Buck Who? Chapter 20

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 20: Working 9 to 5…

May 4th, 2668, Scav Haven

Ra’naa was tired. She had spent the entire day in the Legion’s administration office, doing everything in her power to hire as many men as she was capable. When the commander of the Legion for the city learned what she needed the men for, and for how long, he politely shook his head and then refused her request.

It was that very act that had her nearly lose her cool. She spent so many hours, going through archaic paperwork and filling out forms, to interviews and more only to have her request denied.

At least Otres found a pool to frolic in, and that kept him happy and contented for the day. One of them had a good day. In her anger, she slammed her fist into the bed she was lying on and stifled a scream.

She had not been expecting the knock on the door and it startled her so much she nearly fell off the bed. “What is it?” Ra’naa called out a little more harshly than she had intended.

Tara peered in and entered. “Ra’naa, can we talk?”

The Dragon-Exotic sat up and scooted over, making room for her friend. “Of course, what’s on your mind?”

She sat down and curled her legs under her and stared off into space. Ra’naa was still having trouble seeing her friend the way she was. The black dye was striking, and she could make out the woman’s familiar features, but it was still so strange.

“I think Declan is really starting to lose it.”

Ra’naa nodded. Otres had mentioned as much. She told her friend.

“He seemed alright, once we got into the city and away from the ruins, but I’ve caught him talking to himself more than a few times. He acts like he’s holding a conversation with someone.”

“Maybe we should sit down over a few drinks once he and Otres return; maybe we can get to the bottom of this. I still think we should have sent him back to the community two days ago.” She placed a hand on her friend’s thigh. “Speaking of strange, mind telling me what has caused you to change so much?”

Tara glared for a second and then laughed lightly.  “He filled a hole.”

“Several times a night and during the day,” Ra’naa chortled.

“No!” Tara shot back. “I’m serious. He filled a hole in my life, something no one in the community could.”

“Sorry,” Ra’naa apologized. “I was only teasing you.”

“It’s alright,” she accepted her friend’s apology.

They sat in silence for a few minutes before she began to talk. Tara brought up how her feelings have changed and how much the man they found less than two weeks previous has come to mean to her. It isn’t just the sex, which she really enjoys, but how she has connected with him. She even brought up how much she wants to have babies with him now.

Ra’naa raised an eyebrow. Babies, plural, as in more than one. She decided it was not her place to say anything and went back to listening. The only time she spoke was to clarify a point. The state of his sanity was also brought up numerous times during the conversation, including how often he was appeared to talk to himself.

They came to the conclusion he was not getting any worse, and was handling the change quite well, all things considered.

She asked the question which had been nagging at her. “Tara, what if he doesn’t love you in return?”

The words were like a physical blow to the Tiger-Exotic. She cringed and her whiskers drooped. “He has to!”

Reaching out, Ra’naa took Tara’s hands in her own. “That is just it; you can’t force him to love you. Even for me, the way you have changed and grown attached to him in such a short period of time, it does not seem healthy.”

Tara snorted in derision. “This coming from the community’s oldest virgin and a woman who has never had a boyfriend.”

The words stung, but Ra’naa forced a laugh. That was the Tara she was used to, and in some ways, she missed. “I have yet to find the right man, simple as that.”

“Do you believe in love at first sight?”

Ra’naa shrugged. “I guess so, after all, that was pretty much the way it was with mom and dad.”

“Then why can’t it happen with me?” Tara challenged.

She did not have an answer.

***

May 4th, 2668, Scav Haven

Unlike the first time Bradly had been inside the decrepit and foul room, he no longer felt trepidation or concern. His men were with him, and the hunter was sitting, idly picking at bugs crawling in his beard. The man found a particularly large insect and popped it into his mouth, chewing quickly before swallowing.

“So,” he said after his impromptu meal, “do we have a deal?”

Bradly almost felt like lying and telling the filthy hunter no. He refrained from doing so, as knowing once his trainers got their hands on the man, they would break him of his filthy habits. As long as the man passed the genetic screening, that is, and Bradly found he wished the man would not. “We have a deal. Our armorers will provide you with the weapons and armor your people require, and you will join our ranks.

“I’ll get the word out to the other hunters and rangers then,” the man said. He stood up and nodded to the other men with him. “Get runners and scouts on the trail immediately,” he ordered.

Bradly stood and nodded towards the man. When the hunter offered his hand, Bradly looked at it in distaste, but he grasped it and shook the man’s hand. “Welcome to the Purists,” Bradly said, with something close to actual welcome in his voice.

The hunter nodded. “Glad to be with you, so let’s go out and start cleansing this world of the muties.”

“Amen to that.”

