Claibe had a bad feeling about all of this … a really bad feeling.

He and his team were supposed to meet their patron, Kenda; a mid-level exec for Amson, LTD, Con Am’s biggest rival on the local front, at a rendezvous point an hour ago.  They were late, way late, and Claibe had a feeling that Kenda wasn’t going to be real happy about that.

Claibe looked back at his team and saw faces that were all looking at him expectantly.  Mandel was the one carrying the shoulder slung satchel with the hardcorder full of the schematics, research and notes for what Kenda had said was a Con Am’s breakthrough in the medical field of macro-dermal tissue repair, something that could shorten healing times of critically injured patients and severe burn victims by a factor of 10 over what was now commercially available and something that would be worth billions of credits to whoever could bring it to market first.  Kenda had hired Claibe and his team to make sure that it was Amson, LTD that would be bringing that revolutionary technology to market before Con Am did and the immediate payoff to Claibe would be enough not only to repair their spaceship but to set them up to live comfortably for a few years to come, longer if they stretched their credit.  Of course, Kenda would find himself with a much better position within his corporation … a much larger salary, a big private office, his own shuttle and all the perks that went with going from beimg a mid-level exec to being a high level exec.  It was a dream ticket for a middle level form pushing tool like Kenda.


So ambitious.

So free with his line of credits.

So loud with his mouth, especially when his system was full of lift spice or his mouth was wet with glow water.

Claibe signaled silently with his hands for the other three members of his team to stop while he got his bearings.  Their Roamer had taken some damage during the getaway from the Con Am research facility.  The Roamer’s onboard two spin shaker had taken a few stray rounds and lost all of its thermal coolant five klicks back leaving them stranded so they had to hump the last bit on foot.  Between Mandel’s bitching about having to carry the goods and Henris griping about how Mandel was driving her insane with his complaining, Claibe was ready to get this mission over with.  He looked at his navigator to make sure of their position …

They were close … a klick, more or less, thereabouts, and seeing as how he and his team were late Claibe thought that it might be wise to take it slow the last few hundred meters and in doing so he and his team had approached the rendezvous point along a dry creek bed with a lot of cover between them and their patron … just in case.  Claibe didn’t like surprises.

Claibe had a bad feeling … a real bad feeling that had been getting worse, a real bad feeling that he hadn’t been able to shake ever since the Roamer had given up the ghost and they had to hump the distance.  Now something deep down inside his soul was nagging him … really nagging him, and he couldn’t figure out what it was.  Yeah, the heist on the Con Am science compound hadn’t been quite the quick and easy money that Kenda had said it would be.

There had been … complications.

Intel hadn’t been accurate … or up to date.

Security had been left to local hirelings, lighter than expected … a lot lighter, and something about the goods … too little security for what Kenda said they were snatching.

So … what exactly did they have?

What exactly did they steal from Con Am … and had it really been worth it?  Con Am wasn’t the forgiving type and making a mega-corp like Con Am angry wasn’t a smart way to insure your bright future.

There had been some casualties … sure; unavoidable casualties, mostly Con Am security contractors (which was to be expected and had even been planned for) and unfortunately a few of the compound research personnel as well which Claibe hadn’t planned for.  Support staff and research staff who hadn’t been smart enough to keep their damn heads down or avoid running through the blistering exchange of small arms fire that was going on all around them at the time.  Claibe was glad that none of his team had killed any innocents … that had been one of his stipulations at the start of the mission and again he had made that clear right before he and his team had entered the facility; no civilian casualties and as little collateral damage as possible!

This was supposed to be a quick in and out, nothing more.

The deaths of the five facility staff were on the spray and pray idiots that Con Am had chosen for local site security … contractors, part-time wannabe gunslingers, not regular, trained, disciplined Con Am security.  The contractors had been idiots, warm bodies to fill a uniform and low IQs equipped with facility security clearance, a good credit line and the latest in shiny, compact, fully automatic weapons.  The contractors were more used to using their weapons for show and simple intimidation than actually having any training on how to use the weapons in the first place.

Claibe felt bad for the civilian casualties but he had long ago washed his hands of stupid people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It didn’t take much common sense to understand that in a firefight, especially one that you didn’t initiate and one that you had no part in other than as an innocent bystander, that you kept your damn fool head down as far as you could put it.  His personal philosophy was that anyone who stood up in the middle of a firefight or who ran around in the open in a hysterical, screaming panic while volleys of high powered rounds were crossing both ways deserved exactly what they got and what they generally got was ripped to bloody, ragged ribbons in quick order.

