“Do we know what their load out is going to look like?" The scarred blonde, Molly, asked, raising her hand even as she asked the question.
“Current estimates put their forces at about seventy five,” Xander replied, an organization chart appearing on the smartglass, featuring ten squads of eight. One team had a large red X through most of it. “That means we outnumber them by about thirty people. Unfortunately, they have a couple samurai past the Wierzbeck limit, and they’re hard to bring down.”
“Fucking psychos,” a black man with a pair of chrome hands muttered, shaking his head. “You can’t control someone like that. They’re just as likely to shoot a squadmate in the back ‘because it's funny’ as they are to fight the enemy.”
“Agreed,” Xander blinked, pulling up an image of three squat armored vehicles. “Unfortunately, Steel and Blood has been able to call in some serious favors from Ike Holdings. These are three “Allen Wrench” class Urban Area Denial vehicles, surplus from the Central American Resource Wars.”
“Each UAD is armed with an autocannon, externally mounted armor piercing missiles, and two remote operated machine guns,” as Xander identified each weapon, the barrel in question glowed red briefly. “In short, even if they’re outdated and not a full on tank, we’ll need to use anti-armor weapons to bring them down, and even then it will cost us a fair number of lives.”
“That’s the bad news,” Xander changed the image on the screen to a heavy attack helicopter painted in the company’s colors. “Now for the mixed news.”
“Are you sure you don’t mean ‘good news,” Molly muttered, loud enough for everyone at the table to hear.
“Nope!” Xander replied cheerfully, not breaking his stride. “The only good news is that if we pull this off, everyone will walk away from this table a whole hell of a lot richer.”
“That sure sounds like good news to me,” the black man with the silver hands chuckled, flashing a blindingly white smile.
“That’s the spirit Aaron,” Xander winked and shot him with a finger gun. “As I was saying. Steel and Blood has ordered a pair of Kestrel heavy attack helicopters using their connections in the company. In addition to some more mundane stockpiling of weaponry, the helicopters are set to be delivered in three days. At that point, I believe there is almost a one hundred percent chance that they will use their monopoly on heavy equipment to attack our base and eliminate us along with the Haupt data.”
“Steel and Blood has been pretty restive lately,” Nina mused, concern furrowing her brow. “They’ve been pushing their limits around us for the last six months. No gunfire, but they’ve started more than one bar fight.”
The helicopters disappeared, replaced by a financial ledger. One line item zoomed at the smartglass before popping open to reveal an invoice for the sale of the two helicopters.
“Interestingly enough,” Xander continued, highlighting several numbers on the invoice. “The purchase order was approved only two days after Christopher Haupt’s murder, and the sale price of each vehicle was one hundred credits with the reason for the price reduction being, ‘for services rendered.’ Now, there isn’t exactly an open market for attack helicopters, but if I were looking to purchase something like that in an auction, I would estimate a cost between one hundred thousand and three hundred thousand credits. Perhaps the most curious is that the executive signing for these purchases-”
“Gregory Daniels,” Nina frowned as she squinted at the projector. “So they didn’t just get money for the hit. Daniels and Donnst sold them enough restricted equipment to take over an entire town in the lawless regions.”
“That seems to be the case,” Xander blinked, changing the image to a rough blueprint of the former YMCA that Steel and Blood used as a headquarters. “The only glimmer of hope in all this is that Donnst has gotten a bit sloppy. Usually jobs this big are spread out amongst a number of crews in order to make it harder for someone to piece things together. Daniels and her have almost exclusively used Steel and Blood. That means that if we can get access to their servers, there’s a good chance we’ll be able to retrieve enough information to prove that they conspired together to put a hit out on Haupt.”
“And fulfill the Haupt contract,” Nina leaned back in her chair with a low whistle. “That might be enough to justify an attack on them even if we weren’t pretty sure they weren’t about to take a swing at us.”
Kat looked around the table. On her side, the two infiltrators looked slightly worried, but otherwise calm. Whippoorwill and the two people that Kat could only assume were hacking support, were more concerned, one man bit his lip while Whippoorwill tapped the table with her index finger incessantly.
On the other side, Nina and her lieutenants wore grim expressions, but almost all of them were nodding slowly.
“You’ve got our attention Xander,” a skinny man at the far end of the table called out, his fingers drumming on the table in the blindingly fast jerky blur of someone with chromed reflexes. “Now tell us what we’re gonna do about it. I’m all for earning some extra money, but I’m not excited to see those UADs turn my team into hamburger.”