***

May 5th, 2668, Scav Haven

Babs, how am I going to get the money for that android body? Declan mentally asked. He had just returned with Tara from another shopping expedition. The Tiger-exotic was lying in the bed, snoring lightly.

“Why don’t you just as Ra’naa for it?”

They are going to want to know why, he countered.

“They already suspect, so why not just tell them?”

I don’t know! He threw up his hands in exasperation. For some reason I cannot fathom, I want to keep you a secret!

Babs walked over to the sleeping form of Tara and crossed her arms under her breasts. “Maybe it’s because how she might react when she discovers I’ve been riding in your mind all this time?”

Declan looked up suddenly and frowned. You know, I think that is exactly what I’m afraid of.

“She will just have to deal with it then,” Babs stated and that was the end of it.

I’ll ask in the next day or so, Declan informed his AI companion. They have a lot on their minds and this might not be the best of times.

“Really, Doc?” Babs looked unimpressed. “The longer I stay inside your internal Hard Drive, the more I am going to deteriorate and act strange.  The sooner, the better.”

He knew his companion was right, but seeing Tara’s reaction when she learned about Babs was something he dreaded greatly.

***

May 7th, 2668, Scav Haven

The past few days had been a virtual emotional roller-coaster for Bradly Travis. He had been lucky enough to secure the parts he needed to repair his Mercedes, and had found another method to purchase the weapons they wanted. As it turned out, there was an extensive black-market for weapons in the city.

All that was required was the cash, and the right contacts. The men he had met who were sympathetic to his cause turned out to be those contacts. When it was all finished, he got far more than he had hoped for.

He also heard rumor of an Exotic who happened to be on the same mission as he was - to secure weapons, armor and potential recruits. From his contacts in the Legion, he found out she had tried to hire the legion to fight for them, but the Legion had refused.

Better than that, he discovered her name. Ra’naa Ahteen. As it turns out, the very same woman he had been hunting for. He gathered his personal guard and the men he had brought with him in the room he was using.

Standing before his troops, he smiled wolfishly at them. “I will award an extra three months’ pay to anyone who can find out where that inhuman bitch is staying. We can’t move against her here, but there are other avenues open to us.”

That offer caused a stirring to ripple through his men, they exchanged looks with one another and a few quite conversations began. “I’m going to assume she arrived with that other bitch and maybe some of the people from her home. At the very least, I want her dead, but if anyone else is with her, let them escape. We can track them back to her home and then plan a raid.”

Those words really appealed to his men and they nodded enthusiastically. Not only would whoever found her gain extra money, and more importantly, status in the compound, but a raid was in the future!

“Spend the next few days asking around and check all the hotels and flop-houses you can find. I’ll keep the lines of communication open with my contacts. Maybe we can use the Whispering Wraith’s after all.

With that, he dismissed all but his personal guard to head into the streets to see what they could find out.

***

May 5th, 2668, Scav Haven

They were seated together on the patio. The day had started out cool and rainy, but by mid-afternoon the sun had broken through the clouds. The weather had turned muggy and downright hot within the space of a single hour.

Ra’naa had shed her lightweight jacket and was clad in a form-fitting white shirt. The first four buttons were undone, revealing her small cleavage. She reached up and mopped the film of sweat, which was accumulating on her forehead and trickling down her face.

Across from her sat three figures. One was a Wolf-Exotic, one of the more extreme examples of the species. The exotic was a woman, complete with full breasts, curves in all the right places, but a very canine face and the legs of a wolf. She spoke with a clear voice, although she tended to growl when speaking.

The second was a human-looking man, dressed in the haphazard manner of a man who made his living scavenging in the ruins for whatever they could find. His heavy leather jacket was festooned with all manner of tools and useful equipment, including many knives and other weapons.

The final figure was a strange one indeed. It was impossible to tell if the creature was a man or woman, having androgynous features. Its flesh was covered with tiny, interlocking leaves and the hair was a series of thick vines. The eyes were merely bulbs of green, with tiny black points, which may or may not have been pupils.

All had drinks arranged before them, everyone except for the strange plant-like creature enjoying one of the locally brewed beers. The creature had one hand resting in a bowl of blood.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” Ra’naa smiled.

The three strangers nodded in response.

She had been speaking with the three representatives from various factions for several hours now and she was very happy with the progress of their discussions. The Exotic was well known and respected in the city and had many connections outside as well. She knew a lot of the independent scavengers who worked in the ruins - that was not why she was there. “I will spread the word,” she said in her soft voice. “The fact the Purists are going after mutants and our kind, we can’t sit by and let this happen.”

