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October 2009 Volume 11 , Issue 10 submit to us!
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The+Meeting
by Alex Hinkley -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

A knock came to Colonel Malson's beachfront home door, waking him from a dream that he couldn't remember. Colonel Ty Malson lived on Earth all his life despite its overcrowding and rampant crime. He refused to move out into space no matter how much praise the spacious Mars colony received. He despised space. It was a desolate wasteland. He thought of it as a worse version of hell.

He drank himself to sleep every night and the fact he was expecting visitors did not stop him from doing so tonight. He had just finished half a bottle of brandy by the fireplace before he had slipped off into the dream world in his leather armchair. He got up, cracking at several joints and glanced at the clock. It was one minute past midnight. Sharp pains shot into his hip and he tried to rub the arthritis out of it as he stumbled to the door. When he opened it he found who he had been expecting.

"You're late. Did you bring the identification cards?" he asked dryly. He found his mouth already was craving more precious alcohol and he licked his lips.

"Of course," one of the men replied.

The two men at his door were wearing the standard ground infantry uniform of the Human Advancement Alliance (HAA) military but Malson knew better to be fooled by them. They were pilots from a private military contractor known Dyne Inc. Dyne was responsible for all sorts of reprehensible acts, the least of which was offering their services as contract killers. After the Mohemian Revolution five years ago, they wielded a lot of power and were said to be even stronger than the HAA as their surreptitious tactics allowed them more freedom in exercising their authority. It was even rumored that top Alliance officials were corrupted by Dyne. Colonel Malson didn't need to be told that they were not simply rumors.

The man on the right stepped in first. He was bald and stood over six feet tall which was rare for a military man. With the advent of mechanized suits thirty years ago, it was smaller men who could fit into their cockpits of smaller and quicker suits that prospered in the military field these days. Unlike his own baldness which had come naturally with his old age and the stress of his career, Malson guessed that the man shaved his head in an effort to look more intimidating. He looked too young to be completely bald.

The second man was younger than the first and was significantly shorter. He had slicked back hair and Malson would have thought that he was a nice young man if he did not have the cold eyes of a killer.

The bald man pulled two plastic ID cards out of his front left coat pocket and handed them over to Malson. He gave them a quick glance. They had all the required information on them filled out except for a blank white square where the photograph should be.

"Everything looks in order. All we need is the pictures now. Close that door behind you for God's sake it's the middle of winter," Malson said.

The younger man nodded and closed the door as he stepped in. He leaned against the wall next to the door while the bald fellow and Malson walked into the next room. As they entered the next room, the lights clicked on automatically. The lights were too bright and gave off a sterile white light. They seemed out of place for a dwelling. It was almost as if they belonged in a laboratory. Artificial plants were present in every corner and some were hanging from the ceiling in chandelier-like cradles. Real plants were hard to come by on Earth and a single flower could cost thousands of dollars. The Colonel looked at the ID cards again and read the names. Ricky Dowling and Lee Murphy.

"Which one are you?" he asked.

"I would be Ricky Dowling."

Malson nodded, knowing it probably wasn't his real name. "Do you have the pictures, then? Let's hurry this up."

Dowling reached into another one of his coat pockets and produced two wallet-sized pictures and handed them to the Colonel. They stepped over to his computer. Malson shooed his cat away from the keyboard who had taken it up as a bed then typed in a few commands. A black prompt screen came up on the monitor.

"Damn cat's like fifteen," Malson said while he typed. "You'd think he'd be dead by now after eating all that synthesized food they give you around here." He glanced over at Dowling but he was not amused. Malson shrugged and scanned the pictures onto his computer which showed up on the monitor. He nodded approvingly and inserted the ID cards into some sort of gray metal device that lay atop the computer tower. Its function seemed to be to transfer the pictures onto the cards, and to emulate the holographic mark.

The HAA used special holographic projected images on their IDs so it was not a simple matter of copying a picture to the card. The cards were tested at checkpoints with a hand reader and if the holographic photograph did not project as it was supposed to...

Within thirty seconds both ID cards came out with crisp pictures now imprinted on them. The Colonel picked up a hand reader from the desk and scanned each card. The holograms of each man's head and face projected out into the air and he studied them from different angles. They looked real. Hell, if he didn't know any better, Malson would have been fooled by these himself. It was not the first time he had made fake IDs and he was damn proud of his work. He looked up at Dowling. It was probably not the first time he had needed one to complete a contract, either, but it would be best to make sure he knew what he was doing. There could be no mistakes.

