, I could feel my legs begin to give out.

Looking over my shoulder, I notice that everyone is dancing in quite a slow, melodic manner. The music has ceased as well, leaving a dull hum lilting through my mind. A smile crosses my face as a sudden joy fills me. I can feel myself laughing more than hear it.

Suddenly the door gives way and I see my surroundings change from colorful darkness, to a more peaceful gray. Watching myself walk off the four-step platform and fall face-first onto the broken pavement was more amusing than painful.

Then came the dizziness. Rolling on my back, I close my eyes, and take a moment to enjoy the darkness. Only in the darkness did the world stop spinning. Exhausted, I kept my eyes closed and took pleasure in the sudden warmth.

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