In and out … but it hadn’t been that simple.  Not as simple as Kenda had said it would be.  That part of the mission was over … some regrets there, but the kind of regrets that a fat account would go far in making Claibe forget.

Still … there was that nagging feeling.

What were they really doing?


That nagging feeling always came back to Kenda … but … why?

Claibe snapped his mind out of his dark thoughts, took a deep breath and gave himself a second or two to close his eyes and center himself.  It was almost over … this damn mission was almost over and he was surprised at how glad he was of that fact.  All he and his team had to do now was deliver the goods, get paid and never look back.  Let Amson, LTD clean up the mess.  Let the tall jobs and all of their pressed suits sort out the details.

Claibe looked at his chronometer … it was time to get going.  If they picked up the pace they could be at the rendezvous point at just a little past two hours late.  Unacceptable but unavoidable.  Kenda was going to put up a bitch storm but as long as Claibe and his team got paid Kenda could say all he wanted to.   Claibe adjusted the sling on his rifle and motioned for the others to follow him.  The other three members of the team fell in behind him … in random order.  Mandel was still complaining about having to carry the goods and Henris was still promising to the god that she held sacred that if Mandel didn’t stop his bitching that she was going to end him here and now.

Yeah, Claibe was ready for this mission to be over.

Way past ready.


Half an hour later and they had made it to the rendezvous point

Almost two hours late but they had finally made it, on foot, without the Roamer, but with the goods that Kenda had wanted.  Now Claibe had taken a position behind a small rise where he had a good vantage point to scope out the rendezvous site.  Scattered behind him, holding their positions and out of sight, were the others.  To their credit, they all remained relatively motionless and Mandel and Henris’ ongoing argument had been put aside, at least for now.

Claibe slowly eased up and looked over the top of the small rise that he had taken cover behind about a hundred meters from the rendezvous point and he did it with the experience his ex-military background gave him; old habits die hard.  His hand brought his compact macroviewer up to his eyes and he scanned the rendezvous point with computer enhanced optics.  He saw Kenda standing there by his bright red ground sports car … itself an unnecessary luxury that Kenda had transported (at great expense) from the Core Worlds out to the Fringe.  Normally a ground sports car like that was a city dweller, designed for smooth artificial roads but Kenda had told him this car was special … all terrain capable.

Must be nice to have that kind of money.

Claibe hit the zoom and upped the visual by another factor.  Kenda looked … impatient.  Beside him, sitting on the hood of the bright red ground sports car was a slim case; their payment, Claibe assumed.  Cold, hard credit.

A sound in the distance caught Claibe’s attention and he quickly panned the macroviewer to the right.  Two vehicles, a small Roamer and a big, commercial grade transport, were rapidly approaching.  The sound of the high torque electric motors in each of the vehicle’s wheels grew in intensity and Kenda turned to see who was approaching … and a look of fear came across his face.  That much was easy to see even in the macroviewer at this magnification level.

And Claibe got that bad feeling again.  Kenda was scared because now Kenda wasn’t alone and it was obvious that he wasn’t expecting what he saw was coming.

Pulling up next to the Amson, LTD exec’s red ground sports car were a Roamer and a large ground transports … a basic four-wheeled, independent suspension all terrain job and one heavy duty ten-wheeled off road job that looked like it was good for hauling cargo … the kind of cargo that appeared to be making even the ten-wheeled job’s suspension squat low in transit.  The bright red color of Kenda’s ground sports car set a tell-tale contrast to the other two vehicles that were flat black and had no markings at all that Claibe could see; a point of fact that immediately concerned him.

Who were the new arrivals?  If they scared Kenda then that didn’t bode well for Claibe and his team.  And there was that bad feeling again … this time a really bad feeling … like a hard frost on your very soul … or someone standing on your grave.

The cab passenger door on the flat black Roamer opened and another executive, a tall, well-dressed woman in a gold business suit, calmly stepped out and walked up to a very surprised Kenda.  Kenda’s fear was evident.  Claibe saw Kenda put his hands up in some kind of reconciling gesture, his lips moving fast enough that even a lip reader would have trouble discerning what Kenda was saying.  The Con Am exec folded her arms, listened to Kenda prattle for a minute or so, all the while looking around impatiently.  Kenda was pleading, that much was obvious, but apparently his pleas fell on deaf ears because the well-dressed woman drew a compact pistol and executed Claibe’s patron right where he stood with a single shot to the face.  The tell-tale bright muzzle flash of the compact pistol was sharp, some kind of wide bore, high powered subcompact.  Kenda fell to the ground, his face caved in from the front and most of the back of his head either missing or spread in a wide pattern over the passenger side and hood of his cherished bright red ground sports car.

