Strictly Business
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23 / M / California
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Posted 3/23/14
“It’s twelve A.M. universal time here on Terra Corp. planet X-09. Weather today is cloudy with a one-hundred percent chance of irradiated blizzards. These conditions are to continue until the Adobe magnetic field generator is installed. Furthermore, wait. What? Captain Higgins, why do you even make me do this? It’s not like there’s a single person here who doesn’t know that the weather’ll never change.
On the broadcast frequency, Higgins consoled “Buddy, we’re professionals, and as such we must have professional news. Now keep journalizing. I’m gonna see if I can get one of the snipers to shoot off a solar panel.”
“Okay, first of all, I’m not sure if journalizing’s a real word, and second, could I just report on that?”
“I’ll have to deck you for questioning my absolutely superb vocabulary, so on that note, you bet your armored ass you can! Film it in HD and in slooooooow motion. Maybe from orbit if it’s in the budget! Okay, listen up all who are tuned in to this station. Due to circumstances I mentioned literally thirty seconds ago, the news as usual will not be posted. Instead, I’m going to burn some budget money for the sake of vandalizing part of the planet! Come to the courtyard if you don’t want to see it in slooow motion. Wait, what am I saying? Come to the courtyard anyway!”
Lugging my portable camera along, I stepped into one door of a foggy silver, self-contained cubical, and out another to the sound of a high-pitched buzzer. All I could see without switching to false-color optics was a grey similar to the one I just stepped out of. The AI would take care of the rest of my report which would consist of technical nonsense about temperature and Geiger counter readings, as well as our collective pay grade- adjusted for how much damage we caused. The latter of course, would soon be adjusted again.
Out on a hexagonal plot of leveled ice, with a thirty mile high column as the centerpiece, Captain Higgins gestured to a sniper laying in a lawn chair of snow. He was a lanky little thing, the sniper. His body armor was a show of that, listing one way or another like ancient Chinese gongs as he meandered forward. What would be normally a skin-hugging thermal suit slacked in places as well. Really, the only thing that fit him properly was a helmet plated in charcoal-grey tiles on one side, and alight with a collection of rotating telescopes on the other. He was short too. Even Higgins, a man of about 5’10” dwarfed the little guy. Higgins stared down the little guy as he struggled to snap the butt into place. Higgins stepped into the spot-light to add a bit of what he calls heroic glare to his opaque, dome-shaped visor. He placed a hand over the hood of his poncho as a gust of irradiated snow forced the rest of his poncho to flutter about wildly- something he really liked. With steam blowing out and behind his respirator, he clasped one of the snipers dangling shoulder pads, taunting “Betchya two-hundred credits you can’t hit the solar panel up there.
Zooming in on Higgins’ face with one of his scopes, the sniper sarcastically shot back “Really? Just that far.” The target in question was a cylindrical metal tower that stretched upward beyond the point of disappearing in the grey-white haze above. All the way to the planet’s upper atmosphere- about thirty miles up. The summit of which, among other things, supported a hefty solar panel; one of many used to power whatever we plugged in at the bottom.
“Tell you what kid. I’ll make it interesting. Hit that panel- which you won’t, and I’ll give you four.”
“Oh, that hardly seems fair-“
“Up up up up up. If you miss. You have to unhook your intake hose, and let Gonzo fart in it. You don’t have to pay a credit if you lose. Just spend a minute huffing on Gonzo’s gasses, and whatever other smells that might be stirring around in there.”
A man so rotund, it seemed that his thermal suit would split, bellowed out “I should warn you little man. I’ve had quite a bit of meat last night!”
Sniper sneered back “Oh, I’m sure you suck down plenty of meat every day- mostly in the locker room of course.”
“Little man, I’ve eaten birds bigger than you.”
“That’s because I shot them. Anyway, you can keep your perfume to yourself. Hell; I’ll buy you something that doesn’t sour up my respirator after this is over.”