“Exactly,” Ra’naa responded with a nod. “What they don’t get is we’re as human as they are, and need them to continue our bloodlines. They’re complete idiots.”

The human man agreed. “For sure, I mean, come on! At the very least a lot of the mutants I know are great people. Have you seen what a lot of them can do?”

Ra’naa nodded. “I have.”

The man grinned at her and then without hesitations, telekinetically levitated his mug without moving his hands. He brought it over to his mouth and took a drink. The mug was placed back on the table, without spilling so much as a drop of the liquid inside. “And many of us who look human, well, we’re not.”

The green man nodded. “I am Groot.”

Everyone looked at the creature and gaped. It gave all of them a toothless grin. “Sorry, really bad joke. I doubt anyone would get that.”

It was true, not one of those seated at the table understood the reference. It shrugged. “We Gaians have also been targeted by the Purists. Those…” it hesitated before speaking. “People are under the impression the world should be left to pure humans only.”

Ra’naa laughed lightly and then leaned forward, placing both arms on the table. “Maybe five or six hundred years ago they were the dominant species, but it was their own kind who created the rest of us. Pure human scientists dabbled in genetic engineering and at the very least, Exotics like us were created.” She nodded towards the Wolf Exotic.

The Gaian waved its hand, still dripping in the blood he had been soaking it in. “True, but I’ve been told the Uplifts and those with psionic mutations,” it indicated the human scavenger. “Were created by technology and gene-splicing techniques learned from both the Annunaki and the Tuatha.”

The Exotic and scavenger looked at him, obviously not understanding what it was talking about. “The who?”

Ra’naa shook her head and lifted one hand dismissively,” It’s not important. What is important is the fact we can all agree these assholes calling themselves the Purists are out to kill every one of us.”

They could all agree with that.

“Now we’ve had a chance to meet and discuss the matter, I would like all of you go to back and speak to anyone you can. We’re looking for men and women who are willing to stand up against the Purists and even bring the fight to them. For too many months they have been attacking and destroying communities up and down the coast with impunity. This has to stop.”

No one disagreed with her.

“When do you want to meet again?” the scavenger said.

She handed them all small slips of paper, each depicting a crude map. “This is the location of where I want you to send your representatives and those who wish to join the cause. We will meet there in thirty days from now. Bring everyone you can, including all the weapons and equipment you can carry. We will begin training as until we’re all a cohesive unit. Once everyone’s ready, we will begin to hunt and bring the fight to the Purists.

***

May 7th, 2668, Scav Haven

“Otres?”

The little Uplifted Otter looked up from the fish he was happily devouring. He was sitting by himself in the dining room of the hotel. Ra’naa was still out, busy with her contacts and Otres had opted to stay and get some rest. Declan, have a seat. What’s on your mind?

Declan took a chair across from Otres and motioned to the waitress. He ordered a couple of beers and when she left, he clasped his hands before him and stared intently at the Otter. “Can you open a link with your mind so we can talk privately?”

Otres bobbed up and down and chittered excitedly. Done.

You’ve been listening in on my thoughts, haven’t you? He asked. It was not an accusation, just a simple question.

At least Otres had the decency to look embarrassed. Sometimes, but a lot of it is…  He looked up at the ceiling, one hand tapping the side of his face. I guess the best way to describe it is mental leakage. Kind of like shouting in a closed room. Some people can hear and make out what is being said, others can’t. I don’t always understand, but I get the gist of what you’re thinking some of the times I can hear you.

The waitress returned and placed both beers on the table before them. Declan reached into his jacket and withdrew a couple of silver chits and passed them to the woman. She smiled and left - a little sashay in her rear. He leaned forward and grabbed one of the beers. Lifting it to his face, he took a quick drink and sighed in contentment. “This is better than most of the swill I drank before.”

Otres squeaked in pleasure and took a sip of his own. Really? I always thought that the brews from before the final wars would have been superior.

“Nope, not a chance,” he said aloud. He looked up to see Babs standing over Otres, looking forlorn. Her pink ears were drooping and her whiskers were sagging. Never had he seen his best friend looking so wretched and haggard. There is something you need to know, and I feel better telling you first.

Otres looked up and chirped in surprise. Really? I mean, I am flattered you’d come to me first, but why not Tara and Ra’naa? Or better yet, why not all of us at once?

He sighed and took another drink. Tara would probably lose her shit over it, that’s why, and I’m pretty sure all three of you think I’m going insane as it is.

Otres Picked up a particularly large piece of fish, examined it, sniffed it daintily, and then stuffed it in his mouth. He almost purred in pleasure as the chewed, letting the flavor of the meat tickle his taste buds. I’m listening.

I have an AI riding along in my mind. He practically shouted in his mind.