"Have you taken care of the retina overlays?" Malson asked.

"Yes. We have connections with a man that specializes in such; we'll be registered as Ricky Dowling and Lee Murphy if scanned at any building on the base. Ranks of Sergeant and Corporal."

"I'm sure they will look into the fact their best pilot was killed in a simple test run so make sure you make it look like an accident," Malson said.

"That's what this is for," Dowling replied pulling a small silver handheld device out of his pocket to show the Colonel.

Malson's eyes widened. "That's not going to do you any good!" he exclaimed. "You can only access terminals specifically given the code."

Dowling smirked and shoved it back into his pocket. "You forget that we work for Dyne, old man. To us, this is just another day at the office. We had a man modify the computers in the test suits last night. There should be no trouble accessing them."

Malson nodded. "You and your partner are very thorough," he said as they walked back into the living room. The lights of the second room automatically turned off as they left. Murphy was no longer standing by the door but was browsing through one of the Colonel's bookshelves. He turned around when the two came back.

"You will receive the other half of your payment after the mission is completed," the Colonel said to the two.

Dowling clapped Murphy on the shoulder and handed him his identification card. Murphy smiled and opened the door. Without so much as a farewell, they left. Malson closed the door behind them then walked over to a control panel on the side of the wall. He flipped up the metal lid and pressed the red button underneath. A small mechanical mouse sprung out from a rectangular hole in the wall to clean the muddy footprints Dowling had left in the carpet.

Malson watched the mouse work for a moment before walking over to a mirror. He glared at his reflection. His face was haggard. He ran a hand across the coarse gray stubble that covered his cheeks. He grunted and unlatched the mirror and swung it open. A 9mm pistol lay on the shelf hidden behind the mirror and Malson took it. It was better to be safe than sorry. He put the gun on the table next to his chair and returned to his brandy.

Yim would be taken care of before he could talk to the magistrate and he would not have to worry about "The Maverick" revealing his ties to Dyne. He hoped to impress the higher ups in Dyne by dealing with Yim and maybe even be offered a job working for them. But if the plan failed, his career would be over. Maybe even his life. It wouldn't fail. Nobody could see this coming, not even Yim "The Maverick" Palmer. He nervously downed another glass of his favorite liquor. The fireplace crackled as he poured yet another glass and before he knew it the bottle was empty and he had dozed off again. He had already called in sick for tomorrow and did not have to worry about getting up early for the twelve hour flight to the Lunar Base. The orange light from the fireplace danced on his face while he returned to his dreams.

***

The main gate to the Lunar Base was heavily guarded. Three guards armed with assault rifles stood around the checkpoint and there was a fourth inside the guard booth. Two gun turrets which could be controlled from booth sat atop the wall on each side of the gate. The booth itself was made of Cintanium alloy, the same material used in the best Battle-Suits, and bullet-proof glass. When Ricky Dowling and Lee Murphy drove up to the gate, one of the guards approached their car.

"IDs please," the guard asked nonchalantly. Dowling, who was driving, handed the newly made ID cards to the guard. He scanned each of the cards and the men's heads once again popped out into the air. He looked at each of the holograms carefully, glancing up periodically at each of the men's faces to ensure authenticity. Dowling took off the green military cap covering his bald head to prove it was him in the photo. The guard was about to give them back when it seemed he caught something suspicious on one of them. His eyes narrowed.

"Well that's odd..."

Murphy reached into the holster under his armpit and clutched his pistol.

"What the hell are you looking at? We don't have all day. We're the test pilot overlords for today's run," Dowling said impatiently.

"Well here it says that you were born in the year 2135. That would make you only fifteen years old. Eh...must be a misprint or something. I doubt that you would be assigned to overlord a test without an extensive background check, anyway." The guard handed them back without giving it a second thought. "Go on ahead, I guess."

The guard signaled to his partner that had his feet up in the booth. He was eating a sandwich and reading a magazine about the new age of casinos but still saw the first guard's signal. He pushed a button on a control panel without putting down his lunch and the red lasers of the gate disappeared. "Careless old man," Dowling mumbled as he drove into the base.