“It’s fairly simple really,” Xander grinned back at him. “Our forces have something that Steel and Blood can’t hope to match. Namely, me.”
Nina slumped back in her chair, rolling her eyes before she buried her head in one of her hands.
“About a half hour before the ChromeDogs attack,” Xander took a step back before gesturing at Kat and the man and woman in black next to her. “My infiltrators and I will sneak into their base. It will be my responsibility to take down their early warning network and automated defenses.
“The infiltrators will be in charge of disabling or commandeering the UADs,” He continued, the schematics of the YMC zooming in on a loading dock where the three vehicles were presumably stored. Kat winced, noticing the lack of cover and exposed fire lanes leading up to the dock. “Unfortunately, each UAD runs entirely on a local network in order to limit the effectiveness of electronic warfare. That means we’re going to have to assign an infiltrator and support hacker to each vehicle.”
“That will certainly help even the odds,” the drumming of the wiry man’s fingers sounded like raindrops as they beat against the table, “but you still have that shit-eating grin on your face. Spit it out Xander. What else do you have up your sleeve.”
“You got me Aaron,” Xander chuckled and the image of the YMCA faded to be replaced with some information network reports. Kat squinted catching the words ‘company expansion,’ ‘minor local resistance,’ and ‘benevolent relocation,’ before Xander started speaking again, stealing her attention.
“About five years ago,” one written report after another appeared on the smartglass until it was completely covered in reports spanning a three month period. “Ike Holdings began expanding its farming operation into the former bedroom communities surrounding the Shell. According to the inter-corporation arbitration charter, a company can’t simply steal property. That would be theft, a crime taken quite seriously. Ike would have opened the door on economic and military censure for its actions.”
“On the other hand,” Xander shrugged. “It’s perfectly legal to repurpose land that is lying fallow with no one dwelling on it. It was obviously just an unhappy coincidence that Steel and Blood raided the fortified villages that occupied the land that Ike seized just days before the company moved in.”
“The survivors of those raids have either moved into the Shell,” he continued, “becoming part of our quasi-legal ecosystem, or they’ve resorted to a nomadic existence in the lawless regions outside the Chiwaukee megalopolis. Luckily for us, enough of the locals have stayed in touch with their more transient companions and I’ve been able to make contact with one of the larger bands.”
“Now,” Xander shifted slightly, “It wouldn’t be polite to call these poor souls bandits-”
The smartglass flickered and displayed a convoy. Old trucks, many repaired and rebuilt so many times that only their chassis met manufacturer specs, rumbled down the highway. Many of the trucks had gun nests in the back, little more than steel plates welded in a square around waist level with a quartet of poles in the corners holding up a slanted steel roof. At the center of the convoy were a handful of vans, extra armor bolted onto them and machine guns mounted in sunroofs.
“-but I’m sure they aren’t entirely unfamiliar with the concept,” a round of chuckles met Xander’s sardonic statement. “While they don’t have the training or chrome to match up with samurai, they do bring a lot of vehicles and guns to the table as well as uh… enthusiasm. When I mentioned that we were planning on bringing down Steel and Blood, they didn’t even ask for pay.”
“The Hoffman Estates Band is quite eager to kill as many Steel and Blood samurai as they can,” Xander’s voice changed tones as he began to finish up the briefing. “Apparently the raids on their enclave were incredibly brutal. We’ll be dealing with a lot of bad blood here, so make sure to wear your colors. I don’t want any of you ending up as a victim of friendly fire.”
Xander nodded at Nina and the big woman stood up, walking over to the front of the table to address everyone.
“Any questions on the plan?” She asked, her eyes surveying the room before turning back to Xander. “Seeing none, it sounds like everyone knows their roles. My teams will integrate with the Hoffman Estates Band, and your infiltrators will prepare to take out the UADs.”
“Xander,” she asked her husband, the barest hint of worry in her voice. “How long do we have?”
“They know we hit them hard and that we have the information on the financial transfers filtered through the waste disposal plant,” Xander shrugged. “It will take them three days to get the Kestrels, but that doesn’t mean they’ll wait that long. The Hoffman Estates Band will be within range tomorrow morning, and the snow is expected to get worse around noon so my teams will have a little bit of cover. I don’t think we can count on Steel and Blood’s inactivity for much longer than that.”
“Tomorrow at noon then,” Nina turned back to the rest of the room. “I expect your teams ready to deploy by ten a.m. This is the biggest op we’ve had in a while. Mistakes will lead to deaths. Don’t let them happen.”