The Otter stopped chewing and stared at him, uncomprehending. AI? What’s an AI? I know I’ve heard the term before…

Babs perked up and looked at the Uplift. She tilted her head to the side and then turned her gaze on Declan. “What did he say?” She could hear his thoughts, but was incapable of reading the Otters response.

He wants to know what an AI is, Declan answered. AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. Machine intelligence.

Otres snapped his fingers and pointed at Declan, a grin splitting his face. He chirped and bobbed up and down several times. Right! I remember now. Like the Androids and some higher functioning robots. He then frowned and stared, wide eyed. And you have one inside your head?

Yeah, I do. Declan shrugged.

I feel sorry for it then, what a mess to have to share space with. Otres said, all traces of excitement disappearing.

Declan blinked and sat back in his chair, the mug of beer halfway to his mouth. Then he frowned. “Hey, that wasn’t called for!”

The little Uplift began to chitter loudly, his equivalent of laughter. He blinked several times and rubbed at his whiskers with his hands, and then snorted so hard mucous flew out and hit the table. I’m sorry! He laughed in this mind. I couldn’t resist!

“Eww, that’s disgusting,” Declan grimaced, looking down at his little friend’s unexpected projectile.

It took Otres nearly a minute to compose himself but at last he wiped the tears coming from his eyes. I am sorry. What do you call this AI?

Out of nowhere the waitress returned and quickly cleaned up the slight mess. She looked somewhat despairingly at Otres, who shrugged and tried his best to look cute. He tossed her a silver chit and that settled matters.

Her name is Babs and she’s been riding in an internal hard drive since just before I went into cryonic suspension. Declan went on to explain what had happened during that final battle. He went on to explain they first met and bonded just after he graduated flight school.

Otres, as it turned out, was fascinated. He asked the occasional question but listened raptly. When Declan was finished, Otres frowned. So, if I understand you, we need to find an android body for her and transfer her out of your mind. You said the hardware inside your body is deteriorating and it is driving her insane?

Declan nodded. That’s about the gist of it. We’re not entirely sure, but it could have really bad repercussions for me as well.

The little Uplift finished the last of his fish as he contemplated Declan’s peculiar predicament. I don’t know if we have the funds available for this.

Throughout their conversation, Babs had remained standing and staring down at them both.  Upon hearing what he said, she looked like she was about to burst into tears.

We are going to have to speak to Ra’naa and Tara. I’m sure both will understand.

Ra’naa? Yeah, I’m sure, but Tara…

Otres blinked. Oh, right. You said… Babs, right? Your AI friend is a woman?

Declan nodded. Very much a woman. And although we’re not officially man and wife, I’ve seen just how jealous she can get. Remember Kate back at the community?

I do, and you should have caught seven kinds of hell for what you did. Otres scolded.

Declan waved a dismissive hand. We’re past that, remember?

Right, Otres nodded. He blinked and took another pull from his beer and then gave Declan a very human-like grin. So… you’re not totally insane after all then?

He raised a hand and waved it in front of him, waggling it. Maybe just a little.

They sat and ate in amenable silence for several minutes before Otres finished his meal. When do you want to tell Tara and Ra’naa?

Tara, never, but Ra’naa, maybe as soon as possible.

Otres squeaked a laugh and then bobbed his head up and down. I guess I have to agree with you on that. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Declan Like it or not, you better tell her.

I’d suggest telling both at the same time.

Maybe Tara won’t lose her shit on me if we were in a public place. Why don’t we go there once she and Ra’naa return?

I don’t think it matters were we are, Otres thought and then finished the last of his beer. She’s probably going to lose it on you no matter where we are.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Declan muttered.

Otres squeaked a laugh and then they left.

***

May 7th, 2668, Scav Haven

They did not have long to wait before Tara and Ra’naa arrived. Otres conveniently suggested that they go for a nice swim and soak in the hot-tubs before retiring for the night, and both women enthusiastically agreed.

As it turned out, the pool they visited had started out life as a recreation center. It had been fully restored once the cartels had secured this part of the ruined city.

Declan still could not get used to the fact the nudity taboos he had grown up with were a thing of the past. When he entered the pool with Otres, he was uncomfortably aware how many people turned to stare at him and his… equipment.

Babs, who had been silent for most of the day, smiled and shook her head at him. “I will never get over that, you could have used the money on something more important!”

He did not bother trying to cover his thoughts. Back then, Babs, it was important. The more pussy I got, the happier I was.

So, you were pretty damn horny before the final wars? Otres asked.

“You better believe it, shorty!” Babs laughed. She looked around the room, taking in the pool, the numerous hot-tubs and the inhabitants. The people using the facility were from all walks of life, mutants, Damaged, Exotics, Uplifts, and even strange, plant-like beings.