Yim had been looking forward to this day for a very long time and he was sure to arrive at the base early. It wasn't everyday that you got to test pilot a new variation for a Battle-Suit.

He walked into the main hangar and was glad to see the modifications to JOSEF were complete. JOSEF was the codename for his personalized Battle-Suit. It was the suit he used in his campaigns during the rebellion. Though outdated, JOSEF was still the most feared among the HAA fleet simply because of who piloted it. Yim had sent JOSEF in to get the alterations necessary for the test done the night before. A large round blast shield was added on the left shoulder and equipped on the right hand and shoulder was a weapon he had never seen before. It must be the new weapon. He stared up in awe of the thirty-three foot tall giant.

Suits like these were first used during the colonization of space thirty years ago to move heavy materials around and were simply called Mechanical Suits. The suits differed in sizes but were all similar in shape. They resembled the human form with arms and legs with thrusters present in the bottoms of the feet meant for lifting off from Earth to space, and on the suits back so that they could maneuver in space. Only a few suits existed for the purpose of security and they were mostly used for construction of the Mars Colony.

It was not until the rebellion five years ago that these large suits began to be used for purposes of war. Proven useful in combat, the Human Advancement Alliance saw their potential and began testing to mass-produce new suits called Battle-Suits made specifically for combat. When the HAA needed a test pilot, "The Maverick" was their first call. He had heard that a new weapon called the Sync Gun was now available for the mass-produced suits and now he was looking at it attached to JOSEF. It was said to be so strong; one hit could tear just about any Battle-Suit to shreds, even the ones made of Cintanium alloy.

"Lieutenant Palmer!" a man called from the entrance of the hangar. Yim spun around and gave a sigh when he saw it was Private James Lomax. Lomax was only eighteen years old and looked up to Lieutenant Palmer like an older brother. He tried to help Yim whenever he could in an attempt to gain favor with the Lieutenant. Lomax would ask Yim to tell him stories of battles and glorified being a soldier. If Yim refused, he would bring up a favor he did for Yim in the past to make him feel guilty. It annoyed Yim. The kid needed to learn that battles were not to be celebrated. Taking a life was never a good thing even if they were your enemy.

"What do you want, Lomax?" he asked.

"The two overlords are here. We're all ready to commence the test run now. I mean, if you are ready, that is."

Yim glanced at his watch. They were an hour early. "Yes send them in."

The test mission was a simulated space battle comprised of seven converted old Battle-Suits equipped with standard 120mm rifles and painted orange to signify enemies. They were unmanned and operated by low-level A.I. Yim was to cripple, but not destroy, these seven suits. The two overlords were to accompany him in some of the best Battle-Suits the Human Advancement Alliance had to offer to ensure the safety of the test pilot and to make sure nobody tried to hijack their trial technology. They were not to interfere with the test run unless things got out of hand.

After a moment, Lomax returned escorting two men. "Lieutenant Palmer, I am Sergeant Dowling and this is Corporal Murphy. It's a pleasure to be working with you. We've heard a lot about the ‘The Maverick.'"

Both men extended their hands and Yim looked at them for a moment before taking them awkwardly. He was not used to shaking hands instead of saluting.

"I certainly hope my performance can live up to the hype. Shall we begin?"

"We were thinking perhaps we could have a drink before we go. We are running a little ahead of schedule," Murphy said grinning.

Yim frowned. It seemed very unprofessional to drink on duty.

"C'mon man we still have a good hour or so until we're supposed to run the test," Dowling said clapping Yim on the shoulder.

"Alright but I want to be back here fifteen minutes before we are supposed to leave."

"Of course," Dowling assured.

The men walked into the bar located in the soldier's lounge and sat at the counter. It was empty. Apparently not many people began drinking at nine in the morning. The bartender, who was dressed in a soldier's uniform without any rank insignia, walked over and took their orders while he cleaned a glass with a rag. One of the perks of this bar was the human bartender. Most of them on Earth were tended by machines and it made for a terrible time. The two overlords each ordered a beer and expressed their displeasure when Yim only ordered a glass of juice. He wanted realistic test results and did not want his reaction time slowed even by half a second.

At first, the three men didn't talk. They just quietly sipped at their drinks. It wasn't that Yim was anti-social, he just did not have anything to talk about with these men. Dowling was the first to break the silence.