I stepped next to Higgins, speeding up the camera’s frame rate to capture every inch of the slug’s flight until it breached atmosphere. I was met with a fist to the side of my mask, knocking the visor a bit out of place and causing it to vent atmosphere. I said nothing as I Scrambled to stop the leak. Smugly though, Higgins said “Pecking order, John.”
I got back to pointing my lens toward the sniper. He was focusing his lenses too; albeit on something much bigger, and further off. Once on the ground, he toggled a switch open, and the last third of the barrel snapped open like an alligator baring teeth. With an obstinate grunt, gonzo slouched back on his pillar as capacitors in the rifle rang to life, and a white flash burst forward to the sound of a single petite church bell. Shortly after, all the lights of the facility flickered off and on again. Higgins checked the tactical GPS with one hand, rubbing the back of his neck with the other.
“Well, its’ gone. As is Gonzo. All you had to do was wing it. I mean, it’s not like those panels are important or anything. They just, you know, keep the lights going, keep the heat going, and heat, as you may or may not have noticed, is kind of a big deal around here. Just for future reference.” Can’t be helped now I suppose. I’ll wire the credits now; likely at whatever tempo Gonzo is setting by drumming his head against the compound walls. By the way, never mind what I just said. That was awesome!”
Inside the compound, Higgins stepped into his olive drab office to take care of his lost bet, and report back to his group’s benefactors about the latest case of vandalism. With his office alight with monitors of various sizes, he noticed an orange light at the corner of the central computer. Orange lights indicated messages from Terra Corp.; a rare occurrence, even if a number of solar panels happen to be missing. The message pertained to recent activity involving the Force for Limiting Corporate Landownership, the FLCL. Turns out they’ve been moving quite a bit more gear than usual, and given the information gathered from deep scanners located all over the planet, Terra Corp. decided it would be best to try to intercept the packages. Higgins called for an assembly in the courtyard. Most of the mercenaries looked identical in their olive drab, armor plated jump suits, save for the asymmetrical helmets on the snipers and Gonzo; not that he was wearing anything out of the ordinary if it were scaled down a bit. On a pedestal made from empty gun-metal crates and surrounded by spotlights, Higgins cried out “Men! I’ve got the best damn news you’ll hear on this miserable ice ball, followed by some fairly awful news! We have a priority mission straight from our benefactors! That means, starting from a successful Reconnaissance, we get to go balls out with every man, woman, and mindless robot at our disposal! Now, the only downside to this is that if we fail, the FLCL will be the ones raining hydrogen hellfire on us!” Trailing off into a more tactical air he continued “Based off of information from the satellites we haven’t blown out of orbit, the FLCL got their hands on their very own Ahab Crawler. Fortunately for us, they haven’t gotten around to building it yet. Hell, I bet those fools are tangled in the tape right now, but if they get their act together before we do, I can guarantee that last week’s pay will be our last pay ever. That’s why I’m putting together the best recon team our budget will allow; myself and our stalwart reporter, John!”
Just then, a pair of squat looking repair robots swaggered from the motor pool behind Higgins, each no more than ten feet high with exposed canopies. Confetti exploded from cannons on either side of Higgins as the two took position where the bits of paper fluttered around. The two machines, called grease gorillas pounded each other’s fists, and formed “hang loose” hand gestures.
The robots remained at either side, on their hips, but Higgins stepped down from his make-shift podium, approaching one of cadets. Keeping his stride, he announced “Now before I head off to the Atlas Bars, there’s just one thing I need to take care of.” He drew from his right holster, and with a sizzling pop, the cadet slumped to the snow on his knees, the cold from outside already overtaking his visor. Higgins knelt beside him. With his arm around the cadet’s shoulder, he started talking; casually, as if he never actually shot the man. “So, you decided to infiltrate my stronghold. Buddy, look. You don’t infiltrate my base. See, that’s my job; a little something your FLCL rats may want to start remembering, because frankly, I wrote the book on this kind of thing. I’m published on three planets you know- not that you’ll get the chance to buy one. In fact, one of my chapters deals with how to counter what you’re doing, and the next one is on how to counter that. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say it involves a bit of hacking your neural implant as you sleep. Don’t think you’re special or anything. I do it to everyone else too. I will be honest though. It was one of the better efforts I’ve seen- oh. You’re dead now. Okay, Gonzo, bury this guy somewhere out back, and Exo Bros, head with me. We Got some heads to split; silently of course.”