Declan stared at what could only be described as an ambulatory shrub with unnerving eye-like stalks. It was sitting at the edge of the pool, its legs, or roots, dangling in the water. “What the hell is that?”

Following his gaze, Otres nodded at the creature. That’s what we call a Gaian. They’re sort of like Uplifts, but they’re intelligent plants. You never did answer my question.

“Guess I better not eat any salads around them,” Declan muttered dryly. “And yeah, I was. There is no denying it.” He looked around and found Ra’naa and Tara walking towards them. Both women were naked and did not bother trying to hide their figures. Declan was pleased to see Tara’s fur was starting to show signs of returning to its original color, something he had not noticed before.

When the two groups met, Tara took his hands in hers and pressed her body against him, kissing him deeply. Declan felt a stirring in him chest instead of the usual place, his groin. He realized he was starting to love the woman. Maybe not to the degree she professed to love him, but it was there.

They found one of the hot-tubs unoccupied and took it. Ra’naa and Otres sat across from Declan and Tara, sliding into the nearly scalding water with sighs of contentment and pleasure. Declan hissed as he slid into the water and seated himself. It was so hot he thought he might actually start suffering damage, but his skin quickly adjusted to the heat. Tara slid in and sat in his lap, letting her legs drape over. If she wanted to, it would be so easy to slide him into her body, but she was a good girl for a change.

“This was a wonderful idea,” Ra’naa sighed in pleasure. She closed her eyes and ducked her head into the steaming water and stayed there for nearly a full minute before she resurfaced. Water cascaded down her face and shoulders, flowed freely over her back and between her smallish breasts.

“It’s been a busy few days,” Declan sighed. “When Otres mentioned this place to me, I just had to come and check it out myself.”

“And it didn’t cost us all that much either,” Tara stated. “A couple of sliver chits each, the price of a meal and a drink.” She had her arms draped around Declan’s neck and held her face close to his. Her whiskers tickled his cheek and he could not help but smile.

Babs, seeing the rest in their skin, caused her usual attire to fade away. She slid into the water and sat down next to Ra’naa. She could not physically interact with the water, but she did manage to sigh with pleasure, using Declan’s tactile input. “Doc, this feels so damn good. I can’t wait until I have a body so I can enjoy this for real.”

Without ceremony or preamble, Declan cleared his throat. “I’ve got something important to tell all of you.”

“You’re pregnant?” Ra’naa said, deadpanned.

“What, wait…? Smartass!” Declan laughed. No, not that, although…” When he thought about it, having Babs in his mind could constitute a pregnancy of a sort. He decided to run with it. “I have to find an Android body.”

Everyone except for Otres stared at him. He felt Tara’s hands tighten around his neck and she was the first to speak. “Why do you need an android’s body?”

He blurted it out. “Because I have an AI riding inside my internal hard-drive. The drive is deteriorating and it is driving her insane. We have to transfer her out and put her into a new body before I lose her for good.”

No one spoke for several long moments. Babs applauded lightly and smiled. “Hey, nicely said, Doc. No beating around the bush with you!”

As if that was the silent cue, both Tara and Ra’naa began to speak almost at once. The questions came fast and much to his surprise, Tara was not angry. He spent the next half-hour explaining exactly who Babs was, how they met, and more importantly, how she managed to end up inside his skull.

The entire time Tara remained seated in his lap, still holding him. Once or twice he could have sworn her claws slid out from her fingers and began to press into the flesh. Thankfully she never broke his skin.

“What does she mean to you?” Tara asked point blank.

“The same thing Ra’naa means to you,” he answered and then looked at Otres and Ra’naa. “Or what you mean to each other. She’s my best friend. She has been with me for hundreds of years and she knows me better than anyone. I won’t let her die.”

Babs looked like she was about to cry. “Thank you, Declan.”

Tara listened and slowly nodded her head. “So you don’t want to dump me and take her then?”

“Jesus, Mohammad and Buddha, that woman is blunt!” Babs observed. She flicked a hand at Tara and frowned. “I still love you, but at least with her you can have babies.”

“Tara, we’ve barely had a chance to get to know one another,” Declan sighed and lifted a hand to rub his eyes. Sweat was trickling down his face and neck to mingle with the heated water. He puffed out his cheeks and turned his head so he could face her. “You are a real bitch sometimes. I honestly don’t like that.”

She opened her mouth to speak but he placed a finger against her lips. “Let me finish.”

Tara’s eyes narrowed but she refrained from speaking.

