Guardians of Liberty: Part 15

The Modern Man

Daniel Ozell’s comm-link whistled at his bedside table. His wife groaned, slapped a pillow against her head. Habit, these days. Ozell fell into his boots and started for the next room, comm-link hooked in his ear.

“Go ahead.”

The bathroom mirror stared back at him, its eyes met his, entirely indifferent to the information relayed. He’d been expecting the call, didn’t need more than details. Didn’t really need those either though. ‘Cause in the end, this was just the way the shit-birds overhead slept at night. They delegated, hands supposedly clean, never realizing the bathwater was just as tainted as the lubberkin within it.

Of course Ozell’d been expecting a call. His team iced two kids in a building the other night, and they weren’t the only with confirmed hits either. Four others did too: Wright’s. Martin’s. Jackson’s. And Ulreich’s.

An hour later, the news-vids are blaring that a building’s up in flames and the numbers are in…

Two for one. Ozell’s was the only one that might look suspicious. So, it’d be investigated. He’d get a call, just to confirm. A chewing out. Everything above-board looking, but ordered nonetheless.

He’d been around long enough to know damned well when he was running an S&D-op. He’d seen ’em in the wars, back before they were considered failed revenue-sharing schemes. Then, it was Governments kicking your ass out planes, telling you a flimsy sheet of silk was your best friend. Not inspiring amid thousands of feet of open air.

Even then he knew career-soldiering was over. Who wouldn’t take next-gen bullet-proof armor, automatic weapons, and a health plan instead of swilling desert with reclaimed nut-sweat? And why not? Bullets were plentiful as mosquitoes now and the bad-guys all had next-gen A-Ks. Worst, Kids get cavities. Paul’s baby teeth were falling out faster by the day. Not to mention Kay’s psych-meds, his own– how could anyone pass on that?

Daniel Ozell was a modern man, sure, but modern men broke down earlier by the day. Too much exposure to shit in the air, water, and food made the bones rot. All so some assholes could fake modesty, pretend they weren’t corruptible? Bullshit. If Ozell knew anything, it was that History was written by victors, and victors are just those that remaining after everyone else has bled out.

He who fucks nuns will later join the Church, so sayeth the Great Gig in the Sky.

Of course the corporations were fucking dirty. Nobody wasn’t. That’s why enforcers existed. Why they needed their own enforcers, as did those. That was the one thing those tech-heads had gotten right; redundancy.

But redundancy wasn’t meant to be digital alone. Physical essence was important too. That, they didn’t get. To a degree Ozell almost expected.

What he hadn’t expected but should’ve, was Martin Black (AKA N1T3), slipping away only to come back on him. He’d known even before the post-briefing that the numbers hadn’t added up. He heard the comm-calls. Counted the dispatch orders– privileges of being a squad-commander. Not high enough to plan the jobs himself, but damned aware of what they were– S&D or otherwise.

HQ’d expected some to get away, but others were ID’d top priority. He could tell by who was placed where. He’d been privy to the briefing before the squads, knew even then the eggheads were underestimating Black.

The whore and her boyfriend had been first on the list, they appealed to perverts, a group obsessive and reactionary. The need to exercise authority and put down possible outcry dictated overwhelming force against both of them.

But it didn’t erase the girl’s choking gasps. The cutting rasp of a murgled scream. The panic in her white, dying-fish eyes as her mouth moved breathless, tense-to-tremors limbs fighting to claw and drag their way forward. Adrenaline: like a deer in the wild with its chest missing.

More dead whores. That’s it.

Guilt panged his gut at its own harshness. He didn’t care, but he did feel it. He sighed, listening to some would-be superior prepping to chew him out for their own fuck-up.

Ozell sighed quietly to himself; Anisa Blanc wasn’t a whore. Not really. She was just kinky; a freak. He and Kay’d had enough wild times to sympathize– before the meds put her half-comatose all the time. Were it just her, Ozell might’ve quit the business altogether to chase one of those new-age Anisa Blanc’s, descend into the wells of madness with her– if only to understand them.

He would have, but not now. Paul was the future now. The question was whether that future was worth the sweat of his father’s brow that had tried to build it.

Ozell saw things one way and only one way; if slaughtering geeks half his age ensured his son never went without, it was his obligation as a father to do so. He hadn’t been sure that’s where things were headed, but it was a reality he’d prepared himself for. The shit had long been in the wind. Everyone was already aghast at it. It just needed that push to become reality– to hit the fan.

Now, the first shots had been fired. The Corporations were waiting to see what emerged from the ruins. Then, they would war. All of them; corps, people, wild animals, whores– everyone. Shit would light off like a fucking powder-keg, blow the arsenal, and the resulting cockup-cascade would level most of the world.

Whom or whatever remained afterward would have a lot of explaining to do– after all the fucking cleanup, of course.

