Jason “Tempo” Lightfoot sighed. He checked his mission clock. He still had seven minutes until Staccato and Rondo would get into position for the attack. Eight and a half minutes until the attack would even start. Why was Cadence bothering him?
He made sure his voice muffler was active so that it wouldn‘t carry beyond his helmet. “Yes Cadence, what is it?”
“I’m just checking in to find your progress on traps.”
“I’m doing just fine, Cadence. All tripwires and land mines have been removed. I scouted out the inside of the building. The target had an explosive rigged on the back door but the front door is guarded by a simple tripwire shotgun. Just have Staccato be sure to enter through a window and he’ll be fine. We’ve done thousands of these missions. Have I ever let any member of Crescendo get blown up by a simple trap?”
Cadence didn’t sound too amused with Tempo’s tone of voice. “Don’t get sloppy. He’s been avoiding SOC units for eight months now, so Burn is obviously good at finding a way to escape. He might be prepared for us. What was the temperament of the target? Did he seem on edge at all?”
“No, he feels all safely tucked into his fortress.”
“Well, regardless we need to be on edge.”
Rondo’s squawked into Jason’s ears. “Oh, c’mon Cadence. This Odreili shit has never come up against a unit like Crescendo before. He‘s as good as bagged.”
“Don’t get cocky, Rondo. This Odreili is no pushover. Intel says he might even have a Shell. If he‘s that well armed…”
Jason sighed and turned down his radio. He was so tired of listening the prattling of his teammates. He had been in Crescendo since he was seventeen years old but his training had started nearly a decade before that.
Jason was sure that he had swept the area clear of all traps. He checked his stealth meter. Still had three minutes left before he’d have to let his Shell’s batteries cool down and recharge themselves. More than enough time to find a good position to snipe from.
The wind was blowing to the east. He slinked around to the west side of the house, knowing that when the action started the only escape that this so-called “Burn” would have would be to the north. Jason decided to perch himself upon a nearby hill. The surrounding shrubbery would give him excellent cover for when his stealth meter hit zero.
He silently pressed up the hill, careful to not brush up against a plant or tree that could reveal to their target that he was being watched. What had this guy done again? Stolen some prototype from a SOC lab? Or was it that he discovered some military secret from the SOC that would thwart its campaign to finally unite Odreil with the rest of the world? It didn’t matter to Jason; he had long lost any interest in why they went after targets anymore. After they bagged this guy they would get a day or two of rest then they’d be given another target to go after. And he would go and bag that target too–like a robot.
As soon as he thought about the day-to-day drudgery of his life, a phrase popped into his head: “Society has given you power. You are Society’s instrument of justice. Execute Society’s judgments swiftly, completely, and without hesitation.”
He groaned. Another effect of the “sleep training.” His superiors claimed they had never once used judgment impression programs on the Crescendo team, but they all knew that was a lie. Every night they were required to plug their minds into a computer via their spinal ports; did they think that their Shelled-soldiers actually believed that it was to improve their sleep cycles?
As he crouched into the underbrush he sighed to himself. “Only have to do this for seven more years. Then I’m done.” Thirty-five. It was the magic number. They had promised him that once he hit thirty-five that his services would no longer be needed. The team that was being trained to replace Crescendo would be ready to take over by then.
He reached behind him and pulled out the pieces of his rifle and began to assemble it. He had done it so many times that he could do it in his sleep. His attention wandered to his doubts on whether or not he‘d really be allowed to just retire.. He had seen and done things that would make the public cringe. Would they really just let him walk where he could end up going rogue and spilling everything? He wouldn’t do it naturally, but the higher ups surely had to be considering such risks. Jason would be considering the risks if it were himself in their shoes.
The target couldn’t be killed; they needed him alive so the intelligence-people could hook him up to the Wall and mind-peel him. Jason swapped out his usual high-intensity plasma streamer for a slower, but non-lethal, electroplasm cartridge. The resistance movement here in Eremmi had caused the SOC much more trouble than the news media was allowed to let on. Could the SOC risk more information getting out and causing more unrest in Eremmi? Could that unrest spread to Laetona, Sonuria, or Fealster? While it was unlikely, those things had to be considered. If they were considered, Jason figured it’d be safer to just put him down once he was done fighting.
“All things must be considered for the safety of the Society.”
Fully covered by the bushes around him, the sniper turned off his battery-consuming stealth field and triggered his much more power-friendly active camouflage. The normal blacks and silvers of his suit turned to browns and greens. It wasn’t as good as being invisible, but it would be more than enough to keep himself hidden. His HUD zoomed in to the most obvious exit Burn would have. Whether or not this Odreili had a Shell, the electroplasm rounds would do their job. The amount of charge an electroplasm ball delivered was enough to disable a Shell for a few seconds or a human for a few hours. Burn wouldn’t be going far.
Jason checked his mission clock. Six minutes and twenty-two seconds. Maybe he was being too paranoid. Maybe he would be lucky enough to get to retire. Then he could finally start doing the things he had always wanted to do. He knew he should focus on the current mission, but he couldn’t help but day dream a little. He imagined himself at a party like he had seen in many of the movies he occasionally was allowed to watch. He always imagined himself looser, freer in his daydreams, letting go of the rigid military personality he was told he must have at all times.
