Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chapter Four


Sheratan, Prefecture IV

Republic of the Sphere

April 7, 3133 00:34 Hours

Niobe had, for as long as she could remember, been a mischievous character, to state the least about her shenanigans. It wasn't her preference to partake in mischief, nor necessarily even her forte, although she excelled in it in either way, when a job enticed her adequately. Causing mischief was at best an occasional occupation for her until this point. However, she just like other attuned people in the Republic could feel a storm coming. No matter how normal things ever seemed in the current atmosphere, some had learned harder than others that change was disturbing in magnitude and speed when it involved armed force. Unfortunately, there was no reliable way of knowing how well intelligence could be gathered on any activities, by the supposed government of the Republic. She did not want to risk being a high profile target. Communication in the Republic was still somewhat intact, meaning her stealth activities were afforded no leeway.

Although Hans was the objective of her mission, in fact he was the mission; she felt great angst at the fact that its fulfillment might have unexpected ramifications. She knew already that he was adept, charismatic, as well as impressively adaptable, and had the potential to be what he might become if all things went well. Perhaps her recently developed emotions were threatening to get in the way of work. It would be a new experience for her, as it had never happened before.

Big deal, she thought. She had been given her assignment. No payment had occurred, no contact with the employer after the initialization. In fact, as far as she knew the only contact she did have wasn't even with the actual employer. She liked him, and she could do what she wanted. As far as she was concerned she had no standing obligation to anyone but herself at this point. Perhaps there was still the chance she could have things her way and change the course of Sheratan's modern history…slightly. It wasn't that she was self-centered, or greedy, or being a child. She believed the future could work out differently. There was no denying she hated the administration that devolved under Steiner and a blasphemous, murderous regime, here in a lightless nook of the Republic. Despite her disdain, she still sought to avoid expanding the conflict if it were still possible; although she knew subconsciously the only effective way to bring it to a close would be to involve the only stable power around. Whether or not the Republic became involved, she knew as well as any educated citizen did that Republican government was doomed by design to fail. It had always failed in reality, the countdown until the next failure had been ticking for a century. Niobe sighed as she unclipped the gore-tex strap meant to secure the weapon in her hip holster. A quick flip of the safety on her laser pistol and she shoved it in its holster, clicking the strap back together.

She much preferred working at night, for multiple reasons, the least of which was not her black apparel. Covered from head to toe in a modern rendition of the classic Terran ninja, she wore a high-tech sneak suit built upon the now-outdated but popular camo sneak suit of the Draconis Elite Strike Team, the highly efficient commando units fielded by the Great House armies of Kurita. The DEST suit was woven from synthetic fibers interlaced with Kevlar or gore-tex to protect against shrapnel and low-velocity weapons, although the suit was ideally intended to avoid damage entirely. In addition to the suit's protective measures, it also incorporated an intricate layer of thermo-conductive mesh designed to reduce the wearer's infrared silhouette by absorbing body heat and bleeding it into the surrounding atmosphere. Her own suit also bore the features of standard pre-Republican camo sneak suits, featuring an elaborate system of sensors which analyzed the light and color in the surrounding environment and through computer calculations mimicked the wearer's ambience, making them effectively invisible. It came with the downside, however, of much reduced mobility, if the wearer wanted to stay "invisible".

However, the most remarkable part of a standard DEST sneak suit was the faceplate. Featuring spectral and intensity range image modification as well as anti-glare polarization and anti-flare abilities, in addition to thermal imaging abilities, her faceplate was essentially an extremely intricate panoply of electronics and photo-sensors jammed into a pair of goggles not too big to cram into one of her suits pockets. Not that she ever would. The surprisingly lightweight goggles emitted a tiny green light, though she had them turned off and covered to avoid any possibility of detection because of them.

