BetaForce – EchoCell 03
16:30 June 19th, 2049
Westgate Arcology, Sector 23
The door to the 65th floor apartment flew open as a pint sized, dark haired ball of energy shot in the direction of the living room. Shoes and coat dumped unceremoniously onto the floor. A few seconds later, an older boy entered carrying bags of groceries blocking his view and he stumbled forward dropping the bags. A quick wave of his hand and the bags halted in mid fall. “Lee, how many times have I told you about those damn shoes!” he yelled half-heartedly. “Hey Kai, what’s for dinner?” was the response he got.
Kai had a slight but not scrawny build, with dark skin. Darker than his cousin’s. He was clean shaven but with scruffy murky blond hair. His unkempt, almost uncontrollable hair, was kept back by a red bandanna style headband. The long baggy blue jeans trailed on the floor and he wore a white short sleeved t-shirt underneath a black basketball vest. Tattooed on his forearms was the kanji symbol for courage and as he shrugged his backpack to the floor, the metal karabiners attached to it clinked noisily.
Picking up the groceries from mid air, he back kicked the door close. “I swear that boy is going to kill me one of these days,” he muttered as he dodged the skateboard and bike lying on the floor in the middle of the entryway. “And you better get this lot cleaned up before your dad gets home.”
As he entered the apartment proper, a feminine electronic voice made itself known. “Welcome back Kai. You have five new messages one of which is from Kiba. You also asked me to remind you to complete the college application form by Monday the 21st of this month.”
“Play uncle’s message.”
“Message received today at fourteen oh nine. Message begins.”
“Kai, I’ve got to work late again tonight. There’s a couple of frozen pizza’s in the freezer for you and Lee. Make sure Lee does his homework and gets to bed by nine if I’m not back before then. See you tonight.”
“Message ends. Do you wish to review the other four messages?”
“No, I’ll listen to them later.”
The lights came in in the kitchen as he entered, the motion sensor registering his presence. He dropped the groceries on the metal counter and reached for the freezer door. An electronic post-it note on the freezer’s smart display caught his attention. “Oven’s bust. Money on the counter for take out.” Uncle Kiba must have forgot about that when he left the message earlier. Ignoring it, he pulled a large pepperoni out out of the freezer. “Oi, sprocket, pepperoni ok with you?” he yelled in the direction of his cousin in the living room. Over the din of the latest episode of Jake Danger: Mutant Hunter he got a vague affirmative response.
After unwrapping the pizza, he placed it on a baking tray and pulled out a silver permanent marker. As he etched a series of glyphs on the black surface of the tray he called out to Lee. “Anything happen in school today?”
“Nah, not much ‘cept a bunch a Uni’s running around.”
The glyphs faded from sight as he reached for the emergency flash light in the cupboard above the counter. “UniCops? What did they want?”
“Miss Anderson said that it was just a routine visit checking up on security but she was lying.”
“How do you know she was lying?” As he listened to his cousin’s answer, he checked the battery in the flash light. Satisfied that there was enough juice, he bit the end of his finger and traced a complex diagram on the lens in his own blood.
“She always scratches her nose and fiddles with her glasses every time she tells us something she knows isn’t true. Like the time she taught us about the bioterror attack on Africa and the quarantine afterwards. ‘sides Billy said they were after some 9th grader who jumped the school fence and ran off.”
Kai held the torch over the frozen pizza and turned it on. As the light passed through the blood diagram, it was converted into heat and magnified several times. The now invisible silver glyphs on the baking tray acted as a temporal compression circle increasing the speed of time on the tray and its contents. The effect was to turn the flash light and the baking tray into a jury-rigged microwave. After a couple of minutes, he had to swap the hand holding heavy flash light. He may be able to violate the fundamental laws of the universe but he couldn’t do anything about stopping his arm from getting tired.
As the pizza quickly cooked, he thought on what his cousin had told him. That 9th grader was probably the one his team had tried to get to ahead of the cops. From what Lee had said, it sounded like they had cut it pretty close. He asked the apartment’s computer to show him the text of the other four messages on the freezer’s smart display. As he expected, the last one was a coded message from Virus, Tommy’s online handle. “Package received intact, little wear and tear but nothing serious.” Relieved he went back to quizzing Lee on the rest of his day.
Five minutes later the pizza was cooked, and after letting stand for a minute to cool he took it into the living room with a couple of plates. Jake Danger was leading a squad of valiant Unity Soldiers against a mutant stronghold, gunning down the evil terrorists with his twin Pacifier assault rifles. “How can you watch this shit?” Kai mumbled between mouthfuls of pizza.
Toby had been left alone with Talbot in his office. “So, history lesson 101,” Talbot began as he walked over to the fridge in the corner, “a long time ago in a galaxy far away there was a super team called Alpha Force.” He opened the fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer and tossed one at Toby who was now sitting down at the table.
“You do realise I’m only 14 right?” He asked the older man as he held the beer.
“Oh please, you’re a 14 year old teenage boy living in the big city. I’m sure you know of at least four stores that don’t ask for ID when buying a six pack of Bud. Besides, after what you’ve been through today you deserve something a little stronger than fizzy pop.” Talbot took a swig from his bottle as he sat down.