Just then, blinding snow whirled around and away from four encased propellers holding aloft a massive fuselage. On either side were empty holsters molded in the shape of the robots soon to occupy them. There wasn’t much room to land, so I jetted my way up and tossed down a rope for Higgins; not that he couldn’t fly his way up like I did, but he liked the idea of gallantly hoisting himself up an old rope with one hand and holding a fully extended rifle in the other. He said it was practice for boarding enemy ships and stealing their treasure. The robots went about docking in the regimented manner they usually do; just flying up and docked with their holsters. With that, the drop ship ascended into the snowstorm
The ship strafed about doggedly through crisscrossing trusses and loops of hanging wires dozens of meters apart. Visibility hadn’t changed in the slightest since leaving HQ. It’s usually no issue thanks to the thermal imaging nearly everyone and everything on this planet has, and most of the planet’s framework is host to millions of scanners and black boxes that inadvertently keep these frozen scaffolds warm enough to highlight themselves against a brisk negative one hundred degrees Celsius.
The ship neared the landing zone; a pair of columns magnetically suspending half a dozen thick metal wheels, stacked horizontally and each patiently rotating opposite of one-another. It was one of many dotting the planet’s prime meridian. Terra Corp. calls them Atlas Bars even though they don’t play quite that big of a role in the planet’s overall functionality.
Higgins descended towards a snow bank at the bottom of the left Column, tapping the side of his helmet twice “So these are Atlas Bars. Well erm… bar, since this is the only one I can see. Anyway, it’s probably not in the least bit necessary for you guys up there to turn on your cloaking devices, but do it anyway! It’s in the budget.”

The ship stopped at a clearing in a canopy of entangled wires, run through by pipelines and scaffolds. I powered on my thruster and jetted above the mess of metal. I switched my heads-up display to Higgins’ point of view and laid back against a pillar.
Through Higgins’ point of view, I could see the Atlas bar as an iridescent orange against deep blues and purples- a definite tactical advantage in this kind of weather, but for me, a few dozen hours adding false color in the editing room. A broken silhouette of dark magenta crouched through the snow opposite of Higgins. An active cloaking device on whatever approached made it nearly invisible on most spectrums, but a well-trained eye could usually tell that something was skulking near. Higgins was not that kind of eye, leaving me to point out what should have been obvious to an assassin of his reputation.
“John, I still can’t see this guy.” Higgins whispered. “You’re good with cameras, can’t you just… I don’t know, highlight him or something?”
“No captain, it doesn’t work that way.” Frustrated, I placed a yellow arrow on his head-up display. “Just shoot that way or throw a grenade or something.”
“Wait, you can do that, but you can’t outline him?”
I yelled through the radio “Just shoot that way!”
Higgins snapped back “John!”
“Wha’at?!”
“Pecking order.”
Just then, a woman’s voice came from behind “Of which, I’m at the top.”
Higgins’ heads-up display shuddered and fizzed as a metallic thud rang through his helmet. He leapt forward through the snowbank, climbing the Atlas bar a ways, and thrusting off to get behind the culprit of the new dent in his helmet. The woman behind him punched the back of his head. That distinctive metal on metal sound and the fact that Higgins hadn’t been killed outright meant that it was none other than Mirana. She disappeared again. Higgins threw up two metal canisters, each showering the area in smoking yellow sparks. Mirana’s camouflage flickered off. One knee dug into the snow, scooping a bit of the powder into the gap. Her right arm, unfolded at the forearm to cover her helmet. She stood for a moment to reveal a slim round, slanted visor atop a standard looking, albeit small respirator trailing off into tubes that disappeared behind her shoulders. Thick armor plating vaguely matched the contours of her chest, extending to the right to form a socket for her prosthetic arm. Raising her right above her head, Mirana’s hand shot upward to a catwalk just below the spinning disks of the Atlas Bar. Half way up, she swung backwards and detached, clutching a rifle with the same alligator mouth as the sniper rifle back at HQ. In mid-air, she leaned into a “U” shape with a knee bent to balance the stock on. That church bell sound that doomed a solar panel earlier rang out four times, eliciting the same number of short girl like screams from Higgins who was hopping from side to side to dodge each bolt of blue-white metal.