Due to the classification of her mission as merely reconnaissance, her armament was what she considered to be minimal. She carried three simple weapons with her, all of them essentially ancient and low profile technology. A Clan variation of a vibro-blade clung in a sheath to the rear of her left shoulder, essentially a ninjatō made of extremely rare "memory metal" that would hold shape against severe deformation, charged with an electrical current that caused the blade to vibrate at high frequency and thus increasing its slicing ability, Tucked into a holster midway down her thigh was a Nambu automatic pistol featuring selective fire modes, a silencer already threaded into the barrel and protruding from the holster almost to her knee pad. The Nambu was highly accurate and capacious, not to mention nearly impossible to get outside of the Draconis Combine, and was widely popular despite being twelve hundred year old technology. Her last weapon was one she didn't have the slightest expectation of using at the current moment, but came standard with the suit: a monowire. Monowires were just an updated version of the trusty garrote used throughout history, operating on the same principles as the vibro-blade. It was attached to her left glove, designed to be unspooled and attached to the opposite glove in one vicious and hasty moment.

Although being dressed up in an almost skintight ninja suit was her ticket to freedom and the seemingly infinite enjoyment it afforded, Niobe most appreciated the window to work at night time. The adversities faced by an agent trying not to be seen were much different at night than at daytime: no matter how good you were, assuming people were around, there was always a possibility of being watched. At night she was invisible, quite literally when the sophisticated chameleon abilities of her suit worked effectively. The blades mounted on her palms and the bottom of her feet scraped against the ferro-crete wall as she slipped a few inches, silently cursing herself. Pondering her personal involvement with an established actor in her mission, and her own idiosyncrasies was the last thing she needed. It certainly would not help her accomplish what she considered to be the moderate feat laid out before her. The suit was good, but she was no superhero. Furthermore with the state the world was in, it was extremely expensive and increasingly irreparable, not to mention volatile. If it got banged up, so would she.

Two more meters, she whispered to herself, reapplying her muscular strength to press herself up against the outside wall of the communications tower. Every second that she remained climbing she grew more agitated, fed up with Adrian Hasek. Whether or not he had any involvement with this buildings design was irrelevant. In fact, she doubted the man was intelligent enough to think of a hindrance such as exclusively concave walls. Regardless, she made him the focus of her frustration. Her right hand dug out of the wall and as she shifted her weight, she punctured her hands again into the buildings side, scaling the last few centimeters and sliding under the guard rails on top – this must be a sentry point for the guards. Oddly enough, she had only spotted a few of them. Surely she had calculated their shifting patrol patterns right, as there were no sentries at all on the roof.

Niobe left her chameleon camouflage active, slowly sneaking up to the open window that was to be her vantage point. Inside sat Adrian Hasek himself, who seemed to be involved in some sort of heated conversation over a very utilitarian computer desk. She furled her brow at him – wishing she had the simple luxury of killing him right here, right this moment. It would be no hassle – no effort at all right now to hop through this window and lob off his head with a searing hot sword blade.

The ambient hum of computers and electronics in the room made it difficult to discern the words Hasek was adamantly yelling into the microphone headset, but eventually the advanced electronics of her suit were able to help distinguish. She crouched down below the window sill, pressing her body against the building and remaining as still as possible. Eventually her sneak suit kicked in and painted her in a camouflage nearly impossible to discern with visual methods, and the advanced electronics allowed her to actually see behind her in the room.

Adrian was standing up now, pacing with growing furor back and forth between the window and the desk he was sitting at. Suddenly he broke his brief radio silence and calmly spoke into the microphone.

"I'm sorry I think I had something in my ear. Say that again?"

A second or two went by again before he spoke.

"You can't find him? You can't find him? What the hell are you talking about, you can't find him!?" He started calmly at first, pronouncing the words with increased vigor until he reached a crescendo, yelling into the microphone

"Check that slut's house, where else would he be?"

Her mouth and eyes went wide, her brain telling her to just shoot the guy right now and get the whole thing over with. "Slut?!" she thought. Oh how she loved men and their nonchalant capacity to say and do the most asinine things possible.

"She's gone too!?"

"No shit! Find them!!" he yelled into the microphone, and suddenly by the time she noticed it in her suit's heads up display, the headset smashed into the wall above her head, exploding in a rain of broken solder, shards of plastic, silicon, and wiring which cascaded down her chest. She heard him proclaim something to himself, like "I'm surrounded by idiots!", but focused on laughing in her head at his trouble.