“Son of a …” Claibe muttered as the echo of the pistol shot reached him at last across the intervening distance.

Claibe’s first thought was that with the death of Kenda there went their payment.  His second thought was it just got a hell of a lot harder for Claibe and his team to get off of this planet.

“Claibe!  What the hell is going on!?  Who’s shooting!?” Mandel asked in a harsh whisper.

The question was mirrored in silence on the worried faces of his other two team-mates and Claibe gave them the hurried “hush” sign.  Claibe looked back to see one of the vehicle drivers, wearing a black business suit, bend down and start to search Kenda’s corpse.  Another pair of vehicle drivers, dressed almost identically, exited the big ten-wheeled transport job and began to search Kenda’s bright red ground sports car, being thorough and brutally efficient, throwing things at random out onto the ground as they tore apart the inside … looking for … something.

Looking for … what?

Claibe looked over at the satchel that Mandel was clutching.

“Can’t be …” Claibe mouthed silently.

The woman, the Con Am exec, her back to him, was giving some kind of directions to the Roamer’s driver … As the vehicle drivers were strip searching Kenda’s corpse and his bright red ground sports car, another driver, similarly dressed as the others, stepped out of the front cab of the ten wheeled transport job and handed the female Con Am exec what looked like a slim control pad.  He stood there beside her as she took the pad, ran her finger over the surface and then smiled.

And that’s when Claibe heard a noise.

A noise he hadn’t heard in years.

A noise he prayed that he had misheard, especially at this distance.

A noise that was coming from the inside of the ten-wheeled cargo job.

The noise of something big powering up.

Claibe turned his macroviewer back on the scene and his mouth opened just a little in surprise.  The rear half of the ten-wheeled cargo hauler opened slowly, like a black metal flower blooming, with the side panels quickly falling away and the roof and rear panel unfolding into some sort of heavy duty ramp.  Movement caught his eye!  Something big and dark in the cargo hold of the ten-wheeler!


Moving out of the back of the black ten-wheeler’s cargo hold was the unmistakable silhouette of a military grade combat robot … a sinister looking insectoid thing that was little more than an armored multi-weapon pod mounted on a high mobility armored chassis.  Two pairs of long, folding legs that ended in segmented, terrain compensating, variable claw-feet allowed the combat robot not only to attain tremendous speed on open ground but to scale obstacles like rough ground with ease.  The weapon pod that was mounted atop the motion chassis contained not only the armament of the combat robot but also the sensors and scanners that it used to acquire, track and engage multiple targets even on the move and at speed.

What Claibe was looking at was cutting edge military hardware.

Combat robots like this had played a major role in the last Colonial war … a war that Claibe had been a part of … and he had seen the kind of brutal effectiveness and killing efficiency that these death machines were capable of when let loose, especially on unarmed civilian population centers during terror raids or scorched ground campaigns carried out against trade centers, supply nexuses and transport nodes.  Now, Claibe was seeing something from his past once again only this time it was the latest model, surely more advanced than the types and models that he had experience with for while its basic shape and build were easily recognizable for what they were the exact capabilities of the machine were unknown to him … and that presented a big problem.  He looked down at his rifle … he doubted that even the high velocity rounds that his weapon fired would be effective against the combat robot’s laminate honeycomb armor … he might scrape the finish or put a small dent in it but unless he could put a round into one of the death machine’s sensor openings or weapon ports, and that itself was a guess at best, then he might as well have a slingshot.

Mandel and Danvil moved up quickly behind Claibe, their motion loud but thankfully each still had the sense to only peek over the rise.

“What the HELL is that?!” Danvil asked in a whisper that wasn’t such a whisper.

“Death machine.” Claibe said flatly.

“A … what?!” Danvil asked.

“Death machine.” Claibe said again, solemnly.

“They’ve got a … death … machine?  How do they have a death machine?” Mandel asked, again in a loud whisper.

Claibe nodded, looking at the satchel that Mandel still clutched.