“Now where was I … ah, Alpha Force. Before the Unification War, Unifer’s victory and the rise of the Unity, Alpha Force were the worlds greatest team of superheroes. Along with the EU’s EuroForce, the UN’s Overwatch, and independent teams like Legion and the Army of Light, they kept the world safe from supervillains and global disasters. They were good at their jobs too.” Talbot paused for a second, with a distant expression as if remembering something. “A little too good perhaps. You see whenever some major league bad guy showed up, the hero teams would take them down. When some tin-pot dictatorship started ethnic cleansing or invaded a neighbouring country, by the time the international community had decided on the wording of their statement of condemnation, the heroes had already gone and sorted it out. Even on a local level, the indie heroes helped keep crime levels down.” As Talbot got up and began pacing, Toby began to suspect that this was a common rant of his.
“When Unifer took out Alpha Force with a single shot and shut down the world’s infrastructure, his minions were taking out the other teams as well. With our protectors gone, everything started to fall apart and we realised how dependent we were on them. You see, we’d gotten complacent and started relying on them. By the time Unifer made his play in Washington the world didn’t really know how to deal with a crisis on that scale any more. Some tried to fight, to resist Unifer’s new regime. But for most, survival was the priority. After the pulse, supplies in the cites ran out pretty quickly. There was looting and rioting everywhere, what was left of the government folded within a couple weeks. Then came the collapse of the biosphere in the central states. The Unity blamed it on biological and chemical attacks by terrorists and massive climatic upheavals. With the grain belt gone, people began to starve. So called relief efforts were confined to the coastal cities where the Unity had total control and as the centre of the continent became uninhabitable that’s where everyone fled. A similar thing happened to Africa. They had a quite successful resistance going until Unifer just got tired and ordered the entire continent dusted with bioweapons wiping out the entire population. Sure it was blamed on a terrorist’s bioattack gone horribly wrong but nobody back then bought it. The message was clear, fuck with the Unity and they gang bang back.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Toby asked a little confuse as to where Talbot was going. Talbot sat back down and looked at Toby.
“To make you understand what it is that we face. After Africa everybody was terrified at what the Unity would do if people tried to rebel. Now, after 30 years of propaganda filled with subliminal programming and chemicals like G26 Paxilon-Hydrochlorate in the food and water, people don’t want to rebel.”
“Can you blame them? Pollution levels in the ECM are less than 10% of New York’s before Unification. The ECM has a population of 200 million compared to New York’s 10 which makes that reduction all the more impressive. Thanks to synthetic food stuffs and urban AgroTowers, famine has all but been abolished and climate modification technology has repaired most of the damage done by the polynational era. The planet’s not been in better shape in the last hundred years!”
“Unit Delta Six, sat scan confirms that the targets are still located in their apartment.”
Officer Travis rubbed his nose as his commander talked with central. His nose had only recently been healed by the med techs after the run in with a mutant earlier in the day. A run in that had cost the life of his elder partner. He was itching for some “occupational therapy” as his instructor had once put it.
“Be careful men,” the squad commander advised, “as far as we know our targets do not possess any metahuman abilities but take no chances.” With a flick of his finger, the commander ordered the six man squad of UniCops to move out and they began to approach the target’s apartment. As they positioned themselves around the door, he signalled one of his men stationed at the building security centre to override the locking mechanism and grant them access. He held his hand up, fingers outstretched and began a silent countdown.
“Are you seriously going to try and defend a government that tried to have you gunned down on the street less than three hours ago? … Thought not. The fact is that all that ‘progress’ was done with a gun to our heads.” Talbot sighed. “But in a way you’re right. Over half the population believe the lie. Most of the rest know they’re being lied to and either don’t believe anything can be done about it or think returning to the chaos of the Unification War is not an option. Only a tiny minority can see that there is something terribly wrong with the world and have the courage to do anything about it. Someone once said, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, envinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and provide new guards for their future security.”
“And in English?”
“When there’s something wrong, those with the ability to do something about it have the responsibility to act.”
Toby looked down at the table and took a deep gulp from the beer bottle in front of him. “Let’s cut the crap, the only reason you’re telling me any of this is you want me to sign up with your little rebellion.” He stood up, leaning forward with both hands planted firmly on the table glaring at Talbot. “Thanks for saving my ass and everything, but what help could I be? I’m still in school for chrissakes! ”
Talbot looked at him for a second, the silence hanging between them. Then, in one swift motion, he reached behind him and pulled out a handgun aiming at Toby’s forehead. The end of the muzzle just a few centimetres from his face. “Despite the fact that you’re still just a kid you are the strongest person on this base, not to mention the fastest and most agile. If I pulled this trigger you’d be back up and in my face within 15 seconds max.” Putting the gun on the table he continued. “Plus you didn’t even flinch when a near stranger pointed a gun straight at your face. You’ve got the guts and the ability and I know you’re not stupid.”