That's odd, she thought to herself. I've seen him in the past hour, what's wrong with you guys? It was true, however, that he had been increasingly exploratory in the short twelve or so hours that he had been free from the hospital, so she didn't find it hard to believe he wasn't sitting still. On the other hand, he was no ninja. As smart as he may be he didn't have the training to simply disappear – especially not on this planet. It was no backwater world but it also wasn't a planet of megalopoli like New Avalon or the other key planets in the Republic. It just wasn't that easy to vanish in a small place.

Finally Adrian left the room, descending by an elevator away from the top floor of the communications building, meaning she could finish her espionage assignment. She slipped over the edge of the window, waiting well until the elevator had come back empty before checking for more occupants in the room. There were none, but she had bigger problems. Hasek had turned the lights off when he left the room, but even after switching on her suit's night vision, she couldn't find a decent place to plant the bugs her employer needed. The micro-communicators were easy enough, and she decided to place those inside the microphones that lined the communication desks. All together it took maybe ten minutes, they were small enough that she had brought more than enough, and simple enough to implement, but the video surveillance footage was proving harder to set up. Truthfully, she couldn't even find the buildings own security cameras, which was proving more disheartening every second.

Once she finished the last audio bug and set everything back into its original place, she began to truly concern: several voices could be heard coming from the stairwell right near where she came in. There was no way she had enough time. Niobe killed the power to her night vision, silently bolting back through the window and clinging to the little defilade the walls offered against the inside of the room. The sneak suit's chameleon camouflage was good, but she never trusted it to handle a dramatic shift of data input such as the lights coming on fast enough to readjust.

Screw it, she said to herself: The audio bugs had been planted; it would have to be enough for the contractor for a day or two. She had hidden the receiver well enough off the site that they wouldn't discover it, not to mention it would wirelessly transmit the encrypted data to a safer location for backups. Although the bugs she had planted were small, they were not perfect. It was ancient technology; used in conjunction with other people usually, meaning it required a radio to receive the data it would transmit. She scampered off as quietly and invisibly as she had come, getting the feeling she should probably find Hans before anyone else on this miserable rock did.

* * *

This was pathetic. Through the years of diminishing adversity and disorganized opposition against him, Adrian must have forgotten not all enemies can be purchased or murdered. Individuals of character, heroes as they used to be called, may now be few and far between but they surfaced when necessary. Hans chuckled heartily to himself. He was actually being imbursed, by his own cousin, in exchange for helping build his projects. In his mind, there wasn't really a better situation at the time. Being paid a highly respectable amount of money to operate the controls of the simplest 'mech possible, by someone that hated him, to do something he loved to do. So far, despite his royal upbringings, piloting a 'mech was the only thing he did, the only career he both excelled at and enjoyed thoroughly. Additionally, he may or may not gain valuable tactical information in the process.

Adrian had departed the scene much earlier on in the day, not very long after seeing the smile on his cousin's face as he did menial labor. Hans suspected that whatever this rouse, whatever had been Adrian's intentions for what he thought was this immensely demeaning act to blackmail his cousin into, had failed miserably and the man had stayed around long enough simply to mask his disappointment, but not appear conspicuous about it.

As far as tyrants went, Hans had no personal experience with them, but from what he could gather; Adrian was a small fry in the business. Surely he had the capacity to develop into a memorable one; already he had gotten off to a decent start. Murder your cousins parents, murder your uncle already in the seat of power, let your own parents settle into the position for a period of time, then murder them and take over. All while you're a young adult. Eventually, manipulate your own living blood relatives into helping you, as Hans was doing right now.

He kicked the throttle forward with the foot pedals, learning the ropes of this strangely familiar new machine. Technically, it was by absolutely no means new. WorkMechs were the original framework for the BattleMech, having been invented in the early half of the 24th century as one of Michael Camerons contributions to technology during his reign as Director – General of the Terran Hegemony. It operated the same as any 'mech, but Hans had never been in the cockpit of a construction 'mech until now. It truly was an odd tool, and he pondered even what made it special: neither arm had any construction features, just humanoid hands for grasping building materials. Maybe the construction machines were used just to set up the framework of buildings.

There seemed to be very little functionality to the 'mech he was piloting otherwise. It contained no jump jets or mechanical boosters, no airborne capabilities whatsoever. Furthermore, it certainly wasn't any taller than any other mech, only standing at about fifteen meters tall.

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