"So, Lieutenant..." Dowling began with an unnecessary emphasis on Yim's rank, "Tell me about the Mohemian Rebellion."

Yim shrugged. "What's there to tell? Draynor Mohemia was a lunatic that tried to get the Mars colony to declare war with Earth. He actually tried to raise the argument that Earth was beyond saving and should be cleansed. Nobody thought he could actually fool people into believing his propaganda but when he mustered a sizeable force, the Alliance had to stop him, obviously."

"I didn't mean a history lesson," Dowling said with a scowl. "Tell us about your missions. We heard you once destroyed twenty Battle-Suits all by yourself. Didn't we hear that, Murphy?"

"Yeah we did. We heard you killed over a hundred people, too. Pilots and civilians both," Murphy added in.

"I would rather not speak of things I might have done five years ago," Yim replied.

Dowling finished his beer and when the bartender came to refill his glass he waved him off. "But why not? You are viewed as a hero both on Earth and the colony for your efforts. If it wasn't for you, the colony might have broken away from the alliance forever."

"Maybe...or maybe not. It was a long time ago," Yim said.

"Yeah those are all just stories anyway, right Lieutenant? Surely nobody can defeat twenty suits alone."

"Surely not," Yim agreed and took a long drink.

"Do you know how they say Draynor was able to raise such a powerful army?" Dowling asked.

Murphy answered before Yim had a chance to. "They say that Dyne was responsible for it. Would you know anything about this, Lieutenant? We know that you have expressed displeasure for that company."

Yim glared at the two men. The question was way out of line. Could they know that he had proof that high ranking military officers cooperating with Dyne were behind the rebellion? He hadn't told anybody about his findings and his appointment with the magistrate wasn't for another three days so it seemed impossible.

"I don't know about any of that. I think almost everybody is wary of Dyne, not just me."

"Not just you..." Murphy said trailing off.

"But especially you," Dowling added in.

Yim did not like where this was going. He put his glass down even though it was still half full. "I think we had better head back," he said standing from the counter. They returned to the hangar in silence. Private Lomax asked them if they were ready to begin and they agreed. He readied their machines for takeoff from the control room. All three men took to the pilot's cockpit of their Battle-Suits making sure everything was set just the way they liked it. They blasted off into the void of space, Dowling and Murphy first, and then Yim last. Private Lomax saluted him before he left.

As they moved towards their target destination Murphy and Dowling planned out their assault via Empath Chip, small chips implanted in the brains of the elite HAA squadrons and, thanks to corrupt HAA officials, Dyne Inc. assassins as well. With an Empath Chip, you could communicate with others that had it implanted on designated channels, like a radio, only there was one channel designated to each chip, so only those with the same type of chip could communicate. It was just like a voice in your head.

"I'll take control of the other suits as soon as I am in range. We'll wait until he's destroyed at least four of the other suits before jumping in. Don't attack him unless I say to. If we screw up, the entire military is going to know what happened and will be after us," Dowling said.

"Alright but what of the Sync gun?" Murphy asked.

"It's going to take more than that to save him."

Up ahead, a spot of orange appeared against the star speckled blackness of space. They had arrived.

Yim flipped a switch and loud heavy metal music filled his cockpit. "I will engage them while you wait back here. I don't know what this thing is going to do so it's best if you keep your distance," he commanded and activated his thrusters, boosting toward the orange spots.

Dowling immediately pulled the silver handheld device from his pocket and punched in his access code. The seven test suits all lit up as Dowling hacked into their computers and remotely took control of them.

As Yim drew closer to the group, the seven suits all turned towards him and opened fire wildly with their 120mm rifles. His suit strafed side to side to dodge the hail of gunfire as he closed in. Yim fired the Sync Gun as he continued in on the group. The recoil of the gun knocked his entire suit backwards. The blast itself was a massive red energy beam that sliced through its target with pinpoint accuracy, tearing the first suit to ribbons. A shockwave threatened to destroy the surrounding suits but the void of space dissipated it. It looked like he would not be able to complete the test run without destroying the new suits, the Sync Gun was simply too powerful.

Yim continued forward, firing four more shots as he passed through the group, his suit now moving in only a blur. Each shot hit their target. One suit exploded after another despite Dowling's best efforts to control them. Murphy and Dowling watched on in shock at how quickly Yim moved his old suit and how accurate his firing was.