Ozell’d seen the forest through the trees. Though he doubted others admitted it as he did, like them, he didn’t care. Whichever side emerged victorious didn’t matter two shits for eighty-percent of people. They’d fall-in-line or fall-out, didn’t need to give a shit the rest of the time.

Hacker-kids were just suffering because the world was shit, like everybody else. They were just loudest about it because they’d seized the means of communication.

Ozell might’ve sympathized, but they couldn’t have existed without the world they so despised. They hadn’t yet, and neither had he. Not really. He’d lived through at least some of that so-called pre-digital age. Enough to recall its emergence– if not fondly, than accurately.

And it mattered precisely dick to no-one anyhow.

No-one gave a shit about pre-digital history. No-one gave a shit about History, period. Not in anything non-media based, and not outside non-fictionalized material. Problem was, now there were times being romanticized that had barely fucking happened and didn’t last anyhow.

How could anyone be so dense? So sensitive as to romanticize so easily? It made him angry. It cheapened life. It was the very antithesis to what so-called postdigital children were supposedly so thoroughly devoted to– thought, freedom, Liberty, because who could be so truly in love with everything? It wasn’t possible.

It didn’t make sense and that made him angry. Not with the sheer rage of fury from emotion, but the calm, calculated anger of the rationally-calculating man. The rational man; the modern man.

Ozell wanted to spit in the face of all of those hacker-punks exposing people to shit like Anisa Blanc’s death. What was the point? Everyone knew it existed. Everyone knew it was happening. Of course they were trying to fix it, but the more complicated things were, the more there was to go wrong and the more care and time any solution needed.

This was fucking Society they were dicking with. Humanity’s future. People’s hearts and minds. Already battered and beaten worse by the day, they were now being forced to cope with a reality they didn’t need to. Doing what N1T3– that pissant prick had done, was like flashing gore genitals at an old lady, knowing she’d have a heart-attack, live, end-up in medical debt and be forced into a nursing home against her will.

And for what? To prove a point? Fuck off.

The real evil, the real darkness; was the distractions being used to pilfer the crowd for emotion. Same fucking thing the corps were doing, save with money. How could these assholes ever hope to win? Let alone with high ground?

He sighed again; fighting fire with fire solved nothing. It only burned more of the world down.

Ozell let his superior finish his bull-rushing with all the emotion of a slug on a sidewalk, and killed his comm-link. He engaged and read the public and corp-sec internal feeds via his optical and aural augments, their picture-in-picture divisions across his retinal implants.

Tactical augs were becoming more sophisticated by the day. He smelled hints of lucrative contracts on the wind; adrenal augs, hormone regulators, mental cloud computing. Problem of course, was finding programmers that weren’t also toeing the darkness.

And that was about to get a fuckuva lot harder. Lines had, and were, being drawn. The corps had fired first. Whether or not they wanted to admit it, they had. Even a so-called loyalist like Ozell knew it. There was no point denying it. Admitting it allowed one to plan for it.

So, he did.

Then, N1T3 released his images.

Ozell exhaled angrily, knowing he was once more being drawn toward the subject.

Every revelation from the hacker-world shocked people. Whether it tipped the scales into their favor was only ever a question of how depraved the act of provoking it was. That some pissant like Martin Black believed he had the right to rile such deep ire was a matter for another day. That Black believed his was the appropriate means for doing so angered something deep inside Ozell.

Something more than Human.

Ozell was dazed by thoughts as he suited up his ceramic-armored jacket and Guardian .40LX at his waist. He gripped his pistol and a HUD-reticle confirmed an active link. Ammunition and magazine counts appeared, linked via RFID to his HUD to give him total informational overview.

Just like all those hacker’s video-games, except he wasn’t afraid of live-fire. Living and dying by the sword meant nothing for an avatar or its owner. For him, it was day-to-day life.

He arrived at the outpost on time, as usual. The walk wasn’t far; just the edge of a former city-block beside Hyde Park. Guardian had bought the land, bulldozed about 200 years of middle-class history, and built grim, shit-colored concrete everywhere. They did their best to hide it, but a turd’s a turd.

Didn’t matter to anyone involved after the checks cashed.

Ozell found himself standing before the doors of the outpost, flicking his wrist to unlock the door with his badge: a fading remnant of the so-called digital world, Corps were already phasing out for paired HUD-comms and ID-frequencies, chained to them.

At the very least, Ozell figured, any possible “postdigital” reality would be more convenient. But that would happen anyhow. It was tech that did it. Not pissants like N1T3.

“The fuck kind’a stupid name is that anyway?” Ozell muttered, stepping through the door.

If his walk had been A Sunday Afternoon in the Park, the outpost was London amid the Blitz. It took a double-take– one where only his better senses kept him from drawing his sidearm. Then, he understood.