“The thing is - you’ve changed so much since that first night. I don’t know what has happened, or why you love me, but…” he sighed.  “You’re growing on me, and I think I might begin to return those feelings.”

She too looked like she was about to cry. When he looked over at Babs, he could see the sorrow in her face as she turned and stared off into the crowd. He was pleasing one woman, and breaking the heart of another. Even if the heart was nothing more than computer code.

Ra’naa cleared her throat. “So you have a possible body then?”

He nodded. “I do, but it costs a great deal.”

Otres, who had long since turned onto his back and was floating in the heated water, raised a paw and squeaked for their attention. I have an idea.

Tara said, “Don’t keep us waiting.”

Why not buy one which has suffered heavy damage? I can fix it up and it won’t cost anywhere near as much.

Babs stared at the little Uplift. “You would do that for me?”

Declan repeated her words.

Sure! I only wish I would have known about you before this, so I could have gotten to know you then.

Finally Tara slid off Declan’s lap and stood. She reached out with both hands and took his face and held it steadily. “You won’t leave me for her then?”

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Babs turn away so he could not see her face. He stared into Tara’s eyes and shook his head. “I won’t.” Declan had a difficult time believing he had spoken those words.

“That settles it then,” Ra’naa announced.

***

May 7th, 2668, Scav Haven

Unbeknownst to the group, they were being watched. In turn, the watchers were likewise being observed. Joey, also known as Wrench, had stayed away from Ra’naa and her friends for the past several days. His handlers suggested to watch, this time from a greater distance. They had also requested that he place sensors in and around the rooms they were using. The chances of them detecting those were insignificant.

He had noticed the first tail when the man had been a little too conspicuous, and a moment later Joey realized the man was part of the Purist movement. He had seen him with Bradly Travis. Ra’naa and her friends had done what they could to attract as little attention as possible to themselves. That did not matter; it was almost inevitable they would be spotted.

Joey considered what to do. He sent a burst transmission to the Installation, asking for orders. Almost as soon as he transmitted, the reply came. “Terminate, quietly and as soon as possible.  We are interested in seeing the reaction of the Purists.  If you find others tailing the group, kill them as well,” there was a brief pause before the handler continued. “Do not be seen, do not get caught.”

He blinked as he took in the orders. His handlers had requested he kill the man. He barely managed to hide a grin. The Purists were scum, simple as that. He could rid the world of several and it would be a better place as a result.

Joey knew what he was doing. The killing would be a message. He was given leeway on how he would undertake the assassination, but no matter what, the message would be sent. He knew he did not want the Purists to think it was Ra’naa’s people responsible, so he had to think about how he was going to accomplish the task.

Joey had a good imagination. He knew he would think of something.

***

May 7th, 2668, Scav Haven

David did not like the assignment he had been given, although begin away from Bradly and the others was somewhat relaxing. He watched as the Exotic and her companion entered the pool and he decided to wait outside. There was an open-air bar only about fifty meters from the pool and it served excellent beer and other liquors.

The night was still rather cool, and he shivered slightly as he sipped the beer. The Exotic and her gaggle of genetic deviants had entered the pool almost an hour and a half earlier, and he was on his fifth beer. The alcohol was starting to get to him, but he enjoyed the sensation of the slight buzz. Watching as he was, David did not get a chance to enjoy it as much as he would like.

Deep down, he thought it was a shame they had to kill the two Exotics. The women were hot! David understood the need to keep the bloodlines pure, but why kill all of them? Keep a few of the Exotics around for fun, he thought. After all, they were supposed to be pure humans, whose ancestors had decided on a change in appearance.

He lifted his drink and took another sip. A cool, nearly cold breeze washed over him and he shivered. David had to admit he was looking forward to getting back to the hotel. There he could warm up and get some sleep. Maybe if Bradly was in a generous mood, he would allow him to visit one of the many brothels that could be found.

“Finally,” he muttered under his breath as the Exotic and her companions left the pool. He quickly drained the last of his drink and stood up, dropping several silver chits on the table to cover the cost. He also left a fairly generous tip for the waitress, a human and very comley woman who had flirted with him. He had to grin; maybe she would make a good candidate for recruitment, although he still found it odd to see women joining the ranks.

After the group had travelled nearly the entire length of the block, he turned in the same direction and followed. It would be easy for him to find where they were staying and report back to Bradly.

The crowd on the streets had thinned considerably and the wind had picked up. He glanced up into the dark sky and saw it had become overcast while he had been waiting. Weather on the coast, if you do not like it, wait a few minutes, he mused and chuckled.  A few tiny drops of moisture began to fall all around him. He pulled his jacket closed and considered throwing the hood up, but decided against it.