She turned and walked out of the room. For a second there was silence and then the various people erupted into quiet conversation.
“Katherine?” Kat turned to see the extended hand of the female infiltrator next to her. “My name is Elise,” the girl smiled. “The guy brooding over there is Smits. I think he’s upset because he was hoping he wouldn’t be the low guy on the totem pole when you joined up, but then you went and got a name on your first day.”
“I’m not brooding Elise,” the man scowled under a mop of brown hair, definitely brooding.
“Kat’s fine,” she smiled, shaking the other woman’s hand. “I hope you can help me out with some tips of the trade. I’m decent at sneaking past people, but I don’t know the first thing about spotting and dealing with electronic surveillance.”
“Great,” Elise responded brightly, “I’d love to help. Actually, I think it's great that you’re so willing to listen to advice.”
“What do you mean?” Kat asked, standing up to follow the other woman as she led the way out of the boardroom.
“Well,” Elise blushed slightly. “The most senior infiltrator on site is in charge of operations. With Xander disabling security, you’ll be the one in charge of us disabling the UADs. I’m close, but you’re the only one with a name.”
“So now we have to listen to a newbie,” Smits grumbled from behind her.
“Oh shut up,” Elise rolled her eyes as she opened a door. “You’ve only been on two more missions than her and you failed one of those. Even if Kat didn’t earn her name, you’d still be answering to me.”
“I know,” the boy sighed as he followed them into the room. “I don’t mean to be such a sad sack. I watched that video. Clearly you earned your name, not arguing with that. It’s just scary for us to be on a mission led by someone who is uh.”
“Sorry,” he winced, glancing at Kat and then looking away. “No offense but you’re like a quieter samurai than an infiltrator. More stab than sneak you know?”
Kat burst out laughing, drawing a worried glance from Elise and a muttered apology from Smits.
“I’m sorry Kat,” Elise shot a glare at Smits. “I’m sure you’ll do a great job.”
“Okay,” Kat kept chuckling. “First and last order. Elise, you’re in charge of the operation. We’ll need some sort of nonverbal cue if there’s a lookout I need to take care of, but you’re handling the infiltration. There’s too much at stake for me to get wrapped up in my ego and bungle things.”
They both stared at her, startled. Really, Kat mused. What else was she supposed to do? The only reason there was such a compelling reel of combat footage starring her was because she’d set off an alarm almost immediately. If Elise was their best bet at making it to the armored vehicles undetected, it would be dumb of her to let some newly minted title stand between her and success.
“Good call Kat,” Xander called from the doorway as he walked into the room. She finally took a second to look around her. It was a staging area, filled with lockers, small caliber firearms, knives, and electronic equipment that she couldn’t really recognize. “Elise won’t be able to hold her own against most samurai, but she’s the best person in the building after me at getting in and out of a location undetected.”
“Kat,” Xander’s usually jovial tone faded. “You’re going to need to call in sick. I can help you change your work schedule remotely so someone else will cover for you, but you’re going to need to spend the night here tonight. Both so we can prepare, and because I’m concerned that Steel and Blood will come after you if they know you’re alone.”
“What about my family?” She asked, uncertain.
“They aren’t going to bother sending a team after civilians,” he shook his head. “Now that we’ve sold the information on the waste disposal teams to a couple of the other executives, they’re almost locked out of the arcology.”
“That mission of yours kicked up an absolute hornet’s nest,” Xander chuckled. “Half of the arcology is scenting blood in the water around Daniels. Now that he can’t have them killed out of hand, almost all of his allies have deserted him. No, Steel and Blood is going to find it very hard to get into the arcology right now. I’m more worried that they’ll make a run at you on your way from the ground floor to the warehouse.”
“I think I can handle that,” Kat nodded, trying to quiet the butterflies of worry that filled her stomach. “What now?”“Now?” Xander threw her a handful of some sort of putty. “Now is when I teach you how to use high explosives. After all, if Whippoorwill can’t get you into the UAD, you’re going to need to make sure that the other side can’t use it.”
“After that,” Xander ignored the startled look on Kat’s face as she gingerly tried to cradle the grey substance in her hands, “we go over the layout of Steel and Blood’s headquarters and get the three of you some snow print camouflage outfits. We’re cramming at the last second, but I want all of us to be as prepared as possible come tomorrow morning. It’s going to be a big day.”
Support "Tower of Somnus"
- United States
- Founding Member of the Zard Skwad
Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night