The main lobby, not meant for more than a few people at a time, was brimming with bodies. Sound and heat hit him like shock-waves, staggering him for the brief moment before for the crowd’s attention flocked to him.

Then, they pounced.

Like starving jackals on wounded prey, questions savaged him. Arms thrust phones, tablets, old-fashion digi-corders. It took him none of that half-second to regain his wits and understand exactly what had happened. He knew already; Llewellyn had fucked him.

Someone let all these fucking reporters in, knowing they wanted blood. Someone’s. Anyone’s. And only good blood would suffice– that from those above, always willing to risk those below but not themselves. So, it fell from Llewellyn’s cowardly-ass to Ozell’s unlucky one.

Worst of all, he’d handle it. They knew it he wouldn’t shove it off on another, unsuspecting sap. He had too much fucking honor. That, and because they knew he’d have the balls and skill to end it. Just like he ended those kids.

The Corp had known precisely what they were doing; Llewellyn, his “executive” ilk.

Ozell’s face slacked. Along with many other things, Ozell now had his own advantage. Fact was, in Peace-time, Executives ran things, but it was now War. No-one would admit it yet, but it was.

And War was Daniel Ozell’s specialty. Execs may have ordered the first shots fired, but Ozell, his ilk, were the ones that fired them. The show was his now. Whether they liked it or not.

Short Story: A New Enemy

Admiral Su Kovac was the hardest screw in the Earth Federation Fleet. With upwards of a thousand battles under her belt over the length of a forty year career, she was finest, most experienced officer Earth-Federation had ever seen. In all her years of command, she’d learned to emulate her ancestors by taking the unplanned as it came, or otherwise striking hard with superior force. The mix made her the EFF’s foremost Tactician.

She was deferred to whenever in reach, but no-one dared disturb her otherwise. Once, twenty or so years into her career, then Fleet Admiral Harding had pulled her off maneuvers for an utterly trivial task. She arrived promptly, learned of the task, and before realizing his mistake, was lambasted and humiliated him before his men and half the other Admirals. All of them seemed to recognize Kovac’s authority over his– to say nothing of the defeat of the already-crumbling “old guard.”

Shortly after, High-Command made her Fleet Admiral, consigning Harding to the annals of forgotten history. Kovac celebrated by completing maneuvers then tearing down the command structure to rebuild it. Despite making few friends among the senior officers, the reassignments tightened the Fleet enough to “plant the flotilla up a flea’s ass.”

Kovac was fond of the saying, but too often it came across as ego to those outside her command. The others took it as the ultimate compliment– especially given the inverse; “loose as an old man-whore’s ass.” A saying she was equally, if not more, fond of. Those under her disliked its implications, its terribly vivid imagery, but no-one questioned her judgment.

To say the EFF had never seen a greater Admiral would require the admission of how few there’d been. Kovac was one in a short line thus far, and though the bar was never set before her, it had damn sure been set by her.

One shining example was the battle over Dent Seven, a planet on the edge of Gliese 876. What had once been known by its host star and the appended letter “D,” was colloquially known as Dent. She knew the Eklobian Mauraders had hidden themselves through-out the system, minimizing their heat and power output to effectively mask their fleet. By doing so, they blockaded Dent, on the grounds of embargo, believing themselves to be deserving of a larger portion of the tariffs collected by them on behalf of the Federation, contractors that they were.

Kovac launched only a single, filled shuttle-carrier in response. She helmed it, taking only a skeleton crew of volunteers from her best and brightest. After a week of lying in wait in deep space, using long-range scanners to surveil, map, and observe the system, she and her crew had wired all of the shuttles for remote piloting. Then, placing herself in orbit of Gliese 876’s eponymous star to mask her emissions, she launched the shuttles one-by-one. Each one drew out Marauders moving in attack formation.

At each appearance, a single volley of the carriers cannons fired, eradicating the shuttle and the marauders. It wasn’t long before the Marauders learned of the tactic, and their losses, and withdrew.

In short, all future Admirals would be judged by Su Kovac, and with good reason; she was the best of the best, and it was doubtful anyone living could exceed her prowess.

That all came to a head the day Orion Expedition encountered trouble near Bellatrix. The O-E ships were approximately two-thirds of the way through a research and survey expedition when contact was lost. Admiral Kovac immediately launched a contingent of cruisers and scouts, herself at its head. The F-drives engaged, planting them a few, solar hours out from O-E’s last known position. The contingent’s bulk kept formation to the O-E transponder location. The scouts went ahead, scanners active, and guns at-the-ready.

Dead space greeted them. Dead space. Minor debris. A black-box transponder was the only whole-part of any of the twelve research vessels and four escort cruisers remaing. Kovac kept her guard up. The tension rose aboard each ship, felt by all from officers to ensigns, vets to greenies; something was wrong. Everyone knew it.