Mirana flew forward towards the ground, charging her rifle again, only to have Higgins force it from her hand with three shots of his pistol. Another canister sailed upward as Higgins’ cloaking boiled into the background. This time a shockwave bubbled outward, knocking Mirana off her trajectory, and sending her head first into a snow banked column behind Higgins. Upside-down and presumably dead, her legs fell limp into the snow. Higgins snatched her up, but was met with rocket fire and a knife in the leg. Balancing on her prosthetic hand, Mirana wrapped her legs around Higgins’ head. Just as she maneuvered to slam him against the column, Higgins fired his rocket pack in reverse, leaving Mirana to kick off and flip upright. Higgins came to a halt. “Mirana, shame on you! You haven’t even bothered to say hello.”
She chimed back “Oh, sorry about that Cap’n. I was just thinking.”
“Oh come now, what could be more important than saying hi?”
“You know, thinking about what to send to you next of kin after I kill you, whether I should hang your head over my mantle or use it as a hood ornament. Oh, and if I should tint my visor teal. You know. Girl stuff.”
Higgins Pondered for a second. “Yeah, I haven’t been feeling too chatty either- guilty actually, about killing an unarmed woman.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve got weapons out the muff he-“
A white flash raced across her right side, striking just below the shoulder. Her right side drooped as her metal appendage went limp, dangling on a thread of twisted metal. With his pistol pointed strait out on one hand Higgins cocked his head back. “Well you are now! Hey John, did you catch that?
“Yes Captain. Looks like you’re about to catch one too.” I was too busy twiddling a string into a Cat’s Cradle to tell him Mirana was snapping her arm strait and taking aim.
“The hell are talking about?”
Just then Higgins cried out, crossing his legs and buckling onto the metal arm that lay below. “Not… fair.” He whimpered.
Just as Mirana dashed forward, Higgins set off another flair canister, and disappeared from Mirana’s view. This time, Higgins had the arm- likely the tool he used to burrow beneath the snow. Switching to a stealth camera I had hidden on the column I where I was laying. She was darting around in all directions, looking to take in any amount of evidence regarding Higgins’ whereabouts. She shouted for him several times. Higgins answered back. “Oh, I’m around, but it’s up to you to find out. I’ll give you a hint. I’m not in any of the places you’d think I’d be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Oh dear God, you sly little-“
“booga booga booga!” Higgins snatched her by the feet, pulling her down up to her neck in snow, binding her feet in cuffs as he surfaced. He stood before her head with the prosthetic arm in both hands above his head. Sunlight beamed from Higgins helmet onto hers. He brought the arm gently to Mirana’s face. Raising it again, he looked to my camera.
“Hey John. Go for a close-in panoramic kind of shot, and Mirana, tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Four!” With a mighty stroke, he made contact with Mirana’s face, knocking her a meter out of her entrapment. “Arm!”
“All right. I’ll give you that one, but. You ever hear the one about the man who got beat to death with his own skull?”
“That doesn’t seem physically possible, but can I just say, wow you look ominous in that shadow! Your visor’s glowing, you’re mostly hidden by the shadow… Shadow. Shadow? Sunlight?”
I chimed in “Yeah, about that. Turns out there was going to be some solar activity today. I think the AI said it was going to be a Coronal Mass Ejection. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d say that now would be an excellent time to panic, or call in our drop ship.”