That satchel represented their dreams, their hopes … their future.  A better future.  A brighter future.

A simple in and out, Kenda had said.  Yeah, a simple in and out, just like that large bore round from the Con Am exec’s snub pistol had been a simple in and out for Kenda’s cranium.

Claibe closed his eyes.

So close.

So damn close … and now this.

Kenda dead.

Hopes dashed.

Dreams shattered.

A future of darkness.

Claibe opened his eyes and looked back through his macroviewer.  The black, three meter tall combat robot effortlessly removed itself from the back of the cargo hauler, extracting itself from its CSP charging servicing programming cradle with the kind of smooth mechanical grace that only a fully articulated, self-guiding death machine could move with.  The combat robot stood outside its CSP at the back of the cargo hauler and began to unfold itself, gaining another full meter in height, again with that deliberate machine-like grace, extending up slightly into a semi-crouched stance that allowed it to acquire and engage targets while on the move and all the while keeping a low profile that benefited its fast speed capability.  Even standing still the combat robot had a look to it that screamed beauty to the untrained eye and death to the experienced, jaded soul that understood what the death machine was capable of.

The Con Am exec turned around and pointed toward the exact spot that Claibe and his team were hiding.  The combat robot moved forward, slowly at first, one step … then another … then another as the internal systems came online and the machine’s gyro spun up.  The muted sound of its whisper servos whining barely carried over the intervening distance.

Claibe saw weapons extend from recessed storage points as the combat robot blossomed into an array of nightmarish, multi-death dealing instrument of merciless, soulless killing efficiency; a combination of long range, short range and powered melee weapons all designed to quickly and efficiently turn humans into statistics that someone could be proud of while watching from a remote access pad like the one that the Con Am exec held in her hand.  The death machine went through its startup cycle … weapon pods rotated, aligned and locked in place.  Powered melee weapons sprang out, spun into a blur, swept through their arcs and then retracted.

Mandel swore to a deity that Claibe wasn’t readily familiar with and made some kind of believer gesture across his forehead.  The Con Am exec turned slowly in place, like she was looking for something … and she stopped, almost staring right at the exact point that Claibe and his team were hiding in cover.  She ran her finger over the remote access pad and the death machine turned its weapon pod toward their position.  The death machine moved again … faster steps transitioning into a gait then ever quicker in a rapidly accelerating lope, a giant black mechanical spider moving across the ground, heading towards them.

“Get down!” Claibe said in a loud whisper.

Bright, torch-like flashes erupted from the anti-personnel gun pods of the combat robot, the chattering report echoing into one long “chang-chang-chang!” heard an instant after the first of the heavy, high caliber rounds AP began to tear up the dirt all around Claibe, sending gouts of soil into the air.  Claibe felt more than heard the impact of the rounds in the terrain around him and he hefted his rifle in one hand, readying it … for what he didn’t really know.  He edged the macroviewer over the edge of the rise looked through it again, trying to see if he could spot a weak spot on the death machine, maybe a bullet trap in the combat robot’s design … anything that might give him just a ghost of a chance of not becoming a ghost himself in the next few minutes.

“We’ve got to get out of here!  We’ve got to run!” Mandel said, his voice no longer a whisper … not that it mattered anyway.

“Stay down!  Don’t move!  It’s programmed to track movement!” Claibe shouted.

“No!  We’ve got to run!” Mandel said again, his voice almost shrill.

“That thing can track you.  That thing can cut you in half before you take six steps!”

“To hell with that!  I’m not going to die here!  Not for this … stuff!” Mandel said shaking the satchel he was still clutching so desperately, tearing it off of his shoulder and throwing it at Claibe where it landed in the dirt next to him.

“Mandel!” Claibe shouted but to no avail and before Claibe could say anything more, Mandel stood up from cover to run, stupidly exposing himself fully in the act.

The death machine’s sensors locked instantly on Mandel’s motion and thermal signature, the upper weapon pod whirred as it turned, the automated weapons systems tracking … compensating for lead and distance … and activating.


There came the short stuttering report of fully automatic anti-personnel weapons fire again and a quick burst of hyveloc rounds tore straight through Mandel with the sickening sound of someone brutally tenderizing a thick piece of meat with a claw spanner.  Mandel stood there, already dead but violently jerking in place as his upper torso was torn to bloody chunks and ribbons of gore.  Twenty-three rounds and tracers punched straight through him, the density of material that made up Mandel’ body notwithstanding, the hyvelocs and tracers had set his tunic on fire before continuing effortlessly on down range.  The smoldering remains of Mandel’s mangled corpse fell in a ragged heap where he had stood and what was left of him slowly rolled down the side of the rise.