It's the gun doing the work. It's all the new gun. Dowling thought to himself. Deep down he knew it wasn't just the gun. He had never seen any suit move that fast. He was lucky to have Murphy here with him or he might have aborted the mission. He had been a contract killer for years but this was the first he had ever even considered running away. He had underestimated Yim. Perhaps all the stories were true after all.

With five of the seven suits destroyed within mere seconds, Yim stopped JOSEF and swung around for a second pass. He concentrated on the music filling his ears. As he turned, the remaining two continued to fire on his position with their rifles. Instead of thrusting towards them, he moved vertically to dodge the bullets and fired the Sync Gun three times. The first hit one of the suits tearing it to pieces, but the second blew off the legs of the last suit. His follow-up shot destroyed the head and the left arm of the last suit. It floated in space for a few seconds, sparking before exploding.

"Hell of a gun this thing is," Yim spat out as he panted, breathing heavily. Moving fast in mechanized suits took a toll on the body. He slowly flew JOSEF towards the overlords to make his report.

The assassins would not let Yim go, they couldn't. Dowling crushed the handheld device angrily. It looked like they would have to kill him themselves, even if it meant losing their own lives by being found out. They simply could not fail.

As Yim drew closer, Dowling locked onto JOSEF's right arm. Without hesitation he unloaded on it with his pulse rifle. Before Yim knew what was happening, the beam chewed his right arm away and tore the Sync Gun off of his suit. Sparking circuits came out of a circular hole on the shoulder of the suit.

His conversation with the overlords in the bar earlier echoed in his head and Yim immediately knew what was happening. "You bastards are from Dyne!" Yim yelled out as he slid the blast shield down from his shoulder to his forearm. He blasted full speed at Dowling's suit hoping to get close enough to him to ram him as Murphy and Dowling both opened fire on him. The shield was not meant to stop fire from a pulse rifle but it held up long enough for him to close the distance. Yim moved in on Dowling's suit and rammed his blast shield into him. The force of the impact knocked Dowling backwards and jarred the pulse rifle from his suit's hands. Yim grabbed the rifle and immediately fired at Dowling. A long yellow beam of energy tore through the midsection of Dowling's suit leaving a hole sparking with electricity. The suit burst into flames and spiraled out into space.

The loud clink of the bullets penetrating his suit's Cintainium exoskeleton suddenly filled Yim's ears and his suit was pushed back violently by each hit. Murphy's suit was equipped only with a 120mm rifle which would ordinarily be no trouble for JOSEF. Yim was exhausted, however, and simply could not avoid the gunfire. Yim leveled his pulse rifle but Murphy quickly shot it out of his hands. Defeated, Yim frantically searched for the eject button in his suit but it had been conveniently removed. Murphy's face suddenly appeared on Yim's main screen. He was grinning.

"You should have left Dyne alone. Earth will be conquered and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It is a shame about what you did to Mr. Dowling, though. Well not really...now I will not have to split the payment with anybody. Goodbye Lieutenant Palmer," he said laughing. Yim listened helplessly as more shells riddled JOSEF and he was rocked back and forth with each hit.

Suddenly a Battle-Suit appeared behind Murphy's. It was holding the Sync Gun with both hands. Just as Murphy spun around, it fired the new weapon. The beam blasted through Murphy's suit as easily as it had against the test suits and blew it to pieces.

There was silence before another face popped up on Yim's screen.

"I thought I would come and watch the test. When I saw you were attacked I just..." the kid said. There were welling up tears in his eyes. "I...I can't believe I killed someone."

"Thank you, Lomax. Thank you..." Yim whispered before passing out.

***

A knock came to Colonel Malson's beachfront home door, waking him from a dream that he couldn't remember. Startled, he got up, cracking at several joints. He glanced at the clock. It was two in the morning. After hearing of what happened, he was expecting them to come but this was much sooner than he anticipated. He thought it would take at least until tomorrow to trace the hit back to him. It seemed that he would not have enough time to escape, after all.

The knock came again and was followed by a man yelling that they knew he was home.

With his left hand, he picked up the handgun that lay on the table next to his chair and put it to his head. With his right hand, Ty Malson took one last swig of brandy…

 
 
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Features -- October 2009 -- Beginning Month Issue