Things were looking grim. The sky cleared, opening our eyes to the star-struck void of space. Iridescent green columns raced and twirled in double lariats in the thin atmosphere. Blue-white slush started to pool around Mirana’s and Higgins’ feet. Higgins stared into the dancing light, and back to Mirana, saying “Now look. As much as I’d love to beat you to death with your own arm, we might actually have a bigger problem on our hands.”
“Ditto, and as much as it pains me to say this, I think we’re going to have to call a truce.”
“Hah! You said it first, you spineless can of expired whoop-Ass! I’m the greatest assassin on this rock, striking fear into the hearts of every sole of the astral plain!”
The whine of the approaching drop ship’s engines were interrupted by a gun shot from Mirana, followed by Higgins’ screams. During his moronic postulation, Higgins forgot Mirana still had a pistol. She didn’t shoot him anywhere lethal, but after losing his Achilles tendon just then, I’m sure he wishes she had. A small craft shaped like a bulbous inverted wasp dropped to the slush. She clambered into the unfolding abdomen as Higgins hobbled over to a rope hanging from his drop ship. We cleared the canopy, sailing through the upper atmosphere near the green, cloth-like strips responsible for tearing it away. Behind us, a yellow glow was hard at work consuming the auroras with its own light. It flooded the fuselage, and we were slipping along the floor to the cockpit. An astral hurricane was upon us.
The tail of ship felt the searing edge of the plasma waves, turning the tail skyward, and sending me hurdling toward the cockpit. Before I hit the front of the fuselage, I caught a glimpse of Higgins sitting in his chair like the plane was still nose forward. My head shattered the fire extinguisher compartment. No red cylinder to meet my head though. Higgins always told us standard safety was for cowards without a budget to burn on stealth systems. Consciousness disappeared in an explosion of grainy dark rainbows.
“John? Hello? Wakey wakey. Dude, there’s no way just that could put you out. I’ll try the mega phone. EARTH TO JOHN! YOU ARE A PATHETIC SOLDIER, AND EVEN WORSE JOURNALIST! WAKE UP, AND GET BACK TO WORKING THE CAMERA!
That was the first thing I heard during my dark fizzy reentry to consciousness. I hadn’t gotten my site back though
“Driver, this is the writer of your paychecks speaking. Let’s turn this boat around and pay Mirana a visit.”
I answered that I was coming to, but my voice modulator suffered heavy damage, so what came out was a gargling, flanging mess of fluctuating octaves from normal to my actual voice. If I wanted him to understand a word, I would have to turn it off. That meant dropping my façade; exposing my secret through circumstances like these that I was a gender shy of the name John. I interrupted his trumpeting “Higgins you fishbowl-headed Guinea, I’m up!” That silenced his wake-up call more effectively than I thought.
“Wh-wh… Dear God, you’re a woman?! Not surprised, not surprised. Totally not surprised. I saw it from a mile away.” He put his hand around my shoulder, leaning in to my helmet. “Seriously though, how’d you do that?”
“Voice modulator, and a less than ample bosom.”
“You’re kidding. The voice changey part, I mean.”
“Yeah. They’re standard issue actually. You have one too I think.”
“No way!” He shouted, standing atop the door to the cockpit. “Okay, Okay. Let me see if I can get this to work.” He mumbled to himself about changing pitch and octave, then turned to me, telling me in a female voice higher and faster than any I ever heard to listen, and he started to sing “Miku Miku ni shite agerou!” Then he shouted as he normally does “That’s pretty freakin cool!”
“It’s pretty dated if you ask me sir”
“Oh, it’s dated that you want. Computer! When you’re done being completely fried, download me the entire script of Planet of The Apes!”
Just then, the pilot sounded on the intercom “Attention travelers, this is your captain speaking, uhhh-“
“Oh just get on with it!” I shouted.
“John, is that you? You’re a woman?”
“The name’s Griffon actuall-“
Higgins explained what he knew of the situation, and asked what was so important that he had to stop using his voice modulator.
“Well captain, your little friend is trailing us at a bit of speed, and she’s trying to lock on to me.”

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Posted 12/22/15
"Year-end cleanup. Closing threads with no activity since 2014."
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