Two blocks passed and he wondered when they were finally going to reach whatever hotel they were staying at. He hoped it would be soon, as the few drops of rain had quickly escalated into a medium downpour. David would be soaked in a matter of minutes at this rate.

All thoughts of the rain, his quarry and the hotel disappeared in a flash. He had just passed the open mouth of a darkened alley when a pair of hands reached out and grabbed hold of his jacket. David did not even have a chance to squeak or protest before the darkness engulfed him.

He reached for his weapon, a vibro-dagger and whipped it out, thumbing the deadly little blade into life. Being accosted in the city was exceedingly rare, but it still happened, despite the diligence of the Legion.

Even in the darkness he was shocked to find he was alone. He whipped about, his head turning from side to side, scanning for whoever had grabbed and pulled him into the alley. “Show yourself, asshole,” he challenged.

As if his words were a magical incantation, the figure suddenly appeared, standing three meters from him. In the near total darkness he could barely see the figure. It looked like a young man with pale hair and flesh. The figure’s hands were held off to the side, palms towards him, showing he was unarmed.

David approached, but for every step he took, the figure took one as well, keeping the distance the same between them. “Turn and run, but I would prefer if you stood and fought.”

The figure stopped so suddenly David nearly stepped into him. He saw his opportunity and held the deadly little blade low, aiming with the point towards the figures stomach. He had extensive training in knife-fighting. He did not go for flashy moves like tossing the blade from hand to hand. One would stand a very good chance of losing a finger at worst, or drop the blade at best.

When he lunged, the figure arched his back away from David’s thrust and brought his hands over his head and down, the right over the left. The force of the blow was so powerful David felt the bones in his right wrist crack under the pressure. Suddenly numb fingers flew open and the vibro-dagger flew off into the darkness.  The pain from his cracked wrist sent shivers up and down his entire arm. He knew it was all but useless now.

Fear, something David rarely ever encountered, reared its terrifying visage before him. The sensation was so strange for a second he did not recognize it for what it really was.  He refused to allow the fear to control him. If the fear took hold, he might as well stand perfectly still and raise his chin and expose his neck. He would be just as dead. Fortunately for him, he never travelled anywhere without several weapons at his disposal. His good hand reached around and he pulled a small hold-out pistol from a holster at the small of his back. The little weapon did not look like much, but it held three charges. If any of the energy bolts struck, the target would be stunned and helpless.

David felt nausea as he raised and fired in one smooth motion. The little hold-out stunner whined in the near-silence of the alley, but that was the only sound. He was shocked to discover his target was nowhere to be seen. “What the fuck?” David blurted. It was the second time his assailant had disappeared in such a manner. “God damned mutant!”

“I’m not a mutant,” A cold, low voice replied from what sounded like right behind him. He whirled and fired the little hold-out stunner again. His aim was off by over a meter. Where he had expected the assailant to be standing, there was nothing but the wall of the alley. The pain in his wrist was getting worse and he was beginning to see stars in his sight. What the hell had the attacker done to him?  David stamped down on the rising nausea and dizziness and adjusted his aim and pulled the trigger one last time. As before, his target vanished, right before his eyes.

The fear grew exponentially and he knew he was finished. Instead of standing and facing this strange man who could disappear in an instant, he turned and ran for the safety of the street. He had maybe ten or less meters to travel and he could cover that in mere seconds. As he sprinted, he opened his mouth to scream for help.

It was at that exact moment he felt something smash into the back of his neck. The pain was unbelievable. He took two more steps before everything below his neck shut down all at once. Blood filled his mouth and ran down his wind-pipe, flowing into his lungs and stomach. Even if he somehow managed to survive the attack, he would have been a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.

Fate smiled upon him. Such a life would not have been a life at all. It was far better to die here and now. If he survived he would have to deal with the humiliation of someone caring for him for the rest of his life.  

Joey stood over the body and stared down dispassionately. The corpse twitched and convulsed as the man known as David drowned from the blood filling his lungs. After less than a full minute, there was the acrid stench of loosened bowels and urine.

He crouched and yanked the vibro-blade from the back of the man’s skull, then glanced down the alley until he located the hold-out stunner. Before he stood to retrieve the weapon, he rummaged through the corpses pockets. There he found a handful of silver and gold chits and several power cells for the stunner and the blade.

Glancing up to the mouth of the alley, he was pleased to see the brief scuffle had not drawn any unwanted attention. Using the blade, Joey sliced the man’s shirt open and then carefully carved the words ‘Purists will die’ on the man’s back. Blood poured from the incisions and quickly coated the flesh.

Satisfied, Joey activated his personal teleporter and left the scene of the crime.