Toby sat back down, let out the breath he’d been subconsciously holding and took an even bigger gulp from the bottle. “Interesting recruitment technique you get there,” he paused while he tried to think, “say I wanted in. What would …”
He was interrupted when a wall mounted phone started to ring. “Hold that thought,” Talbot said holding up a finger as he walked over and picked up the handset. “This is Talbot, go ahead.” Toby couldn’t hear who was on the other end but from Talbot’s expression it wasn’t good news. Talbot looked at Toby, his face was grim. After a couple of minutes he hung up and pulled out a hand held communicator. “Just got a message from Spectre, we need to intercept a UniCop snatch squad ASAP. Everyone to the hanger bay on the double. Tommy, do your thing and get Kai down here.” He turned to Toby as started to leave. “Looks like we’ll have to continue this conversation later.”
As he got to the door, Toby stood up and caught up with him. “Look, if you need a hand I could…”
Before he could finish, Talbot turned around and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Maybe next time Toby. This time I really need you to stay here until we get back.” With that he turned and began running down the corridor towards the hanger.
Toby watched him leave, a little angry. “So much for having the ability.”
Mercifully, Kai’s mobile rang giving him a convenient excuse to slip out and not endure any more of Jake Danger: Mutant Hunter. He went to his bedroom in order to not disturb his cousin and also to ensure that the conversation was not overheard.
“S’up Tommy … Ok, see you as soon as I can.” As he ended the call he heard the front door open.
On zero, Travis opened the door and quietly entered the apartment. He was taking point partly because of the screw up that happened when he and his partner and been sent to apprehend an unregistered mutant at the local school earlier that day. Travis had also volunteered for this operation and had asked to to take point. He had a score to settle.
Advancing into the apartment, he could hear the sounds of the TV in the living room. Raising his stunner, he took aim at the small figure silhouetted by the screen.
Kai stepped out into the hallway just as his uncle Kiba walked in the door. His cousin ran out of the living room and into his fathers waiting arms. Kai waited a second as his uncle said hello to his son before interrupting. After saying hello himself, he got down to business.
“Stacy just called,” Lee wrinkled his nose and made puking sounds as he heard what he assumed was the name of Kai’s girlfriend, “her computer’s down again and she needs my help.” His uncle on the other hand recognised the code phrase and simply nodded.
“Don’t be out too late, I need some help with the shop’s inventory tomorrow.”
“I won’t,” Kai responded before closing the front door behind him. He hurried down the corridor towards the emergency stair. The door on this level had thankfully had its alarm disabled by an enterprising young mutant with technopathic powers, as had the security cameras on either side. Making sure that nobody was watching he quickly opened the door and slipped through.
The lights were flickering in the stairwell, more off than on, and the air smelt stale. Using the flash light on his mobile he located a patch of graffiti on the wall. A stylised leopard with tiny Japanese characters in place of spots. Kai placed the fingers of both hands very carefully on a set of specific spots and uttered the word “Kendra”. A split second later he was sucked into the wall.
Jared sat behind the controls of The Tank, the teams primary vehicle. It resembled the bastard love child of an APC and and stubby winged aircraft with two swivel mounted thrusters mounted on each side of its lifting body fuselage. Small folding wings, insufficient to provide any lift, acted as stabilizers as did a pair of vertical fins at the rear. The ten meter long body was covered in dark grey armour plates, hexagon in shape. The plates themselves were in turn coated in chameleon paint providing reduced visibility and limited stealth capabilities. Two pods on the roof contained micromissiles and a large autocannon mounted beneath the cockpit completed its armaments. As the craft completed its boot up sequence, he quickly pulled on a set of charcoal grey camouflaged fatigues. Behind him Sarah was pulling a set of her own from a storage locker.
A console flickered and Tommy appeared in his seat in a burst of static, already in uniform. Seconds later Talbot bounded up the rear loading ramp, hitting the close button as he passed it. “Kai’s on his way, he’ll be here as soon as he can,” he reported as Talbot passed him.
“Good,” Talbot responded as he sat down and fastened his safety harness, “I need you to go the Hudson Arcoplex in quadrant 3 and see if you can shut down comms in that area.”
“You got it boss.” Without bothering to unbuckle, he shifted to digital form and and vanished.
“Jared, let’s get this hunk of metal on the road so to speak, as soon as we’re airborne I’ll fill you too in on our target’s.”
All by himself, Toby began to pace up and down the briefing room. Talbot had made this big speech about responsibility and making a stand, had tried to persuade him to join up. However, the moment he offered his help he was back to being treated like a kid. Balling his fists, he finished off the beer and started down the corridor that Talbot had ran down. He got to the hanger bay just in time to see the dust left behind as a large vehicle accelerated up the exit ramp.
Looking around he saw that the hanger bay contained several vehicles. A couple of generic commercial vehicles, two ground cars, a long range cargo plane and even a familiar looking two trailer cargo drone complete with blood stains on the front grill. Nestled between these, Toby saw exactly what he was looking for, a hover cycle complete. The keys were even in the ignition. Without a moments hesitation he leapt aboard, gunned the engine, and roared off.
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2008, in BetaForce, Fiction and tagged cyberpunk, darkfuture, Fiction, future, heroic, magic, mutants, sci-fi, superhero, supers, totalitarian. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.