He always imagined himself finding a gorgeous young woman to dance and spend the night with. For some reason, he always imagined the same girl. Average height. Golden blonde hair spilling past her shoulders. Leggy. Chesty. More curves than a sine wave. She’d wear clothes that showed off her amazing body. She’d adore his attention. Be impressed with his tall, muscular body. She’d find his military experiences interesting and exciting, wishing she could have been by his side for such exciting adventures. She’d love the dance floor, shaking her ass like the night would never end. But more importantly, she’d love him like…
Static filled Tempo‘s headset, cutting his idle dreams short once again. Cadence made the final check before the mission started. “Mission clock down to thirty seconds. Everyone in position?”
Rondo’s hyena-like voice was the first to report. “In position. Ready to freeze and electri-fry!”
Staccato’s reported in next with his deep baritone. “I too am in position. When you give the word I will bust through the windows, per Tempos suggestion, and guide the target towards a position where Rondo and Tempo can open fire on him.”
Weariness permeated his voice. “In position. Ready to open fire.” Tempo checked the wind once more so he could properly guide his shots. Electroplasm was an ordinance few snipers dare use due to its slow travel speed and susceptibility to the whims of the winds. But Jason had been shooting every round known to man since he was old enough to grow peach fuzz. If it was in his sights, it was going down.”
The timer on the mission clock hit zero. “Moving in.” With a speed that looked impossible in Staccato’s massive Shell, he plowed through the windows. Tempo expected to hear the sounds of Staccato’s chain gun next but was surprised to hear no rounds fired. “Something‘s wrong. He’s not here.”
Tempo squinted through his HUD. “Not there? I was just inside. He was definitely there. I saw him.”
“Stay sharp. Don’t let your guard down. Something fishy is going on here. Cadence cautioned the Crescendo unit.
“The hell!? He’s here he’s…” The communication coming into Tempo’s helmet cut out. One side of the little cabin exploded with a green ball of fire. The shit had hit the fan. Tempo quickly scanned the area trying to get a semblance of what in the world was going on. Green fire, disappearing targets, chaos… what else could go wrong?
“Hello? Staccato? Cadence? Rondo? Do you read?” Jason felt electricity dance across his Shell and down his spinal jack. It stung his nerves with a pain he had only experience a few times in his life. It disoriented him. The first thing that came to him was the smell of ozone forming from the effects of the electrical blast on the oxygen within his Shell. He slowly turned around and found someone in a yellow-colored Shell preparing to fire another wave of lighting from his hands.
This was bad. If he was firing electricity that meant his opponent was piloting a an Element-class Shell; his electroplasm rounds would be no good against a shell that used electricity as one of its main weapons. As he rolled out of the way, Tempo dropped his sniper rifle and reached behind him for his energy blade. Close-quarters combat was never his strength but it was better than firing useless rounds. He had beaten Elementers before, he could do it again. Then, the temperature dropped in his suit, causing goosebumps to travel up his legs. He tried to move his feet but the joints wouldn’t budge.
Craning his neck upward, he watched another Shell dropped from the trees. But this Shell was unlike anything he had ever seen. It was painted ice blue and seemed to use some sort of cryogenic weapon that was encasing his Shell in ice. Another Elementer pilot obviously, but this one was very different in that the shell was built to accommodate someone with curves and breasts. A female piloting a Shell was unheard of. The SOC never let males and females be on the same combat teams… and they never had female combat teams.
“Activate surface heating!” His suit was outfitted to deal with Element-class pilots, but taking on two of them would be more than tricky. Especially as it seemed the male, yellow-hued Elementer’s capacitors had recharged. As soon as Tempo thawed himself out, he was greeted with another bolt of electricity. This one brought him to his knees, dropping his energy blade in the process.
Two more Shells dropped from the trees. One was clad in white and looked to be an Engineer-class, thought it didn’t have the combat droids that Engineers normally had. The other was in pure red, more than making up for the white one’s lack of droids. This Shell also seemed to be piloted by a female, judging by how much room there was in the chest area of the Shell. Well, at least he now knew why his communications had cut out; Engineers specialized in radio-jamming.
The female engineer whipped out a cube-shaped droid, and her fingers flew over the buttons on her left arm. The cube came too life, separating into five different sections. They formed a pyramid around Tempo and he suddenly realized this droid was a “circuit clamp.” As soon as it fully charged up his Shell would come to a complete standstill for a couple of hours.
As the effects of the yellow Elementer wore off, the female Elementer froze his Shell up once more. Tempo activated his surface heaters again but he knew it was going to be fruitless as he’d be shocked as soon as he thawed. He watched helplessly as the male Engineer pulled out a Shell-pilot impeder. They weren’t just trying to freeze up his Shell… they were going to freeze him up too!
The circuit clamps hummed, indicating they were ready to be used. The female Engineer pressed another button and her droid pulsed. Jason felt his suit halt all movement. The HUD froze, leaving on its screen an image of his four captors circled around him, the white-clad Engineer inching closer to him with his Shell-pilot impeder.
A male voice outside his Shell apologized. “Sorry to do this to you, bro. But we can’t take any risks.”
A sultry female voice consoled the defeated pilot. “Do not fret.” Her rich accent seemed to indicate she was Laetonian. “Tings will have to get a little worse for you before dey get better. But trust me, Jason, your life is ‘bout to get a lot better.” Jason? How did this woman know his name? Before he could ponder that question though, he felt the Shell-pilot impeder dock with his suit. It wasn’t two seconds before he blacked out.