As if shouting into the frightening darkness around oneself, Kovac ordered a single, burst transmission to ping for any cloaked or masked vessels hiding from their aggressors.

The ping emitted silently, but every crew-member felt its electrical discharge strike their chests like a thunderbolt. In all of the years the EFF had existed, nothing ever so completely annihilated a contingent of its ships, nor with such stealth. Not a single trace of its presence was left. Even after the interminable wait, silence remained the ping’s only reply.

Kovac ordered scouting parties, sending a battleship, a pair of cruisers, and a handful of corvettes together to stand guard. Others were sent along patrols around any plausible perimeter an escape pod might be in. She kept her Dreadnought, Shepard, and the Carrier, Heinlein, at the center of the contingent’s remnants, surrounded it with EFF Destroyers, Battleships, and Cruisers, then split the remaining Corvettes into two groups. Opposing patrol routes between the rest of the ships would ensure nothing escaped visual inspection.

Shepard’s senors suddenly went out. Alarms screamed through the Dreadnought. The fleet began radioing identical issues. Comms crackled despite short distances. Kovac immediately ordered back her teams. Comms went out altogether a moment later. Screeching static stole the airwaves, most officers’ breaths. Without comms, the fleet had no way to maneuver or relay orders.

Were it not for her subordinates’ respect and her expert instruction, she might have lost complete control. Whatever had caused the issues might have struck, leaving nothing short of total chaos in result. Instead, each man and woman sat at the edge of theirs seats, waiting to enact any orders.

Centered amidShepard’s Bridge, Kovac skimmed the force-field windows and their clear, 360-degree view of open space on all sides. Nothing was amiss, aside from the obvious sensor issues. Space was peaceful, as empty as it had always been.

She squinted at the blackness outside the ships’ collective field of light. Something came at her like a torpedo, rocketed toward the Bridge windows. Shepard’s shields repelled it in a shower of sparking flame.

“Cut all lighting,” Kovac ordered.

Her words echoed between various officers. The lights went out. She fished a blinding hand-lamp from a compartment beside a bulkhead, switched it on. The Bridge lit, a beacon in the night. A series of hand movements signaled in now-ancient Morse-code to a cruiser in range. The code was long out of use, but every person under Kovac’s command had learned it under her orders.

Moments later, the Cruiser’s Bridge went dark. The fleet began to shift. Kovac’s voice was a steady stream of orders. Meanwhile, her hand worked, relaying orders to the cruiser, in turn relayed to other ships in range light signal beacons. Before long the entire fleet reformed. All ships now had views of Shepard’s Bridge.

Fighters were launched, two pilots to a ship; one for flight, one for comms. Orders to sweep in formation were dispatched. Space was suddenly swarmed by the criss-crossing and swirling of a thousand and more fighters.

A Destroyer erupted. The shockwave of blue-plasma rocked the other ship’s shields. A second later, violet plasma manifested from seemingly empty space. Kovac snarled. Firing trajectories were calculated, relayed. Weapons were charged. Before the hidden ship could comprehend it, the fleet’s volley launched. Red-violet. Azure-blue. Electric greens and reds. The small streaks of proton-missiles all aimed for a single point in space. They met the hidden vessel with a mosaic of small explosions that birthed another, larger one.

In the final moments before its reactors went critical, a Dreadnought unlike any she’d ever seen appeared beneath the mosaic shroud. The EFF had not built or envisioned it. Indeed, the design was so alien Kovac doubted a human mind could have concocted it. She had no words to describe it xenoicism. Its various curves, hard angles, and exorbitant plating veined with fire. Then, post-nuclear shock-wave exploded, dissipating eon-blue and red-violet through-out space. Most of the EFF fighters were caught off-guard, lost. A small price, Kovac decided, given the alternative might have been the entire fleet.

Upon returning home, there were no medals. She wouldn’t have accepted them anyway. They were trophies, conversation pieces, thin veneers for people without true accomplishments beneath their belts. Preparation was more important than ceremony anyhow. This new enemy was smart. They’d completely eliminated an entire research party without being spotted; caught the fleet– and Kovac– off-guard, and almost wiped them out in the process. As far as the EFF was concerned, they’d declared war.

For Kovac’s part, they’d exposed critical flaws in the Fleet’s stratagem. Their possession of advanced cloaking and EMP tech meant she needed a defense. Rather than be shaken, she locked herself away to think.

This new enemy was good, but Kovac was better. She knew it. It wasn’t arrogance but discipline. Everyone else agreed. To her diligence and training were everything. She withdrew the fleet to Sol for maneuvers to test against her stratagem, then sent out patrols and scouts. She would be damned certain they were prepared for any future confrontation with this new enemy.