***

May 8th, 2668: The Compound

Fingers flew across the keyboard so fast they were but a blur against the softly lit computer. Michael Jones chewed on his lower lip as his eyes scanned the code he was entering, looking for mistakes and possible errors. A thin sheen of sweat covered his face and his pits were almost dripping with perspiration.

For the first time in over a week, he was wide awake, having finally taken the time to get some much-needed rest. It came at the insistence of both Guardian and Martin Travis. The leader of the compound wanted his star programmer ready to tackle his latest challenge.

And he was diving into it with a gusto rarely seen in the post-final wars world. Martin had his technicians dig out an old drone, one which had been salvaged during the final wars. The ancient device had undergone extensive repairs, but the memory core had sustained significant damage. It was up to him, Michael Jones, to repair the corrupted code so they could get the drone up and flying.

Guardian watched him every step of the process, providing the correct code where needed and helping with the tweaking. It was long, painstaking work, but at long last Michael threw up his hands and whooped with joy.

“Well done, Michael,” Guardian intoned.

“Thanks!” He grinned and wiped his forehead. “I couldn’t have done it without you, and the records you kept,” he laughed. Was it just his imagination, or had the AI sounded pleased with his progress? He shrugged, knowing it really did not matter.

“I am uploading the patches now,” Guardian announced.

Michael turned in his swivel chair and looked into the large room behind him. The lights were kept dim, so as to keep him from developing a headache as he worked his magic. In the center of the room was a large work-bench, upon which sat the ancient drone. The machine looked like an elongated bullet, with small protrusions scattered at apparently random locations on its skin. Michael knew they were links so the drone could be outfitted with all manner of weaponry and equipment.

“Upload complete,” Guardian announced. “Shall I begin the pre-flight check?”

He leaned forward in his seat, his elbows on his knees and his hands together in anticipation. “Yeah, don’t keep me waiting,” he said. He felt like a little kid again, waiting to see what Santa brought him for Christmas. It was one of the few holidays practiced in the compound, and it was still his favorite. If this checked out, he had two more to refurbish and get into working order.

The drone was suddenly suffused with a nimbus of reddish-white light. Then it rose from the table and hovered about thirty centimeters from the top. It swung in a lazy circle, as if it was taking in its surroundings.

“All systems in the green,” Guardian said.

“Take it for a slow spin around the room,” Michael commanded.

“As you wish.”

The drone flew smoothly around the large chamber, easily gliding over any potential obstacles with ease. On a whim, Michael picked up a large book and threw it directly at the drone. His aim was true and would have connected, except at the very last moment, the drone slid to the side. The book missed. “I see the avoidance software is running just fine,” he commented.

“So far, so good. All internal diagnostics are in the green,” Guardian said.

“I want to take it outside,” Michael told the AI. “Let’s run it through its paces and then I want to take over and put it on manual control.”

“Opening the overhead shutters now,” Guardian told him. The large plasteel armaglass panels in the roof began to slide apart with an audible whine. Sunlight, having managed to break through the cloud-cover, shone through the opening, bathing the drone in golden radiance. If Michael had been a religious man, he would have taken that as a sign from god. He was not, and as such the significance was lost upon him.

For the next few hours they tested the refurbished drone, pushing the envelope at every chance. He was so pleased with the end results he felt aroused. Maybe he would ask Martin for a woman as a reward for the time and effort he put into the task.

“Guardian, activate one of the defensive turrets. I want to see just how well this sucker’s avoid and evasion routines are functioning.”

“Contacting Martin Travis,” the computer said.

Michael felt a jolt of fear run through his spine. He figured he would not have to worry about bothering Martin over such trivialities, but Guardian knows best. Less than a minute later, Guardian spoke again. “Approval has been granted. I am spinning up turret one.”

He watched the screen, which was showing the direct view from the nose of the drone. It suddenly began to flash red as the drone’s sensors picked detected the threat and the routines kicked in.

As the turret erupted in flame and shot out great gouts of lead at hypervelocity speeds, the drone swiftly and easily evaded the incoming fire. As the turret spouted several more bursts at the flying drone, Michael nodded in satisfaction. “Guardian, I do believe the drone has completed its shakedown flight.”

“Agreed, shutting the defensive turret down now,” Guardian said. He paused and as Michael watched, the turret ceased firing and went into standby mode.

            “I’m bringing the drone home on manual,” Michael said as he shut down the control system to the weapon and engaged the manual controls. He gripped the small joystick and with the ease borne of hundreds of hours of practice, brought the drone in for a soft landing.

“Well done, Michael Jones,” Guardian congratulated him.

“Thanks, Guardian. Now we just need to get word from Martin when he wants us to send it in against the assholes who tried to take away our satellite.”