All of that had happened so quickly that Claibe hadn’t had time to register it all … and Mandel hadn’t even had time to scream.  A dark line splashed across the view screen of his macroviewer and wet drops landed on Claibe’s cheeks and forehead; he didn’t need to look down or wipe at them to know what color the drops were.

Danvil stood there, staring at what was left of Mandel, his body locked in paralysis as his brain tried to take in what he had just witnessed.  Combat shock.  Danvil was an engineer, not a soldier.  His roughest day was when something important broke down and he had a time limit in which to fix it.  He could take apart machines and put them back together, he was really good at it, but seeing a machine take effortlessly apart a human being like that … to see something that he thought he was the master of, that he thought that he was a god to, do something like that to someone like him.


“Go!  Go, damn you, go!” Claibe shouted to Danvil.

Danvil stayed still … staring wide-eyed at Mandel’s still smoldering corpse.  A tiny flame appeared where his tunic had finally caught fire and began to burn … slowly spreading.

“Danvil!  Go!” Claibe shouted again and he was both surprised and relieved to see Danvil not only snap out of his shock but he also didn’t make the same mistake that Mandel had made in retreating from the limited cover that the rise afforded them.

Danvil rolled down the back of the rise, never exposing himself to the death machine as Claibe followed, grabbing the satchel that Mandel had thrown at him.  Maybe Claibe could use the contents of the satchel to bargain for his life, maybe even bargain for the life of the other two members of his team.  Maybe even that was beyond a chance.  He had seen the way that the Con Am exec had executed Kenda … she wasn’t here to make deals … she was here to clean up a mess and tie up loose ends.  More hyveloc rounds screamed overhead, every third one a crimson tracer that left after images on his eyes, after images he had to blink several times to clear away.

“Move!  Move!  Move!” Claibe shouted to Henris, the fourth member of the team but Henris was already moving as fast as she could.

Henris was moving, long legs, blonde hair flowing behind her, elbows and knees, all the way … but she wasn’t putting anything that would stop hyveloc rounds between her and the death machine and that was a mistake that she paid for six seconds into her flight.  There came a loud, angry hissing sound and a crimson beam of light lit up the space between Claibe and Henris and then vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

A high energy beam!

“Henris!  Danvil!  That’s a beamer!  Suck dirt!” Claibe shouted as he followed his own advice, seen Mandel go to ground just a few meters behind him, almost curling up in a ball in doing so.

Maybe Henris didn’t hear him.  Maybe she was running blind … in shock … on automatic … lost in her fear with her heart pumping.  Whatever it was it didn’t matter.  The loud angry hissing filled Claibe’s ears as the crimson beam of light once again illuminated the area around Claibe, Danvil and Henris.  Henris was headlong in flight, four meters ahead of him and to his left.  Claibe turned his head just in time to see the sizzling beam sweep left, instantly burning all the way through Henris just above her elbows.  Her scream was a hoarse gurgle and what was left of her fell in three neatly cauterized, dissected parts.  Even from this far away Claibe could hear … and smell … sizzling meat.  The hissing beam continued to track left for another full second then winked out of existence.

“Go!” Claibe shouted, coming to all fours then breaking hard for a dry creek bed on his right.

“Please give me this … please!” he prayed to no deity in particular and then he was diving into the dry creek bed as the angry, hissing beam cut a sizzling swath through the air two meters above him.

Claibe looked over and saw Danvil cowering in the dry creek bed.  At least Danvil had the good sense … or dumb luck, to take cover where the energy beam couldn’t scorch him.

“Follow the creek bed …” Claibe said, taking out his navigator and looking at the TOPO graphic.  “It runs that way for a hundred and fifty meters then runs behind a good bit of hill.  If we follow it we should be safe!”

Danvil stared at Claibe and nodded … a nod that Claibe had seen many times before … the nod of a dead man who had lost all reason, all sense, behind his blank eyes.  Danvil kept nodding as he squatted and took his rifle and gear off and then Danvil, not much to Claibe’s surprise, did the exact opposite of what Claibe had suggested.  Claibe turned from where he was hunkered down and saw Danvil hustle past him on all fours, as fast as his bent legs and arms could carry him, covering Claibe in loose soil as he climbed over him in his headlong flight to wherever his now broken brain was telling him was safe to go.

Claibe shook his head and took a moment to both think and catch his breath.  Somewhere behind him, about twenty meters, Danvil stood up and started running … and stopped almost as suddenly because straddling the dry creek bed was the stuff of his worst nightmares.  Four meters of armored, death dealing mechanized killer.  Three high intensity strobes snapped to life, illuminating Danvil in their beams and casting his long shadow behind him down the dry creek bed.  He stood there, his mouth moving slowly but no words coming out, his eyes fixed on the death machine that towered over him.  Danvil slowly began to back up as the death machine lowered its gun pods and beamer, training its weapons on him … and it paused.

Danvil paused … maybe his god had answered his non-ending prayer that he had been petitioning since he had witnessed Mandel being ripped to bloody shreds … or maybe the Con Am exec a few hundred meters away was simply deciding which one of her toy’s playthings to use on Danvil.  The death machine squatted, losing a full two meters of height as a powered manipulator arm unfolded from the weapon pod and lashed out, clutching Danvil by his legs in its multi-segmented grabber and yanking the man into the air upside down, dangling him in front of the death machine.  A pair of powered melee weapons slowly unfolded from the weapon pod, secondary manipulative arms that could tear a person limb from limb on servo strength alone … or worse.  Claibe watched in horrified fascination as the death machine seemed to poke and prod Danvil, turning him this way and that while hanging upside down, as if it was carefully checking him for … something.

The satchel!

Claibe looked down to see the satchel he was now carrying.

Suddenly the death machine raised up again to its full four meters in height, taking with it the dangling upside down and still screaming Danvil.  The secondary manipulative arms ended in multi-segmented grabbers and now these slowly started to spin in their sockets, whirring into a blur as Danvil screamed.  The multi-segmented grabbers were now spinning, whirring monofilament edged blades, each designed to easily cut through combat body armor and sweep in a wide arc around the death machine to prevent any personnel from getting close enough to do the death machine any real damage.

The blades increased in speed … their whining going from an angry whir of a fan on high to the shrieking sound of a small jet engine powering up.  Danvil never stopped screaming and then the primary manipulator arm slowly lowered his twisting, jerking body right into the path of the twin blades … screaming was replaced with a change in the whine of the blades mixed with a wet, slapping sound as the death machine slowly processed Danvil into chunky red soup from his dangling, wildly flailing arms on up.  The shadows cast by the strobes caught the spray of blood and bone as a scintillating mist that carried out in a wide arc around the death machine.  Danvil finally stopped screaming when his head and shoulders slowly disappeared into the screaming blurred blades and for that Claibe was thankful and he turned away, using what time he had left to put as much distance as he could between the death machine and him.

The death machine took its time, almost being methodical, and didn’t stop processing Danvil’s body through the spinning blades until just before the screaming blades got to where the primary manipulator arm held what was left of Danvil’s legs.  With an almost air of boredom, the death machine simply let go of what was left of Danvil and retracted its primary manipulator arm back into the under segment of its armored weapon pod.


Claibe may not have been witness to all of that but the Con Am exec had, on her remote access pad, and she smiled as she swiped her finger across the control interface.  She released the last foot and a half of Danvil’s shredded corpse, letting the two pieces of his legs, feet and mangled high boots still attached, fall to the ground.  She let the blades spin at maximum rotation for another few seconds to clear any debris then spun them down, brought them to a halt and retracted both the secondary manipulator arm and the close combat accessories.

Four out of five loose ends taken care of … Kenda and three of his hirelings … but there was still one more of Kenda’s hirelings out there.

One more loose end to tie up.

She swiped her finger on the remote access pad and set the Mark VII into autonomous mode again.  The display on the remote access pad changed as the death machine assumed control of its own actions again.  She watched the terrain move beneath the death machine as it loped off at speed in search of the last target.

“Oh, baby.  Do your thing.  Make mommy proud.” She whispered, giving a soft laugh.


Claibe’s heart was beating its way out of his chest as he crawled as fast as he could on all fours.  His blood ran cold … and his soul followed as he moved, keeping low and as much ground cover as he could between the combat robot and him.  As he ran he wondered about the Con Am exec … the well-dressed woman that had simply walked up to Kenda and so casually put a hyveloc round point blank into the center of his face.  Claibe wondered who was the real merciless death machine out here tonight … the mechanized horror that was now stalking him … or the Con Am exec still standing there back at the rendezvous site, watching her toy’s progress and deciding Claibe’s fate all with the swipe of a finger on a touch sensitive remote access pad?

Claibe knew that in all probability there was no way he was going to get out of this alive but Claibe was damned if he’d make it easy for that Con Am bitch … or if she was going to get what he had worked so hard to take from them in the first place … at least not in one piece.  He reached into the satchel and flipped a switch on the concealed remote detonator that he had shoved into the bag as an afterthought to the rendezvous.  If Kenda had tried to double cross them Claibe would have just triggered the detonator remotely and twenty-five milliliters of binary liquid explosive would have vaporized the contents of the satchel as well as Kenda and his ludicrously expensive red ground sports car … now that detonator might be the bargaining chip that Claibe really needed … or it might be his last act of revenge.


Several hundred meters behind Claibe, the Con Am exec made a motion with her hand and without a spoken word both of her drivers moved out at a leisurely pace to check the two nearest corpses for what she had been sent to retrieve.  She pulled out a gold case, took a narcigarette out, and fired the end with a slimlighter before returning the case to her inside dress jacket pocket.

She took a long drag on her vice, feeling the chemicals start to race through her system, and thought about her situation.

She really should thank Kenda for helping her find the leak in her own R&D department and for helping her test her security protocols but she figured that Kenda had gotten his reward, the only reward that she handed out for high ambition in her department.  Taking a puff, she put the remote access pad on top of the blood splattered ground sports car and ran her hands over the finish.  She’d have some of her own people come out here and retrieve the ground sports car … Kenda wouldn’t be needing it anymore.  Kenda may have been ambitious but he had great taste in expensive toys … and he had been a pretty sharp dresser as well, she thought, looking down at his corpse again.  Shame about the clothes, though … it looked like he had spent a lot on his suit and she had made such a terrible mess of it all now.

She leaned up against her newest toy and took a brief respite to relax.

Tracking Kenda hadn’t been hard at all given that mouth of his but putting a hyveloc round through his skull had been rather anticlimactic if not irony in and of itself since the hole she blew in his face had been even bigger than his mouth that he ran way too much.  The best part was the Kenda had been working for her … a protégé assigned to her department but he was the ambitious one.  Why he had decided that he should be head of her department baffled her because he certainly didn’t have the brain matter to pull that kind of ambition off … even less of that now, she thought, looking down at his corpse and giving a whispered laugh.

Somewhere, somehow, some when Kenda had decided just that and, setting himself up as a mid-level exec from another rival corporation he had hired a team of professionals to steal from her exactly what she had allowed Kenda and his hirelings to steal.  Kenda had not only shown her the extent of his loyalty to her and her department but he had allowed her to both test her security protocols at the research facility and do a field test on the new Mark VII three months ahead of schedule.  All of the facility personnel had been stand-ins, from the research staff to the security forces, all either local contractors or entry level staff that wouldn’t be missed.  Kenda thought that he was getting some hot cutting edge medical R&D but all he was getting was a bunch of dummy data and a tracker placed on his team all configured in about about ten kilos of junk hardware that Kenda’s hirelings were toting through the rough lands.  When Kenda had set up payment for his team, he had done so using credits that she had made available for him through a triple blind account swap and Kenda had been none the wiser.

And speaking of payment …

She turned and took the case off the hood of the ground sports car, setting it down on the rear spoiler and keying open a master override.  There inside the case were the credit packs … all accounted for.  Those would be returned shortly to be redeposited in their proper account … another loose end tied up.


How someone so dumb could have thought that they would ever be her equal, or her peer, escaped her but Kenda had certainly tried.  She laughed and hung her head at the thought of how all of this had come together so quickly, so perfectly.  One simple ambitious underling had done so much for her that she almost felt sorry for terminating his company employment.



She looked down again at his corpse there on the ground and shook her head, taking one last drag from her narcigarette before dropping it to the ground beside his body and crushing it out under the toe of her shoe.  She looked up to the sky and let out her last smoke, closing her eyes.  Another two or three minutes to let the Mark VII chase down the last of Kenda’s hirelings and all of this little drama would be over.  With any luck, she could be back in her office on the 483rd floor within the hour sipping on the bottle of Chewalt that she had left chilling before she took her leave.

She had a good feeling about all of this … a really good feeling.